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Flames   By: (1864-1950)

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This edition published July, 1906, by Duffield & Company




Refinement had more power over the soul of Valentine Cresswell than religion. It governed him with a curious ease of supremacy, and held him back without effort from most of the young man's sins. Each age has its special sins. Each age passes them, like troops in review, before it decides what regiment it will join. Valentine had never decided to join any regiment. The trumpets of vice rang in his ears in vain, mingled with the more classical music of his life as the retreat from the barracks of Seville mingled with the click of Carmen's castanets. But he heeded them not. If he listened to them sometimes, it was only to wonder at the harsh and blatant nature of their voices, only to pity the poor creatures who hastened to the prison, which youth thinks freedom and old age protection, at their shrieking summons. He preferred to be master of his soul, and had no desire to set it drilling at the command of painted women, or to drown it in wine, or to suffocate it in the smoke at which the voluptuary tries to warm his hands, mistaking it for fire. Intellectuality is to some men what religion is to many women, a trellis of roses that bars out the larger world. Valentine loved to watch the roses bud and bloom as he sat in his flower walled cell, a deliberate and rejoicing prisoner. For a long time he loved to watch them. And he thought that it must always be so, for he was not greatly given to moods, and therefore scarcely appreciated the thrilling meaning of the word change, that is the key word of so many a life cipher. He loved the pleasures of the intellect so much that he made the mistake of opposing them, as enemies, to the pleasures of the body. The reverse mistake is made by the generality of men; and those who deem it wise to mingle the sharply contrasted ingredients that form a good recipe for happiness are often dubbed incomprehensible, or worse. But there were moments at a period of Valentine's life when he felt discontented at his strange inability to long for sin; when he wondered, rather wearily, why he was rapt from the follies that other men enjoyed; why he could refuse, without effort, the things that they clamoured after year by year with an unceasing gluttony of appetite. The saint quarrelled mutely with his holiness of intellectuality, and argued, almost fiercely, with his cold and delicate purity.

"Why am I like some ivory statue?" he thought sometimes, "instead of like a human being, with drumming pulses, and dancing longings, and voices calling forever in my ears, like voices of sirens, 'Come, come, rest in our arms, sleep on our bosoms, for we are they who have given joy to all men from the beginning of time. We are they who have drawn good men from their sad goodness, and they have blessed us. We are they who have been the allegory of the sage and the story of the world. In our soft arms the world has learned the glory of embracing. On our melodious hearts the hearts of men have learned the sweet religion of singing.' Why cannot I be as other men are, instead of the Saint the saint of Victoria Street that I am?"

For, absurdly enough, that was the name his world gave to Valentine. This is not an age of romance, and he did not dwell, like the saints of old centuries, in the clear solitudes of the great desert, but in what the advertisement writer calls a "commodious flat" in Victoria Street. No little jackals thronged about him in sinful circle by night. No school of picturesque disciples surrounded him by day. If he peeped above his blinds he could see the radiant procession of omnibuses on their halting way towards Westminster... Continue reading book >>

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