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    Freckles

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    Chapter 18
    Previous Chapter
    My meeting with Freckles only served to confirm me in the belief,
    almost amounting to a conviction, that the female of our species
    reaches its full mental development at an extraordinarily early age
    compared to that of the male. In the male the receptive and elastic or
    progressive period varies greatly; but judging from the number of cases
    one meets with of men who have continued gaining in intellectual power
    to the end of their lives, in spite of physical decay, it is reasonable
    to conclude that the stationary individuals are only so because of the
    condition of their lives having been inimical. In fact, stagnation
    strikes us as an unnatural condition of mind. The man who dies at fifty
    or sixty or seventy, after progressing all his life, doubtless would,
    if he had lived a lustrum or a decade longer, have attained to a still
    greater height. "How disgusting it is," cried Ruskin, when he had
    reached his threescore years and ten, "to find that just when one's
    getting interested in life one has got to die!" Many can say as much;
    all could say it, had not the mental machinery been disorganised by
    some accident, or become rusted from neglect and carelessness. He who
    is no more in mind at sixty than at thirty is but a half-grown man: his
    is a case of arrested development.

    It is hardly necessary to remark here that the mere accumulation of
    knowledge is not the same thing as power of mind and its increase: the
    man who astonishes you with the amount of knowledge stored in his brain
    may be no greater in mind at seventy than at twenty.

    Comparing the sexes again, we might say that the female mind reaches
    perfection in childhood, long before the physical change from a
    generalised to a specialised form; whereas the male retains a
    generalised form to the end of life and never ceases to advance
    mentally. The reason is obvious. There is no need for continued
    progression in women, and Nature, like the grand old economist she is,
    or can be when she likes, matures the mind quickly in one case and
    slowly in the other; so slowly that he, the young male, goes crawling
    on all fours as it were, a long distance after his little flying
    sister--slowly because he has very far to go and must keep on for a
    very, very long time.

    I met Freckles in one of those small ancient out-of-the-world market
    towns of the West of England--Somerset to be precise--which are just
    like large old villages, where the turnpike road is for half a mile or
    so a High Street, wide at one point, where the market is held. For a
    short distance there are shops on either side, succeeded by quiet
    dignified houses set back among trees, then by thatched cottages, after
    which succeed fields and woods.

    I had lunched at the large old inn at noon on a hot summer's day; when
    I sat down a black cloud was coming up, and by-and-by there was
    thunder, and when I went to the door it was raining heavily. I leant
    against the frame of the door, sheltered from the wet by a small tiled
    portico over my head, to wait for the storm to pass before getting on
    my bicycle. Then the innkeeper's child, aged five, came out and placed
    herself against the door-frame on the other side. We regarded one
    another with a good deal of curiosity, for she was a queer-looking
    little thing. Her head, big for her size and years, was as perfectly
    round as a Dutch cheese, and her face so thickly freckled that it was
    all freckles; she had confluent freckles, and as the spots and blotches
    were of different shades, one could see that they overlapped like the
    scales of a fish. Her head was bound tightly round with a piece of
    white calico, and no hair appeared under it.

    Just to open the conversation, I remarked that she was a little girl
    rich in freckles.

    "Yes, I know," she returned, "there's no one in the town with such a
    freckled face."

    "And that isn't all," I went on. "Why is your head in a night-cap or a
    white cloth as if you wanted to hide your hair? or haven't you got
    any?"

    "I can tell you about that," she returned, not in the least resenting
    my personal remarks. "It is because I've had ringworms. My head is
    shaved and I'm not allowed to go to school."

    "Well," I said, "all these unpleasant experiences--ringworm, shaved
    head, freckles, and expulsion from school as an undesirable person--do
    not appear to have depressed you much. You appear quite happy."

    She laughed good-humouredly, then looked up out of her blue eyes as if
    asking what more I had to say.

    Just then a small girl about thirteen years old passed us--a child with
    a thin anxious face burnt by the sun to a dark brown, and deep-set,
    dark blue, penetrating eyes. It was a face to startle one; and as she
    went by she stared intently at the little freckled girl.

