"Nothing was ever done," Miss Brett asserted, "without a certain element of Faith. After we have got the Vote and are recognized as citizens, then we can come to all these other things."
Even in the glamour of Miss Brett's assurance it seemed to Ann Veronica that this was, after all, no more than the gospel of Miss Miniver with a new set of resonances. And like that gospel it meant something, something different from its phrases, something elusive, and yet something that in spite of the superficial incoherence of its phrasing, was largely essentially true. There was something holding women down, holding women back, and if it wasn't exactly man-made law, man-made law was an aspect of it. There was something indeed holding the whole species back from the imaginable largeness of life....
"The Vote is the symbol of everything," said Miss Brett.
She made an abrupt personal appeal.
"Oh! please don't lose yourself in a wilderness of secondary considerations," she said. "Don't ask me to tell you all that women can do, all that women can be. There is a new life, different from the old life of dependence, possible. If only we are not divided. If only we work together. This is the one movement that brings women of different classes together for a common purpose. If you could see how it gives them souls, women who have taken things for granted, who have given themselves up altogether to pettiness and vanity...."
"Give me something to do," said Ann Veronica, interrupting her persuasions at last. "It has been very kind of you to see me, but I don't want to sit and talk and use your time any longer. I want to do something. I want to hammer myself against all this that pens women in. I feel that I shall stifle unless I can do something—and do something soon."
It was not Ann Veronica's fault that the night's work should have taken upon itself the forms of wild burlesque. She was in deadly earnest in everything she did. It seemed to her the last desperate attack upon the universe that would not let her live as she desired to live, that penned her in and controlled her and directed her and disapproved of her, the same invincible wrappering, the same leaden tyranny of a universe that she had vowed to overcome after that memorable conflict with her father at Morningside Park.
She was listed for the raid—she was informed it was to be a raid upon the House of Commons, though no particulars were given her—and told to go alone to 14, Dexter Street, Westminster, and not to ask any policeman to direct her. 14, Dexter Street, Westminster, she found was not a house but a yard in an obscure street, with big gates and the name of Podgers & Carlo, Carriers and Furniture Removers, thereon. She was perplexed by this, and stood for some seconds in the empty street hesitating, until the appearance of another circumspect woman under the street lamp at the corner reassured her. In one of the big gates was a little door, and she rapped at this. It was immediately opened by a man with light eyelashes and a manner suggestive of restrained passion. "Come right in," he hissed under his breath, with the true conspirator's note, closed the door very softly and pointed, "Through there!"
By the meagre light of a gas lamp she perceived a cobbled yard with four large furniture vans standing with horses and lamps alight. A slender young man, wearing glasses, appeared from the shadow of the nearest van. "Are you A, B, C, or D?" he asked.
"They told me D," said Ann Veronica.
"Through there," he said, and pointed with the pamphlet he was carrying.
Ann Veronica found herself in a little stirring crowd of excited women, whispering and tittering and speaking in undertones.
The light was poor, so that she saw their gleaming faces dimly and indistinctly. No one spoke to her. She stood among them, watching them and feeling curiously alien to them. The oblique ruddy lighting distorted them oddly, made queer bars and patches of shadow upon their clothes. "It's Kitty's idea," said one, "we are to go in the vans."
"Kitty is wonderful," said another.
"I have always longed for prison service," said a voice, "always. From the beginning. But it's only now I'm able to do it."
A little blond creature close at hand suddenly gave way to a fit of hysterical laughter, and caught up the end of it with a sob.
"Before I took up the Suffrage," a firm, flat voice remarked, "I could scarcely walk up-stairs without palpitations."
Some one hidden from Ann Veronica appeared to be marshalling the assembly. "We have to get in, I think," said a nice little old lady in a bonnet to Ann Veronica, speaking with a voice that quavered a little. "My dear, can you see in this light? I think I would like to get in. Which is C?"
Ann Veronica, with a curious sinking of the heart, regarded the black cavities of the vans. Their doors stood open, and placards with big letters indicated the section assigned to each. She directed the little old woman and then made her way to van D. A young woman with a white badge on her arm stood and counted the sections as they entered their vans.
"When they tap the roof," she said, in a voice of authority, "you are to come out. You will be opposite the big entrance in Old Palace Yard. It's the public entrance. You are to make for that and get into the lobby if you can, and so try and reach the floor of the House, crying 'Votes for Women!' as you go."
She spoke like a mistress addressing school-children.
"Don't bunch too much as you come out," she added.
"All right?" asked the man with the light eyelashes, suddenly appearing in the doorway. He waited for an instant, wasting an encouraging smile in the imperfect light, and then shut the doors of the van, leaving the women in darkness....
The van started with a jerk and rumbled on its way.
"It's like Troy!" said a voice of rapture. "It's exactly like Troy!"
So Ann Veronica, enterprising and a little dubious as ever, mingled with the stream of history and wrote her Christian name upon the police-court records of the land.
But out of a belated regard for her father she wrote the surname of some one else.
Some day, when the rewards of literature permit the arduous research required, the Campaign of the Women will find its Carlyle, and the particulars of that marvellous series of exploits by which Miss Brett and her colleagues nagged the whole Western world into the discussion of women's position become the material for the most delightful and amazing descriptions. At present the world waits for that writer, and the confused record of the newspapers remains the only resource of the curious. When he comes he will do that raid of the pantechnicons the justice it deserves; he will picture the orderly evening scene about the Imperial Legislature in convincing detail, the coming and going of cabs and motor-cabs and broughams through the chill, damp evening into New Palace Yard, the reinforced but untroubled and unsuspecting police about the entries of those great buildings whose square and panelled Victorian Gothic streams up from the glare of the lamps into the murkiness of the night; Big Ben shining overhead, an unassailable beacon, and the incidental traffic of Westminster, cabs, carts, and glowing omnibuses going to and from the bridge. About the Abbey and Abingdon Street stood the outer pickets and detachments of the police, their attention all directed westward to where the women in Caxton Hall, Westminster, hummed like an angry hive. Squads reached to the very portal of that centre of disturbance. And through all these defences and into Old Palace Yard, into the very vitals of the defenders' position, lumbered the unsuspected vans.
They travelled past the few idle sightseers who had braved the uninviting evening to see what the Suffragettes might be doing; they pulled up unchallenged within thirty yards of those coveted portals.
And then they disgorged.
Were I a painter of subject pictures, I would exhaust all my skill in proportion and perspective and atmosphere upon the august seat of empire, I would present it gray and dignified and immense and respectable beyond any mere verbal description, and then, in vivid black and very small, I would put in those valiantly impertinent vans, squatting at the base of its altitudes and pouring out a swift, straggling rush of ominous little black objects, minute figures of determined women at war with the universe.
Ann Veronica was in their very forefront.
In an instant the expectant calm of Westminster was ended, and the very Speaker in the chair blenched at the sound of the policemen's whistles. The bolder members in the House left their places to go lobbyward, grinning. Others pulled hats over their noses, cowered in their seats, and feigned that all was right with the world. In Old Palace Yard everybody ran. They either ran to see or ran for shelter. Even two Cabinet Ministers took to their heels, grinning insincerely. At the opening of the van doors and the emergence into the fresh air Ann Veronica's doubt and depression gave place to the wildest exhilaration. That same adventurousness that had already buoyed her through crises that would have overwhelmed any normally feminine girl with shame and horror now became uppermost again. Before her was a great Gothic portal. Through that she had to go.
Past her shot the little old lady in the bonnet, running incredibly fast, but otherwise still alertly respectable, and she was making a strange threatening sound as she ran, such as one would use in driving ducks out of a garden—"B-r-r-r-r-r—!" and pawing with black-gloved hands. The policemen were closing in from the sides to intervene. The little old lady struck like a projectile upon the resounding chest of the foremost of these, and then Ann Veronica had got past and was ascending the steps.
Then most horribly she was clasped about the waist from behind and lifted from the ground.
At that a new element poured into her excitement, an element of wild disgust and terror. She had never experienced anything so disagreeable in her life as the sense of being held helplessly off her feet. She screamed involuntarily—she had never in her life screamed before—and then she began to wriggle and fight like a frightened animal against the men who were holding her.
The affair passed at one leap from a spree to a nightmare of violence and disgust. Her hair got loose, her hat came over one eye, and she had no arm free to replace it. She felt she must suffocate if these men did not put her down, and for a time they would not put her down. Then with an indescribable relief her feet were on the pavement, and she was being urged along by two policemen, who were gripping her wrists in an irresistible expert manner. She was writhing to get her hands loose and found herself gasping with passionate violence, "It's damnable!—damnable!" to the manifest disgust of the fatherly policeman on her right.
Then they had released her arms and were trying to push her away.
"You be off, missie," said the fatherly policeman. "This ain't no place for you."
He pushed her a dozen yards along the greasy pavement with flat, well-trained hands that there seemed to be no opposing. Before her stretched blank spaces, dotted with running people coming toward her, and below them railings and a statue. She almost submitted to this ending of her adventure. But at the word "home" she turned again.
"I won't go home," she said; "I won't!" and she evaded the clutch of the fatherly policeman and tried to thrust herself past him in the direction of that big portal. "Steady on!" he cried.
A diversion was created by the violent struggles of the little old lady. She seemed to be endowed with superhuman strength. A knot of three policemen in conflict with her staggered toward Ann Veronica's attendants and distracted their attention. "I WILL be arrested! I WON'T go home!" the little old lady was screaming over and over again. They put her down, and she leaped at them; she smote a helmet to the ground.
"You'll have to take her!" shouted an inspector on horseback, and she echoed his cry: "You'll have to take me!" They seized upon her and lifted her, and she screamed. Ann Veronica became violently excited at the sight. "You cowards!" said Ann Veronica, "put her down!" and tore herself from a detaining hand and battered with her fists upon the big red ear and blue shoulder of the policeman who held the little old lady.
So Ann Veronica also was arrested.
And then came the vile experience of being forced and borne along the street to the police-station. Whatever anticipation Ann Veronica had formed of this vanished in the reality. Presently she was going through a swaying, noisy crowd, whose faces grinned and stared pitilessly in the light of the electric standards. "Go it, miss!" cried one. "Kick aht at 'em!" though, indeed, she went now with Christian meekness, resenting only the thrusting policemen's hands. Several people in the crowd seemed to be fighting. Insulting cries became frequent and various, but for the most part she could not understand what was said. "Who'll mind the baby nar?" was one of the night's inspirations, and very frequent. A lean young man in spectacles pursued her for some time, crying "Courage! Courage!" Somebody threw a dab of mud at her, and some of it got down her neck. Immeasurable disgust possessed her. She felt draggled and insulted beyond redemption.
She could not hide her face. She attempted by a sheer act of will to end the scene, to will herself out of it anywhere. She had a horrible glimpse of the once nice little old lady being also borne stationward, still faintly battling and very muddy—one lock of grayish hair straggling over her neck, her face scared, white, but triumphant. Her bonnet dropped off and was trampled into the gutter. A little Cockney recovered it, and made ridiculous attempts to get to her and replace it.
"You must arrest me!" she gasped, breathlessly, insisting insanely on a point already carried; "you shall!"
The police-station at the end seemed to Ann Veronica like a refuge from unnamable disgraces. She hesitated about her name, and, being prompted, gave it at last as Ann Veronica Smith, 107A, Chancery Lane....
Indignation carried her through that night, that men and the world could so entreat her. The arrested women were herded in a passage of the Panton Street Police-station that opened upon a cell too unclean for occupation, and most of them spent the night standing. Hot coffee and cakes were sent in to them in the morning by some intelligent sympathizer, or she would have starved all day. Submission to the inevitable carried her through the circumstances of her appearance before the magistrate.
He was no doubt doing his best to express the attitude of society toward these wearily heroic defendants, but he seemed to be merely rude and unfair to Ann Veronica. He was not, it seemed, the proper stipendiary at all, and there had been some demur to his jurisdiction that had ruffled him. He resented being regarded as irregular. He felt he was human wisdom prudentially interpolated.... "You silly wimmin," he said over and over again throughout the hearing, plucking at his blotting-pad with busy hands. "You silly creatures! Ugh! Fie upon you!" The court was crowded with people, for the most part supporters and admirers of the defendants, and the man with the light eyelashes was conspicuously active and omnipresent.
Ann Veronica's appearance was brief and undistinguished. She had nothing to say for herself. She was guided into the dock and prompted by a helpful police inspector. She was aware of the body of the court, of clerks seated at a black table littered with papers, of policemen standing about stiffly with expressions of conscious integrity, and a murmuring background of the heads and shoulders of spectators close behind her. On a high chair behind a raised counter the stipendiary's substitute regarded her malevolently over his glasses. A disagreeable young man, with red hair and a loose mouth, seated at the reporter's table, was only too manifestly sketching her.
She was interested by the swearing of the witnesses. The kissing of the book struck her as particularly odd, and then the policemen gave their evidence in staccato jerks and stereotyped phrases.
"Have you anything to ask the witness?" asked the helpful inspector.
The ribald demons that infested the back of Ann Veronica's mind urged various facetious interrogations upon her, as, for example, where the witness had acquired his prose style. She controlled herself, and answered meekly, "No."
"Well, Ann Veronica Smith," the magistrate remarked when the case was all before him, "you're a good-looking, strong, respectable gell, and it's a pity you silly young wimmin can't find something better to do with your exuberance. Two-and-twenty! I can't imagine what your parents can be thinking about to let you get into these scrapes."
Ann Veronica's mind was filled with confused unutterable replies.
"You are persuaded to come and take part in these outrageous proceedings—many of you, I am convinced, have no idea whatever of their nature. I don't suppose you could tell me even the derivation of suffrage if I asked you. No! not even the derivation! But the fashion's been set and in it you must be."
The men at the reporter's table lifted their eyebrows, smiled faintly, and leaned back to watch how she took her scolding. One with the appearance of a bald little gnome yawned agonizingly. They had got all this down already—they heard the substance of it now for the fourteenth time. The stipendiary would have done it all very differently.
She found presently she was out of the dock and confronted with the alternative of being bound over in one surety for the sum of forty pounds—whatever that might mean or a month's imprisonment.
"Second class," said some one, but first and second were all alike to her. She elected to go to prison.
At last, after a long rumbling journey in a stuffy windowless van, she reached Canongate Prison—for Holloway had its quota already. It was bad luck to go to Canongate.
Prison was beastly. Prison was bleak without spaciousness, and pervaded by a faint, oppressive smell; and she had to wait two hours in the sullenly defiant company of two unclean women thieves before a cell could be assigned to her. Its dreariness, like the filthiness of the police cell, was a discovery for her. She had imagined that prisons were white-tiled places, reeking of lime-wash and immaculately sanitary. Instead, they appeared to be at the hygienic level of tramps' lodging-houses. She was bathed in turbid water that had already been used. She was not allowed to bathe herself: another prisoner, with a privileged manner, washed her. Conscientious objectors to that process are not permitted, she found, in Canongate. Her hair was washed for her also. Then they dressed her in a dirty dress of coarse serge and a cap, and took away her own clothes. The dress came to her only too manifestly unwashed from its former wearer; even the under-linen they gave her seemed unclean. Horrible memories of things seen beneath the microscope of the baser forms of life crawled across her mind and set her shuddering with imagined irritations. She sat on the edge of the bed—the wardress was too busy with the flood of arrivals that day to discover that she had it down—and her skin was shivering from the contact of these garments. She surveyed accommodation that seemed at first merely austere, and became more and more manifestly inadequate as the moments fled by. She meditated profoundly through several enormous cold hours on all that had happened and all that she had done since the swirl of the suffrage movement had submerged her personal affairs....
Very slowly emerging out of a phase of stupefaction, these personal affairs and her personal problem resumed possession of her mind. She had imagined she had drowned them altogether.
CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH
THOUGHTS IN PRISON
The first night in prison she found it impossible to sleep. The bed was hard beyond any experience of hers, the bed-clothes coarse and insufficient, the cell at once cold and stuffy. The little grating in the door, the sense of constant inspection, worried her. She kept opening her eyes and looking at it. She was fatigued physically and mentally, and neither mind nor body could rest. She became aware that at regular intervals a light flashed upon her face and a bodiless eye regarded her, and this, as the night wore on, became a torment....
Capes came back into her mind. He haunted a state between hectic dreaming and mild delirium, and she found herself talking aloud to him. All through the night an entirely impossible and monumental Capes confronted her, and she argued with him about men and women. She visualized him as in a policeman's uniform and quite impassive. On some insane score she fancied she had to state her case in verse. "We are the music and you are the instrument," she said; "we are verse and you are prose.
"For men have reason, women rhyme A man scores always, all the time."
This couplet sprang into her mind from nowhere, and immediately begot an endless series of similar couplets that she began to compose and address to Capes. They came teeming distressfully through her aching brain:
"A man can kick, his skirts don't tear; A man scores always, everywhere.
"His dress for no man lays a snare; A man scores always, everywhere. For hats that fail and hats that flare; Toppers their universal wear; A man scores always, everywhere.
"Men's waists are neither here nor there; A man scores always, everywhere.
"A man can manage without hair; A man scores always, everywhere.
"There are no males at men to stare; A man scores always, everywhere.
"And children must we women bear—
"Oh, damn!" she cried, as the hundred-and-first couplet or so presented itself in her unwilling brain.
For a time she worried about that compulsory bath and cutaneous diseases.
Then she fell into a fever of remorse for the habit of bad language she had acquired.
"A man can smoke, a man can swear; A man scores always, everywhere."
She rolled over on her face, and stuffed her fingers in her ears to shut out the rhythm from her mind. She lay still for a long time, and her mind resumed at a more tolerable pace. She found herself talking to Capes in an undertone of rational admission.
