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   Chapter 22 No.22

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 20622

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


There were attendant upon the expectation and the coming of Benji certain processes of mind that had not been with Huggo or with Doda. When it was in prospect she had vexation, sometimes a sense of injury, that again her work was to be interrupted. It would make no difference to Harry. It happened that the days of her trial were timed to fall on the date when a criminal prosecution of sensational public interest was due for hearing at the Old Bailey. Harry, for the defence, had added immensely to his brilliant reputation when seeing it through the preliminary stages before the magistrate. The Old Bailey proceedings were to be the greatest event, thus far, in his career. He had told her-how proud and delighted to hear it she had been!-that if he pulled it off (and he had set his heart on pulling it off) he would really begin to think about "taking silk."

Well, but she also had her heart, in no single or sensational climax of her work, but in its every phase and every hour. It absorbed her. Two years earlier Mr. Simcox had begun disturbing signs of health that, begun, developed rapidly. His brisk activity went out of him. His walk had the odd suggestion of one carrying a load. His perky air went dull. His mind was like a flagging watch, run down. He could not concentrate, he suffered passages of aphasia, he began more and more to "give up the office," more and more to leave things to her. The agency in both its branches, scholastic and insurance, developed well. She was its head and it absorbed her. She had a sense, that was like wine to her, of increasing swiftness of decision, of power, of judgment, of vision, of resource. She used to hurry to her office of a morning as an artist urgent with inspiration will hurry to his colours, or a poet to his pen,-avid to exercise that which was within her.

Well, it was to be stopped. Childbed. For a month at least, for two months more likely, all was to be set aside, to go into abeyance, to drift. Whereas Harry's work.... Yes, vexatious! These laws that gave men the desirable place in life were not laws but conventions and she had proved them such; but with all proved there yet remained to the man privileges, to the woman restraints, that were ordinances fundamental and not to be escaped. Yes, injurious!

Thus in those weeks of the coming of him that was to be Benji, solely the boy of aspect mutinous and impetuous was in her face; and when within a month stood her appointed time came an event that stiffened there that aspect, turned it, indeed, actively upon the child within her waiting deliverance. This event in its momentous incidence on her career placed its occasion on parity with Harry's anticipations of the Old Bailey trial. Mr. Simcox died.

There's no use labouring why the emotions that at this loss should have been hers were not hers. That girl whose eyes had gathered tears at the picture of the little figure with flapping jacket peering through the curtains at the postman's "rat-tat-flick" was not present in the woman whose first thought at the sudden news, brought to her seated in her office, was, "At such a time! Just when-Now what is to be done?" True for her that there followed gentle feelings, and gentler yet in her attendance on her patron's obsequies, in the discovery that all of which he died possessed he'd left to her, but it is the duller surfaces that are slowest to give refraction, the least used springs that are least pliant. She was come a long road from her first signs of hardening. She was past, now, the stage where, when grieving for the little old man, she would have felt contrition that her first thought at his death had been, not of him, but of his death's effect upon her work.

And there supervened, immediately, interests that caused the passing of Mr. Simcox merely-to have passed.

Mr. Sturgiss, of Field and Company, attending the funeral with her, said to her as he was taking his leave, "One would say this isn't a moment to be talking of other things, business things, but after all-In a way it is the moment. You'll be making new arrangements and rearrangements now. Before you start settling anything I want you to have in mind the old proposition. You've been loyal to poor Simcox to the end. This business is your own now. We want it. We want you. We want you in Lombard Street."

This, cut and dried, glowingly enlarged in long interviews with Mr. Sturgiss and Mr. Field, succinctly reduced to writing by the firm that it might be fairly studied, was before her, not demanding, but eagerly absorbing, her most earnest attention when she was a fortnight from her trial. This was the event whose momentous incidence on her career placed the days then in process and immediately in prospect on parity of importance with their meaning to Harry, absorbed in preparation for his case. There was so much to weigh; and like a threat, a doom, banked her impending banishment from affairs, distracting her, haunting her, hurrying her. There was so much to do, to settle, to wind up (for she found herself arranging for the change even while she debated it); and in the midst of it she was to be cut off as by term of imprisonment! There was so much to scheme, to plan, to dream (her mind already elevated among the high places of her new outlook); and between now and action she was to go-out of action.

