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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Survivor - Chapter 10. A Woman Of Whims
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The Survivor - Chapter 10. A Woman Of Whims Post by :anitaandeverett Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1175

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The Survivor - Chapter 10. A Woman Of Whims

CHAPTER X. A WOMAN OF WHIMS

Drexley had found his way to her side at last. As usual her rooms were full, and to-night of people amongst whom he felt himself to some extent an alien. For Drexley was not of the fashionable world--not even of the fashionable literary world. At heart he was a Bohemian of the old type. He loved to spend his days at work, and his evenings at a certain well-known club, where evening dress was abhorred, and a man might sit, if he would, in his shirt sleeves. Illimitable though her tact, even Emily de Reuss, the Queen of London hostesses, never succeeded in making him feel altogether at home in her magnificent rooms. To-night he felt more at sea even than usual. Generally she had bidden him come to her when she entertained the great cosmopolitan world of art-toilers. To-night she was at home to another world--the strictly exclusive world of rank and fashion. Drexley wandering about, seeing never a face he knew, felt ill at ease, conscious of his own deficiency in dress and deportment, in a world where form was the one material thing, and a studhole shirt or an ill-cut waistcoat were easy means of acquiring notoriety. He wandered from room to room, finding nowhere any one to speak to, conscious of a good deal of indifferent scrutiny, hating himself for coming, hating, too, the bondage which had made him glad to come. Then suddenly he came face to face with his hostess, and with a few graceful words of apology she had left her escort and taken his arm.

"I am afraid you are being bored," she said, quietly. "I am sorry. I only remembered that people were coming to-night. Janette was out, and I had quite forgotten who had had cards. I wanted to see you, too."

"I am a little out of place here," he answered. "That is all. Now that I have seen you, you can explain your note, and I can go away."

She seemed in no hurry.

"I know," she said, "that you are dying for your smoky little club, your Scotch whiskey and your pipe. Never mind, it is well for you sometimes to be disciplined."

"At the present moment," he said, "I long for nothing beyond what I have."

She turned to look at him with an amused smile. The lights flashed on the diamonds around her throat, and the glittering spangles upon her black dress. Truly a wonderfully beautiful woman--a divine figure, and a dress, which scarcely a woman who had looked at it had not envied.

"You are getting wonderfully apt, my grim friend," she said, "at those speeches which once you affected to despise."

"It was never the speeches I despised," he answered bluntly, "it was the insincerity."

"And you, I suppose, are the only sincere man who makes them. My friend, that little speech errs on the other side, does it not?"

He frowned impatiently.

"You have many guests," he said, "who will be looking for you. Let me know why you made me treat that young man so badly, and then go away.

"Have you treated him badly then?" she asked.

"Very. I recalled my acceptance of his story, and declined to discuss future work with him. I have deprived the _Ibex of a contributor who might possibly have become a very valuable one, and I have gone back upon my word. I want to know why."

"I am afraid," she said softly, "that it was for me."

"For you," he answered, "of course. But your letter hinted at an explanation."

"Explanations" she yawned, "are so tedious."

"Tell me, at least," he said, "how the poor young idiot offended you."

"Offended me! Scarcely that."

"You are not a woman" he said, "to interfere in anything without a cause."

"I am a woman of whim," she said. "You have told me so many times."

"You are a very wonderful woman," he said softly, "and you know very well that your will is quite sufficient for me. Yet you are also a generous woman. I have many a time had to stand godfather to your literary foundlings. You have never yet exercised the contrary privilege. I have done a mean thing and an ungenerous thing, and though I would do it again at your bidding, again and again, I should like an excuse--if there is any excuse."

"I am so sorry," she said. "There will be no excuse for you. I, too, have been mean and ungenerous--but I should be the same again. I took some interest in that young man, and I offered him my help. He coolly declined it--talked of succeeding by his own exertions. So priggish, you know, and I felt bound to let him see that the path to literary fame was not altogether the pleasant highway he seemed to expect."

"That was all?"

"Everything."

"He wounded your vanity; you stoop to retaliate."

She beamed upon him.

