OF POLYHISTOR'S NARRATIVE
WRITTEN FOR, BUT NEVER INSERTED IN, THE ----- FAMILY MAGAZINE
The eyes of Polyhistor--as he sat before the fire at night--took in the tawdry surroundings of his lodging-house room with nothing of that apathy of resignation to his personal [Greek: ananke] which of all moods is to Fortune, the goddess of spontaneity, the most antipathetic. Indeed, he felt his wit, like Romeo's, to be of cheveril; and his conviction that it needed only the pull of circumstance to stretch it "from an inch narrow to an ell broad" expressed but the very wooing quality of a constitutional optimism.
Now this inherent optimism is at least a serviceable weapon when it takes the form of self-reliance. It is always at hand in an emergency--a guard of honour to the soul. The loneliness of individual life must learn self-respect from within, not without; and were all creeds to be mixed, that truism should be found their precipitate.
Therefore Polyhistor was content to draw grass-green rep curtains across window-panes sloughed with wintry sleet; to place his feet upon a rug flayed of colour to it dusty sinews; to admit to his close fellowship--and find a familiar comfort in them, too--three separate lithographs of affected babies inviting any canine confidences but the bite one desired for them, and a dismal daguerreotype of his landlady's deceased husband, slowly perishing in pegtops and a yellow fog of despondency, out of which only his boots and a very tall hat frowned insistent, the tabernacles of enduring respectability:--he was content, because he knew these were only incidents in his career--the slums to be first traversed on a journey before the rounding breadths of open country were reached,--and the station in life he purposed stopping at eventually was the terminus of prosperity, intellectual and material.
With no present good fortune but the capacity for desiring it; with the right to affix a letter or so--like grace after skilly--to his name; with the consciousness that, having overcome theoretical pharmaceutics masterfully, he was now combatting practical dispensing slavishly; with full confidence in his social position (he stood under the shadow of "high connections," like the little winged "Victory" in a conqueror's hand, he chose to think) to help him to eventual distinction, he toasted his toes that sour winter evening and reviewed in comfort an army of prospects.
Also his thoughts reverted indulgently to the incidents and experiences of the previous night.
He had had the pleasure of an invitation to one of those reunions or seances at the house, in a fashionable quarter, of his distant connection, Lady Barbara Grille, whereat it was his hostess's humour to gather together those many birds of alien feather and incongruous habit that will flock from the hedgerows to the least little flattering crumb of attention. And scarce one of them but thinks the simple feast is spread for him alone. And with so cheap a bait may a title lure.
Lady Barbara, to do her justice, trades upon her position only in so far as it shapes itself the straight road to her desires. She is a carpet adventurer--an explorer amongst the nerves of moral sensation, to whom the discovery of an untrodden mental tract is a pure delight, and the more delightful the more ephemeral. She flits from guest to guest, shooting out to each a little proboscis, as it were, and happy if its point touches a speck of honey. She gathers from all, and stores the sweet agglomerate, let us hope, to feed upon it in the winter of her life, when the hive of her busy brain shall be thatched with snow.
That reference to so charming a personality should be in this place a digression is Polyhistor's unhappiness. She affects his narrative only inasmuch as he happened to meet at her house a gentleman who for a time exerted a considerable influence over his fortunes.
* * * * *
Here Polyhistor's narrative must give place to certain editorial marginalia by Miss Lucy ----, who "runs" the ---- Family Magazine:--
"Polyhistor, indeed!" she writes. "The conceit of some people! He seems to take himself for a sort of Admirable Crichton, and all because his chance meeting with the gentleman referred to (a very interesting person, who is, I understand, reforming our prisons) brought him the offer of an appointment quite beyond his deserts. I was very glad to hear of it, however, and I asked the creature to contribute a paper recording his first impressions of this notable man; instead of which he begins with an opinionated rigmarole about himself, and goes on from bad to worse by describing a long conversation he had about prison reform with that horrid, masculine Mrs. C----, whom all the officers call 'Charlie,' and who thinks that for men to grow humane is a sign of their decadence. Of course I shall 'cut' the whole of their talk together (it is a blessed privilege to be an editor), and jump to the part where Polyhistor (!) describes the notable person's visit to him, which was due to his (the N.P.'s) having the night before overheard some of the conversation between those two."
* * * * *
POLYHISTOR'S NARRATIVE (continued).
Now as Polyhistor sat, he humoured his recollection (in the intervals of scribbling verses to the beaux yeux of a certain Miss L----) with some of "Charlie's" characteristic last-night utterances.