Whereas Harry.... Whose child it was also to be....

Yes, injurious!

Not injurious as between dear Harry and herself; but injurious as between his sex and hers. There were moments of thinking upon the difference when she could have conceived a grudge against the child she was to bear.

And Harry could not perceive the difference! Immersed in his preparations and, when the case opened, lost to all else in his case, he presented precisely that faculty (and that permission by convention) of complete detachment from his home that long she had known to be man's most outstanding and most enviable quality. He had no attention to spare for the consideration of her own problem and ambition, and she was too honourable to his interests, and too devoted to him in his interests, to bother him with hers. But, more significantly to her feelings than that, he was also too immersed to offer her, in her ordeal of childbirth, the sympathy and the anxiety that, unengrossed, he would have shown. It was there, profound and loving, beneath the surface; but his work came first. He was a man, capable of detachment, permitted by convention to practise detachment, by gift of, nature not inhibited from detachment. A man, he could put it beneath the surface. A woman, in conflict of her instincts and her ambitions, it was her ambitions that she must sink. That was it! Yes, injurious.

And he did not even understand.

On what proved to be the evening before her delivery, and was the third day of Harry's case, she was lying, as she had lain some days, on the Chesterfield in the drawing-room, loosely robed. Harry had thought he could get back to tea, and got back. He came to her with tenderest concern, and with immense tenderness at once was talking to her. But she could see! The apparent deepening of all the lines of his dear, striking face, as of one who for hours has been under enormous concentration; the slight huskiness of his voice, from hard service; the repressed excitation in his air; the frequent glint behind the soft regard of his eyes, as of one that has been hunting high and hunting well-she could see; she could tell where was his spirit!

Her own went lovingly to meet it where it was. "Ah, never mind all that, Harry. Tell me all that's been happening to you. How is it going, Harry?"

Dear Harry! Most mannish man! She laughed (and he laughed too, knowing perfectly well why she laughed) to note the delight, like a dog from chain, with which he bounded off into his mind's absorption. He sat upright. He grabbed for a cigarette and inhaled it tremendously. "It's going like cutting butter with a hot knife. I started cross-examining today. I gave him three and a half hours of it, straight off the ice, and I'm not through with him yet. Not half. If he had as many legs as a centipede he'd still not have one left to stand on when I'm through with him. I doubt he'll have his marrow bones to crawl out on, the way he's crumpling up. Even old Hounslow at his worst can't possibly misdirect the jury, the way I've gummed their noses on the trail. I'll tell you-"

He told her.

She had put out both her hands and taken one of his. "It's splendid, Harry. It's too splendid. How delighted I am, and proud, proud! No one would have imagined it at the beginning. What a triumph it will be for you!"

His grasp squeezed hers in fond response. "Why, it won't do me any harm," he agreed. His tone was light. He released his hand and took up a cup of tea, and his tone went deep. "Mind you, I'm glad about it," he said, and stirred the spoon thoughtfully within the cup. He had come into the room declaring he was dying for some tea, but he had touched none, and he now replaced the cup untasted on the table and she saw on his face the deep "inward" look that she knew (and loved) for the sign of intense concentration of his mind. "Yes, glad," he spoke; his voice, as was its habit when he was "inward," sounding as though it was the involuntary, and not the intentional, utterance of his thoughts. "I've gone all out over this case. I saw, the minute they briefed me, that one tiny flaw, his neglect to take up that option-you remember, I told you-right down at the bottom of the whole tangle, and I went plumb down for it and hung on to it and fought it up like, like a diver coming up from fathoms down."

She had a quickness of imagery. It constantly delighted him. "Yes, that's good," she declared. "Up like a diver, Harry. Not with goggles and a helmet and all that, but shot up like a flash, all shining and glistening and triumphant with the jewel aloft. What a shout there'd be! Dear Harry! You're splendid!"

