The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Dorothy Elmore's Achievement: A Forecast of the New Education.
I know of no happier moment for parents than that when their eldest daughter returns from school to take her place finally by her mother's side. It was two years that very day since we had seen Dorothy, when her father set out for Lausanne to bring her home; and how the children and I got through the few days of his absence, I don't know. The last touches had been put many times over to her rooms--not the plain little room she had left, but a dainty bower for our young maiden, a little sitting-room opening into a pure nest of a bedroom. Our eyes met, her father's and mine, and moistened as we conjured up I don't know what visions of pure young life to be lived there, of the virginal prayers to be offered at the little prayer table, the gaiety of heart that should, from this nook, bubble over the house; and, who knows, by-and-by, the dreams of young love which should come to glorify the two little rooms.
Two or three times already had the children put fresh flowers into everything that would hold a flower. Pretty frocks and sweet faces, bright hair and bright eyes had been ready this long time to meet sister Dorothy.
At last, a telegram from Dover--"Home by five"--and our restlessness subsided into a hush of expectation.
Wheels sounded on the gravel, and we flew to the hall door and stood in two files, children and maids, Rover and Floss, waiting to welcome the child of the house. Then, a lovely face, glad to tears, looking out of a nest of furs; then, a light leap, almost before the carriage draw up, and I had her in my arms, my Dorothy, the child of my heart! The order of the day was "high tea," to which every one, down to baby May, sat up. We two, her father and I, gave her up to the children, only exchanging notes by the species of telegraphy married folk understand.
"Indubitably lovely!" said her father's eyes. "And what grace--what an elegant girl she is!" answered mine. "And do but see what tact she shows with the little ones--" "And notice the way she has with us, as if her heart were brimming with reverence and affection." Thus, we two with our eyes. For a week or more we could not settle down. As it was the Christmas holidays, we had not Miss Grimshaw to keep us in order, and so it happened that wherever Dorothy ran--no, she went with a quick noiseless step, but never ran--about the house to find out the old dear nooks, we all followed, a troop of children with their mother in the rear; their father too, if he happened to be in. Truly we were a ridiculous family, and did our best to turn the child's head. Every much has its more-so. Dorothy's two special partisans were Elsie, our fifteen years old girl, fast treading in her sister's steps, and Herbert, our eldest son, soon to go to college. Elsie would come to my room and discourse by the hour, her text being ever, "Dorothy says." And as for Herbs, it was pleasant to see his budding manhood express itself in all sorts of little attentions to his lovely sister.
For lovely she was; there could not be two opinions on that point. A lily maid, tall and graceful, without a trace of awkwardness or self-consciousness; the exquisite complexion of the Elmores (they are a Devonshire family), warm, lovely rose on pearly white, no hint of brunette colouring; a smile which meant spring and love and other good things; and deep blue eyes reflecting the light of her smile--this was Dorothy.
Never, not even during the raptures of early married life, have I known a month of such joyous exhilaration as that which followed Dorothy's return, and I think her father would own as much.
What a month it was! There was the pleasant earthly joy of going to town to get frocks for Dorothy; then, the bewilderment of not being able to find out what suited her best.
"Anything becomes her!" exclaims Mdme. la Modiste; "that figure, that complexion, may wear anything."
And then, the pleasure of entering a room -- all eyes bent upon us in kindliness; our dear old friends hurrying forward to make much of the child; the deference and gentleness of her manner to these, and the warmth with which she was received by her compeers, both maidens and men; her grace in the dance; her simplicity in conversation; the perfection of her manner, which was not manner at all, but her own nature, in every situation. After all, she liked best to be at home; was more amiable and lovely with father and mother, brothers and sisters, than with the most fascinating strangers. Our good child! We had grown a little shy of speaking to her about the best things, but we knew she said her prayers: how else this outflow of sweet maiden life upon us all?
I can imagine these ramblings of mine falling into the hands of a young pair whose life is in each other: -- "Oh, only the outpourings of a doting mother!" and they toss the pages aside. But never believe, young people, that yours are the only ecstatic moments, yours the only experiences worth recording; wait and see.
