In "Mrs. Maxon Protests" Hope has presented with his usual brilliancy a study of the false position incurred by a thoroughly good woman when she defies fundamental conventionalities. Mrs. Maxon's marriage is a failure, so is her attempt to find satisfaction outside the marriage tie. And, as she exclaims, "If both orthodoxy and unorthodoxy go wrong, what is a poor human woman to do?" Mr. Hawkins' answer to this provides an interesting examination of the complexities of the divorce and separation question, and although he attempts no definite solution, his discussion exploits many suggestive theories of social philosophy. He touches a fundamental factor for solution when one of his characters remarks: "That's to some extent like the woman question—are we to change the law or the people first? Hope a better law will make better people, or tell the people they can't have a better law till they're better themselves?" The two quotations are inevitably two questions—because the book itself is precisely a long and brilliantly expressed question.
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Mrs. Maxon Protests
Anthony Hope – His Life And Work
Mrs. Maxon Protests
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
By Frederick Taber Cooper
It is a sufficiently pleasant task to undertake to write a brief appreciation of Mr. Anthony Hope. The prevailing urbanity of his manner, the sustained sparkle of his wit, the agreeable expectation that he arouses of something stimulating about to happen, largely disarm criticism. Besides, he does not seem to demand to be taken too seriously; he is not a preacher or reformer, he is not trying to revolutionize the world; he is too well pleased with men and women as they actually are, to desire to make them something different. In short, he is a suave and charming public entertainer, and like all wise entertainers he alters the character of his program in accordance with the fluctuations of public taste. And being both versatile and farsighted he is usually in the van of each new movement. The God in the Car, his story of gigantic land speculations in South Africa, with the Herculean figure whom he chooses to disguise under the name of " Juggernaut," appeared in 1894, thus antedating by five years The Colossus, by Morley Roberts. Phroso, with its romantic setting among the islands of modern Greece, anticipated by a year Mr. E. F. Benson's analogous attempts, The Vintage and The Capsina. When the revival of the English historical novel was at its height, he succeeded once more in coming in ahead of his competitors, and Simon Dale, which appeared in 1898 and is a study of Restoration manners, with Nell Gwynn for its central interest, led the way for The Orange Girl by Sir Walter Besant, issued in 1899, and F. Frankfort Moore's Nell Gwynn, Comedian, which was not published until 1900.
But although he so cleverly adapts himself to the trend of public taste, Mr. Anthony Hope is not an innovator; he adapts but does not originate. Yet it is no uncommon thing to hear him erroneously praised for having created two new and widely popular types of fiction, the Zenda type and that of The Dolly Dialogues. Now, The Prisoner of Zenda, as we remember at once when we stop to think, is not the first up-to-date sword and buckler story of an imaginary principality; it was preceded, by nearly a decade, by Stevenson's Prince Otto; and the only reason that it so often gets the credit of being the forerunner of its class is simply because it was done with a defter, lighter touch, a more spontaneous inspiration. Similarly, The Dolly Dialogues are not the first attempt to imitate in English the sparkle and the piquancy of the Gallic dialogue in the form that " Gyp " and Henri Lavedan have made familiar. Although it is quite likely that at that time Anthony Hope had never even heard of it, The Story of the Gadsbys had at least three years the start of The Dolly Dialogues, and even though it was done with a heavier hand, it succeeded in getting a greater effectiveness out of the type.
But, after all, statistics of this sort, while interesting to a person of precise and inquiring mind, have little or no bearing upon the sources of enjoyment which a surprisingly large number of people undoubtedly find in Mr. Hope's writings. And there is variety enough among them to suit all tastes. He began in a spirit of blithe and irresponsible romanticism; he has gradually come, in his later years, to look upon life in a rather matter-of-fact way and to picture, by choice, the more serious problems of life in the social world to which he belongs. Yet his novels, even the most ambitious of them, never suggest the ponderousness of a novel-with-a-purpose; he never forgets what is expected from a conscientious entertainer. And one reason why he so uniformly succeeds is that he is an exceedingly good craftsman; he has mastered the sheer mechanics of his art. It is never wise for a novelist, whatever his literary creed may be, to be wantonly scornful of technique. There are just a few erratic geniuses who, because they have in them certain big thoughts that are struggling for utterance and apparently cannot be uttered in the simple usual way, boldly break the established rules and make new ones to suit their needs. To draw an offhand parallel, they are somewhat in the position of a man who, although untrained in public speaking, is listened to indulgently because of the importance of what he has to say. But your public entertainer enjoys no such license; and the lighter and more irresponsible his theme the more perfect must be his execution. And it is because Mr. Hope possesses that magic touch of the born story teller, that such delightful triflings as The Dolly Dialogues and The Indiscretion of the Duchess seem to linger in the memory with perennial youth, while many another weightier volume has faded out with the passage of years.
Accordingly, Mr. Hope belongs to that order of novelists about whom it is not only more enjoyable but more profitable to gossip genially than to weigh strictly in the balance. It is so easy to become garrulous over volumes that have worn well and afford many a pleasant hour of relaxation. It would be purposeless to take up serially each one of his many volumes, analyze and pigeonhole it according to its relative value. The better and the franker thing to do is to admit that there are certain volumes by Mr. Hope which gave the present writer genuine pleasure, and certain others that gave him no pleasure at all, and that those falling under the first division are the only ones which it seems worth while to discuss. In his earlier period the mere mention of Anthony Hope conjured up scenes of spirited adventure, reckless daring, gallant heroes combining the good breeding, the patrician ease, the assured manner of the better class of young Englishmen possessing the double advantage of birth and education, who, nevertheless, despite their studied reserve and immaculateness of dress, are plunged by a whim of fate into adventures of extraordinary daring and sublime audacity, adventures that would have taxed the prowess of Dumas's Immortal Three. It is a clever formula, this trick of taking certain types of familiar everyday people straight out of prosaic actuality and compelling them, whether they will or no, to perform romantic deeds against a romantic background. This peculiar combination was certainly a happy thought. It appealed to that latent thirst for adventure which we almost all possess; it unconsciously flattered the reader with a new sense of daring, a feeling that he too, if thus suddenly and surprisingly transported into Zendaland, might similarly rise to the occasion and achieve great deeds. There is no purpose served by analyzing once again the story of The Prisoner of Zenda. It is one of those stories the artificiality of which stands out glaringly the moment one starts to lay its bones bare.
Any story which depends upon the chance resemblance of two human beings, a resemblance so close, so misleading, that even the wife of one of the two is at a loss to distinguish them, takes on, when stated briefly, apart from the glamour of the tale itself, an air of palpable falsity to life. And yet the fact remains that tens of thousands of readers have lost themselves, forgotten time and space, in their utter absorption in the dilemma of the Princess Flavia, who finds in Rudolph Rassendyl all the qualities which might have made it possible for her to love her husband, if only he had been as close a replica of Rassendyl morally as he was physically.
I do not mind admitting that personally I revert more frequently to The Dolly Dialogues than to any other volume by Mr. Hope. This is not merely because of the delicate touch and epigrammatic neatness for which they have been so universally praised. Superficially considered they are a series of encounters between a sparkling and fascinating little lady and a sedate and nimble-witted gentleman, whom it is insinuated that the Lady Dolly has jilted. Now, the real fascination about these brilliant exchanges of repartee lies chiefly in the subtle and yet elusive implications that we are always on the point of reading between the lines, and yet never quite get in their entirety. That Mr. Carter has long been a worshiper at the shrine of Lady Dolly, that he has many a time felt a pang of regret that his fortune in life has made him ineligible, that he considers her husband not half grateful enough to Providence and that his own assumed air of sentimental resignation has in it a little touch of genuine regret, all this we get pretty clearly. And yet, we are well aware, all the time, that Mr. Carter, in spite of an occasional twinge of envy, would not change his condition if he could; that, although he may not be precisely aware of it, he is already confirmed in his bachelor habits; that he likes his freedom from responsibility, his harmless, unprofitable daily routine, his favorite corner in his favorite club, his innocent philandering with various young women, married and unmarried. He may, at times, deceive the Lady Dolly into commiserating him and blaming herself as a thoughtless coquette, but never for very long at a time. The whole thing is a sort of grown-up game of make-believe in which the players get a curious transitory, almost illogical enjoyment in feigning broken hearts and blighted lives. And yet there is just enough truth underlying it all to suggest that Mr. Hope was capable of more serious work than he had yet done. There was, for instance, everywhere a pervading suggestion of the infinite number of contradictory motives and impulses that determine every human action, and the impossibility which every man and woman must admit to themselves of deciding just how much gladness and how much regret is entailed in every least little thing that they do.
Almost without warning Mr. Hope proved that the vague promise of more serious work was well founded, by producing what, I think, the sober judgment of posterity will recognize as his most ambitious and most enduring work, Quisante. Alexander Quisante, from whom the volume takes its name, is not an Englishman either by birth or ancestry. He comes of antecedents almost unknown beyond the fact that they are a mixture of French and Spanish. With scanty means he comes, an absolute outsider, preparing to lay siege to the political and social world of London. In every way he finds himself handicapped. The foreordained course of education through which the English ruling classes pass as a matter of course and by which their prejudices and points of view are determined, has not been his privilege. In addition to this he lacks that inborn refinement which sometimes makes up for good breeding and social experience. His taste is often exceedingly bad; his manner is alternately too subservient and too arrogant. Of the higher standards of morality he has no perception; he is the typical adventurer, unscrupulous, insincere, monumentally selfish. But, to offset all this, his intellect is quite extraordinary; his brain is an instrument marvelously under control, and he uses it at his pleasure, to bring the lesser intellects about him under his dominion. Above all, he has the gift of eloquence; and when he chooses to give full rein to his rhetorical powers, he can sway his audience at will, and thrill and sweep them with him through the whole gamut of human emotions. Of the men and women whom he meets, fully one-half are antagonized and repelled; the others give him an unquestioning, almost slavish devotion. But he has a personality which cannot leave negative results; it must breed love or hate.
The other character in the book who shares the central interest is Lady May Gaston, a woman who, by birth and training, participates in all those special privileges of rank and caste, all the traditions of her order from which Quisante is shut out. There is another man, one in her own class, who would be glad to make her his wife. He is in all respects the sort of man whom she is expected to marry; and she is not wholly indifferent to him. But she meets Quisante, and, from the first, comes under the spell of his dominant personality. There is much in him from which she shrinks. His social ineptitude, his faculty for doing the wrong thing, or the right thing at the wrong time, makes her shudder. Although fascinated, she is not blinded. She sees his vulgarities, she questions his sincerity, she even doubts whether he is deserving of her respect. Nevertheless, the spectacular, flamboyant brilliancy of the man dominates her better judgment, and in spite of her relatives' remonstrances, in spite of warnings from a member of Quisante's own family, she marries him, unable to resist the almost hypnotic spell cast over her by this man, who is something of a charlatan and something of a cad. The greater part of the book concerns itself with the story of the married life of this curiously ill-assorted couple; of his success in the public eye; of her gradual disillusionment, which, bitter though it is in its completeness, finds her somewhat apathetic, unable to feel the resentment that she knows she ought, unable to acknowledge that she regrets her choice. This, indeed, is the most interesting aspect of the book, the domination, mentally and morally, of a woman of rare sensitiveness and infinite possibilities by a man with whom companionship inevitably means deterioration.
