Stephen walked on at his father’s side, listening to stories he had heard before, hearing again the names of the scattered and dead revellers who had been the companions of his father’s youth. And a faint sickness sighed in his heart.
He recalled his own equivocal position in Belvedere, a free boy, a leader afraid of his own authority, proud and sensitive and suspicious, battling against the squalor of his life and against the riot of his mind. The letters cut in the stained wood of the desk stared upon him, mocking his bodily weakness and futile enthusiasms and making him loathe himself for his own mad and filthy orgies. The spittle in his throat grew bitter and foul to swallow and the faint sickness climbed to his brain so that for a moment he closed his eyes and walked on in darkness.
He could still hear his father’s voice—
—When you kick out for yourself, Stephen—as I daresay you will one of these days—remember, whatever you do, to mix with gentlemen. When I was a young fellow I tell you I enjoyed myself. I mixed with fine decent fellows. Everyone of us could do something. One fellow had a good voice, another fellow was a good actor, another could sing a good comic song, another was a good oarsman or a good racket player, another could tell a good story and so on. We kept the ball rolling anyhow and enjoyed ourselves and saw a bit of life and we were none the worse of it either. But we were all gentlemen, Stephen—at least I hope we were—and bloody good honest Irishmen too. That’s the kind of fellows I want you to associate with, fellows of the right kidney. I’m talking to you as a friend, Stephen. I don’t believe a son should be afraid of his father. No, I treat you as your grandfather treated me when I was a young chap. We were more like brothers than father and son. I’ll never forget the first day he caught me smoking. I was standing at the end of the South Terrace one day with some maneens like myself and sure we thought we were grand fellows because we had pipes stuck in the corners of our mouths. Suddenly the governor passed. He didn’t say a word, or stop even. But the next day, Sunday, we were out for a walk together and when we were coming home he took out his cigar case and said:—By the by, Simon, I didn’t know you smoked, or something like that.—Of course I tried to carry it off as best I could.—If you want a good smoke, he said, try one of these cigars. An American captain made me a present of them last night in Queenstown.