Now, why had the fellow said that? Curious how this desperate secret feeling of his own made him see sinister meaning in this servant, in Oliver’s visit of last night—in everything. It was vile—this suspiciousness! He could feel, almost see, himself deteriorating already, with this furtive feeling in his soul. It would soon be written on his face! But what was the use of troubling? What would come, would—one way or the other.
And suddenly he remembered with a shock that it was the first of November—Sylvia’s birthday! He had never before forgotten it. In the disturbance of that discovery he was very near to going and pouring out to her the whole story of his feelings. A charming birthday present, that would make! Taking his hat, instead, he dashed round to the nearest flower shop. A Frenchwoman kept it.
What had she?
What did Monsieur desire? “Des oeillets rouges? J’en ai de bien beaux ce soir.”
No—not those. White flowers!
“Une belle azalee?”
Yes, that would do—to be sent at once—at once!
Next door was a jeweller’s. He had never really known if Sylvia cared for jewels, since one day he happened to remark that they were vulgar. And feeling that he had fallen low indeed, to be trying to atone with some miserable gewgaw for never having thought of her all day, because he had been thinking of another, he went in and bought the only ornament whose ingredients did not make his gorge rise, two small pear-shaped black pearls, one at each end of a fine platinum chain. Coming out with it, he noticed over the street, in a clear sky fast deepening to indigo, the thinnest slip of a new moon, like a bright swallow, with wings bent back, flying towards the ground. That meant—fine weather! If it could only be fine weather in his heart! And in order that the azalea might arrive first, he walked up and down the Square which he and Oliver had patrolled the night before.
When he went in, Sylvia was just placing the white azalea in the window of the drawing-room; and stealing up behind her he clasped the little necklet round her throat. She turned round and clung to him. He could feel that she was greatly moved. And remorse stirred and stirred in him that he was betraying her with his kiss.
But, even while he kissed her, he was hardening his heart.
Next day, still following the lead of her words about fresh air and his tired look, he told her that he was going to ride, and did not say with whom. After applauding his resolution, she was silent for a little—then asked:
“Why don’t you ride with Nell?”
He had already so lost his dignity, that he hardly felt disgraced in answering:
“It might bore her!”
“Oh, no; it wouldn’t bore her.”
Had she meant anything by that? And feeling as if he were fencing with his own soul, he said: