at Craven Hill opened its doors at ten o'clock, and until mid-
night there was no lack of company. Singular people, more
or less ; distinguished from society proper by the fact that all
had a modicum of brains.
Some came from luxurious homes,
some from garrets. Visitors from Paris wei'e frequent ; their
presence made a characteristic of the salon. This evening,
for instance, honour was paid by the hostess to M. Amedee
Silvenoire, whose experiment in un romantic drama had not
long ago gloriously failed at the Odeon ; and Madame
Jacquelin, the violinist, was looked for.
Mrs. Lessingham had not passed a season in London for
several years. When, at the end of April, she took this
house, there came to live with her the widow and daughter of
a man of letters who had died in poverty. She had known
the Delphs in Pai-is, in the days when Cecily was with her,
and in the winter just past she had come upon Irene Delj^h
copying at the Louvre ; the girl showed a good deal of talent,
but was hard beset by the difficulty of living whilst she
worked. In the spirit of her generous brother, Mrs. Lessing-
ham persuaded the two to come and live with her through
the season ; a room in the house was a studio for Irene, who
took to portraits. Mrs. Delph, a timid woman whose nerves
had failed under her misfortunes, did not appear on formal
occasions like the present, but Irene was becoming an orna-
ment of the drawing-room. To be sure, but for her good
looks and her artistic aptitude, she would not have been
here — no reason, perhaps, for stinted praise of her friend's
An enjoyable thing to see Mrs. Lessingham in conversa-
tion with one of her French guests. She threw off full fifteen
years, and looked thirty at most. Her handsome features
had a vivid play of expression in harmony with the language
she was speaking ; her eyes were radiant as she phrased a
thought which in English would have required many words
for the — blunting of its point. M. Silvenoire, who — with the
glight disadvantage of knowing no tongue but his own — was
A CORNER OF SOCIETY. 245
making a study of Englisli social life, found himself at
ease this evening for the first time since he had been in.
London. Encouraged to talk his best, he frankly and
amusingly told Mrs. Lessingham of the ideas he had formed
regarding conversation in the drawing-rooms of English
" Civilization is spreading among us,*' she replied, with a
laugh. " Once or twice it has been my privilege to introduce
young Frenchmen, who were studying our language, to
English families abroad, and in those cases I privately
recommended to them a careful study of Anthony TroUope's
novels, that they might learn what is permissible in con-
versation and what is not. But here and there in London
you will find it possible to discuss things that interest
At the door sounded the name of " Mr. Bickerdike," and
there advanced towards the hostess a tall, ugly young man,
known by repute to all the English people present. He was
the author of a novel called " A Crown of Lilies," which
was much talked of just now, and excited no less ridicule
than admiration. On the one hand, it was lauded for
delicate purity and idealism ; on the other, it was scoffed at
for artificiality and affected refinement. Mrs. Lessingham
had met him for the first time a week ago. Her invitation
was not due to approval of Bis book, but to personal interest
which the author moved in her; she was curious to dis-
cover how far the idealism of "A Crown of Lilies" v/as
a genuine fruit of the man's nature. Mr. Bickcrdiko's
couutcnance did not promise clarity of soul ; his features
were distinctly coarse, and the glance he threw round the
room on entering made large demands.
Irene Delph was talking with a young riarricd lady
named Mrs. Travis; they both regarded Mr. Bickerdike with
* close scrutiny.
" Who coidd have imagined such an author for the book I "
murmured the giil, in wonder.
246 THE EMANCIPATED.
"I could perfectly well," murmured badi Mrs. Travis,
witli a smile wliicli revealed knowledge of humanity.
" I pictured a very youthful man, with a face of effeminate
beauty — probably a hectic colour in his cheeks."
" Such men don't write ' the novel of the season.' This
gentleman is very shrewd ; he gauges the public. Some day,
if he sees fit, he will write a brutal book, and it will have
Mr. Bickerdike unfortuucately did not speak French, so
M. Silvenoire was unable to exchange ideas with him. The
Parisian, having learnt what this gentleman's claims were,
regarded him through his pince-wez with a subtle smile. But
in a few moments he had something more interesting to
" Mrs. Elgar," cried the voice at the door.
Cecily was met half-way by her aunt.
" You are alone ? "
" Eeuben has a headache. Perhaps he will come to fetch
me, but more likely not."
