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   Chapter 3 No.3

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 13960

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05

The Aubyn family occupied only a portion of the enormous rectory. There was a whole floor upstairs, and there were several rooms on the ground and first floors, that were never used, were unfurnished except for odds and ends of lumber left behind by the previous vicar, and were never entered. Rosalie once explored them all, systematically though very fearfully, and also very excitedly. She was searching for some one, for two people.

In the household she knew her father and her mother, her brothers and sisters and the servants; but there were two mysterious inhabitants of whom she often heard but whom she never saw and never could find. It used to frighten her sometimes, lying awake at night, or creeping about the house of an evening, to think of those two mysterious people hidden away somewhere and perhaps likely to pounce on her out of the dark. What did they eat? Where did they live? What did they do? What were they?

One of these two eerie and invisible people was heard of from her father. Several times Rosalie had heard him, when talking to persons not of the family, speak of "my wife." The other eerie and invisible creature was heard of from her mother: "My husband."

Where were they? Of all the mysterious things which Rosalie used to wonder over in those days, this undiscoverable "wife" and "husband" were the most mysterious of all, and more mysterious than ever after that day on which, walking on tiptoe for fear of coming upon them suddenly, holding her breath and pausing in fearful apprehension before entering the untenanted rooms upstairs, she explored the whole house in search of them. She got to know all sorts of little odds and ends about them; that the wife felt the cold very much, for instance, for she had heard her father say so; and that the husband did not like mutton, for her mother told that to Mr. Grant the butcher: and she was often hot on their tracks for she had heard her father say, "My wife is upstairs" and had rushed upstairs and searched; and her mother say, "My husband is in the garden," and had run into the garden and hunted. But all these clues only deepened the mystery. They were never to be found.

It was mysterious.

Then one day the wife (she heard) fell ill, and through her great concern about that-for she was profoundly interested in these people and used to feel awfully sorry for them, hidden away like that perhaps with no fire and nothing to eat but mutton-the mystery was explained.

With the family she was going towards church one Sunday morning and she heard her father tell a lady that "my wife" was not very well that morning and couldn't come. Rosalie during the service prayed very earnestly for the wife's recovery and took the opportunity of praying also that she might be permitted to see the wife "if she is not very frightening, O Lord, and the husband too, if possible, for Jesus Christ's sake, amen."

And at lunch, having thought of nothing else all the morning, there was suddenly shot out of her the question, "Father, is your wife any better now?"

Rosalie commonly never spoke at all at meals; and as to speaking to her father, though it is obvious she must have had some sort of intercourse with him, this famous question (a standing joke in the house for years) was the single direct speech of those early years she ever could remember. She spoke to her father when she was bidden to speak in the form of messages, generally about meals being ready, or relative to shopping commissions he had been asked to execute; but he was far too wonderful, powerful and mysterious for conversation with him on her own initiative. "Father, is your wife any better now?" stood out in her later recollection, alone and lonelily startling.

There was from all the company an astounded stare and astounded gasp; all the table sitting with astounded eyes, forks suspended in mid-air, mouths half open in astonishment, and Rosalie sitting in her high chair wonderingly regarding their wonderment. What were they staring at?

There was then an enormous howl of laughter, led by Rosalie's father, and repeated, and louder than before, because it was so very unusual for the family to be laughing in accord with father. Gertrude, the maid, fled hysterically from the room and laughter howled back from the kitchen.

Rosalie's father said, "You'd better go and ask your mother." Her mother had stayed in bed that day with a chill.

Robert "undid" Rosalie-a wooden rod with a fixed knob at one end went through the arms of her high chair and was fastened by a removable knob at the other end-and Rosalie slid down very gravely, and with their laughter still echoing trod upstairs to her mother's bedside and related what she had been told to ask, and, on inquiry, why she had asked it. "I only said 'Father, is your wife any better now?'" and on further inquiry explained her long searching after the undiscoverable pair.

Rosalie's mother laughed also then, but had a sudden wetness in her eyes. She put her arms about Rosalie and pressed her to her bosom and cried, "Oh, my poor darling!" and explained the tremendous mystery. Wife and husband, Rosalie's mother explained, were the names used by other people for her father and her mother. A man and a woman loved one another very, very dearly ("as I loved your dear father") and then they lived together in a dear house of their own and then God gave them dear little children of their own to live with them, said Rosalie's mother.

This thoroughly satisfied Rosalie and completely entranced her, especially about the presentation of the dear little children. She would have supposed that naturally it thoroughly satisfied Anna and Harold and Flora and the others; and the point of interest rests here, that Rosalie's mother also believed that this explanation of marriage and procreation completely satisfied Anna at sixteen and Harold in the Bank at eighteen. She never gave them any other explanation of the phenomenon of birth; and it is to be supposed that, just as she instructed them that God sent the dear little children, so she believed that God, at the right time, in some mysterious way, communicated the matter to them in greater detail. Years and years afterwards, Flora told Rosalie that when Rosalie was born all the children were sent away to stay with a neighbour and not allowed to return till Rosalie's mother, downstairs, was able to show them the dear little sister that God had surprisingly delivered at the house, as it were in a parcel.

One is given pain by a state of affairs so monstrous; but one suffers that pain proudly because one belongs, proudly, to a day in which nothing but stark truth may go from mother to child, not even fairy stories, not even Bible stories. Rosalie's mother is gone and her kind is no more, and in the graces and the manners of this day's generation one perceives, proudly, the inestimable benefits of the passing of her kind. Lamentable specimen of her kind

, she had no interests other than her home and her husband and her children and the pleasures and the treasures and the friends of her husband and her children. She belonged to that dark age when duty towards others was the guiding principle of moral life; she came only to the threshold of this enlightened age in which duty to oneself is known to be the paramount and first and last consideration of life as it should be lived.

