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   Chapter 8 No.8

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 24512

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


One seeks to give only the things in Rosalie's life that contributed to her record, as time judges a record. Of her years at Oakwood House, so far as Oakwood House itself is concerned, only that friendship with Miss Keggs thus contributed. The rest does not matter and may be passed. Rosalie was happy there. It naturally was all very strange at first but she soon shook down and found her place and formed friendships. The thing to notice is this-that even in the strangeness of her first few weeks the place was actively felt by her to be a haven. There is to be recalled that aching desire of hers, when poor Anna lay dead, to get right away from men: men who (though still pre-eminently wonderful) caused her by their showing off to blink and have a funny feeling; and by their distasteful presence spoilt her walks and her lessons; and by the frightening things they did had brought that frightening death to Anna. Thus had accumulated that aching desire to get right away from men and be only amongst girls; and the feeling remained most lively in Rosalie at the Sultana's, and intensified. Those men! She used to see the Bashibazook and shudder at him; and Mr. Ponders and shudder at him; and sometimes Uncle Pyke, and because of ways he had, feel quite sick to be near him. Men still were wonderful. The Bashibazook, Mr. Ponders, Uncle Pyke, Uncle Pyke's friends-all were infinitely superior and did what they pleased; but, oh, not nice, frightening. It was safe and nice to be only with girls. Girls were in heaps of ways extraordinarily silly and unsatisfactory. Men though not nice, unquestionably did everything better and could do things. Unquestionably theirs was the best time in life. Unquestionably they were to be envied. But-not nice, frightening.

It was like that that her ideas at Oakwood House were shaping.

And all this time, most important and much contributory to the life of Rosalie-Aunt Belle. Tremendous occasions in those years were the visits to the Sultana's of Aunt Belle. Frequently on a Saturday, kind Aunt Belle used to call at Oakwood House for Rosalie and take her to a tea shop for tea. Beautiful cousin Laetitia would accompany her, and kind Aunt Belle would always invite Rosalie to bring with her another little One Only. Kind, kind Aunt Belle! Aunt Belle used to sit by in the tea shop, affectionate and loquacious as ever, while the two schoolgirls stuffed themselves with cakes (not beautiful Laetitia who just nicely sipped a cup of tea and nicely smiled at the two gross appetites) and always kind Aunt Belle brought a small hamper of sweets and cake and apples-"The very best goodies from the Army and Navy Stores, dear child. They know us so well at the Army and Navy Stores. Your Uncle Pyke has a standing deposit account there. We can go in without a penny in our pockets and buy anything we please. Fancy that, dear child!" And always half a crown for Rosalie, as kind Aunt Belle was leaving.

Once in every term, also, Rosalie spent a week-end at the magnificent house in Pilchester Square. Such luxuries! Fire in her bedroom and palatial late dinner! Breakfast in bed on Sunday morning ("Just to let you lie as a little change from school, dear child.") and Laetitia's maid to do her hair! Rosalie immensely im-pressed and Aunt Belle immensely gratified at Rosalie's awe and appreciation and gratitude.

A curious manifestation there was of Aunt Belle's attitude in this regard. On that famous visit to the rectory she had treated every one like children. Here, in her own house, while Rosalie was still a child, twelve, thirteen and fourteen, she was treated by Aunt Belle and shown off to by her much as if she were a grown-up woman. About her servants, and about prices, and about dress, and about her dinner parties, Aunt Belle chattered to Rosalie; and about Uncle Pyke, what he liked, and what he didn't like, and what he did in the City, and what he did at his club, and about her hosts of friends and their matrimonial experiences, Aunt Belle chattered to her, confiding in her and telling her all kinds of things she but dimly understood precisely as if she were a grown-up young woman.

Then as Rosalie grew older, sixteen, seventeen and getting on for eighteen, was reversion by Aunt Belle to the rectory manner. The child had been treated as a young woman; the budding maiden was treated precisely as if she were a small child or a small savage to be entertained by mere sight of the wonders all about her in Pilchester Square and by having them explained to her in words of one syllable.

"There, Rosalie," (Rosalie at seventeen) "do you know you're eating with a solid silver spoon! Feel the weight of it! Balance it in your hand, dear child. We usually only use this service for our dinner parties and your uncle Pyke keeps it locked up and carries the key about with him. Show Rosalie the key, Pyke. But I got it out for you to-day because I knew you would like to see real solid silver plate. Dear child!"

