It is almost impossible for me to describe the feverish, irritated and contradictory state of mind in which I now began to pass my days. With the absolute fixity of my fortunes, my humours became more changeful than the wind, and I was never absolutely contented for two hours together. I joined in every sort of dissipation common to men of the day, who with the usual inanity of noodles, plunged into the filth of life merely because to be morally dirty was also at the moment fashionable, and much applauded by society. I gambled recklessly, solely for the reason that gambling was considered by many leaders of the 'upper ten' as indicative of 'manliness' and 'showing grit."
"I hate a fellow who grudges losing a few pounds at play," said one of these ' distinguished' titled asses to me once. "It shows such a cowardly and currish disposition."
Guided by this 'new' morality, and wishing to avoid the possibility of being called " cowardly and currish," I indulged in baccarat and other ruinous games almost every night, willingly losing the ' few pounds,' which in my case meant a few hundreds, for the sake of my occasional winnings, which placed a number of 'noble' rakes and blue-blooded blacklegs in my power for 'debts of honour,' which are supposed to be more strictly attended to and more punctually paid than any debts in the world, but which, as far as I am concerned, are still owing. I also betted heavily, on everything that could be made the subject of a bet,—and not to be behind my peers in 'style' and 'knowledge of the world' I frequented low houses, and allowed a few half-nude brandy-soaked dancers and vulgar music-hall 'artistes' to get a couple of thousand pounds worth of jewels out of me, because this sort of thing was called 'seeing life' and was deemed part of a 'gentleman's' diversion. Heavens !—what beasts we all were, I and my aristocratic boon companions!—what utterly worthless, useless, callous scoundrels !—and yet,—we associated with the best and the highest in the land ;—the fairest and noblest ladies in London received us in their houses with smiles and softlyworded flatteries—we—whose presence reeked with vice; we, 'young men of fashion' whom, if he had known our lives as they were, an earnest cobbler working patiently for daily bread might have spat upon, in contempt and indignation that such low rascals should be permitted to burden the earth! Sometimes, but very seldom, Prince Rimanez joined our gambling and music-hall parties, and on such occasions I noticed that he, as it were, 'let himself go' and became the wildest of us all. But though wild, he was never coarse,—as we were; his deep and mellow laughter had a sonorous richness in it that was totally unlike the donkey's 'hee-haw' of our 'cultured' mirth,—his manners were never vulgar; and his fluent discourse on men and things, now witty and satirical, now serious almost to pathos, strangely affected many of those who heard him talk, myself most of all. Once, I remember, when we were returning late from some foolish carouse,—I, with three young sons of English peers, and Rimanez walking beside us,—we came upon a poorly clad girl sobbing and clinging to the iron railing outside a closed church door.
"O God!" she wailed—"O dear God! Do help me?"
One of my companions seized her by the arm with a lewd jest, when all at once Rimanez stepped between.
"Leave her alone!" he said sternly. "Let her find God, if she can !''
The girl looked up at him terrified, her eyes streaming with tears, and he dropped two or three gold pieces into her hand. She broke out crying afresh.
"Oh, God bless you !" she cried wildly. "God bless you!"
He raised his hat and stood uncovered in the moonlight, his dark beauty softened by a strangely wistful expression.
"I thank you!" he said simply. "You make me your debtor."
And he passed on; we followed, somewhat subdued and silenced, though one of my lordling friends sniggered idiotically.
"You paid dearly for that blessing, Rimanez!" he said. "You gave her three sovereigns;—by Jove! I'd have had something more than a blessing if I had been you.''
"No doubt!" returned Rimanez. "You deserve more,— much more! I hope you will get it! A blessing would be of no advantage whatever to you;—it is, to me."
How often I have thought of this incident since! I was too dense to attach either meaning or importance to it then,—selfabsorbed as I was, I paid no attention to circumstances which seemed to have no connection with my own life and affairs. And in all my dissipations and so-called amusements, a perpetual restlessness consumed me, —I obtained no real satisfaction out of anything except my slow and somewhat tantalizing courtship of Lady Sibyl. She was a strange girl; she knew my intentions towards her well enough; yet she affected not to know. Each time I ventured to treat her with more than the usual deference, and to infuse something of the ardour of a lover into my looks or manner, she feigned surprise. I wonder why it is that some women are so fond of playing the hypocrite in love? Their own instinct teaches them when men are amorous: but unless they can run the fox to earth, or in other words, reduce their suitors to the lowest pitch of grovelling appeal, and force them to such abasement that the poor passion-driven fools are ready to fling away life, and even honour, dearer than life, for their sakes, their vanity is not sufficiently gratified. But who, or what am I that I should judge of vanity,—I whose egregious and flagrant self-approbation was of such a character that it blinded me to the perception and comprehension of everything in which my own Ego was not represented! And yet,—with all the morbid interest I took in myself, my surroundings, my comfort, my social advancement, there was one thing which soon became a torture to me,—a veritable despair and loathing,—and this, strange to say was the very triumph I had most looked forward to as the crown and summit of all my ambitious dreams. My book,—the book I had presumed to consider a work of genius,—when it was launched on the tide of publicity and criticism, resolved itself into a sort of literary monster that haunted my days and nights with its lustful presence; the thick, black-lettered, lying advertisements scattered broadcast by my publisher flared at me with an offensive insistence in every paper I casually opened. And the praise of the reviewers! … the exaggerated, preposterous, fraudulent' boom'! Good God !—how sickening it was !—how fulsome! Every epithet of flattery bestowed upon me filled me with disgust, and one day when I took up a leading magazine and saw a long article upon the 'extraordinary brilliancy and promise' of my book, comparing me to a new vEschylus and Shakespeare combined, with the signature of David McWhing appended to it, I could have thrashed that erudite and assuredly purchased Scot within an inch of his life. The chorus of eulogy was well-nigh universal; I was the 'genius of the day,' the 'hope of the future generation,'—I was the "Book of the Month,"—the greatest, the wittiest, most versatile, most brilliant scribbling pigmy that had ever honoured a pot of ink by using it! Of course I figured as McWhing's 'discovery,'—five hundred pounds bestowed on his mysterious 'charity' had so sharpened his eyesight that he had perceived me shining brightly on the literary horizon before anyone else had done so. The press followed his 'lead' obediently; for though the press, the English press at least, is distinctly unbribable, the owners of newspapers are not insensible to the advantages of largely paying advertisements. Moreover, when Mr. McWhing announced me as his 'find' in the oracular style which distinguished him, some other literary gentlemen came forward and wrote effective articles about me, and sent me their compositions carefully marked. I took the hint,— wrote at once to thank them, and invited them to dinner. They came and feasted royally with Rimanez and myself;— (one of them wrote an 'Ode' to me afterwards),—and at the conclusion of the revels, we sent two of the 'oracles' home, considerably overcome by champagne, in a carriage, with Amiel to look after them and help them out at their own doors. And my ' boom' expanded,—London ' talked' as I had said it should; the growling monster metropolis discussed me and my work in its own independent and peculiar fashion. The 'upper ten' subscribed to the circulating libraries, and Mudie made a couple of hundred copies do for all demands, by the simple expedient of keeping subscribers waiting five or six weeks till they grew tired of asking for the book, and forgot all about it. Apart from the libraries, the public did not take me up. From the glowing criticisms that appeared in all the papers, it might have been supposed that 'everybody who was anybody' was reading my 'wonderful' production. Such, however, was not the case. People spoke of me as 'the great millionaire,' but they were indifferent to the bid I had made for literary fame. The remark they usually made to me wherever I went was—" You have written a novel, haven't you? What an odd thing for you to do!"—this, with a laugh ;—" I haven't read it,—I've so little time,—I must ask for it at the library." Of course a great many never did ask, not deeming it worth their while; and I whose money, combined with the resistless influence of Rimanez, had started the favourable criticisms that flooded the press, found out that the majority of the public never read criticisms at all. Hence, my anonymous review of Mavis Clare's book made no effect whatever on her popularity, though it appeared in the most prominent manner. It was a sheer waste of labour, —for everywhere this woman author was still looked upon as a creature of altogether finer clay than ordinary, and still her book was eagerly devoured and questioned and admired; and still it sold by thousands, despite a lack of all favourable criticism or prominent advertisement. No one guessed that I had written what I am now perfectly willing to admit was a brutally wanton misrepresentation of her work,—no one, except Rimanez. The magazine in which it appeared was a notable one, circulating in every club and library, and he, taking it up casually one afternoon, turned to that article at once.
