All Roads Lead to Calvary
Jerome K. Jerome
Part 1 out of 6
ALL ROADS LEAD TO CALVARY
by Jerome K. Jerome
She had not meant to stay for the service. The door had stood
invitingly open, and a glimpse of the interior had suggested to her
the idea that it would make good copy. "Old London Churches:
Their Social and Historical Associations." It would be easy to
collect anecdotes of the famous people who had attended them. She
might fix up a series for one of the religious papers. It promised
quite exceptional material, this particular specimen, rich in tombs
and monuments. There was character about it, a scent of bygone
days. She pictured the vanished congregations in their powdered
wigs and stiff brocades. How picturesque must have been the
marriages that had taken place there, say in the reign of Queen
Anne or of the early Georges. The church would have been ancient
even then. With its air of faded grandeur, its sculptured recesses
and dark niches, the tattered banners hanging from its roof, it
must have made an admirable background. Perhaps an historical
novel in the Thackeray vein? She could see her heroine walking up
the aisle on the arm of her proud old soldier father. Later on,
when her journalistic position was more established, she might
think of it. It was still quite early. There would be nearly half
an hour before the first worshippers would be likely to arrive:
just time enough to jot down a few notes. If she did ever take to
literature it would be the realistic school, she felt, that would
appeal to her. The rest, too, would be pleasant after her long
walk from Westminster. She would find a secluded seat in one of
the high, stiff pews, and let the atmosphere of the place sink into
And then the pew-opener had stolen up unobserved, and had taken it
so for granted that she would like to be shown round, and had
seemed so pleased and eager, that she had not the heart to repel
her. A curious little old party with a smooth, peach-like
complexion and white soft hair that the fading twilight, stealing
through the yellow glass, turned to gold. So that at first sight
Joan took her for a child. The voice, too, was so absurdly
childish--appealing, and yet confident. Not until they were
crossing the aisle, where the clearer light streamed in through the
open doors, did Joan see that she was very old and feeble, with
about her figure that curious patient droop that comes to the work-
worn. She proved to be most interesting and full of helpful
information. Mary Stopperton was her name. She had lived in the
neighbourhood all her life; had as a girl worked for the Leigh
Hunts and had "assisted" Mrs. Carlyle. She had been very
frightened of the great man himself, and had always hidden herself
behind doors or squeezed herself into corners and stopped breathing
whenever there had been any fear of meeting him upon the stairs.
Until one day having darted into a cupboard to escape from him and
drawn the door to after her, it turned out to be the cupboard in
which Carlyle was used to keep his boots. So that there was quite
a struggle between them; she holding grimly on to the door inside
and Carlyle equally determined to open it and get his boots. It
had ended in her exposure, with trembling knees and scarlet face,
and Carlyle had addressed her as "woman," and had insisted on
knowing what she was doing there. And after that she had lost all
terror of him. And he had even allowed her with a grim smile to
enter occasionally the sacred study with her broom and pan. It had
evidently made a lasting impression upon her, that privilege.
"They didn't get on very well together, Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle?" Joan
queried, scenting the opportunity of obtaining first-class
"There wasn't much difference, so far as I could see, between them
and most of us," answered the little old lady. "You're not
married, dear," she continued, glancing at Joan's ungloved hand,
"but people must have a deal of patience when they have to live
with us for twenty-four hours a day. You see, little things we do
and say without thinking, and little ways we have that we do not
notice ourselves, may all the time be irritating to other people."
"What about the other people irritating us?" suggested Joan.
"Yes, dear, and of course that can happen too," agreed the little
"Did he, Carlyle, ever come to this church?" asked Joan.
Mary Stopperton was afraid he never had, in spite of its being so
near. "And yet he was a dear good Christian--in his way," Mary
Stopperton felt sure.
"How do you mean 'in his way'?" demanded Joan. It certainly, if
Froude was to be trusted, could not have been the orthodox way.
"Well, you see, dear," explained the little old lady, "he gave up
things. He could have ridden in his carriage"--she was quoting, it
seemed, the words of the Carlyles' old servant--"if he'd written
the sort of lies that people pay for being told, instead of
throwing the truth at their head."
"But even that would not make him a Christian," argued Joan.
"It is part of it, dear, isn't it?" insisted Mary Stopperton. "To
suffer for one's faith. I think Jesus must have liked him for
They had commenced with the narrow strip of burial ground lying
between the south side of the church and Cheyne Walk. And there
the little pew-opener had showed her the grave of Anna, afterwards
Mrs. Spragg. "Who long declining wedlock and aspiring above her
sex fought under her brother with arms and manly attire in a
flagship against the French." As also of Mary Astell, her
contemporary, who had written a spirited "Essay in Defence of the
Fair Sex." So there had been a Suffrage Movement as far back as in
the days of Pope and Swift.
Returning to the interior, Joan had duly admired the Cheyne
monument, but had been unable to disguise her amusement before the
tomb of Mrs. Colvile, whom the sculptor had represented as a
somewhat impatient lady, refusing to await the day of resurrection,
but pushing through her coffin and starting for Heaven in her
grave-clothes. Pausing in front of the Dacre monument, Joan
wondered if the actor of that name, who had committed suicide in
Australia, and whose London address she remembered had been Dacre
House just round the corner, was descended from the family;
thinking that, if so, it would give an up-to-date touch to the
article. She had fully decided now to write it. But Mary
Stopperton could not inform her. They had ended up in the chapel
of Sir Thomas More. He, too, had "given up things," including his
head. Though Mary Stopperton, siding with Father Morris, was
convinced he had now got it back, and that with the remainder of
his bones it rested in the tomb before them.
There, the little pew-opener had left her, having to show the
early-comers to their seats; and Joan had found an out-of-the-way
pew from where she could command a view of the whole church. They
were chiefly poor folk, the congregation; with here and there a
sprinkling of faded gentility. They seemed in keeping with the
place. The twilight faded and a snuffy old man shuffled round and
lit the gas.
It was all so sweet and restful. Religion had never appealed to
her before. The business-like service in the bare cold chapel
where she had sat swinging her feet and yawning as a child had only
repelled her. She could recall her father, aloof and awe-inspiring
in his Sunday black, passing round the bag. Her mother, always
veiled, sitting beside her, a thin, tall woman with passionate eyes
and ever restless hands; the women mostly overdressed, and the
sleek, prosperous men trying to look meek. At school and at
Girton, chapel, which she had attended no oftener than she was
obliged, had had about it the same atmosphere of chill compulsion.
But here was poetry. She wondered if, after all, religion might
not have its place in the world--in company with the other arts.
It would be a pity for it to die out. There seemed nothing to take
its place. All these lovely cathedrals, these dear little old
churches, that for centuries had been the focus of men's thoughts
and aspirations. The harbour lights, illumining the troubled
waters of their lives. What could be done with them? They could
hardly be maintained out of the public funds as mere mementoes of
the past. Besides, there were too many of them. The tax-payer
would naturally grumble. As Town Halls, Assembly Rooms? The idea
was unthinkable. It would be like a performance of Barnum's Circus
in the Coliseum at Rome. Yes, they would disappear. Though not,
she was glad to think, in her time. In towns, the space would be
required for other buildings. Here and there some gradually
decaying specimen would be allowed to survive, taking its place
with the feudal castles and walled cities of the Continent: the
joy of the American tourist, the text-book of the antiquary. A
pity! Yes, but then from the aesthetic point of view it was a pity
that the groves of ancient Greece had ever been cut down and
replanted with currant bushes, their altars scattered; that the
stones of the temples of Isis should have come to be the shelter of
the fisher of the Nile; and the corn wave in the wind above the
buried shrines of Mexico. All these dead truths that from time to
time had encumbered the living world. Each in its turn had had to
be cleared away.
And yet was it altogether a dead truth: this passionate belief in
a personal God who had ordered all things for the best: who could
be appealed to for comfort, for help? Might it not be as good an
explanation as any other of the mystery surrounding us? It had
been so universal. She was not sure where, but somewhere she had
come across an analogy that had strongly impressed her. "The fact
that a man feels thirsty--though at the time he may be wandering
through the Desert of Sahara--proves that somewhere in the world
there is water." Might not the success of Christianity in
responding to human needs be evidence in its favour? The Love of
God, the Fellowship of the Holy Ghost, the Grace of Our Lord Jesus
Christ. Were not all human needs provided for in that one
comprehensive promise: the desperate need of man to be convinced
that behind all the seeming muddle was a loving hand guiding
towards good; the need of the soul in its loneliness for
fellowship, for strengthening; the need of man in his weakness for
the kindly grace of human sympathy, of human example.
And then, as fate would have it, the first lesson happened to be
the story of Jonah and the whale. Half a dozen shocked faces
turned suddenly towards her told Joan that at some point in the
thrilling history she must unconsciously have laughed. Fortunately
she was alone in the pew, and feeling herself scarlet, squeezed
herself into its farthest corner and drew down her veil.
No, it would have to go. A religion that solemnly demanded of
grown men and women in the twentieth century that they should sit
and listen with reverential awe to a prehistoric edition of
"Grimm's Fairy Stories," including Noah and his ark, the adventures
of Samson and Delilah, the conversations between Balaam and his
ass, and culminating in what if it were not so appallingly wicked
an idea would be the most comical of them all: the conception of
an elaborately organized Hell, into which the God of the Christians
plunged his creatures for all eternity! Of what use was such a
religion as that going to be to the world of the future?
She must have knelt and stood mechanically, for the service was
ended. The pulpit was occupied by an elderly uninteresting-looking
man with a troublesome cough. But one sentence he had let fall had
gripped her attention. For a moment she could not remember it, and
then it came to her: "All Roads lead to Calvary." It struck her
as rather good. Perhaps he was going to be worth listening to.
"To all of us, sooner or later," he was saying, "comes a choosing
of two ways: either the road leading to success, the gratification
of desires, the honour and approval of our fellow-men--or the path
And then he had wandered off into a maze of detail. The tradesman,
dreaming perhaps of becoming a Whiteley, having to choose whether
to go forward or remain for all time in the little shop. The
statesman--should he abide by the faith that is in him and suffer
loss of popularity, or renounce his God and enter the Cabinet? The
artist, the writer, the mere labourer--there were too many of them.
A few well-chosen examples would have sufficed. And then that
And yet every now and then he would be arresting. In his prime,
Joan felt, he must have been a great preacher. Even now, decrepit
and wheezy, he was capable of flashes of magnetism, of eloquence.
