“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 chair.
“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.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56