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Selingman took little heed of the cordon around Maraton. He brushed them all to one side, and when at last confronted by the final barrier, in the shape of Julia, he only patted her gently upon the back.
"Ah, but my dear child," he exclaimed, "you do not understand! Listen. I raise my voice, I shout--like this--'Maraton, it is I who am here--Selingman!' You see, he will come if he is within hearing. You know of me, you pale-faced child? You have heard of Selingman, is it not so?"
Before Julia could answer, the door of the study was opened.
"Come in," Maraton called out from an invisible place.
Selingman, with a little bow of triumph to Julia, passed down the passage and into the library. He threw his hat upon the sofa and held out both his hands to Maraton. Julia, who had followed him, sank into a chair before her typewriter.
"I have made you famous, my friend," he declared. "You may quote these words in after life as representing the full sublimity of my conceit, but it is true. Have you read my 'Appreciation' in the Oracle?"
"I have," Maraton admitted, smiling.
"The real thing," Selingman continued, "crisp and crackling with genius. As they read it, the photographers took down their cameras, the editors whispered to their journalists to be off to Russell Square, the ladies began to pen their cards of invitation."
"That's all very well," Maraton remarked, a little grimly, "but where do I come in? I have no time for the journalists, I refuse to be photographed, and I am not likely to accept the invitations. It takes my two secretaries half their time to wade through my correspondence and to decide which of it is to be pitched into the waste-paper basket. I am not a dealer in quack remedies, or an actor. I don't want advertisement."
"Pooh, my friend!--pooh!" Selingman retorted, drawing out his worn leather case and thrusting one of the long black cigars into his mouth. "Everything that is spontaneous in life is good for you--even advertisement. But listen to my news. It is great news, believe me. . . . A match, please."
Maraton struck a vesta and handed it to him. Selingman transferred the flame to a piece of paper from the waste-paper basket and puffed contentedly at his cigar.
"I light not cigars with a flavour like this, with a wax vesta," he explained. "Where was I? Oh, I know--the news! This morning I have received a message. Maxendorf has left for England." Maraton smiled.
"Is that all?" he said. "I could have told you that myself. The fact is announced in all the morning papers."
"He will be at the Ritz Hotel to-night," Selingman continued, unruffled. "When he arrives, I shall be there. We speak together for an hour and then I come for you."
"I shall be glad to meet Maxendorf," Maraton agreed quietly. "He is a great man. But don't you think for his first few days in England it would be better to leave him alone, so far as I am concerned?"
"Later I will remind you of those words," Selingman declared. "For a genius you see no further than the end of your nose. They tell me that when you landed, there were prophets in the East End who rose up and shouted--'Maraton is come! Maraton is here!' No more--just the simple announcement--as though that fact alone were changing life. Very well. I will be your prophet and you shall be the people. I will say to you, as they cried to the Children of Israel groaning under their toil--Maxendorf has come! Maxendorf is here!"
Maraton was silent for a moment. He was sitting on the edge of the table, with folded arms. His visitor was pacing up and down the room, blowing out dense volumes of smoke.
"You have more in your mind, Selingman, than you have told me," he said.
"What is there that is hidden from the eye of genius?" Selingman cried, with a theatrical wave of the hand. "More than I have told you indeed--more than I shall tell you. One thing, at least, I have learnt in my struggles with the pen, and that is to avoid the anti-climax. It is a great thing to remember that. So I am dumb, I speak no more. . . Why don't you send your poor little secretary out for a walk? Mademoiselle, forgive me, but he works you too hard."
She looked up at him, smiling.
"I worked very much harder before I came here," she answered quietly.
"I am fortunate in my secretary," Maraton interposed. "This is Miss Julia Thurnbrein, Selingman. I don't suppose you read our reviews, but Miss Thurnbrein is an authority on woman labour."
"I read nothing," Selingman declared, moving over and grasping her by the hand. "I read nothing. People are my books. I am forty-five years old. I have done with reading. I know a great deal, I have read a great deal; I read no more. Miss Julia Thurnbrein, you say. Well, I like the name of Julia. Only, young lady, you would do better to spend a little more time with the roses, and a little less under the roofs of this grey city. Youth, you know, youth is everything. You work best for others by realising the joys of life yourself. I, too, am a philanthropist, Miss Julia--I don't like your other name--I, too, think and write for others. I, too, have dreams of a millennium, of days when the huge wheel shall be driven to a different tune, and faces be lifted to the skies that hang now towards the gutters. But details annoy me, details I cannot master. I do not want to know how many sufferers there are in the world and what particular sum they starve upon. I leave others to do that work. I only point forward to the day of emancipation. Put your hand in mine and I will show you in time where the clouds will first break."
