Once a female, always a female. Nature is not infallible,
but she always abides by her mistakes.
(Reginald in Russia)
THE SEX THAT DOESN'T SHOP
The opening of a large new centre for West End shopping,
particularly feminine shopping, suggests the reflection, Do women
ever really shop? Of course, it is a well-attested fact that they
go forth shopping as assiduously as a bee goes flower-visiting, but
do they shop in the practical sense of the word? Granted the money,
time, and energy, a resolute course of shopping transactions would
naturally result in having one's ordinary domestic needs unfailingly
supplied, whereas it is notorious that women servants (and
housewives of all classes) make it almost a point of honour not to
be supplied with everyday necessities. "We shall be out of starch
by Thursday," they say with fatalistic foreboding, and by Thursday
they are out of starch. They have predicted almost to a minute the
moment when their supply would give out and if Thursday happens to
be early closing day their triumph is complete. A shop where starch
is stored for retail purposes possibly stands at their very door,
but the feminine mind has rejected such an obvious source for
replenishing a dwindling stock. "We don't deal there" places it at
once beyond the pale of human resort. And it is noteworthy that,
just as a sheep-worrying dog seldom molests the flocks in his near
neighbourhood, so a woman rarely deals with shops in her immediate
vicinity. The more remote the source of supply the more fixed seems
to be the resolve to run short of the commodity. The Ark had
probably not quitted its last moorings five minutes before some
feminine voice gloatingly recorded a shortage of bird-seed. A few
days ago two lady acquaintances of mine were confessing to some
mental uneasiness because a friend had called just before lunch-
time, and they had been unable to ask her to stop and share their
meal, as (with a touch of legitimate pride) "there was nothing in
the house." I pointed out that they lived in a street that bristled
with provision shops and that it would have been easy to mobilise a
very passable luncheon in less than five minutes. "That," they said
with quiet dignity, "would not have occurred to us," and I felt that
I had suggested something bordering on the indecent.
But it is in catering for her literary wants that a woman's shopping
capacity breaks down most completely. If you have perchance
produced a book which has met with some little measure of success,
you are certain to get a letter from some lady whom you scarcely
known to bow to, asking you "how it can be got." She knows the name
of the book, its author, and who published it, but how to get into
actual contact with it is still an unsolved problem to her. You
write back pointing out that to have recourse to an ironmonger or a
corn-dealer will only entail delay and disappointment, and suggest
an application to a bookseller as the most hopeful thing you can
think of. In a day or two she writes again: "It is all right; I
have borrowed it from your aunt." Here, of course, we have an
example of the Beyond-Shopper, one who has learned the Better Way,
but the helplessness exists even when such bypaths of relief are
closed. A lady who lives in the West End was expressing to me the
other day her interest in West Highland terriers, and her desire to
know more about the breed, so when, a few days later, I came across
an exhaustive article on that subject in the current number of one
of our best known outdoor-life weeklies, I mentioned that
circumstance in a letter, giving the date of that number. "I cannot
get the paper," was her telephoned response. And she couldn't. She
lived in a city where newsagents are numbered, I suppose, by the
thousand, and she must have passed dozens of such shops in her daily
shopping excursions, but as far as she was concerned that article on
West Highland terriers might as well have been written in a missal
stored away in some Buddhist monastery in Eastern Thibet.
The brutal directness of the masculine shopper arouses a certain
combative derision in the feminine onlooker. A cat that spreads one
shrew-mouse over the greater part of a long summer afternoon, and
then possibly loses him, doubtless feels the same contempt for the
terrier who compresses his rat into ten seconds of the strenuous
life. I was finishing off a short list of purchases a few
afternoons ago when I was discovered by a lady of my acquaintance
whom, swerving aside from the lead given us by her godparents thirty
years ago, we will call Agatha.
"You're surely not buying blotting-paper HERE?" she exclaimed in an
agitated whisper, and she seemed so genuinely concerned that I
stayed my hand.
