“I can,” said he, “I can!” He thumped my writing table, so that all the loose brass and glass on it rattled. “And by God! I’m going to do it.”
“But, my dearest friend,” I expostulated, “this is absurd. It’s megalomania—la folie des grandeurs.”
“It’s the divinest folly in the world,” said he.
He threw a cigar stump into the fireplace and poured himself out and drank a stiff whisky and soda. Then he laughed in imitation of his familiar self.
“You dear prim old prig of a Hilary, don’t worry. It’s all going to come straight. When the novel of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries is published I guess you’ll be proud of me. And now, good-night.”
He laughed, waved his arm in a cavalier gesture and went from the room, slamming the door masterfully behind him.
We kept the unreasonable pair at Northlands as long as we could, doing all that lay in our power to restore Adrian’s idiotically impaired health. I motored him about the county; I took him to golf, a pastime at which I do not excel; and I initiated him into the invigorating mysteries of playing at robbers with Susan. We gave a carefully selected dinner-party or two, and accepted on his behalf a few discreet invitations. At these entertainments—whether at Northlands or elsewhere—we caused it to be understood that the lion, being sick, should not be asked to roar.
“It’s so trying for him,” said Doria, “when people he doesn’t know come up and gush over ’The Diamond Gate’—especially now when his nerves are on edge.”
On the occasion of our second dinner-party, the guests having been forewarned of the famous man’s idiosyncrasies, no reference whatever was made to his achievements. We sat him between two pretty and charming women who chattered amusingly to him with what I, who kept an eye open and an ear cocked, considered to be a very subtly flattering deference. Adrian responded with adequate animation. As an ordinary clever, well-bred man of the world he might have done this almost mechanically; but I fancied that he found real enjoyment in the light and picturesque talk of his two neighbours. When the ladies left us, he discussed easy politics with the Member for our own division of the County. In the drawing-room, afterwards, he played a rubber at bridge, happened to hold good cards and smiled an hour away. When the last guest departed, he yawned, excused himself on the ground of healthy fatigue and went straight off to bed. Barbara and I congratulated ourselves on the success of our dinner-party. The next day Adrian went about as glum as a dinosaur in a museum, and conveyed, even to Susan’s childish mind, his desire for solitude. His hang-dog dismalness so affected my wife, that she challenged Doria.
“What in the world is the matter with him, to-day?”
Doria drew herself up and flashed a glance at Barbara—they were both little bantams of women, one dark as wine, the other fair as corn. If ever these two should come to a fight, thought I who looked on, it would be to the death.