The Meaning of Night

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

Book: The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox Read Free Book Online
Authors: Michael Cox
it.

    ‘Dinner at Mivart’s, tomorrow night,’ I said.

    And then we shook hands.

    I returned home in meditative mood, questioning the wisdom of confiding in Le
    Grice, but still determined to go through with it. I shrank, though, from the prospect of
    confessing what had been done to Lucas Trendle in Cain-court, and what I was planning
    to do now that I had proved myself capable of murder. I was sure, when I had revealed
    my true history to Le Grice, and set before him the calculated viciousness of our mutual
    acquaintance, Phoebus Daunt, that I would secure his full-hearted sympathy and support.
    But would even his staunch soul be put to the test by the knowledge of what I had been
    driven to do? And could I, even in the name of friendship, ask him to share this burden?
    Musing thus, I arrived in Temple Street and mounted the stairs.

    Once in my rooms, I unwrapped the package Le Grice had given to me. As I’d
    guessed, it contained a book – a small octavo in dark green cloth, untrimmed, bearing the
    title Rosa Mundi. Taking up my paper-knife, I slowly began to cut away the edges, and
    opened out the title-page.

    ROSA MUNDI;

    and

    Other Poems

    P. Rainsford Daunt

    Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem:

    Dulce est desipere in loco. Hor. Odes, iv. viii

    London: Edward Moxon, Dover-street.

    MDCCC-LV?

    The fly-leaf had been inscribed by the author: ‘To my friend, E.G., with fondest
    memories of old times, and hope of early reunion’. Beneath the inscription was a couplet,
    ‘When all is known, and naught remains,/But Truth released from falsehood’s chains’,
    which I later discovered was a quotation from one of the poems printed in the volume. If
    there was meaning in it, I could see none.

    I threw the book down in disgust, but could not help staring at the open fly-leaf.
    To see that hand again, after so many years! It had not changed a great deal: I recognized
    the idiosyncratic flourish of the initial ‘T’ of ‘Truth’, the intricate descenders (the bane of
    his teachers at school), the fussiness of it. But what memory had been aroused by it? Of
    Latin Alcaics and hexameters, exchanged and criticized? Or of something else?

    The next evening, as agreed, I met Le Grice at Mivart’s.?

    He was awkward and ill at ease, coughing nervously, and constantly running his
    finger around the inside of his shirt collar, as if it was too tight. As we lit our cigars I
    asked him if he was still willing to hear what I had come to tell him.

    ‘Absolutely, old boy. Ready and waiting. Fire away.’

    ‘Of course I may count on your complete – your complete, mind – discretion?’

    He laid down his cigar, positively bristling with indignation.

    ‘When I give my word to some fellow at the club,’ he said, with impressive
    seriousness, ‘then he may expect me to keep it, no questions asked. When I give my word
    to you, therefore, there can be not the slightest doubt – not the slightest – that I shall be
    inclined, under any provocation, to betray whatever confidence you may honour me with.
    Hope I’ve made myself clear.’ Having delivered himself of this short, but emphatic,
    speech, he picked up his cigar again and sent me a look that plainly said, ‘There: I’ve said
    what needed to be said: now contradict me if you dare.’

    No, he would never betray me, as others had done; he would be true to his word.
    But I had resolved that there would be a limit to what I would tell him – not because I
    distrusted him, or even that I feared he might repudiate our friendship when he learned
    what I had done, and what was now in my mind; but because there was mortal danger in
    knowing all, to which I would not expose him for all the world.

    Calling for another bottle, I began to tell him, in outline, what I now propose to
    tell you, my unknown reader, in full and complete form – the extraordinary
    circumstances of my birth; the character and designs of my enemy; and the futile passion
    that has made it

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