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At Love's Cost   By: (-1920)

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"Until this moment I have never fully realised how great an ass a man can be. When I think that this morning I scurried through what might have been a decent breakfast, left my comfortable diggings, and was cooped up in a train for seven hours, that I am now driving in a pelting rain through, so far as I can see for the mist, what appears to be a howling wilderness, I ask myself if I am still in possession of my senses. I ask myself why I should commit such lurid folly. Last night I was sitting over the fire with a book for it was cold, though not so cold as this," the speaker shivered and dragged the collar of his overcoat still higher "at peace with all the world, with Omar purring placidly by my side, and my soul wrapped in that serenity which belongs to a man who has long since rid himself of that inconvenient appendage a conscience, and has hit upon the right brand of cigarettes, and now "

He paused to sigh, to groan indeed, and shifted himself uneasily in the well padded seat of the luxurious mail phaeton.

"When Williams brought me your note, vilely written were you sober, Stafford? blandly asking me to join you in this mad business, I smiled to myself as I pitched the note on the fire. Omar smiled too, the very cigarette smiled. I said to myself I would see you blowed first; that nothing would induce me to join you, that I'd read about the lakes too much and too often to venture upon them in the early part of June; in fact, had no desire to see the lakes at any time or under any conditions. I told Omar that I would see you in the lowest pit of Tophet before I would go with you to whatever the name of this place is. And yet, here I am."

The speaker paused in his complaint to empty a pool water from his mackintosh, and succeeded in turning it over his own leg.

He groaned again, and continued.

"And yet, here I am. My dear Stafford, I do not wish to upbraid you; I am simply making to myself a confession of weakness which would be pitiable in a stray dog, but which in a man of my years, with my experience of the world and reputation for common sense, is simply criminal. I do not wish to reproach you; I am quite aware that no reproach, not even the spectacle of my present misery would touch your callous and, permit me to frankly add, your abominably selfish nature; but I do want to ask quite calmly and without any display of temper: what the blazes you wanted to come this way round, and why you wanted me with you?"

The speaker, a slightly built man, just beyond the vague line of "young," glanced up with his dark, somewhat sombre and yet softly cynical eyes at the face of his companion who was driving. This companion was unmistakably young, and there was not a trace of cynicism in his grey blue eyes which looked out upon the rain and mist with pleasant cheerfulness. He was neither particularly fair nor dark; but there was a touch of brighter colour than usual in his short, crisp hair; and no woman had yet found fault with the moustache or the lips beneath. And yet, though Stafford Orme's face was rather too handsome than otherwise, the signs of weakness which one sees in so many good looking faces did not mar it; indeed, there was a hint of strength, not to say sternness, in the well cut lips, a glint of power and masterfulness in the grey eyes and the brows above them which impressed one at first sight; though when one came to know him the impression was soon lost, effaced by the charm for which Stafford was famous, and which was perpetually recruiting his army of friends.

No doubt it is easy to be charming when the gods have made you good to look upon, and have filled your pockets with gold into the bargain. Life was a pageant of pleasure to Stafford Orme: no wonder he sang and smiled upon the way and had no lack of companions.

Even this man beside him, Edmund Howard, whose name was a by word for cynicism, who had never, until he had met Stafford Orme, gone an inch out of his self contained way to please or benefit a fellow man, was the slave of the young fellow's imperious will, and though he made burlesque complaint of his bondage, did not in his heart rebel against it... Continue reading book >>

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