Part 1 out of 6
'I would rather be an angel than God!'
The voice of the speaker sounded clearly through the hawthorn tree.
The young man and the young girl who sat together on the low
tombstone looked at each other. They had heard the voices of the two
children talking, but had not noticed what they said; it was the
sentiment, not the sound, which roused their attention.
The girl put her finger to her lips to impress silence, and the man
nodded; they sat as still as mice whilst the two children went on
The scene would have gladdened a painter's heart. An old churchyard.
The church low and square-towered, with long mullioned windows, the
yellow-grey stone roughened by age and tender-hued with lichens.
Round it clustered many tombstones tilted in all directions. Behind
the church a line of gnarled and twisted yews.
The churchyard was full of fine trees. On one side a magnificent
cedar; on the other a great copper beech. Here and there among the
tombs and headstones many beautiful blossoming trees rose from the
long green grass. The laburnum glowed in the June afternoon
sunlight; the lilac, the hawthorn and the clustering meadowsweet
which fringed the edge of the lazy stream mingled their heavy
sweetness in sleepy fragrance. The yellow-grey crumbling walls were
green in places with wrinkled harts-tongues, and were topped with
sweet-williams and spreading house-leek and stone-crop and wild-
flowers whose delicious sweetness made for the drowsy repose of
But amid all that mass of glowing colour the two young figures seated
on the grey old tomb stood out conspicuously. The man was in
conventional hunting-dress: red coat, white stock, black hat, white
breeches, and top-boots. The girl was one of the richest, most
glowing, and yet withal daintiest figures the eye of man could linger
on. She was in riding-habit of hunting scarlet cloth; her black hat
was tipped forward by piled-up masses red-golden hair. Round her
neck was a white lawn scarf in the fashion of a man's hunting-stock,
close fitting, and sinking into a gold-buttoned waistcoat of snowy
twill. As she sat with the long skirt across her left arm her tiny
black top-boots appeared underneath. Her gauntleted gloves were of
white buckskin; her riding-whip was plaited of white leather, topped
with ivory and banded with gold.
Even in her fourteenth year Miss Stephen Norman gave promise of
striking beauty; beauty of a rarely composite character. In her the
various elements of her race seemed to have cropped out. The firm-
set jaw, with chin broader and more square than is usual in a woman,
and the wide fine forehead and aquiline nose marked the high descent
from Saxon through Norman. The glorious mass of red hair, of the
true flame colour, showed the blood of another ancient ancestor of
Northern race, and suited well with the voluptuous curves of the
full, crimson lips. The purple-black eyes, the raven eyebrows and
eyelashes, and the fine curve of the nostrils spoke of the Eastern
blood of the far-back wife of the Crusader. Already she was tall for
her age, with something of that lankiness which marks the early
development of a really fine figure. Long-legged, long-necked, as
straight as a lance, with head poised on the proud neck like a lily
on its stem.
Stephen Norman certainly gave promise of a splendid womanhood.
Pride, self-reliance and dominance were marked in every feature; in
her bearing and in her lightest movement.
Her companion, Harold An Wolf, was some five years her senior, and by
means of those five years and certain qualities had long stood in the
position of her mentor. He was more than six feet two in height,
deep-chested, broad-shouldered, lean-flanked, long-armed and big-
handed. He had that appearance strength, with well-poised neck and
forward set of the head, which marks the successful athlete.
The two sat quiet, listening. Through the quiet hum of afternoon
came the voices of the two children. Outside the lich-gate, under
the shade of the spreading cedar, the horses stamped occasionally as
the flies troubled them. The grooms were mounted; one held the
delicate-limbed white Arab, the other the great black horse.
'I would rather be an angel than God!'
The little girl who made the remark was an ideal specimen of the
village Sunday-school child. Blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked, thick-legged,
with her straight brown hair tied into a hard bunch with a much-
creased, cherry-coloured ribbon. A glance at the girl would have
satisfied the most sceptical as to her goodness. Without being in
any way smug she was radiant with self-satisfaction and well-doing.
A child of the people; an early riser; a help to her mother; a good
angel to her father; a little mother to her brothers and sisters;
cleanly in mind and body; self-reliant, full of faith, cheerful.
The other little girl was prettier, but of a more stubborn type; more
passionate, less organised, and infinitely more assertive. Black-
haired, black-eyed, swarthy, large-mouthed, snub-nosed; the very type
and essence of unrestrained, impulsive, emotional, sensual nature. A
seeing eye would have noted inevitable danger for the early years of
her womanhood. She seemed amazed by the self-abnegation implied by
her companion's statement; after a pause she replied:
'I wouldn't! I'd rather be up at the top of everything and give
orders to the angels if I chose. I can't think, Marjorie, why you'd
rather take orders than give them.'
'That's just it, Susan. I don't want to give orders; I'd rather obey
them. It must be very terrible to have to think of things so much,
that you want everything done your own way. And besides, I shouldn't
like to have to be just!'
'Why not?' the voice was truculent, though there was wistfulness in
'Oh Susan. Just fancy having to punish; for of course justice needs
punishing as well as praising. Now an angel has such a nice time,
helping people and comforting them, and bringing sunshine into dark
places. Putting down fresh dew every morning; making the flowers
grow, and bringing babies and taking care of them till their mothers
find them. Of course God is very good and very sweet and very
merciful, but oh, He must be very terrible.'
'All the same I would rather be God and able to do things!'
Then the children moved off out of earshot. The two seated on the
tombstone looked after them. The first to speak was the girl, who
'That's very sweet and good of Marjorie; but do you know, Harold, I
like Susie's idea better.'
'Which idea was that, Stephen?'
'Why, didn't you notice what she said: "I'd like to be God and be
able to do things"?'
'Yes,' he said after a moment's reflection. 'That's a fine idea in
the abstract; but I doubt of its happiness in the long-run.'
'Doubt of its happiness? Come now? what could there be better, after
all? Isn't it good enough to be God? What more do you want?'
The girl's tone was quizzical, but her great black eyes blazed with
some thought of sincerity which lay behind the fun. The young man
shook his head with a smile of kindly tolerance as he answered:
'It isn't that--surely you must know it. I'm ambitious enough,
goodness knows; but there are bounds to satisfy even me. But I'm not
sure that the good little thing isn't right. She seemed, somehow, to
hit a bigger truth than she knew: "fancy having to be just."'
'I don't see much difficulty in that. Anyone can be just!'
'Pardon me,' he answered, 'there is perhaps nothing so difficult in
the whole range of a man's work.' There was distinct defiance in the
girl's eyes as she asked:
'A man's work! Why a man's work? Isn't it a woman's work also?'
'Well, I suppose it ought to be, theoretically; practically it
'And why not, pray?' The mere suggestion of any disability of woman
as such aroused immediate antagonism. Her companion suppressed a
smile as he answered deliberately:
'Because, my dear Stephen, the Almighty has ordained that justice is
not a virtue women can practise. Mind, I do not say women are
unjust. Far from it, where there are no interests of those dear to
them they can be of a sincerity of justice that can make a man's
blood run cold. But justice in the abstract is not an ordinary
virtue: it has to be considerate as well as stern, and above all
interest of all kinds and of every one--' The girl interrupted
'I don't agree with you at all. You can't give an instance where
women are unjust. I don't mean of course individual instances, but
classes of cases where injustice is habitual.' The suppressed smile
cropped out now unconsciously round the man's lips in a way which was
intensely aggravating to the girl.
'I'll give you a few,' he said. 'Did you ever know a mother just to
a boy who beat her own boy at school?' The girl replied quietly:
'Ill-treatment and bullying are subjects for punishment, not
'Oh, I don't mean that kind of beating. I mean getting the prizes
their own boys contended for; getting above them in class; showing
superior powers in running or cricket or swimming, or in any of the
forms of effort in which boys vie with each other.' The girl
reflected, then she spoke:
'Well, you may be right. I don't altogether admit it, but I accept
it as not on my side. But this is only one case.'
'A pretty common one. Do you think that Sheriff of Galway, who in
default of a hangman hanged his son with his own hands, would have
done so if he had been a woman?' The girl answered at once:
'Frankly, no. I don't suppose the mother was ever born who would do
such a thing. But that is not a common case, is it? Have you any
other?' The young man paused before he spoke:
'There is another, but I don't think I can go into it fairly with
'Well, because after all you know, Stephen, you are only a girl and
you can't be expected to know.' The girl laughed:
'Well, if it's anything about women surely a girl, even of my tender
age, must know something more of it, or be able to guess at, than any
young man can. However, say what you think and I'll tell you frankly
if I agree--that is if a woman can be just, in such a matter.'
'Shortly the point is this: Can a woman be just to another woman, or
to a man for the matter of that, where either her own affection or a
fault of the other is concerned?'
'I don't see any reason to the contrary. Surely pride alone should
ensure justice in the former case, and the consciousness of
superiority in the other.' The young man shook his head:
'Pride and the consciousness of superiority! Are they not much the
same thing. But whether or no, if either of them has to be relied
on, I'm afraid the scales of Justice would want regulating, and her
sword should be blunted in case its edge should be turned back on
herself. I have an idea that although pride might be a guiding
principle with you individually, it would be a failure with the
average. However, as it would be in any case a rule subject to many
exceptions I must let it go.'
Harold looked at his watch and rose. Stephen followed him;
transferring her whip into the hand which held up the skirt, she took
his arm with her right hand in the pretty way in which a young girl
clings to her elders. Together they went out at the lich-gate. The
groom drew over with the horses. Stephen patted hers and gave her a
lump of sugar. Then putting her foot into Harold's ready hand she
sprang lightly into the saddle. Harold swung himself into his saddle
with the dexterity of an accomplished rider.
As the two rode up the road, keeping on the shady side under the
trees, Stephen said quietly, half to herself, as if the sentence had
impressed itself on her mind:
'To be God and able to do things!'
Harold rode on in silence. The chill of some vague fear was upon
Stephen Norman of Normanstand had remained a bachelor until close on
middle age, when the fact took hold of him that there was no
immediate heir to his great estate. Whereupon, with his wonted
decision, he set about looking for a wife.
He had been a close friend of his next neighbour, Squire Rowly, ever
since their college days. They had, of course, been often in each
other's houses, and Rowly's young sister--almost a generation younger
than himself, and the sole fruit of his father's second marriage--had
been like a little sister to him too. She had, in the twenty years
which had elapsed, grown to be a sweet and beautiful young woman. In
all the past years, with the constant opportunity which friendship
gave of close companionship, the feeling never altered. Squire
Norman would have been surprised had he been asked to describe
Margaret Rowly and found himself compelled to present the picture of
a woman, not a child.
Now, however, when his thoughts went womanward and wifeward, he awoke
to the fact that Margaret came within the category of those he
sought. His usual decision ran its course. Semi-brotherly feeling
gave place to a stronger and perhaps more selfish feeling. Before he
even knew it, he was head over ears in love with his pretty
Norman was a fine man, stalwart and handsome; his forty years sat so
lightly on him that his age never seemed to come into question in a
woman's mind. Margaret had always liked him and trusted him; he was
the big brother who had no duty in the way of scolding to do. His
presence had always been a gladness; and the sex of the girl, first
unconsciously then consciously, answered to the man's overtures, and
her consent was soon obtained.
When in the fulness of time it was known that an heir was expected,
Squire Norman took for granted that the child would be a boy, and
held the idea so tenaciously that his wife, who loved him deeply,
gave up warning and remonstrance after she had once tried to caution
him against too fond a hope. She saw how bitterly he would be
disappointed in case it should prove to be a girl. He was, however,
so fixed on the point that she determined to say no more. After all,
it might be a boy; the chances were equal. The Squire would not
listen to any one else at all; so as the time went on his idea was
more firmly fixed than ever. His arrangements were made on the base
that he would have a son. The name was of course decided. Stephen
had been the name of all the Squires of Normanstand for ages--as far
back as the records went; and Stephen the new heir of course would
Like all middle-aged men with young wives he was supremely anxious as
the time drew near. In his anxiety for his wife his belief in the
son became passive rather than active. Indeed, the idea of a son was
so deeply fixed in his mind that it was not disturbed even by his
anxiety for the young wife he idolised.
When instead of a son a daughter was born, the Doctor and the nurse,
who knew his views on the subject, held back from the mother for a
little the knowledge of the sex. Dame Norman was so weak that the
Doctor feared lest anxiety as to how her husband would bear the
disappointment, might militate against her. Therefore the Doctor
sought the Squire in his study, and went resolutely at his task.
'Well, Squire, I congratulate you on the birth of your child!'
Norman was of course struck with the use of the word 'child'; but the
cause of his anxiety was manifested by his first question:
'How is she, Doctor? Is she safe?' The child was after all of
secondary importance! The Doctor breathed more freely; the question
had lightened his task. There was, therefore, more assurance in his
voice as he answered:
'She is safely through the worst of her trouble, but I am greatly
anxious yet. She is very weak. I fear anything that might upset
The Squire's voice came quick and strong:
'There must be no upset! And now tell me about my son?' He spoke
the last word half with pride, half bashfully.
'Your son is a daughter!' There was silence for so long that the
Doctor began to be anxious. Squire Norman sat quite still; his right
hand resting on the writing-table before him became clenched so hard
that the knuckles looked white and the veins red. After a long slow
breath he spoke:
'She, my daughter, is well?' The Doctor answered with cheerful
'Splendid!--I never saw a finer child in my life. She will be a
comfort and an honour to you!' The Squire spoke again:
'What does her mother think? I suppose she's very proud of her?'
'She does not know yet that it is a girl. I thought it better not to
let her know till I had told you.'
'Because--because--Norman, old friend, you know why! Because you had
set your heart on a son; and I know how it would grieve that sweet
young wife and mother to feel your disappointment. I want your lips
to be the first to tell her; so that on may assure her of your
happiness in that a daughter has been born to you.'
The Squire put out his great hand and laid it on the other's
shoulder. There was almost a break in his voice as he said:
'Thank you, my old friend, my true friend, for your thought. When
may I see her?'
'By right, not yet. But, as knowing your views, she may fret herself
till she knows, I think you had better come at once.'
All Norman's love and strength combined for his task. As he leant
over and kissed his young wife there was real fervour in his voice as
'Where is my dear daughter that you may place her in my arms?' For
an instant there came a chill to the mother's heart that her hopes
had been so far disappointed; but then came the reaction of her joy
that her husband, her baby's father, was pleased. There was a
heavenly dawn of red on her pale face as she drew her husband's head
down and kissed him.
'Oh, my dear,' she said, 'I am so happy that you are pleased!' The
nurse took the mother's hand gently and held it to the baby as she
laid it in the father's arms.
He held the mother's hand as he kissed the baby's brow.
The Doctor touched him gently on the arm and beckoned him away. He
went with careful footsteps, looking behind as he went.
After dinner he talked with the Doctor on various matters; but
presently he asked:
'I suppose, Doctor, it is no sort of rule that the first child
regulates the sex of a family?'
'No, of course not. Otherwise how should we see boys and girls mixed
in one family, as is nearly always the case. But, my friend,' he
went on, 'you must not build hopes so far away. I have to tell you
that your wife is far from strong. Even now she is not so well as I
could wish, and there yet may be change.' The Squire leaped
impetuously to his feet as he spoke quickly:
'Then why are we waiting here? Can nothing be done? Let us have the
best help, the best advice in the world.' The Doctor raised his
'Nothing can be done as yet. I have only fear.'
'Then let us be ready in case your fears should be justified! Who
are the best men in London to help in such a case?' The Doctor
mentioned two names; and within a few minutes a mounted messenger was
galloping to Norcester, the nearest telegraph centre. The messenger
was to arrange for a special train if necessary. Shortly afterwards
the Doctor went again to see his patient. After a long absence he
came back, pale and agitated. Norman felt his heart sink when he saw
him; a groan broke from him as the Doctor spoke:
'She is much worse! I am in great fear that she may pass away before
the morning!' The Squire's strong voice was clouded, with a hoarse
veil as he asked:
'May I see her?'
'Not yet; at present she is sleeping. She may wake strengthened; in
which case you may see her. But if not--'
'If not?'--the voice was not like his own.
'Then I shall send for you at once!' The Doctor returned to his
vigil. The Squire, left alone, sank on his knees, his face in his
hands; his great shoulders shook with the intensity of his grief.
An hour or more passed before he heard hurried steps. He sprang to
'You had better come now.'
'Is she better?'
'Alas! no. I fear her minutes are numbered. School yourself, my
dear old friend! God will help you in this bitter hour. All you can
do now is to make her last moments happy.'
'I know! I know!' he answered in a voice so calm that his companion
When they came into the room Margaret was dozing. When her eyes
opened and she found her husband beside her bed there spread over her
face a glad look; which, alas! soon changed to one of pain. She
motioned to him to bend down. He knelt and put his head beside her
on the pillow; his arms went tenderly round her as though by his iron
devotion and strength he would shield her from all harm. Her voice
came very low and in broken gasps; she was summoning all her strength
that she might speak:
'My dear, dear husband, I am so sad at leaving you! You have made me
so happy, and I love you so! Forgive me, dear, for the pain I know
you will suffer when I am gone! And oh, Stephen, I know you will
cherish our little one--yours and mine--when I am gone. She will
have no mother; you will have to be father and mother too.'
'I will hold her in my very heart's core, my darling, as I hold you!'
He could hardly speak from emotion. She went on:
'And oh, my dear, you will not grieve that she is not a son to carry
on your name?' And then a sudden light came into her eyes; and there
was exultation in her weak voice as she said:
'She is to be our only one; let her be indeed our son! Call her the
name we both love!' For answer he rose and laid his hand very, very
tenderly on the babe as he said:
'This dear one, my sweet wife, who will carry your soul in her
breast, will be my son; the only son I shall ever have. All my life
long I shall, please Almighty God, so love her--our little Stephen--
as you and I love each other!'
She laid her hand on his so that it touched at once her husband and
her child. Then she raised the other weak arm, and placed it round
his neck, and their lips met. Her soul went out in this last kiss.
CHAPTER II--THE HEART OF A CHILD
For some weeks after his wife's death Squire Norman was overwhelmed
with grief. He made a brave effort, however, to go through the
routine of his life; and succeeded so far that he preserved an
external appearance of bearing his loss with resignation. But
within, all was desolation.
Little Stephen had winning ways which sent deep roots into her
father's heart. The little bundle of nerves which the father took
into his arms must have realised with all its senses that, in all
that it saw and heard and touched, there was nothing but love and
help and protection. Gradually the trust was followed by
expectation. If by some chance the father was late in coming to the
nursery the child would grow impatient and cast persistent, longing
glances at the door. When he came all was joy.
Time went quickly by, and Norman was only recalled to its passing by
the growth of his child. Seedtime and harvest, the many comings of
nature's growth were such commonplaces to him, and had been for so
many years, that they made on him no impressions of comparison. But
his baby was one and one only. Any change in it was not only in
itself a new experience, but brought into juxtaposition what is with
what was. The changes that began to mark the divergence of sex were
positive shocks to him, for they were unexpected. In the very dawn
of babyhood dress had no special import; to his masculine eyes sex
was lost in youth. But, little by little, came the tiny changes
which convention has established. And with each change came to
Squire Norman the growing realisation that his child was a woman. A
tiny woman, it is true, and requiring more care and protection and
devotion than a bigger one; but still a woman. The pretty little
ways, the eager caresses, the graspings and holdings of the childish
hands, the little roguish smiles and pantings and flirtings were all
but repetitions in little of the dalliance of long ago. The father,
after all, reads in the same book in which the lover found his
At first there was through all his love for his child a certain
resentment of her sex. His old hope of a son had been rooted too
deeply to give way easily. But when the conviction came, and with it
the habit of its acknowledgment, there came also a certain
resignation, which is the halting-place for satisfaction. But he
never, not then nor afterwards, quite lost the old belief that
Stephen was indeed a son. Could there ever have been a doubt, the
remembrance of his wife's eyes and of her faint voice, of her hope
and her faith, as she placed her baby in his arms would have refused
it a resting-place. This belief tinged all his after-life and
moulded his policy with regard to his girl's upbringing. If she was
to be indeed his son as well as his daughter, she must from the first
be accustomed to boyish as well as to girlish ways. This, in that
she was an only child, was not a difficult matter to accomplish. Had
she had brothers and sisters, matters of her sex would soon have
found their own level.
There was one person who objected strongly to any deviation from the
conventional rule of a girl's education. This was Miss Laetitia
Rowly, who took after a time, in so far as such a place could be
taken, that of the child's mother. Laetitia Rowly was a young aunt
of Squire Rowly of Norwood; the younger sister of his father and some
sixteen years his own senior. When the old Squire's second wife had
died, Laetitia, then a conceded spinster of thirty-six, had taken
possession of the young Margaret. When Margaret had married Squire
Norman, Miss Rowly was well satisfied; for she had known Stephen
Norman all her life. Though she could have wished a younger
bridegroom for her darling, she knew it would be hard to get a better
man or one of more suitable station in life. Also she knew that
Margaret loved him, and the woman who had never found the happiness
of mutual love in her own life found a pleasure in the romance of
true love, even when the wooer was middle-aged. She had been
travelling in the Far East when the belated news of Margaret's death
came to her. When she had arrived home she announced her intention
of taking care of Margaret's child, just as she had taken care of
Margaret. For several reasons this could not be done in the same
way. She was not old enough to go and live at Normanstand without
exciting comment; and the Squire absolutely refused to allow that his
daughter should live anywhere except in his own house. Educational
supervision, exercised at such distance and so intermittently, could
neither be complete nor exact.
Though Stephen was a sweet child she was a wilful one, and very early
in life manifested a dominant nature. This was a secret pleasure to
her father, who, never losing sight of his old idea that she was both
son and daughter, took pleasure as well as pride out of each
manifestation of her imperial will. The keen instinct of childhood,
which reasons in feminine fashion, and is therefore doubly effective
in a woman-child, early grasped the possibilities of her own will.
She learned the measure of her nurse's foot and then of her father's;
and so, knowing where lay the bounds of possibility of the
achievement of her wishes, she at once avoided trouble and learned
how to make the most of the space within the limit of her tether.
It is not those who 'cry for the Moon' who go furthest or get most in
this limited world of ours. Stephen's pretty ways and unfailing good
temper were a perpetual joy to her father; and when he found that as
a rule her desires were reasonable, his wish to yield to them became
Miss Rowly seldom saw any individual thing to disapprove of. She it
was who selected the governesses and who interviewed them from time
to time as to the child's progress. Not often was there any
complaint, for the little thing had such a pretty way of showing
affection, and such a manifest sense of justified trust in all whom
she encountered, that it would have been hard to name a specific
But though all went in tears of affectionate regret, and with
eminently satisfactory emoluments and references, there came an
irregularly timed succession of governesses.
Stephen's affection for her 'Auntie' was never affected by any of the
changes. Others might come and go, but there no change came. The
child's little hand would steal into one of the old lady's strong
ones, or would clasp a finger and hold it tight. And then the woman
who had never had a child of her own would feel, afresh each time, as
though the child's hand was gripping her heart.
With her father she was sweetest of all. And as he seemed to be
pleased when she did anything like a little boy, the habit of being
like one insensibly grew on her.
An only child has certain educational difficulties. The true
learning is not that which we are taught, but that which we take in
for ourselves from experience and observation, and children's
experiences and observation, especially of things other than
repressive, are mainly of children. The little ones teach each
other. Brothers and sisters are more with each other than are
ordinary playmates, and in the familiarity of their constant
intercourse some of the great lessons, so useful in after-life, are
learned. Little Stephen had no means of learning the wisdom of give-
and-take. To her everything was given, given bountifully and
gracefully. Graceful acceptance of good things came to her
naturally, as it does to one who is born to be a great lady. The
children of the farmers in the neighbourhood, with whom at times she
played, were in such habitual awe of the great house, that they were
seldom sufficiently at ease to play naturally. Children cannot be on
equal terms on special occasions with a person to whom they have been
taught to bow or courtesy as a public habit. The children of
neighbouring landowners, who were few and far between, and of the
professional people in Norcester, were at such times as Stephen met
them, generally so much on their good behaviour, that the spontaneity
of play, through which it is that sharp corners of individuality are
knocked off or worn down, did not exist.
And so Stephen learned to read in the Book of Life; though only on
one side of it. At the age of six she had, though surrounded with
loving care and instructed by skilled teachers, learned only the
accepting side of life. Giving of course there was in plenty, for
the traditions of Normanstand were royally benevolent; many a
blessing followed the little maid's footsteps as she accompanied some
timely aid to the sick and needy sent from the Squire's house.
Moreover, her Aunt tried to inculcate certain maxims founded on that
noble one that it is more blessed to give than to receive. But of
giving in its true sense: the giving that which we want for
ourselves, the giving that is as a temple built on the rock of self-
sacrifice, she knew nothing. Her sweet and spontaneous nature, which
gave its love and sympathy so readily, was almost a bar to education:
it blinded the eyes that would have otherwise seen any defect that
wanted altering, any evil trait that needed repression, any lagging
virtue that required encouragement--or the spur.
Squire Norman had a clerical friend whose rectory of Carstone lay
some thirty miles from Normanstand. Thirty miles is not a great
distance for railway travel; but it is a long drive. The days had
not come, nor were they ever likely to come, for the making of a
railway between the two places. For a good many years the two men
had met in renewal of their old University days. Squire Norman and
Dr. An Wolf had been chums at Trinity, Cambridge, and the boyish
friendship had ripened and lasted. When Harold An Wolf had put in
his novitiate in a teeming Midland manufacturing town, it was
Norman's influence which obtained the rectorship for his friend. It
was not often that they could meet, for An Wolf's work, which, though
not very exacting, had to be done single-handed, kept him to his
post. Besides, he was a good scholar and eked out a small income by
preparing a few pupils for public school. An occasional mid-week
visit to Normanstand in the slack time of school work on the Doctor's
part, and now and again a drive by Norman over to the rectory,
returning the next day, had been for a good many years the measure of
their meeting. Then An Wolf's marriage and the birth of a son had
kept him closer to home. Mrs. An Wolf had been killed in a railway
accident a couple of years after her only child had been born; and at
the time Norman had gone over to render any assistance in his power
to the afflicted man, and to give him what was under the
circumstances his best gift, sympathy. After an interval of a few
years the Squire's courtship and marriage, at which his old friend
had assisted, had confined his activities to a narrower circle. The
last time they had met was when An Wolf had come over to Norcester to
aid in the burial of his friend's wife. In the process of years,
however, the shadow over Norman's life had begun to soften; when his
baby had grown to be something of a companion, they met again.
Norman, 'who had never since his wife's death been able to tear
himself, even for a night, away from Normanstand and Stephen, wrote
to his old friend asking him to come to him. An Wolf gladly
promised, and for a week of growing expectation the Squire looked
forward to their meeting. Each found the other somewhat changed, in
all but their old affection.
An Wolf was delighted with the little Stephen. Her dainty beauty
seemed to charm him; and the child, seeming to realise what pleasure
she was giving, exercised all her little winning ways. The rector,
who knew more of children than did his, friend, told her as she sat
on his knee of a very interesting person: his own son. The child
listened, interested at first, then enraptured. She asked all kinds
of questions; and the father's eyes brightened as he gladly answered
the pretty sympathetic child, already deep in his heart for her
father's sake. He told her about the boy who was so big and strong,
and who could run and leap and swim and play cricket and football
better than any other boy with whom he played. When, warmed himself
by the keen interest of the little girl, and seeing her beautiful
black eyes beginning to glow, he too woke to the glory of the time;
and all the treasured moments of the father's lonely heart gave out
their store. And the other father, thrilled with delight because of
his baby's joy with, underlying all, an added pleasure that the
little Stephen's interest was in sports that were for boys, looked on
approvingly, now and again asking questions himself in furtherance of
the child's wishes.
All the afternoon they sat in the garden, close to the stream that
came out of the rock, and An Wolf told father's tales of his only
son. Of the great cricket match with Castra Puerorum when he had
made a hundred not out. Of the school races when he had won so many
prizes. Of the swimming match in the Islam River when, after he had
won the race and had dressed himself, he went into the water in his
clothes to help some children who had upset a boat. How when Widow
Norton's only son could not be found, he dived into the deep hole of
the intake of the milldam of the great Carstone mills where Wingate
the farrier had been drowned. And how, after diving twice without
success, he had insisted on going down the third time though people
had tried to hold him back; and how he had brought up in his arms the
child all white and so near death that they had to put him in the
ashes of the baker's oven before he could be brought back to life.
When her nurse came to take her to bed, she slid down from her
father's knee and coming over to Dr. An Wolf, gravely held out her
hand and said: 'Good-bye!' Then she kissed him and said:
'Thank you so much, Mr. Harold's daddy. Won't you come soon again,
and tell us more?' Then she jumped again upon her father's knee and
hugged him round the neck and kissed him, and whispered in his ear:
'Daddy, please make Mr. Harold's daddy when he comes again, bring
Harold with him!'
After all it is natural for women to put the essence of the letter in
Two weeks afterwards Dr. An Wolf came again and brought Harold with
him. The time had gone heavily with little Stephen when she knew
that Harold was coming with his father. Stephen had been all afire
to see the big boy whose feats had so much interested her, and for a
whole week had flooded Mrs. Jarrold with questions which she was
unable to answer. At last the time came and she went out to the hall
door with her father to welcome the guests. At the top of the great
granite steps, down which in time of bad weather the white awning
ran, she stood holding her father's hand and waving a welcome.
'Good morning, Harold! Good morning, Mr. Harold's daddy!'
The meeting was a great pleasure to both the children, and resulted
in an immediate friendship. The small girl at once conceived a great
admiration for the big, strong boy nearly twice her age and more than
twice her size. At her time of life the convenances are not, and
love is a thing to be spoken out at once and in the open. Mrs.
Jarrold, from the moment she set eyes on him, liked the big kindly-
faced boy who treated her like a lady, and who stood awkwardly
blushing and silent in the middle of the nursery listening to the
tiny child's proffers of affection. For whatever kind of love it is
that boys are capable of, Harold had fallen into it. 'Calf-love' is
a thing habitually treated with contempt. It may be ridiculous; but
all the same it is a serious reality--to the calf.
Harold's new-found affection was as deep as his nature. An only
child who had in his memory nothing of a mother's love, his naturally
affectionate nature had in his childish days found no means of
expression. A man child can hardly pour out his full heart to a man,
even a father or a comrade; and this child had not, in a way, the
consolations of other children. His father's secondary occupation of
teaching brought other boys to the house and necessitated a domestic
routine which had to be exact. There was no place for little girls
in a boys' school; and though many of Dr. An Wolf's friends who were
mothers made much of the pretty, quiet boy, and took him to play with
their children, he never seemed to get really intimate with them.
The equality of companionship was wanting. Boys he knew, and with
them he could hold his own and yet be on affectionate terms. But
girls were strange to him, and in their presence he was shy. With
this lack of understanding of the other sex, grew up a sort of awe of
it. His opportunities of this kind of study were so few that the
view never could become rectified.
And so it was that from his boyhood up to his twelfth year, Harold's
knowledge of girlhood never increased nor did his awe diminish. When
his father had told him all about his visit to Normanstand and of the
invitation which had been extended to him there came first awe, then
doubt, then expectation. Between Harold and his father there was
love and trust and sympathy. The father's married love so soon cut
short found expression towards his child; and between them there had
never been even the shadow of a cloud. When his father told him how
pretty the little Stephen was, how dainty, how sweet, he began to
picture her in his mind's eye and to be bashfully excited over
His first glimpse of Stephen was, he felt, one that he never could
forget. She had made up her mind that she would let Harold see what
she could do. Harold could fly kites and swim and play cricket; she
could not do any of these, but she could ride. Harold should see her
pony, and see her riding him all by herself. And there would be
another pony for Harold, a big, big, big one--she had spoken about
its size herself to Topham, the stud-groom. She had coaxed her daddy
into promising that after lunch she should take Harold riding. To
this end she had made ready early. She had insisted on putting on
the red riding habit which Daddy had given her for her birthday, and
now she stood on the top of the steps all glorious in hunting pink,
with the habit held over her arms, with the tiny hunting-hoots all
shiny underneath. She had no hat on, and her beautiful hair of
golden red shone in its glory. But even it was almost outshone by
the joyous flush on her cheeks as she stood waving the little hand
that did not hold Daddy's. She was certainly a picture to dream of!
Her father's eyes lost nothing of her dainty beauty. He was so proud
of her that he almost forgot to wish that she had been a boy. The
pleasure he felt in her appearance was increased by the fact that her
dress was his own idea.
During luncheon Stephen was fairly silent; she usually chattered all
through as freely as a bird sings. Stephen was silent because the
occasion was important. Besides, Daddy wasn't all alone, and
therefore had not to be cheered up. Also--this in postscript form--
Harold was silent! In her present frame of mind Harold could do no
wrong, and what Harold did was right. She was unconsciously learning
already a lesson from his presence.
That evening when going to bed she came to say good-night to Daddy.
After she had kissed him she also kissed 'old Mr. Harold,' as she now
called him, and as a matter of course kissed Harold also. He
coloured up at once. It was the first time a girl had ever kissed
The next day from early morning until bed-time was one long joy to
Stephen, and there were few things of interest that Harold had not
been shown; there were few of the little secrets which had not been
shared with him as they went about hand in hand. Like all manly boys
Harold was good to little children and patient with them. He was
content to follow Stephen about and obey all her behests. He had
fallen in love with her to the very bottom of his boyish heart.
When the guests were going, Stephen stood with her father on the
steps to see them off. When the carriage had swept behind the
farthest point in the long avenue, and when Harold's cap waving from
the window could no longer be seen, Squire Norman turned to go in,
but paused in obedience to the unconscious restraint of Stephen's
hand. He waited patiently till with a long sigh she turned to him
and they went in together.
That night before she went to bed Stephen came and sat on her
father's knee, and after sundry pattings and kissings whispered in
'Daddy, wouldn't it be nice if Harold could come here altogether?
Couldn't you ask him to? And old Mr. Harold could come too. Oh, I
wish he was here!'
CHAPTER IV--HAROLD AT NORMANSTAND
Two years afterwards a great blow fell upon Harold. His father, who
had been suffering from repeated attacks of influenza, was, when in
the low condition following this, seized with pneumonia, to which in
a few days he succumbed. Harold was heart-broken. The affection
which had been between him and his father had been so consistent that
he had never known a time when it was not.
When Squire Norman had returned to the house with him after the
funeral, he sat in silence holding the boy's hand till he had wept
his heart out. By this time the two were old friends, and the boy
was not afraid or too shy to break down before him. There was
sufficient of the love of the old generation to begin with trust in
Presently, when the storm was past and Harold had become his own man
again, Norman said:
'And now, Harold, I want you to listen to me. You know, my dear boy,
that I am your father's oldest friend, and right sure I am that he
would approve of what I say. You must come home with me to live. I
know that in his last hours the great concern of your dear father's
heart would have been for the future of his boy. And I know, too,
that it was a comfort to him to feel that you and I are such friends,
and that the son of my dearest old friend would be as a son to me.
We have been friends, you and I, a long time, Harold; and we have
learned to trust, and I hope to love, one another. And you and my
little Stephen are such friends already that your coming into the
house will be a joy to us all. Why, long ago, when first you came,
she said to me the night you went away: "Daddy, wouldn't it be nice
if Harold could come here altogether?"'
And so Harold An Wolf came back with the Squire to Normanstand, and
from that day on became a member of his house, and as a son to him.
Stephen's delight at his coming was of course largely qualified by
her sympathy with his grief; but it would have been hard to give him
more comfort than she did in her own pretty way. Putting her lips to
his she kissed him, and holding his big hand in both of her little
ones, she whispered softly:
'Poor Harold! You and I should love each other, for we have both
lost our mother. And now you have lost your father. But you must
let my dear daddy be yours too!'
At this time Harold was between fourteen and fifteen years old. He
was well educated in so far as private teaching went. His father had
devoted much care to him, so that he was well grounded in all the
Academic branches of learning. He was also, for his years, an expert
in most manly exercises. He could ride anything, shoot straight,
fence, run, jump or swim with any boy more than his age and size.
In Normanstand his education was continued by the rector. The Squire
used often to take him with him when he went to ride, or fish, or
shoot; frankly telling him that as his daughter was, as yet, too
young to be his companion in these matters, he would act as her locum
tenens. His living in the house and his helping as he did in
Stephen's studies made familiarity perpetual. He was just enough her
senior to command her childish obedience; and there were certain
qualities in his nature which were eminently calculated to win and
keep the respect of women as well as of men. He was the very
incarnation of sincerity, and had now and again, in certain ways, a
sublime self-negation which, at times, seemed in startling contrast
to a manifestly militant nature. When at school he had often been
involved in fights which were nearly always on matters of principle,
and by a sort of unconscious chivalry he was generally found fighting
on the weaker side. Harold's father had been very proud of his
ancestry, which was Gothic through the Dutch, as the manifestly
corrupted prefix of the original name implied, and he had gathered
from a constant study of the Sagas something of the philosophy which
lay behind the ideas of the Vikings.
This new stage of Harold's life made for quicker development than any
which had gone before. Hitherto he had not the same sense of
responsibility. To obey is in itself a relief; and as it is an
actual consolation to weak natures, so it is only a retarding of the
strong. Now he had another individuality to think of. There was in
his own nature a vein of anxiety of which the subconsciousness of his
own strength threw up the outcrop.
Little Stephen with the instinct of her sex discovered before long
this weakness. For it is a weakness when any quality can be assailed
or used. The using of a man's weakness is not always coquetry; but
it is something very like it. Many a time the little girl, who
looked up to and admired the big boy who could compel her to anything
when he was so minded, would, for her own ends, work on his sense of
responsibility, taking an elfin delight in his discomfiture.
The result of Stephen's harmless little coquetries was that Harold
had occasionally either to thwart some little plan of daring, or else
cover up its results. In either case her confidence in him grew, so
that before long he became an established fact in her life, a being
in whose power and discretion and loyalty she had absolute, blind
faith. And this feeling seemed to grow with her own growth. Indeed
at one time it came to be more than an ordinary faith. It happened
The old Church of St. Stephen, which was the parish church of
Normanstand, had a peculiar interest for the Norman family. There,
either within the existing walls or those which had preceded them
when the church was rebuilt by that Sir Stephen who was standard-
bearer to Henry VI., were buried all the direct members of the line.
It was an unbroken record of the inheritors since the first Sir
Stephen, who had his place in the Domesday Book. Without, in the
churchyard close to the church, were buried all such of the
collaterals as had died within hail of Norcester. Some there were of
course who, having achieved distinction in various walks of life,
were further honoured by a resting-place within the chancel. The
whole interior was full of records of the family. Squire Norman was
fond of coming to the place; and often from the very beginning had
taken Stephen with him. One of her earliest recollections was
kneeling down with her father, who held her hand in his, whilst with
the other he wiped the tears from his eyes, before a tomb sculptured
beautifully in snowy marble. She never forgot the words he had said
'You will always remember, darling, that your dear mother rests in
this sacred place. When I am gone, if you are ever in any trouble
come here. Come alone and open out your heart. You need never fear
to ask God for help at the grave of your mother!' The child had been
impressed, as had been many and many another of her race. For seven
hundred years each child of the house of Norman had been brought
alone by either parent and had heard some such words. The custom had
come to be almost a family ritual, and it never failed to leave its
impress in greater or lesser degree.
Whenever Harold had in the early days paid a visit to Normanstand,
the church had generally been an objective of their excursions. He
was always delighted to go. His love for his own ancestry made him
admire and respect that of others; so that Stephen's enthusiasm in
the matter was but another cord to bind him to her.
In one of their excursions they found the door into the crypt open;
and nothing would do Stephen but that they should enter it. To-day,
however, they had no light; but they arranged that on the morrow they
would bring candles with them and explore the place thoroughly. The
afternoon of the next day saw them at the door of the crypt with a
candle, which Harold proceeded to light. Stephen looked on
admiringly, and said in a half-conscious way, the half-consciousness
being shown in the implication:
'You are not afraid of the crypt?'
'Not a bit! In my father's church there was a crypt, and I was in it
several times.' As he spoke the memory of the last time he had been
there swept over him. He seemed to see again the many lights, held
in hands that were never still, making a grim gloom where the black
shadows were not; to hear again the stamp and hurried shuffle of the
many feet, as the great oak coffin was borne by the struggling mass
of men down the steep stairway and in through the narrow door . . .
