The Woman Who Did by Grant Allen
Meanwhile, Dolores was growing up to woman's estate. And she was growing into a tall, a graceful, an exquisitely beautiful woman.
Yet in some ways Herminia had reason to be dissatisfied with her daughter's development. Day by day she watched for signs of the expected apostolate. Was Dolores pressing forward to the mark for the prize of her high calling? Her mother half doubted it. Slowly and regretfully, as the growing girl approached the years when she might be expected to think for herself, Herminia began to perceive that the child of so many hopes, of so many aspirations, the child pre-destined to regenerate humanity, was thinking for herself--in a retrograde direction. Incredible as it seemed to Herminia, in the daughter of such a father and such a mother, Dolores' ideas--nay, worse her ideals--were essentially commonplace. Not that she had much opportunity of imbibing commonplace opinions from any outside source; she redeveloped them from within by a pure effort of atavism. She had reverted to lower types. She had thrown back to the Philistine.
Heredity of mental and moral qualities is a precarious matter. These things lie, as it were, on the topmost plane of character; they smack of the individual, and are therefore far less likely to persist in offspring than the deeper-seated and better-established peculiarities of the family, the clan, the race, or the species. They are idiosyncratic. Indeed, when we remember how greatly the mental and moral faculties differ from brother to brother, the product of the same two parental factors, can we wonder that they differ much more from father to son, the product of one like factor alone, diluted by the addition of a relatively unknown quality, the maternal influence? However this may be, at any rate, Dolores early began to strike out for herself all the most ordinary and stereotyped opinions of British respectability. It seemed as if they sprang up in her by unmitigated reversion. She had never heard in the society of her mother's lodgings any but the freest and most rational ideas; yet she herself seemed to hark back, of internal congruity, to the lower and vulgarer moral plane of her remoter ancestry. She showed her individuality only by evolving for herself all the threadbare platitudes of ordinary convention.
Moreover, it is not parents who have most to do with moulding the sentiments and opinions of their children. From the beginning, Dolly thought better of the landlady's views and ideas than of her mother's. When she went to school, she considered the moral standpoint of the other girls a great deal more sensible than the moral standpoint of Herminia's attic. She accepted the beliefs and opinions of her schoolfellows because they were natural and congenial to her character. In short, she had what the world calls common-sense: she revolted from the unpractical Utopianism of her mother.
From a very early age, indeed, this false note in Dolly had begun to make itself heard. While she was yet quite a child, Herminia noticed with a certain tender but shrinking regret that Dolly seemed to attach undue importance to the mere upholsteries and equipages of life,--to rank, wealth, title, servants, carriages, jewelry. At first, to be sure, Herminia hoped this might prove but the passing foolishness of childhood: as Dolly grew up, however, it became clearer each day that the defect was in the grain--that Dolly's whole mind was incurably and congenitally aristocratic or snobbish. She had that mean admiration for birth, position, adventitious advantages, which is the mark of the beast in the essentially aristocratic or snobbish nature. She admired people because they were rich, because they were high-placed, because they were courted, because they were respected; not because they were good, because they were wise, because they were noble-natured, because they were respect-worthy.
But even that was not all. In time, Herminia began to perceive with still profounder sorrow that Dolly had no spontaneous care or regard for righteousness. Right and wrong meant to her only what was usual and the opposite. She seemed incapable of considering the intrinsic nature of any act in itself apart from the praise or blame meted out to it by society. In short, she was sunk in the same ineffable slough of moral darkness as the ordinary inhabitant of the morass of London.
To Herminia this slow discovery, as it dawned bit by bit upon her, put the final thorn in her crown of martyrdom. The child on whose education she had spent so much pains, the child whose success in the deep things of life was to atone for her own failure, the child who was born to be the apostle of freedom to her sisters in darkness, had turned out in the most earnest essentials of character a complete disappointment, and had ruined the last hope that bound her to existence.
Bitterer trials remained. Herminia had acted through life to a great extent with the idea ever consciously present to her mind that she must answer to Dolly for every act and every feeling. She had done all she did with a deep sense of responsibility. Now it loomed by degrees upon her aching heart that Dolly's verdict would in almost every case be a hostile one. The daughter was growing old enough to question and criticise her mother's proceedings; she was beginning to understand that some mysterious difference marked off her own uncertain position in life from the solid position of the children who surrounded her--the children born under those special circumstances which alone the man-made law chooses to stamp with the seal of its recognition. Dolly's curiosity was shyly aroused as to her dead father's family. Herminia had done her best to prepare betimes for this inevitable result by setting before her child, as soon as she could understand it, the true moral doctrine as to the duties of parenthood. But Dolly's own development rendered all such steps futile. There is no more silly and persistent error than the belief of parents that they can influence to any appreciable extent the moral ideas and impulses of their children. These things have their springs in the bases of character: they are the flower of individuality; and they cannot be altered or affected after birth by the foolishness of preaching. Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, you will find soon enough he will choose his own course for himself and depart from it.
Already when Dolly was a toddling little mite and met her mother's father in the church in Marylebone, it had struck her as odd that while they themselves were so poor and ill-clad, her grandpapa should be such a grand old gentleman of such a dignified aspect. As she grew older and older, and began to understand a little more the world she lived in, she wondered yet more profoundly how it could happen, if her grandpapa was indeed the Very Reverend, the Dean of Dunwich, that her mamma should be an outcast from her father's church, and scarcely well seen in the best carriage company. She had learnt that deans are rather grand people--almost as much so as admirals; that they wear shovel-hats to distinguish them from the common ruck of rectors; that they lived in fine houses in a cathedral close; and that they drive in a victoria with a coachman in livery. So much essential knowledge of the church of Christ she had gained for herself by personal observation; for facts like these were what interested Dolly. She couldn't understand, then, why she and her mother should live precariously in a very small attic; should never be visited by her mother's brothers, one of whom she knew to be a Prebendary of Old Sarum, while the other she saw gazetted as a Colonel of Artillery; and should be totally ignored by her mother's sister, Ermyntrude, who lolled in a landau down the sunny side of Bond Street.
At first, indeed, it only occurred to Dolly that her mother's extreme and advanced opinions had induced a social breach between herself and the orthodox members of her family. Even that Dolly resented; why should mamma hold ideas of her own which shut her daughter out from the worldly advantages enjoyed to the full by the rest of her kindred? Dolly had no particular religious ideas; the subject didn't interest her; and besides, she thought the New Testament talked about rich and poor in much the same unpractical nebulous way that mamma herself did--in fact, she regarded it with some veiled contempt as a rather sentimental radical publication. But, she considered, for all that, that it was probably true enough as far as the facts and the theology went; and she couldn't understand why a person like mamma should cut herself off contumaciously from the rest of the world by presuming to disbelieve a body of doctrine which so many rich and well-gaitered bishops held worthy of credence. All stylish society accepted the tenets of the Church of England. But in time it began to occur to her that there might be some deeper and, as she herself would have said, more disgraceful reason for her mother's alienation from so respectable a family. For to Dolly, that was disgraceful which the world held to be so. Things in themselves, apart from the world's word, had for her no existence. Step by step, as she grew up to blushing womanhood, it began to strike her with surprise that her grandfather's name had been, like her own, Barton. "Did you marry your cousin, mamma?" she asked Herminia one day quite suddenly.
And Herminia, flushing scarlet at the unexpected question, the first with which Dolly had yet ventured to approach that dangerous quicksand, replied with a deadly thrill, "No, my darling. Why do you ask me?"
"Because," Dolly answered abashed, "I just wanted to know why your name should be Barton, the same as poor grandpapa's."
Herminia didn't dare to say too much just then. "Your dear father," she answered low, "was not related to me in any way."
Dolly accepted the tone as closing the discussion for the present; but the episode only strengthened her underlying sense of a mystery somewhere in the matter to unravel.
In time, Herminia sent her child to a day-school. Though she had always taught Dolly herself as well as she was able, she felt it a matter of duty, as her daughter grew up, to give her something more than the stray ends of time in a busy journalist's moments of leisure. At the school, where Dolly was received without question, on Miss Smith-Water's recommendation, she found herself thrown much into the society of other girls, drawn for the most part from the narrowly Mammon-worshipping ranks of London professional society. Here, her native tendencies towards the real religion of England, the united worship of Success and Respectability, were encouraged to the utmost. But she noticed at times with a shy shrinking that some few of the girls had heard vague rumors about her mother as a most equivocal person, who didn't accept all the current superstitions, and were curious to ask her questions as to her family and antecedents. Crimson with shame, Dolly parried such enquiries as best she could; but she longed all the more herself to pierce this dim mystery. Was it a runaway match?--with the groom, perhaps, or the footman? Only the natural shamefacedness of a budding girl in prying into her mother's most domestic secrets prevented Dolores from asking Herminia some day point-blank all about it.
But she was gradually becoming aware that some strange atmosphere of doubt surrounded her birth and her mother's history. It filled her with sensitive fears and self-conscious hesitations.
And if the truth must be told, Dolly never really returned her mother's profound affection. It is often so. The love which parents lavish upon their children, the children repay, not to parents themselves, but to the next generation. Only when we become fathers or mothers in our turn do we learn what our fathers and mothers have done for us. Thus it was with Dolly. When once the first period of childish dependence was over, she regarded Herminia with a smouldering distrust and a secret dislike that concealed itself beneath a mask of unfelt caresses. In her heart of hearts, she owed her mother a grudge for not having put her in a position in life where she could drive in a carriage with a snarling pug and a clipped French poodle, like Aunt Ermyntrude's children. She grew up, smarting under a sullen sense of injustice, all the deeper because she was compelled to stifle it in the profoundest recesses of her own heart.