"And Rosalie is going away to school! To a boarding school in London where there will be ever so many very nice playmates of her own age, and such romps, and such good wholesome food, and such nice, kind, clever mistresses! Why, what a lucky, lucky girl! There, Rosalie, what do you think of that? You are my godchild, and I and your kind uncle Pyke are going to send you to school and pay for your education because of course we are well off and can afford it and your dear mother and father can't. There! Now isn't that delightful? Come and give me a nice kiss then. The dear child!"
Tremendous moment! Supernal upheaval! First and greatest upheaval of the chain of upheavals! Rosalie was to go away to school!
That was at the rectory breakfast table on the last morning of the visit, and that was Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, coming into Rosalie's life. "Come and give me a kiss then"; that was kind, kind Aunt Belle, inviting acknowledgment of her kindness and the kindness of Uncle Pyke (with a cheque) and the kindness of Cousin Laetitia (with a box of beautiful cast-off clothes that would do beautifully for Rosalie's school outfit). "The dear child!" That was Aunt Belle's acknowledgment of Rosalie's most dutiful and most affectionate and most delighted kiss. (Most amazed and excited and rather fearful Rosalie! Going to school! Going away to a boarding school in London!)
"The dear child!" Such a warm and loving kiss from Rosalie! And time was to prove it the kiss of Judas! Yes, in a few years, "I've done everything for you!" Aunt Belle was to cry. "Everything! And this is the return I get!"
Next, in its turn, and exactly a fortnight before the beginning of the term at which Rosalie was to join the boarding school in London, came the letter from Uncle Tom in India, and with it the beginning of the second upheaval in the chain of upheavals.
All of this upheaval was very bewildering to Rosalie. She never understood it properly. At the beginning it had nothing at all to do with Anna, and yet Anna from the very first reading of Uncle Tom's letter—All that Rosalie understood of it was this.
First the letter came. Tremendous excitement! Father in wild excitement, Flora and Hilda in frantic excitement, everyone in highest excitement. Father read the letter aloud at breakfast to Rosalie's mother and to the girls. Such a splendid letter, said father. Really, Tom was a splendid fellow, said father. He had wronged Tom. He had thought Tom selfish in his wealthy indifference. By Jove, Tom wasn't. "By Jove, the way Tom wrote almost brought tears to your eyes. Listen to this. Listen, mother. Listen, you girls."
Uncle Tom, said the letter, would by all means, old man, have one of the girls. He'd no idea that things were so bad with you. Poor old man! Why didn't you tell us before? He was sending home a small draft to Field and Company, his bankers, to help towards the girl's outfit and her passage money. "'Which girl shall you send?' you ask. Well, it's no good asking us, old man. You must decide that for yourselves. She'll be abundantly welcome, whichever it is, and we can promise her a jolly good time. We are at Simla most of the year. If you want my advice which girl to send, send the pretti—"
Father stopped reading.
Rosalie was staring at Anna. Anna's face, which had been pale, suddenly went crimson. The suddenness and the violence of it was extraordinary. One moment she had been pale. In the next, she was burning red. It was exactly as if a crimson paint had suddenly been dashed over the whole of her face. It was extraordinary. Whatever was it? That nose of hers, perhaps? a sudden frightful twinge like Rosalie once had had a sudden most awful jump in a tooth? But Anna didn't say anything and no one but Rosalie seemed to notice it. They were all intent upon father. So intent! Flora's eyes were simply shining!
And Flora's eyes soon after that were shining more than ever. She was wild with excitement. Rosalie heard the news just before tea. Flora was going to India to Uncle Tom!
"Oh," cried Flora, "I'm so excited I simply don't know what to do with myself!" It was all arranged. Father had settled it. She was to go in about six weeks' time. Very shortly she was to go up to London with father and buy heaps of clothes and all sorts of things. They were going to stay at a hotel. "Not with Aunt Belle, thank goodness!" said Flora. "At a hotel! Fancy that!" Mother wasn't going and Flora was glad mother wasn't going. She would have a much better time with father. Father had decided everything. He had decided that mother couldn't leave him in the rectory with all the housekeeping to look after, and the change would do him good, and Aunt Belle would be able to help with the shopping. They were going to see some theatres and all kinds of things and were going to have a most splendid time and then, soon afterwards—India! "Oh I shall go mad with excitement in a minute!" cried Flora.
The next thing was in the evening. Rosalie, searching for her mother to ask her something, could not find her. She went into her mother's bedroom and there was the most surprising thing. There was Anna on her knees by her mother and her head on her mother's lap and Anna was sobbing; and she was crying in her sobs, "But it's my right! I'm the eldest. It's my right!"
Rosalie stood there, unnoticed, amazed. Whatever was it?
Rosalie's mother stroked Anna's head and spoke very softly, "My darling! My darling!" She said, "My darling, your father has decided. Your father knows best. Men always know best, my darling."
"It's my right, mother. It's my right. It's always Flora. Oh, why should it always be Flora?"
"Dear Anna. Poor Anna. You must be reasonable, dear Anna. We women must always be reasonable. Don't you see that your father thinks of me? He thinks my eldest girl—my dear eldest girl—ought to stay at home to look after her mother. It's on my account, dear Anna. He thinks of me."
"Oh, mother, what's the good of telling me that? A lot he thinks of you or ever has! Why is he going up to London with Flora when it's your place to go? A lot he thinks of you! You say we must be reasonable. You can be. You've been unselfish all your life. I can't be. Not in this. I've never had a pleasure in my life; I've never had a chance; I've never had anything done for me. Ever since I can remember it's always been Flora, Flora, Flora. Now there's this. I'm getting on, mother. I'm nearly twenty-four. What have I got to look forward to? Flora's younger, Flora's different. She'll have lots of chances of enjoying herself. This is my right. It's my right, mother."
"My dear Anna. My eldest girl. My first dear, sweet girlie. How could I do without you? How happy we've been. How happy we will be."
Rosalie crept away.
After a time, Flora and her father went away on the great visit to London. They were to be away over two Sundays. A clergyman was coming from Ashborough to take service at the church. Rosalie's father went off in spirits as high and youthful as the spirits of Flora. For days before he was quite a different man. Everybody was asked to choose a present which he would bring back. Everybody chose with much excitement and chaffing except Anna, who said she could not think of anything. At meals, father kept on saying how he wished he could regularly make a point of getting up to town for a bit, it made all the difference being able to get away from this infernal place for a bit. When herrings were on the table, he actually came round and did her herring for Rosalie's mother and Rosalie's mother was able to eat the whole of it and said how delicious it was and how clever father was.
It was all splendid. Rosalie had never known such a jolly spirit in the house. The only thing that spoilt Rosalie's happiness in the new jolly spirit was the nights in Anna's room. Anna was most frightening to Rosalie. She prayed now longer than ever, her shoulders moving beneath her nightgown as if she was shuddering all the time she prayed. And at night she talked more than ever in her sleep; also she used to get out of bed at night and walk about the room and talk aloud to herself. It was frightening.
Then Flora and father were in London and tremendous long letters came from Flora to her mother and to all: they were buying heaps of dresses and underclothes and white drill coats and skirts and a riding habit and goodness knows what all. "A regular trousseau!" wrote Flora with about seventeen marks of exclamation after the word. And all they were seeing—they had been to the Lyceum Theatre and seen Mr. Henry Irving and Miss Ellen Terry and to the Savoy and seen "The Mikado." Every moment of the day was taken up and half the night. Oh, this was a change from Ibbotsfield!
Anna would never listen to the letters. When they were read out, she either would put her fingers in her ears or go out of the room. And yet, curiously, she often later in the day would say in a funny constricted voice, "Let me see Flora's letter. Give it to me, will you please?" And would take it away and read it by herself.
Anna was stranger and stranger in her manner and in her behaviour at night. Rosalie came quite to dread the nights. Anna began to pray out loud. She used to pray over and over again the same thing: "It's not that I'm jealous, O Lord. O purge my heart of jealousy. It is that I see what could be and what ought to be for me and what never will be for me. I've nothing to look forward to, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. It is hard for women. O God, thou knowest how hard it is for women."
It was frightening.
Then came the second Sunday of the absence in London. In the night of Saturday, Rosalie was again awakened by the sounds of Anna and again heard her praying and again heard "It is hard for women. O God, thou knowest how hard it is for women."
She had heard it so often! Anna seemed to have stopped praying. There was a light in the room and Rosalie saw that Anna, on her knees, had her head and arms thrown forward on the bed more as if she were asleep than praying. "It is hard for women." Rosalie had heard Anna say that so often. And she was going to be a woman one day. And she had always known that men were the important and wonderful people of the world. Now Anna said that for women it was hard and that God knew it was hard. Why? She peered across again. Anna certainly had done her prayers. She said, "Anna. Anna. Why is it hard for women?"
Anna started to her knees and turned her body round. "Rosalie! Why are you awake? You've no right to be awake."
"No, but I am. I woke up. Anna, why is it hard for women?"
"You weren't meant to hear. You couldn't understand."
"But I would like to know, Anna."
Anna got up and came across to Rosalie's bed; and by her manner, and by her voice, and by the tall white figure she was, frightened Rosalie. She said, "Go to sleep. You can sleep. Why don't you when you can? One day perhaps you'll be like me and can't."
It reminded Rosalie of "Sleep on now and take your rest" in the Bible, and frightened her. Anna said, "It's hard for women because men can do what they like but women can't." She turned away. She stood still and said with her back to Rosalie, "I've got a longing here." Her hands were clasped and she brought them up and struck them against her breast with a thud. "And I always have had and I always will have. Here. Burning. Aching. And when you've got a longing like that you must—you must—" Then she said very violently, "I hate men. I hate them. I hate them." Then she went very quickly to the candlestick on the dressing table and fumbled with it to blow it out, and it fell on the ground and broke and the room was black.
The next day was Sunday. Anna said she would not go to Church as she had a headache. Rosalie had been invited to spend the day with the little girl of Colonel and Mrs. Measures and she had lunch and tea there and then came home. The path from the gate to the house was bounded by a thick hedge. On the right was the rectory paddock and through the hedge Rosalie saw that something very strange was going on in the paddock. Away in the corner where there was a little copse with a pond in the middle was a crowd of people, some men from the village and her mother and Robert and some others. Whatever was it? While she peered, Harold came running out of the group towards the house. His coat was off, and his waistcoat; and his shirt and trousers looked funny and he ran funnily. He came near Rosalie and she saw that he was dripping wet. Had he fallen in the pond? Then two men came round from the back of the house carrying something, and Harold ran to them and they all ran with the thing to the pond. It looked like the door of the shed they were carrying. Rosalie scrambled through the hedge and ran towards the pond. Some one called out "Here's Rosalie." Hilda came out from among the people and waved her arms and called out, "Go back! Go back! You're not to come here, Rosalie! You're not to come here!" Rosalie stood still.
People were stooping. They had the door on the ground and Harold and a man were stooping and walking backwards over the door, carrying something. Presently there was more stooping, and then Harold and Robert and three men were carrying the door between them and walking as if the door were very heavy. Whatever was happening? Hilda came running to Rosalie. She was crying. "Rosalie, you're to keep away. You're not to come into the house yet. I'll tell you when you can come. Go and stay in the garden till I tell you."
Rosalie wandered about by the drive. Whatever was the matter? Robert appeared with his bicycle. Harold came out after him. "Go to Ashborough station with it, you understand. See the station master. Tell him it must be sent off at once. Tell him what has happened." Robert was sniffling and nodding. Away went Robert, bending over the handle bar of his bicycle, riding furiously.
Evening began to come on. Rosalie was wandering at the back by the stables when Hilda came out through the kitchen door. "Rosalie, I've been looking for you. Rosalie, Anna is—dead."
They went in through the kitchen. On the big kitchen clothes rail before the fire were clothes of Anna's. They were muddy and sopping wet and steam was rising off them.
Rosalie ran to her mother to cry.
"Ran to her mother to cry." That's a thing not to pass over without a stop. Lucky, lucky Rosalie to have one to whom to take her grief! You can imagine her small heart's twistings by those days of sorrow, of terrifying and mysterious and dreadful things that the child never could clearly have understood; of grief, of mourning; of atmosphere most eerie made of whispers, of tiptoe treading, of shrouded windows, of conversations, as of conspirators, shut off with "Not in front of Rosalie." "Hush, not now. Here's Rosalie."
Yes, twisting stuff that; but in that "ran to her mother to cry" something that much more dreadfully twists the heart than those. Those were for Rosalie—they are for all—but frets upon the sands of time that each most kind expunging day, flowing from dawn to sunset like a tide, heals and obliterates. There are no common griefs, and death's a common grief, that can be drawn above that tide's highwater mark. But there's that sentence: "Rosalie ran to her mother to cry." That's of the aching voids of life, deep-seated like a cancer, that no tide reaches. That twists the heart to hear it because—O happy Rosalie!—the aching thing in life is not having where you can take your weariness. Your successes, your triumphs, there are a hundred eyes to shine with yours in those. Oh, it is the defeats you want where to tell—some one you can take the defeats to, the failures, the lost things; the lamps that are gone out, the hopes that are ashes, the springs that spring no more, the secret sordid things that eat you up, that hedge you all about, that draw you down. Those! To have some one to tell those to! Yes, there's a thought that comes with living: Let who may receive a man's triumphs; to whom a soul can take its defeats, that one has the imprint of Godhood. They walk near God.
Awfully frightening days followed for Rosalie. There wasn't a room that wasn't dark and frightening with all the blinds down, and wasn't a voice that wasn't dark and frightening, all in whispers; and then came this that closed them and that was like a finger pressed right down on Rosalie.
There was that Rosalie in the church at the funeral service. She sat at the inner end of the pew with Hilda beside her. The coffin had stood before the altar all night, with the lamps lit all night, and Rosalie believed her father had stayed with it all night. He was struck right down by what had happened, Rosalie's father. She had heard him, when Anna lay on the bed, and he crouched beside her, crying out loud, "I hated my lot! O God, I was blind to this my child that shared my lot!"
Well, there was that Rosalie in the pew beside Hilda, and while she waited for her father to begin (ever and ever so long he was upon his knees at the altar, his back to them) while she waited she turned back the leaves of her prayer book from the burial service and noticed with a curious interest the correctness of the order in which the special services came. There, in its order, was the complete record of life. Rosalie must have had an imagination and she must have had budding then what was a strong characteristic of her afterwards,—a very orderly mind. She appreciated the correctness of the order of the services and she turned them over one by one and could imagine it, like a story: that record of a life. First the service of Baptism; you were born and baptised. Then the Catechism; you were a child and learnt your catechism. Then the Order of Confirmation; you were getting older and were confirmed. Then the marriage service; you were married. Then the Order for the Visitation of the Sick: you were growing old and you were ill. Then the Burial Service; you died. Born, brought up, growing up, married, ill, dead. Yes, it was like a story. Rosalie turned on. The next service was called The Churching of Women. It was new to Rosalie. She had never noticed it before. "Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of His goodness to give you safe deliverance..." Rosalie had heard the word deliverance used in the Bible in connection with death. She thought this must be a service special to the burial of a woman—of Anna. She read the small print. "The woman at the usual time after her delivery shall come into the church decently apparelled...." Decently apparelled? Anna was in one of those nightgowns in which Rosalie so often had seen her praying. "... and there shall kneel down in some convenient place." Kneel down? How could she?...
There came upon the book while Rosalie pondered it the long, black-gloved forefinger of Hilda. It turned back the thin leaves to the burial service and then pushed over one or two of the thin leaves and indicated certain places. Then Hilda's new black hat was touching her own new black hat, and Hilda whispered, "Where it says 'brother' and 'his' father will say 'sister' and 'her.' It's written for men, do you see?"
Always for men! Even in the prayer book!
And it was because of men that Anna had drowned herself in the pond. Over and over again Rosalie had thought of that, wondering upon it, shuddering at the thought of men because of it. How she came to know that Anna had not died as ordinary people die, but had drowned herself in the pond she never could remember. No one told her. Rosalie was twelve then but the others were all so much older, and were so accustomed to treating Rosalie as so very much younger, that the pain and mystery of poor Anna's death was outstandingly of the class of things that were kept within the established wheel of the rectory by "Not in front of Rosalie," or "Hush, here's Rosalie."
The effect was that when Rosalie somehow found out, she felt it to be a guilty knowledge. She was not supposed to know and she felt she ought not to have known. And sharing, but secretly, the others' knowledge that Anna had drowned herself in the pond, she supposed that they equally shared with her her knowledge of why poor Anna had drowned herself in the pond—because of men. She overheard many conversations that assured her in this belief. "Some man we knew nothing about," the conversation used to say. "What else could it have been? Hush, here's Rosalie." And again, after they had all been out of the house to attend what was called the inquest, "You heard what the coroner said—that there was almost invariably something to do with a man in these cases. Poor Anna! Poor darling Anna. If she had only told us. What else could it have been? Harold, hush! Not in front of Rosalie!"
Of course it was nothing else. It was that. It was men. Anna had said so. "I hate men. I hate them." Yes, men had done this to Anna.
Her mind went violently, as it were with a violent clutch of both her hands, as of one in horrible dark, clutching at means of light, to the thought that next week she was to be away at school—to be right away and in the safe middle of lots and lots of girls, and only girls. She had a frightening, a shuddering, at the thought of men who caused these terrible things to be done, who mysteriously and horribly somehow had done this thing to Anna.
