A. S. M. HUTCHINSON
"With a great sum obtained I this freedom."—ACTS xxii, 28.
PART ONE—HOUSE OF MEN
PART TWO—HOUSE OF WOMEN
PART THREE—HOUSE OF CHILDREN
PART FOUR—HOUSE OF CARDS
PART ONE—HOUSE OF MEN
Rosalie's earliest apprehension of the world was of a mysterious and extraordinary world that revolved entirely about her father and that entirely and completely belonged to her father. Under her father, all males had proprietory rights in the world and dominion over it; no females owned any part of the world or could do anything with it. All the males in this world—her father, and Robert and Harold her brothers, and all the other boys and men one sometimes saw—did mysterious and extraordinary things; and all the females in this world—her mother, and Anna and Flora and Hilda her sisters, and Ellen the cook and Gertrude the maid—did ordinary and unexciting and generally rather tiresome things. All the males were like story books to Rosalie: you never knew what they were going to do next; and all the females were like lesson books: they just went on and on and on.
Rosalie always stared at men when she saw them. Extraordinary and wonderful creatures who could do what they liked and were always doing mysterious and wonderful things, especially and above all her father.
Being with her father was like being with a magician or like watching a conjuror on the stage. You never knew what he was going to do next. Whatever he suddenly did was never surprising in the sense of being startling, for (this cannot be emphasised too much) nothing her father did was ever surprising to Rosalie; but it was surprising in the sense of being absorbingly wonderful and enthralling. Even better than reading when she first began to read, and far better than anything in the world before the mysteries in books were discoverable, Rosalie liked to sit and stare at her father and think how wonderful he was and wonder what extraordinary thing he would do next. Everything belonged to him. The whole of life was ordered with a view to what he would think about it. The whole of life was continually thrown off its balance and whirled into the most entrancing convulsions by sudden activities of this most wonderful man.
Entrancing convulsions! Wonderful, wonderful father with a bull after him! Why, that was her very earliest recollection of him! That showed you how wonderful he was! Father, seen for the first time (as it were) flying before a bull! Bounding wildly across a field towards her with a bull after him! Wonderful father! Did her mother ever rush along in front of a bull? Never. Was it possible to imagine any of the women she knew rushing before a bull? It was not possible. To see a woman rushing before a bull would have alarmed Rosalie for she would have felt it was unnatural; but for her father to be bounding wildly along in front of a bull seemed to her perfectly natural and ordinary and she was not in the least alarmed; only, as always, enthralled.
Her father, while Rosalie watched him, was not in great danger. He came ballooning along towards Rosalie, not running as ordinarily fit and efficient men run, but progressing by a series of enormous leaps and bounds, arms and legs spread-eagling, and at each leap and bound always seeming to Rosalie to spring as high in the air as he sprung forward over the ground. It would not have surprised Rosalie, who was then about four, to see one of these stupendous leaps continue in a whirling flight through mid-air and her father come hurtling over the gate and drop with an enormous plunk at her feet like a huge dead bird, as a partridge once had come plunk over the hedge and out of the sky when she was in a lane adjacent to a shooting party. It would not have surprised her in the least. Nothing her father did ever surprised Rosalie. The world was his and the fulness thereof, and he did what he liked with it.
Arrived, however, from the bull, not as a ballooning bird out of the sky, but as a headlong avalanche over the gate, Rosalie's father tottered to a felled tree trunk, and sat there heaving, and groaned aloud, "Infernal parish; hateful parish; forsaken parish!"
Rosalie, wonderingly regarding him, said, "Mother says dinner is waiting for you, father."
Her mother and her sisters and the servants and the entire female establishment of the universe seemed to Rosalie always to be waiting for something from her father, or for her father himself, or waiting for or upon some male other than her father. That was another of the leading principles that Rosalie first came to know in her world. Not only were the males, paramountly her father, able to do what they liked and always doing wonderful and mysterious things, but everything that the females did either had some relation to a male or was directly for, about, or on behalf of a male.
Getting Robert off to school in the morning, for instance. That was another early picture.
There would be Robert, eating; and there was the entire female population of the rectory feverishly attending upon Robert while he ate. Six females, intensely and as if their lives depended upon it, occupied with one male. Three girls—Anna about sixteen, Flora fourteen, Hilda twelve—and three grown women, all exhaustingly occupied in pushing out of the house one heavy and obstinate male aged about ten! Rosalie used to stand and watch entranced. How wonderful he was! Where did he go to when at last he was pushed off? What happened to him? What did he do?
There he is, eating; there they are, ministering. Entrancing and mysterious spectacle!
Robert, very solid and heavy and very heated and agitated, would be seated at the table shoving porridge into himself against the clock. One of his legs, unnaturally flexed backward and outward, is in the possession of Rosalie's mother who is on her knees mending a hole in his stocking. The other leg, similarly contorted, is on the lap of Ellen the cook, who with very violent tugs, as if she were lashing a box, is lacing a boot on to it. Behind Robert is Anna, who is pressing his head down with one hand and washing the back of his neck with the other. In front of him across the table is Hilda, staring before her with bemused eyes and moving lips and rapidly counting on drumming fingers. Hilda is doing his sums for him. Beside him on his right side, apparently engaged in throttling him, is Gertrude the maid. Gertrude the maid is trying to tear off him a grimed collar and put on him a clean collar. Facing Gertrude on his other side is Flora. Flora is bawling his history in his ear.
Everybody is working for Robert; everybody is working at top speed for him, and everybody is loudly soliciting his attention.
"Oh, do give over wriggling, master Robert!" (The boot-fastener.)
"'Simon de Montford, Hubert de Burgh, and Peter de Roche.' Well, say it then, you dreadful little idiot!" (The history crammer.)
"Oh, master Robert, do please keep up!" (The collar fastener.)
"Keep down, will you!" (The neck washer.)
"Four sixes are twenty-four and six you carried thirty!" (The arithmetician.)
"Robert, you must turn your foot further round!" (The stocking-darner.)
"'The Barons were now incensed. The Barons were now incensed. The Barons were now incensed.' Say it, you ghastly little stupid!"
"Do they make you do these by fractions or by decimals?... Well, what do you know, then?"
Now the discovery is by everybody simultaneously made and simultaneously announced that Robert is already later in starting than he has ever been (he always was) and immediately Rosalie would become witness of the last and most violent skirmish in this devoted attendance. Everybody rushes around hunting for things and pushing them on to Robert and pushing Robert, festooned with them, towards the door. Where was his cap? Where was his satchel? Where was his lunch? Where were his books? Who had seen his atlas? Who had seen his pencil box? Who had seen his gymnasium belt? Was his bicycle ready? Was his coat on his bicycle? Was that button on his coat?
With these alarums at their height and the excursions attendant on them at their busiest, another splendid male would enter the room and immediately there was, as Rosalie always saw, a transference of attendance to him and a violent altercation between him and the first splendid male. This new splendid male is Rosalie's other brother, Harold. Harold was eighteen and him also the entire female population of the rectory combined to push out of the rectory every morning. Harold was due to be pushed off half an hour later than Robert, and as he was a greater and more splendid male than Robert (though infinitely lesser than her father) so the place to which he was pushed off was far more mysterious and enthralling than the place to which Robert was pushed off. A school Rosalie could dimly understand. But a bank! Why Harold should go to sit on a bank all day, and why he should ride on a bicycle to Ashborough to find a bank when there were banks all around the rectory, and even in the garden itself, Rosalie never could imagine. Mysterious Harold! Anna had told her that men kept money in banks; but Rosalie had never found money in a bank though she had looked; yet banks—of all extraordinary places—were where men chose to put their money! Mysterious men! And Harold could find these banks and find this money though he never took a trowel or a spade and was always shiningly clean with a very high collar and very long cuffs. Wonderful, wonderful Harold!
Robert was due to be pushed off half an hour before Harold was due to be pushed off, but he never was; the two splendid creatures always clashed and there was always between them, because they clashed, a violent scene which Rosalie would not have missed for worlds. A meeting of two males, so utterly unlike a meeting of two females, was invariably of the most entrancingly noisy or violent description. When ladies came to the rectory to see her mother they sat in the drawing-room and sipped tea and spoke in thin voices; but when men came to see her father and went into the study, there was very loud talking and often a row. Yes, and once in the village street, Rosalie had seen two men stand up and thump one another with their fists and fall down and get up and thump again. When two women, her sisters or others, quarrelled, they only shrilled, and went on and on shrilling. It was impossible to imagine the collision of two women producing anything so exciting and splendid as invariably was produced by the collision of two males.
In comes Harold in great heat and hurry (as men always were) with his splendid button boots in one hand and an immense pair of shining cuffs in the other hand.
"Haven't you gone yet, you lazy young brute?"
"No, I haven't, you lazy old brute!"
Agitated feminine cries of "Robert! Robert! You are not to speak to Harold like that."
"Well, he spoke to me like that."
"Yes, and I'll do a jolly sight more than speak to you in a minute if you don't get out of it. Get out of it, do you hear?"
"Robert! Robert! Harold! Harold!"
"Well, get him out of it, or he'll be sorry for it. Why is he always here when I'm supposed to be having my breakfast? Not a thing ready, as usual. Look here, where I'm supposed to sit—flannel and soap! That's washing his filthy neck, I suppose. Filthy young brute! Why don't you wash your neck, pig?"
"Why do you wear girl's boots with buttons, pig?"
Commotion. Enthralling commotion. Half the female assemblage hustle the splendid creature Robert out of the door and down the hall and on to his bicycle; half the female assemblage cover his retreat and block the dash after him of the still more splendid Harold; all the female assemblage, battle having been prevented and one splendid male despatched, combine to minister to the requirements of the second splendid male now demanding attention.
Busy scene. Enthralling spectacle. There he is, eating; shoving sausages into himself against the clock just as Robert had shovelled porridge into himself against the clock. One ministrant is sewing a button on to his boot, another with blotting paper and hot iron is removing a stain from his coat, divested for the purpose; one is pouring out his coffee, another is cutting his bread, a third is watching for his newspaper by the postman. And suddenly he whirls everything into a whirlpool just as men, if Rosalie watches them long enough, always whirl everything into a whirlpool.
"Oh, my goodness, the pump!"
Chorus, "The pump?"
"The bicycle pump! Has that young brute taken the bicycle pump?"
"Yes, he took it. I saw it."
"Catch him across the field! Catch him across the field! Where are my boots? Where the devil are my boots? Well, never mind the infernal button. How am I going to get to the bank with a flat tyre? Can't some one catch him across the field instead of all standing there staring?"
Away they go! Rosalie, seeking a good place for the glorious spectacle, is knocked over in the stampede for the door. Nobody minds Rosalie. Rosalie doesn't mind—anything to see this entrancing sight! Away they go, flying over the meadow, shouting, scrambling, falling. Out after them plunges Harold, shirt-sleeved, one boot half on, hobbling, leaping, bawling. Glorious to watch him! He outruns them all; he outbellows them all. Of course he does. He is a man. He is one of those splendid, wonderful, mysterious creatures to whom, subject only to Rosalie's father, the entire world belongs. Look at him, bounding, bawling! Wonderful, wonderful Harold!
But Robert is wonderful too. If it had been Anna or Flora or Hilda gone off with the pump, she would have been easily caught. Not Robert. Wonderful and mysterious Robert, wonderfully and mysteriously pedalling at incredible speed, is not caught. The hunt dejectedly trails back. The business of pushing Harold out of the house is devotedly resumed.
And again—enthralling spectacle—just as the reign of Robert was terminated by the accession of Harold, so the dominion of Harold is overthrown by the accession of father. Harold is crowded about with ministrants. Nobody can leave him for a minute. Rosalie's father appears. Everybody leaves Harold simultaneously, abruptly, and as if by magic. Rosalie's father appears. Everybody disappears. Wonderful father! Everybody melts away: but Harold does not melt away. Courageous Harold! Everybody melts; only Harold is left, and Rosalie watching; and immediately, as always, the magnificent males clash with sound and fury.
Rosalie's father scowls upon Harold and delivers his morning greeting. No "Good morning, dear," as her mother would have said. "Aren't you gone yet?" like a bark from a kennel.
Wonderful father! A moment before there had been not the remotest sign of Harold ever going. Now Harold is very anxious to go. He is very anxious to go but, like Robert, he will not abandon the field without defiance of the authority next above his own. While he collects his things he whistles. Rosalie shudders (but deliciously as one in old Rome watching the gladiators).
"Do you see the clock, sir?"
"Well, quicken yourself, sir. Quicken yourself."
"The clock's fast."
"It is not fast, sir. And let me add that the clock with which you could keep time of a morning, or of any hour in the day, would have to be an uncommonly slow clock."
Harold with elaborate unconcern adjusts his trouser clips. "I should have thought that was more a matter for the Bank to complain of, if necessary. I may be wrong, of course——"
"You may be wrong, sir, because in my experience you almost invariably are wrong and never more so than when you lad-di-dah that you are right. You may be wrong, but let me tell you what you may not be. You may not be impertinent to me, sir. You may not lad-di-dah me, sir."
"Father, I really do not see why at my age I should be hounded out of the house like this every morning."
"You are hounded out, as you elegantly express it, because morning after morning, owing to your disgustingly slothful habits, you clash with me, sir. My breakfast is delayed because you clash with me, and the house is delayed because you clash with me, and the whole parish is delayed because you clash with me."
"Perhaps you're not aware that Robert clashes with me."
"Dash Robert! Are you going or are you not going?"
"Bring back the paper."
He brings it back.
Rosalie's father gives a tug at the bell cord that would have dislocated the neck of a horse. The cord comes away in his hand. He hurls it across the room.
There was a most frightful storm one night and Rosalie, in Anna's bed with Flora crowded in also and Hilda shivering in her nightgown beside them, too young to be frightened but with her sister's fright beginning to communicate itself to her, said, "Ask father to go and stop it."
"Fool!" cried Flora. "How could father stop the storm?"
Flora's sharp and astounding reply to that question of Rosalie's was recalled by Rosalie, with hurt surprise at Flora's sharpness and ignorance, when, shortly afterwards, she found in a book a man who could, and actually did, stop a storm. This was a man called Prospero in a book called "The Tempest."
She was never—that Rosalie—the conventional wonder-child of fiction who reads before ten all that its author probably never read before thirty; but she could read when she was six and she read widely and curiously, choosing her entertainment, from her father's bookshelves, solely by the method of reading every book that had pictures.
There was but one picture to "The Tempest," a frontispiece, but it sufficed, and at the period when Rosalie believed the ownership of the world to be vested in her father and under him in all males, "The Tempest," because it reflected that condition, was the greatest joy of all the joys the bookshelves discovered to her. She read it over and over again. It presented life exactly as life presented itself to the round eyes of Rosalie: all males doing always noisy and violent and important and enthralling things, with Prospero, her father, by far the most important of all; and women scarcely appearing and doing only what the men told them to do. Miranda's appearances in the story were indifferently skipped by Rosalie; the noisy action and language in the wreck, and the noisy action and language of the drunkards in the wood were what she liked, and all the magic arts of Prospero were what she thoroughly appreciated and understood. That was life as she knew it.
Rosalie's father, when Rosalie thought the world belonged to him and revolved about him, was tall and cleanshaven and of complexion a dark and burning red. When he was excited or angry his face used to burn as the embers in the study fire burned when Rosalie pressed the bellows against them. He had thick black eyebrows and a most powerful nose. His nose jutted from his face like a projection from a cliff beneath a clump of bushes. He had been at Cambridge and he was most ferociously fond of Cambridge. One of the most fearful scenes Rosalie ever witnessed was on one boat-race day when Harold appeared with a piece of Oxford ribbon in his buttonhole. It was at breakfast, the family for some reason or other most unusually all taking breakfast together. Rosalie's father first jocularly bantered Harold on his choice of colour, and everybody—anxious as always to please and placate the owner of the world—laughed with father against Harold. But Harold did not laugh. Harold smouldered resentment and defiance, and out of his smouldering began to maintain "from what chaps had said" that Oxford was altogether and in every way a much better place than Cambridge. In every branch of athletics there were better athletes, growled Harold, at Oxford.
Rosalie has been watching the embers in her father's face glowing to dark-red heat. Everybody had been watching them except Harold who, though addressing his father, had been mumbling "what chaps had said" to his plate.
"Athletes!" cried Rosalie's father suddenly in a very terrible voice. "Athletes! And what about scholars, sir?"
Harold informed his plate that he wasn't talking about scholars.
Rosalie's father raised a marmalade jar and thumped it down upon the table so that it cracked. "Then what the dickens right have you to talk at all, sir? How dare you try to compare Oxford with Cambridge when you know no more about either than you know of Jupiter or Mars? Athletes!" He went off into record of University contests, cricket scores, running times, football scores, as if his whole life had been devoted to collecting them. They all showed Cambridge first and Oxford beaten and he hurled each one at Harold's head with a thundering, "What about that, sir?" after it. He leapt to scholarship and reeled off scholarships and scholars and schools, and professors and endowments and prize men, as if he had been an educational year-book gifted with speech and with particularly loud and violent speech. He spoke of the colleges of Cambridge, and with every college and every particular glory of every college demanded of the unfortunate Harold, "What have you got in Oxford against that, sir?"
It was awful. It was far more frightening than the night of the storm. Nobody ate. Nobody drank. Everybody shuddered and tried by every means to avoid catching father's rolling eye and thereby attracting the direct blast of the tempest. Rosalie, who of course, being a completely negligible quantity in the rectory, is not included in the everybody, simply stared, more awed and enthralled than ever before. And with much reason. As he declaimed of the glories of the colleges of Cambridge there was perceptible in her father's voice a most curious crack or break. It became more noticeable and more frequent. He suddenly and most astoundingly cried out, "Cambridge! Cambridge!" and threw his arms out before him on the table, and buried his head on them, and sobbed out, "Cambridge! My youth! My youth! My God, my God, my youth!"
Somehow or other they all slipped out of the room and left him there,—all except Rosalie who remained in her high chair staring upon her father, and upon his shoulders that heaved up and down, and upon the coffee from an overturned cup that oozed slowly along the tablecloth.
Rosalie's father had been a wrangler and one of the brilliant men of his year at Cambridge. All manner of brilliance was expected for him and of him. He unexpectedly went into the Church and as unexpectedly married.
His bride was the daughter of a clergyman, a widower, who kept a small private school in Devonshire. She helped her father to run the school (an impoverished business which, begun exclusively for the "sons of gentlemen," had slid down into paying court to tradesmen in order to get the sons of tradesmen) and she maintained him in the very indifferent health he suffered. Harold Aubyn, the brilliant wrangler with the brilliant future, who had begun his brilliance by unexpectedly entering the Church, and continued it by unexpectedly marrying while on a holiday in the little Devonshire town where he had gone to ponder his future (a little unbalanced by the unpremeditated plunge into Holy Orders) further continued his brilliance by unexpectedly finding himself the assistant master in his father-in-law's second-rate and failing school. The daughter would not leave her father; the suitor would not leave his darling; the brilliant young wrangler who at Cambridge used to dream of waking to find himself famous awoke instead to find himself six years buried in a now third-rate and moribund school in a moribund Devonshire town. He had a father-in-law now permanent invalid, bedridden. He had four children and another, Robert, on the way.
