The family doctor who disliked her and suspected her, as you or I wouldn't have done, but doctors think of everything, feigned to agree; and supplied her with little phials of aqua distillata flavoured with quinine. He himself was puzzled over Sir Grimthorpe's condition but was a little offended at not being personally consulted.
The fact was that Sir G. had a very poor opinion of his abilities in diagnosis and being naturally secretive and generally cussed, preferred consulting a London specialist. He wasn't then Sir Grimthorpe, the specialist wasn't very certain that it was cancer on the liver, and amid his multitude of consulters did not, unless aroused, remember very clearly the case of a Mr. Shillito from somewhere up in the North.
But Shillito pondered gravely over the specialist's carefully guarded phrases about "growths, possibly malign, but at the same time—difficult to be sure quite so soon—perhaps harmless, might of course be merely severe suppressed jaundice." When the pains began—he hated the idea of operations, and knew that any operation on the liver only at best staved off the dread, inevitable end for a year or a few months—When the pains began, he had grown utterly tired of life; so he compounded a subtle poison—he was a great chemist and had—only his wife knew not of this—a cabinet which contained a variety of mineral, vegetable, and acid poisons; and kept the draught in a secret locker in his bedroom. Meantime Arbella, who after all was human, was tortured at the sight of his tortures. She felt she must end it, or her nerves would give way. She trebled, she quintupled the dose of aqua distillata embittered with quinine. One night when the night nurse was sleeping ("resting her eyes," she called it) the wretched man stole from his bed to the night nursery and kissed both his boys. He then swiftly took the phial from its hiding place and drank the contents and died in one ghastly minute.
When the night nurse awoke he was crisped in a horrible rigor. On the night table was the phial with the remains of the draught. She had noticed in the last day or two Lady Shillito fussing a good deal about the sick man, pressing on him doses of a colourless medicine. What if she had stolen in while the nurse was asleep and placed a finally fatal draught by the bedside? From that she proceeded to argue (when she had leisure to think it out) that she hadn't been to sleep, had merely been resting her eyes. And she was now sure that whilst she had closed those orbs she had heard—as indeed she had, only it was Sir Grimthorpe himself—some one stealing into the room.
She communicated her suspicions to the doctor. The latter knew his patient had not died of anything he had prescribed, but concluded that Lady Shillito, wishing to be through with the business, had prepared a fulminating dose obtained elsewhere; and insisted on autopsy with a colleague, to whom he more than hinted his suspicions. Together they found the strychnine they were looking for—not very much, but the proportion that was combined by Shillito with less traceable drugs to make the death process more rapid—and quite overlooked the signs of cancer in the liver.
The outcome was that Lady Shillito at the inquest found herself "in a very unpleasant position" and was placed under arrest, and later charged with the murder of her husband.
Believing herself guilty she summoned all her resolution to her aid, admitted nothing, appealed to Michael Rossiter and others for advice. Thus David was drawn into the business.
[But this doesn't sound very credible, you will say. "If the husband felt he could not face the agony of death by cancer, why didn't he leave a note saying so, and every one would have understood and been quite 'nice' about it?" I really can't say. Perhaps he wished to leave trouble for her behind him; perhaps he divined the reason why she thought a day nurse unnecessary, and insisted on giving him his day medicines with her own fair hands. Perhaps he hoped for an open verdict. Perhaps he wasn't quite right in his mind. I have told you the story as I remember it and my memory is not perfect. Personally I've always been a bit sorry for Grimthorpe. It is quite possible that all those hints as to his "queerness" were invented by his wife to excuse herself. I only know that Science benefited greatly from his researches, and that he bequeathed some priceless collections to both branches of the British Museum. Some one once told me he had a heart somewhere and had loved intensely a sister much younger than himself and had only begun to be "queer" and secretive and bald after her premature death. I think also that in the last year of his life he was greatly embittered at not getting the expected peerage; after the trouble and disagreeableness he had gone through to obtain heirs for this distinction this poor little attempt at immortality which it is in the power of a Prime Minister to bestow.]
The Grand Jury returned a true bill against Lady Shillito. David had been studying the case from the morrow of the inquest, that is as soon as Rossiter had learnt of the coming trouble. The latter though he regarded Cousin Arbella as a rather amusing minx, an interesting type in modern psychology (though really her type is as old as—say—the Hallstadt period) had no wish to see her convicted of murder. Furthermore he was getting so increasingly interested in this clever David Williams that he would have liked to make his fortune by helping him to a sensational success as a pleader, to one of those cases which if successfully conducted mark out a path to the Bench. So he insisted that David Williams be briefed for the defence, and well fee'ed, in order that he might be able to devote all his time to the investigation of the mystery. David had an uphill task. He went down to the North in November, 1908, conferred with Lady Shillito's solicitors, and at great length with the curiously calm, ironly-resolved Lady Shillito herself. The evidence was too much against her for him to prevent her being committed for trial and lodged in reasonably comfortable quarters in Newcastle jail, or for the Grand Jury to find no true bill of indictment. But between these stages in the process and the actual trial for murder in February, 1909, David worked hard and accumulated conclusive evidence (with Rossiter's help) to prove his client's innocence of the deed of which she believed herself guilty. To punish her as she deserved he allowed her to think herself guilty till his defence of her began.
The prospect of a death on the gallows did not perturb Lady Shillito in the least. She was perfectly certain that if found guilty her beauty and station in life would avail to have the death penalty commuted to a term of imprisonment which she would spend in the Infirmary. Still, that would ruin her life pretty conclusively. She would issue from prison a broken woman, whom in spite of her wealth—if she retained any—no impossibly-faithful Colonel would marry at the age of forty-five or fifty. So she followed the opening hours of the trial with a dry mouth.
With the help of Rossiter and of many and minute researches David got on the track of the consultation in Harley Street, the warning given of the possible cancer. He found in Sir Grimthorpe's laboratory sufficient strychnine to kill an army. He was privately informed by the family doctor (who didn't want to press matters to a tragedy) that although he fully believed Arbella capable of the deed, she certainly had—so far as the doctor's prescriptions were concerned—obtained nothing from him which could have killed her husband, even if she had centupled the dose.
Lady Shillito appeared in the dock dressed as much as possible like Mary, Queen of Scots on her trial; and was attended by a hospital nurse with restoratives and carminatives. The Jury retired for a quarter of an hour only, and returned a verdict of Not Guilty. The Court was rent with applause, and the Judge commented very severely on such a breach of decorum, apparently unknown to him in previous annals of our courts of justice. Lady Shillito fainted and the nurse fussed, and the Judge in his private room sent for Mr. Williams and complimented him handsomely on his magnificent conduct of the case. "Of course she meant to poison him; but I quite agree with the Jury, she didn't. He saved her the trouble. Now I suppose she'll marry again. Well! I pity her next husband. Come and have lunch with me."
And in the course of the meal, His Ludship spoke warmly to Mr. Williams of the bright prospects that lay before him if he would drop those foolish Suffragette cases.
David returned to London with Rossiter and remained silent all the way. His companion believed him to be very tired, and refrained from provoking conversation, but surrounded him with a quiet, fatherly care. Arrived at King's Cross Rossiter said: "Don't go on to your chambers. My motor's here. It can take your luggage on with mine to Portland Place. You can have a wash and a rest and a talk when you're rested; and after we've dined and talked the motor shall come round and take you back to Fig Tree Court."
Mrs. Rossiter was there to greet them, and whilst David went to wash and rest and prepare himself for dinner, she chirrupped over her big husband, and asked endless and sometimes pointless questions about the trial and the verdict. "Did Michael believe she really had done it? She, for one, could believe anything about a woman who obviously dyed her hair and improved her eyebrows. (Of course Michael said he didn't, or the questions, as to why, how, when might have gone on for hours). Was Mr. Williams's defence of Arbella so very wonderful as the evening papers said? Why could he not have gone straight home and rested there? It would have been so much nicer to have had Mike all to herself on his return, and not have this tiresome, melancholy young man spending the evening with them ... really some people had no tact ... could not see they were de trop. Why didn't Mr. Williams marry some nice girl and make a home for himself? Not well enough off? Rubbish! She had known plenty young couples marry and live very happily on Two hundred and fifty a year, and Mr. Williams must surely be earning that? And if he must always be dining out and spending the evening with other people, why did he not make himself more 'general?' Not always be absorbed in her husband. Of course she understood that while Arbella's fate hung in the balance they had to study the case together and have long confabulations over poisons in the Lab'rat'ry...!" (This last detestable word was a great worry to Mrs. Rossiter. Sometimes she succeeded in suppressing as many vowels as possible; at others she felt impelled to give them fuller values and call it "laboratorry.") And so on, for an hour or so till dinner was announced.
