A MODERN LOVE STORY
By H. G. Wells
CONTENTSCHAP. I. ANN VERONICA TALKS TO HER FATHER II. ANN VERONICA GATHERS POINTS OF VIEW III. THE MORNING OF THE CRISIS IV. THE CRISIS V. THE FLIGHT TO LONDON VI. EXPOSTULATIONS VII. IDEALS AND A REALITY VIII. BIOLOGY IX. DISCORDS X. THE SUFFRAGETTES XI. THOUGHTS IN PRISON XII. ANN VERONICA PUTS THINGS IN ORDER XIII. THE SAPPHIRE RING XIV. THE COLLAPSE OF THE PENITENT XV. THE LAST DAYS AT HOME XVI. IN THE MOUNTAINS XVII. IN PERSPECTIVE
"The art of ignoring is one of the accomplishments of every well-bred girl, so carefully instilled that at last she can even ignore her own thoughts and her own knowledge."
CHAPTER THE FIRST
ANN VERONICA TALKS TO HER FATHER
One Wednesday afternoon in late September, Ann Veronica Stanley came down from London in a state of solemn excitement and quite resolved to have things out with her father that very evening. She had trembled on the verge of such a resolution before, but this time quite definitely she made it. A crisis had been reached, and she was almost glad it had been reached. She made up her mind in the train home that it should be a decisive crisis. It is for that reason that this novel begins with her there, and neither earlier nor later, for it is the history of this crisis and its consequences that this novel has to tell.
She had a compartment to herself in the train from London to Morningside Park, and she sat with both her feet on the seat in an attitude that would certainly have distressed her mother to see, and horrified her grandmother beyond measure; she sat with her knees up to her chin and her hands clasped before them, and she was so lost in thought that she discovered with a start, from a lettered lamp, that she was at Morningside Park, and thought she was moving out of the station, whereas she was only moving in. "Lord!" she said. She jumped up at once, caught up a leather clutch containing notebooks, a fat text-book, and a chocolate-and-yellow-covered pamphlet, and leaped neatly from the carriage, only to discover that the train was slowing down and that she had to traverse the full length of the platform past it again as the result of her precipitation. "Sold again," she remarked. "Idiot!" She raged inwardly while she walked along with that air of self-contained serenity that is proper to a young lady of nearly two-and-twenty under the eye of the world.
She walked down the station approach, past the neat, obtrusive offices of the coal merchant and the house agent, and so to the wicket-gate by the butcher's shop that led to the field path to her home. Outside the post-office stood a no-hatted, blond young man in gray flannels, who was elaborately affixing a stamp to a letter. At the sight of her he became rigid and a singularly bright shade of pink. She made herself serenely unaware of his existence, though it may be it was his presence that sent her by the field detour instead of by the direct path up the Avenue.
"Umph!" he said, and regarded his letter doubtfully before consigning it to the pillar-box. "Here goes," he said. Then he hovered undecidedly for some seconds with his hands in his pockets and his mouth puckered to a whistle before he turned to go home by the Avenue.
Ann Veronica forgot him as soon as she was through the gate, and her face resumed its expression of stern preoccupation. "It's either now or never," she said to herself....
Morningside Park was a suburb that had not altogether, as people say, come off. It consisted, like pre-Roman Gaul, of three parts. There was first the Avenue, which ran in a consciously elegant curve from the railway station into an undeveloped wilderness of agriculture, with big, yellow brick villas on either side, and then there was the pavement, the little clump of shops about the post-office, and under the railway arch was a congestion of workmen's dwellings. The road from Surbiton and Epsom ran under the arch, and, like a bright fungoid growth in the ditch, there was now appearing a sort of fourth estate of little red-and-white rough-cast villas, with meretricious gables and very brassy window-blinds. Behind the Avenue was a little hill, and an iron-fenced path went over the crest of this to a stile under an elm-tree, and forked there, with one branch going back into the Avenue again.
"It's either now or never," said Ann Veronica, again ascending this stile. "Much as I hate rows, I've either got to make a stand or give in altogether."
She seated herself in a loose and easy attitude and surveyed the backs of the Avenue houses; then her eyes wandered to where the new red-and-white villas peeped among the trees. She seemed to be making some sort of inventory. "Ye Gods!" she said at last. "WHAT a place!
"Stuffy isn't the word for it.
"I wonder what he takes me for?"
When presently she got down from the stile a certain note of internal conflict, a touch of doubt, had gone from her warm-tinted face. She had now the clear and tranquil expression of one whose mind is made up. Her back had stiffened, and her hazel eyes looked steadfastly ahead.
As she approached the corner of the Avenue the blond, no-hatted man in gray flannels appeared. There was a certain air of forced fortuity in his manner. He saluted awkwardly. "Hello, Vee!" he said.
"Hello, Teddy!" she answered.
He hung vaguely for a moment as she passed.
But it was clear she was in no mood for Teddys. He realized that he was committed to the path across the fields, an uninteresting walk at the best of times.
"Oh, dammit!" he remarked, "dammit!" with great bitterness as he faced it.
Ann Veronica Stanley was twenty-one and a half years old. She had black hair, fine eyebrows, and a clear complexion; and the forces that had modelled her features had loved and lingered at their work and made them subtle and fine. She was slender, and sometimes she seemed tall, and walked and carried herself lightly and joyfully as one who commonly and habitually feels well, and sometimes she stooped a little and was preoccupied. Her lips came together with an expression between contentment and the faintest shadow of a smile, her manner was one of quiet reserve, and behind this mask she was wildly discontented and eager for freedom and life.
She wanted to live. She was vehemently impatient—she did not clearly know for what—to do, to be, to experience. And experience was slow in coming. All the world about her seemed to be—how can one put it?—in wrappers, like a house when people leave it in the summer. The blinds were all drawn, the sunlight kept out, one could not tell what colors these gray swathings hid. She wanted to know. And there was no intimation whatever that the blinds would ever go up or the windows or doors be opened, or the chandeliers, that seemed to promise such a blaze of fire, unveiled and furnished and lit. Dim souls flitted about her, not only speaking but it would seem even thinking in undertones....
During her school days, especially her earlier school days, the world had been very explicit with her, telling her what to do, what not to do, giving her lessons to learn and games to play and interests of the most suitable and various kinds. Presently she woke up to the fact that there was a considerable group of interests called being in love and getting married, with certain attractive and amusing subsidiary developments, such as flirtation and "being interested" in people of the opposite sex. She approached this field with her usual liveliness of apprehension. But here she met with a check. These interests her world promptly, through the agency of schoolmistresses, older school-mates, her aunt, and a number of other responsible and authoritative people, assured her she must on no account think about. Miss Moffatt, the history and moral instruction mistress, was particularly explicit upon this score, and they all agreed in indicating contempt and pity for girls whose minds ran on such matters, and who betrayed it in their conversation or dress or bearing. It was, in fact, a group of interests quite unlike any other group, peculiar and special, and one to be thoroughly ashamed of. Nevertheless, Ann Veronica found it a difficult matter not to think of these things. However having a considerable amount of pride, she decided she would disavow these undesirable topics and keep her mind away from them just as far as she could, but it left her at the end of her school days with that wrapped feeling I have described, and rather at loose ends.
The world, she discovered, with these matters barred had no particular place for her at all, nothing for her to do, except a functionless existence varied by calls, tennis, selected novels, walks, and dusting in her father's house. She thought study would be better. She was a clever girl, the best of her year in the High School, and she made a valiant fight for Somerville or Newnham but her father had met and argued with a Somerville girl at a friend's dinner-table and he thought that sort of thing unsexed a woman. He said simply that he wanted her to live at home. There was a certain amount of disputation, and meanwhile she went on at school. They compromised at length on the science course at the Tredgold Women's College—she had already matriculated into London University from school—she came of age, and she bickered with her aunt for latch-key privileges on the strength of that and her season ticket. Shamefaced curiosities began to come back into her mind, thinly disguised as literature and art. She read voraciously, and presently, because of her aunt's censorship, she took to smuggling any books she thought might be prohibited instead of bringing them home openly, and she went to the theatre whenever she could produce an acceptable friend to accompany her. She passed her general science examination with double honors and specialized in science. She happened to have an acute sense of form and unusual mental lucidity, and she found in biology, and particularly in comparative anatomy, a very considerable interest, albeit the illumination it cast upon her personal life was not altogether direct. She dissected well, and in a year she found herself chafing at the limitations of the lady B. Sc. who retailed a store of faded learning in the Tredgold laboratory. She had already realized that this instructress was hopelessly wrong and foggy—it is the test of the good comparative anatomist—upon the skull. She discovered a desire to enter as a student in the Imperial College at Westminster, where Russell taught, and go on with her work at the fountain-head.
She had asked about that already, and her father had replied, evasively: "We'll have to see about that, little Vee; we'll have to see about that." In that posture of being seen about the matter hung until she seemed committed to another session at the Tredgold College, and in the mean time a small conflict arose and brought the latch-key question, and in fact the question of Ann Veronica's position generally, to an acute issue.