It was his father-in-law's death that awoke him; and he awoke characteristically. The old man dead! Come, that was one burden lifted, one shackle removed! The school finally went smash at the same time. Never mind! Another burden gone! Another shackle lifted! Dash the school! How he hated the school! How he loathed and detested the lumping boys! How he loathed and abominated teaching them simple arithmetic (he the wrangler!) and history that was a string of dates, and geography that was a string of capes and bays, and Latin as far as the conjugations (he the wrangler!) how he loathed and abominated it! Now a fresh start! Hurrah!
That was like Rosalie's father—in those days. That way blew the cold fit and the hot fit—then.
The magnificent fresh start after the magnificent escape from the morass of the moribund father-in-law and the moribund school and the moribund Devonshire town proved to be but a stagger down into morass heavier and more devastating of ambition. He always jumped blindly and wildly into things. Blindly and wildly into the Church, blindly and wildly into marriage, blindly and wildly into the school, blindly and wildly, one might say, into fatherhood on a lavish scale. Blindly and wildly—the magnificent fresh start—into the rectory in which Rosalie was born.
It was "a bit in the wilds" (of Suffolk); "a bit of a tight fit" (L200 a year) and a bit or two or three other drawbacks; but it was thousands of miles from Devonshire and from the school and schooling, that was the great thing; and it was a jolly big rectory with a ripping big garden; and above all and beyond everything it was just going to be a jumping-off place while he looked around for something suitable to his talents and while he got in touch again with his old friends of the brilliant years.
It was just going to be a jumping-off place, but he never jumped off from it; a place from which to look around for something suitable, but instead he sunk in it up to his chin; a place from which to get in touch again with his friends of the brilliant years, but his friends were all doing brilliant things and much too busy at their brilliance to open up with one who had missed fire.
The parish of St. Mary's, Ibbotsfield, had an enormous rectory, falling to pieces; an enormous church, crumbling away; an enormous area, purely agricultural; and a cure of a very few hundred agricultural souls, enormously-scattered. Years and years before, prior to railways, prior to mechanical reapers and thrashers, and prior to everything that took men to cities or whirled them and their produce farther in an hour than they ever could have gone in a week, Ibbotsfield and its surrounding villages and hamlets were a reproach to the moral conditions of the day in that they had no sufficiently enormous church. Well-intentioned persons removed this reproach, adding in their zeal an enormous rectory; and the time they chose for their beneficent and lavish action was precisely the time when Ibbotsfield, through its principal land-owners, was stoutly rejecting the monstrous idea of encouraging a stinking, roaring, dangerous railway in their direction, and combining together by all means in their power to keep the roaring, dangerous atrocity as far away from them as possible.
It thus, and by like influences, happened that, whereas one generation of the devoutly intentioned sat stolidly under the reproach of an enormous and thickly populated area without a church, later generations with the same stolidity sat under the reproach of an enormous church, an enormous rectory and an infinitesimal stipend, in an area which a man might walk all day without meeting any other man.
But the devout of the day, not having to live in this rectory or preach in this church or laboriously trudge about this area, did not unduly worry themselves with this reproach.
That was (in his turn) the lookout of the Rev. Harold Aubyn—also his outlook.
He is to be imagined, in those days when Rosalie first came to know him and to think of him as Prospero, as a terribly lonely man. He stalked fatiguingly about the countryside in search of his parishioners, and his parishioners were suspicious of him and disliked his fierce, thrusting nose, and he returned from them embittered with them and hating them. He genuinely longed to be friendly with them and on terms of Hail, fellow, well met, with them; but they exasperated him because they could not meet him either on his own quick intellectual level or upon his own quick and very sensitive emotional level. They could not respond to his humour and they could not respond, in the way he thought they ought to respond, to his sympathy.
He once found a man—a farm labourer—who in conversation disclosed a surprising interest in the traces of early and mediaeval habitation of the country. The discovery delighted him. In the catalogue of a secondhand bookseller of Ipswich he noticed the "Excursions in the County of Suffolk," two volumes for three shillings, and he wrote and had them posted to the man. For days he eagerly looked in the post for the grateful and delighted letter that in similar circumstances he himself would have written. He composed in his mind the phrases of the letter and warmed in spirit over anticipation of reading them. No letter arrived.
When he came into the rectory from visiting he was always asking, "Has that man Bolas from Hailsham called?" Bolas never called. He furiously began to loathe Bolas. He was furious with himself for having "lowered himself" to Bolas. Bolas in his ignorance no doubt thought the books were a cheap charity of cast-off lumber. Uncouth clod! Stupid clod! Uncouth parish! Hateful, loathsome parish! For weeks he kept away from Hailsham and the possible vicinity of Bolas. One day he met him. Bolas passed with no more than a "Good day, Mr. Aubyn." He could have killed the man. He swung round and pushed his dark face and jutty nose into the face of Bolas. "Did you ever get some books I sent you?"
"Ou, ay, to be sure, they books——"
He rushed with savage strides away from the man. All the way home he savagely said to himself, aloud, keeping time to it with his feet, "Uncouth clod, ill-mannered clod, horrible, hateful place! Uncouth clods, hateful clods, horrible, hateful place!"
That was his attitude to his parishioners. They could not come up to the level of his sensibilities; he could not get down to the level of theirs.
With the few gentle families that composed the society of Ibbotsfield he was little better accommodated. They led contented, well-ordered lives, busy about their gardens, busy about their duties, busy about their amusements. His life was ill-ordered and he was never busy about anything: he was always either neglecting what had to be done or doing it, late, with a ferocious and exhausting energy that caused him to groan over it and detest it while he did it. In the general level of his life he was below the standard of his neighbours and knew that he was below it; in the sudden bounds and flights of his intellect and of his imagination he was immeasurably above the intel-lects of his neighbours and knew that he was immeasurably above them. Therefore, and in both moods, he commonly hated and despised them. "Fools, fools! Unread, pompous, petty!"
At the rectory, among his family, he seemed to himself to be surrounded by incompetent women and herds of children.
He was a terribly lonely man when Rosalie first came to know him and thought of him as Prospero. He is to be imagined in those days as a fierce, flying, futile figure scudding about on the face of the parish and in the vast gaunt spaces of the rectory, with his burning face and his jutting nose, trying to get away from people, hungering to meet sympathetic people; trying to get way from himself, hungering after the things that his self had lost. In his young manhood he was known for moods of intense reserve alternated by fits of tremendous gaiety and boisterous high spirits. ("A fresh start! Hurrah!" when release from the school came. "What does anything matter? Now we're really off at last! Hurrah! Hurrah!") In his set manhood, when Rosalie knew him, there were substituted for the fits of boisterous spirits, paroxysms of violent outburst against his lot. "Infernal parish! Hateful parish! Forsaken parish!" after the ignominy of flight before the bull. "Blow the dinner! Dash the dinner! Blow the dinner!" after wrestling a soggy steak from his pocket and hurling it half a mile through the air. These and that single but terrible occasion of "Cambridge! Cambridge! My youth! My God, my God, my youth!"
A terribly lonely man.
The Aubyn family occupied only a portion of the enormous rectory. There was a whole floor upstairs, and there were several rooms on the ground and first floors, that were never used, were unfurnished except for odds and ends of lumber left behind by the previous vicar, and were never entered. Rosalie once explored them all, systematically though very fearfully, and also very excitedly. She was searching for some one, for two people.
In the household she knew her father and her mother, her brothers and sisters and the servants; but there were two mysterious inhabitants of whom she often heard but whom she never saw and never could find. It used to frighten her sometimes, lying awake at night, or creeping about the house of an evening, to think of those two mysterious people hidden away somewhere and perhaps likely to pounce on her out of the dark. What did they eat? Where did they live? What did they do? What were they?
One of these two eerie and invisible people was heard of from her father. Several times Rosalie had heard him, when talking to persons not of the family, speak of "my wife." The other eerie and invisible creature was heard of from her mother: "My husband."
Where were they? Of all the mysterious things which Rosalie used to wonder over in those days, this undiscoverable "wife" and "husband" were the most mysterious of all, and more mysterious than ever after that day on which, walking on tiptoe for fear of coming upon them suddenly, holding her breath and pausing in fearful apprehension before entering the untenanted rooms upstairs, she explored the whole house in search of them. She got to know all sorts of little odds and ends about them; that the wife felt the cold very much, for instance, for she had heard her father say so; and that the husband did not like mutton, for her mother told that to Mr. Grant the butcher: and she was often hot on their tracks for she had heard her father say, "My wife is upstairs" and had rushed upstairs and searched; and her mother say, "My husband is in the garden," and had run into the garden and hunted. But all these clues only deepened the mystery. They were never to be found.
It was mysterious.
Then one day the wife (she heard) fell ill, and through her great concern about that—for she was profoundly interested in these people and used to feel awfully sorry for them, hidden away like that perhaps with no fire and nothing to eat but mutton—the mystery was explained.
With the family she was going towards church one Sunday morning and she heard her father tell a lady that "my wife" was not very well that morning and couldn't come. Rosalie during the service prayed very earnestly for the wife's recovery and took the opportunity of praying also that she might be permitted to see the wife "if she is not very frightening, O Lord, and the husband too, if possible, for Jesus Christ's sake, amen."
And at lunch, having thought of nothing else all the morning, there was suddenly shot out of her the question, "Father, is your wife any better now?"
Rosalie commonly never spoke at all at meals; and as to speaking to her father, though it is obvious she must have had some sort of intercourse with him, this famous question (a standing joke in the house for years) was the single direct speech of those early years she ever could remember. She spoke to her father when she was bidden to speak in the form of messages, generally about meals being ready, or relative to shopping commissions he had been asked to execute; but he was far too wonderful, powerful and mysterious for conversation with him on her own initiative. "Father, is your wife any better now?" stood out in her later recollection, alone and lonelily startling.
