A stranger story still is this one. Some fifteen years ago a barrister in fair practice died, and made by will a handsome provision for his “beloved wife.” This wife, thereby first revealed to an interested acquaintance, had acted as his parlourmaid for many years, standing behind his chair at dinner, and bringing him his evening letters on a tray; and she had been so engaged on the day of his death. Nobody of his circle except, of course, her fellow-servants, knew that she stood in any other relationship to her so-called master. I consider her conduct admirable; nor do I think his necessarily blameworthy. Those two, depend upon it, understood each other, and had worked out a common line of least resistance. On the distaff side there is the tale of the two maiden ladies so admirably served by their butler that when, to their consternation, he gave warning, they held a heart-to-heart talk together, as the result of which one of them proposed in all the forms to the invaluable man, and was accepted. It is deplorable that a pursuit which opens vistas so rose-coloured as these should be allowed to lapse.
A lady whom I knew well, and whose recent death I deplore, was cured of a bad attack of neuritis by being cut off all domestic assistance, except her cook’s, and set to do her own housework. Therefore it is probable that we should all be the better for the same treatment; but, as I asked just now, will the girls be the better for it? The disengaged philosopher can only answer that question in one way. That feverish community-work which they have been doing through a four years’ orgy of patriotism will have taught them very much of life and manners. It will have taught them, among other more desirable things, how to spend money, and how to keep a good many young men greatly entertained; but it will not, I fear, have taught them how to save money, how to make one man happy and comfortable, or how to bring up children in the fear of God.
And if it has failed to teach those things it will have failed to fit them for this world, to say the least. It will not only have failed them, but it will have failed us with them. For the world needs at this moment a thousand things before it can be made tolerable again; and all of those can be summed up into one paramount need, which is for men and women who will observe faithfully the laws of their being. And what, pray, are the laws of their being? At the outside, three; in reality, two: to work, to love and to have children.
At this hour neither men nor women will work. The strain is taken off, the bow relaxed. At the same time they must have money, that they may spend it; for as always happens in moments of reaction, the simplest way of expressing high spirits and a sense of ease is wild expenditure. So wages must be high, and because wages are high everything is dear. There are no houses, and there will be none; there can be no marriages, and there will be none; there will be no milk for children, so there will be no children. How long are such things to go on? Just so long as we disregard the laws of our being. We began to neglect them long before the war, and they must be learned again. We must learn first what they are, and next, how to keep them.