THE PHILOSOPHY OF BEAUTY

“The foundation of beauty is a reasonable order addressed to the
imagination through the senses.” PHILEBUS.

The last time Mrs. Methuen called in Holywell, just before she went
away, she left a ladies’ paper, _The Peeress_.

Jane-Anne fell upon it instantly and carried it off to her room. She
had never seen such a paper before and her mind was in a curiously
receptive state. Lord Byron’s Hebrew melodies rang in her ears, and she
immensely enjoyed herself when she went to bed at night by standing in
front of the looking-glass in her night gown, with her thick black hair
streaming round her like a cloud, while she repeated solemnly:—

“She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.”

She quite agreed with the poet that “gaudy day” was a little unkind to
her appearance. She was too brown; moreover, she was no longer pale, and
this rather vexed her. She had an idea that Lord Byron would have
preferred her pale. Still she felt that her hair was quite satisfactory
and shook it round her, only grieving that the glass was far too small
to show it all. There was not a cheval-glass in Mr. Wycherly’s house.
But from time to time she caught sight of her big plait (Mrs. Methuen
had persuaded Mrs. Dew to have Jane-Anne’s hair done in one thick plait
instead of two) in shop windows, with the profoundest satisfaction.

“One shade the more, one ray the less.”

She hoped she had rays in her hair, but was not quite sure.

“Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.”

To obtain the “thoughts serenely sweet” it was but necessary to adopt
the Bruey pose, and, behold, the thing was done.

Mere words cannot express the comfort that poem was to Jane-Anne. Up
and down her room she sailed, “clothed on in majesty,” an unbleached
calico night gown, and her long black hair.

“The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.”

At such moments she adored Lord Byron for writing such beautiful things
about her, and was perfectly happy.

Mrs. Methuen’s magazine opened up new possibilities. From its pages she
learned that no one need despair of their personal appearance. Had
nature been niggardly in the matter of hair, a hundred artists in
coiffure advertised their aid. Was one’s complexion not quite to one’s
liking, there were skin specialists galore who undertook to remedy any
facial defects. In fact the journal was a regular _vade mecum_ as to
the cult of beauty, and such pleasing visions were not conjured up by
words alone. There were pictures in plenty of lovely ladies in every
stage of lack of attire and with every variety of “transformation.”
Radiant beings with enormous eyes, preternaturally minute mouths, and
figures so slender that one wondered if they ever had anything to eat.

And every one of them had wavy hair.

Now Jane-Anne’s hair waved just after it was unplaited, but it was
naturally quite straight, soft, fine, abundant hair, growing very
prettily round her face with an upward sweep from her forehead.

It was all very well to walk in beauty like the night. It was
comparatively easy to imagine one realised Lord Byron’s conception of
the Hebrew beauty. But here much more was expected.

Jane-Anne was certainly slim, the unkindly accurate might have described
her as decidedly thin; but, even so, she was not shaped at all like the
ladies depicted in _The Peeress_. Her legs were long and her hips were
small, but—”I seem too thick through,” she said to herself.

There was a whole page of replies to anxious students of the Art of
Beauty. “Pietista” sought to improve a throat “discoloured and too
thin.” “Butterfly” complained of “sagging lines beneath chin and around
mouth.”

Jane-Anne flew to the glass but could discover nothing of the kind, and
was comforted.

“Troubled” wanted to know how to “colour dark hair a bright auburn,” but
Jane-Anne passed this by. She was perfectly satisfied with the colour
of her hair. What she did long for was a box of “Magnolia Bloom
powder,” which _The Peeress_ assured “Amabelle” would lend to the
countenance “the soft sheen of a butterfly’s wing.”

But this desirable appearance could only be arrived at by the
expenditure of eighteen-pence, and Jane-Anne possessed but
three-halfpence in the world. The other beautifiers cost such vast sums
as excluded them altogether from her scheme of possibilities.

