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Chapter 6

I had gone out into the blackness of the night with a firmer step, with
a new assurance. I had had my interview, the thing was definitely
settled; the first thing in my life that had ever been definitely
settled; and I felt I must tell Lea before I slept. Lea had helped me a
good deal in the old days--he had helped everybody, for that matter. You
would probably find traces of Lea's influence in the beginnings of every
writer of about my decade; of everybody who ever did anything decent,
and of some who never got beyond the stage of burgeoning decently. He
had given me the material help that a publisher's reader could give,
until his professional reputation was endangered, and he had given me
the more valuable help that so few can give. I had grown ashamed of this
one-sided friendship. It was, indeed, partly because of that that I had
taken to the wilds--to a hut near a wood, and all the rest of what now
seemed youthful foolishness. I had desired to live alone, not to be
helped any more, until I could make _some_ return. As a natural result I
had lost nearly all my friends and found myself standing there as naked
as on the day I was born.

All around me stretched an immense town--an immense blackness.
People--thousands of people hurried past me, had errands, had aims, had
others to talk to, to trifle with. But I had nobody. This immense city,
this immense blackness, had no interiors for me. There were house
fronts, staring windows, closed doors, but nothing within; no rooms, no
hollow places. The houses meant nothing to me, nothing more than the
solid earth. Lea remained the only one the thought of whom was not like
the reconsideration of an ancient, a musty pair of gloves.

He lived just anywhere. Being a publisher's reader, he had to report
upon the probable commercial value of the manuscripts that unknown
authors sent to his employer, and I suppose he had a settled plan of
life, of the sort that brought him within the radius of a given spot at
apparently irregular, but probably ordered, intervals. It seemed to be
no more than a piece of good luck that let me find him that night in a
little room in one of the by-ways of Bloomsbury. He was sprawling
angularly on a cane lounge, surrounded by whole rubbish heaps of
manuscript, a grey scrawl in a foam of soiled paper. He peered up at me
as I stood in the doorway.

"Hullo!" he said, "what's brought you here? Have a manuscript?" He waved
an abstracted hand round him. "You'll find a chair somewhere." A claret
bottle stood on the floor beside him. He took it by the neck and passed
it to me.

He bent his head again and continued his reading. I displaced three
bulky folio sheaves of typewritten matter from a chair and seated myself
behind him. He continued to read.

"I hadn't seen these rooms before," I said, for want of something to
say.

The room was not so much scantily as arbitrarily furnished. It contained
a big mahogany sideboard; a common deal table, an extraordinary kind of
folding wash-hand-stand; a deal bookshelf, the cane lounge, and three
unrelated chairs. There were three framed Dutch prints on the marble
mantel-shelf; striped curtains before the windows. A square, cheap
looking-glass, with a razor above it, hung between them. And on the
floor, on the chairs, on the sideboard, on the unmade bed, the profusion
of manuscripts.

He scribbled something on a blue paper and began to roll a cigarette. He
took off his glasses, rubbed them, and closed his eyes tightly.

"Well, and how's Sussex?" he asked.

I felt a sudden attack of what, essentially, was nostalgia. The fact
that I was really leaving an old course of life, was actually and
finally breaking with it, became vividly apparent. Lea, you see, stood
for what was best in the mode of thought that I was casting aside. He
stood for the aspiration. The brooding, the moodiness; all the childish
qualities, were my own importations. I was a little ashamed to tell him,
that--that I was going to live, in fact. Some of the glory of it had
gone, as if one of two candles I had been reading by had flickered out.
But I told him, after a fashion, that I had got a job at last.

"Oh, I congratulate you," he said.

"You see," I began to combat the objections he had not had time to
utter, "even for my work it will be a good thing--I wasn't seeing
enough of life to be able to...."

"Oh, of course not," he answered--"it'll be a good thing. You must have
been having a pretty bad time."

It struck me as abominably unfair. I hadn't taken up with the _Hour_
because I was tired of having a bad time, but for other reasons: because
I had felt my soul being crushed within me.

"You're mistaken," I said. And I explained. He answered, "Yes, yes," but
I fancied that he was adding to himself--"They all say that." I grew
more angry. Lea's opinion formed, to some extent, the background of my
life. For many years I had been writing quite as much to satisfy him as
to satisfy myself, and his coldness chilled me. He thought that my heart
was not in my work, and I did not want Lea to think that of me. I tried
to explain as much to him--but it was difficult, and he gave me no help.

I knew there had been others that he had fostered, only to see them, in
the end, drift into the back-wash. And now he thought I was going
too....

"Here," he said, suddenly breaking away from the subject, "look at
that."

He threw a heavy, ribbon-bound mass of matter into my lap, and
recommenced writing his report upon its saleability as a book. He was of
opinion that it was too delicately good to attract his employer's class
of readers. I began to read it to get rid of my thoughts. The heavy
black handwriting of the manuscript sticks in my mind's eye. It must
have been good, but probably not so good as I then thought it--I have
entirely forgotten all about it; otherwise, I remember that we argued
afterward: I for its publication; he against. I was thinking of the
wretched author whose fate hung in the balance. He became a pathetic
possibility, hidden in the heart of the white paper that bore
pen-markings of a kind too good to be marketable. There was something
appalling in Lea's careless--"Oh, it's too good!" He was used to it, but
as for me, in arguing that man's case I suddenly became aware that I was
pleading my own--pleading the case of my better work. Everything that
Lea said of this work, of this man, applied to my work; and to myself.
"There's no market for that sort of thing, no public; this book's been
all round the trade. I've had it before. The man will never come to the
front. He'll take to inn-keeping, and that will finish him off." That's
what he said, and he seemed to be speaking of me. Some one was knocking
at the door of the room--tentative knocks of rather flabby knuckles. It
was one of those sounds that one does not notice immediately. The man
might have been knocking for ten minutes. It happened to be Lea's
employer, the publisher of my first book. He opened the door at last,
and came in rather peremptorily. He had the air of having worked himself
into a temper--of being intellectually rather afraid of Lea, but of
being, for this occasion, determined to assert himself.

