“There’s no misunderstanding this, old fellow,” he said, with a laugh, when they had walked a few paces.
Waymark made no reply.
“You’ll laugh at me,” Julian went on, “but isn’t there a certain resemblance between my case and that of Keats? He too was a drug-pounder; he liked it as little as I do; and he died young of consumption. I suppose a dying man may speak the truth about himself. I too might have been a poet, if life had dealt more kindly with me. I think you would have liked the thing I was writing; I’d finished some three hundred lines; but now you’ll never see it. Well, I don’t know that it matters.”
Waymark tried to speak in a tone of hopefulness, but it was hard to give his words the semblance of sincerity.
“Do you remember,” Casti continued, “when all my talk used to be about Rome, and how I planned to see it one day—see it again. I should say? Strange to think that I really was born in Rome. I used to call myself a Roman, you know, and grow hot with pride when I thought of it. Those were dreams. Oh, I was to do wonderful things! Poetry was to make me rich, and then I would go and live in Italy, and fill my lungs with the breath of the Forum, and write my great Epic. How good that we can’t foresee our lives!”
“I wish to heaven,” Waymark exclaimed, when they were parting, “that you would be a man and shake this monstrous yoke from off your neck! It is that that is killing you. Give yourself a chance. Defy everything and make yourself free.”
Julian shook his head sadly.
“Too late! I haven’t the courage. My mind weakens with my body.”
He went to his lodgings, and, as he anticipated, found that Harriet had not yet come home. She was almost always out very late, and he had learnt too well what t expect on her return. In spite of her illness, of which she made the most when it suited her purpose, she was able t wander about at all hours with the acquaintances her husband did not even know by name, and Julian had no longer the strength even to implore her to have pity on him. He absence racked him with nervous fears; her presence tortured him to agony. Weakness in him had reached a criminal degree. Once or twice he had all but made up his mind to flee secretly, and only let her know his determination when he had gone; but his poverty interposed such obstacles that he ended by accepting them as excuses for his hesitation. The mere thought of fulfilling the duty which he owed to himself, of speaking out with manly firmness, and telling her that here at length all ended between them—that was a terror to his soul. So he stayed on and allowed her to kill him by slow torment. He was at least carrying out to the letter the promise he had made to her father, and this thought supplied him with a flattering unction which, such was his disposition, at times even brought him a moment’s solace.