MoboReader > Literature > This Freedom

   Chapter 5 No.5

This Freedom By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 24493

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


The lessons with Hilda period lasted till Rosalie was twelve. "Take her off your mother's hands. That's what you've left school for," was her father's instruction to Hilda; and so there was Rosalie, put out from her mother's knee to the schoolroom like a small new ship out from the haven to the bay; and there was that small mind of hers come in to the company of Hilda and of Flora and of Anna with the obsession that men were infinitely more important and much more wonderful than women. She knew now that the world did not belong to men in the literal sense, but belonged, as her mother had instructed her, to God; but she knew with the abundant evidence of all that went on about her that everything in the world was done for men and that women were largely occupied in doing it; and she knew, from the same testimony, that men were much more interesting to watch than women, rather in the way that dogs were much more interesting than cats. Men, like dogs, were much more satisfactory: that was it. Her mind was throwing out feelers towards the wonders of the world and this was the feeler that was most developed. She came to her sisters very highly sensitive to the difference between men and women. And her sisters showed her the difference.

Anna was twenty then. Anna had "finished her education" four years ago. She had left school "to help your mother in the house"; and when Flora, two years later, finished her education and left school for the same purpose, she found Anna grooved in the business of helping her mother in the house and she was not in the least anxious to help Anna out of the grooves and herself become imbedded in them.

This annoyed Anna.

Rosalie used to hear Anna say to Flora a dozen times a day, "I really don't see why you should be the one to do nothing but amuse yourself all day long. I really don't."

Flora used to say, "Well, you've always done it"-whatever the duty in dispute might be-"so why on earth should I?"

Then either Anna's face would give a twitch and she would walk out of the room, or her face would get very red and there would be a row.

Or sometimes Flora to Anna's "I really don't see why-" would say enticingly, "Don't you?"

"No, I don't."

"Then ask the Pope," and Flora would give a mocking laugh and run away out of the reach of Anna's fury.

The sting in this was that Anna was suspected of having Roman Catholic tendencies.

Flora was very pretty and had a gay, bold way. Anna was not pretty. She had a great habit of compressing her lips, especially in encounters with Flora, and somehow her face gave the impression that her lips always were compressed. That was the expression it normally had; it was only when Rosalie saw Anna actually compress her lips that she realised they had not been compressed before. It was as though she was always annoyed about something and then, when she compressed her lips, a little more annoyed than usual. She had also a permanent affliction which much puzzled Rosalie. Young men friends of Harold's frequently called at the rectory, and one afternoon, when two of them called, Anna was the only one at home to entertain them (except Rosalie). Flora and Hilda rushed into the drawing-room, directly they came in, and shortly afterwards Rosalie saw Anna come out. Anna stood in the hall quite a long time with her lips compressed, and then went into the dining-room and sat down, but almost at once got up again and went back into the drawing-room, and Rosalie heard Flora call out, "You can't join in now, Anna. You can't join in now. We're in the middle of it." Shrieks of laughter were going on. When the young men went, Flora and Hilda, who had their hats on, walked away with them. Anna was left at the door. When the girls came back Anna said to Flora, "I do think you might have told me you'd arranged to go with them to see it."

Flora said, "Oh, darling, I thought the Pope had told you."

They had the worst row Rosalie had ever heard them have. Anna did not come down to supper. After supper, when Rosalie was in the room with only Harold and her father and mother, her mother spoke of the scene there had been between Anna and Flora and it was then that Rosalie heard for the first time of Anna's most strange affliction. Harold said, "Of course, the fact of the matter is that ever since Flora left school, Anna's had her nose put out of joint."

Rosalie felt most awfully sorry for Anna. Often after that she used to stare at Anna's nose and the more so because there was nothing visible the matter with it. Anna's nose was a singularly long and straight nose; now if it had been Flora's nose that was out of joint!-for Flora's nose turned up in a very odd way. Rosalie slept in Anna's room and that same night, Anna's disjointed nose and every other part of her face and head being covered with the clothes when Rosalie went up to bed, Rosalie, unable to sleep for curiosity and sympathy, got out of bed and lit the candle and went across to look at Anna's nose, and very gently felt it with her finger. Absolutely nothing amiss to be seen or felt! But the lashes of Anna's eyes were wet and there were stains of tears upon the upper side of the mysterious nose. It was true, then, for obviously it hurt. And yet no sign!

Rosalie got back into bed feeling of her own nose rather anxiously.

Rosalie used formerly to sleep in Hilda's room and Flora with Anna, but she was changed one day by her sisters (without being consulted or given any reason) and the new arrangement was continued. Anna was very devotional. She used to say enormously long prayers night and morning. She prayed in the middle of the night also, Rosalie used to think at first, awakened and hearing her voice, but later found out that Anna was talking in her sleep, a thing that was mysterious to Rosalie and frightening. The room of Flora and Hilda, adjoined Anna's and often at night, when Rosalie was awakened by Anna undressing and lay watching her at her immense prayers, the chattering voices of Flora and Hilda could be heard through the wall and shrieks of high laughter. At that, Anna's shoulders used to shudder beneath her nightgown and she used to twist herself lower on her knees. For some reason this also used rather to frighten Rosalie.

Sometimes, but very seldom, Flora and Hilda used to quarrel; sometimes, and more often, Hilda and Anna; nearly every day, as it seemed to Rosalie, Anna and Flora. Rosalie got to dislike these quarrels very much. They went on and on and on; that was the disturbing unpleasantness of them. The parties to them would sit in a room and simply keep it up forever, not arguing all the time, but between long pauses suddenly coming out with things at one another; or they wouldn't speak to one another sometimes for days together, and all sorts of small enterprises of Rosalie's were interfered with by these ruptures of relations. Innumerable things in Rosalie's life seemed to her to depend on the mutual good will of two quarrellers; many books, some old toys, walks, combined games with Carlo who was Anna's and Rover who was Flora's; innumerable delights with such seemed to be unexpectedly stopped because of "Oh, no, if you prefer to be with Anna you can stay with Anna"; or, "Oh, no. If you like Flora's paints so much you can use Flora's brushes; these are my brushes." A quarrel would in any case produce a strained atmosphere in which everything became unnatural and this strained atmosphere went on and on and on.

And the thing that Rosalie noticed was the complete difference between these quarrels of her sisters and the quarrels between Harold and Robert. Robert was rising between the years of fourteen and eighteen in those days and Harold between twenty-two and twenty-six. Most violent quarrels sometimes sprung up between them but they were physically violent, that was the point, and after swift and appalling fury, and terrible kicks from Robert and horrifying thumps from Harold they were astonishingly soon over and done with and forgotten. On one awful day, Rosalie saw Robert and Harold rolling on the floor together. Robert bumped Harold's head three most frightful bumps on the floor and said between his teeth, "There! There! There!" Harold twisted himself up and hurled Robert half across the room and then rushed at him and punched him with punches that made Robert go, "Ur! Ur! Ur!"

Rosalie, at her age, ought to have cried with grief and dismay or to have run away screaming; but instead she only watched with awe. With terrified awe, as with the terrified awe that an encounter of tigers or of elephants at the Zoo might arouse; but with awe and no sort of grief as her sole emotion. Men were different. There it was again! They did these fearful things, and these fearful things were much more satisfactory to behold, not nearly so disturbing and aggravating to watch, as the interminable bickerings of the quarrels of her sisters.

Her brothers' quarrels were entirely different in all their aspects. In the quarrels of her sisters, one or the other invariably cried if the bickering went far enough. These two men, though Robert especially might have been excused for bellowing, just solidly and only, with fearful gasps, thumped and clutched and strove. Not a tear! Her sisters' quarrels were always carried by one or the other to her mother or her father. How extraordinarily different Robert and Harold! Their sole anxiety was that neither father nor mother should be told! If any one threatened to tell, the two, sinking their private heat, would immediately band together against the talebearer. Extraordinary men! To that particularly ferocious struggle that has been described, Anna and Hilda had been attracted by the din, when Robert, overpowered, was receiving terrible chastisement, and with cries and prayers had somehow separated them. Behold, the very first coherent thing these two men did was, while they still panted and glared upon one another, to unite in a mutual threat.

