Side Talks with Girls/Chapter 8

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THEY can only be compared to the little foxes. You have a beautiful bunch of grapes, perfect in shape, exquisite in bloom, looking as if they must be luscious and sweet, and you pick one, expecting great pleasure, but it sets your teeth on an edge, and you discover that at its very heart it has been bitten by two sharp little teeth, and in consequence it is not at all pleasant to the taste. So, very many times, is it with the character of the young girl. There may be about her everything that is charming; she may appear agreeable, attractive, and amiable, but, suddenly, something occurs, some little thing is said or done, and you discover that the mental little foxes have bitten at and taken away from her perfection. In many cases a watchful mother sees that the little foxes do not come near her daughter, but quite as often the watching for them and the being careful that they are not permitted to come near one must be the work of the girl herself. These small faults are at first troublesome to get rid of, but when the effect that they have upon the character is realized, and it is seen how quickly they grow from mere faults to absolute sins, surely a girl will take all the care possible and not only discover them for herself, but hate them and conquer them.


Usually much is said about speech being silver and silence golden, and yet there are times when silence itself is a sin. If someone you know is being talked about, spoken of maliciously, and all her faults discussed, what is your duty? This: To think up something about her that is good, and to mention it so distinctly that all the talkers will be shamed out of hunting for her faults and will begin to look for her virtues. Very often you set your lips tight and resolve not to say a word against anybody, and then you think you have done your duty. But you haven't. A persistent silence in leaving undone that which you ought to have done has been your fault, and that means committing a sin of omission. Speak, and speak quickly and honestly, never hesitating to tell of the virtues belonging even to your enemies, because, after all, it is a mean thing merely to keep silent; and it is a great thing to control one's self so that one may speak well of those for whom one does not care.

Of the sin of speech you girls all know. It is the unnecessary word of fault-finding. It is seeing and speaking of people's faults, rather than searching out and proclaiming their virtues. It is being willing to make people unhappy by nasty little speeches that may seem clever, but are really rude. It is saying what you ought not to say. It is allowing free license to your speech. In time as the result you will get so that you will even look for the disagreeable traits among your friends and those whom you love, and you will speak as quickly about them as about utter strangers. Irrespective of the wrong that you do, how long will you retain any friendships worth having? Men and women both are afraid of the young woman who makes unkind speeches, and so I beg of you watch carefully that the sin of speech does not overcome you, and rule that organ which should be divine, the tongue.


In your manner you can commit sin. Somebody has just been introduced to you, and instead of bowing pleasantly, you give a stiff, haughty nod that makes a shy woman feel uncomfortable and causes her to have anything but a pleasant opinion of you. In your home you come into the dining-room late for a meal, throw yourself carelessly into a chair, and as you eat the semi-cold dishes, you sulk and refuse to speak to anybody. When you are asked to help a little in the household, you start to do it by banging the door and giving poor work because your heart is not in it, and you make everybody about you uncomfortable by your disagreeable manner. Some one comes in to see your mother, some old friend, and she wishes to present you to her. You toss your head, curl your lips, don't want to go, but at last yield, principally from curiosity. Probably the lady you meet is not very finely dressed, nor can she chatter about social affairs as you like your friends to, but that doesn't excuse your speaking to her in the stiffest manner and making her feel anything but comfortable.


If one of your pet sins is to sulk I will tell you what to do. As pleasantly as you can ask your mother to excuse you for a little while; then go to your own room and sit in front of your looking-glass. Watch your face and see how ugly it grows when you yield to this sin. I am sure that in a very little while you will be down on your knees asking God to help you, and making to Him a promise to do all that you can to help yourself. Another ugly fault, and one which is of manner, consists in finding nothing to your liking. Of course, you display this fault at the home table most prominently, but when you are visiting you make your hostess feel uncomfortable, although you don't say a word, by refusing everything on the table except bread and butter and tea. Now, my dear, unless you learn to avoid this sin of manner, you should eat by yourself at home and not be permitted to go visiting.


You think that respect is only necessary to your father and mother, and yet it is absolutely due to whoever is older than you, whoever is greater, and whoever is better. Flippant speeches and carelessness of manner simply stamp you as being very ignorant. Fancy making an old lady a subject of jest as I heard a girl doing not long ago! It happened to be true that she was odd, that she dressed much too young for her years, and that she seemed to forget that she was no longer a young woman; still, no matter what she did, that did not excuse the light criticisms that were passed upon her. And you and I, my friend, are just as likely to be foolish when we are old. There were many good things in this old lady's life; to many a young girl had she given a pretty party dress, and nothing pleased her so much as to collect young people about her and make them have a good time. But this girl who was making fun of her forgot the kindness and only remembered the little follies, reversing the judgment that would be passed upon her at the last great day.

You are lacking in respect to a clergyman when you go to church and do not pay proper attention to his sermon. You are lacking in respect to your hostess when, having provided some good music for your pleasure, you leave the room, sit on the staircase, and chatter with a group of young people quite as disrespectful as yourself. You are very rude if you permit yourself, by spreading out your draperies, to occupy two seats in a car, and permit an old gentleman to stand. You think that these are little faults; so they are, but the specks upon the grape where the sharp little teeth entered were almost invisible.