The long, black finger poked at the page again. "There. 'This our brother.' Father will say 'This our sister.' Do you see, Rosalie? This our sister."
A shower of tears sprang out of Rosalie's eyes and pattered upon the page.
She wiped them. She set her teeth. A new and most awful concern possessed her. 'This our sister.' Would father remember? When he came to brother would he remember to say sister? And when 'his' would he remember to say 'her?' She searched for the places. A most frightful agitation seized her that father would forget. What would happen if he forgot?
And at the very first place father did forget!
They were come from the church to the grave. They were grouped about that most terrible and frightening pit. Rosalie was clutching her mother's dear hand, and in her other hand held her prayer book. There it was, the first place for the change. Brokenly her father's voice came out upon the air, and at his very first word—the fatal word—Rosalie caught her breath in sharp and agonized dismay.
"Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live and is full of misery...."
She called out—she could not help it—"Father!"
Her mother's hand, squeezing hers, restrained her.
The broken voice went on "... cometh up and is cut down like a flower."
She heaved relief. No one had noticed it. It was all right. No one else had heard the terrible mistake. It was all right. But it was very wrong. Above all other places this was the place that should have been changed. Woman... that is full of misery. How could it ever be Man? Anna, in almost her last words, had said it. "It is hard for women" and that God knew it was hard for them—"O God, thou knowest how hard it is for women."
In the next week she went away to school.
PART TWO—HOUSE OF WOMEN
What anybody can have nobody wants; but what only one person can have there's a queue to get.
This is an elementary principle of the frailty of human nature, and knowledge of it, and experience of its mighty truth, used to cause, during the three holiday periods of the year, a standing advertisement to appear on the front page of the Morning Post.
"High-class Ladies' School for the Daughters of Gentlemen of the Professions has UNEXPECTED VACANCY for ONE ONLY pupil at reduced terms—Mrs. Impact, Oakwood House School, St. John's Wood, London."
ONE ONLY pupil! That was the magic touch.
The very first words addressed to Rosalie by a fellow boarder at Oakwood House were from a short, sharp-featured girl of her own age, which then was twelve, who said to her sharply, "You're a One Only. I can see you are. Aren't you a One Only?"
"Well, I'm by myself," said Rosalie, not understanding but most anxious to say the right thing.
"Stupid, you're not," said the sharp girl, "because I'm with you. Did your mother see the advertisement in the Morning Post? The advertisement of this school?"
It happened that Rosalie knew her mother had seen it for Aunt Belle had shown it to her and to them all. "One of the very best schools," Aunt Belle had said. "You see, it's only quite by chance there was a vacancy."
"Yes, she did," said Rosalie.
"She's the cat's grandmother," said the sharp girl. "Never say 'she' for a person's name. Well, if your mother saw the advertisement then you are a One Only at reduced terms, and I knew you were directly I saw you. Now, tell me. Don't blink—unless of course you're an idiot; all idiots blink. Tell me. Was that dress made for you or was it cut down?"
"It was my cousin Laetitia's," said Rosalie.
"Of course it was," returned the sharp girl very triumphantly. "Every One Only's clothes are cut down for her. Poopers! Do you know what a pooper is? A pooper is half a poop and half a pauper. Every One Only's a pooper. Well, now you know what you are. You see that girl over there. Do you know what she is?"
Rosalie said she did not.
"She's a Red Indian."
"Is she?" said Rosalie, much surprised, for the girl did not look in the least like a Red Indian.
"Ask her," said the sharp girl. "Do you know what I am?"
Rosalie shook her head.
"Answer," said the sharp girl.
"No, I don't," said Rosalie.
"I'm a Sultan," said the sharp girl. "All the nice girls are Sultans and the school belongs to them. Do I look nice?"
"Very," said Rosalie, though she did not think so.
"Then why didn't you know I was a Sultan? The school belongs to the Sultans. The One Onlys and the Red Indians are interlopers, especially the One Onlys. Always shudder when you see a Sultan. Shudder now."
Rosalie wriggled her shoulders.
Rosalie repeated the wriggle.
"Vanish, poop," said the sharp girl, and herself sprung away with mysterious crouching bounds, her head thrust forward, looking very like Gagool, the witch, in King Solomon's Mines; and was seen by Rosalie to pounce upon another small girl who was probably a One Only and, from her forlorn aspect, certainly a sad and desolated new.
One Onlys, Red Indians, Sultans. They were the three castes into which the girls divided themselves: One Onlys the poopers brought by the advertisement; Red Indians the daughters of parents resident in India; Sultans the proud creatures who paid full fees and took their title from the nickname of the headmistress—the Sultana. This Oakwood House School in which Rosalie now found herself was one of those very big old houses with a spacious, walled-in garden that probably was occupied in the Fifties somewhere, when St. John's Wood was out in the country, by a wealthy old City merchant who rode in to business two or three times a week, never dreaming that one day London was going to stretch miles beyond St. John's Wood, and his imposing residence go dropping down the scale of fashion eventually to become a school for young ladies who on their crocodile walks would huddle, giggling, along the kerbstone while the dangerous traffic roared up and down the Maida Vale highway.
Those crocodiles! There was a news agent's shop just opposite where the crocodile used to cross when it went out every morning, and one of the great excitements of the walk was to get around the corner and see what the newspaper bills had to tell. There were about forty girls at the school—a crocodile twenty files long—and on the days of sensational events the news from the placards used to come flashing back in emotional little screams from the head of the crocodile, gazing with goggling eyes, to the tail of the crocodile pressing deliriously up behind. "The Maybrick Case"; "Jack the Ripper Again"; "Death of the Duke of Clarence"; "Loss of H.M.S. Victoria"; Rosalie never afterwards could hear those terrific things referred to without recalling instantly the convulsions of the crocodile and experiencing within her own bosom the tumults that contributed their share to the convulsions. She was in the writhing tail of the crocodile when "Jack the Ripper Again" caused it almost to swoon, and she was in its weeping head when "Death of the Duke of Clarence" and "Loss of H.M.S. Victoria" struck its orderly coils into a tangled and hysterical knot.
Mrs. Impact, who kept this school, was a massive and frightening figure of doom who wore always upon her head, and was suspected of sleeping in, a strange erection having the appearance of a straw beehive. She was called the Sultana and her appearance and her habits seemed to Rosalie precisely the appearance and habits that would belong to a sultana. The Sultana appeared virtually never among the girls. The direction of the discipline and education of the pupils was in the hands of the chief of the Sultana's staff of badly paid and much intimidated mistresses. This chief of staff, by name Miss Ough, but called the Vizier, appeared from and disappeared into the quarters occupied by the Sultana, and was popularly supposed to be kept there in a dungeon. If you were near the door through which the Vizier passed from public gaze there was unquestionably to be heard shortly afterwards a metallic clank. This was the portal of the Vizier's dungeon being closed upon her and was very shuddering to hear. The Vizier, moreover, like one long incarcerated, was skeletonized of form, cadaverous and sallow of countenance, and grew upon her face, as all right prisoners in royal custody grow, a thick covering of greyish down.
A second known inhabitant of the Sultana's quarters was Mr. Ponders, her butler, who sometimes slid into the classrooms in a very eerie way with messages and whom Rosalie came to know strangely well; a third, but he did not exactly live in the awful regions, was the Sultana's husband. The Sultana's husband lived in two rooms over the stable. From the front classroom windows he was to be seen every morning disappearing through the front gates at about eleven o'clock; very shiny top hat; very tight tail coat; very tight grey trousers; very tight yellow gloves; very tight grey-yellow moustache; very tight pasty face; curiously constricted, jerky gait as though his boots, too, were very tight. Precisely the sort of chronic, half-tipsy hanger-on one used to see in billiard rooms or eating cloves in West End bars. By association of ideas with the orientalism of Sultana he was called by the girls the Bashibazook.
Junior to Miss Ough, the vizier, were four or five other mistresses, all known by nicknames. Children are exactly like savages in their horrible sharpness at picking out physical peculiarities and labelling by them. One would imagine these governesses, judged by their nicknames, a deplorable collection of oddities. Actually they must have been a presentable enough and a capable enough set of spinsters, though sicklied o'er by the pale cast of indifferent personalities, indifferently housed, indifferently fed, indifferently paid; all anaemic, all without any prospects whatsoever, all dominated by and domineered over by the masterful personality of the Sultana.
Only one of them contributed to the life of Rosalie and this was "Keggo," Miss Keggs, who taught mathematics. This Keggo was rather like Anna in appearance, Rosalie thought, and was most popular of all the mistresses with the girls, partly because of her bright moments in which she was a human creature and an entertaining creature; partly because of her curiously supine periods in which she would be utterly listless, allow her class to do anything they liked provided they kept perfectly quiet, and would make no attempt whatsoever to correct idleness or to impart the lesson of the hour. Miss Keggs had been known to knock over the inkpot on her desk and sit and watch the ink dripping in a pool on to the floor without making the least attempt even to upstand the vessel. No one knew why Keggo had these moods. But it was known that for her to come into class looking rather flushed was a sign foreshadowing them.
She appeared to take a fancy to Rosalie from the first, and Rosalie to her, probably by reason of the fancied resemblance to Anna. She invited Rosalie to her room and Rosalie loved to go there because the One Onlys were in a very weak and humble minority in Rosalie's first term and were rather hunted by the Sultans who were then particularly strong in numbers and rich in apparel, in pocket money, and in friends. The poor little One Onlys led rather abashed lives and they had no chance at all around the playroom fire where the Sultans stretched their elegant legs and warmed their shapely toes.
One evening in her first few weeks Rosalie had to take an exercise up to Miss Keggs, and Miss Keggs's room was warm, and Miss Keggs like Anna, and Rosalie lingered and was invited to linger; after that Rosalie sought and invented reasons for going up to Miss Keggs's room and Miss Keggs would nearly always say, "Well, you may stay a little, Rosalie, as you're here."
Miss Keggs's room was right at the top of the house where were also the servants' room and the room shared by Miss Downer and Miss Frost. It was a long, narrow room with sloping ceiling and the window high up in the ceiling. In the winter it was warmed with a small oil stove which smelt terribly when you first went in but to the smell of which you almost at once got accustomed. It was curious to Rosalie that even in summer when there was no oil stove there was nearly always a very strong smell in Miss Keggs's room. Miss Keggs used eau de Cologne for bathing her forehead and temples on account of the very bad headaches from which she said she suffered and the smell was like eau de Cologne but with an unpleasantly harsh strong tang in it, like bad eau de Cologne, Rosalie used to think. However, you almost at once got accustomed to that also. These headaches of Miss Keggs were a symptom of the very bad health from which she suffered, and on the occasions of Rosalie's visits to her room Miss Keggs was very communicative about her ill health. It was the reason, she told Rosalie, why, alone of all the mistresses, she had a room to herself instead of sharing one. The Sultana had granted her that privilege, provided she would use this remote and rather poky attic, because it was so essential she should be quiet and undisturbed.
"Don't you have any medicine, Miss Keggs?" said the small Rosalie, in one part genuinely sympathetic and in the other eager to discuss anything that would prolong her stay by the warm oil stove.
"Nothing does me any good," said Miss Keggs wearily. After a minute she added, "But I really am feeling very bad to-night. Mr. Ponders very kindly gives me some medicine that relieves my bad attacks. I wonder, Rosalie, if you could find your way down to Mr. Ponders and give him this medicine bottle and ask him if he could very kindly oblige me with a little of my medicine?"
"Oh, I'm sure I could, Miss Keggs," cried Rosalie, delighted at the opportunity of doing a service.
Miss Keggs became extraordinarily animated with the feverish animation of one who, having made up her mind after hesitation, furiously tramples hesitation under foot.
"Go right downstairs," directed Miss Keggs, "right down below the hall into the basement. You know the basement stairs?" She proceeded with her directions, detailing them most exactly. She accompanied Rosalie to the door and when Rosalie was a little down the passage sharply called her back. "And, Rosalie! If you should meet any one—if you should meet any one, on no account say where you are going or where you have been. On no account. If it should be known how ill I continue to be, I might be sent away. They might think I am not strong enough to continue my work here. Say you have lost your way if you should be met. You are a new little girl and it is easy to lose your way in this big, rambling house. Keep the bottle in your pocket and remember, Rosalie, on no account to tell. On no account." And so dismissed her.
A creepy business, going down to interview Mr. Ponders! The Sultana's butler was only seen by the girls on momentous and thrilling occasions. He opened the hall door when new little girls arrived with their mothers, and he would sometimes appear in a classroom and walk thrillingly to the mistress and thrillingly whisper. This always meant that for some fortunate girl a parent or an aunt had arrived and that the presence of the fortunate girl was desired by the Sultana. He was a shortish, dingy man with a considerable moustache. As he walked between the desks to deliver his message, his eyes were always glancing from side to side as though furtively in search of something, and always as he left the room he would stand a moment with his hand on the door as though meditating some statement and then suddenly de-termining to disappear without making it. A rather mysterious and thrilling man.
Come into the basement, Rosalie walked as bid along the passage, then to the right and then past two doors to the third, whereon she tapped gently, and when a man's voice said "Come in," quaked rather, and went in. The walls of Mr. Ponders' room were completely surrounded by narrow shelves. Beneath the shelves were the closed doors of low cupboards and on the shelves were ranged many glasses, china and silverware. At one end beneath the window was a sink with two taps, both dripping. On the right-hand side was a fire before which in a wicker armchair sat Mr. Ponders smoking a pipe and reading a newspaper.
"What do you want?" inquired Mr. Ponders.
Rosalie said, "If you please, Mr. Ponders, Miss Keggs is not feeling at all well and would you be so very kind as to give her some of her medicine, please?"
Mr. Ponders rose and regarded Rosalie from the hearthrug. "So it's going to be you coming for the medicine now, is it?" he said. He looked rather a mean little man, standing there; not thrilling as when he appeared in the schoolrooms for there was an unpleasing familiarity in his air, but still decidedly mysterious, for though he smiled and looked snakily at Rosalie, he still glanced from side to side as though furtively looking for something and he still, before committing himself to an action, paused as though meditating a statement and then suddenly performed the action as though he had made up his mind not to speak—yet.
"You're Rosalie, aren't you?" inquired Ponders, putting his hands in his pockets and stretching out his stomach like one much at his ease. "Rosalie Aubyn. You come with your Auntie. What's your Pa?"
"A clergyman, Mr. Ponders."
"Oh, he's a clergyman, is he?" Mr. Ponders's eyes slid from side to side, rather as if he had somewhere in the room some confirmation or some refutation of Rosalie's statement that he could produce if he could catch sight of it, and continued thus to slide with the same suggestion while he playfully put Rosalie through a further examination relative to her "Auntie," her "Ma" and her brothers and sisters. He appeared then to be meditating a question of some other order but instead suddenly straightened himself, withdrew his hands from his pockets and said, "Well, you'd better be running along with the medicine."
He took from Rosalie the bottle Miss Keggs had given her and from his pockets a bunch of keys. In the lock of one of his cupboards he fitted a key, paused a meditative moment, then with a decisive action opened the cupboard and from a tall black bottle very carefully and steadily filled the medicine bottle. The medicine was dark red. It first ran in a fine dark red cloud around the inner shoulders and sides of the bottle and then plunged in a steady stream direct from the larger receptacle to the smaller.
Rosalie, watching, was moved to say, "How well you pour it, Mr. Ponders."
"I've poured a tidy drop in my time," said Mr. Ponders, completing the operation and corking the medicine bottle. He held it towards Rosalie, paused in his mysteriously deliberative way, and then suddenly handed it to her. "And a tidy fair drop for Miss Keggs at that," he added. He went to the door, again paused as though uncertain whether to open it, then opened it for Rosalie to pass out. "Good night," said Mr. Ponders.
Lucky Mr. Ponders to have for his own a cosy room like that—men, always for some reason, with the best of everything again! Unpleasing Mr. Ponders to look at you like that and to speak to you like that—men, always horrible again! Rosalie, thus thinking, made a swift and unobserved climb to the attics. Miss Keggs must have heard her coming. The door was pulled sharply from Rosalie's hand and there was Miss Keggs and the bottle almost snatched away from Rosalie. "How long you've been! But you've got it! And no one saw you?" Miss Keggs went very swiftly to the washstand and took up a small tumbler. Clear that she wanted her medicine very badly. She toppled in the contents of the bottle, its neck clinking against the glass, the dark red medicine splashing and some spilling, so differently from Mr. Ponders's performance of a far more difficult operation, and with the bottle still in her hand held the glass to her lips and drank deeply.
Yet there was a funny thing about the draught. It seemed to Rosalie that Miss Keggs with that eager draught yet did not swallow at once but only filled her mouth to its capacity. She then swallowed very slowly and with movements of her cheeks as though she was sucking down the medicine and tasting it in every portion of her mouth. Colour came into her cheeks. The medicine certainly appeared to do her immense good.
Miss Keggs's friendliness towards Rosalie was settled and established from that night. Thereafter it became a very regular thing for Rosalie to visit the room of Miss Keggs of an evening; and at intervals, sometimes twice a week, sometimes not three times in a month, to descend to the den of Mr. Ponders for the dark-red medicine which did Miss Keggs so much good and which she always took in that peculiar sucking way from a full mouth, one would be so long sometimes in swallowing a mouthful, beginning a sentence and then drinking and then all that time in swallowing before she completed the sentence, that she several times, by way of apology, ex-plained the reason to Rosalie. "I have to swallow it very slowly like that," explained Miss Keggs, "because that's the way for it to do me good. It's my doctor's orders."
