Like a man emerging from a trance, he looked dreamily about him—at the street running with streams of water—at the silent theatre—at the woman. A weakness came over him, and his pulses were fluttering and unsteady.
A peddler of umbrellas passed, and Selwyn purchased one for a dollar.
‘Won’t you take this?’ he asked, stepping over to the woman, who cringed nervously. ‘It is raining hard, and you will need it.’
She took the thing, and looked up at him wonderingly, like a child that has received a caress where it expected a blow.
‘Say,’ she said, in a queer nasal whine, ’I thought you was a devil when I seen you a minute ago. Honest—you frightened me.’
He said nothing.
’Why’—there was a weak quaver in her whine, and she caught his wrist with her hand—’why, you’re kind—and I thought you was a devil. Gee! ain’t it funny?’
With a shrill laugh that set his teeth on edge, she put up the umbrella and walked out into the rain. And only a passing policeman saw, by the light of a lamp, that her eyes were glistening.
Selwyn remained where he was, blinking stupidly into the rain-soaked night, as one who has been walking in his sleep and has waked at the edge of an abyss.
It was nearly noon next day before Selwyn woke from a heavy, dreamless sleep. Both in mind and in body there was the listlessness which follows the passing of a crisis, but for the first time in many days he felt the impulse to face life again, to accept its bludgeonings, unflinching.
He was almost fully dressed, when a messenger arrived with a letter. It was from Edgerton Forbes.
’MY DEAR AUSTIN,—I have been trying to get hold of you for the past week, but you are as elusive as a hundred-dollar bill. Douglas Watson has returned from the front, minus an arm, and he has asked as many ex-Harvard men as possible to meet him at the University Club. We are having dinner there to-night in one of the smaller rooms, and I want you to come with me. I’ll pick you up at your hotel at seven, and we can walk over. If it is all right, send word by the messenger.—As ever, FORBES.’
Selwyn’s first instinct was to refuse. He had no desire to meet Watson again just yet, nor did he want to face men with whom he had lived at Harvard. But the thought of another lonely night arose—night, with its germs of madness.
‘Tell Mr. Forbes,’ he said, ‘that I shall expect him at seven.’
A few minutes before the time arranged the clergyman called, and they started for the club. The air was raw and chilling, and people were hurrying through the streets, taking no heed of the illuminated shop windows, tempting the eye of woman and the purse of man. In almost every towering building the lights of offices were gleaming, as tired, routine-chained staffs worked on into the night tabulating and recording the ever-increasing prosperity of the times.