THE SWORD FALLS

“Oh, Syl, I can’t tell you how glad I am that you are back. And Ella
too–with that hateful marriage broken off. I don’t quite understand how
it is. He backed out at the last moment, didn’t he? But my poor head has
been in such a whirl all day that I don’t seem to understand anything.
Dr. Simmons is very kind and clever, but he’s not like you, Syl. Your
coming gives me hope. Oh, you mustn’t let him die, Syl, dear.”

Miss Lanyon put her hands on Sylvester’s shoulders and began to cry
softly. He put his arm kindly round her, and tried to comfort her.

“I’ve been crying all day, I think,” she continued. The poor lady’s eyes
were red; her grizzling hair, usually so neat, was disarranged; she
wore an old red dressing-gown with great white buttons, within which her
fragile figure seemed to be lost. The dining-room fire was nearly out,
and only one gas-jet was alight. The two were sitting up, neither able
to go to bed and sleep. Ella had retired to her room almost immediately
after her arrival, having learned that the old man was unconscious.

“He rallied so to-day,” said Miss Lanyon, drying her tears, “I thought
the poor dear had suddenly recovered. He spoke quite sensibly, though he
was so weak, and, oh, he wanted you so badly, Syl. And then Lady Milmo’s
telegram came about the wedding, and I gave it him to read. No, you
mustn’t scold me any more about it. I thought he would be so pleased.
Then he asked where you had gone, and when you were coming back, quite
in his old quiet way, and called for writing materials, and he wrote
something with great, great difficulty, and made nurse and me witness
his signature. It must have been to do with his will, I think. He had
just time to put it in an envelope when he fainted away. He revived
afterwards, and then he began to moan for you and Ella to come to him.
He didn’t like the nurse; the strange face troubled him, poor darling.
He only wanted Ella and you. And now you have come and seen him, what do
you really think, Syl, dear? If it is the worst, tell me, for I am not
afraid to hear it.”

She drew herself up with a flash of family resemblance to her brother,
which the physician’s quick eye noticed. He replied frankly. The old
man was in a natural sleep,–a hopeful sign. His recovery would probably
depend upon his power of resistance. Lytton, the great specialist, was
coming down to-morrow, and they might expect his verdict to be final.

They talked long together in the cold, dimly lit room. Miss Lanyon
repeated her story, with fresh details added here and there, told of
the kindness of Simmons, the numberless inquiries from the townspeople,
broke off to recall little instances of her brother’s goodness. Only
to-day, during his short spell of consciousness, he had asked whether
Sylvester had made the arrangement for the Jenkins’ three children to
board with the Jellicoes. At this announcement Sylvester brought his
hand down hard upon the table. \

“What a brute I am!” he exclaimed! “I forgot all about it! And he
remembered! What did you tell him?”

“I said that you no doubt were seeing to the matter,” replied Miss
Lanyon.

Sylvester sat on the corner of the table and stared in front of him,
his mind full of the father the latchet of whose shoes he felt himself
unworthy to loosen, and tears came into his eyes. The incident touched
him deeply. This tender thoughtfulness for little things in the midst
of events great enough to absorb the attention of a strong man seemed a
keynote of his father’s nature.

“He is the one perfect man of his generation,” said Sylvester.

A while later he induced Miss Lanyon to go to bed, and went upstairs to
relieve the nurse by his father’s side. And for some hours he watched
the beloved face, placid and wan in the dim light. Skilled physician
though he was, he alternated between hope and fear. A world without his
father was unimaginable. His life was barren enough already. His father
was the only being left that could satisfy the dumb craving for human
sympathy that gnawed continually at his vitals. The prospect of his
grim loneliness appalled him. Again he looked intently into the sleeping
face. The muscles all relaxed, it appeared unutterably careworn,–the
face of a man many years older. To the son seemed as if the last two
days had brought the havoc; he cursed Roderick in his heart.

Only once before had he felt the same murderous hatred of a man. Then he
was watching, even as he was doing now, by a man’s bedside. The memory
recurred, intensely vivid. He set his teeth as he lived over again those
hours of agony and strife. Unconsciously he drew up his indictment of
humanity for the wrongs it had inflicted on him. Friendship was naught.
Had not his dearest friend stabbed him in the dark? Woman was inherently
false and corrupt. His own wife, who had lain in his arms, had betrayed
him, and she had smiled, smiled to the hour of her death. To have
children was a curse. How did he know that alien blood did not run in
Dorothy’s veins? Woman’s love, what was it? To-night Ella had confessed
her love for him. It had not stopped her from throwing herself into the
embraces of a satyr. The brute nature of humanity! He himself had not
been safeguarded from spasms of jealousy. Fiercely he attributed them to
the lower instincts. He forgot how at times in his sombre house he
had let his pen slip from his fingers and had ached for the touch of
a woman’s hand and the sound of a child’s laughter; how a girl’s fresh
face, perilously like Ella’s, had quivered before his vision, and how
the grip of cold iron had suddenly fastened round his heart, and he had
resumed his work, hard and scornful. These things that had come to him
were remote from the flesh; but he forgot them. In his hour of dark
misanthropy he ranked her sex and his own temptation at their lowest.
For her humiliation he had no pity. Like other women, she had rolled
in the mire; smirching was the natural consequence. For Roderick he had
hatred, unmitigated by any pleasant memory of old acquaintance. But he
remembered his father’s many kindnesses to Roderick, and the man’s crime
was further blackened by ingratitude.

Nor did he pity the father of the son thus disgraced. The ignoble, mean
old man who had always been the object of his scorn had brought his
punishment upon himself; for had he not neglected the elementary
responsibilities of parentage? There could be no pity for a father of
whom the son spoke openly with cynical contempt. Sylvester’s eyes fell
upon his own father’s face, and the contrast brought a tumultuous rush
of feeling. And from the wall opposite, his mother smiled down upon him
through the gloom. She was gone,–the one pure, divine woman the earth
had held. The one perfect man lay there, still living. He must not die.
Sylvester shook with a great terror. His father was as needful as the
sun in a foul and dismal world. These two were remote as stars from the
rest of humanity. Through them passed his faith in God.

But his faith in man was gone. On this night of vigil, after his day of
self-repression and stern meting out of justice, was the culmination of
all the disillusion and the bitterness of his life. Towards the three
human beings upon whom he was bringing crushing disgrace his heart was
cold granite. And the old man with the kindly, careworn face slept on
and on by his side.

At the first streaks of the winter dawn the door opened, and Ella,
simply dressed for the day, entered the room. Sylvester rose with a
frown and advanced to meet her.

“I must take my turn,” she whispered.

“There is no necessity,” he returned.

“I have passed through great trouble,” she said, looking at him with
eyes pathetically bright through want of sleep, “and it would be mere
human kindness to let me sit here for a little alone. And you must take
some rest.”

“I thank you for your consideration,” he replied ironically, ignoring
her appeal, “but I am not in need of rest.” He held the door open for
her to pass out, but she stood her ground.

