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   Chapter 16 A GOLDEN DAY

The Twelfth Hour By Ada Leverson Characters: 6015

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Woodville was sitting in the library, supposed to be digging up old Bluebooks for Sir James, but, instead, he found himself lingering over a curious book of poems with a white cover and a black mask on the outside. He read (and sighed):

Dear, were you mine for one full hour,

A lifetime, an hour, that is all I ask.

Dear, like a thing of lace, or a flower

Before the end would you drop your mask?

Dear, days and hours are not for me-

I may not know you, nor forgive,

For you are like the distant sea,

And I upon the hills must live.

"This," he said to himself, "is rot for me! It isn't a good poem,-and if it were a good poem (it has some good qualities) it's idiotic for me to read poetry. What is the matter with me?" He put down all the books, and went and looked at himself in the mirror. He saw a face rather paler, more worn than some weeks ago.

For the last few nights Woodville had suffered from insomnia-a trouble at which he used to scoff and smile, firmly believing, until it had been his own experience, that it was affectation. The second day that he had gone to look out of the window at about five o'clock in the morning, feeling that curious lucid clearness of brain, almost a kind of second-sight, sometimes produced by unwonted sleeplessness, he still thought that people made much too much fuss about a restless night or two.

"Suppose a fellow couldn't sleep for a time! Well, he can read, or work. It was nothing." But, about eleven in the morning the exaltation of the wakefulness had gone off, and he felt stupid and depressed. He suddenly began to feel anxious about himself. Of course, it was all Sylvia! This life, seeing her more or less all day, under the same roof, pretending to be only friends, without any sort of vent, any expression, verbal or otherwise, for his sentiment, was impossible! It was unbearable! He ought to have gone to Athens.... Suddenly Sylvia came into the room. She looked the picture of freshness and happiness. She had come to fetch a book, she said. But she lingered a moment, to ask Woodville if he liked her new dress. It was a Paris marvel of simplicity in pale grey, and neither disguised nor over-emphasised the lines of her exquisite figure.

"Yes, I think it's all right," said Woodville.

"All right!" she exclaimed indignantly. "Don't you see how it fits? Why, it's simply wonderful! How heartless you are!" There was just a tinge of coquetry in her manner, which was rather unwonted. "You're not looking very well to-day," she said, looking sympathetically at him.

"I'm very well. I'm always all right."

"Are you angry with me, Frank? What's the matter? What's that you're reading?" She snatched the book of poems away from him, read the poem and blushed with pleasure.

"Yes! You see that's what I'm reduced to!" he said.

"Frank, I don't think you go out enough. Look, what a lovely day it is!"

"Where do you propose I should go? To the theatre to-night? I hate theatres." He spoke irritably

.

"No," she said in a low, soft voice; "let's break the compact, just for once-just for once!" She was instinctively taking advantage of a kind of weakness he showed this morning for the first time-due to his nervous fatigue-the weariness of long self-repression.

"Certainly not!" he answered, with no conviction whatever. "Whose birthday is it? It isn't Christmas Day-it isn't Midsummer Day. No! I don't see any excuse for doing it."

"Yes, there's a reason! It will be Sexagesima Sunday next week!"

"So it will!"

"Ah, you admit that! Well, let's go and have lunch at Richmond-or somewhere like that!"

"My poor dear child, what's the matter! You're not sane.... Besides, it's impossible," said Woodville, hesitating, in a hopeful voice.

"It isn't impossible. Papa's gone out for the whole day. Leave it to me! I'll arrange it. If the worst came to the worst, I could tell papa that I longed for a little air and made you take me down to Richmond! Why! you know he wouldn't mind. He would see nothing in it. We'd be back before five."

Woodville looked tempted.

"Besides, there would be nothing in it," added Sylvia softly.

He took her hand. "Temptress!" he said. "Of course there wouldn't be any earthly harm in it," he said doubtfully.

"Then we're going to do it!"

"Are we, Eve?"

"Oh, Frank!" she exclaimed passionately, "it's too absurd, too unnatural! Why shouldn't we have a moment's happiness? Aren't we going to be married next year?"

"Probably, if I live through this one."

She was smiling, for she knew she had won. "Yes, you'll live through it all right-if you only have a little fresh air and change of scene now and then!"

"I couldn't do it, Sylvia!-How should we go?"

"Drive in a hansom?"

"No, I'll meet you at the Underground Railway at Earl's Court."

"When?" she asked.

"In twenty minutes."

"All right. We'll have a holiday! Everybody has a holiday sometimes! It's a heavenly day! We will go and walk in Richmond Park and forget all about the compact worries till we come back at tea-time. Papa won't, then, be back, and no one will ever know anything about it!" She clapped her hands. He smiled at her.

"It's settled," he said.

As she went out of the door, she murmured, "In twenty minutes, then," and vanished, radiant.

When she had gone, he found all trace of his usual scruples had inexplicably disappeared. It was natural, and (he said to himself) it was right! What use was this continual sacrifice of the precious hours and days of their youth-for an Idea? Besides, she looked so lovely. A man must be a stone to refuse such a delightful suggestion, or a fool. He was neither. The reaction was inevitable, and in half an hour they were in the train together, in the highest spirits, all cares thrown aside, in the hope of the spring, of sunlight, fresh air, and above all, being together alone, free, for several hours. It seemed like a dream, a dream with the added substantial tangible joy of being real.

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