"There is claret and soda too—there on the cheffonier. What a pity it is, Victor, you are so unreasonable! You make yourself look deplorably ill about every trifle! You are certainly trying to find a short cut out of the world! Why don't you take things more easily?"
"I am as I am," I muttered. "I'm going out now," I said, when I had finished the soda.
"I'm going to look Howard up. I have got a new plan of work if he'll join me in it. I shall see."
My father elevated his shoulders as much as to say, Some new phase of dementia, I suppose, and I went out.
I took the underground to Baker Street, and thence two minutes' walk brought me to the house I wanted. Howard was a friend of mine, an intimate friend, though, strictly speaking, from his character he ought not to have been.
As a general rule I steer clear of friendships with men who are very much opposed to me in character; it saves a lot of bother in the end. However, in this case, although I believed Howard to be a weak, worthless, untrustworthy individual, I could not help liking him. He was talented and of a pleasing—at least to me—personality. When I came into his room he was sitting reading in a long chair by the fire.
"Oh! is that you, Vic? Come in," he said, turning a good-looking discontented face towards me, not improved just now by the effects of a severe attack of jaundice.
"How are you?" I said, shaking his saffron-hued hand.
"Pretty beastly. And you?"
"Your remark might serve, I think," I said, taking a chair opposite him.
"Aren't you any better?" and I scanned his face closely.
He was not more than twenty, and had a singularly fine type of countenance.
"Oh yes, thanks! Crawling on."
"None, I think, except that I've broken with Kitty."
"I knew you'd have to!" I said. "Did I not say so from the first? I felt sure you could never stand her!"
"I am rather sorry, for she was very pretty; but the last straw she put upon me was too much. I couldn't—after that—no, I couldn't, really."
"What was it?" I said, laughing, as he shook his head dubiously and looked meditatively into the fire.
"Why, I sent her a sonnet—at least, no, a verse—and we were talking about it afterwards, I had written—"
'And leaning sideways, looks, and lifts The tresses of her heavy hair.'
"Well, she objected to the adjective 'heavy,' and wanted me to insert another. What word do you think she suggested?"
"Can't say at all. Golden, perhaps!"
"Worse!" he answered, with a groan. "Golden is hackneyed but still conceivable. No—Crimpy! my dear fellow! Think of it!"
I went into a fit of laughter.
"Heavens! well I must say I never should have thought of that," I said. "What a fearful girl. And what did you say?"
"Say! I tried to explain to her the awfulness of it, the incongruity, but no, she couldn't see it! We jawed about it for a couple of hours with the result that our engagement is now off!"
"Good. I am very glad to hear it; but perhaps a Breach of Promise will come on?"
"Can't help it. Anything would be better than to go through life with a girl who didn't feel there are some things no fellar can do; and one of them, that he can't put a word like crimpy in his sonnet."
"Been doing any work?"
"Yes; one poem. Like to see it?"
He got up and went to a table littered all over with papers—written, printed, and blank. After a time he extracted the one he wanted, handed it to me, and then flung himself into the chair again.
"Whew! This title won't do. 'The Hermaphrodite!' That's far too alarming for the British public."
"Oh, bother! Well, go on. Read the poem."
I did so in silence.
"First-rate," I said, when I had finished. "Not a weak line in it. Not a single weak line. And there's nothing to prevent its being taken even in this d——d England, I think. The title's the worst part. You'll have to alter that."
"Why? Swinburne has a poem, 'Hermaphroditus.'"
"Yes—in a volume; and there it's Latinised; and then Swinburne has made his name, which of course is everything. If you want to make your debut before the English reading world you must do so with 'Ode to my father's tombstone,' or something of that sort!"
"Well, if you think Latin would improve it, let's put 'Duplexus' as its title," he answered, laughing and trying to snatch back the paper.
"Not on any account!" I said. "That would sound cynical, and cynical when you're unknown you must not be."
"Oh, well, there! I leave it to you to find a title! I don't care what it's called."
I looked through the verses trying to catch an idea for a name. Numbers suggested themselves to me, but none sufficiently vague and indefinite to suit the English ear. At last I said—
"Do you think Linked Spheres would do?"
"Linked Spheres?" replied Howard, with elevated brows. "What on earth has that to do with the subject?"
"Well, I have taken it from this line where you say, 'And in his brain are two divided worlds of thought.'"
"But I say that they are divided—divided isn't linked!"
"No, I quite admit it. But though divided they must be linked to a certain extent by being both within his brain. It is not quite right though, because the walls of the skull might, by encircling the two worlds, be said to unite them, but they could not 'link' anything. I follow all that, and I don't think the title is particularly artistic. It's not clear enough. Your own is much better from the view of intrinsic fitness. But the beauty of Linked Spheres is its indistinctness. You must not be too clear. That has been my great fault—perspicuity—and I am beginning to see it now. It has fatally barred my getting on. I always do try to make people see exactly what I mean, and that is apparently a mistake. When I write about passion everybody feels it is passion, and is shocked in consequence. When another fellow writes about it you feel he is trying to say something, but you are not quite sure what, and so it doesn't matter."
"'Muddle it! muddle it!' must be your watchword if you want to pass muster through the British press. Linked Spheres is a splendid muddle—very indefinite, quite void of connection with the subject in hand, and with a pleasant tinkle about the sound, just like Gladstone's speeches! Linked Spheres! It's impossible, for how the deuce would you link a sphere? Metaphor all wrong, and no one will know in the least what you mean, but it sounds pleasant and polished, and perfectly proper, and you'll find your editor will swallow the poem at a gulp."
"You're in an awful huff, Victor, with the British press, that's clear!"
I laughed too.
"Yes I am, I admit it, and all this leads up to the question I came to ask you this afternoon. Will you come over to Paris with me? I am going."
I got up and leant against the mantel-piece, pushing a place clear for my elbow on it between a bottle of liqueur and a copy of "The Holy Grail."
"You're great at springing mines upon one. Paris? why Paris? And how can you tear yourself away from Lucia?"
"I wish you would not pronounce that word as if it rhymed with Fuchsia," I said.
"Well, how do you want me to pronounce it?"
"You know quite well its Lu-chee-ah, and the accent is on the middle syllable, not the first."
"Oh, all right: Lu-CHEE-ah. Ah! what a mouthful! I would rather say Miss Grant!"
"It might be as well if you did," I said, coldly.
Howard looked at me and opened his eyes.
"You are uncommonly sticky to-day," he said, kicking a very old slipper off his swinging foot and catching it on the toe again.
"Well, what about Paris? Let's hear."
"I am so sick of this rotten, wishy-washy England. They won't take my things as they stand, and I'm not going to write 'Tales of my First Feeding Bottle' to please them. So I'm going over to Paris. I shall turn my MSS. into French and publish them there. The language lends itself to perfect lucidity, and the Paris press allows men to write as men. Besides, the French admire word-painting, which is my particular vein. The English don't. They like composition. Here an author's pen must remain always a stick dipped in ink. It must never become what mine is—a painter's brush, wet, dripping, overflowing with oil colour. It struck me you might care to come too, and do the same with your verse. If so—come, by all means."
I looked down at his intelligent face and hoped he would come. Selfish, conceited, and self-sufficient as I may be, there is a strand of weakness made up in my composition that forces me to find the companionship of another intellect whenever possible.
"Yes; I'll come," he answered after a minute, getting on to his feet and thrusting both hands into his pockets with an energetic air. "I'm rather dubious about the books and the translation business; but anyway we can have a high old time in Paris!"
"But look here, Howard," I returned, "whether I succeed or not, I am not meditating having any high old time, or rather what you mean—a low old time. I'm going there to work."
"Oh, we all know you're a saint!" he said derisively. "But—'A doubtful throne is ice on summer seas!' We shall see how long your virtue lasts at La Scala and in the Champs Elysees, with Lucia safely packed away in England!"
I smiled and raised my eyebrows in silence. The point was not worth discussing. Howard and I looked at some things from such an enormously different level that conversation on them was merely waste of time. It was as if a man upon a cliff started a dissertation with another in a boat lying on the sea beneath. Half the excellent arguments would drift away upon the wind, lost, rendered nil by the mere difference of level in the two planes. The two main chains that bound my whole psychological system—self-control and self-respect—were entirely absent in him. He looked at his every good action from the point of utility, at his every bad one from the point of secrecy. He would do the first if it were useful to him, and the last if it were secret. These, I believe, were the only two conditions that ever occurred to him. He was weak, even contemptible, in character, and I could not help clearly seeing it, but my friendship to him was won over by his talents, and by a certain good-tempered, easy, pleasant way he had. Widely different though we were, we had never had a quarrel. We got on together perfectly, and he might say things to me that would have offended me from an other man. Liking! Liking! What is it? It is as difficult to define, as impossible to imprison between the limits of motives and reasons, of "Whys" and "becauses," as Loving. I liked Howard, or rather I liked his society, which is not the same thing. Often the people who are the most disappointing in the great issues of life are the pleasantest to live with through the trifles of everyday existence and vice versa. I would not have trusted Howard in a crisis for any consideration, but then crises don't come every day, and he was delightful to discuss a chapter or a sonnet with.
"When are you going, by the way? Not to-morrow, I hope, for behold this room!" and he glanced round helplessly.
It was certainly in the most frightful of literary confusions. Masses of loose papers, letters, bills, poems, drifted over the tables; books stood in piles upon the floor; newspapers occupied the chairs.
"No, next week. Shall we say Saturday?"
"All right. I'll be ready by then. Cross—evening, I suppose?"
"Very likely. But I shall see you again," I said, looking at my watch. "By Jove! close to seven. I must go. Try and get rid of that confounded jaundice. Good-bye!"
Howard extended his hand.
"By the way, what about the tin? Can you manage?"—
"Oh yes! That's all right," I said.
I was Howard's bank, upon which he drew fitfully and spasmodically: that is to say, when any expensive little fancy seized him. He always insisted on giving me I.O.U.'s and acknowledgments for the sums he borrowed, which I as regularly tore in pieces and put in the fire. I was half way down the stairs when I ran back and opened his door again.
"Have you a copy of that verse? I have not half studied it this evening."
"What?" he said, looking round his chair back. "Your precious Linked Spheres? Yes; take that one if you like."
I took up the paper.
"Thanks!" I said, and re-descended the stairs.
Going down Baker Street, I stopped at the first lamp-post, and read some lines of it again. A glow of admiration, almost of affection, towards the curious lines, full of nascent genius, lit slowly in me.
"Splendid! magnificent!" I muttered. "If not here, I'll see it's got out in Paris."
The next week saw myself and Howard installed in Paris. We had two large, comfortable rooms on the second floor, opening into each other, well furnished and upholstered in every way as sitting-rooms, as most of the French bedrooms are.
They faced a corner where several boulevards met and diverged, and there was a constant stream of Paris life flowing beneath our windows every hour of the day. A balcony ran outside, and on this in the evening we used to stand and smoke and flick paper balls on to the heads of the grisettes and the bonnes passing far underneath. On the ground floor of the hotel was a cafe that extended also over the pavement with its chairs and tables, and was open to the general public as well as to those who were staying in the hotel.
Howard and I got on admirably as usual. Although we were so different we had the common ground of a similarity in intellect. On all strictly intellectual subjects, in psychological discussions, on points of artistic merit, we seldom differed. His brain was, when he chose to exert it, singularly brilliant, and in a companion this compensates me for everything else almost that is wanting. I could not certainly have lived in the same intimacy with a fool who had been as high principled, as moral, and as sober as Howard was the reverse of all these. Our mode of life was very different, as naturally it would be, since I had come with a predetermination to do nothing but work, and he with an equally strong one to idle his days away in the most enjoyable manner he could invent. For myself, I was fairly content with the prospect before me. Work I was accustomed to, and it was easy. A new idea for a manuscript had begun to hover fitfully before my mental vision, and was gradually absorbing my thoughts into itself. Had I been able to write to and hear from Lucia I should have been satisfied, but my father had made the absence of all correspondence between us a sine qua non of my coming here. When I had heard this I had looked at him with some little amusement. Such a stipulation as this seemed to me to have only one interpretation—he hoped and thought I should forget her!
"What is the meaning of this?" I asked. "What can be the benefit of it? How can the fact of our writing or not writing be of importance? Do you think I shall ever relinquish Lucia? I am resigned to wait as long as must be, but I am utterly determined to have her in the end."
To which my father had answered grimly with a smile,—
"Very well, my dear Victor, see that you get her!"
Which remark had made me grind my teeth and then laugh and shrug my shoulders.
"And you won't permit a letter a month?"
"Oh, dressed in your little brief authority!" I thought, looking at him. Then I said—
"Very good—I agree."
"I consider I have your word that you will not write, nor hear from her, directly or indirectly, within this year?"
"Certainly you have."
And so the matter was settled.
When Lucia heard of it, we met each other's eyes, and she elevated her eyebrows, and a faint smile curved her lips.
"It will make no difference," she murmured, and nothing more.
After all, I don't know that I cared very greatly about the letters. It was Lucia herself that I wanted—nothing less. It gives me very little pleasure to read a letter, and I never have understood the cherishing locks of hair and dead roses business.
The desire for the presence of the living personality is too sharp-edged to let me feel satisfaction in substitutory objects and vague associations. To have put my hand round Lucia's living throat; yes, that would have been a keen delight, but I was not dead set on possessing myself of her handkerchief that I might kiss in private. I had one portrait of her—that was all—and that I rarely looked at.
The first thing I did in Paris was to find a translator for Howard's poem, which, after a time, appeared in one of the literary papers in its French dress, and returned to its original title. He came to me suddenly one evening with a contemporary paper in his hand, and the flush of gratified talent, and the pride that is its first cousin, kindling in his face.
"Look here, Vic!" he said; "isn't this first-class? Here's a critique on my verses, and just see how they crack them up!"
I took the paper and read the paragraph, Howard leaning over my shoulder and resting his knee on the arm of my chair. When I had finished I looked up at him.
"Not a word more than it deserves, old man!" I said. "Now you realise, don't you, what you can be and do if you choose!"
"Yes. Well, really, if all that's true, I ought to make some sort of a name some day, eh?"
And for a time it seemed that a lasting impression had been made upon him. He seemed to feel that elation and enthusiasm stir in him which makes it a joy to the genius to renounce all for his work. With regard to my own manuscripts, I sent some of them, in English, to one of the French publishing firms, and there ensued a blank of three weeks. At the end of that time I received a peremptory note inviting me to call at their office. When I presented myself I was shown into a bare, square room, where an august little man was standing, using a silver toothpick. He was short, with a large-sized lower chest; bald, with a short, grey beard cut to a sharp point; waxed moustache ends, sticking out ferociously; and brown eyes, keen with intelligence. He bowed elaborately.
I could speak French, he supposed.
I assented, and the conversation then went on very fast.
Monsieur's works had been read by their Anglo-French reader and highly approved. There was no doubt that Monsieur possessed a talent, a talent that he would say was—colossal. At the same time, these works were all too English in tone to catch the taste of the Parisian world, and Monsieur had seemed to put a restraint upon his pen, that rendered his works a touch too cold.
Great heavens! how I raised my eyebrows at that; remembering that in England I had been always rejected on account of being too warm.
Now, his proposition was this:—If Monsieur felt disposed to write a manuscript, in which the scene should be laid in France, and some of the characters, at least, be French, and also allow himself a little greater latitude, then he should be delighted to put the manuscript in the hands of their very best translator, and give it out to an audience that, above all things, admired vigour.
I heard all this with satisfaction. The offer meant a lot more work for me, but I did not mind that, with success—dear success—in view. I closed with his proposition at once, and after some formalities and details had been gone into and settled, I rushed home to tell Howard.
So, for a time, settled into working intellectual grooves, our life ran on quietly from day to day with a fair prospect on ahead of us.
And then came an unlucky incident which jerked the wheels of Howard's existence out of the narrow, hard line of effort, and after that they ran along anyhow, sometimes on and sometimes off it, and kept me in dread of a total smash. The Champs Elysees were full of the late afternoon sunlight, and we sauntered slowly, criticising the occupants of the various carriages rolling up to the great arch of Napoleon, and arguing in a broken, desultory way on our usual subject of talk—literature.
Howard was on the outside, nearest the road, walking on the actual kerb, and flicking up the leaves in the gutter, as he talked, with the point of his cane. As we strolled, with our eyes more or less directed on the string of vehicles moving in the centre of the sunny road, we noticed one small, black brougham going the same way as ourselves, that seemed conspicuous by being closed amongst the rest of the open victorias. Suddenly it detached itself from the line of other carriages and dashed up alongside of the pavement where we were walking. Its wheels ground in the gutter, and I caught Howard's arm to draw him more on to the pavement.
"Look out!" I exclaimed. "What a way to drive!" I added, as the coachman whipped up his horses and drove on some fifty yards, close to the kerb. There he pulled up abruptly. The door of the brougham was pushed open and a woman got out. Such a figure it was that outlined itself in the sunny light, standing on the white trottoir, and with the vista of the Champs Elysees behind it—a form seductive in every line, with a fine hip, and a tiny arched foot that tapped the pavement impatiently.
"What's up?" I said to Howard. "Whom is she waiting for, I wonder?"
A few steps more brought us up to her, and then, to our astonishment, she turned fully towards me, and said in her own language,—
"Will you come and dine with me this evening, Monsieur? The carriage will take us home now!"
We both stopped short. There was a second of blank amaze, and the woman's face stamped itself on our startled vision;—the eyes, liquid and gleaming, behind a veil of black lashes; the smooth firm nose, with its raised and tremulous nostril; the oval of either cheek, with the damask glow in it; and the curled mouth of deepest crimson, with the essence of sensuous languor in its curve.
For a second we stared at it in the sunlight, and that second sufficed to let us take in the situation; and there was something in her words and tone of confidence, and something of authority in the way she pointed to her carriage, that annoyed me.
"Thank you! I only dine with my friends," I answered coldly.
I suppose she was not insensible to the contempt in my tone and eyes as I looked down on her, for her next words came in a more humble, ingratiating voice.
"Make me one of them, then, Monsieur!—at once;" and she smiled—a lovely smile on such a mouth. Howard stood in silence, staring at her. I was very much amused and a little annoyed.
"You flatter me!" I returned, satirically; "but I have as many as I want already."
Howard broke in.
"Won't you extend your invitation to me?" he said, eagerly, and she threw a quick side-glance over him.
"I can't invite you both—at the same time!" she said, with a laugh and a little Parisian shrug; and then she looked at me again with a look that one would say was abominable or charming, according as one's particular mood at the moment was.
My mood was not such as to condemn it.
My next words were simply said for me, as it were, by my long habit of self-restraint.
"My presence is not in the question at all, to embarrass you," I said, curtly, and added to Howard—
"We may as well go on."
But that was not at all his view.
"Ask me," he said, with his shaky French accent; "I'll come!" and he put his hand on her arm, with a glance that matched her own. She seemed pretty well indifferent which of us it should be, and she merely said imperiously,—
"Come, then!" and with a grimace over her shoulder at me, disappeared into her brougham again.
Howard would have followed instantly, but I seized his arm.
"What are you doing?" I said in English. "Is it worth it, Howard? You may regret it. She is probably some married woman!"
Howard wrenched himself free from me.
"Don't talk to me! I'm not the fellow to refuse a jolly good lark when it's offered to me!"
He flung himself into the brougham without another word, drew the door to after him, and they were gone, whirling up the Champs Elysees, leaving me standing on the kerb looking after the polished black back of the brougham receding and growing small in the distance.
"Well!" I thought, "if another fellow had told me this tale, I should have thought it a howler!"
The suddenness of the whole thing had taken my breath away, and I must have stood there many seconds in confused thought, in which a flexible form and arched foot took a prominent part.
When I roused myself I saw Nous was lying down beside me with the patience of a philosopher, and catching the flies that buzzed along the sunny pavement—to kill time.
I called him, and went on up toward the Arc.
"I couldn't have done otherwise," I thought. I knew I did not wish to have done otherwise. I knew I should say again exactly the same if the brougham were again before me, but yet—
"I want nothing now that I have my work on hand," I told myself, as the arched foot went on before me up the pavement.
"By-and-by"—but then life seemed all by-and-bys for me.
I shortened my walk. Everything seemed to jar upon my nerves. I went back to the hotel by a quiet way, and then up to the empty room to work.
Howard did not return for a couple of days. On the third I was sitting after dinner at one of the tables outside the hotel cafe, smoking, under the line of trees that edge the Paris kerb, when a fiacre drew up at my very elbow, and Howard got out. He did not see me for a minute, engaged with paying the cocher and hunting for a pourboire, and then he was just going straight across the lighted trottoir into the hotel when I called to him.
"Hullo, Vic! there you are!" he said, turning back. "I didn't see you under the tree."
He came back and drew up a chair, with a scraping sound, to the opposite side of my table, leant his elbows upon it, and pushed his hat back. There was a blaze of light, all across the pavement to where we were sitting, from the windows and open glass doors of the cafe. He looked well and uncommonly jolly; a man who lives his life, such as it is, without thought, without reflection, and without philosophy—who views the passing hour without grudging, the past without regret.
"You look awfully seedy," he said. "Anything up?"
"No," I answered. "Well? 'How have we sped in this contest?' How went the dinner?"
"I'll tell you," he said, turning round to secure a passing garcon. "Let's get hold of a drink first. Oh, she's got a jolly place!" he said, when the garcon, and eventually the drink, had been captured. "Nice house and all that. She's married, as you said, and of very good family. Received everywhere, you know."
"Husband at the dinner?" I asked laconically.
"No; husband gone to Tunis on business."
"Expected back to-day, I suppose?"
"Yes. You should have gone, Vic! She'd have satisfied you! Lovely figure! I never knew a lovelier!"
I said nothing.
"What did you think of her stopping us like that?" he went on after a minute.
"I thought it consummate cheek," I said. "I should not have believed it if it hadn't actually happened before my eyes."
"Yes, it was cheeky; but do you know, she is not very cheeky, really. An awfully nice woman, and very clever. But aren't these Parisiennes queer? You can't imagine any woman doing such a thing in England, can you?"
"It seems she had seen us once before. It was you she wanted, not me. Why didn't you go, you duffer? I only came in a bad second!"
"She had read my things and likes them. Do you know, I think it is rather a good thing I have met her, it will urge me to do more—don't look at me 'in that tone of voice,' I am sure it will, really, Victor!"
"Are you going to see her again, then?" I asked.
"Yes, oh yes!"
"When the husband next visits Tunis, I suppose?"
"Yes, and before that, even when he's here. She is going to patronise my talent—see?"
"I must write my next thing to her, of course. It's a nuisance being hampered with this beastly French language!"
And then the conversation went on. We sat there and talked and argued from the particular to the general, and back again, until the waiters came and cleared the chairs off the pavement and began to turn out the lights in the cafe—and it was a conversation after which I slept badly.
After this incident I saw less of Howard, and our lives ran farther and farther apart. I grew more and more absorbed in the developing manuscript. He grew more and more taken up in the stream of amusement he had entered. He wrote very little. A couple of lines that had occurred to him perhaps at the theatre, and were jotted hastily on the edge of a programme, was all that a whole week produced. And even these would have been lost through his carelessness but for me.
The days were generally divided between headache and sleep; the nights between the theatre and drink. I regretted it; and this life that was being wasted, poured out in uselessness, within my sight oppressed me. I should hardly have noticed it with another man, but I knew that this one had been planned for higher things.
I used to try and rouse in him his pride and love for himself, or, at any rate, for his talent. I used to insist on his hearing me read sometimes those disconnected lines that his own brain, dulled by drink, had almost forgotten.
"Are they not splendid?" I would say; "and you are the author! You are their parent, Howard! Think! Any man could lead the life you are leading! not one in a thousand could produce these lines!"
Howard would look at me suspiciously with heavy eyes.
"Are you sure I wrote that? I don't think I remember it!"
What a crime!
"I know you did," I would answer, and then urge him to give every day and night in the week, if he liked, to pleasure except one—"let one be sacred to work!"
"And just think," he would answer, lazily, "if I were dying, how those days and nights wasted would come and stare me in the face!"
"Wasted! in the building of such lines as these?"
"But what's the good of them when they are built? They don't make me enjoy life!"
And he pursued his own path and I could not stop him. I hoped and thought he would get tired after a time of the Paris halls and drunken nights and sick headaches, but I waited in vain. He had gradually got intimate with the back as well as the front of the scenes, and this I liked less than anything. The state of Howard's finances, too, threw an extra weight of responsibility on me, for he must have trodden a straighter road, and perhaps he would have worked more if he had had less money. And the money—his superfluous cash—came generally from me. His own allowance was small; just enough to keep him and no more. Gifts, under the name of loans, from me supplied all extras, and filled all deficiencies and gaps. What could I answer when he used to say, "Dear old boy! let me have another twenty!" And yet I knew it was handing him the razor to cut his throat. I hoped the sight of another fellow working as persistently as I did would have been an encouragement to him to make some sort of effort himself, but he looked upon me as a misguided creature, and took pains not to follow my example.
"How do you know that you will ever marry Lucia? or make a success of your books or anything?" he asked me one evening as we went upstairs after dinner, he to dress before going to La Scarletta, I to work on the MS.
"You are working for an uncertainty, a dream. It may never come off, and then where will you be. Now, at least, I know what I am going to have this evening. Such enjoyment as there is I get it, and there's an end of it, and no worry about it. As for you, you are all worry; and even granted that you get, in the end, something superlatively satisfactory, why, it will hardly make up to you for all you have gone through to get it!"
I said nothing. We had got up to our rooms by this time, and I flung myself into the easy chair.
Howard went into his room and brought back his dress shoes to put them on in mine, that he might follow up his argument.
"Now, look here, Vic, which of us two fellows is the most ready to go out of the world? In the Bible or prayer-book or somewhere we are told to live so that we may be willing and prepared to die any minute. Well, that's just what I do. I haven't a scrap of a tie to life. I don't think there will be anything better in it than what I have had already. I'd go to-morrow. But you, you would not like it a bit, and you can't deny it. You have got all the ties of your unsatisfied desires. You want to get Lucia—you want to make your name. You would be awfully cut up now if you were told you were going to be bundled out of life in ten minutes; and I—I shouldn't care!"
Howard had finished fastening his patent shoes, and now sat back in his chair, one leg crossed over the other, and his hands behind his head.
"Being brought into life is just like being invited to a feast from which you may be called away at any minute. Well, if you have eaten and drunk to satiety you will be only too glad to get up and go away and sleep. But if you have sat at the table, hungering all the time and repressing yourself, then, when the sudden call comes, and you must rise and leave it for ever, think what a misery and bitterness to be dragged away from the brilliant table, with all its dishes and its wines untasted, its flowers unsmelt, and be crammed away into the darkness—hungry, thirsty, and unsatisfied. Take my word for it, Vic, you'll have a bad five minutes on your deathbed!"
I listened in silence. I felt ill and dispirited and disinclined for talk.
"That's all Horace. I don't care much about Latin as a whole, but I do think he is splendid. I'd have that book made the general testament. I'd have it taught in all the Board Schools and sworn on in the Law Courts. I'd have every fellow take it as a guide through life; if he really acts up to it, it ensures his happiness. Its philosophy beats all the religions hollow. 'Take the day.' 'Put no trust in to-morrow.' 'Seek not to know the future; whatever it is, bear it.' 'Each night be able to say I have lived.' 'Retire from life, satisfied, as from a banquet.' And so on ad lib. You know it all, Victor. You were brought up upon it, but you haven't profited by it—not a scrap. Well, I'm going!"
He leant forward, picked up his shoes, and went into his own room. It was about twelve when he came in that night and found me just finishing off a chapter. The fire had gone out from neglect; the window stood open and the lace curtains waved in the damp night wind. Howard stalked across the room and banged the glass doors shut, and told me it was beastly cold in here. I was just fully absorbed in the closing passages of my scene, and felt a nervous irritation at being interrupted.
"There's a fire-lighter behind the scuttle, throw it into the grate and you'll soon have a blaze," I said, without looking up.
Howard drew off his lavender gloves and flung them down on the table. One fell on the last sheet I had written.
"Confound you! do be careful!" I muttered, picking it up, and noticing the great blur it left on the page. "The sheets are wet."
"It doesn't matter, they're not a new pair!" answered Howard, coolly, going down on his knees to light up the fire. He accomplished this in a few minutes, and then settled down in the long chair with a cigar. I wrote on feverishly, expecting to be addressed and interrupted every moment. It was a great bore his coming in just now, disturbing me. I had a difficult thing to express, and I was just pursuing the tail end of an idea I could not quite grasp. My pen hovered uncertainly over the paper. I could not exactly give words to the impression in my brain, and the sense that he was going to speak, about to speak each second, worried me. At the same time I never wished to be ungracious to Howard when he did return to our rooms; never wished to feel it was my execrably bad company that induced him to stay away from them all night instead of half.
"I say, Vic!"
"Do you know that kissing song Embrasse moi?"
"Don't you think it awfully fetching? I like that refrain so much—Embrasse moi, chumph! chumph!—and then the orchestra exactly imitates the sound of a kiss—then Encore une fois!! chumph! chumph! Don't you?"
"Yes; it isn't bad."
"La Faina was there to-night!"
"Do you know her?"
"I've heard of her."
"Do you know what Faina means?"
"Of course I do!"
"Do you think it a nice name?"
"Well, it's better than Grille d'Egout anyway, isn't it?"
"About on a par, I should say." "How many frills do you think she had on her petticoat?"
"Oh, I don't know—forty!"
"No; four. I counted them. Her figure is not much up atop, but her"—
"Oh, stow all that!" I interrupted; "there's a good fellow, I'm just doing a convent interior."
"All right. The rest is silence. Ah!" with a yawn, and getting up to saunter round the room, "that's a jolly good song—Embrace moi! chumph! chumph! Encore une fois!! chumph! chumph!"
He did not address me again, but somehow my ideas were scattered. The convent scene went wrong. Ballet dancers seemed standing in the aisle where nuns should have been kneeling, and, after a second or so, I flung my pen down and pushed away the paper.
"Done?" exclaimed Howard, delightedly.
"Yes," I said simply, rising.
"Come and have a smoke," he said, drawing up both easy chairs to the fire.
I took the cigar he offered and sat down. Howard threw himself into the other chair, crossed his legs, and proceeded to give me an account of his experiences. I suppose I was rather silent, for after a time he broke in upon himself by saying abruptly,—
"Are you very savage with me for interrupting your work?"
"Savage?" I repeated. "Oh, no! the work can wait, I get plenty of time at it!" Perhaps he misunderstood me, and my words conveyed to him more than I meant. Any way, the next afternoon he came home early to dine with me, and afterwards, when I was speaking of the evening's work, he came up to me where I stood at the mantelpiece and took something out of his pocket with a confident air.
"I've brought you something," he said, and he thrust suddenly into my hand—under my eyes—a photograph.
My glance fell full on it, and I saw distinctly what it was—a full-length figure of the danseuse Faina. Traditionally, perhaps, I ought to have flung it into the fire—any way the grate—or torn it up. But I am not fond of throwing other, people's things into the fire, nor of tearing them up, simply because they offend my own views. He had no right, perhaps, to thrust it upon me as he had, but that fact would not, in my opinion, constitute my right to destroy it. So I merely laid it on the mantelpiece.
"Extraordinary thing! Where did you pick that up?"
"Faina sent it to you with her love, and an invitation to supper to-night after the last 'turn,'" replied Howard, rolling a cigarette, sticking it with his lips, and looking at me over it.
"Oh! really?" I said, drily.
"Why, Victor, you've quite coloured up!" said Howard with a sort of derisive triumph.
I felt I had. Why? I can hardly say. The word "love," the sudden view of the portrait, dashed, whirling headlong over each other, through my brain, followed by a sort of hazy cloud, out of which looked two azure eyes.
"She is very lovely, isn't she?" Howard remarked affectionately, setting the card upright against the wall.
"Very—in her own way," I assented.
I admitted it willingly, with pleasure. Why not?—an evident fact. The blue slime in a blocked gutter of the road is very lovely also.
"Well, I'm going there to-night, because I admire the sister, and you must come, too. You are killing yourself by sticking to the work in the way you do. Come along! Where's the harm? Lucia will never know. I won't split. God's in heaven and the Czar's a long way off! So you may as well come and knock about a little. This monotonous life will put an end to you!"
I was silent.
"Lucia won't know," he repeated.
"There's no question of Lucia's knowing anything," I said.
"Then why do you work as you do, and always refuse to come to a supper, or a dance, or anything? You can't be really a quiet fellow or you wouldn't write things the English won't have. You say it's not a question of Lucia—then what the dickens is it that makes you live the life you do?"
I did not answer him. I leant in silence against the mantelpiece, staring absently at the portrait of Faina, and Howard got tired of waiting for my answer. He went to dress, and I sat down at the writing-table, absently sketching women's heads on my blotting paper. Should I go with him or not? I felt tired of writing, tired of work. Wine, laughter, sound, smiles, other voices?—Then four points rose before me, very distinct and clear, like sharp mountain peaks from a valley of mist.
FIRST. Supposing—if such a thing were possible—supposing on coming out of this house I came face to face with Lucia, should I be entirely pleased.
NEXT. Should I, when the present inclination were over, have a satisfactory memory of this supper.
NEXT. Did I habitually mean to spend my evenings in this way?
LAST. Was it worth while spoiling a record for the sake of a single deviation?
I answered No to each of these as they came before me in order, with the upshot that I determined not to go. When Howard came in again I looked up. He was dressed to the Enth, and as I glanced at his good-looking, intelligent face, I thought how incongruous it seemed for him to degrade himself with drink at this supper, and return, as he probably would, a pitiable object to look at and listen to.
"Going to work, eh?"
I nodded. Howard hitched the cape of his overcoat straight, and went out. As he shut the door I sprang suddenly to my feet. For a moment the impulse towards distraction, amusement, relief from strain, physical movement, overcame me. All the strong, ardent life rushed up within me. A tremendous prompting came to shout after him, "Wait a minute, Howard! I'll come, too, after all!" I was half way to the door. Then I laughed and turned back. I went up to the mantelpiece and unlocked the doors of a portrait frame that stood there, and flung them open. It was the frame of Lucia's portrait, which, like the temple of Janus, stood closed in times of peace and open in times of war. Now was war, and I gazed at the picture within for encouragement. There was equal sinuous, supple beauty in this form as in that outline on the Paris card, that lay, perhaps, in the pocket of every flaneur on the boulevards. I looked at the smooth, perfect shoulders, and those soft arms that had never yet been drawn round a lover's neck; at the extreme pride and dignity that lay in every line of the form that had never been touched by a rough hand. It swept from me in one gust the thoughts and tendencies struggling to rise. It brought back all the old revolt from the lowest, all the old admiration for the highest, in human nature. "Yes, you are worth it," I muttered, looking hard at the chaste, exquisite pride in face and form; "you are worth being worthy of, and I will not for an evening, nor for an hour, make myself a brute that you would despise if you knew his nature. Whether you ever know or not, what does that matter? I must know. Shall I come back to feel your inferior? No! Not a day, nor a night, shall there be, the history of which you might not read." All my own pride was stirred as I looked at the portrait of this woman, who, I knew, was absolutely pure, and I would not now have followed Howard had my life depended on it.
I gave the photograph of Faina, which still stood up against the wall, a flick that sent it horizontal on the marble, and then, with Lucia's eyes just above me, I sat down to write.
Seven o'clock came, and the bright light pouring into the room over the table covered with loose sheets of paper found me writing still. I looked up, then back on the page, decided I need not add another word, flung down my pen, leaned back in my chair, and proceeded to light up a cigar. "Good!" I thought with lazy satisfaction, as my eyes wandered over the completely covered table and the drying sheets upon the floor.
"It was a splendid inspiration that! Had I gone out last night, infallibly I should have missed it." Just then I heard a blundering, uncertain step upon the stair, and then a dig in the centre of the door panel.
"How long will it take him to find the lock, I wonder?" I thought.
The period was protracted. Round and round the keyhole did a shaky, unsteady hand guide the wandering key. It scratched above, it dug at the door beneath, while the low indistinct murmur of one repeated word reached me within. At last, in sheer pity, I got up and opened the door from the inside. Howard came unsteadily over the threshold, and half blundered against me. His face was deadly pale; a bright greenish shade lay close about his bloodshot eyes; his grey lips shook. With difficulty he staggered to the chair opposite me and sat down. I shut the door and resumed my seat and cigar.
"Enjoy yourself?" I asked.
He was not very steady on his feet, but fairly clear in his brain.
"Yes. But it's no good—can't stand it," he murmured, pressing his hand hard upon his head and across his eyes.
His voice was little more than a gasp.
We sat without speaking. In the bright light, in a glass opposite, I caught sight of my own face. I was as pale as he from work, as he from pleasure. My eyes were as bloodshot as his from sleeplessness, as his from drink. My hand shook as much as his from mental excitement, as his from physical exhaustion. He was the representative of those who sacrifice to-morrow for to-day. I, of those who sacrifice to-day for to-morrow. And I wondered, as I smoked on with his collapsed figure before me, which was the greater fool. "Do neither" is the cry. "Take the gifts of to-day without robbing to-morrow." Estimable rule, I agree, if you are fortunate enough to have the chance of carrying it out. But very few of us have. A man with Howard's constitution could only purchase the hours last night with the hours of this morning. Success would not come to me to-morrow unless I were willing to struggle for it to-day.
"What did you drink?" I asked, after a pause.
