The Death of the Lion, by Henry James

Chapter IV.

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 herself.”

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 wife!”

“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!”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38