The Fifth Heart

Free The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons

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Authors: Dan Simmons
things that do not relate directly to my profession and avocation of detective work—I quickly put it out of my mind. I can, you shall find, be rather singularly focused. So you will have to make allowances for me at times, sir.”
    “But for a man who brags of being set so firmly behind
The Times
. . .” James began and stopped. Holmes could not possibly be telling the truth here. And James wanted no argument. Not yet.
    “Mr. Grover Cleveland,” he began again, “is in the unique position of being the only President of the United States who has served two
four-year terms. He was in office between March eighteen eighty-five and March of eighteen eighty-nine. After a four-year interval where a certain Benjamin Harrison served in the office, Mr. Cleveland was elected again just last November and was sworn into office again only a few weeks ago.”
    Holmes nodded briskly. “Thank you. And please return to your description of all five of the Five of Hearts.”
    James looked around. “I fear that the dining car will be closing for luncheon service soon. Perhaps we could have a late lunch and continue our discussion there?”

    J ames chose trout for lunch; he didn’t care that much for trout, but eating it always reminded him that he was “home” in the United States. Actually, nothing outside the window of the moving dining car gave him any sense of being “home”. The trees along the rail line here as they moved from New Jersey toward Baltimore were too small, too tightly clustered, and too obviously just stands of new growth where farms had spared a patch of forest. The farmhouses were of wood and often needed new coats of paint. Some of the barns sagged. It was a tapestry of American chaos overlaid on a layer of poverty; England and Italy and France had more than enough poverty, Henry James knew well enough, but it rarely manifested itself as sagging, unpainted, wildly planted
. In England—in most of James’s Europe—the old and poor and rundown were
, including the people.
    Many years earlier, in an essay on Hawthorne (who had been an early passion of his), James had made the mistake of writing to American readers that American soil and history were a sad, blank slate for any American writer, poet, or artist: New England, he had pointed out, lacked Europe’s all-important castles, ancient ruins, Roman roads, abandoned sheepherders’ cottages, and defined social classes capable of appreciating art. American artists of any sort, he’d suggested, could never achieve a real mastery of their art by reacting to the vulgar, pressing, profit-centered, and always-pressing
the way writers and artists in Europe could react romantically to the
    Certain American reviewers, editors, and even readers had taken him to task for these less-than-praise-filled paragraphs. In their eyes, James knew, America, even without any true history, could do no wrong and the vulgar and ever-shifting “newness” that he hated so profoundly—primarily as an impediment to his and any American writer’s art—was an aphrodisiac to their Philistine and America-tuned senses.
    James remembered writing, in 1879 or thereabouts, putting down his thoughts on Hawthorne and his contemporaries—“It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature” and “One might enumerate the items of high civilization, as it exists in other countries, which are absent from the texture of American life, until it should become a wonder to know what was left.” Perhaps this is why he had added, in Chapter VI of his Hawthorne book—“It is, I think, an indisputable fact that Americans are, as Americans, the most self-conscious people in the world, and the most addicted to the belief that the other nations of the earth are in a conspiracy to undervalue them.”
    No, it had not made him popular to American readers and reviewers.
    Now James shrugged and set all that ancient emotion away from

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