"There is something to be said for the lady-like theory after all," she admitted. "Women ought to be gentle and submissive persons, strong only in virtue and in resistance to evil compulsion. My dear—I can call you that here, anyhow—I know that. The Victorians over-did it a little, I admit. Their idea of maidenly innocence was just a blank white—the sort of flat white that doesn't shine. But that doesn't alter the fact that there IS innocence. And I've read, and thought, and guessed, and looked—until MY innocence—it's smirched.
"You see, dear, one IS passionately anxious for something—what is it? One wants to be CLEAN. You want me to be clean. You would want me to be clean, if you gave me a thought, that is....
"I wonder if you give me a thought....
"I'm not a good woman. I don't mean I'm not a good woman—I mean that I'm not a GOOD woman. My poor brain is so mixed, dear, I hardly know what I am saying. I mean I'm not a good specimen of a woman. I've got a streak of male. Things happen to women—proper women—and all they have to do is to take them well. They've just got to keep white. But I'm always trying to make things happen. And I get myself dirty...
"It's all dirt that washes off, dear, but it's dirt.
"The white unaggressive woman who corrects and nurses and serves, and is worshipped and betrayed—the martyr-queen of men, the white mother.... You can't do that sort of thing unless you do it over religion, and there's no religion in me—of that sort—worth a rap.
"I'm not gentle. Certainly not a gentlewoman.
"I'm not coarse—no! But I've got no purity of mind—no real purity of mind. A good woman's mind has angels with flaming swords at the portals to keep out fallen thoughts....
"I wonder if there are any good women really.
"I wish I didn't swear. I do swear. It began as a joke.... It developed into a sort of secret and private bad manners. It's got to be at last like tobacco-ash over all my sayings and doings....
"'Go it, missie,' they said; "kick aht!'
"I swore at that policeman—and disgusted him. Disgusted him!
"For men policemen never blush; A man in all things scores so much...
"Damn! Things are getting plainer. It must be the dawn creeping in.
"Now here hath been dawning another blue day; I'm just a poor woman, please take it away.
"Oh, sleep! Sleep! Sleep! Sleep!"
"Now," said Ann Veronica, after the half-hour of exercise, and sitting on the uncomfortable wooden seat without a back that was her perch by day, "it's no good staying here in a sort of maze. I've got nothing to do for a month but think. I may as well think. I ought to be able to think things out.
"How shall I put the question? What am I? What have I got to do with myself?...
"I wonder if many people HAVE thought things out?
"Are we all just seizing hold of phrases and obeying moods?
"It wasn't so with old-fashioned people, they knew right from wrong; they had a clear-cut, religious faith that seemed to explain everything and give a rule for everything. We haven't. I haven't, anyhow. And it's no good pretending there is one when there isn't.... I suppose I believe in God.... Never really thought about Him—people don't.. .. I suppose my creed is, 'I believe rather indistinctly in God the Father Almighty, substratum of the evolutionary process, and, in a vein of vague sentimentality that doesn't give a datum for anything at all, in Jesus Christ, His Son.'...
"It's no sort of good, Ann Veronica, pretending one does believe when one doesn't....
"And as for praying for faith—this sort of monologue is about as near as any one of my sort ever gets to prayer. Aren't I asking—asking plainly now?...
"We've all been mixing our ideas, and we've got intellectual hot coppers—every blessed one of us....
"A confusion of motives—that's what I am!...
"There is this absurd craving for Mr. Capes—the 'Capes crave,' they would call it in America. Why do I want him so badly? Why do I want him, and think about him, and fail to get away from him?
"It isn't all of me.
"The first person you love, Ann Veronica, is yourself—get hold of that! The soul you have to save is Ann Veronica's soul...."
She knelt upon the floor of her cell and clasped her hands, and remained for a long time in silence.
"Oh, God!" she said at last, "how I wish I had been taught to pray!"
She had some idea of putting these subtle and difficult issues to the chaplain when she was warned of his advent. But she had not reckoned with the etiquette of Canongate. She got up, as she had been told to do, at his appearance, and he amazed her by sitting down, according to custom, on her stool. He still wore his hat, to show that the days of miracles and Christ being civil to sinners are over forever. She perceived that his countenance was only composed by a great effort, his features severely compressed. He was ruffled, and his ears were red, no doubt from some adjacent controversy. He classified her as he seated himself.
"Another young woman, I suppose," he said, "who knows better than her Maker about her place in the world. Have you anything to ask me?"
Ann Veronica readjusted her mind hastily. Her back stiffened. She produced from the depths of her pride the ugly investigatory note of the modern district visitor. "Are you a special sort of clergyman," she said, after a pause, and looking down her nose at him, "or do you go to the Universities?"
"Oh!" he said, profoundly.
He panted for a moment with unuttered replies, and then, with a scornful gesture, got up and left the cell.
So that Ann Veronica was not able to get the expert advice she certainly needed upon her spiritual state.
After a day or so she thought more steadily. She found herself in a phase of violent reaction against the suffrage movement, a phase greatly promoted by one of those unreasonable objections people of Ann Veronica's temperament take at times—to the girl in the next cell to her own. She was a large, resilient girl, with a foolish smile, a still more foolish expression of earnestness, and a throaty contralto voice. She was noisy and hilarious and enthusiastic, and her hair was always abominably done. In the chapel she sang with an open-lunged gusto that silenced Ann Veronica altogether, and in the exercising-yard slouched round with carelessly dispersed feet. Ann Veronica decided that "hoydenish ragger" was the only phrase to express her. She was always breaking rules, whispering asides, intimating signals. She became at times an embodiment for Ann Veronica of all that made the suffrage movement defective and unsatisfying.
She was always initiating petty breaches of discipline. Her greatest exploit was the howling before the mid-day meal. This was an imitation of the noises made by the carnivora at the Zoological Gardens at feeding-time; the idea was taken up by prisoner after prisoner until the whole place was alive with barkings, yappings, roarings, pelican chatterings, and feline yowlings, interspersed with shrieks of hysterical laughter. To many in that crowded solitude it came as an extraordinary relief. It was better even than the hymn-singing. But it annoyed Ann Veronica.
"Idiots!" she said, when she heard this pandemonium, and with particular reference to this young lady with the throaty contralto next door. "Intolerable idiots!..."
It took some days for this phase to pass, and it left some scars and something like a decision. "Violence won't do it," said Ann Veronica. "Begin violence, and the woman goes under....
"But all the rest of our case is right.... Yes."
As the long, solitary days wore on, Ann Veronica found a number of definite attitudes and conclusions in her mind.
One of these was a classification of women into women who are and women who are not hostile to men. "The real reason why I am out of place here," she said, "is because I like men. I can talk with them. I've never found them hostile. I've got no feminine class feeling. I don't want any laws or freedoms to protect me from a man like Mr. Capes. I know that in my heart I would take whatever he gave....
"A woman wants a proper alliance with a man, a man who is better stuff than herself. She wants that and needs it more than anything else in the world. It may not be just, it may not be fair, but things are so. It isn't law, nor custom, nor masculine violence settled that. It is just how things happen to be. She wants to be free—she wants to be legally and economically free, so as not to be subject to the wrong man; but only God, who made the world, can alter things to prevent her being slave to the right one.
"And if she can't have the right one?
"We've developed such a quality of preference!"
She rubbed her knuckles into her forehead. "Oh, but life is difficult!" she groaned. "When you loosen the tangle in one place you tie a knot in another.... Before there is any change, any real change, I shall be dead—dead—dead and finished—two hundred years!..."
One afternoon, while everything was still, the wardress heard her cry out suddenly and alarmingly, and with great and unmistakable passion, "Why in the name of goodness did I burn that twenty pounds?"
She sat regarding her dinner. The meat was coarse and disagreeably served.
"I suppose some one makes a bit on the food," she said....
"One has such ridiculous ideas of the wicked common people and the beautiful machinery of order that ropes them in. And here are these places, full of contagion!
"Of course, this is the real texture of life, this is what we refined secure people forget. We think the whole thing is straight and noble at bottom, and it isn't. We think if we just defy the friends we have and go out into the world everything will become easy and splendid. One doesn't realize that even the sort of civilization one has at Morningside Park is held together with difficulty. By policemen one mustn't shock.
"This isn't a world for an innocent girl to walk about in. It's a world of dirt and skin diseases and parasites. It's a world in which the law can be a stupid pig and the police-stations dirty dens. One wants helpers and protectors—and clean water.
"Am I becoming reasonable or am I being tamed?
"I'm simply discovering that life is many-sided and complex and puzzling. I thought one had only to take it by the throat.
"It hasn't GOT a throat!"
One day the idea of self-sacrifice came into her head, and she made, she thought, some important moral discoveries.
It came with an extreme effect of re-discovery, a remarkable novelty. "What have I been all this time?" she asked herself, and answered, "Just stark egotism, crude assertion of Ann Veronica, without a modest rag of religion or discipline or respect for authority to cover me!"
