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Novkey > Library > Romance > DANGEROUS AGES

DANGEROUS AGES

CHAPTER III FAMILY LIFE

Author: Rose Macaulay Total hits: 3023 User hits: 1 Date: 05-13-2014

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1

If you have broken off your medical studies at London University at the age of twenty-one and resume them at forty-three, you will find them (one is told) a considerably tougher job than you found them twenty-two years before. Youth is the time to read for examinations; youth is used to such foolishness, and takes it lightly in its stride. At thirty you may be and probably are much cleverer than you were at twenty; you will have more ideas and better ones, and infinitely more power of original and creative thought; but you will not, probably, find it so easy to grip and retain knowledge out of books and reproduce it to order. So the world has ordained that youth shall spend laborious days in doing this, and that middle age shall, in the main, put away these childish things, and act and work on in spite of the information thus acquired.

Neville Bendish, who was not even in the thirties, but so near the brink of senile decay as the forties, entered her name once more at the London University School of Medicine, and plunged forthwith into her interrupted studies. Her aim was to spend this summer in reacquiring such knowledge as should prepare her for the October session. And it was difficult beyond her imaginings. It had not been difficult twenty-two years ago; she had worked then with pleasure and interest, and taken examinations with easy triumph. As Kay did now at Cambridge, only more so, because she had been cleverer than Kay. She was a vain creature, and had believed that cleverness of hers to be unimpaired by life, until she came to try. She supposed that if she had spent her married life in head work, her head would never have lost the trick of it. But she hadn't. She had spent it on Rodney and Gerda and Kay, and the interesting, amusing life led by the wife of a man in Rodney's position, which had brought her always into contact with people and ideas. Much more amusing than grinding at intellectual work of her own, but it apparently caused the brain to atrophy. And she was, anyhow, tired of doing nothing in particular. After forty you must have your job, you must be independent of other people's jobs, of human and social contacts, however amusing and instructive.

Rodney wasn't altogether pleased, though he understood. He wanted her constant companionship and interest in his own work.

"You've had twenty-two years of it, darling," Neville said. "Now I must Live my own Life, as the Victorians used to put it. I must be a doctor; quite seriously I must. I want it. It's my job. The only one I could ever really have been much good at. The sight of human bones or a rabbit's brain thrills me, as the sight of a platform and a listening audience thrills you, or as pen and paper (I suppose) thrill the children. You ought to be glad I don't want to write. Our family seems to run to that as a rule."

"But," Rodney said, "you don't mean ever to practise, surely? You won't have time for it, with all the other things you do."

"It's the other things I shan't have time for, old man. Sorry, but there it is.... It's all along of mother, you see. She's such an object lesson in how not to grow old. If she'd been a doctor, now...."

"She couldn't have been a doctor, possibly. She hasn't the head. On the other hand, you've got enough head to keep going without the slavery of a job like this, even when you're old."

"I'm not so sure. My brain isn't what it was; it may soften altogether unless I do something with it before it's too late. Then there I shall be, a burden to myself and everyone else.... After all, Rodney, you've your job. Can't I have mine? Aren't you a modern, an intellectual and a feminist?"

Rodney, who believed with truth that he was all these things, gave in.

Kay and Gerda, with the large-minded tolerance of their years, thought mother's scheme was all right and rather sporting, if she really liked the sort of thing, which they, for their part, didn't.

So Neville recommenced medical study, finding it difficult beyond belief. It made her head ache.

2

She envied Kay and Gerda, as they all three lay and worked in the garden, with chocolates, cigarettes and Esau grouped comfortably round them. Kay was reading economics for his Tripos, Gerda was drawing pictures for her poems; neither, apparently, found any difficulty in concentrating on their work when they happened to want to.

