’It’s rather artful of Monsieur Beauchamp to word it so we poor English can get that much, isn’t it?’
’Yes. He apparently acts on the principle that a little learning is a common thing.’
As Selwyn gave the necessary order to the waiter, a noisy hubbub of laughter from an adjoining cabinet particulier almost drowned his words. There was one woman’s voice that was rasping and sustained with an abandon of vulgarity released by the potency of champagne.
Elise Durwent looked across the table at her companion. ’Are you bored with all my talk?’ she said. ’You Americans aren’t nearly so candid about such things as Englishmen.’
’On the contrary, Miss Durwent, I am deeply interested. Only, I am a little puzzled as to how you connect the usual functions of animals with woman’s place in the world.’
With an air of abstraction she drew some pattern on the table-cloth with the prongs of a fork. ‘I don’t know,’ she said dreamily, ’that I can apply the argument correctly, ’but—Mr. Selwyn, when I was a child playing about with my little brother “Boy-blue”—that was a pet name I had for him—I was just as happy to be a girl as he was to be a boy. I think that is true of all children. But ask any woman which she would rather be, a man or a woman, and unless she is trying to make you fall in love with her she will say the former. That is not as it should be, but it’s true. Yet, if we are part of your great plan working towards the light, we’re entitled to the same share in life as you—more, if anything, because we perpetuate life and have more in common with all that it holds than men have. There, that is a long speech for me.’
‘Please don’t stop.’
There was a howl in a man’s voice from the noisy cabinet particulier, followed by a laugh from the same woman as before, which set the teeth on edge.
‘That woman in there,’ she went on, ’will partly show what I mean. In the beginning we were both given certain qualities. She has lost her modesty through disuse; I’m losing my womanliness and power of sympathy for the same reason. She’s more candid about it, that’s all. When Dick and I were youngsters I dreamed of life as Casim Baba’s cave full of undiscovered treasures that would be endless. Now I look back upon those days as the only really happy ones I shall ever have.’
‘You are—how old?’
‘You will grow less cynical as you grow older,’ he said, from the altitude of twenty-six.