The Cottagette

The Cottagette

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“Why not?” said Mr. Mathews “It is far too small for a house, too pretty
for a hut, too–unusual–for a cottage.”

“Cottagette, by all means,” said Lois, seating herself on a porch chair.
“But it is larger than it looks, Mr. Mathews. How do you like it,

I was delighted with it. More than delighted. Here this tiny shell of
fresh unpainted wood peeped out from under the trees, the only house in
sight except the distant white specks on far off farms, and the little
wandering village in the river-threaded valley. It sat right on the
turf,–no road, no path even, and the dark woods shadowed the back

“How about meals?” asked Lois.

“Not two minutes walk,” he assured her, and showed us a little furtive
path between the trees to the place where meals were furnished.

We discussed and examined and exclaimed, Lois holding her pongee skirts
close about her–she needn’t have been so careful, there wasn’t a speck
of dust,–and presently decided to take it.

Never did I know the real joy and peace of living, before that blessed
summer at “High Court.” It was a mountain place, easy enough to get to,
but strangely big and still and far away when you were there.

The working basis of the establishment was an eccentric woman named
Caswell, a sort of musical enthusiast, who had a summer school of music
and the “higher things.” Malicious persons, not able to obtain
accommodations there, called the place “High C.”

I liked the music very well, and kept my thoughts to myself, both high
and low, but “The Cottagette” I loved unreservedly. It was so little
and new and clean, smelling only of its fresh-planed boards–they hadn’t
even stained it.

There was one big room and two little ones in the tiny thing, though
from the outside you wouldn’t have believed it, it looked so small; but
small as it was it harbored a miracle–a real bathroom with water piped
from mountain springs. Our windows opened into the green shadiness, the
soft brownness, the bird-inhabited quiet flower-starred woods. But in
front we looked across whole counties–over a far-off river-into another
state. Off and down and away–it was like sitting on the roof of
something–something very big.

The grass swept up to the door-step, to the walls–only it wasn’t just
grass of course, but such a procession of flowers as I had never
imagined could grow in one place.

You had to go quite a way through the meadow, wearing your own narrow
faintly marked streak in the grass, to reach the town-connecting road
below. But in the woods was a little path, clear and wide, by which we
went to meals.

For we ate with the highly thoughtful musicians, and highly musical
thinkers, in their central boarding-house nearby. They didn’t call it a
boarding-house, which is neither high nor musical; they called it “The
Calceolaria.” There was plenty of that growing about, and I didn’t mind
what they called it so long as the food was good–which it was, and the
prices reasonable–which they were.

The people were extremely interesting–some of them at least; and all of
them were better than the average of summer boarders.

But if there hadn’t been any interesting ones it didn’t matter while
Ford Mathews was there. He was a newspaper man, or rather an
ex-newspaper man, then becoming a writer for magazines, with books

He had friends at High Court–he liked music–he liked the place–and he
liked us. Lois liked him too, as was quite natural. I’m sure I did.

He used to come up evenings and sit on the porch and talk.

He came daytimes and went on long walks with us. He established his
workshop in a most attractive little cave not far beyond far beyond
us–the country there is full of rocky ledges and hollows, and sometimes
asked us over to an afternoon tea, made on a gipsy fire.

Lois was a good deal older than I, but not really old at all, and she
didn’t look her thirty-five by ten years. I never blamed her for not
mentioning it, and I wouldn’t have done so, myself, on any account. But
I felt that together we made a safe and reasonable household. She
played beautifully, and there was a piano in our big room. There were
pianos in several other little cottages about–but too far off for any
jar of sound. When the wind was right we caught little wafts of music
now and then; but mostly it was still–blessedly still, about us. And
yet that Calceolaria was only two minutes off–and with raincoats and
rubbers we never minded going to it.

We saw a good deal of Ford and I got interested in him, I couldn’t help
it. He was big. Not extra big in pounds and inches, but a man with big
view and a grip–with purpose and real power. He was going to do
things. I thought he was doing them now, but he didn’t–this was all
like cutting steps in the ice-wall, he said. It had to be done, but the
road was long ahead. And he took an interest in my work too, which is
unusual for a literary man.

Mine wasn’t much. I did embroidery and made designs.

It is such pretty work! I like to draw from flowers and leaves and
things about me; conventionalize them sometimes, and sometimes paint
them just as they are,–in soft silk stitches.

All about up here were the lovely small things I needed; and not only
these, but the lovely big things that make one feel so strong and able
to do beautiful work.

Here was the friend I lived so happily with, and all this fairy land of
sun and shadow, the free immensity of our view, and the dainty comfort
of the Cottagette. We never had to think of ordinary things till the
soft musical thrill of the Japanese gong stole through the trees, and we
trotted off to the Calceolaria.

I think Lois knew before I did.

We were old friends and trusted each other, and she had had experience

“Malda,” she said, “let us face this thing and be rational.” It was a
strange thing that Lois should be so rational and yet so musical–but
she was, and that was one reason I liked her so much.

“You are beginning to love Ford Mathews–do you know it?”

I said yes, I thought I was.

“Does he love you?”

That I couldn’t say. “It is early yet,” I told her. “He is a man, he
is about thirty I believe, he has seen more of life and probably loved
before–it may be nothing more than friendliness with him.”

“Do you think it would be a good marriage?” she asked. We had often
talked of love and marriage, and Lois had helped me to form my
views–hers were very clear and strong.

“Why yes–if he loves me,” I said. “He has told me quite a bit about
his family, good western farming people, real Americans. He is strong
and well–you can read clean living in his eyes and mouth.” Ford’s eyes
were as clear as a girl’s, the whites of them were clear. Most men’s
eyes, when you look at them critically, are not like that. They may
look at you very expressively, but when you look at them, just as
features, they are not very nice.

I liked his looks, but I liked him better.

So I told her that as far as I knew it would be a good marriage–if it
was one.

“How much do you love him?” she asked.

That I couldn’t quite tell,–it was a good deal,–but I didn’t think it
would kill me to lose him.

“Do you love him enough to do something to win him–to really put
yourself out somewhat for that purpose?”

“Why–yes–I think I do. If it was something I approved of. What do
you mean?”

Then Lois unfolded her plan. She had been married,–unhappily married,
in her youth; that was all over and done with years ago; she had told me
about it long since; and she said she did not regret the pain and loss
because it had given her experience. She had her maiden name again–and
freedom. She was so fond of me she wanted to give me the benefit of her
experience–without the pain.

“Men like music,” said Lois; “they like sensible talk; they like beauty
of course, and all that,–”

“Then they ought to like you!” I interrupted, and, as a matter of fact
they did. I knew several who wanted to marry her, but she said “once
was enough.” I don’t think they were “good marriages” though.

“Don’t be foolish, child,” said Lois, “this is serious. What they care
for most after all is domesticity. Of course they’ll fall in love with
anything; but what they want to marry is a homemaker. Now we are living
here in an idyllic sort of way, quite conducive to falling in love, but
no temptation to marriage. If I were you–if I really loved this man
and wished to marry him, I would make a home of this place.”

“Make a home?–why it _is_ a home. I never was so happy anywhere in my
life. What on earth do you mean, Lois?”

“A person might be happy in a balloon, I suppose,” she replied, “but it
wouldn’t be a home. He comes here and sits talking with us, and it’s
quiet and feminine and attractive–and then we hear that big gong at the
Calceolaria, and off we go stopping through the wet woods–and the spell
is broken. Now you can cook.” I could cook. I could cook excellently.
My esteemed Mama had rigorously taught me every branch of what is now
called “domestic science;” and I had no objection to the work, except
that it prevented my doing anything else. And one’s hands are not so
nice when one cooks and washes dishes,–I need nice hands for my
needlework. But if it was a question of pleasing Ford Mathews–

Lois went on calmly. “Miss Caswell would put on a kitchen for us in a
minute, she said she would, you know, when we took the cottage. Plenty
of people keep house up here,–we, can if we want to.”

“But we don’t want to,” I said, “we never have wanted to. The very
beauty of the place is that it never had any house-keeping about it.
Still, as you say, it would be cosy on a wet night, we could have
delicious little suppers, and have him stay–”

“He told me he had never known a home since he was eighteen,” said Lois.

That was how we came to install a kitchen in the Cottagette. The men
put it up in a few days, just a lean-to with a window, a sink and two
doors. I did the cooking. We had nice things, there is no denying
that; good fresh milk and vegetables particularly, fruit is hard to get
in the country, and meat too, still we managed nicely; the less you have
the more you have to manage–it takes time and brains, that’s all.

Lois likes to do housework, but it spoils her hands for practicing, so
she can’t; and I was perfectly willing to do it–it was all in the
interest of my own heart. Ford certainly enjoyed it. He dropped in
often, and ate things with undeniable relish. So I was pleased, though
it did interfere with my work a good deal. I always work best in the
morning; but of course housework has to be done in the morning too; and
it is astonishing how much work there is in the littlest kitchen. You
go in for a minute, and you see this thing and that thing and the other
thing to be done, and your minute is an hour before you know it.

When I was ready to sit down the freshness of the morning was gone
somehow. Before, when I woke up, there was only the clean wood smell of
the house, and then the blessed out-of-doors: now I always felt the call
of the kitchen as soon as I woke. An oil stove will smell a little,
either in or out of the house; and soap, and–well you know if you cook
in a bedroom how it makes the room feel differently? Our house had been
only bedroom and parlor before.

We baked too–the baker’s bread was really pretty poor, and Ford did
enjoy my whole wheat, and brown, and especially hot rolls and gems. it
was a pleasure to feed him, but it did heat up the house, and me. I
never could work much–at my work–baking days. Then, when I did get to
work, the people would come with things,–milk or meat or vegetables, or
children with berries; and what distressed me most was the wheelmarks on
our meadow. They soon made quite a road–they had to of course, but I
hated it–I lost that lovely sense of being on the last edge and looking
over–we were just a bead on a string like other houses. But it was
quite true that I loved this man, and would do more than this to please
him. We couldn’t go off so freely on excursions as we used, either;
when meals are to be prepared someone has to be there, and to take in
things when they come. Sometimes Lois stayed in, she always asked to,
but mostly I did. I couldn’t let her spoil her summer on my account.
And Ford certainly liked it.

He came so often that Lois said she thought it would look better if we
had an older person with us; and that her mother could come if I wanted
her, and she could help with the work of course. That seemed
reasonable, and she came. I wasn’t very fond of Lois’s mother, Mrs.
Fowler, but it did seem a little conspicuous, Mr. Mathews eating with us
more than he did at the Calceolaria.

There were others of course, plenty of them dropping in, but I didn’t
encourage it much, it made so much more work. They would come in to
supper, and then we would have musical evenings. They offered to help
me wash dishes, some of them, but a new hand in the kitchen is not much
help, I preferred to do it myself; then I knew where the dishes were.

Ford never seemed to want to wipe dishes; though I often wished he

So Mrs. Fowler came. She and Lois had one room, they had to,–and she
really did a lot of the work, she was a very practical old lady.

Then the house began to be noisy. You hear another person in a kitchen
more than you hear yourself, I think,–and the walls were only boards.
She swept more than we did too. I don’t think much sweeping is needed
in a clean place like that; and she dusted all the time; which I know is
unnecessary. I still did most of the cooking, but I could get off more
to draw, out-of-doors; and to walk. Ford was in and out continually,
and, it seemed to me, was really coming nearer. What was one summer of
interrupted work, of noise and dirt and smell and constant meditation on
what to eat next, compared to a lifetime of love? Besides–if he
married me–I should have to do it always, and might as well get used to

Lois kept me contented, too, telling me nice things that Ford said about
my cooking. “He does appreciate it so,” she said.

One day he came around early and asked me to go up Hugh’s Peak with him.
It was a lovely climb and took all day. I demurred a little, it was
Monday, Mrs. Fowler thought it was cheaper to have a woman come and
wash, and we did, but it certainly made more work.

