“WHAT shall I do? what ought I to do?” Dick walked up and down the room smoking, furiously and without at all savouring its richness, one of his opulent cigars.
“My dear,” said Cravister—for it was in Cravister’s high-ceilinged Bloomsbury room that Dick was thus unveiling his distress of spirit—“my dear, this isn’t a revival meeting. You speak as though there were an urgent need for your soul to be saved from hell fire. It’s not as bad as that, you know.”
“But it is a revival meeting,” Dick shouted in exasperation—“it is. I’m a revivalist. You don’t know what it’s like to have a feeling about your soul. I’m terrifyingly earnest; you don’t seem to understand that. I have all the feelings of Bunyan without his religion. I regard the salvation of my soul as important. How simple everything would be if one could go out with those creatures in bonnets and sing hymns like, ‘Hip, hip for the blood of the Lamb, hurrah!’ or that exquisite one:
“‘The bells of Hell ring tingalingaling For you, but not for me. For me the angels singalingaling; They’ve got the goods for me.’ Unhappily it’s impossible.”
“Your ideas,” said Cravister in his flutiest voice, “are somewhat Gothic. I think I can understand them, though of course I don’t sympathize or approve. My advice to people in doubt about what course of action they ought to pursue is always the same: do what you want to.”
“Cravister, you’re hopeless,” said Dick, laughing. “I suppose I am rather Gothic, but I do feel that the question of ought as well as of want does arise.”
Dick had come to his old friend for advice about Life. What ought he to do? The indefatigable pen of Pearl Bellairs solved for him the financial problem. There remained only the moral problem: how could he best expend his energies and his time? Should he devote himself to knowing or doing, philosophy or politics? He felt in himself the desire to search for truth and the ability—who knows?—to find it. On the other hand, the horrors of the world about him seemed to call on him to put forth all his strength in an effort to ameliorate what was so patently and repulsively bad. Actually, what had to be decided was this: Should he devote himself to the researches necessary to carry out the plan, long ripening in his brain, of a new system of scientific philosophy; or should he devote his powers and Pearl Bellairs’ money in propaganda that should put life into the English revolutionary movement? Great moral principles were in the balance. And Cravister’s advice was, do what you want to!
After a month of painful indecision, Dick, who was a real Englishman, arrived at a satisfactory compromise. He started work on his new Synthetic Philosophy, and at the same time joined the staff of the Weekly International, to which he contributed both money and articles. The weeks slipped pleasantly and profitably along. The secret of happiness lies in congenial work, and no one could have worked harder than Dick, unless it was the indefatigable Pearl Bellairs, whose nightly output of five thousand words sufficed to support not only Dick but the Weekly International as well. These months were perhaps the happiest period of Dick’s life. He had friends, money, liberty; he knew himself to be working well; and it was an extra, a supererogatory happiness that he began at this time to get on much better with his sister Millicent than he had ever done before. Millicent had come up to Oxford as a student at St. Mungo Hall in Dick’s third year. She had grown into a very efficient and very intelligent young woman. A particularly handsome young woman as well. She was boyishly slender, and a natural grace kept on breaking through the somewhat rigid deportment, which she always tried to impose upon herself, in little beautiful gestures and movements that made the onlooker catch his breath with astonished pleasure.
“Wincing she was as is a jolly colt, Straight as a mast and upright as a bolt:”
Chaucer had as good an eye for youthful grace as for mormals and bristly nostrils and thick red jovial villainousness.
Millicent lost no time in making her presence at St. Mungo’s felt. Second- and third-year heroines might snort at the forwardness of a mere fresh-girl, might resent the complete absence of veneration for their glory exhibited by this youthful bejauna; Millicent pursued her course unmoved. She founded new societies and put fresh life into the institutions which already existed at St. Mungo’s to take cocoa and discuss the problems of the universe. She played hockey like a tornado, and she worked alarmingly hard. Decidedly, Millicent was a Force, very soon the biggest Force in the St. Mungo world. In her fifth term she organized the famous St. Mungo general strike, which compelled the authorities to relax a few of the more intolerably tyrannical and anachronistic rules restricting the liberty of the students. It was she who went, on behalf of the strikers, to interview the redoubtable Miss Prosser, Principal of St. Mungo’s. The redoubtable Miss Prosser looked grim and invited her to sit down, Millicent sat down and, without quailing, delivered a short but pointed speech attacking the fundamental principles of the St. Mungo system of discipline.
“Your whole point of view,” she assured Miss Prosser, “is radically wrong. It’s an insult to the female sex; it’s positively obscene. Your root assumption is simply this: that we’re all in a chronic state of sexual excitement; leave us alone for a moment and we’ll immediately put our desires into practice. It’s disgusting. It makes me blush. After all, Miss Prosser, we are a college of intelligent women, not an asylum of nymphomaniacs.”
For the first time in her career, Miss Prosser had to admit herself beaten. The authorities gave in—reluctantly and on only a few points; but the principle had been shaken, and that, as Millicent pointed out, was what really mattered.
Dick used to see a good deal of his sister while he was still in residence at Canteloup, and after he had gone down he used to come regularly once a fortnight during term to visit her. That horrible mutual reserve, which poisons the social life of most families and which had effectively made of their brotherly and sisterly relation a prolonged discomfort in the past, began to disappear. They became the best of friends.
“I like you, Dick, a great deal better than I did,” said Millicent one day as they were parting at the gate of St. Mungo’s after a long walk together.
Dick took off his hat and bowed. “My dear, I reciprocate the sentiment. And, what’s more, I esteem and admire you. So there.”
Millicent curtsied, and they laughed. They both felt very happy.