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Title: The Convert
Author: Robins, Elizabeth, 1862-1952
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Convert" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE CONVERT

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's note:

   Lists of Macmillan titles from this spot have been moved to
   the end of the text. Following the moved section, the reader
   will find a list of corrections made to the text.

       *       *       *       *       *

THE CONVERT

by

ELIZABETH ROBINS

Author of "A Dark Lantern," "The Magnetic North," Etc.



New York
The MacMillan Company
1913

All rights reserved

Copyright, 1907, by the MacMillan Company.

Set up and electrotyped. Published October, 1907. Reprinted
March, 1910; March, 1912; August, 1913.
Norwood Press
J. S. Cushing Co.--Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



THE CONVERT



CHAPTER I


The tall young lady who arrived fifteen minutes before the Freddy
Tunbridges' dinner-hour, was not taken into the great empty
drawing-room, but, as though she were not to be of the party expected
that night, straight upstairs she went behind the footman, and then up
more stairs behind a maid. The smart, white-capped domestic paused, and
her floating muslin streamers cut short their aërial gyrations subsiding
against her straight black back as she knocked at the night-nursery
door. It was opened by a middle-aged head nurse of impressive demeanour.
She stood there an instant eyeing the intruder with the kind of
overbearing hauteur that in these days does duty as the peculiar
hall-mark of the upper servant, being seldom encountered in England
among even the older generation of the so-called governing class.

'It's too late to see the baby, miss. He's asleep.'

'Yes, I know; but the others are expecting me, aren't they?'

Question hardly necessary, perhaps, with the air full of cries from
beyond the screen: 'Yes, yes.' 'We're waiting!' 'Mummy promised'--cut
short by the nurse saying sharply, 'Not so much noise, Miss Sara.' But
the presiding genius of the Tunbridge nursery opened the door a little
wider and stood aside. Handsome compensation for her studied coldness
was offered in the shrill shrieks of joy with which a little girl and a
very small boy celebrated the lady's entrance. She, for her part, joined
the austere nurse in saying, 'Sh! sh!' and in simulating consternation
at the spectacle behind the screen, Miss Sara jumping up and down in the
middle of her bed with wild brown hair swirling madly about a laughing
but mutinous face. The visitor, hurrying forward, received the impetuous
little girl in her arms, while the nurse described her own sentiments
of horror and detestation of such performances, and hinted vaguely at
Retribution that might with safety be looked for no later than the
morrow. Nobody listened. Miss Levering nodded smiling across Sara's
nightgowned figure to the little boy hanging over the side of the
neighbouring cot. But he kept remonstrating, 'You always go to her
first.'

The lady drew a flat, shiny wooden box out of the inside pocket of her
cloak. The little girl seized it rapturously.

'Oh, did you only bring Sara's bock?' wailed the smaller Tunbridge. 'I
told you expecially we wanted _two_ bocks.'

'I've got two pockets and I've got two bocks. Let me give him his, Sara
darling.'

But 'Sara darling' dropped her own 'bock' the better to cling round the
neck of the giver.

Naturally Master Cecil sounded the horn of indignation.

'Hush!' commanded his sister. 'Don't you know his little lordship never
did that?' And to emphasize this satirical appeal to a higher standard
of manners, Sara loosened her tight-locked arms an instant; but still
holding to the visitor with one hand, she picked up the pillow and
deftly hurled it at the neighbouring cot, extinguishing the little boy.
Through the general recriminations that ensued, the culprit cried with
shrill rapture, 'Lady Gladys never pillow-fought! Lady Gladys was a
little lady and never did _any_thing!' The merry eyes shamelessly
invited Miss Levering to mock at Dampney's former charges. But the
visitor detached herself from Miss Sara, and wishing apparently to
ingratiate herself with the offended majesty of the nurse, Miss Levering
said gravely over her shoulder, 'Now, lie down, Sara, and be a good
girl.' Sara's reply to that was to (what she called) 'diddle up and
down' on her knees and emit shrill squeals of some pleasurable emotion
not defined. This, too, in spite of the fact that Dampney had picked up
the pillow and was advancing upon Miss Sara with an expression
calculated to shake the stoutest heart. It obviously shook the
visitor's. 'Listen, Sara! If you don't be quiet and let nurse cover you
up, she won't want me to stay.' Miss Levering actually got up off the
little boy's bed, and stood as though ready to carry the obnoxious
suggestion into instant effect.

Sara darted under the bedclothes like a rabbit into its burrow. The
rigid woman, without words, restored the tousled pillow to the head of
the bed, extracted Miss Sara from her hiding-place with one hand,
smoothed out the rebellious legs with the other, covered the child
firmly over, and tucked the bedclothes in.

'What's the use of all that? Mother always does it over again.'

'You know very well she's been and done it once already.'

'She's coming again if father doesn't need her.'

'There's a whole big dinner-party needing her, so you needn't think she
can come twice to say good-night to a Jumping-Jack like you.'

'You ought to say a Jumping-Jill,' amended Sara.

During this interchange Master Cecil was complaining to the visitor--

'I can't see you with that thing all round your head.'

'Yes, take it off!' his sister agreed; and when the lady had unwound her
lace scarf--'Now the coat! And you have to sit on my bed this time. It's
my turn.'

As the visitor divested herself of the long ermine-lined garment, 'Oh,
you _are_ pretty to-night!' observed the gallant young gentleman over
the way, seeming not to have heard that these effects don't appeal to
little boys.

Sara silently craned her neck. Even the high and mighty Mrs. Dampney, in
the surreptitious way of the superior servant, without seeming to look,
was covertly taking in the vision that the cloak had hitherto obscured.
The little girl followed with critical eyes the movement of the tall
figure, the graceful fall of the clinging black lace gown embroidered in
yellow irises, the easy bend of the small waist in its jewelled belt of
yellow. The growing approval in the little face culminated in an
ecstatic 'Oh-h-h! let me see what's on your neck! That's new, isn't it?'

'No--very old.'

'I didn't know there were yellow diamonds,' said Sara.

'There are; but these are sapphires.'

'And the little stones round?'

'Yes, they're diamonds.'

'The hanging-down thing is _such_ a pretty shape!'

'Yes, the fleur-de-lys is a pretty shape. It's the flower of France, you
know--just as the thistle is the----'

'There, now!' A penetrating whisper came from the other bed. 'She's
_gone_.'

'It's you who've been keeping her here, you know.' Miss Levering bent
her neat, dark head over the little girl, and the gleaming jewels swung
forward.

'Yes,' said Cecil, in a tone of grandfatherly disgust; 'yelling like a
wild Indian.'

'Well, you _cried_,' said his sister--'just because a feather pillow hit
you.' Her eye never once left the glittering gaud.

'You see, Cecil is younger than you,' Miss Levering reminded her.

'Yes,' said Sara, with conscious superiority--'a whole year and eight
months. But even when I was young _I_ had sense.'

Miss Levering laughed. 'You're a horrid little Pharisee--and as wild as
a young colt.' Contrary to received canons, the visitor seemed to find
something reassuring in the latter reflection, for she kissed the small,
self-righteous face.

'You just ought to have seen Sara this morning!' Cecil chuckled, with a
generous admiration in family achievements. 'We waked up early, and Sara
said, "Let's go mountaineering." So we did. All over the rocks and
presserpittses.' He waved his hand comprehensively at the rugged scenery
of the night-nursery.

'Of course we had to pile up the chairs and things,' his sister
explained.

'And the coal scuttle.'

'And we made snow mountains out of the pillows. When the chairs wobbled,
the coal and the pillows kept falling about; it was quite a real
avalanche,' Sara said conversationally.

'I should think so,' agreed the guest.

'Yes; and it was glorious when Sara excaped to the top of the wardrobe.'

'To the w----' Miss Levering gasped.

'Yes. We were having the most perfectly fascinating time----' Sara took
up the tale.

But Cecil suddenly sat bolt upright, his little face quite pink with
excitement at recollection of these Alpine exploits.

'Yes, Sara had come down off the wardrobe--she'd been sitting on the
carved piece--she says that's the Schreckhorn!--but she'd come down off
it, and we was just jumping about all those mountains like two
shamrocks----'

'Like what?'

'--when _she_ came in.'

'Yes,' agreed Sara. 'Just when we're happiest _she_ always comes
interfiddling.'

'Oh, Sara mine, I rather like you!' said Miss Levering, laying her
laughing face against the tousled hair.

'Now! Now!' cried Cecil, suddenly beating with his two fists on the
counterpane as though he'd seen as much valuable time wasted as he felt
it incumbent upon him to tolerate. 'Go on where you left off.'

'No, it's _my_ visit this time.' Sara held fast to her friend. 'It's for
me to say what we're going to talk about.'

'It's got to be alligators!' said Cecil, waving his arms.

'It _shan't_ be alligators! I want to know more about Doris.'

'Doris!' Cecil's tone implied that the human intelligence could no lower
sink.

'Yes. I expect you like her better than you do us.'

'Don't you think I ought to like my niece best?'

'No'--from Cecil.

'You said we belonged to you, too,' observed Miss Sara.

'Of course.'

'And all aunts,' she pursued, 'don't like their nieces so _dreadfully_.'

'Don't they?' inquired Miss Levering, with an elaborate air of
innocence.

'You didn't say how-do-you-do to me,' said Cecil, with the air of one
who makes a useful discovery.

'_What?_'

'Why, she went to you the minute I threw the pillow.'

'That was just to save me from being dead. It isn't a proper
how-do-you-do when she doesn't hug you.'

'I'll hug you when I go.'

But a better plan than that occurred to Cecil. He flung down the covers
with the decision of one called to set about some urgent business.

'Cecil! I simply won't have you catching cold!'

Before the words were out of Miss Levering's mouth he had tumbled out of
bed and leapt into her lap. He clasped his arms round her neck with an
air of rapturous devotion, but what he said was--

'Go on 'bout the alligator.'

'No, no. Go 'way!' protested Sara, pushing him with hands and feet.

'Sh! You really will have nurse back!'

That horrid thought coerced the prudent Sara to endurance of the
interloping brother. And now of his own accord Cecil had taken his arms
from round his friend's neck.

'That's horrid!' he said. 'I don't like that hard thing. Take it off.'

'Let me.' Sara sat up with alacrity. 'Let me.'

But Miss Levering undid the sapphire necklace herself. 'If you'll be
very careful, Sara, I'll let you hold it.' It was as if she well knew
the deft little hands she had delivered the ornament to, and knew
equally well that in her present mood, absorption in the beauty of it
would keep the woman-child still.

'There, that's better!' Cecil replaced his arms firmly where the
necklace had been.

Miss Levering pulled up her long cloak from the bottom of the bed and
wrapped the little boy in the warm lining. The comfort of the
arrangement was so great, and it implied so little necessity for
'hanging on,' that Cecil loosed his arms and lay curled up against his
friend.

She held him close, adapting her lithe slimness to the easy supporting
and enfolding of the childish figure. The little girl was absorbed in
the necklace after her strenuous hour; the boy, content for a moment,
having gained his point, just to lie at his ease; the woman rested her
cheek on his ruffled hair and looked straight before her.

As she sat there holding him, something came into her face, guiltless
though it was of any traceable change, without the verifiable movement
of a muscle, something none the less that would have minded the beholder
uneasily to search the eyes for tears, and, finding no tears there, to
feel no greater sense of reassurance.

So motionless she sat that presently the child turned up his rosy face,
and seeing the brooding look, it was plain he had the sense of being
somehow left behind. He put up his hand to her cheek, and rubbed it
softly with his own.

'I don't like you like that. Tell me about----'

'Like what?' said the lady.

'Like--I don't know.' Then, with a sudden inspiration, 'Uncle Ronald
says you're like the Sphinx. Who are they?'

'Who are who?'

'Why, the Sfinks. Have they got a boy? Is the little Sfink as old as me?
Oh, you only laugh, just like Uncle Ronald. He asked us why we liked
you, and we told him.'

'You've never told me.'

'Oh, didn't we? Well, it's because you aren't beady.'

'Beady?'

'Yes. We hate all beady ladies, don't we, Sara?'

'Yes; but it's my turn.' However, she said it half-heartedly as she
stopped drawing the shining jewels lightly through her slim fingers, and
began gently to swing the fleur-de-lys back and forth like a pendulum
that glanced bewitchingly in the light.

Miss Levering knew that the next phase would be to try it on, but for
the moment Sara had still half an ear for general conversation.

'We hate them to have hard things on their shoulders!' Cecil explained.

'On their shoulders?' Miss Levering asked.

'Here, just in the way of our heads.'

'Yes, bead-trimming on their dresses,' explained the little girl.

'Hard stuff that scratches when they hold you tight.' Cecil cuddled his
impudent round face luxuriously on the soft lace-covered shoulder of the
visitor, and laughed up in her face.

'Aunts are very beady,' said Sara, absent-mindedly, as she tried the
effect of the glitter against her night-gown.

'Grandmothers are worse,' amended Cecil. 'They're beady and bu-gly,
too.'

'What's bewgly?'

'Well, it's what my grandmother called them when I pulled some of them
off. Not proper bugles, you know, what you "too! too! too!" make music
with when you're fighting the enemy. My grandmother thinks bugles are
little shiny black things only about that long'--he measured less than
an inch on his minute forefinger--'with long holes through so they can
sew them on their clothes.'

'On their caps, too,' said Sara; 'only they're usurally white when
they're on caps.'

'Here's your mother coming! Now, what will she say to you, Cecil?'

They turned their eyes to the door, strangely unwelcoming for Laura
Tunbridge's children, and their young faces betrayed no surprise when
the very different figure of Nurse Dampney emerged from behind the tall
chintz screen that protected the cots from any draught through the
opening door. Cecil, with an action of settled despair, turned from the
spectacle, and buried his face for one last moment of comfort in Vida
Levering's shoulder; while Sara, with a baleful glance, muttered--

'I knew it was that old interfiddler.'

'Now, Master Cecil----'

'Yes, nurse.' Miss Levering carried him back to his cot.

'Mrs. Tunbridge has sent up, miss, to know if you've come. They're
waiting dinner.'

'Not really! Is it a quarter past already?'

'More like twenty minutes, miss.'

The lady caught up her necklace, cut short her good-byes, and fled
downstairs, clasping the shining thing round her neck as she went--a
swaying figure in soft flying draperies and gleaming, upraised arms.

She entered the drawing-room with a quiet deliberation greater even than
common. It was the effect that haste and contrition frequently wrought
in her--one of the things that made folk call her 'too self-contained,'
even 'a trifle supercilious.'

But when other young women, recognizing some not easily definable charm
in this new-comer into London life, tried to copy the effect alluded to,
it was found to be less imitable than it looked.



CHAPTER II


There were already a dozen or so persons in the gold-and-white
drawing-room, yet the moment Vida Levering entered, she knew from the
questing glance Mrs. Freddy sent past her children's visitor, that even
now the party was not complete.

Other eyes turned that way as the servant announced 'Miss Levering.' It
is seldom that in this particular stratum of London life anything so
uncontrolled and uncontrollable as a 'sensation' is permitted to chequer
the even distribution of subdued good humour that reigns so modestly in
the drawing-rooms of the Tunbridge world. If any one is so ill-advised
as to bring to these gatherings anything resembling a sensation, even if
it is of the less challengeable sort of striking personal beauty, the
general aim of the company is to pretend either that they see nothing
unusual in the conjunction, or that they, for their part, are impervious
to such impacts. Vida Levering's beauty was not strictly of the
_éclatant_ type. If it did--as could not be denied--arrest the eye, its
refusal to let attention go was mitigated by something in the quietness,
the disarming softness, with which the hold was maintained. Men making
her acquaintance frequently went through four distinct phases in their
feeling about her. The first was the common natural one, the instant
stirring of the pulses that beauty of any sort produces in persons
having the eye that sees. The second stage was a rousing of the instinct
to be 'on guard,' which feminine beauty not infrequently breeds in the
breasts of men. Not on guard so much against the thing itself, or even
against ready submission to it, but against allowing onlookers to be
witness of such submission. Even the very young man knows either by
experience or hearsay, that women have concentrated upon their faculty
for turning this particular weapon to account, all the skill they would
have divided among other resources had there been others. Yet the charm
is something too delicious even to desire to escape from--the impulse
centres in a determination to _seem_ untouched, immune.

The third stage in this declension from pleasure through caution to
reassurance is induced by something so gentle, so unemphatic in the Vida
Levering aspect, so much what the man thinks 'feminine,' that even the
wariest male is reassured. He comes to be almost as easy before this
particular type of allurement as he would be with the frankly plain
'good sort'; only there is all about him the exquisite aroma of a subtle
charm which he may almost persuade himself that he alone perceives,
since this softly gracious creature seems so little to insist upon
it--seems, indeed, to be herself unaware of its presence. Whereupon the
man conceives a new idea of his own perspicacity in detecting a thing at
once so agreeable and so little advertised. He may, with a woman of this
kind, go long upon the third 'tack'--may, indeed, never know it was she
who gently 'shunted' him, still unenlightened, and left him
side-tracked, but cherishing to the end of time the soothing conviction
that he 'might an' if he would.' To the more robust order of man will
come a day of awakening, when he rubs his eyes and retreats hurriedly
with a sense of good faith injured--nay, of hopes positively betrayed.
If she were '_that_ sort,' why not hang out some signal? It wasn't
playing fair.

And so without anything so crude as a sensation, but with a retinue of
covert looks following in her train, she made her way to the young
hostess, and was there joined by two men and a middle-aged woman, who
plainly had been a beauty, and though 'gone to fat,' as the vulgar say,
had yet kept her complexion. With an air of genial authority, the
pink-cheeked Lady John Ulland proceeded to appropriate the new-comer in
the midst of a general hum of conversation, whose key to the sensitive
ear had become a little heightened since the last arrival. The women
grew more insistently vivacious in proportion as the men's minds seemed
to wander from matters they had discussed contentedly enough before.

Mrs. Freddy Tunbridge was a very popular person. It was agreed that
nobody willingly missed one of her parties. There were those who said
this was not so much because of her and Mr. Freddy, though they were
eminently likeable people; not merely because you met 'everybody' there,
and not even because of the excellence of their dinners. Notoriously
this last fact fails to appeal very powerfully to the majority of women,
and it is they, not men, who make the social reputation of the hostess.
There was in this particular case a theory, held even by those who did
not care especially about Mrs. Freddy, that hers was an 'amusing,' above
all, perhaps, a 'becoming,' house. People had a pleasant consciousness
of looking uncommon well in her pretty drawing-room. Others said it
wasn't the room, it was the lighting, which certainly was most
discerningly done--not dim, and yet so far from glaring that quite plain
people enjoyed there a brief unwonted hour of good looks. Only a limited
amount of electricity was used, and that little was carefully masked and
modulated, while the two great chandeliers each of them held aloft a
very forest of wax candles. It was known, too, that the spell was in no
danger of being rudely broken. The same tender but festive radiance
would bathe the hospitable board of the great oak dining-room below.

And why were they not processing thither?

'Is it my sister who is late?' Miss Levering asked, turning her slim
neck in that deliberate way of hers to look about the room.

'No; your sister is over there, talking to---- Oh--a----' Mrs. Freddy,
having looked round to refresh her memory, was fain to slur over the
fact that Mrs. Fox-Moore was in the corner by the pierced screen, not
talking to any one, but, on the contrary, staring dark-visaged, gloomy,
sibylline, at a leaflet advertising a charity concert, a document
conspicuously left by Mrs. Freddy on a little table. On her way to
rescue Mrs. Fox-Moore from her desert island of utter loneliness, Mrs.
Freddy saw Sir William Haycroft, the newly-made Cabinet Minister, rather
pointedly making his escape from a tall, keen-looking, handsome woman
wearing eye-glasses and iron-grey hair dressed commandingly.

Without a qualm Mrs. Freddy abandoned Mrs. Fox-Moore to prolonged exile,
in order to soothe the ruffled minister.

'I think,' she said, pausing in front of the great man and delicately
offering him an opportunity to make any predilection known--'I think you
know every one here.'

Haycroft muttered in his beard--but his eyes had lit upon the new face.

'Who's that?' he said; but his tone added, 'Not that it matters.'

'You don't know her? Well, that's a proof of how you've neglected your
friends since the new Government came in. But you really mean it--that
nobody has introduced you to Miss Levering yet? What _is_ Freddy
thinking about!'

'Dinner!' replied a voice at her elbow with characteristic laconism, and
Freddy Tunbridge pulled out his watch.

'Oh, give them five minutes more,' said his wife, indulgently.

'That's not a daughter of old Sir Hervey?' pursued the other man, his
eyes still on the young woman talking to Lady John and the foreign
ambassador.

'Yes; go on,' said Mrs. Freddy, with as cloudless a brow as though she
had no need to manufacture conversation while the dinner was being kept
waiting. 'Go on! They _all_ do it.'

'Do what?' demanded the great man, suspiciously.

'"Why haven't they seen her before" comes next. Then the next time you
and I meet in the country or find ourselves alone in a crush, you'll be
saying, "What's her story? Why hasn't a woman like that married?" They
all do! You don't believe me? Just wait! Freddy shall take you over,
and----' Was Mrs. Freddy beaming at the prospective success of her new
friend, or was her vanity flattered by reflecting upon her own
perspicacity? Unavoidable as it was in a way that Mrs. Graham Townley
should be taken down to dinner by the new minister--nevertheless the
antidote had been cleverly provided for. 'Freddy dear--why, I thought he
was---- Oh, there he is!' Seeing her hungry husband safely anchored in
front of the iris gown, instantly she abandoned the idea of disturbing
him. 'After all,' she said, turning again to Haycroft, who had stood the
image of stolid unimpressionableness--'after all, Freddy's right. Since
she's going to sit beside you at dinner, it's a good reason for not
making you known to each other before. Or perhaps you never experience
that awful feeling of being talked out by the time you go down, and not
having a single thing left----' She saw that the great man was not going
to vouchsafe any contribution to her small attempt to keep the ball
rolling; so without giving him the chance to mark her failure by a
silence, however brief, she chattered on. 'Though with Vida you're not
likely to find yourself in that predicament. Is he, Ronald?' With the
instinct of the well-trained female to draw into her circle any odd man
hovering about on the periphery, Mrs. Freddy appealed to her
brother-in-law. Lord Borrodaile turned in her direction his long sallow
face--a face that would have been saturnine but for its touch of
whimsicality and a singularly charming smile. 'My brother-in-law will
bear me out,' Mrs. Freddy went on, quite as though breaking off a
heated argument.

Lord Borrodaile sauntered up and offered a long thin hand to Haycroft
('the fella who's bringing the country to the dogs,' as Mrs. Freddy knew
right well was his conviction).

Steering wide of politics, 'I gather,' he said, with his air of amiable
boredom, 'that you were discussing what used in the days of my youth to
be called a lady's "conversational powers."'

'I forbid you to apply such deadly phrases to my friend,' Mrs. Freddy
denounced him. '_Your_ friend, too!'

'I'll prove my title to the distinction by proclaiming that she has the
subtlest art a woman can possess.'

'Ah, _that's_ more like it!' said Mrs. Freddy, gaily. 'What is the
subtlest art?'

'The art of being silent without being dull.'

If there was any sting in this for the lady nearest him, she gave no
sign of making the personal application.

'Now I expressly forbid your encouraging Vida in silence! Most men like
to be amused. You know perfectly well _you_ do!'

'Ah, yes,' he said languidly, catching Haycroft's eye and almost making
terms with him upon a common ground of masculine understanding. 'Yes,
yes. It is well known what children we are. Pleased with a rattle!'
Then, as if fearing he might be going too far, he smiled that disarming
smile of his, and said good-humouredly, 'I know now why you are called a
good hostess.'

'Why?' asked the lady a little anxiously, for his compliments were not
always soothing.

A motion towards the watch-pocket. 'No one, to look at you, would
suppose that your spirit was racked between the clock and the door.'

'Oh,' she said, relieved, 'if they come in five minutes or so, you'll
see! The dinner won't be a penny the worse. Jules is such a wizard. All
I mind is seeing Freddy fussed.' She turned with an engaging smile to
her minister again. 'Freddy has the most angelic temper except when he's
hungry--bless him! Now that he's talking to Vida Levering, Freddy'll
forget whether it's before dinner or after.'

'What! what!' said a brisk old gentleman, with a face like a peculiarly
wicked monkey. He abandoned Mrs. Townley with enthusiasm in order to
say to his hostess, 'Show me the witch who can work that spell!'

'Oh, dear, I'm afraid,' said Mrs. Freddy, prettily, 'I'm dreadfully
afraid that means you're starving! Does it make you morose as it does
Freddy?' she asked, with an air of comic terror. 'Then we won't wait.'
She tossed out one arm with a funny little movement that sent her thin
draperies floating as though towards the bell.

'My dear lady!' the old gentleman arrested her. 'I hunger, it is true,
but only for knowledge.' In a silent but rather horrible laugh he
wrinkled up his aged nose, which was quite enough wrinkled and
sufficiently 'up' already. 'Who _is_ the witch?'

'Why, we were talking about a member of your family.' She turned again
to the new minister. 'Mr. Fox-Moore--Sir--oh! how absurd! I was going to
introduce two pillars of the State to one another. I _must_ be anxious
about those late people, after all.'

'As a matter of fact you and I never have met,' said Haycroft, cordially
taking old Mr. Fox-Moore's hand. 'Beside you permanent officials we
ephemeræ, the sport of parties----'

'Ah, _that's_ all right!' Mrs. Freddy's head, poised an instant on one
side, seemed to say.

'Who is it? Who is late?' demanded Mrs. Graham Townley, whose entrance
into the conversation produced the effect of the sudden opening of
window and door on a windy day. People shrink a little in the draught,
and all light, frivolous things are blown out of the way. English people
stand this sort of thing very much as they stand the actual draughts in
their cold houses. They feel it to be good for them on the whole. Mrs.
Graham Townley was acknowledged to be a person of much character. Though
her interest in public affairs was bounded only by the limits of the
Empire, she had found time to reform the administration of a great
London hospital. Also she was related to a great many people. In the
ultra smart set she of course had no _raison d'être_, but in the older
society it was held meet that these things be. So that when she put her
question, not only was she not ignored, but each one felt it a serious
thing for anybody to be so late that Mrs. Graham Townley instead of
button-holing some one with, 'What, now, should you say is the extent of
the Pan-Islamic influence in Egypt?' should be reduced to asking, 'Who
are we waiting for?'

'It's certain to be a man,' said Lady John Ulland, as calmly convinced
as one who states a natural law.

'Why?' asked her niece, the charming girl in rose colour.

'No woman would dare to come in so late as this. She'd have turned back
and telephoned that the horses had run away with her or something of the
sort.'

'Dick Farnborough won't turn back.'

'Oh, Mr. Farnborough's the culprit!' said a smartly dressed woman, with
a nervous, rather angry air, though the ropes of fine pearls she wore
might, some would think, have soothed the most savage breast.

'Yes, Dick and Captain Beeching!' said Mrs. Freddy; 'and I shall give
them just two minutes more!'

'Aunt Ellen _said_ it couldn't be a woman,' remarked the girl in pink,
as one struck with such perspicacity.

'Well, I wouldn't ask them again to _my_ house,' said the discontented
person with the pearls.

'Yes, she would,' Lady John said aside to Borrodaile. 'She has a
daughter, and so have most of the London hostesses, and the young
villains know it.'

'Oh, yes; sometimes they never turn up at all,' said the pink niece.

'After accepting!' ejaculated Lady Whyteleafe of the pearls.

'Oh, yes; sometimes they don't even answer.'

'I never heard of such impudence.'

'I have, twice this year,' said Mrs. Graham Townley, with that effect of
breaking by main force into a conversation instead of being drawn into
it. 'Twice in this last year I've sat with an empty place on one side of
me at a dinner-party. On each occasion it was a young member of
parliament who never turned up and never sent an apology.'

'The same man both times?' asked Lord Borrodaile.

'Yes; different houses, but the same man.'

'He _knew_!' whispered Borrodaile in Lady John's ear.

'Dick Farnborough has been complaining that since he smashed his motor
all existence has become disorganized. I always feel'--the hostess
addressed herself to the minister and the pearls--'don't you, that one
ought to stretch a point for people who have to go about in cabs?'

As Haycroft began a disquisition on the changes in social life initiated
by the use of the motor-car, Mrs. Freddy floated away.

Borrodaile, looking after her, remarked, 'It's humane of my
sister-in-law to think of making allowances. Most of us gratify the
dormant cruelty in human nature by keeping an eagle eye on the wretched
late ones when at last they _do_ slink in. Don't you know'--he turned to
Lady John--'that look of half-resentful interest?'

'Perfectly. Every one wants to see whether these particular culprits
wear their rue with a difference.'

'Or whether,' Borrodaile went on, 'whether, like the majority, they
merely look abject and flustered, and whisper agitated lies. Personally
I have known it to be the most interesting moment of the evening.'

What brought Mrs. Fox-Moore's plight forcibly home to Mrs. Freddy was
seeing Vida leave her own animated group to join her sister. Mrs. Freddy
made her way across the room, stopping a moment to say to Freddy as she
passed--

'_Do_ go and make conversation to Lady Whyteleafe.'

'Which is Lady Whyteleafe?' drawled Freddy.

'Oh, you _always_ forget her! What _am_ I to do with you? She's the
woman with the pearls.'

'Not that cross-looking----'

'Sh! Yes, darling, that's the one. She's only looking like that because
you aren't talking to her;' and Mrs. Freddy overtook Vida just as she
reached the Desert Island where Mrs. Fox-Moore stood, looking seaward
for a sail.

A few moments later, after ringing for dinner, Mrs. Freddy paused an
instant, taking in the fact that Lady Whyteleafe hadn't been made as
happy by Mr. Tunbridge's attentions as his wife had prophesied. No, the
angry woman with the pearls, so far from being intent upon Freddy's
remarks, was levelling at Mrs. Freddy the critical eye that says, 'Now I
shall see if I can determine just how miserably conscious you are that
dinner's unpardonably late, everybody starving, and since you've only
just rung, that you have at least eight minutes still to fill up before
you'll hear that you are "served."' Lady Whyteleafe leaned against the
back of the little periwinkle damask sofa, and waited to see Mrs.
Freddy carry off these last minutes of suspense by an affectation of
great good spirits.

But the lady under the social microscope knew a trick worth two of that.
She could turn more than one mishap to account.

'Oh, Freddy! Oh, Lady Whyteleafe! I've just gone and said the most
awful, dreadful, appalling thing! Oh, I should like to creep under the
sofa and die!'

'What's up?' demanded Mr. Freddy, with an air of relief at being
reinforced.

'I've been talking to Vida Levering and that funereal sister of hers.'

'Oh, Mrs. Fox-Moore!' said Lady Whyteleafe, obviously disappointed.
'She's a step-sister, isn't she?'

'Yes, yes. Oh, I wish she'd never stepped over my threshold!'

'Why?' said Mr. Freddy, sticking in his eyeglass.

'Don't, Freddy. Don't look at her. Oh, I wish I were dead!'

'What _have_ you been doing? She looks as if she wished _she_ were
dead.'

'That's nothing. She always looks like that,' Lady Whyteleafe assured
the pair.

'Yes, and she makes it a great favour to come. "I seldom go into
society," she writes in her stiff little notes; and you're reminded that
way, without her actually setting it down, that she devotes herself to
good works.'

'Perhaps she doesn't know what else to do with all that money,' said the
lady of the pearls.

'_She_ hasn't got a penny piece.'

'Oh, is it all his? I thought the Leverings were rather well off.'

'Yes, but the money came through the second wife, Vida's mother. Oh, I
hate that Fox-Moore woman!' Mrs. Freddy laughed ruefully. 'And I'm sure
her husband is a great deal too good for her. But how _could_ I have
done it!'

'You haven't told us yet.'

'They asked me who was late, and I said Dick Farnborough, and that I
hoped he hadn't forgotten, for I had Hermione Heriot here on purpose to
meet him. And I told Vida about the Heriots trying to marry Hermione to
that old Colonel Redding.'

'Oh, can't they bring it off?' said Lady Whyteleafe.

'I've been afraid they would. "It's so dreadful," I said, "to see a
fresh young girl tied to a worn-out old man."'

'_Oh!_' remarked Lady Whyteleafe, genuinely shocked. 'And you said that
to----'

Mrs. Freddy nodded with melancholy significance. 'Even when Vida said,
"It seems to do well enough sometimes," _still_ I never never remembered
the Fox-Moore story! And I went on about it being a miracle when it
turned out even tolerably--and, oh, Heaven forgive me! I grew eloquent!'

'It's your passion for making speeches,' said Mr. Freddy.

At which, accountably to Lady Whyteleafe, Mrs. Freddy blushed and
stumbled in this particular 'speech.'

'I know, I know,' she said, carrying it off with an air of comic
contrition. 'I even said, "There's a modesty in nature that it isn't
wise to overstep" (I'd forgotten some people think speech-making comes
under that head). "It's been realized," I said--yes, rushing on my
doom!--"it's been realized up to now only in the usual one-sided
way--discouraging boys from marrying women old enough to be their
mothers. But dear, blundering, fatuous man"'--she smiled into her
husband's pleasantly mocking face--'"_he_ thinks," I said, "at _any_ age
he's a fit mate for a fresh young creature in her teens. If they only
knew--the dreadful old ogres!" Yes, I said that. I piled it on--oh, I
stuck at nothing! "The men think an ugly old woman monopolizes all the
opportunities humanity offers for repulsiveness. But there's nothing on
the face of the earth as hideous," I said, "as an ugly old man. Doesn't
it stand to reason? He's bound to go greater lengths than any woman can
aspire to. There's more of him to _be_ ugly, isn't there? I appealed to
them--everything about him is bigger, coarser--he's much less human,"
says I, "and _much_ more like a dreadful old monkey." I raised my
wretched eyes, and there, not three feet away, was the aged husband of
the Fox-Moore woman ogling Hermione Heriot! Oh, let me die!' Mrs. Freddy
leaned against the blue-grey sofa for a moment and half closed her
pretty eyes. The next instant she was running gaily across the room to
welcome Richard Farnborough and Captain Beeching.

       *       *       *       *       *

'I always know,' said Lord Borrodaile, glancing over the banisters as he
and Vida went down--'I always know the kind of party it's going to be
when I see--certain people. Don't you?'

'I know who you mean,' Vida whispered back, her eyes on Mrs. Graham
Townley's aggressively high-piled hair towering over the bald pate of
the minister, as, side by side, they disappeared through the dining-room
door. 'Why _does_ Laura have her?'

'Well, she's immensely intelligent, they _say_,' he sighed.

'That's why I wonder,' laughed Vida. '_We_ are rather frivolous, I'm
afraid.'

'To tell the truth, I wondered, too. I even sounded my sister-in-law.'

'Well?'

'She said it was her Day of Reckoning. "I never ask the woman," she
said, "except to a scratch party like this."'

'"Scratch party"--with you and me here!'

'Ah, we are the leaven. We make the compound possible.'

'Still, I don't think she ought to call it "scratch" when she's got an
Ambassador and a Cabinet Minister----'

'Just the party to ask a scratch Cabinet Minister to,' he insisted,
stopping between the two cards inscribed respectively with their names.
'As for the Ambassador, he's an old friend of ours--knows his London
well--knows we are the most tolerant society on the face of the earth.'

In spite of her companion's affectation of a smiling quarrelsomeness,
Vida unfolded her table-napkin with the air of one looking forward to
her _tête-à-tête_ with the man who had brought her down. But Lord
Borrodaile was a person most women liked talking to, and hardly had she
begun to relish that combination in the man of careless pleasantry and
pungent criticism, when Vida caught an agonized glance from her hostess,
which said plainly, 'Rescue the man on your right,'--and lo! Miss
Levering became aware that already, before the poor jaded politician had
swallowed his soup, Mrs. Townley had fallen to catechising him about the
new Bill--a theme talked threadbare by newspaperdom and all political
England. But Mrs. Townley, albeit not exactly old, was one of those
old-fashioned women who take what used to be called 'an intelligent
interest in politics.' You may pick her out in any drawing-room from the
fact that politicians shun her like the plague. Rich, childless, lonely,
with more wits than occupation, practically shelved at a time when her
intellectual life is most alert--the Mrs. Townleys of the world do, it
must be admitted, labour under the delusion that men fighting the battle
of public life, go out to dine for the express purpose of telling the
intelligent female 'all about it.' She is a staunch believer not so much
in women's influence as in woman's. And there is no doubt in her mind
which woman's. If among her smart relations who ask her to their houses
and go to hers (from that sentiment of the solidarity of the family so
powerful in English life), if amongst these she succeeds from time to
time in inducing two or three public officials, or even private members,
to prove how good a cook she keeps, she thinks she is exercising an
influence on the politics of her time. Her form of conversation consists
in plying her victim with questions. Not here one there one, to keep the
ball rolling, but a steady and pitiless fire of 'Do you think?' and
'_Why_ do you?'

Obedient to her hostess's wireless telegram, Miss Levering bent her
head, and said to Mrs. Townley's neighbour--

'I know I ought not to talk to you till after the _entrée_.'

'Pray do!' said Sir William, with a sudden glint in his little eyes; and
then with a burnt-child air of caution, 'Unless----' he began.

'Oh, you make conditions!' said Miss Levering, laughing.

'Only one. Promise not'--he lowered his voice--'promise not to say
"Bill."'

'I won't even go so far as to say "William."'

He laughed as obligingly as though the jest had been a good one. A
little ashamed, its maker hastened to leave it behind.

'There's nothing I should quite so much hate talking about as
politics--saving your presence.'

'Ah!'

'I was thinking of something _much_ more important.'

Even her rallying tone did not wholly reassure the poor man.

'More important?' he repeated.

'Yes; I long to know (and I long to be forgiven for asking), what Order
that is you are wearing, and what you did to get it.'

Haycroft breathed freely. He talked for the next ten minutes about the
bauble, making a humorous translation of its Latin 'posy,' and
describing in the same vein the service to a foreign state that had won
him the recognition. He wouldn't have worn the thing to-night except out
of compliment to the ambassador from the Power in question. They were
going on together to the reception at the Foreign Office. As to the
Order, Haycroft seemed to feel he owed it to himself to smile at all
such toys, but he did not disdain to amuse the pretty lady with the one
in question, any more than being humane (and even genial sitting before
Mrs. Freddy's menu), he would have refused to show the whirring wheels
of his watch to a nice child. The two got on so well that the anxious
look quite faded out of Mrs. Freddy's face, and she devoted herself
gaily to the distinguished foreigner at her side. But Haycroft at a
party was, like so many Englishmen, as the lilies of the field. They
toil not, neither do they spin. The man Vida had rescued from Mrs.
Graham Townley was, when in the society of women, so accustomed to
seeing them take on themselves the onus of entertainment, was himself so
unused to being at the smallest trouble, that when the 'Order' was
exhausted, had Vida not invented another topic, there would have been an
absolute cessation of all converse till Mrs. Graham Townley had again
caught him up like a big reluctant fish on the hook of interrogation. At
a reproachful aside from Lord Borrodaile, Miss Levering broke off in the
middle of her second subject to substitute, 'But I am monopolizing you
disgracefully,' and she half turned away from the eminent politician
into whose slightly flushed face and humid eyes had come something like
animation.

'Not at all. Not at all. Go on.'

'No, I've gone far enough. Do you realize that we left "Orders" and
"Honours" half an hour ago, and ever since we've been talking scandal?'

'Criticizing life,' he amended--'a pursuit worthy of two philosophers.'

'I did it--' said the lady, with an air of half-amused discontent with
herself; 'you know why I did it.'

He met her eye, and the faint motion that indicated the woman on his
other side. 'Terrible person,' he whispered. 'She goes out to dine as a
soldier goes into action.'

For the next few minutes they made common cause in heaping ridicule on
'the political woman.'

'But, after all'--Vida pulled herself up--'it may be only a case of
sour grapes on my part. I'm afraid _my_ conversation is inclined to be
frivolous.'

He turned and gave her her reward--the feeling smile that says, '_Thank
God!_' But, strangely, it did not reflect itself in the woman's face.
Something quite different there, lurking under the soft gaiety. Was
it consciousness of this being the second time during the evening
that she had employed the too common vaunt of the woman of that particular
world? Did some ironic echo reach her of that same boast (often as
mirthless and as pitiful as the painted smile on the cruder face), the
'I'm afraid I'm rather frivolous' of the well-to-do woman, whose
frivolity--invaluable asset!--is beginning to show wear?

'Well, to return to our mutton,' he said; and, as his companion seemed
suddenly to be overtaken by some unaccountable qualm, 'What a desert
life would be,' he added encouragingly, 'if we couldn't talk to the
discreet about the indiscreet.'

'I wonder if there wouldn't be still more oases in the desert,' she said
idly, 'if there were a new law made----'

He glanced at her with veiled apprehension in the pause.

'You being so Liberal,' she went on with faint mockery, 'you're the very
one to introduce the measure' (he shrank visibly, and seemed about to
remind her of her pledge). 'It shall ordain,' she went on, 'that those
who have found satisfactory husbands or wives are to rest content with
their good fortune, and not be so greedy as to insist on having the
children, too.'

'Oh!' His gravity relaxed.

'But, on the other hand, all the lonely women, the widows and spinsters,
who haven't got anything else, _they_ shall have the children.'

'I won't go so far as that,' he laughed, boundlessly relieved that the
conversation was not taking the strenuous turn he for a moment feared.
'But I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll support a measure that shall make
an allowance of _one_ child to every single woman the proper and
accepted arrangement. No questions asked, and no disgrace.'

'Disgrace!' she echoed, smiling. 'On the contrary, it should be the
woman's title to honour! She should be given a beautiful Order like
yours for service to the State.'

'Ah, yes! But, what then would we talk about?'

She had turned away definitely this time.

'Well,' said Borrodaile, a little mocking, 'what is it?'

'I don't know,' she answered. 'I don't know _what_ it is that seizes
hold of me after I've been chattering like this for an hour or more.'

Borrodaile bent his head, and glanced past Vida to the abandoned
minister.

'Console me by saying a slight weariness.'

'More like loathing.'

'Not of _both_ your neighbours, I hope.'

He lost the low 'Of myself.' 'But there's one person,' she said, with
something like enthusiasm--'one person that I respect and admire.'

'Oh!' He glanced about the board with an air of lazy interest. 'Which
one?'

'I don't know her name. I mean the woman who dares to sit quite silent
and eat her dinner without looking like a lost soul.'

'I've been saying you could do that.'

She shook her head. 'No, I've been engaged for the last hour in proving
I haven't the courage. It's just come over me,' she said, her eyes in
their turn making a tour of the table, and coming back to Borrodaile
with the look of having caught up a bran-new topic on the way--'it's
just come over me, what we're all doing.'

'Are we all doing the same thing?'

'All the men are doing one thing. And all the women another.'

His idly curious look travelled up and down, and returned to her
unenlightened.

'All the women,' she said, 'are trying with might and main to amuse the
men, and all the men are more or less permitting the women to succeed.'

'I'm sorry,' he said, laughing, 'to hear of your being so over-worked.'

'Oh, _you_ make it easy. And yet'--she caught the gratitude away from
her voice--'I suppose I should have said something like that, even if
I'd been talking to my other neighbour.'

Borrodaile's look went again from one couple to another, for, as usual
in England, the talk was all _tête-à-tête_. The result of his inspection
seemed not to lend itself to her mood.

'I can't speak for others, but for myself, I'm always conscious of
wanting to be agreeable when I'm with you. I'm sorry'--he was speaking
in the usual half-genial, half-jeering tone--'very sorry, if I succeed
so ill.'

'I've already admitted that with _me_ you succeed to admiration. But you
only try because it's easy.'

'Oh!' he laughed.

'You rather like talking to me, you know. Now, can you lay your hand on
your heart----'

'And deny it? Never!'

'Can you lay your hand on your heart, and say you've tried as hard to
entertain your other neighbour as I have to keep mine going?'

'Ah, well, we men aren't as good at it. After all, it's rather the
woman's "part," isn't it?'

'The art of pleasing? I suppose it is--but it's rather a Geisha view of
life, don't you think?'

'Not at all; rightly viewed, it's a woman's privilege--her natural
function.'

'Then the brutes are nobler than we.'

Wondering, he glanced at her. The face was wholly reassuring, but he
said, with a faint uneasiness--

'If it weren't you, I'd say that sounds a little bitter.'

'Oh, no,' she laughed. 'I was only thinking about the lion's mane and
the male bird's crest, and what the natural history bores say they're
for.'



CHAPTER III


The darkness and the quiet of Vida Levering's bedroom were rudely
dispelled at a punctual eight each morning by the entrance of a gaunt
middle-aged female.

It was this person's unvarying custom to fling back the heavy curtains,
as though it gratified some strong recurrent need in her, to hear brass
rings run squealing along a bar; as if she counted that day lost which
was not well begun--by shooting the blinds up with a clatter and a bang!

The harsh ceremonial served as a sort of setting of the pace, or a
metaphorical shaking of a bony fist in the face of the day, as much as
to say, 'If I admit you here you'll have to toe the mark!'

It might be taken as proof of sound nerves that the lady in the bed
offered no remonstrance at being jarred awake in this ungentle fashion.

Fourteen years before, when Vida Levering was only eighteen, she had
tried to make something like a conventional maid out of the faithful
Northumbrian. Rachel Wark had entered Lady Levering's service just
before Vida's birth, and had helped to nurse her mistress through a
mortal illness ten years later. After Sir Hervey Levering lost his wife,
Wark became in time housekeeper and general factotum to the family. This
arrangement held without a break until, as before hinted, Miss Vida,
full of the hopeful idealism of early youth, had tried and ignominiously
failed in her attempt to teach the woman gentler manners.

For Wark's characteristic retort had been to pack her box and go to
spend sixteen months among her kinsfolk, where energy was accounted a
virtue, and smooth ways held in suspicion. At the end of that time,
seeming to judge the lesson she wished to impart had been sufficiently
digested, Wark wrote to Miss Vida proposing to come back. For some
months she waited for the answer. It came at last from Biarritz, where
it appeared the young lady was spending the winter with her father.
After an exchange of letters Wark joined them there. In the twelve
years since her return to the family, she had by degrees adapted herself
to the task of looking after her young lady. The adaptation was not all
on one side. Many of Vida's friends wondered that she could put up with
a lady's maid who could do so few of the things commonly expected of
that accomplished class.

'I don't want dressmaking going on in the house,' contentedly Vida told
off her maid's negative qualifications, 'and I hate having anybody do my
hair for me. Wark packs quite beautifully, and then I _do_ like some one
about me--that I like.'

In the early days what she had 'liked' most about the woman was that
Wark had known and been attached to Lady Levering. There was no one else
with whom Vida could talk about her mother.

By the time death overtook Sir Hervey two winters ago in Rome, Wark had
become so essential a part of Vida's little entourage, that one of the
excuses offered by that lady for not going to live with her half-sister
in London had been--'Wark doesn't always get on with other servants.'
For several years Miss Levering's friends had been speaking of her as
one fallen a victim to that passion for Italy that makes it an abiding
place dearer than home to so many English-born. But the half-sister,
Mrs. Fox-Moore, had not been misled either by that theory or by the
difficulty as to pleasing Wark with the Queen Anne's Gate servants.
'It's not that Vida loves Italy so much as that, for some reason, she
doesn't love England at all.' Nevertheless, Mrs. Fox-Moore after some
months had persuaded her to 'bring Wark and try us.'

The experiment, now over a year old, seemed to have turned out well. If
Vida really did not love her native land, she seemed to enjoy well
enough what she called smiling 'the St. Martin's Summer' of her success
in London society.

       *       *       *       *       *

She turned over in her bed on this particular May morning, stretching
out her long figure, and then letting it sink luxuriously back into
relaxed quiescence with a conscious joy in prolonging those last ten
minutes when sleep is slowly, softly, one after another, withdrawing her
thousand veils.

Vaguely, as she lay there with face half buried in her pillow, vaguely
she was aware that Wark was making even more noise than common.

When the woman had bustled in and bustled out several times, and
deposited the shoes with a 'dump,' she reappeared with the delicate
porcelain tray that bore the early tea. On the little table close to
where the dark head lay half hidden, Wark set the fragile burden
down--did it with an emphasis that made cup and saucer shiver and run
for support towards the round-bellied pot.

Vida opened her heavy-lidded eyes. 'Really, Wark, you know, nobody on
earth would let you wake them in the morning except me.' She sat up and
pulled the pillow higher. 'Give me the tray here,' she said sleepily.

Wark obeyed. She had said nothing to Vida's reproof. She stood now by
the bedside without a trace of either contrition or resentment in the
wooden face that seemed, in recompense for never having been young, to
be able successfully to defy the 'antique pencil.' Time had made but one
or two faint ineffectual scratches there, as one who tries, and then
abandons, an unpromising surface. The lack of record in the face lent it
something almost cryptic. If there were no laughter-wrought lines about
the eyes, neither was there mark of grief or self-repression near the
mouth. She would, you felt, defy Time as successfully as she defied
lesser foes. Even the lank, straw-coloured hair hardly showed the
streaks of yellow-white that offered their unemphatic clue to Wark's
age.

The sensitive face of the woman in the bed--even now with something of
the peace of sleep still shadowing its brilliancy--gave by contrast an
impression of vividness and eager sympathies. The mistress, too, looked
younger than her years. She did not seem to wonder at the dull presence
that seemed to be held there, prisoner-like, behind the brass bars at
the foot of the bed. Wark sometimes gave herself this five minutes'
_tête-à-tête_ with her mistress before the business of the day began and
all their intercourse was swamped in clothes.

'I meant to pin a paper on the door to say I wasn't to be called till
ten,' said the lady, as though keeping up the little pretence of not
being pleased.

'Didn't you sleep well, 'm?' The maid managed wholly to denude the
question of its usual grace of solicitude.

'Yes; but it was so late when I began. We didn't get back till nearly
three.'

'I didn't get much sleep, either.' It was an unheard-of admission from
Wark.

'Oh!' said Vida, lazily sipping her tea. 'Bad conscience?'

'No,' she said slowly, 'no.'

As the woman raised her light eyes, Miss Levering saw, to her
astonishment, that the lids were red. Wark, too, seemed uncomfortably
aware of something unusual in her face, for she turned it away, and
busied herself in smoothing down the near corner of the bath blanket.

'What kept _you_ awake?' Miss Levering asked.

'Well, I suppose I'd better tell you while the other people aren't
round. I want a day or two to go into the country.'

'Into the country?' No such request had been heard for a round dozen of
years.

'I've got some business to see to.'

'At home? In Northumberland?'

'No.'

The tone seemed so little to promise anything in the nature of a
confidence that Miss Levering merely said--

'Oh, very well. When do you want to go?'

'I could go to-morrow if----' She stopped, and looked down at the hem of
her long white apron.

Something unwonted in the wooden face prompted Miss Levering to say--

'What do you want to do in the country?'

'To see about a place that's been offered me.'

'A _place_, Wark!'

'Yes; post of housekeeper. That's what I really am, you know.'

Miss Levering looked at her, and set down the half-finished cup without
opening her lips. If the speech had come from any other than Wark, it
would have been easy to believe it merely the prelude to complaint of a
fellow-servant or plea for a rise in wages. But if Wark objected to a
fellow-servant, her own view of the matter had always been that the
other one should go. Her mistress knew quite well that in the mouth of
the woman standing there with red eyes at the foot of the bed, such an
announcement as had just been made, meant more. And the consciousness
seemed to bring with it a sense of acute discomfort not unmixed with
anger. For there was a threat of something worse than an infliction of
mere inconvenience. It was a species of desertion. It was almost
treachery. They had lived together all the younger woman's life, except
for those two years that followed on the girl's attempt to make a
conventional servant out of a creature who couldn't be that, but who had
it in her to be more.

They had been too long together for Wark not to divine
something--through all the lady's self-possession--of her sense of being
abandoned.

'It's having to tell you that that kept me awake.'

The wave of dull colour that mounted up to the bushy, straw-coloured
eyebrows seemed on the way to have overflowed into her eyes. They grew
redder than before, and slowly they filled.

'You don't like living here in this house.' Vida caught at the old
complication.

'I've got used to it,' the woman said baldly. Then, after a little
pause, during which she made a barely audible rasping to clear her
throat, 'I don't like leaving you, miss. I always remember how, that
time before--the only time I was ever away from you since you was a
baby--how different I found you when I came back.'

'Different, Wark?'

'Yes, miss. It seemed like you'd turned into somebody else.'

'Most people change--develope--in those years just before twenty.'

'Not like you did, miss. You gave me a deal of trouble when you was
little, but it nearly broke my heart to come back and find you so
quieted down and wise-like.'

A flash of tears glimmered in the mistress's eyes, though her lips were
smiling.

'Of course,' the maid went on, 'though you never told me about it, I
know you had things to bear while I was away, or else you wouldn't have
gone away from your home that time--a mere child--and tried to teach for
a living.'

'It _was_ absurd of me! But whosever fault it was, it wasn't yours.'

'Yes, miss, in a way it was. I owed it to your mother not to have left
you. I've never told you how I blamed myself when I heard--and I didn't
wonder at you. It _was_ hard when your mother was hardly cold to see
your father----'

'Yes; now that's enough, Wark. You know we never speak of that.'

'No, we've never spoken about it. And, of course, you won't need me any
more like you did then. But it's looking back and remembering--it's that
that's making it so hard to leave you now. But----'

'Well?'

'My friends have been talking to me.'

'About----'

'Yes, this post.' Then, almost angrily, 'I didn't try for it. It's come
after me. My cousin knows the man.'

'The man who wants you to go to him as housekeeper?' Vida wrinkled her
brows. Wark hadn't said 'gentleman,' who alone in her employer's
experience had any need of a housekeeper. 'You mean you don't know him
yourself?'

'Not yet, 'm. I know he's a market gardener, and he wants his house
looked after.'

'What if he does? A market gardener won't be able to pay the wages
I----'

'The wages aren't much to begin with--but he's getting along--except for
the housekeeping. That's in a bad way.'

'What if it is? I never heard such nonsense. You don't want to leave me,
Wark, for a market gardener you've never so much as seen;' and Miss
Levering covered her discomfort by a little smiling.

'My cousin's seen him many a time. She likes him.'

'Let your cousin go, then, and keep his house for him.'

'My cousin has her own house to keep, and she's got a young baby.'

'Oh, the woman who brought her child here once?'

'Yes, 'm, the child you gave the coral beads to. My cousin has written
and talked about it ever since.'

'About the beads?'

'About the market gardener. And the way his house is--Ever since we came
back to England she's been going on at me about it. I told her all along
I couldn't leave you, but she's always said (since that day you walked
about with the baby and gave him the beads to play with, and wouldn't
let her make him cry by taking them away)--ever since then my cousin
has said you'd understand.'

'What would I understand?'

Wark laid her hand on the nearest of the shining bars of brass, and
slowly she polished it with her open palm. She obviously found it
difficult to go on with her defence.

'I wanted my cousin to come and explain to you.'

Here was Wark in a new light indeed! If she really wanted any creature
on the earth to speak for her. As she stood there in stolid
embarrassment polishing the shiny bar, Miss Levering clutched the tray
to steady it, and with the other hand she pulled the pillow higher. One
had to sit bolt upright, it seemed, and give this matter one's entire
attention.

'I don't want to talk to your cousin about your affairs. We are old
friends, Wark. Tell me yourself.'

She forced her eyes to meet her mistress's. 'He told my cousin: "Just
you find me a good housekeeper," he said, "and if I like her," he said,
"she won't be my housekeeper long."'

'Wark! _You!_ You aren't thinking of marrying?'

'If he's what my cousin says----'

'A man you've never seen? Oh, my _dear_ Wark! Well, I shall hope and
pray he won't think your housekeeping good enough.'

'He will! From what my cousin says, he's had a run of worthless huzzies.
I don't expect he'll find much fault with _my_ housekeeping after what
he's been through.'

Vida looked wondering at the triumphant face of the woman.

'And so you're ready to leave me after all these years?'

'No, miss, I'm not to say "ready," but I think I'll have to go.'

'My poor old Wark'--the lady leaned over the tray--'I could almost think
you are in love with this man you've only heard about!'

'No, miss, I'm not to say in love.'

'I believe you are! For what other reason would you have for leaving
me?'

The woman looked as if she could show cause had she a mind. But she said
nothing.

'You know,' Vida pursued--'you know quite well you don't need to marry
for a home.'

'No, 'm; I'm quite comfortable, of course, with you. But time goes on. I
don't get younger.'

'None of us do that, Wark.'

'That's just the trouble, miss. It ain't only _me_.'

Vida looked at her, more perplexed than ever by the curious regard in
the hard-featured countenance. For there was something very like dumb
reproach in Wark's face.

'Still,' said Miss Levering, 'you know, even if none of us do get
younger, we are not any of us (to judge by appearances) on the brink of
the grave. Even if I should be smashed up in a motor accident--I know
you're always expecting that--even if I were killed to-morrow, still
you'd find I hadn't forgotten you, Wark.'

'It isn't that, miss. It isn't death I'm afraid of.'

There was a pause--the longest that yet had come.

'What _are_ you afraid of?' Miss Levering asked.

'It's--you see, I've been looking these twelve years to see you
married.'

'Me? What's that got to do with----'

'Yes, miss. You see, I've counted a good while on looking after children
again some day. But if you won't get married----'

Vida flung her hair back with a burst of not very merry laughter.

'If I won't, you must! But _why_ in the world? I'd no idea you were so
romantic. Why must there be a wedding in the family, Wark?'

'So there can be children, miss,' said the woman, stolidly.

'Well, there is a child. There's Doris.'

'Poor Miss Doris!' The woman shook her head. 'But she's got a good
nurse. I say it, though she calls advice interfering. And Miss Doris has
got a mother' (plain that Wark was again in the market garden). 'Yes,
_she's_ got a mother! and a sort of a father, and she's got a governess,
and a servant to carry her about. I sometimes think what Miss Doris
needs most is a little letting alone. Leastways, she don't need _me_.
No, nor _you_, miss.'

'And you've given me up?' the mistress probed.

Wark raised her red eyes. 'Of course, miss, if I'm wrong----' Her
knuckly hand slid down from the brass bar, and she came round to the
side of the bed with an unmistakable eagerness in her face. 'If you're
going to get married, I don't see as I _could_ leave ye.'

The lady's lips twitched with an instant's silent laughter, but there
was something else than laughter in her eyes.

'Oh, I _can_ buy you off, can I? If I give you my word--if to save you
from need to try the great experiment, I'll sacrifice _my_self----'

'I wouldn't like to see you make a sacrifice, miss,' Wark said, with
perfect gravity. 'But'--as though reconsidering--'you wouldn't feel it
so much, I dare say, after the child was there.'

They looked at one another.

'If it's children you yearn for, my poor Wark, you've waited too long,
I'm afraid.'

'Oh, no, miss.' She spoke with a fatuous confidence.

'Why, you must be fifty.'

'Fifty-three, miss. But'--she met her mistress's eye
unflinching--'Bunting--he's the market gardener--he's been married
before. He's got three girls and two boys.'

'Heavens!' Vida fell back against the pillow. 'What a handful!'

'Oh, no, 'm. My cousin says they're nice children.' It would have been
funny if it hadn't somehow been pathetic to see how instantly she was on
the defensive. '"Healthy and hearty," my cousin says, all but the little
one. She hardly thinks they'll raise _him_.'

'Well, I wish your market gardener had confined himself to raising
onions and cabbages. If he hadn't those children I don't believe you'd
dream of----'

'Well, of course not, miss. But it seems like those children need some
one to look after them more than--more than----'

'Than I do? That ought to be true.'

'One of 'em is little more than a baby.' The wooden woman offered it as
an apology.

'Take the tray,' said Vida.

From the look on her face you would say she knew she had lost the
faithfullest of servants, and that five little children somewhere in a
market garden had won, if not a mother, at least a doughty champion.



CHAPTER IV


No matter how late either Vida Levering or her half-sister had gone to
bed the night before, they breakfasted, as they did so many other
things, at the hour held to be most advantageous for Doris.

Mr. Fox-Moore was sometimes there and often not. On those mornings when
his health or his exertions the night previous did not prevent his
appearance, there was little conversation at the Fox-Moore breakfast
table, except such as was initiated by the only child of the marriage, a
fragile girl of ten. Little Doris, owing to some obscure threat of
hip-disease, made much of her progress about the house in a footman's
arms. But hardly, so borne, would she reach the threshold of the
breakfast room before her thin little voice might be heard calling out,
'_Fa_-ther! _Fa_-ther!'

Those who held they had every ground for disliking the old man would
have been surprised to watch him during the half hour that ensued,
ministering to the rather querulous little creature, adapting his tone
and view to her comprehension, with an art that plainly took its
inspiration from affection. If Doris were not well enough to come down,
Mr. Fox-Moore read his letters and glanced at 'the' paper, directing his
few remarks to his sister-in-law, whom he sometimes treated in such a
way as would have given a stranger the impression, in spite of the
lady's lack of response, that there was some secret understanding
between the two.

A great many years before, Donald Fox-Moore had tumbled into a
Government office, the affairs of which he had ultimately got into such
excellent running order, that, with a few hours' supervision from the
chief each week, his clerks were easily able to maintain the high
reputation of that particular department of the public service. What Mr.
Fox-Moore did with the rest of his time was little known. A good deal of
it was spent with a much younger bachelor brother near Brighton. At
least, this was the family legend. In spite of his undoubted affection
for his child, little of his leisure was wasted at home. When people
looked at the sallow, smileless face of his wife they didn't blame him.

Sometimes, when a general sense of tension and anxiety betrayed his
presence somewhere in the great dreary house, and the master yet forbore
to descend for the early meal, he would rejoice the heart of his little
daughter by having her brought to his room to make tea and share his
breakfast.

On these occasions a sense of such unexpected surcease from care
prevailed in the dining-room as called for some celebration of the
holiday spirit. It found expression in the inclination of the two women
to linger over their coffee, embracing the only sure opportunity the day
offered for confidential exchange.

One of these occasions was the morning of Wark's warning, which,
however, Vida determined to say nothing about till she was obliged. She
had just handed up her cup for replenishing when the door opened, and,
to the surprise of the ladies, the master of the house appeared on the
threshold.

'Is--is anything the matter?' faltered his wife, half rising.

'Matter? Must something be the matter that I venture into my own
breakfast-room of a morning?'

'No, no. Only I thought, as Doris didn't come, you were breakfasting
upstairs, too.' No notice being taken of this, she at once set about
heating water, for no one expected Mr. Fox-Moore to drink tea made in
the kitchen.

'I thought,' said he, twitching an open newspaper off the table and
folding it up--'I thought I asked to be allowed the privilege of opening
my paper for myself.'

'Your _Times_ hasn't been touched,' said his wife, anxiously occupied
with the spirit-lamp.

He stopped in the act of thrusting the paper in his pocket and shook it.

'What do you call this?'

'That is my _Times_,' she said.

'_Your_ _Times_?'

'I ordered an extra copy, because you dislike so to have yours looked at
till you've finished with it.'

'Dreadful hardship _that_ is!' he said, glancing round, and seeing his
own particular paper neatly folded and lying still on the side table.

'It was no great hardship when you read it before night. When you don't,
it's rather long to wait.'

'To wait for what?'

'For the news of the day.'

'Don't you get the news of the day in the _Morning Post_?'

'I don't get such full Parliamentary reports nor the foreign
correspondence.'

'Good Lord! what next?'

'I think you must blame me,' said Vida, speaking for the first time.
'I'm afraid you'll find it's only since I've been here that Janet has
broken loose and taken in an extra copy.'

'Oh, it's on your account, is it?' he grumbled, but the edge had gone
out of his ill-humour. 'I suppose you _have_ to keep up with politics or
you couldn't keep the ball rolling as you did last night?'

'Yes,' said Vida, with an innocent air. 'It is well known what
superhuman efforts we have to make before we can qualify ourselves to
talk to men.'

'Hm!' grumbled Fox-Moore. 'I never saw _you_ at a loss.'

'You did last night.'

'No, I didn't. I saw you getting on like a house afire with Haycroft and
the beguiling Borrodaile. It's a pity all the decent men are married.'

Mrs. Fox-Moore allowed her own coffee to get cold while she hovered over
the sacred rite of scientific tea-making. Mr. Fox-Moore, talking to Vida
about the Foreign Office reception, to which they had all gone on after
the Tunbridges' dinner, kept watching with a kind of half-absent-minded
scorn his wife's fussily punctilious pains to prepare the brew 'his
way.' When all was ready and the tea steaming on its way to him in the
hands of its harassed maker, he curtly declined it, got up, and left the
room. A moment after, the shutting of the front door announced the
beginning of yet another of the master's absences.

'How can you stand it?' said Vida, under her breath.

'Oh, I don't mind his going away,' said the other, dully.

'No; but his coming back!'

'One of the things I'm grateful to Donald for'--she spoke as if there
were plenty more--'he is very good to you, Vida.' And in her tone there
was criticism of the beneficiary.

'You mean, he's not as rude to me as he is to you?'

'He is even forbearing. And you--you rather frighten me sometimes.'

'I see that.'

'It would be very terrible for _me_ if he took it into his head not to
like you.'

'If he took it into his head to forbid your having me here, you mean.'

'But even when you aren't polite he just laughs. Still, he's not a
patient man.'

'Do you think you have to tell me that?'

'No, dear, only to remind you not to try him too far. For my sake, Vida,
don't ever do that.'

She put out her yellow, parchment-like hand, and her sister closed hers
over it an instant.

'Here's the hot milk,' said Vida. 'Now we'll have some more coffee.'

'Are you coming with me to-day?' Mrs. Fox-Moore asked quite cheerfully
for her as the servant shut the door.

'Oh, is this Friday? N--no.' The younger woman looked at the chill grey
world through the window, and followed up the hesitating negative with a
quite definite, 'I couldn't stand slums to-day.' The two exchanged the
look that means, 'Here we are again up against this recurring
difference.' But there was no ill-humour in either face as their eyes
met.

Between these two daughters of one father existed that sort of haunting
family resemblance often seen between two closely related persons,
despite one being attractive and the other in some way repellent. The
observer traces the same lines in each face, the same intensification of
'the family look' in the smile, and yet knows that the slight disparity
in age fails to account for a difference wide as the poles.

