I wanted to kick the pygmy into the fire, but some incomprehensible sense of being legally and legitimately under his authority forced me to obey his order. He applied the match to the pipe, took a contemplative whiff or two, and remarked, in an irritatingly familiar way:
"Seems to me it's devilish odd weather for this time of year."
I flushed again, and in anger and humiliation as before; for the language was hardly an exaggeration of some that I have uttered in my day, and moreover was delivered in a tone of voice and with an exasperating drawl that had the seeming of a deliberate travesty of my style. Now there is nothing I am quite so sensitive about as a mocking imitation of my drawling infirmity of speech. I spoke up sharply and said:
"Look here, you miserable ash-cat! you will have to give a little more attention to your manners, or I will throw you out of the window!"
The manikin smiled a smile of malicious content and security, puffed a whiff of smoke contemptuously toward me, and said, with a still more elaborate drawl:
"Come--go gently now; don't put on too many airs with your betters."
This cool snub rasped me all over, but it seemed to subjugate me, too, for a moment. The pygmy contemplated me awhile with his weasel eyes, and then said, in a peculiarly sneering way:
"You turned a tramp away from your door this morning."
I said crustily:
"Perhaps I did, perhaps I didn't. How do you know?"
"Well, I know. It isn't any matter how I know."
"Very well. Suppose I did turn a tramp away from the door--what of it?"
"Oh, nothing; nothing in particular. Only you lied to him."
"I didn't! That is, I--"
"Yes, but you did; you lied to him."
I felt a guilty pang--in truth, I had felt it forty times before that tramp had traveled a block from my door--but still I resolved to make a show of feeling slandered; so I said:
"This is a baseless impertinence. I said to the tramp--"
"There--wait. You were about to lie again. I know what you said to him. You said the cook was gone down-town and there was nothing left from breakfast. Two lies. You knew the cook was behind the door, and plenty of provisions behind her."
This astonishing accuracy silenced me; and it filled me with wondering speculations, too, as to how this cub could have got his information. Of course he could have culled the conversation from the tramp, but by what sort of magic had he contrived to find out about the concealed cook? Now the dwarf spoke again:
"It was rather pitiful, rather small, in you to refuse to read that poor young woman's manuscript the other day, and give her an opinion as to its literary value; and she had come so far, too, and so hopefully. Now wasn't it?"
I felt like a cur! And I had felt so every time the thing had recurred to my mind, I may as well confess. I flushed hotly and said:
"Look here, have you nothing better to do than prowl around prying into other people's business? Did that girl tell you that?"
"Never mind whether she did or not. The main thing is, you did that contemptible thing. And you felt ashamed of it afterward. Aha! you feel ashamed of it now!"
This was a sort of devilish glee. With fiery earnestness I responded:
"I told that girl, in the kindest, gentlest way, that I could not consent to deliver judgment upon any one's manuscript, because an individual's verdict was worthless. It might underrate a work of high merit and lose it to the world, or it might overrate a trashy production and so open the way for its infliction upon the world: I said that the great public was the only tribunal competent to sit in judgment upon a literary effort, and therefore it must be best to lay it before that tribunal in the outset, since in the end it must stand or fall by that mighty court's decision anyway."
"Yes, you said all that. So you did, you juggling, small-souled shuffler! And yet when the happy hopefulness faded out of that poor girl's face, when you saw her furtively slip beneath her shawl the scroll she had so patiently and honestly scribbled at--so ashamed of her darling now, so proud of it before--when you saw the gladness go out of her eyes and the tears come there, when she crept away so humbly who had come so--"
"Oh, peace! peace! peace! Blister your merciless tongue, haven't all these thoughts tortured me enough without your coming here to fetch them back again!"
Remorse! remorse! It seemed to me that it would eat the very heart out of me! And yet that small fiend only sat there leering at me with joy and contempt, and placidly chuckling.