Book III
Chapter XX
 

I

But two weeks later Aileen told Alexina that although she had cannily waited for what she believed to be the propitious moment and told her father about the great scheme, she had never seen him so upset. She stormed, argued, wept, but he was adamant. He would give her neither a cent nor his permission. When she accused him of inconsistency (he had supported woman's suffrage) he replied that women forced to work needed the franchise and no fair-minded man would withhold it; and if for no other reason he would forbid his daughter to go out and compete with women who must work whether they wanted to or not.

But that was only one point.

What did progress mean if women deliberately dropped from a higher plane to a lower? What had their ancestors worked for, possibly died for? It was their manifest duty to their class, to their family, to go up not down.

Moreover, when women had men to support them and insisted upon forcing their way into the business world, they made men ridiculous and undermined society. It was dangerous, damned dangerous. If he had his way not a woman in any class, outside of nursing and domestic service, should work. He'd tax every male in the land, according to his income or wage, to say nothing of the rich women, and keep every last one of the unportioned in idleness rather than risk the downfall of male supremacy in the world.

He hated every form of publicity for the women of his class. If he had his way their names, much less photographs, should never appear in the public press. Society should be sacrosanct. Its traditions should be handed on, not lowered....Charity boards and settlement work, perhaps, but no further exposure to the vulgar gaze...he was glad she had never gone in for the last.

Civilization would be meaningless without that small class at the top that proved what Earth could accomplish in the way of breeding, the refinements of life, the beauty of distinction, in making an art of leisure, of pleasure--quite as much an art as writing books or painting pictures.

If the men in the younger nations had to work, at least they were able to prove to the older that the exquisite creatures they bred and protected were second to none on this planet, at least.

If women had genius that was another question. Let them give it to the world, by all means. That was their personal gift to civilization....He was not bigoted like some men, even young men, who thought it a disgrace for a lady publicly to transfer herself to the artistic plane and compete with men for laurels....But when it came to stripping off the delicate badges that only the higher civilization could confer, and struggling tooth and nail with the mob for no reason whatever--it was disloyal, ungrateful and monstrous.

He was no snob. He thought himself better than no man. (Different, yes.) But in regard to women, the women of his class, the class of his father before him, and of his father's father, he had his ideals, his convictions.

That was all.

II

"In short, he's modern but not too modern. My twentieth-century arguments were brushed aside as mere fads. And yet there's probably not an important case tried in any court in either hemisphere that he doesn't read--learn something from if he can. He takes in the leading newspapers and reviews of America and Europe and even reads the best modern novels as carefully as he ever read Thackeray and Dickens--says they are the real social chronicles. He's a profound student of history, and the history of the present interests him just as much--he has those Balkans under a microscope; and collects all the data on every important strike here and elsewhere. And yet where women are concerned he is a fossil. An American fossil--worst sort. Some of the young ones are just as bad...I'll have to give in. I can't break his heart. I suppose I'll marry Bobby."

III

Alice Thorndyke also shook her head. "I'd like to, Alex, but frankly I haven't the courage. Your friends all stick to you like perfect dears when you step down and out and set up shop, and are so kind you feel like a street walker in a house of refuge. But secretly they hate it and they don't feel toward you in the same way at all. They may not know enough to express it, but what they really feel is that you have threatened the solidity of the order and lowered yourself as well as them. One day they may have more sense but not in our time, I am afraid."

Nevertheless, Alexina persisted in her determination. One could succeed alone. She would not be the first. She was by no means sure, however, what she wanted to do, and made up her mind to take no step before the following winter. When the Abbotts returned to Rincona in May they took James with them. Alexina closed Ballinger House, although Mortimer slept there and a Filipino came in every morning to make his breakfast and bed; and took a cottage in Ross with Janet Maynard whose mother had gone south to visit old lady Bascom, and who craved the wild peace of Marin County after too much San Francisco and Burlingame.

Marin, with its magnificent redwood forests on the coast, fed by the fogs of the Pacific, its ancient sunlit woods of oak and madrono and manzanita, its mountains and rocky hills and peaceful fertile valleys, is perhaps the most beautiful county in California, and its towns and villages are still almost primitive in spite of the many fashionable residents whose homes are close to or in them. The ocean pounds its western base, Mount Tamalpais is its proudest possession, it has a haunted looking lake; and a part of it embraces one of the many ramifications of the Bay of San Francisco, and commands a superb view of city and island and mountain. But it has a heavy brooding peace that seems to relax the social conscience. Entertaining is intermittent, and its inhabitants return to their winter in San Francisco deeply refreshed. It has its paradoxes like the rest of California. On a stark little peninsula, jutting out from bare hills into the Bay, is San Quentin, one of the State's Prisons, and along the edges of the marsh are Chinese hamlets and shrimp fisheries.

IV

Alexina and Janet purposed to spend the summer reading, idling in the sweet-scented garden, walking in the early morning, riding horseback in the late afternoon, taking tea at the club house at San Rafael, or Belvedere, perhaps, but "cutting out" all social dissipations. Janet was now twenty-six and beginning to feel the strain as well as seriously to consider what she should do with the rest of her life. She had great wealth, she was blasee as a result of doing everything she chose to do, in public or in private, and she was nearly two generations younger than Judge Lawton. Nevertheless, she perceived no allurement in the business world, and the only alternative seemed marriage. Not in California, however. No surprises there. She might take her fortune to London and become a peeress of the realm. When change became imperative better go up than down.

Alexina had never felt the attractions of dissipation and was not afflicted with moral ennui; but she was tired from much thinking and brooding and intimate personal contacts. She wanted the deep refreshment of the summer before girding up for the winter--before making her plunge into the world of business and toil.

But she was soon to discover that she had girded up her loins, or at all events brightened up her corpuscles and reposed her brain cells, for a far different purpose.