The passage where he pictured the Garden of Gethsemane. The fair
Jerusalem, only hidden from us by the shadows. So easy to return
to. Its soft lights shining through the trees, beckoning to us;
its mingled voices stealing to us through the silence, whispering
to us of its well-remembered ways, its pleasant places, its open
doorways, friends and loved ones waiting for us. And above, the
rock-strewn Calvary: and crowning its summit, clear against the
starlit sky, the cold, dark cross. "Not perhaps to us the bleeding
hands and feet, but to all the bitter tears. Our Calvary may be a
very little hill compared with the mountains where Prometheus
suffered, but to us it is steep and lonely."
There he should have stopped. It would have been a good note on
which to finish. But it seemed there was another point he wished
to make. Even to the sinner Calvary calls. To Judas--even to him
the gates of the life-giving Garden of Gethsemane had not been
closed. "With his thirty pieces of silver he could have stolen
away. In some distant crowded city of the Roman Empire have lived
unknown, forgotten. Life still had its pleasures, its rewards. To
him also had been given the choice. The thirty pieces of silver
that had meant so much to him! He flings them at the feet of his
tempters. They would not take them back. He rushes out and hangs
himself. Shame and death. With his own hands he will build his
own cross, none to help him. He, too--even Judas, climbs his
Calvary. Enters into the fellowship of those who through all ages
have trod its stony pathway."
Joan waited till the last of the congregation had disappeared, and
then joined the little pew-opener who was waiting to close the
doors. Joan asked her what she had thought of the sermon, but Mary
Stopperton, being a little deaf, had not heard it.
"It was quite good--the matter of it," Joan told her. "All Roads
lead to Calvary. The idea is that there comes a time to all of us
when we have to choose. Whether, like your friend Carlyle, we will
'give up things' for our faith's sake. Or go for the carriage and
Mary Stopperton laughed. "He is quite right, dear," she said. "It
does seem to come, and it is so hard. You have to pray and pray
and pray. And even then we cannot always do it." She touched with
her little withered fingers Joan's fine white hand. "But you are
so strong and brave," she continued, with another little laugh.
"It won't be so difficult for you."
It was not until well on her way home that Joan, recalling the
conversation, found herself smiling at Mary Stopperton's literal
acceptation of the argument. At the time, she remembered, the
shadow of a fear had passed over her.
Mary Stopperton did not know the name of the preacher. It was
quite common for chance substitutes to officiate there, especially
in the evening. Joan had insisted on her acceptance of a shilling,
and had made a note of her address, feeling instinctively that the
little old woman would "come in useful" from a journalistic point
Shaking hands with her, she had turned eastward, intending to walk
to Sloane Square and there take the bus. At the corner of Oakley
Street she overtook him. He was evidently a stranger to the
neighbourhood, and was peering up through his glasses to see the
name of the street; and Joan caught sight of his face beneath a gas
And suddenly it came to her that it was a face she knew. In the
dim-lit church she had not seen him clearly. He was still peering
upward. Joan stole another glance. Yes, she had met him
somewhere. He was very changed, quite different, but she was sure
of it. It was a long time ago. She must have been quite a child.
One of Joan's earliest recollections was the picture of herself
standing before the high cheval glass in her mother's dressing-
room. Her clothes lay scattered far and wide, falling where she
had flung them; not a shred of any kind of covering was left to
her. She must have been very small, for she could remember looking
up and seeing high above her head the two brass knobs by which the
glass was fastened to its frame. Suddenly, out of the upper
portion of the glass, there looked a scared red face. It hovered
there a moment, and over it in swift succession there passed the
expressions, first of petrified amazement, secondly of shocked
indignation, and thirdly of righteous wrath. And then it swooped
down upon her, and the image in the glass became a confusion of
small naked arms and legs mingled with green cotton gloves and
purple bonnet strings.
"You young imp of Satan!" demanded Mrs. Munday--her feelings of
outraged virtue exaggerating perhaps her real sentiments. "What
are you doing?"
"Go away. I'se looking at myself," had explained Joan, struggling
furiously to regain the glass.
"But where are your clothes?" was Mrs. Munday's wonder.
"I'se tooked them off," explained Joan. A piece of information
that really, all things considered, seemed unnecessary.
"But can't you see yourself, you wicked child, without stripping
yourself as naked as you were born?"
"No," maintained Joan stoutly. "I hate clothes." As a matter of
fact she didn't, even in those early days. On the contrary, one of
her favourite amusements was "dressing up." This sudden
overmastering desire to arrive at the truth about herself had been
a new conceit.
"I wanted to see myself. Clothes ain't me," was all she would or
could vouchsafe; and Mrs. Munday had shook her head, and had freely
confessed that there were things beyond her and that Joan was one
of them; and had succeeded, partly by force, partly by persuasion,
in restoring to Joan once more the semblance of a Christian child.
It was Mrs. Munday, poor soul, who all unconsciously had planted
the seeds of disbelief in Joan's mind. Mrs. Munday's God, from
Joan's point of view, was a most objectionable personage. He
talked a lot--or rather Mrs. Munday talked for Him--about His love
for little children. But it seemed He only loved them when they
were good. Joan was under no delusions about herself. If those
were His terms, well, then, so far as she could see, He wasn't
going to be of much use to her. Besides, if He hated naughty
children, why did He make them naughty? At a moderate estimate
quite half Joan's wickedness, so it seemed to Joan, came to her
unbidden. Take for example that self-examination before the cheval
glass. The idea had come into her mind. It had never occurred to
her that it was wicked. If, as Mrs. Munday explained, it was the
Devil that had whispered it to her, then what did God mean by
allowing the Devil to go about persuading little girls to do
indecent things? God could do everything. Why didn't He smash the
Devil? It seemed to Joan a mean trick, look at it how you would.
Fancy leaving a little girl to fight the Devil all by herself. And
then get angry because the Devil won! Joan came to cordially
dislike Mrs. Munday's God.
Looking back it was easy enough to smile, but the agony of many
nights when she had lain awake for hours battling with her childish
terrors had left a burning sense of anger in Joan's heart. Poor
mazed, bewildered Mrs. Munday, preaching the eternal damnation of
the wicked--who had loved her, who had only thought to do her duty,
the blame was not hers. But that a religion capable of inflicting
such suffering upon the innocent should still be preached;
maintained by the State! That its educated followers no longer
believed in a physical Hell, that its more advanced clergy had
entered into a conspiracy of silence on the subject was no answer.
The great mass of the people were not educated. Official
Christendom in every country still preached the everlasting torture
of the majority of the human race as a well thought out part of the
Creator's scheme. No leader had been bold enough to come forward
and denounce it as an insult to his God. As one grew older, kindly
mother Nature, ever seeking to ease the self-inflicted burdens of
her foolish brood, gave one forgetfulness, insensibility. The
condemned criminal puts the thought of the gallows away from him as
long as may be: eats, and sleeps and even jokes. Man's soul grows
pachydermoid. But the children! Their sensitive brains exposed to
every cruel breath. No philosophic doubt permitted to them. No
learned disputation on the relationship between the literal and the
allegorical for the easing of their frenzied fears. How many
million tiny white-faced figures scattered over Christian Europe
and America, stared out each night into a vision of black horror;
how many million tiny hands clutched wildly at the bedclothes. The
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, if they had done
their duty, would have prosecuted before now the Archbishop of
Of course she would go to Hell. As a special kindness some
generous relative had, on Joan's seventh birthday, given her an
edition of Dante's "Inferno," with illustrations by Dore. From it
she was able to form some notion of what her eternity was likely to
be. And God all the while up in His Heaven, surrounded by that
glorious band of praise-trumpeting angels, watching her out of the
corner of His eye. Her courage saved her from despair. Defiance
came to her aid. Let Him send her to Hell! She was not going to
pray to Him and make up to Him. He was a wicked God. Yes, He was:
a cruel, wicked God. And one night she told Him so to His face.
It had been a pretty crowded day, even for so busy a sinner as
little Joan. It was springtime, and they had gone into the country
for her mother's health. Maybe it was the season: a stirring of
the human sap, conducing to that feeling of being "too big for
one's boots," as the saying is. A dangerous period of the year.
Indeed, on the principle that prevention is better than cure, Mrs.
Munday had made it a custom during April and May to administer to
Joan a cooling mixture; but on this occasion had unfortunately come
away without it. Joan, dressed for use rather than show, and
without either shoes or stockings, had stolen stealthily
downstairs: something seemed to be calling to her. Silently--
"like a thief in the night," to adopt Mrs. Munday's metaphor--had
slipped the heavy bolts; had joined the thousand creatures of the
wood--had danced and leapt and shouted; had behaved, in short, more
as if she had been a Pagan nymph than a happy English child. She
had regained the house unnoticed, as she thought, the Devil, no
doubt, assisting her; and had hidden her wet clothes in the bottom
of a mighty chest. Deceitfulness in her heart, she had greeted
Mrs. Munday in sleepy tones from beneath the sheets; and before
breakfast, assailed by suspicious questions, had told a deliberate
lie. Later in the morning, during an argument with an active young
pig who was willing enough to play at Red Riding Hood so far as
eating things out of a basket was concerned, but who would not wear
a night-cap, she had used a wicked word. In the afternoon she
"might have killed" the farmer's only son and heir. They had had a
row. In one of those sad lapses from the higher Christian
standards into which Satan was always egging her, she had pushed
him; and he had tumbled head over heels into the horse-pond. The
reason, that instead of lying there and drowning he had got up and
walked back to the house howling fit to wake the Seven Sleepers,
was that God, watching over little children, had arranged for the
incident taking place on that side of the pond where it was
shallow. Had the scrimmage occurred on the opposite bank, beneath
which the water was much deeper, Joan in all probability would have
had murder on her soul. It seemed to Joan that if God, all-
powerful and all-foreseeing, had been so careful in selecting the
site, He might with equal ease have prevented the row from ever
taking place. Why couldn't the little beast have been guided back
from school through the orchard, much the shorter way, instead of
being brought round by the yard, so as to come upon her at a moment
when she was feeling a bit short-tempered, to put it mildly? And
why had God allowed him to call her "Carrots"? That Joan should
have "put it" this way, instead of going down on her knees and
thanking the Lord for having saved her from a crime, was proof of
her inborn evil disposition. In the evening was reached the
culminating point. Just before going to bed she had murdered old
George the cowman. For all practical purposes she might just as
well have been successful in drowning William Augustus earlier in
the day. It seemed to be one of those things that had to be. Mr.
