Date of publication
Hutchinson & Co
To supplement the offering of a very early and unfinished effort, of which the dedication ran: "To My Maternal Parent".
‘Novel Notes: Tension’. The Bookman, July 1920, p. 153; ‘Fyfe, Hamilton. ‘Books and Their Writers: The Portrait of a “Cat”’. Daily Mail, 23 July 1920, p. 3.
At the Commercial and Technical College for South-West England in Culmouth (probably Plymouth), a new Lady Superintendent has been appointed. Sir Julian Rossiter is a Director of the College; his wife Edna directs her charitable impulses to providing hospitality and entertainment to the staff, inviting them to spend Sundays at their house Culmhayes. The new Superintendent is the admirably qualified Pauline Marchrose, who, Edna strongly suspects, was the young woman who broke the heart of her cousin Clarence Isbister. Clarence had been engaged to a Miss Marchrose, and then injured while hunting. Since it looked likely that he would be paralysed, he offered to release his fiancée from their engagement. She accepted, and he suffered a breakdown, but subsequently recovered in mind and body, and made a successful marriage to another girl. The Rossiters have an intimate relationship with their agent, Mark Easter, who also has a senior role at the College. Mark's wife is interned in a home for inebriates, and he is bringing up his children Ruthie and Ambrose in a house on the Culmhayes estate. He gets occasional help from his sister Iris who, at the beginning of the novel, has just published a book: Why, Ben! A Story of the Sexes. Miss Marchrose is a success during her first weeks at the College, taking on a great deal of work and helping Mark with typing when the estate clerk leaves. She rebuffs Edna's overtures of friendship, but gets on well with Julian and the staff of the College. She confides in Julian about her life and upbringing, her efforts to manage as a working woman in London. Iris Easter comes to stay with Mark, bringing a young man with her, Douglas Garrett, who counts himself as modern and affects a Scottish accent and ancestry. At a tea party attended by Mark, Miss Marchrose, Iris, Douglas and the Rossiters, Miss Marchrose sings, and the warmth with which Mark regards her is evident. Iris too begins to think of her as a friend. When Iris becomes engaged to Douglas, she starts to foster Mark and Miss Marchrose's interest in each other. Edna continues to suspect her and Mark's evident attraction disturbs her. She eventually obtains evidence that Miss Marchrose is the same woman who was once engaged to Clarence. Having confirmed this, she visits the College, makes an unwelcome visit to a classroom in which Miss Marchrose is teaching, and tells her of the position regarding Mark's wife. A discussion about how a present from the College staff should be given to Iris recalls the story of her own marriage to Sir Julian. She was twenty-nine and despairing of ever marrying when they met on a sea-voyage; he offered her marriage as a way out of her situation and for mutual companionship rather than out of love. Discussing Miss Marchrose with Iris, she relates the story of Clarence. Iris takes this up with her. Miss Marchrose confides again in Sir Julian her own version of that story, explaining that she had known before the accident that she did not love Clarence, but had felt obliged to marry the only man to show an interest in her; she also longed for an escape from her working life. Knowing that there was no solid emotional basis for their continued relationship, and that she was not patient enough to nurse a man who she did not love, she agreed when he offered to release her. Sir Julian admires the strength with which she has handled this situation, and her self-knowledge, but concludes that she is an incurable romanticist who could not accept a marriage essentially of convenience. Iris's marriage approaches, but she too chooses Sir Julian as a confidant, confessing that she tried to promote a relationship along Free Love lines between Mark and Miss Marchrose. Sir Julian advises her not to speak of this to anyone. Lady Rossiter visits the College to speak to Mr Fuller, the Supervisor, of her concerns regarding Miss Marchrose's character. He dismisses her rudely, but she manages to suggest to the Chair of the Board of Directors, Alderman Bellew, that Miss Marchrose's behaviour is causing talk and difficulty at the College; he considers that she should be let go if this is the case. Edna also manages to plant suspicion in the mind of Miss Farmer, a teacher at the College, that something is amiss between Mark and the Lady Superintendent. Iris and Douglas marry, their wedding enlivened by Douglas's father who proves to be a stationer from Swindon and not remotely Scottish. After the wedding, the situation at the College deteriorates. Edna's hints have led to talk among the staff, and Miss Marchrose looks ever more miserable. At a Board meeting, Mr Fuller furiously resists attempts to get her to resign; Edna's suggestion that her hard work sets a bad example to the others, who may not wish to work such long hours, is not well received. The College is asked by a similar venture in Gloucester to send a member of staff for a few days to help with its establishment, and Mark goes, troubled by the College atmosphere. Miss Marchrose tenders her resignation to Fuller, who refuses it, and then to Sir Julian, Later he meets her half by chance on the beach, where they have talked before. She confides in him for the last time that she has loved Mark and would be willing to risk her respectability for him; that she had hoped the crisis over her resignation would provoke him to act, but that he has been too afraid to do so. Sir Julian leaves her, but on the way back encounters Fuller, who is also looking for Miss Marchrose. Returning to the College to discuss the situation with Fuller the next day, he discovers that he has proposed marriage to Miss Marchrose. A few weeks later, Sir Julian writes to Miss Marchrose to confirm that he believes her engagement to Fuller to be wise, and suggests that they may work together to set up a branch of the College in the colonies. He commends her self-knowledge and courage in a letter composed against the background of Edna's monologue about love, giving out, and how everything is part of a Divine Plan.
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