"It seems a business," was Rosalie's comment.
"Yes, it is a business," Miss Keggs agreed.
Rosalie added, "How very lucky it is, Miss Keggs, that Mr. Ponders keeps your medicine."
"Yes, it's certainly very lucky," Miss Keggs agreed.
The effect of her medicine was always to make her very complaisant.
One seeks to give only the things in Rosalie's life that contributed to her record, as time judges a record. Of her years at Oakwood House, so far as Oakwood House itself is concerned, only that friendship with Miss Keggs thus contributed. The rest does not matter and may be passed. Rosalie was happy there. It naturally was all very strange at first but she soon shook down and found her place and formed friendships. The thing to notice is this—that even in the strangeness of her first few weeks the place was actively felt by her to be a haven. There is to be recalled that aching desire of hers, when poor Anna lay dead, to get right away from men: men who (though still pre-eminently wonderful) caused her by their showing off to blink and have a, funny feeling; and by their distasteful presence spoilt her walks and her lessons; and by the frightening things they did had brought that frightening death to Anna. Thus had accumulated that aching desire to get right away from men and be only amongst girls; and the feeling remained most lively in Rosalie at the Sultana's, and intensified. Those men! She used to see the Bashibazook and shudder at him; and Mr. Ponders and shudder at him; and sometimes Uncle Pyke, and because of ways he had, feel quite sick to be near him. Men still were wonderful. The Bashibazook, Mr. Ponders, Uncle Pyke, Uncle Pyke's friends—all were infinitely superior and did what they pleased; but, oh, not nice, frightening. It was safe and nice to be only with girls. Girls were in heaps of ways extraordinarily silly and unsatisfactory. Men though not nice, unquestionably did everything better and could do things. Unquestionably theirs was the best time in life. Unquestionably they were to be envied. But—not nice, frightening.
It was like that that her ideas at Oakwood House were shaping.
And all this time, most important and much contributory to the life of Rosalie—Aunt Belle. Tremendous occasions in those years were the visits to the Sultana's of Aunt Belle. Frequently on a Saturday, kind Aunt Belle used to call at Oakwood House for Rosalie and take her to a tea shop for tea. Beautiful cousin Laetitia would accompany her, and kind Aunt Belle would always invite Rosalie to bring with her another little One Only. Kind, kind Aunt Belle! Aunt Belle used to sit by in the tea shop, affectionate and loquacious as ever, while the two schoolgirls stuffed themselves with cakes (not beautiful Laetitia who just nicely sipped a cup of tea and nicely smiled at the two gross appetites) and always kind Aunt Belle brought a small hamper of sweets and cake and apples—"The very best goodies from the Army and Navy Stores, dear child. They know us so well at the Army and Navy Stores. Your Uncle Pyke has a standing deposit account there. We can go in without a penny in our pockets and buy anything we please. Fancy that, dear child!" And always half a crown for Rosalie, as kind Aunt Belle was leaving.
Once in every term, also, Rosalie spent a week-end at the magnificent house in Pilchester Square. Such luxuries! Fire in her bedroom and palatial late dinner! Breakfast in bed on Sunday morning ("Just to let you lie as a little change from school, dear child.") and Laetitia's maid to do her hair! Rosalie immensely im-pressed and Aunt Belle immensely gratified at Rosalie's awe and appreciation and gratitude.
A curious manifestation there was of Aunt Belle's attitude in this regard. On that famous visit to the rectory she had treated every one like children. Here, in her own house, while Rosalie was still a child, twelve, thirteen and fourteen, she was treated by Aunt Belle and shown off to by her much as if she were a grown-up woman. About her servants, and about prices, and about dress, and about her dinner parties, Aunt Belle chattered to Rosalie; and about Uncle Pyke, what he liked, and what he didn't like, and what he did in the City, and what he did at his club, and about her hosts of friends and their matrimonial experiences, Aunt Belle chattered to her, confiding in her and telling her all kinds of things she but dimly understood precisely as if she were a grown-up young woman.
Then as Rosalie grew older, sixteen, seventeen and getting on for eighteen, was reversion by Aunt Belle to the rectory manner. The child had been treated as a young woman; the budding maiden was treated precisely as if she were a small child or a small savage to be entertained by mere sight of the wonders all about her in Pilchester Square and by having them explained to her in words of one syllable.
"There, Rosalie," (Rosalie at seventeen) "do you know you're eating with a solid silver spoon! Feel the weight of it! Balance it in your hand, dear child. We usually only use this service for our dinner parties and your uncle Pyke keeps it locked up and carries the key about with him. Show Rosalie the key, Pyke. But I got it out for you to-day because I knew you would like to see real solid silver plate. Dear child!"
Dear thing! Lightly on her, you Brompton Cemetery stones!
Uncle Pyke never would produce the key or whatever he might be asked to show. Uncle Pyke would grunt and go on with his soup with enormous noise as though having a bath in it. Uncle Pyke never spoke at all to Rosalie on these week-end visits except, always, to put her through examination on what she was learning at school. Rosalie, though horribly frightened of Uncle Pyke, always had pretty ready answers to the examination—she did uncommonly well at school—but there never was from Uncle Pyke any other mark of appreciation than a grunt. A grunt! Those Pyke-ish, piggish men! The outstanding characteristic Rosalie came to see in Uncle Pyke and in the other husbands (his cronies) of Aunt Belle's friends was that they thought about nothing else but their food, their wine and their cigars. They disliked having about them anybody who interfered with their enjoyment of their food, their wine and their cigars. They were affectionately regarded by their wives as tame, necessary bears to be fed and warmed and used to sit at the head of the table and awe the servants. That was what Rosalie saw in them—and shuddered at in them. Hogs!
Cousin Laetitia all this time was living at home, attending a very exclusive and expensive day school. Only twelve girls at beautiful Laetitia's school and more masters and mistresses than pupils—mostly "visiting" masters—Italian, French, painting, singing, music, dancing. Laetitia was about two years older than Rosalie. Very pretty in an elegant, delicate fashion, and growing up decidedly beautiful in a sheltered, hothouse, Rossetti type of beauty. Always very affectionate to Rosalie and glad to see her; not patronising in the way she might have been patronising and yet, as the two grew older, patronising in a conscious effort to dissemble a conscious superiority.
Rosalie never could remember how early in their acquaintance it was she first understood that the great aim of Laetitia's life, and the great aim of Aunt Belle's life for Laetitia, was to "make a good match"; but she seemed to have known it ever since she first heard of Laetitia, certainly at a point of her childhood when too young exactly to understand what "good match" meant. Later on, when Laetitia had left school and was within sight of putting up her hair, "good match" was openly spoken of by Aunt Belle in her crowded drawing-room or alone in company of the two girls and Uncle Pyke.
"And soon dear Laetitia will be making a good match, a splendid match"; and beautiful Laetitia would faintly colour and faintly smile.
There began to come to Rosalie, growing older, an acute and an odd feeling of the physical and mental difference between herself and beautiful Laetitia—a feeling in Laetitia's company that she was a boy, a young man, in the company of one most pronouncedly a young woman. Rosalie was always very plainly dressed by comparison with Laetitia; her voice was much clearer and sharper, her air very vigorous against an air very langorous. Her hands used to feel extraordinarily big when she sat with Laetitia and her wrists extraordinarily bare. She would glance down at her lap sometimes and could have felt a sense of surprise not to see trousers on her legs.
That was how, as they grew older, Rosalie often felt with Laetitia.
Her last term came. She was nearly eighteen. She was going to earn her own living. That was decided. Exactly how was not decided; but Rosalie had decided it. There was an idea that she should remain at the Sultana's as a junior teacher, but that was not Rosalie's idea.
"Oh, don't be a schoolmistress, Rosalie," Keggo had said when Rosalie told of the suggestion (propounded, through the Sultana, by Miss Ough and warmly endorsed by Aunt Belle and grunted upon by Uncle Pyke). "Oh, Rosalie, don't be one of us. Don't you see how we are just drifting, drifting? Don't do anything where you'll just drift, Rosalie."
"No, I'm not going to drift, Keggo," said Rosalie. (Miss Keggs, in the little room, had been "Keggo" a long time then.) "I'm not going to drift. I'm going to have a man's career. I'm going into business! Keggo, that's the mystery of that book I'm always reading that you're always asking me about: 'Lombard Street'—Bagehot's 'Lombard Street.' Oh, Keggo, thrilling."
She began to tell Keggo her stupendous enterprise....
