The Diversions of a Princess/Mr. (and Mrs.) Vane

from the Idler magazine, Vol. 24 1903-04, pp. 211–213.

II.—Mr. (and Mrs.) Vane

" IT'S an impossible position," said Wisdom.

"Difficult, perhaps, but not impossible, because I'm in it," said Anne.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Wisdom.

"Oh, why?" said Anne. "I like married men for friends, for the same reason that boys like married women. There's no danger of being lured into an engagement in a careless minute. We are each free to give our unembarrassed attention to flirting as attractively as possible, without any fear of consequences."

"People talk," said Wisdom.

"The people who know me understand I'm harmless," said Anne. "The people who do not know me I really do not care about. It's a kind act to brighten up a person's life. Why shouldn't I brighten up a married man's? Most girls are too selfish."

"It's his wife's place to brighten up his life," said Wisdom.

"It's his wife's place to be restful, domestic, and comforting," said Anne. "A man must go outside and have a breath of air occasionally, to make him appreciate his home."

"If you married, should you like your husband to find another woman more attractive than you, even for a single moment?" said Wisdom.

"I'm not so silly as to imagine I could go on flirting with a man I married," said Anne. "Flirting is the evanescent scintillation of attractiveness; its flickering light conceals as much as it reveals. and its charm lies in its intangibility. But fireworks in a fireplace, or rather, on one's hearth, would be simply bewildering and irritating. A man does not want to be continually puzzled and annoyed and made a fool of at home. He wants to love his wife in a selfish, lazy way and be quiet. Flirting doesn't in the least interfere with the domestic affection he bears to his wife."

"It makes the wife very jealous and unhappy," said Wisdom.

"Then she's an hysterical idiot," said Anne. "Married women have no poise. A man isn't jealous of his wife's attachés if he's certain he's far away first."

"A woman is never content to be first. She must be the only one," said Wisdom.

"I don't want to be the only one to Mr. Vane," said Anne; "nor to anyone else for that matter. I like men to have their affections firmly settled domestically, and just play about, with me, as Mr. Vane does. Of course he loves his wife best; he only really loves her."

"You're not in love," said Wisdom, "and Mrs. Vane is. It makes all the difference."

"Oh, well," said Anne, "George Vane and I are getting mutually tired of quarrelling with each other. After my varied society, he'll appreciate the peacefulness of his wife far more than he did before. A little saucy anchovy does make one so enjoy one's dinner afterwards."

"It's all very well to send him back to his wife now you've done with him," said Wisdom. "What of Mrs. Vane's pride?"

"I'm positively certain I shouldn't mind my husband flirting one bit," said Anne, "so long as I had his complete confidence."

"Should you like Mr. Vane to tell his wife all about you?" said Wisdom. "Talk you over with her?"

"He couldn't be such a cad!" said Anne.

"He'll have to give his wife his complete confidence, if he wants peace and quietness, when you've dropped him," said Wisdom.

"It's too humiliating even to think about," said Anne. "A little, simpering doll like Mrs. Vane!"

"She'll never be happy till she has her husband's confidence," persisted Wisdom, "and she'll do her best to make him give it her. If he doesn't, it will be a great triumph for you, of course."

"I don't want to triumph over Mrs. Vane," said Anne.

"It's triumphing to make her jealous," said Wisdom.

"It's perfectly ridiculous of her to be that!" said Anne. "Mr. Vane's admiration for me is so plainly superficial."

"I wonder you care to parade it, then," said Wisdom.

"I don't parade it," said Anne. "I can't help him calling on me and trotting about in my train at parties, can I?"

"The mere fact of your allowing his ostentatious devotion gives people cause to think you are both pleased with it and proud of it," said Wisdom.

"Mr. Vane's admiration is of no consequence to me at all," said Anne, haughtily.

"Then is it worth while making Mrs. Vane unhappy because of it—even foolishly unhappy?" said Wisdom.

"It's a silly world," said Anne.

"It's a monogamous one," said Wisdom.

"Oh! why do men have wives!" said Anne. "If only men could be married, without having wives! Married men are so much more interesting than unattached, stiff bachelors."

"Because there's a hint of 'forbidden fruit' about your friendship with them," said Wisdom. "Be honest with yourself!"

"Well, if I drop Mr. Vane, it's not very nice, as you say, for Mrs. Vane to feel I've tossed him back to her," said Anne. "I suppose it would be really unselfish to throw myself at his head till he found me a nuisance and dropped me himself"

"Very unselfish, but I wouldn't advise it," said Wisdom.

"Shall I drop Mr. Vane, and take up his silly little wife?" said Anne. "My word! That ought to flatter her!"

"Except that she'll always have a lurking suspicion that you're playing to the gallery in the form of her husband," said Wisdom.

"Oh, but I'll be hateful to Mr. Vane," said Anne. "I'll snub him and make him look a perfect idiot."

"You don't think Mrs. Vane will love you for making her husband look a fool!" said Wisdom. "Were you born yesterday, Anne?"

"I suppose you want me to drop them both, and let Mr. Vane talk me over with his wife," said Anne.

"Well, if he does," said Wisdom, "face your punishment like a man and not an hysterical girl. You've had your innings. Don't grudge Mrs. Vane hers!"

"Really, there are times when I have no use for the world!" said Anne. "Every form of enjoyment, however innocent, brings such a pack of stupid and unpleasant consequences."

"Well, it is an unsporting thing, to complain about paying your penny when you've eaten your cake!" said Wisdom.

"Oh, Mr. Vane shall immolate me on the altar of his wife!" said Anne, desperately. "I'll cut him to-morrow, and make him my enemy for ever. But, oh, my goodness, what a lot of horrid things he will be able to say about me to Mrs. Vane!"

"Then let this be a lesson to you!" said Wisdom. "You don't enjoy humiliating other women; or being humiliated yourself. These are the only alternatives if you flirt with married men."

"But I'm immolating myself and making thorough reparation," said Anne. "And Mr. Vane will tell his wife what a dead set I made at him, and how tired to death he is of me, and things like that, to ease his smarting vanity; and she will soon be triumphantly happy again. And the fact remains that I've had a most amusing time of it the last few months, while my humiliation will only last a few days, at the end of which time I shall have forgotten about the whole affair; so from a strictly non-moral and common sensible point of view——"

"This is no place for me," said Wisdom, and left Anne promptly.