He had presented the trophy to the club after a trip somewhere, leaving the impression that he had shot it. He seldom looked at it, never at the silver-engraved inscription on the walnut shield.
Strangely enough, now as he sat there, he thought of the trophy and looked up at it; and for the first time in his life read the inscription.
It made no visible impression upon him except that for a brief moment the small and vivid patches of colour in his wasted cheeks faintly tinted the general pallor. But this died out as soon as it appeared; he drank deliberately, set the hot glass on a table at his elbow, long, bony fingers still retaining a grip upon it.
And into his unconcentrated thoughts, strangely enough, came the memories of little meannesses which he had committed—trivial things that he supposed he had forgotten long ago; and at first, annoyed, he let memory drift.
But, imperceptibly, from the shallows of these little long-forgotten meannesses, memory drifted uncontrolled into deeper currents; and, disdainful, he made no effort to control it; and later, could not. And for the first time in his life he took the trouble to understand the reason of his unpopularity among men. He had cared nothing for them.
He cared nothing for them now, unless that half tolerant, half disdainful companionship of years with Delancy Grandcourt could be called caring for a man. If their relations ever had been anything more than a habit he did not know; on what their friendship had ever been founded he could not tell. It had been his habit to take from Delancy, accept, or help himself. He had helped himself to Rosalie Dene; and not long ago he had accepted all that Delancy offered, almost convinced at the time that it would disappear in the debacle when the Algonquin crumbled into a rubbish heap of rotten securities.
A curious friendship—and the only friend he ever had had among men—stupid, inertly at hand, as inevitably to be counted on as some battered toy of childhood which escaped the dust heap so long that custom tolerates its occupation of any closet space convenient: and habit, at intervals, picks it up to see what’s left of it.
* * * * *
He had finished his whiskey; the fire seemed to have grown too hot, and he shoved back his chair. But the room, too, was becoming close, even stifling. Perspiration glistened on his forehead; he rose and began to wander from room to room, followed always by the stealthy glances of servants.
The sweat on his face had become unpleasantly cold; he came back to the fire, endured it for a few moments, then, burning and shivering at the same time, and preferring the latter sensation, he went out to his letter-box and unlocked it. There was only one envelope there, a letter from the governing board of the club requesting his resignation.
The possibility of such an event had never occurred to him; he read the letter again, folded and placed it in his pocket, went back to the fire with the idea of burning it, took it out, read it again, folded it absently, and replaced it in his pocket.