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The Tinder-Box

Maria Thompson Daviess

  Produced by Kentuckiana Digital Library, David Garcia, Chuck Greif, LeonardJohnson and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.


  "You don't need another vine," I answered mutinously.]




  Author of

  "The Melting of Molly," "Miss Selina Lue," "Sue Jane," Etc.



  _Published, November, 1913_













  X. TOGETHER? 282


  "You don't need another vine," I answered mutinously....._Frontispiece_

  He stood calmly in the midst of Sallie's family and baggage, bothanimate and inanimate 38

  "Say, Polk, I let the Pup git hung by her apron to the wheel of yourcar" 98

  His gray eyes were positively mysterious with interrupted dreams 182

  "We must not allow the men time to get sore over this matter of theLeague" 218

  "Is this right?" he asked 244

  "She's our Mother," he said 276

  Scrouged so close to his arm that it was difficult for both of them towalk 280




  All love is a gas, and it takes either loneliness, strength ofcharacter, or religion to liquefy it into a condition to be ladled outof us, one to another. There is a certain dangerously volatile state ofit; and occasionally people, especially of opposite sexes, try toadminister it to each other in that form, with asphyxiation resulting toboth hearts. And I'm willing to confess that it is generally a woman'sfault when such an accident occurs. That is, it is a mistake of hernature, not one of intent. But she is learning!

  Also when a woman is created, the winds have wooed star-dust, rose-dew,peach-down, and a few flint-shavings into a whirlwind of deviltry, andthe world at large looks on in wonder and sore amazement, as well asbreathless interest. I know, because I am one, and have just been wakedup by the gyrations of the cyclone; and I'm deeply confounded. I don'tlike it, and wish I could have slept longer, but Fate and Jane Mathersdecreed otherwise. At least Jane decreed, and Fate seems so far helplessto controvert the decree.

  I might have known that when this jolly, easy-going old Fate of mine,which I inherited from a lot of indolent, pleasure-loving Harpeth ValleyTennesseans, let me pack up my graduating thesis, my B.S., and somedelicious frocks, and go off to Paris for a degree from the Beaux Artsin Architecture, we would be caught up with by some kind of Nemesis orother, and put in our place in the biological and ethnological scheme ofexistence. Yes, Fate and I are placed, and Jane did it.

  Also, I am glad, now that I know what is going to happen to me, that Ihad last week on shipboard, with Richard Hall bombarding my cardiacregions with his honest eyes and booming voice discreetly muffled toaccord with the moonlight and the quiet places around the deck. I maynever get that sort of a joy-drink again, but it was so well done thatit will help me to administer the same to others when the awful occasionarrives.

  "A woman is the spark that lights the flame on the altar of the innerman, dear, and you'll have to sparkle when your time comes," he warnedme, as I hurried what might have been a very tender parting, the lastnight at sea.

  "_Spark_"--she's a conflagration by this new plan of Jane's, but I'mglad he didn't know about it then. He may have to suffer from it yet. Itis best for him to be as happy as he can as long as he can.

  "Evelina, dear," said Jane, as she and Mary Elizabeth Conners and I satin the suite of apartments in which our proud Alma Mater had lodged usold grads, returned for our second degrees, "your success has beenremarkable, and I am not surprised at all that that positively creativethesis of yours on the Twentieth Century Garden, to which I listenedto-night, procured you an honorable mention in your class at the BeauxArts. The French are a nation that quickly recognizes genius. I am veryhappy to-night. All your honors and achievements make me only the morecertain that I have chosen the right person for the glorious mission Iam about to offer you."

  "Oh, no, Jane!" I exclaimed, from a sort of instinct for trouble tocome. I know that devoted, twenty-second century look in Jane's intense,near-sighted eyes, and I always fend from it. She is a very dear person,and I respectfully adore her. Indeed, I sometimes think she is the realspine in my back that was left out of me, and of its own strength gotdeveloped into another and a finer woman. She became captain of myFreshman soul, at the same time she captured the captaincy of the boatcrew, on which I pulled stroke, and I'm still hitting the water when shegives the word, though it now looks as if we are both adrift on the highand uncharted seas--or sitting on the lid of a tinder-box, jugglinglighted torches.