She had dated man's decadence from the moment when he began to "poor-fellow" irreclaimable savagery on the score of heredity.
She had repudiated the old humbug of sex superiority because she had seen it fall on its face to howl over a trodden worm, with the result that it discovered itself hollow behind, like the elf-maiden.
She had said: "Once you taught us divinely--argumentum baculinum," said she; "(for you are the sons of God, you know). But you have since so insisted upon the Rights of Humanity that we have learned ourselves in the phrase, and that the earthy have the best right to precedence on the earth."
And thereupon Charlie had launched into abuse of what she called the latest masculine fad--prison reform, to wit--and a heated discussion between her and Polyhistor had ensued, in the midst of which she had happened to glance behind her, to find that very notable person who is the subject of this narrative vouchsafing a silent attention to her diatribe. And then--
But at this period to his cogitations Polyhistor's landlady entered with a card, which she presented to his consideration:--
MAJOR JAMES SHRIKE,
H.M. PRISON, D----.
All astonishment, Polyhistor bade his visitor up.
He entered briskly, fur-collared, hat in hand, and bowed as he stood on the threshold. He was a very short man--snub-nosed; rusty-whiskered; indubitably and unimpressively a cockney in appearance. He might have walked out of a Cruikshank etching.
Polyhistor was beginning, "May I inquire--" when the other took him up with a vehement frankness that he found engaging at once.
"This is a great intrusion. Will you pardon me? I heard some remarks of yours last night that deeply interested me. I obtained your name and address of our hostess, and took the liberty of--"
"Oh! pray be seated. Say no more. My kinswoman's introduction is all-sufficient. I am happy in having caught your attention in so motley a crowd."
"She doesn't--forgive the impertinence--take herself seriously enough."
"Lady Barbara? Then you've found her out?"
"Ah!--you're not offended?"
"Not in the least."
"Good. It was a motley assemblage, as you say. Yet I'm inclined to think I found my pearl in the oyster. I'm afraid I interrupted--eh?"
"No, no, not at all. Only some idle scribbling. I'd finished."
"You are a poet?"
"Only a lunatic. I haven't taken my degree."
"Ah! it's a noble gift--the gift of song; precious through its rarity."
Polyhistor caught a note of emotion in his visitor's voice, and glanced at him curiously.
"Surely," he thought, "that vulgar, ruddy little face is transfigured."
"But," said the stranger, coming to earth, "I am lingering beside the mark. I must try to justify my solecism in manners by a straight reference to the object of my visit. That is, in the first instance, a matter of business."
"I am a man with a purpose, seeking the hopefullest means to an end. Plainly: if I could procure you the post of resident doctor at D---- gaol, would you be disposed to accept it?"
Polyhistor looked his utter astonishment.
"I can affect no surprise at yours," said the visitor, attentively regarding Polyhistor. "It is perfectly natural. Let me forestall some unnecessary expression of it. My offer seems unaccountable to you, seeing that we never met until last night. But I don't move entirely in the dark. I have ventured in the interval to inform myself as to the details of your career. I was entirely one with much of your expression of opinion as to the treatment of criminals, in which you controverted the crude and unpleasant scepticism of the lady you talked with." (Poor New Charlie!) "Combining the two, I come to the immediate conclusion that you are the man for my purpose."
"You have dumbfounded me. I don't know what to answer. You have views, I know, as to prison treatment. Will you sketch them? Will you talk on, while I try to bring my scattered wits to a focus?"
"Certainly I will. Let me, in the first instance, recall to you a few words of your own. They ran somewhat in this fashion: Is not the man of practical genius the man who is most apt at solving the little problems of resourcefulness in life? Do you remember them?"
"Perhaps I do, in a cruder form."
"They attracted me at once. It is upon such a postulate I base my practice. Their moral is this: To know the antidote the moment the snake bites. That is to have the intuition of divinity. We shall rise to it some day, no doubt, and climb the hither side of the new Olympus. Who knows? Over the crest the spirit of creation may be ours."
Polyhistor nodded, still at sea, and the other went on with a smile:--
"I once knew a world-famous engineer with whom I used to breakfast occasionally. He had a patent egg-boiler on the table, with a little double-sided ladle underneath to hold the spirit. He complained that his egg was always undercooked. I said, 'Why not reverse the ladle so as to bring the deeper cup uppermost?' He was charmed with my perspicacity. The solution had never occurred to him. You remember, too, no doubt, the story of Coleridge and the horse collar. We aim too much at great developments. If we cultivate resourcefulness, the rest will follow. Shall I state my system in nuce? It is to encourage this spirit of resourcefulness."
"Surely the habitual criminal has it in a marked degree?"
"Yes; but abnormally developed in a single direction. His one object is to out-manoeuvre in a game of desperate and immoral chances. The tactical spirit in him has none of the higher ambition. It has felt itself in the degree only that stops at defiance."
"That is perfectly true."
"It is half self-conscious of an individuality that instinctively assumes the hopelessness of a recognition by duller intellects. Leaning to resentment through misguided vanity, it falls 'all oblique.' What is the cure for this? I answer, the teaching of a divine egotism. The subject must be led to a pure devotion to self. What he wishes to respect he must be taught to make beautiful and interesting. The policy of sacrifice to others has so long stunted his moral nature because it is an hypocritical policy. We are responsible to ourselves in the first instance; and to argue an eternal system of blind self-sacrifice is to undervalue the fine gift of individuality. In such he sees but an indefensible policy of force applied to the advantage of the community. He is told to be good--not that he may morally profit, but that others may not suffer inconvenience."
Polyhistor was beginning to grasp, through his confusion, a certain clue of meaning in his visitor's rapid utterance. The stranger spoke fluently, but in the dry, positive voice that characterizes men of will.
"Pray go on," Polyhistor said; "I am digesting in silence."
"We must endeavour to lead him to respect of self by showing him what his mind is capable of. I argue on no sectarian, no religious grounds even. Is it possible to make a man's self his most precious possession? Anyhow, I work to that end. A doctor purges before building up with a tonic. I eliminate cant and hypocrisy, and then introduce self-respect. It isn't enough to employ a man's hands only. Initiation in some labour that should prove wholesome and remunerative is a redeeming factor, but it isn't all. His mind must work also, and awaken to its capacities. If it rusts, the body reverts to inhuman instincts."
"May I ask how you--?"
"By intercourse--in my own person or through my officials. I wish to have only those about me who are willing to contribute to my designs, and with whom I can work in absolute harmony. All my officers are chosen to that end. No doubt a dash of constitutional sentimentalism gives colour to my theories. I get it from a human tract in me that circumstances have obliged me to put a hoarding round."
"I begin to gather daylight."
"Quite so. My patients are invited to exchange views with their guardians in a spirit of perfect friendliness; to solve little problems of practical moment; to acquire the pride of self-reliance. We have competitions, such as certain newspapers open to their readers, in a simple form. I draw up the questions myself. The answers give me insight into the mental conditions of the competitors. Upon insight I proceed. I am fortunate in private means, and I am in a position to offer modest prizes to the winners. Whenever such an one is discharged, he finds awaiting him the tools most handy to his vocation. I bid him go forth in no pharisaical spirit, and invite him to communicate with me. I wish the shadow of the gaol to extend no further than the road whereon it lies. Henceforth, we are acquaintances with a common interest at heart. Isn't it monstrous that a state-fixed degree of misconduct should earn a man social ostracism? Parents are generally inclined to rule extra tenderness towards a child whose peccadilloes have brought him a whipping. For myself, I have no faith in police supervision. Give a culprit his term and have done with it. I find the majority who come back to me are ticket-of-leave men.
"Have I said enough? I offer you the reversion of the post. The present holder of it leaves in a month's time. Please to determine here and at once."
"Very good. I have decided."
"You will accept?"
* * * * *
So far wrote Polyhistor in the bonny days of early manhood--an attempt made in a spasm of enthusiasm inspired in him and humoured by his most engaging Mentor, to record his first impressions of a notable personality not many days after its introduction to him. He has never taken up the tale again until now, when an insistent sense, as of a task left unfinished, compels him to the effort. Over his sweet Mentor the grass lies thick, and flowers of aged stalk bloom perennially, and "Oh, the difference to me!"
To me, for it is time to drop the poor conceit, the pseudonym that once served its little purpose to awaken tender derision.
I take up the old and stained manuscript, with its marginalia, that are like the dim call from a far-away voice, and I know that, so I am driven to record the sequel to that gay introduction, it must be in a spirit of sombreness most deadly by contrast. I look at the faded opening words. The fire of the first line of the narrative is long out; the grate is cold some forty years--forty years!--and I think I have been a little chill during all that time. But, though the room rustle with phantoms and menace stalk in the retrospect, I shall acquit my conscience of its burden, refusing to be bullied by the counsel of a destiny that subpoena'd me entirely against my will.