Hornflower still lived, it was true, but that was not Joan's fault.
Joan, standing in white night-gown beside her bed, everything
around her breathing of innocence and virtue: the spotless
bedclothes, the chintz curtains, the white hyacinths upon the
window-ledge, Joan's Bible, a present from Aunt Susan; her prayer-
book, handsomely bound in calf, a present from Grandpapa, upon
their little table; Mrs. Munday in evening black and cameo brooch
(pale red with tomb and weeping willow in white relief) sacred to
the memory of the departed Mr. Munday--Joan standing there erect,
with pale, passionate face, defying all these aids to
righteousness, had deliberately wished Mr. Hornflower dead. Old
George Hornflower it was who, unseen by her, had passed her that
morning in the wood. Grumpy old George it was who had overheard
the wicked word with which she had cursed the pig; who had met
William Augustus on his emergence from the pond. To Mr. George
Hornflower, the humble instrument in the hands of Providence,
helping her towards possible salvation, she ought to have been
grateful. And instead of that she had flung into the agonized face
of Mrs. Munday these awful words:
"I wish he was dead!"
"He who in his heart--" there was verse and chapter for it. Joan
was a murderess. Just as well, so far as Joan was concerned, might
she have taken a carving-knife and stabbed Deacon Hornflower to the
Joan's prayers that night, to the accompaniment of Mrs. Munday's
sobs, had a hopeless air of unreality about them. Mrs. Munday's
kiss was cold.
How long Joan lay and tossed upon her little bed she could not
tell. Somewhere about the middle of the night, or so it seemed to
her, the frenzy seized her. Flinging the bedclothes away she rose
to her feet. It is difficult to stand upon a spring mattress, but
Joan kept her balance. Of course He was there in the room with
her. God was everywhere, spying upon her. She could distinctly
hear His measured breathing. Face to face with Him, she told Him
what she thought of Him. She told Him He was a cruel, wicked God.
There are no Victoria Crosses for sinners, or surely little Joan
that night would have earned it. It was not lack of imagination
that helped her courage. God and she alone, in the darkness. He
with all the forces of the Universe behind Him. He armed with His
eternal pains and penalties, and eight-year-old Joan: the creature
that He had made in His Own Image that He could torture and
destroy. Hell yawned beneath her, but it had to be said. Somebody
ought to tell Him.
"You are a wicked God," Joan told Him. "Yes, You are. A cruel,
And then that she might not see the walls of the room open before
her, hear the wild laughter of the thousand devils that were coming
to bear her off, she threw herself down, her face hidden in the
pillow, and clenched her hands and waited.
And suddenly there burst a song. It was like nothing Joan had ever
heard before. So clear and loud and near that all the night seemed
filled with harmony. It sank into a tender yearning cry throbbing
with passionate desire, and then it rose again in thrilling
ecstasy: a song of hope, of victory.
Joan, trembling, stole from her bed and drew aside the blind.
There was nothing to be seen but the stars and the dim shape of the
hills. But still that song, filling the air with its wild,
Years afterwards, listening to the overture to Tannhauser, there
came back to her the memory of that night. Ever through the mad
Satanic discords she could hear, now faint, now conquering, the
Pilgrims' onward march. So through the jangled discords of the
world one heard the Song of Life. Through the dim aeons of man's
savage infancy; through the centuries of bloodshed and of horror;
through the dark ages of tyranny and superstition; through wrong,
through cruelty, through hate; heedless of doom, heedless of death,
still the nightingale's song: "I love you. I love you. I love
you. We will build a nest. We will rear our brood. I love you.
I love you. Life shall not die."
Joan crept back into bed. A new wonder had come to her. And from
that night Joan's belief in Mrs. Munday's God began to fade,
Firstly there was the great event of going to school. She was glad
to get away from home, a massive, stiffly furnished house in a
wealthy suburb of Liverpool. Her mother, since she could remember,
had been an invalid, rarely leaving her bedroom till the afternoon.
Her father, the owner of large engineering works, she only saw, as
a rule, at dinner-time, when she would come down to dessert. It
had been different when she was very young, before her mother had
been taken ill. Then she had been more with them both. She had
dim recollections of her father playing with her, pretending to be
a bear and growling at her from behind the sofa. And then he would
seize and hug her and they would both laugh, while he tossed her
into the air and caught her. He had looked so big and handsome.
All through her childhood there had been the desire to recreate
those days, to spring into the air and catch her arms about his
neck. She could have loved him dearly if he had only let her.
Once, seeking explanation, she had opened her heart a little to
Mrs. Munday. It was disappointment, Mrs. Munday thought, that she
had not been a boy; and with that Joan had to content herself.
Maybe also her mother's illness had helped to sadden him. Or
perhaps it was mere temperament, as she argued to herself later,
for which they were both responsible. Those little tricks of
coaxing, of tenderness, of wilfulness, by means of which other
girls wriggled their way so successfully into a warm nest of cosy
affection: she had never been able to employ them. Beneath her
self-confidence was a shyness, an immovable reserve that had always
prevented her from expressing her emotions. She had inherited it,
doubtless enough, from him. Perhaps one day, between them, they
would break down the barrier, the strength of which seemed to lie
in its very flimsiness, its impalpability.
And then during college vacations, returning home with growing
notions and views of her own, she had found herself so often in
antagonism with him. His fierce puritanism, so opposed to all her
enthusiasms. Arguing with him, she might almost have been
listening to one of his Cromwellian ancestors risen from the dead.
There had been disputes between him and his work-people, and Joan
had taken the side of the men. He had not been angry with her, but
coldly contemptuous. And yet, in spite of it all, if he had only
made a sign! She wanted to fling herself crying into his arms and
shake him--make him listen to her wisdom, sitting on his knee with
her hands clasped round his neck. He was not really intolerant and
stupid. That had been proved by his letting her go to a Church of
England school. Her mother had expressed no wish. It was he who
had selected it.
Of her mother she had always stood somewhat in fear, never knowing
when the mood of passionate affection would give place to a chill
aversion that seemed almost like hate. Perhaps it had been good
for her, so she told herself in after years, her lonely, unguided
childhood. It had forced her to think and act for herself. At
school she reaped the benefit. Self-reliant, confident, original,
leadership was granted to her as a natural prerogative. Nature had
helped her. Nowhere does a young girl rule more supremely by
reason of her beauty than among her fellows. Joan soon grew
accustomed to having her boots put on and taken off for her; all
her needs of service anticipated by eager slaves, contending with
one another for the privilege. By giving a command, by bestowing a
few moments of her conversation, it was within her power to make
some small adoring girl absurdly happy for the rest of the day;
while her displeasure would result in tears, in fawning pleadings
for forgiveness. The homage did not spoil her. Rather it helped
to develop her. She accepted it from the beginning as in the order
of things. Power had been given to her. It was her duty to see to
it that she did not use it capriciously, for her own gratification.
No conscientious youthful queen could have been more careful in the
distribution of her favours--that they should be for the
encouragement of the deserving, the reward of virtue; more sparing
of her frowns, reserving them for the rectification of error.
At Girton it was more by force of will, of brain, that she had to
make her position. There was more competition. Joan welcomed it,
as giving more zest to life. But even there her beauty was by no
means a negligible quantity. Clever, brilliant young women,
accustomed to sweep aside all opposition with a blaze of rhetoric,
found themselves to their irritation sitting in front of her
silent, not so much listening to her as looking at her. It puzzled
them for a time. Because a girl's features are classical and her
colouring attractive, surely that has nothing to do with the value
of her political views? Until one of them discovered by chance
that it has.
"Well, what does Beauty think about it?" this one had asked,
laughing. She had arrived at the end of a discussion just as Joan
was leaving the room. And then she gave a long low whistle,
feeling that she had stumbled upon the explanation. Beauty, that
mysterious force that from the date of creation has ruled the
world, what does It think? Dumb, passive, as a rule, exercising
its influence unconsciously. But if it should become intelligent,
active! A Philosopher has dreamed of the vast influence that could
be exercised by a dozen sincere men acting in unity. Suppose a
dozen of the most beautiful women in the world could form
themselves into a league! Joan found them late in the evening
still discussing it.
Her mother died suddenly during her last term, and Joan hurried
back to attend the funeral. Her father was out when she reached
home. Joan changed her travel-dusty clothes, and then went into
the room where her mother lay, and closed the door. She must have
been a beautiful woman. Now that the fret and the restlessness had
left her it had come back to her. The passionate eyes were closed.
Joan kissed the marble lids, and drawing a chair to the bedside,
sat down. It grieved her that she had never loved her mother--not
as one ought to love one's mother, unquestioningly, unreasoningly,
as a natural instinct. For a moment a strange thought came to her,
and swiftly, almost guiltily, she stole across, and drawing back a
corner of the blind, examined closely her own features in the
glass, comparing them with the face of the dead woman, thus called
upon to be a silent witness for or against the living. Joan drew a
sigh of relief and let fall the blind. There could be no
misreading the evidence. Death had smoothed away the lines, given
back youth. It was almost uncanny, the likeness between them. It
might have been her drowned sister lying there. And they had never
known one another. Had this also been temperament again, keeping
them apart? Why did it imprison us each one as in a moving cell,
so that we never could stretch out our arms to one another, except
when at rare intervals Love or Death would unlock for a while the
key? Impossible that two beings should have been so alike in
feature without being more or less alike in thought and feeling.
Whose fault had it been? Surely her own; she was so hideously
calculating. Even Mrs. Munday, because the old lady had been fond
of her and had shown it, had been of more service to her, more a
companion, had been nearer to her than her own mother. In self-
excuse she recalled the two or three occasions when she had tried
to win her mother. But fate seemed to have decreed that their
moods should never correspond. Her mother's sudden fierce
outbursts of love, when she would be jealous, exacting, almost
cruel, had frightened her when she was a child, and later on had
bored her. Other daughters would have shown patience,
unselfishness, but she had always been so self-centred. Why had
she never fallen in love like other girls? There had been a boy at
Brighton when she was at school there--quite a nice boy, who had
written her wildly extravagant love-letters. It must have cost him
half his pocket-money to get them smuggled in to her. Why had she
only been amused at them? They might have been beautiful if only
one had read them with sympathy. One day he had caught her alone
on the Downs. Evidently he had made it his business to hang about
every day waiting for some such chance. He had gone down on his
knees and kissed her feet, and had been so abject, so pitiful that
she had given him some flowers she was wearing. And he had sworn
to dedicate the rest of his life to being worthy of her
condescension. Poor lad! She wondered--for the first time since
that afternoon--what had become of him. There had been others; a
third cousin who still wrote to her from Egypt, sending her
presents that perhaps he could ill afford, and whom she answered
about once a year. And promising young men she had met at
Cambridge, ready, the felt instinctively, to fall down and worship
her. And all the use she had had for them was to convert them to
her views--a task so easy as to be quite uninteresting--with a
vague idea that they might come in handy in the future, when she
might need help in shaping that world of the future.
Only once had she ever thought of marriage. And that was in favour
of a middle-aged, rheumatic widower with three children, a
professor of chemistry, very learned and justly famous. For about
a month she had thought herself in love. She pictured herself
devoting her life to him, rubbing his poor left shoulder where it
seemed he suffered most, and brushing his picturesque hair,
inclined to grey. Fortunately his eldest daughter was a young
woman of resource, or the poor gentleman, naturally carried off his
feet by this adoration of youth and beauty, might have made an ass
of himself. But apart from this one episode she had reached the
age of twenty-three heart-whole.
She rose and replaced the chair. And suddenly a wave of pity
passed over her for the dead woman, who had always seemed so lonely
in the great stiffly-furnished house, and the tears came.
She was glad she had been able to cry. She had always hated
herself for her lack of tears; it was so unwomanly. Even as a
child she had rarely cried.
Her father had always been very tender, very patient towards her
mother, but she had not expected to find him so changed. He had
aged and his shoulders drooped. She had been afraid that he would
want her to stay with him and take charge of the house. It had
worried her considerably. It would be so difficult to refuse, and
yet she would have to. But when he never broached the subject she
was hurt. He had questioned her about her plans the day after the
funeral, and had seemed only anxious to assist them. She proposed
continuing at Cambridge till the end of the term. She had taken
her degree the year before. After that, she would go to London and
commence her work.
"Let me know what allowance you would like me to make you, when you
have thought it out. Things are not what they were at the works,
but there will always be enough to keep you in comfort," he had
told her. She had fixed it there and then at two hundred a year.
She would not take more, and that only until she was in a position
to keep herself.
"I want to prove to myself," she explained, "that I am capable of
earning my own living. I am going down into the market-place. If
I'm no good, if I can't take care of even one poor woman, I'll come
back and ask you to keep me." She was sitting on the arm of his
chair, and laughing, she drew his head towards her and pressed it
against her. "If I succeed, if I am strong enough to fight the
world for myself and win, that will mean I am strong enough and
clever enough to help others."
"I am only at the end of a journey when you need me," he had
answered, and they had kissed. And next morning she returned to
her own life.
It was at Madge Singleton's rooms that the details of Joan's entry
into journalistic London were arranged. "The Coming of Beauty,"
was Flora Lessing's phrase for designating the event. Flora
Lessing, known among her associates as "Flossie," was the girl who
at Cambridge had accidentally stumbled upon the explanation of
Joan's influence. In appearance she was of the Fluffy Ruffles
type, with childish innocent eyes, and the "unruly curls" beloved
of the Family Herald novelist. At the first, these latter had been
the result of a habit of late rising and consequent hurried toilet
operations; but on the discovery that for the purposes of her
profession they possessed a market value they had been sedulously
cultivated. Editors of the old order had ridiculed the idea of her
being of any use to them, when two years previously she had, by
combination of cheek and patience, forced herself into their
sanctum; had patted her paternally upon her generally ungloved
hand, and told her to go back home and get some honest, worthy
young man to love and cherish her.
It was Carleton of the Daily Dispatch group who had first divined
her possibilities. With a swift glance on his way through, he had
picked her out from a line of depressed-looking men and women
ranged against the wall of the dark entrance passage; and with a
snap of his fingers had beckoned to her to follow him. Striding in
front of her up to his room, he had pointed to a chair and had left
her sitting there for three-quarters of an hour, while he held
discussion with a stream of subordinates, managers and editors of
departments, who entered and departed one after another, evidently
in prearranged order. All of them spoke rapidly, without ever
digressing by a single word from the point, giving her the
impression of their speeches having been rehearsed beforehand.
Carleton himself never interrupted them. Indeed, one might have
thought he was not listening, so engrossed he appeared to be in the
pile of letters and telegrams that lay waiting for him on his desk.
When they had finished he would ask them questions, still with his
attention fixed apparently upon the paper in his hand. Then,
looking up for the first time, he would run off curt instructions,
much in the tone of a Commander-in-Chief giving orders for an
immediate assault; and, finishing abruptly, return to his
correspondence. When the last, as it transpired, had closed the
door behind him, he swung his chair round and faced her.
"What have you been doing?" he asked her.
"Wasting my time and money hanging about newspaper offices,
listening to silly talk from old fossils," she told him.
"And having learned that respectable journalism has no use for
brains, you come to me," he answered her. "What do you think you
"Anything that can be done with a pen and ink," she told him.
"Interviewing?" he suggested.
"I've always been considered good at asking awkward questions," she
He glanced at the clock. "I'll give you five minutes," he said.
She moved to a chair beside the desk, and, opening her bag, took
out a writing-block.
"What are your principles?" she asked him. "Have you got any?"
He looked at her sharply across the corner of the desk.
"I mean," she continued, "to what fundamental rule of conduct do
you attribute your success?"
She leant forward, fixing her eyes on him. "Don't tell me," she
persisted, "that you had none. That life is all just mere blind
chance. Think of the young men who are hanging on your answer.
Won't you send them a message?"
"Yes," he answered musingly. "It's your baby face that does the
trick. In the ordinary way I should have known you were pulling my
leg, and have shown you the door. As it was, I felt half inclined
for the moment to reply with some damned silly platitude that would
have set all Fleet Street laughing at me. Why do my 'principles'
"As a matter of fact they don't," she explained. "But it's what
people talk about whenever they discuss you."
"What do they say?" he demanded.
"Your friends, that you never had any. And your enemies, that they
are always the latest," she informed him.
"You'll do," he answered with a laugh. "With nine men out of ten
that speech would have ended your chances. You sized me up at a
glance, and knew it would only interest me. And your instinct is
right," he added. "What people are saying: always go straight for
He gave her a commission then and there for a heart to heart talk
with a gentleman whom the editor of the Home News Department of the
Daily Dispatch would have referred to as a "Leading Literary
Luminary," and who had just invented a new world in two volumes.
She had asked him childish questions and had listened with wide-
open eyes while he, sitting over against her, and smiling
benevolently, had laid bare to her all the seeming intricacies of
creation, and had explained to her in simple language the necessary
alterations and improvements he was hoping to bring about in human
nature. He had the sensation that his hair must be standing on end
the next morning after having read in cold print what he had said.
Expanding oneself before the admiring gaze of innocent simplicity
and addressing the easily amused ear of an unsympathetic public are
not the same thing. He ought to have thought of that.
It consoled him, later, that he was not the only victim. The Daily
Dispatch became famous for its piquant interviews; especially with
elderly celebrities of the masculine gender.
"It's dirty work," Flossie confided one day to Madge Singleton. "I
trade on my silly face. Don't see that I'm much different to any
of these poor devils." They were walking home in the evening from
a theatre. "If I hadn't been stony broke I'd never have taken it
up. I shall get out of it as soon as I can afford to."
"I should make it a bit sooner than that," suggested the elder
woman. "One can't always stop oneself just where one wants to when
sliding down a slope. It has a knack of getting steeper and
steeper as one goes on."
Madge had asked Joan to come a little earlier so that they could
have a chat together before the others arrived.
"I've only asked a few," she explained, as she led Joan into the
restful white-panelled sitting-room that looked out upon the
gardens. Madge shared a set of chambers in Gray's Inn with her
brother who was an actor. "But I have chosen them with care."
Joan murmured her thanks.
"I haven't asked any men," she added, as she fixed Joan in an easy
chair before the fire. "I was afraid of its introducing the wrong
"Tell me," asked Joan, "am I likely to meet with much of that sort
"Oh, about as much as there always is wherever men and women work
together," answered Madge. "It's a nuisance, but it has to be
"Nature appears to have only one idea in her head," she continued
after a pause, "so far as we men and women are concerned. She's
been kinder to the lower animals."
"Man has more interests," Joan argued, "a thousand other
allurements to distract him; we must cultivate his finer
"It doesn't seem to answer," grumbled Madge. "One is always told
it is the artist--the brain worker, the very men who have these
fine instincts, who are the most sexual."
She made a little impatient movement with her hands that was
characteristic of her. "Personally, I like men," she went on. "It
is so splendid the way they enjoy life: just like a dog does,
whether it's wet or fine. We are always blinking up at the clouds
and worrying about our hat. It would be so nice to be able to have
friendship with them.
"I don't mean that it's all their fault," she continued. "We do
all we can to attract them--the way we dress. Who was it said that
to every woman every man is a potential lover. We can't get it out
of our minds. It's there even when we don't know it. We will
never succeed in civilizing Nature."
"We won't despair of her," laughed Joan. "She's creeping up, poor
lady, as Whistler said of her. We have passed the phase when
everything she did was right in our childish eyes. Now we dare to
criticize her. That shows we are growing up. She will learn from
us, later on. She's a dear old thing, at heart."
"She's been kind enough to you," replied Madge, somewhat
irrelevantly. There was a note of irritation in her tone. "I
suppose you know you are supremely beautiful. You seem so
indifferent to it, I wonder sometimes if you do."
"I'm not indifferent to it," answered Joan. "I'm reckoning on it
to help me."
"Why not?" she continued, with a flash of defiance, though Madge
had not spoken. "It is a weapon like any other--knowledge,
intellect, courage. God has given me beauty. I shall use it in
They formed a curious physical contrast, these two women in this
moment. Joan, radiant, serene, sat upright in her chair, her head
slightly thrown back, her fine hands clasping one another so
strongly that the delicate muscles could be traced beneath the
smooth white skin. Madge, with puckered brows, leant forward in a
crouching attitude, her thin nervous hands stretched out towards
"How does one know when one is serving God?" she asked after a
pause, apparently rather of herself than of Joan. "It seems so
"One feels it," explained Joan.
"Yes, but didn't they all feel it," Madge suggested. She still
seemed to be arguing with herself rather than with Joan.
