The Arch-Satirist

The Arch-Satirist

Author:
Frances Fenwick Williams
Author:
Frances Fenwick Williams
Format:
epub
language:
English

%title插图%num
Author: Williams, Frances Fenwick, 1878-
Brothers and sisters — Fiction
Self-sacrifice — Fiction
Montréal (Québec) — Fiction
The Arch-Satirist

THE

ARCH-SATIRIST

BY

FRANCES DE WOLFE FENWICK

ILLUSTRATED BY

CHARLES COPELAND

“Justice had been done, and Time, the Arch-Satirist,

had had his joke out.”—THOMAS HARDY.

BOSTON

LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.

Published, March, 1910

COPYRIGHT, 1910, BY LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD Co.

All Rights Reserved

Entered at Stationer’s Hall, London

THE ARCH-SATIRIST

Norwood Press

BERWICK & SMITH CO.

Norwood, Mass., U. S. A.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

  1. “Half Devil and Half Child”

  2. A Visit to Agatha

  3. “Forsaken Guts and Creeks”

  4. A Brilliant Match

  5. “Blind Fools of Fate”

  6. “Life at its End”

  7. A Short Repentance

  8. “Punchinello”

  9. “Just a Few of the Girls”

  10. “A Fin-de-siecle Pair”

  11. Visitors and Disclosures

  12. The Views of Two Women

  13. Rejected Addresses

  14. A Decision to be Reached

  15. “Be Pitiful, O God!”

  16. The Hockey Match

  17. A Scandal Verified

  18. Mrs. Hadwell’s Fancy Dress Ball

  19. Agatha “Does Her Duty” and is Rewarded

  20. The Twins under a New Aspect

  21. A Lie Which Is Part a Truth

  22. Whispering Tongues

  23. When Love Is Done

  24. Mrs. Langham-Green Pays Her Debt; and Mrs. Waite, Hers

  25. The Shadows Fall

THE ARCH-SATIRIST

CHAPTER I

“HALF DEVIL AND HALF CHILD”

“Then the preacher preached of Sin … fair of flower
and bitter of fruit.”—
Juliana Horatia Ewing.

“To me the idea of slaving for a
life-time in order to die rich is a
pitiful sort of insanity. That’s the
Italian in me, I suppose. I would think it
wiser to drink—drink deep and long and
gloriously—and die of it—die in a ditch
if necessary!
Then I would have lived
some sort of life, anyway, and enjoyed it
after my fashion. But I’m not going to
live or die that way. I’m going to take
everything in life that’s worth having, and
I’m going to enjoy—and enjoy—and
enjoy! The devil, himself, can’t cheat me of
it. I’ve long arrears of happiness to make
up and by God——
I’ll make them!
The speaker broke off, coughing horribly;
a gleam of intense rage shone in his great,
wild eyes and his thin nostrils quivered,
furiously. Poor slight earth-worm! caught
in the whirlwind of Destiny and tossed
hither and thither! compelled to falsify his
weak boasts even as he uttered them! The
man who sat opposite, smoking and lounging
in the dim light of the studio, withdrew
his gaze with an effort from his visitor’s
frail form and frenzied face; there seemed
something indecent in gazing thus openly
at the contortions of a naked soul.

“Have a little hot Scotch for the cough,”
he suggested, reluctantly. “What’s the
use? I may just as well give it to him,
here,” he added to himself. “The boy’s
trebly doomed and a drop more or less isn’t
going to make any difference either way.” He
busied himself with a spirit lamp and
glasses and soon his visitor was gulping
down the proffered draught, greedily.

“That’s good!” he exclaimed. “That
puts life in me. I feel as if I could write
something now—something worth while.”

“Something unfit for reading, I suppose
you mean,” returned his host, cheerfully.

The boy laughed easily and settled back
among the cushions of his easy chair with
panther-like grace.

