Stephen Hudson.

Richard Kurt online

. (page 1 of 30)
Online LibraryStephen HudsonRichard Kurt → online text (page 1 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Stephen Hudson




3 1822 01017 5479









M. P.







ADA KURT'S straight, black-clad figure was deeply sunk in a
softly cushioned arm-chair. As her brother Richard entered
the drawing-room she, with some difficulty, was dispensing tea
to her younger sister, a bright schoolgirl of seventeen, whose hair,
in a long thick plait, reached to her waist. Richard had a special
affection for Olivia, due perhaps to his being ten years older, and,
while she helped Ada with the heavy silver tea-kettle, she stole
a shy, subdued glance at him. He noticed her naturally happy
face was suffused and stained with the ready tears of childhood,
and he felt how grateful such relief would have been to himself,
dry-eyed ever since the telegram announced his mother's death.

Events had crowded swiftly on one another in the last forty-
eight hours. As sometimes happens in times of sudden change
or rapid development, a chasm of ages seemed to lie between him
and his life at Ouchy. It was as though he had traversed great
distances, and behind and beyond, time appeared to stretch
indefinite and remote.

At his heart lay an indescribable oppression. This gulf between
him and the past was unbridged by the hurried sequence of those
necessary acts which had filled the two intervening days. The
happening of every hour filled his memory with vivid detail,
crowding out everything unconnected with his mother's death.
His confused arrival in the fog the crowded station the friendly
porter, the home-coming and the ringing of the bell, the hushed
whisper of the servant, the very departure of the cabman, had
burnt in upon his mind an ineffaceable memory which, like a scar,
disfigured his mental outlook and made of existence a dream and
of himself an echo. When he thought at all his mind distorted
into unnecessary ugliness the harmless movements and actions
that the business of the living demanded.

His father had met him on his arrival and had shown the lack

of understanding to which Richard was accustomed, asking his

son if he wished to visit the death-chamber. The latter had replied

with a " No " the curtness of which would have been tempered



had he realised its effect. He saw his mother too clearly living
to permit the destruction of an illusion which time alone could
with gradual mercy dispel, and he shrank from seeing that which
was no more her whom he had greatly loved.

A kindly word from his father a glance of sympathy, a mere
pressure from the hand which had lain so heavily on him all these
years, might have opened the floodgates of Richard's heart to
him suffering the agony of one who for the moment thinks he
is deprived of all in life. But Mr Kurt had never understood his
son, and at this poignant moment his attitude of cold aloofness
struck at Richard's very soul like the thrust of a traitor's

At the funeral he had avoided the expressions of sympathy,
shrinking away from the crowd of mourners whose conventional
phrases his imagination interpreted as veiled reproaches for un-
filial conduct. These people, many of them mere social acquaint-
ances, were entirely ignorant of his shortcomings, and, had they
known these, their indifferent opinion would in any case have
been more lenient than his nature would allow him to suppose or
desire. To his morbid sensitiveness a word, a look, became a
blow. And how he suffered from the singing of the hymns and
the funeral flowers ! Now he was in the familiar drawing-room
with his mother's portrait looking down on him the picture he
had always known, painted when he was a baby almost, which
in his boyhood and longer was the one thing he cared for of all
his home contained.

His mind at this moment was in a condition so susceptible
that the sound of Ada's shrill voice caused a violent start so
violent that he half fell back against someone who had noiselessly
entered the room. It was his father.

Ada had said : " How is Elinor ? " Father and son exchanged
glances but no word passed, and Ada continued : " Do have a
cup of tea, papa. I know you must want it."

Ada was a young woman who combined a talent for interference
and tactless speech with an iconoclastic disregard of other people's
feelings. Superficially sharp, she allowed herself an indulgence
in spiteful remarks which belied her fundamental kindness of
heart. She accompanied a practical and severe manner with
acts and words of astonishing levity, which shocked strangers and
were a constant source of embarrassment to her family.

