Sir Wilfrid, with Lady Henry’s story fresh in his memory, was somehow poignantly conscious of the old man. Did their two minds hold the same image—of Lady Rose drawing her last breath in some dingy room beside one of the canals that wind through Bruges, laying down there the last relics of that life, beauty, and intelligence that had once made her the darling of the father, who, for some reason still hard to understand, had let her suffer and die alone?
On leaving the Montresors, Sir Wilfrid, seeing that it was a fine night with mild breezes abroad, refused a hansom, and set out to walk home to his rooms in Duke Street, St. James’s. He was so much in love with the mere streets, the mere clatter of the omnibuses and shimmer of the lamps, after his long absence, that every step was pleasure. At the top of Grosvenor Place he stood still awhile only to snuff up the soft, rainy air, or to delight his eye now with the shining pools which some showers of the afternoon had left behind them on the pavement, and now with the light veil of fog which closed in the distance of Piccadilly.
“And there are silly persons who grumble about the fogs!” he thought, contemptuously, while he was thus yielding himself heart and sense to his beloved London.
As for him, dried and wilted by long years of cloudless heat, he drank up the moisture and the mist with a kind of physical passion—the noises and the lights no less. And when he had resumed his walk along the crowded street, the question buzzed within him, whether he must indeed go back to his exile, either at Teheran, or nearer home, in some more exalted post? “I’ve got plenty of money; why the deuce don’t I give it up, and come home and enjoy myself? Only a few more years, after all; why not spend them here, in one’s own world, among one’s own kind?”
It was the weariness of the governing Englishman, and it was answered immediately by that other instinct, partly physical, partly moral, which keeps the elderly man of affairs to his task. Idleness? No! That way lies the end. To slacken the rush of life, for men of his sort, is to call on death—death, the secret pursuer, who is not far from each one of us. No, no! Fight on! It was only the long drudgery behind, under alien suns, together with the iron certainty of fresh drudgery ahead, that gave value, after all, to this rainy, this enchanting Piccadilly—that kept the string of feeling taut and all its notes clear.
“Going to bed, Sir Wilfrid?” said a voice behind him, as he turned down St. James’s Street.
“Delafield!” The old man faced round with alacrity. “Where have you sprung from?”
Delafield explained that he had been dining with the Crowboroughs, and was now going to his club to look for news of a friend’s success or failure in a north-country election.
“Oh, that’ll keep!” said Sir Wilfrid. “Turn in with me for half an hour. I’m at my old rooms, you know, in Duke Street.”