As though he were picturing inhabitants of another world, he conjured to his vision the feverish traffic of New York, deluged with human beings belched from their million occupations into the glare of lunch-hour. It gave him a strange sensation of being among the gods to be able to look at the lowering sun and know that at the same moment it held New York in the pitiless heat of midday. . . . And he wondered dreamily why people lived such a mockery of existence as in its towering streets. The pastoral atmosphere was so perfect, so completely soothing in its cool fragrance of evening, that he thought if he could only remain there, away from the conflict of the world, he could write of such things as only poets dream and painters see.
He had readied the stream, and was about to retrace his steps, when he heard the rustle of a dress, and coming round a bend in the path he saw Elise Durwent. She was in an evening gown that looked oddly exotic in those surroundings, and, still in a haze of reverie, he stood in perplexed silence until she stopped opposite him.
‘Have I interrupted the muse?’ she said.
’On the contrary, you have awakened it. I was just thinking how vivid you looked with that setting of overhanging bushes and the background of fields. I—I think it must have been your gown that gave such a quaintly incongruous effect.’
’And, of course, there is nothing incongruous in a dinner-jacket near a trout-stream? If I were an artist I should paint you, and call the picture “Despondency."’
‘Well,’ he smiled, ’that would be an improvement on most Academy titles. An ordinary artist would simply name it “Young Gentleman by Trout-Stream.” Haven’t you often gone through a gallery picturing all sorts of dramatic meanings in paintings, only to have your illusions shattered by the catalogue?’
She nodded. ‘You have expressed no surprise at my coming,’ she said abruptly. ‘Are women in the habit of tracking you in this way?’
‘I’m sorry,’ he answered, lazily thrusting his hands into his pockets. ’As a matter of fact you are never very far from my thoughts. Perhaps that is why I felt no surprise.’
‘How are you enjoying your visit?’
‘How do you like the guests?’
‘Is this a catechism, Miss Durwent?’
She shrugged her shoulders and pulled a leaf from a bush. ’I was wondering,’ she said, ‘whether they bored you as much as me.’
‘Why,’ he said with a slight laugh, ’to be frank, people never bore me. The moment they become tedious they are of interest to me as a study in tediousness.’
‘Just the same,’ she said quickly, ’as when a woman interests you she becomes an object of analysis. I wish I could detach myself like that.’
‘And yet,’ he said gently, wondering at the intensity of her eyes, ’I should have thought you possessed the gift of detachment to a greater degree than I. You always seem separate and distinct from your associates.’