“IT won’t do—oh, he let him down as gently as possible; but it appears it simply won’t do.”
Doctor Bob imparted the ineluctable fact to Bernald while the two men, accidentally meeting at their club a few nights later, sat together over the dinner they had immediately agreed to consume in company.
Bernald had left Portchester the morning after his strange discovery, and he and Bob Wade had not seen each other since. And now Bernald, moved by an irresistible instinct of postponement, had waited for his companion to bring up Winterman’s name, and had even executed several conversational diversions in the hope of delaying its mention. For how could one talk of Winterman with the thought of Pellerin swelling one’s breast?
“Yes; the very day Howland got back from Kenosha I brought the manuscript to town, and got him to read it. And yesterday evening I nailed him, and dragged an answer out of him.”
“Then Howland hasn’t seen Winterman yet?”
“No. He said: ’Before you let him loose on me I’ll go over the stuff, and see if it’s at all worth while.’”
Bernald drew a freer breath. “And he found it wasn’t?”
“Between ourselves, he found it was of no account at all. Queer, isn’t it, when the man ... but of course literature’s another proposition. Howland says it’s one of the cases where an idea might seem original and striking if one didn’t happen to be able to trace its descent. And this is straight out of bosh—by Pellerin. ... Yes: Pellerin. It seems that everything in the article that isn’t pure nonsense is just Pellerinism. Howland thinks poor Winterman must have been tremendously struck by Pellerin’s writings, and have lived too much out of the world to know that they’ve become the text-books of modern thought. Otherwise, of course, he’d have taken more trouble to disguise his plagiarisms.”
“I see,” Bernald mused. “Yet you say there is an original element?”
“Yes; but unluckily it’s no good.”
“It’s not—conceivably—in any sense a development of Pellerin’s idea: a logical step farther?”
“Logical? Howland says it’s twaddle at white heat.”
Bernald sat silent, divided between the fierce satisfaction of seeing the Interpreter rush upon his fate, and the despair of knowing that the state of mind he represented was indestructible. Then both emotions were swept away on a wave of pure joy, as he reflected that now, at last, Howland Wade had given him back John Pellerin.
The possession was one he did not mean to part with lightly; and the dread of its being torn from him constrained him to extraordinary precautions.
“You’ve told Winterman, I suppose? How did he take it?”
“Why, unexpectedly, as he does most things. You can never tell which way he’ll jump. I thought he’d take a high tone, or else laugh it off; but he did neither. He seemed awfully cast down. I wished myself well out of the job when I saw how cut up he was.” Bernald thrilled at the words. Pellerin had shared his pang, then—the “old woe of the world” at the perpetuity of human dulness!