“You are candid,” Kendal said.
“Oh yes, I’m candid. I don’t mind lying for a noble end, but it isn’t a noble end to deceive one’s self.”
“‘Oh, purblind race of miserable men—’” Kendal began lightly, but she stopped him.
“Don’t!” she cried. “Nothing spoils conversation like quotations. Besides, that’s such a trite one; I learned it at school.”
But Kendal’s offence was clearly in his manner. It seemed to Elfrida that he would never sincerely consider what she had to say about herself. She went on softly, holding him with her eyes: “You may find me a simple creature—”
“A propos,” laughed Kendal easily, “what is this particular noble end?”
“Bah!” she said, “you are right It was a lie, and it had no end at all. I am complex enough, I dare say. But this is true, that my egotism is like a little flame within me. All the best things feed it, and it is so clear that I see everything in its light. To me it is most dear and valuable, it simplifies things so. I assure you I wouldn’t be one of the sloppy, unselfish people the world is full of for anything.”
“As a source of gratification isn’t it rather limited?” Kendal asked. He was thinking of the extra drop of nervous fluid in Americans that he had been reading about in the afternoon, and wondering if it often had this development.
“I don’t quite know what you mean,” Elfrida returned. “It isn’t a source of gratification, it’s a channel. And it intensifies everything so that I don’t care how little comes that way. If there’s anything of me left when I die it will be that little fierce flame. And when I do the tiniest thing, write the shortest sentence that rings true, see a beauty or a joy which the common herd pass by, I have my whole life in the flame, and it becomes my soul—I’m sure I have no other!
“When you say that there is no real pleasure in the world that does not come through art,” Elfrida went on again, widening her eyes seriously, “don’t you feel as if you were uttering something religious—part of a creed—as the Mussulman feels when he says there is no God but one God, and Mohammed is his prophet? I do.”
“I never say it,” Kendal returned, with a smile. “Does that make me out a Philistine, or a Hindu, or what?”
“You a Philistine!” Elfrida cried, as they rose from the little table. “You are saying a thing that is absolutely wicked.”
Her quasi-conventional mood had vanished completely, and as they drove together in a hansom through the mysterious movement of the lamp-lit London streets, toward her lodgings, she plunged enjoyingly into certain theories of her religion, which embraced Arnold and Aristotle and did not exclude Mr. Whistler, and made wide, ineffectual, and presumptuous grasps to include all beauty and all faith. She threw handfuls of the foam of these things at Kendal, who watched them vanish into the air with pleasure, and asked if he might smoke. At which she reflected, deciding that for the present he might not, but when they reached her lodgings she would permit him to renew his acquaintance with Buddha, and give him a cigarette.