The Diversions of a Princess/Charles Druce

from the Idler magazine, Vol. 24 1903-04, pp. 290–292.

III.—Charles Druce

" THE matter with Charles Druce is that he is in earnest," said Wisdom.

"The matter with Charles Druce is that he never is anything else," said Anne. "He has not a particle of imagination!"

"Yet, knowing how literal and serious Charles is, you showed him every sign of a deep affection. Was not that dangerous?" said Wisdom.

"But I have a deep affection for him," declared Anne. "That sustained intercourse with Charles would irritate me to madness, does not prevent me from deeply appreciating Charles's character."

"Very ingenious, dear Anne," said Wisdom. "But poor Charles Druce has no comprehension of the subtleties of which emotion is capable in able hands."

"A ploughboy would not enjoy caviare as much as would an epicure, of course," said Anne. "If I have arrived at a point where I can enjoy emotion intelligently, surely Charles should try to raise himself to my level, instead of blaming me for being better educated than himself"

"Charles is a man with one idea in regard to women of his own station, and that is marriage," said Wisdom, firmly. "You knew this from the beginning."

"I have never denied that Charles's limitations are fairly obvious," said Anne, coldly.

"You used to refer to them as his 'stability,'" said Wisdom. "'Rock of strength' I believe was the expression."

"If Charles had remained a rock, I certainly should not have altered," said Anne. "My flickering affection would have played around him as long as he stood block-like, unmoved. But if the rock suddenly turn into a volcano, is it my fault if things become unrestful?"

"No; but it is foolish to play with fire when your opponent is a salamander," said Wisdom, thoughtfully, "as poor Charles is now finding out!"

"Why 'poor Charles,' as if I had ill-used him?" said Anne, fighting very hard against Wisdom's harsh edicts. "Any fire that Charles Druce is experiencing through my coldness to him is a mere earthly element compared to what he would endure if I behaved honourably, according to your teachings, and married him. You know what I am like when a person gets on my nerves. Well, when Charles coughs, my nerves come right outside my skin and quiver. They do, really! Well, just think if Charles were my husband, and he had a bad chest cold!"

"Yet how you adored him when you first saw him!" said Wisdom.

"In the smoking-room and muddy boots," said Anne. "Quiet strength!"

"'The embodiment of all that is manly,' I believe you put it," said Wisdom. "Oh, Anne, it really isn't fair to people to be so impressionable!"

"But I didn't know he was impressionable," said Anne, pleadingly. "He looked, the last man in the world to trouble his head about foolishness and women."

"I admit the provocative attraction," said Wisdom, drily. "But why did you wish to win him, when you don't want him now you've got him?"

"I do want him " said Anne, "as a friend. I have a deep and temperate affection for Charles, and I should like him to have a rather deeper, perhaps, and not quite so temperate affection for me; but a friendly affection is the only sort of affection that can give either of us happiness. If Charles be so stupid that he cannot see any further than his own selfish desires of the moment, I can't help it, any more than I can help having a clever brain——"

"Which should tell you that the desires of men and women cannot be arranged to fit each other like a Chinese puzzle," said Wisdom, scathingly.

"But how can we tell that unless we've tried?" said Anne, ingenuously. "My motto is try, try again."

"If this mistake you have made with regard to Charles Druce were one by itself instead of one in a never-ending sequence, I should not blame you so severely," said Wisdom, quietly. "But you have fallen into a habit of experimenting consciously, for the pleasure of experimenting, and you must consider that other people may not be able to manage their emotions as successfully and easily as you do. It's no use telling me it is their fault for not having given sufficient attention to the subject. The fact remains that there are certain simple elemental natures whom your experiments leave maimed and hurt; and Charles will be one of these."

"Oh, let's have this out," said Anne, who well knew a heavy punishment was in store for her if Wisdom convinced her of cruelty to Charles. "You accuse me of being a selfish little beast. Well, now, I don't see why! Why isn't Charles selfish, too?"

"Charles is in earnest," said Wisdom for the hundredth time.