There was from all the company an astounded stare and astounded gasp; all the table sitting with astounded eyes, forks suspended in mid-air, mouths half open in astonishment, and Rosalie sitting in her high chair wonderingly regarding their wonderment. What were they staring at?
There was then an enormous howl of laughter, led by Rosalie's father, and repeated, and louder than before, because it was so very unusual for the family to be laughing in accord with father. Gertrude, the maid, fled hysterically from the room and laughter howled back from the kitchen.
Rosalie's father said, "You'd better go and ask your mother." Her mother had stayed in bed that day with a chill.
Robert "undid" Rosalie—a wooden rod with a fixed knob at one end went through the arms of her high chair and was fastened by a removable knob at the other end—and Rosalie slid down very gravely, and with their laughter still echoing trod upstairs to her mother's bedside and related what she had been told to ask, and, on inquiry, why she had asked it. "I only said 'Father, is your wife any better now?'" and on further inquiry explained her long searching after the undiscoverable pair.
Rosalie's mother laughed also then, but had a sudden wetness in her eyes. She put her arms about Rosalie and pressed her to her bosom and cried, "Oh, my poor darling!" and explained the tremendous mystery. Wife and husband, Rosalie's mother explained, were the names used by other people for her father and her mother. A man and a woman loved one another very, very dearly ("as I loved your dear father") and then they lived together in a dear house of their own and then God gave them dear little children of their own to live with them, said Rosalie's mother.
This thoroughly satisfied Rosalie and completely entranced her, especially about the presentation of the dear little children. She would have supposed that naturally it thoroughly satisfied Anna and Harold and Flora and the others; and the point of interest rests here, that Rosalie's mother also believed that this explanation of marriage and procreation completely satisfied Anna at sixteen and Harold in the Bank at eighteen. She never gave them any other explanation of the phenomenon of birth; and it is to be supposed that, just as she instructed them that God sent the dear little children, so she believed that God, at the right time, in some mysterious way, communicated the matter to them in greater detail. Years and years afterwards, Flora told Rosalie that when Rosalie was born all the children were sent away to stay with a neighbour and not allowed to return till Rosalie's mother, downstairs, was able to show them the dear little sister that God had surprisingly delivered at the house, as it were in a parcel.
One is given pain by a state of affairs so monstrous; but one suffers that pain proudly because one belongs, proudly, to a day in which nothing but stark truth may go from mother to child, not even fairy stories, not even Bible stories. Rosalie's mother is gone and her kind is no more, and in the graces and the manners of this day's generation one perceives, proudly, the inestimable benefits of the passing of her kind. Lamentable specimen of her kind, she had no interests other than her home and her husband and her children and the pleasures and the treasures and the friends of her husband and her children. She belonged to that dark age when duty towards others was the guiding principle of moral life; she came only to the threshold of this enlightened age in which duty to oneself is known to be the paramount and first and last consideration of life as it should be lived.
Rosalie's mother, whose name had been Anna Escott, kept at the bottom of a drawer five most exquisite little miniatures. They were in a case of faded blue plush, and they had been in that case and at the bottom of one drawer or another ever since the girl Anna Escott, aged twenty, had placed them in the case, then exquisitely blue and new and soft, and given up painting miniatures forever, in order to devote her whole time to looking after her invalid father and the failing preparatory school that was his livelihood.
Rosalie was herself nearly thirty when she first saw the miniatures. She was come back to the rectory from the pursuits that then occupied her to visit, rather impatiently and rather vexedly, her mother on what proved to be her death bed. She was tidying her mother's drawers, impatient with the amazing collection of rubbish they contained and hating herself for being impatient, while her mother, on the bed, patiently watched her; and she came upon the case and opened it and stared in astonishment and admiration at the beauty of the five miniatures.
She asked her mother and her mother told her she had painted them. "I used to do that when I was a girl," said Rosalie's mother.
All Rosalie's impatience was drowned and utterly engulfed in a most dreadful flood of emotion. She set down the case on the bed and flung herself on her knees beside her mother and clasped her arms about her.
"Oh, mother, mother! Oh, beloved little mother!" But that is out of its place.
Yes, that girl Anna Escott, who had an exquisite talent, and all sorts of fond dreams of its development, gave it up wholly and entirely and forever when her mother died and her father said, "I would like you, Anna dear, to give up your painting and come and look after me and the school now."
Anna said, "Of course I will, Papa. It's my duty. Of course I will."
Girls did that, and parents and husbands asked them to do that, in the days when Rosalie's mother was a girl.
Rosalie's mother gave away everything, first to her father, then to her husband, then to her children. She believed the whole of the Bible, literally, as it is written, from the first word of Genesis to the last word of Revelations. She taught it as literal, final and initial truth to all her children, and one knows how wickedly wrong it is now considered to teach children that the Bible-stories are true. She taught them the whole of the Bible from books called "Line Upon Line," and "The Child's Bible," and in stories of her own making, and from the Bible itself. Regrettably, the ignorantly imposed-upon children loved it! Till each child was eight she taught them everything at her knee. All the nursery rhymes, and all the Bible, and reading out of "Step by Step," and then "Reading Without Tears," and then, in advancing series, the "Royal Readers," and writing, first holding their hands, and then—first in pencil and afterwards with pens having three huge blobs to teach you how to place your fingers properly—in copybooks graded from enormous lines which had brick-red covers to astoundingly narrow little lines enclosing pious and moral maxims which had severe grey covers; and the multiplication tables and then simple arithmetic; and General Knowledge out of "The Child's Guide to Knowledge," which asked you "What is sago?" and required you to reply by heart, "Sago is a dried, granulated substance prepared from the pith of several different palms." "Where are these palms found?" "These palms are found in the East Indies."
Likewise history out of Mrs. Markham and "Little Arthur"; also, at a ridiculously early age, how to tell the time and how to know the coinage of the realm and its values; also, whether girl or boy, the making of kettle-holders by threading brightly coloured wools through little squares of canvas; also very many pieces of poetry: "Oft had I heard of Lucy Grey," and "It was the Schooner Hesperus" and hymns—also learnt by heart and sung while Rosalie's mother played the piano—"We are but little children weak," and "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild."
All these things were taught at her knee to each child in turn by Rosalie's mother, and each was taught out of the self-same books, miraculously preserved by Rosalie's mother; the backs of most of them carefully stitched and re-stitched, and marked all through by the dates of each child's daily lesson, written in pencil by Rosalie's mother. The dates ranged from 1869 when Harold was being taught and when the books were fresh and clean, and Rosalie's mother fresh and ardent with her first-born, to 1884, when Rosalie was being taught, and the books very old and thumbed and most terribly crowded with pencil marks, and Rosalie's mother no longer fresh but rather worn, but teaching as fondly and earnestly as ever, because it was her duty. Literally at the knee of Rosalie's mother these things were taught. On her knee with one of her arms about you for the Bible teaching; and standing at her knee, hands behind you, for the teaching of most of the rest. Yes, that was the early education, and the manner of the education, of Rosalie and of her brothers and sisters, and one perceives with indignation the spectacle of a mother wasting her time like that and wasting her children's time like that.
Rosalie's mother did everything in the house and she was always doing something in the house—for somebody else. She never rested and she was always worried. Her brows were always wrinkled with the feverish concentration of one anxiously doing one thing while anxiously thinking of another thing waiting to be done. She had a driven and a hunted look.
Now Rosalie's father had a driving and a hunting look.
Rosalie's father in his youth threw away everything. Rosalie's mother throughout the whole of her life gave away everything. Rosalie's father was a tragic figure dwelling in a house of bondage; but he was at least a tragic king, ruling his house and venting his griefs upon his house. Rosalie's mother was a tragic figure and she was a tragic slave in the house of bondage. The life of Rosalie's father was a tragedy, but a tragedy in some measure relieved because he knew it was a tragedy and could wave his arms and shout and smash things and hurl beefsteaks through the air because of the tragedy of it. But the life of Rosalie's mother was an infinitely deeper tragedy because she never knew or suspected that it was a tragedy.
Still, that is so often the difference between the tragedy of a woman and the tragedy of a man.
The very great difference between her father and her mother maintained in Rosalie that early perception of the wondrousness of her father. She loved her mother, but in the atmosphere surrounding her mother there was often flurry and worry and there was nothing whatever in her mother to mystify and entrance by sudden and violent eruptions of the miraculous. She did not love her father for he was entirely too remote and awe-ful for love, but he entranced her with his marvellousness. This maintained in her also her perception of the altogether greater superiority of all males over all females.
Rosalie came into her family rather like a new little girl first entering a boarding school. When she was about four, and first beginning to realise herself, the next in age to her was Robert, who not only was at the immense distance of ten, but was of the male sex and therefore had a controlling interest in the world. Then was Hilda who was twelve, then Flora fourteen, then Anna towering away in sixteen, and then Harold utterly removed in the enormous heights of eighteen, second only to Rosalie's father in ownership of the world and often awfully disputing that supreme ownership.
So they were all immeasurably older than Rosalie; and they were not only immeasurably older but, which counted for much more, they all had their fixed and recognised places in their world just as girls of several terms' experience have their recognised places in their school, and for Rosalie there seemed to be no place at all, just as for new girls there is no place. Her brothers and sisters all had their fixed and recognised places, their interests, their occupations, their friendships: they all knew their own places and each other's places; they had learnt to respect and admit each other's places; they knew the weight of one another's hand in those places; they were accustomed to one another; they tolerated one another.
It was all very strange and wonderful and mysterious to Rosalie.