It seemed to her as though she had at last found the touchstone of conduct. She perceived she had never really thought of any one but herself in all her acts and plans. Even Capes had been for her merely an excitant to passionate love—a mere idol at whose feet one could enjoy imaginative wallowings. She had set out to get a beautiful life, a free, untrammelled life, self-development, without counting the cost either for herself or others.
"I have hurt my father," she said; "I have hurt my aunt. I have hurt and snubbed poor Teddy. I've made no one happy. I deserve pretty much what I've got....
"If only because of the way one hurts others if one kicks loose and free, one has to submit....
"Broken-in people! I suppose the world is just all egotistical children and broken-in people.
"Your little flag of pride must flutter down with the rest of them, Ann Veronica....
"Compromise and kindness.
"Who are YOU that the world should lie down at your feet?
"You've got to be a decent citizen, Ann Veronica. Take your half loaf with the others. You mustn't go clawing after a man that doesn't belong to you—that isn't even interested in you. That's one thing clear.
"You've got to take the decent reasonable way. You've got to adjust yourself to the people God has set about you. Every one else does."
She thought more and more along that line. There was no reason why she shouldn't be Capes' friend. He did like her, anyhow; he was always pleased to be with her. There was no reason why she shouldn't be his restrained and dignified friend. After all, that was life. Nothing was given away, and no one came so rich to the stall as to command all that it had to offer. Every one has to make a deal with the world.
It would be very good to be Capes' friend.
She might be able to go on with biology, possibly even work upon the same questions that he dealt with....
Perhaps her granddaughter might marry his grandson....
It grew clear to her that throughout all her wild raid for independence she had done nothing for anybody, and many people had done things for her. She thought of her aunt and that purse that was dropped on the table, and of many troublesome and ill-requited kindnesses; she thought of the help of the Widgetts, of Teddy's admiration; she thought, with a new-born charity, of her father, of Manning's conscientious unselfishness, of Miss Miniver's devotion.
"And for me it has been Pride and Pride and Pride!
"I am the prodigal daughter. I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him—
"I suppose pride and self-assertion are sin? Sinned against heaven—Yes, I have sinned against heaven and before thee....
"Poor old daddy! I wonder if he'll spend much on the fatted calf?...
"The wrappered life-discipline! One comes to that at last. I begin to understand Jane Austen and chintz covers and decency and refinement and all the rest of it. One puts gloves on one's greedy fingers. One learns to sit up...
"And somehow or other," she added, after a long interval, "I must pay Mr. Ramage back his forty pounds."
CHAPTER THE TWELFTH
ANN VERONICA PUTS THINGS IN ORDER
Ann Veronica made a strenuous attempt to carry out her good resolutions. She meditated long and carefully upon her letter to her father before she wrote it, and gravely and deliberately again before she despatched it.
"MY DEAR FATHER," she wrote,—"I have been thinking hard about everything since I was sent to this prison. All these experiences have taught me a great deal about life and realities. I see that compromise is more necessary to life than I ignorantly supposed it to be, and I have been trying to get Lord Morley's book on that subject, but it does not appear to be available in the prison library, and the chaplain seems to regard him as an undesirable writer."
At this point she had perceived that she was drifting from her subject.
"I must read him when I come out. But I see very clearly that as things are a daughter is necessarily dependent on her father and bound while she is in that position to live harmoniously with his ideals."
"Bit starchy," said Ann Veronica, and altered the key abruptly. Her concluding paragraph was, on the whole, perhaps, hardly starchy enough.
"Really, daddy, I am sorry for all I have done to put you out. May I come home and try to be a better daughter to you?
Her aunt came to meet her outside Canongate, and, being a little confused between what was official and what was merely a rebellious slight upon our national justice, found herself involved in a triumphal procession to the Vindicator Vegetarian Restaurant, and was specifically and personally cheered by a small, shabby crowd outside that rendezvous. They decided quite audibly, "She's an Old Dear, anyhow. Voting wouldn't do no 'arm to 'er." She was on the very verge of a vegetarian meal before she recovered her head again. Obeying some fine instinct, she had come to the prison in a dark veil, but she had pushed this up to kiss Ann Veronica and never drawn it down again. Eggs were procured for her, and she sat out the subsequent emotions and eloquence with the dignity becoming an injured lady of good family. The quiet encounter and home-coming Ann Veronica and she had contemplated was entirely disorganized by this misadventure; there were no adequate explanations, and after they had settled things at Ann Veronica's lodgings, they reached home in the early afternoon estranged and depressed, with headaches and the trumpet voice of the indomitable Kitty Brett still ringing in their ears.
"Dreadful women, my dear!" said Miss Stanley. "And some of them quite pretty and well dressed. No need to do such things. We must never let your father know we went. Why ever did you let me get into that wagonette?"
"I thought we had to," said Ann Veronica, who had also been a little under the compulsion of the marshals of the occasion. "It was very tiring."
"We will have some tea in the drawing-room as soon as ever we can—and I will take my things off. I don't think I shall ever care for this bonnet again. We'll have some buttered toast. Your poor cheeks are quite sunken and hollow...."
When Ann Veronica found herself in her father's study that evening it seemed to her for a moment as though all the events of the past six months had been a dream. The big gray spaces of London, the shop-lit, greasy, shining streets, had become very remote; the biological laboratory with its work and emotions, the meetings and discussions, the rides in hansoms with Ramage, were like things in a book read and closed. The study seemed absolutely unaltered, there was still the same lamp with a little chip out of the shade, still the same gas fire, still the same bundle of blue and white papers, it seemed, with the same pink tape about them, at the elbow of the arm-chair, still the same father. He sat in much the same attitude, and she stood just as she had stood when he told her she could not go to the Fadden Dance. Both had dropped the rather elaborate politeness of the dining-room, and in their faces an impartial observer would have discovered little lines of obstinate wilfulness in common; a certain hardness—sharp, indeed, in the father and softly rounded in the daughter—but hardness nevertheless, that made every compromise a bargain and every charity a discount.
"And so you have been thinking?" her father began, quoting her letter and looking over his slanting glasses at her. "Well, my girl, I wish you had thought about all these things before these bothers began."
Ann Veronica perceived that she must not forget to remain eminently reasonable.
"One has to live and learn," she remarked, with a passable imitation of her father's manner.
"So long as you learn," said Mr. Stanley.
Their conversation hung.
"I suppose, daddy, you've no objection to my going on with my work at the Imperial College?" she asked.
"If it will keep you busy," he said, with a faintly ironical smile.
"The fees are paid to the end of the session."
He nodded twice, with his eyes on the fire, as though that was a formal statement.
"You may go on with that work," he said, "so long as you keep in harmony with things at home. I'm convinced that much of Russell's investigations are on wrong lines, unsound lines. Still—you must learn for yourself. You're of age—you're of age."
"The work's almost essential for the B.Sc. exam."
"It's scandalous, but I suppose it is."
Their agreement so far seemed remarkable, and yet as a home-coming the thing was a little lacking in warmth. But Ann Veronica had still to get to her chief topic. They were silent for a time. "It's a period of crude views and crude work," said Mr. Stanley. "Still, these Mendelian fellows seem likely to give Mr. Russell trouble, a good lot of trouble. Some of their specimens—wonderfully selected, wonderfully got up."
"Daddy," said Ann Veronica, "these affairs—being away from home has—cost money."
"I thought you would find that out."
"As a matter of fact, I happen to have got a little into debt."
Her heart sank at the change in his expression.
"Well, lodgings and things! And I paid my fees at the College."
"Yes. But how could you get—Who gave you credit?
"You see," said Ann Veronica, "my landlady kept on my room while I was in Holloway, and the fees for the College mounted up pretty considerably." She spoke rather quickly, because she found her father's question the most awkward she had ever had to answer in her life.
"Molly and you settled about the rooms. She said you HAD some money."
"I borrowed it," said Ann Veronica in a casual tone, with white despair in her heart.
"But who could have lent you money?"
"I pawned my pearl necklace. I got three pounds, and there's three on my watch."
"Six pounds. H'm. Got the tickets? Yes, but then—you said you borrowed?"
"I did, too," said Ann Veronica.
She met his eye for a second and her heart failed her. The truth was impossible, indecent. If she mentioned Ramage he might have a fit—anything might happen. She lied. "The Widgetts," she said.
"Tut, tut!" he said. "Really, Vee, you seem to have advertised our relations pretty generally!"
"They—they knew, of course. Because of the Dance."
"How much do you owe them?"
She knew forty pounds was a quite impossible sum for their neighbors. She knew, too, she must not hesitate. "Eight pounds," she plunged, and added foolishly, "fifteen pounds will see me clear of everything." She muttered some unlady-like comment upon herself under her breath and engaged in secret additions.
Mr. Stanley determined to improve the occasion. He seemed to deliberate. "Well," he said at last slowly, "I'll pay it. I'll pay it. But I do hope, Vee, I do hope—this is the end of these adventures. I hope you have learned your lesson now and come to see—come to realize—how things are. People, nobody, can do as they like in this world. Everywhere there are limitations."
