A Maid of Modern Athens

“It was this way,” she said, and as she spoke she stooped and flicked a speck of dust from her habit. “It was this way: The existence which I lead in the minds of other people is absolutely of no importance whatever. Now wait: I care a great deal whether school keeps or not, but in caring I try chiefly to be true to myself. I may stumble; I may not. In any event I seek the best. As for the scandal of which you speak, that is nonsense. There is no criterion. That which is permissible here is inhibited yonder, and what is permissible yonder is inhibited here. Scandal, indeed!”

There was something about her that stirred the pulse. She was fair; the sort of girl whose photograph is an abomination, and yet in whose face and being a charm resides, a charm intangible and coercive, inciting to better things. A Joan of Arc, in a tailor-made gown.

“You remember how it was when we were younger—You—well, there is no use in going into that. You had a mother to think for you; I had no one. I had to solve problems unassisted. The weightiest of all was marriage, and that, in my quality of heiress, I found perplexing to a degree. But how is it possible, I asked myself, how can a girl pledge her life to a man of whom she knows absolutely nothing? For, practically speaking, what does the average girl know of the man whose name she takes? It may be different in the country; but in town! Listen to me: a girl ‘comes out,’ as the saying is; she meets a number of men, the majority of whom are more or less agreeable and well-bred—when she is present. But what are they when she is not? At dinners and routs, or when she receives them in her own house, they are at their best; if they are not they stay away. It is not so difficult to be agreeable once in a while, but to be so always is a question not of mask but of nature. It seems to me that when an intelligent woman admires her brother it is because that brother is really an admirable man. Has she not every opportunity of judging? But what opportunity is given to the girl whom a man happens to take in and out at dinner, or whom she sees for an hour or two now and then? You must admit that her facilities are slight. That was the way it was with me, and that was the way I fancied it would continue to be, and I determined that it was better to remain spinster for ever than to take a man on trust and find that trust misplaced. Suspicious? No, I am not suspicious. When your husband bought this property did you think him suspicious because he had the title searched? Very good; then perhaps you will tell me that the marriage contract is less important than the conveyance of real estate? Besides, my doubts on the subject of love would have defied a catalogue. When I read of the follies and transports of which it was reported to be the prime factor, I was puzzled. It seemed to me that I had either a fibre more or a fibre less than other girls, I could not comprehend. No man I had ever met—and certainly I had met many—had ever caused me so much as a fleeting emotion. There were men with whom I found speech agreeable and argument a pleasure, but, had they worn frocks instead of trousers, such enjoyment as I experienced would have been unimpaired. You see, it was purely mental. And when—there, I remember one man in particular. As Stella said of Swift, he could talk beautifully about a broomstick. He knew the reason of things; he was up in cuneiform inscriptions and at home with meteorites; he was not prosy, and, what is more to the point, he never treated a subject as though it were a matter of life and death. He was not bad-looking, either, and he was the only man of my acquaintance who both understood Kant and got his coats from Poole. That man I liked very much. He was better than a book. I could ask him questions, a thing you can’t do even of an encyclopædia. One fine day the personal pronoun cropped out. We had been discussing Herbert Spencer’s theory of conceivability, and abruptly, with an inappositeness which, now I think of it, would have been admirable on the stage, but which in the drawing-room was certainly misplaced, he asked me to take a walk with him down the aisle of the swellest church in the commonwealth. I mourned his loss, as we say. But wasn’t it stupid of him? But what does get into men? Why should they think that, because a girl is liberal with odd evenings, she is pining for the marriage covenant?”

With the whip she held she gave the hem of her habit a sudden lash.

“That episode gave me food for thought. H’m. By and by the scene was occupied by a young man who was an authority on orchids, and wrote sonnets for the Interstate. My dear; a more guileful little wretch never breathed. When my previous young man disappeared, I felt that I had been hasty. I desired nothing so much as an increase in my store of knowledge, and I determined that if another opportunity occurred I would not be in such a hurry to shut the door on entertaining developments. Consequently, when my

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