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Chapter XVII 


THE NAME UPON THE PETTICOAT

So imagine me seated in a grassy corner, with my knapsack open on the ground and my petticoat and silk stockings spread out in front of me,--an odd picture, to be sure, for any passer by to come upon. I suppose I could have passed for a pedlar, but undoubtedly it would have been very embarrassing. However, as it happened, I remained undisturbed, and was able to examine my purchases at leisure. I had never seen a petticoat so near before,--at all events I had never given one such close attention. What delicious dainty things they are! How essentially womanly--as I hope no one would call a pair of trousers essentially manly.

How pretty it looked spread out on the grass in front of me! How soft! how wondrously dainty the finish of every little seam! And the lace! It almost tempts one to change one's sex to wear such things. There was a time indeed, and not so long ago, when brave men wore garments no less dainty.

Rupert's Cavaliers were every bit as particular about their lace collars and frills as the lady whose pretty limbs once warmed this cambric.

But where is the name? Ah! here it is! What sweet writing! "Sylvia Joy, No. 6."

Sylvia Joy! What a perfectly enchanting name! and as I repeated it enthusiastically, it seemed to have a certain familiarity for my ear,--as though it were the name of some famous beauty or some popular actress,--yet the exact association eluded me, and obviously it was better it should remain a name of mystery. Sylvia Joy! Who could have hoped for such a pretty name! Indeed, to tell the truth, I had dreaded to find a "Mary Jones" or an "Ann Williams"-- but Sylvia Joy! The name was a romance in itself. I already felt myself falling in love with its unseen owner. With such a petticoat and such a name, Sylvia herself could not be otherwise than delightful too. Already, you see, I was calling her by her Christian name! And the more I thought of her, the stronger grew the conviction-- which has no doubt already forced itself upon the romantic reader--that we were born for each other.

But who is Sylvia, who is she? and likewise where is Sylvia, where is she? Obviously they were questions not to be answered off-hand. Was not my future--at all events my immediate future--to be spent in answering them?

Indeed, curiously enough, my recent haste to have them answered had suddenly died down. A sort of matrimonial security possessed me. I felt as I imagine a husband may feel on a solitary holiday--if there are husbands unnatural enough to go holidaying without their wives--pleasantly conscious of a home tucked somewhere beneath the distant sunset, yet in no precipitate hurry to return there before the appointed day.

In fact, a chill tremor went through me as I realised that, to all intent, I was at length respectably settled down, with quite a considerable retrospect of happy married life. To come to a decision is always to bring something to an end. And, with something of a pang, resolutely stifled, I realised for a moment the true blessedness of the single state I was so soon to leave behind. At all events, a little golden fragment of bachelorhood remained. There was yet a fertile strip of time wherein to sow my last handful of the wild oats of youth. So festina lente, my destined Sylvia, festina lente!

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