There are more ways of being extravagant than by spending money. Extravagance of speech is a common fault among young girls. Something is seen and when it is described later on it would scarcely be recognized by any other looker-on. Extravagant words have been used, the situation has been made dramatic, and what was an ordinary, every-day occurrence is, by your extravagant language, made to seem a something of great importance. After awhile this habit grows upon you, and your friends laughingly say, "If you want to be amused listen to Florence; if you want the absolute truth of the affair ask somebody else."

Extravagance in dress very often means improper dressing—over-dressing. Possibly you kept the greater part of your money and with it bought a fine silk frock, only fitted for evening or visiting wear, and yet, after it has seen a little service, you are forced to go to business in it. What you ought to have done was to get a smart-looking woollen gown, and then, when the time came for it to be used for every-day wear, it would have been quite proper. Think, if you are among the butterflies, whether you are not extravagant in urging those who love you best to give you pieces of jewelry which they really cannot afford and which are utterly unsuited to the life you live. Many a business man can trace his downfall to the diamond ear-rings for which wife or daughter begged so hard. And then a woman is seldom satisfied with just one bit of prettiness. So, my dear girl, unless you know your father can afford it, do not even hint to him that you would like a bracelet, or a locket, or a brooch, but make yourself look as charming as possible in the simplest way, and then if dark days should ever come you will have nothing with which to blame yourself.


A very good motto to put up in your bedroom in bright red letters is this: "Evil is wrought by want of thought." Yes, it is, but that is no excuse for it. You are a thinking human being, and you have no right when you have done wrong to excuse it by saying you didn't think about it. It is your business in life to think. You were rude, your manner was not perfect, and the words you said were evidences of ill-temper; thoughtlessness will not pardon any of these. It always seems to me as if it were the weakest of all reasons, that one of lack of thought. It is equivalent to saying that you've no brain. You are asked by your mother to dust the parlor; it isn't done, and when, later in the day, you find her busy at it and know that she is so tired she ought to be resting at this time, what a poor reason it is for you to give as an explanation of your neglect, "I got to talking and didn't think."

You are asked by an employer to carefully watch a certain account and to see that there are no errors. At first you do with much enthusiasm; then, without exactly formulating the idea, you let it alone. Some day there is a great error; it means a loss of much money, and when you are reminded of what you were asked to do, isn't this a poor excuse for not having attended to your duty: "I looked carefully after everything else, but lately I haven't given a thought to that"?

You hear a bit of gossip, you repeat it to your best friend. It goes around the circle and eventually you are forced to face it again. Then the woman about whom it was asks you why, and it seems a mean, low reason when you say: "Well, it was told to me and I never gave a thought to there being any harm in repeating it." So you see what may be wrought by thoughtlessness. The shrug of the shoulder, the curl of the lip when someone else is referred to may, on your part, mean very little, but when they are described and much stress laid upon them, the impression is that you know a great deal that you haven't told. What you did was done from thoughtlessness; that is your excuse. But this is absolutely true, one can easier battle with something that is premeditated than with something that is done in so-called thoughtlessness.


These are very mean sins. They make you undervalue your friends. They make you say petty, mean things, and they cause to grow in your heart a poisonous green plant which is bitter to the taste and which is called envy. You are jealous of somebody's beautiful looks. Beautiful looks, my child, do not last forever, but beauty of manner will cling to one all one's life. You are unhappy because somebody's clothes are finer than yours; keep yours sweet and neat, try and forget about outer garments, go out in the sunshine, and you will realize that in life she who wears beautiful clothes gets very little more pleasure, no more sunshine, and no more keen appreciation of everything than you do in your simple, suitable frock.

You are jealous because somebody is spoken of as a fine musician, whereas you can only play the accompaniments, while your brothers and sisters sing the songs that all of them like. Perhaps the girl who is such an artist in music may be unfortunate enough not to have brothers and sisters; so you must think about your blessings, think over what you have that she doesn't possess, and make yourself happy. If you allow jealousy to take possession of you, you will not only be a very unhappy girl, but you will make everybody around you dislike you, and surely you don't want that to happen?


I know every one of my girls can think of some other little fault, one that is peculiar to herself. Now, I want her to represent the perfect specimen of girlhood, just as the perfect grape is the finest of fruits, satisfying the thirst, the taste, and the eyes. But, my dear girls, if you want to be this you must pull out the little faults as you would the weeds from a garden. Pull them so carefully that they cannot come back, and in their place sow the seed of the beautiful flowers that represent the virtues. Then you will be happier, better, and more lovable, and it will make life sweeter for everybody around you. And behold, some day, taking you in her arms, your mother will tell you that the brightness and good cheer in the house are due to you and your virtues. She may, perhaps, remind you of that time when you weren't as wise as you are now, and be sure she will congratulate you on your victory over the little faults of every-day life. After this it is so easy to conquer big faults; they stand out so prominently, having no little ones to excuse them, that you see them and control them. You get them well in grasp and master them, and in time, you, my girl, by your own efforts, will become "a perfect woman nobly planned."