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   Chapter 18 GRADATION

The Emancipated By George Gissing Characters: 34730

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

During the first six months of her wedded life, Cecily wrote from time to time in a handsomely-bound book which had a little silver lock to it. She was then living at the seaside in Cornwall, and Reuben occasionally went out for some hours with the fishers, or took a long solitary ride inland, just to have the delight of returning to his home after a semblance of separation; in his absence, Cecily made a confidant of the clasped volume. On some of its fair pages were verses, written when verse came to her more easily than prose, but read not even to him who occasioned them. A passage or two of the unrhymed thoughts, with long periods of interval, will suggest the course of her mental history.

"I have no more doubts, and take shame to myself for those I ever entertained. Presently I will confess to him how my mind was tossed and troubled on that flight from Capri; I now feel able to do so, and to make of the confession one more delight. It was impossible for me not to be haunted by the fear that I had yielded to impulse, and acted unworthily of one who could reflect. I had not a doubt of my lover, but the foolish pride which is in a girl's heart whispered to me that I had been too eager-had allowed myself to be won too readily; that I should have been more precious to him if more difficulty had been put in his way. Would it not have been good to give him proof of constancy through long months of waiting? But the secret was that I dreaded to lose him. I reproached him for want of faith in my steadfastness; but just as well he might have reproached me. It was horrible to think of his going back into the world and living among people of whom I knew nothing. I knew in some degree what his life had been; by force of passionate love I understood, or thought I understood him; and I feared most ignobly.

"And I was putting myself in opposition to all those older and more experienced people. How could I help distrusting myself at times? I saw them all looking coldly and reproachfully at me. Here again my pride had something to say. They would smile among themselves, and tell each other that they had held a mistakenly high opinion of me. That was hard to bear. I like to be thought much of; it is delicious to feel that people respect me, that they apply other judgments to me than to girls in general. Mr. Mallard hurt me more than he thought in pretending-I feel sure he only pretended-to regard my words as trivial. How it rejoices me that there are some things I know better than my husband does! I have read of women liking to humble themselves, and in a way I can understand it; I do like to say that he is far above me-oh! and I mean it, I believe it; but the joy of joys is to see him look at me with admiration. I rejoice that I have beauty; I rejoice that I have read much, and can think for myself now and then, and sometimes say a thing 'that every one would not think of. Suppose I were an uneducated girl, not particularly good-looking, and a man loved me; well, in that case perhaps the one joy would be mere worship of him and intense gratitude-blind belief in his superiority to every other man that lived. But then Reuben would never have loved me; he must have something to admire, to stand a little in awe of. And for this very reason, perhaps I feel such constant-self-esteem, for that is the only word."...

"All the doubts and fears are over. I acted rightly, and because I obeyed my passion. The poets are right, and all the prudent people only grovel in their worldly wisdom. It may not be true for every one, but for me to love and be loved, infinitely, with the love that conquers everything, is the sole end of life. It is enough; come what will, if love remain nothing else is missed. In the direst poverty, we should be as much to each other as we are now. If he died, I would live only to remember the days I passed with him. What folly, what a crime, it would have been to waste two years, as though we were immortal!

"I never think of Capri but I see it in the light of a magnificent sunrise. Beloved, sacred island, where the morning of my life indeed began! No spot in all the earth has beauty like yours; no name of any place sounds to me as yours does!"

"I know that our life cannot always be what it is now. This is a long honeymoon; we do not walk on the paths that are trodden by ordinary mortals; the sky above us is not the same that others see as they go about their day's business or pleasure. By what process shall we fall to the common existence? We have all our wants provided for; there is no need for my husband to work that he may earn money, no need for me to take anxious thought about expenses; so that we are tempted to believe that life will always be the same. That cannot be; I am not so idle as to hope it.

