“Yes—just that—” rejoined Harry with a nod. “It’s so hot out where I have been that a glass of native rum is as bad as a snake bite and everybody except a native leaves it alone. But if I had gone to the North Pole instead of the equator I would have done the same. Men like you and father, and Mr. Richard Horn and Mr. Kennedy, who have been brought up on moderation, may feel as they choose about it, but I’m going to let it alone. It’s the devil when it gets into your blood and mine’s not made for it. I’d like to thank Mr. Poe if I dared, which I wouldn’t, of course, if I ever saw him, for what he did for me. I wouldn’t be surprised if he would give a good deal himself to do the same—or has he pulled out?”
“He never has pulled in, Harry—not continuously. Richard has the right of it. Poe is a man pursued by a devil and lives always on the watch to prevent the fiend from getting the best of him. Months at a time he wins and then there comes a day when the devil gets on top. He says himself—he told me this the last time I saw him—that he really lives a life devoted to his literary work; that he shuts himself up from everybody; and that the desire for society only comes upon him when he’s excited by drink. Then, and only then, does he go among his fellows. There is some truth in that, my son, for as long as I have known him I have never seen him in his cups except that one night at my house. A courteous, well-bred gentleman, my boy—most punctilious about all his obligations and very honest about his failings. All he said to me the next day when he sobered up—I kept him all that night, you remember—was: ’I was miserably weak and inexcusably drunk last night, Mr. Temple. If that was all it would make no difference; I have been very drunk before, and I will be very drunk again; but in addition to my being drunk I insulted you and your friends and ruined your dinner. That makes every difference. Don’t let it cause a break between us. Let me come again. And now please brush it from your mind. If you knew how I suffer over this fiend who tortures and gloats over me you’d only have the greatest pity for me, in your heart.’ Then he wrung my hand and left the house.”
“Well, that’s all any of us could do,” sighed Harry, leaning back in his chair, his eyes on the ceiling. “It makes some difference, however, of whom you ask forgiveness. I’ve been willing to say the same kind of thing to my father ever since my affair with Mr. Willits, but it would have fallen on deaf ears. I had another trial at it yesterday, and you know what happened.”
“I don’t think your father knew you, Harry,” protested St. George, with a negative wave of his hand.
“I hope he didn’t—I shouldn’t like to think he did. But, by heaven! it broke my heart to see him, Uncle George. You would hardly know him. Even his voice has changed and the shade over his eyes and the way he twists his head when he looks at you really gave me a creepy feeling,” and the young man passed his fingers across his own eyes as if to shut out some hideous object.