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   Chapter 21 No.21

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 12274

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


How did it happen? Within her face abode the explanation of how it happened.

There was a mirage in her face.

If she were taken (for a moment) when she had been married ten years, her age thirty-two, and then taken again when she was forty-six, when she had done, when, in 1922, she said, "I have done," and her story ceases, it is material to a portrait of her that in those fourteen years her appearance did not greatly change. Events inscribed it; but these writings were in two scripts, rendered in the two natures that were hers, and, as it were, a balance was maintained between them; there remained constant the aspect that her face presented to the world; constant, that is to say, the spirit that looked out of her face.

That girl that at the door of the great house in Pilchester Square had breathed, "You knew, before I knew, that I loved you," had been called beautiful. This woman that now was wife and now was mother was beautiful with that girl's beauty and with her own, matured of years, set upon it. That girl, shaded in her colouring, commonly was sombre in her hue, but with a quick, impetuous spirit beneath her flesh that, flashing, somehow lightened all her tints; this woman, albeit dark, had somehow about her a deep golden hue as of dusk in a deep wood beheld against a sunset. Her face had always had a boyish look and still, with years, was boyish. There was a mirage in her face. The stranger glanced and saw a mother-extraordinarily shielding and maternal and benignant things; and looked again and saw a boy-astonishingly reckless and impetuous and rather boyish, hard and mutinous things. Or glanced and saw a boy, perhaps laughing and eager, perhaps obstinate and petulant; and looked again and only much tenderness was there.

There was a mirage in her face; and with its changes her voice changed. When she was a boy her voice was April; when she was a mother September was her voice.

There were two natures in her and those were their reflections; two lodestars set above her that by turns brightened and drew her gaze; two lodestones set within her that claimed her banners as claim the moon and earth the inconstant sea; one of head, one of heart; one of choice, one of dower; one of will, one of nature.

In that tenth year her married life there stood for the mother in her face three children: Huggo who then was nine; Dora, whom she called Doda because in her first prattle this heart's delight of hers-"A baby girl! A beloved one, Harry, to be daughter to me, and to be a tiny woman with me as little girls always are, and then budding up beside me and being myself to me again, my baby girl, my daughter, my woman-bud, my heart's own heart!"-had thus pronounced her name, who then was seven; and last Benjamin, then five, whom she named Benjamin because, come third, come after cognizance of confliction within herself, come after resentment of his coming-called Benjamin because, come out of such, there were such happy tears, such tender, thank-God, charged with meaning tears to greet him, the one the last of three, the little tiny one, so wee beside the lusty, toddling others. Benjamin she told Harry he must be named; Benji she always called him.

Huggo and Doda and Benji! Her children! Her darling ones, her lovely ones! Love's crown; and, what was more, worn in the persons of these darling joys of hers (when they were growing up to nine and seven and five years old) in signal, almost arrogant in her disdain of precedent to the contrary, that woman might be mother and yet work freely in the markets of the world precisely as man is father but follows a career.

Children! There had been a time when, speaking from the boy that would stand mutinous and reckless in her face, and with her April voice, she had expressed her view on parentage in terms of the old resentment at the old disability, encountered, bedrocked, wherever into life she struck a new trail; in terms of the old invertion of an old conceit wherever with her principles she touched conventional opinion. The catlike attributes, the marriage for a home, here the familiar saw on parenthood-

"They talk about hostages to fortune," she had expressed her idea, "they talk about a man with young children as having given hostages to fortune. You know, it's quite absurd. He doesn't. I don't say a man to whom the support of children is a financial anxiety hasn't, by begetting them, placed himself in a position of captivity to fortune, or to the future, or whatever you like to call it. He very much has. He's backed a bill that any day may fall due and find him without means to meet it; he's let himself in for blackmail, always over him a threat. But I'm talking about men above the struggle line. They don't, in their children, give hostages. It's the woman does that. Men don't give nor forfeit anything. It's the woman gives and forfeits. Why, when his friends meet a man who was last met a bachelor a couple or three years ago, what change do they see in him? They don't see any change at all. There isn't any change to see. He has to tell them; and he always tells them rather sheepishly or rather boisterously. 'I'm married, you know,' he says. 'Yes, rather. Man alive, I've got two kids!' The other says, 'My aunt!'-more probably he says 'My God!'-'My God, fancy you!' And they both laugh-laugh!

"Hostages to fortune! To a man and amongst men it's just a joke. It's no joke to a woman. Do you suppose a married girl, meeting old friends, has to tell them she's a mother, or, if she had to tell them, would tell them like that? Can't they see it at a glance? Isn't she changed? Isn't she, subtly perhaps, but unmistakably, altogether different from the unfettered thing she used to be? Of course she is. How otherwise? She's given hostages to fortune and she's paying; she's being bled. She's giving up things, she's not going out so much, she's not reading so much, she's not playing so much, she's not interested so much in what used to interest her. How can she? There's the children. How can she? She's given hostages to fortune. Oh, happy is the man that hath children for the

y are as arrows in the quiver of a giant. But it's the woman is the arrowbearer! It's the woman pays."