He smiled most lovingly. "As a matter of fact, I feel I ought to make a mess of it. It'll be the first big case since we've been together that, while it's been on, we haven't had talks about. You couldn't, of course, with this so near to you. It would be significant, and proper, if I drowne

d in it."

She shook her head. "Absurd! Why, the thing I'm most glad about, Harry, is that all this"-she indicated with a gesture her pose, her dress, her condition-"that all this hasn't in the least upset your work. It might have. It hasn't-and when it happens, it won't, will it?"

Harry said, "I'm rather ashamed to say it hasn't, in the least. I've thought of you, often, but I've simply put the thought away. And when it happens, I shall think of you-terribly-going through it; and of the small thing-But we shall be in the crisis of the case and I shall have to forget you. I'll have to, Rosalie, as I have had to. The work must go on."

She agreed emphatically. "Of course it must." She then said, "Whereas mine-"

He did not attend her. The "inward" look was deep upon his face. There was the suggestion of a grimmish smile about his mouth. One could have guessed that he was rehearsing, with satisfaction, his enormous application while the work was going on.

She gave a sound of laughter, and that aroused him. "What's the joke?"

"Why, just how this does rather illuminate the point-"

"The point...?"

"Your work and mine-a man's and a woman's."

"Yes, tell me, dear."

"Why, Harry, I do think of it sometimes. We've planned it and arranged it and settled it so nicely, these years, and you see the big thing in marriage comes along and shatters it to bits. Your work goes on precisely as if nothing at all were happening; mine has to stand by."

"Ah, but this," Harry said, and in his turn indicated her condition. "This-this is different. We agreed, before Huggo, that if we had children it need make no difference to you, to your work, in a way. And it hasn't, and needn't now-when it's over. But this time, this period, why, that's bound to interfere."

"But it doesn't interfere with you. It shows the difference."

"Oh, it shows the difference," he assented.

His tone was conspicuously careless, conceding the difference but attaching to it no importance at all; and with it he rose-she had instantly the impression of him as it were brushing the difference like a crumb from his lap-and announced, "I'm going to my study now for a couple of hours before dinner. I must. Our solicitor's coming in." He bent over her and kissed her lovingly. "You understand, I know."

And he went.

Yes, it showed the difference! And was not seen by him! Yes, injurious. Yes, could conceive a grudge....

There was a mirage in her face. Her face, that had been boy's and mutinous these weeks, was Mary's and was lovely in maternal love when it was turned towards the scrap that on a morning lay against her breast; her thoughts, that had been stubborn, hard, resentful while her days approached, welled in remorse, compassion, yearning, joy, when they were past and this was come. She'd grudged him, this littlest one! Grudged his right, put her own right against it, this tiny, helpless one! When, added to these thoughts, Huggo and Doda, those lovely darlings, were permitted to see him, asleep beside her, he was so wee, so almost nothing against their sturdy limbs, and had come so unwanted-yes, unwanted, this cherishable one of all!-that she knew instantly what name he must be given. Her Benjamin!

Lying much alone in the succeeding days, contrite, adoring; with frequent happy tears (she was left weak): with tender, thank-God, charged with meaning tears, she found a vindication of her self-reproach that immensely bound her up, forgave her, gave her comfort. She could give up her work! She could leave all and be with her darlings! Of course she could! At any time! She had grudged the right to come of this defenceless scrap. She had set against his right her own right. Ah, dangerous! A long road lay that way! In conflict of his coming, with her own rights she had been much engaged. Here, on the sheet beside her, and in the nursery, overhead, were other rights. Well, when they claimed.... Of course she could! She had not thought enough about these things....

There is to be said for her that she thought not very widely nor very deeply upon them now. Her resolution that she could, when it was necessary, give up her work, scattered them. It came to her as comes to a man, beset by poverty, scheming by this way and by that to abate it, news of a legacy. He ceases, in his relief, his present schemes; he has "no need to worry now." Or came to her as comes a sail to one shipwrecked and adrift, painfully calculating out his final dregs of food and water. He ceases, at that emblem, his desperate plans to stretch his days. He's all right now.

It was like that with Rosalie.

