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|The Wheels of Chance||H. G. [Herbert George] Wells|
|Page 2 of 4||
"Not that," said Mrs. Milton, in a low tone. "Not that."
"But WHY did she go off like this?" said Widgery. "That's what _I_ want to know."
Jessie made an attempt to speak, but Mrs. Milton said "Hush!" and the ringing tenor of the clergyman rode triumphantly over the meeting. "I cannot understand this spirit of unrest that has seized upon the more intelligent portion of the feminine community. You had a pleasant home, a most refined and intelligent lady in the position of your mother, to cherish and protect you--"
"If I HAD a mother," gulped Jessie, succumbing to the obvious snare of self-pity, and sobbing.
"To cherish, protect, and advise you. And you must needs go out of it all alone into a strange world of unknown dangers-"
"I wanted to learn," said Jessie.
"You wanted to learn. May you never have anything to UNlearn."
"AH!" from Mrs. Milton, very sadly.
"It isn't fair for all of you to argue at me at once," submitted Jessie, irrelevantly.
"A world full of unknown dangers," resumed the clergyman. "Your proper place was surely the natural surroundings that are part of you. You have been unduly influenced, it is only too apparent, by a class of literature which, with all due respect to distinguished authoress that shall be nameless, I must call the New Woman Literature. In that deleterious ingredient of our book boxes--"
"I don't altogether agree with you there," said Miss Mergle, throwing her head back and regarding him firmly through her spectacles, and Mr. Widgery coughed.
"What HAS all this to do with me?" asked Jessie, availing herself of the interruption.
"The point is," said Mrs. Milton, on her defence, "that in my books--"
"All I want to do," said Jessie, "is to go about freely by myself. Girls do so in America. Why not here?"
"Social conditions are entirely different in America," said Miss Mergle. "Here we respect Class Distinctions."
"It's very unfortunate. What I want to know is, why I cannot go away for a holiday if I want to."
"With a strange young man, socially your inferior," said Widgery, and made her flush by his tone.
"Why not?" she said. "With anybody."
"They don't do that, even in America," said Miss Mergle.
"My dear young lady," said the clergyman, "the most elementary principles of decorum--A day will come when you will better understand how entirely subservient your ideas are to the very fundamentals of our present civilisation, when you will better understand the harrowing anxiety you have given Mrs. Milton by this inexplicable flight of yours. We can only put things down at present, in charity, to your ignorance--"
"You have to consider the general body of opinion, too," said Widgery.
"Precisely," said Miss Mergle. "There is no such thing as conduct in the absolute." "If once this most unfortunate business gets about," said the clergyman, "it will do you infinite harm."
"But I'VE done nothing wrong. Why should I be responsible for other people's--"
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|The Wheels of Chance
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells
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