“Cela m’est absolument egal!”
So far as the life went it was perfect. The Quartier spoke and her soul answered it, and the world had nothing to compare with a conversation like that. But the question of production, of achievement, was beginning to bring her moments when she had a terrible sensation that the temperature of her passion was chilled. She had not yet seen despair, but she had now and then lost her hold of herself, and she had made acquaintance with fear. There had been no vivid realization of failure, but a problem was beginning to form in her mind, and with it a distinct terror of the solution, which sometimes found a shape in her dreams. In waking, voluntary moments she would see her problem only as an unanswerable enigma.
Yet in the beginning she had felt a splendid confidence. Her appropriation of theory had been so brilliant and so rapid, her instructive appreciation had helped itself out so well with the casual formulas of the schools, she seemed to herself to have an absolute understanding of expression. She held her social place among the others by her power of perception, and that, with the completeness of her repudiation of the bourgeois, had given her Nadie Palicsky, whom the rest found difficult, variable, unreasonable. Elfrida was certain that if she might only talk to Lucien she could persuade him of a great deal about her talent that escaped him—she was sore it escaped him—in the mere examination of her work. It chafed her always that her personality could not touch the master; that she must day after day be only the dumb, submissive pupil. She felt sometimes that there were things she might say to Lucien which would be interesting and valuable for him to hear.
Lucien was always non-committal for the first few months. Everybody said so, and it was natural enough. Elfrida set her teeth against his silences, his casual looks and ambiguous encouragements for a length of time which did infinite credit to her determination. She felt herself capable of an eternity of pain; she was proudly conscious of a willingness to oppose herself to innumerable discouragements—to back her talent, as it were, against all odds. That was historic, dignified, to be expected! But in the inmost privacy of her soul she had conceived the character of the obstacles she was prepared to face, and the list resolutely excluded any idea that it might not be worth while. Indifference and contempt cut at the very roots of her pledges to herself. As she sat listening on this afternoon to the vivid terms of Lucien’s disapproval of what the Swede had done, she had a sharp consciousness of this severance.
She had nothing to say to any one in the general babble of the anteroom, and nobody notified her white face and resolute eyes particularly—the Americans were always so pale and so exalte. Nadie kept away from her. Elfrida had to cross the room and bring her, with a little touch of angry assertion upon the arm, from the middle of the group she had drawn around her, on purpose, as her friend knew.