"He certainly has powers which should be put to use. We have talked much of things that he might possibly do, and I am sure that before long his mind will hit the right path. I am so greedy of happiness that even what we enjoy does not suffice me; I want my husband to distinguish himself among men, that I may glory in his honour. Yesterday he told me that my own abilities exceeded his, and that I was more likely to make use of them; but in this case my ambition takes a humble form. Even if I were sure that I could, say, write a good book, I would infinitely prefer him to do it and receive the reward of it. I like him to say such things, but in fact he must be more than I. Do I need a justification of the love I bear him? Surely not; that would be a contradiction of love. But it is true that I would gladly have him justify to others my belief in his superiority.

"And yet-why not be content with what is well? If he could remain so; but will he? We have a long life before us, and I know that it cannot be all honeymoon."

"I have been reading a French novel that has made me angry-in spite of my better sense. Of course, it is not the first book of the kind that I have read, but it comes home to me now. What right has this author to say that no man was ever absolutely faithful? It is a commonplace, but how can any one have evidence enough to justify such a statement? I shall not speak of it to Reuben, for I don't care to think long about it. Does that mean, I wonder, that I am afraid to think of it?

"Well, f had rather have been taught to read and think about everything, than be foolishly ignorant as so many women are. This French author would laugh at my confidence, but I could laugh back at his narrow cynicism. He knows nothing of love in its highest sense. I am firm in my optimism, which has a very different base from that of ignorance.

"This does not concern me; I won't occupy my mind with it; I won't read any more of the cynics. My husband loves me, and I believe his love incapable of receiving a soil. If ever I cease to believe that, time enough then to be miserable and to fight out the problem."

The end of the six months found them still undecided as to where they should fix a permanent abode. In no part of England had either of them relatives or friends whose proximity would be of any value. Cecily inclined towards London, feeling that there only would her husband find incentives to exertion; but Reuben was more disposed to settle somewhere on the Continent. He talked of going back to Italy, living in Florence, and-writing something new about the Renaissance. Cecily shook her head; Italy she loved, and she had seen nothing of it north of Naples, but it was the land of lotus-eaters. They would go there again, but not until life had seriously shaped itself.

Whilst they talked and dreamed, decision came to them in the shape of Mrs. Lessingham. Without warning, she one day presented herself at their lodgings, having come direct from Paris. Her spirits were delightful; she could not have behaved more graciously had this marriage been the one desire of her life. The result of her private talk with Cecily was that within a week all three travelled down to London; there they remained for a fortnight, then went on to Paris. Mrs. Lessingham's quarters were in Rue de Belle Chasse, and the Elgars found a suitable dwelling in the same street.

Their child was born, and for a few months all questions were postponed to that of its health and Cecily's. The infant gave a good deal of trouble, was anything but robust; the mother did not regain her strength speedily. The first three months of the new year were spent at Bordighera; then came three months of Paris; then the family returned to England (without Mrs. Lessingham), and established themselves in the house in Belsize Park.

The immediate effect of paternity upon Elgar was amusing. His self-importance visibly increased. He spoke with more gravity; whatever step he took was seriously considered; if he read a newspaper, it was with an air of sober reflection.

"This is the turning-point in his life," Cecily said to her aunt. "He seems to me several years older; don't you notice it? I am quite sure that as soon as things are in order again he will begin to work."

And the prophecy seemed to find fulfilment. Not many days after their taking possession of the English home, Reuben declared a project that his mind had been forming. It was not, to be sure, thoroughly fashioned; its limits must necessarily be indeterminate until fixed by long and serious study; but what he had in view was to write a history of the English mind in its relation to Puritanism.

"I have a notion, Ciss, that this is the one thing into which I can throw all my energies. The one need of my intellectual life is to deal a savage blow at the influences which ruined all my early years. You can't look at the matter quite as I do; you don't know the fierce hatred with which I am moved when I look back. If I am to do literary work at all, it must be on some subject which deeply concerns me-me myself, as an individual. I feel sure that my bent isn't to fiction; I am not objective enough. But I enjoy the study of history, and I have a good deal of acuteness. If I'm not mistaken, I can make a brilliant book, a book that will excite hatred and make my name known."

They were sitting in the library, late at night. As usual when he was stirred, Reuben paced up and down the room and gesticulated.

"Do you mean it to be a big book!" Cecily asked, after reflection.

"Not very big. I should have French models before me, rather than English."

"It would take you a long time to prepare."

"Two or three years, perhaps. But what does that matter? I shall work a good deal at the British Museum. It will oblige me to be away from you a good deal, but-"

"You mustn't trouble about that. I have my own work. If your mornings are regularly occupied, I shall be able to make flied plans of study there are so many things I want to work at."

"Capital! It's high time we came to that. And then, you know, you might be able to give me substantial help-reading, making notes, and so on-if you cared to."

Cecily smiled.

"Yes, if I care to.-But hasn't the subject been dealt with already?"

"Oh, of course, in all sorts of ways. But not in my way. No man ever wrote about it with such energy of hatred as I shall bring to the task."

Cecily was musing.

"It won't be a history in the ordinary sense," she said. "You will make no pretence of historic calm and impartiality."

"Not I, indeed! My book shall be cited as a splendid example of odium antitheologicum. There are passages of eloquence rolling in my mind! And this is just the time for such a work. Throughout intellectual England, Puritanism is dead; but we know how vigorously it survives among the half-educated classes. My book shall declare the emancipation of all the better minds and be a help to those who are struggling upwards. It will be a demand, also, for a new literature, free from the absurd restraints that Puritanism has put upon us. All the younger writers will rally about me. It shall be a 'movement.' The name of my book shall be a watchword."

They talked about it till one in the morning.

For several weeks Elgar was constantly at the Museum. He read prodigiously; he brought home a great quantity of notes; every night Cecily and he talked over his acquisitions, and excited themselves. But the weather grew oppressively hot, and it was plain that they could not carry out the project of remaining in town all through the autumn. Already Reuben was languishing in his zeal, when little Clarence had a sudden and alarming illness. As soon as possible, all went off to the seaside.

Since his work had begun, Reuben's interest in the child had fallen off. Its ailments were soon little more than an annoyance to him; Cecily perceived this, and seldom spoke on the subject. The fact of the sudden illness affording an opportunity for rest led him to express more solicitude than he really felt, but when the child got back into its normal state, Reuben was more plainly indifferent to it than ever. He spoke impatiently if the mother's cares occupied her when he wished for her society.

"A baby isn't a rational creature," he said once. "When he is old enough to begin to be educated, that will be a different thing. At present he is only a burden. Perhaps you think me an unfatherly brute?"

"No; I can understand you quite well. I should very often be impatient myself if I had no servants to help me."

"What a horrible thought! Suppose, Ciss, we all of a sudden lost everything, and we had to go and live in a garret, and I had to get work as a clerk at five-and-twenty shillings a week. How soon should we hate the sight of each other, and the sound of each other's voices?"

"It might come to that," replied Cecily, with half a smile. "Perhaps."

"There's no doubt about it."

Cecily remembered something she had written in the book with the silver lock-a book which had not been opened for a long time.

"I used to think nothing could bring that about. And I am not sure yet."

"I should behave like a ruffian. I know myself well enough."

"I think that would kill my love in time."

"Of course it would. How can any one love what is not lovable?"

"Yet we hear," suggested Cecily, "of wretched women remaining devoted to husbands who all but murder them now and then."

"You are not so foolish as to call that love! That is mere unreasoning and degraded habit-the same kind of thing one may find in a dog."

"Has love anything to do with reason, Reuben?"

"As I understand it, it has everything to do with reason. Animal passion has not, of course; but love is made of that with something added. Can my reason discover any argument why I should not love you? I won't say that it might not, some day, and then my love would by so much be diminished."

"You believe that reason is free to exercise itself, where love is in possession?"

"I believe that love can only come when reason invites. Of course, we are talking of love between men and women; the word has so many senses. In this highest sense, it is one of the rarest of things. How many wives and husbands love each other? Not one pair in five thousand. In the average pair that have lived together as long as we have, there is not only mutual criticism, but something even of mutual dislike. That makes love impossible. Habit takes its place."

"Happily for the world."

"I don't know. Perhaps so. It is an ignoble necessity; but then, the world largely consists of ignoble creatures."

Cecily reflected often on this conversation. Was there any significance in such reasonings? It gave her keen pleasure to hear Reuben maintain such a view, but did it mean anything? If, in meditating about him, she discovered characteristics of his which she could have wished to change, which in themselves were certainly not lovable, had she in that moment ceased to love him, in love's highest sense?

But in that case love might be self-deception. In that case, perfect love was impossible save as a result of perfect knowledge.

What part had reason in the impulses which possessed her from her first meeting with Reuben in Italy, unless that name were given to the working of mysterious affinities, afterwards to be justified by experience?

Cecily had been long content to accept love as an ultimate fact of her being. But it was not Reuben's arguments only that led her to ponder its nature and find names for its qualities. By this time she had become conscious that her love as a wife was somehow altered, modified, since she had been a mother. The time of passionate reveries was gone by. She no longer wrote verses. The book was locked up and kept hidden; if ever she resumed her diary, it must be in a new volume, for that other was sacred to an undivided love. It would now have been mere idle phrasing, to say that Reuben was all in all to her. And she could not think of this without some sadness.

To the average woman maternity is absorbing. Naturally so, for the average woman is incapable of poetical passion, and only too glad to find something that occupies her thoughts from morning to night, a relief from the weariness of her unfruitful mind. It was not to be expected that Cecily, because she had given birth to a child, should of a sudden convert herself into a combination of wet and dry nurse, after t

he common model. The mother's love was strong in her, but it could not destroy, nor even keep in long abeyance, those intellectual energies which characterized her. Had she been constrained to occupy herself ceaselessly with the demands of babyhood, something more than impatience would shortly have been roused in her: she would have rebelled against the conditions of her sex; the gentle melancholy with which she now looked back upon the early days of marriage would have become a bitter protest against her slavery to nature. These possibilities in the modern woman correspond to that spirit in the modern man which is in revolt against the law of labour. Picture Reuben Elgar reduced to the necessity of toiling for daily bread-that is to say, brought down from his pleasant heights of civilization to the dull plain where nature tells a man that if he would eat he must first sweat at the furrow; one hears his fierce objurgations, his haughty railing against the gods. Cecily did not represent that extreme type of woman to whom the bearing of children has become in itself repugnant; but she was very far removed from that other type which the world at large still makes its ideal of the feminine. With what temper would she have heard the lady in her aunt's drawing-room, who was of opinion that she should "stay at home and mind the baby"? Education had made her an individual; she was nurtured into the disease of thought This child of hers showed in the frail tenure on which it held its breath how unfit the mother was for fulfilling her natural functions. Both parents seemed in admirable health, yet their offspring was a poor, delicate, nervous creature, formed for exquisite sensibility to every evil of life. Cecily saw this, and partly understood it; her heart was heavy through the long anxious nights passed in watching by the cradle.

When they returned to London, Reuben at first made a pretence of resuming his work. He went now and then to the reading-room, and at home shut himself up in the study; but he no longer voluntarily talked of his task. Cecily knew what had happened; the fatal lack of perseverance had once more declared itself. For some weeks she refrained from inviting his confidence, but of necessity they spoke together at last. Reuben could no longer disguise the ennui under which he was labouring. Instead of sitting in the library, he loitered about the drawing-room; he was often absent through the whole day, and Cecily knew that he had not been at the Museum.

"I'm at a stand-still," he admitted, when the opportunity came. "I don't see my way so clearly as at first. I must take up some other subject for a time, and rest my mind."

