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   Chapter 11 No.11

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 9712

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

There's much virtue in an If, says Touchstone; and there's much virtue in an "Oh"-a wise, a thoughtful, a speculative, a discerning "Oh" such as that "Oh" pronounced by Rosalie to Mr. Simcox's information that agents, and not he, drew the commissions for the insurance policies which, out of his knowledge and experience, he had advised. There followed from that "Oh" its plain outcome: her suggestion to Mr. Simcox of why not make a business, a real business, of expert advice upon insurance, and (out of the make-believe intercourse with schools) a business, a real business, of expert advice upon schools? And there shall follow also from that "Oh" a sweeping use of the intention that has been mentioned to tell only of her life that which contributed to her life. We'll fix her stage from first to last, then see her walk upon it.

This was her stage: Her suggestion was adopted. It has, astonishingly soon, astonishing success. Advice upon insurance, advice upon schools, commissions from each, are found wonderfully to work in together, each bringing clients to the other. Aunt Belle's swarms of friends, their swarms of friends, the swarms of friends of those swarms of friends, and so on, snowball fashion, are the first nucleus of the thing. It succeeds. It grows. Real offices are taken. "Simcox's." Advertisements, clerks, banking-accounts. Appearance of Mr. Sturgiss, partner in Field and Company-"Field's"-the bankers and agents. Field's is a private bank. Its business is principally with persons resident in the East, soldiers, civil servants, tea planters, East India merchants. Field's is in Lombard Street. (Lombard Street!) Later Field's opens a West End office. Field's is frequently asked to advise its clients and their wives on all manner of domestic matters,-schools for their children, holiday homes, homes for clients over on leave, insurance, investment, whatnot, a hundred things. Comes to this Sturgiss, partner in Field's, an idea of great possibilities in this advisory business if developed as might be developed and run as might be run. Tremendously attracted by Rosalie as the person for the job. Makes her an offer. She declines it. Mr. Simcox's death. Sturgiss comes along again. Ends in Rosalie going to Field's. Lombard Street! Room of her own in the big offices. Glass partitioned. Huge mahogany table. Huge mahogany desk. Field's open the West End office, in Pall Mall. More convenient for wives of clients. Rosalie is moved there. Manager of her own side of the business. The war comes. Sturgiss goes out. Other important officers of the bank go out. Her importance increases very much in other sides of the bank's business than her own. Press scents her out and writes her up. "The only woman banker." "Brilliant woman financier." Contributes articles to the reviews. Very much a leading woman of her day. Very much a most remarkable woman.

That's her stage. Thus she walked upon it:

The beginning part-that tumult of youth, those dizzy jumps that we have seen her in-was frightfully exciting, frightfully absorbing. She was so tremendously absorbed, so terrifically intent, so tremendously eager, that the transition from the Sultana's to Aunt Belle's, and the start with Mr. Simcox, and the transition from Aunt Belle's to independence in the boarding house, was done with scarcely a visit-and then a rather grudged and rather impatient visit-to the rectory home.

No, the absorption was too profound for much of that: indeed, for much of home in any form. Letters came from Rosalie's mother three and four times a week. In the beginning, when fresh left school and at Aunt Belle's, Rosalie always kissed the dear handwriting on the envelope, and kissed the dear signature before returning the letters to their envelopes; and she would sit up late at night writing enormously long and passionately devoted letters in reply. But she wasn't going back; she wasn't going down; no, not even for a week-end, "my own darling and beloved little mother," until she had found an employment and was established on her own feet, "just like one of the boys." Then she would come, oh, wouldn't she just! She would have an annual holiday, "just as men have," and she would come down to the dear, beloved old rectory and she would give her own sweet, adored little mother the most wonderful time she ever could imagine!

Rosalie would sit up late at night writing these most loving letters, pages and pages long; and her mother's letters (which always arrived by the first post) she would carry about with her all day and read again before answering.

And yet....