The next of Mr. Anthony Hope's volumes, which personally appealed to the present writer, is entitled A Servant of the Public, and is enjoyable chiefly because of the tantalizing witchery of its heroine. Ora Pinsent is a young actress, who has taken London by storm. She has a husband somewhere, it is said, " whose name does not matter "; indeed, it matters so little that it does not prevent her from letting Ashley Mead make ardent love to her, one Sunday afternoon, though all the while she " preserves wonderfully the air of not being responsible for the thing, of neither accepting nor rejecting, of being quite passive, of having it just happen to her." Thus with a single pen stroke Mr. Hope has set the woman unmistakably before us. Throughout the book she practices the art of having things just happen to her, the art of dodging responsibility. With Ashley she drifts, dangerously one thinks, at first, until one sees how easily she checks his ardor when she chooses, with a nervous laugh, and a low whispered " Don't, don't make love to me any more now." She talks much solemn nonsense about her duty to the husband whose name does not matter, and about her intention to renounce Ashley, although one realizes that there is really nothing to renounce, nor ever will be. And when the time comes for her company to leave London and start on their American tour, here also she plays the passive role, neither accepting nor rejecting. It is only when the weary months of her absence are over and she comes back as the wife of her leading man, that Ashley begins to see her as she really is; only then that he feels her power over him has ceased; only then that he can say, " I no longer love her, but I wish to God I did! " It is not easy to convey an impression of a woman's charm, when it lies not in what she says, but in the way she says it; not in what she does, but in the way she does it. But this is precisely what Anthony Hope has done triumphantly in his portraiture of Ora Pinsent, Ora, with her upturned face, with its habitual expression of expecting to be kissed, is one of the heroines in contemporary fiction that will not easily be forgotten.
Helena's Path deserves something more than a passing word of commendation, for it is an excellent example of Mr. Hope's deftness in doing a very slight thing extremely well. It has an outward framework of actuality, the atmosphere of present day English country life; yet into this he has infused a certain spirit of old-time chivalry and homage that gives to his whole picture something of the grace and charm of a Watteau landscape. The whole theme of the volume, which is scarcely more than a novelette, concerns itself with a right of way. The hero's estates lie somewhere on the east coast of England; but between his land and the strip of beach where he and his fathers before him have for generations been in the habit of bathing lies the property which the heroine has recently purchased; and, unaware of any right of way, she closes up the gate through which it is his habit to pass for his daily swim. He writes courteously but firmly, insisting on his right. She answers in the same spirit, emphatically denying it. He refuses to be robbed of his legal rights, even by a pretty woman; she refuses to yield, at a command, what she would have graciously granted to a prayer. As neither side chooses to adopt legal measures, a state of mimic war ensues, in which he continues to invade the enemy's territory, while she continues to barricade and entrench. And all the while, although they have not once met face to face, each is quietly falling in love with the other, so that when finally honorable terms of peace are concluded, it is already a foregone conclusion that the whole dainty little comedy will end with oaths of fealty and bestowal of favors worthy of a knight and a lady of the olden times.
With the passage of years, however, the author of The Dotty Dialogues has tended to give us fewer and fewer of these dainty trifles and more and more of his serious and careful social studies. In this class belongs The Great Miss Driver, and there is no exaggeration in saying that since the publication of Quisante it is easily the biggest, best-rounded, and altogether worthiest book he has written. And yet, the first thing you are apt to think of is that the germ idea of the story goes straight back to The Dolly Dialogues; that in a superficial way, yes, and perhaps in a deeper way, too, there is a certain rather absurd similarity between them; just as though the author, having once made a pleasant little comedy out of a certain situation, had ever since been turning over in his mind the possibility of using it in a bigger and more serious way, until eventually he evolved the present volume. Not that Jennie Driver, heiress to Breysgate Priory, bears any close resemblance to Lady Mickleham beyond the very feminine desire for conquest, any more than the Mr. Austin of the one story is a close relative of Mr. Carter in the other. The resemblance lies in this, that both stories are told in the first person by the man who in his secret heart loves the woman of whom he writes, but knows that because he is poor, because he has the natural instinct of an old bachelor, because, also, she has given her heart elsewhere, he must remain content to look upon her joys and sorrows in the capacity of a friend, and not that of a lover. To this extent The Great Miss Driver may be defined as The Dolly Dialogues rendered in a different tempo.
Yet, such a definition gives no hint of the strength, the variety, the vital interest of this story. In the character of Jennie Driver Mr. Hope has given us a woman whose ruling passion is to hold sway, to fascinate and bend to her will every one who comes within her sphere. And because of this desire she can never bear to lose the allegiance of any man, no matter how mean and unworthy he has proved himself; and herein lies the source of her life's tragedy. She is not content to be merely the richest woman in the county, to play the part of Lady Bountiful, and build memorials and endow institutions with fabulous sums; she wants also to be a social leader with undisputed right to take precedence over all the other ladies of the community, and this she could do if she married Lord Fillingford, whom she respects, and who badly needs her fortune; but not if she should marry Leonard Octon, big, brusque, rather brutal, who is cut by the whole county, and whom she happens to love. It is a rather unique situation in fiction for a woman to be forced into publicly slighting the one man on earth that she cares for; still more unique for a woman who is pledged to marry one man to be secretly meeting the other man, and thus atoning for deliberately cutting him whenever they meet in public. And, surely, it was a rather audacious thing for Mr. Hope to attempt to make us feel that in spite of her double-dealing Jennie Driver is a rather big and fine and splendid sort of woman; that she would have kept faith with Fillingford had he been big enough to trust her when appearances were heavily against her; and that in defying convention and scandalizing the little world she lives in by fleeing with Octon to Paris, she is doing the one big, brave, inevitable act. Yet, that is precisely what the author does succeed in making us feel; and when because Fate intervenes and wrecks the last chance of Jennie's happiness through the death of Octon, we not only sympathize with her bitterness toward the narrow-minded social circle that had forced her lover into exile, but we also glory with her in the big, carefully planned and altogether adequate revenge by which she forces the county to pay tardy homage to the name of Octon.