And not alone difference of taste, of environment and experience, not
these alone make up the sum of their unlikeness. You had only to look
from the fresh simplicity of white muslin blouse and olive-coloured
cloth in the one case, to the ungainly expensiveness of the black silk
gown of the married woman, in order to get from the first a sense of
dainty morning freshness, and from Mrs. Fox-Moore not alone a lugubrious
_memento mori_ sort of impression, but that more disquieting reminder of
the ugly and over-elaborate thing life is to many an estimable soul.
Janet Fox-Moore had the art of rubbing this dark fact in till, so to
speak, the black came off. She seemed to achieve it partly by dint of
wearing (instead of any relief of lace or even of linen at her throat) a
hard band of that passementerie secretly so despised of the little
Tunbridges. This device did not so much 'finish off' the neck of Mrs.
Fox-Moore's gowns, as allow the funereal dulness of them to overflow on
to her brown neck. It even cast an added shadow on her sallow cheek. The
figure of the older woman, gaunt and thin enough, announced the further
constriction of the corset. By way of revenge the sharp shoulder-blades
poked the corset out till it defined a ridge in the black silk back. In
front, too, the slab-like figure declined co-operation with the corset,
and withdrew, leaving a hiatus that the silk bodice clothed though it
did not conceal. You could not have told whether the other woman wore
that ancient invention for a figure insufficient or over-exuberant. As
you followed her movements, easy with the ease of a child, while she
walked or stooped or caught up the fragile Doris, or raised her arm to
take a book from the shelf, you got an impression of a physique in
perfect because unconscious harmony with its environment. If, on the
contrary, you watched but so much as the nervous, uncertain hand of the
other woman, you would know here was one who had spent her years in
alternately grasping the nettle and letting it go--reaping only stings
in life's fair fields. Easy for any one seeing her in these days (though
she wasn't thirty-six) to share Mrs. Freddy's incredulous astonishment
at hearing from Haycroft the night before that Janet Levering had been
'the beauty of her family.' Mrs. Freddy's answer had been, 'Oh, don't
make fun of her!' and Haycroft had had to assure her of his seriousness,
while the little hostess still stared uncertain.

'The _lines_ of her face are rather good,' she admitted. 'Oh, but those
yellow and pink eyes, and her general muddiness!'

'Yes, yes,' Sir William had agreed. 'She's changed so that I would never
have known her, but her colouring used to be her strong point. I assure
you she was magnificent--oh, much more striking than the younger
sister!'

The bloodless-looking woman who sat uneasily at her own board clutching
at a thin fragment of cold dry toast that hung cheerlessly awry in the
silver rack, like the last brown leaf to a frosty tree, while she
crunched the toast, spoke dryly of the poor; of how 'interesting many of
them are;' how when you take the trouble to understand them, you no
longer lump them all together in a featureless misery, you realize how
significant and varied are their lives.

'Not half as significant and varied as their smells,' said her
unchastened sister.

'Oh, you sometimes talk as if you had no heart!'

'The trouble is, I have no stomach. When you've lured me into one of
those dingy alleys and that all-pervading greasy smell of poverty comes
flooding into my face--well, simply all my most uncharitable feelings
rise up in revolt. I want to hold my nose and hide my eyes, and call for
the motor-car. Running away isn't fast enough,' she said, with energy
and a sudden spark in her golden-brown eye.

Mrs. Fox-Moore poised the fat silver jug over her own belated cup, and
waited for the thick cream to come out in a slow and grudging gobbet
with a heavy plump into the coffee. As she waited, she gently rebuked
that fastidiousness in her companion that shrank from contact with the
unsavoury and the unfortunate.

'It isn't only my fastidiousness, as you call it, that is offended,'
Vida retorted. 'I am penetrated by the hopelessness of what we're doing.
It salves my conscience, or _yours_----' Hurriedly she added,
'----that's not what you mean to do it for, I _know_, dear--and you're
an angel and I'm a mere cumberer of the earth. But when I'm only just
"cumbering," I feel less a fraud than when I'm pretending to do good.'

'You needn't pretend.'

'I can't do anything else. To go among your poor makes me feel in my
heart that I'm simply flaunting my better fortune.'

'I never saw you flaunting it.'

'Well, I assure you it's when you've got me to go with you on one of
your Whitechapel raids that I feel most strongly how outrageous it is
that, in addition to all my other advantages, I should buy self-approval
by doing some tuppenny-ha'penny service to a toiling, starving
fellow-creature.'

Mrs. Fox-Moore set down her coffee-cup. 'You mustn't suppose----' she
began.

'No, no,' Vida cut her short. 'I don't doubt _your_ motives. I know too
well how ready you are to sacrifice yourself. But it does fill me with a
kind of rage to see some of those smug Settlement workers, the people
that plume themselves on leaving luxurious homes. They don't say how
hideously bored they were in them. They are perfectly enchanted at the
excitement and importance they get out of going to live among the poor,
who don't want them----'

'Oh, my dear Vida!'

'Not a little bit! Well, the _wily_ paupers do, perhaps, for what they
can get out of our sort.'

Mrs. Fox-Moore cast down her eyes as though convicted by the
recollection of some concrete example.

'We're only scratching at the surface,' Vida, said--'such an ugly
surface, too! And the more we scratch, the uglier things come to light.'

'You make too much of that disappointment at Christmas.'

'I wasn't even thinking of the hundredth time you've been
disillusioned.' Vida threw down her table napkin, and stood up. 'I was
thinking of people like our young parson cousin.'

'George----'

Vida made a shrug of half-impatient, half-humorous assent. 'Leaves the
Bishop's Palace and comes to London. He, too, wants "to live for the
poor." Never for an instant one of them. Always the patron--the person
something may be got out of--or, at all events, hoped from.'

She seemed to be about to leave the room, but as her sister answered
with some feeling, 'No, no, they love and respect him!' Vida paused, and
brought up by the fire that the sudden cold made comforting.

'George is a different man since he's found his vocation,' Mrs.
Fox-Moore insisted. 'You read it in his face.'

'Oh, if all you mean is that _he's_ happier, why not? He's able to look
on himself as a benefactor. He's tasting the intoxication of the King
among Beggars.'

'You are grossly unfair, Vida.'

'So he thinks when I challenge him: "What good, what earthly good, is
all this unless an anodyne--for you--is good?"'

'It seems to me a very real good that George Nuneaton and his kind
should go into the dark places and brighten hopeless lives with a little
Christian kindness--sometimes with a little timely counsel.'

'Yes, yes,' said the voice by the fire; 'and a little good music--don't
forget the good music.'

'An object-lesson in practical religion, isn't that something?'

'Practical! Good Heaven! A handful of complacent, expensively educated
young people playing at reform. The poor wanting work, wanting decent
housing--wanting _bread_--and offered a little cultivated
companionship.'

'Vida, what have you been reading?'

'Reading? I've been visiting George at his Settlement. I've been
intruding myself on the privacy of the poor once a week with you--and
I'm done with it! Personally I don't get enough out of it to reconcile
me to their getting so little.'

'You're burning,' observed the toneless voice from the head of the
table.

'Yes, I believe I was a little hot,' Vida laughed as she drew her
smoking skirt away from the fire. But she still stood close to the
cheerful blaze, one foot on the fender, the green cloth skirt drawn up,
leaving the more delicate fabric of her silk petticoat to meet the fiery
ordeal. 'If it annoys you to hear me say that's my view of charity, why,
don't make me talk about it;' but the face she turned for an instant
over her shoulder was far gentler than her words. 'And don't in
future'--she was again looking down into the fire, and she spoke slowly
as one who delivers a reluctant ultimatum--'don't ask me to help, except
with money. _That_ doesn't cost so much.'

'I am disappointed.' Nothing further, but the sound of a chair moved
back, eloquent somehow of a discouragement deeper than words conveyed.

Vida turned swiftly, and, coming back to her sister, laid an arm about
her shoulder.

'I'm a perfect monster! But you know, my dear, you rather goaded me into
saying all this by looking such a martyr when I've tried to get out of
going----'

'Very well, I won't ask you again.' But the toneless rejoinder was
innocent of rancour. Janet Fox-Moore gave the impression of being too
chilled, too drained of the generous life-forces, even for anger.

'Besides,' said Vida, hurriedly, 'I'd nearly forgotten; there's the
final practising at eleven.'

'_I'd_ forgotten your charity concert was so near!' As Mrs. Fox-Moore
gathered up her letters, she gave way for the first time to a wintry
little smile.

'The concert's mine, I admit, but the charity's the bishop's. What
absurd things we women fill up the holes in our lives with!' Vida said,
as she followed her sister into the hall. 'Do you know the real reason
I'm getting up this foolish concert?'

'Because you like singing, and do it so well that--yes, without your
looks and the indescribable "rest," you'd be a success. I told you that,
when I begged you to come and try London.'

'The reason I'm slaving over the concert--it isn't all musical
enthusiasm. It amuses me to organize it. All the ticklish, difficult,
"bothering" part of getting up a monster thing of this sort, reconciling
malcontents, enlisting the great operatic stars and not losing the great
social lights--it all interests me like a game. I'm afraid the truth is
I like managing things.'

'Perhaps Mrs. Freddy's not so far wrong.'

'Does Mrs. Freddy accuse me of being a "managing woman," horrid
thought?'

'She was talking about you in her enthusiastic way when she was here the
other day. "Vida could administer a state," she said. Yes, _I_ laughed,
too, but Mrs. Freddy shook her head quite seriously, and said, "To think
of a being like Vida--not even a citizen."'

'I'm not a citizen?' exclaimed the lady, laughing down at her sister
over the banisters. 'Does she think because I've lived abroad I've
forfeited my rights of----'

'No, all she means is---- Oh, you know the bee she's got in her bonnet.
She means, as she'll tell you, that "you have no more voice in the
affairs of England than if you were a Hottentot."'

'I can't say I've ever minded that. But it has an odd sound, hasn't
it--to hear one isn't a citizen.'

'Mrs. Freddy forgets----'

'I know! I know what you're going to say,' said the other,
light-heartedly. 'Mrs. Freddy forgets our unique ennobling influence;'
and the tall young woman laughed as she ran up the last half of the long
flight of stairs. At the top she halted a moment, and called down to
Mrs. Fox-Moore, who was examining the cards left the day before,
'Speaking of our powerful influence over our men-folk--Mr. Freddy
wasn't present, was he, when she aired her views?'

'No.'

'I thought not. Her influence over Mr. Freddy is maintained by the
strictest silence on matters he isn't keen about.'



CHAPTER V


Seeing Ulland House for the first time on a fine afternoon in early May
against the jubilant green of its woodland hillside, the beholder, a
little dazzled in that first instant by the warmth of colour burning in
the ancient brick, might adapt the old dean's line and call the
coral-tinted structure rambling down the hillside, 'A rose-red dwelling
half as old as Time.'

Its original architecture had been modified by the generations as they
passed. One lord of Ulland had expressed his fancy on the eastern facade
in gable and sculptured gargoyle; another his fear or his defiance in
the squat and sturdy tower with its cautious slits in lieu of windows.
Yet another Ulland had brought home from eighteenth-century Italy a love
of colonnades and terraced gardens; and one still later had cut down to
the level of the sward the high ground-floor windows, so that where
before had been two doors or three, were now a dozen giving egress to
the gardens.

The legend so often encountered in the history of old English houses was
not neglected here--that it had been a Crusader of this family who had
himself brought home from the Holy Land the Lebanon cedar that spread
wide its level branches on the west, cutting the sunset into even bars.
Tradition also said it was a counsellor of Elizabeth who had set the
dial on the lawn. Even the latest lord had found a way to leave his
impress upon the time. He introduced 'Clock golf' at Ulland. From the
upper windows on the south and west the roving eye was caught by the
great staring face of this new timepiece on the turf--its Roman numerals
showing keen and white upon the vivid green. On the other side of the
cedar, that incorrigible Hedonist, the crumbling dial, told you in Latin
that he only marked the shining hours. But the brand new clock on the
lawn bore neither watchword nor device--seemed even to have dropped its
hands as though in modesty withheld from pointing to hours so little
worthy of record.

Two or three men, on this fine Saturday, had come down from London for
the week-end to disport themselves on the Ulland links, half a mile
beyond the park. After a couple of raw days, the afternoon had turned
out quite unseasonably warm, and though the golfers had come back
earlier than usual, not because of the heat but because one of their
number had a train to catch, they agreed it was distinctly reviving to
find tea served out of doors.

Already Lady John was in her place on the pillared colonnade, behind the
urn. Already, too, one of her pair of pretty nieces was at hand to play
the skilful lieutenant. Hermione Heriot, tactful, charming, twenty-five,
was equally ready to hand bread and butter, or, sitting quietly, to
perform the greater service--that of presenting the fresh-coloured,
discreetly-smiling vision called 'the typical English girl.' Miss Heriot
fulfilled to a nicety the requirements of those who are sensibly
reassured by the spectacle of careful conventionality allied to feminine
charm--a pleasant conversability that may be trusted to soothe and
counted on never to startle. Hermione would almost as soon have stood on
her head in Piccadilly as have said anything original, though to her
private consternation such perilous stuff had been known to harbour an
uneasy instant in her bosom. She carried such inconvenient cargo as
carefully hidden as a conspirator would a bomb under his cloak. It had
grown to be as necessary to her to agree with the views and fashions of
the majority as it was disquieting to her to see these contravened, or
even for a single hour ignored. From the crown of her carefully dressed
head to the tips of her pointed toes she was engaged in testifying her
assent to the prevailing note. Despite all this to recommend her, she
was not Lady John's favourite niece. No doubt about Jean Dunbarton
holding that honour; and, to Hermione's credit, her own love for her
cousin enabled her to accept the situation with a creditable equability.
Jean Dunbarton was due now at any moment, she having already sent over
her luggage with her maid the short two miles from the Bishop's Palace,
where the girl had dined and slept the night before.

The rest of the Ulland House party were arriving by the next train. As
Miss Levering was understood to be one of those expected it will be seen
that a justified faith in the excellence of the Ulland links had not
made Lady John unmindful of the wisdom of including among 'the
week-enders' a nice assortment of pretty women for the amusement of her
golfers in the off hours.

Of this other young lady swinging her golf club as she came across the
lawn with the men--sole petticoat among them--it could not be pretended
that any hostess, let alone one so worldly-wise as Lady John Ulland,
would look to have the above-hinted high and delicate office performed
by so upright and downright--not to say so bony--a young woman, with
face so like a horse, and the stride of a grenadier. Under her short
leather-bound skirt the great brown-booted feet seemed shamelessly to
court attention--as it were out of malice to catch your eye, while
deliberately they trampled on the tenderest traditions clinging still
about the Weaker Sex.

Lady John held in her hand the top of the jade and silver tea-caddy.
Hermione, as well as her aunt, knew that this top held four teaspoonsful
of tea. Lady John filled it once, filled it twice, and turned the
contents out each time into the gaping pot. Then, absent-mindedly, she
paused, eyeing the approaching party,--that genial silver-haired despot,
her husband, walking with Lord Borrodaile, the gawky girl between them,
except when she paused to practise a drive. The fourth person, a short,
compactly knit man, was lounging along several paces behind, but every
now and then energetically shouting out his share in the conversation.
The ground of Lady John's interest in the group seemed to consist in a
half-mechanical counting of noses. Her eyes came back to the tea-table
and she made a third addition to the jade and silver measure.

'We shall be only six for the first brew,' prompted the girl at her
side.

'Paul Filey is mooning somewhere about the garden.'

'Oh!'

'Why do you say it like that?'

Hermione's eyes rested a moment on the golfer who was bringing up the
rear. He was younger than his rather set figure had at a distance
proclaimed him.

'I was only thinking Dick Farnborough can't abide Paul,' said the girl.

'A typical product of the public school is hardly likely to appreciate
an undisciplined creature with a streak of genius in him like Paul
Filey.'

'Oh, I rather love him myself,' said the girl, lightly, 'only as Sophia
says he does talk rather rot at times.'

With her hand on the tea-urn, releasing a stream of boiling water into
the pot, Lady John glanced over the small thickset angel that poised
himself on one podgy foot upon the lid of the urn.

'Sophia's too free with her tongue. It's a mistake. It frightens people
off.'

'Men, you mean?'

'Especially men.'

'I often think,' said the young woman, 'that men--all except Paul--would
be more shocked at Sophia--if--she wasn't who she is.'

'No doubt,' agreed her aunt. 'Still I sympathize with her parents. I
don't see how they'll ever marry her. She might just as well be Miss
Jones--that girl--for all she makes of herself.'

'Yes; I've often thought so, too,' agreed Hermione, apparently conscious
that the very most was made of _her_.

'She hasn't even been taught to walk.' Lady John was still watching the
girl's approach.

'Yet she looks best out of doors,' said Hermione, firmly.

'Oh, yes! She comes into the drawing-room as if she were crossing a
ploughed field!'

'All the same,' said Hermione, under her breath, 'when she _is_ indoors
I'd rather see her walking than sitting.'

'You mean the way she crosses her legs?'

'Yes.'

'But that, too--it seems like so many other things, a question only of
degree. Nobody objects to seeing a pair of neat ankles crossed--it looks
rather nice and early Victorian. Nowadays lots of girls cross their
knees--and nobody says anything. But Sophia crosses her--well, her
_thighs_.'

And the two women laughed understandingly.

A stranger might imagine that the reason for Lady Sophia's presence in
the party was that she, by common consent, played a capital game of
golf--'for a woman.' That fact, however, was rather against her. For
people who can play the beguiling game, _want_ to play it--and want to
play it not merely now and then out of public spirit to make up a
foursome, but constantly and for pure selfish love of it. Woman may, if
she likes, take it as a compliment to her sex that this proclivity--held
to be wholly natural in a man--is called 'rather unfeminine' in a
woman. But it was a defect like the rest, forgiven the Lady Sophia for
her father's sake. Lord Borrodaile, held to be one of the most
delightful of men, was much in request for parties of this description.
One reason for his daughter's being there was that it glossed the fact
that Lady Borrodaile was not--was, indeed, seldom present, and one may
say never missed, in the houses frequented by her husband.

But as he and his friends not only did not belong to, but looked down
upon, the ultra smart set, where the larger freedoms are practised in
lieu of the lesser decencies, Lord Borrodaile lived his life as far
removed from any touch of scandal and irregularity as the most puritanic
of the bourgeoisie. Part and parcel of his fastidiousness, some
said--others, that from his Eton days he had always been a lazy beggar.
As though to show that he did not shrink from reasonable responsibility
towards his female impedimenta, any inquiry as to the absence of Lady
Borrodaile was met by reference to Sophia. In short, where other
attractive husbands brought a boring wife, Lord Borrodaile brought an
undecorative daughter. While to the onlooker nearly every aspect of this
particular young woman would seem destined to offend a beauty-loving,
critical taste like that of Borrodaile, he was probably served, as other
mortals are, by that philosophy of the senses which brings in time a
deafness and a blindness to the unloveliness that we needs must live
beside. Lord Borrodaile was far too intelligent not to see, too, that
when people had got over Lady Sophia's uncompromising exterior, they
found things in her to admire as well as to stand a little in awe of.
Unlike one another as the Borrodailes were, in one respect they
presented to the world an undivided front. From their point of view,
just as laws existed to keep other people in order, so was 'fashion' an
affair for the middle classes. The Borrodailes might dress as dowdily as
they pleased, might speak as uncompromisingly as they felt inclined.
Were they not Borrodailes of Borrodaile? Though open expression of this
spirit grows less common, they would not have denied that it is still
the prevailing temper of the older aristocracy. And so it has hitherto
been true that among its women you find that sort of freedom which is
the prerogative of those called the highest and of those called the
lowest. It is the women of all the grades between these two extremes who
have dared not to be themselves, who ape the manners, echo the
catchwords, and garb themselves in the elaborate ugliness, devised for
the blind meek millions.

As the Lady Sophia, now a little in advance of her companions, came
stalking towards the steps, out from a little path that wound among the
thick-growing laurels issued Paul Filey. He raised his eyes, and
hurriedly thrust a small book into his pocket. The young lady paused,
but only apparently to pat, or rather to administer an approving cuff
to, the Bedlington terrier lying near the lower step.

'Well,' she said over her shoulder to Filey, 'our side gave a good
account of itself that last round.'

'I was sure it would as soon as my malign influence was removed.'

'Yes; from the moment I took on Dick Farnborough, the situation assumed
a new aspect. You'll _never_ play a good game, you know, if you go
quoting Baudelaire on the links.'

'Poor Paul!' his hostess murmured to her niece, 'I always tremble when I
see him exposed to Sophia's ruthless handling.'

'Yes,' whispered Hermione. 'She says she's sure he thinks of himself as
a prose Shelley; and for some reason that infuriates Sophia.'

With a somewhat forced air of amusement, Mr. Filey was following his
critic up the steps, she still mocking at his 'drives' and the way he
negotiated his bunkers.

Arrived at the top of the little terrace, whose close-shorn turf was
level with the flagged floor of the colonnade, Mr. Filey sought refuge
near Hermione, as the storm-tossed barque, fleeing before the wind, hies
swift to the nearest haven.

Bending over the Bedlington, the Amazon remained on the top step, her
long, rather good figure garbed in stuff which Filey had said was fit
only for horse-blankets, but which was Harris tweed slackly belted by a
broad canvas girdle drawn through a buckle of steel.

'_Will_ you tell me,' he moaned in Hermione's ear, 'why the daughter of
a hundred earls has the manners of a groom, and dresses herself in odds
and ends of the harness room?'

'Sh! Somebody told her once you'd said something of that sort.'

'No!' he said. 'Who?'

'It wasn't I.'

'Of course not. But did she mind? What did she say, eh?'

'She only said, "He got that out of a novel of Miss Broughton's."'

Filey looked a little dashed. 'No! Has Miss Broughton said it, too? Then
there are more of them!' He glanced again at the Amazon. 'Horrible
thought!'

'Don't be so unreasonable. She couldn't play golf in a long skirt and
high heels!'

'Who _wants_ a woman to play golf?'

Hermione gave him his tea with a smile. She knew with an absolute
precision just how perfectly at that moment she herself was presenting
the average man's picture of the ideal type of reposeful womanhood.

As Lord John and the two other men, his companions, came up the steps in
the midst of a discussion--

'If you stop to argue, Mr. Farnborough,' said Lady John, holding out a
cup, 'you won't have time for tea before you catch that train.'

'Oh, thank you!' He hastened to relieve her, while Hermione murmured
regrets that he wasn't staying. 'Lady John didn't ask me,' he confided.
As he saw in Hermione's face a project to intercede for him, he added,
'And now I've promised my mother--we've got a lot of people coming, and
two men short!'

'Two men short! how horrible for her!' She said it half laughing, but
her view of the reality of the dilemma was apparent in her letting the
subject drop.

Farnborough, standing there tea-cup in hand, joined again in the
discussion that was going on about some unnamed politician of the day,
with whose character and destiny the future of England might quite
conceivably be involved.

Before a great while this unnamed person would be succeeding his ailing
and childless brother. There were lamentations in prospect of his too
early translation to the Upper House.

The older men had been speaking of his family, in which the tradition of
public service, generations old, had been revived in the person of this
younger son.

'I have never understood,' Lord John was saying, 'how a man with such
opportunities hasn't done more.'

'A man as able, too,' said Borrodaile, lazily. 'Think of the tribute he
wrung out of Gladstone at the very beginning of his career. Whatever we
may think of the old fox, Gladstone had an eye for men.'

'Be _quiet_, will you!' Lady Sophia administered a little whack to the
Bedlington. 'Sh! Joey! don't you hear they're talking about our cousin?'

'Who?' said Filey, bending over the lady with a peace-offering of cake.

'Why, Geoffrey Stonor,' answered Sophia.

'_Is_ it Stonor they mean?'

'Well, of course.'

'How do you know?' demanded Filey, in the pause.

'Oh, wherever there are two or three gathered together talking politics
and "the coming man"--who has such a frightful lot in him that very
little ever comes out--it's sure to be Geoffrey Stonor they mean, isn't
it, Joey?'

'Perhaps,' said her father, dryly, 'you'll just mention that to him at
dinner to-night.'

'_What!_' said Farnborough, with a keen look in his eyes. 'You don't
mean he's coming here!'

Sophia, too, had looked round at her host with frank interest.

'Comin' to play golf?'

'Well, he mayn't get here in time for a round to-night, but we're rather
expecting him by this four-thirty.'

'What fun!' Lady Sophia's long face had brightened.

'May I stay over till the next train?' Farnborough was whispering to
Lady John as he went round to her on the pretext of more cream. 'Thank
you--then I won't go till the six forty-two.'

'I didn't know,' Lady Sophia was observing in her somewhat crude way,
'that you knew Geoffrey as well as all that.'

'We don't,' said Lord John. 'He's been saying for years he wanted to
come down and try our links, but it's by a fluke that he's coming, after
all.'

'He never comes to see _us_. He's far too busy, ain't he, Joey, even if
we can't see that he accomplishes much?'

'Give him time and you'll see!' said Farnborough, with a wag of his
head.

'Yes,' said Lord John, 'he's still a young man. Barely forty.'

'Barely forty! _They_ believe in prolonging their youth, don't they?'
said Lady Sophia to no one in particular, and with her mouth rather more
full of cake than custom prescribes. 'Good thing it isn't us, ain't it,
Joey?'

'For a politician forty _is_ young,' said Farnborough.

'Oh, don't I know it!' she retorted. 'I was reading the life of Randolph
Churchill the other day, and I came across a paragraph of filial
admiration about the hold Lord Randolph had contrived to get so early in
life over the House of Commons. It occurred to me to wonder just how
much of a boy Lord Randolph was at the time. I was going to count up
when I was saved the trouble by coming to a sentence that said he was
then "an unproved stripling of thirty-two." You shouldn't laugh. It
wasn't meant sarcastic.'

'Unless you're leader of the Opposition, I suppose it's not very easy to
do much while your party's out of power,' hazarded Lady John, 'is it?'

'One of the most interesting things about our coming back will be to
watch Stonor,' said Farnborough.

'After all, they said he did very well with his Under Secretaryship
under the last Government, didn't they?' Again Lady John appealed to the
two elder men.

'Oh, yes,' said Borrodaile. 'Oh, yes.'

'And the way'--Farnborough made up for any lack of enthusiasm--'the way
he handled that Balkan question!'

'All that was pure routine,' Lord John waved it aside. 'But if Stonor
had ever looked upon politics as more than a game, he'd have been a
power long before this.'

'Ah,' said Borrodaile, slowly, 'you go as far as that? I doubt myself if
he has enough of the demagogue in him.'

'But that's just why. The English people are not like the Americans or
the French. The English have a natural distrust of the demagogue. I tell
you if Stonor once believed in anything with might and main, he'd be a
leader of men.'

'Here he is now.'

Farnborough was the first to distinguish the sound of carriage wheels
behind the shrubberies. The others looked up and listened. Yes, the
crunch of gravel. The wall of laurel was too thick to give any glimpse
from this side of the drive that wound round to the main entrance. But
some animating vision nevertheless seemed miraculously to have
penetrated the dense green wall, to the obvious enlivenment of the
company.

'It's rather exciting seeing him at close quarters,' Hermione said to
Filey.

'Yes! He's the only politician I can get up any real enthusiasm for.
He's so many-sided. I saw him yesterday at a Bond Street show looking at
caricatures of himself and all his dearest friends.'

'Really. How did he take the sacrilege?'

'Oh, he was immensely amused at the fellow's impudence. You see, Stonor
could understand the art of the thing as well as the fun--the fierce
economy of line----'

Nobody listened. There were other attempts at conversation, mere decent
pretence at not being absorbed in watching for the appearance of
Geoffrey Stonor.



CHAPTER VI


There was the faint sound of a distant door's opening, and there was a
glimpse of the old butler. But before he could reach the French window
with his announcement, his own colourless presence was masked, wiped
out--not as the company had expected by the apparition of a man, but by
a tall, lightly-moving young woman with golden-brown eyes, and wearing a
golden-brown gown that had touches of wallflower red and gold on the
short jacket. There were only wallflowers in the small leaf-green toque,
and except for the sable boa in her hand (which so suddenly it was too
warm to wear) no single thing about her could at all adequately account
for the air of what, for lack of a better term, may be called accessory
elegance that pervaded the golden-brown vision, taking the low sunlight
on her face and smiling as she stepped through the window.

It was no small tribute to the lady had she but known it, that her
coming was not received nor even felt as an anti-climax.

As she came forward, all about her rose a significant Babel: 'Here's
Miss Levering!' 'It's Vida!' 'Oh, how do you _do_!'--the frou-frou of
swishing skirts, the scrape of chairs pushed back over stone flags, and
the greeting of the host and hostess, cordial to the point of
affection--the various handshakings, the discreet winding through the
groups of a footman with a fresh teapot, the Bedlington's first attack
of barking merged in tail-wagging upon pleased recognition of a friend;
and a final settling down again about the tea-table with the air full of
scraps of talk and unfinished questions.

'You didn't see anything of my brother and his wife?' asked Lord
Borrodaile.

'Oh, yes,' his host suddenly remembered. 'I thought the Freddys were
coming by that four-thirty as well as----'

'No--nobody but me.' She threw her many-tailed boa on the back of the
chair that Paul Filey had drawn up for her between the hostess and the
place where Borrodaile had been sitting.

'There are two more good trains before dinner----' began Lord John.

'Oh, didn't I tell you,' said his wife, as she gave the cup just filled
for the new-comer into the nearest of the outstretched hands--'didn't I
tell you I had a note from Mrs. Freddy by the afternoon post? They
aren't coming.'

Out of a little chorus of regret, came Borrodaile's slightly mocking,
'Anything wrong with the precious children?'

'She didn't mention the children--nor much of anything else--just a
hurried line.'

'The children were as merry as grigs yesterday,' said Vida, looking at
their uncle across the table. 'I went on to the Freddys' after the Royal
Academy. No!' she put her cup down suddenly. 'Nobody is to ask me how I
like my own picture! The Tunbridge children----'

'That thing Hoyle has done of you,' said Lord Borrodaile, deliberately,
'is a very brilliant and a very misleading performance.'

'Thank you.'

Filey and Lord John, in spite of her interdiction, were pursuing the
subject of the much-discussed portrait.

'It certainly is one aspect of you----'

'Don't you think his Velasquez-like use of black and white----'

'The tiny Tunbridges, as I was saying,' she went on imperturbably, 'were
having a teafight when I got there. I say "fight" advisedly.'

'Then I'll warrant,' said their uncle, 'that Sara was the aggressor.'

'She was.'

'You saw Mrs. Freddy?' asked Lady John, with an interest half amused,
half cynical, in her eyes.

'For a moment.'

'She doesn't confess it, I suppose,' the hostess went on, 'but I imagine
she is rather perturbed;' and Lady John glanced at Borrodaile with her
good-humoured, worldly-wise smile.

'Poor Mrs. Freddy!' said Vida. 'You see, she's taken it all quite
seriously--this Suffrage nonsense.'

'Yes;' Mrs. Freddy's brother-in-law had met Lady John's look with the
same significant smile as that lady's own--'Yes, she's naturally feeling
rather crestfallen--perhaps she'll _see_ now!'

'Mrs. Freddy crestfallen, what about?' said Farnborough. But he was much
preoccupied at that moment in supplying Lady Sophia with bits of toast
the exact size for balancing on the Bedlington's nose. For the benefit
of his end of the table Paul Filey had begun to describe the new one-man
show of caricatures of famous people just opened in Bond Street. The
'mordant genius,' as he called it, of this new man--an American
Jew--offered an irresistible opportunity for phrase-making. And still on
the other side of the tea urn the Ullands were discussing with
Borrodaile and Miss Levering the absent lady whose 'case' was obviously
a matter of concern to her friends.

'Well, let us hope,' Lord John was saying as sternly as his urbanity
permitted--'let us hope this exhibition in the House will be a lesson to
her.'

'_She_ wasn't concerned in it!' Vida quickly defended her.

'Nevertheless we are all hoping,' said Lady John, 'that it has come just
in time to prevent her from going over the edge.'

'Over the edge!' Farnborough pricked up his ears at last in good
earnest, feeling that the conversation on the other side had grown too
interesting for him to be out of it any longer. 'Over what edge?'

'The edge of the Woman Suffrage precipice,' said Lady John.

'You call it a precipice?' Vida Levering raised her dark brows in a
little smile.

'Don't you?' demanded her hostess.

'I should say mud-puddle.'

'From the point of view of the artist'--Paul Filey had begun laying down
some new law, but turning an abrupt corner, he followed the wandering
attention of his audience--'from the point of view of the artist,' he
repeated, 'it would be interesting to know what the phenomenon is, that
Lady John took for a precipice and that Miss Levering says is a
mud-puddle.'

'Oh,' said Lord John, thinking it well to generalize and spare Mrs.
Freddy further rending, 'we've been talking about this public
demonstration of the unfitness of women for public affairs.'

'Give me some more toast dice!' Sophia said to Farnborough. 'You haven't
seen Joey's new accomplishment. They're only discussing that idiotic
scene the women made the other night.'

'Oh, in the gallery of the House of Commons?'

'Yes, wasn't it disgustin'?' said Paul Filey, facing about suddenly with
an air of cheerful surprise at having at last hit on something that he
and Lady Sophia could heartily agree about.

'Perfectly revolting!' said Hermione Heriot, not to be out of it. For it
is well known that, next to a great enthusiasm shared, nothing so draws
human creatures together as a good bout of cursing in common. So with
emphasis Miss Heriot repeated, 'Perfectly revolting!'

Her reward was to see Paul turn away from Sophia and say, in a tone
whose fervour might be called marked--

'I'm glad to hear you say so!'

She consolidated her position by asking sweetly, 'Does it need saying?'

'Not by people like you. But it _does_ need saying when it comes to
people we know----'

'Like Mrs. Freddy. Yes.'

That unfortunate little lady seemed to be 'getting it' on all sides.
Even her brother-in-law, who was known to be in reality a great ally of
hers--even Lord Borrodaile was chuckling as though at some reflection
distinctly diverting.

'Poor Laura! She was being unmercifully chaffed about it last night.'

'I don't myself consider it any longer a subject for chaff,' said Lord
John.

'No,' agreed his wife; '_I_ felt that before this last outbreak. At the
time of the first disturbance--where was it?--in some town in the North
several weeks ago----'

'Yes,' said Vida Levering; 'I almost think that was even worse!'

'Conceive the sublime impertinence,' said Lady John, 'of an ignorant
little factory girl presuming to stand up in public and interrupt a
speech by a minister of the Crown!'

'I don't know what we're coming to, I'm sure!' said Borrodaile, with a
detached air.

'Oh, _that_ girl--beyond a doubt,' said his host, with conviction--'that
girl was touched.'

'Oh, beyond a doubt!' echoed Mr. Farnborough.

'There's something about this particular form of feminine folly----'
began Lord John.

But he wasn't listened to--for several people were talking at once.

After receiving a few preliminary kicks, the subject had fallen, as a
football might, plump into the very midst of a group of school-boys. Its
sudden presence there stirred even the sluggish to unwonted feats. Every
one must have his kick at this Suffrage Ball, and manners were for the
nonce in abeyance.

In the midst of an obscuring dust of discussion, floated fragments of
condemnation: 'Sexless creatures!' 'The Shrieking Sisterhood!' etc., in
which the kindest phrase was Lord John's repeated, 'Touched, you know,'
as he tapped his forehead--'not really responsible, poor wretches.
Touched.'

'Still, everybody doesn't know that. It must give men a quite horrid
idea of women,' said Hermione, delicately.

'No'--Lord Borrodaile spoke with a wise forbearance--'we don't confound
a handful of half-insane females with the whole sex.'

Dick Farnborough was in the middle of a spirited account of that earlier
outbreak in the North--

'She was yelling like a Red Indian, and the policeman carried her out
scratching and spitting----'

'Ugh!' Hermione exchanged looks of horror with Paul Filey.

'Oh, yes,' said Lady John, with disgust, 'we saw all that in the
papers.'

Miss Levering, too, had turned her face away--not as Hermione did, to
summon a witness to her detestation, but rather as one avoiding the eyes
of the men.

'You see,' said Farnborough, with gusto, 'there's something about women's
clothes--_especially_ their hats, you know--they--well, they ain't built
for battle.'

'They ought to wear deer-stalkers,' was Lady Sophia's contribution to
the New Movement.

'It is quite true,' Lady John agreed, 'that a woman in a scrimmage can
never be a heroic figure.'

'No, that's just it,' said Farnborough. 'She's just funny, don't you
know!'

'I don't agree with you about the fun,' Borrodaile objected. 'That's why
I'm glad they've had their lesson. I should say there was almost nothing
more degrading than this public spectacle of----' Borrodaile lifted his
high shoulders higher still, with an effect of intense discomfort. 'It
never but once came my way that I remember, but I'm free to own,' he
said, 'there's nothing that shakes my nerves like seeing a woman
struggling and kicking in a policeman's arms.'

But Farnborough was not to be dissuaded from seeing humour in the
situation.

'They say they swept up a peck of hairpins after the battle!'

As though she had had as much of the subject as she could very well
stand, Miss Levering leaned sideways, put an arm behind her, and took
possession of her boa.

'They're just ending the first act of _Siegfried_. How glad I am to be
in your garden instead of Covent Garden!'

Ordinarily there would have been a movement to take the appreciative
guest for a stroll.

Perhaps it was only chance, or the enervating heat, that kept the
company in their chairs listening to Farnborough--

'The cattiest one of the two, there she stood like this, her clothes
half torn off, her hair down her back, her face the colour of a lobster
and the crowd jeering at her----'

'I don't see how you could stand and look on at such a hideous scene,'
said Miss Levering.

'Oh--I--I didn't! I'm only telling you how Wilkinson described it. He
said----'

'How did Major Wilkinson happen to be there?' asked Lady John.

'He'd motored over from Headquarters to move a vote of thanks to the
chairman. He said he'd seen some revolting things in his time, but the
scrimmage of the stewards and the police with those women----!'
Farnborough ended with an expressive gesture.

'If it was as horrible as that for Major Wilkinson to look on at--what
must it have been for those girls?' It was Miss Levering speaking. She
seemed to have abandoned the hope of being taken for a stroll, and was
leaning forward, chin in hand, looking at the fringe of the teacloth.

Richard Farnborough glanced at her as if he resented the note of
wondering pity in the low tone.

'It's never so bad for the lunatic,' he said, 'as for the sane people
looking on.'

'Oh, I don't suppose _they_ mind,' said Hermione--'women like _that_.'

'It's flattery to call them women. They're sexless monstrosities,' said
Paul Filey.

'You know some of them?' Vida raised her head.

'_I?_' Filey's face was nothing less than aghast at the mere suggestion.

'But you've seen them----?'

'Heaven forbid!'

'But I suppose you've gone and listened to them haranguing the crowds.'

'Now _do_ I look like a person who----'

'Well, you see we're all so certain they're such abominations,' said
Vida, 'I thought maybe some of us knew something about them.'

Dick Farnborough was heard saying to Lord John in a tone of cheerful
vigour--

'Locking up is too good for 'em. I'd give 'em a good thrashin'.'

'Spirited fellow!' said Miss Levering, promptly, with an accent that
brought down a laugh on the young gentleman's head.

He joined in it, but with a _naïf_ uneasiness. What's the matter with
the woman?--his vaguely bewildered face seemed to inquire. After all,
I'm only agreeing with her.

'Few of us have time, I imagine,' said Filey, 'to go and listen to their
ravings.'

As Filey was quite the idlest of men, without the preoccupation of being
a tolerable sportsman or even a player of games, Miss Levering's little
laugh was echoed by others beside Lady Sophia.

'At all events,' said Vida to Lord Borrodaile, as she stood up, and he
drew her chair out of her way, 'even if we don't know much about these
women, we've spent a happy hour denouncing them.'

'Who's going to have a short round before sundown?' said Lady Sophia,
getting up briskly. '_You_, of course, Mr. Filey. Or are you too
"busy"?'

'Say too thirsty. May I?' He carried his cup round to Lady John, not
seeming to see Hermione's hospitable hand held out for it.

In the general shuffle Farnborough found himself carried off by Sophia
and Lord John.

'Who is our fourth?' said Lady Sophia, suddenly.

'Oh, Borrodaile!' Lord John stopped halfway across the lawn and called
back, 'aren't you coming?'

'It's not a bit of use,' said Sophia. 'You'll see. He's safe to sit
there and talk to Miss Levering till the dressing-bell rings.'

'Isn't she a _nice_ creature!' said Lord John. 'I can't think how a
woman like that hasn't got some nice fella to marry her!'

       *       *       *       *       *

'Would you like to see my yellow garden, Vida?' Lady John asked. 'It's
rather glorious at this moment.'

Obvious from the quick lifting of the eyes that the guest was on the
point of welcoming the proposal, had Filey not swallowed his belated cup
of tea with surprising quickness after saying, 'What's a yellow garden?'
in the unmistakable tone of one bent upon enlarging his experience. Lady
John, with all her antennæ out, lost no time in saying to Vida--

'Perhaps you're a little tired. Hermione, you show Mr. Filey the garden.
And maybe, Lord Borrodaile would like to see it, too.'

Although the last-named failed to share the enthusiasm expected in a
gardener, he pulled his long, slackly-put-together figure out of the
chair and joined the young people.

When they were out of earshot, 'What's the matter?' asked Lady John.

'Matter?'

'Yes, what did poor Paul say to make you fall upon him like that?'

'I didn't "fall upon" him, did I?'

'Well, yes, I rather thought you did.'

'Oh, I suppose I--perhaps it did jar on me, just a little, to hear a
cocksure boy----'

'He's not a boy. Paul is over thirty.'

'I was thinking of Dick Farnborough, too--talking about women like that,
before women.'

'Oh, all they meant was----'

'Yes, I know. Of course we _all_ know they aren't accustomed to treating
our sex in general with overmuch respect when there are only men
present--but--do you think it's quite decent that they should be so free
with their contempt of women before us?'

'But, my dear Vida! _That_ sort of woman! Haven't they deserved it?'

'That's just what nobody seems to know. I've sat and listened to
conversations like the one at tea for a week now, and I've said as much
against those women as anybody. Only to-day, somehow, when I heard that
boy--yes, I was conscious I didn't like it.'

'You're behaving exactly as Dr. Johnson did about Garrick. You won't
allow any one to abuse those women but yourself.'

Lady John cleared the whole trivial business away with a laugh.

'Now, be nice to Paul. He's dying to talk to you about his book. Let us
go and join them in the garden. See if you can stand before my yellow
blaze and not feel melted.'

The elder woman and the younger went down the terrace through a little
copse to her ladyship's own area of experimentation. A gate of old
Florentine scrolled iron opened suddenly upon a blaze of yellow in all
the shades from the orange velvet of the wallflower through the shaded
saffron of azalias and a dozen tints of tulip to the palest primrose and
jonquil.

The others were walking round the enclosing grass paths that served as
broad green border, and Filey, who had been in all sorts of queer
places, said the yellow garden made him think of a Mexican serapé--'one
of those silk scarves, you know--native weaving made out of the
pineapple fibre.'

But Vida only said, 'Yes. It's a good scheme of colour.'

She sat on the rustic seat while Lady John explained to Lord Borrodaile,
whose gardens were renowned, how she and Simonson treated this and that
plant to get so fine a result. Filey had lost no time in finding a place
for himself by Miss Levering, while Hermione trailed dutifully round the
garden with the others. Occasionally she looked over her shoulder at the
two on the seat by the sunken wall--Vida leaning back in the corner
motionless, absolutely inexpressive; Filey's eager face bent forward. He
was moving his hands in a way he had learned abroad.

'You were rather annoyed with me,' he was saying. 'I saw that.'

The lady did not deny the imputation.

'But you oughtn't to be. Because you see it's only because my ideal of
woman is'--again that motion of the hands--'_what_ it is, that when I
see her stepping down from her pedestal I----' the hands indicated
consternation, followed hard by cataclysmic ruin. 'Of course, lots of
men don't care. I _do_. I care enormously, and so you must forgive me.
Won't you?' He bent nearer.

'Oh, _I've_ nothing to forgive.'

'I know without your telling me, I feel instinctively, _you_ more than
most people--you'd simply loathe the sort of thing we were talking about
at tea--women yelling and fighting men----'

'Yes--yes, don't go all over that.'

'No, of course I won't,' he said soothingly. 'I can feel it to my very
spine, how you shrink from such horrors.'

Miss Levering, raising her eyes suddenly, caught the look Hermione cast
backward as Lady John halted her party a moment near the pansy-strip in
the gorgeous yellow carpet spread out before them.

'Don't you want to sit down?' Vida called out to the girl, drawing aside
her gown.

'What?' said Hermione, though she had heard quite well. Slowly she
retraced her steps down the grass path as if to have the words repeated.

But if Miss Levering's idea had been to change the conversation, she was
disappointed. There was nothing Paul Filey liked better than an
audience, and he had already the impression that Miss Heriot was what he
would have scorned to call anything but 'simpatica.'

'I'm sure you've shown the new garden to dozens already,' Miss Levering
said to the niece of the house. 'Sit down and confess you've had enough
of it!'

'Oh, I don't think,' began Hermione, suavely, 'that one ever gets too
much of a thing like that!'

'There! I'm glad to hear you say so. How can we have too much beauty!'
exclaimed Filey, receiving the new occupant of the seat as a soul worthy
of high fellowship. Then he leaned across Miss Heriot and said to the
lady in the corner, 'I'm making that the theme of my book.'

'Oh, I heard you were writing something.'

'Yes, a sort of plea for the æsthetic basis of society! It's the only
cure for the horrors of modern civilization--for the very thing we were
talking about at tea! What is it but a loss of the sense of beauty
that's to blame?' Elbows on knees, he leaned so far forward that he
could see both faces, and yet his own betrayed the eye turned
inward--the face of the one who quotes. The ladies knew that he was
obliging them with a memorized extract from 'A Plea for the Æsthetic
Basis.' 'Nothing worse can happen to the world than loss of its sense of
Beauty. Men, high and low alike, cling to it still as incarnated in
women.' (Hermione crossed her pointed toes and lowered her long
eyelashes.) 'We have made Woman the object of our deepest adoration! We
have set her high on a throne of gold. We have searched through the
world for jewels to crown her. We have built millions of temples to our
ideal of womanhood and called them homes. We have fought and wrought and
sung for her--and all we ask in return is that she should tend the
sacred fire, so that the light of Beauty might not die out of the
world.' He was not ill-pleased with his period. 'But women'--he leaned
back, and illustrated with the pliant white hands that were ornamented
with outlandish rings--'women are not content with their high and holy
office.'

'_Some_ women,' amended Hermione, softly.

'There are more and more every day who are not content,' he said
sternly; then, for an instant unbending and craning a little forward,
'Of course I don't mean you--_you_ are exceptions--but of women in the
mass! Look at them! They force their way into men's work, they crowd
into the universities--yes, yes' (in vain Hermione tried to reassure him
by 'exceptions')--'Beauty is nothing to them! They fling aside their
delicate, provocative draperies, they cast off their scented sandals.
They pull on brown boots and bicycling skirts! They put man's yoke of
hard linen round their ivory throats, and they scramble off their
jewelled thrones to mount the rostrum and the omnibus!'

'Why? _Why_ do they?' Vida demanded, laughing. 'Nobody ever tells me
why. I can't believe they're as unselfish as _you_ make out.'

'I!'

'You ought to admire them if they voluntarily give up all those
beautiful things--knowing beforehand they'll only win men's scorn. For
you've always warned them!'

He didn't even hear. 'Ah, Ladies, Ladies!' half laughing, but really
very much in earnest, he apostrophized the peccant sex, 'I should like
to ask, are we men to look upon our homes as dusty din-filled camps on
the field of battle, or as holy temples of Peace? Ah!' He leaned back in
his corner, stretched out his long legs, and thrust his restless hands
in his pockets. 'If they knew!'

'Women?' asked Hermione, with the air of one painstakingly brushing up
crumbs of wisdom.

Paul Filey nodded.

'Knew----?'

'They would see that in the ugly scramble they had let fall their
crowns! If they only knew,' he repeated, 'they would go back to their
thrones, and, with the sceptre of beauty in one hand and the orb of
purity in the other, they would teach men to worship them again.'

'And then?' said Miss Levering.

'Then? Why, men will fall on their knees before them.' As Miss Levering
made no rejoinder, 'What greater victory do women want?' he demanded.

For the first time Miss Levering bent her head forward slightly as
though to see how far he was conscious of the fatuity of his climax. But
his flushed face showed a childlike good faith.

'Eh? Will any one tell me what they _want_?'

'Since you need to ask,' said the gently smiling woman in the corner,
'perhaps there's more need to show than I'd quite realized.'

'I don't think you quite followed,' he began, with an air of
forbearance. 'What I mean is----'

Miss Levering jumped up. 'Lord Borrodaile!' He was standing at the
little iron gate waiting for his hostess, who had stopped to speak to
one of the gardeners. 'Wait a moment!' Vida called, and went swiftly
down the grass path. He had turned and was advancing to meet her. 'No,
come away,' she said under her breath, 'come away quickly'--(safe on the
other side of the gate)--'and talk to me! Tell me about old,
half-forgotten pictures or about young rose trees.'

'Is something the matter?'

'I'm ruffled.'

'Who has ruffled you?' His tone was as serene as it was sympathetic.

'Several people.'

'Why, I thought you were never ruffled.'

'I'm not, often.'

They turned down into a little green aisle between two dense thickets of
rhododendrons.

'It's lucky you are here,' she said irrelevantly.

He glanced at her face.

'It's not luck. It's foresight.'

'Oh, you arranged it? Well, I'm glad.'

'So am I,' he answered quietly. 'We get on rather well together,' he
added, after a moment.

She nodded half absently. 'I feel as if I'd known you for years instead
of for months,' she said.

'Yes, I have rather that feeling, too. Except that I'm always a little
nervous when I meet you again after an interval.'

'Nervous,' she frowned. 'Why nervous?'

'I'm always afraid you'll have some news for me.'

'What news?'

'Oh, the usual thing. That a pleasant friendship is going to be
interrupted if not broken by some one's carrying you off. It would be a
pity, you know.'

'Then you don't agree with Lord John.'

'Oh, I suppose you _ought_ to marry,' he said, with smiling impatience,
'and I'm very sure you will! But I shan't like it'--he wound up with an
odd little laugh--'and neither will you.'

'It's an experiment I shall never try.'

He smiled, but as he glanced at her he grew grave. 'I've heard more than
one young woman say that, but you look as if it might really be so.'

'It is so.'

He waited, and then, switching at the wild hyacinths with his stick--

'Of course,' he said, 'I have no right to suppose you are going to give
me your reasons.'

'No. That's why I shall never even consider marrying--so that I shall
not have to set out my reasons.'

He had never seen that look in her face before. He made an effort to put
aside the trouble of it, saying almost lightly--

'I often wonder why people can't be happy as they are!'

'They think of the future, I suppose.'

'There's no such thing as the future.'

'You can't say there's no such thing as growth. If it's only a garden,
it's natural to like to see life unfolding--that's the future.'

'Yes, in spite of resolutions, you'll be trying the great experiment.'
He said it wearily.

'Why should you mind so?' she asked curiously; 'you are not in love with
me.'

'How do you know?'

'Because you give me such a sense of rest.'

'Thank you.' He caught himself up. 'Or perhaps I should thank my grey
hair.'

'Grey hair doesn't bring the thing I mean. I've sometimes wished it did.
But our friendship is an uncommonly peaceful one, don't you think?'

'Yes; I think it is,' he said. 'All the same, you know there's a touch
of magic in it.' But, as though to condone the confession, 'You haven't
told me why you were ruffled.'

'It's nothing. I dare say I was a little tired.'

They had come out into the park. 'I hurried so to catch the train. My
sister's new coachman is stupid about finding short cuts in London, and
we got blocked by a procession--a horrible sort of demonstration, you
know.'

'Oh, the unemployed.'

'Yes. And I got so tired of leaning out of the window and shouting
directions that I left the maid and the luggage to come later. I got out
of the brougham and ran through a slum, or I'd have lost my train. I
nearly lost it anyway, because I saw a queer picture that made me stop.'
She stopped again at the mere memory of it.

'In a second-hand shop?'

He turned his pointed face to her, and the grey-green eyes wore a gleam
of interest that few things could arouse in their cool depths.

'No, not in a shop.' She stopped and leaned against a tree. 'In the
street. It was a middle-aged workman. When I caught sight of his back
and saw his worn clothes--the coat went up in the middle, and had that
despairing sag on both sides--it crossed my mind, here's another of
those miserable, unemployed wastrels obstructing my way! Then he looked
round and I saw--solid content in his face!' She stopped a moment.

'So he _wasn't_ one of the----'

'Well, I wondered. I couldn't see at first what it was he had looked
round at. Then I noticed he had a rope in his hand, and was dragging
something. As the people who had been between us hurried on I saw--I saw
a child, two or three years old, in a flapping, pink sun-bonnet. He was
sitting astride a toy horse. The horse was clumsily made, and had lost
its tail. But it had its head still, and the board it was mounted on had
fat, wooden rollers. The horse was only about that long, and so near the
ground that, for all his advantage in the matter of rollers, still the
little rider's feet touched the pavement. They even trailed and lurched,
as the horse went on, in that funny, spasmodic gait. The child had to
half walk, or, rather, make the motions--you know, without actually
bearing any of even his own weight. The slack-shouldered man did it all.
I crossed to the other side of the street, and stood and watched them
till, as I say, I nearly lost my train. The dingy workman, smoking
imperturbably, dragging the grotesque, almost hidden, horse--the
delighted child in the flapping sun-bonnet--the crisis when they came to
the crossing! The man turned and called out something. The child
declined to budge. I wondered what would happen. So did the man. He
waited a moment, and puffed smoke and considered. The baby dug his heels
in the pavement and shouted. Then I saw the man carefully tilt the toy
horse up by the rope. I stood and watched the successful surmounting of
the obstacle, and the triumphant progress as before--sun-bonnet
flapping, smoke curling. Of course the man was content! He had lost the
battle. You saw that in his lined face. What did it matter? _He held the
future by a string._'

Lord Borrodaile lifted his eyes and looked at her. Without a word the
two walked on.

The first to speak after the silence was the man. He pointed out a
curious effect of the light, and reminded her who had painted it best--

'Corot could do these things!'--and he flung a stone in passing at the
New Impressionists.

At the Lodge Gate they found Lady John with Filey and Hermione.

'We thought if we walked this way we might meet Jean and her bodyguard.
But I mustn't go any further.' Lady John consulted her watch. 'The rest
of you can take your time, but I have to go and receive my other guest.'

Filey and Hermione were still at the gate. The girl had caught sight of
Farnborough being driven by the park road to the station.

'Oh, I do believe it's the new mare they're trying in the dogcart,' said
Hermione. 'Let's wait and see her go by.'

Borrodaile and his companion kept at Lady John's side.

'I'm glad,' said Vida, 'that I shall at last make acquaintance with your
Jean.'

'Yes; it's odd your never having met, especially as she knows your
cousins at Bishopsmead so well.'

'I've been so little in England----'

'Yes, I know. A great business it is,' Lady John explained to Lord
Borrodaile, 'each time to get that crusty old Covenanter, Jean's
grandfather, to allow her to stay at Bishopsmead. So it's the sadder for
them to have her visit cut short.'

'Why is it cut short?' he asked.

'Because the hostess took to her bed yesterday with a chill, and her
temperature was a hundred and one this afternoon.'

'Really?' said Miss Levering. 'I hadn't heard----'

'She is rather bad, I'm afraid. We are taking over another of her
guests. Of course you know him--Geoffrey Stonor.'

'Taking him over?' Miss Levering repeated.

'Yes; he was originally going to Bishopsmead this week-end, but as he's
been promising for ages to come here, it's been arranged that we should
take him off their hands. Of course we're delighted.'

Miss Levering walked on, between her two companions, looking straight in
front of her. As Lady John, with a glance at her watch, quickened the
pace--

'I'm rather unhappy at what you tell me about my cousin,' said Vida.
'She's a delicate creature.' Then, as though acting on a sudden impulse,
Vida paused. 'You mustn't mind, Lady John, but I shall have to go to
her. Can I have a trap of some sort to take me over?'

She put aside the objections with a gentle but unmistakable decision
that made Lady John say--

'I'm sure I've alarmed you more than there was the least need for. But
the carriage shall wait and bring you back just as soon as you've
satisfied yourself.'

'I can't tell, of course, till I've seen Mary. But may my maid be told
not to unpack----'

'Not unpack!'

'In case I have to send for my things.'

'My _dear_!' Lady John stopped short for very vexation. '_Don't_ desert
us! I've been so congratulating myself on having you, since I knew
Geoffrey Stonor was coming.' Again she glanced nervously at her watch.
'He is due in ten minutes! John won't like it if I'm not there.'

As she was about to hurry on, the other slackened pace. She seemed to be
revolving some further plan.

'Why shouldn't'--she turned suddenly--'why shouldn't the dogcart take me
on after dropping Mr. Farnborough at the station? Yes, that will be
simplest. Mr. Farnborough!' she waved to him as the cart came in sight,
'Wait! Good-bye! Forgive my rushing off, won't you?' she called back
over her shoulder, and then with that swift, light step of hers, she
covered by a short cut the little distance that lay between her and the
lodge gate.

'I wish I'd held my tongue,' said Lady John almost angrily as she
hastened in the opposite direction. Already some sense seemed to reach
her of the hopelessness of expecting Vida's return.

'I didn't _dream_ she cared so much for that dull cousin of hers!'

'Do you think she really does?' said Borrodaile, dryly.



CHAPTER VII


About Vida's little enterprise on a certain Sunday a few weeks later was
an air of elaborate mystery. Yet the expedition was no further than to
Trafalgar Square. It was there that those women, the so-called
'Suffragettes,' in the intervals of making worse public disturbances,
were rumoured to be holding open-air meetings--a circumstance distinctly
fortunate for any one who wanted to 'see what they were like,' and who
was yet unwilling to commit herself by doing anything so eccentric as
publicly to seek admission under any roof known to show hospitality to
'such goings on.' In those days, only a year ago, and yet already such
ancient history that the earlier pages are forgotten and scarce credible
if recalled, it took courage to walk past the knots of facetious
loafers, and the unblushing Suffragette poster, into the hall where the
meetings were held. Deliberately to sit down among odd, misguided
persons in rows, to listen to, and by so much to lend public countenance
to 'women of that sort'--the sort that not only wanted to vote (quaint
creatures!), but were not content with merely wanting to--for the
average conventional woman to venture upon a step so compromising, to
risk seeming for a moment to take these crazy brawlers seriously, was to
lay herself open to 'the comic laugh'--most dreaded of all the weapons
in the social armoury. But it was something wholly different to set out
for a Sunday Afternoon Concert, or upon some normal and recognized
philanthropic errand, and on the way find one's self arrested for a few
minutes by seeing a crowd gathered in a public square. Yet it had not
been easy to screw Mrs. Fox-Moore up to thinking even this non-committal
measure a possible one to pursue. 'What would anybody think,' she had
asked Vida, 'to see them lending even the casual support of a presence
(however ironic) to so reprehensible a spectacle!' Had it not been for
very faith in the eccentricity of the proceeding--one wildly unlikely to
be adopted, Mrs. Fox-Moore felt, by any one else of 'their kind'--she
would never have consented to be drawn into Vida's absurd project.

Of course it was absolutely essential to disguise the object of the
outing from Mr. Fox-Moore. Not merely because with the full weight of
his authority he would most assuredly have forbidden it, but because of
a nervous prefiguring on his wife's part of the particular things he
would say, and the particular way he would look in setting his
extinguisher on the enterprise.

Vida, from the first, had never explained or excused herself to him, so
that when he asked at luncheon what she was going to do with this fine
Sunday afternoon, she had simply smiled, and said, 'Oh, I have a tryst
to keep.'

It was her sister who added anxiously, 'Is Wood leading now at the
Queen's Hall Concerts?' And so, without actually committing herself to a
lie, gave the impression that music was to be their quest.

An hour later, while the old man was nursing his gout by the library
window, he saw the ladies getting into a hansom. In spite of the
inconvenience to his afflicted member he got up and opened the window.

'Don't tell me you're doing anything so rational--you two--as going to a
concert.'

'Why do you say that? You know I never like to take the horses out on
Sunday----'

'Rubbish! You think a dashing, irresponsible hansom is more in keeping
with the Factory Girls' Club or some giddy Whitechapel frivolity!'

Mrs. Fox-Moore gave her sister a look of miserable apprehension; but the
younger woman laughed and waved a hand. She knew that, even more than
the hansom, their 'get up' had given them away. It must be confessed she
had felt quite as strongly as her sister that it wouldn't do to be
recognized at a Suffragette meeting. Even as a nameless 'fine lady'
standing out from a mob of the dowdy and the dirty, to be stared at by
eyes however undiscerning, under circumstances so questionable, would be
distinctly distasteful.

So, reversing the order of Nature, the butterfly had retired into a
'grubby' state. In other words, Vida had put on the plainest of her
discarded mourning-gowns. From a small Tuscan straw travelling-toque,
the new maid, greatly wondering at such instructions, had extracted an
old paste buckle and some violets, leaving it 'not fit to be seen.' In
spite of having herself taken these precautions, Vida had broken into
uncontrollable smiles at the apparition of Mrs. Fox-Moore, asking with
pride--

'Will I do? I look quite like a Woman of the People, don't I?'

The unconscious humour of the manifestation filled Miss Levering with an
uneasy merriment every time she turned her eyes that way.

Little as Mr. Fox-Moore thought of his wife's taste, either in clothes
or in amusements, he would have been more mystified than ever he had
been in his life had he seen her hansom, ten minutes later, stop on the
north side of Trafalgar Square, opposite the National Gallery.

'Look out and see,' she said, retiring guiltily into the corner of the
conveyance. 'Are they there?' And it was plain that nothing could more
have relieved Mrs. Fox-Moore at that moment than to hear 'they' were
not.

But Vida, glancing discreetly out of the side window, had said--

'There? I should think they are--and a crowd round them already. Look at
their banners!' and she laughed as she leaned out and read the legend,
'We demand VOTES FOR WOMEN' inscribed in black letters on the white
ground of two pieces of sheeting stretched each between a pair of
upright poles, standing one on either side of the plinth of Nelson's
column. In the very middle, and similarly supported, was a banner of
blood red. Upon this one, in great white letters, appeared the legend--

    'EFFINGHAM, THE ENEMY
             OF
    WOMEN AND THE WORKERS.'

As Vida read it out--

'_What!_' ejaculated her sister. 'They haven't really got that on a
banner!' And so intrigued was she that, like some shy creature dwelling
in a shell, cautiously she protruded her head out of the shiny, black
sheath of the hansom.

But as she did so she met the innocent eye of a passer-by, tired of
craning his neck to look back at the meeting. With precipitation Mrs.
Fox-Moore withdrew into the innermost recesses of the black shell.

'Come, Janet,' said Vida, who had meanwhile jumped out and settled the
fare.

'Did that man know us?' asked the other, lifting up the flap from the
back window of the hansom and peering out.

'No, I don't think so.'

'He stared, Vida. He certainly stared very hard.'

Still she hesitated, clinging to the friendly shelter of the hansom.

'Oh, come on! He only stared because---- He took you for a Suffragette!'
But the indiscretion lit so angry a light in the lady's eye, that Vida
was fain to add, 'No, no, do come--and I'll tell you what he was really
looking at.'

'What?' said Mrs. Fox-Moore, putting out her head again.

'He was struck,' said Vida, biting her lip to repress smiles, 'by the
hat of the Woman of the People.'

But the lady was too entirely satisfied with her hat to mind Vida's
poking fun at it.

'"Effingham, the Enemy!"' Mrs. Fox-Moore read for herself as they
approached the flaunting red banner. 'How perfectly outrageous!'

'How perfectly _silly_!' amended the other, 'when one thinks of that
kind and charming Pillar of Excellence!'

'I told you they were mad as well as bad.'

'I know; and now we're going to watch them prove it. Come on.'

'Why, they've stopped the fountains!' Mrs. Fox-Moore spoke as though
detecting an additional proof of turpitude. 'Those two policemen,' she
went on, in a whisper, 'why are they looking at _us_ like that?'

Vida glanced at the men. Their eyes were certainly fixed on the two
ladies in a curious, direct fashion, not exactly impudent, but still in
a way no policeman had ever looked at either of them before. A coolly
watchful, slightly contemptuous stare, interrupted by one man turning to
say something to the other, at which both grinned. Vida was conscious of
wishing that she had come in her usual clothes--above all, that Janet
had not raked out that 'jumble sale' object she had perched on her head.

The wearer of the incriminatory hat, acting upon some quite unanalyzed
instinct to range herself unmistakably on the side of law and order,
paused as they were passing the two policemen and addressed them with
dignity.

'Is it safe to stop and listen for a few minutes to these people?'

The men looked at Mrs. Fox-Moore with obvious suspicion.

'I cawn't say,' said the one nearest.

'Do you expect any trouble?' she demanded.

There was a silence, and then the other policeman said with a decidedly
snubby air--

'It ain't our business to go _lookin'_ fur trouble;' and he turned his
eyes away.

'Of course not,' said Vida, pleasantly, coming to her sister's rescue.
'All this lady wants to be assured of is that there are enough of you
present to make it safe----'

'If ladies wants to be safe,' said number one, 'they'd better stop in
their 'omes.'

'That's the first rude policeman I ever----' began Mrs. Fox-Moore, as
they went on.

'Well, you know he's only echoing what we all say.'

Vida was looking over the crowd to where on the plinth of the historic
column the little group of women and a solitary man stood out against
the background of the banners. Here they were--these new Furies that
pursued the agreeable men one sat by at dinner--men who, it was well
known, devoted their lives--when they weren't dining--to the welfare of
England. But were these frail, rather depressed-looking women--were they
indeed the ones, outrageously daring, who broke up meetings and bashed
in policemen's helmets? Nothing very daring in their aspect to-day--a
little weary and preoccupied they looked, as they stood up there in twos
and threes, talking to one another in that exposed position of theirs,
while from time to time about their ears like spent bullets flew the
spasmodic laughter and rude comment of the crowd--strangely unconscious,
those 'blatant sensation-mongers,' of the thousand eyes and the sea of
upturned faces!

'Not _quite_ what I expected!' said Mrs. Fox-Moore, with an unmistakable
accent of disappointment. It was plainly her meaning that to a general
reprehensibleness, dulness was now superadded.

'Perhaps these are not the ones,' said Vida, catching at hope.

Mrs. Fox-Moore took heart. 'Suppose we find out,' she suggested.

They had penetrated the fringe of a gathering composed largely of weedy
youths and wastrel old men. A few there were who looked like decent
artizans, but more who bore the unmistakable aspect of the beery
out-of-work. Among the strangely few women, were two or three girls of
the domestic servant or Strand Restaurant cashier class--wearers of the
cheap lace blouse and the wax bead necklace.

