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Chapter 6

It befell at this period, just before Christmas, that on my having
gone under pressure of the season into a great shop to buy a toy or
two, my eyes fleeing from superfluity, lighted at a distance on the
bright concretion of Flora Saunt, an exhibitability that held its
own even against the most plausible pinkness of the most developed
dolls. A huge quarter of the place, the biggest bazaar "on earth,"
was peopled with these and other effigies and fantasies, as well as
with purchasers and vendors haggard alike, in the blaze of the gas,
with hesitations. I was just about to appeal to Flora to avert
that stage of my errand when I saw that she was accompanied by a
gentleman whose identity, though more than a year had elapsed, came
back to me from the Folkestone cliff. It had been associated on
that scene with showy knickerbockers; at present it overflowed more
splendidly into a fur-trimmed overcoat. Lord Iffield's presence
made me waver an instant before crossing over, and during that
instant Flora, blank and undistinguishing, as if she too were after
all weary of alternatives, looked straight across at me. I was on
the point of raising my hat to her when I observed that her face
gave no sign. I was exactly in the line of her vision, but she
either didn't see me or didn't recognise me, or else had a reason
to pretend she didn't. Was her reason that I had displeased her
and that she wished to punish me? I had always thought it one of
her merits that she wasn't vindictive. She at any rate simply
looked away; and at this moment one of the shop-girls, who had
apparently gone off in search of it, bustled up to her with a small
mechanical toy. It so happened that I followed closely what then
took place, afterwards recognising that I had been led to do so,
led even through the crowd to press nearer for the purpose, by an
impression of which in the act I was not fully conscious.

Flora with the toy in her hand looked round at her companion; then
seeing his attention had been solicited in another quarter she
moved away with the shop-girl, who had evidently offered to conduct
her into the presence of more objects of the same sort. When she
reached the indicated spot I was in a position still to observe
her. She had asked some question about the working of the toy, and
the girl, taking it herself, began to explain the little secret.
Flora bent her head over it, but she clearly didn't understand. I
saw her, in a manner that quickened my curiosity, give a glance
back at the place from which she had come. Lord Iffield was
talking with another young person; she satisfied herself of this by
the aid of a question addressed to her own attendant. She then
drew closer to the table near which she stood and, turning her back
to me, bent her head lower over the collection of toys and more
particularly over the small object the girl had attempted to
explain. She took it again and, after a moment, with her face well
averted, made an odd motion of her arms and a significant little
duck of her head. These slight signs, singular as it may appear,
produced in my bosom an agitation so great that I failed to notice
Lord Iffield's whereabouts. He had rejoined her; he was close upon
her before I knew it or before she knew it herself. I felt at that
instant the strangest of all promptings: if it could have operated
more rapidly it would have caused me to dash between them in some
such manner as to give Flora a caution. In fact as it was I think
I could have done this in time had I not been checked by a
curiosity stronger still than my impulse. There were three seconds
during which I saw the young man and yet let him come on. Didn't I
make the quick calculation that if he didn't catch what Flora was
doing I too might perhaps not catch it? She at any rate herself
took the alarm. On perceiving her companion's nearness she made,
still averted, another duck of her head and a shuffle of her hands
so precipitate that a little tin steamboat she had been holding
escaped from them and rattled down to the floor with a sharpness
that I hear at this hour. Lord Iffield had already seized her arm;
with a violent jerk he brought her round toward him. Then it was
that there met my eyes a quite distressing sight: this exquisite
creature, blushing, glaring, exposed, with a pair of big black-
rimmed eye-glasses, defacing her by their position, crookedly
astride of her beautiful nose. She made a grab at them with her
free hand while I turned confusedly away.

Henry James

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