“Have you explained the matter to Doria?” I asked.
He halted before me performing his new uncomfortable trick of slithering thumb over finger tips.
“No,” he snapped. “How can I?”
I replied, mildly, that it seemed to be the simplest thing in the world. He broke away impatiently, saying that I couldn’t understand.
“All right,” said I, though what there was to understand in so elementary a proposition goodness only knows. I was beginning to resent this perpetual charge of non-intelligence.
“I think we had better clear out,” he said. “I’m only a damned nuisance. I’ve got this book of mine on the brain”—he held up his head with both hands—“and I’m not a fit companion for anybody.”
I adjured him in familiar terms not to talk rubbish. He was here for the repose of country things and freedom from day-infesting cares. Already he was looking better for the change. But I could not refrain from adding:
“You wrote ‘The Diamond Gate’ without turning a hair. Why should you worry yourself to death about this new book?”
When he answered I had the shivering impression of a wizened old man speaking to me. The slight cast I had noticed in his blue eyes became oddly accentuated.
“‘The Diamond Gate,’” he said, peering at me uncannily, “was just a pretty amateur story. The new book is going to stagger the soul of humanity.”
“I wish you weren’t such a secretive devil,” said I. “What’s the book about? Tell an old friend. Get it off your mind. It will do you good.”
I put my arm round his shoulders and my hand gave him an affectionate grip. My heart ached for the dear fellow, and I longed, in the plain man’s way, to break down the walls of reserve, which like those of the Inquisition Chamber, I felt were closing tragically upon him.
“Come, come,” I continued. “Get it out. It’s obvious that the thing is suffocating you. I’ll tell nobody—not even that you’ve told me—neither Doria nor Barbara—it will be the confidence of the confessional. You’ll be all the better for it. Believe me.”
He shrugged himself free from my grasp and turned away; his nervous fingers plucked unconsciously at his evening tie until it was loosened and the ends hung dissolutely over his shirt front.
“You’re very good, Hilary,” said he, looking at every spot in the room except my eyes. “If I could tell you, I would. But it’s an enormous canvas. I could give you no idea—” The furrow deepened between his brows—“If I told you the scheme you would get about the same dramatic impression as if you read, say, the letter R, in a dictionary. I’m putting into this novel,” he flickered his fingers in front of me—“everything that ever happened in human life.”
I regarded him in some wonder.
“My dear fellow,” said I, “you can’t compress a Liebig’s Extract of Existence between the covers of a six-shilling novel.”