"Nietzsche. I have been reading him. They are forming a Nietzsche
Society to give lectures about him--propagate him over here.
Eleanor's in it up to the neck. It seems to me awful. Every fibre
in my being revolts against him. Yet they're all cocksure that he
is the coming prophet. He must have convinced himself that he is
serving God. If I were a fighter I should feel I was serving God
trying to down Him. How do I know which of us is right?
Torquemada--Calvin," she went on, without giving Joan the chance of
a reply. "It's easy enough to see they were wrong now. But at the
time millions of people believed in them--felt it was God's voice
speaking through them. Joan of Arc! Fancy dying to put a thing
like that upon a throne. It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic.
You can say she drove out the English--saved France. But for what?
The Bartholomew massacres. The ruin of the Palatinate by Louis
XIV. The horrors of the French Revolution, ending with Napoleon
and all the misery and degeneracy that he bequeathed to Europe.
History might have worked itself out so much better if the poor
child had left it alone and minded her sheep."
"Wouldn't that train of argument lead to nobody ever doing
anything?" suggested Joan.
"I suppose it would mean stagnation," admitted Madge. "And yet I
don't know. Are there not forces moving towards right that are
crying to us to help them, not by violence, which only interrupts--
delays them, but by quietly preparing the way for them? You know
what I mean. Erasmus always said that Luther had hindered the
Reformation by stirring up passion and hate." She broke off
suddenly. There were tears in her eyes. "Oh, if God would only
say what He wants of us," she almost cried; "call to us in trumpet
tones that would ring through the world, compelling us to take
sides. Why can't He speak?"
"He does," answered Joan. "I hear His voice. There are things
I've got to do. Wrongs that I must fight against. Rights that I
must never dare to rest till they are won." Her lips were parted.
Her breasts heaving. "He does call to us. He has girded His sword
Madge looked at her in silence for quite a while. "How confident
you are," she said. "How I envy you."
They talked for a time about domestic matters. Joan had
established herself in furnished rooms in a quiet street of
pleasant Georgian houses just behind the Abbey; a member of
Parliament and his wife occupied the lower floors, the landlord, a
retired butler, and his wife, an excellent cook, confining
themselves to the basement and the attics. The remaining floor was
tenanted by a shy young man--a poet, so the landlady thought, but
was not sure. Anyhow he had long hair, lived with a pipe in his
mouth, and burned his lamp long into the night. Joan had omitted
to ask his name. She made a note to do so.
They discussed ways and means. Joan calculated she could get
through on two hundred a year, putting aside fifty for dress.
Madge was doubtful if this would be sufficient. Joan urged that
she was "stock size" and would be able to pick up "models" at
sales; but Madge, measuring her against herself, was sure she was
"You will find yourself expensive to dress," she told her, "cheap
things won't go well on you; and it would be madness, even from a
business point of view, for you not to make the best of yourself."
"Men stand more in awe of a well-dressed woman than they do even of
a beautiful woman," Madge was of opinion. "If you go into an
office looking dowdy they'll beat you down. Tell them the price
they are offering you won't keep you in gloves for a week and
they'll be ashamed of themselves. There's nothing infra dig. in
being mean to the poor; but not to sympathize with the rich stamps
you as middle class." She laughed.
Joan was worried. "I told Dad I should only ask him for enough to
make up two hundred a year," she explained. "He'll laugh at me for
not knowing my own mind."
"I should let him," advised Madge. She grew thoughtful again. "We
cranky young women, with our new-fangled, independent ways, I guess
we hurt the old folks quite enough as it is."
The bell rang and Madge opened the door herself. It turned out to
be Flossie. Joan had not seen her since they had been at Girton
together, and was surprised at Flossie's youthful "get up."
Flossie explained, and without waiting for any possible attack flew
to her own defence.
"The revolution that the world is waiting for," was Flossie's
opinion, "is the providing of every man and woman with a hundred
and fifty a year. Then we shall all be able to afford to be noble
and high-minded. As it is, nine-tenths of the contemptible things
we do comes from the necessity of our having to earn our living. A
hundred and fifty a year would deliver us from evil."
"Would there not still be the diamond dog-collar and the motor car
left to tempt us?" suggested Madge.
"Only the really wicked," contended Flossie. "It would classify
us. We should know then which were the sheep and which the goats.
At present we're all jumbled together: the ungodly who sin out of
mere greed and rapacity, and the just men compelled to sell their
birthright of fine instincts for a mess of meat and potatoes."
"Yah, socialist," commented Madge, who was busy with the tea
Flossie seemed struck by an idea.
"By Jove," she exclaimed. "Why did I never think of it. With a
red flag and my hair down, I'd be in all the illustrated papers.
It would put up my price no end. And I'd be able to get out of
this silly job of mine. I can't go on much longer. I'm getting
too well known. I do believe I'll try it. The shouting's easy
enough." She turned to Joan. "Are you going to take up
socialism?" she demanded.
"I may," answered Joan. "Just to spank it, and put it down again.
I'm rather a believer in temptation--the struggle for existence. I
only want to make it a finer existence, more worth the struggle, in
which the best man shall rise to the top. Your 'universal
security'--that will be the last act of the human drama, the cue
for ringing down the curtain."
"But do not all our Isms work towards that end?" suggested Madge.
Joan was about to reply when the maid's announcement of "Mrs.
Denton" postponed the discussion.
Mrs. Denton was a short, grey-haired lady. Her large strong
features must have made her, when she was young, a hard-looking
woman; but time and sorrow had strangely softened them; while about
the corners of the thin firm mouth lurked a suggestion of humour
that possibly had not always been there. Joan, waiting to be
introduced, towered head and shoulders above her; yet when she took
the small proffered hand and felt those steely blue eyes surveying
her, she had the sensation of being quite insignificant. Mrs.
Denton seemed to be reading her, and then still retaining Joan's
hand she turned to Madge with a smile.
"So this is our new recruit," she said. "She is come to bring
healing to the sad, sick world--to right all the old, old wrongs."
She patted Joan's hand and spoke gravely. "That is right, dear.
That is youth's metier; to take the banner from our failing hands,
bear it still a little onward." Her small gloved hand closed on
Joan's with a pressure that made Joan wince.
"And you must not despair," she continued; "because in the end it
will seem to you that you have failed. It is the fallen that win
She released Joan's hand abruptly. "Come and see me to-morrow
morning at my office," she said. "We will fix up something that
shall be serviceable to us both."
Madge flashed Joan a look. She considered Joan's position already
secured. Mrs. Denton was the doyen of women journalists. She
edited a monthly review and was leader writer of one of the most
important dailies, besides being the controlling spirit of various
social movements. Anyone she "took up" would be assured of steady
work. The pay might not be able to compete with the prices paid
for more popular journalism, but it would afford a foundation, and
give to Joan that opportunity for influence which was her main
Joan expressed her thanks. She would like to have had more talk
with the stern old lady, but was prevented by the entrance of two
new comers. The first was Miss Lavery, a handsome, loud-toned
young woman. She ran a nursing paper, but her chief interest was
in the woman's suffrage question, just then coming rapidly to the
front. She had heard Joan speak at Cambridge and was eager to
secure her adherence, being wishful to surround herself with a
group of young and good-looking women who should take the movement
out of the hands of the "frumps," as she termed them. Her doubt
was whether Joan would prove sufficiently tractable. She intended
to offer her remunerative work upon the Nursing News without saying
anything about the real motive behind, trusting to gratitude to
make her task the easier.
The second was a clumsy-looking, over-dressed woman whom Miss
Lavery introduced as "Mrs. Phillips, a very dear friend of mine,
who is going to be helpful to us all," adding in a hurried aside to
Madge, "I simply had to bring her. Will explain to you another
time." An apology certainly seemed to be needed. The woman was
absurdly out of her place. She stood there panting and slightly
perspiring. She was short and fat, with dyed hair. As a girl she
had possibly been pretty in a dimpled, giggling sort of way. Joan
judged her, in spite of her complexion, to be about forty.
Joan wondered if she could be the wife of the Member of Parliament
who occupied the rooms below her in Cowley Street. His name, so
the landlady had told her, was Phillips. She put the suggestion in
a whisper to Flossie.
"Quite likely," thought Flossie; "just the type that sort of man
does marry. A barmaid, I expect."
Others continued to arrive until altogether there must have been
about a dozen women present. One of them turned out to be an old
schoolfellow of Joan's and two had been with her at Girton. Madge
had selected those who she knew would be sympathetic, and all
promised help: those who could not give it direct undertaking to
provide introductions and recommendations, though some of them were
frankly doubtful of journalism affording Joan anything more than
the means--not always, too honest--of earning a living.
"I started out to preach the gospel: all that sort of thing,"
drawled a Miss Simmonds from beneath a hat that, if she had paid
for it, would have cost her five guineas. "Now my chief purpose in
life is to tickle silly women into spending twice as much upon
their clothes as their husbands can afford, bamboozling them into
buying any old thing that our Advertising Manager instructs me to
"They talk about the editor's opinions," struck in a fiery little
woman who was busy flinging crumbs out of the window to a crowd of
noisy sparrows. "It's the Advertiser edits half the papers. Write
anything that three of them object to, and your proprietor tells
you to change your convictions or go. Most of us change." She
jerked down the window with a slam.
"It's the syndicates that have done it," was a Mrs. Elliot's
opinion. She wrote "Society Notes" for a Labour weekly. "When one
man owned a paper he wanted it to express his views. A company is
only out for profit. Your modern newspaper is just a shop. It's
only purpose is to attract customers. Look at the Methodist
Herald, owned by the same syndicate of Jews that runs the Racing
News. They work it as far as possible with the same staff."
"We're a pack of hirelings," asserted the fiery little woman. "Our
pens are for sale to the highest bidder. I had a letter from
Jocelyn only two days ago. He was one of the original staff of the
Socialist. He writes me that he has gone as leader writer to a
Conservative paper at twice his former salary. Expected me to
"One of these days somebody will start a Society for the
Reformation of the Press," thought Flossie. "I wonder how the
papers will take it?"
"Much as Rome took Savonarola," thought Madge.
Mrs. Denton had risen.
"They are right to a great extent," she said to Joan. "But not all
the temple has been given over to the hucksters. You shall place
your preaching stool in some quiet corner, where the passing feet
shall pause awhile to listen."
