The Death of the Lion
by Henry James
I had simply, I suppose, a change of heart, and it must have begun
when I received my manuscript back from Mr. Pinhorn. Mr. Pinhorn was
my "chief," as he was called in the office: he had the high mission of
bringing the paper up. This was a weekly periodical, which had been
supposed to be almost past redemption when he took hold of it. It was
Mr. Deedy who had let the thing down so dreadfully: he was never
mentioned in the office now save in connexion with that misdemeanour.
Young as I was I had been in a manner taken over from Mr. Deedy, who
had been owner as well as editor; forming part of a promiscuous lot,
mainly plant and office-furniture, which poor Mrs. Deedy, in her
bereavement and depression, parted with at a rough valuation. I could
account for my continuity but on the supposition that I had been
cheap. I rather resented the practice of fathering all flatness on my
late protector, who was in his unhonoured grave; but as I had my way to
make I found matter enough for complacency in being on a "staff." At
the same time I was aware of my exposure to suspicion as a product of
the old lowering system. This made me feel I was doubly bound to have
ideas, and had doubtless been at the bottom of my proposing to Mr.
Pinhorn that I should lay my lean hands on Neil Paraday. I remember
how he looked at me—quite, to begin with, as if he had never heard of
this celebrity, who indeed at that moment was by no means in the centre
of the heavens; and even when I had knowingly explained he expressed
but little confidence in the demand for any such stuff. When I had
reminded him that the great principle on which we were supposed to work
was just to create the demand we required, he considered a moment and
then returned: "I see—you want to write him up."
"Call it that if you like."
"And what's your inducement?"
"Bless my soul—my admiration!"
Mr. Pinhorn pursed up his mouth. "Is there much to be done with
"Whatever there is we should have it all to ourselves, for he
hasn't been touched."
This argument was effective and Mr. Pinhorn responded. "Very well,
touch him." Then he added: "But where can you do it?"
"Under the fifth rib!"
Mr. Pinhorn stared. "Where's that?"
"You want me to go down and see him?" I asked when I had enjoyed
his visible search for the obscure suburb I seemed to have named.
"I don't 'want' anything—the proposal's your own. But you must
remember that that's the way we do things now," said Mr. Pinhorn
with another dig Mr. Deedy.
Unregenerate as I was I could read the queer implications of this
speech. The present owner's superior virtue as well as his deeper
craft spoke in his reference to the late editor as one of that baser
sort who deal in false representations. Mr. Deedy would as soon have
sent me to call on Neil Paraday as he would have published a
"holiday-number"; but such scruples presented themselves as mere
ignoble thrift to his successor, whose own sincerity took the form of
ringing door-bells and whose definition of genius was the art of
finding people at home. It was as if Mr. Deedy had published reports
without his young men's having, as Pinhorn would have said, really been
there. I was unregenerate, as I have hinted, and couldn't be concerned
to straighten out the journalistic morals of my chief, feeling them
indeed to be an abyss over the edge of which it was better not to
peer. Really to be there this time moreover was a vision that made the
idea of writing something subtle about Neil Paraday only the more
inspiring. I would be as considerate as even Mr. Deedy could have
wished, and yet I should be as present as only Mr. Pinhorn could
conceive. My allusion to the sequestered manner in which Mr. Paraday
lived—it had formed part of my explanation, though I knew of it only
by hearsay—was, I could divine, very much what had made Mr. Pinhorn
nibble. It struck him as inconsistent with the success of his paper
that any one should be so sequestered as that. And then wasn't an
immediate exposure of everything just what the public wanted? Mr.
Pinhorn effectually called me to order by reminding me of the
promptness with which I had met Miss Braby at Liverpool on her return
from her fiasco in the States. Hadn't we published, while its
freshness and flavour were unimpaired, Miss Braby's own version of that
great international episode? I felt somewhat uneasy at this lumping of
the actress and the author, and I confess that after having enlisted
Mr. Pinhorn's sympathies I procrastinated a little. I had succeeded
better than I wished, and I had, as it happened, work nearer at hand.
A few days later I called on Lord Crouchley and carried off in triumph
the most unintelligible statement that had yet appeared of his
lordship's reasons for his change of front. I thus set in motion in
the daily papers columns of virtuous verbiage. The following week I
ran down to Brighton for a chat, as Mr. Pinhorn called it, with Mrs.
Bounder, who gave me, on the subject of her divorce, many curious
particulars that had not been articulated in court. If ever an article
flowed from the primal fount it was that article on Mrs. Bounder. By
this time, however, I became aware that Neil Paraday's new book was on
the point of appearing and that its approach had been the ground of my
original appeal to Mr. Pinhorn, who was now annoyed with me for having
lost so many days. He bundled me off—we would at least not lose
another. I've always thought his sudden alertness a remarkable example
of the journalistic instinct. Nothing had occurred, since I first
spoke to him, to create a visible urgency, and no enlightenment could
possibly have reached him. It was a pure case of profession flair—he
had smelt the coming glory as an animal smells its distant prey.
I may as well say at once that this little record pretends in no
degree to be a picture either of my introduction to Mr. Paraday or of
certain proximate steps and stages. The scheme of my narrative allows
no space for these things, and in any case a prohibitory sentiment
would hang about my recollection of so rare an hour. These meagre
notes are essentially private, so that if they see the light the
insidious forces that, as my story itself shows, make at present for
publicity will simply have overmastered my precautions. The curtain
fell lately enough on the lamentable drama. My memory of the day I
alighted at Mr. Paraday's door is a fresh memory of kindness,
hospitality, compassion, and of the wonderful illuminating talk in
which the welcome was conveyed. Some voice of the air had taught me
the right moment, the moment of his life at which an act of unexpected
young allegiance might most come home to him. He had recently
recovered from a long, grave illness. I had gone to the neighbouring
inn for the night, but I spent the evening in his company, and he
insisted the next day on my sleeping under his roof. I hadn't an
indefinite leave: Mr. Pinhorn supposed us to put our victims through on
the gallop. It was later, in the office, that the rude motions of the
jig were set to music. I fortified myself, however, as my training had
taught me to do, by the conviction that nothing could be more
advantageous for my article than to be written in the very atmosphere.
I said nothing to Mr. Paraday about it, but in the morning, after my
remove from the inn, while he was occupied in his study, as he had
notified me he should need to be, I committed to paper the main heads
of my impression. Then thinking to commend myself to Mr. Pinhorn by my
celerity, I walked out and posted my little packet before luncheon.
Once my paper was written I was free to stay on, and if it was
calculated to divert attention from my levity in so doing I could
reflect with satisfaction that I had never been so clever. I don't
mean to deny of course that I was aware it was much too good for Mr.
Pinhorn; but I was equally conscious that Mr. Pinhorn had the supreme
shrewdness of recognising from time to time the cases in which an
article was not too bad only because it was too good. There was
nothing he loved so much as to print on the right occasion a thing he
hated. I had begun my visit to the great man on a Monday, and on the
Wednesday his book came out. A copy of it arrived by the first post,
and he let me go out into the garden with it immediately after
breakfast, I read it from beginning to end that day, and in the evening
he asked me to remain with him the rest of the week and over the Sunday.
That night my manuscript came back from Mr. Pinhorn, accompanied
with a letter the gist of which was the desire to know what I meant by
trying to fob off on him such stuff. That was the meaning of the
question, if not exactly its form, and it made my mistake immense to
me. Such as this mistake was I could now only look it in the face and
accept it. I knew where I had failed, but it was exactly where I
couldn't have succeeded. I had been sent down to be personal and then
in point of fact hadn't been personal at all: what I had dispatched to
London was just a little finicking feverish study of my author's
talent. Anything less relevant to Mr. Pinhorn's purpose couldn't well
be imagined, and he was visibly angry at my having (at his expense,
with a second-class ticket) approached the subject of our enterprise
only to stand off so helplessly. For myself, I knew but too well what
had happened, and how a miracle—as pretty as some old miracle of
legend—had been wrought on the spot to save me. There had been a big
brush of wings, the flash of an opaline robe, and then, with a great
cool stir of the air, the sense of an angel's having swooped down and
caught me to his bosom. He held me only till the danger was over, and
it all took place in a minute. With my manuscript back on my hands I
understood the phenomenon better, and the reflexions I made on it are
what I meant, at the beginning of this anecdote, by my change of
heart. Mr. Pinhorn's note was not only a rebuke decidedly stern, but
an invitation immediately to send him—it was the case to say so—the
genuine article, the revealing and reverberating sketch to the promise
of which, and of which alone, I owed my squandered privilege. A week
or two later I recast my peccant paper and, giving it a particular
application to Mr. Paraday's new book, obtained for it the hospitality
of another journal, where, I must admit, Mr. Pinhorn was so far
vindicated as that it attracted not the least attention.
