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The Mark Of Cain   By: (1844-1912)

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By Andrew Lang



CHAPTER I. A Tale of Two Clubs.

"Such arts the gods who dwell on high Have given to the Greek." Lays of Ancient Rome.

In the Strangers' Room of the Olympic Club the air was thick with tobacco smoke, and, despite the bitter cold outside, the temperature was uncomfortably high. Dinner was over, and the guests, broken up into little groups, were chattering noisily. No one had yet given any sign of departing: no one had offered a welcome apology for the need of catching an evening train.

Perhaps the civilized custom which permits women to dine in the presence of the greedier sex is the proudest conquest of Culture. Were it not for the excuse of "joining the ladies," dinner parties (Like the congregations in Heaven, as described in the hymn) would "ne'er break up," and suppers (like Sabbaths, on the same authority) would never end.

"Hang it all, will the fellows never go?"

So thought Maitland, of St. Gatien's, the founder of the feast. The inhospitable reflections which we have recorded had all been passing through his brain as he rather moodily watched the twenty guests he had been feeding one can hardly say entertaining. It was a "duty dinner" he had been giving almost everything Maitland did was done from a sense of duty yet he scarcely appeared to be reaping the reward of an approving conscience. His acquaintances, laughing and gossipping round the half empty wine glasses, the olives, the scattered fruit, and "the ashes of the weeds of their delight," gave themselves no concern about the weary host. Even at his own party, as in life generally, Maitland felt like an outsider. He wakened from his reverie as a strong hand was laid lightly on his shoulder.

"Well, Maitland," said a man sitting down beside him, "what have you been doing this long time?"

"What have I been doing, Barton?" Maitland answered. "Oh, I have been reflecting on the choice of a life, and trying to humanize myself! Bielby says I have not enough human nature."

"Bielby is quite right; he is the most judicious of college dons and father confessors, old man. And how long do you mean to remain his pupil and penitent? And how is the pothouse getting on?"

Frank Barton, the speaker, had been at school with Maitland, and ever since, at college and in life, had bullied, teased, and befriended him. Barton was a big young man, with great thews and sinews, and a broad, breast beneath his broadcloth and wide shirt front. He was blonde, prematurely bald, with an aquiline commanding nose, keen, merry blue eyes, and a short, fair beard. He had taken a medical as well as other degrees at the University; he had studied at Vienna and Paris; he was even what Captain Costigan styles "a scoientific cyarkter." He had written learnedly in various Proceedings of erudite societies; he had made a cruise in a man of war, a scientific expedition; and his Les Tatouages, Étude Médico Lêgale , published in Paris, had been commended by the highest authorities. Yet, from some whim of philanthropy, he had not a home and practice in Cavendish Square, but dwelt and labored in Chelsea.

"How is your pothouse getting on?" he asked again.

"The pothouse? Oh, the Hit or Miss you mean? Well, I'm afraid it's not very successful I took the lease of it, you know, partly by way of doing some good in a practical kind of way. The working men at the waterside won't go to clubs, where there is nothing but coffee to drink, and little but tracts to read. I thought if I gave them sound beer, and looked in among them now and then of an evening, I might help to civilize them a bit, like that fellow who kept the Thieves' Club in the East End. And then I fancied they might help to make me a little more human. But it does not seem quite to succeed. I fear I am a born wet blanket But the idea is good. Mrs. St. John Delo raine quite agrees with me about that . And she is a high authority."

"Mrs. St. John Deloraine? I've heard of her... Continue reading book >>

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