Mrs. Fox-Moore, forgetting some of her reluctance now that she was on
the spot, valiantly followed Vida as the younger woman threaded her way
among the constantly increasing crowd. Just in front of where the two
came to a final standstill was a quiet-looking old man with a lot of
unsold Sunday papers under one arm and wearing like an apron the bill of
the _Sunday Times_. Many of the boys and young men were smoking
cigarettes. Some of the older men had pipes. Mrs. Fox-Moore commented on
the inferior taste in tobacco as shown by the lower orders. But she,
too, kept her eyes glued to the figures up there on the plinth.

'They've had to get men to hold up their banners for them,' laughed
Vida, as though she saw a symbolism in the fact, further convicting
these women of folly.

'But there's a well-dressed man--that one who isn't holding up anything
that I can see--what on earth is _he_ doing there?'

'Perhaps he'll be upholding something later.'

'Going to speak, you mean?'

'It may be a debate. Perhaps he's going to present the other side.'

'Well, if he does, I hope he'll tell them plainly what he thinks of
them.'

She said it quite distinctly for the benefit of the people round her.
Both ladies were still obviously self-conscious, occupied with the need
to look completely detached, to advertise: '_I'm_ not one of them! Never
think it!' But it was gradually being borne in upon them that they need
take no further trouble in this connection. Nobody in the crowd noticed
any one except 'those ordinary looking persons,' as Mrs. Fox-Moore
complainingly called them, up there on the plinth--'quite like what one
sees on the tops of omnibuses!' Certainly it was an exercise in
incongruity to compare these quiet, rather depressed looking people with
the vision conjured up by Lord John's 'raving lunatics,' 'worthy of the
straight jacket,' or Paul Filey's 'sexless monstrosities.'

'It's rather like a jest that promised very well at the beginning, only
the teller has forgotten the point. Or else,' Vida added, looking at the
face of one of the women up there--'or else the mistake was in thinking
it a jest at all!' She turned away impatiently and devoted her attention
to such scraps of comment as she could overhear in the crowd--or such,
rather, as she could understand.

'That one--that's just come--yes, in the blue tam-o'-shanter, that's the
one I was tellin' you about,' said a red-haired man, with a cheerful and
rubicund face.

'_Looks_ like she'd be 'andy with her fists, don't she?' contributed a
friend alongside. The boys in front and behind laughed appreciatively.

But the ruddy man said, 'Fists? No. _She's_ the one wot carries the
dog-whip;' and they all craned forward with redoubled interest. It is
sad to be obliged to admit that the two ladies did precisely the same.

While the boys were, in addition, cat-calling and inquiring about the
dog-whip--

'That must be the woman the papers have been full of,' Mrs. Fox-Moore
whispered, staring at the new-comer with horrified eyes.

'Yes, no doubt.' Vida, too, scrutinized her more narrowly.

The wearer of the 'Tam' was certainly more robust-looking than the
others, but even she had the pallor of the worker in the town. She
carried her fine head and shoulders badly, like one who has stooped over
tasks at an age when she should have been running about the fields. She
drew her thick brows together every now and then with an effect of
determination that gave her well-chiselled features so dark and
forbidding an aspect it was a surprise to see the grace that swept into
her face when, at something one of her comrades said, she broke into a
smile. Two shabby men on Vida's left were working themselves into a fine
state of moral indignation over the laxity of the police in allowing
these women to air their vanity in public.

'Comin' here with tam-o'-shanters to tell us 'ow to do our business.'

'It's part o' wot I mean w'en I s'y old England's on the down gryde.'

'W'ich is the one in black--this end?' his companion asked, indicating
a refined-looking woman of forty or so. 'Is that Miss----?'

'Miss,' chipped in a young man of respectable appearance just behind.
'_Miss?_ Why, that's the mother o' the Gracchi,' and there was a little
ripple of laughter.

'Hasn't she got any of her jewels along with her to-day?' said another
voice.

'What do they mean?' demanded Mrs. Fox-Moore.

Vida shook her head. She herself was looking about for some one to ask.

'Isn't it queer that you and I have lived all this time in the world and
have never yet been in a mixed crowd before in all our lives?--never _as
a part of it_.'

'I think myself it's less strange we haven't done it before than that
we're doing it now. There's the woman selling things. Let us ask
her----'

They had noticed before a faded-looking personage who had been going
about on the fringe of the crowd with a file of propagandist literature
on her arm. Vida beckoned to her. She made her way with some difficulty
through the chaffing, jostling horde, saying steadily and with a kind of
cheerful doggedness--

'Leaflets! Citizenship of Women, by Lothian Scott! Labour Record! Prison
Experiences of Miss----'

'How much?' asked Miss Levering.

'What you like,' she answered.

Miss Levering took her change out in information. 'Can you tell me who
the speakers are?'

'Oh, yes.' The haggard face brightened before the task. 'That one is the
famous Miss Claxton.'

'With her face screwed up?'

'That's because the sun is in her eyes.'

'She isn't so bad-looking,' admitted Mrs. Fox-Moore.

'No; but just wait till she speaks!' The faded countenance of the woman
with the heavy pile of printed propaganda on her arm was so lit with
enthusiasm, that it, too, was almost good-looking, in the same way as
the younger, more regular face up there, frowning at the people, or the
sun, or the memory of wrongs.

'Is Miss Claxton some relation of yours?' asked Mrs. Fox-Moore.

'No, oh, no, I don't even know her. She hasn't been out of prison long.
The man in grey--he's Mr. Henry.'

'Out of prison! And Henry's the chairman, I suppose.'

'No; the chairman is the lady in black.' The pamphlet-seller turned away
to make change for a new customer.

'Do you mean the mother of the Gracchi?' said Vida, at a venture, and
saw how if she herself hadn't understood the joke the lady with the
literature did. She laughed good-humouredly.

'Yes; that's Mrs. Chisholm.'

'What!' said a decent-looking but dismal sort of shopman just behind,
'is that the mother of those dreadful young women?'

Neither of the two ladies were sufficiently posted in the nefarious
goings on of the 'dreadful' progeny quite to appreciate the bystander's
surprise, but they gazed with renewed interest at the delicate face.

'What can the man mean! She doesn't _look_----' Mrs. Fox-Moore
hesitated.

'No,' Vida helped her out with a laughing whisper; 'I agree she doesn't
_look_ big enough or bad enough or old enough or bold enough to be the
mother of young women renowned for their dreadfulness. But as soon as
she opens her mouth no doubt we'll smell the brimstone. I wish she'd
begin her raging. Why are they waiting?'

'It's only five minutes past,' said the lady with the literature. 'I
think they're waiting for Mr. Lothian Scott. He's ill. But he'll come!'
As though the example of his fidelity to the cause nerved her to more
earnest prosecution of her own modest duty, she called out, 'Leaflets!
Citizenship of Women, by Lothian Scott!'

'Wot do they give ye,' inquired a half-tipsy tramp, 'fur 'awkin' that
rot about?'

She turned away quite unruffled. 'Citizenship of Women, one penny.'

'I hope you _do_ get paid for so disagreeable a job--forgive my saying
so,' said Vida.

'Paid? Oh, no!' she said cheerfully. 'I'm too hard at work all week to
help much. And I can't speak, so I do this. Leaflets! Citizenship----'

'Is that pinched-looking creature at the end,'--Mrs. Fox-Moore detained
the pamphlet-seller to point out a painfully thin, eager little figure
sitting on the ledge of the plinth and looking down with anxious eyes at
the crowd--'is that one of them?'

'Oh, yes. I thought everybody knew _her_. That's Miss Mary O'Brian.'

She spoke the name with an accent of such protecting tenderness that
Vida asked--

'And who is Miss Mary O'Brian?' But the pamphlet-seller had descried a
possible customer, and was gone.

'Mary O'Brian,' said a blear-eyed old man, 'is the one that's just come
out o' quod.'

'Oh, thank you.' Then to her sister Vida whispered, 'What is quod?'

But Mrs. Fox-Moore could only shake her head. Even when they heard the
words these strange fellow-citizens used, meaning often failed to
accompany sound.

'Oh, is _that_ Mary?' A rollicking young rough, with his hat on the
extreme back of his head, began to sing, 'Molly Darling.'

''Ow'd yer like the skilly?' another shouted up at the girl.

'Skilly?' whispered Mrs. Fox-Moore.

Vida in turn shook her head. It wasn't in the dictionary of any language
she knew. But it seemed in some way to involve dishonour, for the
chairman, who had been consulting with the man in grey, turned suddenly
and faced the crowd. Her eyes were shining with the light of battle, but
what she said in a peculiarly pleasant voice was--

'Miss O'Brian has come here for the express purpose of telling you how
she liked it.'

'Oh, she's going to tell us all about it. 'Ow _nice_!' But they let the
thin little slip of a girl alone after that.

It was a new-comer, a few moments later who called out from the fringe
of the crowd--

'I say, Mary, w'en yer get yer rights will y' be a perliceman?' Even the
tall, grave guardians of the peace ranged about the monument, even they
smiled at the suggested image.

After all, it might not be so uninteresting to listen to these people
for a few minutes. It wasn't often that life presented such an
opportunity. It probably would never occur again. These women on the
plinth must be not alone of a different world, but of a different clay,
since they not only did not shrink from disgracing themselves--women
had been capable of that before--but these didn't even mind ridicule.
Which was new.

Just then the mother of the Gracchi came to the edge of the plinth to
open the meeting.

'Friends!' she began. The crowd hooted that proposition to start with.
But the pale woman with the candid eyes went on as calmly as though she
had been received with polite applause, telling the jeering crowd
several things they certainly had not known before, that, among other
matters, they were met there to pass a censure on the Government----

'Haw! haw!'

''Ear, 'ear!' said the deaf old newsvendor, with his free hand up to his
ear.

'And to express our sympathy with the brave women----'

The staccato cries throughout the audience dissolved into one general
hoot; but above it sounded the old newsvendor's ''Ear, 'ear!'

''E can't 'ear without 'e shouts about it.'

'Try and keep _yerself_ quiet,' said he, with dignity. 'We ain't 'ere to
'ear _you_.'

'----sympathy with the brave women,' the steady voice went on, 'who are
still in prison.'

'Serve 'em jolly well right!'

'Give the speaker a chaunce, caun't ye?' said the newsvendor, with a
withering look.

It was plain this old gentleman was an unblushing adherent to the cause
(undismayed by being apparently the only one in that vicinity), ready to
cheer the chairman at every juncture, and equally ready to administer
caustic reproof to her opponents.

'Our friends who are in prison, are there simply for trying to bring
before a member of the Government----'

'Good old Effingham. Three cheers for Effingham!'

'Oh, yes,' said the newsvendor, 'go on! 'E needs a little cheerin',
awfter the mess 'e's made o' things!'

'For trying to put before a member of the Government a statement of the
injustice----'

'_That_ ain't why they're in gaol. It's fur ringin' wot's-'is-name's
door-bell.'

'Kickin' up rows in the street----'

'Oh, you shut up,' says the old champion, out of patience. 'You've 'ad
'arf a pint too much.'

Everybody in the vicinity was obliged to turn and look at the youth to
see what proportion of the charge was humour and how much was fact. The
youth resented so deeply the turn the conversation had taken that he
fell back for a moment on bitter silence.

'When you go to call on some one,' the chairman was continuing, with the
patient air of one instructing a class in a kindergarten, 'it is the
custom to ring the bell. What do you suppose a door-bell is for? Do you
think our deputation should have tried to get in without ringing at the
door?'

'They 'adn't no business goin' to 'is private 'ouse.'

'Oh, look 'ere, just take that extry 'arf pint outside the meetin' and
cool off, will yer?'

It was the last time that particular opponent aired his views. The old
man's judicious harping on the ''arf pint' induced the ardent youth to
moderate his political transports. They were not rightly valued, it
appeared. After a few more mutterings he took his 'extry 'alf pint' into
some more congenial society. But there were several others in the crowd
who had come similarly fortified, and they were everywhere the most
audible opponents. But above argument, denial, abuse, steadily in that
upper air the clear voice kept on--

'Do you think they _wanted_ to go to his house? Haven't you heard that
they didn't do that until they had exhausted every other means to get a
hearing?'

To the shower of denial and objurgation that greeted this, she said with
uplifted hand--

'Stop! Let me tell you about it.'

The action had in it so much of authority that (as it seemed, to their
own surprise) the interrupters, with mouths still open, suspended
operations for a moment.

'Why, this is a woman of education! What on earth is a person like that
doing in this _galère_?' Vida asked, as if Mrs. Fox-Moore might be able
to enlighten her. 'Can't she see--even if there were anything in the
"Cause," as she calls it--what an imbecile waste of time it is talking
to these louts?'

'There's a good many voters here,' said a tall, gloomy-looking
individual, wearing a muffler in lieu of a collar. 'She's politician
enough to know that.'

Mrs. Fox-Moore looked through the man. 'The only reassuring thing I see
in the situation,' she said to her sister, 'is that they don't find many
women to come and listen to their nonsense.'

'Well, they've got you and me! Awful thought! Suppose they converted
us!'

Mrs. Fox-Moore didn't even trouble to reply to such levity. What was
interesting was the discovery that this 'chairman,' before an audience
so unpromising, not only held her own when she was interrupted and
harassed by the crowd--even more surprising she bore with the most
recalcitrant members of it--tried to win them over, and yet when they
were rude, did not withhold reproof, and at times looked down upon them
with so fine a scorn that it seemed as if even those ruffianly young men
felt the edge of it. Certainly a curious sight--this well-bred woman
standing there in front of the soaring column, talking with grave
passion to those loafers about the 'Great Woman Question,' and they
treating it as a Sunday afternoon street entertainment.

The next speaker was a working woman, the significance of whose
appearance in that place and in that company was so little apprehended
by the two ladies in the crowd that they agreed in laughingly
commiserating the chairman for not having more of her own kind to back
her up in her absurd contention. Though the second speaker merely bored
the two who, having no key either to her pathos or her power, saw
nothing but 'low cockney effrontery' in her effort, she nevertheless had
a distinct success with the crowd. Here was somebody speaking their own
language--they paid her the tribute of their loudest hoots mixed with
applause. She never lost her hold on them until the appearance on the
plinth of a grave, rugged, middle-aged man in a soft hat.

'That's 'im!'

'Yes. Lothian Scott!'

Small need for the chairwoman to introduce the grey man with the
northern burr in his speech, and the northern turn for the
uncompromising in opinion. Every soul there save the two 'educated'
ladies knew this was the man who had done more to make the Labour Party
a political force to be reckoned with than any other creature in the
three kingdoms. Whether he was conscious of having friends in a
gathering largely Tory (as lower-class crowds still are), certainly he
did not spare his enemies.

During the first few minutes of a speech full of Socialism, Mrs.
Fox-Moore (stirred to unheard-of expressiveness) kept up a low, running
comment--

'Oh, of _course_! He says that to curry favour with the mob--a rank
demagogue, this man! Such pandering to the populace!' Then, turning
sharply to her companion, '_He wants votes!_' she said, as though
detecting in him a taste unknown among the men in her purer circle. 'Oh,
no doubt he makes a very good thing out of it! Going about filling the
people's heads with revolutionary ideas! Monstrous wickedness, _I_ call
it, stirring up class against class! I begin to wonder what the police
are thinking about.' She looked round uneasily.

The excitement had certainly increased as the little grey politician
denounced the witlessness of the working-class, and when they howled at
him, went on to expound a trenchant doctrine of universal
Responsibility, which preceded the universal Suffrage that was to come.
Much of what he said was drowned in uproar. It had become clear that his
opinions revolted the majority of his hearers even more than they did
the two ladies. So outraged were the sensibilities of the hooligan and
the half-drunk that they drowned as much of the speech as they were able
in cat-calls and jeers. But enough still penetrated to ears polite not
only to horrify, but to astonish them--such force has the spoken word
above even its exaggeration in cold print.

The ladies had read--sparingly, it is true--that these things were said,
but to _hear_ them!

'He doesn't, after all, seem to be saying what the mob wants to hear,'
said the younger woman.

'No; mercifully the heart of the country is still sound!'

But for one of these two out of the orderlier world, the opposition that
the 'rank demagogue' roused in the mob was to light a lamp whereby she
read wondering the signs of an unsuspected bond between Janet Fox-Moore
and the reeking throng.

When, contrary to the old-established custom of the demagogue, the
little politician in homespun had confided to the men in front of him
what he thought of them, he told them that the Woman's Movement which
they held themselves so clever for ridiculing, was in much the same
position to-day as the Extension of Suffrage for men was in '67. Had it
not been for demonstrations (beside which the action that had lodged the
women in gaol was innocent child's play), neither he, the speaker, nor
any of the men in front of him would have the right to vote to-day.

'You ridicule and denounce these women for trying peacefully--yes, I say
_peacefully_--to get their rights as citizens. Do you know what our
fathers did to get ours? They broke down Hyde Park railings, they burnt
the Bristol Municipal Buildings, they led riots, and they shed blood.
These women have hurt nobody.'

'What about the policeman?'

He went on steadily, comparing the moderation of the women with the
red-hot violence of their Chartist forbears--till one half-drunken
listener, having lost the thread, hiccuped out--

'Can't do nothin'--them women. Even after we've showed 'em _'ow_!'

'Has he got his history right?' Vida asked through her smiling at the
last sally. 'Not that it applies, of course,' she was in haste to add.

'Oh, what does it matter?' Her sister waved it aside. 'An unscrupulous
politician hasn't come here to bother about little things like facts.'

'I don't think I altogether agree with you _there_. That man may be a
fanatic, but he's honest, I should say. Those Scotch peasants, you
know----'

'Oh, because he's rude, and talks with a burr, you think he's a sort of
political Thomas Carlyle?'

Though Vida smiled at the charge, something in her alert air as she
followed the brief recapitulation of the Chartist story showed how an
appeal to justice, or even to pity, may fail, where the rousing of some
dim sense of historical significance (which is more than two-thirds
fear), may arrest and even stir to unsuspected deeps. The grave
Scotsman's striking that chord even in a mind as innocent as Vida's, of
accurate or ordered knowledge of the past, even here the chord could
vibrate to a strange new sense of possible significance in this scene
'----after all.' It would be queer, it would be horrible, it was
fortunately incredible, but what if, 'after all,' she were ignorantly
assisting at a scene that was to play its part in the greatest
revolution the world had seen? Some such mental playing with
possibilities seemed to lurk behind the intent reflective face.

'There are far too many voters already,' her sister had flung out.

'Yes--yes, a much uglier world they want to make!'

But in the power to make history--if these people indeed had that, then
indeed might they be worth watching--even if it were only after one good
look to hide the eyes in dismay. That possibility of historic
significance had suddenly lifted the sordid exhibition to a different
plane.

As the man, amid howls, ended his almost indistinguishable peroration,
the unmoved chairman stepped forward again to try to win back for the
next speaker that modicum of quiet attention which he, at all events,
had the art of gaining and of keeping. As she came forward this time one
of her auditors looked at the Woman Leader in the Crusade with new
eyes--not with sympathy, rather with a vague alarm. Vida Levering's air
of almost strained attention was an unconscious public confession: 'I
haven't understood these strange women; I haven't understood the spirit
of the mob that hoots the man we know vaguely for their champion; I
haven't understood the allusions nor the argot that they talk; I can't
check the history that peasant has appealed to. In the midst of so much
that is obscure, it is meet to reserve judgment.' Something of that
might have been read in the look lifted once or twice as though in
wonderment, above the haggard group up there between the guardian lions,
beyond even the last reach of the tall monument, to the cloudless sky of
June. Was the great shaft itself playing a part in the impression? Was
it there not at all for memory of some battle long ago, but just to mark
on the fair bright page of afternoon a huge surprise? What lesser accent
than just this Titanic exclamation point could fitly punctuate the
record of so strange a portent!--women confronting the populace of the
mightiest city in the world--pleading in her most public place their
right to a voice in her affairs.

In the face of this unexpected mood of receptivity, however unwilling,
came a sharp corrective in the person of the next speaker.

'Oh, it's not going to be one that's been to prison!'

'Oh, dear! It's the one with the wild black hair and the awful "picture
hat"!' But they stared for a few moments as if, in despite of
themselves, fascinated by this lady be-feathered, be-crimped, and
be-ringed, wearing her huge hat cocked over one ear with a defiant
coquetry above a would-be conquering smile. The unerring wits in the
crowd had already picked her out for special attention, but her active
'public form' was even more torturing to the fastidious feminine sense
than her 'stylish' appearance. For her language, flowery and
grandiloquent, was excruciatingly genteel, one moment conveyed by minced
words through a pursed mouth, and the next carried away on a turgid tide
of rhetoric--the swimmer in this sea of sentiment flinging out
braceleted arms, and bawling appeals to the '_Wim--men--nof--Vinglund!_'
The crowd howled with derisive joy.

All the same, when they saw she had staying power, and a kind of
Transpontine sense of drama in her, the populace mocked less and
applauded more. Why not? She was very much like an overblown Adelphi
heroine, and they could see her act for nothing. But every time she
apostrophized the '_Wim--men--nof--Vinglund!_' two of those same gave
way to overcharged feelings.

'Oh, my dear, I can't stand this! I'm going home!'

'Yes, yes. Let's get away from this terrible female. I suppose they keep
back the best speakers for the last.'

The two ladies turned, and began to edge their way out of the tightly
packed mass of humanity.

'It's rather a pity, too,' said Mrs. Fox-Moore, looking back, 'for this
is the only chance we'll ever have. I did want to hear what the skilly
was.'

'Yes, and about the dog-whip.'

'Skilly! Sounds as if it might be what she hit the policeman with.' Mrs.
Fox-Moore was again pausing to look back. 'That gyrating female is more
what I expected them _all_ to be.'

'Yes; but just listen to that.'

'To what?'

'Why, the way they're applauding her.'

'Yes, they positively revel in the creature!'

It was a long, tiresome business this worming their way out. They paused
again and again two or three times, looking back at the scene with a
recurrent curiosity, and each time repelled by the platform graces of
the lady who was so obviously enjoying herself to the top of her bent.
Yet even after the fleeing twain arrived on the fringe of the greatly
augmented crowd, something even then prevented their instantly making
the most of their escape. They stood criticizing and denouncing.

Again Mrs. Fox-Moore said it was a pity, since they were there, that
they should have to go without hearing one of those who had been in
prison, 'For we'll never have another chance.'

'Perhaps,' said her sister, looking back at the gesticulating
figure--'perhaps we're being a little unreasonable. We were annoyed at
first because they weren't what we expected, and when we get what we
came to see, we run away.'

While still they lingered, with a final fling of arms and toss of
plumes, the champion of the women of England sat down in the midst of
applause.

'You hear? It's all very well. Most of them simply loved it.'

And now the chairman, in a strikingly different style, was preparing the
way for the next speaker, at mention of whom the crowd seemed to feel
they'd been neglecting their prerogative of hissing.

'What name did she say? Why do they make that noise?'

The two ladies began to worm their way back; but this was a different
matter from coming out.

'Wot yer doin'?' some one inquired sternly of Mrs. Fox-Moore.

Another turned sharply, 'Look out! Oo yer pushin', old girl?'

The horrid low creatures seemed to have no sense of deference. And the
stuff they smoked!

'Pah!' observed Mrs. Fox-Moore, getting the full benefit of a noxious
puff. '_Pah!_'

'_Wot!_' said the smoker, turning angrily. 'Pah to you, miss!' He eyed
Mrs. Fox-Moore from head to foot with a withering scorn. 'Comin' 'ere
awskin' us fur votes' (Vida nearly fainted), 'and ain't able to stand a
little tobacco.'

'Stand in front, Janet,' said Miss Levering, hastily recovering herself.
'_I_ don't mind smoke,' she said mendaciously, trying to appease the
defiler of the air with a little smile. Indeed, the idea of Mrs.
Fox-Moore having come to 'awsk' this person for a vote was sufficiently
quaint.

'This is the sort of thing they mean, I suppose,' said that lady, 'when
they talk about cockney humour. It doesn't appeal to me.'

Vida bit her lip. Her own taste was less pure. 'We needn't try to get
any nearer,' she said hastily. 'This chairman-person can make herself
heard without screeching.'

But having lost the key during the passage over the pipe, they could
only make out that she was justifying some one to the mob, some one who
apparently was coming in for too much sharp criticism for the chairman
to fling her to the wolves without first diverting them a little. The
battle of words that ensued was almost entirely unintelligible to the
two ladies, but they gathered, through means more expressive than
speech, that the chairman was dealing with some sort of crisis in the
temper of the meeting, brought about by the mention of a name.

The only thing clear was that she was neither going to give in, nor
going to turn over the meeting in a state of ferment to some less
practised hand.

'Yes, she did! She had a perfect right,' the chairman maintained against
a storm of noes--'more than a right, _a duty_, to perform in going with
that deputation on public business to the house of a public servant,
since, unlike the late Prime Minister, he had refused to women all
opportunity to treat with him through the usual channels always open to
citizens having a political grievance.'

'Citizens? Suffragettes!'

'Very well.' She set her mouth. 'Suffragettes if you like. To get an
abuse listened to is the first thing; to get it understood is the next.
Rather than not have our cause stand out clear and unmistakable before a
preoccupied, careless world, we accept the clumsy label; we wear it
proudly. And it won't be the first time in history that a name given in
derision has become a badge of honour!'

Why, the woman's eyes were suffused!--a flush had mounted up to her
hair!

How she cared!

'Yer ain't told us the reason ye _want_ the vote.'

'Reason? Why, she's a woman!'

'Haw! haw!'

The speaker had never paused an instant, but--it began to be clear that
she heard any interruption it suited her to hear.

'Some one asking, at this time of day, why women want the vote? Why, for
exactly the same reason that you men do. Because, not having any voice
in public affairs, our interests are neglected; and since woman's
interests are man's, all humanity suffers. We want the vote, because
taxation without representation is tyranny; because the laws as they
stand bear hardly on women; and because those unfair, man-made laws will
never be altered till women have a share in electing the men who control
legislation.'

'Yer ought ter leave politics to us----'

'We can't leave politics to the men, because politics have come into the
home, and if the higher interests of the home are to be served, women
must come into politics.'

'That's a bad argument!'

'Wot I always say is----'

'Can't change nature. Nature says----'

'Let 'er st'y at 'ome and mind 'er business!'

The interjections seemed to come all at once. The woman bent over the
crowd. Nothing misty in her eyes now--rather a keener light than before.

'Don't you see,' she appealed to them as equals--'don't you see that in
your improvement of the world you men have taken women's business out of
her home? In the old days there was work and responsibility enough for
woman without going outside her own gate. The women were the bakers and
brewers, the soap and candle-makers, the loom-workers of the world. You
men,' she said, delicately flattering them, '_you_ have changed all
that. You have built great factories and warehouses and mills. But how
do you keep them going? By calling women to come in their thousands and
help you. But women love their homes. You couldn't have got these women
out of their homes without the goad of poverty. You men can't always
earn enough to keep the poor little home going, so the women work in the
shops, they swarm at the mill gates, and the factories are full.'

'True! True, every blessed word!' said the old newsvendor.

'Hush!' she said. 'Don't interrupt. In taking women's business out of
the home you haven't freed her from the need to see after the business.
The need is greater than ever it was. Why, eighty-two per cent of the
women of this country are wage-earning women! Yet, you go on foolishly
echoing: Woman's place is at home.'

'True! True!' said the aged champion, unabashed.

'Then there are those men, philanthropists, statesmen, who believe they
are safeguarding the interests of women by making laws restricting their
work, and so restricting their resources without ever consulting these
women. If they consulted these women, they would hear truths that would
open their blind eyes. But no, the woman isn't worthy of being
consulted. She is worthy to do the highest work given to humanity, to
bear and to bring up children; she is worthy to teach and to train them;
she is worthy to pay the taxes that she has no voice in levying. If she
breaks the law that she has no share in making, she is worth hanging,
but she is not worth consulting about her own affairs--affairs of
supremest importance to her very existence--affairs that no man, however
great and good, can understand so well as she. She will never get
justice until she gets the vote. Even the well-to-do middle-class
woman----'

'Wot are _you_?'

'And even the woman of what are called the upper classes--even she must
wince at the times when men throw off the mask and let her see how in
their hearts they despise her. A few weeks ago Mr. Lothian Scott----'

'Boo! Boo!'

'Hooray!'

''ray for Lothian Scott!'

In the midst of isolated cheers and a volume of booing, she went on--

'When he brought a resolution before the House of Commons to remove the
sex disqualification, what happened?'

'Y' kicked up a row!'

'Lot o' yer got jugged!'

'The same thing happened that has been happening for half a century
every time the question comes up in that English Parliament that
Englishmen are supposed to think of with such respect as a place of
dignity. What _happened_?' She leaned forward and her eyes shone. 'What
happened in that sacred place, that Ark where they safeguard the honour
of England? What happened to _our_ honour, that these men dare tell us
is so safe in their hands? Our cause was dragged through filth. The very
name "woman" was used as a signal for jests and ribald laughter, and for
such an exhibition of sex rancour and mistrust that it passed
imagination to think what the mothers and wives of the members must
think of the public confession of the deep disrespect their menfolk feel
for them. Some one here spoke of "a row."' She threw back her head, and
faced the issue as though she knew that by bringing it forward herself,
she could turn the taunt against the next speaker into a title of
respect. 'You blame us for making a scene in that holy place! You would
have us imitate those other women--the well-behaved--the women who think
more of manners than of morals. There they were--for an example to
us--that night of the debate, that night of the "row"--there they sat as
they have always done, like meek mute slaves up there in their little
gilded pen, ready to listen to any insult, ready to smile on the men
afterward. In only one way, but it was an important exception, in just
one way that debate on Woman Suffrage differed from any other that had
ever taken place in the House of Commons.'

A voice in the crowd was raised, but before the jeer was out Mrs.
Chisholm had flung down her last ringing sentences.

'There were _others_ up there in the little pen that night!--women,
too--but women with enough decency to be revolted, and with enough
character to resent such treatment as the members down there on the
floor of the House were giving to our measure. Though the women who
ought to have felt it most sat there cowed and silent, I am proud to
think there were other women who cried out, "_Shame!_" Yes, yes,' she
interrupted the interrupters, 'those women were dragged away to prison,
and all the world was aghast. But I tell you that cry was the beginning
of a new chapter in human history. It began with "Shame!" but it will
end with "Honour."'

The old newsvendor led the applause.

'Janet! That woman never spat in a policeman's face.'

'Pull down your veil,' was the lady's sharp response. 'Quick----'

'My----'

'Yes, pull it down, and don't turn round.'

A little dazed by the red-hot torrent the woman on the plinth was still
pouring down on the people, Vida's mind at the word 'veil,' so
peremptorily uttered, reverted by some trick of association to the
Oriental significance of that mark in dress distinctively the woman's.

'Why should I pull down my veil?' she answered abstractedly.

'They're looking this way. Don't turn round. Come, come.'

With a surprising alacrity and skill Mrs. Fox-Moore made her way out of
the throng. Vida, following, yet looking back, heard--

'Now, I want you men to give a fair hearing to a woman who----'

'Vida, _don't_ look! Mercifully, they're too much amused to notice us.'

Disobeying the mandate, the younger woman's eyes fell at last upon the
figures of two young men hovering on the outer circle. The sun caught
their tall, glossy hats, played upon the single flower in the frock
coat, struck on the eyeglass, and gleamed mockingly on the white teeth
of the one who smiled the broadest as they both stood, craning their
necks, whispering and laughing, on the fringe of the crowd.

'Why, it's Dick Farnborough--and that friend of his from the Austrian
Embassy.'

Vida pulled down her veil.



CHAPTER VIII


Devoutly thankful at having escaped from her compromising position
unrecognized, Mrs. Fox-Moore firmly declined to go 'awskin' fur the
vote' again! When Vida gave up her laughing remonstrance, Mrs. Fox-Moore
thought her sister had also given up the idea. But as Vida afterwards
confessed, she told herself that she would go 'just once more.' It could
not be but what she was under some illusion about that queer spectacle.
From one impression each admitted it was difficult to shake herself
free. Whatever those women were or were not, they weren't fools. What
did the leaders (in prison and out), what did they think they were
accomplishing, besides making themselves hideously uncomfortable? The
English Parliament, having flung them out, had gone on with its routine,
precisely as though nothing had happened. _Had_ anything happened? That
was the question. The papers couldn't answer. They were given over to
lies. The bare idea of women pretending to concern themselves with
public affairs--from the point of view of the Press, it was enough to
make the soberest sides shake with Homeric laughter.

So, then, one last time to see for one's self. And on this occasion no
pettiness of disguise, Miss Levering's aspect seemed to say--no
recurrence of any undignified flight. She had been frightened away from
her first meeting, but she would not be frightened from the second,
which was also to be the last.

An instinct unanalyzed, but significant of what was to follow, kept her
from seeking companionship outside. Had Wark not gone over to the
market-gardener, her former mistress would have had no misgiving about
taking the woman into her confidence. But Wark, with lightning rapidity,
had become Mrs. Anderson Slynes, and was beyond recall. So the new maid
was told the following Sunday, that she might walk with her mistress
across Hyde Park (where the papers said the meetings in future were to
be), carrying some music which had to be returned to the Tunbridges.

Pursuing this programme, what more natural than that those two chance
pedestrians should be arrested by an apparition on their way, of a
flaming banner bearing, along with a demand for the vote, an outrageous
charge against a distinguished public servant--'a pity the misguided
creatures didn't know him, just a little!'

Yes. There it was! a rectangle of red screaming across the vivid green
of the park not a hundred yards from the Marble Arch, the denunciatory
banner stretched above the side of an uncovered van. A little crowd of
perhaps a hundred collected on one side of the cart--the loafers on the
outermost fringe, lying on the grass. Never a sign of a Suffragette, and
nearly three o'clock! Impossible for any passer-by to carry out the
programme of pausing to ask idly, 'What are those women screeching
about?'

Seeming to search in vain for some excuse to linger, Miss Levering's
wandering eye fell upon a young mother wheeling a perambulator. She had
glanced with mild curiosity at the flaunting ensign, and then turned
from it to lean forward and straighten her baby's cap.

'I wonder what _she_ thinks of the Woman Question,' Miss Levering
observed, in a careless aside to her maid.

Before Gorringe could reply: 'Doddy's a bootiful angel, isn't Doddy?'
said the young mother, with subdued rapture.

'Ah, she's found the solution,' said the lady, looking back.

Other pedestrians glanced at the little crowd about the cart, read
demand and denunciation on the banner, laughed, and they, too, for the
most part, went on.

An Eton boy, who looked as if he might be her grandson, came by with a
white-haired lady of distinguished aspect, who held up her voluminous
silken skirts and stared silently at the legend.

'Do you see what it says?' the Eton boy laughed as he looked back. '"_We
demand the vote._" Fancy! They "demand" it. What awful cheek!' and he
laughed again at the fatuity of the female creature.

Vida glanced at the dignified old dame as though with an uneasy new
sense of the incongruity in the attitude of those two quite commonplace,
everyday members of a world that was her world, and that yet could for a
moment look quite strange.

She turned and glanced back at the ridiculous cart as if summoning the
invisible presence of Mrs. Chisholm to moderate the insolence of the
budding male. Still there was no sign either of Mrs. Chisholm or any of
her fellow-conspirators against the old order of the world. Miss
Levering stood a moment hesitating.

'I believe I'm a little tired,' she said to the discreet maid. 'We'll
rest here a moment,' and she sat down with her back to the crowd.

A woman, apparently of the small shopkeeping class, was already
established at one end of the only bench anywhere near the cart. Her
child who was playing about, was neatly dressed, and to Vida's surprise
wore sandals on her stockingless feet. This fashion for children, which
had been growing for years among the upper classes, had found little
imitation among tradesmen or working people. They presumably were still
too near the difficulty of keeping their children in shoes and
stockings, to be able to see anything but a confession of failure in
going without. In the same way, the 'Simple Life,' when led by the rich,
wears to the poverty-struck an aspect of masked meanness--a matter far
less tolerable in the eyes of the pauper than the traditional splendour
of extravagance in the upper class, an extravagance that feeds more than
the famished stomach with the crumbs that it lets fall.

As Miss Levering sat watching the child, and wondering a little at the
sandals, the woman caught her eye.

'Could you please tell me the time?' she asked.

Miss Levering took out her watch, and then spoke of the wisdom of that
plan of sandals.

The woman answered with such self-possession and good sense, that the
lady sent a half-amused glance over her shoulder as if relishing in
advance the sturdy disapproval of this highly respectable young mother
when she should come to realize how near she and the precious daughter
were to the rostrum of the Shrieking Sisterhood. It might be worth
prolonging the discussion upon health and education for the amusement
there would be in seeing what form condemnation of the Suffragettes took
among people of this kind. By turning her head to one side, out of the
tail of her eye the lady could see that an excitement of some sort was
agitating the crowd. The voices rose more shrill. People craned and
pushed. A derisive cheer went up as a woman appeared on the cart. The
wearer of the tam-o'-shanter! Three others followed--all women. Miss
Levering saw without seeming to look, still listening while the
practical-minded mother talked on about her child, and what 'was good
for it.' All life had resolved itself into pursuit of that.

An air of semi-abstraction came over the lady. It was as if in the
presence of this excellent bourgeoise she felt an absurd constraint in
showing an interest in the proceedings of these unsexed creatures behind
them.

To her obvious astonishment the mother of the child was the first to
jump up.

'Now they're going to begin!' she said briskly.

'Who?' asked Miss Levering.

'Why, the Suffrage people.'

'Oh! Are _you_ going to listen to them?'

'Yes; that's what I've come all this way for.' And she and her
bare-legged offspring melted into the growing crowd.

Vida turned to the maid and met her superior smile. 'That woman says she
has come a long way to hear these people advocating Woman's Suffrage,'
and slowly with an air of complete detachment she approached the edge of
the crowd, followed by the supercilious maid. They were quickly hemmed
in by people who seemed to spring up out of the ground. It was curious
to look back over the vivid green expanse and see the dotted humanity
running like ants from all directions to listen to this handful of dowdy
women in a cart!

In finding her way through the crowd it would appear that the lady was
not much sustained by the presence of a servant, however well-meaning.
Much out of place in such a gathering as Mrs. Fox-Moore or any
ultra-oldfashioned woman was, still more incongruous showed there the
relation of mistress and maid. The punctilious Gorringe was plainly
horrified at the proximity to her mistress of these canaille, and the
mistress was not so absorbed it would seem but what she felt the affront
to seemliness in a servant's seeing her pushed and shoved aside--treated
with slight regard or none. Necessary either to leave the scene with
lofty disapproval, or else make light of the discomfort.

'It doesn't matter!' she assured the girl, who was trying to protect her
mistress's dainty wrap from contact with a grimy tramp. And, again, when
half a dozen boys forced their way past, 'It's all right!' she nodded to
the maid, 'it's no worse than the crowd at Charing Cross coming over
from Paris.'

But it was much worse, and Gorringe knew it. 'The old man is standing on
your gown, miss.'

'Oh, would you mind----' Miss Levering politely suggested another place
for his feet.

But the old man had no mind left for a mere bystander--it was all
absorbed in Suffragettes.

''is feet are filthy muddy, 'm,' whispered Gorringe.

It may have been in part the maid's genteel horror of such proximities
that steeled Miss Levering to endure them. Under circumstances like
these the observant are reminded that no section of the modern community
is so scornfully aristocratic as our servants. Their horror of the
meanly-apparelled and the humble is beyond the scorn of kings. The fine
lady shares her shrinking with those inveterate enemies of democracy,
the lackey who shuts the door in the shabby stranger's face, and the dog
who barks a beggar from the gate.

And so while the maid drew her own skirts aside and held her nose high
in the air, the gentlewoman stood faintly smiling at the queer scene.

Alas! no Mrs. Chisholm. It looked as if they must have been hard up for
speakers to-day, for two of them were younger even than Miss Claxton of
the tam-o'-shanter. One of them couldn't be more than nineteen.

'How dreadful to put such very young girls up there to be stared at by
all these louts!'

'Oh, yes, 'm, quite 'orrid,' agreed the maid, but with the air of 'What
can you expect of persons so low?'

'However, the young girls seem to have as much self-possession as the
older ones!' pursued Miss Levering, as she looked in vain for any sign
of flinching from the sallies of cockney impudence directed at the
occupants of the cart.

They exhibited, too, what was perhaps even stranger--an utter absence of
any flaunting of courage or the smallest show of defiance. What was this
armour that looked like mere indifference? It couldn't be that those
quiet-looking young girls _were_ indifferent to the ordeal of standing
up there before a crowd of jeering rowdies whose less objectionable
utterances were: 'Where did you get that 'at?' 'The one in green is my
girl!' 'Got yer dog-whip, miss?' and such-like utterances.

The person thus pointedly alluded to left her companions ranged along
the side of the cart against the background of banner, while she, the
famous Miss Claxton, took the meeting in charge. She wasted no time,
this lady. Her opening remarks, which, in the face of a fire of
interruption, took the form of an attack upon the Government, showed her
an alert, competent, cut-and-thrust, imperturbably self-possessed
politician, who knew every aspect of the history of the movement, as
able to answer any intelligent question off-hand as to snub an impudent
irrelevance, able to take up a point and drive it well in--to shrug and
smile or frown and point her finger, all with most telling effect, and
keep the majority of her audience with her every minute of the time.

As a mere exhibition of nerve it was a thing to make you open your eyes.
Only a moment was she arrested by either booing or applause. When a knot
of young men, who had pushed their way near the front, kept on shouting
argument and abuse, she interrupted her harangue an instant. Pointing
out the ring-leader--

'Now you be quiet, if you please,' she said. 'These people are here to
listen to _me_.'

'No, they ain't. They come to see wot you look like.'

'That can't be so,' she said calmly, 'because after they've seen us they
stay.' Then, as the interrupter began again, 'No, it's no use, my
man'--she shook her head gently as if almost sorry for him--'you can't
talk _me_ down!'

'Now, ain't that just _like_ a woman!' he complained to the crowd.

Just in front of where Miss Levering and her satellite first came to a
standstill, was a cheerful, big, sandy man with long flowing
moustachios, a polo cap, and a very dirty collar. At intervals he
inquired of the men around him, in a great jovial voice, 'Are we
down-'earted?' as though the meeting had been called, not for the
purpose of rousing interest in the question of woman's share in the work
of the world, but as though its object were to humiliate and
disfranchise the men. But his exclamation, repeated at intervals, came
in as a sort of refrain to the rest of the proceedings.

'The Conservatives,' said the speaker, 'had never pretended they
favoured broadening the basis of the franchise. But here were these
Liberals, for thirty years they'd been saying that the demand on the
part of women for political recognition commanded their respect, and
would have their support, and yet there were four hundred and odd
members who had got into the House of Commons very largely through the
efforts of women--oh, yes, we know all about that! We've been helping
the men at elections for years.'

'What party?'

Adroitly she replied, 'We have members of every party in our ranks.'

'Are you a Conservative?'

'No, I myself am not a Conservative----'

'You work for the Labour men--I know!'

'It's child's play belonging to any party till we get the vote,' she
dismissed it. 'In future we are neither for Liberal nor Conservative nor
Labour. We are for Women. When we get the sex bar removed, it will be
time for us to sort ourselves into parties. At present we are united
against any Government that continues to ignore its duty to the women of
the country. In the past we were so confiding that when a candidate said
he was in favour of Woman's Suffrage (he was usually a Liberal), we
worked like slaves to get that man elected, so that a voice might be
raised for women's interests in the next Parliament. Again and again the
man we worked for got in. But the voice that was to speak for us--that
voice was mute. We had served his purpose in helping him to win his
seat, and we found ourselves invariably forgotten or ignored. The
Conservatives have never shown the abysmal hypocrisy of the Liberals. We
can get on with our open enemies; it's these _cowards_' ('Boo!' and
groans)--'these cowards, I say--who, in order to sneak into a place in
the House, pretend to sympathize with this reform--who use us, and then
betray us; it's these who are women's enemies!'

'Why are you always worrying the Liberals? Why don't you ask the
Conservatives to give you the vote?'

'You don't go to a person for something he hasn't got unless you're a
fool. The Liberals are in power; the Liberals were readiest with fair
promises; and so we go to the Liberals. And we shall continue to go to
them. We shall never leave off' (boos and groans) 'till they leave
office. Then we'll begin on the Conservatives.' She ended in a chorus of
laughter and cheers, 'I will now call upon Miss Cynthia Chisholm to
propose the resolution.'

Wherewith the chairman gave way to the younger of the two girls. This
one of the Gracchi--a gentle-seeming creature, carelessly dressed, grave
and simple--faced the mob with evident trepidation, a few notes, to
which she never referred, in her shaking hand. What brought a girl like
that here?--was the question on the few thoughtful faces in the crowd
confronting her. She answered the query by introducing the resolution in
an earnest little speech which, if it didn't show that much of the
failure and suffering that darken the face of the world is due to
women's false position, showed, at all events, that this young creature
held a burning conviction that the subjection of her sex was the world's
Root-Evil. With no apparent apprehension of the colossal audacity of her
position, the girl moved gravely that 'this meeting demands of the
Government the insertion of an enfranchisement clause in the Plural
Voting Bill, and demands that it shall become law during the present
session.' Her ignorance of Parliamentary procedure was freely pointed
out to her.

'No,' she said, 'it is you who are ignorant--of how pressing the need
is. You say it is "out of order." If treating the women of the country
fairly is out of order, it is only because men have made a poor sort of
order. It is the _order_ that should be changed.'

Of course that dictum received its due amount of hooting.

'The vote is the reward for defending the country,' said a voice.

'No,' said the girl promptly, 'for soldiers and sailors don't vote.'

'It implies fitness for military service,' somebody amended.

'It _shouldn't_,' said Nineteen, calmly; 'it ought to imply merely _a
stake_ in the country. No one denies we have that.'

The crowd kept on about soldiering, till the speaker was goaded into
saying--

'I don't say women like fighting, but women _can_ fight! In these days
warfare isn't any more a matter of great physical strength, and a woman
can pull a trigger as well as a man. The Boer women found that out--and
so has the Russian. I don't like thinking about it myself--for I seem to
realize too clearly what horrors those women endured before they could
carry bombs or shoulder rifles.'

'Rifles? Why a woman can't never hit _nothing_.'

'It is quite true we can't most of us even throw a stone straight--the
great mass of women never in all their lives wanted to hit anybody or
anything. And that'--she came nearer, and leaned over the side of the
cart with scared face--'it's that that makes it so dreadful to realize
how at last when women's eyes are opened--when they see their homes and
the holiest things in life threatened and despised, how quickly after
all _they can learn the art of war_.'

'With hatpins!' some one called out.

'Yes, scratching and spitting,' another added.

That sort of interruption did not so much embarrass her, but once or
twice she was nearly thrown off her beam-ends by men and boys shouting,
'Wot's the matter with yer anyway? Can't yer get a husband?' and
such-like brilliant relevancies. Although she flushed at some of these
sallies, she stuck to her guns with a pluck that won her friends. In one
of the pauses a choleric old man gesticulated with his umbrella.

'If what the world needed was Woman's Suffrage, it wouldn't have been
left for a minx like you to discover it.' At which volleys of approval.

'That gentleman seems to think it's a new madness that we've recently
invented.' The child seemed in her loneliness to reach out for
companioning. She spoke of 'our friend John Stuart Mill.'

'Oo's Mill?'

'That great Liberal wrote in 1867----' But Mill and she were drowned
together. She waited a moment for the flood of derision to subside.

''E wouldn't 'ad nothin' to do with yer if 'e'd thought you'd go on like
you done.'

'Benjamin Disraeli was on our side. Mazzini--Charles Kingsley. As long
ago as 1870, a Woman's Suffrage Bill that was drafted by Dr. Pankhurst
and Mr. Jacob Bright passed a second reading.'

'The best sort of women _never_ wanted it.'

'The kind of women in the past who cared to be associated with this
reform--they were women like Florence Nightingale, and Harriet
Martineau, and Josephine Butler, and the two thousand other women of
influence who memorialized Mr. Gladstone.'

Something was called out that Vida could not hear, but that brought the
painful scarlet into the young face.

'Shame! shame!' Some of the men were denouncing the interjection.

After a little pause the girl found her voice. 'You make it difficult
for me to tell you what I think you ought to know. I don't believe I
could go on if I didn't see over there the Reformer's Tree. It makes me
think of how much had to be borne before other changes could be brought
about.' She reminded the people of what had been said and suffered on
that very spot in the past, before the men standing before her had got
the liberties they enjoyed to-day.

'They were _men_!'

'Yes, and so perhaps it wasn't so hard for them. I don't know, and I'm
sure it was hard enough. When we women remember what _they
suffered_--though you think meanly of us because we can't be soldiers,
you may as well know we are ready to do whatever has to be done--we are
ready to bear whatever has to be borne. There seem to be things harder
to face than bullets, but it doesn't matter, they'll be faced.'

The lady standing with her maid in the incongruous crowd, looked round
once or twice with eyes that seemed to say, 'How much stranger life is
than we are half the time aware, and how much stranger it bids fair to
be!' The rude platform with the scarlet backing flaming in the face of
the glorious summer afternoon, near the very spot upon which the great
battles for Reform had been fought out in the past, and in place of
England's sturdy freeman making his historic appeal for justice, and
admission to the Commons--a girl pouring out this stream of vigorous
English, upholding the cause her family had stood for. Her voice failed
her a little towards the close, or rather it did not so much fail as
betray to any sensitive listener the degree of strain she put upon it to
make it carry above laughter and interjection. As she raised the note
she bent over the crowd, leaning forward, with her neck outstretched,
the cords in it swelling, and the heat of the sun bringing a flush and a
moisture to her face, steadying her voice as the thought of the struggle
to come, shook and clouded it, and calling on the people to judge of
this matter without prejudice. It was a thing to live in the memory--the
vision of that earnest child trying to fire the London louts with the
great names of the past, and failing to see her bite her lip to keep
back tears, and, bending over the rabble, find a choked voice to say--

'If your forefathers and foremothers who suffered for the freedom you
young men enjoy--if they could come out of their graves to-day and see
how their descendants use the great privileges they won--I believe they
would go back into their graves and pull the shrouds over their eyes to
hide them from your shame!'

'Hear! Hear!' 'Right you are.'

But she was done. She turned away, and found friendly hands stretched
out to draw her to a seat.

The next speaker was an alert little woman with a provincial accent and
the briskness of a cock-sparrow, whose prettiness, combined with
pertness, rather demoralized the mob.

'Men and women,' she began, pitching her rather thin voice several notes
too high.

'Men and women!' some one piped in mimicry; and the crowd dissolved in
laughter.

It was curious to note again how that occasional exaggerated shrillness
of the feminine voice when raised in the open air--how it amused the
mob. They imitated the falsetto with squeals of delight. Each time she
began afresh she was met by the shrill echo of her own voice. The
contest went on for several minutes. The spectacle of the agitated
little figure, bobbing and gesticulating and nothing heard but shrill
squeaks, raised a very pandemonium of merriment. It didn't mend matters
for her to say when she did get a hearing--

'I've come all the way from----' (place indistinguishable in the
confusion) 'to talk to you this afternoon----'

''ow kind!'

'Do you reely think they could spare you?'

'And I'm going to convert every man within reach of my voice.'

Groans, and 'Hear! Hear!'

'Let's see you try!'

She talked on quite inaudibly for the most part. A phrase here and there
came out, and the rest lost. So much hilarity in the crowd attracted to
it a bibulous gentleman, who kept calling out, 'Oh, the pretty dear!' to
the rapture of the bystanders. He became so elevated that the police
were obliged to remove him. When the excitement attending this passage
had calmed down, the reformer was perceived to be still piping away.

''ow long are you goin' on like this?'

'Ain't you _never_ goin' to stop?'

'Oh, not for a long time,' she shrilled cheerfully. 'I've got the
accumulations of _centuries_ on me, and I'm only just beginning to
unload! Although we haven't got the vote--_not yet_--never mind, we've
got our tongues!'

'Lord, don't we know it!' said a sad-faced gentleman, in a rusty topper.

'This one's too intolerable,' said a man to his companion.

'Yes; she ought to be smacked.'

They melted out of the crowd.

'We've got our tongues, and I've been going round among all the women I
know getting them to promise to _use_ their tongues----'

'You stand up there and tell us they needed _urgin'_?'

'To use their tongues to such purpose that it won't be women, but _men_,
who get up the next monster petition to Parliament asking for Woman's
Suffrage.'

She went down under a flood of jeers, and rose to the surface again to
say--

'A man's petition, praying Parliament for goodness' sake give those
women the vote! Yes, you'd better be seeing about that petition, my
friends, for I tell you there isn't going to be any peace till we get
the franchise.'

'Aw now, they'd give _you_ anything!'

When the jeering had died a little, and she came to the top once more,
she was discovered to be shouting--

'You men 'ad just better keep an eye on us----'

'Can't take our eyes off yer!'

'We Suffragettes _never_ have a Day of Rest! Every day in the week,
while you men are at work or sitting in the public-house, we are
visiting the women in their homes, explaining and stirring them up to a
sense of their wrongs.'

'This I should call an example of what _not_ to say!' remarked a
shrewd-looking man with a grin.

The crowd were ragging the speaker again, while she shouted--

'We are going to effect such a revolution as the world has never seen!'

'I'd like to bash her head for her!'

'We let them know that so long as women have no citizenship they are
outside the pale of the law. If we are outside the law, we can't _break_
the law. It is not our fault that we're outlaws. It is you men's fault.'

'Don't say that,' said a voice in mock agony. 'I love you so.'

'I know you can't help it,' she retorted.

'If we gave you the vote, what would you do with it? Put it in a pie?'

'Well, I wouldn't make the _hash_ of it you men do!' and she turned the
laugh. 'Look at you! _Look_ at you!' she said, when quiet was restored.

The young revellers gave a rather blank snigger, as though they had all
along supposed looking at them to be an exhilarating occupation for any
young woman.

'What do you do with your power? You throw it away. You submit to being
taxed and to _our_ being taxed to the tune of a hundred and twenty-seven
millions, that a war may be carried on in South Africa--a war that most
of you know nothing about and care nothing about--a war that some of us
knew only too much about, and wanted only to see abandoned. We see
constantly how you men either misuse the power you have or you don't use
it at all. Don't appreciate it. Don't know what to do with it. Haven't a
notion you ought to be turning it into good for the world. Hundreds of
men don't care anything about political influence, except that women
shouldn't have it.'

She was getting on better till some one called out, 'You ought to get
married.'

'I'm going to. If you don't be good you won't be asked to the wedding.'

Before the temptation of a retort she had dropped her argument and
encouraged personalities. In vain she tried to recover that thread of
attention which, not her interrupter, but herself had snapped. She
retired in the midst of uproar.

The chairman came forward and berated the crowd for its un-English
behaviour in not giving a speaker a fair hearing.

A man held up a walking-stick. 'Will you just tell me one thing,
miss----'

'Not now. When the last speaker has finished there will be ten minutes
for questions. And I may say that it is a great and rare pleasure to
have any that are intelligent. Don't waste anything so precious. Just
save it up till you're asked for it. I want you now to give a fair
hearing to Mrs. Bewley.'

This was a wizened creature of about fifty, in rusty black, widow of a
stonemason and mother of four children--'four _livin'_,' she said with
some significance. She added her mite of testimony to that of the 96,000
organized women of the mills, that the workers in her way of life
realized how their condition and that of the children would be improved
'if the women 'ad some say in things.'

'It's quite certain,' she assured the people, 'there ought to be women
relief-officers and matrons in the prisons. And it's very 'ard on women
that there isn't the same cheap lodgin'-'ouse accommodation fur single
women as there is fur single men. It's very 'ard on poor girls. It's
worse than 'ard. But men won't never change that. We women 'as got to do
it.'

'Go 'ome and get your 'usban's tea!' said a new-comer, squeezing her way
into the tight-packed throng, a queer little woman about the same age as
the speaker, but dressed in purple silk and velvet, and wearing a
wonderful purple plush hat on a wig of sandy curls. She might have been
a prosperous milliner from the Commercial Road, and she had a meek man
along who wore the husband's air of depressed responsibility. She was
spared the humiliating knowledge, but she was taken at first for a
sympathizer with the Cause. In manners she was precisely like what the
Suffragette was at that time expected to be, pushing her way through the
crowd, and vociferating 'Shyme!' to all and sundry. The men who had been
pleasantly occupied in boo-ing the speaker turned and glared at her. The
hang-dog husband had an air of not observing. Some of the boys pushed
and harried her, but, to their obvious surprise, they heard her advising
the rusty widow: 'Go 'ome and get your 'usban's tea!' She varied that
advice by repeating her favourite 'Shyme!' varied by 'Wot
beayviour!--old enough to know better. Every good wife oughter stay at
'ome and darn 'er 'usban's socks and make 'im comftubble.'

After delivering which womanly sentiment she would nod her purple
plumes and smile at the men. It was the sorriest travesty of similar
scenes in a politer world. To the credit of the loafers about her, they
did not greatly encourage her. She was perhaps overmature for her
_rôle_. But they ceased to jostle her. They even allowed her to get in
front of them. The tall, rusty woman in the cart was meanwhile telling a
story of personal experience of the operation of some law which shut out
from any share in the benefits of the new Act which regulates the
feeding of school children, the very people most in need of it. For it
appeared that orphans and the children of widows were excluded. The Bill
provided only for children living under their father's roof. If the roof
was kept over them by the shackled hands of the mother, according to the
speaker, they might go hungry.

'No, no,' Miss Levering shook her head, explaining to her maid. 'I don't
doubt the poor soul has had some difficulty, some hard experience, but
she can't be quoting the law correctly.'

Nevertheless, in the halting words of the woman who had suffered, if
only from misapprehension upon so grave a point, there was a rude
eloquence that overbore the lady's incredulity. The crowd hissed such
gross unfairness.

'If women 'ad 'ave made the laws, do you think we'd 'ave 'ad one like
that disgracin' the statue-book? No! And in all sorts o' ways it looks
like the law seems to think a child's got only one parent. I'd like to
tell them gentlemen that makes the laws that (it may be different in
their world, I only speak for my little corner of it)--but in 'Ackney it
looks like when a child's got only one parent, that one is the mother.'

'Sy, let up, old gal! there's some o' them young ones ain't 'ad a show
yet.'

'About time you had a rest, mother!'

'If the mother dies,' she was saying, 'wot 'appens?'

'Let's 'ope she goes to heaven.'

'Wot 'appens to the pore little 'ome w'en the mother dies? Why, the pore
little home is sold up, and the children's scattered among relations, or
sent out so young to work it makes yer 'art ache. But if a man dies--you
see it on every side, _in 'Ackney_--the widow takes in sewin', or goes
out charin', or does other people's washin' as well as 'er own, or she
mykes boxes--_something_ er ruther, any'ow, that makes it possible fur
'er to keep 'er 'ome together. You don't see the mother scatterin' the
little family w'en the only parent the law seems to reconize is dead and
gone. I say----'

'You've a been sayin' it for a good while. You must be needin' a cup o'
tea yerself.'

'In India I'm told they burn the widows. In England they do worse than
that. They keep them _half_ alive.'

The crowd rose to that, with the pinched proof before their eyes.

'Just enough alive to suffer through their children. And so the workin'
women round about where I live--that's 'Ackney--they say if we ain't
'eathins in this country let's give up 'eathin ways. Let the mothers o'
this country 'ave their 'ands untied. We're willin' to work for our
children, but it breaks our 'earts to work without tools. The tool we're
needin' is the tool that mends the laws. I 'ave pleasure in secondin'
the resolution.'

With nervously twitching lips the woman sat down. They cheered her
lustily--a little out of sympathy, a good deal from relief that she had
finished, and a very different sort of person was being introduced by
the chairman.



CHAPTER IX


'I will now call upon the last speaker. Yes, I will answer any general
questions _after_ Miss Ernestine Blunt has spoken.'

'Oh, I sy!'

''Ere's Miss Blunt.'

'Not that little one?'

'Yes. This is the one I was tellin' you about.'

People pushed and craned their necks, the crowd swayed as the other one
of the two youngest 'Suffragettes' came forward. She had been sitting
very quietly in her corner of the cart, looking the least concerned
person in Hyde Park. Almost dull the round rather pouting face with the
vivid scarlet lips; almost sleepy the heavy-lidded eyes. But when she
had taken the speaker's post above the crowd, the onlooker wondered why
he had not noticed her before.

It seemed probable that all save those quite new to the scene had been
keeping an eye on this person, who, despite her childish look, was
plainly no new recruit. Her self-possession demonstrated that as
abundantly as the reception she got--the vigorous hoots and hoorays in
the midst of clapping and cries--

'Does your mother know you're out?'

'Go 'ome and darn your stockens.'

'Hurrah!'

'You're a disgryce!'

'I bet on little Blunt!'

'Boo!'

Even in that portion of the crowd that did not relieve its feelings by
either talking or shouting, there was observable the indefinable
something that says, 'Now the real fun's going to begin.' You see the
same sort of manifestation in the playhouse when the favourite comedian
makes his entrance. He may have come on quite soberly only to say, 'Tea
is ready,' but the grin on the face of the public is as ready as the
tea. The people sit forward on the edge of their seats, and the whole
atmosphere of the theatre undergoes some subtle change. So it was here.

And yet in this young woman was the most complete lack of any dependence
upon 'wiles' that platform ever saw. Her little off-hand manner seemed
to say, 'Don't expect me to encourage you in any nonsense, and, above
all, don't dare to presume upon my youth.'

She began by calling on the Government to save the need of further
demonstration by giving the women of the country some speedy measure of
justice. 'They'll have to give it to us in the end. They might just as
well do it gracefully and at once as do it grudgingly and after more
"scenes."' Whereupon loud booing testified to the audience's horror of
anything approaching unruly behaviour. 'Oh, yes, you are scandalized at
the trouble we make. But--I'll tell you a secret'--she paused and
collected every eye and ear--'_we've only just begun_! You'd be simply
_staggered_ if you knew what the Government still has to expect from us,
if they don't give us what we're asking for.'

'Oh, ain't she just _awful_!' sniggered a girl with dyed hair and
gorgeous jewelry.

The men laughed and shook their heads. She just was! They crowded
nearer.

'You'd better take care! There's a policeman with 'is eye on you.'

'It's on you, my friends, he's got his eye. You saw a little while ago
how they had to take away somebody for disturbing our meeting. It wasn't
a woman.'

'Hear, hear!'

'The police are our friends, when the Government allows them to be. The
other day when there was that scene in the House, one of the policemen
who was sent up to clear the gallery said he wished the members would
come and do their own dirty work. They hate molesting us. We don't blame
the police. We put the blame where it belongs--on the Liberal
Government.'

'Pore old Gov'mint--gettin' it 'ot.'

'Hooray fur the Gov'mint!'

'We see at last--it's taken us a long time, but we see at last--women
get nothing even from their professed political friends, they've
nothing whatever to expect by waiting and being what's called
"ladylike."'

'Shame!'

'We don't want to depreciate the work of preparation the older, the
"ladylike," Suffrage women did, but we came at last to see that all that
was possible to accomplish that way had been done. The Cause hadn't
moved an inch for years. It was even doing the other thing. Yes, it was
going backward. Even the miserable little pettifogging share women had
had in Urban and Borough Councils--even that they were deprived of. And
they were tamely submitting! Women who had been splendid workers ten
years ago, women with the best capacities for public service, had fallen
into a kind of apathy. They were utterly disheartened. Many had given up
the struggle. That was the state of affairs with regard to Woman's
Suffrage only a few short months ago. We looked at the Suffragists who
had grown grey in petitioning Parliament and being constitutional and
"ladylike," and we said, "_That's no good._"'

Through roars of laughter and indistinguishable denunciation certain
fragments rose clear--

'So you tried being a public nuisance!'

'A laughing-stock!'

'When we got to the place where we were a public laughing-stock we knew
we were getting on.' The audience screamed. '_We began to feel
encouraged!_' A very hurricane swept the crowd. Perhaps it was chiefly
at the gleam of eye and funny little wag of the head with the big
floppity hat that made the people roar with delight. 'Yes; when things
got to that point even the worst old fogey in the Cabinet----'

'Name! Name!'

'No, we are merciful. We withhold the name!' She smiled significantly,
while the crowd yelled. 'Even the very fogeyest of them all you'd think
might have rubbed his eyes and said, "Everybody's laughing at them--why,
there must be something serious at the bottom of this!" But no; the
members of the present Government _never_ rub their eyes.'

'If you mean the Prime Minister----'

'Hooray for the----'

Through the cheering you heard Ernestine saying, 'No, I _didn't_ mean
the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, between you and me, is as good a
Suffragist as any of us. Only he----well, he likes his comfort, does the
Prime Minister!'

When Ernestine looked like that the crowd roared with laughter. Yet it
was impossible not to feel that when she herself smiled it was because
she couldn't help it, and not, singularly enough, because of any
dependence she placed upon the value of dimples as an asset of
persuasion. What she seemed to be after was to stir these people up. It
could not be denied that she knew how to do it, any more than it could
be doubted that she was ignorant of how large a part in her success was
played by a peculiarly amusing and provocative personality. Always she
was the first to be grave again.

'Now if you noisy young men can manage to keep quiet for a minute, I'll
tell you a little about our tactics,' she said obligingly.

'We know! Breakin' up meetings!'

'_Rotten_ tactics!'

'That only shows you don't understand them yet. Now I'll explain to
you.'

A little wind had sprung up and ruffled her hair. It blew open her long
plain coat. It even threatened to carry away her foolish flapping hat.
She held it on at critical moments, and tilted her delicate little
Greuze-like face at a bewitching angle, and all the while that she was
looking so fetching, she was briskly trouncing by turns the Liberal
party and the delighted crowd. The man of the long moustachios, who had
been swept to the other side of the monument, returned to his old
inquiry with mounting cheer--

'Are we down'earted? _Oh_, no!'

'Pore man! 'Ave a little pity on us, miss!'

There were others who edged nearer, narrowing their eyes and squaring
their shoulders as much as to say, 'Now we'll just trip her up at the
first opportunity.'

'That's a very black cloud, miss,' Gorringe had whispered several
minutes before a big raindrop had fallen on the lady's upturned face.

As Gorringe seemed to be the only one who had observed the overclouding
of the sky, so she seemed to be the only one to think it mattered much.
But one by one, like some species of enormous black 'four-o-clocks,'
umbrellas blossomed above the undergrowth at the foot of the monument.
The lady of the purple plumes had long vanished. A few others moved off,
head turned over shoulder, as if doubtful of the policy of leaving while
Ernestine was explaining things. The great majority turned up their coat
collars and stood their ground. The maid hurriedly produced an umbrella
and held it over the lady.

