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

Mrs. Temperley was much discussed at Craddock Place. Professor Theobald preserved the same grave mood whenever she was present. He only returned to his usual manner, in her absence. “Theobald has on his Mrs. Temperley manner,” Claude Moreton used to say. The latter was himself among her admirers.

“I begin to be afraid that Claude is taking her too seriously,” Lady Engleton remarked to her husband. He had fired up on one occasion when Professor Theobald said something flippant about Mrs. Temperley. Claude Moreton’s usual calmness had caused the sudden outburst to be noticed with surprise. He hated Professor Theobald.

“What possesses you both to let that fellow come here so much?”

“The Professor? Oh, he is a very old friend, you know, and extremely clever. One has to put up with his manner.”

Claude Moreton grunted. “These, at any rate, are no reasons why Mrs. Temperley should put up with his manner!”

“But, my dear Claude, as you are always pointing out, the Professor has a special manner which he keeps exclusively for her.”

The special manner had already worked wonders. The Professor was to Hadria by far the most entertaining person of the party. He had always amused her, and even the first time she saw him, he had exercised a strange, unpleasant fascination over her, which had put her on the defensive, for she had disliked and distrusted him. The meetings in the Priory gardens had softened her hostility, and now she began to feel more and more that she had judged him unfairly. In those days she had a strong pre-occupying interest. He had arrived on the scene at an exciting moment, just when she was planning out her flight to Paris. She had not considered the Professor’s character very deeply. There were far too many other things to think of. It was simpler to avoid him. But now everything had changed. The present moment was not exciting; she had no plans and projects in her head; she was not about to court the fate of Icarus. That fate had already overtaken her. The waves were closing over-head; her wings were wet and crippled, in the blue depths. Why not take what the gods had sent and make the most of it?

The Professor had all sorts of strange lore, which he used, in his conversations with Hadria, almost as a fisherman uses his bait. If she shewed an inclination to re-join the rest of the party, he always brought out some fresh titbit of curious learning, and Hadria was seldom able to resist the lure.

They met often, almost of necessity. It was impossible to feel a stranger to the Professor, in these circumstances of frequent and informal meeting. Often when Hadria happened to be alone with him, she would become suddenly silent, as if she no longer felt the necessity to talk or to conceal her weariness. The Professor knew it too well; he saw how heavily the burden of life weighed upon her, and how it was often almost more than she could do, to drag through the day. She craved for excitement, no matter of what kind, in order to help her to forget her weariness. Her anxiety about Professor Fortescue preyed upon her. She was restless, over-wrought, with every nerve on edge, unable now for consecutive work, even had events permitted it. She followed the advice and took the medicines of a London doctor, whom Mrs. Fullerton had entreated her to consult, but she gained no ground.

“I begin to understand how it is that people take to drinking,” she said to Algitha, who used to bemoan this vice, with its terrible results, of which she had seen so much.

“Ah! don’t talk of it in that light way!” cried Algitha. “It is the fashion to treat it airily, but if people only knew what an awful curse it is, I think they would feel ashamed to be ‘moderate’ and indifferent about it.”

“I don’t mean to treat it or anything that brings harm and suffering ‘moderately,’” returned Hadria. “I mean only that I can see why the vice is so common. It causes forgetfulness, and I suppose most people crave for that.”

“I think, Hadria, if I may be allowed to say so, that you are finding your excitement in another direction.”

“You mean that I am trying to find a substitute for the pleasures of drunkenness in those of flirtation.”

“I should not like to think that you had descended to conscious flirtation.”

Hadria looked steadily into the flames. They were in the morning-room, where towards night-fall, even in summer, a small fire usually burnt in the grate.

“When I remember what you used to think and what you used to be to us all, in the old days at Dunaghee, I feel bitterly pained at what you are doing, Hadria. You don’t know where it may lead to, and besides it seems so beneath you in every way.”

“Appeals to the conscience!” cried Hadria, “I knew they would begin!”

“You knew what would begin?”

