Read CHAPTER XVIII of The Daughters of Danaus , free online book, by Mona Caird, on ReadCentral.com.

The first break in the unity of the Fullerton family had occurred on the occasion of Hadria’s marriage. The short period that elapsed between that memorable New-Year’s-Eve and the wedding had been a painful experience for Dunaghee. Hadria’s conduct had shaken her brothers’ faith in her and in all womankind. Ernest especially had suffered disillusion. He had supposed her above the ordinary, pettier weaknesses of humanity. Other fellows’ sisters had seemed to him miserable travesties of their sex compared with her. (There was one exception only, to this rule.) But now, what was he to think? She had shattered his faith. If she hadn’t been “so cocksure of herself,” he wouldn’t have minded so much; but after all she had professed, to go and marry, and marry a starched specimen like that!

Fred was equally emphatic. For a long time he had regarded it all as a joke. He shook his head knowingly, and said that sort of thing wouldn’t go down. When he was at length convinced, he danced with rage. He became cynical. He had no patience with girls. They talked for talking’s sake. It meant nothing.

Algitha understood, better than her brothers could understand, how Hadria’s emotional nature had been caught in some strange mood, how the eloquent assurances of her lover might have half convinced her. Algitha’s own experience of proposals set her on the track of the mystery.

“It is most misleading,” she pointed out, to her scoffing brothers. “One would suppose that marrying was the simplest thing in the world nothing perilous, nothing to object to about it. A man proposes to you as if he were asking you for the sixth waltz, only his manner is perfervid. And my belief is that half the girls who accept don’t realize that they are agreeing to anything much more serious.”

“The more fools they!”

“True; but it really is most bewildering. Claims, obligations, all the ugly sides of the affair are hidden away; the man is at his best, full of refinement and courtesy and unselfishness. And if he persuades the girl that he really does care for her, how can she suppose that she cannot trust her future to him if he loves her? And yet she can’t!”

“How can a man suppose that one girl is going to be different from every other girl?” asked Fred.

“Different, you mean, from what he supposes every other girl to be,” Algitha corrected. “It’s his own look-out if he’s such a fool.”

“I believe Hadria married because she was sick of being the family consolation,” said Ernest.

“Well, of course, the hope of escape was very tempting. You boys don’t know what she went through. We all regret her marriage to Hubert Temperley though between ourselves, not more than he regrets it, if I am not much mistaken but it is very certain that she could not have gone on living at home much longer, as things were.”

Fred said that she ought to have broken out after Algitha’s fashion, if it was so bad as all that.

“I think mother would have died if she had,” said the sister.

“Hadria was awkwardly placed,” Fred admitted.

“Do you remember that evening in the garret when we all told her what we thought?” asked Ernest.

Nobody had forgotten that painful occasion.

“She said then that if the worst came to the worst, she would simply run away. What could prevent her?”

“That wretched sister of his!” cried Algitha. “If it hadn’t been for her, the marriage would never have taken place. She got the ear of mother after the engagement, and I am certain it was through her influence that mother hurried the wedding on so. If only there had been a little more time, it could have been prevented. And Henriette knew that. She is as knowing !”

“I wish we had strangled her.”

“I shall never forget,” Algitha went on, “that night when Hadria was taken with a fit of terror it was nothing less and wrote to break off the engagement, and that woman undertook to deliver the letter and lost it, on purpose I am always convinced, and then the favourable moment was over.”

“What made her so anxious for the marriage beats me,” cried Ernest. “It was not a particularly good match from a mercenary point of view.”

“She thought us an interesting family to marry into,” suggested Fred, “which is undeniable.”

“Then she must be greatly disappointed at seeing so little of us!” cried Ernest.

In the early days, Miss Temperley had stayed frequently at the Red House, and Hadria had been cut off from her own family, who detested Henriette.