What, Neville speculated, her thoughts, as usual, wandering from her book, would become of Gerda? She was a clever child at her own things, though with great gaps in her equipment of knowledge, which came from ignoring at school those of her studies which had not seemed to her of importance. She had firmly declined a University education; she had decided that it was not a fruitful start in life, and was also afraid of getting an academic mind. But at economic and social subjects, at drawing and at writing, she worked without indolence, taking them earnestly, still young enough to believe it important that she should attain proficiency.

Neville, on the other hand, was indolent. For twenty-two years she had pleased herself, done what she wanted when she wanted to, played the flirt with life. And now she had become soft-willed. Now, sitting in the garden with her books, like Gerda and Kay, she would find that the volumes had slipped from her knee and that she was listening to the birds in the elms. Or she would fling them aside and get up and stretch herself, and stroll into the little wood beyond the garden, or down to the river, or she would propose tennis, or go up to town for some meeting or concert or to see someone, though she didn't really want to, having quite enough of London during that part of the year when they lived there. She only went up now because otherwise she would be working. At this rate she would never be ready to resume her medical course in the autumn.

"I will attend. I will. I will," she whispered to herself, a hand pressed to each temple to constrain her mind. And for five minutes she would attend, and then she would drift away on a sea of pleasant indolence, and time fluttered away from her like an escaping bird, and she knew herself for a light woman who would never excel. And Kay's brown head was bent over his book, and raised sometimes to chaff or talk, and bent over his books again, the thread of his attention unbroken by his easy interruptions. And Gerda's golden head lay pillowed in her two clasped hands, and she stared up at the blue through the green and did nothing at all, for that was often Gerda's unashamed way.

Often Rodney sat in the garden too and worked. And his work Neville felt that she too could have done; it was work needing initiative and creative thought, work suitable to his forty-five years, not cramming in knowledge from books. Neville at times thought that she too would stand for parliament one day. A foolish, childish game it was, and probably really therefore more in her line than solid work.

3

Nan came down in July to stay with them. While she was there, Barry Briscoe, who was helping with a W.E.A. summer school at Haslemere, would come over on Sundays and spend the day with them. Not even the rains of July 1920 made Barry weary or depressed. His eyes were bright behind his glasses; his hands were usually full of papers, committee reports, agenda, and the other foods he fed on, unsatiated and unabashed. Barry was splendid. What ardour, what enthusiasm, burning like beacons in a wrecked world! So wrecked a world that all but the very best and the very worst had given it up as a bad job; the best because they hoped on, hoped ever, the worst because of the pickings that fall to such as they out of the collapsing ruins. But Barry, from the very heart of the ruin, would cry "Here is what we must do," and his eyes would gleam with faith and resolution, and he would form a committee and act. And when he saw how the committee failed, as committees will, and how little good it all was, he would laugh ruefully and try something else. Barry, as he would tell you frankly—if you enquired, not otherwise,—believed in God. He was the son of a famous Quaker philanthropist, and had been brought up to see good works done and even garden cities built. I am aware that this must prejudice many people against Barry; and indeed many people were annoyed by certain aspects of him. But, as he was intellectually brilliant and personally attractive, these people were as a rule ready to overlook what they called the Quaker oats. Nan, who overlooked nothing, was frankly at war with him on some points, and he with her. Nan, cynical, clear-eyed, selfish and blasé, cared nothing for the salvaging of what remained of the world out of the wreck, nothing for the I.L.P., less than nothing for garden cities, philanthropy, the W.E.A., and God. And committees she detested. Take them all away, and there remained Barry Briscoe, and for him she did not care nothing.

It was the oddest friendship, thought Neville, observing how, when Barry was there, all Nan's perversities and moods fell away, leaving her as agreeable as he. Her keen and ironic intelligence met his, and they so understood each other that they finished each other's sentences, and others present could only with difficulty keep up with them. Neville believed them to be in love, but did not know whether they had ever informed one another of the fact. They might still be pretending to one another that their friendship was merely one of those affectionate intellectual intimacies of which some of us have so many and which are so often misunderstood. Or they might not. It was entirely their business, either way.