I was frankly, at the end of three days, a very prejudiced critic,
so that one morning when, in the garden, my great man had offered to
read me something I quite held my breath as I listened. It was the
written scheme of another book—something put aside long ago, before
his illness, but that he had lately taken out again to reconsider. He
had been turning it round when I came down on him, and it had grown
magnificently under this second hand. Loose liberal confident, it
might have passed for a great gossiping eloquent letter—the overflow
into talk of an artist's amorous plan. The theme I thought singularly
rich, quite the strongest he had yet treated; and this familiar
statement of it, full too of fine maturities, was really, in summarised
splendour, a mine of gold, a precious independent work. I remember
rather profanely wondering whether the ultimate production could
possibly keep at the pitch. His reading of the fond epistle, at any
rate, made me feel as if I were, for the advantage of posterity, in
close correspondence with him—were the distinguished person to whom
it had been affectionately addressed. It was a high distinction simply
to be told such things. The idea he now communicated had all the
freshness, the flushed fairness, of the conception untouched and
untried: it was Venus rising from the sea and before the airs had blown
upon her. I had never been so throbbingly present at such an
unveiling. But when he had tossed the last bright word after the
others, as I had seen cashiers in banks, weighing mounds of coin, drop
a final sovereign into the tray, I knew a sudden prudent alarm.
"My dear master, how, after all, are you going to do it? It's
infinitely noble, but what time it will take, what patience and
independence, what assured, what perfect conditions! Oh for a lone
isle in a tepid sea!"
"Isn't this practically a lone isle, and aren't you, as an
encircling medium, tepid enough?" he asked, alluding with a laugh to
the wonder of my young admiration and the narrow limits of his little
provincial home. "Time isn't what I've lacked hitherto: the question
hasn't been to find it, but to use it. Of course my illness made,
while it lasted, a great hole—but I dare say there would have been a
hole at any rate. The earth we tread has more pockets than a
billiard-table. The great thing is now to keep on my feet."
"That's exactly what I mean."
Neil Paraday looked at me with eyes—such pleasant eyes as he had
- in which, as I now recall their expression, I seem to have seen a dim
imagination of his fate. He was fifty years old, and his illness had
been cruel, his convalescence slow. "It isn't as if I weren't all
"Oh if you weren't all right I wouldn't look at you!" I tenderly
We had both got up, quickened as by this clearer air, and he had
lighted a cigarette. I had taken a fresh one, which with an intenser
smile, by way of answer to my exclamation, he applied to the flame of
his match. "If I weren't better I shouldn't have thought of that
!" He flourished his script in his hand.
"I don't want to be discouraging, but that's not true," I
returned. "I'm sure that during the months you lay here in pain you
had visitations sublime. You thought of a thousand things. You think
of more and more all the while. That's what makes you, if you'll
pardon my familiarity, so respectable. At a time when so many people
are spent you come into your second wind. But, thank God, all the
same, you're better! Thank God, too, you're not, as you were telling
me yesterday, 'successful.' If you weren't a failure what would
be the use of trying? That's my one reserve on the subject of your
recovery—that it makes you 'score,' as the newspapers say. It looks
well in the newspapers, and almost anything that does that's horrible.
'We are happy to announce that Mr. Paraday, the celebrated author, is
again in the enjoyment of excellent health.' Somehow I shouldn't like
to see it."
"You won't see it; I'm not in the least celebrated—my obscurity
protects me. But couldn't you bear even to see I was dying or dead?"
my host enquired.
"Dead—passe encore; there's nothing so safe. One never knows
what a living artist may do—one has mourned so many. However, one
must make the worst of it. You must be as dead as you can."
"Don't I meet that condition in having just published a book?"
"Adequately, let us hope; for the book's verily a masterpiece."
At this moment the parlour-maid appeared in the door that opened
from the garden: Paraday lived at no great cost, and the frisk of
petticoats, with a timorous "Sherry, sir?" was about his modest
mahogany. He allowed half his income to his wife, from whom he had
succeeded in separating without redundancy of legend. I had a general
faith in his having behaved well, and I had once, in London, taken Mrs.
Paraday down to dinner. He now turned to speak to the maid, who
offered him, on a tray, some card or note, while, agitated, excited, I
wandered to the end of the precinct. The idea of his security became
supremely dear to me, and I asked myself if I were the same young man
who had come down a few days before to scatter him to the four winds.
When I retraced my steps he had gone into the house, and the woman—
the second London post had come in—had placed my letters and a
newspaper on a bench. I sat down there to the letters, which were a
brief business, and then, without heeding the address, took the paper
from its envelope. It was the journal of highest renown, The Empire
of that morning. It regularly came to Paraday, but I remembered that
neither of us had yet looked at the copy already delivered. This one
had a great mark on the "editorial" page, and, uncrumpling the wrapper,
I saw it to be directed to my host and stamped with the name of his
publishers. I instantly divined that The Empire had spoken of
him, and I've not forgotten the odd little shock of the circumstance.
It checked all eagerness and made me drop the paper a moment. As I sat
there conscious of a palpitation I think I had a vision of what was to
be. I had also a vision of the letter I would presently address to Mr.
Pinhorn, breaking, as it were, with Mr. Pinhorn. Of course, however,
the next minute the voice of The Empire was in my ears.
The article wasn't, I thanked heaven, a review; it was a "leader,"
the last of three, presenting Neil Paraday to the human race. His new
book, the fifth from his hand, had been but a day or two out, and The Empire, already aware of it, fired, as if on the birth of a
prince, a salute of a whole column. The guns had been booming these
three hours in the house without our suspecting them. The big
blundering newspaper had discovered him, and now he was proclaimed and
anointed and crowned. His place was assigned him as publicly as if a
fat usher with a wand had pointed to the topmost chair; he was to pass
up and still up, higher and higher, between the watching faces and the
envious sounds—away up to the dais and the throne. The article was
"epoch-making," a landmark in his life; he had taken rank at a bound,
waked up a national glory. A national glory was needed, and it was an
immense convenience he was there. What all this meant rolled over me,
and I fear I grew a little faint—it meant so much more than I could
say "yea" to on the spot. In a flash, somehow, all was different; the
tremendous wave I speak of had swept something away. It had knocked
down, I suppose, my little customary altar, my twinkling tapers and my
flowers, and had reared itself into the likeness of a temple vast and
bare. When Neil Paraday should come out of the house he would come out
a contemporary. That was what had happened: the poor man was to be
squeezed into his horrible age. I felt as if he had been overtaken on
the crest of the hill and brought back to the city. A little more and
he would have dipped down the short cut to posterity and escaped.
When he came out it was exactly as if he had been in custody, for
beside him walked a stout man with a big black beard, who, save that he
wore spectacles, might have been a policeman, and in whom at a second
glance I recognised the highest contemporary enterprise.
"This is Mr. Morrow," said Paraday, looking, I thought, rather
white: "he wants to publish heaven knows what about me."
I winced as I remembered that this was exactly what I myself had
wanted. "Already?" I cried with a sort of sense that my friend had
fled to me for protection.
Mr. Morrow glared, agreeably, through his glasses: they suggested
the electric headlights of some monstrous modem ship, and I felt as if
Paraday and I were tossing terrified under his bows. I saw his
momentum was irresistible. "I was confident that I should be the first
in the field. A great interest is naturally felt in Mr. Paraday's
surroundings," he heavily observed.
"I hadn't the least idea of it," said Paraday, as if he had been
told he had been snoring.
"I find he hasn't read the article in
The Empire," Mr.
Morrow remarked to me. "That's so very interesting—it's something to
start with," he smiled. He had begun to pull off his gloves, which
were violently new, and to look encouragingly round the little garden.
