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- The Point of View - 10/18 -
Count Roumovski did not change his position by the mantelpiece and he kept still as a bronze statue as he spoke in a courteous tone:
"It is not a trouble at all," he began, gravely, "on the contrary, it is a great joy and honor for me. I will state the facts immediately. I understand that for a short while you have been engaged to be married to Miss Stella Rawson, the niece of the respected English clergyman, the Reverend Ebley--"
"Pardon me," interrupted Mr. Medlicott acidly, "but I do not see how my private affairs can interest you, sir, I cannot--"
But the host in turn interrupted him.
"If you will be so good as to listen patiently, you will find that this matter is of vital importance--may I proceed?"
Mr. Medlicott bowed; what more could he do? Count Roumovski went on:
"I understand that Miss Rawson never showed very strong affection for you or great desire for this union--so what I have to ask now is, if you, as a gentleman, will release her from her promise to you and set her free."
"Upon my word, sir, this is too much," Mr. Medlicott exclaimed, starting to his feet, "by what authority do you say these preposterous things? You were only introduced to Miss Rawson and myself to-night. You must be mad!"
"No, I am quite sane. And I say them upon the best authority," Count Roumovski continued, "because I love Miss Rawson myself, and I am deeply honored by believing that in return she loves me--not you at all. Therefore, it is common sense to ask you to release her, and let her be happy with the person she prefers--is it not so?"
Eustace Medlicott had grown white with anger and astonishment as he listened, and now broke in hotly, forgetful of his intoning voice or anything but his outraged dignity.
"When have you had the opportunity to try and undermine the faith of my betrothed, may I ask? Supposing you are saying this seriously and not as some ill-timed jest."
Count Roumovski lifted his eyebrows a little and looked almost with pity at his adversary. "We are not talking in the heroic manner," he replied, unmoved by the other's taunt, "we are, I presume, two fairly intelligent men discussing this affair together--there has been no question of undermining. Miss Rawson and myself found we understood each other very soon after we first met. Surely, you must realize, sir, that love cannot be commanded, it will not come or go at one's bidding. These ridiculous bonds of convention, holding to a promise given when the spirit to keep it is no longer there, can ruin people's lives."
Mr. Medlicott drew himself up, he was not quite so tall as the Russian, but of no mean height, and his intense, ascetic face, emaciated to extreme leanness, now reddened with passion, while the veins stood out upon his high, narrow forehead. He was always very irritable when crossed, and his obstinate nature was strongly combative.
"You forget, sir," he said angrily, "you are insulting my honor."
"Not the least in the world--you do not understand the point," Count Roumovski returned calmly. "Listen for a minute--and I will explain. If Miss Rawson were already your wife I should be, and you would have the right to try and kill me, did your calling permit of that satisfaction of gentlemen, because there is a psychological and physiological reason involved in that case, producing the instinct in man which he is not perhaps conscious of, that he wishes to be sure his wife's legitimate offspring are his own--out of this instinct, civilization has built up the idea of a man's honor--which you can see has a basic principle of sense and justice."
Mr. Medlicott with difficulty restrained himself from interrupting and the Russian went on.
"The situation of betrothed is altogether different: in it there have merely been promises exchanged, promises, for the most part, which no man or woman can honestly engage with any certainty to keep, because feeling toward the other is not within his or her control--both are promising upon a sentiment, not a reality."
"I totally disagree with you," Eustace Medlicott answered angrily, "when men and women make promises to one another they should have wills strong enough to keep them."
"For what sensible reason?" Count Roumovski asked. "In a case where the happiness of both is involved, and where no damage has been incurred by either--"
Mr. Medlicott clasped his hands convulsively but he did not reply- -so the Russian went on:
"Surely, you must see that a woman should be free to marry--that is, to give herself and her power to become a mother where she loves--not to be forced to bestow these sacred gifts when her spirit is unwilling--just because she has made the initial mistake of affiancing herself to a man, often through others' influence, who she discovers afterward is distasteful to her. Cannot you realize that it is wise for himself as well as for her that this man release her, before a life of long misery begins for them both?"
Mr. Medlicott never analyzed reasons, and never listened to other people's logic, and if he had any of his own he was too angry to use it. He was simply conscious now that a foreigner had insulted him and appeared to have stolen the affections of his betrothed, and his sacred calling precluded all physical retaliation--which, at the moment, was the only kind that would have given him any satisfaction. He prepared to stalk furiously from the room after he should receive an answer to an all-important question.
"The whole thing is disgraceful," he said, "and I shall inform Miss Rawson's uncle and aunt of your highly insulting words to me, that they may guard her from further importunity upon your part. But I should like to know, in fairness, how far you are stating you have been able to persuade my fiancee to agree to your view?"
"I am sorry you should have become so heated and angry," Count Roumovski returned, "because it stops all sensible discussion. I deeply regret having been forced to inflict pain upon you, but if you would give yourself time to think calmly you would see that, however unfortunate the fact may be for you of Miss Rawson's affections having become fixed on me--these things are no one's fault and beyond human control--Miss Rawson has left the breaking off of her engagement to you in my hands, and has decided that she desires to marry me, as I desire to marry her, as soon as she is free."
"I refuse to listen to another word," Mr. Medlicott flashed, "and I warn you, sir, that I will give no such freedom at your bidding- -on the contrary, I shall have my marriage with Miss Rawson solemnized immediately, and try, if there is a word of truth in your preposterous assertion that she loves you, to bring her back to a proper sense of her duty to me and to God, repressing her earthly longings by discipline and self-denial, the only true methods for the saving of her soul. And I and her natural guardians, her uncle and her aunt, will take care that you never see her again."
Count Roumovski raised his eyebrows once more and prepared to light a cigar.
"It is a pity you will not discuss this peacefully, sir," he said, "or apparently even think about it yourself with common sense. If you would do so, you would begin by asking yourself what God gave certain human beings certain attributes for," he blew a few whiffs of smoke, "whether to be wasted and crushed out by the intolerance of others,--or whether to be tended and grow to the highest, as flowers grow with light and air and water."
"What has that got to do with the case?" asked Mr. Medlicott, tapping his foot uneasily.
"Everything," went on the Russian, mildly, "you, I believe, are a priest, and therefore should be better able to expound your Deity's meaning than I, a layman--but you have evidently not the same point of view--mine is always to look at the facts of a case denuded of prejudice--because the truth is the thing to aim at--"
"You would suggest that I am not aiming at the truth," the clergyman interrupted, trembling now with anger, so that he fiercely grasped the back of a high chair, "your words are preposterous, sir."
"Not at all," Count Rournovski continued. "Look frankly at things; you have just announced that you would constitute yourself judge of what is for Miss Rawson's salvation."
"Leave her name out, I insist," the other put in hotly.
"To be concrete, unfortunately, I cannot do so," the Russian said. "I must speak of this lady we are both interested in--pray, try to listen to me calmly, sir, for we are here for the settling of a matter which concerns the happiness of our three lives."
"I do not admit for a moment that you have the right to speak at all," Mr. Medlicott returned, but his adversary went on quietly.
"You must have remarked that Miss Rawson possesses beauty of form, sweet and tender flesh, soft coloring, and a look of health and warmth and life. All these charms tend to create in man a passionate physical love. That is cause and effect. For the sake of the present argument we will, for the moment, leave out all more important questions of the soul and things mental and spiritual. Well, who gave her these attributes? Did you or I--or even her parents, consciously? Or did the Supreme Being, whom you call God, endow her so? Admitted that He did--have you, then, or anyone else, the right to crush out the result of His endowment in a woman; crush her joy of them, force her into a life where their possession is looked upon as a temptation? Seek to marry her-- remember that marriage physically means being certainly actuated to do so by their attraction--and yet believing that you sin each time you allow them to influence you." Count Roumovski's level voice took on a note of deep emotion and his blue eyes gleamed.
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