There is in the study of man nothing more curious or more interesting than the natural bent of an individual mind. An arrow shot to the north and another from the same bow to the south spring not apart more swiftly or more opposedly than the minds of two children brought up from one mother in the same nursery. The natural bent of each impels it. Art this one, science that; to Joe adventure, to Tom a bookish habit. Rosalie's natural bent declared itself in "figures"; in the operations, as she discovered them, of commerce; in the mysterious powers, as they appealed to her, developed in countinghouses and exerted by countinghouses. The romance of commerce! A mind double-edged, with inquisitiveness the one edge and acquisitiveness the other (as certainly Rosalie's) is a sword double-edged that will cut through the tough shell and into the lively heart of anything. No more is required than to give the young mind a glimpse of the lively heart that is there. Rosalie's young mind was already beating with half-fledged wings against the shell about that side of life wherein, in her experience, (of her brothers, of Uncle Pyke, of Uncle Pyke's friends) men did the things that earned them livelihood and gave them independence. Along, by happy chance, buried in dust in the rectory study and found one holiday, came "Lombard Street" and Bagehot, and that was the book and Bagehot was the man to give pinions to those fledgling wings. She saw romance, and thrusted for it, in the business of countinghouses. It was fascinating to her beyond anything the discovery that money was not, as she had always supposed, a thing that you took with one hand and paid away, and lost, with the other. Not at all! It was a thing that, properly handled, you never lost. Enthralling! Thrilling! You invested it and it returned to you; you expended it and propped it up with fascinating things called sinking funds, and, although you had spent it, there it was coming back to you again! It was the most mysterious and wonderful commodity in the world. She got hold of that and she went on from that.
The romance of business! That ships should go out across the seas with one cargo and sell it, not, in effect, for money, but for another and an entirely different cargo; that cheques passing between countries, and cheques circulating about the United Kingdom, should be traded off one against the other in magic conjuring palaces called Clearing Houses with the result that thousands of little streams merged into few great rivers and only differences need be paid; that money (heart and driving-force of all the mysteries) should have within itself the mysterious and astounding quality of ceaselessly reduplicating itself—"the only thing in the world," as Rosalie quaintly put it to Miss Keggs—"the only thing m the world that people, business people, will take care of for you without charging you for storage or for trouble"—that these mysterious and extraordinary things should be thrilled Rosalie as the mysterious and extraordinary things of science or of nature or the mysterious and beautiful things of art or of literature or of music will thrill another.
That natural bent of her mind! That Bagehot that ministered to her natural bent! Fascinated by Banks, fascinated by the Exchange, fascinated by the Pool of London, where, obedient to the behests of the counting-houses, floated the wealth that the countinghouses made, fascinated by these was Rosalie as maidens of her years commonly are fascinated by palaces, by the Tower and by the Abbey. Remember, it is not what their eyes see that fascinates these romantic young misses. A dolt can see the Tower walls and see no more than crumbling bricks and stone. It is what their minds see that fascinates the ardent creatures. Well, Rosalie's mind saw strange romance in countinghouses.
And then must be picked up—and were with time picked up—others of the magic man's enchantments. "Literary Studies," but she passed over that, the burning subject was not there. "Economic Studies"; it much was there. "International Coinage." She read that! It approached the subject of a Universal Money and her thought was, "Why, what a splendid idea to have one coinage that would go everywhere!" And then, opening a new field, and yet a connected field and a field profoundly engrossing to her, "The English Constitution." How laws came; how laws worked; the mysteriousness (her word) within the Council chambers that produced governance as the mysteriousness within the countinghouses produced wealth! The mysterious quality within precedent and necessity and change that reproduced itself in laws as the mysterious quality within money caused money to reproduce itself in wealth; the romance of governance.
It was like that that her interests were shaping.
It was very easy, it was utterly delightful, to tell all this to Keggo. It was not at all easy, it was very terrible, to tell it before Uncle Pyke. It was appalling, it was terrific, to break to the house in Notting Hill that she desired to earn her living, not as a teacher, but in business—like men.
It was at dinner at the glittering table in the splendid dining-room of the magnificent house in Notting Hill, Rosalie there on the half-term week-end of her last term, that the frightful thing was done. At dinner: Uncle Pyke Pounce bathing in his soup; beautiful Laetitia elegantly toying with hers; Aunt Belle beaming over her solid silver spoon at Rosalie. "Try that soup, dear child. It's delicious. My cook makes such delicious soups. Lady Houldsworth Hopper—Sir Humbo Houldsworth Hopper, you know he's in the India Office, you must have heard of him—was dining with us last week and said she had never tasted such delicious soup. It was the same as this. I asked cook specially to make it for you. Now next term, when you are one of the mistresses at Oakwood House and living at their table and you have soup, you'll be able to say—for you must speak up when you are with them, dear child, and not be shy—you'll be able to tell them what delicious soup you always get at your Uncle Colonel Pyke Pounce's. Be sure to mention your Uncle by name, Colonel Pyke Pounce, R.E., not just 'my uncle,' and that he was a great deal in India where he was entirely responsible for the laying of the Puttapong Railway and received an illuminated address from the Rajah of Puttapongpoo, such a fine old fellow, not being allowed of course to take a present, which you have seen many times hanging in his study in his fine house in Pilchester Square, Notting Hill (some of them are sure to have heard of Pilchester Square, though never visited there, of course); your uncle will show you the address again after dinner; that will be nice, won't it, dear? Won't you, Pyke?"
(F-r-r-r-r-r-rup! from the splendid holder of the illuminated address from the Rajah of Puttapongpoo, bathing in his soup.)
"Be sure to speak up for yourself like that, dear child, and let them know who you are and that though you are poor and have to earn your living, you have wealthy relations (though of course we are only comfortably off and do not pretend to be rich) and are not at all like ordinary governesses. Be sure to, dear. There; now you've finished that soup and wasn't it delicious, just? You will have another helping, I know you will. A second helping of soup is not usual, dear, and Laetitia or any one at any of our parties would never take it, but it's quite different for you, and I do love to see you enjoy the nice food I get for you. More soup for Miss Aubyn, Parker."
Now for it!
"Aunt, I won't have any more soup. I won't really. It was delicious. Delicious, but really no more. Really. Aunt.... About the governesses there and being one of them. I wanted to say... Aunt, I don't want to be a pupil-teacher. Aunt..."
Fr-r-r-r-rup! Frr-r-roosh! Woosh! Fr-r-r-roosh!
It is the holder of the illuminated address from the Rajah of Puttapongpoo most terribly and fear-strikingly struggling up out of his soup. "Don't want to be a pupil teacher? Wat d'ye mean? Wat d'ye mean?"
"Why, Rosalie, darling!" It is the exquisitely beautiful daughter of the holder of the illuminated address from the Rajah of Puttapongpoo.
"Never mind them, Rosalie. The dear child! Why, how crimson she is. Let the dear child speak. What is it, dear child?" It is kind Aunt Belle.
"Aunt Belle. Aunt Belle, I don't want to earn my living like that. I want to earn it like—like a man. I want to—well, it's hard to explain—to go to an office like a man—and have my pay every week, like a man—and have a chance to get on like men, like a man. I want to go into the City if I possibly could, or start in some way like going into the City. I know it sounds awful—telling it to you—but girls are doing it, a few. They're just secretaries and clerks, of course. They're just nothing, of course. But, oh, it's something, and I do want it so. To have office hours and a—a desk—and a—an employer and be—be like men. I don't mean, I don't mean a bit, imitate men like all that talk there is now about imitating men. I hate women in stiff collars and shirts and ties and mannishness like that; and indeed I hate—I dislike men—I can't stand them, not in that way, if you understand what I mean—"
"Oh, Laetitia, oh, Aunt Belle, I'm only saying that to show I don't mean I want to be—. It is so fearfully difficult to explain, this. But Aunt, you do see what I am trying to mean. It's just a man's work that I mean because I'd love it and because I don't see why—. And it's just that particular kind of work—in the City. Because I believe, I do believe, I would be sharp and good at that work. Figures and things. I love that. I'm quick at that, very quick. And I've read heaps about it—about business I mean—about—"
Uncle Pyke Pounce. Uncle Pyke Pounce, holding his breath because he is holding his exasperation as one holds one's breath in performance of a delicate task. Uncle Pyke Pounce crimson, purply blotched, infuriated, kept from his food, blowing up at last at the parlour-maid: "Bring in the next course! Bring in the next course! Watyer staring at? Watyer waiting for? Watyer listening to? Rubbish. Pack of rubbish."
The parlour-maid flies out on the gust of the explosion. Rosalie finishes her sentence while the gust inflates again.
"Read heaps about it—about business—about trade and finance and that. It fascinates me."
The gust explodes at her.
"Wat d'yer mean read about it? Read about what?"
"Uncle, about money, about finance and things. I know it's extraordinary I should like such things. But I do. I can't tell why. It's like—like a romance to me, all about money and how it is made and managed. There's a book I found in father's study at home. 'Lombard Street' by Bagehot. That's all about it, isn't it? I can't tell you how I have read it and reread it."
