The Well - Beloved
She Draws Close And Satisfies
He could not forget Mrs. Pine-Avon's eyes, though he remembered nothing of her other
facial details. They were round, inquiring, luminous. How that chestnut hair of hers had
shone: it required no tiara to set it off, like that of the dowager he had seen there, who had
put ten thousand pounds upon her head to make herself look worse than she would have
appeared with the ninepenny muslin cap of a servant woman.
Now the question was, ought he to see her again? He had his doubts. But, unfortunately
for discretion, just when he was coming out of the rooms he had encountered an old lady
of seventy, his friend Mrs. Brightwalton--the Honourable Mrs. Brightwalton--and she had
hastily asked him to dinner for the day after the morrow, stating in the honest way he
knew so well that she had heard he was out of town, or she would have asked him two or
three weeks ago. Now, of all social things that Pierston liked it was to be asked to dinner
off-hand, as a stopgap in place of some bishop, earl, or Under-Secretary who couldn't
come, and when the invitation was supplemented by the tidings that the lady who had so
impressed him was to be one of the guests, he had promised instantly.
At the dinner, he took down Mrs. Pine-Avon upon his arm and talked to nobody else
during the meal. Afterwards they kept apart awhile in the drawing-room for form's sake;
but eventually gravitated together again, and finished the evening in each other's
company. When, shortly after eleven, he came away, he felt almost certain that within
those luminous grey eyes the One of his eternal fidelity had verily taken lodgings-- and
for a long lease. But this was not all. At parting, he had, almost involuntarily, given her
hand a pressure of a peculiar and indescribable kind; a little response from her, like a
mere pulsation, of the same sort, told him that the impression she had made upon him
was reciprocated. She was, in a word, willing to go on.
But was he able?
There had not been much harm in the flirtation thus far; but did she know his history, the
curse upon his nature?--that he was the Wandering Jew of the love-world, how restlessly
ideal his fancies were, how the artist in him had consumed the wooer, how he was in
constant dread lest he should wrong some woman twice as good as himself by seeming to
mean what he fain would mean but could not, how useless he was likely to be for
practical steps towards householding, though he was all the while pining for domestic
life. He was now over forty, she was probably thirty; and he dared not make unmeaning
love with the careless selfishness of a younger man. It was unfair to go further without
telling her, even though, hitherto, such explicitness had not been absolutely demanded.
He determined to call immediately on the New Incarnation.