Rosalie's mother, whose name had been Anna Escott, kept at the bottom of a drawer five most exquisite little miniatures. They were in a case of faded blue plush, and they had been in that case and at the bottom of one drawer or another ever since the girl Anna Escott, aged twenty, had placed them in the case, then exquisitely blue and new and soft, and given up painting miniatures forever, in order to devote her whole time to looking after her invalid father and the failing preparatory school that was his livelihood.

Rosalie was herself nearly thirty when she first saw the miniatures. She was come back to the rectory from the pursuits that then occupied her to visit, rather impatiently and rather vexedly, her mother on what proved to be her death bed. She was tidying her mother's drawers, impatient with the amazing collection of rubbish they contained and hating herself for being impatient, while her mother, on the bed, patiently watched her; and she came upon the case and opened it and stared in astonishment and admiration at the beauty of the five miniatures.

She asked her mother and her mother told her she had painted them. "I used to do that when I was a girl," said Rosalie's mother.

All Rosalie's impatience was drowned and utterly engulfed in a most dreadful flood of emotion. She set down the case on the bed and flung herself on her knees beside her mother and clasped her arms about her.

"Oh, mother, mother! Oh, beloved little mother!" But that is out of its place.

Yes, that girl Anna Escott, who had an exquisite talent, and all sorts of fond dreams of its development, gave it up wholly and entirely and forever when her mother died and her father said, "I would like you, Anna dear, to give up your painting and come and look after me and the school now."

Anna said, "Of course I will, Papa. It's my duty. Of course I will."

Girls did that, and parents and husbands asked them to do that, in the days when Rosalie's mother was a girl.

Rosalie's mother gave away everything, first to her father, then to her husband, then to her children. She believed the whole of the Bible, literally, as it is written, from the first word of Genesis to the last word of Revelations. She taught it as literal, final and initial truth to all her children, and one knows how wickedly wrong it is now considered to teach children that the Bible-stories are true. She taught them the whole of the Bible from books called "Line Upon Line," and "The Child's Bible," and in stories of her own making, and from the Bible itself. Regrettably, the ignorantly imposed-upon children loved it! Till each child was eight she taught them everything at her knee. All the nursery rhymes, and all the Bible, and reading out of "Step by Step," and then "Reading Without Tears," and then, in advancing series, the "Royal Readers," and writing, first holding their hands, and then-first in pencil and afterwards with pens having three huge blobs to teach you how to place your fingers properly-in copybooks graded from enormous lines which had brick-red covers to astoundingly narrow little lines enclosing pious and moral maxims which had severe grey covers; and the multiplication tables and then simple arithmetic; and General Knowledge out of "The Child's Guide to Knowledge," which asked you "What is sago?" and required you to reply by heart, "Sago is a dried, granulated substance prepared from the pith of several different palms." "Where are these palms found?" "These palms are found in the East Indies."

Likewise history out of Mrs. Markham and "Little Arthur"; also, at a ridiculously early age, how to tell the time and how to know the coinage of the realm and its values; also, whether girl or boy, the making of kettle-holders by threading brightly coloured wools through little squares of canvas; also very many pieces of poetry: "Oft had I heard of Lucy Grey," and "It was the Schooner Hesperus" and hymns-also learnt by heart and sung while Rosalie's mother played the piano-"We are but little children weak," and "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild."

All these things were taught at her knee to each child in turn by Rosalie's mother, and each was taught out of the self-same books, miraculously preserved by Rosalie's mother; the backs of most of them carefully stitched and re-stitched, and marked all through by the dates of each child's daily lesson, written in pencil by Rosalie's mother. The dates ranged from 1869 when Harold was being taught and when the books were fresh and clean, and Rosalie's mother fresh and ardent with her first-born, to 1884, when Rosalie was being taught, and the books very old and thumbed and most terribly crowded with pencil marks, and Rosalie's mother no longer fresh but rather worn, but teaching as fondly and earnestly as ever, because it was her duty. Literally at the knee of Rosalie's mother these things were taught. On her knee with one of her arms about you for the Bible teaching; and standing at her knee, hands behind you, for the teaching of most of the rest. Yes, that was the early education, and the manner of the education, of Rosalie and of her brothers and sisters, and one perceives with indignation the spectacle of a mother wasting her time like that and wasting her children's time like that.

Rosalie's mother did everything in the house and she was always doing something in the house-for somebody else. She never rested and she was always worried. Her brows were always wrinkled with the feverish concentration of one anxiously doing one thing while anxiously thinking of another thing waiting to be done. She had a driven and a hunted look.

Now Rosalie's father had a driving and a hunting look.

Rosalie's father in his youth threw away everything. Rosalie's mother throughout the whole of her life gave away everything. Rosalie's father was a tragic figure dwelling in a house of bondage; but he was at least a tragic king, ruling his house and venting his griefs upon his house. Rosalie's mother was a tragic figure and she was a tragic slave in the house of bondage. The life of Rosalie's father was a tragedy, but a tragedy in some measure relieved because he knew it was a tragedy and could wave his arms and shout and smash things and hurl beefsteaks through the air because of the tragedy of it. But the life of Rosalie's mother was an infinitely deeper tragedy because she never knew or suspected that it was a tragedy.

Still, that is so often the difference between the tragedy of a woman and the tragedy of a man.

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