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   Chapter 14 No.14

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 10543

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Sne cried. Her sympathies, though drying and slower now to be aroused, still then were such that she could weep for pity. It is a glimpse of her not to be seen again. There was she on her knees by Keggo, and with her arms about Keggo's waist, and with her head on Keggo's lap, crying for Keggo; and in the pauses of Keggo's unfolding of her story entreating her, as one that cried responses to a litany, "Don't mind, Keggo! Keggo, don't mind now! Dear Keggo, poor Keggo, it's all right now."

And presently all the tale told: what Mr. Ponders' medicine was; and all the humiliation suffered in keeping in with "that vile man"; and that vile man's betrayal of her to the Sultana, and her dismissal; and all the earlier dreadfulness of her first steps down into her dreadful malady; and all the dreadful secrecy of all those years; and all the horrible humiliation secretly to get her poison; and all the horrible humiliations when her poison got. All the dark tale of that presently told; and her head bowed down to Rosalie's, and Rosalie's wet face against her face, and her face also wet; and just her murmurs, murmured at intervals, as though her heart that had discharged its grievous load ran slowly now, slowly to rise and then to well with, "God bless you, Rosalie; oh, Rosalie, God bless you"; and for a long time just seated thus, cheek to cheek, hand to hand, heart to heart; weakness bound about with strength, sorrow in pity's arms, travail in sanctuary....

It is desired that one should try to see that picture. Its counterpart was not again in the life of Rosalie, hardening.

There were, after that, such happy evenings in Keggo's room. Keggo, with one to help her, fighting for herself; Rosalie, with one to help, elevated upon that high happiness that comes with fighting for another. For a short time there seemed to be no lapses in Keggo's struggle. When they came (as Rosalie knew afterwards) the practised cunning of years of secrecy had no difficulty in concealing them from the unsuspecting eyes of Rosalie. Ill that it was so! Rosalie was harder when came the lapse that cunning could not hide. She did not cry. Her eyes were hard. She said with thin lips, "Why, even all this time you have been deceiving me!" the which egged on, in that vile way in which exchanges of a quarrel are as knives sharpening one against the other, Keggo's enflamed retort, "The more fool you! Little fool!"

But at first, while the lapses were few and the cunning was equal to them, only a closer friendship was set afoot between the woman that was grown and the woman that was burgeoning, and there were such very happy evenings in the room in Limpen Street. Such jolly talks.

There was one talk that, forgotten with the very evening of its passage, afterwards very strongly returned to Rosalie and abode with her. It had in it rather vital things for Rosalie.

She loved to talk about her work with intelligent and sympathetic Keggo, and she had been on this occasion expounding to her the mysteries and interest of life insurance: in particular explaining the "romance" of vital statistics; in particular, again, the curious fact that, though women in the United Kingdom largely outnumbered men, many more male children were born than female. The disproportion "the other way about" in maturity, said Rosalie, was because the death rate among men was much higher-due to risks of their occupations. "A certain number of house painters," said Rosalie sagely, "fall off ladders every year and are killed; women don't paint houses, so they don't fall off ladders and get killed. Similarly on railways, Keggo. The death rate among railway men is much higher in proportion, over an average, than the rate in any other occupation. Porters doing shunting, for instance, are always getting killed. Well, women don't shunt trains so they don't get killed while shunting trains, so there you are again, so to speak. The thing in a nutshell, Keggo, is that, by contrast, men lead dangerous lives."

Keggo, who always was very alert in response, was here very long in responding. Then she responded an extraordinary thing that Rosalie afterwards remembered. She said slowly, "Oh, but Rosalie, it's very dangerous to be a woman."

Rosalie questioned her.

Keggo said, "Rosalie, you've great ideas, and I think very shrewd and very striking ideas, about the difference between men and women, but there's this difference I think you haven't thought of-the danger that women carry in themselves; right in them, here"-she had a hand against her breast and she pressed it there-"born in them, inerradicable, and that men have not. Men go into dangers but they come out of them and go home to tea. That's what it is with men, Rosalie. They can always get out. They can always come back. They never belong to a thing, body and soul and heart and mind. Rosalie, women do. That's their danger. That's why it is so very, very dangerous being a woman. Women can't come back. They can't, Rosalie. Look at me. They take to a thing and it becomes a craze, it becomes an obsession, it becomes a drug. Look at me. They take to a thing-anything; a poison like mine, or a pursuit like some one else's, or an idea like some other's, or a-a career in life like, like yours, Rosali

e,-they take to it and go deep enough, and they're its; they never will get away from it, they never, never will be able to come out of it. Never."

She was extraordinarily vehement. It was embarrassing for Rosalie. Rosalie desired to contest, as vehemently, these theories. She did not believe them a bit. They were founded, she felt, on the tragedy of Keggo's own case. Keggo was unfairly, though very naturally, arguing from the particular to the general, from the personal to the abstract. But how could she reply to Keggo, "Of course you say that?"

She was silent; but she betrayed perhaps her thoughts in a gesture, her difficulty in some expression of her face.

Keggo said very intensely, "But, Rosalie, if you only knew! With me it's drink and you'll say-. But I say to you, Rosalie, never, never let anything get the mastery of you. With me it's drink and you'll say that is a matter altogether different, with which parallels are not to be drawn. Oh, do not believe it, Rosalie. A woman should in all things be desperately temperate-watchfully, desperately temperate. A man-nearly every man-seems somehow to have his life and all his interests in compartments. He can be immersed in one while he is in it, and can get out of it and distribute himself over his others and close it and forget it. Rosalie, a woman can't. Men have hobbies. They don't have attachments; they have detachments. They detach themselves and turn to a thing and they detach themselves from it and turn back again. Rosalie, women don't turn to a thing; they go to it. They don't have hobbies, they have obsessions. They don't trifle, they plunge. They cannot sip, they drain. It's in their bone. They never would have occupied the place they do occupy if it were not that from the beginning they have given themselves over, or they were given over, to mastery. They are the weaker vessel. Rosalie, I tell you this, when a woman gives herself, forgets moderation and gives herself to anything, she is its captive for ever. She may think she can come back, but she can't come back. For a woman there is no comeback. They don't issue return tickets to women. For women there is only departure; there is no return."

Rosalie said, "Keggo, I think I could argue, but I won't. But what I can't imagine is the application of it in hundreds of cases-in by far the great majority of cases. Take mine. You're not warning me, are you? I don't see the possibility-"

Keggo said, "Darling, I'm not warning you and yet I am. I am warning you because you are a woman; and because you are a woman you are susceptible to danger. It's what I've said; it's what I would have you remember for a day perhaps to come, that it is dangerous being a woman. I'm not warning you, because there's nothing to-well, but isn't there? You've got a theory of life and you are bent upon a career in life. There's-"

Rosalie cried, "Well, but there you are, Keggo. No comeback, no return tickets-well, I don't want to come back; I don't want a return ticket."

"You might. You never know. Suppose you ever did?"

"But you can't suppose it. Why ever should I?"

"Suppose you wanted to marry?"

Rosalie laughed. The thing immediately lost reality. "Well, suppose the incredible. Suppose I did. There'd be no comeback wanted there. I could perfectly well marry and still keep my theory of life; I could perfectly well marry and still keep on in my career-and most certainly I would still keep on. Why, that is my theory of life, as you call it, or a very outstanding principle of it. There's nothing to me more detestable in the whole business than the idea that because a woman marries she therefore must give up her work. That's what is the reason the boarding house and every boarding house and every home and street and city swarms with derelicts-with derelict women-just because their lives are all planned as blind alley occupations, marriage at the end of the alley, no need to do anything, no need to be anything because it's only a blind alley you're in. When you reach the end-you reach the end! That's it, Keggo. You reach the end. You're a woman, therefore for you-the end!"

She laughed again. She was returning Keggo's vehemence without embarrassment upon the subject that had made return difficult. She cried, "I've got you now, Keggo. I really have. You say they don't issue return tickets to women. No. Perhaps they don't; but I'll tell you where they book them all to-from the cradle to a terminus."

Keggo smiled and would have spoken. But Rosalie was pleased with her adroit turning of metaphors. She repeated "To a terminus. Well, I've booked beyond, Keggo." She laughed again. "And then the idea of marriage for me! I've granted the preposterous just for the sake of the argument and just to floor the argument. But you know, you know perfectly well from all our talks, even so far back as at the Sultana's, that it's simply too grotesque! Marriage, for me! Why, if a million men came to me on their bended knees, each with a million pounds on their backs you know perfectly well that I'd just feel sick. Tame cats, tabby cats, tomcats, Cheshire cats, wild cats, stray cats,-I'm not going to set up a cats' home. No thanks."

So Rosalie had the laugh of that evening.

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