"I know," said Ann Veronica (fifteen pounds!). "I have learned that. I mean—I mean to do what I can." (Fifteen pounds. Fifteen from forty is twenty-five.)
He hesitated. She could think of nothing more to say.
"Well," she achieved at last. "Here goes for the new life!"
"Here goes for the new life," he echoed and stood up. Father and daughter regarded each other warily, each more than a little insecure with the other. He made a movement toward her, and then recalled the circumstances of their last conversation in that study. She saw his purpose and his doubt hesitated also, and then went to him, took his coat lapels, and kissed him on the cheek.
"Ah, Vee," he said, "that's better! and kissed her back rather clumsily.
"We're going to be sensible."
She disengaged herself from him and went out of the room with a grave, preoccupied expression. (Fifteen pounds! And she wanted forty!)
It was, perhaps, the natural consequence of a long and tiring and exciting day that Ann Veronica should pass a broken and distressful night, a night in which the noble and self-subduing resolutions of Canongate displayed themselves for the first time in an atmosphere of almost lurid dismay. Her father's peculiar stiffness of soul presented itself now as something altogether left out of the calculations upon which her plans were based, and, in particular, she had not anticipated the difficulty she would find in borrowing the forty pounds she needed for Ramage. That had taken her by surprise, and her tired wits had failed her. She was to have fifteen pounds, and no more. She knew that to expect more now was like anticipating a gold-mine in the garden. The chance had gone. It became suddenly glaringly apparent to her that it was impossible to return fifteen pounds or any sum less than twenty pounds to Ramage—absolutely impossible. She realized that with a pang of disgust and horror.
Already she had sent him twenty pounds, and never written to explain to him why it was she had not sent it back sharply directly he returned it. She ought to have written at once and told him exactly what had happened. Now if she sent fifteen pounds the suggestion that she had spent a five-pound note in the meanwhile would be irresistible. No! That was impossible. She would have just to keep the fifteen pounds until she could make it twenty. That might happen on her birthday—in August.
She turned about, and was persecuted by visions, half memories, half dreams, of Ramage. He became ugly and monstrous, dunning her, threatening her, assailing her.
"Confound sex from first to last!" said Ann Veronica. "Why can't we propagate by sexless spores, as the ferns do? We restrict each other, we badger each other, friendship is poisoned and buried under it!... I MUST pay off that forty pounds. I MUST."
For a time there seemed no comfort for her even in Capes. She was to see Capes to-morrow, but now, in this state of misery she had achieved, she felt assured he would turn his back upon her, take no notice of her at all. And if he didn't, what was the good of seeing him?
"I wish he was a woman," she said, "then I could make him my friend. I want him as my friend. I want to talk to him and go about with him. Just go about with him."
She was silent for a time, with her nose on the pillow, and that brought her to: "What's the good of pretending?
"I love him," she said aloud to the dim forms of her room, and repeated it, and went on to imagine herself doing acts of tragically dog-like devotion to the biologist, who, for the purposes of the drama, remained entirely unconscious of and indifferent to her proceedings.
At last some anodyne formed itself from these exercises, and, with eyelashes wet with such feeble tears as only three-o'clock-in-the-morning pathos can distil, she fell asleep.
Pursuant to some altogether private calculations she did not go up to the Imperial College until after mid-day, and she found the laboratory deserted, even as she desired. She went to the table under the end window at which she had been accustomed to work, and found it swept and garnished with full bottles of re-agents. Everything was very neat; it had evidently been straightened up and kept for her. She put down the sketch-books and apparatus she had brought with her, pulled out her stool, and sat down. As she did so the preparation-room door opened behind her. She heard it open, but as she felt unable to look round in a careless manner she pretended not to hear it. Then Capes' footsteps approached. She turned with an effort.
"I expected you this morning," he said. "I saw—they knocked off your fetters yesterday."
"I think it is very good of me to come this afternoon."
"I began to be afraid you might not come at all."
"Yes. I'm glad you're back for all sorts of reasons." He spoke a little nervously. "Among other things, you know, I didn't understand quite—I didn't understand that you were so keenly interested in this suffrage question. I have it on my conscience that I offended you—"
"Offended me when?"
"I've been haunted by the memory of you. I was rude and stupid. We were talking about the suffrage—and I rather scoffed."
"You weren't rude," she said.
"I didn't know you were so keen on this suffrage business."
"Nor I. You haven't had it on your mind all this time?"
"I have rather. I felt somehow I'd hurt you."
"You didn't. I—I hurt myself."
"I behaved like an idiot, that's all. My nerves were in rags. I was worried. We're the hysterical animal, Mr. Capes. I got myself locked up to cool off. By a sort of instinct. As a dog eats grass. I'm right again now."
"Because your nerves were exposed, that was no excuse for my touching them. I ought to have seen—"
"It doesn't matter a rap—if you're not disposed to resent the—the way I behaved."
"I was only sorry I'd been so stupid."
"Well, I take it we're straight again," said Capes with a note of relief, and assumed an easier position on the edge of her table. "But if you weren't keen on the suffrage business, why on earth did you go to prison?"
Ann Veronica reflected. "It was a phase," she said.
He smiled. "It's a new phase in the life history," he remarked. "Everybody seems to have it now. Everybody who's going to develop into a woman."
"There's Miss Garvice."
"She's coming on," said Capes. "And, you know, you're altering us all. I'M shaken. The campaign's a success." He met her questioning eye, and repeated, "Oh! it IS a success. A man is so apt to—to take women a little too lightly. Unless they remind him now and then not to.... YOU did."
"Then I didn't waste my time in prison altogether?"
"It wasn't the prison impressed me. But I liked the things you said here. I felt suddenly I understood you—as an intelligent person. If you'll forgive my saying that, and implying what goes with it. There's something—puppyish in a man's usual attitude to women. That is what I've had on my conscience.... I don't think we're altogether to blame if we don't take some of your lot seriously. Some of your sex, I mean. But we smirk a little, I'm afraid, habitually when we talk to you. We smirk, and we're a bit—furtive."
He paused, with his eyes studying her gravely. "You, anyhow, don't deserve it," he said.
Their colloquy was ended abruptly by the apparition of Miss Klegg at the further door. When she saw Ann Veronica she stood for a moment as if entranced, and then advanced with outstretched hands. "Veronique!" she cried with a rising intonation, though never before had she called Ann Veronica anything but Miss Stanley, and seized her and squeezed her and kissed her with profound emotion. "To think that you were going to do it—and never said a word! You are a little thin, but except for that you look—you look better than ever. Was it VERY horrible? I tried to get into the police-court, but the crowd was ever so much too big, push as I would....
"I mean to go to prison directly the session is over," said Miss Klegg. "Wild horses—not if they have all the mounted police in London—shan't keep me out."
Capes lit things wonderfully for Ann Veronica all that afternoon, he was so friendly, so palpably interested in her, and glad to have her back with him. Tea in the laboratory was a sort of suffragette reception. Miss Garvice assumed a quality of neutrality, professed herself almost won over by Ann Veronica's example, and the Scotchman decided that if women had a distinctive sphere it was, at any rate, an enlarging sphere, and no one who believed in the doctrine of evolution could logically deny the vote to women "ultimately," however much they might be disposed to doubt the advisability of its immediate concession. It was a refusal of expediency, he said, and not an absolute refusal. The youth with his hair like Russell cleared his throat and said rather irrelevantly that he knew a man who knew Thomas Bayard Simmons, who had rioted in the Strangers' Gallery, and then Capes, finding them all distinctly pro-Ann Veronica, if not pro-feminist, ventured to be perverse, and started a vein of speculation upon the Scotchman's idea—that there were still hopes of women evolving into something higher.
He was unusually absurd and ready, and all the time it seemed to Ann Veronica as a delightful possibility, as a thing not indeed to be entertained seriously, but to be half furtively felt, that he was being so agreeable because she had come back again. She returned home through a world that was as roseate as it had been gray overnight.
But as she got out of the train at Morningside Park Station she had a shock. She saw, twenty yards down the platform, the shiny hat and broad back and inimitable swagger of Ramage. She dived at once behind the cover of the lamp-room and affected serious trouble with her shoe-lace until he was out of the station, and then she followed slowly and with extreme discretion until the bifurcation of the Avenue from the field way insured her escape. Ramage went up the Avenue, and she hurried along the path with a beating heart and a disagreeable sense of unsolved problems in her mind.
"That thing's going on," she told herself. "Everything goes on, confound it! One doesn't change anything one has set going by making good resolutions."
And then ahead of her she saw the radiant and welcoming figure of Manning. He came as an agreeable diversion from an insoluble perplexity. She smiled at the sight of him, and thereat his radiation increased.
"I missed the hour of your release," he said, "but I was at the Vindicator Restaurant. You did not see me, I know. I was among the common herd in the place below, but I took good care to see you."
"Of course you're converted?" she said.
