In the Garden
IN THE GARDEN.
BY ESTELLA BACHMAN BROKAW.
"I Am so glad to see you, Mrs. Frisbie, and that you have brought both children," exclaimed Mrs. Ward, one warm afternoon, as she opened her gate in hospitable haste to admit Mrs. Frisbie and her baby carriage.
"What a delightful garden you have," said the visitor, looking about her at the well-kept and long reaches of flower beds and cool, shady places.
"Yes, we all delight in outdoors," replied Mrs. Ward, "and the children spend more time outside than in the house."
"It is good that they can," returned Mrs. Frisbie, "and it would be well for us grown-ups if we could do the same. It seems to me that nothing goes so far toward keeping one young and joyous as the little ones are, as to have plenty of outdoors and sunshine, not between narrow walls, but in wide, free spaces."
"Then I will not ask you into the house now, we will just sit here on the lawn and enjoy this delicious air," remarked her hostess, adding, "here comes some of the children now," as a little troop came racing around the corner of the house. They stopped suddenly on seeing the visitors and stared curiously at little Annie Frisbie, who had climbed down from the carriage and was looking about her with interest.
"Come, children, here are some little folks for you to play with," called Mrs. Ward.
"If they can play around here where I can watch my children," said Mrs. Frisbie, with a little hesitation.
"Why, certainly," returned Mrs. Ward, cordially, "can your baby walk? She can roll about on this soft grass, anyway."
"Irene can walk very well for a year-old," said Mrs. Frisbie, a trifle proudly, as she lifted the baby down onto the grass.
"How cute she looks," said Mrs. Ward, watching the child trot about. "She does not stumble over her dress, either, as all my children did when first walking," she added, as the baby stooped again and again to pick the tempting white clover heads.
"She cannot stumble over that skirt," said Mrs. Frisbie, smiling a little at Mrs. Ward's puzzled expression.
"It is such a cute little dress," said the latter, "and, why, I declare, the skirt is a regular little bloomer; where did you get the pattern?"
"Her father and I contrived it for Annie when she began to roll about and try to stand up in her day crib, and we found her skirts hindered her movements. We had seen the ordinary creeping aprons, but did not like them, as ungraceful and inconvenient for a regular dress, and I never could see the sense of putting aprons on little children."
"But how is it put together?" asked Mrs. Ward, "I never saw anything like it; the blouse waist is so pretty and looks just like Annie's."
Mrs. Frisbie laughed a little as she replied: "I invented the waist pattern myself, and then when I found myself, later on, obliged to practice a bit of economy when putting Annie into knee pants, the better way of producing the same effect invented itself. Come, Irene, come to mamma a moment," and as the child came up, she added: "See, the skirt is much like the ordinary gymnastic divided skirt, cut to a baby's size, the bands fastened below the knee, are pinned with tiny safety pins so they can never become too tight, as elastic bands always are and a buttoned band might be."
"But is it not a bother while the baby wears a diaper?" asked Mrs. Ward, as she studied the little garment.
"Not at all; you see the skirt has front and back bands and is easily let down. Then as long as baby wears a diaper I make two skirts to each waist and so make needed changes easily. It is nothing like the trouble of the creeping apron where waist and bloomers are all in one. The waist," continued Mrs. Frisbie, "is simply gathered on to a loose round waist just above the row of buttons which hold up the skirt. Then I turn up the fullness and fasten it at the top under the edge of the yoke, buttoning it up the back as you see."
"It is certainly ingenious," commented Mrs. Ward, "but does not the lining to the neck make it too warm for hot weather?"
"Yes, but that problem solved itself when I came to fix up Annie's dresses so as to put her into knee pants. I could not afford to throw the dresses away, and so it occurred to me to cut them a few inches shorter and gather the edge above the row of buttons on the low-necked, sleeveless underwaist, which had held up her panties under the dress. I found I then had the same graceful shaped blouse waist without the disadvantages of the first plan. One good point is that it cannot get out of place, as ordinary blouse waists so often do, and it has no draw strings or band to tempt one to fasten too tight in order to make it keep its place."
"I shall certainly try your patterns," said Mrs. Ward. "My Jamie still stumbles over his dress now and then, short as it is; and your Irene looks neater, somehow," she added, glancing at the babies who were now seated together on the grass, gleefully dissecting the clover heads.
Mrs. Frisbie's glance followed hers as she said: "I think that the neatness you refer to is due to the fact that with the bloomers there can be no exposure of diaper or undergarments, as there invariably is with any sort of round skirt. My experience," she added, "makes me think the bloomers the most suitable and comfortable skirt for little children from the time they make their first efforts to creep or roll about actively until they are tall enough to wear knee pants without looking like little brownies.
"One thing bothers me yet, though/' said her hostess, "how do you dispose of the underskirts?
"Eliminating all need of petticoats is one of the greatest advantages about the costume," returned Mrs. Frisbie, promptly. "Irene wears only a short skirt and diaper underneath the suit, and when the diaper is no longer necessary a union undersuit is all that is needed. For cold weather I make the costume of warm but washable flannel, and in warm weather, of soft, light-weight cotton goods. A bit of feather stitching and lace or embroidery on the edge of collar and wrist bands gives a dainty finish without adding any fussiness to bother the child."
"I shall certainly try your patterns on my children." said Mrs. Ward, a second time. "I told Mr. Ward what you said to us the other day about skirts and he greatly favors the idea of dressing Bessie as you do Annie. You see," she glanced at the group of children playing quietly near them, "Bessie is the only girl among three boys and she is as lively as any of them except as her clothes hinder her movements. I had never noticed it before as I seem to do constantly since your talk about it."
"I am glad you do see it," said Mrs. Frisbie, earnestly, "and you remember what that noted purity worker said recently, that we cannot have a thoroughly virtuous manhood and womanhood until we have a sexless childhood. You can see now how impossible a sexless childhood is while we insist on so dressing and training children as to force sex-consciousness on them from their earliest babyhood."
Mrs. Ward sighed, "It is true we do, I had not thought of it in that light at all. but," brightening, "I will do all I can to help change it now I do see what is needed, and I think my husband will help us."
"Help us with what?" asked Mr. Ward, appearing suddenly from behind some shrubbery and shaking hands cordially with Mrs. Frisbie.
"In our efforts to keep children children instead of making them miniature men and women," replied his wife.
"That I will," he returned promptly, "but not by making a little old man of our Bessie," he smiled on his wife, and added, as he noticed Mrs. Frisbie's puzzled expression: "There comes my illustration now," he indicated two children just entering the gate; both were clad in long blue denim overalls, one child having them wider and ever more wobbly than the other, though rich collars and sleeves indicated better clothing beneath.
"It is George and Ethel Montague, they are our nearest neighbors," explained Mrs. Ward, as her children ran to meet and welcome the newcomers. "Mrs. Montague brought the fashion from the city a short time ago. She said lots of stylish and wealthy people there have their little girls wear such overalls to protect their dresses during play hours."
Don't say you like them, Mrs. Frisbie," pleaded Mr. Ward. "My wife actually wanted to put our Bessie into such clothes, but I asked her to tell me first why she was willing to make a little old man of the child and unwilling to make a pretty boy like her brothers out of her, and she has not found the answer yet."
"Oh, yes, I have," said Mrs. Ward, frankly, "only I hated to own it. It is stylish now for little girls to wear overalls while playing and it is not so for them to wear knee pants."
"But you can see for yourself, Beth, that for freedom, neatness and prettiness Mrs. Frisbie's little Annie is ahead of either our Bessie or Ethel Montague." insisted Mr. Ward, as the children chanced to race by together, little Bessie's skirts flying wildly about her.