“Not a bit of it,” he answered, gaily.
“I only write them after gin. The best
thing I ever did was gin—’Sin’s Lure.’ You
read it?”

“I did.”

“Strong, wasn’t it?”

“Strong, yes. So is a—so are various
other things strong. Just the sort of thing
a diseased, vice-racked, dissipated
young—genius—like you might be expected to
produce. What bothers me now is your
prose. Anything more uncharacteristic”—

The boy laughed and gazed at the older
man, intently and mischievously.

“Nothing morbid about that, is there?”

“Nothing. Bright, dainty, unerringly
truthful, delightfully witty—how in
thunder do you do it? You must have two souls.”

“Two! I’ve got a dozen.”

The boy lit a cigarette and puffed it,
meditatively. The man smoked a well-coloured
pipe and gazed steadily at his visitor.
Seen thus, they were an ill-assorted pair.

Gerald Amherst, the owner of the studio,
was an artist, uncursed overmuch by the
artistic temperament. His strong, sane
face and massive figure suggested the
athlete, the pose and substance of his attitude
the successful business man. Nor did the
omens lie. He was an athlete in his
leisure moments, a business man at all times.
Art was his occupation, his delight; but
he never forgot that she was also his
bread-winner. Amherst painted good, sometimes
exceptional pictures; and he demanded—and
obtained—good, sometimes exceptional
prices for them. For the rest he
was thirty-four, fine-looking, well-bred,
honest—and popular. Friends came to
him as flies come in July to ordinary mortals.

So alien was his visitor that he hardly
seemed to belong to the same world. Lithe,
long-limbed, sinuous, with features of
almost feminine delicacy and charm and
hands that made the artist soul in Gerald
vibrate pleasurably. The eyes—deep-set,
hollow, passionate—were the eyes of a
lost soul; impenetrable, fathomless, and lurid.

Strange, alluring, repellent personality! where
the seeds of a thousand sins—sown
centuries before—bore hideous fruit.
Madness, vice, disease, and death—and, through
them all, the golden fire of genius! This
boy’s age was nineteen; and no second
glance was needed to tell that the fierce,
straining spirit must soon leave its wretched
tenement behind and fare forth into
darkness. In the meantime—Amherst puffed
at his pipe and thought. A year ago this
boy had been a pet and idol of Montreal
society; to-day his open corruptness had
closed all doors to him save those of a few,
who, like Amherst, forgave the madman in
the genius, and the beast in the dying boy.

Then, too, our hero was an artist; and
Leo Ricossia was a model such as artist
seldom sees. He was graceful as some
young wild animal; his delicately nervous
body could form no pose that was not
pleasing. As for his face—thin-lipped,
wide-eyed, luminous—”Ricossia will never write
a poem so wonderful as his face,” a
brother-artist had once remarked; and Amherst
fully concurred in the opinion.

Ricossia spoke presently, his dark eyes
heavy with thought.

“You think it possible that one may have ten souls?”

“I think it probable that one soul may
have twenty outlooks, and all of them vile,
when he has soaked in sufficient gin. But
how an unhealthy mind can produce healthy
stuff—that’s beyond me. Your prose is
healthy, and what’s more, it’s fine. It ranks
with”—He stopped abruptly, amazed and
confounded by the glitter in Ricossia’s eye.

“You—you don’t think it better than
my poetry? You can’t!”

“I think—in a sense—it is better!” Amherst
spoke slowly and Ricossia leaned
forward to catch his words with an
avidity which seemed disproportioned to the
matter in hand. “In another sense it’s
not so good, of course. The poems are
unhealthy, feverish, abnormal—but, in
their way, they’re efforts of genius. The
stories are simply very unusually clever
prose—healthy, witty, and clean.
Personally I prefer them.”

“You—you miserable Philistine!”

The boy leaned back as though relieved
and his scarlet lips parted in a smile of
startling sweetness. The eyes had lost
their wild gleam now and were simply
wells of dusky kindness and fellowship;
the eyes of an intelligent, friendly brute
with something added. Gerald noted the
change with unflagging interest; as a
study the boy never palled.

“You think I’m a bad lot, don’t you?”

“I think you’re as bad as the worst. But
a chap like you isn’t to be judged by
ordinary standards.”

“Yet,” pursued Ricossia, slowly, “you
allow that I can write clean stuff.
Perhaps in spite of it all, underneath it
all—my soul is clean.”

“I hope so; but I don’t believe it for a
moment. No, I can’t account for it that way.”

“Possibly,” suggested the other, puffing
fitfully, “possibly, then, my unclean spirit
has gained control of some healthy, human
soul which it dominates.”

“Possibly you’re talking awful rot,”
returned the other, good-humouredly but a
trifle impatiently.

“Possibly I am.”

The poet smiled softly and leaned back,
making a lovely thing of the corner where
he lounged.

“Healthy people often have a liking for
me,” he observed. “You, for instance—the
healthiest man I know. And the healthiest
woman—Miss Thayer.”

“That’ll do.”

“What do you mean?”

“That you mustn’t speak of her.”

“Why?”

“You ought to know.”

The boy stared, uncomprehendingly;
then threw himself back, chuckling inaudibly.

“You didn’t understand me,” he said at
last, his beautiful eyes bright with
amusement. “She has far too much sense to be
attracted by me in the ordinary way. I
meant only”—

“I don’t care what you meant. I don’t
like to talk to you about her and I won’t.
If she did bestow a good deal of attention
on you at one time it was before she knew
your real character; she regarded you just
as a sick, inspired boy. None of them ever
speak of you, now; you ought to know that.”

Ricossia fixed his great eyes on the
speaker’s face with an impenetrable
expression, then shook with silent laughter.

“We’ll talk on some less delicate
subject,” he said at last with a keen, bright
glance at the other man, replete with subtle
mockery. “Still,” he added, softly, “you’ll
allow—leaving all personalities out of the
question—that I have a magnetic
attraction for all women, good and bad—even
if I am ostracized from polite society.”

“I’ll allow nothing—I don’t want to
discuss it, I tell you,” said Amherst,
irritably. “There are some things and some
people one doesn’t care to hear you
mention, you young— Can’t you understand that?”

“Perfectly!” returned the boy, laughing.
His laugh was an uncanny thing, so
melodious and bell-like as to be startlingly
unmasculine. Amherst liked it no better than
the rest of him—and found it equally attractive.

After all, he mused, his momentary irritation
subsiding, our ideas of what a man
should be were arbitrary. Certainly there
was a beauty of disease; a beauty even of
corruption, which, while no one cared to
imitate, no one, on the other hand, could
deny the existence of. Here was a living
example; the scapegoat of heredity, laden
down with sin, weighted with disease, yet
possessed of how many goodly gifts! And
all to end in—what? The passion of the
hot heart, the sweat of the over-active
brain—all, all for nothing. An evil life
and an early grave. Retribution, yes; but
retribution, really, for the sins of the dead
men whose deeds lived, poisoning the life
and rotting the blood in the veins of this,
their human puppet. And these dead men,
what of them? What of their life,
endlessly self-renewed, unceasingly sinned
against until this, the last representative
of a name that had once been great, went
to fertilize the waiting earth. “About all
he is fit for, too,” mused Gerald grimly
enough, noting the signs plainly written
on the face of the boy. Then his mood
changed. How pitiful! This beautiful
creature, in nature a cross between a satyr
and an elfin, in face, nothing short of a
god; this “vessel of a more ungainly
make” “leaning all awry”; this
marionette of the scornful gods, dancing gaily
enough, to every tune the devil chose to
play him; this strange, only half human
being of the unbridled will, the untempered
desires. And only nineteen!

The studio showed bright with candle-light
and lamp-light. A fire of wood and
coal glowed and chattered on the hearth.
It was all very quiet, very restful. The
boy still lingered among the rich-hued
cushions and his face showed an unwonted
sense of peace.

