Presently, amongst the stream of travellers, he saw Antonia. She was close to her mother, who was parleying with a footman; behind them were a maid carrying a bandbox and a porter with the travelling-bags. Antonia’s figure, with its throat settled in the collar of her cape, slender, tall, severe, looked impatient and remote amongst the bustle. Her eyes, shadowed by the journey, glanced eagerly about, welcoming all she saw; a wisp of hair was loose above her ear, her cheeks glowed cold and rosy. She caught sight of Shelton, and bending her neck, stag-like, stood looking at him; a brilliant smile parted her lips, and Shelton trembled. Here was the embodiment of all he had desired for weeks. He could not tell what was behind that smile of hers—passionate aching or only some ideal, some chaste and glacial intangibility. It seemed to be shining past him into the gloomy station. There was no trembling and uncertainty, no rage of possession in that brilliant smile; it had the gleam of fixedness, like the smiling of a star. What did it matter? She was there, beautiful as a young day, and smiling at him; and she was his, only divided from him by a space of time. He took a step; her eyes fell at once, her face regained aloofness; he saw her, encircled by mother, footman, maid, and porter, take her seat and drive away. It was over; she had seen him, she had smiled, but alongside his delight lurked another feeling, and, by a bitter freak, not her face came up before him but the face of that lady in the restaurant—short, round, and powdered, with black-circled eyes. What right had we to scorn them? Had they mothers, footmen, porters, maids? He shivered, but this time with physical disgust; the powdered face with dark-fringed eyes had vanished; the fair, remote figure of the railway-station came back again.
He sat long over dinner, drinking, dreaming; he sat long after, smoking, dreaming, and when at length he drove away, wine and dreams fumed in his brain. The dance of lamps, the cream-cheese moon, the rays of clean wet light on his horse’s harness, the jingling of the cab bell, the whirring wheels, the night air and the branches—it was all so good! He threw back the hansom doors to feel the touch of the warm breeze. The crowds on the pavement gave him strange delight; they were like shadows, in some great illusion, happy shadows, thronging, wheeling round the single figure of his world.
With a headache and a sense of restlessness, hopeful and unhappy, Shelton mounted his hack next morning for a gallop in the Park.
In the sky was mingled all the languor and the violence of the spring. The trees and flowers wore an awakened look in the gleams of light that came stealing down from behind the purple of the clouds. The air was rain-washed, and the passers by seemed to wear an air of tranquil carelessness, as if anxiety were paralysed by their responsibility of the firmament.