So quickly did he move at this last that a man who had been, for some moments, standing just outside the portieres of the doorway had barely time to step aside into the shadows of the dim hall. As it was, Ste. Marie, in a more normal moment, must have seen that the man was there; but his eyes were blind, and he saw nothing. He groped for his hat and stick as if the place were a place of gloom, and, because the footman who should have been at the door was in regions unknown, he let himself out, and so went away.
Then the man who stood apart in the shadows crossed the hall to a small room which was furnished as a library, but not often used. He closed the door behind him, and went to one of the windows which gave upon the street. And he stood there for a long time, drawing absurd invisible pictures upon the glass with one finger and staring thoughtfully out into the late June afternoon.
* * * * *
A BRAVE GENTLEMAN RECEIVES A HURT, BUT VOLUNTEERS IN A GOOD CAUSE
When Ste. Marie had gone, Miss Benham sat alone in the drawing-room for almost an hour. She had been stirred that afternoon more deeply than she thought she had ever been stirred before, and she needed time to regain that cool poise, that mental equilibrium, which was normal to her and necessary for coherent thought.
She was still in a sort of fever of bewilderment and exaltation, still all aglow with the man’s own high fervor; but the second self which so often sat apart from her, and looked on with critical, mocking eyes, whispered that to-morrow, the fever past, the fervor cooled, she must see the thing in its true light—a glorious lunacy born of a moment of enthusiasm. It was finely romantic of him, this mocking second self whispered to her—picturesque beyond criticism—but, setting aside the practical folly of it, could even the mood last?
The girl rose to her feet with an angry exclamation. She found herself intolerable at such times as this.
“If there’s a heaven,” she cried out, “and by chance I ever go there, I suppose I shall walk sneering through the streets and saying to myself: ‘Oh yes, it’s pretty enough, but how absurd and unpractical!’”
She passed before one of the small, narrow mirrors which were let into the walls of the room in gilt Louis Seize frames with candles beside them, and she turned and stared at her very beautiful reflection with a resentful wonder.
“Shall I always drag along so far behind him?” she said. “Shall I never rise to him, save in the moods of an hour?”
She began suddenly to realize what the man’s going away meant—that she might not see him again for weeks, months, even a year. For was it at all likely that he could succeed in what he had undertaken?
“Why did I let him go?” she cried. “Oh, fool, fool, to let him go!” But even as she said it she knew that she could not have held him back.