The drawing-room was full of people playing a game concerned with horses ridden by jockeys with the latest seat. And Shelton was compelled to help in carrying on this sport till early in the morning. At last he left, exhausted by his animation.
He thought of the wedding; he thought over his dinner and the wine that he had drunk. His mood of satisfaction fizzled out. These people were incapable of being real, even the smartest, even the most respectable; they seemed to weigh their pleasures in the scales and to get the most that could be gotten for their money.
Between the dark, safe houses stretching for miles and miles, his thoughts were of Antonia; and as he reached his rooms he was overtaken by the moment when the town is born again. The first new air had stolen down; the sky was living, but not yet alight; the trees were quivering faintly; no living creature stirred, and nothing spoke except his heart. Suddenly the city seemed to breathe, and Shelton saw that he was not alone; an unconsidered trifle with inferior boots was asleep upon his doorstep.
The individual on the doorstep had fallen into slumber over his own knees. No greater air of prosperity clung about him than is conveyed by a rusty overcoat and wisps of cloth in place of socks. Shelton endeavoured to pass unseen, but the sleeper woke.
“Ah, it’s you, monsieur!” he said “I received your letter this evening, and have lost no time.” He looked down at himself and tittered, as though to say, “But what a state I ’m in!”
The young foreigner’s condition was indeed more desperate than on the occasion of their first meeting, and Shelton invited him upstairs.
“You can well understand,” stammered Ferrand, following his host, “that I did n’t want to miss you this time. When one is like this—” and a spasm gripped his face.
“I ’m very glad you came,” said Shelton doubtfully.
His visitor’s face had a week’s growth of reddish beard; the deep tan of his cheeks gave him a robust appearance at variance with the fit of, trembling which had seized on him as soon as he had entered.
“Sit down-sit down,” said Shelton; “you ’re feeling ill!”
Ferrand smiled. “It’s nothing,” said he; “bad nourishment.”
Shelton left him seated on the edge of an armchair, and brought him in some whisky.
“Clothes,” said Ferrand, when he had drunk, “are what I want. These are really not good enough.”
The statement was correct, and Shelton, placing some garments in the bath-room, invited his visitor to make himself at home. While the latter, then, was doing this, Shelton enjoyed the luxuries of self-denial, hunting up things he did not want, and laying them in two portmanteaus. This done, he waited for his visitor’s return.
The young foreigner at length emerged, unshaved indeed, and innocent of boots, but having in other respects an air of gratifying affluence.