One night towards the end of January Selwyn had tried to sleep, but the furies of desire called to him in the dark. He got up and dressed. He did not know where he was going, but he knew that his steps would be guided to adventure, to oblivion.
There was a drizzling rain falling, and, with his coat buttoned close about his throat, he walked from street to street, his breath quickening with the ecstasy of sensual surrender which had at last come to him. Men spoke to him from dark corners; women called at him as he passed; he caught faint glimmers down murky alleys, where opium was opening the gates to bliss and perdition; but, with a step that was agile and graceful, he went on, his arteries tingling in anticipation of the senses’ gratification. Once a mongrel slunk out of a lane, and he called to it. It crawled up to him, and he stooped down to stroke its head, when, with a yelp of terror, it leaped out of his reach and ran back into the lane. As if it was the best of jests, he laughed aloud, and picking up a stone, sent it hurtling after the cur. Then he was suddenly afraid. The loneliness of the spot—the horrors lurking in the dark—the dog’s howl and his own meaningless laughter. He felt a fear of night—of himself. He hurried on, but it was not until he reached a lighted street of shops that his courage returned, and with the courage his fever of desire, greater than before.
An extra burst of rain warned him to seek shelter, and hurrying down the street, he paused under the canopy of a shabby theatre. There was one other person there—a woman. She came over to speak to him; but when she saw the mad gleam of his eyes she drew back, and, with a frightened exclamation, pressed her hand against her breast.
He made an ironic bow, then, with a smile, looked up at her, and she heard him utter an ejaculation of amazement.
For a moment he had fancied that it might be true. The likeness was uncanny! The burnished-copper hair, the silk-fringed eyes, the poise of her head, the tapering fingers—even in the scarlet of her rouged cheeks, there was a similarity to the high colouring of the English girl. What a jest of the Fates—that they should cast this poor creature of New York’s streets in the same mould with her who was the very spirit of chastity!
‘What a mockery!’ he muttered aloud. ‘What a hideous mockery!’
He was touched with sudden pity. Perhaps this woman had been born with the same spirit of rebellion as Elise. Perhaps her poor mind had never been developed, and so she had succumbed to the current of circumstance. She might have been the plaything of environment. The wound in his head was hurting again, and he covered the scar with his moist hand. Horrible as it seemed, this creature had brought Elise to him once more—Elise, and everything she meant. He wanted to cry out her name. His hands were stretched forward as if they could bridge the sea between them.