“You are hard, but you claim to be just. Uncle Matthew sent for me. Aunt
Agatha has told you. I have some right to be here. Besides, it would
hurt him to know that you refused to let me be with him.”

“If you put it that way, I must admit your claim,” he said coldly. “If
you will come into the passage, I will give you some directions in view
of contingencies.”

She assented, and they went out together. At the end of the passage a
housemaid passed wraithlike on her way to the kitchen. The crack of the
stairs beneath her tread sounded sharp in the unbroken silence of the
house.

“Thank you, I will not forget,” said Ella, when he had ended his
instructions. She disappeared into the sick chamber; and Sylvester,
going to his own room, threw himself in his clothes upon the bed, and
wrapped in a rug fell, through force of habit and through fatigue, into
a heavy sleep.

A couple of hours afterwards he was awakened. Mr. Usher urgently
requested to speak with him. Sylvester rose, shook the sleep from his
eyes, and faced the grim contingencies of another day. He was prepared
for this interview with the father, had steeled himself against whining
entreaties and appeals to old comradeship. But to see him was an act of
common decency, however unpleasant and however fruitless. He sponged
his face with ice-cold water and went downstairs to the dining-room. Mr.
Usher was sitting on the edge of an armchair, warming his plump hands
before the fire. He rose as Sylvester entered, and, putting his hands
behind his back, regarded him with eyes more than ever expressionless
and red-rimmed.

“I had a telegram from my poor boy last night,” he announced in his
slow, pedantic way. “I could not come round last night. I have been
suffering again lately from my bronchial tubes. My doctor tells me the
night air in winter is dangerous for me. I was a prisoner.”

“Your health is valuable to you, no doubt,” said Sylvester,
sarcastically.

“I live for my son,” replied Usher, sitting down again in the armchair.
“If I ran risks now and contracted illness, who would stand by my son in
his hour of need? Prudence has been the guiding principle of my life. I
have profited by it.”

He wagged his head and looked into the fire. Sylvester turned one of the
straight-backed chairs and sat down, his elbow on the table.

“Perhaps you will state your business, Mr. Usher,” he said. “My time,
like your health, is valuable.”

“All in good time,” replied Usher; “nothing good comes of hurrying.
I never hurry.” He rubbed his palms together meditatively, like some
colossal and flabby fly. Then he continued deliberately: “I learn from
Roderick that he has been arrested for forging your father’s name to a
cheque.”

“For £3,000,” said Sylvester.

“Yes. It is a great sum of money. But your father gave it to him as a
wedding present. Your father is a generous man.”

“Your son confessed to me that he forged it.”

“Well, perhaps he did,” assented Usher. “Perhaps he did.”

In spite of his contempt for the old man and his pitilessness towards
Roderick, he gazed upon his interlocutor with some wonder. Not a shaft
of dismay at the disgrace hanging over his son’s head seemed to have
penetrated the brass-armoured egotism of this placid, unvenerable man.
Sylvester waited contemptuously for him to speak.

“You are preferring the charge against him this morning?” asked Usher.

“I have instructed my solicitor to do so.”

“There is still time to telegraph to your solicitor to withdraw it.”

“I have no such intentions.”

“I cannot let you proceed. I have the feelings of a father.”

Sylvester rose, and thrusting his hands in his pockets, stood on the
hearth-rug facing Mr. Usher.

“It is no doubt a painful matter to you,” said he, with cold politeness,
“but my intentions are unalterable. I will prosecute him right through.
Nothing you can possibly say will have the slightest effect on my
determination.”

Then the old man seemed to hug his stout body with his arms, and for
the first time a gleam came into his pale eyes and he chuckled softly
to himself. At the unexpected sound Sylvester started. Such symptoms
pointed to senility. But suddenly the old man turned to him with a quick
snarl, in startling contrast with his deliberate manner,–

“I suppose you are not aware, you young fool, that you will be sending
your own brother to gaol.”

He bent forward, gripping the arms of the chair, fixing Sylvester with
an inscrutable gaze, his lips beneath the scrubby white moustache parted
and showing his yellow stumps of teeth.

“Your brother. Don’t you understand?”

“What idiocy are you talking?” exclaimed Sylvester, in angry impatience.

“I am talking the truth, my young friend. I am a truthful man,” replied
Usher, with mocking resumption of his usual habit of speech. “Roderick
is your own dear brother.”

“You accuse my father of having an illegitimate son?”

“Oh, no. Roderick is quite legitimate. He is my son. At least, I quite
believed your poor mother.”

“My mother–what the devil are you talking about?” cried Sylvester,
fiercely. “What has my mother got to do with it?”

“Roderick is her son, my dear Sylvester. Hers and mine. She was my
wife.”

Sylvester glared at him for a moment, and then, the preposterous
absurdity of the story dawning upon him, he broke into a contemptuous
laugh and turned away. The man was mad.

“I think it time we parted,” said Sylvester. Ushers face expressed
pained surprise.

“You do not believe me?”

Then as Sylvester did not reply otherwise than by a shrug, he drew
a mass of papers from his breast-pocket and selected therefrom a
photograph, old and discoloured, of a man and woman posed in the angular
attitudes of the photographer’s art in the late fifties, and clad in the
uncouth attire of those days. The woman had a baby upon her lap.

“Your mother and brother and I,” said Mr. Usher. “I was a handsome young
man. I had fine black whiskers.”

Sylvester received the picture, looked at it, and a spasm of horrible
disgust shook his frame. The young woman was his mother–unmistakably.

“She was my dear wife,” said Usher.

“And you played the brute beast, I suppose, until she divorced you. And
then she married my father. I see,” said Sylvester, grimly.

But Usher raised his hand in deprecation. “On the contrary,” said he,
“we were never divorced. When I said your father had no illegitimate
children, I was wrong. You are an illegitimate child.”

Sylvester flung the photograph with a furious gesture into the fire. The
old man darted forward to rescue it, but Sylvester roughly pushed him
back into his chair, and stood over him trembling with anger. Behind him
the photograph curled and flamed.

“What devilish story are you telling me? Let me have it at once, all of
it,” cried Sylvester.

There was a slight pause. Usher passed the tip of his tongue over his
lips, and again he hugged himself in his armchair.

“I have been waiting to tell you this for thirty years. For your dear
father’s sake I have held my peace. I am a peaceful man. But I could
not let you send your own brother to prison, your dear mother’s son.
Fraternal love is a wondrous thing.”

“Come to the point and tell me, or I may not be responsible for what I
do,” said Sylvester, in husky menace.

The swelling triumph of his long-deferred vengeance had not quite
overmastered a craven spirit. A glance out of the corner of his eye
assured Usher of Sylvester’s desperation. The sight was an unholy
mingling of delight and fear. He rubbed his soft palms together and
wagged his head.

“It is a sad story. I blame my wife. She acted wrongly. We lived in
Australia on a little farm. I am fond of rural pursuits. Ayresford
is rural. That is why I came here. We were married and happy with our
little child. We called him Roderick. It is a family name, but perhaps
that would not interest you. He was three years old when your father
came to these parts. Ah! he was a dashing young fellow then. He is not
dashing now. Poor Matthew!”

