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   Chapter 26 No.26

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 19241

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


That happened in the Christmas holidays, in January. In February was Doda's eleventh birthday. The child had friends rather older than herself, neighbours, who for a year had been boarders at a school in Surrey. She was desperately eager to join them there and it was a promise from Rosalie that she should go when she was twelve, earlier if she were good. On this eleventh birthday, which brought birthday letters from the neighbours at the school and thus again brought up the subject, "Oh, haven't I been good?" cried Doda at the birthday breakfast. "Oh, do let me go next term, mother. Father, do say I may." Her eagerness for school had been much fostered by Huggo's holiday stories of school life; and Huggo, as Doda now adduced, was leaving his preparatory and starting at Tidborough next term; couldn't she, oh, couldn't she make also her start then?

Harry said, "O grown-up woman of enormous years, think of your sorrowing parents. How will you like to leave your weeping mother, Doda? How will you like to leave your heart-broken old father?"

"Oh, I'd love to!" cried Doda.

The ingenuousness of it made her parents laugh.

"She'll have her way, won't she?" said Harry, when Doda, conscious, by that laugh, of tolerance, had danced out of the room.

"I think she'd better," said Rosalie.

The school was very well known to Rosalie. It was exclusive and expensive; was limited to seventy girls, of whom twenty, under the age of thirteen, were received in the adapted Dower House of the ancient estate which was its home; and the last word in modernity was, in every point of administration, its first word. It had been established only eight years. The motto of its founders and of its lady principal was "Not traditions-precedents!"

The subject came up again between Rosalie and Harry that evening and it was decided that Doda should be placed there after the next holidays, at the opening of the summer term. Harry declared himself, "in my bones" as he expressed it, against boarding schools for girls, "But that's my old fogeyism," said he. "It's the modern idea that girls should have the same training and the same chances in life as their brothers, and there's no getting away from the right of it."

Rosalie said in a low voice, "To what end?"

He did not hear her. She had got out from the accumulation of papers of her business life prospectuses and booklets of the school and he was amusedly browsing over the refinements and advantages therein, not by traditions but by precedents, set forth. "Mice and Mumps, Rosalie," said he, "they not only do riding as a regular thing but 'parents are permitted, if they wish, to stable a pupil's own pony (see page 26).' Oh, thanks, thanks! 'Mr. Harry Occleve, barrister-at-law, availing himself of your gracious permission on page twenty-six, is sending down for his daughter a coach and four with 'ostlers, grooms, coachmen, and outriders complete.' Ha!"

She was just watching him.

He said after an interval: "Yes, there's a lot of sound stuff here, Rosalie. It's convincing. Not that any one needs convincing on the point less than you and I." He quoted again. "'And advance them towards an independent and a womanly womanhood.' And it talks further back about how 'Idle women' will soon be recognised as great a term of reproach as 'an idle man.' It's sound. I like this booklet here that each girl's given, 'To the Girl of the Future.' It tells them all about an independent career, makes no fancy picture of it, tells 'em everything. Did you read that?"

"A long time ago. It probably doesn't tell them one thing."

"What?"

"That they can always-chuck it."

He looked up quickly. "Hull-o!"

She gave him no response to his expressed surprise and he laughed and said, "D'you know, Rosalie, I don't believe I've ever before heard you use slang."

"You taught me that bit, Harry."

"Oh, I sling it about. When did I?"

"One day last holidays when it was just on a year since I'd left Field's. Just a year, you said, since I'd-chucked it. O Harry-"

There was a quality in her voice that might, from what she saw upon his face, have been a tocsin's roll. His face was as a place of assembly into which, as it might be a people alarmed, there came crowding in emotions.

He said, "What's up?"

She said, "O Harry, you look out for yourself!"

There was much movement in his face. "Look out for myself?"

She said, "That came out of me. I didn't know I was going to say it. It's a warning. It shows the fear I have."

"Rosalie, of what, of what?"

"Harry, for you."

"You're going to say something you think will hurt me?"

"No, something you'll have to fight-if you want to fight it. Harry, perhaps I can't go on like this. I want to go back to my work."

He expired a breath he had been holding. "I was guessing it."

"Before just now?"

"No, while you've been speaking. Only now. I asked you weeks ago if you ever felt you regretted-"

She leant forward from the couch whereon she sat, and with an extended hand interrupted him. She said intensely, "Look here, Harry, if it was just regret I'd not mind and I would tell you No a hundred times, just not to disturb you, dear. But when you asked me that you spoke, a minute afterwards, of my having-chucked it, as if it was giving up sugar or stopping bridge. Well, that's why I'm warning you to look out for yourself. Because, Harry, I don't regret it. I'm craving to go back to it, craving, craving, craving!" She stopped. She said, "Do you want me not to go back, Harry?"

He looked steadily at her. "Rosalie, it would be a blow to me."

She said, "Well, then!" and she leaned back in the couch as though all now was explained.

He very gravely asked her, "Are you going back, Rosalie?"

"Would it be a crime, Harry, to go back?"

He said to her, "I believe in my soul it would be a disaster."

She got up. "Come over here to me, Harry."

He went to her and took the hands that she extended to him. "If you think that, a disaster, and if to you it would be what you said, a blow; then that's what I mean by saying, Harry, you look out for yourself. I don't know if I'm going back. I want to go terribly, oh, terribly. There was a woman I once knew told me that if a woman once gives herself to a thing, abandons all else and gives herself to it, she never never can come back from it. 'They don't issue return tickets to women,' she said to me. 'If you give yourself,' she said, 'you're its. You may think you can get away but you never will get away. You're its.' She was right, Harry. I believe I've got to go back. If you don't want me to, well, you look out for yourself." She drew herself towards him by her hands. "Harry, when I went down to Field's with the children that day last holidays I took them to be a bodyguard to me, to prevent me from being captured. When they left me there alone for a few minutes, I turned away and wrung my hands because I knew I was going to be terribly tempted. I am terribly tempted. I'm being dragged." She went into his arms. "Harry, hold me terribly tight and say you don't want me to go back."

He most tenderly embraced her. "Don't go back, Rosalie."

She disengaged herself, and made a sound, "Ah!" as if, while he had held her body, herself had held the fort of her solicitude for his desires against the horde of her own cravings that swarmed about its walls.

How long?

There was a mirage in her face. While Easter came and Doda, in huge spirits, made her start at school, and Huggo, boisterously elated, his start at Tidborough, and Benji, much dejected at Doda's going, his start at Huggo's former day school; and while the long summer term and the holidays passed on, there was never again seen nor heard by Harry the tenderness that had been in her face and in her voice when she had warned him, "Well, Harry, you look out for yourself," and when she had asked him, "Harry, hold me terribly tight in your arms and say you do not want me to go back." There thenceforward did fill up her countenance the boy, mutinous and defiant, that was her other self. It was almost upon the morrow of that passage with him (whose poignancy the written word has failed to show) that she had a revulsion from the attitude she had then exposed to him. Avid now to go back to the life she had abandoned, she was ferocious to herself when she remembered she had asked him, "Would it be a crime, Harry, to go back?" A crime! "Horrible traitor to myself that I was" (her thoughts would go) "to question it a crime just to take up my life again! A crime! Horrible fool that I was to be able, with no sense of humour, to give to so natural a desire an epithet so ludicrous as crime! A crime! A right, a right!"

Worst of all, she had invited, she had implored, Harry when her longings were manifest to reason with her. Her longings now always were manifest; but when he reasoned with her it was out of the scorpions of her revulsion that she answered him.

He once said, "It appears to me that your attitude is changed from the night you first mentioned this."

She said, "Harry, what's disturbing me when we talk about it is not my own case, it's the general case. Here's a woman-never mind that it's me-here's a woman that has made a success in life, that has abandoned it and that wants to go back to it. You argue she mustn't. I could say it's monstrous. I don't say that. I choose to say it's pitiful. If it was a man, he'd go. He wouldn't think twice about it. And if he did think twice about it, every opinion and every custom that he consulted would tell him he was rig

ht to go. It happens to be a woman, therefore-well, that's the reason! It's a woman-therefore, No. That's the beginning of the reason and the end of the reason. A woman-therefore, No. Oh, it's pitiful-for women."

Harry questioned: "Every opinion and every custom would tell a man to go? No, no. You're taking too much for granted, Rosalie. He wouldn't go, necessarily, and he wouldn't be advised to go, if he had duties that pulled him the other way."

She gave a note of amusement. "But that's the point. He never would have such duties. It's notable that a man always makes his duties and his ambitions go hand in hand. Yes, it's notable, that."

"Well, put it another way. Suppose it wasn't necessary for him to go.... Suppose nothing depended on his going, much on his staying. That makes the parallel, Rosalie."

She said to him, "Ah, I'll agree to that. Let that make the parallel. They'd tell a man in such a case, 'Man, take up your ambitions. You are a man. You have yourself to think of.' That's what they'd say. Well, that's what I'm saying. 'I am a woman. I have myself to think of.'"

He asked, "And shall you, Rosalie?"

She said, "I'm thinking-every day."

The more she thought, the more she stiffened. This was the thought against whose goad she always came-Why should she be hesitant? What a position! What a light upon the case and upon the status of woman that, just because she was a woman, she must not consider her own, her personal interests! For no other reason; just that; because she was a woman!

"I've shut a gate behind me," she on another day said to Harry. "That's what I've done. I've come out of a place and shut the gate behind me and because I am a woman I mustn't open it and go back. That's what a woman's life is-always shutting gates behind her. There aren't gates for a man. There're just turnstiles. As he came out so he can always go back-even to his youth. When he's fifty he still can go back and have the society of twenty and play the fool as he did at twenty. Can a woman?"

"That's physical," said Harry. "A man much longer keeps his youth."

She said then the first aggressively bitter thing he ever had heard her say. "Ah, keeps his youth!" she said. "So does a dog that's run free. It's the chain and kennel sort that age."

She hardened her heart.

She looked back upon the days when she had discovered for herself the difference between sentiment and sense, between sentimentality and sensibility. She then had made her life, and therefore then her happiness, by putting away sentiment and using sense for spectacles. She told herself she now was ruining her life, and certainly letting go her happiness, by suffering herself to bear the sentimental handicap.

The summer holidays came. It had been her obvious argument to Harry that, now the elder children were at school, and Benji soon to be the same, that reason for her constant presence in the home no longer was advanceable. It had been Harry's argument to her that there were the holidays to remember. The holidays came. Huggo wrote that he wanted to go straight from school to a topping time in Scotland to which he had been invited by a chum; when that was over he had promised, and he was sure he would be allowed, to have the last three weeks with another friend whose people had a ripping place in Yorkshire. Doda came home and Doda's first excitement was that nothing arranged might interfere with an invitation from mid-August to a schoolfellow whose family were going to Brittany. So much for her holiday necessity! Rosalie thought. So much for Harry's idea of how the children would naturally long to spend the vacation all together! Doda did not seem to have a thought for Huggo, nor Huggo a thought for when he should see Doda. Neither of them, she could not help noticing, had the faintest concern to be with Benji. She and Harry with Benji went down to a furnished house in Devonshire, and the other two, their plans in part curtailed, were brought to join them. It was jolly enough. It would have been more truly jolly, she used to think, if Doda had not largely divided her time between writing to apparently innumerable school friends and counting the days to when she might be released for the Brittany expedition; and if Huggo had not for the first few days openly sulked at the veto on the Yorkshire invitation. How independent they were, how absorbed in their friends, how-different!

She hardened her heart.

The reopening of the schools drew on and return was made to London. Huggo and Doda were made ready for school and returned to school. The Law Courts reopened and Harry took up again his work. October! You could not take up a paper without reading of the inauguration of the new Sessions at all the universities and seats of education. October! The newspapers that for months had been padding out vapid nothings became intense with the activities of a nation back to the collar. October! The first brisk breath of winter in the air! She could not stand this! Could not, could not!

She said suddenly one evening: "Harry, I was down at Field's to-day. They want me."

Ever since, by that simile of hers of the dog chained and kenneled, she had put a bitter note into this matter between them, he had by this means or by that contributed no share to it when she had presented it. He once had referred to the dog incident. "I can't talk to you when you talk like that, old girl," he had said. "That's not us. We don't talk like that. You know how I feel about this matter. Talking only vexes it."

"Harry, I was down at Field's to-day. They want me." It was now to be faced.

He put down the paper he had been reading and began to fill his pipe. "This wants a smoke," he said and smiled at her; and he then told her that which the level quality of her voice, a note from end to end of purpose, had informed him. "I think we're getting to the end of this business," he said.

Her voice maintained its quality. "Yes, near the end, Harry."

"Field's want you. What are you going to do?"

"Going back."

"I want you."

"I'm not leaving you. I am with you, as I came to you!"

"The children want you."

"I am not leaving the children."

"It's a question of home, Rosalie. It's the home wants you."

She shook her head.

"What are you going to do?

"Going back."

"You've thought of everything?"

"Everything."

"The children?"

"Harry, the children don't want me in the way that children used to want their mothers when I was a child. They don't display the same affection, not in the same way, that we used to. I wish they did. I came back for it. It wasn't there. They're darlings, but they're self-reliant darlings, self-assured, self-interested."

"They've a right to a home, Rosalie." He paused. "And, Rosalie, I have a right to a home."

She said, "Have I no rights?"

"There are certain things-" he slowly said and paused again-"established."

She said quickly, "Yes, men think that. They always have. Well, I believe that nothing is."

He looked steadily before him. "If it's not established that woman's part is the home part; if that is going to change, I wonder what's going to happen to the world?"

She said, "Men always do. They always have-wondered, and the future always has changed right out of their wondering. I believe that the future is with woman. I believe that as empires have passed, Rome, Greece, Carthage, that seemed to their rulers the pillars of the world, so will pass man's dominion. Woman's revolt-it's no use talking of it as that, as a revolt. Women aren't and never will be banded. They're like the Jews. They're everywhere but nowhere. But the Jews have had their day; woman-not yet. They work, not banded, but in single spies. In every generation more single spies and more single spies. In time.... In every generation man's dominion, by like degree, decreased, decreased. In time.... I'm one of this day's single spies, Harry."

He said with a sudden animation, "Look here, let's take it on that level, Rosalie. In your case what's the need? Call it dominion. I've never exercised nor thought to exercise dominion over you."

"But you've not understood, Harry. I gave up what was my life to me. To you I'd only-chucked it. Oh, but that hurt! That man's supreme indifference, that is dominion."

He said, "I'll know it, dearest, for your sacrifice."

She put out a hand as if to hold that word away. "Oh, trust not that. They talk of the ennoblement of sacrifice. Ah, do not believe it. It can go too long, too far, and then like wine too long matured... just acid, Harry. I never said a bitter thing to you until-thus sacrificing. It is the kennel dog again. If I went on I'd grow more bitter yet, more bitter and more bitter. It's why women are so much more bitter than men. It's what they've sacrificed. I'm going back, Harry. I've got to. You ask me if I've thought of everything. I have; but even if I had not this outrides it all. I have gone too far. She was right, that woman I told you of, who said that for a woman, once she has given herself to a thing, there is no comeback from it. I have tried. It is not to be done."

There was a very long silence. She said, "It's settled, Harry."

He said, "Nothing's been said, Rosalie, that gets over what I have said. There's no home here while both of us are working. I have a right to a home. The children have a right to a home. Nothing gets over that."

She answered, "Then, Harry, give yourself a home. Give the children a home."

He said, "I am a man."

She answered, "I am a woman."

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