'I would rather be an angel than God!'
The voice of the speaker sounded clearly through the hawthorn tree.
The young man and the young girl who sat together on the low
tombstone looked at each other. They had heard the voices of the two
children talking, but had not noticed what they said; it was the
sentiment, not the sound, which roused their attention.
The girl put her finger to her lips to impress silence, and the man
nodded; they sat as still as mice whilst the two children went on
The scene would have gladdened a painter's heart. An old churchyard.
The church low and square-towered, with long mullioned windows, the
yellow-grey stone roughened by age and tender-hued with lichens.
Round it clustered many tombstones tilted in all directions. Behind
the church a line of gnarled and twisted yews.
The churchyard was full of fine trees. On one side a magnificent
cedar; on the other a great copper beech. Here and there among the
tombs and headstones many beautiful blossoming trees rose from the
long green grass. The laburnum glowed in the June afternoon
sunlight; the lilac, the hawthorn and the clustering meadowsweet
which fringed the edge of the lazy stream mingled their heavy
sweetness in sleepy fragrance. The yellow-grey crumbling walls were
green in places with wrinkled harts-tongues, and were topped with
sweet-williams and spreading house-leek and stone-crop and wild-
flowers whose delicious sweetness made for the drowsy repose of
But amid all that mass of glowing colour the two young figures seated
on the grey old tomb stood out conspicuously. The man was in
conventional hunting-dress: red coat, white stock, black hat, white
breeches, and top-boots. The girl was one of the richest, most
glowing, and yet withal daintiest figures the eye of man could linger
on. She was in riding-habit of hunting scarlet cloth; her black hat
was tipped forward by piled-up masses red-golden hair. Round her
neck was a white lawn scarf in the fashion of a man's hunting-stock,
close fitting, and sinking into a gold-buttoned waistcoat of snowy
twill. As she sat with the long skirt across her left arm her tiny
black top-boots appeared underneath. Her gauntleted gloves were of
white buckskin; her riding-whip was plaited of white leather, topped
with ivory and banded with gold.
Even in her fourteenth year Miss Stephen Norman gave promise of
striking beauty; beauty of a rarely composite character. In her the
various elements of her race seemed to have cropped out. The firm-
set jaw, with chin broader and more square than is usual in a woman,
and the wide fine forehead and aquiline nose marked the high descent
from Saxon through Norman. The glorious mass of red hair, of the
true flame colour, showed the blood of another ancient ancestor of
Northern race, and suited well with the voluptuous curves of the
full, crimson lips. The purple-black eyes, the raven eyebrows and
eyelashes, and the fine curve of the nostrils spoke of the Eastern
blood of the far-back wife of the Crusader. Already she was tall for
her age, with something of that lankiness which marks the early
development of a really fine figure. Long-legged, long-necked, as
straight as a lance, with head poised on the proud neck like a lily
on its stem.
Stephen Norman certainly gave promise of a splendid womanhood.
Pride, self-reliance and dominance were marked in every feature; in
her bearing and in her lightest movement.
Her companion, Harold An Wolf, was some five years her senior, and by
means of those five years and certain qualities had long stood in the
position of her mentor. He was more than six feet two in height,
deep-chested, broad-shouldered, lean-flanked, long-armed and big-
handed. He had that appearance strength, with well-poised neck and
forward set of the head, which marks the successful athlete.
The two sat quiet, listening. Through the quiet hum of afternoon
came the voices of the two children. Outside the lich-gate, under
the shade of the spreading cedar, the horses stamped occasionally as
the flies troubled them. The grooms were mounted; one held the
delicate-limbed white Arab, the other the great black horse.
'I would rather be an angel than God!'
The little girl who made the remark was an ideal specimen of the
village Sunday-school child. Blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked, thick-legged,
with her straight brown hair tied into a hard bunch with a much-
creased, cherry-coloured ribbon. A glance at the girl would have
satisfied the most sceptical as to her goodness. Without being in
any way smug she was radiant with self-satisfaction and well-doing.
A child of the people; an early riser; a help to her mother; a good
angel to her father; a little mother to her brothers and sisters;
cleanly in mind and body; self-reliant, full of faith, cheerful.
The other little girl was prettier, but of a more stubborn type; more
passionate, less organised, and infinitely more assertive. Black-
haired, black-eyed, swarthy, large-mouthed, snub-nosed; the very type
and essence of unrestrained, impulsive, emotional, sensual nature. A
seeing eye would have noted inevitable danger for the early years of
her womanhood. She seemed amazed by the self-abnegation implied by
her companion's statement; after a pause she replied:
'I wouldn't! I'd rather be up at the top of everything and give
orders to the angels if I chose. I can't think, Marjorie, why you'd
rather take orders than give them.'
'That's just it, Susan. I don't want to give orders; I'd rather obey
them. It must be very terrible to have to think of things so much,
that you want everything done your own way. And besides, I shouldn't
like to have to be just!'
'Why not?' the voice was truculent, though there was wistfulness in
'Oh Susan. Just fancy having to punish; for of course justice needs
punishing as well as praising. Now an angel has such a nice time,
helping people and comforting them, and bringing sunshine into dark
places. Putting down fresh dew every morning; making the flowers
grow, and bringing babies and taking care of them till their mothers
find them. Of course God is very good and very sweet and very
merciful, but oh, He must be very terrible.'
'All the same I would rather be God and able to do things!'
Then the children moved off out of earshot. The two seated on the
tombstone looked after them. The first to speak was the girl, who
'That's very sweet and good of Marjorie; but do you know, Harold, I
like Susie's idea better.'
'Which idea was that, Stephen?'
'Why, didn't you notice what she said: "I'd like to be God and be
able to do things"?'
'Yes,' he said after a moment's reflection. 'That's a fine idea in
the abstract; but I doubt of its happiness in the long-run.'
'Doubt of its happiness? Come now? what could there be better, after
all? Isn't it good enough to be God? What more do you want?'
The girl's tone was quizzical, but her great black eyes blazed with
some thought of sincerity which lay behind the fun. The young man
shook his head with a smile of kindly tolerance as he answered:
'It isn't that--surely you must know it. I'm ambitious enough,
goodness knows; but there are bounds to satisfy even me. But I'm not
sure that the good little thing isn't right. She seemed, somehow, to
hit a bigger truth than she knew: "fancy having to be just."'
'I don't see much difficulty in that. Anyone can be just!'
'Pardon me,' he answered, 'there is perhaps nothing so difficult in
the whole range of a man's work.' There was distinct defiance in the
girl's eyes as she asked:
'A man's work! Why a man's work? Isn't it a woman's work also?'
'Well, I suppose it ought to be, theoretically; practically it
'And why not, pray?' The mere suggestion of any disability of woman
as such aroused immediate antagonism. Her companion suppressed a
smile as he answered deliberately:
'Because, my dear Stephen, the Almighty has ordained that justice is
not a virtue women can practise. Mind, I do not say women are
unjust. Far from it, where there are no interests of those dear to
them they can be of a sincerity of justice that can make a man's
blood run cold. But justice in the abstract is not an ordinary
virtue: it has to be considerate as well as stern, and above all
interest of all kinds and of every one--' The girl interrupted
'I don't agree with you at all. You can't give an instance where
women are unjust. I don't mean of course individual instances, but
classes of cases where injustice is habitual.' The suppressed smile
cropped out now unconsciously round the man's lips in a way which was
intensely aggravating to the girl.
'I'll give you a few,' he said. 'Did you ever know a mother just to
a boy who beat her own boy at school?' The girl replied quietly:
'Ill-treatment and bullying are subjects for punishment, not
'Oh, I don't mean that kind of beating. I mean getting the prizes
their own boys contended for; getting above them in class; showing
superior powers in running or cricket or swimming, or in any of the
forms of effort in which boys vie with each other.' The girl
reflected, then she spoke:
'Well, you may be right. I don't altogether admit it, but I accept
it as not on my side. But this is only one case.'
'A pretty common one. Do you think that Sheriff of Galway, who in
default of a hangman hanged his son with his own hands, would have
done so if he had been a woman?' The girl answered at once:
'Frankly, no. I don't suppose the mother was ever born who would do
such a thing. But that is not a common case, is it? Have you any
other?' The young man paused before he spoke:
'There is another, but I don't think I can go into it fairly with
'Well, because after all you know, Stephen, you are only a girl and
you can't be expected to know.' The girl laughed:
'Well, if it's anything about women surely a girl, even of my tender
age, must know something more of it, or be able to guess at, than any
young man can. However, say what you think and I'll tell you frankly
if I agree--that is if a woman can be just, in such a matter.'
'Shortly the point is this: Can a woman be just to another woman, or
to a man for the matter of that, where either her own affection or a
fault of the other is concerned?'
'I don't see any reason to the contrary. Surely pride alone should
ensure justice in the former case, and the consciousness of
superiority in the other.' The young man shook his head:
'Pride and the consciousness of superiority! Are they not much the
same thing. But whether or no, if either of them has to be relied
on, I'm afraid the scales of Justice would want regulating, and her
sword should be blunted in case its edge should be turned back on
herself. I have an idea that although pride might be a guiding
principle with you individually, it would be a failure with the
average. However, as it would be in any case a rule subject to many
exceptions I must let it go.'
Harold looked at his watch and rose. Stephen followed him;
transferring her whip into the hand which held up the skirt, she took
his arm with her right hand in the pretty way in which a young girl
clings to her elders. Together they went out at the lich-gate. The
groom drew over with the horses. Stephen patted hers and gave her a
lump of sugar. Then putting her foot into Harold's ready hand she
sprang lightly into the saddle. Harold swung himself into his saddle
with the dexterity of an accomplished rider.
As the two rode up the road, keeping on the shady side under the
trees, Stephen said quietly, half to herself, as if the sentence had
impressed itself on her mind:
'To be God and able to do things!'
Harold rode on in silence. The chill of some vague fear was upon