"I own that willingly now it is exhibited so plainly," answered his wife, as her glance followed the little girls.
"I have a belief," said Mrs. Frisbie, thoughtful!}', "that if we try only to find out and follow the truth, the truest morality, the truest health, that we are sure to find the results what we call pleasing, beautiful, because most natural."
"What is it, Harold? asked Mrs. Ward of her eldest child, who had been standing beside her a moment, hesitating to interrupt the conversation.
"George Montague wants us all to go over and try his new gun; it fires hollow rubber balls and cannot hurt anything. Can we go, Mother?" he replied. "He says Ethel is going to learn to shoot and he will teach Bessie and Annie, too."
I would prefer Annie should not go," said Mrs. Frisbie, quickly," we do not allow her to have such toys."
"Another time we will see about it, Harold dear," said Mrs. Ward to the boy, "we want Annie to stay here."
"All right, Mother, I will start some more games," and he went cheerfully back to his little playmates, who were soon intent on the new game he proposed.
"So you object to girls playing with boys' toys, Mrs. Frisbie," said Mr. Ward, a little quizzically, "that does not seem to agree with vour other ideas."
"You mistake me. 1 would give boys and girls the same toys," returned Mrs. Frisbie.
"But should not little girls play with dolls more than little boys do, and boys play more with tops and bails and such things?" asked Mrs. \Vard.
"I fail to see any reason why they should," returned her visitor decidedly. "I would make no difference whatever in the training of little childrcn; I would give them the same toys, teach them the same games, and have them romp and play together without any hint or intimation of sex. Nature makes no such difference, why should we?"
"But then, why do you object to little girls playing with guns, or is it that you believe that women should not learn the manly sport of shooting?" asked Mr. Ward.
"I cannot consider murder as sport or consistent with true manliness, as I understand it," returned Mrs. Frisbie, gravely. "To teach children to connect murder with sport and pastime does seem to me conducive to genuine morality. The object in the invention of the gun was to facilitate murder, of birds, animals and especially human beings. I do not wish to encourage that idea."
"But," insisted Mr. Ward, using a gun trains the eye and hand to precision, and then, you know, there are times when men must go to war to protect the weak from the strong; but of course, women need not go as soldiers," as added hastily.
"As to the training of eye and hand," replied Mrs. Frisbie earnestly, "there are many other ways as good physically, and far safer, from a moral point of view. As to war, I think it would be far better to so change conditions that the strong would be ashamed to prey on the weak. Indeed, under right conditions, I could imagine the existence of very few weak ones, as we now understand the term, and those few would be well taken care of by the strong."
"But it will take so long to bring about such conditions," said Mrs. Ward, "and in the meantime, what more can we do?"
"We might at least give our energies to the effort to bring about the desired right conditions, rather than to fostering and encouraging present wrong and confusion," replied her guest, gently.
"You women want the millennium at once," remarked Mr. Ward lightly.
"In all seriousness, Mr. Ward," said Mrs. Frisbie, "I am sure that in so far as establishing justice on earth is concerned, we could have the millennium within a generation, if we would but go about it the right and simple way. But see how low the sun is getting," she added hastily, "I must be going home, and Irene is nearly asleep." She glanced down at the babies who had long since cuddled on the grass at their mother's feet, and now, with chubby hands still grasping the flowers liberally supplied by the older children, they dropped and swayed in vain efforts to keep awake.
"Harry," remarked Mrs. Ward, a few moments later, as they stood at their gate, watching their retreating visitor, "I cannot talk to Mrs. Frisbie five minutes without getting a new idea into my head, or something worth thinking over. What do you suppose she meant by establishing justice on earth? She spoke as though it could be done right off if we only would."
"Better ask her the next time you see her, Beth. She is an unusual woman and was evidently quite in earnest. But between you, you have kept me from my work so I will have to rush it if I am to finish trimming that hedge before supper." He disappeared into the shrubbery while his wife walked thoughtfully toward the house.