In addition to the various business men, solicitors, civil servants, and widow ladies who lived in the Morningside Park Avenue, there was a certain family of alien sympathies and artistic quality, the Widgetts, with which Ann Veronica had become very friendly. Mr. Widgett was a journalist and art critic, addicted to a greenish-gray tweed suit and "art" brown ties; he smoked corncob pipes in the Avenue on Sunday morning, travelled third class to London by unusual trains, and openly despised golf. He occupied one of the smaller houses near the station. He had one son, who had been co-educated, and three daughters with peculiarly jolly red hair that Ann Veronica found adorable. Two of these had been her particular intimates at the High School, and had done much to send her mind exploring beyond the limits of the available literature at home. It was a cheerful, irresponsible, shamelessly hard-up family in the key of faded green and flattened purple, and the girls went on from the High School to the Fadden Art School and a bright, eventful life of art student dances, Socialist meetings, theatre galleries, talking about work, and even, at intervals, work; and ever and again they drew Ann Veronica from her sound persistent industry into the circle of these experiences. They had asked her to come to the first of the two great annual Fadden Dances, the October one, and Ann Veronica had accepted with enthusiasm. And now her father said she must not go.
He had "put his foot down," and said she must not go.
Going involved two things that all Ann Veronica's tact had been ineffectual to conceal from her aunt and father. Her usual dignified reserve had availed her nothing. One point was that she was to wear fancy dress in the likeness of a Corsair's bride, and the other was that she was to spend whatever vestiges of the night remained after the dance was over in London with the Widgett girls and a select party in "quite a decent little hotel" near Fitzroy Square.
"But, my dear!" said Ann Veronica's aunt.
"You see," said Ann Veronica, with the air of one who shares a difficulty, "I've promised to go. I didn't realize—I don't see how I can get out of it now."
Then it was her father issued his ultimatum. He had conveyed it to her, not verbally, but by means of a letter, which seemed to her a singularly ignoble method of prohibition. "He couldn't look me in the face and say it," said Ann Veronica.
"But of course it's aunt's doing really."
And thus it was that as Ann Veronica neared the gates of home, she said to herself: "I'll have it out with him somehow. I'll have it out with him. And if he won't—"
But she did not give even unspoken words to the alternative at that time.
Ann Veronica's father was a solicitor with a good deal of company business: a lean, trustworthy, worried-looking, neuralgic, clean-shaven man of fifty-three, with a hard mouth, a sharp nose, iron-gray hair, gray eyes, gold-framed glasses, and a small, circular baldness at the crown of his head. His name was Peter. He had had five children at irregular intervals, of whom Ann Veronica was the youngest, so that as a parent he came to her perhaps a little practised and jaded and inattentive; and he called her his "little Vee," and patted her unexpectedly and disconcertingly, and treated her promiscuously as of any age between eleven and eight-and-twenty. The City worried him a good deal, and what energy he had left over he spent partly in golf, a game he treated very seriously, and partly in the practices of microscopic petrography.
He "went in" for microscopy in the unphilosophical Victorian manner as his "hobby." A birthday present of a microscope had turned his mind to technical microscopy when he was eighteen, and a chance friendship with a Holborn microscope dealer had confirmed that bent. He had remarkably skilful fingers and a love of detailed processes, and he had become one of the most dexterous amateur makers of rock sections in the world. He spent a good deal more money and time than he could afford upon the little room at the top of the house, in producing new lapidary apparatus and new microscopic accessories and in rubbing down slices of rock to a transparent thinness and mounting them in a beautiful and dignified manner. He did it, he said, "to distract his mind." His chief successes he exhibited to the Lowndean Microscopical Society, where their high technical merit never failed to excite admiration. Their scientific value was less considerable, since he chose rocks entirely with a view to their difficulty of handling or their attractiveness at conversaziones when done. He had a great contempt for the sections the "theorizers" produced. They proved all sorts of things perhaps, but they were thick, unequal, pitiful pieces of work. Yet an indiscriminating, wrong-headed world gave such fellows all sorts of distinctions....
He read but little, and that chiefly healthy light fiction with chromatic titles, The Red Sword, The Black Helmet, The Purple Robe, also in order "to distract his mind." He read it in winter in the evening after dinner, and Ann Veronica associated it with a tendency to monopolize the lamp, and to spread a very worn pair of dappled fawn-skin slippers across the fender. She wondered occasionally why his mind needed so much distraction. His favorite newspaper was the Times, which he began at breakfast in the morning often with manifest irritation, and carried off to finish in the train, leaving no other paper at home.
It occurred to Ann Veronica once that she had known him when he was younger, but day had followed day, and each had largely obliterated the impression of its predecessor. But she certainly remembered that when she was a little girl he sometimes wore tennis flannels, and also rode a bicycle very dexterously in through the gates to the front door. And in those days, too, he used to help her mother with her gardening, and hover about her while she stood on the ladder and hammered creepers to the scullery wall.
It had been Ann Veronica's lot as the youngest child to live in a home that became less animated and various as she grew up. Her mother had died when she was thirteen, her two much older sisters had married off—one submissively, one insubordinately; her two brothers had gone out into the world well ahead of her, and so she had made what she could of her father. But he was not a father one could make much of.
His ideas about girls and women were of a sentimental and modest quality; they were creatures, he thought, either too bad for a modern vocabulary, and then frequently most undesirably desirable, or too pure and good for life. He made this simple classification of a large and various sex to the exclusion of all intermediate kinds; he held that the two classes had to be kept apart even in thought and remote from one another. Women are made like the potter's vessels—either for worship or contumely, and are withal fragile vessels. He had never wanted daughters. Each time a daughter had been born to him he had concealed his chagrin with great tenderness and effusion from his wife, and had sworn unwontedly and with passionate sincerity in the bathroom. He was a manly man, free from any strong maternal strain, and he had loved his dark-eyed, dainty bright-colored, and active little wife with a real vein of passion in his sentiment. But he had always felt (he had never allowed himself to think of it) that the promptitude of their family was a little indelicate of her, and in a sense an intrusion. He had, however, planned brilliant careers for his two sons, and, with a certain human amount of warping and delay, they were pursuing these. One was in the Indian Civil Service and one in the rapidly developing motor business. The daughters, he had hoped, would be their mother's care.
He had no ideas about daughters. They happen to a man.
Of course a little daughter is a delightful thing enough. It runs about gayly, it romps, it is bright and pretty, it has enormous quantities of soft hair and more power of expressing affection than its brothers. It is a lovely little appendage to the mother who smiles over it, and it does things quaintly like her, gestures with her very gestures. It makes wonderful sentences that you can repeat in the City and are good enough for Punch. You call it a lot of nicknames—"Babs" and "Bibs" and "Viddles" and "Vee"; you whack at it playfully, and it whacks you back. It loves to sit on your knee. All that is jolly and as it should be.
But a little daughter is one thing and a daughter quite another. There one comes to a relationship that Mr. Stanley had never thought out. When he found himself thinking about it, it upset him so that he at once resorted to distraction. The chromatic fiction with which he relieved his mind glanced but slightly at this aspect of life, and never with any quality of guidance. Its heroes never had daughters, they borrowed other people's. The one fault, indeed, of this school of fiction for him was that it had rather a light way with parental rights. His instinct was in the direction of considering his daughters his absolute property, bound to obey him, his to give away or his to keep to be a comfort in his declining years just as he thought fit. About this conception of ownership he perceived and desired a certain sentimental glamour, he liked everything properly dressed, but it remained ownership. Ownership seemed only a reasonable return for the cares and expenses of a daughter's upbringing. Daughters were not like sons. He perceived, however, that both the novels he read and the world he lived in discountenanced these assumptions. Nothing else was put in their place, and they remained sotto voce, as it were, in his mind. The new and the old cancelled out; his daughters became quasi-independent dependents—which is absurd. One married as he wished and one against his wishes, and now here was Ann Veronica, his little Vee, discontented with her beautiful, safe, and sheltering home, going about with hatless friends to Socialist meetings and art-class dances, and displaying a disposition to carry her scientific ambitions to unwomanly lengths. She seemed to think he was merely the paymaster, handing over the means of her freedom. And now she insisted that she MUST leave the chastened security of the Tredgold Women's College for Russell's unbridled classes, and wanted to go to fancy dress dances in pirate costume and spend the residue of the night with Widgett's ramshackle girls in some indescribable hotel in Soho!
He had done his best not to think about her at all, but the situation and his sister had become altogether too urgent. He had finally put aside The Lilac Sunbonnet, gone into his study, lit the gas fire, and written the letter that had brought these unsatisfactory relations to a head.
MY DEAR VEE, he wrote.
These daughters! He gnawed his pen and reflected, tore the sheet up, and began again.