Dear thing! Lightly on her, you Brompton Cemetery stones!

Uncle Pyke never would produce the key or whatever he might be asked to show. Uncle Pyke would grunt and go on with his soup with enormous noise as though having a bath in it. Uncle Pyke never spoke at all to Rosalie on these week-end visits except, always, to put her through examination on what she was learning at school. Rosalie, though horribly frightened of Uncle Pyke, always had pretty ready answers to the examination-she did uncommonly well at school-but there never was from Uncle Pyke any other mark of appreciation than a grunt. A grunt! Those Pyke-ish, piggish men! The outstanding characteristic Rosalie came to see in Uncle Pyke and in the other husbands (his cronies) of Aunt Belle's friends was that they thought about nothing else but their food, their wine and their cigars. They disliked having about them anybody who interfered with their enjoyment of their food, their wine and their cigars. They were affectionately regarded by their wives as tame, necessary bears to be fed and warmed and used to sit at the head of the table and awe the servants. That was what Rosalie saw in them-and shuddered at in them. Hogs!

Cousin Laetitia all this time was living at home, attending a very exclusive and expensive day school. Only twelve girls at beautiful Laetitia's school and more masters and mistresses than pupils-mostly "visiting" masters-Italian, French, painting, singing, music, dancing. Laetitia was about two years older than Rosalie. Very pretty in an elegant, delicate fashion, and growing up decidedly beautiful in a sheltered, hothouse, Rossetti type of beauty. Always very affectionate to Rosalie and glad to see her; not patronising in the way she might have been patronising and yet, as the two grew older, patronising in a conscious effort to dissemble a conscious superiority.

Rosalie never could remember how early in their acquaintance it was she first understood that the great aim of Laetitia's life, and the great aim of Aunt Belle's life for Laetitia, was to "make a good match"; but she seemed to have known it ever since she first heard of Laetitia, certainly at a point of her childhood when too young exactly to understand what "good match" meant. Later on, when Laetitia had left school and was within sight of putting up her hair, "good match" was openly spoken of by Aunt Belle in her crowded drawing-room or alone in company of the two girls and Uncle Pyke.

"And soon dear Laetitia will be making a good match, a splendid match"; and beautiful Laetitia would faintly colour and faintly smile.

There began to come to Rosalie, growing older, an acute and an odd feeling of the physical and mental difference between herself and beautiful Laetitia-a feeling in Laetitia's company that she was a boy, a young man, in the company of one most pronouncedly a young woman. Rosalie was always very plainly dressed by comparison with Laetitia; her voice was much clearer and sharper, her air very vigorous against an air very langorous. Her hands used to feel extraordinarily big when she sat with Laetitia and her wrists extraordinarily bare. She would glance down at her lap sometimes and could have felt a sense of surprise not to see trousers on her legs.

That was how, as they grew older, Rosalie often felt with Laetitia.

Her last term came. She was nearly eighteen. She was going to earn her own living. That was decided. Exactly how was not decided; but Rosalie had decided it. There was an idea that she should remain at the Sultana's as a junior teacher, but that was not Rosalie's idea.

"Oh, don't be a schoolmistress, Rosalie," Keggo had said when Rosalie told of the suggestion (propounded, through the Sultana, by Miss Ough and warmly endorsed by Aunt Belle and grunted upon by Uncle Pyke). "Oh, Rosalie, don't be one of us. Don't you see how we are just drifting, drifting? Don't do anything where you'll just drift, Rosalie."

"No, I'm not going to drift, Keggo," said Rosalie. (Miss Keggs, in the little room, had been "Keggo" a long time then.) "I'm not going to drift. I'm going to have a man's career. I'm going into business! Keggo, that's the mystery of that book I'm always reading that you're always asking me about: 'Lombard Street'-Bagehot's 'Lombard Street.' Oh, Keggo, thrilling."

She began to tell Keggo her stupendous enterprise....

