MRS. WARREN'S DAUGHTER
A Story of the Woman's Movement
SIR HARRY JOHNSTON
New York THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 1920
MY JURY OF MATRONS:
WINIFRED JOHNSTON ELLA HEPWORTH-DIXON CATHERINE WELLS ANGELA MOND BEATRICE SANDS MARGARET POWYS ANNETTE HENDERSON FLORENCE FELLOWES MARY LEVY RAY ROCKMAN-BRAHAM FLORENCE TRAVERS MAUD PARRY
THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED, IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT—IN THE MAIN—IT HAS THEIR SYMPATHY AND APPROVAL.
H. H. JOHNSTON
POLING, March, 1920
The earlier part of Vivien Warren's life and that of her mother, Catherine Warren, was told by Mr. George Bernard Shaw in his play, "Mrs. Warren's Profession," published first in 1898.
(Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant: 1. Unpleasant. Constable and Co., 6th Edition.)
I have his permission to continue the story from 1898 onwards. To understand my sequel it is not necessary to have read the play which so brilliantly placed the Warren problem before us. But as most persons of average good education have found Mr. Shaw's comedies necessary to their mental furnishing, their understanding of contemporary life, it is probable that all who would be drawn to this book are already acquainted with the story of Mrs. Warren, and will be interested in learning what happened after that story was laid down by Mr. Shaw in 1897. I would in addition placate hostile or peevish reviewers by reminding them of the continuity of human histories; of biographies, real—though a little disguised by the sauce of fiction—and unreal—because entitled Life and Letters, by His Widow. The best novel or life-story ever written does not commence with its opening page. The real commencement goes back to the Stone ages or at any rate to the antecedent circumstances which led up to the crisis or the formation of the characters portrayed. Mr. Pickwick had a father, a grandfather; a mother in a mob-cap; in the eighteenth century. It is permissible to speculate on their stories and dispositions. Neither does a novel or a biography end with the final page of its convenient instalment.
When you lay down the book which describes the pathetic failure of Lord Randolph Churchill, you do so with curiosity as to what will become of Winston. With a pre-knowledge of the Pickwick Club, one may usefully employ the imagination in tracing out the possible careers of Sam Weller's chubby little boys; grown into old men, and themselves, perchance, leaving progeny that may have married into the peerage from the Turf, or have entered the War Cabinet at the beckoning of Mr. Lloyd George.
I know of descendants of Madame de Brinvilliers in England who have helped to found the Y.W.C.A.; and collateral offshoots from the Charlotte Corday stock who are sternly opposed to the assassination of statesmen-journalists.
So, I have taken on myself the continuation of the story outlined twenty-three years ago by Mr. Shaw in its late Victorian stage. He had a prior claim to do so; just as he might have shown us the life—but not the letters, for she was illiterate—of Catherine Warren's mother, the frier of fish and letter of lodgings on Tower Hill in the 'forties and 'fifties of the last century; and of the young Lieutenant Warren of the Tower garrison who lodged and cohabited with her at intervals between 1850 and 1854, when he went out to the Crimea and there died of frost-bite and neglected wounds. Mr. Shaw has waived such claims, having, as Vivie's grandmother would have said, "other fish to fry." But for this I should not have ventured to take up the tale, as I hold an author while he lives has a prescriptive right to his creations. I shall feel no bitterness in Nirvana if, after my death, another continues the story of Vivie or of her friends and collateral relations, under circumstances which I shall not live to see.
In justice to Mr. Shaw I should state that the present book is entirely my own, and that though he has not renounced a polite interest in Vivie he is in no way responsible for her career and behaviour. He may even be annoyed at both.
H. H. JOHNSTON.
CHAPTER PREFACE BY THE AUTHOR I VIVIE AND NORIE II HONORIA AND HER FRIENDS III DAVID VAVASOUR WILLIAMS IV PONTYSTRAD V READING FOR THE BAR VI THE ROSSITERS VII HONORIA AGAIN VIII THE BRITISH CHURCH IX DAVID IS CALLED TO THE BAR X THE SHILLITO CASE XI DAVID GOES ABROAD XII VIVIE RETURNS XIII THE SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT XIV MILITANCY XV IMPRISONMENT XVI BRUSSELS AND THE WAR: 1914 XVII THE GERMANS IN BRUSSELS: 1915-1916 XVIII THE BOMB IN PORTLAND PLACE XIX BERTIE ADAMS XX AFTER THE ARMISTICE L'ENVOI
MRS. WARREN'S DAUGHTER
VIVIE AND NORIE
The date when this story begins is a Saturday afternoon in June, 1900, about 3 p.m. The scene is the western room of a suite of offices on the fifth floor of a house in Chancery Lane, the offices of Fraser and Warren, Consultant Actuaries and Accountants. There is a long window facing west, the central part of which is open, affording a passage out on to a parapet. Through this window, and still better from the parapet outside, may be seen the picturesque spires and turrets of the Law Courts, a glimpse here and there of the mellow, red-brick, white-windowed houses of New Square, the tree-tops of Lincoln's Inn Fields, and the hint beyond a steepled and chimneyed horizon of the wooded heights of Highgate. All this outlook is flooded with the brilliant sunshine of June, scarcely dimmed by the city smoke and fumes.
In the room itself there are on each of the tables vases of flowers and a bunch of dark red roses on the top of the many pigeon-holed bureau at which Vivien Warren is seated. The walls are mainly covered with book-shelves well filled with consultative works on many diverse subjects. There is another series of shelves crowded with neat, green, tin boxes containing the papers of clients. A dark green-and-purple portiere partly conceals the entry into a washing place which is further fitted with a gas stove for cooking and cupboards for crockery and provisions. At the opposite end of the room is a door which opens into a small bedroom. The fireplace in the main room is fitted with the best and least smelly kind of gas stove obtainable in 1900.
There are two square tables covered with piles of documents neatly tied with green tape and ranged round the central vase of flowers; a heavy, squat earthenware vase not easily knocked over; and there is a second bureau with pigeon-holes and a roll top, similar to the one at which Vivien Warren is seated. This is for the senior partner, Honoria Fraser. Between the bureaus there is plenty of space for access to the long west window and consequently to the parapet which can be used like a balcony. Two small arm-chairs in green leather on either side of the fireplace, two office chairs at the tables and a revolving chair at each bureau complete the furniture of the partners' room of Fraser and Warren as you would have seen it twenty years ago.
The rest of their offices consisted of a landing from which a lift and a staircase descended, a waiting-room for clients, pleasantly furnished, a room in which two female clerks worked, and off this a small room tenanted by an office boy. You may also add in imagination an excellent lavatory for the clerks, two telephones (one in the partners' room), hidden safes, wall-maps; and you must visualize everything as pleasing in colour—green, white, and purple—flooded with light; clean, tidy, and admirably adapted for business in the City.
Vivien Warren, as already mentioned, was, as the curtain goes up, seated at her bureau, reading a letter. The letter was headed "Camp Hospital, Colesberg, Cape Colony, May 2, 1900"; and ran thus:—
Here I am still, but my leg is mending fast. The enteric was the worse trouble. That is over and done with, though I am the colour of a pig-skin saddle. My leg won't let me frisk just yet, but otherwise I feel as strong as a horse.
When I was bowled over three months ago and the enteric got hold of me, on top of the bullet through my thigh, I lost my self-control and asked the people here to cable to you to come and nurse me. It was silly perhaps—the nursing here is quite efficient—and if any one was to have come out on my account it ought to have been the poor old mater, who wanted to very much. But somehow I could only think of you. I wanted you more than I'd ever done before. I hoped somehow your heart might be touched and you might come out and nurse me, and then out of pity marry me. Won't you do so? Owing to my stiff leg I dare say I shall be invalided out of the Army and get a small wound pension. And I've a project which will make lots of money—up in Rhodesia—a tip I've had from a man in the know. I'm going to take up some land near Salisbury. Ripping country and climate and all that. It would suit you down to the ground. You could put all that Warren business behind you, forget it all, drop the name, start a new career as Mrs. Frank Gardner, and find an eternally devoted husband in the man that signs this letter.
I've been out here long enough to be up to all the ropes, and I'd already made a bit of money in Rhodesia before the war broke out and I got a commission. At any rate I've enough to start on as a married man, enough to give you a decent outfit and your passage out here and have a honeymoon before we start work on our future home. Darling Vivie! Do think about it. You'd never regret it. I'm a very different Frank to the silly ass you knew in the old Haslemere days. Now here's a five pound note to cover the cost of a full cable to say "yes," and when you'll be ready to start. When I get your answer—somehow I feel it'll be "yes"—I'll send you a draft on a London bank to pay for a suitable trousseau and your passage from London to Cape Town, and of course I'll come and meet you there, where we can be married. I shan't sleep properly till I get your "yes."
