She rose quickly. One of her gloves fell to the floor and he picked it up. The act of restoring it brought them close together, and their talk had, he felt, justified another searching glance into her face. She nodded her thanks, smiling again, and moved toward the door. He admired the tact which had caused her to close the discussion at precisely the safe moment. He was a master of the art of closing interviews, and she had placed the period at the end of the right sentence; it was where he would have placed it himself. She had laughed!—and the novelty of being laughed at was refreshing. He and Thatcher had laughed in secret at the confusion of their common enemies in old times; but most men feared him, and he had the reputation of being a mirthless person. He had rarely discussed politics with women; he had an idea that a woman’s politics, when she had any, partook of the nature of her religion, and that it was something quite emotional, tending toward hysteria. He experienced a sense of guilt at the relief he found in Sylvia’s laughter, remembering that scarcely half an hour earlier he had been at pains to justify himself before his wife for the very act which had struck this girl as funny. He had met Mrs. Bassett’s accusations with evasion and dissimulation, and he had accomplished an escape that was not, in retrospect, wholly creditable. He hated scenes and tiresome debates as he hated people who cringed and sidled before him.
His manner of dealing with Thatcher had been born of a diabolical humor which he rarely exercised, but which afforded him a delicious satisfaction. It was the sort of revenge one reserved for a foe capable of appreciating its humor and malignity. The answer of laughter was one to which he was unused, and he was amazed to find that it had effected an understanding of some vague and intangible kind between him and Sylvia Garrison. She might not approve of him, he had no idea that she did; but she had struck a chord whose vibrations pleased and tantalized. She was provocative and, to a degree, mystifying, and the abrupt termination of their talk seemed to leave the way open to other interviews. He thought of many things he might have said to her at the moment; but her period was not to be changed to comma or semicolon; she was satisfied with the punctuation and had, so to speak, run away with the pencil! She had tossed his political aims and strifes into the air with a bewildering dismissal, and he stood like a child whose toy balloon has slipped away, half-pleased at its flight, half-mourning its loss.
She picked up some books she had left on a stand in the hall. He stood with his hands in his pockets, watching her ascent, hearing the swish of her skirts on the stairs: but she did not look back. She was humming softly to herself as she passed out of sight.
A SHORT HORSE SOON CURRIED