“Damn you!” said Sylvester.

“Ah! that is what your father has often said. You are like your father.
Well, to shorten a long story, he fell in love with my wife, and she
with him, and she ran away with him to England, leaving me alone with
our poor little boy Roderick. Here are proofs.” He patted the sheaf of
papers on his lap and signed to Sylvester to read them; but Sylvester
motioned a negative. He was convinced. His anger had subsided into he
knew not what state of reeling horror. Yet through it all Usher himself
was revealed to him, and he regarded him as something obscene.

“And you have received money from my father all this time as the price
of silence.”

“I was poor, and I forgave mine enemy. I am a forgiving man. It is my
way. When your dear mother died I came here and lived near him, to show
that I forgave him.”

“Like father, like son,” said Sylvester,–“a blackmailer and a forger.
Oh, my God!” He turned away and stood with bowed head, staring at the
carpet, his hands clenched. Without moving he said hoarsely,–

“Go. We have nothing more to say to each other.”

“You see you can’t let your dear brother go to a felon’s doom–and your
legitimate brother, too, my dear Sylvester,” said Usher, smacking his
lips at each word. Then he rose and buttoned his frock-coat and went out
of the room, chuckling quietly.

Presently Sylvester roused himself with a great shuddering sigh.

“Oh, God!” he said, and moved a step or two towards the fire.

There was a knock at the door and a servant entered, bearing a letter on
a tray.

“Miss Lanyon said I was to give you this at once, sir.”

He took it, found the envelope was addressed to himself in his father’s
handwriting. He did not notice that the ink on the envelope was wet, nor
that the enclosure had been written some time previously.

“I, Matthew Lanyon,” it ran, “of Woodlands, Ayresford, hereby declare
that I drew a cheque for £3,000, dated the 10th December, 189-, in
favour of Roderick Charles Usher, Esq., of 13 Queen’s Park Mansions,
London, S. W.” The document was signed by him, and the signature was
witnessed by Agatha Lanyon and Mary Evans, the nurse.

Like a man in a dream, Sylvester crossed to a little desk by the window,
that once had been his mother’s, and wrote out a telegram; then a letter
with which he enclosed his father’s statement. Both he addressed to his
solicitor. The gardener was summoned and despatched to the post-office.
When he had gone, Sylvester was scarcely conscious of his action.
Roderick’s fate was of small account compared with the doom that had
fallen upon himself.

But an hour afterwards Roderick was driving through the London streets,
a free man.

But a few minutes had passed since Usher’s departure; yet to Sylvester
they represented a great chasm of time,–a living self on the one
side, a dead self on the other. He walked aimlessly about the room in a
curious apathy. That which had been vital to him, his love and reverence
for those two,–father and mother,–had been plucked away from him, and
it seemed merely some reflex action that maintained organic existence.

On the wall facing the fireplace were two companion water-colour
portraits in old-fashioned oval frames. He paused before them and looked
dully from one to the other. These had been his sacred images in the
house, the ikons of his gods. His mother smiled down upon him. Her
hair, banded obliquely on either side over her forehead, gave an idea
of Madonna-like purity to the delicate contours of her face. That of
Botticelli’s fair girl-mother betrayed less a soul at war with itself.
And it was not the artist’s contemporaneous delight in investing
feminine portraiture with angelic sentimentality that was at fault. The
son remembered her thus in the flesh, though older,–a rare, flower-like
woman, with hands that, when they touched him as a boy, seemed holy.
She was dead. That other, the young man bright and strong, looking
unflinchingly at the world over his absurd black neckcloth, was now an
old man, dying. And all that they left was a heritage of shame.

Their lives had been a hollow, hideous lie,–the lives of his gods. _A
fortiori_, the lives of common mortality were false. He seemed to stand
apart from the world, dispassionately regarding a race corrupt to its
core, and shrinking from the step that would bring him again into its
midst. Without Phariseeism he appeared to be the one clean man in a miry
universe; the sense whereof brought with it something of the appalling.
Whither should he turn without rubbing against contamination?

He moved away from the pictures and looked about the room. The familiar,
old-fashioned furniture, which the old man loved to keep in memory of
her who was once queen of the little space, seemed tainted with the
unutterable. He became aware of a physical feeling of nausea. The room
reeked. He flung open one of the French windows with an instinctive
craving for a breath of the cold December air that was blown across the
dripping lawn.

He brushed aside his hair, and tried to think. He stood as a judge; that
he realised. Those two were brought before the bar, accused of the
sin that his organic temperament pronounced unforgivable. The pleas
in extenuation would be weakness and folly; and weakness and folly he
despised. He was called upon to pass sentence for the shame of which
he himself was the child; and in passing it on the sinful pair he was
condemning himself to a living death. The man did not see that he had
been working all his life towards this doom.

The slamming of the door behind him caused him to turn round with
a start. His Aunt Agatha came towards him, wrapping a woollen shawl
tightly around her lean shoulders.

“Oh, how can you have the windows open on a day like this?” she asked
shivering.

He closed the window in silence and looked at her inquiringly.

“Your father has been awake along time, dear, and is asking so for you.”

“A long time?” he echoed.

“Yes; before Mr. Usher came. Didn’t you know? He addressed the envelope
of the letter he sent down to you. Didn’t you get it?”

“Yes. I got it,” said Sylvester.

“What’s the matter with you, Syl? Aren’t you going to him?”

“Oh, of course,” he replied. “Of course–yes.”

He went out slowly and mounted the stairs with limbs as heavy as lead.
He turned the handle of his father’s door and entered. The kind grey
eyes of the old man, propped on his pillows, met him as he crossed the
threshold, and a smile flickered over the wan lips.

“I was afraid you had forgotten me,” whispered the old man, feebly
holding out his hand, which his son pressed in silence.

Ella was standing in the light of the window, medicine bottle and glass
in hand. Until the liquid was poured out, she paid no attention to
Sylvester. Then she came to the bedside and looked across at him
somewhat defiantly before handing the glass to his father.

“What is the use of this solemn little comedy?” said the latter,
whimsically, his voice, a whispered echo of the cheeriness of days past.
“It won’t make me any better. Simmons knows it and you know it and I
know it. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men! And Humpty Dumpty
doesn’t want to be set up again. He’s been on his wall long enough.”

He drank the draught, however, making a wry face. Ella bent over to wipe
his lips, but he motioned her away with characteristic independence.

“I can do that for myself. I can’t do much, but I can do that. You don’t
know how she bullies me, Syl.”

“Uncle Matthew wouldn’t have the nurse when she came to relieve me,”
explained Ella.

“I want those I love best by me, as now, eh, Syl?” said the old man.

Sylvester did not answer, but stood by the bedside dumb, vainly seeking
some formula of speech whereby to simulate emotion. Ella set the
wine-glass on the table and smoothed the pillows and counterpane, then
lingered by the sick man, looking down upon him with a puckering of the
brow, as a woman will, counting over the little tale of duties specified
by the forth-driven nurse, so as to make certain of no omission. But her
presence there filled Sylvester with dull resentment.

