|Chapter XIV||Contents etc.||Chapter XVI|
AN AFTERNOON CALL
"AGATHA," said Laura, "here's Mr. Forest come to have a scientific talk with you." Agatha smiled with anticipation, but Forest looked at her with grave preoccupation as he pressed her hand. It had not been with the intention of talking science that he had entered Cartwright's house, but plainly such was the occupation immediately in front of him.
His feelings had recovered from the shock Laura had administered. It must not be supposed that he was of a fickle or variable nature. He had, as was natural to him, expressed frankly the feelings which any lover would have had if the dear object of his devotion had spoken in as intellectual a manner as Laura had on a memorable occasion. He had since then approached Laura wonderingly and cautiously, and, finding that the phenomenon was not repeated, his old admiration re-asserted itself.
"What is it?" asked Agatha. "You look so deep."
"It's so wonderful," he answered.
"Ah," she breathed.
Now, it was easy enough to talk science to Agatha. The vastness of the subject and Agatha's receptive disposition gave him ample choice of interesting topics. Moreover, a besieging force often finds cover for their approaches by the very works erected by the defenders against them, and in this light he critically examined the situation.
After a pause befitting the dignity of the announcement, "Science," he observed, "has made a new conquest."
"What is it?"
"The Phenomena of Society."
"Oh, no, Mr. Forest; those depend on what people want to do. Science is about the laws of Nature."
"Nevertheless, a way of making an exact science of our social existence has been found. Its statistics—just so many elopements, just so many marriages every year—each one is prompted by human motives apparently, but the sum total is invariable, an inexorable law reigns."
"Is that really so?"
"Yes. You may think you are refraining from getting married for a reason of your own, but that's only your fancy; the true reason is that it is necessary for the average to come right. There's one exception though. I took up the science of statistics some time ago, and have made tables of data and have really found out an extremely curious thing. The number of marriages in this city has been the same year after year, month after month; but last March it went up 3,000 over the average. Now, would you not say that there must be some cause for that?"
"Certainly," said Agatha, and Forest was glad to see that Laura was listening too.
"Well, such an unusual circumstance attracted my attention, and I set about to enquire. I did it in the most delicate way. I identified those couples whose ages of marriage in the said month of March were some-what unusual, those who seemed to have left it rather late you know, and sent out agents of the statistical society—decent men, who, in the most tactful way, explained that their interest was purely scientific and put the necessary questions."
"Did they tell?"
"Yes," said Forest. "When convinced that it was purely scientific inquiry they told, and I discovered a really singular thing."
"What was it?"
"I traced it out that all those marriages came from one single cause. About 15 years ago a young man whose name I must withhold—call him Charles—fell in love with a Miss Smith, let us say. They were both very attractive people, and a girl was secretly in love with Charles, while Miss Smith had some openly declared suitors. Now, obstacles came in the way of Charles's and Miss Smith's love. Their course in life separated. Neither of them married. Why? Because neither of them felt able to take the decisive step of getting married while the other was still single. Similarly, the girl that loved Charles in secret would not get married as long as he was single. And the suitors of Miss Smith could not prevail upon themselves to enter the bonds of matrimony as long as she was possibly theirs. And each of these young people 15 years ago, each of them was attractive and lovable, and inspired tender feelings in the members of a second circle, none of whom could find it in them to get married until the girl who loved Charles—or the suitors, one or another, of Miss Smith—married. And so it went on in ever increasing ramifications. There was no reason at all for all these people's not getting married except that someone else was not married. Now this went on for 15 years, till in March of this year the original Miss Smith got married—not to Charles, to someone else. Then Charles married, and there was a rush to the registry offices and the license department, they just fell over one another like nine-pins in a row, getting married. And now, whenever I look at the returns of my province, see the lists of unmarried males and spinster women, I feel a deep sense of pathos. To think of all those fruitless lives just because some original pair lost one another, and couldn't get over it!"
"How wonderful," said Agatha. "It shows how everything is linked together by cause and effect."
"Yes," said Forest, "it shows the advantage of studying everything by statistics."
"I really must write that down in my commonplace book," said Agatha, rising.
"Don't forget the numbers," said Forest. "You'd better put them down at once. Three thousand marriages above the average between March and May." Agatha went to record the information.
"Edward," said Laura, "how can you tell Agatha such things?"
"Oh, I exaggerate a bit, Laura, but it is essentially true. I want to speak to you frankly, since you have heard—do you realise what you are doing? Miss Cartwright and General Wall at one time were attracted to each other, but an irreconcilability of temperament showed itself. Neither marries because the other doesn't, and a whole host of unfortunates are prevented from happiness. No doubt the General has his admirers; you have many who will never marry while you are single."
"That isn't true, Edward."
"Professor Flower, for instance—he has been heard to say that to guide your mind would be the most inspiring task a scientist could have, and there are others, not to mention myself. And each of us have our sad consequences, blighted hopes; others stand on the verge; now, for instance, Agatha will never marry till I do."
"That's quite too much, Edward. I never knew you were conceited before. Agatha isn't in love with you."
"No, she is in love with Brand, and Brand has decided to marry her when he has completed her scientific education. Now I am always telling Agatha some of my scientific notions and she tells them to Brand as if they were her own, and so—well, he admires her too much to show he isn't pleased, but he decides that he has to begin everything over again."
"Edward, how can you? You must leave off that mischief at once."
"And have you the slightest right to dictate my conduct to me? No, Laura, if you married me it would all come right. Just marry me for sociological reasons."
There was a kind of break in his voice which betrayed the intensity hidden behind his fooling, and made it very difficult for Laura to reply.
"Edward, you are very nice and good, but I couldn't marry you. It's simply impossible."
"Try being engaged, then, Laura," he said. " It will accustom you to me, and you will see whether it is impossible after all," and he bent forward and kissed her.
"Oh, no, Edward," she said, "it's impossible. Don't ask me."
He had recognised that he had been too precipitate; but he excused himself, for he really couldn't help it, and leaving, felt not so dissatisfied after all. He had gained a step in getting her to look at the situation rationally.
|Chapter XIV||Contents etc.||Chapter XVI|