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   Chapter 4 No.4

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 17417

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


The very great difference between her father and her mother maintained in Rosalie that early perception of the wondrousness of her father. She loved her mother, but in the atmosphere surrounding her mother there was often flurry and worry and there was nothing whatever in her mother to mystify and entrance by sudden and violent eruptions of the miraculous. She did not love her father for he was entirely too remote and awe-ful for love, but he entranced her with his marvellousness. This maintained in her also her perception of the altogether greater superiority of all males over all females.

Rosalie came into her family rather like a new little girl first entering a boarding school. When she was about four, and first beginning to realise herself, the next in age to her was Robert, who not only was at the immense distance of ten, but was of the male sex and therefore had a controlling interest in the world. Then was Hilda who was twelve, then Flora fourteen, then Anna towering away in sixteen, and then Harold utterly removed in the enormous heights of eighteen, second only to Rosalie's father in ownership of the world and often awfully disputing that supreme ownership.

So they were all immeasurably older than Rosalie; and they were not only immeasurably older but, which counted for much more, they all had their fixed and recognised places in their world just as girls of several terms' experience have their recognised places in their school, and for Rosalie there seemed to be no place at all, just as for new girls there is no place. Her brothers and sisters all had their fixed and recognised places, their interests, their occupations, their friendships: they all knew their own places and each other's places; they had learnt to respect and admit each other's places; they knew the weight of one another's hand in those places; they were accustomed to one another; they tolerated one another.

It was all very strange and wonderful and mysterious to Rosalie.

She was, as it were, pitchforked into this established and regulated order and to find a place for her was like trying to fit a new spoke into a revolving wheel. It cannot be done; and with Rosalie it could not be done. The established wheel went on revolving in its established orbit and the new spoke, which was Rosalie, lay outside and watched it revolve. Intrusions within the circumference of the wheel commonly resulted in a sharp knock from one of the spokes. No one was in any degree unkind to Rosalie, but there was no proper place for her and everybody's will was in authority over her will. She rather got in the way. To be with her was not to enjoy her company or to enjoy battle with her and the putting of her company to flight. To be with her was to have to look after her, and in the community of the rectory, every member, when Rosalie came, was fully occupied in look-ing after itself and defending itself from the predatory excursions of any other member.

What happened was that in time, just as a slight and negligible body cannot be in the sphere of a powerful motion without being affected by it, so Rosalie began to move sympathetically to the wheel but on her own axis. She moved round with the wheel but she was not of the wheel and she never became really incorporated with the wheel. The spokes were revolving with incredible rapidity when she first, began to notice them and they always remained relatively faster. There she was, sitting and watching and wondering; and the twig grows as it is bent or as it is left to bend. She looked on and absorbed things; and the first and by far the deepest of her settled perceptions was that, though she was subject to all powers, all girls and women were themselves subject to the power of all boys and men.

Up to the age of eighteen, six years represents an enormous gulf in the relative ages of brothers and sisters. You have only to figure it out in the case of Rosalie to realise how far behind she was always left, and why, though one of a family of six, she occupied a position outside the group and was a watcher of them rather than a sharer with them. She was four when Robert the next above her was ten, which is a baby against a sturdy and well-developed giant; when she was eight Robert was fourteen, which is a greater gulf than the first; when she was twelve Robert was eighteen which, from eighteen's point of view, is as the difference between an aged man and an infant; and when she was sixteen Robert was twenty-two, which is a schoolgirl against one of the oldest and most experienced periods of life. She came in as a new little girl in a big school; when she had been there eight years-counting from four, when first she was conscious of arrival-she was still relatively the same: there she was, twelve, with Robert eighteen and the others twenty, twenty-two, twenty-four and twenty-six.

But there she is at eight when she had had four years' experience from the day of first seeing her father leaping before the bull and thinking it was perfectly natural that he should leap before the bull. She had learnt a tremendous lot in that second four years. She knew at eight that the world did not belong to her father and that on that night of the storm Flora was right to call her a fool for believing that he could stop the storm. She knew he was not nearly so wonderful as she used to think he was; but he was still enormously wonderful and, which she thought rather curious, she began to see that he rather liked showing her how wonderful he was. He could sharpen a pencil wonderfully, and he could eat a herring wonderfully. The thing discovered was that he was very proud of how wonderfully he could sharpen a pencil or eat a herring. Strange father!

"Who sharpened that pencil? Your mother? H'nf! I should think so! No woman can sharpen a pencil. Now look at me. Watch. I hold it in my left hand, see? Arm supported against my body. Now look how I cut at it. Bold, strong strokes, see? No niggling at it as if a mouse was nibbling it; long, bold sweeps, slashes. See! Look at that. Ah, drat! That's because I was holding it down for you to see. Watch again. There! There, that's the way to sharpen a pencil. Look at that. Do you see that long, firm point? See how clean and long those strokes are? That's the way to sharpen a pencil. Show that to your mother."