“My father has something particular to say to me,” he said stiffly. “Do
you mind?”

“I was on the point of going,” she replied, somewhat surprised at
feeling hurt by his tone, for she had thought that the successive
emotional shocks of the past four and twenty hours had killed all
feeling within her for ever. Recovering herself, she bent over the old
man, kissed him, and crossed to the door. Sylvester met her there and
accompanied her into the passage and closed the door behind him.

“How much does my father know of Roderick Usher’s affairs?”

She looked at him bravely enough.

“Nothing. I believe he guesses. I have told him he was summoned abroad
suddenly.” She moved away.

“Stop,” said he. “There is something else.” She drew a step nearer. “I
can’t bear much more,” she said quietly.

“It may relieve your mind to know that I have withdrawn the charge
entirely. He is perfectly free.”

She stared at him for a moment, then grew deadly white and fainted. The
girl’s overtaxed strength had given way at last. Sylvester caught her
in his arms and prepared to carry her to her room not far off along the
passage; but at that moment Miss Agatha Lanyon with Simmons turned the
corner, and he gave Ella into their charge.

“I’m staying with my father,” he said to Simmons. “Come in later.”

On the other side of his father’s door he forgot the recent scene. Of
what importance was a girl’s fainting compared with the death hovering
in this chamber and the death enthroned in his heart? He approached the
bed. Matthew looked up at him wistfully.

“You can’t expect me to live for ever, you know. I really have had
enough of it, so don’t fret.”

A thrush fluttered against the window for a moment. Matthew started.

“What was that?”

“Only a bird beating against the pane, attracted by the fire, perhaps.”

“We do that all our lives long. The invisible barrier. Oh, it’s time to
go, Syl, when a man begins to moralise. The moral always comes at the
end of the story. Sit down on the bed, my son. I want to talk to you.”
Sylvester obeyed. An expression of pain crossed his face. The old man’s
undismayed serenity moved his admiration. He would have given worlds to
have uttered the cry of grief and love that would have been possible an
hour ago.

“You are a brave man, father,” he forced himself to say.

“No; a coward. A pitiable old coward. You received my letter this
morning?”

“Yes. It is all right.”

“You found a cheque yesterday–thought it forged–stopped Ella’s
marriage?”

“Yes, and brought her back with me.”

“But you will believe that I wrote the cheque?”

“If you wish me to,” said Sylvester.

There was a silence broken only by the crackling of the fire and the
sobbing of the wind outside among the bare trees. Matthew gazed at the
patch of sky framed by the window–it was one of his little obstinacies
to have the fullest daylight in his room–and watched the scudding
clouds. Presently, without turning,–

“Syl,” he said.

“Yes, father.”

“Something is breaking my heart. It has been the dream of my life to
leave you a little fortune to make you independent, but I have lost it
all, nearly all.”

“You must not be distressed at that,” replied Sylvester. “I am earning
a good income and am putting by money. In twenty years I shall be a
wealthy man.”

Matthew turned a face of intense anxiety, and it was some seconds before
he could speak in his feeble voice.

“But Woodlands will have to go. It is heavily mortgaged,–a debt I owe
to Usher. Forgive me, Syl; I tried so hard to keep it. You’ll find Usher
and Roderick in my will, you the residuary legatee; but there will be
nothing. I will explain a little.”

He paused, thinking of some explanation, a debt incurred to Usher long
ago. But Sylvester, imagining the story to be the one of sickening shame
he had just heard, sought to save the old man unnecessary pain.

“Don’t say anything. Usher has told me.”

Matthew looked at him wide-eyed.

“Usher told you?”

“Yes.”

“Everything?”

“Yes.”

“From the beginning?”

“Yes. This morning.”

“You were threatening Roderick with a prosecution?”

“Yes. When I learned that he was–my brother, I instructed my solicitor
to withdraw the charge.”

“Merciful God, have pity on me!” murmured the old man, with closed eyes.

The tremendous irony of existence crushed him. To save his son this
knowledge, he had endured over thirty years of abject humiliation. The
son by his own act had brought the knowledge upon himself. It is an
awful thing when a strong man comes face to face with the futile result
of all his strength.

Presently he opened his eyes and looked wearily at Sylvester.

“Forgive me, Syl. Don’t judge after the penalty has been paid. Even
common law cannot sentence a man twice for the same offence. And I ‘ve
served my time, and so did she. My God! we served it twice over. And no
one knew or pitied us. I would have killed myself cheerfully to spare
you the knowledge.”

His voice weakened, and he murmured an inaudible sentence, then lay back
exhausted on his pillows. Sylvester looked at the kind, strong face,
now so ashen and aged, and a gleam was revealed to him of the spirit’s
tragedy beneath; confused and blurred, it is true, but still a gleam
that filled him with vague disquietude. It dimly suggested possibilities
of life beyond the jealously guarded gates of his soul.

“You must have pity, my son,” whispered Matthew.

The tone wrung the young man’s heart like a material grip. It was the
first sign of returning power of sensation. He cleared his throat and
said constrainedly,–

“Don’t talk like that, father. I am your son and must always honour
you.”

Matthew again turned his head and watched the grey sky. He knew his son
to be a stern man, and the austere sound of his words chilled him more
than the death he felt approaching.

“What can I do?” he murmured, dispirited. “It was a long, long penance.
Don’t turn from me, my son.”

“But–father,” said Sylvester, brokenly, “everything seems to have left
me.”

The numbness had gone, and the whole sensitive man writhed in sudden
pain, with loss of faith. His mother, whom he had deemed holy as a
saint, his wife whom he had worshipped as a star,–both to have been
false wives, women of shame! The old torture revived, intensified
tenfold. The sight of the once revered being who lay dying in utter
sadness before his eyes, and for whom the old love was now fighting
within him for mastery, raised the torture’s poignancy to such a pitch
that at last it broke through the reserve of a lifetime and found vent
in a great cry,–

“My own wife was unfaithful to me. How, can I judge my mother?”

A flush of life entered the dying man’s cheeks. He turned quickly; his
eyes were luminous.

“Constance? I did not think you knew–till the other night. And then I
hoped against hope.”

“Did you know? How long? I only learned it after her death–Leroux’s
last illness. My God! does all the country-side know?”

“No, Syl. I alone.”

He sought his son’s hand on the coverlet, and then continued in the
calm, assured tone that Sylvester knew had given strength and comfort to
so many. The voice had grown suddenly strong.

“She came to me herself, and told me, a soul-stricken woman,–just
after. She loved the man, Syl, and had always loved him. Circumstances
estranged them, they thought for ever. And then–she was a brave woman,
Syl–she fancied she could make a good man’s life happy,–yours. But
the mistake was cleared up, and he returned. She loved him,–my boy, we
can’t kill love,–but she was proud of her honour and scorned running
from temptation; relied on her strength too far, until one day, only one
day, Syl, it failed her, in a whirl of madness. She came to me to ask
what she should do. I have never seen such frantic grief in a human
soul. And a good many have brought their troubles to me,” he added with
one of his rare smiles.

