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"In the meantime," I pursued, “George Corvick's possession of the tip may, on his part, really lead to something."
" That will be a brave day!"
I told him about Corvick's cleverness, his admiration, the intensity of his interest in my anecdote ; and, without making too much of the divergence of our respective estimates, mentioned that my friend was already of opinion that he saw much further into a certain affair than most people. He was quite as fired as I had been at Bridges. He was moreover in love with the young lady : perhaps the two together would puzzle something out.
Vereker seemed struck with this. “Do you mean they're to be married ?"
“I daresay that's what it will come to."
" That may help them,” he laughed," but we must give them time !"
I spoke of my own renewed assault and confessed my difficulties; whereupon he repeated his former advice-“ Give it up, give it up!" He evidently didn't think me intellectually equipped for the adventure. I staid half an hour, and he was most good-natured, but I couldn't help fancying him a creature of shifting moods. He had been free with me in a mood, he had repented in a mood, and now in a mood he had turned indifferent. This general levity helped me to believe that, so far as the subject of the tip went, there wasn't much in it. I contrived, however, to make him answer a few more questions about it, though he did so with visible impatience. For himself, unmistakably, the thing we were all so blank about was vividly there. It was something, I guessed, in the primal plan, something like a complex figure in a Persian carpet. He highly approved of this image when I used it, and he used another himself.
" It's the very string,” he said, “ that my pearls are strung on !” The reason of his note to me had been that he really didn't want to give us a grain of assistance--our density was a thing too perfect in its way to touch. He had formed the habit of depending upon it, and if the spell was to break, it must break by some force of its own. He comes back to me from that last occasion (for I was never to see him again)
as a man with some subtle secret for enjoyment. I wondered, as I walked away, where he had got his tip.
When I spoke to George Corvick of the caution I had received he made me feel that any doubt of his discretion would be almost an insult. He had instantly told Gwendolen, but Gwendolen's ardent response was in itself a pledge of reticence. The question would now absorb them, and they would enjoy their fun too much to wish to share it with the crowd. They appeared to have caught instinctively Vereker's peculiar notion of fun. Their intellectual pride, however, was not such as to make them indifferent to any further light I might throw on the business they had in hand. They were indeed of the “artistic temperament,” and I was freshly struck with my friend's power to excite himself over a question of art. He called it letters, he called it life--it was all one thing. In what he said I now seemed to understand that he spoke equally for Gwendolen, to whom, as soon as Mrs. Erme was sufficiently better to allow her a little leisure, he made a point of introducing me. I remember our calling together one Sunday in August at a huddled house in Chelsea, and my renewed envy of Corvick's possession of a friend who had some light to mingle with his own. He could say things to her that I could never say to him. She had indeed no sense of humour, but she had a pretty way of holding her head on one side, and was one of those persons whom you want, as the phrase is, to shake, but who have learnt Hungarian by themselves. She conversed perhaps in Hungarian with Corvick ; at any rate she had little English for his friend. Corvick afterwards told me that I had chilled her by my apparent indisposition to oblige her with the detail of what Vereker had said to me. I admitted that I felt I had given thought enough to this disclosure : hadn't I even made up my mind that it was hollow, wouldn't stand the test ? The importance they attached to it was irritating--it rather envenomed my dissent.
That statement looks unamiable, and what probably happened was that I felt humiliated at seeing other persons
extracting a daily joy from an experiment which had brought me only discomfiture. I was out in the cold while, by the evening fire, under the lamp, they followed the chase for which I myself had sounded the horn. They did as I had done, only more deliberately and sociably--they went over their author from the beginning. There was no hurry, Corvick said -the future was before them and the fascination could only grow : they would take him page by page, as they would take one of the classics, inhale him in slow draughts and let him sink deep in. I doubt whether they would have got so wound up if they had not been in love : poor Vereker's secret gave them endless occasion to put their young heads together. None the less it represented the kind of problem for which Corvick had a special aptitude, drew out the particular pointed patience of which, had he lived, he would have given inore striking and, it is to be hoped, more fruitful examples. He at least was, in Vereker's words, a little demon of subtlety. We had begun by disputing, but I soon saw that, without my stirring a finger, his infatuation would have its bad hours. He would bound off on false scents, as I had done--he would clap his hands over new lights and see them blown out by the wind of the turned page. He was like nothing, I told him, but the maniacs who embrace some bedlamitical theory of the cryptic character of Shakespeare. To this he replied that if we had had Shakespeare's own word for his being cryptic he would immediately have accepted it. The case there was altogether different--we had nothing but the word of Mr. Snooks. I rejoined that I was stupefied to see him attach such importance even to the word of Mr. Vereker. He inquired thereupon whether I considered Mr. Vereker's word as a lie. I wasn't perhaps prepared, in my unhappy rebound, to go as far as that, but I declared that until the contrary was proved I should regard it as too fond an imagination. I didn't, I confess, say—I didn't at that time quite know--all I felt. Deep down, as Miss Erme would have said, I was uneasy, I was expectant. At the core of my personal confusion (for my curiosity lived in its ashes) was the sharpness of a sense that Corvick would at last probably come out somewhere. He made, in defence of his credulity, a great point of the fact that from of old, in his study of this
genius, he had caught whiffs and hints of he didn't know what, faint wandering notes of a hidden music. That was just the rarity, that was the charm : it fitted so perfectly into what I reported.
If I returned on several occasions to the little house in Chelsea I daresay it was as much for news of Vereker as for news of Miss Erme's mamma. The hours spent there by Corvick were present to iny fancy as those of a chessplayer bent with a silent scowl, all the lamplit winter, over his board and his moves. As my imagination filled it out the picture held me fast. On the other side of the table was a ghostlier form--the faint figure of an antagonist good-humouredly but a little wearily inscrutable-an antagonist who leaned back in his chair with his hands in his pockets and a smile on his fine clear face. Close to Corvick, behind him, was a girl who had begun to strike me as pale and wasted, and even, on more familiar view, as rather handsome, and who rested on his shoulder and hung upon his moves. He would take up a chessman and hold it poised a while over one of the little squares, and then he would put it back in its place with a long sigh of disappointment. The young lady, at this, would slightly but uneasily shift her position and look across, very hard, very long, very strangely, at their dim participant. I had asked them at an early stage of the business, if it mightn't contribute to their success to have some closer communication with him. The special circumstances would probably be held to have given me a right to introduce them. Corvick immediately replied that he had no. wish to approach the altar before he had prepared the sacrifice. He quite agreed with our friend both as to the sport and as to the honour-he would bring down the animal with his own rifle. When I asked him if Miss Erme were as keen a shot he said after an hesitation : “No; I'm ashamed to say she wants to lay a trap --she'd give anything to see him : she says she requires another tip. She's really quite morbid about it. But she must play fair--she shan't see him!” he emphatically added. I had a suspicion that they had even quarrelled a little on the subject-a suspicion not corrected, by the way, more than once, he exclaimed to me : "She's quite incredibly literary, you know
quite incredibly." I remember his saying of her that she felt in italics and thought in capitals. “Oh, when I've run him to earth,” he also said, "then, you know, I shall knock at his door. Rather-I beg you to believe ! I'll have it from his own lips : 'Right you are, my boy ; you've done it this time !' He shall crown me victor-with the critical laurel.”
Meanwhile he really avoided the chances London life might have given him of meeting the distinguished novelist; a danger, however, that disappeared with Vereker's leaving England for an indefinite absence, as the newspapers announced-going to the south for motives connected with the health of his wife, which had long kept her in retirement. A year-more than a year--had elapsed since the incident at Bridges, but I had not encountered him again. I think at bottom I was rather ashamed---I hated to remind him that though I had irremediably missed his point a reputation for acuteness was rapidly overtaking me. This scruple led me a dance ; kept me out of Lady Flora's house, made me even decline when, in spite of my bad manners, she was a second time so good as to make me a sign, an invitation to the beautiful Bridges. I once saw her with Vereker at a concert and was sure I was seen by them, but I slipped out without being caught. I felt, as on that occasion I splashed along in the rain, that I couldn't have done anything else; and yet I remember saying to myself that it was hard, was even cruel. Not only had I lost the books, but I had lost the man himself--they and their author had been alike spoiled for me. I knew too which was the loss I most regretted. I had liked the man still better than I had liked the books,
(To be continued.)