"Never heard of it. 'Lombard Street?' Bagehot? Who's Bagehot?"
"I think he was a banker, Uncle."
"I think he was a fool!"
It comes out of the red and swollen face of the holder of the illuminated address from the Rajah of Puttapongpoo like a plum-stone spat at her across the table. Rosalie blinked. These beastly men! Violent, vulgar, fat, rude beasts! Uncle Pyke the worst of them! But she came back bravely from her flinch. "If he wasn't a banker, he knew all about banking. Oh, that's what I would be more than anything—that's what I do want to be—a banker—in a bank!"
The holder of the illuminated address from the Rajah of Puttapongpoo as if, having expectorated the plum-stone, he desired to expectorate also the taste thereof, spat out an obscene sound of contempt and disgust. "Fah! I say the man, whoever he was, was a fool. And I say this, Miss. I don't often speak sharply, but I say that I think I know another fool—a little fool—at this table. Pah! Enough of it! What's this? Trout?"
Aunt Belle to the rescue! If Uncle Pyke and Aunt Belle had kept house in Seven Dials instead of Notting Hill, Uncle Pyke would have beaten Aunt Belle and Aunt Belle would have taken the blows without flinching and then have wheedled Uncle Pyke with drops of gin. As it was, Uncle Pyke was merely boorish or torpidly savage towards Aunt Belle and Aunt Belle's way with him—as with all combative men—was to rally him with a kind of boisterous chaff and to discharge it at him as an urchin with an armful of snowballs fearfully discharges them at an old gentleman in a silk hat: backing away, that is to say, before an advance and advancing before a retreat. Uncle Pyke usually retreated, either to eat or sleep.
Aunt Belle had blinked, as Rosalie had blinked, at that horrible epithet "Little fool!" across the table. The lips that uttered it were immediately stuffed with trout and Aunt Belle immediately rushed in in her rallying way to the rescue. "Why, you great, big stupid Uncle Pyke!" cried Aunt Belle vivaciously. "It's you who don't know what you're talking about, you unkind old thing, you. Why, many, many girls, quite nice girls, are going into business now and being secretaries and things and doing very, very well indeed. Why, I declare it would do you good to have a lady secretary yourself in that big, dusty office of yours in the City, never dusted from one year's end to another, I'm sure! Laetitia, wouldn't it do your father good, the cross, grumpy old thing? Give your master some more of the sauce, Parker. Isn't that trout delicate and nice, Pyke? Trout for a pike! And I'm sure very like a nasty, savage old pike the way you tried to gobble up poor Rosalie, the dear child. Now, Rosalie, dear child, I think that's a very, very good idea of yours to go into business. I think it's a splendid idea, and more and more quite nice girls will soon be doing it. Now we'll just see what we can do and we'll make that cross old uncle help and ask all his cross old friends in the City, just to punish him. A young Lady Clerk, or a young Lady Secretary! Now I think that's the very, very thing for you. Just the thing, and a dear, clever child to think of it. Yes!"
Kind, kind Aunt Belle! Victory through Aunt Belle! Accomplishment! A career like a man! Aunt Belle had said it and Aunt Belle would do it! A career like a man! Oh, ecstatic joy! "Lombard Street" had been brought with her in her week-end suitcase. Directly she could get to bed she rushed up to it and took it out and read, and read. It was all underlined. She underlined it more that happy, happy night!
Ah, never underline a book till you are forty. Never memorialise what you were, your lovely innocence, your generous heart, your ardent hopes, lest the memorial be found one day by what you have become. Rosalie, finding that "Lombard Street," unearthed from lumber, in long after years, turned over the pages and from the pages ghosts rushed up and filled the room, and filled the air, and filled her heart, and filled her eyes; and she rent the book across its perished binding and pushed it from her with both her hands on to the fire and on to the flames in the fire.
Incredibly soon, so stealthy swift is time, came this last term of Rosalie's at the Sultana's. Time does not play an open game. It's of the cloak and dagger sort. It stalks and pounces. Rosalie was astonished to think she was leaving; and now the time had come she was sorry to be going. Not very sorry; very excited; but having just enough regret to realise, on looking back, that she had been very happy at school and to realise, actively, happiness in this last term. One knows what it is. It's always like that. One always was happy; one so seldom is. Happiness to be realised needs faint perception of sadness as needs the egg the touch of salt to manifest its flavour. Flashes of entertainment may enliven the most wretched of us; but that's pleasure; that's not happiness. One comes to know the only true and ideal happiness is happiness tinctured with faintest, vaguest hint of tears. It is peace; and who knows peace that has not come to it through storm, or knoweth storm ahead, or in storm past hath not lost one that would have shared this peace?
So that girl's last term was (in her words) "tremendously jolly." She was just eighteen, and she was leaving, and responsive to this the harness of the school was drawn off her as at the paddock gate the headstall from a colt. She was out of lessons. She did some teaching of the younger girls. She was on terms with the mistresses. She had the run of Keggo's room.
Such talks in Keggo's room.... She was out from the cove of childhood; she was into the bay of youth; breasting towards the sea of womanhood (that sea that's sailed by stars and by no chart); and she was encountering tides that come to young mariners to perplex them and Keggo could talk about such things with the experience that so enraptures young mariners and of which young mariners are at the same time so confidently contemptuous, so superiorly sceptical. Nearer to press the simile, youth at the feet of experience is as one, experienced, climbing a mountain with the young thing panting behind. "Go on! Go on!" pants the growing young thing. "This is ripping. Go on. Show the way. But I don't want your hand. I can do it easily by myself—better." And one evening while Rosalie stumblingly explained, and eagerly received, and sceptically doubted, "But look here, Keggo," she cried, and stopped and blushed, abashed at her use of the nickname.
Miss Keggs laughed. "Don't mind, Rosalie. Call me Keggo. I like it. It's much more friendly. I'm very fond of you, Rosalie."
They were by the oil stove, Miss Keggs in her wicker armchair, Rosalie on the floor, her back propped against Miss Keggs's knees. One of Miss Keggs's hands was on Rosalie's shoulder and she moved it to touch the girl's face. "Are you fond of me, Rosalie?"
Rosalie turned towards her and spoke impulsively. "Oh, awfully—Keggo."
The woman stooped and kissed the growing young thing, hugging her strongly, pressing her lips upon the lips of Rosalie with a great intensity. "Oh, I shall be sorry when you go, Rosalie."
"We can still be friends, Keggo dear."
Miss Keggs shook her head. "Ships that pass in the night."
Miss Keggs smiled, a wintry smile. "O Rosalie!" she mimicked. She sighed. "Oh, my dear, it's true—true! Don't you remember how the lines go—
'Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing; Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness.'
Just remember that in a few years. You'll hail again perhaps. 'O Keggo!' Or I—it is more likely—wilt hail 'O Rosalie!' Just remember it then." Her hand came down to Rosalie and Rosalie took it. It was so cold; and on her face a strained and beaten look as though hand and face belonged to one that stood most chilled and storm-beat upon the bridge, peering through the storm. Her fingers made no motion responsive to Rosalie's warm touch. She said strangely, as though it was to herself she spoke, "Does it mean anything to you, Rosalie, a vision like that? Can you see a black and violent night and a ship going by full speed, and one labouring, and through the wind and the blackness a hail.—and gone, and the wreck left foundering?"
Ah, that most generous and quickly moved and loving-Rosalie—then! How she twisted to her knees and stretched her arms about that poor Keggo, sitting there—so drooped! How readily into her eyes her young and warm and ardent sympathies pressed the tears, their flowers! How warm her words? How warmly spoken! "O Keggo! Keggo, dear! Keggo, why do you talk like that? How can you? After all the kindness you've shown me, accusing me that I'll forget and not mind. Keggo, you shan't. You mustn't."
Then Keggo responded, catching her arms about Rosalie and straining Rosalie to her as though here was some cable to hold against the driving sea. "O Rosalie!"
And after a little Rosalie said, "You won't again say I ever shall forget, or hail and pass by. Oh, that was cruel, Keggo!"
Keggo was gently crying. "Natural. Natural."
"Unnatural. Horrible. And you? Why do you say such things about yourself? You didn't mean it? It's nothing? How can you ever be a wreck, foundering?"
Keggo dried her eyes and by her voice seemed to put those things right away. "No, nothing. Of course not. Darling girl, only this—you're young—young and so of course you are going by full sail as young things do. Full sail! O happy ship! Rosalie, go on telling. Go on asking. I love it, Rosalie."
She was always "Keggo" after that; and the things that Rosalie told and asked!