He read on in silence for a little; then, laying down the magazine, looked at me with a curiously scrutinizing expression.
"There are some human beings so constituted," he said, "that if they had been with Noah in the ark according to the silly old legend, they would have shot the dove bearing the olive-leaf, directly it came in sight over the waste of waters. You are of that type, Geoffrey."
"I do not see the force of your comparison," I murmured.
"Do you not? Why, what harm has this Mavis Clare done to you? Your positions are entirely opposed. You are a millionaire; she is a hard-working woman dependent on her literary success for a livelihood, and you, rolling in wealth do your best to deprive her of the means of existence. Does this redound to your credit? She has won her fame by her own brain and energy alone,—and even if you dislike her book, need you abuse her personally as you have done in this article? You do not know her; you have never seen her … "
"I hate women who write!" I said vehemently.
"Why? Because they are able to exist independently? Would you have them all the slaves of man's lust or convenience? My dear Geoffrey, you are unreasonable. If you admit that you are jealous of this woman's celebrity and grudge it to her, then I can understand your spite, for jealousy is capable of murdering a fellow-creature with either the dagger or the pen."
I was silent.
"Is the book such wretched stuff as you make it out to be?" he asked presently.
"I suppose some people might admire it," I said curtly; "I do not."
This was a lie; and of course he knew it was a lie. The work of Mavis Clare had excited my most passionate envy— while the very fact that Sibyl Elton had read her book before she had thought of looking at mine, had accentuated the bitterness of my feelings.
"Well," said Rimanez at last, smiling as he finished reading my onslaught, "all I can say, Geoffrey, is that this will not touch Mavis Clare in the least. You have overshot the mark, my friend! Her public will simply cry, 'What a shame!' and clamour for her work more than ever. And as for the woman herself,—she has a merry heart, and she will laugh at it. You must see her some day.""I don't want to see her," I said.
"Probably not. But you will scarcely be able to avoid doing so when you live at Willowsmere Court.''
"One is not obliged to know everybody in the neighbourhood," I observed superciliously.
Lucio laughed aloud.
"How well you carry your fortunes, Geoffrey!" he said. "For a poor devil of a Grub-street hack, who lately was at a loss for a sovereign, how perfectly you follow the fashions of your time! If there is one man more than another that moves me to wondering admiration it is he who asserts his wealth strenuously in the face of his fellows, and who comports himself in this world as though he could bribe death and purchase the good-will of the Creator. It is such splendid effrontery,—such superlative pride! Now I, though overwealthy myself, am so curiously constituted that I cannot wear my bank-notes in my countenance as it were,—I have put in a claim for intellect as well as gold,—and sometimes, do you know, in my travels round the world, I have been so far honoured as to be taken for quite a poor man! Now you will never have that chance again;—you are rich and you look it!"
"And you,—" I interrupted him suddenly, and with some warmth,—"do you know what you look? You imply that I assert my wealth in my face; do you know what you assert in your every glance and gesture ?''
"I cannot imagine!" he said smiling.
"Contempt for us all!" I said,—" immeasurable contempt, —even for me, whom you call friend. I tell you the truth Lucio,—there are times when, in spite of our intimacy, I feel that you despise me. I daresay you do; you have an extraordinary personality united to extraordinary talents; you must not, however, expect all men to be as self-restrained and as indifferent to human passions as yourself."
He gave me a swift, searching glance.
"Expect!" he echoed. "My good fellow, I expect nothing at all,—from men. They, on the contrary,—at least all those / know,—expect everything from me. And they get it,— generally. As for 'despising' you, have I not said that I admire you? I do. I think there is something positively stupendous in the brilliant progress of your fame and rapid social success."
"My fame!" I repeated bitterly. "How has it been obtained? What is it worth ?''
"That is not the question," he retorted, with a little smile. "How unpleasant it must be for you to have these gouty twinges of conscience, Geoffrey! Of course no fame is actually worth much now-a-days,—because it is not classic fame, strong in reposeful old-world dignity,—it is blatant, noisy notoriety merely. But yours, such as it is, is perfectly legitimate, judged by its common-sense commercial aspect, which is the only aspect in which anyone looks at anything. You must bear in mind that no one works out of disinterestedness in the present age,—no matter how purely benevolent an action may appear on the surface, Self lies at the bottom of it. Once grasp this fact, and you will perceive that nothing could be fairer or more straightforward than the way you have obtained your fame. You have not 'bought' the incorruptible British Press; you could not do that; that is impossible, for it is immaculate and bristles stiffly all over with honourable principles. There is no English paper existing that would accept a cheque for the insertion of a notice or a paragraph; not one!" His eyes twinkled merrily,—then he went on,—"No,—it is only the Foreign Press that is corrupt, so the British Press says;—John Bull looks on virtuously aghast at journalists who, in dire stress of poverty, will actually earn a little extra pay for writing something or somebody 'up' or 'down.' Thank Heaven, he employs no such journalists; his pressmen are the very soul of rectitude, and will stoically subsist on a pound a week rather than take ten for a casual job ' to oblige a friend.' Do you know, Geoffrey, when the Judgment Day arrives, who will be among the first saints to ascend to Heaven with the sounding of trumpets?"
I shook my head, half vexed, half amused.
"All the English (not foreign) editors and journalists!" said Lucio with an air of pious rapture. "And why? Because they are so good, so just, so unprejudiced! Their foreign brethren will be reserved for the eternal dance of devils of course—but the Britishers will pace the golden streets singing Alleluia! I assure you I consider British journalists generally the noblest examples of incorruptibility in the world—they come next to the clergy as representatives of virtue, and exponents of the three evangelical counsels,— voluntary poverty, chastity, and obedience!" Such mockery glittered in his eyes, that the light in them might have been the reflection of clashing steel. "Be consoled, Geoffrey," he resumed,—" your fame is honourably won. You have simply, through me, approached one critic who writes in about twenty newspapers and influences others to write in other twenty,—that critic being a noble creature (all critics are noble creatures), has a pet 'society' for the relief of authors in need (a noble scheme you will own), and to this charity I subscribe, out of pure benevolence, five hundred pounds. Moved by my generosity and consideration (particularly as I do not ask what becomes of the five huudred), McWhing 'obliges' me in a little matter. The editors of the papers for which he writes accept him as a wise and witty personage; they know nothing about the charity or the cheque,—it is not necessary for them to know. The whole thing is really quite a reasonable business arrangement;—it is only a self-tormenting analyst like you who would stop to think of such a trifle a second time."
"If McWhing really and conscientiously admired my book for itself," I began.
"Why should you imagine he does not?" asked Lucio. "Myself, I believe that he is a perfectly sincere and honorable man. I think he means all he says and writes. I consider that if he had found your work not worthy of his commendation, he would have sent me back that cheque for five hundred pounds, torn across in a noble scorn!"
