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

Valeria Du Prel, finding that Miss Temperley proposed a visit of some length, returned to town by the early morning train.

“Valeria, do you know anyone in Paris to whom you could give me a letter of introduction?” Hadria asked, at the last moment, when there was just time to write the letter, and no more.

“Are you going to Paris?” Valeria asked, startled.

“Please write the letter and I will tell you some day what I want it for.”

“Nothing very mad, I hope?”

“No, only a little judiciously mad.”

“Well, there is Madame Bertaux, in the Avenue Kleber, but her you know already. Let me see. Oh yes, Madame Vauchelet, a charming woman; very kind and very fond of young people. She is about sixty; a widow; her husband was in the diplomatic service.”

Valeria made these hurried comments while writing the letter.

“She is musical too, and will introduce you, perhaps, to the great Joubert, and others of that set. You will like her, I am sure. She is one of the truly good people of this world. If you really are going to Paris, I shall feel happier if I know that Madame Vauchelet is your friend.”

Sophia’s successor announced that the pony-cart was at the door.

Miss Du Prel looked rather anxiously at Hadria and her sister-in-law, as they stood on the steps to bid her good-bye. There was a look of elation mixed with devilry, in Hadria’s face. The two figures turned and entered the house together, as the pony-cart passed through the gate.

Hadria always gave Miss Temperley much opportunity for the employment of tact, finding this tact more elucidating than otherwise to the designs that it was intended to conceal; it affected them in the manner of a magnifying-glass. About a couple of years ago, the death of her mother had thrown Henriette on her own resources, and set free a large amount of energy that craved a legitimate outlet. The family with whom she was now living in London, not being related to her, offered but limited opportunities.

Henriette’s eye was fixed, with increasing fondness, upon the Red House. There lay the callow brood marked out by Nature and man, for her ministrations. With infinite adroitness, Miss Temperley questioned her sister-in-law, by inference and suggestion, about the affairs of the household. Hadria evaded the attempt, but rejoiced, for reasons of her own, that it was made. She began to find the occupation diverting, and characteristically did not hesitate to allow her critic to form most alarming conclusions as to the state of matters at the Red House. She was pensive, and mild, and a little surprised when Miss Temperley, with a suppressed gasp, urged that the question was deeply serious. It amused Hadria to reproduce, for Henriette’s benefit, the theories regarding the treatment and training of children that she had found current among the mothers of the district.

Madame Bertaux happened to call during the afternoon, and that outspoken lady scoffed openly at these theories, declaring that women made idiots of themselves on behalf of their children, whom they preposterously ill-used with unflagging devotion.

“The moral training of young minds is such a problem,” said Henriette, after the visitor had left, “it must cause you many an anxious thought.”

Hadria arranged herself comfortably among cushions, and let every muscle relax.

“The boys are so young yet,” she said drowsily. “I have no doubt that will all come, later on.”

“But, my dear Hadria, unless they are trained now

“Oh, there is plenty of time!”

“Do you mean to say ?”

“Only what other people say. Nothing in the least original, I assure you. I see the folly and the inconvenience of that now. I have consulted hoary experience. I have sat reverently at the feet of old nurses. I have talked with mothers in the spirit of a disciple, and I have learnt, oh, so much!”

“Mothers are most anxious about the moral training of their little ones,” said Henriette, in some bewilderment.

“Of course, but they don’t worry about it so early. One can’t expect accomplished morality from poor little dots of five and six. The charm of infancy would be gone.”

Miss Temperley explained, remonstrated. Hadria was limp, docile, unemphatic. Perhaps Henriette was right, she didn’t know. A sense of honour? (Hadria suppressed a smile.) Could one, after all, expect of six what one did not always get at six and twenty? Morals altogether seemed a good deal to ask of irresponsible youth. Henriette could not overrate the importance of early familiarity with the difference between right and wrong. Certainly it was important, but Hadria shrank from an extreme view. One must not rush into it without careful thought.

“But meanwhile the children are growing up!” cried Henriette, in despair.

Hadria had not found that experienced mothers laid much stress on that fact. Besides, there was considerable difficulty in the matter. Henriette did not see it. The difference between right and wrong could easily be taught to a child.

Perhaps so, but it seemed to be thought expedient to defer the lesson till the distant future; at least, if one might judge from the literature especially designed for growing minds, wherein clever villainy was exalted, and deeds of ferocious cruelty and revenge occurred as a daily commonplace among heroes. The same policy was indicated by the practice of allowing children to become familiar with the sight of slaughter, and of violence of every kind towards animals, from earliest infancy. Hadria concluded from all this, that it was thought wise to postpone the moral training of the young till a more convenient season.

Henriette looked at her sister-in-law, with a sad and baffled mien. Hadria’s expression was solemn, and as much like that of Mrs. Walker as she could make it, without descending to obvious caricature.

“Do you think it quite wise, Henriette, to run dead against the customs of ages? Do you think it safe to ignore the opinion of countless generations of those who were older and wiser than ourselves?”

“Dear me, how you have changed!” cried Miss Temperley.

“Advancing years; the sobering effects of experience,” Hadria explained. She was grieved to find Henriette at variance with those who had practical knowledge of education. As the child grew up, one could easily explain to him that the ideas and impressions that he might have acquired, in early years, were mostly wrong, and had to be reversed. That was quite simple. Besides, unless he were a born idiot of criminal tendencies, he was bound to find it out for himself.

“But, my dear Hadria, it is just the early years that are the impressionable years. Nothing can quite erase those first impressions.”

“Oh, do you think so?” said Hadria mildly.

“Yes, indeed, I think so,” cried Henriette, losing her temper.

“Oh, well of course you may be right.”

Hadria had brought out a piece of embroidery (about ten years old), and was working peacefully.

On questions of hygiene, she was equally troublesome. She had taken hints, she said, from mothers of large families. Henriette laid stress upon fresh air, even in the house. Hadria believed in fresh air; but was it not going a little far to have it in the house?

Henriette shook her head.

Fresh air was always necessary. In moderation, perhaps, Hadria admitted. But the utmost care was called for, to avoid taking cold. She laid great stress upon that. Children were naturally so susceptible. In all the nurseries that she had visited, where every possible precaution was taken against draughts, the children were incessantly taking cold.

“Perhaps the precautions made them delicate,” Henriette suggested. But this paradox Hadria could not entertain. “Take care of the colds, and the fresh air will take care of itself,” was her general maxim.

“But, my dear Hadria, do you mean to tell me that the people about here are so benighted as really not to understand the importance to the system of a constant supply of pure air?”

Hadria puckered up her brow, as if in thought. “Well,” she said, “several mothers have mentioned it, but they take more interest in fluid magnesia and tonics.”

Henriette looked dispirited.

At any rate, there was no reason why Hadria should not be more enlightened than her neighbours, on these points. Hadria shook her head deprecatingly. She hoped Henriette would not mind if she quoted the opinion of old Mr. Jordan, whose language was sometimes a little strong. He said that he didn’t believe all that “damned nonsense about fresh air and drains!” Henriette coughed.

“It is certainly not safe to trust entirely to nurses, however devoted and experienced,” she insisted. Hadria shrugged her shoulders. If the nurse did constitutionally enjoy a certain stuffiness in her nurseries well the children were out half the day, and it couldn’t do them much harm. (Hadria bent low over her embroidery.)

The night?

“Oh! then one must, of course, expect to be a little stuffy.”

“But,” cried Miss Temperley, almost hopeless, “impure air breathed, night after night, is an incessant drain on the strength, even if each time it only does a little harm.”

Hadria smiled over her silken arabesques. “Oh, nobody ever objects to things that only do a little harm.” There was a moment of silence.

Henriette thought that Hadria must indeed have changed very much during the last years. Well, of course, when very young, Hadria said, one had extravagant notions: one imagined all sorts of wild things about the purposes of the human brain: not till later did one realize that the average brain was merely an instrument of adjustment, a sort of spirit-level which enabled its owner to keep accurately in line with other people. Henriette ought to rejoice that Hadria had thus come to bow to the superiority of the collective wisdom.

But Henriette had her doubts.

Hadria carefully selected a shade of silk, went to the light to reassure herself of its correctness, and returned to her easy chair by the fire. Henriette resumed her knitting. She was making stockings for her nephews.

“Henriette, don’t you think it would be rather a good plan if you were to come and live here and manage affairs morals, manners, hygiene, and everything?”

Henriette’s needles stopped abruptly, and a wave of colour came into her face, and a gleam of sudden joy to her eyes.

“My dear, what do you mean?”

“Hubert, of course, would be only too delighted to have you here, and I want to go away.”

“For heaven’s sake

“Not exactly for heaven’s sake. For my own sake, I suppose: frankly selfish. It is, perhaps, the particular form that my selfishness takes an unfortunately conspicuous form. So many of us can have a nice cosy pocket edition that doesn’t show. However, that’s not the point. I know you would be happier doing this than anything else, and that you would do it perfectly. You have the kind of talent, if I may say so, that makes an admirable ruler. When it has a large political field we call it ‘administrative ability’; when it has a small domestic one, we speak of it as ‘good housekeeping.’ It is a precious quality, wherever it appears. You have no scope for it at present.”

Henriette was bewildered, horrified, yet secretly thrilled with joy on her own account. Was there a quarrel? Had any cloud come over the happiness of the home? Hadria laughed and assured her to the contrary. But where was she going, and for how long? What did she intend to do? Did Hubert approve? And could she bear to be away from her children? Hadria thought this was all beside the point, especially as the boys were shortly going to school. The question was, whether Henriette would take the charge.

Certainly, if Hadria came to any such mad decision, but that, Henriette hoped, might be averted. What would people say? Further discussion was checked by a call from Mrs. Walker, whom Hadria had the audacity to consult on questions of education and hygiene, leading her, by dexterous generalship, almost over the same ground that she had traversed herself, inducing the unconscious lady to repeat, with amazing accuracy, Hadria’s own reproduction of local views.

“Now am I without authority in my ideas?” she asked, after Mrs. Walker had departed. Henriette had to admit that she had at least one supporter.

“But I believe,” she added, “that your practice is better than your preaching.”

“It seems to be an ordinance of Nature,” said Hadria, “that these things shall never correspond.”