''Igher up, please, miss! Caun't see,' said a youth behind.

Nothing cloudy about Ernestine's policy: Independence of all parties,
and organized opposition to whatever Government was in power, until
something was done to prove it that friend to women it pretended to be.

'We are tired of being lied to and cheated. There isn't a man in the
world whose promise at election time I would trust!'

It struck some common chord in the gathering. They roared with
appreciation, partly to hear that baby saying it.

'No, not one!' she repeated stoutly, taking the raindrops in her face,
while the risen wind tugged at her wide hat. 'They'll promise us heaven,
and earth, and the moon, and the stars, just to get our help. Oh, we are
old hands at it now, and we can see through the game!'

'Old 'and _she_ is! Ha! ha! Old 'and!'

'Do they let you sit up for supper?'

'We are going to every contested election from this on.'

'Lord, yes! Rain or shine _they_ don't mind!'

'They'll find they'll always have us to reckon with. And we aren't _the
least bit_ impressed any more, when a candidate tells us he's in favour
of Woman's Suffrage. We say, "Oh, we've got four hundred and twenty of
your kind already!"'

'Oh! oh!'

'Haw! haw!'

'Oo did you say that to?'

By name she held up to scorn the candidates who had given every reason
for the general belief that they were indifferent, if not opposed, to
Woman's Suffrage till the moment came for contesting a seat.

'Then when they find us there (we hear it keeps them awake at night,
thinking we always _will_ be there in future!)--when they find us there,
they hold up their little white flags. Yes. And they say, "Oh, but I'm
in favour of Votes for Women!" We just smile.'

The damp gathering in front of her hallooed.

'Yes. And when they protest what splendid friends of the Suffrage they
are, we say, "You don't care twopence about it. You are like the humbugs
who are there in the House of Commons already."'

'Humbugs!'

'Calls 'em 'umbugs to their fyces! Haw! haw!'

Roars and booing filled the air.

'We know, for many of us helped to put them there. But that was before
we knew any better. _Never again!_'

Once more that wise little wag of the head, while the people shrieked
with laughter. It was highly refreshing to think those Government blokes
couldn't take in Ernestine.

'It's only the very young or the very foolish who will ever be caught
that way again,' she assured them.

''Ow old are you?'

'Much too old to----'

'Just the right age to think about gettin' married,' shouted a
pasty-faced youth.

'Haw! haw!'

Then a very penetrating voice screamed, 'Will you be mine?' and that
started off several others. Though the interruptions did not anger nor
in the least discompose this surprising young person in the cart--so far
at least as could be seen--the audience looked in vain for her to give
the notice to these that she had to other interruptions. It began to be
plain that, ready as she was to take 'a straight ball' from anybody in
the crowd, she discouraged impertinence by dint of an invincible
deafness. If you wanted to get a rise out of Ernestine you had to talk
about her 'bloomin' policy.' No hint in her of the cheap smartness that
had wrecked the other speaker. In that highly original place for such
manifestation, Ernestine offered all unconsciously a new lesson of the
moral value that may lie in good-breeding. She won the loutish crowd to
listen to her on her own terms.

'Both parties,' she was saying, 'have been glad enough to use women's
help to get candidates elected. We've been quite intelligent enough to
canvass for them; we were intelligent enough to explain to the ignorant
men----' She acknowledged the groans by saying, 'Of course there are
none of that sort here, but elsewhere there are such things as ignorant
men, and women by dozens and by scores are sent about to explain to them
why they should vote this way or that. But as the chairman told you, any
woman who does that kind of thing in the future is a very poor creature.
She deserves no sympathy when her candidate forgets his pledge and
sneers at Womanhood in the House. If we put ourselves under men's feet
we must _expect_ to be trodden on. We've come to think it's time women
should give up the door-mat attitude. That's why we've determined on a
policy of independence. We see how well independence has worked for the
Irish party--we see what a power in the House even the little Labour
party is, with only thirty members. Some say those thirty Labour members
lead the great Liberal majority by the nose----'

'Hear! hear!'

'Rot!'

They began to cheer Lothian Scott. Some one tossed Mr. Chamberlain's
name into the air. Like a paper balloon it was kept afloat by vigorous
puffings of the human breath. ''Ray fur Joe!' 'Three cheers for
Joe!'--and it looked as if Ernestine had lost them.

'Listen!' She held out her hands for silence, but the tumult only grew.
'Just a moment. I want to tell you men--here's a friend of yours--he's a
new-comer, but he looks just your kind! Give him a hearing.' She
strained her voice to overtop the din. 'He's a _Liberal_.'

'Hooray!'

'Yes, I thought you'd listen to a Liberal. He's asking that old
question, Why did we wait till the Liberals came in? Why didn't we worry
the Conservatives when they were in power? The answer to that is that
the Woman's Suffrage cause was then still in the stage of mild
constitutional propaganda. Women were still occupied in being ladylike
and trying to get justice by deserving it. Now wait a moment.' She
stemmed another torrent. 'Be quiet, while I tell you something. You men
have taught us that women can get a great deal by coaxing, often far
more than we deserve! But justice isn't one of the things that's ever
got that way. Justice has to be fought for. Justice has to be won.'

Howls and uproar.

'You men----' (it began to be apparent that whenever the roaring got so
loud that it threatened to drown her, she said, 'You men--' very loud,
and then gave her voice a rest while the din died down that they might
hear what else the irrepressible Ernestine had to say upon that
absorbing topic). 'You men discovered years ago that you weren't going
to get justice just by deserving it, or even by being men, so when you
got tired of asking politely for the franchise, you took to smashing
windows and burning down Custom Houses, and overturning Bishops'
carriages; while _we_, why, we haven't so much as upset a curate off a
bicycle!'

Others might laugh, not Ernestine.

'You men,' she went on, 'got up riots in the streets--_real_ riots where
people lost their lives. It may have to come to that with us. But the
Government may as well know that if women's political freedom has to be
bought with blood, we can pay that price, too.'

Above a volley of boos and groans she went on, 'But we are opposed to
violence, and it will be our last resort. We are leaving none of the
more civilized ways untried. We publish a great amount of literature--I
hope you are all buying some of it--you can't understand our movement
unless you do! We organize branch unions and we hire halls--we've got
the Somerset Hall to-night, and we hope you'll all come and bring your
friends. We have very interesting debates, and _we_ answer questions,
politely!' she made her point to laughter. 'We don't leave any stone
unturned. Because there are people who don't buy our literature, and who
don't realize how interesting the Somerset Hall debates are, we go into
the public places where the idle and the foolish, _like that man just
over there!_--where they may point and laugh and make their poor little
jokes. But let me tell you we never hold a meeting where we don't win
friends to our cause. A lot of you who are jeering and interrupting now
are going to be among our best friends. _All_ the intelligent ones are
going to be on our side.'

Above the laughter, a rich groggy voice was heard, 'Them that's against
yer are all drunk, miss' (hiccup). 'D--don't mind 'em!'

Ernestine just gave them time to appreciate that, and then went on--

'Men and women were never meant to fight except side by side. You've
been told by one of the other speakers how the men suffer by the women
more and more underselling them in the Labour market----'

'Don't need no tellin'.'

'Bloody black-legs!'

'Do you know how that has come about? I'll tell you. It's come about
through your keeping the women out of your Unions. You never would have
done that if they'd had votes. You saw the important people ignored
them. You thought it was safe for you to do the same. But I tell you it
_isn't ever_ safe to ignore the women!'

High over the groans and laughter the voice went on, 'You men have got
to realize that if our battle against the common enemy is to be won,
you've got to bring the women into line.'

'What's to become of chivalry?'

'What _has_ become of chivalry?' she retorted; and no one seemed to have
an answer ready, but the crowd fell silent, like people determined to
puzzle out a conundrum.

'Don't you know that there are girls and women in this very city who are
working early and late for rich men, and who are expected by those same
employers to live on six shillings a week? Perhaps I'm wrong in saying
the men expect the women to live on that. It may be they _know_ that no
girl can--it may be the men know how that struggle ends. But do they
care? Do _they_ bother about chivalry? Yet they and all of you are
dreadfully exercised for fear having a vote would unsex women. We are
too delicate--women are such fragile flowers.' The little face was
ablaze with scorn. 'I saw some of those fragile flowers last week--and
I'll tell you where. Not a very good place for gardening. It was a back
street in Liverpool. The "flowers"' (oh, the contempt with which she
loaded the innocent word!)--'the flowers looked pretty dusty--but they
weren't quite dead. I stood and looked at them! hundreds of worn women
coming down steep stairs and pouring out into the street. What had they
all been doing there in that--garden, I was going to say!--that big
grimy building? They had been making cigars!--spending the best years of
their lives, spending all their youth in that grim dirty street making
cigars for men. Whose chivalry prevents that? Why were they coming out
at that hour of the day? Because their poor little wages were going to
be lowered, and with the courage of despair they were going on strike.
No chivalry prevents men from getting women at the very lowest possible
wage--(I want you to notice the low wage is the main consideration in
all this)--men get these women, that they say are so tender and
delicate, to undertake the almost intolerable toil of the rope-walk.
They get women to make bricks. Girls are driven--when they are not
driven to worse--they are driven to being lodging-house slaveys or
over-worked scullions. _That's_ all right! Women are graciously
permitted to sweat over other people's washing, when they should be
caring for their own babies. In Birmingham'--she raised the clear voice
and bent her flushed face over the crowd--'in Birmingham those same
"fragile flowers" make bicycles to keep alive! At Cradley Heath we make
chains. At the pit brows we sort coal. But a vote would soil our hands!
You may wear out women's lives in factories, you may sweat them in the
slums, you may drive them to the streets. You _do_. But a vote would
unsex them.'

Her full throat choked. She pressed her clenched fist against her chest
and seemed to admonish herself that emotion wasn't her line.

'If you are intelligent you know as well as I do that women are
exploited the length and the breadth of the land. And yet you come
talking about chivalry! Now, I'll just tell you men something for your
future guidance.' She leaned far out over the crowd and won a watchful
silence. '_That talk about chivalry makes women sick._' In the midst of
the roar, she cried, 'Yes, they mayn't always show it, for women have
had to learn to conceal their deepest feelings, but depend on it that's
how they feel.'

Then, apparently thinking she'd been serious enough, 'There might be
some sense in talking to us about chivalry if you paid our taxes for
us,' she said; while the people recovered their spirits in roaring with
delight at the coolness of that suggestion.

'If you forgave us our crimes because we are women! If you gave
annuities to the eighty-two women out of every hundred in this country
who are slaving to earn their bread--many of them having to provide for
their children; some of them having to feed sick husbands or old
parents. But chivalry doesn't carry you men as far as that! No! No
further than the door! You'll hold that open for a lady and then expect
her to grovel before such an exhibition of _chivalry_! We don't need it,
thank you! We can open doors for ourselves.'

She had quite recovered her self-possession, and it looked, as she faced
the wind and the raindrops, as if she were going to wind up in
first-class fighting form. The umbrellas went down before a gleam of
returning sun. An aged woman in rusty black, who late in the proceedings
had timidly adventured a little way into the crowd, stood there lost and
wondering. She had peered about during the last part of Miss Blunt's
speech with faded incredulous eyes, listened to a sentence or two, and
then, turning with a pathetic little nervous laugh of apology, consulted
the faces of the Lords of Creation. When the speaker was warned that a
policeman had his eye on her, the little old woman's instant solicitude
showed that the dauntless Suffragist had both touched and frightened
her. She craned forward with a fluttering anxiety till she could see for
herself. Yes! A stern-looking policeman coming slow and majestic through
the crowd. Was he going to hale the girl off to Holloway? No; he came to
a standstill near some rowdy boys, and he stared straight before
him--herculean, impassive, the very image of conscious authority.
Whenever Ernestine said anything particularly dreadful, the old lady
craned her neck to see how the policeman was taking it. When Ernestine
fell to drubbing the Government, the old lady, in her agitation greatly
daring, squeezed up a little nearer as if half of a mind to try to
placate that august image of the Power that was being flouted. But it
ended only in trembling and furtive watching, till Ernestine's reckless
scorn at the idea of chivalry moved the ancient dame faintly to admonish
the girl, as a nurse might speak to a wilful child. 'Dear! _Dear!_'--and
then furtively trying to soothe the great policeman she twittered at his
elbow, 'No! No! she don't mean it!'

When Ernestine declared that women could open doors for themselves, some
one called out--

'When do you expect to be a K.C.?'

'Oh, quite soon,' she answered cheerfully, with her wind-blown hat
rakishly over one ear, while the boys jeered.

'Well,' said the policeman, 'she's pawsed 'er law examination!' As some
of the rowdiest boys, naturally surprised at this interjection, looked
round, he rubbed it in. 'Did better than the men,' he assured them.

Was it possible that this dread myrmidon of the law was vaunting the
prowess of the small rebel?

Miss Levering moved nearer. 'Is that so? Did I understand you----'

With a surly face he glanced round at her. Not for this lady's benefit
had the admission been made.

'So they say!' he observed, with an assumption of indifference, quite
other than the tone in which he had betrayed where his sympathies, in
spite of himself, really were. Well, well, there were all kinds, even of
people who looked so much alike as policemen.

Now the crowd, with him and Miss Levering as sole exceptions, were
dissolved again in laughter. What had that girl been saying?

'Yes, we're spectres at the Liberal feast; and we're becoming
inconveniently numerous. We've got friends everywhere. Up and down the
country we go organizing----'

''Ow do you go--in a pram?' At which the crowd rocked with delight.

The only person who hadn't heard the sally, you would say, was the
orator. On she went--

'Organizing branches and carrying forward the work of propaganda. You
people in London stroll about with your hands in your pockets and your
hats on the back of your heads, and with never a _notion_ of what's
going on in the world that thinks and works. That's the world that's
making the future. Some of you understand it so little you think all
that we tell you is a joke--just as the governing class used to laugh at
the idea of a Labour Party in conservative England. While those people
were laughing, the Labour men were at work. They talked and wrote; they
lectured, and printed, and distributed, and organized, and one fine day
there was a General Election! To everybody's astonishment, thirty Labour
men were returned to Parliament! Just that same sort of thing is going
on now among women. We have our people at work everywhere. And let me
tell you, the most wonderful part of it all is to discover how little
teaching we have to do. How _ready_ the women are, all over the three
kingdoms.'

'Rot!'

'The women are against it.'

'Read the letters in the papers.'

'Why don't more women come to hear you if they're so in favour?'

'The converted don't need to come. It's you who need to come!' Above
roars of derision: 'You felt that or, of course, you wouldn't be here.
Men are so reasonable! As to the women who write letters to the papers
to say they're against the Suffrage, they are very ignorant, those
ladies, or else it may be they write their foolish letters to please
their menfolk. Some of them, I know, think the end and aim of woman is
to please. I don't blame them; it's the penalty of belonging to the
parasite class. But those women are a poor little handful. They write
letters to prove that they "don't count," and they _prove it_.' She
waved them away with one slim hand. 'That's one reason we don't bother
much with holding drawing-room meetings. The older Suffragists have been
holding drawing-room meetings _for forty years_!' She brought it out to
shouts. 'But we go to the mill gates! That's where we hold our meetings!
We hold them at the pit-brow; we hold them everywhere that men and women
are working and suffering and hoping for a better time.'

With that Miss Ernestine sat down. They applauded her lustily; they
revelled in laughing praise, yielding to a glow that they imagined to be
pure magnanimity.

'Are there any questions?' Miss Claxton, with her eyes still screwed up
to meet the returning sun and the volley of interrogatory, appeared at
the side of the cart. 'Now, one at a time, please. What? I can't hear
when you all talk together. Write it down and hand it to me. Now, you
people who are nearer--what? Very well! Here's a man who wants to know
whether if women had the vote wouldn't it make dissension in the house,
when husband and wife held different views?' She had smiled and nodded,
as though in this question she welcomed an old friend, but instead of
answering it she turned to the opposite side and looked out over the
clamourers on the left. They were engaged for the most part in inquiring
about her matrimonial prospects, and why she had carried that dog-whip.
Something in her face made them fall silent, for it was both
good-humoured and expectant, even intent. 'I'm waiting,' she said, after
a little pause. 'At every meeting we hold there's usually another
question put at the same time as that first one about the quarrels that
will come of husbands and wives holding different opinions. As though
the quarrelsome ones had been waiting for women's suffrage before they
fell out! When the man on my right asks, "Wouldn't they quarrel?"
there's almost always another man on my left who says, "If women were
enfranchised we wouldn't be an inch forrader, because the wife would
vote as her husband told her to. The man's vote would simply be
duplicated, and things would be exactly as they were." Neither objector
seems to see that the one scruple cancels the other. But to the question
put this afternoon, I'll just say this.' She bent forward, and she held
up her hand. 'To the end of time there'll be people who won't rest till
they've found something to quarrel about. And to the end of time
there'll be wives who follow blindly where their husbands lead. And to
the end of time there'll be husbands who are influenced by their wives.
What's more, all this has gone on ever since there were husbands, and it
will go on as long as there are any left, and it's got no more to do
with women's voting than it has with their making cream tarts. No, not
half as much!' she laughed. 'Now, where's that question that you were
going to write?'

Some one handed up a wisp of white paper. Miss Claxton opened it, and
upon the subject presented she embarked with the promising beginning,
'Your economics are pretty wobbly, my friend,' and proceeded to clear
the matter up and incidentally to flatten out the man. One wondered that
under such auspices 'Question Time' was as popular as it obviously was.
There is no doubt a fearful joy in adventuring yourself in certain
danger before the public eye. Besides the excitement of taking a
personal share in the game, there is always the hope that it may have
been reserved to you to stump the speaker and to shine before the
multitude.

A gentleman who had vainly been trying to get her to hear him, again
asked something in a hesitating way, stumbling and going back to recast
the form of his question.

He was evidently quite in earnest, but either unaccustomed to the sound
of his own voice or unnerved to find himself bandying words in Hyde Park
with a Suffragette. So when he stuck fast in the act of fashioning his
phrases, Miss Claxton bent in the direction whence the voice issued, and
said, briskly obliging--

'You needn't go on. I know the rest. What this gentleman is trying to
ask is----'

And although no denial on his part reached the public ear, it was not
hard to imagine him seething with indignation, down there helpless in
his crowded corner, while the facile speaker propounded as well as
demolished his objection to her and all her works.

'Yes; one last question. Let us have it.'

'How can you pretend that women want the vote? Why, there are hardly any
here.'

'More women would join us openly but for fear of their fellow-cowards.
Thousands upon thousands of women feel a sympathy with this movement
they dare not show.'

'Lots of women don't want the vote.'

'What women don't want it? Are you worrying about a handful who think
because they have been trained to like subservience everybody else ought
to like subservience, too? The very existence of a movement like this is
a thorn in their sleek sides. We are a reproach and a menace to such
women. But this isn't a movement to compel anybody to vote. It is to
give the right to those who _do_ want it--to those signatories of the
second largest petition ever laid on the table of the House of
Commons--to the 96,000 textile workers--to the women who went last month
in deputation to the Prime Minister, and who represented over half a
million belonging to Trades Unions and organized societies. To--perhaps
more than all, to the unorganized women, those whose voices are never
heard in public. _They_, as Mrs. Bewley told you--they are beginning to
want it. The women who are made to work over hours--_they_ want the
vote. To compel them to work over hours is illegal. But who troubles to
see that laws are fairly interpreted for the unrepresented? I know a
factory where a notice went up yesterday to say that the women employed
there will be required to work twelve hours a day for the next few
weeks. Instead of starting at eight, they must begin at six, and work
till seven. The hours in this particular case are illegal--as the
employer will find out!' she threw in with a flash, and one saw by that
illumination the avenue through which his enlightenment would come. 'But
in many shops where women work, twelve hours a day is legal. Much of
women's employment is absolutely unrestricted, except that they may not
be worked on Sunday. And while all that is going on, comfortable
gentlemen sit in armchairs and write alarmist articles about the falling
birth-rate and the horrible amount of infant mortality. A Government
calling itself Liberal goes pettifogging on about side issues, while
women are debased and babies die. Here and there we find a man who
realizes that the main concern of the State should be its children, and
that you can't get worthy citizens where the mothers are sickly and
enslaved. The question of statecraft, rightly considered, always reaches
back to the mother. That State is most prosperous that most considers
her. No State that forgets her can survive. The future is rooted in the
well-being of women. If you rob the women, your children and your
children's children pay. Men haven't realized it--your boasted logic has
never yet reached so far. Of all the community, the women who give the
next generation birth, and who form its character during the most
impressionable years of its life--of all the community, these mothers
now or mothers to be ought to be set free from the monstrous burden that
lies on the shoulders of millions of women. Those of you who want to see
women free, hold up your hands.'

A strange, orchid-like growth sprang up in the air. Hands gloved and
ungloved, hands of many shades and sizes, hands grimy and hands ringed.

Something curious to the unaccustomed eye, these curling, clutching,
digitated members raised above their usual range and common avocations,
suddenly endowed with speech, and holding forth there in the silent
upper air for the whole human economy.

'Now, down.' The pallid growth vanished. 'Those against the freedom of
women.' Again hands, hands. Far too many to suit the promoters of the
meeting. But Miss Claxton announced, 'The ayes are in the majority. The
meeting is with us.'

'She can't even count!' The air was full of the taunting phrase--'Can't
count!'

'Yes,' said Miss Claxton, wheeling round again upon the people, as some
of her companions began to get down out of the cart. 'Yes, she can
count, and she can see when men don't play fair. Each one in that group
held up _two_ hands when the last vote was taken.' She made a great deal
of this incident, and elevated it into a principle. 'It is entirely
characteristic of the means men will stoop to use in opposing the
Women's Cause.'

To hoots and groans and laughter the tam-o'-shanter disappeared.

'Rank Socialists every one of 'em!' was one of the verdicts that flew
about.

'They ought _all_ to be locked up.'

'A danger to the public peace.'

A man circulating about on the edge of the crowd was calling out,
''Andsome souvenir. Scented paper 'andkerchief! With full programme of
Great Suffragette Meeting in 'Yde Park!'

As the crowd thinned, some of the roughs pressing forward were trying to
'rush' the speakers. The police hastened to the rescue. It looked as if
there would be trouble. Vida and her maid escaped towards the Marble
Arch.

''Andsome scented 'andkerchief! Suffragette Programme!' The raucous
voice followed them, and not the voice alone. Through the air was wafted
the cheap and stifling scent of patchouli.



CHAPTER X


Jean Dunbarton received Mr. Geoffrey Stonor upon his entrance into Mrs.
Freddy's drawing-room with a charming little air of fluttered
responsibility.

'Mrs. Freddy and I have been lunching with the Whyteleafes. She had to
go afterwards to say good-bye to some people who are leaving for abroad.
So Mrs. Freddy asked me to turn over my Girls' Club to your cousin
Sophia----'

'Are you given to good works, too?' he interrupted. 'What a terribly
philanthropic age it is!'

Jean smiled as she went on with her explanation. 'Although it wasn't her
Sunday, Sophia, like an angel, has gone to the club. And I'm here to
explain. Mrs. Freddy said if she wasn't back on the stroke----'

'Oh, I dare say I'm a trifle early.'

It was a theory that presented fewer difficulties than that he should be
kept waiting.

'I was to beg you to give her a few minutes' grace in any case.'

Instead of finding a seat, he stood looking down at the charming face.
His indifference to Mrs Freddy's precise programme lent his eyes a
misleading look of absent-mindedness, which dashed the girl's obvious
excitement over the encounter.

'I see,' he had said slowly. What he saw was a graceful creature of
medium height, with a clear colour and grey-blue eyes fixed on him with
an interest as eager as it was frank. What the grey-blue eyes saw was
probably some glorified version of Stonor's straight, firm features, a
little blunt, which lacked that semblance of animation given by colour,
and seemed to scorn to make up for it by any mobility of expression. The
grey eyes, set somewhat too prominently, were heavy when not interested,
and the claim to good looks which nobody had dreamed of denying seemed
to rest mainly upon the lower part of his face. The lips, over-full,
perhaps, were firmly moulded, but the best lines were those curves from
the ear to the quite beautiful chin. The gloss on the straight
light-brown hair may have stood to the barber's credit, but only health
could keep so much grace still in the carriage of a figure heavier than
should be in a man of forty--one who, without a struggle, had declined
from polo unto golf. There was no denying that the old expression of
incipient sullenness, fleeting or suppressed, was deepening into the
main characteristic of his face, though it was held that he, as little
as any man, had cause to present that aspect to a world content to be
his oyster. Yet, as no doubt he had long ago learned, it was that very
expression which was the cause of much of the general concern people
seemed to feel to placate, to amuse, to dispel the menace of that cloud.
The girl saw it, and her heart failed her.

'Mrs. Freddy said if I told you the children were in the garden
expecting you, you wouldn't have the heart to go away directly.'

'She is right. I _haven't_ the heart.' And in that lifting of his cloud,
the girl's own face shone an instant.

'I should have felt it a terrible responsibility if you were to go.' She
spoke as if the gladness that was not to be repressed called for some
explanation. 'Mrs. Freddy says that she and Mr. Freddy see so little of
you nowadays. That was why she made such a point of my coming and trying
to--to----'

'You needed a great deal of urging then?' He betrayed the half-amused,
half-ironic surprise of the man accustomed to find people ready enough,
as a rule, to clutch at excuse for a _tête-à-tête_. Although she had
flushed with mingled embarrassment and excitement, he proceeded to
increase her perturbation by suggesting, 'Mrs. Freddy had to overcome
your dislike for the mission.'

'Dislike? Oh, no!'

'What then?'

'My--well----' She lifted her eyes, and dared to look him full in the
face as she said, 'I suppose you know you are rather alarming.'

'Am I?' he smiled.

People less interested in him than Jean were grateful to Geoffrey Stonor
when he smiled. They felt relieved from some intangible responsibility
for the order of the universe.

The girl brightened wonderfully. 'Oh, yes, very alarming indeed,' she
assured him cheerfully.

'How do you make that out?'

'I don't need to "make it out." It's so very plain.' Then a little
hastily, as if afraid of having said something that sounded like impious
fault-finding, 'Anybody's alarming who is so--so much talked about, and
so--well, like you, you understand.'

'I don't understand,' he objected mendaciously--'not a little bit.'

'I think you must,' she said, with her candid air. 'Though I had made up
my mind that I wouldn't be afraid of you any more since our week-end at
Ulland.'

'Ah, that's better!'

There was nothing in the words, but in the gentleness with which he
brought them out, so much that the girl turned her eyes away and played
with the handle of her parasol.

'Have you been reading any more poetry?' he said.

'No.'

'No? Why not?'

She shook her head. 'It doesn't sound the same.'

'What! I spoilt it for you?'

She laughed, and again she shook her head, but with something shy,
half-frightened in her look. Nervously she dashed at a diversion.

'I'm afraid I was a little misleading about the children. They aren't in
the garden yet. Shall we go up and see them having tea?'

'Oh, no, it would be bad for their little digestions to hurry them.'

He sat down. Her face gave him as much credit as though he had done some
fine self-abnegating deed.

They spoke of that Sunday walk in the valley below the Ulland links, and
the crossing of a swollen little stream on a rotting and rickety log.

'I _had_ to go,' she explained apologetically. 'Hermione had gone on and
forgotten the puppy hadn't learnt to follow. I was afraid he'd lose
himself.'

'It _was_ a dangerous place to go across,' he said, as if to justify
some past opinion.

Her eyes were a little mischievous. 'I never thought _you'd_ come.'

'Why?' he demanded.

'Oh, because I thought you'd be too----' His slow look quickened as if
to surprise in her some reflection upon his too solid flesh--or might it
even be upon the weight of years? But the uncritical admiration in her
face must have reassured him before the words, 'I thought you'd be too
grand. It was delightful to find you weren't.'

He kept his eyes on her. 'Are you always so happy?'

'Oh, I hope not. That would be rather too inhuman, wouldn't it?'

'Too celestial, perhaps!' He laughed--but he was looking into the blue
of her eyes as if through them he too had caught a glimpse of Paradise.
'I remember thinking at Ulland,' he said more slowly again, 'I had never
seen any one quite so happy.'

'I was happy at Ulland. But I'm not happy now.'

'Then your looks belie you.'

'No, I am very sad. I have to go away from this delightful London to
Scotland. I shall be away for weeks. It's too dismal.'

'Why do you go?'

'My grandfather makes me. He hates London. And his dreary old house on a
horrible windy hill--he simply loves that!'

'And you don't love it _at all_. I see.' He seemed to be thinking out
something.

Compunction visited the face before him. 'I didn't mean to say I didn't
love it _at all_. It's like those people you care to be with for a
little while, but if you must go being with them for ever you come to
hate them--almost.'

They sat silent for a moment, then with slow reflectiveness, like one
who thinks aloud, he said--

'I have to go to Scotland next week.'

'Do you! What part?'

'I go to Inverness-shire.'

'Why, that's where we are! Near----'

'Why shouldn't I drop down upon you some day?'

'Oh, _will_ you? That would be----' She seemed to save herself from some
gulf of betrayal. 'There are walks about my grandfather's more beautiful
than anything you ever saw--or perhaps I ought to say more beautiful
than anything _I_ ever saw.'

'Nicer walks than at Ulland?'

'Oh, no comparison! One is a bridle-path all along a wonderful brown
trout stream that goes racing down our hill. There's a moor on one side,
and a wood on the other, and a peat bog at the bottom.'

'We might perhaps stop short of the bog.'

'Yes, we'd stop at old McTaggart's. He's the head-keeper and a real
friend. McTaggart "has the Gaelic." But he hasn't much else, so perhaps
you'd prefer his wife.'

'Why should I prefer his wife?'

Jean's face was full of laughter. Stonor's plan of going to Scotland had
singularly altered the character of that country. Its very inhabitants
were now perceived to be enlivening even to talk about; to _know_--the
gamekeeper's wife alone--would repay the journey thither.

'I assure you Mrs. McTaggart is a travelled, experienced person.'

He shook his head while he humoured her. 'I'm not sure travel or
experience is what we chiefly prize--in ladies.'

'Oh, isn't it? I didn't know, you see. I didn't know how dreadfully you
might miss the terribly clever people you're accustomed to in London.'

'It's because of the terribly clever people we are glad to go away.'

He waxed so eloquent in his admiration of the womanly woman (who seemed
by implication to have steered clear of Mrs. McTaggart's pitfalls), that
Jean asked with dancing eyes--

'Are you consoling me for not being clever?'

'Are you sure you aren't?'

'Oh, dear, yes. No possible shadow of doubt about it.'

'Then,' he laughed, 'I'm coming to Inverness-shire! I'll even go so far
as to call on the McTaggarts if you'll undertake that she won't instruct
me about foreign lands.'

'No such irrelevance! She'd tell you about London. She was here for six
whole months. And she got something out of it I don't believe even you
have. A Certificate of Merit.'

'No. London certainly never gave me one.'

'You see! Mrs. McTaggart lived the life of the Metropolis with such
success that she passed an examination before she left. The subject was:
"Incidents in the Life of Abraham." It says so on the certificate. She
has it framed and hung in the parlour.'

He smiled. 'I admit few can point to such fruits of Metropolitan
Ausbildung. But I think I shall prefer the burnside--or even the bog.'

'No; the moors. They're best of all.' She sat looking straight before
her, with her heart's deep well overflowing at her eyes. As if she felt
vaguely that some sober reason must be found for seeing those same moors
in this glorified light all of a sudden, she went on, 'I'll show you a
special place where white heather grows, and the rabbits tumble about as
tame as kittens. It's miles away from the sea, but the gulls come
sunning themselves and walking about like pigeons. I used to hide up
there when I was little and naughty. Nobody ever found the place out
except an old gaberlunzie, and I gave him tuppence not to tell.'

'Yes, show me that place.' His face was wonderfully attractive so!

'And we'll take The Earthly--William Morris--along, won't we?'

'I thought you'd given up reading poetry.'

'Yes--to myself. I used to think I knew about poetry, yes, better than
anybody but the poets. There are people as arrogant as that.'

'Why, it's worse than Mrs. McTaggart!'

The girl was grave, even tremulous. 'But, no! I never had a notion of
what poetry really was till down at Ulland you took my book away from
me, and read aloud----'

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Freddy let himself and Lord Borrodaile in at the front door so
closely on the heels of Mrs. Freddy that the servant who had closed the
door behind her had not yet vanished into the lower regions. At a word
from that functionary, Mr. Freddy left his brother depositing hat and
stick with the usual deliberation, and himself ran upstairs two steps at
a time. He caught up with his wife just outside the drawing-room door,
as she paused to take off her veil in front of that mirror which Mrs.
Freddy said should be placed between the front door and the drawing-room
in every house in the land for the reassurance of the timid feminine
creature. She was known to add privately that it was not ignored by
men--and that those who came often, contracted a habit of hurrying
upstairs close at the servant's heels, in order to have two seconds to
spare for furtive consultation, while he went on to open the
drawing-room door. She had observed this pantomime more than once,
leaning over the banisters, herself on the way downstairs.

'They tell me Stonor's been here half an hour,' said Mr. Freddy,
breathlessly. 'You're dreadfully late!'

'No, darling----'

He held out his watch to confound her. 'You tell me you aren't late?'

'Sh--no. I do so sympathize with a girl who has no mother,' with which
enigmatic rejoinder she pushed open the door, and went briskly through
the double drawing-room to where Mr. Geoffrey Stonor and Jean Dunbarton
were sitting by a window that overlooked the square.

Stonor waved away Mrs. Freddy's shower of excuses, saying--

'You've come just in time to save us from falling out. I've been telling
Miss Dunbarton that in another age she would have been a sort of Dinah
Morris, or more likely another St. Ursula with a train of seven thousand
virgins.'

'And all because I've told him about my Girls' Club! and----'

'Yes,' he said, '"and"----' He turned away and shook hands with his two
kinsmen. He sat talking to them with his back to the girl.

It was a study in those delicate weights and measures that go to
estimating the least tangible things in personality, to note how his
action seemed not only to dim her vividness but actually to efface the
girl. In the first moments she herself accepted it at that. Her looks
said: He is not aware of me any more--ergo, I don't exist.

During the slight distraction incident to the bringing in of tea, and
Mr. Freddy's pushing up some of the big chairs, Mr. Stonor had a
moment's remembrance of her. He spoke of his Scottish plans and fell to
considering dates. Then all of a sudden she saw that again and yet more
woundingly his attention had wandered. The moment came while Lord
Borrodaile was busy Russianizing a cup of tea, and Mr. Freddy, balancing
himself on very wide-apart legs in front of his wife's tea-table, had
interrogated her--

'What do you think, shall I ring and say we aren't at home?'

'Perhaps it would be----' Mrs. Freddy's eye flying back from Stonor
caught her brother-in-law's. 'Freddy'--she arrested her husband as he
was making for the bell--'say, "except to Miss Levering."'

'All right. Except to Miss Levering.' And it was at that point that Jean
saw she wasn't being listened to.

Even Mrs. Freddy, looking up, was conscious of something in Stonor's
face that made her say--

'Old Sir Hervey's youngest daughter. You knew _him_, I suppose, even if
you haven't met her. Jean, you aren't giving Mr. Stonor anything to
eat.'

'No, no, thanks. I don't know why I took this.' He set down his tea-cup.
'I never have tea.'

'You're like everybody else,' said the girl, in a half-petulant aside.

'Does nobody have tea?'

She lowered her voice while the others discussed who had already been
sent away, and who might still be expected to invade.

'Nobody remembers anybody else when that Miss Levering of theirs is to
the fore. You began to say when--to talk about Scotland.'

He had taken out his watch. 'I was wondering if the children were down
yet. Shall we go and see?'

Jean jumped up with alacrity.

'Sh!' Mrs. Freddy held up a finger and silenced her little circle. 'They
must have thought I was ringing for toast--somebody's being let in!'

'Let's hope it's Miss Levering,' said Mr. Freddy.

'I must see those young barbarians of yours before I go,' said Stonor,
rising with decision.

The sound of voices on the stair was quite distinct now. By the time the
servant had opened the door and announced: 'Mrs. Heriot, Miss Heriot,
Captain Beeching,' Mr. Freddy, the usually gracious host, was leading
the way through the back drawing-room, unblushingly abetting Mr.
Stonor's escape under the very eyes of persons who would have gone miles
on the chance of meeting him.

Small wonder that Jean was consoled for knowing herself too shy to
follow, if she remembered that he had actually asked her to do so! She
showed no surprise at the tacit assumption on the part of his relations
that Geoffrey Stonor could never be expected to sit there as common
mortals might, making himself more or less agreeable to whoever might
chance to drop in. Unless they were 'very special' of course he couldn't
be expected to put up with them.

But what on earth was happening! No wonder Mrs. Freddy looked aghast.
For Mrs. Heriot had had the temerity to execute a short cut and waylay
the escaping lion. 'Oh, how do you do?'--she thrust out a hand. And he
went out as if she had been thin air! It was the kind of insolence that
used to be more common, because safer, than it is likely to be in
future--a form of condoned brutality that used to inspire more awe than
disgust. People were guilty even of a slavish admiration of those who
had the nerve to administer this wholly disproportionate reproof to the
merely maladroit. It could be done only by one whom all the world had
conspired to befog and befool about his importance in the scheme of
things.

Small wonder the girl, too, was bewildered. For no one seemed to dream
of resenting what had occurred. The lesson conveyed appeared to be that
the proper attitude to certain of your fellow-creatures was very much
the traditional one towards royalty. You were not to speak unless you
were spoken to. And yet this man who with impunity snubbed persons of
consideration, was the same one who was coming to call on Sally
McTaggart--he was going to walk the bridle-path along the burnside to
the white heather haven.

With the dazed look in her eyes, and cheeks scarlet with sympathy and
confusion, the girl had run forward to greet her aunt, and to do her
little share toward dissipating the awkward chill that had fallen on the
company.

After producing a stammered, 'Oh--a--I thought it was----' the immediate
effect on Mrs. Heriot was to make her both furious and cowed. Though a
nervous stream of talk trickled on, Mrs. Freddy's face did not lose its
flustered look nor did the company regain its ease, until a further
diversion was created by the appearance of Miss Levering with an alert,
humorous-looking man of middle-age in her train.

'Mr. Greatorex was passing just in time to help me out of my hansom,'
was her greeting to Mrs. Freddy.

'And I,' said the gentleman, 'insisted on being further rewarded by
being brought in.'

'_That_ is Miss Levering?' whispered Jean, partly to distract her aunt.

'Yes; why not?' said Lord Borrodaile, overhearing.

'Oh, I somehow imagined her different.'

'She _is_ different,' said Aunt Lydia, with bitter gloom. 'You would
never know in the least what she was like from the look of her.'

Lord Borrodaile's eyes twinkled. 'Is that so?' he said, indulgent to a
mood which hardly perhaps made for dispassionate appraisement.

'You don't believe it!' said Mrs. Heriot. 'Of course not!'

'I was only thinking what a fillip it gave acquaintance to be in doubt
whether a person was a sinner or a saint.'

'It wouldn't for me,' said Jean.

'Oh, you see, you're so Scotch.'

He was incorrigible!

'I didn't hear, who is the man?' Jean asked, as those not knowing
usually did.

Although far from distinguished in appearance, Mr. Greatorex would have
stood in no danger of being overlooked, even if he had not those
twinkling jewel-like eyes, and two strands of coal-black hair trained
across his large bumpy cranium, from the left ear to the right, and
securely pasted there.

'It's that wretched radical, St. John Greatorex.' Mrs. Heriot turned
from her niece to Lord Borrodaile. 'What foundation is there,' she
demanded, 'for the rumour that he tells such good stories at dinner? _I_
never heard any.'

'Ah, I believe he keeps them till the ladies have left the room.'

'You don't like him, either,' said Mrs. Heriot, reaching out for the
balm of alliance with Lord Borrodaile.

But he held aloof. 'Oh, they say he has his points--a good judge of
wine, and knows more about Parliamentary procedure than most of us.'

'How you men stand up for one another! You know perfectly well you can't
endure him.' Mrs. Heriot jerked her head away and faced the group round
the tea-table. 'What is she saying? That she's been to a Suffrage
meeting in Hyde Park!'

'How could she! Nothing would induce me to go and listen to such
people!' said Miss Dunbarton.

Her eyes, as well as Mrs. Heriot's, were riveted on the tall figure,
tea-cup in hand, moving away from the table now to make room for some
new arrivals, and drawing after her a portion of the company, including
Lady Whyteleafe and Richard Farnborough, who one after another had come
in a few moments before. It was to the young man that Greatorex was
saying, with a twinkle, 'I am sure Mr. Farnborough agrees with me.'

Slightly self-conscious, he replied, 'About Miss Levering being
too--a----'

'For that sort of thing altogether "too."'

'How do you know?' said the lady herself, with a teasing smile.

Greatorex started out of the chair in which he had just deposited
himself at her side. 'God bless my soul!' he said.

'She's only saying that to get a rise out of you.' Farnborough seemed
unable to bear the momentary shadow obscuring the lady's brightness.

'Ah, yes'--Greatorex leaned back again--'your frocks aren't serious
enough.'

'Haven't I been telling you it's an exploded notion that the Suffrage
people are all dowdy and dull?'

'Pooh!' said Mr. Greatorex.

'You talk about some of them being pretty,' Farnborough said. '_I_
didn't see a good-looking one among 'em.'

'Ah, you men are so unsophisticated; you missed the fine feathers.'

'Plenty o' feathers on the one I heard.'

'Yes, but not _fine_ feathers. A man judges of the general effect. We
can, at a pinch, see past unbecoming clothes, can't we, Lady Whyteleafe?
We see what women could make of themselves if they took the trouble.'

'All the same,' said the lady appealed to, 'it's odd they don't see how
much better policy it would be if they _did_ take a little trouble about
their looks. Now, if we got our maids to do those women's hair for
them--if we lent them our French hats--ah, _then_'--Lady Whyteleafe
nodded till the pear-shaped pearls in her ears swung out like milk-white
bells ringing an alarum--'they'd convert you creatures fast enough
then.'

'Perhaps "convert" is hardly the word,' said Vida, with ironic mouth. As
though on an impulse, she bent forward to say, with her lips near Lady
Whyteleafe's pearl drop: 'What if it's the aim of the movement to get
away from the need of just these little dodges?'

'Dodges?'

But without the exclamation, Miss Levering must have seen that she had
been speaking in an unknown tongue. A world where beauty exists for
beauty's sake--which is love's sake--and not for tricking money or power
out of men, even the possibility of such a world is beyond the imagining
of many.

Something was said about a deputation of women who had waited on Mr.
Greatorex.

'Hm, yes, yes.' He fiddled with his watch chain.

As though she had just recalled the circumstances, 'Oh, yes,' Vida said,
'I remember I thought at the time, in my modest way, it was nothing
short of heroic of them to go asking audience of their arch opponent.'

'It didn't come off!' He wagged his strange head.

'Oh,' she said innocently, 'I thought they insisted on bearding the lion
in his den.'

'Of course I wasn't going to be bothered with a lot of----'

'You don't mean you refused to go out and face them!'

He put on a comic look of terror. 'I wouldn't have done it for worlds!
But a friend of mine went and had a look at 'em.'

'Well,' she laughed,'did he get back alive?'

'Yes, but he advised me not to go. "You're quite right," he said. "Don't
you think of bothering," he said. "I've looked over the lot," he said,
"and there isn't a week-ender among 'em."'

Upon the general laugh that drew Hermione and Captain Beeching into the
group, Jean precipitated herself gaily into the conversation. 'Have they
told you about Mrs. Freddy's friend who came to tea here in the winter?'
she asked Hermione. 'He was a member of Parliament, too--quite a little
young one--he said women would never be respected till they had the
vote!'

Mr. Greatorex snorted, the other men smiled, and all the women, except
Aunt Lydia, did the same.

'I remember telling him,' Mrs. Heriot said, with marked severity, 'that
he was too young to know what he was talking about.'

'Yes, I'm afraid you all sat on the poor gentleman,' said Lord
Borrodaile.

'It was such fun. He was flat as a pancake when we'd done with him. Aunt
Ellen was here. She told him with her most distinguished air she didn't
want to be respected.'

'Dear Lady John!' murmured Miss Levering. 'I can hear her!'

'Quite right,' said Captain Beeching. 'Awful idea to think you're
_respected_.'

'Simply revolting,' agreed Miss Heriot.

'Poor little man!' laughed Jean, 'and he thought he was being _so_
agreeable!'

'Instead of which it was you.'

Miss Levering said the curious words quite pleasantly, but so low that
only Jean heard them.

The girl looked up. 'Me?'

'You had the satisfaction of knowing you had made yourself immensely
popular with all other men.'

The girl flushed. 'I hope you don't think I did it for that reason.'

The little passage was unnoticed by the rest of the company, who were
listening to Lord Borrodaile's contented pronouncement: 'I'm afraid the
new-fangled seed falls on barren ground in our old-fashioned
gardens--_pace_ my charming sister-in-law.'

Greatorex turned sharply. 'Mrs. Tunbridge! God bless my soul, you don't
mean----'

'There is one thing I will say for her'--Mrs. Freddy's brother-in-law
lazily defended the honour of the house--'she doesn't, as a rule,
obtrude her opinions. There are people who have known her for years, and
haven't a notion she's a light among the misguided.'

But Greatorex was not to be reassured. 'Mrs. Tunbridge! Lord, the perils
that beset the feet of man!' He got up with a half-comic ill humour.

'You're not going!' The hostess flitted over to remonstrate. 'I haven't
had a word with you.'

'Yes, yes; I'm going.'

Mrs. Freddy looked bewildered at the general laugh.

'He's heard aspersions cast upon your character,' said Lord Borrodaile.
'His moral sense is shocked.'

'Honestly, Mrs. Tunbridge'--Farnborough was for giving her a chance to
clear herself--'what do you think of your friends' recent exploits?'

'My friends?'

'Yes; the disorderly women.'

'They are not my friends,' said Mrs. Freddy, with dignity, 'but I don't
think you must call them----'

'Why not?' said Lord Borrodaile. '_I_ can forgive them for worrying the
Liberals'--he threw a laughing glance at Greatorex--'but they _are_
disorderly.'

'Isn't the phrase consecrated to a different class?' said Miss Levering,
quietly.

'You're perfectly right.' Greatorex, for once, was at one with Lord
Borrodaile. 'They've become nothing less than a public nuisance. Going
about with dog-whips and spitting in policemen's faces.'

'I wonder,' said Mrs. Freddy, with a harassed air--'I wonder if they did
spit!'

'Of course they did!' Greatorex exulted.

'You're no authority on what they do,' said Mrs. Freddy. 'You run away.'

'Run away?' He turned the laugh by precipitately backing away from her
in a couple of agitated steps. 'Yes, and if ever I muster up courage to
come back, it will be to vote for better manners in public life, not
worse than we have already.'

'So should I,' observed Mrs. Freddy, meekly. 'Don't think I defended the
Suffragettes.'

'But still,' said Miss Levering, with a faint accent of impatience, 'you
_are_ an advocate for the Suffrage, aren't you?'

'I don't beat the air.'

'Only policemen,' Greatorex mocked.

'If you cared to know the attitude of the real workers in the Reform,'
Mrs. Freddy said plaintively, 'you might have seen in any paper that we
lost no time in dissociating ourselves from the two or three
hysterical----' She caught her brother-in-law's critical eye, and
instantly checked her flow of words.

There was a general movement as Greatorex made his good-byes. Mrs.
Heriot signalled her daughter.

In the absence of the master, Lord Borrodaile made ready to do the
honours of the house to a lady who had had so little profit of her
visit. Beeching carried off the reluctant Farnborough. Mrs. Freddy kept
up her spirits until after the exodus; then, with a sigh, she sat down
beside Vida. 'It's true what that old cynic says,' she admitted
sorrowfully. 'The scene has put back the Reform a generation.'

'It must have been awfully exciting. I wish I'd been there,' said Jean.

'I _was_ there.'

'Oh, was it as bad as the papers said?'

'Worse. I've never been so moved in public--no tragedy, no great opera
ever gripped an audience as the situation in the House did that night.
There we all sat breathless--with everything more favourable to us than
it had been within the memory of woman. Another five minutes and the
resolution would have passed. Then--all in a moment'--Mrs. Freddy
clasped her hands excitedly--'all in a moment a horrible, dingy little
flag was poked through the grille of the Woman's Gallery--cries--insults--
scuffling--the police--the ignominious turning out of the women--_us_ as
well as the---- Oh, I can't _think_ of it without----' She jumped up and
walked to and fro. 'Then the next morning!' She paused. 'The people
gloating. Our friends antagonized--people who were wavering--nearly won
over--all thrown back! Heart-breaking! Even my husband! Freddy's been an
angel about letting me take my share when I felt I must--but, of course,
I've always known he doesn't like it. It makes him shy. I'm sure it
gives him a horrid twist inside when he sees even the discreetest little
paragraph to say that I am "one of the speakers." But he's always been
an angel about it before this. After the disgraceful scene, he said, "It
just shows how unfit women are for any sort of coherent thinking or
concerted action."'

'To think,' said Jean, more sympathetically, 'that it should be women
who've given their own scheme the worst blow it ever had!'

'The work of forty years destroyed in five minutes!'

'They must have felt pretty sick,' said the girl, 'when they waked up
the next morning--those Suffragettes.'

'I don't waste any sympathy on _them_. I'm thinking of the penalty _all_
women have to pay because two or three hysterical----'

'Still, I think I'm sorry for them,' the girl persisted. 'It must be
dreadful to find you've done such a lot of harm to the thing you care
most about in the world.'

'Do you picture the Suffragettes sitting in sack-cloth?' said Vida,
speaking at last.

'Well, they can't help realizing _now_ what they've done.'

'Isn't it just possible they realize they've waked up interest in the
Woman Question so that it's advertised in every paper, and discussed
under every roof, from Land's End to John-o'-Groats? Don't you think
_they_ know there's been more said and written about it in these days
since the scene than in the ten years before it!'

'You aren't saying you think it was a good way to get what they wanted!'
exclaimed Mrs. Freddy.

'I'm only pointing out that it seems not such a bad way to get it known
they _do_ want something, and--"want it bad,"' Vida added, smiling.

Jean drew her low chair almost in front of the lady who had so wounded
her sensibilities a little while before with that charge of
popularity-hunting.

'Mrs. Tunbridge says before that horrid scene everything was favourable
at last,' the girl hazarded.

'Yes,' said Mrs. Freddy, 'we never had so many friends in the House
before----'

'"Friends,"' echoed the other woman, with a faint smile.

'Why do you say it like that?'

'Because I was thinking of a funny story--(he _said_ it was funny)--a
Liberal Whip told me the other day. A Radical member went out of the
House after his speech in favour of the Women's Bill, and as he came
back half an hour later he heard some members talking in the lobby about
the astonishing number who were going to vote for the measure. And the
Friend of Woman dropped his jaw and clutched the man next him. "My God!"
he said, "you don't mean they're going to _give_ it to them!"'

'Sh! Here is Ronald.' Mrs. Freddy's tact brought her smiling to her feet
as the figure of her brother-in-law appeared in the doorway. But she
turned her back on him and affected absorption in the tableau presented
by Jean leaning forward, elbow on knee, chin in hand, gazing steadily in
Vida Levering's face.

'I don't want to interrupt you two,' said the hostess, 'but I think you
must look at the pictures.'

'Oh, yes, I brought them specially'--Lord Borrodaile deflected his
course in order to take up from the table two squares of cardboard tied
face to face with tape.

'Bless the man!' Mrs. Freddy contemplated him with smiling affectation
of scorn. 'I mean the new photographs of the children. He's thinking of
some reproductions Herbert Tunbridge got while he was abroad--pictures
of things somebody's unearthed in Sicily or Cyprus.'

'Crete, my dear.' He turned his back on the fond mother and Jean who was
already oh-ing with appreciation at the first of a pile of little Saras
and Cecils. When he came back to his corner of the sofa he made no
motion to undo his packet, but 'Now then!' he said, as he often did on
sitting down beside Vida Levering--as though they had been interrupted
on the verge of coming to an agreement about something.

She, with an instinct of returning the ball, usually tossed at him some
scrap of news or a jest, or some small social judgment. This time when
he uttered his 'Now then,' with that anticipatory air, she answered
instantly--'Yes; something rather odd has been happening. I've been
seeing beyond my usual range.'

'Really!' He smiled at her with a mixture of patronage and affection.
'And did you find there was "something new under the sun" after all?'

'Well, perhaps not so new, though it seemed new to me. But something
differently looked at. Why do we pretend that all conversion is to some
religious dogma--why not to a view of life?'

'Bless my soul! I begin to feel nervous.'

'Do you remember once telling me that I had a thing that was rare in my
sex--a sense of humour?'

'I remember often thinking it,' he said handsomely.

'It wasn't the first time I'd heard that. And it was one of the
compliments I liked best.'

'We all do. It means we have a sense of proportion--the mental
suppleness that is capable of the ironic view; an eye that can look
right as well as left.'

She nodded. 'When you wrote to me once, "My dear Ironist," I--yes--I
felt rather superior. I'm conscious now that it's been a piece of
hidden, intellectual pride with me that I could smile at most things.'

'Well, do you mean to forswear pride? For you can't live without
smiling.'

'I've seen something to-day that I don't feel I want to smile at. And
yet to you it's the most ludicrous spectacle in London.'

'This is all very mysterious.' He turned his long, whimsical face on one
side as he settled himself more comfortably against the cushion.

'You heard why I was late?' she said.

'I took the liberty of doubting the reason you gave!'

'You mustn't. It wasn't even my first offence.'

'You must find time hang very heavy on your hands.'

'On the contrary. I've never known the time to go so fast. Oh, heaps of
people would do what I have, if they only knew how queer and interesting
it is, and how already the outer aspect of the thing is changing. At the
first meetings very few women of any class. Now there are
dozens--scores. Soon there'll be hundreds. There were three thousand
people in the park this afternoon, so a policeman told me, but hardly
any of the class that what Dick Farnborough calls "runs England."'

'I suppose not.'

'You don't even know yet you'll have to deal with all that passionate
feeling, all that fixed determination to bring about a vast,
far-reaching change!--a change so great----'

'That it would knock civilized society into a cocked hat.'

'I wonder.'

'You _wonder_?'

'I wonder if you oughtn't to be reassured by the--bigness of the thing.
It isn't only these women in Hyde Park. They have a Feministe Movement
in France. They say there's a Frauenbewegung in Germany. From Finland to
Italy----'

'Oh, yes, strikes and uprisings. It's an uneasy Age.'

'People in India wanting a greater share in the government----'

'Mad as the Persians----' he smiled--'fancy _Persians_ clamouring for a
representative chamber! It's a sort of epidemic.'

'The Egyptians, too, restless under "benefits." And now everywhere, as
if by some great concerted movement--the Women!'

'Yes, yes; there's plenty of regrettable restlessness up and down the
world, a sort of wave of revolt against the constituted authorities. If
it goes too far--nothing for us but a military despotism!'

She shook her head with a look of such serene conviction that he
persisted, 'I'd be sorry if we came to it--but if this spirit grows,
this rebellion against all forms of control----'

'No, no, against other people's control. Suppose it ends in people
learning self-control.'

'That's the last thing the masses can do. There are few, even of the
_élite_, who have ever done it, and they belong to the Moral
Aristocracy--the smallest and most rigid in the world. This thing that
you're just opening your eyes to, is the rage against restraint that
goes with decadence. But the phlegmatic Englishman won't lead in that
dégringolade.'

'You mean we won't be among the first of the great nations to give women
the Suffrage?'

'_England?_' The slow head-shake and the smile airily relegated the
Woman's Movement to the limbo of the infinitely distant.

'Just because the men won't have it?' and for the second time she said,
'I wonder. For myself, I rather think the women are going to win.'

'Not in my time. Not even in yours.'

'Why?'

'Oh, the men will never let it come to the point.'

'It's interesting to hear you say that. You justify the militant women,
you know.'

'That is perhaps _not_ to hit the bull's eye!' he said, a little grimly.
Then dropping his unaccustomed air of chill disapproval, he appealed to
his friend's better taste. A confession of sheer physical loathing crept
into his face as he let fall two or three little sentences about these
women's offence against public decorum. 'Why, it is as hideous as war!'
he wound up, dismissing it.

'Perhaps it _is_ war.' Her phrase drew the cloud of menace down again;
it closed about them. It seemed to trouble her that he would not meet
her gaze. 'Don't think----' she prayed, and stumbling against the new
hardness in his face, broke off, withdrew her eyes and changed the form
of what she had meant to say. 'I think I like good manners, too, but I
see it would be a mistake to put them first. What if we have to earn the
right to be gentle and gracious without shame?'

'You seriously defend these people!'

'I'm not sure they haven't taken the only way.' She looked at her
friend with a fresh appeal in her eyes. But his were wearing their new
cold look. She seemed to nerve herself to meet some numbing danger of
cowardice. 'The old rule used to be patience--with no matter what wrong.
The new feeling is: shame on any one who weakly suffers wrong! Isn't it
too cheap an idea of morals that women should take credit for the
enduring that keeps the wrong alive? You won't say women have no stake
in morals. Have we any right to let the world go wrong while we get
compliments for our forbearance and for pretty manners?'

'You began,' said Borrodaile, 'by explaining other women's notions. You
have ended by seeming to adopt them as your own. But you are a person of
some intelligence. You will open your eyes before you go too far. You
belong to the people who are responsible for handing on the world's
treasure. As we've agreed, there never was a time when it was attacked
from so many sides. Can't you see what's at stake?'

'I see that many of the pleasantest things may be in eclipse for a
time.'

'My dear, they would die off the face of the earth.'

'No, they are too necessary.'

'To you and me. Not to the brawlers in Hyde Park. The life of civilized
beings is a very complex thing. It isn't filled by good intentions nor
even by the cardinal virtues. The function of the older societies is to
hand on the best things the world has won, so that those who come after,
instead of having to go back to barbarism, may start from where the best
of their day left off. We do for manners and the arts in general what
the Moors did for learning when the wild hordes came down. There were
capital chaps among the barbarians,' he smiled, 'I haven't a doubt! But
it was the men who held fast to civilization's clue, they were the
people who mattered. _We_ matter. We hold the clue.' He was recovering
his spirits. 'Your friends want to open the gates still wider to the
Huns. You want even the Moors overwhelmed.'

'Many women are as jealous to guard the old gains as the men are. Wait!'
She leaned forward. 'I begin to see! They are more keen about it than
the mass of men. The women! They are civilization's only ally against
your brother, the Goth.'

He laughed. 'When you are as absurd as that, my dear, I don't mind. No,
not a little bit. And I really believe I'm too fond of you to quarrel on
any ground.'

'You don't care enough about anything to quarrel about it,' she said,
smiling, too. 'But it's just as well'--she rose and began to draw on her
glove--'just as well that each of us should know where to find the
other. So tell me, what if it should be a question of going forward in
the suffrage direction or going back?'

'You mean----'

'----on from latchkeys and University degrees to Parliament, or back.'

'Oh, back,' he said hastily. 'Back. Yes, back to the harem.'

When the words were out, Lord Borrodaile had laughed a little
uneasily--like one who has surprised even himself by some
too-illuminating avowal. 'See here,' he put out a hand. 'I'm not going
to let you go for a minute or two. I've brought something to show you.
This foolish discussion put it out of my head.' But the revealing word
he had flung out--it seemed to have struck wide some window that had
been shuttered close before. The woman stood there in the glare. She did
not refuse to be drawn back to her place on the sofa, but she looked
round first to see if the others had heard and how they took it. A
glimpse of Mrs. Freddy's gown showed her out of earshot on the balcony.

'I've got something here really rather wonderful,' Lord Borrodaile went
on, with that infrequent kindling of enthusiasm. He had taken one of the
unmounted photographs from between its two bits of cardboard and was
holding it up before his eyeglass. 'Yes, he's an extraordinary
beggar!'--which remark in the ears of those who knew his lordship,
advertized his admiration of either some man of genius or 'Uebermensch'
of sorts. Before he shared the picture with his companion he told her of
what was not then so widely known--details of that most thrilling moment
perhaps in all the romance of archæology--where the excavators of
Knossos came upon the first authentic picture of a man belonging to that
mysterious and forgotten race that had raised up a civilization in some
things rivalling the Greek--a race that had watched Minoan power wane
and die, and all but the dimmest legend of it vanish, before the
builders of Argos and Mycenæ began laying their foundation stones.
Borrodaile, with an accent that for him was almost emotion, emphasized
the strangeness to the scholar of having to abandon the old idea of the
Greek being the sole flower of Mediterranean civilization. For here was
this wonderful island folk--a people standing between and bridging East
and West--these Cretan men and women who, though they show us their
faces, their delicate art and their stupendous palaces, have held no
parley with the sons of men, some say for three and thirty centuries.
'But wait! They'll tell us tales before those fellows have done! I
wouldn't mind hearing what this beggar has to say for himself!' At last
he shared the picture. They agreed that he was a beggar to be reckoned
with--this proud athlete coming back to the world of men after his long
sleep, not blinded by the new day, not primitive, apologetic, but
meeting us with a high imperial mien, daring and beautiful.

'What do you suppose he is carrying in that vase?' Vida asked; 'or is
that some trophy?'

'No, no, it's the long drinking cup--to the expert eye that is added
evidence of his high degree of civilization. But _think_, you know, a
man like that walking the earth so long before the Greeks! And here.
This courtly train looking on at the games. What do you say to the
women!'

'Why, they had got as far as flouncing their gowns and puffing their
sleeves! Their hair!'--'Dear me, they must have had a M. Raoul to ondulé
and dress it.' 'Amazing!--was there ever anything so modern dug out of
the earth before?' 'No, nothing like it!' he said, holding the pictures
up again between the glass and his kindling eye. 'Ce sont vraiment des
Parisiennes!'

Over his shoulder the modern woman looked long at that strange company.
'It is nothing less than uncanny,' she said at last. 'It makes one
vaguely wretched.'

'What does?'

'To realize that so long ago the world had got so far. Why couldn't
people like these go further still? Why didn't their sons hold fast what
so great a race had won?'

'These things go in cycles.'

'Isn't that a phrase?'--the woman mused--'to cover our ignorance of how
things go--and why? Why should we be so content to go the old way to
destruction? If I were "the English" of this splendid specimen of a
Cretan, I would at least find a new way to perdition.'

'Perhaps we shall!'

They sat trying from the accounts of Lord Borrodaile's archæological
friends to reconstruct something of that vanished world. It was a game
they had played at before, with Etruscan vases and ivories from
Ephesus--the man bringing to it his learning and his wit, the woman her
supple imagination and a passion of interest in the great romance of the
Pilgrimage of Man.

But to-day she bore a less light-hearted part--'It all came to an end!'
she repeated.

'Well, so shall we.'

'But--we--_you_ will leave your like behind to "hold fast to the clue,"
as you said a little while ago.'

'Till the turn of the wheel carries the English down. Then somewhere
else on our uneasy earth men will begin again----'

'----the fruitless round! But it's horrible--the waste of effort in the
world! It's worse than horrible. It's insane.' She looked up suddenly
into his face. 'You are wise. Tell me what you think the story of the
world means, with its successive clutches at civilization--all those
histories of slow and painful building--by Ganges and by Nile and in the
Isles of Greece.'

'It's a part of the universal rhythm that all things move to--Nature's
way,' he answered.

'Or was it because of some offence against one of her high laws that she
wiped the old experiments out? What if the meaning of history is that an
Empire maintained by brute force shall perish by brute force!'

'Ah,' he fixed her with those eyes of his. 'I see where you are going.'

'You can't either of you go anywhere,' said Mrs. Freddy, appearing
through the balcony window, 'till you've seen the children's pictures.'
Vida's eye had once more fallen on the reproduction of one of the Cretan
frescoes with a sudden intensification of interest.

'What is it?' Borrodaile asked, looking over her shoulder.

Woman-like she offered the man the outermost fringe of her thought.
'Even Lady Whyteleafe,' she said, 'would be satisfied with the attention
they paid to their hair.'

'Come, you two.' Mrs. Freddy was at last impatient. 'Jean's got the
_really_ beautiful pictures, showing them to Geoffrey. Let us all go
down to help him to decide which is the best.'

'Geoffrey?'

'Geoffrey Stonor--you know him, of course. But nobody knows the very
nicest side of Geoffrey, do they?' she appealed to Borrodaile,--'nobody
who hasn't seen him with children?'

'I never saw him with children,' said Vida, buttoning the last button of
her glove.

'Well, come down and watch him with Sara and Cecil. They perfectly adore
him.'

'No, it's too late.'

But the fond mother drew her friend to the window. 'You can see them
from here.'

Vida was not so hurried, apparently, but what she could stand there
taking in the picture of Sara and Cecil climbing about their big, kind
cousin, with Jean and Mr. Freddy looking on.

'Children!' Their mother waved a handkerchief. 'Here's another friend!
Chil---- They're too absorbed to notice,' she said apologetically,
turning to find Vida had left the window, and was saying good-bye to
Borrodaile.

'Oh, yes,' he agreed, 'they won't care about anybody else while Geoffrey
is there.' Lord Borrodaile stooped and picked up a piece of folded paper
off the sofa. 'Did I drop that?' He opened it. '_Votes for_----' He read
the two words out in an accent that seemed to brand them with
foolishness, even with vulgarity. 'No, decidedly I did not drop it.'

He was conveying the sheet to the wastepaper basket as one who piously
removes some unsavoury litter out of the way of those who walk
delicately. Miss Levering arrested him with outstretched hand.

'Do you want it?' His look adjured her to say, 'No.'

'Yes, I want it.'

'What for?' he persisted.

'I want it for an address there is on it.'



CHAPTER XI


It was Friday, and Mrs. Fox-Moore was setting out to alleviate the lot
of the poor in Whitechapel.

'Even if it were not Friday,' Vida said slyly as her sister was
preparing to leave the house, 'you'd invent some errand to take you out
of the contaminated air of Queen Anne's Gate this afternoon.'

'Well, as I told you,' said the other woman, nervously, 'you ask that
person here on your own responsibility.'

Vida smiled. 'I'm obliged to ask people here if I want to see them
quietly. You make such a fuss when I suggest having a house of my own!'

Mrs. Fox-Moore ignored the alternative. 'You'll see you're only making
trouble for yourself. You'll have to pay handsomely for your curiosity.'

'Well, I've been rather economical of late. Maybe I'll be able "to
pay."'

'Don't imagine you'll be able to settle an account of that kind with a
single cheque. Give people like that an inch, and they'll expect a
weekly ell.'

'Are you afraid she'll abstract the spoons?'

