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

“A singular character!” said Professor Theobald.

“There is a lot of good in her,” Lady Engleton asserted.

Lord Engleton observed that people were always speaking ill of Mrs. Temperley, but he never could see that she was worse than her neighbours. She was cleverer; that might be her offence.

Madame Bertaux observed in her short, decisive way that Craddock Dene might have settled down with Mrs. Temperley peaceably enough, if it hadn’t been for her action about the schoolmistress’s child.

“Yes; that has offended everybody,” said Lady Engleton.

“What action was that?” asked Theobald, turning slowly towards his hostess.

“Oh, haven’t you heard? That really speaks well for this house. You can’t accuse us of gossip.”

Lady Engleton related the incident. “By the way, you must remember that poor woman, Professor. Don’t you know you were here at the school-feast that we gave one summer in the park, when all the children came and had tea and games, and you helped us so amiably to look after them?”

The Professor remembered the occasion perfectly.

“And don’t you recollect a very pretty, rather timid, fair-haired woman who brought the children? We all used to admire her. She was a particularly graceful, refined-looking creature. She had read a great deal and was quite cultivated. I often used to think she must feel very solitary at Craddock, with not a soul to sympathize with her tastes. Mr. and Mrs. Walker used to preach to her, poor soul, reproving her love of reading, which took her thoughts away from her duties and her sphere.”

Madame Bertaux snorted significantly. Lady Engleton had remarked a strange, sad look in Ellen Jervis’s eyes, and owned to having done her best to circumvent the respected pastor and his wife, by lending her books occasionally, and encouraging her to think her own thoughts, and get what happiness she could out of her communings with larger spirits than she was likely to find in Craddock. Of course Mrs. Walker now gave Lady Engleton to understand that she was partly responsible for the poor woman’s misfortune. She attributed it to Ellen’s having had “all sorts of ideas in her head!”

“I admit that if not having all sorts of ideas in one’s head is a safeguard, the unimpeachable virtue of a district is amply accounted for.”

Professor Theobald chuckled. He enquired if Lady Engleton knew Mrs. Temperley’s motive in adopting the child.

“Oh, partly real kindness; but I think, between ourselves, that Mrs. Temperley likes to be a little eccentric. Most people have the instinct to go with the crowd. Hadria Temperley has the opposite fault. She loves to run counter to it, even when it is pursuing a harmless course.”

Some weeks had now passed since the arrival of the two Professors. The meetings in the Priory garden had been frequent. They had affected for the better Professor Theobald’s manner. Valeria’s laws had curbed the worst side of him, or prevented it from shewing itself so freely. He felt the atmosphere of the little society, and acknowledged that it was “taming the savage beast.” As for his intellect it took to blazing, as if, he said, without false modesty, a torch had been placed in pure oxygen.

“My brain takes fire here and flames. I should make a very creditable beacon if the burning of brains and the burning of faggots were only of equal value.”

The little feud between him and Mrs. Temperley had been patched up. She felt that she had been rude to him, on one occasion at any rate, and desired to make amends. He had become more cautious in his conduct towards her.

During this period of the Renaissance, as Hadria afterwards called the short-lived epoch, little Martha was visited frequently. Her protectress had expected to have to do battle with hereditary weakness on account of her mother’s sufferings, but the child shewed no signs of this. Either the common belief that mental trouble in the mother is reflected in the child, was unfounded, or the evil could be overcome by the simple beneficence of pure air, good food, and warm clothing.

Hadria had begun to feel a more personal interest in her charge. She had taken it under her care of her own choice, without the pressure of any social law or sentiment, and in these circumstances of freedom, its helplessness appealed to her protective instincts. She felt the relationship to be a true one, in contradistinction to the more usual form of protectorate of woman to child.

“There is nothing in it that gives offence to one’s dignity as a human being,” she asserted, “which is more than can be said of the ordinary relation, especially if it be legal.”

She was issuing from little Martha’s cottage on one splendid morning, when she saw Professor Theobald coming up the road from Craddock Dene. He caught sight of Hadria, hesitated, coloured, glanced furtively up the road, and then, seeing he was observed, came forward, raising his cap.

“You can’t imagine what a charming picture you make; the English cottage creeper-covered and smiling; the nurse and child at the threshold equally smiling, yourself a very emblem of spring in your fresh gown, and a domestic tabby to complete the scene.”

“I wish I could come and see it,” said Hadria. She was waving a twig of lavender, and little Martha was making grabs at it, and laughing her gurgling laugh of babyish glee. Professor Theobald stood in the road facing up hill towards Craddock, whose church tower was visible from here, just peeping through the spring foliage of the vicarage garden. He only now and again looked round at the picture that he professed to admire.

“Do you want to see a really pretty child, Professor Theobald? Because if so, come here.”

He hesitated, and a wave of dark colour flooded his face up to the roots of his close-clipped hair.

He paused a moment, and then bent down to open the little gate. His stalwart figure, in the diminutive enclosure, reduced it to the appearance of a doll’s garden.

“Step carefully or you will crush the young ménage,” Hadria advised. The rosy-cheeked nurse looked with proud expectancy at the face of the strange gentleman, to note the admiration that he could not but feel.

His lips were set.

The Professor evidently knew his duty and proceeded to admire with due energy. Little Martha shrank away a little from the bearded face, and her lower lip worked threateningly, but the perilous moment was staved over by means of the Professor’s watch, hastily claimed by Hannah, who dispensed with ceremony in the emergency.

Martha’s eyes opened wide, and the little hands came out to grasp the treasure. Hadria stood and laughed at the sight of the gigantic Professor, helplessly tethered by his own chain to the imperious baby, in whose fingers the watch was tightly clasped. The child was in high delight at the loquacious new toy so superior to foolish fluffy rabbits that could not tick to save their skins. Martha had no notion of relinquishing her hold, so they need not tug in that feeble way; if they pulled too hard, she would yell!

She evidently meant business, said her captive. So long as they left her the watch, they might do as they pleased; she was perfectly indifferent to the accidental human accompaniments of the new treasure, but on that one point she was firm. She proceeded to stuff the watch into her mouth as far as it would go. The Professor was dismayed.

“It’s all right,” Hadria reassured him. “You have hold of the chain.”

“Did you entice me into this truly ridiculous position in order to laugh at me?” enquired the prisoner.

“I would not laugh at you for the world.”

“Really this young person has the most astonishing grip! How long does her fancy generally remain faithful to a new toy?”

“Well I hope you are not pressed for time,” said Hadria maliciously.

The Professor groaned, and struggled in the toils.

“Come, little one, open the fingers. Oh no, no, we mustn’t cry.” Martha kept her features ready for that purpose at a moment’s notice, should any nonsense be attempted.

The victim looked round miserably.

“Is there nothing that will set me free from these tender moorings?”

Hadria shook her head and laughed. “You are chained by the most inflexible of all chains,” she said: “your own compunction.”

“Oh, you little tyrant!” exclaimed the Professor, shaking his fist in the baby’s face, at which she laughed a taunting and triumphant laugh. Then, once more, the object of dispute went into her mouth. Martha gurgled with joy.

“What am I to do?” cried her victim helplessly.

“Nothing. She has you securely because you fear to hurt her.”

“Little imp! Come now, let me go please. Oh, please, Miss Baby your Majesty: will nothing soften you? She is beginning early to take advantage of the chivalry of the stronger sex, and I doubt not she will know how to pursue her opportunity later on.”

“Oh! is that your parable? Into my head came quite a different one a propos of what we were talking of yesterday in Griffin-land.”

“Ah, the eternal feminine!” cried the Professor. “Yes, you were very brilliant, Mrs. Temperley.”

“You now stand for an excellent type of woman, Professor: strong, but chained.”

“Oh, thank you! (Infant, I implore!)”

“The baby ably impersonates Society with all its sentiments and laws, written and unwritten.”

“Ah! and my impounded property?”

“Woman’s life and freedom.”

“Ingenious! And the chain? (Oh, inexorable babe, have mercy on the sufferings of imprisoned vigour!)”

“Her affections, her pity, her compunction, which forbid her to wrench away her rightful property, because ignorant and tender hands are grasping it. The analogy is a little mixed, but no matter.”

“I should enjoy the intellectual treat that is spread before me better, in happier circumstances, Mrs. Temperley.”

“Apply your remark to your prototype intelligently,” she added.

“My intelligence is rapidly waning; I am benumbed. I fail to follow the intricacies of analogy, in this constrained position.”

“Ah, so does she!”

“Oh, pitiless cherub, my muscles ache with this monotony.”

“And hers,” said Hadria.

“Come, come, life is passing; I have but one; relax these fetters, or I die.”

Martha frowned and fretted. She even looked shocked, according to Hadria, who stood by laughing. The baby, she pointed out, failed to understand how her captive could so far forget himself as to desire to regain his liberty.

“She reminds you, sternly, that this is your proper sphere.”

“Perdition!” he exclaimed.

“As a general rule,” she assented.

The Professor laughed, and said he was tired of being a Type.

At length a little gentle force had to be used, in spite of furious resentment on the part of the baby. A more injured and ill-treated mortal could not have been imagined. She set up a heaven-piercing wail, evidently overcome with indignation and surprise at the cruel treatment that she had received. What horrid selfishness to take oneself and one’s property away, when an engaging innocent enjoys grasping it and stuffing it into its mouth!

“Don’t you feel a guilty monster?” Hadria enquired, as the lament of the offended infant followed them up the road.

“I feel as if I were slinking off after a murder!” he exclaimed ruefully. “I wonder if we oughtn’t to go back and try again to soothe the child.” He paused irresolutely.

Hadria laughed. “You do make a lovely allegory!” she exclaimed. “This sense of guilt, this disposition to go back this attitude of apology it is speaking, inimitable!”

“But meanwhile that wretched child is shrieking itself into a fit!” cried the allegory, with the air of a repentant criminal.

“Whenever you open your mouth, out falls a symbol,” exclaimed Hadria. “Be calm; Hannah will soon comfort her, and it is truer kindness not to remind her again of her grievance, poor little soul. But we will go back if you like (you are indeed a true woman!), and you can say you are sorry you made so free with your own possessions, and you wish you had done your duty better, and are eager to return and let Her Majesty hold you captive. Your prototype always does, you know, and she is nearly always pardoned, on condition that she never does anything of that kind again.”

Professor Theobald seemed too much concerned about the child, who was still wailing, to pay much attention to any other topic. He turned to retrace his steps.

“I think you make a mistake,” said Hadria. “As soon as she sees you she will want the watch, and then you will be placed between the awful alternatives of voluntarily surrendering your freedom, and heartlessly refusing to present yourself to her as a big plaything. In one respect you have not yet achieved a thorough fidelity to your model; you don’t seem to enjoy sacrifice for its own sake. That will come with practice.”

“I wish that child would leave off crying.”

Hadria stopped in the road to laugh at the perturbed Professor.

She will presently. That is only a cry of anger, not of distress. I would not leave her, if it were. Yes; your vocation is clearly allegorical. Feminine to your finger-tips, in this truly feminine predicament. We are all nous autres femmes like the hero of the White Ship, who is described by some delightful boy in an examination paper as being ‘melted by the shrieks of a near relation.’”

The Professor stumbled over a stone in the road, and looked back at it vindictively.

“The near relation does so want to hold one’s watch and to stuff it into his mouth, and he shrieks so movingly if one brutally removes one’s property and person!”

“Alas! I am still a little bewildered by my late captivity. I can’t see the bearings of things.”

“As allegory, you are as perfect as ever.”

“I seem to be a sort of involuntary Pilgrim’s Progress!” he exclaimed.

“Ah, indeed!” cried Hadria, “and how the symbolism of that old allegory would fit this subject!”

“With me for wretched hero, I suppose!”

“Your archetype; with a little adaptation yes, and wonderfully little the Slough of Despond, Doubting Castle, the Valley of the Shadow of Death they all fall into place. Ah! the modern Pilgrim’s Progress would read strangely and significantly with woman as the pilgrim! But the end that would be a difficulty.”

“One for your sex to solve,” said the Professor.

When they arrived at the cottage the wails were dying away, and Hadria advised that they should leave well alone. So the baby’s victim somewhat reluctantly retired.

“After all, you see, if one has strength of purpose, one can achieve freedom,” he observed.

“At the expense of the affections, it would seem,” said Hadria.

The walk was pursued towards Craddock. Hadria said she had to ask Dodge, the old gravedigger, if he could give a few days’ work in the garden at the Red House.

The Professor was walking for walking’s sake.

“She is a pretty child, isn’t she?” said Hadria.

“Very; an attractive mite; but she has a will of her own.”

“Yes; I confess I have a moment of exultation when that child sets up one of her passionate screams the thrilling shriek of a near relation!”

“Really, why?”

“She has to make her way in the world. She must not be too meek. Her mother was a victim to the general selfishness and stupidity. She was too gentle and obedient; too apt to defer to others, to be able to protect herself. I want her child to be strengthened for the battle by a good long draught of happiness, and to be armed with that stoutest of all weapons perfect health.”

“You are very wise, Mrs. Temperley,” murmured the Professor.

Mon Dieu! if one had always to judge for others and never for oneself, what Solons we should all be!”

“I hear that you have taken the child under your protection. She may think herself fortunate. It is an act of real charity.”

Hadria winced. “I fear not. I have grown very much attached to Martha now, poor little soul; but when I decided to adopt her, I was in a state of red-hot fury.”

“Against whom, may I ask?”

“Against the child’s father,” Hadria replied shortly.