Her going was the signal for the breaking up of the party. In a
short time Joan and Madge found themselves left with only Flossie.
"What on earth induced Helen to bring that poor old Dutch doll
along with her?" demanded Flossie. "The woman never opened her
mouth all the time. Did she tell you?"
"No," answered Madge, "but I think I can guess. She hopes--or
perhaps 'fears' would be more correct--that her husband is going to
join the Cabinet, and is trying to fit herself by suddenly studying
political and social questions. For a month she's been clinging
like a leech to Helen Lavery, who takes her to meetings and
gatherings. I suppose they've struck up some sort of a bargain.
It's rather pathetic."
"Good Heavens! What a tragedy for the man," commented Flossie.
"What is he like?" asked Joan.
"Not much to look at, if that's what you mean," answered Madge.
"Began life as a miner, I believe. Looks like ending as Prime
"I heard him at the Albert Hall last week," said Flossie. "He's
"In what way?" questioned Joan.
"Oh, you know," explained Flossie. "Like a volcano compressed into
a steam engine."
They discussed Joan's plans. It looked as if things were going to
be easy for her.
Yet in the end it was Carleton who opened the door for her.
Mrs. Denton was helpful, and would have been more so, if Joan had
only understood. Mrs. Denton lived alone in an old house in Gower
Street, with a high stone hall that was always echoing to sounds
that no one but itself could ever hear. Her son had settled, it
was supposed, in one of the Colonies. No one knew what had become
of him, and Mrs. Denton herself never spoke of him; while her
daughter, on whom she had centred all her remaining hopes, had died
years ago. To those who remembered the girl, with her weak eyes
and wispy ginger coloured hair, it would have seemed comical, the
idea that Joan resembled her. But Mrs. Denton's memory had lost
itself in dreams; and to her the likeness had appeared quite
wonderful. The gods had given her child back to her, grown strong
and brave and clever. Life would have a new meaning for her. Her
work would not die with her.
She thought she could harness Joan's enthusiasm to her own wisdom.
She would warn her of the errors and pitfalls into which she
herself had fallen: for she, too, had started as a rebel. Youth
should begin where age left off. Had the old lady remembered a
faded dogs-eared volume labelled "Oddments" that for many years had
rested undisturbed upon its shelf in her great library, and opening
it had turned to the letter E, she would have read recorded there,
in her own precise thin penmanship, this very wise reflection:
"Experience is a book that all men write, but no man reads."
To which she would have found added, by way of complement,
"Experience is untranslatable. We write it in the cipher of our
sufferings, and the key is hidden in our memories."
And turning to the letter Y, she might have read:
"Youth comes to teach. Age remains to listen," and underneath the
"The ability to learn is the last lesson we acquire."
Mrs. Denton had long ago given up the practice of jotting down her
thoughts, experience having taught her that so often, when one
comes to use them, one finds that one has changed them. But in the
case of Joan the recollection of these twin "oddments" might have
saved her disappointment. Joan knew of a new road that avoided
Mrs. Denton's pitfalls. She grew impatient of being perpetually
For the Nursing Times she wrote a series of condensed biographies,
entitled "Ladies of the Lamp," commencing with Elizabeth Fry. They
formed a record of good women who had battled for the weak and
suffering, winning justice for even the uninteresting. Miss Lavery
was delighted with them. But when Joan proposed exposing the
neglect and even cruelty too often inflicted upon the helpless
patients of private Nursing Homes, Miss Lavery shook her head.
"I know," she said. "One does hear complaints about them.
Unfortunately it is one of the few businesses managed entirely by
women; and just now, in particular, if we were to say anything, it
would be made use of by our enemies to injure the Cause."
There was a summer years ago--it came back to Joan's mind--when she
had shared lodgings with a girl chum at a crowded sea-side
watering-place. The rooms were shockingly dirty; and tired of
dropping hints she determined one morning to clean them herself.
She climbed a chair and started on a row of shelves where lay the
dust of ages. It was a jerry-built house, and the result was that
she brought the whole lot down about her head, together with a
quarter of a hundred-weight of plaster.
"Yes, I thought you'd do some mischief," had commented the
It seemed typical. A jerry-built world, apparently. With the best
intentions it seemed impossible to move in it without doing more
harm than good to it, bringing things down about one that one had
She wanted to abolish steel rabbit-traps. She had heard the little
beggars cry. It had struck her as such a harmless reform. But
they told her there were worthy people in the neighbourhood of
Wolverhampton--quite a number of them--who made their living by the
manufacture of steel rabbit-traps. If, thinking only of the
rabbits, you prohibited steel rabbit-traps, then you condemned all
these worthy people to slow starvation. The local Mayor himself
wrote in answer to her article. He drew a moving picture of the
sad results that might follow such an ill-considered agitation:
hundreds of grey-haired men, too old to learn new jobs, begging
from door to door; shoals of little children, white-faced and
pinched; sobbing women. Her editor was sorry for the rabbits. Had
often spent a pleasant day with them himself. But, after all, the
Human Race claimed our first sympathies.
She wanted to abolish sweating. She had climbed the rotting
stairways, seen the famished creatures in their holes. But it
seemed that if you interfered with the complicated system based on
sweating then you dislocated the entire structure of the British
export clothing trade. Not only would these poor creatures lose
their admittedly wretched living--but still a living--but thousands
of other innocent victims would also be involved in the common
ruin. All very sad, but half a loaf--or even let us frankly say a
thin slice--is better than no bread at all.
She wanted board school children's heads examined. She had
examined one or two herself. It seemed to her wrong that healthy
children should be compelled to sit for hours within jumping
distance of the diseased. She thought it better that the dirty
should be made fit company for the clean than the clean should be
brought down to the level of the dirty. It seemed that in doing
this you were destroying the independence of the poor. Opposition
reformers, in letters scintillating with paradox, bristling with
classical allusion, denounced her attempt to impose middle-class
ideals upon a too long suffering proletariat. Better far a few
lively little heads than a broken-spirited people robbed of their
Through Miss Lavery she obtained an introduction to the great Sir
William. He owned a group of popular provincial newspapers, and
was most encouraging. Sir William had often said to himself:
"What can I do for God who has done so much for me?" It seemed
He asked her down to his "little place in Hampshire," to talk plans
over. The "little place," it turned out, ran to forty bedrooms,
and was surrounded by three hundred acres of park. God had
evidently done his bit quite handsomely.
It was in a secluded corner of the park that Sir William had gone
down upon one knee and gallantly kissed her hand. His idea was
that if she could regard herself as his "Dear Lady," and allow him
the honour and privilege of being her "True Knight," that, between
them, they might accomplish something really useful. There had
been some difficulty about his getting up again, Sir William being
an elderly gentleman subject to rheumatism, and Joan had had to
expend no small amount of muscular effort in assisting him; so that
the episode which should have been symbolical ended by leaving them
both red and breathless.
He referred to the matter again the same evening in the library
while Lady William slept peacefully in the blue drawing-room; but
as it appeared necessary that the compact should be sealed by a
knightly kiss Joan had failed to ratify it.
She blamed herself on her way home. The poor old gentleman could
easily have been kept in his place. The suffering of an occasional
harmless caress would have purchased for her power and opportunity.
Had it not been somewhat selfish of her? Should she write to him--
see him again?
She knew that she never would. It was something apart from her
reason. It would not even listen to her. It bade or forbade as if
one were a child without any right to a will of one's own. It was
There were others. There were the editors who frankly told her
that the business of a newspaper was to write what its customers
wanted to read; and that the public, so far as they could judge,
was just about fed up with plans for New Jerusalems at their
expense. And the editors who were prepared to take up any number
of reforms, insisting only that they should be new and original and
And then she met Greyson.
It was at a lunch given by Mrs. Denton. Greyson was a bachelor and
lived with an unmarried sister, a few years older than himself. He
was editor and part proprietor of an evening paper. It had ideals
and was, in consequence, regarded by the general public with
suspicion; but by reason of sincerity and braininess was rapidly
becoming a power. He was a shy, reserved man with an aristocratic
head set upon stooping shoulders. The face was that of a dreamer,
but about the mouth there was suggestion of the fighter. Joan felt
at her ease with him in spite of the air of detachment that seemed
part of his character. Mrs. Denton had paired them off together;
and, during the lunch, one of them--Joan could not remember which--
had introduced the subject of reincarnation.
Greyson was unable to accept the theory because of the fact that,
in old age, the mind in common with the body is subject to decay.
"Perhaps by the time I am forty--or let us say fifty," he argued,
"I shall be a bright, intelligent being. If I die then, well and
good. I select a likely baby and go straight on. But suppose I
hang about till eighty and die a childish old gentleman with a mind
all gone to seed. What am I going to do then? I shall have to
begin all over again: perhaps worse off than I was before. That's
not going to help us much."
Joan explained it to him: that old age might be likened to an
illness. A genius lies upon a bed of sickness and babbles childish
nonsense. But with returning life he regains his power, goes on
increasing it. The mind, the soul, has not decayed. It is the
lines of communication that old age has destroyed.
"But surely you don't believe it?" he demanded.
"Why not?" laughed Joan. "All things are possible. It was the
possession of a hand that transformed monkeys into men. We used to
take things up, you know, and look at them, and wonder and wonder
and wonder, till at last there was born a thought and the world
became visible. It is curiosity that will lead us to the next
great discovery. We must take things up; and think and think and
think till one day there will come knowledge, and we shall see the
Joan always avoided getting excited when she thought of it.
"I love to make you excited," Flossie had once confessed to her in
the old student days. "You look so ridiculously young and you are
so pleased with yourself, laying down the law."
She did not know she had given way to it. He was leaning back in
his chair, looking at her; and the tired look she had noticed in
his eyes, when she had been introduced to him in the drawing-room,
had gone out of them.
During the coffee, Mrs. Denton beckoned him to come to her; and
Miss Greyson crossed over and took his vacant chair. She had been
sitting opposite to them.
"I've been hearing so much about you," she said. "I can't help
thinking that you ought to suit my brother's paper. He has all
your ideas. Have you anything that you could send him?"
Joan considered a moment.
"Nothing very startling," she answered. "I was thinking of a
series of articles on the old London Churches--touching upon the
people connected with them and the things they stood for. I've
just finished the first one."
"It ought to be the very thing," answered Miss Greyson. She was a
thin, faded woman with a soft, plaintive voice. "It will enable
him to judge your style. He's particular about that. Though I'm
confident he'll like it," she hastened to add. "Address it to me,
will you. I assist him as much as I can."