And with this, throwing himself back in his chair, he laughed till the tears came into his eyes.
But I could not laugh; I was too weary and depressed. A heavy sense of despair was on my mind; I felt that the hope which had cheered me in my days of poverty,—the hope of winning real Fame, so widely different a thing to notoriety, had vanished. There was some quality in the subtle glory which could not be won by either purchase or influence. The praise of the press could not give it. Mavis Clare, working for her bread, had it,—I, with millions of money, had not. Like a fool I had thought to buy it; I had yet to learn that all the best, greatest, purest and worthiest things in life are beyond all market value, and that the gifts of the gods are not for sale.
About a fortnight after the publication of my book, we went to Court, my comrade and I, and were presented by a distinguished officer connected with the immediate and intimate surroundings of the Royal household. It was a brilliant scene enough,—but, without doubt, the most brilliant personage there was Rimanez. I was fairly startled at the stately and fascinating figure he made in his court suit of black velvet and steel ornaments; accustomed as I was to his good looks, I had never seen them so enhanced by dress as on this occasion. I had been tolerably well satisfied with my own appearance in the regulation costume till I saw him; then my personal vanity suffered a decided shock, and I realized that I merely served as a foil to show off and accentuate the superior attractions of my friend. But I was not envious of him in any way,—on the contrary I openly expressed the admiration I frankly felt.
He seemed amused. "My dear boy, it is all flunkeydom," he said,—"all sham and humbug. Look at this,"—and he drew his light court rapier from its sheath,—" there is no real use in this flimsy blade,—it is merely an emblem of dead chivalry. In old times, if a man insulted you, or insulted a woman you admired, out flashed a shining point of tempered Toledo steel that could lunge—so!" and he threw himself into a fencing attitude of incomparable grace and ease,—" and you pricked the blackguard neatly through the ribs or arm and gave him cause to remember you. But now''—and he thrust the rapier back in its place—" men carry toys like these as a melancholy sign to show what bold fellows they were once, and what spiritless cravens they are now,—relying no more on themselves for protection, but content to go about yelling 'Police! Police !' at the least threat of injury to their worthless persons. Come, it's time we started, Geoffrey!—let us go and bow our heads before another human unit formed precisely like ourselves, and so act in defiance of Death and the Deity, who declare all men to be equal!"
We entered our carriage and were soon on our way to St James's Palace.
"His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is not exactly the Creator of the universe," said Lucio suddenly, looking out of the window as we approached the line of soldiery on guard outside.
"Why, no!" I answered laughing. "What do you say that for?"
"Because there is as much fuss about him as if he were,— in fact, more. The Creator does not get half as much attention bestowed upon Him as Albert Edward. We never attire ourselves in any special way for entering the presence of God; we don't put so much as a clean mind on."
"But then," I said indifferently, "God is non est,—and Albert Edward is est."
He smiled,—and his eyes had a scornful gleam in their dark centres.
"That is your opinion?" he queried. "Well, it is not original,—many choice spirits share'it with you. There is at least one good excuse for people who make no preparation to enter the presence of God,—in going to church, which is called the 'house of God,' they do not find God at all; they only discover the clergyman. It is somewhat of a disappointment."
