Mellowkent sat and watched the hard-featured, resolute, pitiless salesman, as he sat doggedly in the chair wherein he had installed himself, unflinchingly extolling the merits of his undesired wares. A spirit of wistful emulation took possession of the author; why could he not live up to the cold stern name he had adopted? Why must he sit here weakly and listen to this weary, unconvincing tirade, why could he not be Mark Mellowkent for a few brief moments, and meet this man on level terms?
A sudden inspiration flashed across his.
“Have you read my last book, The Cageless Linnet?” he asked.
“I don’t read novels,” said Caiaphas tersely.
“Oh, but you ought to read this one, every one ought to,” exclaimed Mellowkent, fishing the book down from a shelf; “published at six shillings, you can have it at four-and-six. There is a bit in chapter five that I feel sure you would like, where Emma is alone in the birch copse waiting for Harold Huntingdon—that is the man her family want her to marry. She really wants to marry him, too, but she does not discover that till chapter fifteen. Listen: ’Far as the eye could stretch rolled the mauve and purple billows of heather, lit up here and there with the glowing yellow of gorse and broom, and edged round with the delicate greys and silver and green of the young birch trees. Tiny blue and brown butterflies fluttered above the fronds of heather, revelling in the sunlight, and overhead the larks were singing as only larks can sing. It was a day when all Nature—”
“In Right Here you have full information on all branches of Nature study,” broke in the bookagent, with a tired note sounding in his voice for the first time; “forestry, insect life, bird migration, reclamation of waste lands. As I was saying, no man who has to deal with the varied interests of life—”
“I wonder if you would care for one of my earlier books, The Reluctance of Lady Cullumpton,” said Mellowkent, hunting again through the bookshelf; “some people consider it my best novel. Ah, here it is. I see there are one or two spots on the cover, so I won’t ask more than three-and-ninepence for it. Do let me read you how it opens:
“’Beatrice Lady Cullumpton entered the long, dimly-lit drawing-room, her eyes blazing with a hope that she guessed to be groundless, her lips trembling with a fear that she could not disguise. In her hand she carried a small fan, a fragile toy of lace and satinwood. Something snapped as she entered the room; she had crushed the fan into a dozen pieces.’
“There, what do you think of that for an opening? It tells you at once that there’s something afoot.”
“I don’t read novels,” said Caiaphas sullenly.