These happy days had lasted for a month or more, when, one bright day in February, I remember it well, a little cloud arose. This is how it was: Dorothy had promised Elsie that she would drive her in the pony-carriage to Banford to choose a doll for May's birthday. Now, it happened that I wanted the little carriage to take to my "Mothers" at Ditchling the clothing I had bought in London with their club money. My errand could not be deferred; it must be done that day or a week later. But I did not see why the children's commission would not do as well to-morrow; and so I said, in good faith, as I was stepping into the carriage, hardly noticing the silence with which my remark was received.
I came home tired, after a long afternoon, looking forward to the welcome of the girls. The two seniors were sitting in the firelight, bright enough just then to show me Dorothy, limp and pale, in a low chair, and Elsie watching her with a perplexed and anxious expression. Dorothy did look up to say, "Are you tired, mother?" but only her eyes looked, there was nothing behind them.
"You look tired and cold enough, my dear; what has been the matter?"
"Oh, I'm very well, thank you; but I am tired, I think I'll go to bed." And she held up a cold cheek for the mother's kiss for which she offered no return. Elsie and I gazed at one another in consternation; our fairy princess, our idol--was it indeed so?--what had come to her?
"What is the matter with Dorothy? Has she a headache?"
"Oh, mother, I don't know," said the poor child, on the verge of tears. "She has been like this ever since you went, saying 'Yes,' and 'No,' and 'No, thank you,'quite kindly, but never saying a word of herself. Has any one been grieving our Dorothy, or is she going to be ill? Oh, mother, mother!"
"Nay, child, don't cry. Dorothy is overdone; you know she has been out twice this week, and three times last, and late hours don't suit her. We must take better care of her, that's all."
Elsie was comforted, but not so her mother. I believed every word I had said to the child; but all the time there was a stir in my heart like the rustling of a snake in the grass. But I put it from me.
It was with a hidden fear that I came down to breakfast. Dorothy was in the room already, doing the little duties of the breakfast table. But she was pale and still; her hands moved, her figure hung, in the limp way I had noticed the night before, Her check, a cold "Good-morning, mother," and a smile on her lips that brought no light to her eyes, was all the morning salutation I got. Breakfast was an uncomfortable, constrained meal. The children wondered what was the matter, and nobody knew. Her father got on best with Dorothy, for he knew nothing of the evening's history, so he petted her as usual, making all the more of her for her pale looks.
For a whole week this went on, and never once was I allowed to meet Dorothy eye to eye. The children were hardly better served, for they, too, had noticed something amiss; only her father could win any of the old friendliness, because he treated her as the Dorothy who had come home to us, only a little done up.
"We must have the doctor for that child, wife. Don't you see she is beginning to lose flesh, and how the roses she brought home are fading! She has no appetite and no spirits. But, why, you surely don't think our dainty moth has singed her wings already? There's nobody here, unless it's young Gardiner, and she would never waste herself on a gawky lad like that!"
This was a new idea, and I stopped a moment to consider, for I knew of at least half-a-dozen young men who had been attentive to Dorothy, all to be preferred to this hobbledehoy young Gardiner. But, no! I could trace the change from the moment of my return from Ditchling. But I jumped at the notion of the doctor; it would, at any rate, take her out of herself, and--we should see.
The doctor came; said she wanted tone; advised, not physic, but fresh air, exercise, and early hours.
So we all laid ourselves out to obey his directions that day, but with no success to speak of.
But the next was one of those glorious February days when every twig is holding itself stiffly in the pride of coming leafage, and the snowdrops in the garden beds lift dainty heads out of the brown earth. The joy of the spring did it. We found her in the breakfast-room, snowdrops at her throat, rosy, beaming, joyous; a greeting, sweet and tender, for each; and never had we known her talk so sparkling, her air so full of dainty freshness. There was no relapse after this sudden cure. Our good friend Dr. Evans called again, to find her in such flourishing health that ten minutes' raillery of "my poor patient" was the only attention he thought necessary. But, "H'm! Mighty sudden cure!" as he was going out, showed that he, too, found something odd in this sudden change.
In a day or two we had forgotten all about our bad week. All went well for awhile. At the end of five weeks, however, we were again pulled up--another attack of sudden indisposition, so outsiders thought. What did I think? Well, my thoughts were not enviable.
