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

Henriette had secured Mrs. Fullerton for an ally, from the beginning. When Hadria’s parents visited the Red House, Miss Temperley was asked to meet them, by special request. Henriette employed tact on a grand scale, and achieved results in proportion. She was sorry that dear Hadria did not more quickly recover her strength. Her health was not what it ought to be. Mrs. Fullerton sighed. She was ready to play into Miss Temperley’s hands on every occasion.

The latter had less success in her dealings with Miss Du Prel. She tried to discover Hadria’s more intimate feelings by talking her over with Valeria, ignoring the snubs that were copiously administered by that indignant lady. Valeria spoke with sublime scorn of this attempt.

“To try and pump information out of a friend! Why not listen at the key-hole, and be done with it!”

Henriette’s neat hair would have stood on end, had she heard Miss Du Prel fit adjectives to her conduct.

“I have learnt not to expect a nice sense of honour from superior persons with unimpeachable sentiments,” said Hadria.

“You are certainly a good hater!” cried Valeria, with a laugh.

“Oh, I don’t hate Henriette; I only hate unimpeachable sentiments.”

The sentiments that Henriette represented had become, to Hadria, as the walls of a prison from which she could see no means of escape.

She had found that life took no heed either of her ambitions or of her revolts. “And so I growl,” she said. She might hate and chafe in secret to her heart’s content; external conformity was the one thing needful.

“Hadria will be so different when she has children,” everyone had said. And so she was; but the difference was alarmingly in the wrong direction. Throughout history, she reflected, children had been the unfailing means of bringing women into line with tradition. Who could stand against them? They had been able to force the most rebellious to their knees. An appeal to the maternal instinct had quenched the hardiest spirit of revolt. No wonder the instinct had been so trumpeted and exalted! Women might harbour dreams and plan insurrections; but their children little ambassadors of the established and expected were argument enough to convince the most hardened sceptics. Their helplessness was more powerful to suppress revolt than regiments of armed soldiers.

Such were the thoughts that wandered through Hadria’s mind as she bent her steps towards the cottage near Craddock Church, where, according to the gravedigger’s account, the baby of the unhappy schoolmistress was being looked after by Mrs. Gullick.

It would have puzzled the keenest observer to detect the unorthodox nature of Mrs. Temperley’s reflections, as she leant over the child, and made enquiries as to its health and temperament.

Mrs. Gullick seemed more disposed to indulge in remarks on its mother’s conduct than to give the desired information; but she finally admitted that Ellen Jervis had an aunt at Southampton who was sending a little money for the support of the child. Ellen Jervis had stayed with the aunt during the summer holidays. Mrs. Gullick did not know what was to be done. She had a large family of her own, and the cottage was small.

Mrs. Temperley asked for the address of the aunt.

“I suppose no one knows who the father is? He has not acknowledged the child!”

No; that was a mystery still.

About a week later, Craddock Dene was amazed by the news that Mrs. Temperley had taken the child of Ellen Jervis under her protection. A cottage had been secured on the road to Craddock, a trustworthy nurse engaged, and here the babe was established, with the consent and blessing of the aunt.

“You are the most inconsistent woman I ever met!” exclaimed Miss Du Prel.

“Why inconsistent?”

“You say that children have been the means, from time immemorial, of enslaving women, and here you go and adopt one of your enslavers!”

“But this child is not legitimate.”

Valeria stared.

“Whatever the wrongs of Ellen Jervis, at least there were no laws written, and unwritten, which demanded of her as a duty that she should become the mother of this child. In that respect she escapes the ignominy reserved for the married mother who produces children that are not even hers.”

“You do manage to ferret out the unpleasant aspects of our position!” Miss Du Prel exclaimed. “But I want to know why you do this, Hadria. It is good of you, but totally unlike you.”

“You are very polite!” cried Hadria. “Why should I not lay up store for myself in heaven, as well as Mrs. Walker and the rest?”

“You were not thinking of heaven when you did this deed, Hadria.”

“No; I was thinking of the other place.”

“And do you hope to get any satisfaction out of your protegee?”

Hadria shrugged her shoulders.

“I don’t know. The child is the result of great sorrow and suffering; it is the price of a woman’s life; a woman who offended the world, having lived for nearly forty weary obedient years, in circumstances dreary enough to have turned twenty saints into as many sinners. No; I am no Lady Bountiful. I feel in defending this child a sorry defence I know that I am, in so far, opposing the world and the system of things that I hate . Ah! how I hate it!”

“Is it then hatred that prompts the deed?”

Hadria looked thoughtfully towards the church tower, in whose shadow the mother of the babe lay sleeping.

“Can you ever quite unravel your own motives, Valeria? Hatred? Yes; there is a large ingredient of hatred. Without it, probably this poor infant would have been left to struggle through life alone, with a mill-stone round its neck, and a miserable constitution into the bargain. I hope to rescue its constitution. But that poor woman’s story touched me closely. It is so hard, so outrageous! The emptiness of her existence; the lack of outlet for her affections; the endless monotony; and then the sudden new interest and food for the starved emotions; the hero-worship that is latent in us all; and then good heavens! for a touch of poetry, of romance in her life, she would have been ready to believe in the professions of the devil himself and this man was a very good understudy for the devil! Ah! If ever I should meet him!”

“What would you do?” Valeria asked curiously.

“Avenge her,” said Hadria with set lips.

“Easier said than done, my dear!”

Gossip asserted that the father of the child was a man of some standing, the bolder spirits even accusing Lord Engleton himself. But this was conjecture run wild, and nobody seriously listened to it.

Mrs. Walker was particularly scandalized with Mrs. Temperley’s ill-advised charity. Hadria had the habit of regarding the clergyman’s wife as another of society’s victims. She placed side by side the schoolmistress in her sorrow and disgrace, and the careworn woman at the Vicarage, with her eleven children, and her shrivelled nature, poor and dead as an autumn leaf that shivers before the wind. They had both suffered so Mrs. Temperley dared to assert in the same cause. They were both victims of the same creed. It was a terrible cultus, a savage idol that had devoured them both, as cruel and insatiable as the brazen god of old, with his internal fires, which the faithful fed devoutly, with shrinking girls and screaming children.

“I still fail to understand why you adopt this child,” said Valeria. “My Caterina would never have done it.”

“The little creature interests me,” said Hadria. “It is a tiny field for the exercise of the creative forces. Every one has some form of active amusement. Some like golf, others flirtation. I prefer this sort of diversion.”

“But you have your own children to interest you, surely far more than this one.”

Hadria’s face grew set and defiant.

“They represent to me the insult of society my own private and particular insult, the tribute exacted of my womanhood. It is through them that I am to be subdued and humbled. Just once in a way, however, the thing does not quite ‘come off.’”

“What has set you on edge so, I wonder.”

“People, traditions, unimpeachable sentiments.”

Yours are not unimpeachable at any rate!” Valeria cried laughing. “Caterina is an angel compared with you, and yet my publisher has his doubts about her.”

Caterina would do as I do, I know,” said Hadria. “Those who are looked at askance by the world appeal to my instincts. I shall be able to teach this child, perhaps, to strike a blow at the system which sent her mother to a dishonoured grave, while it leaves the man for whose sake she risked all this, in peace and the odour of sanctity.”

Time seemed to be marked, in the sleepy village, by the baby’s growth. Valeria, who thought she was fond of babies, used to accompany Hadria on her visits to the cottage, but she treated the infant so much as if it had been a guinea-pig or a rabbit that the nurse was indignant.

The weeks passed in rapid monotony, filled with detail and leaving no mark behind them, no sign of movement or progress. The cares of the house, the children, left only limited time for walking, reading, correspondence, and such music as could be wrung out of a crowded day. An effort on Hadria’s part, to make serious use of her musical talent had been frustrated. But a pathetic, unquenchable hope always survived that presently, when this or that corner had been turned, this or that difficulty overcome, conditions would be conquered and opportunity arrive. Not yet had she resigned her belief that the most harassing and wearying and unceasing business that a human being can undertake, is compatible with the stupendous labour and the unbounded claims of an artist’s career. The details of practical life and petty duties sprouted up at every step. If they were put aside, even for a moment, the wheels of daily existence became clogged and then all opportunity was over. Hope had begun to alternate with a fear lest that evasive corner should never be turned, that little crop of interruptions never cease to turn up. And yet it was so foolish. Each obstacle in itself was paltry. It was their number that overcame one, as the tiny arrows of the Lilliputs overcame Gulliver.

One of Hadria’s best friends in Craddock Dene was Joseph Fleming, who had become very intimate at the Red House during the last year or two. Hadria used to tire of the necessity to be apparently rational (such was her own version), and found it a relief to talk nonsense, just as she pleased, to Joseph Fleming, who never objected or took offence, if he occasionally looked surprised. Other men might have thought she was laughing at them, but Joseph made no such mistake when Mrs. Temperley broke out, as she did now and then, in fantastic fashion.

She was standing, one morning, on the little bridge over the stream that ran at a distance of a few hundred yards from the Red House. The two boys were bespattering themselves in the meadow below, by the water’s verge. They called up at intervals to their mother the announcement of some new discovery of flower or insect.

Watching the stream sweeping through the bridge, she seemed the centre of a charming domestic scene to Joseph Fleming, who chanced to pass by with his dogs. He addressed himself to her maternal feelings by remarking what handsome and clever boys they were.

“Handsome and clever?” she repeated. “Is that all you can say, Mr. Fleming? When you set about it, I think you might provide a little better food for one’s parental sentiment. I suppose you will go and tell Mrs. Walker that her dozen and a half are all handsome and clever too!”

“Not so handsome and clever as yours,” replied Mr. Fleming, a little aghast at this ravenous maternal vanity.

“What wretched poverty of expression!” Hadria complained. “I ask for bread, and truly you give me a stone.”

Joseph Fleming eyed his companion askance. “I I admire your boys immensely, as you know,” he said.

“Not enough, not enough.”

“What can I say more?”

“A mother has to find in her children all that she can hope to find in life, and she naturally desires to make the most of them, don’t you see?”

“Ah! yes, quite so,” said Joseph dubiously.

“Nobody, I suppose, likes to be commonplace all round; one must have some poetry somewhere so most women idealize their children, and if other people won’t help them in the effort, don’t you see? it is most discouraging.”

“Are you chaffing, or what?” Joseph enquired.

“No, indeed; I am perilously serious.”

“I can well understand how a mother must get absorbed in her children,” said Joseph. “I suppose it’s a sort of natural provision.”

“Think of Mrs. Allan with her outrageous eight all making mud-pies!” cried Hadria; “a magnificent ‘natural provision!’ A small income, a small house, with those pervasive eight. You know the stampede when one goes to call; the aroma of bread and butter (there are few things more inspiring); the cook always about to leave; Mrs. Allan with a racking headache. It is indeed not difficult to understand how a mother would get absorbed in her children. Why, their pinafores alone would become absorbing.”

“Quite so,” said Mr. Fleming. Then a little anxious to change the subject: “Oh, by the way, have you heard that the Priory is really to be inhabited at last? Professor Theobald has almost decided to take it.”

“Really? that will be exciting for Craddock Dene. We shall have another household to dissect and denounce. Providence watches over us all, I verily believe.”

“I hope so,” Joseph replied gravely.

“Truly I hope so too,” Hadria said, no less seriously, “for indeed we need it.”

Joseph was too simple to be greatly surprised at anything that Mrs. Temperley might say. He had decided that she was a little eccentric, and that explained everything; just as he explained instances of extraordinary reasoning power in a dog by calling it “instinct.” Whatever Mrs. Temperley might do was slightly eccentric, and had she suddenly taken it into her head to dance a fandango on the public road, it would have merely put a little extra strain on that word.

By dint of not understanding her, Joseph Fleming had grown to feel towards Mrs. Temperley a genuine liking, conscious, in his vague way, that she was kind at heart, however bitter or strange she might sometimes be in her speech. Moreover, she was not always eccentric or unexpected. There would come periods when she would say and do very much as her neighbours said and did; looking then pale and lifeless, but absolutely beyond the reach of hostile criticism, as her champion would suggest to carping neighbours.

Not the most respected of the ladies who turned up their disapproving noses, was more dull or more depressing than Hadria could be, on occasion, as she had herself pointed out; and would not this soften stony hearts?

When she discovered that her kindly neighbour had been fighting her battles for her, she was touched; but she asked him not to expend his strength on her behalf. She tried in vain to convince him that she did not care to be invited too often to submit to the devitalizing processes of social intercourse, to which the families of the district shrank not from subjecting themselves. If Joseph Fleming chanced to call at the Red House after her return from one of these entertainments, he was sure to find Mrs. Temperley in one of her least comprehensible moods. But whatever she might say, he stood up for her among the neighbours with persistent loyalty. He decked her with virtues that she did not possess, and represented her to the sceptical district, radiant in domestic glory. Hadria thus found herself in an awkwardly uncertain position; either she was looked at askance, as eccentric, or she found herself called upon to make good expectations of saintliness, such as never were on land or sea.

Saintly? Hadria shook her head. She could imagine no one further from such a condition than she was at present, and she felt it in her, to swing down and down to the very opposite pole from that serene altitude. She admitted that, from a utilitarian point of view, she was making a vast mistake. As things were, Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Allan, laboriously spinning their ponderous families on their own axes, in a reverent spirit, had chosen the better part. But Hadria did not care. She would not settle down to make the best of things, as even Algitha now recommended, “since there she was, and there was no helping it.”

“I will never make the best of things,” she said. “I know nothing that gives such opportunities to the Devil.”

Hadria had characteristically left the paradox unjustified.

“What do you mean?” asked Algitha. “Surely the enemy of good has most hold over the discontented spirit.”

Hadria likened the contented to stagnant pools, wherein corruptions grow apace. “It is only the discontented ocean that remains, for all its storms, fresh and sane to the end.”

But though she said this, for opposition’s sake perhaps, she had her doubts about her own theory. Discontent was certainly the initiator of all movement; but there was a kind of sullen discontent that stagnated and ate inwards, like a disease. Better a cheerful sin or two than allow that to take hold!

“But then there is this sickly feminine conscience to deal with!” she exclaimed. “It clings to the worst of us still, and prevents the wholesome big catastrophes that might bring salvation.”