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102 pages
Library of Alexandria
It was the first Monday in August, and his beat was not a lively one. Curiosity had attracted him toward the sitting figure, and the social instinct prompted conversation. Receiving, however, an uninterested nod in reply to his last remark, he turned away reluctantly and continued his slow tramp up the street. The man took no notice of his departure, but, resting his chin on his hands, gazed wistfully across the road. Why he had come here to Holland Park he scarcely knew. Perhaps, in his aimless walk from his lodgings in Pimlico, he had unconsciously followed a once familiar track that had brought him to a spot filled with sweet and bitter associations. The blinds were drawn in the great house opposite that stared white in the noonday sun. A beer-can hanging on the area railings announced the caretaker. Like most of the mansions in the long, well-kept street, it seemed abandoned to sun and silence. It was the first time he had seen the house since the cloud had fallen upon his life. Once its interior had been as familiar to him as his own boyhood’s home. Its inmates gave him flattering welcome. He was courted for his brilliant promise and admired for his good looks. A whisper of feasting and riotous living that hovered around his reputation caused him to be petted by the household as the prodigal cousin. The comforts of wealth, the charm of refinement, the warmth of affection, were his whenever he chose to knock for admittance at that door. Now he had lost them all, as irrevocably as Adam lost Eden. He was an outcast among men. Not only had he forfeited his right to mount the steps, but he knew that the very mention of his existence in that household brought shame and fierce injunctions of silence. He gazed at the drawn blinds of the deserted house in an agony of hopelessness, craving the warm sympathy, the laughter, the dear human companionship, the mere sound of his Christian name which he had not heard uttered for over two years—ever since he had entered by that gate above which the lasciate ogni speranza seemed written in letters of flame. The lines deepened on his face. The touch of a friendly hand, a kind glance from familiar eyes, the daily, unnoted possession of millions, were to him a priceless treasure, forever beyond his reach. He was barely thirty. His life was wrecked. Nothing lay before him but pariahdom, and slinking from the gaze of honest men. And within him there burnt no fiery sense of injustice to keep alive the flame of noble impulse—only self-contempt, ignominy, the ineffaceable brand of the gaol. It was on the pavement opposite that he had been arrested. He had tripped down the steps in evening dress, his ears buzzing with the laughter within, in spite of tremulous throbbings of his heart, and had walked into the arms of the two quiet officers in plain clothes who had been patiently awaiting his exit. From that moment onward his life had been one pain and horror. Regained freedom had brought him little joy—had brought him in fact increased despair. During the last few months of his imprisonment he had yearned sickeningly for the day of release. It had come. Sometimes he regretted the benumbed hours of that mid-time in gaol, when pain had been lost in apathy. He had been free for five months. In all probability he would be free for the rest of his life. Sometimes he shuddered at the prospect.