Towards evening, the longing to see the girl—a sensation as if she were calling him to come to her—became almost insupportable; yet, whatever excuse he gave, he felt that Sylvia would know where he was going. He sat on one side of the fire, she on the other, and they both read books; the only strange thing about their reading was, that neither of them ever turned a leaf. It was ‘Don Quixote’ he read, the page which had these words: “Let Altisidora weep or sing, still I am Dulcinea’s and hers alone, dead or alive, dutiful and unchanged, in spite of all the necromantic powers in the world.” And so the evening passed. When she went up to bed, he was very near to stealing out, driving up to the Dromores’ door, and inquiring of the confidential man; but the thought of the confounded fellow’s eyes was too much for him, and he held out. He took up Sylvia’s book, De Maupassant’s ’Fort comme la mort’—open at the page where the poor woman finds that her lover has passed away from her to her own daughter. And as he read, the tears rolled down his cheek. Sylvia! Sylvia! Were not his old favourite words from that old favourite book still true? “Dulcinea del Toboso is the most beautiful woman in the world, and I the most unfortunate knight upon the earth. It were unjust that such perfection should suffer through my weakness. No, pierce my body with your lance, knight, and let my life expire with my honour. . . .” Why could he not wrench this feeling from his heart, banish this girl from his eyes? Why could he not be wholly true to her who was and always had been wholly true to him? Horrible—this will-less, nerveless feeling, this paralysis, as if he were a puppet moved by a cruel hand. And, as once before, it seemed to him that the girl was sitting there in Sylvia’s chair in her dark red frock, with her eyes fixed on him. Uncannily vivid—that impression! . . . A man could not go on long with his head in Chancery like this, without becoming crazed!
It was growing dusk on Saturday afternoon when he gave up that intolerable waiting and opened the studio door to go to Nell. It was now just two days since he had seen or heard of her. She had spoken of a dance for that very night—of his going to it. She must be ill!
But he had not taken six steps when he saw her coming. She had on a grey furry scarf, hiding her mouth, making her look much older. The moment the door was shut she threw it off, went to the hearth, drew up a little stool, and, holding her hands out to the fire, said:
“Have you thought about me? Have you thought enough now?”
And he answered: “Yes, I’ve thought, but I’m no nearer.”
“Why? Nobody need ever know you love me. And if they did, I wouldn’t care.”
Simple! How simple! Glorious, egoistic youth!
He could not speak of Sylvia to this child—speak of his married life, hitherto so dignified, so almost sacred. It was impossible. Then he heard her say: