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Chapter II

Very late that same night, Summerhay came out of the little Chelsea house, which he inhabited, and walked toward the river. In certain moods men turn insensibly toward any space where nature rules a little--downs, woods, waters--where the sky is free to the eye and one feels the broad comradeship of primitive forces. A man is alone when he loves, alone when he dies; nobody cares for one so absorbed, and he cares for nobody, no--not he! Summerhay stood by the river-wall and looked up at the stars through the plane-tree branches. Every now and then he drew a long breath of the warm, unstirring air, and smiled, without knowing that he smiled. And he thought of little, of nothing; but a sweetish sensation beset his heart, a kind of quivering lightness his limbs. He sat down on a bench and shut his eyes. He saw a face--only a face. The lights went out one by one in the houses opposite; no cabs passed now, and scarce a passenger was afoot, but Summerhay sat like a man in a trance, the smile coming and going on his lips; and behind him the air that ever stirs above the river faintly moved with the tide flowing up.

It was nearly three, just coming dawn, when he went in, and, instead of going to bed, sat down to a case in which he was junior on the morrow, and worked right on till it was time to ride before his bath and breakfast. He had one of those constitutions, not uncommon among barristers--fostered perhaps by ozone in the Courts of Law--that can do this sort of thing and take no harm. Indeed, he worked best in such long spurts of vigorous concentration. With real capacity and a liking for his work, this young man was certainly on his way to make a name; though, in the intervals of energy, no one gave a more complete impression of imperturbable drifting on the tides of the moment. Altogether, he was rather a paradox. He chose to live in that little Chelsea house which had a scrap of garden rather than in the Temple or St. James's, because he often preferred solitude; and yet he was an excellent companion, with many friends, who felt for him the affectionate distrust inspired by those who are prone to fits and starts of work and play, conviviality and loneliness. To women, he was almost universally attractive. But if he had scorched his wings a little once or twice, he had kept heart-free on the whole. He was, it must be confessed, a bit of a gambler, the sort of gambler who gets in deep, and then, by a plucky, lucky plunge, gets out again, until some day perhaps--he stays there. His father, a diplomatist, had been dead fifteen years; his mother was well known in the semi- intellectual circles of society. He had no brothers, two sisters, and an income of his own. Such was Bryan Summerhay at the age of twenty-six, his wisdom-teeth to cut, his depths unplumbed.

When he started that morning for the Temple, he had still a feeling of extraordinary lightness in his limbs, and he still saw that face--its perfect regularity, its warm pallor, and dark smiling eyes rather wide apart, its fine, small, close-set ears, and the sweep of the black-brown hair across the low brow. Or was it something much less definite he saw--an emanation or expression, a trick, a turn, an indwelling grace, a something that appealed, that turned, and touched him? Whatever it was, it would not let him be, and he did not desire that it should. For this was in his character; if he saw a horse that he liked, he put his money on whatever it ran; if charmed by an opera, he went over and over again; if by a poem, he almost learned it by heart. And while he walked along the river--his usual route--he had queer and unaccustomed sensations, now melting, now pugnacious. And he felt happy.

He was rather late, and went at once into court. In wig and gown, that something "old Georgian" about him was very visible. A beauty-spot or two, a full-skirted velvet coat, a sword and snuff- box, with that grey wig or its equivalent, and there would have been a perfect eighteenth-century specimen of the less bucolic stamp--the same strong, light build, breadth of face, brown pallor, clean and unpinched cut of lips, the same slight insolence and devil-may-caredom, the same clear glance, and bubble of vitality. It was almost a pity to have been born so late.

Except that once or twice he drew a face on blotting-paper and smeared it over, he remained normally attentive to his "lud" and the matters in hand all day, conducted without error the examination of two witnesses and with terror the cross-examination of one; lunched at the Courts in perfect amity with the sucking barrister on the other side of the case, for they had neither, as yet, reached that maturity which enables an advocate to call his enemy his "friend," and treat him with considerable asperity. Though among his acquaintances Summerhay always provoked badinage, in which he was scarcely ever defeated, yet in chambers and court, on circuit, at his club, in society or the hunting-field, he had an unfavourable effect on the grosser sort of stories. There are men-- by no means strikingly moral--who exercise this blighting influence. They are generally what the French call "spirituel," and often have rather desperate love-affairs which they keep very closely to themselves.

When at last in chambers, he had washed off that special reek of clothes, and parchment, far-away herrings, and distemper, which clings about the law, dipping his whole curly head in water, and towelling vigorously, he set forth alone along the Embankment, his hat tilted up, smoking a cigar. It was nearly seven. Just this time yesterday he had got into the train, just this time yesterday turned and seen the face which had refused to leave him since. Fever recurs at certain hours, just so did the desire to see her mount within him, becoming an obsession, because it was impossible to gratify it. One could not call at seven o'clock! The idea of his club, where at this time of day he usually went, seemed flat and stale, until he remembered that he might pass up Bury Street to get to it. But, near Charing Cross, a hand smote him on the shoulder, and the voice of one of his intimates said:

"Halo, Bryan!"

Odd, that he had never noticed before how vacuous this fellow was-- with his talk of politics, and racing, of this ass and that ass-- subjects hitherto of primary importance! And, stopping suddenly, he drawled out:

"Look here, old chap, you go on; see you at the club--presently."

"Why? What's up?"

With his lazy smile, Summerhay answered:

"'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,'" and turned on his heel.

When his friend had disappeared, he resumed his journey toward Bury Street. He passed his boot shop, where, for some time, he had been meaning to order two pairs, and went by thinking: 'I wonder where she goes for things.' Her figure came to him so vividly--sitting back in that corner, or standing by the cab, her hand in his. The blood rushed up in his cheeks. She had been scented like flowers, and--and a rainy wind! He stood still before a plate-glass window, in confusion, and suddenly muttered aloud: "Damn it! I believe I am!" An old gentleman, passing, turned so suddenly, to see what he was, that he ricked his neck.

But Summerhay still stood, not taking in at all the reflected image of his frowning, rueful face, and of the cigar extinct between his lips. Then he shook his head vigorously and walked on. He walked faster, his mind blank, as it is sometimes for a short space after a piece of sell-revelation that has come too soon for adjustment or even quite for understanding. And when he began to think, it was irritably and at random. He had come to Bury Street, and, while he passed up it, felt a queer, weak sensation down the back of his legs. No flower-boxes this year broke the plain front of Winton's house, and nothing whatever but its number and the quickened beating of his heart marked it out for Summerhay from any other dwelling. The moment he turned into Jermyn Street, that beating of the heart subsided, and he felt suddenly morose. He entered his club at the top of St. James' Street and passed at once into the least used room. This was the library; and going to the French section, he took down "The Three Musketeers" and seated himself in a window, with his back to anyone who might come in. He had taken this--his favourite romance, feeling in want of warmth and companionship; but he did not read. From where he sat he could throw a stone to where she was sitting perhaps; except for walls he could almost reach her with his voice, could certainly see her. This was imbecile! A woman he had only met twice. Imbecile! He opened the book--

      "Oh, no; it is an ever-fixed mark
          That looks on tempests and is never shaken.
      It is the star to every wandering bark,
          Whose worth's unknown altho' its height be taken."

"Point of five! Three queens--three knaves! Do you know that thing of Dowson's: 'I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion'? Better than any Verlaine, except 'Les sanglots longs.' What have you got?"

"Only quart to the queen. Do you like the name 'Cynara'?"

"Yes; don't you?"

"Cynara! Cynara! Ye-es--an autumn, rose-petal, whirling, dead- leaf sound."

"Good! Pipped. Shut up, Ossy--don't snore!"

"Ah, poor old dog! Let him. Shuffle for me, please. Oh! there goes another card!" Her knee was touching his--! . . .

The book had dropped--Summerhay started.

Dash it! Hopeless! And, turning round in that huge armchair, he snoozed down into its depths. In a few minutes, he was asleep. He slept without a dream.

It was two hours later when the same friend, seeking distraction, came on him, and stood grinning down at that curly head and face which just then had the sleepy abandonment of a small boy's. Maliciously he gave the chair a little kick.

Summerhay stirred, and thought: 'What! Where am I?'

In front of the grinning face, above him, floated another, filmy, charming. He shook himself, and sat up. "Oh, damn you!"

"Sorry, old chap!"

"What time is it?"

"Ten o'clock."

Summerhay uttered an unintelligible sound, and, turning over on the other arm, pretended to snooze down again. But he slept no more. Instead, he saw her face, heard her voice, and felt again the touch of her warm, gloved hand.

John Galsworthy