The Inheritors - Joseph Conrad - ebook
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This volume contains two great novels written together by two of the best writters of the 20th century: Ford Madox Fox and Joseph ConradThe Inheritors: An Extravagant Story (1901) is a quasi-science fiction novel that looks at society's mental evolution and what is gained and lost in the process. Written before the first World War, its themes of corruption and the effect of the 20th Century on British aristocracy. Romance, written in 1903, was the second of the colaborations, and one in which their differences started to surface. In fact, there are parts of the novels where the characters seem to talk, in reality, to the other writer, which made this a very interesting reading.

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Joseph Conrad & Ford Madox Ford

 

The Inheritors

 

 

 

 

Firts digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONTENTS

CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER ONE

"Ideas," she said. "Oh, as for ideas—"

"Well?" I hazarded, "as for ideas—?"

We went through the old gateway and I cast a glance over my shoulder. The noon sun was shining over the masonry, over the little saints'effigies, over the little fretted canopies, the grime and the white streaks of bird-dropping.

"There," I said, pointing toward it, "doesn't that suggest something to you?"

She made a motion with her head—half negative, half contemptuous.

"But," I stuttered, "the associations—the ideas—the historical ideas—"

She said nothing.

"You Americans," I began, but her smile stopped me. It was as if she were amused at the utterances of an old lady shocked by the habits of the daughters of the day. It was the smile ofa person who is confident of superseding one fatally.

In conversations of any length one of the parties assumes the superiority—superiority of rank, intellectual or social. In this conversation she, if she did not attain to tacitly acknowledged temperamental superiority, seemed at least to claim it, to have no doubt as to its ultimate according. I was unused to this. I was a talker, proud of my conversational powers.

I had looked at her before; now I cast a sideways, critical glance at her. I came out of mymoodiness to wonder what type this was. She had good hair, good eyes, and some charm. Yes. And something besides—a something—a something that was not an attribute of her beauty. The modelling of her face was so perfect and so delicate as to produce an effect of transparency, yet there was no suggestion of frailness; her glance had an extraordinary strength of life. Her hair was fair and gleaming, her cheeks coloured as if a warm light had fallen on them from somewhere. She was familiar till it occurred toyou that she was strange.

"Which way are you going?" she asked.

"I am going to walk to Dover," I answered.

"And I may come with you?"

I looked at her—intent on divining her in that one glance. It was of course impossible. "There will be time for analysis,"I thought.

"The roads are free to all," I said. "You are not an American?"

She shook her head. No. She was not an Australian either, she came from none of the British colonies.

"You are not English," I affirmed. "You speak too well." I was piqued. She didnot answer. She smiled again and I grew angry. In the cathedral she had smiled at the verger's commendation of particularly abominable restorations, and that smile had drawn me toward her, had emboldened me to offer deferential and condemnatory remarks asto the plaster-of-Paris mouldings. You know how one addresses a young lady who is obviously capable of taking care of herself. That was how I had come across her. She had smiled at the gabble of the cathedral guide as he showed the obsessed troop, of which we had formed units, the place of martyrdom of Blessed Thomas, and her smile had had just that quality of superseder's contempt. It had pleased me then; but, now that she smiled thus past me—it was not quite at me—in the crooked highways of the town, I was irritated. After all, I was somebody; I was not a cathedral verger. I had a fancy for myself in those days—a fancy that solitude and brooding had crystallised into a habit of mind. I was a writer with high—with the highest—ideals. I had withdrawn myselffrom the world, lived isolated, hidden in the countryside, lived as hermits do, on the hope of one day doing something—of putting greatness on paper. She suddenly fathomed my thoughts: "You write," she affirmed. I asked how she knew, wondered what she hadread of mine—there was so little.

"Are you a popular author?" she asked.

"Alas, no!" I answered. "You must know that."

"You would like to be?"

"We should all of us like," I answered; "though it is true some of us protest that we aim for higher things."

"Isee," she said, musingly. As far as I could tell she was coming to some decision. With an instinctive dislike to any such proceeding as regarded myself, I tried to cut across her unknown thoughts.