"MY DEAR VERONICA,—Your aunt tells me you have involved yourself in some arrangement with the Widgett girls about a Fancy Dress Ball in London. I gather you wish to go up in some fantastic get-up, wrapped about in your opera cloak, and that after the festivities you propose to stay with these friends of yours, and without any older people in your party, at an hotel. Now I am sorry to cross you in anything you have set your heart upon, but I regret to say—"
"H'm," he reflected, and crossed out the last four words.
"—but this cannot be."
"No," he said, and tried again: "but I must tell you quite definitely that I feel it to be my duty to forbid any such exploit."
"Damn!" he remarked at the defaced letter; and, taking a fresh sheet, he recopied what he had written. A certain irritation crept into his manner as he did so.
"I regret that you should ever have proposed it," he went on.
He meditated, and began a new paragraph.
"The fact of it is, and this absurd project of yours only brings it to a head, you have begun to get hold of some very queer ideas about what a young lady in your position may or may not venture to do. I do not think you quite understand my ideals or what is becoming as between father and daughter. Your attitude to me—"
He fell into a brown study. It was so difficult to put precisely.
"—and your aunt—"
For a time he searched for the mot juste. Then he went on:
"—and, indeed, to most of the established things in life is, frankly, unsatisfactory. You are restless, aggressive, critical with all the crude unthinking criticism of youth. You have no grasp upon the essential facts of life (I pray God you never may), and in your rash ignorance you are prepared to dash into positions that may end in lifelong regret. The life of a young girl is set about with prowling pitfalls."
He was arrested for a moment by an indistinct picture of Veronica reading this last sentence. But he was now too deeply moved to trace a certain unsatisfactoriness to its source in a mixture of metaphors. "Well," he said, argumentatively, "it IS. That's all about it. It's time she knew."
"The life of a young girl is set about with prowling pitfalls, from which she must be shielded at all costs."
His lips tightened, and he frowned with solemn resolution.
"So long as I am your father, so long as your life is entrusted to my care, I feel bound by every obligation to use my authority to check this odd disposition of yours toward extravagant enterprises. A day will come when you will thank me. It is not, my dear Veronica, that I think there is any harm in you; there is not. But a girl is soiled not only by evil but by the proximity of evil, and a reputation for rashness may do her as serious an injury as really reprehensible conduct. So do please believe that in this matter I am acting for the best."
He signed his name and reflected. Then he opened the study door and called "Mollie!" and returned to assume an attitude of authority on the hearthrug, before the blue flames and orange glow of the gas fire.
His sister appeared.
She was dressed in one of those complicated dresses that are all lace and work and confused patternings of black and purple and cream about the body, and she was in many ways a younger feminine version of the same theme as himself. She had the same sharp nose—which, indeed, only Ann Veronica, of all the family, had escaped. She carried herself well, whereas her brother slouched, and there was a certain aristocratic dignity about her that she had acquired through her long engagement to a curate of family, a scion of the Wiltshire Edmondshaws. He had died before they married, and when her brother became a widower she had come to his assistance and taken over much of the care of his youngest daughter. But from the first her rather old-fashioned conception of life had jarred with the suburban atmosphere, the High School spirit and the memories of the light and little Mrs. Stanley, whose family had been by any reckoning inconsiderable—to use the kindliest term. Miss Stanley had determined from the outset to have the warmest affection for her youngest niece and to be a second mother in her life—a second and a better one; but she had found much to battle with, and there was much in herself that Ann Veronica failed to understand. She came in now with an air of reserved solicitude.
Mr. Stanley pointed to the letter with a pipe he had drawn from his jacket pocket. "What do you think of that?" he asked.
She took it up in her many-ringed hands and read it judicially. He filled his pipe slowly.
"Yes," she said at last, "it is firm and affectionate."
"I could have said more."
"You seem to have said just what had to be said. It seems to me exactly what is wanted. She really must not go to that affair."
She paused, and he waited for her to speak.
"I don't think she quite sees the harm of those people or the sort of life to which they would draw her," she said. "They would spoil every chance."
"She has chances?" he said, helping her out.
"She is an extremely attractive girl," she said; and added, "to some people. Of course, one doesn't like to talk about things until there are things to talk about."
"All the more reason why she shouldn't get herself talked about."
"That is exactly what I feel."
Mr. Stanley took the letter and stood with it in his hand thoughtfully for a time. "I'd give anything," he remarked, "to see our little Vee happily and comfortably married."
He gave the note to the parlormaid the next morning in an inadvertent, casual manner just as he was leaving the house to catch his London train. When Ann Veronica got it she had at first a wild, fantastic idea that it contained a tip.
Ann Veronica's resolve to have things out with her father was not accomplished without difficulty.
He was not due from the City until about six, and so she went and played Badminton with the Widgett girls until dinner-time. The atmosphere at dinner was not propitious. Her aunt was blandly amiable above a certain tremulous undertow, and talked as if to a caller about the alarming spread of marigolds that summer at the end of the garden, a sort of Yellow Peril to all the smaller hardy annuals, while her father brought some papers to table and presented himself as preoccupied with them. "It really seems as if we shall have to put down marigolds altogether next year," Aunt Molly repeated three times, "and do away with marguerites. They seed beyond all reason." Elizabeth, the parlormaid, kept coming in to hand vegetables whenever there seemed a chance of Ann Veronica asking for an interview. Directly dinner was over Mr. Stanley, having pretended to linger to smoke, fled suddenly up-stairs to petrography, and when Veronica tapped he answered through the locked door, "Go away, Vee! I'm busy," and made a lapidary's wheel buzz loudly.
Breakfast, too, was an impossible occasion. He read the Times with an unusually passionate intentness, and then declared suddenly for the earlier of the two trains he used.
"I'll come to the station," said Ann Veronica. "I may as well come up by this train."
"I may have to run," said her father, with an appeal to his watch.
"I'll run, too," she volunteered.
Instead of which they walked sharply....
"I say, daddy," she began, and was suddenly short of breath.
"If it's about that dance project," he said, "it's no good, Veronica. I've made up my mind."
"You'll make me look a fool before all my friends."
"You shouldn't have made an engagement until you'd consulted your aunt."
"I thought I was old enough," she gasped, between laughter and crying.
Her father's step quickened to a trot. "I won't have you quarrelling and crying in the Avenue," he said. "Stop it!... If you've got anything to say, you must say it to your aunt—"
"But look here, daddy!"
He flapped the Times at her with an imperious gesture.
"It's settled. You're not to go. You're NOT to go."
"But it's about other things."
"I don't care. This isn't the place."
"Then may I come to the study to-night—after dinner?"
"It's important. If I can't talk anywhere else—I DO want an understanding."
Ahead of them walked a gentleman whom it was evident they must at their present pace very speedily overtake. It was Ramage, the occupant of the big house at the end of the Avenue. He had recently made Mr. Stanley's acquaintance in the train and shown him one or two trifling civilities. He was an outside broker and the proprietor of a financial newspaper; he had come up very rapidly in the last few years, and Mr. Stanley admired and detested him in almost equal measure. It was intolerable to think that he might overhear words and phrases. Mr. Stanley's pace slackened.
"You've no right to badger me like this, Veronica," he said. "I can't see what possible benefit can come of discussing things that are settled. If you want advice, your aunt is the person. However, if you must air your opinions—"
"To-night, then, daddy!"
He made an angry but conceivably an assenting noise, and then Ramage glanced back and stopped, saluted elaborately, and waited for them to come up. He was a square-faced man of nearly fifty, with iron-gray hair a mobile, clean-shaven mouth and rather protuberant black eyes that now scrutinized Ann Veronica. He dressed rather after the fashion of the West End than the City, and affected a cultured urbanity that somehow disconcerted and always annoyed Ann Veronica's father extremely. He did not play golf, but took his exercise on horseback, which was also unsympathetic.
"Stuffy these trees make the Avenue," said Mr. Stanley as they drew alongside, to account for his own ruffled and heated expression. "They ought to have been lopped in the spring."
"There's plenty of time," said Ramage. "Is Miss Stanley coming up with us?"
"I go second," she said, "and change at Wimbledon."
"We'll all go second," said Ramage, "if we may?"
Mr. Stanley wanted to object strongly, but as he could not immediately think how to put it, he contented himself with a grunt, and the motion was carried. "How's Mrs. Ramage?" he asked.
"Very much as usual," said Ramage. "She finds lying up so much very irksome. But, you see, she HAS to lie up."
The topic of his invalid wife bored him, and he turned at once to Ann Veronica. "And where are YOU going?" he said. "Are you going on again this winter with that scientific work of yours? It's an instance of heredity, I suppose." For a moment Mr. Stanley almost liked Ramage. "You're a biologist, aren't you?"
He began to talk of his own impressions of biology as a commonplace magazine reader who had to get what he could from the monthly reviews, and was glad to meet with any information from nearer the fountainhead. In a little while he and she were talking quite easily and agreeably. They went on talking in the train—it seemed to her father a slight want of deference to him—and he listened and pretended to read the Times. He was struck disagreeably by Ramage's air of gallant consideration and Ann Veronica's self-possessed answers. These things did not harmonize with his conception of the forthcoming (if unavoidable) interview. After all, it came to him suddenly as a harsh discovery that she might be in a sense regarded as grownup. He was a man who in all things classified without nuance, and for him there were in the matter of age just two feminine classes and no more—girls and women. The distinction lay chiefly in the right to pat their heads. But here was a girl—she must be a girl, since she was his daughter and pat-able—imitating the woman quite remarkably and cleverly. He resumed his listening. She was discussing one of those modern advanced plays with a remarkable, with an extraordinary, confidence.
"His love-making," she remarked, "struck me as unconvincing. He seemed too noisy."
The full significance of her words did not instantly appear to him. Then it dawned. Good heavens! She was discussing love-making. For a time he heard no more, and stared with stony eyes at a Book-War proclamation in leaded type that filled half a column of the Times that day. Could she understand what she was talking about? Luckily it was a second-class carriage and the ordinary fellow-travellers were not there. Everybody, he felt, must be listening behind their papers.
Of course, girls repeat phrases and opinions of which they cannot possibly understand the meaning. But a middle-aged man like Ramage ought to know better than to draw out a girl, the daughter of a friend and neighbor....
Well, after all, he seemed to be turning the subject. "Broddick is a heavy man," he was saying, "and the main interest of the play was the embezzlement." Thank Heaven! Mr. Stanley allowed his paper to drop a little, and scrutinized the hats and brows of their three fellow-travellers.
They reached Wimbledon, and Ramage whipped out to hand Miss Stanley to the platform as though she had been a duchess, and she descended as though such attentions from middle-aged, but still gallant, merchants were a matter of course. Then, as Ramage readjusted himself in a corner, he remarked: "These young people shoot up, Stanley. It seems only yesterday that she was running down the Avenue, all hair and legs."
Mr. Stanley regarded him through his glasses with something approaching animosity.
"Now she's all hat and ideas," he said, with an air of humor.
"She seems an unusually clever girl," said Ramage.
Mr. Stanley regarded his neighbor's clean-shaven face almost warily. "I'm not sure whether we don't rather overdo all this higher education," he said, with an effect of conveying profound meanings.
He became quite sure, by a sort of accumulation of reflection, as the day wore on. He found his youngest daughter intrusive in his thoughts all through the morning, and still more so in the afternoon. He saw her young and graceful back as she descended from the carriage, severely ignoring him, and recalled a glimpse he had of her face, bright and serene, as his train ran out of Wimbledon. He recalled with exasperating perplexity her clear, matter-of-fact tone as she talked about love-making being unconvincing. He was really very proud of her, and extraordinarily angry and resentful at the innocent and audacious self-reliance that seemed to intimate her sense of absolute independence of him, her absolute security without him. After all, she only LOOKED a woman. She was rash and ignorant, absolutely inexperienced. Absolutely. He began to think of speeches, very firm, explicit speeches, he would make.
He lunched in the Legal Club in Chancery Lane, and met Ogilvy. Daughters were in the air that day. Ogilvy was full of a client's trouble in that matter, a grave and even tragic trouble. He told some of the particulars.
"Curious case," said Ogilvy, buttering his bread and cutting it up in a way he had. "Curious case—and sets one thinking."
He resumed, after a mouthful: "Here is a girl of sixteen or seventeen, seventeen and a half to be exact, running about, as one might say, in London. Schoolgirl. Her family are solid West End people, Kensington people. Father—dead. She goes out and comes home. Afterward goes on to Oxford. Twenty-one, twenty-two. Why doesn't she marry? Plenty of money under her father's will. Charming girl."
He consumed Irish stew for some moments.
"Married already," he said, with his mouth full. "Shopman."
"Good God!" said Mr. Stanley.
"Good-looking rascal she met at Worthing. Very romantic and all that. He fixed it."
"He left her alone. Pure romantic nonsense on her part. Sheer calculation on his. Went up to Somerset House to examine the will before he did it. Yes. Nice position."
"She doesn't care for him now?"
"Not a bit. What a girl of sixteen cares for is hair and a high color and moonlight and a tenor voice. I suppose most of our daughters would marry organ-grinders if they had a chance—at that age. My son wanted to marry a woman of thirty in a tobacconist's shop. Only a son's another story. We fixed that. Well, that's the situation. My people don't know what to do. Can't face a scandal. Can't ask the gent to go abroad and condone a bigamy. He misstated her age and address; but you can't get home on him for a thing like that.... There you are! Girl spoilt for life. Makes one want to go back to the Oriental system!"
Mr. Stanley poured wine. "Damned Rascal!" he said. "Isn't there a brother to kick him?"
"Mere satisfaction," reflected Ogilvy. "Mere sensuality. I rather think they have kicked him, from the tone of some of the letters. Nice, of course. But it doesn't alter the situation."
"It's these Rascals," said Mr. Stanley, and paused.
"Always has been," said Ogilvy. "Our interest lies in heading them off."
"There was a time when girls didn't get these extravagant ideas."
"Lydia Languish, for example. Anyhow, they didn't run about so much."
"Yes. That's about the beginning. It's these damned novels. All this torrent of misleading, spurious stuff that pours from the press. These sham ideals and advanced notions. Women who Dids, and all that kind of thing...."
Ogilvy reflected. "This girl—she's really a very charming, frank person—had had her imagination fired, so she told me, by a school performance of Romeo and Juliet."
Mr. Stanley decided to treat that as irrelevant. "There ought to be a Censorship of Books. We want it badly at the present time. Even WITH the Censorship of Plays there's hardly a decent thing to which a man can take his wife and daughters, a creeping taint of suggestion everywhere. What would it be without that safeguard?"
Ogilvy pursued his own topic. "I'm inclined to think, Stanley, myself that as a matter of fact it was the expurgated Romeo and Juliet did the mischief. If our young person hadn't had the nurse part cut out, eh? She might have known more and done less. I was curious about that. All they left it was the moon and stars. And the balcony and 'My Romeo!'"
"Shakespeare is altogether different from the modern stuff. Altogether different. I'm not discussing Shakespeare. I don't want to Bowdlerize Shakespeare. I'm not that sort I quite agree. But this modern miasma—"
Mr. Stanley took mustard savagely.
"Well, we won't go into Shakespeare," said Ogilvy "What interests me is that our young women nowadays are running about as free as air practically, with registry offices and all sorts of accommodation round the corner. Nothing to check their proceedings but a declining habit of telling the truth and the limitations of their imaginations. And in that respect they stir up one another. Not my affair, of course, but I think we ought to teach them more or restrain them more. One or the other. They're too free for their innocence or too innocent for their freedom. That's my point. Are you going to have any apple-tart, Stanley? The apple-tart's been very good lately—very good!"
At the end of dinner that evening Ann Veronica began: "Father!"
Her father looked at her over his glasses and spoke with grave deliberation; "If there is anything you want to say to me," he said, "you must say it in the study. I am going to smoke a little here, and then I shall go to the study. I don't see what you can have to say. I should have thought my note cleared up everything. There are some papers I have to look through to-night—important papers."
"I won't keep you very long, daddy," said Ann Veronica.
"I don't see, Mollie," he remarked, taking a cigar from the box on the table as his sister and daughter rose, "why you and Vee shouldn't discuss this little affair—whatever it is—without bothering me."
It was the first time this controversy had become triangular, for all three of them were shy by habit.
He stopped in mid-sentence, and Ann Veronica opened the door for her aunt. The air was thick with feelings. Her aunt went out of the room with dignity and a rustle, and up-stairs to the fastness of her own room. She agreed entirely with her brother. It distressed and confused her that the girl should not come to her.
It seemed to show a want of affection, to be a deliberate and unmerited disregard, to justify the reprisal of being hurt.
When Ann Veronica came into the study she found every evidence of a carefully foreseen grouping about the gas fire. Both arm-chairs had been moved a little so as to face each other on either side of the fender, and in the circular glow of the green-shaded lamp there lay, conspicuously waiting, a thick bundle of blue and white papers tied with pink tape. Her father held some printed document in his hand, and appeared not to observe her entry. "Sit down," he said, and perused—"perused" is the word for it—for some moments. Then he put the paper by. "And what is it all about, Veronica?" he asked, with a deliberate note of irony, looking at her a little quizzically over his glasses.
Ann Veronica looked bright and a little elated, and she disregarded her father's invitation to be seated. She stood on the mat instead, and looked down on him. "Look here, daddy," she said, in a tone of great reasonableness, "I MUST go to that dance, you know."
Her father's irony deepened. "Why?" he asked, suavely.
Her answer was not quite ready. "Well, because I don't see any reason why I shouldn't."
"You see I do."
"Why shouldn't I go?"
"It isn't a suitable place; it isn't a suitable gathering."
"But, daddy, what do you know of the place and the gathering?"
"And it's entirely out of order; it isn't right, it isn't correct; it's impossible for you to stay in an hotel in London—the idea is preposterous. I can't imagine what possessed you, Veronica."
He put his head on one side, pulled down the corners of his mouth, and looked at her over his glasses.
"But why is it preposterous?" asked Ann Veronica, and fiddled with a pipe on the mantel.
"Surely!" he remarked, with an expression of worried appeal.
"You see, daddy, I don't think it IS preposterous. That's really what I want to discuss. It comes to this—am I to be trusted to take care of myself, or am I not?"
"To judge from this proposal of yours, I should say not."
"I think I am."
"As long as you remain under my roof—" he began, and paused.
"You are going to treat me as though I wasn't. Well, I don't think that's fair."
"Your ideas of fairness—" he remarked, and discontinued that sentence. "My dear girl," he said, in a tone of patient reasonableness, "you are a mere child. You know nothing of life, nothing of its dangers, nothing of its possibilities. You think everything is harmless and simple, and so forth. It isn't. It isn't. That's where you go wrong. In some things, in many things, you must trust to your elders, to those who know more of life than you do. Your aunt and I have discussed all this matter. There it is. You can't go."
The conversation hung for a moment. Ann Veronica tried to keep hold of a complicated situation and not lose her head. She had turned round sideways, so as to look down into the fire.
"You see, father," she said, "it isn't only this affair of the dance. I want to go to that because it's a new experience, because I think it will be interesting and give me a view of things. You say I know nothing. That's probably true. But how am I to know of things?"
"Some things I hope you may never know," he said.
"I'm not so sure. I want to know—just as much as I can."
"Tut!" he said, fuming, and put out his hand to the papers in the pink tape.
"Well, I do. It's just that I want to say. I want to be a human being; I want to learn about things and know about things, and not to be protected as something too precious for life, cooped up in one narrow little corner."
"Cooped up!" he cried. "Did I stand in the way of your going to college? Have I ever prevented you going about at any reasonable hour? You've got a bicycle!"
"H'm!" said Ann Veronica, and then went on "I want to be taken seriously. A girl—at my age—is grown-up. I want to go on with my University work under proper conditions, now that I've done the Intermediate. It isn't as though I haven't done well. I've never muffed an exam yet. Roddy muffed two...."
Her father interrupted. "Now look here, Veronica, let us be plain with each other. You are not going to that infidel Russell's classes. You are not going anywhere but to the Tredgold College. I've thought that out, and you must make up your mind to it. All sorts of considerations come in. While you live in my house you must follow my ideas. You are wrong even about that man's scientific position and his standard of work. There are men in the Lowndean who laugh at him—simply laugh at him. And I have seen work by his pupils myself that struck me as being—well, next door to shameful. There's stories, too, about his demonstrator, Capes Something or other. The kind of man who isn't content with his science, and writes articles in the monthly reviews. Anyhow, there it is: YOU ARE NOT GOING THERE."
The girl received this intimation in silence, but the face that looked down upon the gas fire took an expression of obstinacy that brought out a hitherto latent resemblance between parent and child. When she spoke, her lips twitched.
"Then I suppose when I have graduated I am to come home?"
"It seems the natural course—"
"And do nothing?"
"There are plenty of things a girl can find to do at home."
"Until some one takes pity on me and marries me?"
He raised his eyebrows in mild appeal. His foot tapped impatiently, and he took up the papers.
"Look here, father," she said, with a change in her voice, "suppose I won't stand it?"
He regarded her as though this was a new idea.
"Suppose, for example, I go to this dance?"
"Well"—her breath failed her for a moment. "How would you prevent it?" she asked.
"But I have forbidden it!" he said, raising his voice.
"Yes, I know. But suppose I go?"
"Now, Veronica! No, no. This won't do. Understand me! I forbid it. I do not want to hear from you even the threat of disobedience." He spoke loudly. "The thing is forbidden!"
"I am ready to give up anything that you show to be wrong."
"You will give up anything I wish you to give up."
They stared at each other through a pause, and both faces were flushed and obstinate.
She was trying by some wonderful, secret, and motionless gymnastics to restrain her tears. But when she spoke her lips quivered, and they came. "I mean to go to that dance!" she blubbered. "I mean to go to that dance! I meant to reason with you, but you won't reason. You're dogmatic."
At the sight of her tears his expression changed to a mingling of triumph and concern. He stood up, apparently intending to put an arm about her, but she stepped back from him quickly. She produced a handkerchief, and with one sweep of this and a simultaneous gulp had abolished her fit of weeping. His voice now had lost its ironies.
"Now, Veronica," he pleaded, "Veronica, this is most unreasonable. All we do is for your good. Neither your aunt nor I have any other thought but what is best for you."
"Only you won't let me live. Only you won't let me exist!"
Mr. Stanley lost patience. He bullied frankly.
"What nonsense is this? What raving! My dear child, you DO live, you DO exist! You have this home. You have friends, acquaintances, social standing, brothers and sisters, every advantage! Instead of which, you want to go to some mixed classes or other and cut up rabbits and dance about at nights in wild costumes with casual art student friends and God knows who. That—that isn't living! You are beside yourself. You don't know what you ask nor what you say. You have neither reason nor logic. I am sorry to seem to hurt you, but all I say is for your good. You MUST not, you SHALL not go. On this I am resolved. I put my foot down like—like adamant. And a time will come, Veronica, mark my words, a time will come when you will bless me for my firmness to-night. It goes to my heart to disappoint you, but this thing must not be."
He sidled toward her, but she recoiled from him, leaving him in possession of the hearth-rug.
"Well," she said, "good-night, father."
"What!" he asked; "not a kiss?"
She affected not to hear.
The door closed softly upon her. For a long time he remained standing before the fire, staring at the situation. Then he sat down and filled his pipe slowly and thoughtfully....
"I don't see what else I could have said," he remarked.
CHAPTER THE SECOND
ANN VERONICA GATHERS POINTS OF VIEW
"Are you coming to the Fadden Dance, Ann Veronica?" asked Constance Widgett.
Ann Veronica considered her answer. "I mean to," she replied.
"You are making your dress?"
"Such as it is."
They were in the elder Widgett girl's bedroom; Hetty was laid up, she said, with a sprained ankle, and a miscellaneous party was gossiping away her tedium. It was a large, littered, self-forgetful apartment, decorated with unframed charcoal sketches by various incipient masters; and an open bookcase, surmounted by plaster casts and the half of a human skull, displayed an odd miscellany of books—Shaw and Swinburne, Tom Jones, Fabian Essays, Pope and Dumas, cheek by jowl. Constance Widgett's abundant copper-red hair was bent down over some dimly remunerative work—stencilling in colors upon rough, white material—at a kitchen table she had dragged up-stairs for the purpose, while on her bed there was seated a slender lady of thirty or so in a dingy green dress, whom Constance had introduced with a wave of her hand as Miss Miniver. Miss Miniver looked out on the world through large emotional blue eyes that were further magnified by the glasses she wore, and her nose was pinched and pink, and her mouth was whimsically petulant. Her glasses moved quickly as her glance travelled from face to face. She seemed bursting with the desire to talk, and watching for her opportunity. On her lapel was an ivory button, bearing the words "Votes for Women." Ann Veronica sat at the foot of the sufferer's bed, while Teddy Widgett, being something of an athlete, occupied the only bed-room chair—a decadent piece, essentially a tripod and largely a formality—and smoked cigarettes, and tried to conceal the fact that he was looking all the time at Ann Veronica's eyebrows. Teddy was the hatless young man who had turned Ann Veronica aside from the Avenue two days before. He was the junior of both his sisters, co-educated and much broken in to feminine society. A bowl of roses, just brought by Ann Veronica, adorned the communal dressing-table, and Ann Veronica was particularly trim in preparation for a call she was to make with her aunt later in the afternoon.
Ann Veronica decided to be more explicit. "I've been," she said, "forbidden to come."
"Hul-LO!" said Hetty, turning her head on the pillow; and Teddy remarked with profound emotion, "My God!"
"Yes," said Ann Veronica, "and that complicates the situation."
"Auntie?" asked Constance, who was conversant with Ann Veronica's affairs.
"No! My father. It's—it's a serious prohibition."
"Why?" asked Hetty.
"That's the point. I asked him why, and he hadn't a reason."
"YOU ASKED YOUR FATHER FOR A REASON!" said Miss Miniver, with great intensity.
"Yes. I tried to have it out with him, but he wouldn't have it out." Ann Veronica reflected for an instant "That's why I think I ought to come."
"You asked your father for a reason!" Miss Miniver repeated.
"We always have things out with OUR father, poor dear!" said Hetty. "He's got almost to like it."
"Men," said Miss Miniver, "NEVER have a reason. Never! And they don't know it! They have no idea of it. It's one of their worst traits, one of their very worst."
"But I say, Vee," said Constance, "if you come and you are forbidden to come there'll be the deuce of a row."
Ann Veronica was deciding for further confidences. Her situation was perplexing her very much, and the Widgett atmosphere was lax and sympathetic, and provocative of discussion. "It isn't only the dance," she said.
"There's the classes," said Constance, the well-informed.
"There's the whole situation. Apparently I'm not to exist yet. I'm not to study, I'm not to grow. I've got to stay at home and remain in a state of suspended animation."
"DUSTING!" said Miss Miniver, in a sepulchral voice.
"Until you marry, Vee," said Hetty.
"Well, I don't feel like standing it."
"Thousands of women have married merely for freedom," said Miss Miniver. "Thousands! Ugh! And found it a worse slavery."
"I suppose," said Constance, stencilling away at bright pink petals, "it's our lot. But it's very beastly."
"What's our lot?" asked her sister.
"Slavery! Downtroddenness! When I think of it I feel all over boot marks—men's boots. We hide it bravely, but so it is. Damn! I've splashed."
Miss Miniver's manner became impressive. She addressed Ann Veronica with an air of conveying great open secrets to her. "As things are at present," she said, "it is true. We live under man-made institutions, and that is what they amount to. Every girl in the world practically, except a few of us who teach or type-write, and then we're underpaid and sweated—it's dreadful to think how we are sweated!" She had lost her generalization, whatever it was. She hung for a moment, and then went on, conclusively, "Until we have the vote that is how things WILL be."
"I'm all for the vote," said Teddy.
"I suppose a girl MUST be underpaid and sweated," said Ann Veronica. "I suppose there's no way of getting a decent income—independently."
"Women have practically NO economic freedom," said Miss Miniver, "because they have no political freedom. Men have seen to that. The one profession, the one decent profession, I mean, for a woman—except the stage—is teaching, and there we trample on one another. Everywhere else—the law, medicine, the Stock Exchange—prejudice bars us."
"There's art," said Ann Veronica, "and writing."
"Every one hasn't the Gift. Even there a woman never gets a fair chance. Men are against her. Whatever she does is minimized. All the best novels have been written by women, and yet see how men sneer at the lady novelist still! There's only one way to get on for a woman, and that is to please men. That is what they think we are for!"
"We're beasts," said Teddy. "Beasts!"
But Miss Miniver took no notice of his admission.
"Of course," said Miss Miniver—she went on in a regularly undulating voice—"we DO please men. We have that gift. We can see round them and behind them and through them, and most of us use that knowledge, in the silent way we have, for our great ends. Not all of us, but some of us. Too many. I wonder what men would say if we threw the mask aside—if we really told them what WE thought of them, really showed them what WE were." A flush of excitement crept into her cheeks.
"Maternity," she said, "has been our undoing."
From that she opened out into a long, confused emphatic discourse on the position of women, full of wonderful statements, while Constance worked at her stencilling and Ann Veronica and Hetty listened, and Teddy contributed sympathetic noises and consumed cheap cigarettes. As she talked she made weak little gestures with her hands, and she thrust her face forward from her bent shoulders; and she peered sometimes at Ann Veronica and sometimes at a photograph of the Axenstrasse, near Fluelen, that hung upon the wall. Ann Veronica watched her face, vaguely sympathizing with her, vaguely disliking her physical insufficiency and her convulsive movements, and the fine eyebrows were knit with a faint perplexity. Essentially the talk was a mixture of fragments of sentences heard, of passages read, or arguments indicated rather than stated, and all of it was served in a sauce of strange enthusiasm, thin yet intense. Ann Veronica had had some training at the Tredgold College in disentangling threads from confused statements, and she had a curious persuasion that in all this fluent muddle there was something—something real, something that signified. But it was very hard to follow. She did not understand the note of hostility to men that ran through it all, the bitter vindictiveness that lit Miss Miniver's cheeks and eyes, the sense of some at last insupportable wrong slowly accumulated. She had no inkling of that insupportable wrong.
"We are the species," said Miss Miniver, "men are only incidents. They give themselves airs, but so it is. In all the species of animals the females are more important than the males; the males have to please them. Look at the cock's feathers, look at the competition there is everywhere, except among humans. The stags and oxen and things all have to fight for us, everywhere. Only in man is the male made the most important. And that happens through our maternity; it's our very importance that degrades us.
"While we were minding the children they stole our rights and liberties. The children made us slaves, and the men took advantage of it. It's—Mrs. Shalford says—the accidental conquering the essential. Originally in the first animals there were no males, none at all. It has been proved. Then they appear among the lower things"—she made meticulous gestures to figure the scale of life; she seemed to be holding up specimens, and peering through her glasses at them—"among crustaceans and things, just as little creatures, ever so inferior to the females. Mere hangers on. Things you would laugh at. And among human beings, too, women to begin with were the rulers and leaders; they owned all the property, they invented all the arts.
"The primitive government was the Matriarchate. The Matriarchate! The Lords of Creation just ran about and did what they were told."
"But is that really so?" said Ann Veronica.
"It has been proved," said Miss Miniver, and added, "by American professors."
"But how did they prove it?"
"By science," said Miss Miniver, and hurried on, putting out a rhetorical hand that showed a slash of finger through its glove. "And now, look at us! See what we have become. Toys! Delicate trifles! A sex of invalids. It is we who have become the parasites and toys."
It was, Ann Veronica felt, at once absurd and extraordinarily right. Hetty, who had periods of lucid expression, put the thing for her from her pillow. She charged boldly into the space of Miss Miniver's rhetorical pause.
"It isn't quite that we're toys. Nobody toys with me. Nobody regards Constance or Vee as a delicate trifle."
Teddy made some confused noise, a thoracic street row; some remark was assassinated by a rival in his throat and buried hastily under a cough.
"They'd better not," said Hetty. "The point is we're not toys, toys isn't the word; we're litter. We're handfuls. We're regarded as inflammable litter that mustn't be left about. We are the species, and maternity is our game; that's all right, but nobody wants that admitted for fear we should all catch fire, and set about fulfilling the purpose of our beings without waiting for further explanations. As if we didn't know! The practical trouble is our ages. They used to marry us off at seventeen, rush us into things before we had time to protest. They don't now. Heaven knows why! They don't marry most of us off now until high up in the twenties. And the age gets higher. We have to hang about in the interval. There's a great gulf opened, and nobody's got any plans what to do with us. So the world is choked with waste and waiting daughters. Hanging about! And they start thinking and asking questions, and begin to be neither one thing nor the other. We're partly human beings and partly females in suspense."
Miss Miniver followed with an expression of perplexity, her mouth shaped to futile expositions. The Widgett method of thought puzzled her weakly rhetorical mind. "There is no remedy, girls," she began, breathlessly, "except the Vote. Give us that—"
Ann Veronica came in with a certain disregard of Miss Miniver. "That's it," she said. "They have no plans for us. They have no ideas what to do with us."
"Except," said Constance, surveying her work with her head on one side, "to keep the matches from the litter."
"And they won't let us make plans for ourselves."
"We will," said Miss Miniver, refusing to be suppressed, "if some of us have to be killed to get it." And she pressed her lips together in white resolution and nodded, and she was manifestly full of that same passion for conflict and self-sacrifice that has given the world martyrs since the beginning of things. "I wish I could make every woman, every girl, see this as clearly as I see it—just what the Vote means to us. Just what it means...."
As Ann Veronica went back along the Avenue to her aunt she became aware of a light-footed pursuer running. Teddy overtook her, a little out of breath, his innocent face flushed, his straw-colored hair disordered. He was out of breath, and spoke in broken sentences.
"I say, Vee. Half a minute, Vee. It's like this: You want freedom. Look here. You know—if you want freedom. Just an idea of mine. You know how those Russian students do? In Russia. Just a formal marriage. Mere formality. Liberates the girl from parental control. See? You marry me. Simply. No further responsibility whatever. Without hindrance—present occupation. Why not? Quite willing. Get a license—just an idea of mine. Doesn't matter a bit to me. Do anything to please you, Vee. Anything. Not fit to be dust on your boots. Still—there you are!"
Ann Veronica's desire to laugh unrestrainedly was checked by the tremendous earnestness of his expression. "Awfully good of you, Teddy." she said.
He nodded silently, too full for words.
"But I don't see," said Ann Veronica, "just how it fits the present situation."
"No! Well, I just suggested it. Threw it out. Of course, if at any time—see reason—alter your opinion. Always at your service. No offence, I hope. All right! I'm off. Due to play hockey. Jackson's. Horrid snorters! So long, Vee! Just suggested it. See? Nothing really. Passing thought."
"Teddy," said Ann Veronica, "you're a dear!"
"Oh, quite!" said Teddy, convulsively, and lifted an imaginary hat and left her.
The call Ann Veronica paid with her aunt that afternoon had at first much the same relation to the Widgett conversation that a plaster statue of Mr. Gladstone would have to a carelessly displayed interior on a dissecting-room table. The Widgetts talked with a remarkable absence of external coverings; the Palsworthys found all the meanings of life on its surfaces. They seemed the most wrapped things in all Ann Veronica's wrappered world. The Widgett mental furniture was perhaps worn and shabby, but there it was before you, undisguised, fading visibly in an almost pitiless sunlight. Lady Palsworthy was the widow of a knight who had won his spurs in the wholesale coal trade, she was of good seventeenth-century attorney blood, a county family, and distantly related to Aunt Mollie's deceased curate. She was the social leader of Morningside Park, and in her superficial and euphuistic way an extremely kind and pleasant woman. With her lived a Mrs. Pramlay, a sister of the Morningside Park doctor, and a very active and useful member of the Committee of the Impoverished Gentlewomen's Aid Society. Both ladies were on easy and friendly terms with all that was best in Morningside Park society; they had an afternoon once a month that was quite well attended, they sometimes gave musical evenings, they dined out and gave a finish to people's dinners, they had a full-sized croquet lawn and tennis beyond, and understood the art of bringing people together. And they never talked of anything at all, never discussed, never even encouraged gossip. They were just nice.
Ann Veronica found herself walking back down the Avenue that had just been the scene of her first proposal beside her aunt, and speculating for the first time in her life about that lady's mental attitudes. Her prevailing effect was one of quiet and complete assurance, as though she knew all about everything, and was only restrained by her instinctive delicacy from telling what she knew. But the restraint exercised by her instinctive delicacy was very great; over and above coarse or sexual matters it covered religion and politics and any mention of money matters or crime, and Ann Veronica found herself wondering whether these exclusions represented, after all, anything more than suppressions. Was there anything at all in those locked rooms of her aunt's mind? Were they fully furnished and only a little dusty and cobwebby and in need of an airing, or were they stark vacancy except, perhaps, for a cockroach or so or the gnawing of a rat? What was the mental equivalent of a rat's gnawing? The image was going astray. But what would her aunt think of Teddy's recent off-hand suggestion of marriage? What would she think of the Widgett conversation? Suppose she was to tell her aunt quietly but firmly about the parasitic males of degraded crustacea. The girl suppressed a chuckle that would have been inexplicable.
There came a wild rush of anthropological lore into her brain, a flare of indecorous humor. It was one of the secret troubles of her mind, this grotesque twist her ideas would sometimes take, as though they rebelled and rioted. After all, she found herself reflecting, behind her aunt's complacent visage there was a past as lurid as any one's—not, of course, her aunt's own personal past, which was apparently just that curate and almost incredibly jejune, but an ancestral past with all sorts of scandalous things in it: fire and slaughterings, exogamy, marriage by capture, corroborees, cannibalism! Ancestresses with perhaps dim anticipatory likenesses to her aunt, their hair less neatly done, no doubt, their manners and gestures as yet undisciplined, but still ancestresses in the direct line, must have danced through a brief and stirring life in the woady buff. Was there no echo anywhere in Miss Stanley's pacified brain? Those empty rooms, if they were empty, were the equivalents of astoundingly decorated predecessors. Perhaps it was just as well there was no inherited memory.
Ann Veronica was by this time quite shocked at her own thoughts, and yet they would go on with their freaks. Great vistas of history opened, and she and her aunt were near reverting to the primitive and passionate and entirely indecorous arboreal—were swinging from branches by the arms, and really going on quite dread-fully—when their arrival at the Palsworthys' happily checked this play of fancy, and brought Ann Veronica back to the exigencies of the wrappered life again.
Lady Palsworthy liked Ann Veronica because she was never awkward, had steady eyes, and an almost invariable neatness and dignity in her clothes. She seemed just as stiff and shy as a girl ought to be, Lady Palsworthy thought, neither garrulous nor unready, and free from nearly all the heavy aggressiveness, the overgrown, overblown quality, the egotism and want of consideration of the typical modern girl. But then Lady Palsworthy had never seen Ann Veronica running like the wind at hockey. She had never seen her sitting on tables nor heard her discussing theology, and had failed to observe that the graceful figure was a natural one and not due to ably chosen stays. She took it for granted Ann Veronica wore stays—mild stays, perhaps, but stays, and thought no more of the matter. She had seen her really only at teas, with the Stanley strain in her uppermost. There are so many girls nowadays who are quite unpresentable at tea, with their untrimmed laughs, their awful dispositions of their legs when they sit down, their slangy disrespect; they no longer smoke, it is true, like the girls of the eighties and nineties, nevertheless to a fine intelligence they have the flavor of tobacco. They have no amenities, they scratch the mellow surface of things almost as if they did it on purpose; and Lady Palsworthy and Mrs. Pramlay lived for amenities and the mellowed surfaces of things. Ann Veronica was one of the few young people—and one must have young people just as one must have flowers—one could ask to a little gathering without the risk of a painful discord. Then the distant relationship to Miss Stanley gave them a slight but pleasant sense of proprietorship in the girl. They had their little dreams about her.
Mrs. Pramlay received them in the pretty chintz drawing-room, which opened by French windows on the trim garden, with its croquet lawn, its tennis-net in the middle distance, and its remote rose alley lined with smart dahlias and flaming sunflowers. Her eye met Miss Stanley's understandingly, and she was if anything a trifle more affectionate in her greeting to Ann Veronica. Then Ann Veronica passed on toward the tea in the garden, which was dotted with the elite of Morningside Park society, and there she was pounced upon by Lady Palsworthy and given tea and led about. Across the lawn and hovering indecisively, Ann Veronica saw and immediately affected not to see Mr. Manning, Lady Palsworthy's nephew, a tall young man of seven-and-thirty with a handsome, thoughtful, impassive face, a full black mustache, and a certain heavy luxuriousness of gesture. The party resolved itself for Ann Veronica into a game in which she manoeuvred unostentatiously and finally unsuccessfully to avoid talking alone with this gentleman.
Mr. Manning had shown on previous occasions that he found Ann Veronica interesting and that he wished to interest her. He was a civil servant of some standing, and after a previous conversation upon aesthetics of a sententious, nebulous, and sympathetic character, he had sent her a small volume, which he described as the fruits of his leisure and which was as a matter of fact rather carefully finished verse. It dealt with fine aspects of Mr. Manning's feelings, and as Ann Veronica's mind was still largely engaged with fundamentals and found no pleasure in metrical forms, she had not as yet cut its pages. So that as she saw him she remarked to herself very faintly but definitely, "Oh, golly!" and set up a campaign of avoidance that Mr. Manning at last broke down by coming directly at her as she talked with the vicar's aunt about some of the details of the alleged smell of the new church lamps. He did not so much cut into this conversation as loom over it, for he was a tall, if rather studiously stooping, man.
The face that looked down upon Ann Veronica was full of amiable intention. "Splendid you are looking to-day, Miss Stanley," he said. "How well and jolly you must be feeling."
He beamed over the effect of this and shook hands with effusion, and Lady Palsworthy suddenly appeared as his confederate and disentangled the vicar's aunt.
"I love this warm end of summer more than words can tell," he said. "I've tried to make words tell it. It's no good. Mild, you know, and boon. You want music."
Ann Veronica agreed, and tried to make the manner of her assent cover a possible knowledge of a probable poem.
"Splendid it must be to be a composer. Glorious! The Pastoral. Beethoven; he's the best of them. Don't you think? Tum, tay, tum, tay."
Ann Veronica did.
"What have you been doing since our last talk? Still cutting up rabbits and probing into things? I've often thought of that talk of ours—often."
He did not appear to require any answer to his question.
"Often," he repeated, a little heavily.
"Beautiful these autumn flowers are," said Ann Veronica, in a wide, uncomfortable pause.
"Do come and see the Michaelmas daisies at the end of the garden," said Mr. Manning, "they're a dream." And Ann Veronica found herself being carried off to an isolation even remoter and more conspicuous than the corner of the lawn, with the whole of the party aiding and abetting and glancing at them. "Damn!" said Ann Veronica to herself, rousing herself for a conflict.
Mr. Manning told her he loved beauty, and extorted a similar admission from her; he then expatiated upon his own love of beauty. He said that for him beauty justified life, that he could not imagine a good action that was not a beautiful one nor any beautiful thing that could be altogether bad. Ann Veronica hazarded an opinion that as a matter of history some very beautiful people had, to a quite considerable extent, been bad, but Mr. Manning questioned whether when they were bad they were really beautiful or when they were beautiful bad. Ann Veronica found her attention wandering a little as he told her that he was not ashamed to feel almost slavish in the presence of really beautiful people, and then they came to the Michaelmas daisies. They were really very fine and abundant, with a blaze of perennial sunflowers behind them.
"They make me want to shout," said Mr. Manning, with a sweep of the arm.
"They're very good this year," said Ann Veronica, avoiding controversial matter.
"Either I want to shout," said Mr. Manning, "when I see beautiful things, or else I want to weep." He paused and looked at her, and said, with a sudden drop into a confidential undertone, "Or else I want to pray."
"When is Michaelmas Day?" said Ann Veronica, a little abruptly.
"Heaven knows!" said Mr. Manning; and added, "the twenty-ninth."
"I thought it was earlier," said Ann Veronica. "Wasn't Parliament to reassemble?"
He put out his hand and leaned against a tree and crossed his legs. "You're not interested in politics?" he asked, almost with a note of protest.
"Well, rather," said Ann Veronica. "It seems—It's interesting."
"Do you think so? I find my interest in that sort of thing decline and decline."
"I'm curious. Perhaps because I don't know. I suppose an intelligent person OUGHT to be interested in political affairs. They concern us all."
"I wonder," said Mr. Manning, with a baffling smile.
"I think they do. After all, they're history in the making."
"A sort of history," said Mr. Manning; and repeated, "a sort of history. But look at these glorious daisies!"
"But don't you think political questions ARE important?"
"I don't think they are this afternoon, and I don't think they are to you."
Ann Veronica turned her back on the Michaelmas daisies, and faced toward the house with an air of a duty completed.
"Just come to that seat now you are here, Miss Stanley, and look down the other path; there's a vista of just the common sort. Better even than these."
Ann Veronica walked as he indicated.
"You know I'm old-fashioned, Miss Stanley. I don't think women need to trouble about political questions."
"I want a vote," said Ann Veronica.
"Really!" said Mr. Manning, in an earnest voice, and waved his hand to the alley of mauve and purple. "I wish you didn't."
"Why not?" She turned on him.
"It jars. It jars with all my ideas. Women to me are something so serene, so fine, so feminine, and politics are so dusty, so sordid, so wearisome and quarrelsome. It seems to me a woman's duty to be beautiful, to BE beautiful and to behave beautifully, and politics are by their very nature ugly. You see, I—I am a woman worshipper. I worshipped women long before I found any woman I might ever hope to worship. Long ago. And—the idea of committees, of hustings, of agenda-papers!"
"I don't see why the responsibility of beauty should all be shifted on to the women," said Ann Veronica, suddenly remembering a part of Miss Miniver's discourse.
"It rests with them by the nature of things. Why should you who are queens come down from your thrones? If you can afford it, WE can't. We can't afford to turn our women, our Madonnas, our Saint Catherines, our Mona Lisas, our goddesses and angels and fairy princesses, into a sort of man. Womanhood is sacred to me. My politics in that matter wouldn't be to give women votes. I'm a Socialist, Miss Stanley."
"WHAT?" said Ann Veronica, startled.
"A Socialist of the order of John Ruskin. Indeed I am! I would make this country a collective monarchy, and all the girls and women in it should be the Queen. They should never come into contact with politics or economics—or any of those things. And we men would work for them and serve them in loyal fealty."
"That's rather the theory now," said Ann Veronica. "Only so many men neglect their duties."
"Yes," said Mr. Manning, with an air of emerging from an elaborate demonstration, "and so each of us must, under existing conditions, being chivalrous indeed to all women, choose for himself his own particular and worshipful queen."
"So far as one can judge from the system in practice," said Ann Veronica, speaking in a loud, common-sense, detached tone, and beginning to walk slowly but resolutely toward the lawn, "it doesn't work."
"Every one must be experimental," said Mr. Manning, and glanced round hastily for further horticultural points of interest in secluded corners. None presented themselves to save him from that return.
"That's all very well when one isn't the material experimented upon," Ann Veronica had remarked.
"Women would—they DO have far more power than they think, as influences, as inspirations."
Ann Veronica said nothing in answer to that.
"You say you want a vote," said Mr. Manning, abruptly.
"I think I ought to have one."
"Well, I have two," said Mr. Manning—"one in Oxford University and one in Kensington." He caught up and went on with a sort of clumsiness: "Let me present you with them and be your voter."
There followed an instant's pause, and then Ann Veronica had decided to misunderstand.
"I want a vote for myself," she said. "I don't see why I should take it second-hand. Though it's very kind of you. And rather unscrupulous. Have you ever voted, Mr. Manning? I suppose there's a sort of place like a ticket-office. And a ballot-box—" Her face assumed an expression of intellectual conflict. "What is a ballot-box like, exactly?" she asked, as though it was very important to her.
Mr. Manning regarded her thoughtfully for a moment and stroked his mustache. "A ballot-box, you know," he said, "is very largely just a box." He made quite a long pause, and went on, with a sigh: "You have a voting paper given you—"
They emerged into the publicity of the lawn.
"Yes," said Ann Veronica, "yes," to his explanation, and saw across the lawn Lady Palsworthy talking to her aunt, and both of them staring frankly across at her and Mr. Manning as they talked.
CHAPTER THE THIRD
THE MORNING OF THE CRISIS
Two days after came the day of the Crisis, the day of the Fadden Dance. It would have been a crisis anyhow, but it was complicated in Ann Veronica's mind by the fact that a letter lay on the breakfast-table from Mr. Manning, and that her aunt focussed a brightly tactful disregard upon this throughout the meal. Ann Veronica had come down thinking of nothing in the world but her inflexible resolution to go to the dance in the teeth of all opposition. She did not know Mr. Manning's handwriting, and opened his letter and read some lines before its import appeared. Then for a time she forgot the Fadden affair altogether. With a well-simulated unconcern and a heightened color she finished her breakfast.
She was not obliged to go to the Tredgold College, because as yet the College had not settled down for the session. She was supposed to be reading at home, and after breakfast she strolled into the vegetable garden, and having taken up a position upon the staging of a disused greenhouse that had the double advantage of being hidden from the windows of the house and secure from the sudden appearance of any one, she resumed the reading of Mr. Manning's letter.
Mr. Manning's handwriting had an air of being clear without being easily legible; it was large and rather roundish, with a lack of definition about the letters and a disposition to treat the large ones as liberal-minded people nowadays treat opinions, as all amounting to the same thing really—a years-smoothed boyish rather than an adult hand. And it filled seven sheets of notepaper, each written only on one side.
"MY DEAR MISS STANLEY," it began,—"I hope you will forgive my bothering you with a letter, but I have been thinking very much over our conversation at Lady Palsworthy's, and I feel there are things I want to say to you so much that I cannot wait until we meet again. It is the worst of talk under such social circumstances that it is always getting cut off so soon as it is beginning; and I went home that afternoon feeling I had said nothing—literally nothing—of the things I had meant to say to you and that were coursing through my head. They were things I had meant very much to talk to you about, so that I went home vexed and disappointed, and only relieved myself a little by writing a few verses. I wonder if you will mind very much when I tell you they were suggested by you. You must forgive the poet's license I take. Here is one verse. The metrical irregularity is intentional, because I want, as it were, to put you apart: to change the lilt and the mood altogether when I speak of you.
"'A SONG OF LADIES AND MY LADY
"'Saintly white and a lily is Mary, Margaret's violets, sweet and shy; Green and dewy is Nellie-bud fairy, Forget-me-nots live in Gwendolen's eye. Annabel shines like a star in the darkness, Rosamund queens it a rose, deep rose; But the lady I love is like sunshine in April weather, She gleams and gladdens, she warms—and goes.'
"Crude, I admit. But let that verse tell my secret. All bad verse—originally the epigram was Lang's, I believe—is written in a state of emotion.
"My dear Miss Stanley, when I talked to you the other afternoon of work and politics and such-like things, my mind was all the time resenting it beyond measure. There we were discussing whether you should have a vote, and I remembered the last occasion we met it was about your prospects of success in the medical profession or as a Government official such as a number of women now are, and all the time my heart was crying out within me, 'Here is the Queen of your career.' I wanted, as I have never wanted before, to take you up, to make you mine, to carry you off and set you apart from all the strain and turmoil of life. For nothing will ever convince me that it is not the man's share in life to shield, to protect, to lead and toil and watch and battle with the world at large. I want to be your knight, your servant, your protector, your—I dare scarcely write the word—your husband. So I come suppliant. I am five-and-thirty, and I have knocked about in the world and tasted the quality of life. I had a hard fight to begin with to win my way into the Upper Division—I was third on a list of forty-seven—and since then I have found myself promoted almost yearly in a widening sphere of social service. Before I met you I never met any one whom I felt I could love, but you have discovered depths in my own nature I had scarcely suspected. Except for a few early ebullitions of passion, natural to a warm and romantic disposition, and leaving no harmful after-effects—ebullitions that by the standards of the higher truth I feel no one can justly cast a stone at, and of which I for one am by no means ashamed—I come to you a pure and unencumbered man. I love you. In addition to my public salary I have a certain private property and further expectations through my aunt, so that I can offer you a life of wide and generous refinement, travel, books, discussion, and easy relations with a circle of clever and brilliant and thoughtful people with whom my literary work has brought me into contact, and of which, seeing me only as you have done alone in Morningside Park, you can have no idea. I have a certain standing not only as a singer but as a critic, and I belong to one of the most brilliant causerie dinner clubs of the day, in which successful Bohemianism, politicians, men of affairs, artists, sculptors, and cultivated noblemen generally, mingle together in the easiest and most delightful intercourse. That is my real milieu, and one that I am convinced you would not only adorn but delight in.