“Let’s talk about something else,” he said, having lighted his pipe. “What else have you written besides the wreck stuff?”
“Nothing,” said Banneker.
“Come off! That thing was never a first attempt.”
“Well, nothing except random things for my own amusement.”
“Pass ’em over.”
Banneker shook his head. “No; I’ve never shown them to anybody.”
“Oh, all right. If you’re shy about it,” responded the reporter good-humoredly. “But you must have thought of writing as a profession.”
“Vaguely, some day.”
“You don’t talk much like a country station-agent. And you don’t act like one. And, judging from this room”—he looked about at the well-filled book-shelves—“you don’t look like one. Quite a library. Harvey Wheelwright! Lord! I might have known. Great stuff, isn’t it?”
“Do you think so?”
“Do I think so! I think it’s the damndest spew that ever got into print. But it sells; millions. It’s the piety touch does it. The worst of it is that Wheelwright is a thoroughly decent chap and not onto himself a bit. Thinks he’s a grand little booster for righteousness, sweetness and light, and all that. I had to interview him once. Oh, if I could just have written about him and his stuff as it really is!”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Why, he’s a popular literary hero out our way, and the biggest advertised author in the game. I’d look fine to the business office, knocking their fat graft, wouldn’t I!”
“I don’t believe I understand.”
“No; you wouldn’t. Never mind. You will if you ever get into the game. Hello! This is something different again. ‘The Undying Voices.’ Do you go in for poetry?”
“I like to read it once in a while.”
“Good man!” Gardner took down the book, which opened in his hand. He glanced into it, then turned an inquiring and faintly quizzical look upon Banneker. “So Rossetti is one of the voices that sings to you. He sang to me when I was younger and more romantic. Heavens! he can sing, can’t he! And you’ve picked one of his finest for your floral decoration.” He intoned slowly and effectively:
“Ah, who shall dare to search in what sad maze Thenceforth their incommunicable ways Follow the desultory feet of Death?”
Banneker took the book from him. Upon the sonnet a crushed bloom of the sage had left its spiced and fragrant stain. How came it there? Through but one possible agency of which Banneker could think. Io Welland!
After the reporter had left him, Banneker bore the volume to his room and read the sonnet again and again, devout and absorbed, a seeker for the oracle.
“Wouldn’t you like to know when I’m going home?”
Io Welland looked up from beneath her dark lashes at her hostess with a mixture of mischief and deprecation.