"Yes, but about what?" said Anne. "Charles is earnestly desiring to compass a selfish wish and marry me. Does he do this because he thinks it will conduce to my happiness? Not a bit of it! He is thinking of himself the whole time, and the fact that he is worrying me dreadfully does not matter a brass farthing to him."

"Why did you show Charles that you liked him?" said Wisdom, who had a tiresome trick of repetition.

"I could not imagine that even Charles would be so stupid as to imagine a girl ever shows a man she cares for him when there is the barest possibility she may fall in love with him," said Anne, very scornful indeed. "The simple and outspoken affection I show to men is genuine friendliness, and that is all. But why should I be blamed for showing Charles I took pleasure in seeing him? Charles has had attentions from heaps of women, and he didn't fall in love with them."

"But when you saw that Charles was in danger of falling in love with you, you should have suppressed him quickly," said Wisdom. "You could have done so, Anne; you are rather clever at suppressing people. No! You enjoyed the excitement, and you didn't think how seriously it might end for Charles."

"Oh dear, what a life you do lead me!" said Anne. "It's not as if Charles lavished gifts and his society upon me, from unselfish motives. I took it that we afforded each other mutual entertainment; and, after all, Charles is thirty-two—quite old! It isn't my place to look after him. He's a free, experienced man of the world. I don't see why I should be burdened with all the responsibility of our friendship."

"Friendship between the sexes is never stationary," said Wisdom. "It advances."

"If you call it advancing," said Anne, "when an intimacy reaches the pitch where all the civilities and kindnesses of human intercourse terminate, I call that state, degeneration! At one time Charles did his best to amuse me at a party, and give me a good time. Now his sole object is to prevent me from talking to anyone else, and to make me generally miserable. As for his hostess, or the countless friends who consider they have claims on my society, Charles views them all with hatred, which he shows by standing two feet from my elbow, and surveying the company around me with a sullen glare."

"Oh, Anne, you are heartless!" said Wisdom. "Think how poor Charles is suffering!"

"It's rather cowardly to show it, isn't it?" said Anne. "I think it shows great lack of self-respect and dignity. Just reverse the cases, Wisdom, if you please! Imagine that Charles was a fascinating-through-no-fault-of-his-own young man, and I was a solid, wealthy, respectable young woman, rather dull and apt to be unnoticed at parties. Suppose Charles in the kindness of his heart bestowed various little civil attentions upon me, welcomed my advent with a bright smile, and did not conceal a genuine pleasure in my rather heavy conversation. Well, now, suppose I fell in love with Charles and determined to win him for my husband, in spite of the fact that he showed me as kindly and tactfully as possible that he did not love me as a husband should, and further, had not the slightest desire or intention of marrying at all! Well, suppose I made up my mind that, by patience, I would wear down Charles! Suppose I followed him about at parties, hung on his every word that he addressed to other ladies, plainly showing that I regarded every word as a separate insult to myself! Suppose I snapped up my hosts and hostesses who wished to introduce me to other gentlemen! Suppose I made my life a perfect misery, as well as everybody else's, including Charles. There would be general sympathy for Charles, I think; and as for me, I should be rightly called a 'perfect spectacle!' But because it is a man who is pursuing, and a girl who is pursued, Charles is thought a manly and shamefully-treated hero, and I am thought an inhuman little icehouse! It's so unfair!"

"You may be stronger than Charles," said Wisdom, "and better able to conceal your emotion; for that very reason you should have pity for the weak!"

"I've tried to let down Charles gently, and he won't take any hints," said Anne. "I'm very sorry, but I can never pity people who sit down and howl when they can't get what they want. If Charles had shown an ounce of pluck, it would have been different. Then my heart would have been broken, too! Think how wretched I was about Mr. Gregson!"

"You might have stopped all Charles's misery!" said Wisdom, firmly. "Indirectly you are responsible, however much you quibble!"

"Oh, all right then, I'm responsible!" said Anne. "I'm not perfect. Charles Druce will be one of the black spots of my life, one of the pages we turn over quickly and don't refer to! But as the page is there, and it is impossible to unprint it now it is printed, that is really the only wise course to pursue about it?"

"But another time," said Wisdom.

"Another time of course, I shall act quite differently!" said Anne.

But Wisdom sighed.