“What thing, sir?”
“Plain writing in an author.”
“Oh!” said Verty.
“Mark me,” continued Roundjacket, with affecting gravity, “the unmistakable evidence of greatness is not the brilliant eye, the fine forehead, or the firm-set lip; neither is the ‘lion port’ or noble carriage—it is far more simple, sir. It lies wholly in the hand-writing.”
“Yes; highly probable even. No great man ever yet wrote legibly, and I hold that such a thing is conclusive evidence of a narrowness of intellect. Great men uniformly use a species of scrawl which people have to study, sir, before they can understand. Like the Oracles of Delphos, the manuscript is mysterious because it is profound. My own belief, sir, is, that Homer’s manuscript—if he had one, which I doubt—resembled a sheet of paper over which a fly with inked feet has crawled;—and you may imagine, sir, the respect, and, I may add, the labor, of the old Greek type-setters in publishing the first edition of the Iliad.”
This dissertation had the effect of diverting Mr. Roundjacket’s mind temporarily from his affliction; but his grief soon returned in full force again.
“To think it!” he cried, flourishing his ruler, and ready to weep,—“to think that after taking all the trouble to disguise my clear running hand, and write as became an author of my standing—in hieroglyphics—to think that this should be the result of all my trouble.”
“Don’t be sorry,” said Verty.
“I cannot refrain, sir,” said Roundjacket, in a tone of acute agony; “it is more than I can bear. See here, sir, again: ’High Jove! great father!’ is changed into ‘By Jove, I’d rather!’ and so on. Sir, it is more than humanity can bear; I feel that I shall sink under it. I shall be in bed to-morrow, sir—after all my trouble—’By Jove!’”
With this despairing exclamation Roundjacket let his head fall, overcome with grief, upon his desk, requesting not to be spoken to, after the wont of great unfortunates.
Verty seemed to feel great respect for this overwhelming grief; at least he did not utter any commonplace consolations. He also leaned upon his desk, and his idle hands traced idle lines upon the paper before him.
His dreamy eyes, full of quiet pleasure, fixed themselves upon the far distance—he was thinking of Redbud.
He finally aroused himself, however, and began to work. Half an hour, an hour, another hour passed—Verty was breaking himself into the traces; he had finished his work.
He rose, and going to Mr. Rushton’s door, knocked and opened it. The lawyer was not there; Verty looked round—his companion was absorbed in writing.
Verty sat down in the lawyer’s arm-chair.
HOW VERTY DISCOVERED A PORTRAIT, AND WHAT ENSUED.