It was not her fault that Mr Kurt entered at just that moment,
but it was characteristic of her to add her small weight to Richard's
load of remorseful sorrow. He knew that his wife's name had,


since the quarrel, been barely if at all mentioned in the family,
and he felt the terrible discordance of its sudden interposition at
such a time. Must every chance circumstance, every luckless
word, conspire to widen the breach between him and his father ?
Dare he never hope for it to be healed ? Could not even their
dear one's death bring them together ? These thoughts came
upon him in an incoherent rush as he mechanically took a cup
of tea. There was a brief and pregnant silence. Then Ada's
voice smote upon it.

There are people who seem to think that tension can be
relieved by purposeless and irrelevant speech. Ada was one
of these.

" Who's going to reply to all those ? " She pointed to a great
heap of envelopes. "I suppose Olivia and I will have to."

Richard sat helpless.

" I dare say Richard will assist you."

His father's tone was not sarcastic, but to Richard his words
were always suspect irrationally so, but this came of the years
of estrangement.

" Certainly I will do so if the girls wish," he said simply.

As he spoke there entered the room a person whom he rose to
meet with a certain deference ; this was his uncle, his father's
younger brother.

Two brothers could hardly offer a greater contrast than William
and Frederick Kurt. William was considerably above middle
height, slight and well proportioned. He wore a short, square-
cut beard which, originally red, had turned gradually, with years,
to a golden-grey. The hair, though thinned, was yet uncommonly
plentiful for a man approaching sixty, and curled away from its
central parting in large, crisp, grey -brown waves above a forehead
unusually high and broad and white. The eyes, nearly always
averted save for swift glances, were dark and small and very
piercing ; the mouth was intensely flexible, with full but not thick
red lips showing through the hair. When he spoke he had a way
of turning his head sideways. The habitual pose was that of
concentrated attention. One felt that nothing escaped him.
The arms were usually held behind the back, one hand resting
easily in the other ; occasionally one would be used sparingly
for gesture ; the hands were noticeable, they were slender and
symmetrical, with long fingers, and were covered with red hair.


William Kurt rose as his brother entered and went to meet him,
and the two stood talking for a moment in low tones. Thus one
could best observe the difference in height, build and gesture.
Frederick was short, of square stout build, clean-shaved but for a
trifle of whisker. His dark grey hair was thicker, the curls were
closer, the lips thinner. The eyes were of lighter colour and the
pose lacked William's grace. The head was equally small and
well shaped, but the forehead was wanting in distinction, and the
neck was thick. The one pronounced thing about the man was
a look of firmness and decision ; in his voice, in his manner of
standing, in his look of contemptuous inattention, one read self-
confidence and self-esteem. He seemed the embodiment of
dogmatic strength, an epitome of self-reliance.

There was an indefinable foreign air about the two difficult to
analyse or describe. Apart from the readiness with which they
dropped into French, German or Italian, there was nothing in
manner, expression or gesture which one could identify as un-
English. In spite of this it permeated their being and caused
in both brothers a certain lack of conformity which drew
attention to them. This was heightened, in the case of William,
by a natural distinction of appearance, by the carrying of the
shapely head, and by a manner which to women was caressing
and to men courteous and urbane.

As they exchanged low-spoken words each seemed to avoid
the other's eyes with a noticeable persistence.

There was no purpose in this. It was a habit, significant only
to those who seek that welcome responsiveness which expression
gives. In each man's case it was the unconscious symbol of an
habitual reserve, enabling him to mask his feelings and protect
his heart against sentiment or appeal. The brothers had for
each other a love passing that of women. Yet at this moment of
almost tragic intensity, from no single outward act, gesture or
expression could any stranger have imagined the passionate
sympathy that united them.


In the shadows of the large London drawing-room, the obscurity
of which was accentuated by the disposal of furniture and screens,
cabinets and palms, in the mistaken taste of the period, all the
members of the family were now assembled, their forms dimly
outlined in the recesses. Mrs Kurt had always disliked bright


illuminations, and the use of wall brackets was restricted to
occasions of dinner-parties or receptions.

