Chapter 32

Promptly, the next afternoon, Maria was excited by Martin’s second visitor. But she did not lose her head this time, for she seated Brissenden in her parlor’s grandeur of respectability.

“Hope you don’t mind my coming?” Brissenden began.

“No, no, not at all,” Martin answered, shaking hands and waving him to the solitary chair, himself taking to the bed. “But how did you know where I lived?”

“Called up the Morses. Miss Morse answered the ’phone. And here I am.” He tugged at his coat pocket and flung a thin volume on the table. “There’s a book, by a poet. Read it and keep it.” And then, in reply to Martin’s protest: “What have I to do with books? I had another hemorrhage this morning. Got any whiskey? No, of course not. Wait a minute.”

He was off and away. Martin watched his long figure go down the outside steps, and, on turning to close the gate, noted with a pang the shoulders, which had once been broad, drawn in now over, the collapsed ruin of the chest. Martin got two tumblers, and fell to reading the book of verse, Henry Vaughn Marlow’s latest collection.

“No Scotch,” Brissenden announced on his return. “The beggar sells nothing but American whiskey. But here’s a quart of it.”

“I’ll send one of the youngsters for lemons, and we’ll make a toddy,” Martin offered.

“I wonder what a book like that will earn Marlow?” he went on, holding up the volume in question.

“Possibly fifty dollars,” came the answer. “Though he’s lucky if he pulls even on it, or if he can inveigle a publisher to risk bringing it out.”

“Then one can’t make a living out of poetry?”

Martin’s tone and face alike showed his dejection.

“Certainly not. What fool expects to? Out of rhyming, yes. There’s Bruce, and Virginia Spring, and Sedgwick. They do very nicely. But poetry — do you know how Vaughn Marlow makes his living? — teaching in a boys’ cramming-joint down in Pennsylvania, and of all private little hells such a billet is the limit. I wouldn’t trade places with him if he had fifty years of life before him. And yet his work stands out from the ruck of the contemporary versifiers as a balas ruby among carrots. And the reviews he gets! Damn them, all of them, the crass manikins!”

“Too much is written by the men who can’t write about the men who do write,” Martin concurred. “Why, I was appalled at the quantities of rubbish written about Stevenson and his work.”

“Ghouls and harpies!” Brissenden snapped out with clicking teeth. “Yes, I know the spawn — complacently pecking at him for his Father Damien letter, analyzing him, weighing him — “

“Measuring him by the yardstick of their own miserable egos,” Martin broke in.

“Yes, that’s it, a good phrase, — mouthing and besliming the True, and Beautiful, and Good, and finally patting him on the back and saying, ‘Good dog, Fido.’ Faugh! ‘The little chattering daws of men,’ Richard Realf called them the night he died.”

“Pecking at star-dust,” Martin took up the strain warmly; “at the meteoric flight of the master-men. I once wrote a squib on them — the critics, or the reviewers, rather.”

“Let’s see it,” Brissenden begged eagerly.

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