Your ever loving and always faithful FRANK.
P.S. There's a poor fellow here in the same ward dying—I should say—of necrosis of the jaw—Vavasour Williams is his name or a part of his name. His father was at Cambridge with my old man, and—isn't it rum?—he was a pupil of Praddy's!! He mucked his school and 'varsity career, thought next he'd like to be an architect or a scene painter. My dad recommended Praddy as a master. He worked in the Praed studio, but got the chuck over some foolery. Then as he couldn't face his poor old Governor, he enlisted in the Bechuanaland Border police, came out to South Africa and got let in for this show. The doctors and nurses give him about a month and he doesn't know it. He can't talk much owing to his jaw being tied up—usually he writes me messages, all about going home and being a good boy, turning over a new leaf, and so on. I suppose the last person you ever see nowadays is the Revd. Sam Gardner? You know they howked him out of Woodcote? He got "preferment" as he calls it, and a cure of souls at Margate. Rather rough on the dear old mater—bless her, always—She so liked the Hindhead country. But if you run up against Praddy you might let him know and he might get into touch with Vavasour Williams's people—twig?—F.G.
Vivie rose to her feet half-way through this letter and finished it standing by the window.
She was tall—say, five feet eight; about twenty-five years of age; with a well-developed, athletic figure, set off by a smart, tailor-made gown of grey cloth. Yet although she might be called a handsome woman she would easily have passed for a good-looking young man of twenty, had she been wearing male costume.
Her brown-gold hair was disposed of with the least ostentation possible and with no fluffiness. Her eyebrows were too well furnished for femininity and nearly met when she frowned—a too frequent practice, as was the belligerent look from her steely grey eyes with their beautiful Irish setting of long dark lashes. She had a straight nose and firm rounded chin, a rather determined look about the mouth—lower lip too much drawn in as if from perpetual self-repression. But all this severity disappeared when she smiled and showed her faultless teeth. The complexion was clear though a little tanned from deliberate exposure in athletics. Altogether a woman that might have been described as "jolly good-looking," if it had not been that whenever any man looked at her something hostile and forbidding came into the countenance, and the eyebrows formed an angry bar of hazel-brown above the dark-lashed eyes. But her "young man" look won for her many a feminine friendship which she impatiently repelled; for sentimentality disgusted her.
The door of the partners' room opened and in walked Honoria Fraser. She was probably three years older than Vivie and likewise a well-favoured woman, a little more matronly in appearance, somewhat after the style of a married actress who really loves her husband and has preserved her own looks wonderfully, though no one would take her for less than twenty-eight.
At the sight of her, Vivie lost her frown and tossed the letter on to the bureau.
Honoria Fraser had been lunching with friends in Portland Place.
Honoria: "What a swotter you are! I thought I should find you here. I suppose the staff departed punctually at One? I've come back expressly from the Michael Rossiters to carry you off to them—or rather to Kew. They're going to have tea with the Thiselton-Dyers and then revel in azaleas and roses. I shall go out and charter a hansom and we'll drive down ... it'll be some compensation for your having worked extra hard whilst I've been away....
"I met such a delightful man at the Rossiters'!" (slightly flushing) "Don't look at me so reproachfully! There are delightful men—a few—in existence. This one has been wounded in South Africa and he's so good-looking, though the back of his head is scarred and he'll always walk with a limp.... Now then! Why do you look so solemn? Put on your hat..."
Vivie: "I look solemn because I'm just considering a proposal of marriage—or rather, the fewest words in which I can refuse it. I don't think I want to go to Kew at all ... much sooner we had tea together, here, on the roof..."
Norie: "I suppose it's Frank Gardner again, as I see his handwriting on that envelope. Well I'm sorry about Kew—I should have enjoyed it..."
Vivie (bitterly): "I expect it's that 'delightful man' that attracts you."
Norie: "Nonsense! I'm vowed to virginity, like you are ... I really don't care if I never see Major Armstrong again ... though he certainly is rather a darling ... very good-looking ... and, d'you know, he's almost a Pro-Boer, though the Boers ambushed him.... Says this war's a beastly mistake....
"Well: I'll have tea here instead, if you like, and we can talk business, which we haven't done for a fortnight. I must get out of the way of paying visits in the country. They make one so discontented with the City afterwards. I've had a feeling lately I should like to have been a farmer.... Too much of the work of the firm has been thrown on you.... But there's lots and lots I want to talk over. I abandon Kew, willingly, and as to Major Armstrong.... However he can always find my address if he cares to..."
Vivie (sits down in one of the arm chairs and Norie takes the other): "Oh don't pity me. I love hard work and work which interests me. And as to working for you, you know there's nothing I wouldn't..."
Norie: "Oh stow that!... You've been a full-fledged partner for a year and ought to be getting callous or suspicious ... I did take some money out of the petty cash yesterday. I must remember to put it down. I took quite a lot ... for theatre tickets ... and you may be suspecting Bertie Adams ... we can't call this an Adamless Eden, can we? I wonder why we keep an office boy and not an office girl? I suppose such things will soon be coming into being. We've women clerks and typewriteresses ... Adams, I notice, is growing, and he has the trace of a moustache and is already devoted to you ... dog-like..."
Vivie: "He's still more devoted to cricket, fortunately; and as soon as Rose and Lilian had gone he was off too.... Only, I fancy, he discards Regent's Park now in favour of Hendon or Herne Hill..."
Norie: "Now, about Frank Gardner..."
Vivie: "Yes, that cablegram.... Let's frame it and send it off as soon as we can; then get tea ready. Talking of tea: I was just thinking before Frank's letter came how much good you'd done me—in many other ways than setting me up in business."
Norie: "Shut up!..."
Vivie: "How, when we first worked together, I used to think it necessary to imitate men by drinking an occasional whiskey and soda—though I loathe spirits—and smoking a cigar—ugh!—And how you drew me back to tea and a self-respecting womanliness—China tea, of course, and cigarettes. Why should we have wanted to be like men?... much better to be the New Woman....
"As to Frank's cablegram..." (Goes to bureau, tries over several drafts of message, consults Postal Guide as to cable rates per word, and reads aloud) ... "How's this? 'Captain Frank Gardner Camp Hospital Colesberg Cape Colony. Sorry must say no Best wishes recovery writing. Vivie.' That'll cost just Two pounds and out of the balance I shall buy a good parcel of books to send him, and some strawberries and cakes for our tea." (Therewith she puts on hat carefully—for she is always very particular, in a young-gentlemanly way, about her appearance—goes out to send off cablegram from Chancery Lane post-office, buy strawberries and cakes from Fleet Street shops, and so back to the office by four o'clock. Meantime Norie is reading through some of the recent correspondence on the file.)
Vivie (on her return): "Pouf! It was hot in Fleet Street! I'm sorry for poor Frankie, because he seems so to have set his heart on marrying me. But I do hope he will take this answer as final."
Norie: "I suppose you are not refusing him for the same old reason—that vague suggestion that he might be your half-brother?"
Vivie: "Oh no! Besides I pretty well know for a fact he isn't, he simply couldn't be. I'm absolutely sure my father wasn't Sam Gardner, any more than George Crofts was. I believe it was a young Irish seminarist, some student for the priesthood whom my mother met in Belgium the year before I was born. If I ever find out more I will tell you. You haven't seen 'Soapy Sam,' the Vicar of Woodcote, or that beast, George Crofts; but if you had, you'd be as sure as I am that neither of them was my father—thank goodness! As to Frank—yes—for a short time I was fond of him—till I learnt about my mother's 'profession.' It was rather a silly sort of fondness. He was two years younger than I; I suppose my feeling for him was half motherly ... I neither encouraged him nor did I repel him. I think I was experimenting ... I rather wanted to know what it felt like to be kissed by a man. Frank was a nice creature, so far as a man can be. But all those horrid revelations that broke up our summer stay at Haslemere four years ago—when I ran away to you—gave me an utter disgust for marriage. And what a life mine would have been if I had married him then; or after he went out to South Africa! Ghastly! Want of money would have made us hate one another and Frank would have been sure to become patronizing. Because I was without a father in the legitimate way he would have thought he was conferring a great honour on me by marrying me, and would probably have expected me to drudge for him while he idled his time away.... Oh, when I think what a life I have led here, with you, full of interesting work and bright prospects, free from money anxieties—dearest, dearest Norie—I can't thank you enough. No, I'm not going to be sentimental—the New Woman is never that. I'm going to get the tea ready; and after we've had tea on the balcony we really must go into business matters. Your being away so much the last fortnight, things have accumulated that I did not like to decide for myself..."