The three electric lamps, heavily shaded, hardly did more than
cause a fitful halo in their immediate neighbourhood. One of
them upon the table where the tea things were laid illuminated
Ada's small hands and lap, but left her face and figure a vaguely
distinguishable outline reddened on the side near the fire. The
other girl was whispering to Eichard in a far corner by the grand
piano ; Mr Kurt stood with bis back to the fire. A letter he was
holding rustled. He spoke, and again Richard started, waiting
motionless and expectant, listening intently. His uncle had
joined the silent group and stood by Olivia, stroking her hair.

" Children," his father said, " I wanted to tell you that your
mother left no will. She had as I think you all know nothing
to leave you but the memory of her love and such few personal
belongings jewellery, I mean, and knick-knacks which later on
you girls shall divide. This letter ! " he paused and choked back
the sob that rose in his throat " with the thoughtfulness she
always had for me for you all she left in her writing-table
drawer. It contains little almost nothing that I need read to
you. Some day when I am gone some of you may care to
read it. It is a record of the love the unceasing constant love
that was was always which will be with me till the end.
Besides this she only adds some wishes which needless to say
I shall respect. She wants for you, Ada her eldest daughter,
to have her pearls my marriage present to her and to you,
Richard " he paused again, but this time there was an evident
reluctance in his voice, an effort to say something unpleasant to
himself " she leaves her portrait with these words : ' It may
serve to remind my boy of how much he once loved his mother.'
That is all." The words came spasmodically, almost gaspingly
his emotion was evident impressive, moving.

Richard tried to speak but the words would not come. He
just remained there gazing stupidly towards his father, who,
with an oblique glance in his son's direction, left the room.

His uncle looked at him. The clean-cut, rather hard face
softened. Bending, he put his arm about his nephew's shoulder.
" Never mind ; be a man ! " he said. There was kindly sympathy
in the tone and Richard looked up gratefully.

"My father never understood," he answered sadly ; "he never

Frederick Kurt pursed his lips, sighing through the closed teeth,
then slowly followed his brother downstairs.



" What are you going to do, Richard ? " The question came,
of course, from Ada. " Are you going back to Elinor, or will she
come and join you ? "

" I don't know, Ada : I've had no time to think. And I must
talk to the Governor and see what he wishes."

" I don't think he cares one way or the other. You can't very
well expect him to, can you ? "

The shrill biting tone was more than Richard could bear.

" Won't you ever learn to keep quiet, Ada ? " There was a note
of anger in his voice. " Can't you see that your questions are
annoying me '*. How can I have any plans yet ? "

" Oh, well I'll say nothing. I don't see what you've got to
be so touchy for. You resent it when one takes no interest, and
when one does you're offended. He's pretty hard to please, isn't
he, Olivia ? " She turned to her sister, who was looking over the
constantly increasing pile of condolence letters.

Olivia was fond of Richard and felt for him ; she knew he was

" I think you're beastly to him, Ada," she said, " that's what
I think. Dear old Dick, let's go and leave her alone."

His schoolgirl sister went over to him and patted his head.
He kissed her and put his arm round her.

" Oh, Ada doesn't mean it, Olivia. It's only because her
nerves are upset, I know that. I was rather rude, and I want to
talk to you both. God knows when I shall see you again." He
spoke gloomily, gazing into the fire. " Has the Governor given
you any idea of what you're going to do ? "

" Well, Olivia will go back to Dresden, that's certain, anyhow."
Olivia made a face at her sister. " As for me, I shall have a lot
to see to here, at present settling up things."

Richard wondered what "settling up" Ada would do. He
could think of nothing but household bills, which he thought the
housekeeper attended to.

" And then perhaps we shall go abroad."

" Why not to the villa ? " suggested Richard.

" Oh, no poor papa said he could never bear it again
now. He said that this morning after breakfast and again
after the funeral. He wouldn't be able to face it alone, nor
could I."

Richard considered a moment. " Well, I don't know. When


a man has a habit, with no resources except that and business, it
seems to me he is bound to miss it."

" That's just like you, Richard, and your everlasting carping
at papa." Ada became violent, as she always did if her ideas or
suggestions were called into question. " Of course we know
what you mean, don't we, Olivia ? But you're quite mistaken.
Papa doesn't care a pin for the gambling, really. He only does it
to pass the time down there. You always think it's so amusing
being stuck down at Monte Carlo all the winter for months and
months. But it isn't, 1 can tell you, and, if it hadn't been for
darling mother, papa would never have gone there. I'm jolly
glad he is going to give it up."

