’That is because you are a man, and with a stranger we have our company manners on. England is full of bitter, resentful women, but they don’t cry about it. That’s one result of our playing games like boys. We learn not to whine.’
’I suppose the activities of your suffragettes are a sign of this unrest.’
’Yes—though they don’t know what is really the trouble. I do not think women should run the country, but I do feel that we should have something to say about our ordinary day-to-day lives. Man-made laws are stupid enough, but a man-made society is intolerable. Just a very little wine, please.’
For a moment there was silence; then she continued: ’Oh, I suppose if it were all sifted down I should find that it is largely egotism on my part.’
He waited, not wanting to alter her course by any injudicious comment.
‘Mr. Selwyn,’ she said abruptly, ’do you feel that there is a Higher Purpose working through life?’
‘Y-yes,’ he said, rather startled, ‘I think there is.’
‘Sometimes I do,’ she went on; ’then, again, I think we’re here on this earth for no purpose at all. It often strikes me that Some One up above started humanity with a great idea, but lost interest in us.’
‘I think,’ he said slowly, ’that every man has an instinctive feeling sometime in his life that he is a small part of a great plan that is working somehow towards the light.’
’Yes. It’s a comfortable thought. It’s what makes good Christians enjoy their dinner without worrying too much about the poor.’
He made no answer, though he was not one who often let an epigram go by without a counter-thrust; but he could see that the girl was struggling towards a sincerity of expression much as a frightened horse crosses a bridge which spans a roaring waterfall, ready to bolt at the first thing that affrights it.
‘Mr. Selwyn,’ she said—and for the first time her words had something of a lilt and less incision—’do you think women are living the life intended for them?’
‘Why not?’ he fenced.
’Well, it seems to me that when any living creature is placed in the world it is given certain powers to use. You saw this morning how our horses wanted to race, and couldn’t understand our holding them back. A mosquito bites because that’s apparently its job in the world, and it doesn’t know anything else. I was once told that if animals do not use some faculty they possess, in time Nature takes it away from them.’
‘You are quite a student of natural history, Miss Durwent.’
’No—but every now and then mother unearths a man who teaches us something, like last night.’
He acknowledged the compliment with a slight inclination of his head. The waiter leant expectantly beside him.
‘To descend from the metaphysical to the purely physical,’ he said, glancing in some perplexity at the terrific nomenclature of Monsieur Beauchamp’s dishes, ’do you think we might take a chance on this Poulet reine aux primeurs; salade lorette? I gather that it has something to do with chicken.’