’If society were really decent, he would have been. It’s strange how completely his Radicalism has disappeared. I believe he never had a genuine sympathy with the labouring classes. And what’s more, I fancy he had a great deal of his father’s desire for command and social distinction. If he had seen his way to become a great engineer, a director of vast enterprises, he wouldn’t have abandoned his work. An incredible stubbornness has possibly spoilt his whole life. In a congenial pursuit he might by this time have attained to something noteworthy. It’s too late now, I fear.’
‘Does he aim at nothing whatever?’
’He won’t admit any ambition. He has no society. His friends are nearly all obscure people, like those you heard him speak of this evening.’
‘After all, what ambition should he have?’ said Rhoda, with a laugh. ’There’s one advantage in being a woman. A woman with brains and will may hope to distinguish herself in the greatest movement of our time—that of emancipating her sex. But what can a man do, unless he has genius?’
’There’s the emancipation of the working classes. That is the great sphere for men; and Everard cares no more for the working classes than I do.’
‘Isn’t it enough to be free oneself?’
’You mean that he has task enough in striving to be an honourable man?’
‘Perhaps. I hardly know what I meant.’
Miss Barfoot mused, and her face lighted up with a glad thought.
’You are right. It’s better to be a woman, in our day. With us is all the joy of advance, the glory of conquering. Men have only material progress to think about. But we—we are winning souls, propagating a new religion, purifying the earth!’
Rhoda nodded thrice.
’My cousin is a fine specimen of a man, after all, in body and mind. But what a poor, ineffectual creature compared with you, Rhoda! I don’t flatter you, dear. I tell you bluntly of your faults and extravagances. But I am proud of your magnificent independence, proud of your pride, dear, and of your stainless heart. Thank Heaven we are women!’
It was rare indeed for Miss Barfoot to be moved to rhapsody. Again Rhoda nodded, and then they laughed together, with joyous confidence in themselves and in their cause.
THE SIMPLE FAITH
Seated in the reading-room of a club to which he had newly procured admission, Everard Barfoot was glancing over the advertisement columns of a literary paper. His eye fell on an announcement that had a personal interest to him, and at once he went to the writing-table to pen a letter.