OF POLYHISTOR'S NARRATIVE
CONTINUED AND FINISHED AFTER A LAPSE OF FORTY YEARS
With my unexpected appointment as doctor to D---- gaol, I seemed to have put on the seven-league boots of success. No doubt it was an extraordinary degree of good fortune, even to one who had looked forward with a broad view of confidence; yet, I think, perhaps on account of the very casual nature of my promotion, I never took the post entirely seriously.
At the same time I was fully bent on justifying my little cockney patron's choice by a resolute subscription to his theories of prison management.
Major James Shrike inspired me with a curious conceit of impertinent respect. In person the very embodiment of that insignificant vulgarity, without extenuating circumstances, which is the type in caricature of the ultimate cockney, he possessed a force of mind and an earnestness of purpose that absolutely redeemed him on close acquaintanceship. I found him all he had stated himself to be, and something more.
He had a noble object always in view--the employment of sane and humanitarian methods in the treatment of redeemable criminals, and he strove towards it with completely untiring devotion. He was of those who never insist beyond the limits of their own understanding, clear-sighted in discipline, frank in relaxation, an altruist in the larger sense.
His undaunted persistence, as I learned, received ample illustration some few years prior to my acquaintance with him, when--his system being experimental rather than mature--a devastating endemic of typhoid in the prison had for the time stultified his efforts. He stuck to his post; but so virulent was the outbreak that the prison commissioners judged a complete evacuation of the building and overhauling of the drainage to be necessary. As a consequence, for some eighteen months--during thirteen of which the Governor and his household remained sole inmates of the solitary pile (so sluggishly do we redeem our condemned social bog-lands)--the "system" stood still for lack of material to mould. At the end of over a year of stagnation, a contract was accepted and workmen put in, and another five months saw the prison reordered for practical purposes.
The interval of forced inactivity must have sorely tried the patience of the Governor. Practical theorists condemned to rust too often eat out their own hearts. Major Shrike never referred to this period, and, indeed, laboriously snubbed any allusion to it.
He was, I have a shrewd notion, something of an officially petted reformer. Anyhow, to his abolition of the insensate barbarism of crank and treadmill in favour of civilizing methods no opposition was offered. Solitary confinement--a punishment outside all nature to a gregarious race--found no advocate in him. "A man's own suffering mind," he argued, "must be, of all moral food, the most poisonous for him to feed on. Surround a scorpion with fire and he stings himself to death, they say. Throw a diseased soul entirely upon its own resources and moral suicide results."
To sum up: his nature embodied humanity without sentimentalism, firmness without obstinacy, individuality without selfishness; his activity was boundless, his devotion to his system so real as to admit no utilitarian sophistries into his scheme of personal benevolence. Before I had been with him a week, I respected him as I had never respected man before.
* * * * *
One evening (it was during the second month of my appointment) we were sitting in his private study--a dark, comfortable room lined with books. It was an occasion on which a new characteristic of the man was offered to my inspection.
A prisoner of a somewhat unusual type had come in that day--a spiritualistic medium, convicted of imposture. To this person I casually referred.
"May I ask how you propose dealing with the new-comer?"
"On the familiar lines."
"But, surely--here we have a man of superior education, of imagination even?"
"No, no, no! A hawker's opportuneness; that describes it. These fellows would make death itself a vulgarity."
"You've no faith in their--"
"Not a tittle. Heaven forfend! A sheet and a turnip are poetry to their manifestations. It's as crude and sour soil for us to work on as any I know. We'll cart it wholesale."
"I take you--excuse my saying so--for a supremely sceptical man."
"As to what?"
There was no answer during a considerable interval. Presently it came, with deliberate insistence:--
"It is a principle with me to oppose bullying. We are here for a definite purpose--his duty plain to any man who wills to read it. There may be disembodied spirits who seek to distress or annoy where they can no longer control. If there are, mine, which is not yet divorced from its means to material action, declines to be influenced by any irresponsible whimsey, emanating from a place whose denizens appear to be actuated by a mere frivolous antagonism to all human order and progress."
"But supposing you, a murderer, to be haunted by the presentment of your victim?"
"I will imagine that to be my case. Well, it makes no difference. My interest is with the great human system, in one of whose veins I am a circulating drop. It is my business to help to keep the system sound, to do my duty without fear or favour. If disease--say a fouled conscience--contaminates me, it is for me to throw off the incubus, not accept it, and transmit the poison. Whatever my lapses of nature, I owe it to the entire system to work for purity in my allotted sphere, and not to allow any microbe bugbear to ride me roughshod, to the detriment of my fellow drops."
"It should be for you," I said, "to learn to shiver, like the boy in the fairy tale."
"I cannot", he answered, with a peculiar quiet smile; "and yet prisons, above all places, should be haunted."
* * * * *
Very shortly after his arrival I was called to the cell of the medium, F----. He suffered, by his own statement, from severe pains in the head.
I found the man to be nervous, anemic; his manner characterized by a sort of hysterical effrontery.
"Send me to the infirmary", he begged. "This isn't punishment, but torture."
"What are your symptoms?"
"I see things; my case has no comparison with others. To a man of my super-sensitiveness close confinement is mere cruelty."
I made a short examination. He was restless under my hands.
"You'll stay where you are", I said.
He broke out into violent abuse, and I left him.
Later in the day I visited him again. He was then white and sullen; but under his mood I could read real excitement of some sort.
"Now, confess to me, my man", I said, "what do you see?"
He eyed me narrowly, with his lips a little shaky.
"Will you have me moved if I tell you?"
"I can give no promise till I know."
He made up his mind after an interval of silence.
"There's something uncanny in my neighbourhood. Who's confined in the next cell--there, to the left?"
"To my knowledge it's empty."
He shook his head incredulously.
"Very well," I said, "I don't mean to bandy words with you"; and I turned to go.
At that he came after me with a frightened choke.
"Doctor, your mission's a merciful one. I'm not trying to sauce you. For God's sake have me moved! I can see further than most, I tell you!"
The fellow's manner gave me pause. He was patently and beyond the pride of concealment terrified.
"What do you see?" I repeated stubbornly.
"It isn't that I see, but I know. The cell's not empty!"
I stared at him in considerable wonderment.
"I will make inquiries," I said. "You may take that for a promise. If the cell proves empty, you stop where you are."
I noticed that he dropped his hands with a lost gesture as I left him. I was sufficiently moved to accost the warder who awaited me on the spot.
"Johnson," I said, "is that cell--"
"Empty, sir," answered the man sharply and at once.
Before I could respond, F---- came suddenly to the door, which I still held open.
"You lying cur!" he shouted. "You damned lying cur!"
The warder thrust the man back with violence.
"Now you, 49," he said, "dry up, and none of your sauce!" and he banged to the door with a sounding slap, and turned to me with a lowering face. The prisoner inside yelped and stormed at the studded panels.
"That cell's empty, sir," repeated Johnson.
"Will you, as a matter of conscience, let me convince myself? I promised the man."
"No, I can't."
"This is a piece of stupid discourtesy. You can have no reason, of course?"
"I can't open it--that's all."
"Oh, Johnson! Then I must go to the fountain-head."
"Very well, sir."
Quite baffled by the man's obstinacy, I said no more, but walked off. If my anger was roused, my curiosity was piqued in proportion.
* * * * *
I had no opportunity of interviewing the Governor all day, but at night I visited him by invitation to play a game of piquet.
He was a man without "incumbrances"--as a severe conservatism designates the lares of the cottage--and, at home, lived at his ease and indulged his amusements without comment.
I found him "tasting" his books, with which the room was well lined, and drawing with relish at an excellent cigar in the intervals of the courses.
He nodded to me, and held out an open volume in his left hand.
"Listen to this fellow," he said, tapping the page with his fingers:--
"'The most tolerable sort of Revenge, is for those wrongs which there is no Law to remedy: But then, let a man take heed, the Revenge be such, as there is no law to punish: Else, a man's Enemy, is still before hand, and it is two for one. Some, when they take Revenge, are Desirous the party should know, whence it cometh. This is the more Generous. For the Delight seemeth to be, not so much in doing the Hurt, as in making the Party repent: But Base and Crafty Cowards are like the Arrow that flyeth in the Dark. Cosmus, Duke of Florence, had a Desperate Saying against Perfidious or Neglecting Friends, as if these wrongs were unpardonable. You shall reade (saith he) that we are commanded to forgive our Enemies: But you never read, that we are commanded, to forgive our Friends.'
"Is he not a rare fellow?"
"Who?" said I.
"Francis Bacon, who screwed his wit to his philosophy, like a hammer-head to its handle, and knocked a nail in at every blow. How many of our friends round about here would be picking oakum now if they had made a gospel of that quotation?"
"You mean they take no heed that the Law may punish for that for which it gives no remedy?"
"Precisely; and specifically as to revenge. The criminal, from the murderer to the petty pilferer, is actuated solely by the spirit of vengeance--vengeance blind and speechless--towards a system that forces him into a position quite outside his natural instincts."
"As to that, we have left Nature in the thicket. It is hopeless hunting for her now."
"We hear her breathing sometimes, my friend. Otherwise Her Majesty's prison locks would rust. But, I grant you, we have grown so unfamiliar with her that we call her simplest manifestations supernatural nowadays."
"That reminds me. I visited F---- this afternoon. The man was in a queer way--not foxing, in my opinion. Hysteria, probably."
"Oh! What was the matter with him?"
"The form it took was some absurd prejudice about the next cell--number 47, He swore it was not empty--was quite upset about it--said there was some infernal influence at work in his neighbourhood. Nerves, he finds, I suppose, may revenge themselves on one who has made a habit of playing tricks with them. To satisfy him, I asked Johnson to open the door of the next cell--"
"It is closed by my orders."
"That settles it, of course. The manner of Johnson's refusal was a bit uncivil, but--"
He had been looking at me intently all this time--so intently that I was conscious of a little embarrassment and confusion. His mouth was set like a dash between brackets, and his eyes glistened. Now his features relaxed, and he gave a short high neigh of a laugh.
"My dear fellow, you must make allowances for the rough old lurcher. He was a soldier. He is all cut and measured out to the regimental pattern. With him Major Shrike, like the king, can do no wrong. Did I ever tell you he served under me in India? He did; and, moreover, I saved his life there."
"In an engagement?"
"Worse--from the bite of a snake. It was a mere question of will. I told him to wake and walk, and he did. They had thought him already in rigor mortis; and, as for him--well, his devotion to me since has been single to the last degree."
"That's as it should be."
"To be sure. And he's quite in my confidence. You must pass over the old beggar's churlishness."
I laughed an assent. And then an odd thing happened. As I spoke, I had walked over to a bookcase on the opposite side of the room to that on which my host stood. Near this bookcase hung a mirror--an oblong affair, set in brass repousse work--on the wall; and, happening to glance into it as I approached, I caught sight of the Major's reflection as he turned his face to follow my movement.
I say "turned his face"--a formal description only. What met my startled gaze was an image of some nameless horror--of features grooved, and battered, and shapeless, as if they had been torn by a wild beast.
I gave a little indrawn gasp and turned about. There stood the Major, plainly himself, with a pleasant smile on his face.
"What's up?" said he.
He spoke abstractedly, pulling at his cigar; and I answered rudely, "That's a damned bad looking-glass of yours!"
"I didn't know there was anything wrong with it," he said, still abstracted and apart. And, indeed, when by sheer mental effort I forced myself to look again, there stood my companion as he stood in the room.
I gave a tremulous laugh, muttered something or nothing, and fell to examining the books in the case. But my fingers shook a trifle as I aimlessly pulled out one volume after another.
"Am I getting fanciful?" I thought--"I whose business it is to give practical account of every bugbear of the nerves. Bah! My liver must be out of order. A speck of bile in one's eye may look a flying dragon."
I dismissed the folly from my mind, and set myself resolutely to inspecting the books marshalled before me. Roving amongst them, I pulled out, entirely at random, a thin, worn duodecimo, that was thrust well back at a shelf end, as if it shrank from comparison with its prosperous and portly neighbours. Nothing but chance impelled me to the choice; and I don't know to this day what the ragged volume was about. It opened naturally at a marker that lay in it--a folded slip of paper, yellow with age; and glancing at this, a printed name caught my eye.
With some stir of curiosity, I spread the slip out. It was a title-page to a volume, of poems, presumably; and the author was James Shrike.
I uttered an exclamation, and turned, book in hand.
"An author!" I said. "You an author, Major Shrike!"
To my surprise, he snapped round upon me with something like a glare of fury on his face. This the more startled me as I believed I had reason to regard him as a man whose principles of conduct had long disciplined a temper that was naturally hasty enough.
Before I could speak to explain, he had come hurriedly across the room and had rudely snatched the paper out of my hand.
"How did this get--" he began; then in a moment came to himself, and apologized for his ill manners.<