There is in the study of man nothing more curious or more interesting than the natural bent of an individual mind. An arrow shot to the north and another from the same bow to the south spring not apart more swiftly or more opposedly than the minds of two children brought up from one mother in the same nursery. The natural bent of each impels it. Art this one, science that; to Joe adventure, to Tom a bookish habit. Rosalie's natural bent declared itself in "figures"; in the operations, as she discovered them, of commerce; in the mysterious powers, as they appealed to her, developed in countinghouses and exerted by countinghouses. The romance of commerce! A mind double-edged, with inquisitiveness the one edge and acquisitiveness the other (as certainly Rosalie's) is a sword double-edged that will cut through the tough shell and into the lively heart of anything. No more is required than to give the young mind a glimpse of the lively heart that is there. Rosalie's young mind was already beating with half-fledged wings against the shell about that side of life wherein, in her experience, (of her brothers, of Uncle Pyke, of Uncle Pyke's friends) men did the things that earned them livelihood and gave them independence. Along, by happy chance, buried in dust in the rectory study and found one holiday, came "Lombard Street" and Bagehot, and that was the book and Bagehot was the man to give pinions to those fledgling wings. She saw romance, and thrusted for it, in the business of countinghouses. It was fascinating to her beyond anything the discovery that money was not, as she had always supposed, a thing that you took with one hand and paid away, and lost, with the other. Not at all! It was a thing that, properly handled, you never lost. Enthralling! Thrilling! You invested it and it returned to you; you expended it and propped it up with fascinating things called sinking funds, and, although you had spent it, there it was coming back to you again! It was the most mysterious and wonderful commodity in the world. She got hold of that and she went on from that.

The romance of business! That ships should go out across the seas with one cargo and sell it, not, in effect, for money, but for another and an entirely different cargo; that cheques passing between countries, and cheques circulating about the United Kingdom, should be traded off one against the other in magic conjuring palaces called Clearing Houses with the result that thousands of little streams merged into few great rivers and only differences need be paid; that money (heart and driving-force of all the mysteries) should have within itself the mysterious and astounding quality of ceaselessly reduplicating itself-"the only thing in the world," as Rosalie quaintly put it to Miss Keggs-"the only thing m the world that people, business people, will take care of for yo

u without charging you for storage or for trouble"-that these mysterious and extraordinary things should be thrilled Rosalie as the mysterious and extraordinary things of science or of nature or the mysterious and beautiful things of art or of literature or of music will thrill another.

That natural bent of her mind! That Bagehot that ministered to her natural bent! Fascinated by Banks, fascinated by the Exchange, fascinated by the Pool of London, where, obedient to the behests of the counting-houses, floated the wealth that the countinghouses made, fascinated by these was Rosalie as maidens of her years commonly are fascinated by palaces, by the Tower and by the Abbey. Remember, it is not what their eyes see that fascinates these romantic young misses. A dolt can see the Tower walls and see no more than crumbling bricks and stone. It is what their minds see that fascinates the ardent creatures. Well, Rosalie's mind saw strange romance in countinghouses.

That Bagehot!

And then must be picked up-and were with time picked up-others of the magic man's enchantments. "Literary Studies," but she passed over that, the burning subject was not there. "Economic Studies"; it much was there. "International Coinage." She read that! It approached the subject of a Universal Money and her thought was, "Why, what a splendid idea to have one coinage that would go everywhere!" And then, opening a new field, and yet a connected field and a field profoundly engrossing to her, "The English Constitution." How laws came; how laws worked; the mysteriousness (her word) within the Council chambers that produced governance as the mysteriousness within the countinghouses produced wealth! The mysterious quality within precedent and necessity and change that reproduced itself in laws as the mysterious quality within money caused money to reproduce itself in wealth; the romance of governance.

It was like that that her interests were shaping.

It was very easy, it was utterly delightful, to tell all this to Keggo. It was not at all easy, it was very terrible, to tell it before Uncle Pyke. It was appalling, it was terrific, to break to the house in Notting Hill that she desired to earn her living, not as a teacher, but in business-like men.