'I'm not only afraid, I _know_ she won't be satisfied with one
contribution, or one visit. She'll regard it as the thin end of the
wedge--getting her nose into a house of this kind.' Irresistibly the
words conjured up a vision of some sharp-visaged female marauder
insinuating the tip of a very pointed nose between the great front door
and the lintel. 'I only hope,' the elder woman went on, 'that I won't be
here the first time Donald encounters your new friend on the doorstep.
_That's_ all!'

Wherewith she departed to succour women and children at long range in
the good old way. Little Doris was ill in bed. Mr. Fox-Moore was
understood to have joined his brother's coaching party. The time had
been discreetly chosen--the coast was indubitably clear. But would it
remain so?

To insure that it should, Miss Levering had a private conference with
the butler.

'Some one is coming to see me on business.'

'Yes, miss.'

'At half-past five.'

'Yes, miss.'

'I specially don't want to be interrupted.'

'No, miss.'

'Not by _any_body, no matter whom.'

'Very well, miss.' A slight pause. 'Shall I show the gentleman into the
drawing-room, miss?'

'It's not a gentleman, and I'll see her upstairs in my sitting-room.'

'Yes, miss. Very well, miss.'

'And don't forget--to _any_ one else I'm not at home.'

'No, miss. What name, miss?'

Vida hesitated. The servants nowadays read everything. 'Oh, you can't
make a mistake. She---- It will be a stranger--some one who has never
been here before. Wait! I'll look out of the morning-room window. If it
is the person I'm expecting, I'll ring the bell. You understand. If the
morning-room bell has rung just as this person comes, it will be the one
I'm expecting.'

'Yes, miss.' With a splendid impassivity in the face of precautions so
unprecedented, the servant withdrew.

Vida smiled to herself as she leaned back among the cushions of her
capacious sofa, cutting the pages of a book. A pleasant place this room
of hers, wide and cool, where the creamy background of wall and
chintz-cover was lattice-laced with roses. The open windows looked out
upon one of those glimpses of greenery made vivid to the London eye, not
alone by gratitude, but by contrast of the leafage against the ebonized
bark of smoke-ingrained bole and twig.

The summer wind was making great, gentle fans of the plane branches; it
was swaying the curtains that hung down in long, straight folds from the
high cornices. No other sound in the room but the hard grate of the
ivory paper-knife sawing its way through a book whose outside alone (a
muddy-brown, pimpled cloth) proclaimed it utilitarian. Among the
fair-covered Italian volumes, the vellum-bound poets, and those
friends-for-a-lifetime wearing linen or morocco to suit a special taste;
above all, among that greater company 'quite impudently French' that
stood close ranked on shelves or lay about on tables--the brown book on
its dusty modern theme wore the air of a frieze-coated yeoman sitting
amongst broadcloth and silk. The reader glanced from time to time at the
clock. When the small glittering hand on the porcelain face pointed to
twenty minutes past five, the lady took her book and her paper-knife
into a front room on the floor below. She sat down behind the lowered
persienne, and every now and then lifted her eyes from the page and
peered out between the tiny slits. As the time went on she looked out
oftener. More than once she half rose and seemed about to abandon all
hope of the mysterious visitor when a hansom dashed up to the door. One
swift glance: 'They go in cabs!'--and Miss Levering ran to the bell.

A few moments after, she was again established in her sofa corner, and
the door of her sitting-room opened. 'The lady, miss.' Into the wide,
harmonious space was ushered a hot and harassed-looking woman, in a lank
alpaca gown and a tam-o'-shanter. Miss Claxton's clothes, like herself,
had borne the heat and burden of the day. She frowned as she gave her
hand.

'I am late, but it was very difficult to get away at all.'

Miss Levering pushed towards her one of the welcoming great easy-chairs
that stood holding out cool arms and a lap of roses. The tired visitor,
with her dusty clothes and brusque manner, sat down without relaxing to
the luxurious invitation. Her stiffly maintained attitude and direct
look said as plain as print, Now what excuse have you to offer for
asking me to come here? It may have been recollection of Mrs.
Fox-Moore's fear of 'the thin end of the wedge' that made Miss Levering
smile as she said--

'Yes, I've been expecting you for the last half hour, but it's very good
of you to come at all.'

Miss Claxton looked as if she quite agreed.

'You'll have some tea?' Miss Levering was moving towards the bell.

'No, I've had my tea.'

The queer sound of 'my' tea connoting so much else! The hostess subsided
on to the sofa.

'I heard you speak the other day as I told you in my note. But all the
same I came away with several unanswered questions--questions that I
wanted to put to you quietly. As I wrote you, I am not what _you_ would
call a convert. I've only got as far as the inquiry stage.'

Miss Claxton waited.

'Still, if I take up your time, I ought not to let you be out of pocket
by it.'

The hostess glanced towards the little spindle-legged writing-table,
where, on top of a heap of notes, lay the blue oblong of a cheque-book.

'We consider it part of every day's business to answer questions,' said
Miss Claxton.

'I suppose I can make some little contribution without--without its
committing me to anything?'

'Committing you----'

'Yes; it wouldn't get into the papers,' she said, a little shamefaced,
'or--or anything like that.'

'It wouldn't get into the papers unless you put it in.'

The lady blinked. There was a little pause. She was not easy to talk
to--this young woman. Nor was she the ideal collector of contributions.

'That was a remarkable meeting you had in Hyde Park last Sunday.'

'Remarkable? Oh, no, they're all pretty much alike.'

'Do they all end like that?'

'Oh, yes; people come to scoff, and by degrees we get hold of them--even
the Hyde Park loafers.'

'I mean, do they often crowd up and try to hustle the speakers?'

'Oh, they are usually quite good-natured.'

'You handled them wonderfully.'

'We're used to dealing with crowds.'

Her look went round the room, as if to say, 'It's this kind of thing I'm
not used to, and I don't take to it over-kindly.'

'In the crush at the end,' said Miss Levering, 'I overheard a scrap of
conversation between two men. They were talking about you. "Very good
for a woman," one said.'

Miss Claxton smiled a scornful little smile.

'And the other one said, "It would have been very good for a man. And
personally," he said, "I don't know many men who could have kept that
crowd in hand for two hours." That's what two men thought of it.'

She made no answer.

'It doesn't seem to me possible that your speakers average as good as
those I heard on Sunday.'

'We have a good many who speak well, but we look upon Ernestine Blunt as
our genius.'

'Yes, she seems rather a wonderful little person, but I wrote to you
because--partly because you are older. And you gave me the impression of
being extremely level-headed.'

'Ernestine Blunt is level-headed too,' said Miss Claxton, warily.

She was looking into the lady's face, frowning a little in that way of
hers, intent, even somewhat suspicious.

'Oh, I dare say, but she's such a child!'

'We sometimes think Ernestine Blunt has the oldest head among us.'

'Really,' said Miss Levering. 'When a person is as young as that, you
don't know how much is her own and how much borrowed.'

'She doesn't need to borrow.'

'But _you_. I said to myself, "That woman, who makes other things so
clear, she can clear up one or two things for me."'

'Well, I don't know.' More wary than ever, she suspended judgment.

'I noticed none of you paid any attention when the crowd called
out--things about----'

Miss Claxton's frown deepened. It was plain she heard the echo of that
insistent, never-answered query of the crowd, 'Got your dog-whip, miss?'
She waited.

It looked as though Miss Levering lacked courage to repeat it in all its
violent bareness.

'----when they called out things--about the encounters with the police.
It's those stories, as I suppose you know, that have set so many against
the movement.'

No word out of Miss Claxton. She sat there, not leaning back, nor any
longer stiffly upright, but hunched together like a creature ready to
spring.

'I believed those stories too; but when I had watched you, and listened
to you on Sunday,' Miss Levering hastened to add, a little shamefaced at
the necessity, 'I said to myself, not' (suddenly she stopped and smiled
with disarming frankness)--'I didn't say, "That woman's too
well-behaved, or too amiable;" I said, "She's too intelligent. That
woman never spat at a policeman.'"

'Spit? No,' she said grimly.

'"Nor bit, nor scratched, nor any of those things. And since the papers
have lied about that," I said to myself, "I'll go to headquarters for
information."'

'What papers do you read?'

'Oh, practically all. This house is like a club for papers and
magazines. My brother-in-law has everything.'

'The _Clarion_?'

'No, I never saw the _Clarion_.'

'The _Labour Leader_?'

'No.'

'The _Labour Record_?'

'No.'

'It is the organ of our party.'

'I--I'm afraid I never heard of any of them.'

Miss Claxton smiled.

'I'll take them in myself in future,' said the lady on the sofa. 'Was it
reading those papers that set you to thinking?'

'Reading papers? Oh, no. It was----' She hesitated, and puckered up her
brows again as she stared round the room.

'Yes, go on. That's one of the things I wanted to know, if you don't
mind--how you came to be identified with the movement.'

A little wearily, without the smallest spark of enthusiasm at the
prospect of imparting her biography, Miss Claxton told slowly, even
dully, and wholly without passion, the story of a hard life met
single-handed from even the tender childhood days--one of those recitals
that change the relation between the one who tells and the one who
listens--makes the last a sharer in the life to the extent that the two
can never be strangers any more. Though they may not meet, nor write,
nor have any tangible communication, there is understanding between
them.

At the close Miss Levering stood up and gave the other her hand. Neither
said anything. They looked at each other.

After the lady had resumed her seat, Miss Claxton, as under some
compulsion born of the other's act of sympathy, went on--

'It is a newspaper lie--as you haven't needed to be told--about the
spitting and scratching and biting--but the day I was arrested; the day
of the deputation to Effingham, I saw a policeman knocking some of our
poorer women about very roughly' (it had its significance, the tone in
which she said 'our poorer women'). 'I called out that he was not to do
that again. He had one of our women like this, and he was banging her
against the railings. I called out if he didn't stop I would make him.
He kept on'--a cold glitter came into the eyes--'and I struck him. I
struck the coward in the face.'

The air of the mild luxurious room grew hot and quivered. The lady on
the sofa lowered her eyes.

'They must be taught,' the other said sternly, 'the police must be
taught, they are not to treat our women like that. On the whole the
police behave well. But their power is immense and almost entirely
unchecked. It's a marvel they are as decent as they are. How should
_they_ be expected to know how to treat women? What example do they
have? Don't they hear constantly in the courts how little it costs a man
to be convicted of beating his own wife?' She fired the questions at the
innocent person on the sofa, as if she held her directly responsible for
the need to ask them. 'Stealing is far more dangerous; yes, even if a
man's starving. That's because bread is often dear and women are always
cheap.'

She waited a moment, waited for the other to contradict or at least
resent the dictum. The motionless figure among the sofa cushions, whose
very look and air seemed to proclaim 'some of us are expensive enough,'
hardly opened her lips to say, as if to herself--

'Yes, women are cheap.'

Perhaps Miss Claxton thought the agreement lacked conviction, for she
went on with a harsh hostility that seemed almost personal--

'We'd rather any day be handled by the police than by the
self-constituted stewards of political meetings.'

Partly the words, even more the look in the darkening face, made Miss
Levering say--

'That brings me to something else I wanted to be enlightened about. One
reason I wrote to ask for a little talk with _you_ specially, was
because I couldn't imagine your doing anything so futile as to pit your
physical strength--considerable as it may be--but to pit your muscle
against men's is merely absurd. And I, when I saw how intelligent you
were, I saw that you know all that quite as well as I. Why, then, carry
a whip?'

The lowered eyelids of the face opposite quivered faintly.

'You couldn't think it would save you from arrest.'

'No, not from arrest.' The woman's mouth hardened.

'I know'--Miss Levering bridged the embarrassment of the pause--'I know
there must be some rational explanation.'

But if there were it was not forthcoming.

'So you see your most indefensible and even futile-appearing action gave
the cue for my greatest interest,' said Vida, with a mixture of anxiety
and bluntness. 'For just the woman you were, to do so brainless a
thing--what was behind? That was what I kept asking myself.'

'It--isn't--only--_rough_ treatment one or two of us have met'--she
pulled out the words slowly--'it's sometimes worse.' They both waited in
a curious chill embarrassment. 'Not the police, but the stewards at
political meetings, and the men who volunteer to "keep the women in
order," they'--she raised her fierce eyes and the colour rose in her
cheeks--'as they're turning us out they punish us in ways the public
don't know.' She saw the shrinking wonder in the woman opposite, and she
did not spare her. 'They punish us by underhand maltreatment--of the
kind most intolerable to a decent woman.'

'Oh, no, no!' The other face was a flame to match.

'Yes!' She flung it out like a poisoned arrow.

'How _dare_ they!' said Vida in a whisper.

'They know we dare not complain.'

'Why not?'

A duller red overspread the face as the woman muttered, 'Nobody, no
woman, wants to talk about it. And if we did they'd only say, "See!
you're killing chivalry." _Chivalry!_' She laughed. It was not good to
hear a laugh like that.

The figure on the sofa winced. 'I assure you people don't know,' said
Vida.

'It's known well enough to those who've had to suffer it, and it's known
to the brutes of men who----'

'Ah, but you _must_ realize'--Miss Levering jumped to her feet--'you
must admit that the great mass of men would be indignant if they knew.'

'You think so?' The question was insulting in its air of forbearance
with a fairy-tale view of life.

'Think so? I _know_ it. I should be sorry for my own powers of judgment
if I believed the majority of men were like the worst specimens--like
those you----'

'Oh, well, we don't dwell on that side. It's enough to remember that
women without our incentive have to bear worse. It's part of a whole
system.'

'I shall never believe that!' exclaimed Vida, thinking what was meant
was an organized conspiracy against the Suffragettes.

'Yes, it's all part of the system we are in the world to overturn. Why
should we suppose we'd gain anything by complaining? Don't hundreds,
thousands of meek creatures who have never defied anybody, don't they
have to bear worse ignominies? Every man knows that's true. Who troubles
himself? What is the use, we say, of crying about individual pains and
penalties? No. The thing is to work day and night to root out the system
that makes such things possible.'

'I still don't understand--why you thought it would be a protection to
carry----'

'A man's fear of ridicule will restrain him when nothing else will. If
one of them is publicly whipped, _and by a woman_, it isn't likely to be
forgotten. Even the fear of it--protects us from some things. After an
experience some of the women had, the moment our committee decided on
another demonstration, little Mary O'Brian went out, without consulting
anybody, and bought me the whip. "If you will go," she said, "you shan't
go unarmed. If we have that sort of cur to deal with, the only thing is
to carry a dog-whip."'

Miss Claxton clenched her hands in their grey cotton gloves. There was
silence in the room for several seconds.

'What we do in asking questions publicly--it's only what men do
constantly. The greatest statesman in the land stops to answer a man,
even if he's a fool naturally, or half drunk. They treat those
interrupters with respect, they answer their questions civilly. They are
men. They have votes. But women: "Where's the chucker out?"'

'Are you never afraid that all you're going through may be in vain?'

'No. We are quite certain to succeed. We have found the right way at
last.'

'You mean what are called your tactics?'

'I mean the spirit of the women. I mean: not to mind the price. When
you've got people to feel like that, success is sure.'

'But it comes very hard on those few who pay with the person, as the
French say, pay with prison--and with----'

'Prison isn't the worst!'

A kind of shyness came over the woman on the sofa; she dropped her eyes
from the other's face.

'Of course,' the ex-prisoner went on, 'if more women did a little it
wouldn't be necessary for the few to do so much.'

'I suppose you are in need of funds to carry on the propaganda.'

'Money isn't what is most needed. One of our workers--a little mill
girl--came up from the country with only two pounds in her pocket to
rouse London. And she did it!' her comrade exulted. 'But there's a class
we don't reach. If only'--she hesitated and glanced reflectively at the
woman before her.

'Yes?' Miss Levering's eye flew to the cheque-book.

'If only we could get women of influence to understand what's at stake,'
said Miss Claxton, a little wistfully.

'They don't?'

'Oh, some. A few. As much as can be expected.'

'Why do you say that?'

'Well, the upper-class women, I don't say all' (she spoke as one
exercising an extreme moderation); 'but many of them are such sexless
creatures.'

Miss Levering opened wide eyes--a glint of something like amazed
laughter crossed her face, as she repeated--

'_They_ are sexless, you think?'

'We find them so,' said the other, firmly.

'Why'--Miss Levering smiled outright--'that's what they say of you.'

'Well, it's nonsense, like the rest of what they say.'

The accusation of sexlessness brought against the curled darlings of
society by these hard-working, hard-hitting sisters of theirs was not
the least ironic thing in the situation.

'Why do you call them----?'

'Because we see they have no sex-pride. If they had, they couldn't do
the things they do.'

'What sort of things?'

'Oh, I can't go into that.' She stood up and tugged at her wrinkled
cotton gloves. 'But it's easy for us to see they're sexless.' She seemed
to resent the unbelief in the opposite face. 'Lady Caterham sent for me
the other day. You may have heard of Lady Caterham.'

Miss Levering suppressed the fact of how much, by a vague-sounding--

'Y--yes.'

'Well, she sent for me to---- Oh, I suppose she was curious!'

'Like me,' said the other, smiling.

'_She's_ a very great person in her county, and she _said_ she
sympathized with the movement--only she didn't approve of our tactics,
she said. We are pretty well used by now to people who don't approve of
our tactics, so I just sat and waited for the "dog-whip."'

It was obvious that the lady without influence in her county winced at
that, almost as though she felt the whip on her own shoulders. She was
indeed a hard-hitter, this woman.

'I don't go about talking of why I carry a whip. I _hate_ talking about
it,' she flung the words out resentfully. 'But I'd been sent to try to
get that woman to help, and so I explained. I told her when she asked
why it seemed necessary'--again the face flushed--'I told her!--more
than I've told you. And will you believe it, she never turned a hair.
Just sat there with a look of cool curiosity on her face. Oh, they have
no sex-pride, those upper-class women!'

'Lady Caterham probably didn't understand.'

'Perfectly. She asked questions. No, it just didn't matter much to her
that a woman should suffer that sort of thing. She didn't feel the
indignity of it. Perhaps if it had come to her, _she_ wouldn't have
suffered,' said the critic, with a grim contempt.

'There may be another explanation,' said Miss Levering, a little curtly,
but wisely she forbore to present it.

If the rough and ready reformer had chilled her new sympathizer by this
bitterness against 'the parasite class,' she wiped out the memory of it
by the enthusiasm with which she spoke of those other women, her
fellow-workers.

'Our women are wonderful!' she lifted her tired head. 'I knew they'd
never had a chance to show what they were, but there are some things----
No! I didn't think women had it in them.'

She had got up and was standing now by the door, her limp gown clinging
round her, her weather-beaten Tam on one side. But in the confident look
with which she spoke of 'our women,' the brow had cleared. You saw that
it was beautiful. Miss Levering stood at the door with an anxious eye on
the stair, as if fearful of the home-coming of 'her fellow-coward,' or,
direr catastrophe--old Mr. Fox-Moore's discovering the damning fact of
this outlaw's presence under his roof! Yet, even so, torn thus between
dread and desire to pluck out the heart of the new mystery, 'the
militant woman,' Miss Levering did not speed the parting guest. As
though recognizing fully now that the prophesied use was not going to be
made of the 'thin end of the wedge,' she detained her with--

'I wonder when I shall see you again.'

'I don't know,' said the other, absently.

'When is the next meeting?'

'Next Sunday. Every Sunday.'

'I shall be glad to hear you speak again; but--you'll come and see
me--here.'

'I can't. I'm going away.'

'Oh! To rest, I hope.'

'Rest?' She laughed at an idea so comic. 'Oh, no. I'm going to work
among the women in Wales. We have great hopes of those West-country
women. They're splendid! They're learning the secret of co-operation,
too. Oh, it's good stuff to work on--the relief of it after London!'

Miss Levering smiled. 'Then I won't be seeing you very soon.'

'No.' She seemed to be thinking. 'It's true what I say of the Welsh
women, and yet we oughtn't to be ungrateful to our London women either.'
She seemed to have some sense of injustice on her soul. 'We've been
seeing just recently what they're made of, too!' She paused on the
threshold and began to tell in a low voice of women 'new to the work,'
who had been wavering, uncertain if they could risk imprisonment--poor
women with husbands and children. 'When they heard _what it might
mean_--this battle we're fighting--they were ashamed not to help us!'

'You mean----' Vida began, shrinking.

'Yes!' said the other, fiercely. 'The older women saw they ought to save
the younger ones from having to face that sort of thing. That was how we
got some of the wives and mothers.'

She went on with a stern emotion that was oddly contagious, telling
about a certain scene at the Headquarters of the Union. Against the grey
and squalid background of a Poor Women's movement, stood out in those
next seconds a picture that the true historian who is to come will not
neglect. A call for recruits with this result--a huddled group, all new,
unproved, ignorant of the ignorant. The two or three leaders,
conscience-driven, feeling it necessary to explain to the untried women
that if they shared in the agitation, they were not only facing
imprisonment, but unholy handling.

'It was only fair to let them know the worst,' said the woman at the
door, 'before they were allowed to join us.'

As the abrupt sentences fell, the grim little scene was reconstituted;
the shrinking of the women who had offered their services ignorant of
this aspect of the battle--their horror and their shame. At the memory
of that hour the strongly-controlled voice shook.

'They cried, those women,' she said.

'But they came?' asked the other, trembling, as though for her, too, it
was vital that these poor women should not quail.

'Yes,' answered their leader a little hoarsely, 'they came!'



CHAPTER XII


One of the oddest things about these neo-Suffragists was the simplicity
with which they accepted aid--the absence in the responsible ones of
conventional gratitude. This became matter for both surprise and
instruction to the outsider. It no doubt had the effect of chilling and
alienating the 'philanthropist on the make.' Even to the less
ungenerous, not bargainers for approbation or for influence, even in
their case the deep-rooted suspicion we have been taught to cultivate
for one another, makes the gift of good faith so difficult that it can
be given freely only to people like these, people who plainly and daily
suffered for their creed, who stood to lose all the things most of us
strive for, people who valued neither comfort, nor money, nor the
world's good word. That they took help, and even sacrifice, as a matter
of course, seemed in them mere modesty and sound good sense; tantamount
to saying, 'I am not so silly or self-centred as to suppose you do this
for _me_. You do it, of course, for the Cause. The Cause is yours--is
all Women's. You serve humanity. Who am I that I should thank you?'

This attitude extended even to acts that were in truth prompted less by
concern for the larger issue than by sheer personal interest.

Vida Levering's first experience of this 'new attitude' came one late
afternoon while on her way to leave cards on some people in Grosvenor
Road. Driving through Pimlico about half-past six, she lifted up her
eyes at the sound of many voices and beheld a mob of men and boys in the
act of pursuing a little group of women, who were fleeing up a side
street away from the river. The natural shrinking and disgust of 'the
sheltered woman' showed in the face of the occupant of the brougham as
she leaned forward and said to the coachman--

'Not this way! Don't you see there's some disturbance? Turn back.'

The man obeyed. The little crowd had halted. It looked as if the thief,
or drunken woman, or what not, had been surrounded and overwhelmed. The
end of the street abutted on Pimlico Pier. Two or three knots of people
were still standing about, talking and looking up the street at the
little crowd of shouting, gesticulating rowdies. A woman with a
perambulator, making up her mind at just the wrong moment to cross the
road, found herself almost under the feet of the Fox-Moore horses. The
coachman pulled up sharply, and before he had driven on, the lady's eyes
had fallen on an inscription in white chalk on the flagstone--

              'VOTES FOR WOMEN.

  'Meeting here to-night at a quarter to six.'

The occupant of the carriage turned her head sharply in the direction of
the 'disturbance,' and then--

'After all, I must go up that street. Drive fast till you get near those
people. Quick!'

'Up _there_, miss?'

'Yes, yes. Make haste!' For the crowd was moving on, and still no sign
of a policeman.

By the time the brougham caught up with them, the little huddle of folk
had nearly reached the top of the street. In the middle of the _mêlée_ a
familiar face. Ernestine Blunt!

'Oh, Henderson!'--Miss Levering put her head out of the window--'that
girl! the young one! She's being mobbed.'

'Yes, miss.'

'But something must be done! Hail a policeman.'

'Yes, miss.'

'Do you _see_ a policeman?'

'No, miss.'

'Well, stop a moment,' for even at this slowest gait the brougham had
passed the storm centre.

The lady hanging out of the window looked back and saw that Ernestine's
face, very pink as to cheeks, very bright as to eyes, was turned quite
unruffled on the rabble.

'Can't you see the meeting's over?' she called out. 'You boys go home
now and think about what we've told you.'

The reply to that was a laugh and a concerted 'rush' that all but
carried the girl and her companions off their feet. To Henderson's
petrifaction, the door of the brougham was hastily opened and then
slammed to, leaving Miss Levering in the road, saying to him over her
shoulder--

'Wait just round the corner, unless I call.'

With which she hurried across the street, her eyes on the little face
that, in spite of its fresh colouring, looked so pathetically tired.
Making her way round the outer fringe of the crowd, Vida saw on the
other side--near where Ernestine and her sore-beset companions stood
with their backs to the wall--an opening in the dingy ranks. Fleet of
foot, she gained it, thrust an arm between the huddled women, and,
taking the foolhardy girl by the sleeve, said, _sotto voce_--

'Come! Come with me!'

Ernestine raised her eyes, fixed them for one calm instant on Vida
Levering's face, and then, turning round, said--

'Where's Mrs. Brown?'

'Never mind Mrs. Brown!' whispered the strange lady, drawing off as the
rowdy young men came surging round that side.

There was another rush and a yell, and Vida fled. When next she turned
to look, it was to see two women making a sudden dash for liberty. They
had escaped through the rowdy ranks, and they tore across the street,
running for their lives and calling for help as they ran.

Vida, a shade or two paler, stood transfixed. What was going to happen?
But there was the imperturbable Ernestine holding the forsaken position,
still the centre of the pushing, shouting little mob who had jeered
frantically as the other women fled.

It was too much. Not Ernestine's isolation alone, the something childish
in the brilliant face would have enlisted a less sympathetic observer. A
single moment's wavering and the lady made for the place where the
besiegers massed less thick. She was near enough now to call out over
the rowdies' heads--

'Come. Why do you stay there?'

Faces turned to look at her; while Ernestine shouted back the cryptic
sentence--

'It wasn't my bus!'

_Bus?_ Had danger robbed her of her reason? The boys were cheering now
and looking past Miss Levering: she turned, bewildered, to see 'Mrs.
Brown' and a sister reformer mounting the top of a sober London Road
car. They had been running for that, then--and not for life! Miss
Levering raised her hand and her voice as she looked back at Ernestine--

'I've got a trap. Come!'

'Where?'

Ernestine stepped out from the vociferating, jostling crowd and followed
the new face as simply as though she had been waiting for just that
summons. The awful moment was when, with a shout, the tail of rowdies
followed after. Miss Levering had not bargained for that. Her agitated
glance left the unsavoury horde at her heels and went nervously up and
down the street. It was plainly not only, nor even chiefly, the
hooligans she feared, but the amazéd eye of some acquaintance. Bad
enough to meet Henderson's!

'Jump in!' she said hastily to the girl, and then, 'Go on!' she called
out desperately, flying in after Ernestine and slamming the door. 'Drive
_fast_!' She thrust her head through the window to add, '_Anywhere!_'
And she sank back. 'How dreadful that was!'

'What was?' said the rescued one, glancing out of the carriage with an
air of suddenly renewed interest.

'Why, the attack of those hooligans on a handful of defenceless women.'

'Oh, they weren't attacking us.'

'What were they doing?'

'Oh, just running after us and screaming a little.'

'But I _saw_ them--pushing and jostling and----'

'Oh, it was all quite good-natured.'

'You mean you weren't frightened?'

'There's nothing to be frightened at.' She was actually saying it in a
soothing, 'motherly' sort of way, calculated to steady the lady's
nerves--reassuring the rescuer.

Vida's eye fell on the festoon of braid falling from the dark cloth
skirt.

'Well, the polite attentions of your friends seem to have rather damaged
your gown.'

Over a big leather portfolio that she held clasped in her arms,
Ernestine, too, looked down at the torn frock.

'That foolish trimming--it's always getting stepped on.'

Miss Levering's search had produced a pin.

'No; I'll just pull it off.'

Ernestine did so, and proceeded to drop a yard of it out of the window.
Miss Levering began to laugh.

'Which way are we going?' says Miss Blunt, looking out. 'I have to be at
Battersea at----'

'What were you doing at Pimlico Pier?'

'Holding a meeting for the Government employees--the people who work for
the Army and Navy Clothing Department.'

'Oh. And you live at Battersea?'

'No; but I have a meeting there to-night. We had a very good one at the
Docks, too.' Her eyes sparkled.

'A Suffrage meeting?'

'Yes; one of the best we've had----'

'When was that?'

'During the dinner hour. The men stood with their pails and ate while
they listened. They were quite nice and understanding, those men.'

'What day was that?'

'This morning.'

'And the Battersea meeting?'

'That's not for another hour; but I have to be there first--to arrange.'

'When do you dine?'

'Oh, I'll get something either before the meeting or after--whenever
there's time.'

'Isn't it a pity not to get your food regularly? Won't you last longer
if you do?'

'Oh, I shall last.' She sat contentedly, hugging her big portfolio.

The lady glanced at the carriage clock. 'In the house where I live,
dinner is a sort of sacred rite. If you are two seconds late you are
disgraced, so I'm afraid I can't----'

'There's the bus I was waiting for!' Ernestine thrust her head out.
'Stop, will you!' she commanded the astonished Henderson. 'Good-bye.'
She nodded, jumped out, shut the door, steadied her hat, and was gone.

It was so an acquaintance began that was destined to make a difference
to more than one life. Those days of the summer that Miss Claxton spent
indoctrinating the women of Wales, and that Mrs. Chisholm utilized in
'organizing Scotland,' were dedicated by Ernestine and her friends to
stirring up London and the various dim and populous worlds of the
suburbs.

Much oftener than even Mrs. Fox-Moore knew, her sister, instead of being
in the houses where she was supposed to be, and doing the things she was
expected to be doing, might have been seen in highly unexpected haunts
prosecuting her acquaintance with cockney crowds, never learning
Ernestine's fearlessness of them, and yet in some way fascinated almost
as much as she was repelled. At first she would sit in a hansom at safe
distance from the turmoil that was usually created by the expounders of
what to the populace was a 'rum new doctrine' invented by Ernestine.
Miss Levering would lean over the apron of the cab hearing only scraps,
till the final, 'Now, all who are in favour of Justice, hold up their
hands.' As the crowd broke and dissolved, the lady in the hansom would
throw open the doors, and standing up in front of the dashboard, she
would hail and carry off the arch-agitator, while the crowd surged
round. Several times this programme had been carried out, when one
afternoon, after seeing the girl and her big leather portfolio safe in
the cab, and the cab safe out of the crowd, Vida heaved a sigh of
relief.

'_There!_ Now tell me, what did you do yesterday?'--meaning, How in the
world did you manage without me to take care of you?

'Yesterday? We had a meeting down at the Woolwich Arsenal. And we
distributed handbills for two hours. And we had a debate in the evening
at the New Reform Club.'

'Oh, you didn't hold a meeting here in the afternoon?'

'Yes we did. I forgot that.' She seemed also to have forgotten that her
new friend had been prevented from appearing to carry her off.

Miss Levering smiled down at her. 'What a funny little person you are.
Do you know who I am?'

'No.'

'It hasn't ever occurred to you to ask?'

The face turned to her with a half roguish smile. 'Oh, I thought you
looked all right.'

'I'm the person who had the interview with your friend, Miss Claxton.'
As no recollection showed in the face, 'At Queen Anne's Gate,' she
added.

'I don't think I knew about that,' said Ernestine, absently. Then alert,
disdainful, 'Fancy the member for Wrotton saying---- Yes, we went to see
him this morning.'

'Oh, that is very exciting! What was he like?'

'Quite a feeble sort of person, I thought.'

'Really!' laughed Miss Levering.

'He talked such nonsense to us about that old Plural Voting Bill. His
idea seemed to be to get us to promise to behave nicely while the
overworked House of Commons considered the iniquity of some men having
more than one vote--they hadn't a minute this session to consider the
much greater iniquity of no women having any vote at all! Of course he
said he _had_ been a great friend to Woman Suffrage, until he got
shocked with our tactics.' She smiled broadly. 'We asked him what he'd
ever done to show his friendship.'

'Well?'

'He didn't seem to know the answer to that. What strikes me most about
men is their being so illogical.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Lady John Ulland had been openly surprised, even enthusiastically
grateful, at discovering before this that Vida Levering was ready to
help her with some of the unornamental duties that fall to the lot of
the 'great ladies' of England.

'I don't know what that discontented creature, her sister, means by
saying Vida is so unsympathetic about charity work.'

Neither could Lady John's neighbour, the Bishop, understand Mrs.
Fox-Moore's reproach. Had not his young kinswoman's charity concerts
helped to rebuild the chantry?

'Such a _nice creature_!' was Lord John's contribution. Then, showing
the profundity of his friendly interest, 'Why doesn't she find some nice
fella to marry her?'

'People don't marry so early nowadays,' his wife reassured him.

Lord Borrodaile, to whom Vida still talked freely, he alone had some
understanding of the changed face life was coming to wear for her. When
he found that laughing at her failed of the desired effect, he offered
touching testimony to his affection for her by trying to understand. It
was no small thing for a man like Borrodaile, who, for the rest, found
it no easier than others of his class rightly to interpret the modern
scene as looked down upon from the narrow lancet of the mediæval tower
which was his mind.

When she got him to smile at her report of the humours of the populace,
he did so against his will, shaking his long Van Dyke head, and saying--

'It spoils the fun for me to think of your being there. I have a quite
unconquerable distrust of eccentricity.'

'There's nothing the least original about my mixing with "The People,"
as my sister would call them. The women of my world would often go
slumming. The only difference between me and them may be that I,
perhaps, shall go a little farther, that's all.'

'Well, I devoutly hope you won't!' he said, with unusual emphasis. 'Let
the proletariat attend to the affairs of the proletariat. They don't
need a woman like you.'

'They not only need--what's more, they are getting, all kinds! It's
that, more than anything else, that shows their strength. The miracle it
is, to see the way they all work together! Women, the poorest and most
ignorant (except of hardship), working shoulder to shoulder with women
of substance and position. Oh, yes, they are winning over that sort,
teachers and university graduates--a whole group who would be called
Intellectuals if they were men--all doing what men have said women could
never do--pulling together. And, oh! that reminds me,' she said
suddenly, smiling as one who has thought of a capital joke at her
companion's expense: 'it's my duty to warn you. I went with your
daughter to lunch at her Country Club, and they were all discussing the
Suffrage! A good dozen! And Sophia--well, Sophia came out in a new
light. I want you, please, to believe _I've_ never talked to her.'

'Oh,' said Borrodaile, with an unconscious arrogance, 'Sophia doesn't
wait to be talked to. She takes her own line. Politics are a tradition
with our women. I found her reading the parliamentary debates when she
was fourteen.'

'And your boys, are they equally----?'

He sighed. 'The world has got very topsy-turvy. All my girls are
boys--and all my boys are girls.'

'Well, Sophia can take care of the Country Club! I remember how we
scoffed when she organized it.'

'It's had precisely the effect I expected. Takes her away from her own
home, where she ought to be----'

'Who wants her at home?'

Unblushingly he answered, '_I_ do.'

'Why, you're never there yourself.' He blinked. 'When you aren't in your
garden you're----'

'Here?' he laughed.

'I don't myself,' she went on, '_I_ don't belong to any clubs----'

'I should hope not, indeed! Where should I go for tea and for news of
the workings of the Zeitgeist?' he mocked.

'But I begin to see what women's clubs are for.'

'They're for the dowdy, unattached females to meet and gossip in, to
hold feeble little debates in, to listen to pettifogging little
lectures, and imagine they're _dans le mouvement_.'

'They are to accustom women to thinking and acting together. While you
and I have been laughing at them, they've been building up a huge
machinery of organization, ready to the hand of the chief engineer who
is to come.'

'Horrible thought!'

'Well, horrible or not, I don't despise clubs any more. They're largely
responsible for the new corporate spirit among women.'

He pulled himself out of the cavernous comfort of his chair, and stood
glooming in front of the screen that hid the fireless grate.

'Clubs, societies, leagues, they're all devices for robbing people of
their freedom. It's no use to talk to me. I'm one of the few
individualists left in the world. I never wanted in my life to belong to
any body.' Her pealing laughter made him explain, smiling, 'To any
corporation, was what I meant.'

'No, no. You got it right the first time! The reason that, in spite of
my late perversities, you don't cast me off is because I'm one of the
few women who don't make claims.'

'It is the claim of the community that I resent. I want to keep clear of
all complication. I want to be really free. I could never have pledged
myself to any Church or any party.'

'Perhaps'--she smiled at him--'perhaps that's why you are a beautiful
and ineffectual angel.'

'The reason I never did is because I care about liberty--the thing
itself. You are in danger, I see, of being enamoured of the name. In
thought women are always half a century or so behind. What patriot's
voice is heard in Europe or America to-day? Where is the modern Kossuth,
Garibaldi? What poet goes out in these times to die at Missolonghi? Just
as men are finding out the vanity of the old dreams, the women seem to
be seizing on them. The mass of intelligent men have no longing for
political power. If a sort of public prominence is thrust on men'--he
shrugged as if his shoulders chafed under some burden--'_in their
hearts_ they curse their lot. I suppose it's all so new to the woman she
is amused. She even--I'm _told_'--his lifted hand, with the closed
fingers suddenly flung open, advertised the difficulty a sane person
found in crediting the uncanny rumour--'I'm _told_ that women even like
public dinners.'

'Well, you do.'

'I?'

'You go--to all the most interesting ones.'

'Part of my burden! Unlike your new friends, there's nothing I hate so
much, unless it is having to make a speech.'

'Well, now, shall I stop "playing at ma'ams" and just say that when I
hear a man like you explaining in that superior way how immensely he
_doesn't care_, I seem to see that that is precisely the worst
indictment against your class. If special privilege breeds that----'

It merely amused him to see that she was forgetting herself. He sat down
again. He stretched out his long legs and interlaced his fingers across
his bulging shirt front. His air of delicate mockery supplied the whip.

'If,' Vida went on with shining eyes, 'if to be able to care and to work
and to sacrifice, if to get those impulses out of life, you must carry
your share of the world's burden, then no intelligent creature can be
sorry the day is coming when all men will have to----' She took breath,
a little frightened to see where she was going.

'Have to----?' he encouraged her, lazily smiling.

'Have to work, or else not eat.'

'Even under your hard rule I wouldn't have to work much. My appetite is
mercifully small.'

'It would grow if you sweated for your bread.'

'Help! help!' he said, not above his usual tone, but slowly he turned
his fine head as the door opened. He fixed the amused grey-green eyes on
old Mr. Fox-Moore: 'A small and inoffensive pillar of the Upper House is
in the act of being abolished.'

'What, is she talking politics? She never favours me with her views,'
said Fox-Moore, with his chimpanzee smile.

When Borrodaile had said good-bye, Vida followed him to the top of the
stairs.

'It's rather on my mind that I--I've not been very nice to you.'

'"I would not hear thine enemy say so."'

'Yes, I've been rather horrid. I went and Trafalgar-Squared you, when I
ought to have amused you.'

'But you have amused me!' His eyes shone mischievously.

'Oh, very well.' She took the gibe in good part, offering her hand
again.

'Good-bye, my dear,' he said gently. 'It's great fun having you in the
world!' He spoke as though he had personally arranged this provision
against dulness for his latter end.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next evening he came up to her at a party to ask why she had
absented herself from a dinner the night before where he expected to
find her.

'Oh, I telephoned in the morning they weren't to expect me.'

'What were you doing, I should like to know?'

'No, you wouldn't like to know. But you couldn't have helped laughing if
you'd seen me.'

'Where?'

'Wandering about the purlieus of Battersea.'

'Bless me! Who with?'

'Why, with that notorious Suffragette, Miss Ernestine Blunt. Oh, you'd
have stared even harder if you'd seen us, I promise you! She with a
leather portfolio under one arm--a most business-like apparatus, and a
dinner-bell in one hand.'

'A _dinner_ bell!' He put his hand to his brow as one who feels reason
reeling.

'Yes, holding fast to the clapper so that we shouldn't affright the isle
out of season. I, if you please, carrying an armful of propagandist
literature.'

'Good Lord! _Where_ do you say these orgies take place?'

'Near the Fire Station on the far side of Battersea Park.'

'I think you are in great need of somebody to look after you,' he
laughed, but no one who knew him could mistake his seriousness. 'Come
over here.' He found a sofa a little apart from the crush. 'Who goes
with you on these raids?'

'Why, Ernestine--or rather, I go with her.'

'But who takes care of you?'

'Ernestine.'

'Who knows you're doing this kind of thing?'

'Ernestine--and you. It's a secret.'

'Well, if I'm the only sane person who knows--it's something of a
responsibility.'

'I won't tell you about it if it oppresses you.'

'On the contrary, I insist on your telling me.'

Vida smiled reflectively. 'The mode of procedure strikes one as highly
original. It is simple beyond anything in the world. They select an open
space at the convergence of several thoroughfares--if possible, near an
omnibus centre. For these smaller meetings they don't go to the length
of hiring a lorry. Do you know what a lorry is?'

'I regret to say my education in that direction leaves something to be
desired.'

'Last week I was equally ignorant. To-day I can tell you all about it. A
lorry is a cart or a big van with the top off. But such elegancies are
for the parks. In Battersea, you go into some modest little restaurant,
and you say, "Will you lend me a chair?" This is a surprise for the
Battersea restaurateur.'

'Naturally--poor man!'

'Exactly. He refuses. But he also asks questions. He is amazed. He is
against the franchise for women. "You'll _never_ get the vote!" "Well,
we must have something," says Ernestine. "I'm sure it isn't against your
principles to lend a woman a chair." She lays hands on one. "I never
said you could have one of my----" "But you meant to, didn't you? Isn't
a chair one of the things men have always been ready to offer us? Thank
you. I'll take good care of it and bring it back quite safe." Out
marches Ernestine with the enemy's property. She carries the chair into
the road and plants it in front of the Fire Station. Usually there are
two or three "helpers." Sometimes Ernestine, if you please, carries the
meeting entirely on her own shoulders--those same shoulders being about
so wide. Yes, she's quite a little thing. If there are helpers she sends
them up and down the street sowing a fresh crop of handbills. When
Ernestine is ready to begin she stands up on that chair, in the open
street and, as if she were doing the most natural thing in the world,
she begins ringing that dinner bell. Naturally people stop and stare and
draw nearer. Ernestine tells me that Battersea has got so used now to
the ding-dong and to associating it with "our meeting," that as far off
as they hear it the inhabitants say, "It's the Suffragettes! Come
along!" and from one street and another the people emerge laughing and
running. Of course as soon as there is a little crowd that attracts
more, and so the snowball grows. Sometimes the traffic is impeded. Oh,
it's a much odder world than I had suspected!' For a moment laughter
interrupted the narrative. '"The Salvation Army doesn't _quite_ approve
of us," Ernestine says, "and the Socialists don't love us either! We
always take their audiences away from them--poor things," says
Ernestine, with a sympathetic air. "_You_ do!" I say, because'--Vida
nodded at Lord Borrodaile--'you must know Ernestine is a beguiler.'

'Oh, a beguiler. I didn't suppose----'

'No, it's against the tradition, I know, but it's true. She herself,
however, doesn't seem to realize her beguilingness. "It isn't any one in
particular they come to hear," she says, "it's just that a woman making
a speech is so much more interesting than a man making a speech." It
surprises you? So it did me.'

'Nothing surprises me!' said Borrodaile, with a wave of his long hands.

'Last night she was wonderful, our Ernestine! Even I, who am used to
her, I was stirred. I was even thrilled. She had that crowd in the
hollow of her hand! When she wound up, "The motion is carried. The
meeting is over!" and climbed down off her perch, the mob cheered and
pressed round her so close that I had to give up trying to join her. I
extricated myself and crossed the street. She is so little that, unless
she's on a chair, she is swallowed up. For a long time I couldn't see
her. I didn't know whether she was taking the names and addresses of the
people who want to join the Union, or whether she had slipped away and
gone home, till I saw practically the whole crowd moving off after her
up the street. I followed for some distance on the off-side. She went
calmly on her way, a tiny figure in a long grey coat between two
helpers, the Lancashire cotton-spinner and the Cockney working woman,
with that immense tail of boys and men (and a few women) all following
after--quite quiet and well-behaved--just following, because it didn't
occur to them to do anything else. In a way she was still exercising her
hold over her meeting. I saw, presently, there was one person in front
of her--a great big fellow--he looked like a carter--he was carrying
home the chair!'

They both laughed.

'Well, she's found a thick-and-thin advocate in you apparently,' said
Borrodaile.

'Ah! if only you could _see_ her! trudging along, apparently quite
oblivious of her quaint following, dinner bell in one hand, leather case
piled high with "tracts" on the other arm, some of the leaflets sliding
off, tumbling on to the pavement.' Vida laughed as she recalled the
scene. 'Then dozens of hands darting out to help her to recover her
precious property! After the chair had been returned the crowd thinned,
and I crossed over to her.'

'You in that _mêlée_!' Borrodaile ejaculated. 'Well, Ernestine hadn't
the quaintness all to herself.'

'No. Oh, no,' Vida agreed. 'I thought of you, and how you'd look if you
had come on us suddenly. After the crowd had melted and the helpers had
vanished into the night, we went on together--all the way, from the
Battersea Fire Station to Sloane Square, did Ernestine and I walk,
talking reform last night. You laugh? So do I; but not at Ernestine.
She's a most wonderful person. I sometimes ask myself if the world will
ever know half how wonderful. You, for instance, you haven't, after all
I've said, you haven't _an idea_!'

'Oh, I don't doubt--I don't think I ever doubted that women have a
facility in speech--no, no, I'm not gibing! I don't even doubt they can,
as you say, sway and control crowds. But I maintain it is very bad for
the women.'

'How is it bad?'

'How can it fail to be! All that horrible publicity. All that
concentrating of crude popular interest on themselves! Believe me,
nobody who watches a public career carefully but sees the demoralizing
effect the limelight has even on men's characters. And I suppose you'll
admit that men are less delicately organized than women.'

'I can only say I've seen the sort of thing you mean in our world, where
a good many women have only themselves to think about. I've looked in
vain for those evil effects among the Suffrage women. It almost seems,
on the contrary, as if there were something ennobling in working for a
public cause.'

'Personally, I can't say I've observed it--not among the political women
of my acquaintance!'

'But you only know the old kind. Yes, the kind whose idea of influence
is to make men fall in love with them, whose idea of working is to put
on a smart gown and smile their prettiest. No, I agree that _isn't_
necessarily ennobling!'

'I see, it's the new taste in manners and the new arts of persuasion
that make the ideal women and'--with an ironic little bow--'the
impassioned convert.'

'I'm bound to admit,' she said stoutly, 'that I think the Suffrage
movement in England has the advantage of being engineered by a very
remarkable set of women. Not in ability alone, but in dignity of
character. People will never know, I sometimes think, how much the
movement has owed to being taken in hand by just these particular women.
I don't pretend they're the average. They're very far above the average.
And what the world will owe to them I very much doubt if even the future
will know. But I seem to be the only one who minds.' She laughed. 'I
could take my oath _they_ never give the matter a thought. One
thing----' She leaned forward and then checked herself. 'No, I've talked
about them enough!'

She opened her fan and looked about the crowded room.

'Say what you were going to. I'm reconciled. I see what's coming.'

'What's coming?'

'Yes. Go on.'

She looked at him a little perplexed over the top of her fan.

'I was only going to say that what struck me particularly in that girl,
for instance, is her inaccessibility to flattery. I've watched her with
men.'

'Of course! She knew you were watching her. She no doubt thinks the eyes
of the world are upon her.'

'On the contrary, it's her unselfconsciousness that's the most
surprising thing about her. Or, no! It's something more interesting
even than that. She is conscious, in a way, of the hold she has
on the public. But it hasn't any of the deteriorating effect you
were deprecating. I've been moved once or twice to congratulate her.
She takes it as unmoved as a child. It's just as if you said to a
little thing of three, "What a clever baby you are!" or, "You've got the
most beautiful eyes in the world." The child would realize that you
meant well, that you were being pleasant, but it wouldn't think about
either its cleverness or its eyes. It's like that with Ernestine. When I
said to her, "You made an astoundingly good speech to-night. The best
I've heard even you make," she looked at me with a sort of
half-absent-minded, half-wondering expression, without a glimmer of
personal vanity. When I was so ill-advised as not to drop the subject,
when I ventured to say something more about that great gift of hers, she
interrupted me with a little laugh, "It's a sign of grace in you not to
get tired of our speeches," she said. "I suppose we repeat ourselves a
good deal. You see that's just what we've got to do. We've got to
_hammer it in_." But the fact is that she doesn't repeat herself, that
she's always fresh and stimulating, because--I suppose it's because
she's always thinking of the Great Impersonal Object, and talking about
it out of her own eager heart. Ernestine? She's as unhackneyed as a
spring morning!'

'Oh, very well. I'll go.'

'Go? Where?' for he still sat there.

'Why, to hear your paragon. I've seen that was what you were leading up
to.'

'N--no. I don't think I want you to go.'

'Oh, yes, you do. I knew you'd make me sooner or later.'

'No, don't be afraid.' She stood up.

'I'm not afraid. I'm eager,' he laughed.

She shook her head. 'No, I'll never take you.'

'Why not?'

'Because--it isn't all Ernestine and skittles. And because you'd make me
keenly alive again to all sorts of things that I see now don't
matter--things that have lost some of their power to trouble me, but
that I should feel for you.'

'What sort of----'

'Oh, oddities, uglinesses--things that abound, I'm told, at all men's
meetings, and that yet, somehow, we'd like to eliminate from women's
quite on the old angel theory. No, I won't take you!'



CHAPTER XIII


The following afternoon, at half-past five, the carelessly dressed,
rather slouching figure of Lord Borrodaile might have been seen walking
along the Thames Embankment in the neighbourhood of Pimlico Pier. He
passed without seeing the only other person visible at that quiet
hour--one of the 'unemployed,' like himself, but save in that respect
sufficiently unlike the Earl of Borrodaile was the grimy, unshaven tramp
collapsed in one corner of the double-seated municipal bench. Lord
Borrodaile's fellow-citizen leaned heavily on one of the stout scrolls
of ironwork which, repeated at regular intervals on each side, divided
the seat into six compartments. No call for any one to notice such a
man--there are so many of them in these piping times of peace and
prosperity. Then, too, they go crawling about our world protected from
notice, as the creatures are who take their colouring from bark or leaf
or arctic snows. So these other forms of life, weather-beaten,
smoke-begrimed, subdued to the hues of the dusty roads they travel, and
the unswept spaces where they sleep--over these the eye glides unseeing.

As little interested in the gentleman as the gentleman was in him, the
wastrel contemplated the river with grimly speculative eye. But when
suddenly Borrodaile's sauntering figure came to a standstill near the
lower end of the bench, the tramp turned his head and watched dully the
gloveless hands cross one over the other on the knob of the planted
umbrella; the bent head; one hand raised now, groping about the
waistcoat, lighting upon what it sought and raising a pince-nez, through
which he read the legend scrawled in chalk upon the pavement. With a
faint saturnine smile Lord Borrodaile dropped the glass, and took his
bearings. He consulted his watch, and walked on.

Upon his return a quarter of an hour later, he viewed the same
little-alluring prospect from the opposite side of the street. The tramp
still stared at the river, but on his side of the bench, at the other
end, sat a lady reading a book. Between the two motionless figures and
the parapet, a group of dirty children were wrangling. Lord Borrodaile
crossed the wide street and paused a moment just behind the lady. He
leaned forward as if to speak to her across the middle division of the
bench. But he reconsidered, and turning his back to her, sat down and
drew an evening paper out of his pocket. He was so little like that
glittering figment, the peer of popular imagination, that the careless
sobriety of dress and air in the person of this third occupant of the
capacious double bench struck an even less arresting note than the frank
wretchedness of the other man.

Presently one of the children burst out crying, and continued to howl
lustily till the lady looked up from her page and inquired what was the
matter. The unwashed infant stared open-mouthed at this intruder upon
her grief. Instead of answering, she regarded the lady with a bored
astonishment, as who should say: What are you interrupting me for, just
in the middle of a good yell? She then took up the strain as nearly as
possible where she had left off. She was getting on very well with this
second attempt at a demonstration until Miss Levering made some mention
of a penny, whereupon the infant again suspended her more violent
manifestations, though the tears kept rolling down.

After various attempts on the lady's part, the little girl was induced
to come and occupy the middle place on the river side of the bench,
between Vida and the tramp. While the lady held the penny in her hand,
and cross-examined the still weeping child, Borrodaile sat quietly
listening behind his paper. When the child couldn't answer those
questions that were of a general nature, the tramp did, and the three
were presently quite a pleasant family party. The only person 'out of
it' was the petrified gentleman on the other side.

A few minutes before the arrival of the Suffragettes, two nondescript
young men, in a larky mood, appeared with the announcement that they'd
seen 'one of them' at the top of Ranelagh Street.

'That'll be the little 'un,' said the tramp to nobody. 'You don't ketch
'er bein' late!'

'Blunt! No--cheeky little devil,' remarked one of the young men,
offering a new light upon the royal virtue of punctuality; but from the
enthusiasm with which they availed themselves of the rest of Lord
Borrodaile's side of the bench, it was obvious they had hurried to the
spot with the intention of securing front seats at the show.

'Of course it ain't goin' to be as much fun as the 'Yde Park Sunday
aufternoons. Jim Wrightson goes to them. Keeps things lively--'e does.'

'Kicks up a reg'lar shindy, don't 'e?'

'Yes. We can't do nothin' 'ere--ain't enough'--whether of space or of
spirited young men he did not specify.

As they lit their cigarettes the company received further additions--one
obviously otherwise employed than with politics. Her progress--was it
symbolic?--was necessarily slow, for a small child clung to her skirt,
and she trundled a sickly boy in a go-cart. The still sniffling person
in possession of the middle seat on the other side (her anxious and
watery eye fixed on the penny) was told by Miss Levering to make room
for the new-comers. The child's way of doing so was to crowd closer to
the neighbourhood of the fascinating coin. But that mandate to 'make
room' had proved a conversational opening through which poured--or
trickled rather--the mother's sorry little history. Her husband was
employed in the clothing department of the Army and Navy Stores--yes,
nine years now. He was considered very lucky to keep his place when the
staff was reduced. But the costliness of raising the children! It was
well that three were dead. If she had it all to do over again--no! no!

The seeming heartlessness with which she envisaged the non-existence of
her babies contrasted strangely with her patient tenderness to the
querulous boy in the go-cart.

Meanwhile Miss Levering had not forgotten her earlier acquaintance. As
the wan mother watched the end of the transaction which left the
sniffler now quite consoled, in possession of the modest coin, she said
naïvely--

'When anybody gives one of my children a penny, I always save half of it
for them the next day.'

Vida Levering turned her head away, and in so doing met Lord
Borrodaile's eyes over the back of the bench. She gave a faint start of
surprise, and then--

'She saves half of it!' was all she said.

Borrodaile, glancing shrewdly over the further augmented gathering,
asked the invariable question--

'How do you account for the fact that so few women are here to show
their interest in a matter that's supposed to concern them so much?'
Vida craned her head. 'Beside you, only one!' Borrodaile's mocking voice
went on. 'Isn't this an instance of your sex's indifference to the whole
thing? Isn't it equally an instance of man's keenness about public
questions?' He couldn't forbear adding in a whisper, 'Even such a
question, and such men?'

Vida still craned, searching in vain for refutation in female form. But
she did not take her failure lying down.

'The men who are here,' she said, 'the great majority of men at all
open-air meetings seem to be loafers. Woman--whatever else she may or
may not be--isn't a loafer!' Through Borrodaile's laugh she persisted.
'A woman always seems to have something to do, even if it's of the
silliest description. Yes, and if she's a decent person at all, she's
not hanging about at street corners waiting for some diversion!'

'Not bad; not bad! I see you are catching the truly martial spirit.'

'That's them, ain't it?' One of the young men jumped up.

Vida turned her head in time to see the meeting between two girls and a
woman arriving from opposite directions.

'Yes,' she whispered; 'that's Ernestine with the pile of handbills on
her arm.'

The lady sent out smiles and signals of welcome with a lifted hand. The
busy propagandist took no notice. She was talking to her two companions,
one of whom, the younger with head on one side, kept shooting out
glances half provocative, half appealing, towards Lord Borrodaile and
the young men. She seemed as keenly alive to the fact of these male
presences as the two other women seemed oblivious.

'Which is the one,' asked Lord Borrodaile, 'that you were telling me
about?'

'Why, Ernestine Blunt--the pink-cheeked one in the long alpaca coat.'

'She doesn't look so very devilish,' he laughed. After an impatient
moment's hope that devilishness might develop, he said, 'She hasn't seen
you yet.'

'Oh, yes, she has.'

'Then she isn't as overjoyed as she ought to be.'

'She'd be surprised to know she was expected to be overjoyed.'

'Why? Aren't you very good to her?'

'No. She's been rather good to me, though she doesn't take very much
stock in me.'

'Why doesn't she?'

'Oh, there are only two kinds of people that interest Ernestine. Those
who'll be active in carrying on the propaganda, and those who have yet
to be converted.'

'Well, I'm disappointed,' he teased, perceiving how keen his friend was
that he should not be. 'The other one would be more likely to convert
_me_.'

'Oh, you only say that because the other one's tall, and makes eyes!'
Vida denounced him, to his evident diversion.

Whatever his reasons were, the young men seemed to share his preference.
They were watching the languishing young woman, who in turn kept
glancing at them. Ernestine, having finished what she was saying, made
her way to where Miss Levering sat, not, it would appear, for any
purpose so frivolous as saying good evening, but to deposit what were
left of the handbills and the precious portfolio in the care of one well
known by now to have a motherly oversight of such properties.

Lord Borrodaile's eyes narrowed with amusement as he watched the hurried
pantomime.

Instead of 'Thank you,' as Vida meekly accepted the incongruous and by
no means light burden: 'We are short of speakers,' said Ernestine.
'You'll help us out, won't you?' As though it were the simplest thing in
the world.

Lord Borrodaile half rose in protest.

'No,' said Vida. 'I won't speak till I have something to say.'

'I should have thought there was plenty to _say_!' said the girl.

'Yes, for you. You know such a lot,' smiled her new friend. 'I must get
some first-hand knowledge, too, before I try to stand up and speechify.'

'It's now we need help. By-and-by there'll be plenty. But I'm not going
to worry you,' she caught herself up. Then, confidentially, 'We've got
one new helper that we've great hopes of. She joined to-day.'

'Some one who can speak?'

'Oh, she'll speak, I dare say, by and by.'

'What does she do in the meantime--to----' (to account for your
enthusiasm, was implied) 'to show she's a helper? Subscribes?'

'I expect she'll subscribe, too. She takes such an interest. Plenty of
courage, too.'

'How do you know?'

'Well'--the voice dropped--'she's _all right_, but she belongs to rather
stodgy people. Bothers about respectability, and that sort of thing. But
she came along with me this afternoon distributing handbills all over
the City for two hours! Not many women of her kind are ready to do
_that_ the first thing.'

'No, I dare say not,' said Vida, humbly.

'And one thing I thought a very good sign'--Ernestine bent lower in her
enthusiasm--'when we got to Finsbury Circus she said'--Ernestine paused
as if struck afresh by the merits of the new recruit--'she said, "_Give
me a piece of chalk!_"'

'Chalk! What did she want with----?'

Borrodaile, too, leaned nearer.

'She saw me beginning to write meeting notices on the stones. Of course,
the people stopped and stared and laughed. But she, instead of getting
shy, and pretending she hadn't anything to do with me, she took the
chalk and wrote, "Votes for Women!" all over the pavement of Finsbury
Circus.' Ernestine paused a moment that Miss Levering might applaud the
new 'helper.' 'I thought that a very good sign in such a respectable
person.'

'Oh, yes; a most encouraging sign. Is it the one in mauve who did that?'

'No, that's--I forget her name--oh, Mrs. Thomas. She's new, too. I'll
have to let her speak if you won't,' she said, a trifle anxiously.

'Mrs. Thomas, by all means,' murmured Borrodaile, as Ernestine, seeing
her plea was hopeless, turned away.

Vida caught her by the coat. 'Where are the others? The rest of your
_good_ speakers?'

'Scattered up and down. Getting ready for the General Election. That's
why we have to break in new people. Oh, she sent me some notes, that
girl did. I must give them back to her.'

Ernestine stooped and opened the portfolio on Miss Levering's lap. She
rummaged through the bulging pockets.

'I thought,' said Miss Levering, with obvious misgiving, 'I thought I
hadn't seen that affected-looking creature before.'

'Oh, she'll get over all that,' Ernestine whispered. 'You haven't much
opinion of our crowds, but they can teach people a lot.'

'Teach them not to hold their heads like a broken lily?'

'Yes, knock all sorts of nonsense out and stiffen them up wonderfully.'

She found the scrap of paper, and shut the portfolio with a snap.

'Now!'

She stood up, took in the fact of the audience having increased and a
policeman in the offing. She summoned her allies.

'It's nearly time for those Army and Navy workers to come out. The men
will come first,' she said, 'and five minutes after, they let the women
out. I'll begin, and then I think you'd better speak next,' she said,
handing the die-away young woman her notes. 'These seem all right.'

'Oh, but, Miss Blunt,' she whispered, 'I'm so nervous. How am I ever to
face all those men?'

'You'll find it quite easy when once you are started,' said Ernestine,
in a quiet undertone.

'But I'm so afraid that, just out of pure nervousness, I'll say the
wrong thing.'

'If you do, I'll be there,' returned the chairman, a little grimly.

'But it's the very first time in my life----'

'Now, look here----'

Ernestine reached out past this person who was luxuriating in her own
emotions, and drew the ample mauve matron into the official group close
to where Miss Levering sat nursing the handbills.

'It's easy enough talking to these little meetings. They're quite good
and quiet--not a bit like Hyde Park.' (One of the young men poked the
other. They exchanged looks.) 'But there are three things we all agree
it's just as well to keep in mind: Not to talk about ourselves'--she
measured off the tit-bits of wisdom with a slim forefinger--'not to say
anything against the press, and, if possible, remember to praise the
police.'

'Praise the police!' ejaculated the mauve matron.

'Sh!' said Ernestine, softly. But not so easily was the tide of
indignation stemmed.

'I saw with my own eyes----' began the woman.

'Yes, yes, but----' she lowered her voice, Borrodaile had to strain to
catch what she said, 'you see it's no use beating our heads against a
stone wall. A movement that means to be popular must have the police on
its side. After all, they do very well--considering.'

'Considering they're men?' demanded the matron.

'Anyhow,' Ernestine went on, 'even if they behaved ten times worse, it's
not a bit of good to antagonize the police or the press. If they aren't
our friends, we've got to make them our friends. They're both _much_
better than they were. They must be encouraged!' said the wise young
Daniel, with a little nod. Then as she saw or felt that the big matron
might elude her vigilance and break out into indiscretion, 'Why, we had
a reporter in from the _Morning Magnifier_ only to-day. He said, "The
public seems to have got tired of reading that you spit and scratch and
prod policemen with your hatpins. Now, do you mind saying what is it you
really do?" I told him to come here this afternoon. Now, when I've
opened the meeting, _you'll_ tell him!'

'Oh, _dear_!' the young woman patted her fringe, 'do you suppose we'll
be in the _Magnifier_ to-morrow? How dreadful!'

During this little interchange a procession of men streaming homeward in
their hundreds came walking down the Embankment in twos and threes or
singly, shambling past the loosely gathered assemblage about the bench.

The child on the riverward side still clutching its penny was
unceremoniously ousted. As soon as Ernestine had mounted the seat the
slackly held gathering showed signs of cohesion. The waiting units drew
closer. The dingy procession slowed--the workmen, looking up at the
young face with the fluttering sycamore shadows printed on its pink and
white, grinned or frowned, but many halted and listened. Through the
early part of the speech Miss Levering kept looking out of the corner of
her eye to see what effect it had on Borrodaile. But Borrodaile gave no
sign. Ernestine was trying to make it clear what a gain it would be,
especially to this class, if women had the vote. An uphill task to catch
and hold the attention of those tired workmen. They hadn't stopped there
to be made to think--if they weren't going to be amused, they'd go home.
A certain number did go home, after pausing to ask the young Reformer,
more or less good-humouredly, why she didn't get married. Lord
Borrodaile had privately asked for enlightenment on the same score. Vida
had only smiled. One man varied the monotony by demanding why, if it
would be a good thing for the working class to have women voting, why
didn't the Labour Party take up the question.

'Some of the Labour Party have,' Ernestine told them, 'but the others
are afraid. They've been told that women are such slaves to
convention--such timid creatures! They know their own women aren't, but
they're doubtful about the rest. The Labour Party, you know'--she spoke
with a condescending forbearance--'the Labour Party is young yet, and
knows what it's like to feel timid. Some of the Labour men have the wild
notion that women would all vote Conservative.'

'So they would!'

But Ernestine shook her head. 'While we are trying to show the people
who say that, that even if they were right, it would be no excuse
whatever for denying our claim to vote whichever way we thought best.
While we are going to the root of the principle of the thing, another
lot of logical gentlemen are sure to say, "Oh, it would never do to have
women voting. They'd be going in for all sorts of new-fangled reforms,
and the whole place would be turned upside down!" So between the men who
think we'd all turn Tory and the men who are sure we'd all be
Socialists, we don't seem likely to get very far, unless we do something
to show them we mean to have it for no better reason than just that
we're human beings!'

'Isn't she delightfully--direct!' whispered Miss Levering, eager to cull
some modest flower of praise.

'Oh, direct enough!' His tone so little satisfied the half-maternal
pride of the other woman that she was almost prepared for the slighting
accent in which he presently asked, 'Is this the sort of thing that's
supposed to convert people to a great constitutional change?'

'It isn't our women would get the vote,' a workman called out. 'It's the
rich women.'

'Is it only the rich men who have the vote?' demanded Ernestine. 'You
know it isn't. We are fighting to get the franchise on precisely the
same terms as men.'

For several moments the wrangle went on.

'Would wives have a vote?'

She showed how that could be made a matter of adjustment. She quoted the
lodger franchise and the latch-key decision.

Vida kept glancing at Borrodaile. As still he made no sign, 'Of course,'
the lady whispered across the back of the bench, 'of course, you think
she's an abomination, but----?' she paused for a handsome disavowal.
Borrodaile looked at the eager face--Vida's, for Miss Blunt's was calm
as a May morning. As he did not instantly speak, 'But you can't deny
she's got extremely good wits.'

