HERMANN THE IRASCIBLE—A STORY OF THE GREAT WEEP

It was in the second decade of the Twentieth Century,

after the Great Plague had devastated England, that Hermann

the Irascible, nicknamed also the Wise, sat on the British

throne. The Mortal Sickness had swept away the entire Royal

Family, unto the third and fourth generations, and thus it

came to pass that Hermann the Fourteenth of

Saxe-Drachsen-Wachtelstein, who had stood thirtieth in the

order of succession, found himself one day ruler of the

British dominions within and beyond the seas. He was one of

the unexpected things that happen in polities, and he

happened with great thoroughness. In many ways he was the

most progressive monarch who had sat on an important throne;

before people knew where they were, they were somewhere

else. Even his Ministers, progressive though they were by

tradition, found it difficult to keep pace with his

legislative suggestions.

“As a matter of fact,” admitted the Prime Minister, “we

are hampered by these votes-for-women creatures; they

disturb our meetings throughout the country, and they try to

turn Downing Street into a sort of political picnic-ground.”

“They must be dealt with” said Hermann.

“Dealt with,” said the Prime Minister; “exactly, just

so; but how?”

“I will draft you a Bill,” said the King, sitting down

at his type-writing machine, “enacting that women shall

vote at all future elections. Shall vote, you observe; or,

to put it plainer, must. Voting will remain optional, as

before, for male electors; but every woman between the ages

of twenty-one and seventy will be obliged to vote, not only

at elections for Parliament, county councils, district

boards, parish-councils, and municipalities, but for

coroners, school inspectors, churchwardens, curators of

museums, sanitary authorities, police-court interpreters,

swimming-bath instructors, contractors, choir-masters,

market superintendents, art-school teachers, cathedral

vergers, and other local functionaries whose names I will

add as they occur to me. All these offices will become

elective, and failure to vote at any election falling within

her area of residence will involve the female elector in a

penalty of L10. Absence, unsupported by an adequate

medical certificate, will not be accepted as an excuse.

Pass this Bill through the two Houses of Parliament and

bring it to me for signature the day after tomorrow.”

From the very outset the Compulsory Female Franchise

produced little or no elation even in circles which had been

loudest in demanding the vote. The bulk of the women of the

country had been indifferent or hostile to the franchise

agitation, and the most fanatical Suffragettes began to

wonder what they had found so attractive in the prospect of

putting ballot-papers into a box. In the country districts

the task of carrying out the provisions of the new Act was

irksome enough; in the towns and cities it became an

incubus. There seemed no end to the elections. Laundresses

and seamstresses had to hurry away from their work to vote,

often for a candidate whose name they hadn’t heard before,

and whom they selected at haphazard; female clerks and

waitresses got up extra early to get their voting done

before starting off to their places of business. Society

women found their arrangements impeded and upset by the

continual necessity for attending the polling stations, and

week-end parties and summer holidays became gradually a

masculine luxury. As for Cairo and the Riviera, they were

possible only for genuine invalids or people of enormous

wealth, for the accumulation of L10 fines during a

prolonged absence was a contingency that even ordinarily

wealthy folk could hardly afford to risk.

It was not wonderful that the female disfranchisement

agitation became a formidable movement. The

No-Votes-for-Women League numbered its feminine adherents by

the million; its colours, citron and old Dutch-madder, were

flaunted everywhere, and its battle hymn, “We Don’t Want to

Vote,” became a popular refrain. As the Government showed

no signs of being impressed by peaceful persuasion, more

violent methods came into vogue. Meetings were disturbed,

Ministers were mobbed, policemen were bitten, and ordinary

prison fare rejected, and on the eve of the anniversary of

Trafalgar women bound themselves in tiers up the entire

length of the Nelson column so that its customary floral

decoration had to be abandoned. Still the Government

obstinately adhered to its conviction that women ought to

have the vote.

Then, as a last resort, some woman wit hit upon an

expedient which it was strange that no one had thought of

before. The Great Weep was organized. Relays of women, ten

thousand at a time, wept continuously in the public places

of the Metropolis. They wept in railway stations, in tubes

and omnibuses, in the National Gallery, at the Army and Navy

Stores, in St. James’s Park, at ballad concerts, at Prince’s

and in the Burlington Arcade. The hitherto unbroken success

of the brilliant farcical comedy “Henry’s Rabbit” was

imperilled by the presence of drearily weeping women in

stalls and circle and gallery, and one of the brightest

divorce cases that had been tried for many years was robbed

of much of its sparkle by the lachrymose behaviour of a

section of the audience.

“What are we to do?” asked the Prime Minister, whose

cook had wept into all the breakfast dishes and whose

nursemaid had gone out, crying quietly and miserably, to

take the children for a walk in the Park.

“There is a time for everything,” said the King; “there

is a time to yield. Pass a measure through the two Houses

depriving women of the right to vote, and bring it to me for

the Royal assent the day after tomorrow.”

As the Minister withdrew, Hermann the Irascible, who was

also nicknamed the Wise, gave a profound chuckle.

“There are more ways of killing a cat than by choking it

with cream,” he quoted, “but I’m not sure,” he added

“that it’s not the best way.”