‘If he had been burnt in these days every one would have suspected the Suffragettes,’ observed Mellowkent.

‘Poultry-keeping, now,’ resumed Caiaphas, ‘that’s a subject that might crop up in a novel dealing with English country life. Here we have all about it: “The Leghorn as egg-producer. Lack of maternal instinct in the Minorca. Gapes in chickens, its cause and cure. Ducklings for the early market, how fattened.” There, you see, there it all is, nothing lacking.’

‘Except the maternal instinct in the Minorca, and that you could hardly be expected to supply.’

‘Sporting records, that’s important too; now how many men, sporting men even, are there who can say off-hand what horse won the Derby in any particular year? Now it’s just a little thing of that sort—’

‘My dear sir,’ interrupted Mellowkent, ‘there are at least four men in my club who can not only tell me what horse won in any given year, but what horse ought to have won and why it didn’t. If your book could supply a method for protecting one from information of that sort, it would do more than anything you have yet claimed for it.’

‘Geography,’ said Caiaphas imperturbably; ‘that’s a thing that a busy man, writing at high pressure, may easily make a slip over. Only the other day a well-known author made the Volga flow into the Black Sea instead of the Caspian; now, with this book—’

‘On a polished rose-wood stand behind you there reposes a reliable and up-to-date atlas,’ said Mellowkent; ‘and now I must really ask you to be going.’

‘An atlas,’ said Caiaphas, ‘gives merely the chart of the river’s course, and indicates the principal towns that it passes. Now Right Here gives you the scenery, traffic, ferry-boat charges, the prevalent types of fish, boatmen’s slang terms, and hours of sailing of the principal river steamers. It gives you—’

Mellowkent sat and watched the hard-featured, resolute, pitiless salesman, as he sat doggedly in the chair wherein he had installed himself, unflinchingly extolling the merits of his undesired wares. A spirit of wistful emulation took possession of the author. Why could he not live up to the cold stern name he had adopted? Why must he sit here weakly and listen to this weary, unconvincing tirade? Why could he not be Mark Mellowkent for a few brief moments, and meet this man on level terms?

A sudden inspiration flashed across him.

‘Have you read my last book, The Cageless Linnet?’ he asked.

‘I don’t read novels,’ said Caiaphas tersely.

‘Oh, but you ought to read this one, every one ought to,’ exclaimed Mellowkent, fishing the book down from a shelf; ‘published at six shillings, you can have it at four-and-six. There is a bit in chapter five that I feel sure you would like, where Emma is alone in the birch copse waiting for Harold Huntingdon—that is the man her family want her to marry. She really wants to marry him too, but she does not discover that till chapter fifteen. Listen: “Far as the eye could stretch rolled the mauve and purple billows of heather, lit up here and there with the glowing yellow of gorse and broom, and edged round with the delicate greys and silver and green of the young birch trees. Tiny blue and brown butterflies fluttered above the fronds of heather, revelling in the sunlight, and overhead the larks were singing as only larks can sing. It was a day when all Nature—”’

‘In Right Here you have full information on all branches of Nature study,’ broke in the book-agent, with a tired note sounding in his voice for the first time; ‘forestry, insect life, bird migration, reclamation of waste lands. As I was saying no man who has to deal with the varied interests of life—’

‘I wonder if you would care for one of my earlier books, The Reluctance of Lady Cullumpton,’ said Mellowkent, hunting again through the bookshelf; ‘some people consider it my best novel. Ah, here it is. I see there

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