Miss Chary nodded, then frowned.

"I think I can see your reasoning on how your matriarchy helps older women," she said, "but what about all the rules for younger women? Don’t you think that they were designed by men? Anxious fathers, at least?"

"To a degree," nodded Thornton, "but for the most part they are to protect younger women and designed by their elders. You said a moment ago that and elderly man running off with a young woman is almost a cliche, and that there must be some sweets for her as well, otherwise why would she do it?"

"It does happen all too often," said Miss Chary, "so there must indeed be some reward."

"A transitory reward, yes, but in the long term very little. The matriarchy allows such things," said Thornton, "not only because it allows those men who simply can’t abide by the rules an outlet, but because there aren’t enough men to go around, almost ever. So that takes a girl out of the running, making room for others."

Miss Chary shivered.

"That is awfully cold-blooded, Mr. Thornton."

"So it is," Thornton said, "so it is. Yet it remains a fact. Due to wars, accidents, stupid risks, dangerous work and so forth, there are always more women than men in the world. In ancient times one man would have many wives, though usually only wealthy men."

"King Solomon had seven hundred," said Miss Chary with a look of disgust.

"And three hundred concubines besides," said Thornton, "so much for his wisdom! Yet it’s possible that the ancient writers exaggerated to show his greatness. That’s how they measured such things in those times."

"Disgusting," said Miss Chary.

"Indubitably," said Thornton, "but it’s just a solution to a problem. Just think of how important progeny is in the Bible. Think of Lot’s daughters, for example, or Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law. They committed some pretty daring sins to procure children for themselves."

"And Judah was going to have Tamar killed even though he was the father," Miss Chary said darkly.

"Yes," said Thornton, "and today, the girl would just be sent off to a hospital in the country and the matter hushed up, if she came from a good family. Among the poor common law marriages are much more regular, and the stigma not so great."

"I’ll agree to take as a given your matriarchy," said Miss Chary, "but that still leaves me with a great question: why do you agree with it? It seems heartless and cruel."

"It is, in many ways," said Thornton, "some of my wife’s friends…no, let us call them associates…as Castiglione wrote, ‘for the friendship of the wicked is not friendship.’ Some of them are so cruel it turns my stomach. They are brutal to girls who don’t understand the rules properly, and they delight in nothing more than sadistic condescension towards a less fortunate woman. Yet that is a personal failing for each of them. The system itself protects women, young and old, sacrificing a few here and there but overall doing a fairly good job. It protects old men from ruining themselves and their wives, making them as respectable or ridiculous as they choose, but holds their families together. And it also protects young men, though it might not seem so at first glance."

"How so?" Miss Chary looked confused again. "Young men are still apt to ruin any girl that will let him get away with it."

"Too many are," Thornton agreed, "but they don’t get away with it as often as they would like. If men were in charge, don’t you think we’d arrange things differently? Make it so that women were easily available, instead of holding us to marriage and family?"

"Fathers would not want that," said Miss Chary. She had a reverence for her slain father that Thornton found endearing.

"Very right," said Thornton, "at least not for their own daughters. But another man’s daughter is fair game."

"So your matriarchy offers them protection as well–keeps the peace between fathers."

"An excellent point, and one I had not considered," said Thornton with an approving nod, "and you might say it keeps the peace and end there. That is its advantage. It brings the most peace to the greatest number. It’s an imperfect system, of course, but so are they all. Yet I serve that system because I think it’s the best we can expect."

"Your contention is that women really run the world, and allow men to think that men do…but why?"

"Back to Old Aunt Nellies," said Thornton, "we don’t want to admit we do as we’re told by our wives. We don’t want to admit that we hate dancing but do it because women like it, that we hate suit coats but wear them because women think they make us look distinguished. We don’t want to admit that we built all the marvels of civilization just so our women would smile and praise us, but in the end, all that is true. And more of us know it than are comfortable admitting it. Whether mothers, sisters or wives, the approval of women is very important to us, and so we work hard and struggle to achieve our ambitions and win that approval. That is the whole reason for civilization boiled down to a few words."