"And look out you don't go telling father or mother," panted Harold to the girls.

"Yes, mind you jolly well don't," panted Robert.

Anna said she certainly would.

Both the extraordinary creatures unitedly rounded on Anna. It might have been thought that the battle had been, not between them, but between them and the sisters who had saved them one from another. Astounding men!

And most astounding of all to Rosalie was that at supper, little more than an hour later, Harold and Robert presented themselves as on exceptionally good terms of friendship. They talked and laughed together. They had a long exchange of views about some football teams. Harold laid down the law about the principle of four three-quarters in Rugby football instead of three and Robert listened as to an oracle. They had not been so friendly for weeks. And an hour before-! Yes, men were different.

And Rosalie found that her sisters, too, knew how different and how superior men were. Flora and Hilda seemed to Rosalie always to be talking about men. Flora used to come into the schoolroom while Rosalie was at her lessons and talk to Hilda. Rosalie was very fond of her lessons and Hilda was an uncommonly good teacher and took a great interest in leading Rosalie along the paths she had herself so recently followed. But directly Flora came in, Hilda's interest was entirely diverted to what Flora had to say and to what she had to say to Flora, and it was always about men,-boys or men. Rosalie would at once be put to learning passages or working out exercises and Flora and Hilda would go over to the window and talk. They talked mostly in whispers with their heads close together; they laughed a good deal; they showed one another letters. Often they came over to the table and wrote letters. And they used to look up from their whisperings and say, "Go on with your lessons, Rosalie."

But it was very difficult to go on while they whispered and laughed and it was also very troublesome to have Hilda's most interesting explanations suddenly cut short by the entrance of Flora. Rosalie began to have the habit of saying "Oh, dear!" and going "Tchk!" with her tongue when Flora came in. Also restlessly to say "Oh, dear!" and go "Tchk

!" when the whisperings and the laughing about men went on and distracted her attention while she tried to do her exercises.

A new aspect of men began to grow out of this. Rosalie began to feel rather aggrieved against boys and ten. They interfered.

And this went further. Just as boys and men spoilt lessons so they began to spoil walks. While Hilda attended the Miss Pockets' school and Rosalie was taught by her mother, it was always her mother with whom Rosalie took walks. Anna "never cared to go out" and Flora, whose position in the house was more like that of Harold and Robert, did much as she liked, and "dragging Rosalie about for walks" as she expressed it, was not one of the things she liked. Rosalie therefore went out with her mother until Hilda took her off her mother's hands, when the taking off included not only education but exercise. At the beginning, Hilda showed herself as enthusiastic and as entertaining a walker as she was teacher. She was ready for jolly scrambles through woods and over fields, she was as keen as Rosalie on damming little watercourses, and exploring woodland tracts, and other similar delights, and she had a most splendid knowledge of the names of plants and flowers and birds and insects and delighted to tell them to Rosalie. Rosalie had loved the walks with her mother, always holding her dear hand, but she loved much more, though in a different way, the walks with Hilda.

Then men began, in Rosalie's private phrase, to "ruin" the walks.

First Flora took to joining the walks and she and Hilda talked and talked together and always, as it seemed, about men, and Rosalie just trailed along with them, their heads miles above hers and their conversation equally out of her reach. But even that was not so bad as it became. At least there were only her sisters and sometimes they did talk to her, or sometimes one or other would break off from their chatter and cry "Oh, poor Rosalie! We've not been taking the least notice of you, have we? Now, what would you like to do?" And perhaps they would run races, or perhaps explore, or perhaps tell her a story, and Rosalie's spirits would come bursting out from their dulness and all would be splendid.

Not so when on the walks men, from being talked of, began to be met.

