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I Doubt That We Shall Meet Again

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"Oh, you still pursue your feminist activities?" he said.
"Oh yes" Catherine responded, hoping the brevity of her reply would indicate that the topic was closed.
"Pity. It's a lost cause."
"Oh, do you really think so, Sir Robert? How little you know about women. Good-bye. I doubt that we shall meet again." Catherine said, her voice as flat as she could make it, masking her triumph at having won the exchange.
"Oh do you really think so, Miss Winslow? How little you know about men" he said, his voice reverberating with a low, masculine sound of amusement.

***

Catherine Winslow might have locked the garden gate with a bit more force than necessary, slamming the bolt home with an audible thump (she hoped he heard it), even as she fought her smile.

Her Father took the government settlement, and arranged for a short trip to Margate. They let a small vacation house where Catherine took long walks near the sea with her Mother, read in the parlor with her Father and attempted to play cricket with Ronnie and his new local friends. She reread "A Vindication of the Rights of Women", and thought of Robert Morton not at all.

One day, when she was reading "The Daily Telegraph" at breakfast, her father asked quietly "Do you miss it, my dear?" "I shall be occupied very soon" Catherine said, her eyes scanning the article detailing the arrests of several prominent suffragettes.

The Winslows returned to London in May, and were absorbed into their daily routines. Mother reestablished contact with friends who were now terribly embarrassed to have misjudged Ronnie, and Father spent much of his days at work. One day, feeling refreshed and ready to battle the world again, Catherine walked through Regent's park, towards a meeting of her much neglected WSPU1. She passed under the trees, green with new growth, and paid careful attention to the crunch of the gravel under her feet. She paused outside the house of Mrs. Annabel Bryght, a rich supporter of the WSPU.

There, in the large meeting room, at the center of a crowd of women, looking entirely as though he belonged there, stood Robert Morton. "And so, ladies" he said urbanely, continuing his address to the assembled women, "I am charged to enquire what your reasonable demands are, in order that I might carry them back to the Conciliation Committee being assembled by the government." He smiled at her as she walked in, and she carefully did not react as she wondered why the man seemed to own every space he was in.
Sir Robert yielded the floor to Christabel Pankhurst, who spoke briefly about setting up a sub-committee within the WSPU, in order to determine which issues they considered most essential.

As she was leaving, he found his way to her. "Will you permit me to see you home, Miss Winslow?" he enquired.
"Certainly" Catherine replied, putting her hand on his arm.
"Cigarette?" he offered.
She put her hand out, and allowed him to light it for her. He opened the door of his automobile, for her, and settled her inside.

"I had not thought you a proponent of women's suffrage, Sir Robert? she asked, as the auto noisily chugged and blew smoke.
"My party has put me on it" he said, seeming entirely too pleased as he started his engine, "for my sins". "I have taken the liberty of requesting that you be my liaison with the WSPU", he continued smoothly, "since we have worked together before."

"Confess," Catherine said, as they passed under the same trees she had walked by on her previous trip, "You do not wish to pass much time with the Pankhursts."
"Say, rather, Miss Winslow," He said, fumbling with his own cigarette, "That I would much prefer to spend my time with you."

That night, she went to the library, and pulled a copy of Childe Harold from the shelf, carried it up to her room, and read till midnight.

***

Two months later, she sat at her father's bedside, watching the pulse beat at his throat, and looking at his wrinkled face. The heart attack had almost claimed him, and the doctor said he might yet die. She picked up her poetry anthology and read sightlessly, not attending, until she came to the verse "And ye, oh her desolate daughters!, Were scattered all weeping away." I will not weep, she promised herself, I will not.

A knock at the door pulled her from the contemplation of her father's wrinkled, sleeping face. Violet poked her head in "Sir Robert Morton, Ma'am."

Catherine went down the stairs, and the effort of moving her legs was difficult. She met him in the Lobby. Violet had not put him in the parlour, where guests usually sat. His frequent visits to their house had clearly bred familiarity. He stood, hatless and expressionless. "The bill failed, then?" she asked, conscious of her wrinkled dress and un-brushed hair. He nodded once, "It failed."

"How is your father?"
"The doctor says he will probably live" she said, and he walked to her and pulled a strand of hair out of her eyes.

"Tell me about the Bill," she said as he followed her to the library, where they had discussed those portions of it essential to the WSPU.
"Well, it began very well" he said, "and then it got bogged down, and then the Prime Minister refused to give it any more time." After a pause he half smiled, closed the door behind him and said "I told you it was a lost cause."

"All causes seem lost" she said, softly, unsettled by how much was wrong in her world.

"Surely, not all of them," he said, taking her ungloved hands. "This might not be the best time, but if I do not speak now, you might slip out of my life again permanently."

"Yes?" Catherine asked.

"Would you do me the honour of becoming my wife?" he asked, and for the first time since she had known him, Robert Morton seemed uncertain. It was also the first time she had seen him do something so contrary to his political interests.

She looked at his strong hands, clasped around hers, and up at his anxious eyes. Her world steadied. "Yes, Robert, I will."

A scandalized Violet looked up from the garden to see the silhouette of two figures embracing by the window.





1The Women's Social and Political Union