"Father, I wish you would call at Walker's and choose me some flowers for this evening." It was the evening of the Brisbanes' dance, and I had half an idea that Arthur Brisbane had made some impression on Dorothy. His state of mind was evident enough. But, without thinking twice, I interrupted with--
"Don't you think what we have in the 'house' will do, dear? Nothing could make up better than stephanotis and maidenhair."
Dorothy made no answer, and her father, thinking all was right, went off at once; he was already rather late. We thought no more of the matter for a minute or two, when, at the same moment, Elsie and I found our eyes fixed upon Dorothy. The former symptoms followed--days of pallor and indisposition, which were, at the same time, days of estrangement from us all. Again we had in Dr. Evans, "just to look at her," and this time I noticed--not without a foolish mother's resentment--that his greeting was other than cordial. "Well, young lady, and what's gone amiss this time?" he said, knitting his bushy brows, and gazing steadily at her out of the eyes which could be keen as well as kind. Dorothy flushed and fidgeted under his gaze, but gave only the cold unsatisfactory replies we had been favored with. The prescription was as before; but again the recovery was sudden, and without apparent cause.
To make a long story short, this sort of thing went on, at longer or shorter intervals, through all that winter and summer and winter again. My husband, in the simplicity of his nature, could see nothing but--
"The child is out of sorts; we must take her abroad for a month or two; she wants change of air and scene."
The children were quicker-eyed; children are always quick to resent unevenness of temper in those about them. A single angry outbreak, harsh word, and you may lay yourself out to please them for months before they will believe in you again. George was the first to let the cat out of the bag.
"Dorothy is in a sulky fit again, mother; I wish she wouldn't!"
Elsie, who has her father's quick temper, was in the room.
"You naughty, ungrateful little boy, you! How can you say such a thing of Dorothy? Didn't she sit all yesterday morning making sails for your boat?"
"Yes," said George, a little mollified; "but why need she be sulky to-day? We all liked her yesterday, and I'm sure I want to, today!"
Now that the mask was fallen and even the children could see what was amiss, I felt that the task before me must not be put off. I had had great misgivings since the first exhibition of Dorothy's sullen temper; now I saw what must be done, and braced myself for a heavy task. But I could not act alone; I must take my husband into my confidence, and that was the worst of it.
"George, how do you account for Dorothy's fits of wretchedness?"
"Why, my dear, haven't I told you? The child is out of sorts, and must have change. We'll have a little trip up the Rhine, and perhaps into Switzerland, as soon as the weather is fit. It will be worth something to see her face light up at some things I mean to show her!"
"I doubt if there is anything the matter with her health; remember how perfectly well and happy she is between these fits of depression."
"What is it, then? You don't think she's in love, do you?"
"Not a bit of it; her heart is untouched, and her dearest loves are home loves."
My husband blew his nose, with a "Bless the little girl! I could find it in my heart to wish it might always be so with her. But what is your notion? I can see you have got to the bottom of the little mystery. Trust you women for seeing through a stone wall!"
"Each attack of what we have called 'poorliness' has been a fit of sullenness, lasting sometimes for days, sometimes for more than a week, and passing off as suddenly as it came."
My dear husband's face clouded with serious displeasure; never before had it worn such an expression for me. I had a sense of separation from him, as if we two, who had so long been one, were two once more.
"This is an extraordinary charge for a mother to bring against her child. How have you come to this conclusion?"
Already was my husband become my judge. He did not see that I was ill, agitated, still standing, and hardly able to keep my feet. And there was worse to come: how was I to go through with it?
"What causes for resentment can Dorothy conceivably have?' he repeated, in the same cold judicial tone.
"It is possible to feel resentment, it is possible to nurse resentment, to let it hang as a heavy cloud-curtain between you and all you love the best, without any adequate cause, without any cause, that you can see yourself when the fit is over!"
My voice sounded strange and distant in my own ears: I held by the back of a chair to steady myself: but I was not fainting; I was acutely alive to all that was passing in my husband's mind. He looked at me curiously, inquisitively, but not as if I belonged to him and were part and parcel of his life.
"You seem to be curiously familiar with a state of feeling which I should have judged to be the last a Christian lady would know anything about."
"Oh, husband, don't you see you are killing me? I am not going through this anguish for nothing. I do know what it is. And if Dorothy, my poor child, suffers, it is all my fault! There is nothing bad in her but what she has got from me."
George was moved; he put his arm round me in time to save me. But I was not surprised, a few days later, to find my first grey hairs. If that hour were to be repeated, I think I could not bear it.
"Poor wife! I see; it is to yourself you have been savagely cruel, and not to our little girl. Forgive me, dear, that I did not understand at once; but we men are slow and dull. I suppose you are putting yourself (and me too) to all this pain because there is something to be gained by it. You see some way out of the difficulty, if there is one!"
"Don't say 'if there is one.' How could I go through this pain if I did not think some way of helping our daughter would come out of it?"
"Ah! appearances were against you, but I knew you loved the child all the time. Clumsy wretch that I am, how could I doubt it? But, to my mind, there are two difficulties: First, I cannot believe that you ever cherished a thought of resentment; and next, who could associate such a feeling with our child's angelic countenance? Believe me, you are suffering under a morbid fancy; it is you, and not Dorothy, who need entire change of scene and thought."
How should I convince him? And how again run the risk of his even momentary aversion? But if Dorothy were to be saved, the thing must be done. And, oh, how could he for a moment suppose that I should deal unlovingly with my firstborn? "Be patient with me, George. I want to tell you everything from the beginning. "
"Do you remember when you wooed me in the shady path of our old rectory garden, how I tried hard to show you that I was not the loved and lovely home-daughter you pictured? I told you how I was cross about this and that; how little things put me out for days, so that I was under a cloud, and really couldn't speak to, or care about anybody; how, not I, but (forgive the word) my plain sister Helen, was the beloved child of the house, adored by the children, by my parents, by all the folk of the village, who must in one way or other have dealings with the parson's daughters. Do you recollect any of this?"
"Yes; but what of it? I have never for a moment rued my choice, nor wished that it had fallen on our good Helen, kindest of friends to us and ours."
"And you, dear heart, put all I said down to generosity and humility; every effort I made to show you the truth was put down to the count of some beautiful virtue, until at last I gave it up; you would only think the more of me, and think the less kindly of my dear home people, because, indeed, they didn't 'appreciate' me. How I hated the word. I'm not sure I was sorry to give up the effort to show you myself as I was. The fact is, your love made me all it believed me to be, and I thought the old things had passed away."
"Well, and wasn't I right? Have we had a single cloud upon our married life?"
"Ah, dear man, little you know what the first two years of married life were to me. If you read your newspaper, I resented it; if you spent half an hour in your smoking den, or an hour with a friend, if you admired another woman, I resented each and all, kept sulky silence for days, even for weeks. And you, all the time, thought no evil, but were sorry for your poor 'little wife,' made much of her, and loved her all the more, the more sullen and resentful she became. She was 'out of sorts,' you said, and planned a little foreign tour, as you are now doing for Dorothy. I do believe you loved me out of it at last. The time came when I felt myself hunted down by these sullen rages. I ran away, took immense walks, read voraciously, but could not help myself till our first child came; God's gift, our little Dorothy. Her baby fingers healed me as not even your love could do. But, oh, George, don't you see?"
"My poor Mary! Yes, I see; your healing was bought at the little child's expense, and the plague you felt within you was passed on to her. This, I see, is your idea; but I still believe it is a morbid fancy, and I still think my little trip will cure both mother and daughter."
"You say well, mother and daughter. The proverb should run, not, 'a burnt child dreads the fire,' but 'a burnt child will soonest catch fire!' I feel that all my old misery will come back upon me if I am to see the same thing repeated in Dorothy." George sat musing for a minute or two, but my fear of him was gone; his face was full of tenderness for both of us.
"Do you know, Mary, I doubt if I'm right to treat this effort of yours with a high hand, and prescribe for evils I don't understand. Should you mind very much our calling our old friend, Dr. Evans, into council? I believe, after all, it will turn out to be an affair for him rather than for me."