“That is true,” said Sylvester. And a sudden impulse made him add, “God
bless you!”

For the thought, of a soul in pain flying instinctively to the sympathy
of those kind eyes brought a gush of tenderness. He saw him again as
the wise counsellor, the generous friend, the child-hearted lover of all
things, great and small.

“And you told her–?” he queried in a low voice, deeply moved.

“A greater judge than I set the precedent. She was the truest wife to
you thereafter.”

“Tell me, father,” said Sylvester, huskily, “when was it? Dorothy?”

“Your own flesh and blood,” said the old man, gripping his hand. “My
poor boy, how you must have suffered!”

He lay back again, prostrated by his sustained effort of speech, and
closed his eyes. Sylvester leaned forward, half reclining on the bed,
still holding his father’s hand. And as he sat there silent, a veil
seemed to be drawn from before his vision.

“She–Constance must have suffered,” he said at last.

Matthew opened his eyes and met his son’s gaze wistfully.

“Don’t we all? If the stainless like you suffer, what of us poor sinners
who struggle towards the light! Think of the agony of that pure and
delicate soul who bore you, my son. Pray for all poor souls, Syl.”

His voice had grown singularly faint. The tears leaped to Sylvester’s
eyes. He tried to speak, but his throat was clogged with unaccustomed
sobs. With instinctive ashamedness he buried his face in the pillow next
to his father, still holding his hand. He lay there a long time, his
heart aching with the returning love as a limb to which the tourniquet
has been applied aches with the returning blood. Once the old man
whispered a prayer for the son’s forgiveness, and when Sylvester pressed
his hand, relapsed into his half-sleep as if reassured. Time went by.
Presently Sylvester heard him murmuring in a scarcely audible voice.
Gradually the sense of the words came to him. The old man was repeating
scraps of verse:–

“Freres humains, qui apres nous vivez,

N’avez les cueud contre nous endurciz,

Car, si pitié de nous pouvres avez,

Dieu en aura plustost de vous merciz.

Ne soyez done de nostre confrairie,

Mais priez Dieu que tous nous vueille absouldre!”

There was a great pathos in the broad English accent with which he
murmured the old French words, and for the first time in all his life
Sylvester understood them. He raised his head and saw his father’s lips
moving dumbly. After a little the voice came again, broken and faint,
and only by a word here and there could he gather the meaning. It was
from Swinburne’s “Garden of Proserpine:”

“… Even the weariest river

Winds somewhere safe to sea,”

He repeated the couplet two or three times. He had never been a great
reader of poetry, but of some half-dozen poems he was particularly fond,
and had made them his own, and had woven them into the texture of his
life. Among them were such dissimilar things as Villon’s “Ballade,”
Macaulay’s “Battle of Ivry,” Tennyson’s “Brook,” “The Ancient Mariner,”
and Sylvester had often smiled indulgently at this little anthology, his
father’s simple spiritual equipment. Especially had he wondered at his
assimilation of this poem of Swinburne’s, so remote in feeling from his
steadfast outlook upon life, and his intolerance of cowardly shrinking
from its responsibilities.

But now he comprehended that his father was a weary, weary man, and that
one of the most beautiful of all utterances to the weary man’s heart had
brought him comfort.

“Then star nor sun shall waken,

Nor any change of light;

Nor sound of waters shaken,

Nor any sound or sight;

Nor wintry leaves nor vernal;

Nor days nor things diurnal;

Only the sleep eternal

In an eternal nighty.”

The murmuring voice ended the poem. Sylvester drew the old man’s
withered brown hand to his lips.

“Forgive me for not understanding, father,” he said brokenly. “I am glad
I know. I love you and my mother more than I have ever done. Would to
God I had been a tenderer son to you!”

Matthew’s clasp tightened, and a smile hovered over his face. He knew
that the awkward words came from his son’s heart.

“We understand each other, Syl. ‘_Tout comprendre_, et cetera…. I am
happy. I have never been so happy in all my life–‘the burden has fallen
from me–fallen into the sea.’ I’m sleepy, Syl–stay by me–it comforts
me.”

So Sylvester, still holding the dear hand in a warm clasp, and fearing
to move lest he should disturb the quiet slumber into which the old
man had fallen, remained by his father’s side, his face hidden in the
pillow. And as he lay, there was accomplished one of those integral
spiritual changes that can only be wrought once in the lifetime of a man
here and there. The White Dove of the Divine Pity overshadowed him with
its wings, and he saw deeply into the mysteries of life. He beheld the
unutterable pathos of man, his clogged aspirations, his heroic weakness,
his piteous fortitude, his everlasting struggles. It was revealed to him
that there may be more of the warm spiritual essence of humanity, in a
single passionate sin than in a hundred austere virtues.

His father, mother, Constance, Leroux, Ella, all of whom he, the
upright, stainless man, had condemned, stood before him clothed in a
new light; and by reason of their warm humanity, their struggles, their
sufferings, they stood higher in the scale of being than he.

He saw the loves of those two whom he had so cherished unfold in tragedy
before his vision. They were two rare natures, he understood, fitted
only one for the other, too fine for commoner clay. He knew the agony
of the first early struggle, the eternal conflict between love and that
which the world accepts as duty; the mother’s heart torn asunder between
the child of her body and the man of her heart’s core; the ignoble
husband a thing of horror in her thoughts. Then came their life
together; the perfect union; the sweet community of noble end; but every
step to happiness dogged by the footfall of pain. What must they have
suffered, the two sensitives, with minds (in the son’s fancy) of gods
and hearts of little children! He remembered that there were times
when his mother would stand by the window, lost to external things, and
strain her vision through infinite space; and he knew now it was the
yearning for the child that she had forsaken.

And then she died, the pure gold of her spirit worn thin by suffering.
He remembered his father’s ashen face; how he clung unspeaking to him,
even as he himself in after years had clung to Dorothy. Then came
the proud man’s lonely penance; Usher’s arrival with Roderick. He had
wronged the man and wronged the boy; but what unwearying efforts to
redeem in full! The weight of the burden fell upon Sylvester, and he
knew its heaviness. He knew the scrupulous gentleman’s revolt against
the forced intimacy with the underbred egotist, lost to self-respect,
the rapacious blackmailer, the vampire that sucked his heart’s blood.
He knew the sordid cares of money that had fallen on the old man, his
struggles to leave his own son an independent fortune and the family
home, and at the same time to carry out his chivalrous vow to give an
exact equivalent to the wife’s deserted child; the agony of effort to
spare his son the knowledge. And all that had left untouched his tender,
generous heart, which all men loved. A new reverence arose within
Sylvester’s soul.

And that other,–Constance? Had she not struggled, silently,
indomitably, filling his existence with wifely devotion, battling night
and day with the hydra-headed love that seemed unconquerable? Had she
not fought and suffered and triumphed? And Leroux? Had he not shared in
the battle and the suffering and the victory? Had she not, Ella, too,
bravely striven, seeking light through the darkness that he had cast
about her? And Roderick? Who was he that he should judge his fellow?
The fierce hate died for ever in Sylvester’s heart. The bewildering
knowledge of man’s infinite weakness, man’s infinite strength and
endurance, stirred his inmost soul with unutterable pity.

