‘It may be a rotten thing to say,’ resumed the younger man, speaking slowly, ’but she was more of a mother to me than my mother was. As far back as I can remember she was the one person who believed in me. The rest never did. When I was a kid at prep. school and brought home bad reports, every one seemed to think me an outsider—that I wasn’t conforming—and I began to believe it. Only Elise never changed. She was the one of the whole family who didn’t want me to be somebody or something else. You can hardly believe what that meant to me in those days. It was a little world I lived in, but to my youngster’s eyes it looked as if everything and every person were on one side, doubting me, and Elise was on the other, believing in me. . . . I’m not whining, Selwyn, or saying that any one’s to blame for my life except myself, but I do believe that if Elise and I had been kept together I might not have turned out such a rotter. Sometimes, too, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better for her. She never made many friends—and looking back, I think the poor little girl has had a lonely time of it.’
He relapsed into silence and shifted his head wearily on the pillow. Johnston Smyth murmured something muffled and unintelligible in his sleep. Selwyn placed some new lumps of coal on the fire, the flames licking them eagerly as the sharp crackle of escaping gases punctured the sleep-laden air.
‘It does sound rather like whining to say it,’ said Durwent without opening his eyes, ’but after I was rusticated at Cambridge I tried to travel straight. If I had gone then to the Colonies I might have made a man of myself, but I hung around too long, and got mixed up with one of the rottenest sets in London. I went awfully low, Selwyn, but booze had me by the neck, and my conscience wasn’t working very hard either. And then another woman helped me. She was one of those who aren’t admitted among decent people. She came of poor family, and had made a fairly good name for herself on the stage, and was absolutely straight until she met that blackguard Moorewell about three years ago.’
‘The man you nearly killed?’
’Yes. At any rate, she and I fell in love with each other. I know it’s all damned sordid, but we were both outcasts, and, as that chap said to-night, it’s the people who have failed who lie closest to life. Once more a woman believed in me, and I believed in a woman. We planned to get married. We were going away under another name, to make a new world for ourselves. For weeks I never touched a drop, and it seemed at last that I could see—just a little light ahead. You don’t know what that means, Selwyn, when a man is absolutely down.’
The smile had died out in the speaker’s face and given way to a cold, gray mist of pain.