Such things! It is to be seen that now there were bursting into blossom out of bud within that Rosalie those seeds planted in her by the extraordinary ideas of her childhood. About men. First and always predominating, about men as compared with women—their wonder, their power, their importance, their infinite superiority; then about men in their relations with women—their rather grand and noisy ways that made Rosalie blink; their interfering presence that spoilt lessons and spoilt walks; those sinister attributes of theirs, arising somehow out of their freedom to do as they liked in the world, that somehow left the world very hard for women. Grotesque ideas, but masterful ideas, masterfully shaping the child mind wherein they germinated; burrowing in clutchy roots; pressing up in strong young saplings. Agreed the child is father of the man, but much more the girl is mother of the woman. It is the man's part to sow and ride away; conception is the woman's office and that which she receives she tends to cherish and incorporate within her. Of her body that function is her glory; of her mind it is her millstone. Man always rides away, a tent dweller and an Arab, with a horse and with the plains about him; woman is a dweller in a city with a wall, a house dweller, storing her possessions about her in her house, abiding with them, not to be sundered from them.
So with that Rosalie. Those childhood ideas of hers were grotesque ideas but she had received them into her house and they remained with her, shorn of their grotesqueness, as garish furniture may be upholstered in a new pattern, but tincturing her life as the appointments of a room will influence the mood of one that sits therein. Father owned the world—all males had proprietorship in the world under father—all men were worshipful and giants and genii. That was the established perception and those its earliest images. The perception remained, deepening, changing only in hue, as a viscid liquid solidifies and darkens in a vessel over the fire. It remained, persisted. Time but steadied the focus as the wise oculist, seeking for his patient the perfect image, drops lenses in the frame through which the vision chart is viewed. In a little the perfect image is found. There was that Rosalie, come to maidenhood, come to the dizzy edge of leaving school, with the perfect image of her persistent obsession; with the belief no longer that men were magicians having the world for their washpot and women for their footstool, but unquestionably that they "had a better time" than women and that they secured this "better time" by virtue of their independence.
"And, Keggo," (she is explaining it) "I'm going to be like that. I'm going to be what a man can be. Why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't a woman?" She paused and then went on. "Why, that's the thing that's been with me all my life, ever since I can remember. I've always known that men were the creatures. Always. Since I was so high. Oh, I used to have the most ridiculous ideas about them. You'd scream, Keggo. And I've always had the same attitude towards them—towards them as contrasted with women, I mean. First awe, then envy, then, since I've been growing up here, just as having a desirable position in life, as having the desirable position in life, independence, a career, work, freedom, a goal—yes, and a goal that's always and always a little bit in front of you, always something better. That's the thing. That's the thing, Keggo. Just look at the other side. Take a case in point. Take my painful cousin, Laetitia, sweet but in lots of ways very painful. What's her goal? A good match! A good match! Did you ever hear anything so futile and sickening? Sickening in itself, but I'll tell you what's really sickening about it—why, that she'll get it—get her goal and then it's done, over, finished, won. Settle down then and get fat. Oh, I don't want a goal I can win. I want a goal I can't win. One that's always just in front."
She suddenly realised the intensity of her voice and laughed and shook her head sideways and back. She had just recently put her hair up and it still felt funny and tight and the laugh and the shake eased away the tightness of voice and of hair. She said thoughtfully, "You know, I believe I'm rather like a man in many ways, in points of view. It's through always thinking them better, I daresay. The ideas I've had about them!" and she laughed again. She said slowly, "Though mind you, Keggo, they are better in many ways. They can get away from things. They don't stick about on one thing. And they're violent, not fussing. When they're angry they bawl and hit and it's over and they forget it. They don't just nag on and on. Oh, yes, they're better."
She extended her palms to the oil flame, and watching the X-ray-like effects of the light and shadow upon her fingers, she added indifferently, as one idly letting drop a remark requiring no comment, negligently with the voice of one saying "Tomorrow is Tuesday," or "It's mutton today,"—"Of course they're beasts," she added.
"Of course they're beasts." It was the adjusted image to which she had brought that other perception of men which, running parallel with the perception of their superior position, had permeated her childhood years.
She's left the school! She's living in the splendid house in Pilchester Square looking for a post!
She's found a post! She's private secretary to Mr. Simcox!
She's left the splendid house in Pilchester Square! She's living an independent life! She's going to Mr. Simcox's office, her office, every day, just like a man! She's living on her own salary in a boarding house in Bayswater!
What jumps! One clutches, as at flying papers in a whirlwind, at a stable moment in which to pin her down and describe her as she jumps. One can't. The thing's too breathless. It's a maelstrom. It's an earthquake. It's a deluge. It's a boiling pot. It's youth. What it must be to live it! One thing pouring on to another so that it's impossible anywhere to pick hold of a bit that isn't changing into something else even as it is examined. That's youth all over. Always and all the time all change. What it must be to live it!
What it must be! Why, when youth comes bursting out of tutelage there's not a stable thing beneath its feet nor above its head a sky that stays the same for two hours together! Every stride's a stepping-stone that tilts and throws you; every dawn a sudden midnight even while it breaks, and every night a blinding brilliance when it's darkest. New faces, new places, new dresses, new dishes; new foes, new friends; new tasks, new triumphs; never a pause, never a platform; every day a year and every year a day—not life on a firm round world but life in the heart of a whirling avalanche. How youth can live it! And all the time, all the time while poor, dear youth is hurtling through it, there's age, instead of streaming sympathy like oil upon those boiling waters, standing in slippered safety, in buttoned dignity, in obese repose, bawling at tumbling youth, "Why can't you settle down! Why can't you settle down! Why do you behave like that? Why can't you do as I do? Why can't you be like your wise and sober Uncle Forty? Or like your good and earnest Auntie Fifty? Why can't you behave like your pious grandmother? Why can't you imitate your noble grandfather? Oh, grrrr-r, why can't you, you impious, unnatural, ill-mannered, irresponsive, irresponsible exasperating young nuisance, you!" Is it any wonder poor youth bawls back, or feels and behaves like bawling back, "How to goodness can I behave like my infernal uncle or my maddening aunt when I'm whirling along head over heels in the middle of a roaring avalanche?"
Oh, poor youth, that all have lived but none remembers!
One clings, faut au mieux, to the intention to tell of her life only the things in her life that contributed to her record, as records are judged. There shall be enormous omissions. They shall be excused by vital insertions.
She shall be glimpsed, first, in the splendid house in Pilchester Square, in the desperate business that getting a place for a woman in a business house was when women were in business houses far more rare than are silk hats in the City in 1922. It was desperate. Uncle Pyke and Uncle Pyke's friends were the only channel of opportunity; and Uncle Pyke and Uncle Pyke's friends refused to be a channel of opportunity. They had never heard of such a thing and they desired to bathe in their soup and smack over their wine and not be troubled with such a thing.
Aunt Belle rallied them and baited them and told them they were "great big grumpy things"; and Aunt Belle, in her crowded drawing-room, loved talking about the search for work and did talk about it. "Has to earn her own living," Aunt Belle would chatter, "and is going into business! Oh, yes, ever so many girls who have to earn their own living are going into business now. She'll wear a nice tailormade coat and skirt and carry a little satchel and flick about on the tops of buses, in the City at nine and out again at six and a nice plain wholesome lunch with a glass of milk in a tea shop. Oh, it's wonderful what girls who have to earn their own living do nowadays. Quite right, you know. Quite right, (for them). Come over here, Rosalie. Come over here, dear child, and tell Mrs. Roodle-Hoops what you are going to do. The dear child!"
But nothing done.
Just that glimpse and then comes Mr. Simcox.
Mr. Simcox was first met by Rosalie while walking with Aunt Belle and beautiful cousin Laetitia in the Cromwell Road. He came along carrying a letter in his hand with the obvious air of one who will forget to post it if he puts it in his pocket and probably will forget to do so in any case. He was as obviously "a man of about fifty-six" that curiously precise figure, neither a ten nor a five, always used for men who look as Mr. Simcox looked and always continued to look while Rosalie knew him, and probably always had looked. Men of "about fifty-six"—one never says "about thirty-six" or "about sixty-six"; it would be "about thirty-five" or "about seventy"—men of "about fifty-six" are almost certainly born at that age and with that appearance and they seem to continue in it to their graves.
Mr. Simcox was like that, and was short and had two little bunchy grey whiskers, and wore always a pepper and salt jacket suit, unbuttoned, the pockets of which always bulged and the skirts of which, containing the pockets, always swayed and flapped. When he talked he was always talking—if that is understood—and when he was busy he was always frantically busy and looking at the clock or at his watch as if it were going to explode at a certain rapidly approaching hour and he must at all costs be through with what he was doing before it did explode. He talked in very rapid jerks, always seeming to be about to come to rest and then instantaneously bounding off again, rather like a man bounding along stepping-stones, red-hot stepping-stones that each time burnt his feet and set him flying off again.