what really jarred upon me was the rate of his walking. differences in politics, in ethics and even in aesthetics need not arouse angry antagonism. one's opinion may change; one's tastes may alter--in fact they do. one's very conception of virtue is at the mercy of some felicitous temptation which may be sprung on one any day. all these things are perpetually on the swing. but a temperamental difference, temperament being immutable, is the parent of hate. that's why religious quarrels are the fiercest of all. my temperament, in matters pertaining to solid land, is the temperament of leisurely movement, of deliberate gait. and there was that little fyne pounding along the road in a most offensive manner; a man wedded to thick-soled, laced boots; whereas my temperament demands thin shoes of the lightest kind. of course there could never have been question of friendship between us; but under the provocation of having to keep up with his pace i began to dislike him actively. i begged sarcastically to know whether he could tell me if we were engaged in a farce or in a tragedy. i wanted to regulate my feelings which, i told him, were in an unbecoming state of confusion.
but fyne was as impervious to sarcasm as a turtle. he tramped on, and all he did was to ejaculate twice out of his deep chest, vaguely, doubtfully.
"i am afraid . . . i am afraid! . . . "
this was tragic. the thump of his boots was the only sound in a shadowy world. i kept by his side with a comparatively ghostly, silent tread. by a strange illusion the road appeared to run up against a lot of low stars at no very great distance, but as we advanced new stretches of whitey-brown ribbon seemed to come up from under the black ground. i observed, as we went by, the lamp in my parlour in the farmhouse still burning. but i did not leave fyne to run in and put it out. the impetus of his pedestrian excellence carried me past in his wake before i could make up my mind.
"tell me, fyne," i cried, "you don't think the girl was mad--do you?"
he answered nothing. soon the lighted beacon-like window of the cottage came into view. then fyne uttered a solemn: "certainly not," with profound assurance. but immediately after he added a "very highly strung young person indeed," which unsettled me again. was it a tragedy?
"nobody ever got up at six o'clock in the morning to commit suicide," i declared crustily. "it's unheard of! this is a farce."
as a matter of fact it was neither farce nor tragedy.
coming up to the cottage we had a view of mrs. fyne inside still sitting in the strong light at the round table with folded arms. it looked as though she had not moved her very head by as much as an inch since we went away. she was amazing in a sort of unsubtle way; crudely amazing--i thought. why crudely? i don't know. perhaps because i saw her then in a crude light. i mean this materially--in the light of an unshaded lamp. our mental conclusions depend so much on momentary physical sensations--don't they? if the lamp had been shaded i should perhaps have gone home after expressing politely my concern at the fynes' unpleasant predicament.
losing a girl-friend in that manner is unpleasant. it is also mysterious. so mysterious that a certain mystery attaches to the people to whom such a thing does happen. moreover i had never really understood the fynes; he with his solemnity which extended to the very eating of bread and butter; she with that air of detachment and resolution in breasting the common-place current of their unexciting life, in which the cutting of bread and butter appeared to me, by a long way, the most dangerous episode. sometimes i amused myself by supposing that to their minds this world of ours must be wearing a perfectly overwhelming aspect, and that their heads contained respectively awfully serious and extremely desperate thoughts--and trying to imagine what an exciting time they must be having of it in the inscrutable depths of their being. this last was difficult to a volatile person (i am sure that to the fynes i was a volatile person) and the amusement in itself was not very great; but still--in the country--away from all mental stimulants! . . . my efforts had invested them with a sort of amusing profundity.
but when fyne and i got back into the room, then in the searching, domestic, glare of the lamp, inimical to the play of fancy, i saw these two stripped of every vesture it had amused me to put on them for fun. queer enough they were. is there a human being that isn't that--more or less secretly? but whatever their secret, it was manifest to me that it was neither subtle nor profound. they were a good, stupid, earnest couple and very much bothered. they were that--with the usual unshaded crudity of average people. there was nothing in them that the lamplight might not touch without the slightest risk of indiscretion.
directly we had entered the room fyne announced the result by saying "nothing" in the same tone as at the gate on his return from the railway station. and as then mrs. fyne uttered an incisive "it's what i've said," which might have been the veriest echo of her words in the garden. we three looked at each other as if on the brink of a disclosure. i don't know whether she was vexed at my presence. it could hardly be called intrusion--could it? little fyne began it. it had to go on. we stood before her, plastered with the same mud (fyne was a sight!), scratched by the same brambles, conscious of the same experience. yes. before her. and she looked at us with folded arms, with an extraordinary fulness of assumed responsibility. i addressed her.
"you don't believe in an accident, mrs. fyne, do you?"
she shook her head in curt negation while, caked in mud and inexpressibly serious-faced, fyne seemed to be backing her up with all the weight of his solemn presence. nothing more absurd could be conceived. it was delicious. and i went on in deferential accents: "am i to understand then that you entertain the theory of suicide?"
i don't know that i am liable to fits of delirium but by a sudden and alarming aberration while waiting for her answer i became mentally aware of three trained dogs dancing on their hind legs. i don't know why. perhaps because of the pervading solemnity. there's nothing more solemn on earth than a dance of trained dogs.
"she has chosen to disappear. that's all."
in these words mrs. fyne answered me. the aggressive tone was too much for my endurance. in an instant i found myself out of the dance and down on all-fours so to speak, with liberty to bark and bite.
"the devil she has," i cried. "has chosen to . . . like this, all at once, anyhow, regardless . . . i've had the privilege of meeting that reckless and brusque young lady and i must say that with her air of an angry victim . . . "
"precisely," mrs. fyne said very unexpectedly like a steel trap going off. i stared at her. how provoking she was! so i went on to finish my tirade. "she struck me at first sight as the most inconsiderate wrong-headed girl that i ever . . . "
"why should a girl be more considerate than anyone else? more than any man, for instance?" inquired mrs. fyne with a still greater assertion of responsibility in her bearing.
of course i exclaimed at this, not very loudly it is true, but forcibly. were then the feelings of friends, relations and even of strangers to be disregarded? i asked mrs. fyne if she did not think it was a sort of duty to show elementary consideration not only for the natural feelings but even for the prejudices of one's fellow- creatures.
her answer knocked me over.
"not for a woman."
just like that. i confess that i went down flat. and while in that collapsed state i learned the true nature of mrs. fyne's feminist doctrine. it was not political, it was not social. it was a knock- me-down doctrine--a practical individualistic doctrine. you would not thank me for expounding it to you at large. indeed i think that she herself did not enlighten me fully. there must have been things not fit for a man to hear. but shortly, and as far as my bewilderment allowed me to grasp its naive atrociousness, it was something like this: that no consideration, no delicacy, no tenderness, no scruples should stand in the way of a woman (who by the mere fact of her sex was the predestined victim of conditions created by men's selfish passions, their vices and their abominable tyranny) from taking the shortest cut towards securing for herself the easiest possible existence. she had even the right to go out of existence without considering anyone's feelings or convenience since some women's existences were made impossible by the shortsighted baseness of men.