She was, as it were, pitchforked into this established and regulated order and to find a place for her was like trying to fit a new spoke into a revolving wheel. It cannot be done; and with Rosalie it could not be done. The established wheel went on revolving in its established orbit and the new spoke, which was Rosalie, lay outside and watched it revolve. Intrusions within the circumference of the wheel commonly resulted in a sharp knock from one of the spokes. No one was in any degree unkind to Rosalie, but there was no proper place for her and everybody's will was in authority over her will. She rather got in the way. To be with her was not to enjoy her company or to enjoy battle with her and the putting of her company to flight. To be with her was to have to look after her, and in the community of the rectory, every member, when Rosalie came, was fully occupied in look-ing after itself and defending itself from the predatory excursions of any other member.
What happened was that in time, just as a slight and negligible body cannot be in the sphere of a powerful motion without being affected by it, so Rosalie began to move sympathetically to the wheel but on her own axis. She moved round with the wheel but she was not of the wheel and she never became really incorporated with the wheel. The spokes were revolving with incredible rapidity when she first, began to notice them and they always remained relatively faster. There she was, sitting and watching and wondering; and the twig grows as it is bent or as it is left to bend. She looked on and absorbed things; and the first and by far the deepest of her settled perceptions was that, though she was subject to all powers, all girls and women were themselves subject to the power of all boys and men.
Up to the age of eighteen, six years represents an enormous gulf in the relative ages of brothers and sisters. You have only to figure it out in the case of Rosalie to realise how far behind she was always left, and why, though one of a family of six, she occupied a position outside the group and was a watcher of them rather than a sharer with them. She was four when Robert the next above her was ten, which is a baby against a sturdy and well-developed giant; when she was eight Robert was fourteen, which is a greater gulf than the first; when she was twelve Robert was eighteen which, from eighteen's point of view, is as the difference between an aged man and an infant; and when she was sixteen Robert was twenty-two, which is a schoolgirl against one of the oldest and most experienced periods of life. She came in as a new little girl in a big school; when she had been there eight years—counting from four, when first she was conscious of arrival—she was still relatively the same: there she was, twelve, with Robert eighteen and the others twenty, twenty-two, twenty-four and twenty-six.
But there she is at eight when she had had four years' experience from the day of first seeing her father leaping before the bull and thinking it was perfectly natural that he should leap before the bull. She had learnt a tremendous lot in that second four years. She knew at eight that the world did not belong to her father and that on that night of the storm Flora was right to call her a fool for believing that he could stop the storm. She knew he was not nearly so wonderful as she used to think he was; but he was still enormously wonderful and, which she thought rather curious, she began to see that he rather liked showing her how wonderful he was. He could sharpen a pencil wonderfully, and he could eat a herring wonderfully. The thing discovered was that he was very proud of how wonderfully he could sharpen a pencil or eat a herring. Strange father!
"Who sharpened that pencil? Your mother? H'nf! I should think so! No woman can sharpen a pencil. Now look at me. Watch. I hold it in my left hand, see? Arm supported against my body. Now look how I cut at it. Bold, strong strokes, see? No niggling at it as if a mouse was nibbling it; long, bold sweeps, slashes. See! Look at that. Ah, drat! That's because I was holding it down for you to see. Watch again. There! There, that's the way to sharpen a pencil. Look at that. Do you see that long, firm point? See how clean and long those strokes are? That's the way to sharpen a pencil. Show that to your mother."
He was as pleased with himself and as proud as if he had turned the pencil into gold.
Or how to eat a herring.
"Herrings! Well, a herring is one of the most delicious fish, if it's eaten properly. There's a right way to eat a herring and a wrong way. Now watch me and I'll show you how to eat a herring. Rosalie, watch."
"Rosalie, dear," (from her mother) "watch while your father shows you how to eat a herring."
All eyes on father demonstrating how to eat a herring!
And Rosalie used to notice this about the watching eyes. Her mother's eyes—most anxiously and nervously upon the operation, as if watching a thing she would soon be called upon to perform and would not be able to perform; the eyes of Robert (14) sulkily; of Flora (18) admiringly (it was getting to be a complaint in the family circle that Flora "sucked up" to father); the eyes of Anna (20) wearily; the eyes of Harold (22) contemptuously.
The herrings (a very frequent dish at the rectory, so much cheaper than meat) came headless to the table. First father nipped off the tail with a firm, neat stroke. Then he deftly slit the herring down the stomach. It fell into two exact perfectly divided halves. Then he lifted out the backbone, not one scrap of flesh adhering to it, and laid it on the side of his plate. Then four firm pressures of his knife and the little lateral bones were exactly removed and exactly laid on the backbone. Next a precise insertion of his fork and out came the silvery strip known to Rosalie as "the swimming thing" and was laid in its turn upon the bones, exactly, neatly, as if it were a game of spillikins. "Now pepper. Plenty of pepper for the roe, you see. There. Now."
And in about six mouthfuls father's plate would be as clean as when it was brought in, decorated rather than marred by the exquisitely neat pile of the backbone, the tail, the little bones, and the silvery swimming thing. "There! Delicious! That's the way to eat a herring"; and he would direct a glance at the plate of Rosalie's mother. Rosalie's mother made a herring into the most frightful mess it was possible to imagine. She spent the whole of her time in removing bones from her mouth; and her plate, when she was half-way though, looked to contain the mangled remains of about two dozen herrings. "Very few women know how to eat a herring," Rosalie's father would say.
Wonderful father! How to sharpen a pencil, how to eat a herring, how to do up a parcel, how to undo a parcel, how to cut your finger nails, how to sit with regard to the light when you wrote or read, how to tie a knot, how to untie a knot. Clever father, natty father!
Yes, still enormously wonderful father; but also rather strangely proud of being wonderful father. Rosalie now was constantly being struck by that. It began to give her rather a funny sensation. She couldn't describe the sensation or interpret it, but it was a feeling, when father was glowing with pride over one of these things he did so wonderfully well—a feeling of being rather uncomfortable, shy, ashamed—something like that. She contracted the habit when father beamed and glowed and looked around for applause of giving a sudden little blink.
And it was the same in regard to Robert and the same in regard to Harold. Robert at the height of his exhibitions of his wonderfulness caused the funny feeling and the blink in her; and Harold at the height of his exhibitions of his wonderfulness caused the funny feeling and the blink in her. And the wonderfulness of Robert was always being shown off by Robert, and the wonderfulness of Harold was always being shown off by Harold. Men liked showing off how wonderful they were....
When Rosalie was about nine, she one day was permitted to have Lily Waters in to tea with her. Lily Waters was the Doctor's little girl, also nine. For a great treat they had tea together out of Rosalie's doll's tea service in the room called the schoolroom. Robert came home unusually early from school and came into the schoolroom and began to do wonderful things before the two little girls. He spoke in a very loud voice while he did them. He stood on a footstool on his head and clapped his boots together. He held his breath for seventy-five seconds by the clock. He took off his coat and made Lily and Rosalie tie a piece of string around his biceps and then he jerked up his arm and snapped the string. Wonderful Robert! Lily screamed with delight and clapped her hands, and the more she screamed and clapped, the louder Robert talked. He did still more wonderful things. He held a cork to the flame of a match and then blacked his nose and blacked a moustache with the cork. He did a most frightfully daring and dangerous thing. He produced the stump of a cigarette from his pocket and lit it and blew smoke through his nose. Wonderful Robert! Lily went into ecstasies of delight. Rosalie also went into ecstasies but also strongly experienced that funny feeling. While Robert held his breath till his eyes bulged and till his face was crimson, and while he danced about with his nose blacked, and while he held the cigarette in his fingers and puffed smoke through his nose—while he did these things Rosalie glanced at Lily (squealing) and felt that funny feeling of being rather shy, uncomfortable, ashamed; something like that; and blinked. Wonderful though Robert was, she felt somehow rather glad when at last he went.
And just the same with Harold. At supper one night, Rosalie's father not being present, Harold talked and talked and talked about a call he had paid at the house of some ladies in Ashborough. Wonderful Harold, to pay a call all by himself! It appeared that he had been the only man there, and when Rosalie's mother said, "I wonder you didn't feel shy, Harold," he said with a funny sort of "Haw" sound in his voice, "Not in the least. Haw! Why on earth should I feel shy? Haw." He had evidently very much entertained the party. The more he talked about it the more Rosalie noticed the funny "Haw." "They must have been very glad you came," Rosalie's mother said.
Harold put the first and second fingers of his right hand on his collar and gave it a pull up. "I rather—haw—think they were," Harold said. "Haw."
Rosalie gave that blink.
Years afterwards, when she was grown up, a grown man boastfully said something in her presence, and in a flash were recalled father dissecting a herring, Robert holding his breath till he nearly burst, Harold hitching up his collar and with the "haw" sound saying, "I rather think they were." In a flash those childhood scenes, and instantly with them interpretation of the funny feeling and the blink that they had caused: they had been the rooting in her of a new perception added to the impregnably rooted impression of the wonder and power of men,—the perception that men knew they were wonderful and powerful and liked to show off how wonderful and powerful they were.
They were superior creatures but they were apt to be rather make-you-blinky creatures; that was the new perception.
On the day after her eighth birthday, the birthday itself being a treat and a holiday, Rosalie began to do lessons with Hilda. Hilda, at sixteen, had "finished her education" as had Anna and Flora at the same age. Harold, who had been a boarder at a Grammar School, had stayed there till he was eighteen; and Robert, ultimately, continued at Helmsbury Grammar School till he was eighteen. It was apparent—and it was another manifestation of the greater importance of males—that boys had more education to finish, or were permitted longer to finish it, than girls.
The school at which Anna, Flora and Hilda thus in the eight years between leaving their mother's knee at eight and completing their education at sixteen, learnt everything it was possible to know, was kept by two very thin ladies called (ungrammatically) the Miss Pockets. The Miss Pockets were daughters of the former vicar of St. Mary's and inhabitant of the rectory, and on their father dying and Mr. Aubyn coming, they established themselves in a prim villa near-by and did what they called "took in pupils." They were very thin, they had very long thin noses, they were always very cold, and from the sharp end of the long thin nose of the elder Miss Pocket there always depended, much fascinating Rosalie, a shining bead of moisture.
