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   Chapter 9 No.9

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 10830

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Incredibly soon, so stealthy swift is time, came this last term of Rosalie's at the Sultana's. Time does not play an open game. It's of the cloak and dagger sort. It stalks and pounces. Rosalie was astonished to think she was leaving; and now the time had come she was sorry to be going. Not very sorry; very excited; but having just enough regret to realise, on looking back, that she had been very happy at school and to realise, actively, happiness in this last term. One knows what it is. It's always like that. One always was happy; one so seldom is. Happiness to be realised needs faint perception of sadness as needs the egg the touch of salt to manifest its flavour. Flashes of entertainment may enliven the most wretched of us; but that's pleasure; that's not happiness. One comes to know the only true and ideal happiness is happiness tinctured with faintest, vaguest hint of tears. It is peace; and who knows peace that has not come to it through storm, or knoweth storm ahead, or in storm past hath not lost one that would have shared this peace?

So that girl's last term was (in her words) "tremendously jolly." She was just eighteen, and she was leaving, and responsive to this the harness of the school was drawn off her as at the paddock gate the headstall from a colt. She was out of lessons. She did some teaching of the younger girls. She was on terms with the mistresses. She had the run of Keggo's room.

Such talks in Keggo's room.... She was out from the cove of childhood; she was into the bay of youth; breasting towards the sea of womanhood (that sea that's sailed by stars and by no chart); and she was encountering tides that come to young mariners to perplex them and Keggo could talk about such things with the experience that so enraptures young mariners and of which young mariners are at the same time so confidently contemptuous, so superiorly sceptical. Nearer to press the simile, youth at the feet of experience is as one, experienced, climbing a mountain with the young thing panting behind. "Go on! Go on!" pants the growing young thing. "This is ripping. Go on. Show the way. But I don't want your hand. I can do it easily by myself-better." And one evening while Rosalie stumblingly explained, and eagerly received, and sceptically doubted, "But look here, Keggo," she cried, and stopped and blushed, abashed at her use of the nickname.

Miss Keggs laughed. "Don't mind, Rosalie. Call me Keggo. I like it. It's much more friendly. I'm very fond of you, Rosalie."

They were by the oil stove, Miss Keggs in her wicker armchair, Rosalie on the floor, her back propped against Miss Keggs's knees. One of Miss Keggs's hands was on Rosalie's shoulder and she moved it to touch the girl's face. "Are you fond of me, Rosalie?"

Rosalie turned towards her and spoke impulsively. "Oh, awfully-Keggo."

The woman stooped and kissed the growing young thing, hugging her strongly, pressing her lips upon the lips of Rosalie with a great intensity. "Oh, I shall be sorry when you go, Rosalie."

"We can still be friends, Keggo dear."

Miss Keggs shook her head. "Ships that pass in the night."

"O Keggo!"

Miss Keggs smiled, a wintry smile. "O Rosalie!" she mimicked. She sighed. "Oh, my dear, it's true-true! Don't you remember how the lines go-

'Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing;

Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness.'

Just remember that in a few years. You'll hail again perhaps. 'O Keggo!' Or I-it is more likely-wilt hail 'O Rosalie!' Just remember it then." Her hand came down to Rosalie and Rosalie took it. It was so cold; and on her face a strained and beaten look as though hand and face belonged to one that stood most chilled and storm-beat upon the bridge, peering through the storm. Her fingers made no motion responsive to Rosalie's warm touch. She said strangely, as though it was to herself she spoke, "Does it mean anything to you, Rosalie, a vision like that? Can you see a black and violent night and a ship going by full speed, and one labouring, and through the wind and the blackness a hail.-and gone, and the wreck left foundering?"

Ah, that most generous and quickly moved and loving-Rosalie-then! How she twisted to her knees and stretched her arms about that poor Keggo, sitting there-so drooped! How readily into her eyes her young and warm and ardent sympathies pressed the tears, their flowers! How warm her words? How warmly spoken! "O Keggo! Keggo, dear! Keggo, why do you talk like that? How can you? After all the kindness you've shown me, accusing me that I'll forget and not mind. Keggo, you shan't. You mustn't."

Then Keggo responded, catching her arms about Rosalie and straining Rosalie to her as though here was some cable to hold against the driving sea. "O Rosalie!"

And after a little Rosalie said, "You won't again say I ever shall forget, or hail and pass by. Oh, that was cruel, Keggo!"

Keggo was gently crying. "Natural. Natural."

"Unnatural. Horrible. And you? Why do you say such things about yourself? You didn't mean it? It's nothing? How can you ever be a wreck, foundering?"

Keggo dried her eyes and by her voice seemed to put those things right away. "No, nothing. Of course not. Darling girl, only this-you're young-young and so of course you are going by full sail as young things do. Full sail! O happy ship! Rosalie, go on telling. G

o on asking. I love it, Rosalie."

She was always "Keggo" after that; and the things that Rosalie told and asked!

Such things! It is to be seen that now there were bursting into blossom out of bud within that Rosalie those seeds planted in her by the extraordinary ideas of her childhood. About men. First and always predominating, about men as compared with women-their wonder, their power, their importance, their infinite superiority; then about men in their relations with women-their rather grand and noisy ways that made Rosalie blink; their interfering presence that spoilt lessons and spoilt walks; those sinister attributes of theirs, arising somehow out of their freedom to do as they liked in the world, that somehow left the world very hard for women. Grotesque ideas, but masterful ideas, masterfully shaping the child mind wherein they germinated; burrowing in clutchy roots; pressing up in strong young saplings. Agreed the child is father of the man, but much more the girl is mother of the woman. It is the man's part to sow and ride away; conception is the woman's office and that which she receives she tends to cherish and incorporate within her. Of her body that function is her glory; of her mind it is her millstone. Man always rides away, a tent dweller and an Arab, with a horse and with the plains about him; woman is a dweller in a city with a wall, a house dweller, storing her possessions about her in her house, abiding with them, not to be sundered from them.

So with that Rosalie. Those childhood ideas of hers were grotesque ideas but she had received them into her house and they remained with her, shorn of their grotesqueness, as garish furniture may be upholstered in a new pattern, but tincturing her life as the appointments of a room will influence the mood of one that sits therein. Father owned the world-all males had proprietorship in the world under father-all men were worshipful and giants and genii. That was the established perception and those its earliest images. The perception remained, deepening, changing only in hue, as a viscid liquid solidifies and darkens in a vessel over the fire. It remained, persisted. Time but steadied the focus as the wise oculist, seeking for his patient the perfect image, drops lenses in the frame through which the vision chart is viewed. In a little the perfect image is found. There was that Rosalie, come to maidenhood, come to the dizzy edge of leaving school, with the perfect image of her persistent obsession; with the belief no longer that men were magicians having the world for their washpot and women for their footstool, but unquestionably that they "had a better time" than women and that they secured this "better time" by virtue of their independence.

"And, Keggo," (she is explaining it) "I'm going to be like that. I'm going to be what a man can be. Why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't a woman?" She paused and then went on. "Why, that's the thing that's been with me all my life, ever since I can remember. I've always known that men were the creatures. Always. Since I was so high. Oh, I used to have the most ridiculous ideas about them. You'd scream, Keggo. And I've always had the same attitude towards them-towards them as contrasted with women, I mean. First awe, then envy, then, since I've been growing up here, just as having a desirable position in life, as having the desirable position in life, independence, a career, work, freedom, a goal-yes, and a goal that's always and always a little bit in front of you, always something better. That's the thing. That's the thing, Keggo. Just look at the other side. Take a case in point. Take my painful cousin, Laetitia, sweet but in lots of ways very painful. What's her goal? A good match! A good match! Did you ever hear anything so futile and sickening? Sickening in itself, but I'll tell you what's really sickening about it-why, that she'll get it-get her goal and then it's done, over, finished, won. Settle down then and get fat. Oh, I don't want a goal I can win. I want a goal I can't win. One that's always just in front."

She suddenly realised the intensity of her voice and laughed and shook her head sideways and back. She had just recently put her hair up and it still felt funny and tight and the laugh and the shake eased away the tightness of voice and of hair. She said thoughtfully, "You know, I believe I'm rather like a man in many ways, in points of view. It's through always thinking them better, I daresay. The ideas I've had about them!" and she laughed again. She said slowly, "Though mind you, Keggo, they are better in many ways. They can get away from things. They don't stick about on one thing. And they're violent, not fussing. When they're angry they bawl and hit and it's over and they forget it. They don't just nag on and on. Oh, yes, they're better."

She extended her palms to the oil flame, and watching the X-ray-like effects of the light and shadow upon her fingers, she added indifferently, as one idly letting drop a remark requiring no comment, negligently with the voice of one saying "Tomorrow is Tuesday," or "It's mutton today,"-"Of course they're beasts," she added.

"Of course they're beasts." It was the adjusted image to which she had brought that other perception of men which, running parallel with the perception of their superior position, had permeated her childhood years.

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