Austin Selwyn rose from his bed and looked at Berners Street glistening in a sunlight that must have warmed the heart of Madame Carlotti herself. With a lazy pleasure in the process, he recalled the picture of Elise Durwent sitting in the dim shadows of the firelit room; he felt again the fragrance of her person as he leaned over her with the lighted match. On the canvas of his brain was thrown the rich colouring of the English girl, with the copper-hued luxury of hair and the eyes that seemed to steal some magic from the fire; and he saw again those warring lips, the crimson upper one chiding the passionate scarlet of its twin.
Idly, while enjoying the unusual dissipation of a pre-breakfast cigarette, he tried to imagine the course of incident and heredity that had produced her strange personality. That there was a bitterness somewhere in her disposition was obvious; but it certainly could not have come from the mother, who was the soul of contentment. He found himself speculating on the peculiar quality of personality, that strange thing which makes an individual something apart from others of his kind, that gift which singles out a girl of ordinary appearance and leaves one of flawless beauty still wagging her pretty head in the front row of the chorus. From that point he began to speculate on the loneliness of personality, which so often robs its owner of the cheery companionship of commonplace people.
On the whole, he regretted that he was going to see her again so soon. Her pertness, which had seemed fairly clever the previous night, would probably descend to triteness in the morning; he could even see her endeavouring to keep up the same exchange of short sentences. Bah! It was like a duel with toothpicks. The stolid respectability of Berners Street lent its aid to the conviction that the morning would hold nothing but anti-climax.
And he was poet enough to prefer an unfinished sonnet to one with an inartistic ending.
Austin Selwyn was twenty-six—an age which has something in common with almost every one of the seven celebrated by Shakespeare. Like most men in their twenties, he had the character of a chameleon, and adapted himself to his surroundings with almost uncanny facility. At college he had been an ardent member of a dozen cliques, even falling under the egotism of the men who dabbled in Spiritualism, but a clarity of thought and a strain of Dutch ancestry kept his feet on the earth when the rest of him showed signs of soaring.
Some moderate wit had said of him at college that he was himself only twice a day—when he got up in the morning and when he went to bed at night. This Stevensonian theory was not quite true, for a chameleon does not cease to be a chameleon because it changes its colour.