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Tea-table Talk Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter III

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"It is what I always tell George," remarked the Woman of the World, "when he grumbles at the tradesmen's books. If Papa could only have seen his way to being a poor man, I feel I should have been a better wife."

"Please don't suggest the possibility," I begged the Woman of the World; "the thought is too bewildering."

"You were never imaginative," replied the Woman of the World.

"Not to that extent," I admitted.

"'The best mothers make the worst children,'" quoted the Girton Girl. "I intend to bear that in mind."

"Your mother was a very beautiful character--one of the most beautiful I ever knew," remarked the Old Maid.

"There is some truth in the saying," agreed the Minor Poet, "but only because it is the exception; and Nature invariably puts forth all her powers to counteract the result of deviation from her laws. Were it the rule, then the bad mother would be the good mother and the good mother the bad mother. And--"

"Please don't go on," said the Woman of the World. "I was up late last night."

"I was merely going to show," explained the Minor Poet, "that all roads lead to the law that the good mother is the best mother. Her duty is to her children, to guard their infancy, to take thought for their equipment."

"Do you seriously ask us to believe," demanded the Old Maid, "that the type of woman who does marry for money considers for a single moment any human being but herself?"

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"Not consciously, perhaps," admitted the Minor Poet. "Our instincts, that they may guide us easily, are purposely made selfish. The flower secretes honey for its own purposes, not with any sense of charity towards the bee. Man works, as he thinks, for beer and baccy; in reality, for the benefit of unborn generations. The woman, in acting selfishly, is assisting Nature's plans. In olden days she chose her mate for his strength. She, possibly enough, thought only of herself; he could best provide for her then simple wants, best guard her from the disagreeable accidents of nomadic life. But Nature, unseen, directing her, was thinking of the savage brood needing still more a bold protector. Wealth now is the substitute for strength. The rich man is the strong man. The woman's heart unconsciously goes out to him."

"Do men never marry for money?" inquired the Girton Girl. "I ask merely for information. Maybe I have been misinformed, but I have heard of countries where the dot is considered of almost more importance than the bride."

"The German officer," I ventured to strike in, "is literally on sale. Young lieutenants are most expensive, and even an elderly colonel costs a girl a hundred thousand marks."

"You mean," corrected the Minor Poet, "costs her father. The Continental husband demands a dowry with his wife, and sees that he gets it. He in his turn has to save and scrape for years to provide each of his daughters with the necessary dot. It comes to the same thing precisely. Your argument could only apply were woman equally with man a wealth producer. As it is, a woman's wealth is invariably the result of a marriage, either her own or that of some shrewd ancestress. And as regards the heiress, the principle of sale and purchase, if I may be forgiven the employment of common terms, is still more religiously enforced. It is not often that the heiress is given away; stolen she may be occasionally, much to the indignation of Lord Chancellors and other guardians of such property; the thief is very properly punished--imprisoned, if need be. If handed over legitimately, her price is strictly exacted, not always in money--that she possesses herself, maybe in sufficiency; it enables her to bargain for other advantages no less serviceable to her children--for title, place, position. In the same way the Neolithic woman, herself of exceptional strength and ferocity, may have been enabled to bestow a thought upon her savage lover's beauty, his prehistoric charm of manner; thus in other directions no less necessary assisting the development of the race."

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Tea-table Talk
Jerome K. Jerome

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