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An evening or two later Cope again corked his red ink and uncorked his black.
"As I have said, Mr. Randolph and I walked home together. He stopped for a moment in front of his place. Another large, handsome house. He told me he had the use of his quarters as long as his landlord's lease ran, and asked me to come round some time and see how he was fixed. Then he said suddenly that the evening was fine and the night young and that he would walk on with me to my quarters, if I didn't mind. Of course I didn't--he seemed so friendly and pleasant; but I let him learn for himself that I was far from being lodged in any architectural monument. Well, we went on for the necessary ten minutes, and he didn't seem at all put out by the mediocre aspect of the house where I have put up. He sort of took it all for granted--as if he knew about it already. In fact, on the way from his place to mine, I no more led him (as I sense it now) than he led me. He hesitated at no corner or crossing. 'I am an old Churchtonian,' he said incidentally--as if he knew everything and everybody. He also mentioned, just as incidentally, that he had a brother-in-law on our board of trustees. Of course I promised to go round and see him. I presume that I shall drop in on him some time or other. Come down here, and you shall have one more house of call.
"He stopped for a moment in front of my diggings, taking my hand to say goodnight and taking his own time in dropping it. Enough is enough. 'You have the small change needed for paying your way through society,' he said, with a sort of smile. 'I must cultivate a few little arts myself,' he went on; 'they seem necessary in some houses. But I'm glad, after all, that I didn't remember to-night that a tribute was likely to be levied; it would have taken away my appetite and have made the whole evening a misery in advance. As things went, I had, on the whole, a pleasant time. Only, I understood that you sang; and I was rather hoping to hear you.' 'I do best with my regular accompanist,' I returned--meaning you, of course. I hope you don't mind being degraded to that level. 'And your regular accompanist is not--not----?' 'Is miles away,' I replied. 'A hundred and fifty of them,' I might have added, if I had chosen to be specific. Now, if he had wanted to hear me, why hadn't he asked? He would have needed only to second Mrs. Phillips herself; and there he was, just on the other side of me. In consequence of his reticence I was driven--or drove myself--to blank verse. And that other man, the one in the chair; he may have had his expectations too. Arthur, Arthur, try to grasp the situation! You must come down here, and you must bring your hands with you. Tell the bishop and the precentor that you are needed elsewhere. They will let you off. Of course I know that a village choir needs every tenor it can get--and keep; but come. If they insist, leave your voice behind; but do bring your hands and your reading eye. Don't let me go along making my new circle think I'm an utter dub. Tell your father plainly that he can never in the world make a wholesale- hardware-man out of you. Force him to listen to reason. What is one year spent in finding out just what you are fit for? Come along; I miss you like the devil; nobody does my things as sympathetically as you do. Give up your old anthems and your old tinware and tenpennies and come along. I can bolt from this hole at a week's notice, and we can go into quarters together: a real bed instead of an upholstered shelf, and a closet big enough for two wardrobes (if mine really deserves the name). We could get our own breakfast, and you could take a course in something or other till you found out just what the Big Town could do for you. In any event you would be bearing me company, and your company is what I need. So pack up and appear."
The delay in the posting of this appeal soon brought from Winnebago a letter outside the usual course of correspondence. It was on a fresh sheet and under a new date-line that Cope continued. After a page of generalities and of attention to particular points in the letter from Wisconsin, Cope took up his own line of thought.
"I had meant, of course, to look in on him within a few days,--no great hurry about it. But on Sunday evening he wrote and asked if he might not call round on me instead. My name is not in the telephone-book; neither, as I found out, was his. So I used up a sheet of paper, an envelope, and a stamp--just such as I am now using on you--to tell him that he might indeed. I put in the 'indeed' for cordiality, hoping he wouldn't think I had slighted his invitation. On Monday evening he came round--I must have reached him by the late afternoon delivery. Need I say that he had to take this poor place as he found it? But there was no sign of the once- over--no tendency to inventory or appraise. He sat down beside me on the couch just as if he had no notion that it was a bed (and a rather rocky one, at that), and talked about my row of books, and about music and plays, and about his own collection of curios--all in a quiet, contained way, yet intent on me if not on my outfit. Well, it's pleasant to be considered for what you are rather than for what you have (or for what few poor sticks your landlady may have); and I rather liked his being here. Certainly he was a change from my students, who sometimes seem to exclude better timber.
"Needless to say, he repeated his invitation, and last evening I shunted Middle English (in which I have a lot to catch up) and walked round to him. Very adequately and handsomely lodged. Really good bachelor quarters (I hadn't known for certain whether he was married or not). A stockbroker of a sort, I hear,--but not enough to hurt, I should guess. He has a library and a sitting-room. Like me, he sleeps three-quarters, but he doesn't have to sit on his bed in the daytime. And he has a bathrobe of just the sort I shall have, when I can afford it. He has got together a lot of knick-knacks and curios, but takes them lightly.
"'Sorry I've only one big arm-chair,' he said, handing me his cigarette- case and settling me down in comfort; 'but I entertain very seldom. I should like to be hospitable,' he went on; '--I really think it's in me; but that's pretty much out of the question here. I have no chef, no dining-room of my own, no ball-room, certainly.... Perhaps, before very long, I shall have to make a change.'
"He asked me about Freeford, and I didn't realize until I was on my way back that he had assumed my home town just as he had assumed my lodging. Well, all right; I never resent a friendly interest. He sat in a less-easy chair and blew his smoke-rings and wondered if I had been a small-town boy. 'I'm one, too,' he said; '--at least Churchton, forty years--at least Churchton, thirty years ago, was not all it is to-day. It has always had its own special tone, of course; but in my young--in my younger days it was just a large country village. Fewer of us went into town to make money, or to spend it.'...
"And then he asked me to go into town, one evening soon, and help him spend some. He suggested it rather shyly; a tatons, I will say--though French is not my business. He offered a dinner at a restaurant, and the theatre afterwards. Did I accept? Indeed I did. Think, Arthur! after all the movies and restaurants round the elms and the fountain (tho' you don't know them yet)! I will say, too, that his cigarettes were rather better than my own....
"I suppose he is fully fifty; but he has his young days, I can see. Certainly his age doesn't obtrude,--doesn't bother me at all, though he sometimes seems conscious of it himself. He wears eye-glasses part of the time,--for dignity, I presume. He had them on when I came in, but they disappeared almost at once, and I saw them no more.
"He asked me about my degree,--though I didn't remember having spoken of it. I couldn't but mention 'Shakespeare'--as the word goes; and you know that when I mention him, it always makes the other man mention Bacon. He did mention Bacon, and smiled. 'I've studied the cipher,' he said. 'All you need to make it go is a pair of texts--a long one and a short one--and two fonts of type, or their equivalent in penmanship. Two colors of ink, for example. You can put anything into anything. See here.' He reached up to a shelf and brought down a thin brown square note-book. 'Here's the alphabet,' he said; 'and here'--opening a little beyond--'is my use of it: one of my earliest exercises. I have put the first stanza of "Annabel Lee" into the second chapter of "Tom Jones."' He ignored the absent eye-glasses and picked out the red letters from the black with perfect ease. 'Simplest thing in the world,' he went on; 'anybody can do it. All it needs is time and patience and care. And if you happen to be waggishly or fraudulently inclined you can give yourself considerable entertainment--and can entertain or puzzle other people later. You don't really believe that "Bacon wrote Shakespeare"?'
"Of course I don't, Arthur,--as you very well know. I picked out the first line of 'Annabel Lee' by arranging the necessary groupings among the odd mixture of black and red letters he exhibited, and told him I didn't believe that Bacon wrote Shakespeare--nor that Shakespeare did either. 'Who did, then?' he naturally asked. I told him that I would grant, at the start and for a few seasons, a group of young noblemen and young gentlemen; but that some one of them (supposing there to have been more than that one) soon distanced all the rest and presently became the edifice before which the manager from Stratford was only the facade. He--this 'someone'--was a noble and a man of wide reach both in his natural endowments and in his acquired culture. But he couldn't dip openly into the London cesspool; he had his own quality to safeguard against the contamination of a new and none too highly-regarded trade. 'I don't care for your shillings,' he said to Shaxper, 'nor for the printed plays afterward; but I do value your front and your footing and the services they can render me on my way to self- expression.' He was an earl, or something such, with a country-seat in Warwick, or on the borders of Gloucestershire; 'and if I only had a year and the money to make a journey among the manor-houses of mid-England,' I said, 'and to dig for a while in their muniment-rooms....' Well, you get the idea, all right enough.
"He came across and sat on the arm of the big easy-chair. 'If you went over there and discovered all that, the English scholars would never forgive you.' As of course they wouldn't: look at the recent Shaxper discoveries by Americans in London! 'And wouldn't that be a rather sensational thesis,' he went on, 'from a staid candidate for an M.A., or a Ph.D., or a Litt.D., or whatever it is you're after?' It would, of a verity; and why shouldn't it be? 'Don't go over there,' he ended with a smile, as he dropped his hand on my shoulder; 'your friends would rather have you here.' 'Never fear!' I returned; 'I can't possibly manage it. I shall just do something on "The Disjunctive Conjunctions in 'Paradise Lost,'" and let it go at that!'
"He got up to reach for the ash-receiver. 'They tell me,' he said, 'that a degree isn't much in itself--just an etape on the journey to a better professional standing.' 'Yes,' said I, '--and to better professional rewards. It means so many more hundreds of dollars a year in pay.' But you know all about that, too.
"I'm glad your dramatic club is getting forward so well with the rehearsals for its first drive of the season; glad too that, this time at least, they have given you a good part. Tell me all about it before the big stars in town begin to dim your people in my eyes--and in your own; and don't let them cast you for the next performance in January. You will be here by then.
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