“Appeals, exhortations to forego the sole remaining interest, opportunity, or amusement that is left one! Ah, dear Algitha, I know you mean it kindly and I admire you for speaking out, but I am not going to be cajoled in that way! I am not going to be turned back and set tramping along the stony old road, so long as I can find a pleasanter by-way to loiter in. It sounds bad I know. Our drill affects us to the last, through every fibre. My duty! By what authority do people choose for me my duty? If I can be forced to abide by their decision in the matter, let them be satisfied with their power to coerce me, but let them leave my conscience alone. It does not dance to their piping.”

“But you cannot care for this sort of excitement, Hadria.”

“If I can get nothing else ?”

“Even then, I can’t see what you can find in it to make you willing to sink from your old ideals.”

“Ideals! A woman with ideals is like a drowning creature with a mill-stone round its neck! I have had enough of ideals!”

“It is a sad day to me when I hear you say so, Hadria!” the sister exclaimed.

“Algitha, there is just one solitary weapon that can’t be taken from a woman and so it is considerately left to her. Ah, it is a dangerous toy when brandished dexterously! Sometimes it sends a man or two away howling. Our pastors and masters have a wholesome dread of the murderous thing and what wails, and satires, and lamentations it inspires! Consult the literature of all lands and ages! Heaven-piercing! The only way of dealing with the awkward dilemma is to get the woman persuaded to be ‘good,’ and to lay down her weapon of her own accord, and let it rust. How many women have been so persuaded! Not I!”

“I know, and I understand how you feel; but oh, Hadria, this is not the way to fight, this will bring no good to anyone. And as for admiration, the admiration of men why, you know it is not worth having of this sort.”

“Oh, do I not know it! It is less than worthless. But I am not seeking anything of permanent value; I am seeking excitement, and the superficial satisfaction of brandishing the weapon that everyone would be charmed to see me lay in the dust. I won’t lay it down to please anybody. Dear me, it will soon rust of its own accord. You might as well ask some luckless warrior who stands at bay, facing overwhelming odds, to yield up his sword and leave himself defenceless. It is an insult to one’s common sense.”

Algitha’s remonstrance seemed only to inflame her sister’s mood, so she said no more. But she watched Hadria’s increasingly reckless conduct, with great uneasiness.

“It really is exciting!” exclaimed Hadria, with a strange smile. The whole party had migrated for the day, to the hills at a distance of about ten miles from Craddock Dene. A high spot had been chosen, on the edge of woodland shade, looking out over a wide distance of plain and far-off ranges. Here, as Claude Moreton remarked, they were to spoil the landscape, by taking their luncheon.

“Or what is worse, by giving ourselves rheumatism,” added Lord Engleton.

“What grumbling creatures men are!” exclaimed his wife, “and what pleasures they lose for themselves and make impossible for others, by this stupid habit of dwelling upon the disadvantages of a situation, instead of on its charms.”

“We ought to dwell upon the fowl and the magnificent prospect, and ignore the avenging rheumatism,” said Claude Moreton.

“Oh no, guard against it,” advised Algitha, with characteristic common sense. “Sit on this waterproof, for instance.”

“Ah, there you have the true philosophy!” cried Professor Theobald. “Contentment and forethought. Observe the symbol of forethought.” He spread the waterproof to the wind.

“There is nothing like a contented spirit!” cried Lady Engleton.

“Who is it that says you knock a man into a ditch, and then you tell him to remain content in the position in which Providence has placed him?” asked Hadria.

“Even contentment has its dangers,” said Claude Moreton, dreamily.

At the end of the meal, Hadria rose from the rug where she had been reclining, with the final assertion, that she thought the man who was knocked into the ditch and told to do his duty there, would do the best service to mankind, as well as to himself, by making a horrid clamour and trying to get out again. A group collected round her, almost immediately.

“Mrs. Fenwick, won’t you give us a song!” cried Madame Bertaux. “I see you have been kind enough to bring your guitar.”

Marion was enthroned upon the picnic-basket, with much pomp, and her guitar placed in her hand by Claude Moreton. Her figure, in her white gown and large straw hat, had for background the shadows of thick woods.

Professor Theobald sank down on the grass at Hadria’s side. She felt that his mood was agitated. She could not be in much doubt as to its cause. The reckless rôle that she had been playing was bringing its result. Hadria was half alarmed, half exultant. She had a strange, vague notion of selling her life dearly, to the enemy. Only, of late, this feeling had been mixed with another, of which she was scarcely conscious. The subtle fascination which the Professor exercised over her had taken a stronger hold, far stronger than she knew.

She was sitting on a little knoll, her arm resting on her knee, and her cheek in her hand. In the exquisitely graceful attitude, was an element of self-abandonment. It seemed as if she had grown tired of guiding and directing herself, and were now commending herself to fate or fortune, to do with her as they would, or must.

Marion struck a quiet chord. Her voice was sweet and tender and full, admirably suited to the song. Every nerve in Hadria answered to her tones.

“Oh, gather me the rose, the rose
While yet in flower we find it;
For summer smiles, but summer goes,
And winter waits behind it.

“For with the dream foregone, foregone,
The deed foreborne for ever,
The worm regret will canker on,
And time will turn him never.”

Professor Theobald shifted his position slightly.

“Ah, well it were to love, my love,
And cheat of any laughter
The fate beneath us and above,
The dark before and after.

“The myrtle and the rose, the rose,
The sunlight and the swallow,
The dream that comes, the dream that goes,
The memories that follow.”

The song was greeted with a vague stir among the silent audience. A little breeze gave a deep satisfied sigh, among the trees.

Several other songs followed, and then the party broke up. They were to amuse themselves as they pleased during the afternoon, and to meet on the same spot for five o’clock tea.

“I wish Hadria would not be so reckless!” cried Algitha anxiously. “Have you seen her lately?”

“When last I saw her,” said Valeria, “she had strolled off with the Professor and Mr. Moreton. Mr. Fleming and Lord Engleton were following with Mrs. Fenwick.”

“There is safety in numbers, at any rate, but I am distressed about her. It is all very well what she says, about not allowing her woman’s sole weapon to be wrenched from her, but she can’t use it in this way, safely. One can’t play with human emotions without coming to grief.”

“A man, at any rate, has no idea of being led an emotional dance,” said Miss Du Prel.

“Hadria has, I believe, at the bottom of her heart, a lurking desire to hurt men, because they have hurt women so terribly,” said Algitha.

“One can understand the impulse, but the worst of it is, that one is certain to pay back the score on the good man, and let the other go free.”

Algitha shook her head, regretfully.

“Did Hadria never show this impulse before?”

“Never in my life have I seen her exercise her power so ruthlessly.”

“I rather think she is wise after all,” said Miss Du Prel reflectively. “She might be sorry some day never to have tasted what she is tasting now.”

“But it seems to me dreadful. There is not a man who is not influenced by her in the strangest manner; even poor Joseph Fleming, who used to look up to her so. In my opinion, she is acting very wrongly.”

“‘He that has eaten his fill does not pity the hungry,’ as the Eastern proverb puts it. Come now, Algitha, imagine yourself to be cut off from the work that supremely interests you, and thrown upon Craddock Dene without hope of respite, for the rest of your days. Don’t you think you too might be tempted to try experiments with a power whose strength you had found to be almost irresistible?”

“Perhaps I should,” Algitha admitted.

“I don’t say she is doing right, but you must remember that you have not the temperament that prompts to these outbursts. I suppose that is only to say that you are better than Hadria, by nature. I think perhaps you are, but remember you have had the life and the work that you chose above all others she has not.”

“Heaven knows I don’t set myself above Hadria,” cried Algitha. “I have always looked up to her. Don’t you know how painful it is when people you respect do things beneath them?”

“Hadria will disappoint us all in some particular,” said Miss Du Prel. “She will not correspond exactly to anybody’s theory or standard, not even her own. It is a defect which gives her character a quality of the unexpected, that has for me, infinite attraction.”

Miss Du Prel had never shewn so much disposition to support Hadria’s conduct as now, when disapproval was general. She had a strong fellow-feeling for a woman who desired to use her power, and she was half disposed to regard her conduct as legitimate. At any rate, it was a temptation almost beyond one’s powers of resistance. If a woman might not do this, what, in heaven’s name, might she do? Was she not eternally referred to her woman’s influence, her woman’s kingdom? Surely a day’s somewhat murderous sport was allowable in that realm! After all, energy, ambition, nervous force, must have an outlet somewhere. Men could look after themselves. They had no mercy on women when they lay in their power. Why should a woman be so punctilious?

“Only the man is sure to get the best of it,” she added, bitterly. “He loses so little. It is a game where the odds are all on one side, and the conclusion foregone.”

Unexpectedly, the underwood behind the speakers was brushed aside and Hadria appeared before them. She looked perturbed.

“What is it? Why are you by yourself?”

“Oh, our party split up, long ago, into cliques, and we all became so select, that, at last, we reduced each clique to one member. Behold the very acme of selectness!” Hadria stood before them, in an attitude of hauteur.

“This sounds like evasion,” said Algitha.

“And if it were, what right have you to try to force me to tell what I do not volunteer?”

“True,” said her sister; “I beg your pardon.”

Miss Du Prel rose. “I will leave you to yourselves,” she said, walking away.

Hadria sat down and rested one elbow on the grass, looking over the sweep of the hill towards the distance. “That is almost like our old vision in the caves, Algitha; mist and distant lands it was a false prophecy. You were talking about me when I came up, were you not?”

“Did you hear?”

“No, but I feel sure of it.”

“Well, I confess it,” said Algitha. “We are both very uneasy about you.”

“If one never did anything all one’s life to make one’s friends uneasy, I wonder if one would have any fun.”

Algitha shook her head anxiously.

“‘Choose what you want and pay for it,’ is the advice of some accredited sage,” Hadria observed.

“Women have to pay so high,” said Algitha.

“So much the worse, but there is such a thing as false economy.”

“But seriously, Hadria, if one may speak frankly, I can’t see that the game is worth the candle. You have tested your power sufficiently. What more do you want? Claude Moreton is too nice and too good a man to trifle with. And poor Joseph Fleming! That is to me beyond everything.”

Hadria flushed deeply.

“I never dreamt that he I I never tried, never thought for a moment

“Ah! that is just the danger, Hadria. Your actions entail unintended consequences. As Miss Du Prel says, ’It is always the good men whom one wounds; the others wound us.’” Hadria was silent. “And Claude Moreton,” continued Algitha presently. “He is far too deeply interested in you, far too absorbed in what you say and do. I have watched him. It is cruel.”

Hadria grew fierce. “Has he never cruelly injured a woman? Has he not at least given moral support to the hideous indignities that all womanhood has to endure at men’s hands? At best one can make a man suffer. But men also humiliate us, degrade us, jeer at, ridicule the miseries that they and their society entail upon us. Yet for sooth, they must be spared the discomfort of becoming a little infatuated with a woman for a time a short time, at worst! Their feelings must be considered so tenderly!”

“But what good do you do by your present conduct?” asked Algitha, sticking persistently to the practical side of the matter.

“I am not trying to do good. I am merely refusing to obey these rules for our guidance, which are obviously drawn up to safeguard man’s property and privilege. Whenever I can find a man-made precept, that will I carefully disobey; whenever the ruling powers seek to guide me through my conscience, there shall they fail!”

“You forget that in playing with the feelings of others you are placing yourself in danger, Hadria. How can you be sure that you won’t yourself fall desperately in love with one of your intended victims?” Hadria’s eyes sparkled.

“I wish to heaven I only could!” she exclaimed. “I would give my right hand to be in the sway of a complete undoubting, unquestioning passion that would make all suffering and all life seem worth while; some emotion to take the place of my lost art, some full and satisfying sense of union with a human soul to rescue one from the ghastly solitude of life. But I am raving like a girl. I am crying for the moon.”

“Ah, take care, take care, Hadria; that is a mood in which one may mistake any twopenny-halfpenny little luminary for the impossible moon.”

“I think I should be almost ready to bless the beautiful illusion,” cried Hadria passionately.