His face was small and sallow and tired; but the dark eyes were full of fun and kindness. Presently, he rose and began to walk up and down the room with a curious, prancing walk, rolling himself a cigarette, and talking away in a rapid, jerky fashion with his continual, “eh, eh?” coming in all the time.
“Poor Gerard! So you know him? How is he now?” and he lowered his voice with the suggestion of a mutual confidence, and stopped in his walk till Henry should answer. “Poor Gerard! And he might have been—well, well,—never mind. We were together at King’s. Brilliant fellow. So you know Gerard. Dear me! Dear me!”
Then he turned to the subject of Henry’s visit.
“Well, my poor boy, nothing will satisfy you but literature? You are determined to be a literary man, eh, eh?” Then he stopped in front of Henry and laid his hand kindly on his shoulder, “Is it too late to say, ‘Go back while there is yet time’? Perhaps—of course—you’re going to be a very great man,” and he broke off into his walk again, with one of his mischievous laughs. “But unless you are, take my word, it’s a poor game—Yet, I suppose, it’s no use talking. I know, wasted breath, wasted breath—Well, now, what can you do? and, by the way, you won’t grow fat on The Fleet Street Review. Ten shillings a column is our magnificent rate of payment, and we can hardly afford that—”
Then he began pulling out one book and another from the piles of all sorts that lay around him. “I suppose, like the rest, you’d better begin on poetry. There’s a tableful over there—go and take your pick of it, unless, of course, you’ve got some special subject. You’re not, I suppose, an authority on Assyriology, eh, eh?”
Henry feared not, and then a new fit of industry came upon the editor, and he begged Henry to take a look at the books while he ran through another proof for the post.
That dusty table—evidently the rubbish-heap of the room—was Henry’s first object-lesson in the half tragical, half farcical, over-production of modern literature. Such a mass of foolishness and ineptitude he had never conceived of; such pretentiousness too—and while he made various melancholy reflections upon human vanity, what should he unearth suddenly from the heap, but his own little volume. He could but half suppress a cry of recognition.
“What’s that?” asked the editor, not turning round. “Found anything?”
“No,” said Henry; “nothing—for a moment I thought I had.”
Presently he had made a small pile of the most promising volumes, and turned to take his leave. The editor took up one or two of them carelessly.
“Not much here, I’m afraid,” he said. “Never mind; see what you can make of them. Not more than three columns at the most, you know. And come and see me again. I’m glad to have seen you.”
“Oh,” said Henry, on the point of leaving, and laying his hand on his own little book, “may I take this one too? It’s not worth reviewing, but it rather interested me just now.”