The fond intention in thus carrying them on her person instead of bestowing them in her writing case was to read them a dozen times in the opportunities the day would afford. And yet... Somehow it was not done. The day of the receipt of the very

first letter was generous of such opportunities and at each of them the letter was remembered... but not drawn forth. Rosalie did not attempt to analyse why not. Her repression, each time, of the suggestion that the letter should now be taken out and read again was not a deliberate repression. She merely had a negative impulse towards the action and accepted it; and so negligible was the transaction in her record of her thoughts, so mere a cypher in the petty cash of the day's ledger, that in the evening when, gone up to bed, the letter was at last drawn out and kissed and read and answered, and then kissed and read again, no smallest feeling of remorse was suffered by her to reflect that the intended reading in the dozen opportunities of the day had not been done.

And yet... Was it, perhaps, this mere acceptance of a negative impulse, a cloud no bigger than the size of a man's hand upon the horizon of her generous impulses? There is this to be admitted-that the letters, accumulating, began to bulk inconveniently in her writing case. What a lot dear mother wrote! Room might be made for them by removing or destroying the letters from friends who had left the Sultana's with her, but about those letters there was a peculiar attraction; they were from other emancipated One Onlys who watched with admiration the progress in her wonderful adventure of brilliant, unconventional Rosalie, and it was nice thus to be watched. Or room for her mother's letters might be made by removing or destroying letters that began to amass directly touching her desire for employment-from city friends of Uncle Pyke, from Mr. Simcox. But, no, unutterably precious those! Unutterably precious, too, of course, those accumulating bundles of letters from her dear mother; but precious on a different plane: they belonged to her heart; it was to her head, to the voice in her that cried "Live your life-your life-yours!" that these others belonged.

She was tingling to that voice one night, turning over the employment letters; and, tingling, put her mother's letters from her case to her box.

Yes, upon the horizon of her generous impulses perhaps the tiniest possible cloud. And then perhaps enlarging. You see, she was so very full of her intentions, of her prospects. She had read somewhere that the perfect letter to one absent from home was a letter stuffed with home gossip,-who had been seen and who was doing what, and what had been had for dinner yesterday and whence obtained. But she did not subscribe to that view. She was from home and her mother's letters were minutest record of the home life; but she began to skip those portions to read "afterwards." One day the usual letter was there at breakfast and she put it away unopened so as to have "a really good, jolly read" of it "afterwards." In a little after that she got the habit of always, and for the same reason (she told herself) keeping the letters till the evening. One day she gave the slightest possible twitch of her brows at seeing the very, very familiar handwriting. She had had a letter only the previous day and two running was not expected: more than that, this previous letter had slightly vexed her by its iteration of the longing to see her and by very many closely written lines of various little troubles. She was a little impatient at the idea of a further edition of it so soon. She forgot to open it that night. She remembered it when she was in bed; but she was in bed then... When, next day, she read the letter it was, again, an iteration of the longing to see her and, again, more, much more, of the little troubles: the residue was of the gossipy gossip that Rosalie already had formed the habit of skipping till "afterwards." Altogether a vexatious letter.

After that, when the letters were frequent, it was frequent for Rosalie to greet the sight of them with just the swiftest, tiniest little contraction of her brows. Nothing at all really. Meaning virtually nothing and of itself absolutely nothing. Possessing a significance only by contrast, as a fine shade in silk or wool will not disclose a pronounced hue until contrasted with another. The contrast here, to give the thing significance, was between that swiftest, tiniest contraction of the brows at the sight of her mother's letters and the eager spring to them, the quick snatching up, and the impulsive pressing to her lips when first those letters began to come. Likewise answering them, that had been an impulsive outpouring and brimming over, now was a very slightly laboured squeezing. The pen, before, had flooded love upon the page. Now the pen halted, paused, and had to think of expressions that would give pleasure.

The change did not happen at a blow. If it had, Rosalie would have noticed it. It slipped imperceptibly from stage to stage and she did not notice it.

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