Rosalie's chief recollection of the Miss Pockets was of being constantly met by them as she approached the age of eight, and of them always, on these occasions, fondling icy hands about her neck and saying to her father or her mother, "And when will our new little pupil be coming to us?"
But no direct reply was ever given to this question, either by Rosalie's mother, who was always made to look uncomfortable when it was asked by the Miss Pockets, or by Rosalie's father who always seemed to jut out his nose at it and make the Miss Pockets look thinner and colder than ever.
On the morning of her eighth birthday, Rosalie received from the Miss Pockets by post an illuminated text provided with a piece of red cord for hanging on the wall and inquiring, rather abruptly,
"Who Hath Believed Our Report?"
Rosalie thought at first this was a plaintive question directly from the Miss Pockets in their capacity as school-teachers and therefore as licensed makers of reports; but immediately afterwards saw "Isaiah" printed under it in discreet characters—
"Who Hath Believed our Report?
and concluded that it was Isaiah who had believed it. On the back was written in the tall, thin handwriting of the Miss Pockets, "To our dear little pupil Rosalie, on her eighth birthday, from Agnes and Lydia Pocket."
In the afternoon, the Miss Pockets called at the rectory and there was evidently some high mystery about their visit. Rosalie was in the study looking for a drawing pin wherewith to affix her illuminated card to the wall. Hilda ran in. "The Miss Pockets. Where's father? Come out," and Rosalie was hurriedly run out and shut into the dining-room, leaving the vindication of Isaiah in the matter of the report on the table. Opening the door to a chink, Rosalie saw the Miss Pockets, shivering, the permanent decoration on the nose of the elder Miss Pocket very conspicuous and agitatedly swinging, ushered into the study, and presently her father follow his jutty nose into the study after them, and very shortly after that the Miss Pockets driven out as it were by the jutty nose and looking thinner and colder than ever before. Miss Lydia Pocket, who had lost the appendage to her nose and looked curiously undressed and indelicate without it, was saying feebly, "But it was understood. We always thought it was understood."
They shuddered away; and when Rosalie went into the study immediately afterwards to recover her card, there was upon the word Isaiah, as though somebody had literally thrown doubt upon his belief of the report, a large damp spot.
On the following day, Rosalie began lessons with Hilda.
The lessons with Hilda period lasted till Rosalie was twelve. "Take her off your mother's hands. That's what you've left school for," was her father's instruction to Hilda; and so there was Rosalie, put out from her mother's knee to the schoolroom like a small new ship out from the haven to the bay; and there was that small mind of hers come in to the company of Hilda and of Flora and of Anna with the obsession that men were infinitely more important and much more wonderful than women. She knew now that the world did not belong to men in the literal sense, but belonged, as her mother had instructed her, to God; but she knew with the abundant evidence of all that went on about her that everything in the world was done for men and that women were largely occupied in doing it; and she knew, from the same testimony, that men were much more interesting to watch than women, rather in the way that dogs were much more interesting than cats. Men, like dogs, were much more satisfactory: that was it. Her mind was throwing out feelers towards the wonders of the world and this was the feeler that was most developed. She came to her sisters very highly sensitive to the difference between men and women. And her sisters showed her the difference.
Anna was twenty then. Anna had "finished her education" four years ago. She had left school "to help your mother in the house"; and when Flora, two years later, finished her education and left school for the same purpose, she found Anna grooved in the business of helping her mother in the house and she was not in the least anxious to help Anna out of the grooves and herself become imbedded in them.
This annoyed Anna.
Rosalie used to hear Anna say to Flora a dozen times a day, "I really don't see why you should be the one to do nothing but amuse yourself all day long. I really don't."
Flora used to say, "Well, you've always done it"—whatever the duty in dispute might be—"so why on earth should I?"
Then either Anna's face would give a twitch and she would walk out of the room, or her face would get very red and there would be a row.
Or sometimes Flora to Anna's "I really don't see why—" would say enticingly, "Don't you?"
"No, I don't."
"Then ask the Pope," and Flora would give a mocking laugh and run away out of the reach of Anna's fury.
The sting in this was that Anna was suspected of having Roman Catholic tendencies.
Flora was very pretty and had a gay, bold way. Anna was not pretty. She had a great habit of compressing her lips, especially in encounters with Flora, and somehow her face gave the impression that her lips always were compressed. That was the expression it normally had; it was only when Rosalie saw Anna actually compress her lips that she realised they had not been compressed before. It was as though she was always annoyed about something and then, when she compressed her lips, a little more annoyed than usual. She had also a permanent affliction which much puzzled Rosalie. Young men friends of Harold's frequently called at the rectory, and one afternoon, when two of them called, Anna was the only one at home to entertain them (except Rosalie). Flora and Hilda rushed into the drawing-room, directly they came in, and shortly afterwards Rosalie saw Anna come out. Anna stood in the hall quite a long time with her lips compressed, and then went into the dining-room and sat down, but almost at once got up again and went back into the drawing-room, and Rosalie heard Flora call out, "You can't join in now, Anna. You can't join in now. We're in the middle of it." Shrieks of laughter were going on. When the young men went, Flora and Hilda, who had their hats on, walked away with them. Anna was left at the door. When the girls came back Anna said to Flora, "I do think you might have told me you'd arranged to go with them to see it."
Flora said, "Oh, darling, I thought the Pope had told you."
They had the worst row Rosalie had ever heard them have. Anna did not come down to supper. After supper, when Rosalie was in the room with only Harold and her father and mother, her mother spoke of the scene there had been between Anna and Flora and it was then that Rosalie heard for the first time of Anna's most strange affliction. Harold said, "Of course, the fact of the matter is that ever since Flora left school, Anna's had her nose put out of joint."
Rosalie felt most awfully sorry for Anna. Often after that she used to stare at Anna's nose and the more so because there was nothing visible the matter with it. Anna's nose was a singularly long and straight nose; now if it had been Flora's nose that was out of joint!—for Flora's nose turned up in a very odd way. Rosalie slept in Anna's room and that same night, Anna's disjointed nose and every other part of her face and head being covered with the clothes when Rosalie went up to bed, Rosalie, unable to sleep for curiosity and sympathy, got out of bed and lit the candle and went across to look at Anna's nose, and very gently felt it with her finger. Absolutely nothing amiss to be seen or felt! But the lashes of Anna's eyes were wet and there were stains of tears upon the upper side of the mysterious nose. It was true, then, for obviously it hurt. And yet no sign!
Rosalie got back into bed feeling of her own nose rather anxiously.
Rosalie used formerly to sleep in Hilda's room and Flora with Anna, but she was changed one day by her sisters (without being consulted or given any reason) and the new arrangement was continued. Anna was very devotional. She used to say enormously long prayers night and morning. She prayed in the middle of the night also, Rosalie used to think at first, awakened and hearing her voice, but later found out that Anna was talking in her sleep, a thing that was mysterious to Rosalie and frightening. The room of Flora and Hilda, adjoined Anna's and often at night, when Rosalie was awakened by Anna undressing and lay watching her at her immense prayers, the chattering voices of Flora and Hilda could be heard through the wall and shrieks of high laughter. At that, Anna's shoulders used to shudder beneath her nightgown and she used to twist herself lower on her knees. For some reason this also used rather to frighten Rosalie.
Sometimes, but very seldom, Flora and Hilda used to quarrel; sometimes, and more often, Hilda and Anna; nearly every day, as it seemed to Rosalie, Anna and Flora. Rosalie got to dislike these quarrels very much. They went on and on and on; that was the disturbing unpleasantness of them. The parties to them would sit in a room and simply keep it up forever, not arguing all the time, but between long pauses suddenly coming out with things at one another; or they wouldn't speak to one another sometimes for days together, and all sorts of small enterprises of Rosalie's were interfered with by these ruptures of relations. Innumerable things in Rosalie's life seemed to her to depend on the mutual good will of two quarrellers; many books, some old toys, walks, combined games with Carlo who was Anna's and Rover who was Flora's; innumerable delights with such seemed to be unexpectedly stopped because of "Oh, no, if you prefer to be with Anna you can stay with Anna"; or, "Oh, no. If you like Flora's paints so much you can use Flora's brushes; these are my brushes." A quarrel would in any case produce a strained atmosphere in which everything became unnatural and this strained atmosphere went on and on and on.
And the thing that Rosalie noticed was the complete difference between these quarrels of her sisters and the quarrels between Harold and Robert. Robert was rising between the years of fourteen and eighteen in those days and Harold between twenty-two and twenty-six. Most violent quarrels sometimes sprung up between them but they were physically violent, that was the point, and after swift and appalling fury, and terrible kicks from Robert and horrifying thumps from Harold they were astonishingly soon over and done with and forgotten. On one awful day, Rosalie saw Robert and Harold rolling on the floor together. Robert bumped Harold's head three most frightful bumps on the floor and said between his teeth, "There! There! There!" Harold twisted himself up and hurled Robert half across the room and then rushed at him and punched him with punches that made Robert go, "Ur! Ur! Ur!"
Rosalie, at her age, ought to have cried with grief and dismay or to have run away screaming; but instead she only watched with awe. With terrified awe, as with the terrified awe that an encounter of tigers or of elephants at the Zoo might arouse; but with awe and no sort of grief as her sole emotion. Men were different. There it was again! They did these fearful things, and these fearful things were much more satisfactory to behold, not nearly so disturbing and aggravating to watch, as the interminable bickerings of the quarrels of her sisters.