It was at dinner at the glittering table in the splendid dining-room of the magnificent house in Notting Hill, Rosalie there on the half-term week-end of her last term, that the frightful thing was done. At dinner: Uncle Pyke Pounce bathing in his soup; beautiful Laetitia elegantly toying with hers; Aunt Belle beaming over her solid silver spoon at Rosalie. "Try that soup, dear child. It's delicious. My cook makes such delicious soups. Lady Houldsworth Hopper-Sir Humbo Houldsworth Hopper, you know he's in the India Office, you must have heard of him-was dining with us last week and said she had never tasted such delicious soup. It was the same as this. I asked cook specially to make it for you. Now next term, when you are one of the mistresses at Oakwood House and living at their table and you have soup, you'll be able to say-for you must speak up when you are with them, dear child, and not be shy-you'll be able to tell them what delicious soup you always get at your Uncle Colonel Pyke Pounce's. Be sure to mention your Uncle by name, Colonel Pyke Pounce, R.E., not just 'my uncle,' and that he was a great deal in India where he was entirely responsible for the laying of the Puttapong Railway and received an illuminated address from the Rajah of Puttapongpoo, such a fine old fellow, not being allowed of course to take a present, which you have seen many times hanging in his study in his fine house in Pilchester Square, Notting Hill (some of them are sure to have heard of Pilchester Square, though never visited there, of course); your uncle will show you the address again after dinner; that will be nice, won't it, dear? Won't you, Pyke?"

(F-r-r-r-r-r-rup! from the splendid holder of the illuminated address from the Rajah of Puttapongpoo, bathing in his soup.)

"Be sure to speak up for yourself like that, dear child, and let them know who you are and that though you are poor and have to earn your living, you have wealthy relations (though of course we are only comfortably off and do not pretend to be rich) and are not at all like ordinary governesses. Be sure to, dear. There; now you've finished that soup and wasn't it delicious, just? You will have another helping, I know you will. A second helping of soup is not usual, dear, and Laetitia or any one at any of our parties would never take it, but it's quite different for you, and I do love to see you enjoy the nice food I get for you. More soup for Miss Aubyn, Parker."

Now for it!

"Aunt, I won't have any more soup. I won't really. It was delicious. Delicious, but really no more. Really. Aunt.... About the governesses there and being one of them. I wanted to say... Aunt, I don't want to be a pupil-teacher. Aunt..."

Fr-r-r-r-rup! Frr-r-roosh! Woosh! Fr-r-r-roosh!

It is the holder of the illuminated address from the Rajah of Puttapongpoo most terribly and fear-strikingly struggling up out of his soup. "Don't want to be a pupil teacher? Wat d'ye mean? Wat d'ye mean?"

"Why, Rosalie, darling!" It is the exquisitely beautiful daughter of the holder of the illuminated address from the Rajah of Puttapongpoo.

"Never mind them, Rosalie. The dear child! Why, how crimson she is. Let the dear child speak. What is it, dear child?" It is kind Aunt Belle.

"Aunt Belle. Aunt Belle, I don't want to earn my living like that. I want to earn it like-like a man. I want to-well, it's hard to explain-to go to an office like a man-and have my pay every week, like a man-and have a chance to get on like men, like a man. I want to go into the City if I possibly could, or start in some way like going into the City. I know it sounds awful-telling it to you-but girls are doing it, a few. They're just secretaries and clerks, of course. They're just nothing, of course. But, oh, it's something, and I do want it so. To have office hours and a-a desk-and a-an employer and be-be like men. I don't mean, I don't mean a bit, imitate men like all that talk there is now about imitating men. I hate women in stiff collars and shirts and ties and mannishness like that; and indeed I hate-I dislike men-I can't stand them, not in that way, if you understand what I mean-"

".Rosalie!" (Laetitia.)

"Oh, Laetitia, oh, Aunt Belle, I'm only saying that to show I don't mean I want to be-. It is so fearfully difficult to explain, this. But Aunt, you do see what I am trying to mean. It's just a man's work that I mean because I'd love it and because I don't see why-. And it's just that particular kind of work-in the City. Because I believe, I do believe, I would be sharp and good at that work. Figures and things. I love that. I'm quick at that, very quick. And I've read heaps about it-about business I mean-about-"

Uncle Pyke Pounce. Uncle Pyke Pounce, holding his breath because he is holding his exasperation as one holds one's breath in performance of a delicate task. Uncle Pyke Pounce crimson, purply blotched, infuriated, kept from his food, blowing up at last at the parlour-maid: "Bring in the next course! Bring in the next course! Watyer staring at? Watyer waiting for? Watyer listening to? Rubbish. Pack of rubbish."

The parlour-maid flies out on the gust of the explosion. Rosalie finishes her sentence while the gust inflates again.