*****

A touch on the shoulder aroused him. Instinctively he sought to free
his hand; but the clasp that held it was singularly stiff and cold. He
lifted his head with a start and looked round. Ella was standing behind
him. Then he freed himself and leaped to his feet. Their eyes met, then
turned to the figure on the bed. He bent over, looked intently into his
father’s face, felt his heart. The erring, beautiful life had ended in
his sleep.

Without a word spoken, they straightened the limbs and smoothed the bed,
the girl crying silently. As soon as this was done, she whispered,–

“I will leave you.”

But to her great wonder, he took her hand and raised it to his lips.

“No,” he said; “stay.”

They buried Matthew Lanyon in the quiet churchyard at Ayresford next
to the woman who in everything but law had been his wife. Half the small
town thronged about the grave in sorrow. All felt that one of the chosen
had dwelt in their midst, and that they were poorer by the loss of the
kindness of his simple heart and the wisdom of his grey head. The four
chief mourners stood a little way apart, close together. Sylvester held
the child Dorothy tight by the hand, finding unspeakable comfort in the
tiny clasp, and let the tears fall fast and unheeded down his face. The
grave seemed a chasm that separated them from the rest of the world. The
child, Agatha Lanyon, Ella, and himself stood alone, curiously remote,
and united by a new and strange bond. For the first time for many years
he felt the preciousness of human relationship. Of aught save this and
his irreparable loss, he was unconscious. The crowd was a vague mass
dimly seen through a mist of tears. He scarcely heard the old rector’s
voice reciting the familiar words. But when the first clod of earth
clattered sharply upon the coffin-lid, he turned away with a sob; then
meeting Ella’s swimming eyes, he sought her right hand with his left and
holding it turned again. And never so much as at that moment did he need
the strength of human tenderness; for looking up he saw standing at
the foot of the grave, his ignoble figure defined against the old grey
church, Usher wagging his bare head in simulated sorrow and gazing at
the last that was visible of his enemy. Then the old man stooped down
and threw a lump of earth into the pit; and as he rose Sylvester saw an
expression of indescribable malice pass over his face. Quivering at the
supreme insult, the young man turned to Ella.

“Thank God,” he said; “nothing can hurt him now.”

The reference was too pointed for her not to comprehend. She questioned
him dumbly, feeling suddenly brought to the brink of a revelation.

“It is selfish to wish him back,” said Sylvester.

They remained a few moments longer. The crowd was slowly disappearing
through the grey of the early winter twilight. The rector came up with
a few words of sympathy and crossed the churchyard towards the rectory.
The grave was nearly full.

“Come,” said Ella, gently, and they went to the path where the mourning
coach awaited them. They spoke but little. Miss Lanyon cried softly to
herself. Ella leaned back on the cushion with closed eyes. She was very
weary, spent with emotion; yet the evil spirit of unrest was laid within
her. The past upheaval had been phantasmagoric, in which her integral
self had been lost amid a whirling army of unreal shapes. Now, brought
into contact with an elemental reality, death, and with a deep and
simple grief, it had emerged clear and definite. For the first time
for many months the vibrations of her soul rang true, soothing her
like sweet, sad music after devil’s discord. Sylvester’s words by the
graveside had moved her. She remembered now a pain that had often come
into the old man’s eyes, and she wondered reverently. Sylvester sat
opposite, his arm around Dorothy, who looked up shyly yet gladly into
his face, unable to explain to her childish mind this revulsion of
passionate love. To him it was a happiness that flooded his soul. The
parched places drank it in like the river of life. He was a new man,
able to feel in all its sacredness the sorrow that had come.

His temperament had undergone a curious transmutation. Instead of
flying, as used to be his wont, to solitude, to brood over his grief, a
newly awakened instinct drove him imperiously to companionship.

“Come down soon,” he said to the two ladies when, on their arrival at
the house, they went upstairs to take off their things. And they all
sat together for the rest of the long evening, and while he talked, Ella
wondered at his gentleness.

At ten o’clock the ladies retired. He accompanied them to the hall and
lit their candles. Miss Lanyon bade him good-night and disappeared up
the staircase. Ella held out her hand. He kept it in his for a moment.

“Won’t you stay up with me a little longer?” he asked humbly. The light
of the candle played amid the dark gold of her hair and lit up her face,
that gleamed very pale in contrast with her high black dress. His eyes,
resting upon her, found her stately and sweet. He forgot that only a
few days ago he had despised her, classing her with the wanton of an
inferior sex. She stood before him something noble, helpful, mysterious.
In her calm gaze he read the certainty of a high companionship. He was
dismayed by the sudden revelation of his loss.



“Willingly,” she said. “But I am so tired.”

“Just ten minutes,” he pleaded. “I hate to be alone.”

“You?” Surprise was in her tone.

“I have been alone so much,” he replied simply.

She blew out her candle and went back with him into the library. Then
she sat down in Matthew’s great leathern chair and watched him as he
stirred the fire. Much of her bitter resentment against him had died by
the old man’s death-bed. The common sorrow had brought them once more
on to the plane of old relations. The sudden change in his attitude had
helped the promptings of her nobler nature, and generously she had given
him the dumbly craved sympathy. Besides, the old man’s tenderness was
too fresh a memory for her to be harsh now to Sylvester.

The fire burst into a blaze. Sylvester drew himself up and stood on the
hearth-rug looking at her, and all the hardness had gone from his face.
Suddenly he spoke.

“I am a poor creature, Ella. I know it now. You have every right to
think ill of me; but try to think as well as you can–for the old man’s
sake.”

“The last few days have changed so much,” she answered.

“Could they bring you to forgive me for all the pain and suffering I
have caused you?”

She drew a little sharp breath. “We need never speak of that again. It
is behind us.”

“But it is beginning to be very present with me,” he answered gravely.
“Lately my eyes have been opened to many things. Some day I may find it
in my power to tell you how. I have wronged you cruelly and unjustly. I
would give much to make atonement–but one can never atone. One can only
crave forgiveness–and pity for a blind man. I feel I can ask it of you
now. Since you have been here you too have shown me things I never knew
of. For nearly two years I have given you every reason to hate me. You
have put all aside, treated me with a sister’s gentleness, given me all
your sympathy and tenderness. I am not accustomed to perceive large and
generous natures…. I will make a confession. In my morbid arrogance
and folly, I put myself upon a pedestal and regarded you, God forgive
me, as something beneath me. You are as far above me as he whom we
buried today. I had to tell you.”

For a few moments she could not find words to reply. She had never known
him to humble himself like this. It was hard to reconcile him with the
grim, pitiless man who had sat opposite her on that nightmare journey
from London.

“I did hate you–bitterly,” she said at last. “I don’t think I do so
now. It is easy to say ‘I forgive you,’ but I don’t quite know what it
implies. As for one of us being higher than the other, you are a great
physician, and I am just an ignorant girl with a miserable set of
unregulated emotions–”

“You should thank God for them,” he interrupted.