Her brothers' quarrels were entirely different in all their aspects. In the quarrels of her sisters, one or the other invariably cried if the bickering went far enough. These two men, though Robert especially might have been excused for bellowing, just solidly and only, with fearful gasps, thumped and clutched and strove. Not a tear! Her sisters' quarrels were always carried by one or the other to her mother or her father. How extraordinarily different Robert and Harold! Their sole anxiety was that neither father nor mother should be told! If any one threatened to tell, the two, sinking their private heat, would immediately band together against the talebearer. Extraordinary men! To that particularly ferocious struggle that has been described, Anna and Hilda had been attracted by the din, when Robert, overpowered, was receiving terrible chastisement, and with cries and prayers had somehow separated them. Behold, the very first coherent thing these two men did was, while they still panted and glared upon one another, to unite in a mutual threat.
"And look out you don't go telling father or mother," panted Harold to the girls.
"Yes, mind you jolly well don't," panted Robert.
Anna said she certainly would.
Both the extraordinary creatures unitedly rounded on Anna. It might have been thought that the battle had been, not between them, but between them and the sisters who had saved them one from another. Astounding men!
And most astounding of all to Rosalie was that at supper, little more than an hour later, Harold and Robert presented themselves as on exceptionally good terms of friendship. They talked and laughed together. They had a long exchange of views about some football teams. Harold laid down the law about the principle of four three-quarters in Rugby football instead of three and Robert listened as to an oracle. They had not been so friendly for weeks. And an hour before-! Yes, men were different.
And Rosalie found that her sisters, too, knew how different and how superior men were. Flora and Hilda seemed to Rosalie always to be talking about men. Flora used to come into the schoolroom while Rosalie was at her lessons and talk to Hilda. Rosalie was very fond of her lessons and Hilda was an uncommonly good teacher and took a great interest in leading Rosalie along the paths she had herself so recently followed. But directly Flora came in, Hilda's interest was entirely diverted to what Flora had to say and to what she had to say to Flora, and it was always about men,—boys or men. Rosalie would at once be put to learning passages or working out exercises and Flora and Hilda would go over to the window and talk. They talked mostly in whispers with their heads close together; they laughed a good deal; they showed one another letters. Often they came over to the table and wrote letters. And they used to look up from their whisperings and say, "Go on with your lessons, Rosalie."
But it was very difficult to go on while they whispered and laughed and it was also very troublesome to have Hilda's most interesting explanations suddenly cut short by the entrance of Flora. Rosalie began to have the habit of saying "Oh, dear!" and going "Tchk!" with her tongue when Flora came in. Also restlessly to say "Oh, dear!" and go "Tchk!" when the whisperings and the laughing about men went on and distracted her attention while she tried to do her exercises.
A new aspect of men began to grow out of this. Rosalie began to feel rather aggrieved against boys and ten. They interfered.
And this went further. Just as boys and men spoilt lessons so they began to spoil walks. While Hilda attended the Miss Pockets' school and Rosalie was taught by her mother, it was always her mother with whom Rosalie took walks. Anna "never cared to go out" and Flora, whose position in the house was more like that of Harold and Robert, did much as she liked, and "dragging Rosalie about for walks" as she expressed it, was not one of the things she liked. Rosalie therefore went out with her mother until Hilda took her off her mother's hands, when the taking off included not only education but exercise. At the beginning, Hilda showed herself as enthusiastic and as entertaining a walker as she was teacher. She was ready for jolly scrambles through woods and over fields, she was as keen as Rosalie on damming little watercourses, and exploring woodland tracts, and other similar delights, and she had a most splendid knowledge of the names of plants and flowers and birds and insects and delighted to tell them to Rosalie. Rosalie had loved the walks with her mother, always holding her dear hand, but she loved much more, though in a different way, the walks with Hilda.
Then men began, in Rosalie's private phrase, to "ruin" the walks.
First Flora took to joining the walks and she and Hilda talked and talked together and always, as it seemed, about men, and Rosalie just trailed along with them, their heads miles above hers and their conversation equally out of her reach. But even that was not so bad as it became. At least there were only her sisters and sometimes they did talk to her, or sometimes one or other would break off from their chatter and cry "Oh, poor Rosalie! We've not been taking the least notice of you, have we? Now, what would you like to do?" And perhaps they would run races, or perhaps explore, or perhaps tell her a story, and Rosalie's spirits would come bursting out from their dulness and all would be splendid.
Not so when on the walks men, from being talked of, began to be met.
There were at Robert's Grammar School certain young men who were in no way connected with the school but were the "private pupils" of the headmaster and were reading for the universities. One day Hilda started for the walk in her church hat and Flora also in her church hat and her church gloves. They walked very fast; Rosalie could hardly keep up. And then at a corner of a lane they suddenly started to walk very slowly indeed, and suddenly again at a stile, two of these young men were met.
The young men raised their hats much farther than Rosalie had ever seen a man raise his hat and one of them said, "Well, you have come then?"
Flora said, "Well, we just happened to be strolling along this way." Then she said, "You needn't imagine we came to see you!" which Rosalie thought very rude; but the young men seemed to like it and all of them laughed a great deal.
Presently they all started to walk together, Hilda and Flora in the middle and one of the young men on either side. The walk lasted much later than the walks usually lasted and the whole way Rosalie trailed along behind; and on the whole afternoon the only words addressed to Rosalie by her sisters came just as, the young men hav-ing taken their leave a mile away, they were turning in at the rectory gate. Flora then said, "Rosalie, darling, don't tell mother or father or any one that we met any one." And Hilda said, "Yes, remember, Rosalie, you're not to say anything about that."
After that, the young men were met, and the four walked, and Rosalie trailed, nearly every day.
One of these young men was called Mr. Chalton and the other Mr. Ricks. Like all men, and even more so, they were splendid and wonderful. They had silver cigarette cases and smoked a lot, and they wore most handsome waistcoats and ties, and some of their conversation that came back to Rosalie, trailing behind, was of very wonderful and exciting things they had done or were going to do. Mr. Holland, the headmaster of the Grammar School, was the terror of Robert's life, but it appeared that Mr. Chalton and Mr. Ricks were not in the least afraid of Mr. Holland, and they talked a great deal of what they would do to him if he ever tried to interfere with them and a great deal of what they did do in the way of utterly disregarding him. They were undeniably splendid and wonderful, but they utterly ruined Rosalie's walks and they greatly intensified Rosalie's new feelings towards men and boys,—that men and boys were a great nuisance and spoilt things.
Time went along. Other young men were met. In the holidays, quite a number of young men came for their vacations to their homes in Ibbotsfield and the surrounding district. Certain of these, unlike the Grammar School private pupils, called openly at the rectory on one pretext or another, but they were nevertheless also met secretly by Flora and Hilda, ruined the walks precisely as Messrs. Chalton and Ricks had first ruined them, and were on no account to be mentioned by Rosalie to her father or mother.
The reason for this secrecy was never explained to Rosalie and the secrecy oppressed Rosalie. It took not only the form of being a thing she was not able to tell to her mother, and Rosalie was in the habit of telling everything she did to her mother, but it took also the form of mysterious and vaguely alarming perils during the walks. An immense watchfulness was kept up against chance encounters with people. One of the party would often cry, "Look! Who's this?" and the young men would separate from the girls and appear as if they were walking by themselves. Sometimes they would break right away and run off and not be met again. Very often Rosalie would be sent on ahead to a turning and told to come back at once if anybody was to be seen and then would be examined as to who the person was. Sometimes she was posted to keep watch while the girls and the young men slipped off somewhere, over a gate or into a barn. She got to know by sometimes rushing in with warnings that Flora and Hilda on these occasions smoked the young men's cigarettes. Then when they got home, they would rush up to their room and wash their teeth and put scent on themselves. And invariably when the young men took their leave at the end of a walk there would be long and close whisperings in which were always to be heard the words, "Well, say you were—" or "Look here, we'll say we were—" and generally, "Go away, Rosalie. There's nothing for you to listen to."
It all had the effect of making Rosalie feel unhappy and rather frightened. She sometimes asked, "Why mustn't I say anything to mother?" She was always told, and only told, "Because father doesn't like us meeting men."
No reason why father should not like them meeting men was ever given, and Rosalie, ceaselessly disturbed by the concealment, could never imagine what the reason could be. There could be no reason that she could imagine; and she was thus immensely taken aback when one evening at supper her father made a most surprising statement: "The girls have no chance of ever meeting men in this infernal place."
Rosalie's father had been abusing Ibbotsfield and everything that pertained to Ibbotsfield. Some question of expenses had started him. He was storming in his wild way, addressing himself to Rosalie's mother but haranguing at large to all, everybody sitting in silence and with oppressed faces, avoiding looking at one another and avoiding especially the eyes of father. They were literally ground down with poverty, Rosalie's father was saying. He didn't know what was going to happen to them all. "It's all this place, this infernal, buried-alive place. The girls ought to be moving about and seeing people. How can they? Very well. My mind's made up. There's my brother Tom in India. He could have one of the girls. There's your sister Mrs. Pounce in London. She's Rosalie's godmother. What's she ever done for Rosalie? Very well. My mind's made up. I shall write to Tom and I shall write to Belle. I shall tell them how we are situated. It's humiliating to have to tell them but what's humiliation? I'm accustomed to humiliation. Ever since we came here, I have eaten the bread and drunk the water of humiliation. Now the children are growing up to share it. What can they do in this loathsome and forsaken and miserable place? What chance have the girls got? Can you tell me that?"
He glared at Rosalie's mother. It was clear that he regarded her as to blame. Rosalie thought that her dear mother must be to blame. Her mother looked so beaten and frightened. There was glistening in her eyes. Rosalie's heart felt utterly desolated for her mother. She wished like anything she could say something for her dear mother. Then most amazingly the chance to say something came.
"Can you tell me that?" cried Rosalie's father. "What chance have the girls of ever meeting men in this infernal place?"
Rosalie burst out, "Oh, but father, nearly every day—"
"Rosalie, don't interrupt!" cried Flora very sharply.
"Rosalie, be quiet!" cried Hilda.
Father glared and then went on and on.
It was the beginning of a chain of most startling upheavals. It was also, and the upheavals were also, a new manifestation to Rosalie of the all-importance of men. After supper, in the first place, Flora and Hilda, taking Rosalie very severely to task for her perilous outburst, explained to her that the men they met were not the kind of men that father meant they ought to meet. It was necessary, it was essential, they explained, for every girl to meet men she could marry. That was what every girl had to do. Men—surely you understand that, Rosalie—had all the money and everything and met girls and asked them to marry. Those men sometimes met on walks, you little stupid, were too young and had no money yet. "There, that's enough," they explained. "Anyhow, we shan't be meeting them much more. One of us is probably going to India; you heard what father said, didn't you?... Well, of course you can't understand properly. You will when you're grown up. Surely that's quite enough for you to understand at present.... How can a woman live if she doesn't marry, stupid? She must have money to live and it is men who have the money.... Well, of course they do because they earn it; look at Harold; and Robert will have money when he's a little older.... Well, how can women? Now, I said that's enough and it is enough."
It was enough and most satisfactorily enough for one purpose. It was the first explanation of men as a race apart from women that Rosalie had ever received and it precisely bore out all that she had conceived about them. It affirmed her perception of the wonder and greatness of men as compared with women. It intensified that perception.
Wonderful men! Marvellous and most fortunate men!
And then the chain of most startling upheavals began. Father wrote to Uncle Tom in India. Father wrote to Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, in London. What he wrote was not to be known by Rosalie, outside the rectory wheel. The others knew, for father, with enormous pride at his wonderful epistolatory style in his voice, was heard reading the letter to them. But the others, of course, knew also what Rosalie never realised, the grinding poverty of the rectory. She knew no other life than the herrings, the makeshifts, and the general shabbiness of the rectory. It was not till long afterwards that, looking back, she realised the pinching and the screwing that served—almost—to make ends meet.
So father wrote. India was far, London was near. Aunt Belle's reply came while the letter to Uncle Tom was still upon the sea. Such a reply! Wonderful father to win such a reply from Aunt Belle! "You see what it is to be able to write a telling and forceful letter!" cried father. Such an exciting reply! Aunt Belle was coming on a visit "to talk it over and see what she could do."
Aunt Belle came.
Oh, a red carpet, a red carpet for Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, to come into the story! And if at the end of the red carpet there could be an "At Home" in the splendid drawing-room of Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, at Pilchester Square, Notting Hill, an At Home with about sixty-five ladies crammed into it, all of them wives of most successful and well-off men, mostly retired from the Indian Army and the Indian Civil Service, and all of them chattering ecstatically, and nibbling, and pluming themselves, and tinkling their teacups, and Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, enthroned in their midst, and owning everything and seeming to own her five and sixty guests, and chattering and nibbling and pluming and tinkling more ecstatically than any; and then if there could come into them beautiful cousin Laetitia (when about fifteen) with sleek black hair beautifully ribboned behind, and with pale, fine brow, and wearing the sweetest white frock, and if she could move delightfully about among her mother's guests, and then play the sweetest little trifle on the pianoforte to the delighted murmurs of the five and sixty guests of her mother ("She's under Pflunk. The great Pflunk!"); and then if there could come in from the City Uncle Pyke, Colonel Pyke Pounce, R.E., (retired) now director of several highly important companies, and if Uncle Pyke, Colonel Pyke Pounce, R.E., could stand on the hearthrug with his massy jowl and his determined stomach, and grunt, and rattle the money in his pockets, and grunt again; and if then there could come in the new parlour maid of Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, with her tallness and her deftness and her slight, very slight, insolence of air, and all the five and sixty gazing upon her as haughty but envious patricians gazing upon a slave, and when she had gone swishing out if Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, could tell all the sixty and five of her tallness, her deftness and her slight, very slight, insolence of manner——
Oh, if there could be this and these and a fine red carpet, how exactly and how fittingly would Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, step upon the scene!
"Dear thing!" That was Rosalie's portrait and thought of her in long after years. Dear thing! The drawing-room of her crowded triumphs is now the shabby drawing-room of a second-rate boarding house; the jolly horse bus she used so commandingly to stop in the Holland Park Avenue and so regally to enter (whip-waving driver, cap-touching conductor) long has given place to a thundering motor saloon that stops wheresoever it listeth and wherein Aunt Belles and old-clothes women fight to hang by a strap.
Dear thing! Her ownership of five and sixty guests is exchanged for ownership of not more than seven and fifty inches of cold earth in Brompton Cemetery. She is passed and Uncle Pyke, Colonel Pyke Pounce, R.E., is grunted past to lay himself beside her. They are passed. Up-reared upon her and upon him is a stupendous granite chunk (in a way not unlike Uncle Pyke on his hearthrug) erected by their sorrowing daughter. She is passed; she came into Rosalie's life and Rosalie crossed her life and she never forgave Rosalie.
Dear thing! Lie lightly on her, stones!
She came to the rectory "to talk it over and see what can be done" for a week's visit, and she stepped out of the cab, all the family assembled to greet her, a new and most surprising figure such as Rosalie had never seen before. She was dressed in startling fashions of a most wonderful richness, and she had immense plumes in her hat that nodded when she moved and trembled when she stood still, and she was herself either always nodding with glittering animation or straightening her back and quivering as if straining at a leash and just about to burst it and go off. She was like Rosalie's mother and yet not a bit like her. She was older and yet terribly brisker and stronger. Those were the days when frosted Christmas cards were of the artistic marvels of the age, and Aunt Belle beside Rosalie's mother somehow made Rosalie think of a frosted card beside one of the plain cards. When Rosalie's mother was in a room you often might not know she was there; but when Aunt Belle was in a room there seemed to be no one there except Aunt Belle. She began to talk, in a voice as high as the house, while she was still descending from the cab on her arrival, and the only time Rosalie ever saw her not talking was during service in Church on Sunday, when she was alternately glittering or whispering or else bending down so extraordinarily low that Rosalie thought she was going to lie prone upon the floor.
Dear thing! She was so kind to Rosalie and so kind to them all, and yet——And yet they all, except Rosalie who was too small (then) to appreciate the resented quality in Aunt Belle's kindness, and Rosalie's mother who was too gentle to resent anything, and yet they all, save Rosalie and her mother, loathed and abominated Aunt Belle. It was her way of doing things. She gave kind gifts, but it was the way she gave them. She admired everything and everybody in the rectory, but it was the way she admired. She said most kind and affectionate things, but it was her way of saying them.
"Why, how very nice indeed!" That was her insistent comment upon everything in the rectory. But the tone was, "How very nice indeed—for you."
That was the trouble. That was what made Harold (who at twenty-six was getting very like his father) hurl about a thousand miles over the garden wall the three apples Aunt Belle gave him as his share of the "very best apples from the Army and Navy Stores" which she brought down with other "goodies" for "the dear children"; and made, him grit his teeth after she had been in the house two days and cry, "Dash her! Poor relations; that's how she treats us! I'm dashed if I'm a poor relation. I'm earning three pound ten a week at the Bank and I bet that appalling old Uncle Pyke didn't get it or anything like it at my age!"
Dear thing! "She meant it kindly." That was the sweet apologetic excuse with which Rosalie's mother followed the track of the storms Aunt Belle aroused and with which she sought to abate them. "She means it kindly. She means it kindly, dear."
It should be Aunt Belle's epitaph. It ought to be graven upon that granite chunk in Brompton Cemetery. "She meant it kindly!"
Issuing from the cab, Aunt Belle began by kissing Rosalie's mother in a most astonishing series of kisses that whizzed from cheek to cheek so that it was a miracle to Rosalie that the two noses did not collide and her dear mother's be knocked right off; and then most enthusiastically kissed all the family, applying to each the phrase with which she began on Harold "Well, well, so this is Harold!" (As if it were the most astounding and unexpected thing in the world that it was Harold.) "So this is Harold! Why, what a great big clever fellow, and what a comfort to your dear mother, I am sure!" And then gazed rapturously upon the house and said to Rosalie's mother and to them all, "Well, well, what a very, very nice house, to be sure!"
She meant it kindly. Her manner of talking about herself and about her possessions was not that of bragging or of conscious superiority; it was, to the whole rectory family, and to all poorer than herself wherever she met them, that of one entertaining a party of children—of a kind lady telling stories to a group of round-eyed infants. When she first had tea on the afternoon of her arrival, she gazed upon the silver teapot as it was carried in and exclaimed, "Well, well, what a very, very handsome teapot! And hot-water jug to match! How very, very nice! Now how ever do you think I keep my water hot at tea? I have a very nice service all in silver gilt! It looks just like gold! And there's a kettle to match with a spirit flame under it. The maid brings in the kettle boiling and we just light the spirit with a match and there it is gently boiling all the time!"
Dusk drew in and the lamps were lit. "Lamps!" ecstatically exclaimed Aunt Belle! "How nice! And Hilda keeps the lamps clean, does she? What a dear, helpful girl and how very, very bright and nice they are! Now what do you think? In my house, everywhere, even in the kitchen, we've got this new electric light! Your kind uncle Pyke had it put in for me. Installed, as they call it. Now, just fancy, all you have is a little brass knob by each door, and you just touch a little switch, and there's your light! No matches, no trouble, just click! and there you are. Of course it was very expensive, but your Uncle Pyke insisted upon my having it. He always will insist upon my having everything of the best."
Dear thing! The echo of her ceaseless tongue brings her exactly to life again—glittering, chattering, pluming, presenting, praising—her servants! her house! her parties! her friends! her daughter! her husband!—Oh, yes, a red carpet! a red carpet for Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, to come into the story, and so (at the end of her visit) into Rosalie's life like this: