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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Gay Rebellion - Chapter 27
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The Gay Rebellion - Chapter 27 Post by :JoePace Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :3144

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The Gay Rebellion - Chapter 27

CHAPTER XXVII

"MISS LILY?"

She lifted her head from the sofa cushion in the dark, dazzled by the sudden lamp-light.

"What is it?" she asked, averting her face.

"There's a gentleman says he'd like to see you----"

The girl turned, still dully confused; then, rigid, sat bolt upright.

"_Who?_"

"A gentleman--said you don't know his name. Shall I show him in?"

She managed to nod; her heart was beating so violently that she pressed her hand over it.

He saw her sitting that way when he entered.

She did not rise; pain and happiness, mingled, confusing her for a moment; and he was already seated near her, looking at her with an intentness almost expressionless.

"You see," he said, "what the honour of a gambler is worth. I have lied to you twice already."

His words brought her to her senses. She rose with an effort and, as he stood up, she gave him her hand.

"Don't think me rude," she said. "I was resting--not expecting you--and the lamp and--your coming--confused me."

"You were not expecting me," he said, retaining her hand an instant. Then she withdrew it; they seated themselves.

"I don't know," she said, "perhaps I was expecting you--and didn't realise it."

"Had you thought--much about it?"

"Yes," she said.

Then it seemed as though something sealed her lips, and that nothing could ever again unseal them. All that she had to say to him vanished from her mind; she could not recall a single phrase she had prepared to lead up to all she must somehow say to him.

He talked quietly to her for a while about nothing in particular. Once she saw him turn and look around the room; and a moment afterward he spoke of the old-time charm of the place and the pretty setting such a room made for the old-fashioned flowers.

He spoke about gardens as though he had known many; he spoke of trees and of land and of stock; and, as he spoke in his pleasant, grave young voice, he noticed the portraits on the wall; and he spoke of pictures as though he had known many, and he spoke of foreign cities, and of old-world scenes. And she listened in silence and in such content that the happiness of it seemed to invade her utterly and leave her physically numb.

From time to time his dark eyes wandered from her to the objects in the room; they rested for a moment on the centre-table with its Book, lingered, passed on. For a little while he did not look at her--as though first it were necessary to come to a conclusion. Whatever the conclusion might have been, it seemed to make his eyes and mouth alternately grave and amused--but only very faintly amused--as though the subject he was considering held him closely attentive.

And at last he looked up at her, gently, not all the curiosity yet quenched.

"You are kind enough to wish to know about me; and too well bred to ask--now that the time is come. Shall I speak of myself?"

Her voiceless lips found a word.

"Then--_It began in college--after my uncle died and left nothing for me to go on with. . . . I worked my way through--by my wits. . . . Up to that time it was only luck and card-sense--and luck again--the ability to hold the best cards at the best time--hold them honestly, I mean. It happens--I don't know why or what laws govern it. Some men hold them--always hold them--with intervals of bad fortune--but only intervals."

He gazed thoughtfully at the rag carpet, passed a well-shaped hand over his forehead.

"Yes, it is the truth. . . . And so, Fortune linked arms with me . . . and I drifted into it--gradually--not all at once . . . lower--always a little lower--until--what _you saw occurred."

She would not meet his eyes, perhaps with an idea of sparing him.

He said: "You know nothing of such things, of course. . . . I am--on a commission basis for doing what--they threw me out of that hotel for doing. . . . Of course, a man can fall lower--but not much lower. . . . The business from which I receive commissions is not honest--a square game, as they say. Some games may be square for a while; no games are perfectly square all the time. . . . I have heard of honest gamblers; I never saw one. . . . There may be some; but I'm afraid they're like good Indians. . . . And that is the way in which Life and I are situated."

After a while she managed to look at him.

"Could you tell me--are you--your circumstances----"

"I am not in want," he said gently.

"Then it is not--not necessity----"

"No. It is easier and more interesting than for me to earn a decent living."

"Is that the only reason?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Have you no--regrets?"

"Sometimes. . . . I am not immune to shame. . . . I wonder whether you know what it cost me to come here."

A dull flush mounted to his forehead, but he faced her steadily enough.

"You saw me kicked out of a hotel by an Irish servant because I was not fit to be tolerated among reputable people. . . . And you did not pass by on the other side. . . . Under your clear eyes my spirit died a thousand shameful deaths while I went with you to your destination. . . . The contempt of the whole world burnt me; and your compassion drove every flame into me----" He checked himself, swallowed, forced a smile, and went on in his low, pleasant voice: "I am afraid I have been dramatic. . . . All I meant to say is that my humiliation, witnessed by you, is a heavier price to pay--a more painful reckoning with Fate, than I had really ever looked for."

"I--I had no contempt for you," she faltered.

"You could not escape it; but it is kind of you to say that."

"You don't understand. I had no contempt. I was--it--the dread of harm to you--frightened me. . . . And afterward I was only so sorry for you--and wanted to--to help----"

He nodded. "The larger charity," he said. "You may read all about it there in that Bible, but--the world takes it out in reading about it. . . . I do not mean to speak bitterly. . . . There is nothing wrong with me as far as the world goes--I mean _my world. . . . Only--in the other and real world there is--you. . . . You, who did not pass by on the other side; and to whom the Scriptures there are merely the manual which you practice--for the sake of Christ."

"You think me better--far better than I am."

"I know what you are. I know what it cost you to even let me lean on you, there in the glare of the electric light--there where men stood leering and sneering and misjudging you!--and my blood on your pretty gown----"

"Oh--I did not think--care about that--or the men----"

"You cared about them. It is a growing torture to you. Even in the generous flush of mercy you thought of it; you said you would never go back to that hotel. I knew why you said it. I knew what, even then, you suffered--what of fear and shame and outraged modesty. I know what you stood for, there in the street with a half-senseless crook hanging to your arm--tugging for a weapon which would have sent two more mongrels to hell----"

"You shall not say that!" she cried, white and trembling. "You did not know what you were doing----"

He interrupted: "'For they know not what they do.' . . . You are right. . . . We don't really know, any of us. But few, except such as you, believe it--few except such as you--and the Master who taught you. . . . And that is all, I think. . . . I can't thank you; I can't even try. . . . It is too close to melodrama now--not on your side, dear little lady!"

He rose.

"Are you--going?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

He turned unconsciously and looked through the windows into the southern darkness.

"I--want you to stay," she said.

He turned and bent toward her with his youthful and engaging manner.

"It is sweet and good of you; but you know it is best that I go."

"Why?"

"Because--it might be that some of your friends would know me. . . . It is for your sake I am going."

"I wish you to stay."

"I know it. It makes me wonderfully happy."

"_Won't you?"

"I must not."

"What are you going to do in the city?"

There was a silence; then: "The _same_?" she faltered.

"I am afraid so."

"Why?"

"What else is there?"

"Everything. . . . And I--ask it of you."

He looked at her with troubled eyes.

"I'm afraid you don't know what you are asking----"

"I do know! I ask--your soul of God!"

For a long while he stood there as though turned to stone. Then, as though rousing from a dream, he walked slowly to the window, looked long into the south. At last he turned.

She sat on the edge of the sofa, her face in her hands, deathly silent, waiting.

"Tell me," she whispered, not looking up as he bent over her.

"About that matter of a stray soul?" he said pleasantly. "It's all right--if you care to--bother with it. . . ."

Her hands dropped, and when she looked up he saw the tears standing in her grey eyes.

"Do you mean it?" she asked, trembling.

"God knows what I mean," he said unsteadily; "and I shall never know unless you tell me."

And he sat down beside her, resting his elbows on his knees and his head between his hands, wondering what he could do with life and with the young soul already in his dark keeping. And, after a while, the anxiety of responsibility, being totally new, wearied him; perplexed, he lifted his head, seeking her eyes; and saw the compassion in her face and the slow smile trembling on her lips. And suddenly he understood which of them was better fitted for a keeper of souls.

"Will you be patient?" he said.

"Can you ask?"

He shook his head, looking vacantly at the lamp-light.

"Because I've gone all wrong somehow . . . since I was a boy. . . . You _will be patient with me--won't you?"

"Yes," she said.


ENVOI


_In all Romances
And poet's fancies
Where Cupid prances,
Embowered in flowers,
The tale advances
'Mid circumstances
That check love's chances
Through tragic hours._

_The reader's doleful now,
The lover's soulful now,
At least a bowlful now
Of tears are poured.
The villain makes a hit,
The reader throws a fit,
The author grins a bit
And draws his sword!_

_Strikes down Fate's lances,
Avoids mischances,
And deftly cans his
Loquacious lore
'Mid ardent glances
And lover's trances
And wedding dances
Forevermore._


(THE END)
Robert W. Chambers's Novel: Gay Rebellion

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