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THE MARK OF CAIN

By Andrew Lang

1886




THE MARK OF CAIN.




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. She is a lively widow,
isn't she?"

"She is a practical philanthropist," answered Maitland, flushing a
little.

"Pretty, too, I have been told?"

"Yes; she is 'conveniently handsome,' as Izaak Walton says."

"I say, Maitland, here's a chance to humanize you. Why don't you ask her
to marry you? Pretty and philanthropic and rich--what better would you
ask?"

"I wish everyone wouldn't bother a man to marry," Maitland replied
testily, and turning red in his peculiar manner; for his complexion was
pale and unwholesome.

"What a queer chap you are, Maitland; what's the matter with you? Here
you are, young, entirely without encumbrances, as the advertisements
say, no relations to worry you, with plenty of money, let alone what
you make by writing, and yet you are not happy. What is the matter with
you?"

"Well, you should know best What's the good of your being a doctor, and
acquainted all these years with my moral and physical constitution (what
there is of it), if you can't tell what's the nature of my complaint?"

"I don't diagnose many cases like yours, old boy, down by the side
of the water, among the hardy patients of Mundy & Barton, general
practitioners. There is plenty of human nature _there!_"

"And do you mean to stay there with Mundy much longer?"

"Well, I don't know. A fellow is really doing some good, and it is a
splendid practice for mastering surgery. They are always falling off
roofs, or having weights fall on them, or getting jammed between barges,
or kicking each other into most interesting jellies. Then the foreign
sailors are handy with their knives. Altogether, a man learns a good
deal about surgery in Chelsea. But, I say," Barton went on, lowering his
voice, "where on earth did you pick up----?"

Here he glanced significantly at a tall man, standing at some distance,
the centre of half a dozen very youthful revellers.

"Cranley, do you mean? I met him at the _Trumpet_ office. He was writing
about the Coolie Labor Question and the Eastern Question. He has been in
the South Seas, like you."

"Yes; he has been in a lot of queerer places than the South Seas,"
answered the other, "and he ought to know something about Coolies. He has
dealt in them, I fancy."

"I daresay," Maitland replied rather wearily. "He seems to have
travelled a good deal: perhaps he has travelled in Coolies, whatever
they may be."

"Now, my dear fellow, do you know what kind of man your guest is, or
don't you?"

"He seems to be a military and sporting kind of gent, so to speak," said
Maitland; "but what does it matter?"

"Then you don't know why he left his private tutor's; you don't know why
he left the University; you don't know why he left the Ninety-second;
you don't know, and no one does, what he did after that; and you never
heard of that affair with the Frenchman in Egypt?"

"Well," Maitland replied, "about his ancient history I own I don't know
anything. As to the row with the Frenchman at Cairo, he told me himself.
He said the beggar was too small for him to lick, and that duelling was
ridiculous."

"They didn't take that view of it at Shephard's Hotel"

"Well, it is not my affair," said Maitland. "One should see all sort
of characters, Bielby says. This is not an ordinary fellow. Why, he has
been a sailor before the mast, he says, by way of adventure, and he
is full of good stories. I rather like him, and he can't do my moral
character any harm. _I'm_ not likely to deal in Coolies, at my time of
life, nor quarrel with warlike aliens."

"No; but he's not a good man to introduce to these boys from Oxford,"
Barton was saying, when the subject of their conversation came up,
surrounded by his little court of undergraduates.

The Hon. Thomas Cranley was a good deal older than the company in
which he found himself. Without being one of the hoary youths who play
Falstaff to every fresh heir's Prince Harry, he was a middle-aged man,
too obviously accustomed to the society of boys. His very dress spoke
of a prolonged youth. À large cat's-eye, circled with diamonds, blazed
solitary in his shirt-front, and his coat was cut after the manner of
the contemporary reveller. His chin was clean shaven, and his face,
though a good deal worn, was ripe, smooth, shining with good cheer, and
of a purply bronze hue, from exposure to hot suns and familiarity with
the beverages of many peoples. His full red lips, with their humorous
corners, were shaded by a small black mustache, and his twinkling
bistre-colored eyes, beneath mobile black eyebrows, gave Cranley the air
of a jester and a good fellow. In manner he was familiar, with a kind of
deference, too, and reserve, "like a dog that is always wagging his
tail and deprecating a kick," thought Barton grimly, as he watched the
other's genial advance.

"He's going to say good-night, bless him," thought Maitland gratefully.
"Now the others will be moving too, I hope!"

So Maitland rose with much alacrity as Cranley approached him. To stand
up would show, he thought, that he was not inhospitably eager to detain
the parting guest.

"Good-night, Mr. Maitland," said the senior, holding out his hand.

"It is still early," said the host, doing his best to play his part.
"Must you really go?"

"Yes; the night's young" (it was about half-past twelve), "but I have a
kind of engagement to look in at the Cockpit, and three or four of your
young friends here are anxious to come with me, and see how we keep it
up round there. Perhaps you and your friend will walk with us." Here he
bowed slightly in the direction of Barton.

"There will be a little _bac_ going on," he continued--"_un petit bac
de santé_; and these boys tell me they have never played anything more
elevating than loo."

"I'm afraid I am no good at a round game," answered Maitland, who had
played at his Aunt's at Christmas, and who now observed with delight
that everyone was moving; "but here is Barton, who will be happy to
accompany you, I daresay."

"If you're for a frolic, boys," said Barton, quoting Dr.



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Keywords: rather, replied, manner, matter, what's, nature, bielby, pothouse, getting, coolies
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