  "You see, dear," she went on to say slowly, drawing Mary Elizabeth intothe spell-bound circle of our intensity, as we three sat together withour newly-engraved sheepskins on our knees, "for these two years whileyou have been growing and developing along all your natural lines in acountry which was not your own, in a little pool I should call it, outof even sight and sound of the current of events, we have been here inyour own land engaged in the great work of the organization andreorganization which is molding the destinies of the women of ourtimes, and those that come after us. That is what I want to talk to youabout, and devoutly have I been praying that your heart will bereceptive to the call that has claimed the life of Mary Elizabeth andme. There is a particular work, for which you are fitted as no otherwoman I have ever known is fitted, and I want to lay the case plainlybefore you to-night. Will you give me a hearing?"

  And the hearing I gave that beloved and devout woman was the _reveille_that awakened me to this--this whirlwind that seems to be both inside meand outside me, and everywhere else in the whole world.

  It's not woman's suffrage; it has gone way down past the road from votesfor women. I wish I could have stopped in that political field ofendeavor before Jane got to me. She might have left me there doinglittle things like making speeches before the United States Senate andrunning for Governor of Tennessee, after I had, single-handed, remadethe archaic constitution of that proud and bat-blind old State of mybirth; but such ease was not for me.

  Of course for years, as all women have been doing who are sensibleenough to use the brains God gave them and stop depending on theircenturies-seasoned intuitions and fascinations, I have been readingabout this feminist revolution that seems all of a sudden to haverevoluted from nobody knows where, and I have been generally indignantover things whether I understood them or not, and I have felt that I wasbeing oppressed by the opposite sex, even if I could not locate theexact spot of the pain produced. I have always felt that when I got toit I would shake off the shackles of my queer fondness and of mydependence upon my oppressors, and do something revengeful to them.

  When my father died in my Junior year and left me all alone in theworld, the first thing that made me feel life in my veins again was theunholy rage I experienced when I found that he had left me bodaciouslyand otherwise to my fifth cousin, James Hardin.

  Cousin James i
s a healthy reversion to the primitive type of FatherAbraham, and he has so much aristocratic moss on him that he reminds meof that old gray crag that hangs over Silver Creek out on ProvidenceRoad. Artistically he is perfectly beautiful in an Old-Testamentfashion. He lives in an ancient, rambling house across the road from myhome, and he is making a souvenir collection of derelict women.Everybody that dies in Glendale leaves him a relict, and including hismother, Cousin Martha, he now has either seven or nine female charges,depending on the sex of Sallie Carruthers's twin babies, which I can'texactly remember, but will wager is feminine.

  My being left to him was an insult to me, though of course Father didnot see it that way. He adored the Crag, as everybody else in Glendaledoes, and wouldn't have considered not leaving him precious me. Wantingto ignore Cousin James, because I was bound out to him until mytwenty-fifth year or marriage, which is worse, has kept me from Glendaleall these four years since father died suddenly while I was away atcollege, laid up with the ankle which I broke in the gymnasium. Still,as much as I resent him, I keep the letter the Crag wrote me the nightafter Father died, right where I can put my hand on it if life suddenlypanics me for any reason. It covers all the circumstances I have yetmet. I wonder if I ought to burn it now!

  But, to be honest with myself, I will have to confess that theexplosively sentimental scene on the front porch, the night I left forcollege, with Polk Hayes has had something to do with my cowardice inlingering in foreign climes. I feel that it is something I will have togo on with some day, and the devil will have to pick up the chips. Polkis the kind of man that ought to be exterminated by the government insympathy for its women wards, if his clan didn't make such good citizenswhen they do finally marry. He ought at least to be labeled "poison forthe very young." I was very young out on the porch that night. Still, Idon't resent him like I do the archaic Crag.

  And as Jane talked, my seasoned indignation of four years against mykeeper flared up, and while she paused at intervals for breath I hurledout plans for his demolishment. I wish now I had been moreconservatively quiet, and left myself a loophole, but I didn't. I walkedinto this situation and shut the door behind me.

  "Yes, Evelina, I think you will have to insist forcibly on assumingcharge of your own social and financial affairs in your own home. It maynot be easy, with such a man as you describe, but you will accomplishit. However, many mediocre women have proved their ability to attend totheir own fortunes, and do good business for themselves; but your battleis to be fought on still higher grounds. You are to rise and establishwith your fellow-man a plane of common citizenship. You do it for hissake and your own, and for that of humanity."

  "Suppose, after I get up there on that plateau, I didn't find any man atall," I ventured faint-heartedly, but with a ripple of my risibles; thelast in life I fear.

  "You must reach down your hands to them and draw them up to you," sheanswered in a tone of tonic inspiration. "You are to claim the sameright to express your emotions that a man has. You are to offer yourfriendship to both men and women on the same frank terms, with nodegrading hesitancy caused by an embarrassment on account of your sex.It is his due and yours. No form of affection is to be withheld fromhim. It is to be done frankly and impressively, and when the timecomes--" I can hardly write this, but the memory of the wonderful thoughfanatic light in Jane's eyes makes me able to scrawl it--"that you feelthe mating instinct in you move towards any man, I charge you that youare to consider it a sacred obligation to express it with the samehonesty that a man would express the same thing to you, in like case,even if he has shown no sign of that impulse toward you. No contortionsand contemptible indirect method of attack, but a fearless one that isyours by right, and his though he may not acknowledge it. The barbaricand senseless old convention that denies women the right of selection,for which God has given her the superior instinct, is to be broken downby just such women as you. A woman less dowered by beauty and allfeminine charm could not do it just yet, but to you, to whom thecommand of men is a natural gift, is granted the wonderful chance toprove that it can be done, honestly and triumphantly, with no sacrificeof the sacredness of womanhood."

  "Oh, Jane." I moaned into the arm of the chair on which I had bowed myhead.

  I am moaning; now just as much, down in the bottom of my heart. Whereare all my gentle foremothers that smiled behind their lace fans and hadtheir lily-white hands kissed by cavalier gentlemen in starched ruffles,out under the stars that rise over Old Harpeth, that they don't claim mein a calm and peaceful death? Still, as much as I would like to die, Iam interested in what is going to happen.

  "Yes, Evelina," she answered in an adamant tone of voice, "and when Ihave the complete record of what, I know, will be your triumphantvindication of the truth that it is possible and advisable for women toassert their divine right to choose a mate for their sacred vocation ofbearing the race, I shall proceed, as I have told you, to choose fiveother suitable young women to follow your example, and furnish them themoney, up to the sum of a hundred thousand dollars, after having beenconvinced by your experience. Be careful to make the most minuterecords, of even the most emotional phases of the question, in this bookfor their guidance. Of course, they will never know the source of thedata, and I will help you elucidate and arrange the book, after it isall accomplished."

  If Jane hadn't had two million dollars all this trouble would not be.

  "I can never do it!" I exclaimed with horror, "And the men will hateit--and me. And if I did do it, I couldn't write it."

  I almost sobbed as a vision flashed before me of thus verballysnap-shotting the scene with dear old Dickie as we stood against therail of the ship and watched the waves fling back silvery radiance atthe full moon, and I also wondered how I was to render in serviceablewritten data his husky:

  "A woman is the flame that lights the spark--"

  Also, what would that interview with Polk Hayes look like reproducedwith high lights?

  "Now," she answered encouragingly, "don't fear the men, dear. They aresensible and business-like creatures, and they will soon see how much totheir advantage it is to be married to women who have had an equalprivilege with themselves of showing their preferences. Then only canthey be sure that their unions are from real preferences and notcompromises, on the part of their wives, from lack of other choice. Ofcourse, a woman's pride will make her refrain from courtship, as doesher brother man, until she is financially independent, andself-supporting, lest she be put in the position of a mendicant." Janehas thought the whole thing out from Genesis to Revelation.

  Still, that last clause about the mendicant leaves hope for thebenighted man who still wants the cling of the vine. A true vine wouldnever want--or be able--to hustle enough to flower sordid dollarsinstead of curls and blushes.

  "A woman would have to be--to be a good deal of a woman, not any lessone, to put such a thing across, Jane," I said, with a preflash of someof the things that might happen in such a cruel crusade of reformationand deprivation of rights.

  "That is the reason I have chosen you to collect the data, Evelina,"answered Jane, with another of those glorious tonic looks, issuing frommy backbone in her back. "The ultimate woman must be superb in body,brain, and heart. You are that now more nearly than any one I have everseen. You are the woman!"

  I was silenced with awe.

  "Jane plans to choose five girls who would otherwise have to spend theirlives teaching in crowded cities after leaving college and to start themin any profession they choose, with every chance of happiness, in thesmaller cities of the South and Middle West," said Mary Elizabethgently, and somehow the tears rose in my eyes, as I thought how the poordear had been teaching in the high school in Chicago the two gloriousyears I had been frolicking abroad. No time, and no men to have goodtimes with.

