“Ah! my dear lady”—it was the gentleman with the crumpled collar— “you novelists are always girding at the precious quality of conformity. The sadness of our times lies in this questioning spirit. Never was there more revolt, especially among the young. To find the individual judging for himself is a grave symptom of national degeneration. But this is not a subject—”
“Surely, the subject is of the most poignant interest to all young people.” Again all the young ones raised their faces and moved them slightly from side to side.
“My dear lady, we are too prone to let the interest that things arouse blind our judgment in regard to the advisability of discussing them. We let these speculations creep and creep until they twine themselves round our faith and paralyze it.”
One of the young men interjected suddenly: “Madre”—and was silent.
“I shall not, I think”—it was the lady speaking—“be accused of licence when I say that I have always felt that speculation is only dangerous when indulged in by the crude intelligence. If culture has nothing to give us, then let us have no culture; but if culture be, as I think it, indispensable, then we must accept the dangers that culture brings.”
Again the young people moved their faces, and again the younger of the two young men said: “Madre—”
“Dangers? Have cultured people dangers?”
Who had spoken thus? Every eyebrow was going up, every mouth was drooping, and there was silence. The boy stared at his companion. In what a strange voice she had made that little interjection! There seemed a sort of flame, too, lighted in her eyes. Then the little grey-bearded man said, and his rather whispering voice sounded hard and acid:
“We are all human, my dear madam.”
The boy felt his heart go thump at Anna’s laugh. It was just as if she had said: “Ah! but not you—surely!” And he got up to follow her towards the door.
The English party had begun already talking—of the weather.
The two walked some way from the ‘hut’ in silence, before Anna said:
“You didn’t like me when I laughed?”
“You hurt their feelings, I think.”
“I wanted to—the English Grundys! Ah! don’t be cross with me! They were English Grundys, weren’t they—every one?”
She looked into his face so hard, that he felt the blood rush to his cheeks, and a dizzy sensation of being drawn forward.
“They have no blood, those people! Their voices, their supercilious eyes that look you up and down! Oh! I’ve had so much of them! That woman with her Liberalism, just as bad as any. I hate them all!”
He would have liked to hate them, too, since she did; but they had only seemed to him amusing.
“They aren’t human. They don’t feel! Some day you’ll know them. They won’t amuse you then!”
She went on, in a quiet, almost dreamy voice: