The Man Who Knew Too Much
7. The Temple Of Silence
Harold March and the few who cultivated the friendship of Horne Fisher, especially if
they saw something of him in his own social setting, were conscious of a certain solitude
in his very sociability. They seemed to be always meeting his relations and never meeting
his family. Perhaps it would be truer to say that they saw much of his family and nothing
of his home. His cousins and connections ramified like a labyrinth all over the governing
class of Great Britain, and he seemed to be on good, or at least on good- humored, terms
with most of them. For Horne Fisher was remarkable for a curious impersonal
information and interest touching all sorts of topics, so that one could sometimes fancy
that his culture, like his colorless, fair mustache and pale, drooping features, had the
neutral nature of a chameleon. Anyhow, he could always get on with viceroys and
Cabinet Ministers and all the great men responsible for great departments, and talk to
each of them on his own subject, on the branch of study with which he was most
seriously concerned. Thus he could converse with the Minister for War about silkworms,
with the Minister of Education about detective stories, with the Minister of Labor about
Limoges enamel, and with the Minister of Missions and Moral Progress (if that be his
correct title) about the pantomime boys of the last four decades. And as the first was his
first cousin, the second his second cousin, the third his brother-in-law, and the fourth his
uncle by marriage, this conversational versatility certainly served in one sense to create a
happy family. But March never seemed to get a glimpse of that domestic interior to
which men of the middle classes are accustomed in their friendships, and which is indeed
the foundation of friendship and love and everything else in any sane and stable society.
He wondered whether Horne Fisher was both an orphan and an only child.
It was, therefore, with something like a start that he found that Fisher had a brother, much
more prosperous and powerful than himself, though hardly, March thought, so
entertaining. Sir Henry Harland Fisher, with half the alphabet after his name, was
something at the Foreign Office far more tremendous than the Foreign Secretary.
Apparently, it ran in the family, after all; for it seemed there was another brother, Ashton
Fisher, in India, rather more tremendous than the Viceroy. Sir Henry Fisher was a
heavier, but handsomer edition of his brother, with a brow equally bald, but much more
smooth. He was very courteous, but a shade patronizing, not only to March, but even, as
March fancied, to Horne Fisher as well. The latter gentleman, who had many intuitions
about the half-formed thoughts of others, glanced at the topic himself as they came away
from the great house in Berkeley Square.
"Why, don't you know," he observed quietly, "that I am the fool of the family?"
"It must be a clever family," said Harold March, with a smile.
"Very gracefully expressed," replied Fisher; "that is the best of having a literary training.
Well, perhaps it is an exaggeration to say I am the fool of the family. It's enough to say I
am the failure of the family."