So much for my intellectual inner life. My emotional inner life is less easy to indicate. I became a woman at fifteen—years, interminable years, before I left school. I guessed even then, vaguely, that my nature was extremely emotional and passionate. And I had nothing literary on which to feed my dreams, save a few novels which I despised, and the Bible and the plays and poems of Shakespeare. It is wonderful, though, what good I managed to find in those two use-worn volumes. I knew most of the Song of Solomon by heart, and many of the sonnets; and I will not mince the fact that my favourite play was Measure for Measure. I was an innocent virgin, in the restricted sense in which most girls of my class and age are innocent, but I obtained from these works many a lofty pang of thrilling pleasure. They illustrated Chopin for me, giving precision and particularity to his messages. And I was ashamed of myself. Yes; at the bottom of my heart I was ashamed of myself because my sensuous being responded to the call of these masterpieces. In my ignorance I thought I was lapsing from a sane and proper ideal. And then—the second miracle in my career, which has been full of miracles—I came across a casual reference, in the Staffordshire Recorder, of all places, to the Mademoiselle de Maupin of Theophile Gautier. Something in the reference, I no longer remember what, caused me to guess that the book was a revelation of matters hidden from me. I bought it. With the assistance of a dictionary, I read it, nightly, in about a week. Except Picciola, it was the first French novel I had ever read. It held me throughout; it revealed something on nearly every page. But the climax dazzled and blinded me. It was exquisite, so high and pure, so startling, so bold, that it made me ill. When I recovered I had fast in my heart’s keeping the new truth that in the body, and the instincts of the body, there should be no shame, but rather a frank, joyous pride. From that moment I ceased to be ashamed of anything that I honestly liked. But I dared not keep the book. The knowledge of its contents would have killed my aunt. I read it again; I read the last pages several times, and then I burnt it and breathed freely.
Such was I, as I forced my will on my aunt in the affair of the concert. And I say that she who had never suspected the existence of the real me, suspected it then, when we glanced at each other across the breakfast-room. Upon these apparent trifles life swings, as upon a pivot, into new directions.
I sat with my aunt while Lucy went with the note. She returned soon with the reply, and the reply was:
’So sorry I can’t accept your kind invitation. I should have liked to go awfully. But Fred has got the toothache, and I must not leave him.’
The toothache! And my very life, so it seemed to me, hung in the balance.
I did not hesitate one second.