Barry was a chatterbox. He lay on the lawn and rooted up daisies and made them into ridiculous chains, and talked and talked and talked. Rodney and Neville and Nan talked too, and Kay would lunge in with the crude and charming dogmatics of his years. But Gerda, chewing a blade of grass, lay idle and withdrawn, her fair brows unpuckered by the afternoon sun (because it was July, 1920), her blue eyes on Barry, who was so different; or else she would be withdrawn but not idle, for she would be drawing houses tumbling down, or men on stilts, fantastic and proud, or goblins, or geese running with outstretched necks round a green. Or she would be writing something like this:

"I Float on the tide, In the rain. I am the starfish vomited up by the retching cod. He thinks That I am he. But I know. That he is I. For the creature is far greater than its god."

(Gerda was of those who think it is rather chic to have one rhyme in your poem, just to show that you can do it.)

"That child over there makes one feel so cheap and ridiculous, jabbering away."

That was Barry, breaking off to look at Gerda where she lay on her elbows on a rug, idle and still. "And it's not," he went on, "that she doesn't know about the subject, either. I've heard her on it."

He threw the daisy chain he had just made at her, so that it alighted on her head, hanging askew over one eye.

"Just like a daisy bud herself, isn't she," he commented, and raced on, forgetting her.

Neat in her person and ways, Gerda adjusted the daisy chain so that it ringed her golden head in an orderly circle. Like a daisy bud herself, Rodney agreed in his mind, his eyes smiling at her, his affection, momentarily turned that way, groping for the wild, remote little soul in her that he only vaguely and paternally knew. The little pretty. And clever, too, in her own queer, uneven way. But what was she, with it all? He knew Kay, the long, sweet-tempered boy, better. For Kay represented highly civilized, passably educated, keen-minded youth. Gerda wasn't highly civilized, was hardly passably educated, and keen would be an inapt word for that queer, remote, woodland mind of hers.... Rodney returned to more soluble problems.

4

Mrs. Hilary and Grandmama came to Windover. Mrs. Hilary would rather have come without Grandmama, but Grandmama enjoyed the jaunt, as she called it. For eighty-four, Grandmama was wonderfully sporting. They arrived on Saturday afternoon, and rested after the journey, as is usually done by people of Grandmama's age, and often by people of Mrs. Hilary's. Sunday was full of such delicate clashings as occur when new people have joined a party. Grandmama was for morning church, and Neville drove her to it in the pony carriage. So Mrs. Hilary, not being able to endure that they should go off alone together, had to go too, though she did not like church, morning or other.

She sighed over it at lunch.

"So stuffy. So long. And the hymns...."

But Grandmama said, "My dear, we had David and Goliath. What more do you want?"

During David and Goliath Grandmama's head had nodded approvingly, and her thin old lips had half smiled at the valiant child with his swaggering lies about bears and lions, at the gallant child and the giant.

Mrs. Hilary, herself romantically sensible, as middle-aged ladies are, of valour and high adventure, granted Grandmama David and Goliath, but still repined at the hymns and the sermon.

"Good words, my dear, good words," Grandmama said to that. For Grandmama had been brought up not to criticise sermons, but had failed to bring up Mrs. Hilary to the same self-abnegation. The trouble with Mrs. Hilary was, and had always been, that she expected (even now) too much of life. Grandmama expected only what she got. And Neville, wisest of all, had not listened, for she too expected what she would get if she did. She was really rather like Grandmama, in her cynically patient acquiescence, only brought up in a different generation, and not to hear sermons. In the gulf of years between these two, Mrs. Hilary's restless, questing passion fretted like unquiet waves.

5

"This Barry Briscoe," said Mrs. Hilary to Neville after lunch, as she watched Nan and he start off for a walk together. "I suppose he's in love with her?"

"I suppose so. Something of the kind, anyhow."

Mrs. Hilary said, discontentedly, "Another of Nan's married men, no doubt. She collects them."

"No, Barry's not married."

