“Yes. Can I come to-morrow?”
That was the moment to have said: No! You are a foolish child, and I an elderly idiot! But he had neither courage nor clearness of mind enough; nor—the desire. And, without answering, he went towards the door to turn up the light.
“Oh, no! please don’t! It’s so nice like this!”
The shadowy room, the bluish dusk painted on all the windows, the fitful shining of the fire, the pallor and darkness of the dim casts and bronzes, and that one glowing figure there before the hearth! And her voice, a little piteous, went on:
“Aren’t you glad I’m back? I can’t see you properly out there.”
He went back into the glow, and she gave a little sigh of satisfaction. Then her calm young voice said, ever so distinctly:
“Oliver wants me to marry him, and I won’t, of course.”
He dared not say: Why not? He dared not say anything. It was too dangerous. And then followed those amazing words: “You know why, don’t you? Of course you do.”
It was ridiculous, almost shameful to understand their meaning. And he stood, staring in front of him, without a word; humility, dismay, pride, and a sort of mad exultation, all mixed and seething within him in the queerest pudding of emotion. But all he said was:
“Come, my child; we’re neither of us quite ourselves to-night. Let’s go to the drawing-room.”
Back in the darkness and solitude of the studio, when she was gone, he sat down before the fire, his senses in a whirl. Why was he not just an ordinary animal of a man that could enjoy what the gods had sent? It was as if on a November day someone had pulled aside the sober curtains of the sky and there in a chink had been April standing—thick white blossom, a purple cloud, a rainbow, grass vivid green, light flaring from one knew not where, and such a tingling passion of life on it all as made the heart stand still! This, then, was the marvellous, enchanting, maddening end of all that year of restlessness and wanting! This bit of Spring suddenly given to him in the midst of Autumn. Her lips, her eyes, her hair; her touching confidence; above all—quite unbelievable—her love. Not really love perhaps, just childish fancy. But on the wings of fancy this child would fly far, too far—all wistfulness and warmth beneath that light veneer of absurd composure.
To live again—to plunge back into youth and beauty—to feel Spring once more—to lose the sense of all being over, save just the sober jogtrot of domestic bliss; to know, actually to know, ecstasy again, in the love of a girl; to rediscover all that youth yearns for, and feels, and hopes, and dreads, and loves. It was a prospect to turn the head even of a decent man. . . .