“It’s the book of the day.”
“It’s decidedly the cleverest thing of its sort I ever read.”
“Have you read the review in the _Athenæum_?”
“And in the _Saturday Review_.”
“They all praise it, even the _Spectator_.”
“Who’s the author? Whose initials are R. D.?”
“Why, don’t you know? It’s Major Rupert Devereux, the man who wrote
that awfully clever article in the _Fortnightly_ last month. He’s an
M.P., and a great man on committees. Sort of practical philanthropist.”
I was standing in front of a bookshop leading out of the Strand amongst
a little group of other passers-by, who had halted for a moment to turn
over the volumes which were out on view, and this was the conversation
which I heard being carried on almost at my elbow. I listened eagerly
for more, but the speakers had passed on.
My Uncle Rupert was a great man, then, I thought, bitterly. Curse him!
I was scarcely surprised, for there was in his pale face all the
nervous force of imaginative intellect. What was it he had written? I
wondered. I took up the _Times_, and glanced through its columns. Ah,
there it was–a review two columns long–“Richard Strathdale,
novelist,” by R.D.
I glanced through the review; it was one long eulogy. A profound
metaphysical romance! The most brilliant work of fiction of the age,
and so on, and so on. I stopped at a bookseller’s, and asked for
“Richard Strathdale.” They were sold out. I tried another with the
same result–there had been a tremendous run on it, they told me. But
at last, at a railway bookstall, I was just in time to purchase their
last copy, and hurried back with it to my hotel.
I commenced to read, and I read on deeply interested. There was much
that I could not understand, much that betrayed an intimate knowledge
with schools of philosophic thought the names of which even were
unknown to me. But there was a great deal which, despite my prejudice
against the writer, seemed to me almost sublime. It was written from a
noble, almost an idyllic standpoint. There were no carping pessimisms
in it, no Nineteenth Century disputativeness. It seemed to be the work
of a man who believed in all that was pure and lofty in nature and in
human nature. The spirit of a good, high-minded man seemed to be
breathing through it in every line. I laid it down when I was half-way
through with a startled little gasp. Could this be my Uncle Rupert!
this the man whose life was a living lie? Never had my faith in my
father wavered for one moment, but just then everything seemed chaos.
I read on until I came to a passage where the hero of the story was
speaking of another man:
“An unhappy man! Of course he is an unhappy man! He always will be!
Go and ask him what it is he desires. He will tell you a larger
fortune, or a peerage, or something of that sort. He is a fool–a
blind fool–not to have realised by this time that desires expand with
possessions, and the more the one increases the more ravenous the other
becomes. Bah! the principle is as simple as ABC. ‘Tis the moralists
of the earth, be they Christians or Chinese, who win here! Logic and
philosophy may knock Christianity into a cocked hat. But Christianity
can make a man happy, which is exactly what philosophy won’t do.
Happiness is internal, not external. It must sit in the heart, and not
float in the senses. And what gratification is there which a man can
get out of the good things of the world which can strike deeper than
the senses? Happiness is a consciousness; it is the consciousness of
goodness. Dreadfully common-place talk this, but common-placisms are
I closed the book, and walked up and down the room restlessly. A great
bewilderment seemed to be closing in upon me. My faith in my father
was never really shaken, and yet this book seemed to me to ring with
evidences that it was written by a high-minded, naturally good man.
All my ideas were disarranged. A great wave of wondering doubt seemed
beating against the prejudice which had grown up in my heart against my
Uncle Rupert. At last I could bear it no longer. With the book still
in my hand I hurried out into the street. Within ten minutes I stood
before Rupert Devereux’s house in Mayfair, and almost immediately was
ushered by the servant into his study.
He was bending close over his writing-desk with his back to me, writing
fast, and sheets of foolscap lay on the floor all around him. He had
not heard me announced, and he wrote on without looking up.
I stepped into the middle of the room and spoke to him:
“Rupert Devereux,” I cried, “it is I, Herbert Devereux’s son. Turn
round, for I have something to say to you.”
He started to his feet, and turned an eager face towards me. Then he
advanced a step or two, half holding out his hand.
“Hugh, you have come to accept my offer. God grant that you have.”
I shook my head. “I have come to ask a question of the man who wrote
this book,” I answered, holding it out. “I have come to ask the man
who writes that happiness is the abstract product of a consciousness of
right doing, whether he is happy? Rupert Devereux, you know what
happiness is. Tell me, are you happy?”
He sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands. My heart
grew lighter as I looked upon him.
“They tell me that you are a successful man,” I continued, mercilessly.
“You are a member of Parliament, and a noted one. You are spoken of as
a philanthropist, and a zealous one. You have written a book which any
man might be proud of having written. You are rich, you are well
spoken of everywhere. And you are a miserable man.”
He never answered me, never changed his dejected attitude.
“Out of your own mouth you stand convicted,” I cried, stretching out
the book towards him. “You are not happy because none of these things
can bring you happiness. You are not happy because you have not that
consciousness of right doing in your heart! You are miserable because
you have wrecked another’s life that you might gain his wealth. Fool!
Still he did not answer; only he stretched out his hand as though to
implore my silence.
“Rupert Devereux,” I cried, passionately, “it is not too late to make
amends even now. Confess that lie which you uttered so many years ago,
and you will be a happier man than you are now! You know it! The man
who wrote this book knows it. I will forgive you, my father shall
forgive you everything, if you will lift this weight from him which is
dragging him down to death. You will lose your name, your wealth, your
position. But you will gain something which none of these can give
you. Rupert Devereux, as there is a God above us I charge you to speak
the truth this night!”
Ghastly pale, with the wild agony of his remorse written into his face,
he tottered rather than rose to his feet.
“I admit nothing, I deny nothing,” he faltered out in a broken voice.
“But supposing circumstances were as you imagine them to be, I have
gone too far to retract. There are my children!”
“What of them?” I cried. “This is not a censorious generation, and
none would visit on them their father’s sin. Francis is one whom money
would make happy, and he should have it! Maud! I love Maud, and would
make her my wife.”
He looked up amazed, and then an eager hope flashed out from his sunken
“You love Maud!” he repeated. “Then marry her, Hugh; marry her, and I
will dower her with every penny I have, and go and live–anywhere.
Only let this other matter drop between us. If I have sinned in a mad
impulse of folly, I have sinned. What is done cannot be recalled! The
best years of Herbert’s life have gone, and by this time he will have
become resigned. Let me call Maud, or go to her. She is in her room.”
I stretched out my hand, but with a great effort withdrew it. What
should I gain by striking this man? I made one last appeal to him.
“There is but one thing I want from you,” I cried, “and nothing else
will I have. All that I want to know is whether you will go down to
hell with this lie upon your soul, or whether you will do that which
alone can bring you any peace of mind. Answer!”
“I have answered, Hugh,” he said, sadly. “What you ask of me I cannot,
I will not do. If you will accept nothing else–I am sorry.”
“Then curse you for a coward!” I cried, springing up. “A liar and a
coward! Live on your false life, fair before men, but black and
corrupt within; live it on! But see whether their praises, their
admiration or your success will ever lift for one moment from your
heart my curse!”
Then I left him, mad and white with anger, and rushed out into the busy
* * * * *
Wearily the days dragged on for me, bringing me no news from abroad, no
answer to the passionate entreaty which every morning appeared in the
agony column of the _Times_. I grew disheartened and dispirited,
feeling every day more bitter against my kinsman, whose name seemed to
be in every one’s mouth, and every day a keener longing to stand face
to face with my father, and feel his hand clasped in mine. Fool that I
had been to let him wander off alone, bearing in his heart that dead
weight of misery! What if he were dead–had fallen in the petty
quarrels of some fourth-rate Principality! Had there been war anywhere
I should have known where to look for him; but Europe was at peace, and
I knew not in which country of the globe to commence my search.
One evening I had taken up a society journal, and as usual Rupert
Devereux’s name headed one of the paragraphs. He was giving a fancy
dress ball to-night, at which Royalty was expected to be present. I
threw the paper from me in disgust, and a wild storm of anger laid hold
of me. Rupert Devereux, a great man, a leader of society, everywhere
quoted as brilliant, talented, and withal kind-hearted; whilst my
father, his victim, wandered about in miserable exile, holding his life
in his hand! It was the thought that was with me day and night, but
that moment it gained such a hold on me as to cry out for action of
some sort. But what could I do? All idea of physical punishment which
naturally leaped first into my mind revolted me, for he was a weak man,
and would have been like a lath in my hands. And what other means had
I? Denunciation would make me ridiculous without injuring him; for,
when a man stands firm in the world’s esteem, they are slow to believe
ill of him. I caught up the paper again, and a sudden idea flashed
into my mind which I first scouted as ridiculous, then reconsidered,
and finally embraced. I called a hansom, and drove to several
costumiers. At last I found what I wanted, and returned to the hotel
to dress, for I was going to Major Rupert Devereux’s fancy dress ball.
