“A man’s fortunes are the fruits of his character.” RALPH WALDO
When one has passed fifty, four years—provided no one of them brings
severe illness or great sorrow—make little if any difference in outward
appearance. Time is usually kind to the middle-aged, and it is only
when we reach middle-age ourselves, and the dear old landmarks are
removed one by one, that we realise how much we unconsciously depended
on this stability of appearance, this changelessness in those who helped
to shape our destiny.
Thus if there was little change in Mrs. Dew and Mr. Wycherly four years
after Jane-Anne had flooded the Holywell cellar with beer, Jane-Anne
herself and the boys looked back upon the children of that time with a
kind of affectionate scorn.
Montagu was now taller than Mr. Wycherly, thin-faced and analytic as
ever, only waiting for the following October to take up his scholarship
at New College.
Edmund was on the _Britannia_, all uniform and gold buttons, naval
phrases, and nonsense. When he appeared for his “leaves” (he scorned to
call it holidays) he imported so much liveliness and laughter, to say
nothing of visitors from the outer world, into the quiet household that
during these hilarious weeks Jane-Anne forgot to be earnest.
For Jane-Anne was very earnest.
Four years of school-life had wrought great changes in Jane-Anne.
For one thing, no one any longer had to worry about her lungs.
Crepitations were things of the past. She was strong as a Shetland pony
with fully as much endurance.
There was nothing in her physique to prevent her becoming a most
efficient housemaid. Moreover, she was tall enough for even the most
exacting situation. But even Mrs. Dew had ceased to include that idea
among practical politics.
For Jane-Anne had turned out “clever at her books” beyond all
expectation. She went first of all to a nice school over Magdalen
Bridge, but she got on so fast and was so unusually receptive a pupil
that the head mistress herself called upon Mr. Wycherly and suggested
that Jane-Anne should go on to the High School. Mr. Wycherly consulted
Lord Dursley, who still continued to take a vicarious sort of interest
in the child, and the matter was arranged without much difficulty.
Here Jane-Anne fell under the influence of Miss Willows and became
strenuous and earnest to the last degree.
Miss Willows taught the top form, and she did more than teach it, she
She was twenty-eight years old and was fully determined to be a head
mistress herself before many years had passed. She was of the stuff
head mistresses are made and she was modern of the moderns. She was
tall and strong and handsome, good at games and a first in classics, and
hers was indeed the doctrine of perfection.
“Don’t only try to do things as well as other people,” she would say;
“try to do them a little better. Never be content with mediocrity.”
Courage and strength were her watchwords and her ambition was that her
girls should go forth into the world not to be shielded from temptation
but armed to withstand it. Silliness she abhorred, and, satisfactory
pupil as Jane-Anne was, she was thankful that Miss Willows could not, as
she put it, “see inside her,” for Jane-Anne was conscious that she
frequently lapsed from grace, was often frankly and unashamedly silly
and enjoyed it.
Miss Willows was always beautifully dressed, and taught her girls to
care a good deal about their clothes. She was sarcastic, and the clumsy
and untidy trembled before her.
Jane-Anne never trembled. She admired and adored and perhaps “inside”
she was a little afraid of her, but outwardly she was quite fearless,
and Miss Willows respected her in consequence. Even more did she
respect the girl’s quite extraordinary command of English and her
familiarity with schools of philosophy that were to most of the class
Miss Willows had settled Jane-Anne’s career. She was to go on to one of
the women’s colleges and then she was to teach. It was her plain duty.
Jane-Anne said nothing, seemed to acquiesce in all these wise and
benevolent plans on her behalf, and all the time dreamed dreams and saw
visions of something very different indeed.
She had not wavered in her allegiance to Lord Byron. He was still her
hero, and she stoutly refused to displace him by Mr. Robert Browning,
who was the chosen prophet of Miss Willows.
“Lord Byron is so obvious,” that lady said one day, when she had found
fault with a quotation from “Childe Harold” that Jane-Anne had dragged
into an essay.
“It is impossible to misunderstand what he means,” Jane-Anne said
quickly, ever ready to take up arms on behalf of “her oldest friend,” as
she called him.
“He is not subtle,” Miss Willows continued.
“He is never obscure, never unmusical,” quoth Jane-Anne.
“I am sorry,” Miss Willows said gravely, “that you make such a hero of
Lord Byron, the more so, that, from what I can make out, you do not do
so in ignorance of his character. You say you have read his life?”
Miss Willows made a point of never being shocked at anything her girls
might say—to be shocked showed weakness. Nevertheless, she rather
wondered what Mr. Wycherly could have been about to allow such a thing.
And there was a black mark against him in her mind.
Curiously enough, it was Mr. Wycherly himself who first aroused
Jane-Anne to any enthusiasm for the works of Robert Browning, and it
came about in this way.
She still passionately desired curly hair. It was the desire of the
moth for the star, for her hair remained obstinately straight. That it
was beautiful in colour, texture and abundance, did not comfort her; it
was straight, uncompromisingly straight, though it maintained its
upward, outward sweep round her broad, low forehead.
Mr. Wycherly thought it was hard for Jane-Anne to have no money, and
insisted on paying her five shillings a month for waiting upon him. Out
of this, her aunt insisted that she must keep herself in stockings and
gloves, which the child faithfully did.
But a girl at school enlightened her as to the uses of curling tongs,
and Jane-Anne succumbed to temptation. She borrowed the goffering
irons, heated them in the kitchen fire and burnt both her hair and her
forehead rather badly.
Mr. Wycherly was infinitely more distressed about this than over the
beer episode and took her gently to task for trying to improve upon what
Nature had already made so harmonious and pleasing to the eye.
That was the way to get at Jane-Anne. As always, she was perfectly
frank with him.
“Miss Willows says it is the duty of everyone to look as pretty as
possible. ’Do your best and then think nothing more about it,’ she
says. But I seem obliged to think about it. You see, I _know_ I’d be so
much nicer if my hair was frizzy.”
“But I don’t think you would,” Mr. Wycherly argued. “Your type is
severe and classical; ’frizziness’ would be quite dreadful and
“But could _anyone_ be beautiful with straight hair?”
“Lord Byron had wavy hair, _you_ have wavy hair, all the goddesses and
people and Helen of Troy had wavy hair.”
“I assure you,” Mr. Wycherly declared, absently passing a long, slender
hand over his thick white locks, “I never think about my hair at all,
except when I have to go and get it cut.”
“You never think about it, my dear, because you are so sure it is all
right. You _know_ you are a most beautiful old person and that people
must admire you if they looked at you at all, _therefore_ you can afford
not to think about it.”
“My dear Jane-Anne, you are talking nonsense.”
“I’m not; really, truly, not. I often see people look at you in the
street and I often hear them say nice things——”
“Good heavens,” cried Mr. Wycherly, “how dreadful!”
“I shouldn’t think it a bit dreadful if they said such things about me,”
Jane-Anne said, “but they don’t yet—not often.”
“Do they ever?” Mr. Wycherly asked anxiously.
“If I told you, you would say it was impertinent, so I won’t tell you,
“Will you promise me to let your hair alone?”
“If I promise, I should have to,” Jane-Anne said doubtfully.
“That’s why I want you to promise.”
“Will a year do?” pleaded Jane-Anne.
“Three years,” Mr. Wycherly maintained.
Jane-Anne sighed deeply. “Well, I promise—but if at the end of that
time I find something that will really truly make it curl, without
smelling horrible or burning or spoiling it——”
“Three years will do,” said Mr. Wycherly.
That evening when she went to say good-night to him he read her “A
Face,” by Robert Browning.
“If one could have that little head of hers
Painted upon a background of pure gold….”
Jane-Anne listened, breathless, charmed. When he had finished he turned
“That always makes me think of you, and I wish I could have you painted
so. But you wouldn’t be a bit like it if you had different hair.”
Jane-Anne was silent for nearly two minutes; then she said thoughtfully:
“I rather like Browning’s poetry after all. I’ll quote a bit in my next
scripture just to please Miss Willows.”
At first her position in the school was something of an anomaly. Her
exceptional ability and her fleetness of foot gave her an assured place
in the school work and games at once. Her personal appearance and her
eager charm brought her friends. Then one of the girls, who had asked
her to tea, a girl living in a large house in the Woodstock Road, whose
people had nothing whatever to do with any of the colleges, discovered
that she was no relation to the old gentleman in whose house she lived
and that her aunt was his servant.
The girl was horrified, told every girl she could get to listen, and
always concluded the harangue with the remark: “We all know the school’s
mixed enough, but it’s getting a bit too much when they take the
daughters of domestic servants. Someone ought to write and complain.”
She forthwith cut Jane-Anne, as did several others. Jane-Anne was
puzzled, then angry, and finally forced the girl to explain her conduct
in the playground.
“Your aunt’s his servant,” the girl concluded, “and we don’t like it.”
“I’m his servant, too,” Jane-Anne said haughtily, “and I’d rather be his
servant than your friend any day.”
“You won’t have much chance of being that,” the girl said angrily. “I
wouldn’t be seen with you for the world.”
“The whole of Oxford,” cried Jane-Anne, “can see me with him, and he’s a
great gentleman and a scholar; and you—you’re a carroty-haired, ill-bred
little nobody who can’t write a French exercise without getting somebody
else to do half of it.”
The school took sides, and the best and cleverest half finally sided
with Jane-Anne. She never told anybody but Montagu what she had gone
through, but whenever any new girl made friendly advances Jane-Anne took
care to inform her that Mrs. Dew, Mr. Wycherly’s housekeeper, was her
aunt, that she loved her and wasn’t in the least ashamed of it. “And
now,” she always concluded, “you can go on being friends with me or not,
just as you choose.”
The girls were friendly enough in school, but she knew very few of them
at home. Those she did know were nearly all friends of Mrs. Methuen and
girls whose position was assured. Thus it happened that Jane-Anne’s few
friends were the nicest girls in the school. But she had very little
time for friendship. She still helped her aunt in the house as much as
ever she could. She had really hard and heavy homework to prepare—only
her extraordinary quickness got her through it in the time she allowed
for it, and she was, moreover, always to the fore if any play or
recitation or fancy dancing was toward. She was so easily and far
beyond any other girl in things of that sort that she could never be
spared. The dancing-class was her greatest joy. Mr. Wycherly had
insisted on her learning to dance whenever she went to school. He paid
the fees himself, and sometimes even braved the phalanx of girls at the
class in order to go himself and see her dance.
And once a year Curly came with his company and acted in the Oxford
Theatre. Mr. Wycherly always took Jane-Anne and Curly always came to
see them in Holywell, and every time he came he asked Mr. Wycherly the
same question: “Well, and have you settled yet what she is to be?”
“She talks,” said Mr. Wycherly, “of being a teacher of dancing—but it
seems to me that in that case her education is rather thrown away.”
“A teacher of dancing!” Curly repeated ironically. “I think I see her
teaching dancing for long.”
“She came to me last night,” Mr. Wycherly continued, as though he had
not heard, “and asked abruptly, ’Do you think one can serve God and
dance for a living?’”
“Ah,” said Curly, “that’s a different thing; and what did you say, sir?”
“I fear,” said Mr. Wycherly humbly, “that I made no very definite
“I should like to know what you think,” Curly persisted. “You consider
dancing to be one of the beautiful and delightful arts?”
“And in Jane-Anne that art finds the subtlest and most delicate
Mr. Wycherly groaned.
“Why should she not serve God as well in that way as in any other?”
“Because,” said Mr. Wycherly haughtily, “I should dislike it extremely.”
“I have an idea,” he said, “that Miss Allegra Stavrides will find
another mode of expressing the artist that is in her.”
Mr. Wycherly groaned again. “She is so young,” he said; “why should she
be anything at all for years and years?”
“Because,” said Curly, “the race is to the swift, and the child is very
fleet of foot.”
“You will not, promise me you will not, say or do anything to put such
an idea into her head,” Mr. Wycherly pleaded.
“My dear old friend, the idea has been there for years—and it is quite
possible it may come to nothing.”
But though Curly spake comfortable words there was no conviction in his