‘Well, what sort of meetings?’
The question was asked by Mrs Ainger, a slight, bright-eyed woman on the sensible side of forty, and was addressed to her sister, Dr.Mary Marshall, who had just returned from the provinces, where she had been lecturing during the week-end. She was one of the propagandists of the Fabian Society.
‘I had only one meeting,’ replied the doctor indifferently, as she settled down to warm her hands at the fire.
‘Nothing interesting at all to tell me?’ pursued Mrs Ainger, with the natural curiosity of the one who has stayed at home. ‘Meet anybody in particular?’
‘No, nothing very interesting.’ And the Fabian doctoress warmed her hands on both sides, raising them from the wrists and letting them fall again.
‘Been comfy?’ inquired the stay-at-home sister.
‘Oh, quite. Just a little overpowering, in fact. I was with some kind of wholesale merchant on the Sunday night till this morning. Stodgy people, stodgy house, stodgy food. Very substantial and that; but certainly stodgy.
‘On Sunday night! But where were you on Saturday night?
‘I had a silly sort of experience rather on Saturday night,’ said Mary.
‘A local editor turned out for me. In their frugal Woolshire way these people can’t think of sending one to a hotel. This man went off somewhere to make room for me, and left an absurd note making me free of his rooms.’
‘Well,’ said the older sister, ‘it was kind to leave a note anyhow. And as for the frugality, he would probably go to a hotel where he went to, and would have his railway fare besides. A bachelor?’
‘I expect so. At any rate the house was in charge of his landlady, not his wife.’
‘And were the rooms not right? Why did you change on the Sunday?’
‘Oh, the rooms were all right. Let alone a man in digs to have things all right. And this one especially,’ said the propagandist a trifle superciliously. ‘You should see his letter. He finicks about every little thing in it.’
‘Let me see it,’ said Mrs Ainger.
The note was produced and handed over.
Mrs Ainger reads: ‘Dear Doctor- I hope you will make yourself very much at home in these rooms in my absence. You will have no one in the house with you except my landlady Mrs Hirst. You will find the bath roomy and clean, with plenty of hot water; and if you will slip into the dressing-gown hanging on the back of the bedroom door I shall be glad. Should the Yorkshire pudding sit heavy on your spirit, there is a medicine in the sideboard which I can commend; and if after your lecture you find yourself worked up and not inclined for sleep at bedtime, a nightcap of the same may not come amiss. I trust you will have good meetings and a pleasant visit – Yours truly, Maurice Mindon.’
‘Maurice Mindon!’ exclaimed Mrs Ainger on coming to the signature. ‘Why that’s the name of the man who used to write for the dear old Commonweal in Morris’s day. He has done several novels, and wrote the very first book about Morris that appeared. I shouldn’t have expected to find him in Ramsford. He owned a newspaper in Scotland, I understood. Did you say he was an editor now?’
‘Yes, editor of the Ramsford Herald. It’s the same man.’
‘Well, it’s a very kind letter; and he is quite a literary swell in a way. I hope you left him a nice message?’
‘No,’ said the lady-doctor coolly. ‘It seemed to me a very old-bachelor letter. In fact I left word that I hadn’t used the dressing-gown and hadn’t looked to see what the medicine was.
‘How could you?’ protested Mrs Ainger, flushing. ‘It’s perfectly obvious that the man wanted you to feel at home. He wasn’t obliged to be so kind to you. I don’t suppose you ever met him; perhaps never will. You public women are awful. And you a doctor too!’
‘What did I want with his old dressing-gown? Said the offender impatiently.
‘I’m sure it was a very nice dressing-gown,’ said Mrs Ainger. ‘A man like that is not the kind of person to have or to do shabby things. He would understand that you wouldn’t be likely to carry a dressing-gown on a week-end visit, and nothing else is at all handy or right for slipping on to go to one’s bath. As for the whisky – for that is what he means by medicine – it would be what he takes himself. He was lecturing long before you left school, and he knows. He points out what the medicine is good for. You evidently don’t know that these are the kind of pains that a royalty or a great nobleman would take to put a guest at his ease. And you have just been rude to him… I’m sure Mary, I hope you will be a success as a doctor; but you are not very human, after all. Why, I can read a purpose and consideration in every word of that letter. Baths are often cramped and often discoloured and dirty-looking. Where there are a lot of boarders the water is often cold for the late risers. Nothing is better for a lecturer, they say, than a bracing bath; yet when people go from home they are apt to shirk the bath. So he wants to encourage you to have one… He even calls you just ‘doctor.’ Most men would have called you ‘Miss,’ but he would know that you feel you have as much right to be called doctor as if you were a man. It was really too bad of you.’
‘Oh, bother,’ said the Doctor peevishly. You would have had me write a flirtatious letter. People who have a lecture before them don’t think about those things.
‘Evidently not,’ persisted the elder sister. ‘And you left to go to another house on the Sunday night. Why did you go?’
‘Because they asked me.’
‘And you didn’t leave any message about it?’
‘No, why should I?’
‘Didn’t you ask why they wanted you to change like that?’
‘No. Again why should I? They seemed to think it was all right. I didn’t think anything about it. He would know the reason.’
‘I don’t believe he would. But didn’t you explain to the landlady why you were leaving her house for one night when you were not leaving town?’
‘No, I tell you. Why should I? He would learn and would tell her. There was nobody to speak to at his rooms, and this other merchant had a wife and daughters. They were at the meeting.’
‘And so you left this poor landlady to think, no doubt, that her vision for you was not good enough?’ said Mrs Ainger, looking steadily at her sister.
‘they would sort it out among themselves afterwards, I dare say,’ replied the off hand medico.
Mrs Ainger clucked despairingly. At last she found her voice.
‘Well, Mary, if you are to have as little consideration for your patients as you showed for Mr Mindon and his landlady I don’t expect you’ll have many. What’s the good of lectures, what’s the good of social changes themselves, if people are not going to be nice to each other? And you a woman too! I daresay you talked to these people very cleverly about hygiene and good houses and suitable food and higher wages and shorter hours; but kindness and good breeding are of more moment than even these; for with kind feeling and kind words people can be happy in a poor home; but without kindness they will be miserable in a palace. You may be clever and learned, Mary; but it was just silly and nasty to behave as you have done.’
And Mrs Ainger left the room with an offended backward glance at her handsome sister. That self-contained lady yawned, and continued to warm her hands.
To find past articles please use monthly archives.