Julia smiled at him a little sadly.
"Perhaps it is as well," she said, "that we have champions who do not care for detail. It is detail and the sight of suffering which sap all the enthusiasms out of us before our time."
Selingman frowned at her angrily. He blew out another cloud of smoke.
"You make me angry," he asserted. "I love your sex, I adore womanhood. I look upon a beautiful woman as a gift to the world. Beauty is a gift to be made much of, to be nourished, to be glorified. You are tired, young woman. You work too hard. You have the rare gift--has any one ever told you that you are beautiful?"
Julia stared at him, her lips a little parted, half angry, half wondering.
"Look at her," Selingman continued, turning to Maraton. "She has the slim body, the long, delicate figure of those Botticellis we all love--except the Russians. I never yet met a Russian who could appreciate a Botticelli. And her eyes--look at them, man. And you let her sit there till the hollows are forming in her cheeks. Be ashamed of yourself. Take her out into the country. One works just as well in the sunshine. You do better work if you can smell flowers growing around you while your brain is active. Lend her to me for a week. I'll take her to my cottage in the Ardennes. There I live with the sun--breakfast at sunrise, to bed at sunset. I will dictate to you, Miss Julia--dictate beautiful things. You shall be proud always. You shall say--'I have worked for Selingman. Conceited ass!' you will probably add. Thank Heavens that I am conceited! Nothing is so splendid in life as to know your own worth. Nothing makes so much for happiness. . . . Maraton, where shall I find you to-night?"
"In the House of Commons, probably," Maraton replied. "But take my advice. Leave Maxendorf alone for a few days."
"We will see--we will see," Selingman went on, a little impatiently. "Come, I have nothing to do--nothing whatever. I came to London to see you, Maraton. You must put up with me. Work--put it away. The sun shines. Let us all go into the country. I will get a car. Or what of the river? Perhaps not. I am too restless, I cannot sit still. I will walk about always. And I cannot swim. We will take a car and sometimes we will walk. I go to fetch it now, eh?"
Maraton glanced helplessly at Julia. They both laughed.
"I have to be back at four o'clock," the former said. "I have an appointment at the House of Commons then."
"Excellent!" Selingman declared. "I go there with you. Your House of Commons always fascinates me. I hear you speak, perhaps? No? What does it matter? I will hear the others drone. I go to fetch a car."
Maraton held out his hand.
"I have a car," he observed. "It is waiting now at the back entrance. You had better get your things on, Miss Thurnbrein. I can see that we have come under the influence of a master spirit."
She looked at the pile of letters by her side, but Maraton only shook his head.
"We must parody his own phrase and declare that 'Selingman is here!'" he said. "Go and put your things on and tell Aaron. We will steal out like conspirators at the back door."
They lunched at a roadside inn in Buckinghamshire, an inn ivy-covered, with a lawn behind, and a garden full of cottage flowers. Selingman with his own hands dragged out the table from the little sitting-room, through the open windows to a shaded corner of the lawn, drew the cork from a bottle of wine, and taking off his coat, started to make a salad.
"Insects everywhere," he remarked cheerfully. "Hold your parasol over my salad, please, Miss Julia. So! What does it matter? Where there are flowers and trees there must be insects. Let them live their day of life."
"So long as we don't eat them!" Julia protested.
"I have tasted insects in South America which were delicious," Selingman assured them. "There--leave your parasol over the salad, and, Maraton, move the ice-pail a little more into the shade. Now, while they set the luncheon, we will walk in that little flower garden, and I will tell you, if you like, a story of mine I once wrote, the story of two roses. I published it, alas! It is so hard to save even our most beautiful thoughts from the vulgarity of print, in these days where everything--love and wine, and even the roses themselves--cost money. Bah!"
"The story, please," Julia begged.
He walked in the middle and took an arm of each of his companions.
"So you would hear my little story?" he exclaimed. "Then listen."
They obeyed. Presently he forgot himself. His eyes were half-closed, his thoughts seemed to have wandered into the strangest places. As his allegory proceeded, he seemed to drift away from all knowledge of his immediate surroundings. He chose his words always with the most exquisite and precise care. They listened, entranced. Then suddenly he stopped short in the path.
"For half an hour have I been giving of myself," he declared. "Almost I faint. Come."
He tightened his grasp upon their arms and started walking with short, abrupt footsteps--and great haste for the luncheon table.
"Fool that I am!" he muttered. "It is one o'clock, and I lunch always at half-past twelve. I must eat quickly. See, the waiter looks at us sorrowfully. What of the omelette, I wonder? Come, Miss Julia, at my right hand there. Ah! was I not right? The roses are creeping already--creeping into their proper place. Sit back in your chair and eat slowly and drink the yellow wine, and listen to the humming of those bees. So soon you will become normal, a woman, just what you should be. Heavens! It is well that I came to see Maraton. When I saw you this morning in that room, I said to myself--'There is a human creature who half lives. What a sin to half live!' . . . Taste that salad, Maraton. Taste it, man, and admit that it is well that I came."
They were alone in the garden--the inn was a little way off the main road and they had discovered it entirely by accident. Both Julia and Maraton yielded gracefully enough to the influence of their companion's personality.
"Whether it is well for us or not," Maraton remarked, as he watched the wine flow into his glass, "to yield up one's will like this, to become even as a docile child, I do not know, but it is very pleasant. It is an hour of detachment."
"It is the secret of youth, the secret of life, the secret of joy," Selingman declared. "Detachment is the word. Life would make slaves of all of us, if one did not sometimes square one's shoulders and say--'No, thank you, I have had enough! Good-bye! I return presently.' One needs a will, perhaps, but then, what is life without will? I myself was at work. The greatest theatrical manager in the world kept sentry before my door. The greatest genius who ever trod upon the stage sent me frantic messages every few hours. Then they spoke to me of Maraton. I heard the cry--'Maraton is here!' I heard the thunder from across the seas. Up from my desk, out from my room--hysterics, entreaties, nothing stopped me. No luggage worth mentioning. Away I come, to London, to Sheffield--what a place! To-morrow--to-morrow or the next day I return, full of life and vigour. It is splendid. I broke away. No one else could have done it. I left them in tears. What did I care? It is for myself--for myself I do these things. Unless I myself am at my best, what have I to give the world? Miss Julia, your health! To the roses, and may they never leave your cheeks! No, don't go yet. There are strawberries coming."
Maraton and his host sat together for a few moments in the garden before they started on their return journey. Selingman leaned across the table. He had forgotten to put on his coat, and he sat unabashed in his shirt sleeves. He had drunk a good deal of wine, and the little beads of perspiration stood out upon his forehead.
"Maraton," he said, "you need me. You are like the others. When the fire has touched their eyes and indeed they see the things that are, they fall on their knees and they tear away at the weeds and rubbish that cumber the earth, and they never lift their eyes, and soon their frame grows weary and their heart cold. Be wise, man. The mark is upon you. Those live best and work best in this world who have a soul for its beauties. Women, for instance," he went on, smoking furiously. "What help do you make of women? None! You sit at one end of the table, your secretary at the other. You don't look at her. She might have pig's eyes, for anything you know about it. Idiot! And she--not quite as bad, perhaps. Women feel a little, you know, that they don't show. Why not marry, Maraton? No? Perhaps you are right. And yet women are wonderful. You can't do your greatest work, Maraton, you never will reach your greatest work, unless a woman's hand is yours."
They rode back to London in comparative silence. Selingman frankly and openly slept, with his grey hat on the back of his head, his untidy feet upon the opposite cushions, his mouth wide open. Maraton more than once found himself watching Julia covertly. There was no doubt that in her strange, quiet way she was beautiful. As he sat and looked at her, his thoughts travelled back to the little garden, the sheltered corner under the trees, the curious sense of relaxation which in that short hour Selingman had inspired. Was the man indeed right, his philosophy sound? Was there indeed wisdom in the loosening of the bonds? He met her eyes suddenly, and she smiled at him. With her--well, he scarcely dared to tell himself that he knew how it was. He closed his eyes again. A thought had come to him sweeter than any yet.
As they neared London, Selingman awoke, smiled blandly upon them, brushed the cigar ash from his coat and waistcoat, put on his hat and looked about him with interest.
"So we are arrived," he said presently. "The Houses of Parliament, eh? I enter with you, Maraton. You find me a corner where I sleep while the others speak, and wake at the sound of your voice. Afterwards, late to-night, we shall go to Maxendorf."
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