“Never mind,” he said, “what’s washing day or ironing day or any of that
old foolishness to us? This is walking day–that’s what it is.” It was
really, cool and sweet and fresh,–it had rained in the night,–and
brilliantly clear.

“Come along!” he said. “We can see as far as Patch Mountain I’m sure.
There’ll never be a better day.”

“Is anyone else going?” I asked.

“Not a soul. It’s just us. Come.”

I came gladly, only suggesting–“Wait, let me put up a lunch.”

“I’ll wait just long enough for you to put on knickers and a short
skirt,” said he. “The lunch is all in the basket on my back. I know
how long it takes for you women to ‘put up’ sandwiches and things.”

We were off in ten minutes, light-footed and happy, and the day was all
that could be asked. He brought a perfect lunch, too, and had made it
all himself. I confess it tasted better to me than my own cooking; but
perhaps that was the climb.

When we were nearly down we stopped by a spring on a broad ledge, and
supped, making tea as he liked to do out-of-doors. We saw the round sun
setting at one end of a world view, and the round moon rising at the
other; calmly shining each on each.

And then he asked me to be his wife.–

We were very happy.

“But there’s a condition!” said he all at once, sitting up straight and
looking very fierce. “You mustn’t cook!”

“What!” said I. “Mustn’t cook?”

“No,” said he, “you must give it up–for my sake.”

I stared at him dumbly.

“Yes, I know all about it,” he went on, “Lois told me. I’ve seen a good
deal of Lois–since you’ve taken to cooking. And since I would talk
about you, naturally I learned a lot. She told me how you were brought
up, and how strong your domestic instincts were–but bless your artist
soul dear girl, you have some others!” Then he smiled rather queerly
and murmured, “surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any

“I’ve watched you, dear, all summer;” he went on, “it doesn’t agree with

“Of course the things taste good–but so do my things! I’m a good cook
myself. My father was a cook, for years–at good wages. I’m used to it
you see.

“One summer when I was hard up I cooked for a living–and saved money
instead of starving.”

“O ho!” said I, “that accounts for the tea–and the lunch!”

“And lots of other things,” said he. “But you haven’t done half as much
of your lovely work since you started this kitchen business, and–you’ll
forgive me, dear–it hasn’t been as good. Your work is quite too good
to lose; it is a beautiful and distinctive art, and I don’t want you to
let it go. What would you think of me if I gave up my hard long years
of writing for the easy competence of a well-paid cook!”

I was still too happy to think very clearly. I just sat and looked at
him. “But you want to marry me?” I said.

“I want to marry you, Malda,–because I love you–because you are young
and strong and beautiful–because you are wild and sweet and–fragrant,
and–elusive, like the wild flowers you love. Because you are so truly
an artist in your special way, seeing beauty and giving it to others. I
love you because of all this, because you are rational and highminded
and capable of friendship,–and in spite of your cooking!”

“But–how do you want to live?”

“As we did here–at first,” he said. “There was peace, exquisite
silence. There was beauty–nothing but beauty. There were the clean
wood odors and flowers and fragrances and sweet wild wind. And there
was you–your fair self, always delicately dressed, with white firm
fingers sure of touch in delicate true work. I loved you then. When
you took to cooking it jarred on me. I have been a cook, I tell you,
and I know what it is. I hated it–to see my wood-flower in a kitchen.
But Lois told me about how you were brought up to it and loved it–and I
said to myself, ‘I love this woman; I will wait and see if I love her
even as a cook.’ And I do, Darling: I withdraw the condition. I will
love you always, even if you insist on being my cook for life!”

“O I don’t insist!” I cried. “I don’t want to cook–I want to draw!
But I thought–Lois said–How she has misunderstood you!”

“It is not true, always, my dear,” said he, “that the way to a man’s
heart is through his stomach; at least it’s not the only way. Lois
doesn’t know everything, she is young yet! And perhaps for my sake you
can give it up. Can you sweet?”

Could I? Could I? Was there ever a man like this?

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