“After that hike, Selwyn came back, to find that Alixe had sailed with Jack Ruthven. And what did he do; take legal measures to free himself, as you or I or anybody with an ounce of temper in ’em would have done? No; he didn’t. That infernal Selwyn conscience began to get busy, making him believe that if a woman kicks over the traces it must be because of some occult shortcoming on his part. In some way or other that man persuaded himself of his responsibility for her misbehaviour. He knew what it meant if he didn’t ask the law to aid him to get rid of her; he knew perfectly well that his silence meant acknowledgment of culpability; that he couldn’t remain in the service under such suspicion.
“And now, Gerald,” continued Austin, striking his broad palm with extended forefinger and leaning heavily forward, “I’ll tell you what sort of a man Philip Selwyn is. He permitted Alixe to sue him for absolute divorce—and, to give her every chance to marry Ruthven, he refused to defend the suit. That sort of chivalry is very picturesque, no doubt, but it cost him his career—set him adrift at thirty-five, a man branded as having been divorced from his wife for cause, with no profession left him, no business, not much money—a man in the prime of life and hope and ambition, clean in thought and deed; an upright, just, generous, sensitive man, whose whole career has been blasted because he was too merciful, too generous to throw the blame where it belonged. And it belongs on the shoulders of that Mrs. Jack Ruthven—Alixe Ruthven—whose name you may see in the columns of any paper that truckles to the sort of society she figures in.”
Austin stood up, thrust his big hands into his pockets, paced the room for a few moments, and halted before Gerald.
“If any woman ever played me a dirty trick,” he said, “I’d see that the public made no mistake in placing the blame. I’m that sort”—he shrugged—“Phil Selwyn isn’t; that’s the difference—and it may be in his favour from an ethical and sentimental point of view. All right; let it go at that. But all I meant you to understand is that he is every inch a man; and when you have the honour to meet him, keep that fact in the back of your head, among the few brains with which Providence has equipped you.”
“Thanks!” said Gerald, colouring up. He cast his cigarette into the empty fireplace, slid off the edge of the table, and picked up his hat. Austin eyed him without particular approval.
“You buy too many clothes,” he observed. “That’s a new suit, isn’t it?”
“Certainly,” said Gerald; “I needed it.”
“Oh! if you can afford it, all right. . . . How’s the nimble Mr. Neergard?”
“Neergard is flourishing. We put through that Rose Valley deal. I tell you what, Austin, I wish you could see your way clear to finance one or two—”
Austin’s frown cut him short.
“Oh, all right! You know your own business, of course,” said the boy, a little resentfully. “Only as Fane, Harmon & Co. have thought it worth while—”