“Just—just a little,” admitted Cecily, with fastidiousness and an amused smile. “But Mr. Seaborne doesn’t impress me as so original, so strong.”
“Oh, that he certainly isn’t,” said Spence. “But acuter, and perhaps a finer feeling in several directions.”
Miriam listened, and was tortured.
She had suffered all the evening from observing Cecily, whose powers of conversation and charms of manner made her bitterly envious. How far she herself was from this ideal of the instructed and socially trained woman! The presence of a stranger had banished Cecily’s despondent mood, and put all her capacities in display. With a miserable sense of humiliation, Miriam compared her own insignificant utterances and that bright, often brilliant, talk which held the attention of every one. Beside Cecily, she was still indeed nothing but a school-girl, who with much labour was getting a smattering of common knowledge; for, though Cecily had no profound acquirements, the use she made of what she did know was always suggestive, intellectual, individual.
What wonder that Mallard brought out his drawings to show them to Cecily? There would be nothing commonplace in her remarks and admiration.
She felt herself a paltry pretender to those possibilities of modern womanhood which were open to Cecily from her birth. In the course of natural development, Cecily, whilst still a girl, threw for ever behind her all superstitions and harassing doubts; she was in the true sense “emancipated”—a word Edward Spence was accustomed to use jestingly. And this was Mallard’s conception of the admirable in woman.
Cecily was seeing Rome for the first time, but she could not enjoy it in the way natural to her. It was only at rare moments that she felt Rome. One of the most precious of her life’s anticipations was fading into memory, displaced by a dull experience, numbered among disillusionings. Not that what she beheld disappointed her, but that she was not herself in beholding. Had she stayed here on her first visit to Italy, on what a strong current of enthusiasm would the hours and the days have borne her! What a light would have glowed upon the Seven Hills, and how would every vulgarity of the modern streets have been transformed by her imagination! But now she was in no haste to visit the most sacred spots; she was content to take each in its turn, and her powers of attention soon flagged. It had been the same in Florence. She felt herself reduced to a lower level of existence than was native to her. Had she lived her life— all that was worth calling life?