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A life of comparatively innocent gayety could not be attractive to Mr. Redmain, but at first he accompanied his wife everywhere. No one knew better than he that not an atom of love had mingled with her motives in marrying him; but for a time he seemed bent on showing her that she needed not have been so averse to him. Whether this was indeed his design or not, I imagine he enjoyed the admiration she roused: for why should not a man take pride in the possession of a fine woman as well as in that of a fine horse? To be sure, Mrs. Redmain was not quite in the same way, nor quite so much his, as his horses were, and might one day be a good deal less his than she was now; but in the mean time she was, I fancy, a pleasant break in the gathering monotony of his existence. As he got more accustomed to the sight of her in a crowd, however, and at the same time to her not very interesting company in private, when she took not the smallest pains to please him, he gradually lapsed into his former ways, and soon came to spend his evenings in company that made him forget his wife. He had loved her in a sort of a way, better left undefined, and had also, almost from the first, hated her a little; for, following her cousin's advice, she had appealed to him to save her, and, when he evaded her prayer, had addressed him in certain terms too appropriate to be agreeable, and too forcible to be forgotten. His hatred, however, if that be not much too strong a name, was neither virulent nor hot, for it had no inverted love to feed and embitter it. It was more a thing of his head than his heart, revealing itself mainly in short, acrid speeches, meant to be clever, and indubitably disagreeable. Nor did Hesper prove an unworthy antagonist in their encounters of polite Billingsgate: what she lacked in experience she made up in breeding. The common remark, generally false, about no love being lost, was in their case true enough, for there never had been any between them to lose. The withered rose-leaves have their sweetness yet, but what of the rotted peony? It was generally when Redmain had been longer than usual without seeing his wife that he said the worst things to her, as if spite had grown in absence; but that he should then be capable of saying such things as he did say, could be understood only by those who knew the man and his history.
Ferdinand Goldberg Redmain--parents with mean surroundings often give grand names to their children--was the son of an intellectually gifted laborer, who, rising first to be boss of a gang, began to take portions of contracts, and arrived at last, through one lucky venture after another, at having his estimate accepted and the contract given him for a rather large affair. The result was that, through his minute knowledge of details, his faculty for getting work out of his laborers, a toughness of heart and will that enabled him to screw wages to the lowest mark, and the judicious employment of inferior material, the contract paid him much too well for any good to come out of it. From that time, what he called his life was a continuous course of what he called success, and he died one of the richest dirt- beetles of the age, bequeathing great wealth to his son, and leaving a reputation for substantial worth behind him; hardly leaving it, I fancy, for surely he found it waiting him where he went. He had been guilty of a thousand meannesses, oppressions, rapacities, and some quiet rogueries, but none of them worse than those of many a man whose ultimate failure has been the sole cause of his excommunication by the society which all the time knew well enough what he was. Often had he been held up by would-be teachers as a pattern to aspiring youth of what might be achieved by unwavering attention to the main chance, combined with unassailable honesty: from his experience they would once more prove to a gaping world the truth of the maxim, the highest intelligible to a base soul, that "honesty is the best policy." With his money he left to his son the seeds of a varied meanness, which bore weeds enough, but curiously, neither avarice nor, within the bounds of a modest prudence, any unwillingness to part with money--a fact which will probably appear the stranger when I have told the following anecdote concerning a brother of the father, of whom few indeed mentioned in my narrative ever heard.
This man was a joiner, or working cabinet-maker, or something of the sort. Having one day been set by his master to repair for an old lady an escritoire which had been in her possession for a long time, he came to her house in the evening with a five-pound note of a country bank, which he had found in a secret drawer of the same, handing it to her with the remark that he had always found honesty the best policy. She gave him half a sovereign, and he took his leave well satisfied. He had been first to make inquiry, and had learned that the bank stopped payment many years ago. I can not help wondering, curious in the statistics of honesty, how many of my readers will be more amused than disgusted with the story. It is a great thing to come of decent people, and Ferdinand Goldberg Redmain must not be judged like one who, of honorable parentage, whether noble or peasant, takes himself across to the shady side of the road. Much had been against Redmain. I do not know of what sort his mother was, but from certain embryonic virtues in him, which could hardly have been his father's, I should think she must have been better than her husband. She died, however, while he was a mere child; and his father married, some said did not marry again. The boy was sent to a certain public school, which at that time, whatever it may or may not be now, was simply a hot-bed of the lowest vices, and in devil-matters Redmain was an apt pupil. There is fresh help for the world every time a youth starts clean upon manhood's race; his very being is a hope of cleansing: this one started as foul as youth could well be, and had not yet begun to repent. His character was well known to his associates, for he was no hypocrite, and Hosper's father knew it perfectly, and was therefore worse than he. Had Redmain had a daughter, he would never have given her to a man like himself. But, then, Mortimer was so poor, and Redmain was so very rich! Alas for the man who degrades his poverty by worshiping wealth! there is no abyss in hell too deep for him to find its bottom.
Mr. Redmain had no profession, and knew nothing of business beyond what was necessary for understanding whether his factor or steward, or whatever he called him, was doing well with his money--to that he gave heed. Also, wiser than many, he took some little care not to spend at full speed what life he had. With this view he laid down and observed certain rules in the ordering of his pleasures, which enabled him to keep ahead of the vice- constable for some time longer than would otherwise have been the case. But he is one who can never finally be outrun, and now, as Mr. Redmain was approaching the end of middle age, he heard plainly enough the approach of the wool-footed avenger behind him. Horrible was the inevitable to him, as horrible as to any; but it had not yet looked frightful enough to arrest his downward rush. In his better conditions--physical, I mean--whether he had any better moral conditions, I can not tell--he would laugh and say, "Gather the roses while you may"--heaven and earth! what roses!--but, in his worse, he maledicted everything, and was horribly afraid of hell. When in tolerable health, he laughed at the notion of such an out-of-the-way place, repudiating its very existence, and, calling in all the arguments urged by good men against the idea of an eternity of aimless suffering, used them against the idea of any punishment after death. Himself a bad man, he reasoned that God was too good to punish sin; himself a proud man, he reasoned that God was too high to take heed of him. He forgot the best argument he could have adduced--namely, that the punishment he had had in this life had done him no good; from which he might have been glad to argue that none would, and therefore none would be tried. But I suppose his mother believed there was a hell, for at such times, when from weariness he was less of an evil beast than usual, the old-fashioned horror would inevitably raise its dinosaurian head afresh above the slime of his consciousness; and then even his wife, could she have seen how the soul of the man shuddered and recoiled, would have let his brutality pass unheeded, though it was then at its worst, his temper at such times being altogether furious. There was no grace in him when he was ill, nor at any time, beyond a certain cold grace of manner, which he kept for ceremony, or where he wanted to please.
Happily, Mr. Redmain had one intellectual passion, which, poor thing as it was, and in its motive, most of its aspects, and almost all its tendencies, evil exceedingly, yet did something to delay that corruption of his being which, at the same time, it powerfully aided to complete: it was for the understanding and analysis of human evil--not in the abstract, but alive and operative. For the appeasement of this passion, he must render intelligible to himself, and that on his own exclusive theory of human vileness, the aims and workings of every fresh specimen of what he called human nature that seemed bad enough, or was peculiar enough to interest him. In this region of darkness he ranged like a discoverer--prowled rather, like an unclean beast of prey--ever and always on the outlook for the false and foul; acknowledging, it is true, that he was no better himself, but arrogating on that ground a correctness of judgment beyond the reach of such as, desiring to be better, were unwilling to believe in the utter badness of anything human. Like a lover, he would watch for the appearance of the vile motive, the self- interest, that "must be," he knew, at the heart of this or that deed or proceeding of apparent benevolence or generosity. Often, alas! the thing was provable; and, where he did not find, he was quick to invent; and, where he failed in finding or inventing, he not the less believed the bad motive was there, and followed the slightest seeming trail of the cunning demon only the more eagerly. What a smile was his when he heard, which truly he was not in the way to hear often, the praise of some good deed, or an ascription of high end to some endeavor of one of the vile race to which he belonged! Do those who abuse their kind actually believe they are of it? Do they hold themselves exceptions? Do they never reflect that it must be because such is their own nature, whether their accusation be true or false, that they know how to attribute such motives to their fellows? Or is it that, actually and immediately rejoicing in iniquity, they delight in believing it universal?
Quiet as a panther, Redmain was, I say, always in pursuit, if not of something sensual for himself, then of something evil in another. He would sit at his club, silent and watching, day after day, night after night, waiting for the chance that should cast light on some idea of detection, on some doubt, bewilderment, or conjecture. He would ask the farthest-off questions: who could tell what might send him into the track of discovery? He would give to the talk the strangest turns, laying trap after trap to ensnare the most miserable of facts, elevated into a desirable secret only by his hope to learn through it something equally valueless beyond it. Especially he delighted in discovering, or flattering himself he had discovered, the hollow full of dead men's bones under the flowery lawn of seeming goodness. Nor as yet had he, so far as he knew, or at least was prepared to allow, ever failed. And this he called the study of human nature, and quoted Pope. Truly, next to God, the proper study of mankind is man; but how shall a man that knows only the evil in himself, nor sees it hateful, read the thousandfold-compounded heart of his neighbor? To rake over the contents of an ash-pit, is not to study geology. There were motives in Redmain's own being, which he was not merely incapable of understanding, but incapable of seeing, incapable of suspecting.
The game had for him all the pleasure of keenest speculation; nor that alone, for, in the supposed discovery of the evil of another, he felt himself vaguely righteous.
One more point in his character I may not in fairness omit: he had naturally a strong sense of justice; and, if he exercised it but little in some of the relations of his life, he was none the less keenly alive to his own claims on its score; for chiefly he cried out for fair play on behalf of those who were wicked in similar fashion to himself. But, in truth, no one dealt so hardly with Redmain as his own conscience at such times when suffering and fear had awaked it.
So much for a portrait-sketch of the man to whom Mortimer had sold his daughter--such was the man whom Hesper, entirely aware that none could compel her to marry against her will, had, partly from fear of her father, partly from moral laziness, partly from reverence for the Moloch of society, whose priestess was her mother, vowed to love, honor, and obey! In justice to her, it must be remembered, however, that she did not and could not know of him what her father knew.
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