While only she had realised her resentment of this baby's claims, and only now her contrite yielding to them; before she had conjectured deeply on all the problem thus revealed; there came to her, like way of escape to one imprisoned, like instantaneous lifting of a fog to one therein occluded, the thought, "I can give up the work."

Of course she could! At any moment; by a word; by the mere formulation of the step within her mind, she could abandon her career. Not now. It was not necessary now. But if or when-she used that phrase, in set terms propounding her resolution to herself-if or when the call of her children, of her home, came and was paramount, she could give up everything and respond to it. Oh, happy! Oh, glad discharge of her remorse! When the children wanted her she could just-come back. Field and Company, her career, her successes-what of them? She had done well in her career, she still would do well. Let the claim of home and children once come into the scale against the claim of those ambitions and-she would just come back!

Oh, happy!

"Come back"? Who was it had said something about that, something about "come back" for a woman, making the expression thus dimly familiar in her mind? Who? Laetitia? No, Laetitia was always associated with another phrase: striking because in terms identical with accusation previously delivered against her. Well she remembered it! On the day following Harry's visit to the house to take his deserts from poor Aunt Belle and Uncle Pyke, she also had gone there, following his high idea of what was right. She had been refused admittance. There had come for her as the last voice out of that house a quivering letter from Aunt Belle, seeming to quiver in the hand with the passionate upbraiding that had indited it, and a forlorn sentence from Laetitia. "I have done everything for you, everything, everything, and this is how you have rewarded me," had pulsed the pages of Aunt Belle; Laetitia only had written:

"Oh, Rosalie! You could have had any one you liked to love you, but you took my Harry and I shall never, never have another."

Miss Salmon's cry again! Twice identically accused. Once grotesquely accused; once, on the surface, rightly accused. Both times aware how poignant and pathetic was the cry; not moved the first time, not moved the second. Recurring to her now, she knew again how broken-hearted sad it was, and knew again it ought to move, but did not. Well, not strange now. She was a long way out of those too soft compassions. No, not Laetitia had made "come back" familiar to her. The phrase, as she seemed to recollect its context, was too profoundly practical for the Laetitia sort; and that was why, of course, it moved her nothing. She had learnt, jostling off corners in the market place, what formerly she had only conjectured,-that there was in life no room for sentiment, it clogged; it hampered; it brought sticky unreality into that which was sharply real. "Come back?" No, not Laetitia. Who? Keggo? Yes, it was Keggo; and immediately with the name's recovery was recovered the phrase's context. This very matter! "Rosalie, a woman can't-come back."

Absurd! But, yes, how she remembered it now! "Very dangerous being a woman," Keggo had said. "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, heart and soul, body and mind. Rosalie, women do. That's why it is so very, very dangerous being a woman. Women can't come back. They take to a thing, anything, and go deep enough, and they're its; they never, never will get away from it; they never, never will be able to come back out of it. 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."

Poor Keggo!

Poor Keggo had of course founded her theory upon her own bitter plight. How she had given her case away when she had said, "Look at me!" It applied to her, of course, or to any woman-or man for that matter-who drank or drugged. It applied not in the least to such a case as this of her own. Keggo had tried to apply it. She had said, "You have a theory of life. You are bent upon a career in life. Suppose you ever wanted to come back?"

She had laughed and declared she never would want to come back. Well, look how absurd all poor Keggo's idea was now being proved! It had suddenly occurred to her that it might at some future time be required of her to come back; and all she had to do was just-to come back. No difficulty about it whatsoever! No struggle! Indeed, and fondly she touched that by her side which had called up these thoughts, she would come back joyously. Of course she would! Field and Company, ambition, that for if and when her darlings called her! Yes, wrong every way, that poor Keggo. Dangerous being a woman, she had said, and it was not dangerous. It could be, and she had proved it, a state that could be lived full in every aspect,-full in freedom, full in endeavour, full in love, full in motherhood. Dangerous! A week ago, inimical to this advent, injurious; now, in this advent's presence, and with this resolution gladly dedicated to it, only and wholly glorious.

This one! Come after connection, come in contrition, come to call her back when she should need to be called, the little tiny one, the belovedest one, the Benjamin one-her Benji!

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