As a "surrounding" I felt how I myself had already been taken in; I was
a little fish in the stomach of a bigger one. "I represent," our
visitor continued, "a syndicate of influential journals, no less than
thirty-seven, whose public—whose publics, I may say—are in peculiar
sympathy with Mr. Paraday's line of thought. They would greatly
appreciate any expression of his views on the subject of the art he so
nobly exemplifies. In addition to my connexion with the syndicate just
mentioned I hold a particular commission from The Tatler, whose
most prominent department, 'Smatter and Chatter'—I dare say you've
often enjoyed it—attracts such attention. I was honoured only last
week, as a representative of The Tatler, with the confidence of
Guy Walsingham, the brilliant author of 'Obsessions.' She pronounced
herself thoroughly pleased with my sketch of her method; she went so
far as to say that I had made her genius more comprehensible even to
Neil Paraday had dropped on the garden-bench and sat there at once
detached and confounded; he looked hard at a bare spot in the lawn, as
if with an anxiety that had suddenly made him grave. His movement had
been interpreted by his visitor as an invitation to sink
sympathetically into a wicker chair that stood hard by, and while Mr.
Morrow so settled himself I felt he had taken official possession and
that there was no undoing it. One had heard of unfortunate people's
having "a man in the house," and this was just what we had. There was
a silence of a moment, during which we seemed to acknowledge in the
only way that was possible the presence of universal fate; the sunny
stillness took no pity, and my thought, as I was sure Paraday's was
doing, performed within the minute a great distant revolution. I saw
just how emphatic I should make my rejoinder to Mr. Pinhorn, and that
having come, like Mr. Morrow, to betray, I must remain as long as
possible to save. Not because I had brought my mind back, but because
our visitors last words were in my ear, I presently enquired with
gloomy irrelevance if Guy Walsingham were a woman.
"Oh yes, a mere pseudonym—rather pretty, isn't it?—and
convenient, you know, for a lady who goes in for the larger latitude.
'Obsessions, by Miss So-and-so,' would look a little odd, but men are
more naturally indelicate. Have you peeped into 'Obsessions'?" Mr.
Morrow continued sociably to our companion.
Paraday, still absent, remote, made no answer, as if he hadn't
heard the question: a form of intercourse that appeared to suit the
cheerful Mr. Morrow as well as any other. Imperturbably bland, he was
a man of resources—he only needed to be on the spot. He had pocketed
the whole poor place while Paraday and I were wool-gathering, and I
could imagine that he had already got his "heads." His system, at any
rate, was justified by the inevitability with which I replied, to save
my friend the trouble: "Dear no—he hasn't read it. He doesn't read
such things!" I unwarily added.
"Things that are
too far over the fence, eh?" I was indeed
a godsend to Mr. Morrow. It was the psychological moment; it
determined the appearance of his note-book, which, however, he at first
kept slightly behind him, even as the dentist approaching his victim
keeps the horrible forceps. "Mr. Paraday holds with the good old
proprieties—I see!" And thinking of the thirty-seven influential
journals, I found myself, as I found poor Paraday, helplessly assisting
at the promulgation of this ineptitude. "There's no point on which
distinguished views are so acceptable as on this question—raised
perhaps more strikingly than ever by Guy Walsingham—of the
permissibility of the larger latitude. I've an appointment, precisely
in connexion with it, next week, with Dora Forbes, author of 'The Other
Way Round,' which everybody's talking about. Has Mr. Paraday glanced
at 'The Other Way Round'?" Mr. Morrow now frankly appealed to me. I
took on myself to repudiate the supposition, while our companion, still
silent, got up nervously and walked away. His visitor paid no heed to
his withdrawal; but opened out the note-book with a more fatherly pat.
"Dora Forbes, I gather, takes the ground, the same as Guy Walsingham's,
that the larger latitude has simply got to come. He holds that it has
got to be squarely faced. Of course his sex makes him a less
prejudiced witness. But an authoritative word from Mr. Paraday—from
the point of view of his sex, you know—would go right round
the globe. He takes the line that we haven't got to face it?"
I was bewildered: it sounded somehow as if there were three sexes.
My interlocutor's pencil was poised, my private responsibility great.
I simply sat staring, none the less, and only found presence of mind to
say: "Is this Miss Forbes a gentleman?"
Mr. Morrow had a subtle smile. "It wouldn't be 'Miss'—there's a
"I mean is she a man?"
"The wife?"—Mr. Morrow was for a moment as confused as myself.
But when I explained that I alluded to Dora Forbes in person he
informed me, with visible amusement at my being so out of it, that this
was the "pen-name" of an indubitable male—he had a big red
moustache. "He goes in for the slight mystification because the ladies
are such popular favourites. A great deal of interest is felt in his
acting on that idea—which is clever, isn't it?—and there's
every prospect of its being widely imitated." Our host at this moment
joined us again, and Mr. Morrow remarked invitingly that he should be
happy to make a note of any observation the movement in question, the
bid for success under a lady's name, might suggest to Mr. Paraday. But
the poor man, without catching the allusion, excused himself, pleading
that, though greatly honoured by his visitor's interest, he suddenly
felt unwell and should have to take leave of him—have to go and lie
down and keep quiet. His young friend might be trusted to answer for
him, but he hoped Mr. Morrow didn't expect great things even of his
young friend. His young friend, at this moment, looked at Neil Paraday
with an anxious eye, greatly wondering if he were doomed to be ill
again; but Paraday's own kind face met his question reassuringly,
seemed to say in a glance intelligible enough: "Oh I'm not ill, but I'm
scared: get him out of the house as quietly as possible." Getting
newspaper-men out of the house was odd business for an emissary of Mr.
Pinhorn, and I was so exhilarated by the idea of it that I called after
him as he left us: "Read the article in The Empire and you'll
soon be all right!"
"Delicious my having come down to tell him of it!" Mr. Morrow
ejaculated. "My cab was at the door twenty minutes after The Empire
had been laid on my breakfast-table. Now what have you got for me?"
he continued, dropping again into his chair, from which, however, he
the next moment eagerly rose. "I was shown into the drawing-room, but
there must be more to see—his study, his literary sanctum, the little
things he has about, or other domestic objects and features. He
wouldn't be lying down on his study-table? There's a great interest
always felt in the scene of an author's labours. Sometimes we're
favoured with very delightful peeps. Dora Forbes showed me all his
table-drawers, and almost jammed my hand into one into which I made a
dash! I don't ask that of you, but if we could talk things over right
there where he sits I feel as if I should get the keynote."
I had no wish whatever to be rude to Mr. Morrow, I was much too
initiated not to tend to more diplomacy; but I had a quick inspiration,
and I entertained an insurmountable, an almost superstitious objection
to his crossing the threshold of my friend's little lonely shabby
consecrated workshop. "No, no—we shan't get at his life that way," I
said. "The way to get at his life is to—But wait a moment!" I broke
off and went quickly into the house, whence I in three minutes
reappeared before Mr. Morrow with the two volumes of Paraday's new
book. "His life's here," I went on, "and I'm so full of this admirable
thing that I can't talk of anything else. The artist's life's his
work, and this is the place to observe him. What he has to tell us he
tells us with this perfection. My dear sir, the best
interviewer is the best reader."
Mr. Morrow good-humouredly protested. "Do you mean to say that no
other source of information should be open to us?"
"None other till this particular one—by far the most copious—
has been quite exhausted. Have you exhausted it, my dear sir? Had you
exhausted it when you came down here? It seems to me in our time
almost wholly neglected, and something should surely be done to restore
its ruined credit. It's the course to which the artist himself at
every step, and with such pathetic confidence, refers us. This last
book of Mr. Paraday's is full of revelations."
"Revelations?" panted Mr. Morrow, whom I had forced again into his
"The only kind that count. It tells you with a perfection that
seems to me quite final all the author thinks, for instance, about the
advent of the 'larger latitude.'"
"Where does it do that?" asked Mr. Morrow, who had picked up the
second volume and was insincerely thumbing it.
"Everywhere—in the whole treatment of his case. Extract the
opinion, disengage the answer—those are the real acts of homage."
Mr. Morrow, after a minute, tossed the book away. "Ah but you
mustn't take me for a reviewer."
"Heaven forbid I should take you for anything so dreadful! You
came down to perform a little act of sympathy, and so, I may confide to
you, did I. Let us perform our little act together. These pages
overflow with the testimony we want: let us read them and taste them
and interpret them. You'll of course have perceived for yourself that
one scarcely does read Neil Paraday till one reads him aloud; he gives
out to the ear an extraordinary full tone, and it's only when you
expose it confidently to that test that you really get near his style.
Take up your book again and let me listen, while you pay it out, to
that wonderful fifteenth chapter. If you feel you can't do it justice,
compose yourself to attention while I produce for you—I think I can!
