The Best British Short Stories of 1922 HTML version

A Hedonist
(From Pears' Annual and The Century Magazine)
Rupert K. Vaness remains freshly in my mind because he was so fine and large, and
because he summed up in his person and behavior a philosophy which, budding before
the war, hibernated during that distressing epoch, and is now again in bloom.
He was a New-Yorker addicted to Italy. One often puzzled over the composition of his
blood. From his appearance, it was rich, and his name fortified the conclusion. What the
K. stood for, however, I never learned; the three possibilities were equally intriguing.
Had he a strain of Highlander with Kenneth or Keith; a drop of German or Scandinavian
with Kurt or Knut; a blend of Syrian or Armenian with Kahalil or Kassim? The blue in
his fine eyes seemed to preclude the last, but there was an encouraging curve in his
nostrils and a raven gleam in his auburn hair, which, by the way, was beginning to grizzle
and recede when I knew him. The flesh of his face, too, had sometimes a tired and
pouchy appearance, and his tall body looked a trifle rebellious within his extremely well-
cut clothes; but, after all, he was fifty-five. You felt that Vaness was a philosopher, yet he
never bored you with his views, and was content to let you grasp his moving principle
gradually through watching what he ate, drank, smoked, wore, and how he encircled
himself with the beautiful things and people of this life. One presumed him rich, for one
was never aware of money in his presence. Life moved round him with a certain noiseless
ease or stood still at a perfect temperature, like the air in a conservatory round a choice
blossom which a draught might shrivel.
This image of a flower in relation to Rupert K. Vaness pleases me, because of that little
incident in Magnolia Gardens, near Charleston, South Carolina.
Vaness was the sort of a man of whom one could never say with safety whether he was
revolving round a beautiful young woman or whether the beautiful young woman was
revolving round him. His looks, his wealth, his taste, his reputation, invested him with a
certain sun-like quality; but his age, the recession of his locks, and the advancement of
his waist were beginning to dim his lustre, so that whether he was moth or candle was
becoming a moot point. It was moot to me, watching him and Miss Sabine Monroy at
Charleston throughout the month of March. The casual observer would have said that she
was "playing him up," as a young poet of my acquaintance puts it; but I was not casual.
For me Vaness had the attraction of a theorem, and I was looking rather deeply into him
and Miss Monroy.
That girl had charm. She came, I think, from Baltimore, with a strain in her, they said, of
old Southern French blood. Tall and what is known as willowy, with dark chestnut hair,
very broad, dark eyebrows, very soft, quick eyes, and a pretty mouth,--when she did not
accentuate it with lip-salve,--she had more sheer quiet vitality than any girl I ever saw. It
was delightful to watch her dance, ride, play tennis. She laughed with her eyes; she talked