And then the hush when voices faded away; and the silence seemed a
real thing, as for a while he stood alone close to the dead father
who had been all in all to him. And once again he seemed to feel the
recall to the living world of sorrow and of light, when his inert
hand was taken in the strong loving one of Squire Norman.
He paused and drew back.
'Why don't you go on?' she asked, surprised.
He did not like to tell her then. Somehow, it seemed out of place.
He had often spoken to her of his father, and she had always been a
sympathetic listener; but here, at the entrance of the grim vault, he
did not wish to pain her with his own thoughts of sorrow and all the
terrible memories which the similarity of the place evoked. And even
whilst he hesitated there came to him a thought so laden with pain
and fear that he rejoiced at the pause which gave it to him in time.
It was in that very crypt that Stephen's mother had been buried, and
had they two gone in, as they had intended, the girl might have seen
her mother's coffin as he had seen his father's, but under
circumstances which made him shiver. He had been, as he said, often
in the crypt at Carstone; and well he knew the sordidness of the
chamber of death. His imagination was alive as well as his memory;
he shuddered, not for himself, but for Stephen. How could he allow
the girl to suffer in such a way as she might, as she infallibly
would, if it were made apparent to her in such a brutal way? How
pitiful, how meanly pitiful, is the aftermath of death. Well he
remembered how many a night he woke in an agony, thinking of how his
father lay in that cold, silent, dust-strewn vault, in the silence
and the dark, with never a ray of light or hope or love! Gone,
abandoned, forgotten by all, save perhaps one heart which bled . . .
He would save little Stephen, if he could, from such a memory. He
would not give any reason for refusing to go in.
He blew out the candle, and turned the key in the lock, took it out,
and put it in his pocket.
'Come, Stephen!' he said, 'let us go somewhere else. We will not go
into the crypt to-day!'
'Why not?' The lips that spoke were pouted mutinously and the face
was flushed. The imperious little lady was not at all satisfied to
give up the cherished project. For a whole day and night she had,
whilst waking, thought of the coming adventure; the thrill of it was
not now to be turned to cold disappointment without even an
explanation. She did not think that Harold was afraid; that would be
ridiculous. But she wondered; and mysteries always annoyed her. She
did not like to be at fault, more especially when other people knew.
All the pride in her revolted.
'Why not?' she repeated more imperiously still.
Harold said kindly:
'Because, Stephen, there is really a good reason. Don't ask me, for
I can't tell you. You must take it from me that I am right. You
know, dear, that I wouldn't willingly disappoint you; and I know that
you had set your heart on this. But indeed, indeed I have a good
Stephen was really angry now. She was amenable to reason, though she
did not consciously know what reason was; but to accept some one
else's reason blindfold was repugnant to her nature, even at her then
age. She was about to speak angrily, but looking up she saw that
Harold's mouth was set with marble firmness. So, after her manner,
she acquiesced in the inevitable and said:
'All right! Harold.'
But in the inner recesses of her firm-set mind was a distinct
intention to visit the vault when more favourable circumstances would
CHAPTER V--THE CRYPT
It was some weeks before Stephen got the chance she wanted. She knew
it would be difficult to evade Harold's observation, for the big
boy's acuteness as to facts had impressed itself on her. It was
strange that out of her very trust in Harold came a form of distrust
in others. In the little matter of evading him she inclined to any
one in whom there was his opposite, in whose reliability she
instinctively mistrusted. 'There is nothing bad or good but thinking
makes it so!' To enter that crypt, which had seemed so small a
matter at first, had now in process of thinking and wishing and
scheming become a thing to be much desired. Harold saw, or rather
felt, that something was in the girl's mind, and took for granted
that it had something to do with the crypt. But he thought it better
not to say anything lest he should keep awake a desire which he hoped
would die naturally.
One day it was arranged that Harold should go over to Carstone to see
the solicitor who had wound up his father's business. He was to stay
the night and ride back next day. Stephen, on hearing of the
arrangement, so contrived matters that Master Everard, the son of a
banker who had recently purchased an estate in the neighbourhood, was
asked to come to play with her on the day when Harold left. It was
holiday time at Eton, and he was at home. Stephen did not mention to
Harold the fact of his coming; it was only from a chance allusion of
Mrs. Jarrold before he went that he inferred it. He did not think
the matter of sufficient importance to wonder why Stephen, who
generally told him everything, had not mentioned this.
During their play, Stephen, after pledging him to secrecy, told
Leonard of her intention of visiting the crypt, and asked him to help
her in it. This was an adventure, and as such commended itself to
the schoolboy heart. He entered at once into the scheme con amore;
and the two discussed ways and means. Leonard's only regret was that
he was associated with a little girl in such a project. It was
something of a blow to his personal vanity, which was a large item in
his moral equipment, that such a project should have been initiated
by the girl and not by himself. He was to get possession of the key
and in the forenoon of the next day he was to be waiting in the
churchyard, when Stephen would join him as soon as she could evade
her nurse. She was now more than eleven, and had less need of being
watched than in her earlier years. It was possible, with strategy,
to get away undiscovered for an hour.
At Carstone Harold got though what he had to do that same afternoon
and arranged to start early in the morning for Normanstand. After an
early breakfast he set out on his thirty-mile journey at eight
o'clock. Littlejohn, his horse, was in excellent form,
notwithstanding his long journey of the day before, and with his nose
pointed for home, put his best foot foremost. Harold felt in great
spirits. The long ride the day before had braced him physically,
though there were on his journey times of great sadness when the
thought of his father came back to him and the sense of loss was
renewed with each thought of his old home. But youth is naturally
buoyant. His visit to the church, the first thing on his arrival at
Carstone, and his kneeling before the stone made sacred to his
father's memory, though it entailed a silent gush of tears, did him
good, and even seemed to place his sorrow farther away. When he came
again in the morning before leaving Carstone there were no tears.
There was only a holy memory which seemed to sanctify loss; and his
father seemed nearer to him than ever.
As he drew near Normanstand he looked forward eagerly to seeing
Stephen, and the sight of the old church lying far below him as he
came down the steep road over Alt Hill, which was the short-cut from
Norcester, set his mind working. His visit to the tomb of his own
father made him think of the day when he kept Stephen from entering
The keenest thought is not always conscious. It was without definite
intention that when he came to the bridle-path Harold turned his
horse's head and rode down to the churchyard. As he pushed open the
door of the church he half expected to see Stephen; and there was a
vague possibility that Leonard Everard might be with her.
The church was cool and dim. Coming from the hot glare the August
sunshine it seemed, at the first glance, dark. He looked around, and
a sense of relief came over him. The place was empty.
But even as he stood, there came a sound which made his heart grow
cold. A cry, muffled, far away and full of anguish; a sobbing cry,
which suddenly ceased.
It was the voice of Stephen. He instinctively knew where it came
from; the crypt. Only for the experience he had had of her desire to
enter the place, he would never have suspected that it was so close
to him. He ran towards the corner where commenced the steps leading
downward. As he reached the spot a figure came rushing up the steps.
A boy in Eton jacket and wide collar, careless, pale, and agitated.
It was Leonard Everard. Harold seized him as he came.
'Where is Stephen?' he cried in a quick, low voice.
'In the vault below there. She dropped her light and then took mine,
and she dropped it too. Let me go! Let me go!' He struggled to get
away; but Harold held him tight.
'Where are the matches?'
'In my pocket. Let me go! Let me go!'
'Give me them--this instant!' He was examining the frightened boy's
waistcoat pockets as he spoke. When he had got the matches he let
the boy go, and ran down the steps and through the open door into the
crypt, calling out as he came:
'Stephen! Stephen dear, where are you? It is I--Harold!' There was
no response; his heart seemed to grow cold and his knees to weaken.
The match spluttered and flashed, and in the momentary glare he saw
across the vault, which was not a large place, a white mass on the
ground. He had to go carefully, lest the match should be blown out
by the wind of his passage; but on coming close he saw that it was
Stephen lying senseless in front of a great coffin which rested on a
built-out pile of masonry. Then the match went out. In the flare of
the next one he lit he saw a piece of candle lying on top of the
coffin. He seized and lit it. He was able to think coolly despite
his agitation, and knew that light was the first necessity. The
bruised wick was slow to catch; he had to light another match, his
last one, before it flamed. The couple of seconds that the light
went down till the grease melted and the flame leaped again seemed of
considerable length. When the lit candle was placed steadily on top
of the coffin, and a light, dim, though strong enough to see with,
spread around, he stooped and lifted Stephen in his arms. She was
quite senseless, and so limp that a great fear came upon him that she
might be dead. He did not waste time, but carried her across the
vault where the door to the church steps stood out sharp against the
darkness, and bore her up into the church. Holding her in one arm,
with the other hand he dragged some long cushions from one of the
pews and spread them on the floor; on these he laid her. His heart
was smitten with love and pity as he looked. She was so helpless; so
pitifully helpless! Her arms and legs were doubled up as though
broken, disjointed; the white frock was smeared with patches of thick
dust. Instinctively he stooped and pulled the frock down and
straightened out the arms and feet. He knelt beside her, and felt if
her heart was still beating, a great fear over him, a sick
apprehension. A gush of thankful prayer came from his heart. Thank
God! she was alive; he could feel her heart beat, though faintly
underneath his hand. He started to his feet and ran towards the
door, seizing his hat, which lay on a seat. He wanted it to bring
back some water. As he passed out of the door he saw Leonard a
little distance off, but took no notice of him. He ran to the
stream, filled his hat with water, and brought it back. When he came
into the church he saw Stephen, already partially restored, sitting
up on the cushions with Leonard supporting her.
He was rejoiced; but somehow disappointed. He would rather Leonard
had not been there. He remembered--he could not forget--the white
face of the boy who fled out of the crypt leaving Stephen in a faint
within, and who had lingered outside the church door whilst he ran
for water. Harold came forward quickly and raised Stephen, intending
to bring her into the fresh air. He had a shrewd idea that the sight
of the sky and God's greenery would be the best medicine for her
after her fright. He lifted her in his strong arms as he used to do
when she was a very little child and had got tired in their walks
together; and carried her to the door. She lent herself
unconsciously to the movement, holding fast with her arm round his
neck as she used to do. In her clinging was the expression of her
trust in him. The little sigh with which she laid her head on his
shoulder was the tribute to his masculine power, and her belief in
it. Every instant her senses were coming back to her more and more.
The veil of oblivion was passing from her half-closed eyes, as the
tide of full remembrance swept in upon her. Her inner nature was
expressed in the sequence of her emotions. Her first feeling was one
of her own fault. The sight of Harold and his proximity recalled to
her vividly how he had refused to go into the crypt, and how she had
intentionally deceived him, negatively, as to her intention of doing
that of which he disapproved. Her second feeling was one of justice;
and was perhaps partially evoked by the sight of Leonard, who
followed close as Harold brought her to the door. She did not wish
to speak of herself or Harold before him; but she did not hesitate to
speak of him to Harold:
'You must not blame Leonard. It was all my fault. I made him come!'
Her generosity appealed to Harold. He was angry with the boy for
being there at all; but more for his desertion of the girl in her
'I'm not blaming him for being with you!' he said simply. Leonard
spoke at once. He had been waiting to defend himself, for that was
what first concerned that young gentleman; next to his pleasure, his
safety most appealed to him.
'I went to get help. You had let the candle drop; and how could I
see in the dark? You would insist on looking at the plate on the
A low moan broke from Stephen, a long, low, trembling moan which went
to Harold's heart. Her head drooped over again on his shoulder; and
she clung close to him as the memory of her shock came back to her.
Harold spoke to Leonard over his shoulder in a low, fierce whisper,
which Stephen did not seem to hear:
'There! that will do. Go away! You have done enough already. Go!
Go!' he added more sternly, as the boy seemed disposed to argue.
Leonard ran a few steps, then walked to the lich-gate, where he
Stephen clung close to Harold in a state of agitation which was
almost hysterical. She buried her face in his shoulder, sobbing
'Oh, Harold! It was too awful. I never thought, never for a moment,
that my poor dear mother was buried in the crypt. And when I went to
look at the name on the coffin that was nearest to where I was, I
knocked away the dust, and then I saw her name: "Margaret Norman,
aetat 22." I couldn't bear it. She was only a girl herself, only
just twice my age--lying there in that terrible dark place with all
the thick dust and the spiders' webs. Oh, Harold, Harold! How shall
I ever bear to think of her lying there, and that I shall never see
her dear face? Never! Never!'
He tried to soothe her by patting and holding her hands. For a good
while the resolution of the girl faltered, and she was but as a
little child. Then her habitual strength of mind asserted itself.
She did not ask Harold how she came to be out in the church instead
of in the crypt when she recovered her senses. She seemed to take it
for granted that Leonard had carried her out; and when she said how
brave it had been of him, Harold, with his customary generosity,
allowed her to preserve the belief. When they had made their way to
the gate Leonard came up to them; but before he could speak Stephen
had begun to thank him. He allowed her to do so, though the sight of
Harold's mouth set in scorn, and his commanding eyes firmly fixed on
him, made him grow hot and cold alternately. He withdrew without
speaking; and took his way home with a heart full of bitterness and
In the park Stephen tried to dust herself, and then Harold tried to
assist her. But her white dress was incurably soiled, the fine dust
of the vault seemed to have got ingrained in the muslin. When she
got to the house she stole upstairs, so that no one might notice her
till she had made herself tidy.
The next day but one she took Harold for a walk in the afternoon.
When they were quite alone and out of earshot she said:
'I have been thinking all night about poor mother. Of course I know
she cannot be moved from the crypt. She must remain there. But
there needn't be all that dust. I want you to come there with me
some time soon. I fear I am afraid to go alone. I want to bring
some flowers and to tidy up the place. Won't you come with me this
time? I know now, Harold, why you didn't let me go in before. But
now it is different. This is not curiosity. It is Duty and Love.
Won't you come with me, Harold?'
Harold leaped from the edge of the ha-ha where he had been sitting
and held up his hand. She took it and leaped down lightly beside
'Come,' he said, 'let us go there now!' She took his arm when they
got on the path again, and clinging to him in her pretty girlish way
they went together to the piece of garden which she called her own;
there they picked a great bunch of beautiful white flowers. Then
they walked to the old church. The door was open and they passed in.
Harold took from his pocket a tiny key. This surprised her, and
heightened the agitation which she naturally suffered from revisiting
the place. She said nothing whilst he opened the door to the crypt.
Within, on a bracket, stood some candles in glass shades and boxes of
matches. Harold lit three candles, and leaving one of them on the
shelf, and placing his cap beside it, took the other two in his
hands. Stephen, holding her flowers tightly to her breast with her
right hand, took Harold's arm with the left, and with beating heart
entered the crypt.
For several minutes Harold kept her engaged, telling her about the
crypt in his father's church, and how he went down at his last visit
to see the coffin of his dear father, and how he knelt before it.
Stephen was much moved, and held tight to his arm, her heart beating.
But in the time she was getting accustomed to the place. Her eyes,
useless at first on coming out of the bright sunlight, and not able
to distinguish anything, began to take in the shape of the place and
to see the rows of great coffins that stood out along the far wall.
She also saw with surprise that the newest coffin, on which for
several reasons her eyes rested, was no longer dusty but was
scrupulously clean. Following with her eyes as well as she could see
into the further corners she saw that there the same reform had been
effected. Even the walls and ceiling had been swept of the hanging
cobwebs, and the floor was clean with the cleanliness of ablution.
Still holding Harold's arm, she moved over towards her mother's
coffin and knelt before it. Harold knelt with her; for a little
while she remained still and silent, praying inwardly. Then she
rose, and taking her great bunch of flowers placed them lovingly on
the lid of the coffin above where she thought her mother's heart
would be. Then she turned to Harold, her eyes flowing and her cheeks
wet with tears, and laid her head against his breast. Her arms could
not go round his neck till he had bent his head, for with his great
height he simply towered above her. Presently she was quiet; the
paroxysm of her grief had passed. She took Harold's hand in both
hers, and together they went to the door. With his disengaged hand,
for he would not have disturbed the other for worlds, Harold put out
the lights and locked the door behind them.
In the church she held him away from her, and looked him fairly in
the face. She said slowly:
'Harold, was it you who had the crypt cleaned?' He answered in a low
'I knew you would want to go again!'
She took the great hand which she held between hers, and before he
knew what she was doing and could prevent her, raised it to her lips
and kissed it, saying lovingly:
'Oh, Harold! No brother in all the wide world could be kinder. And-
-and--' this with a sob, 'we both thank you; mother and I!'
CHAPTER VI--A VISIT TO OXFORD
The next important move in the household was Harold's going to
Cambridge. His father had always intended this, and Squire Norman
had borne his wishes in mind. Harold joined Trinity, the college
which had been his father's, and took up his residence in due course.
Stephen was now nearly twelve. Her range of friendships, naturally
limited by her circumstances in life, was enlarged to the full; and
if she had not many close friends there were at least of them all
that was numerically possible. She still kept up to certain degree
the little gatherings which in her childhood were got together for
her amusement, and in the various games then instituted she still
took a part. She never lost sight of the fact that her father took a
certain pleasure in her bodily vigour. And though with her growing
years and the conscious acceptance of her womanhood, she lost sight
of the old childish fancy of being a boy instead of a girl, she could
not lose sight of the fact that strength and alertness are sources of
feminine as well as of masculine power.
Amongst the young friends who came from time to time during his
holidays was Leonard Everard, now a tall, handsome boy. He was one
of those boys who develop young, and who seem never to have any of
that gawky stage so noticeable in the youth of men made in a large
pattern. He was always well-poised, trim-set, alert; fleet of foot,
and springy all over. In games he was facile princeps, seeming to
make his effort always in the right way and without exertion, as if
by an instinct of physical masterdom. His universal success in such
matters helped to give him an easy debonair manner which was in
itself winning. So physically complete a youth has always a charm.
In its very presence there is a sort of sympathetic expression, such
as comes with the sunshine.
Stephen always in Leonard's presence showed something of the common
attitude. His youth and beauty and sex all had their influence on
her. The influence of sex, as it is understood with regard to a
later period of life, did not in her case exist; Cupid's darts are
barbed and winged for more adult victims. But in her case Leonard's
masculine superiority, emphasised by the few years between their age,
his sublime self-belief, and, above all, his absolute disregard for
herself or her wishes or her feelings, put him on a level at which
she had to look up to him. The first step in the ladder of pre-
eminence had been achieved when she realised that he was not on her
level; the second when she experienced rather than thought that he
had more influence on her than she had on him. Here again was a
little morsel of hero worship, which, though based on a misconception
of fact, was still of influence. In that episode of the crypt she
had always believed that it was Leonard who had carried her out and
laid her on the church floor in light and safety. He had been strong
enough and resolute enough to do this, whilst she had fainted!
Harold's generous forbearance had really worked to a false end.
It was not strange, therefore, that she found occasional
companionship with the handsome, wilful, domineering boy somewhat of
luxury. She did not see him often enough to get tired of him; to
find out the weakness of his character; to realise his deep-seated,
remorseless selfishness. But after all he was only an episode in a
young life which was full of interests. Term after term came and
went; the holidays had their seasonable pleasures, occasionally
shared in common. That was all.
Harold's attitude was the same as ever. He was of a constant nature;
and now that manhood was within hail the love of his boyhood was
ripening to a man's love. That was all. He was with regard to
Stephen the same devoted, worshipping protector, without thought of
self; without hope of reward. Whatever Stephen wished Harold did;
and Stephen, knowing their old wishes and their old pleasures, was
content with their renewal. Each holiday between the terms became
mainly a repetition of the days of the old life. They lived in the
Amongst the things that did not change was Stephen's riding dress.
The scarlet habit had never been a thing for everyday wear, but had
from the first been kept for special occasions. Stephen herself knew
that it was not a conventional costume; but she rather preferred it,
if on that account alone. In a certain way she felt justified in
using it; for a red habit was a sort of tradition in the family.
It was on one of these occasions that she had gone with Harold into
the churchyard where they had heard the discussion regarding God and
When Stephen was about sixteen she went for a short visit to Oxford.
