The idea of a spanked Antichrist disconsolately roaming the earth, unwilling to return to his fiery home for fear of a scolding, his guns of evil spiked, his virus innocuous, his mission of spiritual destruction a failure—for what could a baptized devil’s child do but pray and repent?—all this dawned upon me, and I burst into laughter, the worthy Monsignor discreetly participating. His bizarre recital proved to me that, despite his Gallic first name, Monsignor Anatole O’Bourke hailed from the County Tipperary.
THE ETERNAL DUEL
What is the sorriest thing that enters Hell?
—D.G. ROSSETTI, Vain Virtues.
The face set him to a strange wondering; he sat at the coffin and watched it. His wife’s face it was, and above the sorrow of irrevocable parting floated the thought that she did not look happy as she lay in her bed of death. Monross had seen but two dead faces before, those of his father and mother. Both had worn upon the mask which death models an expression of relief. But this face, the face of his wife, of the woman with whom he had lived—how many years! He asked himself why he shuddered when he looked down at it, shuddered and also flushed with indignation. Had she ever been happy? How many times had she not voiced her feelings in the unequivocal language of love! Yet she seemed so hideously unhappy as she stretched before him in her white robes of death. Why? What secret was this disclosed at the twelfth hour of life, on the very brink of the grave? Did death, then, hold the solution to the enigma of the conquering Sphinx!
Monross, master of psychology, tormented by visions of perfection, a victim to the devouring illusion of the artist,—Monross asked himself with chagrin if he had missed the key in which had sounded the symphony of this woman’s life. This woman! His wife! A female creature, long-haired, smiling, loquacious—though reticent enough when her real self should have flashed out signals of recognition at him—this wife, the Rhoda he had called day and night—what had she been?
She had understood him, had realized his nobility of ideal, his gifts, his occasional grandeur of soul,—like all artistic men he was desultory in the manifestation of his talent,—and had read aloud to him those poems written for another woman in the pitch-hot passion of his youth—before he had met her. To her he had been always, so he told himself, a cavalier in his devotion. Without wealth, he had kept the soles of her little feet from touching the sidewalks of life. Upon her dainty person he had draped lovely garments. Why then, he wondered, the vindictive expression etched, as if in aqua fortis, upon her carved features?