He was as pleased with himself and as proud as if he had turned the pencil into gold.

Funny father!

Or how to eat a herring.

"Herrings! Well, a herring is one of the most delicious fish, if it's eaten properly. There's a right way to eat a herring and a wrong way. Now watch me and I'll show you how to eat a herring. Rosalie, watch."

"Rosalie, dear," (from her mother) "watch while your father shows you how to eat a herring."

All eyes on father demonstrating how to eat a herring!

And Rosalie used to notice this about the watching eyes. Her mother's eyes-most anxiously and nervously upon the operation, as if watching a thing she would soon be called upon to perform and would not be able to perform; the eyes of Robert (14) sulkily; of Flora (18) admiringly (it was getting to be a complaint in the family circle that Flora "sucked up" to father); the eyes of Anna (20) wearily; the eyes of Harold (22) contemptuously.

The herrings (a very frequent dish at the rectory, so much cheaper than meat) came headless to the table. First father nipped off the tail with a firm, neat stroke. Then he deftly slit the herring down the stomach. It fell into two exact perfectly divided halves. Then he lifted out the backbone, not one scrap of flesh adhering to it, and laid it on the side of his plate. Then four firm pressures of his knife and the little lateral bones were exactly removed and exactly laid on the backbone. Next a precise insertion of his fork and out came the silvery strip known to Rosalie as "the swimming thing" and was laid in its turn upon the bones, exactly, neatly, as if it were a game of spillikins. "Now pepper. Plenty of pepper for the roe, you see. There. Now."

And in about six mouthfuls father's plate would be as clean as when it was brought in, decorated rather than marred by the exquisitely neat pile of the backbone, the tail, the little bones, and the silvery swimming thing. "There! Delicious! That's the way to eat a herring"; and he would direct a glance at the plate of Rosalie's mother. Rosalie's mother made a herring into the most frightful mess it was possible to imagine. She spent the whole of her time in removing bones from her mouth; and her plate, when she was half-way though, looked to contain the mangled remains of about two dozen herrings. "Very few women know how to

eat a herring," Rosalie's father would say.

Wonderful father! How to sharpen a pencil, how to eat a herring, how to do up a parcel, how to undo a parcel, how to cut your finger nails, how to sit with regard to the light when you wrote or read, how to tie a knot, how to untie a knot. Clever father, natty father!

Yes, still enormously wonderful father; but also rather strangely proud of being wonderful father. Rosalie now was constantly being struck by that. It began to give her rather a funny sensation. She couldn't describe the sensation or interpret it, but it was a feeling, when father was glowing with pride over one of these things he did so wonderfully well-a feeling of being rather uncomfortable, shy, ashamed-something like that. She contracted the habit when father beamed and glowed and looked around for applause of giving a sudden little blink.

And it was the same in regard to Robert and the same in regard to Harold. Robert at the height of his exhibitions of his wonderfulness caused the funny feeling and the blink in her; and Harold at the height of his exhibitions of his wonderfulness caused the funny feeling and the blink in her. And the wonderfulness of Robert was always being shown off by Robert, and the wonderfulness of Harold was always being shown off by Harold. Men liked showing off how wonderful they were....

When Rosalie was about nine, she one day was permitted to have Lily Waters in to tea with her. Lily Waters was the Doctor's little girl, also nine. For a great treat they had tea together out of Rosalie's doll's tea service in the room called the schoolroom. Robert came home unusually early from school and came into the schoolroom and began to do wonderful things before the two little girls. He spoke in a very loud voice while he did them. He stood on a footstool on his head and clapped his boots together. He held his breath for seventy-five seconds by the clock. He took off his coat and made Lily and Rosalie tie a piece of string around his biceps and then he jerked up his arm and snapped the string. Wonderful Robert! Lily screamed with delight and clapped her hands, and the more she screamed and clapped, the louder Robert talked. He did still more wonderful things. He held a cork to the flame of a match and then blacked his nose and blacked a moustache with the cork. He did a most frightfully daring and dangerous thing. He produced the stump of a cigarette from his pocket and lit it and blew smoke through his nose. Wonderful Robert! Lily went into ecstasies of delight. Rosalie also went into ecstasies but also strongly experienced that funny feeling. While Robert held his breath till his eyes bulged and till his face was crimson, and while he danced about with his nose blacked, and while he held the cigarette in his fingers and puffed smoke through his nose-while he did these things Rosalie glanced at Lily (squealing) and felt that funny feeling of being rather shy, uncomfortable, ashamed; something like that; and blinked. Wonderful though Robert was, she felt somehow rather glad when at last he went.

