Well, it was amazing once we began talking not of books but of life, how really eloquent and human he became. From being a distant and uncomfortable person, he became at once like a near neighbour and friend. It was strange to me—as I have thought since—how he conveyed to us in few words the essential emotional note of his life. It was no violin tone, beautifully complex with harmonics, but the clear simple voice of the flute. It spoke of his wife and his baby girl and his home. The very incongruity of detail—he told us how he grew onions in his back yard—added somehow to the homely glamour of the vision which he gave us. The number of his house, the fact that he had a new cottage organ, and that the baby ran away and lost herself in Seventeenth Street—were all, curiously, fabrics of his emotion.
It was beautiful to see commonplace facts grow phosphorescent in the heat of true feeling. How little we may come to know Romance by the cloak she wears and how humble must be he who would surprise the heart of her!
It was, indeed, with an indescribable thrill that I heard him add the details, one by one—the mortgage on his place, now rapidly being paid off, the brother who was a plumber, the mother-in-law who was not a mother-in-law of the comic papers. And finally he showed us the picture of the wife and baby that he had in the cover of his watch; a fat baby with its head resting on its mother’s shoulder.
“Mister,” he said, “p’raps you think it’s fun to ride around the country like I do, and be away from home most of the time. But it ain’t. When I think of Minnie and the kid—”
He broke off sharply, as if he had suddenly remembered the shame of such confidences.
“Say,” he asked, “what page is that poem on?”
I told him.
“One forty-six,” he said. “When I get home I’m going to read that to Minnie. She likes poetry and all such things. And where’s that other piece that tells how a man feels when he’s lonesome? Say, that fellow knew!”
We had a genuinely good time, the agent and I, and when he finally rose to go, I said:
“Well, I’ve sold you a new book.”
“I see now, mister, what you mean.”
I went down the path with him and began to unhitch his horse.
“Let me, let me,” he said eagerly.
Then he shook hands, paused a moment awkwardly as if about to say something, then sprang into his buggy without saying it.
When he had taken up his reins he remarked:
“Say! but you’d make an agent! You’d hypnotise ’em.”
I recognised it as the greatest compliment he could pay me: the craft compliment.
Then he drove off, but pulled up before he had gone five yards. He turned in his seat, one hand on the back of it, his whip raised.
“Say!” he shouted, and when I walked up he looked at me with fine embarrassment.
“Mister, perhaps you’d accept one of these sets from Dixon free gratis, for nothing.”