    Then I, to keep the talk going, said I could guess the sort of life
    that child led.

    "What sort of life does she lead?" asked Freckles.

    She was, I said, a child from some small farm in the neighbourhood, and
    had a very hard life, and was obliged to do a great deal more work
    indoors and out than was quite good for her at her tender age. "But I
    wonder why she stared at you?" I concluded.

    "Did she stare at me!--Why did she stare?"

    "I suppose it was because she saw you, a mite of a child, with a
    nightcap on her head, standing here at the door of the inn talking to a
    stranger just like some old woman."

    She laughed again, and said it was funny for a child of five to be
    called an old woman. Then, with a sudden change to gravity, she assured
    me that I had been quite right in what I had said about that little
    girl. She lived with her parents on a small farm, where no maid was
    kept, and the little girl did as much work or more than any maid. She
    had to take the cows to pasture and bring them back; she worked in the
    fields and helped in the cooking and washing, and came every day to the
    town with a basket of butter, and eggs, which she had to deliver at a
    number of houses. Sometimes she came twice in a day, usually in a pony-
    cart, but when the pony was wanted by her father she had to come on
    foot with the basket, and the farm was three miles out. On Sunday she
    didn't come, but had a good deal to do at home.

    "Ah, poor little slave! No wonder she gazed at you as she did;--she was
    thinking how sweet your life must be with people to love and care for
    you and no hard work to do."

    "And was that what made her stare at me, and not because I had a
    nightcap on and was like an old woman talking to a stranger?" This
    without a smile.

    "No doubt. But you seem to know a great deal about her. Now I wonder if
    you can tell me something about this beautiful young lady with an
    umbrella coming towards us? I should much like to know who she is--and
    I should like to call on her."

    "Yes, I can tell you all about her. She is Miss Eva Langton, and lives
    at the White House. You follow the street till you get out of the town
    where there is a pond at this end of the common, and just a little the
    other side of the pond there are big trees, and behind the trees a
    white gate. That's the gate of the White House, only you can't see it
    because the trees are in the way. Are you going to call on her?"

    I explained that I did not know her, and though I wished I did because
    she was so pretty, it would not perhaps be quite right to go to her
    house to see her.

    "I'm sorry you're not going to call, she's such a nice young lady.
    Everybody likes her." And then, after a few moments, she looked up with
    a smile, and said, "Is there anything else I can tell you about the
    people of the town? There's a man going by in the rain with a lot of
    planks on his head--would you like to know who he is and all about
    him?"

    "Oh yes, certainly," I replied. "But of course I don't care so much
    about him as I do about that little brown girl from the farm, and the
    nice Miss Langton from the White House. But it's really very pleasant
    to listen to you whatever you talk about. I really think you one of the
    most charming little girls I have ever met, and I wonder what you will
    be like in another five years. I think I must come and see for myself."

    "Oh, will you come back in five years? Just to see me! My hair will be
    grown then and I won't have a nightcap on, and I'll try to wash off the
    freckles before you come."

    "No, don't," I said. "I had forgotten all about them--I think they are
    very nice."

    She laughed, then looking up a little archly, said: "You are saying all
    that just for fun, are you not?"

    "Oh no, nothing of the sort. Just look at me, and say if you do not
    believe what I tell you."

    "Yes, I do," she answered frankly enough, looking full in my eyes with
    a great seriousness in her own.

    That sudden seriousness and steady gaze; that simple, frank
    declaration! Would five years leave her in that stage? I fancy not, for
    at ten she would be self-conscious, and the loss would be greater than
    the gain. No, I would not come back in five years to see what she was
    like.

    That was the end of our talk. She looked towards the wet street and her
    face changed, and with a glad cry she darted out. The rain was over,
    and a big man in a grey tweed coat was coming across the road to our
    side. She met him half-way, and bending down he picked her up and set
    her on his shoulder and marched with her into the house.

    There were others, it seemed, who were able to appreciate her bright
    mind and could forget all about her freckles and her nightcap.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 18
    Previous Chapter
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