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- This Freedom - 30/61 -


distance one may go with that equipment. She was admirable and she felt that she was effective. She had a consciousness of confidence amounting almost to a feeling of being tuned up and now let go; to a feeling of power, as of inspiration. And this strange animation that she had, came, she knew, from the triumph over that man, from the feeling, stated grimly, that she was giving him one.

It is much more important, all that, than, when it came, the great reason of the great invitation that had brought Rosalie to take part in it. The great reason already has been disclosed--Mr. Sturgiss, bending across the tablecloth, they two left alone, "Well, look here--to come to the point--the reason why I've got you up here tonight--it's this: we want you--Field and Company, the Bank,--we want you to come to us--we want you in Lombard Street."

She was beautiful to see in her proud happiness at that. Startled and tremulous, she was; like some lovely fawn burst from thicket and at breathless poise upon the crest of unsuspected pastures; within her eyes the cloud of dreams passing like veils upon the gleam of her first ecstasy; upon her face, shadowed as she sinks somewhat back, the tide of colour (her rosy joy) flooding above her sudden pallor; her lips slightly parted; her hand that had been plucking at the cloth caught to her bosom where her heart had leapt.

It may be left at that. It is enough; too much. What, in the reconstruction of a life, are, in retrospect, its triumphs but empty shards, drained and discarded, the litter of a picnic party that has fed and passed along?

Mr. Sturgiss bent farther across the tablecloth, expanding his proposal: She knew, said he, what he represented, what the firm was. Field and Company. A private bank. Well, the days of private banks were drawing in. These huge joint-stock leviathans swallowing them up like pike among the troutlings. But not swallowing up Field and Company! Not much! If the old private houses were tumbling into the joint-stock maw, the greater the chances for those that stood out and remained. The private banks were tumbling in because they stood rooted in the old, solid, stolid banking business and the leviathans came along and pounced while they dozed. There was no dozing at Field's. They were very much awake. They were enterprising.

"Look at this very matter between us. The idea of bringing a woman into a bank! Even old Field himself was startled at first. Why? In America, women are entering banking seriously and successfully. They're going to in England. At Field's. You." He wasn't proposing to bring her in for fun or for a chance that might turn up, like the man who picked up a dog biscuit from the road on the chance that some one would give him a dog before it got mildewed; no, he was bringing her in to develop an enterprise that should be the parent of other and greater enterprises. Her knowledge of insurance, her knowledge of schools, these, with her sex, on the one side of the counter and all their clients--the Anglo-Indian crowd who were the backbone of the business--on the other side of the counter. Field's, for cash, and, while it was drawing, for advice, was always the first port of call of the wives and the mothers home from India, to say nothing of the husbands and the fathers,--"well, Field's, you, shall be the fount of all that domestic advice that is just what all those people, cut off from home, are constantly and distractingly in need of." She didn't suppose, as it was, that Field's did no more, for them than bank their money? Field's were their agents. Field's saw that they booked their passages, and that their baggage got aboard; and when they arrived this end or the other, or when they broke their journeys coming or going, Field's representatives were there to meet them and take over all their baggage troubles for them. "Very well. Now Field's--you--are going to look after their domestic troubles for them--find them rooms, find them houses, find them schools for their children. When people know what we can do for them, people will come to us to bank with us because we can do it. When people come to us to bank with us--we go ahead."

Mr. Sturgiss ended and drew back and looked at her. He lit a cigarette and took a sip at his coffee. "We thought of offering you three--" he set down his cup and looked at her again--"four hundred a year."

She declined the post. She was girlish, and delighted him, in her expression of her enormous sense of the compliment he paid her; she was a woman of uncommon purposefulness, and increased his admiration for her by the directness and decision with which uncompromisingly she said him no. She owed a loyalty which she could never fully pay to Simcox's, to Mr. Simcox; that was the beginning and the end of her refusal. Simcox's was her own, her idea, her child that daily she saw growing and that daily absorbed her more: that was the material that filled in and stiffened out the joints of her refusal. "But if you knew how proud I am, Mr. Sturgiss! You don't mind my refusing?"

He laughed and rose to take her to the drawing-room. "I don't mind a bit. This is only what they call preliminary overtures. I shall ask you again. We mean to have you."

Between the two rooms he said, "Yes, mean to. It's a big thing. I'm certain of it. We shall keep it open for you. We shan't fill it." He put his hand on the drawing-room door and opened it. "We can't."

She went in radiant.

She was on the red bus again, going home. She had stayed but the briefest time after dinner. She was too elevated, too buoyant, too possessed possibly to remain in company; excitedly desirous to be alone with her excited thoughts,--especially to be alone with them in that significant apartment of hers. Significant! Why upon the very day of entering it had come this most triumphant sign of its significance! Significant!...

She had a front seat on the outside of the omnibus. She gazed before her along a path of night that the lamps jewelled in chains of gold, and streamed along it her tumultuous thoughts, terrible as an army with banners. It was very strange, and it vexed her, robbing her of her proud consciousness of them, that there obtruded among them, as one plucking at her skirt--as captain of them she rode before them--the figure of Laetitia's Harry. Similarly he had obtruded and been like to spoil the pleasure of her visit; but he had been made to provide compensations and he obtruded now only in rebirth of a passage with him that, rehearsed again, much pleased her even while, annoyed, she cut him down.

Taking her leave, she had been seen from the threshold by Mr. Sturgiss and by Laetitia's Harry. It was pitchy dark, emerging from the brightness of the interior, and he had stepped with her to conduct her to the gate. "It was an extraordinary coincidence, meeting you here," he had said.

She did not reply. His voice was most strangely grave for an observation so trite; he might have been speaking some deeply meditated thing, profound, heavy with meaning, charged with fate. Fatuous! It was extraordinary that there was not an action of his but aroused her animosity. This vibrant gravity of tone--an organ used for a jig, just as his gifts were used for his Laetitia moon-calfings--caused newly a disturbance within her against him. She would have liked to whistle or in some equal way to express indifference to his presence.

They were at the gate and he stooped to the latch and appeared to have some trouble with it. "Sturgiss has been telling me what a wonderful person you are."

Again that immense gravity of tone. She was astonished at the sudden surge of her animosity that it caused within her. She had desired to express indifference. She desired now to assail. She made a sneer of her voice. "I should have thought you had ears for the wonder of no one but Laetitia."

"Why do you say that?"

She felt her lip curl with her malevolence. "To see you raise your eyes and hear you breathe 'Ah, Laetitia!'"

He opened the gate and she passed out, tingling.

It astounded her to find herself a hundred yards gone from the house, nay, now upon the bus a mile and more away, recalling it, trembling and with her breath quickened. It was as if she had been engaged in a contest of wills, very fierce; nay, in a contest physical, a wrestling. She had not known, she told herself, that it was possible to hate so. That man! These men! She put her eye upon the bus driver, strapped on his perch so near to her that she could have touched him, and absurdly in her repugnance of his sex hated him and shrank farther away from him.

It was enormously, sickeningly real to her, her repugnance. Even on detached consideration of her ridiculous shrinking from the bus driver she could not have laughed at it. People who had an uncontrollable antipathy to cats did not laugh at the grotesque puerilities to which it carried them. Nor she at her antipathy. "Of course they're beasts." Yes, the right word! It was the beastliness of sex that bottomed her loathing.

She could not have laughed; but she could and did with a conscious intention of her will put that intruder on her animation finally out of her mind. This very joyous uplifting of her spirit, was it not because, in this world dominated by men, based for its fundamental principle upon play of sex as commerce is based upon the principle of barter, she was assured of position, of privilege, and of power that raised her independent of such conventions and such laws?

She was her own! All her proud joys, her glad imaginings, her delighted hopes, arose amain and anew, tuned to this cumulative paean as a nourish of trumpets at the climax of a proclamation. She was intoxicated on her happiness.

They were come to the lighted shops and the crowded pavements. The bus drew up at the thronged corner adjacent to the divigation of the Harrow Road and she leaned over and watched the scene, smilingly (for sheer happiness) looking down upon it, as smilingly (for her triumphant altitude) she felt that she looked down upon the world. She would not have changed place with any life living or that could be lived; she was so much abandoned to her happiness that she made the intention she would sit up in her significant apartment all that night, not to lose a moment of it. She grudged that even sleep upon her happiness should intrude.

There came one in the traffic beneath her that caught her attention: a woman whom people stood aside to let pass and turned to look upon with grins; two or three urchins danced about the woman, pointing at her and calling at her. Her dress was disordered, muddy all up one side as if she had fallen; her face flushed; her hat awry; her hair escaped and wisped about her eyes and on her shoulders. She was drunk. An obscene and horrible spectacle, the mock of her beholders. A horrible woman.


This Freedom - 30/61

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