He lowered his brows and looked at me under his lids.
“What sort of writing? Books? What is called a novel?”
“No—not yet. I work on special articles for the newspapers, and now and then I get a short story or an essay into one of the magazines.”
He was replacing the pictures as I talked, his back to me. He turned suddenly and again sought my eye.
“Don’t waste your time on essays or statistics. You will not succeed as a machine. You have imagination, which is a real gift. You also dream, which is another way of saying that you can invent. If you can add construction to your invention, you will come quite close to what they call genius. I saw all this in your face to-night; that is why I wanted to talk to you. So many young men go astray for want of a word dropped into their minds at the right time. As for me, all I know is statistics, and so I will never be a genius.” And a light laugh broke from his lips. “Worse luck, too. I must exchange them for money. Look at this—I have been all day correcting the proofs.”
With this he walked to his table—he had not yet taken a seat, although a chair was next to my own— and laid in my lap a roll of galley-proofs.
“It is the new encyclopaedia. I do the biographies, you see—principally of men and the different towns and countries. I have got down now to the R’s— Richelieu—Rochambeau—” his fingers were now tracing the lines. “Here is Romulus, and here is Russia—I gave that half a column, and—dry work, isn’t it? But I like it, for I can write here by my fire if I please, and all my other time is my own. You see they are signed ‘Norvic Bing.’ I insisted on that. These publishers are selfish sometimes, and want to efface a writer’s personality, but I would not permit it, and so finally they gave in. But no more of that—one must eat, and to eat one must work, so why quarrel with the spade or the ground? See that you raise good crops—that is the best of all.”
Then he branched off into a description of a ball he had attended some years before at the Tuileries— of the splendor of the interior; the rich costumes of the women; the blaze of decorations worn by the men; the graciousness of the Empress and the charm of her beauty—then of a visit he had made to the Exile a few months after he had reached Chiselhurst. Throwing up his hands he said: “A feeble old man with hollow eyes and a cracked voice. Oh, such a pity! For he was royal—although all Europe laughed.”
When the time came for me to go—it was near midnight, to my astonishment—he followed me to the door, bidding me good-night with both hands over mine, saying I should come again when he was at leisure, as he had been that night—which I promised to do, adding my thanks for what I declared was the most delightful evening I had ever spent in my life.