Joan added a few finishing touches that evening, and posted it; and
a day or two later received a note asking her to call at the
"My sister is enthusiastic about your article on Chelsea Church and
insists on my taking the whole series," Greyson informed her. "She
says you have the Stevensonian touch."
Joan flushed with pleasure.
"And you," she asked, "did you think it had the Stevensonian
"No," he answered, "it seemed to me to have more of your touch."
"What's that like?" she demanded.
"They couldn't suppress you," he explained. "Sir Thomas More with
his head under his arm, bloody old Bluebeard, grim Queen Bess,
snarling old Swift, Pope, Addison, Carlyle--the whole grisly crowd
of them! I could see you holding your own against them all,
explaining things to them, getting excited." He laughed.
His sister joined them, coming in from the next room. She had a
proposal to make. It was that Joan should take over the weekly
letter from "Clorinda." It was supposed to give the views of a--
perhaps unusually--sane and thoughtful woman upon the questions of
the day. Miss Greyson had hitherto conducted it herself, but was
wishful as she explained to be relieved of it; so that she might
have more time for home affairs. It would necessitate Joan's
frequent attendance at the office; for there would be letters from
the public to be answered, and points to be discussed with her
brother. She was standing behind his chair with her hands upon his
head. There was something strangely motherly about her whole
Greyson was surprised, for the Letter had been her own conception,
and had grown into a popular feature. But she was evidently in
earnest; and Joan accepted willingly. "Clorinda" grew younger,
more self-assertive; on the whole more human. But still so
eminently "sane" and reasonable.
"We must not forget that she is quite a respectable lady,
connected--according to her own account--with the higher political
circles," Joan's editor would insist, with a laugh.
Miss Greyson, working in the adjoining room, would raise her head
and listen. She loved to hear him laugh.
"It's absurd," Flossie told her one morning, as having met by
chance they were walking home together along the Embankment.
"You're not 'Clorinda'; you ought to be writing letters to her, not
from her, waking her up, telling her to come off her perch, and
find out what the earth feels like. I'll tell you what I'll do:
I'll trot you round to Carleton. If you're out for stirring up
strife and contention, well, that's his game, too. He'll use you
for his beastly sordid ends. He'd have roped in John the Baptist
if he'd been running the 'Jerusalem Star' at the time, and have
given him a daily column for so long as the boom lasted. What's
that matter, if he's willing to give you a start?"
Joan jibbed at first. But in the end Flossie's arguments
prevailed. One afternoon, a week later, she was shown into
Carleton's private room, and the door closed behind her. The light
was dim, and for a moment she could see no one; until Carleton, who
had been standing near one of the windows, came forward and placed
a chair for her. And they both sat down.
"I've glanced through some of your things," he said. "They're all
right. They're alive. What's your idea?"
Remembering Flossie's counsel, she went straight to the point. She
wanted to talk to the people. She wanted to get at them. If she
had been a man, she would have taken a chair and gone to Hyde Park.
As it was, she hadn't the nerve for Hyde Park. At least she was
afraid she hadn't. It might have to come to that. There was a
trembling in her voice that annoyed her. She was so afraid she
might cry. She wasn't out for anything crazy. She wanted only
those things done that could be done if the people would but lift
their eyes, look into one another's faces, see the wrong and the
injustice that was all around them, and swear that they would never
rest till the pain and the terror had been driven from the land.
She wanted soldiers--men and women who would forget their own sweet
selves, not counting their own loss, thinking of the greater gain;
as in times of war and revolution, when men gave even their lives
gladly for a dream, for a hope -
Without warning he switched on the electric lamp that stood upon
the desk, causing her to draw back with a start.
"All right," he said. "Go ahead. You shall have your tub, and a
weekly audience of a million readers for as long as you can keep
them interested. Up with anything you like, and down with
everything you don't. Be careful not to land me in a libel suit.
Call the whole Bench of Bishops hypocrites, and all the ground
landlords thieves, if you will: but don't mention names. And
don't get me into trouble with the police. Beyond that, I shan't
interfere with you."
She was about to speak.
"One stipulation," he went on, "that every article is headed with
He read the sudden dismay in her eyes.
"How else do you think you are going to attract their attention?"
he asked her. "By your eloquence! Hundreds of men and women as
eloquent as you could ever be are shouting to them every day. Who
takes any notice of them? Why should they listen any the more to
you--another cranky highbrow: some old maid, most likely, with a
bony throat and a beaky nose. If Woman is going to come into the
fight she will have to use her own weapons. If she is prepared to
do that she'll make things hum with a vengeance. She's the biggest
force going, if she only knew it."
He had risen and was pacing the room.
"The advertiser has found that out, and is showing the way." He
snatched at an illustrated magazine, fresh from the press, that had
been placed upon his desk, and opened it at the first page.
"Johnson's Blacking," he read out, "advertised by a dainty little
minx, showing her ankles. Who's going to stop for a moment to read
about somebody's blacking? If a saucy little minx isn't there to
trip him up with her ankles!"
He turned another page. "Do you suffer from gout? Classical lady
preparing to take a bath and very nearly ready. The old Johnny in
the train stops to look at her. Reads the advertisement because
she seems to want him to. Rubber heels. Save your boot leather!
Lady in evening dress--jolly pretty shoulders--waves them in front
of your eyes. Otherwise you'd never think of them."
He fluttered the pages. Then flung the thing across to her.
"Look at it," he said. "Fountain pens--Corn plasters--Charitable
appeals--Motor cars--Soaps--Grand pianos. It's the girl in tights
and spangles outside the show that brings them trooping in."
"Let them see you," he continued. "You say you want soldiers.
Throw off your veil and call for them. Your namesake of France!
Do you think if she had contented herself with writing stirring
appeals that Orleans would have fallen? She put on a becoming suit
of armour and got upon a horse where everyone could see her.
Chivalry isn't dead. You modern women are ashamed of yourselves--
ashamed of your sex. You don't give it a chance. Revive it. Stir
the young men's blood. Their souls will follow."
He reseated himself and leant across towards her.
"I'm not talking business," he said. "This thing's not going to
mean much to me one way or the other. I want you to win. Farm
labourers bringing up families on twelve and six a week. Shirt
hands working half into the night for three farthings an hour.
Stinking dens for men to live in. Degraded women. Half fed
children. It's damnable. Tell them it's got to stop. That the
Eternal Feminine has stepped out of the poster and commands it."
A dapper young man opened the door and put his head into the room.
"Railway smash in Yorkshire," he announced.
Carleton sat up. "Much of a one?" he asked.
The dapper gentleman shrugged his shoulders. "Three killed, eight
injured, so far," he answered.
Carleton's interest appeared to collapse.
"Stop press column?" asked the dapper gentleman.
"Yes, I suppose so." replied Carleton. "Unless something better
The dapper young gentleman disappeared. Joan had risen.
"May I talk it over with a friend?" she asked. "Myself, I'm
inclined to accept."
"You will, if you're in earnest," he answered. "I'll give you
twenty-four hours. Look in to-morrow afternoon, and see Finch. It
will be for the Sunday Post--the Inset. We use surfaced paper for
that and can do you justice. Finch will arrange about the
photograph." He held out his hand. "Shall be seeing you again,"
It was but a stone's throw to the office of the Evening Gazette.
She caught Greyson just as he was leaving and put the thing before
him. His sister was with him.
He did not answer at first. He was walking to and fro; and,
catching his foot in the waste paper basket, he kicked it savagely
out of his way, so that the contents were scattered over the room.
"Yes, he's right," he said. "It was the Virgin above the altar
that popularized Christianity. Her face has always been woman's
fortune. If she's going to become a fighter, it will have to be
He had used almost the same words that Carleton had used.
"I so want them to listen to me," she said. "After all, it's only
like having a very loud voice."
He looked at her and smiled. "Yes," he said, "it's a voice men
will listen to."
Mary Greyson was standing by the fire. She had not spoken
"You won't give up 'Clorinda'?" she asked.
Joan had intended to do so, but something in Mary's voice caused
her, against her will, to change her mind.
"Of course not," she answered. "I shall run them both. It will be
like writing Jekyll and Hyde."
"What will you sign yourself?" he asked.
"My own name, I think," she said. "Joan Allway."
Miss Greyson suggested her coming home to dinner with them; but
Joan found an excuse. She wanted to be alone.
The twilight was fading as she left the office. She turned
northward, choosing a broad, ill-lighted road. It did not matter
which way she took. She wanted to think; or, rather, to dream.
It would all fall out as she had intended. She would commence by
becoming a power in journalism. She was reconciled now to the
photograph idea--was even keen on it herself. She would be taken
full face so that she would be looking straight into the eyes of
her readers as she talked to them. It would compel her to be
herself; just a hopeful, loving woman: a little better educated
than the majority, having had greater opportunity: a little
further seeing, maybe, having had more leisure for thought: but
otherwise, no whit superior to any other young, eager woman of the
people. This absurd journalistic pose of omniscience, of
infallibility--this non-existent garment of supreme wisdom that,
like the King's clothes in the fairy story, was donned to hide his
nakedness by every strutting nonentity of Fleet Street! She would
have no use for it. It should be a friend, a comrade, a fellow-
servant of the great Master, taking counsel with them, asking their
help. Government by the people for the people! It must be made
real. These silent, thoughtful-looking workers, hurrying homewards
through the darkening streets; these patient, shrewd-planning
housewives casting their shadows on the drawn-down blinds: it was
they who should be shaping the world, not the journalists to whom
all life was but so much "copy." This monstrous conspiracy, once
of the Sword, of the Church, now of the Press, that put all
Government into the hands of a few stuffy old gentlemen,
politicians, leader writers, without sympathy or understanding: it
was time that it was swept away. She would raise a new standard.
It should be, not "Listen to me, oh ye dumb," but, "Speak to me.
Tell me your hidden hopes, your fears, your dreams. Tell me your
experience, your thoughts born of knowledge, of suffering."
She would get into correspondence with them, go among them, talk to
them. The difficulty, at first, would be in getting them to write
to her, to open their minds to her. These voiceless masses that
never spoke, but were always being spoken for by self-appointed
"leaders," "representatives," who immediately they had climbed into
prominence took their place among the rulers, and then from press
and platform shouted to them what they were to think and feel. It
was as if the Drill-Sergeant were to claim to be the "leader," the
"representative" of his squad; or the sheep-dog to pose as the
"delegate" of the sheep. Dealt with always as if they were mere
herds, mere flocks, they had almost lost the power of individual
utterance. One would have to teach them, encourage them.
