THE SANTA RITA SHERRY.
Farnham walked down the path to the gate, then turned to go to his own house, with no very definite idea of what direction he was taking. The interview he had just had was still powerfully affecting his senses, he was conscious of no depression from the prompt and decided refusal he had received. He was like a soldier in his first battle who has got a sharp wound which does not immediately cripple him, the perception of which is lost in the enjoyment of a new, keen, and enthralling experience. His thoughts were full of his own avowal, of the beauty of his young mistress, rather than of her coldness. Seeing his riding-whip in his hand, he stared at it an instant, and then at his boots, with a sudden recollection that he had intended to ride. He walked rapidly to the stable, where his horse was still waiting, and rode at a brisk trot out of the avenue for a few blocks, and then struck off into a sandy path that led to the woods by the river-side.
As he rode, his thoughts were at first more of himself than of Alice. He exulted over the discovery that he was in love as if some great and unimagined good fortune had happened to him. “I am not past it, then,” he said to himself, repeating the phrase which had leaped from his heart when he saw Alice descending the stairs. “I hardly thought that such a thing could ever happen to me. She is the only one.” His thoughts ran back to a night in Heidelberg, when he sat in the shadow of the castle wall with a German student of his acquaintance, and looked far over the valley at the lights of the town and the rippling waves of the Neckar, silvered by the soft radiance of the summer moon.
“Poor Hammerstein! How he raved that night about little Bertha von Eichholz. He called her Die Einzige something like a thousand times. It seemed an absurd thing to say; I knew dozens just like her, with blue eyes and Gretchen braids. But Hammerstein meant it, for he shot himself the week after her wedding with the assessor. But mine is the Only One—though she is not mine. I would rather love her without hope than be loved by any other woman in the world.”
A few days before he had been made happy by perceiving that she was no longer a child; now he took infinite pleasure in the thought of her youth; he tilled his mind and his senses with the image of her freshness, her clear, pure color, the outline of her face and form. “She is young and fragrant as spring; she has every bloom and charm of body and soul,” he said to himself, as he galloped over the shady woodland road. In his exalted mood, he had almost forgotten how he had left her presence. He delighted in his own roused and wakened passion, as a devotee in his devotions, without considering what was to come of it all. The blood was surging through his veins. He was too strong, his love was too new and wonderful to him, to leave any chance for despair. It was not that he did not consider himself dismissed. He felt that he had played a great stake foolishly, and lost. But the love was there, and it warmed and cheered his heart, like a fire in a great hall, making even the gloom noble.