"To the view that all those Splendid Women in the movement ought to have votes. Rather! Who could help it?"
He towered up over her and smiled down at her in his fatherly way.
"To the view that all women ought to have votes whether they like it or not."
He shook his head, and his eyes and the mouth under the black mustache wrinkled with his smile. And as he walked by her side they began a wrangle that was none the less pleasant to Ann Veronica because it served to banish a disagreeable preoccupation. It seemed to her in her restored geniality that she liked Manning extremely. The brightness Capes had diffused over the world glorified even his rival.
The steps by which Ann Veronica determined to engage herself to marry Manning were never very clear to her. A medley of motives warred in her, and it was certainly not one of the least of these that she knew herself to be passionately in love with Capes; at moments she had a giddy intimation that he was beginning to feel keenly interested in her. She realized more and more the quality of the brink upon which she stood—the dreadful readiness with which in certain moods she might plunge, the unmitigated wrongness and recklessness of such a self-abandonment. "He must never know," she would whisper to herself, "he must never know. Or else—Else it will be impossible that I can be his friend."
That simple statement of the case was by no means all that went on in Ann Veronica's mind. But it was the form of her ruling determination; it was the only form that she ever allowed to see daylight. What else was there lurked in shadows and deep places; if in some mood of reverie it came out into the light, it was presently overwhelmed and hustled back again into hiding. She would never look squarely at these dream forms that mocked the social order in which she lived, never admit she listened to the soft whisperings in her ear. But Manning seemed more and more clearly indicated as a refuge, as security. Certain simple purposes emerged from the disingenuous muddle of her feelings and desires. Seeing Capes from day to day made a bright eventfulness that hampered her in the course she had resolved to follow. She vanished from the laboratory for a week, a week of oddly interesting days....
When she renewed her attendance at the Imperial College the third finger of her left hand was adorned with a very fine old ring with dark blue sapphires that had once belonged to a great-aunt of Manning's.
That ring manifestly occupied her thoughts a great deal. She kept pausing in her work and regarding it, and when Capes came round to her, she first put her hand in her lap and then rather awkwardly in front of him. But men are often blind to rings. He seemed to be.
In the afternoon she had considered certain doubts very carefully, and decided on a more emphatic course of action. "Are these ordinary sapphires?" she said. He bent to her hand, and she slipped off the ring and gave it to him to examine.
"Very good," he said. "Rather darker than most of them. But I'm generously ignorant of gems. Is it an old ring?" he asked, returning it.
"I believe it is. It's an engagement ring...." She slipped it on her finger, and added, in a voice she tried to make matter-of-fact: "It was given to me last week."
"Oh!" he said, in a colorless tone, and with his eyes on her face.
"Yes. Last week."
She glanced at him, and it was suddenly apparent for one instant of illumination that this ring upon her finger was the crowning blunder of her life. It was apparent, and then it faded into the quality of an inevitable necessity.
"Odd!" he remarked, rather surprisingly, after a little interval.
There was a brief pause, a crowded pause, between them.
She sat very still, and his eyes rested on that ornament for a moment, and then travelled slowly to her wrist and the soft lines of her forearm.
"I suppose I ought to congratulate you," he said. Their eyes met, and his expressed perplexity and curiosity. "The fact is—I don't know why—this takes me by surprise. Somehow I haven't connected the idea with you. You seemed complete—without that."
"Did I?" she said.
"I don't know why. But this is like—like walking round a house that looks square and complete and finding an unexpected long wing running out behind."
She looked up at him, and found he was watching her closely. For some seconds of voluminous thinking they looked at the ring between them, and neither spoke. Then Capes shifted his eyes to her microscope and the little trays of unmounted sections beside it. "How is that carmine working?" he asked, with a forced interest.
"Better," said Ann Veronica, with an unreal alacrity. "But it still misses the nucleolus."
CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH
THE SAPPHIRE RING
For a time that ring set with sapphires seemed to be, after all, the satisfactory solution of Ann Veronica's difficulties. It was like pouring a strong acid over dulled metal. A tarnish of constraint that had recently spread over her intercourse with Capes vanished again. They embarked upon an open and declared friendship. They even talked about friendship. They went to the Zoological Gardens together one Saturday to see for themselves a point of morphological interest about the toucan's bill—that friendly and entertaining bird—and they spent the rest of the afternoon walking about and elaborating in general terms this theme and the superiority of intellectual fellowship to all merely passionate relationships. Upon this topic Capes was heavy and conscientious, but that seemed to her to be just exactly what he ought to be. He was also, had she known it, more than a little insincere. "We are only in the dawn of the Age of Friendship," he said, "when interest, I suppose, will take the place of passions. Either you have had to love people or hate them—which is a sort of love, too, in its way—to get anything out of them. Now, more and more, we're going to be interested in them, to be curious about them and—quite mildly-experimental with them." He seemed to be elaborating ideas as he talked. They watched the chimpanzees in the new apes' house, and admired the gentle humanity of their eyes—"so much more human than human beings"—and they watched the Agile Gibbon in the next apartment doing wonderful leaps and aerial somersaults.
"I wonder which of us enjoys that most," said Capes—"does he, or do we?"
"He seems to get a zest—"
"He does it and forgets it. We remember it. These joyful bounds just lace into the stuff of my memories and stay there forever. Living's just material."
"It's very good to be alive."
"It's better to know life than be life."
"One may do both," said Ann Veronica.
She was in a very uncritical state that afternoon. When he said, "Let's go and see the wart-hog," she thought no one ever had had so quick a flow of good ideas as he; and when he explained that sugar and not buns was the talisman of popularity among the animals, she marvelled at his practical omniscience.
Finally, at the exit into Regent's Park, they ran against Miss Klegg. It was the expression of Miss Klegg's face that put the idea into Ann Veronica's head of showing Manning at the College one day, an idea which she didn't for some reason or other carry out for a fortnight.
When at last she did so, the sapphire ring took on a new quality in the imagination of Capes. It ceased to be the symbol of liberty and a remote and quite abstracted person, and became suddenly and very disagreeably the token of a large and portentous body visible and tangible.
Manning appeared just at the end of the afternoon's work, and the biologist was going through some perplexities the Scotchman had created by a metaphysical treatment of the skulls of Hyrax and a young African elephant. He was clearing up these difficulties by tracing a partially obliterated suture the Scotchman had overlooked when the door from the passage opened, and Manning came into his universe.
Seen down the length of the laboratory, Manning looked a very handsome and shapely gentleman indeed, and, at the sight of his eager advance to his fiancee, Miss Klegg replaced one long-cherished romance about Ann Veronica by one more normal and simple. He carried a cane and a silk hat with a mourning-band in one gray-gloved hand; his frock-coat and trousers were admirable; his handsome face, his black mustache, his prominent brow conveyed an eager solicitude.
"I want," he said, with a white hand outstretched, "to take you out to tea."
"I've been clearing up," said Ann Veronica, brightly.
"All your dreadful scientific things?" he said, with a smile that Miss Klegg thought extraordinarily kindly.
"All my dreadful scientific things," said Ann Veronica.
He stood back, smiling with an air of proprietorship, and looking about him at the business-like equipment of the room. The low ceiling made him seem abnormally tall. Ann Veronica wiped a scalpel, put a card over a watch-glass containing thin shreds of embryonic guinea-pig swimming in mauve stain, and dismantled her microscope.
"I wish I understood more of biology," said Manning.
"I'm ready," said Ann Veronica, closing her microscope-box with a click, and looking for one brief instant up the laboratory. "We have no airs and graces here, and my hat hangs from a peg in the passage."
She led the way to the door, and Manning passed behind her and round her and opened the door for her. When Capes glanced up at them for a moment, Manning seemed to be holding his arms all about her, and there was nothing but quiet acquiescence in her bearing.
After Capes had finished the Scotchman's troubles he went back into the preparation-room. He sat down on the sill of the open window, folded his arms, and stared straight before him for a long time over the wilderness of tiles and chimney-pots into a sky that was blue and empty. He was not addicted to monologue, and the only audible comment he permitted himself at first upon a universe that was evidently anything but satisfactory to him that afternoon, was one compact and entirely unassigned "Damn!"
The word must have had some gratifying quality, because he repeated it. Then he stood up and repeated it again. "The fool I have been!" he cried; and now speech was coming to him. He tried this sentence with expletives. "Ass!" he went on, still warming. "Muck-headed moral ass! I ought to have done anything.
"I ought to have done anything!
"What's a man for?
He doubled up his fist, and seemed to contemplate thrusting it through the window. He turned his back on that temptation. Then suddenly he seized a new preparation bottle that stood upon his table and contained the better part of a week's work—a displayed dissection of a snail, beautifully done—and hurled it across the room, to smash resoundingly upon the cemented floor under the bookcase; then, without either haste or pause, he swept his arm along a shelf of re-agents and sent them to mingle with the debris on the floor. They fell in a diapason of smashes. "H'm!" he said, regarding the wreckage with a calmer visage. "Silly!" he remarked after a pause. "One hardly knows—all the time."
