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All Roads Lead to Calvary By Jerome K. Jerome Characters: 21675

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


Yet in the end it was Carleton who opened the door for her.

Mrs. Denton was helpful, and would have been more so, if Joan had only understood. Mrs. Denton lived alone in an old house in Gower Street, with a high stone hall that was always echoing to sounds that no one but itself could ever hear. Her son had settled, it was supposed, in one of the Colonies. No one knew what had become of him, and Mrs. Denton herself never spoke of him; while her daughter, on whom she had centred all her remaining hopes, had died years ago. To those who remembered the girl, with her weak eyes and wispy ginger coloured hair, it would have seemed comical, the idea that Joan resembled her. But Mrs. Denton's memory had lost itself in dreams; and to her the likeness had appeared quite wonderful. The gods had given her child back to her, grown strong and brave and clever. Life would have a new meaning for her. Her work would not die with her.

She thought she could harness Joan's enthusiasm to her own wisdom. She would warn her of the errors and pitfalls into which she herself had fallen: for she, too, had started as a rebel. Youth should begin where age left off. Had the old lady remembered a faded dogs-eared volume labelled "Oddments" that for many years had rested undisturbed upon its shelf in her great library, and opening it had turned to the letter E, she would have read recorded there, in her own precise thin penmanship, this very wise reflection:

"Experience is a book that all men write, but no man reads."

To which she would have found added, by way of complement, "Experience is untranslatable. We write it in the cipher of our sufferings, and the key is hidden in our memories."

And turning to the letter Y, she might have read:

"Youth comes to teach. Age remains to listen," and underneath the following:

"The ability to learn is the last lesson we acquire."

Mrs. Denton had long ago given up the practice of jotting down her thoughts, experience having taught her that so often, when one comes to use them, one finds that one has changed them. But in the case of Joan the recollection of these twin "oddments" might have saved her disappointment. Joan knew of a new road that avoided Mrs. Denton's pitfalls. She grew impatient of being perpetually pulled back.

For the Nursing Times she wrote a series of condensed biographies, entitled "Ladies of the Lamp," commencing with Elizabeth Fry. They formed a record of good women who had battled for the weak and suffering, winning justice for even the uninteresting. Miss Lavery was delighted with them. But when Joan proposed exposing the neglect and even cruelty too often inflicted upon the helpless patients of private Nursing Homes, Miss Lavery shook her head.

"I know," she said. "One does hear complaints about them. Unfortunately it is one of the few businesses managed entirely by women; and just now, in particular, if we were to say anything, it would be made use of by our enemies to injure the Cause."

There was a summer years ago-it came back to Joan's mind-when she had shared lodgings with a girl chum at a crowded sea-side watering-place. The rooms were shockingly dirty; and tired of dropping hints she determined one morning to clean them herself. She climbed a chair and started on a row of shelves where lay the dust of ages. It was a jerry-built house, and the result was that she brought the whole lot down about her head, together with a quarter of a hundred-weight of plaster.

"Yes, I thought you'd do some mischief," had commented the landlady, wearily.

It seemed typical. A jerry-built world, apparently. With the best intentions it seemed impossible to move in it without doing more harm than good to it, bringing things down about one that one had not intended.

She wanted to abolish steel rabbit-traps. She had heard the little beggars cry. It had struck her as such a harmless reform. But they told her there were worthy people in the neighbourhood of Wolverhampton-quite a number of them-who made their living by the manufacture of steel rabbit-traps. If, thinking only of the rabbits, you prohibited steel rabbit-traps, then you condemned all these worthy people to slow starvation. The local Mayor himself wrote in answer to her article. He drew a moving picture of the sad results that might follow such an ill-considered agitation: hundreds of grey-haired men, too old to learn new jobs, begging from door to door; shoals of little children, white-faced and pinched; sobbing women. Her editor was sorry for the rabbits. Had often spent a pleasant day with them himself. But, after all, the Human Race claimed our first sympathies.

She wanted to abolish sweating. She had climbed the rotting stairways, seen the famished creatures in their holes. But it seemed that if you interfered with the complicated system based on sweating then you dislocated the entire structure of the British export clothing trade. Not only would these poor creatures lose their admittedly wretched living-but still a living-but thousands of other innocent victims would also be involved in the common ruin. All very sad, but half a loaf-or even let us frankly say a thin slice-is better than no bread at all.