There were at Robert's Grammar School certain young men who were in no way connected with the school but were the "private pupils" of the headmaster and were reading for the universities. One day Hilda started for the walk in her church hat and Flora also in her church hat and her church gloves. They walked very fast; Rosalie could hardly keep up. And then at a corner of a lane they suddenly started to walk very slowly indeed, and suddenly again at a stile, two of these young men were met.

The young men raised their hats much farther than Rosalie had ever seen a man raise his hat and one of them said, "Well, you have come then?"

Flora said, "Well, we just happened to be strolling along this way." Then she said, "You needn't imagine we came to see you!" which Rosalie thought very rude; but the young men seemed to like it and all of them laughed a great deal.

Presently they all started to walk together, Hilda and Flora in the middle and one of the young men on either side. The walk lasted much later than the walks usually lasted and the whole way Rosalie trailed along behind; and on the whole afternoon the only words addressed to Rosalie by her sisters came just as, the young men hav-ing taken their leave a mile away, they were turning in at the rectory gate. Flora then said, "Rosalie, darling, don't tell mother or father or any one that we met any one." And Hilda said, "Yes, remember, Rosalie, you're not to say anything about that."

After that, the young men were met, and the four walked, and Rosalie trailed, nearly every day.

One of these young men was called Mr. Chalton and the other Mr. Ricks. Like all men, and even more so, they were splendid and wonderful. They had silver cigarette cases and smoked a lot, and they wore most handsome waistcoats and ties, and some of their conversation that came back to Rosalie, trailing behind, was of very wonderful and exciting things they had done or were going to do. Mr. Holland, the headmaster of the Grammar School, was the terror of Robert's life, but it appeared that Mr. Chalton and Mr. Ricks were not in the least afraid of Mr. Holland, and they talked a great deal of what they would do to him if he ever tried to interfere with them and a great deal of what they did do in the way of utterly disregarding him. They were undeniably splendid and wonderful, but they utterly ruined Rosalie's walks and they greatly intensified Rosalie's new feelings towards men and boys,-that men and boys were a great nuisance and spoilt things.

Time went along. Other young men were met. In the holidays, quite a number of young men came for their vacations to their homes in Ibbotsfield and the surrounding district. Certain of these, unlike the Grammar School private pupils, called openly at the rectory on one pretext or another, but they were nevertheless also met secretly by Flora and Hilda, ruined the walks precisely as Messrs. Chalton and Ricks had first ruined them, and were on no account to be mentioned by Rosalie to her father or mother.

The reason for this secrecy was never explained to Rosalie and the secrecy oppressed Rosalie. It took not only the form of being a thing she was not able to tell to her mother, and Rosalie was in the habit of telling everything she did to her mother, but it took also the form of mysterious and vaguely alarming perils during the walks. An immense watchfulness was kept up against chance encounters with people. One of the party would often cry, "Look! Who's this?" and the young men would separate from the girls and appear as if they were walking by themselves. Sometimes they would break right away and run off and not be met again. Very often Rosalie would be sent on ahead to a turning and told to come back at once if anybody was to be seen and then would be examined as to who the person was. Sometimes she was posted to keep watch while the girls and the young men slipped off somewhere, over a gate or into a barn. She got to know by sometimes rushing in with warnings that Flora and Hilda on these occasions smoked the young men's cigarettes. Then when they got home, they would rush up to their room and wash their teeth and put scent on themselves. And invariably when the young men took their leave at the end of a walk there would be long and close whisperings in which were always to be heard the words, "Well, say you were-" or "Look here, we'll say we were-" and generally, "Go away, Rosalie. There's nothing for you to listen to."

It all had the effect of making Rosalie feel unhappy and rather frightened. She sometimes asked, "Why mustn't I say anything to mother?" She was always told, and only told, "Because father doesn't like us meeting men."

No reason why father should not like them meeting men was ever given, and Rosalie, ceaselessly disturbed by the concealment, could never imagine what the reason could be. There could be no reason that she could imagine; and she was thus immensely taken aback when one evening at supper her father made a most surprising statement: "The girls have no chance of ever meeting men in this infernal place."

Amazing!

Rosalie's father had been abusing Ibbotsfield and everything that pertained to Ibbotsfield. Some question of expenses had started him. He was storming in his wild way, addressing himself to Rosalie's mother but haranguing at large to all, everybody sitting in silence and with oppressed faces, avoiding looking at one another and avoiding especially the eyes of father. They were literally ground down with poverty, Rosalie's father was saying. He didn't know what was going to happen to them all. "It's all this place, this infernal, buried-alive place. The girls ought to be moving about and seeing people. How can they? Very well. My mind's made up. There's my brother Tom in India. He could have one of the girls. There's your sister Mrs. Pounce in London. She's Rosalie's godmother. What's she ever done for Rosalie? Very well. My mind's made up. I shall write to Tom and I shall write to Belle. I shall tell them how we are situated. It's humiliating to have to tell them but what's humiliation? I'm accustomed to humiliation. Ever since we came here, I have eaten the bread and drunk the water of humiliation. Now the children are growing up to share it. What can they do in this loathsome and forsaken and miserable place? What chance have the girls got? Can you tell me that?"

He glared at Rosalie's mother. It was clear that he regarded her as to blame. Rosalie thought that her dear mother must be to blame. Her mother looked so beaten and frightened. There was glistening in her eyes. Rosalie's heart felt utterly desolated for her mother. She wished like anything she could say something for her dear mother. Then most amazingly the chance to say something came.

"Can you tell me that?" cried Rosalie's father. "What chance have the girls of ever meeting men in this infernal place?"

Rosalie burst out, "Oh, but father, nearly every day-"

"Rosalie, don't interrupt!" cried Flora very sharply.

"Rosalie, be quiet!" cried Hilda.

Father glared and then went on and on.

It was the beginning of a chain of most startling upheavals. It was also, and the upheavals were also, a new manifestation to Rosalie of the all-importance of men. After supper, in the first place, Flora and Hilda, taking Rosalie very severely to task for her perilous outburst, explained to her that the men they met were not the kind of men that father meant they ought to meet. It was necessary, it was essential, they explained, for every girl to meet men she could marry. That was what every girl had to do. Men-surely you understand that, Rosalie-had all the money and everything and met girls and asked them to marry. Those men sometimes met on walks, you little stupid, were too young and had no money yet. "There, that's enough," they explained. "Anyhow, we shan't be meeting them much more. One of us is probably going to India; you heard what father said, didn't you?... Well, of course you can't understand properly. You will when you're grown up. Surely that's quite enough for you to understand at present.... How can a woman live if she doesn't marry, stupid? She must have money to live and it is men who have the money.... Well, of course they do because they earn it; look at Harold; and Robert will have money when he's a little older.... Well, how can women? Now, I said that's enough and it is enough."

It was enough and most satisfactorily enough for one purpose. It was the first explanation of men as a race apart from women that Rosalie had ever received and it precisely bore out all that she had conceived about them. It affirmed her perception of the wonder and greatness of men as compared with women. It intensified that perception.

Wonderful men! Marvellous and most fortunate men!

And then the chain of most startling upheavals began. Father wrote to Uncle Tom in India. Father wrote to Aunt Belle, Mrs. Pyke Pounce, in London. What he wrote was not to be known by Rosalie, outside the rectory wheel. The others knew, for father, with enormous pride at his wonderful epistolatory style in his voice, was heard reading the letter to them. But the others, of course, knew also what Rosalie never realised, the grinding poverty of the rectory. She knew no other life than the herrings, the makeshifts, and the general shabbiness of the rectory. It was not till long afterwards that, looking back, she realised the pinching and the screwing that served-almost-to make ends meet.

So father wrote. India was far, London was near. Aunt Belle's reply came while the letter to Uncle Tom was still upon the sea. Such a reply! Wonderful father to win such a reply from Aunt Belle! "You see what it is to be able to write a telling and forceful letter!" cried father. Such an exciting reply! Aunt Belle was coming on a visit "to talk it over and see what she could do."

Aunt Belle came.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares