Hydrogen Jukebox Press
An Online Edition
edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers
May 26, 1914
"I don't mean to imply that any of you have been lax or forgetful," said the Fireman to the usual morning course of chatterers that ringed his basin, "but doesn't it seem strange, in view of the plentiful evidence of her continued presence in the city, that your search for Mrs. Grundy has been so far unsuccessful?"
"I believe I have guessed the reason," said the Gray Pigeon. "The fact is, Mrs. Grundy is only a pseudonym, like Bertha M. Clay. It is my expectation that when you discover the Autocrat of the Bridgewhist table who is responsible for so much of the mischief-making that goes on, you'll find that she uses a safety razor."
"Forget it!" cried the opinionated Sparrow. "No man could start the amount of gossip and trivial fussing credited to that source. Everybody knows which sex is prone to gossip."
"Well, here's one that don't know it--or rather I do know," chirped his little mate.
"Why--it's taken for granted that women are gossips by nature, by instinct and by training," said the Sparrow.
"Women ought to deny that charge every time they hear it, too!" she exclaimed. "It's just one of the many accusations men have repeated over and over until they have come to believe it."
The birds are used to hearing warm debates spring up between the Sparrows, shriek and flutter and prance for a while, and die amicably away. Their part is usually to provide a fair field and no favor, but when it comes up they sometimes listen, knowing that no marital infelicities can be brought about among settled Bird couples by Mrs. Grundy or any one else.
"If you would listen better to street conversations," the Sparrow declared, "you would have found out long ago that it's the women who talk scandal and start idle rumors."
"They're not a bit worse than men! I tell you more than half the mischievous talk is retailed by some married woman, who heard it from her husband, who got it, of course, at his club. I[f] it's Mrs. Grundy you mean to search for I'd suggest a canvass of the men's clubs."
"Nonsense! Men talk politics and business; it's the women who are always saying to each other, 'Now don't you ever tell I told you this,' and 'Isn't it terrible about Mrs. Wood Knott Wearen,' and 'Have you heard the story they are telling about Miss Geewotta Peeche'--huh! you can't deny it, women will gossip! Mind must have something mischievous to take up when they are idle."
"Then the thing to do is to give 'em something better to think about," said the arch-peacemaker, the White Pigeon. "Maybe the movies--"
Her little attempt was foredoomed to failure; the Sparrows were facing each other with open beaks and wings.
"I'll bet you a flaxseed there isn't a married man between here and the river that isn't full of exclusive information about his neighbors, unless his wife is deaf and dumb."
"How do you know that, I wonder! If their minds are so full of the weighty affairs of the city and the nation that they never gossip, how do you find out that they are full of scandalous information received from their wives?"
"Well----" The Sparrow was somewhat disconcerted. "They may occasionally help to spread a rumor, but --"
"They start them, too--by a turn of expression or a change of countenance; by a sneer or a gesture. And the man-gossip does vastly more harm than the woman; the malice of his tales is accented because it sounds smart."
The Sparrow seemed at last to have run out of replies, and the Gray Pigeon commented: "It is said that Wisconsin has a law against gossiping. Offenses are punishable with a fine of not more than $250, or imprisonment not to exceed a year in jail."
"All gossips ought to be jailed," said the Sparrow, perking up. "The everlasting 'Now don't you ever tell I told you this' ought to place the speaker on a level with a fellow that carries brass knucks or a sling-shot."
"I don't agree with that," said the White Pigeon gently. "The vilest form, the final depth of gossip is that found in some of the severest penal institutions, where stool-pigeons are employed in the interests of so-called justice, and spying and tale-bearing is one way of currying favor with the wardens."
"Most evils existing in human nature," said the Fireman, "are when you really get at them, only good intentions gone astray. How much of all scandal-mongering is perversity, and how much is a natural craving for primitive things, it would be hard to say."
"How do you make that out, Fireman?" inquired the Gray Pigeon.
"Have you noticed," he asked, "that when a boy is taken out of the alleys and sent away with a flannel-shirted bunch for a month's camping and fishing he generally finds the desire to show off his 'tough' accomplishments slowly but surely leaving him?
"Could a he-gossip be plunged into the thick of actual life, or as much of it as his nature is able to bear, and kept busy with real affairs, held in touch with the primitive and fundamental, his spiritual and moral being would harden to perfect condition, and he would be cured of the hideous and morbid taste for scandalous morsels.
"It isn't due altogether or even mainly to a lack of mental occupation. The meanest gossip, the slippery, smooth-tongued tattler who can never be held to account, is often a woman of so-called refinement living on what passes for a high plane of thought and feeling. She may even have reputation of being 'sweet.'
The truth of the matter is that the real refinement of sentiment is often lost in the false refinement of education, and the desire for the elemental throws men back upon immorality and women upon talk of the immorality of others. Even some poets of technical greatness have found no satisfaction for the thirst for reality and have sought it in vice and crime.
"It is a fact that many so-called cultivated are starving for reality. Some are walled in by untoward circumstances of wealth and position; more are limited by the cowardice and laziness that shrinks from any genuine experience of life. No woman whose hands are full with real work in home and garden and barn and club, who maintains a high standard of home and civic housekeeping, who can set a hen or graft an apple seedling or nurse a fever or bake a prime loaf, or dress a new baby, is going to gossip. But if she is soul-sick of life's embroideries and bonbons she is as sure to become cursed with a morbid appetite for evil as the girls described by O. Henry as having 'minds bounded on the north by bargain sales; on the east by "I sez t' him," on the south by the moving pictures, and on the west by "He sez t' me."'"