- this scarcely less admirable ninth."
Mr. Morrow gave me a straight look which was as hard as a blow
between the eyes; he had turned rather red, and a question had formed
itself in his mind which reached my sense as distinctly as if he had
uttered it: "What sort of a damned fool are you?" Then he got
up, gathering together his hat and gloves, buttoning his coat,
projecting hungrily all over the place the big transparency of his
mask. It seemed to flare over Fleet Street and somehow made the actual
spot distressingly humble: there was so little for it to feed on unless
he counted the blisters of our stucco or saw his way to do something
with the roses. Even the poor roses were common kinds. Presently his
eyes fell on the manuscript from which Paraday had been reading to me
and which still lay on the bench. As my own followed them I saw it
looked promising, looked pregnant, as if it gently throbbed with the
life the reader had given it. Mr. Morrow indulged in a nod at it and a
vague thrust of his umbrella. "What's that?"
"Oh, it's a plan—a secret."
"A secret!" There was an instant's silence, and then Mr. Morrow
made another movement. I may have been mistaken, but it affected me as
the translated impulse of the desire to lay hands on the manuscript,
and this led me to indulge in a quick anticipatory grab which may very
well have seemed ungraceful, or even impertinent, and which at any rate
left Mr. Paraday's two admirers very erect, glaring at each other while
one of them held a bundle of papers well behind him. An instant later
Mr. Morrow quitted me abruptly, as if he had really carried something
off with him. To reassure myself, watching his broad back recede, I
only grasped my manuscript the tighter. He went to the back door of
the house, the one he had come out from, but on trying the handle he
appeared to find it fastened. So he passed round into the front
garden, and by listening intently enough I could presently hear the
outer gate close behind him with a bang. I thought again of the
thirty-seven influential journals and wondered what would be his
revenge. I hasten to add that he was magnanimous: which was just the
most dreadful thing he could have been. The Tatler published a
charming chatty familiar account of Mr. Paraday's "Home-life," and on
the wings of the thirty-seven influential journals it went, to use Mr.
Morrow's own expression, right round the globe.
A week later, early in May, my glorified friend came up to town,
where, it may be veraciously recorded he was the king of the beasts of
the year. No advancement was ever more rapid, no exaltation more
complete, no bewilderment more teachable. His book sold but
moderately, though the article in The Empire had done unwonted
wonders for it; but he circulated in person to a measure that the
libraries might well have envied. His formula had been found—he was
a "revelation." His momentary terror had been real, just as mine had
been—the overclouding of his passionate desire to be left to finish
his work. He was far from unsociable, but he had the finest conception
of being let alone that I've ever met. For the time, none the less, he
took his profit where it seemed most to crowd on him, having in his
pocket the portable sophistries about the nature of the artist's task.
Observation too was a kind of work and experience a kind of success;
London dinners were all material and London ladies were fruitful toil.
"No one has the faintest conception of what I'm trying for," he said to
me, "and not many have read three pages that I've written; but I must
dine with them first—they'll find out why when they've time." It was
rather rude justice perhaps; but the fatigue had the merit of being a
new sort, while the phantasmagoric town was probably after all less of
a battlefield than the haunted study. He once told me that he had had
no personal life to speak of since his fortieth year, but had had more
than was good for him before. London closed the parenthesis and
exhibited him in relations; one of the most inevitable of these being
that in which he found himself to Mrs. Weeks Wimbush, wife of the
boundless brewer and proprietress of the universal menagerie. In this
establishment, as everybody knows, on occasions when the crush is
great, the animals rub shoulders freely with the spectators and the
lions sit down for whole evenings with the lambs.
It had been ominously clear to me from the first that in Neil
Paraday this lady, who, as all the world agreed, was tremendous fun,
considered that she had secured a prime attraction, a creature of
almost heraldic oddity. Nothing could exceed her enthusiasm over her
capture, and nothing could exceed the confused apprehensions it excited
in me. I had an instinctive fear of her which I tried without effect
to conceal from her victim, but which I let her notice with perfect
impunity. Paraday heeded it, but she never did, for her conscience was
that of a romping child. She was a blind violent force to which I
could attach no more idea of responsibility than to the creaking of a
sign in the wind. It was difficult to say what she conduced to but
circulation. She was constructed of steel and leather, and all I asked
of her for our tractable friend was not to do him to death. He had
consented for a time to be of india-rubber, but my thoughts were fixed
on the day he should resume his shape or at least get back into his
box. It was evidently all right, but I should be glad when it was well
over. I had a special fear—the impression was ineffaceable of the
hour when, after Mr. Morrow's departure, I had found him on the sofa in
his study. That pretext of indisposition had not in the least been
meant as a snub to the envoy of The Tatler—he had gone to lie
down in very truth. He had felt a pang of his old pain, the result of
the agitation wrought in him by this forcing open of a new period. His
old programme, his old ideal even had to be changed. Say what one
would, success was a complication and recognition had to be
reciprocal. The monastic life, the pious illumination of the missal in
the convent cell were things of the gathered past. It didn't engender
despair, but at least it required adjustment. Before I left him on
that occasion we had passed a bargain, my part of which was that I
should make it my business to take care of him. Let whoever would
represent the interest in his presence (I must have had a mystical
prevision of Mrs. Weeks Wimbush) I should represent the interest in his
work—or otherwise expressed in his absence. These two interests were
in their essence opposed; and I doubt, as youth is fleeting, if I shall
ever again know the intensity of joy with which I felt that in so good
a cause I was willing to make myself odious.
One day in Sloane Street I found myself questioning Paraday's
landlord, who had come to the door in answer to my knock. Two
vehicles, a barouche and a smart hansom, were drawn up before the house.
"In the drawing-room, sir? Mrs. Weeks Wimbush."
"And in the dining-room?"
"A young lady, sir—waiting: I think a foreigner."
It was three o'clock, and on days when Paraday didn't lunch out he
attached a value to these appropriated hours. On which days, however,
didn't the dear man lunch out? Mrs. Wimbush, at such a crisis, would
have rushed round immediately after her own repast. I went into the
dining-room first, postponing the pleasure of seeing how, upstairs, the
lady of the barouche would, on my arrival, point the moral of my sweet
solicitude. No one took such an interest as herself in his doing only
what was good for him, and she was always on the spot to see that he
did it. She made appointments with him to discuss the best means of
economising his time and protecting his privacy. She further made his
health her special business, and had so much sympathy with my own zeal
for it that she was the author of pleasing fictions on the subject of
what my devotion had led me to give up. I gave up nothing (I don't
count Mr. Pinhorn) because I had nothing, and all I had as yet achieved
was to find myself also in the menagerie. I had dashed in to save my
friend, but I had only got domesticated and wedged; so that I could do
little more for him than exchange with him over people's heads looks of
intense but futile intelligence.
The young lady in the dining-room had a brave face, black hair,
blue eyes, and in her lap a big volume. "I've come for his autograph,"
she said when I had explained to her that I was under bonds to see
people for him when he was occupied. "I've been waiting half an hour,
but I'm prepared to wait all day." I don't know whether it was this
that told me she was American, for the propensity to wait all day is
not in general characteristic of her race. I was enlightened probably
not so much by the spirit of the utterance as by some quality of its
sound. At any rate I saw she had an individual patience and a lovely
frock, together with an expression that played among her pretty
features like a breeze among flowers. Putting her book on the table
she showed me a massive album, showily bound and full of autographs of
price. The collection of faded notes, of still more faded "thoughts,"
of quotations, platitudes, signatures, represented a formidable purpose.
I could only disclose my dread of it. "Most people apply to Mr.
Paraday by letter, you know."
"Yes, but he doesn't answer. I've written three times."
"Very true," I reflected; "the sort of letter you mean goes
straight into the fire."
"How do you know the sort I mean?" My interlocutress had blushed
and smiled, and in a moment she added: "I don't believe he gets many
"I'm sure they're beautiful, but he burns without reading." I
didn't add that I had convinced him he ought to.
"Isn't he then in danger of burning things of importance?"
"He would perhaps be so if distinguished men hadn't an infallible
nose for nonsense."
She looked at me a moment—her face was sweet and gay. "Do
burn without reading too?"—in answer to which I assured her that if
she'd trust me with her repository I'd see that Mr. Paraday should
write his name in it.
She considered a little. "That's very well, but it wouldn't make
me see him."
"Do you want very much to see him?" It seemed ungracious to
catechise so charming a creature, but somehow I had never yet taken my
duty to the great author so seriously.
"Enough to have come from America for the purpose."
I stared. "All alone?"
"I don't see that that's exactly your business, but if it will make
me more seductive I'll confess that I'm quite by myself. I had to come
alone or not come at all."
She was interesting; I could imagine she had lost parents, natural
protectors—could conceive even she had inherited money. I was at a
pass of my own fortunes when keeping hansoms at doors seemed to me pure
swagger. As a trick of this bold and sensitive girl, however, it
became romantic—a part of the general romance of her freedom, her
errand, her innocence. The confidence of young Americans was
notorious, and I speedily arrived at a conviction that no impulse could
have been more generous than the impulse that had operated here. I
foresaw at that moment that it would make her my peculiar charge, just
as circumstances had made Neil Paraday. She would be another person to
look after, so that one's honour would be concerned in guiding her
straight. These things became clearer to me later on; at the instant I
had scepticism enough to observe to her, as I turned the pages of her
volume, that her net had all the same caught many a big fish. She
appeared to have had fruitful access to the great ones of the earth;
there were people moreover whose signatures she had presumably secured
without a personal interview. She couldn't have worried George
Washington and Friedrich Schiller and Hannah More. She met this
argument, to my surprise, by throwing up the album without a pang. It
wasn't even her own; she was responsible for none of its treasures. It
belonged to a girl-friend in America, a young lady in a western city.
This young lady had insisted on her bringing it, to pick up more
autographs: she thought they might like to see, in Europe, in what
company they would be. The "girl-friend," the western city, the
immortal names, the curious errand, the idyllic faith, all made a story
as strange to me, and as beguiling, as some tale in the Arabian
Nights. Thus it was that my informant had encumbered herself with the
ponderous tome; but she hastened to assure me that this was the first
time she had brought it out. For her visit to Mr. Paraday it had
simply been a pretext. She didn't really care a straw that he should
write his name; what she did want was to look straight into his face.
I demurred a little. "And why do you require to do that?"
"Because I just love him!" Before I could recover from the
agitating effect of this crystal ring my companion had continued:
"Hasn't there ever been any face that you've wanted to look into?"
How could I tell her so soon how much I appreciated the opportunity
of looking into hers? I could only assent in general to the
proposition that there were certainly for every one such yearnings, and
even such faces; and I felt the crisis demand all my lucidity, all my
wisdom. "Oh yes, I'm a student of physiognomy. Do you mean," I
pursued, "that you've a passion for Mr. Paraday's books?"
"They've been everything to me and a little more beside—I know
them by heart. They've completely taken hold of me. There's no author
about whom I'm in such a state as I'm in about Neil Paraday."
"Permit me to remark then," I presently returned, "that you're one
of the right sort."
"One of the enthusiasts? Of course I am!"
"Oh there are enthusiasts who are quite of the wrong. I mean
you're one of those to whom an appeal can be made."
"An appeal?" Her face lighted as if with the chance of some great
If she was ready for one it was only waiting for her, and in a
moment I mentioned it. "Give up this crude purpose of seeing him! Go
away without it. That will be far better."
She looked mystified, then turned visibly pale. "Why, hasn't he
any personal charm?" The girl was terrible and laughable in her bright
"Ah that dreadful word 'personally'!" I wailed; "we're dying of it,
for you women bring it out with murderous effect. When you meet with a
genius as fine as this idol of ours let him off the dreary duty of
being a personality as well. Know him only by what's best in him and
spare him for the same sweet sake."
My young lady continued to look at me in confusion and mistrust,
and the result of her reflexion on what I had just said was to make her
suddenly break out: "Look here, sir—what's the matter with him?"
"The matter with him is that if he doesn't look out people will eat
a great hole in his life."
She turned it over. "He hasn't any disfigurement?"
"Nothing to speak of!"
"Do you mean that social engagements interfere with his
"That but feebly expresses it."
"So that he can't give himself up to his beautiful imagination?"
"He's beset, badgered, bothered—he's pulled to pieces on the
pretext of being applauded. People expect him to give them his time,
his golden time, who wouldn't themselves give five shillings for one of
"Five? I'd give five thousand!"
"Give your sympathy—give your forbearance. Two-thirds of those
who approach him only do it to advertise themselves."
"Why it's too bad!" the girl exclaimed with the face of an angel.
"It's the first time I was ever called crude!" she laughed.
I followed up my advantage. "There's a lady with him now who's a
terrible complication, and who yet hasn't read, I'm sure, ten pages he
My visitor's wide eyes grew tenderer. "Then how does she talk—?"
"Without ceasing. I only mention her as a single case. Do you
want to know how to show a superlative consideration? Simply avoid
"Avoid him?" she despairingly breathed.
"Don't force him to have to take account of you; admire him in
silence, cultivate him at a distance and secretly appropriate his
message. Do you want to know," I continued, warming to my idea, "how
to perform an act of homage really sublime?" Then as she hung on my
words: "Succeed in never seeing him at all!"
"Never at all?"—she suppressed a shriek for it.
"The more you get into his writings the less you'll want to, and
you'll be immensely sustained by the thought of the good you're doing
She looked at me without resentment or spite, and at the truth I
had put before her with candour, credulity, pity. I was afterwards
happy to remember that she must have gathered from my face the
liveliness of my interest in herself. "I think I see what you mean."
"Oh I express it badly, but I should be delighted if you'd let me
come to see you—to explain it better."
She made no response to this, and her thoughtful eyes fell on the
big album, on which she presently laid her hands as if to take it
away. "I did use to say out West that they might write a little less
for autographs—to all the great poets, you know—and study the
thoughts and style a little more."
"What do they care for the thoughts and style? They didn't even
understand you. I'm not sure," I added, "that I do myself, and I dare
say that you by no means make me out."
She had got up to go, and though I wanted her to succeed in not
seeing Neil Paraday I wanted her also, inconsequently, to remain in the
house. I was at any rate far from desiring to hustle her off. As Mrs.
Weeks Wimbush, upstairs, was still saving our friend in her own way, I
asked my young lady to let me briefly relate, in illustration of my
point, the little incident of my having gone down into the country for
a profane purpose and been converted on the spot to holiness. Sinking
again into her chair to listen she showed a deep interest in the
anecdote. Then thinking it over gravely she returned with her odd
intonation: "Yes, but you do see him!" I had to admit that this was the
case; and I wasn't so prepared with an effective attenuation as I could
have wished. She eased the situation off, however, by the charming
quaintness with which she finally said: "Well, I wouldn't want him to
be lonely!" This time she rose in earnest, but I persuaded her to let
me keep the album to show Mr. Paraday. I assured her I'd bring it back
to her myself. "Well, you'll find my address somewhere in it on a
paper!" she sighed all resignedly at the door.
I blush to confess it, but I invited Mr. Paraday that very day to
transcribe into the album one of his most characteristic passages. I
told him how I had got rid of the strange girl who had brought it—her
ominous name was Miss Hurter and she lived at an hotel; quite agreeing
with him moreover as to the wisdom of getting rid with equal
promptitude of the book itself. This was why I carried it to Albemarle
Street no later than on the morrow. I failed to find her at home, but
she wrote to me and I went again; she wanted so much to hear more about
Neil Paraday. I returned repeatedly, I may briefly declare, to supply
her with this information. She had been immensely taken, the more she
thought of it, with that idea of mine about the act of homage: it had
ended by filling her with a generous rapture. She positively desired
to do something sublime for him, though indeed I could see that, as
this particular flight was difficult, she appreciated the fact that my
visits kept her up. I had it on my conscience to keep her up: I
neglected nothing that would contribute to it, and her conception of
our cherished author's independence became at last as fine as his very
own. "Read him, read him—that will be an education in
decency," I constantly repeated; while, seeking him in his works even
as God in nature, she represented herself as convinced that, according
to my assurance, this was the system that had, as she expressed it,
weaned her. We read him together when I could find time, and the
generous creature's sacrifice was fed by our communion. There were
twenty selfish women about whom I told her and who stirred her to a
beautiful rage. Immediately after my first visit her sister, Mrs.
Milsom, came over from Paris, and the two ladies began to present, as
they called it, their letters. I thanked our stars that none had been
presented to Mr. Paraday. They received invitations and dined out, and
some of these occasions enabled Fanny Hurter to perform, for
consistency's sake, touching feats of submission. Nothing indeed would
now have induced her even to look at the object of her admiration.
Once, hearing his name announced at a party, she instantly left the
room by another door and then straightway quitted the house. At
another time when I was at the opera with them—Mrs. Milsom had
invited me to their box—I attempted to point Mr. Paraday out to her
in the stalls. On this she asked her sister to change places with her
and, while that lady devoured the great man through a powerful glass,
presented, all the rest of the evening, her inspired back to the
house. To torment her tenderly I pressed the glass upon her, telling
her how wonderfully near it brought our friend's handsome head. By way
of answer she simply looked at me in charged silence, letting me see
that tears had gathered in her eyes. These tears, I may remark,
produced an effect on me of which the end is not yet. There was a
moment when I felt it my duty to mention them to Neil Paraday, but I
was deterred by the reflexion that there were questions more relevant
to his happiness.
These question indeed, by the end of the season, were reduced to a
single one—the question of reconstituting so far as might be possible
the conditions under which he had produced his best work. Such
conditions could never all come back, for there was a new one that took
up too much place; but some perhaps were not beyond recall. I wanted
above all things to see him sit down to the subject he had, on my
making his acquaintance, read me that admirable sketch of. Something
told me there was no security but in his doing so before the new
factor, as we used to say at Mr. Pinhorn's, should render the problem
incalculable. It only half-reassured me that the sketch itself was so
copious and so eloquent that even at the worst there would be the
making of a small but complete book, a tiny volume which, for the
faithful, might well become an object of adoration. There would even
not be wanting critics to declare, I foresaw, that the plan was a thing
to be more thankful for than the structure to have been reared on it.
My impatience for the structure, none the less, grew and grew with the
interruptions. He had on coming up to town begun to sit for his
portrait to a young painter, Mr. Rumble, whose little game, as we also
used to say at Mr. Pinhorn's, was to be the first to perch on the
shoulders of renown. Mr. Rumble's studio was a circus in which the man
of the hour, and still more the woman, leaped through the hoops of his
showy frames almost as electrically as they burst into telegrams and
"specials." He pranced into the exhibitions on their back; he was the
reporter on canvas, the Vandyke up to date, and there was one roaring
year in which Mrs. Bounder and Miss Braby, Guy Walsingham and Dora
Forbes proclaimed in chorus from the same pictured walls that no one
had yet got ahead of him.
Paraday had been promptly caught and saddled, accepting with
characteristic good-humour his confidential hint that to figure in his
show was not so much a consequence as a cause of immortality. From
Mrs. Wimbush to the last "representative" who called to ascertain his
twelve favourite dishes, it was the same ingenuous assumption that he
would rejoice in the repercussion. There were moments when I fancied I
might have had more patience with them if they hadn't been so fatally
benevolent. I hated at all events Mr. Rumble's picture, and had my
bottled resentment ready when, later on, I found my distracted friend
had been stuffed by Mrs. Wimbush into the mouth of another cannon. A
young artist in whom she was intensely interested, and who had no
connexion with Mr. Rumble, was to show how far he could make him go.
Poor Paraday, in return, was naturally to write something somewhere
about the young artist. She played her victims against each other with
admirable ingenuity, and her establishment was a huge machine in which
the tiniest and the biggest wheels went round to the same treadle. I
had a scene with her in which I tried to express that the function of
such a man was to exercise his genius—not to serve as a hoarding for
pictorial posters. The people I was perhaps angriest with were the
editors of magazines who had introduced what they called new features,
so aware were they that the newest feature of all would be to make him
grind their axes by contributing his views on vital topics and taking
part in the periodical prattle about the future of fiction. I made
sure that before I should have done with him there would scarcely be a
current form of words left me to be sick of; but meanwhile I could make
surer still of my animosity to bustling ladies for whom he drew the
water that irrigated their social flower-beds.
I had a battle with Mrs. Wimbush over the artist she protected, and
another over the question of a certain week, at the end of July, that
Mr. Paraday appeared to have contracted to spend with her in the
country. I protested against this visit; I intimated that he was too
unwell for hospitality without a nuance, for caresses without
imagination; I begged he might rather take the time in some restorative
way. A sultry air of promises, of ponderous parties, hung over his
August, and he would greatly profit by the interval of rest. He hadn't
told me he was ill again that he had had a warning; but I hadn't needed
this, for I found his reticence his worst symptom. The only thing he
said to me was that he believed a comfortable attack of something or
other would set him up: it would put out of the question everything but
the exemptions he prized. I'm afraid I shall have presented him as a
martyr in a very small cause if I fail to explain that he surrendered
himself much more liberally than I surrendered him. He filled his
lungs, for the most part; with the comedy of his queer fate: the
tragedy was in the spectacles through which I chose to look. He was
conscious of inconvenience, and above all of a great renouncement; but
how could he have heard a mere dirge in the bells of his accession?
The sagacity and the jealousy were mine, and his the impressions and
the harvest. Of course, as regards Mrs. Wimbush, I was worsted in my
encounters, for wasn't the state of his health the very reason for his
coming to her at Prestidge? Wasn't it precisely at Prestidge that he
was to be coddled, and wasn't the dear Princess coming to help her to
coddle him? The dear Princess, now on a visit to England, was of a
famous foreign house, and, in her gilded cage, with her retinue of
keepers and feeders, was the most expensive specimen in the good lady's
collection. I don't think her august presence had had to do with
Paraday's consenting to go, but it's not impossible he had operated as
a bait to the illustrious stranger. The party had been made up for
him, Mrs. Wimbush averred, and every one was counting on it, the dear
Princess most of all. If he was well enough he was to read them
something absolutely fresh, and it was on that particular prospect the
Princess had set her heart. She was so fond of genius in any
walk of life, and was so used to it and understood it so well: she was
the greatest of Mr. Paraday's admirers, she devoured everything he
wrote. And then he read like an angel. Mrs. Wimbush reminded me that
he had again and again given her, Mrs. Wimbush, the privilege of
listening to him.
I looked at her a moment. "What has he read to you?" I crudely
For a moment too she met my eyes, and for the fraction of a moment
she hesitated and coloured. "Oh all sorts of things!"
I wondered if this were an imperfect recollection or only a perfect
fib, and she quite understood my unuttered comment on her measure of
such things. But if she could forget Neil Paraday's beauties she could
of course forget my rudeness, and three days later she invited me, by
telegraph, to join the party at Prestidge. This time she might indeed
have had a story about what I had given up to be near the master. I
addressed from that fine residence several communications to a young
lady in London, a young lady whom, I confess, I quitted with reluctance
and whom the reminder of what she herself could give up was required to
make me quit at all. It adds to the gratitude I owe her on other
grounds that she kindly allows me to transcribe from my letters a few
of the passages in which that hateful sojourn is candidly commemorated.
"I suppose I ought to enjoy the joke of what's going on here," I
wrote, "but somehow it doesn't amuse me. Pessimism on the contrary
possesses me and cynicism deeply engages. I positively feel my own
flesh sore from the brass nails in Neil Paraday's social harness. The
house is full of people who like him, as they mention, awfully, and
with whom his talent for talking nonsense has prodigious success. I
delight in his nonsense myself; why is it therefore that I grudge these
happy folk their artless satisfaction? Mystery of the human heart—
abyss of the critical spirit! Mrs. Wimbush thinks she can answer that
question, and as my want of gaiety has at last worn out her patience
she has given me a glimpse of her shrewd guess. I'm made restless by
the selfishness of the insincere friend—I want to monopolise Paraday
in order that he may push me on. To be intimate with him is a feather
in my cap; it gives me an importance that I couldn't naturally pretend
to, and I seek to deprive him of social refreshment because I fear that
meeting more disinterested people may enlighten him as to my real
motive. All the disinterested people here are his particular admirers
and have been carefully selected as such. There's supposed to be a
copy of his last book in the house, and in the hall I come upon ladies,
in attitudes, bending gracefully over the first volume. I discreetly
avert my eyes, and when I next look round the precarious joy has been
superseded by the book of life. There's a sociable circle or a
confidential couple, and the relinquished volume lies open on its face
and as dropped under extreme coercion. Somebody else presently finds
it and transfers it, with its air of momentary desolation, to another
piece of furniture. Every one's asking every one about it all day, and
every one's telling every one where they put it last. I'm sure it's
rather smudgy about the twentieth page. I've a strong impression, too,
that the second volume is lost—has been packed in the bag of some
departing guest; and yet everybody has the impression that somebody
else has read to the end. You see therefore that the beautiful book
plays a great part in our existence. Why should I take the occasion of
such distinguished honours to say that I begin to see deeper into
Gustave Flaubert's doleful refrain about the hatred of literature? I
refer you again to the perverse constitution of man.