"It seems almost romantic," smiled Miss Chary, "is it really so simple?"

"Not entirely," said Thornton, "there are exceptions, of course, and the whole world is not the same. Now that women have the vote here in America, things may change dramatically, but they haven’t changed at all in some parts of the world. Women are chattel in many parts of the world even to this day, and will remain so."

"Why do you think our civilization is different?"

"Monogamy, in a word," said Thornton, "the Greeks, Romans and Germanic tribes all went in for monogamy. The Bible is a bit ambiguous on the issue, but much of our culture comes from those three sources, and we inherited what you might call a useful prejudice. The Greeks weren’t romantic and neither were the Romans, but the Germanic tribes invented it, hard as we may find that to believe after the Huns nearly destroyed the world. Yet they called it ‘roman’ despite its Frankish origin. You don’t have to be romantic to be monogamous, but it still changes the way the world works. And I think for the better."

"I don’t know if I am convinced," said Miss Chary, "but I can see that you certainly aren’t, at least in your own mind, a part of the Patriarchy I’ve been told about."

"Well, I hope it will benefit you in some way, and you won’t ever be tempted to run off with an old codger, no matter how romantic he sounds."

"What about you? Is cowardice the only reason you wouldn’t want to have an affair with a younger woman? You sound as if you almost disapprove of romance."

"Oh, want," said Thornton with a smile, "I want to, of course. I have seen many women who stirred my ardor and in that area of life I believe I am deprived. However even if my wife approved it, I simply couldn’t do that to her. She has been as true as steel all these years, and doesn’t deserve such a humiliation. I am too old to be a slave to passion."

"Or at least too wise," said Miss Chary with a dimpled smile. "I am very grateful for your time, Mr. Thornton, it was very generous of you to take the trouble."

"I enjoyed every moment," said Thornton, "but there is one more thing, isn’t there? You weren’t just wondering about my membership in the ‘old boys club.’"

"No," said Miss Chary, smiling and blushing, "but you answered the other question as well. A young man of my acquaintance has been trying to persuade me to go yachting with him, and has used many of the arguments I’ve also heard from feminists to overwhelm my objections."

"I take it that you had been wavering, but now you are firmly against the idea."

"I am," said Miss Chary, "even though I’m not sure I believe in the matriarchy, I do believe that the feminine part of society would revile me if such a thing became known, and you’d have to fire me, wouldn’t you?"

"I would," said Thornton, "such things damage the integrity of the matriarchal order, and the perpetrators must be punished."

"So all the arguments I have heard about marriage being oppression and all that…I am convinced at least that they are wrong. I don’t know that you have convinced me that women really run the world, but they run enough of it by your representation to satisfy me that I should at least try not to run afoul of their rules."

"Very wise," said Thornton, "you do your sex proud. It is a clear-eyed decision, uncolored by sentiment."

"I do wonder, however about one thing you said. Is it possible that feminists are being secretly influenced by men? You said: ‘If men were in charge, don’t you think we’d arrange things differently?’ I wonder if that is the true purpose of feminism after all. A feminist lady I know encouraged me to run away and ‘be happy’ as she put it, but would I be happy? This young man is very wealthy, but it is unlikely he’d marry me."

"Very unlikely," said Thornton, "and those of us who admire your abilities and character would have to abandon you. What friends would you have that you did not owe to him? What quicker way to become beholden to a man, almost his slave?"

"Again I thank you, Mr. Thornton," said Miss Chary, "I will leave you to think of nothing for a while." She smiled brightly and stood up. "I’m sorry for making you think so much for the past half-hour."

"A pleasure," he said, "a pleasure."

She bid him farewell and left the room, and Thornton sat there wondering whether he wasn’t a traitor to all men. Could there truly be a passel of men behind the silly feminists, pushing them to libertinism that favored the cad and diminished the honest man? He shook his head. The matriarchy would take care of it, one way or another, unless a new generation refused to listen, which was always a possibility. He sat back and thought of nothing, though the memory of Miss Chary’s glowing smile appeared on the stage of his mind far too often for comfort.