He put his hands in his pockets, his mouth puckered to a whistle, and he went to the door of the outer preparation-room and stood there, looking, save for the faintest intensification of his natural ruddiness, the embodiment of blond serenity.
"Gellett," he called, "just come and clear up a mess, will you? I've smashed some things."
There was one serious flaw in Ann Veronica's arrangements for self-rehabilitation, and that was Ramage. He hung over her—he and his loan to her and his connection with her and that terrible evening—a vague, disconcerting possibility of annoyance and exposure. She could not see any relief from this anxiety except repayment, and repayment seemed impossible. The raising of twenty-five pounds was a task altogether beyond her powers. Her birthday was four months away, and that, at its extremist point, might give her another five pounds.
The thing rankled in her mind night and day. She would wake in the night to repeat her bitter cry: "Oh, why did I burn those notes?"
It added greatly to the annoyance of the situation that she had twice seen Ramage in the Avenue since her return to the shelter of her father's roof. He had saluted her with elaborate civility, his eyes distended with indecipherable meanings.
She felt she was bound in honor to tell the whole affair to Manning sooner or later. Indeed, it seemed inevitable that she must clear it up with his assistance, or not at all. And when Manning was not about the thing seemed simple enough. She would compose extremely lucid and honorable explanations. But when it came to broaching them, it proved to be much more difficult than she had supposed.
They went down the great staircase of the building, and, while she sought in her mind for a beginning, he broke into appreciation of her simple dress and self-congratulations upon their engagement.
"It makes me feel," he said, "that nothing is impossible—to have you here beside me. I said, that day at Surbiton, 'There's many good things in life, but there's only one best, and that's the wild-haired girl who's pulling away at that oar. I will make her my Grail, and some day, perhaps, if God wills, she shall become my wife!'"
He looked very hard before him as he said this, and his voice was full of deep feeling.
"Grail!" said Ann Veronica, and then: "Oh, yes—of course! Anything but a holy one, I'm afraid."
"Altogether holy, Ann Veronica. Ah! but you can't imagine what you are to me and what you mean to me! I suppose there is something mystical and wonderful about all women."
"There is something mystical and wonderful about all human beings. I don't see that men need bank it with the women."
"A man does," said Manning—"a true man, anyhow. And for me there is only one treasure-house. By Jove! When I think of it I want to leap and shout!"
"It would astonish that man with the barrow."
"It astonishes me that I don't," said Manning, in a tone of intense self-enjoyment.
"I think," began Ann Veronica, "that you don't realize—"
He disregarded her entirely. He waved an arm and spoke with a peculiar resonance. "I feel like a giant! I believe now I shall do great things. Gods! what it must be to pour out strong, splendid verse—mighty lines! mighty lines! If I do, Ann Veronica, it will be you. It will be altogether you. I will dedicate my books to you. I will lay them all at your feet."
He beamed upon her.
"I don't think you realize," Ann Veronica began again, "that I am rather a defective human being."
"I don't want to," said Manning. "They say there are spots on the sun. Not for me. It warms me, and lights me, and fills my world with flowers. Why should I peep at it through smoked glass to see things that don't affect me?" He smiled his delight at his companion.
"I've got bad faults."
He shook his head slowly, smiling mysteriously.
"But perhaps I want to confess them."
"I grant you absolution."
"I don't want absolution. I want to make myself visible to you."
"I wish I could make you visible to yourself. I don't believe in the faults. They're just a joyous softening of the outline—more beautiful than perfection. Like the flaws of an old marble. If you talk of your faults, I shall talk of your splendors."
"I do want to tell you things, nevertheless."
"We'll have, thank God! ten myriad days to tell each other things. When I think of it—"
"But these are things I want to tell you now!"
"I made a little song of it. Let me say it to you. I've no name for it yet. Epithalamy might do.
"Like him who stood on Darien I view uncharted sea Ten thousand days, ten thousand nights Before my Queen and me.
"And that only brings me up to about sixty-five!
"A glittering wilderness of time That to the sunset reaches No keel as yet its waves has ploughed Or gritted on its beaches.
"And we will sail that splendor wide, From day to day together, From isle to isle of happiness Through year's of God's own weather."
"Yes," said his prospective fellow-sailor, "that's very pretty." She stopped short, full of things un-said. Pretty! Ten thousand days, ten thousand nights!
"You shall tell me your faults," said Manning. "If they matter to you, they matter."
"It isn't precisely faults," said Ann Veronica. "It's something that bothers me." Ten thousand! Put that way it seemed so different.
"Then assuredly!" said Manning.
She found a little difficulty in beginning. She was glad when he went on: "I want to be your city of refuge from every sort of bother. I want to stand between you and all the force and vileness of the world. I want to make you feel that here is a place where the crowd does not clamor nor ill-winds blow."
"That is all very well," said Ann Veronica, unheeded.
"That is my dream of you," said Manning, warming. "I want my life to be beaten gold just in order to make it a fitting setting for yours. There you will be, in an inner temple. I want to enrich it with hangings and gladden it with verses. I want to fill it with fine and precious things. And by degrees, perhaps, that maiden distrust of yours that makes you shrink from my kisses, will vanish.... Forgive me if a certain warmth creeps into my words! The Park is green and gray to-day, but I am glowing pink and gold.... It is difficult to express these things."
They sat with tea and strawberries and cream before them at a little table in front of the pavilion in Regent's Park. Her confession was still unmade. Manning leaned forward on the table, talking discursively on the probable brilliance of their married life. Ann Veronica sat back in an attitude of inattention, her eyes on a distant game of cricket, her mind perplexed and busy. She was recalling the circumstances under which she had engaged herself to Manning, and trying to understand a curious development of the quality of this relationship.
The particulars of her engagement were very clear in her memory. She had taken care he should have this momentous talk with her on a garden-seat commanded by the windows of the house. They had been playing tennis, with his manifest intention looming over her.
"Let us sit down for a moment," he had said. He made his speech a little elaborately. She plucked at the knots of her racket and heard him to the end, then spoke in a restrained undertone.
"You ask me to be engaged to you, Mr. Manning," she began.
"I want to lay all my life at your feet."
"Mr. Manning, I do not think I love you.... I want to be very plain with you. I have nothing, nothing that can possibly be passion for you. I am sure. Nothing at all."
He was silent for some moments.
"Perhaps that is only sleeping," he said. "How can you know?"
"I think—perhaps I am rather a cold-blooded person."
She stopped. He remained listening attentively.
"You have been very kind to me," she said.
"I would give my life for you."
Her heart had warmed toward him. It had seemed to her that life might be very good indeed with his kindliness and sacrifice about her. She thought of him as always courteous and helpful, as realizing, indeed, his ideal of protection and service, as chivalrously leaving her free to live her own life, rejoicing with an infinite generosity in every detail of her irresponsive being. She twanged the catgut under her fingers.
"It seems so unfair," she said, "to take all you offer me and give so little in return."
"It is all the world to me. And we are not traders looking at equivalents."
"You know, Mr. Manning, I do not really want to marry."
"It seems so—so unworthy"—she picked among her phrases "of the noble love you give—"
She stopped, through the difficulty she found in expressing herself.
"But I am judge of that," said Manning.
"Would you wait for me?"
Manning was silent for a space. "As my lady wills."
"Would you let me go on studying for a time?"
"If you order patience."
"I think, Mr. Manning... I do not know. It is so difficult. When I think of the love you give me—One ought to give you back love."
"You like me?"
"Yes. And I am grateful to you...."
Manning tapped with his racket on the turf through some moments of silence. "You are the most perfect, the most glorious of created things—tender, frank intellectual, brave, beautiful. I am your servitor. I am ready to wait for you, to wait your pleasure, to give all my life to winning it. Let me only wear your livery. Give me but leave to try. You want to think for a time, to be free for a time. That is so like you, Diana—Pallas Athene! (Pallas Athene is better.) You are all the slender goddesses. I understand. Let me engage myself. That is all I ask."
She looked at him; his face, downcast and in profile, was handsome and strong. Her gratitude swelled within her.
"You are too good for me," she said in a low voice.
"Then you—you will?"
A long pause.
"It isn't fair...."
"But will you?"
For some seconds he had remained quite still.
"If I sit here," he said, standing up before her abruptly, "I shall have to shout. Let us walk about. Tum, tum, tirray, tum, tum, tum, te-tum—that thing of Mendelssohn's! If making one human being absolutely happy is any satisfaction to you—"
He held out his hands, and she also stood up.
He drew her close up to him with a strong, steady pull. Then suddenly, in front of all those windows, he folded her in his arms and pressed her to him, and kissed her unresisting face.
"Don't!" cried Ann Veronica, struggling faintly, and he released her.
"Forgive me," he said. "But I am at singing-pitch."
She had a moment of sheer panic at the thing she had done. "Mr. Manning," she said, "for a time—Will you tell no one? Will you keep this—our secret? I'm doubtful—Will you please not even tell my aunt?"