"But, really—" I said, "I am quite a commonplace topic. Let us talk about yourself. Where do you come from?"

It occurred to me again that I was intensely unacquainted with her type.Here was the same smile—as far as I could see, exactly the same smile.There are fine shades in smiles as in laughs, as in tones of voice. Iseemed unable to hold my tongue.

"Where do you come from?" I asked. "You must belong to one of the new nations. You are a foreigner, I'll swear, because you have such a fine contempt for us. You irritate me so that you might almost be a Prussian. But it is obvious that you are of a new nation that is beginning to find itself."

"Oh, we are to inherit the earth, if that is what you mean," she said.

"The phrase is comprehensive," I said. I was determined not to give myself away. "Where in the world do you come from?" I repeated. The question, I was quite conscious, would have sufficed, but in the hope, I suppose, of establishing my intellectual superiority, I continued:

"You know, fair play's a jewel. Now I'm quite willing to give you informationas to myself. I have already told you the essentials—you ought to tell me something. It would only be fair play."

"Why should there be any fair play?" she asked.

"What have you to say against that?" I said. "Do you not number it among your national characteristics?"

"You really wish to know where I come from?"

I expressed light-hearted acquiescence.

"Listen," she said, and uttered some sounds. I felt a kind of unholy emotion. It had come like a sudden, suddenly hushed, intense gust of wind through abreathless day. "What—what!" I cried.

"I said I inhabit the Fourth Dimension."

I recovered my equanimity with the thought that I had been visited by some stroke of an obscure and unimportant physical kind.

"I think we must have been climbing the hill too fast for me," I said, "I have not been very well. I missed what you said." I was certainly out of breath.

"I said I inhabit the Fourth Dimension," she repeated with admirable gravity.

"Oh, come," I expostulated, "this is playing it rather low down. You walka convalescent out of breath and then propound riddles to him."

I was recovering my breath, and, with it, my inclination to expand. Instead, I looked at her. I was beginning to understand. It was obvious enough that she was a foreigner in a strange land,in a land that brought out her national characteristics. She must be of some race, perhaps Semitic, perhaps Sclav—of some incomprehensible race. I had never seen a Circassian, and there used to be a tradition that Circassian women were beautiful, were fair-skinned, and so on. What was repelling in her was accounted for by this difference innational point of view. One is, after all, not so very remote from the horse. What one does not understand one shies at—finds sinister, in fact. And she struck me as sinister.

"You won't tell me who you are?" I said.

"I have done so," she answered.

"If you expect me to believe that you inhabit a mathematical monstrosity, you are mistaken. You are, really."

She turned round and pointed at the city.

"Look!" she said.

We hadclimbed the western hill. Below our feet, beneath a sky that the wind had swept clean of clouds, was the valley; a broad bowl, shallow, filled with the purple of smoke-wreaths. And above the mass of red roofs there soared the golden stonework of the cathedral tower. It was a vision, the last word of a great art. I looked at her. I was moved, and I knew that the glory of it must have moved her.

She was smiling. "Look!" she repeated. I looked.

There was the purple and the red, and the golden tower, the vision, the last word. She said something—uttered some sound.

What had happened? I don't know. It all looked contemptible. One seemed to see something beyond, something vaster—vaster than cathedrals, vaster than the conception of the gods to whom cathedrals were raised. The tower reeled out of the perpendicular. One saw beyond it, not roofs, or smoke, or hills, but an unrealised, an unrealisable infinity of space.

It was merely momentary. The tower filled its place again and I looked at her.

"What the devil," Isaid, hysterically—"what the devil do you play these tricks upon me for?"

"You see," she answered, "the rudiments of the sense are there."

"You must excuse me if I fail to understand," I said, grasping after fragments of dropped dignity. "I am subject to fits of giddiness." I felt a need for covering a species of nakedness. "Pardon my swearing," I added; a proof of recovered equanimity.

We resumed the road in silence. I was physically and mentally shaken; and I tried to deceive myself as to the cause. Aftersome time I said:

"You insist then in preserving your—your incognito."

"Oh, I make no mystery of myself," she answered.

"You have told me that you come from the Fourth Dimension," I remarked, ironically.

"I come from the Fourth Dimension," she said, patiently. She had the air of one in a position of difficulty; of one aware of it and ready to brave it. She had the listlessness of an enlightened person who has to explain, over and over again, to stupid children some rudimentary point of the multiplication table.

She seemed to divine my thoughts, to be aware of their very wording. She even said "yes" at the opening of her next speech.

"Yes," she said. "It is as if I were to try to explain the new ideas of any age to a person of the age that has gone before."She paused, seeking a concrete illustration that would touch me. "As if I were explaining to Dr. Johnson the methods and the ultimate vogue of the cockney school of poetry."

"I understand," I said, "that you wish me to consider myself as relatively a Choctaw. But what I do not understand is; what bearing that has upon—upon the Fourth Dimension, I think you said?"

"I will explain," she replied.

"But you must explain as if you were explaining to a Choctaw," I said, pleasantly, "you must be concise andconvincing."

She answered: "I will."

She made a long speech of it; I condense. I can't remember her exact words—there were so many; but she spoke like a book. There was something exquisitely piquant in her choice of words, in her expressionless voice. I seemed to be listening to a phonograph reciting a technical work. There was a touch of the incongruous, of the mad, that appealed to me—the commonplace rolling-down landscape, the straight, white, undulating road that, from the tops of rises, one saw runningfor miles and miles, straight, straight, and so white. Filtering down through the great blue of the sky came the thrilling of innumerable skylarks. And I was listening to a parody of a scientific work recited by a phonograph.

I heard the nature of the Fourth Dimension—heard that it was an inhabited plane—invisible to our eyes, but omnipresent; heard that I had seen it when Bell Harry had reeled before my eyes. I heard the Dimensionists described: a race clear-sighted, eminently practical, incredible; withno ideals, prejudices, or remorse; with no feeling for art and no reverence for life; free from any ethical tradition; callous to pain, weakness, suffering and death, as if they had been invulnerable and immortal. She did not say that they were immortal, however. "You would—you will—hate us," she concluded. And I seemed only then to come to myself. The power of her imagination was so great that I fancied myself face to face with the truth. I supposed she had been amusing herself; that she should have triedto frighten me was inadmissible. I don't pretend that I was completely at my ease, but I said, amiably: "You certainly have succeeded in making these beings hateful."

"I have made nothing," she said with a faint smile, and went on amusing herself. She would explain origins, now.

"Your"—she used the word as signifying, I suppose, the inhabitants of the country, or the populations of the earth—"your ancestors were mine, but long ago you were crowded out of the Dimension as we are to-day, you overran the earthas we shall do to-morrow. But you contracted diseases, as we shall contract them,—beliefs, traditions; fears; ideas of pity … of love. You grew luxurious in the worship of your ideals, and sorrowful; you solaced yourselves with creeds, with arts—you haveforgotten!"

She spoke with calm conviction; with an overwhelming and dispassionate assurance. She was stating facts; not professing a faith. We approached a little roadside inn. On a bench before the door a dun-clad country fellow was asleep, his head on the table.

"Put your fingers in your ears," my companion commanded.

I humoured her.

I saw her lips move. The countryman started, shuddered, and by a clumsy, convulsive motion of his arms, upset his quart. He rubbed his eyes. Before he had voiced his emotions we had passed on.

"I have seen a horse-coper do as much for a stallion," I commented. "I know there are words that have certain effects. But you shouldn't play pranks like the low-comedy devil in Faustus."

"It isn't good form, I suppose?" she sneered.

"It's a matter of feeling," I said, hotly, "the poor fellow has lost his beer."

"What's that to me?" she commented, with the air of one affording a concrete illustration.

"It's a good deal to him," I answered.

"But what to me?"

I said nothing. She ceased herexposition immediately afterward, growing silent as suddenly as she had become discoursive. It was rather as if she had learnt a speech by heart and had come to the end of it. I was quite at a loss as to what she was driving at. There was a newness, a strangeness about her; sometimes she struck me as mad, sometimes as frightfully sane. We had a meal somewhere—a meal that broke the current of her speech—and then, in the late afternoon, took a by-road and wandered in secluded valleys. I had been ill; troubleof the nerves, brooding, the monotony of life in the shadow of unsuccess. I had an errand in this part of the world and had been approaching it deviously, seeking the normal in its quiet hollows, trying to get back to my old self. I did not wish to thinkof how I should get through the year—of the thousand little things that matter. So I talked and she—she listened very well.

But topics exhaust themselves and, at the last, I myself brought the talk round to the Fourth Dimension. We were sauntering along the forgotten valley that lies between Hardves and Stelling Minnis; we had been silent for several minutes. For me, at least, the silence was pregnant with the undefinable emotions that, at times, run in currents between man and woman. The sun was getting low and it was shadowy in those shrouded hollows. I laughed at some thought, I forget what, and then began to badger her with questions. I tried to exhaust the possibilities of the Dimensionist idea, made grotesque suggestions. I said: "And when a great manyof you have been crowded out of the Dimension and invaded the earth you will do so and so—" something preposterous and ironical. She coldly dissented, and at once the irony appeared as gross as the jocularity of a commercial traveller. Sometimes she signified: "Yes, that is what we shall do;" signified it without speaking—by some gesture perhaps, I hardly know what. There was something impressive—something almost regal—in this manner of hers; it was rather frightening in those lonely places, which were soforgotten, so gray, so closed in. There was something of the past world about the hanging woods, the little veils of unmoving mist—as if time did not exist in those furrows of the great world; and one was so absolutely alone; anything might have happened.I grew weary of the sound of my tongue. But when I wanted to cease, I found she had on me the effect of some incredible stimulant.

We came to the end of the valley where the road begins to climb the southern hill, out into the open air. I managed to maintain an uneasy silence. From her grimly dispassionate reiterations I had attained to a clear idea, even to a visualisation, of her fantastic conception—allegory, madness, or whatever it was. She certainly forced it home. The Dimensionists were to come in swarms, to materialise, to devour like locusts, to be all the more irresistible because indistinguishable. They were to come like snow in the night: in the morning one would look out and find the world white; they were to come as the gray hairs come, to sap the strength of us as the years sap the strength of the muscles. As to methods, we should be treated as we ourselves treat the inferior races. There would be no fighting, no killing; we—our whole social system—would break as a beam snaps, because we were worm-eaten with altruism and ethics. We, at our worst, had a certain limit, a certain stage where we exclaimed: "No, this is playing it too low down," because we had scruples that acted like handicapping weights. She uttered, I think, only two sentences of connected words: "We shall race with you and we shall not be weighted," and, "We shall merely sink you lower by our weight." All the rest went like this:

"But then," I would say … "we shall not be able to trust anyone. Anyone may be one of you…." She wouldanswer: "Anyone." She prophesied a reign of terror for us. As one passed one's neighbour in the street one would cast sudden, piercing glances at him.

I was silent. The birds were singing the sun down. It was very dark among the branches, and from minute to minute the colours of the world deepened and grew sombre.

"But—" I said. A feeling of unrest was creeping over me. "But why do you tell me all this?" I asked. "Do you think I will enlist with you?"

"You will have to in the end," she said, "and I do not wish to waste my strength. If you had to work unwittingly you would resist and resist and resist. I should have to waste my power on you. As it is, you will resist only at first, then you will begin to understand. You will see how we will bring a man down—aman, you understand, with a great name, standing for probity and honour. You will see the nets drawing closer and closer, and you will begin to understand. Then you will cease resisting, that is all."

I was silent. A June nightingale began to sing, a trifle hoarsely. We seemed to be waiting for some signal. The things of the night came and went, rustled through the grass, rustled through the leafage. At last I could not even see the white gleam of her face….

I stretched out my hand and it touched hers. I seized it without an instant of hesitation. "How could I resist you?" I said, and heard my own whisper with a kind of amazement at its emotion. I raised her hand. It was very cold and she seemed to have no thought of resistance; but before it touched my lips something like a panic of prudence had overcome me. I did not know what it would lead to—and I remembered that I did not even know who she was. From the beginning she had struck me as sinister and now, in the obscurity, her silence and her coldness seemed to be a passive threatening of unknown entanglement. I let her hand fall.

"We must be getting on," I said.

The road was shrouded and overhung by branches. There was a kind of translucent light, enough to see her face, but I kept my eyes on the ground. Iwas vexed. Now that it was past the episode appeared to be a lost opportunity. We were to part in a moment, and her rare mental gifts and her unfamiliar, but very vivid, beauty made the idea of parting intensely disagreeable. She had filled me with a curiosity that she had done nothing whatever to satisfy, and with a fascination that was very nearly a fear. We mounted the hill and came out on a stretch of soft common sward. Then the sound of our footsteps ceased and the world grew more silent than ever. There were little enclosed fields all round us. The moon threw a wan light, and gleaming mist hung in the ragged hedges. Broad, soft roads ran away into space on every side.

"And now …" I asked, at last, "shall we ever meet again?" My voice came huskily, as if I had not spoken for years and years.

"Oh, very often," she answered.

"Very often?" I repeated. I hardly knew whether I was pleased or dismayed. Through the gate-gap in a hedge, I caught a glimmer of a white house front. It seemed to belong to anotherworld; to another order of things.

"Ah … here is Callan's," I said. "This is where I was going…."

"I know," she answered; "we part here."

"To meet again?" I asked.

"Oh … to meet again; why, yes, to meet again."

CHAPTER TWO

Her figure faded into the darkness, as pale things waver downinto deep water, and as soon as she disappeared my sense of humourreturned. The episode appeared more clearly, as a flirtation withan enigmatic, but decidedly charming, chance travelling companion.The girl was a riddle, anda riddle once guessed is a very trivialthing. She, too, would be a very trivial thing when I had found asolution. It occurred to me that she wished me to regard her as asymbol, perhaps, of the future—as a type of those who are toinherit the earth, infact. She had been playing the fool with me,in her insolent modernity. She had wished me to understand that Iwas old-fashioned; that the frame of mind of which I and my fellowswere the inheritors was over and done with. We were to becompulsorily retired; to stand aside superannuated. It was obviousthat she was better equipped for the swiftness of life. She had asomething—not only quickness of wit, not only ruthlessdetermination, but a something quite different and quiteindefinably more impressive. Perhaps it was only the confidence ofthe superseder, the essential quality that makes for the empire ofthe Occidental. But I was not a negro—not even relatively aHindoo. I was somebody, confound it, I was somebody.

As an author, I had been so uniformly unsuccessful, soabsolutely unrecognised, that I had got into the way of regardingmyself as ahead of my time, as a worker for posterity. It was ahabit of mind—the only revenge that I could take upondespiteful Fate. This girl came to confound me with thecommonherd—she declared herself to be that very posterity for whichI worked.

She was probably a member of some clique that called themselvesFourth Dimensionists—just as there had been pre-Raphaelites.It was a matter of cant allegory. I began to wonderhow it was thatI had never heard of them. And how on earth had they come to hearof me!

"She must have read something of mine," I found myself musing:"the Jenkins story perhaps. It must have been the Jenkins story;they gave it a good place in their rotten magazine. She must haveseen that it was the real thing, and…." When one is an authorone looks at things in that way, you know.

By that time I was ready to knock at the door of the greatCallan. I seemed to be jerked into the commonplace medium of agreat, great—oh, an infinitely great—novelist's homelife. I was led into a well-lit drawing-room, welcomed by the greatman's wife, gently propelled into a bedroom, made myself tidy,descended and was introduced into the sanctum, before my eyes hadgrown accustomed to the lamp-light. Callan was seated upon his sofasurrounded by an admiring crowd of very local personages. I forgetwhat they looked like. I think there was a man whose reddish bearddid not become him and another whose facemight have been improvedby the addition of a reddish beard; there was also an extremelymoody dark man and I vaguely recollect a person who lisped.

They did not talk much; indeed there was very littleconversation. What there was Callan supplied.He—spoke—very—slowly—and—very—authoritatively, like a great actor whose aim is to hold thestage as long as possible. The raising of his heavy eyelids at theopening door conveyed the impression of a dark, mental weariness;and seemed somehow to give additional length to his white nose. Hisshort, brown beard was getting very grey, I thought. With his loftyforehead and with his superior, yet propitiatory smile, I was ofcourse familiar. Indeed one saw them on posters in the street. Thenotables did not want to talk. They wanted to bespell-bound—and they were. Callan sat there in an appropriateattitude—the one in which he was always photographed. Onehand supported his head, the other toyed with his watch-chain. Hisface was uniformly solemn, but his eyes were disconcertinglyfurtive. He cross-questioned me as to my walk from Canterbury;remarked that the cathedral wasa—magnificent—Gothic—Monument and set me right asto the lie of the roads. He seemed pleased to find that Iremembered very little of what I ought to have noticed on the way.It gave him an opportunity for the display of his localerudition.

"A—remarkablewoman—used—to—live—in—the—cottage—next—the—mill—at—Stelling,"he said; "she was the original of Kate Wingfield."

"In your 'Boldero?'" the chorus chorussed.

Remembranceof the common at Stelling—of the glimmeringwhite faces of the shadowy cottages—was like a cold waft ofmist to me. I forgot to say "Indeed!"

"She was—avery—remarkable—woman—She——"

I found myself wondering which was real; the common with itsmisty hedgesand the blurred moon; or this room with its ranks ofuniformly bound books and its bust of the great man that threw aportentous shadow upward from its pedestal behind the lamp.

Before I had entirely recovered myself, the notables weredeparting to catchthe last train. I was left alone with Callan.

He did not trouble to resume his attitude for me, and when hedid speak, spoke faster.

"Interesting man, Mr. Jinks?" he said; "you recognised him?"

"No," I said; "I don't think I ever met him."

Callan looked annoyed.

"I thought I'd got him pretty well. He's Hector Steele. Inmy'Blanfield,'" he added.

"Indeed!" I said. I had never been able to read "Blanfield.""Indeed, ah, yes—of course."

There was an awkward pause.

"The whiskey will be here in a minute," hesaid, suddenly. "Idon't have it in when Whatnot's here. He's the Rector, you know; agreat temperance man. When we've had a—a modestquencher—we'll get to business."

"Oh," I said, "your letters really meant—"

"Of course," he answered. "Oh, here's thewhiskey. Well now, Foxwas down here the other night. You know Fox, of course?"

"Didn't he start the rag called—?"

"Yes, yes," Callan answered, hastily, "he's been very successfulin launching papers. Now he's trying his hand with a new one. He'sany amount of backers—big names, you know. He's to run mynext as afeuilleton. This—this venture is to be rather moreserious in tone than any that he's done hitherto. Youunderstand?"

"Why, yes," I said; "but I don't see where I come in."

Callan took a meditativesip of whiskey, added a little morewater, a little more whiskey, and then found the mixture to hisliking.

"You see," he said, "Fox got a letter here to say that Wilkinsonhad died suddenly—some affection of the heart. Wilkinson wasto have written a series of personal articles on prominent people.Well, Fox was nonplussed and I put in a word for you."

"I'm sure I'm much—" I began.

"Not at all, not at all," Callan interrupted, blandly. "I'veknown you and you've known me for a number of years."

A sudden picture danced before my eyes—the portrait of theCallan of the old days—the fawning, shady individual, withthe seedy clothes, the furtive eyes and the obliging manners.

"Why, yes," I said; "but I don't see that that gives me anyclaim."

Callan cleared histhroat.

"The lapse of time," he said in his grand manner, "rivets whatwe may call the bands of association."

He paused to inscribe this sentence on the tablets of hismemory. It would be dragged in—to form a purplepatch—in his new serial.

"You see," hewent on, "I've written a good deal ofautobiographical matter and it would verge upon self-advertisementto do more. You know how much I dislikethat. So I showed Fox yoursketch in theKensington."

