Chapter XII: The House-Boat Disappears
Queen Elizabeth, attended by Ophelia and Xanthippe, was
walking along the river-bank. It was a beautiful autumn
day, although, owing to certain climatic peculiarities
of Hades, it seemed more like midsummer. The mercury in
the club thermometer was nervously clicking against the
top of the crystal tube, and poor Cerberus was having
all he could do with his three mouths snapping up the
pestiferous little shades of by-gone gnats that seemed
to take an almost unholy pleasure in alighting upon his
various noses and ears.
Ophelia was doing most of the talking."I am sure I have
never wished to ride one of them," she said, positively.
"In the first place, I do not see where the pleasure of
it comes in, and, in the second, it seems to me as if
skirts must be dangerous. If they should catch in one
of the pedals, where would I be?"
"In the hospital shortly, methinks," said Queen Elizabeth.
"Well, I shouldn't wear skirts," snapped Xanthippe. "If
a man's wife can't borrow some of her husband's clothing
to reduce her peril to a minimum, what is the use of having
a husband? When I take to the bicycle, which, in spite
of all Socrates can say, I fully intend to do, I shall
have a man's wheel, and I shall wear Socrates' old dress-
clothes. If Hades doesn't like it, Hades may suffer."
"I don't see how Socrates' clothes will help you," observed
Ophelia. "He wore skirts himself, just like all the other
old Greeks. His toga would be quite as apt to catch in
the gear as your skirts."
Xanthippe looked puzzled for a moment. It was evident
that she had not thought of the point which Ophelia had
brought up — strong-minded ladies of her kind are apt sometimes
to overlook important links in such chains of evidence
as they feel called upon to use in binding themselves
to their rights.
"The women of your day were relieved of that dress problem,
at any rate," laughed Queen Elizabeth.
"The women of my day," retorted Xanthippe, "in matters
of dress were the equals of their husbands — in my family
particularly; now they have lost their rights, and are
made to confine themselves still to garments like those
of yore, while man has arrogated to himself the sole and
exclusive use of sane habiliments. However, that is apart
from the question. I was saying that I shall have a man's
wheel, and shall wear Socrates' old dress-clothes to ride
it in, if Socrates has to go out and buy an old dress-suit
for the purpose."
The Queen arched her brows and looked inquiringly at
Xanthippe for a moment.
"A magnificent old maid was lost to the world when you
married," she said. "Feeling as you do about men, my dear
Xanthippe, I don't see why you ever took a husband."
"Humph!" retorted Xanthippe. "Of course you don't. You
didn't need a husband. You were born with something to
govern. I wasn't."
"How about your temper?" suggested Ophelia, meekly.
Xanthippe sniffed frigidly at this remark.
"I never should have gone crazy over a man if I'd remained
unmarried forty thousand years," she retorted, severely.
"I married Socrates because I loved him and admired his
sculpture; but when he gave up sculpture and became a
thinker he simply tried me beyond all endurance, he was
so thoughtless, with the result that, having ventured
once or twice to show my natural resentment, I have been
handed down to posterity as a shrew. I've never complained,
and I don't complain now; but when a woman is married
to a philosopher who is so taken up with his studies that
when he rises in the morning he doesn't look what he is
doing, and goes off to his business in his wife's clothes,
I think she is entitled to a certain amount of sympathy."
"And yet you wish to wear his," persisted Ophelia.
"Turn about is fair-play," said Xanthippe. "I've suffered
so much on his account that on the principle of averages
he deserves to have a little drop of bitters in his nectar."
"You are simply the victim of man's deceit," said Elizabeth,
wishing to mollify the now angry Xanthippe, who was on
the verge of tears. "I understood men, fortunately, and
so never married. I knew my father, and even if I hadn't
been a wise enough child to know him, I should not have
wed, because he married enough to last one family for
"You must have had a hard time refusing all those lovely
men, though," sighed Ophelia. "Of course, Sir Walter wasn't
as handsome as my dear Hamlet, but he was very fetching."
"I cannot deny that," said Elizabeth, "and I didn't really
have the heart to say no when he asked me; but I did tell
him that if he married me I should not become Mrs. Raleigh,
but that he should become King Elizabeth. He fled to Virginia
on the next steamer. My diplomacy rid me of a very unpleasant
Chatting thus, the three famous spirits passed slowly
along the path until they came to the sheltered nook in
which the house-boat lay at anchor.
"There's a case in point," said Xanthippe, as the house-boat
loomed up before them. "All that luxury is for men; we
women are not permitted to cross the gangplank. Our husbands
and brothers and friends go there; the door closes on
them, and they are as completely lost to us as though
they never existed. We don't know what goes on in there.
Socrates tells me that their amusements are of a most
innocent nature, but how do I know what he means by that?
Furthermore, it keeps him from home, while I have to stay
at home and be entertained by my sons, whom the Encyclopaedia
Britannica rightly calls dull and fatuous. In other words,
club life for him, and dulness and fatuity for me."
"I think myself they're rather queer about letting women
into that boat," said Queen Elizabeth. "But it isn't Sir
Walter's fault. He told me he tried to have them establish
a Ladies' Day, and that they agreed to do so, but have
since resisted all his efforts to have a date set for
"It would be great fun to steal in there now, wouldn't
it," giggled Ophelia. "There doesn't seem to be anybody
about to prevent our doing so."
"That's true," said Xanthippe. "All the windows are closed,
as if there wasn't a soul there. I've half a mind to take
a peep in at the house."
"I am with you," said Elizabeth, her face lighting up
with pleasure. It was a great novelty, and an unpleasant
one to her, to find some place where she could not go.
"Let's do it," she added.
So the three women tiptoed softly up the gang-plank,
and, silently boarding the house-boat, peeped in at the
windows. What they saw merely whetted their curiosity.