The introduction to myself--I had never met him--which took place after
he had hastily brought out half a sentence or so, had the effect of
putting him out of his stride, but, after having remotely acknowledged
the possibility of my existence, he began again.

The matter was one of some delicacy. I myself should have hesitated to
broach it before a third party, even one so negligible as myself. But
Mr. Polehampton apparently did not. He had to catch the last post.

Lea, it appeared, had advised him to publish a manuscript by a man
called Howden--a moderately known writer....

"But I am disturbed to find, Mr. Lea, that is, my daughter tells me that
the manuscript is not ... is not at all the thing.... In fact, it's
quite--and--eh ... I suppose it's too late to draw back?"

"Oh, it's altogether too late for _that_" Lea said, nonchalantly.
"Besides, Howden's theories always sell."

"Oh, yes, of course, of course," Mr. Polehampton interjected, hastily,
"but don't you think now ... I mean, taking into consideration the
damage it may do our reputation ... that we ought to ask Mr. Howden to
accept, say fifty pounds less than...."

"I should think it's an excellent idea," Lea said. Mr. Polehampton
glanced at him suspiciously, then turned to me.

"You see," he began to explain, "one has to be _so_ careful about these
things."

"Oh, I can quite understand," I answered. There was something so na´ve
in the man's point of view that I had felt my heart go out to him. And
he had taught me at last how it is that the godly grow fat at the
expense of the unrighteous. Mr. Polehampton, however, was not fat. He
was even rather thin, and his peaked grey hair, though it was actually
well brushed, looked as if it ought not to have been. He had even an
anxious expression. People said he speculated in some stock or other,
and I should say they were right.

"I ... eh ... believe I published your first book ... I lost money by
it, but I can assure you that I bear no grudge--almost a hundred pounds.
I bear no grudge...."

The man was an original. He had no idea that I might feel insulted;
indeed, he really wanted to be pleasant, and condescending, and
forgiving. I didn't feel insulted. He was too big for his clothes, gave
that impression at least, and he wore black kid gloves. Moreover, his
eyes never left the cornice of the room. I saw him rather often after
that night, but never without his gloves and never with his eyes
lowered.

"And ... eh ..." he asked, "what are you doing now, Mr. Granger?"

Lea told him Fox had taken me up; that I was going to go. I suddenly
remembered it was said of Fox that everyone he took up did "go." The
fact was obviously patent to Mr. Polehampton. He unbent with remarkable
suddenness; it reminded me of the abrupt closing of a stiff umbrella. He
became distinctly and crudely cordial--hoped that we should work
together again; once more reminded me that he had published my first
book (the words had a different savour now), and was enchanted to
discover that we were neighbours in Sussex. My cottage was within four
miles of his villa, and we were members of the same golf club.

"We must have a game--several games," he said. He struck me as the sort
of man to find a difficulty in getting anyone to play with him.

After that he went away. As I had said, I did not dislike him--he was
pathetic; but his tone of mind, his sudden change of front, unnerved me.
It proved so absolutely that I was "going to go," and I did not want to
go--in that sense. The thing is a little difficult to explain, I wanted
to take the job because I wanted to have money--for a little time, for a
year or so, but if I once began to go, the temptation would be strong to
keep on going, and I was by no means sure that I should be able to
resist the temptation. So many others had failed. What if I wrote to
Fox, and resigned?... Lea was deep in a manuscript once more.

"Shall I throw it up?" I asked suddenly. I wanted the thing settled.

"Oh, go on with it, by all means go on with it," Lea answered.

"And ...?" I postulated.

"Take your chance of the rest," he supplied; "you've had a pretty bad
time."

"I suppose," I reflected, "if I haven't got the strength of mind to get
out of it in time, I'm not up to much."

"There's that, too," he commented, "the game may not be worth the
candle." I was silent. "You must take your chance when you get it," he
added.

He had resumed his reading, but he looked up again when I gave way, as I
did after a moment's thought.

"Of course," he said, "it will probably be all right. You do your best.
It's a good thing ... might even do you good."

In that way the thing went through. As I was leaving the room, the idea
occurred to me, "By the way, you don't know anything of a clique: the
Dimensionists--_Fourth_ Dimensionists?"

"Never heard of them," he negatived. "What's their specialty?"

"They're going to inherit the earth," I answered.

"Oh, I wish them joy," he closed.

"You don't happen to be one yourself? I believe it's a sort of secret
society." He wasn't listening. I went out quietly.

The night effects of that particular neighbourhood have always affected
me dismally. That night they upset me, upset me in much the same way,
acting on much the same nerves as the valley in which I had walked with
that puzzling girl. I remembered that she had said she stood for the
future, that she was a symbol of my own decay--the whole silly farrago,
in fact. I reasoned with myself--that I was tired, out of trim, and so
on, that I was in a fit state to be at the mercy of any nightmare. I
plunged into Southampton Row. There was safety in the contact with the
crowd, in jostling, in being jostled.

Joseph Conrad

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