David sat silent all through this meal, under Mrs. Rossiter's mixture of mirthless badinage: "We shall have you now proposing to Lady Shillito after saving her life! I expect her husband won't have altered his will as she didn't poison him, and she must have had quite thirty thousand pounds settled on her.... They do say however she's a great flirt..." Indiscreet questions: "How much will you make out of this case? You don't know? I thought barristers had all that marked on their briefs? And didn't she give you 'refreshers,' as they call them, from time to time? What was it like seeing her in prison? Was she handcuffed? Or chained? What did she wear when she was tried?" And inconsequent remarks: "I remember my mamma—she died when I was only fourteen—used to dream she was being tried for murder. It distressed her very much because, as she said, she couldn't have hurt a fly. What do you dream about, Mr. Williams? Some pretty young lady, I'll be bound. I dream about such funny things, but I nearly always forget what they were just as I am going to tell Michael. But I did remember one dream just before Michael went down to Newcastle to join you ... was it about mermaids? No. It was about you—wasn't that funny? And you seemed to be dressed as a mermaid—no, I suppose it must have been a merman—and you were trying to follow Michael up the rocks by walking on your tail; and it seemed to hurt you awfully. Of course I know what it all came from. Michael had wanted me to read Hans Andersen's fairy stories—don't you think they're pretty? I do; but sometimes they are about rather silly things, skewers and lucifer matches ... and I had spent the afternoon at the Zoo. Michael's a fellow, of course, and I use his ticket and always feel quite at home there ... and at the Zoo that day I had seen one of the sea-lions trying to walk on his tail.... Oh, how I laughed! But what made me associate the sea-lion with you and mermaids, I cannot say, but then as poor papa used to say, 'Dreams are funny things'..."
David's replies were hardly audible, and to his hostess's pressing entreaties that he would try this dish or not pass that, he did not answer at all. He felt, indeed, as though the muscles of his throat would not let him swallow and if he opened his mouth wide enough to utter a consecutive speech he would burst out crying. A great desire—almost unknown to Vivie hitherto—seized him to get away to some lonely spot and cry and cry, give full vent to some unprecedented fit of hysteria. He could not look at Rossiter though he knew that Michael's eyes were resting on his face, because if he attempted to reply to the earnest gaze by a reassuring smile, the lips would tremble and the tears would fall.
At last when the dessert was reached and the servants—do they never feel telepathically at such moments that some one person seated at the table, crumbling bread, wishes them miles away and loathes their quiet ministrations?—the servants had withdrawn for a brief respite till they reappeared with coffee, David rose to his feet and stammered out something about not being well—would they order the motor and let him go? And as he spoke, and tried to speak in a level, "society" voice, his aching eyes saw the electric lamps, the glinting silver, Mrs. Rossiter's pink, foolish face and crisp little flaxen curls, Rossiter's bearded countenance with its honest, concerned look all waltzing round and round in a dizzying whirl. He made the usual vain clutches at unreal supports, and fainted into Rossiter's arms.
The latter carried him with little effort into the cool library and laid him down on a couch. Mrs. Rossiter followed, full of exclamations, vain questions, and suggestions of inapplicable or unsuitable remedies. Rossiter paid little heed to her, and proceeded to remove David's collar and tie and open his shirt front in order to place a hand over the heart. Suddenly he looked up and round on his wife, and said with a peremptoriness which admitted of no questioning: "Go and see that one of the spare bedrooms is got ready, a fire lit, and so on. Get this done quickly, and meantime leave him to me. I have got restoratives here close at hand."
Mrs. Rossiter awed into silence summoned the housemaid and parlour-maid and hindered them as much as possible in the task of getting a room ready.
Meantime the sub-conscious David sighed a great deal and presently wept a great deal in convulsive sobs, and then opened his eyes and saw the tourbillon of whirling elements settling down into Rossiter's grave, handsome face—yes, but a gravity somehow interpenetrated by love, a love not ashamed to show itself—bending over him with great concern. The secret had been guessed, was known; and as they held each other with their eyes as though the world were well lost in this discovery, their lips met in one kiss, and for a minute Vivie's arms were round Michael's neck, for just one unforgettable moment, a moment she felt she would cheerfully have died to have lived through.
They were soon unlaced, for sharp little high-heeled footsteps on the tiled passage and the clinketing of trinkets announced the return of Mrs. Rossiter.
Vivie became David once more, but left behind her the glad tears of relief that were coursing down David's cheeks.
Mrs. Rossiter thought this was a very odd way for a barrister to celebrate his winning a great case at the criminal courts, and turned away in delicacy from the spectacle of a dishevelled and obviously lachrymose young man with one arm dangling and the other thrown negligently over the back of the leather couch. "Mr. Williams's room is ready, Michael," she said primly. "All right, dear; thank you. I will help Williams up to bed and have his luggage sent up. He will be quite well to-morrow if he can get to sleep. You needn't bother any more, dearie. Go into the drawing-room and I will join you there presently."
Rossiter gave the rather shuddery, shivery, teeth-clacking David an arm till he saw him into the bedroom and resting on the bedroom sofa. Then he drew up a chair and said in low but distinct tones:—
"Look here. I know you want to make me an explanation. Well! It can wait. A little more of this strain and you'll be having brain fever. Sleep if you can, and eat all the breakfast Linda sends you up in the morning. Get up at eleven to-morrow and if you are fit then to drive out in my motor, return to your chambers. When you have calmed down to a normal pulse, write to me all you want to say. No one shall read it but me ... I'll burn it afterwards or send it back to you under seal. But at the present time, it may be easier for both of us if our communications are only written and not spoken. We have both been tried rather high; and both of us are human, however high-principled. If you write, register the letter.... Good-night..."
This that follows is probably what Vivie wrote to Michael. He burnt the long letter when he had finished reading it though he made excerpts in a pocket-book. But I can more or less correctly surmise how she would put her case; how she typed it herself in the solitude of two evenings; how, indeed, her nervous break-down was made the reason for fending off all clients and denying herself to all callers.
"I am not David Vavasour Williams. I am Vivien Warren, the daughter of a woman who runs a series of disreputable Private Hotels on the Continent. I had no avowed father, nor had my mother, who likewise was illegitimate. She was probably the daughter of a Lieutenant Warren who was killed in the Crimea, and her mother's name was Vavasour. My grandmother was probably—I can only deal with probabilities and possibilities in this undocumented past—a Welsh woman of Cardiff, and I should not be surprised if I were a sort of cousin of the man I am personating.
"He was the ne'er-do-weel, only son of a Welsh vicar, a pupil of Praed's, who went out to South Africa and died or was killed in the war.
"You have met my adopted father. He fully believes I am the bad son, the prodigal son, returned and reformed. He has grown to love me so much that it really seems to have put new life into him. I have helped him to get his affairs straight, and I think I may say he has gained by this substitution of one son for another, even though the new son is a daughter! I have taken none of his money, other than small sums he has thrust on me. I have some money of my own, earned in Honoria's firm, for I was the 'Warren' of her 'Fraser and Warren.' She has known my secret all along, hasn't quite approved, but was overborne by me in my resolve to show what a woman—in disguise, it may be—could do at the Bar.
"Michael! I started out twelve years ago—and the dreadful thing is I am now thirty-four in true truth! to conquer Man, and a man has conquered me! I wanted to show that woman could compete with man in all careers, and especially in the Law. So she can—have I not shown it by what I have done? But it is a drawn battle. I have realized that if some men are bad—rotten—others, like you—are supremely good. I love you as I never thought I could love any one. I cannot trust myself to write down how much I love you: it would read shamefully and be too much a surrender of my first principle of self-respect.
"I am going to throw up the whole D.V.W. business. It has put us in a false relation which was exasperating me and puzzling you. Moreover the disguise was wearing very thin. Only those two loyal souls, Honoria Fraser and Albert Adams, were cognizant of the secret, but it was being guessed at and almost guessed right, in certain quarters. Professional jealousy was on my track. I never fainted before in my life—so far as I can remember—but I might have done so elsewhere than in your dear house, after the strain of such an effort as I made to save that worthless woman—she was your cousin, which is why I fought for her so hard—How often is not justice deflected by Love! I might, somewhere else, when over-strained have had a fit of hysterics; and my disguise would have been penetrated by eyes less merciful than yours. Then would have come exposure and its consequences—damaging to You (I should not have mattered), to my poor old 'father' down in Wales—whom I sincerely love—to Praddy, to Honoria....
"Let me be thankful to get off so easily! Somme toute, I have had a glorious time, have seen the world from the man's point of view—and I can assure you that from his point of view it is a jolly place to live in—He can walk up and down the Strand and receive no insult.
"Well now, to relieve your anxieties, I will tell you, that after a brief visit to South Wales to recuperate from the exertions of that trial, Mr. David Williams the famous young barrister at the Criminal Bar will go abroad to investigate the White Slave Traffic. Miss Vivien Warren privately believes—and hopes—that the horrors of this traffic in British womanhood are greatly exaggerated. The lot in life of many of these young women is so bad in their native land that they cannot make it worse by going abroad, no matter in what avowed career. But Mr. David Williams takes rather a higher line and is resolved in any case to get at the Truth. Miss Warren, nathless, has her misgivings anent her old mamma, and would like to know what that old lady is doing at the present time, and whether she is past reform. Miss Warren even has her moments of doubt as to the flawless perfection of her own life: whether the path of duty in 1897 did not rather lie in the direction of a serious attempt to be a daughter to her wayward mother and reclaim her then, instead of going off at a tangent as the mannish type of New Woman, to whom applicable Mathematics are everything and human affections very little. I suppose the truth, the commonplace truth is, that rather late in life, Vivien Warren has fallen in love in the old-fashioned way—How Nature mocks at us!—and now sees things somewhat differently. At any rate, David and Vivie, fused into one personality, are going abroad for a protracted period ... going out of your life, my dearest, for it is better so. Linda has every right to you and Science is a jealous mistress. Moreover poor, outcast Vivie has her own bitter pride. She is resolved to show that a woman can cultivate strength of character and an unflinching sobriety of conduct, even when born of such doubtful stock as mine, even when devoid of all religious faith. I know you love me, I glory in the knowledge, but I know that you likewise are more strongly bound by principles of right conduct because like myself you have no sham theology....