Mrs. Hilary looked more interested. "Not? Oh, then it may come to something.... I wish Nan would marry. It's quite time."

"Nan isn't exactly keen to, you know. She's got so much else to do."

"Fiddlesticks. You don't encourage her in such nonsense, I hope, Neville."

"I? It's not for me to encourage Nan in anything. She doesn't need it. But as to marriage—yes, I think I wish she would do it, sometime, whenever she's ready. It would give her something she hasn't got; emotional steadiness, perhaps I mean. She squanders a bit, now. On the other hand, her writing would rather go to the wall; if she went on with it it would be against odds all the time."

"What's writing?" enquired Mrs. Hilary, with a snap of her finger and thumb. "Writing!"

As this seemed too vague or too large a question for Neville to answer, she did not try to do so, and Mrs. Hilary replied to it herself.

"Mere showing off," she explained it. "Throwing your paltry ideas at a world which doesn't want them. Writing like Nan's I mean. It's not as if she wrote really good books."

"Oh well. Who does that, after all? And what is a good book?" Here were two questions which Mrs. Hilary, in her turn, could not answer. Because most of the books which seemed good to her did not, as she well knew, seem good to Neville, or to any of her children, and she wasn't going to give herself away. She murmured something about Thackeray and Dickens, which Neville let pass.

"Writing's just a thing to do, as I see it," Neville went on. "A job, like another. One must have a job, you know. Not for the money, but for the job's sake. And Nan enjoys it. But I daresay she'd enjoy marriage too."

"Does she love this man?"

"I don't know. I shouldn't be surprised. She hasn't told me so."

"Probably she doesn't, as he's single. Nan's so perverse. She will love the wrong men, always."

"You shouldn't believe all Rosalind tells you, mother. Rosalind has a too vivid fancy and a scandalous tongue."

Mrs. Hilary coloured a little. She did not like Neville to think that she had been letting Rosalind gossip to her about Nan.

"You know perfectly well, Neville, that I never trust a word Rosalind says. I suppose I needn't rely on my daughter-in-law for news about my own daughter's affairs. I can see things for myself. You can't deny that Nan has had compromising affairs with married men."

"Compromising." Neville turned over the word, thoughtfully and fastidiously. "Funny word, mother. I'm not sure I know what it means. But I don't think anything ever compromises Nan; she's too free for that.... Well, let's marry her off to Barry Briscoe. It will be a quaint ménage, but I daresay they'd pull it off. Barry's delightful. I should think even Nan could live with him."

"He writes books about education, doesn't he? Education and democracy."

"Well, he does. But there's always something, after all, against all of us. And it might be worse. It might be poetry or fiction or psycho-analysis."

Neville said psycho-analysis in order to start another hare and take her mother's attention off Nan's marriage before the marriage became crystallised out of all being. But Mrs. Hilary for the first time (for usually she was reliable) did not rise. She looked thoughtful, even a shade embarrassed, and said vaguely, "Oh, people must write, of course. If it isn't one thing it will be another." After a moment she added, "This psycho-analysis, Neville," saying the word with distaste indeed, but so much more calmly than usual that Neville looked at her in surprise. "This psycho-analysis. I suppose it does make wonderful cures, doesn't it, when all is said?"

"Cures—oh yes, wonderful cures. Shell-shock, insomnia, nervous depression, lumbago, suicidal mania, family life—anything." Neville's attention was straying to Grandmama, who was coming slowly towards them down the path, leaning on her stick, so she did not see Mrs. Hilary's curious, lit eagerness.

"But how can they cure all those things just by talking indecently about sex?"

"Oh mother, they don't. You're so crude, darling. You've got hold of only one tiny part of it—the part practised by Austrian professors on Viennese degenerates. Many of the doctors are really sane and brilliant. I know of cases...."

"Well," said Mrs. Hilary, quickly and rather crossly, "I can't talk about it before Grandmama."

Neville got up to meet Grandmama, put a hand under her arm, and conducted her to her special chair beneath the cedar. You had to help and conduct someone so old, so frail, so delightful as Grandmama, even if Mrs. Hilary did wish it were being done by any hand than yours. Mrs. Hilary in fact made a movement to get to Grandmama first, but sixty-three does not rise from low deck chairs so swiftly as forty-three. So she had to watch her daughter leading her mother, and to note once more with a familiar pang the queer, unmistakable likeness between the smooth, clear oval face and the old wrinkled one, the heavily lashed deep blue eyes and the old faded ones, the elfish, close-lipped, dimpling smile and the old, elfish, thin-lipped, sweet one. Neville, her Neville, flower of her flock, her loveliest, first and best, her dearest but for Jim, her pride, and nearer than Jim, because of sex, which set Jim on a platform to be worshipped, but kept Neville on a level to be loved, to be stormed at when storms rose, to be clung to when all God's waters went over one's head. Oh Neville, that you should smile at Grandmama like that, that Grandmama should, as she always had, steal your confidence that should have been all your mother's! That you should perhaps even talk over your mother with Grandmama (as if she were something further from each of you than each from the other), pushing her out of the close circle of your intimacy into the region of problems to be solved.... Oh God, how bitter a thing to bear!

The garden, the summer border of bright flowers, swam in tears.... Mrs. Hilary turned away her face, pretending to be pulling up daisies from the grass. But, unlike the ostrich, she well knew that they always saw. To the children, as to Grandmama, they were an old story, those hot, facile, stinging tears of Mrs. Hilary's that made Neville weary with pity, and Nan cold with scorn, and Rosalind happy with lazy malice, and Pamela bright and cool and firm, like a woman doctor. Only Grandmama took them unmoved, for she had always known them.

6

Grandmama, settled in her special chair, remarked on the unusual (for July) fineness of the day, and requested Neville to read them the chief items of news in the Observer, which she had brought out with her. So Neville read about the unfortunate doings of the Supreme Council at Spa, and Grandmama said "Poor creatures," tolerantly, as she had said when they were at Paris, and again at San Remo; and about General Dyer and the Amritsar debate, and Grandmama said "Poor man. But one mustn't treat one's fellow creatures as he did, even the poor Indian, who, I quite believe, is intolerably provoking. I see the Morning Post is getting up a subscription for him, contributed to by Those Who Remember Cawnpore, Haters of Trotzky, Montague and Lansbury, Furious Englishwoman, and many other generous and emotional people. That is kind and right. We should not let even our more impulsive generals starve."

Then Neville read about Ireland, which was just then in a disturbed state, and Grandmama said it certainly seemed restless, and mentioned with what looked like a gleam of hope that they would never return, that her friends the Dormers were there. Mrs. Hilary shot out, with still averted face, that the whole of Ireland ought to be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it was more bother than it was worth. This was her usual and only contribution towards a solution of the Irish question.

Then Mr. Churchill and Russia had their turn (it was the time of the Golovin trouble) and Grandmama said people seemed always to get so very sly, as well as so very much annoyed and excited, whenever Russia was mentioned, and that seemed like a sign that God did not mean us, in this country, to mention it much, perhaps not even to think of it. She personally seldom did. Then Neville read a paragraph about the Anglo-Catholic Congress, and about that Grandmama was for the first time a little severe, for Grandpapa had not been an Anglo-Catholic, and indeed in his day there were none of this faith. You were either High Church, Broad Church or Evangelical. (Unless, of course, you had been led astray by Huxley and Darwin and were nothing whatever.) Grandpapa had been Broad, with a dash of Evangelical; or perhaps it was the other way round; but anyhow Grandpapa had not been High Church, or, as they called it in his time, Tractarian. So Grandmama enquired, snippily, "Who are these Anglo-Catholics, my dear? One seems to hear so much of them in these days. I can't help thinking they are rather noisy...." as she might have spoken of Bolshevists, or the Labour Party, or the National Party, or Sinn Fein, or any other of the organisations of which Grandpapa had been innocent. "There are so many of these new things," said Grandmama, "I daresay modern young people like Gerda and Kay are quite in with it all."