“They haven’t brought me much happiness,” she said, with a little shrug
of her shoulders.

“See, I am frank! No, I won’t say I forgive, but I’ll think kindly of
you, Syl, I promise.”

“It is all I dare hope for,” he said. And so the enmity came to an end.

For the next two or three days, Sylvester was busy with his father’s
affairs. The will provided for a large sum to be paid to Usher, another
to Roderick, while Sylvester was the residuary legatee, charged with a
yearly allowance to Miss Lanyon and certain minor bequests. But after
deducting the legacies to the Ushers, there was nothing left in the
estate but Woodlands itself, and that was heavily mortgaged, and
the mortgage had been bought up by Usher. Sylvester reviewed his own
financial position.

His professional income was fairly large, and showed every prospect of
increasing year by year, but of capital he had little. Dorothy’s future
had to be provided for. Miss Lanyon must receive the amount specified in
the will. Could he afford to pay the interest on the mortgage and keep
up a large country house and grounds as well? He could not. Woodlands
would have to go. The three thousand pounds which Roderick had
fraudulently drawn from the estate would have made a considerable
difference in Sylvester’s calculations.

From his father’s books he discovered that this sum roughly represented
the sale of certain stock a day or two before the cheque was forged, and
lay at the bankers awaiting reinvestment. How did the knowledge of this
reach Roderick? Sylvester was puzzled, for a man does not usually keep
a balance of three or four thousand pounds to his credit account, and
Roderick was too shrewd to run the risk of so large a cheque unless he
knew there would be an adequate sum to meet it. Rightly he concluded
that Mr. Usher had given his son the information. But whether Roderick
was acquainted with the blackmailing secret he could not tell. An
instinct of generosity, newly awakened, prompted the conjecture of
Roderick’s ignorance. On this assumption he arrived at what happened to
be the correct solution: Roderick in desperate need of money had applied
to Usher; the latter had refused; had suggested the forgery, knowing
of the sale of stock, and had given him the cheque which he himself had
once abstracted from Mr. Lan-yon’s cheque-book so as to meet any sudden
emergency, at the same time assuring his son against any unpleasant
risks on the discovery of the forgery. Roderick’s silence on the point
Sylvester could only put down to his credit.

Both Ella and Miss Lanyon were acquainted with the terms of the will,
though neither as yet was informed of the financial condition of the
estate..The large sums bequeathed to Usher and Roderick had astonished
them. Sylvester explained vaguely that they were in payment of a great
debt of gratitude which his father had incurred when Mr. Usher and
himself were young men together in Australia. Miss Lanyon, who never
questioned such statements, took refuge in her grief from further
thoughts on the matter, like the gentle, simple lady she was. But Ella,
with Sylvester’s words in the churchyard fresh in her mind, scented
a mystery. After the reading of the will, the subject was not openly
mentioned by her or by Sylvester. Roderick’s name stood between them.
The silence was a restraint which each felt to be irksome. At last Ella,
with a woman’s greater moral courage, or perhaps with a woman’s love of
self-castigation, resolutely plunged into mid matters.

“Would you think it impertinent of me if I asked you to let me discuss
Uncle Matthew’s will with you?”

She had stopped him by the library door, as he was entering after
breakfast.

“By no means,” he replied courteously, holding the door open for her.
“Come in.”

“What has happened to me during the last six months,” she said, when
they were seated, “will remain with me as a memory all my life. I
should like to know what to think about–Roderick.” She got the name out
bravely, after a second’s hesitation. “He really did what you accused
him of?”

“He acknowledged it to me,” replied Sylvester.

“Has he always been–what men call a scamp, or was this a sudden
temptation?”

“He was in a desperate plight. That I know. I can’t say what he was
before. I have had a bitter lesson in judging men. All my standards have
fallen away, and Heaven knows whom I dare judge. One doesn’t know what’s
resisted. Burns said that a hundred years ago. And one doesn’t know what
remorse follows. The human soul is an awful thing. Men are better than
their deeds. There is good in Roderick. I believe it.”

“And his father?”

“What do you mean?” he asked, startled. “Your father’s will,–all that
money to those two.”

“I explained to Aunt Agatha.”

“That was no explanation. From a hundred things I can remember now, I
can’t help feeling that there was force in the matter–oh, a horrible
feeling–if it is as I suspect, you can understand–”

“I firmly believe Roderick to be innocent of any wrong of the sort.”

“Thank you,” she said. “And his father?” Sylvester rose and filled his
pipe without speaking. It seemed odd to him that he felt no resentment
at her questioning him. The chord in his temperament that once would
have vibrated sharply and jarringly seemed to have snapped. He could
only admire in a helpless way the strength of character that had carried
her through so terrible an ordeal, her magnanimity, and the acuteness of
her perception. But he filled his pipe with great deliberation, for to
answer was difficult.

“I told you, Ella, I was powerless to judge any man,” he said. “Take
my assurance as regards Roderick and forget it all. The answer to your
question I have no right to give to any but one being in the world. Then
it would be my duty.”

“Dorothy?”

“No. Another.”

Their eyes met for a moment. Hers lowered, and a faint spot of colour
came into her cheek.

“I understand. Forgive me,” she said. There was a slight pause. She rose
to go. Suddenly Sylvester detained her.

“I may as well tell you what all the world will know soon. After paying
these legacies there will be nothing left for the residuary legatee save
Woodlands, and that is heavily mortgaged. I shall have to sell it.”

“Sell Woodlands!” She looked at him aghast. “Why, I thought Uncle
Matthew was leaving you a small fortune. It was the dream of his life!”

“He has left me, thank God, an infinitely greater inheritance,” said
Sylvester.

She did not question him, only looked at him blankly, dimly
comprehending. Then she reverted to the more easily intelligible.

“But to sell Woodlands!” she reiterated. “Impossible! When we were tiny
children, he used to talk of your living here after him. You must.”

“I haven’t the money,” he said sadly.

“But I have. I’ll buy it. I shall. You needn’t laugh. Who in the wide
world can prevent me?”

“My dear Ella,” he said with a smile, “how would that help matters? I
could not live in your house.”

“Dorothy and Aunt Agatha could. You could rent it. There are many
ways. Anyhow, Uncle Matthew would sooner have it in my hands than in a
stranger’s. I have made up my mind. It will be my first investment.”

And so as to have the last word, she swept across the room and retired.
The swish of her skirts had hardly ceased to sound in Sylvester’s ears
when a servant came in with a letter. It bore no stamp, and was in
Roderick’s handwriting.

“Trotter from the White Hart brought it, sir,” explained the servant.

The letter ran:–

_Having received your solicitor’s letter concerning the
legacy under Mr. Lanyon’s will, I came down last evening to
see my father. In the course of conversation he revealed to
me facts which have literally stunned me. I must see you or
write to you. But as these things are best unwritten,
perhaps in the utterly unprecedented circumstances you would
be willing to bear the pain that such an interview might
cause you, and make an appointment to meet me today. I would
suggest this hotel. Perhaps I have little right to do so,
but, I earnestly beseech you to believe in my good faith.