She stayed at Somerville with Mrs. Egerton, an old friend of her
mother's, who was a professor at the college. She sent back her maid
who had travelled with her, as she knew that the college girls did
not have servants of their own. The visit was prolonged by mutual
consent into a duration of some weeks. Stephen fell in love with the
place and the life, and had serious thoughts of joining the college
herself. Indeed she had made up her mind to ask her father to allow
her, knowing well that he would consent to that or to any other
wholesome wish of hers. But then came the thought that he would be
all alone at home; and following that came another thought, and one
of more poignant feeling. He was alone now! Already, for many days,
she had left him, for the first time in her life! Stephen was quick
to act; well she knew that at home there would be no fault found with
her for a speedy return. Within a few hours she had brought her
visit to an end, and was by herself, despite Mrs. Egerton's protest,
in the train on the way back to Norcester.
In the train she began to review, for the first time, her visit to
the university. All had been so strange and new and delightful to
her that she had never stopped for retrospect. Life in the new and
enchanting place had been in the moving present. The mind had been
receptive only, gathering data for later thought. During her visit
she had had no one to direct her thought, and so it had been all
personal, with the freedom of individuality at large. Of course her
mother's friend, skilled in the mind-workings of average girls, and
able to pick her way through intellectual and moral quagmires, had
taken good care to point out to her certain intellectual movements
and certain moral lessons; just as she had in their various walks and
drives pointed out matters of interest--architectural beauties and
spots of historic import. And she had taken in, loyally accepted,
and thoroughly assimilated all that she had been told. But there
were other lessons which were for her young eyes; facts which the
older eyes had ceased to notice, if they had ever noticed them at
all. The self-content, the sex-content in the endless tide of young
men that thronged the streets and quads and parks; the all-sufficing
nature of sport or study, to whichever their inclinations tended.
The small part which womankind seemed to have in their lives.
Stephen had had, as we know, a peculiar training; whatever her
instincts were, her habits were largely boy habits. Here she was
amongst boys, a glorious tide of them; it made now and again her
heart beat to look at them. And yet amongst them all she was only an
outsider. She could not do anything better than any of them. Of
course, each time she went out, she became conscious of admiring
glances; she could not be woman without such consciousness. But it
was as a girl that men looked at her, not as an equal. As well as
personal experience and the lessons of eyes and ears and
intelligence, there were other things to classify and adjust; things
which were entirely from the outside of her own life. The fragments
of common-room gossip, which it had been her fortune to hear
accidentally now and again. The half confidences of scandals, borne
on whispered breaths. The whole confidences of dormitory and study
which she had been privileged to share. All were parts of the new
and strange world, the great world which had swum into her ken.
As she sat now in the train, with some formulation of memory already
accomplished in the two hours of solitude, her first comment, spoken
half audibly, would have surprised her teachers as much as it would
have surprised herself, if she had been conscious of it; for as yet
her thinking was not self-conscious:
'Surely, I am not like that!'
It was of the women she had been thinking, not of the men. The
glimpse which she had had of her own sex had been an awakening to
her; and the awakening had not been to a pleasant world. All at once
she seemed to realise that her sex had defects--littlenesses,
meannesses, cowardices, falsenesses. That their occupations were apt
to be trivial or narrow or selfish; that their desires were earthly,
and their tastes coarse; that what she held to be goodness was apt to
be realised only as fear. That innocence was but ignorance, or at
least baffled curiosity. That . . .
A flood of shame swept over her, and instinctively she put her hands
before her burning face. As usual, she was running all at once into
And above all these was borne upon her, and for the first time in her
life, that she was herself a woman!
For a long time she sat quite still. The train thrilled and roared
on its way. Crowded stations took and gave their quantum of living
freight; but the young girl sat abstracted, unmoved, seemingly
unconscious. All the dominance and energy of her nature were at
If, indeed, she was a woman, and had to abide by the exigencies of
her own sex, she would at least not be ruled and limited by woman's
weakness. She would plan and act and manage things for herself, in
her own way.
Whatever her thoughts might be, she could at least control her acts.
And those acts should be based not on woman's weakness, but on man's
CHAPTER VII--THE NEED OF KNOWING
When Stephen announced her intention of going with her father to the
Petty Sessions Court, there was consternation amongst the female
population of Normanstand and Norwood. Such a thing had not been
heard of in the experiences of any of them. Courts of Justice were
places for men; and the lower courts dealt with a class of cases . .
. It was quite impossible to imagine where any young lady could get
such an idea . . .
Miss Laetitia Rowly recognised that she had a difficult task before
her, for she was by now accustomed to Stephen's quiet method of
having her own way.
She made a careful toilet before driving over to Normanstand. Her
wearing her best bonnet was a circumstance not unattended with dread
for some one. Behold her then, sailing into the great drawing-room
at Normanstand with her mind so firmly fixed on the task before her
as to be oblivious of minor considerations. She was so fond of
Stephen, and admired so truly her many beauties and fine qualities,
that she was secure and without flaw in her purpose. Stephen was in
danger, and though she doubted if she would be able to effect any
change, she was determined that at least she should not go into
danger with her eyes unopened.
Stephen entered hastily and ran to her. She loved her great-aunt;
really and truly loved her. And indeed it would have been strange if
she had not, for from the earliest hour which she could recollect she
had received from her nothing but the truest, fondest affection.
Moreover she deeply respected the old lady, her truth, her
resolution, her kindliness, her genuine common-sense ability.
Stephen always felt safe with her aunt. In the presence of others
she might now and again have a qualm or a doubt; but not with her.
There was an abiding calm in her love, answering love realised and
respected. Her long and intimate knowledge of Laetitia made her
aware of her moods. She could read the signs of them. She knew well
the meaning of the bonnet which actually seemed to quiver as though
it had a sentience of its own. She knew well the cause of her aunt's
perturbation; the pain which must be caused to her was perhaps the
point of most resistance in herself--she having made up her mind to
her new experience. All she could do would be to try to reconcile
her by the assurance of good intention; by reason, and by sweetness
of manner. When she had kissed her and sat beside her, holding her
hand after her pretty way, she, seeing the elder woman somewhat at a
loss, opened the subject herself:
'You look troubled, auntie! I hope it is nothing serious?'
'It is, my dear! Very serious! Everything is serious to me which
'Me, Auntie!' Hypocrisy is a fine art.
'Yes! yes, Stephen. Oh! my dear child, what is this I hear about
your going to Petty Sessions with your father?'
'Oh, that! Why, Auntie dear, you must not let that trouble you. It
is all right. That is necessary!'
'Necessary!' the old lady's figure grew rigid and her voice was loud
and high. 'Necessary for a young lady to go to a court house. To
hear low people speaking of low crimes. To listen to cases of the
most shocking kind; cases of low immorality; cases of a kind, of a
nature of a--a--class that you are not supposed to know anything
about. Really, Stephen! . . . ' She was drawing away her hand in
indignation. But Stephen held it tight, as she said very sweetly:
'That is just it, Auntie. I am so ignorant that I feel I should know
more of the lives of those very people!' Miss Laetitia interrupted:
'Ignorant! Of course you are ignorant. That is what you ought to
be. Isn't it what we have all been devoting ourselves to effect ever
since you were born? Read your third chapter of Genesis and remember
what came of eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.'
'I think the Tree of Knowledge must have been an orange tree.' The
old lady looked up, her interest aroused:
'Because ever since Eden other brides have worn its blossom!' Her
tone was demure. Miss Rowly looked sharply at her, but her sharpness
softened off into a smile.
'H'm!' she said, and was silent. Stephen seized the opportunity to
put her own case:
'Auntie dear, you must forgive me! You really must, for my heart is
set on this. I assure you I am not doing it merely to please myself.
I have thought over the whole matter. Father has always wished me to
be in a position--a position of knowledge and experience--to manage
Normanstand if I should ever succeed him. From the earliest time I
can remember he has always kept this before me, and though of course
I did not at first understand what it meant, I have seemed in the
last few years to know better. Accordingly I learned all sorts of
things under his care, and sometimes even without his help. I have
studied the estate map, and I have been over the estate books and
read some of the leases and all such matters which they deal with in
the estate office. This only told me the bones of the thing. I
wanted to know more of our people; and so I made a point of going now
and again to each house that we own. Of seeing the people and
talking with them familiarly; as familiarly as they would let me, and
indeed so far as was possible considering my position. For, Auntie
dear, I soon began to learn--to learn in a way there was no
mistaking--what my position is. And so I want to get to know more of
their ordinary lives; the darker as well as the lighter side. I
would like to do them good. I can see how my dear daddy has always
been a sort of power to help them, and I would like to carry on his
work; to carry it further if I may. But I must know.'
Her aunt had been listening with growing interest, and with growing
respect too, for she realised the intense earnestness which lay
behind the girl's words and her immediate purpose. Her voice and
manner were both softened:
'But, my dear, surely it is not necessary to go into the Court to
know these things. The results of each case become known.'
'That is just it, Auntie,' she answered quickly. 'The magistrates
have to hear the two sides of the case before even they can make up
their minds. I want to hear both sides, too! If people are guilty,
I want to know the cause of their guilt. If they are innocent, I
want to know what the circumstances can be which make innocence look
like guilt. In my own daily life I may be in the way of just such
judgments; and surely it is only right that judgment should be just!'
Again she paused; there rose before her mind that conversation in the
churchyard when Harold had said that it was difficult for women to be
Miss Rowly reflected too. She was becoming convinced that in
principle the girl was right. But the details were repugnant as ever
to her; concentrating her mind on the point where she felt the ground
firm under her, she made her objection:
'But, Stephen dear, there are so many cases that are sordid and
'The more need to know of sordid things; if sordidness plays so
important a part in the tragedy of their lives!'
'But there are cases which are not within a woman's province. Cases
that touch sin . . . '
'What kind of sin do you mean? Surely all wrong-doing is sin!' The
old lady was embarrassed. Not by the fact, for she had been for too
many years the mistress of a great household not to know something of
the subject on which she spoke, but that she had to speak of such a
matter to the young girl whom she so loved.
'The sin, my dear, of . . . of woman's wrong-doing . . . as woman . .
. of motherhood, without marriage!' All Stephen's nature seemed to
rise in revolt.
'Why, Auntie,' she spoke out at once, 'you yourself show the want of
the very experience I look for!'