"Maraschino, cognac, and clic," he answered, and a gesture of his hand and first finger showed he meant in the same glass. I laughed.
"What a mixture! No wonder you're mixed yourself!"
"Can't stand it!" he only muttered again.
"No, you must sit it out or sleep it off now," I said, getting up with a stretch. "Faina in good form?"
"Magnificent—Vic, you should have been there!"
"Thanks! yes, I think so!" I said, gathering up the precious pages from the floor and table and piling them on a console. I wanted to go and get my own breakfast, but the look of Howard's face, as it lay against the chair back, bloodless, and the colour of ashes, made me hesitate to leave him.
"Can I get you anything?" I said.
"No—help me into bed," he muttered, without opening his eyes, moving his head restlessly from side to side.
"Come along, then," I answered, bending over him; "here's my arm."
He half raised his lids at that, and then feebly pushed a leaden hand and arm through mine. There was a pause. He seemed unable to make a farther movement, and sat, his head sunk into his chest, his arm hanging through mine.
"Come, Howard, make an effort," I said, after a minute, and he staggered uncertainly to his feet.
Getting him into the next room and into bed was a lengthy and difficult matter, but at last, after protracted pauses, it was effected, and he fell back upon the pillows—face and lips one tint with the linen. I spoke to him, but I got no articulate answer, only groans in response.
"I am going to fetch you some coffee," I said, leaning over him.
His eyes opened wide, and fixed upon me with a sort of helpless terror.
"No, no! don't go!—stay!" he whispered, clutching my wrist with his damp, shaking fingers. "Stay—a minute."
"But you want something to pull you round. I shan't be two seconds," I answered, trying to unclasp his clinging fingers.
"Never mind! Oh, Vic, for God's sake stay."
There was an abject appeal in the bloodshot eyes, a desperate tenacity in his clutch. He looked at me as if he dared look nowhere else. Some horror seemed pressing upon his confused and weakened brain, and I thought I could soothe him best by staying.
"Very well—there, I'm not going," I said, reassuringly.
Still he did not relax his grip upon me, but his eyes closed again, and he seemed satisfied. I sat down on a chair at the bedside and waited. The sun poured brighter and brighter through the blinds and touched up the mantelpiece.
The photograph of Faina's sister, surrounded by some others of her set, was propped up in the centre of it, on a couple of paper volumes. My own head was aching violently now, and after a time the woman's figure on the glossy, sun-flecked surface of the card began to sway and swim before my eyes as I looked lazily at it.
The minutes passed by and Howard did not move. At last, I ventured to try and withdraw my stiffening arm without rousing him, but at the first movement his fingers tightened and his groans recommenced.
After a time my hunger passed into drowsiness. I leant forward gradually, and at last my head sank down on the edge of his bed, and I drifted into oblivion.
May had come round again. The days and weeks had glided by in a monotony of work, varied by feverish blanks when I could do nothing, and the pile of manuscript lay growing dusty in its corner. Then at last the day arrived when the final line was written and the whole despatched. That was three months back, three months of anxious waiting, in which Howard had chaffed me daily on my looks and health.
"You're dwindling to a most interesting skeleton, Vic," he used to say. "Catch me bothering myself about anything I wrote in the same way."
Now, however, it was over. I had just left the publisher's office. The book had been accepted, and I was a free man. A gush of fresh life ran through me and stirred in my veins in response to the fresh life of spring that seemed in the sunny air, in the green leaves fluttering round the Bourse, in the white butterflies that floated across the dusty asphalt.
When I got back I found Howard half asleep in the armchair. He sat up as I came in, and regarded me with a confused stare. I saw he had been drinking, but his brain was still tolerably clear.
"Rejected, by Jove!" he remarked as he saw the MS.
"No," I answered, throwing it on to a side table and myself into the chair opposite him—"no, thank heaven, it's all right now! They've accepted it. Congratulate me!"
"But what on earth have you brought it back for, then?" he said, blinking his heavy eyes and looking at me resentfully, as if he suspected I was playing some practical joke.
"Oh, there are a few things they want altered, that's all," I answered. "I am to let them have it again the day after to-morrow."
"And what about terms?" he continued, getting out a roll of cigarette papers and beginning to roll himself some cigarettes.
He was wide awake now, and had shaken off his intoxicated stupor. His face was bent slightly as he made the cigarettes, so that I could hardly see it. I sat watching his trembling fingers rolling the papers in an absent silence.
"Oh, terms?" I said at last. "Fairly good, I think. They pay me a small sum and reserve me one-third of all profits from the book. I really don't care much about the terms. Once the book is out my name is made, and the money will come in all right in time. They've taken it; that is the main point. If you knew the glorious relief it is to me!"
Howard laughed. He flung himself back in the chair and propped his feet up against the support of the mantelpiece.
"I think you are very lucky," he said. There was silence, then he asked abruptly—"How much are they going to give you for it?"
"Three thousand francs."
Howard paled suddenly and fixed his eyes upon me.
"And what will you do with it?" he asked, after a minute.
"Well," I answered, without reflection, "I thought you would like two thousand to send home and get rid of that half-yearly interest."
The blood dyed all his face suddenly crimson, and he brought down his feet upon the fender with a crash.
"I wish to hell you'd wait till I asked you for it!" he said savagely, springing up and crossing to the window.
There he stood looking out with his hands thrust deep into his pockets. I was fairly startled, and the colour rose uncomfortably in my own face.
It seemed, I almost felt, as if I had done something excessively ill-bred. But Howard and I were on such intimate terms, and made so little account of what we said to each other, that I had expressed the thought uppermost in my mind at the moment of his question as a matter of course. Then, too, he borrowed so constantly and so freely from me that the idea of offence over money matters or mentioning them seemed quite impossible.
"No," I thought, glancing at him as he still stood between me and the light; "there must be something else in his mind," and I wondered.
He was seldom out of temper, and seldom made himself disagreeable to me. In conversation, in all our life together, he generally yielded to me with an almost womanly compliance. His present tone and manner were absolutely new to me. I did not understand them, and I liked him well enough to take the trouble to get up after a second and follow him to the window.
"Howard," I said gently, "what is the matter? I am sorry if I have annoyed you."
He turned upon me suddenly from the window.
"Did I ever say I wanted the money you might get from your cursed book?" he said, passionately. "Do you suppose I couldn't get as much for something of my own if I chose?"
Now, considering Howard was always in want of money, and perpetually lamenting his inability, real or imagined, to get it, the last remark seemed rather odd, and the vehemence with which he spoke against me was altogether incomprehensible.
"Of course," I answered quietly, looking down into his excited face. "I merely offered the money as a convenience, pro tem, as it happened to be at hand, that's all. But surely it doesn't matter. Perhaps I should not have done. I apologise. Doesn't that make it square?"
I thought he was out of health, irritable, disappointed that he had not made more of his own work, and jealous of my success, and I was willing to say anything to soften his feelings.
Howard simply turned away from me again, and I caught a mutter of "damned impertinence."
Seeing it was useless to say anything further at the moment, I strolled back into the centre of the room again, called Nous to me, and sat down.
"Jealous!" I thought, with contemptuous amusement; "how extraordinary!"
Then my thoughts rushed away in a sudden stream to Lucia, and I saw her face, glowing with delight, look out upon me from the blank surface of the wall.
"How soon now shall I possess you?" was my one thought. "How long to our marriage?"
I began by allowing three months, but I shortened and shortened the time till I cut it down to a fortnight.
"Could I persuade her to let it be in a fortnight?" and I thought I could.
A quarter of an hour passed, and Howard had not moved from his position in the window. A very little day-dreaming is enough for me, especially about a woman. I yawned, stretched, and finally got up.
"Howard," I said, "I'm going out for a turn with Nous, but I will came back in time for dinner."
I lingered, but he said nothing. I put on my hat, called the dog, and went out. I started to walk to the Arc, and the distance there and back would have taken me, as I had said, till our dinner hour, but half way there the inclination failed. I felt tired and turned back.
"How utterly done up I feel!" I thought; "not worth anything. This last book has thoroughly taken it out of me. Rest! Rest! That was what I longed for now. My whole system seemed crying out for it. Of all the benefits the just-accomplished work would bring, celebrity, money, even, yes, even Lucia, seemed not so seductive in those moments as the possibility of gratifying this intolerable mental and physical craving for repose."
As I walked home a sense of tranquillity, a quiet, peaceful feeling of relief was transfused through me, and seemed communicated from the mind to the body and to every nerve of my frame, as if I were under the influence of some soothing drug.
I reached the hotel considerably before the time I had mentioned to Howard, and I supposed he would be out. However, as I came near I saw that our window was well lighted up. In fact, there seemed an unusually brilliant light in the room. Nous and I went up the stairs. He seemed to know and feel his master's good spirits, and kept licking my hand at intervals as he bounded up the stairs beside me, and then outstripping me, he would wait on the landing above me impatiently till I got there, in a hurry to race up the next flight.
As I opened my door a peculiar scent of smoke reached me, and the air was clouded and singularly warm. Howard was in the room, and I could not make out at first what he was doing. He was crouching on his heels in front of the grate and seemingly stirring or poking something beneath the bars. Some, I can hardly define what, instinct, guided my eyes to the side table where I had left my manuscript. It was gone. At that instant: the wind from the wide open window and door blew the lamp flame and stirred the curtains, and a great sheet of whole black tinder drifted across the carpet up to my feet.
Then I knew—he was burning, or had burnt, my work. A flame was dying down in the grate, filled and overflowing with ragged black fragments. With a curse I sprang towards the fender, but Nous was quicker than I. Either divining my intention, or made suspicious by the queer, sinister look Howard's figure had, the dog flew upon him with a growl, rolled him over and seized the clothing at his neck.
In another instant I would have called him off, but Howard was an inveterate coward. I saw his face turn livid with terror as the dog pinned his throat to the floor. His hand stretched out convulsively and grasped a long table knife that lay, together with the string that had held my manuscript, beside him on the floor. He seized it, and in an instant, before my eyes, he had plunged it deep into the breast of the dog standing over him. It was all done in a second—a flash. There was a gush of blood upon the floor, a broken moan from Nous, and then he staggered and fell over on his side—motionless.
Howard struggled breathless, white as death, to his feet. For one second I stood transfixed, watching him with blazing eyes. Then one step forward and I was upon him. My two hands closed like steel round his throat, and by his head, thus, I dragged him from the hearth out into the centre of the room.
"You unutterable, unspeakable cur and devil!" I muttered, and I saw his face blackening under my grip.
A gust of wind passed through the room, blowing to the door with a bang, and it whirled aloft, round us, broken and quivering pieces of black tinder. The air was full of them. And the dead dog lay in a pool of blood before us. It seemed to me that my brain was rocking with the fury and rage I felt—my whole frame convulsed in it. The loss, the irreparable loss, the killed hopes I saw in those floating ashes round me, came home to me till my brain seemed breaking asunder with anger. To murder him came the impulse! How? There were a thousand ways! To grind my fingers still deeper into his throat—THUS! THUS! Or that long knife that lay there on the rug, driven into and twisted round in his breast; or that sharp corner of the fender to batter out his brains; or drag him through the long, open window and hurl him in the darkness from that second floor balcony. Which? Devil! devil! Then as I held him there the thought pierced me,—Was I a brute to feel a blind rage like this? Had I ever in my life lost my own self-command, that command which sets us where we stand as men, as sane, highly-organised beings? And should a miserable, worthless cur like this have the power to break that self-control?
My whole pride and self-respect rose within me and commanded my passion back within its bounds. I unclosed my hands from his throat, and dropped him upon the ground as I would have dropped a loathsome rag. I watched him rise to his knees, trembling, livid, and terrified, and then scramble to his feet, with satisfaction that such a thing as he had not broken my own self-rule.
"Go out of this room," I said, and he hurried to the communicating door and shut and locked it securely after him.
I heard him do so with a contemptuous smile. Had I wanted to follow him, my weight flung against the flimsy door would have crushed it in. And I was left standing there alone in the smoke-filled room with nothing but the thunderings of my own pulses to break the silence.
"Inconceivable," I murmured, as the wind, stirring it, made the tinder creak in the grate as it lay in thick masses; "simply inconceivable."
I walked to the hearth and bent over the dog. He was already growing cold. He had not moved after his first fall. That vicious, brutal stab must have gone straight in to the heart. The knife was wet half way to the hilt. I lifted the dog and laid him on the sofa, and then mechanically went towards the blowing night-air and into the balcony. My brain seemed only just maintaining its right balance. So: all my labour, all my confident expectations, all the triumphant pleasure with which I had come back that afternoon, all the result of this past year's effort were now—nothing. Marked in a little floating dust. And not one vestige, not an outline nor portion of an outline even, remained. There was no rough draft, no sketch, no note or notes of the work existing. I always wrote every manuscript, from its first word to its last, on the paper that went to the publisher. My inspiration of the time was transferred direct to the page before me, and there it stood, without alteration, without correction. I never wanted to touch it or change it after it was once written. I was struck down, back again to the foot of the hill of work up which I had been struggling twelve months. Lucia, celebrity, pleasure, liberty, everything I coveted was now removed, taken far off into indefinite distance from me. For twelve months they had been coming nearer, steadily nearer, with each accomplished page, and to-day, only to-day, I had left the publisher's office knowing they were close to me, almost within my very arms. Like the prisoner serving his time in gaol, and living, as it were, in the last day that sets him free, I had been living these twelve months in the day when the last line should be written. Now all to be recommenced from the wearying, sickening beginning. And why? Why had he done it? That I could not understand. As a psychological enigma it leapt fitfully before my brain between the spasms of personal desperation. He had nothing to gain, everything to lose by my failure. He knew I was a man to always do the utmost for my friend, simply because he was my friend, and therefore from any increase of power in me he could derive nothing but benefit. There was absolutely no motive, could be no cause, for the act except undiluted jealousy and envy. I stepped inside the room again and went again to the hearth. Except when I saw the piles of black tinder I could not realise that he had done it. It seemed incredible, as if I must be dreaming. But there they lay, leaf upon leaf, some whole and perfect yet, sheets of black tinder, curled round at the corners where the flames had rolled them up, and lined still with white marks where the ink had been. Yes, it was so. The whole of my work was a nothing, and I a dependent pauper again.
Where was that whole brilliant structure now that I had lived for and so passionately loved through this past year? Along each line had flowed the very essence of my feelings at the time the line was written, and each one was irreplaceable. The fervour of a past inspiration, like the fervour of a past desire, can never be recalled. I gazed down into the grate and felt, stealthily creeping upon me, as if it had been a beast with me in the empty room, my intense hatred of this other man, divided from me by a few feet of space and one slight partition. There was no outlet from his room except into this. A few steps, force my way in, and what would follow?
I pressed both hands across my eyes and bowed my head till it leant hard upon the mantelpiece, feeling the longing and the urging towards physical violence against him rush upon me and tear me like wolves. The mental rage diffused itself through all the physical system till it seemed like poison pouring through my veins. Every pulse, beating convulsively in arms and chest and neck, seemed to clamour together in hungry fury. I leant there trying to stifle, to kill the thoughts that came and beat down the brutal rage. And as I stood there I heard Howard cough in the next room—that slight effeminate cough he gave when nervous or confused. I felt my blood leap at the sound, and it rushed in a scalding stream over my face. I raised my head and began mechanically to pace the room.
Even now it hardly seemed real, and my eyes kept returning and returning to the console where the manuscript had always lain out of work hours through the past year. "Devil! devil!" I muttered at intervals; "what an unutterable devil." I don't know how long I walked up and down, but suddenly a sense of physical fatigue, of collapse, forced itself upon me. I threw myself in the corner of the couch and took the dog's dead head upon my knee. Dead! It seemed strange—the constant companion of ten years. I had had him from his first earliest days.
Even before his eyes had opened I was struck by the intelligent way he had lain at his mother's side, and surnamed him Nous on the spot, after my favourite quality. I admit, like all good intelligences, because they have always their own particular views on everything, he had given a great deal of trouble. He had gnawed up my important business letters when cutting his teeth; he had made beds on my new light spring suits; he had sucked his favourite, most greasy mutton bone on the couch where my best manuscript lay drying; and out of doors he strongly objected to follow.
It is extremely annoying on a hot August afternoon, when you have just time to catch the Richmond train, and a friend is with you, to have your collie suddenly start off at a gallop in the opposite direction to the station, and pay absolutely no attention to the most distracted whistling and calling. Nothing for it but to start in pursuit, to run yourself into a fever, and after lapse of time to return with the fugitive to find your train missed and your friend as savage as a bear.
"If that dog were mine I'd thrash him within an inch of his life!" was the usual remark when I got back.
"Then I am extremely glad he is not yours," I used to answer, fastening on the dog's collar, and making him walk at the end of a foot of chain as a punishment.
"You'll never teach him like that, Vic. If you gave him a good kick in the eye now he'd remember it!"
"Thanks very much for your advice," I returned, "but I should never forgive myself if I kicked any animal in the eye."
"You are a queer, weak-hearted sort of fellow!" was the general answer, in a contemptuous tone, at which I used to shrug my shoulders and continue to manage my dog in my own way.
He would remember a blow, a kick, or a thrashing. I knew that. And that was exactly what I meant to avoid, whatever it cost at times to keep my temper with him. Besides, in all physical violence towards another object there is a peculiar, dangerous, seductive fascination. Once indulged in at all, it grows rapidly and imperceptibly into a positively delicious pleasure and habit, just as, if never indulged in, there grows up an always increasing horror and loathing of it.
Rage and anger, and their physical expression, become by habit a sort of joy, similar to the joy in intoxication, but if only the habit can be formed the other way there is an equal joy obtainable from self-restraint.
Control of the strongest passions is supposed to be difficult to attain, but the whole difficulty lies in laying the first stones of its foundation. If this is done the fabric will then go on building itself. Day by day a brick will be added to the walls, until finally no shock can overthrow them.
More and more as a man holds in his passions, more and more as he feels the pride of holding all the reins of his whole system firmly in his hand, will he have an abhorrence of scattering them to the idle winds at the bidding of the first fool who chances to vex him. But if he forms the habit of holding those reins so loosely that they drag along in the mud, and are trampled on at every instant, more and more difficult is it to gather them up.
The man who begins striking his dog as a punishment will proceed to kick it when it comes accidentally in his way, and then go on to knocking it about, simply because he feels in a bad humour.
So I never would, when I came back from these chasings, crimson, heated, breathless, made to look like a fool, and excessively annoyed altogether, cheat myself with the excuse that Nous wanted correction, or any other nonsense to cover my own ill-temper. As a matter of fact, he soon learnt it was uninteresting to be brought back to the very same corner from where he had started and have to walk all the rest of the way at the end of a scrap of chain, and his education passed happily over without a single rough word. It took longer perhaps than a treatment by blows, but I had my reward.
The dog conceived a limitless, boundless affection for me which more than repaid me. Some men, of course, don't want affection. They only care for obedience, and not at all how it is attained.
For myself I can see no pleasure in being merely dreaded. I should hate to see anything—man, woman, servant, dog, anything—start in terror at my footstep; hate to feel I brought gloom wherever I came, and left relief behind me.
Nous was extremely quick-witted, and it used to amuse me enormously the way he behaved when, as sometimes happened, I trod upon his foot accidentally, or fell over him in the dark. Knowing that he had never had a voluntary blow from me in his life, he would leap enthusiastically over me and lick my hands after his first yelp, as much as to say—
"Yes; I know it was quite an accident. I know, I am sure you didn't mean it."
We had been inseparable, he and I, for these ten years. He had walked by my side, eaten from my plate, slept on my bed, and his death now in my service left a heavy, jagged-edged wound. As I sat there in the corner of the couch, with my hand absently stroking the glossy black coat, there came the very soft jarring of a key in the lock.
I glanced towards Howard's door. The sound continued. The key was being very slowly and gently turned, and then the handle was grasped and cautiously revolved. He evidently hoped I was asleep, and wanted to enter without disturbing me. I sat in silence with my eyes on the door, which slowly opened.
Howard stood on the threshold. He saw I was sitting there facing him, and he seemed to pause, unable to come forward or retreat. He did not look particularly happy as a result of his work. His face was pallid and haggard. Fool! to have flung away a valuable friend, and shackled himself with the fear of another man!
"What do you want?" I said, as he did not move.
"My manuscripts, Victor. I left them here."
"There they are on the table. They are quite safe. Did you think I should act as you have? Come and take them if you want them."
He had to pass close before me to do so, and I watched his nervous, hurried approach to the table, and the trembling of his hand as he gathered up the papers, with contemptuous eyes.
When he had grasped them all in his hand he gave an involuntary side look at me and the motionless form beside me—a look that he seemed unable to abstain from giving, though against his will. I met his glance, and he hurried away back to his own door, and went through it as a leper will shuffle and shamble away out of one's sight.
As soon as the morning came, I left the hotel without having tried the vain attempt of sleep, and did not return to it till the evening. At noon I called upon the publisher and explained that an unfortunate accident had occurred, and the MS. I had received back from him yesterday had been destroyed.
At that he beamed upon me blandly, and remarked that such a thing was unfortunate, but that without doubt M'sieur would make all haste to re-copy it, and would let him have a new draft as soon as possible.
I shook my head, feeling my lips and throat grow dry as I answered—
"That which you had was the original, not a copy. I have no copy of it from which I can replace it."
"But M'sieur will certainly have his notes, his private work, his first scheme?"
"None. I do not work in that way. There is not a scrap of paper relative to it anywhere."
Upon this the publisher rose, looked at me in a long silence, and then said in an icy tone,—
"Then M'sieur wishes me to understand that he does not intend to allow our firm to publish his work at all?"
I flushed at the insult his words contained. They practically intimated that he thought the whole thing an invention, and that I was going to give the MS. elsewhere. I got up too, and said—
"I have told you the MS. is destroyed, and I have no means of reproducing it, therefore it is impossible for it to be brought out by your or any other firm."
The man before me merely raised his shoulders over his ears, bowed, spread out the palms of his hands, raised his eyebrows, and muttered,—
"Comme vous voulez, M'sieur."
Confound him! was he a liar that he assumed me to be one. There was nothing to do but to bow and leave.
As I walked out of his office into the fresh, sparkling, morning sunlight, life to me had a very bitter savour. I walked through the streets till I felt tired in every muscle. Then I sat thinking on a bench in a green corner of the Champs Elysees, watching absently the sun patches jump from leaf to neighbouring leaf as the wind elevated and depressed them, and trying to mentally seize upon and analyse this vile, low impulse of another man's envy.
It was dark when I came back to the hotel. When I came up to my room I was surprised to see quite a little crowd of figures clustered round my door, all talking at once in their shrill French tones, all gesticulating at each other as if about to tear off each other's scalps.
Angry exclamations reached me as I came towards them.
"Mais je vous dis, je ne savais pas!"
"Mais c'est impossible!"
"Pas en regie!"
"Que voulez vous? C'est un barbare!"
Then as I came up there was a general cry of "Le voila! le voila!" and in an instant they were all around me, all clamouring, screaming, questioning me at once. The master of the hotel in the greatest agitation, the manager in his shirt sleeves, two or three waiters, a man looking like a gendarme, and another official with a paper in his hand. For a second they shouted so—nothing could be distinguished except broken phrases and the continual repetition of the words "Notification" and "M'sieur le Commissionaire."
"A vous la responsibilite!"
"Moi? je n'en savais rien!"
"Il veut abimer notre sante!"
"Il partera tout de suite!"
I looked at them for a moment in amaze, and the fellow with the paper thundered out—"Silence," which produced the effect of cold thrown suddenly in boiling water. The little crowd pressed in upon me closely and listened awe-struck as the Commissionaire spoke to me, in French, of course.
"Monsieur," he said, in an impressive tone, "I am informed you have a dog here!"
"A dog—dead!" and the accent on the last word was terrific.
"My dog unfortunately has died," I said. "Yes"—and I wondered more and more the upshot of it all.
"Then," thundered the official, purple with excited rage, "how is it, Monsieur, you have not sent a notification to the police?"
I was fairly taken aback. The matter, though I barely yet comprehended it, was evidently, in their estimation, one of serious importance. Involuntarily, I glanced round at the others as the Commissionaire scowled threateningly at me. They noted my glance, and attributing it, I suppose, to guilty confusion, there were suppressed and complacent murmurs all round me, and shakes of the head.
"Vous voyez ca?"
"It is scandalous, it is shameful, it is abominable, M'sieur," shouted the Commissionaire, "the way you have acted! Twenty-four hours you hide the dead body of a dog in your bedroom! You hope to escape the eye of the law! You would bring disgrace on the gendarmerie, on the municipality of Paris! You laugh at our regulations, M'sieur, you laugh!" and he brandished the paper violently. "But you will find the authority of France is greater than you! There are cells, M'sieur, there are courts, there are judges for your education!!!"
Matters were apparently growing serious for me. I had evidently offended them all desperately somehow. "You go out in the morning," he continued, furiously, "and you do not slink back here till it is dark! You are a coward, M'sieur! a coward!"
No Englishman likes hearing himself abused, and my own anger now was considerably roused. But still, in my way about life, I have found the inestimable value of conciliation. It saves one such an infinity of trouble. I suppose I lean naturally towards it. At any rate, I always feel this—that if you have not the power on your side it is undignified to assume that which you cannot enforce, and if you have the power you can then afford to be civil.
A pleasant manner has never once failed me in bringing about an effect which is highly convenient to oneself, and in the long run it spares one's vanity considerably. There is hardly any human being, however aggressive he may be at first, that does not melt into respect before an imperturbable civility. I felt in this case, too, that I was probably in the wrong from their point of view. It was the question of another country's ways, and I have a lenient feeling towards the epichortyon. So, annoyed and irritated as I was, I checked my own feelings and said,—
"I think it is altogether a misunderstanding! I have no intention of breaking any regulations. I was not aware that a dog's death would be a matter where the law would interfere."
The fury on the purple face opposite me subsided somewhat.
"Is it then possible," he said, more quietly, "that you are in ignorance of our rule, that, when any animal dies in a private dwelling-house, the fact shall be notified within twelve hours to the police, in order that the dead body may be immediately removed?"
All eyes fixed upon me with breathless uncertainty.
"Certainly," I said, "I did not know of the regulation. If I had, I should have complied with it. There is no similar rule in England."
A great change took place in the official's manner. His face cleared, and he waved his arm with a gesture of magnificent condescension. His whole attitude expressed clearly that so enlightened and cultured a person as himself was in the habit of making every allowance for any poor, benighted pagan like me.
"Well, M'sieur; well, I accept your statement, and I withdraw my expressions of a moment back. But think, M'sieur, of the risk to which your conduct has exposed others. Think of the pollution of the air, the contamination of the atmosphere! Think, M'sieur, of the typhoid! the fever!! the cholera!!!"
He looked round upon the others, and a sympathetic shudder of horror passed over them.
As an Englishman, of course, I felt strongly inclined to derisive laughter. However, I merely said,—
"Well, what is to be done next?"
"The body must be removed, M'sieur!" he answered, with a touch of severity, "at once!!"
"A scavenger will remove it."
I stood silent. The idea repelled me. This thing that had been petted and cared for by me for ten years, had slept at my side, and often been held in my arms, now to be flung upon a dust heap, with the rotting matter of a Paris street. The mind will not change its associations so quickly. I looked at the man and said,—
"Can I not bury the dog somewhere myself?"
"I am afraid—I hardly know—" he said. "These are the rules,—that all dead animals are taken by the municipality."
He spoke reluctantly now. His personal animosity against me was evidently dead. Fortunate that I had not offended him earlier in the interview; if I had, he would certainly now have dragged the dog from me with every species of indignity and insult, and I could have done nothing against him, armoured up as he was with the law. As things stood, he was clearly on my side.
"Perhaps this gentleman," I said, indicating the master of the hotel, "would let me purchase a piece of ground for a grave in his courtyard. If so, would you allow me to bury the dog there?"
The master of the hotel, who saw now that after all there would be no serious row with the police, nor discredit on his hotel, and began to think his fury had been somewhat misdirected, hastened to assure me that I need not consider the matter; that not only was a portion, but the whole courtyard at my disposition, and not as a purchase, but as a free gift, if M'sieur le Commissionaire sanctioned the proceeding.
The official hesitated, and the onlookers, their sympathies engaged, murmured,—
"Ah, pauvre chien!"
"C'est l'affection vois-tu?"
"Il aime le chien, c'est naturel!"
"L'affection, c'est toujours touchante!"
The Commissionaire, his own inclination thus backed up by the prevailing sentiment, turned to me, and said—
"Well, M'sieur, I ought to take your dog from you, but still, as you say you will bury the dog yourself, and, as I am sure this gentleman will see that the grave is deep enough to protect the health of the public, I believe I may safely grant you the permission you ask. It is accorded, M'sieur!" and he bowed, full of satisfied amiable authority and friendly feeling.
I held out my hand to him on the impulse.
"I am extremely obliged to you!"
He grasped it warmly in his, and laid his left effusively on his heart.
"You have my sincere sympathy, M'sieur."
Then lifting his hat and bowing, and putting out of sight the formidable document he had shaken in my face, he retreated down the corridor, followed by the other official, and leaving the hotel manager with me.
"I will have a grave dug at once, M'sieur," he said; "and you shall be informed when it is ready."
I thanked him and entered my own room.
A good three hours later I was following the gardener downstairs, the dead body of Nous, wrapped completely in one of my overcoats, in my arms. We went into the courtyard. It was raining now, the night quite dark, and a gusty wind blowing. We crossed the yard to where a broad flower-bed was planted. Here a grave, wide and deep enough for a human being, had been dug. A lantern, in which the flame blew fitfully, was set on the huge heap of mould and sent an uncertain light over the grave. I got down into it, and laid Nous gently, still wrapped in the coat, on the damp earth, with a heavy heart.
I vaulted out of the grave and stood, while the man filled it in, listening to the steady fall of the earth and its dull thud, thud. The rain came down steadily, and the man looked at me and said—
"Monsieur will be drenched through, he had better go within."
"No, no," I said; "continue."
And I waited while he dug away the mound, and the chilly wind rattled the branches of a tree near, and the rain soaked with a monotonous splashing into the earth, and the light flickered, barely strong enough to show me the man's working figure. When he had finished, when the grave was filled and the upper soil smoothed over, I turned and, mentally and physically chilled, went slowly back into the hotel. As I entered the gas-lit corridor I saw a figure there at the door. It was Howard. He was still in the hotel, and though I detested his proximity even, I had no influence on his departure. He was evidently hanging about there waiting for somebody or something, and to my intense indignation, as he caught sight of me, he came towards me.
"Oh, Victor," he said hurriedly, in an uncertain tone, "I must speak to you!"
What intolerable insolence to dare to come to me, the man he had so mortally injured. My impulse was to stretch out my right arm and fell him to the ground with a blow that should have the force of my whole system in it. The colour came hot in all my face.
"Pray don't let us have a scene here," I said, coldly.
"Very good, then come outside. It is only for a few seconds. You always used to say you would never refuse to hear a person once, whatever they had done."
It was my principle, as he said, and I controlled the loathing I had of him, of his voice, his look, his presence, and said—
"Come out, then," and we went down to the door.
There was an alley just outside the hotel, a cul de sac, black and empty. Down this we turned, and when we had passed the side door of the hotel he spoke.
"Victor, I am awfully sorry about the MS.; I am really. I would give worlds to replace it now if I could. I have been utterly wretched since. Is there anything I can do now to help you?"
"No," I said bitterly, "you cannot re-write my manuscript nor resuscitate my dog."
"Oh, why did I do it? I can't think! I can't understand it! If you knew what I have felt since!"
"Have you nothing more to say than this?" I asked; "because this sort of thing is useless and leads to nothing."
"But what do you think of me? You hate me! But it was not premeditated, I swear. I had no motive, no gain in doing it, and we have been great friends always; but I suppose that can never be again now! But still it was an impulse, a sudden impulse, only because I was so jealous of you! It was irresistible at the moment! The thing was in flames before I realised it! You know yourself what impulse is! You always knew I was like that!"
"Impulse!" I repeated. "Yes, I knew you were impulsive, but that such an impulse could ever come to you as that—to burn, irreparably destroy the year's work, and all the hopes of a man who was an intimate friend, and against whom you had never had the shadow of a complaint, that I never could have believed! Impulse! It is not one that I can conceive existing except in hell!"
We were talking with voices moderated, rather low than otherwise; but the hatred I felt of him I let come into each word and edge it like a knife.
He drew in his breath.
"Then our friendship is at an end?" he said, in a weak nervous tone.
"Utterly. As if it had never been. You have cut out its very roots. I had a great friendship for you—more, a great affection. It would have stood a great deal. I would have passed over many injuries that you might have done. Anything almost but this, that you knew was so completely blasting to all my own desires. This shows me what your feelings must have been at the time, at any rate, and remember a thick manuscript is not burnt in a minute. How long must it have taken you to destroy those sheets upon sheets of paper in which you knew another man's very heart, and blood, and nerve had been infused? All that time you must have been animated with the sheer lust of cruelly and brutally ill-using and injuring me, and in return I"—
I shut and locked my lips upon the words that rose.
To abuse or curse another is almost as degrading to oneself as to strike him.
We had come up to the end of the alley now, and we paused by the blank brick wall. There was a lamp projecting from it which threw some light upon us both, and, as his figure came distinctly before my eyes, I felt one intolerable desire to leap upon him—this miserable creature who had destroyed my work—fling him to the ground, and grind his face and head to a shapeless mass in this slimy gutter that flowed at our feet.
Could he have faintly realised what my feelings were, coward as he was, he would never have come up this empty alley with me.
"Well, Victor, I am leaving Paris to-night; but I felt I could not go without telling you how infinitely I regret it all. If you can never be my friend again, you can forgive me. Let me hear you say that you do before I go."
Forgive him! Great God! Forgive an injury so wanton, so excuseless! Every savage instinct in me leapt up at the word.
The manuscript! I felt inclined to shout to him. The manuscript! Give that back to me and then come and talk about forgiveness. Had the act and the motive been as loathsome, but the injury, the actual injury, the positive loss to me been less, I could have forgiven; but the blow was so sharp, the damage so irremediable, I could not. Even at his words I seemed to see staring me in the face the months of toil awaiting me before I could rebuild—if I could ever—the fabric he had destroyed in half-an-hour.
And crowding upon this came the thought of what he had robbed me of, the name, the freedom, the power that those vanished paper pages had been pregnant with for me. He was leaving Paris, he said; and so might I have been leaving free and successful, leaving to return to Lucia, but for him.
And now I was to remain—remain here, a prisoner, to work on another twelve weary months at that most nauseating of tasks, repairing undone work. To recommence, to take up the old burden, to start it all over again, now when I had just made myself free! To be shackled again with the weight of uncertainty and expectancy for another year, through him, and by God he talked of forgiveness!—to me!—now!
It was too soon. Later—later, perhaps, when I was calmer, when some of the injury had been repaired, when a spark of hope had been rekindled; then, if he asked, but now—The days before me stretched such a bitter, hopeless blank! And how did I know that his act could ever be nullified! It might so turn out that now I never should accomplish my end.
My health had worn thin and my brain was tired out. Either might give way, and then—a life blasted through him! Brute and devil! that was what he had wished, and was perhaps wishing still, even now, when he professed to be so anxious for forgiveness. I glanced towards his face opposite me, but it was too dark to see its expression. A slight, steady drizzle fell between us; I only saw his slight figure before me in the uncertain light, and again something urged me.
Take your revenge now while you can get it. This man may have spoiled all your life, but when you realise it, then he may be away and out of your power. Thrash him! Half kill him now while you have the chance! But I did not stir. Vengeance has always seemed to me a poor thing. Supposing... After? ... If I satiated my rage then, what after. I should have two things to regret instead of one. No. Let him go with his vile act upon his head.
But forgive? I could not. He had taken the inside, the best of my life, and I hated, purely hated him. I turned a step aside, his mere outline before my eyes sent the hate running hotly through me.
"I can't," I muttered; "no, I can't."
Howard sprang forward and put his hand on my arm, and at the touch I seemed to abhor him more.
"Victor, I wish I could say how I regret it. I wish I could express myself, but I can't. If you knew—I would cut off my right hand now to undo it! I would indeed!"
"Who wants you right hand" I said, savagely, stopping and turning on him as I shook off his detestable touch. "Fool! You can talk now! Replace a single chapter of that book I slaved at—that would be more to the purpose!"
Howard's face grew paler. I saw that, even in the darkness.
"It is not open to me, Victor, now," he said; "but it is still open to you to forgive."
His voice had a grave significance in it. No words that he could have chosen would have been better. The short, quiet sentence was like a sword to divide my hatred, and penetrate to the better part of man. The truth, the unerring force, the reflections of this life's chances and decrees in those words went home. It was not open to him now to repair; later, it might not be open to me to forgive. And later, when all these present vivid feelings were swept away in the past, should I not wish I had forgiven.
I stood silent, and the query went through me—What is forgiveness? Is it to feel again as we have felt before the injury? This is impossible. Do what I would that affection I had had for him could never re-awaken. It was stamped out, obliterated, as a flower is ground into the dust beneath one's heel.
Still the loathing and the hatred I had for him now would pass. Years would cancel it all, and bring with them mere indifference towards him, the thought of him and of his act. To say the words now, and let the time to come slowly fill them with truth, was better, surely, than to reiterate my hatred of him—hatred which years hence would seem almost foolish to me myself.
"I can't think that my forgiveness can be of very serious import to you," I said quietly. "However, it is yours."