" So shall I be, if he does," said Richard. " For his sake, not

" Why for his sake especially ? "

" Because that sort of thing kills in the end. No man can
stand burning the candle at both ends indefinitely. Something's
got to break. The Governor's a hard worker and he's a nervous,
highly -strung man. He's up at seven, worrying about business
and writing letters till he goes to the rooms, then lunch and letters
again, then back to the rooms till they close, except for dinner,
and every day the same thing. I tell you no one can stand it.
Mother couldn't- she would be with us still but for that."

Ada said nothing, she knew it was true. She had seen it going
on for the last ten years. In spite of her outward apparent hard-
ness she had strong affections. She had been her mother's
constant companion, her nurse, ever since her health had broken.
How often had Ada begged her not to go to the rooms. None
knew better than Ada that the vile atmosphere, the excitement of
that accursed place, had shortened her mother's life.

Her brother suddenly remembered Olivia. " I forgot the kid
was there," he said. " Don't think I'm running the Governor
down, dear." Richard had a certain sense of duty to his younger
sister, whom he looked upon as a baby, and the thought that his
careless words might create a wrong impression in her mind
troubled him. " I'm not in the Governor's good books, I never
have been, but he has always been the kindest and best of fathers
to you girls, and it is not for me to criticise him. All I mean is,
that if he chucks it he'll be wise, and I hope he will for his own
sake and for yours."

Richard had an opinion, which he did not mention, of the
influence the Monte Carlo atmosphere was likely to have on young
impressionable girls. It was not without misgiving that he had


noticed the deterioration in Ada's character, increasingly mani-
fested by her language and her manners. His rare visits to the
family villa, when he had occasionally gone to spend a few days
with his mother, had had for him a feverish attraction. He had
experienced, to his undoing, the glamour and fascination of the
gambler's paradise. He had sought and found there, during the
numbered days while his resources lasted, an antidote to ennui
which his intelligence recognised as an insidious and dangerous
poison. At heart he condemned the attractions to which he
yielded, and generally despised the life he lived as much as the
people amongst whom he spent it.

When Richard went upstairs to dress for dinner he found in
his room the letter he had expected.

With a sinking of the heart he tore open the large square

DEAR RICHARD [it ran], You must have had an awful time,
you might have sent me a line. I have no idea what is going to
happen. Has anything changed, or is this sort of existence to go

Gaston left yesterday his leave was up. He's awfully keen
on our going to Brussels where he's in the F.O. We might as well
do that as anything else if your charming father is, as I fully
expect, not going to stump up.

All the old cats are awfully down on me. I am sure I don't
know what I've done but I don't care. I'm not very well, and
am getting awfully sick of this place. All the decent people are
gone or going. I write because you asked me to, but there's
nothing to say. ELINOR.

As he folded the letter, meditating his reply, Richard's thoughts
reverted to Ouchy. He could see the capricious, black-haired,
graceful Elinor exposed to the spiteful insinuations of those
amorphous females whose chief delectation consisted in disparag-
ing those whose attractions they envied. A glow of aft'ection
possessed him. The prospect of what lay before him, the inter-
view with his father, the ill-natured references to his wife he
knew he would have to swallow, caused a reaction towards her
that the coldness and querulousness of her letter only increased.
" Poor little woman," he thought, " all alone there without me
to protect her," and, as he finished dressing, he pictured Elinor
sitting in solitary elegance at her table in the Beau Rivage


The dining-rooin at Bruton Street was all that remained of
a fine Adam interior. Nineteenth-century requirements had
necessitated the closing of a bow window and its consequent
lighting from above, but its original beauty of proportion as well
as its chief decorative feature, the dull-gold Corinthian pillars
which supported the dome-shaped ceiling, had not been interfered
with. The room was reached from the open hall, wainscoted in
the modern style with mahogany, by a corridor with bookcases
on either side and a writing-table exposed to draughts. This
was called by Mr Kurt the library.

It was here that Richard found himself after a dinner which
had not raised his spirits. His sisters had left the table as quickly
as they could, It had never been his father's custom to linger
over his wine, of which he drank sparingly. Even on occasions
of entertainment his habit was too austere to permit of that
mellow kindling of the heart which a good glass of wine can effect.
It was characteristic of the man that his excesses had not the
human touch that inclines the critic to indulgence.

Father, uncle and son took their coffee in silence. Richard
helped himself to a glass of brandy, regretting the liqueur-glasses
were of the old thimble-sized variety instead of the modern wine-
tasters he was accustomed to ; he felt a delicacy about replenish-
ing his glass. All three were smokers ; there was some comfort
in that. At last he saw by his father's face that he was preparing
to speak ; Richard settled himself in a large leather arm-chair and

"I want to say as little as possible, Richard." His father's
voice was measured. " I am glad your uncle can hear what I
have to say. He feels as I do about you your future concerns
him almost as it does me. He has felt for me and for your
mother in the terrible mortifications and disappointments we
have suffered on your account. I don't want to go over old
ground. I desire on this day to bury the past. I want to try
and believe that at last now you will realise all the sorrow
you have caused us, and that by the grave of your mother" he
stopped and regarded Richard fixedly, then continued " by the
grave of your mother you will at last determine to mend your
ways. From the time you first went to school, as a boy of eight,
you have been a constant source of "

" I thought I beg your pardon I thought you were not going


back to the past." Richard's voice sounded harsh, provocative.
In reality he was choking back the emotion his father's words
had aroused.

" I did say so and I meant it," his father continued, " but, to
make you understand all your poor mother and I have suffered,
I must refer to the early beginning of your career. However, I
will leave the past."

Again he stopped speaking, and with a deliberation that
seemed to Richard astonishing in a man who protested so much
feeling he lighted a fresh cigarette.

" Out of consideration for your feelings I will not allude to
the heartless wickedness of your behaviour to the mother who
all her life "

" Listen, sir. If you say another word about my mother I
shall leave the room. I don't want now to say anything to
distress you, but I can't stand your mentioning her and I

Richard's voice rose as he spoke ; he looked defiantly at his

" I am well aware, Richard, that no words of mine are
likely to affect you. I had little hope of it when I determined
at great personal sacrifice at this, the saddest moment of
my life to try once more for the last time to appeal to
you. I see that, as always, you consider yourself a victim
a martyr."

" Why do you say that ? By what right do you insult me ?
Because I am dependent on you, I suppose."

The violent, impulsive words followed each other in quick
staccato tones.

His father's voice took a resigned, pained inflection.

" Yes, Richard, you are dependent on me, and you can thank
God that I am your father instead of another who would long
ago have washed his hands of you."

" You talk to me as if I had been a criminal. What have I
done ? Why do you treat me like this ? Anyhow I'm not
going to listen to you any more. Talk to my uncle talk to my
sisters don't talk to me. You hate me you've always hated
me ever since I was born. All I ask you is to leave me in peace
I have had enough."

The excited, angry words welled up. He felt outraged to his
very soul. His impetuous feelings were uppermost. His over-
charged nerves were on edge. He flung out of the room and up
the stairs.



MY DARLING ELINOR, There is nothing to be done with
these people. I only want one thing, to get away from them all.
Of course the Governor had to jaw, on this day of all others.
Equally, of course, I got in a rage. Consequence, bathos. Now I
suppose I'm hopelessly in the cart. I know you'll blame me for
being such a fool, but I couldn't help it. Anyhow, I've had all
I can stand. Get ready to join me in Brussels. It's an easy
night journey via Bale. I'll leave to-morrow. Wire what day
you'll be there and if you want cash or can manage. Be as
economical as you can, money's very scarce, and this dishes every
chance of my raising any.

Dear little girl, I am so sorry for all the trouble I cause you.
News when we meet. You know you're all I care about.

As ever, yours, RICHARD.

Taking the letter he knocked at his sister's door across the

Online LibraryStephen HudsonRichard Kurt → online text (page 1 of 30)