Produced by Suzanne Shell, Leonard Johnson and PG
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Leonard Johnson and PG
By LOUIS JOSEPH VANCE
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY THOMAS FOGARTY
TO MY MOTHER
Upon a certain dreary April afternoon in the year of grace, 1906, the apprehensions of Philip Kirkwood, Esquire, Artist-peintre, were enlivened by the discovery that he was occupying that singularly distressing social position, which may be summed up succinctly in a phrase through long usage grown proverbial: “Alone in London.” These three words have come to connote in our understanding so much of human misery, that to Mr. Kirkwood they seemed to epitomize absolutely, if not happily, the various circumstances attendant upon the predicament wherein he found himself. Inevitably an extremist, because of his youth, (he had just turned twenty-five), he took no count of mitigating matters, and would hotly have resented the suggestion that his case was anything but altogether deplorable and forlorn.
That he was not actually at the end of his resources went for nothing; he held the distinction a quibble, mockingly immaterial,—like the store of guineas in his pocket, too insignificant for mention when contrasted with his needs. And his base of supplies, the American city of his nativity, whence—and not without a glow of pride in his secret heart—he was wont to register at foreign hostelries, had been arbitrarily cut off from him by one of those accidents sardonically classified by insurance and express corporations as Acts of God.
Now to one who has lived all his days serenely in accord with the dictates of his own sweet will, taking no thought for the morrow, such a situation naturally seems both appalling and intolerable, at the first blush. It must be confessed that, to begin with, Kirkwood drew a long and disconsolate face over his fix. And in that black hour, primitive of its kind in his brief span, he became conscious of a sinister apparition taking shape at his elbow—a shade of darkness which, clouting him on the back with a skeleton hand, croaked hollow salutations in his ear.
“Come, Mr. Kirkwood, come!” its mirthless accents rallied him. “Have you no welcome for me?—you, who have been permitted to live the quarter of a century without making my acquaintance? Surely, now, it’s high time we were learning something of one another, you and I!” “But I don’t understand,” returned Kirkwood blankly. “I don’t know you—”
“True! But you shall: I am the Shade of Care—”
“Dull Care!” murmured Kirkwood, bewildered and dismayed; for the visitation had come upon him with little presage and no invitation whatever.
“Dull Care,” the Shade assured him. “Dull Care am I—and Care that’s anything but dull, into the bargain: Care that’s like a keen pain in your body, Care that lives a horror in your mind, Care that darkens your days and flavors with bitter poison all your nights, Care that—”
But Kirkwood would not listen further. Courageously submissive to his destiny, knowing in his heart that the Shade had come to stay, he yet found spirit to shake himself with a dogged air, to lift his chin, set the strong muscles of his jaw, and smile that homely wholesome smile which was his peculiarly.
“Very well,” he accepted the irremediable with grim humor; “what must be, must. I don’t pretend to be glad to see you, but—you’re free to stay as long as you find the climate agreeable. I warn you I shan’t whine. Lots of men, hundreds and hundreds of ’em, have slept tight o’ nights with you for bedfellow; if they could grin and bear you, I believe I can.”
Now Care mocked him with a sardonic laugh, and sought to tighten upon his shoulders its bony grasp; but Kirkwood resolutely shrugged it off and went in search of man’s most faithful dumb friend, to wit, his pipe; the which, when found and filled, he lighted with a spill twisted from the envelope of a cable message which had been vicariously responsible for his introduction to the Shade of Care.
“It’s about time,” he announced, watching the paper blacken and burn in the grate fire, “that I was doing something to prove my title to a living.” And this was all his valedictory to a vanished competence. “Anyway,” he added hastily, as if fearful lest Care, overhearing, might have read into his tone a trace of vain repining, “anyway, I’m a sight better off than those poor devils over there! I really have a great deal to be thankful for, now that my attention’s drawn to it.”
For the ensuing few minutes he thought it all over, soberly but with a stout heart; standing at a window of his bedroom in the Hotel Pless, hands deep in trouser pockets, pipe fuming voluminously, his gaze wandering out over a blurred infinitude of wet shining roofs and sooty chimney-pots: all of London that a lowering drizzle would let him see, and withal by no means a cheering prospect, nor yet one calculated to offset the disheartening influence of the indomitable Shade of Care. But the truth is that Kirkwood’s brain comprehended little that his eyes perceived; his thoughts were with his heart, and that was half a world away and sick with pity for another and a fairer city, stricken in the flower of her loveliness, writhing in Promethean agony upon her storied hills.
There came a rapping at the door.
Kirkwood removed the pipe from between his teeth long enough to say “Come in!” pleasantly.
The knob was turned, the door opened. Kirkwood, swinging on one heel, beheld hesitant upon the threshold a diminutive figure in the livery of the Pless pages.
“Gentleman to see you, sir.”
Kirkwood nodded again, smiling. “Show him up, please,” he said. But before the words were fairly out of his mouth a footfall sounded in the corridor, a hand was placed upon the shoulder of the page, gently but with decision swinging him out of the way, and a man stepped into the room.
“Mr. Brentwick!” Kirkwood almost shouted, jumping forward to seize his visitor’s hand.
“My dear boy!” replied the latter. “I’m delighted to see you. ‘Got your note not an hour ago, and came at once—you see!”
“It was mighty good of you. Sit down, please. Here are cigars…. Why, a moment ago I was the most miserable and lonely mortal on the footstool!”