This was worse than all. Were the miseries of this day to know no end? Should we, my Dorothy and her mother, end our days in a madhouse I turned my eyes on my husband, and he understood.
"Nonsense, wife, not that! Now you really are absurd, and must allow me the relief of laughing at you. There, I feel better now, but I understand; a few years ago a doctor was never consulted about this kind of thing unless it was supposed to denote insanity. But we have changed all that, and you're as mad as a hatter to get the notion. You've no idea how interesting it is to hear Evans talk of the mutual relations between thought and brain, and on the other hand, between thought and character. Homely an air as he has, he is up to all that's going on. You know he went through a course of study at Leipsic, where they know more than we about the brain and its behaviour, and then, he runs across every year to keep himself abreast with the times. It isn't every country town that is blessed with such a man."
I thought I was being let down gently to the everyday level, and answered as we answer remarks about the weather, until George said--
"Well, when shall we send for Evans? The sooner we get more light on this matter, the better for all of us."
"Very well, send for him to-morrow; tell him all I have told you, and, if you like, I shall be here to answer further questions."
"Mrs. Elmore is quite right; this is no morbid fancy of hers. I have observed your pretty Miss Dorothy, and had my own speculations. Now, the whole thing lies in a nutshell."
"Can you deal with our trouble, doctor?" I cried out.
"Deal with it, my dear madam? Of course I can. I am not a pupil of Weissall's for nothing. Your Dorothy is a good girl, and will yield herself to treatment. As to that, you don't want me. The doctor is only useful on the principle that lookers-on see most of the game. Once understand the thing, and it is with you the cure must lie."
"Please explain; you will find me very obedient."
"I'm not so sure of that; you know the whole of my mental property has not been gathered in Midlington. You ladies look very meek; but directly one begins to air one's theories--which are not theories, by the way, but fixed principles of belief and conduct--you scent all manner of heterodoxy, and because a valuable line of scientific thought and discovery is new to you, you take up arms, with the notion that it flies in the face of the Bible. When, as a matter of fact, every new advance in science is a further revelation, growing out, naturally, from that we already have."
"Try me, doctor; your 'doxy shall be my 'doxy if you will only take us in hand, and I shall be ready enough to believe that your science is by revelation."
"Well, here goes. In for a penny, in for a pound. In the first place, I want to do away with the sense of moral responsibility, both for yourself and Dorothy, which is wearing you out. Or, rather, I want to circumscribe its area and intensify its force. Dorothy has, perhaps, and conceivably her mother has also, inherited her peculiar temperament; but you are not immediately responsible for that. She, again, has fostered this inherited trait, but neither is she immediately responsible for the fact."
"How do you mean, doctor? That we can't help it, and must take our nature as we find it? But that is worse than ever. No; I cannot believe it. Certainly my husband has done a great deal to cure me."
"No doubt he has. And how he has done it--without intention, I dare say--I hope by-and-by to show you. Perhaps you now and then remark, What creatures of habit we are!"
"And what of that? No one can help being struck now and then with the fact; especially, no mother."
"Well, and what does this force of habit amount to? and how do you account for it?"
"Why, I suppose it amounts to this, that you can do almost anything once you get into the way of it. Why, I don't know; I suppose it's the natural constitution of the mind."
"The 'natural constitution of the mind' is a conversational counter with whose value I am not acquainted. That you can get into the way of doing almost anything, is simple fact; but you must add, of thinking anything, of feeling anything, before you begin to limit the force of habit."
"I think I begin to see what you mean. We, my child and I, are not so much to blame now for our sullen and resentful feelings, because we have got the habit of them. But surely habits may be cured?"
"Ah, once we begin to see that, we are to blame for them. We must ask, How are we to set about the cure? What's to be done? What hopeless idiots we are, the best of us, not to see that the very existence of an evil is a demand for its cure, and that, in the moral world, there's a dock for every nettle!"
"And then, surely, the sins of the fathers visited upon the children, is a bitter law. How could Dorothy help what she inherited?"
"Dorothy could not help it, but you could; and what have you two excellent parents been about to defer until the child is budding into womanhood this cure which should have been achieved in her infancy? Surely, seventeen years ago at least, you must have seen indications of the failing which must needs be shown up now, to the poor girl's discredit."
I grew hot all over under this home thrust, while George looked half dubious, half repentant, not being quite sure where his offence lay.
"It is doubly my fault, doctor; I see it all now. When Dorothy was a child I would not face the fact. It was too awful to think my child would be as I still was. So we had many little fictions that both nurse and mother saw throug--the child was poorly, was getting her second teeth, was overdone. The same thing, only more so, went on during her schoolroom life. Dorothy was delicate, wanted stamina, must have a tonic. And this, though we had a governess who tried to convince me that it was temper and not delicacy that ailed my little girl. The worst of deceiving yourself is that you get to believe the lie. I saw much less of the schoolroom, than of the nursery party, and firmly believed in Dorothy's frequent attacks of indisposition."
"But, supposing you had faced the truth, what would you have done?"
"There is my excuse; I had no idea that anything could be done."
"Now, please, don't write me down a pagan if I try to show you what might have been done, and may yet be done."
"Oh, yes, 'tis a fact; you good women are convinced that the setting of a broken limb is a work for human skill, but that the cure of a fault of disposition is for Providence alone to effect, and you say your prayers and do nothing, looking down from great heights upon us who believe that skill and knowledge come in here too, and are meant to do so in the divine scheme of things. It's startling when you come to think of it, that every pair of parents has so largely the making of their child!"
"But what of inherited failings--such cases as this of ours? "
"Precisely a case in point. Don't you see, such a case is just a problem set before parents with a, 'See, how will you work out this so as to pass your family on free from taint? "'
"That's a noble thought of yours, Evans. It gives every parent a share in working out the salvation of the world, even to thousands of generations.--Come, Mary, we're on our promotion! To pass on our children free from the blemishes they get from us is a thing worth living for."
"Indeed it is. But don't think me narrow-minded, doctor, nor that I should presume to think hard things of you men of science, if I confess that I still think the ills of the flesh fall within the province of man, but the evils of the spirit within the province of God."
"I'm not sure but that I'm of your mind; where we differ is as to the boundary-line between flesh and spirit. Now, every fault of disposition and temper, though it may have begun in error of the spirit in ourselves or in some ancestor, by the time it becomes a fault of character is a failing of the flesh, and is to be dealt with as such--that is, by appropriate treatment. Observe, I am not speaking of occasional and sudden temptations and falls, or of as sudden impulses towards good, and the reaching of heights undreamed of before. These things are of the spiritual world, and are to be spiritually discerned. But the failing or the virtue which has become habitual to us is flesh of our flesh, and must be treated on that basis whether it is to be uprooted or fostered."
"I confess I don't follow. this line of argument should make the work of redemption gratuitous. According to this theory, every parent can save his child, and every man can save himself."
"No, my dear; there you're wrong. I agree with Evans. It is we who lose the efficacy of the great Redemption by failing to see what it has accomplished. That we have still to engage in a spiritual warfare, enabled by spiritual aids, Dr Evans allows. His point is, as I understand it, why embarrass ourselves with these less material ills of the flesh which are open to treatment on the same lines, barring the drugs, as a broken limb or a disordered stomach. Don't you see how it works? We fall, and fret, and repent, and fall again; and are so over-busy with our own internal affairs, that we have no time to get that knowledge of God which is the life of the living soul?"
"All this is beyond me. I confess it is neither the creed nor the practice in which I was brought up. Meantime, how is it to affect Dorothy? That is the practical question."
