My father pressed on my arm to intimate, with a cavernous significance of eyebrow, that Captain DeWitt had the gift of repartee in perfection.
‘Jorian,’ said he, ‘will you wager our editor declines to dine with us?’
The answer struck me as only passable. I think it was:
‘When rats smell death in toasted cheese.’
Captain DeWitt sprang up the staircase of our hotel to his bedroom.
‘I should not have forced him,’ my father mused. ’Jorian DeWitt has at times brilliant genius, Richie—in the way of rejoinders, I mean. This is his happy moment—his one hour’s dressing for dinner. I have watched him; he most thoroughly enjoys it! I am myself a quick or slow dresser, as the case may be. But to watch Jorian you cannot help entering into his enjoyment of it. He will have his window with a view of the sunset; there is his fire, his warmed linen, and his shirt-studs; his bath, his choice of a dozen things he will or will not wear; the landlord’s or host’s menu is up against the looking-glass, and the extremely handsome miniature likeness of his wife, who is in the madhouse, by a celebrated painter, I forget his name. Jorian calls this, new birth—you catch his idea? He throws off the old and is on with the new with a highly hopeful anticipation. His valet is a scoundrel, but never fails in extracting the menu from the cook, wherever he may be, and, in fine, is too attentive to the hour’s devotion to be discarded! Poor Jorian. I know no man I pity so much.’
I conceived him, I confessed, hardly pitiable, though not enviable.
‘He has but six hundred a year, and a passion for Burgundy,’ said my father.
We were four at table. The editor came, and his timidity soon wore off in the warmth of hospitality. He appeared a kind exciteable little man, glad of his dinner from the first, and in due time proud of his entertainer. His response to the toast of the Fourth Estate was an apology for its behaviour to my father. He regretted it; he regretted it. A vinous speech.
My father heard him out. Addressing him subsequently,
‘I would not interrupt you in the delivery of your sentiments,’ he said. ’I must, however, man to man, candidly tell you I should have wished to arrest your expressions of regret. They convey to my mind an idea, that on receipt of my letter of invitation, you attributed to me a design to corrupt you. Protest nothing, I beg. Editors are human, after all. Now, my object is, that as you write of me, you should have some knowledge of me; and I naturally am interested in one who does me so much honour. The facts of my life are at your disposal for publication and comment. Simply, I entreat you, say this one thing of me: I seek for justice, but I never complain of my fortunes. Providence decides:—that might be the motto engraven on my heart. Nay, I may risk declaring it is! In the end I shall be righted. Meanwhile you contribute to my happiness by favouring me with your society.’