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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Survivor - Chapter 22. Drexley Speaks Out
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The Survivor - Chapter 22. Drexley Speaks Out Post by :erikhj Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1678

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The Survivor - Chapter 22. Drexley Speaks Out

CHAPTER XXII. DREXLEY SPEAKS OUT

Douglas halted in the middle of the room. He knew Drexley but slightly, and his appearance was forbidding. Drexley waved him to a chair and looked up. His eyes were bloodshot, but his tone was steady enough.

"They told me downstairs that you were inquiring for me," Douglas said.

Drexley nodded.

"Yes. Sit down, will you. I have a sort of message, and there is something I wanted to say."

A waiter brought Douglas his coffee, and being in an extravagant mood he ordered a liqueur.

"What'll you have?" he asked.

Drexley hesitated, but finally shook his head.

"No more," he said. "A cigar, if you like."

Even then Drexley shrank from his task. Their chairs were close together and the room empty--yet for the first ten minutes they spoke of alien subjects, till a suggestive pause from Douglas and a glance at his watch made postponement no longer possible. Then, blowing out fierce clouds of tobacco smoke, he plunged into his subject.

"I've come," he said, "from Emily de Reuss. No, don't interrupt me. I've a sort of message for you which isn't to be delivered as a message at all. I'm to drop a hint to you that she would like you to go and see her, that your refusal to do so would be a little ungracious, because she came and saw you when you were ill. I'm to let you think that she's feeling a little hurt at your behaviour, and finally to work you up into going. Do you see?"

"Not altogether," Douglas answered, laughing.

"Well, it isn't altogether a laughing matter," Drexley said, grimly. "I've got rid of my message. Now I'm going to speak to you on my own account. You're young and you haven't seen much of life. You are no more capable of understanding a woman like Emily de Reuss than you are of talking Hindustanee. For the matter of that neither am I, nor any of us. Any ordinary words which I could use about her must sound ridiculous because of their inadequacy. However, to make myself understood I must try. She is not only a beautiful woman of unlimited wealth and social position, but she has, when she chooses to use them, the most extraordinary powers of attracting people to her. She might exercise these gifts upon men of her own social rank who are, as a rule, of slighter character, and whose experience of the best of her sex is of course larger than ours. She prefers, however, to stoop into another world for her victims--into our world."

"Why victims?" Douglas asked. "Isn't that rather an extreme view of the case?"

"It is a mild view," Drexley said. "I will justify it afterwards. In the first place, I believe that she has genuine literary tastes, and a delight for the original in any shape or form. The men in her own rank of life would neither afford her any pleasure nor would they be for a moment content with the return which she is prepared to offer for their devotion. So she has chosen her victims, or, as you would say, friends, from amongst our men--at least with a more robust virility and more limited expectation. You will admit that so far I have spoken without bias."

"In the main, yes," Douglas answered.

"There are women," Drexley said, "who are very beautiful and very attractive, who admit at times to their friendship men with whom anything but friendship would be impossible, and who contrive to insinuate in some subtle way that their personality is for themselves alone, or for some other chosen one. How it's done, I don't know, but I believe there are plenty of women who do know, and who are able to preserve unbroken friendships with men who, but for the exercise of that gift, must inevitably fall in love with them. And there are also women," Drexley continued, with voice not quite so steady, "who have the opposite gift, who are absolutely heartless, wholly unscrupulous, as cold as adders, and who are continually promising with their eyes, and lips, and their cursed manner what they never intend to give. They will take a strong man and break him upon the wheel, the wreck of whose life is a glorification to their vanity. And of this type is Emily de Reuss."

Douglas was embarrassed--vaguely uneasy. The memory of Rice's words came flooding back to him. Whatever else was true, this man's sufferings were real indeed. To him she had never been anything but a most charming benefactor. In a momentary fit of introspection he told himself, then, that her sex had scarcely ever troubled him.

"I think I know, Mr. Drexley," he said, "why you have spoken to me like this, and I can assure you that I am grateful. If Emily de Reuss is what you say, I am very sorry, for I have never received anything but kindness from her. So far as regards anything else, I do not think that I am in any sort of danger. I will confess to you that I am ambitious. I have not the slightest intention of falling a victim to Emily de Reuss, or any other woman."

Drexley took up his cigar and relit it.

"You speak," he said, "exactly as I should have done years ago. Yet you are fortunate--so far."

"With regard to next Thursday," Douglas added, "I could not go, in any case, as I have an engagement."

"I may tell her that?" Drexley said, looking at him keenly. "I may tell her that you cannot come on Thursday because you have an engagement?"

"Certainly. You may add, if you like, that I have drifted so far into Bohemianism that I am not a fit subject for social civilities. She was very kind to me indeed, and if ever she wishes me to go and see her I will go, of course. But fashionable life, as a whole, has no attractions for me. I am happier where I am."

Drexley stood up and held out his hand.

"I congratulate you," he said. "Don't think I'm an absolute driveller, but don't forget what I've said, if even at present the need for a warning doesn't exist. I'm one of her literary _proteges_, you see--and there have been others--and I am what you see me."

Douglas hesitated.

"Surely with you," he said, "it isn't too late?"

Drexley looked up. There was the dull hopelessness of despair in his bloodshot eyes. Douglas, who had never seen anything like it before, felt an unaccountable sense of depression sweep in upon him.

"I am her bondman," he said, "body and soul. I could not tell you at this moment whether I hate her or love her the more; but I could not live without seeing her."

Douglas passed upstairs to his billiards with a grim vision before his eyes. Drexley was a broken man--of that there was no doubt. He knew that his warning was kindly meant, but many times, both during that evening and afterwards, he regretted that he had ever heard it. He had come into the club almost lighthearted, thinking only of Cicely and of the pleasant days of companionship which might still be theirs. He left it at midnight vaguely restless and disturbed, with the work of weeks destroyed. Emily de Reuss had regained her old place without the slightest effort. Surely it was a hopeless struggle.

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