"The Princess is a massive lady with the organisation of an athlete
and the confusion of tongues of a valet de place. She contrives to
commit herself extraordinarily little in a great many languages, and is
entertained and conversed with in detachments and relays, like an
institution which goes on from generation to generation or a big
building contracted for under a forfeit. She can't have a personal
taste any more than, when her husband succeeds, she can have a personal
crown, and her opinion on any matter is rusty and heavy and plain—
made, in the night of ages, to last and be transmitted. I feel as if I
ought to 'tip' some custode for my glimpse of it. She has been told
everything in the world and has never perceived anything, and the
echoes of her education respond awfully to the rash footfall—I mean
the casual remark—in the cold Valhalla of her memory. Mrs. Wimbush
delights in her wit and says there's nothing so charming as to hear Mr.
Paraday draw it out. He's perpetually detailed for this job, and he
tells me it has a peculiarly exhausting effect. Every one's beginning
- at the end of two days—to sidle obsequiously away from her, and
Mrs. Wimbush pushes him again and again into the breach. None of the
uses I have yet seen him put to infuriate me quite so much. He looks
very fagged and has at last confessed to me that his condition makes
him uneasy—has even promised me he'll go straight home instead of
returning to his final engagements in town. Last night I had some talk
with him about going to-day, cutting his visit short; so sure am I that
he'll be better as soon as he's shut up in his lighthouse. He told me
that this is what he would like to do; reminding me, however, that the
first lesson of his greatness has been precisely that he can't do what
he likes. Mrs. Wimbush would never forgive him if he should leave her
before the Princess has received the last hand. When I hint that a
violent rupture with our hostess would be the best thing in the world
for him he gives me to understand that if his reason assents to the
proposition his courage hangs woefully back. He makes no secret of
being mortally afraid of her, and when I ask what harm she can do him
that she hasn't already done he simply repeats: 'I'm afraid, I'm
afraid! Don't enquire too closely,' he said last night; 'only believe
that I feel a sort of terror. It's strange, when she's so kind! At
any rate, I'd as soon overturn that piece of priceless Sèvres as tell
her I must go before my date.' It sounds dreadfully weak, but he has
some reason, and he pays for his imagination, which puts him (I should
hate it) in the place of others and makes him feel, even against
himself, their feelings, their appetites, their motives. It's indeed
inveterately against himself that he makes his imagination act. What a
pity he has such a lot of it! He's too beastly intelligent. Besides,
the famous reading's still to come off, and it has been postponed a day
to allow Guy Walsingham to arrive. It appears this eminent lady's
staying at a house a few miles off, which means of course that Mrs.
Wimbush has forcibly annexed her. She's to come over in a day or two—
Mrs. Wimbush wants her to hear Mr. Paraday.
"To-day's wet and cold, and several of the company, at the
invitation of the Duke, have driven over to luncheon at Bigwood. I saw
poor Paraday wedge himself, by command, into the little supplementary
seat of a brougham in which the Princess and our hostess were already
ensconced. If the front glass isn't open on his dear old back perhaps
he'll survive. Bigwood, I believe, is very grand and frigid, all
marble and precedence, and I wish him well out of the adventure. I
can't tell you how much more and more your attitude to him, in the
midst of all this, shines out by contrast. I never willingly talk to
these people about him, but see what a comfort I find it to scribble to
you! I appreciate it—it keeps me warm; there are no fires in the
house. Mrs. Wimbush goes by the calendar, the temperature goes by the
weather, the weather goes by God knows what, and the Princess is easily
heated. I've nothing but my acrimony to warm me, and have been out
under an umbrella to restore my circulation. Coming in an hour ago I
found Lady Augusta Minch rummaging about the hall. When I asked her
what she was looking for she said she had mislaid something that Mr.
Paraday had lent her. I ascertained in a moment that the article in
question is a manuscript, and I've a foreboding that it's the noble
morsel he read me six weeks ago. When I expressed my surprise that he
should have bandied about anything so precious (I happen to know it's
his only copy—in the most beautiful hand in all the world) Lady
Augusta confessed to me that she hadn't had it from himself, but from
Mrs. Wimbush, who had wished to give her a glimpse of it as a salve for
her not being able to stay and hear it read.
"'Is that the piece he's to read,' I asked, 'when Guy Walsingham
"'It's not for Guy Walsingham they're waiting now, it's for Dora
Forbes,' Lady Augusta said. 'She's coming, I believe, early
to-morrow. Meanwhile Mrs. Wimbush has found out about him, and is
actively wiring to him. She says he also must hear him.'
"'You bewilder me a little,' I replied; 'in the age we live in one
gets lost among the genders and the pronouns. The clear thing is that
Mrs. Wimbush doesn't guard such a treasure so jealously as she might.'
"'Poor dear, she has the Princess to guard! Mr. Paraday lent her
the manuscript to look over.'
"'She spoke, you mean, as if it were the morning paper?'
"Lady Augusta stared—my irony was lost on her. 'She didn't have
time, so she gave me a chance first; because unfortunately I go
to-morrow to Bigwood.'
"'And your chance has only proved a chance to lose it?'
"'I haven't lost it. I remember now—it was very stupid of me to
have forgotten. I told my maid to give it to Lord Dorimont—or at
least to his man.'
"'And Lord Dorimont went away directly after luncheon.'
"'Of course he gave it back to my maid—or else his man did,' said
Lady Augusta. 'I dare say it's all right.'
"The conscience of these people is like a summer sea. They haven't
time to look over a priceless composition; they've only time to kick it
about the house. I suggested that the 'man,' fired with a noble
emulation, had perhaps kept the work for his own perusal; and her
ladyship wanted to know whether, if the thing shouldn't reappear for
the grand occasion appointed by our hostess, the author wouldn't have
something else to read that would do just as well. Their questions are
too delightful! I declared to Lady Augusta briefly that nothing in the
world can ever do so well as the thing that does best; and at this she
looked a little disconcerted. But I added that if the manuscript had
gone astray our little circle would have the less of an effort of
attention to make. The piece in question was very long—it would keep
them three hours.
"'Three hours! Oh the Princess will get up!' said Lady Augusta.
"'I thought she was Mr. Paraday's greatest admirer.'
"'I dare say she is—she's so awfully clever. But what's the use
of being a Princess—'
"'If you can't dissemble your love?' I asked as Lady Augusta was
vague. She said at any rate she'd question her maid; and I'm hoping
that when I go down to dinner I shall find the manuscript has been
not been recovered," I wrote early the next day,
"and I'm moreover much troubled about our friend. He came back from
Bigwood with a chill and, being allowed to have a fire in his room, lay
down a while before dinner. I tried to send him to bed and indeed
thought I had put him in the way of it; but after I had gone to dress
Mrs. Wimbush came up to see him, with the inevitable result that when I
returned I found him under arms and flushed and feverish, though
decorated with the rare flower she had brought him for his
button-hole. He came down to dinner, but Lady Augusta Minch was very
shy of him. To-day he's in great pain, and the advent of ces dames—I
mean of Guy Walsingham and Dora Forbes—doesn't at all console me. It
does Mrs. Wimbush, however, for she has consented to his remaining in
bed so that he may be all right to-morrow for the listening circle.
Guy Walsingham's already on the scene, and the Doctor for Paraday also
arrived early. I haven't yet seen the author of 'Obsessions,' but of
course I've had a moment by myself with the Doctor. I tried to get him
to say that our invalid must go straight home—I mean to-morrow or
next day; but he quite refuses to talk about the future. Absolute
quiet and warmth and the regular administration of an important remedy
are the points he mainly insists on. He returns this afternoon, and
I'm to go back to see the patient at one o'clock, when he next takes
his medicine. It consoles me a little that he certainly won't be able
to read—an exertion he was already more than unfit for. Lady Augusta
went off after breakfast, assuring me her first care would be to follow
up the lost manuscript. I can see she thinks me a shocking busybody
and doesn't understand my alarm, but she'll do what she can, for she's
a good-natured woman. 'So are they all honourable men.' That was
precisely what made her give the thing to Lord Dorimont and made Lord
Dorimont bag it. What use he has for it God only knows. I've
the worst forebodings, but somehow I'm strangely without passion—
desperately calm. As I consider the unconscious, the well-meaning
ravages of our appreciative circle I bow my head in submission to some
great natural, some universal accident; I'm rendered almost
indifferent, in fact quite gay (ha-ha!) by the sense of immitigable
fate. Lady Augusta promises me to trace the precious object and let me
have it through the post by the time Paraday's well enough to play his
part with it. The last evidence is that her maid did give it to his
lordship's valet. One would suppose it some thrilling number of The
Family Budget. Mrs. Wimbush, who's aware of the accident, is much
less agitated by it than she would doubtless be were she not for the
hour inevitably engrossed with Guy Walsingham."