She wanted board school children's heads examined. She had examined one or two herself. It seemed to her wrong that healthy children should be compelled to sit for hours within jumping distance of the diseased. She thought it better that the dirty should be made fit company for the clean than the clean should be brought down to the level of the dirty. It seemed that in doing this you were destroying the independence of the poor. Opposition reformers, in letters scintillating with paradox, bristling with classical allusion, denounced her attempt to impose middle-class ideals upon a too long suffering proletariat. Better far a few lively little heads than a broken-spirited people robbed of their parental rights.

Through Miss Lavery she obtained an introduction to the great Sir William. He owned a group of popular provincial newspapers, and was most encouraging. Sir William had often said to himself:

"What can I do for God who has done so much for me?" It seemed only fair.

He asked her down to his "little place in Hampshire," to talk plans over. The "little place," it turned out, ran to forty bedrooms, and was surrounded by three hundred acres of park. God had evidently done his bit quite handsomely.

It was in a secluded corner of the park that Sir William had gone down upon one knee and gallantly kissed her hand. His idea was that if she could regard herself as his "Dear Lady," and allow him the honour and privilege of being her "True Knight," that, between them, they might accomplish something really useful. There had been some difficulty about his getting up again, Sir William being an elderly gentleman subject to rheumatism, and Joan had had to expend no small amount of muscular effort in assisting him; so that the episode which should have been symbolical ended by leaving them both red and breathless.

He referred to the matter again the same evening in the library while Lady William slept peacefully in the blue drawing-room; but as it appeared necessary that the compact should be sealed by a knightly kiss Joan had failed to ratify it.

She blamed herself on her way home. The poor old gentleman could easily have been kept in his place. The suffering of an occasional harmless caress would have purchased for her power and opportunity. Had it not been somewhat selfish of her? Should she write to him-see him again?

She knew that she never would. It was something apart from her reason. It would not even listen to her. It bade or forbade as if one were a child without any right to a will of one's own. It was decidedly exasperating.

There were others. There were the editors who frankly told her that the business of a newspaper was to write what its customers wanted to read; and that the public, so far as they could judge, was just about fed up with plans for New Jerusalems at their expense. And the editors who were prepared to take up any number of reforms, insisting only that they should be new and original and promise popularity.

And then she met Greyson.

It was at a lunch given by Mrs. Denton. Greyson was a bachelor and lived with an unmarried sister, a few years older than himself. He was editor and part proprietor of an evening paper. It had ideals and was, in consequence, regarded by the general public with suspicion; but by reason of sincerity and braininess was rapidly becoming a power. He was a shy, reserved man with an aristocratic head set upon stooping shoulders. The face was that of a dreamer, but about the mouth there was suggestion of the fighter. Joan felt at her ease with him in spite of the air of detachment that seemed part of his character. Mrs. Denton had paired them off together; and, during the lunch, one of them-Joan could not remember which-had introduced the subject of reincarnation.

Greyson was unable to accept the theory because of the fact that, in old age, the mind in common with the body is subject to decay.

"Perhaps by the time I am forty-or let us say fifty," he argued, "I shall be a bright, intelligent being. If I die then, well and good. I select a likely baby and go straight on. But suppose I hang about till eighty and die a childish old gentleman with a mind all gone to seed. What am I going to do then? I shall have to begin all over again: perhaps worse off than I was before. That's not going to help us much."

Joan explained it to him: that old age might be likened to an illness. A genius lies upon a bed of sickness and babbles childish nonsense. But with returning life he regains his power, goes on increasing it. The mind, the soul, has not decayed. It is the lines of communication that old age has destroyed.

"But surely you don't believe it?" he demanded.

"Why not?" laughed Joan. "All things are possible. It was the possession of a hand that transformed monkeys into men. We used to take things up, you know, and look at them, and wonder and wonder and wonder, till at last there was born a thought and the world became visible. It is curiosity that will lead us to the next great discovery. We must take things up; and think and think and think till one day there will come knowledge, and we shall see the universe."

Joan always avoided getting excited when she thought of it.

"I love to make you excited," Flossie had once confessed to her in the old student days. "You look so ridiculously young and you are so pleased with yourself, laying down the law."

She did not know she had given way to it. He was leaning back in his chair, looking at her; and the tired look she had noticed in his eyes, when she had been introduced to him

in the drawing-room, had gone out of them.

During the coffee, Mrs. Denton beckoned him to come to her; and Miss Greyson crossed over and took his vacant chair. She had been sitting opposite to them.