Roderick Usher._

Sylvester read this letter, so uncharacteristic of the man as he had
known him, with a recrudescence of implacable feeling. To meet him was
hateful. The agony of the journey to Ayresford a week ago came upon him.
He crumpled the letter tight in his hand.

“He was to wait for an answer, sir,” hazarded the servant, after a time.

The commonplace, as it often does, brought reaction. He scribbled a
line, fixing the appointment at twelve.

*****

He found Roderick pacing up and down the stiffly furnished and somewhat
dingy private sitting-room of the White Hart Hotel. The two men brought
suddenly face to face remained for a while in an embarrassed silence,
each looking in the eyes of the other. For the first time Sylvester
realised in all its significance the blood tie that bound them. This man
was his brother. Grotesque and incongruous though it seemed, the fact
was driven home to him as by some mighty blow. This man’s mother was his
mother,–the mother who had sung him to sleep as a little child, who had
listened to his boyish confidence, who had been inwoven in all his early
life, whose voice whose caress, whose’ fragrance, lingered vividly in
all his senses, whose body and soul were unalienably _his_. A horrible
jealousy seized him.
ООО “SAMARKAND BIO PLUS”
Roderick, though point-device in blue serge suit and saffron-silk tie,
looked aged and careworn. The lines under his eyes had deepened. He had
lost flesh, and his cheeks were flabby. He was the first to break the
silence.

“It may be absurd for a man of forty to talk about his mother, but if
I had had your advantages in that respect, I might have been a better
man.”

Then Sylvester’s jealousy vanished, and he remembered the wrong that had
been done.

“My father did all that a human soul could do to make atonement,” said
he.

“And mine did everything in his power to prevent it. Will you sit down?”

Roderick motioned Sylvester to a chair, and sat down near him.

“I don’t pretend to love my father. I never had reason to. I am a bad
lot, I know, but compared to him, I am the incarnation of virtue. When I
forged the cheque, I was given to understand for the first time that my
father had some mysterious hold over Mr. Lanyon. But, as God hears me,
I never dreamed until last night of the true nature of the case. Do you
believe me?”

“Yes,” said Sylvester; “I believe you.”

“Thank you,” returned Roderick; “now I know where I am.”

He lit a cigarette, having offered his case to Sylvester, who declined.

“It is now in my power,” said he, after enjoying the first two fragrant
whiffs, “to restore the money I stole from you. You observe I have the
grace to use the naked expression. Will you accept it?”

“Certainly,” said Sylvester. “It is but just.”

“Did you think I would repay you?”

“Frankly speaking, no.”

“And having heard my father’s story last night, do you think I’ll touch
a penny of your father’s money?” he cried, bringing his hand with a
thump on the round centre-table. “My God! I would sooner die.”

“The balance above the three thousand is yours,” said Sylvester. “I
cannot accept a gift from you.”

Roderick puffed violently at his cigarette, threw it away, and rose to
his feet excitedly.

“I can’t touch it. I have been a damned villain, I know. I was hard put
to it, and I worked upon a girl’s emotions so that I could marry her for
her money. Then, by Heaven, I began to love her, finished by loving her
madly, with an insensate passion. To get her, I committed a cowardly
crime. I broke my parole, as it were, with you. I deserve every epithet
of dishonour as regards that which you like to heap upon me, but to
carry on this horrible, hideous blackmail–by God, I can’t do it.
Last night has turned me into a moral man. I’ll forswear sack and live
cleanly for the rest of my life. I could vomit with disgust. It is
_écourant_,–makes one’s heart retch! Do you know what I’ve found out?
You asked me once whether my father didn’t make me an allowance. That
put me on the track last night. I cross-questioned, found out that for
years and years Mr. Lanyon, besides submitting to my fathers extortion,
had given him £400 a year to be handed to me as an allowance; and I’ve
never in my life received’ a penny of it, so help me God, never! Your
father has made atonement, every atonement. I learn that he has been
sucked dry, and that there is nothing left for you. It is I who now must
make atonement for my father. Could blackmail be more abject than
his? Consider for one ghastly moment the nature of it. In the name of
charity, for the sake of what is left of my manhood, take back all this
money.”

He had delivered this harangue with his old fervour and declamatory
gestures, and when he had ended he flung himself into an armchair and
wiped his brow with his handkerchief. Suddenly he started again to his
feet and seized a folded folio document lying on the table.

“See,” said he. “I’ve been down to Higginson the solicitor this morning,
and executed a deed of gift, making the whole thing over to you, less
the legacy duty. For Heaven’s sake, take it and let me feel an honest
man again.”

Sylvester read through the document. Then he folded it up and put it in
his pocket.

“The three thousand I’ll take,” he said. “The remainder, with your
permission, I’ll give to the Prisoners’ Aid Society; my father took a
keen interest in it.”

“Anything, so long as I don’t touch it,” said Roderick, lighting another
cigarette. “Ha! Now I feel free, and can take up the threads of life
again. By the way, when you go, think as charitably of my father as you
can. I’ve done with him for ever and’ ever, but I’ve explained him to
myself. He is a perfect type of the non-moral being, the instinctive
criminal. There’s a family history which you as a physician would find
interesting. To me as a poor devil of an artist, it is a bogey which
only walks abroad in the night of my mind. I suppose I have a share in
the family taint, but as I hope never to propagate my species, it will
die with me.”

He rattled on in his vehement way, and once more Sylvester fell under
the spell of his exuberant personality, preferring to listen than to
speak. Roderick launched out into a forecast of his future. He would
forswear sack, he repeated, and live cleanly, with Art for his chaste
mistress. “I got an idea for a picture, this morning, that is going to
revolutionise my existence,” said he. Sylvesters acceptance of the deed
of gift was like the removal of a heavy stone that had held prisoner
his elvish spirit. And the more he approached the Roderick of six months
ago, the more did Sylvester wonder at the nature of the man. Yet his
pocket held irrefutable proof of the man’s sincerity. At last he rose
and held out his hand. Roderick looked at him, and looked at the hand in
astonishment; then he strode a pace forward and grasped it eagerly.

“You are a good fellow to shake hands with me,” said he.

The ring of genuine feeling touched Sylvester deeply.

“Let us bury the past,” he replied.

“On my side, God knows how willingly.”

“And whether we are friends or not, we’ll remember that the same mother
bore us.” Roderick bowed, his quick perception divining the cost at
which the words were uttered.

“I shall always remember it,” he said soberly.

He accompanied his visitor down the stairs to the front porch of the
old-fashioned hotel. The men shook hands again. Roderick disappeared
in the gloom of the corridor, and Sylvester turned to see, on the other
side of the street, Ella, out on some small shopping errand, watching
him in amazement.

He crossed the road and walked by her side.

“Your question of this morning is answered,” he said.

“Thank you, Syl,” she replied.

“Perhaps I shall be able to keep Woodlands, after all.”

“I was praying for it,” she said significantly.

*****

Two days afterwards Ella left for the south of France with Lady Milmo,
and Sylvester returned to town to prepare his gloomy house for Dorothy’s
reception.

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