Later in the day I informed my correspondent, for whom indeed I
kept a loose diary of the situation, that I had made the acquaintance
of this celebrity and that she was a pretty little girl who wore her
hair in what used to be called a crop. She looked so juvenile and so
innocent that if, as Mr. Morrow had announced, she was resigned to the
larger latitude, her superiority to prejudice must have come to her
early. I spent most of the day hovering about Neil Paraday's room, but
it was communicated to me from below that Guy Walsingham, at Prestidge,
was a success. Toward evening I became conscious somehow that her
superiority was contagious, and by the time the company separated for
the night I was sure the larger latitude had been generally accepted.
I thought of Dora Forbes and felt that he had no time to lose. Before
dinner I received a telegram from Lady Augusta Minch. "Lord Dorimont
thinks he must have left bundle in train—enquire." How could I
enquire—if I was to take the word as a command? I was too worried
and now too alarmed about Neil Paraday. The Doctor came back, and it
was an immense satisfaction to me to be sure he was wise and
interested. He was proud of being called to so distinguished a
patient, but he admitted to me that night that my friend was gravely
ill. It was really a relapse, a recrudescence of his old malady.
There could be no question of moving him: we must at any rate see
first, on the spot, what turn his condition would take. Meanwhile, on
the morrow, he was to have a nurse. On the morrow the dear man was
easier, and my spirits rose to such cheerfulness that I could almost
laugh over Lady Augusta's second telegram: "Lord Dorimont's servant
been to station—nothing found. Push enquiries." I did laugh, I'm
sure, as I remembered this to be the mystic scroll I had scarcely
allowed poor Mr. Morrow to point his umbrella at. Fool that I had
been: the thirty-seven influential journals wouldn't have destroyed it,
they'd only have printed it. Of course I said nothing to Paraday.
When the nurse arrived she turned me out of the room, on which I
went downstairs. I should premise that at breakfast the news that our
brilliant friend was doing well excited universal complacency, and the
Princess graciously remarked that he was only to be commiserated for
missing the society of Miss Collop. Mrs. Wimbush, whose social gift
never shone brighter than in the dry decorum with which she accepted
this fizzle in her fireworks, mentioned to me that Guy Walsingham had
made a very favourable impression on her Imperial Highness. Indeed I
think every one did so, and that, like the money-market or the national
honour, her Imperial Highness was constitutionally sensitive. There
was a certain gladness, a perceptible bustle in the air, however, which
I thought slightly anomalous in a house where a great author lay
critically ill. "Le roy est mort—vive le roy": I was reminded that
another great author had already stepped into his shoes. When I came
down again after the nurse had taken possession I found a strange
gentleman hanging about the hall and pacing to and fro by the closed
door of the drawing-room. This personage was florid and bald; he had a
big red moustache and wore showy knickerbockers—characteristics all
that fitted to my conception of the identity of Dora Forbes. In a
moment I saw what had happened: the author of "The Other Way Round" had
just alighted at the portals of Prestidge, but had suffered a scruple
to restrain him from penetrating further. I recognised his scruple
when, pausing to listen at his gesture of caution, I heard a shrill
voice lifted in a sort of rhythmic uncanny chant. The famous reading
had begun, only it was the author of "Obsessions" who now furnished the
sacrifice. The new visitor whispered to me that he judged something
was going on he oughtn't to interrupt.
"Miss Collop arrived last night," I smiled, "and the Princess has a
thirst for the inédit."
Dora Forbes lifted his bushy brows. "Miss Collop?"
"Guy Walsingham, your distinguished confrère—or shall I say your
"Oh!" growled Dora Forbes. Then he added: "Shall I spoil it if I
"I should think nothing could spoil it!" I ambiguously laughed.
Dora Forbes evidently felt the dilemma; he gave an irritated crook
to his moustache. "Shall I go in?" he presently asked.
We looked at each other hard a moment; then I expressed something
bitter that was in me, expressed it in an infernal "Do!" After this I
got out into the air, but not so fast as not to hear, when the door of
the drawing-room opened, the disconcerted drop of Miss Collop's public
manner: she must have been in the midst of the larger latitude.
Producing with extreme rapidity, Guy Walsingham has just published a
work in which amiable people who are not initiated have been pained to
see the genius of a sister-novelist held up to unmistakeable ridicule;
so fresh an exhibition does it seem to them of the dreadful way men
have always treated women. Dora Forbes, it's true, at the present
hour, is immensely pushed by Mrs. Wimbush and has sat for his portrait
to the young artists she protects, sat for it not only in oils but in
What happened at Prestidge later in the day is of course
contemporary history. If the interruption I had whimsically sanctioned
was almost a scandal, what is to be said of that general scatter of the
company which, under the Doctor's rule, began to take place in the
evening? His rule was soothing to behold, small comfort as I was to
have at the end. He decreed in the interest of his patient an
absolutely soundless house and a consequent break-up of the party.
Little country practitioner as he was, he literally packed off the
Princess. She departed as promptly as if a revolution had broken out,
and Guy Walsingham emigrated with her. I was kindly permitted to
remain, and this was not denied even to Mrs. Wimbush. The privilege
was withheld indeed from Dora Forbes; so Mrs. Wimbush kept her latest
capture temporarily concealed. This was so little, however, her usual
way of dealing with her eminent friends that a couple of days of it
exhausted her patience, and she went up to town with him in great
publicity. The sudden turn for the worse her afflicted guest had,
after a brief improvement, taken on the third night raised an obstacle
to her seeing him before her retreat; a fortunate circumstance
doubtless, for she was fundamentally disappointed in him. This was not
the kind of performance for which she had invited him to Prestidge, let
alone invited the Princess. I must add that none of the generous acts
marking her patronage of intellectual and other merit have done so much
for her reputation as her lending Neil Paraday the most beautiful of
her numerous homes to die in. He took advantage to the utmost of the
singular favour. Day by day I saw him sink, and I roamed alone about
the empty terraces and gardens. His wife never came near him, but I
scarcely noticed it: as I paced there with rage in my heart I was too
full of another wrong. In the event of his death it would fall to me
perhaps to bring out in some charming form, with notes, with the
tenderest editorial care, that precious heritage of his written
project. But where was that precious heritage and were both the author
and the book to have been snatched from us? Lady Augusta wrote me that
she had done all she could and that poor Lord Dorimont, who had really
been worried to death, was extremely sorry. I couldn't have the matter
out with Mrs. Wimbush, for I didn't want to be taunted by her with
desiring to aggrandise myself by a public connexion with Mr. Paraday's
sweepings. She had signified her willingness to meet the expense of
all advertising, as indeed she was always ready to do. The last night
of the horrible series, the night before he died, I put my ear closer
to his pillow.
"That thing I read you that morning, you know."
"In your garden that dreadful day? Yes!"
"Won't it do as it is?"
"It would have been a glorious book."
"It is a glorious book," Neil Paraday murmured. "Print it
as it stands—beautifully."
"Beautifully!" I passionately promised.
It may be imagined whether, now that he's gone, the promise seems
to me less sacred. I'm convinced that if such pages had appeared in
his lifetime the Abbey would hold him to-day. I've kept the
advertising in my own hands, but the manuscript has not been
recovered. It's impossible, and at any rate intolerable, to suppose it
can have been wantonly destroyed. Perhaps some hazard of a blind hand,
some brutal fatal ignorance has lighted kitchen-fires with it. Every
stupid and hideous accident haunts my meditations. My undiscourageable
search for the lost treasure would make a long chapter. Fortunately
I've a devoted associate in the person of a young lady who has every
day a fresh indignation and a fresh idea, and who maintains with
intensity that the prize will still turn up. Sometimes I believe her,
but I've quite ceased to believe myself. The only thing for us at all
events is to go on seeking and hoping together; and we should be
closely united by this firm tie even were we not at present by another.