Norie (speaking rather louder as Vivie is now busy in the adjoining roomlet, boiling the kettle on the gas stove and preparing the tea): "Yes. And I've got lots to talk over with you. All sorts of plans have come into my head. I don't know whether I have been eating anything more than usually brain stimulating—everything has a physical basis—but I have come back from this scattered holiday full of new ideas."
Presently they are seated on camp-stools sipping tea, eating strawberries and cakes, under the striped sun-blind.
Norie continues: "Do you remember Beryl Clarges at Newnham?"
Vivie: "Yes—the pretty girl—short, curly hair, brown eyes, rather full lips, good at mathematics—hockey ... purposely shocked you by her outspokenness—well?"
Norie: "Well, she's had a baby ... a month ago ... awful rumpus with her people ... Father's Dean Clarges ... Norwich or Ely, I forget which ... They've put her in a Nursing Home in Seymour Street. Mother wears a lace mantilla and cries softly. Beryl went wrong, as they call it, with an architect."
Vivie: "Pass your cup ... Don't take all the strawberries (Norie: "Sorry! Absence of mind—I've left you three fat ones") Architect? Strange! I always thought all architects were like Praddy—had no passions except for bricks and mortar and chiselled stone and twirligig iron grilles ... perhaps just a thrill over a nude statue. Why, till you told me this I'd as soon have trusted my daughter—if I had one—with an architect as with a Colonel of Engineers—You know! The kind that believes in the identity of the Ten Lost Tribes with the British and is a True Protestant! Poor Beryl! But how? what? when? why?"
Norie: "I think it began at Cambridge—the acquaintance did ... Later, it developed into a passion. He had already one wife in Sussex somewhere and four children. He took a flat for her in Town—a studio—because Berry had given up mathematics and was going in for sculpture; and there, whenever he could get away from Storrington or some such place and from his City office, he used to visit Beryl. This had been going on for three years. But last February she had to break it to her mother that she was six months gone. The other wife knows all about it but refuses to divorce the naughty architect, and at the same time has cut off supplies—What cowards men are and how little women stand by women! And then it's a poor deanery and Beryl has five younger brothers that have got to be educated. Her sculpture was little more than commissions executed for her architect's building and I expect that resource will now disappear ... I half think I shall bring her in here, when she is well again. She's got a very good head-piece and you know we are expanding our business ... She'd make a good House Agent ... She writes sometimes for Country Life..."
Vivie: "Ye-es.... But you can't provide for many more of our college-mates. Any more gone wrong?"
Norie: "It depends how you qualify 'wrong.' I really don't see that it is 'wronger' for a young woman to yield to 'storge' and have a baby out of wedlock than for a man to engender that baby. Society doesn't damn the man, unless he is a Cabinet Minister or a Cleric; but it does its best to ruin the woman ... unless she's an actress or a singer. If a woman likes to go through all the misery of pregnancy and the pangs of delivery on her own account and without being legally tied up with a man, why can't she? Beryl, at any rate, is quite unashamed, and says she shall have as many children as her earnings support ... that it will be great fun choosing their sires—more variety in their types.... Is she the New Woman, I wonder?"
Vivie: "Well the whole thing bores me ... I suppose I am embittered and disgusted. I'm sick of all this sexual nonsense.... Yes, after all, I approve of the marriage tie: it takes away the romance of love, and it's that romance which is usually so time-wasting and so dangerous. It conceals often a host of horrors ... But I'm a sort of neuter. All I want in life is hard work ... a cause to fight for.... Revenge ... revenge on Man. God! How I hate men; how I despise them! We can do anything they can if we train and educate. I have taken to your business because it is one of the crafty paths we can follow to creep into Man's fastnesses of the Law, the Stock-Market, the Banks and Actuarial work..."
Norie: "My dear! You have quite a platform manner already. I predict you will soon be addressing audiences of rebellious women.... But I am more the Booker Washington of my sex. I want women to work—even at quite humble things—before they insist on equal rights with man. At any rate I want to help them to make an honest livelihood without depending on some one man.... Business seems to be good, eh? If the first half of this year is equalled by the second, I should think there would be a profit to be divided of quite a thousand pounds?"
Vivie: "Quite. Of course we are regular pirates. None of the actuarial or accountancy corporations will admit women, so we can't pass exams and call ourselves chartered actuaries or incorporated accountants. But if women clients choose to consult us there is no law to prevent them, or to make our giving advice illegal. So we advise and estimate and do accounts and calculate probabilities. Then although we can't call ourselves Solicitors we can—or at any rate we do—give legal advice. We can't figure on the Stock Exchange, but we can advise clients about their investments and buy and sell stock and real estate (By the bye I want you to give me your opinion on the tithe question, the liability on that Kent fruit farm). We are consulted on contracts ... I'm going to start a women authors' branch, and perhaps a tourist agency. Some day we will have a women's publishing business, we'll set up a women's printing press, a paper mill.... Of course as you know I am working hard on law ... not only to understand men's roguery in every direction, but so that if necessary I can add pleading in the courts to some other woman's solicitor work. That's going to be my first struggle with Man: to claim admittance to the Bar.... If we can once breach that rampart the Vote must inevitably follow. Oh how we have been dumb before our shearers! The rottenness of Man's law.... The perjury, corruption, waste of time, special pleading that go on in our male courts of injustice, the verdicts of male juries!"
Norie: "Just so. But can't you find a little time to be social? Why be so morose? For instance, why not come and be introduced to Michael Rossiter? He's a dear—amazingly clever—a kind of prophet—Your one confidant, Stead, thinks a lot of him."
Vivie: "Dear Norie—I can't. I swore two years ago I would drop Society and run no risk of being found out as 'Mrs. Warren's daughter.' That beast George Crofts revenged himself because I wouldn't marry him by letting it be known here and there that I was the daughter of the 'notorious Mrs. Warren'; whereupon several of the people I liked—you remember?—dropped me—the Burne-Joneses, the Lacrevys. Or if it wasn't Crofts some other swine did. But for the fact that it would upset our style as a firm I could change my name: call myself something quite different....
"D'you know, I've sometimes thought I'd cut my hair short and dress in men's clothes, and go out into the world as a man ... my voice is almost a tenor—Such a lark! I'd get admitted to the Bar. But the nuisance about that would be the references. I'm an outlaw, you see, through no fault of mine.... I couldn't give you as a reference, and I don't know any man who would be generous enough to take the risk of participating in the fraud.... unless it were Praed—good old Praddy. I'm sure it's been done now and again. They call Judge FitzSimmons 'an old woman.' Well, d'you know, I believe he is ... a wise old woman."
Norie: "Well: bide a wee, till our firm is doing a roaring business: I can pretend then to take in a male partner, p'raps. Rose and Lilian are very hard-working and we can't afford to lose them yet. If you appeared one morning dressed as a young man they might throw up their jobs and go elsewhere..."
Vivie: "You may be quite sure I won't let you down. Moreover I haven't the money for any vagaries yet, though I have an instinct that it is coming. You know those Charles Davis shares I bought at 5s. 3d.? Well, they rose to 29s. whilst you were away; so I sold out. We had three hundred, and that, less commissions, made about L350 profit; the boldest coup we have had yet. And all because I spotted that new find of emery powder in Tripoli, saw it in a Consular Report....
"I want to be rich and therefore powerful, Norie! Then people will forget fast enough about my shameful parentage."
Norie: "How is she? Do you ever hear from or of her now?"
Vivie: "I haven't heard from her for two years, since I left her letters unanswered. But I hear of her every now and again. No. Not through Crofts. I suppose you know—if you take any interest in that wretch—that since he married the American quakeress he took his name off the Warren Hotels Company and sold out much of his interest. He is now living in great respectability, breeding race horses. They even say he has given up whiskey. He has got a son and has endowed six cots in a Children's hospital. No. I think it must be mother who has notices posted to me, probably through that scoundrel, Bax Strangeways ... generally in the London Argus and the Vie-de-Paris—cracking up the Warren Hotels in Brussels, Berlin, Buda-Pest and Roquebrune. What a comedy!...
"There's my Aunt Liz at Winchester—Mrs. Canon Burstall—won't know me—I'm too compromising. But I'm sure her money-bags have been filled at one time—perhaps are still—out of the profits on mother's 'Hotels.'..."
Norie: "I didn't remember your aunt was married ... or rather I suppose I did, but thought she was a widow, real or soi-disant..."
Vivie: "So she is, after four years of happy married life! My 'uncle' Canon Burstall—Oh what a screaming joke the whole thing is!... I doubt if he was aware he had a niece.... Don't you remember he was killed in the Alps last autumn?..."
Norie: "I remember your going down to see your aunt after you broke off relations with your mother in—in—1897...?"
Vivie: "Yes. I wanted to see how the land lay and not judge any one unfairly. Besides I—I—didn't like being dependent entirely on you—at that time—for support: and Praed was in Italy. I knew that Aunt Liz, like mother, was illegitimate—and guessed she had once made her living in the higher walks of prostitution—she was a stockbroker's mistress at one time—. But she had married and settled down at Winchester ... She met her Canon—the Alpine traveller ... in Switzerland. I felt if she took no money from mother's 'houses,' I could perhaps make a home with her, or at any rate have some kith and kin to go to. She had no children.... But—I must have told you all this years ago?—she almost pushed me out of her house for fear I should stay till the Canon came in from the afternoon service; denied everything; threatened me as though I was a blackmailer; almost looked as if she could have killed me and buried me in the garden of the Canonry....
"I've examined the business of the Warren Hotels Ltd. since then, but it's a private company, and all its doings are so cleverly concealed.... Aunt Liz doesn't figure amongst the shareholders any more than Crofts does. That horrid Bax holds most of the shares now, and mother the rest.... Yet Aunt Liz must be rich and she certainly didn't get it from the Canon, who only left a net personality of under L4,000.... I read his will at Somerset House.... She has had her portrait in the Queen because she gave a large subscription to the underpinning of Winchester Cathedral and the restoration of Wolvesey as a clergy house.... Mother must be very rich, I should judge, from certain indications. I expect she will retire from the 'Hotels,' some day, wipe out the past, and buy a new present with her money.... She'll have her portrait in the Queen some day as a Vice-President of the Girls' Friendly Society!... And yet she's such a gambler and a rake that she may get pinched over the White Slave traffic.... I was on tenterhooks over that Lewissohn case the other day, fearing every moment to see mother's name mixed up with it, or else an allusion to her 'Hotels.' But I fancy she has been wise enough—indeed I should guess that Aunt Liz had long ago warned her to leave England alone as a recruiting ground and to collect her chambermaids, waitresses, musicians, typists from the Continent only—Austria, Alsace, Bohemia, Belgium, Italy, the Rhineland, Paris, Russia, Poland. Knowing what we British people are, can't you almost predict the bias of Aunt Liz's mind? How she would solace herself that her dividends were not derived from the prostitution of English girls but only of 'foreigners'?..."
Norie: "You seem to have studied the geography of the business pretty thoroughly!..."
Vivie (bitterly): "Yes. I have talked it over with Stead from time to time. I believe he has only spared mother and the Warren Hotels out of consideration for me ... He wants me to change my surname and give myself a chance..."
Norie: "I see" (pausing). "Of course it is rather an idea, as you refuse to disguise yourself by marriage. You'd change your name and then listen with equanimity to fulminations against the Warren Hotels. But there would be an awkwardness in the firm. We oughtn't to change our title just as we are getting a good clientele.... I must think ... If only we could pretend you'd been left some property—but that sort of lie is soon found out!—and had to change your name to—to—to. Oh well, we could soon think of some name beginning with a W—Walters, Waddilove—Waddilove is a delicious name in cold weather, suggesting cotton-wool or a warm duvet—or Wilson—or Wilberforce. But I'm afraid the staff—Rose Mullet and Lily Steynes and the amorous Bertie Adams—would think it odd, put two and two together, and guess right. Warren, after all, is such a common name. And we've got so used to our three helpers, we could hardly turn them off, and take on new people whom perhaps we couldn't trust.... We must think it over....
"Now I must go back to Queen Anne's Mansions and sit a little while with Mummy. Come and dine with us? There'll only be us three ... no horrid man to fall in love with you.... You needn't put on a low dress ... and we'll go to the dress circle at some play afterwards."
Vivie: "But those papers on my desk? I must have your opinion for or against..."
Norie: "All right. It's half-past five. I'll give them half an hour's study whilst you wash up the tea things and titivate. Then we'll take a hansom to Quansions: the Underground is so grimy."
HONORIA AND HER FRIENDS
The story of Honoria Fraser was something like this: partly guesswork, I admit. Although I know her well I can only put her past together by deductions based on a few admitted facts, one or two letters and occasional unfinished sentences, interrupted by people coming in. Is it not always thus with our friends and acquaintances? I long to know all about them from their birth (including date and place of birth and parentage) onwards; what the father's profession was and why on earth he married the mother (after I saw the daguerreotype portrait), and how they became possessed of so much money, and why she went back to live with her mother between the birth of her second child and the near advent of her third. But in how very few cases do we know their whole story, do we even care to know more than is sufficient for our purpose in issuing or accepting invitations? There are the Dombeys—the Gorings as they're now called, who live near us. I've seen the tombstone of Lucilla Smith in Goring churchyard, but I don't know for a fact that Lord Goring was the father of Lucilla's son (who was killed in the war). I guess he was, from this and that, from what Mrs. Legg told me, and what I overheard at the Sterns'. If he wasn't, then he has only himself to thank for the wrong assumption: I mean, from his goings-on.
Then again, the Clementses, who live at the Grange. I feel instinctively they are nice people, but I haven't the least idea who she was and how he made his money, though from his acreage and his motors I am entitled to assume he has a large income. She seems to know a lot about Spain; but I don't feel encouraged to ask her: "Was your father in the wine trade? Is that why you know Xeres so well?" Clements himself has in his study an enlarged photograph of a handsome woman with a kind of mourning wreath round the frame—beautifully carved. Is it the portrait of a former wife? Or of a sister who committed suicide? Or was it merely bought in Venice for the sake of the carving? Perhaps I shall know some day—if it matters. In a moment of expansion during the Railway Strike, Mrs. Clements will say: "That was poor Walter's first. She died of acute dyspepsia, poor thing, on their marriage tour, and was buried at Venice. Don't ever allude to it because he feels it so dreadfully." And my curiosity will have been rewarded for its long and patient restraint. Clements' little finger on his left hand is mutilated. I have never asked why—a lawn-mowing machine? Or a bite from some passionate mistress in a buried past? I note silently that he disapproves of palmistry—
But about Honoria Fraser, to whom I was introduced by Mr. George Bernard Shaw twenty years ago: She was born in 1872, as Who's Who will tell you; also that she was the daughter and eldest child of a famous physician (Sir Meldrum Fraser) who wrought some marvellous cures in the 'sixties, 'seventies and 'eighties, chiefly by dieting and psycho-therapy. (He got his knighthood in the first jubilee year for reducing to reasonable proportions the figure of good-hearted, thoroughly kindly, and much loved Princess Mary of Oxford.) He—Honoria's father—was married to a beautiful woman, a relation of Bessie Rayner Parkes, with inherited advanced views on the Rights and Position of Woman. Lady Fraser was, indeed, an early type of Suffragist and also wrote some poetry which was far from bad. They had two children: Honoria, born, as I say, in 1872; and John (John Stuart Mill Fraser was his full name—too great a burden to be borne) four years later than Honoria, who was devoted to him, idolized him, as did his mother and father. Honoria went to Bedford College and Newnham; John to one of the two most famous of our public schools (I need not be more precise), with Cambridge in view afterwards.
But in the case of John a tragedy occurred. He had risen to be head of the school; statesmen with little affectation applauded him on speech days. He had been brilliant as a batsman, was a champion swimmer, and facile princeps in the ineptitudes of the classics; and showed a dazzling originality in other studies scarcely within the school curriculum. Further he was growing out of boy gawkiness into a handsome youth of an Apolline mould, when, on the morning of his eighteenth birthday, he was found dead in his bed, with a bottle of cyanide of potassium on the bed-table to explain why.
All else was wrapt in mystery ... at any rate it was a mystery I have no wish to lay bare. The death and the inquest verdict, "Suicide while of unsound mind, due to overstudy," broke his father's heart and his mother's: in the metaphorical meaning of course, because the heart is an unemotional pump and it is the brain and the nerve centres that suffer from our emotions. Sir Meldrum Fraser died a year after his son. He left a fortune of eighty thousand pounds. Half of this went at once to Honoria and the other half to the life-use of Lady Fraser with a reversion to her daughter.
Honoria after her father's death left Cambridge and moved her mother from Harley Street to Queen Anne's Mansions so that with her shattered nerves and loss of interest in life she might have no household worries, or at any rate nothing worse than remonstrating with the still-room maids on the twice-boiled water brought in for the making of tea; or with the culinary department over the monotonous character of the savouries or the tepid ice creams which dissolved so rapidly into fruit-juice when they were served after a house-dinner. Honoria herself, mistress of a clear two thousand pounds a year, and more in prospect, carried out plans formed while still at Newnham after her brother's death. She, like Vivien Warren, her three-years-younger friend and college-mate, was a great mathematician—a thing I never could be and a status I am incapable of understanding; consequently one I view at first with the deepest respect. I am quite astonished when I meet a male or female mathematician and find they require food as I do, are less quick at adding up bridge scores, lose rather than win at Goodwood, and write down the "down" train instead of the "up" in their memorabilia. But there it is. They have only to apply sines and co-sines, tangents and logarithms to a stock exchange quotation for me to grovel before their superior wisdom and consult them at every turn in life.
[Footnote 1: This, of course, was twenty, years ago.—H.H.J.]
Honoria had resolved to turn her great acquirements in Algebra and the Higher Mathematics to practical purposes. Being the ignoramus that I am—in this direction—I cannot say how it was to be done; but both she and Vivie had grasped the possibilities which lay before exceptionally well-educated women on the Stock Exchange, in the Provision markets, in the Law, in Insurance calculations, and generally in steering other and weaker women through the difficulties and pitfalls of our age; when in nine cases out of thirteen (Honoria worked out the ratio) women of large or moderate means have only dishonest male proficients to guide them.
Moreover Honoria's purpose was two-fold. She wished to help women in their business affairs, but she also wanted to find careers for women. She, like Vivien Warren, was a nascent suffragist—perhaps a born suffragist, a reasoned one; because the ferment had been in her mother, and her grandmother was a friend of Lydia Becker and a cousin of Mrs. Belloc. John's death had been a horrible numbing shock to Honoria, and she felt hardly in her right mind for three months afterwards. Then on reflection it left some tarnish on her family, even if the memory of the dear dead boy, the too brilliant boy, softened from the poignancy of utter disappointment into a tender sorrow and an infinite pity and forgiveness.
But the tragedy turned her thoughts from marriage to some mission of well-doing. She determined to devote that proportion of her inheritance which would have been John's share to this end: the liberation and redemption of women.
She was no "anti-man," like Vivie. She liked men, if truth were told, a tiny wee bit more than women. But she wished in the moods that followed her brother's death in 1894 to be a mother by adoption, a refuge for the fallen, the bewildered, the unstrung. She helped young men back into the path of respectability and wage-earning as well as young women. She was even, when opportunity offered, a matchmaker.
Being heiress eventually to L4,000 a year (a large income in pre-war days) and of attractive appearance, she had no lack of suitors, even though she thought modern dancing inane, and had little skill at ball-games. I have indicated her appearance by some few phrases already; but to enable you to visualize her more definitely I might be more precise. She was a tall woman rather than large built, like the young Juno when first wooed by Jove. Where she departed from the Junonian type she turned towards Venus rather than Minerva; in spite of being a mathematician. You meet with her sisters in physical beauty among the Americans of Pennsylvania, where, to a stock mainly Anglo-Saxon, is added a delicious strain of Gallic race; or you see her again among the Cape Dutch women who have had French Huguenot great grandparents. It is perhaps rather impertinent continuing this analysis of her charm, seeing that she lives and flourishes more than ever, twenty years after the opening of my story; not very different in outward appearance at 48, as Lady Armstrong—for of course, as you guess already, she married Major—afterwards Sir Petworth—Armstrong—than she was at twenty-eight, the partner, friend and helper of Vivien Warren.
Being in comfortable circumstances, highly educated, handsome, attractive, with a mezzo-soprano voice of rare beauty and great skill as a piano-forte accompanyist, she had not only suitors who took her rejection without bitterness, but hosts of friends. She knew all the nice London people of her day: Lady Feenix, who in some ways resembled her, Diana Dombey, who did not quite approve of her, being a little uncertain yet about welcoming the New Woman, all the Ritchies, married and unmarried, Lady Brownlow, the Duchess of Bedford (Adeline), the Michael Fosters, most of the Stracheys (she liked the ones I liked), the Hubert Parrys, the Ripons (how she admired Lady Ripon, as who did not!), Mrs. Alfred Lyttelton, Miss Lena Ashwell, the Bernard Shaws, the Wilfred Meynells, the H.G. Wellses, the Sidney Webbs; and—leaving uninstanced a number of other delightful, warm-blooded, pleasant-voiced, natural-mannered people—the Rossiters.
Or at least, Michael Rossiter. For although you could tolerate for his sake Mrs. Rossiter, and even find her a source of quiet amusement, you could hardly say you liked her—not in the way you could say it of most of the men and women I have specified. Michael Rossiter, who comes into this story, ought really if there were a discriminating wide-awake, up-to-date Providence—which there is not—to have met Honoria when she was twenty. (At nineteen such a woman is still immature; and moreover until she was twenty, Honoria had not mastered the Binomial Theorem.) Had he married her at that period he would himself have been about twenty-seven which is quite soon enough for a great man of science to marry and procreate geniuses. But as a matter of fact, when he came down to Cambridge in—? 1892—to deliver a course of Vacation lectures on embryology, he was already two years married to Linda Bennet, an heiress, the daughter and niece (her parents died when she was young and she lived with an uncle and aunt) of very rich manufacturers at Leeds.
So, though his eye, quick to discern beauty, and his brain tentacles ready to detect intelligence combined with a lovely nature, soon singled out Honoria Fraser, amongst a host of less attractive girl-graduates, he had no more thought of falling in love with her than with a princess of the blood-royal. He might, long since, within a month of his marriage have found out his Linda to be a pretty little simpleton with a brain incapable of taking in any more than it had learnt at a Scarborough finishing school; but he was too instinctive a gentleman to indulge in any flirtation, any deviation whatever from mental or physical monogamy. For he remembered always that it was his wife's money which had enabled him to pursue his great researches without the heart-breaking delays, limitations and insufficiencies involved in Government or Royal Society grants; and that Linda had not only endowed him with all her worldly goods—all but those he had insisted in putting into settlement—but that she had given him all her heart and confidence as well.
Still, he liked Honoria. She was eager to learn much else beyond the hard-grained muses of the square and cube; she was the daughter of a prosperous and boldly experimental physician, whose wife was a champion of women's rights. So he pressed Honoria to come with her mother and make the acquaintance of himself and Linda in Portland Place.
Why was Michael Rossiter wedded to Linda Bennet when he was no more than twenty-five, and she just past her coming of age? Because fresh from Edinburgh and Cambridge and with a reputation for unusual intuition in Biology and Chemistry he had come to be Science master at a great College in the North, and thus meeting Linda at the Philosophical Institute of Leeds had caused her to fall in love with him whilst he lectured on the Cainozoic fauna of Yorkshire. He was himself a Northumbrian of borderland stock: something of the Dane and Angle, the Pict and Briton with a dash of the Gypsy folk: a blend which makes the Northumbrian people so much more productive of manly beauty, intellectual vivacity, bold originality than the slow-witted, bulky, crafty Saxons of Yorkshire or the under-sized, rugged-featured Britons of Lancashire.
Linda fell in love all in one evening with his fiery eyes, black beard, the Northumbrian burr of his pronunciation, and the daring of his utterances, though she could scarcely grasp one of his hypotheses. Her uncle and aunt being narrowly pietistic she was bored to death with the Old Testament, and Rossiter's scarcely concealed contempt for the Mosaic story of creation captured her intellect; while the physical attraction she felt was that which the tall, handsome, resolute brunet has for the blue-eyed fluffy little blonde. She openly made love to him over the tea and coffee served at the "soiree" which followed the lecture. Her slow-witted guardian had no objection to offer; and there were not wanting go-betweens to urge on Rossiter with stories of her wealth and the expanding value of her financial interests. He wanted to marry; he was touched by her ill-concealed passion, found her pretty and appealingly childlike. So, after a short wooing, he married her and her five thousand pounds a year, and settled down in Park Crescent, Portland Place, so as to be near the Zoo and Tudell's dissecting rooms, to have the Royal Botanic gardens within three minutes' walk, and the opportunity of turning a large studio in the rear of his house into a well-equipped chemical and dissecting laboratory. One of his close pursuits at that time was the analysis of the Thyroid gland and its functions, its over or under development in British statesmen, dramatic authors and East End immigrants.
DAVID VAVASOUR WILLIAMS
It is in the spring of 1901. A fine warm evening, but at eight o'clock the dusk is already on the verge of darkness as Honoria emerges from the lift at her Chancery Lane Office (near the corner of Carey Street), puts her latch-key into the door of the partners' room, and finds herself confronting the silhouette of a young man against the western glow of the big window.
