Of course Priscilla confessed to her friend Rosa by what means she had encompassed the downfall of Mr. Kelton. Rosa was not much of a musician, and it seemed to her quite wonderful that any one could perform such a feat as the transposition of a song within the space of twenty-four hours, and then not shrink from playing the modulated version from memory.

“It had to be done,” said Priscilla firmly. “How could I stand by and hear that conceited man—but there was a clever man—a Frenchman of course—who said ‘a tenor is not a man but a disease.’ I wonder why it is that so many girls simply worship a tenor. Dr. Needham says it dates back to primeval man and primeval woman, All singing, he says, is simply primeval man calling to primeval woman to come out for a walk in the moonlight. And that’s why the most favourite songs nowadays are love-songs—tenor love-songs—languishing things—I hate them!”

“It served that horrid man right,” said Rosa. She did not show herself to be greatly interested in the theories of Dr. Needham; but she was intensely interested in the humiliation of a man who was horrid. “I should like to be able to do just what you did. Men want to be taken down dreadfully; but if a girl ever rises to do it she is looked on as horrid herself.”

“And she usually is,” said Priscilla. “I have sometimes felt that it was very horrid of me to play that trick upon that odious Mr. Kelton. Who am I that I should set myself up to avenge his insults in regard to Mr. Tutt? I have heard a little voice whispering in my ear.”

“You were quite right. Besides—” here Rosa made a little pause—“besides, haven’t you very good reason to—to—well, I meant that you were very badly treated by men, Priscilla dear.”

“Only by one man,” said Priscilla quickly. “Only by one.”

“And isn’t that enough? It’s a shame that one man should have it in his power to wreck the life of a girl.”

“It does seem to be a shame. But what’s the good of complaining? A woman has always been the bearer of burdens, and if she complains she is treated worse than ever. I’m not sure that in the old days—before there was any thought of convention or religion, which is only another form of convention—a woman was much better off than she is now. To be sure, when she found that she had married the wrong man she had it in her power to run away with the right one, or the nearest approach to the right one that she could find. I have now and again wondered during the past year why I shouldn’t run away to another man and try to patch up this wrecked life of mine.”

“Why shouldn’t you? It would only be fair and just; but you never would do it, Priscilla.”

“Why should I not? I believe that I would do it if only the right man turned up.”

“If he would let you do it he would not be the-right man.”

“I’m not so sure of that. The best men—the greatest men—the bravest—the cleverest—the most devout men have never been over-particular when it came to a question of women. I believe if I were really to fall in love with a man I would do as so many of the best women in the world have done—I would go to him, and let convention and religion go hang.”

“Don’t tell me. You would do nothing of the sort. But do you really feel so strongly about being married? I think, you know, that since you worked out your plan of teaching Mr. Kelton a lesson you seem to be a different girl, but still——”

“My dear Rosa, don’t let any one try to tell you that there’s any life for a woman in this world apart from a man. There’s not. And don’t let any one try to convince you that there’s any life for a man without a woman by his side. There’s not.”

“To play his accompaniments?”

“Yes, in the right key, mind. That’s just what a woman is placed in the world to do—to play a man’s accompaniments in the right key. If Mr. Kelton had a wife by his side he would not now have a sense of being made a fool of.”

“He’s probably as conceited as ever by this time. Now how was it that we went on to talk of men and women when really our topic was Mr. Kelton?”

“I know. You were about to say that no one should think hardly of me for making a fool of any man, considering how great a fool I was made by a man. That was what was in your mind; but you were wrong, Rosie dear, for I don’t think at all bitterly of men. On the contrary, I tell you that you must be prepared for the worst—what your father and other professional moralists would call the worst—from me. I’m only an amateur moralist. In fact, I’m not quite sure that I should even call myself an amateur. I don’t really know that I have any morals whatever.”

“You have no need for any. What do girls like you or me know of morals?”

“Nothing, except those we got hold of when we read Fontaine’s Fables at school.”

“And then we always skipped or slurred over the ‘morals’—they spoilt the story.”

“They did, and that is what they do every day; they spoil our stories. Oh, what idiots we are—a couple of girls who have seen nothing in the world and know nothing in the world, moralizing on morals! I’m not sure that it isn’t immoral to discuss morality, Rosa. I should like to have the opinion of a specialist on this point.”

“Try Miss Southover.”

“A maiden schoolmistress who makes a thousand a year by teaching girls how to be at once dignified and dunces! She would be too shocked to be able to give an opinion. No, I should apply to a man of the world—a bishop, or at least a rural dean. Now I have done with this subject. I didn’t go very far, did I? A year ago I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gone even so far.”

“Poor old Pris!”

“You may say that. I feel to-day as old as your grandmother. And I have been thinking—oh, what thinking! I know what there is in me, Rosa. If ever any girl was made to be a help to a man, that girl was me. And am I, because I allowed myself to be made a fool of—am I therefore bound to do nothing with my life—nothing, only to live it—to live my life apart from all that makes life life?”

“Poor old Pris! There never was any one who had half your bad luck!”

“You may say that. But you needn’t think that I have done with life yet. I haven’t.”

“That’s what I love about you, Priscilla. You are so rebellious! You are not one of the tame ones who submit to what they call the will of Providence.”

“I think too highly of Providence to believe that its will is that my life should be wrecked by no fault of my own—no fault except obedience. It was my obedience that made me what I am to-day, and upon my word I don’t believe that my punishment is out of proportion to my offence.”

“Your offence? But you never——”

“I did. I ceased to be myself. I put myself behind myself and allowed myself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter—the slaughter of that womanhood which I should have upheld—my womanhood, which meant the right to think for myself—the right to be a woman to love a man, and help him in his life and be loved by him and to give him children. That is how love is immortal—our children live after us, and our children’s children!... No more obedience for me, thanks; I mean to live my life. That’s all!”

“I’ll tell you what I think, Priscilla——” Rosa allowed a considerable interval to elapse before she spoke. “I’ll tell you what I think, and that is, that the awfulness of the past year has made a woman of you in this way.”

Priscilla seemed a little startled by the enunciation of this theory. She looked quickly at her companion, and then laughed queerly.

“God is too busy making worlds, universes and that, to have a moment to spare to a woman,” said she. “No, it is the man who makes the woman; and be sure that if the woman is made by the man, the man is made by the woman—by the woman and by the children that she gives him. And yet—here we are.”

“Yes,” said Rosa, “here we are. Oh, there is one thing certain: God made primroses.”

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