They had no society worth speaking of. Mrs. Lessingham had supplied them with a few introductions, but these people were now out of town. Earlier in the year neither of them had cared to be assiduous in discharging social obligations, with the natural result that little notice was taken of them in turn. Reuben had resumed two or three of his old connections; a bachelor acquaintance now and then came to dine; but this was not the kind of society they needed. Impossible for them to utter the truth, and confess that each other's companionship was no longer all-sufficient. Had Reuben been veritably engaged in serious work, Cecily might have gone on for a long time with her own studies before she wearied for lack of variety and friendly voices; as it was, the situation became impossible.

"Wouldn't you like to belong to a club?" she one day asked.

And Reuben caught at the suggestion. Not long ago, it would have caused him to smile rather scornfully.

Cecily had lost her faith in the great militant book on Puritanism. Thinking about it, when it had been quite out of her mind for a few days, she saw the project in a light of such absurdity that, in spite of herself, she laughed. It was laughter that pained her, like a sob. No, that was not the kind of work for him. What was?

She would think rather of her child and its future. If Clarence lived-if he lived-she herself would take charge of his education for the first years. She must read the best books that had been written on the training of children's minds; everything should be smoothed for him by skilful methods. There could be little doubt that he would prove a quick child, and the delight of watching his progress! She imagined him a boy of ten, bright, trustful, happy; he would have no nearer friend than his mother; between him and her should exist limitless confidence. But a firm hand would be necessary; he would exhibit traits inherited from his father-

Cecily remembered the day when she first knew that she did not wish him to be altogether like his father. Perhaps in no other way could she have come to so clear an understanding of Reuben's character-at all events, of those parts of it which had as yet revealed themselves in their wedded life. She thought of him with an impartiality which had till of late been impossible. And then it occurred to her: Had the same change come over his mind concerning her? Did he feel secret dissatisfactions? If he had a daughter, would he say to himself that in this and that he would wish her not to resemble her mother?

About once in three months they received a letter from Miriam, addressed always to Cecily. She was living still with the Spences, and still in Italy. Her letters offered no explanation of this singular fact; indeed, they threw as little light as was possible on the state of her mind, so brief were they, and so closely confined to statements of events. Still, it was clear that Miriam no longer shrank from the study of profane things. Of Bartles she never spoke.

Mrs. Spence also wrote to Cecily, the kind of letter to be expected from her, delightful in the reading and pleasant in the memory. But she said nothing significant concerning Miriam.

"Would they welcome us, if we went to see them?" Cecily asked, one cheerless day this winter-it was Clarence's birthday.

"You can't take the child," answered Reuben, with some discontent.

"No; I should not dare to. And it is just as impossible to leave him with any one. In another year, perhaps."

Mrs. Lessingham occasionally mentioned Miriam in her letters, and always with a jest. "I strongly suspect she is studying Greek. Is she, perchance, the author of that delightful paper on 'Modern Paganism,' in the current Fortnightly? Something strange awaits us, be sure of that."

The winter dragged to its end, and with the spring came Mrs. Lessingham herself. Instantly the life of the Elgars underwent a complete change. The vivacious lady from Paris saw in the twinkling of an eye how matters stood; she considered the situation perilous, and set to work most efficaciously to alter it. With what result, you are aware. The first incident of any importance in the new life was that which has already been related, yet something happened one day at the Academy of which it is worth while speaking.

Cecily had looked in her catalogue for the name of a certain artist, and had found it; he exhibited one picture only. Walking on through the rooms with her husband, she came at length to the number she had in mind, and paused before it.

"Whose is that?" Reuben inquired, looking at the same picture.

"Mr. Mallard's," she answered, with a smile, meeting his eyes.

"Old Mallard's? Really? I was wondering whether he had anything this year."