Eighteenpence: one shilling and sixpence. Once Lord Dursley had given
her a new two-shilling bit and her aunt allowed her to keep it. But,
alas! it was spent long ago, and Lord Dursley was not very likely to
come to Oxford that summer.

She would consult Mr. Wycherly. She had infinite faith in his sympathy,
his wisdom, and his resource. She would show him this enchanting
journal and see what he thought of it. Perhaps he, who read so many
books, was already familiar with its pages.

She carried it with her when she went to bid him good-night. It had
become an established custom for Jane-Anne to bid him good-night at
considerable length.

“Have you ever read _The Peeress_, sir?” she asked, laying it on his
table on the top of an open book.

“Never,” said Mr. Wycherly. “Is this the lady?” He opened it, turned
the pages somewhat hastily, and actually blushed.

“My dear child!” he exclaimed, “where did you get hold of this extremely
shameless production?”

“Mrs. Methuen always takes it, sir; it’s a ladies’ paper. She left this
number here.”

“Mrs. Methuen, that refined and charming young lady! Surely, my dear,
you are mistaken.”

“No, sir, really. Lots of ladies always read it, aunt said so. I
wanted to take it back to her lest she should want it, but aunt says she
gets it every week, and she didn’t think it mattered.”

“That being the case,” Mr. Wycherly remarked, hastily shutting the
magazine, “it is evidently not intended for me, and you had better take
it away.”

“Oh, sir,” Jane-Anne pleaded, “do look at the pictures. They’re such
beautiful ladies.”

But Mr. Wycherly steadfastly averted his gaze from the offending
magazine, exclaiming:

“Beautiful! My dear child, how can you apply that dignified and really
expressive adjective to anything so dreadful? Have you ever seen any
human being who in the least resembled the extremely indelicate
creatures depicted in this paper?”

“No, sir, but I’d like to. They’ve all got such curly hair.”

“Most of them,” Mr. Wycherly said severely, “appear to wear very little
else. We must show you some really beautiful pictures, Jane-Anne, and
then perhaps you will realise the worthlessness of these.”

She felt that it was an unpropitious moment for the introduction of
“Magnolia Bloom toilet powder.” Mr. Wycherly’s attitude was strangely
unsympathetic. Nevertheless she was full of tenacity of purpose, so she
said, in what she was assured Bruey would have considered a “winning”
voice:

“Please, sir, is there anything I could do to earn one-and-six?”

Mr. Wycherly laughed. “I think you have earned it many times over by
all the things you do for me. Would you like it now?”

He took a handful of silver from his pocket and pushed the coins toward
her, saying:

“I wish they were new ones. I always think all the new silver ought to
be kept for boys and girls—but if you’re in a hurry—perhaps you’d rather
have it now.”

“Thank you very much, sir,” said Jane-Anne; but her voice was not
joyful, as one might have expected.

She felt rather uncomfortable.

He had never questioned her as to why she wanted it.

“Are you sure it’s enough?” he asked kindly.

“Quite sure, sir, and I’m very much obliged.”

Mr. Wycherly looked at her curiously. Why was her voice so listless and
flat?

She dropped the coins into the pocket of her dress and stood before him,
rubbing one slender foot over the other, her eyes downcast, quite unlike
the eager, chattering child he loved.

“Good-night, sir,” said Jane-Anne.

When she reached her bedroom she felt very miserable indeed. She
possessed the coveted eighteenpence and was thoroughly ashamed of having
it. It had been obtained too easily and she felt that she was deceiving
Mr. Wycherly. Without knowing why, she was certain he would not wholly
approve of the purchase of the “Magnolia Bloom powder,” and he had never
asked her why she wanted the eighteen-pence. He trusted her.

Jane-Anne felt mean.

Against her will, the verses she loved returned to her mind:

“The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent.”

Hitherto she had happily considered those lines quite applicable to her
general conduct. Even the disastrous morning at Mrs. Cox’s had not left
behind it the uncomfortable sensations she was now enduring.

She had not been six years in Mrs. Dew’s charge without acquiring
something of that good woman’s sturdy independence.

