Of an evening he would come over to my bungalow in a friendly way; he would “just drop in,” as he used to say, in his pleasant offhand fashion, and he would irrigate himself with my brandy and soda, amid genial smiles and a brandishing of his long cheroot, playfully indicating his recognition of a stimulant with which he had been long acquainted.
As he began to glow with conversation and brandy, he would call for cards and play ecarte with me, until the room gradually resolved itself into one of the circles of some Californian Inferno, with a knave of spades digging the diamonds out of my heart and clubbing my trumps.
He would leave me throbbing with the eructation of oaths and the hollow aching of an empty purse, and uncertain whether to give up cards and liquor for hymns and Government paper or whether to call him back and take fortune by storm. But he had gone off with a resolute “good night” that tended to dispel illusions; he had gone to his own No. 1 Exshaw and his French novels, which he read as he lay on his solitary bachelor couch.
Yes,—his bachelor couch, for he was not married. He had loved much and often. He had loved a great many people in different stations of life, but they did not marry him. He was, upon the whole, glad that they did not marry him; for they were often married to other people, and he would have been lonely with one, dissatisfied with two, and embarrassed with more; so he continued his austere bachelor life; and always tried to love unostentatiously somebody else’s wife.
He loved somebody else’s wife, because he had no wife of his own, and the heart requires love. It was very wrong of him to love somebody else’s wife, and to sponge thus on affections which belonged to another; but then he had nothing puritanical or pharisaical in his nature; he was too highly cultivated to be moral, and arguing the point in the mood of sweet Barbara, he had often succeeded in persuading pretty women that he did right in loving them, though their household duties belonged to another.
I have said that he was too highly cultivated to be religious. He was exceedingly emotional and intellectual; and the procrustean bed of a creed would have been intolerable torture to him. Life throbbed around him in an aurora of skittles. The world of morality only raised a languid smile, or tickled an appetite pleased with novelty. An archdeacon, or a book of sermons delighted him. He would play with them and ponder over them, as if they were old china, or curious etchings. But he was never profane, especially before bishops, or children, and he always went to church on Sunday morning.