"How nice of you to be so candid. I value frankness from my friends more than anything in the world.

"It is the exact truth!"

"It was unworthy of you," he said shortly.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"You think much too well of me," she said. "You know I am a woman to the finger tips."

"I don't call that a womanly action," he said.

"Ah! that is because you know nothing of women." There was a moment's silence. From a distant room, dimly seen through a vista of curved and pillared archways, a woman's voice came pealing out to them, the passionate climax of an Italian love song, the voice of a prima donna of world-wide fame. A storm of applause was echoed through the near rooms, a buzz of appreciative criticism followed. Drexley rose up from the seat where he had been sitting.

"Thank you," he said. "I have learned what I wanted to know. I will go now. Good evening."

She stood by his side--as tall as he--and looked at him curiously. It was as though she were seeking to discover from his face how much his opinion of her had altered. But if so, she was disappointed. His face was inscrutable.

"You are angry with me?"

"I have no right to be that."

"Annoyed?"

"Not with you."

"After all," she said, "there is no harm done. He will come to me, and then I shall see that his future is properly shaped. If he is what I have an idea that he may be, I shall be of far greater help to him than ever you could have been."

But Drexley was silent. He was thinking then of her _proteges_. Had they, after all, been such brilliant successes? One or two were doing fairly well, from a pecuniary point of view--but there were others! She read his thought, and a faint spot of colour burned for a moment on her cheek. She was very nearly angry. What a bear, a brute!

"I know what you were thinking of," she said coldly. "It is not generous of you. I did all I could for poor Austin, and as for Fennel--well, he was mad."

"You are the kind of woman," he said, looking her suddenly full in the face, "who deals out kindnesses to men which they would often be much better without. You are generous, great-hearted, sympathetic, else I would not speak like this to you. But you have a devil's gift somewhere. You make the most unlikely men your slaves--and you send them mad with kindness.

"You are neither fair nor reasonable," she answered. "You talk as though I were Circe behind a bar. Such rubbish."

"I never insinuated that it was wilful," he said sadly. "I believe in you. I know that you are generous. Only--you are very beautiful, and at times you are too kind."

"My hateful sex!" she exclaimed dolefully. "Why can't men forget it sometimes? Isn't it a little hard upon me, my friend? I am, you know, very rich, and I have influence. Nothing interests me so much as helping on a little young people who have gifts. Isn't it a little hard that I should I have to abandon what surely isn't a mischievous thing to do because one of the young men has been foolish enough to fancy himself in love with me?"

They were interrupted. She turned to bid him good night.

"At least," she said smiling, "I will be very careful indeed with this boy."

"If he comes to you!"

"If he comes," she repeated, with an odd little smile at the corner of her lips.

* * * * *

Drexley walked through the crowded streets to his club, where his appearance in such unwonted garb was hailed with a storm of applause and a good deal of chaff. He held his own as usual, lighted his pipe, and played a game of pool. But all the same he was not quite himself. There was the old restlessness hot in his blood, and a strong sense of dissatisfaction with himself. Later on, Rice was brought in by a friend, and he drew him on one side.

"Rice," he said abruptly, "about that young fellow you brought to see me to-day--"

Rice looked his chief full in the face.

"Well?" he said simply.

"I don't want to altogether lose sight of him. You haven't his address by any chance, have you?"

"I only wish I had," Rice answered shortly. "May be there by now."

He pointed out of the window to where the Thames, black and sullen, but lit with a thousand fitful lights, flowed sullenly seaward. Drexley shuddered.

"Don't talk rot, Rice," he said.

"Oh, I don't know," the younger man answered. "You gave him a knockdown blow, and an unexpected one.

"I was sorry," Drexley said, awkwardly. "In the conduct of the magazine I have to sometimes consider other people. I am not wholly my own master."

Rice, who knew who the "other people" were, muttered a curse between his teeth. Drexley turned frowning away.

"At any rate, if you hear anything of him," he said, "let me know."

"Does the Countess de Reuss intend to be kind to him?" Rice asked.

"Go to the devil!" Drexley answered savagely.

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