'How? what?' asked the old lady amazed and bristling. Stephen took
her hand and held it affectionately as she spoke:
'You speak of a woman's wrong-doing, when surely it is a man's as
well. There does not seem to be blame for him who is the more
guilty. Only for poor women! . . . And, Auntie dear, it is such poor
women that I should like to help . . . Not when it is too late, but
before! But how can I help unless I know? Good girls cannot tell
me, and good women won't! You yourself, Auntie, didn't want to speak
on the subject; even to me!'
'But, my dear child, these are not things for unmarried women. I
never speak of them myself except with matrons.' Stephen's answer
flashed out like a sword; and cut like one:
'And yet you are unmarried! Oh, Auntie dear, I did not and I do not
mean to be offensive, or to hurt you in any way. I know, dear, your
goodness and your kindness to all. But you limit yourself to one
side!' The elder lady interrupted:
'How do you mean? one side! which side?'
'The punishment side. I want to know the cause of that which brings
the punishment. There surely is some cross road in a girl's life
where the ways part. I want to stand there if I can, with warning in
one hand and help in the other. Oh! Auntie, Auntie, can't you see
that my heart is in this . . . These are our people; Daddy says they
are to be my people; and I want to know their lives right through; to
understand their wants, and their temptations, and their weakness.
Bad and good, whatever it be, I must know it all; or I shall be
working in the dark, and may injure or crush where I had looked to
help and raise.'
As she spoke she looked glorified. The afternoon autumn sun shone
full through the great window and lighted her up till she looked like
a spirit. Lighted her white diaphanous dress till it seemed to take
shape as an ethereal robe; lighted her red hair till it looked like a
celestial crown; lighted her great dark eyes till their black beauty
became swept in the tide of glory.
The heart of the old woman who loved her best heaved, and her bosom
swelled with pride. Instinctively she spoke:
'Oh, you noble, beautiful creature! Of course you are right, and
your way is God's way!' With tears that rained down her furrowed
cheeks, she put her arms round the girl and kissed her fondly. Still
holding her in her arms she gave her the gentle counsel which was the
aftermath of her moment of inspiration.
'But Stephen dear, do be careful! Knowledge is a two-edged sword,
and it is apt to side with pride. Remember what was the last
temptation of the serpent to Eve: "Your eyes shall be opened, and ye
shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."'
'I shall be very careful,' she said gravely; and then added as if by
an afterthought, 'of course you understand that my motive is the
acquisition of knowledge?'
'Yes?' the answer was given interrogatively.
'Don't you think, dear, that Eve's object was not so much the
acquisition of knowledge as the gratification of curiosity.'
'That may be,' said the elder lady in a doubtful tone; 'but my dear,
who is to enlighten us as to which is which? We are apt in such
matters to deceive ourselves. The more we know, the better are we
able to deceive others; and the better we are able to deceive others
the better we are able to deceive ourselves. As I tell you, dear,
knowledge is two-edged and needs extra carefulness in its use!'
'True!' said Stephen reflectively. Long after her aunt had gone she
Once again did Miss Rowly try to restrain Stephen from a project.
This was when a little later she wished to go for a few days to the
University Mission House in the East end of London. Ever since her
visit to Oxford she had kept up a correspondence with her mother's
old friend. It was this lady's habit to spend a part of vacation in
the Mission; and Stephen had had much correspondence with her
regarding the work. At last she wrote that if she might, she would
like to come and see for herself. The answer was a cordial
invitation, armed with which she asked her father to allow her to go.
He at once assented. He had been watching keenly the development of
her character, and had seen with pride and satisfaction that as time
went on she seemed to acquire greater resolution, larger self-
dependence. She was becoming more and more of his ideal. Without
losing any of her womanhood, she was beginning to look at things more
from a man's point of view than is usually done by, or possible to,
When she returned at the end of a week she was full of new gravity.
After a while this so far changed that her old lighter moods began to
have their place, but it seemed that she never lost, and that she
never would lose, the effect of that week of bitter experience
amongst the 'submerged tenth.'
The effect of the mental working was shown by a remark made by Harold
when home on his next college vacation. He had been entering with
her on a discussion of an episode on the estate:
'Stephen, you are learning to be just!'
At the moment she was chagrined by the remark, though she accepted it
in silence; but later, when she had thought the matter over, she took
from it infinite pleasure. This was indeed to share man's ideas and
to think with the workings of man's mind. It encouraged her to
further and larger ideas, and to a greater toleration than she had
hitherto dreamed of.
Of all those who loved her, none seemed to understand so fully as
Laetitia Rowly the change in her mental attitude, or rather the
development of it. Now and again she tried to deflect or modify
certain coming forces, so that the educational process in which she
had always had a part would continue in the right direction. But she
generally found that the girl had been over the ground so thoroughly
that she was able to defend her position. Once, when she had
ventured to remonstrate with her regarding her attitude of woman's
equality with man, she felt as if Stephen's barque was indeed
entering on dangerous seas. The occasion had arisen thus: Stephen
had been what her aunt had stigmatised as 'laying down the law' with
regard to the position a married woman, and Miss Rowly, seeing a good
argumentative opening, remarked:
'But what if a woman does not get the opportunity of being married?'
Stephen looked at her a moment before saying with conviction:
'It is a woman's fault if she does not get the opportunity!' The old
lady smiled as she answered:
'Her fault? My dear, what if no man asks her?' This seemed to her
own mind a poser.
'Still her own fault! Why doesn't she ask him?' Her aunt's lorgnon
was dropped in horrified amazement.
Stephen went on impassively.
'Certainly! Why shouldn't she? Marriage is a union. As it is in
the eye of the law a civil contract, either party to it should be at
liberty to originate the matter. If a woman is not free to think of
a man in all ways, how is she to judge of the suitability of their
union? And if she is free in theory, why not free to undertake if
necessary the initiative in a matter so momentous to herself?' The
old lady actually groaned and wrung her hands; she was horrified at
such sentiments. They were daring enough to think; but to put them
in words! . . .
'Oh, my dear, my dear!' she moaned, 'be careful what you say. Some
one might hear you who would not understand, as I do, that you are
talking theory.' Stephen's habit of thought stood to her here. She
saw that her aunt was distressed, and as she did not wish to pain her
unduly, was willing to divert the immediate channel of her fear. She
took the hand which lay in her lap and held it firmly whilst she
smiled in the loving old eyes.
'Of course, Auntie dear, it is theory. But still it is a theory
which I hold very strongly!' . . . Here a thought struck her and she
'Did you ever . . . How many proposals did you have, Auntie?' The
old lady smiled; her thoughts were already diverted.
'Several, my dear! It is so long ago that I don't remember!'
'Oh yes, you do, Auntie! No woman ever forgets that, no matter what
else she may or may not remember! Tell me, won't you?' The old lady
blushed slightly as she answered:
'There is no need to specify, my dear. Let it be at this, that there
were more than you could count on your right hand!'
'And why did you refuse them?' The tone was wheedling, and the elder
woman loved to hear it. Wheedling is the courtship, by the young of
'Because, my dear, I didn't love them.'
'But tell me, Auntie, was there never any one that you did love?'
'Ah! my dear, that is a different matter. That is the real tragedy
of a woman's life.' In flooding reminiscent thought she forgot her
remonstrating; her voice became full of natural pathos:
'To love; and be helpless! To wait, and wait, and wait; with your
heart all aflame! To hope, and hope; till time seems to have passed
away, and all the world to stand still on your hopeless misery! To
know that a word might open up Heaven; and yet to have to remain
mute! To keep back the glances that could enlighten; to modulate the
tones that might betray! To see all you hoped for passing away . . .
to another! . . . '
Stephen bent over and kissed her, then standing up said:
'I understand! Isn't it wrong, Auntie, that there should be such
tragedies? Should not that glance be given? Why should that tone be
checked? Why should one be mute when a single word might, would,
avert the tragedy? Is it not possible, Auntie, that there is
something wrong in our social system when such things can happen; and
can happen so often?'
She looked remorseless as well as irresistible in the pride of her
youthful strength as with eyes that blazed, not flashing as in
passion but with a steady light that seemed to burn, she continued:
'Some day women must learn their own strength, as well as they have
learned their own weakness. They are taught this latter from their
cradles up; but no one ever seems to teach them wherein their power
lies. They have to learn this for themselves; and the process and
the result of the self-teaching are not good. In the University
Settlement I learned much that made my heart ache; but out of it
there seemed some lesson for good.' She paused; and her aunt,
wishing to keep the subject towards higher things, asked:
'And that lesson, Stephen dear?' The blazing eyes turned to her so
that she was stirred by them as the answer came:
'It is bad women who seem to know men best, and to be able to
influence them most. They can make men come and go at will. They
can turn and twist and mould them as they choose. And THEY never
hesitate to speak their own wishes; to ask for what they want. There
are no tragedies, of the negative kind, in THEIR lives. Their
tragedies have come and gone already; and their power remains. Why
should good women leave power to such as they? Why should good
women's lives be wrecked for a convention? Why in the blind
following of some society fetish should life lose its charm, its
possibilities? Why should love eat its heart out, in vain? The time
will come when women will not be afraid to speak to men, as they
should speak, as free and equal. Surely if a woman is to be the
equal and lifelong companion of a man, the closest to him--nay, the
only one really close to him: the mother of his children--she should
be free at the very outset to show her inclination to him just as he
would to her. Don't be frightened, Auntie dear; your eyes are
paining me! . . . There! perhaps I said too much. But after all it
is only theory. Take for your comfort, Auntie dear, that I am free
an heart-whole. You need not fear for me; I can see what your dear
eyes tell me. Yes! I am very young; perhaps too young to think such
things. But I have thought of them. Thought them all over in every
way and phase I can imagine.'
She stopped suddenly; bending over, she took the old lady in her arms
and kissed her fondly several times, holding her tight. Then, as
suddenly releasing her, she ran away before she could say a word.
CHAPTER VIII--THE T-CART
When Harold took his degree, Stephen's father took her to Cambridge.
She enjoyed the trip very much; indeed, it seemed under conditions
that were absolutely happy.
When they had returned to Normanstand, the Squire took an early
opportunity of bringing Harold alone into his study. He spoke to him
with what in a very young man would have seemed diffidence: