The Malefactor HTML version
I.3. A Student Of Character
Left alone, Wingrave walked for several minutes up and down the room, his hands
behind him, his head bent. He walked, not restlessly, but with measured footsteps. His
mind was fixed steadfastly upon the one immediate problem of his own future. His
interview with Rocke had unsettled--to a certain extent unnerved--him. Was this freedom
for which he had longed so passionately, this return into civilized life, to mean simply the
exchange of an iron-barrel cell for a palace whose outer gates were as hopelessly locked,
even though the key was of gold! Freedom! Was it after all an illusion? Was his to be the
hog's paradise of empty delights; were the other worlds indeed forbidden? He moved
abruptly to the window and threw it open. Below was Piccadilly, brilliant with May
sunshine, surging with life. Motors and carriages, omnibuses and hansoms, were all
jostled together in a block; the pavements were thronged with a motley and ever-hurrying
crowd. It seemed to him, accustomed to the callous and hopeless appearance of a less
happy tribe, that the faces of these people were all aflame with the joy of the springtime.
The perfume from the great clusters of yellow daffodils and violets floated up from the
flower sellers' baskets below; the fresh, warm air seemed to bring him poignant memories
of crocus-starred lawns, of trim beds of hyacinths, of the song of birds, of the perfume of
drooping lilac. Grim and motionless, as a figure of fate, Wingrave looked down from his
window, with cold, yet discerning eyes. He was still an alien, a denizen in another world
from that which flowed so smoothly and pleasantly below. It was something to which he
did not belong, which he doubted, indeed, if ever again he could enter. He had no part in
it, no share in that vigorous life, whose throbbings he could dimly feel, though his own
heart was beating to a slower and a very different tune. They were his fellows in name
only. Between him and them stood the judgment of--Rocke!
The evil chances of the world are many! It was whilst his thoughts traveled in this fashion
that the electric landaulette of Lady Ruth Barrington glided round the corner from St.
James' Street, and joined in the throng of vehicles slowly making their way down
Piccadilly. His attention was attracted first by the white and spotless liveries of the
servants--the form of locomotion itself was almost new to him. Then he saw the woman
who leaned back amongst the cushions. She was elegantly dressed; she wore no veil; she
did not look a day more than thirty. She was attractive, from the tips of her patent shoes,
to the white bow which floated on the top of her lace parasol; a perfectly dressed,
perfectly turned out woman. She had, too, the lazy confident air of a woman sure of
herself and her friends. She knew nothing of the look which flashed down upon her from
the window overhead.
Wingrave turned away with a little gasp; a half-stifled exclamation had crept out from
between his teeth. His cheeks seemed paler than ever, and his eyes unnaturally bright.
Nevertheless, he was completely master of himself. On the table was a large deed box of
papers, which Rocke had left for his inspection. From its recesses he drew out a smaller
box, unlocked it with a key from his chain, and emptied its sole contents--a small packet