He seemed to relent before such persuasiveness. 'She's got a delicious
little face,' he admitted, thinking to say the most.

'Oh, her _face_! That's scarcely the point.'

'It's always the point.'

'It's the principle that's at stake,' Ernestine was saying. 'The most
out-and-out Socialist among us would welcome the enfranchisement of six
duchesses or all the women born with red hair; we don't care on what
plea the entering wedge gets in. But let me tell you there aren't any
people on earth so blind to their own interests as just you working men
when you oppose or when you are indifferent to women's having votes. All
women suffer--but it's the women of your class who suffer most. _Isn't_
it? Don't you men know--why, it's notorious!--that the women of the
working class are worse sweated even than the men?'

'So they are!'

'If you don't believe me, _ask_ them. Here they come.'

It was well contrived--that point! It struck full in the face of the
homeward-streaming women who had just been let out.

'We know, and you men know----' the speaker nailed her advantage, 'that
even the Government that's being forced to become a model employer where
men are concerned, the very _Government_ is responsible for sweating
thousands of women in State employments! We know and you know that in
those work-rooms over yonder these very women have been sitting weighed
down by the rumour of a reduction in their wages already so much below
the men's. They've sat there wondering whether they can risk a strike.
Women--it's notorious,' she flung it out on a wave of passion, 'women
everywhere suffer most from the evils of our social system. Why not?
They've had no hand in it! Our social system is the work of men! Yet we
must work to uphold it! this system that crushes us. We must swell the
budget, we must help to pay the bill! What _fools_ we've all been! What
fools we are if we don't do something!'

'Gettin' up rows and goin' to 'Olloway's no good.'

While she justified the course that led to Holloway--

'Rot! Piffle!' they interjected. One man called out: 'I'd have some
respect for you if you'd carried a bomb into the House of Commons, but a
miserable little scuffle with the police!'

'Here's a gentleman who is inciting us to carry bombs. Now, that shocks
me.'

The crowd recovered its spirits at the notion of the champion-shocker
shocked.

'We've been dreadfully browbeaten about our tactics, but that gentleman
with his bad advice makes our tactics sound as innocent and reasonable
as they actually are. When you talk in that wild way about bombs--you--I
may be a hooligan'--she held up the delicate pink-and-white face with
excellent effect--'but you do shock me.'

It wore well this exquisitely humorous jest about shocking a
Suffragette. The whole crowd was one grin.

'I'm specially shocked when I hear a _man_ advocating such a thing! You
men have other and more civilized ways of getting the Government to pay
attention to abuses. Now listen to what I'm saying: for it's the
justification of everything we are going to do in the future, _unless_
we get what we're asking for! It's this. Our justification is that men,
even poor men, have that powerful leverage of the vote. You men have no
right to resort to violence; you have a better way. We have _no_ way but
agitation. A _Liberal_ Government that refuses----'

'Three cheers for the Liberals! Hip, hip----'

'My friend, I see you are young,' says Ernestine.

'Lord, wot are you?' the young man hurled back.

'Before I got my political education, when _I_ was young and innocent,
like this gentleman, who still pins his faith to the Liberals, I, too,
hoped great things from them. My friends, it's a frame of mind we
outlive!'--and her friends shrieked with delight.

'Well, it's one way for a girl to amuse herself till she gets married,'
said Borrodaile.

'Why, that's just what the hooligans all say!' laughed Vida. 'And, like
you, they think that if a woman wants justice for other women she must
have a grievance of her own. I've heard them ask Ernestine in
Battersea--she has valiant friends there--"Oo's 'urt _your_ feelin's?"
they say. "Tell me, and I'll punch 'is 'ead." But you aren't here to
listen to _me_!' Vida caught herself up. 'This is about the deputation
of women that waited on the Prime Minister.'

'Didn't get nothin' out of him!' somebody shouted.

'Oh, yes, we did! We got the best speech in favour of Woman's Suffrage
that any of us ever heard.'

'Haw! Haw! Clever ol' fox!'

''E just buttered 'em up! But 'e don't do nothin'.'

'Oh, yes, he did something!'

'What?'

'He gave us advice!' They all laughed together at that in the most
friendly spirit in the world. 'Two nice pieces,' Ernestine held up each
hand very much like a school child rejoicing over slices of cake. 'One
we are taking'--she drew in a hand--'the other we aren't'--she let it
fall. 'He said we must win people to our way of thinking. We're doing
it; at a rate that must astonish, if it doesn't even embarrass him. The
other piece of distinguished advice he gave us was of a more doubtful
character.' Her small hands took it up gingerly. Again she seemed to
weigh it there in the face of the multitude. 'The Prime Minister said we
"must have patience." She threw the worthless counsel into the air and
tossed contempt after it. 'It is man's oldest advice to woman!'

'All our trouble fur nothin'!' groaned an impish boy.

'We see now that patience has been our bane. If it hadn't been for this
same numbing slavish patience we wouldn't be standing before the world
to-day, political outcasts--catalogued with felons and lunatics----'

'And peers!' called a voice.

'We are _done_ with patience!' said Ernestine, hotly; 'and for that
reason there is at last some hope for the women's cause. Now Miss
Scammell will speak to you.'

A strange thing happened when Miss Scammell got up. She seemed to leave
her attractiveness, such as it was, behind when she climbed up on the
bench. Standing mute, on a level with the rest, her head deprecatingly
on one side, she had pleased. Up there on the bench, presuming to teach,
she woke a latent cruelty in the mob. They saw she couldn't take care of
herself, and so they 'went for her'--the very same young men who had got
up and given her a choice of the seats they had been at the pains to
come early to secure. To be sure, when, with a smile, she had sat down
only a quarter of an hour before, in the vacated place of one of them,
the other boy promptly withdrew with his pal. It would have been too
compromising to remain alongside the charmer. But when Miss Scammell
stood up on that same bench, she was assumed to have left the realm of
smiles and meaning looks where she was mistress and at home. She had
ventured out into the open, not only without the sword of pointed
speech--that falls to few--but this young lady had not even the armour
of absolute earnestness. When she found that smiling piteously wouldn't
do, she proceeded, looking more and more like a scared white rabbit, to
tell about the horrible cases of lead-poisoning among the girls in
certain china and earthenware works. All that she had to say was true
and significant enough. But it was no use. They jeered and howled her
down for pure pleasure in her misery. She trembled and lost her thread.
She very nearly cried. Vida wondered that the little chairwoman didn't
fly to the rescue. But Ernestine sat quite unmoved looking in her lap.

'Lamentable exhibition!' said Borrodaile, moving about uneasily.

The odd thing was that Miss Scammell kept on with her prickly task.

'Why don't you make her sit down?' Vida whispered to Miss Blunt.

'Because I've got to see what she's made of.'

'But surely you see! She's awful!'

'Not half so bad as lots of men when they first try. If she weathers
this, she'll be a speaker some day.'

At last, having told her story through the interruptions--told it badly,
brokenly, but to the end--having given proofs that lead-poisoning among
women was on the increase and read out from her poor crumpled, shaking
notes, the statistics of infant and still-birth mortality, the unhappy
new helper sat down.

Miss Blunt leaned over, and whispered, 'That's all right! I was wrong.
This is nearly as bad as Hyde Park,' and with that jumped up to give the
crowd a piece of her mind.

They sniggered, but they quieted down, all but one.

'Yes, you are the gentleman, you there with the polo cap, who doesn't
believe in giving a fair hearing. I would like to ask that man who
thinks himself so superior, _that_ one in the grey cap, whether he is
capable of standing up here on this bench and addressing the crowd.'

'Hear, hear.'

'Yes! Get on the bench. Up with him.'

A slight scrimmage, and an agitated man was observed to be seeking
refuge on the outskirts.

'Bad as Miss Scammell was, she made me rather ashamed of myself,' Vida
confided to Borrodaile.

'Yes,' he said sympathetically, 'it always makes one rather
ashamed--even if it's a man making public failure.'

'Oh, that wasn't what I meant. _She_ at least tried. But I--I feel I'm a
type of all the idle women the world over. Leaving it to the poor and
the ill-equipped to----'

'To keep the world from slipping into chaos?' he inquired genially.

She hadn't heard. Her eyes were fastened on the chairwoman.

'After all, they've got Ernestine,' Vida exulted under her breath.

Borrodaile fell to studying this aspect of the face whose every change
he had thought he knew so well. What was the new thing in it? Not
admiration merely, not affection alone--something almost fierce behind
the half-protecting tenderness with which she watched the chairman's
duel with the mob. Borrodaile lifted a hand--people were far too
engrossed, he knew, to notice--and he laid it on Vida's, which had
tightened on the back of the bench.

'My dear!' he said wondering and low as one would to wake a sleepwalker.

She answered without looking at him, 'What is it?'

He seemed not to know quite how to frame his protest.

'She can carry _you_ along at least!' he grumbled. 'You forget everybody
else!'

Vida smiled. It was so plain whom he meant by 'everybody.' Lord
Borrodaile gave a faint laugh. He probably knew that would 'bring her
round.' It did. It brought her quick eyes to his face; it brought low
words.

'_Please!_ Don't let her see you--laughing, I mean.'

'You can explain to her afterwards that it was you I was laughing at.'
As that failed of specific effect, 'You really are a little ridiculous,'
he said again, with the edge in his voice, 'hanging on the lips of that
Backfisch as if she were Demosthenes.'

'We don't think she's a Demosthenes. We know she is something much more
significant--for _us_.'

'What?'

'She's Ernestine Blunt.'

Clean out of patience, he turned his back.

'Am I alone?' she whispered over his shoulder, as if in apology. 'Look
at all the other women. Some of them are very intelligent. Our interest
in our fellow-woman seems queer and unnatural to you because you don't
realize Mrs. Brown has always been interested in Mrs. Jones.'

'Oh, has she?'

'Yes. She hasn't said much to Mr. Brown about it,' Vida admitted,
smiling, because a man's interest in woman is so limited.'

Borrodaile laughed. 'I didn't know that was his failing!'

'I mean his interest is of one sort. It's confined to the woman he finds
interesting in _that_ way at _that_ minute. Other women bore him. But
other women have always been mightily interesting to us! Now, sh! let's
listen.'

'I can understand those callow youths,' unwarily he persisted; 'she's
pink and pert and all the rest, but _you_----'

'Oh, will you _never_ understand? Don't you know women are more
civilized than men?'

'Woman! she'll be the last animal domesticated.' It seemed as if he
preferred to have her angry rather than oblivious of him.

But not for nothing did she belong to a world which dares to say
whatever it wants to say.

'We are civilized enough, at all events'--there was an ominous sparkle
in her eye--'to listen to men speakers clever or dull--we listen quietly
enough. But men!--a person must be of your own sex for you to be able
to regard him without distraction. If the woman is beautiful enough, you
are intoxicated. If she's plain enough, you are impatient. All you see
in any woman is her sex. You can't _listen_.'

'Whew!' remarked Borrodaile.

'But _I_ must listen--I haven't got over being ashamed to find how much
this girl can teach me.'

'I'm sorry for you that any of Miss Scammell's interesting speech was
lost,' the chairman was saying. 'She was telling you just the kind of
thing that you men ought to know, the kind of thing you get little
chance of knowing about from men. Yet those wretched girls who die young
of lead-poisoning, or live long enough to bring sickly babies into the
world, those poor working women look to you working men for help. Are
they wrong to look to you, or are they right? You working men represent
the majority of the electorate. _You_ can change things if you will. If
you don't, don't think the woman will suffer alone. We shall all suffer
together. More and more the masters are saying, "We'll get rid of these
men--they're too many for us with their unions and their political pull.
We'll get women. We'll get them for two-thirds of what we pay the men.
Good business!" say the masters. But it's bad business----'

'For all but the masters,' muttered the tramp.

'Bad for the masters, too,' said the girl, 'only they can't see it, or
else they don't care what sort of world they leave to their children. If
you men weren't so blind, you'd see the women will be in politics what
they are in the home--your best friends.'

'Haw! haw! Listen at 'er!'

'_With_ the women you would be strong. Without them you are--what you
are!'

The ringing contempt in her tone was more than one gentleman could put
up with.

'How do you think the world got on before you came to show it _how_?'

'It got on very badly. Not only in England--all over the world men have
insisted on governing alone. What's the result? Misery and degradation
to the masses, and to the few--the rich and high-placed--for them
corruption and decline.'

'That's it, always 'ammering away at the men--pore devils!'

'Some people are so foolish as to think we are working against the men.'

'So you are!'

'It's just what the old-school politicians would like you to think. But
it's nonsense. Nobody knows better than we that the best interests of
men and women are identical--they _can't be separated_. It's trying to
separate them that's made the whole trouble.'

'Oh, you know it all!'

'Well, you see'--she put on her most friendly and reasonable air--'men
have never been obliged to study women's point of view. But we've been
obliged to study the men's point of view. It's natural we should
understand you a great deal better than you understand us. And though
you sometimes disappoint us, we don't lose hope of you.'

'Thanks awfully.'

'We think that if we can only make you understand the meaning of this
agitation, then you'll help us to get what we want. We believe the day
will come when the old ideal of men standing by the women--when that
ideal will be realized. For don't believe it ever _has_ been realized.
It never has! Now our last speaker for to-day will say a few words to
you. Mrs. Thomas.'

'Haven't you had about enough?' said Borrodaile, impatiently.

'Don't wait for me,' was all her answer.

'Shall you stay, then, till the bitter end?'

'It will only be a few moments now. I may as well see it out.'

He glanced at his watch, detached it, and held it across the back of the
seat.

She nodded, and repeated, 'Don't wait.'

His answer to that was to turn not only a bored but a slightly injured
face towards the woman who had, not without difficulty, balanced her
rotund form on the bench at the far end. She might have been the
comfortable wife of a rural grocer. She spoke the good English you may
not infrequently hear among that class, but it became clear, as she went
on, that she was a person of a wider cultivation.

'You'd better go. She'll be stodgy and dull.' Vida spoke with a real
sympathy for her friend's sufferings. 'Oh, portentous dull.'

'And no waist!' sighed Borrodaile, but he sank back in his corner.

Presently his wandering eye discovered something in his companion's
aspect that told him subtly she was not listening to the mauve matron.
Neither were some of the others. A number had moved away, and the little
lane their going left was not yet closed, for the whole general
attention was obviously slackened. This woman wasn't interesting enough
even to boo at. The people who didn't go home began to talk to one
another. But in Vida's face--what had brought to it that still
intensity? Borrodaile moved so that he could follow the fixed look. One
of the infrequently passing hansoms had stopped. Was she looking at
that? Two laughing people leaning out, straining to catch what the mauve
orator was saying. Suddenly Borrodaile pulled his slack figure together.

'Sophia!' he ejaculated softly, 'and Stonor!--by the beard of the
prophet!' He half rose, whether more annoyed or amazed it would be hard
to tell. 'We're discovered!' he said, in a laughing whisper. As he
turned to add 'The murder's out,' he saw that Vida had quietly averted
her face. She was leaning her head on her hand, so that it masked her
features. Even if the woman who was speaking had not been the object of
such interest as the people in the hansom had to bestow, even had either
of them looked towards Vida's corner, only a hat and a gauze ruffle
would have been seen.

Borrodaile took the hint. His waning sense of the humour of the
situation revived.

'Perhaps, after all, if we lay low,' he said, smiling more broadly. 'It
would be nuts for Stonor to catch us sitting at the feet of Mrs.
Thomas.' He positively chuckled at the absurdity of the situation. He
had slipped back into his corner, but he couldn't help craning his neck
to watch those two leaning over the door of the hansom, while they
discussed some point with animation. Several times the man raised his
hand as if to give an order through the trap door. Each time Sophia
laughingly arrested him. 'He wants to go on,' reported Borrodaile,
sympathetically. 'She wants him to wait a minute. Now he's jumped out.
What's he--looking for another hansom? No--now _she's_ out. Bless me,
she's shaking hands with him. He's back in the hansom!--driving away.
Sophia's actually---- 'Pon my soul, I don't know what's come over the
women! I'm rather relieved on the whole.' He turned round and spoke
into Vida's ear. 'I've been a little sorry for Sophia. She's never had
the smallest interest in any man but that cousin of hers--and, of
course, it's quite hopeless.'

Vida sat perfectly motionless, back to the speaker, back to the
disappearing hansom, staring at the parapet.

'You can turn round now--quite safe. Sophia's out of range. Poor
Sophia!' After a little pause, 'Of course you know Stonor?'

'Why, of course.'

'Oh, well, my distinguished cousin used not to be so hard to get hold
of--not in the old days when we were seeing so much of your father.'

'That must have been when I was in the schoolroom--wasn't it?'

He turned suddenly and looked at her. 'I'd forgotten. You know Geoffrey,
and you don't like him. I saw that once before.'

'Once before?' she echoed.

He reminded her of the time she hurried away from Ulland House to
Bishopsmead.

'_I_ wasn't deceived,' he said, with his look of smiling malice. 'You
didn't care two pins about your Cousin Mary and her influenza.'

Vida moved her expressionless face a little to the right. 'I can see
Sophia. But she's listening to the speech;' and Vida herself, with
something of an effort, seemed now to be following the sordid
experiences of a girl that the speaker had befriended some years before.
It was through this girl, the mauve matron said, that she herself had
come into touch with the abject poor. She took a big barrack of a house
in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood, and it became known that there she
received and helped both men and women. 'I sympathized with the men, but
it was the things the women told me that appalled me. They were too bad
to be entirely believed, but I wrote them down. They haunted me. I
investigated. I found I had no excuse for doubting those stories.'

'This woman's a find,' Vida whispered to the chairman.

Ernestine shook her head.

'Why, she's making a first-rate speech!' said Vida, astonished.

'There's nobody here who will care about it.'

'Why do you say that?'

'Oh, all she's saying is a commonplace to these people. Lead-poisoning
was new, to _them_--something they could take hold of.'

'Well, I stick to it, you've got a good ally in this woman. Let her
stand up in Somerset Hall, and tell the people----'

'It wouldn't do,' said the young Daniel, firmly.

'You don't believe her story?'

'Oh, I don't say the things aren't true. But'--she moved uneasily--'the
subject's too prickly.'

'Too prickly for you!'

The girl nodded with an anxious eye on the speaker. 'We sometimes make a
passing reference--just to set men thinking, and there leave it. But it
always makes them furious, of course. It does no good. Either people
know and just accept it, or else they won't believe, and it only gets
them on the raw. I'll have to stop her if----' She leaned forward.

'It's odd your taking it like this. I suppose it's because you're so
young,' said Vida, wondering. 'It must be because for you it isn't
real.'

'No, it's because I see no decent woman can think much about it and keep
sane. That's why I say this one won't be any good to us. She'll never be
able to see anything clearly but that one thing. She'll always be
forgetting the main issue.'

'What do you call the main issue?'

'Why, political power, of course.'

'Oh, wise young Daniel!' she murmured, as Miss Blunt touched the
speaker's sleeve and interjected a word into the middle of a piece of
depressing narrative.

Mrs. Thomas stopped, faltered, and pulled herself up with, 'Well, as I
say, with my own verifications these experiences form a body of
testimony that should stir the conscience of the community. I _myself_
felt'--she glanced at Ernestine--'I felt it was too ghastly to publish,
but it ought to be used. Those who doubted the evidence should examine
it. I went to a lady who is well known to be concerned about public
questions; her husband is a member of Parliament, and a person of
influence. You don't know, perhaps, but she did, that there's a
Parliamentary Commission going to sit here in London in a few weeks for
the purpose of inquiring into certain police regulations which greatly
concern women. Who do you think are invited to serve on that
Commission? Men. All men. Not a woman in England is being consulted. The
husband of the lady I went to see--he was one of the Commissioners. I
said to her, "_You_ ought to be serving on that board." She said, "Oh,
no," but that women like her could influence the men who sat on the
Commission.'

'This is better!' whispered the ever-watchful Ernestine, with a smile.

'So I told her about my ten years' work. I showed her some of my
records--not the worst, the average, sifted and verified. She could
hardly be persuaded to glance at what I had been at so much pains to
collect. You see'--she spoke as though in apology for the lady--'you see
I had no official or recognized position.'

'Hear, hear,' said Ernestine.

'I was simply a woman whose standing in the community was all right, but
I had nothing to recommend me to serious attention. I had nothing but
the courage to look wrong in the face, and the conscience to report it
honestly. When I told her certain things--things that are so stinging a
disgrace that no decent person can hear them unmoved--when I told her of
the degrading discomforts, the cruelties, that are practised against
homeless women even in some of the rate-supported casual wards and the
mixed lodging-houses, that lady said--sitting there in her pleasant
drawing-room--she said it could not be true! My reports were
exaggerated--women were sentimental--the authorities managed these
places with great wisdom. They are so horrible, I said, they drive women
to the streets. She assured me I was mistaken. I asked her if she had
ever been inside a mixed lodging-house. She never had. But the casual
wards she knew about. They were so well managed she herself wouldn't
mind at all spending a night in one of these municipal provisions for
the homeless. Then I said, "You are the woman I am looking for! Come
with me one night and try it. What night shall it be?" She said she was
engaged in writing a book. She could not interrupt her work. But I said,
if those rate-supported places are so comfortable, it won't interfere
with your work. She _turned the conversation_. She talked about the
Commission. The Commission was going to make a thorough scientific
investigation. Nothing amateur about the Commission. The lady was
sincere'--Mrs. Thomas vouched for it--'she had a comfortable faith in
the Commission. But, I say'--the woman leaned forward in her
earnestness--'I say that Commission will waste its time! I don't deny it
will investigate and discuss the position of the outcast women of this
country. Their plight, which is the work of men, will once more be
inquired into by men. I say there should be women on that Commission. If
the middle and upper class women have the dignity and influence men
pretend they have, why aren't they represented there? Nobody pretends
the matter doesn't concern the mothers of the nation. It concerns them
horribly. Nobody can think so ill of them as to suppose they don't care.
It's monstrous that men should sit upon that committee alone. Women have
had to think about these things. We believe this evil can be met--if men
will let us try. It may be that only women comprehend it, since men
through the ages have been helpless before it. Why, then, once again,
this Commission of _men_? The mockery of it! Setting men to make their
report upon this matter to men! I am not a public speaker, but I am a
wife and a mother. Do you wonder that hearing about that Commission gave
me courage to take the first opportunity to join these brave sisters of
mine who are fighting for political liberty?'

She seemed for the first time to notice that a little group of
sniggerers were becoming more obstreperous.

'We knew, of course, that whatever we say some of you will laugh and
jeer; but, speaking for myself, no mockery that you are able to fling at
us, can sting _me_ like the thought of the hypocrisy of that Commission!
Do you wonder that when we think of it--you men who have power and don't
use it!--do you wonder that women come out of their homes--young, and
old, and middle-aged--that we stand up here in the public places and
give you scorn for scorn?'

As the unheroic figure trembling stepped off the bench, she found Vida
Levering's hand held out to steady her.

'Take my seat,' said the younger woman.

She stood beside her, for once oblivious of Ernestine, who was calling
for new members, and giving out notices.

Vida bent over the shapeless mauve bundle. 'You asked that woman to go
with you. I wish you'd take me.'

'Ah, my dear, _I_ don't need to go again. I thought to have that lady
see it would do good. Her husband has influence, you see.'

'But you've just said the men are useless in this matter.'

She had no answer.

'But, I believe,' Vida went on, 'if more women were like you--if they
looked into the thing----'

'Very few could stand it.'

'But don't hundreds of poor women "stand" much worse?'

'No; they drink and they die. I was ill for three months after my first
experience even of the tramp ward.'

'Was that the first thing you tried?'

'No. The first thing I tried was putting on a Salvation Army bonnet, and
following the people I wanted to help into the public-houses, selling
the _War Cry_.'

'May one wear the uniform who isn't a member of the Army?'

'It isn't usual,' she said slowly. And then, as though to give the _coup
de grace_ to the fine lady's curiosity, 'But that was child's play.
Before I sampled the tramp ward, I covered myself with Keating's powder
from head to foot. It wasn't a bit of good.'

'When may I come and talk to you?'

'Hello, Mrs. Thomas!' Vida turned and found the Lady Sophia at her side.
'Why, father!--Oh, I see, Miss Levering. Well'--she turned to the woman
in the corner--'how's the House of Help?'

'Do you know about Mrs. Thomas's work?' Vida asked.

'Well, rather! I collect rents in her district.'

'Oh, do you? You never told me.'

'Why should I tell you?'

Ernestine was dismissing the meeting.

'You are very tired,' said Lord Borrodaile, looking at Vida Levering's
face.

'Yes,' she said. 'I'll go now. Come, Sophia!'

'We shall be here on Thursday,' Ernestine was saying, 'at the same hour,
and we hope a great many of you will want to join us.'

'In a trip to 'Olloway? No, thank you!'

Upon that something indistinguishable to the three who were withdrawing
was said in the group that had sniggered through Mrs. Thomas's speech.
Another one of that choice circle gave a great guffaw. There were still
more who were amused, but less indiscreetly. Three men, looking like
gentlemen, paused in the act of strolling by. They, too, were smiling.

'You laugh!' Ernestine's voice rang out.

'Wait a moment,' said Vida to her companions.

She looked back. It was plain, from Ernestine's face, she was not going
to let the meeting break up on that note.

'Don't you think it a little strange, considering the well-known
chivalry among men--don't you think it strange that against no reform
the world has ever seen----?'

'Reform! Wot rot!'

'If you don't admit it's reform, call it revolt!' She threw the red-hot
word out among the people as if its fire scorched her. 'Against no
revolt has there ever been such a torrent of ridicule let loose as
against the Women's Movement. It almost seems as if--in spite of men's
well-known protecting tenderness towards woman--it almost seems as if
there's nothing in this world so funny to a man as a woman!'

'Haw! Haw! Got it right that time!'

Borrodaile was smiling, too.

'Do you know,' Vida asked, 'who those men are who have just stopped?'

'No.'

'I believe Ernestine does.'

'Oh, perhaps they're bold bad members of Parliament.'

'Some of us,' she was saying, 'have read a little history. We have read
how every struggle towards freedom has met with opposition and abuse. We
expected to have our share of those things. But we find that no movement
before ours has ever had so much laughter to face.' Through the renewed
merriment she went on: 'Yes, you wonder I admit that. We don't deny
anything that's true. And I'll tell you another thing! We aren't made
any prouder of our men-folk by the discovery that behind their old
theory of woman as "half angel, half idiot," is a sneaking feeling that
"woman is a huge joke."'

'Or just a little one for a penny like you!'

'Men have imagined--they imagine still, that we have never noticed how
ridiculous _they_ can be. You see'--she leaned over and spoke
confidentially--'we've never dared break it to them.'

'Haw! Haw!'

'We know they _couldn't bear it_.'

'Oh-h!'

'So we've done all our laughing in our sleeves. Yes--and some years our
sleeves had to be made--like balloons!' She pulled out the loose alpaca
of her own while the workmen chuckled with appreciation.

'I bet on Ernestine any'ow', said a young man, with an air of admitting
himself a bold original fellow.

'Well, open laughter is less dangerous laughter. It's even a guide; it
helps us to find out things some of us wouldn't know otherwise. Lots of
women used to be taken in by that talk about feminine influence and
about men's immense respect for them! But any number of women have come
to see that underneath that old mask of chivalry was a broad grin.--We
are reminded of that every time the House of Commons talks about us.'
She flung it at the three supercilious strangers. 'The dullest gentleman
there can raise a laugh if he speaks of the "fair sex." Such
jokes!--even when they are clean such poor little feeble efforts that
even a member of Parliament couldn't laugh at them unless he had grown
up with the idea that woman was somehow essentially funny--and that
_he_, oh, no! there was nothing whatever to laugh at in man. Those
members of Parliament don't have the enlightenment that you men have--of
hearing what women _really_ think when we hear men laugh as you did just
now about our going to prison. They don't know that we find it just a
little strange'--she bent over the scattering rabble and gathered it
into a sudden fellowship--'doesn't it strike you, too, as strange that
when a strong man goes to prison for his convictions it is thought to be
something rather fine (I don't say it is myself--though it's the general
impression). But when a weak woman goes for _her_ convictions, men find
it very humorous indeed. Our prisoners have to bear not only the
hardships of Holloway Gaol, but they have to bear the worse pains and
penalties inflicted by the general public. You, too, you laugh! and yet
I say'--she lifted her arms and spread them out above the people--'I say
it was not until women were found ready to go to prison--not till then
was the success of the cause assured.' Her bright eyes were shining
brighter still with tears.

'If prison's so good fur the cause, why didn't _you_ go?'

'Here's a gentleman who asks why I didn't go to prison. The answer to
that is, I did go.'

She tossed the information down among the cheers and groans as lightly
as though it had no more personal significance for her than a dropped
leaflet setting forth some minor fact.

'That delicate little girl!' breathed Vida.

'You never told _me_ that item in her history,' said Borrodaile.

'She never told me--never once spoke of it! They put her in prison!' It
was as if she couldn't grasp it.

'Of course one person's going isn't of much consequence,' Ernestine was
winding up with equal spirit and _sang-froid_. 'But the fact that dozens
and scores--all sorts and conditions--are ready to go--_that_ matters!
And that's the place our reprehensible tactics have brought the movement
to. The meeting is closed.'

       *       *       *       *       *

They dropped Sophia at her own door, but Lord Borrodaile said he would
take Vida home. They drove along in silence.

When they stopped before the tall house in Queen Anne's Gate, Vida held
out her hand.

'It's late. I won't ask you in.'

'You are over-tired. Go to bed.'

'I wish I could. I'm dining out.'

He looked at her out of kind eyes. 'It begins to be dreadfully stuffy in
town. I'm glad, after all, we're going on that absurd yachting trip.'

'I'm not going,' she said.

'Oh, nonsense! Sophia and I would break our hearts.'

'I'm sure about Sophia.'

'It will do you good to come and have a look at the Land of the Midnight
Sun,' he said.

'I'm going to have a look at the Land of Midnight where there's no sun.
And everybody but you and Sophia and my sister will think I'm in
Norway.'

When she explained, he broke out:

'It's the very wildest nonsense that ever---- It would kill you.' The
intensity of his opposition made him incoherent. 'You, of all women in
the world! A creature who can't even stand people who say "serviette"
instead of "table-napkin"!'

'Fancy the little Blunt having been in prison!'

'Oh, let the little Blunt go to----' He checked himself. 'Be reasonable,
child.' He turned and looked at her with an earnestness she had never
seen in his eyes before. 'Why in heaven should _you_----'

'Why? You heard what that woman said.'

'I heard _nothing_ to account for----'

'That's partly,' she interrupted, 'why I must make this experiment. When
a man like you--as good a man as you'--she repeated with slow
wonder--'when you and all the other good men that the world is full
of--when you all know everything that that woman knows--and more! and
yet see nothing in it to account for what she feels, and what I--I too,
am beginning to feel----!' she broke off. 'Good-bye! If I go far on this
new road, it's you I shall have to thank.'

'I?'

He shrugged drearily at the absurd charge, making no motion to take the
offered hand, but sat there in the corner of the hansom looking rather
old and shrunken.

'You and one other,' she said.

That roused him. 'Ah, he has come, then.'

'Who?'

'The other. The man who is going to count.'

Her eyelids drooped. 'The man who was to count most for me came a long
while ago. And a long while ago--he went.'

Borrodaile looked at her. 'But this---- Who is the gentleman who shares
with me the doubtful, I may without undue modesty say the undeserved,
honour of urging you to disappear into the slums? Who is it?'

'The man who wrote this.'

It was the book he had seen in her hands before the meeting. He read on
the green cover, 'In the Days of the Comet.'

'Oh, that fellow! Well, he's not my novelist, but it's the keenest
intelligence we have applied to fiction.'

'He _is_ my novelist. So I've a right to be sorry he knows nothing
about women. See here! Even in his most rationalized vision of the New
Time, he can't help betraying his old-fashioned prejudice in favour of
the "dolly" view of women. His hero says, "I prayed that night, let me
confess it, to an image I had set up in my heart, an image that still
serves with me as a symbol for things inconceivable, to a Master
Artificer, the unseen captain of all who go about the building of the
world, the making of mankind----"' Vida's finger skipped, lifting to
fall on the heroine's name. '"Nettie... She never came into the temple
of that worshipping with me."' Swiftly she turned the pages back.
'Where's that other place? Here! The man says to the heroine--to his
ideal woman he says, "Behind you and above you rises the coming City of
the World, and I am in that building. Dear heart! you are only
happiness!" That's the whole view of man in a nutshell. Even the highest
type of woman such an imagination as this can conjure up----' She shook
her head. '"You are only happiness, dear"--a minister of pleasure,
negligible in all the nobler moods, all the times of wider vision or
exalted effort! Tell me'--she bent her head and looked into her
companion's face with a new passion dawning in her eyes--'in the
building of that City of the Future, in the making of it beautiful,
shall women really have no share?'

'My dear, I only know that I shall have no share myself.'

'Ah, we don't speak of ourselves.' She opened the hansom doors and her
companion got out. 'But this Comet man,' she said as she followed, '_he_
might have a share if only he knew why all the great visions have never
yet been more than dreams. That this man should think foundations can be
well and truly laid when the best of one half the race are "only
happiness, dear!"' She turned on the threshold. '_Whose_ happiness?'



CHAPTER XIV


The fall of the Liberal Ministry was said by the simple-minded to have
come as a bolt from the blue. Certainly into the subsequent General
Election were entering elements but little foreseen.

Nevertheless, the last two bye-elections before the crash had resulted
in the defeat of the Liberal candidate not by the Tory antagonist, but
in one case by the nominee of the Labour party, in the other by an
independent Socialist. Both these men had publicly thanked the
Suffragettes for their notable share in piling up those triumphant and
highly significant majorities. Now the country was facing an election
where, for the first time in the history of any great nation, women were
playing a part that even their political enemies could hardly with easy
minds call subordinate.

Only faint echoes of the din penetrated the spacious quiet of Ulland
House. Although the frequent week-end party was there, the great hall on
this particular morning presented a deserted appearance as the tall
clock by the staircase chimed the hour of noon. The insistence of the
ancient timepiece seemed to have set up a rival in destruction of the
Sunday peace, for no sooner had the twelfth stroke died than a bell
began to ring. The little door in the wainscot beyond the clock was
opened. An elderly butler put his head round the huge screen of Spanish
leather that masked the very existence of the modest means of
communication with the quarters of the Ulland domestics. So little was a
ring at the front door expected at this hour that Sutton was still
slowly getting into the left sleeve of his coat when his mistress
appeared from the garden by way of the French window. The old butler
withdrew a discreet instant behind the screen to put the last touches to
his toilet, but Lady John had seen that he was there.

'Has Miss Levering gone for a walk?' she inquired of the servant.

'I don't know, m'lady.'

'She's not in the garden. Do you think she's not down yet?'

'I haven't seen her, m'lady,' said Sutton, emerging from his retirement
and approaching the wide staircase on his way to answer the front-door
bell.

'Never mind'--his mistress went briskly over to a wide-winged
writing-table and seated herself before a litter of papers--'I won't
have her disturbed if she's resting,' Lady John said, adding half to
herself, 'she certainly needs it.'

'Yes, m'lady,' said Sutton, adjusting the maroon collar of his livery
which had insisted upon riding up at the back.

'But I want her to know'--Lady John spoke while glancing through a
letter before consigning it to the wastepaper basket--'the moment she
comes down she must be told that the new plans arrived by the morning
post.'

'Plans, m'la----'

'She'll understand. There they are.' The lady held up a packet about
which she had just snapped an elastic band. 'I'll put them here. It's
very important she should have them in time to look over before she
goes.'

'Yes, m'lady.'

Sutton opened a door and disappeared. A footstep sounded on the marble
floor of the lobby.

Over her shoulder Lady John called out, 'Is _that_ Miss Levering?'

'_No_, m'lady. Mr. Farnborough.'

'I'm afraid I'm scandalously early.' In spite of his words the young man
whipped off his dust coat and flung it to the servant with as much
precipitation as though what he had meant to say was 'scandalously
late.' 'I motored up from Dutfield. It didn't take me nearly so long as
Lord John said.'

The lady had given the young man her hand without rising. 'I'm afraid my
husband is no authority on motoring--and he's not home yet from church.'

'It's the greatest luck finding _you_.' Farnborough sat himself down in
the easy-chair on the other side of the wide writing-table undaunted by
its business-like air or the preoccupied look of the woman before it. 'I
thought Miss Levering was the only person under this roof who was ever
allowed to observe Sunday as a real day of rest.'

'If you've come to see Miss Levering----' began Lady John.

'Is she here? I give you my word I didn't know it.'

'Oh?' said the lady, unconvinced.

'I thought she'd given up coming.'

'Well, she's begun again. She's helping me about something.'

'Oh, helping you, is she?' said Farnborough with absent eyes; and then
suddenly 'all there,' 'Lady John, I've come to ask you to help _me_.'

'With Miss Levering?' said Hermione Heriot's aunt. 'I can't do it.'

'No, no--all that's no good. She only laughs.'

'Oh,' breathed the lady, relieved, 'she looks upon you as a boy.'

'Such nonsense,' he burst out suddenly. 'What do you think she said to
me the day before she went off yachting?'

'That she was four years older than you?'

'Oh, I knew that. No. She said _she_ knew she was all the charming
things I'd been saying, but there was only one way to prove it, and that
was to marry some one young enough to be her son. She'd noticed, she
said, that was what the _most_ attractive women did--and she named
names.'

Lady John laughed. '_You_ were too old!'

He nodded. 'Her future husband, she said, was probably just entering
Eton.'

'Exactly like her.'

'No, no.' Dick Farnborough waived the subject away. 'I wanted to see you
about the secretaryship.'

'You didn't get it then?'

'No. It's the grief of my life.'

'Oh, if you don't get one you'll get another.'

'But there _is_ only one,' he said desperately.

'Only one vacancy?'

'Only one man I'd give my ears to work for.'

Lady John smiled. 'I remember.'

He turned his sanguine head with a quick look. 'Do I _always_ talk about
Stonor? Well, it's a habit people have got into.'

'I forget, do you know Mr. Stonor personally, or'--she smiled her
good-humoured tolerant smile--'or are you just dazzled from afar?'

'Oh, I know him! The trouble is he doesn't know me. If he did he'd
realize he can't be sure of winning his election without my valuable
services.'

'Geoffrey Stonor's re-election is always a foregone conclusion.'

Farnborough banged his hand on the arm of the chair. 'That the great man
shares that opinion is precisely his weak point'--then breaking into a
pleasant smile as he made a clean breast of his hero-worship--'his
_only_ weak point!'

'Oh, you think,' inquired Lady John, lightly, 'just because the Liberals
swept the country the last time, there's danger of their----'

'How can we be sure _any_ Conservative seat is safe, after----' as Lady
John smiled and turned to her papers again. 'Forgive me,' said the young
man, with a tolerant air, 'I know you're not interested in politics
_qua_ politics. But this concerns Geoffrey Stonor.'

'And you count on my being interested in him like all the rest?'

He leaned forward. 'Lady John, I've heard the news.'

'What news?'

'That your little niece, the Scotch heiress, is going to marry him.'

'Who told you that?'

She dropped the paper she had picked up and stared. No doubt about his
having won her whole attention at last.

'Please don't mind my knowing.'

But Lady John was visibly perturbed. 'Jean had set her heart on having a
few days with just her family in the secret, before the flood of
congratulation broke loose.'

'Oh, _that's_ all right,' he said soothingly. 'I always hear things
before other people.'

'Well, I must ask you to be good enough to be very circumspect.' Lady
John spoke gravely. 'I wouldn't have my niece or Mr. Stonor think that
any of us----'

'Oh, of course not.'

'She'll suspect something if you so much as mention Stonor; and you
can't help mentioning Stonor!'

'Yes, I can. Besides I shan't see her!'

'But you will'--Lady John glanced at the clock. 'She'll be here in an
hour.'

He jumped up delighted. 'What? To-day. The future Mrs. Stonor!'

'Yes,' said his hostess, with a harassed air. 'Unfortunately we had one
or two people already asked for the week and----'

'And I go and invite myself to luncheon! Lady John.' He pushed back the
armchair like one who clears the field for action. He stood before her
with his legs wide apart, and a look of enterprise on his face. 'You can
buy me off! I'll promise to remove myself in five minutes if you'll put
in a word for me.'

'Ah!' Lady John shook her head. 'Mr. Stonor inspires a similar
enthusiasm in so many young----'

'They haven't studied the situation as I have.' He sat down to explain
his own excellence. 'They don't know what's at stake. They don't go to
that hole Dutfield, as I did, just to hear his Friday speech.'

'But you were rewarded. My niece, Jean, wrote me it was "glorious."'

'Well, you know, I was disappointed,' he said judicially. 'Stonor's too
content just to criticize, just to make his delicate pungent fun of the
men who are grappling--very inadequately of course--still _grappling_
with the big questions. There's a carrying power'--he jumped to his feet
again and faced an imaginary audience--'some of Stonor's friends ought
to point it out--there's a driving power in the poorest constructive
policy that makes the most brilliant criticism look barren.'

She regarded the budding politician with good-humoured malice.

'Who told you that?'

'You think there's nothing in it because _I_ say it. But now that he's
coming into the family, Lord John or somebody really ought to point
out--Stonor's overdoing his rôle of magnificent security.'

The lady sat very straight. 'I don't see even Lord John offering to
instruct Mr. Stonor,' she said, with dignity.

'Believe me, that's just Stonor's danger! Nobody saying a word,
everybody hoping he's on the point of adopting some definite line,
something strong and original, that's going to fire the public
imagination and bring the Tories back into power----'

'So he will.'

'Not if he disappoints meetings,' said Farnborough, hotly; 'not if he
goes calmly up to town, and leaves the field to the Liberals.'

'When did he do anything like that?'

'Yesterday!' Farnborough flung out the accusation as he strode up and
down before the divan. 'And now he's got this other preoccupation----'

'You mean----?'

'Yes, your niece--the spoilt child of fortune.' Farnborough stopped
suddenly and smacked his forehead. 'Of _course_!'--he wheeled round upon
Lady John with accusing face--'I understand it now. _She_ kept him from
the meeting last night! _Well!_'--he collapsed in the nearest chair--'if
that's the effect she's going to have, it's pretty serious!'

'You are,' said his hostess.

'I can assure you the election agent's more so. He's simply tearing his
hair.'

She had risen. 'How do you know?' she asked more gravely.

'He told me so himself, yesterday. I scraped acquaintance with the
agent, just to see if--if----'

'I see,' she smiled. 'It's not only here that you manoeuvre for that
secretaryship!'

As Lady John moved towards the staircase she looked at the clock.
Farnborough jumped up and followed her, saying confidentially--

'You see, you can never tell when your chance might come. The election
chap's promised to keep me posted. Why, I've even taken the trouble to
arrange with the people at the station to receive any message that might
come over from Dutfield.'

'For you?' She smiled at his self-importance.

Breathlessly he hurried on: 'Immense unexpected pressure of work, you
know--now that we've forced the Liberals to appeal to the country----'

He stopped as the sound of light steps came flying through the lobby,
and a young girl rushed into the hall calling out gaily--

'Aunt Ellen! Here I----'

She stopped precipitately, and her outstretched arms fell to her sides.
A radiant, gracious figure, she stood poised an instant, the light of
gladness in her eyes only partially dimmed by the horrid spectacle of an
interloper in the person of a strange young man.

'My darling Jean!'

Lady John went forward and kissed her at the moment that the master of
the house came hurrying in from the garden with a cheerful--

'I _thought_ that was you running up the avenue!'

'Uncle, dear!'

The pretty vision greeted him with the air of a privileged child of the
house, interrupting only for an instant the babel of cross-purpose
explanation about carriages and trains.

Lord John had shaken hands with Dick Farnborough and walked him towards
the window, saying through the torrent--

'Now they'll tell each other for the next ten minutes that she's an hour
earlier than we expected.'

Although young Farnborough had looked upon the blooming addition to the
party with an undisguised interest, he readily fell in with Lord John's
diplomatic move to get him out of the way. He even helped towards his
own effacement, looking out through the window with--

'The Freddy Tunbridges said they were coming to you this week.'

'Yes, they're dawdling through the park with the Church Brigade.'

'Oh, I'll go and meet them;' and Farnborough disappeared.

As Lord John turned back to his two ladies he offered it as his
opinion--

'That discreet young man will get on.'

'But _how_ did you get here?' Lady John was still wondering.

Breathless, the girl answered, 'He motored me down.'

'Geoffrey Stonor?'

She nodded, beaming.

'Why, where is he then?'

'He dropped me at the end of the avenue, and went on to see a supporter
about something.'

'You let him go off like that!' Lord John reproached her.

'Without ever----' Lady John interrupted herself to take Jean's two
hands in hers. 'Just tell me, my child, is it all right?'

'My engagement? Absolutely.'

Such radiant security shone in the soft face that the older woman,
drawing the girl down beside her on the divan, dared to say--

'Geoffrey Stonor isn't going to be--a little too old for you.'

Jean chimed out the gayest laugh in the world. 'Bless me! am I such a
chicken?'

'Twenty-four used not to be so young, but it's become so.'

'Yes, we don't grow up so quick,' she agreed merrily. 'But, on the other
hand, we _stay_ up longer.'

'You've got what's vulgarly called "looks," my dear,' said her uncle,
'and that will help to _keep_ you up.'

'I know what Uncle John's thinking,' she turned on him with a pretty air
of challenge. 'But I'm not the only girl who's been left "what's
vulgarly called" money.'

'You're the only one of our immediate circle who's been left so
beautifully much.'

'Ah! but remember, Geoffrey could--everybody _knows_ he could have
married any one in England.'

'I am afraid everybody does know it,' said her ladyship, faintly ironic,
'not excepting Mr. Stonor.'

'Well, how spoilt is the great man?' inquired Lord John, mischievously.

'Not the least little bit in the world. You'll see! He so wants to know
my best-beloved relations better.' She stopped to bestow another embrace
on Lady John. 'An orphan has so few belongings, she has to make the most
of them.'

'Let us hope he'll approve of us on further acquaintance.'

'Oh, he will! He's an angel. Why, he gets on with my grandfather!'

'Does he?' said her aunt, unable to forbear teasing her a little. 'You
mean to say Mr. Geoffrey Stonor isn't just a tiny bit "superior" about
Dissenters.'

'Not half as much so as Uncle John, and all the rest of you! My
grandfather's been ill again, you know, and rather difficult--bless him!
but Geoffrey----' she clasped her hands to fill out her wordless content
with him.

'Geoffrey _must_ have powers of persuasion, to get that old Covenanter
to let you come in an abhorred motor-car, on Sunday, too!'

Jean pursed her red lips and put up a cautionary finger with a droll
little air of alarm.

'Grandfather didn't know!' she half whispered.

'Didn't know?'

'I honestly meant to come by train,' she hastened to exculpate herself.
'Geoffrey met me on my way to the station. We had the most glorious run!
Oh, Aunt Ellen, we're so happy!' She pressed her cheek against Lady
John's shoulder. 'I've so looked forward to having you to myself the
whole day just to talk to you about----'

Lord John turned away with affected displeasure. 'Oh, very well----'

She jumped up and caught him affectionately by the arm. '_You'd_ find it
dreffly dull to hear me talk about Geoffrey the whole blessed day!'

'Well, till luncheon, my dear----' Lady John had risen with a glance at
the clock. 'You mustn't mind if I----' She broke off and went to the
writing-table, saying aside to her husband, 'I'm beginning to feel a
little anxious; Miss Levering wasn't only tired last night, she was
ill.'

'I thought she looked very white,' said Lord John.

'Oh, dear! Have you got other people?' demanded the happy egoist.

'One or two. Your uncle's responsible for asking that old cynic, St.
John Greatorex, and I'm responsible for----'

Jean stopped in the act of taking off her long gloves. 'Mr. Greatorex!
He's a Liberal, isn't he?' she said with sudden gravity.

'Little Jean!' Lord John chuckled, 'beginning to "think in parties!"'

'It's very natural now that she should----'

'I only meant it was odd he should be _here_. Of course I'm not so
silly----'

'It's all right, my child,' said her uncle, kindly. 'We naturally expect
now that you'll begin to think like Geoffrey Stonor, and to feel like
Geoffrey Stonor, and to talk like Geoffrey Stonor. And quite proper,
too!'

'Well,'--Jean quickly recovered her smiles--'if I _do_ think with my
husband, and feel with him--as of course I shall--it will surprise me if
I ever find myself talking a tenth as well!' In her enthusiasm she
followed her uncle to the French window. 'You should have heard him at
Dutfield.' She stopped short. 'The Freddy Tunbridges!' she exclaimed,
looking out into the garden. A moment later her gay look fell. 'What?
Not Aunt Lydia! Oh-h!' She glanced back reproachfully at Lady John, to
find her making a discreet motion of 'I couldn't help it!' as the party
from the garden came in.

The greetings of the Freddys were cut short by Mrs. Heriot, who embraced
her niece with a significant warmth.

'_I_ wasn't surprised,' she said _sotto voce_. 'I always prophesied----'

'Sh--_Please_----' the girl escaped.

'We haven't met since you were in short skirts,' said the young man who
had been watching his opportunity. 'I'm Dick Farnborough.'

'Oh, I remember.' Jean gave him her hand.

Mrs. Freddy was looking round and asking where was the Elusive One?

'Who is the Elusive One?' Jean demanded.

'Lady John's new ally in good works!' said Mrs. Freddy. 'Why, you met
her one day at my house before you went back to Scotland.'

'Oh, you mean Miss Levering.'

'Yes; nice creature, isn't she?' said Lord John, benevolently.

'I used rather to love her,' said Mrs. Freddy, brightly, 'but she
doesn't come to us any more. She seems to be giving up going anywhere,
except here, so far as I can make out.'

'She knows she can rest here,' said Lady John.

'What does she do to tire her?' demanded Mr. Freddy. 'Hasn't she been
amusing herself in Norway?'

'Since she came back she's been helping my sister and me with a scheme
of ours,' said Lady John.

'She certainly knows how to juggle money out of the men!' admitted Mrs.
Heriot.

'It would sound less equivocal, Lydia, if you added that the money is to
build baths in our Shelter for Homeless Women.'

'Homeless women?' echoed Mr. Freddy.

'Yes; in the most insanitary part of Soho.'

'Oh--a--really.' Mr. Freddy stroked his smart little moustache.

'It doesn't sound quite in Miss Levering's line,' Farnborough hazarded.

'My dear boy,' said his hostess, 'you know as little about what's in a
woman's line as most men.'

'Oh, I say!' Mr. Freddy looked round with a laugh.

Lord John threw out his chest and dangled his eyeglass with an indulgent
air.

'Philanthropy,' he said, 'in a woman like Miss Levering, is a form of
restlessness. But she's a _nice_ creature. All she needs is to get some
"nice" fella to marry her!'

Mrs. Freddy laughingly hooked herself on her husband's arm.

'Yes; a woman needs a balance wheel, if only to keep her from flying
back to town on a hot day like this.'

'Who,' demanded the host, 'is proposing anything so----'

'The Elusive One,' said Mrs. Freddy.

'Not Miss----'

'Yes; before luncheon.'

Dick Farnborough glanced quickly at the clock, and then his eyes went
questing up the great staircase. Lady John had met the chorus of
disapproval with--

'She must be in London by three, she says.'

Lord John stared. '_To-day?_ Why she only came late last night! What
must she go back for, in the name of----'

'Well, _that_ I didn't ask her. But it must be something important, or
she would stay and talk over the plans for the new Shelter.'

Farnborough had pulled out his cigarette case and stepped out through
the window into the garden. But he went not as one who means to take a
stroll and enjoy a smoke, rather as a man on a mission.

A few minutes after, the desultory conversation in the hall was arrested
by the sound of voices near the windows.

They were in full view now--Vida Levering, hatless, a cool figure in
pearl-grey with a red umbrella; St. John Greatorex, wearing a Panama
hat, talking and gesticulating with a small book, in which his fingers
still kept the place; Farnborough, a little supercilious, looking on.

'I protest! Good Lord! what are the women of this country coming to? I
_protest_ against Miss Levering being carried indoors to discuss
anything so revolting.'

As Lord John moved towards the window the vermilion disk of the umbrella
closed and dropped like a poppy before it blooms. As the owner of it
entered the hall, Greatorex followed in her wake, calling out--

'Bless my soul! what can a woman like you _know_ about such a thing?'

'Little enough,' said Miss Levering, smiling and scattering
good-mornings.

'I should think so indeed!' He breathed a sigh of relief and recovered
his waggishness. 'It's all this fellow Farnborough's wicked
jealousy--routing us out of the summer-house where we were sitting,
_perfectly_ happy--weren't we?'

'Ideally,' said the lady.

'There. You hear!'

He interrupted Lord John's inquiry as to the seriousness of Miss
Levering's unpopular and mysterious programme for the afternoon. But the
lady quietly confirmed it, and looked over her hostess's shoulder at the
plan-sheet that Lady John was silently holding out between two extended
hands.

'Haled indoors on a day like this'--Greatorex affected a mighty scorn of
the document--'to talk about--Public Sanitation, forsooth! Why, God
bless my soul, do you realize that's _drains_!'

'I'm dreadfully afraid it is,' said Miss Levering, smiling down at the
architectural drawing.

'And we in the act of discussing Italian literature!' Greatorex held out
the little book with an air of comic despair. 'Perhaps you'll tell me
that isn't a more savoury topic for a lady.'

'But for the tramp population less conducive to savouriness--don't you
think--than baths?' She took the book from him, shutting her
handkerchief in the place where his finger had been.

'No, no'--Greatorex, Panama in hand, was shaking his piebald head--'I
can't understand this morbid interest in vagrants. You're too--much
too---- Leave it to others!'

'What others?'

'Oh, the sort of woman who smells of india-rubber,' he said, with
smiling impertinence. 'The typical English spinster. You've seen her.
Italy's full of her. She never goes anywhere without a mackintosh and a
collapsible bath--_rubber_. When you look at her it's borne in upon you
that she doesn't only smell of rubber. She is rubber, too.'

They all laughed.

'Now you frivolous people go away,' Lady John said. 'We've only got a
few minutes to talk over the terms of the late Mr. Barlow's munificence
before the carriage comes for Miss Levering.'

In the midst of the general movement to the garden, Mrs. Freddy asked
Farnborough did he know she'd got that old horror to give Lady John
£8000 for her charity before he died?

'Who got him to?' demanded Greatorex.

'Miss Levering,' answered Lady John. 'He wouldn't do it for me, but she
brought him round.'

'Bah-ee Jove!' said Freddy. 'I expect so.'

'Yes.' Mrs. Freddy beamed in turn at her lord and at Farnborough as she
strolled with them through the window. '_Isn't_ she wonderful?'

'Too wonderful,' said Greatorex to the lady in question, lowering his
voice, 'to waste your time on the wrong people.'

'I shall waste less of my time after this.' Miss Levering spoke
thoughtfully.

'I'm relieved to hear it. I can't see you wheedling money for shelters
and rot of that sort out of retired grocers.'

'You see, you call it rot. We couldn't have got £8000 out of _you_.'

Speaking still lower, 'I'm not sure,' he said slyly.

She looked at him.

'If I gave you that much--for your little projects--what would you give
me?' he demanded.

'Barlow didn't ask that.' She spoke quietly.

'Barlow!' he echoed, with a truly horrified look. 'I should think not!'

'Barlow!' Lord John caught up the name on his way out with Jean. 'You
two still talking Barlow? How flattered the old beggar'd be! Did you
hear'--he turned back and linked his arm in Greatorex's--'did you hear
what Mrs. Heriot said about him? "So kind, so munificent--so _vulgar_,
poor soul, we couldn't know him in London--but we shall meet him in
heaven!"'

The two men went out chuckling.

Jean stood hesitating a moment, glancing through the window at the
laughing men, and back at the group of women, Mrs. Heriot seated
magisterially at the head of the writing-table, looking with inimical
eyes at Miss Levering, who stood in the middle of the hall with head
bent over the plan.

'Sit here, my dear,' Lady John called to her. Then with a glance at her
niece, 'You needn't stay, Jean; this won't interest you.'

Miss Levering glanced over her shoulder as she moved to the chair
opposite Lady John, and in the tone of one agreeing with the dictum just
uttered, 'It's only an effort to meet the greatest evil in the world,'
she said, and sat down with her back to the girl.

'What do you call the greatest evil in the world?' Jean asked.

A quick look passed between Mrs. Heriot and Lady John.

Miss Levering answered without emphasis, 'The helplessness of women.'

The girl still stood where the phrase had arrested her.

After a moment's hesitation, Lady John went over to her and put an arm
about her shoulder.

'I know, darling, you can think of nothing but "him," so just go----'

'Indeed, indeed,' interrupted the girl, brightly, 'I can think of
everything better than I ever did before. He has lit up everything for
me--made everything vivider, more--more significant.'

'Who has?' Miss Levering asked, turning round.

As though she had not heard, Jean went on, 'Oh, yes, I don't care about
other things less but a thousand times more.'

'You _are_ in love,' said Lady John.

'Oh, that's it. I congratulate you.' Over her shoulder Miss Levering
smiled at the girl.

'Well, now'--Lady John returned to the outspread plan--'_this_, you see,
obviates the difficulty you raised.'

'Yes, it's a great improvement,' Miss Levering agreed.

Mrs. Heriot, joining in for the first time, spoke with emphasis--

'But it's going to cost a great deal more.'

'It's worth it,' said Miss Levering.

'But we'll have nothing left for the organ at St. Pilgrim's.'

'My dear Lydia,' said Lady John, 'we're putting the organ aside.'

'We can't afford to "put aside" the elevating influence of music.' Mrs.
Heriot spoke with some asperity.

'What we must make for, first, is the cheap and humanely conducted
lodging-house.'

'There are several of those already; but poor St. Pilgrim's----'

'There are none for the poorest women,' said Miss Levering.

'No; even the excellent Barlow was for multiplying Rowton Houses. You
can never get men to realize--you can't always get women----'

'It's the work least able to wait,' said Miss Levering.

'I don't agree with you,' Mrs. Heriot bridled, 'and I happen to have
spent a great deal of my life in works of charity.'

'Ah, then,'--Miss Levering lifted her eyes from the map to Mrs. Heriot's
face--'you'll be interested in the girl I saw dying in a tramp ward a
little while ago. _Glad_ her cough was worse, only she mustn't die
before her father. Two reasons. Nobody but her to keep the old man out
of the workhouse, and "father is so proud." If she died first, he would
starve--worst of all, he might hear what had happened up in London to
his girl.'

With an air of profound suspicion, Mrs. Heriot interrupted--

'She didn't say, I suppose, how she happened to fall so low?'

'Yes, she did. She had been in service. She lost the train back one
Sunday night, and was too terrified of her employer to dare to ring him
up after hours. The wrong person found her crying on the platform.'

'She should have gone to one of the Friendly Societies.'

'At eleven at night?'

'And there are the Rescue Leagues. I myself have been connected with one
for twenty years----'

'Twenty years!' echoed Miss Levering. 'Always arriving "after the
train's gone,"--after the girl and the wrong person have got to the
journey's end.'

Mrs. Heriot's eyes flashed, but before she could speak Jean asked--

'Where is she now?'

'Never mind.' Lady John turned again to the plan.

'Two nights ago she was waiting at a street corner in the rain.

'Near a public-house, I suppose?' Mrs. Heriot threw in.

'Yes; a sort of public-house. She was plainly dying. She was told she
shouldn't be out in the rain. "I mustn't go in yet," she said. "_This_
is what he gave me," and she began to cry. In her hand were two pennies
silvered over to look like half-crowns.'

'I don't believe that story!' Mrs. Heriot announced. 'It's just the sort
of thing some sensation-monger trumps up. Now, who tells you these----?'

'Several credible people. I didn't believe them till----'

'Till?' Jean came nearer.

'Till I saw for myself.'

'_Saw?_' exclaimed Mrs. Heriot. 'Where----?'

'In a low lodging-house not a hundred yards from the church you want a
new organ for.'

'How did _you_ happen to be there?'

'I was on a pilgrimage.'

'A pilgrimage?' echoed Jean.

Miss Levering nodded. 'Into the Underworld.'

'_You_ went!' Even Lady John was aghast.

'How could you?' Jean whispered.

'I put on an old gown and a tawdry hat----' She turned suddenly to her
hostess. 'You'll never know how many things are hidden from a woman in
good clothes. The bold free look of a man at a woman he believes to be
destitute--you must _feel_ that look on you before you can understand--a
good half of history.'

Mrs. Heriot rose as her niece sat down on the footstool just below the
writing-table.

'Where did you go--dressed like that?' the girl asked.

'Down among the homeless women, on a wet night, looking for shelter.'

'Jean!' called Mrs. Heriot.

'No wonder you've been ill,' Lady John interposed hastily.

'And it's like _that_?' Jean spoke under her breath.

'No,' came the answer, in the same hushed tone.

'No?'

'It's so much worse I dare not tell about it, even if you weren't here I
couldn't.'

But Mrs. Heriot's anger was unappeased. 'You needn't suppose, darling,
that those wretched creatures feel it as we would.'

Miss Levering raised grave eyes. 'The girls who need shelter and work
aren't _all_ serving-maids.'

'We know,' said Mrs. Heriot, with an involuntary flash, 'that all the
women who make mistakes aren't.'

'That is why _every_ woman ought to take an interest in this,' said Miss
Levering, steadily; 'every girl, too.'

'Yes. Oh, yes!' Jean agreed.

'No.' Lady John was very decisive. 'This is a matter for us older----'

'Or for a person who has some special knowledge,' Mrs. Heriot amended,
with an air of sly challenge. '_We_ can't pretend to have access to such
sources of information as Miss Levering.'

'Yes, you can'--she met Mrs. Heriot's eye--'for I can give you access.
As you suggest, I have some personal knowledge about homeless girls.'

'Well, my dear'--with a manufactured cheerfulness Lady John turned it
aside--'it will all come in convenient.' She tapped the plan.

Miss Levering took no notice. 'It once happened to me to take offence at
an ugly thing that was going on under my father's roof. Oh, _years_ ago!
I was an impulsive girl. I turned my back on my father's house.'

'That was ill-advised.' Lady John glanced at her niece.

'So all my relations said'--Miss Levering, too, looked at Jean--'and I
couldn't explain.'

'Not to your mother?' the girl asked.

'My mother was dead. I went to London to a small hotel, and tried to
find employment. I wandered about all day and every day from agency to
agency. I was supposed to be educated. I'd been brought up partly in
Paris, I could play several instruments and sing little songs in four
different tongues.'

In the pause Jean asked, 'Did nobody want you to teach French or sing
the little songs?'

'The heads of schools thought me too young. There were people ready to
listen to my singing. But the terms, they were too hard. Soon my money
was gone. I began to pawn my trinkets. _They_ went.'

'And still no work?'

'No; but by that time I had some real education--an unpaid hotel bill,
and not a shilling in the world. Some girls think it hardship to have to
earn their living. The horror is not to be allowed to.'

Jean bent forward. 'What happened?'

Lady John stood up. 'My dear,' she asked her visitor, 'have your things
been sent down?'

'Yes. I am quite ready, all but my hat.'

'Well?' insisted Jean.

'Well, by chance I met a friend of my family.'

'That was lucky.'

'I thought so. He was nearly ten years older than I. He said he wanted
to help me.' Again she paused.

'And didn't he?' Jean asked.

Lady John laid her hand on Miss Levering's shoulder.

'Perhaps, after all, he did,' she said. 'Why do I waste time over
myself? I belonged to the little class of armed women. My body wasn't
born weak, and my spirit wasn't broken by the _habit_ of slavery. But,
as Mrs. Heriot was kind enough to hint, I do know something about the
possible fate of homeless girls. What was true a dozen years ago is true
to-day. There are pleasant parks, museums, free libraries in our great
rich London, and not one single place where destitute women can be sure
of work that isn't killing, or food that isn't worse than prison fare.
That's why women ought not to sleep o' nights till this Shelter stands
spreading out wide arms.'

'No, no,' said the girl, jumping up.

'Even when it's built,'--Mrs. Heriot was angrily gathering up her
gloves, her fan and her Prayer-book--'you'll see! Many of those
creatures will prefer the life they lead. They _like_ it. A woman told
me--one of the sort that knows--told me many of them like it so much
that they are indifferent to the risk of being sent to prison. "_It
gives them a rest_,"' she said.

'A rest!' breathed Lady John, horror-struck.

Miss Levering glanced at the clock as she rose to go upstairs, while
Lady John and Mrs. Heriot bent their heads over the plan covertly
talking.

Jean ran forward and caught the tall grey figure on the lower step.

'I want to begin to understand something of----,' she began in a
beseeching tone. 'I'm horribly ignorant.'

Miss Levering looked down upon her searchingly. 'I'm a rather busy
person,' she said.

'I have a quite special reason for wanting _not_ to be ignorant. I'll go
to town to-morrow,' said Jean, impulsively, 'if you'll come and lunch
with me--or let me come to you.'

'Jean!' It was Aunt Lydia's voice.

'I must go and put my hat on,' said Miss Levering, hurrying up the
stair.

Mrs. Heriot bent towards her sister and half whispered, 'How little she
minds talking about horrors!'

'They turn me cold. Ugh! I wonder if she's signed the visitor's book.'
Lady John rose with harassed look. 'Such foolishness John's new plan of
keeping it in the lobby. It's twice as likely to be forgotten.'

'For all her Shelter schemes, she's a hard woman,' said Aunt Lydia.

'Miss Levering is!' exclaimed Jean.

'Oh, of course _you_ won't think so. She has angled very adroitly for
your sympathy.'

'She doesn't look----' protested the girl.

Lady John, glancing at her niece, seemed in some intangible way to take
alarm.

'I'm not sure but what she does. Her mouth--always like this--as if she
were holding back something by main force.'

'Well, so she is,' slipped out from between Aunt Lydia's thin lips as
Lady John disappeared into the lobby.

'Why haven't I seen Miss Levering before this summer?' Jean asked.

'Oh, she's lived abroad.' The lady was debating with herself. 'You don't
know about her, I suppose?'

'I don't know how Aunt Ellen came across her, if that's what you mean.'

'Her father was a person everybody knew. One of his daughters made a
very good marriage. But this one--I didn't bargain for you and Hermione
getting mixed up with her.'

'I don't see that we're either of us---- But Miss Levering seems to go
everywhere. Why shouldn't she?'

With sudden emphasis, 'You mustn't ask her to Eaton Square,' said Aunt
Lydia.

'I have.'

Mrs. Heriot half rose from her seat. 'Then you'll have to get out of
it!'

'Why?'

'I am sure your grandfather would agree with me. I warn you I won't
stand by and see that woman getting you into her clutches.'

'Clutches? Why should you think she wants me in her clutches?'

'Just for the pleasure of clutching! She's the kind that's never
satisfied till she has everybody in the pitiful state your Aunt Ellen's
in about her. Richard Farnborough, too, just on the very verge of asking
Hermione to marry him!'

'Oh, is that it?' the girl smiled wisely.

'No!' Too late Mrs. Heriot saw her misstep. 'That's _not_ it! And I am
sure, if Mr. Stonor knew what I do, he would agree with me that you must
not ask her to the house.'

'Of course I'd do anything he asked me to. But he would give me a
reason. And a very good reason, too!' The pretty face was very stubborn.

Aunt Lydia's wore the inflamed look not so much of one who is angry as
of a person who has a cold in the head.

'I'll give you the reason!' she said. 'It's not a thing I should have
preferred to tell you, but I know how difficult you are to guide--so I
suppose you'll have to know.' She looked round and lowered her voice.
'It was ten or twelve years ago. I found her horribly ill in a lonely
Welsh farmhouse.'

'Miss Levering?'

Mrs. Heriot nodded. 'We had taken the Manor for that August. The
farmer's wife was frightened, and begged me to go and see what I
thought. I soon saw how it was--I thought she was dying.'

'_Dying?_ What was the----'

'I got no more out of her than the farmer's wife did. She had no
letters. There had been no one to see her except a man down from London,
a shady-looking doctor--nameless, of course. And then this result. The
farmer and his wife, highly respectable people, were incensed. They were
for turning the girl out.'

'_Oh_! but----'

'Yes. Pitiless some of these people are! Although she had forfeited all
claim--still she was a daughter of Sir Hervey Levering. I insisted they
should treat the girl humanely, and we became friends--that is, "sort
of." In spite of all I did for her----'

'What did you do?'

'I--I've told you, and I lent her money. No small sum either----'

'Has she never paid it back?'

'Oh, yes; after a time. But I _always_ kept her secret--as much as I
knew.'

'But you've been telling me----'

'That was my duty--and I never had her full confidence.'

'Wasn't it natural she----'

'Well, all things considered, she might have wanted to tell me who was
responsible.'

'Oh, Aunt Lydia.'

'All she ever said was that she was ashamed'--Mrs. Heriot was fast
losing her temper and her fine feeling for the innocence of her
auditor--'ashamed that she "hadn't had the courage to resist"--not the
original temptation, but the pressure brought to bear on her "not to go
through with it," as she said.'

With a shrinking look the girl wrinkled her brows. 'You are being so
delicate--I'm not sure I understand.'

'The only thing you need understand,' said her aunt, irritably, 'is that
she's not a desirable companion for a young girl.'

There was a pause.

'When did you see her after--after----'

Mrs. Heriot made a slight grimace. 'I met her last winter at--of all
places--the Bishop's!'

'They're relations of hers.'

'Yes. It was while you were in Scotland. They'd got her to help with
some of their work. Now she's taken hold of ours. Your aunt and uncle
are quite foolish about her, and I'm debarred from taking any steps, at
least till the Shelter is out of hand.'

The girl's face was shadowed--even a little frightened. It was evident
she was struggling not to give way altogether to alarm and repulsion.

'I do rather wonder that after that, she can bring herself to talk
about--the unfortunate women of the world.'

'The effrontery of it!' said her aunt.

'Or--the courage!' The girl put her hand up to her throat as if the
sentence had caught there.

'Even presumes to set _me_ right! Of course I don't _mind_ in the least,
poor soul--but I feel I owe it to your dead mother to tell you about
her, especially as you're old enough now to know something about life.'

'And since a girl needn't be very old to suffer for her ignorance'--she
spoke slowly, moving a little away. But she stopped on the final
sentence: 'I _felt_ she was rather wonderful!'

'_Wonderful!_'

'To have lived through _that_, when she was--how old?'

Mrs. Heriot rose with an increased irritation. 'Nineteen or
thereabouts.'

'Five years younger than I!' Jean sat down on the divan and stared at
the floor. 'To be abandoned, and to come out of it like this!'

Mrs. Heriot went to her and laid her hand on the girl's shoulder.

'It was too bad to have to tell you such a sordid story to-day of all
days.'

'It is a terrible story, but this wasn't a bad time. I feel very sorry
to-day for women who aren't happy.' She started as a motor-horn was
faintly heard. 'That's Geoffrey!' She jumped to her feet.

'Mr. Stonor. What makes you think----?'

'Yes, yes. I'm sure. I'm sure!' Every shadow fled out of her face in the
sudden burst of sunshine.

Lord John hurried in from the garden as the motor-horn sounded louder.

'Who do you think is coming round the drive?'

Jean caught hold of him. 'Oh, dear! are those other people all about?
How am I ever going to be able to behave like a girl who--who isn't
engaged to the only man in the world worth marrying!'

'You were expecting Mr. Stonor all the time!' exclaimed Aunt Lydia.

'He promised he'd come to luncheon if it was humanly possible. I was
afraid to tell you for fear he'd be prevented.'

Lord John was laughing as he went towards the lobby. 'You felt we
couldn't have borne the disappointment!'

'I felt I couldn't,' said the girl, standing there with a rapt look.



CHAPTER XV


She did not look round when Dick Farnborough ran in from the garden,
saying: '_Is_ it--is it really?' For just then on the opposite side of
the great hall, the centre of a little buzz of welcome, Stonor's tall
figure appeared between host and hostess.

'What luck!' Farnborough said under his breath.

He hurried back and faced the rest of the party who were clustered
outside the window trying to look unconcerned.

'Yes, by Jove!' he set their incredulity at rest. 'It _is_!'

Discreetly they glanced and craned and then elaborately turned their
backs, pretending to be talking among themselves. But, as though the
girl standing there expectant in the middle of the hall were well aware
of the enormous sensation the new arrival had created, she herself
contributed nothing to it. Stonor came forward, and she met him with a
soft, happy look, and the low words: 'What a good thing you managed it!'
Then she made way for Mrs. Heriot's far more impressive greeting,
innocent of the smallest reminder of the last encounter!

It was Lord John who cut these amenities short by chaffing Stonor for
being so enterprising all of a sudden. 'Fancy your motoring out of town
to see a supporter on Sunday!'

'I don't know how we ever covered the ground in the old days,' he
answered. 'It's no use to stand for your borough any more. The American,
you know, he "runs" for Congress. By-and-by we shall all be flying after
the thing we want.' He smiled at Jean.

'Sh!' She glanced over her shoulder and spoke low. 'All sorts of
irrelevant people here.'

One of them, unable any longer to resist the temptation, was making a
second foray into the hall.

'How do you do, Mr. Stonor?' Farnborough stood there holding out his
hand.

The great man seemed not to see it, but he murmured, 'How do you do?'
and proceeded to share with Lady John his dislike of any means of
locomotion except his own legs or those of a horse.

It took a great deal to disconcert Farnborough. 'Some of us were arguing
in the smoking-room last night,' he said, 'whether it didn't hurt a
candidate's chances going about in a motor.'

As Mr. Stonor, not deigning to reply to this, paused the merest instant
in what he was saying to his hostess, Lord John came to the rescue of
the audacious young gentleman.

'Yes, we've been hearing a great many stories about the unpopularity of
motor-cars--among the class that hasn't got 'em, of course.'

'I'm sure,' Lady John put in, 'you gain more votes by being able to
reach so many more of your constituents than we used----'

'Well, I don't know,' said Stonor. 'I've sometimes wondered whether the
charm of our presence wasn't counterbalanced by the way we tear about
smothering our fellow-beings in dust and running down their pigs and
chickens,--not to speak of their children.'

'What on the whole are the prospects?' Lord John asked.

'We shall have to work harder than we realized,' Stonor answered
gravely.

Farnborough let slip an 'Ah, I said so!' meant for Lady John, and then
before Stonor's raised eyes, the over-zealous young politician retreated
towards the window--but with hands in his pockets and head held high,
like one who has made his mark. And so in truth he had. For Lady John
let drop one or two good-natured phrases--what he had done, his
hero-worship, his mother had been a Betham--Yes, he was one of the
Farnboroughs of Moore Abbey. Though Stonor made no comment beyond a dry,
'The staple product of this country, young men like that!'--it appeared
later that Lady John's good offices in favour of a probable
nephew-in-law had not been invoked in vain.

Despite the menace of 'the irrelevant' dotting the lawn immediately
outside the windows, the little group on the farther side of the hall
still stood there talking in low tones with the sense of intimacy which
belongs to a family party.

Jean had slipped her arm in her uncle's, and was smiling at Stonor--

'He says he believes I'll be able to make a real difference to his
chances,' she said, half aside. 'Isn't it angelic of him?'

'Angelic?' laughed the great man. 'Macchiavellian. I pin all my hopes on
your being able to counteract the pernicious influence of my opponent's
glib wife.'

'You want me to have a real share in it all, don't you, Geoffrey?'

'Of course I do.' He smiled into her eyes.

That moth Farnborough, whirling in the political effulgence, was again
hovering on the outskirts. He even made conversation to Mrs. Heriot, as
an excuse to remain inside the window.

'But you don't mean seriously,' Lord John asked his guest, 'you don't
mean, do you, that there's any possible complication about _your_ seat?'

'Oh, I dare say it's all right'--Stonor drew a Sunday paper out of his
pocket. 'There's this agitation about the Woman Question. Oddly enough,
it seems as if it might--there's just the off-chance--it _might_ affect
the issue.'

'Affect it? How? God bless my soul!' Lord John's transparent skin
flushed up to his white hair. 'Don't tell me any responsible person is
going even to consider the lunacy of tampering with the British
Constitution----'

'We _have_ heard that suggested, though for better reasons,' Stonor
laughed, but not Lord John.

'Turn over the destinies of the Empire,' he said hotly, 'to a lot of
ignorant women just because a few of 'em have odious manners and violent
tongues!' The sight of Stonor's cool impassivity calmed him somewhat. He
went on more temperately. 'Every sane person sees that the only trouble
with England to-day is that too many ignorant people have votes
already.'

'The penalty we pay for being more republican than the Republics.'

Lord John had picked up the Sunday paper and glanced down a column.

'If the worst came to the worst, you can do what the other four hundred
have done.'

'Easily! But the mere fact that four hundred and twenty members have
been worried into promising support--and then, once in the House, have
let the matter severely alone----'

'Let it alone?' Lord John burst out again. 'I should think so indeed!'

'Yes,' laughed Stonor, 'only it's a device that's somewhat worn.'

'Still,' Lord John put on a Macchiavellian air that sat rather
incongruously on his honest English face, 'Still, if they think they're
getting a future Cabinet Minister on their side----'

'It will be sufficiently embarrassing for the Cabinet Minister.'

Stonor caught sight of Farnborough approaching and lowered his voice. He
leaned his elbow on the end of the wide mantelpiece and gave his
attention exclusively to Lord John, seeming to ignore even the pretty
girl who still stood by her uncle with a hand slipped through his arm.

'Nobody says much about it,' Stonor went on, 'but it's realized that the
last Labour member, and that Colne Valley Socialist--those men got in
largely through the tireless activity of the women.'

'The Suffragettes!' exclaimed the girl, '_they_ were able to do that?'

'They're always saying they don't favour _any_ party,' said a voice.

Stonor looked up, and, to Jean's obvious relief, refrained from snubbing
the irrepressible Farnborough.

'I don't know what they _say_----' began Stonor.

'Oh, _I_ do!' Farnborough interrupted. 'They're not _for_ anybody.
They're simply agin the Government.'

'Whatever they say, they're all Socialists.' Lord John gave a snort.

'No,' said Farnborough, with cool audacity. 'It only looks like that.'

Jean turned quite pink with anxiety. She, and all who knew him well, had
seen Stonor crush the cocksure and the unwary with an awful effectualness.
But Farnborough, with the courage of enthusiasm--enthusiasm for himself
and his own future--went stoutly on.

'There are Liberals and even Unionists among 'em. And they do manage to
hold the balance pretty even. I go and hear them, you see!'

'And speaking from the height of your advantage,' although Stonor was
slightly satirical, he was exercising an exceptional forbearance, 'do
you mean to tell me they are not more in sympathy with the Labour party
than with any other?'

'If they are, it's not because the Suffragists are all for Socialism.
But because the Labour party is the only one that puts Women's Suffrage
in the forefront of its programme.'

Stonor took his elbow off the mantel. 'Whatever the reason,' he said
airily, 'the result is momentarily inconvenient. Though I am one of
those who think it would be easy to overestimate the importance----'

He broke off with an effect of dismissing both the matter and the man.
As he turned away, he found himself without the smallest warning face to
face with Vida Levering. She had come down the great staircase
unobserved and unobserving; her head bent, and she in the act of forcing
a recalcitrant hatpin through her hat--doing it under certain
disadvantages, as she held her gloves and her veil in one hand.

As she paused there, confronting the tall figure of the new-comer,
although it was obvious that her unpreparedness was not less than his
own, there was to the most acute eye nothing in the remotest degree
dramatic about the encounter--hardly more than a cool surprise, and yet
there was that which made Jean say, smiling--

'Oh, you know one another already?'

'Everybody in this part of the world knows Mr. Stonor,' the lady said,
'but he doesn't know me.'

'This is Miss Levering. You knew her father, didn't you?'

Even before Lady John had introduced them, the people in the garden
seemed not to be able to support the prospect of Miss Levering's
threatened monopoly of the lion. They swarmed in--Hermione Heriot and
Paul Filey appearing for the first time since church--they overflowed
into the Hall, while Jean Dunbarton, with artless enthusiasm, was
demanding of Miss Levering if the reason she knew Mr. Stonor was that
she had been hearing him speak.

'Yes,' the lady met his eyes, 'I was visiting some relations near
Dutfield. They took me to hear you.'

'Oh--the night the Suffragettes made their customary row----'

'They didn't attack _you_,' she reminded him.

'They will if we win the election!' he said, with a cynical
anticipation.

It was a mark of how far the Women's Cause had travelled that, although
there was no man there (except the ineffectual Farnborough)--no one to
speak of it even with tolerance, there was also no one, not even
Greatorex, who any longer felt the matter to be much of a joke. Here
again in this gathering was happening what the unprejudiced observer
was seeing in similar circumstances all over England. The mere mention
of Women's Suffrage in general society (rarest of happenings now)--that
topic which had been the prolific mother of so much merriment, bred in
these days but silence and constraint. The quickest-witted changed the
topic amid a general sense of grateful relief. The thing couldn't be
laughed at any longer, but it could still be pretended it wasn't there.

'You've come just in time to rescue me!' Mrs. Freddy said, sparkling at
Stonor.

'You don't appear to be in any serious danger,' he said.

'But I am, or I _was_! They were just insisting I should go upstairs and
change my frock.'

'Is there anybody here so difficult as not to like that one?'

She made him a smart little curtsey. 'Although we're going to have
luncheon in less than an hour, somebody was going to insist (out of pure
mistaken philanthropy) in taking me for a walk. I've told Freddy that
when I've departed for realms of bliss, he is to put on my tombstone,
"Died of changing her clothes." I know the end will come some Sunday. We
appear at breakfast dressed for church. That's a long skirt. We are
usually shooed upstairs directly we get back, to put on a short one, so
that we can go and look at the kennels or the prize bull. We come back
muddy and smelling of stables. We get into something fresh for luncheon.
After luncheon some one says, "Walk!" Another short skirt. We come back
draggled and dreadful. We change. Something sweetly feminine for tea!
The gong. We rush and dress for dinner! You've saved me one change,
anyhow. You are my benefactor. Why don't you ask after my babies?'

'Well, how are the young barbarians?' He rubbed his hand over the lower
part of his face. 'Your concern for personal appearance reminds me that
a little soap and water after my dusty drive----'

Little as had fallen from him since his entrance, as he followed Lord
John upstairs, he left behind that sense of blankness so curiously
independent of either words or deeds. Greatorex, in his patent leather
shoes and immaculate white gaiters, pattered over to Miss Levering, but
she unkindly presented her back, and sat down at the writing-table to
make a note on the abhorred Shelter plan. He showed his disapproval by
marching off with Mr. Freddy, and there was a general trickling back
into the garden in that aimless, before-luncheon mood.

But Mrs. Heriot and Lady John sat with their heads close together on the
sofa, discussing in undertones the absorbing subject of the prospective
new member of the family.

Mrs. Freddy perched on the edge of the writing-table between Miss
Levering, who sat in front of it, and Jean, whose chair was on the other
side. She was nearest Jean, but it was to her children's sworn friend
that she turned to say enthusiastically--

'Delightful his coming in like that!' And no one needed to be told whose
coming brought delight. 'We must tell Sara and Cecil.'

As Miss Levering seemed to be still absorbed in making notes on that
boring plan, the lively Mrs. Freddy turned to her other neighbour.

'Penny for your thoughts,' she demanded with such suddenness that Jean
Dunbarton started and reddened. 'Something very weighty, to judge
from----'

'I believe I was thinking it was rather odd to hear two men like my
uncle and Mr. Stonor talking about the influence of the Suffrage women
really quite seriously. _Oh!_'--she clutched Mrs. Freddy's arm, laughing
apologetically--'I beg your pardon. I forgot. Besides, I wasn't thinking
of your kind; I was thinking of the Suffragettes.'

'As the only conceivable ones to be exercising any influence. Thank
you.'

'Oh, no, no. Indeed, I didn't mean----'

'Yes, you did. You're like the rest. You don't realize how we prepared
the ground. All the same,' she went on, with her unfailing good humour,
'it's frightfully exciting seeing the Question come into practical
politics at last. I only hope those women won't go and upset the
apple-cart again.'

'How?'

'Oh, by doing something that will alienate all our good friends in both
parties. It's queer they can't see our only chance to get what we want
is by winning over the men.'

There was a low sound of impatience from the person at the
writing-table, and a rustle of paper as the plan was thrown down.

'What's the matter?' said Mrs. Freddy.

'"Winning over the men" has been the woman's way since the Creation. Do
you think the result should make us proud of our policy? Yes? Then go
and walk in Piccadilly at midnight.'

Lady John and Mrs. Heriot rose as one, while Miss Levering was adding--

'No, I forgot----'

'Yes,' interposed Mrs. Heriot, with majesty, 'it is not the first time
you've forgotten.'

'What I forgot was the magistrate's ruling. He said no decent woman had
any business to be in London's main thoroughfares at night "_unless she
has a man with her_." You can hear that in Soho, too. "You're obliged to
take up with a chap!" is what the women say.'

In a highly significant silence, Mrs. Heriot withdrew with her niece and
Mrs. Freddy to where Hermione sat contentedly between two young men on
the window-step. Lady John, naturally somewhat ruffled, but still quite
kind, bent over her indiscreet guest to say--

'What an odd mood you are in to-day, my dear. I think Lydia Heriot's
right. We oughtn't to do anything, or _say_ anything to encourage this
ferment of feminism--and I'll tell you why: it's likely to bring a very
terrible thing in its train.'

'What terrible thing?'

'Sex-Antagonism.'

'It's here.'

'Don't say that!' Lady John spoke very gravely.

'You're so conscious it's here, you're afraid to have it mentioned.'

Lady John perceived that Jean had quietly slipped away from the others,
and was standing behind her.

If Mrs. Heriot had not been too absorbed in Dick Farnborough and
Hermione she would have had a moment's pleasure in her handiwork--that
half-shamed scrutiny in Jean Dunbarton's face. But as the young girl
studied the quiet figure, looked into the tender eyes that gazed so
steadily into some grey country far away, the effect of Mrs. Heriot's
revelation was either weakened or transmuted subtly to something
stronger than the thing that it replaced.

As the woman sat there leaning her head a little wearily on her hand,
there was about the whole _Wesen_ an indefinable nobility that answered
questions before they were asked.

But Lady John, upon perceiving her niece, had said hurriedly--

'If what you say is so, it's the fault of those women agitators.'

'Sex-Antagonism wasn't their invention,' Miss Levering answered. 'No
woman begins that way. Every woman is in a state of natural
subjection'--she looked up, and seeing Jean's face, smiled--'no, I'd
rather say "allegiance" to her idea of romance and her hope of
motherhood; they're embodied for her in man. They're the strongest
things in life till man kills them. Let's be fair. If that allegiance
dies, each woman knows why.'

Lady John, always keenly alive to any change in the social atmosphere,
looked up and saw her husband coming downstairs with their guest. As she
went to meet them, Stonor stopped halfway down to say something. The two
men halted there deep in discussion. But scarcely deeper than those
other two Lady John had left by the writing-table.

'Who is it you are going to marry?' Miss Levering had asked.

'It isn't going to be announced for a few days yet.' And then Jean
relented enough to say in an undertone, almost confidentially, 'I should
think you'd guess.'

'Guess what?' said the other, absent-mindedly, but again lifting her
eyes.

'Who I'm going to marry.'

'Oh, I know him, then?' she said, surprised.

'Well, you've seen him.'

Miss Levering shook her head. 'There are so very many young men in the
world.' But she looked with a moment's wondering towards the window,
seeming to consider first Filey and then Farnborough.

'What made you think of going on that terrible pilgrimage?' asked the
girl.

'Something I heard at a Suffrage meeting.'

'Well, do you know, ever since that Sunday at the Freddys', when you
told us about the Suffragettes, I--I've been curious about them.'

'You said nothing would ever induce you to listen to such people.'

'I know, and it's rather silly, but one says a thing like that on the
spur of the moment, and then one is bound by it.'

'You mean one imagines one is bound.'

'Then, too, I've been in Scotland ever since; but I've often thought
about you and what you said that day at the Freddys'!'

'And yet you've been a good deal absorbed----'

'You see,' the girl put on a pretty little air of superiority, 'it isn't
as if the man I'm going to marry wasn't very broad-minded. He wants me
to be intelligent about politics. Are those women holding meetings in
London now as well as in the constituencies?'

They both became aware at the same moment that Lord John was coming
slowly down the last steps, with Stonor still more slowly following,
talking Land Tenure. As Miss Levering rose and hurriedly turned over the
things on the table to look for her veil, the handkerchief she had shut
in her little Italian book dropped out. A further shifting of plans and
papers sent it unobserved to the floor. Jean put once more the question
that had remained unanswered.

'They collect too great crowds,' Miss Levering answered her. 'The
authorities won't let them meet in Trafalgar Square after to-day. They
have their last meeting there at three o'clock.'

'To-day! That's no use to people out of town--unless I could invent some
excuse----'

'Wait till you can go without inventions and excuses.'

'You think all that wrong!'

'I think it rather undignified.'

'So do I--but if I'm ever to go----'

Lord John came forward, leaving Stonor to his hostess. 'Still talking
over your Shelter plan?' he asked benevolently.

'No,' answered Miss Levering, 'we left the Shelter some time ago.'

He pinched his niece's ear with affectionate playfulness.

'Then what's all this chatterment about?'

The girl, a little confused, looked at her fellow-conspirator.

'The latest things in veils,' said Miss Levering, smiling, as she caught
up hers.

'The invincible frivolity of women!' said Lord John, with immense
geniality.

'Oh, they're coming for you,' Jean said. 'Don't forget your book. When
shall I see you again, I wonder?'

But instead of announcing the carriage the servant held out a salver. On
it lay a telegraph form scribbled over in pencil.

'A telephone message, miss.'

'For me?' said Jean, in surprise.

'Yes, miss. I didn't know you was here, miss. They asked me to write it
down, and let you have it as soon as possible.'

'I knew how it would be if I gave in about that telephone!' Lord John
arraigned his wife. Even Mr. Stonor had to sympathize. 'They won't leave
people in peace even one day in the week.'

'I've got your book,' Jean said, looking at Miss Levering over the top
of the telegraph form, and then glancing at the title as she restored
the volume to its owner. 'Dante! Whereabouts are you?' She opened it
without waiting to hear. 'Oh, the Inferno.'

'No, I'm in a worse place,' said the other, smiling vaguely as she drew
on her gloves.

'I didn't know there was a worse.'

'Yes, it's worse with the Vigliacchi.'

'I forget, were they Guelf or Ghibelline?'

'They weren't either, and that was why Dante couldn't stand them. He
said there was no place in Heaven nor in Purgatory--not even a corner in
Hell, for the souls who had stood aloof from strife.' The smile faded as
she stood there looking steadily into the girl's eyes. 'He called them
"wretches who never lived," Dante did, because they'd never felt the
pangs of partisanship. And so they wander homeless on the skirts of
limbo, among the abortions and off-scourings of Creation.'

The girl drew a fluttering breath. Miss Levering glanced at the clock,
and turned away to make her leisurely adieux among the group at the
window.

Mrs. Heriot left it at once. 'What was that about a telephone message,
Jean darling?'

The girl glanced at the paper, and then quite suddenly said to Lady
John--

'Aunt Ellen, I've got to go to London!'

'Not to-day!'

'My dear child!'

'Nonsense!'

'Is your grandfather worse?'

'N--no. I don't think my grandfather is any worse. But I must go, all
the same.'

'You _can't_ go away,' whispered Mrs. Heriot, 'when Mr. Stonor----'

'Back me up!' Jean whispered to Lady John. 'He said he'd have to leave
directly after luncheon. And anyhow--all these people--please have us
another time.'

'I'll just see Miss Levering off,' said Lady John, 'and then I'll come
back and talk about it.'

In the midst of the good-byeing that was going on over by the window,
Jean suddenly exclaimed--

'There mayn't be another train! Miss Levering!'

But Stonor was standing in front of the girl barring the way. 'What if
there isn't? I'll take you back in my motor,' he said aside.

'_Will_ you?' In her rapture at the thought Jean clasped her hands, and
the paper fluttered to the floor. 'But I must be there by three,' she
said.

He had picked up the telegraph form as well as the handkerchief lying
near.

'Why, it's only an invitation to dine--Wednesday!'

'Sh!' She took the paper.

'Oh! I see!' He smiled and lowered his voice. 'It's rather dear of you
to arrange our going off like that. You _are_ a clever little girl!'

'It's not exactly that I was arranging. I want to hear those women in
Trafalgar Square--the Suffragettes.'

He stared at her more than half incredulous, but smiling still.

'How perfectly absurd! Besides,'--he looked across the room at Lady
John--'besides, I expect she wouldn't like my carrying you off like
that.'

'Then she'll have to make an excuse, and come too.'

'Ah, it wouldn't be quite the same if she did that.'

But Jean had thought it out. 'Aunt Ellen and I could get back quite well
in time for dinner.'

The group that had closed about the departing guest dissolved.

'Why are you saying good-bye as if you were never coming back?' Lord
John demanded.

'One never knows,' Miss Levering laughed. 'Maybe I shan't come back.'

'Don't talk as if you meant never!' said Mrs. Freddy.

'Perhaps I do mean never.' She nodded to Stonor.

He bowed ceremoniously.

'Never come back! What nonsense are you talking?' said Lady John.

'Is it premonition of death, or don't you like us any more?' laughed her
husband.

The little group trailed across the great room, escorting the guest to
the front door, Lady John leading the way. As they passed, Geoffrey
Stonor was obviously not listening very attentively to Jean's
enthusiastic explanation of her plan for the afternoon. He kept his eyes
lowered. They rested on the handkerchief he had picked up, but hardly as
if, after all, they saw it, though he turned the filmy square from
corner to corner with an air partly of nervousness, partly of
abstraction.

'Is it mine?' asked Jean.

He paused an instant. 'No. Yours,' he said, mechanically, and held out
the handkerchief to Miss Levering.

She seemed not to hear. Lord John had blocked the door a moment,
insisting on a date for the next visit. Jean caught up the handkerchief
and went running forward with it. Suddenly she stopped, glancing down at
the embroidered corner.

'But that's not an L! It's V--i----'

Stonor turned his back, and took up a magazine.

Lady John's voice sounded clear from the lobby. 'You must let Vida go,
John, or she'll miss her train.'

Miss Levering vanished.

'I didn't know her name was Vida; how did you?' said Jean.

Stonor bent his head silently over the book. Perhaps he hadn't heard.
That deafening old gong was sounding for luncheon.



CHAPTER XVI


The last of the Trafalgar Square meetings was half over when the great
chocolate-coloured motor, containing three persons besides the
chauffeur, slowed up on the west side of the square. Neither of the two
ladies in their all-enveloping veils was easily recognizable, still less
the be-goggled countenance of the Hon. Geoffrey Stonor. When he took off
his motor glasses, he did not turn down his dust collar. He even pulled
farther over his eyes the peak of his linen cap.

By coming at all on this expedition, he had given Jean a signal proof of
his desire to please her--but it was plain that he had no mind to see in
the papers that he had been assisting at such a spectacle. While he gave
instructions as to where the car should wait, Jean was staring at the
vast crowd massed on the north side of the column. It extended back
among the fountains, and even escaped on each side beyond the vigilance
of the guardian lions. There were scores listening there who could not
see the speakers even as well as could the occupants of the car. In
front of the little row of women on the plinth a gaunt figure in brown
serge was waving her arms. What she was saying was blurred in the
general uproar.

'Oh, that's one!' Jean called out excitedly. 'Oh, let's hurry.'

But even after they left the car and reached the crowd, to hurry was a
thing no man could do. For some minutes the motor-party had only
occasional glimpses of the speakers, and heard little more than
fragments.

'Who is that, Geoffrey?'

'The tall young fellow with the stoop? That appears to be the chairman.'
Stonor himself stooped--to the eager girl who had clutched his sleeve
from behind, and was following him closely through the press. 'The
artless chairman, I take it, is scolding the people for not giving the
woman a hearing!' They laughed together at the young man's foolishness.

Even had an open-air meeting been more of a commonplace to Stonor, it
would have had for him that effect of newness that an old thing wears
when seen by an act of sympathy through new eyes.

'You must be sure and explain _everything_ to me, Geoffrey,' said the
girl. 'This is to be an important chapter in my education.' Merrily and
without a shadow of misgiving she spoke in jest a truer word than she
dreamed. He fell in with her mood.

'Well, I rather gather that he's been criticizing the late Government,
and Liberals have made it hot for him.'

'I shall never be able to hear unless we get nearer,' said Jean,
anxiously.

'There's a very rough element in front there----'

'Oh, don't let us mind!'

'Most certainly I mind!'

'Oh, but I should be miserable if I didn't hear.'

She pleaded so bewitchingly for a front seat at the Show that
unwillingly he wormed his way on. Suddenly he stood still and stared
about.

'What's the matter?' said Lady John.

'I can't have you ladies pushed about in this crowd,' he said under his
breath. 'I must get hold of a policeman. You wait just here. I'll find
one.'

The adoring eyes of the girl watched the tall figure disappear.

'Look at her face!' Lady John, with her eyeglass up, was staring in the
opposite direction. 'She's like an inspired charwoman!'

Jean turned, and in her eagerness pressed on, Lady John following.

The agreeable presence of the young chairman was withdrawn from the
fighting-line, and the figure of the working-woman stood alone. With her
lean brown finger pointing straight at the more outrageous of the young
hooligans, and her voice raised shrill above their impertinence--

'I've got boys of me own,' she said, 'and we laugh at all sorts o'
things, but I should be ashymed, and so would they, if ever they wus to
be'yve as you're doin' to-d'y.'

When they had duly hooted that sentiment, they were quieter for a
moment.

'People 'ave been sayin' this is a Middle-Class Woman's Movement. It's
a libel. I'm a workin' woman m'self, the wife of a workin' man----'

'Pore devil!'

'Don't envy 'im, m'self!'

As one giving her credentials, she went on, 'I'm a Pore Law
Guardian----'

'Think o' that, now! Gracious me!'

A friendly person in the crowd turned upon the scoffer.

'Shut up, cawn't yer.'

'Not fur you!

Further statements on the part of the orator were drowned by--

'Go 'ome and darn your ol' man's stockin's.'

'Just clean yer _own_ doorstep.'

She glowered her contempt upon the interrupters.' It's a pore sort of
'ousekeeper that leaves 'er doorstep till Sunday afternoon. Maybe that's
when you would do your doorstep. I do mine in the mornin', before you
men are awake!' They relished that and gave her credit for a bull's eye.

'You think,' she went on quietly, seeing she had 'got them'--'you think
we women 'ave no business servin' on Boards and thinking about
politics.' In a tone of exquisite contempt, 'But wot's politics!' she
demanded. 'It's just 'ousekeepin' on a big scyle.' Somebody applauded.
'Oo among you workin' men 'as the most comfortable 'omes? Those of you
that gives yer wives yer wyges.'

'That's it! That's it!' they roared with passion.

'Wantin' our money.'

'That's all this agitation's about.'

'Listen to me!' She came close to the edge of the plinth. 'If it wus
only to use fur _our_ comfort, d'ye think many o' you workin' men would
be found turnin' over their wyges to their wives? No! Wot's the reason
thousands do--and the best and the soberest? Because the workin' man
knows that wot's a pound to _'im_ is twenty shillins to 'is wife, and
she'll myke every penny in every one o' them shillins _tell_. She gets
more fur 'im out of 'is wyges than wot 'e can. Some o' you know wot the
'omes is like w'ere the men _don't_ let the women manage. Well, the Poor
Laws and the 'ole Government is just in the syme muddle because the men
'ave tried to do the national 'ousekeepin' without the women!'

They hooted, but they listened, too.

'Like I said to you before, it's a libel to say it's only the well-off
women wot's wantin' the vote. I can tell you wot plenty o' the poor
women think about it. I'm one o' them! And I can tell you we see there's
reforms needed. _We ought to 'ave the vote_; and we know 'ow to
appreciate the other women 'oo go to prison for tryin' to get it for
us!'

With a little final bob of emphasis, and a glance over her shoulder at
the old woman and the young one behind her, she was about to retire. But
she paused as the murmur in the crowd grew into distinct phrases.

''Inderin' policemen!'--'Mykin' rows in the street;' and a voice called
out so near Jean that the girl jumped, 'It's the w'y yer goes on as
mykes 'em keep ye from gettin' votes. They see ye ain't fit to 'ave----'

And then all the varied charges were swallowed in a general uproar.

'Where's Geoffrey? Oh, _isn't_ she too funny for words?'

The agitated chairman had come forward. 'You evidently don't know,' he
said, 'what had to be done by _men_ before the extension of suffrage in
'67. If it hadn't been for demonstrations----' But the rest was drowned.

The brown-serge woman stood there waiting, wavering a moment; and
suddenly her shrill note rose clear over the indistinguishable Babel.

'You s'y woman's plyce is 'ome! Don't you know there's a third of the
women in this country can't afford the luxury of stayin' in their 'omes?
They _got_ to go out and 'elp make money to p'y the rent and keep the
'ome from bein' sold up. Then there's all the women that 'aven't got
even miserable 'omes. They 'aven't got any 'omes _at all_.'

'You said _you_ got one. W'y don't you stop in it?'

'Yes, that's like a man. If one o' you is all right he thinks the rest
don't matter. We women----'

But they overwhelmed her. She stood there with her gaunt arms
folded--waiting. You felt that she had met other crises of her life with
just that same smouldering patience. When the wave of noise subsided
again, she was discovered to be speaking.

'P'raps _your_ 'omes are all right! P'raps your children never goes
'ungry. P'raps you aren't livin', old and young, married and single, in
one room.'

'I suppose life is like that for a good many people,' Jean Dunbarton
turned round to say.

'Oh, yes,' said her aunt.

'I come from a plyce where many fam'lies, if they're to go on livin' _at
all_, 'ave to live like that. If you don't believe me, come and let me
show you!' She spread out her lean arms. 'Come with me to Canning
Town--come with me to Bromley--come to Poplar and to Bow. No, you won't
even think about the over-worked women and the underfed children, and
the 'ovels they live in. And you want that _we_ shouldn't think
neither----'

'We'll do the thinkin'. You go 'ome and nuss the byby.'

'I do nurse my byby; I've nursed seven. What have you done for yours?'
She waited in vain for the answer. 'P'raps,' her voice quivered, 'p'raps
your children never goes 'ungry, and maybe you're satisfied--though I
must say I wouldn't a thought it from the look o' yer.'

'Oh, I s'y!'

'But we women are not satisfied. We don't only want better things for
our own children; we want better things for all. _Every_ child is our
child. We know in our 'earts we oughtn't to rest till we've mothered 'em
every one.'

'Wot about the men? Are _they_ all 'appy?'

There was derisive laughter at that, and 'No! No!' 'Not precisely!'
'_'Appy?_ Lord!'

'No, there's lots o' you men I'm sorry for,' she said.

'Thanks, awfully!'

'And we'll 'elp you if you let us,' she said.

''Elp us? You tyke the bread out of our mouths.'

'Now you're goin' to begin about us blackleggin' the men! _W'y_ does any
woman tyke less wyges than a man for the same work? Only because we
can't get anything better. That's part the reason w'y we're yere to-d'y.
Do you reely think,' she reasoned with them as man to man; 'do you
think, now, we tyke those low wyges because we got a likin' fur low
wyges? No. We're just like you. We want as much as ever we can get.'

''Ear! 'ear!'

'We got a gryte deal to do with our wyges, we women has. We got the
children to think about. And w'en we get our rights, a woman's flesh and
blood won't be so much cheaper than a man's that employers can get rich
on keepin' you out o' work and sweatin' us. If you men only could see
it, we got the syme cause, and if you 'elped us you'd be 'elpin'
yerselves.'

'Rot!'

'True as gospel!' some one said.

'Drivel!'

As she retired against the banner with the others, there was some
applause.

'Well, now,' said a man patronizingly, 'that wusn't so bad--fur a
woman.'

'N--naw. Not fur a woman.'

Jean had been standing on tip-toe making signals. Ah, at last Geoffrey
saw her! But why was he looking so grave?

'No policeman?' Lady John asked.

'Not on that side. They seem to have surrounded the storm centre, which
is just in front of the place you've rather unwisely chosen.' Indeed it
was possible to see, further on, half a dozen helmets among the hats.

What was happening on the plinth seemed to have a lessened interest for
Jean Dunbarton. She kept glancing sideways up under the cap brim at the
eyes of the man at her side.

Lady John on the other hand was losing nothing. 'Is _she_ one of them?
That little thing?'

'I--I suppose so,' answered Stonor, doubtfully, though the chairman,
with a cheerful air of relief, had introduced Miss Ernestine Blunt to
the accompaniment of cheers and a general moving closer to the monument.

Lady John, after studying Ernestine an instant through her glass, turned
to a dingy person next her, who was smoking a short pipe.

'Among those women up there,' said Lady John, 'can you tell me, my man,
which are the ones that a--that make the disturbances?'

The man removed his pipe and spat carefully between his feet. Then with
deliberation he said--

'The one that's doing the talking now--she's the disturbingest o' the
lot.'

'Not that nice little----'

'Don't you be took in, mum;' and he resumed the consolatory pipe.

'What is it, Geoffrey? Have I done anything?' Jean said very low.

'Why didn't you stay where I left you?' he answered, without looking at
her.

'I couldn't hear. I couldn't even see. Please don't look like that.
Forgive me,' she pleaded, covertly seeking his hand.

His set face softened. 'It frightened me when I didn't see you where I
left you.'

She smiled, with recovered spirits. She could attend now to the thing
she had come to see.

'I'm sorry you missed the inspired charwoman. It's rather upsetting to
think--do you suppose any of our servants have--views?'

Stonor laughed. 'Oh, no! Our servants are all too superior.' He moved
forward and touched a policeman on the shoulder. What was said was not
audible--the policeman at first shook his head, then suddenly he turned
round, looked sharply into the gentleman's face, and his whole manner
changed. Obliging, genial, almost obsequious. 'Oh, he's recognized
Geoffrey!' Jean said to her aunt. 'They _have_ to do what a member tells
them! They'll stop the traffic any time to let Geoffrey go by!' she
exulted.

Stonor beckoned to his ladies. The policeman was forging a way in which
they followed.

'This will do,' Stonor said at last, and he whispered again to the
policeman. The man replied, grinning. 'Oh, really,' Stonor smiled, too.
'This is the redoubtable Miss Ernestine Blunt,' he explained over his
shoulder, and he drew back so that Jean could pass, and standing so,
directly in front of him, she could be protected right and left, if need
were, by a barrier made of his arms.

'Now can you see?' he asked.

She looked round and nodded. Her face was without cloud again. She
leaned lightly against his arm.

Miss Ernestine had meanwhile been catapulting into election issues with
all the fervour of a hot-gospeller.

'What outrageous things she says about important people--people she
ought to respect and be rather afraid of,' objected Jean, rather
scandalized.

'Impudent little baggage!' said Stonor.

Reasons, a plenty, the baggage had why the Party which had so recently
refused to enfranchise women should not be returned to power.

'You're in too big a hurry,' some one shouted. 'All the Liberals want is
a little time.'

'Time! You seem not to know that the first petition in favour of giving
us the Franchise was signed in 1866.'

'How do _you_ know?'

She paused a moment, taken off her guard by the suddenness of the
attack.

'_You_ wasn't there!'

'That was the trouble. Haw! Haw!'

'That petition,' she said, 'was presented forty years ago.'

'Give 'er a 'reain' now she _'as_ got out of 'er crydle.'

'It was presented to the House of Commons by John Stuart Mill. Give the
Liberals time!' she echoed. 'Thirty-three years ago memorials in favour
of the suffrage were presented to Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli. In
1896, 257,000 women of these British Isles signed an appeal to the
members of Parliament. Bills or Resolutions have been before the House,
on and off, for the last thirty-six years. All that "time" thrown away!
At the opening of this year we found ourselves with no assurance that if
we went on in the same way, any girl born into the world in our time
would ever be able to exercise the rights of citizenship though she
lived to be a hundred. That was why we said all this has been in vain.
We must try some other way. How did you working men get the suffrage, we
asked ourselves. Well, we turned up the records--and we _saw_. We don't
want to follow such a violent example. We would much rather not--but if
that's the only way we can make the country see we're in earnest--we are
prepared to show them!'

'An' they'll show _you_!'

'Give ye another month 'ard!'

In the midst of the laughter and interruptions, a dirty, beery fellow of
fifty or so, from whom Stonor's arm was shielding Jean, turned to the
pal behind him with--

'Ow'd yer like to be _that_ one's 'usband? Think o' comin' 'ome to
_that_!'

'I'd soon learn 'er!' answered the other, with a meaning look.

'Don't think that going to prison again has any fears for us. We'd go
for life if by doing that we got freedom for the rest of the women.'

'Hear! Hear!'

'Rot!'

'W'y don't the men 'elp ye to get yer rights?'

'Here's some one asking why the men don't help. It's partly they don't
understand yet--they _will_ before we've done!' She wagged her head in a
sort of comical menace, and the crowd screamed with laughter--'partly,
they don't understand yet what's at stake----'

'Lord!' said an old fellow, with a rich chuckle. 'She's a educatin' of
us!'

'--and partly that the bravest man is afraid of ridicule. Oh, yes, we've
heard a great deal all our lives about the timidity and the
sensitiveness of women. And it's true--we _are_ sensitive. But I tell
you, ridicule crumples a man up. It steels a woman. We've come to know
the value of ridicule. We've educated ourselves so that we welcome
ridicule. We owe our sincerest thanks to the comic writers. The
cartoonist is our unconscious friend. Who cartoons people who are of no
importance? What advertisement is so sure of being remembered? If we
didn't know it by any other sign, the comic papers would tell us--_we've
arrived_!'

She stood there for one triumphant moment in an attitude of such
audacious self-confidence, that Jean turned excitedly to her lover
with--

'I know what she's like! The girl in Ibsen's "Master Builder"!'

'I don't think I know the young lady.'

'Oh, there was a knock at the door that set the Master Builder's nerves
quivering. He felt in his bones it was the Younger Generation coming to
upset things. He _thought_ it was a young man----'

'And it was really Miss Ernestine Blunt? He has my sympathies.'

The Younger Generation was declaring from the monument--

'Our greatest debt of gratitude we owe to the man who called us female
hooligans!'

That tickled the crowd, too; she was such a charming little pink-cheeked
specimen of a hooligan.

'I'm being frightfully amused, Geoffrey,' said Jean.

He looked down at her with a large indulgence. 'That's right,' he said.

'We aren't hooligans, but we hope the fact will be overlooked. If
everybody said we were nice, well-behaved women, who'd come to hear us?
_Not the men._'

The people dissolved in laughter, but she was grave enough.

'Men tell us it isn't womanly for us to care about politics. How do they
know what's womanly? It's for women to decide that. Let them attend to
being manly. It will take them all their time.'

'Pore benighted man!'

'Some of you have heard it would be dreadful if we got the vote, because
then we'd be pitted against men in the economic struggle. But it's too
late to guard against that. It's fact. But facts, we've discovered, are
just what men find it so hard to recognize. Men are so dreadfully
sentimental.' She smiled with the crowd at that, but she proceeded to
hammer in her pet nail. 'They won't recognize those eighty-two women out
of every hundred who are wage-earners. We used to believe men when they
told us that it was unfeminine--hardly respectable--for women to be
students and to aspire to the arts that bring fame and fortune. But men
have never told us it was unfeminine for women to do the heavy drudgery
that's badly paid. That kind of work had to be done by somebody, and men
didn't hanker after it. _Oh_, no! Let the women scrub and cook and wash,
or teach without diplomas on half pay. That's all right. But if they
want to try their hand at the better-rewarded work of the liberal
professions--oh, very unfeminine indeed.'

As Ernestine proceeded to show how all this obsolete unfairness had its
roots in political inequality, Lady John dropped her glass with a sigh.

'You are right,' she said to Jean. 'This is Hilda, harnessed to a
purpose. A portent to shake middle-aged nerves.'

With Jean blooming there before him, Stonor had no wish to prove his own
nerves middle-aged.

'I think she's rather fun, myself. Though she ought to be taken home and
well smacked.'

Somebody had interrupted to ask, 'If the House of Commons won't give you
justice, why don't you go to the House of Lords?'

'What?' She hadn't heard, but the question was answered by some one who
had.

'She'd 'ave to 'urry up. Case of early closin'!'

'You'll be allowed to ask any question you like,' she said, 'at the end
of the meeting.'

'Wot's that? Oh, is it question time? I s'y, miss, 'oo killed Cock
Robin?'

'I've got a question, too,' a boy called through his hollowed hands.
'Are--you--married?'

'Ere's your chance. 'E's a bachelor.'

'Here's a man,' says Ernestine, 'asking, "If the women get full
citizenship, and a war is declared, will the women fight?"'

'Haw! haw!'

'Yes.'

'Yes. Just tell us _that_!'

'Well'--she smiled--'you know some say the whole trouble about us is
that we _do_ fight. But it's only hard necessity makes us do that. We
don't want to fight--as men seem to--just for fighting's sake. Women are
for peace.'

'Hear! hear!'

'And when we have a share in public affairs there'll be less likelihood
of war. Wasn't it a woman, the Baroness von Suttner, whose book about
peace was the corner-stone of the Peace Congress? Wasn't it that book
that converted the millionaire maker of armaments of war? Wasn't it the
Baroness von Suttner's book that made Nobel offer those great
international prizes for the Arts of Peace? I'm not saying women can't
fight. But we women know all war is evil, and we're for peace. Our
part--we're proud to remember it--our part has been to go about after
you men in war time and _pick up the pieces_!'

A great shout went up as the truth of that rolled in upon the people.

'Yes; seems funny, doesn't it? You men blow people to bits, and then we
come along and put them together again. If you know anything about
military nursing, you know a good deal of our work has been done in the
face of danger; _but it's always been done_.'

'That's so. That's so.'

'Well, what of it?' said a voice. 'Women must do something for their
keep.'

'You complain that more and more we're taking away from you men the work
that's always been yours. You can't any longer keep woman out of the
industries. The only question is, on what terms shall she continue to be
in? As long as she's in on bad terms, she's not only hurting herself,
she's hurting you. But if you're feeling discouraged about our competing
with you, we're willing to leave you your trade in war. Let the men take
life! We _give_ life!' Her voice was once more moved and proud. 'No one
will pretend ours isn't one of the dangerous trades either. I won't say
any more to you now, because we've got others to speak to you, and a new
woman helper that I want you to hear.'

With an accompaniment of clapping she retired to hold a hurried
consultation with the chairman.

Jean turned to see how Geoffrey had taken it. 'Well?'

He smiled down at her, echoing, 'Well?'

'Nothing so _very_ reprehensible in what she said, was there?'

'Oh, "reprehensible"!'

'It makes one rather miserable all the same.'

He pressed his guardian arm the closer. 'You mustn't take it as much to
heart as all that.'

'I can't help it. I can't indeed, Geoffrey. I shall _never_ be able to
make a speech like that.'

He stared, considerably taken aback. 'I hope not indeed.'

'Why? I thought you said you wanted me to----'

'To make nice little speeches with composure? So I did. So I do----' as
he looked down upon the upturned face he seemed to lose his thread.

She was for helping him to recover it. 'Don't you remember how you
said----'

'That you have very pink cheeks? Well, I stick to it.'

She smiled. 'Sh! Don't tell everybody.'

'And you're the only female creature----'

'That's a most proper sentiment.'

'The only one I ever saw who didn't look a fright in motor things.'

'I'm glad you don't think me a fright. Oh!'--she turned at the sound of
applause--'we're forgetting all about----'

A big sandy man, not hitherto seen, was rolling his loose-knit body up
and down the platform, smiling at the people and mopping a great bony
skull, on which, low down, a few scanty wisps of colourless hair were
growing.

'If you can't afford a bottle of Tatcho,' a boy called out, 'w'y don't
you get yer 'air cut?'

He just shot out one hand and wagged it in grotesque greeting, not in
the least discomposed.

'I've been addressin' a big meetin' at 'Ammersmith this morning, and
w'en I told 'em I wus comin' 'ere this awfternoon to speak fur the
women--well--then the usual thing began.'

An appreciative roar rose from the crowd.

'Yes,' he grinned, 'if you want peace and quiet at a public meetin',
better not go mentionin' the lydies these times!'

He stopped, and the crowd filled in the hiatus with laughter.

'There wus a man at 'Ammersmith, too, talkin' about Woman's sphere bein'
'Ome. 'Ome do you call it? _'Ome!_' and at the word his _bonhomie_
suffered a singular eclipse. ''Ome!' he bellowed, as if some one had
struck him in a vital spot, and the word was merely a roar of pain.
'_'Ome!_ You've got a kennel w'ere you can munch your tommy. You got a
corner w'ere you can curl up fur a few hours till you go out to work
again. But 'omes! No, my men, there's too many of you ain't able to
_give_ the women 'omes fit to live in; too many of you in that fix fur
you to go on jawin' at those o' the women 'oo want to myke the 'omes a
little more deservin' o' the name.'

'If the vote ain't done us any good,' a man bawled up at him, ''ow'll it
do the women any good?'

'Look 'ere! See 'ere!' he rolled his shapeless body up and down the
stone platform, taking in great draughts of cheer from some invisible
fountain. 'Any men here belongin' to the Labour Party?' he inquired.

To an accompaniment of shouts and applause he went on, smiling and
rubbing his hands in a state of bubbling Brotherliness.

'Well, I don't need tell those men the vote 'as done us _some_ good.
They _know_ it. And it'll do us a lot more good w'en you know 'ow to use
the power you got in your 'and.'

'Power!' grumbled an old fellow. 'It's those fellows at the bottom of
the street'--he hitched his head toward St. Stephen's--'it's them that's
got the power.'

The speaker pounced on him. 'It's you and men like you that give it to
them. Wot did you do last election? You carried the Liberals into
Parliament Street on your own shoulders. You believed all their fine
words. You never asked yerselves, "Wot's a Liberal, anyway?"'

In the chorus of cheers and booing some one sang out, 'He's a jolly good
fellow!'

'No 'e ain't,' said the Labour man, with another wheel about and a
pounce. 'No 'e ain't, or, if 'e's jolly, it's only because 'e thinks
you're such a cod-fish you'll go swellin' 'is majority again.'

Stonor joined in that laugh. He rather liked the man.

'Yes, it's enough to make any Liberal "jolly" to see a sheep like you
lookin' on, proud and 'appy, while you see Liberal leaders desertin'
Liberal principles.'

Through the roar of protest and argument, he held out those grotesque
great hands of his with the suggestion--

'You show me a Liberal, and I'll show you a Mr. Facing-both-ways. Yuss.
The Liberal, 'e sheds the light of his warm and 'andsome smile on the
workin' man, and round on the other side 'e's tippin' the wink to the
great landowners. Yuss. That's to let 'em know 'e's standin' between
them and Socialists. Ha! the Socialists!' Puffing and flushed and
perspiring he hurled it out again and again over the heads of the
people. 'The Socialists! Yuss. _Socialists!_ Ha! ha!' When he and the
audience had a little calmed down, 'The Liberal,' he said, with that
look of sly humour, ''e's the judicial sort o' chap that sits in the
middle.'

'On the fence.'

He nodded. 'Tories one side, Socialists the other. Well, it ain't always
so comfortable in the middle. No. Yer like to get squeezed. Now, I says
to the women, wot I says is, the Conservatives don't promise you much,
but wot they promise they _do_.' He whacked one fist into the other with
tremendous effect.

'This fellow isn't half bad,' Stonor said to Lady John.

'But the Liberals, they'll promise you the earth and give you the whole
o' nothin'.'

There were roars of approval. Liberal stock had sunk rather low in
Trafalgar Square.

'Isn't it fun?' said Jean. 'Now aren't you glad I brought you?'

'Oh, this chap's all right!'

'We men 'ave seen it 'appen over and over. But the women can tyke an
'int quicker 'n what we can. They won't stand the nonsense men do. Only
they 'aven't got a fair chawnce even to agitate fur their rights. As I
wus comin' up ere, I 'eard a man sayin', "Look at this big crowd. W'y,
we're all _men_! If the women want the vote, w'y ain't they here to s'y
so?" Well, I'll tell you w'y. It's because they've 'ad to get the dinner
fur you and me, and now they're washin' up dishes.'

'D'you think we ought to st'y at 'ome and wash the dishes?'

He laughed with good-natured shrewdness. 'Well, if they'd leave it to us
once or twice per'aps we'd understand a little more about the Woman
Question. I know w'y _my_ wife isn't here. It's because she _knows_ I
can't cook, and she's 'opin' I can talk to some purpose. Yuss,'--he
acknowledged another possible view,--'yuss, maybe she's mistaken.
Any'ow, here I am to vote for her and all the other women, and to----'

They nearly drowned him with '_Oh-h!_' and 'Hear! hear!'

'And to tell you men what improvements you can expect to see w'en women
'as the share in public affairs they ought to 'ave!'

Out of the babel came the question, 'What do you know about it? You
can't even talk grammar.'

His broad smile faltered a little.

'Oh, what shame!' said Jean, full of sympathy. 'He's a dear--that funny
cockney.'

But he had been dashed for the merest moment.

'I'm not 'ere to talk grammar, but to talk Reform. I ain't defendin' my
grammar,' he said, on second thoughts, 'but I'll say in pawssing that if
my mother 'ad 'ad 'er rights, maybe my grammar would 'ave been better.'

It was a thrust that seemed to go home. But, all the same, it was clear
that many of his friends couldn't stomach the sight of him up there
demeaning himself by espousing the cause of the Suffragettes. He kept
on about woman and justice, but his performance was little more than
vigorous pantomime. The boyish chairman looked harassed and anxious,
Miss Ernestine Blunt alert, watchful.

Stonor bent his head to whisper something in Jean Dunbarton's ear. She
listened with lowered eyes and happy face. The discreet little
interchange went on for several minutes, while the crowd booed at the
bald-headed Labourite for his mistaken enthusiasm. Geoffrey Stonor and
his bride-to-be were more alone now in the midst of this shouting mob
than they had been since the Ulland House luncheon-gong had broken in
upon and banished momentary wonderment about the name--that name
beginning with V. Plain to see in the flushed and happy face that Jean
Dunbarton was not 'asking questions.' She was listening absorbed to the
oldest of all the stories.

And now the champion of the Suffragettes had come to the surface again
with his--

'Wait a bit--'arf a minute, my man.'

'Oo you talkin' to? I ain't your man!'

'Oh, that's lucky for me. There seems to be an individual here who
doesn't think women ought to 'ave the vote.'

'One? Oh-h!'

They all but wiped him out again in laughter; but he climbed on the top
of the great wave of sound with--

'P'raps the gentleman who thinks they oughtn't to 'ave a vote, p'raps 'e
don't know much about women. Wot? Oh, the gentleman says 'e's married.
Well, then, fur the syke of 'is wife we mustn't be too sorry 'e's 'ere.
No doubt she's s'ying, "'Eaven be prysed those women are mykin' a
demonstrytion in Trafalgar Square, and I'll 'ave a little peace and
quiet at 'ome for one Sunday in me life."'

The crowd liked that, and found themselves jeering at the interrupter as
well as at the speaker.

'Why, you'--he pointed at some one in the crowd--'_you_'re like the man
at 'Ammersmith this morning. 'E wus awskin' me, "'Ow would you like men
to st'y at 'ome and do the fam'ly washin'?" I told 'im I wouldn't advise
it. I 'ave too much respect fur'--they waited while slyly he brought
out--'me clo'es.'

'It's their place,' said some one in a rage; 'the women _ought_ to do
the washin'.'

'I'm not sure you aren't right. For a good many o' you fellas from the
look o' you, you cawn't even wash yourselves.'

This was outrageous. It was resented in an incipient riot. The helmets
of the police bobbed about. An angry voice had called out--

'Oo are you talkin' to?'

The anxiety of the inexperienced chairman was almost touching.

The Socialist revelled in the disturbance he'd created. He walked up and
down with that funny rolling gait, poking out his head at intervals in a
turtle-esque fashion highly provocative, holding his huge paws kangaroo
fashion, only with fingers stiffly pointed, and shooting them out at
intervals towards the crowd in a very ecstasy of good-natured contempt.

'Better go 'ome and awsk yer wife to wash yer fice,' he advised. '_You_
cawn't even do _that_ bit o' fam'ly washin'. Go and awsk _some_ woman.'

There was a scuffle in the crowd. A section of it surged up towards the
monument.

'Which of us d'you mean?' demanded a threatening voice.

'Well,' said the Socialist, coolly looking down, 'it takes about ten of
your sort to make a man, so you may take it I mean the lot of you.'
Again the hands shot out and scattered scorn amongst his critics.

There were angry, indistinguishable retorts, and the crowd swayed. Miss
Ernestine Blunt, who had been watching the fray with serious face,
turned suddenly, catching sight of some one just arrived at the end of
the platform. She jumped up, saying audibly to the speaker as she passed
him, 'Here she is,' and proceeded to offer her hand to help some one to
get up the improvised steps behind the lion.

The Socialist had seized with fervour upon his last chance, and was
flinging out showers of caustic advice among his foes, stirring them up
to frenzy.

Stonor, with contracted brows, had stared one dazed instant as the head
of the new-comer came up behind the lion on the left.

Jean, her eyes wide, incredulous, as though unable to accept their
testimony, pressed a shade nearer the monument. Stonor made a sharp move
forward, and took her by the arm.

'We're going now,' he said.

'Not yet--oh, _please_ not just yet,' she pleaded as he drew her round.
'Geoffrey, I do believe----'

She looked back, with an air almost bewildered, over her shoulder, like
one struggling to wake from a dream.

Stonor was saying with decision to Lady John, 'I'm going to take Jean
out of this mob. Will you come?'

'What? Oh, yes, if you think'--she had disengaged the chain of her
eyeglass at last. 'But isn't that, surely it's----'

'Geoffrey----!' Jean began.

'Lady John's tired,' he interrupted. 'We've had enough of this
idiotic----'

'But you don't see who it is, Geoffrey. That last one is----' Suddenly
Jean bent forward as he was trying to extricate her from the crowd, and
she looked in his face. Something that she found there made her tighten
her hold on his arm.

'We can't run away and leave Aunt Ellen,' was all she said; but her
voice sounded scared. Stonor repressed a gesture of anger, and came to a
standstill just behind two big policemen.

The last-comer to that strange platform, after standing for some seconds
with her back to the people and talking to Ernestine Blunt, the tall
figure in a long sage-green dust coat and familiar hat, had turned and
glanced apprehensively at the crowd.

It was Vida Levering.

The girl down in the crowd locked her hands together and stood
motionless.

The Socialist had left the platform with the threat that he was 'coming
down now to attend to that microbe that's vitiating the air on my right,
while a lady will say a few words to you--if she can myke 'erself
'eard.'

He retired to a chorus of cheers and booing, while the chairman, more
harassed than ever, it would seem, but determined to create a diversion,
was saying that some one had suggested--'and it's such a good idea I'd
like you to listen to it--that a clause shall be inserted in the next
Suffrage Bill that shall expressly give to each Cabinet Minister, and to
any respectable man, the power to prevent a vote being given to the
female members of his family, on his public declaration of their lack
of sufficient intelligence to entitle them to one.'

'Oh! oh!'

'Now, I ask you to listen as quietly as you can to a lady who is not
accustomed to speaking--a--in Trafalgar Square, or--a--as a matter of
fact, at all.'

'A dumb lady!'

'Hooray!'

'Three cheers for the dumb lady!'

The chairman was dreadfully flustered at the unfortunate turn his speech
had taken.

'A lady who, as I've said, will tell you, if you'll behave
yourselves----'

'Oh! oh!'

'Will tell you something of her impression of police-court justice in
this country.'

Jean stole a wondering look at Stonor's sphinx-like face as Vida
Levering came forward.

There she stood, obviously very much frightened, with the unaccustomed
colour coming and going in her white face--farther back than any of the
practised speakers--there she stood like one who too much values the
space between her and the mob voluntarily to lessen it by half an inch.
The voice was steady enough, though low, as she began.

'Mr. Chairman, men, and women----'

'Speak up.'

She flushed, came nearer to the edge of the platform, and raised the key
a little.

'I just wanted to tell you that I was--I was present in the police court
when the women were charged for creating a disturbance.'

'You oughtn't to get mix'd up in wot didn't concern you!'

'I--I----' She stumbled and stopped.

'Give the lady a hearing,' said a shabby art-student, magisterially. He
seemed not ill-pleased when he had drawn a certain number of eyes to his
long hair, picturesque hat, and flowing Byronic tie.

'Wot's the lydy's nyme?'

'I ain't seen this one before.'

'Is she Mrs. or Miss?'

'She's dumb, anyway, like 'e said.'

'Haw! haw!'

The anxious chairman was fidgeting in an agony of apprehension. He
whispered some kind prompting word after he had flung out--

'Now, see here, men; fair play, you know.'

'I think I ought----' Vida began.

'No wonder she can't find a word to say for 'em. They're a disgryce,
miss--them women behind you. It's the w'y they goes on as mykes the
Govermint keep ye from gettin' yer rights.'

The chairman had lost his temper. 'It's the way _you_ go on,' he
screamed; but the din was now so great, not even he could be heard. He
stood there waving his arms and moving his lips while his dark eyes
glittered.

Miss Levering turned and pantomimed to Ernestine, 'You see it's no use!'

Thus appealed to, the girl came forward, and said something in the ear
of the frantic chairman. When he stopped gyrating, and nodded, Miss
Blunt came to the edge of the platform, and held up her hand as if
determined to stem this tide of unfavourable comment upon the dreadful
women who were complicating the Election difficulties of both parties.

'Listen,' says Ernestine; 'I've got something to propose.' They waited
an instant to hear what this precious proposal might be. 'If the
Government withholds the vote because they don't like the way some of us
ask for it, let them give it to the quiet ones. Do they want to punish
all women because they don't like the manners of a handful? Perhaps
that's men's notion of justice. It isn't ours.'

'Haw! haw!'

'Yes'--Miss Levering plucked up courage, seeing her friend sailing along
so safely. 'This is the first time I've ever "gone on," as you call it,
but they never gave me a vote.'

'_No_,' says Miss Ernestine, with energy--'and there are'--she turned
briskly, with forefinger uplifted punctuating her count--'there are two,
three, four women on this platform. Now, we all want the vote, as you
know.'

'Lord, yes, we know _that_.'

'Well, we'd agree to be disfranchised all our lives if they'd give the
vote to all the other women.'

'Look here! You made one speech--give the lady a chance.'

Miss Blunt made a smiling little bob of triumph. 'That's just what I
wanted you to say!' And she retired.

Miss Levering came forward again. But the call to 'go on' had come a
little suddenly.

'Perhaps you--you don't know--you don't know----'

'_How_'re we going to know if you can't tell us?' demanded a sarcastic
voice.

It steadied her. 'Thank you for that,' she said, smiling. 'We couldn't
have a better motto. How _are_ you to know if we can't somehow manage to
tell you?' With a visible effort she went on, 'Well, _I_ certainly
didn't know before that the sergeants and policemen are instructed to
deceive the people as to the time such cases are heard.'

'It's just as hard,' said a bystander to his companion, '_just_ as hard
for learned counsel in the august quiet of the Chancery Division to find
out when their cases are really coming on.'

'You ask, and you're sent to Marlborough Police Court,' said Miss
Levering, 'instead of to Marylebone.'

'They oughter send yer to 'Olloway--do y' good.'

'You go on, miss. Nobody minds 'im.'

'Wot can you expect from a pig but a grunt?'

'You are told the case will be at two o'clock, and it's really called
for eleven. Well, I took a great deal of trouble, and I didn't believe
what I was told.' She was warming a little to her task. 'Yes, that's
almost the first thing we have to learn--to get over our touching faith
that because a man tells us something, it's true. I got to the right
court, and I was so anxious not to be late, I was too early.'

'Like a woman!'

'The case before the Suffragists' was just coming on. I heard a noise. I
saw the helmets of two policemen.'

'No, you didn't. They don't wear their helmets in court.'

'They were coming in from the corridor. As I saw them, I said to myself,
"What sort of crime shall I have to sit and hear about? Is this a
burglar being brought along between the two big policemen, or will it be
a murderer? What sort of felon is to stand in the dock before the
people, whose crime is, they ask for the vote?" But try as I would, I
couldn't see the prisoner. My heart misgave me. Is it some poor woman, I
wondered?'

A tipsy tramp, with his battered bowler over one eye, wheezed out,
'Drunk again!' with an accent of weary philosophy. 'Syme old tyle.'

'Then the policemen got nearer, and I saw'--she waited an instant--'a
little thin, half-starved boy. What do you think he was charged with?'

'Travellin' first with a third-class ticket.' A boy offered a page out
of personal history.

'Stealing. What had he been stealing, that small criminal? _Milk._ It
seemed to me, as I sat there looking on, that the men who had had the
affairs of the world in their hands from the beginning, and who've made
so poor a business of it----'

'Oh, pore devils! give 'em a rest!'

'Who've made so bad a business of it as to have the poor and the
unemployed in the condition they're in to-day, whose only remedy for a
starving child is to hale him off to the police court, because he had
managed to get a little milk, well, I did wonder that the men refuse to
be helped with a problem they've so notoriously failed at. I began to
say to myself, "Isn't it time the women lent a hand?"'

'Doin' pretty well fur a dumb lady!'

'Would you have women magistrates?'

She was stumped by the suddenness of the query.

'Haw! haw! Magistrates and judges! _Women!_'

'Let 'em prove first they're able to----'

It was more than the shabby art-student could stand.

'The schools are full of them!' he shouted. 'Where's their Michael
Angelo? They study music by thousands: where's their Beethoven? Where's
their Plato? Where's the woman Shakespeare?'

'Where's their Harry Lauder?'

At last a name that stirred the general enthusiasm.

'Who is Harry Lauder?' Jean asked her aunt.

Lady John shook her head.

'Yes, wot 'ave women ever _done_?'

The speaker had clenched her hands, but she was not going to lose her
presence of mind again. By the time the chairman could make himself
heard with, 'Now, men, it's one of our British characteristics that
we're always ready to give the people we differ from a hearing,' Miss
Levering, making the slightest of gestures, waved him aside with a low--

'It's all right.'

'These questions are quite proper,' she said, raising her voice. 'They
are often asked elsewhere; and I would like to ask in return: Since when
was human society held to exist for its handful of geniuses? How many
Platos are there here in this crowd?'

'Divil a wan!' And a roar of laughter followed that free confession.

'Not one,' she repeated. 'Yet that doesn't keep you men off the
register. How many Shakespeares are there in all England to-day? Not
one. Yet the State doesn't tumble to pieces. Railroads and ships are
built, homes are kept going, and babies are born. The world goes
on'--she bent over the crowd with lit eyes--'the world goes on _by
virtue of its common people_.'

There was a subdued 'Hear! hear!'

'I am not concerned that you should think we women could paint great
pictures, or compose immortal music, or write good books. I am
content'--and it was strange to see the pride with which she said it, a
pride that might have humbled Vere de Vere--'I am content that we should
be classed with the common people, who keep the world going. But'--her
face grew softer, there was even a kind of camaraderie where before
there had been shrinking--'I'd like the world to go a great deal better.
We were talking about justice. I have been inquiring into the kind of
lodging the poorest class of homeless women can get in this town of
London. I find that only the men of that class are provided for. Some
measure to establish Rowton Houses for Women has been before the London
County Council. They looked into the question very carefully--so their
apologists say. And what did they decide? They decided that they could
do nothing.

'Why could that great, all-powerful body do nothing? Because, they said,
if these cheap and decent houses were opened, the homeless women in the
streets would make use of them. You'll think I'm not in earnest, but
that was actually the decision, and the reason given for it. Women that
the bitter struggle for existence had forced into a life of horror might
take advantage of the shelter these decent, cheap places offered. But
the _men_, I said! Are the men who avail themselves of Lord Rowton's
hostels, are _they_ all angels? Or does wrong-doing in a man not matter?
Yet women are recommended to depend on the chivalry of men!'

The two tall policemen who had been standing for some minutes in front
of Mr. Stonor in readiness to serve him, seeming to feel there was no
further need of them in this quarter, shouldered their way to the left,
leaving exposed the hitherto masked figure of the tall gentleman in the
motor cap. He moved uneasily, and, looking round, he met Jean's eyes
fixed on him. As each looked away again, each saw that for the first
time Vida Levering had become aware of his presence. A change passed
over her face, and her figure swayed as if some species of
mountain-sickness had assailed her, looking down from that perilous high
perch of hers upon the things of the plain. While the people were asking
one another, 'What is it? Is she going to faint?' she lifted one hand to
her eyes, and her fingers trembled an instant against the lowered lids.
But as suddenly as she had faltered, she was forging on again, repeating
like an echo of a thing heard in a dream--

'Justice and chivalry! Justice and chivalry remind me of the story that
those of you who read the police-court news--I have begun only lately to
do that--but _you_'ve seen the accounts of the girl who's been tried in
Manchester lately for the murder of her child.'

People here and there in the crowd regaled one another with choice
details of the horror.

'Not pleasant reading. Even if we'd noticed it, we wouldn't speak of it
in my world. A few months ago I should have turned away my eyes and
forgotten even the headline as quickly as I could.'

'My opinion,' said a shrewd-looking young man, 'is that she's forgot
what she meant to say, and just clutched at this to keep her from drying
up.'

'Since that morning in the police-court I read these things. This, as
you know, was the story of a working girl--an orphan of seventeen--who
crawled with the dead body of her new-born child to her master's back
door and left the baby there. She dragged herself a little way off and
fainted. A few days later she found herself in court being tried for the
murder of her child. Her master, a married man, had of course reported
the "find" at his back door to the police, and he had been summoned to
give evidence. The girl cried out to him in the open court, "You are the
father!" He couldn't deny it. The coroner, at the jury's request,
censured the man, and regretted that the law didn't make him
responsible. But'--she leaned down from the plinth with eyes
blazing--'he went scot free. And that girl is at this moment serving her
sentence in Strangeways Gaol.'

Through the moved and murmuring crowd, Jean forced her way, coming in
between Lady John and Stonor, who stood there immovable. The girl
strained to bring her lips near his ear.

'Why do you dislike her so?'

'I?' he said. 'Why should you think----'

'I never saw you look as you did;' with a vaguely frightened air she
added, 'as you do.'

'Men make boast'--the voice came clear from the monument--'that an
English citizen is tried by his peers. What woman is tried by hers?'

'She mistakes the sense in which the word was employed,' said a man who
looked like an Oxford Don.

But there was evidently a sense, larger than that one purely academic,
in which her use of the word could claim its pertinence. The strong
feeling that had seized her as she put the question was sweeping the
crowd along with her.

'A woman is arrested by a man, brought before a man judge, tried by a
jury of men, condemned by men, taken to prison by a man, and by a man
she's hanged! Where in all this were _her_ "peers"? Why did men, when
British justice was born--why did they so long ago insist on trial by "a
jury of their peers"? So that justice shouldn't miscarry--wasn't it? A
man's peers would best understand his circumstances, his temptation, the
degree of his guilt. Yet there's no such unlikeness between different
classes of men as exists between man and woman. What man has the
knowledge that makes him a fit judge of woman's deeds at that time of
anguish--that hour that some woman struggled through to put each man
here into the world. I noticed when a previous speaker quoted the
Labour Party, you applauded. Some of you here, I gather, call yourselves
Labour men. Every woman who has borne a child is a Labour woman. No man
among you can judge what she goes through in her hour of darkness.'

Jean's eyes had dropped from her lover's set white face early in the
recital. But she whispered his name.

He seemed not to hear.

The speaker up there had caught her fluttering breath, and went on so
low that people strained to follow.

'In that great agony, even under the best conditions that money and
devotion can buy, many a woman falls into temporary mania, and not a few
go down to death. In the case of this poor little abandoned working
girl, what man can be the fit judge of her deeds in that awful moment of
half-crazed temptation? Women know of these things as those know burning
who have walked through fire.'

Stonor looked down at the girl at his side. He saw her hands go up to
her throat as though she were suffocating. The young face, where some
harsh knowledge was struggling for birth, was in pity turned away from
the man she loved.

The woman leaned down from the platform, and spoke her last words with a
low and thrilling earnestness.

'I would say in conclusion to the women here, it's not enough to be
sorry for these, our unfortunate sisters. We must get the conditions of
life made fairer. We women must organize. We must learn to work
together. We have all (rich and poor, happy and unhappy) worked so long
and so exclusively for men, we hardly know how to work for one another.
But we must learn. Those who can, may give money. Those who haven't
pennies to give, even those people are not so poor but what they can
give some part of their labour--some share of their sympathy and
support. I know of a woman--she isn't of our country--but a woman who,
to help the women strikers of an oppressed industry to hold out, gave a
thousand pounds a week for thirteen weeks to get them and their children
bread, and help them to stand firm. The masters were amazed. Week after
week went by, and still the people weren't starved into submission.
Where did this mysterious stream of help come from? The employers
couldn't discover, and they gave in. The women got back their old
wages, and I am glad to say many of them began to put by pennies to help
a little to pay back the great sum that had been advanced to them.'

'She took their pennies--a rich woman like that?'

'Yes--to use again, as well as to let the working women feel they were
helping others. I hope you'll all join the Union. Come up after the
meeting is over and give us your names.'

As she turned away, 'You won't get any men!' a taunting voice called
after her.

The truth in the gibe seemed to sting. Forestalling the chairman,
quickly she confronted the people again, a new fire in her eyes.

'Then,' she said, holding out her hands--'then _it is to the women I
appeal_!' She stood so an instant, stilling the murmur, and holding the
people by that sudden concentration of passion in her face. 'I don't
mean to say it wouldn't be better if men and women did this work
together, shoulder to shoulder. But the mass of men won't have it so. I
only hope they'll realize in time the good they've renounced and the
spirit they've aroused. For I know as well as any man could tell me, it
would be a bad day for England if all women felt about all men _as I
do_.'

She retired in a tumult. The others on the platform closed about her.
The chairman tried in vain to get a hearing from the swaying and
dissolving crowd.

Jean made a blind forward movement towards the monument. Stonor called
out, in a toneless voice--

'Here! follow me!'

'No--no--I----' The girl pressed on.

'You're going the wrong way.'

'_This_ is the way----'

'We can get out quicker on this side.'

'I don't _want_ to get out.'

'What?'

He had left Lady John, and was following Jean through the press.

'Where are you going?' he asked sharply.

'To ask that woman to let me have the honour of working with her.'

The crowd surged round the girl.

'Jean!' he called upon so stern a note that people stared and stopped.

Others--not Jean.



CHAPTER XVII


A little before six o'clock on that same Sunday, Jean Dunbarton opened
the communicating door between her own little sitting-room and the big
bare drawing-room of her grandfather's house in Eaton Square. She stood
a moment on the threshold, looking back over her shoulder, and then
crossed the drawing-room, treading softly on the parquet spaces between
the rugs. She went straight to the window, and was in the act of parting
the lace curtains to look out, when she heard the folding doors open.
With raised finger she turned to say 'Sh!' The servant stood silently
waiting, while she went back to the door she had left open and with an
air of caution closed it.

When she turned round again the butler had stepped aside to admit Mr.
Stonor. He came in with a quick impatient step; but before he had time
to get a word out--'Speak low, please,' the girl said. He was obviously
too much annoyed to pay much heed to her request, which if he thought
about it at all, he must have interpreted as consideration for the
ailing grandfather.

'I waited a full half-hour for you to come back,' he said in a tone no
lower than usual.

The girl had led the way to the side of the room furthest from the
communicating door. 'I am sorry,' she said dully.

'If you didn't mind leaving me like that,' he followed her up with his
arraignment, 'you might at least have considered Lady John.'

'Is she here with you?' Jean stopped by the sofa near the window.

'No,' he said curtly. 'My place was nearer than this and she was tired.
I left her to get some tea. We couldn't tell whether you'd be here, or
_what_ had become of you!'

'Mr. Trent got us a hansom.'

'Trent?'

'The chairman of the meeting.'

'Got us----?'

'Miss Levering and me.'

Stonor's incensed face turned almost brick colour as he repeated, '_Miss
Lev_----!'

Before he got the name out, the folding doors had opened again, and the
butler was saying, 'Mr. Farnborough.'

That young gentleman was far too anxious and flurried himself, to have
sufficient detachment of mind to consider the moods of other people. 'At
last!' he said, stopping short as soon as he caught sight of Stonor.

'Don't speak loud, please,' said Miss Dunbarton; 'some one is resting in
the next room.'

'Oh, did you find your grandfather worse?'--but he never waited to
learn. 'You'll forgive the incursion when you hear'--he turned abruptly
to Stonor again. 'They've been telegraphing you all over London,' he
said, putting his hat down in the nearest chair. 'In sheer despair they
set me on your track.'

'Who did?'

Farnborough was fumbling agitatedly in his breast-pocket. 'There was the
devil to pay at Dutfield last night. The Liberal chap tore down from
London, and took over your meeting.'

'Oh? Nothing about it in the Sunday paper I saw.'

'Wait till you see the press to-morrow! There was a great rally, and the
beggar made a rousing speech.'

'What about?'

'Abolition of the Upper House.'

'They were at that when I was at Eton.' Stonor turned on his heel.

'Yes, but this man has got a way of putting things--the people went
mad.'

It was all very well for a mere girl to be staring indifferently out of
the window, while a great historic party was steering straight for
shipwreck; but it really was too much to see this man who ought to be
taking the situation with the seriousness it deserved, strolling about
the room with that abstracted air, looking superciliously at Mr.
Dunbarton's examples of the Glasgow school. Farnborough balanced himself
on wide-apart legs and thrust one hand in his trousers' pocket. The
other hand held a telegram. 'The Liberal platform as defined at Dutfield
is going to make a big difference,' he pronounced.

'You think so,' said Stonor, dryly.

'Well, your agent says as much.' He pulled off the orange-brown
envelope, threw it and the reply-paid form on the table, and held the
message under the eyes of the obviously surprised gentleman in front of
him.

'My agent!' Stonor had echoed with faint incredulity.

He took the telegram. '"Try find Stonor,"' he read. 'H'm! H'm!' His eyes
ran on.

Farnborough looked first at the expressionless face, and then at the
message.

'You see!'--he glanced over Stonor's shoulder--'"tremendous effect of
last night's Liberal manifesto ought to be counteracted in to-morrow's
papers."' Then withdrawing a couple of paces, he said very earnestly,
'You see, Mr. Stonor, it's a battle-cry we want.'

'Clap-trap,' said the great man, throwing the telegram down on the
table.

'Well,' said Farnborough, distinctly dashed, 'they've been saying we
have nothing to offer but personal popularity. No practical reform,
no----'

'No truckling to the masses, I suppose.'

Poor Farnborough bit his lip. 'Well, in these democratic days, you're
obliged (I should _think_), to consider----' In his baulked and snubbed
condition he turned to Miss Dunbarton for countenance. 'I hope you'll
forgive my bursting in like this, but'--he gathered courage as he caught
a glimpse of her averted face--'I can see you realize the gravity of the
situation.' He found her in the embrasure of the window, and went on
with an air of speaking for her ear alone. 'My excuse for being so
officious--you see it isn't as if he were going to be a mere private
member. Everybody knows he'll be in the Cabinet.'

'It may be a Liberal Cabinet,' came from Stonor at his dryest.

Farnborough leapt back into the fray. 'Nobody thought so up to last
night. Why, even your brother----' he brought up short. 'But I'm afraid
I'm really seeming rather _too_----' He took up his hat.

'What about my brother?'

'Oh, only that I went from your house to the club, you know--and I met
Lord Windlesham as I rushed up the Carlton steps.'

'Well?'

'I told him the Dutfield news.'

Stonor turned sharply round. His face was much more interested than any
of his words had been.

As though in the silence, Stonor had asked a question, Farnborough
produced the answer.

'Your brother said it only confirmed his fears.'

'Said that, did he?' Stonor spoke half under his breath.

'Yes. Defeat is inevitable, he thinks, unless----' Farnborough waited,
intently watching the big figure that had begun pacing back and forth.
It paused, but no word came, even the eyes were not raised.

'Unless,' Farnborough went on, 'you can manufacture some political
dynamite within the next few hours. Those were his words.'

As Stonor resumed his walk he raised his head and caught sight of Jean's
face. He stopped short directly in front of her.

'You are very tired,' he said.

'No, no.' She turned again to the window.

'I'm obliged to you for troubling about this,' he said, offering
Farnborough his hand with the air of civilly dismissing him. 'I'll see
what can be done.'

Farnborough caught up the reply-paid form from the table. 'If you'd like
to wire I'll take it.'

Faintly amused at this summary view of large complexities, 'You don't
understand, my young friend,' he said, not unkindly. 'Moves of this sort
are not rushed at by responsible politicians. I must have time for
consideration.'

Farnborough's face fell. 'Oh. Well, I only hope some one else won't jump
into the breach before you.' With his watch in one hand, he held out the
other to Miss Dunbarton. 'Good-bye. I'll just go and find out what time
the newspapers go to press on Sunday. I'll be at the Club,' he threw
over his shoulder, 'just in case I can be of any use.'

'No; don't do that. If I should have anything new to say----'

'B-b-but with our party, as your brother said, "heading straight for a
vast electoral disaster," and the Liberals----'

'If I decide on a counter-blast, I shall simply telegraph to
headquarters. Good-bye.'

'Oh! A--a--good-bye.'

With a gesture of 'the country's going to the dogs,' Farnborough opened
the doors and closed them behind him.

Jean had rung the bell. She came back with her eyes on the ground, and
paused near the table where the crumpled envelope made a dash of
yellow-brown on the polished satinwood. Stonor stood studying the
carpet, more concern in his face now that there was only Jean to see it.

'"Political dynamite," eh?' he repeated, walking a few paces away. He
returned with, 'After all, women are much more Conservative _naturally_
than men, aren't they?'

Jean's lowered eyes showed no spark of interest in the issue. Her only
motion, an occasional locking and unlocking of her fingers. But no words
came. He glanced at her, as if for the first time conscious of her
silence.

'You see now'--he threw himself into a chair--'one reason why I've
encouraged you to take an interest in public questions. Because people
like us don't go screaming about it, is no sign we don't--some of
us--see what's on the way. However little they may want to, women of our
class will have to come into line. All the best things in the world,
everything civilization has won, will be in danger if--when this change
comes--the only women who have practical political training are the
women of the lower classes. Women of the lower classes,' he repeated,
'_and_'--the line between his eyebrows deepening--'women inoculated by
the Socialist virus.'

'Geoffrey!'

He was in no mood to discuss a concrete type. To so intelligent a girl,
a hint should be enough. He drew the telegraph-form that still lay on
the table towards him.

'Let us see how it would sound, shall we?'

He detached a gold pencil from one end of his watch-chain, and, with
face more and more intent, bent over the paper, writing.

The girl opened her lips more than once to speak, and each time fell
back again on her silent, half-incredulous misery.

When Stonor finished writing, he held the paper off, smiling a little,
with the craftsman's satisfaction in his work, and more than a touch of
shrewd malice--

'Enough dynamite in that,' he commented. 'Rather too much, isn't there,
little girl?'

'Geoffrey, I know her story.'

He looked at her for the first time since Farnborough left the room.

'Whose story?'

'Miss Levering's.'

'_Whose?_' He crushed the rough note of his manifesto into his pocket.

'Vida Levering's.'

He stared at the girl, till across the moment's silence a cry of misery
went out--

'Why did you desert her?'

'I?' he said, like one staggered by the sheer wildness of the charge.
'_I?_'

But no comfort of doubting seemed to cross the darkness of Jean's
backward look into the past.

'Oh, why did you do it?'

'What, in the name of----? What has she been saying to you?'

'Some one else told me part. Then the way you looked when you saw her at
Aunt Ellen's--Miss Levering's saying you didn't know her--then your
letting out that you knew even the curious name on the handkerchief--oh,
I pieced it together.'

While she poured out the disjointed sentences, he had recovered his
self-possession.

'Your ingenuity is undeniable,' he said coldly, rising to his feet. But
he paused as the girl went on--

'And then when she said that at the meeting about "the dark hour," and I
looked at her face, it flashed over me----Oh, why did you desert her?'

It was as if the iteration of that charge stung him out of his chill
anger.

'I _didn't_ desert her,' he said.

'Ah-h!' Her hands went fluttering up to her eyes, and hid the quivering
face. Something in the action touched him, his face changed, and he made
a sudden passionate movement toward the trembling figure standing there
with hidden eyes. In another moment his arms would have been round her.
Her muffled voice saying, 'I'm glad. I'm glad,' checked him. He stood
bewildered, making with noiseless lips the word '_Glad?_' She was 'glad'
he hadn't tired of her rival? The girl brushed the tears from her eyes,
and steadied herself against the table.

'She went away from you, then?'

The momentary softening had vanished out of Geoffrey Stonor's face. In
its stead the look of aloofness that few dared brave, the warning 'thus
far and no farther' stamped on every feature, he answered--

'You can hardly expect me to enter into----'

She broke through the barrier without ruth--such strength, such courage
has honest pain.

'You mean she went away from you?'

'Yes!' The sharp monosyllable fell out like a thing metallic.

'Was that because you wouldn't marry her?'

'I couldn't marry her--and she knew it.' He turned on his heel.

'Did you want to?'

He paused nearly at the window, and looked back at her. She deserved to
have the bare 'yes,' but she was a child. He would soften a little the
truth's harsh impact upon the young creature's shrinking jealousy.

'I thought I wanted to marry her then. It's a long time ago.'

'And why couldn't you?'

He controlled a movement of strong irritation. 'Why are you catechizing
me? It's a matter that concerns another woman.'

'If you say it doesn't concern me, you're saying'--her lip
trembled--'saying that you don't concern me.'

With more difficulty than the girl dreamed, he compelled himself to
answer quietly--

'In those days--I--I was absolutely dependent on my father.'

'Why, you must have been thirty, Geoffrey.'

'What? Oh--thereabouts.'

'And everybody says you're so clever.'

'Well, everybody's mistaken.'

She left the table, and drew nearer to him. 'It must have been terribly
hard----'

Sounding the depth of sympathy in the gentle voice, he turned towards
her to meet a check in the phrase--

'----terribly hard for you both.'

He stood there stonily, but looking rather handsome in his big, sulky
way. The sort of person who dictates terms rather than one to accept
meekly the thing that might befall.

Something of that overbearing look of his must have penetrated the
clouded consciousness of the girl, for she was saying--

'You! a man like _you_ not to have had the freedom, that even the lowest
seem to have----'

'Freedom?'

'To marry the woman they choose.'

'She didn't break off our relations because I couldn't marry her.'

'Why was it, then?'

'You're too young to discuss such a story.' He turned away.

'I'm not so young,' said the shaking voice, 'as she was when----'

'Very well, then, if you will have it!' His look was ill to meet, for
any one who loved him. 'The truth is, it didn't weigh upon her as it
seems to on you, that I wasn't able to marry her.'

'Why are you so sure of that?'

'Because she didn't so much as hint at it when she wrote that she meant
to break off the--the----'

'What made her write like that?'

'Why _will_ you go on talking of what's so long over and ended?'

'What reason did she give?'

'If your curiosity has so got the upper hand, _ask her_.'

Her eyes were upon him. In a whisper, 'You're afraid to tell me,' she
said.

He went over to the window, seeming to wait there for something that did
not come. He turned round at last.

'I still hoped, at _that_ time, to win my father over. She blamed me
because'--again he faced the window and looked blindly out--'if the
child had lived it wouldn't have been possible to get my father to--to
overlook it.'

'You--wanted--it _overlooked_?' the girl said faintly. 'I don't
underst----'

He came back to her on a wave of passion. 'Of course you don't
understand. If you did you wouldn't be the beautiful, tender, innocent
child you are.' He took her hand, and tried to draw her to him.

She withdrew her hand, and shrank from him with a movement, slight as it
was, so tragically eloquent, that fear for the first time caught hold of
him.

'I am glad you didn't mean to desert her, Geoffrey. It wasn't your
fault, after all--only some misunderstanding that can be cleared up.'

'_Cleared up?_'

'Yes, cleared up.'

'You aren't thinking that this miserable old affair I'd as good as
forgotten----'

He did not see the horror-struck glance at the door, but he heard the
whisper--

'_Forgotten!_'

'No, no'--he caught himself up--'I don't mean exactly forgotten. But
you're torturing me so that I don't know what I'm saying.' He went
closer. 'You aren't going to let this old thing come between you and
me?'

She pressed her handkerchief to her lips, and then took it away.

'I can't make or unmake the past,' she said steadily. 'But I'm glad, at
least, that you didn't mean to desert her in her trouble. You'll remind
her of that first of all, won't you?'

She was moving across the room as she spoke, and, when she had ended,
the handkerchief went quickly to her lips again as if to shut the door
on sobbing.

'Where are you going?' He raised his voice. 'Why should I remind
_any_body of what I want only to forget?'

'Hush! Oh, hush!' A moment she looked back, holding up praying hands.

His eyes had flown to the door. 'You don't mean _she's_----'

'Yes. I left her to get a little rest.'

He recoiled in an access of uncontrollable anger. She followed him.
Speechless, he eluded her, and went for his hat.

'Geoffrey,' she cried, 'don't go before you hear me. I don't know if
what I think matters to you now, but I hope it does. You can still'--her
voice was faint with tears--'still make me think of you without
shrinking--if you will.'

He fixed her for a moment with eyes more stern than she had ever seen.

'What is it you are asking of me?' he said.

'To make amends, Geoffrey.'

His anger went out on a wave of pity. 'You poor little innocent!'

'I'm poor enough. But'--she locked her hands together like one who
summons all her resolution--'I'm not so innocent but what I know you
must right that old wrong now, if you're ever to right it.'

'You aren't insane enough to think I would turn round in these few hours
and go back to something that ten years ago was ended forever!' As he
saw how unmoved her face was, 'Why,' he burst out, 'it's stark, staring
madness!'

'No!' She caught his arm. 'What you did ten years ago--that was mad.
This is paying a debt.'

Any man looking on, or hearing of Stonor's dilemma, would have said,
'Leave the girl alone to come to her senses.' But only a stupid man
would himself have done it. Stonor caught her two hands in his, and drew
her into his arms.

'Look, here, Jeannie, you're dreadfully wrought up and excited--tired,
too.'

'No!' She freed herself, and averted the tear-stained face. 'Not tired,
though I've travelled far to-day. I know you smile at sudden
conversions. You think they're hysterical--worse--vulgar. But people
must get their revelation how they can. And, Geoffrey, if I can't make
you see this one of mine, I shall know your love could never mean
strength to me--only weakness. And I shall be afraid,' she whispered.
Her dilated eyes might have seen a ghost lurking there in the
commonplace room. 'So afraid I should never dare give you the chance of
making me loathe myself.' There was a pause, and out of the silence fell
words that were like the taking of a vow. 'I would never see you again.'

'How right I was to be afraid of that vein of fanaticism in you!'

'Certainly you couldn't make a greater mistake than to go away now and
think it any good ever to come back. Even if I came to feel different, I
couldn't _do_ anything different. I should _know_ all this couldn't be
forgotten. I should know that it would poison my life in the end--yours
too.'

'She has made good use of her time!' he said bitterly. Then, upon a
sudden thought, 'What has changed _her_? Has she been seeing visions
too?'

'What do you mean?'

'Why is she intriguing to get hold of a man that ten years ago she
flatly refused to see or hold any communication with?'

'Intriguing to get hold of? She hasn't mentioned you!'

'What! Then how, in the name of Heaven, do you know--she wants--what you
ask?'

'There can't be any doubt about that,' said the girl, firmly.

With all his tenderness for her, so little still did he understand what
she was going through, that he plainly thought all her pain had come of
knowing that this other page was in his life--he had no glimpse of the
girl's passionate need to think of that same long-turned-over page as
unmarred by the darker blot.

'You absurd, ridiculous child!' With immense relief he dropped into the
nearest chair. 'Then all this is just your own unaided invention. Well,
I could thank God!' He passed his handkerchief over his face.

'For what are you thanking God?'

He sat there obviously thinking out his plan of action.

'Suppose--I'm not going to risk it--but _suppose_----' He looked up, and
at the sight of Jean's face he rose with an expression strangely gentle.
The rather hard eyes were softened in a sudden mist. 'Whether _I_
deserve to suffer or not, it's quite certain _you_ don't. Don't cry,
dear one. It never was the real thing. I had to wait till I knew you
before I understood.'

Her own eyes were brimming as she lifted them in a passion of gratitude
to his face.

'Oh! is that true? Loving you has made things clear to me I didn't dream
of before. If I could think that because of me you were able to do
this----'

'You go back to that?' He seized her by the shoulders, and said
hoarsely, 'Look here! Do you seriously ask me to give up the girl I
love--to go and offer to marry a woman that even to think of----'

'You cared for her once!' she cried. 'You'll care about her again. She
is beautiful and brilliant--_every_thing. I've heard she could win any
man----'

He pushed the girl from him. 'She's bewitched you!' He was halfway to
the door.

'Geoffrey, Geoffrey, you aren't going away like that? This isn't _the
end_?'

The face he turned back upon her was dark and hesitating. 'I suppose if
she refused me, you'd----'

'She won't refuse you.'

'She did once.'

'She didn't refuse to marry you.'

As she passed him on the way to her sitting-room he caught her by the
arm.

'Stop!' he said, glancing about like one hunting desperately for a means
of gaining a few minutes. 'Lady John is waiting all this time at my
house for the car to go back with a message.'

'_That's_ not a matter of life and death!' she said, with all the
impatience of the young at that tyranny of little things which seems to
hold its unrelenting sway, though the battlements of righteousness are
rocking, and the tall towers of love are shaken to the nethermost
foundation-stones.

'No, it's not a matter of life and death,' Stonor said quietly. 'All the
same, I'll go down and give the order.'

'Very well.' Of her own accord this time she stopped on her way to that
other door, behind which was the Past and the Future incarnate in one
woman. 'I'll wait,' said Jean. She went to the table. Sitting there with
her face turned from him, she said, quite low, 'You'll come back, if
you're the man I pray you are.'

Her self-control seemed all at once to fail. She leaned her elbows on
the table and broke into a flood of silent tears, with face hidden in
her hands.

He came swiftly back, and bent over her a moved, adoring face.

'Dearest of all the world,' he began, in that beautiful voice of his.

His arms were closing round her, when the door on the left was softly
opened. Vida Levering stood on the threshold.



CHAPTER XVIII


She drew back as soon as she saw him, but Stonor had looked round. His
face darkened as he stood there an instant, silently challenging her.
Not a word spoken by either of them, no sound but the faint, muffled
sobbing of the girl, who sat with hidden face. With a look of speechless
anger, the man went out and shut the doors behind him. Not seeing, only
hearing that he had gone, Jean threw her arms out across the table in an
abandonment of grief. The other woman laid on a chair the hat and cloak
that she was carrying. Then she went slowly across the room and stood
silent a moment at Jean's side.

'What is the matter?'

The girl started. Impossible for her to speak in that first moment. But
when she had dried her eyes, she said, with a pathetic childish air--

'I--I've been seeing Geoffrey.'

'Is this the effect "seeing Geoffrey" has?' said the other, with an
attempt at lightness.

'You see, I know now,' Jean explained, with the brave directness that
was characteristic.

The more sophisticated woman presented an aspect totally unenlightened.

'I know how he'--Jean dropped her eyes--'how he spoiled some one else's
life.'

'Who tells you that?' asked Miss Levering.

'Several people have told me.'

'Well, you should be very careful how you believe what you hear.'

'You know it's true!' said the girl, passionately.

'I know that it's possible to be mistaken.'

'I see! You're trying to shield him----'

'Why should I? What is it to me?'

'Oh-h, how you must love him!' she said with tears.

'I? Listen to me,' said Vida, gravely. As she drew up a chair the girl
rose to her feet.

'What's the use--what's the use of your going on denying it?' As she saw
Vida was about to break in, she silenced her with two words, '_Geoffrey
doesn't._' And with that she fled away to the window.

Vida half rose, and then relinquished the idea of following the girl,
seemed presently to forget her, and sat as one alone with sorrow. When
Jean had mastered herself, she came slowly back. Not till she was close
to the motionless figure did the girl lift her eyes.

'Oh, don't look like that,' the girl prayed. 'I shall bring him back to
you.'

She was on her knees by Vida's chair. The fixed abstraction went out of
the older face, but it was very cold as she began--

'You would be impertinent--if--you weren't a romantic child. You can't
bring him back.'

'Yes, yes, he----'

'No. But'--Vida looked deep into the candid eyes--'there is something
you _can_ do----'

'What?'

'Bring him to a point where he recognizes that he is in our debt.'

'In _our_ debt?'

Vida nodded. 'In debt to Women. He can't repay the one he robbed.'

Jean winced at that. The young do not know that nothing but money can
ever be paid back.

'Yes,' she insisted, out of the faith she still had in him, ready to be
his surety. 'Yes, he can. He will.'

The other shook her head. 'No, he can't repay the dead. But there are
the living. There are the thousands with hope still in their hearts and
youth in their blood. Let him help _them_. Let him be a Friend to
Women.'

'I understand!' Jean rose up, wide-eyed. 'Yes, _that_ too.'

The door had opened, and Lady John was coming in with Stonor towering
beside her. When he saw the girl rising from her knees, he turned to
Lady John with a little gesture of, 'What did I tell you?'

The moment Jean caught sight of him, 'Thank you!' she said, while her
aunt was briskly advancing, filling all the room with a pleasant silken
rustling, and a something nameless, that was like clear noonday after
storm-cloud or haunted twilight.

'Well,' she said in a cheerful commonplace tone to Jean; 'you rather
gave us the slip! Vida, I believe Mr. Stonor wants to see you for a few
minutes, but'--she glanced at her watch--'I'd like a word with you
first, as I must get back. Do you think the car'--she turned to
Stonor--'your man said something about recharging----'

'Oh, did he? I'll see about it.' As he went out he brushed past the
butler.

'Mr. Trent has called, miss, to take the lady to the meeting,' said that
functionary.

'Bring Mr. Trent into my sitting-room,' said Jean hastily, and then to
Miss Levering, 'I'll tell him you can't go to-night.'

Lady John stood watching the girl with critical eyes till she had
disappeared into the adjoining room and shut the door behind her. Then--

'I know, my dear'--she spoke almost apologetically--'you're not aware of
what that impulsive child wants to insist on. I feel it an embarrassment
even to tell you.'

'I know.'

'You know?' Lady John waited for condemnation of Jean's idea. She waited
in vain. 'It isn't with your sanction, surely, that she makes this
extraordinary demand?'

'I didn't sanction it at first,' said the other slowly; 'but I've been
thinking it over.'

Lady John's suavity stiffened perceptibly. 'Then all I can say is, I am
greatly disappointed in you. You threw this man over years ago, for
reasons, whatever they were, that seemed to you good and sufficient. And
now you come in between him and a younger woman, just to play Nemesis,
so far as I can make out.'

'Is that what he says?'

'He says nothing that isn't fair and considerate.'

'I can see he's changed.'

'And you're unchanged--is that it?'

'I'm changed even more than he.'

Lady John sat down, with pity and annoyance struggling for the mastery.

'You care about him still?'

'No.'

'No? And yet you--I see! There are obviously certain things he can give
his wife, and you naturally want to marry somebody.'

'Oh, Lady John,' said Vida, wearily, 'there are no men listening.'

'No'--she looked round surprised--'I didn't suppose there were.'

'Then why keep up that old pretence?'

'What pret----'

'That to marry _at all costs_ is every woman's dearest ambition till the
grave closes over her. You and I _know_ it isn't true.'

'Well, but----' Her ladyship blinked, suddenly seeing daylight. 'Oh! It
was just the unexpected sight of him bringing it all back! _That_ was
what fired you this afternoon. Of course'--she made an honest attempt at
sympathetic understanding--'the memory of a thing like that can never
die--can never even be dimmed for the woman.'

'I mean her to think so.'

'Jean?'

Vida nodded.

'But it isn't so?'

Lady John was a little bewildered.

'You don't seriously believe,' said Vida, 'that a woman, with anything
else to think about, comes to the end of ten years still absorbed in a
memory of that sort?'

Lady John stared speechless a moment. 'You've got over it, then?'

'If it weren't for the papers, I shouldn't remember twice a year there
was ever such a person as Geoffrey Stonor in the world.'

'Oh, I'm _so_ glad!' said Lady John, with unconscious rapture.

Vida smiled grimly. 'Yes, I'm glad, too.'

'And if Geoffrey Stonor offered you--er--"reparation," you'd refuse it?'

'Geoffrey Stonor! For me he's simply one of the far back links in a
chain of evidence. It's certain I think a hundred times of other women's
present unhappiness to once that I remember that old unhappiness of mine
that's past. I think of the nail and chain makers of Cradley Heath, the
sweated girls of the slums; I think,' her voice fell, 'of the army of
ill-used women, whose very existence I mustn't mention----'

Lady John interrupted her hurriedly. 'Then why in heaven's name do you
let poor Jean imagine----'

Vida suddenly bent forward. 'Look--I'll trust you, Lady John. I don't
suffer from that old wrong as Jean thinks I do, but I shall coin her
sympathy into gold for a greater cause than mine.'

'I don't understand you.'

'Jean isn't old enough to be able to care as much about a principle as
about a person. But if my old half-forgotten pain can turn her
generosity into the common treasury----'

'What do you propose she shall do, poor child?'

'Use her hold over Geoffrey Stonor to make him help us.'

'To help you?'

'The man who served one woman--God knows how many more--very ill, shall
serve hundreds of thousands well. Geoffrey Stonor shall make it harder
for his son, harder still for his grandson, to treat any woman as he
treated me.'

'How will he do that?' said the lady coldly.

'By putting an end to the helplessness of women.'

'You must think he has a great deal of power,' said her ladyship, with
some irony.

'Power? Yes,' answered the other, 'men have too much over penniless and
frightened women.'

'What nonsense! You talk as though the women hadn't their share of human
nature. _We_ aren't made of ice any more than the men.'

'No, but we have more self-control.'

'Than men?'

Vida had risen. She looked down at her friend. 'You know we have,' she
said.

'I know,' said Lady John shrewdly, 'we mustn't admit it.'

'For fear they'd call us fishes?'

Lady John had been frankly shocked at the previous plain speaking, but
she found herself stimulated to show in this moment of privacy that even
she had not travelled her sheltered way through the world altogether in
blinkers.

'They talk of our lack of self-control, but,' she admitted, 'it's the
last thing men _want_ women to have.'

'Oh, we know what they want us to have! So we make shift to have it. If
we don't, we go without hope--sometimes we go without bread.'

'Vida! Do you mean to say that you----'

'I mean to say that men's vanity won't let them see it, but the thing's
largely a question of economics.'

'You _never_ loved him, then!'

'Yes, I loved him--once. It was my helplessness that turned the best
thing life can bring into a curse for both of us.'

'I don't understand you----'

'Oh, being "understood"! that's too much to expect. I make myself no
illusions. When people come to know that I've joined the Women's
Union----'

'But you won't'

'----who is there who will resist the temptation to say "Poor Vida
Levering! What a pity she hasn't got a husband and a baby to keep her
quiet"? The few who know about me, they'll be equally sure that, not the
larger view of life I've gained, but my own poor little story, is
responsible for my new departure.' She leaned forward and looked into
Lady John's face. 'My best friend, she will be surest of all, that it's
a private sense of loss, or lower yet, a grudge, that's responsible for
my attitude. I tell you the only difference between me and thousands of
women with husbands and babies is that I am free to say what I think.
_They aren't!_'

Lady John opened her lips and then closed them firmly. After all, why
pursue the matter? She had got the information she had come for.

'I must hurry back;' she rose, murmuring, 'my poor ill-used guests----'

Vida stood there quiet, a little cold. 'I won't ring,' she said. 'I
think you'll find Mr. Stonor downstairs waiting for you.'

'Oh--a--he will have left word about the car in any case.'

Lady John's embarrassment was not so much at seeing that her friend had
divined the gist of the arrangement that had been effected downstairs.
It was that Vida should be at no pains to throw a decent veil over the
fact of her realization that Lady John had come there in the character
of scout. With an openness not wholly free from scorn, the younger woman
had laid her own cards on the table. She made no scruple at turning her
back on Lady John's somewhat incoherent evasion. Ignoring it she crossed
the room and opened the door for her.

Jean was in the corridor saying good-bye to the chairman of the
afternoon.

'Well, Mr. Trent,' said Miss Levering in even tones, 'I didn't expect to
see you this evening.'

He came forward and stood in the doorway. 'Why not? Have I ever failed?'

'Lady John,' said Vida, turning, 'this is one of our allies. He is good
enough to squire me through the rabble from time to time.'

'Well,' said Lady John, advancing quite graciously, 'I think it's very
handsome of you after what she said to-day about men.'

'I've no great opinion of most men myself,' said the young gentleman. 'I
might add, or of most women.'

'Oh!' Lady John laughed. 'At any rate I shall go away relieved to think
that Miss Levering's plain speaking hasn't alienated _all_ masculine
regard.'

'Why should it?' he said.

'That's right.' Lady John metaphorically patted him on the back. 'Don't
believe all she says in the heat of propaganda.'

'I _do_ believe all she says. But I'm not cast down.'

'Not when she says----'

'Was there never,' he made bold to interrupt, 'a misogynist of _my_ sex
who ended by deciding to make an exception?'

'Oh!' Lady John smiled significantly; 'if _that's_ what you build on!'

'Why,' he demanded with an effort to convey 'pure logic,' 'why shouldn't
a man-hater on your side prove equally open to reason?'

'That aspect of the question has become irrelevant so far as I'm
personally concerned,' said Vida, exasperated by Lady John's look of
pleased significance. 'I've got to a place where I realize that the
first battles of this new campaign must be fought by women alone. The
only effective help men could give--amendment of the law--they refuse.
The rest is nothing.'

'Don't be ungrateful, Vida. Here is this gentleman ready to face
criticism in publicly championing you----'

'Yes, but it's an illusion that I, as an individual, need a champion. I
am quite safe in the crowd. Please don't wait for me and don't come for
me again.'

The sensitive dark face flushed. 'Of course if you'd rather----'

'And that reminds me,' she went on, unfairly punishing poor Mr. Trent
for Lady John's meaning looks, 'I was asked to thank you, and to tell
you, too, that they won't need your chairmanship any more--though that,
I beg you to believe, has nothing to do with any feeling of mine.'

He was hurt and he showed it. 'Of course I know there must be other men
ready--better known men----'

'It isn't that. It's simply that we find a man can't keep a rowdy
meeting in order as well as a woman.'

He stared.

'You aren't serious?' said Lady John.

'Haven't you noticed,' Miss Levering put it to Trent, 'that all our
worst disturbances come when men are in charge?'

'Ha! ha! Well--a--I hadn't connected the two ideas.'

Still laughing a little ruefully, he suffered himself to be taken
downstairs by kind little Miss Dunbarton, who had stood without a word
waiting there with absent face.

'That nice boy's in love with you,' said Lady John, _sotto voce_.

Vida looked at her without answering.

'Good-bye.' They shook hands. 'I _wish_ you hadn't been so unkind to
that nice boy.'

'Do you?'

'Yes; for then I would be more sure of your telling Geoffrey Stonor that
intelligent women don't nurse their wrongs indefinitely, and lie in wait
to punish them.'

'You are _not_ sure?'

Lady John went up close and looked into her face with searching anxiety.
'Are _you_?' she asked.

Vida stood there mute, with eyes on the ground. Lady John glanced
nervously at her watch, and, with a gesture of perturbation, hurriedly
left the room. The other went slowly back to her place by the table.

       *       *       *       *       *

The look she bent on Stonor as he came in seemed to take no account of
those hurried glimpses at the Tunbridges' months before, and twice
to-day when other eyes were watching. It was as if now, for the first
time since they parted, he stood forth clearly. This man with the
changed face, coming in at the door and carefully shutting it--he had
once been Mystery's high priest and had held the keys of Joy. To-day,
beyond a faint pallor, there was no trace of emotion in that face that
was the same and yet so different. Not even anger there. Where a less
complex man would have brought in, if not the menace of a storm, at
least an intimation of masterfulness that should advertise the
uselessness of opposition, Stonor brought a subtler ally in what, for
lack of better words, must be called an air of heightened
fastidiousness--mainly physical. Man has no shrewder weapon against the
woman he has loved and wishes to exorcise from his path. For the simple,
and even for those not so much simple as merely sensitive, there is
something in that cool, sure assumption of unapproachableness on the
part of one who once had been so near--something that lames advance and
hypnotizes vision. Geoffrey Stonor's aloofness was not in the 'high
look' alone; it was as much as anything in the very way he walked, as if
the ground were hardly good enough, in the way he laid his shapely hand
on the carved back of the sofa, the way his eyes rested on inanimate
things in the room, reducing whoever was responsible for them to the
need of justifying their presence and defending their value.

As the woman in the chair, leaning cheek on hand, sat silently watching
him, it may have been that obscure things in those headlong hours of the
past grew plainer.

However ludicrous the result may look in the last analysis, it is clear
that a faculty such as Stonor's for overrating the value of the
individual in the scheme of things, does seem more effectually than any
mere patent of nobility to confer upon a man the 'divine right' to
dictate to his fellows and to look down upon them. The thing is founded
on illusion, but it is founded as firm as many another figment that has
governed men and seen the generations come to heel and go crouching to
their graves.

But the shining superiority of the man seemed to be a little dimmed for
the woman sitting there. The old face and the new face, she saw them
both through a cloud of long-past memories and a mist of present tears.

'Well, have they primed you?' she said very low. 'Have you got your
lesson--by heart at last?'

He looked at her from immeasurable distance. 'I am not sure that I
understand you,' he said. He waited an instant, then, seeing no
explanation vouchsafed, 'However unpropitious your mood may be,' he went
on with a satirical edge in his tone, 'I shall discharge my errand.'

Still she waited.

Her silence seemed to irritate him. 'I have promised,' he said, with a
formality that smacked of insolence, 'to offer you what I believe is
called "amends."'

The quick change in the brooding look should have warned him.

'You have come to realize, then--after all these years--that you owed me
something?'

He checked himself on the brink of protest. 'I am not here to deny it.'

'Pay, then,' she said fiercely--'pay.'

A moment's dread flickered in his eye and then was gone. 'I have said
that, if you exact it, I will.'

'Ah! If I insist, you'll "make it all good"! Then, don't you know, you
must pay me in kind?'

He looked down upon her--a long, long way. 'What do you mean?'

'Give me back what you took from me--my old faith,' she said, with
shaking voice. 'Give me that.'

'Oh, if you mean to make phrases----' He half turned away, but the swift
words overtook him.

'Or, give me back mere kindness--or even tolerance! Oh, I don't mean
_your_ tolerance.' She was on her feet to meet his eyes as he faced her
again. 'Give me back the power to think fairly of my brothers--not as
mockers--thieves.'

'I have not mocked you. And I have asked you----'

'Something you knew I should refuse. Or'--her eyes blazed--'or did you
dare to be afraid I wouldn't?'

'Oh, I suppose'--he buttressed his good faith with bitterness--'I
suppose if we set our teeth we could----'

'I couldn't--not even if I set my teeth. And you wouldn't dream of
asking me if you thought there was the smallest chance.'

Ever so faintly he raised his heavy shoulders. 'I can do no more than
make you an offer of such reparation as is in my power. If you don't
accept it----' He turned away with an air of '_that's_ done.'

But her emotion had swept her out of her course. She found herself at
his side.

'Accept it? No! Go away and live in debt. Pay and pay and pay--and find
yourself still in debt--for a thing you'll never be able to give me
back. And when you come to die'--her voice fell--'say to yourself, "I
paid all my creditors but one."'

He stopped on his way to the door and faced her again. 'I'm rather
tired, you know, of this talk of debt. If I hear that you persist in it,
I shall have to----' Again he checked himself.

'What?'

'No. I'll keep to my resolution.'

He had nearly reached the threshold. She saw what she had lost by her
momentary lack of that boasted self-control. She forestalled him at the
door.

'What resolution?' she asked.

He looked down at her an instant, clothed from head to foot in that
indefinable armour of unapproachableness. This was a man who asked other
people questions, himself ill-accustomed to be catechised. If he replied
it was a grace.

'I came here,' he said, 'under considerable pressure, to speak of the
future. Not to reopen the past.'

'The future and the past are one,' said the woman at the door.

'You talk as if that old madness was mine alone; it is the woman's way.'

'I know,' she agreed, to his obvious surprise, 'and it's not fair. Men
suffer as well as we by the woman's starting wrong. We are taught to
think the man a sort of demi-god. If he tells her, "Go down into hell,"
down into hell she goes.'

He would not have been human had he not resented that harsh summary of
those days that lay behind.

'Make no mistake,' he said. 'Not the woman alone. _They go down
together._'

'Yes, they go down together. But the man comes up alone. As a rule. It
is more convenient so--_for him_. And even for the other woman.'

Both pairs of eyes went to Jean's door.

'My conscience is clear,' he said angrily. 'I know--and so do you--that
most men in my position wouldn't have troubled themselves. I gave myself
endless trouble.'

She looked at him with wondering eyes. 'So you've gone about all these
years feeling that you'd discharged every obligation?'

'Not only that. I stood by you with a fidelity that was nothing short of
Quixotic. If, woman-like, you _must_ recall the past, I insist on your
recalling it correctly.'

'You think I don't recall it correctly?' she said very low.

'Not when you make--other people believe that I deserted you!' The
gathering volume of his righteous wrath swept the cool precision out of
his voice. 'It's a curious enough charge,' he said, 'when you stop to
consider----' Again he checked himself, and, with a gesture of
impatience, was for sweeping the whole thing out of his way, including
that figure at the door.

But she stood there. 'Well, when we do just for five minutes out of ten
years--when we do stop to consider----'

'We remember it was _you_ who did the deserting. And since you had to
rake the story up, you might have had the fairness to tell the facts.'

'You think "the facts" would have excused you?'

It was a new view. She left the door, and sat down in the nearest chair.

'No doubt you've forgotten the facts, since Lady John tells me you
wouldn't remember my existence once a year, if the papers didn't----'

'Ah!' she interrupted, with a sorry little smile, 'you minded that!'

'I mind your giving false impressions,' he said with spirit. As she was
about to speak he advanced upon her. 'Do you deny'--he bent over her,
and told off those three words by striking one clenched fist into the
palm of the other hand--'do you deny that you returned my letters
unopened?'

'No,' she said.

'Do you deny that you refused to see me, and that when I persisted you
vanished?'

'I don't deny any of those things.'

'Why'--he stood up straight again, and his shoulders grew more square
with justification--'why I had no trace of you for years.'

'I suppose not.'

'Very well, then.' He walked away. 'What could I do?'

'Nothing. It was too late to do anything.'

'It wasn't too late! You knew, since you "read the papers," that my
father died that same year. There was no longer any barrier between us.'

'Oh, yes, there was a barrier.'

'Of your own making, then.'

'I had my guilty share in it, but the barrier'--her voice trembled on
the word--'the barrier was your invention.'

'The only barrier I knew of was no "invention." If you had ever known my
father----'

'Oh, the echoes! the echoes!' She lay back in the chair. 'How often you
used to say, if I "knew your father." But you said, too'--her voice
sank--'you called the greatest "barrier" by another name.'

'What name?'

So low that even he could hardly hear she answered, 'The child that was
to come.'

'That was before my father died,' Stonor returned hastily, 'while I
still hoped to get his consent.'

She nodded, and her eyes were set like wide doors for memory to enter
in.

'How the thought of that all-powerful personage used to terrorize me!
What chance had a little unborn child against "the last of the great
feudal lords," as you called him?'

'You _know_ the child would have stood between you and me.'

'I know the child did stand between you and me.'

He stared at her. With vague uneasiness he repeated, '_Did_ stand----'

She seemed not to hear. The tears were running down her rigid face.

'Happy mothers teach their children. Mine had to teach me----'

'You talk as if----'

'----teach me that a woman may do that for love's sake that shall kill
love.'

Neither spoke for some seconds. Fearing and putting from him fuller
comprehension, he broke the silence, saying with an air of finality--

'You certainly made it plain you had no love left for me.'

'I had need of it all for the child.' Her voice had a curious crooning
note in it.

He came closer. He bent down to put the low question, 'Do you mean,
then, that after all--it lived?'

'No. I mean that it was sacrificed. But it showed me no barrier is so
impassable as the one a little child can raise.'

It was as if lightning had flashed across the old picture. He drew back
from the fierce illumination.

'Was _that_ why you----' he began, in a voice that was almost a whisper.
'Was that why?'

She nodded, speechless a moment for tears. 'Day and night there it was
between my thought of you and me.'

He sat down, staring at her.

'When I was most unhappy,' she went on, in that low voice, 'I would wake
thinking I heard it cry. It was my own crying I heard, but I seemed to
have it in my arms. I suppose I was mad. I used to lie there in that
lonely farmhouse pretending to hush it. It was so I hushed myself.'

'I never knew----'

'I didn't blame you. You couldn't risk being with me.'

'You agreed that, for both our sakes----'

'Yes, you had to be very circumspect. You were so well known. Your
autocratic father, your brilliant political future----'

'Be fair. Our future--as I saw it then.'

'Yes, everything hung on concealment. It must have looked quite simple
to you. You didn't know the ghost of a child that had never seen the
light, the frail thing you meant to sweep aside and forget'--she was on
her feet--'_have_ swept aside and forgotten!--you didn't know it was
strong enough to push you out of my life.' With an added intensity, 'It
can do more!' she said. She leaned over his bowed figure and whispered,
'It can push that girl out!' As again she stood erect, half to herself
she added, 'It can do more still.'

'Are you threatening me?' he said dully.

'No, I am preparing you.'

'For what?'

'For the work that must be done. Either with your help or that girl's.'

The man's eyes lifted a moment.

'One of two things,' she said--'either her life, and all she has, given
to this new Service; or a ransom if I give her up to you.'

'I see. A price. Well----?'

She looked searchingly at him for an instant, and then slowly shook her
head.

'Even if I could trust you to pay the price,' she said, 'I'm not sure
but what a young and ardent soul as faithful and as pure as hers--I'm
not sure but I should make a poor bargain for my sex to give that up for
anything you could do.'

He found his feet like a man roused out of an evil dream to some reality
darker than the dream. 'In spite of your assumption, she may not be your
tool,' he said.

'You are horribly afraid she is! But you are wrong. She's an instrument
in stronger hands than mine. Soon my little personal influence over her
will be merged in something infinitely greater. Oh, don't think it's
merely I that have got hold of Jean Dunbarton.'

'Who else?'

'The New Spirit that's abroad.'

With an exclamation he turned away. And though his look branded the idea
for a wild absurdity, sentinel-like he began to pace up and down a few
yards from Jean's door.

'How else,' said the woman, 'should that inexperienced girl have felt
the new loyalty and responded as she did?'

'"New," indeed!' he said under his breath, 'however little "loyal."'

'Loyal, above all. But no newer than electricity was when it first lit
up the world. It had been there since the world began--waiting to do
away with the dark. _So has the thing you're fighting._'

'The thing I'm fighting'--and the violence with which he spoke was only
in his face and air; he held his voice down to its lowest register--'the
thing I'm fighting is nothing more than one person's hold upon a highly
sensitive imagination. I consented to this interview with the hope'--he
made a gesture of impotence.

'It only remains for me to show her that your true motive is revenge.'

'Once say that to her, and you are lost.'

He stole an uneasy look at the woman out of a face that had grown
haggard.

'If you were fighting for that girl only against me, you'd win,' she
said. 'It isn't so--and you will fail. The influence that has hold of
her is in the very air. No soul knows where it comes from, except that
it comes from the higher sources of civilization.'

'I see the origin of it before my eyes!'

'As little as you see the beginnings of life. This is like the other
mysterious forces of Mother Earth. No warning given--no sign. A night
wind passes over the brown land, and in the morning the fields are
green.'

His look was the look of one who sees happiness slipping away. 'Or it
passes over gardens like a frost,' he said, 'and the flowers die.'

'I know that is what men fear. It even seems as if it must be through
fear that your enlightenment will come. The strangest things make you
men afraid! That's why I see a value in Jean Dunbarton far beyond her
fortune.'

He looked at her dully.

'More than any other girl I know--if I keep her from you, that gentle,
inflexible creature could rouse in men the old half-superstitious
fear----'

'Fear! Are you mad?'

'Mad!' she echoed. 'Unsexed'--those are the words to-day. In the Middle
Ages men cried out 'Witch!' and burnt her--the woman who served no man's
bed or board.

'You want to make the poor child believe----'

'She sees for herself we've come to a place where we find there's a
value in women apart from the value men see in them. You teach us not to
look to you for some of the things we need most. If women must be freed
by women, we have need of such as----' Her eyes went to the door that
Stonor still had an air of guarding. 'Who knows--she may be the new Joan
of Arc.'

He paused, and for that moment he seemed as bankrupt in denunciation as
he was in hope. This personal application of the new heresy found him
merely aghast, with no words but 'That _she_ should be the sacrifice!'

'You have taught us to look very calmly on the sacrifice of women,' was
the ruthless answer. 'Men tell us in every tongue, it's "a necessary
evil."'

He stood still a moment, staring at the ground.

'One girl's happiness--against a thing nobler than happiness for
thousands--who can hesitate? _Not Jean._'

'Good God! can't you see that this crazed campaign you'd start her
on--even if it's successful, it can only be so through the help of men?
What excuse shall you make your own soul for not going straight to the
goal?'

'You think we wouldn't be glad,' she said, 'to go straight to the goal?'

'I do. I see you'd much rather punish me and see her revel in a morbid
self-sacrifice.'

'You say I want to punish you only because, like other men, you won't
take the trouble to understand what we do want--or how determined we are
to have it. You can't kill this New Spirit among women.' She went
nearer. 'And you couldn't make a greater mistake than to think it finds
a home only in the exceptional or the unhappy. It is so strange to see a
man like you as much deluded as the Hyde Park loafers, who say to
Ernestine Blunt, "Who's hurt _your_ feelings?" Why not realize'--she
came still closer, if she had put out her hand she would have touched
him--'this is a thing that goes deeper than personal experience? And
yet,' she said in a voice so hushed that it was full of a sense of the
girl on the other side of the door, 'if you take only the narrowest
personal view, a good deal depends on what you and I agree upon in the
next five minutes.'

'You recommend my realizing the larger issues. But in your ambition to
attach that poor girl to the chariot-wheels of Progress'--his voice put
the drag of ironic pomposity upon the phrase--'you quite ignore the fact
that people fitter for such work, the men you look to enlist in the end,
are ready waiting'--he pulled himself up in time for an anti-climax--'to
give the thing a chance.'

'Men are ready! What men?'

His eyes evaded hers. He picked his words. 'Women have themselves to
blame that the question has grown so delicate that responsible people
shrink for the moment from being implicated in it.'

'We have seen the shrinking.'

'Without quoting any one else, I might point out that the New Antagonism
seems to have blinded you to the small fact that I for one am not an
opponent.'

'The phrase has a familiar ring. We have heard it four hundred and
twenty times.'

His eyes were shining with anger. 'I spoke, if I may say so, of some one
who would count. Some one who can carry his party along with him--or
risk a seat in the cabinet over the issue.'

'Did you mean you are "ready" to do that?' she exclaimed.

'An hour ago I was.'

'Ah! an hour ago!'

'Exactly! You don't understand men. They can be led; they can't be
driven. Ten minutes before you came into the room I was ready to say I
would throw in my political lot with this Reform.'

'And now?'

'Now you block my way by an attempt at coercion. By forcing my hand you
give my adherence an air of bargain-driving for a personal end. Exactly
the mistake of the ignorant agitators in Trafalgar Square. You have a
great deal to learn. This movement will go forward, not because of the
agitation outside, but in spite of it. There are men in Parliament who
would have been actively serving the Reform to-day--as actively as so
vast a constitutional change----'

She smiled faintly. 'And they haven't done it because----'

'Because it would have put a premium on breaches of decent behaviour and
defiance of the law!'

She looked at him with an attempt to appear to accept this version. What
did it matter what reasons were given for past failure, if only the
future might be assured? He had taken a piece of crumpled paper from his
pocket and smoothed it out.

'Look here!' He held the telegram before her.

She flushed with excitement as she read. 'This is very good. I see only
one objection.'

'Objection!'

'You haven't sent it.'

'That is your fault.' And he looked as if he thought he spoke the truth.

'When did you write this?'

'Just before you came in--when she began to talk about----'

'Ah, Jean!' Vida gave him back the paper. 'That must have pleased Jean.'

It was a master stroke, the casual giving back, and the invocation of a
pleasure that had been strangled at the birth along with something
greater. Did he see before him again the girl's tear-filled, hopeless
eyes, that had not so much as read the wonderful message, too intent
upon the death-warrant of their common happiness? He threw himself
heavily into a chair, staring at the closed door. Behind it, in a prison
of which this woman held the key, Jean waited for her life sentence.
Stonor's look, his attitude, seemed to say that he too only waited now
to hear it. He dropped his head in his hand.

When Vida spoke, it was without raising her eyes from the ground.

'I could drive a hard-and-fast bargain with you; but I think I won't. If
love and ambition both urge you on, perhaps----' She looked up a little
defiantly, seeming to expect to meet triumph in his face. Instead, her
eye took in the profound hopelessness of the bent head, the slackness of
the big frame, that so suddenly had assumed a look of age. She went over
to him silently, and stood by his side. 'After all,' she said, 'life
hasn't been quite fair to you.' At the new thing in her voice he raised
his heavy eyes. 'You fall out of one ardent woman's dreams into
another's,' she said.

'Then you don't--after all, you don't mean to----'

'To keep you and her apart? No.'

For the first time tears came into his eyes.

After a little silence he held out his hand. 'What can I do for you?'

She seemed not to see the hand he offered. Or did she only see that it
was empty? She was looking at the other. Mere instinct made him close
his left hand more firmly on the message.

It was as if something finer than her slim fingers, the woman's
invisible antennæ, felt the force that would need be overcome if trial
of strength should be precipitated then. Upon his 'What can I do?' she
shook her head.

'For the real you,' he said. 'Not the Reformer, or the would-be
politician--for the woman I so unwillingly hurt.' As she only turned
away, he stood up, detaining her with a hold upon her arm. 'You may not
believe it, but now that I understand, there is almost nothing I
wouldn't do to right that old wrong.'

'There's nothing to be done,' she said; and then, shrinking under that
look of almost cheerful benevolence, 'You can never give me back my
child.'

More than at the words, at the anguish in her face, his own had changed.

'Will that ghost give you no rest?' he said.

'Yes, oh, yes.' She was calm again. 'I see life is nobler than I knew.
There is work to do.'

On her way to the great folding doors, once again he stopped her.

'Why should you think that it's only you these ten years have taught
something to? Why not give even a man credit for a willingness to learn
something of life, and for being sorry--profoundly sorry--for the pain
his instruction has cost others? You seem to think I've taken it all
quite lightly. That's not fair. All my life, ever since you disappeared,
the thought of you has hurt. I would give anything I possess to know
you--were happy again.'

'Oh, happiness!'

'Why shouldn't you find it still?'

He said it with a significance that made her stare, and then?--

'I see! she couldn't help telling you about Allen Trent--Lady John
couldn't!'

He ignored the interpretation.

'You're one of the people the years have not taken from, but given more
to. You are more than ever----You haven't lost your beauty.'

'The gods saw it was so little effectual, it wasn't worth taking away.'

She stood staring out into the void. 'One woman's mishap--what is that?
A thing as trivial to the great world as it's sordid in most eyes. But
the time has come when a woman may look about her and say, What general
significance has my secret pain? Does it "join on" to anything? And I
find it _does_. I'm no longer simply a woman who has stumbled on the
way.' With difficulty she controlled the shake in her voice. 'I'm one
who has got up bruised and bleeding, wiped the dust from her hands and
the tears from her face--and said to herself not merely: Here's one
luckless woman! but--here is a stone of stumbling to many. Let's see if
it can't be moved out of other women's way. And she calls people to come
and help. No mortal man, let alone a woman, _by herself_, can move that
rock of offence. But,' she ended with a sudden sombre flare of
enthusiasm, 'if _many_ help, Geoffrey, the thing can be done.'

He looked down on her from his height with a wondering pity.

'Lord! how you care!' he said, while the mist deepened before his eyes.

'Don't be so sad,' she said--not seeming to see his sadness was not for
himself. It was as if she could not turn her back on him this last time
without leaving him comforted. 'Shall I tell you a secret? Jean's ardent
dreams needn't frighten you, if she has a child. _That_--from the
beginning it was not the strong arm--it was the weakest, the little,
little arms that subdued the fiercest of us.'

He held out a shaking hand, so uncertain, that it might have been
begging pity, or it might have been bestowing it. Even then she did not
take it, but a great gentleness was in her face as she said--

'You will have other children, Geoffrey; for me there was to be only
one. Well, well,' she brushed the tears away, 'since men have tried, and
failed to make a decent world for the little children to live in, it's
as well some of us are childless. Yes,' she said quietly, taking up the
hat and cloak, '_we_ are the ones who have no excuse for standing aloof
from the fight!'

Her hand was on the door.

'Vida!'

'What?'

'You forgot something.'

She looked back.

He was signing the message. '_This_,' he said.

She went out with the paper in her hand.


       *       *       *       *       *


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[beginning of moved advertising]

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       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully
as possible, including obsolete and variant spellings. Obvious
typographical errors in punctuation (misplaced quotes and the
like) have been corrected. Corrections [in brackets] in the
text are noted below:

page 7: hyphen removed

    about that long'--he measured less than an inch on his minute
    fore-finger[hyphen removed]--'with long holes through so they

page 9: typographical error corrected

    refusal to let attenion[attention] go was mitigated by something
    in the quietness,

page 17: hyphen removed

    'Why?' said Mr. Freddy, sticking in his eye-glass.[hyphen removed]

page 36: hyphen added

    kept watching with a kind of half-absent-[hyphen added]minded scorn

page 102: quotation typographical error corrected

    Dr. Pankhurst and Mr. Jacob Bright passed a second reading."[']

page 105: quotation typographical error corrected

    next monster petition to Parliament asking for Woman's Suffrage."[']

page 110: typographical error corrected

    the vivid scarlet lips; almost spleepy[sleepy] the heavy-lidded eyes.

page 125: quotation typographical error corrected

    Those of you who want to see women free, hold up your hands."[']

page 248: typographical error corrected
    'We got a gryte deal to do with our wgyes[wyges], we women has.

page 250: quotation typographical error corrected

    'Why didn't you stay where I left you?"['] he answered, without

page 252: added single quotation mark

    a rich chuckle. 'She's a educatin' of us![']

page 258: added double quotation mark

    "Look at this big crowd. W'y, we're all _men_! If the
    women want the vote, w'y ain't they here to s'y so?["] Well,
    I'll tell you w'y. It's because they've 'ad to get

page 260: typographical error corrected

    in a turtle-esque fashion highty[highly] provocative,

page 265: quotation typographical error corrected

    whose crime is, they ask for the vote?'["] But try as I would,

page 292: typographical error corrected

    Stonor as he came in seemed to take no acccount[account] of those

page 299: typographical error corrected

    for that moment he semed[seemed] as bankrupt in denunciation





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operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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