Nevertheless, in defence of her theses, Miss Wilcox was rough-toughed in public, while in private, she studied recipes and articles on cooking. As hope gradually began to give way to experience, Miss Wilcox came to the conclusion that she frightened men off. They regarded her, she imagined, as cold and indifferent and unapproachable. “I don’t cheapen myself,” she would say, forgetting her conservatory days. In her heart of hearts, she imagined herself in humble surrender, laying her strong personality at the feet of a still stronger one and being gently lifted up on to a pedestal. It was curious, she thought, that her wonderful, unique gift of tenderness should go unperceived. But how is one to show that one is tender? It is so difficult for a maiden lady, living alone. She saw visions of a huge man with whimsical, smiling eyes, who after seeing her two or three times would call at her cottage. He would stand in the door and simply say, “Ellen,” and she would put her head on his shoulder and cry gently while he stroked her hair. “Does my loving you make you sad, little one?” he would say, and she would answer, “No, no, they are tears of happiness.”
Miss Wilcox thought it would be delightful to be called “little one.” And then, rather nervously and tremulously, she would murmur, “I am afraid I am not very beautiful,” and he would laugh a deep, joyous laugh and say, “To me, you are the most beautiful woman in the world.”
But it never happened. Even the chinless curate, whose voice without consonants gave the effect of an intoning bumble-bee, never took advantage of her suggestions (frequently repeated) that he should drop in to tea.
She tried to learn lawn-tennis and chess, but driving a ball into a net and studying problems in the Sunday papers becomes very monotonous. It was extraordinary how little provision life seemed to have made for superior people with fastidious tastes, whereas an empty head and a pretty face conquers the world! Miss Wilcox was very proud of the epigram, “empty heads and pretty faces.” She used it frequently, more in sorrow than in anger. Vera was an excellent example. She was incapable of “conducting a conversation,” she never read a book, but simply because her eyes sparkled and somehow or other, she always reminded you of a Shepperson drawing, she was invariably surrounded by a host of adorers. She was indifferent to the axioms, “boys will be boys” and “gentlemen are different.” In her philosophy, “girls would be boys” and the difference between the sexes was simply one of what you might and might not do.
“A positive savage,” Miss Wilcox would explain and then, “You should be more womanly, dear; men like a womanly woman.” And Vera’s eyes would sparkle maliciously, for men undoubtedly did like Vera.