“I should have explained some of these phenomena to you,” whispered the publisher presently, noticing that Henry looked a little bewildered. “This is a young Irish poet, who, in the intervals of his raising the devil, writes very beautiful lyrics that he may well have learned from the fairies. It is his method to seem mad on magic and such things. You will meet with many strange methods here to-night. Don’t be alarmed if some one comes and talks to you about strange sins. You have come to London in the ‘strange sins’ period. I will explain afterwards.”
He had hardly spoken when a pallid young man, with a preternatural length and narrowness of face, began to talk to him about the sins of the Borgias.
“I suppose you never committed a murder yourself?” he asked Henry, languidly.
“No,” said Henry, catching the spirit of the foolishness; “no, not yet. I am keeping that—” implying that he was reserving so extreme a stimulant till all his other vices failed him.
Presently there entered a tall young man with a long, thin face, curtained on either side with enormous masses of black hair, like a slip of the young moon glimmering through a pine-wood.
At the same moment there entered, as if by design, his very antithesis: a short, firmly built, clerkly fellow, with a head like a billiard-ball in need of a shave, a big brown moustache, and enormous spectacles.
“That,” said the publisher, referring to the moon-in-the-pine-wood young man, “is our young apostle of sentiment, our new man of feeling, the best-hated man we have; and the other is our young apostle of blood. He is all for muscle and brutality—and he makes all the money. It is one of our many fashions just now to sing ‘Britain and Brutality.’ But my impression is that our young man of feeling will have his day,—though he will have to wait for it. He would hasten it if he would cut his hair; but that, he says, he will never do. His hair, he says, is his battle-cry. Well, he enjoys himself—and loves a fight, though you mightn’t think it to look at him.”
A supercilious young man, with pink cheeks, and a voice which his admirers compared to Shelley’s, then came up to Henry and asked him what he thought of Mallarme’s latest sonnet; but finding Henry confessedly at sea, turned the conversation to the Empire ballet, of which, unfortunately, Henry knew as little. The conversation then languished, and the Shelley-voiced young man turned elsewhere for sympathy, with a shrug at your country bumpkins who know nothing later than Rossetti.
In the thick of the conversational turmoil, Henry’s attention had from time to time been attracted by the noise proceeding from a blustering, red-headed man, with a face of fire.
“Who is that?” at last he found opportunity to ask his friend.
“That is our greatest critic,” said the publisher.
“Oh!” said Henry, “I must try and hear what he is saying. It seems important from the way he is listened to.”