It was easier to recognize this fact, however, than to act upon it. His mind was full of tricksy devices for eluding this task of serious thought which he sought to impose upon it. It seemed so much pleasanter not to think at all—but just to drift. He found himself watching with envy the men who, as they came out from their breakfast, walked over to the bookstall, and bought cigars from the row of boxes nestling there among the newspaper piles. They had such evident delight in the work of selection; they took off the ends of the cigars so carefully, and lighted them with such meditative attention,—he could see that he was wofully handicapped by not knowing how to smoke. He had had the most wonderful breakfast of his life, but even in the consciousness of comfortable repletion which pervaded his being, there was an obstinate sense of something lacking. No doubt a good cigar was the thing needed to round out the perfection of such a breakfast. He half rose once, fired by a sudden resolution to go over and get one. But of course that was nonsense; it would only make him sick. He sat down, and determinedly set himself to thinking.
The effort finally brought fruit—and of a kind which gave him a very unhappy quarter of an hour. The lover part of him was uppermost now, insistently exposing all its raw surfaces to the stings and scalds of jealousy. Up to this moment, his brain had always evaded the direct question of how he and the priest relatively stood in Celia’s estimation. It forced itself remorselessly upon him now; and his thoughts, so far from shirking the subject, seemed to rise up to meet it. It was extremely unpleasant, all this.
But then a calmer view asserted itself. Why go out of his way to invent anguish for himself? The relations between Celia and the priest, whatever they might be, were certainly of old standing. They had begun before his time. His own romance was a more recent affair, and must take its place, of course, subject to existing conditions.
It was all right for him to come to New York, and satisfy his legitimate curiosity as to the exact character and scope of these conditions. But it was foolish to pretend to be amazed or dismayed at the discovery of their existence. They were a part of the situation which he, with his eyes wide open, had accepted. It was his function to triumph over them, to supplant them, to rear the edifice of his own victorious passion upon their ruins. It was to this that Celia’s kiss had invited him. It was for this that he had come to New York. To let his purpose be hampered or thwarted now by childish doubts and jealousies would be ridiculous.
He rose, and holding himself very erect, walked with measured deliberation across the corridor and up the broad staircase. There was an elevator near at hand, he had noticed, but he preferred the stairs. One or two of the colored boys clustered about the foot of the stairs looked at him, and he had a moment of dreadful apprehension lest they should stop his progress. Nothing was said, and he went on. The numbers on the first floor were not what he wanted, and after some wandering about he ascended to the next, and then to the third. Every now and then he encountered attendants, but intuitively he bore himself with an air of knowing what he was about which protected him from inquiry.