She had asked for money.

She had taken it; and for a purpose she was certain the donor would
disapprove.

He would call it “meretricious,” that curious word Master Montagu had
used. She had heard Mr. Wycherly use it too.

“A mind at peace with all below,
A heart where love is innocent!”

Should she go back and tell Mr. Wycherly why she wanted the money and
let him decide? Then once more might she “walk in beauty like the
night” with her hair all round her and a light heart.

But he would be certain to advise her not to buy the “Magnolia Bloom.”
He wouldn’t forbid it. That was not his way. But he would make it
impossible for her to go and buy it—and she wanted it so dreadfully.

Perhaps when he saw how lovely she looked with a face that was no longer
brown but purest white “with the soft sheen of a butterfly’s wing” he
would be glad she was so much improved.

Jane-Anne knelt down and said her prayers and added at the end the
following petition:

“And please, dear Lord, let him admire me very much when I’m all over
’Magnolia Bloom.’”

Mrs. Dew came to take away the candle, but the room was quite light, for
a big yellow moon was shining straight in.

Now was the moment when Jane-Anne usually arose and walked in beauty,
repeating the poem the while.

Instead, she lay quite still. She felt she had no right to that poem;
Lord Byron had not written it for her.

Why did she feel so certain that he, too, would have disapproved of the
“Magnolia Bloom”?

Jane-Anne cried herself to sleep.

* * * * *

Next day she went to the largest hairdresser’s in Oxford, and presented
herself timidly at a counter laden with all sorts of pots and boxes and
bottles.

She asked for the “Magnolia Bloom” in a weak and trembling voice, and
was relieved to find they had it.

“Which shade will you have?” asked the young lady behind the counter.

“Oh, the very whitest, please!” exclaimed Jane-Anne.

“D’you want a puff, miss?” asked the attendant.

Jane-Anne had never thought of a puff. She shook her head sadly.
Judging by the price of the other things, no puff could be obtained for
three-halfpence, which was all the money she had.

She hurried from the shop.

How expensive it was to be beautiful!

She knew what a puff was, for she had been permitted to assist at and to
admire the bathing of Mrs. Methuen’s baby, and she had seen the nurse
powder him. She was nothing if not resourceful. She went to the
nearest jeweller and bought a pennyworth of cotton wool, and armed with
what _The Peeress_ called these “aids to beauty,” she returned to
Holywell in a flutter of excitement.

Anxious as she was to try the beautifying effect of the “Magnolia
Bloom,” she felt some diffidence in presenting herself before her aunt
thus embellished, so she waited until she had taken in Mr. Wycherly’s
tea and had her own.

It was Mr. Wycherly’s pleasant custom to keep her for half an hour or so
when she went in to take away his tea. They talked about Greece, and
she had learned to read some of the simple words. She learned the
alphabet in two evenings, and astonished Mr. Wycherly by her quickness
and receptivity.

She stood in front of her looking-glass that evening and, with hands
that trembled with excitement, applied the “Magnolia Bloom” to her
little brown face.

It never occurred to Jane-Anne that the way to use powder was to put it
on and take it off again. That would have appeared to her a wasteful
work of supererogation. She liberally bedaubed her face with the
“snow-white” powder and anxiously regarded the result.

Her eyes looked very dark and large, and her eyebrows, what she had left
of them, very black. It had rather an ageing effect on the whole, for
so liberal had she been with the powder that her hair all round the
temples was iron grey.

She was not quite sure whether she liked the effect or not. Even to her
own prejudiced eyes it was a trifle _bizarre_ and pronounced.

Where was the soft sheen of the butterfly’s wing promised to “Amabelle”?

“Perhaps it looks different to other people,” she reflected.

She crept to the foot of the stairs and listened.

Yes, her aunt was safely in the kitchen. She darted through the
housekeeper’s room and upstairs to Mr. Wycherly’s door, and went in.

He looked up from the letter he was writing with his usual kindly smile
of welcome, then suddenly he laughed.