Notwithstanding the statement made at the beginning of this chapter, to the effect that Mr. Anthony Hope does not write problem novels, the volume entitled Mrs. Maxon Protests comes critically near the border-line. Mrs. Maxon is simply one more young woman who has discovered marriage to be something vastly different from what she had imagined; and her difficulty is of the variety which she regards as almost humiliatingly commonplace namely, incompatibility. Her husband happens to be one of those narrow, self-satisfied, dictatorial men, with old-fashioned ideas about women in general and a rooted conviction that a man has a high moral responsibility for his wife's conduct and must mould her in all fashions to his own way of thinking. Mrs. Maxon bears the strain for five years; then she consults a lawyer. She learns that while she cannot get a divorce in England, she can leave her husband and he cannot force her to come back. At the time of their separation, or to be more accurate, her desertion of him for Maxon refuses to take the matter seriously there is no other man in her life; but in the weeks that follow during which she stays at the country home of some friends with lax ideas of life and a houseful of curious and often irregular people, she suddenly surprises herself by falling in love with a certain Godfrey Ledstone and promptly scandalizes society by eloping with him openly and unashamed. The rest of the book traces, with a clear-sightedness that Mr. Hope has not always shown in his books, the subsequent career of a woman who thinks that by the force of her own example she can bring the whole world over to her way of thinking. He does not spare us any of her disillusions, her humiliations, her heartache and loneliness. But through it all she is learning, strangely and cruelly learning, much that is exceedingly good for her. She is learning, for instance, that charity and sympathy and understanding are often found where least expected. She is learning, too, that there are many other standards in this world as well as her own and that they are just as reasonable and perhaps nobler. She learns that one of the best men she has ever had the good fortune to meet, loving her, pitying her, utterly disapproving of her, would nevertheless have made her his wife in spite of the scandal that had preceded and followed her divorce but for one reason: he is an army officer, and a woman with a taint upon her name would lower the social tone of his regiment and be in some degree a menace to the moral tone of the younger set. It is a temptation to analyze at some length the separate episodes of this rather unusual book throughout the years while Mrs. Maxon is slowly finding her way out of the quagmire of her own making into a belated peace and happiness. Yet, after all, what the book stands for is so admirably summed up in the concluding paragraph that one cannot do it a greater service than to close with one brief quotation. It is a satisfaction to find a book written upon this theme which, while recognizing that there is much to be said on both sides, shows neither vindictiveness toward the woman nor a misplaced championship that would exalt her into a martyr.
In the small circle of those with whom she had shared the issues of destiny she had unsettled much; of a certainty she had settled nothing. Things were just as much in solution as ever; the welter was not abated. Man being imperfect, laws must be made. Man being imperfect, laws must be broken or ever new laws will be made. Winnie Maxon had broken a law and asked a question. When thousands do the like, the Giant, after giving the first comers a box on the ear, may at last put his hand to his own and ponderously consider.
Such are the volumes chosen as a matter of personal preference, out of the generous series that Mr. Hope has so industriously turned out, during a score of years. Another reader's choice might be different, and who shall say whether it would not be as well justified? Because, the first duty of a public entertainer is to entertain; and, taking this for a criterion, the most that any one can say of his own knowledge is, such-and-such volumes have entertained me. It is obvious that Mr. Hope's own preference is for his more serious work, that with the passage of years he has grown more willing to allow the books of his romantic period to fade from sight. Yet, by doing this, he challenges a harder competition, a stricter measurement against a host of rivals. There has been no one to give us a second Prisoner of Zenda, excepting Mr. Hope himself, notwithstanding that many another writer has tried his best. But it would be easy to name a dozen contemporary novelists who could give us the annals of another Servant of the People, or chronicle some further Intrusions of Peggy, and one or two who, perhaps, could do it better. Mr. Hope is not one of the great novelists of his generation; but he is never mediocre, and even in his uninspired moments never dull. His Prisoner of Zenda and his Dolly Dialogues were both gems of the first water; his Quisante certainly suffers nothing by comparison with George Gissing's Charlatan, separated from it by barely a year. As a chronicler of English manners he is certainly of rather more importance than Mr. E. F. Benson or Mr. Maarten Maartens, although not in the same class with Galsworthy, Bennett, or W. H. Maxwell. He will be remembered, I think, somewhat as William Black and Marion Crawford are remembered, as having preserved a wholesome optimism, an unshaken belief in human nature, and as having done his part to keep the tone of the modern novel clean and wholesome.
"Inkpat!" She shot out the word in a bitter playfulness, making it serve for the climax of her complaints.
Hobart Gaynor repeated the word—if it could be called a word—after his companion in an interrogative tone.
"Yes, just hopeless inkpat, and there's an end of it!"
Mrs. Maxon leant back as far as the unaccommodating angles of the office chair allowed, looking at her friend and counsellor with a faint yet rather mischievous smile on her pretty face. In the solicitor's big, high, bare room she seemed both small and very dainty. Her voice had trembled a little, but she made a brave effort at gaiety as she explained her cryptic word.
"When a thing's running in your head day and night, week after week, and month after month, you can't use that great long word you lawyers use. Besides, it's so horribly impartial." She pouted over this undesirable quality.
A light broke on Gaynor, and he smiled.
"Oh, you mean incompatibility?"
"That's it, Hobart. But you must see it's far too long, besides being, as I say, horribly impartial. So I took to calling it by a pet name of my own. That makes it come over to my side. Do you see?"
"Not quite." He smiled still. He had once been in love with Winnie Maxon, and though that state of feeling as regards her was long past, she still had the power to fascinate and amuse him, even when she was saying things which he suspected of being unreasonable. Lawyers have that suspicion very ready for women.
"Oh yes! The big word just means that we can't get on with one another, and hints that it's probably just as much my fault as his. But inkpat means all the one thousand and one unendurable things he does and says to me. Whenever he does or says one, I say invariably, 'Inkpat!' The next moment there's another—'Inkpat!' I really shouldn't have time for the long word even if I wanted to use it."
"You were very fond of him once, weren't you?"
She shrugged her thin shoulders impatiently. "Supposing I was?" Evidently she did not care to be reminded of the fact, if it were a fact. She treated it rather as an accusation. "Does one really know anything about a man before one marries him? And then it's too late."
"Are you pleading for trial trips?"
"Oh, that's impossible, of course."
"Is anything impossible nowadays?" He looked up at the ceiling, his brows raised in protest against the vagaries of the age.
"Anyhow, it's not what we're told. I only meant that having cared once made very little difference really—it comes to count for next to nothing, you know."
"Not a gospel very acceptable to an engaged man, Winnie!"
She reached out her arm and touched his coat-sleeve lightly. "I know, I'm sorry. I'm longing to know your Cicely and be great friends with her. And it's too bad to bother you with the seamy side of it just now. But you're such a friend, and so sensible, and a lawyer too, you see. You forgive me?"
"I'm awfully glad to help, if I can. Could you give me a few—I don't want a thousand and one, but a few—instances of 'inkpat'?"
"That wouldn't be much use. Broadly speaking, inkpat's a demand that a woman should be not what she is, but a sort of stunted and inferior reproduction of the man—what he thinks he would be, if he were a woman. Anything that's not like that gets inkpatted at once. Oh, Hobart, it is horrible! Because it's so utterly hopeless, you know. How can I be somebody else? Above all, somebody like Cyril—only a woman? It's absurd! A Cyrilesque woman! Oh!"
"I don't know him very well, but it certainly does sound absurd. Are you sure you haven't misunderstood? Can't you have an explanation?"
"Inkpat never explains; it never sees that there is anything to explain. It preaches, or lectures, or is sarcastic, or grumbles, or sulks—and I suppose it would swear, if Cyril didn't happen to be so religious. But explain or listen to an explanation—never!"
She rose and walked to one of the tall windows that looked on to Lincoln's Inn Fields. "I declare I envy the raggedest hungriest child playing there in the garden," she said. "At least it may be itself. Didn't God make me just as much as He made Cyril?"
It was high summer, and the grate held nothing more comforting than a dingy paper ornament; yet Hobart Gaynor got up and stood with his back to it, as men are wont to do in moments of perplexity. He perceived that there was not much use in pressing for his concrete cases. If they came, they would individually be, or seem, trifles, no doubt. The accumulation of them was the mischief; that was embraced and expressed in the broad sweep of incompatibility; the two human beings could not keep step together. But he put one question.
"I suppose you've given him no really serious cause for complaint?"
She turned quickly round from the window. "You mean——?"
"Well, I mean, anybody else—er—making friction?"
"Hobart, you know that's not my way! I haven't a man-friend, except you, and my cousin, Stephen Aikenhead—and I very seldom see either of you. And Stephen's married, and you're engaged. That's a ridiculous idea, Hobart."
She was evidently indignant, but Gaynor was not disturbed.
"We lawyers have to suspect everybody," he reminded her with a smile, "and to expect anything, however improbable. So I'll ask now if your husband has any great woman-friend."
"That's just as ridiculous. I could be wicked enough to wish he had. Let somebody else have a try at it!"
"Can't you—somehow—get back to what made you like him at first? Do you understand what I mean?"
"Yes, I do—and I've tried." Her eyes looked bewildered, even frightened. "But, Hobart, I can't realize what it was. Unless it was just his looks—he is very handsome, you know."
"He stands well at the Bar. He's getting on fast, he's very straight, and I don't think he's unpopular, from what I hear."
She caught his hint quickly. "A lot of people will say it's my fault? That I'm unreasonable, and all in the wrong?"
"You'd have to reckon with a good deal of that."
"I don't care what people say."
"Are you sure of that?" he asked quietly. "It's a pretty big claim to make for oneself, either for good or for evil."
"It's only his friends, after all. Because I've got none. Well, I've got you." She came and stood by him. "You're against me, though, aren't you?"
"I admit I think a wife—or a husband—ought to stand a lot."
"It's not as if my baby had lived. I might have gone on trying then. It wouldn't have been just undiluted Cyril."
"That makes some difference, I agree. Still, in the general interest of things——"
"I must be tortured all my life?" Her challenge of the obligation rang out sharply.
With a restless toss of his head, he sat down at his table again. She stood where she was, staring at the dingy ornament in the grate.
"Life the other way mayn't turn out particularly easy. You'll have troubles, annoyances—temptations, perhaps."
"I can face those. I can trust myself, Hobart. Can he prevent my going if I want to?"
"Can he make me come back?"
"No. He can, if he chooses, get a formal order for you to go back, but it won't be enforced. It will only give him a right to a legal separation—not to a divorce, of course—just a separation."
"You're sure they can't make me go back?"
"Oh, quite. That's settled."
"That's what I wanted to be quite clear about." She stepped up to his chair and laid her hand on his shoulder. "You're still against me?"
"Oh, how can I tell? The heart knows its own bitterness—nobody else can."
She pressed his shoulder in a friendly fashion; she was comforted by his half-approval. At least it was not a condemnation, even though it refused the responsibility of sanction.
"Of course he needn't give you any money."
"I've got my own. You got it settled on me and paid to myself."
"It's very little—about a hundred and fifty a year. I want you to look at all sides of the business."
"Of course you're right. But there's only one to me—to get away, away, away!"
"It's just about five years since you came here with your mother—about the marriage-settlement. I thought it rather rough you should come to me, I remember."
"Mother didn't know about the—the sentimental reason against it, Hobart—and it doesn't matter now, does it? And poor mother's beyond being troubled over me."
"Where will you go—if you do go?"