"The Jenkins story?" I said. "How did you come to see it?"

"Then send me theKensington," he answered. There was a touch ofsourness in his tone, and I remembered that theKensingtonI had seenhad been ballasted with seven goodly pages by Callanhimself—seven unreadable packed pages of a serial.

"As I wassaying," Callan began again, "you ought to know me verywell, and I suppose you are acquainted with my books. As for therest, I will give you what material you want."

"But, my dear Callan," I said, "I've never tried my hand at thatsort of thing."

Callansilenced me with a wave of his hand.

"It struck both Fox and myself that your—your 'Jenkins'was just what was wanted," he said; "of course, that was a study ofa kind of broken-down painter. But it was well done."

I bowed my head. Praise from Callan was best acknowledged insilence.

"You see, what we want, or rather what Fox wants," he explained,"is a kind of series of studies of celebritieschez eux. Of course,they are not broken down. But if you can treat them as you treatedJenkins —get them in theirstudies, surrounded by what intheir case stands for the broken lay figures and the faded sergecurtains—it will be exactly the thing. It will be a new line,or rather—what is a great deal better, mind you—an oldline treated in a slightly, very slightly different way. That'swhat the public wants."

"Ah, yes," I said, "that's what the public wants. But all thesame, it's been done time out of mind before. Why, I've seenphotographs of you and your arm-chair and your pen-wiper and so on,half a score of times in the sixpenny magazines."

Callan again indicated bland superiority with a wave of hishand.

"You undervalue yourself," he said.

I murmured—"Thanks."

"This is to be—not a mere pandering to curiosity—butan attempt to get at the inside of things—to get theatmosphere, so to speak; not merely to catalogue furniture."

He was quoting from the prospectus of the new paper, and thencleared his throat for the utterance of a tremendous truth.

"Photography—is not—Art," he remarked.

The fantastic side of ourcolloquy began to strike me.

"After all," I thought to myself, "why shouldn't that girl haveplayed at being a denizen of another sphere? She did it ever somuch better than Callan. She did it too well, I suppose."

"The price is very decent," Callan chimedin. "I don't know howmuch per thousand, …but…."

I found myself reckoning, against my will as it were.

"You'll do it, I suppose?" he said.

I thought of my debts … "Why, yes, I suppose so," Ianswered. "But who are the others that I am to provide withatmospheres?"

Callan shrugged his shoulders.

"Oh, all sorts of prominent people—soldiers, statesmen,Mr. Churchill, the Foreign Minister, artists, preachers—allsorts of people."

"All sorts of glory," occurred to me.

"The paper will stand expenses up to a reasonable figure,"Callan reassured me.

"It'll be a good joke for a time," I said. "I'm infinitelyobliged to you."

He warded off my thanks with both hands.

"I'll just send a wire to Fox to say that you accept," he said,rising. He seated himself at his deskin the appropriate attitude.He had an appropriate attitude for every vicissitude of his life.These he had struck before so many people that even in the smallhours of the morning he was ready for the kodak wielder. Beside himhe had every form of labour-saver; every kind of literaryknick-knack. There were book-holders that swung into positionssuitable to appropriate attitudes; there were piles of little greenboxes with red capital letters of the alphabet upon them, and bigred boxes with black small letters. There was a writing-lamp thatcast an æsthetic glow upon another appropriateattitude—and there was one typewriter with note-paper uponit, and another with MS. paper already in position.

"My God!" I thought—"to these heights the Muse soars."

As I looked at the gleaming pillars of the typewriters, theimage of my own desk appeared to me; chipped, ink-stained,gloriously dusty. I thought that when again I lit my battered oldtin lamp I should see ashes and match-ends; a tobacco-jar, an oldgnawed penny penholder, bits of pink blotting-paper, match-boxes,old letters, and dust everywhere. And I knew that myattitude—when I sat at it—would be inappropriate.

Callan was ticking off the telegram upon his machine. "It willgo in the morning at eight," he said.

CHAPTER THREE