“What of him? What did he know? What did he tell you—of him?”
Douglas’s expression of blank surprise seemed an immense relief to her.
“Only—something like what he told me of himself. He also was foolish enough to fall in love with you, and—”
She rose suddenly and held out her hand.
“Come, my friend,” she said, “I have had enough of this. Take me out to my carriage. I think you are very wise to avoid such a dangerous person.”
She swept out of the room before him, and down the broad stairs. A footman stood by the side of her victoria until she had settled herself in the most comfortable corner. Then he mounted the box, and she leaned for a moment forward.
“You won’t come?” she asked, with a slight gesture of invitation towards the vacant seat.
But Douglas, to whom the invitation seemed, in a sense, allegorical, shook his head. He pointed eastwards.
“The taste of the lotus is sweet,” he said, “but one must live.”
A MAN WITHOUT A PAST
Whether Rice’s point of view and judgment upon Emily de Reuss were prejudiced or not, Douglas certainly passed from her influence into a more robust and invigorating literary life. He gave up his expensive chambers, sold the furniture, reorganised his expenses, and took a single room in a dull little street off the Strand. Rice, aided by a few friends, and also by Douglas’s own growing reputation, secured his admission into the same Bohemian club to which he and Drexley belonged. For the first time, Douglas began to meet those who were, strictly speaking, his fellows, and the wonderful good comradeship of his newly-adopted profession was a thing gradually revealed to him. He made many friends, studied hard, and did some brilliant work. He abandoned, upon calmer reflection, the idea of going abroad, and was given to understand that his position on the Courier might be regarded as a permanency. He saw his future gradually defined in clearer colours—it became obvious to him that his days of struggling were past and over. He had won his place within the charmed circle of those who had been tried and proved. Only there was always at the bottom of his heart a secret dread, a shadowy terror, most often present when he found himself alone with Rice or Emily de Reuss. It seemed to him that their eyes were perpetually questioning him, and there was one subject which both religiously and fearfully avoided.
He was popular enough amongst the jovial, lighthearted circle of his fellow-workers and club companions, yet he himself was scarcely of their disposition. His attitude towards life was still serious, he carried always with him some suggestions of a past which must ever remain an ugly and fearsome thing. His sense of humour was unlimited—in repartee he easily held his own. He was agreeable to everybody, but he never sought acquaintances, and avoided intimacies. More especially was he averse to any mention of his earlier days.