A Mortal Antipathy: First Opening of the New Portfolio

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Author: Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

XXII Euthymia.

"The Wonder" of the Corinna Institute had never willingly made a show of her gymnastic accomplishments. Her feats, which were so much admired, were only her natural exercise. Gradually the dumb-bells others used became too light for her, the ropes she climbed too short, the clubs she exercised with seemed as if they were made of cork instead of being heavy wood, and all the tests and meters of strength and agility had been strained beyond the standards which the records of the school had marked as their historic maxima. It was not her fault that she broke a dynamometer one day; she apologized for it, but the teacher said he wished he could have a dozen broken every year in the same way. The consciousness of her bodily strength had made her very careful in her movements. The pressure of her hand was never too hard for the tenderest little maiden whose palm was against her own. So far from priding herself on her special gifts, she was disposed to be ashamed of them. There were times and places in which she could give full play to her muscles without fear or reproach. She had her special costume for the boat and for the woods. She would climb the rugged old hemlocks now and then for the sake of a wide outlook, or to peep into the large nest where a hawk, or it may be an eagle, was raising her little brood of air-pirates.

There were those who spoke of her wanderings in lonely places as an unsafe exposure. One sometimes met doubtful characters about the neighborhood, and stories were—told of occurrences which might well frighten a young girl, and make her cautious of trusting herself alone in the wild solitudes which surrounded the little village.. Those who knew Euthymia thought her quite equal to taking care of herself. Her very look was enough to ensure the respect of any vagabond who might cross her path, and if matters came to the worst she would prove as dangerous as a panther.

But it was a pity to associate this class of thoughts with a noble specimen of true womanhood. Health, beauty, strength, were fine qualities, and in all these she was rich. She enjoyed all her natural gifts, and thought little about them. Unwillingly, but overpersuaded by some of her friends, she had allowed her arm and hand to be modelled. The artists who saw the cast wondered if it would be possible to get the bust of the maiden from whom it was taken. Nobody would have dared to suggest such an idea to her except Lurida. For Lurida sex was a trifling accident, to be disregarded not only in the interests of humanity, but for the sake of art.

"It is a shame," she said to Euthymia, "that you will not let your exquisitely moulded form be perpetuated in marble. You have no right to withhold such a model from the contemplation of your fellowcreatures. Think how rare it is to see a woman who truly represents the divine idea! You belong to your race, and not to yourself,—at least, your beauty is a gift not to be considered as a piece of private property. Look at the so-called Venus of Milo. Do you suppose the noble woman who was the original of that divinely chaste statue felt any scruple about allowing the sculptor to reproduce her pure, unblemished perfections?"

Euthymia was always patient with her imaginative friend. She listened to her eloquent discourse, but she could not help blushing, used as she was to Lurida’s audacities. "The Terror’s" brain had run away with a large share of the blood which ought to have gone to the nourishment of her general system. She could not help admiring, almost worshipping, a companion whose being was rich in the womanly developments with which nature had so economically endowed herself. An impoverished organization carries with it certain neutral qualities which make its subject appear, in the presence of complete manhood and womanhood, like a deaf-mute among speaking persons. The deep blush which crimsoned Euthymia’s cheek at Lurida’s suggestion was in a strange contrast to her own undisturbed expression. There was a range of sensibilities of which Lurida knew far less than she did of those many and difficult studies which had absorbed her vital forces. She was startled to see what an effect her proposal had produced, for Euthymia was not only blushing, but there was a flame in her eyes which she had hardly ever seen before.

"Is this only your own suggestion?" Euthymia said, "or has some one been putting the idea into your head?" The truth was that she had happened to meet the Interviewer at the Library, one day, and she was offended by the long, searching stare with which that individual had honored her. It occurred to her that he, or some such visitor to the place, might have spoken of her to Lurida, or to some other person who had repeated what was said to Lurida, as a good subject for the art of the sculptor, and she felt all her maiden sensibilities offended by the proposition. Lurida could not understand her excitement, but she was startled by it. Natures which are complementary of each other are liable to these accidental collisions of feeling. They get along very well together, none the worse for their differences, until all at once the tender spot of one or the other is carelessly handled in utter unconsciousness on the part of the aggressor, and the exclamation, the outcry, or the explosion explains the situation altogether too emphatically. Such scenes did not frequently occur between the two friends, and this little flurry was soon over; but it served to warn Lurida that Miss Euthymia Tower was not of that class of self-conscious beauties who would be ready to dispute the empire of the Venus of Milo on her own ground, in defences as scanty and insufficient as those of the marble divinity.