All the eyes in the room had one direction. Alike those
who ingenuously admired and those who wished to seem
indifferent paid the homage of observation to Mrs. Elgar, as
she stood exchanging greetings with the friends who came
forward. Yes, there was something more than attractive
features and a pleasant facility of speech. In Cecily were
blended a fresh loveliness and a grace as of maidenhood
with the perfect charm of wedded youth. The air about her
was charged with something finer than the delicate fragrance
which caressed the senses. One had but to hear her speak,
were it only the most ordinary phrase of courtesy, and that
wonderful voice more than justified jiro found interest.
Strangers took her for a few years older than she was, not
judging so much by her face as the finished ease of her
manners ; when she conversed, it was hard to think of her*
as only one-and-twenty.
•' She is a little pale this evening," said Ii'ene to Mrs. Travis.
A CORNER OF SOCIETY. 247
The otlier assented ; then asked :
" Why don't you paint her portnut ? "
" Heaven forbid ! I have quite enough discouragement in
my attempts at painting, as it is."
M. Silvenoire was bowing low, as Mrs. Lessingham
presented him. To his delight, he heard his own
language fluently, idiomatically spoken ; he remarked, too,
that Mrs. Elgar had a distinct pleasure in speaking it. She
seated herself, and flattered him into ecstasies by the
respect with which she received his every word. She had
seen it mentioned in the Figaro that a new play of his was
in preparation ; when was ^it likely to be put on the stage ?
The theatre in London — of course, he understood that no
one took it au serieux ?
The Parisian could do nothing but gaze about the room,
following her movements, when their dialogue was at an
end. Mon Dieu ! And who, then, was Mr. Elgar ? Might
not one hope for an invitation to madame's assemblies ?
A wonderful people, these English, after all.
Mr. Bickerdike secured, after much impatience, the
desired introduction. For reasons of his own, he made no
mention of his earlier acquaintance with Elgar. Did she
know of it ? In any case she appeared not to, but spoke of
things which did not interest Mr. Bickerdike in the least.
At length he was driven to bring forward the one subject on
which he desired her views.
•' Have you, by chance, read my book, Mrs. Elgar ? "
M. Silvenoire would have understood her smile ; the
Englishman thought it merely amiable, and prepared for the
" Yes, I have read it, Mr. Bickerdike. It seemed to mc a
charmingly Avritten romance."
The novelist, seated upon too low a chair, leaning forward
so that his knees and chin almost touched, was not in him-
self a very graceful object ; the contrast with his neighbour
248 THE EMANCIPATED,
made him worse than grotesque. His visage was disagree*
ably animal as it smiled with condescension.
"You mean something by that," he remarked, mth
awkward attempt at light fencing.
There was bai-ely a perceptible movement of Cecily's
" I try to mean something as often as I speak," she said,
in an amused tone.
" In this case it is a censure. You take the side of those
who find fault with my idealism."
" Not so ; I simply form my own judgment."
Mr. Bickerdike was nervous at all times in the society of
a refined woman ; Mrs. Elgar's quiet rebuke brought the
perspiration to his forehead, and made him rub his hands
together. Like many a better man, he could not do justice
to the parts he really possessed, save when sitting in solitude
with a sheet of paper before him. Though he had a
confused perception that Mrs. Elgar was punishing him for
foi'cing her to speak of his book, he was unable to change
the topic and so win her approval for his tact. In the
endeavour to seem at ease, he became blunt.
" And what has your judgment to say on the subject ? "
" I think I have already told you, Mr. Bickerdike."
" You mean by a romance a work that is not soiled with
the common realism of to-day."
" I am willing to mean that."
" But you will admit, Mrs. Elgar, that my mode of fiction
has as much to say for itself as that which you prefer ? "
"In asking for one admission you take for granted
another. That is a Uttle confusing."
It was made sufficiently so to Mr. Bickerdike. He thrurt
out his long legs, and exclaimed :
" I should be grateful to you if you would tell me what
your view of the question really is — I mean, of the question
at issue between the two schools of fi-ction,"
A CORNER OF SOCIETY. 249
•• But will you first make clear to me the characteristics of
the school you represent ? "
" It would take a long time to do that satisfactorily. I
proceed on the assumption that fiction is poetry, and that
poetry deals only with the noble and the pure."
"Tes," said Cecily, as he paused for a moment, "I see that
it would take too long. Tou must deal with so many pre-
judices — such, for esami^le, as that which supposes 'King
Lear ' and ' Othello ' to be poems."
