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Chapter 6


A WEEK later, early in May, my glorified friend came up to town,
where, it may be veraciously recorded he was the king of the beasts
of the year. No advancement was ever more rapid, no exaltation
more complete, no bewilderment more teachable. His book sold but
moderately, though the article in THE EMPIRE had done unwonted
wonders for it; but he circulated in person to a measure that the
libraries might well have envied. His formula had been found - he
was a "revelation." His momentary terror had been real, just as
mine had been - the overclouding of his passionate desire to be
left to finish his work. He was far from unsociable, but he had
the finest conception of being let alone that I've ever met. For
the time, none the less, he took his profit where it seemed most to
crowd on him, having in his pocket the portable sophistries about
the nature of the artist's task. Observation too was a kind of
work and experience a kind of success; London dinners were all
material and London ladies were fruitful toil. "No one has the
faintest conception of what I'm trying for," he said to me, "and
not many have read three pages that I've written; but I must dine
with them first - they'll find out why when they've time." It was
rather rude justice perhaps; but the fatigue had the merit of being
a new sort, while the phantasmagoric town was probably after all
less of a battlefield than the haunted study. He once told me that
he had had no personal life to speak of since his fortieth year,
but had had more than was good for him before. London closed the
parenthesis and exhibited him in relations; one of the most
inevitable of these being that in which he found himself to Mrs.
Weeks Wimbush, wife of the boundless brewer and proprietress of the
universal menagerie. In this establishment, as everybody knows, on
occasions when the crush is great, the animals rub shoulders freely
with the spectators and the lions sit down for whole evenings with
the lambs.

It had been ominously clear to me from the first that in Neil
Paraday this lady, who, as all the world agreed, was tremendous
fun, considered that she had secured a prime attraction, a creature
of almost heraldic oddity. Nothing could exceed her enthusiasm
over her capture, and nothing could exceed the confused
apprehensions it excited in me. I had an instinctive fear of her
which I tried without effect to conceal from her victim, but which
I let her notice with perfect impunity. Paraday heeded it, but she
never did, for her conscience was that of a romping child. She was
a blind violent force to which I could attach no more idea of
responsibility than to the creaking of a sign in the wind. It was
difficult to say what she conduced to but circulation. She was
constructed of steel and leather, and all I asked of her for our
tractable friend was not to do him to death. He had consented for
a time to be of india-rubber, but my thoughts were fixed on the day
he should resume his shape or at least get back into his box. It
was evidently all right, but I should be glad when it was well
over. I had a special fear - the impression was ineffaceable of
the hour when, after Mr. Morrow's departure, I had found him on the
sofa in his study. That pretext of indisposition had not in the
least been meant as a snub to the envoy of THE TATLER - he had gone
to lie down in very truth. He had felt a pang of his old pain, the
result of the agitation wrought in him by this forcing open of a
new period. His old programme, his old ideal even had to be
changed. Say what one would, success was a complication and
recognition had to be reciprocal. The monastic life, the pious
illumination of the missal in the convent cell were things of the
gathered past. It didn't engender despair, but at least it
required adjustment. Before I left him on that occasion we had
passed a bargain, my part of which was that I should make it my
business to take care of him. Let whoever would represent the
interest in his presence (I must have had a mystical prevision of
Mrs. Weeks Wimbush) I should represent the interest in his work -
or otherwise expressed in his absence. These two interests were in
their essence opposed; and I doubt, as youth is fleeting, if I
shall ever again know the intensity of joy with which I felt that
in so good a cause I was willing to make myself odious.

One day in Sloane Street I found myself questioning Paraday's
landlord, who had come to the door in answer to my knock. Two
vehicles, a barouche and a smart hansom, were drawn up before the
house.

"In the drawing-room, sir? Mrs. Weeks Wimbush."

"And in the dining-room?"

"A young lady, sir - waiting: I think a foreigner."

It was three o'clock, and on days when Paraday didn't lunch out he
attached a value to these appropriated hours. On which days,
however, didn't the dear man lunch out? Mrs. Wimbush, at such a
crisis, would have rushed round immediately after her own repast.
I went into the dining-room first, postponing the pleasure of
seeing how, upstairs, the lady of the barouche would, on my
arrival, point the moral of my sweet solicitude. No one took such
an interest as herself in his doing only what was good for him, and
she was always on the spot to see that he did it. She made
appointments with him to discuss the best means of economising his
time and protecting his privacy. She further made his health her
special business, and had so much sympathy with my own zeal for it
that she was the author of pleasing fictions on the subject of what
my devotion had led me to give up. I gave up nothing (I don't
count Mr. Pinhorn) because I had nothing, and all I had as yet
achieved was to find myself also in the menagerie. I had dashed in
to save my friend, but I had only got domesticated and wedged; so
that I could do little more for him than exchange with him over
people's heads looks of intense but futile intelligence.

Henry James

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