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'Tennyson,' Maude suggested.
'I have been told that his meaning is too clear to entitle him to rank among the great thinkers of our race. The lofty thought is necessarily obscure. There is no merit in following a poem which is perfectly intelligible. Which leads us to--'
'Browning!' cried the other ladies.
'Exactly. We might form a little Browning Society of our own.'
And so it was agreed.
There was only one other point to be settled at this their inaugural meeting, which was, to choose the other ladies who should be admitted into their literary circle. There were to be no men.
'They do distract one so,' said Mrs. Hunt Mortimer.
The great thing was to admit no one save those earnest spirits who would aspire to get the full benefit from their studies. Mrs. Fortescue could not be thought of, she was much too talkative. And Mrs. Jones had such a frivolous mind. Mrs. Charles could think and talk of nothing but her servants. And Mrs. Patt-Beatson always wanted to lay down the law. Perhaps on the whole it would be better to start the society quietly among themselves, and then gradually to increase it. The first meeting should be next Wednesday, at Mrs. Crosse's house, and Mrs. Hunt Mortimer would bring her complete two- volume edition with her. Mrs. Beecher thought that one volume would be enough just at first, but Mrs. Hunt Mortimer said that it was better to have a wide choice. Maude went home and told Frank in the evening. He was pleased, but rather sceptical.
'You must begin with the simpler things first,' said he. 'I should recommend Herve Riel and Gold Hair.'
But Maude put on the charming air of displeasure which became her so well.
'We are serious students, sir,' said she. 'We want the very hardest poem in the book. I assure you, Frank, that one of your little faults is that you always underrate a woman's intelligence. Mrs. Hunt Mortimer says that though we may be less original than men, we are more assim--more assmun--'
'That's what I say--assimulative. Now, you always talk as if--oh yes, you do! No, you mustn't! How absurd you are, Frank! Whenever I try to speak seriously to you, you always do that and spoil everything. How would you like to discuss Browning if at the end of every sentence somebody came and kissed you? You wouldn't mind! No, I dare say not. But you would feel that you were not being taken seriously. Wait till the next time YOU are in earnest about anything--you'll see!'
The meeting was to be at three o'clock, and at ten minutes to the hour Mrs. Hunt Mortimer arrived with two large brown volumes under her arm. She had come early, she said, because there was to be a rehearsal of the amateur theatricals at the Dixons' at a quarter-past four. Mrs. Beecher did not appear until five minutes after the hour. Her cook had quarrelled with the housemaid, and given instantaneous notice, with five people coming to dinner on Saturday. It had upset the lady very much, and she explained that she would not have come if she had not promised. It was so difficult to follow poetry when you were thinking about the entree all the time.