Mr. Bickerdike began a reply, but it was too late ; Mrs.
Lessingham had approached with some one else who wished
to be presented to Mrs. Elgar, and the novelist could only
bite his lips as he moved away to find a more reverent
It was not often that Cecily trifled in this way. As a rule,
her manner of speech was direct and earnest. She had a
very uncommon habit of telling the truth whenever it was
possible ; rather than utter smooth falsehoods, she would
keep silence, and sometimes when to do so was to run much
danger of giving offence. Beautiful women have very
different ways of using the privilege their charm assures
them ; Cecily chose to make it a protection of her integrity.
She was much criticized by acquaintances of her own sex.
Some held her presumptuous, conceited, sjDoilt by adulation ;
some accused her of bad taste and blue-stockingism ; some
declared that she had no object but to win men's admiration
and outshine women. Without a thought of such comments,
she behaved as was natural to her. Where she felt her
superiority, she made no pretence of appearing femininely
humble. Yet persons like Mrs. Delph, who kept themselves
in shadow and spoke only with simple kindness, knew well
how Tmassuming Cecily was, and with what deference she
spoke when good feeling dictated it. Or again, there was her
manner with the peojjle who, by the very respect with which
they inspired her, gave her encouragement to speak without
false restniint; such as Mr, Bird, tlje art critic, a grizzle-
250 THE EMANCIPATED.
headed man with, whom she sat for a quai'ter of an hour this
evening, looking her very brightest and talking in her
hapi^iest vein, yet showing all the time her gratitude for
what she leamt from his conversation.
It was nearly twelve o'clock when Mrs. Travis, who had
made one or two careless efforts to draw near to Cecily, suc-
ceeded in speaking a word aside with her.
" I hope you didn't go to see me yesterday ? I left home
in the morning, and am staying with friends at Hampstead,
not far from you."
" For long ? "
" I don't know. I should like to talk to you, if I could.
Shall you be driving back alone ? "
" Yes. Will you come with me ? "
" Thank you. Please let me know when you are going."
And Mrs. Travis turned away. In a few minutes Cecily
went to take leave of her aunt.
'• How is Clarence ? " asked Mi-s. Lessinsrham.
" Still better, I believe. I left him to-night without un-
" Oh, I had a letter this morning from Mrs. Science. No
talk of England yet. In the autumn they are going to
Greece, then for the winter to Sicily."
" Miriam with them ? "
" As though it were a matter of course."
They both smiled. Then Cecily took leave of two or three
other people, and quitted the room. Mrs. Travis followed
her, and in a few minutes they were seated in the
Mrs. Travis t.ad a face one could not regard without curi-
osity. It was not beautiful in any ordinary sense, but
strange and striking and rich in suggestiveness. In the
chance, flickering light that entered the carriage, she looked
haggard, and at all times her thinness and pallor give her the
appearance of suffering both in body and mind. Her com-
plexion was dark, her hair of a rich brown j she had very
A CORNER OF SOCIETY. 251
large eyes, wliicli generally wandered in an absent, restless,
discontented way. If she smiled, it Avas with a touch of
bitterness, and her talk was wont to be caustic. Cecily
had only known her for a few weeks, and did not feel
much drawn to her, but she compassionated- her for sorrows
known and suspected. Though only six and twenty, Mrs.
Travis had been married seven years, and had had two
children ; the first died at birth, the second was carried
off by diphtheria. Her husband Cecily had never seen,
but she heard disagreeable things of him, and Mrs. Travis
herself had dropped hints which signified domestic unhap-
After a minute or two of silence, Cecily was beginning to
speak on some indifferent subject, when her companion in-
" Will you let me tell you something about myself ? "
" Whatever you wish, Mrs. Travis," Cecily answered, with
" I've left my husband. Perhaps you thought of that ? "
The sudden disclosure gave her a shock. She had the
iiensation of standing for the first time face to face with one
of the sterner miseries of life.
" I did it once before," pursued the other, " two years ago.
Then I was foolish enough to be wheedled back again. That
shan't happen tliis time."
" Have you really no choice but to do this V " Cecily asked,
with much earnestness.
" Oh, I could have stayed if I had chosen. He doesn't
beat me. I have as much of my own way as I could exi)ect.
Perhaps you'll think me unreasonable. A Turkish woman
Cecily sat mute. She could not but resent the harsh tono
in which she was addressed, in spite of her pity.