"I am going. I shall stay with the Aikenheads for a bit—till I'm settled on my own."
"Have you hinted anything about it to—him?"
"To Cyril? No. I must tell him. Of course he knows that I'm silly enough to think that I'm unhappy."
"It'll be an awful facer for him, won't it?"
She walked round the table and stood looking at him squarely, yet with a deprecatory droop of her mouth.
"Yes, it will," she said. "Awful! But, Hobart, I not only have no love left, I've no pity left. He has crushed a great deal in me, and he has crushed that with the rest."
Gaynor's hands played feebly with his big pad of blotting-paper.
"That it should happen to you of all people!" he mumbled. His air expressed more than a lament for unhappiness; as well as regretting sorrow, he deplored something distasteful. But Winnie Maxon was deaf to this note; she saw only sympathy.
"That's your old dear kindness for me," she smiled, with tears in her eyes. "You won't turn against me, anyhow, will you, Hobart?"
He stretched out his hand to meet hers. "No, my dear. Didn't I love you once?"
"And I do love your dear round face and your honest eyes. Yes, and the nose you used to be unhappy about—because it was a pug—in those very old days; and if my ship gets wrecked, I know you'll come out with the life-boat. Good-bye now, I'll write to you about it."
The tender note struck at the end of their talk, old-time memories, the echo of her soft pleading voice, availed for some minutes after his visitor's departure to blind Hobart Gaynor's shrewd eyes to the fact that she had really put before him no case that could seem at all substantial in the eyes of the world. To her, no doubt, everything might be as bad, as intolerable and hopeless, as she declared; he did not question her sincerity. But as the personal impression of her faded, his hard common sense asserted forcibly that it all amounted to no more than that she had come not to like her husband; that was the sum of what the world would see in it. May women leave their husbands merely because they have come not to like them? Some people said yes, as he was aware. They were not people whom he respected, nor their theory one which he approved. He was of conservative make in all things, especially in questions of sex. He was now uneasily conscious that but for her personal fascination, but for his old tenderness, her plea would not have extorted even a reluctant semi-assent. The next moment he was denying that he had given even so much. Certainly the world in general—the big, respectable, steady-going world—would not accord her even so much. Talk about being "crushed" or having things crushed in you, needs, in the eyes of this world, a very solid backing of facts—things that can be sworn to in the box, that can be put in the "particulars" of your petition, that can be located, dated, and, if possible, attested by an independent witness. Now Mrs. Maxon did not appear to possess one single fact of this order—or surely she would have been eager to produce it?
Comedians and cynics are fond of exhibiting the spectacle of women hounding down a woman on the one hand, and, on the other, of men betraying their brethren for a woman's favour. No exception can be taken to such presentments; the things happen. But when they are not happening—when jealousy and passion are not in the field—there is another force, another instinct, which acts with powerful effect. The professed students of human nature call it sex-solidarity; it is the instinct of each sex to stand together against the other. This is not a matter of individual liking or disliking; it is sex politics, a conflict between rival hosts, eternally divided. With personal prepossessions and special relations out of the way, the man is for the man, the woman for the woman. As minute followed minute after Mrs. Maxon's departure, it became more and more probable to Hobart Gaynor that Cyril Maxon had something to say for himself. And was not Hobart himself a prospective husband? Too much in love to dream of a like fate befalling his own marriage, he yet felt a natural sympathy for the noble army in which he was so soon to enlist.
"Well, right or wrong, I promised to stand by her, and I will," was his final thought, as he drove himself back to the current business of his office day. Sympathy for Mrs. Maxon mingled in it with a certain vexation at her for having in some sense involved him in so obscure and troublesome a matter. He felt, without actually foreseeing, difficulties that might make his promise hard to keep.
The tendency of personal impressions to lose their power when personal presence is withdrawn did not occur to Mrs. Maxon. As she drove home to Devonshire Street, she comforted herself with the assurance that she had not only kept a friend—as she had—but also secured a partisan. She thought that Hobart Gaynor quite understood her case.
"Rather wonderful of him!" she reflected. "Considering that I refused him, and that he's at this moment in love with Cicely Marshfield."
Her heart grew very warm towards her old friend, so loyal and so forgiving. If she had not refused him? But the temper of her present mood forbade the soft, if sad, conclusion that she had made a mistake. Who really knows anything about a man until she is married to him? And then it is too late. "Don't marry a friend—keep him," was her bitter conclusion. It did not cross her mind that friendship too—a friendship that is to be more than a distant and passive kindliness—must make reckoning with incompatibility.
A Case Of Necessity
Mrs. Maxon's memory of the evening on which she administered to her husband his "awful facer" was capricious. It preserved as much of the preliminary and the accidental as of the real gist of the matter. They dined out at the house of a learned judge. The party was exclusively legal, but the conversation of the young barrister who fell to her lot did not partake of that complexion. Fortune used him in the cause of irony. Much struck by his companion's charms—she was strung up, looked well, and talked with an unusual animation—and by no means imputing to himself any deficiency in the same direction, he made play with a pair of fine dark eyes, descanted jocularly on the loneliness of a bachelor's life, and ventured sly allusions to Mr. Cyril Maxon's blessed lot.
"I hope he knows his luck!" said the young barrister. Well, he would know it soon, at all events, Winnie reflected.
In the drawing-room afterwards, a fat gushing woman gave the other side of it. "We must be better friends, my dear," said she. "And you mustn't be jealous if we all adore your clever, handsome, rising husband."
Such things are the common trivialities of talk. Both the fat woman and the young barrister had happened often before. But their appearance to-night struck on Winnie Maxon's sense of humour—a bitter, twisted humour at this moment. She would have liked to cry "Oh, you fools!" and hurl her decision in her husband's face across the drawing-room. Compliments on our neighbour's private felicity are of necessity attended with some risk. Why are we not allowed to abide on safe ground and say: "I beg leave to congratulate you on the amount of your income and to hope that it may soon be doubled"? Only the ruined could object to that, and treading on their corns is no serious matter.