I had no time to reply, as just then the carriage stopped, and we alighted at the palace. Through the intervention of the high Court official who presented us, we got a good place among the most distinguished arrivals, and during our brief wait, I was considerably amused by the study of their faces and attitudes. Some of the men looked nervous,—others conceited; one or two Radical notabilities comported themselves with an air as if they, and they alone, were to be honoured for allowing Royalty to hold these functions at all; a few gentlemen had evidently donned their Levee dress in haste and carelessness, for the pieces of tissue-paper in which their steel or gilt coat-buttons had been wrapped by the tailor to prevent tarnish, were still unremoved. Discovering this fortunately before it was too late, they occupied themselves by taking off these papers and casting them on the floor,—an untidy process at best, and one that made them look singularly ridiculous and undignified. Each man present turned to stare at Lucio; his striking personality attracted universal attention. When we at last entered the throne-room, and took our places in line, I was careful to arrange that my brilliant companion should go up before me, as I had a strong desire to see what sort of an effect his appearance would produce on the Royal party. I had an excellent view of the Prince of Wales from where I myself waited; he made an imposing and kingly figure enough, in full uniform with his various Orders glittering on his broad breast; and the singular resemblance discovered by many people in him to Henry VIII. struck me more forcibly than I should have thought possible. His face, however, expressed a far greater good-humour than the pictured lineaments of the capricious but ever popular "bluff King Hal,"—though on this occasion there was a certain shade of melancholy, even sternness on his brow, which gave a firmer character to his naturally mobile features,—a shadow, as I fancied of weariness, tempered with regret,—the look of one dissatisfied, yet resigned. A man of blunted possibilities he seemed tome,—of defeated aims, and thwarted will. Few of the other members of the Royal family surrounding him on the dais possessed the remarkable attraction he had for any observant student of physiognomy,—most of them were, or assumed to be, stiff military figures merely, who bent their heads as each guest filed past with an automatic machinelike regularity implying neither pleasure, interest, nor goodwill. But the Heir-Apparent to the greatest Empire in the world expressed, in his very attitude and looks, an unaffected and courteous welcome to all,—surrounded as he was, and as such in his position must ever be, by toadies, parasites, sycophants, hypocritical self-seekers, who would never run the least risk to their own lives to serve him, unless they could get something personally satisfactory out of him, his presence impressed itself upon me as suggestive of dormant but none the less resolute power. I cannot even now explain the singular excitation of mind that seized me as our turn to be presented arrived;—I saw my companion advance, and heard the Lord Chamberlain announce his name; 'Prince Lucio Rimanez;' and then;—why then, it seemed as if all the movement in the brilliant room suddenly came to a pause! Every eye was fixed on the stately form and noble countenance of my friend as he bowed with such consummate courtliness and grace as made all other salutations seem awkward by comparison. For one moment he stood absolutely still in front of the Royal dais; facing the Prince as though he sought to impress him with the fact of his presence there,— and across the broad stream of sunshine which had been pouring into the room throughout the ceremony, there fell the sudden shadow of a passing cloud. A fleeting impression of gloom and silence chilled the atmosphere,—a singular magnetism appeared to hold all eyes fixed on Rimanez; and not a man either going or coming, moved. This intense hush was brief as it was curious and impressive;—the Prince of Wales started slightly, and gazed at the superb figure before him with an expression of eager curiosity, and almost as if he were ready to break the frigid bonds of etiquette and speak,— then controlling himself with an evident effort, he gave his usual dignified acknowledgment of Lucio's profound reverence, whereupon my comrade passed on, slightly smiling. I followed next,—but naturally made no impression beyond the fact of exciting a smothered whisper from someone among the lesser Royalties who caught the name 'Geoffrey Tempest,' and at once murmured the magic words ''Five millions!"—words which reached my ears and moved me to the usual weary contempt which was with me growing into a chronic malady. We were soon out of the palace, and while waiting for our carriage in the covered court-yard entrance, I touched Rimanez on the arm."You made a veritable sensation, Lucio!""Did I?" He laughed. "You flatter me, Geoffrey." . "Not at all. Why did you stop so long in front of the dais?"
"To please my humour!" he returned indifferently. "And partly, to give his Royal Highness the chance of remembering me the next time he sees me."
"But he seemed to recognise you," I said. "Have you met him before ?''
His eyes flashed. "Often! But I have never till now made a public appearance at St James's. Court costume and 'company manners' make a difference to the looks of most men,—and I doubt,—yes, I very much doubt, whether, even with his reputed excellent memory for faces, the Prince really knew me to-day for what I am!"