He seemed to receive the information with genuine pleasure. A little to Cecily's surprise, for the name was never mentioned between them, and she had felt uneasy in uttering it. The picture was a piece of coast-scenery in Norway, very grand, cold, desolate; not at all likely to hold the gaze of Academy visitors, but significant enough for the few who see with the imagination.

"Nobody looks at it, you notice," said Elgar, when they had stood on the spot for five minutes.


Yet as soon as they had spoken, an old and a young lady came in front of them, and they heard the young lady say, as she pointed to Mallard's canvas:

"Where is that, mamma?"

"Oh, Land's End, or some such place," was the careless reply. "Do just look at that sweet little creature playing with the dog! Look at its collar! And that ribbon!"

Reuben turned away and muttered contemptuous epithets; Cecily cast a haughty and angry glance at the speaker. They passed on, and for the present spoke no more of Mallard; but Cecily thought of him, and would have liked to return to the picture before leaving. There was a man who did something, and something worth the doing. Reuben must have had a thought not unlike this, for he said, later in the same day:

"I am sorry I never took up painting. I believe I could have made something of it. To a certain extent, you see, it is a handicraft that any man may learn; if one can handle the tools, there's always the incentive to work and produce. By-the-bye, why do you never draw nowadays?"

"I hold the opinion of Miss Denyer-I wonder what's become of her, poor girl?-that it's no use 'pottering.' Strange how a casual word can affect one. I've never cared to draw since she spoke of my 'pottering.'"

This day was the last on which Reuben was quite his wonted self. Cecily, who was not studying him closely just now, did not for a while observe any change, but in the end it forced itself upon her attention. She said nothing, thinking it not impossible that he was again dissatisfied with the fruitlessness of his life, and had been made to feel it more strongly by associating with so many new people. Any sign of that kind was still grateful to her.

She knew now how amiss was her interpretation. The truth she could not accept as she would have done a year ago; it would then have seemed more than pardonable, as proving that Reuben's love of her could drive him into grotesque inconsistencies. But now she only felt it an injury, and in sitting down to write her painful letter to Mrs. Travis, she acted for the first time in deliberate resentment of her husband's conduct.

When the reply from Mrs. Travis instructed him in what had been done, Reuben left the house, and did not return till late at night. Cecily stayed at home, idle. Visitors called in the afternoon, but she received no one. After her solitary dinner, she spent weary hours, now in one room, now in another, unable to occupy herself in any way. At eleven o'clock she went down to the library, resolving to wait there for Reuben's return.

She heard him enter, and heard the servant speaking with him. He came into the room, closed the door, sauntered forwards, his hands in his pockets.

"Why didn't you tell me you would be away all day?" Cecily asked, without stress of remonstrance.

"I didn't know that I should be."

He took his favourite position on the corner of the table Examining him, Cecily saw that his face expressed ennui rather than active displeasure; there was a little sullenness about his lips, but the knitting of his brows was not of the kind that threatens tempest.

"Where have you been, dear?"

"At the Museum, the club, and a music-hall."

"A music-hall?" she repeated, in surprise.

"Why not? I had to get through the time somehow. I was in a surly temper; if I'd come home sooner, I should have raged at you. Don't say anything to irritate me, Ciss; I'm not quite sure of myself yet."

"But I think the raging would have been preferable; I've had the dreariest day I ever spent."

"I suppose some one or other called?"

"Yes, but I didn't see them. You have made me very uncertain of howl ought to behave. I thought it better to keep to myself till we had come to a clearer understanding."

"That is perversity, you know. And it was perversity that led you to write in such a way to Mrs. Travis."

"You are quite right. But the provocation was great. And after all I don't see that there is much difference between writing to her that she mustn't come, and giving directions to a servant that she isn't to be admitted."

"You said in the letter that I had forbidden it?"

"Yes, I did."

"And so made me ridiculous!" he exclaimed petulantly.

"My dear, you were ridiculous. It's better that you should see it plainly."

"The letter will be shown to all sorts of people. Your aunt will see it, of course. You are ingenious in revenging yourself."

