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Chapter 3

I WAS frankly, at the end of three days, a very prejudiced critic,
so that one morning when, in the garden, my great man had offered
to read me something I quite held my breath as I listened. It was
the written scheme of another book - something put aside long ago,
before his illness, but that he had lately taken out again to
reconsider. He had been turning it round when I came down on him,
and it had grown magnificently under this second hand. Loose
liberal confident, it might have passed for a great gossiping
eloquent letter - the overflow into talk of an artist's amorous
plan. The theme I thought singularly rich, quite the strongest he
had yet treated; and this familiar statement of it, full too of
fine maturities, was really, in summarised splendour, a mine of
gold, a precious independent work. I remember rather profanely
wondering whether the ultimate production could possibly keep at
the pitch. His reading of the fond epistle, at any rate, made me
feel as if I were, for the advantage of posterity, in close
correspondence with him - were the distinguished person to whom it
had been affectionately addressed. It was a high distinction
simply to be told such things. The idea he now communicated had
all the freshness, the flushed fairness, of the conception
untouched and untried: it was Venus rising from the sea and before
the airs had blown upon her. I had never been so throbbingly
present at such an unveiling. But when he had tossed the last
bright word after the others, as I had seen cashiers in banks,
weighing mounds of coin, drop a final sovereign into the tray, I
knew a sudden prudent alarm.

"My dear master, how, after all, are you going to do it? It's
infinitely noble, but what time it will take, what patience and
independence, what assured, what perfect conditions! Oh for a lone
isle in a tepid sea!"

"Isn't this practically a lone isle, and aren't you, as an
encircling medium, tepid enough?" he asked, alluding with a laugh
to the wonder of my young admiration and the narrow limits of his
little provincial home. "Time isn't what I've lacked hitherto:
the question hasn't been to find it, but to use it. Of course my
illness made, while it lasted, a great hole - but I dare say there
would have been a hole at any rate. The earth we tread has more
pockets than a billiard-table. The great thing is now to keep on
my feet."

"That's exactly what I mean."

Neil Paraday looked at me with eyes - such pleasant eyes as he had
- in which, as I now recall their expression, I seem to have seen a
dim imagination of his fate. He was fifty years old, and his
illness had been cruel, his convalescence slow. "It isn't as if I
weren't all right."

"Oh if you weren't all right I wouldn't look at you!" I tenderly
said.

We had both got up, quickened as by this clearer air, and he had
lighted a cigarette. I had taken a fresh one, which with an
intenser smile, by way of answer to my exclamation, he applied to
the flame of his match. "If I weren't better I shouldn't have
thought of THAT!" He flourished his script in his hand.

"I don't want to be discouraging, but that's not true," I returned.
"I'm sure that during the months you lay here in pain you had
visitations sublime. You thought of a thousand things. You think
of more and more all the while. That's what makes you, if you'll
pardon my familiarity, so respectable. At a time when so many
people are spent you come into your second wind. But, thank God,
all the same, you're better! Thank God, too, you're not, as you
were telling me yesterday, 'successful.' If YOU weren't a failure
what would be the use of trying? That's my one reserve on the
subject of your recovery - that it makes you 'score,' as the
newspapers say. It looks well in the newspapers, and almost
anything that does that's horrible. 'We are happy to announce that
Mr. Paraday, the celebrated author, is again in the enjoyment of
excellent health.' Somehow I shouldn't like to see it."

"You won't see it; I'm not in the least celebrated - my obscurity
protects me. But couldn't you bear even to see I was dying or
dead?" my host enquired.

"Dead - passe encore; there's nothing so safe. One never knows
what a living artist may do - one has mourned so many. However,
one must make the worst of it. You must be as dead as you can."

"Don't I meet that condition in having just published a book?"

"Adequately, let us hope; for the book's verily a masterpiece."

At this moment the parlour-maid appeared in the door that opened
from the garden: Paraday lived at no great cost, and the frisk of
petticoats, with a timorous "Sherry, sir?" was about his modest
mahogany. He allowed half his income to his wife, from whom he had
succeeded in separating without redundancy of legend. I had a
general faith in his having behaved well, and I had once, in
London, taken Mrs. Paraday down to dinner. He now turned to speak
to the maid, who offered him, on a tray, some card or note, while,
agitated, excited, I wandered to the end of the precinct. The idea
of his security became supremely dear to me, and I asked myself if
I were the same young man who had come down a few days before to
scatter him to the four winds. When I retraced my steps he had
gone into the house, and the woman - the second London post had
come in - had placed my letters and a newspaper on a bench. I sat
down there to the letters, which were a brief business, and then,
without heeding the address, took the paper from its envelope. It
was the journal of highest renown, THE EMPIRE of that morning. It
regularly came to Paraday, but I remembered that neither of us had
yet looked at the copy already delivered. This one had a great
mark on the "editorial" page, and, uncrumpling the wrapper, I saw
it to be directed to my host and stamped with the name of his
publishers. I instantly divined that THE EMPIRE had spoken of him,
and I've not forgotten the odd little shock of the circumstance.
It checked all eagerness and made me drop the paper a moment. As I
sat there conscious of a palpitation I think I had a vision of what
was to be. I had also a vision of the letter I would presently
address to Mr. Pinhorn, breaking, as it were, with Mr. Pinhorn. Of
course, however, the next minute the voice of THE EMPIRE was in my
ears.

The article wasn't, I thanked heaven, a review; it was a "leader,"
the last of three, presenting Neil Paraday to the human race. His
new book, the fifth from his hand, had been but a day or two out,
and THE EMPIRE, already aware of it, fired, as if on the birth of a
prince, a salute of a whole column. The guns had been booming
these three hours in the house without our suspecting them. The
big blundering newspaper had discovered him, and now he was
proclaimed and anointed and crowned. His place was assigned him as
publicly as if a fat usher with a wand had pointed to the topmost
chair; he was to pass up and still up, higher and higher, between
the watching faces and the envious sounds - away up to the dais and
the throne. The article was "epoch-making," a landmark in his
life; he had taken rank at a bound, waked up a national glory. A
national glory was needed, and it was an immense convenience he was
there. What all this meant rolled over me, and I fear I grew a
little faint - it meant so much more than I could say "yea" to on
the spot. In a flash, somehow, all was different; the tremendous
wave I speak of had swept something away. It had knocked down, I
suppose, my little customary altar, my twinkling tapers and my
flowers, and had reared itself into the likeness of a temple vast
and bare. When Neil Paraday should come out of the house he would
come out a contemporary. That was what had happened: the poor man
was to be squeezed into his horrible age. I felt as if he had been
overtaken on the crest of the hill and brought back to the city. A
little more and he would have dipped down the short cut to
posterity and escaped.

Henry James

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