Dr Evans threw a smiling "I told you so" glance at my husband, which was a little annoying; however, he went on:--
"To be sure; that is the point. Poor Dorothy is just now the occasional victim of a troop of sullen, resentful thoughts and feelings, which wear her out, shut out the sunshine, and are as a curtain between her and all she loves. Does she want these thoughts? No; she hates and deplores them on her knees, we need not doubt; resolves against them; goes through much spiritual conflict. She is a good girl, and we may be sure of all this. Now we must bring physical science to her aid. How those thoughts began we need not ask, but there they are; they go patter, patter, to and fro, to and fro, in the nervous tissue of the brain until--here is the curious point of contact between the material and the immaterial, we see by results that there is such point of contact, but how or why it is so we have not even a guess to offer--until the nervous tissue is modified under the continued traffic in the same order of thoughts. Now, these thoughts become automatic; they come of themselves, and spread and flow as a river makes and enlarges its bed. Such habit of thought is set up, and must go on indefinitely, in spite of struggles, unless--and here is the word of hope--a contrary habit is set up, diverting the thoughts into some quite new channel. Keep the thoughts running briskly in the new channel, and, behold, the old connections are broken, whilst a new growth of brain substance is perpetually taking place. The old thoughts return, and there is no place for them, and Dorothy has time to make herself think of other things before they can establish again the old links. There is, shortly, the philosophy of ordering our thoughts--the first duty of us all."
"That is very wonderful, and should help us. Thank you very much; I had no idea that our thoughts were part and parcel, as it were, of any substance. But I am not sure yet how this is to apply to Dorothy. It seems to me that it will be very difficult for her, poor child, to bring all this to bear on herself. It will be like being put into trigonometry before you are out of subtraction."
"You are right, Mrs. Elmore, it will be a difficult piece of work, to which she will have to give herself up for two or three months. If I am not mistaken in my estimate of her, by that time we shall have a cure. But if you had done the work in her childhood, a month or two would have effected it, and the child herself would have been unconscious of effort."
"How sorry I am. Do tell me what I should have done."
"The tendency was there, we will allow; but you should never have allowed the habit of this sort of feeling to be set up. You should have been on the watch for the outward signs--the same then as now, some degree of pallor, with general limpness of attitude, and more or less dropping of the lips and eyes. The moment one such sign appeared, you should have been at hand to seize the child out of the cloud she was entering, and to let her bask for an hour or two in love and light, forcing her to meet you eye to eye, and to find love and gaiety in yours. Every sullen attack averted is so much against setting up the habit; and habit, as you know, is a chief factor in character."
"And can we do nothing for her now?"
"Certainly you can. Ignore the sullen humours let gay life go on as if she was not there, only drawing her into it now and then by an appeal for her opinion, or for her laugh at a joke. Above all, when good manners compel her to look up, let her meet unclouded eyes, full of pleasure in her; for, believe, whatever cause of offence she gives to you, she is far more deeply offensive to herself. And you should do this all the more because, poor girl, the brunt of the battle will fall upon her."
"I see you are right; all along, her sullenness has given away before her father's delight in her, and indeed it is in this way that my husband has so far cured me. I suppose you would say he had broken the habit. But won't you see her and talk to her? I know you can help her most."
"Well, to tell you the truth, I was going to ask you if I might; her sensitive nature must be gently handled; and, just because she has no such love for me as for her parents, I run less risk of wounding her. Besides, I have a secret to tell which should help her in the management of herself."
"Thank you, Evans; we are more grateful than I can say. Will you strike while the iron's hot? Shall we go away and send her to you, letting her suppose it is a mere medical call?"
"Good morning, Miss Dorothy; do you know I think it's quite time this state of things should come to an end. We are both tired of the humbug of treating you for want of health when you are quite strong and well."
Dorothy looked up with flushed face (I had it all later from both Dr. Evans and Dorothy herself), and eyes half relieved, half doubtful, but not resentful, and stood quietly waiting.
"All the same, I think you are in a bad way, and are in great need of help. Will you bear with me while I tell you what is the matter, and how you may be cured?"
Dorothy was past speaking, and gave a silent assent.
"Don't be frightened, poor child; I don't speak to hurt you, but to help. A considerable part of a life which should be all innocent gaiety of heart, is spent in gloom and miserable isolation. Some one fails to dot his i's, and you resent it, not in words or manner, being too well brought up; but the light within you is darkened by a flight of black thoughts. He (or she) shouldn't have done it! It's too bad! They don't care how they hurt me! I should never have done so to her!--and so on without end. Presently you find yourself swathed in a sort of invisible shroud; you cannot reach out a living hand to anybody, nor speak in living tones, nor meet your dear ones eye to eye with a living and loving glance. There you sit, like a dead man at the feast. By this time you have forgotten the first offence, and would give the world to get out of this death-in-life. You cry, you say your prayers, beg to be forgiven and restored, but your eyes are fixed upon yourself as a hateful person, and you are still wrapped in the cloud; until, suddenly (no doubt in answer to your prayers), a hug from little May, the first primrose of the year, a lark, filling the world with his gladness, and, presto! the key is turned, the enchanted princess liberated, glad as the lark, sweet as the flower, and gay as the bright child!"