On the drive home—the judge lived in a remote part of Kensington—Cyril Maxon was perversely and (as it seemed to his wife) incredibly fertile in plans for the days to come. He not only forecast his professional career—there he was within his rights—but he mapped out their joint movements for at least three years ahead—their houses for the summer, their trips abroad, their visits to the various and numerous members of the Maxon clan. He left the future without a stitch of its dark mantle of uncertainty. Luckily he was not a man who needed much applause or even assent; he did not consult; he settled. His long, thoroughly lawyer-like, indisputably handsome and capable profile—he had a habit of talking to his wife without looking at her—chained the attention of her eyes. Was she really equal to a fight with that? A shadowy full-bottomed wig seemed even now to frame the face and to invest it with the power of life and death.
"Then the year after I really do mean to take you to Palestine and Damascus."
Not an idea that even of Cyril Maxon the rude gods might make sport!
"Who knows what'll happen three years hence?" she asked in gay tones, sharply cut off by a gasp in the throat.
"You've a cold?" he asked solicitously. He was not lacking in kindly protective instincts. Yet even his solicitude was peremptory. "I can't have you taking any risks."
"It's nothing," she gasped, now almost sure that she could never go through with her task. Even in kindness he assumed a property so absolute.
The brougham drew up at their house. "Nine-fifteen sharp to-morrow," Cyril told the coachman. That was no less, and no more, certain than Palestine and Damascus. He went through the hall (enlivened with prints of Lord Chancellors surviving and defunct) into his study. She followed, breathing quickly.
"I asked the Chippinstalls to dine next Wednesday. Will you send her a reminder to-morrow morning?" He began to fill his pipe. She shut the door and sat down in a chair in front of the fireplace.
There had always seemed to her something crushing in this workshop of learning, logic, and ambition. To-night the atmosphere was overwhelming; she felt flattened, ground down; she caught for her breath. He had lit his pipe and now glanced at her, puzzled by her silence. "There's nothing else on on Wednesday, is there?"
"Cyril, we're not happy, are we?"
He appeared neither aggrieved nor surprised at her sudden plunge; to her he seemed aggressively patient of the irrational.
"We have our difficulties, like other married couples, I suppose. I hope they will grow less as time goes on."
"That means that I shan't oppose you any more?"
"Our tastes and views will grow into harmony, I hope."
"That mine will grow into harmony with yours?"
He smiled, though grimly. Few men really mind being accused of despotism, since it savours of power. "Is that such a terrible thing to happen to my wife?"
"We're not happy, Cyril."
"Marriage wasn't instituted for the sole purpose of enabling people to enjoy themselves."
"Oh, I don't know what it was instituted for!"
"You can look in your Prayer Book."
Her chin rested on her hands, her white sharp elbows on her knee. The tall, strong, self-reliant man looked at her frail beauty. He was not without love, not without pity, but entirely without comprehension—nor would comprehension have meant pardon. Her implied claim clashed both with his instinct and with his convictions. The love and pity were not of a quality to sustain the shock.
"I wish you'd go and see Attlebury," he went on. Attlebury was, as it were, the keeper of his conscience, an eminent clergyman of extreme High Church views.
"Mr. Attlebury can't prevent me from being miserable. Whenever I complain of anything, you want to send me to Mr. Attlebury!"
"I'm not ashamed of suggesting that you could find help in what he represents on earth."
She gave a faint plaintive moan. Was heaven as well as this great world to be marshalled against her, a poor little creature asking only to be free? So it seemed.
"Or am I to gather that you have become a sceptic?" The sarcasm was heavily marked. "Has a mind like yours the impudence to think for itself?" So she translated his words—and thereby did him no substantial injustice. If his intellect could bend the knee, was hers to be defiant?
"I had hoped," he went on, "that our great sorrow would have made a change in you."
The suggestion seemed to her to be hitting below the belt. She had seen no signs of overwhelming sorrow in him.
"Why?" she asked sharply. "It made none in you, did it?"
"There's no need to be pert."
"When you say it to me, it's wisdom. When I say it to you, it's pertness! Yes, that's always the way. You're perfect already—I must change!"
"This is becoming a wrangle. Haven't we had enough of it?"
"Yes, Cyril, enough for a lifetime, I think." At last she raised her head, and let her hands fall on her lap. "At least I have," she added, looking at him steadily.
He returned her glance for a moment, then turned away and sat down at his writing-table. Several letters had come by the late post, and he began to open them.
He had made her angry; her anger mastered her fears.
"I was brought up to think as you do," she said. "To think that once married was married for ever. I suppose I think so still; and you know I've respected my—my vows. But there are limits. A woman can't be asked to give up everything. She herself—what she owes to herself—must come first—her own life, her own thoughts, her freedom, her rights as a human being."
He was reading a letter and did not raise his eyes from it.
"Those are modern views, I suppose? Old-fashioned folk would call them suggestions of the Devil. But we've had this sort of discussion several times before. Why go over it again? We must agree to differ."
"If you would! But you don't, you can't, you never will. You say that to-night. You'll begin drilling me to your march and cutting me to your pattern again to-morrow morning."
He made no reply at all. He went on reading letters. He had signified that the discussion was at an end. That ended it. It was his way; if he thought enough had been said, she was to say no more. It had happened thus a hundred times—and she had inwardly cried "Inkpat!"
Well, this time—at last—she would show him that the topic was not exhausted. She would speak again, and make him speak. Malice possessed her; she smiled at the grave-faced man methodically dealing with his correspondence. For the first time there came upon her a certain satisfaction in the actual doing of the thing; before, she had dreaded that to her heart, however much she desired the freedom it would bring. To hit back once—once after five long years!
