BETWEEN TWO OPINIONS

Dick did not feel inclined to go to Morley’s after this _rencontre_,
so he turned back towards his hotel. The problem was not actually
solved, certainly; but he was disposed to take all that had passed
as a confirmation of his worst suspicions–so much so, that he felt
he could not meet his brother just then, as if nothing had happened.
He took two or three turns up and down that festive promenade, the
Euston Road, thinking indignantly that his position ought to have been
Roland’s, and Roland’s his–that he was suffering for his brother’s
misdeeds, while his brother was enjoying bright glances from eyes that
would hardly look so kindly on him could their owner have known how
Dick was spending the evening. For the first time, too, he saw, though
only dimly, a few of the difficulties that would lie in his way. It
would be harder than ever to keep on any sort of terms with his brother
now that he could no longer respect him, and to respect a man who had
brought misery into a family which he was bound by every law of honour
to protect was not possible to Dick. As his rival he had almost hated
Roland; as the man who had ruined Alice Hatfield he both hated and
despised him, and he knew well enough that between partners in business
these sort of feelings do not lead to commercial success. He did not
care to follow out all the train of thought that this suggested; but
the remembrance of his father’s strange will was very present with him
as he went to bed.

In the morning things looked different. It is a way things have.

Colours seen by candle light
Will not look the same by day.

After all, was it proved? When he came to think over what the girl had
said there seemed to be nothing positively conclusive in it all. It was
a strange contradiction–he had been very eager to trace the matter
out–to prove to himself that Roland was utterly unworthy to win Clare
Stanley; and yet now he felt that he would give a good deal to believe
that Roland had not done this thing. And this was not only because of
the grave pecuniary dilemma in which he must involve himself by any
quarrel with Roland. Perhaps it was partly because blood is, after all,
thicker than water.

It did not seem to Dick that his knowledge was much increased by his
conversation with Alice. The blackest point was still that mysterious
holiday trip, taken at such an unusual time, and about which his
brother had been so strangely reticent. And that might be accounted for
in plenty of other ways. Alice’s disappearance at that particular time
was very likely only a rather queer coincidence.

Dick had thought all this, and more, before he had finished dressing,
and he was ready to meet his brother at breakfast with a manner a
shade more cordial than usual–the reaction perhaps from his recent
suspicions. Roland was in particularly high spirits.

‘Wherever did you get to last night?’ he asked. ‘I was quite uneasy
till I heard you were safe in your bed.’

‘What time did you get home?’

It seemed that Roland’s uneasiness had been shown by his not turning in
till about two.

‘Good heavens!–you didn’t stay there till that time?’ asked Dick, with
an air of outraged propriety that would have amused him very much in
anyone else. ‘How old Stanley must have cursed you!’

‘Oh, no; we left there at eleven.’

‘We? You didn’t take Miss Stanley for a walk on the Embankment, I
presume?’

‘No such luck. Didn’t I tell you? I met an awfully jolly fellow
there–a Russian beggar–a real Nihilist and a count, and we went and
had a smoke together.’

‘My dear fellow, all exiled Russians are Nihilists, and most of them
are counts.’

‘Oh, no; he really is. I only found out he was a count quite by chance.’

‘What’s made old Stanley take up with him? Not community of political
sentiments, I guess?’

‘Oh, no; he saved the old boy from being smashed by some runaway
horses, and of course he’s earned his everlasting gratitude. I didn’t
like him much at first, but when you come to talk to him you find he’s
got a lot in him. I’m sure you’ll like him when you see him.’

‘Am I sure to have that honour?’ asked Dick, helping himself to another
kidney. ‘Is he tame cat about the Stanleys already.’

‘Why, he’d never been there before; what a fellow you are! I’ve asked
him to come and have dinner with us to-night. I want you to see him.
I’m sure you’ll get on together. He seems to have met with all sorts of
adventures.’

‘A veritable Baron Munchausen, in fact?’

‘I never met such a suspicious fellow as you are, Dick,’ said Roland, a
little huffily; ‘you never seem to believe in any body.’

This smote Dick with some compunction, and he resolved not to dislike
this _soi-disant_ count until he had cause to do so, which cause he
did not doubt that their first meeting would furnish forth abundantly.
But he was wrong.

Litvinoff came, and Dick found his prejudices melting away. The count
seemed a standing proof of the correctness of the parallels which have
been drawn between Russian and English character. He was English in his
frankness, his modesty, his off-hand way of telling his own adventures
without making himself the hero of his stories. Before the evening
was over Dick began to realise that Nihilists were not quite so black
as they are sometimes painted, and that there are other countries
besides England where progressive measures are desirable. The brothers
were both interested, and tried very hard to get more particulars of
Nihilist doctrines, but as they grew more curious Litvinoff became more
reticent. As he rose to go he said,–

‘Well, if you want to hear a more explicit statement of our wrongs,
our principles, and our hopes, and you don’t mind rubbing shoulders
with English workmen for an hour or two–and if you’re not too strict
Sabbatarians, by-the-way–you might come down to a Radical club in
Soho. I am going to speak there at eight on Sunday evening. I shall be
very glad if you’ll come; but don’t come if you think it will bore you.’

‘I shall like it awfully,’ said Dick. ‘You’ll go, won’t you, Roland?’

‘Of course I will.’




‘We might have dinner together,’ said Litvinoff. ‘Come down to
Morley’s; we’ll dine at six.’

This offer was too tempting to be refused. It presented an admirable
opportunity for making an afternoon call on the Stanleys, and the
brothers closed with it with avidity, and their new acquaintance took
his leave.

When Dick was alone he opened a letter which had been brought to him
during the evening. He read:–

’15 SPRAY’S BUILDINGS,
PORSON STREET, W.C.

‘DEAR MR RICHARD,–I promised to write to you but I did not mean to
see you again. But it was a great comfort to meet a face I knew, and I
feel I must see you again, if it’s only to ask you so many questions
about them all at home. I do not seem to have said half I ought to
have said the other night. If you really care to see me again, I shall
be in on Monday afternoon. Go straight up the stairs until you get to
the very top–it’s the right-hand door. I beg you not to say you have
seen me–to Mr Roland or to anyone else.–Yours respectfully,

‘ALICE HATFIELD.’

This letter revived his doubts, but he was very glad of the chance of
seeing her again, and he determined not to be deterred from pressing
the question which he had at heart by any pain which it might cause her
or himself. Jealousy, curiosity, regard for the girl–all these urged
him to learn the truth, and besides them all a certain sense of duty.
If her sorrow had come to her through his brother it surely was all the
more incumbent on him to see that her material sufferings, at any rate,
were speedily ended. If not….

Men almost always move from very mixed motives, and of these motives
they only acknowledge one to be their spring of action. This sense of
duty was the one motive which Dick now admitted to himself. At any rate
he did not mean to think any more about it till Monday came, so he
thrust the letter into his pocket, and let his fancy busy itself with
Clare Stanley after its wonted fashion. It found plenty of occupation
in the anticipation of that Sunday afternoon call.

When the call was made Mr Stanley was asleep, and though he roused
himself to welcome them he soon relapsed into the condition which is
peculiar to the respectable Briton on Sunday afternoons.

Miss Stanley was particularly cheerful, but as soon as she heard where
they intended to spend the evening, the conversation took a turn so
distinctly Russian, as to be almost a forestalment of the coming
evening’s entertainment. Nihilism in general and Nihilist counts in
particular seemed to be the only theme on which she would converse
for two minutes at a time. Roland made a vigorous effort to lead
the conversation to things English, but it was a dead failure. Dick
sought to elicit Miss Stanley’s opinion of the reigning actress, but
this, as he might have foreseen, only led to a detailed account of
that adventure in which the principal part of hero had been played by
a Russian, a Nihilist, or a count, and there were all the favoured
subjects at once over again.

The young men felt that the visit had not been a distinct success, and
when Clare woke her father up to beg him to take her to that Radical
club in Soho, even his explosive refusal and anathematising of Radicals
as pests of society failed to reconcile the Ferriers to their lady’s
new enthusiasm.

The conversation at dinner, however, was a complete change. Count
Litvinoff appeared to feel no interest in life, save in the question
of athletics at the English universities; but on this topic he managed
to be so entertaining that his guests quite forgot, in his charm as
talker, the irritation he had caused them to feel when he was merely
the subject of someone else’s talk. When dinner was over, and the three
started to walk to Soho, they were all on the very best of terms with
themselves and each other.

Would one of them have been quite so much at ease if he had known that
the announcement of the coming lecture had been seen in the paper
by Alice Hatfield, and that she–not being much by way of going to
church–had made up her mind to be there?