We know Don Marquis today as a humorist (a satirist, really), but perhaps he should be remembered as something more—a humanist? The following lines are from an occasional column Don wrote in 1915 for Outlook magazine.
A LITTLE SYRIAN GIRL
I saw a little Syrian girl in a Brooklyn slum the other day who was sporting a pair of lavender-colored spats. Her stockings were somewhat out of repair; her toes were somewhat out of her shoes; the spats themselves had seen better feet; they had begun life as the spats of some one else, and they were too large for her. But they were spats—and she was happy.
She might have been happier if she could have danced. There was an organ-grinder on the block and other children were dancing. But when this particular little girl tried to dance the spats tripped her, So she gave it up and stood on the curbstone, spatted and superior, conscious Fashion queening it over Terpsichore. Her attitude conveyed that it was all very well for spatless children to dance in the streets, but that she had a certain position to maintain; she felt her social responsibility; if one has spats, one must live up to them. This was her outward attitude; this was the affectation forced upon her by the fact that with those particular spats she could not dance.
But all the while, deep in her ingenuous soul, there must have been stirring a conflict; she must have been debating whether she really wanted to miss the fun for the sake of the spats. In short, were spats worth while after all? Was dignity, eminence, worth the price?
Finally, nature won; affectation succumbed. She removed the spats and joined the dance. But it was too late. In a moment more the organ-grinder was gone. She resumed her spats; for a moment her face conveyed that she felt that she had lost both ways. But only for a moment. Presently the spats reasserted their sway; they communicated to their wearer a strut; she actually managed to strut standing still; to look at her now you would not have guessed that even a momentary doubt concerning spats had ever entered her mind; she became superior again.
I fancy the incident might be worked out on another plane and another scale in other streets. But what I enjoy about human beings is the fact that, no matter where one finds them, they are so human.
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