Lo, there had come to this intolerance the longing-"Here!"-that Anna's bosom had, the urge to hold a tiny scrap against her breast, to have her heart, bursting for such release, torn out by baby fingers. It had o'erborne the other. She had thrown herself upon its flood; not yielded to it as one drawn in by rising waters, but tempestuously engulfed by it and borne away upon it as swallowed up and borne away in Harry's arms when "Rosalie! Rosalie!" he had cried to her.

That which the subsidence revealed, adoringly she called her Huggo.

There was a mirage in her face. When, turned again towards the star to which she showed her boyish and impetuous look, and, following, she felt again the call that set the mother in her face, she this time reasoned. That idea that, having children, it was the woman who gave hostages to fortune! Deadly and cruelly true it was, but only by convention. Why should it be so? Why should motherhood that was the crown of love, of woman's life, be paid for in coin that no man was called upon to pay? Unjust; and need not be! She perfectly well had carried on her work with Huggo. Sleeping was the adored creature's chief lot in life. If she had ever thought (which she never had) of giving up her work and staying at home on his account, what could she have done but twirl her thumbs and watch him sleep and in his lovely lively hours superintend the nurse who required no superintendence? As it was she was about him in the delicious exercises of transporting him from cot through toilet and refreshment to readiness to take the air. His lordship was off in his lordship's perambulator by nine o'clock every morning. She did not herself leave, with Harry, till shortly before ten. There, in instance, was an hour at home with not the smallest benefit to Huggo. It would have been the same, had she remained at home, with three in four of all the other hours. Ridiculous to lay down that a mother, having a good nurse and a well-ordered house and a husband out all day, must tie herself there, abandoning her own life, to attend her children! Children! Darlings of her own! Ease for this yearning in her heart, assumption of this lovely glory that was her natural right! Yes, she had proved love not to be incompatible with her freedom; she would show motherhood as beautifully could be joined.

It seemed to her a blessing upon, and an assurance in, her purpose that in the precious person of a little daughter came the embodiment of this reasoning and of this design. A baby girl! A tiny woman-bud to be a woman with her in the house of Harry and of Huggo! A woman treasury into which she could pour her woman love! Her self's own self, whose earliest speech chose for herself her name-her Doda!

It all worked splendidly. Winged on the eager pinions of their individual lives these two nested their joined life in a home that for every inmate was a perfect home; perfect for a husband, perfect for a wife, perfect for the babies, perfect for the servants. The peace of every home in civilized society rests ultimately on the kitchen, and the peace of half the homes known to Harry and to Rosalie was in constant rupture by upheavals thence. Not so behind the gamboge door. Rosalie always granted it to men that, as was commonly said, servants worked better for men. Men kept out of the irrational creatures' way; that was about it. The conduct of her life gave her the like advantage. Giving her orders before she left the house, she was out all day and never unexpectedly in. Positively the servants welcomed her on her return at five o'clock!

The babies, to whom then she flew, were with a perfect nurse. Harry had helped in her appointment. She had come one evening, early in the life of Huggo, when a change had to be made from the nurse who specialised only up to the point then reached by Huggo, and she had presented herself to them, seated together in Harry's study, a short body, one shape and a solid shape from her shoulders to her shoes, who announced her name as Muffett.

"Miss Muffett, I hope," said Harry gravely.

"Unmarried, sir," said Muffett with equal gravity and with a sudden drop and then recovery of her stature as though some one had knocked her behind the knees.

"There's nothing to do," said Harry when she had gone, "but to buy her a turret and engage her"; and there was nothing to do, when she was installed, but enjoy the babies and delight in them just as a man enjoys and delights in his tiny ones,-in the early mornings before Rosalie left for her work, in the evenings when she returned home.

It all worked splendidly. In those early years, when two were in the nursery and as yet no third, there wasn't a sign that Harry who had married for a home ever could say, "I have a right to a home." He had, and he was often saying so, the most perfect home. He came not home of a night to a wife peevish with domestic frets and solitary confinement and avid he should hear the tale of them, nor yet to one that butterflied the day long between idleness and pleasures and gave him what was left. He came nightly to a home that his wife sought as eagerly as he sought, a place of rest well-earned and peace well-earned. That was it! "Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other." They had discovered and had removed the worm of disparity that eats away the heart of countless marriages. They not infrequently had friends in to dinner, not infrequently dined at the tables of friends, made a point of not infrequently attending a theatre or a concert; but however the evening had been passed-and the evenings alone were always agreed to be the best evenings of all-there was none but they ended sitting together, not in the drawing-room, but in Harry's study or in hers, just talking happiness. Equal in endeavour, they were thereby made equal on every plane and in every taste. A reciprocating machine. That was it!

At least that was how, profoundly satisfied with it, she thought it was.

Then Benji came.

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