  And there were hundreds like her, I knew, in all the crowded parts ofthe United States. And as I had begun, I thought further. Just because Iwas embarrassed at the idea of proposing to some foolish man, who is ofno importance to me,
himself, or the world in general, down in Glendale,where they have all known me all my life, and would expect anything ofme anyway after I have defied tradition and gone to college, fivelovely, lonely girls would have to go without any delightful suitorslike Richard--or Polk Hayes, forever.

  And, still further, I thought of the other girls, coming under theinfluence of those five, who might be encouraged to hold up their headsand look around, and at least help out their Richards in theirmatrimonial quest, and as I sat there with Jane's compelling and MaryElizabeth's hungry eyes on me, I felt that I was being besought by allthe lovers of all the future generations to tear down some sort of awfulbarrier and give them happiness. And it was the thought of the men thatwas most appealing. It takes a woman who really likes them as I do, andhas their good really at heart, to see their side of the question asJane put it, poor dears. Suddenly, I felt that all the happiness of thewhole world was in one big, golden chalice, and that I had to hold itsteadily to give drink to all men and all women--with a vision oflittle unborn kiddies in the future.

  Then, before I could stop myself, I decided--and I hope the dear Lord--Isay it devoutly--indeed I do!--will help that poor man in Glendale if Ipick out the wrong one. I'm going to do it.

  "I accept your appointment and terms, Jane," I said quietly, as I lookedboth those devout, if fanatic, women in the face. "I pledge myself to goback to Glendale, to live a happy, healthy, normal life, as useful as Ican make it. I had intended to do that anyway, for if I am to evolve thereal American garden. I can't do better than sketch and study those inthe Harpeth Valley, for at least two seasons all around. I shall work atmy profession whole-heartedly, take my allotted place in the community,and refuse to recognize any difference in the obligations andopportunities in my life and that of the men with whom I am thrown, andto help all other women to take such a fearless and honest attitude--ifGlendale blows up in consequence. I will seek and claim marriage inexactly the same fearless way a man does, and when I have found what Iwant I shall expect you to put one hundred thousand dollars, twenty toeach, at the disposal of five other suitable young women, to follow myexample, as noted down in this book--if it has been successful. Shall Igive you some sort of written agreement?"

  "Just record the agreement as a note in the book, and I will sign it,"answered Jane, in her crispest and most business-like tone of voice,though I could see she was trembling with excitement, and poor MaryElizabeth was both awe-struck and hopeful.

  I'll invite Mary Elizabeth down to Glendale, as soon as I stake out myown claim, poor dear!

  And here I sit alone at midnight, with a huge, steel-bound,lock-and-keyed book that Jane has had made for me, with my name and theinscription, "In case of death, send unopened to Jane Mathers, Boston,Massachusetts," on the back, committed to a cause as crazy and asserious as anything since the Pilgrimages, or the Quest of the Knightsfor the Grail. It also looks slightly like trying to produce a modernDon Quixote, feminine edition, and my cheeks are flaming so that Iwouldn't look at them for worlds. And to write it all, too! I havealways had my opinion of women who spill their souls out of anink-bottle, but I ought to pardon a nihilist, that in the dead of night,cold with terror, confides some awful appointment he has had made him,to his nearest friend. I am the worst nihilist that ever existed, andthe bomb I am throwing may explode and destroy the human race. But, onthe other hand, the explosion might be of another kind. Suppose thatsuddenly a real woman's entire nature should be revealed to the world,might not the universe be enveloped in a rose glory and a lovesymphony? We'll see!

  Also, could the time ever come when a woman wouldn't risk hanging overthe ragged edge of Heaven to hold on to the hand of some man? Never!Then, as that is the case, I see we must all keep the same firm grip onthe creatures we have always had, and haul them over the edge, but wemust not do it any more without letting them know about it--it isn'thonest. Yes, women must solidify their love into such a concrete formthat men can weigh and measure it, and decide for themselves whetherthey want to--to climb to Heaven for it, or remain comfortable oldbachelors. We mustn't any more lead them into marriage blinded by theoverpowering gaseous fragrance called romantic love.

  But, suppose I should lose all love for everybody in this queer questfor enlightenment I have undertaken? Please, God, let a good man be inGlendale, Tennessee, who will understand and protect me--no, that's thewrong prayer! Protect him--no--both of us!