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Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories

The Ikon
Ferroll was an intellectual, and he prided himself on the fact. At Cambridge he
had narrowly missed being a Senior Wrangler, and his principal study there had
been Lunar Theory. But when he went down from Cambridge for good, being a
man of some means, he travelled. For a year he was an honorary Attache at one
of the big Embassies. He finally settled in London with a vague idea of some day
writing a magnum opus about the stupidity of mankind; for he had come to the
conclusion by the age of twenty-five that all men were stupid, irreclaimably,
irredeemably stupid; that everything was wrong; that all literature was really bad,
all art much overrated, and all music tedious in the long run.
The years slipped by and he never began his magnum opus; he joined a literary
club instead and discussed the current topic of the day. Sometimes he wrote a
short article; never in the daily Press, which he despised, nor in the reviews (for
he never wrote anything as long as a magazine article), but in a literary weekly
he would express in weary and polished phrases the unemphatic boredom or the
mitigated approval with which the works of his fellow-men inspired him. He was
the kind of man who had nothing in him you could positively dislike, but to whom
you could not talk for five minutes without having a vague sensation of blight.
Things seemed to shrivel up in his presence as though they had been touched by
an insidious east wind, a subtle frost, a secret chill. He never praised anything,
though he sometimes condescended to approve. The faint puffs of blame in
which he more generally indulged were never sharp or heavy, but were like the
smoke rings of a cigarette which a man indolently smoking blows from time to
time up to the ceiling.
He lived in rooms in the Temple. They were comfortably, not luxuriously
furnished; a great many French books--French was the only modern language
worth reading he used to say--a few modern German etchings, a low Turkish
divan, and some Egyptian antiquities, made up the furniture of his two sitting-
rooms. Above all things he despised Greek art; it was, he said decadent. The
Egyptians and the Germans were, in his opinion, the only people who knew
anything about the plastic arts, whereas the only music he could endure was that
of the modern French School. Over his chimney-piece there was a large German
landscape in oils, called "Im Walde"; it represented a wood at twilight in the
autumn, and if you looked at it carefully and for a long time you saw that the
objects depicted were meant to be trees from which the leaves were falling; but if
you looked at the picture carelessly and from a distance, it looked like a man-of-
war on a rough sea, for which it was frequently taken, much to Ferrol's
One day an artist friend of his presented him with a small Chinese god made of
crystal; he put this on his chimney-piece. It was on the evening of the day on
which he received this gift that he dined, together with a friend named Sledge
who had travelled much in Eastern countries, at his club. After dinner they went
to Ferrol's rooms to smoke and to talk. He wanted to show Sledge his antiquities,
which consisted of three large Egyptian statuettes, a small green Egyptian god,