Henry threw open the door, but for a moment there was no one to be seen; and then, recalling the idiosyncrasy of a certain new friend whom by that very token he guessed it might be, he came out on to the landing, to find a great big friendly man in corpulent blue serge, a rough, dark beard, and a slouched hat, standing a few feet off in a deprecating way,—which really meant that if there were any ladies in the room with Mr. Mesurier, he would prefer to call another time. For though he had two or three grownup daughters of his own, this giant of a man was as shy of a bit of a thing like Angel, whom he had met there one day, as though he were a mere boy. He always felt, he once said in explanation, as though he might break them in shaking hands. They affected him like the presence of delicate china, and yet he could hold a baby deftly as an elephant can nip up a flower; and to see him turn over the pages of a delicate edition de luxe was a lesson in tenderness. For this big man who, as he would himself say, looked for all the world like a pirate, was as insatiable of fine editions as a school-girl of chocolate creams. He was one of those dearest of God’s creatures, a gentle giant; and his voice, when it wasn’t necessary to be angry, was as low and kind as an old nurse at the cradle’s side.
Henry had come to know him through his little Scotch printer, who printed circulars and bill-heads, for the business over which Mr. Fairfax—for that was his name—presided. By day he was the vigorous brain of a huge emporium, a sort of Tyrian Whiteley’s; but day and night he was a lover of books, and you could never catch him so busy but that he could spare the time mysteriously to beckon you into his private office, and with the glee of a child, show you his last large paper. He not only loved books; but he was rumoured liberally to have assisted one or two distressed men of genius well-known to the world. The tales of the surreptitious goodness of his heart were many; but it was known too that the big kind man had a terribly searching eye under his briery brows, and could be as stern towards ingratitude as he was soft to misfortune. Henry once caught a glimpse of this as they spoke of a mutual friend whom he had helped to no purpose. Mr. Fairfax never used many words, on this occasion he was grimly laconic.
“Rat-poison!” he said, shaking his head. “Rat-poison!” It was his way of saying that that was the only cure for that particular kind of man.
It was evident that his generous eye had seen how things were with Henry. He had subscribed for at least a dozen copies of “The Book of Angelica,” and in several ways shown his interest in the struggling young poet. As has been said, he had seen Angelica one day, and his shyness had not prevented his heart from going out to these two young people, and the dream he saw in their eyes. He had determined to do what he could to help them, and to-day he had come with a plan.