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Tea-table Talk Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter II

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"What woman suffers from," said the Philosopher, "is over-praise. It has turned her head."

"You admit, then, that she has a head?" demanded the Girton Girl.

"It has always been a theory of mine," returned the Philosopher, "that by Nature she was intended to possess one. It is her admirers who have always represented her as brainless."

"Why is it that the brainy girl invariably has straight hair?" asked the Woman of the World.

"Because she doesn't curl it," explained the Girton Girl. She spoke somewhat snappishly, it seemed to me.

"I never thought of that," murmured the Woman of the World.

"It is to be noted in connection with the argument," I ventured to remark, "that we hear but little concerning the wives of intellectual men. When we do, as in the case of the Carlyles, it is to wish we did not."

"When I was younger even than I am now," said the Minor Poet, "I thought a good deal of marriage--very young men do. My wife, I told myself, must be a woman of mind. Yet, curiously, of all the women I have ever loved, no single one has been remarkable for intellect-- present company, as usual, of course excepted."

"Why is it," sighed the Philosopher, "that in the most serious business of our life, marriage, serious considerations count for next to nothing? A dimpled chin can, and often does, secure for a girl the best of husbands; while virtue and understanding combined cannot be relied upon to obtain her even one of the worst."

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"I think the explanation is," replied the Minor Poet, "that as regards, let us say, the most natural business of our life, marriage, our natural instincts alone are brought into play. Marriage--clothe the naked fact in what flowers of rhetoric we will- -has to do with the purely animal part of our being. The man is drawn towards it by his primeval desires; the woman by her inborn craving towards motherhood."

The thin, white hands of the Old Maid fluttered, troubled, where they lay upon her lap. "Why should we seek to explain away all the beautiful things of life?" she said. She spoke with a heat unusual to her. "The blushing lad, so timid, so devotional, worshipping as at the shrine of some mystic saint; the young girl moving spell- bound among dreams! They think of nothing but of one another."

"Tracing a mountain stream to its sombre source need not mar its music for us as it murmurs through the valley," expounded the Philosopher. "The hidden law of our being feeds each leaf of our life as sap runs through the tree. The transient blossom, the ripened fruit, is but its changing outward form."

"I hate going to the roots of things," said the Woman of the World. "Poor, dear papa was so fond of doing that. He would explain to us the genesis of oysters just when we were enjoying them. Poor mamma could never bring herself to touch them after that. While in the middle of dessert he would stop to argue with my Uncle Paul whether pig's blood or bullock's was the best for grape vines. I remember the year before Emily came out her favourite pony died; I have never known her so cut up about anything before or since. She asked papa if he would mind her having the poor creature buried in the garden. Her idea was that she would visit now and then its grave and weep awhile. Papa was awfully nice about it and stroked her hair. 'Certainly, my dear,' he said, 'we will have him laid to rest in the new strawberry bed.' Just then old Pardoe, the head gardener, came up to us and touched his hat. 'Well, I was just going to inquire of Miss Emily,' he said, 'if she wouldn't rather have the poor thing buried under one of the nectarine-trees. They ain't been doing very well of late.' He said it was a pretty spot, and that he would put up a sort of stone. Poor Emily didn't seem to care much where the animal was buried by that time, so we left them arguing the question. I forget how it was settled; but I know we neither of us ate either strawberries or nectarines for the next two years."

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Tea-table Talk
Jerome K. Jerome

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