Euthymia had had admirers enough, at a distance, while at school, and in the long vacations, near enough to find out that she was anything but easy to make love to. She fairly frightened more than one rash youth who was disposed to be too sentimental in her company. They overdid flattery, which she was used to and tolerated, but which cheapened the admirer in her estimation, and now and then betrayed her into an expression which made him aware of the fact, and was a discouragement to aggressive amiability. The real difficulty was that not one of her adorers had ever greatly interested her. It could not be that nature had made her insensible. It must have been because the man who was made for her had never yet shown himself. She was not easy to please, that was certain; and she was one of those young women who will not accept as a lover one who but half pleases them. She could not pick up the first stick that fell in her way and take it to shape her ideal out of. Many of the good people of the village doubted whether Euthymia would ever be married.

"There ’s nothing good enough for her in this village," said the old landlord of what had been the Anchor Tavern.

"She must wait till a prince comes along," the old landlady said in reply. "She’d make as pretty a queen as any of them that’s born to it. Wouldn’t she be splendid with a gold crown on her head, and di’monds a glitterin’ all over her! D’ you remember how handsome she looked in the tableau, when the fair was held for the Dorcas Society? She had on an old dress of her grandma’s,—they don’t make anything. half so handsome nowadays,—and she was just as pretty as a pictur’. But what’s the use of good looks if they scare away folks? The young fellows think that such a handsome girl as that would cost ten times as much to keep as a plain one. She must be dressed up like an empress,—so they seem to think. It ain’t so with Euthymy: she’d look like a great lady dressed anyhow, and she has n’t got any more notions than the homeliest girl that ever stood before a glass to look at herself."

In the humbler walks of Arrowhead Village society, similar opinions were entertained of Miss Euthymia. The fresh-water fisherman represented pretty well the average estimate of the class to which he belonged. ’I tell ye," said he to another gentleman of leisure, whose chief occupation was to watch the coming and going of the visitors to Arrowhead Village,—"I tell ye that girl ain’t a gon to put up with any o’ them slab-sided fellahs that you see hangin’ raound to look at her every Sunday when she comes aout o’ meetin’. It’s one o’ them big gents from Boston or New York that’ll step up an’ kerry her off."

In the mean time nothing could be further from the thoughts of Euthymia than the prospect of an ambitious worldly alliance. The ideals of young women cost them many and great disappointments, but they save them very often from those lifelong companionships which accident is constantly trying to force upon them, in spite of their obvious unfitness. The higher the ideal, the less likely is the commonplace neighbor who has the great advantage of easy access, or the boarding-house acquaintance who can profit by those vacant hours when the least interesting of visitors is better than absolute loneliness,—the less likely are these undesirable personages to be endured, pitied, and, if not embraced, accepted, for want of something better. Euthymia found so much pleasure in the intellectual companionship of Lurida, and felt her own prudence and reserve so necessary to that independent young lady, that she had been contented, so far, with friendship, and thought of love only in an abstract sort of way. Beneath her abstractions there was a capacity of loving which might have been inferred from the expression of her features, the light that shone in her eyes, the tones of her voice, all of which were full of the language which belongs to susceptible natures. How many women never say to themselves that they were born to love, until all at once the discovery opens upon them, as the sense that he was born a painter is said to have dawned suddenly upon Correggio!

Like all the rest of the village and its visitors, she could not help thinking a good deal about the young man lying ill amongst strangers. She was not one of those who had sent him the three-cornered notes or even a bunch of flowers. She knew that he was receiving abounding tokens of kindness and sympathy from different quarters, and a certain inward feeling restrained her from joining in these demonstrations. If he had been suffering from some deadly and contagious malady she would have risked her life to help him, without a thought that there was any wonderful heroism in such self-devotion. Her friend Lurida might have been capable of the same sacrifice, but it would be after reasoning with herself as to the obligations which her sense of human rights and duties laid upon her, and fortifying her courage with the memory of noble deeds recorded of women in ancient and modern history. With Euthymia the primary human instincts took precedence of all reasoning or reflection about them. All her sympathies were excited by the thought of this forlorn stranger in his solitude, but she felt the impossibility of giving any complete expression to them. She thought of Mungo Park in the African desert, and she envied the poor negress who not only pitied him, but had the blessed opportunity of helping and consoling him. How near were these two human creatures, each needing the other! How near in bodily presence, how far apart in their lives, with a barrier seemingly impassable between them !

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Chicago: Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., "XXII Euthymia.," A Mortal Antipathy: First Opening of the New Portfolio, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in A Mortal Antipathy: First Opening of the New Portfolio (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909), Original Sources, accessed September 21, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DBRA899764YAQEW.

MLA: Holmes, Oliver Wendell, Sr. "XXII Euthymia." A Mortal Antipathy: First Opening of the New Portfolio, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in A Mortal Antipathy: First Opening of the New Portfolio, Vol. 22, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909, Original Sources. 21 Sep. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DBRA899764YAQEW.

Harvard: Holmes, OW, 'XXII Euthymia.' in A Mortal Antipathy: First Opening of the New Portfolio, ed. . cited in 1909, A Mortal Antipathy: First Opening of the New Portfolio, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 21 September 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DBRA899764YAQEW.