“A cauldron,” he muttered, “a seething cauldron of stinking vice and imperishable iniquity. Once I lodged somewhere near here. I have stood at a window like this by the hour, and my heart has leaped like a boy’s at the sound of that roar. Douglas, those old Methodists up in the hill-village were not so far from the truth—not so far from the truth, after all. How I laughed when they wagged their old grey heads and told me that the great South road was the road to Hell.”
Life is what we make it, here or in the hills Douglas said, with a sententiousness which sounded to himself like ugly irony.
The man at the window drew himself up. For a moment there was a gleam of the old self.
“For the cattle, ay, Douglas,” he answered. “For such as you and me, it is what the woman makes it. I’m going. I’ve no ill-will towards you, but if you hinder or follow me, I’ll shoot you like a dog.”
So he passed out and was lost in the byways. Douglas remained sitting at the window with folded arms.
THE LITTLE FIGURE IN BLACK
A season of intense depression, almost of melancholia, came to Douglas. He grew more reserved than ever with his colleagues on the staff of the Courier, who regretted his aloofness and would gladly have drawn him into the ranks of their pleasant comradeship. He avoided the club, where his absence was commented upon, and where he was in a fair way to become a popular member. On the threshold of his ambitions, when the way seemed fair before him, life had suddenly become distasteful. With a fierce effort of concentration he continued to work at his novel, which yet progressed but slowly. He spent much time sitting alone, pondering upon subjects which, from such a standpoint as his present one, seemed terrible enough. He had seen a good deal of the underneath life of London, had himself suffered bitterly, and he began to think of the city which now sheltered him as a city of lost souls drifting onwards to a mysterious and awful goal. Though he had thrown away in the moment of his revolt the shackles of his creed, the religious sense was still strong in him. In those dark days it became almost a torment. He felt that he too was going under. The springs of his ambition, his lusty love of living and fighting grew weak, as physically his muscles grew flaccid. He thought often of Strong—broken on the wheel, a creature hopelessly lost. Was he drifting towards this? One night a strange, sickly excitement came over him while he sat with the pen in his hand. His head swam, and voices which he had almost forgotten rang in his ears. Little specks of red fire danced before his eyes—he lost hold upon his consciousness—he was doubtful even of his own identity. He had become a unit, a lost unit, and for a moment or two he babbled like a child. He set his teeth, walked swiftly up and down the room, struggled and recovered himself. Yet he felt as though a dark wave had broken over his head, and he were still amongst the tumbling waters. He stood before the window and cried out a passionate prayer—to what God he scarcely knew—yet it soothed him. He put on his hat hastily and walked out into the streets.