Norie (inwardly rather frightened): "Hullo! Who are you and what are you doing here?"
Vivie (mimicking a considerate, cringing burglar): "Sorry to startle you, lidy, but I don't mean no 'arm. I'll go quiet. Me name's D.V. Williams..."
Norie: "You absurd creature! But you shouldn't play such pranks on these respectable premises. You gave me a horrid start, and I realized for the first time that I've got a heart. I really must sit down and pant."
Vivie: "I am sorry, dearest. I had not the slightest notion you would be letting yourself into the office at this hour—8 o'clock—and I was just returning from my crammers..."
Norie: "I came for those Cranston papers. Mother is ill. I may have to sit up with her after Violet Hunt goes, so I thought I would come here, fetch the bundle of papers and plans, and go through them in the silent watches of the night, if mother sleeps. But do you mean to say you have already started this masquerade?"
Vivie: "I do. You see Christabel Pankhurst has been turned down as a barrister. They won't let her qualify for the Bar, because she's a woman, so they certainly won't let me with my pedigree; just as, merely because we are women, they won't let us become Chartered Actuaries or Incorporated Accountants. After we had that long talk last June I got a set of men's clothes together, a regular man's outfit. The suit doesn't fit over well but I am rectifying that by degrees. I went to a general outfitter in Cornhill and told a cock-and-bull story—as it was an affair of ready cash they didn't stop to question me about it. I said something about a sea-faring brother, just my height, a trifle stouter in build—lost all his kit at sea—been in hospital—now in convalescent home—how I wanted to save him all the fatigue possible—wouldn't want more than reach-me-downs at present, etc., etc. They rather flummoxed me at first by offering a merchant service uniform, but somehow I got over that, though this serge suit has rather a sea-faring cut. I got so unnecessarily explanatory with the shopman that he began to pay me compliments, said my brother must be a good-looking young chap if he was at all like me. However, I got away with the things in a cab, and told the cab to drive to St. Paul's station, and on the way re-directed him here.
"Last autumn I began practising at night-time after all our familiars had left these premises. Purposely I did not tell you because I feared your greater caution and instinctive respectability might discourage me. Otherwise, nobody's spotted me, so far. I'd intended breaking it to you any day now, because I've gone too far to draw back, for weal or woe. But either we have been rushed with business, or you've been anxious about Lady Fraser—How is she?" (Norie interpolates "Very poorly.") "So truly sorry!—I was generally just about to tell you when Rose or Lilian—tiresome things!—would begin most assiduously passing in and out with papers. Even now I mustn't keep you, with your mother so ill..."
Norie (looking at her wrist-watch): "Violet has very kindly promised to stay with mother till ten.... I can give you an hour, though I must take a few minutes off that for the firm's business as I haven't been here much for three days..." (They talk business for twenty minutes, during which Norie says: "It's really rather odd, how those clothes change you! I feel vaguely compromised with a handsome young man bending over me, his cheek almost touching mine!"—and Vivie retorts "Oh, don't be an ass!")
Norie: "So you really are going to take the plunge?"
Vivie: "I really am. As soon as it suits your convenience, Vivie Warren will retire from your firm and go abroad. You must either replace her by Beryl Clarges or allow Mr. Vavasour Williams" (Honoria interpolates: "Ridiculous name! How did you think of it?") "to come and assist in the day-time or after office hours. You can say to the winds that he is Vivie's first cousin, remarkably like her in some respects.... Rose Mullet is engaged to be married and is only—she told me yesterday with many blushes—staying on to oblige us. Lilian Steynes said the other day that if we were making any changes in the office, much as she liked her work here, her mother having died she thought it was her duty to go and live with her maternal aunt in the country. The aunt thinks she can get her a post as a brewery clerk at Aylesbury, and she is longing to breed Aylesbury ducks in her spare time.—There is Bertie Adams, it's true. There's something so staunch about him and he is so useful that he and Praed and Stead are the three exceptions I make in my general hatred of mankind..."
Norie: "He will be very much cut up at your going—or seeming to go."
Vivie: "Just so. I think I shall write him a farewell note, saying it's only for a time: I mean, that I may return later on—dormant partnership—nothing really changed, don't you know? But that as Rose and Lilian are going, Mrs.—what does she call herself, Claridge?"—(Norie interpolates: "Yes, that was her idea: she doesn't want to blazon the name of Clarges as the symbol of Free Love, 'cos of the dear old Dean; yet Claridge will not be too much of a surrender and is sure to invoke respectability, because of the Hotel")—"Mrs. Claridge, then, is coming in my stead—He's to help her all he can—and my cousin, who is reading for the Bar, will also look in when you are very busy. I shall, of course, see about rooms in one of the Inns of Court—the Temple perhaps. I have been stealthily watching Fig Tree Court. I think I can get chambers there—a man is turning out next month—got a Colonial appointment—I've put my new name down at the lodge and I shall have to rack my brains for references—you will do for one—or perhaps not—however that I can work out later. Of course I won't take the final plunge till I have secured the rooms. Meantime I will use my bedroom here but promise you I will be awfully prudent..."
Norie: "I couldn't possibly have Beryl 'living in,' with a child hanging about the place; so I think if you do go I shall turn your bedroom into an apartment which Beryl and I can use for toilet purposes but where we can range out on book-shelves a whole lot of our books. Just now they are most inconveniently stored away in boxes. It's rather tiresome about Beryl. I believe she's going to have another child. At any rate she says it may be four months before she can come to work here regularly. I asked her about it the other day, because if mother gets worse I may be hindered about coming to the office, and I didn't want you to get overworked,—so I said to Beryl.... That reminds me, she referred to the coming child and added that its father was a policeman. Quite a nice creature in his private life. Of course she's only kidding. I expect it's the architect all the time. You know how she delighted in shocking us at Newnham. I wish she hadn't this kink about her. P'raps I'm getting old-fashioned already—You used to call me 'the Girondist.' But if the New Woman is to go on the loose and be unmoral like the rabbits, won't the cause suffer from middle-class opposition?"
Vivie: "Perhaps. But it may gain instead the sympathies of the lower and the upper classes. Why do you bother about Beryl? I agree with you in disliking all this sexuality..."
Norie: "Does one ever quite know why one likes people? There is something about Beryl that gets over me; and she is a worker. You know how she grappled with that Norfolk estate business?"
Vivie: "Well, it's fortunate she and I have not met since Newnham days. You must tip her the story that I am going away for a time—abroad—and that a young—young, because I look a mere boy, dressed up in men's clothes—a young cousin of mine, learned in the law, is going to drop in occasionally and do some of the work..."
Norie: "I'm afraid I'm rather weak-willed. I ought to stop this prank before it has gone too far, just as I ought to discourage Beryl's babies. Your schemes sound so stagey. Off the stage you never take people in with such flimsy stories and weak disguises—you'll tie yourself up into knots and finally get sent to prison.... However.... I can't help being rather tickled by your idea. It's vilely unjust, men closing two-thirds of the respectable careers to women, to bachelor women above all..." (A pause, and the two women look out on a blue London dotted with lemon-coloured, straw-coloured, mauve-tinted lights, with one cold white radiance hanging over the invisible Piccadilly Circus)—"Well, go ahead! Follow your star! I can be confident of one thing, you won't do anything mean or disgraceful. Deceiving Man while his vile laws and restrictions remain in force is no crime. Be prudent, so far as compromising our poor little firm here is concerned, because if you bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave we shall lose a valuable source of income. Besides: any public scandal just now in which I was mixed up might kill my mother. Want any money?"
Vivie: "You generous darling! Never, never shall I forget your kindness and your trust in me. You have at any rate saved one soul alive." (Honoria deprecates gratitude.) "No, I don't want money—yet. You made me take and bank L700 last January over that Rio de Palmas coup—heaps more than my share. Altogether I've got about L1,000 on deposit at the C. and C. bank, the Temple Bar branch. I've many gruesome faults, but I am thrifty. I think I can win through to the Bar on that. Of course, if afterwards briefs don't come in—"
Norie: "Well, there'll always be the partnership which will go on unaltered. I shall pretend you are only away for a time and your share shall be regularly paid in to your bank. Of course I shall meet Mr. Vavasour Williams now and again and I can tell him things and consult with him. If we think Beryl, after she is installed here as head clerk—of course I shan't make her a partner for years and years—not at all if she remains flighty—if we think she is unsuspicious, and Bertie Adams likewise, and the new clerks and the housekeeper and her husband, there is no reason why you should not come here fairly often and put in as much work as you can on our business."
Vivie: "Yes. Of course I must be careful of one predicament. I have studied the regulations about being admitted to the English Bar. They are very quaint and medieval or early Georgian. You mayn't be a Chartered Accountant or Actuary—the Lord alone knows why! I suppose some Lord Chancellor was done in the eye in Elizabeth's reign by an actuary and laid down that law. Equally you mayn't be a clergyman. As to that we needn't distress ourselves. It's rather piteous about the prohibiting Accountants, because as women we are not allowed to qualify in any capacity as Accountants or Actuaries; and work here is only permissible by our not pretending to belong to any recognized body like the Institute of Actuaries. So that in coming to work for you I must not seem to be in any way doing the business of Accountants or Actuaries. Indeed it might be awkward for my scheme if I was too openly associated with Fraser and Warren.
"I already think of myself as Williams—I shall pose of course as a Welshman. My appearance is rather Welsh, don't you think? It's the Irish blood that makes me look Keltic—I'm sure my father was an Irish student for the priesthood at Louvain, and certain scraps of information I got out of mother make me believe that her mother was a pretty Welsh girl from Cardiff, brought over to London Town by some ship's captain and stranded there, on Tower Hill.
"However, I have still the whole scheme to work out and when I'm ready to start on it—which will be very soon—I'll let you know. Now, though I'd love to discuss all the other details, I mustn't forget your mother will be wanting you—I wish I had a mother to tend—I wonder" (wistfully) "whether I was too hard on mine?
"D'you mind posting these letters as you go out? I shall change back to Vivie Warren in a dressing gown, give myself a light supper, and then put in two hours studying Latin and Norman French. Good night, dearest!"
Two months after this conversation Vivie decided to pay a call on an old friend of her mother's, Lewis Maitland Praed, if you want his full name, a well-known architect, and one of the few male friends of Catherine Warren who had not also been her lover. Why, he never quite knew himself. When he first met her she was the boon companion, the mistress—more or less, and unattached—of a young barrister, a college friend of Praed's. Kate Warren at that time called herself Kitty Vavasour; and on the strength of having done a turn or two on the music halls considered herself an actress with a right to a professional name. It was in this guise that the "Revd." Samuel Gardner met her and had that six months' infatuation for her which afterwards caused him so much disquietude; though it preceded the taking of his ordination vows by quite a year, and his marriage to his wife—much too good for him—in 1874. [The Revd. Sam, you may remember, was the father of the scapegrace Frank who nearly captured Vivie's young affections and had written from South Africa proposing marriage at the opening of this story.]
Kate Vavasour in 1872 was an exceedingly pretty girl of nineteen or twenty; showily dressed, and quick with her tongue. She was good-natured and jolly, and though Praed himself was the essence of refinement there was something about her reckless mirth and joy in life—the immense relief of having passed from the sordid life of a barmaid to this quasi-ladyhood—that enlisted his sympathies. Though she was always somebody else's mistress until she developed her special talent as a manageress of high-class houses of accommodation, "private hotels" on the Continent, chiefly frequented by English and American roues—Praed kept an eye on her career, and occasionally rendered her, with some cynicism, unobtrusive friendly services in disentangling her affairs when complications threatened. He was an art student in those days of the 'seventies, possessed of about four hundred a year, beginning to go through the aesthetic phase, and not decided whether he would emerge a painter of pictures or an architect of grandiose or fantastic buildings. To his studio Miss Kitty Vavasour or Miss Kate Warren would often come and pose for the head and shoulders, or for some draped caryatid wanted for an ambitious porch in an imaginary millionaire's house in Kensington Palace Gardens. When in 1897, Vivie had learnt about her mother's "profession," she had flung off violently from all her mother's "friends," except "Praddy." She even continued to call him by this nickname, long ago bestowed on him by her mother. At distant intervals she would pay him a visit at his house and studio near Hans Place; when Honoria's advice and assistance did not meet the case of some grave perplexity.
So one afternoon in June, 1901, she came to his little dwelling with its large studio, and asked to have a long talk to him, whilst his parlour-maid—he was still a bachelor—denied him to other callers. They had tea together and Vivie plunged as quickly as possible into her problem.
"You know, Praddy dear, I want to be a Barrister. But as a female they will never call me to the Bar. So I'm going to send Vivien Warren off for a long absence abroad—the few who think about me will probably conclude that money has carried the day and that I've gone to help my mother in her business—and in her absence Mr. Vavasour Williams will take up the running. David V. Williams—don't interrupt me—will study for the Bar, eat through his terms—six dinners a year, isn't it?—pass his examinations, and be called to the English Bar in about three years from now. Didn't you once have a pupil called Vavasour Williams?"
Praed: "What, David, the Welsh boy? Yes. His name reminded me of your mother in one of her stages. David Vavasour Williams. I took him on in—let me see? I think it was in 1895 or early 1896. But how did you hear about him?"
Vivie: "Never mind, or never mind for the moment. Tell me some more about him."
Praed: "Well to sum him up briefly he was what school boys and subalterns would call 'a rotter.' Not without an almost mordid cleverness; but the Welsh strain in him which in the father turned to emotional religion—the father was Vicar or Rector of Pontystrad—came out in the boy in unhealthy fancies. He had almost the talent of Aubrey Beardsley. But I didn't think he had a good influence over my other pupils, so before I planned that Italian journey—on which you refused to accompany me—I advised him to leave my tuition—I wasn't modern enough, I said. I also advised him to make up his mind whether he wanted to be a sane architect—he despised questions of housemaids' closets and sanitation and lifts and hot-water supply—or a scene painter. I think he might have had a great career at Drury Lane over fairy palaces or millionaire dwellings. But I turned him out of my studio, though I put the fact less brutally before his father—said I should be absent a long while in Italy and that I feared the boy was too undisciplined. Afterwards I think he went into some South African police force..."
Vivie: "He did, and died last year in a South African hospital. Had he—er—er—many relations, I mean did he come of well-known people?"
Praed: "I fancy not. His father was just a dreamy old Welsh clergyman always seeing visions and believing himself a descendant of the Druids, Sam Gardner told me; and his mother had either died long ago or had run away from her husband, I forget which. In a way, I'm sorry David's dead. He had a sort of weird talent and wild good looks. By the way, he wasn't altogether unlike you."
Vivie: "Thank you for the double-edged compliment. However what you say is very interesting. Well now, my idea is that David Vavasour Williams did not die in a military hospital; he recovered and returned, firmly resolved to lead a new life.—Is his father living by the bye? Did he believe his son was dead?"
Praed: "Couldn't tell you, I'm sure. I never took any further interest in him, and until you mentioned it—I don't know on whose authority—I didn't know he was dead. On the whole a good riddance for his people, I should say, especially if he died on the field of honour. But what lunatic idea has entered your mind with regard to this poor waster?"
Vivie: "Why my idea, as I say, is that D.V.W. got cured of his necrosis of the jaw—I suppose it is not invariably deadly?—came home with a much improved morale, studied hard, and became a barrister, thinking it morally a superior calling to architecture and scene painting. In short, I shall be from this day forth Vavasour Williams, law-student! Would it be safe, d'you think, in that capacity to go down and see his old father?"
Praed: "Vivie! I did think you were a sober-minded young woman who would steer clear of—of—crime: for this impersonation would be a punishable offence..."
Vivie: "Crime? What nonsense! I should consider I was justified in a Court of Equity if I burnt down or blew up the Law Courts or one of the Inns or broke the windows of the Chartered Institute of Actuaries or the Incorporated Law Society. All these institutions and many others bar the way to honourable and lucrative careers for educated women, and a male parliament gives us no redress, and a male press laughs at us for our feeble attempts to claim common rights with men. Instead of proceeding to such violence I am merely resorting to a very harmless guile in getting round the absurd restrictions imposed by the benchers of the Inns of Court, namely that all who claim a call to the Bar should not be accountants, actuaries, clergymen or women. I am going to give up the accountancy business—or rather, the law has never allowed either Honoria or me to become chartered accountants, so there is nothing to give up. To avoid any misapprehension she is going to change the title on our note paper and brass plate to 'General Inquiry Agents.' That will be sufficiently non-committal. Well then, as to sex disqualification, a few weeks hence I shall become David Vavasour Williams, and I presume he was a male? You don't have to pass a medical examination for the Bar, do you?"
Praed: "Really, Vivie, you are unnecessarily coarse..."
Vivie: "I don't care if I am, poor outlaw that I am! Every avenue to an honest and ambitious career seems closed to me, either because I am a woman or—in women's careers—the few that there are—because I am Kate Warren's daughter. I am not to blame for my mother's misdeeds, yet I am being punished for them. That beast of a friend of yours—that filthy swine, George Crofts—set it about after I refused to marry him that I was 'Mrs. Warren's Daughter,' and the few nice people I knew from Cambridge days dropped me, all except Honoria and her mother."
Praed: "Well, I haven't dropped you. I'll always stick by you" (observes that Vivie is trying to keep back her tears). "Vivie—darling—what do you want me to do? Why not marry me and spend half my income, take the shelter of my name—I'm an A.R.A. now—You needn't do more than keep house for me.... I'm rather a valetudinarian—dare say I shan't trouble you long—we could have a jolly good time before I went off with a heart attack—travel—study—write books together—"
Vivie (recovering herself): "Thanks, dear Praddy; you are a brick and I really—in a way—have quite got to love you. Except an office boy in Chancery Lane and W.T. Stead, I don't know any other decent man. But I'm not going to marry any one. I'm going to become Vavasour Williams—the name is rotten, but you must take what you can get. Williams is a quiet young man who only desires to be left alone to earn his living respectably at the Bar, and see there if he cannot redress the balance in the favour of women. But there is something you could do for me, and it is for that I came to see you to-day—by the bye, we have both let our tea grow cold, but for goodness' sake don't order any more on my account, or else your parlour-maid will be coming in and out and will see that I've been crying and you look flushed. What I wanted to ask was this—it's really very simple—If Mr. Vavasour Williams, aged twenty-four, late in South Africa, once your pupil in architecture or scene painting or whatever it was—gives you as a reference to character, you are to say the best you can of him. And, by the bye, he will be calling to see you very shortly and you could lend further verisimilitude to your story by renewing acquaintance with him. You will find him very much improved. In every way he will do you credit. And what is more, if you don't repel him, he will come and see you much oftener than his cousin—I'm not ashamed to adopt her as a cousin—Vivie Warren could have done. Because Vivie, with her deplorable parentage, had your good name to think of, and visited you very seldom; whereas there could be raised no objection from your parlour-maid if Mr. D.V. Williams came rather often to chat with you and ask your advice. Think it over, dear friend—Good-bye."
Early in July, Norie and Vivie were standing at the open west window in their partners' room at the office, trying to get a little fresh air. The staff had just gone its several ways to the suburbs, glad to have three hours of daylight before it for cricket and tennis. Confident therefore of not being overheard, Vivie began: "I've got those rooms in Fig Tree Court. I shall soon be ready to move my things in. I'll leave some of poor Vivie Warren's effects behind if you don't mind, in case she comes back some day. Do you think you can rub along if I take my departure next week? I want to give myself a fortnight's bicycle holiday in Wales—as D.V. Williams—a kind of honeymoon with Fate, before I settle down as a law student. After I come back I can devote much of the summer recess to our affairs, either openly or after office hours. You could then take a holiday, in August. You badly need one. What about Beryl?"
Norie: "Beryl is well over her accouchement and is confident of being able to start work here on August 1.... It's a boy this time. I haven't seen it, so I can't say whether it resembles a policeman more than an architect. Besides babies up till the age of six months only resemble macrocephalic idiots.... I shall be wary with Beryl—haven't committed myself—ourselves to any engagement beyond six months. She's amazingly clever, but I should say quite heartless. Two babies in three years, and both illegitimate—the real Mrs. Architect very much upset, no doubt, Mr. Architect getting wilder and wilder in his work through trying to maintain two establishments—they say he left out all the sanitation in Sir Peter Robinson's new house and let the builders rush up the walls without damp courses—and it's killing her father, the Dean. It's not as though she hid herself away, but she goes out so much! They are talking of turning her out of her club because of the things she says before the waitresses..."
Vivie: "What things?"
Norie: "Why, about its being very healthy to have babies when you're between the ages of twenty and thirty; and how with this twilight sleep business she doesn't mind how often; that it's fifty times more interesting than breeding dogs and cats or guinea-pigs; and she's surprised more single women don't take it up. I think she must be detraquee.... I have a faint hope that by taking her in hand and interesting her in our work—which entre nous deux—is turning out to be very profitable—I may sober her and regularize her. No doubt in 1950 most women will talk as she does to-day, but the advance is too abrupt. It not only robs her parents of all happiness, but it upsets my mother. She now wrings her hands over her own past and fears that by working so strenuously for the emancipation of women she has assisted to breach the dam—Can't you imagine the way the old cats of both sexes go on at her?—the dam which held up female virtue, and that Society now will be drowned in a flood of Free Love..."
Vivie: "Well! We'll give her a six months' trial here, and see if our mix-up of advice in Law, Banking, Estate management, Stock-and-share dealing, Divorce, Private Enquiries, probate, etc., does not prove much more interesting than an illicit connection with a hare-brained architect.... If she proves impossible you'll pack her off and Vivie shall return and D.V. Williams go abroad.... Don't you think there is something that ought to win over Providence in that happily chosen name? D.V. Williams? And my mother once actually called herself 'Vavasour.'
"Well, then, barring accidents and the unforeseen, it's agreed I go on my holiday next Saturday, to return never no more—perhaps—?—"
Norie (with a sigh): "Yes!"
Vivie: "How's your mother?"
Norie: "Oh, as to her, I'm glad to say 'much better.' When I can get away, after the new clerks and Beryl are installed and everything is going smoothly, I shall take her to Switzerland, to a deliciously quiet spot I know and nobody else knows up the Goeschenenthal. The Continent won't be so hot for travelling if we don't start till the end of August..."
Vivie: "Then, dearest ... in case you don't come to the office any more this week, I'll say good-bye—for—for some time..."
(They grip hands, they hesitate, then kiss each other on the cheek, a very rare gesture on either's part—and separate with tears in their eyes.)
The following Monday morning, Bertie Adams, combining in his adolescent person the functions of office boy, junior clerk, and general factotum, entered the outer office of Fraser and Warren and found this letter on his desk:—
Fraser and Warren Midland Insurance Chambers, General Inquiry Agents 88-90, Chancery Lane, W.C. July 12, 1901.
I want to prepare you for something. If you had been an ordinary Office boy, I should not have bothered about you or confided to you anything concerning the Firm. But you are by now almost a clerk, and from the day I joined Miss Fraser in this business, you have helped me more than you know—helped me not only in my work, but to understand that there can be good, true, decent-minded, trustworthy ... you won't like it if I say "boys" ... young men.
I am going away for a considerable time, I cannot say how long—probably abroad. But Miss Fraser thinks I can still help in the work of her firm, so I remain a partner. A cousin of mine, Mr. D.V. Williams, may come in occasionally to help Miss Fraser. I shall ask him to keep an eye on you. Miss Rose Mullet and Miss Steynes are likewise leaving the service of the firm. I dare say you know Miss Mullet is getting married and how Miss Steynes is going to live at Aylesbury. Two other ladies are coming in their place, and much of my own work will be undertaken by a Mrs. Claridge, whom you will shortly see.
It is rather sad this change in what has been such a happy association of busy people, nobody treading on any one else's toes; but there it is! "The old order changeth, giving place to the new ... lest one good custom should corrupt the world"—you will read in the Tennyson I gave you last Christmas. Let's hope it won't be when I return: "Change and Decay in all around I see" ... as the rather dismal hymn has it.
Sometimes change is a good thing. You serve a noble mistress in Miss Fraser and I am sure you realize the importance of her work. It may mean so much for women's careers in the next generation. I shan't quite lose touch with you. I dare say Miss Fraser, even if I am far away, will write to me from time to time and give me news of the office and tell me how you get on. Don't be ashamed of being ambitious: keep up your studies. Why don't you—but perhaps you do?—join evening classes at the Polytechnic?—or at this new London School of Economics which is close at hand? Make up your mind to be Lord Chancellor some day ... even if it only carries you as far as the silk gown of a Q.C. I suppose I ought now to write "K.C." A few years ago we all thought the State would go to pieces when Victoria died. Yet you see we are jogging along pretty well under King Edward. In the same way, you will soon get so used to the new Head Clerk, Mrs. Claridge, that you will wonder what on earth you saw to admire in
This letter came like a cricket ball between the eyes to Bertie Adams. His adored Miss Warren going away and no clear prospect of her return—her farewell almost like the last words on a death-bed.... He bowed his head over his folded arms on his office desk, and gave way to gruff sobs and the brimming over of tear and nose glands which is the grotesque accompaniment of human sorrow.
He forgot for a while that he was a young man of nineteen with an unmistakable moustache and the status of a cricket eleven captain. He was quite the boy again and his feeling for Vivien Warren, which earlier he had hardly dared to characterize, out of his intense respect for her, became once more just filial affection.