"Oh, about the Chippinstalls," she said. "You can have them, of course, but I shan't be here."
He turned his head quickly round towards her. "Why not?"
"I'm going to the Stephen Aikenheads' to-morrow."
"It's not been your habit to pay visits alone, nor to arrange visits without consulting me. And I don't much care about the atmosphere that reigns at Aikenhead's." He laid down his letters and smiled at her in a constrained fashion. "But I don't want to give you a fresh grievance. I'll stretch a point. How long do you want to be away?"
He was trying to be kind; he actually was stretching a point, for he had often decried the practice of married women—young and pretty married women—going a-visiting without their husbands; and he had just as often expressed grave disapproval of her cousin, Stephen Aikenhead. For him a considerable stretch! Her malice was disarmed. Even a pang of that pity which she had declared crushed to death reached her heart. She stretched out her slim arms to him, rather as one who begs a great boon than as the deliverer of a mortal defiance.
"Cyril, I'm never coming back."
For a full minute he sat silent, looking steadily at her. Incapable as he was of appreciating how she had arrived at, or been driven to, this monstrous decision, yet he had perception enough and experience enough to see that she was sincere in it and set on it; and he knew that she could give effect to it if she chose. In that minute's silence he fought hard with himself; he had a mighty temptation to scold, a still mightier to flout and jeer, to bring his heavy artillery of sarcasm to bear. He resisted and triumphed.
He looked at the clock. It was a quarter-past twelve.
"You'll hardly expect me to deal with such a very important matter at this hour of the night, and without full consideration," he said. "You must know that such separations are contrary to my views, and I hope you know that, in spite of the friction which has arisen, I have still a strong affection for you."
"I shan't change my mind, Cyril. I shan't come back."
He kept the curb on himself. "I really would rather not discuss it without more consideration, Winnie—and I think I have a right to ask you to give it a little more, and to hear what I have to say after reflection. Is that unfair? At least you'll admit it's a serious step?"
"I suppose it's fair," she murmured impatiently. She would have given the world to be able to call it grossly unfair. "But it's no use," she added, almost fierce in her rejection of the idea that her determination might weaken.
"Let us both think and pray," he said gravely. "This visit of yours to the Aikenheads' may be a good thing. It'll give you time to reflect, and there'll be no passing causes of irritation to affect your calmer judgment. Let us treat it as settled that you stay with them for a fortnight—but treat nothing else as settled to-night. One thing more—have you told anybody about this idea?"
"Only Hobart Gaynor. I went and asked him whether I could do it if I wanted to. I told him I meant to do it."
"He'll hold his tongue. Mention it to nobody else, please."
"I won't till—till it's settled." She smiled. "We've actually agreed on one or two things! That's very unusual in our wrangles, Cyril."
He came up to her and kissed her on the forehead. "For God's sake, think! You don't in the least know what it means to you—or to me either."
She drew her head quickly back; a bitter retort was on the tip of her tongue. "Yes—but I know what life with you means!" She did not utter it; there was a pinched weariness in his face which for the moment disarmed her. She sighed disconsolately, turned away from him, and drifted out of the room, her shoulders bent as though by great fatigue.
She had suffered one or two transient pangs of pity; having feared a storm, she had experienced relief at his moderation, but gave him no credit for it. She did not understand how hard it was to him. She was almost inclined to hold it a device—an exhibition (once again exhibited) of how much wiser, more reasonable, and more thoughtful he was than the happy-go-lucky being to whom he was mated. She carried her grievances out of the room on her bowed shoulders—just as heavy as ever, just as insupportable.
The handsome, clever, rising man was left face to face with what he feared and hated most in this world—a failure. He had fallen in love with the pretty body; he had never doubted that he could shape and model the malleable mind. Why not? It was in no way a great or remarkable mind. She was not very talented, nor exceptionally strong-willed, nor even very obstinate. Nor ungoverned, nor ultra-emotional, nor unmoral. She was a woman more than ordinarily attractive, but hardly more than ordinary in other respects. And, looking back on five years, he realized the enormous and constant pains he had taken with her. It had been matter of conscience as well as matter of pride; when the two join forces, what is left to fight them? And they constantly form an alliance. Defeat threatened even this potent confederation—defeat at the hands of one whom he counted little more than a charming wilful child.
Charming? Softer emotions, offspring of memory, suffered a resurrection not in the end charged with much real import. He was of the men who satisfy emotion in order to quiet it; marriage was in his view—and in the view of authorities in which he believed—better than being in love as well as different from it. In the sense appropriate to voluptuaries, he had never been in love at all. What remained, then, to combat his profound distaste and disapproval for all she now advanced, her claims, pretensions, and grievances? In the end two disparate, yet closely allied forces—loyalty to a great cause and hatred of personal defeat. Let him make himself champion of the cause: the two became one. Could heaven and he conjoined succumb to any onslaught?
He faced his theory logically and boldly. "She is my wife. I'm as responsible for her as I am for myself. She may deny that—I can't."
For good or evil, for joy or pain, one flesh, one mind, one spirit, usque in æternum. There was the high uncompromising doctrine.
His wife did not consciously or explicitly dissent from it. As she had told him, she was bred to it. Her plea was simply that, be it right or be it wrong, she could not live up to it. She could observe the prohibitions it implied—she had kept and would keep her restraining vows—but she could no longer fulfil the positive injunctions. If she sought at all for an intellectual or speculative justification, it was as an afterthought, as a plea to conciliate such a friend as Hobart Gaynor, or as a weapon of defence against her husband. To herself her excuse was necessity. If she had given that night the truest account in her power of what she felt, she would have said that she was doing wrong, but that she could not help it. There were limits to human endurance—a fact of which Divine Law, in other matters besides that of marriage, has not been considered by the practice (as apart from the doctrine) of Christendom at large to take adequate account.
"Well, you see, things are rather in solution just now."
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