"I've been hearing so much about you," she said. "I can't help thinking that you ought to suit my brother's paper. He has all your ideas. Have you anything that you could send him?"

Joan considered a moment.

"Nothing very startling," she answered. "I was thinking of a series of articles on the old London Churches-touching upon the people connected with them and the things they stood for. I've just finished the first one."

"It ought to be the very thing," answered Miss Greyson. She was a thin, faded woman with a soft, plaintive voice. "It will enable him to judge your style. He's particular about that. Though I'm confident he'll like it," she hastened to add. "Address it to me, will you. I assist him as much as I can."

Joan added a few finishing touches that evening, and posted it; and a day or two later received a note asking her to call at the office.

"My sister is enthusiastic about your article on Chelsea Church and insists on my taking the whole series," Greyson informed her. "She says you have the Stevensonian touch."

Joan flushed with pleasure.

"And you," she asked, "did you think it had the Stevensonian touch?"

"No," he answered, "it seemed to me to have more of your touch."

"What's that like?" she demanded.

"They couldn't suppress you," he explained. "Sir Thomas More with his head under his arm, bloody old Bluebeard, grim Queen Bess, snarling old Swift, Pope, Addison, Carlyle-the whole grisly crowd of them! I could see you holding your own against them all, explaining things to them, getting excited." He laughed.

His sister joined them, coming in from the next room. She had a proposal to make. It was that Joan should take over the weekly letter from "Clorinda." It was supposed to give the views of a-perhaps unusually-sane and thoughtful woman upon the questions of the day. Miss Greyson had hitherto conducted it herself, but was wishful as she explained to be relieved of it; so that she might have more time for home affairs. It would necessitate Joan's frequent attendance at the office; for there would be letters from the public to be answered, and points to be discussed with her brother. She was standing behind his chair with her hands upon his head. There was something strangely motherly about her whole attitude.

Greyson was surprised, for the Letter had been her own conception, and had grown into a popular feature. But she was evidently in earnest; and Joan accepted willingly. "Clorinda" grew younger, more self-assertive; on the whole more human. But still so eminently "sane" and reasonable.

"We must not forget that she is quite a respectable lady, connected-according to her own account-with the higher political circles," Joan's editor would insist, with a laugh.

Miss Greyson, working in the adjoining room, would raise her head and listen. She loved to hear him laugh.

"It's absurd," Flossie told her one morning, as having met by chance they were walking home together along the Embankment. "You're not 'Clorinda'; you ought to be writing letters to her, not from her, waking her up, telling her to come off her perch, and find out what the earth feels like. I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll trot you round to Carleton. If you're out for stirring up strife and contention, well, that's his game, too. He'll use you for his beastly sordid ends. He'd have roped in John the Baptist if he'd been running the 'Jerusalem Star' at the time, and have given him a daily column for so long as the boom lasted. What's that matter, if he's willing to give you a start?"

Joan jibbed at first. But in the end Flossie's arguments prevailed. One afternoon, a week later, she was shown into Carleton's private room, and the door closed behind her. The light was dim, and for a moment she could see no one; until Carleton, who had been standing near one of the windows, came forward and placed a chair for her. And they both sat down.

"I've glanced through some of your things," he said. "They're all right. They're alive. What's your idea?"

Remembering Flossie's counsel, she went straight to the point. She wanted to talk to the people. She wanted to get at them. If she had been a man, she would have taken a chair and gone to Hyde Park. As it was, she hadn't the nerve for Hyde Park. At least she was afraid she hadn't. It might have to come to that. There was a trembling in her voice that annoyed her. She was so afraid she might cry. She wasn't out for anything crazy. She wanted only those things done that could be done if the people would but lift their eyes, look into one another's faces, see the wrong and the injustice that was all around them, and swear that they would never rest till the pain and the terror had been driven from the land. She wanted soldiers-men and women who would forget their own sweet selves, not counting their own loss, thinking of the greater gain; as in times of war and revolution, when men gave even their lives gladly for a dream, for a hope-

Without warning he switched on the electric lamp that stood upon the desk, causing her to draw back with a start.

"All right," he said. "Go ahead. You shall have your tub, and a weekly audience of a million readers for as long as you can keep them interested. Up with anything you like, and down with everything you don't. Be careful not to land me in a libel suit. Call the whole Bench of Bishops hypocrites, and all the ground landlords thieves, if you will: but don't mention names. And don't get me into trouble with the police. Beyond that, I shan't interfere with you."