"Let me take you to Winks and Pinks," she said as soon as we were
out of the building: "they've got such lovely shades of blotting-
paper--pearl and heliotrope and momie and crushed--"
"But I want ordinary white blotting-paper," I said.
"Never mind. They know me at Winks and Pinks," she replied
inconsequently. Agatha apparently has an idea that blotting-paper
is only sold in small quantities to persons of known reputation, who
may be trusted not to put it to dangerous or improper uses. After
walking some two hundred yards she began to feel that her tea was of
more immediate importance than my blotting-paper.
"What do you want blotting-paper for?" she asked suddenly. I
"I use it to dry up the ink of wet manuscript without smudging the
writing. Probably a Chinese invention of the second century before
Christ, but I'm not sure. The only other use for it that I can
think of is to roll it into a ball for a kitten to play with."
"But you haven't got a kitten," said Agatha, with a feminine desire
for stating the entire truth on most occasions.
"A stray one might come in at any moment," I replied.
Anyway, I didn't get the blotting-paper.
Reginald in Russia and Other Sketches, 1910
"Whether one sympathises with the agitation for female suffrage or
not one has to admit that its promoters showed tireless energy and
considerable enterprise in devising and putting into action new
methods for accomplishing their ends. As a rule they were a
nuisance and a weariness to the flesh, but there were times when
they verged on the picturesque. There was the famous occasion when
they enlivened and diversified the customary pageantry of the Royal
progress to open Parliament by letting loose thousands of parrots,
which had been carefully trained to scream 'Votes for women,' and
which circled round his Majesty's coach in a clamorous cloud of
green, and grey and scarlet. It was really rather a striking
episode from the spectacular point of view; unfortunately, however,
for its devisers, the secret of their intentions had not been well
kept, and their opponents let loose at the same moment a rival swarm
of parrots, which screeched 'I DON'T think' and other hostile cries,
thereby robbing the demonstration of the unanimity which alone could
have made it politically impressive. In the process of recapture
the birds learned a quantity of additional language which unfitted
them for further service in the Suffragette cause; some of the green
ones were secured by ardent Home Rule propagandists and trained to
disturb the serenity of Orange meetings by pessimistic reflections
on Sir Edward Carson's destination in the life to come. In fact,
the bird in politics is a factor that seems to have come to stay;
quite recently, at a political gathering held in a dimly-lighted
place of worship, the congregation gave a respectful hearing for
nearly ten minutes to a jackdaw from Wapping, under the impression
that they were listening to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was
late in arriving."
"But the Suffragettes," interrupted the nephew; "what did they do
"After the bird fiasco," said Sir Lulworth, "the militant section
made a demonstration of a more aggressive nature; they assembled in
force on the opening day of the Royal Academy Exhibition and
destroyed some three or four hundred of the pictures. This proved
an even worse failure than the parrot business; every one agreed
that there was always far too many pictures in the Academy
Exhibition, and the drastic weeding out of a few hundred canvases
was regarded as a positive improvement. Moreover, from the artists'
point of view it was realised that the outrage constituted a sort of
compensation for those whose works were persistently 'skied', since
out of sight meant also out of reach. Altogether it was one of the
most successful and popular exhibitions that the Academy had held
for many years. Then the fair agitators fell back on some of their
earlier methods; they wrote sweetly argumentative plays to prove
that they ought to have the vote, they smashed windows to show that
they must have the vote, and they kicked Cabinet Ministers to
demonstrate that they'd better have the vote, and still the coldly
reasoned or unreasoned reply was that they'd better not. Their
plight might have been summed up in a perversion of Gilbert's lines
"Twenty voteless millions we,
Voteless all against our will,
Twenty years hence we shall be
Twenty voteless millions still."
And of course the great idea for their master-stroke of strategy
came from a masculine source. Lena Dubarri, who was the captain-
general of their thinking department, met Waldo Orpington in the
Mall one afternoon, just at a time when the fortunes of the Cause
were at their lowest ebb. Waldo Orpington is a frivolous little
fool who chirrups at drawing-room concerts and can recognise bits
from different composers without referring to the programme, but all
the same he occasionally has ideas. He didn't care a twopenny
fiddlestring about the Cause, but he rather enjoyed the idea of
having his finger in the political pie. Also it is possible, though
I should think highly improbable, that he admired Lena Dubarri.
Anyhow, when Lena gave a rather gloomy account of the existing state
of things in the Suffragette World, Waldo was not merely sympathetic
but ready with a practical suggestion. Turning his gaze westward
along the Mall, towards the setting sun and Buckingham Palace, he
was silent for a moment, and then said significantly, 'You have
expended your energies and enterprise on labours of destruction; why
has it never occurred to you to attempt something far more
"'What do you mean?' she asked him eagerly.
"'Do you mean create disturbances? We've been doing nothing else
for months,' she said.
"Waldo shook his head, and continued to look westward along the
Mall. He's rather good at acting in an amateur sort of fashion.
Lena followed his gaze, and then turned to him with a puzzled look
"'Exactly,' said Waldo, in answer to her look.
"'But--how can we create?' she asked; 'it's been done already.'
"'Do it AGAIN,' said Waldo, 'and again and again--'
"Before he could finish the sentence she had kissed him. She
declared afterwards that he was the first man she had ever kissed,
and he declared that she was the first woman who had ever kissed him
in the Mall, so they both secured a record of a kind.
"Within the next day or two a new departure was noticeable in
Suffragette tactics. They gave up worrying Ministers and Parliament
and took to worrying their own sympathisers and supporters--for
funds. The ballot-box was temporarily forgotten in the cult of the
collecting-box. The daughters of the horseleech were not more
persistent in their demands, the financiers of the tottering ancien
regime were not more desperate in their expedients for raising money
than the Suffragist workers of all sections at this juncture, and in
one way and another, by fair means and normal, they really got
together a very useful sum. What they were going to do with it no
one seemed to know, not even those who were most active in
collecting work. The secret on this occasion had been well kept.
Certain transactions that leaked out from time to time only added to
the mystery of the situation.
"'Don't you long to know what we are going to do with our treasure
hoard?' Lena asked the Prime Minister one day when she happened to
sit next to him at a whist drive at the Chinese Embassy.
"'I was hoping you were going to try a little personal bribery,' he
responded banteringly, but some genuine anxiety and curiosity lay
behind the lightness of his chaff; 'of course I know,' he added,
'that you have been buying up building sites in commanding
situations in and around the Metropolis. Two or three, I'm told,
are on the road to Brighton, and another near Ascot. You don't mean
to fortify them, do you?'
"'Something more insidious than that,' she said; 'you could prevent
us from building forts; you can't prevent us from erecting an exact
replica of the Victoria Memorial on each of those sites. They're
all private property, with no building restrictions attached.'
"'Which memorial?' he asked; 'not the one in front of Buckingham
Palace? Surely not that one?'
"'That one,' she said.
"'My dear lady,' he cried, 'you can't be serious. It is a beautiful
and imposing work of art--at any rate one is getting accustomed to
it, and even if one doesn't happen to admire it one can always look
in another direction. But imagine what life would be like if one
saw that erection confronting one wherever one went. Imagine the
effect on people with tired, harassed nerves who saw it three times
on the way to Brighton and three times on the way back. Imagine
seeing it dominate the landscape at Ascot, and trying to keep your
eye off it on the Sandwich golf links. What have your countrymen
done to deserve such a thing?'
"'They have refused us the vote,' said Lena bitterly.
"The Prime Minister always declared himself an opponent of anything
savouring of panic legislation, but he brought a Bill into
Parliament forthwith and successfully appealed to both Houses to
pass it through all its stages within the week. And that is how we
got one of the most glorious measures of the century."
"A measure conferring the vote on women?" asked the nephew.
"Oh dear, no. An Act which made it a penal offence to erect
commemorative statuary anywhere within three miles of a public
The Toys of Peace, 1919
James Cushat-Prinkly was a young man who had always had a settled
conviction that one of these days he would marry; up to the age of
thirty-four he had done nothing to justify that conviction. He
liked and admired a great many women collectively and
dispassionately without singling out one for especial matrimonial
consideration, just as one might admire the Alps without feeling
that one wanted any particular peak as one's own private property.
His lack of initiative in this matter aroused a certain amount of
impatience among the sentimentally-minded women-folk of his home
circle; his mother, his sisters, an aunt-in-residence, and two or
three intimate matronly friends regarded his dilatory approach to
the married state with a disapproval that was far from being
inarticulate. His most innocent flirtations were watched with the
straining eagerness which a group of unexercised terriers
concentrates on the slightest movements of a human being who may be
reasonably considered likely to take them for a walk. No decent-
souled mortal can long resist the pleading of several pairs of walk-
beseeching dog-eyes; James Cushat-Prinkly was not sufficiently
obstinate or indifferent to home influences to disregard the
obviously expressed wish of his family that he should become
enamoured of some nice marriageable girl, and when his Uncle Jules
departed this life and bequeathed him a comfortable little legacy it
really seemed the correct thing to do to set about discovering some
one to share it with him. The process of discovery was carried on
more by the force of suggestion and the weight of public opinion
than by any initiative of his own; a clear working majority of his
female relatives and the aforesaid matronly friends had pitched on
Joan Sebastable as the most suitable young woman in his range of
acquaintance to whom he might propose marriage, and James became
gradually accustomed to the idea that he and Joan would go together
through the prescribed stages of congratulations, present-receiving,
Norwegian or Mediterranean hotels, and eventual domesticity. It was
necessary, however to ask the lady what she thought about the
matter; the family had so far conducted and directed the flirtation
with ability and discretion, but the actual proposal would have to
be an individual effort.
Cushat-Prinkly walked across the Park towards the Sebastable
residence in a frame of mind that was moderately complacent. As the
thing was going to be done he was glad to feel that he was going to
get it settled and off his mind that afternoon. Proposing marriage,
even to a nice girl like Joan, was a rather irksome business, but
one could not have a honeymoon in Minorca and a subsequent life of
married happiness without such preliminary. He wondered what
Minorca was really like as a place to stop in; in his mind's eye it
was an island in perpetual half-mourning, with black or white
Minorca hens running all over it. Probably it would not be a bit
like that when one came to examine it. People who had been in
Russia had told him that they did not remember having seen any
Muscovy ducks there, so it was possible that there would be no
Minorca fowls on the island.
His Mediterranean musings were interrupted by the sound of a clock
striking the half-hour. Half-past four. A frown of dissatisfaction
settled on his face. He would arrive at the Sebastable mansion just
at the hour of afternoon tea. Joan would be seated at a low table,
spread with an array of silver kettles and cream-jugs and delicate
porcelain tea-cups, behind which her voice would tinkle pleasantly
in a series of little friendly questions about weak or strong tea,
how much, if any, sugar, milk, cream, and so forth. "Is it one
lump? I forgot. You do take milk, don't you? Would you like some
more hot water, if it's too strong?"
Cushat-Prinkly had read of such things in scores of novels, and
hundreds of actual experiences had told him that they were true to
life. Thousands of women, at this solemn afternoon hour, were
sitting behind dainty porcelain and silver fittings, with their
voices tinkling pleasantly in a cascade of solicitous little
questions. Cushat-Prinkly detested the whole system of afternoon
tea. According to his theory of life a woman should lie on a divan
or couch, talking with incomparable charm or looking unutterable
thoughts, or merely silent as a thing to be looked on, and from
behind a silken curtain a small Nubian page should silently bring in
a tray with cups and dainties, to be accepted silently, as a matter
of course, without drawn-out chatter about cream and sugar and hot
water. If one's soul was really enslaved at one's mistress's feet
how could one talk coherently about weakened tea? Cushat-Prinkly
had never expounded his views on the subject to his mother; all her
life she had been accustomed to tinkle pleasantly at tea-time behind
dainty porcelain and silver, and if he had spoken to her about
divans and Nubian pages she would have urged him to take a week's
holiday at the seaside. Now, as he passed through a tangle of small
streets that led indirectly to the elegant Mayfair terrace for which
he was bound, a horror at the idea of confronting Joan Sebastable at
her tea-table seized on him. A momentary deliverance presented
itself; on one floor of a narrow little house at the noisier end of
Esquimault Street lived Rhoda Ellam, a sort of remote cousin, who
made a living by creating hats out of costly materials. The hats
really looked as if they had come from Paris; the cheques she got
for them unfortunately never looked as if they were going to Paris.
However, Rhoda appeared to find life amusing and to have a fairly
good time in spite of her straitened circumstances. Cushat-Prinkly
decided to climb up to her floor and defer by half-an-hour or so the
important business which lay before him; by spinning out his visit
he could contrive to reach the Sebastable mansion after the last
vestiges of dainty porcelain had been cleared away.
Rhoda welcomed him into a room that seemed to do duty as workshop,
sitting-room, and kitchen combined, and to be wonderfully clean and
comfortable at the same time.
"I'm having a picnic meal," she announced. "There's caviare in that
jar at your elbow. Begin on that brown bread-and-butter while I cut
some more. Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell
me about hundreds of things."
She made no other allusion to food, but talked amusingly and made
her visitor talk amusingly too. At the same time she cut the bread-
and-butter with a masterly skill and produced red pepper and sliced
lemon, where so many women would merely have produced reasons and
regrets for not having any. Cushat-Prinkly found that he was
enjoying an excellent tea without having to answer as many questions
about it as a Minister for Agriculture might be called on to reply
to during an outbreak of cattle plague.
"And now tell me why you have come to see me," said Rhoda suddenly.
"You arouse not merely my curiosity but my business instincts. I
hope you've come about hats. I heard that you had come into a
legacy the other day, and, of course, it struck me that it would be
a beautiful and desirable thing for you to celebrate the event by
buying brilliantly expensive hats for all your sisters. They may
not have said anything about it, but I feel sure the same idea has
occurred to them. Of course, with Goodwood on us, I am rather
rushed just now, but in my business we're accustomed to that; we
live in a series of rushes--like the infant Moses."
"I didn't come about hats," said her visitor. "In fact, I don't
think I really came about anything. I was passing and I just
thought I'd look in and see you. Since I've been sitting talking to
you, however, rather important idea has occurred to me. If you'll
forget Goodwood for a moment and listen to me, I'll tell you what it
Some forty minutes later James Cushat-Prinkly returned to the bosom
of his family, bearing an important piece of news.
"I'm engaged to be married," he announced.
A rapturous outbreak of congratulation and self-applause broke out.
"Ah, we knew! We saw it coming! We foretold it weeks ago!"
"I'll bet you didn't," said Cushat-Prinkly. "If any one had told me
at lunch-time to-day that I was going to ask Rhoda Ellam to marry me
and that she was going to accept me I would have laughed at the
The romantic suddenness of the affair in some measure compensated
James's women-folk for the ruthless negation of all their patient
effort and skilled diplomacy. It was rather trying to have to
deflect their enthusiasm at a moment's notice from Joan Sebastable
to Rhoda Ellam; but, after all, it was James's wife who was in
question, and his tastes had some claim to be considered.
On a September afternoon of the same year, after the honeymoon in
Minorca had ended, Cushat-Prinkly came into the drawing-room of his
new house in Granchester Square. Rhoda was seated at a low table,
behind a service of dainty porcelain and gleaming silver. There was
a pleasant tinkling note in her voice as she handed him a cup.
"You like it weaker than that, don't you? Shall I put some more hot
water to it? No?"
The Toys of Peace, 1919