AN INDIGNANT FAMILY AND A SMASHED SHOP
It was indeed a fierce storm that had passed over the head of Honore Grandissime. Taken up and carried by it, as it seemed to him, without volition, he had felt himself thrown here and there, wrenched, torn, gasping for moral breath, speaking the right word as if in delirium, doing the right deed as if by helpless instinct, and seeing himself in every case, at every turn, tricked by circumstance out of every vestige of merit. So it seemed to him. The long contemplated restitution was accomplished. On the morning when Aurora and Clotilde had expected to be turned shelterless into the open air, they had called upon him in his private office and presented the account of which he had put them in possession the evening before. He had honored it on the spot. To the two ladies who felt their own hearts stirred almost to tears of gratitude, he was—as he sat before them calm, unmoved, handling keen-edged facts with the easy rapidity of one accustomed to use them, smiling courteously and collectedly, parrying their expressions of appreciation—to them, we say, at least to one of them, he was “the prince of gentlemen.” But, at the same time, there was within him, unseen, a surge of emotions, leaping, lashing, whirling, yet ever hurrying onward along the hidden, rugged bed of his honest intention.
The other restitution, which even twenty-four hours earlier might have seemed a pure self-sacrifice, became a self-rescue. The f.m.c. was the elder brother. A remark of Honore made the night they watched in the corridor by Doctor Keene’s door, about the younger’s “right to exist,” was but the echo of a conversation they had once had together in Europe. There they had practised a familiarity of intercourse which Louisiana would not have endured, and once, when speaking upon the subject of their common fatherhood, the f.m.c., prone to melancholy speech, had said:
“You are the lawful son of Numa Grandissime; I had no right to be born.”
But Honore quickly answered:
“By the laws of men, it may be; but by the law of God’s justice, you are the lawful son, and it is I who should not have been born.”
But, returned to Louisiana, accepting with the amiable, old-fashioned philosophy of conservatism the sins of the community, he had forgotten the unchampioned rights of his passive half-brother. Contact with Frowenfeld had robbed him of his pleasant mental drowsiness, and the oft-encountered apparition of the dark sharer of his name had become a slow-stepping, silent embodiment of reproach. The turn of events had brought him face to face with the problem of restitution, and he had solved it. But where had he come out? He had come out the beneficiary of this restitution, extricated from bankruptcy by an agreement which gave the f.m.c. only a public recognition of kinship which had always been his due. Bitter cup of humiliation!