For a year or more, there had been a fair promise of a successful adjustment of the two incongruous natures in the new conditions. They both tried to keep off dangerous ground and to avoid collisions of will. They made the most of their one common interest, although even here they soon found themselves out of sympathy. Hubert’s instincts were scholastic and lawful, Hadria was disposed to daring innovation. Her bizarre compositions shocked him painfully. The two jarred on one another, in great things and in small. The halcyon period was short-lived. The dream, such as it was, came to an end. Hubert turned to his sister, in his bewilderment and disappointment. They had both counted so securely on the effect of experience and the pressure of events to teach Hadria the desirable lesson, and they were dismayed to find that, unlike other women, she had failed to learn it. Henriette was in despair. It was she who had brought about the ill-starred union. How could she ever forgive herself? How repair the error she had made? Only by devoting herself to her brother, and trying patiently to bring his wife to a wiser frame of mind.

A considerable time had elapsed, during which Hadria saw her brothers and sister only at long intervals. Ernest had become estranged from her, to her great grief. He was as courteous and tender in his manner to her as of yore, but there was a change, not to be mistaken. She had lost the brother of her girlhood for ever. While it bitterly grieved, it did not surprise her. She acknowledged in dismay the inconsistency of her conduct. She must have been mad! The universal similarity in the behaviour of girls, herself included, alarmed her. Was there some external will that drove them all, in hordes, to their fate? Were all the intricacies of event and circumstance, of their very emotion, merely the workings of that ruthless cosmic will by which the individual was hypnotised and ruled?

As usual at critical moments, Hadria had been solitary in her encounter with the elements of Fate. There were conflicts that even her sister knew nothing about, the bewilderments and temptations of a nature hampered in its action by its own voluminous qualities and its caprice.

Her brothers supposed that in a short time Hadria would be “wearing bonnets and a card-case, and going the rounds with an elegant expression like the rest of them.”

How different were the little local facts of life the little chopped-up life that accumulates in odds and ends from moment to moment from the sun-and-smoke vision of early irresponsible days!

Mrs. Fullerton was pleased with the marriage, not merely because Hubert’s father, Judge Temperley, could secure for his son a prosperous career, but because she was so thankful to see a strange, unaccountable girl like Hadria settling quietly down, with a couple of children to keep her out of mischief.

That was what it had come to! Perhaps they calculated a little too surely. Possibly even two children might not keep her entirely out of mischief. Out of what impulse of malice had Fate pitched upon the most essentially mutinous and erratic of the whole brood, for the sedatest rôle? But perhaps Fate, too, had calculated unscientifically. Mischief was always possible, if one gave one’s mind to it. Or was she growing too old to have the spirit for thorough-going devilry? Youth seemed rather an affair of mental outlook than of years. She felt twenty years older since her marriage. She wondered why it was that marriage did not make all women wicked, openly and actively so. If ever there was an arrangement by which every evil instinct and every spark of the devil was likely to be aroused and infuriated, surely the customs and traditions that clustered round this estate constituted that dangerous combination! Hardship, difficulty, tragedy could be faced, but not the humiliating, the degrading, the contemptible. Hadria had her own particular ideas as to what ought to be set down under these headings. Most women, she found, ranked certain elements very differently, with lavish use of halos and gilding in their honour, feeling perhaps, she hinted, the dire need of such external decoration.

Good heavens! Did no other woman realize the insult of it all? Hadria knew so few women intimately; none intimately enough to be convinced that no such revolt lay smouldering beneath their smiles. She had a lonely assurance that she had never met the sister-soul (for such there must be by the score, as silent as she), who shared her rage and her detestations. Valeria, with all her native pride, regarded these as proof of a big flaw in an otherwise sound nature. Yet how deep, how passionately strong, these feelings were, how gigantic the flaw!

What possessed people that they did not see what was so brutally clear? As young girls led forth unconscious into the battle, with a bandage over their eyes, and cotton-wool in their ears yes, then it was inevitable that they should see and hear nothing. Had they been newly imported from the moon they could scarcely have less acquaintance with terrestrial conditions; but afterwards, when ruthlessly, with the grinning assistance of the onlookers, the facts of the social scheme were cynically revealed, and the rôle imperiously allotted with much admonition and moving appeals to conscience and religion, and all the other aides-de-camp at command after all that, how in the name of heaven could they continue to babble of green fields? Was it conceivable that among the thousands of women to whom year after year the facts were disclosed, not one understood and not one hated?

A flame sprang up in Hadria’s eyes. There must be other women somewhere at this very moment, whose whole being was burning up with this bitter, this sickening and futile hatred! But how few, how few! How vast was the meek majority, fattening on indignity, proud of their humiliation! Yet how wise they were after all. It hurt so to hate to hate like this. Submission was an affair of temperament, a gift of birth. Nature endowed with a serviceable meekness those whom she designed for insult. Yet it might not be meekness so much as mere brutal necessity that held them all in thrall the inexorable logic of conditions. Fate knew better than to assail the victim point blank, and so put her on her guard. No; she lured her on gently, cunningly, closing behind her, one by one, the doors of escape, persuading her, forcing her to fasten on her own tethers, appealing to a thousand qualities, good and bad; now to a moment’s weakness or pity, now to her eternal fear of grieving others (that was a well-worked vein!), now to her instinct of self-sacrifice, now to grim necessity itself, profiting too by the increasing discouragements, the vain efforts, the physical pain and horrible weariness, the crowding of little difficulties, harassments, the troubles of others ah! how infinite were these! so that there was no interval for breathing, and scarcely time or space to cope with the legions of the moment; the horizon was black with their advancing hosts!

And this assuredly was no unique experience. Hadria remembered how she had once said that if the worst came to the worst, it would be easy to run away. To her inexperience desperate remedies had seemed so simple, so feasible the factors of life so few and unentwined. She had not understood how prolific are our deeds, how an act brings with it a large and unexpected progeny, which surround us with new influences and force upon us unforeseen conditions. Yet frequent had been the impulse to adopt that girlish solution of the difficulty. She had no picturesque grievances of the kind that would excite sympathy. On the contrary, popular feeling would set dead against her; she would be acting on an idea that nobody shared, not even her most intimate friend.

Miss Du Prel had arrived at the conclusion that she did not understand Hadria. She had attributed many of her peculiarities to her unique education and her inexperience. Hadria had indeed changed greatly since her marriage, but not in the manner that might have been expected. On the contrary, a closer intimacy with popular social ideals had fired her with a more angry spirit of rebellion. Miss Du Prel had met examples of every kind of eccentricity, but she had never before come upon so marked an instance of this particular type. Hadria’s attitude towards life had suggested to Miss Du Prel the idea of her heroine, Caterina. She remonstrated with Hadria, assuring her that no insult towards women was intended in the general scheme of society, and that it was a mistake to regard it in so resentful a spirit.

“But that is just the most insulting thing about it,” Hadria exclaimed. “Insult is so much a matter of course that people are surprised if one takes umbrage at it. Read this passage from Aristotle that I came upon the other day. He is perfectly calm and amiable, entirely unconscious of offence, when he says that ’a wife ought to shew herself even more obedient to the rein than if she entered the house as a purchased slave. For she has been bought at a high price, for the sake of sharing life and bearing children, than which no higher or holier tie can possibly exist.’ (Henriette to the very life!)”

Miss Du Prel laughed, and re-read the passage from the Politics, in some surprise.

“Do you suppose insult is deliberately intended in that graceful sentiment?” asked Hadria. “Obviously not. If any woman of that time had blazed up in anger at the well-meant speech, she would have astonished and grieved her contemporaries. Aristotle doubtless professed a high respect for women who followed his precepts as men do now when we are obedient.”

“Of course, our society in this particular has not wandered far from the Greek idea,” Miss Du Prel observed pensively.

Hadria pronounced the paradox, “The sharpness of the insult lies in its not being intended.”

Miss Du Prel could not prevail upon her to modify the assertion. Hadria pointed out that the Greeks also meant no offence in regarding their respectable women as simple reproductive agents of inferior human quality.

“And though our well-brought-up girls shrink from the frank speech, they do not appear to shrink from the ideas of the old Greeks. They don’t mind playing the part of cows so long as one doesn’t mention it.”

About eighteen months ago, the village had been full of talk and excitement in consequence of the birth of an heir to the house of Engleton, Lady Engleton’s mission in life being frankly regarded as unfulfilled during the previous three or four years, when she had disappointed the hopes of the family. Hadria listened scornfully. In her eyes, the crowning indignity of the whole affair was Lady Engleton’s own smiling acceptance of the position, and her complacent eagerness to produce the tardy inheritor of the property and honours. This expression of sentiment had, by some means, reached the Vicarage and created much consternation.

Mrs. Walker asserted that it was right and Christian of the lady to desire that which gave every one so much pleasure. “A climax of feminine abjectness!” Hadria had exclaimed in Henriette’s presence.

Miss Temperley, after endeavouring to goad her sister-in-law into the expression of jubilant congratulations, was met by the passionate declaration that she felt more disposed to weep than to rejoice, and more disposed to curse than to weep.

Obviously, Miss Temperley had reason to be uneasy about her part in bringing about her brother’s marriage.

These sudden overflows of exasperated feeling had become less frequent as time went on, but the neighbours looked askance at Mrs. Temperley. Though a powder-magazine may not always blow up, one passes it with a grave consciousness of vast stores of inflammable material lying somewhere within, and who knows what spark might set the thing spouting to the skies?

When the occasional visitors had left, life in the village settled down to its normal level, or more accurately, to its normal flatness as regarded general contours, and its petty inequalities in respect to local detail. It reminded Hadria of the landscape which stretched in quiet long lines to the low horizon, while close at hand, the ground fussed and fretted itself into minor ups and downs of no character, but with all the trouble of a mountain district in its complexities of slope and hollow. Hadria suffered from a gnawing home-sickness; a longing for the rougher, bleaker scenery of the North.

The tired spirit translated the homely English country, so deeply reposeful in its spirit, into an image of dull unrest. If only those broken, stupid lines could have been smoothed out into the grandeur of a plain, Hadria thought that it would have comforted her, as if a song had moved across it with the long-stretching winds. As it was, to look from her window only meant to find repeated the trivialities of life, more picturesque indeed, but still trivialities. It was the estimable and domestic qualities of Nature that presented themselves: Nature in her most maternal and uninspired mood Mother earth submissive to the dictatorship of man, permitting herself to be torn, and wounded, and furrowed, and harrowed at his pleasure, yielding her substance and her life to sustain the produce of his choosing, her body and her soul abandoned supine to his caprice. The sight had an exasperating effect upon Hadria. Its symbolism haunted her. The calm, sweet English landscape affected her at times with a sort of disgust. It was, perhaps, the same in kind as the far stronger sensation of disgust that she felt when she first saw Lady Engleton with her new-born child, full of pride and exultation. It was as much as she could do to shake hands with the happy mother.

When Valeria expressed dismay at so strange a feeling Hadria had refused to be treated as a solitary sinner. There were plenty of fellow-culprits, she said, only they did not dare to speak out. Let Valeria study girls and judge for herself.

Hadria was challenged to name a girl.

Well, Algitha for one. Hadria also suspected Marion Jordan, well-drilled though she was by her dragoon of a mother.

Valeria would not hear of it. Marion Jordan! the gentlest, timidest, most typical of young English girls! Impossible!

“I am almost sure of it, nevertheless,” said Hadria. “Oh, believe me, it is common enough! Few grasp it intellectually perhaps, but thousands feel the insult; of that I am morally certain.”

“What leads you to think so in Marion’s case?”

“Some look, or tone, or word; something slight, but to my mind conclusive. Fellow-sinners detect one another, you know.”

“Well, I don’t understand what the world is coming to!” exclaimed Miss Du Prel. “Where are the natural instincts?”

“Sprouting up for the first time perhaps,” Hadria suggested.

“They seem to be disappearing, if what you say has the slightest foundation.”

“Oh, you are speaking of only one kind of instinct. The others have all been suppressed. Perhaps women are not altogether animals after all. The thought is startling, I know. Try to face it.”

“I never supposed they were,” cried Valeria, a little annoyed.

“But you never made allowance for the suppressed instincts,” said Hadria.

“I don’t believe they can be suppressed.”

“I believe they can be not merely suppressed, but killed past hope of recovery. And I also believe that there may be, that there must be, ideas and emotions fermenting in people’s brains, quite different from those that they are supposed and ordered to cherish, and that these hérésies go on working in secret for years before they become even suspected, and then suddenly the population exchange confessions.”

“After that the Deluge!” exclaimed Miss Du Prel. “You describe the features of a great revolution.”

“So much the better,” said Hadria; “and when the waters sink again, a nice fresh clean world!”