"I'm afraid," said Neville, "that Gerda and Kay are secularists at present."

"Poor children," Grandmama said gently. Secularism made her think of the violent and vulgar Mr. Bradlaugh. It was, in her view, a noisier thing even than Anglo-Catholicism. "Well, they have plenty of time to get over it and settle down to something quieter." Broad-Evangelical she meant, or Evangelical-Broad; and Neville smiled at the idea of Gerda, in particular, being either of these. She believed that if Gerda were to turn from secularism it would either be to Anglo-Catholicism or to Rome. Or Gerda might become a Quaker, or a lone mystic contemplating in woods, but a Broad-Evangelical, no. There was a delicate, reckless extravagance about Gerda which would prohibit that. If you came to that, what girl or boy did, in these days, fall into any of the categories which Grandmama and Grandpapa had known, whether religiously or politically? You might as well suggest that Gerda and Kay should be Tories or Whigs.

And by this time they had given Mrs. Hilary so much time to recover her poise that she could join in, and say that Anglo-Catholics were very ostentatious people, and only gave all that money which they had, undoubtedly, given at the recent Congress in order to make a splash and show off.

"Tearing off their jewellery in public like that," said Mrs. Hilary, in disgust, as she might have said tearing off their chemises, "and gold watches lying in piles on the collection table, still ticking...." She felt it was indecent that the watches should have still been ticking; it made the thing an orgy, like a revival meeting, or some cannibal rite at which victims were offered up still breathing....

So much for the Anglo-Catholic Congress. The Church Congress was better, being more decent and in order, though Mrs. Hilary knew that the whole established Church was wrong.

And so they came to literature, to a review of Mr. Conrad's new novel and a paragraph about a famous annual literary prize. Grandmama thought it very nice that young writers should be encouraged by cash prizes. "Not," as she added, "that there seems any danger of any of them being discouraged, even without that.... But Nan and Kay and Gerda ought to go in for it. It would be a nice thing for them to work for."

Then Grandmama, settling down with her pleased old smile to something which mattered more than the news in the papers, said "And now, dear, I want to hear all about this friendship of Nan's and this nice young Mr. Briscoe."

So Neville again had to answer questions about that.

7

Mrs. Hilary, abruptly leaving them, trailed away by herself to the house. Since she mightn't have Neville to herself for the afternoon she wouldn't stay and share her. But when she reached the house and looked out at them through the drawing-room windows, their intimacy stabbed her with a pang so sharp that she wished she had stayed.

Besides, what was there to do indoors? No novels lay about that looked readable, only "The Rescue" (and she couldn't read Conrad, he was so nautical) and a few others which looked deficient in plot and as if they were trying to be clever. She turned them over restlessly, and put them down again. She wasn't sleepy, and hated writing letters. She wanted someone to talk to, and there was no one, unless she rang for the housemaid. Oh, this dreadful ennui.... Did anyone in the world know it but her? The others all seemed busy and bright. That was because they were young. And Grandmama seemed serene and bright. That was because she was old, close to the edge of life, and sat looking over the gulf into space, not caring. But for Mrs. Hilary there was ennui, and the dim, empty room in the cold grey July afternoon. The empty stage; no audience, no actors. Only a lonely, disillusioned actress trailing about it, hungry for the past.... A book Gerda had been reading lay on the table. "The Breath of Life," it was called, which was surely just what Mrs. Hilary wanted. She picked it up, opened it, turned the pages, then, tucking it away out of sight under her arm, left the room and went upstairs.

"Many wonderful cures," Neville had said. And had mentioned depression as one of the diseases cured. What, after all, if there was something in this stuff which she had never tried to understand, had always dismissed, according to her habit, with a single label? "Labels don't help. Labels get you nowhere." How often the children had told her that, finding her terse terminology that of a shallow mind, endowed with inadequate machinery for acquiring and retaining knowledge, as indeed it was.

8

Gerda, going up to Mrs. Hilary's room to tell her about tea, found her asleep on the sofa, with "The Breath of Life" fallen open from her hand. A smile flickered on Gerda's delicate mouth, for she had heard her grandmother on the subject of psycho-analysis, and here she was, having taken to herself the book which Gerda was reading for her Freud circle. Gerda read a paragraph on the open page.

"It will often be found that what we believe to be unhappiness is really, in the secret and unconscious self, a joy, which the familiar process of inversion sends up into our consciousness in the form of grief. If, for instance, a mother bewails the illness of her child, it is because her unconscious self is experiencing the pleasure of importance, of being condoled and sympathised with, as also that of having her child (if it is a male) entirely for the time dependent on her ministrations. If, on the other hand, the sick child is her daughter, her grief is in reality a hope that this, her young rival, may die, and leave her supreme in the affections of her husband. If, in either of these cases, she can be brought to face and understand this truth, her grief will invert itself again and become a conscious joy...."

"I wonder if Grandmother believes all that," speculated Gerda, who did.

Then she said aloud, "Grandmother" (that was what Gerda and Kay called her, distinguishing her thus from Great-Grandmama), "tea's ready."

Mrs. Hilary woke with a start. "The Breath of Life" fell on the floor with a bang. Mrs. Hilary looked up and saw Gerda and blushed.

"I've been asleep.... I took up this ridiculous book of yours to look at. The most absurd stuff.... How can you children muddle your minds with it? Besides, it isn't at all a nice book for you, my child. I came on several very queer things...."

But the candid innocence of Gerda's wide blue eyes on hers transcended "nice" and "not nice."... You might as well talk like that to a wood anemone, or a wild rabbit.... If her grandmother had only known, Gerda at twenty had discussed things which Mrs. Hilary, in all her sixty-three years, had never heard mentioned. Gerda knew of things of which Mrs. Hilary would have indignantly and sincerely denied the existence. Gerda's young mind was a cess-pool, a clear little dew-pond, according to how you looked at it. Gerda and Gerda's friends knew no inhibitions of speech or thought. They believed that the truth would make them free, and the truth about life is, from some points of view, a squalid and gross thing. But better look it in the face, thought Gerda and her contemporaries, than pretend it isn't there, as elderly people do.

"I don't want you to pretend anything isn't there, darling," Neville, between the two generations, had said to Gerda once. "Only it seems to me that some of you children have one particular kind of truth too heavily on your minds. It seems to block the world for you."

"You mean sex," Gerda had told her, bluntly. "Well, it runs all through life, mother. What's the use of hiding from it? The only way to get even with it is to face it. And use it."

"Face it and use it by all means. All I meant was, it's a question of emphasis. There are other things...."

Of course Gerda knew that. There was drawing, and poetry, and beauty, and dancing, and swimming, and music, and politics, and economics. Of course there were other things; no doubt about that. They were like songs, like colour, like sunrise, like flowers, these other things. But the basis of life was the desire of the male for the female and of the female for the male. And this had been warped and smothered and talked down and made a furtive, shameful thing, and it must be brought out into the day....

Neville smiled to hear all this tripping sweetly off Gerda's lips.

"All right, darling, don't mind me. Go ahead and bring it out into the day, if you think the subject really needs more airing than it already gets. I should have thought myself it got lots, and always had."

And there they were; they talked at cross purposes, these two, across the gulf of twenty years, and with the best will in the world could not hope to understand, either of them, what the other was really at. And now here was Gerda, in Mrs. Hilary's bedroom, looking across a gulf of forty years and saying nothing at all, for she knew it would be of no manner of use, since words don't carry as far as that.

So all she said was "Tea's ready, Grandmother."

And Mrs. Hilary supposed that Gerda hadn't, probably, noticed or understood those very queer things she had come upon while reading "The Breath of Life."

They went down to tea.

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