It was then that Bernald vowed to himself that he would return the next Sunday at all costs. He hardly knew whether he was prompted by the impulse to shield Winterman from Howland Wade’s ineptitude, or by the desire to see the latter abandon himself to the full shamelessness of its display; but of one fact he was blissfully assured—and that was of the existence in Winterman of some quality which would provoke Howland to the amplest exercise of his fatuity. “How he’ll draw him—how he’ll draw him!” Bernald chuckled, with a security the more unaccountable that his one glimpse of Winterman had shown the latter only as a passive subject for experimentation; and he felt himself avenged in advance for the injury of Howland Wade’s existence.
THAT this hope was to be frustrated Bernald learned from Howland Wade’s own lips, the day before the two young men were to meet at Portchester.
“I can’t really, my dear fellow,” the Interpreter lisped, passing a polished hand over the faded smoothness of his face. “Oh, an authentic engagement, I assure you: otherwise, to oblige old Bob I’d submit cheerfully to looking over his foundling’s literature. But I’m pledged this week to the Pellerin Society of Kenosha: I had a hand in founding it, and for two years now they’ve been patiently waiting for a word from me—the Fiat Lux, so to speak. You see it’s a ministry, Bernald—I assure you, I look upon my calling quite religiously.”
As Bernald listened, his disappointment gradually changed to relief. Howland, on trial, always turned out to be too insufferable, and the pleasure of watching his antics was invariably lost in the impulse to put a sanguinary end to them.
“If he’d only keep his beastly pink hands off Pellerin,” Bernald groaned, thinking of the thick manuscript condemned to perpetual incarceration in his own desk by the publication of Howland’s “definitive” work on the great man. One couldn’t, after Howland Wade, expose one’s self to the derision of writing about Pellerin: the eagerness with which Wade’s book had been devoured proved, not that the public had enough appetite for another, but simply that, for a stomach so undiscriminating, anything better than Wade had given it would be too good. And Bernald, in the confidence that his own work was open to this objection, had stoically locked it up. Yet if he had resigned his exasperated intelligence to the fact that Wade’s book existed, and was already passing into the immortality of perpetual republication, he could not, after repeated trials, adjust himself to the author’s talk about Pellerin. When Wade wrote of the great dead he was egregious, but in conversation he was familiar and fond. It might have been supposed that one of the beauties of Pellerin’s hidden life and mysterious taking off would have been to guard him from the fingering of anecdote; but biographers like Howland Wade were