“My dear Jane-Anne,” he exclaimed, “have you been baking?”

Jane-Anne stood still in the middle of the room and hung her head.

“It’s Magnolia Bloom,” she mumbled.

“It’s what?” Mr. Wycherly demanded.

“Magnolia Bloom,” she repeated, her cheeks very hot indeed beneath the
powder.

“Is that some new kind of flour?” asked Mr. Wycherly, “and if so why in
the world do you not wash your face?”

“It’s not flour, sir, it’s powder—face powder—to make one white and
pretty? Don’t you like it?”

Mr. Wycherly sat back in his chair gazing in speechless wonder at
Jane-Anne. That a girl who admired Lord Byron’s poetry, who could learn
the Greek alphabet in two evenings, who showed a real appreciation of
what was noble and uplifting in the history of her country, could make
such an absolute guy of herself in all good faith was to him quite
incomprehensible. Boys did not do these things. He was fairly
nonplussed.

“Where did you get this—ahem—bloom?” he asked quietly.

“I bought it, sir, with that eighteenpence.”

“Have you much more of it?”

“Oh, yes, sir, a whole box.”

“Please bring it, and you shall similarly adorn me and see how I look.”

Jane-Anne was puzzled. He certainly had not admired her, but then,
again, he had not condemned, and he wanted some himself. Swiftly and
softly as a panther (lest she should meet her aunt) she fetched the
powder and the screw of cotton wool from her room.

“Now,” said Mr. Wycherly, “do me.”

Jane-Anne made a dreadful mess. All over his coat, his chair (even the
writing-table did not escape), fell the “Magnolia Bloom.”

“What a very disagreeable smell the stuff has got,” said Mr. Wycherly,
and sneezed. He hated common scents.

At this psychological moment, when they were both smothered in powder
and clouds of it were in the air, Mrs. Dew opened the study door,
announcing:

“Mr. Gloag, sir.”

Jane-Anne started violently and upset the box, and the visitor announced
came into the room.

He was tall and young, with a keen, clean-shaven face, merry dark eyes,
and dark curly hair worn a thought longer than is usual with young men.

He stopped short on the threshold, for really the pair before him
presented a most extraordinary appearance.

Mr. Wycherly leapt to his feet, exclaiming:

“Curly, my dear fellow, I am delighted to see you.” He had quite
forgotten the “Magnolia Bloom” in his pleasure at beholding an old
friend.

“Am I interrupting a rehearsal, or what?” the young man asked, as he
shook hands warmly.

Mr. Wycherly sneezed again. “Oh, this abominable powder; I had
forgotten it for the moment. Now, Curly, you are an actor; you are
familiar with make-up in every shape and form. Will you kindly tell
this young lady whether you consider us improved by this whitewash?”

The situation jumped to the eye. The young man laughed.

“You are both of you rather new to the use of powder, I should say; no
one ever leaves it on, you know.”

“Then what on earth is the use of it?” demanded Mr. Wycherly.

“It has, perhaps, a softening effect, but it is never used in such
quantities.”

“Go and wash, Jane-Anne,” said Mr. Wycherly, “and I must do the same,
then ask Mrs. Dew—no, come yourself with a dustpan and brush and clear
up as well as you can. Curly will go downstairs.”

In absolute silence Jane-Anne did as she was bid. It took a long time
to clean Mr. Wycherly’s study. There seemed a great deal of “Magnolia
Bloom” for eighteenpence when she had finished. She emptied the dustpan
into the dustbin, then she went and fetched _The Peeress_. Mrs. Dew had
gone out to get something extra for dinner, as the gentleman was going
to stay, so Jane-Anne had the kitchen to herself. She tore _The
Peeress_ across and across and thrust it down into the hottest part of
the fire, putting more coal on the top of it lest her aunt should see it
and wonder.

“There,” said Jane-Anne, poking viciously. “You’re a horrid,
meretricious, lying old thing, that you are.”