The painter, who seemed to feel the wind blowing cold on his ideas, shrugged his shoulders.
“I am not concerned with that, monsieur; I set down what I see; better or worse, I do not know. But look at this!” And he pointed down the darkened and moonlit street. It was all jewelled and enamelled with little spots and splashes of subdued red and green-blue light, and the downward orange glow of the high lamps—like an enchanted dream-street peopled by countless moving shapes, which only came to earth-reality when seen close to. The painter drew his breath in with a hiss.
“Ah!” he said, “what beauty! And they don’t see it—not one in a thousand! Pity, isn’t it? Beauty is the holy thing!”
Fort, in his turn, shrugged his shoulders. “Every man to his vision!” he said. “My leg’s beginning to bother me; I’m afraid I must take a cab. Here’s my address; any time you like to come. I’m often in about seven. I can’t take you anywhere, I suppose?”
“A thousand thanks, monsieur; but I go north. I loved your words about the pack. I often wake at night and hear the howling of all the packs of the world. Those who are by nature gentle nowadays feel they are strangers in a far land. Good night, monsieur!”
He took off his queer hat, bowed low, and crossed out into the Strand, like one who had come in a dream, and faded out with the waking. Fort hailed a cab, and went home, still seeing Noel’s face. There was one, if you liked, waiting to be thrown to the wolves, waiting for the world’s pack to begin howling round her—that lovely child; and the first, the loudest of all the pack, perhaps, must be her own father, the lean, dark figure with the gentle face, and the burnt bright eyes. What a ghastly business! His dreams that night were not such as Leila would have approved.
When in the cupboard there is a real and very bony skeleton, carefully kept from the sight of a single member of the family, the position of that member is liable to become lonely. But Pierson, who had been lonely fifteen years, did not feel it so much, perhaps, as most men would have. In his dreamy nature there was a curious self-sufficiency, which only violent shocks disturbed, and he went on with his routine of duty, which had become for him as set as the pavements he trod on his way to and from it. It was not exactly true, as the painter had said, that this routine did not bring him into touch with life. After all he saw people when they were born, when they married, when they died. He helped them when they wanted money, and when they were ill; he told their children Bible stories on Sunday afternoons; he served those who were in need with soup and bread from his soup kitchen. He never spared himself in any way, and his ears were always at the service of their woes. And yet he did not understand them, and they knew that. It was as though he, or they, were colour-blind. The values were all different. He was seeing one set of objects, they another.