I can never forget the Thistle Hotel. I can never forget that strange winter night.
I had asked her to dine with me, and then go to the Opera. My room was opposite hers. She said she would come but - could I lace up her evening bodice, it was hooks at the back. Very well.
It was still daylight when I knocked at her door and entered. In her petticoat bodice and a full silk petticoat she was washing, sponging her face and neck. She said she was finished and I might sit on the bed and wait for her. So I looked round at the dreary room. The one filthy window faced the street. She could see the choked dust-grimed window of a wash-house opposite. For furniture the room contained a low bed, draped with revolting, yellow, vine-patterned curtains, a chair, a wardrobe with a piece of cracked mirror attached, a washstand. But the wallpaper hurt me physically. It hung in tattered strips from the wall. In its less discoloured and faded patches, I could trace the pattern of roses - buds and flowers - and the frieze was a conventional design of birds, of what genus the good God alone knows.
And this was where she lived. I watched her curiously. She was pulling on long, thin stockings, and saying 'damn' when she could not find her suspenders. And I felt within me a certainty that nothing beautiful could ever happen in that room, and for her I felt contempt, a little tolerance, a very little pity.
A dull, grey light hovered over everything; it seemed to accentuate the thin tawdriness of her clothes, the squalor of her life, she, too, looked dull and grey and tired. And I sat on the bed, and thought 'Come, this Old Age. I have forgotten passion. I have been left behind in the beautiful golden procession of Youth. Now I am seeing life in the dressing room of the theatre.'
So we dined somewhere and went to the Opera. It was late, when we came out into the crowded night street, late and cold. She gathered up her long skirts. Silently we walked back to the Thistle Hotel, down the white pathway fringed with beautiful golden lilies, up the amethyst shadowed staircase.
Was Youth dead? ... Was Youth dead?
She told me as we walked along the corridor to her room that she was glad the night had come. I did not ask why. I was glad, too. It seemed a secret between us. So I went with her into her room to undo those troublesome hooks. She lit a little candle on an enamel bracket. The light filled the room with darkness. Like a sleepy child she slipped out of her frock and then, suddenly, turned to me and flung her arms round my neck. Every bird upon the bulging frieze broke into song. Every rose upon the tattered paper budded and formed into blossom. Yes, even the green vine upon the bed curtains wreathed itself into strange chaplets and garlands, twined round us in a leafy embrace, held us with a thousand clinging tendrils.
And Youth was not dead.