"As you will," he said. "But if my manner tells! I cannot help it if that shows. You only mean a secret for a little time?"
"Just for a little time," she said; "yes...."
But the ring, and her aunt's triumphant eye, and a note of approval in her father's manner, and a novel disposition in him to praise Manning in a just, impartial voice had soon placed very definite qualifications upon that covenanted secrecy.
At first the quality of her relationship to Manning seemed moving and beautiful to Ann Veronica. She admired and rather pitied him, and she was unfeignedly grateful to him. She even thought that perhaps she might come to love him, in spite of that faint indefinable flavor of absurdity that pervaded his courtly bearing. She would never love him as she loved Capes, of course, but there are grades and qualities of love. For Manning it would be a more temperate love altogether. Much more temperate; the discreet and joyless love of a virtuous, reluctant, condescending wife. She had been quite convinced that an engagement with him and at last a marriage had exactly that quality of compromise which distinguishes the ways of the wise. It would be the wrappered world almost at its best. She saw herself building up a life upon that—a life restrained, kindly, beautiful, a little pathetic and altogether dignified; a life of great disciplines and suppressions and extensive reserves...
But the Ramage affair needed clearing up, of course; it was a flaw upon that project. She had to explain about and pay off that forty pounds....
Then, quite insensibly, her queenliness had declined. She was never able to trace the changes her attitude had undergone, from the time when she believed herself to be the pampered Queen of Fortune, the crown of a good man's love (and secretly, but nobly, worshipping some one else), to the time when she realized she was in fact just a mannequin for her lover's imagination, and that he cared no more for the realities of her being, for the things she felt and desired, for the passions and dreams that might move her, than a child cares for the sawdust in its doll. She was the actress his whim had chosen to play a passive part....
It was one of the most educational disillusionments in Ann Veronica's career.
But did many women get anything better?
This afternoon, when she was urgent to explain her hampering and tainting complication with Ramage, the realization of this alien quality in her relationship with Manning became acute. Hitherto it had been qualified by her conception of all life as a compromise, by her new effort to be unexacting of life. But she perceived that to tell Manning of her Ramage adventures as they had happened would be like tarring figures upon a water-color. They were in different key, they had a different timbre. How could she tell him what indeed already began to puzzle herself, why she had borrowed that money at all? The plain fact was that she had grabbed a bait. She had grabbed! She became less and less attentive to his meditative, self-complacent fragments of talk as she told herself this. Her secret thoughts made some hasty, half-hearted excursions into the possibility of telling the thing in romantic tones—Ramage was as a black villain, she as a white, fantastically white, maiden.... She doubted if Manning would even listen to that. He would refuse to listen and absolve her unshriven.
Then it came to her with a shock, as an extraordinary oversight, that she could never tell Manning about Ramage—never.
She dismissed the idea of doing so. But that still left the forty pounds!...
Her mind went on generalizing. So it would always be between herself and Manning. She saw her life before her robbed of all generous illusions, the wrappered life unwrappered forever, vistas of dull responses, crises of make-believe, years of exacting mutual disregard in a misty garden of fine sentiments.
But did any woman get anything better from a man? Perhaps every woman conceals herself from a man perforce!...
She thought of Capes. She could not help thinking of Capes. Surely Capes was different. Capes looked at one and not over one, spoke to one, treated one as a visible concrete fact. Capes saw her, felt for her, cared for her greatly, even if he did not love her. Anyhow, he did not sentimentalize her. And she had been doubting since that walk in the Zoological Gardens whether, indeed, he did simply care for her. Little things, almost impalpable, had happened to justify that doubt; something in his manner had belied his words. Did he not look for her in the morning when she entered—come very quickly to her? She thought of him as she had last seen him looking down the length of the laboratory to see her go. Why had he glanced up—quite in that way?...
The thought of Capes flooded her being like long-veiled sunlight breaking again through clouds. It came to her like a dear thing rediscovered, that she loved Capes. It came to her that to marry any one but Capes was impossible. If she could not marry him, she would not marry any one. She would end this sham with Manning. It ought never to have begun. It was cheating, pitiful cheating. And then if some day Capes wanted her—saw fit to alter his views upon friendship....
Dim possibilities that she would not seem to look at even to herself gesticulated in the twilight background of her mind.
She leaped suddenly at a desperate resolution, and in one moment had made it into a new self. She flung aside every plan she had in life, every discretion. Of course, why not? She would be honest, anyhow!
She turned her eyes to Manning.
He was sitting back from the table now, with one arm over the back of his green chair and the other resting on the little table. He was smiling under his heavy mustache, and his head was a little on one side as he looked at her.
"And what was that dreadful confession you had to make?" he was saying. His quiet, kindly smile implied his serene disbelief in any confessible thing. Ann Veronica pushed aside a tea-cup and the vestiges of her strawberries and cream, and put her elbows before her on the table. "Mr. Manning," she said, "I HAVE a confession to make."
"I wish you would use my Christian name," he said.
She attended to that, and then dismissed it as unimportant.
Something in her voice and manner conveyed an effect of unwonted gravity to him. For the first time he seemed to wonder what it might be that she had to confess. His smile faded.
"I don't think our engagement can go on," she plunged, and felt exactly that loss of breath that comes with a dive into icy water.
"But, how," he said, sitting up astonished beyond measure, "not go on?"
"I have been thinking while you have been talking. You see—I didn't understand."
She stared hard at her finger-nails. "It is hard to express one's self, but I do want to be honest with you. When I promised to marry you I thought I could; I thought it was a possible arrangement. I did think it could be done. I admired your chivalry. I was grateful."
"Go on," he said.
She moved her elbow nearer to him and spoke in a still lower tone. "I told you I did not love you."
"I know," said Manning, nodding gravely. "It was fine and brave of you."
"But there is something more."
She paused again.
"I—I am sorry—I didn't explain. These things are difficult. It wasn't clear to me that I had to explain.... I love some one else."
They remained looking at each other for three or four seconds. Then Manning flopped back in his chair and dropped his chin like a man shot. There was a long silence between them.
"My God!" he said at last, with tremendous feeling, and then again, "My God!"
Now that this thing was said her mind was clear and calm. She heard this standard expression of a strong soul wrung with a critical coldness that astonished herself. She realized dimly that there was no personal thing behind his cry, that countless myriads of Mannings had "My God!"-ed with an equal gusto at situations as flatly apprehended. This mitigated her remorse enormously. He rested his brow on his hand and conveyed magnificent tragedy by his pose.
"But why," he said in the gasping voice of one subduing an agony, and looked at her from under a pain-wrinkled brow, "why did you not tell me this before?"
"I didn't know—I thought I might be able to control myself."
"And you can't?"
"I don't think I ought to control myself."
"And I have been dreaming and thinking—"
"I am frightfully sorry...."
"But—This bolt from the blue! My God! Ann Veronica, you don't understand. This—this shatters a world!"
She tried to feel sorry, but her sense of his immense egotism was strong and clear.
He went on with intense urgency.
"Why did you ever let me love you? Why did you ever let me peep through the gates of Paradise? Oh! my God! I don't begin to feel and realize this yet. It seems to me just talk; it seems to me like the fancy of a dream. Tell me I haven't heard. This is a joke of yours." He made his voice very low and full, and looked closely into her face.
She twisted her fingers tightly. "It isn't a joke," she said. "I feel shabby and disgraced.... I ought never to have thought of it. Of you, I mean...."
He fell back in his chair with an expression of tremendous desolation. "My God!" he said again....
They became aware of the waitress standing over them with book and pencil ready for their bill. "Never mind the bill," said Manning tragically, standing up and thrusting a four-shilling piece into her hand, and turning a broad back on her astonishment. "Let us walk across the Park at least," he said to Ann Veronica. "Just at present my mind simply won't take hold of this at all.... I tell you—never mind the bill. Keep it! Keep it!"
They walked a long way that afternoon. They crossed the Park to the westward, and then turned back and walked round the circle about the Royal Botanical Gardens and then southwardly toward Waterloo. They trudged and talked, and Manning struggled, as he said, to "get the hang of it all."
It was a long, meandering talk, stupid, shameful, and unavoidable. Ann Veronica was apologetic to the bottom of her soul. At the same time she was wildly exultant at the resolution she had taken, the end she had made to her blunder. She had only to get through this, to solace Manning as much as she could, to put such clumsy plasterings on his wounds as were possible, and then, anyhow, she would be free—free to put her fate to the test. She made a few protests, a few excuses for her action in accepting him, a few lame explanations, but he did not heed them or care for them. Then she realized that it was her business to let Manning talk and impose his own interpretations upon the situation so far as he was concerned. She did her best to do this. But about his unknown rival he was acutely curious.
He made her tell him the core of the difficulty.
"I cannot say who he is," said Ann Veronica, "but he is a married man.... No! I do not even know that he cares for me. It is no good going into that. Only I just want him. I just want him, and no one else will do. It is no good arguing about a thing like that."