"Read heaps about it-about business-about trade and finance and that. It fascinates me."

The gust explodes at her.

"Wat d'yer mean read about it? Read about what?"

"Uncle, about money, about finance and things. I know it's extraordinary I should like such things. But I do. I can't tell why. It's like-like a romance to me, all about money and how it is made and managed. There's a book I found in father's study at home. 'Lombard Street' by Bagehot. That's all about it, isn't it? I can't tell you how I have read it and reread it."

"Never heard of it. 'Lombard Street?' Bagehot? Who's Bagehot?"

"I think he was a banker, Uncle."

"I think he was a fool!"

It comes out of the red and swollen face of the holder of the illuminated address from the Rajah of Puttapongpoo like a plum-stone spat at her across the table. Rosalie blinked. These beastly men! Violent, vulgar, fat, rude beasts! Uncle Pyke the worst of them! But she came back bravely from her flinch. "If he wasn't a banker, he knew all about banking. Oh, that's what I would be more than anything-that's what I do want to be-a banker-in a bank!"

The holder of the illuminated address from the Rajah of Puttapongpoo as if, having expectorated the plum-stone, he desired to expectorate also the taste thereof, spat out an obscene sound of contempt and disgust. "Fah! I say the man, whoever he was, was a fool. And I say this, Miss. I don't often speak sharply, but I say that I think I know another fool-a little fool-at this table. Pah! Enough of it! What's this? Trout?"

Aunt Belle to the rescue! If Uncle Pyke and Aunt Belle had kept house in Seven Dials instead of Notting Hill, Uncle Pyke would have beaten Aunt Belle and Aunt Belle would have taken the blows without flinching and then have wheedled Uncle Pyke with drops of gin. As it was, Uncle Pyke was merely boorish or torpidly savage towards Aunt Belle and Aunt Belle's way with him-as with all combative men-was to rally him with a kind of boisterous chaff and to discharge it at him as an urchin with an armful of snowballs fearfully discharges them at an old gentleman in a silk hat: backing away, that is to say, before an advance and advancing before a retreat. Uncle Pyke usually retreated, either to eat or sleep.

Aunt Belle had blinked, as Rosalie had blinked, at that horrible epithet "Little fool!" across the table. The lips that uttered it were immediately stuffed with trout and Aunt Belle immediately rushed in in her rallying way to the rescue. "Why, you great, big stupid Uncle Pyke!" cried Aunt Belle vivaciously. "It's you who don't know what you're talking about, you unkind old thing, you. Why, many, many girls, quite nice girls, are going into business now and being secretaries and things and doing very, very well indeed. Why, I declare it would do you good to have a lady secretary yourself in that big, dusty office of yours in the City, never dusted from one year's end to another, I'm sure! Laetitia, wouldn't it do your father good, the cross, grumpy old thing? Give your master some more of the sauce, Parker. Isn't that trout delicate and nice, Pyke? Trout for a pike! And I'm sure very like a nasty, savage old pike the way you tried to gobble up poor Rosalie, the dear child. Now, Rosalie, dear child, I think that's a very, very good idea of yours to go into business. I think it's a splendid idea, and more and more quite nice girls will soon be doing it. Now we'll just see what we can do and we'll make that cross old uncle help and ask all his cross old friends in the City, just to punish him. A young Lady Clerk, or a young Lady Secretary! Now I think that's the very, very thing for you. Just the thing, and a dear, clever child to think of it. Yes!"

Kind, kind Aunt Belle! Victory through Aunt Belle! Accomplishment! A career like a man! Aunt Belle had said it and Aunt Belle would do it! A career like a man! Oh, ecstatic joy! "Lombard Street" had been brought with her in her week-end suitcase. Directly she could get to bed she rushed up to it and took it out and read, and read. It was all underlined. She underlined it more that happy, happy night!

Ah, never underline a book till you are forty. Never memorialise what you were, your lovely innocence, your generous heart, your ardent hopes, lest the memorial be found one day by what you have become. Rosalie, finding that "Lombard Street," unearthed from lumber, in long after years, turned over the pages and from the pages ghosts rushed up and filled the room, and filled the air, and filled her heart, and filled her eyes; and she rent the book across its perished binding and pushed it from her with both her hands on to the fire and on to the flames in the fire.

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