Cecily bent her head, and could not trust herself to speak. All day she had been thinking of this, and had repented of her foolish haste. Yet confession of error was impossible in her present mood.

"As you make such a parade of obedience," he continued, with increasing anger, "I should think it would be better to obey honestly. I never said that I wished you to break with her in this fashion."

"Anything else would be contemptible. I can't subdue myself to that."

"Very well; then to be logical you must give up society altogether. It demands no end of contemptible things."

"Will you explain to me why you think that letter will make you ridiculous?"

Reuben hesitated.

"Is it ridiculous," she added, "for a man to forbid his wife to associate with a woman of doubtful character?"

"I told you distinctly that I had no definite charge to bring against her. Caution would have been reasonable enough, but to act as you have represented me is sheer Philistinism."

"Precisely. And it was Philistinism in you to take the matter as you did. Be frank with me. Why should you wish to have a name for liberal thinking among your acquaintances, and yet behave in private like the most narrow of men?"

"That is your misrepresentation. Of course, if you refuse to understand me-"

He broke off, and went to another part of the room.

"Shall I tell you what all this means, Reuben?" said Cecily, turning towards him. "We have lived so long in solitude, that the common circumstances of society are strange and disturbing to us. Solitary people are theoretical people. You would never have thought of forbidding me to read such and such a book, on the ground that it took me into doubtful company; the suggestion of such intolerance would have made you laugh scornfully. You have become an idealist of a curious kind; you like to think of me as an emancipated woman, and yet, when I have the opportunity of making my independence practical, you show yourself alarmed. I am not sure that I understand you entirely; I should be very sorry to explain your words of the other night in the sense they would bear on the lips of an ordinary man. Can't you help me out of this difficulty?"

Reuben was reflecting, and had no reply ready.

"If there is to be all this difference between theory and practice," Cecily continued, "it must either mean that you think otherwise than you speak, or else that I have shown myself in some way very untrustworthy. You say you have been angry with me; I have felt both angry and deeply hurt. Suppose you had known certainly that Mrs. Travis was not an honourable woman, even then it was wrong to speak to me as you did. Even then it would have been inconsistent to forbid me to see her. You put yourself and me on different levels. You make me your inferior-morally your inferior. What should you say if I began to warn you against one or other of the men you know-if I put on a stern face, and told you that your morals were in danger?"

"Pooh! what harm can a man take?"

"And pray what harm can a woman take, if her name happens to be Cecily Elgar?"

She drew herself up, and stood regarding him with superb self-confidence.

"Without meaning it, you insult me, Reuben. You treat me as a vulgar husband treats a vulgar wife. What harm to me do you imagine? Don't let us deal in silly evasions and roundabout phrases. Do you distrust my honour? Do you think I can be degraded by association? What woman living has power to make me untrue to myself?"

"You are getting rhetorical, Cecily. Then at this rate I should never be justified in interfering?"

"In interfering with mere command, never."

"Not if I saw you going to destruction?"

She smiled haughtily.

"When it comes to that, we'll discuss the question anew. But I see that you think it possible. Evidently I have given proof of some dangerous weakness. Tell me what it is, and I shall understand you better."

"I'm afraid all this talk leads to nothing. You claim an independence which will make it very difficult for us to live on the old terms."

"I claim nothing more than your own theories have always granted."

"Then practice shows that the theories are untenable, as in many another case."

"You refuse me the right to think for myself."

"In some things, yes. Because, as I said before, you haven't experience enough to go upon."

Cecily cast down her eyes. She forced herself to keep silence until that rush of indignant rebellion had gone by. Reuben looked at her askance.

"If you still loved me as you once did," he said, in a lower voice, "this would be no hardship. Indeed, I should never have had to utter such words."

"I still do love you," she answered, very quietly. "If I did not, I should revolt against your claim. But it is too certain that we no longer live on the old terms."

They avoided each other's eyes, and after a long silence left the room without again speaking.

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