She remembered a Sunday class she had once conducted; and how for a
long time she had tried in vain to get the children to "come in,"
to take a hand. That she might get in touch with them, understand
their small problems, she had urged them to ask questions. And
there had fallen such long silences. Until, at last, one cheeky
ragamuffin had piped out:
"Please, Miss, have you got red hair all over you? Or only on your
For answer she had rolled up her sleeve, and let them examine her
arm. And then, in her turn, had insisted on rolling up his sleeve,
revealing the fact that his arms above the wrists had evidently not
too recently been washed; and the episode had ended in laughter and
a babel of shrill voices. And, at once, they were a party of
chums, discussing matters together.
They were but children, these tired men and women, just released
from their day's toil, hastening homeward to their play, or to
their evening tasks. A little humour, a little understanding, a
recognition of the wonderful likeness of us all to one another
underneath our outward coverings was all that was needed to break
down the barrier, establish comradeship. She stood aside a moment
to watch them streaming by. Keen, strong faces were among them,
high, thoughtful brows, kind eyes; they must learn to think, to
speak for themselves.
She would build again the Forum. The people's business should no
longer be settled for them behind lackey-guarded doors. The good
of the farm labourer should be determined not exclusively by the
squire and his relations. The man with the hoe, the man with the
bent back and the patient ox-like eyes: he, too, should be invited
to the Council board. Middle-class domestic problems should be
solved not solely by fine gentlemen from Oxford; the wife of the
little clerk should be allowed her say. War or peace, it should no
longer be regarded as a question concerning only the aged rich.
The common people--the cannon fodder, the men who would die, and
the women who would weep: they should be given something more than
the privilege of either cheering platform patriots or being
summoned for interrupting public meetings.
From a dismal side street there darted past her a small, shapeless
figure in crumpled cap and apron: evidently a member of that lazy,
over-indulged class, the domestic servant. Judging from the talk
of the drawing-rooms, the correspondence in the papers, a
singularly unsatisfactory body. They toiled not, lived in luxury
and demanded grand pianos. Someone had proposed doing something
for them. They themselves--it seemed that even they had a sort of
conscience--were up in arms against it. Too much kindness even
they themselves perceived was bad for them. They were holding a
meeting that night to explain how contented they were. Six
peeresses had consented to attend, and speak for them.
Likely enough that there were good-for-nothing, cockered menials
imposing upon incompetent mistresses. There were pampered slaves
in Rome. But these others. These poor little helpless sluts.
There were thousands such in every city, over-worked and under-fed,
living lonely, pleasureless lives. They must be taught to speak in
other voices than the dulcet tones of peeresses. By the light of
the guttering candles, from their chill attics, they should write
to her their ill-spelt visions.
She had reached a quiet, tree-bordered road, surrounding a great
park. Lovers, furtively holding hands, passed her by, whispering.
She would write books. She would choose for her heroine a woman of
the people. How full of drama, of tragedy must be their stories:
their problems the grim realities of life, not only its mere
sentimental embroideries. The daily struggle for bare existence,
the ever-shadowing menace of unemployment, of illness, leaving them
helpless amid the grinding forces crushing them down on every side.
The ceaseless need for courage, for cunning. For in the kingdom of
the poor the tyrant and the oppressor still sit in the high places,
the robber still rides fearless.
In a noisy, flaring street, a thin-clad woman passed her, carrying
a netted bag showing two loaves. In a flash, it came to her what
it must mean to the poor; this daily bread that in comfortable
homes had come to be regarded as a thing like water; not to be
considered, to be used without stint, wasted, thrown about. Borne
by those feeble, knotted hands, Joan saw it revealed as something
holy: hallowed by labour; sanctified by suffering, by sacrifice;
worshipped with fear and prayer.
In quiet streets of stately houses, she caught glimpses through
uncurtained windows of richly-laid dinner-tables about which
servants moved noiselessly, arranging flowers and silver. She
wondered idly if she would every marry. A gracious hostess,
gathering around her brilliant men and women, statesmen, writers,
artists, captains of industry: counselling them, even learning
from them: encouraging shy genius. Perhaps, in a perfectly
harmless way, allowing it the inspiration derivable from a well-
regulated devotion to herself. A salon that should be the nucleus
of all those forces that influence influences, over which she would
rule with sweet and wise authority. The idea appealed to her.
Into the picture, slightly to the background, she unconsciously
placed Greyson. His tall, thin figure with its air of distinction
seemed to fit in; Greyson would be very restful. She could see his
handsome, ascetic face flush with pleasure as, after the guests
were gone, she would lean over the back of his chair and caress for
a moment his dark, soft hair tinged here and there with grey. He
would always adore her, in that distant, undemonstrative way of his
that would never be tiresome or exacting. They would have
children. But not too many. That would make the house noisy and
distract her from her work. They would be beautiful and clever;
unless all the laws of heredity were to be set aside for her
especial injury. She would train them, shape them to be the heirs
of her labour, bearing her message to the generations that should
At a corner where the trams and buses stopped she lingered for a
while, watching the fierce struggle; the weak and aged being pushed
back time after time, hardly seeming to even resent it, regarding
it as in the natural order of things. It was so absurd, apart from
the injustice, the brutality of it! The poor, fighting among
themselves! She felt as once when watching a crowd of birds to
whom she had thrown a handful of crumbs in winter time. As if they
had not enemies enough: cats, weasels, rats, hawks, owls, the
hunger and the cold. And added to all, they must needs make the
struggle yet harder for one another: pecking at each other's eyes,
joining with one another to attack the fallen. These tired men,
these weary women, pale-faced lads and girls, why did they not
organize among themselves some system that would do away with this
daily warfare of each against all. If only they could be got to
grasp the fact that they were one family, bound together by
suffering. Then, and not till then, would they be able to make
their power felt? That would have to come first: the Esprit de
Corps of the Poor.
In the end she would go into Parliament. It would be bound to come
soon, the woman's vote. And after that the opening of all doors
would follow. She would wear her college robes. It would be far
more fitting than a succession of flimsy frocks that would have no
meaning in them. What pity it was that the art of dressing--its
relation to life--was not better understood. What beauty-hating
devil had prompted the workers to discard their characteristic
costumes that had been both beautiful and serviceable for these
hateful slop-shop clothes that made them look like walking
scarecrows. Why had the coming of Democracy coincided seemingly
with the spread of ugliness: dull towns, mean streets, paper-
strewn parks, corrugated iron roofs, Christian chapels that would
be an insult to a heathen idol; hideous factories (Why need they be
hideous!); chimney-pot hats, baggy trousers, vulgar advertisements,
stupid fashions for women that spoilt every line of their figure:
dinginess, drabness, monotony everywhere. It was ugliness that was
strangling the soul of the people; stealing from them all dignity,
all self-respect, all honour for one another; robbing them of hope,
of reverence, of joy in life.
Beauty. That was the key to the riddle. All Nature: its golden
sunsets and its silvery dawns; the glory of piled-up clouds, the
mystery of moon-lit glades; its rivers winding through the meadows;
the calling of its restless seas; the tender witchery of Spring;
the blazonry of autumn woods; its purple moors and the wonder of
its silent mountains; its cobwebs glittering with a thousand
jewels; the pageantry of starry nights. Form, colour, music! The
feathered choristers of bush and brake raising their matin and
their evensong, the whispering of the leaves, the singing of the
waters, the voices of the winds. Beauty and grace in every living
thing, but man. The leaping of the hares, the grouping of cattle,
the flight of swallows, the dainty loveliness of insects' wings,
the glossy skin of horses rising and falling to the play of mighty
muscles. Was it not seeking to make plain to us that God's
language was beauty. Man must learn beauty that he may understand
She saw the London of the future. Not the vision popular just
then: a soaring whirl of machinery in motion, of moving pavements
and flying omnibuses; of screaming gramophones and standardized
"homes": a city where Electricity was King and man its soulless
slave. But a city of peace, of restful spaces, of leisured men and
women; a city of fine streets and pleasant houses, where each could
live his own life, learning freedom, individuality; a city of noble
schools; of workshops that should be worthy of labour, filled with
light and air; smoke and filth driven from the land: science, no
longer bound to commercialism, having discovered cleaner forces; a
city of gay playgrounds where children should learn laughter; of
leafy walks where the creatures of the wood and field should be as
welcome guests helping to teach sympathy and kindliness: a city of
music, of colour, of gladness. Beauty worshipped as religion;
ugliness banished as a sin: no ugly slums, no ugly cruelty, no
slatternly women and brutalized men, no ugly, sobbing children; no
ugly vice flaunting in every highway its insult to humanity: a
city clad in beauty as with a living garment where God should walk
She had reached a neighbourhood of narrow, crowded streets. The
women were mostly without hats; and swarthy men, rolling
cigarettes, lounged against doorways. The place had a quaint
foreign flavour. Tiny cafes, filled with smoke and noise, and
clean, inviting restaurants abounded. She was feeling hungry, and,
choosing one the door of which stood open, revealing white
tablecloths and a pleasant air of cheerfulness, she entered. It
was late and the tables were crowded. Only at one, in a far
corner, could she detect a vacant place, opposite to a slight,
pretty-looking girl very quietly dressed. She made her way across
and the girl, anticipating her request, welcomed her with a smile.
They ate for a while in silence, divided only by the narrow table,
their heads, when they leant forward, almost touching. Joan
noticed the short, white hands, the fragrance of some delicate
scent. There was something odd about her. She seemed to be
unnecessarily conscious of being alone. Suddenly she spoke.
"Nice little restaurant, this," she said. "One of the few places
where you can depend upon not being annoyed."
Joan did not understand. "In what way?" she asked.
"Oh, you know, men," answered the girl. "They come and sit down
opposite to you, and won't leave you alone. At most of the places,
you've got to put up with it or go outside. Here, old Gustav never
Joan was troubled. She was rather looking forward to occasional
restaurant dinners, where she would be able to study London's
"You mean," she asked, "that they force themselves upon you, even
if you make it plain--"
"Oh, the plainer you make it that you don't want them, the more
sport they think it," interrupted the girl with a laugh.
Joan hoped she was exaggerating. "I must try and select a table
where there is some good-natured girl to keep me in countenance,"
she said with a smile.
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