“Women are always getting ill more or less. Their natural place in the scheme of things makes them weaker. In the beginning of things they were in a dangerous world; as the vehicle of the new life it was not well that they should take their place amidst the same dangers as the men. Otherwise the race might have died out. So they were adapted by nature to a softer life. Their brains are smaller, their nerves more sensitive. If they’d been made as strong as men, physically, nothing would have kept them from fighting and exploring and getting killed.”
“But—but—how awful! And you mean I’ll have headaches and things always because I’m a woman?”
“Because you’re a woman and, to quote your Professor, biologically important. Important to the race, that is—not intrinsically important. To keep you out of dangers and hardships—and mischief,” he said, chuckling as he watched her indignant face.
“Well, then I won’t be a woman! Coddled! I never heard anything so disgusting! Doctor, I’m going to be a Siegfried, a John the Baptist! I’m going to be a man!”
The doctor laughed loudly and told her to wait awhile, when she would laugh at this Marcella who was so eager, so impatient now.
That conversation marked an epoch for Marcella. To use the doctor’s phrase, it made her shake hands with her body. His medicine cured the neuralgia, though it would probably have cured itself now that the strain of her father’s illness was over. But the headaches persisted right on until the springtime, bringing gusts of impatience and strange demands and urgencies that made her begin to get tired of the farm and Lashnagar and set her feet longing to be away on strange roads.
One sunny dawn she came down to the beach and, throwing off her clothes, ran across the strip of shingle, and then, with rapture in the softness of the air after the sharp bite of winter and spring mornings, she flew as if on wings over the yellow sand and into the water that was sliding in gently, almost motionlessly. She danced in the little lazy waves. They seemed playmates to-day, though usually they fought and buffeted her; she had her usual swim out to the islet where the fishermen kept their nets and it seemed very splendid just to be alive. Then she swam back to the shore where her clothes lay in a little heap, and it occurred to her that she had brought no towel.
“I’ll have to dry like washing does—in the sun,” she laughed, wringing her hair in her hand as she stood in a motionless little rock pool. The drops sparkled round her and, looking down at their little splashes, she caught sight of her reflection in the pool as she stooped forward to shake her hair. For a moment she stared, as Narcissus once stared. But unlike Narcissus she did not fall in love with herself. From the reflection she let her eyes travel over her body, and noticed that curves and roundnesses were taking the place of boyish slimness.