“With you, yes.” We mortals are often in greater peril of a fall when we trust in the cheerful temerity of an imagined strength. To a man standing upon the edge of a precipice the lands beneath seem faint and insignificant, and yet but a depth of air lies between him and the plain. Our frailties may seem pitiful, nay, impossible to us when we listen to noble music, or watch the sunrise on the mountains. The man who is exalted in the spirit lives in a clearer atmosphere, and wonders at the fog that may have drifted round him yesterday. He may even laugh at the alter ego framed of clay, and ask whether this soft-bodied, cringing thing could ever have answered to the name of “self.” Some such feeling of optimism took possession of Murchison that night. The words of his wife’s songs were in his brain; he heard her moving in the room above, and felt the dearness of her presence in the place. Everywhere he beheld the work of her hands—the curtains at the windows, the flowers in the bowls. Her photograph stood on the mantel-shelf, and he rose and looked at it, smiling at the eyes that smiled at him. Could he, the husband of such a woman, and the father of her children, be the mere creature of the juice of the grape? Was he no stronger than some sot at a street corner? He gazed at his own photograph that stood before the mirror, gazed at it critically, as though studying a strange face. The eyes looked straight at him, the mouth was firm, the jaw crossed by a deep shadow that betrayed no degenerate sloping of the chin. Was this the face of a man who was the victim of a lust? He smiled at the memory of his weaker self as a man smiles at a rival whom he can magnanimously pity. The pride of strength suggested the thought of proof. Old Porteus Carmagee had sent him this choice wine, and was he afraid of six bottles in a basket? Why not challenge this alter ego, this mean and treacherous caricature of his manhood, and prove in the grapple that he was the master of his earthly self? There was a combative stimulus in the thought that appealed to a man who had been an athlete. It fired the element of action in him, made him knit his muscles and expand his chest. Murchison looked at himself steadily in the mirror, held up his hand, and saw not the slightest tremor. He crossed the hall, entered the dining-room, and dragged the hamper from under the window-seat with something of the spirit of a Greek hero dragging some classic monster from its lair. Coolly and without flurry he carried the thing into the drawing-room and set it down on the little gate-legged table. He cut the cord, raised the lid, and let the musty fragrance of the lawyer’s cellar float out into the room. The simile of Pandora’s box did not occur to him. He put the straw aside, and pulled out a cobwebbed bottle from its case. His knife served him to break up the cork; he sniffed the wine’s bouquet, and looked round him for a glass.
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