And just the same with Harold. At supper one night, Rosalie's father not being present, Harold talked and talked and talked about a call he had paid at the house of some ladies in Ashborough. Wonderful Harold, to pay a call all by himself! It appeared that he had been the only man there, and when Rosalie's mother said, "I wonder you didn't feel shy, Harold," he said with a funny sort of "Haw" sound in his voice, "Not in the least. Haw! Why on earth should I feel shy? Haw." He had evidently very much entertained the party. The more he talked about it the more Rosalie noticed the funny "Haw." "They must have been very glad you came," Rosalie's mother said.

Harold put the first and second fingers of his right hand on his collar and gave it a pull up. "I rather-haw-think they were," Harold said. "Haw."

Rosalie gave that blink.

Years afterwards, when she was grown up, a grown man boastfully said something in her presence, and in a flash were recalled father dissecting a herring, Robert holding his breath till he nearly burst, Harold hitching up his collar and with the "haw" sound saying, "I rather think they were." In a flash those childhood scenes, and instantly with them interpretation of the funny feeling and the blink that they had caused: they had been the rooting in her of a new perception added to the impregnably rooted impression of the wonder and power of men,-the perception that men knew they were wonderful and powerful and liked to show off how wonderful and powerful they were.

They were superior creatures but they were apt to be rather make-you-blinky creatures; that was the new perception.

On the day after her eighth birthday, the birthday itself being a treat and a holiday, Rosalie began to do lessons with Hilda. Hilda, at sixteen, had "finished her education" as had Anna and Flora at the same age. Harold, who had been a boarder at a Grammar School, had stayed there till he was eighteen; and Robert, ultimately, continued at Helmsbury Grammar School till he was eighteen. It was apparent-and it was another manifestation of the greater importance of males-that boys had more education to finish, or were permitted longer to finish it, than girls.

The school at which Anna, Flora and Hilda thus in the eight years between leaving their mother's knee at eight and completing their education at sixteen, learnt everything it was possible to know, was kept by two very thin ladies called (ungrammatically) the Miss Pockets. The Miss Pockets were daughters of the former vicar of St. Mary's and inhabitant of the rectory, and on their father dying and Mr. Aubyn coming, they established themselves in a prim villa near-by and did what they called "took in pupils." They were very thin, they had very long thin noses, they were always very cold, and from the sharp end of the long thin nose of the elder Miss Pocket there always depended, much fascinating Rosalie, a shining bead of moisture.

Rosalie's chief recollection of the Miss Pockets was of being constantly met by them as she approached the age of eight, and of them always, on these occasions, fondling icy hands about her neck and saying to her father or her mother, "And when will our new little pupil be coming to us?"

But no direct reply was ever given to this question, either by Rosalie's mother, who was always made to look uncomfortable when it was asked by the Miss Pockets, or by Rosalie's father who always seemed to jut out his nose at it and make the Miss Pockets look thinner and colder than ever.

On the morning of her eighth birthday, Rosalie received from the Miss Pockets by post an illuminated text provided with a piece of red cord for hanging on the wall and inquiring, rather abruptly,

"Who Hath Believed Our Report?"

Rosalie thought at first this was a plaintive question directly from the Miss Pockets in their capacity as school-teachers and therefore as licensed makers of reports; but immediately afterwards saw "Isaiah" printed under it in discreet characters-

"Who Hath Believed our Report? -Isaiah."

and concluded that it was Isaiah who had believed it. On the back was written in the tall, thin handwriting of the Miss Pockets, "To our dear little pupil Rosalie, on her eighth birthday, from Agnes and Lydia Pocket."

In the afternoon, the Miss Pockets called at the rectory and there was evidently some high mystery about their visit. Rosalie was in the study looking for a drawing pin wherewith to affix her illuminated card to the wall. Hilda ran in. "The Miss Pockets. Where's father? Come out," and Rosalie was hurriedly run out and shut into the dining-room, leaving the vindication of Isaiah in the matter of the report on the table. Opening the door to a chink, Rosalie saw the Miss Pockets, shivering, the permanent decoration on the nose of the elder Miss Pocket very conspicuous and agitatedly swinging, ushered into the study, and presently her father follow his jutty nose into the study after them, and very shortly after that the Miss Pockets driven out as it were by the jutty nose and looking thinner and colder than ever before. Miss Lydia Pocket, who had lost the appendage to her nose and looked curiously undressed and indelicate without it, was saying feebly, "But it was understood. We always thought it was understood."

They shuddered away; and when Rosalie went into the study immediately afterwards to recover her card, there was upon the word Isaiah, as though somebody had literally thrown doubt upon his belief of the report, a large damp spot.

On the following day, Rosalie began lessons with Hilda.

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