TWO FRIENDS

“Like doth not always draw to like–in truth
Old age is ever worshipful of youth,
Seeing in boyish dreams with daring rife,
A reflex of the spring time of its life,
When sword in hand with Hope’s brave flag unfurled,
It sallied forth to fight the blust’ring world.”

It was about mid-day, and the train having emerged from the darkness
of the St. Gothard tunnel, was now steaming rapidly on its winding
line through the precipitous ravines of the Alps, under the hot glare
of an August sun. On either side towered the mountains, their rugged
sides of grey chaotic stone showing bare and bleak at intervals amid
the dense masses of dark green foliage.

Sometimes a red-roofed châlet would appear clinging swallow-like to
the steep hill-side–then the sudden flash of a waterfall tumbling in
sheets of shattered foam from craggy heights: high above, fantastic
peaks swathed in wreaths of pale mist, and now and then the glimpse of
a white Alpine summit, milky against the clear blue of the sky.

On sped the engine with its long train of carriages, as though anxious
to leave the inhospitable mountain land for the fertile plains of
Italy–now crawling fly-like round the giant flank of a hill–anon
plunging into the cool gloom of a tunnel–once more panting into the
feverish heat–sweeping across slender viaducts hanging perilously
over foaming torrents–gliding like a snake under towering masses of
rock–and running dangerously along the verge of dizzy precipices,
while white-walled, red-roofed, green-shuttered villages, shapeless
rocks, delicately green forests, snow-clad peaks, and thread-like
waterfalls flashed past the tired eyes of the passengers in the train
with the rapidity of a kaleidoscope.

And it was hot–the insufferable radiance of the southern sun, blazing
down from a cloudless sky, beat pitilessly on the roofs of the railway
carriages, until the occupants were quite worn out with the heat and
glare from which they could not escape.

In one of the first-class carriages two men were endeavouring to
alleviate the discomfort in some measure, and had succeeded in
obtaining a partial twilight by drawing down the dark blue curtains,
but the attempt was hardly successful, as through every chink and
cranny left uncovered, shot the blinding white arrows of the sun-god,
telling of the intolerable brilliance without.

One of the individuals in question was lying full length on the
cushions, his head resting on a dressing-bag, and his eyes half
closed, while the other was curled up in a corner on the opposite
side, with his hands in his pockets, his head thrown back, and a
discontented look on his boyish face, as he stared upward. Both
gentlemen had their coats off, their waistcoats unbuttoned and their
collars loose, trying to make themselves as comfortable as possible in
the sweltering heat.

On the seats and floor of the carriage a litter of books and papers
showed how they had been striving to beguile the time, but human
nature had given in at last, and they were now reduced to a state of
exhaustion, to get through the next few hours as best they could until
their arrival at Chiasso, where they intended to leave the train and
drive over to their destination at Cernobbio, on Lake Como.

“Oh Jove!” groaned the lad in the corner, settling himself into a more
comfortable position, “what a devil of a day.”

“The first oath,” murmured the recumbent man lazily, with his eyes
still closed, “is apt, and smacks of classic culture suitable to the
land of Italy, but the latter is English and barbaric.”

“Oh, bother,” retorted his friend impatiently, “I can’t do the subject
justice in the way of swearing.”

“Then don’t try; the tortures of Hades are bad enough without the
language thereof.”

“You seem comfortable at all events, Gartney,” said the boy crossly.

“St. Lawrence,” observed Mr. Gartney, opening his eyes, “had a bed of
roses on his gridiron compared with this eider-down cushion on which I
lie–the saint roasted, I simmer–I’ll be quite done by the time we
reach Chiasso.”

“I’m done now,” groaned his companion. “Do shut up, Gartney, and I’ll
try and get some sleep.”

Gartney laughed softly at the resigned manner in which the other
spoke, and once more closed his eyes while his friend, following his
example, fell into an uneasy slumber interrupted by frequent sighs and
groans.

He was a pleasant enough looking boy, but not what would be called
handsome, with his merry grey eyes, his rather wide mouth, his
well-cut nose with sensitive nostrils, and his wavy auburn hair
suiting his fair freckled skin; all these taken individually were by
no means faultless, yet altogether they made up a countenance which
most people liked. Then he had a tall, well-knit figure, and as he
dressed well, rode well, was an adept in all kinds of athletic sports,
with exuberant animal spirits and a title, Angus Macjean, Master of
Otterburn, was a general favourite with his own sex, and a particular
favourite with the other.

What wit and humour the lad possessed came from his Irish mother, who
died, poor soul, shortly after he was born, and was not sorry to leave
the world either, seeing it was rendered so unpleasant by her stern
Presbyterian husband. Why she married Lord Dunkeld when, as a Dublin
belle, she could have done so much better, was a mystery to everyone,
but at all events marry him she did with the aforesaid results, death
for herself after a year of unhappy married life, and an heir to the
Macjean title.

Lord Dunkeld was sincerely sorry in his own cold way when she died,
never dreaming, narrow-minded bigot as he was, that life in the gloomy
Border castle was unsuited to the brilliant, impulsive Irishwoman, and
after placing her remains in the family vault, he proceeded to apply
to his son’s life the same rules that finished Lady Dunkeld’s
existence. The boy, however, had Scotch grit in him as well as Celtic
brilliance, and as he grew up under his father’s eye, gave promise
both intellectually and physically of future excellence, so that when
he reached the age of nineteen, he was the pride of the old lord, and
of the endless Macjean clan, who were very proud, very poor, and very
numerous.

But whatever pride Dunkeld felt in the perfections of his heir he took
care never to show it to the lad on the principle that it would make
him vain, and vanity, according to Mr. Mactab, the minister who looked
after the spiritual welfare of the family, “was a snare o’ the auld
enemy wha gaes roaring up an’ doon the warld.” So Angus was never
pandered to in that way, but led a studious, joyless existence, his
only pleasures being shooting and fishing, while occasionally Dunkeld
entertained a few of his friends who were of the same way of thinking
as himself, and made merry in a decorous, dreary fashion.

At the age of nineteen, however, the lad rebelled against the dismal
life to which his father condemned him, for as the princess in the
brazen castle, despite all precautions, found out about the prince
coming to release her, so Angus Macjean, from various sources, learned
facts about a pleasant life in the outside world, which made him long
to leave the cheerless castle and rainy northern skies for a place
more congenial to the Irish side of his character. With such ideas, it
is scarcely to be wondered at that he became more unmanageable every
day, until Lord Dunkeld with many misgivings sent him to Oxford to
finish his education, but as a safeguard placed by his side as servant
one Johnnie Armstrong, a middle-aged Scotchman of severe tendencies,
who was supposed to be “strong in the spirit.”

So to this seat of learning, Otterburn went, as his progenitors had
gone before him, and falling in by some trick of Fate with a somewhat
fast set, indulged his Irish love for pleasure to the utmost. Not that
he did anything wrong, or behaved worse than the general run of young
men, but his ‘Varsity life was hardly one which would have been
approved of by his severe parent or the upright minister who had
nurtured his young intellect on the psalms of David.

Still Johnnie Armstrong!

Alas, for the frailty of human nature, Johnnie Armstrong, the strong
in spirit, the guardian of morality, the prop of a wavering faith,
yielded to the temptations of the world, and held only too readily
that tongue which should have warned Otterburn against the snares of
Belial, for, truth to tell, Johnnie made as complaisant a guardian as
the most dissipated rake could have desired. The world, the flesh, and
the devil was too strong a trinity for Johnnie to stand against, so he
surrendered himself to the temptations of this life in the most
pusillanimous manner, aiding and abetting his young master with
misdirected zeal. Behold then, Angus Macjean and his leal henchman
both fallen away from grace and having a good time of it at Oxford, so
much so, indeed, that Otterburn was quite sorry when his father, after
two years’ absence, summoned him to Dunkeld Castle to grace the
ceremony of his coming of age.

That coming of age was a severe trial to Angus, as the guests were
mostly Free Kirk ministers and their spouses, the ministers in lengthy
speeches, exhorting him to follow in the footsteps of his father,
_i.e_., support the Free Kirk, make large donations to the funds
thereof, and entertain ministers of that following on all possible
occasions. Otterburn having learnt considerable craft at Oxford, made
suitable replies, promising all kinds of things which he had not the
slightest idea of fulfilling, and altogether produced a favourable
impression both by such guile and by a display of those educational
graces with which Alma Mater had endowed him. It is needless to say
that, aided by the faithful Johnnie Angus did not tell either his
father or Mactab of his gay life at the University, and the result of
this reticence was that the old lord, bestowing on him a small income
out of the somewhat straitened finances of the Macjeans, bade him
enjoy himself in London for a year, and then return to marry.

To marry! Poor Angus was horror-struck at such a prospect, the more so
when his father introduced him to the lady selected to be his bride, a
certain Miss Cranstoun who had a good income, but nothing else to
recommend her to his fastidious taste.

However, being a somewhat philosophical youth, he accepted the
inevitable, for he knew it would be easier to move Ben Nevis than his
father, and trusting to the intervention of a kind Providence to avert
his matrimonial fate, he went up to London with Johnnie to enjoy
himself, which he did, but hardly in the way anticipated by Lord
Dunkeld.

Thinking his marriage with the plain-looking Miss Cranstoun was
unavoidable, he made up his mind to see as much of life as he could
during his days of freedom, and proceeded to do so to his own
detriment, morally, physically and pecuniarily, when he chanced to
meet with Eustace Gartney.

Eustace Gartney, whimsical in his fancies, took a liking to the lonely
lad, left to his own devices in such a dangerous place as London, and
persuaded him to come to Italy hoping to acquire an influence over the
young man and keep him on the right path until his return to Dunkeld
Castle.

There was certainly a spice of selfishness in this arrangement, as
Eustace was attracted by the exuberant animal spirits and Irish wit of
the lad, which formed a contrast to the general run of young men of
to-day, and to his own pessimistic views of life, so, much as he
disliked putting himself out in any way, he determined to stand by the
inexperienced youth, and save him from his impulsive good nature and
love of pleasure.

Lord Dunkeld, deeming it wise that Angus should see something of
Continental life, and having full confidence in the
straightforwardness of Johnnie Armstrong, agreed to the journey, much
to his son’s surprise, and this was how The Hon. Angus Macjean, in
company with Eustace Gartney, was in a railway train midway between
St. Gothard and Chiasso.

And Eustace Gartney, poet, visionary, philosopher, pessimist–what of
him? Well, it is rather difficult to say. His friends called him mad,
but then one’s friends always say that of anyone whose character they
find it difficult to understand. He was eminently a child of the
latter half of this curious century, the outcome of an over-refined
civilization, the last expression of an artificial existence, and a
riddle hard and unguessable to himself and everyone around him.

For one thing, he always spoke the truth, and that in itself was
sufficient to stamp him as an eccentric individual, who had no motive
for existence in a society where the friendship of its members depends
in a great measure on their dexterity in evading it. Again Gartney was
iconoclastic in his tendencies, and loved to knock down, break up, and
otherwise maltreat the idols which Society has set up in high places
for the purposes of daily worship. The Goddess of Fashion, the Idol of
Sport, the Deity of Conventionalism, all these and their kind were
abominations to this disrespectful young man, who displayed a lack of
reverence for such things which was truly appalling.

It was not as though he had emerged from that unseen world of the
lower classes, of which the upper ten know nothing, to denounce the
follies and fashions of the hour; no, indeed, Eustace Gartney had been
born in the purple, inherited plenty of money, been brought up in a
conventional manner, and the astonishing ideas he possessed, so
destructive to the well-being of Society, were certainly not derived
from his parents. Both his father and mother had been of the most
orthodox type, and would doubtless have looked upon their son’s
eccentricities with dismay had they lived, but as they both
finished with the things of this life shortly after he was born,
they were mercifully spared the misery of reflecting that they had
produced such a firebrand. Indeed they might have checked his
radical-iconoclastic-pessimistic follies at their birth had they
lived, but Fate willed it otherwise, and in addition to robbing
Eustace of his parents had given him careless guardians, who rarely
troubled their heads about him, so that he grew up without discipline
or guidance, and even at the age of thirty-eight years was still under
the control of an extremely ill-regulated mind.

Tall, heavily-built, loose-limbed, with a massive head, leonine masses
of dark hair, roughly-cut features, and keen grey eyes, he gave the
casual observer an idea that he possessed a fund of latent strength,
both intellectual and physical, but he rarely indulged the former, and
never by any chance displayed the latter. Clean-shaven, with a
peculiarly sensitive mouth, his smile–when he did smile, which was
seldom–was wonderfully fascinating, and completely changed the
somewhat sombre character of his face. He usually dressed in a
careless, shabby fashion, though particular about the spotlessness of
his linen, rolled in his gait as if he had been all his life at sea,
looked generally half asleep, and, despite the little trouble he took
with his outward appearance, was a very noticeable figure. When he
chose, he could talk admirably, played the piano in the most brilliant
fashion, wrote charming verses and fantastic essays, and altogether
was very much liked in London Society, when he chose to put in an
appearance at the few houses whose inmates did not bore him.

Without doubt a singularly loveable man; children adored him, animals
fawned on him, and friends, ah–that was the rub, seeing that he
denied the existence of such things, classing them in the category of
rocs, sea-serpents, hippogriffs, and such-like strange beasts.
Therefore dismissing the word friends, which only applies to uncreated
beings, and substituting the word acquaintances, which is good enough
to ticket one’s fellow creatures with, the acquaintances of Mr.
Gartney liked him–or said they liked him–very much.

Absence in this case doubtless made their hearts grow fonder, as
Eustace was rarely in England, preferring to travel in the most
outlandish regions, his usual address being either Timbuctoo, the
Mountains of the Moon, or the dominions of Prester John. He had
explored most of this small planet of ours, and had written books in
the Arabian Nights vein about things which people said never existed,
and talked vaguely of yachting in the Polar seas, exploring the buried
cities of Central America, or doing something equally original. At
present, however, he had dismissed these whimsical projects for an
indefinite period, as the marriage of his cousin Guy Errington and the
friendship of Angus Macjean now occupied his attention.

Then again his last book of paradoxical essays had been a great
success, as everybody of his acquaintance, both friends and foes,
abused it–and read it. The critics, who know everything, had
denounced the book as blasphemous, horrible, coarse, drivelling, with
the pleasing result that it had an exceptionally large sale; and
although most people, guided by the big dailies, said they were
shocked at the publication of such a book, yet they secretly liked the
brilliant incisive writing, and wanted to lionise the author, but
Eustace getting wind of the idea promptly betook himself to the
Continent in order to escape such an infliction.

It was impossible that such a peculiar personage could be happy, and
Eustace certainly was not, as his fame, his money and his prosperity
were all so much Dead Sea fruit to his discontented mind. And why?
Simply because he was one of those exacting men who demand from the
world more than the world, which is selfish in the extreme, is
prepared to give, and because he could not obtain the moon sulked like
a naughty child at his failure to attain the impossible.

If he made a friend, he then and there demanded more than the most
complaisant friend could give, so his friendship always ended in
quarrels, and he would then inveigh against the heartlessness of human
nature simply because he could not make his friend a slave to his
whims and fancies.

He had been in love, or thought so, many times, but without any
definite result, as he had a disagreeable habit of analysing womankind
too closely; and as they never by any chance came up to the impossible
standard of perfection he desired, the result was invariably the same,
irritation on his side, pique on the woman’s, and ultimate partings in
mutual disgust. Then he would retire from the world for a time, nurse
his disappointment in solitude, and emerge at length with a series of
bitter poems or a volume of cynical essays, in which he summarised his
opinions regarding his last failure in love or friendship. A bitter
man, a discontented man, absurdly exacting, intolerant of all things
that were not to his liking, yet withal–strange contrast–a loveable
character.

Angus Macjean therefore was his latest friend, but it was not
altogether a selfish feeling, as he was genuinely anxious to save the
friendless lad from the dangerous tendencies of an impulsive nature;
nevertheless, his liking was not entirely disinterested, seeing that
he enjoyed the bright boyish nature of Otterburn, with his impossible
longings, and his enthusiastic hero-worship of himself. So this spoilt
child, pleased with his new toy, saw the world and his fellow men in a
more kindly light than usual, and, provided the mood lasted, there was
a chance that the happy disposition of Macjean might ameliorate to
some extent the gloom of his own temperament.

On his part, Angus was flattered by the friendship of such a clever
man, and moreover secretly admired the cynicism of his companion,
though, truth to tell, he did not always understand the vague
utterances of his oracle, for Gartney was somewhat enigmatic at times.
Still on the whole Angus liked him, and his enthusiastic nature led
him to enuow his idol with many perfections which it certainly did
not possess.

Thus these two incongruous natures had come together, but how long
such an amicable state of things would last was questionable. There
was always the fatal rock of boredom ahead, upon which their
friendship might be wrecked, and if Gartney grew weary of Otterburn or
Otterburn of Gartney, the result would be–well the result was still
to come.