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- This Freedom - 3/61 -
fright beginning to communicate itself to her, said, "Ask father to go and stop it."
"Fool!" cried Flora. "How could father stop the storm?"
Flora's sharp and astounding reply to that question of Rosalie's was recalled by Rosalie, with hurt surprise at Flora's sharpness and ignorance, when, shortly afterwards, she found in a book a man who could, and actually did, stop a storm. This was a man called Prospero in a book called "The Tempest."
She was never--that Rosalie--the conventional wonder-child of fiction who reads before ten all that its author probably never read before thirty; but she could read when she was six and she read widely and curiously, choosing her entertainment, from her father's bookshelves, solely by the method of reading every book that had pictures.
There was but one picture to "The Tempest," a frontispiece, but it sufficed, and at the period when Rosalie believed the ownership of the world to be vested in her father and under him in all males, "The Tempest," because it reflected that condition, was the greatest joy of all the joys the bookshelves discovered to her. She read it over and over again. It presented life exactly as life presented itself to the round eyes of Rosalie: all males doing always noisy and violent and important and enthralling things, with Prospero, her father, by far the most important of all; and women scarcely appearing and doing only what the men told them to do. Miranda's appearances in the story were indifferently skipped by Rosalie; the noisy action and language in the wreck, and the noisy action and language of the drunkards in the wood were what she liked, and all the magic arts of Prospero were what she thoroughly appreciated and understood. That was life as she knew it.
Rosalie's father, when Rosalie thought the world belonged to him and revolved about him, was tall and cleanshaven and of complexion a dark and burning red. When he was excited or angry his face used to burn as the embers in the study fire burned when Rosalie pressed the bellows against them. He had thick black eyebrows and a most powerful nose. His nose jutted from his face like a projection from a cliff beneath a clump of bushes. He had been at Cambridge and he was most ferociously fond of Cambridge. One of the most fearful scenes Rosalie ever witnessed was on one boat-race day when Harold appeared with a piece of Oxford ribbon in his buttonhole. It was at breakfast, the family for some reason or other most unusually all taking breakfast together. Rosalie's father first jocularly bantered Harold on his choice of colour, and everybody--anxious as always to please and placate the owner of the world--laughed with father against Harold. But Harold did not laugh. Harold smouldered resentment and defiance, and out of his smouldering began to maintain "from what chaps had said" that Oxford was altogether and in every way a much better place than Cambridge. In every branch of athletics there were better athletes, growled Harold, at Oxford.
Rosalie has been watching the embers in her father's face glowing to dark-red heat. Everybody had been watching them except Harold who, though addressing his father, had been mumbling "what chaps had said" to his plate.
"Athletes!" cried Rosalie's father suddenly in a very terrible voice. "Athletes! And what about scholars, sir?"
Harold informed his plate that he wasn't talking about scholars.
Rosalie's father raised a marmalade jar and thumped it down upon the table so that it cracked. "Then what the dickens right have you to talk at all, sir? How dare you try to compare Oxford with Cambridge when you know no more about either than you know of Jupiter or Mars? Athletes!" He went off into record of University contests, cricket scores, running times, football scores, as if his whole life had been devoted to collecting them. They all showed Cambridge first and Oxford beaten and he hurled each one at Harold's head with a thundering, "What about that, sir?" after it. He leapt to scholarship and reeled off scholarships and scholars and schools, and professors and endowments and prize men, as if he had been an educational year-book gifted with speech and with particularly loud and violent speech. He spoke of the colleges of Cambridge, and with every college and every particular glory of every college demanded of the unfortunate Harold, "What have you got in Oxford against that, sir?"
It was awful. It was far more frightening than the night of the storm. Nobody ate. Nobody drank. Everybody shuddered and tried by every means to avoid catching father's rolling eye and thereby attracting the direct blast of the tempest. Rosalie, who of course, being a completely negligible quantity in the rectory, is not included in the everybody, simply stared, more awed and enthralled than ever before. And with much reason. As he declaimed of the glories of the colleges of Cambridge there was perceptible in her father's voice a most curious crack or break. It became more noticeable and more frequent. He suddenly and most astoundingly cried out, "Cambridge! Cambridge!" and threw his arms out before him on the table, and buried his head on them, and sobbed out, "Cambridge! My youth! My youth! My God, my God, my youth!"
Somehow or other they all slipped out of the room and left him there,--all except Rosalie who remained in her high chair staring upon her father, and upon his shoulders that heaved up and down, and upon the coffee from an overturned cup that oozed slowly along the tablecloth.
Rosalie's father had been a wrangler and one of the brilliant men of his year at Cambridge. All manner of brilliance was expected for him and of him. He unexpectedly went into the Church and as unexpectedly married.
His bride was the daughter of a clergyman, a widower, who kept a small private school in Devonshire. She helped her father to run the school (an impoverished business which, begun exclusively for the "sons of gentlemen," had slid down into paying court to tradesmen in order to get the sons of tradesmen) and she maintained him in the very indifferent health he suffered. Harold Aubyn, the brilliant wrangler with the brilliant future, who had begun his brilliance by unexpectedly entering the Church, and continued it by unexpectedly marrying while on a holiday in the little Devonshire town where he had gone to ponder his future (a little unbalanced by the unpremeditated plunge into Holy Orders) further continued his brilliance by unexpectedly finding himself the assistant master in his father-in-law's second-rate and failing school. The daughter would not leave her father; the suitor would not leave his darling; the brilliant young wrangler who at Cambridge used to dream of waking to find himself famous awoke instead to find himself six years buried in a now third-rate and moribund school in a moribund Devonshire town. He had a father-in-law now permanent invalid, bedridden. He had four children and another, Robert, on the way.
It was his father-in-law's death that awoke him; and he awoke characteristically. The old man dead! Come, that was one burden lifted, one shackle removed! The school finally went smash at the same time. Never mind! Another burden gone! Another shackle lifted! Dash the school! How he hated the school! How he loathed and detested the lumping boys! How he loathed and abominated teaching them simple arithmetic (he the wrangler!) and history that was a string of dates, and geography that was a string of capes and bays, and Latin as far as the conjugations (he the wrangler!) how he loathed and abominated it! Now a fresh start! Hurrah!
That was like Rosalie's father--in those days. That way blew the cold fit and the hot fit--then.
The magnificent fresh start after the magnificent escape from the morass of the moribund father-in-law and the moribund school and the moribund Devonshire town proved to be but a stagger down into morass heavier and more devastating of ambition. He always jumped blindly and wildly into things. Blindly and wildly into the Church, blindly and wildly into marriage, blindly and wildly into the school, blindly and wildly, one might say, into fatherhood on a lavish scale. Blindly and wildly--the magnificent fresh start--into the rectory in which Rosalie was born.
It was "a bit in the wilds" (of Suffolk); "a bit of a tight fit" (L200 a year) and a bit or two or three other drawbacks; but it was thousands of miles from Devonshire and from the school and schooling, that was the great thing; and it was a jolly big rectory with a ripping big garden; and above all and beyond everything it was just going to be a jumping-off place while he looked around for something suitable to his talents and while he got in touch again with his old friends of the brilliant years.
It was just going to be a jumping-off place, but he never jumped off from it; a place from which to look around for something suitable, but instead he sunk in it up to his chin; a place from which to get in touch again with his friends of the brilliant years, but his friends were all doing brilliant things and much too busy at their brilliance to open up with one who had missed fire.
The parish of St. Mary's, Ibbotsfield, had an enormous rectory, falling to pieces; an enormous church, crumbling away; an enormous area, purely agricultural; and a cure of a very few hundred agricultural souls, enormously-scattered. Years and years before, prior to railways, prior to mechanical reapers and thrashers, and prior to everything that took men to cities or whirled them and their produce farther in an hour than they ever could have gone in a week, Ibbotsfield and its surrounding villages and hamlets were a reproach to the moral conditions of the day in that they had no sufficiently enormous church. Well-intentioned persons removed this reproach, adding in their zeal an enormous rectory; and the time they chose for their beneficent and lavish action was precisely the time when Ibbotsfield, through its principal land-owners, was stoutly rejecting the monstrous idea of encouraging a stinking, roaring, dangerous railway in their direction, and combining together by all means in their power to keep the roaring, dangerous atrocity as far away from them as possible.
It thus, and by like influences, happened that, whereas
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