"Michael! why are we tortured like this? Why mayn't we love where we please? Is this discipline necessary to the improvement of the race? I only know that if we sinned against these human laws and conventions, your great career in Science—and again, why in Science? Lightness in love does not seem to affect the career of orchestral conductors, actors, singers, play-wrights and house painters—why weren't you one of these, and not a High Priest of the only real religion? I only know also that if I fell, so many people would have the satisfaction of saying: 'There! what did I say? What's bred in the bone comes out in the flesh. That's how the Woman's Movement's goin' to end, you take my word for it! They'll get a man somewhere, somehow, and then they'll clear out of it.'
"I think I said before—I meant to say, at any rate, so as to ease your mind: I'm all right as regards financial matters. I have a life annuity and some useful savings. I shall give Bertie Adams a year's salary; and if you feel, dear friend, you must put forth your hand to help me, help him instead to get another position. He has a wife and a young family, and for his class is just about as good a chap as I have ever met—this is 'David' speaking! If you can do nothing you may be sure Vivie will, even if she has to borrow unclean money from her wicked old mother to keep Bertie Adams from financial anxiety and his pretty young wife and the child they are so proud of....
"I must finish this gigantic letter somewhere, though I'm not going to stop writing to you. I couldn't—I should lose all hold on life if I did. For the purpose of correspondence and finishing up things, I shall be 'David Williams' for some time longer. You know his address in Wales? Pontystrad Vicarage, Pontyffynon, Glamorgan, if you've forgotten it. He'll be there till April, and then begin his foreign tour and write to you at intervals from the Continent. As to Vivie, I think she won't return to life and activity till the autumn and then she'll make things hum. She'll throw all the energy of frustrated love into the Woman's Cause, and get 'em the Vote somehow...!"
Early in the genesis of the book. I appointed a jury of matrons to judge each chapter before it went to the Press, and to decide whether it was suited to the restrictions of the circulating library, and whether it would cause real distress or perturbation to three persons whom we chose as representative readers of decent fiction: Admiral Broadbent, Lady Percy Mountjoye, and old Mrs. Bridges (Mrs. Bridges was said to have had a heart attack after reading THE GAY-DOMBEYS—I did not wish her to have another). This jury of broad-minded women of the world decided that Rossiter's reply to Vivie's very long epistle should not see the light. He himself would probably—had he known we were discussing his affairs—have been thankful for this decision; because twelve hours after he had written it he was heartily ashamed of his momentary lapse from high principles, ashamed that the woman in the case should have shown herself truer metal. He resolved, so far as our poor human resolves are worth anything, to remain inflexibly true to his devoted Linda and to his career in biological Science. He knew too well that if he were caught in adultery it would be all over with the great theories he was working to establish. The Royal Society would condemn them. Besides, so fine a resolve as Vivie's, to live on the heights must be respected.
At the same time, it is certain that for the next three months he muddled his experiments, confused his arguments, lost his temper with a colleague on the Council of the Zoological Society, kicked the pugs—even caused the most unbearable two of them to be poisoned by his assistant—and lied in attributing their deaths to other causes. He promised the weeping Linda a Pom instead; he said "Hell!" when the macaw interrupted them with raucous screams. He let pass all sorts of misprints in his article on the Ductless Glands for the Encyclopaedia Scotica, he was always losing the thread of his discourse in his lectures at the London Institution and University College; and he spent too much of his valuable time writing hugely long letters on all sorts of subjects to David Williams.
David—or Vivie—replied much more laconically. In the first place he—she—had had her say in the one big outpouring from which I have quoted so freely; in the second she did not wish to stoke up these fires lest they should become volcanic and break up a happy home and a great career. She wrote once saying: "If ever you were in trouble of any kind; if Linda should die before me, for example, I would come back to you from the ends of the earth and even if I were legitimately married to the Prince of Monaco; come back and serve you as a drudge, as a butt for your wit, as a sick nurse. But meantime, Michael, you must play the game."
And so after this three months' frenzy was past, he did. It was not always easy. Linda's devotion was touching. She perceived—though she hardly liked admitting it—that her husband missed the society of "that" Mr. Williams, in whom she, for one, never could see anything particularly striking, and who was now travelling abroad on a quest it would be indelicate to particularize, and one that in her opinion should have been taken up by a far older man, the father of a grown-up family. She strove to replace Williams as an intelligent companion in the Library and even in the Laboratory. She gave up works of charity and espionage in Marylebone and many of her trips into Society, to sit more often with the dear Professor, and was a little distressed by his groans which seemed to be quite unprovoked by her remarks or her actions. However as the months went by, Rossiter buckled down more to his work, and Mrs. Rossiter noticed that he engaged a new assistant at L300 a year to take charge of his enormous correspondence. Mr. Bertie Adams seemed a nice young man, though also afflicted at times with something that gave melancholy to his gaze. But he had a good little wife who came to make a home for him in Marylebone. Mrs. Rossiter being a kindly woman went to call on her and was entirely taken up with their one child whom she frequently asked to tea and found much more interesting than the new Pom. "But it's got such a funny name, Michael; I mean funny for their station in life. It's a girl and they call it 'Vivvy,' which is short for Vivien. I told Mrs. Adams she must have been reading Tennyson's Idylls of the King; but she said 'No, she wasn't much of a reader: Adams was, and it was some lady's name in a story that had stuck in his head, and that as her mother's name was Susan and his was Jane, she hadn't minded.'"
DAVID GOES ABROAD
David Williams had an enthusiastic greeting when he went home to Pontystrad for the Easter of 1909. It was an early Easter that year, whether you like it or not; it suits my story better so, because then David can turn up in Brussels at the end of April, and yet have attended to a host of necessary things before his departure on a long absence.
He first of all devoted himself to making the old Vicar happy for a few weeks in a rather blustery, showery March-April. His father was full of wonderment and exultation over the honourable publicity his barrister son had attained. "You'll be a Judge, Davy; at any rate a K.C., before I'm dead! But marry, boy, marry. That's what you must do now. Marry and give me grandchildren." The burly curate privately thought David a bit morbid in his passionate devotion to the Woman's Cause, and this White Slave Traffic all rot. He had worked sufficiently in the bad towns of the South Welsh coast and had had an initiation into the lower-living parts of Birmingham and London to be skeptical about the existence of these poor, deluded virgins, lured from their humble respectable homes and thrust by Shakespearean procuresses, bawds, and bullies into an impure life. If they went to these places abroad it was probably with the hope of greater gains, better food, and stricter medical attention. However, he kept most of these thoughts to himself and his wife, the squire's daughter; who as she somehow thought David ought to have married her, was a little bit sentimental about him and considered he was a Galahad.
Old Nannie remained as usual wistfully puzzled, half fearing the explanation of the enigma if it ever came.
Returned to London and Fig Tree Court—which he was soon vacating—David obtained through his and her bankers a passport for himself and another for Miss Vivien Warren, thirty-four, British subject, and so forth, travelling on the Continent, a lady of independent means. He re-arranged all David's and Vivie's money matters, stored such of Vivie's property and his own as was indispensable at Honoria Armstrong's house in Kensington, and left a box containing a complete man's outfit in charge of Bertie Adams; bade farewell as "David Williams" and "Uncle David" to Honoria and her two babies, and to the still unkindly-looking Colonel Armstrong (who very much resented the "uncle" business, which was perhaps why Honoria out of a wholesome taquinage kept it up); and called in for a farewell chat with dear old Praddy—beginning to look a bit shaky and rather too much bossed by his parlour-maid. Honoria had said as he departed "Do try to run up against Vivie somewhere abroad and tell her I shan't be happy till she returns and takes up her abode among us once more. 'Army' is longing to know her." ('Army' didn't look it.) "Now pettums! Wave handikins to Uncle David. He's goin' broadies. 'Army' dear, would you ask them to whistle for a taxi? I know David doesn't want to walk all the way back to the Temple in those lovely button boots."
Praed told him all he wanted to know about the localities of the Warren Private Hotels; most of all, that at which Vivie's mother resided in the Rue Royale, Brussels.
So at this establishment a well but plainly dressed English lady, scarcely looking her age (thirty-four) turned up one morning, and sent in a card to the lady-proprietress, Mme. Varennes. This card was closely scanned by a heavy-featured Flemish girl who took it upstairs to an appartement on the first floor. She read:
Miss Vivien Warren
and vaguely noted the resemblance of the two names Varennes and Warren, and the fact that the establishment in which she earned a lucrative wage was one of the "Warren" Hotels.
With very short delay, Vivie was invited to ascend in a lift to the first floor and was shown in to a gorgeously furnished bedroom which, through an open door, gave a glimpse of an attractive boudoir or sitting-room beyond, and beyond that again the plane trees of a great boulevard breaking into delicate green leaf. A woman of painted middle age in a descente de lit that in its opulence matched the hangings and furniture of the room, had been reclining on a sofa, drinking chocolate and reading a newspaper. She rose shakily to her feet, when the door closed behind Vivie, tottered forward to meet her, and exclaimed rather theatrically "My daughter ... come back to me ... after all these years!" (a few tears ran down the rouged cheeks).
"Steady on, mother," said Vivie, propping her up, and feeling oh! so clean and pure and fresh and wholesome by contrast with this worn-out woman of pleasure. "Lie down again on your sofa, go on with your petit dejeuner—which is surely rather late? There were signs and appetizing smells of the larger meal being imminent as I passed through the hotel. Now just lie down until you want to dress—if you like, I'll help you dress" (swallowing hard to choke down a little shudder of repulsion). "I'm not in any hurry. I've come to Brussels to go into matters thoroughly. For the present, I am staying at the Hotel Grimaud."
Mrs. Warren was convulsively sobbing and ruining the complexion she had just made up, before she changed out of her descente de lit: "Why not stop here, dearie? Don't laugh! There's lots that do and never suspect for one minute it ain't like any other hotel; though from all I see and hear, all hotels are pretty much the same now-a-days, whether they're called by my name or not. Of course a man might find out pretty quick, but not a woman who wasn't in the business herself. Why we actually encourage decent women to come here when we ain't pressed for room. They give the place a better tone, don't you know. There's two clergyman's sisters come here most autumns and stop and stop and don't notice anything. They come in here and chat with me, and once they said they liked foreign gentlemen better than their own fellow-countrymen: 'their manners are so affable.' Why it was partly through people like that, that I got to hear every now and then what you was up to. Oh, I wasn't taken in long by that David Williams business. Praddy didn't give you away—to speak of, when I sent you that thousand pounds—Lord, I was glad you kept it! But what fixed me was your portrait in the Daily Mirror a couple of years ago as 'the Brilliant young Advocate, Mr. David Vavasour Williams.' Somehow the 'Vavasour' seemed to fit in all right, though what you wanted with my—ahem—maiden name, with what was pore mother's reel name, before she lived with your grandfather—Well as I say, I soon saw through the whole bag o' tricks—But what a lark! Beat anythink I ever did. What have you done with your duds? Gone back to bein' Vivie once more?—"
Vivie: "I'll tell you all about it in good time. But I would rather not stay here all the same. I've found a quiet hotel near the station. I will come and see you if you can make it easy for me; but what I should very much prefer, if you can only get away from this horrid place, is that you should come and see me. Why shouldn't you give yourself a fortnight's holiday and go off with me to Louvain ... or to Spa ... or some other quiet place where we can talk over everything to our heart's content?"
Mrs. Warren: "Not a bad idea. Do me a lot of good. I was feeling awfully down, Vivie, when you came. I wasn't altogether taken aback at your coming, dearie, 'cos Praddy had given me a kind of a hint you might turn up. But somehow, though everything goes well in business—we seldom had so busy a time as during this last Humanitarian Congress of the Powers—all the diplomats came here—mostly the old ones, the old and respectable—oh we all like respectability—yet I never 'ad such low spirits. My gals used to come in here and find me cryin' as often as not.... 'Comment, Madame,' they used to say, 'pourquoi pleurez vous? Tout va si bien! Quelle clientele, et pas chiche'—I suppose you understand French? However about this trip to the country, look on it as settled. I'll pack up now and away we go in the afternoon. And not to any of your measly Hotels or village inns. Why I've got me own country place and me own auto. Villa de Beau-sejour, a mile or so beyond the lovely beech woods of Tervueren. Ain't so far from Louvain, so's I can send you on there one day—Ah! There's some one you'd like to see in Louvain, if I mistake not! You always was one for findin' out things, and maybe I'll tell you more, now you've come back to me, than what I'd a done with you standing up so stiff and proud and me unfit to take up the hem of your skirt.... How I do ramble. Suppose it's old age comin' on" (shudders). "About this Villa de Beau-sejour ... It was once a farm house, and even now it's the farm where I get me eggs and milk and butter an' the fruit and vegetables for this hotel. He gave it to me—you know whom I mean by 'He'? ... don't do to talk too loud in a place like this.... They say he's pretty bad just now, not likely to live much longer. I was his mistress once, years ago—at least I was more a confidante than anything else. How he used to laugh at my stories! 'Que tu es une drolesse,' he used to say. I never used to mince matters and we were none the worse for that. Bless you, he wasn't as bad as they painted him, 'long of all this fuss about the blacks. As I say, he gave me the Villa de Beau-sejour, and used to say if I behaved myself he might some day make me 'Baronne de Beau-sejour.' How'd you have liked that, eh? Sort of morganatic Queen? I lay I'd have put some good management into the runnin' of those places. Aie! How they used to swindle 'im, and he believing himself always such a sharp man of business! When that Vaughan hussy..."
Vivie: "Very well. We'll go to Villa Beau-sejour. But don't give me too many of your reminiscences or I may leave you after all and go back to England. Whilst I'm with you, you must give up rouge and patchouli and the kind of conversation that goes with them. I'm out here trying to do my duty and duty is always unpleasant. I don't want to be a kill-joy, but don't give me more of that side of your character than you can help. It—it makes me sick, mother..."
[Mrs. Warren—or Madame Varennes—whimpers a little, but soon cheers up, rings the bell for her maid preparatory to dressing and being the business woman over her preparations for departure. She notes the address of Vivie's hotel and promises to call for her there in the auto at three o'clock. Vivie leaves her, descends the richly carpeted stairs—the lift is worked by an odiously pretty, little, plump soubrette dressed as a page boy—and goes out into the street. Several lounging men stare hard at her, but decide she is too English, too plainly dressed, and a little too old to neddle with. This last consideration is apparent to Vivie's intelligence and she muses on it with a wistful little smile, half humour, half regret. She will at her leisure write a whole description of the scene to Michael.]
Those who come after us will never realize how delightful was foreign travel before the War, before that War which installed damnable Dora in power in all the countries of Europe, especially France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, and Holland. They will not conceive it possible that the getting of a passport (as a mere means of rapidly establishing one's identity at bank or post-office) was a simple transaction done through a banker or a tourist agency, the enclosing of stamps and the payment of a shilling or two; that there was no question of visas entailing endless humiliation and back-breaking delays, waiting about in ante-rooms and empty apartments of squalid, desolating ugliness situate always in the most odious parts of a town. But the Foreign Offices of Europe were agreed on one topic, and this was that having got their feet back on the necks of the people, their serfs of the glebe should not, save under circumstances hateful, fatiguing, unhealthy and humiliating, travel through the lands that once were beautiful and bountiful and are so no longer.
So: Vivie, never having consciously been abroad before (though she was later to learn she had actually been born in Brussels), began to experience all the delights of travel in a foreign land. She woke up the next morning to the country pleasures of Villa Beau-sejour, a preposterous chateau-villa it might be, but attached to a charming Flemish farm; with cows and pigs, geese and ducks, plump poultry and white pigeons, with clumps of poplars and copses of hawthorns and wild cherry trees which joined the little domain on to the splendid forest of Tervueren. There were the friendly, super-intelligent big dogs, like bastard St. Bernards or mastiffs in breed, that drew the little carts which carried the produce of the farm to the markets or to Brussels. There were cheery Flemish farm servants and buxom dairy or poultry women, their wives; none of them particularly aware that there was anything discreditable about Madame Varennes. They may have vaguely remembered she had once lived under High protection, but that, if anything, added to her prestige in their eyes. She was an English lady who for purposes of business and may be of la haute politique chose to live in Belgium. She was a kind mistress and a generous patronne. Vivie as her daughter was assured of their respect, and by her polite behaviour won their liking as well.
"You know, Viv, old girl," said Mrs. Warren one day, "if you played your cards all right, this pretty place might be yours after I'd gone. Why don't yer pick up a decent husband somewhere and drop all this foolishness about the Suffragettes? He needn't know too much about me, d'yer see? And if you looked at things sensible-like, you'd come in for a pot of money some day; and whilst I lived I'd make you a good allowance—"
"It's no use, dear mother"—involuntarily she said "dear": her heart was hungry for affection, Wales was rapidly passing out of her sphere, David's business must soon be wound up in that quarter and where else had she to go? "So long as you keep on with those Hotels I can't touch a penny. I oughtn't to have kept that thousand, only Praddy assured me it was 'clean' money."
Mrs. W.: "So it was. I won it at Monte. I don't often gamble now, I hate losing money. But we'd had a splendid season at Roquebrune and I sat down one day at the tables, a bit reckless-like. Seemed as if I couldn't lose. When I got up and left I had won Thirty thousand francs. So I says to myself: 'This shall go to my little girl: I'll send it through Praddy and he'll pay it into her bank. Then I shan't feel anxious about her.'"
"Mother! what a strange creature you are! Such a mixture of good and bad—for I suppose it is bad, I feel somehow it is bad, trafficking in women's bodies, as they put it sensationally. Towards me you have always been compact of kindness; you took every precaution to have me brought up well, out of knowledge of any impurity; and well and modernly educated. You left me quite free to marry whom I liked ... but ... but ... you stuck to this horrible career..."
"Well, Vivie. I did. But did you make any great effort to turn me from it? Besides, is it horrible? I won't promise much for Berlin and Buda-Pest or even Vienna, because I haven't been in those directions for ever so long, and the Germans are reg'lar getting out of hand, they are, working up for something. I dessay if you looked in at the Warren Hotels in those places you might find lots to say against 'em. But you couldn't say the places I supervise here and at Roquebrune are so bad? I won't stop your looking into 'em. The girls are treated right down well. Looked after if they fall sick and given every encouragement to marry well. I even call those two places—I've giv' up me Paris house this ten years—I even call them my 'marriage markets.' Ah! an' I've given in my time not a few dots to decent girls that had found a good husband dans la clientele. Why they're no more than what you might call hotels a bit larkier than what other Hotels are. I've never in all my twenty years of Brussels management had a row with the police.... And as to all this rot about the White Slave Traffic that you seem so excited about ... well I'm not saying there's nothin' in it.... Antwerp, Hamburg, Rotterdam—you'd hear some funny stories there ... but only if you went as David Williams in your man's kit—My! what a wheeze that's bin!... And from all they tell me, that place in South America—Buenos Aires, is a reg'lar Hell. But ... God bless my soul ... there's nothin' to fuss about here. Our young ladies would take on like anything if you forced them to go away from my care. It's gettin' near the time when we close our Roquebrune establishment for the summer, an' the girls'll all be goin' back to their homes in the mountains and fattenin' up on new milk; still if you go there before the middle of May you'll see things pretty much as they are in the season; and what's more you'll see plenty of perfectly respectable people stoppin' there. Of course the prices are high. But look at the luxury! What that wicked Bax used to call 'All the Home Comforts.' He liked 'is joke. I hear he's settlin' down at home with his old Dutch. She's bin awful good to him, I must say. I couldn't stand 'im long. I don't often lose me temper but I did with him, after he got licked by Paul Dombey, and I threw an inkpot at his head and ain't seen him for a matter of thirteen or fourteen year. He sold out all his shares in the Warren Hotels when he came a cropper."
"Well, mother, I'll have a look round. I'm truly glad you're quit of the German and Austrian horrors, though you must bear the blame for having organized them in the first place. I will presently put on David Williams's clothes and see what I can see of them. But if you want me to be a daughter to you, you'll take the first and the readiest opportunity of removing your name from these—ach!—these legacies of the Nineteenth century. You'll wind up the Warren Hotels' Company, and as to the two houses you've got here and at Roquebrune, you'll turn them now into decent places where no indecency is tolerated."
Mrs. Warren: "I'll think it over and I don't say as I won't give in to you. I'm tired of a rackety life and I'm proud of you and ... and ... (cries) ... ashamed of meself ... ashamed whenever I look at you. Though I've never bin what I call bad. I've helped many a lame dog over a stile.... That's partly how you came into existence—almost the only time I've ever been in love—Many years ago—why, girl, you must be—getting on for thirty-five—let me see ... (muses). Yes, it was in the winter of '73-74. I'd bin at Ostende with a young barrister from London ... him I told you about once, who used to write plays, and we came on to Brussels because he had some business with the Belgian Government. He left me pretty much to myself just then, though quite open-handed, don't you know.... One day I was walking through one of the poorer streets where the people was very Flemish, and I stood looking up at an old doorway—Dunno' why—S'pose I thought it picturesque—reminded me of Praddy's drawin's. And an old woman comes up and says in French, 'Madame est Anglaise?' In those days I couldn't hardly speak a word o' French, but I said 'Oui.' Then she wants me to come upstairs but I thought it was some trap. However as far as I could make out there was a young Irishman there, she said, lying very sick of a fever and seemingly had no friends.
"Well: I took down the address and the next day I came there with the concierge of the hotel where we were staying, and under his protection we went upstairs. My! it was a beastly place—and your poor father—for he was your father—was tossing about and raving, with burning cheeks and huge eyes, just like yours. Well! I had plenty of money just then, so with the help of that concierge we found a decent lodging—they wasn't so partic'lar then about infection or they didn't think typhoid infectious—I took him there in an ambulance, engaged a nurse, and in a fortnight he was recovering. He turned out to be a seminarist—I think they called it—from Ireland who was going to be trained for the priesthood at Louvain—lots of Irish used to come there in those days. And somehow a fit of naughtiness had overcome him—he was only twenty—and he thought he'd like to see a bit of the world. So he'd sloped from his college and had a bit of a spree at Brussels and Ostende. Then he was took with this fever—
"His name was Fergus O'Conor and he always said he was descended from the real old Irish Kings, and he was some kind of a Fenian. I mean he used to go on something terrible against the English, and say he would never rest till they were drove out of Ireland. When he got well again he was that handsome—well I've never seen any one like him, unless it's you. I expect when you dress up as David Williams you're the image of what he was when I fell in love with him.
"And I did. And when me barrister friend—Mr. FitzSimmons—teased me about it, and wanted me—he having finished his business—to return with him to London I refused. Bein' a bit free with me speech in those days I dessay I said 'Go to Hell.' But he only laughed and left me fifty pounds.
"Well, I lived with this young student for a matter of six months. A lovely time we had, till he began gettin' melancholy—matter of no money partly. He tried bein' a journalist.
"Then the Church got him back. There came about a reg'lar change in him, and just at the time when you was comin' along. He woke up one night in a cold sweat and said he was eternally damned. 'Nonsense,' I says, 'it's them crayfish; you ought never to eat that bisque soup...'
"But he meant it. He went back to Louvain—where I'm goin' to take you in a day or two—and I suppose they made him do all sorts of penances before they gave him absolution. But he stuck to it. In due time he became a priest and entered one of them religious houses. They think a lot of him at Louvain. I've seen him once or twice but I can't bear to meet his eyes—they're somethin' like yours—make me feel a reg'lar Jezebel. And as to you? Well, when he left me I hadn't got much money left; so, before I begged a passage back to England, I called in at the very hotel where you found me the other day, and where me an' my barrister friend had been stayin'. I'd got to know the proprietress a little—real kind-'earted woman she was. She said to me 'See here. You stop with me and help me in the bureau and have your baby. I'll look after you. And when you can get about again, stop on and help me in my business. I reckon you're the type of woman I've bin looking out for this long while.' And that's how the first of the Warren Hotels was started and that's where you were born ... in October, Eighteen—seventy—five—"
(Vivie gave a little shudder, but her mother's thoughts were so intent on the past that she did not perceive it.)
Mrs. Warren: "Dj'ever see yer Aunt Liz?"
Vivie told her of the grim experiences already touched on in Chapter I.
Mrs. Warren: "Well she dropped me—completely—from the time she married that Canon. And I respected her. She was comfortably off, her past was dead and done with. D'yer think I wanted to bother 'er? Not I. It depends so much on the way you was born and brought up. If Liz had been the child of a respectable married couple that could give her a good start in life, 'probability is she'd have run straight from the first. Dunno about me. I was always a bit larky. And yet d'you know, I think if yer father hadn't been a sort of young god, with his head in the skies, and no reg'lar income, if he'd a married me and been kind to me ... I should have been an honest woman all the rest of me life....
"What do you feel about morality? You don't seem to have much faith in religion, yet you've always taken a high line—and somehow I'm glad you have—about things that never seemed to me to matter much. We're given these passions and desires—and my! don't it hurt, falling in love!—and then the clergy, though they're awful humbugs, tells us we must deny our cravings..."
Vivie: "In the main the clergy are right in what they preach though they give the wrong reasons. We must try to regulate our passions or they will master us, stifle what is really good in us. My solution of this problem which I am so sick of discussing.... But let's finish with it while we are about it—my solution is that the State and the Community should do their utmost to encourage, subsidize, reward early marriages; and at the same time facilitate in a reasonable degree divorce. Apply both these remedies and you would go far to wipe out prostitution, which I think perfectly horrible—I—I should like to penalize it. Perhaps it is the Irish ascetic in my constitution. A good many early marriages might be failures. Well then, at the end of ten years these should be dissolvable, with proper provision made for the children. I think many a couple if they knew that after a time and without scandal their partnership could be dissolved wouldn't, when the time came, want it. While on the other hand if you made the tie not everlastingly binding, young people—especially if they hadn't to trouble about means—would get married without hesitation or delay. I should not only encourage that, but I should give every woman a heavy bonus for bringing a living child into the world.... Now let's talk of something else. When are you going to take me to Louvain?"
* * * * *
They went to Louvain a few days later and Vivie's newly awakened senses for the beautiful in art revelled in the glorious architecture, so much of which was afterwards wrecked in the War.
Walking beneath the planes in a narrow street between monastic buildings, they descried a gaunt, stately figure of a Father Superior of some great Order. "There!" said Mrs. Warren; "that's him, that's your father." They quickened their pace and were presently alongside him. He flashed his great, grey eagle eyes for a contemptuous second on the face of Mrs. Warren, who was all of a tremble and could not meet the gaze. Vivie, he scarcely glanced at as he strode towards a doorway which engulfed him, though the eyes she had inherited would have met his unflinchingly.
* * * * *
David Williams duly visited Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, and Buda-Pest. Much of what he saw disgusted, even revolted, him, but he found few of his fellow-countrywomen held captive and crying to be delivered from a life of infamy. On his return to England in the autumn of 1909, he published the results of his observations; but they had very little effect on continental public opinion.
However Mrs. Warren in due course turned her two establishments into hotels that gradually acquired a well-founded character of propriety and were in time included amongst those recommended to quiet, studious people by first class tourist agencies. Their names were changed respectively from Hotel Leopold II to Hotel Edouard-Sept, from The Homestead, Roquebrune, to Hotel du Royaume-Uni. Mrs. Warren or Mme. Varennes retired completely from the management, but arranged to retain for her own use the magnificently furnished appartement on the first floor of the Hotel Edouard-Sept at Brussels, where Vivie had seen her in the late spring of 1909. She still continued to receive a certain income from these two admirably managed hostelries.
Constrained by Vivie she bestowed large donations on charitable and educational institutions affecting the welfare of women and established a fund of Ten thousand pounds for the promotion of Woman Suffrage in Great Britain, which fund was to be at Vivie's disposal. But even with these sacrifices to bienseance she remained a lady of considerable fortune.
She resisted however all invitations to make her home in England. "No, dear; I've got used to foreign ways. I hate my own people; they're such damned hypocrites; and the cooking don't suit my taste, accustomed to the best."
But she gave up brandy except as a very occasional chasse after the postprandial coffee. She no longer dyed her hair and used very little rouge and no scent but lavender. Her hair turned a warm white colour, and dressed a la Pompadour made her look what she probably was at heart—quite a decent sort.
Honoria Armstrong, faithful in friendship and purpose as few people are (though she abated never a whit her love for her dear, fierce, blue-eyed, bristly-moustached, battle-scarred, bullying husband) prepared for Vivie's return in the autumn of 1909 by securing for her occupancy a nice little one-storeyed house in a Kensington back street; one of those houses—I doubt not, now tenanted by millionaires who don't want a large household, just a roof over their heads—that remain over from the early nineteenth century, when Kensington was emerging from a country village into villadom. The broad, quiet road, named after our late dear Queen, has nothing but these detached or semi-detached little cottages ornes, one-storeyed villas with a studio behind, or two-storeyed components of "terraces," for about a quarter of a mile; and just before the War, building speculators were wont to pace its pavements with a hungry gaze directed to left and right buying up in imagination all this wasted space, pulling down these pretty stucco nests, and building in their place castles of flats, high into the air. I don't suppose this district will escape much longer the destruction of its graceful flowering trees and vivid gardens, its air of an opulent village; it will match with the rest of Kensingtonia in huge, handsome buildings and be much sought after by the people who devote their lives—till they commit suicide—to illicit love and the Victory Balls at the Albert Hall. But in 1909—would that we were all back in 1909!—it was as nice a part of London as a busy, energetic, sober-living spinster, in the movement, yet liking home retirement and lilac-scented privacy—could desire to inhabit, at the absurd rental of fifty pounds a year, with comparatively low rates, and the need for only one hard-working, self-respecting Suffragette maid, with the monthly assistance of a charwoman of advanced views.
There Vivie took up her abode in November of the year indicated. Honoria lived not far away, next door but one to the Parrys in Kensington Square. She—Vivie—was aware that Colonel Armstrong did not altogether like her, couldn't "place" her, felt she wasn't "one of us," and therefore despite Honoria's many invitations to run in and out and not to mind dear old "Army" who was always like that at first, just as their Chow was—she exercised considerable discretion about her frequentation of the Armstrong household, though she generally attended Honoria's Suffrage meetings, held whenever the Colonel was called away to Aldershot or Hythe.
Honoria by this time—the close of 1909—was the mother of four lovely, healthy, happy children. She would give birth to a fifth the following June (1910), and then perhaps she would stop. She often said about this time—touching wood as she did so—"could any woman be happier?" She was so happy that she believed in God, went sometimes to St. Mary Abbott's or St. Paul's, Knightsbridge—the music was so jolly—and gave largely to cheerful charities as well as to the Suffrage Cause. She would in the approach to Christmas, 1909, look round and survey her happiness: could any one have a more satisfactory husband? Of course he was a man and had silly mannish prejudices, but then without them he would not be so lovable. Her children—two boys and two girls—could you find greater darlings if you spent a week among the well-bred childern playing round the Round Pond? Such natural children with really original remarks and untrained ideas; not artificial Peter Pans who wistfully didn't want to grow up; not slavish little mimics of the Children's stories in vogue, pretending to play at Red Indians—when every one knew that Red Indians nowadays dressed like all the other citizens of the United States and Canada and sat in Congress and cultivated political "pulls" or sold patent medicines; or who said "Good hunting" and other Mowgli shibboleths to mystified relations from the mid-nineteenth century country towns; nor children who teased the cat or interfered with the cook or stole jam or did anything else that was obsolete; or decried Sullivan's music in favour of Debussy's or of Scarlatini's 17th century tiraliras; or wore spectacles and had to have their front teeth in gold clamps. Just clear-eyed, good-tempered, good-looking, roguish and spontaneously natural and reasonably self-willed children, who adored their parents and did not openly mock at the Elishas that called on them.
Then there were Honoria's friends. I gave a sort of list of them in Chapter II—which I am told has caused considerable offence, not by what was put in but to those who were left out. But they needn't mind: if the protesters were nice people according to my standard, you may be sure Honoria knew them. But of all her friends none was dearer and closer—save her husband—than Vivie Warren—pal of pals, brave comrade of the unflinching eyes. And somehow Vivie (since she fell in love with Michael Rossiter) was ten times dearer than she had been before: she was more understanding; she had a brighter eye, a much greater sense of humour; she was tenderer; she liked children as she never had done in bygone years, and was soon adopted by the four children in Kensington Square as "Aunt Vivie" (They also—the two elder ones—had a vague remembrance of an Uncle David who had brought them toys and sweetmeats in a dim past). Aunt Vivie and Mummie used to get up the most amusing Suffrage meetings in the long, narrow garden behind the house; or they combined forces with Lady Maud Parry, and spoke in lilting contralto or mezzo-soprano (with the compliant tenor or baritone of here and there a captive man) across the two gardens. Or somehow they commandeered the Square Garden on the pretext of a vast Garden Party, at which every one talked and laughed at once over their Suffrage views.
Yes: Honoria was happy then, as indeed she had been during most of her life, except when her brother died and her mother died. What did she lack for happiness? Nothing that this world can give in the opening twentieth century ... not even a very good pianola or a motor. I feel somehow it was almost unfair (in my rage at the inequality of treatment meted out by the Powers Beyond). Shall not General Sir Petworth Armstrong die in the great debacle of the world-wide War? I shall see, later. And yet I feel that this nucleus of pure happiness housed in Kensington Square—or at Petworth Manor—was to the little world that revolved round the Armstrongs like a good radiator in a cold house. It warmed many a chilly nature into fructification; it healed many a scar, it brightened many a humble life, like that of Bertie Adams's hard-working, washerwoman mother, or the game-keeper's crippled child at Petworth or the newest, suburbanest little employe of Fraser and Claridge's huge establishment in the Brompton Road. It pulled straight the wayward life of some young subaltern, about to come a cropper, but who after a talk or two with that jolly Mrs. Armstrong took quite a different course and made a decent marriage. It conjoined with many of the social activities for good of one who might have been her twin sister—Suzanne Feenix—only that Suzanne was twenty years older and perhaps an inch or two shorter. Dear woman! My remembrance flashes a kiss to your astral cheek—which in reality I should never have dared to salute, so great was my awe of Colonel Armstrong's muscles—as, at any reasonable time before or after the birth of your last child in June, 1910, you stand in the hall of your sunny, eighteenth century house, with the gold and green glint of the Kensington garden behind you: saying with your glad eyes and bonny mouth "Come to our Suffrage Party? Such a lark! We've got Mrs. Pankhurst here and the Police daren't raid us; they're so afraid of 'Army.' Of course he's away, but he knows perfectly well what I'm doing. He's quite given in. Now Michael, you show Sir Harry and Lady Johnston to the front seats..."
(I looked round for the rather gloomy presence of Michael Rossiter, but it was his little golden-haired god-son she meant.)
You shall have your general back safe from the wars, with a wound that gives only honour, a reasonable number of well-earned decorations, and a reputation for rather better strategy than Aldershot generally produces; and he shall live out his wholesome life alongside yours, still dispensing happiness, even under a Labour Government: till, as Burton used to wind up his Arabian Nights love stories, "there came to them the Destroyer of delight and the Sunderer of societies."
Honoria acted towards the Suffrage movement somewhat as in older-fashioned days of Second Empire laxity well-to-do people evaded military service under conscription by paying a substitute to take their place in the fighting line. On account of her husband, and the children she had just had or was going to have, she did not throw herself into the physical struggle; but she still continued out of her brother's ear-marked money to subsidize the cause. Rather regretfully, she looked on from a motor, a balcony, a front window or the safe plinth of some huge statue, whilst her comrades, with less to risk physically and socially, matched their strength of will, their trained muscles, their agility, astuteness and feminine charm (seldom without some effect) against the brute force and imperturbability of the Police.
The struggle waxed hot and fierce in the early months of 1910. Vivie held herself somewhat in the background also, not wishing to strike publicly and effectively until she was sure for what principle she endangered her life and liberty. Nevertheless she became a resource of rising importance to the Suffrage cause. She was known to have had a clever barrister cousin who for some reasons best known to himself had of late kept in the background—ill-health, said some; an unfortunate love affair, said another. But his pamphlet on the White Slave Traffic on the Continent showed that he was still at work. Vivie was thought to be fully equal in her knowledge of the law to her cousin, though not allowed to qualify for the Bar. Case after case was referred to her with the hope that if she could not solve it, she might submit it to her cousin's judgment. In this way, excellent legal advice was forthcoming which drove the Home Office officials from one quandary to another.
But Vivie in the spring of 1910, looking back on nearly twelve months of womanly life (save for David's summer of continental travel) decided that she didn't like being a woman, so far as Woman was dressed in 1910 and for three or four hundred years previously.
As "David" this had been more or less her costume: an undershirt (two, in very cold weather), a pair of pants coming down to the ankle, and well-fitting woollen socks on the feet. A shirt, sometimes in day-time all of one piece with its turn-over collar; at worst with a separate collar and a tie passed through it. Braces that really braced and held up the nether garment of trousers; a waistcoat buttoning fairly high up (no pneumonia blouse)—two waistcoats if she liked, or a dandy slip buttoned innocently inside the single vest to suggest the white lie of a second inner vest. Over the waistcoat a coat or jacket. On the head a hat which fitted the head in thirty seconds (allowing for David's shock of hair). Lace-up or button boots, with perhaps at most six buttons; gloves with one button; spats—if David wanted to be very dressy—with three buttons. On top of all this a warm, easily-fitting overcoat or a mackintosh. If you were really dressing to kill (as a man) it might take half an hour; if merely to go about your business and not be specially remarked for foppishness, twenty minutes. To divest yourself of all this and get into paijamas and so to bed: ten minutes. But when Vivie returned to herself and went about the world of 1909-1910, and merely wished to pass as an inconspicuous, modest woman she had to spend hours in dressing and undressing, and this is what she had to wear and waste so much of her time in adjusting and removing:—
Next the skin, merino combinations, unwieldy garments requiring a contortionist's education to put on without entangling your front and hind limbs. The "combies" were specially buttoned with an infinitude of small, scarcely visible buttons, which always wanted sewing on and replacing, and were peevish about remaining in the button hole. Often, too, the "combies" (I really can't keep writing the full name) had to be tied here and there with little white ribbons which preferred getting into a knot (no wonder the average woman has a temper!). When the "combies" went to the wash, all these ribbonlets had to be taken out, specially washed, specially ironed, and ingeniously threaded back into position.
Next to the combinations, proceeding outwards, came the corset, a most serious affair. This exceedingly expensive instrument of torture was compounded chiefly of silk (which easily frayed) and whale-bone. Many good women of the middle class have gone to their graves for three hundred years believing that Almighty God had specially created toothless whales of the Family Balaenidae solely for the purpose of providing women with the only possible ingredient for a corset; and for three hundred years, brave seamen of the Dutch, British and Basque nations had gone to a watery grave to procure for women this indispensable aid to correct clothing. But these filaments of horny palatal processes are unamiable. Though sheathed in silk or cotton, they, after the violent movements of a Suffragette or a charwoman, break through the restraining sheath and run into the body under the fifth rib, or press forward on to the thigh. Which is why you often see a woman's face in an omnibus express severe pain and her lips utter the exclamation "Aie, Aie." Then this confounded corset had to be laced with pink ribbons at the back and in front and both lacings demanded unusual suppleness of arms and sense of touch in finger-tips; and when the corset went to the wash the ribbons had to be drawn out, washed, ironed, and threaded again.
From the front of the corset hung two elastic suspenders as yet awaiting their prey. But first must be drawn on the silk or stockinette knickerbockers which in the 1910 woman replaced the piteously laughable drawers of the Victorian period. Then the suspenders clutched the rims of the stockings with an arrangement of nickel and rubber which no man would have tolerated for its inefficiency but would have thrown back in the face of the shopman and have been charged with assault. In times of stress, at public meetings the suspenders would release the stockings from their hold, and the latter roll about the ankles of the embarrassed pleader for Woman's Rights ("Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow," and first of all throttle the modiste, thought Vivie).
Then there was the camisole that concealed the corset and had to be "pinned" in with safety pins. The knickerbockers might not seek the aid of braces; but they must be kept up by an elastic band. Over the camisole, in 1910, came a blouse, pernickety and shiftless about its waist fastening; and finally a hobble skirt, chiefly kept up by safety pins, and so cut below as to hamper free movement of the limbs as much as possible.
Day-boots often had as many as twenty-one buttons—and, mind you, not sham, buttons, as I used to think, out of swagger; but every button demanded entrance into a practicable button hole. Or the boots themselves were mere shoes with many buttoned spats drawn over them. All the boots had high heels and the woman walked so as to put a severe strain on her arched instep in order that she might bring on by degrees "flat foot" for surgical treatment.
Who shall describe the hats of 1910?—and before and since—in all but the very poorest women? They were enormous; and so were the hat-boxes; and they could only be held on to the head by running hatpins through wisps of hair.
I will not portray the evening dresses that it sometimes takes a kindly husband an hour to fasten, with "press-buttons" and hooks and eyes; and poor Vivie had no husband and depended on her suffragette maid because at all costs she mustn't look dowdy or the woman's cause might suffer at Mrs. Pethick Lawrence's receptions.
As to night gear: of course Vivie being a free agent slept in David's paijamas. She had long ago cut the Gordian knots of her be-ribboned, girdled night gowns in favour of the Indian garment. But can you wonder after this true recital of the simplest forms of a decent woman's costume in 1909-1910 and even now (a recital drawn from a paper on Woman's dress delivered by David on one of the last occasions in which he appeared at the Debating Society of the Inner Temple—and checked by my jury of matrons)—can you wonder that Vivie took very hardly to giving up a man's life in the clothes of David Williams? How she vowed to herself—fruitlessly, because now she is one of the best-dressed women in town (in a quiet way)—that she would one day enfranchise women in their costume as in their citizenship? This will never be done until the modistes of Paris, in some great popular uprising, are strangled and burnt on the Place de la Concorde.
At the 1910 (January) Election, Michael Rossiter had been returned as M.P. for one of the Midland Universities. His Science had certainly suffered from his suppressed love for Vivie, a passion which secretly tortured him, yet for which he dared ask no respite. He thought it was about time that real men of Science entered Parliament to check the utter mismanagement of public affairs which had been going on since 1900. He proposed to himself to make a succession of brilliant speeches (he really was an admirable and fluent lecturer) on Anthropology, Chemistry—Chemistry ought to appeal, even to City men because it made such a lot of money—Ethnology, Hygiene, Geography, Economic Botany, Regional Zoology, Germ Diseases, Agriculture, etc., etc.; and the absolute necessity of giving Woman the same electoral privileges as Man. He was always well inclined that way, but after he realized that David was Vivie he became almost an embittered Suffragist.
The Speaker took care that he had little scope for his Anthropology, Economic Botany, Chemistry, Hygiene, etc., on Votes of Supply: but he got in some nasty blows in the Woman's cause, and in fact was so strangely rancorous that Ministers looked at him evilly and arranged that he was not placed on the committee of the Conciliation Bill; that amusing farce with which the Liberal Ministry sought in 1910 to stave off the Suffrage dilemma.
Rossiter and Vivie seldom met except at public receptions. Every now and again he came to Suffrage meetings when she was going to speak; and how well she spoke then! How real it all seemed to her! How handsome she looked (even at 36) and how near she was to tears and a breakdown; while his eyes burned; and when he got home poor little Linda was in despair over her poor distraught Michael, who could find no happiness or contentment in Ten Thousand a year, great fame as the chief inventor of the Ductless Glands, and the man who had issued a taxonomic classification of the Bovidae which even satisfied me.
What a cruel force is Love! Or is the cruelty in human disciplinary laws? Here were two persons eminently suited to be mates, calculated while still in the prime of life to procreate offspring that would be a credit to the nation, who asked for nothing more in life than to lie in each other's arms—after which no doubt they would have arisen and performed the most wonderful feats in inductive science or in embroidery or mathematics. And they were inwardly raging, losing their appetites, sleeping very badly yet eschewing drugs, pursuing will-of-the-wisps in politics, wasting the best years of their lives ... from a sense of duty, that sense of duty which has made the Nordic White man the dominant race on the earth. "We suffer individually but we gain collectively," Rossiter said to himself.
In May, 1910, King Edward died, and all these gladiators, male and female, willingly declared a Truce in the Suffrage battle, to obtain a much needed rest in the weary conflict. As soon as political activities were resumed, the Conciliation Bill by the energies of the Liberal Whips was talked out (wasn't it?). At any rate it came to nothing for that Session. Vivie took this as a decision. She openly declared that the Vote never would be given by the House of Commons or House of Lords until it was wrung from the Legislature by a complete dislocation of public affairs, the nearest approach to a revolution women could bring about without rifles and cannon.
Meantime she refused to be duped by Ministers or by amiable go-betweens. She resolved instead, perhaps for the last time, to resume the clothes and status of David Williams, go down to Wales, and stay with her father who was dying by slow degrees.
The letters which the curate had written from time to time to D.V. Williams, Esq., care of Michael Rossiter, Esq., F.R.S., and usually forwarded on by Bertie Adams, had told David how much the Revd. Howel Williams had failed since the cold spring of 1909, and how in the colder spring of 1910 he had once or twice narrowly survived influenza. In July, 1910, he was dying of heart failure. Nevertheless the return of David, his well-beloved, brought to him a flicker of renewed life, a little pink in the cheeks, and some garrulity.
He could hardly bear his darling son out of his sight, except for the narrowest margin of necessary sleep; and often David slept sitting up in an arm-chair in the Vicar's bedroom. The Revd. Howel said nothing more about grandchildren; often—with a finer sense—spoke to him not as though he were a son, but as a beloved daughter. At last he died in his sleep one night, holding David's hand, looking so ineffably happy that the impostor inwardly gloried in his imposture as in one of the best deeds of his chequered life.
* * * * *
The will, of course, had not been changed, and David inherited all his "father's" property. Out of it he settled L500 on the miner's—or rather Jenny's—son who probably was the offspring of the real David Williams's boyish amour. He provided a handsome annuity for poor, shaken, old Nannie; and the rest of the money after paying all expenses he laid out on the endowment of a Village Hall for games and study, social meetings and political discussions, together with provision for an annual stipend of a hundred pounds for the Vicar or curate of the parish who should run this Hall: which was to be a lasting memorial to the Reverend Howel Vaughan Williams, so learned in the lore of Wales.
Having settled all these matters to his satisfaction, and certainly to that of the Revd. Cadwalladr Jones (who succeeded as Vicar of Pontystrad by a wise nudging and monetary pressure on the part of the late Vicar's son), David returned to London at the close of 1910, took off his clothes and shed his personality. It was bruited that he had gone abroad to nurse a health that was seriously impaired through his incredible exertions over the Shillito case. He left his cousin Vivie free to espouse the Suffrage cause, even unto the extremest militancy.
THE SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT
The Conciliation Bill which was intended to give the Parliamentary Vote to a little over one million women had passed its Second reading on July 12, 1910, by a majority of 110 votes; in spite of the bitter opposition of the Premier, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary, the President of the Board of Trade, and the Secretary for the Colonies. The Premier's arguments against it were, firstly, that "Women were Women"—this of course was a deplorable fact—and that "the balance of power might fall into their hands without the physical force necessary to impose their decisions, etc., etc."; and finally "that in Force lay the ultimate appeal" (rather a dangerous incitement to the sincere militants). The Chancellor of the Exchequer took up a more subtle attitude than the undisguised, grumpy hostility of his leader.
His arguments at the time reminded me of an episode in East Africa thirty years ago. A certain independent Chief tolerated the presence on his territory of a plucky band of missionary pioneers. He did not care about Christianity but he liked the trade goods the missionaries brought to purchase food and pay for labour in the erection of a station. These trade goods they kept in a storehouse made of wattle and daub. But this temporary building was not proof against cunning attempts at burglary on the part of the natives. The missionaries at length went to the Chief (who was clothed shamelessly in the stolen calicoes) and sought redress. "All right," said the potentate, who kept a fretful realm in awe, "But you have no proof it is my people who break in and steal. You just catch one in the act, and then you'll see what I'll do."
So the Oxford and Cambridge athletic missionaries sat up night after night under some camouflage and at last their patience was rewarded by the capture of a naked, oily-skinned negro who emerged from a tunnel he had dug under the store-foundations. Then they bore him off to the Yao chieftain.
"Now we know where we are," said the Chief. "You've proved your complaint. We'll have him burnt to death, after lunch, in the market place. I presume you've brought a lunch-basket?"
"Oh no!" said the horrified propagandists: "We don't want such a penalty as that..."
"Very good" said the Chief, "then we'll behead him..." "No! No!"
"Crucify him?"—"No! No!"—"Peg him down over a Driver Ants' nest?" "No! No!"
"Then, if you don't want any rational punishment, he shall go free." And free he went.
In the same way the Chancellor of the Exchequer of those days was so hard to please over Suffrage measures that none brought forward was democratic enough, far-reaching and overwhelming enough to secure his adhesion. He was therefore forced to torpedo the Conciliation Bill, to snatch away the half-loaf that was better than no bread at all. He spoke and voted against these tentative measures of feminine enfranchisement, with tongue in cheek, no doubt, and hand linked in that of Lulu Grandcourt whose opposition to any vote being given to woman and whole attitude towards the sex was so bitter that he had to be reminded by Lord Aloysius Brinsley (who like his brother Robert was a convinced Suffragist) that after all he, Lulu Grandcourt, had deigned to be born of a woman, had even—maybe—been spanked by one.
The Speaker had hinted on the occasion of the second reading of the Concilition Bill and at a later raising of the same question that there might arise all sorts of obstacles to wreck the Woman's Franchise measure in Committee; obstacles that apparently need not be taken into account as dangerous to any measure affecting male interests. Therefore many of the M.P.'s timorously voted for the second reading of the Conciliation Bill in order to stand well with their Constituencies, yet looked to the Premier to trip it up by some adroit use of Parliamentary jiu-jitsu. They were not disappointed in their ideal politician. The Bill after it had passed its second reading by a large majority was referred to a Committee of the whole House, which seemingly is fatal to any measure that seeks to become law.
So the stale summer of 1910 wore itself away in recriminations, hopings against probability that the newer types of Liberal statesmen were honest men, keepers of promises, not merely—as Vivie said in one of the many speeches that got her into trouble—"Bridge-players, first and foremost, golf-players when they couldn't play bridge, or speculators on the Stock Exchange, champagne drinkers; and prone to eat at their Lucullus banquets, public and private, till they sometimes fainted with indigestion."
My! But she was bitter in her Hyde Park speeches and at her Albert Hall meetings against this band of mock-liberals who had seized the impulse of the country towards reform which had grown up under the Chamberlain era to instal themselves in power with the financial backing of great Americo-German-Jewish internationalists, who in those early years of the Twentieth century were ready to stake their dollars on the Free Trade British Empire if they might guide its policy.
[Very likely if they had obtained the complete guidance they sought for they might have staved off this ruinous war by telling Germany bluntly she must keep her hands off France and Belgium; they might also have seen to it that the War Office was reformed and the British army ready to fulfil Lord Haldane's promises; for there is no doubt they had ability even if they despised the instruments they worked with.]
But as I say, Vivie was a bitter and most effective speaker. She inflamed to action many a warm-hearted person like myself, like Rossiter (who got into trouble—though it was hushed up—in 1910-1911 for slapping the face of a Secretary of State who spoke slightingly of the women Suffragists and their motives). Yet I seem to be stranded now, with a few others, in my pre-war enthusiasm over the woman's cause, or, later, my horror at the German treatment of Belgium.
Where are the snows of yester-year; where is the animosity which in the years between the burking of the Conciliation Bill and the spring of 1914 grew up between the disinterested Reformers who wanted Woman enfranchised and the Liberal ministers who fought so doggedly, so unscrupulously, against such a rational completion of representative government? The other day I glanced at a newspaper and saw that Sir Michael and Lady Rossiter had been dining at the Ritz with the Grandcourts, Princess Belasco, Sir Abel Batterby, the great Police Surgeon, knighted for his skill and discretion in forcible feeding, and the George Bounderbys (G.B. was the venomous Private Secretary of a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and put him up to most of his anti-suffrage dodges); and meeting Vivien Rossiter soon afterwards I said, "How could you?" "How could I what?" "Dine with the people you once hated." "Oh I don't know, it's all past and done with; we've got the Vote and somehow after those years in Brussels I seem to have no hates and few loves left"—However this is anticipating. I only insert this protest because I may seem to be expressing a bitterness the protagonists have ceased to feel, a triumph at the victory of their cause which produces in them merely a yawn.
Where is Mrs. Pankhurst? Somehow one thought she would never rest till she was in the Cabinet. And Christabel? And Annie Kenney? Married perchance to some permanent under Secretary of State and viewing "direct action" with growing disapproval.
And the Pethick Lawrences? Some one told me the other day that they'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be forcibly fed.
But in November, 1910, we all—we that were whole-hearted reformers, true Liberals, not wolves in sheep's clothing, took very much to heart what happened on the 18th of that month, when the Prime Minister of the time announced that the Conference between the House of Lords and the House of Commons on the Veto question having broken down he had advised His Majesty to dissolve Parliament. This meant that the Conciliation Bill was finally done for; while the declaration of the Prime Minister as to the future Programme of the Liberal Party, if it was returned to power, excluded any mention of a Woman's enfranchisement Bill.
On Black Friday, November 18th, Vivie was present at the meeting in Caxton Hall when Mrs. Pankhurst explained the position to the Suffragist women assembled there. Her blood was fired by the recital of their wrongs and she was prominent among the four hundred and fifty volunteers who came forward to accompany Mrs. Pankhurst, Dr. Garret Anderson and Susan Knipper-Totes (the two last, infirm old ladies) when they proposed to march to the Houses of Parliament to exercise their right of presenting a petition.