No answer: Dorothy's arms were on the table, and her face hidden upon them. At last she said in a choked voice--"Please go on, doctor!"
"All this may be helped," a start: "may, within two or three months, be completely cured, become a horrid memory and nothing more!" A gasp, and streaming eyes raised, where the light of hope was struggling with fear and shame.
"This is very trying for you, dear child! But I must get on with my task, and when I have done, it's my belief you'll forget the pain for joy. In the first place, you are not a very wicked girl because these ugly thoughts master you; I don't say, mind you, that you will be without offence once you get the key between your fingers; but as it is, you need not sit in judgment on yourself any more."
Then Dr Evans went on to make clear to Dorothy what he had already made clear to us of the interaction of thought and brain; how that Thought, Brain & Co. were such close allies that nobody could tell which of the two did what: that they even ran a business of their own, independently of Ego, who was supposed to be the active head of the firm, and so on.
Dorothy listened with absorbed intentness, as if every word were saving; but the light of hope died slowly out.
"I think I see what you mean; these black thoughts come and rampage even against the desire of the Ego, I, myself. but, oh doctor, don't you see, that's all the worse for me?"
"Stop a bit, stop a bit, my dear young lady, I have not done yet. Ego sees things are going wrong and asserts himself; sets up new thoughts in a new course, and stops the old traffic; and in course of time, and a very short time too, the old nerve connections are broken, and the old way under tillage; no more opening for traffic there. Have you got it?"
"I think so. I'm to think of something else, and soon there will be no room in the brain for the ugly thoughts which distress me. But that's just the thing I can't do!"
"But that is exactly the only thing you have power to do! Have you any idea what the will is, and what are its functions?"
"I don't know much about it. I suppose your will should make you able to do the right thing when you feel you can't! You should say, 'I will,' and go and do it. But you don't know how weak I am. It makes no difference to me to say, I will!"
"Well, now, to own up honestly, I don't think it ever made much difference to anybody outside of the story-books. All the same, Will is a mighty fellow in his own way, but he goes with a sling and a stone, and not with the sword of Goliath. He attacks the giant with what seems a child's plaything, and the giant is slain. This is how it works. When ill thoughts begin to molest you, turn away your mind with a vigorous turn, and think of something else. I don't mean think good forgiving thoughts, perhaps you are not ready for that yet; but think of something interesting and pleasant; the new dress you must plan, the friend you like best, the book you are reading; best of all, fill heart and mind suddenly with some capital plan for giving pleasure to some poor body whose days are dull. The more exciting the thing you think of, the safer you are. Never mind about fighting the evil thought. This is the one thing you have to do; for this is, perhaps, the sole power the will has. It enables you to change your thoughts; to turn yourself round from gloomy thoughts to cheerful ones. Then you will find that your prayers will be answered, for you will know what to ask for, and will not turn your back on the answer when it comes. There, child, I have told you the best secret of an old man's life, and have put into your hands the key of self-government and a happy life. Now you know how to be better than he that taketh a city."
"Thank you a thousand times for your precious secret. You have lifted my feet out of the slough. I will change my thoughts (may I say that?). You shall find that your key does not rust for want of use. I trust I may be helped never to enter that cloud again."
And she did not. It is five years since Dorothy had that talk in the library with Dr Evans (he died within the year, to our exceeding regret). What battles she fought we never heard; never again was the subject alluded to. For two years she was our constantly loving and joyous home daughter; for three, she has been Arthur Brisbane's happy wife; and her little sunbeam of an Elsie--no fear that she will ever enter the cloud in which mother and grandmother were so nearly lost.
Typed by Meghan and happi, Jan-Apr 2018
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