* * * * *
A suite of reception rooms, decorated like the rooms of a palace, and
the strains of the Hungarian band floating softly on an air heavy with
the rich perfume of banks of rare exotics. Distinguished-looking men
and beautiful women, in the picturesque garb of all ages and nations,
gliding over the smooth floor. Powdered footmen noiselessly passing
backwards and forwards over the thick carpets of a succession of
satin-draped ante-rooms. Flowers, light, music, and perfume; fair
faces and soft words. That night seems like a confused dream of all
these to me, save for one brief minute. One brief minute, when the
giver of all these, the flattered recipient of endless compliments from
noble lips, came face to face with the image of the man on whose misery
all these things were built up, came face to face with him, in the very
uniform, and with the same fiercely reproachful gaze, which he had worn
more than twenty years ago.
“It was the heat–the excitement–the overwork!” his sympathising
guests declared, as their host was carried from their midst in a dead
faint, with his face like the face of a corpse. But I knew better, and
I laughed as I strode into my room at the hotel, and flung myself into
an easy chair. Something on the mantelpiece attracted my attention,
and I sprang up with a quick cry, and caught hold of a thin foreign
envelope. I tore it open with trembling fingers, and read:–“My dear
son. Come to me at Palermo, if you will.–Yours affectionately, H.
It had come at last, then! Thank God! Thank God!
“My father! my father!”
We stood on the slope of a wild heath-covered hill, alone, with no
human being or sign of habitation in sight. Before us towered a
dreary, lofty range of bare mountains–on one side was a fearful
precipice, and below us on the other the blue sea. We had met on the
road, my father and I!
With both hands clasping his, I looked into his face. Alas, how
changed it was! Thin and shrunken, with hollow eyes and furrowed brow,
he looked to me what he was, a wreck.
“You have been ill,” I cried, with a lump in my throat and the tears
springing into my eyes; “where have you been? Why did you not send for
He pointed to a loose piece of rock a few yards off.
“Let us sit down, and I will tell you everything,” he said, wearily; “I
We sat down, and I waited eagerly for him to begin. There was a patch
of brilliantly coloured wild-flowers at our feet which filled the air
all round with a dreamy, intoxicating odour. It was a perfume which
has lingered with me even to this day.
“Ay, I have been ill,” he began, slowly, “almost to death, but death
would have none of me. I have little, very little to tell you, Hugh,
my boy. Since we parted in England I have wandered about in many
countries seeking to find an honourable manner of disposing of my life,
but in vain. The dead calm of peace which seems to rest all over
Europe can be but the hush before a storm, but the storm is long in
coming–long in coming.
“I have done nothing save wander about,” he added, after a moment’s
pause, “after the fashion of a tramp, carrying my luggage with me, and
calling no place home. A few miles from here, about two months ago, I
thought that my release had come. I swooned suddenly in a lonely part
of yonder range of mountains, and when I came to I was still lying on
the track, but a fever had laid hold of me, and I thought then that
surely I must die. I became unconscious again, and when I recovered my
senses for the second time I was no longer lying on the ground, but was
in a rude sort of a tent, lying on a bed of dried leaves and heath.
One of the roughest-looking men I ever saw, dirty, but gaudily dressed,
with a brace of pistols stuck in his belt, was sitting by my side, and
through the opening of the tent I could see more like him moving
backwards and forwards, and shouting to one another in some villainous
patois. For a long time I couldn’t imagine into whose hands I had
fallen, but they were very kind to me, and brought me plenty of
everything they could get–grapes, and olives, and wild aloes, and
wine. At last one of them, who seemed to be their chief, and who spoke
French, came in to talk with me. Then I knew that these men who had
taken such care of me were really bandits, brigands. They had taken
nothing of mine, and would accept nothing in return for their kindness.
They rob the rich only, the chief assured me. I daresay you’ll be
surprised to hear, Hugh, that when I began to get stronger and able to
get about, I felt quite loth to leave the place. I felt that there I
was, at any rate, right out of the world, and secure from any casual
questioning. And the spot where they have fixed their abode is the
most lovely I ever looked upon. So I had a talk with their chief one
day–José his name is–and it was arranged that I should pay a small
sum to them for the use of the tent, and for supplies of fruit and
olives and wine which the peasants bring them in abundance; and, in
short, that I should live with them, though not be of them. I have
felt at rest there, though at times the weariness of complete inaction
is hard to bear. Only a few days ago I travelled into Palermo for the
first time. There I bought the _Times_, and saw your advertisement,
and answered it, and the rest you know. I sent José’s son, a quick
little fellow he is, into the town to hunt you out, and bring you here.
God bless you for coming, Hugh. It has done me good to see you again.”
He ceased, and my heart was very heavy. Through every word he uttered,
and in his whole appearance, I could trace how thoroughly he had
renounced all idea of again mixing with the world, and yet what could
his present state of existence be but a state of living death?
“And now for my story, father,” I said, as lightly as I could. “First,
Marian is married.”
“Marian married!” He repeated the words slowly, with a sort of passive
wonderment in his tones.
“Yes, Marian is married to a clergyman, and a very good fellow, and I,
father–I have been in a situation.”
He frowned, and repeated the words slowly to himself, as though
displeased with it.
“A situation? What sort of a one?”
“I have had the management of a large estate. It was pleasant work.”
“Whereabouts?” he asked.
“Father,” I said, holding his arm, “I held it as Mr. Arbuthnot, of
course, at Devereux.”
He sprang up like a galvanised figure, and looked down at me in eager
“At Devereux! At Devereux! Oh, my God, at Devereux!”
He sat down again, and covered his face with his hands. Thinking it
best to leave him alone, I remained silent for a while. Suddenly he
“How does the old place look, Hugh? Tell me all about it. And
my–my–Sir Francis. Did you see him? Is he well?”
There was such a lingering pathos in his eager questions, that, with an
aching heart, I turned away and wept. Then, after a while, I told him
everything. Told him of my recognition, of my grandfather’s offer, of
Hilton’s confession, and of my appeal to Rupert Devereux. He listened
as though every word were sinking into his heart–listened with an
utter absorption which was almost painful to witness. I told him of
everything save of Maud.
There was a long silence when I had finished. Then he said quietly–
“You have done wrong, Hugh. You should have accepted your
grandfather’s offer. You must go back to England, and go to him.”
“Father,” I answered, “an oath is a sacred thing, and I have sworn
before God that I will not do this thing. Whilst your name is
Arbuthnot mine will be Arbuthnot. The name of Devereux may die out for
all I care! Those who bear the name now are not worthy of it–an
obstinate old man, blinded by his military notions and his cursed
family pride, and a man who has lived upon a villainous lie, which he
refuses to own to! They may rot before I will go near them again, or
take their cursed name. You are the only Devereux, father, whom I love
and respect, and with you I will stop. I swear it.”
His hands were locked in mine, and a wonderful change had softened his
face. But by degrees the light seemed to die out of it, and he shook
his head anxiously.
“You don’t know what you are saying, Hugh. What, you, a young man,
with your life all before you, bury yourself with a hermit! Ah, no, it
must not be. You must retract that oath, and go back to England. I
wish it; nay, I command it!”
There is no need to reproduce the arguments he used, or my stubborn
opposition. We talked till the sun sank down, tinging the glass-like
sea into which it sank and the clouds in the western horizon with
glowing tints of orange and purple and gold. And when the last word
had been spoken it was I who was unshaken in my resolve, and he who was
yielding. For we had agreed that for a time, at any rate, we would
The shades of evening had fallen with a suddenness which to me seemed
strange, but to which my father was accustomed.
“We must part for to-night, at any rate, Hugh,” he exclaimed, rising.
“It will be dark in half-an-hour. I must call young Pietro to guide
you back to the town, unless,” he added, hesitatingly, “you would care
to come on and rough it with us for a night. I can only offer you a
shake-down of dried leaves.”
“With you, by all means,” I answered, quickly. “One could sleep out of
doors in this country.”
“Come, then,” he said, and, arm-in-arm, we struck over the heath,
following no path, for the simple reason that there was none, but
aiming for one of the heights of the range of hills before us, and
skirting, at a respectable distance, the cleft-like precipice which
stretched yawning by our side.