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CHAPTER I. THE PARTNER
THE train, with a shrill whistle, pulled into Summering. For a moment the black coaches stood still in the silvery light of the uplands to eject a few vivid human figures and to swallow up others. Exacerbated voices called back and forth; then, with a puffing and a chugging and another shrill shriek, the dark train clattered into the opening of the tunnel, and once more the landscape stretched before the view unbroken in all its wide expanse, the background swept clean by the moist wind.
One of the arrivals, a young man pleasantly distinguished by his good dress and elastic walk, hurried ahead of the others and entered one of the hotel ’buses. The horses took the steep road leisurely. Spring was in the air. Up in the sky floated the white shifting clouds of May and June, light, sportive young creatures, playfully coursing the blue path of heaven, suddenly dipping and hiding behind the mountains, embracing and running away, crumpling up like handkerchiefs, elongating into gauzy scarfs, and ending their play by roguishly perching white caps on the mountain tops. There was unrest below, too, in the wind, which shook the lean trees, still wet from the rain, and set their limbs a-groaning softly and brought down a thousand shining drops. Sometimes a cool breath of snow descended from the mountains, and then there was a feel in the air both balmy and cutting. All things in the atmosphere and on the earth were in motion and astir with the ferment of impatience. The horses tossed their heads and snorted as they now trotted down a descent, the sound of their bells jingling far ahead of them.
On arriving at the hotel, the young man made straight for the registry and looked over the list of guests. He was disappointed.
“What the deuce have I come here for?” he thought in vexation. “Stuck ’way up here on top of the mountain all alone, no company; why it’s worse than the office. I must have come either too early or too late. I never do have luck with my holidays. Not a single name do I know. If only there was a woman or two here to pick up a flirtation with, even a perfectly innocent one, if it must be, just to keep the week from being too utterly dismal.”
The young man, a baron not very high up in the country’s nobility, held a government position, and had secured this short vacation not because he required it particularly, but because his colleagues had all got a week off in spring and he saw no reason for making a present of his “week off” to the government. Although not without inner resources, he was a thoroughly social being, his sociability being the very quality for which his friends liked him and for which he was welcomed in all circles. He was quite conscious of his inability to stay by himself and had no inclination to meet himself, as it were, but rather avoided his own company, feeling not the least urge to become intimately acquainted with his own soul. He knew he required contact with other human beings to kindle his talents and stir up the warmth and exuberance of his spirits. Alone he was like a match in a box, frosty and useless.
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