Mr. Gerard had exceedingly gentle manners. It was easy to understand that a landlady would worship him. He gave little trouble, asked for the most necessary service as though it were a courtesy, and never forgot an interest in Aunt Tipping’s affairs. On bright days he revealed a vein of quite boyish gaiety; and in his talk with Henry he flashed out a strange paradoxical humour, too often morbid in its themes, which, as usually the case with such humour, was really sadness coming to the surface in a jest.
It soon transpired that a favourite subject of his talk was that very weakness which most men would have been at pains to hide.
“So you’re going to be a poet, Mr. Mesurier,” he said. “Well, so was I once, so was I—but,” he continued, “all too early another Muse took hold of me, a terrible Muse—yet a Muse who never forsakes you—” and he laid his hand on a decanter which stood near him on the table,—“yes, Mr. Mesurier, the terrible Muse of Drink! You may be surprised to hear me talk so; yet were this laudanum instead of brandy, there would seem to you a certain element of the poetic in the service of such a Muse. Drinks with Oriental or unfamiliar names have a romantic sound. Thus Alfred de Musset as the slave to absinthe sounds much more poetic than, say, Alfred de Musset as a slave to rum or gin, or even this brandy here. Yet this, too, is no less the stuff that dreams are made of; and the opium-eater, the absinthe-sipper, the brandy-drinker, are all members of the same great brotherhood of tragic idealists—”
He talked deliberately; but there was a smile playing at the corners of the mouth which took from his talk the sense of a painful self-revelation, and gave it the air of a playful fantasia upon a paradox that for the moment amused him.
“Idealists! Yes,” he continued; “for what few understand is that drink is an idealism—and,” he presently added with a laugh, “and, of course, like all idealisms, it has its dangers.”
With a monomaniac, conversation is apt to limit itself to monologue; so, while Henry was greatly interested in this odd talk, it left him but little to say.
“I’m afraid I shock you a little, Mr. Mesurier, perhaps even—disgust you,” said Mr. Gerard.