" It's only that I suffer in my self-respect — a little," Mrs,
Travis continued, " Of course, this is no reason for taking
252 THE EMANCIPATED.
sucli a step, except to those who have suffered in the same
way. Perhaps you would like to stop the carriage and let
me leave you ? "
" Your suffering makes you unjust to me," replied Cecily,
much embarrassed by this strange impulsiveness. " Indeed
I sympathize with you. I think it quite possible that you
are behaving most rightly."
" You don't maintain, then, that it is a wife's duty to bear
every indignity from her husband ? "
" Surely not. On the contrary, I think there are some in-
dignities which no wife oucjlxt to bear."
" I'm glad to hear that. I had a feeling that you would
think in this way, and that's why I wanted to talk to you.
Of course you have only the evidence of my word for believ-
" I can see that you are very unhappy, and the cause you
name is quite sufficient."
" In one respect, I am very lucky. I have a little money
of my own, and that enables me to go and live by myself.
Most women haven't this resource : many are compelled to
live in degradation only for want of it. I should like to see
how many homes would be broken up, if all women were
suddenly made independent in the same way that I am*
How I should enjoy that! I hate the very word 'mar-
riage ' ! "
Cecily averted her face, and said nothing. After a pause,
her companion continued in a calm voice :
" You can't sympathize with that, I know. And you are
comparing my position with your own."
No answer was possible, for Mrs. Travis had spoken the
"In the first year of my marriage, I used to do the same
whenever I heard of any woman who was miserable with her
" Is there no possibility of winning back your husband ? "
Cecily asked, in a veiled voice,
A CORNER OF SOCIETY. 253
'^ Winning him back ? Oli, he is affectionate enough. But
you mean winning him back to faithfuhiesg. My husband
happens to be the average man, and the average man isn't
a pleasant person to talk about, in this respect."
" Are you not too general in youi condemnation, Mrs.
Travis F "
" I am content you should think so. You are very young
still, and there's no good in making the world ugly for you
as long as it can seem rosy."
" Please don't use that word," said Cecily, with emphasis.
It annoyed her to be treated as immature in mind. " I am
the last person to take rosy views of life. But there is
something between the distrust to which you are driven by
misery and the optimism of foolish people."
" We won't argue about it. Every woman must take
life as she finds it. To me it is a hateful weariness. I
hope I mayn't have much of it still before me ; what
there is, I will live in independence. You know Mrs.
Calder ? "
" Her position is the same as mine has been, but she has
more philosopihy ; she lets things take their course, just turn-
ing her eyes away."
" That is ignoble, hateful ! " exclaimed Cecily.
" So I think, but women as a rule don't. At all events,
they are content to whine a little, and do nothing. Poor
wretches, what can they do, as I said ? "
" They can go away, and, if need be, starve."
" They have children."
Cecily became mute.
" Will you let me come and see you now and then ? " Mrs.
Travis asked presently.
" Come whenever you feel you would like to," Cecily
answered, rousing herself from reverie.
The house in which Mrs. Ti-avis now lived was a quarter
of an hour's drive beyond that of the Elgars ; she would
254 THE EMANCIPATED.
liave alighted and walked, raaking notliing of it, but of
course Cecily could not allow this. The coachman was
directed to make the circuit. When Cecily reached home, it
was after one o'clock.
' *HE PE0PEIETIB8 DEFENDED.
The house was in Belslze Park. Light shone through
the blind of one of the upper windows, but the rest of the
front was lifeless. Cecily's ring at the bell sounded
distinctly ; it was answered at once by a maid-servant, who
said that Mr. Elgar was stiU in the library. Having spoken
a few words, ending with a kind good night, Cecily passed
through the hall and opened the library door.
A- reading-lamp made a bright sphere on the table, but no
one sat within its rays. After a fruitless glance round the
room, Cecily called her husband's name. There was a sound
of moving, and she saw that Reuben was on a sofa which the
" Have you been asleep ? " she asked merrily, as she
He stood up and stretched himself, muttering.
"Why didn't you go to bed, poor boy? I'm dread-
fully late ; I went out of my way to take some one home."
" Who was that ? " Elgar inquired, coming forward and
seating himself on the corner of the writing-table.
"Mrs. Travis. She has come to stay with friends at
Hampstead. But to bed, to bed ! You look like Hamlet
when he came and frightened Ophelia. Have you had an
evil dream ? "
THE PROPRIETIEB DEPENDED. 255
" That's the truth ; I have."
" What about ? "
" Oh, a stupid jumble." He moved the lamp-shade, so
that the light fell suddenly full upon her. " Why have you
made such friends all at once with Mrs. Travis ? "
" How is your headache ? "
" I don't know — much the same. Did she ask you to take
her home ? "
" Yes, she did — or suggested it, at all events."
" Why has she come to Hampstead ? "
" How can I tell, dear ? Put the lamp out, and let us
He sat swinging his leg. The snatch of uncomfortable
(sleep had left him pale and swollen-eyed, and his hair was
•• Who was there to-night ? "
*' Several new people. Amedee Silvenoire — the dramatist,
you know ; an interesting man. He paid me the compliment
of refraining from comj)liinents on my French. Madame
Jacquelin, a stout and very plain woman, who told us anec-
dotes of George Sand ; remind me to repeat them to-morrow.
And Mr. Bickcrdike, the pillar of idealism."
" Bickcrdike was there ? " Elgar exclaimed, with an air of
" He didn't refer to his acquaintance with you. I wonder
why not? "
" Did you talk to the fellow ? "
" Eather pertly, I'm afraid. He was silly enough to ask
me what I thought of his bookj though I hadn't mentioned
it. I put on my superior air and snubbed him ; it was like
tapping a frog on the head each time it pokes up out of the
water. He will go about and say what an insufferable person
that Mrs. Elgar is."
Eeuben was silent for a while.
" I don't like your associating with such people," he said
suddenly. " I wish you didn't go there. It's all very well
256 THE EMANCIPATED.
for a woman like your aunt to gather about her all the lis«
reputable men and women who claim to be of some acco int ;
but they are not fit comj^anions for you. I don't lite it at
She looked at him in astonishment, with bewildered eyes,
that were on the verge of laughter.
" What are you talking about, Eeuben ? "
" I'm quite serious." He rose and began to walk about
the room. " And it surprised me that you didn't think of
staying at home this evening. I said nothing, because I
wanted to see whether it would occur to you that you
oughtn't to go alone."
" How should such a thing occur to me ? Surely I am as
much at home in aunt's house as in my own ? I can hardly
believe that you mean what you say."
" You will understand it if you think for a moment. A
year ago you wouldn't have dreamt of going out at night
when I stayed at home. But you find the temj)tation of
society irresistible. People admire you and talk about you
and crowd round you, and you enjoy it — nevermind who the
people are. Presently we shall be seeing your portrait in the
shop-windows. I noticed what a satisfaction it was to you
when your name was mentioned among the other people in
that idiotic society journal."
Cecily laughed, but not quite so naturally as she wished it
" This is too absurd ! Your dream has unsettled your wits,
Eeuben. How could I imagine that you had begun to think
of me in such a light ? You used to give me credit for at
least average common sense. I can't talk about it ; I am
ashamed to defend myself."
He had not spoken angrily, but in a curiously dogged tone,
with awkward emphasis, as if struggling to say what did not
come naturally to his lips. Still walking about, and keej)-
ing his eyes on the floor, he continued in the same half-
embarrassed way :
THE PROPRIETIES DEFENDED. 257
" There's no need for you to defend yourself. I don't
exactly mean to blame you, but to point out a danger."
" Forgetting that you degrade my character in doing so."
" Nothing of the kind, Cecily. But remember how young
you are. You know very little of the world, and often see
things in an ideal light. It is your tendency to idealize.
You haven't the experience necessary to a woman who goes
about in promiscuous society."
Cecily knitted her brows.
" Instead of using that v^ague, commonplace language — ■
which I never thought to hear from you — I wish you would
tell me exactly what you mean. What things do I see in an
ideal light P That means, I suppose, that I am childishly
ignorant of common evils in the world. You couldn't speak
otherwise if I had just come out of a convent. And, indeed,
you don't believe what you say. Speak more simply, Reuben.
Say that you distrust my discretion."
" To a certain extent, I do."
" Then there is no more to be said, dear. Please to tell
me in future exactly what you wish me to do, and what to
avoid. I will go to school to your prudence."
The clock ticked very loudly, and, before the silence was
again broken, chimed half -past one.
" Let me give you an instance of what I mean," said
Elgar, again seating himself on the table and fingering his