The poetic instincts which an Italian
father, an Irish grandmother, had
bequeathed to him responded amazingly to
this atmosphere of cosy, sinless warmth.
He was quite capable of rising to heights
of extraordinary mental spirituality at such
moments, though quite incapable of applying
the first principle of morality to his daily life.

Gerald Amherst thought, as he had
thought many times before, of the strange
inequalities of life. Here was he, thirty-four,
the possessor of a sound body, a clear
conscience, a healthy mind and a sufficient
income. He reflected on these various
advantages with no sense of personal merit,
feeling that they had been bequeathed to
him as truly as had the old mahogany chest
which formed one of the chief ornaments
of his room. He had certainly started as
well equipped as most to play the great
game of life.

What if he, too, had had this boy’s heritage?
He tried, smiling a little, to imagine
himself a Ricossia; a doomed, reckless,
light-hearted being who chose to spend his
few remaining years in hopeless vice. As
he thought, a sudden pity for the boy
overtook him as it had very often done before,
a sudden curiosity as to what really
transpired behind the black veil which we all
hang between our inmost selves and the
eyes of our fellow-humans. Did the boy
ever feel regret or shame or loathing for
himself or reluctance to continue in his vile
career? Would he confess to it if he did?
Amherst, pressed by a sudden desire to
know more of his whimsical visitant,
questioned him, soberly.

“I say—Leo!”

“Well, old man?”

“You’ve been going it a bit, lately,
haven’t you? Drinking pretty hard? Drugs,
too, of some sort, I fancy. You look pretty
seedy.”

The boy started and glanced hastily in
a polished, steel mirror which hung near.
What he saw evidently re-assured him, for
he tossed his black head and smiled, carelessly.

“I think I look pretty fit,” he said,
coolly. “I’d hate to think otherwise. My
word! I don’t know what I’d do if—some
fellows show that sort of thing so. Swollen
faces, purple round the nose and all
that—you know?”

“I know.”

“But I’m not in that class, yet, thank
the Lord.”

“Yes, but suppose the Lord went back
on you and handed you the red nose and
the pimples and all the other ornaments
which rightfully belong to you—what then?”

“Then?—oh, then, I’d end it very
quickly. I can’t bear to have an ugly
object in the room with me; do you think
I could bear to be one myself? Chloral’s
painless.”

“Yes, and cheap. The idea of suicide
appeals to you, then?”

“Not especially,” answered the boy,
beginning to stir, restlessly. “But one must
do something if the worst comes to the
worst.”

“I wonder, if you feel like that, that you
continue to live. Do you really think your
life’s worth living?”

“No,” answered Ricossia, calmly. “Do
you think yours is?”

Gerald stopped half-way in an answer,
struck by a sudden thought.
Was his life
worth living? It was a good life as lives
go; but if he could exchange it now,
to-night, for total oblivion, absolute insurance
against future pain, old age, illness,
sorrow—would he, or would he not? He hesitated.

“I ask you,” pursued Ricossia, quietly,
“because, just now, as I leaned back here
in your comfortable chair with your fire
dancing in my eyes and your good drink
warming the very cockles of my heart, I
thought of you and, for a moment, envied
you. Then I thought of your life. Your
tiresome routine of work, exercise,
wholesome food, good air, sound
sleep—God! how do you stand it? I’d go mad!”

“You think your own life preferable?”

“My life is life of a kind. My cough’s
a devilish nuisance but I can always
purchase oblivion with a few cents—oblivion!
Have you ever known what it is to want
sleep? No? I thought not. Wait until
you have. Then know what it is to want
sleep
and to get it; to drop off to slumber,
lulled with pleasant thoughts, dreams,
fancies, and to feel no pain, no bother, nothing
but a delicious drowsiness. Of course the
waking up is bad—but you don’t think of
tha

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