My curiosity was aroused; and at first sight I appeared to meet the requirements in a reasonable measure. I had certainly traveled widely, and I was an excellent sailor—excellent to the point of offensiveness. Upon an unfavorable construction I could claim to be middle-aged at forty; and I was prepared to live abroad in the unlikely event of any one fixing upon a country which could be properly called “abroad” from the standpoint of a man who had not spent twelve consecutive months in any place since he was fifteen years old.
As for intelligence, I reflected that for ninety-nine people out of a hundred intelligence in others means no more than the discovery of a person who is in intellectual acquiescence with themselves, and that if the necessity arose I could probably affect an acquiescence which would serve all the purposes of a fundamental identity of convictions.
Two things, however, suggested possible difficulties, the questions of what interpretations the advertiser placed upon the terms “widely read” and “good salary.” I could not claim to be widely read in any conventional sense, for I was not a university graduate, and the very extensive reading I had done in my special line of study—the control and development of tropical dependencies—though it might entitle me to some consideration as a student in that field had left me woefully ignorant of general literature. Would the ability to discuss with intelligence the Bengal Regulation of 1818, or the British Guiana Immigration Ordinance of 1891 be welcomed as a set-off to a complete unfamiliarity with Milton’s “Comus” and Gladstone’s essay on the epithets of motion in Homer?
On the subject of what constituted a “good salary” experience had taught me to expect a very wide divergence of view, not only along the natural line of cleavage between the person paying and the person receiving the salary, but also between one employer and another and between one employee and another; and I recalled a story, told me in my infancy, in which a certain British laboring man had been heard to remark that he would not be the Czar of Russia, no, not for thirty shillings a week. But that element in the situation might, I reflected, very well be left to take care of itself.
I finished my lunch, and then replied to the advertisement, giving my English address. My letter, a composition bred of the conflicting influences of pride, modesty, prudence, and curiosity, brought forth in due course a brief reply in which I was bidden to an interview in that part of London where fashion and business prosperity seek to ape each other.
Upon presenting myself at the appointed hour I was confronted by a gentleman whose severity of manner I learned later to recognize as the useful mask to a singularly genial and kindly nature.