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   Chapter 17 No.17

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 11685

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


There's none so sick as, brought to bed, that robust he that ever has scorned sickness; nor any sinner like a saint suddenly gone from saintliness to sin; and there can be no love like love suddenly leapt from repression into being.

Rosalie, that had abhorred the very name of love, now finding love was quite consumed by love. She loved him so! Even to herself she never could express how tremendous a thing to her their love was. She used deliberately to call it to her mind (as the new, rapt possessor of a jewel going specially to the case to peep and gloat again) and when she called it up like that, or when, in the midst of occupation, her mind secretly opened a door and she turned and saw it there, a surge, physically felt, passed through her, and she would nearly gasp, her breath taken by this new, this rapturous element, as the bather's at his first plunge in the cold, the splendid sea.

She loved him so! She looked at him with eyes, not of an inexperienced girl blinded by love, but of one cynically familiar with the traits of common men, intolerantly prejudiced, sharply susceptible to every note or motion of displeasing quality; and her eyes told her heart, and what is much more told her mind, that nothing but sheer perfection was here. Harry was brilliantly talented, Harry was in face and form one that took the eye among a hundred men. But she had known all that and freely granted him all that before. What she found as she came to know him, and when they were married what she continued to find, was simply, that he was perfect. He was perfect in every way and there was no way in which, inclining neither to the too much nor the too little, he was not perfect.

The labour of a catalogue of her Harry's virtues is thus discounted. Name a virtue in a man and it was Harry's. Declare too much perfection is as ill to live with as too much fault, and it is precisely just before too much is reached that Harry's dowry stopped. Suggest she was blind to defects, and it is to be answered that there was no man who knew him that ever had a thought against him (except Uncle Pyke, Colonel Pyke Pounce, R.E., who, justifiably, was warned by his physician never to think upon the monster lest apoplexy should supervene) nor any fellow man in his profession (and that is the supreme test) that ever grudged him his success. Disgruntled barristers, morosely brooding upon the fall of plums into other mouths than theirs, always said, when it was Harry's mouth: "Ah, Occleve; yes, but he's different. No one grudges Harry Occleve what he gets."

Different! In Rosalie's fond, fondest love for him she often used to hug her love by making that catalogue of all his parts that has been shown not to be necessary. And it was the little, tiny things wherein he differed from common men that especially she cherished. By the deepest part of her nature terribly susceptible to the grosser manifestations of the male habit, it was extraordinarily wonderful and delicious to her that Harry of these had none. In an age much given to easy freedom of language it will not be appreciated, it perhaps will cause the pair of them to be sneered at, but it demands mention as illuminating a characteristic of hers (and of his), that she had, for instance, especial delight in the fact that Harry never even swore. The impossible test in the matter of self-command is when a man hits his thumb with a hammer. What does a bishop say when he does that? But she saw Harry catch his thumb a proper crack hanging a picture in the house they took, and, "Mice and Mumps!" cried Harry, and dropped the hammer and the picture, and jumped off the stepladder, and did a hop, and wrung his hand, and laughed at her and wrung his hand and laughed again. "Mice and Mumps!"

"Mice and Mumps!" It always seemed to her to characterise and to epitomise him, that grotesque expression. It always made her laugh; and the more serious the accident or the dilemma that brought it to Harry's lips, the more, by pathos, one was forced to laugh and the seriousness thereby dissipated into an affair not serious at all. Yes, that was the point of it and the reason it epitomised him. There was none of life's dilemmas-little dilemmas that irritate ordinary people or in which ordinary people display themselves pusillanimous; or tragic dilemmas that find ordinary people wanting and leave them in vacillation and despair-there was none of any sort that Harry, receiving with his comic, "Mice and Mumps! Mice and Mumps, old girl!" did not receive with the assurance to her that, though this was a nuisance, he had metal and to spare to settle such; that, though this was a catastrophe, a facer, he'd too much courage, too much high, brave spirit for it to discommode him; there was no fight in such, he was captain of such, trust him!

"One who never turned his back but marched breast forward."

That was Harry!

"Mice and Mumps!" On the evening of the day following that astounding betrothal of theirs, affianced as it were at a blow-a day spent together in the park complete, without a break for food or thought of occupation-on the evening of that day he must go, he de-clared, to the horrific castle in Pilchester Square and break the awful news, proclaim his villainy.

She was terrified. "They'll kill you, Harry. Write."

"No, no. I've been a howling cad. It's true, a howling cad, not of guile, but of these astounding things that have happened to us outside ourselves, but nevertheless a howling cad as such conduct is judged, and will be judged. So I must go through it. I must. That's certain. I couldn't hide behind a letter. They are entitled to tell me to my face what they think of me. They must have their right. Oh, yes, I've got to give them that. To-night. Now."

A howling cad, but of forces outside themselves ("Too quick f

or me," he had explained), not of guile.

He had explained, in those enchanted hours in the park, that it was really by resolve to do the right thing, and not to do the caddish thing, that he had presented himself the howling cad that they would hold him. That night at the Sturgiss's at Cricklewood had charged him ("Oh, Rosalie, like bursting awake to breathe from suffocation in a dream.") what for many days, only looking at her, never speaking to her, suffering her not veiled contempt, he had felt as one feels a premonition that is insistent but that cannot be defined-that night had charged him that he loved her. He was no way definitely committed to poor Laetitia. Was he more wrong if, now knowing his heart was otherwhere, he maintained and carried to its consummation the intimacy between Laetitia and himself, or if he stopped while yet he had not gone too far? He had decided to break while yet it might, be broken. There was an invitation from Mrs. Pyke Pounce he had accepted. He wrote, endeavouring to give a meaning to his words, excusing himself from it.

She murmured, "I remember." ("Nothing in it, dear child; nothing in it!")

There came back a letter from Colonel Pyke Pounce in which Colonel Pyke Pounce also had endeavoured to give a meaning to his words, and had succeeded. Now Harry knew his problem of moral conduct in a fiercer form; now, resolving to do what he told himself was the right thing and not the caddish thing, he took the step that made him be the howling cad that they would think him. ("But, Rosalie, gave me you!")

He had resolved that he must accept the invitation, present himself at the house-and let the hour decide. As the situation revealed itself so he would accept it. If it was made clear to him, as the Pyke Pounce letter much gave him to believe, that proposal for Laetitia's hand was expected of him, he would "do the right thing" and stand by what his behaviour apparently had led them to expect; if the way still seemed open, the door not shut behind him, he would very frankly explain to Laetitia's grisly father that he thought it best his visits to the house from now should cease. The hour should decide! But there was in the hour, when it came, one terrible, one lovely element that he never had expected to be there. In all his visits to the house Rosalie never had been met on any other day than Saturday. This dinner was on the Monday, and arriving to face and carry through his ordeal, he was startled, he was utterly shaken to see her there. ("To see my darling there.")

O forces outside themselves! "When you had to pass me in the passage nothing mattered then-except I could not let you pass."

So it was that now, the right thing not having been done on that night, the right thing in this new position must be done to-day. They were entitled to tell him to his face what they thought of him and they must have their right. That was his view and he would not abate it.

"They'll kill you, Harry."

They had come by this to the corner of Pilchester Square and there he bade her wait. She said again, part laughing, most in fear, "They'll kill you."

"I've got to give them the chance to do their best."

And off he went, strongly, erect. One who never... but marched breast forward.

Waiting for him, she really was terrified for him. Ferocious Uncle Pyke! Terrific Aunt Belle! Swollen and infuriated Uncle Pyke! Bitter and outraged Aunt Belle!

In twenty minutes came the crash of a slammed front door that clearly and terribly was Uncle Pyke Pounce slamming it as if he would hurl it through its portals and crash it on to Harry down the steps.

Harry reappeared, uncommonly grave.

She put out a hand to him, dreadfully anxious.

"Mice and Mumps!" said Harry. "Mice and Mumps!"

You couldn't help laughing! But also, squeezing the strong arm beneath which he tucked her hand, you felt, with such a thrill, from that grotesque expression, and from his face as he said it, that this, like every forward thing, had in it nothing that could discommode that high, brave spirit: no fight in such; he was captain of such, trust him!

Thus also her delight in another form, and yet in the same form, in that grotesque expression, when it was ejaculated as his sole expletive when he caught his thumb that frightful crack while hanging a picture in what was to be his study in their newly taken house.

Any other man in the world, even a bishop, would have sworn; would have sworn no doubt harmlessly and with an honest heartiness to which the most pious prude could not have taken exception. Agreed! But the point was-that Harry didn't!

She loved him so! She insisted she must bind up the thumb with her pocket handkerchief, and did, Harry protesting; and for years, still loving him with the old, first love, she often would be reminded by the picture of the incident and of her joy in it.

Yes, the only expletive she ever heard him use; and, lo, in that very room, years on, he seated beneath that very picture, she was to come to him with news (and hers the guilt of it) that for the first time was to strike him between the joints of his harness, visibly ageing him as she spoke, and for the first time cause him to groan his pain. She was to glance at the picture as she spoke and very terribly its merry association to be recalled to her. She was to recall him young, gay, tremendously splendid, wringing his damaged hand, laughing, "Mice and Mumps!" She was to see him, grey ascendant upon the raven of his hair, shrinking down in his seat, wilting as one slowly collapsing after a stunning blow, and at her news (and hers the guilt of it) to hear his voice go, not exclamatorily, but in a thick mutter, as one dazed, bewildered, in a fog, "My God, my God, my God, my God!"

How could one ever have foreseen that?

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