She was about to speak.

"One stipulation," he went on, "that every article is headed with your photograph."

He read the sudden dismay in her eyes.

"How else do you think you are going to attract their attention?" he asked her. "By your eloquence! Hundreds of men and women as eloquent as you could ever be are shouting to them every day. Who takes any notice of them? Why should they listen any the more to you-another cranky highbrow: some old maid, most likely, with a bony throat and a beaky nose. If Woman is going to come into the fight she will have to use her own weapons. If she is prepared to do that she'll make things hum with a vengeance. She's the biggest force going, if she only knew it."

He had risen and was pacing the room.

"The advertiser has found that out, and is showing the way." He snatched at an illustrated magazine, fresh from the press, that had been placed upon his desk, and opened it at the first page. "Johnson's Blacking," he read out, "advertised by a dainty little minx, showing her ankles. Who's going to stop for a moment to read about somebody's blacking? If a saucy little minx isn't there to trip him up with her ankles!"

He turned another page. "Do you suffer from gout? Classical lady preparing to take a bath and very nearly ready. The old Johnny in the train stops to look at her. Reads the advertisement because she seems to want him to. Rubber heels. Save your boot leather! Lady in evening dress-jolly pretty shoulders-waves them in front of your eyes. Otherwise you'd never think of them."

He fluttered the pages. Then flung the thing across to her.

"Look at it," he said. "Fountain pens-Corn plasters-Charitable appeals-Motor cars-Soaps-Grand pianos. It's the girl in tights and spangles outside the show that brings them trooping in."

"Let them see you," he continued. "You say you want soldiers. Throw off your veil and call for them. Your namesake of France! Do you think if she had contented herself with writing stirring appeals that Orleans would have fallen? She put on a becoming suit of armour and got upon a horse where everyone could see her. Chivalry isn't dead. You modern women are ashamed of yourselves-ashamed of your sex. You don't give it a chance. Revive it. Stir the young men's blood. Their souls will follow."

He reseated himself and leant across towards her.

"I'm not talking business," he said. "This thing's not going to mean much to me one way or the other. I want you to win. Farm labourers bringing up families on twelve and six a week. Shirt hands working half into the night for three farthings an hour. Stinking dens for men to live in. Degraded women. Half fed children. It's damnable. Tell them it's got to stop. That the Eternal Feminine has stepped out of the poster and commands it."

A dapper young man opened the door and put his head into the room.

"Railway smash in Yorkshire," he announced.

Carleton sat up. "Much of a one?" he asked.

The dapper gentleman shrugged his shoulders. "Three killed, eight injured, so far," he answered.

Carleton's interest appeared to collapse.

"Stop press column?" asked the dapper gentleman.

"Yes, I suppose so," replied Carleton. "Unless something better turns up."

The dapper young gentleman disappeared. Joan had risen.

"May I talk it over with a friend?" she asked. "Myself, I'm inclined to accept."

"You will, if you're in earnest," he answered. "I'll give you twenty-four hours. Look in to-morrow afternoon, and see Finch. It will be for the Sunday Post-the Inset. We use surfaced paper for that and can do you justice. Finch will arrange about the photograph." He held out his hand. "Shall be seeing you again," he said.

It was but a stone's throw to the office of the Evening Gazette. She caught Greyson just as he was leaving and put the thing before him. His sister was with him.

He did not answer at first. He was walking to and fro; and, catching his foot in the waste paper basket, he kicked it savagely out of his way, so that the contents were scattered over the room.

"Yes, he's right," he said. "It was the Virgin above the altar that popularized Christianity. Her face has always been woman's fortune. If she's going to become a fighter, it will have to be her weapon."

He had used almost the same words that Carleton had used.

"I so want them to listen to me," she said. "After all, it's only like having a very loud voice."

He looked at her and smiled. "Yes," he said, "it's a voice men will listen to."

Mary Greyson was standing by the fire. She had not spoken hitherto.

"You won't give up 'Clorinda'?" she asked.

Joan had intended to do so, but something in Mary's voice caused her, against her will, to change her mind.

"Of course not," she answered. "I shall run them both. It will be like writing Jekyll and Hyde."

"What will you sign yourself?" he asked.

"My own name, I think," she said. "Joan Allway."

Miss Greyson suggested her coming home to dinner with them; but Joan found an excuse. She wanted to be alone.

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