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George Gissing: New Grub Street

PART I.

 

CHAPTER I. A MAN OF HIS DAY

 

As the Milvains sat down to breakfast the clock of Wattleborough parish

church struck eight; it was two miles away, but the strokes were borne

very distinctly on the west wind this autumn morning. Jasper, listening

before he cracked an egg, remarked with cheerfulness:

 

'There's a man being hanged in London at this moment.'

 

'Surely it isn't necessary to let us know that,' said his sister Maud,

coldly.

 

'And in such a tone, too!' protested his sister Dora.

 

'Who is it?' inquired Mrs Milvain, looking at her son with pained

forehead.

 

'I don't know. It happened to catch my eye in the paper yesterday that

someone was to be hanged at Newgate this morning. There's a certain

satisfaction in reflecting that it is not oneself.'

 

'That's your selfish way of looking at things,' said Maud.

 

'Well,' returned Jasper, 'seeing that the fact came into my head, what

better use could I make of it? I could curse the brutality of an age

that sanctioned such things; or I could grow doleful over the misery of

the poor--fellow. But those emotions would be as little profitable to

others as to myself. It just happened that I saw the thing in a light of

consolation. Things are bad with me, but not so bad as THAT. I might be

going out between Jack Ketch and the Chaplain to be hanged; instead of

that, I am eating a really fresh egg, and very excellent buttered toast,

with coffee as good as can be reasonably expected in this part of the

world.--(Do try boiling the milk, mother.)--The tone in which I spoke

was spontaneous; being so, it needs no justification.'

 

He was a young man of five-and-twenty, well built, though a trifle

meagre, and of pale complexion. He had hair that was very nearly black,

and a clean-shaven face, best described, perhaps, as of bureaucratic

type. The clothes he wore were of expensive material, but had seen a

good deal of service. His stand-up collar curled over at the corners,

and his necktie was lilac-sprigged.

 

Of the two sisters, Dora, aged twenty, was the more like him in visage,

but she spoke with a gentleness which seemed to indicate a different

character. Maud, who was twenty-two, had bold, handsome features, and

very beautiful hair of russet tinge; hers was not a face that readily

smiled. Their mother had the look and manners of an invalid, though she

sat at table in the ordinary way. All were dressed as ladies, though

very simply. The room, which looked upon a small patch of garden, was

furnished with old-fashioned comfort, only one or two objects suggesting

the decorative spirit of 1882.

 

'A man who comes to be hanged,' pursued Jasper, impartially, 'has

the satisfaction of knowing that he has brought society to its last

resource. He is a man of such fatal importance that nothing will serve

against him but the supreme effort of law. In a way, you know, that is

success.'

 

'In a way,' repeated Maud, scornfully.

 

'Suppose we talk of something else,' suggested Dora, who seemed to fear

a conflict between her sister and Jasper.

 

Almost at the same moment a diversion was afforded by the arrival of the

post. There was a letter for Mrs Milvain, a letter and newspaper for

her son. Whilst the girls and their mother talked of unimportant news

communicated by the one correspondent, Jasper read the missive addressed

to himself.

 

'This is from Reardon,' he remarked to the younger girl. 'Things are

going badly with him. He is just the kind of fellow to end by poisoning

or shooting himself.'

 

'But why?'

 

'Can't get anything done; and begins to be sore troubled on his wife's

account.'

 

'Is he ill?'

 

'Overworked, I suppose. But it's just what I foresaw. He isn't the

kind of man to keep up literary production as a paying business. In

favourable circumstances he might write a fairly good book once every

two or three years. The failure of his last depressed him, and now he

is struggling hopelessly to get another done before the winter season.

Those people will come to grief.'

 

'The enjoyment with which he anticipates it!' murmured Maud, looking at

her mother.

 

'Not at all,' said Jasper. 'It's true I envied the fellow, because he

persuaded a handsome girl to believe in him and share his risks, but I

shall be very sorry if he goes to the--to the dogs. He's my one serious

friend. But it irritates me to see a man making such large demands upon

fortune. One must be more modest--as I am. Because one book had a sort

of success he imagined his struggles were over. He got a hundred

pounds for "On Neutral Ground," and at once counted on a continuance

of payments in geometrical proportion. I hinted to him that he couldn't

keep it up, and he smiled with tolerance, no doubt thinking "He judges

me by himself." But I didn't do anything of the kind.--(Toast, please,

Dora.)--I'm a stronger man than Reardon; I can keep my eyes open, and

wait.'

 

'Is his wife the kind of person to grumble?' asked Mrs Milvain.

 

'Well, yes, I suspect that she is. The girl wasn't content to go into

modest rooms--they must furnish a flat. I rather wonder he didn't start

a carriage for her. Well, his next book brought only another hundred,

and now, even if he finishes this one, it's very doubtful if he'll get

as much. "The Optimist" was practically a failure.'

 

'Mr Yule may leave them some money,' said Dora.

 

'Yes. But he may live another ten years, and he would see them both in

Marylebone Workhouse before he advanced sixpence, or I'm much mistaken

in him. Her mother has only just enough to live upon; can't possibly

help them. Her brother wouldn't give or lend twopence halfpenny.'

 

'Has Mr Reardon no relatives!'

 

'I never heard him make mention of a single one. No, he has done the

fatal thing. A man in his position, if he marry at all, must take

either a work-girl or an heiress, and in many ways the work-girl is

preferable.'

 

'How can you say that?' asked Dora. 'You never cease talking about the

advantages of money.'

 

'Oh, I don't mean that for ME the work-girl would be preferable; by

no means; but for a man like Reardon. He is absurd enough to be

conscientious, likes to be called an "artist," and so on. He might

possibly earn a hundred and fifty a year if his mind were at rest, and

that would be enough if he had married a decent little dressmaker. He

wouldn't desire superfluities, and the quality of his work would be its

own reward. As it is, he's ruined.'

 

'And I repeat,' said Maud, 'that you enjoy the prospect.'

 

'Nothing of the kind. If I seem to speak exultantly it's only because

my intellect enjoys the clear perception of a fact.--A little marmalade,

Dora; the home-made, please.'

 

'But this is very sad, Jasper,' said Mrs Milvain, in her half-absent

way. 'I suppose they can't even go for a holiday?'

 

'Quite out of the question.'

 

'Not even if you invited them to come here for a week?'

 

'Now, mother,' urged Maud, 'THAT'S impossible, you know very well.'

 

'I thought we might make an effort, dear. A holiday might mean

everything to him.'

 

'No, no,' fell from Jasper, thoughtfully. 'I don't think you'd get

along very well with Mrs Reardon; and then, if her uncle is coming to Mr

Yule's, you know, that would be awkward.'

 

'I suppose it would; though those people would only stay a day or two,

Miss Harrow said.'

 

'Why can't Mr Yule make them friends, those two lots of people?' asked

Dora. 'You say he's on good terms with both.'

 

'I suppose he thinks it's no business of his.'

 

Jasper mused over the letter from his friend.

 

'Ten years hence,' he said, 'if Reardon is still alive, I shall be

lending him five-pound notes.'

 

A smile of irony rose to Maud's lips. Dora laughed.

 

'To be sure! To be sure!' exclaimed their brother. 'You have no faith.

But just understand the difference between a man like Reardon and a man

like me. He is the old type of unpractical artist; I am the literary man

of 1882. He won't make concessions, or rather, he can't make them;

he can't supply the market. I--well, you may say that at present I

do nothing; but that's a great mistake, I am learning my business.

Literature nowadays is a trade. Putting aside men of genius, who may

succeed by mere cosmic force, your successful man of letters is your

skilful tradesman. He thinks first and foremost of the markets; when one

kind of goods begins to go off slackly, he is ready with something new

and appetising. He knows perfectly all the possible sources of income.

Whatever he has to sell he'll get payment for it from all sorts of

various quarters; none of your unpractical selling for a lump sum to a

middleman who will make six distinct profits. Now, look you: if I had

been in Reardon's place, I'd have made four hundred at least out of

"The Optimist"; I should have gone shrewdly to work with magazines and

newspapers and foreign publishers, and--all sorts of people. Reardon

can't do that kind of thing, he's behind his age; he sells a manuscript

as if he lived in Sam Johnson's Grub Street. But our Grub Street of

to-day is quite a different place: it is supplied with telegraphic

communication, it knows what literary fare is in demand in every part of

the world, its inhabitants are men of business, however seedy.'

 

'It sounds ignoble,' said Maud.

 

'I have nothing to do with that, my dear girl. Now, as I tell you, I am

slowly, but surely, learning the business. My line won't be novels;

I have failed in that direction, I'm not cut out for the work. It's a

pity, of course; there's a great deal of money in it. But I have plenty

of scope. In ten years, I repeat, I shall be making my thousand a year.'

 

'I don't remember that you stated the exact sum before,' Maud observed.

 

'Let it pass. And to those who have shall be given. When I have a decent

income of my own, I shall marry a woman with an income somewhat larger,

so that casualties may be provided for.'

 

Dora exclaimed, laughing:

 

'It would amuse me very much if the Reardons got a lot of money at Mr

Yule's death--and that can't be ten years off, I'm sure.'

 

'I don't see that there's any chance of their getting much,' replied

Jasper, meditatively. 'Mrs Reardon is only his niece. The man's brother

and sister will have the first helping, I suppose. And then, if it comes

to the second generation, the literary Yule has a daughter, and by her

being invited here I should think she's the favourite niece. No, no;

depend upon it they won't get anything at all.'

 

Having finished his breakfast, he leaned back and began to unfold the

London paper that had come by post.

 

'Had Mr Reardon any hopes of that kind at the time of his marriage, do

you think?' inquired Mrs Milvain.

 

'Reardon? Good heavens, no! Would he were capable of such forethought!'

 

In a few minutes Jasper was left alone in the room. When the servant

came to clear the table he strolled slowly away, humming a tune.

 

The house was pleasantly situated by the roadside in a little village

named Finden. Opposite stood the church, a plain, low, square-towered

building. As it was cattle-market to-day in the town of Wattleborough,

droves of beasts and sheep occasionally went by, or the rattle of a

grazier's cart sounded for a moment. On ordinary days the road saw few

vehicles, and pedestrians were rare.

 

Mrs Milvain and her daughters had lived here for the last seven years,

since the death of the father, who was a veterinary surgeon. The widow

enjoyed an annuity of two hundred and forty pounds, terminable with her

life; the children had nothing of their own. Maud acted irregularly as

a teacher of music; Dora had an engagement as visiting governess in a

Wattleborough family. Twice a year, as a rule, Jasper came down from

London to spend a fortnight with them; to-day marked the middle of his

autumn visit, and the strained relations between him and his sisters

which invariably made the second week rather trying for all in the house

had already become noticeable.

 

In the course of the morning Jasper had half an hour's private talk

with his mother, after which he set off to roam in the sunshine. Shortly

after he had left the house, Maud, her domestic duties dismissed for the

time, came into the parlour where Mrs Milvain was reclining on the sofa.

 

'Jasper wants more money,' said the mother, when Maud had sat in

meditation for a few minutes.

 

'Of course. I knew that. I hope you told him he couldn't have it.'

 

'I really didn't know what to say,' returned Mrs Milvain, in a feeble

tone of worry.

 

'Then you must leave the matter to me, that's all. There's no money for

him, and there's an end of it.'

 

Maud set her features in sullen determination. There was a brief

silence.

 

'What's he to do, Maud?'

 

'To do? How do other people do? What do Dora and I do?'

 

'You don't earn enough for your support, my dear.'

 

'Oh, well!' broke from the girl. 'Of course, if you grudge us our food

and lodging--'

 

'Don't be so quick-tempered. You know very well I am far from grudging

you anything, dear. But I only meant to say that Jasper does earn

something, you know.'

 

'It's a disgraceful thing that he doesn't earn as much as he needs. We

are sacrificed to him, as we always have been. Why should we be pinching

and stinting to keep him in idleness?'

 

'But you really can't call it idleness, Maud. He is studying his

profession.'

 

'Pray call it trade; he prefers it. How do I know that he's studying

anything? What does he mean by "studying"? And to hear him speak

scornfully of his friend Mr Reardon, who seems to work hard all through

the year! It's disgusting, mother. At this rate he will never earn his

own living. Who hasn't seen or heard of such men? If we had another

hundred a year, I would say nothing. But we can't live on what he leaves

us, and I'm not going to let you try. I shall tell Jasper plainly that

he's got to work for his own support.'

 

Another silence, and a longer one. Mrs Milvain furtively wiped a tear

from her cheek.

 

'It seems very cruel to refuse,' she said at length, 'when another year

may give him the opportunity he's waiting for.'

 

'Opportunity? What does he mean by his opportunity?'

 

'He says that it always comes, if a man knows how to wait.'

 

'And the people who support him may starve meanwhile! Now just think

a bit, mother. Suppose anything were to happen to you, what becomes of

Dora and me? And what becomes of Jasper, too? It's the truest kindness

to him to compel him to earn a living. He gets more and more incapable

of it.'

 

'You can't say that, Maud. He earns a little more each year. But for

that, I should have my doubts. He has made thirty pounds already this

year, and he only made about twenty-five the whole of last. We must

be fair to him, you know. I can't help feeling that he knows what he's

about. And if he does succeed, he'll pay us all back.'

 

Maud began to gnaw her fingers, a disagreeable habit she had in privacy.

 

'Then why doesn't he live more economically?'

 

'I really don't see how he can live on less than a hundred and fifty a

year. London, you know--'

 

'The cheapest place in the world.'

 

'Nonsense, Maud!'

 

'But I know what I'm saying. I've read quite enough about such things.

He might live very well indeed on thirty shillings a week, even buying

his clothes out of it.'

 

'But he has told us so often that it's no use to him to live like that.

He is obliged to go to places where he must spend a little, or he makes

no progress.'

 

'Well, all I can say is,' exclaimed the girl impatiently, 'it's very

lucky for him that he's got a mother who willingly sacrifices her

daughters to him.'

 

'That's how you always break out. You don't care what unkindness you

say!'

 

'It's a simple truth.'

 

'Dora never speaks like that.'

 

'Because she's afraid to be honest.'

 

'No, because she has too much love for her mother. I can't bear to talk

to you, Maud. The older I get, and the weaker I get, the more unfeeling

you are to me.'

 

Scenes of this kind were no uncommon thing. The clash of tempers lasted

for several minutes, then Maud flung out of the room. An hour later, at

dinner-time, she was rather more caustic in her remarks than usual, but

this was the only sign that remained of the stormy mood.

 

Jasper renewed the breakfast-table conversation.

 

'Look here,' he began, 'why don't you girls write something? I'm

convinced you could make money if you tried. There's a tremendous sale

for religious stories; why not patch one together? I am quite serious.'

 

'Why don't you do it yourself,' retorted Maud.

 

'I can't manage stories, as I have told you; but I think you could. In

your place, I'd make a speciality of Sunday-school prize-books; you

know the kind of thing I mean. They sell like hot cakes. And there's so

deuced little enterprise in the business. If you'd give your mind to it,

you might make hundreds a year.'

 

'Better say "abandon your mind to it."'

 

'Why, there you are! You're a sharp enough girl. You can quote as well

as anyone I know.'

 

'And please, why am I to take up an inferior kind of work?'

 

'Inferior? Oh, if you can be a George Eliot, begin at the earliest

opportunity. I merely suggested what seemed practicable.

 

But I don't think you have genius, Maud. People have got that ancient

prejudice so firmly rooted in their heads--that one mustn't write save

at the dictation of the Holy Spirit. I tell you, writing is a business.

Get together half-a-dozen fair specimens of the Sunday-school prize;

study them; discover the essential points of such composition; hit upon

new attractions; then go to work methodically, so many pages a day.

There's no question of the divine afflatus; that belongs to another

sphere of life. We talk of literature as a trade, not of Homer, Dante,

and Shakespeare. If I could only get that into poor Reardon's head. He

thinks me a gross beast, often enough. What the devil--I mean what on

earth is there in typography to make everything it deals with sacred?

I don't advocate the propagation of vicious literature; I speak only of

good, coarse, marketable stuff for the world's vulgar. You just give it

a thought, Maud; talk it over with Dora.'

 

He resumed presently:

 

'I maintain that we people of brains are justified in supplying the mob

with the food it likes. We are not geniuses, and if we sit down in a

spirit of long-eared gravity we shall produce only commonplace stuff.

Let us use our wits to earn money, and make the best we can of our

lives. If only I had the skill, I would produce novels out-trashing the

trashiest that ever sold fifty thousand copies. But it needs skill, mind

you: and to deny it is a gross error of the literary pedants. To

please the vulgar you must, one way or another, incarnate the genius

of vulgarity. For my own part, I shan't be able to address the bulkiest

multitude; my talent doesn't lend itself to that form. I shall write for

the upper middle-class of intellect, the people who like to feel

that what they are reading has some special cleverness, but who can't

distinguish between stones and paste. That's why I'm so slow in warming

to the work. Every month I feel surer of myself, however.

 

That last thing of mine in The West End distinctly hit the mark; it

wasn't too flashy, it wasn't too solid. I heard fellows speak of it in

the train.'

 

Mrs Milvain kept glancing at Maud, with eyes which desired her attention

to these utterances. None the less, half an hour after dinner, Jasper

found himself encountered by his sister in the garden, on her face a

look which warned him of what was coming.

 

'I want you to tell me something, Jasper. How much longer shall you look

to mother for support? I mean it literally; let me have an idea of how

much longer it will be.'

 

He looked away and reflected.

 

'To leave a margin,' was his reply, 'let us say twelve months.'

 

'Better say your favourite "ten years" at once.'

 

'No. I speak by the card. In twelve months' time, if not before, I shall

begin to pay my debts. My dear girl, I have the honour to be a tolerably

long-headed individual. I know what I'm about.'

 

'And let us suppose mother were to die within half a year?'

 

'I should make shift to do very well.'

 

'You? And please--what of Dora and me?'

 

'You would write Sunday-school prizes.'

 

Maud turned away and left him.

 

He knocked the dust out of the pipe he had been smoking, and again set

off for a stroll along the lanes. On his countenance was just a trace

of solicitude, but for the most part he wore a thoughtful smile. Now

and then he stroked his smoothly-shaven jaws with thumb and fingers.

Occasionally he became observant of wayside details--of the colour of a

maple leaf, the shape of a tall thistle, the consistency of a fungus. At

the few people who passed he looked keenly, surveying them from head to

foot.

 

On turning, at the limit of his walk, he found himself almost face to

face with two persons, who were coming along in silent companionship;

their appearance interested him. The one was a man of fifty, grizzled,

hard featured, slightly bowed in the shoulders; he wore a grey felt hat

with a broad brim and a decent suit of broadcloth. With him was a girl

of perhaps two-and-twenty, in a slate-coloured dress with very little

ornament, and a yellow straw hat of the shape originally appropriated to

males; her dark hair was cut short, and lay in innumerable crisp curls.

Father and daughter, obviously. The girl, to a casual eye, was neither

pretty nor beautiful, but she had a grave and impressive face, with a

complexion of ivory tone; her walk was gracefully modest, and she seemed

to be enjoying the country air.

 

Jasper mused concerning them. When he had walked a few yards, he looked

back; at the same moment the unknown man also turned his head.

 

'Where the deuce have I seen them--him and the girl too?' Milvain asked

himself.

 

And before he reached home the recollection he sought flashed upon his

mind.

 

'The Museum Reading-room, of course!'

 

 

 

CHAPTER II. THE HOUSE OF YULE

 

'I think' said Jasper, as he entered the room where his mother and Maud

were busy with plain needlework, 'I must have met Alfred Yule and his

daughter.'

 

'How did you recognise them?' Mrs Milvain inquired.

 

'I passed an old buffer and a pale-faced girl whom I know by sight at

the British Museum. It wasn't near Yule's house, but they were taking a

walk.'

 

'They may have come already. When Miss Harrow was here last, she said

"in about a fortnight."'

 

'No mistaking them for people of these parts, even if I hadn't

remembered their faces. Both of them are obvious dwellers in the valley

of the shadow of books.'

 

'Is Miss Yule such a fright then?' asked Maud.

 

'A fright! Not at all. A good example of the modern literary girl. I

suppose you have the oddest old-fashioned ideas of such people. No,

I rather like the look of her. Simpatica, I should think, as that ass

Whelpdale would say. A very delicate, pure complexion, though morbid;

nice eyes; figure not spoilt yet. But of course I may be wrong about

their identity.'

 

Later in the afternoon Jasper's conjecture was rendered a certainty.

Maud had walked to Wattleborough, where she would meet Dora on the

latter's return from her teaching, and Mrs Milvain sat alone, in a

mood of depression; there was a ring at the door-bell, and the servant

admitted Miss Harrow.

 

This lady acted as housekeeper to Mr John Yule, a wealthy resident in

this neighbourhood; she was the sister of his deceased wife--a thin,

soft-speaking, kindly woman of forty-five. The greater part of her life

she had spent as a governess; her position now was more agreeable, and

the removal of her anxiety about the future had developed qualities of

cheerfulness which formerly no one would have suspected her to possess.

The acquaintance between Mrs Milvain and her was only of twelve months'

standing; prior to that, Mr Yule had inhabited a house at the end of

Wattleborough remote from Finden.

 

'Our London visitors came yesterday,' she began by saying.

 

Mrs Milvain mentioned her son's encounter an hour or two ago.

 

'No doubt it was they,' said the visitor. 'Mrs Yule hasn't come; I

hardly expected she would, you know. So very unfortunate when there are

difficulties of that kind, isn't it?'

 

She smiled confidentially.

 

'The poor girl must feel it,' said Mrs Milvain.

 

'I'm afraid she does. Of course it narrows the circle of her friends at

home. She's a sweet girl, and I should so like you to meet her. Do come

and have tea with us to-morrow afternoon, will you? Or would it be too

much for you just now?'

 

'Will you let the girls call? And then perhaps Miss Yule will be so good

as to come and see me?'

 

'I wonder whether Mr Milvain would like to meet her father? I have

thought that perhaps it might be some advantage to him. Alfred is so

closely connected with literary people, you know.'

 

'I feel sure he would be glad,' replied Mrs Milvain. 'But--what of

Jasper's friendship with Mrs Edmund Yule and the Reardons? Mightn't it

be a little awkward?'

 

'Oh, I don't think so, unless he himself felt it so. There would be no

need to mention that, I should say. And, really, it would be so much

better if those estrangements came to an end. John makes no scruple of

speaking freely about everyone, and I don't think Alfred regards Mrs

Edmund with any serious unkindness. If Mr Milvain would walk over with

the young ladies to-morrow, it would be very pleasant.'

 

'Then I think I may promise that he will. I'm sure I don't know where he

is at this moment. We don't see very much of him, except at meals.'

 

'He won't be with you much longer, I suppose?'

 

'Perhaps a week.'

 

Before Miss Harrow's departure Maud and Dora reached home. They were

curious to see the young lady from the valley of the shadow of books,

and gladly accepted the invitation offered them.

 

They set out on the following afternoon in their brother's company. It

was only a quarter of an hour's walk to Mr Yule's habitation, a small

house in a large garden. Jasper was coming hither for the first time;

his sisters now and then visited Miss Harrow, but very rarely saw Mr

Yule himself who made no secret of the fact that he cared little for

female society. In Wattleborough and the neighbourhood opinions varied

greatly as to this gentleman's character, but women seldom spoke

very favourably of him. Miss Harrow was reticent concerning her

brother-in-law; no one, however, had any reason to believe that she

found life under his roof disagreeable. That she lived with him at all

was of course occasionally matter for comment, certain Wattleborough

ladies having their doubts regarding the position of a deceased wife's

sister under such circumstances; but no one was seriously exercised

about the relations between this sober lady of forty-five and a man of

sixty-three in broken health.

 

A word of the family history.

 

John, Alfred, and Edmund Yule were the sons of a Wattleborough

stationer. Each was well educated, up to the age of seventeen, at the

town's grammar school. The eldest, who was a hot-headed lad, but showed

capacities for business, worked at first with his father, endeavouring

to add a bookselling department to the trade in stationery; but the life

of home was not much to his taste, and at one-and-twenty he obtained a

clerk's place in the office of a London newspaper. Three years after,

his father died, and the small patrimony which fell to him he used

in making himself practically acquainted with the details of paper

manufacture, his aim being to establish himself in partnership with an

acquaintance who had started a small paper-mill in Hertfordshire.

 

His speculation succeeded, and as years went on he became a thriving

manufacturer. His brother Alfred, in the meantime, had drifted from work

at a London bookseller's into the modern Grub Street, his adventures in

which region will concern us hereafter.

 

Edmund carried on the Wattleborough business, but with small success.

Between him and his eldest brother existed a good deal of affection,

and in the end John offered him a share in his flourishing paper works;

whereupon Edmund married, deeming himself well established for life. But

John's temper was a difficult one; Edmund and he quarrelled, parted; and

when the younger died, aged about forty, he left but moderate provision

for his widow and two children.

 

Only when he had reached middle age did John marry; the experiment

could not be called successful, and Mrs Yule died three years later,

childless.

 

At fifty-four John Yule retired from active business; he came back to

the scenes of his early life, and began to take an important part in the

municipal affairs of Wattleborough. He was then a remarkably robust man,

fond of out-of-door exercise; he made it one of his chief efforts to

encourage the local Volunteer movement, the cricket and football clubs,

public sports of every kind, showing no sympathy whatever with those

persons who wished to establish free libraries, lectures, and the like.

At his own expense he built for the Volunteers a handsome drill-shed;

he founded a public gymnasium; and finally he allowed it to be rumoured

that he was going to present the town with a park. But by presuming too

far upon the bodily vigour which prompted these activities, he passed of

a sudden into the state of a confirmed invalid. On an autumn expedition

in the Hebrides he slept one night under the open sky, with the result

that he had an all but fatal attack of rheumatic fever. After that,

though the direction of his interests was unchanged, he could no longer

set the example to Wattleborough youth of muscular manliness. The

infliction did not improve his temper; for the next year or two he was

constantly at warfare with one or other of his colleagues and friends,

ill brooking that the familiar control of various local interests should

fall out of his hands. But before long he appeared to resign himself

to his fate, and at present Wattleborough saw little of him. It seemed

likely that he might still found the park which was to bear his name;

but perhaps it would only be done in consequence of directions in his

will. It was believed that he could not live much longer.

 

With his kinsfolk he held very little communication. Alfred Yule, a

battered man of letters, had visited Wattleborough only twice (including

the present occasion) since John's return hither. Mrs Edmund Yule, with

her daughter--now Mrs Reardon--had been only once, three years ago.

These two families, as you have heard, were not on terms of amity with

each other, owing to difficulties between Mrs Alfred and Mrs Edmund; but

John seemed to regard both impartially. Perhaps the only real warmth of

feeling he had ever known was bestowed upon Edmund, and Miss Harrow had

remarked that he spoke with somewhat more interest of Edmund's daughter,

Amy, than of Alfred's daughter, Marian. But it was doubtful whether the

sudden disappearance from the earth of all his relatives would greatly

have troubled him. He lived a life of curious self-absorption, reading

newspapers (little else), and talking with old friends who had stuck to

him in spite of his irascibility.

 

Miss Harrow received her visitors in a small and soberly furnished

drawing-room. She was nervous, probably because of Jasper Milvain, whom

she had met but once--last spring--and who on that occasion had struck

her as an alarmingly modern young man. In the shadow of a window-curtain

sat a slight, simply-dressed girl, whose short curly hair and thoughtful

countenance Jasper again recognised. When it was his turn to be

presented to Miss Yule, he saw that she doubted for an instant whether

or not to give her hand; yet she decided to do so, and there was

something very pleasant to him in its warm softness. She smiled with a

slight embarrassment, meeting his look only for a second.

 

'I have seen you several times, Miss Yule,' he said in a friendly way,

'though without knowing your name. It was under the great dome.'

 

She laughed, readily understanding his phrase.

 

'I am there very often,' was her reply.

 

'What great dome?' asked Miss Harrow, with surprise.

 

'That of the British Museum Reading-room,' explained Jasper; 'known to

some of us as the valley of the shadow of books. People who often work

there necessarily get to know each other by sight.

 

In the same way I knew Miss Yule's father when I happened to pass him in

the road yesterday.'

 

The three girls began to converse together, perforce of trivialities.

Marian Yule spoke in rather slow tones, thoughtfully, gently; she had

linked her fingers, and laid her hands, palms downwards, upon her lap--a

nervous action. Her accent was pure, unpretentious; and she used none of

the fashionable turns of speech which would have suggested the habit of

intercourse with distinctly metropolitan society.

 

'You must wonder how we exist in this out-of-the-way place,' remarked

Maud.

 

'Rather, I envy you,' Marian answered, with a slight emphasis.

 

The door opened, and Alfred Yule presented himself. He was tall, and his

head seemed a disproportionate culmination to his meagre body, it was so

large and massively featured. Intellect and uncertainty of temper were

equally marked upon his visage; his brows were knitted in a permanent

expression of severity. He had thin, smooth hair, grizzled whiskers, a

shaven chin. In the multitudinous wrinkles of his face lay a history of

laborious and stormy life; one readily divined in him a struggling and

embittered man. Though he looked older than his years, he had by no

means the appearance of being beyond the ripeness of his mental vigour.

 

'It pleases me to meet you, Mr Milvain,' he said, as he stretched out

his bony hand. 'Your name reminds me of a paper in The Wayside a month

or two ago, which you will perhaps allow a veteran to say was not ill

done.'

 

'I am grateful to you for noticing it,' replied Jasper.

 

There was positively a touch of visible warmth upon his cheek. The

allusion had come so unexpectedly that it caused him keen pleasure.

 

Mr Yule seated himself awkwardly, crossed his legs, and began to stroke

the back of his left hand, which lay on his knee. He seemed to have

nothing more to say at present, and allowed Miss Harrow and the girls to

support conversation. Jasper listened with a smile for a minute or two,

then he addressed the veteran.'Have you seen The Study this week, Mr

Yule?'

 

'Yes.'

 

'Did you notice that it contains a very favourable review of a novel

which was tremendously abused in the same columns three weeks ago?'

 

Mr Yule started, but Jasper could perceive at once that his emotion was

not disagreeable.

 

'You don't say so.'

 

'Yes. The novel is Miss Hawk's "On the Boards." How will the editor get

out of this?'

 

'H'm! Of course Mr Fadge is not immediately responsible; but it'll be

unpleasant for him, decidedly unpleasant.' He smiled grimly. 'You hear

this, Marian?'

 

'How is it explained, father?'

 

'May be accident, of course; but--well, there's no knowing. I think

it very likely this will be the end of Mr Fadge's tenure of office.

Rackett, the proprietor, only wants a plausible excuse for making a

change. The paper has been going downhill for the last year; I know of

two publishing houses who have withdrawn their advertising from it, and

who never send their books for review. Everyone foresaw that kind of

thing from the day Mr Fadge became editor. The tone of his paragraphs

has been detestable. Two reviews of the same novel, eh? And

diametrically opposed? Ha! Ha!'

 

Gradually he had passed from quiet appreciation of the joke to

undisguised mirth and pleasure. His utterance of the name 'Mr Fadge'

sufficiently intimated that he had some cause of personal discontent

with the editor of The Study.

 

'The author,' remarked Milvain, 'ought to make a good thing out of

this.'

 

'Will, no doubt. Ought to write at once to the papers, calling attention

to this sample of critical impartiality. Ha! ha!'

 

He rose and went to the window, where for several minutes he stood

gazing at vacancy, the same grim smile still on his face. Jasper in the

meantime amused the ladies (his sisters had heard him on the subject

already) with a description of the two antagonistic notices. But he

did not trust himself to express so freely as he had done at home his

opinion of reviewing in general; it was more than probable that both

Yule and his daughter did a good deal of such work.

 

'Suppose we go into the garden,' suggested Miss Harrow, presently. 'It

seems a shame to sit indoors on such a lovely afternoon.'

 

Hitherto there had been no mention of the master of the house. But Mr

Yule now remarked to Jasper:

 

'My brother would be glad if you would come and have a word with him. He

isn't quite well enough to leave his room to-day.'

 

So, as the ladies went gardenwards, Jasper followed the man of letters

upstairs to a room on the first floor. Here, in a deep cane chair, which

was placed by the open window, sat John Yule. He was completely dressed,

save that instead of coat he wore a dressing-gown. The facial

likeness between him and his brother was very strong, but John's

would universally have been judged the finer countenance; illness

notwithstanding, he had a complexion which contrasted in its pure colour

with Alfred's parchmenty skin, and there was more finish about his

features. His abundant hair was reddish, his long moustache and trimmed

beard a lighter shade of the same hue.

 

'So you too are in league with the doctors,' was his bluff greeting,

as he held a hand to the young man and inspected him with a look of

slighting good-nature.

 

'Well, that certainly is one way of regarding the literary profession,'

admitted Jasper, who had heard enough of John's way of thinking to

understand the remark.

 

'A young fellow with all the world before him, too. Hang it, Mr Milvain,

is there no less pernicious work you can turn your hand to?'

 

'I'm afraid not, Mr Yule. After all, you know, you must be held in a

measure responsible for my depravity.'

 

'How's that?'

 

'I understand that you have devoted most of your life to the making

of paper. If that article were not so cheap and so abundant, people

wouldn't have so much temptation to scribble.'

 

Alfred Yule uttered a short laugh.

 

'I think you are cornered, John.'

 

'I wish,' answered John, 'that you were both condemned to write on such

paper as I chiefly made; it was a special kind of whitey-brown, used by

shopkeepers.'

 

He chuckled inwardly, and at the same time reached out for a box of

cigarettes on a table near him. His brother and Jasper each took one as

he offered them, and began to smoke.

 

'You would like to see literary production come entirely to an end?'

said Milvain.

 

'I should like to see the business of literature abolished.'

 

'There's a distinction, of course. But, on the whole, I should say that

even the business serves a good purpose.'

 

'What purpose?'

 

'It helps to spread civilisation.'

 

'Civilisation!' exclaimed John, scornfully. 'What do you mean by

civilisation? Do you call it civilising men to make them weak, flabby

creatures, with ruined eyes and dyspeptic stomachs? Who is it that

reads most of the stuff that's poured out daily by the ton from the

printing-press? Just the men and women who ought to spend their leisure

hours in open-air exercise; the people who earn their bread by sedentary

pursuits, and who need to live as soon as they are free from the desk

or the counter, not to moon over small print. Your Board schools, your

popular press, your spread of education! Machinery for ruining the

country, that's what I call it.'

 

'You have done a good deal, I think, to counteract those influences in

Wattleborough.'

 

'I hope so; and if only I had kept the use of my limbs I'd have done a

good deal more. I have an idea of offering substantial prizes to men

and women engaged in sedentary work who take an oath to abstain from all

reading, and keep it for a certain number of years. There's a good deal

more need for that than for abstinence from strong liquor. If I could

have had my way I would have revived prize-fighting.'

 

His brother laughed with contemptuous impatience.

 

'You would doubtless like to see military conscription introduced into

England?' said Jasper.

 

'Of course I should! You talk of civilising; there's no such way of

civilising the masses of the people as by fixed military service. Before

mental training must come training of the body. Go about the Continent,

and see the effect of military service on loutish peasants and the

lowest classes of town population. Do you know why it isn't even more

successful? Because the damnable education movement interferes. If

Germany would shut up her schools and universities for the next quarter

of a century and go ahead like blazes with military training there'd be

a nation such as the world has never seen. After that, they might begin

a little book-teaching again--say an hour and a half a day for everyone

above nine years old. Do you suppose, Mr Milvain, that society is going

to be reformed by you people who write for money? Why, you are the very

first class that will be swept from the face of the earth as soon as the

reformation really begins!'

 

Alfred puffed at his cigarette. His thoughts were occupied with Mr

Fadge and The Study. He was considering whether he could aid in bringing

public contempt upon that literary organ and its editor. Milvain

listened to the elder man's diatribe with much amusement.

 

'You, now,' pursued John, 'what do you write about?'

 

'Nothing in particular. I make a salable page or two out of whatever

strikes my fancy.'

 

'Exactly! You don't even pretend that you've got anything to say. You

live by inducing people to give themselves mental indigestion--and

bodily, too, for that matter.'

 

'Do you know, Mr Yule, that you have suggested a capital idea to me? If

I were to take up your views, I think it isn't at all unlikely that

I might make a good thing of writing against writing. It should be my

literary specialty to rail against literature. The reading public should

pay me for telling them that they oughtn't to read. I must think it

over.'

 

'Carlyle has anticipated you,' threw in Alfred.

 

'Yes, but in an antiquated way. I would base my polemic on the newest

philosophy.'

 

He developed the idea facetiously, whilst John regarded him as he might

have watched a performing monkey.

 

'There again! your new philosophy!' exclaimed the invalid. 'Why, it

isn't even wholesome stuff, the kind of reading that most of you

force on the public. Now there's the man who has married one of my

nieces--poor lass! Reardon, his name is. You know him, I dare say.

Just for curiosity I had a look at one of his books; it was called "The

Optimist." Of all the morbid trash I ever saw, that beat everything. I

thought of writing him a letter, advising a couple of anti-bilious pills

before bedtime for a few weeks.'

 

Jasper glanced at Alfred Yule, who wore a look of indifference.

 

'That man deserves penal servitude in my opinion,' pursued John. 'I'm

not sure that it isn't my duty to offer him a couple of hundred a year

on condition that he writes no more.'

 

Milvain, with a clear vision of his friend in London, burst into

laughter. But at that point Alfred rose from his chair.

 

'Shall we rejoin the ladies?' he said, with a certain pedantry

of phrase and manner which often characterised him.

 

'Think over your ways whilst you're still young,' said John as he shook

hands with his visitor.

 

'Your brother speaks quite seriously, I suppose?' Jasper remarked when

he was in the garden with Alfred.

 

'I think so. It's amusing now and then, but gets rather tiresome when

you hear it often. By-the-bye, you are not personally acquainted with Mr

Fadge?'

 

'I didn't even know his name until you mentioned it.'

 

'The most malicious man in the literary world. There's no

uncharitableness in feeling a certain pleasure when he gets into a

scrape. I could tell you incredible stories about him; but that kind of

thing is probably as little to your taste as it is to mine.'

 

Miss Harrow and her companions, having caught sight of the pair, came

towards them. Tea was to be brought out into the garden.

 

'So you can sit with us and smoke, if you like,' said Miss Harrow to

Alfred. 'You are never quite at your ease, I think, without a pipe.'

 

But the man of letters was too preoccupied for society. In a few minutes

he begged that the ladies would excuse his withdrawing; he had two or

three letters to write before post-time, which was early at Finden.

 

Jasper, relieved by the veteran's departure, began at once to make

himself very agreeable company. When he chose to lay aside the topic of

his own difficulties and ambitions, he could converse with a spontaneous

gaiety which readily won the good-will of listeners. Naturally

he addressed himself very often to Marian Yule, whose attention

complimented him. She said little, and evidently was at no time a free

talker, but the smile on her face indicated a mood of quiet enjoyment.

When her eyes wandered, it was to rest on the beauties of the garden,

the moving patches of golden sunshine, the forms of gleaming cloud.

Jasper liked to observe her as she turned her head: there seemed to him

a particular grace in the movement; her head and neck were admirably

formed, and the short hair drew attention to this.

 

It was agreed that Miss Harrow and Marian should come on the second

day after to have tea with the Milvains. And when Jasper took leave of

Alfred Yule, the latter expressed a wish that they might have a walk

together one of these mornings.

 

 

 

CHAPTER III. HOLIDAY

 

Jasper's favourite walk led him to a spot distant perhaps a mile and a

half from home. From a tract of common he turned into a short lane which

crossed the Great Western railway, and thence by a stile into certain

meadows forming a compact little valley. One recommendation of this

retreat was that it lay sheltered from all winds; to Jasper a wind was

objectionable. Along the bottom ran a clear, shallow stream, overhung

with elder and hawthorn bushes; and close by the wooden bridge which

spanned it was a great ash tree, making shadow for cows and sheep when

the sun lay hot upon the open field. It was rare for anyone to come

along this path, save farm labourers morning and evening.

 

But to-day--the afternoon that followed his visit to John Yule's

house--he saw from a distance that his lounging-place on the wooden

bridge was occupied. Someone else had discovered the pleasure there was

in watching the sun-flecked sparkle of the water as it flowed over the

clean sand and stones. A girl in a yellow-straw hat; yes, and precisely

the person he had hoped, at the first glance, that it might be. He

made no haste as he drew nearer on the descending path. At length his

footstep was heard; Marian Yule turned her head and clearly recognised

him.

 

She assumed an upright position, letting one of her hands rest upon

the rail. After the exchange of ordinary greetings, Jasper leaned back

against the same support and showed himself disposed for talk.

 

'When I was here late in the spring,' he said, 'this ash was only just

budding, though everything else seemed in full leaf.'

 

'An ash, is it?' murmured Marian. 'I didn't know. I think an oak is the

only tree I can distinguish. Yet,' she added quickly, 'I knew that the

ash was late; some lines of Tennyson come to my memory.'

 

'Which are those?'

 

'Delaying, as the tender ash delays

To clothe herself when all the woods are green,

 

somewhere in the "Idylls."'

 

'I don't remember; so I won't pretend to--though I should do so as a

rule.'

 

She looked at him oddly, and seemed about to laugh, yet did not.

 

'You have had little experience of the country?' Jasper continued.

 

'Very little. You, I think, have known it from childhood?'

 

'In a sort of way. I was born in Wattleborough, and my people have

always lived here. But I am not very rural in temperament. I have really

no friends here; either they have lost interest in me, or I in them.

What do you think of the girls, my sisters?'

 

The question, though put with perfect simplicity, was embarrassing.

 

'They are tolerably intellectual,' Jasper went on, when he saw that it

would be difficult for her to answer. 'I want to persuade them to try

their hands at literary work of some kind or other. They give lessons,

and both hate it.'

 

'Would literary work be less--burdensome?' said Marian, without looking

at him.

 

'Rather more so, you think?'

 

She hesitated.

 

'It depends, of course, on--on several things.'

 

'To be sure,' Jasper agreed. 'I don't think they have any marked faculty

for such work; but as they certainly haven't for teaching, that doesn't

matter. It's a question of learning a business. I am going through my

apprenticeship, and find it a long affair. Money would shorten it, and,

unfortunately, I have none.'

 

'Yes,' said Marian, turning her eyes upon the stream, 'money is a help

in everything.'

 

'Without it, one spends the best part of one's life in toiling for that

first foothold which money could at once purchase. To have money is

becoming of more and more importance in a literary career; principally

because to have money is to have friends. Year by year, such influence

grows of more account. A lucky man will still occasionally succeed by

dint of his own honest perseverance, but the chances are dead against

anyone who can't make private interest with influential people; his work

is simply overwhelmed by that of the men who have better opportunities.'

 

'Don't you think that, even to-day, really good work will sooner or

later be recognised?'

 

'Later, rather than sooner; and very likely the man can't wait; he

starves in the meantime. You understand that I am not speaking of

genius; I mean marketable literary work. The quantity turned out is

so great that there's no hope for the special attention of the public

unless one can afford to advertise hugely. Take the instance of a

successful all-round man of letters; take Ralph Warbury, whose name

you'll see in the first magazine you happen to open. But perhaps he is a

friend of yours?'

 

'Oh no!'

 

'Well, I wasn't going to abuse him. I was only going to ask: Is there

any quality which distinguishes his work from that of twenty struggling

writers one could name? Of course not. He's a clever, prolific man; so

are they. But he began with money and friends; he came from Oxford into

the thick of advertised people; his name was mentioned in print six

times a week before he had written a dozen articles. This kind of thing

will become the rule. Men won't succeed in literature that they may

get into society, but will get into society that they may succeed in

literature.'

 

'Yes, I know it is true,' said Marian, in a low voice.

 

'There's a friend of mine who writes novels,' Jasper pursued. 'His

books are not works of genius, but they are glaringly distinct from the

ordinary circulating novel. Well, after one or two attempts, he made

half a success; that is to say, the publishers brought out a second

edition of the book in a few months. There was his opportunity. But he

couldn't use it; he had no friends, because he had no money. A book of

half that merit, if written by a man in the position of Warbury when

he started, would have established the reputation of a lifetime. His

influential friends would have referred to it in leaders, in magazine

articles, in speeches, in sermons. It would have run through numerous

editions, and the author would have had nothing to do but to write

another book and demand his price. But the novel I'm speaking of was

practically forgotten a year after its appearance; it was whelmed

beneath the flood of next season's literature.'

 

Marian urged a hesitating objection.

 

'But, under the circumstances, wasn't it in the author's power to make

friends? Was money really indispensable?'

 

'Why, yes--because he chose to marry. As a bachelor he might possibly

have got into the right circles, though his character would in any case

have made it difficult for him to curry favour.

 

But as a married man, without means, the situation was hopeless. Once

married you must live up to the standard of the society you frequent;

you can't be entertained without entertaining in return. Now if his wife

had brought him only a couple of thousand pounds all might have been

well. I should have advised him, in sober seriousness, to live for two

years at the rate of a thousand a year. At the end of that time he would

have been earning enough to continue at pretty much the same rate of

expenditure.'

 

'Perhaps.'

 

'Well, I ought rather to say that the average man of letters would be

able to do that. As for Reardon--'

 

He stopped. The name had escaped him unawares.

 

'Reardon?' said Marian, looking up. 'You are speaking of him?'

 

'I have betrayed myself Miss Yule.'

 

'But what does it matter? You have only spoken in his favour.'

 

'I feared the name might affect you disagreeably.'

 

Marian delayed her reply.

 

'It is true,' she said, 'we are not on friendly terms with my cousin's

family. I have never met Mr Reardon. But I shouldn't like you to think

that the mention of his name is disagreeable to me.'

 

'It made me slightly uncomfortable yesterday--the fact that I am well

acquainted with Mrs Edmund Yule, and that Reardon is my friend. Yet

I didn't see why that should prevent my making your father's

acquaintance.'

 

'Surely not. I shall say nothing about it; I mean, as you uttered the

name unintentionally.'

 

There was a pause in the dialogue. They had been speaking almost

confidentially, and Marian seemed to become suddenly aware of an oddness

in the situation. She turned towards the uphill path, as if thinking of

resuming her walk.

 

'You are tired of standing still,' said Jasper. 'May I walk back a part

of the way with you?'

 

'Thank you; I shall be glad.'

 

They went on for a few minutes in silence.

 

'Have you published anything with your signature, Miss Yule?' Jasper at

length inquired.

 

'Nothing. I only help father a little.'

 

The silence that again followed was broken this time by Marian.

 

'When you chanced to mention Mr Reardon's name,' she said, with a

diffident smile in which lay that suggestion of humour so delightful

upon a woman's face, 'you were going to say something more about him?'

 

'Only that--' he broke off and laughed. 'Now, how boyish it was, wasn't

it? I remember doing just the same thing once when I came home

from school and had an exciting story to tell, with preservation of

anonymities. Of course I blurted out a name in the first minute or two,

to my father's great amusement. He told me that I hadn't the diplomatic

character. I have been trying to acquire it ever since.

 

'But why?'

 

'It's one of the essentials of success in any kind of public life. And

I mean to succeed, you know. I feel that I am one of the men who do

succeed. But I beg your pardon; you asked me a question. Really, I was

only going to say of Reardon what I had said before: that he hasn't the

tact requisite for acquiring popularity.'

 

'Then I may hope that it isn't his marriage with my cousin which has

proved a fatal misfortune?'

 

'In no case,' replied Milvain, averting his look, 'would he have used

his advantages.'

 

'And now? Do you think he has but poor prospects?'

 

'I wish I could see any chance of his being estimated at his right

value. It's very hard to say what is before him.'

 

'I knew my cousin Amy when we were children,' said Marian, presently.

'She gave promise of beauty.'

 

'Yes, she is beautiful.'

 

'And--the kind of woman to be of help to such a husband?'

 

'I hardly know how to answer, Miss Yule,' said Jasper, looking frankly

at her. 'Perhaps I had better say that it's unfortunate they are poor.'

 

Marian cast down her eyes.

 

'To whom isn't it a misfortune?' pursued her companion. 'Poverty is the

root of all social ills; its existence accounts even for the ills that

arise from wealth. The poor man is a man labouring in fetters. I declare

there is no word in our language which sounds so hideous to me as

"Poverty."'

 

Shortly after this they came to the bridge over the railway line. Jasper

looked at his watch.

 

'Will you indulge me in a piece of childishness?' he said. 'In less than

five minutes a London express goes by; I have often watched it here, and

it amuses me. Would it weary you to wait?'

 

'I should like to,' she replied with a laugh.

 

The line ran along a deep cutting, from either side of which grew hazel

bushes and a few larger trees. Leaning upon the parapet of the bridge,

Jasper kept his eye in the westward direction, where the gleaming rails

were visible for more than a mile. Suddenly he raised his finger.

 

'You hear?'

 

Marian had just caught the far-off sound of the train. She looked

eagerly, and in a few moments saw it approaching. The front of the

engine blackened nearer and nearer, coming on with dread force and

speed. A blinding rush, and there burst against the bridge a great

volley of sunlit steam. Milvain and his companion ran to the opposite

parapet, but already the whole train had emerged, and in a few seconds

it had disappeared round a sharp curve. The leafy branches that grew out

over the line swayed violently backwards and forwards in the perturbed

air.

 

'If I were ten years younger,' said Jasper, laughing, 'I should say that

was jolly! It enspirits me. It makes me feel eager to go back and plunge

into the fight again.'

 

'Upon me it has just the opposite effect,' fell from Marian, in very low

tones.

 

'Oh, don't say that! Well, it only means that you haven't had enough

holiday yet. I have been in the country more than a week; a few days

more and I must be off. How long do you think of staying?'

 

'Not much more than a week, I think.'

 

'By-the-bye, you are coming to have tea with us to-morrow,' Jasper

remarked a propos of nothing. Then he returned to another subject that

was in his thoughts.

 

'It was by a train like that that I first went up to London. Not really

the first time; I mean when I went to live there, seven years ago.

What spirits I was in! A boy of eighteen going to live independently in

London; think of it!'

 

'You went straight from school?'

 

'I was for two years at Redmayne College after leaving Wattleborough

Grammar School. Then my father died, and I spent nearly half a year at

home. I was meant to be a teacher, but the prospect of entering a school

by no means appealed to me. A friend of mine was studying in London for

some Civil Service exam., so I declared that I would go and do the same

thing.'

 

'Did you succeed?'

 

'Not I! I never worked properly for that kind of thing. I read

voraciously, and got to know London. I might have gone to the dogs, you

know; but by when I had been in London a year a pretty clear purpose

began to form in me. Strange to think that you were growing up there all

the time. I may have passed you in the street now and then.'

 

Marian laughed.

 

'And I did at length see you at the British Museum, you know.'

 

They turned a corner of the road, and came full upon Marian's father,

who was walking in this direction with eyes fixed upon the ground.

 

'So here you are!' he exclaimed, looking at the girl, and for the moment

paying no attention to Jasper. 'I wondered whether I should meet you.'

Then, more dryly, 'How do you do, Mr Milvain?'

 

In a tone of easy indifference Jasper explained how he came to be

accompanying Miss Yule.

 

'Shall I walk on with you, father?' Marian asked, scrutinising his

rugged features.

 

'Just as you please; I don't know that I should have gone much further.

But we might take another way back.'

 

Jasper readily adapted himself to the wish he discerned in Mr Yule; at

once he offered leave-taking in the most natural way. Nothing was said

on either side about another meeting.

 

The young man proceeded homewards, but, on arriving, did not at once

enter the house. Behind the garden was a field used for the grazing of

horses; he entered it by the unfastened gate, and strolled idly hither

and thither, now and then standing to observe a poor worn-out beast, all

skin and bone, which had presumably been sent here in the hope that a

little more labour might still be exacted from it if it were suffered

to repose for a few weeks. There were sores upon its back and legs; it

stood in a fixed attitude of despondency, just flicking away troublesome

flies with its grizzled tail.

 

It was tea-time when he went in. Maud was not at home, and Mrs Milvain,

tormented by a familiar headache, kept her room; so Jasper and Dora sat

down together. Each had an open book on the table; throughout the meal

they exchanged only a few words.

 

'Going to play a little?' Jasper suggested when they had gone into the

sitting-room.

 

'If you like.'

 

She sat down at the piano, whilst her brother lay on the sofa, his

hands clasped beneath his head. Dora did not play badly, but an

absentmindedness which was commonly observable in her had its effect

upon the music. She at length broke off idly in the middle of a passage,

and began to linger on careless chords. Then, without turning her head,

she asked:

 

'Were you serious in what you said about writing storybooks?'

 

'Quite. I see no reason why you shouldn't do something in that way. But

I tell you what; when I get back, I'll inquire into the state of the

market. I know a man who was once engaged at Jolly & Monk's--the chief

publishers of that kind of thing, you know; I must look him up--what a

mistake it is to neglect any acquaintance!--and get some information out

of him. But it's obvious what an immense field there is for anyone who

can just hit the taste of the' new generation of Board school children.

Mustn't be too goody-goody; that kind of thing is falling out of date.

But you'd have to cultivate a particular kind of vulgarity.

 

There's an idea, by-the-bye. I'll write a paper on the characteristics

of that new generation; it may bring me a few guineas, and it would be a

help to you.'

 

'But what do you know about the subject?' asked Dora doubtfully.

 

'What a comical question! It is my business to know something about

every subject--or to know where to get the knowledge.'

 

'Well,' said Dora, after a pause, 'there's no doubt Maud and I ought

to think very seriously about the future. You are aware, Jasper, that

mother has not been able to save a penny of her income.'

 

'I don't see how she could have done. Of course I know what you're

thinking; but for me, it would have been possible. I don't mind

confessing to you that the thought troubles me a little now and then;

I shouldn't like to see you two going off governessing in strangers'

houses. All I can say is, that I am very honestly working for the end

which I am convinced will be most profitable.

 

I shall not desert you; you needn't fear that. But just put your heads

together, and cultivate your writing faculty. Suppose you could both

together earn about a hundred a year in Grub Street, it would be better

than governessing; wouldn't it?'

 

'You say you don't know what Miss Yule writes?'

 

'Well, I know a little more about her than I did yesterday. I've had an

hour's talk with her this afternoon.'

 

'Indeed?'

 

'Met her down in the Leggatt fields. I find she doesn't write

independently; just helps her father. What the help amounts to I can't

say. There's something very attractive about her. She quoted a line or

two of Tennyson; the first time I ever heard a woman speak blank verse

with any kind of decency.'

 

'She was walking alone?'

 

'Yes. On the way back we met old Yule; he seemed rather grumpy, I

thought. I don't think she's the kind of girl to make a paying business

of literature. Her qualities are personal. And it's pretty clear to

me that the valley of the shadow of books by no means agrees with her

disposition. Possibly old Yule is something of a tyrant.'

 

'He doesn't impress me very favourably. Do you think you will keep up

their acquaintance in London?'

 

'Can't say. I wonder what sort of a woman that mother really is? Can't

be so very gross, I should think.'

 

'Miss Harrow knows nothing about her, except that she was a quite

uneducated girl.'

 

'But, dash it! by this time she must have got decent manners. Of course

there may be other objections. Mrs Reardon knows nothing against her.'

 

Midway in the following morning, as Jasper sat with a book in the

garden, he was surprised to see Alfred Yule enter by the gate.

 

'I thought,' began the visitor, who seemed in high spirits, 'that you

might like to see something I received this morning.'

 

He unfolded a London evening paper, and indicated a long letter from

a casual correspondent. It was written by the authoress of 'On the

Boards,' and drew attention, with much expenditure of witticism, to the

conflicting notices of that book which had appeared in The Study. Jasper

read the thing with laughing appreciation.

 

'Just what one expected!'

 

'And I have private letters on the subject,' added Mr Yule.

 

'There has been something like a personal conflict between Fadge and the

man who looks after the minor notices. Fadge, more so, charged the other

man with a design to damage him and the paper. There's talk of legal

proceedings. An immense joke!'

 

He laughed in his peculiar croaking way.

 

'Do you feel disposed for a turn along the lanes, Mr Milvain?'

 

'By all means.--There's my mother at the window; will you come in for a

moment?'

 

With a step of quite unusual sprightliness Mr Yule entered the house.

He could talk of but one subject, and Mrs Milvain had to listen to a

laboured account of the blunder just committed by The Study. It was

Alfred's Yule's characteristic that he could do nothing lighthandedly.

He seemed always to converse with effort; he took a seat with stiff

ungainliness; he walked with a stumbling or sprawling gait.

 

When he and Jasper set out for their ramble, his loquacity was in strong

contrast with the taciturn mood he had exhibited yesterday and the day

before. He fell upon the general aspects of contemporary literature.

 

'... The evil of the time is the multiplication of ephemerides. Hence a

demand for essays, descriptive articles, fragments of criticism, out of

all proportion to the supply of even tolerable work. The men who have

an aptitude for turning out this kind of thing in vast quantities are

enlisted by every new periodical, with the result that their productions

are ultimately watered down into worthlessness.... Well now, there's

Fadge. Years ago some of Fadge's work was not without a certain--a

certain conditional promise of--of comparative merit; but now his

writing, in my opinion, is altogether beneath consideration; how Rackett

could be so benighted as to give him The Study--especially after a man

like Henry Hawkridge--passes my comprehension. Did you read a paper of

his, a few months back, in The Wayside, a preposterous rehabilitation of

Elkanah Settle? Ha! Ha! That's what such men are driven to. Elkanah

Settle! And he hadn't even a competent acquaintance with his paltry

subject. Will you credit that he twice or thrice referred to Settle's

reply to "Absalom and Achitophel" by the title of "Absalom Transposed,"

when every schoolgirl knows that the thing was called "Achitophel

Transposed"! This was monstrous enough, but there was something still

more contemptible. He positively, I assure you, attributed the play of

"Epsom Wells" to Crowne! I should have presumed that every student of

even the most trivial primer of literature was aware that "Epsom Wells"

was written by Shadwell.... Now, if one were to take Shadwell for the

subject of a paper, one might very well show how unjustly his name has

fallen into contempt. It has often occurred to me to do this. "But

Shadwell never deviates into sense." The sneer, in my opinion, is

entirely unmerited. For my own part, I put Shadwell very high among the

dramatists of his time, and I think I could show that his absolute worth

is by no means inconsiderable. Shadwell has distinct vigour of dramatic

conception; his dialogue....'

 

And as he talked the man kept describing imaginary geometrical figures

with the end of his walking-stick; he very seldom raised his eyes

from the ground, and the stoop in his shoulders grew more and more

pronounced, until at a little distance one might have taken him for a

hunchback. At one point Jasper made a pause to speak of the pleasant

wooded prospect that lay before them; his companion regarded it

absently, and in a moment or two asked:

 

'Did you ever come across Cottle's poem on the Malvern Hills? No?

 

It contains a couple of the richest lines ever put into print:

 

It needs the evidence of close deduction

To know that I shall ever reach the top.

 

Perfectly serious poetry, mind you!'

 

He barked in laughter. Impossible to interest him in anything apart from

literature; yet one saw him to be a man of solid understanding, and

not without perception of humour. He had read vastly; his memory was a

literary cyclopaedia. His failings, obvious enough, were the results

of a strong and somewhat pedantic individuality ceaselessly at conflict

with unpropitious circumstances.

 

Towards the young man his demeanour varied between a shy cordiality and

a dignified reserve which was in danger of seeming pretentious. On the

homeward part of the walk he made a few discreet inquiries regarding

Milvain's literary achievements and prospects, and the frank

self-confidence of the replies appeared to interest him. But he

expressed no desire to number Jasper among his acquaintances in town,

and of his own professional or private concerns he said not a word.

 

'Whether he could be any use to me or not, I don't exactly know,' Jasper

remarked to his mother and sisters at dinner. 'I suspect it's as much as

he can do to keep a footing among the younger tradesmen. But I think he

might have said he was willing to help me if he could.'

 

'Perhaps,' replied Maud, 'your large way of talking made him think any

such offer superfluous.'

 

'You have still to learn,' said Jasper, 'that modesty helps a man in no

department of modern life. People take you at your own valuation. It's

the men who declare boldly that they need no help to whom practical

help comes from all sides. As likely as not Yule will mention my name

to someone. "A young fellow who seems to see his way pretty clear before

him." The other man will repeat it to somebody else, "A young fellow

whose way is clear before him," and so I come to the ears of a man who

thinks "Just the fellow I want; I must look him up and ask him if he'll

do such-and-such a thing." But I should like to see these Yules at home;

I must fish for an invitation.'

 

In the afternoon, Miss Harrow and Marian came at the expected hour.

Jasper purposely kept out of the way until he was summoned to the

tea-table.

 

The Milvain girls were so far from effusive, even towards old

acquaintances, that even the people who knew them best spoke of them

as rather cold and perhaps a trifle condescending; there were people

in Wattleborough who declared their airs of superiority ridiculous and

insufferable. The truth was that nature had endowed them with a larger

share of brains than was common in their circle, and had added that

touch of pride which harmonised so ill with the restrictions of

poverty. Their life had a tone of melancholy, the painful reserve which

characterises a certain clearly defined class in the present day. Had

they been born twenty years earlier, the children of that veterinary

surgeon would have grown up to a very different, and in all probability

a much happier, existence, for their education would have been

limited to the strictly needful, and--certainly in the case of the

girls--nothing would have encouraged them to look beyond the simple life

possible to a poor man's offspring. But whilst Maud and Dora were still

with their homely schoolmistress, Wattleborough saw fit to establish

a Girls' High School, and the moderateness of the fees enabled these

sisters to receive an intellectual training wholly incompatible with the

material conditions of their life. To the relatively poor (who are so

much worse off than the poor absolutely) education is in most cases

a mocking cruelty. The burden of their brother's support made it very

difficult for Maud and Dora even to dress as became their intellectual

station; amusements, holidays, the purchase of such simple luxuries as

were all but indispensable to them, could not be thought of. It resulted

that they held apart from the society which would have welcomed them,

for they could not bear to receive without offering in turn. The

necessity of giving lessons galled them; they felt--and with every

reason--that it made their position ambiguous. So that, though they

could not help knowing many people, they had no intimates; they

encouraged no one to visit them, and visited other houses as little as

might be.

 

In Marian Yule they divined a sympathetic nature. She was unlike any

girl with whom they had hitherto associated, and it was the impulse of

both to receive her with unusual friendliness. The habit of reticence

could not be at once overcome, and Marian's own timidity was an obstacle

in the way of free intercourse, but Jasper's conversation at tea helped

to smooth the course of things.

 

'I wish you lived anywhere near us,' Dora said to their visitor, as the

three girls walked in the garden afterwards, and Maud echoed the wish.

 

'It would be very nice,' was Marian's reply. 'I have no friends of my

own age in London.'

 

'None?'

 

'Not one!'

 

She was about to add something, but in the end kept silence.

 

'You seem to get along with Miss Yule pretty well, after all,' said

Jasper, when the family were alone again.

 

'Did you anticipate anything else?' Maud asked.

 

'It seemed doubtful, up at Yule's house. Well, get her to come here

again before I go. But it's a pity she doesn't play the piano,' he

added, musingly.

 

For two days nothing was seen of the Yules. Jasper went each afternoon

to the stream in the valley, but did not again meet Marian. In the

meanwhile he was growing restless. A fortnight always exhausted his

capacity for enjoying the companionship of his mother and sisters, and

this time he seemed anxious to get to the end of his holiday. For all

that, there was no continuance of the domestic bickering which had

begun. Whatever the reason, Maud behaved with unusual mildness to her

brother, and Jasper in turn was gently disposed to both the girls.

 

On the morning of the third day--it was Saturday--he kept silence

through breakfast, and just as all were about to rise from the table, he

made a sudden announcement:

 

'I shall go to London this afternoon.'

 

'This afternoon?' all exclaimed. 'But Monday is your day.'

 

'No, I shall go this afternoon, by the 2.45.'

 

And he left the room. Mrs Milvain and the girls exchanged looks.

 

'I suppose he thinks the Sunday will be too wearisome,' said the mother.

 

'Perhaps so,' Maud agreed, carelessly.

 

Half an hour later, just as Dora was ready to leave the house for her

engagements in Wattleborough, her brother came into the hall and took

his hat, saying:

 

'I'll walk a little way with you, if you don't mind.'

 

When they were in the road, he asked her in an offhand manner:

 

'Do you think I ought to say good-bye to the Yules? Or won't it

signify?'

 

'I should have thought you would wish to.'

 

'I don't care about it. And, you see, there's been no hint of a wish on

their part that I should see them in London. No, I'll just leave you to

say good-bye for me.'

 

'But they expect to see us to-day or to-morrow. You told them you were

not going till Monday, and you don't know but Mr Yule might mean to say

something yet.'

 

'Well, I had rather he didn't,' replied Jasper, with a laugh.

 

'Oh, indeed?'

 

'I don't mind telling you,' he laughed again. 'I'm afraid of that girl.

No, it won't do! You understand that I'm a practical man, and I shall

keep clear of dangers. These days of holiday idleness put all sorts of

nonsense into one's head.'

 

Dora kept her eyes down, and smiled ambiguously.

 

'You must act as you think fit,' she remarked at length.

 

'Exactly. Now I'll turn back. You'll be with us at dinner?'

 

They parted. But Jasper did not keep to the straight way home. First of

all, he loitered to watch a reaping-machine at work; then he turned into

a lane which led up the hill on which was John Yule's house. Even if he

had purposed making a farewell call, it was still far too early; all he

wanted to do was to pass an hour of the morning, which threatened to lie

heavy on his hands. So he rambled on, and went past the house, and took

the field-path which would lead him circuitously home again.

 

His mother desired to speak to him. She was in the dining-room; in the

parlour Maud was practising music.

 

'I think I ought to tell you of something I did yesterday, Jasper,' Mrs

Milvain began. 'You see, my dear, we have been rather straitened lately,

and my health, you know, grows so uncertain, and, all things considered,

I have been feeling very anxious about the girls. So I wrote to your

uncle William, and told him that I must positively have that money. I

must think of my own children before his.'

 

The matter referred to was this. The deceased Mr Milvain had a brother

who was a struggling shopkeeper in a Midland town. Some ten years ago,

William Milvain, on the point of bankruptcy, had borrowed a hundred

and seventy pounds from his brother in Wattleborough, and this debt was

still unpaid; for on the death of Jasper's father repayment of the loan

was impossible for William, and since then it had seemed hopeless that

the sum would ever be recovered. The poor shopkeeper had a large family,

and Mrs Milvain, notwithstanding her own position, had never felt able

to press him; her relative, however, often spoke of the business, and

declared his intention of paying whenever he could.

 

'You can't recover by law now, you know,' said Jasper.

 

'But we have a right to the money, law or no law. He must pay it.'

 

'He will simply refuse--and be justified. Poverty doesn't allow of

honourable feeling, any more than of compassion. I'm sorry you wrote

like that. You won't get anything, and you might as well have enjoyed

the reputation of forbearance.'

 

Mrs Milvain was not able to appreciate this characteristic remark.

Anxiety weighed upon her, and she became irritable.

 

'I am obliged to say, Jasper, that you seem rather thoughtless. If

it were only myself I would make any sacrifice for you; but you must

remember--'

 

'Now listen, mother,' he interrupted, laying a hand on her shoulder;

'I have been thinking about all this, and the fact of the matter is,

I shall do my best to ask you for no more money. It may or may not be

practicable, but I'll have a try. So don't worry. If uncle writes that

he can't pay, just explain why you wrote, and keep him gently in mind of

the thing, that's all. One doesn't like to do brutal things if one can

avoid them, you know.'

 

The young man went to the parlour and listened to Maud's music for

awhile. But restlessness again drove him forth. Towards eleven o'clock

he was again ascending in the direction of John Yule's house. Again

he had no intention of calling, but when he reached the iron gates he

lingered.

 

'I will, by Jove!' he said within himself at last. 'Just to prove I

have complete command of myself. It's to be a display of strength, not

weakness.'

 

At the house door he inquired for Mr Alfred Yule. That gentleman had

gone in the carriage to Wattleborough, half an hour ago, with his

brother.

 

'Miss Yule?'

 

Yes, she was within. Jasper entered the sitting-room, waited a few

moments, and Marian appeared. She wore a dress in which Milvain had

not yet seen her, and it had the effect of making him regard her

attentively. The smile with which she had come towards him passed from

her face, which was perchance a little warmer of hue than commonly.

 

'I'm sorry your father is away, Miss Yule,' Jasper began, in an animated

voice. 'I wanted to say good-bye to him. I return to London in a few

hours.'

 

'You are going sooner than you intended?'

 

'Yes, I feel I mustn't waste any more time. I think the country air is

doing you good; you certainly look better than when I passed you that

first day.'

 

'I feel better, much.'

 

'My sisters are anxious to see you again. I shouldn't wonder if they

come up this afternoon.'

 

Marian had seated herself on the sofa, and her hands were linked upon

her lap in the same way as when Jasper spoke with her here before, the

palms downward. The beautiful outline of her bent head was relieved

against a broad strip of sunlight on the wall behind her.

 

'They deplore,' he continued in a moment, 'that they should come to know

you only to lose you again so soon.

 

'I have quite as much reason to be sorry,' she answered, looking at him

with the slightest possible smile. 'But perhaps they will let me write

to them, and hear from them now and then.'

 

'They would think it an honour. Country girls are not often invited to

correspond with literary ladies in London.'

 

He said it with as much jocoseness as civility allowed, then at once

rose.

 

'Father will be very sorry,' Marian began, with one quick glance towards

the window and then another towards the door. 'Perhaps he might possibly

be able to see you before you go?'

 

Jasper stood in hesitation. There was a look on the girl's face which,

under other circumstances, would have suggested a ready answer.

 

'I mean,' she added, hastily, 'he might just call, or even see you at

the station?'

 

'Oh, I shouldn't like to give Mr Yule any trouble. It's my own fault,

for deciding to go to-day. I shall leave by the 2.45.'

 

He offered his hand.

 

'I shall look for your name in the magazines, Miss Yule.'

 

'Oh, I don't think you will ever find it there.'

 

He laughed incredulously, shook hands with her a second time, and strode

out of the room, head erect--feeling proud of himself.

 

When Dora came home at dinner-time, he informed her of what he had done.

 

'A very interesting girl,' he added impartially. 'I advise you to make

a friend of her. Who knows but you may live in London some day, and then

she might be valuable--morally, I mean. For myself, I shall do my best

not to see her again for a long time; she's dangerous.'

 

Jasper was unaccompanied when he went to the station. Whilst waiting on

the platform, he suffered from apprehension lest Alfred Yule's seamed

visage should present itself; but no acquaintance approached him. Safe

in the corner of his third-class carriage, he smiled at the last glimpse

of the familiar fields, and began to think of something he had decided

to write for The West End.

 

 

CHAPTER IV. AN AUTHOR AND HIS WIFE

 

Eight flights of stairs, consisting alternately of eight and nine steps.

Amy had made the calculation, and wondered what was the cause of this

arrangement. The ascent was trying, but then no one could contest the

respectability of the abode. In the flat immediately beneath resided a

successful musician, whose carriage and pair came at a regular hour each

afternoon to take him and his wife for a most respectable drive. In this

special building no one else seemed at present to keep a carriage, but

all the tenants were gentlefolk.

 

And as to living up at the very top, why, there were distinct

advantages--as so many people of moderate income are nowadays hastening

to discover. The noise from the street was diminished at this height; no

possible tramplers could establish themselves above your head; the air

was bound to be purer than that of inferior strata; finally, one had

the flat roof whereon to sit or expatiate in sunny weather. True that a

gentle rain of soot was wont to interfere with one's comfort out there

in the open, but such minutiae are easily forgotten in the fervour of

domestic description. It was undeniable that on a fine day one enjoyed

extensive views. The green ridge from Hampstead to Highgate, with

Primrose Hill and the foliage of Regent's Park in the foreground; the

suburban spaces of St John's Wood, Maida Vale, Kilburn; Westminster

Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, lying low by the side of the hidden

river, and a glassy gleam on far-off hills which meant the Crystal

Palace; then the clouded majesty of eastern London, crowned by St Paul's

dome. These things one's friends were expected to admire. Sunset often

afforded rich effects, but they were for solitary musing.

 

A sitting-room, a bedroom, a kitchen. But the kitchen was called

dining-room, or even parlour at need; for the cooking-range lent itself

to concealment behind an ornamental screen, the walls displayed pictures

and bookcases, and a tiny scullery which lay apart sufficed for the

coarser domestic operations. This was Amy's territory during the hours

when her husband was working, or endeavouring to work. Of necessity,

Edwin Reardon used the front room as his study. His writing-table stood

against the window; each wall had its shelves of serried literature;

vases, busts, engravings (all of the inexpensive kind) served for

ornaments.

 

A maid-servant, recently emancipated from the Board school, came at

half-past seven each morning, and remained until two o'clock, by which

time the Reardons had dined; on special occasions, her services were

enlisted for later hours. But it was Reardon's habit to begin the

serious work of the day at about three o'clock, and to continue with

brief interruptions until ten or eleven; in many respects an awkward

arrangement, but enforced by the man's temperament and his poverty.

 

One evening he sat at his desk with a slip of manuscript paper before

him. It was the hour of sunset. His outlook was upon the backs of

certain large houses skirting Regent's Park, and lights had begun to

show here and there in the windows: in one room a man was discoverable

dressing for dinner, he had not thought it worth while to lower the

blind; in another, some people were playing billiards. The higher

windows reflected a rich glow from the western sky.

 

For two or three hours Reardon had been seated in much the same

attitude. Occasionally he dipped his pen into the ink and seemed about

to write: but each time the effort was abortive. At the head of the

paper was inscribed 'Chapter III.,' but that was all.

 

And now the sky was dusking over; darkness would soon fall.

 

He looked something older than his years, which were two-and-thirty; on

his face was the pallor of mental suffering. Often he fell into a fit

of absence, and gazed at vacancy with wide, miserable eyes. Returning

to consciousness, he fidgeted nervously on his chair, dipped his pen

for the hundredth time, bent forward in feverish determination to work.

Useless; he scarcely knew what he wished to put into words, and his

brain refused to construct the simplest sentence.

 

The colours faded from the sky, and night came quickly. Reardon threw

his arms upon the desk, let his head fall forward, and remained so, as

if asleep.

 

Presently the door opened, and a young, clear voice made inquiry:

 

'Don't you want the lamp, Edwin?'

 

The man roused himself, turned his chair a little, and looked towards

the open door.

 

'Come here, Amy.'

 

His wife approached. It was not quite dark in the room, for a glimmer

came from the opposite houses.

 

'What's the matter? Can't you do anything?'

 

'I haven't written a word to-day. At this rate, one goes crazy. Come and

sit by me a minute, dearest.'

 

'I'll get the lamp.'

 

'No; come and talk to me; we can understand each other better.'

 

'Nonsense; you have such morbid ideas. I can't bear to sit in the

gloom.'

 

At once she went away, and quickly reappeared with a reading-lamp, which

she placed on the square table in the middle of the room.

 

'Draw down the blind, Edwin.'

 

She was a slender girl, but not very tall; her shoulders seemed rather

broad in proportion to her waist and the part of her figure below it.

The hue of her hair was ruddy gold; loosely arranged tresses made a

superb crown to the beauty of her small, refined head. Yet the face

was not of distinctly feminine type; with short hair and appropriate

clothing, she would have passed unquestioned as a handsome boy of

seventeen, a spirited boy too, and one much in the habit of giving

orders to inferiors. Her nose would have been perfect but for ever so

slight a crook which made it preferable to view her in full face than in

profile; her lips curved sharply out, and when she straightened them of

a sudden, the effect was not reassuring to anyone who had counted upon

her for facile humour. In harmony with the broad shoulders, she had a

strong neck; as she bore the lamp into the room a slight turn of

her head showed splendid muscles from the ear downward. It was a

magnificently clear-cut bust; one thought, in looking at her, of the

newly-finished head which some honest sculptor has wrought with his own

hand from the marble block; there was a suggestion of 'planes' and of

the chisel. The atmosphere was cold; ruddiness would have been quite

out of place on her cheeks, and a flush must have been the rarest thing

there.

 

Her age was not quite two-and-twenty; she had been wedded nearly two

years, and had a child ten months old.

 

As for her dress, it was unpretending in fashion and colour, but

of admirable fit. Every detail of her appearance denoted scrupulous

personal refinement. She walked well; you saw that the foot, however

gently, was firmly planted. When she seated herself her posture was

instantly graceful, and that of one who is indifferent about support for

the back.

 

'What is the matter?' she began. 'Why can't you get on with the story?'

 

It was the tone of friendly remonstrance, not exactly of affection, not

at all of tender solicitude.

 

Reardon had risen and wished to approach her, but could not do so

directly. He moved to another part of the room, then came round to the

back of her chair, and bent his face upon her shoulder.

 

'Amy--'

 

'Well.'

 

'I think it's all over with me. I don't think I shall write any more.'

 

'Don't be so foolish, dear. What is to prevent your writing?'

 

'Perhaps I am only out of sorts. But I begin to be horribly afraid.

My will seems to be fatally weakened. I can't see my way to the end of

anything; if I get hold of an idea which seems good, all the sap has

gone out of it before I have got it into working shape. In these last

few months, I must have begun a dozen different books; I have been

ashamed to tell you of each new beginning. I write twenty pages,

perhaps, and then my courage fails. I am disgusted with the thing, and

can't go on with it--can't! My fingers refuse to hold the pen. In mere

writing, I have done enough to make much more than three volumes; but

it's all destroyed.'

 

'Because of your morbid conscientiousness. There was no need to destroy

what you had written. It was all good enough for the market.'

 

'Don't use that word, Amy. I hate it!'

 

'You can't afford to hate it,' was her rejoinder, in very practical

tones. 'However it was before, you must write for the market now. You

have admitted that yourself.'

 

He kept silence.

 

'Where are you?' she went on to ask. 'What have you actually done?'

 

'Two short chapters of a story I can't go on with. The three volumes lie

before me like an interminable desert. Impossible to get through them.

The idea is stupidly artificial, and I haven't a living character in

it.'

 

'The public don't care whether the characters are living or not.--Don't

stand behind me, like that; it's such an awkward way of talking. Come

and sit down.'

 

He drew away, and came to a position whence he could see her face, but

kept at a distance.

 

'Yes,' he said, in a different way, 'that's the worst of it.'

 

'What is?'

 

'That you--well, it's no use.'

 

'That I--what?'

 

She did not look at him; her lips, after she had spoken, drew in a

little.

 

'That your disposition towards me is being affected by this miserable

failure. You keep saying to yourself that I am not what you thought me.

Perhaps you even feel that I have been guilty of a sort of deception. I

don't blame you; it's natural enough.'

 

'I'll tell you quite honestly what I do think,' she replied, after a

short silence. 'You are much weaker than I imagined. Difficulties crush

you, instead of rousing you to struggle.'

 

'True. It has always been my fault.'

 

'But don't you feel it's rather unmanly, this state of things? You say

you love me, and I try to believe it. But whilst you are saying so, you

let me get nearer and nearer to miserable, hateful poverty. What is to

become of me--of us? Shall you sit here day after day until our last

shilling is spent?'

 

'No; of course I must do something.'

 

'When shall you begin in earnest? In a day or two you must pay this

quarter's rent, and that will leave us just about fifteen pounds in the

world. Where is the rent at Christmas to come from?

 

What are we to live upon? There's all sorts of clothing to be bought;

there'll be all the extra expenses of winter. Surely it's bad enough

that we have had to stay here all the summer; no holiday of any kind. I

have done my best not to grumble about it, but I begin to think that it

would be very much wiser if I did grumble.'

 

She squared her shoulders, and gave her head just a little shake, as if

a fly had troubled her.

 

'You bear everything very well and kindly,' said Reardon. 'My behaviour

is contemptible; I know that. Good heavens! if I only had some business

to go to, something I could work at in any state of mind, and make money

out of! Given this chance, I would work myself to death rather than you

should lack anything you desire. But I am at the mercy of my brain; it

is dry and powerless. How I envy those clerks who go by to their offices

in the morning! There's the day's work cut out for them; no question

of mood and feeling; they have just to work at something, and when the

evening comes, they have earned their wages, they are free to rest and

enjoy themselves. What an insane thing it is to make literature one's

only means of support! When the most trivial accident may at any time

prove fatal to one's power of work for weeks or months. No, that is the

unpardonable sin! To make a trade of an art! I am rightly served for

attempting such a brutal folly.'

 

He turned away in a passion of misery.

 

'How very silly it is to talk like this!' came in Amy's voice, clearly

critical. 'Art must be practised as a trade, at all events in our time.

This is the age of trade. Of course if one refuses to be of one's time,

and yet hasn't the means to live independently, what can result but

breakdown and wretchedness? The fact of the matter is, you could do

fairly good work, and work which would sell, if only you would bring

yourself to look at things in a more practical way. It's what Mr Milvain

is always saying, you know.'

 

'Milvain's temperament is very different from mine. He is naturally

light-hearted and hopeful; I am naturally the opposite.

 

What you and he say is true enough; the misfortune is that I can't act

upon it. I am no uncompromising artistic pedant; I am quite willing to

try and do the kind of work that will sell; under the circumstances it

would be a kind of insanity if I refused. But power doesn't answer

to the will. My efforts are utterly vain; I suppose the prospect of

pennilessness is itself a hindrance; the fear haunts me. With such

terrible real things pressing upon me, my imagination can shape nothing

substantial. When I have laboured out a story, I suddenly see it in

a light of such contemptible triviality that to work at it is an

impossible thing.'

 

'You are ill, that's the fact of the matter. You ought to have had a

holiday. I think even now you had better go away for a week or two. Do,

Edwin!'

 

'Impossible! It would be the merest pretence of holiday. To go away and

leave you here--no!'

 

'Shall I ask mother or Jack to lend us some money?'

 

'That would be intolerable.'

 

'But this state of things is intolerable!'

 

Reardon walked the length of the room and back again.

 

'Your mother has no money to lend, dear, and your brother would do it so

unwillingly that we can't lay ourselves under such an obligation.'

 

'Yet it will come to that, you know,' remarked Amy, calmly.

 

'No, it shall not come to that. I must and will get something done long

before Christmas. If only you--'

 

He came and took one of her hands.

 

'If only you will give me more sympathy, dearest. You see, that's one

side of my weakness. I am utterly dependent upon you. Your kindness is

the breath of life to me. Don't refuse it!'

 

'But I have done nothing of the kind.'

 

'You begin to speak very coldly. And I understand your feeling of

disappointment. The mere fact of your urging me to do anything that will

sell is a proof of bitter disappointment. You would have looked with

scorn at anyone who talked to me like that two years ago. You were proud

of me because my work wasn't altogether common, and because I had never

written a line that was meant to attract the vulgar. All that's over

now. If you knew how dreadful it is to see that you have lost your hopes

of me!'

 

'Well, but I haven't--altogether,' Amy replied, meditatively. 'I know

very well that, if you had a lot of money, you would do better things

than ever.'

 

'Thank you a thousand times for saying that, my dearest.'

 

'But, you see, we haven't money, and there's little chance of our

getting any. That scrubby old uncle won't leave anything to us; I feel

too sure of it. I often feel disposed to go and beg him on my knees to

think of us in his will.' She laughed. 'I suppose it's impossible, and

would be useless; but I should be capable of it if I knew it would bring

money.'

 

Reardon said nothing.

 

'I didn't think so much of money when we were married,' Amy

continued. 'I had never seriously felt the want of it, you know. I did

think--there's no harm in confessing it--that you were sure to be rich

some day; but I should have married you all the same if I had known that

you would win only reputation.'

 

'You are sure of that?'

 

'Well, I think so. But I know the value of money better now. I know it

is the most powerful thing in the world. If I had to choose between

a glorious reputation with poverty and a contemptible popularity with

wealth, I should choose the latter.'

 

'No!'

 

'I should.'

 

'Perhaps you are right.'

 

He turned away with a sigh.

 

'Yes, you are right. What is reputation? If it is deserved, it

originates with a few score of people among the many millions who would

never have recognised the merit they at last applaud. That's the lot of

a great genius. As for a mediocrity like me--what ludicrous absurdity to

fret myself in the hope that half-a-dozen folks will say I am "above the

average!" After all, is there sillier vanity than this? A year after I

have published my last book, I shall be practically forgotten; ten years

later, I shall be as absolutely forgotten as one of those novelists of

the early part of this century, whose names one doesn't even recognise.

What fatuous posing!'

 

Amy looked askance at him, but replied nothing.

 

'And yet,' he continued, 'of course it isn't only for the sake of

reputation that one tries to do uncommon work. There's the shrinking

from conscious insincerity of workmanship--which most of the writers

nowadays seem never to feel. "It's good enough for the market"; that

satisfies them. And perhaps they are justified.

 

I can't pretend that I rule my life by absolute ideals; I admit that

everything is relative. There is no such thing as goodness or badness,

in the absolute sense, of course. Perhaps I am absurdly inconsistent

when--though knowing my work can't be first rate--I strive to make it as

good as possible. I don't say this in irony, Amy; I really mean it. It

may very well be that I am just as foolish as the people I ridicule for

moral and religious superstition. This habit of mine is superstitious.

How well I can imagine the answer of some popular novelist if he heard

me speak scornfully of his books. "My dear fellow," he might say, "do

you suppose I am not aware that my books are rubbish? I know it just

as well as you do. But my vocation is to live comfortably. I have a

luxurious house, a wife and children who are happy and grateful to me

for their happiness. If you choose to live in a garret, and, what's

worse, make your wife and children share it with you, that's your

concern." The man would be abundantly right.'

 

'But,' said Amy, 'why should you assume that his books are rubbish? Good

work succeeds--now and then.'

 

'I speak of the common kind of success, which is never due to

literary merit. And if I speak bitterly, well, I am suffering from my

powerlessness. I am a failure, my poor girl, and it isn't easy for me to

look with charity on the success of men who deserved it far less than I

did, when I was still able to work.'

 

'Of course, Edwin, if you make up your mind that you are a failure,

you will end by being so. But I'm convinced there's no reason that you

should fail to make a living with your pen. Now let me advise you; put

aside all your strict ideas about what is worthy and what is unworthy,

and just act upon my advice. It's impossible for you to write a

three-volume novel; very well, then do a short story of a kind that's

likely to be popular. You know Mr Milvain is always saying that the long

novel has had its day, and that in future people will write shilling

books. Why not try?

 

Give yourself a week to invent a sensational plot, and then a fortnight

for the writing. Have it ready for the new season at the end of October.

If you like, don't put your name to it; your name certainly would have

no weight with this sort of public. Just make it a matter of business,

as Mr Milvain says, and see if you can't earn some money.'

 

He stood and regarded her. His expression was one of pained perplexity.

 

'You mustn't forget, Amy, that it needs a particular kind of faculty to

write stories of this sort. The invention of a plot is just the thing I

find most difficult.'

 

'But the plot may be as silly as you like, providing it holds the

attention of vulgar readers. Think of "The Hollow Statue", what could be

more idiotic? Yet it sells by thousands.'

 

'I don't think I can bring myself to that,' Reardon said, in a low

voice.

 

'Very well, then will you tell me what you propose to do?'

 

'I might perhaps manage a novel in two volumes, instead of three.'

 

He seated himself at the writing-table, and stared at the blank sheets

of paper in an anguish of hopelessness.

 

'It will take you till Christmas,' said Amy, 'and then you will get

perhaps fifty pounds for it.'

 

'I must do my best. I'll go out and try to get some ideas. I--'

 

He broke off and looked steadily at his wife.

 

'What is it?' she asked.

 

'Suppose I were to propose to you to leave this flat and take cheaper

rooms?'

 

He uttered it in a shamefaced way, his eyes falling. Amy kept silence.

 

'We might sublet it,' he continued, in the same tone, 'for the last year

of the lease.'

 

'And where do you propose to live?' Amy inquired, coldly.

 

'There's no need to be in such a dear neighbourhood. We could go to one

of the outer districts. One might find three unfurnished rooms for about

eight-and-sixpence a week--less than half our rent here.'

 

'You must do as seems good to you.'

 

'For Heaven's sake, Amy, don't speak to me in that way! I can't stand

that! Surely you can see that I am driven to think of every possible

resource. To speak like that is to abandon me. Say you can't or won't do

it, but don't treat me as if you had no share in my miseries!'

 

She was touched for the moment.

 

'I didn't mean to speak unkindly, dear. But think what it means, to give

up our home and position. That is open confession of failure. It would

be horrible.'

 

'I won't think of it. I have three months before Christmas, and I will

finish a book!'

 

'I really can't see why you shouldn't. Just do a certain number of pages

every day. Good or bad, never mind; let the pages be finished. Now you

have got two chapters--'

 

'No; that won't do. I must think of a better subject.'

 

Amy made a gesture of impatience.

 

'There you are! What does the subject matter? Get this book finished and

sold, and then do something better next time.'

 

'Give me to-night, just to think. Perhaps one of the old stories I have

thrown aside will come back in a clearer light. I'll go out for an hour;

you don't mind being left alone?'

 

'You mustn't think of such trifles as that.'

 

'But nothing that concerns you in the slightest way is a trifle to

me--nothing! I can't bear that you should forget that. Have patience

with me, darling, a little longer.'

 

He knelt by her, and looked up into her face.

 

'Say only one or two kind words--like you used to!'

 

She passed her hand lightly over his hair, and murmured something with a

faint smile.

 

Then Reardon took his hat and stick and descended the eight flights

of stone steps, and walked in the darkness round the outer circle

of Regent's Park, racking his fagged brain in a hopeless search for

characters, situations, motives.

 

 

 

CHAPTER V. THE WAY HITHER

 

Even in mid-rapture of his marriage month he had foreseen this

possibility; but fate had hitherto rescued him in sudden ways when he

was on the brink of self-abandonment, and it was hard to imagine that

this culmination of triumphant joy could be a preface to base miseries.

 

He was the son of a man who had followed many different pursuits, and

in none had done much more than earn a livelihood. At the age of

forty--when Edwin, his only child, was ten years old--Mr Reardon

established himself in the town of Hereford as a photographer, and there

he abode until his death, nine years after, occasionally risking some

speculation not inconsistent with the photographic business, but always

with the result of losing the little capital he ventured. Mrs Reardon

died when Edwin had reached his fifteenth year. In breeding and

education she was superior to her husband, to whom, moreover, she had

brought something between four and five hundred pounds; her temper was

passionate in both senses of the word, and the marriage could hardly be

called a happy one, though it was never disturbed by serious discord.

The photographer was a man of whims and idealisms; his wife had a

strong vein of worldly ambition. They made few friends, and it was Mrs

Reardon's frequently expressed desire to go and live in London, where

fortune, she thought, might be kinder to them. Reardon had all but made

up his mind to try this venture when he suddenly became a widower; after

that he never summoned energy to embark on new enterprises.

 

The boy was educated at an excellent local school; at eighteen he had

a far better acquaintance with the ancient classics than most lads

who have been expressly prepared for a university, and, thanks to an

anglicised Swiss who acted as an assistant in Mr Reardon's business,

he not only read French, but could talk it with a certain haphazard

fluency. These attainments, however, were not of much practical use; the

best that could be done for Edwin was to place him in the office of

an estate agent. His health was indifferent, and it seemed likely

that open-air exercise, of which he would have a good deal under the

particular circumstances of the case, might counteract the effects of

study too closely pursued.

 

At his father's death he came into possession (practically it was put at

his disposal at once, though he was little more than nineteen) of

about two hundred pounds--a life-insurance for five hundred had been

sacrificed to exigencies not very long before. He had no difficulty in

deciding how to use this money. His mother's desire to live in London

had in him the force of an inherited motive; as soon as possible he

released himself from his uncongenial occupations, converted into money

all the possessions of which he had not immediate need, and betook

himself to the metropolis.

 

To become a literary man, of course.

 

His capital lasted him nearly four years, for, notwithstanding his age,

he lived with painful economy. The strangest life, of almost absolute

loneliness. From a certain point of Tottenham Court Road there is

visible a certain garret window in a certain street which runs parallel

with that thoroughfare; for the greater part of these four years the

garret in question was Reardon's home. He paid only three-and-sixpence

a week for the privilege of living there; his food cost him about a

shilling a day; on clothing and other unavoidable expenses he laid

out some five pounds yearly. Then he bought books--volumes which cost

anything between twopence and two shillings; further than that he durst

not go. A strange time, I assure you.

 

When he had completed his twenty-first year, he desired to procure a

reader's ticket for the British Museum. Now this was not such a simple

matter as you may suppose; it was necessary to obtain the signature of

some respectable householder, and Reardon was acquainted with no such

person. His landlady was a decent woman enough, and a payer of rates and

taxes, but it would look odd, to say the least of it, to present oneself

in Great Russell Street armed with this person's recommendation. There

was nothing for it but to take a bold step, to force himself upon the

attention of a stranger--the thing from which his pride had always

shrunk. He wrote to a well-known novelist--a man with whose works he had

some sympathy. 'I am trying to prepare myself for a literary career.

I wish to study in the Reading-room of the British Museum, but have

no acquaintance to whom I can refer in the ordinary way. Will you help

me--I mean, in this particular only?' That was the substance of his

letter. For reply came an invitation to a house in the West-end. With

fear and trembling Reardon answered the summons. He was so shabbily

attired; he was so diffident from the habit of living quite alone; he

was horribly afraid lest it should be supposed that he looked for other

assistance than he had requested. Well, the novelist was a rotund and

jovial man; his dwelling and his person smelt of money; he was so happy

himself that he could afford to be kind to others.

 

'Have you published anything?' he inquired, for the young man's letter

had left this uncertain.

 

'Nothing. I have tried the magazines, but as yet without success.'

 

'But what do you write?'

 

'Chiefly essays on literary subjects.'

 

'I can understand that you would find a difficulty in disposing of them.

That kind of thing is supplied either by men of established reputation,

or by anonymous writers who have a regular engagement on papers and

magazines. Give me an example of your topics.'

 

'I have written something lately about Tibullus.'

 

'Oh, dear! Oh, dear!--Forgive me, Mr Reardon; my feelings were too much

for me; those names have been my horror ever since I was a schoolboy.

Far be it from me to discourage you, if your line is to be solid

literary criticism; I will only mention, as a matter of fact, that such

work is indifferently paid and in very small demand. It hasn't occurred

to you to try your hand at fiction?'

 

In uttering the word he beamed; to him it meant a thousand or so a year.

 

'I am afraid I have no talent for that.'

 

The novelist could do no more than grant his genial signature for the

specified purpose, and add good wishes in abundance. Reardon went home

with his brain in a whirl. He had had his first glimpse of what was

meant by literary success. That luxurious study, with its shelves of

handsomely-bound books, its beautiful pictures, its warm, fragrant

air--great heavens! what might not a man do who sat at his ease amid

such surroundings!

 

He began to work at the Reading-room, but at the same time he thought

often of the novelist's suggestion, and before long had written two or

three short stories. No editor would accept them; but he continued to

practise himself in that art, and by degrees came to fancy that,

after all, perhaps he had some talent for fiction. It was significant,

however, that no native impulse had directed him to novel-writing. His

intellectual temper was that of the student, the scholar, but strongly

blended with a love of independence which had always made him think

with distaste of a teacher's life. The stories he wrote were scraps

of immature psychology--the last thing a magazine would accept from an

unknown man.

 

His money dwindled, and there came a winter during which he suffered

much from cold and hunger. What a blessed refuge it was, there under the

great dome, when he must else have sat in his windy garret with the

mere pretence of a fire! The Reading-room was his true home; its warmth

enwrapped him kindly; the peculiar odour of its atmosphere--at first a

cause of headache--grew dear and delightful to him. But he could not sit

here until his last penny should be spent. Something practical must be

done, and practicality was not his strong point.

 

Friends in London he had none; but for an occasional conversation with

his landlady he would scarcely have spoken a dozen words in a week.

His disposition was the reverse of democratic, and he could not make

acquaintances below his own intellectual level. Solitude fostered

a sensitiveness which to begin with was extreme; the lack of stated

occupation encouraged his natural tendency to dream and procrastinate

and hope for the improbable. He was a recluse in the midst of millions,

and viewed with dread the necessity of going forth to fight for daily

food.

 

Little by little he had ceased to hold any correspondence with his

former friends at Hereford. The only person to whom he still wrote and

from whom he still heard was his mother's father--an old man who lived

at Derby, retired from the business of a draper, and spending his last

years pleasantly enough with a daughter who had remained single. Edwin

had always been a favourite with his grandfather, though they had met

only once or twice during the past eight years. But in writing he did

not allow it to be understood that he was in actual want, and he felt

that he must come to dire extremities before he could bring himself to

beg assistance.

 

He had begun to answer advertisements, but the state of his wardrobe

forbade his applying for any but humble positions. Once or twice he

presented himself personally at offices, but his reception was so

mortifying that death by hunger seemed preferable to a continuance of

such experiences. The injury to his pride made him savagely arrogant;

for days after the last rejection he hid himself in his garret, hating

the world.

 

He sold his little collection of books, and of course they brought only

a trifling sum. That exhausted, he must begin to sell his clothes. And

then--?

 

But help was at hand. One day he saw it advertised in a newspaper that

the secretary of a hospital in the north of London was in need of a

clerk; application was to be made by letter. He wrote, and two days

later, to his astonishment, received a reply asking him to wait upon

the secretary at a certain hour. In a fever of agitation he kept the

appointment, and found that his business was with a young man in the

very highest spirits, who walked up and down a little office (the

hospital was of the 'special' order, a house of no great size), and

treated the matter in hand as an excellent joke.

 

'I thought, you know, of engaging someone much younger--quite a lad, in

fact. But look there! Those are the replies to my advertisement.'

 

He pointed to a heap of five or six hundred letters, and laughed

consumedly.

 

'Impossible to read them all, you know. It seemed to me that the fairest

thing would be to shake them together, stick my hand in, and take out

one by chance. If it didn't seem very promising, I would try a second

time. But the first letter was yours, and I thought the fair thing to do

was at all events to see you, you know. The fact is, I am only able to

offer a pound a week.'

 

'I shall be very glad indeed to take that,' said Reardon, who was bathed

in perspiration.

 

'Then what about references, and so on?' proceeded the young man,

chuckling and rubbing his hands together.

 

The applicant was engaged. He had barely strength to walk home; the

sudden relief from his miseries made him, for the first time, sensible

of the extreme physical weakness into which he had sunk. For the next

week he was very ill, but he did not allow this to interfere with his

new work, which was easily learnt and not burdensome.

 

He held this position for three years, and during that time

important things happened. When he had recovered from his state of

semi-starvation, and was living in comfort (a pound a week is a very

large sum if you have previously had to live on ten shillings), Reardon

found that the impulse to literary production awoke in him more strongly

than ever. He generally got home from the hospital about six o'clock,

and the evening was his own. In this leisure time he wrote a novel in

two volumes; one publisher refused it, but a second offered to bring it

out on the terms of half profits to the author. The book appeared, and

was well spoken of in one or two papers; but profits there were none

to divide. In the third year of his clerkship he wrote a novel in three

volumes; for this his publishers gave him twenty-five pounds, with again

a promise of half the profits after deduction of the sum advanced. Again

there was no pecuniary success. He had just got to work upon a third

book, when his grandfather at Derby died and left him four hundred

pounds.

 

He could not resist the temptation to recover his freedom. Four hundred

pounds, at the rate of eighty pounds a year, meant five years of

literary endeavour. In that period he could certainly determine whether

or not it was his destiny to live by the pen.

 

In the meantime his relations with the secretary of the hospital, Carter

by name, had grown very friendly. When Reardon began to publish books,

the high-spirited Mr Carter looked upon him with something of awe; and

when the literary man ceased to be a clerk, there was nothing to prevent

association on equal terms between him and his former employer. They

continued to see a good deal of each other, and Carter made Reardon

acquainted with certain of his friends, among whom was one John Yule,

an easy-going, selfish, semi-intellectual young man who had a place in

a Government office. The time of solitude had gone by for Reardon. He

began to develop the power that was in him.

 

Those two books of his were not of a kind to win popularity. They dealt

with no particular class of society (unless one makes a distinct class

of people who have brains), and they lacked local colour. Their interest

was almost purely psychological. It was clear that the author had no

faculty for constructing a story, and that pictures of active life were

not to be expected of him; he could never appeal to the multitude.

But strong characterisation was within his scope, and an intellectual

fervour, appetising to a small section of refined readers, marked all

his best pages.

 

He was the kind of man who cannot struggle against adverse conditions,

but whom prosperity warms to the exercise of his powers. Anything

like the cares of responsibility would sooner or later harass him into

unproductiveness. That he should produce much was in any case out of the

question; possibly a book every two or three years might not prove too

great a strain upon his delicate mental organism, but for him to attempt

more than that would certainly be fatal to the peculiar merit of his

work. Of this he was dimly conscious, and, on receiving his legacy, he

put aside for nearly twelve months the new novel he had begun. To give

his mind a rest he wrote several essays, much maturer than those which

had formerly failed to find acceptance, and two of these appeared in

magazines.

 

The money thus earned he spent--at a tailor's. His friend Carter

ventured to suggest this mode of outlay.

 

His third book sold for fifty pounds. It was a great improvement on its

predecessors, and the reviews were generally favourable. For the story

which followed, 'On Neutral Ground,' he received a hundred pounds. On

the strength of that he spent six months travelling in the South of

Europe.

 

He returned to London at mid-June, and on the second day after his

arrival befell an incident which was to control the rest of his life.

Busy with the pictures in the Grosvenor Gallery, he heard himself

addressed in a familiar voice, and on turning he was aware of Mr Carter,

resplendent in fashionable summer attire, and accompanied by a young

lady of some charms. Reardon had formerly feared encounters of this

kind, too conscious of the defects of his attire; but at present there

was no reason why he should shirk social intercourse. He was passably

dressed, and the half-year of travel had benefited his appearance in

no slight degree. Carter presented him to the young lady, of whom the

novelist had already heard as affianced to his friend.

 

Whilst they stood conversing, there approached two ladies, evidently

mother and daughter, whose attendant was another of Reardon's

acquaintances, Mr John Yule. This gentleman stepped briskly forward and

welcomed the returned wanderer.

 

'Let me introduce you,' he said, 'to my mother and sister. Your fame has

made them anxious to know you.'

 

Reardon found himself in a position of which the novelty was

embarrassing, but scarcely disagreeable. Here were five people

grouped around him, all of whom regarded him unaffectedly as a man of

importance; for though, strictly speaking, he had no 'fame' at all,

these persons had kept up with the progress of his small repute,

and were all distinctly glad to number among their acquaintances an

unmistakable author, one, too, who was fresh from Italy and Greece. Mrs

Yule, a lady rather too pretentious in her tone to be attractive to a

man of Reardon's refinement, hastened to assure him how well his books

were known in her house, 'though for the run of ordinary novels we don't

care much.' Miss Yule, not at all pretentious in speech, and seemingly

reserved of disposition, was good enough to show frank interest in the

author. As for the poor author himself, well, he merely fell in love

with Miss Yule at first sight, and there was an end of the matter.

 

A day or two later he made a call at their house, in the region

of Westbourne Park. It was a small house, and rather showily than

handsomely furnished; no one after visiting it would be astonished to

hear that Mrs Edmund Yule had but a small income, and that she was often

put to desperate expedients to keep up the gloss of easy circumstances.

In the gauzy and fluffy and varnishy little drawing-room Reardon found

a youngish gentleman already in conversation with the widow and her

daughter. This proved to be one Mr Jasper Milvain, also a man of

letters. Mr Milvain was glad to meet Reardon, whose books he had read

with decided interest.

 

'Really,' exclaimed Mrs Yule, 'I don't know how it is that we have had

to wait so long for the pleasure of knowing you, Mr Reardon. If

John were not so selfish he would have allowed us a share in your

acquaintance long ago.'

 

Ten weeks thereafter, Miss Yule became Mrs Reardon.

 

It was a time of frantic exultation with the poor fellow. He had always

regarded the winning of a beautiful and intellectual wife as the crown

of a successful literary career, but he had not dared to hope that such

a triumph would be his. Life had been too hard with him on the whole.

He, who hungered for sympathy, who thought of a woman's love as the

prize of mortals supremely blessed, had spent the fresh years of his

youth in monkish solitude. Now of a sudden came friends and flattery,

ay, and love itself. He was rapt to the seventh heaven.

 

Indeed, it seemed that the girl loved him. She knew that he had but a

hundred pounds or so left over from that little inheritance, that his

books sold for a trifle, that he had no wealthy relatives from whom he

could expect anything; yet she hesitated not a moment when he asked her

to marry him.

 

'I have loved you from the first.'

 

'How is that possible?' he urged. 'What is there lovable in me? I

am afraid of waking up and finding myself in my old garret, cold and

hungry.'

 

'You will be a great man.'

 

'I implore you not to count on that! In many ways I am wretchedly weak.

I have no such confidence in myself.'

 

'Then I will have confidence for both.'

 

'But can you love me for my own sake--love me as a man?'

 

'I love you!'

 

And the words sang about him, filled the air with a mad pulsing of

intolerable joy, made him desire to fling himself in passionate humility

at her feet, to weep hot tears, to cry to her in insane worship. He

thought her beautiful beyond anything his heart had imagined; her warm

gold hair was the rapture of his eyes and of his reverent hand. Though

slenderly fashioned, she was so gloriously strong. 'Not a day of illness

in her life,' said Mrs Yule, and one could readily believe it.

 

She spoke with such a sweet decision. Her 'I love you!' was a bond with

eternity. In the simplest as in the greatest things she saw his wish

and acted frankly upon it. No pretty petulance, no affectation of

silly-sweet languishing, none of the weaknesses of woman. And so

exquisitely fresh in her twenty years of maidenhood, with bright young

eyes that seemed to bid defiance to all the years to come.

 

He went about like one dazzled with excessive light. He talked as he had

never talked before, recklessly, exultantly, insolently--in the nobler

sense. He made friends on every hand; he welcomed all the world to his

bosom; he felt the benevolence of a god.

 

'I love you!' It breathed like music at his ears when he fell asleep

in weariness of joy; it awakened him on the morrow as with a glorious

ringing summons to renewed life.

 

Delay? Why should there be delay? Amy wished nothing but to become his

wife. Idle to think of his doing any more work until he sat down in the

home of which she was mistress. His brain burned with visions of the

books he would henceforth write, but his hand was incapable of anything

but a love-letter. And what letters! Reardon never published anything

equal to those. 'I have received your poem,' Amy replied to one of them.

And she was right; not a letter, but a poem he had sent her, with every

word on fire.

 

The hours of talk! It enraptured him to find how much she had read, and

with what clearness of understanding. Latin and Greek, no. Ah! but

she should learn them both, that there might be nothing wanting in the

communion between his thought and hers. For he loved the old writers

with all his heart; they had been such strength to him in his days of

misery.

 

They would go together to the charmed lands of the South. No, not now

for their marriage holiday--Amy said that would be an imprudent

expense; but as soon as he had got a good price for a book. Will not the

publishers be kind? If they knew what happiness lurked in embryo within

their foolish cheque-books!

 

He woke of a sudden in the early hours of one morning, a week before the

wedding-day. You know that kind of awaking, so complete in an instant,

caused by the pressure of some troublesome thought upon the dreaming

brain. 'Suppose I should not succeed henceforth? Suppose I could never

get more than this poor hundred pounds for one of the long books which

cost me so much labour? I shall perhaps have children to support; and

Amy--how would Amy bear poverty?'

 

He knew what poverty means. The chilling of brain and heart, the

unnerving of the hands, the slow gathering about one of fear and shame

and impotent wrath, the dread feeling of helplessness, of the world's

base indifference. Poverty! Poverty!

 

And for hours he could not sleep. His eyes kept filling with tears, the

beating of his heart was low; and in his solitude he called upon Amy

with pitiful entreaty: 'Do not forsake me! I love you! I love you!'

 

But that went by. Six days, five days, four days--will one's heart burst

with happiness? The flat is taken, is furnished, up there towards the

sky, eight flights of stone steps.

 

'You're a confoundedly lucky fellow, Reardon,' remarked Milvain, who had

already become very intimate with his new friend. 'A good fellow, too,

and you deserve it.'

 

'But at first I had a horrible suspicion.'

 

'I guess what you mean. No; I wasn't even in love with her, though I

admired her. She would never have cared for me in any case; I am not

sentimental enough.'

 

'The deuce!'

 

'I mean it in an inoffensive sense. She and I are rather too much alike,

I fancy.'

 

'How do you mean?' asked Reardon, puzzled, and not very well pleased.

 

'There's a great deal of pure intellect about Miss Yule, you know. She

was sure to choose a man of the passionate kind.'

 

'I think you are talking nonsense, my dear fellow.'

 

'Well, perhaps I am. To tell you the truth, I have by no means completed

my study of women yet. It is one of the things in which I hope to be a

specialist some day, though I don't think I shall ever make use of it in

novels--rather, perhaps, in life.'

 

Three days--two days--one day.

 

Now let every joyous sound which the great globe can utter ring forth

in one burst of harmony! Is it not well done to make the village-bells

chant merrily when a marriage is over? Here in London we can have no

such music; but for us, my dear one, all the roaring life of the great

city is wedding-hymn. Sweet, pure face under its bridal-veil! The face

which shall, if fate spare it, be as dear to me many a long year hence

as now at the culminating moment of my life!

 

As he trudged on in the dark, his tortured memory was living through

that time again. The images forced themselves upon him, however much he

tried to think of quite other things--of some fictitious story on which

he might set to work. In the case of his earlier books he had waited

quietly until some suggestive 'situation,' some group of congenial

characters, came with sudden delightfulness before his mind and urged

him to write; but nothing so spontaneous could now be hoped for. His

brain was too weary with months of fruitless, harassing endeavour;

moreover, he was trying to devise a 'plot,' the kind of literary

Jack-in-the-box which might excite interest in the mass of readers, and

this was alien to the natural working of his imagination. He suffered

the torments of nightmare--an oppression of the brain and heart which

must soon be intolerable.

 

 

 

CHAPTER VI. THE PRACTICAL FRIEND

 

When her husband had set forth, Amy seated herself in the study and took

up a new library volume as if to read. But she had no real intention of

doing so; it was always disagreeable to her to sit in the manner of one

totally unoccupied, with hands on lap, and even when she consciously

gave herself up to musing an open book was generally before her. She did

not, in truth, read much nowadays; since the birth of her child she had

seemed to care less than before for disinterested study. If a new

novel that had succeeded came into her hands she perused it in a very

practical spirit, commenting to Reardon on the features of the work

which had made it popular; formerly, she would have thought much more of

its purely literary merits, for which her eye was very keen. How often

she had given her husband a thrill of exquisite pleasure by pointing

to some merit or defect of which the common reader would be totally

insensible! Now she spoke less frequently on such subjects. Her

interests were becoming more personal; she liked to hear details of the

success of popular authors--about their wives or husbands, as the case

might be, their arrangements with publishers, their methods of work.

The gossip columns of literary papers--and of some that were not

literary--had an attraction for her. She talked of questions such

as international copyright, was anxious to get an insight into the

practical conduct of journals and magazines, liked to know who 'read'

for the publishing-houses. To an impartial observer it might have

appeared that her intellect was growing more active and mature.

 

More than half an hour passed. It was not a pleasant train of thought

that now occupied her. Her lips were drawn together, her brows were

slightly wrinkled; the self-control which at other times was agreeably

expressed upon her features had become rather too cold and decided. At

one moment it seemed to her that she heard a sound in the bedroom--the

doors were purposely left ajar--and her head turned quickly to listen,

the look in her eyes instantaneously softening; but all remained quiet.

The street would have been silent but for a cab that now and then

passed--the swing of a hansom or the roll of a four-wheeler--and within

the buildings nothing whatever was audible.

 

Yes, a footstep, briskly mounting the stone stairs. Not like that of the

postman. A visitor, perhaps, to the other flat on the topmost landing.

But the final pause was in this direction, and then came a sharp rat-tat

at the door. Amy rose immediately and went to open.

 

Jasper Milvain raised his urban silk hat, then held out his hand with

the greeting of frank friendship. His inquiries were in so loud a voice

that Amy checked him with a forbidding gesture.

 

'You'll wake Willie!'

 

'By Jove! I always forget,' he exclaimed in subdued tones. 'Does the

infant flourish?'

 

'Oh, yes!'

 

'Reardon out? I got back on Saturday evening, but couldn't come round

before this.' It was Monday. 'How close it is in here! I suppose the

roof gets so heated during the day. Glorious weather in the country! And

I've no end of things to tell you. He won't be long, I suppose?'

 

'I think not.'

 

He left his hat and stick in the passage, came into the study, and

glanced about as if he expected to see some change since he was last

here, three weeks ago.

 

'So you have been enjoying yourself?' said Amy as, after listening for a

moment at the door, she took a seat.

 

'Oh, a little freshening of the faculties. But whose acquaintance do you

think I have made?'

 

'Down there?'

 

'Yes. Your uncle Alfred and his daughter were staying at John Yule's,

and I saw something of them. I was invited to the house.'

 

'Did you speak of us?'

 

'To Miss Yule only. I happened to meet her on a walk, and in a

blundering way I mentioned Reardon's name. But of course it didn't

matter in the least. She inquired about you with a good deal of

interest--asked if you were as beautiful as you promised to be years

ago.'

 

Amy laughed.

 

'Doesn't that proceed from your fertile invention, Mr Milvain?'

 

'Not a bit of it! By-the-bye, what would be your natural question

concerning her? Do you think she gave promise of good looks?'

 

'I'm afraid I can't say that she did. She had a good face, but--rather

plain.'

 

'I see.' Jasper threw back his head and seemed to contemplate an object

in memory. 'Well, I shouldn't wonder if most people called her a trifle

plain even now; and yet--no, that's hardly possible, after all. She has

no colour. Wears her hair short.'

 

'Short?'

 

'Oh, I don't mean the smooth, boyish hair with a parting--not the

kind of hair that would be lank if it grew long. Curly all over. Looks

uncommonly well, I assure you. She has a capital head. Odd girl; very

odd girl! Quiet, thoughtful--not very happy, I'm afraid. Seems to think

with dread of a return to books.'

 

'Indeed! But I had understood that she was a reader.'

 

'Reading enough for six people, probably. Perhaps her health is not

very robust. Oh, I knew her by sight quite well--had seen her at the

Reading-room. She's the kind of girl that gets into one's head, you

know--suggestive; much more in her than comes out until one knows her

very well.'

 

'Well, I should hope so,' remarked Amy, with a peculiar smile.

 

'But that's by no means a matter of course. They didn't invite me to

come and see them in London.'

 

'I suppose Marian mentioned your acquaintance with this branch of the

family?'

 

'I think not. At all events, she promised me she wouldn't.'

 

Amy looked at him inquiringly, in a puzzled way.

 

'She promised you?'

 

'Voluntarily. We got rather sympathetic. Your uncle--Alfred, I mean--is

a remarkable man; but I think he regarded me as a youth of no particular

importance. Well, how do things go?'

 

Amy shook her head.

 

'No progress?'

 

'None whatever. He can't work; I begin to be afraid that he is really

ill. He must go away before the fine weather is over. Do persuade him

to-night! I wish you could have had a holiday with him.'

 

'Out of the question now, I'm sorry to say. I must work savagely. But

can't you all manage a fortnight somewhere--Hastings, Eastbourne?'

 

'It would be simply rash. One goes on saying, "What does a pound or two

matter?"--but it begins at length to matter a great deal.'

 

'I know, confound it all! Think how it would amuse some rich grocer's

son who pitches his half-sovereign to the waiter when he has dined

himself into good humour! But I tell you what it is: you must really try

to influence him towards practicality. Don't you think--?'

 

He paused, and Amy sat looking at her hands.

 

'I have made an attempt,' she said at length, in a distant undertone.

 

'You really have?'

 

Jasper leaned forward, his clasped hands hanging between his knees. He

was scrutinising her face, and Amy, conscious of the too fixed regard,

at length moved her head uneasily.

 

'It seems very clear to me,' she said, 'that a long book is out of the

question for him at present. He writes so slowly, and is so fastidious.

It would be a fatal thing to hurry through something weaker even than

the last.'

 

'You think "The Optimist" weak?' Jasper asked, half absently.

 

'I don't think it worthy of Edwin; I don't see how anyone can.

 

'I have wondered what your opinion was. Yes, he ought to try a new tack,

I think.'

 

Just then there came the sound of a latch-key opening the outer door.

Jasper lay back in his chair and waited with a smile for his expected

friend's appearance; Amy made no movement.

 

'Oh, there you are!' said Reardon, presenting himself with the dazzled

eyes of one who has been in darkness; he spoke in a voice of genial

welcome, though it still had the note of depression. 'When did you get

back?'

 

Milvain began to recount what he had told in the first part of his

conversation with Amy. As he did so, the latter withdrew, and was absent

for five minutes; on reappearing she said:

 

'You'll have some supper with us, Mr Milvain?'

 

'I think I will, please.'

 

Shortly after, all repaired to the eating-room, where conversation

had to be carried on in a low tone because of the proximity of the

bedchamber in which lay the sleeping child. Jasper began to tell of

certain things that had happened to him since his arrival in town.

 

'It was a curious coincidence--but, by-the-bye, have you heard of what

The Study has been doing?'

 

'I should rather think so,' replied Reardon, his face lighting up. 'With

no small satisfaction.'

 

'Delicious, isn't it?' exclaimed his wife. 'I thought it too good to be

true when Edwin heard of it from Mr Biffen.'

 

All three laughed in subdued chorus. For the moment, Reardon became a

new man in his exultation over the contradictory reviewers.

 

'Oh, Biffen told you, did he? Well,' continued Jasper, 'it was an odd

thing, but when I reached my lodgings on Saturday evening there lay

a note from Horace Barlow, inviting me to go and see him on Sunday

afternoon out at Wimbledon, the special reason being that the editor of

The Study would be there, and Barlow thought I might like to meet him.

Now this letter gave me a fit of laughter; not only because of those

precious reviews, but because Alfred Yule had been telling me all about

this same editor, who rejoices in the name of Fadge. Your uncle, Mrs

Reardon, declares that Fadge is the most malicious man in the literary

profession; though that's saying such a very great deal--well, never

mind! Of course I was delighted to go and meet Fadge. At Barlow's I

found the queerest collection of people, most of them women of the

inkiest description. The great Fadge himself surprised me; I expected

to see a gaunt, bilious man, and he was the rosiest and dumpiest little

dandy you can imagine; a fellow of forty-five, I dare say, with thin

yellow hair and blue eyes and a manner of extreme innocence. Fadge

flattered me with confidential chat, and I discovered at length why

Barlow had asked me to meet him; it's Fadge that is going to edit

Culpepper's new monthly--you've heard about it?--and he had actually

thought it worth while to enlist me among contributors! Now, how's that

for a piece of news?'

 

The speaker looked from Reardon to Amy with a smile of vast

significance.

 

'I rejoice to hear it!' said Reardon, fervently.

 

'You see! you see!' cried Jasper, forgetting all about the infant in the

next room, 'all things come to the man who knows how to wait. But I'm

hanged if I expected a thing of this kind to come so soon! Why, I'm a

man of distinction! My doings have been noted; the admirable qualities

of my style have drawn attention; I'm looked upon as one of the coming

men! Thanks, I confess, in some measure, to old Barlow; he seems to have

amused himself with cracking me up to all and sundry. That last thing

of mine in The West End has done me a vast amount of good, it seems. And

Alfred Yule himself had noticed that paper in The Wayside. That's how

things work, you know; reputation comes with a burst, just when you're

not looking for anything of the kind.'

 

'What's the new magazine to be called?' asked Amy.

 

'Why, they propose The Current. Not bad, in a way; though you imagine

a fellow saying "Have you seen the current Current?" At all events, the

tone is to be up to date, and the articles are to be short; no padding,

merum sal from cover to cover. What do you think I have undertaken to

do, for a start? A paper consisting of sketches of typical readers of

each of the principal daily and weekly papers. A deuced good idea, you

know--my own, of course--but deucedly hard to carry out. I shall rise

to the occasion, see if I don't. I'll rival Fadge himself in

maliciousness--though I must confess I discovered no particular malice

in the fellow's way of talking. The article shall make a sensation. I'll

spend a whole month on it, and make it a perfect piece of satire.'

 

'Now that's the kind of thing that inspires me with awe and envy,'

said Reardon. 'I could no more write such a paper than an article on

Fluxions.'

 

''Tis my vocation, Hal! You might think I hadn't experience enough,

to begin with. But my intuition is so strong that I can make a little

experience go an immense way. Most people would imagine I had been

wasting my time these last few years, just sauntering about, reading

nothing but periodicals, making acquaintance with loafers of every

description. The truth is, I have been collecting ideas, and ideas

that are convertible into coin of the realm, my boy; I have the special

faculty of an extempore writer. Never in my life shall I do anything of

solid literary value; I shall always despise the people I write for. But

my path will be that of success. I have always said it, and now I'm sure

of it.'

 

'Does Fadge retire from The Study, then?' inquired Reardon, when he had

received this tirade with a friendly laugh.

 

'Yes, he does. Was going to, it seems, in any case. Of course I heard

nothing about the two reviews, and I was almost afraid to smile whilst

Fadge was talking with me, lest I should betray my thought. Did you know

anything about the fellow before?'

 

'Not I. Didn't know who edited The Study.'

 

'Nor I either. Remarkable what a number of illustrious obscure are going

about. But I have still something else to tell you. I'm going to set my

sisters afloat in literature.'

 

'How!'

 

'Well, I don't see why they shouldn't try their hands at a little

writing, instead of giving lessons, which doesn't suit them a bit. Last

night, when I got back from Wimbledon, I went to look up Davies. Perhaps

you don't remember my mentioning him; a fellow who was at Jolly and

Monk's, the publishers, up to a year ago. He edits a trade journal now,

and I see very little of him. However, I found him at home, and had

a long practical talk with him. I wanted to find out the state of the

market as to such wares as Jolly and Monk dispose of. He gave me some

very useful hints, and the result was that I went off this morning and

saw Monk himself--no Jolly exists at present. "Mr Monk," I began, in my

blandest tone--you know it--"I am requested to call upon you by a lady

who thinks of preparing a little volume to be called 'A Child's History

of the English Parliament.' Her idea is, that"--and so on. Well, I

got on admirably with Monk, especially when he learnt that I was to be

connected with Culpepper's new venture; he smiled upon the project, and

said he should be very glad to see a specimen chapter; if that pleased

him, we could then discuss terms.'

 

'But has one of your sisters really begun such a book?' inquired Amy.

 

'Neither of them knows anything of the matter, but they are certainly

capable of doing the kind of thing I have in mind, which will consist

largely of anecdotes of prominent statesmen. I myself shall write the

specimen chapter, and send it to the girls to show them what I propose.

I shouldn't wonder if they make some fifty pounds out of it. The few

books that will be necessary they can either get at a Wattleborough

library, or I can send them.'

 

'Your energy is remarkable, all of a sudden,' said Reardon.

 

'Yes. The hour has come, I find. "There is a tide"--to quote something

that has the charm of freshness.'

 

The supper--which consisted of bread and butter, cheese, sardines,

cocoa--was now over, and Jasper, still enlarging on his recent

experiences and future prospects, led the way back to the sitting-room.

Not very long after this, Amy left the two friends to their pipes; she

was anxious that her husband should discuss his affairs privately with

Milvain, and give ear to the practical advice which she knew would be

tendered him.

 

'I hear that you are still stuck fast,' began Jasper, when they had

smoked awhile in silence.

 

'Yes.'

 

'Getting rather serious, I should fear, isn't it?'

 

'Yes,' repeated Reardon, in a low voice.

 

'Come, come, old man, you can't go on in this way. Would it, or wouldn't

it, be any use if you took a seaside holiday?'

 

'Not the least. I am incapable of holiday, if the opportunity were

offered. Do something I must, or I shall fret myself into imbecility.'

 

'Very well. What is it to be?'

 

'I shall try to manufacture two volumes. They needn't run to more than

about two hundred and seventy pages, and those well spaced out.'

 

'This is refreshing. This is practical. But look now: let it be

something rather sensational. Couldn't we invent a good title--something

to catch eye and ear? The title would suggest the story, you know.'

 

Reardon laughed contemptuously, but the scorn was directed rather

against himself than Milvain.

 

'Let's try,' he muttered.

 

Both appeared to exercise their minds on the problem for a few minutes.

Then Jasper slapped his knee.

 

'How would this do: "The Weird Sisters"? Devilish good, eh? Suggests all

sorts of things, both to the vulgar and the educated. Nothing brutally

clap-trap about it, you know.'

 

'But--what does it suggest to you?'

 

'Oh, witch-like, mysterious girls or women. Think it over.'

 

There was another long silence. Reardon's face was that of a man in

blank misery.

 

'I have been trying,' he said at length, after an attempt to speak which

was checked by a huskiness in his throat, 'to explain to myself how this

state of things has come about. I almost think I can do so.'

 

'How?'

 

'That half-year abroad, and the extraordinary shock of happiness which

followed at once upon it, have disturbed the balance of my nature.

It was adjusted to circumstances of hardship, privation, struggle.

A temperament like mine can't pass through such a violent change of

conditions without being greatly affected; I have never since been the

man I was before I left England. The stage I had then reached was the

result of a slow and elaborate building up; I could look back and see

the processes by which I had grown from the boy who was a mere bookworm

to the man who had all but succeeded as a novelist. It was a perfectly

natural, sober development. But in the last two years and a half I can

distinguish no order. In living through it, I have imagined from time

to time that my powers were coming to their ripest; but that was mere

delusion. Intellectually, I have fallen back. The probability is that

this wouldn't matter, if only I could live on in peace of mind; I should

recover my equilibrium, and perhaps once more understand myself. But the

due course of things is troubled by my poverty.'

 

He spoke in a slow, meditative way, in a monotonous voice, and without

raising his eyes from the ground.

 

'I can understand,' put in Jasper, 'that there may be philosophical

truth in all this. All the same, it's a great pity that you should

occupy your mind with such thoughts.'

 

'A pity--no! I must remain a reasoning creature. Disaster may end by

driving me out of my wits, but till then I won't abandon my heritage of

thought.'

 

'Let us have it out, then. You think it was a mistake to spend those

months abroad?'

 

'A mistake from the practical point of view. That vast broadening of my

horizon lost me the command of my literary resources. I lived in

Italy and Greece as a student, concerned especially with the old

civilisations; I read little but Greek and Latin. That brought me out of

the track I had laboriously made for myself I often thought with disgust

of the kind of work I had been doing; my novels seemed vapid stuff so

wretchedly and shallowly modern. If I had had the means, I should have

devoted myself to the life of a scholar. That, I quite believe, is my

natural life; it's only the influence of recent circumstances that has

made me a writer of novels. A man who can't journalise, yet must earn

his bread by literature, nowadays inevitably turns to fiction, as the

Elizabethan men turned to the drama. Well, but I should have got back, I

think, into the old line of work. It was my marriage that completed what

the time abroad had begun.'

 

He looked up suddenly, and added:

 

'I am speaking as if to myself. You, of course, don't misunderstand me,

and think I am accusing my wife.'

 

'No, I don't take you to mean that, by any means.'

 

'No, no; of course not. All that's wrong is my accursed want of money.

But that threatens to be such a fearful wrong, that I begin to wish I

had died before my marriage-day. Then Amy would have been saved. The

Philistines are right: a man has no business to marry unless he has a

secured income equal to all natural demands. I behaved with the grossest

selfishness. I might have known that such happiness was never meant for

me.'

 

'Do you mean by all this that you seriously doubt whether you will ever

be able to write again?'

 

'In awful seriousness, I doubt it,' replied Reardon, with haggard face.

 

'It strikes me as extraordinary. In your position I should work as I

never had done before.'

 

'Because you are the kind of man who is roused by necessity. I am

overcome by it. My nature is feeble and luxurious. I never in my life

encountered and overcame a practical difficulty.'

 

'Yes; when you got the work at the hospital.'

 

'All I did was to write a letter, and chance made it effective.'

 

'My view of the case, Reardon, is that you are simply ill.'

 

'Certainly I am; but the ailment is desperately complicated. Tell me: do

you think I might possibly get any kind of stated work to do? Should I

be fit for any place in a newspaper office, for instance?'

 

'I fear not. You are the last man to have anything to do with

journalism.'

 

'If I appealed to my publishers, could they help me?'

 

'I don't see how. They would simply say: Write a book and we'll buy it.'

 

'Yes, there's no help but that.'

 

'If only you were able to write short stories, Fadge might be useful.'

 

'But what's the use? I suppose I might get ten guineas, at most, for

such a story. I need a couple of hundred pounds at least. Even if

I could finish a three-volume book, I doubt if they would give me a

hundred again, after the failure of "The Optimist"; no, they wouldn't.'

 

'But to sit and look forward in this way is absolutely fatal, my

dear fellow. Get to work at your two-volume story. Call it "The Weird

Sisters," or anything better that you can devise; but get it done, so

many pages a day. If I go ahead as I begin to think I shall, I shall

soon be able to assure you good notices in a lot of papers. Your

misfortune has been that you had no influential friends. By-the-bye, how

has The Study been in the habit of treating you?'

 

'Scrubbily.'

 

'I'll make an opportunity of talking about your books to Fadge. I think

Fadge and I shall get on pretty well together. Alfred Yule hates the man

fiercely, for some reason or other. By the way, I may as well tell you

that I broke short off with the Yules on purpose.'

 

'Oh?'

 

'I had begun to think far too much about the girl. Wouldn't do, you

know. I must marry someone with money, and a good deal of it.

 

That's a settled point with me.'

 

'Then you are not at all likely to meet them in London?'

 

'Not at all. And if I get allied with Fadge, no doubt Yule will involve

me in his savage feeling. You see how wisely I acted. I have a scent for

the prudent course.'

 

They talked for a long time, but again chiefly of Milvain's affairs.

Reardon, indeed, cared little to say anything more about his own. Talk

was mere vanity and vexation of spirit, for the spring of his volition

seemed to be broken, and, whatever resolve he might utter, he knew that

everything depended on influences he could not even foresee.

 

 

CHAPTER VII. MARIAN'S HOME

 

Three weeks after her return from the country--which took place a week

later than that of Jasper Milvain--Marian Yule was working one afternoon

at her usual place in the Museum Reading-room. It was three o'clock, and

with the interval of half an hour at midday, when she went away for a

cup of tea and a sandwich, she had been closely occupied since half-past

nine. Her task at present was to collect materials for a paper on

'French Authoresses of the Seventeenth Century,' the kind of thing

which her father supplied on stipulated terms for anonymous publication.

Marian was by this time almost able to complete such a piece of

manufacture herself and her father's share in it was limited to a few

hints and corrections. The greater part of the work by which Yule earned

his moderate income was anonymous: volumes and articles which bore his

signature dealt with much the same subjects as his unsigned matter, but

the writing was laboured with a conscientiousness unusual in men of his

position. The result, unhappily, was not correspondent with the efforts.

Alfred Yule had made a recognisable name among the critical writers of

the day; seeing him in the title-lists of a periodical, most people knew

what to expect, but not a few forbore the cutting open of the pages he

occupied. He was learned, copious, occasionally mordant in style; but

grace had been denied to him. He had of late begun to perceive the fact

that those passages of Marian's writing which were printed just as they

came from her pen had merit of a kind quite distinct from anything of

which he himself was capable, and it began to be a question with

him whether it would not be advantageous to let the girl sign these

compositions. A matter of business, to be sure--at all events in the

first instance.

 

For a long time Marian had scarcely looked up from the desk, but at this

moment she found it necessary to refer to the invaluable Larousse. As so

often happened, the particular volume of which she had need was not upon

the shelf she turned away, and looked about her with a gaze of weary

disappointment. At a little distance were standing two young men,

engaged, as their faces showed, in facetious colloquy; as soon as she

observed them, Marian's eyes fell, but the next moment she looked again

in that direction. Her face had wholly changed; she wore a look of timid

expectancy.

 

The men were moving towards her, still talking and laughing. She turned

to the shelves, and affected to search for a book. The voices drew near,

and one of them was well known to her; now she could hear every word;

now the speakers were gone by. Was it possible that Mr Milvain had not

recognised her? She followed him with her eyes, and saw him take a seat

not far off he must have passed without even being aware of her.

 

She went back to her place and for some minutes sat trifling with a pen.

When she made a show of resuming work, it was evident that she could no

longer apply herself as before. Every now and then she glanced at people

who were passing; there were intervals when she wholly lost herself in

reverie. She was tired, and had even a slight headache. When the hand of

the clock pointed to half-past three, she closed the volume from which

she had been copying extracts, and began to collect her papers.

 

A voice spoke close behind her.

 

'Where's your father, Miss Yule?'

 

The speaker was a man of sixty, short, stout, tonsured by the hand of

time. He had a broad, flabby face, the colour of an ancient turnip,

save where one of the cheeks was marked with a mulberry stain; his

eyes, grey-orbed in a yellow setting, glared with good-humoured

inquisitiveness, and his mouth was that of the confirmed gossip. For

eyebrows he had two little patches of reddish stubble; for moustache,

what looked like a bit of discoloured tow, and scraps of similar

material hanging beneath his creasy chin represented a beard. His garb

must have seen a great deal of Museum service; it consisted of a jacket,

something between brown and blue, hanging in capacious shapelessness,

a waistcoat half open for lack of buttons and with one of the pockets

coming unsewn, a pair of bronze-hued trousers which had all run to

knee. Necktie he had none, and his linen made distinct appeal to the

laundress.

 

Marian shook hands with him.

 

'He went away at half-past two,' was her reply to his question.

 

'How annoying! I wanted particularly to see him. I have been running

about all day, and couldn't get here before. Something important--most

important. At all events, I can tell you. But I entreat that you won't

breathe a word save to your father.'

 

Mr Quarmby--that was his name--had taken a vacant chair and drawn it

close to Marian's. He was in a state of joyous excitement, and talked

in thick, rather pompous tones, with a pant at the end of a sentence. To

emphasise the extremely confidential nature of his remarks, he brought

his head almost in contact with the girl's, and one of her thin,

delicate hands was covered with his red, podgy fingers.

 

'I've had a talk with Nathaniel Walker,' he continued; 'a long talk--a

talk of vast importance. You know Walker? No, no; how should you? He's a

man of business; close friend of Rackett's--Rackett, you know, the owner

of The Study.'

 

Upon this he made a grave pause, and glared more excitedly than ever.

 

'I have heard of Mr Rackett,' said Marian.

 

'Of course, of course. And you must also have heard that Fadge leaves

The Study at the end of this year, eh?'

 

'Father told me it was probable.'

 

'Rackett and he have done nothing but quarrel for months; the paper is

falling off seriously. Well, now, when I came across Nat Walker this

afternoon, the first thing he said to me was, "You know Alfred Yule

pretty well, I think?" "Pretty well," I answered; "why?" "I'll tell

you," he said, "but it's between you and me, you understand. Rackett is

thinking about him in connection with The Study." "I'm delighted to hear

it." "To tell you the truth," went on Nat, "I shouldn't wonder if Yule

gets the editorship; but you understand that it would be altogether

premature to talk about it." Now what do you think of this, eh?'

 

'It's very good news,' answered Marian.

 

'I should think so! Ho, ho!'

 

Mr Quarmby laughed in a peculiar way, which was the result of long years

of mirth-subdual in the Reading-room.

 

'But not a breath to anyone but your father. He'll be here to-morrow?

Break it gently to him, you know; he's an excitable man; can't take

things quietly, like I do. Ho, ho!'

 

His suppressed laugh ended in a fit of coughing--the Reading-room cough.

When he had recovered from it, he pressed Marian's hand with paternal

fervour, and waddled off to chatter with someone else.

 

Marian replaced several books on the reference-shelves, returned others

to the central desk, and was just leaving the room, when again a voice

made demand upon her attention.

 

'Miss Yule! One moment, if you please!'

 

It was a tall, meagre, dry-featured man, dressed with the painful

neatness of self-respecting poverty: the edges of his coat-sleeves were

carefully darned; his black necktie and a skull-cap which covered

his baldness were evidently of home manufacture. He smiled softly and

timidly with blue, rheumy eyes. Two or three recent cuts on his chin and

neck were the result of conscientious shaving with an unsteady hand.

 

'I have been looking for your father,' he said, as Marian turned. 'Isn't

he here?'

 

'He has gone, Mr Hinks.'

 

'Ah, then would you do me the kindness to take a book for him? In fact,

it's my little "Essay on the Historical Drama," just out.'

 

He spoke with nervous hesitation, and in a tone which seemed to make

apology for his existence.

 

'Oh, father will be very glad to have it.'

 

'If you will kindly wait one minute, Miss Yule. It's at my place over

there.'

 

He went off with long strides, and speedily came back panting, in his

hand a thin new volume.

 

'My kind regards to him, Miss Yule. You are quite well, I hope? I won't

detain you.'

 

And he backed into a man who was coming inobservantly this way.

 

Marian went to the ladies' cloak-room, put on her hat and jacket, and

left the Museum. Some one passed out through the swing-door a moment

before her, and as soon as she had issued beneath the portico, she saw

that it was Jasper Milvain; she must have followed him through the hall,

but her eyes had been cast down. The young man was now alone; as he

descended the steps he looked to left and right, but not behind him.

Marian followed at a distance of two or three yards. Nearing the

gateway, she quickened her pace a little, so as to pass out into the

street almost at the same moment as Milvain. But he did not turn his

head.

 

He took to the right. Marian had fallen back again, but she still

followed at a very little distance. His walk was slow, and she might

easily have passed him in quite a natural way; in that case he could not

help seeing her. But there was an uneasy suspicion in her mind that he

really must have noticed her in the Reading-room. This was the first

time she had seen him since their parting at Finden. Had he any reason

for avoiding her? Did he take it ill that her father had shown no desire

to keep up his acquaintance?

 

She allowed the interval between them to become greater. In a minute or

two Milvain turned up Charlotte Street, and so she lost sight of him.

 

In Tottenham Court Road she waited for an omnibus that would take her

to the remoter part of Camden Town; obtaining a corner seat, she drew as

far back as possible, and paid no attention to her fellow-passengers.

At a point in Camden Road she at length alighted, and after ten

minutes' walk reached her destination in a quiet by-way called St Paul's

Crescent, consisting of small, decent houses. That at which she paused

had an exterior promising comfort within; the windows were clean and

neatly curtained, and the polishable appurtenances of the door gleamed

to perfection. She admitted herself with a latch-key, and went straight

upstairs without encountering anyone.

 

Descending again in a few moments, she entered the front room on the

ground-floor. This served both as parlour and dining-room; it was

comfortably furnished, without much attempt at adornment. On the walls

were a few autotypes and old engravings. A recess between fireplace and

window was fitted with shelves, which supported hundreds of volumes,

the overflow of Yule's library. The table was laid for a meal. It best

suited the convenience of the family to dine at five o'clock; a long

evening, so necessary to most literary people, was thus assured.

Marian, as always when she had spent a day at the Museum, was faint with

weariness and hunger; she cut a small piece of bread from a loaf on the

table, and sat down in an easy chair.

 

Presently appeared a short, slight woman of middle age, plainly dressed

in serviceable grey. Her face could never have been very comely, and it

expressed but moderate intelligence; its lines, however, were those of

gentleness and good feeling. She had the look of one who is making

a painful effort to understand something; this was fixed upon her

features, and probably resulted from the peculiar conditions of her

life.

 

'Rather early, aren't you, Marian?' she said, as she closed the door and

came forward to take a seat.

 

'Yes; I have a little headache.'

 

'Oh, dear! Is that beginning again?'

 

Mrs Yule's speech was seldom ungrammatical, and her intonation was not

flagrantly vulgar, but the accent of the London poor, which brands as

with hereditary baseness, still clung to her words, rendering futile

such propriety of phrase as she owed to years of association with

educated people. In the same degree did her bearing fall short of that

which distinguishes a lady. The London work-girl is rarely capable of

raising herself or being raised, to a place in life above that to which

she was born; she cannot learn how to stand and sit and move like a

woman bred to refinement, any more than she can fashion her tongue

to graceful speech. Mrs Yule's behaviour to Marian was marked with a

singular diffidence; she looked and spoke affectionately, but not with a

mother's freedom; one might have taken her for a trusted servant waiting

upon her mistress. Whenever opportunity offered, she watched the girl

in a curiously furtive way, that puzzled look on her face becoming very

noticeable. Her consciousness was never able to accept as a familiar and

unimportant fact the vast difference between herself and her daughter.

Marian's superiority in native powers, in delicacy of feeling, in the

results of education, could never be lost sight of. Under ordinary

circumstances she addressed the girl as if tentatively; however sure of

anything from her own point of view, she knew that Marian, as often

as not, had quite a different criterion. She understood that the

girl frequently expressed an opinion by mere reticence, and hence the

carefulness with which, when conversing, she tried to discover the real

effect of her words in Marian's features.

 

'Hungry, too,' she said, seeing the crust Marian was nibbling. 'You

really must have more lunch, dear. It isn't right to go so long; you'll

make yourself ill.'

 

'Have you been out?' Marian asked.

 

'Yes; I went to Holloway.'

 

Mrs Yule sighed and looked very unhappy. By 'going to Holloway' was

always meant a visit to her own relatives--a married sister with three

children, and a brother who inhabited the same house. To her husband

she scarcely ever ventured to speak of these persons; Yule had

no intercourse with them. But Marian was always willing to listen

sympathetically, and her mother often exhibited a touching gratitude for

this condescension--as she deemed it.

 

'Are things no better?' the girl inquired.

 

'Worse, as far as I can see. John has begun his drinking again, and him

and Tom quarrel every night; there's no peace in the 'ouse.'

 

If ever Mrs Yule lapsed into gross errors of pronunciation or phrase, it

was when she spoke of her kinsfolk. The subject seemed to throw her back

into a former condition.

 

'He ought to go and live by himself' said Marian, referring to her

mother's brother, the thirsty John.

 

'So he ought, to be sure. I'm always telling them so. But there!

you don't seem to be able to persuade them, they're that silly and

obstinate. And Susan, she only gets angry with me, and tells me not to

talk in a stuck-up way. I'm sure I never say a word that could offend

her; I'm too careful for that. And there's Annie; no doing anything with

her! She's about the streets at all hours, and what'll be the end of

it no one can say. They're getting that ragged, all of them. It isn't

Susan's fault; indeed it isn't. She does all that woman can. But Tom

hasn't brought home ten shillings the last month, and it seems to me as

if he was getting careless. I gave her half-a-crown; it was all I could

do. And the worst of it is, they think I could do so much more if I

liked. They're always hinting that we are rich people, and it's no good

my trying to persuade them. They think I'm telling falsehoods, and it's

very hard to be looked at in that way; it is, indeed, Marian.'

 

'You can't help it, mother. I suppose their suffering makes them unkind

and unjust.'

 

'That's just what it does, my dear; you never said anything truer.

Poverty will make the best people bad, if it gets hard enough. Why

there's so much of it in the world, I'm sure I can't see.'

 

'I suppose father will be back soon?'

 

'He said dinner-time.'

 

'Mr Quarmby has been telling me something which is wonderfully good news

if it's really true; but I can't help feeling doubtful.

 

He says that father may perhaps be made editor of The Study at the end

of this year.'

 

Mrs Yule, of course, understood, in outline, these affairs of the

literary world; she thought of them only from the pecuniary point of

view, but that made no essential distinction between her and the mass of

literary people.

 

'My word!' she exclaimed. 'What a thing that would be for us!'

 

Marian had begun to explain her reluctance to base any hopes on Mr

Quarmby's prediction, when the sound of a postman's knock at the

house-door caused her mother to disappear for a moment.

 

'It's for you,' said Mrs Yule, returning. 'From the country.'

 

Marian took the letter and examined its address with interest.

 

'It must be one of the Miss Milvains. Yes; Dora Milvain.'

 

After Jasper's departure from Finden his sisters had seen Marian several

times, and the mutual liking between her and them had been confirmed by

opportunity of conversation. The promise of correspondence had hitherto

waited for fulfilment. It seemed natural to Marian that the younger

of the two girls should write; Maud was attractive and agreeable, and

probably clever, but Dora had more spontaneity in friendship.

 

'It will amuse you to hear,' wrote Dora, 'that the literary project our

brother mentioned in a letter whilst you were still here is really to

come to something. He has sent us a specimen chapter, written by himself

of the "Child's History of Parliament," and Maud thinks she could carry

it on in that style, if there's no hurry. She and I have both set to

work on English histories, and we shall be authorities before long.

Jolly and Monk offer thirty pounds for the little book, if it suits them

when finished, with certain possible profits in the future. Trust Jasper

for making a bargain! So perhaps our literary career will be something

more than a joke, after all. I hope it may; anything rather than a life

of teaching. We shall be so glad to hear from you, if you still care to

trouble about country girls.'

 

And so on. Marian read with a pleased smile, then acquainted her mother

with the contents.

 

'I am very glad,' said Mrs Yule; 'it's so seldom you get a letter.'

 

'Yes.'

 

Marian seemed desirous of saying something more, and her mother had a

thoughtful look, suggestive of sympathetic curiosity.

 

'Is their brother likely to call here?' Mrs Yule asked, with misgiving.

 

'No one has invited him to,' was the girl's quiet reply.

 

'He wouldn't come without that?'

 

'It's not likely that he even knows the address.'

 

'Your father won't be seeing him, I suppose?'

 

'By chance, perhaps. I don't know.'

 

It was very rare indeed for these two to touch upon any subject save

those of everyday interest. In spite of the affection between them,

their exchange of confidence did not go very far; Mrs Yule, who had

never exercised maternal authority since Marian's earliest childhood,

claimed no maternal privileges, and Marian's natural reserve had been

strengthened by her mother's respectful aloofness. The English fault of

domestic reticence could scarcely go further than it did in their case;

its exaggeration is, of course, one of the characteristics of those

unhappy families severed by differences of education between the old and

young.

 

'I think,' said Marian, in a forced tone, 'that father hasn't much

liking for Mr Milvain.'

 

She wished to know if her mother had heard any private remarks on this

subject, but she could not bring herself to ask directly.

 

'I'm sure I don't know,' replied Mrs Yule, smoothing her dress. 'He

hasn't said anything to me, Marian.'

 

An awkward silence. The mother had fixed her eyes on the mantelpiece,

and was thinking hard.

 

'Otherwise,' said Marian, 'he would have said something, I should think,

about meeting in London.'

 

'But is there anything in--this gentleman that he wouldn't like?'

 

'I don't know of anything.'

 

Impossible to pursue the dialogue; Marian moved uneasily, then rose,

said something about putting the letter away, and left the room.

 

Shortly after, Alfred Yule entered the house. It was no uncommon thing

for him to come home in a mood of silent moroseness, and this evening

the first glimpse of his face was sufficient warning. He entered the

dining-room and stood on the hearthrug reading an evening paper. His

wife made a pretence of straightening things upon the table.

 

'Well?' he exclaimed irritably. 'It's after five; why isn't dinner

served?'

 

'It's just coming, Alfred.'

 

Even the average man of a certain age is an alarming creature when

dinner delays itself; the literary man in such a moment goes beyond all

parallel. If there be added the fact that he has just returned from a

very unsatisfactory interview with a publisher, wife and daughter may

indeed regard the situation as appalling. Marian came in, and at once

observed her mother's frightened face.

 

'Father,' she said, hoping to make a diversion, 'Mr Hinks has sent you

his new book, and wishes--'

 

'Then take Mr Hinks's new book back to him, and tell him that I have

quite enough to do without reading tedious trash. He needn't expect

that I'm going to write a notice of it. The simpleton pesters me beyond

endurance. I wish to know, if you please,' he added with savage calm,

'when dinner will be ready. If there's time to write a few letters, just

tell me at once, that I mayn't waste half an hour.'

 

Marian resented this unreasonable anger, but she durst not reply.

 

At that moment the servant appeared with a smoking joint, and Mrs

Yule followed carrying dishes of vegetables. The man of letters seated

himself and carved angrily. He began his meal by drinking half a glass

of ale; then he ate a few mouthfuls in a quick, hungry way, his head

bent closely over the plate. It happened commonly enough that dinner

passed without a word of conversation, and that seemed likely to be the

case this evening.

 

To his wife Yule seldom addressed anything but a curt inquiry or caustic

comment; if he spoke humanly at table it was to Marian.

 

Ten minutes passed; then Marian resolved to try any means of clearing

the atmosphere.

 

'Mr Quarmby gave me a message for you,' she said. 'A friend of his,

Nathaniel Walker, has told him that Mr Rackett will very likely offer

you the editorship of The Study.'

 

Yule stopped in the act of mastication. He fixed his eyes intently on

the sirloin for half a minute; then, by way of the beer-jug and the

salt-cellar, turned them upon Marian's face.

 

'Walker told him that? Pooh!'

 

'It was a great secret. I wasn't to breathe a word to any one but you.'

 

'Walker's a fool and Quarmby's an ass,' remarked her father.

 

But there was a tremulousness in his bushy eyebrows; his forehead half

unwreathed itself; he continued to eat more slowly, and as if with

appreciation of the viands.

 

'What did he say? Repeat it to me in his words.'

 

Marian did so, as nearly as possible. He listened with a scoffing

expression, but still his features relaxed.

 

'I don't credit Rackett with enough good sense for such a proposal,' he

said deliberately. 'And I'm not very sure that I should accept it if it

were made. That fellow Fadge has all but ruined the paper. It will

amuse me to see how long it takes him to make Culpepper's new magazine a

distinct failure.'

 

A silence of five minutes ensued; then Yule said of a sudden.

 

'Where is Hinks's book?'

 

Marian reached it from a side table; under this roof, literature was

regarded almost as a necessary part of table garnishing.

 

'I thought it would be bigger than this,' Yule muttered, as he opened

the volume in a way peculiar to bookish men.

 

A page was turned down, as if to draw attention to some passage. Yule

put on his eyeglasses, and soon made a discovery which had the effect of

completing the transformation of his visage. His eyes glinted, his chin

worked in pleasurable emotion. In a moment he handed the book to Marian,

indicating the small type of a foot-note; it embodied an effusive

eulogy--introduced a propos of some literary discussion--of 'Mr Alfred

Yule's critical acumen, scholarly research, lucid style,' and sundry

other distinguished merits.

 

'That is kind of him,' said Marian.

 

'Good old Hinks! I suppose I must try to get him half-a-dozen readers.'

 

'May I see?' asked Mrs Yule, under her breath, bending to Marian.

 

Her daughter passed on the volume, and Mrs Yule read the footnote with

that look of slow apprehension which is so pathetic when it signifies

the heart's good-will thwarted by the mind's defect.

 

'That'll be good for you, Alfred, won't it?' she said, glancing at her

husband.

 

'Certainly,' he replied, with a smile of contemptuous irony. 'If Hinks

goes on, he'll establish my reputation.'

 

And he took a draught of ale, like one who is reinvigorated for the

battle of life. Marian, regarding him askance, mused on what seemed to

her a strange anomaly in his character; it had often surprised her that

a man of his temperament and powers should be so dependent upon the

praise and blame of people whom he justly deemed his inferiors.

 

Yule was glancing over the pages of the work.

 

'A pity the man can't write English.' What a vocabulary!

Obstruent--reliable--particularization--fabulosity--different to--averse

to--did one ever come across such a mixture of antique pedantry and

modern vulgarism! Surely he has his name from the German hinken--eh,

Marian?'

 

With a laugh he tossed the book away again. His mood was wholly changed.

He gave various evidences of enjoying the meal, and began to talk freely

with his daughter.

 

'Finished the authoresses?'

 

'Not quite.'

 

'No hurry. When you have time I want you to read Ditchley's new book,

and jot down a selection of his worst sentences. I'll use them for an

article on contemporary style; it occurred to me this afternoon.'

 

He smiled grimly. Mrs Yule's face exhibited much contentment, which

became radiant joy when her husband remarked casually that the custard

was very well made to-day. Dinner over, he rose without ceremony and

went off to his study.

 

The man had suffered much and toiled stupendously. It was not

inexplicable that dyspepsia, and many another ill that literary flesh is

heir to, racked him sore.

 

Go back to the days when he was an assistant at a bookseller's in

Holborn. Already ambition devoured him, and the genuine love of

knowledge goaded his brain. He allowed himself but three or four hours

of sleep; he wrought doggedly at languages, ancient and modern; he tried

his hand at metrical translations; he planned tragedies. Practically he

was living in a past age; his literary ideals were formed on the study

of Boswell.

 

The head assistant in the shop went away to pursue a business which

had come into his hands on the death of a relative; it was a small

publishing concern, housed in an alley off the Strand, and Mr Polo (a

singular name, to become well known in the course of time) had his

ideas about its possible extension. Among other instances of activity he

started a penny weekly paper, called All Sorts, and in the pages of

this periodical Alfred Yule first appeared as an author. Before long he

became sub-editor of All Sorts, then actual director of the paper. He

said good-bye to the bookseller, and his literary career fairly began.

 

Mr Polo used to say that he never knew a man who could work so many

consecutive hours as Alfred Yule. A faithful account of all that

the young man learnt and wrote from 1855 to 1860--that is, from his

twenty-fifth to his thirtieth year--would have the look of burlesque

exaggeration. He had set it before him to become a celebrated man, and

he was not unaware that the attainment of that end would cost him

quite exceptional labour, seeing that nature had not favoured him with

brilliant parts. No matter; his name should be spoken among men unless

he killed himself in the struggle for success.

 

In the meantime he married. Living in a garret, and supplying himself

with the materials of his scanty meals, he was in the habit of making

purchases at a little chandler's shop, where he was waited upon by

a young girl of no beauty, but, as it seemed to him, of amiable

disposition. One holiday he met this girl as she was walking with a

younger sister in the streets; he made her nearer acquaintance, and

before long she consented to be his wife and share his garret. His

brothers, John and Edmund, cried out that he had made an unpardonable

fool of himself in marrying so much beneath him; that he might well have

waited until his income improved. This was all very well, but they might

just as reasonably have bidden him reject plain food because a few years

hence he would be able to purchase luxuries; he could not do without

nourishment of some sort, and the time had come when he could not do

without a wife. Many a man with brains but no money has been compelled

to the same step. Educated girls have a pronounced distaste for

London garrets; not one in fifty thousand would share poverty with

the brightest genius ever born. Seeing that marriage is so often

indispensable to that very success which would enable a man of parts to

mate equally, there is nothing for it but to look below one's own level,

and be grateful to the untaught woman who has pity on one's loneliness.

 

Unfortunately, Alfred Yule was not so grateful as he might have been.

His marriage proved far from unsuccessful; he might have found himself

united to a vulgar shrew, whereas the girl had the great virtues of

humility and kindliness. She endeavoured to learn of him, but her

dulness and his impatience made this attempt a failure; her human

qualities had to suffice. And they did, until Yule began to lift his

head above the literary mob. Previously, he often lost his temper with

her, but never expressed or felt repentance of his marriage; now he

began to see only the disadvantages of his position, and, forgetting the

facts of the case, to imagine that he might well have waited for a wife

who could share his intellectual existence. Mrs Yule had to pass through

a few years of much bitterness. Already a martyr to dyspepsia, and often

suffering from bilious headaches of extreme violence, her husband now

and then lost all control of his temper, all sense of kind feeling,

even of decency, and reproached the poor woman with her ignorance, her

stupidity, her low origin. Naturally enough she defended herself with

such weapons as a sense of cruel injustice supplied. More than once

the two all but parted. It did not come to an actual rupture, chiefly

because Yule could not do without his wife; her tendance had become

indispensable. And then there was the child to consider.

 

From the first it was Yule's dread lest Marian should be infected with

her mother's faults of speech and behaviour. He would scarcely permit

his wife to talk to the child. At the earliest possible moment Marian

was sent to a day-school, and in her tenth year she went as weekly

boarder to an establishment at Fulham; any sacrifice of money to insure

her growing up with the tongue and manners of a lady. It can scarcely

have been a light trial to the mother to know that contact with her was

regarded as her child's greatest danger; but in her humility and her

love for Marian she offered no resistance. And so it came to pass

that one day the little girl, hearing her mother make some flagrant

grammatical error, turned to the other parent and asked gravely: 'Why

doesn't mother speak as properly as we do?' Well, that is one of the

results of such marriages, one of the myriad miseries that result from

poverty.

 

The end was gained at all hazards. Marian grew up everything that her

father desired. Not only had she the bearing of refinement, but it early

became obvious that nature had well endowed her with brains. From the

nursery her talk was of books, and at the age of twelve she was already

able to give her father some assistance as an amanuensis.

 

At that time Edmund Yule was still living; he had overcome his

prejudices, and there was intercourse between his household and that of

the literary man. Intimacy it could not be called, for Mrs Edmund (who

was the daughter of a law-stationer) had much difficulty in behaving to

Mrs Alfred with show of suavity. Still, the cousins Amy and Marian from

time to time saw each other, and were not unsuitable companions. It was

the death of Amy's father that brought these relations to an end; left

to the control of her own affairs Mrs Edmund was not long in giving

offence to Mrs Alfred, and so to Alfred himself. The man of letters

might be inconsiderate enough in his behaviour to his wife, but as

soon as anyone else treated her with disrespect that was quite another

matter. Purely on this account he quarrelled violently with his

brother's widow, and from that day the two families kept apart.

 

The chapter of quarrels was one of no small importance in Alfred's life;

his difficult temper, and an ever-increasing sense of neglected merit,

frequently put him at war with publishers, editors, fellow-authors, and

he had an unhappy trick of exciting the hostility of men who were most

likely to be useful to him. With Mr Polo, for instance, who held him

in esteem, and whose commercial success made him a valuable connection,

Alfred ultimately broke on a trifling matter of personal dignity. Later

came the great quarrel with Clement Fadge, an affair of considerable

advantage in the way of advertisement to both the men concerned. It

happened in the year 1873. At that time Yule was editor of a weekly

paper called The Balance, a literary organ which aimed high, and failed

to hit the circulation essential to its existence. Fadge, a younger man,

did reviewing for The Balance; he was in needy circumstances, and had

wrought himself into Yule's good opinion by judicious flattery. But with

a clear eye for the main chance Mr Fadge soon perceived that Yule

could only be of temporary use to him, and that the editor of a

well-established weekly which lost no opportunity of throwing scorn

upon Yule and all his works would be a much more profitable conquest.

He succeeded in transferring his services to the more flourishing

paper, and struck out a special line of work by the free exercise of

a malicious flippancy which was then without rival in the periodical

press. When he had thoroughly got his hand in, it fell to Mr Fadge,

in the mere way of business, to review a volume of his old editor's,

a rather pretentious and longwinded but far from worthless essay 'On

Imagination as a National Characteristic.' The notice was a masterpiece;

its exquisite virulence set the literary circles chuckling. Concerning

the authorship there was no mystery, and Alfred Yule had the

indiscretion to make a violent reply, a savage assault upon Fadge, in

the columns of The Balance. Fadge desired nothing better; the uproar

which arose--chaff, fury, grave comments, sneering spite--could only

result in drawing universal attention to his anonymous cleverness, and

throwing ridicule upon the heavy, conscientious man. Well, you

probably remember all about it. It ended in the disappearance of Yule's

struggling paper, and the establishment on a firm basis of Fadge's

reputation.

 

It would be difficult to mention any department of literary endeavour in

which Yule did not, at one time or another, try his fortune. Turn to

his name in the Museum Catalogue; the list of works appended to it

will amuse you. In his thirtieth year he published a novel; it failed

completely, and the same result awaited a similar experiment five years

later. He wrote a drama of modern life, and for some years strove to

get it acted, but in vain; finally it appeared 'for the closet'--giving

Clement Fadge such an opportunity as he seldom enjoyed. The one

noteworthy thing about these productions, and about others of equally

mistaken direction, was the sincerity of their workmanship. Had Yule

been content to manufacture a novel or a play with due disregard for

literary honour, he might perchance have made a mercantile success; but

the poor fellow had not pliancy enough for this. He took his efforts

au grand serieux; thought he was producing works of art; pursued his

ambition in a spirit of fierce conscientiousness. In spite of all, he

remained only a journeyman. The kind of work he did best was poorly

paid, and could bring no fame. At the age of fifty he was still living

in a poor house in an obscure quarter. He earned enough for his actual

needs, and was under no pressing fear for the morrow, so long as his

faculties remained unimpaired; but there was no disguising from himself

that his life had been a failure. And the thought tormented him.

 

Now there had come unexpectedly a gleam of hope. If indeed, the man

Rackett thought of offering him the editorship of The Study he might

even yet taste the triumphs for which he had so vehemently longed. The

Study was a weekly paper of fair repute. Fadge had harmed it, no doubt

of that, by giving it a tone which did not suit the majority of its

readers--serious people, who thought that the criticism of contemporary

writing offered an opportunity for something better than a display of

malevolent wit. But a return to the old earnestness would doubtless set

all right again. And the joy of sitting in that dictatorial chair! The

delight of having his own organ once more, of making himself a power in

the world of letters, of emphasising to a large audience his developed

methods of criticism!

 

An embittered man is a man beset by evil temptations. The Study

contained each week certain columns of flying gossip, and when he

thought of this, Yule also thought of Clement Fadge, and sundry other

of his worst enemies. How the gossip column can be used for hostile

purposes, yet without the least overt offence, he had learnt only too

well. Sometimes the mere omission of a man's name from a list of authors

can mortify and injure. In our day the manipulation of such paragraphs

has become a fine art; but you recall numerous illustrations. Alfred

knew well enough how incessantly the tempter would be at his ear;

he said to himself that in certain instances yielding would be no

dishonour. He himself had many a time been mercilessly treated; in the

very interest of the public it was good that certain men should suffer a

snubbing, and his fingers itched to have hold of the editorial pen. Ha,

ha! Like the war-horse he snuffed the battle afar off.

 

No work this evening, though there were tasks which pressed for

completion. His study--the only room on the ground level except the

dining-room--was small, and even a good deal of the floor was encumbered

with books, but he found space for walking nervously hither and thither.

He was doing this when, about half-past nine, his wife appeared at the

door, bringing him a cup of coffee and some biscuits, his wonted supper.

Marian generally waited upon him at this time, and he asked why she had

not come.

 

'She has one of her headaches again, I'm sorry to say,' Mrs Yule

replied. 'I persuaded her to go to bed early.'

 

Having placed the tray upon the table--books had to be pushed aside--she

did not seem disposed to withdraw.

 

'Are you busy, Alfred?'

 

'Why?'

 

'I thought I should like just to speak of something.'

 

She was using the opportunity of his good humour. Yule spoke to her with

the usual carelessness, but not forbiddingly.

 

'What is it? Those Holloway people, I'll warrant.'

 

'No, no! It's about Marian. She had a letter from one of those young

ladies this afternoon.'

 

'What young ladies?' asked Yule, with impatience of this circuitous

approach.

 

'The Miss Milvains.'

 

'Well, there's no harm that I know of. They're decent people.'

 

'Yes; so you told me. But she began to speak about their brother, and--'

 

'What about him? Do say what you want to say, and have done with it!'

 

'I can't help thinking, Alfred, that she's disappointed you didn't ask

him to come here.'

 

Yule stared at her in slight surprise. He was still not angry, and

seemed quite willing to consider this matter suggested to him so

timorously.

 

'Oh, you think so? Well, I don't know. Why should I have asked him?

It was only because Miss Harrow seemed to wish it that I saw him down

there. I have no particular interest in him. And as for--'

 

He broke off and seated himself. Mrs Yule stood at a distance.

 

'We must remember her age,' she said.

 

'Why yes, of course.'

 

He mused, and began to nibble a biscuit.

 

'And you know, Alfred, she never does meet any young men. I've often

thought it wasn't right to her.'

 

'H'm! But this lad Milvain is a very doubtful sort of customer. To begin

with, he has nothing, and they tell me his mother for the most part

supports him. I don't quite approve of that. She isn't well off, and he

ought to have been making a living by now.

 

He has a kind of cleverness, may do something; but there's no being sure

of that.'

 

These thoughts were not coming into his mind for the first time. On the

occasion when he met Milvain and Marian together in the country road he

had necessarily reflected upon the possibilities of such intercourse,

and with the issue that he did not care to give any particular

encouragement to its continuance. He of course heard of Milvain's

leave-taking call, and he purposely refrained from seeing the young man

after that. The matter took no very clear shape in his meditations; he

saw no likelihood that either of the young people would think much of

the other after their parting, and time enough to trouble one's head

with such subjects when they could no longer be postponed. It would

not have been pleasant to him to foresee a life of spinsterhood for his

daughter; but she was young, and--she was a valuable assistant.

 

How far did that latter consideration weigh with him? He put the

question pretty distinctly to himself now that his wife had broached

the matter thus unexpectedly. Was he prepared to behave with deliberate

selfishness? Never yet had any conflict been manifested between his

interests and Marian's; practically he was in the habit of counting upon

her aid for an indefinite period.

 

If indeed he became editor of The Study, why, in that case her

assistance would be less needful. And indeed it seemed probable that

young Milvain had a future before him.

 

'But, in any case,' he said aloud, partly continuing his thoughts,

partly replying to a look of disappointment on his wife's face, 'how do

you know that he has any wish to come and see Marian?'

 

'I don't know anything about it, of course.'

 

'And you may have made a mistake about her. What made you think she--had

him in mind?'

 

'Well, it was her way of speaking, you know. And then, she asked if you

had got a dislike to him.'

 

'She did? H'm! Well, I don't think Milvain is any good to Marian. He's

just the kind of man to make himself agreeable to a girl for the fun of

the thing.'

 

Mrs Yule looked alarmed.

 

'Oh, if you really think that, don't let him come. I wouldn't for

anything.'

 

'I don't say it for certain.' He took a sip of his coffee. 'I have had

no opportunity of observing him with much attention. But he's not the

kind of man I care for.'

 

'Then no doubt it's better as it is.'

 

'Yes. I don't see that anything could be done now. We shall see whether

he gets on. I advise you not to mention him to her.'

 

'Oh no, I won't.'

 

She moved as if to go away, but her heart had been made uneasy by that

short conversation which followed on Marian's reading the letter, and

there were still things she wished to put into words.

 

'If those young ladies go on writing to her, I dare say they'll often

speak about their brother.'

 

'Yes, it's rather unfortunate.'

 

'And you know, Alfred, he may have asked them to do it.'

 

'I suppose there's one subject on which all women can be subtle,'

muttered Yule, smiling. The remark was not a kind one, but he did not

make it worse by his tone.

 

The listener failed to understand him, and looked with her familiar

expression of mental effort.

 

'We can't help that,' he added, with reference to her suggestion. 'If

he has any serious thoughts, well, let him go on and wait for

opportunities.'

 

'It's a great pity, isn't it, that she can't see more people--of the

right kind?'

 

'No use talking about it. Things are as they are. I can't see that her

life is unhappy.'

 

'It isn't very happy.'

 

'You think not?'

 

'I'm sure it isn't.'

 

'If I get The Study things may be different. Though--But it's no use

talking about what can't be helped. Now don't you go encouraging her

to think herself lonely, and so on. It's best for her to keep close to

work, I'm sure of that.'

 

'Perhaps it is.'

 

'I'll think it over.'

 

Mrs Yule silently left the room, and went back to her sewing.

 

She had understood that 'Though--' and the 'what can't be helped.' Such

allusions reminded her of a time unhappier than the present, when she

had been wont to hear plainer language. She knew too well that, had she

been a woman of education, her daughter would not now be suffering from

loneliness.

 

It was her own choice that she did not go with her husband and Marian to

John Yule's. She made an excuse that the house could not be left to

one servant; but in any case she would have remained at home, for her

presence must needs be an embarrassment both to father and daughter.

Alfred was always ashamed of her before strangers; he could not conceal

his feeling, either from her or from other people who had reason for

observing him. Marian was not perhaps ashamed, but such companionship

put restraint upon her freedom. And would it not always be the same?

Supposing Mr Milvain were to come to this house, would it not repel him

when he found what sort of person Marian's mother was?

 

She shed a few tears over her needlework.

 

At midnight the study door opened. Yule came to the dining-room to see

that all was right, and it surprised him to find his wife still sitting

there.

 

'Why are you so late?'

 

'I've forgot the time.'

 

'Forgotten, forgotten. Don't go back to that kind of language again.

Come, put the light out.'

 

PART TWO

 

CHAPTER VIII. TO THE WINNING SIDE

 

Of the acquaintances Yule had retained from his earlier years several

were in the well-defined category of men with unpresentable wives. There

was Hinks, for instance, whom, though in anger he spoke of him as a

bore, Alfred held in some genuine regard. Hinks made perhaps a hundred a

year out of a kind of writing which only certain publishers can get rid

of and of this income he spent about a third on books. His wife was the

daughter of a laundress, in whose house he had lodged thirty years ago,

when new to London but already long-acquainted with hunger; they lived

in complete harmony, but Mrs Hinks, who was four years the elder, still

spoke the laundress tongue, unmitigated and immitigable. Another pair

were Mr and Mrs Gorbutt. In this case there were no narrow circumstances

to contend with, for the wife, originally a nursemaid, not long after

her marriage inherited house property from a relative. Mr Gorbutt deemed

himself a poet; since his accession to an income he had published, at

his own expense, a yearly volume of verses; the only result being to

keep alive rancour in his wife, who was both parsimonious and vain.

Making no secret of it, Mrs Gorbutt rued the day on which she had wedded

a man of letters, when by waiting so short a time she would have been

enabled to aim at a prosperous tradesman, who kept his gig and had

everything handsome about him. Mrs Yule suspected, not without reason,

that this lady had an inclination to strong liquors. Thirdly came Mr

and Mrs Christopherson, who were poor as church mice. Even in a friend's

house they wrangled incessantly, and made tragi-comical revelations

of their home life. The husband worked casually at irresponsible

journalism, but his chosen study was metaphysics; for many years he had

had a huge and profound book on hand, which he believed would bring him

fame, though he was not so unsettled in mind as to hope for anything

else. When an article or two had earned enough money for immediate

necessities he went off to the British Museum, and then the difficulty

was to recall him to profitable exertions. Yet husband and wife had an

affection for each other. Mrs Christopherson came from Camberwell,

where her father, once upon a time, was the smallest of small butchers.

Disagreeable stories were whispered concerning her earlier life, and

probably the metaphysician did not care to look back in that direction.

They had had three children; all were happily buried.

 

These men were capable of better things than they had done or would ever

do; in each case their failure to fulfil youthful promise was largely

explained by the unpresentable wife. They should have waited; they might

have married a social equal at something between fifty and sixty.

 

Another old friend was Mr Quarmby. Unwedded he, and perpetually exultant

over men who, as he phrased it, had noosed themselves. He made a fair

living, but, like Dr Johnson, had no passion for clean linen.

 

Yule was not disdainful of these old companions, and the fact that

all had a habit of looking up to him increased his pleasure in their

occasional society. If, as happened once or twice in half a year,

several of them were gathered together at his house, he tasted a sham

kind of social and intellectual authority which he could not help

relishing. On such occasions he threw off his habitual gloom and talked

vigorously, making natural display of his learning and critical ability.

The topic, sooner or later, was that which is inevitable in such a

circle--the demerits, the pretentiousness, the personal weaknesses of

prominent contemporaries in the world of letters. Then did the room ring

with scornful laughter, with boisterous satire, with shouted irony,

with fierce invective. After an evening of that kind Yule was unwell and

miserable for several days.

 

It was not to be expected that Mr Quarmby, inveterate chatterbox of the

Reading-room and other resorts, should keep silence concerning what he

had heard of Mr Rackett's intentions. The rumour soon spread that

Alfred Yule was to succeed Fadge in the direction of The Study, with the

necessary consequence that Yule found himself an object of affectionate

interest to a great many people of whom he knew little or nothing. At

the same time the genuine old friends pressed warmly about him, with

congratulations, with hints of their sincere readiness to assist in

filling the columns of the paper. All this was not disagreeable, but in

the meantime Yule had heard nothing whatever from Mr Rackett himself and

his doubts did not diminish as week after week went by.

 

The event justified him. At the end of October appeared an authoritative

announcement that Fadge's successor would be--not Alfred Yule, but a

gentleman who till of late had been quietly working as a sub-editor in

the provinces, and who had neither friendships nor enmities among the

people of the London literary press. A young man, comparatively fresh

from the university, and said to be strong in pure scholarship. The

choice, as you are aware, proved a good one, and The Study became an

organ of more repute than ever.

 

Yule had been secretly conscious that it was not to men such as he that

positions of this kind are nowadays entrusted. He tried to persuade

himself that he was not disappointed. But when Mr Quarmby approached him

with blank face, he spoke certain wrathful words which long rankled in

that worthy's mind. At home he kept sullen silence.

 

No, not to such men as he--poor, and without social recommendations.

Besides, he was growing too old. In literature, as in most other

pursuits, the press of energetic young men was making it very hard for

a veteran even to hold the little grazing-plot he had won by hard

fighting. Still, Quarmby's story had not been without foundation; it was

true that the proprietor of The Study had for a moment thought of Alfred

Yule, doubtless as the natural contrast to Clement Fadge, whom he would

have liked to mortify if the thing were possible. But counsellors had

proved to Mr Rackett the disadvantages of such a choice.

 

Mrs Yule and her daughter foresaw but too well the results of this

disappointment, notwithstanding that Alfred announced it to them with

dry indifference. The month that followed was a time of misery for all

in the house. Day after day Yule sat at his meals in sullen muteness; to

his wife he scarcely spoke at all, and his conversation with Marian did

not go beyond necessary questions and remarks on topics of business.

His face became so strange a colour that one would have thought him

suffering from an attack of jaundice; bilious headaches exasperated his

savage mood. Mrs Yule knew from long experience how worse than useless

it was for her to attempt consolation; in silence was her only safety.

Nor did Marian venture to speak directly of what had happened. But

one evening, when she had been engaged in the study and was now saying

'Good-night,' she laid her cheek against her father's, an unwonted

caress which had a strange effect upon him. The expression of sympathy

caused his thoughts to reveal themselves as they never yet had done

before his daughter.

 

'It might have been very different with me,' he exclaimed abruptly, as

if they had already been conversing on the subject. 'When you think

of my failures--and you must often do so now you are grown up and

understand things--don't forget the obstacles that have been in my way.

I don't like you to look upon your father as a thickhead who couldn't

be expected to succeed. Look at Fadge. He married a woman of good social

position; she brought him friends and influence. But for that he would

never have been editor of The Study, a place for which he wasn't in the

least fit. But he was able to give dinners; he and his wife went into

society; everybody knew him and talked of him. How has it been with

me? I live here like an animal in its hole, and go blinking about if

by chance I find myself among the people with whom I ought naturally to

associate. If I had been able to come in direct contact with Rackett and

other men of that kind, to dine with them, and have them to dine with

me, to belong to a club, and so on, I shouldn't be what I am at my age.

My one opportunity--when I edited The Balance--wasn't worth much; there

was no money behind the paper; we couldn't hold out long enough. But

even then, if I could have assumed my proper social standing, if I could

have opened my house freely to the right kind of people--How was it

possible?'

 

Marian could not raise her head. She recognised the portion of truth in

what he said, but it shocked her that he should allow himself to speak

thus. Her silence seemed to remind him how painful it must be to her to

hear these accusations of her mother, and with a sudden 'Good-night' he

dismissed her.

 

She went up to her room, and wept over the wretchedness of all their

lives. Her loneliness had seemed harder to bear than ever since that

last holiday. For a moment, in the lanes about Finden, there had come to

her a vision of joy such as fate owed her youth; but it had faded, and

she could no longer hope for its return. She was not a woman, but a mere

machine for reading and writing. Did her father never think of this? He

was not the only one to suffer from the circumstances in which poverty

had involved him.

 

She had no friends to whom she could utter her thoughts. Dora Milvain

had written a second time, and more recently had come a letter from

Maud; but in replying to them she could not give a true account of

herself. Impossible, to them. From what she wrote they would imagine her

contentedly busy, absorbed in the affairs of literature. To no one could

she make known the aching sadness of her heart, the dreariness of life

as it lay before her.

 

That beginning of half-confidence between her and her mother had led to

nothing. Mrs Yule found no second opportunity of speaking to her husband

about Jasper Milvain, and purposely she refrained from any further hint

or question to Marian. Everything must go on as hitherto.

 

The days darkened. Through November rains and fogs Marian went her usual

way to the Museum, and toiled there among the other toilers. Perhaps

once a week she allowed herself to stray about the alleys of the

Reading-room, scanning furtively those who sat at the desks, but the

face she might perchance have discovered was not there.

 

One day at the end of the month she sat with books open before her, but

by no effort could fix her attention upon them. It was gloomy, and one

could scarcely see to read; a taste of fog grew perceptible in the warm,

headachy air. Such profound discouragement possessed her that she

could not even maintain the pretence of study; heedless whether anyone

observed her, she let her hands fall and her head droop. She kept asking

herself what was the use and purpose of such a life as she was condemned

to lead. When already there was more good literature in the world than

any mortal could cope with in his lifetime, here was she exhausting

herself in the manufacture of printed stuff which no one even pretended

to be more than a commodity for the day's market. What unspeakable

folly! To write--was not that the joy and the privilege of one who had

an urgent message for the world?

 

Her father, she knew well, had no such message; he had abandoned all

thought of original production, and only wrote about writing.

 

She herself would throw away her pen with joy but for the need of

earning money. And all these people about her, what aim had they save to

make new books out of those already existing, that yet newer books

might in turn be made out of theirs? This huge library, growing into

unwieldiness, threatening to become a trackless desert of print--how

intolerably it weighed upon the spirit!

 

Oh, to go forth and labour with one's hands, to do any poorest,

commonest work of which the world had truly need! It was ignoble to sit

here and support the paltry pretence of intellectual dignity. A few

days ago her startled eye had caught an advertisement in the newspaper,

headed 'Literary Machine'; had it then been invented at last, some

automaton to supply the place of such poor creatures as herself to

turn out books and articles? Alas! the machine was only one for holding

volumes conveniently, that the work of literary manufacture might be

physically lightened. But surely before long some Edison would make the

true automaton; the problem must be comparatively such a simple one.

Only to throw in a given number of old books, and have them reduced,

blended, modernised into a single one for to-day's consumption.

 

The fog grew thicker; she looked up at the windows beneath the dome and

saw that they were a dusky yellow. Then her eye discerned an official

walking along the upper gallery, and in pursuance of her grotesque

humour, her mocking misery, she likened him to a black, lost soul,

doomed to wander in an eternity of vain research along endless shelves.

Or again, the readers who sat here at these radiating lines of desks,

what were they but hapless flies caught in a huge web, its nucleus the

great circle of the Catalogue? Darker, darker. From the towering wall of

volumes seemed to emanate visible motes, intensifying the obscurity;

in a moment the book-lined circumference of the room would be but a

featureless prison-limit.

 

But then flashed forth the sputtering whiteness of the electric light,

and its ceaseless hum was henceforth a new source of headache. It

reminded her how little work she had done to-day; she must, she must

force herself to think of the task in hand. A machine has no business to

refuse its duty. But the pages were blue and green and yellow before her

eyes; the uncertainty of the light was intolerable. Right or wrong she

would go home, and hide herself, and let her heart unburden itself of

tears.

 

On her way to return books she encountered Jasper Milvain. Face to face;

no possibility of his avoiding her.

 

And indeed he seemed to have no such wish. His countenance lighted up

with unmistakable pleasure.

 

'At last we meet, as they say in the melodramas. Oh, do let me help you

with those volumes, which won't even let you shake hands. How do you do?

How do you like this weather? And how do you like this light?'

 

'It's very bad.'

 

'That'll do both for weather and light, but not for yourself. How glad I

am to see you! Are you just going?'

 

'Yes.'

 

'I have scarcely been here half-a-dozen times since I came back to

London.'

 

'But you are writing still?'

 

'Oh yes! But I draw upon my genius, and my stores of observation, and

the living world.'

 

Marian received her vouchers for the volumes, and turned to face Jasper

again. There was a smile on her lips.

 

'The fog is terrible,' Milvain went on. 'How do you get home?'

 

'By omnibus from Tottenham Court Road.'

 

'Then do let me go a part of the way with you. I live in Mornington

Road--up yonder, you know. I have only just come in to waste half an

hour, and after all I think I should be better at home. Your father is

all right, I hope?'

 

'He is not quite well.'

 

'I'm sorry to hear that. You are not exactly up to the mark, either.

What weather! What a place to live in, this London, in winter! It would

be a little better down at Finden.'

 

'A good deal better, I should think. If the weather were bad, it would

be bad in a natural way; but this is artificial misery.'

 

'I don't let it affect me much,' said Milvain. 'Just of late I have

been in remarkably good spirits. I'm doing a lot of work. No end of

work--more than I've ever done.'

 

'I am very glad.'

 

'Where are your out-of-door things? I think there's a ladies' vestry

somewhere, isn't there?'

 

'Oh yes.'

 

'Then will you go and get ready? I'll wait for you in the hall. But,

by-the-bye, I am taking it for granted that you were going alone.'

 

'I was, quite alone.'

 

The 'quite' seemed excessive; it made Jasper smile.

 

'And also,' he added, 'that I shall not annoy you by offering my

company?'

 

'Why should it annoy me?'

 

'Good!'

 

Milvain had only to wait a minute or two. He surveyed Marian from head

to foot when she appeared--an impertinence as unintentional as that

occasionally noticeable in his speech--and smiled approval. They went

out into the fog, which was not one of London's densest, but made

walking disagreeable enough.

 

'You have heard from the girls, I think?' Jasper resumed.

 

'Your sisters? Yes; they have been so kind as to write to me.'

 

'Told you all about their great work? I hope it'll be finished by the

end of the year. The bits they have sent me will do very well indeed. I

knew they had it in them to put sentences together. Now I want them to

think of patching up something or other for The English Girl; you know

the paper?'

 

'I have heard of it.'

 

'I happen to know Mrs Boston Wright, who edits it. Met her at a house

the other day, and told her frankly that she would have to give my

sisters something to do. It's the only way to get on; one has to take it

for granted that people are willing to help you. I have made a host of

new acquaintances just lately.'

 

'I'm glad to hear it,' said Marian.

 

'Do you know--but how should you? I am going to write for the new

magazine, The Current.'

 

'Indeed!'

 

'Edited by that man Fadge.'

 

'Yes.'

 

'Your father has no affection for him, I know.'

 

'He has no reason to have, Mr Milvain.'

 

'No, no. Fadge is an offensive fellow, when he likes; and I fancy he

very often does like. Well, I must make what use of him I can.

 

You won't think worse of me because I write for him?'

 

'I know that one can't exercise choice in such things.'

 

'True. I shouldn't like to think that you regard me as a Fadge-like

individual, a natural Fadgeite.'

 

Marian laughed.

 

'There's no danger of my thinking that.'

 

But the fog was making their eyes water and getting into their throats.

By when they reached Tottenham Court Road they were both thoroughly

uncomfortable. The 'bus had to be waited for, and in the meantime they

talked scrappily, coughily. In the vehicle things were a little better,

but here one could not converse with freedom.

 

'What pestilent conditions of life!' exclaimed Jasper, putting his face

rather near to Marian's. 'I wish to goodness we were back in those quiet

fields--you remember?--with the September sun warm about us. Shall you

go to Finden again before long?'

 

'I really don't know.'

 

'I'm sorry to say my mother is far from well. In any case I must go at

Christmas, but I'm afraid it won't be a cheerful visit.'

 

Arrived in Hampstead Road he offered his hand for good-bye.

 

'I wanted to talk about all sorts of things. But perhaps I shall find

you again some day.'

 

He jumped out, and waved his hat in the lurid fog.

 

Shortly before the end of December appeared the first number of The

Current. Yule had once or twice referred to the forthcoming magazine

with acrid contempt, and of course he did not purchase a copy.

 

'So young Milvain has joined Fadge's hopeful standard,' he remarked,

a day or two later, at breakfast. 'They say his paper is remarkably

clever; I could wish it had appeared anywhere else.

 

Evil communications, &c.'

 

'But I shouldn't think there's any personal connection,' said Marian.

 

'Very likely not. But Milvain has been invited to contribute, you see.

 

'Do you think he ought to have refused?'

 

'Oh no. It's nothing to me; nothing whatever.'

 

Mrs Yule glanced at her daughter, but Marian seemed unconcerned. The

subject was dismissed. In introducing it Yule had had his purpose;

there had always been an unnatural avoidance of Milvain's name in

conversation, and he wished to have an end of this. Hitherto he had felt

a troublesome uncertainty regarding his position in the matter. From

what his wife had told him it seemed pretty certain that Marian was

disappointed by the abrupt closing of her brief acquaintance with the

young man, and Yule's affection for his daughter caused him to feel

uneasy in the thought that perhaps he had deprived her of a chance of

happiness. His conscience readily took hold of an excuse for justifying

the course he had followed. Milvain had gone over to the enemy. Whether

or not the young man understood how relentless the hostility was between

Yule and Fadge mattered little; the probability was that he knew

all about it. In any case intimate relations with him could not have

survived this alliance with Fadge, so that, after all, there had been

wisdom in letting the acquaintance lapse. To be sure, nothing could have

come of it. Milvain was the kind of man who weighed opportunities; every

step he took would be regulated by considerations of advantage; at all

events that was the impression his character had made upon Yule. Any

hopes that Marian might have been induced to form would assuredly have

ended in disappointment. It was kindness to interpose before things had

gone so far.

 

Henceforth, if Milvain's name was unavoidable, it should be mentioned

just like that of any other literary man. It seemed very unlikely indeed

that Marian would continue to think of him with any special and personal

interest. The fact of her having got into correspondence with his

sisters was unfortunate, but this kind of thing rarely went on for very

long.

 

Yule spoke of the matter with his wife that evening.

 

'By-the-bye, has Marian heard from those girls at Finden lately?'

 

'She had a letter one afternoon last week.'

 

'Do you see these letters?'

 

'No; she told me what was in them at first, but now she doesn't.'

 

'She hasn't spoken to you again of Milvain?'

 

'Not a word.'

 

'Well, I understood what I was about,' Yule remarked, with the confident

air of one who doesn't wish to remember that he had ever felt doubtful.

'There was no good in having the fellow here.

 

He has got in with a set that I don't at all care for. If she ever says

anything--you understand--you can just let me know.'

 

Marian had already procured a copy of The Current, and read it

privately. Of the cleverness of Milvain's contribution there could be

no two opinions; it drew the attention of the public, and all notices

of the new magazine made special reference to this article. With keen

interest Marian sought after comments of the press; when it was possible

she cut them out and put them carefully away.

 

January passed, and February. She saw nothing of Jasper. A letter from

Dora in the first week of March made announcement that the 'Child's

History of the English Parliament' would be published very shortly; it

told her, too, that Mrs Milvain had been very ill indeed, but that she

seemed to recover a little strength as the weather improved. Of Jasper

there was no mention.

 

A week later came the news that Mrs Milvain had suddenly died.

 

This letter was received at breakfast-time. The envelope was an ordinary

one, and so little did Marian anticipate the nature of its contents that

at the first sight of the words she uttered an exclamation of pain.

Her father, who had turned from the table to the fireside with his

newspaper, looked round and asked what was the matter.

 

'Mrs Milvain died the day before yesterday.'

 

'Indeed!'

 

He averted his face again and seemed disposed to say no more. But in a

few moments he inquired:

 

'What are her daughters likely to do?'

 

'I have no idea.'

 

'Do you know anything of their circumstances?'

 

'I believe they will have to depend upon themselves.'

 

Nothing more was said. Afterwards Mrs Yule made a few sympathetic

inquiries, but Marian was very brief in her replies.

 

Ten days after that, on a Sunday afternoon when Marian and her mother

were alone in the sitting-room, they heard the knock of a visitor at the

front door. Yule was out, and there was no likelihood of the visitor's

wishing to see anyone but him. They listened; the servant went to the

door, and, after a murmur of voices, came to speak to her mistress.

 

'It's a gentleman called Mr Milvain,' the girl reported, in a way that

proved how seldom callers presented themselves. 'He asked for Mr Yule,

and when I said he was out, then he asked for Miss Yule.' Mother and

daughter looked anxiously at each other. Mrs Yule was nervous and

helpless.

 

'Show Mr Milvain into the study,' said Marian, with sudden decision.

 

'Are you going to see him there?' asked her mother in a hurried whisper.

 

'I thought you would prefer that to his coming in here.'

 

'Yes--yes. But suppose father comes back before he's gone?'

 

'What will it matter? You forget that he asked for father first.'

 

'Oh yes! Then don't wait.'

 

Marian, scarcely less agitated than her mother, was just leaving the

room, when she turned back again.

 

'If father comes in, you will tell him before he goes into the study?'

 

'Yes, I will.'

 

The fire in the study was on the point of extinction; this was the first

thing Marian's eye perceived on entering, and it gave her assurance that

her father would not be back for some hours. Evidently he had intended

it to go out; small economies of this kind, unintelligible to people who

have always lived at ease, had been the life-long rule with him. With a

sensation of gladness at having free time before her, Marian turned to

where Milvain was standing, in front of one of the bookcases. He wore no

symbol of mourning, but his countenance was far graver than usual, and

rather paler. They shook hands in silence.

 

'I am so grieved--' Marian began with broken voice.

 

'Thank you. I know the girls have told you all about it. We knew for the

last month that it must come before long, though there was a deceptive

improvement just before the end.'

 

'Please to sit down, Mr Milvain. Father went out not long ago, and I

don't think he will be back very soon.'

 

'It was not really Mr Yule I wished to see,' said Jasper, frankly. 'If

he had been at home I should have spoken with him about what I have

in mind, but if you will kindly give me a few minutes it will be much

better.'

 

Marian glanced at the expiring fire. Her curiosity as to what Milvain

had to say was mingled with an anxious doubt whether it was not too late

to put on fresh coals; already the room was growing very chill, and this

appearance of inhospitality troubled her.

 

'Do you wish to save it?' Jasper asked, understanding her look and

movement.

 

'I'm afraid it has got too low.'

 

'I think not. Life in lodgings has made me skilful at this kind of

thing; let me try my hand.'

 

He took the tongs and carefully disposed small pieces of coal upon

the glow that remained. Marian stood apart with a feeling of shame

and annoyance. But it is so seldom that situations in life arrange

themselves with dramatic propriety; and, after all, this vulgar

necessity made the beginning of the conversation easier.

 

'That will be all right now,' said Jasper at length, as little tongues

of flame began to shoot here and there.

 

Marian said nothing, but seated herself and waited.

 

'I came up to town yesterday,' Jasper began. 'Of course we have had a

great deal to do and think about. Miss Harrow has been very kind indeed

to the girls; so have several of our old friends in Wattleborough. It

was necessary to decide at once what Maud and Dora are going to do, and

it is on their account that I have come to see you.

 

The listener kept silence, with a face of sympathetic attention.

 

'We have made up our minds that they may as well come to London. It's a

bold step; I'm by no means sure that the result will justify it. But I

think they are perhaps right in wishing to try it.'

 

'They will go on with literary work?'

 

'Well, it's our hope that they may be able to. Of course there's no

chance of their earning enough to live upon for some time. But the

matter stands like this. They have a trifling sum of money, on which,

at a pinch, they could live in London for perhaps a year and a half. In

that time they may find their way to a sort of income; at all events,

the chances are that a year and a half hence I shall be able to help

them to keep body and soul together.'

 

The money of which he spoke was the debt owed to their father by William

Milvain. In consequence of Mrs Milvain's pressing application, half of

this sum had at length been paid and the remainder was promised in a

year's time, greatly to Jasper's astonishment. In addition, there would

be the trifle realised by the sale of furniture, though most of this

might have to go in payment of rent unless the house could be relet

immediately.

 

'They have made a good beginning,' said Marian.

 

She spoke mechanically, for it was impossible to keep her thoughts under

control. If Maud and Dora came to live in London it might bring about

a most important change in her life; she could scarcely imagine the

happiness of having two such friends always near. On the other hand, how

would it be regarded by her father? She was at a loss amid conflicting

emotions.

 

'It's better than if they had done nothing at all,' Jasper replied to

her remark. 'And the way they knocked that trifle together promises

well. They did it very quickly, and in a far more workmanlike way than I

should have thought possible.'

 

'No doubt they share your own talent.'

 

'Perhaps so. Of course I know that I have talent of a kind, though

I don't rate it very high. We shall have to see whether they can do

anything more than mere booksellers' work; they are both very young,

you know. I think they may be able to write something that'll do for The

English Girl, and no doubt I can hit upon a second idea that will appeal

to Jolly and Monk. At all events, they'll have books within reach, and

better opportunities every way than at Finden.'

 

'How do their friends in the country think of it?'

 

'Very dubiously; but then what else was to be expected? Of course, the

respectable and intelligible path marked out for both of them points

to a lifetime of governessing. But the girls have no relish for that;

they'd rather do almost anything. We talked over all the aspects of the

situation seriously enough--it is desperately serious, no doubt of that.

I told them fairly all the hardships they would have to face--described

the typical London lodgings, and so on. Still, there's an adventurous

vein in them, and they decided for the risk. If it came to the worst I

suppose they could still find governess work.'

 

'Let us hope better things.'

 

'Yes. But now, I should have felt far more reluctant to let them come

here in this way hadn't it been that they regard you as a friend.

To-morrow morning you will probably hear from one or both of them.

Perhaps it would have been better if I had left them to tell you all

this, but I felt I should like to see you and--put it in my own way. I

think you'll understand this feeling, Miss Yule. I wanted, in fact, to

hear from yourself that you would be a friend to the poor girls.'

 

'Oh, you already know that! I shall be so very glad to see them often.'

 

Marian's voice lent itself very naturally and sweetly to the expression

of warm feeling. Emphasis was not her habit; it only needed that she

should put off her ordinary reserve, utter quietly the emotional thought

which so seldom might declare itself, and her tones had an exquisite

womanliness.

 

Jasper looked full into her face.

 

'In that case they won't miss the comfort of home so much. Of course

they will have to go into very modest lodgings indeed. I have already

been looking about. I should like to find rooms for them somewhere near

my own place; it's a decent neighbourhood, and the park is at hand,

and then they wouldn't be very far from you. They thought it might be

possible to make a joint establishment with me, but I'm afraid that's

out of the question.

 

The lodgings we should want in that case, everything considered, would

cost more than the sum of our expenses if we live apart. Besides,

there's no harm in saying that I don't think we should get along very

well together. We're all of us rather quarrelsome, to tell the truth,

and we try each other's tempers.'

 

Marian smiled and looked puzzled.

 

'Shouldn't you have thought that?'

 

'I have seen no signs of quarrelsomeness.'

 

'I'm not sure that the worst fault is on my side. Why should one condemn

oneself against conscience? Maud is perhaps the hardest to get along

with. She has a sort of arrogance, an exaggeration of something I am

quite aware of in myself. You have noticed that trait in me?'

 

'Arrogance--I think not. You have self-confidence.'

 

'Which goes into extremes now and then. But, putting myself aside, I

feel pretty sure that the girls won't seem quarrelsome to you; they

would have to be very fractious indeed before that were possible.'

 

'We shall continue to be friends, I am sure.'

 

Jasper let his eyes wander about the room.

 

'This is your father's study?'

 

'Yes.'

 

'Perhaps it would have seemed odd to Mr Yule if I had come in and begun

to talk to him about these purely private affairs. He knows me so very

slightly. But, in calling here for the first time--'

 

An unusual embarrassment checked him.

 

'I will explain to father your very natural wish to speak of these

things,' said Marian, with tact.

 

She thought uneasily of her mother in the next room. To her there

appeared no reason whatever why Jasper should not be introduced to Mrs

Yule, yet she could not venture to propose it. Remembering her father's

last remarks about Milvain in connection with Fadge's magazine, she must

wait for distinct permission before offering the young man encouragement

to repeat his visit. Perhaps there was complicated trouble in store

for her; impossible to say how her father's deep-rooted and rankling

antipathies might affect her intercourse even with the two girls. But

she was of independent years; she must be allowed the choice of her

own friends. The pleasure she had in seeing Jasper under this roof, in

hearing him talk with such intimate friendliness, strengthened her to

resist timid thoughts.

 

'When will your sisters arrive?' she asked.

 

'I think in a very few days. When I have fixed upon lodgings for them I

must go back to Finden; then they will return with me as soon as we

can get the house emptied. It's rather miserable selling things one has

lived among from childhood. A friend in Wattleborough will house for us

what we really can't bear to part with.'

 

'It must be very sad,' Marian murmured.

 

'You know,' said the other suddenly, 'that it's my fault the girls are

left in such a hard position?'

 

Marian looked at him with startled eyes. His tone was quite unfamiliar

to her.

 

'Mother had an annuity,' he continued. 'It ended with her life, but if

it hadn't been for me she could have saved a good deal out of it. Until

the last year or two I have earned nothing, and I have spent more

than was strictly necessary. Well, I didn't live like that in mere

recklessness; I knew I was preparing myself for remunerative work. But

it seems too bad now. I'm sorry for it. I wish I had found some way of

supporting myself. The end of mother's life was made far more unhappy

than it need have been. I should like you to understand all this.'

 

The listener kept her eyes on the ground.

 

'Perhaps the girls have hinted it to you?' Jasper added.

 

'No.'

 

'Selfishness--that's one of my faults. It isn't a brutal kind of

selfishness; the thought of it often enough troubles me. If I were rich,

I should be a generous and good man; I know I should. So would many

another poor fellow whose worst features come out under hardship. This

isn't a heroic type; of course not. I am a civilised man, that's all.'

 

Marian could say nothing.

 

'You wonder why I am so impertinent as to talk about myself like this.

I have gone through a good deal of mental pain these last few weeks,

and somehow I can't help showing you something of my real thoughts. Just

because you are one of the few people I regard with sincere respect.

I don't know you very well, but quite well enough to respect you. My

sisters think of you in the same way. I shall do many a base thing in

life, just to get money and reputation; I tell you this that you mayn't

be surprised if anything of that kind comes to your ears. I can't afford

to live as I should like to.'

 

She looked up at him with a smile.

 

'People who are going to live unworthily don't declare it in this way.'

 

'I oughtn't to; a few minutes ago I had no intention of saying such

things. It means I am rather overstrung, I suppose; but it's all true,

unfortunately.'

 

He rose, and began to run his eye along the shelves nearest to him.

 

'Well, now I will go, Miss Yule.'

 

Marian stood up as he approached.

 

'It's all very well,' he said, smiling, 'for me to encourage my sisters

in the hope that they may earn a living; but suppose I can't even do it

myself? It's by no means certain that I shall make ends meet this year.'

 

'You have every reason to hope, I think.'

 

'I like to hear people say that, but it'll mean savage work. When we

were all at Finden last year, I told the girls that it would be another

twelve months before I could support myself. Now I am forced to do

it. And I don't like work; my nature is lazy. I shall never write for

writing's sake, only to make money. All my plans and efforts will have

money in view--all. I shan't allow anything to come in the way of my

material advancement.'

 

'I wish you every success,' said Marian, without looking at him, and

without a smile.

 

'Thank you. But that sounds too much like good-bye. I trust we are to be

friends, for all that?'

 

'Indeed, I hope we may be.'

 

They shook hands, and he went towards the door. But before opening it,

he asked:

 

'Did you read that thing of mine in The Current?'

 

'Yes, I did.'

 

'It wasn't bad, I think?'

 

'It seemed to me very clever.'

 

'Clever--yes, that's the word. It had a success, too. I have as good a

thing half done for the April number, but I've felt too heavy-hearted to

go on with it. The girls shall let you know when they are in town.'

 

Marian followed him into the passage, and watched him as he opened the

front door. When it had closed, she went back into the study for a few

minutes before rejoining her mother.

 

 

 

CHAPTER IX. INVITA MINERVA

 

After all, there came a day when Edwin Reardon found himself regularly

at work once more, ticking off his stipulated quantum of manuscript each

four-and-twenty hours. He wrote a very small hand; sixty written slips

of the kind of paper he habitually used would represent--thanks to the

astonishing system which prevails in such matters: large type, wide

spacing, frequency of blank pages--a passable three-hundred-page volume.

On an average he could write four such slips a day; so here we have

fifteen days for the volume, and forty-five for the completed book.

 

Forty-five days; an eternity in the looking forward. Yet the calculation

gave him a faint-hearted encouragement. At that rate he might have

his book sold by Christmas. It would certainly not bring him a hundred

pounds; seventy-five perhaps. But even that small sum would enable him

to pay the quarter's rent, and then give him a short time, if only two

or three weeks, of mental rest. If such rest could not be obtained all

was at an end with him. He must either find some new means of supporting

himself and his family, or--have done with life and its responsibilities

altogether.

 

The latter alternative was often enough before him. He seldom slept for

more than two or three consecutive hours in the night, and the time

of wakefulness was often terrible. The various sounds which marked the

stages from midnight to dawn had grown miserably familiar to him; worst

torture to his mind was the chiming and striking of clocks. Two of these

were in general audible, that of Marylebone parish church, and that of

the adjoining workhouse; the latter always sounded several minutes after

its ecclesiastical neighbour, and with a difference of note which seemed

to Reardon very appropriate--a thin, querulous voice, reminding one of

the community it represented. After lying awake for awhile he would hear

quarters sounding; if they ceased before the fourth he was glad, for

he feared to know what time it was. If the hour was complete, he waited

anxiously for its number. Two, three, even four, were grateful; there

was still a long time before he need rise and face the dreaded task, the

horrible four blank slips of paper that had to be filled ere he might

sleep again. But such restfulness was only for a moment; no sooner had

the workhouse bell become silent than he began to toil in his weary

imagination, or else, incapable of that, to vision fearful hazards of

the future. The soft breathing of Amy at his side, the contact of her

warm limbs, often filled him with intolerable dread. Even now he did not

believe that Amy loved him with the old love, and the suspicion was like

a cold weight at his heart that to retain even her wifely sympathy, her

wedded tenderness, he must achieve the impossible.

 

The impossible; for he could no longer deceive himself with a hope of

genuine success. If he earned a bare living, that would be the utmost.

And with bare livelihood Amy would not, could not, be content.

 

If he were to die a natural death it would be well for all. His wife and

the child would be looked after; they could live with Mrs Edmund Yule,

and certainly it would not be long before Amy married again, this time a

man of whose competency to maintain her there would be no doubt. His own

behaviour had been cowardly selfishness. Oh yes, she had loved him, had

been eager to believe in him. But there was always that voice of warning

in his mind; he foresaw--he knew--

 

And if he killed himself? Not here; no lurid horrors for that poor girl

and her relatives; but somewhere at a distance, under circumstances

which would render the recovery of his body difficult, yet would leave

no doubt of his death. Would that, again, be cowardly? The opposite,

when once it was certain that to live meant poverty and wretchedness.

Amy's grief, however sincere, would be but a short trial compared with

what else might lie before her. The burden of supporting her and Willie

would be a very slight one if she went to live in her mother's house.

He considered the whole matter night after night, until perchance it

happened that sleep had pity upon him for an hour before the time of

rising.

 

Autumn was passing into winter. Dark days, which were always an

oppression to his mind, began to be frequent, and would soon succeed

each other remorselessly. Well, if only each of them represented four

written slips.

 

Milvain's advice to him had of course proved useless. The sensational

title suggested nothing, or only ragged shapes of incomplete humanity

that fluttered mockingly when he strove to fix them. But he had decided

upon a story of the kind natural to him; a 'thin' story, and one which

it would be difficult to spin into three volumes. His own, at all

events. The title was always a matter for head-racking when the book was

finished; he had never yet chosen it before beginning.

 

For a week he got on at the desired rate; then came once more the crisis

he had anticipated.

 

A familiar symptom of the malady which falls upon outwearied

imagination. There were floating in his mind five or six possible

subjects for a book, all dating back to the time when he first began

novel-writing, when ideas came freshly to him. If he grasped desperately

at one of these, and did his best to develop it, for a day or two he

could almost content himself; characters, situations, lines of motive,

were laboriously schemed, and he felt ready to begin writing. But

scarcely had he done a chapter or two when all the structure fell into

flatness. He had made a mistake. Not this story, but that other one, was

what he should have taken. The other one in question, left out of mind

for a time, had come back with a face of new possibility; it invited

him, tempted him to throw aside what he had already written. Good;

now he was in more hopeful train. But a few days, and the experience

repeated itself. No, not this story, but that third one, of which he

had not thought for a long time. How could he have rejected so hopeful a

subject?

 

For months he had been living in this way; endless circling, perpetual

beginning, followed by frustration. A sign of exhaustion, it of course

made exhaustion more complete. At times he was on the border-land of

imbecility; his mind looked into a cloudy chaos, a shapeless whirl of

nothings. He talked aloud to himself, not knowing that he did so. Little

phrases which indicated dolorously the subject of his preoccupation

often escaped him in the street: 'What could I make of that, now?'

'Well, suppose I made him--?' 'But no, that wouldn't do,' and so on.

It had happened that he caught the eye of some one passing fixed in

surprise upon him; so young a man to be talking to himself in evident

distress!

 

The expected crisis came, even now that he was savagely determined to

go on at any cost, to write, let the result be what it would. His will

prevailed. A day or two of anguish such as there is no describing to the

inexperienced, and again he was dismissing slip after slip, a sigh of

thankfulness at the completion of each one. It was a fraction of the

whole, a fraction, a fraction.

 

The ordering of his day was thus. At nine, after breakfast, he sat down

to his desk, and worked till one. Then came dinner, followed by a walk.

As a rule he could not allow Amy to walk with him, for he had to think

over the remainder of the day's toil, and companionship would have been

fatal. At about half-past three he again seated himself; and wrote until

half-past six, when he had a meal. Then once more to work from half-past

seven to ten. Numberless were the experiments he had tried for the day's

division. The slightest interruption of the order for the time being put

him out of gear; Amy durst not open his door to ask however necessary a

question.

 

Sometimes the three hours' labour of a morning resulted in half-a-dozen

lines, corrected into illegibility. His brain would not work; he could

not recall the simplest synonyms; intolerable faults of composition

drove him mad. He would write a sentence beginning thus: 'She took a

book with a look of--;' or thus: 'A revision of this decision would

have made him an object of derision.' Or, if the period were otherwise

inoffensive, it ran in a rhythmic gallop which was torment to the ear.

All this, in spite of the fact that his former books had been noticeably

good in style. He had an appreciation of shapely prose which made him

scorn himself for the kind of stuff he was now turning out. 'I can't

help it; it must go; the time is passing.'

 

Things were better, as a rule, in the evening. Occasionally he wrote a

page with fluency which recalled his fortunate years; and then his heart

gladdened, his hand trembled with joy.

 

Description of locality, deliberate analysis of character or motive,

demanded far too great an effort for his present condition. He kept as

much as possible to dialogue; the space is filled so much more quickly,

and at a pinch one can make people talk about the paltriest incidents of

life.

 

There came an evening when he opened the door and called to Amy.

 

'What is it?' she answered from the bedroom. 'I'm busy with Willie.'

 

'Come as soon as you are free.'

 

In ten minutes she appeared. There was apprehension on her face; she

feared he was going to lament his inability to work. Instead of that, he

told her joyfully that the first volume was finished.

 

'Thank goodness!' she exclaimed. 'Are you going to do any more

to-night?'

 

'I think not--if you will come and sit with me.'

 

'Willie doesn't seem very well. He can't get to sleep.'

 

'You would like to stay with him?'

 

'A little while. I'll come presently.'

 

She closed the door. Reardon brought a high-backed chair to the

fireside, and allowed himself to forget the two volumes that had still

to be struggled through, in a grateful sense of the portion that

was achieved. In a few minutes it occurred to him that it would be

delightful to read a scrap of the 'Odyssey'; he went to the shelves on

which were his classical books, took the desired volume, and opened it

where Odysseus speaks to Nausicaa:

 

'For never yet did I behold one of mortals like to thee, neither man nor

woman; I am awed as I look upon thee. In Delos once, hard by the altar

of Apollo, I saw a young palm-tree shooting up with even such a grace.'

 

Yes, yes; THAT was not written at so many pages a day, with a workhouse

clock clanging its admonition at the poet's ear. How it freshened the

soul! How the eyes grew dim with a rare joy in the sounding of those

nobly sweet hexameters!

 

Amy came into the room again.

 

'Listen,' said Reardon, looking up at her with a bright smile. 'Do you

remember the first time that I read you this?'

 

And he turned the speech into free prose. Amy laughed.

 

'I remember it well enough. We were alone in the drawing-room; I had

told the others that they must make shift with the dining-room for that

evening. And you pulled the book out of your pocket unexpectedly. I

laughed at your habit of always carrying little books about.'

 

The cheerful news had brightened her. If she had been summoned to hear

lamentations her voice would not have rippled thus soothingly. Reardon

thought of this, and it made him silent for a minute.

 

'The habit was ominous,' he said, looking at her with an uncertain

smile. 'A practical literary man doesn't do such things.'

 

'Milvain, for instance. No.'

 

With curious frequency she mentioned the name of Milvain. Her

unconsciousness in doing so prevented Reardon from thinking about the

fact; still, he had noted it.

 

'Did you understand the phrase slightingly?' he asked.

 

'Slightingly? Yes, a little, of course. It always has that sense on your

lips, I think.'

 

In the light of this answer he mused upon her readily-offered instance.

True, he had occasionally spoken of Jasper with something less than

respect, but Amy was not in the habit of doing so.

 

'I hadn't any such meaning just then,' he said. 'I meant quite

simply that my bookish habits didn't promise much for my success as a

novelist.'

 

'I see. But you didn't think of it in that way at the time.'

 

He sighed.

 

'No. At least--no.'

 

'At least what?'

 

'Well, no; on the whole I had good hope.'

 

Amy twisted her fingers together impatiently.

 

'Edwin, let me tell you something. You are getting too fond of speaking

in a discouraging way. Now, why should you do so? I don't like it. It

has one disagreeable effect on me, and that is, when people ask me about

you, how you are getting on, I don't quite know how to answer. They

can't help seeing that I am uneasy. I speak so differently from what I

used to.'

 

'Do you, really?'

 

'Indeed I can't help it. As I say, it's very much your own fault.'

 

'Well, but granted that I am not of a very sanguine nature, and that I

easily fall into gloomy ways of talk, what is Amy here for?'

 

'Yes, yes. But--'

 

'But?'

 

'I am not here only to try and keep you in good spirits, am I?'

 

She asked it prettily, with a smile like that of maidenhood.

 

'Heaven forbid! I oughtn't to have put it in that absolute way. I was

half joking, you know. But unfortunately it's true that I can't be as

light-spirited as I could wish. Does that make you impatient with me?'

 

'A little. I can't help the feeling, and I ought to try to overcome it.

But you must try on your side as well. Why should you have said that

thing just now?'

 

'You're quite right. It was needless.'

 

'A few weeks ago I didn't expect you to be cheerful. Things began

to look about as bad as they could. But now that you've got a volume

finished, there's hope once more.'

 

Hope? Of what quality? Reardon durst not say what rose in his thoughts.

'A very small, poor hope. Hope of money enough to struggle through

another half year, if indeed enough for that.' He had learnt that Amy

was not to be told the whole truth about anything as he himself saw it.

It was a pity. To the ideal wife a man speaks out all that is in him;

she had infinitely rather share his full conviction than be treated as

one from whom facts must be disguised. She says: 'Let us face the worst

and talk of it together, you and I.' No, Amy was not the ideal wife

from that point of view. But the moment after this half-reproach had

traversed his consciousness he condemned himself; and looked with the

joy of love into her clear eyes.

 

'Yes, there's hope once more, my dearest. No more gloomy talk to-night!

I have read you something, now you shall read something to me; it is a

long time since I delighted myself with listening to you. What shall it

be?'

 

'I feel rather too tired to-night.'

 

'Do you?'

 

'I have had to look after Willie so much. But read me some more Homer; I

shall be very glad to listen.'

 

Reardon reached for the book again, but not readily. His face showed

disappointment. Their evenings together had never been the same since

the birth of the child; Willie was always an excuse--valid enough--for

Amy's feeling tired. The little boy had come between him and the mother,

as must always be the case in poor homes, most of all where the poverty

is relative. Reardon could not pass the subject without a remark, but he

tried to speak humorously.

 

'There ought to be a huge public creche in London. It's monstrous that

an educated mother should have to be nursemaid.'

 

'But you know very well I think nothing of that. A creche, indeed! No

child of mine should go to any such place.'

 

There it was. She grudged no trouble on behalf of the child. That was

love; whereas--But then maternal love was a mere matter of course.

 

'As soon as you get two or three hundred pounds for a book,' she added,

laughing, 'there'll be no need for me to give so much time.'

 

'Two or three hundred pounds!' He repeated it with a shake of the head.

'Ah, if that were possible!'

 

'But that's really a paltry sum. What would fifty novelists you could

name say if they were offered three hundred pounds for a book? How much

do you suppose even Markland got for his last?'

 

'Didn't sell it at all, ten to one. Gets a royalty.'

 

'Which will bring him five or six hundred pounds before the book ceases

to be talked of.'

 

'Never mind. I'm sick of the word "pounds."'

 

'So am I.'

 

She sighed, commenting thus on her acquiescence.

 

'But look, Amy. If I try to be cheerful in spite of natural dumps,

wouldn't it be fair for you to put aside thoughts of money?'

 

'Yes. Read some Homer, dear. Let us have Odysseus down in Hades, and

Ajax stalking past him. Oh, I like that!'

 

So he read, rather coldly at first, but soon warming. Amy sat with

folded arms, a smile on her lips, her brows knitted to the epic humour.

In a few minutes it was as if no difficulties threatened their life.

Every now and then Reardon looked up from his translating with a

delighted laugh, in which Amy joined.

 

When he had returned the book to the shelf he stepped behind his wife's

chair, leaned upon it, and put his cheek against hers.

 

'Amy!'

 

'Yes, dear?'

 

'Do you still love me a little?'

 

'Much more than a little.'

 

'Though I am sunk to writing a wretched pot-boiler?'

 

'Is it so bad as all that?'

 

'Confoundedly bad. I shall be ashamed to see it in print; the proofs

will be a martyrdom.'

 

'Oh, but why? why?'

 

'It's the best I can do, dearest. So you don't love me enough to hear

that calmly.'

 

'If I didn't love you, I might be calmer about it, Edwin. It's dreadful

to me to think of what they will say in the reviews.'

 

'Curse the reviews!'

 

His mood had changed on the instant. He stood up with darkened face,

trembling angrily.

 

'I want you to promise me something, Amy. You won't read a single one

of the notices unless it is forced upon your attention. Now, promise me

that. Neglect them absolutely, as I do. They're not worth a glance of

your eyes. And I shan't be able to bear it if I know you read all the

contempt that will be poured on me.'

 

'I'm sure I shall be glad enough to avoid it; but other people, our

friends, read it. That's the worst.'

 

'You know that their praise would be valueless, so have strength to

disregard the blame. Let our friends read and talk as much as they like.

Can't you console yourself with the thought that I am not contemptible,

though I may have been forced to do poor work?'

 

'People don't look at it in that way.'

 

'But, darling,' he took her hands strongly in his own, 'I want you to

disregard other people. You and I are surely everything to each other?

Are you ashamed of me, of me myself?'

 

'No, not ashamed of you. But I am sensitive to people's talk and

opinions.'

 

'But that means they make you feel ashamed of me. What else?'

 

There was silence.

 

'Edwin, if you find you are unable to do good work, you mustn't do bad.

We must think of some other way of making a living.'

 

'Have you forgotten that you urged me to write a trashy sensational

story?'

 

She coloured and looked annoyed.

 

'You misunderstood me. A sensational story needn't be trash. And then,

you know, if you had tried something entirely unlike your usual work,

that would have been excuse enough if people had called it a failure.'

 

'People! People!'

 

'We can't live in solitude, Edwin, though really we are not far

from it.' He did not dare to make any reply to this. Amy was so

exasperatingly womanlike in avoiding the important issue to which he

tried to confine her; another moment, and his tone would be that of

irritation. So he turned away and sat down to his desk, as if he had

some thought of resuming work.

 

'Will you come and have some supper?' Amy asked, rising.

 

'I have been forgetting that to-morrow morning's chapter has still to be

thought out.'

 

'Edwin, I can't think this book will really be so poor. You couldn't

possibly give all this toil for no result.'

 

'No; not if I were in sound health. But I am far from it.'

 

'Come and have supper with me, dear, and think afterwards.'

 

He turned and smiled at her.

 

'I hope I shall never be able to resist an invitation from you, sweet.'

 

The result of all this was, of course, that he sat down in anything but

the right mood to his work next morning. Amy's anticipation of criticism

had made it harder than ever for him to labour at what he knew to be

bad. And, as ill-luck would have it, in a day or two he caught his

first winter's cold. For several years a succession of influenzas,

sore-throats, lumbagoes, had tormented him from October to May; in

planning his present work, and telling himself that it must be finished

before Christmas, he had not lost sight of these possible interruptions.

But he said to himself: 'Other men have worked hard in seasons of

illness; I must do the same.' All very well, but Reardon did not belong

to the heroic class. A feverish cold now put his powers and resolution

to the test. Through one hideous day he nailed himself to the desk--and

wrote a quarter of a page. The next day Amy would not let him rise from

bed; he was wretchedly ill. In the night he had talked about his work

deliriously, causing her no slight alarm.

 

'If this goes on,' she said to him in the morning, 'you'll have brain

fever. You must rest for two or three days.'

 

'Teach me how to. I wish I could.'

 

Rest had indeed become out of the question. For two days he could not

write, but the result upon his mind was far worse than if he had been at

the desk. He looked a haggard creature when he again sat down with the

accustomed blank slip before him.

 

The second volume ought to have been much easier work than the first; it

proved far harder. Messieurs and mesdames the critics are wont to point

out the weakness of second volumes; they are generally right, simply

because a story which would have made a tolerable book (the common run

of stories) refuses to fill three books. Reardon's story was in itself

weak, and this second volume had to consist almost entirely of laborious

padding. If he wrote three slips a day he did well.

 

And the money was melting, melting, despite Amy's efforts at economy.

She spent as little as she could; not a luxury came into their home;

articles of clothing all but indispensable were left unpurchased. But

to what purpose was all this? Impossible, now, that the book should be

finished and sold before the money had all run out.

 

At the end of November, Reardon said to his wife one morning:

 

'To-morrow I finish the second volume.'

 

'And in a week,' she replied, 'we shan't have a shilling left.'

 

He had refrained from making inquiries, and Amy had forborne to tell

him the state of things, lest it should bring him to a dead stop in his

writing. But now they must needs discuss their position.

 

'In three weeks I can get to the end,' said Reardon, with unnatural

calmness. 'Then I will go personally to the publishers, and beg them to

advance me something on the manuscript before they have read it.'

 

'Couldn't you do that with the first two volumes?'

 

'No, I can't; indeed I can't. The other thing will be bad enough; but to

beg on an incomplete book, and such a book--I can't!'

 

There were drops on his forehead.

 

'They would help you if they knew,' said Amy in a low voice.

 

'Perhaps; I can't say. They can't help every poor devil. No; I will sell

some books. I can pick out fifty or sixty that I shan't much miss.'

 

Amy knew what a wrench this would be. The imminence of distress seemed

to have softened her.

 

'Edwin, let me take those two volumes to the publishers, and ask--'

 

'Heavens! no. That's impossible. Ten to one you will be told that my

work is of such doubtful value that they can't offer even a guinea till

the whole book has been considered. I can't allow you to go, dearest.

This morning I'll choose some books that I can spare, and after dinner

I'll ask a man to come and look at them. Don't worry yourself; I can

finish in three weeks, I'm sure I can. If I can get you three or four

pounds you could make it do, couldn't you?'

 

'Yes.'

 

She averted her face as she spoke.

 

'You shall have that.' He still spoke very quietly. 'If the books won't

bring enough, there's my watch--oh, lots of things.'

 

He turned abruptly away, and Amy went on with her household work.

 

 

 

CHAPTER X. THE FRIENDS OF THE FAMILY

 

It was natural that Amy should hint dissatisfaction with the loneliness

in which her days were mostly spent. She had never lived in a large

circle of acquaintances; the narrowness of her mother's means restricted

the family to intercourse with a few old friends and such new ones as

were content with teacup entertainment; but her tastes were social,

and the maturing process which followed upon her marriage made her more

conscious of this than she had been before. Already she had allowed her

husband to understand that one of her strongest motives in marrying

him was the belief that he would achieve distinction. At the time

she doubtless thought of his coming fame only--or principally--as it

concerned their relations to each other; her pride in him was to be one

phase of her love. Now she was well aware that no degree of distinction

in her husband would be of much value to her unless she had the pleasure

of witnessing its effect upon others; she must shine with reflected

light before an admiring assembly.

 

The more conscious she became of this requirement of her nature, the

more clearly did she perceive that her hopes had been founded on an

error. Reardon would never be a great man; he would never even occupy

a prominent place in the estimation of the public. The two things, Amy

knew, might be as different as light and darkness; but in the grief of

her disappointment she would rather have had him flare into a worthless

popularity than flicker down into total extinction, which it almost

seemed was to be his fate.

 

She knew so well how 'people' were talking of him and her. Even her

unliterary acquaintances understood that Reardon's last novel had been

anything but successful, and they must of course ask each other how

the Reardons were going to live if the business of novel-writing proved

unremunerative. Her pride took offence at the mere thought of such

conversations. Presently she would become an object of pity; there would

be talk of 'poor Mrs Reardon.' It was intolerable.

 

So during the last half year she had withheld as much as possible from

the intercourse which might have been one of her chief pleasures. And to

disguise the true cause she made pretences which were a satire upon her

state of mind--alleging that she had devoted herself to a serious course

of studies, that the care of house and child occupied all the time she

could spare from her intellectual pursuits. The worst of it was, she

had little faith in the efficacy of these fictions; in uttering them she

felt an unpleasant warmth upon her cheeks, and it was not difficult to

detect a look of doubt in the eyes of the listener. She grew angry

with herself for being dishonest, and with her husband for making such

dishonesty needful.

 

The female friend with whom she had most trouble was Mrs Carter. You

remember that on the occasion of Reardon's first meeting with his future

wife, at the Grosvenor Gallery, there were present his friend Carter

and a young lady who was shortly to bear the name of that spirited

young man. The Carters had now been married about a year; they lived

in Bayswater, and saw much of a certain world which imitates on a lower

plane the amusements and affectations of society proper. Mr Carter was

still secretary to the hospital where Reardon had once earned his twenty

shillings a week, but by voyaging in the seas of charitable enterprise

he had come upon supplementary sources of income; for instance, he held

the post of secretary to the Barclay Trust, a charity whose moderate

funds were largely devoted to the support of gentlemen engaged in

administering it. This young man, with his air of pleasing vivacity, had

early ingratiated himself with the kind of people who were likely to be

of use to him; he had his reward in the shape of offices which are only

procured through private influence. His wife was a good-natured, lively,

and rather clever girl; she had a genuine regard for Amy, and much

respect for Reardon. Her ambition was to form a circle of distinctly

intellectual acquaintances, and she was constantly inviting the Reardons

to her house; a real live novelist is not easily drawn into the world

where Mrs Carter had her being, and it annoyed her that all attempts to

secure Amy and her husband for five-o'clock teas and small parties had

of late failed.

 

On the afternoon when Reardon had visited a second-hand bookseller with

a view of raising money--he was again shut up in his study, dolorously

at work--Amy was disturbed by the sound of a visitor's rat-tat; the

little servant went to the door, and returned followed by Mrs Carter.

 

Under the best of circumstances it was awkward to receive any but

intimate friends during the hours when Reardon sat at his desk. The

little dining-room (with its screen to conceal the kitchen range)

offered nothing more than homely comfort; and then the servant had to

be disposed of by sending her into the bedroom to take care of Willie.

Privacy, in the strict sense, was impossible, for the servant

might listen at the door (one room led out of the other) to all the

conversation that went on; yet Amy could not request her visitors to

speak in a low tone. For the first year these difficulties had not

been felt; Reardon made a point of leaving the front room at his wife's

disposal from three to six; it was only when dread of the future began

to press upon him that he sat in the study all day long. You see how

complicated were the miseries of the situation; one torment involved

another, and in every quarter subjects of discontent were multiplied.

 

Mrs Carter would have taken it ill had she known that Amy did not

regard her as strictly an intimate. They addressed each other by their

Christian names, and conversed without ceremony; but Amy was always

dissatisfied when the well-dressed young woman burst with laughter and

animated talk into this abode of concealed poverty. Edith was not the

kind of person with whom one can quarrel; she had a kind heart, and was

never disagreeably pretentious. Had circumstances allowed it, Amy would

have given frank welcome to such friendship; she would have been glad

to accept as many invitations as Edith chose to offer. But at present

it did her harm to come in contact with Mrs Carter; it made her envious,

cold to her husband, resentful against fate.

 

'Why can't she leave me alone?' was the thought that rose in her mind as

Edith entered. 'I shall let her see that I don't want her here.'

 

'Your husband at work?' Edith asked, with a glance in the direction of

the study, as soon as they had exchanged kisses and greetings.

 

'Yes, he is busy.'

 

'And you are sitting alone, as usual. I feared you might be out; an

afternoon of sunshine isn't to be neglected at this time of year.'

 

'Is there sunshine?' Amy inquired coldly.

 

'Why, look! Do you mean to say you haven't noticed it? What a comical

person you are sometimes! I suppose you have been over head and ears in

books all day. How is Willie?'

 

'Very well, thank you.'

 

'Mayn't I see him?'

 

'If you like.'

 

Amy stepped to the bedroom door and bade the servant bring Willie for

exhibition. Edith, who as yet had no child of her own, always showed the

most flattering admiration of this infant; it was so manifestly sincere

that the mother could not but be moved to a grateful friendliness

whenever she listened to its expression. Even this afternoon the usual

effect followed when Edith had made a pretty and tender fool of herself

for several minutes. Amy bade the servant make tea.

 

At this moment the door from the passage opened, and Reardon looked in.

 

'Well, if this isn't marvellous!' cried Edith. 'I should as soon have

expected the heavens to fall!'

 

'As what?' asked Reardon, with a pale smile.

 

'As you to show yourself when I am here.'

 

'I should like to say that I came on purpose to see you, Mrs Carter,

but it wouldn't be true. I'm going out for an hour, so that you can take

possession of the other room if you like, Amy.'

 

'Going out?' said Amy, with a look of surprise.

 

'Nothing--nothing. I mustn't stay.'

 

He just inquired of Mrs Carter how her husband was, and withdrew. The

door of the flat was heard to close after him.

 

'Let us go into the study, then,' said Amy, again in rather a cold

voice.

 

On Reardon's desk were lying slips of blank paper. Edith, approaching on

tiptoe with what was partly make believe, partly genuine, awe, looked at

the literary apparatus, then turned with a laugh to her friend.

 

'How delightful it must be to sit down and write about people one has

invented! Ever since I have known you and Mr Reardon I have been tempted

to try if I couldn't write a story.'

 

'Have you?'

 

'And I'm sure I don't know how you can resist the temptation. I feel

sure you could write books almost as clever as your husband's.'

 

'I have no intention of trying.'

 

'You don't seem very well to-day, Amy.'

 

'Oh, I think I am as well as usual.'

 

She guessed that her husband was once more brought to a standstill, and

this darkened her humour again.

 

'One of my reasons for corning,' said Edith, 'was to beg and entreat and

implore you and Mr Reardon to dine with us next Wednesday. Now, don't

put on such a severe face! Are you engaged that evening?'

 

'Yes; in the ordinary way. Edwin can't possibly leave his work.'

 

'But for one poor evening! It's such ages since we saw you.'

 

'I'm very sorry. I don't think we shall ever be able to accept

invitations in future.'

 

Amy spoke thus at the prompting of a sudden impulse. A minute ago, no

such definite declaration was in her mind.

 

'Never?' exclaimed Edith. 'But why? Whatever do you mean?'

 

'We find that social engagements consume too much time,' Amy replied,

her explanation just as much of an impromptu as the announcement had

been. 'You see, one must either belong to society or not. Married people

can't accept an occasional invitation from friends and never do their

social duty in return.

 

We have decided to withdraw altogether--at all events for the present. I

shall see no one except my relatives.'

 

Edith listened with a face of astonishment.

 

'You won't even see ME?' she exclaimed.

 

'Indeed, I have no wish to lose your friendship. Yet I am ashamed to ask

you to come here when I can never return your visits.'

 

'Oh, please don't put it in that way! But it seems so very strange.'

 

Edith could not help conjecturing the true significance of this resolve.

But, as is commonly the case with people in easy circumstances, she

found it hard to believe that her friends were so straitened as to

have a difficulty in supporting the ordinary obligations of a civilised

state.

 

'I know how precious your husband's time is,' she added, as if to remove

the effect of her last remark. 'Surely, there's no harm in my saying--we

know each other well enough--you wouldn't think it necessary to devote

an evening to entertaining us just because you had given us the pleasure

of your company. I put it very stupidly, but I'm sure you understand me,

Amy. Don't refuse just to come to our house now and then.'

 

'I'm afraid we shall have to be consistent, Edith.'

 

'But do you think this is a WISE thing to do?'

 

'Wise?'

 

'You know what you once told me, about how necessary it was for a

novelist to study all sorts of people. How can Mr Reardon do this if he

shuts himself up in the house? I should have thought he would find it

necessary to make new acquaintances.'

 

'As I said,' returned Amy, 'it won't be always like this. For the

present, Edwin has quite enough "material."'

 

She spoke distantly; it irritated her to have to invent excuses for the

sacrifice she had just imposed on herself. Edith sipped the tea which

had been offered her, and for a minute kept silence.

 

'When will Mr Reardon's next book be published?' she asked at length.

 

'I'm sure I don't know. Not before the spring.'

 

'I shall look so anxiously for it. Whenever I meet new people I always

turn the conversation to novels, just for the sake of asking them if

they know your husband's books.'

 

She laughed merrily.

 

'Which is seldom the case, I should think,' said Amy, with a smile of

indifference.

 

'Well, my dear, you don't expect ordinary novel-readers to know about Mr

Reardon. I wish my acquaintances were a better kind of people; then, of

course, I should hear of his books more often. But one has to make the

best of such society as offers. If you and your husband forsake me, I

shall feel it a sad loss; I shall indeed.'

 

Amy gave a quick glance at the speaker's face.

 

'Oh, we must be friends just the same,' she said, more naturally than

she had spoken hitherto. 'But don't ask us to come and dine just now.

All through this winter we shall be very busy, both of us. Indeed, we

have decided not to accept any invitations at all.'

 

'Then, so long as you let me come here now and then, I must give in. I

promise not to trouble you with any more complaining. But how you can

live such a life I don't know. I consider myself more of a reader than

women generally are, and I should be mortally offended if anyone called

me frivolous; but I must have a good deal of society. Really and truly,

I can't live without it.'

 

'No?' said Amy, with a smile which meant more than Edith could

interpret. It seemed slightly condescending.

 

'There's no knowing; perhaps if I had married a literary man---' She

paused, smiling and musing. 'But then I haven't, you see.' She laughed.

'Albert is anything but a bookworm, as you know.'

 

'You wouldn't wish him to be.'

 

'Oh no! Not a bookworm. To be sure, we suit each other very well indeed.

He likes society just as much as I do. It would be the death of him if

he didn't spend three-quarters of every day with lively people.'

 

'That's rather a large portion. But then you count yourself among the

lively ones.'

 

They exchanged looks, and laughed together.

 

'Of course you think me rather silly to want to talk so much with silly

people,' Edith went on. 'But then there's generally some amusement to

be got, you know. I don't take life quite so seriously as you do. People

are people, after all; it's good fun to see how they live and hear how

they talk.'

 

Amy felt that she was playing a sorry part. She thought of sour grapes,

and of the fox who had lost his tail. Worst of all, perhaps Edith

suspected the truth. She began to make inquiries about common

acquaintances, and fell into an easier current of gossip.

 

A quarter of an hour after the visitor's departure Reardon came back.

Amy had guessed aright; the necessity of selling his books weighed upon

him so that for the present he could do nothing. The evening was spent

gloomily, with very little conversation.

 

Next day came the bookseller to make his inspection. Reardon had

chosen out and ranged upon a table nearly a hundred volumes. With a few

exceptions, they had been purchased second-hand. The tradesman examined

them rapidly.

 

'What do you ask?' he inquired, putting his head aside.

 

'I prefer that you should make an offer,' Reardon replied, with the

helplessness of one who lives remote from traffic.

 

'I can't say more than two pounds ten.'

 

'That is at the rate of sixpence a volume---?'

 

'To me that's about the average value of books like these.'

 

Perhaps the offer was a fair one; perhaps it was not. Reardon had

neither time nor spirit to test the possibilities of the market; he was

ashamed to betray his need by higgling.

 

'I'll take it,' he said, in a matter-of-fact voice.

 

A messenger was sent for the books that afternoon. He stowed them

skilfully in two bags, and carried them downstairs to a cart that was

waiting.

 

Reardon looked at the gaps left on his shelves. Many of those vanished

volumes were dear old friends to him; he could have told you where he

had picked them up and when; to open them recalled a past moment of

intellectual growth, a mood of hope or despondency, a stage of struggle.

In most of them his name was written, and there were often pencilled

notes in the margin. Of course he had chosen from among the most

valuable he possessed; such a multitude must else have been sold to make

this sum of two pounds ten. Books are cheap, you know. At need, one can

buy a Homer for fourpence, a Sophocles for sixpence. It was not rubbish

that he had accumulated at so small expenditure, but the library of a

poor student--battered bindings, stained pages, supplanted editions.

He loved his books, but there was something he loved more, and when Amy

glanced at him with eyes of sympathy he broke into a cheerful laugh.

 

'I'm only sorry they have gone for so little. Tell me when the money

is nearly at an end again, and you shall have more. It's all right; the

novel will be done soon.'

 

And that night he worked until twelve o'clock, doggedly, fiercely.

 

The next day was Sunday. As a rule he made it a day of rest, and almost

perforce, for the depressing influence of Sunday in London made work too

difficult. Then, it was the day on which he either went to see his own

particular friends or was visited by them.

 

'Do you expect anyone this evening?' Amy inquired.

 

'Biffen will look in, I dare say. Perhaps Milvain.'

 

'I think I shall take Willie to mother's. I shall be back before eight.'

 

'Amy, don't say anything about the books.'

 

'No, no.'

 

'I suppose they always ask you when we think of removing over the way?'

 

He pointed in a direction that suggested Marylebone Workhouse. Amy tried

to laugh, but a woman with a child in her arms has no keen relish for

such jokes.

 

'I don't talk to them about our affairs,' she said.

 

'That's best.'

 

She left home about three o'clock, the servant going with her to carry

the child.

 

At five a familiar knock sounded through the flat; it was a heavy rap

followed by half-a-dozen light ones, like a reverberating echo, the last

stroke scarcely audible. Reardon laid down his book, but kept his pipe

in his mouth, and went to the door. A tall, thin man stood there, with a

slouch hat and long grey overcoat. He shook hands silently, hung his hat

in the passage, and came forward into the study.

 

His name was Harold Biffen, and, to judge from his appearance, he did

not belong to the race of common mortals. His excessive meagreness would

all but have qualified him to enter an exhibition in the capacity of

living skeleton, and the garments which hung upon this framework would

perhaps have sold for three-and-sixpence at an old-clothes dealer's. But

the man was superior to these accidents of flesh and raiment. He had

a fine face: large, gentle eyes, nose slightly aquiline, small and

delicate mouth. Thick black hair fell to his coat-collar; he wore a

heavy moustache and a full beard. In his gait there was a singular

dignity; only a man of cultivated mind and graceful character could move

and stand as he did.

 

His first act on entering the room was to take from his pocket a pipe,

a pouch, a little tobacco-stopper, and a box of matches, all of which

he arranged carefully on a corner of the central table. Then he drew

forward a chair and seated himself.

 

'Take your top-coat off;' said Reardon.

 

'Thanks, not this evening.'

 

'Why the deuce not?'

 

'Not this evening, thanks.'

 

The reason, as soon as Reardon sought for it, was obvious. Biffen had

no ordinary coat beneath the other. To have referred to this fact would

have been indelicate; the novelist of course understood it, and smiled,

but with no mirth.

 

'Let me have your Sophocles,' were the visitor's next words.

 

Reardon offered him a volume of the Oxford Pocket Classics.

 

'I prefer the Wunder, please.'

 

'It's gone, my boy.'

 

'Gone?'

 

'Wanted a little cash.'

 

Biffen uttered a sound in which remonstrance and sympathy were blended.

 

'I'm sorry to hear that; very sorry. Well, this must do. Now, I want to

know how you scan this chorus in the "Oedipus Rex."'

 

Reardon took the volume, considered, and began to read aloud with metric

emphasis.

 

'Choriambics, eh?' cried the other. 'Possible, of course; but treat them

as Ionics a minore with an anacrusis, and see if they don't go better.'

 

He involved himself in terms of pedantry, and with such delight that his

eyes gleamed. Having delivered a technical lecture, he began to read in

illustration, producing quite a different effect from that of the

rhythm as given by his friend. And the reading was by no means that of a

pedant, rather of a poet.

 

For half an hour the two men talked Greek metres as if they lived in a

world where the only hunger known could be satisfied by grand or sweet

cadences.

 

They had first met in an amusing way. Not long after the publication of

his book 'On Neutral Ground' Reardon was spending a week at Hastings.

A rainy day drove him to the circulating library, and as he was looking

along the shelves for something readable a voice near at hand asked the

attendant if he had anything 'by Edwin Reardon.' The novelist turned in

astonishment; that any casual mortal should inquire for his books seemed

incredible. Of course there was nothing by that author in the library,

and he who had asked the question walked out again. On the morrow

Reardon encountered this same man at a lonely part of the shore; he

looked at him, and spoke a word or two of common civility; they got into

conversation, with the result that Edwin told the story of yesterday.

The stranger introduced himself as Harold Biffen, an author in a small

way, and a teacher whenever he could get pupils; an abusive review had

interested him in Reardon's novels, but as yet he knew nothing of them

but the names.

 

Their tastes were found to be in many respects sympathetic, and after

returning to London they saw each other frequently. Biffen was always in

dire poverty, and lived in the oddest places; he had seen harder trials

than even Reardon himself. The teaching by which he partly lived was of

a kind quite unknown to the respectable tutorial world. In these days

of examinations, numbers of men in a poor position--clerks

chiefly--conceive a hope that by 'passing' this, that, or the other

formal test they may open for themselves a new career. Not a few such

persons nourish preposterous ambitions; there are warehouse clerks

privately preparing (without any means or prospect of them) for a

call to the Bar, drapers' assistants who 'go in' for the preliminary

examination of the College of Surgeons, and untaught men innumerable who

desire to procure enough show of education to be eligible for a curacy.

Candidates of this stamp frequently advertise in the newspapers for

cheap tuition, or answer advertisements which are intended to appeal to

them; they pay from sixpence to half-a-crown an hour--rarely as much as

the latter sum. Occasionally it happened that Harold Biffen had three or

four such pupils in hand, and extraordinary stories he could draw from

his large experience in this sphere.

 

Then as to his authorship.--But shortly after the discussion of Greek

metres he fell upon the subject of his literary projects, and, by no

means for the first time, developed the theory on which he worked.

 

'I have thought of a new way of putting it. What I really aim at is an

absolute realism in the sphere of the ignobly decent. The field, as I

understand it, is a new one; I don't know any writer who has treated

ordinary vulgar life with fidelity and seriousness. Zola writes

deliberate tragedies; his vilest figures become heroic from the

place they fill in a strongly imagined drama. I want to deal with the

essentially unheroic, with the day-to-day life of that vast majority of

people who are at the mercy of paltry circumstance. Dickens understood

the possibility of such work, but his tendency to melodrama on the one

hand, and his humour on the other, prevented him from thinking of it. An

instance, now. As I came along by Regent's Park half an hour ago a man

and a girl were walking close in front of me, love-making; I passed them

slowly and heard a good deal of their talk--it was part of the situation

that they should pay no heed to a stranger's proximity. Now, such

a love-scene as that has absolutely never been written down; it was

entirely decent, yet vulgar to the nth power. Dickens would have made

it ludicrous--a gross injustice. Other men who deal with low-class life

would perhaps have preferred idealising it--an absurdity. For my

own part, I am going to reproduce it verbatim, without one single

impertinent suggestion of any point of view save that of honest

reporting. The result will be something unutterably tedious. Precisely.

That is the stamp of the ignobly decent life. If it were anything but

tedious it would be untrue. I speak, of course, of its effect upon the

ordinary reader.'

 

'I couldn't do it,' said Reardon.

 

'Certainly you couldn't. You--well, you are a psychological realist in

the sphere of culture. You are impatient of vulgar circumstances.'

 

'In a great measure because my life has been martyred by them.'

 

'And for that very same reason I delight in them,' cried Biffen.

'You are repelled by what has injured you; I am attracted by it. This

divergence is very interesting; but for that, we should have resembled

each other so closely. You know that by temper we are rabid idealists,

both of us.'

 

'I suppose so.'

 

'But let me go on. I want, among other things, to insist upon the

fateful power of trivial incidents. No one has yet dared to do this

seriously. It has often been done in farce, and that's why farcical

writing so often makes one melancholy. You know my stock instances

of the kind of thing I mean. There was poor Allen, who lost the most

valuable opportunity of his life because he hadn't a clean shirt to put

on; and Williamson, who would probably have married that rich girl but

for the grain of dust that got into his eye, and made him unable to say

or do anything at the critical moment.'

 

Reardon burst into a roar of laughter.

 

'There you are!' cried Biffen, with friendly annoyance. 'You take the

conventional view. If you wrote of these things you would represent them

as laughable.'

 

'They are laughable,' asserted the other, 'however serious to the

persons concerned. The mere fact of grave issues in life depending on

such paltry things is monstrously ludicrous. Life is a huge farce, and

the advantage of possessing a sense of humour is that it enables one to

defy fate with mocking laughter.'

 

'That's all very well, but it isn't an original view. I am not lacking

in sense of humour, but I prefer to treat these aspects of life from

an impartial standpoint. The man who laughs takes the side of a cruel

omnipotence, if one can imagine such a thing.

 

I want to take no side at all; simply to say, Look, this is the kind of

thing that happens.'

 

'I admire your honesty, Biffen,' said Reardon, sighing. 'You will

never sell work of this kind, yet you have the courage to go on with it

because you believe in it.'

 

'I don't know; I may perhaps sell it some day.'

 

'In the meantime,' said Reardon, laying down his pipe, 'suppose we eat a

morsel of something. I'm rather hungry.'

 

In the early days of his marriage Reardon was wont to offer the friends

who looked in on Sunday evening a substantial supper; by degrees the

meal had grown simpler, until now, in the depth of his poverty, he made

no pretence of hospitable entertainment. It was only because he knew

that Biffen as often as not had nothing whatever to eat that he did not

hesitate to offer him a slice of bread and butter and a cup of tea. They

went into the back room, and over the Spartan fare continued to discuss

aspects of fiction.

 

'I shall never,' said Biffen, 'write anything like a dramatic scene.

Such things do happen in life, but so very rarely that they are nothing

to my purpose. Even when they happen, by-the-bye, it is in a shape that

would be useless to the ordinary novelist; he would have to cut away

this circumstance, and add that. Why? I should like to know. Such

conventionalism results from stage necessities. Fiction hasn't yet

outgrown the influence of the stage on which it originated. Whatever a

man writes FOR EFFECT is wrong and bad.'

 

'Only in your view. There may surely exist such a thing as the ART of

fiction.'

 

'It is worked out. We must have a rest from it. You, now--the best

things you have done are altogether in conflict with novelistic

conventionalities. It was because that blackguard review of "On Neutral

Ground" clumsily hinted this that I first thought of you with interest.

No, no; let us copy life. When the man and woman are to meet for a

great scene of passion, let it all be frustrated by one or other of

them having a bad cold in the head, and so on. Let the pretty girl get

a disfiguring pimple on her nose just before the ball at which she is

going to shine. Show the numberless repulsive features of common decent

life. Seriously, coldly; not a hint of facetiousness, or the thing

becomes different.'

 

About eight o'clock Reardon heard his wife's knock at the door. On

opening he saw not only Amy and the servant, the latter holding Willie

in her arms, but with them Jasper Milvain.

 

'I have been at Mrs Yule's,' Jasper explained as he came in. 'Have you

anyone here?'

 

'Biffen.'

 

'Ah, then we'll discuss realism.'

 

'That's over for the evening. Greek metres also.'

 

'Thank Heaven!'

 

The three men seated themselves with joking and laughter, and the smoke

of their pipes gathered thickly in the little room. It was half an

hour before Amy joined them. Tobacco was no disturbance to her, and

she enjoyed the kind of talk that was held on these occasions; but

it annoyed her that she could no longer play the hostess at a merry

supper-table.

 

'Why ever are you sitting in your overcoat, Mr Biffen?' were her first

words when she entered.

 

'Please excuse me, Mrs Reardon. It happens to be more convenient this

evening.'

 

She was puzzled, but a glance from her husband warned her not to pursue

the subject.

 

Biffen always behaved to Amy with a sincerity of respect which had made

him a favourite with her. To him, poor fellow, Reardon seemed supremely

blessed. That a struggling man of letters should have been able to

marry, and such a wife, was miraculous in Biffen's eyes. A woman's love

was to him the unattainable ideal; already thirty-five years old, he had

no prospect of ever being rich enough to assure himself a daily dinner;

marriage was wildly out of the question. Sitting here, he found it very

difficult not to gaze at Amy with uncivil persistency. Seldom in his

life had he conversed with educated women, and the sound of this clear

voice was always more delightful to him than any music.

 

Amy took a place near to him, and talked in her most charming way of

such things as she knew interested him. Biffen's deferential attitude

as he listened and replied was in strong contrast with the careless

ease which marked Jasper Milvain. The realist would never smoke in Amy's

presence, but Jasper puffed jovial clouds even whilst she was conversing

with him.

 

'Whelpdale came to see me last night,' remarked Milvain, presently.

'His novel is refused on all hands. He talks of earning a living as a

commission agent for some sewing-machine people.'

 

'I can't understand how his book should be positively refused,' said

Reardon. 'The last wasn't altogether a failure.'

 

'Very nearly. And this one consists of nothing but a series of

conversations between two people. It is really a dialogue, not a novel

at all. He read me some twenty pages, and I no longer wondered that he

couldn't sell it.'

 

'Oh, but it has considerable merit,' put in Biffen. 'The talk is

remarkably true.'

 

'But what's the good of talk that leads to nothing?' protested Jasper.

 

'It's a bit of real life.'

 

'Yes, but it has no market value. You may write what you like, so long

as people are willing to read you. Whelpdale's a clever fellow, but he

can't hit a practical line.'

 

'Like some other people I have heard of;' said Reardon, laughing.

 

'But the odd thing is, that he always strikes one as practical-minded.

Don't you feel that, Mrs Reardon?'

 

He and Amy talked for a few minutes, and Reardon, seemingly lost in

meditation, now and then observed them from the corner of his eye.

 

At eleven o'clock husband and wife were alone again.

 

'You don't mean to say,' exclaimed Amy, 'that Biffen has sold his coat?'

 

'Or pawned it.'

 

'But why not the overcoat?'

 

'Partly, I should think, because it's the warmer of the two; partly,

perhaps, because the other would fetch more.'

 

'That poor man will die of starvation, some day, Edwin.'

 

'I think it not impossible.'

 

'I hope you gave him something to eat?'

 

'Oh yes. But I could see he didn't like to take as much as he wanted.

I don't think of him with so much pity as I used that's a result of

suffering oneself.'

 

Amy set her lips and sighed.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XI. RESPITE

 

The last volume was written in fourteen days. In this achievement

Reardon rose almost to heroic pitch, for he had much to contend with

beyond the mere labour of composition. Scarcely had he begun when a

sharp attack of lumbago fell upon him; for two or three days it was

torture to support himself at the desk, and he moved about like a

cripple. Upon this ensued headaches, sore-throat, general enfeeblement.

And before the end of the fortnight it was necessary to think of raising

another small sum of money; he took his watch to the pawnbroker's (you

can imagine that it would not stand as security for much), and sold a

few more books. All this notwithstanding, here was the novel at length

finished. When he had written 'The End' he lay back, closed his eyes,

and let time pass in blankness for a quarter of an hour.

 

It remained to determine the title. But his brain refused another

effort; after a few minutes' feeble search he simply took the name of

the chief female character, Margaret Home. That must do for the book.

Already, with the penning of the last word, all its scenes, personages,

dialogues had slipped away into oblivion; he knew and cared nothing more

about them.

 

'Amy, you will have to correct the proofs for me. Never as long as I

live will I look upon a page of this accursed novel. It has all but

killed me.'

 

'The point is,' replied Amy, 'that here we have it complete. Pack it up

and take it to the publishers' to-morrow morning.'

 

'I will.'

 

'And--you will ask them to advance you a few pounds?'

 

'I must.'

 

But that undertaking was almost as hard to face as a rewriting of

the last volume would have been. Reardon had such superfluity of

sensitiveness that, for his own part, he would far rather have gone

hungry than ask for money not legally his due. To-day there was no

choice. In the ordinary course of business it would be certainly a month

before he heard the publishers' terms, and perhaps the Christmas season

might cause yet more delay. Without borrowing, he could not provide for

the expenses of more than another week or two.

 

His parcel under his arm, he entered the ground-floor office, and

desired to see that member of the firm with whom he had previously had

personal relations. This gentleman was not in town; he would be away for

a few days. Reardon left the manuscript, and came out into the street

again.

 

He crossed, and looked up at the publishers' windows from the opposite

pavement. 'Do they suspect in what wretched circumstances I am? Would

it surprise them to know all that depends upon that budget of paltry

scribbling? I suppose not; it must be a daily experience with them.

Well, I must write a begging letter.'

 

It was raining and windy. He went slowly homewards, and was on the point

of entering the public door of the flats when his uneasiness became so

great that he turned and walked past. If he went in, he must at

once write his appeal for money, and he felt that he could not. The

degradation seemed too great.

 

Was there no way of getting over the next few weeks? Rent, of course,

would be due at Christmas, but that payment might be postponed; it was

only a question of buying food and fuel. Amy had offered to ask her

mother for a few pounds; it would be cowardly to put this task upon her

now that he had promised to meet the difficulty himself. What man in

all London could and would lend him money? He reviewed the list of his

acquaintances, but there was only one to whom he could appeal with the

slightest hope--that was Carter.

 

Half an hour later he entered that same hospital door through which,

some years ago, he had passed as a half-starved applicant for work. The

matron met him.

 

'Is Mr Carter here?'

 

'No, sir. But we expect him any minute. Will you wait?'

 

He entered the familiar office, and sat down. At the table where he had

been wont to work, a young clerk was writing. If only all the events of

the last few years could be undone, and he, with no soul dependent upon

him, be once more earning his pound a week in this room! What a happy

man he was in those days!

 

Nearly half an hour passed. It is the common experience of beggars

to have to wait. Then Carter came in with quick step; he wore a heavy

ulster of the latest fashion, new gloves, a resplendent silk hat; his

cheeks were rosy from the east wind.

 

'Ha, Reardon! How do? how do? Delighted to see you!'

 

'Are you very busy?'

 

'Well, no, not particularly. A few cheques to sign, and we're just

getting out our Christmas appeals. You remember?'

 

He laughed gaily. There was a remarkable freedom from snobbishness in

this young man; the fact of Reardon's intellectual superiority had long

ago counteracted Carter's social prejudices.

 

'I should like to have a word with you.'

 

'Right you are!'

 

They went into a small inner room. Reardon's pulse beat at fever-rate;

his tongue was cleaving to his palate.

 

'What is it, old man?' asked the secretary, seating himself and flinging

one of his legs over the other. 'You look rather seedy, do you know. Why

the deuce don't you and your wife look us up now and then?'

 

'I've had a hard pull to finish my novel.'

 

'Finished, is it? I'm glad to hear that. When'll it be out? I'll send

scores of people to Mudie's after it.

 

'Thanks; but I don't think much of it, to tell you the truth.'

 

'Oh, we know what that means.'

 

Reardon was talking like an automaton. It seemed to him that he turned

screws and pressed levers for the utterance of his next words.

 

'I may as well say at once what I have come for. Could you lend me ten

pounds for a month--in fact, until I get the money for my book?'

 

The secretary's countenance fell, though not to that expression of utter

coldness which would have come naturally under the circumstances to a

great many vivacious men. He seemed genuinely embarrassed.

 

'By Jove! I--confound it! To tell you the truth, I haven't ten pounds

to lend. Upon my word, I haven't, Reardon! These infernal housekeeping

expenses! I don't mind telling you, old man, that Edith and I have been

pushing the pace rather.' He laughed, and thrust his hands down into

his trousers-pockets. 'We pay such a darned rent, you know--hundred and

twenty-five. We've only just been saying we should have to draw it mild

for the rest of the winter. But I'm infernally sorry; upon my word I

am.'

 

'And I am sorry to have annoyed you by the unseasonable request.'

 

'Devilish seasonable, Reardon, I assure you!' cried the secretary, and

roared at his joke. It put him into a better temper than ever, and he

said at length: 'I suppose a fiver wouldn't be much use?--For a month,

you say?--I might manage a fiver, I think.'

 

'It would be very useful. But on no account if----'

 

'No, no; I could manage a fiver, for a month. Shall I give you a

cheque?'

 

'I'm ashamed----'

 

'Not a bit of it! I'll go and write the cheque.'

 

Reardon's face was burning. Of the conversation that followed when

Carter again presented himself he never recalled a word. The bit of

paper was crushed together in his hand. Out in the street again, he all

but threw it away, dreaming for the moment that it was a 'bus ticket or

a patent medicine bill.

 

He reached home much after the dinner-hour. Amy was surprised at his

long absence.

 

'Got anything?' she asked.

 

'Yes.'

 

It was half his intention to deceive her, to say that the publishers had

advanced him five pounds. But that would be his first word of untruth

to Amy, and why should he be guilty of it? He told her all that had

happened. The result of this frankness was something that he had not

anticipated; Amy exhibited profound vexation.

 

'Oh, you SHOULDN'T have done that!' she exclaimed. 'Why didn't you come

home and tell me? I would have gone to mother at once.'

 

'But does it matter?'

 

'Of course it does,' she replied sharply. 'Mr Carter will tell his wife,

and how pleasant that is?'

 

'I never thought of that. And perhaps it wouldn't have seemed to me so

annoying as it does to you.'

 

'Very likely not.'

 

She turned abruptly away, and stood at a distance in gloomy muteness.

 

'Well,' she said at length, 'there's no helping it now. Come and have

your dinner.'

 

'You have taken away my appetite.'

 

'Nonsense! I suppose you're dying of hunger.'

 

They had a very uncomfortable meal, exchanging few words. On Amy's face

was a look more resembling bad temper than anything Reardon had ever

seen there. After dinner he went and sat alone in the study. Amy did

not come near him. He grew stubbornly angry; remembering the pain he had

gone through, he felt that Amy's behaviour to him was cruel. She must

come and speak when she would.

 

At six o'clock she showed her face in the doorway and asked if he would

come to tea.

 

'Thank you,' he replied, 'I had rather stay here.'

 

'As you please.'

 

And he sat alone until about nine. It was only then he recollected that

he must send a note to the publishers, calling their attention to the

parcel he had left. He wrote it, and closed with a request that they

would let him hear as soon as they conveniently could. As he was

putting on his hat and coat to go out and post the letter Amy opened the

dining-room door.

 

'You're going out?'

 

'Yes.'

 

'Shall you be long?'

 

'I think not.'

 

He was away only a few minutes. On returning he went first of all into

the study, but the thought of Amy alone in the other room would not let

him rest. He looked in and saw that she was sitting without a fire.

 

'You can't stay here in the cold, Amy.'

 

'I'm afraid I must get used to it,' she replied, affecting to be closely

engaged upon some sewing.

 

That strength of character which it had always delighted him to read in

her features was become an ominous hardness. He felt his heart sink as

he looked at her.

 

'Is poverty going to have the usual result in our case?' he asked,

drawing nearer.

 

'I never pretended that I could be indifferent to it.'

 

'Still, don't you care to try and resist it?'

 

She gave no answer. As usual in conversation with an aggrieved woman it

was necessary to go back from the general to the particular.

 

'I'm afraid,' he said, 'that the Carters already knew pretty well how

things were going with us.'

 

'That's a very different thing. But when it comes to asking them for

money--'

 

'I'm very sorry. I would rather have done anything if I had known how it

would annoy you.'

 

'If we have to wait a month, five pounds will be very little use to us.'

 

She detailed all manner of expenses that had to be met--outlay there was

no possibility of avoiding so long as their life was maintained on its

present basis.

 

'However, you needn't trouble any more about it. I'll see to it. Now you

are free from your book try to rest.'

 

'Come and sit by the fire. There's small chance of rest for me if we are

thinking unkindly of each other.'

 

A doleful Christmas. Week after week went by and Reardon knew that Amy

must have exhausted the money he had given her. But she made no more

demands upon him, and necessaries were paid for in the usual way. He

suffered from a sense of humiliation; sometimes he found it difficult to

look in his wife's face.

 

When the publishers' letter came it contained an offer of seventy-five

pounds for the copyright of 'Margaret Home,' twenty-five more to be

paid if the sale in three-volume form should reach a certain number of

copies.

 

Here was failure put into unmistakable figures. Reardon said to himself

that it was all over with his profession of authorship. The book could

not possibly succeed even to the point of completing his hundred pounds;

it would meet with universal contempt, and indeed deserved nothing

better.

 

'Shall you accept this?' asked Amy, after dreary silence.

 

'No one else would offer terms as good.'

 

'Will they pay you at once?'

 

'I must ask them to.'

 

Well, it was seventy-five pounds in hand. The cheque came as soon as

it was requested, and Reardon's face brightened for the moment. Blessed

money! root of all good, until the world invent some saner economy.

 

'How much do you owe your mother?' he inquired, without looking at Amy.

 

'Six pounds,' she answered coldly.

 

'And five to Carter; and rent, twelve pounds ten. We shall have a matter

of fifty pounds to go on with.'

 

 

 

CHAPTER XII. WORK WITHOUT HOPE

 

The prudent course was so obvious that he marvelled at Amy's failing

to suggest it. For people in their circumstances to be paying a rent

of fifty pounds when a home could be found for half the money was

recklessness; there would be no difficulty in letting the flat for this

last year of their lease, and the cost of removal would be trifling. The

mental relief of such a change might enable him to front with courage

a problem in any case very difficult, and, as things were, desperate.

Three months ago, in a moment of profoundest misery, he had proposed

this step; courage failed him to speak of it again, Amy's look and voice

were too vivid in his memory. Was she not capable of such a sacrifice

for his sake? Did she prefer to let him bear all the responsibility of

whatever might result from a futile struggle to keep up appearances?

 

Between him and her there was no longer perfect confidence. Her silence

meant reproach, and--whatever might have been the case before--there was

no doubt that she now discussed him with her mother, possibly with other

people. It was not likely that she concealed his own opinion of the book

he had just finished; all their acquaintances would be prepared to greet

its publication with private scoffing or with mournful shaking of the

head. His feeling towards Amy entered upon a new phase. The stability of

his love was a source of pain; condemning himself, he felt at the same

time that he was wronged. A coldness which was far from representing

the truth began to affect his manner and speech, and Amy did not seem

to notice it, at all events she made no kind of protest. They no longer

talked of the old subjects, but of those mean concerns of material life

which formerly they had agreed to dismiss as quickly as possible. Their

relations to each other--not long ago an inexhaustible topic--would not

bear spoken comment; both were too conscious of the danger-signal when

they looked that way.

 

In the time of waiting for the publishers' offer, and now again when he

was asking himself how he should use the respite granted him, Reardon

spent his days at the British Museum. He could not read to much purpose,

but it was better to sit here among strangers than seem to be idling

under Amy's glance. Sick of imaginative writing, he turned to the

studies which had always been most congenial, and tried to shape out a

paper or two like those he had formerly disposed of to editors. Among

his unused material lay a mass of notes he had made in a reading of

Diogenes Laertius, and it seemed to him now that he might make something

salable out of these anecdotes of the philosophers. In a happier mood he

could have written delightfully on such a subject--not learnedly, but in

the strain of a modern man whose humour and sensibility find free play

among the classic ghosts; even now he was able to recover something of

the light touch which had given value to his published essays.

 

Meanwhile the first number of The Current had appeared, and Jasper

Milvain had made a palpable hit. Amy spoke very often of the article

called 'Typical Readers,' and her interest in its author was freely

manifested. Whenever a mention of Jasper came under her notice she read

it Out to her husband. Reardon smiled and appeared glad, but he did not

care to discuss Milvain with the same frankness as formerly.

 

One evening at the end of January he told Amy what he had been writing

at the Museum, and asked her if she would care to hear it read.

 

'I began to wonder what you were doing,' she replied.

 

'Then why didn't you ask me?'

 

'I was rather afraid to.'

 

'Why afraid?'

 

'It would have seemed like reminding you that--you know what I mean.'

 

'That a month or two more will see us at the same crisis again. Still, I

had rather you had shown an interest in my doings.'

 

After a pause Amy asked:

 

'Do you think you can get a paper of this kind accepted?'

 

'It isn't impossible. I think it's rather well done. Let me read you a

page--'

 

'Where will you send it?' she interrupted.

 

'To The Wayside.'

 

'Why not try The Current? Ask Milvain to introduce you to Mr Fadge. They

pay much better, you know.'

 

'But this isn't so well suited for Fadge. And I much prefer to be

independent, as long as it's possible.'

 

'That's one of your faults, Edwin,' remarked his wife, mildly. 'It's

only the strongest men that can make their way independently. You ought

to use every means that offers.'

 

'Seeing that I am so weak?'

 

'I didn't think it would offend you. I only meant---'

 

'No, no; you are quite right. Certainly, I am one of the men who need

all the help they can get. But I assure you, this thing won't do for The

Current.'

 

'What a pity you will go hack to those musty old times! Now think of

that article of Milvain's. If only you could do something of that kind!

What do people care about Diogenes and his tub and his lantern?'

 

'My dear girl, Diogenes Laertius had neither tub nor lantern, that I

know of. You are making a mistake; but it doesn't matter.'

 

'No, I don't think it does.' The caustic note was not very pleasant on

Amy's lips. 'Whoever he was, the mass of readers will be frightened by

his name.'

 

'Well, we have to recognise that the mass of readers will never care for

anything I do.'

 

'You will never convince me that you couldn't write in a popular way if

you tried. I'm sure you are quite as clever as Milvain--'

 

Reardon made an impatient gesture.

 

'Do leave Milvain aside for a little! He and I are as unlike as two

men could be. What's the use of constantly comparing us?'

 

Amy looked at him. He had never spoken to her so brusquely.

 

'How can you say that I am constantly comparing you?'

 

'If not in spoken words, then in your thoughts.'

 

'That's not a very nice thing to say, Edwin.'

 

'You make it so unmistakable, Amy. What I mean is, that you are always

regretting the difference between him and me. You lament that I can't

write in that attractive way. Well, I lament it myself--for your sake. I

wish I had Milvain's peculiar talent, so that I could get reputation and

money. But I haven't, and there's an end of it. It irritates a man to be

perpetually told of his disadvantages.'

 

'I will never mention Milvain's name again,' said Amy coldly.

 

'Now that's ridiculous, and you know it.'

 

'I feel the same about your irritation. I can't see that I have given

any cause for it.'

 

'Then we'll talk no more of the matter.'

 

Reardon threw his manuscript aside and opened a book. Amy never asked

him to resume his intention of reading what he had written.

 

However, the paper was accepted. It came out in The Wayside for March,

and Reardon received seven pounds ten for it. By that time he had

written another thing of the same gossipy kind, suggested by Pliny's

Letters. The pleasant occupation did him good, but there was no

possibility of pursuing this course. 'Margaret Home' would be published

in April; he might get the five-and-twenty pounds contingent upon a

certain sale, yet that could in no case be paid until the middle of the

year, and long before then he would be penniless. His respite drew to an

end.

 

But now he took counsel of no one; as far as it was possible he lived in

solitude, never seeing those of his acquaintances who were outside the

literary world, and seldom even his colleagues. Milvain was so busy that

he had only been able to look in twice or thrice since Christmas, and

Reardon nowadays never went to Jasper's lodgings.

 

He had the conviction that all was over with the happiness of his

married life, though how the events which were to express this ruin

would shape themselves he could not foresee. Amy was revealing that

aspect of her character to which he had been blind, though a practical

man would have perceived it from the first; so far from helping him to

support poverty, she perhaps would even refuse to share it with him.

He knew that she was slowly drawing apart; already there was a divorce

between their minds, and he tortured himself in uncertainty as to how

far he retained her affections. A word of tenderness, a caress, no

longer met with response from her; her softest mood was that of mere

comradeship. All the warmth of her nature was expended upon the child;

Reardon learnt how easy it is for a mother to forget that both parents

have a share in her offspring.

 

He was beginning to dislike the child. But for Willie's existence Amy

would still love him with undivided heart; not, perhaps, so passionately

as once, but still with lover's love. And Amy understood--or, at all

events, remarked--this change in him. She was aware that he seldom asked

a question about Willie, and that he listened with indifference when she

spoke of the little fellow's progress. In part offended, she was also in

part pleased.

 

But for the child, mere poverty, he said to himself, should never have

sundered them. In the strength of his passion he could have overcome all

her disappointments; and, indeed, but for that new care, he would

most likely never have fallen to this extremity of helplessness. It is

natural in a weak and sensitive man to dream of possibilities disturbed

by the force of circumstance. For one hour which he gave to conflict

with his present difficulties, Reardon spent many in contemplation of

the happiness that might have been.

 

Even yet, it needed but a little money to redeem all. Amy had no

extravagant aspirations; a home of simple refinement and freedom from

anxiety would restore her to her nobler self. How could he find fault

with her? She knew nothing of such sordid life as he had gone through,

and to lack money for necessities seemed to her degrading beyond

endurance. Why, even the ordinary artisan's wife does not suffer such

privations as hers at the end of the past year. For lack of that little

money his life must be ruined. Of late he had often thought about the

rich uncle, John Yule, who might perhaps leave something to Amy; but the

hope was so uncertain. And supposing such a thing were to happen; would

it be perfectly easy to live upon his wife's bounty--perhaps exhausting

a small capital, so that, some years hence, their position would be

no better than before? Not long ago, he could have taken anything from

Amy's hand; would it be so simple since the change that had come between

them?

 

Having written his second magazine-article (it was rejected by two

editors, and he had no choice but to hold it over until sufficient time

had elapsed to allow of his again trying The Wayside), he saw that he

must perforce plan another novel. But this time he was resolute not to

undertake three volumes. The advertisements informed him that numbers of

authors were abandoning that procrustean system; hopeless as he was, he

might as well try his chance with a book which could be written in a

few weeks. And why not a glaringly artificial story with a sensational

title? It could not be worse than what he had last written.

 

So, without a word to Amy, he put aside his purely intellectual work

and began once more the search for a 'plot.' This was towards the end of

February. The proofs of 'Margaret Home' were coming in day by day; Amy

had offered to correct them, but after all he preferred to keep his

shame to himself as long as possible, and with a hurried reading he

dismissed sheet after sheet. His imagination did not work the more

happily for this repugnant task; still, he hit at length upon a

conception which seemed absurd enough for the purpose before him.

Whether he could persevere with it even to the extent of one volume was

very doubtful. But it should not be said of him that he abandoned his

wife and child to penury without one effort of the kind that Milvain and

Amy herself had recommended.

 

Writing a page or two of manuscript daily, and with several holocausts

to retard him, he had done nearly a quarter of the story when there came

a note from Jasper telling of Mrs Milvain's death. He handed it across

the breakfast-table to Amy, and watched her as she read it.

 

'I suppose it doesn't alter his position,' Amy remarked, without much

interest.

 

'I suppose not appreciably. He told me once his mother had a sufficient

income; but whatever she leaves will go to his sisters, I should think.

He has never said much to me.'

 

Nearly three weeks passed before they heard anything more from Jasper

himself; then he wrote, again from the country, saying that he purposed

bringing his sisters to live in London. Another week, and one evening he

appeared at the door.

 

A want of heartiness in Reardon's reception of him might have been

explained as gravity natural under the circumstances. But Jasper had

before this become conscious that he was not welcomed here quite so

cheerily as in the old days. He remarked it distinctly on that evening

when he accompanied Amy home from Mrs Yule's; since then he had allowed

his pressing occupations to be an excuse for the paucity of his visits.

It seemed to him perfectly intelligible that Reardon, sinking into

literary insignificance, should grow cool to a man entering upon a

successful career; the vein of cynicism in Jasper enabled him to pardon

a weakness of this kind, which in some measure flattered him. But he

both liked and respected Reardon, and at present he was in the mood to

give expression to his warmer feelings.

 

'Your book is announced, I see,' he said with an accent of pleasure, as

soon as he had seated himself.

 

'I didn't know it.'

 

'Yes. "New novel by the author of 'On Neutral Ground.'" Down for the

sixteenth of April. And I have a proposal to make about it. Will you

let me ask Fadge to have it noticed in "Books of the Month," in the May

Current?'

 

'I strongly advise you to let it take its chance. The book isn't worth

special notice, and whoever undertook to review it for Fadge would

either have to lie, or stultify the magazine.'

 

Jasper turned to Amy.

 

'Now what is to be done with a man like this? What is one to say to him,

Mrs Reardon?'

 

'Edwin dislikes the book,' Amy replied, carelessly.

 

'That has nothing to do with the matter. We know quite well that in

anything he writes there'll be something for a well-disposed reviewer

to make a good deal of. If Fadge will let me, I should do the thing

myself.'

 

Neither Reardon nor his wife spoke.

 

'Of course,' went on Milvain, looking at the former, 'if you had rather

I left it alone--'

 

'I had much rather. Please don't say anything about it.'

 

There was an awkward silence. Amy broke it by saying:

 

'Are your sisters in town, Mr Milvain?'

 

'Yes. We came up two days ago. I found lodgings for them not far from

Mornington Road. Poor girls! they don't quite know where they are, yet.

Of course they will keep very quiet for a time, then I must try to get

friends for them. Well, they have one already--your cousin, Miss Yule.

She has already been to see them.'

 

'I'm very glad of that.'

 

Amy took an opportunity of studying his face. There was again a

silence as if of constraint. Reardon, glancing at his wife, said with

hesitation:

 

'When they care to see other visitors, I'm sure Amy would be very

glad--'

 

'Certainly!' his wife added.

 

'Thank you very much. Of course I knew I could depend on Mrs Reardon to

show them kindness in that way. But let me speak frankly of something.

My sisters have made quite a friend of Miss Yule, since she was down

there last year. Wouldn't that'--he turned to Amy--'cause you a little

awkwardness?'

 

Amy had a difficulty in replying. She kept her eyes on the ground.

 

'You have had no quarrel with your cousin,' remarked Reardon.

 

'None whatever. It's only my mother and my uncle.'

 

'I can't imagine Miss Yule having a quarrel with anyone,' said Jasper.

Then he added quickly: 'Well, things must shape themselves naturally. We

shall see. For the present they will be fully occupied. Of course it's

best that they should be. I shall see them every day, and Miss Yule will

come pretty often, I dare say.'

 

Reardon caught Amy's eye, but at once looked away again.

 

'My word!' exclaimed Milvain, after a moment's meditation. 'It's well

this didn't happen a year ago. The girls have no income; only a little

cash to go on with. We shall have our work set. It's a precious lucky

thing that I have just got a sort of footing.'

 

Reardon muttered an assent.

 

'And what are you doing now?' Jasper inquired suddenly.

 

'Writing a one-volume story.'

 

'I'm glad to hear that. Any special plan for its publication?'

 

'No.'

 

'Then why not offer it to Jedwood? He's publishing a series of

one-volume novels. You know of Jedwood, don't you? He was Culpepper's

manager; started business about half a year ago, and it looks as if he

would do well. He married that woman--what's her name?--Who wrote "Mr

Henderson's Wives"?'

 

'Never heard of it.'

 

'Nonsense!--Miss Wilkes, of course. Well, she married this fellow

Jedwood, and there was a great row about something or other between

him and her publishers. Mrs Boston Wright told me all about it. An

astonishing woman that; a cyclopaedia of the day's small talk. I'm quite

a favourite with her; she's promised to help the girls all she can.

Well, but I was talking about Jedwood. Why not offer him this book of

yours? He's eager to get hold of the new writers. Advertises hugely; he

has the whole back page of The Study about every other week. I suppose

Miss Wilkes's profits are paying for it. He has just given Markland two

hundred pounds for a paltry little tale that would scarcely swell out

to a volume. Markland told me himself. You know that I've scraped an

acquaintance with him? Oh! I suppose I haven't seen you since then. He's

a dwarfish fellow with only one eye. Mrs Boston Wright cries him up at

every opportunity.'

 

'Who IS Mrs Boston Wright?' asked Reardon, laughing impatiently.

 

'Edits The English Girl, you know. She's had an extraordinary life.

Was born in Mauritius--no, Ceylon--I forget; some such place. Married a

sailor at fifteen. Was shipwrecked somewhere, and only restored to life

after terrific efforts;--her story leaves it all rather vague. Then she

turns up as a newspaper correspondent at the Cape. Gave up that, and

took to some kind of farming, I forget where. Married again (first

husband lost in aforementioned shipwreck), this time a Baptist minister,

and began to devote herself to soup-kitchens in Liverpool. Husband

burned to death, somewhere. She's next discovered in the thick of

literary society in London. A wonderful woman, I assure you. Must be

nearly fifty, but she looks twenty-five.'

 

He paused, then added impulsively:

 

'Let me take you to one of her evenings--nine on Thursday. Do persuade

him, Mrs Reardon?'

 

Reardon shook his head.

 

'No, no. I should be horribly out of my element.'

 

'I can't see why. You would meet all sorts of well-known people; those

you ought to have met long ago. Better still, let me ask her to send

an invitation for both of you. I'm sure you'd like her, Mrs Reardon.

There's a good deal of humbug about her, it's true, but some solid

qualities as well. No one has a word to say against her. And it's a

splendid advertisement to have her for a friend. She'll talk about your

books and articles till all is blue.'

 

Amy gave a questioning look at her husband. But Reardon moved in an

uncomfortable way.

 

'We'll see about it,' he said. 'Some day, perhaps.'

 

'Let me know whenever you feel disposed. But about Jedwood: I happen to

know a man who reads for him.'

 

'Heavens!' cried Reardon. 'Who don't you know?'

 

'The simplest thing in the world. At present it's a large part of my

business to make acquaintances. Why, look you; a man who has to live

by miscellaneous writing couldn't get on without a vast variety of

acquaintances. One's own brain would soon run dry; a clever fellow knows

how to use the brains of other people.'

 

Amy listened with an unconscious smile which expressed keen interest.

 

'Oh,' pursued Jasper, 'when did you see Whelpdale last?'

 

'Haven't seen him for a long time.'

 

'You don't know what he's doing? The fellow has set up as a "literary

adviser." He has an advertisement in The Study every week. "To Young

Authors and Literary Aspirants"--something of the kind. "Advice given on

choice of subjects, MSS. read, corrected, and recommended to publishers.

Moderate terms." A fact! And what's more, he made six guineas in the

first fortnight; so he says, at all events. Now that's one of the finest

jokes I ever heard. A man who can't get anyone to publish his own books

makes a living by telling other people how to write!'

 

'But it's a confounded swindle!'

 

'Oh, I don't know. He's capable of correcting the grammar of "literary

aspirants," and as for recommending to publishers--well, anyone can

recommend, I suppose.'

 

Reardon's indignation yielded to laughter.

 

'It's not impossible that he may thrive by this kind of thing.'

 

'Not at all,' assented Jasper.

 

Shortly after this he looked at his watch.

 

'I must be off, my friends. I have something to write before I can go to

my truckle-bed, and it'll take me three hours at least.

 

Good-bye, old man. Let me know when your story's finished, and we'll

talk about it. And think about Mrs Boston Wright; oh, and about that

review in The Current. I wish you'd let me do it. Talk it over with your

guide, philosopher, and friend.'

 

He indicated Amy, who laughed in a forced way.

 

When he was gone, the two sat without speaking for several minutes.

 

'Do you care to make friends with those girls?' asked Reardon at length.

 

'I suppose in decency I must call upon them?'

 

'I suppose so.'

 

'You may find them very agreeable.'

 

'Oh yes.'

 

They conversed with their own thoughts for a while. Then Reardon burst

out laughing.

 

'Well, there's the successful man, you see. Some day he'll live in a

mansion, and dictate literary opinions to the universe.'

 

'How has he offended you?'

 

'Offended me? Not at all. I am glad of his cheerful prospects.'

 

'Why should you refuse to go among those people? It might be good for

you in several ways.'

 

'If the chance had come when I was publishing my best work, I dare say I

shouldn't have refused. But I certainly shall not present myself as the

author of "Margaret Home," and the rubbish I'm now writing.'

 

'Then you must cease to write rubbish.'

 

'Yes. I must cease to write altogether.'

 

'And do what?'

 

'I wish to Heaven I knew!'

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIII. A WARNING

 

In the spring list of Mr Jedwood's publications, announcement was

made of a new work by Alfred Yule. It was called 'English Prose in the

Nineteenth Century,' and consisted of a number of essays (several of

which had already seen the light in periodicals) strung into continuity.

The final chapter dealt with contemporary writers, more especially those

who served to illustrate the author's theme--that journalism is the

destruction of prose style: on certain popular writers of the day there

was an outpouring of gall which was not likely to be received as though

it were sweet ointment. The book met with rather severe treatment in

critical columns; it could scarcely be ignored (the safest mode of

attack when one's author has no expectant public), and only the most

skilful could write of it in a hostile spirit without betraying that

some of its strokes had told. An evening newspaper which piqued itself

on independence indulged in laughing appreciation of the polemical

chapter, and the next day printed a scornful letter from a

thinly-disguised correspondent who assailed both book and reviewer. For

the moment people talked more of Alfred Yule than they had done since

his memorable conflict with Clement Fadge.

 

The publisher had hoped for this. Mr Jedwood was an energetic and

sanguine man, who had entered upon his business with a determination to

rival in a year or so the houses which had slowly risen into commanding

stability. He had no great capital, but the stroke of fortune which had

wedded him to a popular novelist enabled him to count on steady profit

from one source, and boundless faith in his own judgment urged him to an

initial outlay which made the prudent shake their heads. He talked much

of 'the new era,' foresaw revolutions in publishing and book-selling,

planned every week a score of untried ventures which should appeal to

the democratic generation just maturing; in the meantime, was ready to

publish anything which seemed likely to get talked about.

 

The May number of The Current, in its article headed 'Books of the

Month,' devoted about half a page to 'English Prose in the Nineteenth

Century.' This notice was a consummate example of the flippant style of

attack. Flippancy, the most hopeless form of intellectual vice, was a

characterising note of Mr Fadge's periodical; his monthly comments on

publications were already looked for with eagerness by that growing

class of readers who care for nothing but what can be made matter of

ridicule. The hostility of other reviewers was awkward and ineffectual

compared with this venomous banter, which entertained by showing that in

the book under notice there was neither entertainment nor any other kind

of interest. To assail an author without increasing the number of his

readers is the perfection of journalistic skill, and The Current, had

it stood alone, would fully have achieved this end. As it was, silence

might have been better tactics. But Mr Fadge knew that his enemy would

smart under the poisoned pin-points, and that was something gained.

 

On the day that The Current appeared, its treatment of Alfred Yule was

discussed in Mr Jedwood's private office. Mr Quarmby, who had intimate

relations with the publisher, happened to look in just as a young man

(one of Mr Jedwood's 'readers') was expressing a doubt whether Fadge

himself was the author of the review.

 

'But there's Fadge's thumb-mark all down the page,' cried Mr Quarmby.

 

'He inspired the thing, of course; but I rather think it was written by

that fellow Milvain.'

 

'Think so?' asked the publisher.

 

'Well, I know with certainty that the notice of Markland's novel is his

writing, and I have reasons for suspecting that he did Yule's book as

well.'

 

'Smart youngster, that,' remarked Mr Jedwood. 'Who is he, by-the-bye?'

 

'Somebody's illegitimate son, I believe,' replied the source of

trustworthy information, with a laugh. 'Denham says he met him in New

York a year or two ago, under another name.

 

'Excuse me,' interposed Mr Quarmby, 'there's some mistake in all that.'

 

He went on to state what he knew, from Yule himself, concerning

Milvain's history. Though in this instance a corrector, Mr Quarmby took

an opportunity, a few hours later, of informing Mr Hinks that the attack

on Yule in The Current was almost certainly written by young Milvain,

with the result that when the rumour reached Yule's ears it was

delivered as an undoubted and well-known fact.

 

It was a month prior to this that Milvain made his call upon Marian

Yule, on the Sunday when her father was absent. When told of the visit,

Yule assumed a manner of indifference, but his daughter understood that

he was annoyed. With regard to the sisters who would shortly be living

in London, he merely said that Marian must behave as discretion directed

her. If she wished to invite the Miss Milvains to St Paul's Crescent,

he only begged that the times and seasons of the household might not be

disturbed.

 

As her habit was, Marian took refuge in silence. Nothing could have been

more welcome to her than the proximity of Maud and Dora, but she foresaw

that her own home would not be freely open to them; perhaps it might be

necessary to behave with simple frankness, and let her friends know the

embarrassments of the situation. But that could not be done in the first

instance; the unkindness would seem too great. A day after the arrival

of the girls, she received a note from Dora, and almost at once replied

to it by calling at her friends' lodgings. A week after that, Maud and

Dora came to St Paul's Crescent; it was Sunday, and Mr Yule purposely

kept away from home. They had only been once to the house since then,

again without meeting Mr Yule. Marian, however, visited them at their

lodgings frequently; now and then she met Jasper there. The latter never

spoke of her father, and there was no question of inviting him to repeat

his call.

 

In the end, Marian was obliged to speak on the subject with her mother.

Mrs Yule offered an occasion by asking when the Miss Milvains were

coming again.

 

'I don't think I shall ever ask them again,' Marian replied.

 

Her mother understood, and looked troubled.

 

'I must tell them how it is, that's all,' the girl went on. 'They are

sensible; they won't be offended with me.'

 

'But your father has never had anything to say against them,' urged Mrs

Yule. 'Not a word to me, Marian. I'd tell you the truth if he had.'

 

'It's too disagreeable, all the same. I can't invite them here with

pleasure. Father has grown prejudiced against them all, and he won't

change. No, I shall just tell them.'

 

'It's very hard for you,' sighed her mother. 'If I thought I could do

any good by speaking--but I can't, my dear.'

 

'I know it, mother. Let us go on as we did before.'

 

The day after this, when Yule came home about the hour of dinner, he

called Marian's name from within the study. Marian had not left the

house to-day; her work had been set, in the shape of a long task

of copying from disorderly manuscript. She left the sitting-room in

obedience to her father's summons.

 

'Here's something that will afford you amusement,' he said, holding

to her the new number of The Current, and indicating the notice of his

book.

 

She read a few lines, then threw the thing on to the table.

 

'That kind of writing sickens me,' she exclaimed, with anger in her

eyes. 'Only base and heartless people can write in that way. You surely

won't let it trouble you?'

 

'Oh, not for a moment,' her father answered, with exaggerated show of

calm. 'But I am surprised that you don't see the literary merit of the

work. I thought it would distinctly appeal to you.'

 

There was a strangeness in his voice, as well as in the words, which

caused her to look at him inquiringly. She knew him well enough to

understand that such a notice would irritate him profoundly; but why

should he go out of his way to show it her, and with this peculiar

acerbity of manner?

 

'Why do you say that, father?'

 

'It doesn't occur to you who may probably have written it?'

 

She could not miss his meaning; astonishment held her mute for a moment,

then she said:

 

'Surely Mr Fadge wrote it himself?'

 

'I am told not. I am informed on very good authority that one of his

young gentlemen has the credit of it.'

 

'You refer, of course, to Mr Milvain,' she replied quietly. 'But I think

that can't be true.'

 

He looked keenly at her. He had expected a more decided protest.

 

'I see no reason for disbelieving it.'

 

'I see every reason, until I have your evidence.'

 

This was not at all Marian's natural tone in argument with him. She was

wont to be submissive.

 

'I was told,' he continued, hardening face and voice, 'by someone who

had it from Jedwood.'

 

Yule was conscious of untruth in this statement, but his mood would not

allow him to speak ingenuously, and he wished to note the effect upon

Marian of what he said. There were two beliefs in him: on the one hand,

he recognised Fadge in every line of the writing; on the other, he had a

perverse satisfaction in convincing himself that it was Milvain who had

caught so successfully the master's manner. He was not the kind of man

who can resist an opportunity of justifying, to himself and others, a

course into which he has been led by mingled feelings, all more or less

unjustifiable.

 

'How should Jedwood know?' asked Marian.

 

Yule shrugged his shoulders.

 

'As if these things didn't get about among editors and publishers!'

 

'In this case, there's a mistake.'

 

'And why, pray?' His voice trembled with choler. 'Why need there be a

mistake?'

 

'Because Mr Milvain is quite incapable of reviewing your book in such a

spirit.'

 

'There is your mistake, my girl. Milvain will do anything that's asked

of him, provided he's well enough paid.'

 

Marian reflected. When she raised her eyes again they were perfectly

calm.

 

'What has led you to think that?'

 

'Don't I know the type of man? Noscitur ex sociis--have you Latin enough

for that?'

 

'You'll find that you are misinformed,' Marian replied, and therewith

went from the room.

 

She could not trust herself to converse longer. A resentment such as her

father had never yet excited in her--such, indeed, as she had seldom, if

ever, conceived--threatened to force utterance for itself in words which

would change the current of her whole life. She saw her father in his

worst aspect, and her heart was shaken by an unnatural revolt from him.

Let his assurance of what he reported be ever so firm, what right had

he to make this use of it? His behaviour was spiteful. Suppose he

entertained suspicions which seemed to make it his duty to warn her

against Milvain, this was not the way to go about it. A father actuated

by simple motives of affection would never speak and look thus.

 

It was the hateful spirit of literary rancour that ruled him; the spirit

that made people eager to believe all evil, that blinded and maddened.

Never had she felt so strongly the unworthiness of the existence to

which she was condemned. That contemptible review, and now her father's

ignoble passion--such things were enough to make all literature appear a

morbid excrescence upon human life.

 

Forgetful of the time, she sat in her bedroom until a knock at the

door, and her mother's voice, admonished her that dinner was waiting. An

impulse all but caused her to say that she would rather not go down

for the meal, that she wished to be left alone. But this would be weak

peevishness. She just looked at the glass to see that her face bore no

unwonted signs, and descended to take her place as usual.

 

Throughout the dinner there passed no word of conversation. Yule was at

his blackest; he gobbled a few mouthfuls, then occupied himself with the

evening paper. On rising, he said to Marian:

 

'Have you copied the whole of that?'

 

The tone would have been uncivil if addressed to an impertinent servant.

 

'Not much more than half,' was the cold reply.

 

'Can you finish it to-night?'

 

'I'm afraid not. I am going out.'

 

'Then I must do it myself'

 

And he went to the study.

 

Mrs Yule was in an anguish of nervousness.

 

'What is it, dear?' she asked of Marian, in a pleading whisper. 'Oh,

don't quarrel with your father! Don't!'

 

'I can't be a slave, mother, and I can't be treated unjustly.'

 

'What is it? Let me go and speak to him.'

 

'It's no use. We CAN'T live in terror.'

 

For Mrs Yule this was unimaginable disaster. She had never dreamt that

Marian, the still, gentle Marian, could be driven to revolt. And it had

come with the suddenness of a thunderclap. She wished to ask what had

taken place between father and daughter in the brief interview before

dinner; but Marian gave her no chance, quitting the room upon those last

trembling words.

 

The girl had resolved to visit her friends, the sisters, and tell them

that in future they must never come to see her at home. But it was no

easy thing for her to stifle her conscience, and leave her father to

toil over that copying which had need of being finished. Not her will,

but her exasperated feeling, had replied to him that she would not do

the work; already it astonished her that she had really spoken such

words. And as the throbbing of her pulses subsided, she saw more clearly

into the motives of this wretched tumult which possessed her. Her

mind was harassed with a fear lest in defending Milvain she had spoken

foolishly. Had he not himself said to her that he might be guilty of

base things, just to make his way? Perhaps it was the intolerable pain

of imagining that he had already made good his words, which robbed her

of self-control and made her meet her father's rudeness with defiance.

 

Impossible to carry out her purpose; she could not deliberately leave

the house and spend some hours away with the thought of such wrath and

misery left behind her. Gradually she was returning to her natural self;

fear and penitence were chill at her heart.

 

She went down to the study, tapped, and entered.

 

'Father, I said something that I did not really mean. Of course I shall

go on with the copying and finish it as soon as possible.'

 

'You will do nothing of the kind, my girl.' He was in his usual place,

already working at Marian's task; he spoke in a low, thick voice. 'Spend

your evening as you choose, I have no need of you.'

 

'I behaved very ill-temperedly. Forgive me, father.'

 

'Have the goodness to go away. You hear me?'

 

His eyes were inflamed, and his discoloured teeth showed themselves

savagely. Marian durst not, really durst not approach him. She

hesitated, but once more a sense of hateful injustice moved within her,

and she went away as quietly as she had entered.

 

She said to herself that now it was her perfect right to go whither

she would. But the freedom was only in theory; her submissive and timid

nature kept her at home--and upstairs in her own room; for, if she

went to sit with her mother, of necessity she must talk about what had

happened, and that she felt unable to do. Some friend to whom she could

unbosom all her sufferings would now have been very precious to her, but

Maud and Dora were her only intimates, and to them she might not make

the full confession which gives solace.

 

Mrs Yule did not venture to intrude upon her daughter's privacy. That

Marian neither went out nor showed herself in the house proved her

troubled state, but the mother had no confidence in her power to

comfort. At the usual time she presented herself in the study with her

husband's coffee; the face which was for an instant turned to her did

not invite conversation, but distress obliged her to speak.

 

'Why are you cross with Marian, Alfred?'

 

'You had better ask what she means by her extraordinary behaviour.'

 

A word of harsh rebuff was the most she had expected. Thus encouraged,

she timidly put another question.

 

'How has she behaved?'

 

'I suppose you have ears?'

 

'But wasn't there something before that? You spoke so angry to her.'

 

'Spoke so angry, did I? She is out, I suppose?'

 

'No, she hasn't gone out.'

 

'That'll do. Don't disturb me any longer.'

 

She did not venture to linger.

 

The breakfast next morning seemed likely to pass without any interchange

of words. But when Yule was pushing back his chair, Marian--who looked

pale and ill--addressed a question to him about the work she would

ordinarily have pursued to-day at the Reading-room. He answered in a

matter-of-fact tone, and for a few minutes they talked on the subject

much as at any other time. Half an hour after, Marian set forth for the

Museum in the usual way. Her father stayed at home.

 

It was the end of the episode for the present. Marian felt that the

best thing would be to ignore what had happened, as her father evidently

purposed doing. She had asked his forgiveness, and it was harsh in him

to have repelled her; but by now she was able once more to take into

consideration all his trials and toils, his embittered temper and the

new wound he had received. That he should resume his wonted manner was

sufficient evidence of regret on his part. Gladly she would have unsaid

her resentful words; she had been guilty of a childish outburst of

temper, and perhaps had prepared worse sufferings for the future.

 

And yet, perhaps it was as well that her father should be warned. She

was not all submission, he might try her beyond endurance; there might

come a day when perforce she must stand face to face with him, and make

it known she had her own claims upon life. It was as well he should hold

that possibility in view.

 

This evening no work was expected of her. Not long after dinner she

prepared for going out; to her mother she mentioned she should be back

about ten o'clock.

 

'Give my kind regards to them, dear--if you like to,' said Mrs Yule just

above her breath.

 

'Certainly I will.'

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIV. ECRUITS

 

Marian walked to the nearest point of Camden Road, and there waited for

an omnibus, which conveyed her to within easy reach of the street where

Maud and Dora Milvain had their lodgings. This was at the north-east of

Regent's Park, and no great distance from Mornington Road, where Jasper

still dwelt.

 

On learning that the young ladies were at home and alone, she ascended

to the second floor and knocked.

 

'That's right!' exclaimed Dora's pleasant voice, as the door opened and

the visitor showed herself And then came the friendly greeting which

warmed Marian's heart, the greeting which until lately no house in

London could afford her.

 

The girls looked oddly out of place in this second-floor sitting-room,

with its vulgar furniture and paltry ornaments. Maud especially so, for

her fine figure was well displayed by the dress of mourning, and

her pale, handsome face had as little congruence as possible with a

background of humble circumstances.

 

Dora impressed one as a simpler nature, but she too had distinctly the

note of refinement which was out of harmony with these surroundings.

They occupied only two rooms, the sleeping-chamber being double-bedded;

they purchased food for themselves and prepared their own meals,

excepting dinner. During the first week a good many tears were shed

by both of them; it was not easy to transfer themselves from the

comfortable country home to this bare corner of lodgers' London. Maud,

as appeared at the first glance, was less disposed than her sister to

make the best of things; her countenance wore an expression rather of

discontent than of sorrow, and she did not talk with the same readiness

as Dora.

 

On the round table lay a number of books; when disturbed, the sisters

had been engaged in studious reading.

 

'I'm not sure that I do right in coming again so soon,' said Marian as

she took off her things. 'Your time is precious.'

 

'So are you,' replied Dora, laughing. 'It's only under protest that we

work in the evening when we have been hard at it all day.'

 

'We have news for you, too,' said Maud, who sat languidly on an uneasy

chair.

 

'Good, I hope?'

 

'Someone called to see us yesterday. I dare say you can guess who it

was.'

 

'Amy, perhaps?'

 

'Yes.'

 

'And how did you like her?'

 

The sisters seemed to have a difficulty in answering. Dora was the first

to speak.

 

'We thought she was sadly out of spirits. Indeed she told us that she

hasn't been very well lately. But I think we shall like her if we come

to know her better.'

 

'It was rather awkward, Marian,' the elder sister explained. 'We felt

obliged to say something about Mr Reardon's books, but we haven't read

any of them yet, you know, so I just said that I hoped soon to read his

new novel. "I suppose you have seen reviews of it?" she asked at once.

Of course I ought to have had the courage to say no, but I admitted

that I had seen one or two--Jasper showed us them. She looked very much

annoyed, and after that we didn't find much to talk about.'

 

'The reviews are very disagreeable,' said Marian with a troubled face.

'I have read the book since I saw you the other day, and I am afraid it

isn't good, but I have seen many worse novels more kindly reviewed.'

 

'Jasper says it's because Mr Reardon has no friends among the

journalists.'

 

'Still,' replied Marian, 'I'm afraid they couldn't have given the book

much praise, if they wrote honestly. Did Amy ask you to go and see her?'

 

'Yes, but she said it was uncertain how long they would be living at

their present address. And really, we can't feel sure whether we should

be welcome or not just now.'

 

Marian listened with bent head. She too had to make known to her friends

that they were not welcome in her own home; but she knew not how to

utter words which would sound so unkind.

 

'Your brother,' she said after a pause, 'will soon find suitable friends

for you.'

 

'Before long,' replied Dora, with a look of amusement, 'he's going to

take us to call on Mrs Boston Wright. I hardly thought he was serious at

first, but he says he really means it.'

 

Marian grew more and more silent. At home she had felt that it would not

be difficult to explain her troubles to these sympathetic girls, but now

the time had come for speaking, she was oppressed by shame and anxiety.

True, there was no absolute necessity for making the confession this

evening, and if she chose to resist her father's prejudice, things might

even go on in a seemingly natural way. But the loneliness of her life

had developed in her a sensitiveness which could not endure situations

such as the present; difficulties which are of small account to

people who take their part in active social life, harassed her to the

destruction of all peace. Dora was not long in noticing the dejected

mood which had come upon her friend.

 

'What's troubling you, Marian?'

 

'Something I can hardly bear to speak of. Perhaps it will be the end of

your friendship for me, and I should find it very hard to go back to my

old solitude.'

 

The girls gazed at her, in doubt at first whether she spoke seriously.

 

'What can you mean?' Dora exclaimed. 'What crime have you been

committing?'

 

Maud, who leaned with her elbows on the table, searched Marian's face

curiously, but said nothing.

 

'Has Mr Milvain shown you the new number of The Current?' Marian went on

to ask.

 

They replied with a negative, and Maud added:

 

'He has nothing in it this month, except a review.'

 

'A review?' repeated Marian in a low voice.

 

'Yes; of somebody's novel.'

 

'Markland's,' supplied Dora.

 

Marian drew a breath, but remained for a moment with her eyes cast down.

 

'Do go on, dear,' urged Dora. 'Whatever are you going to tell us?'

 

'There's a notice of father's book,' continued the other, 'a very

ill-natured one; it's written by the editor, Mr Fadge. Father and he

have been very unfriendly for a long time. Perhaps Mr Milvain has told

you something about it?'

 

Dora replied that he had.

 

'I don't know how it is in other professions,' Marian resumed, 'but I

hope there is less envy, hatred and malice than in this of ours. The

name of literature is often made hateful to me by the things I hear

and read. My father has never been very fortunate, and many things have

happened to make him bitter against the men who succeed; he has often

quarrelled with people who were at first his friends, but never so

seriously with anyone as with Mr Fadge. His feeling of enmity goes so

far that it includes even those who are in any way associated with Mr

Fadge. I am sorry to say'--she looked with painful anxiety from one to

the other of her hearers--'this has turned him against your brother,

and--'

 

Her voice was checked by agitation.

 

'We were afraid of this,' said Dora, in a tone of sympathy.

 

'Jasper feared it might be the case,' added Maud, more coldly, though

with friendliness.

 

'Why I speak of it at all,' Marian hastened to say, 'is because I am so

afraid it should make a difference between yourselves and me.'

 

'Oh! don't think that!' Dora exclaimed.

 

'I am so ashamed,' Marian went on in an uncertain tone, 'but I think

it will be better if I don't ask you to come and see me. It sounds

ridiculous; it is ridiculous and shameful. I couldn't complain if you

refused to have anything more to do with me.'

 

'Don't let it trouble you,' urged Maud, with perhaps a trifle more of

magnanimity in her voice than was needful. We quite understand. Indeed,

it shan't make any difference to us.'

 

But Marian had averted her face, and could not meet these assurances

with any show of pleasure. Now that the step was taken she felt that

her behaviour had been very weak. Unreasonable harshness such as her

father's ought to have been met more steadily; she had no right to make

it an excuse for such incivility to her friends. Yet only in some

such way as this could she make known to Jasper Milvain how her father

regarded him, which she felt it necessary to do. Now his sisters would

tell him, and henceforth there would be a clear understanding on both

sides. That state of things was painful to her, but it was better than

ambiguous relations.

 

'Jasper is very sorry about it,' said Dora, glancing rapidly at Marian.

 

'But his connection with Mr Fadge came about in such a natural way,'

added the eldest sister. 'And it was impossible for him to refuse

opportunities.'

 

'Impossible; I know,' Marian replied earnestly. 'Don't think that I

wish to justify my father. But I can understand him, and it must be very

difficult for you to do so. You can't know, as I do, how intensely he

has suffered in these wretched, ignoble quarrels. If only you will let

me come here still, in the same way, and still be as friendly to me. My

home has never been a place to which I could have invited friends

with any comfort, even if I had had any to invite. There were always

reasons--but I can't speak of them.'

 

'My dear Marian,' appealed Dora, 'don't distress yourself so! Do believe

that nothing whatever has happened to change our feeling to you. Has

there, Maud?'

 

'Nothing whatever. We are not unreasonable girls, Marian.'

 

'I am more grateful to you than I can say.'

 

It had seemed as if Marian must give way to the emotions which all but

choked her voice; she overcame them, however, and presently was able

to talk in pretty much her usual way, though when she smiled it was

but faintly. Maud tried to lead her thoughts in another direction by

speaking of work in which she and Dora were engaged. Already the sisters

were doing a new piece of compilation for Messrs Jolly and Monk; it was

more exacting than their initial task for the book market, and would

take a much longer time.

 

A couple of hours went by, and Marian had just spoken of taking her

leave, when a man's step was heard rapidly ascending the nearest flight

of stairs.

 

'Here's Jasper,' remarked Dora, and in a moment there sounded a short,

sharp summons at the door.

 

Jasper it was; he came in with radiant face, his eyes blinking before

the lamplight.

 

'Well, girls! Ha! how do you do, Miss Yule? I had just the vaguest sort

of expectation that you might be here. It seemed a likely night; I

don't know why. I say, Dora, we really must get two or three decent

easy-chairs for your room. I've seen some outside a second-hand

furniture shop in Hampstead Road, about six shillings apiece. There's no

sitting on chairs such as these.'

 

That on which he tried to dispose himself, when he had flung aside his

trappings, creaked and shivered ominously.

 

'You hear? I shall come plump on to the floor, if I don't mind. My word,

what a day I have had! I've just been trying what I really could do

in one day if I worked my hardest. Now just listen; it deserves to be

chronicled for the encouragement of aspiring youth. I got up at 7.30,

and whilst I breakfasted I read through a volume I had to review. By

10.30 the review was written--three-quarters of a column of the Evening

Budget.'

 

'Who is the unfortunate author?' interrupted Maud, caustically.

 

'Not unfortunate at all. I had to crack him up; otherwise I couldn't

have done the job so quickly. It's the easiest thing in the world to

write laudation; only an inexperienced grumbler would declare it was

easier to find fault. The book was Billington's "Vagaries"; pompous

idiocy, of course, but he lives in a big house and gives dinners. Well,

from 10.30 to 11, I smoked a cigar and reflected, feeling that the day

wasn't badly begun. At eleven I was ready to write my Saturday causerie

for the Will o' the Wisp; it took me till close upon one o'clock, which

was rather too long. I can't afford more than an hour and a half

for that job. At one, I rushed out to a dirty little eating-house

in Hampstead Road. Was back again by a quarter to two, having in the

meantime sketched a paper for The West End. Pipe in mouth, I sat down

to leisurely artistic work; by five, half the paper was done; the

other half remains for to-morrow. From five to half-past I read four

newspapers and two magazines, and from half-past to a quarter to six I

jotted down several ideas that had come to me whilst reading. At six I

was again in the dirty eating-house, satisfying a ferocious hunger. Home

once more at 6.45, and for two hours wrote steadily at a long affair I

have in hand for The Current. Then I came here, thinking hard all the

way. What say you to this? Have I earned a night's repose?'

 

'And what's the value of it all?' asked Maud.

 

'Probably from ten to twelve guineas, if I calculated.'

 

'I meant, what was the literary value of it?' said his sister, with a

smile.

 

'Equal to that of the contents of a mouldy nut.'

 

'Pretty much what I thought.'

 

'Oh, but it answers the purpose,' urged Dora, 'and it does no one any

harm.'

 

'Honest journey-work!' cried Jasper. 'There are few men in London

capable of such a feat. Many a fellow could write more in quantity, but

they couldn't command my market. It's rubbish, but rubbish of a very

special kind, of fine quality.'

 

Marian had not yet spoken, save a word or two in reply to Jasper's

greeting; now and then she just glanced at him, but for the most part

her eyes were cast down. Now Jasper addressed her.

 

'A year ago, Miss Yule, I shouldn't have believed myself capable of such

activity. In fact I wasn't capable of it then.'

 

'You think such work won't be too great a strain upon you?' she asked.

 

'Oh, this isn't a specimen day, you know. To-morrow I shall very likely

do nothing but finish my West End article, in an easy two or three

hours. There's no knowing; I might perhaps keep up the high pressure

if I tried. But then I couldn't dispose of all the work. Little by

little--or perhaps rather quicker than that--I shall extend my scope.

For instance, I should like to do two or three leaders a week for one of

the big dailies. I can't attain unto that just yet.'

 

'Not political leaders?'

 

'By no means. That's not my line. The kind of thing in which one makes a

column out of what would fill six lines of respectable prose. You call

a cigar a "convoluted weed," and so on, you know; that passes for

facetiousness. I've never really tried my hand at that style yet; I

shouldn't wonder if I managed it brilliantly. Some day I'll write a few

exercises; just take two lines of some good prose writer, and expand

them into twenty, in half-a-dozen different ways. Excellent mental

gymnastics!'

 

Marian listened to his flow of talk for a few minutes longer, then took

the opportunity of a brief silence to rise and put on her hat. Jasper

observed her, but without rising; he looked at his sisters in a

hesitating way. At length he stood up, and declared that he too must be

off. This coincidence had happened once before when he met Marian here

in the evening.

 

'At all events, you won't do any more work to-night,' said Dora.

 

'No; I shall read a page of something or other over a glass of whisky,

and seek the sleep of a man who has done his duty.'

 

'Why the whisky?' asked Maud.

 

'Do you grudge me such poor solace?'

 

'I don't see the need of it.'

 

'Nonsense, Maud!' exclaimed her sister. 'He needs a little stimulant

when he works so hard.'

 

Each of the girls gave Marian's hand a significant pressure as she took

leave of them, and begged her to come again as soon as she had a free

evening. There was gratitude in her eyes.

 

The evening was clear, and not very cold.

 

'It's rather late for you to go home,' said Jasper, as they left the

house. 'May I walk part of the way with you?'

 

Marian replied with a low 'Thank you.'

 

'I think you get on pretty well with the girls, don't you?'

 

'I hope they are as glad of my friendship as I am of theirs.'

 

'Pity to see them in a place like that, isn't it? They ought to have a

good house, with plenty of servants. It's bad enough for a civilised

man to have to rough it, but I hate to see women living in a sordid way.

Don't you think they could both play their part in a drawing-room, with

a little experience?'

 

'Surely there's no doubt of it.'

 

'Maud would look really superb if she were handsomely dressed. She

hasn't a common face, by any means. And Dora is pretty, I think. Well,

they shall go and see some people before long. The difficulty is, one

doesn't like it to be known that they live in such a crib; but I daren't

advise them to go in for expense. One can't be sure that it would repay

them, though--Now, in my own case, if I could get hold of a few thousand

pounds I should know how to use it with the certainty of return; it

would save me, probably, a clear ten years of life; I mean, I should go

at a jump to what I shall be ten years hence without the help of money.

But they have such a miserable little bit of capital, and everything is

still so uncertain. One daren't speculate under the circumstances.'

 

Marian made no reply.

 

'You think I talk of nothing but money?' Jasper said suddenly, looking

down into her face.

 

'I know too well what it means to be without money.'

 

'Yes, but--you do just a little despise me?'

 

'Indeed, I don't, Mr Milvain.'

 

'If that is sincere, I'm very glad. I take it in a friendly sense. I am

rather despicable, you know; it's part of my business to be so. But

a friend needn't regard that. There is the man apart from his

necessities.'

 

The silence was then unbroken till they came to the lower end of Park

Street, the junction of roads which lead to Hampstead, to Highgate, and

to Holloway.

 

'Shall you take an omnibus?' Jasper asked.

 

She hesitated.

 

'Or will you give me the pleasure of walking on with you? You are tired,

perhaps?'

 

'Not the least.'

 

For the rest of her answer she moved forward, and they crossed into the

obscurity of Camden Road.

 

'Shall I be doing wrong, Mr Milvain,' Marian began in a very low

voice, 'if I ask you about the authorship of something in this month's

Current?'

 

'I'm afraid I know what you refer to. There's no reason why I shouldn't

answer a question of the kind.'

 

'It was Mr Fadge himself who reviewed my father's book?'

 

'It was--confound him! I don't know another man who could have done the

thing so vilely well.'

 

'I suppose he was only replying to my father's attack upon him and his

friends.'

 

'Your father's attack is honest and straightforward and justifiable and

well put. I read that chapter of his book with huge satisfaction.

But has anyone suggested that another than Fadge was capable of that

masterpiece?'

 

'Yes. I am told that Mr Jedwood, the publisher, has somehow made a

mistake.'

 

'Jedwood? And what mistake?'

 

'Father heard that you were the writer.'

 

'I?' Jasper stopped short. They were in the rays of a street-lamp, and

could see each other's faces. 'And he believes that?'

 

'I'm afraid so.'

 

'And you believe--believed it?'

 

'Not for a moment.'

 

'I shall write a note to Mr Yule.'

 

Marian was silent a while, then said:

 

'Wouldn't it be better if you found a way of letting Mr Jedwood know the

truth?'

 

'Perhaps you are right.'

 

Jasper was very grateful for the suggestion. In that moment he had

reflected how rash it would be to write to Alfred Yule on such a

subject, with whatever prudence in expressing himself. Such a letter,

coming under the notice of the great Fadge, might do its writer serious

harm.

 

'Yes, you are right,' he repeated. 'I'll stop that rumour at its source.

I can't guess how it started; for aught I know, some enemy hath done

this, though I don't quite discern the motive. Thank you very much for

telling me, and still more for refusing to believe that I could treat Mr

Yule in that way, even as a matter of business. When I said that I was

despicable, I didn't mean that I could sink quite to such a point as

that. If only because it was your father--'

 

He checked himself and they walked on for several yards without

speaking.

 

'In that case,' Jasper resumed at length, 'your father doesn't think of

me in a very friendly way?'

 

'He scarcely could--'

 

'No, no. And I quite understand that the mere fact of my working for

Fadge would prejudice him against me. But that's no reason, I hope, why

you and I shouldn't be friends?'

 

'I hope not.'

 

'I don't know that my friendship is worth much,' Jasper continued,

talking into the upper air, a habit of his when he discussed his own

character. 'I shall go on as I have begun, and fight for some of the

good things of life. But your friendship is valuable. If I am sure of

it, I shall be at all events within sight of the better ideals.'

 

Marian walked on with her eyes upon the ground. To her surprise she

discovered presently that they had all but reached St Paul's Crescent.

 

'Thank you for having come so far,' she said, pausing.

 

'Ah, you are nearly home. Why, it seems only a few minutes since we left

the girls. Now I'll run back to the whisky of which Maud disapproves.'

 

'May it do you good!' said Marian with a laugh.

 

A speech of this kind seemed unusual upon her lips. Jasper smiled as he

held her hand and regarded her.

 

'Then you can speak in a joking way?'

 

'Do I seem so very dull?'

 

'Dull, by no means. But sage and sober and reticent--and exactly what

I like in my friend, because it contrasts with my own habits. All the

better that merriment lies below it. Goodnight, Miss Yule.'

 

He strode off and in a minute or two turned his head to look at the

slight figure passing into darkness.

 

Marian's hand trembled as she tried to insert her latch-key. When

she had closed the door very quietly behind her she went to the

sitting-room; Mrs Yule was just laying aside the sewing on which she had

occupied herself throughout the lonely evening.

 

'I'm rather late,' said the girl, in a voice of subdued joyousness.

 

'Yes; I was getting a little uneasy, dear.'

 

'Oh, there's no danger.'

 

'You have been enjoying yourself, I can see.'

 

'I have had a pleasant evening.'

 

In the retrospect it seemed the pleasantest she had yet spent with her

friends, though she had set out in such a different mood. Her mind was

relieved of two anxieties; she felt sure that the girls had not

taken ill what she told them, and there was no longer the least doubt

concerning the authorship of that review in The Current.

 

She could confess to herself now that the assurance from Jasper's

lips was not superfluous. He might have weighed profit against other

considerations, and have written in that way of her father; she had not

felt that absolute confidence which defies every argument from human

frailty. And now she asked herself if faith of that unassailable kind is

ever possible; is it not only the poet's dream, the far ideal?

 

Marian often went thus far in her speculation. Her candour was allied

with clear insight into the possibilities of falsehood; she was not

readily the victim of illusion; thinking much, and speaking little, she

had not come to her twenty-third year without perceiving what a distance

lay between a girl's dream of life as it might be and life as it is. Had

she invariably disclosed her thoughts, she would have earned the repute

of a very sceptical and slightly cynical person.

 

But with what rapturous tumult of the heart she could abandon herself to

a belief in human virtues when their suggestion seemed to promise her a

future of happiness!

 

Alone in her room she sat down only to think of Jasper Milvain, and

extract from the memory of his words, his looks, new sustenance for

her hungry heart. Jasper was the first man who had ever evinced a

man's interest in her. Until she met him she had not known a look

of compliment or a word addressed to her emotions. He was as far as

possible from representing the lover of her imagination, but from the

day of that long talk in the fields near Wattleborough the thought of

him had supplanted dreams. On that day she said to herself: I could love

him if he cared to seek my love. Premature, perhaps; why, yes, but one

who is starving is not wont to feel reluctance at the suggestion of

food. The first man who had approached her with display of feeling and

energy and youthful self-confidence; handsome too, it seemed to her. Her

womanhood went eagerly to meet him.

 

Since then she had made careful study of his faults. Each conversation

had revealed to her new weakness and follies. With the result that her

love had grown to a reality.

 

He was so human, and a youth of all but monastic seclusion had prepared

her to love the man who aimed with frank energy at the joys of life.

A taint of pedantry would have repelled her. She did not ask for high

intellect or great attainments; but vivacity, courage, determination to

succeed, were delightful to her senses. Her ideal would not have been

a literary man at all; certainly not a man likely to be prominent

in journalism; rather a man of action, one who had no restraints of

commerce or official routine. But in Jasper she saw the qualities that

attracted her apart from the accidents of his position. Ideal personages

do not descend to girls who have to labour at the British Museum; it

seemed a marvel to her, and of good augury, that even such a man as

Jasper should have crossed her path.

 

It was as though years had passed since their first meeting. Upon her

return to London had followed such long periods of hopelessness. Yet

whenever they encountered each other he had look and speech for her with

which surely he did not greet every woman. From the first his way of

regarding her had shown frank interest. And at length had come the

confession of his 'respect,' his desire to be something more to her than

a mere acquaintance. It was scarcely possible that he should speak as he

several times had of late if he did not wish to draw her towards him.

 

That was the hopeful side of her thoughts. It was easy to forget for a

time those words of his which one might think were spoken as distinct

warning; but they crept into the memory, unwelcome, importunate, as soon

as imagination had built its palace of joy. Why did he always recur to

the subject of money? 'I shall allow nothing to come in my way;' he once

said that as if meaning, 'certainly not a love affair with a girl who

is penniless.' He emphasised the word 'friend,' as if to explain that he

offered and asked nothing more than friendship.

 

But it only meant that he would not be in haste to declare himself. Of

a certainty there was conflict between his ambition and his love, but

she recognised her power over him and exulted in it. She had observed

his hesitancy this evening, before he rose to accompany her from

the house; her heart laughed within her as the desire drew him. And

henceforth such meetings would be frequent, with each one her influence

would increase. How kindly fate had dealt with her in bringing Maud and

Dora to London!

 

It was within his reach to marry a woman who would bring him wealth.

He had that in mind; she understood it too well. But not one moment's

advantage would she relinquish. He must choose her in her poverty, and

be content with what his talents could earn for him. Her love gave her

the right to demand this sacrifice; let him ask for her love, and the

sacrifice would no longer seem one, so passionately would she reward

him.

 

He would ask it. To-night she was full of a rich confidence, partly, no

doubt, the result of reaction from her miseries. He had said at parting

that her character was so well suited to his; that he liked her. And

then he had pressed her hand so warmly. Before long he would ask her

love.

 

The unhoped was all but granted her. She could labour on in the valley

of the shadow of books, for a ray of dazzling sunshine might at any

moment strike into its musty gloom.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XV. THE LAST RESOURCE

 

The past twelve months had added several years to Edwin Reardon's

seeming age; at thirty-three he would generally have been taken for

forty. His bearing, his personal habits, were no longer those of a

young man; he walked with a stoop and pressed noticeably on the stick

he carried; it was rare for him to show the countenance which tells of

present cheerfulness or glad onward-looking; there was no spring in his

step; his voice had fallen to a lower key, and often he spoke with

that hesitation in choice of words which may be noticed in persons whom

defeat has made self-distrustful. Ceaseless perplexity and dread gave a

wandering, sometimes a wild, expression to his eyes.

 

He seldom slept, in the proper sense of the word; as a rule he was

conscious all through the night of 'a kind of fighting' between physical

weariness and wakeful toil of the mind. It often happened that some

wholly imaginary obstacle in the story he was writing kept him under

a sense of effort throughout the dark hours; now and again he woke,

reasoned with himself, and remembered clearly that the torment was

without cause, but the short relief thus afforded soon passed in the

recollection of real distress. In his unsoothing slumber he talked

aloud, frequently wakening Amy; generally he seemed to be holding a

dialogue with someone who had imposed an intolerable task upon him; he

protested passionately, appealed, argued in the strangest way about

the injustice of what was demanded. Once Amy heard him begging for

money--positively begging, like some poor wretch in the street; it

was horrible, and made her shed tears; when he asked what he had been

saying, she could not bring herself to tell him.

 

When the striking clocks summoned him remorselessly to rise and work

he often reeled with dizziness. It seemed to him that the greatest

happiness attainable would be to creep into some dark, warm corner, out

of the sight and memory of men, and lie there torpid, with a blessed

half-consciousness that death was slowly overcoming him. Of all the

sufferings collected into each four-and-twenty hours this of rising to a

new day was the worst.

 

The one-volume story which he had calculated would take him four or five

weeks was with difficulty finished in two months. March winds made an

invalid of him; at one time he was threatened with bronchitis, and for

several days had to abandon even the effort to work. In previous winters

he had been wont to undergo a good deal of martyrdom from the London

climate, but never in such a degree as now; mental illness seemed to

have enfeebled his body.

 

It was strange that he succeeded in doing work of any kind, for he had

no hope from the result. This one last effort he would make, just to

complete the undeniableness of his failure, and then literature should

be thrown behind him; what other pursuit was possible to him he knew

not, but perhaps he might discover some mode of earning a livelihood.

Had it been a question of gaining a pound a week, as in the old days,

he might have hoped to obtain some clerkship like that at the hospital,

where no commercial experience or aptitude was demanded; but in his

present position such an income would be useless. Could he take Amy

and the child to live in a garret? On less than a hundred a year it was

scarcely possible to maintain outward decency. Already his own clothing

began to declare him poverty-stricken, and but for gifts from her

mother Amy would have reached the like pass. They lived in dread of

the pettiest casual expense, for the day of pennilessness was again

approaching.

 

Amy was oftener from home than had been her custom.

 

Occasionally she went away soon after breakfast, and spent the whole day

at her mother's house. 'It saves food,' she said with a bitter laugh,

when Reardon once expressed surprise that she should be going again so

soon.

 

'And gives you an opportunity of bewailing your hard fate,' he returned

coldly.

 

The reproach was ignoble, and he could not be surprised that Amy left

the house without another word to him. Yet he resented that, as he

had resented her sorrowful jest. The feeling of unmanliness in his own

position tortured him into a mood of perversity. Through the day he

wrote only a few lines, and on Amy's return he resolved not to speak

to her. There was a sense of repose in this change of attitude; he

encouraged himself in the view that Amy was treating him with cruel

neglect. She, surprised that her friendly questions elicited no answer,

looked into his face and saw a sullen anger of which hitherto Reardon

had never seemed capable. Her indignation took fire, and she left him to

himself.

 

For a day or two he persevered in his muteness, uttering a word only

when it could not be avoided. Amy was at first so resentful that she

contemplated leaving him to his ill-temper and dwelling at her mother's

house until he chose to recall her. But his face grew so haggard in

fixed misery that compassion at length prevailed over her injured

pride. Late in the evening she went to the study, and found him sitting

unoccupied.

 

'Edwin--'

 

'What do you want?' he asked indifferently.

 

'Why are you behaving to me like this?'

 

'Surely it makes no difference to you how I behave? You can easily

forget that I exist, and live your own life.'

 

'What have I done to make this change in you?'

 

'Is it a change?'

 

'You know it is.'

 

'How did I behave before?' he asked, glancing at her.

 

'Like yourself--kindly and gently.'

 

'If I always did so, in spite of things that might have embittered

another man's temper, I think it deserved some return of kindness from

you.'

 

'What "things" do you mean?'

 

'Circumstances for which neither of us is to blame.'

 

'I am not conscious of having failed in kindness,' said Amy, distantly.

 

'Then that only shows that you have forgotten your old self, and utterly

changed in your feeling to me. When we first came to live here could you

have imagined yourself leaving me alone for long, miserable days, just

because I was suffering under misfortunes? You have shown too plainly

that you don't care to give me the help even of a kind word. You get

away from me as often as you can, as if to remind me that we have no

longer any interests in common. Other people are your confidants; you

speak of me to them as if I were purposely dragging you down into a mean

condition.'

 

'How can you know what I say about you?'

 

'Isn't it true?' he asked, flashing an angry glance at her.

 

'It is not true. Of course I have talked to mother about our

difficulties; how could I help it?'

 

'And to other people.'

 

'Not in a way that you could find fault with.'

 

'In a way that makes me seem contemptible to them. You show them that

I have made you poor and unhappy, and you are glad to have their

sympathy.'

 

'What you mean is, that I oughtn't to see anyone. There's no other way

of avoiding such a reproach as this. So long as I don't laugh and sing

before people, and assure them that things couldn't be more hopeful, I

shall be asking for their sympathy, and against you. I can't understand

your unreasonableness.'

 

'I'm afraid there is very little in me that you can understand. So long

as my prospects seemed bright, you could sympathise readily enough; as

soon as ever they darkened, something came between us. Amy, you haven't

done your duty. Your love hasn't stood the test as it should have done.

You have given me no help; besides the burden of cheerless work I have

had to bear that of your growing coldness. I can't remember one instance

when you have spoken to me as a wife might--a wife who was something

more than a man's housekeeper.'

 

The passion in his voice and the harshness of the accusation made her

unable to reply.

 

'You said rightly,' he went on, 'that I have always been kind and

gentle. I never thought I could speak to you or feel to you in any other

way. But I have undergone too much, and you have deserted me. Surely it

was too soon to do that. So long as I endeavoured my utmost, and loved

you the same as ever, you might have remembered all you once said to me.

You might have given me help, but you haven't cared to.'

 

The impulses which had part in this outbreak were numerous and complex.

He felt all that he expressed, but at the same time it seemed to him

that he had the choice between two ways of uttering his emotion--the

tenderly appealing and the sternly reproachful: he took the latter

course because it was less natural to him than the former. His desire

was to impress Amy with the bitter intensity of his sufferings; pathos

and loving words seemed to have lost their power upon her, but perhaps

if he yielded to that other form of passion she would be shaken out of

her coldness. The stress of injured love is always tempted to speech

which seems its contradiction. Reardon had the strangest mixture of pain

and pleasure in flinging out these first words of wrath that he had ever

addressed to Amy; they consoled him under the humiliating sense of his

weakness, and yet he watched with dread his wife's countenance as she

listened to him. He hoped to cause her pain equal to his own, for then

it would be in his power at once to throw off this disguise and soothe

her with every softest word his heart could suggest. That she had really

ceased to love him he could not, durst not, believe; but his nature

demanded frequent assurance of affection. Amy had abandoned too soon the

caresses of their ardent time; she was absorbed in her maternity, and

thought it enough to be her husband's friend. Ashamed to make appeal

directly for the tenderness she no longer offered, he accused her of

utter indifference, of abandoning him and all but betraying him, that in

self-defence she might show what really was in her heart.

 

But Amy made no movement towards him.

 

'How can you say that I have deserted you?' she returned, with cold

indignation. 'When did I refuse to share your poverty? When did I

grumble at what we have had to go through?'

 

'Ever since the troubles really began you have let me know what your

thoughts were, even if you didn't speak them. You have never shared my

lot willingly. I can't recall one word of encouragement from you, but

many, many which made the struggle harder for me.'

 

'Then it would be better for you if I went away altogether, and left you

free to do the best for yourself. If that is what you mean by all this,

why not say it plainly? I won't be a burden to you. Someone will give me

a home.'

 

'And you would leave me without regret? Your only care would be that you

were still bound to me?'

 

'You must think of me what you like. I don't care to defend myself.'

 

'You won't admit, then, that I have anything to complain of? I seem to

you simply in a bad temper without a cause?'

 

'To tell you the truth, that's just what I do think. I came here to ask

what I had done that you were angry with me, and you break out furiously

with all sorts of vague reproaches. You have much to endure, I know

that, but it's no reason why you should turn against me. I have never

neglected my duty. Is the duty all on my side? I believe there are very

few wives who would be as patient as I have been.'

 

Reardon gazed at her for a moment, then turned away. The distance

between them was greater than he had thought, and now he repented of

having given way to an impulse so alien to his true feelings; anger only

estranged her, whereas by speech of a different kind he might have won

the caress for which he hungered.

 

Amy, seeing that he would say nothing more, left him to himself.

 

It grew late in the night. The fire had gone out, but Reardon still sat

in the cold room. Thoughts of self-destruction were again haunting him,

as they had done during the black months of last year. If he had lost

Amy's love, and all through the mental impotence which would make it

hard for him even to earn bread, why should he still live? Affection for

his child had no weight with him; it was Amy's child rather than his,

and he had more fear than pleasure in the prospect of Willie's growing

to manhood.

 

He had just heard the workhouse clock strike two, when, without the

warning of a footstep, the door opened. Amy came in; she wore her

dressing-gown, and her hair was arranged for the night.

 

'Why do you stay here?' she asked.

 

It was not the same voice as before. He saw that her eyes were red and

swollen.

 

'Have you been crying, Amy?'

 

'Never mind. Do you know what time it is?'

 

He went towards her.

 

'Why have you been crying?'

 

'There are many things to cry for.'

 

'Amy, have you any love for me still, or has poverty robbed me of it

all?'

 

'I have never said that I didn't love you. Why do you accuse me of such

things?'

 

He took her in his arms and held her passionately and kissed her face

again and again. Amy's tears broke forth anew.

 

'Why should we come to such utter ruin?' she sobbed. 'Oh, try, try if

you can't save us even yet! You know without my saying it that I do love

you; it's dreadful to me to think all our happy life should be at an

end, when we thought of such a future together. Is it impossible? Can't

you work as you used to and succeed as we felt confident you would?

Don't despair yet, Edwin; do, do try, whilst there is still time!'

 

'Darling, darling--if only I COULD!'

 

'I have thought of something, dearest. Do as you proposed last year;

find a tenant for the flat whilst we still have a little money, and

then go away into some quiet country place, where you can get back your

health and live for very little, and write another book--a good book,

that'll bring you reputation again. I and Willie can go and live at

mother's for the summer months. Do this! It would cost you so little,

living alone, wouldn't it? You would know that I was well cared for;

mother would be willing to have me for a few months, and it's easy to

explain that your health has failed, that you're obliged to go away for

a time.'

 

'But why shouldn't you go with me, if we are to let this place?'

 

'We shouldn't have enough money. I want to free your mind from the

burden whilst you are writing. And what is before us if we go on in this

way? You don't think you will get much for what you're writing now, do

you?'

 

Reardon shook his head.

 

'Then how can we live even till the end of the year? Something must be

done, you know. If we get into poor lodgings, what hope is there that

you'll be able to write anything good?'

 

'But, Amy, I have no faith in my power of--'

 

'Oh, it would be different! A few days--a week or a fortnight of real

holiday in this spring weather. Go to some seaside place. How is it

possible that all your talent should have left you? It's only that you

have been so anxious and in such poor health. You say I don't love you,

but I have thought and thought what would be best for you to do, how

you could save yourself. How can you sink down to the position of a poor

clerk in some office? That CAN'T be your fate, Edwin; it's incredible.

Oh, after such bright hopes, make one more effort! Have you forgotten

that we were to go to the South together--you were to take me to Italy

and Greece? How can that ever be if you fail utterly in literature? How

can you ever hope to earn more than bare sustenance at any other kind of

work?'

 

He all but lost consciousness of her words in gazing at the face she

held up to his.

 

'You love me? Say again that you love me!'

 

'Dear, I love you with all my heart. But I am so afraid of the future.

I can't bear poverty; I have found that I can't bear it. And I dread to

think of your becoming only an ordinary man--'

 

Reardon laughed.

 

'But I am NOT "only an ordinary man," Amy! If I never write another

line, that won't undo what I have done. It's little enough, to be sure;

but you know what I am. Do you only love the author in me? Don't you

think of me apart from all that I may do or not do? If I had to earn my

living as a clerk, would that make me a clerk in soul?'

 

'You shall not fall to that! It would be too bitter a shame to lose all

you have gained in these long years of work. Let me plan for you; do as

I wish. You are to be what we hoped from the first. Take all the summer

months. How long will it be before you can finish this short book?'

 

'A week or two.'

 

'Then finish it, and see what you can get for it. And try at once

to find a tenant to take this place off our hands; that would be

twenty-five pounds saved for the rest of the year. You could live on so

little by yourself, couldn't you?'

 

'Oh, on ten shillings a week, if need be.'

 

'But not to starve yourself, you know. Don't you feel that my plan is a

good one? When I came to you to-night I meant to speak of this, but you

were so cruel--'

 

'Forgive me, dearest love! I was half a madman. You have been so cold to

me for a long time.'

 

'I have been distracted. It was as if we were drawing nearer and nearer

to the edge of a cataract.'

 

'Have you spoken to your mother about this?' he asked uneasily.

 

'No--not exactly this. But I know she will help us in this way.'

 

He had seated himself and was holding her in his arms, his face laid

against hers.

 

'I shall dread to part from you, Amy. That's such a dangerous thing to

do. It may mean that we are never to live as husband and wife again.'

 

'But how could it? It's just to prevent that danger. If we go on here

till we have no money--what's before us then? Wretched lodgings at the

best. And I am afraid to think of that. I can't trust myself if that

should come to pass.'

 

'What do you mean?' he asked anxiously.

 

'I hate poverty so. It brings out all the worst things in me; you know I

have told you that before, Edwin?'

 

'But you would never forget that you are my wife?'

 

'I hope not. But--I can't think of it; I can't face it! That would be

the very worst that can befall us, and we are going to try our utmost to

escape from it. Was there ever a man who did as much as you have done in

literature and then sank into hopeless poverty?'

 

'Oh, many!'

 

'But at your age, I mean. Surely not at your age?'

 

'I'm afraid there have been such poor fellows. Think how often one hears

of hopeful beginnings, new reputations, and then--you hear no more. Of

course it generally means that the man has gone into a different career;

but sometimes, sometimes--'

 

'What?'

 

'The abyss.' He pointed downward. 'Penury and despair and a miserable

death.'

 

'Oh, but those men haven't a wife and child! They would struggle--'

 

'Darling, they do struggle. But it's as if an ever-increasing weight

were round their necks; it drags them lower and lower. The world has no

pity on a man who can't do or produce something it thinks worth money.

You may be a divine poet, and if some good fellow doesn't take pity on

you you will starve by the roadside. Society is as blind and brutal as

fate. I have no right to complain of my own ill-fortune; it's my own

fault (in a sense) that I can't continue as well as I began; if I could

write books as good as the early ones I should earn money. For all that,

it's hard that I must be kicked aside as worthless just because I don't

know a trade.'

 

'It shan't be! I have only to look into your face to know that you will

succeed after all. Yours is the kind of face that people come to know in

portraits.'

 

He kissed her hair, and her eyes, and her mouth.

 

'How well I remember your saying that before! Why have you grown so good

to me all at once, my Amy? Hearing you speak like that I feel there's

nothing beyond my reach. But I dread to go away from you. If I find that

it is hopeless; if I am alone somewhere, and know that the effort is all

in vain--'

 

'Then?'

 

'Well, I can leave you free. If I can't support you, it will be only

just that I should give you back your freedom.'

 

'I don't understand--'

 

She raised herself and looked into his eyes.

 

'We won't talk of that. If you bid me go on with the struggle, I shall

do so.'

 

Amy had hidden her face, and lay silently in his arms for a minute or

two. Then she murmured:

 

'It is so cold here, and so late. Come!'

 

'So early. There goes three o'clock.'

 

The next day they talked much of this new project. As there was sunshine

Amy accompanied her husband for his walk in the afternoon; it was long

since they had been out together. An open carriage that passed, followed

by two young girls on horseback, gave a familiar direction to Reardon's

thoughts.

 

'If one were as rich as those people! They pass so close to us; they see

us, and we see them; but the distance between is infinity. They don't

belong to the same world as we poor wretches. They see everything in a

different light; they have powers which would seem supernatural if we

were suddenly endowed with them.'

 

'Of course,' assented his companion with a sigh.

 

'Just fancy, if one got up in the morning with the thought that no

reasonable desire that occurred to one throughout the day need remain

ungratified! And that it would be the same, any day and every day, to

the end of one's life! Look at those houses; every detail, within and

without, luxurious. To have such a home as that!'

 

'And they are empty creatures who live there.'

 

'They do live, Amy, at all events. Whatever may be their faculties, they

all have free scope. I have often stood staring at houses like these

until I couldn't believe that the people owning them were mere human

beings like myself. The power of money is so hard to realise; one who

has never had it marvels at the completeness with which it transforms

every detail of life. Compare what we call our home with that of rich

people; it moves one to scornful laughter. I have no sympathy with the

stoical point of view; between wealth and poverty is just the difference

between the whole man and the maimed. If my lower limbs are paralysed

I may still be able to think, but then there is such a thing in life as

walking. As a poor devil I may live nobly; but one happens to be made

with faculties of enjoyment, and those have to fall into atrophy. To be

sure, most rich people don't understand their happiness; if they did,

they would move and talk like gods--which indeed they are.'

 

Amy's brow was shadowed. A wise man, in Reardon's position, would not

have chosen this subject to dilate upon.

 

'The difference,' he went on, 'between the man with money and the man

without is simply this: the one thinks, "How shall I use my life?" and

the other, "How shall I keep myself alive?" A physiologist ought to be

able to discover some curious distinction between the brain of a person

who has never given a thought to the means of subsistence, and that of

one who has never known a day free from such cares. There must be some

special cerebral development representing the mental anguish kept up by

poverty.'

 

'I should say,' put in Amy, 'that it affects every function of the

brain. It isn't a special point of suffering, but a misery that colours

every thought.'

 

'True. Can I think of a single subject in all the sphere of my

experience without the consciousness that I see it through the medium of

poverty? I have no enjoyment which isn't tainted by that thought, and I

can suffer no pain which it doesn't increase. The curse of poverty is to

the modern world just what that of slavery was to the ancient. Rich and

destitute stand to each other as free man and bond. You remember the

line of Homer I have often quoted about the demoralising effect of

enslavement; poverty degrades in the same way.'

 

'It has had its effect upon me--I know that too well,' said Amy, with

bitter frankness.

 

Reardon glanced at her, and wished to make some reply, but he could not

say what was in his thoughts.

 

He worked on at his story. Before he had reached the end of it,

'Margaret Home' was published, and one day arrived a parcel containing

the six copies to which an author is traditionally entitled. Reardon was

not so old in authorship that he could open the packet without a slight

flutter of his pulse. The book was tastefully got up; Amy exclaimed with

pleasure as she caught sight of the cover and lettering:

 

'It may succeed, Edwin. It doesn't look like a book that fails, does

it?'

 

She laughed at her own childishness. But Reardon had opened one of the

volumes, and was glancing over the beginning of a chapter.

 

'Good God!' he cried. 'What hellish torment it was to write that page!

I did it one morning when the fog was so thick that I had to light the

lamp. It brings cold sweat to my forehead to read the words. And to

think that people will skim over it without a suspicion of what it

cost the writer!--What execrable style! A potboy could write better

narrative.'

 

'Who are to have copies?'

 

'No one, if I could help it. But I suppose your mother will expect one?'

 

'And--Milvain?'

 

'I suppose so,' he replied indifferently. 'But not unless he asks for

it. Poor old Biffen, of course; though it'll make him despise me. Then

one for ourselves. That leaves two--to light the fire with. We have

been rather short of fire-paper since we couldn't afford our daily

newspaper.'

 

'Will you let me give one to Mrs Carter?'

 

'As you please.'

 

He took one set and added it to the row of his productions which stood

on a topmost shelf Amy laid her hand upon his shoulder and contemplated

the effect of this addition.

 

'The works of Edwin Reardon,' she said, with a smile.

 

'The work, at all events--rather a different thing, unfortunately. Amy,

if only I were back at the time when I wrote "On Neutral Ground," and

yet had you with me! How full my mind was in those days! Then I had only

to look, and I saw something; now I strain my eyes, but can make out

nothing more than nebulous grotesques. I used to sit down knowing

so well what I had to say; now I strive to invent, and never come at

anything. Suppose you pick up a needle with warm, supple fingers; try to

do it when your hand is stiff and numb with cold; there's the difference

between my manner of work in those days and what it is now.'

 

'But you are going to get back your health. You will write better than

ever.'

 

'We shall see. Of course there was a great deal of miserable struggle

even then, but I remember it as insignificant compared with the hours of

contented work. I seldom did anything in the mornings except think and

prepare; towards evening I felt myself getting ready, and at last I sat

down with the first lines buzzing in my head. And I used to read a great

deal at the same time. Whilst I was writing "On Neutral Ground" I went

solidly through the "Divina Commedia," a canto each day. Very often I

wrote till after midnight, but occasionally I got my quantum finished

much earlier, and then I used to treat myself to a ramble about the

streets. I can recall exactly the places where some of my best ideas

came to me. You remember the scene in Prendergast's lodgings? That

flashed on me late one night as I was turning out of Leicester Square

into the slum that leads to Clare Market; ah, how well I remember! And

I went home to my garret in a state of delightful fever, and scribbled

notes furiously before going to bed.'

 

'Don't trouble; it'll all come back to you.'

 

'But in those days I hadn't to think of money. I could look forward and

see provision for my needs. I never asked myself what I should get for

the book; I assure you, that never came into my head--never. The work

was done for its own sake. No hurry to finish it; if I felt that I

wasn't up to the mark, I just waited till the better mood returned. "On

Neutral Ground" took me seven months; now I have to write three volumes

in nine weeks, with the lash stinging on my back if I miss a day.'

 

He brooded for a little.

 

'I suppose there must be some rich man somewhere who has read one or two

of my books with a certain interest. If only I could encounter him and

tell him plainly what a cursed state I am in, perhaps he would help me

to some means of earning a couple of pounds a week. One has heard of

such things.'

 

'In the old days.'

 

'Yes. I doubt if it ever happens now. Coleridge wouldn't so easily meet

with his Gillman nowadays. Well, I am not a Coleridge, and I don't ask

to be lodged under any man's roof; but if I could earn money enough to

leave me good long evenings unspoilt by fear of the workhouse--'

 

Amy turned away, and presently went to look after her little boy.

 

A few days after this they had a visit from Milvain. He came about ten

o'clock in the evening.

 

'I'm not going to stay,' he announced. 'But where's my copy of "Margaret

Home"? I am to have one, I suppose?'

 

'I have no particular desire that you should read it,' returned Reardon.

 

'But I HAVE read it, my dear fellow. Got it from the library on the day

of publication; I had a suspicion that you wouldn't send me a copy. But

I must possess your opera omnia.'

 

'Here it is. Hide it away somewhere.--You may as well sit down for a few

minutes.'

 

'I confess I should like to talk about the book, if you don't mind.

It isn't so utterly and damnably bad as you make out, you know. The

misfortune was that you had to make three volumes of it. If I had leave

to cut it down to one, it would do you credit.

 

The motive is good enough.'

 

'Yes. Just good enough to show how badly it's managed.'

 

Milvain began to expatiate on that well-worn topic, the evils of the

three-volume system.

 

'A triple-headed monster, sucking the blood of English novelists.

One might design an allegorical cartoon for a comic literary paper.

By-the-bye, why doesn't such a thing exist?--a weekly paper treating of

things and people literary in a facetious spirit. It would be caviare

to the general, but might be supported, I should think. The editor would

probably be assassinated, though.'

 

'For anyone in my position,' said Reardon, 'how is it possible to

abandon the three volumes? It is a question of payment. An author of

moderate repute may live on a yearly three-volume novel--I mean the man

who is obliged to sell his book out and out, and who gets from one to

two hundred pounds for it. But he would have to produce four one-volume

novels to obtain the same income; and I doubt whether he could get so

many published within the twelve months. And here comes in the benefit

of the libraries; from the commercial point of view the libraries are

indispensable. Do you suppose the public would support the present

number of novelists if each book had to be purchased? A sudden change to

that system would throw three-fourths of the novelists out of work.'

 

'But there's no reason why the libraries shouldn't circulate novels in

one volume.'

 

'Profits would be less, I suppose. People would take the minimum

subscription.'

 

'Well, to go to the concrete, what about your own one-volume?'

 

'All but done.'

 

'And you'll offer it to Jedwood? Go and see him personally. He's a very

decent fellow, I believe.'

 

Milvain stayed only half an hour. The days when he was wont to sit and

talk at large through a whole evening were no more; partly because of

his diminished leisure, but also for a less simple reason--the growth of

something like estrangement between him and Reardon.

 

'You didn't mention your plans,' said Amy, when the visitor had been

gone some time.

 

'No.'

 

Reardon was content with the negative, and his wife made no further

remark.

 

The result of advertising the flat was that two or three persons called

to make inspection. One of them, a man of military appearance, showed

himself anxious to come to terms; he was willing to take the tenement

from next quarter-day (June), but wished, if possible, to enter upon

possession sooner than that.

 

'Nothing could be better,' said Amy in colloquy with her husband. 'If he

will pay for the extra time, we shall be only too glad.'

 

Reardon mused and looked gloomy. He could not bring himself to regard

the experiment before him with hopefulness, and his heart sank at the

thought of parting from Amy.

 

'You are very anxious to get rid of me,' he answered, trying to smile.

 

'Yes, I am,' she exclaimed; 'but simply for your own good, as you know

very well.'

 

'Suppose I can't sell this book?'

 

'You will have a few pounds. Send your "Pliny" article to The Wayside.

If you come to an end of all your money, mother shall lend you some.'

 

'I am not very likely to do much work in that case.'

 

'Oh, but you will sell the book. You'll get twenty pounds for it, and

that alone would keep you for three months. Think--three months of the

best part of the year at the seaside! Oh, you will do wonders!'

 

The furniture was to be housed at Mrs Yule's. Neither of them durst

speak of selling it; that would have sounded too ominous. As for the

locality of Reardon's retreat, Amy herself had suggested Worthing, which

she knew from a visit a few years ago; the advantages were its proximity

to London, and the likelihood that very cheap lodgings could be found

either in the town or near it. One room would suffice for the hapless

author, and his expenses, beyond a trifling rent, would be confined to

mere food.

 

Oh yes, he might manage on considerably less than a pound a week.

 

Amy was in much better spirits than for a long time; she appeared to

have convinced herself that there was no doubt of the issue of this

perilous scheme; that her husband would write a notable book, receive a

satisfactory price for it, and so re-establish their home. Yet her moods

varied greatly. After all, there was delay in the letting of the flat,

and this caused her annoyance. It was whilst the negotiations were still

pending that she made her call upon Maud and Dora Milvain; Reardon did

not know of her intention to visit them until it had been carried out.

She mentioned what she had done in almost a casual manner.

 

'I had to get it over,' she said, when Reardon exhibited surprise, 'and

I don't think I made a very favourable impression.'

 

'You told them, I suppose, what we are going to do?'

 

'No; I didn't say a word of it.'

 

'But why not? It can't be kept a secret. Milvain will have heard of it

already, I should think, from your mother.'

 

'From mother? But it's the rarest thing for him to go there. Do you

imagine he is a constant visitor? I thought it better to say nothing

until the thing is actually done. Who knows what may happen?'

 

She was in a strange, nervous state, and Reardon regarded her uneasily.

He talked very little in these days, and passed hours in dark reverie.

His book was finished, and he awaited the publisher's decision.

 

PART THREE

 

CHAPTER XVI. REJECTION

 

One of Reardon's minor worries at this time was the fear that by chance

he might come upon a review of 'Margaret Home.' Since the publication of

his first book he had avoided as far as possible all knowledge of what

the critics had to say about him; his nervous temperament could not bear

the agitation of reading these remarks, which, however inept, define

an author and his work to so many people incapable of judging for

themselves. No man or woman could tell him anything in the way of praise

or blame which he did not already know quite well; commendation was

pleasant, but it so often aimed amiss, and censure was for the most part

so unintelligent. In the case of this latest novel he dreaded the

sight of a review as he would have done a gash from a rusty knife.

The judgments could not but be damnatory, and their expression in

journalistic phrase would disturb his mind with evil rancour. No one

would have insight enough to appreciate the nature and cause of his

book's demerits; every comment would be wide of the mark; sneer,

ridicule, trite objection, would but madden him with a sense of

injustice.

 

His position was illogical--one result of the moral weakness which was

allied with his aesthetic sensibility. Putting aside the worthlessness

of current reviewing, the critic of an isolated book has of course

nothing to do with its author's state of mind and body any more than

with the condition of his purse. Reardon would have granted this, but he

could not command his emotions. He was in passionate revolt against

the base necessities which compelled him to put forth work in no way

representing his healthy powers, his artistic criterion. Not he had

written this book, but his accursed poverty. To assail him as the author

was, in his feeling, to be guilty of brutal insult. When by ill-hap a

notice in one of the daily papers came under his eyes, it made his blood

boil with a fierceness of hatred only possible to him in a profoundly

morbid condition; he could not steady his hand for half an hour after.

Yet this particular critic only said what was quite true--that the novel

contained not a single striking scene and not one living character;

Reardon had expressed himself about it in almost identical terms. But

he saw himself in the position of one sickly and all but destitute man

against a relentless world, and every blow directed against him appeared

dastardly. He could have cried 'Coward!' to the writer who wounded him.

 

The would-be sensational story which was now in Mr Jedwood's hands had

perhaps more merit than 'Margaret Home'; its brevity, and the fact that

nothing more was aimed at than a concatenation of brisk events, made it

not unreadable. But Reardon thought of it with humiliation. If it

were published as his next work it would afford final proof to such

sympathetic readers as he might still retain that he had hopelessly

written himself out, and was now endeavouring to adapt himself to an

inferior public. In spite of his dire necessities he now and then hoped

that Jedwood might refuse the thing.

 

At moments he looked with sanguine eagerness to the three or four months

he was about to spend in retirement, but such impulses were the mere

outcome of his nervous disease. He had no faith in himself under

present conditions; the permanence of his sufferings would mean the sure

destruction of powers he still possessed, though they were not at

his command. Yet he believed that his mind was made up as to the

advisability of trying this last resource; he was impatient for the day

of departure, and in the interval merely killed time as best he might.

He could not read, and did not attempt to gather ideas for his next

book; the delusion that his mind was resting made an excuse to him for

the barrenness of day after day. His 'Pliny' article had been despatched

to The Wayside, and would possibly be accepted. But he did not trouble

himself about this or other details; it was as though his mind could do

nothing more than grasp the bald fact of impending destitution; with the

steps towards that final stage he seemed to have little concern.

 

One evening he set forth to make a call upon Harold Biffen, whom he had

not seen since the realist called to acknowledge the receipt of a copy

of 'Margaret Home' left at his lodgings when he was out. Biffen resided

in Clipstone Street, a thoroughfare discoverable in the dim district

which lies between Portland Place and Tottenham Court Road. On knocking

at the door of the lodging-house, Reardon learnt that his friend was at

home. He ascended to the third storey and tapped at a door which allowed

rays of lamplight to issue from great gaps above and below. A sound of

voices came from within, and on entering he perceived that Biffen was

engaged with a pupil.

 

'They didn't tell me you had a visitor,' he said. 'I'll call again

later.'

 

'No need to go away,' replied Biffen, coming forward to shake hands.

'Take a book for a few minutes. Mr Baker won't mind.'

 

It was a very small room, with a ceiling so low that the tall lodger

could only just stand upright with safety; perhaps three inches

intervened between his head and the plaster, which was cracked, grimy,

cobwebby. A small scrap of weedy carpet lay in front of the fireplace;

elsewhere the chinky boards were unconcealed. The furniture consisted of

a round table, which kept such imperfect balance on its central support

that the lamp entrusted to it looked in a dangerous position, of three

small cane-bottomed chairs, a small wash-hand-stand with sundry rude

appurtenances, and a chair-bedstead which the tenant opened at the hour

of repose and spread with certain primitive trappings at present kept

in a cupboard. There was no bookcase, but a few hundred battered volumes

were arranged some on the floor and some on a rough chest. The weather

was too characteristic of an English spring to make an empty grate

agreeable to the eye, but Biffen held it an axiom that fires were

unseasonable after the first of May.

 

The individual referred to as Mr Baker, who sat at the table in the

attitude of a student, was a robust, hard-featured, black-haired young

man of two-or three-and-twenty; judging from his weather-beaten cheeks

and huge hands, as well as from the garb he wore, one would have

presumed that study was not his normal occupation. There was something

of the riverside about him; he might be a dockman, or even a bargeman.

He looked intelligent, however, and bore himself with much modesty.

 

'Now do endeavour to write in shorter sentences,' said Biffen, who sat

down by him and resumed the lesson, Reardon having taken up a volume.

'This isn't bad--it isn't bad at all, I assure you; but you have put all

you had to say into three appalling periods, whereas you ought to have

made about a dozen.'

 

'There it is, sir; there it is!' exclaimed the man, smoothing his wiry

hair. 'I can't break it up. The thoughts come in a lump, if I may say

so. To break it up--there's the art of compersition.'

 

Reardon could not refrain from a glance at the speaker, and Biffen,

whose manner was very grave and kindly, turned to his friend with an

explanation of the difficulties with which the student was struggling.

 

'Mr Baker is preparing for the examination of the outdoor Customs

Department. One of the subjects is English composition, and really, you

know, that isn't quite such a simple matter as some people think.'

 

Baker beamed upon the visitor with a homely, good-natured smile.

 

'I can make headway with the other things, sir,' he said, striking the

table lightly with his clenched fist. 'There's handwriting, there's

orthography, there's arithmetic; I'm not afraid of one of 'em, as Mr

Biffen 'll tell you, sir. But when it comes to compersition, that brings

out the sweat on my forehead, I do assure you.

 

'You're not the only man in that case, Mr Baker,' replied Reardon.

 

'It's thought a tough job in general, is it, sir?'

 

'It is indeed.'

 

'Two hundred marks for compersition,' continued the man. 'Now how many

would they have given me for this bit of a try, Mr Biffen?'

 

'Well, well; I can't exactly say. But you improve; you improve,

decidedly. Peg away for another week or two.'

 

'Oh, don't fear me, sir! I'm not easily beaten when I've set my mind on

a thing, and I'll break up the compersition yet, see if I don't!'

 

Again his fist descended upon the table in a way that reminded one of

the steam-hammer cracking a nut.

 

The lesson proceeded for about ten minutes, Reardon, under pretence of

reading, following it with as much amusement as anything could excite

in him nowadays. At length Mr Baker stood up, collected his papers and

books, and seemed about to depart; but, after certain uneasy movements

and glances, he said to Biffen in a subdued voice:

 

'Perhaps I might speak to you outside the door a minute, sir?'

 

He and the teacher went out, the door closed, and Reardon heard sounds

of muffled conversation. In a minute or two a heavy footstep descended

the stairs, and Biffen re-entered the room.

 

'Now that's a good, honest fellow,' he said, in an amused tone. 'It's

my pay-night, but he didn't like to fork out money before you. A very

unusual delicacy in a man of that standing. He pays me sixpence for an

hour's lesson; that brings me two shillings a week. I sometimes feel a

little ashamed to take his money, but then the fact is he's a good deal

better off than I am.'

 

'Will he get a place in the Customs, do you think?'

 

'Oh, I've no doubt of it. If it seemed unlikely, I should have told him

so before this. To be sure, that's a point I have often to consider,

and once or twice my delicacy has asserted itself at the expense of my

pocket. There was a poor consumptive lad came to me not long ago and

wanted Latin lessons; talked about going in for the London Matric., on

his way to the pulpit. I couldn't stand it. After a lesson or two I told

him his cough was too bad, and he had no right to study until he got

into better health; that was better, I think, than saying plainly he had

no chance on earth. But the food I bought with his money was choking me.

Oh yes, Baker will make his way right enough. A good, modest fellow.

 

You noticed how respectfully he spoke to me? It doesn't make any

difference to him that I live in a garret like this; I'm a man of

education, and he can separate this fact from my surroundings.'

 

'Biffen, why don't you get some decent position? Surely you might.'

 

'What position? No school would take me; I have neither credentials

nor conventional clothing. For the same reason I couldn't get a private

tutorship in a rich family. No, no; it's all right. I keep myself alive,

and I get on with my work.--By-the-bye, I've decided to write a book

called "Mr Bailey, Grocer."'

 

'What's the idea?'

 

'An objectionable word, that. Better say: "What's the reality?" Well, Mr

Bailey is a grocer in a little street by here. I have dealt with him

for a long time, and as he's a talkative fellow I've come to know a good

deal about him and his history. He's fond of talking about the struggle

he had in his first year of business. He had no money of his own, but

he married a woman who had saved forty-five pounds out of a cat's-meat

business. You should see that woman! A big, coarse, squinting creature;

at the time of the marriage she was a widow and forty-two years old.

Now I'm going to tell the true story of Mr Bailey's marriage and of his

progress as a grocer. It'll be a great book--a great book!'

 

He walked up and down the room, fervid with his conception.

 

'There'll be nothing bestial in it, you know. The decently ignoble--as

I've so often said. The thing'll take me a year at least. I shall do

it slowly, lovingly. One volume, of course; the length of the ordinary

French novel. There's something fine in the title, don't you think? "Mr

Bailey, Grocer"!'

 

'I envy you, old fellow,' said Reardon, sighing. 'You have the right

fire in you; you have zeal and energy. Well, what do you think I have

decided to do?'

 

'I should like to hear.'

 

Reardon gave an account of his project. The other listened gravely,

seated across a chair with his arms on the back.

 

'Your wife is in agreement with this?'

 

'Oh yes.' He could not bring himself to say that Amy had suggested it.

'She has great hopes that the change will be just what I need.'

 

'I should say so too--if you were going to rest. But if you have to set

to work at once it seems to me very doubtful.'

 

'Never mind. For Heaven's sake don't discourage me! If this fails I

think--upon my soul, I think I shall kill myself.'

 

'Pooh!' exclaimed Biffen, gently. 'With a wife like yours?'

 

'Just because of that.'

 

'No, no; there'll be some way out of it. By-the-bye, I passed Mrs

Reardon this morning, but she didn't see me. It was in Tottenham Court

Road, and Milvain was with her. I felt myself too seedy in appearance to

stop and speak.'

 

'In Tottenham Court Road?'

 

That was not the detail of the story which chiefly held Reardon's

attention, yet he did not purposely make a misleading remark. His mind

involuntarily played this trick.

 

'I only saw them just as they were passing,' pursued Biffen. 'Oh, I knew

I had something to tell you! Have you heard that Whelpdale is going to

be married?'

 

Reardon shook his head in a preoccupied way.

 

'I had a note from him this morning, telling me. He asked me to look him

up to-night, and he'd let me know all about it. Let's go together, shall

we?'

 

'I don't feel much in the humour for Whelpdale. I'll walk with you, and

go on home.'

 

'No, no; come and see him. It'll do you good to talk a little.--But I

must positively eat a mouthful before we go. I'm afraid you won't care

to join?'

 

He opened his cupboard, and brought out a loaf of bread and a saucer of

dripping, with salt and pepper.

 

'Better dripping this than I've had for a long time. I get it at Mr

Bailey's--that isn't his real name, of course. He assures me it comes

from a large hotel where his wife's sister is a kitchen-maid, and that

it's perfectly pure; they very often mix flour with it, you know, and

perhaps more obnoxious things that an economical man doesn't care

to reflect upon. Now, with a little pepper and salt, this bread and

dripping is as appetising food as I know. I often make a dinner of it.'

 

'I have done the same myself before now. Do you ever buy pease-pudding?'

 

'I should think so! I get magnificent pennyworths at a shop in Cleveland

Street, of a very rich quality indeed. Excellent faggots they have

there, too. I'll give you a supper of them some night before you go.'

 

Biffen rose to enthusiasm in the contemplation of these dainties.

 

He ate his bread and dripping with knife and fork; this always made the

fare seem more substantial.

 

'Is it very cold out?' he asked, rising from the table. 'Need I put my

overcoat on?'

 

This overcoat, purchased second-hand three years ago, hung on a

door-nail. Comparative ease of circumstances had restored to the

realist his ordinary indoor garment--a morning coat of the cloth called

diagonal, rather large for him, but in better preservation than the

other articles of his attire.

 

Reardon judging the overcoat necessary, his friend carefully brushed it

and drew it on with a caution which probably had reference to

starting seams. Then he put into the pocket his pipe, his pouch, his

tobacco-stopper, and his matches, murmuring to himself a Greek iambic

line which had come into his head a propos of nothing obvious.

 

'Go out,' he said, 'and then I'll extinguish the lamp. Mind the second

step down, as usual.'

 

They issued into Clipstone Street, turned northward, crossed Euston

Road, and came into Albany Street, where, in a house of decent exterior,

Mr Whelpdale had his present abode. A girl who opened the door requested

them to walk up to the topmost storey.

 

A cheery voice called to them from within the room at which they

knocked. This lodging spoke more distinctly of civilisation than that

inhabited by Biffen; it contained the minimum supply of furniture needed

to give it somewhat the appearance of a study, but the articles were in

good condition. One end of the room was concealed by a chintz curtain;

scrutiny would have discovered behind the draping the essential

equipments of a bedchamber.

 

Mr Whelpdale sat by the fire, smoking a cigar. He was a plain-featured

but graceful and refined-looking man of thirty, with wavy chestnut

hair and a trimmed beard which became him well. At present he wore a

dressing-gown and was without collar.

 

'Welcome, gents both!' he cried facetiously. 'Ages since I saw you,

Reardon. I've been reading your new book. Uncommonly good things in it

here and there--uncommonly good.'

 

Whelpdale had the weakness of being unable to tell a disagreeable

truth, and a tendency to flattery which had always made Reardon rather

uncomfortable in his society. Though there was no need whatever of his

mentioning 'Margaret Home,' he preferred to frame smooth fictions rather

than keep a silence which might be construed as unfavourable criticism.

 

'In the last volume,' he went on, 'I think there are one or two things

as good as you ever did; I do indeed.'

 

Reardon made no acknowledgment of these remarks. They irritated him, for

he knew their insincerity. Biffen, understanding his friend's silence,

struck in on another subject.

 

'Who is this lady of whom you write to me?'

 

'Ah, quite a story! I'm going to be married, Reardon. A serious

marriage. Light your pipes, and I'll tell you all about it. Startled

you, I suppose, Biffen? Unlikely news, eh? Some people would call it a

rash step, I dare say. We shall just take another room in this house,

that's all. I think I can count upon an income of a couple of guineas

a week, and I have plans without end that are pretty sure to bring in

coin.'

 

Reardon did not care to smoke, but Biffen lit his pipe and waited with

grave interest for the romantic narrative. Whenever he heard of a poor

man's persuading a woman to share his poverty he was eager of details;

perchance he himself might yet have that heavenly good fortune.

 

'Well,' began Whelpdale, crossing his legs and watching a wreath he had

just puffed from the cigar, 'you know all about my literary advisership.

The business goes on reasonably well. I'm going to extend it in ways

I'll explain to you presently. About six weeks ago I received a letter

from a lady who referred to my advertisements, and said she had the

manuscript of a novel which she would like to offer for my opinion. Two

publishers had refused it, but one with complimentary phrases, and she

hoped it mightn't be impossible to put the thing into acceptable shape.

Of course I wrote optimistically, and the manuscript was sent to me.

 

Well, it wasn't actually bad--by Jove! you should have seen some of

the things I have been asked to recommend to publishers! It wasn't

hopelessly bad by any means, and I gave serious thought to it. After

exchange of several letters I asked the authoress to come and see me,

that we might save postage stamps and talk things over. She hadn't

given me her address: I had to direct to a stationer's in Bayswater. She

agreed to come, and did come. I had formed a sort of idea, but of course

I was quite wrong. Imagine my excitement when there came in a

very beautiful girl, a tremendously interesting girl, about

one-and-twenty--just the kind of girl that most strongly appeals to

me; dark, pale, rather consumptive-looking, slender--no, there's no

describing her; there really isn't! You must wait till you see her.'

 

'I hope the consumption was only a figure of speech,' remarked Biffen in

his grave way.

 

'Oh, there's nothing serious the matter, I think. A slight cough, poor

girl.'

 

'The deuce!' interjected Reardon.

 

'Oh, nothing, nothing! It'll be all right. Well, now, of course we

talked over the story--in good earnest, you know. Little by little I

induced her to speak of herself--this, after she'd come two or three

times--and she told me lamentable things. She was absolutely alone in

London, and hadn't had sufficient food for weeks; had sold all she could

of her clothing; and so on. Her home was in Birmingham; she had been

driven away by the brutality of a stepmother; a friend lent her a few

pounds, and she came to London with an unfinished novel. Well, you know,

this kind of thing would be enough to make me soft-hearted to any girl,

let alone one who, to begin with, was absolutely my ideal. When she

began to express a fear that I was giving too much time to her, that she

wouldn't be able to pay my fees, and so on, I could restrain myself

no longer. On the spot I asked her to marry me. I didn't practise any

deception, mind. I told her I was a poor devil who had failed as a

realistic novelist and was earning bread in haphazard ways; and I

explained frankly that I thought we might carry on various kinds of

business together: she might go on with her novel-writing, and--so on.

But she was frightened; I had been too abrupt. That's a fault of mine,

you know; but I was so confoundedly afraid of losing her. And I told her

as much, plainly.'

 

Biffen smiled.

 

'This would be exciting,' he said, 'if we didn't know the end of the

story.'

 

'Yes. Pity I didn't keep it a secret. Well, she wouldn't say yes, but

I could see that she didn't absolutely say no. "In any case," I said,

"you'll let me see you often? Fees be hanged! I'll work day and night

for you. I'll do my utmost to get your novel accepted." And I implored

her to let me lend her a little money. It was very difficult to persuade

her, but at last she accepted a few shillings. I could see in her face

that she was hungry. Just imagine! A beautiful girl absolutely hungry;

it drove me frantic!

 

But that was a great point gained. After that we saw each other almost

every day, and at last--she consented! Did indeed! I can hardly believe

it yet. We shall be married in a fortnight's time.'

 

'I congratulate you,' said Reardon.

 

'So do I,' sighed Biffen.

 

'The day before yesterday she went to Birmingham to see her father and

tell him all about the affair. I agreed with her it was as well; the old

fellow isn't badly off; and he may forgive her for running away, though

he's under his wife's thumb, it appears. I had a note yesterday. She had

gone to a friend's house for the first day. I hoped to have heard again

this morning--must to-morrow, in any case. I live, as you may imagine,

in wild excitement. Of course, if the old man stumps up a wedding

present, all the better. But I don't care; we'll make a living somehow.

What do you think I'm writing just now? An author's Guide. You know the

kind of thing; they sell splendidly. Of course I shall make it a good

advertisement of my business. Then I have a splendid idea. I'm going to

advertise: "Novel-writing taught in ten lessons!" What do you think

of that? No swindle; not a bit of it. I am quite capable of giving the

ordinary man or woman ten very useful lessons. I've been working out the

scheme; it would amuse you vastly, Reardon. The first lesson deals with

the question of subjects, local colour--that kind of thing. I gravely

advise people, if they possibly can, to write of the wealthy middle

class; that's the popular subject, you know. Lords and ladies are all

very well, but the real thing to take is a story about people who have

no titles, but live in good Philistine style. I urge study of horsey

matters especially; that's very important. You must be well up, too,

in military grades, know about Sandhurst, and so on. Boating is an

important topic. You see? Oh, I shall make a great thing of this. I

shall teach my wife carefully, and then let her advertise lessons to

girls; they'll prefer coming to a woman, you know.'

 

Biffen leant back and laughed noisily.

 

'How much shall you charge for the course?' asked Reardon.

 

'That'll depend. I shan't refuse a guinea or two; but some people may be

made to pay five, perhaps.'

 

Someone knocked at the door, and a voice said:

 

'A letter for you, Mr Whelpdale.'

 

He started up, and came back into the room with face illuminated.

 

'Yes, it's from Birmingham; posted this morning. Look what an exquisite

hand she writes!'

 

He tore open the envelope. In delicacy Reardon and Biffen averted their

eyes. There was silence for a minute, then a strange ejaculation from

Whelpdale caused his friends to look up at him. He had gone pale, and

was frowning at the sheet of paper which trembled in his hand.

 

'No bad news, I hope?' Biffen ventured to say.

 

Whelpdale let himself sink into a chair.

 

'Now if this isn't too bad!' he exclaimed in a thick voice. 'If

this isn't monstrously unkind! I never heard anything so gross as

this--never!'

 

The two waited, trying not to smile.

 

'She writes--that she has met an old lover--in Birmingham--that it was

with him she had quarrelled-not with her father at all--that she ran

away to annoy him and frighten him--that she has made it up again, and

they're going to be married!'

 

He let the sheet fall, and looked so utterly woebegone that his friends

at once exerted themselves to offer such consolation as the case

admitted of. Reardon thought better of Whelpdale for this emotion; he

had not believed him capable of it.

 

'It isn't a case of vulgar cheating!' cried the forsaken one presently.

'Don't go away thinking that. She writes in real distress and

penitence--she does indeed. Oh, the devil! Why did I let her go to

Birmingham? A fortnight more, and I should have had her safe. But it's

just like my luck. Do you know that this is the third time I've been

engaged to be married?--no, by Jove, the fourth! And every time the girl

has got out of it at the last moment. What an unlucky beast I am! A girl

who was positively my ideal! I haven't even a photograph of her to show

you; but you'd be astonished at her face. Why, in the devil's name, did

I let her go to Birmingham?'

 

The visitors had risen. They felt uncomfortable, for it seemed as if

Whelpdale might find vent for his distress in tears.

 

'We had better leave you,' suggested Biffen. 'It's very hard--it is

indeed.'

 

'Look here! Read the letter for yourselves! Do!'

 

They declined, and begged him not to insist.

 

'But I want you to see what kind of girl she is. It isn't a case of

farcical deceiving--not a bit of it! She implores me to forgive her, and

blames herself no end. Just my luck! The third--no, the fourth time, by

Jove! Never was such an unlucky fellow with women. It's because I'm so

damnably poor; that's it, of course!'

 

Reardon and his companion succeeded at length in getting away, though

not till they had heard the virtues and beauty of the vanished girl

described again and again in much detail. Both were in a state of

depression as they left the house.

 

'What think you of this story?' asked Biffen. 'Is this possible in a

woman of any merit?'

 

'Anything is possible in a woman,' Reardon replied, harshly.

 

They walked in silence as far as Portland Road Station. There, with an

assurance that he would come to a garret-supper before leaving London,

Reardon parted from his friend and turned westward.

 

As soon as he had entered, Amy's voice called to him:

 

'Here's a letter from Jedwood, Edwin!'

 

He stepped into the study.

 

'It came just after you went out, and it has been all I could do to

resist the temptation to open it.'

 

'Why shouldn't you have opened it?' said her husband, carelessly.

 

He tried to do so himself, but his shaking hand thwarted him at first.

Succeeding at length, he found a letter in the publisher's own writing,

and the first word that caught his attention was 'regret.' With an angry

effort to command himself he ran through the communication, then held it

out to Amy.

 

She read, and her countenance fell. Mr Jedwood regretted that the story

offered to him did not seem likely to please that particular public to

whom his series of one-volume novels made appeal. He hoped it would

be understood that, in declining, he by no means expressed an adverse

judgment on the story itself &c.

 

'It doesn't surprise me,' said Reardon. 'I believe he is quite right.

The thing is too empty to please the better kind of readers, yet not

vulgar enough to please the worse.'

 

'But you'll try someone else?'

 

'I don't think it's much use.'

 

They sat opposite each other, and kept silence. Jedwood's letter slipped

from Amy's lap to the ground.

 

'So,' said Reardon, presently, 'I don't see how our plan is to be

carried out.'

 

'Oh, it must be!'

 

'But how?'

 

'You'll get seven or eight pounds from The Wayside. And--hadn't we

better sell the furniture, instead of--'

 

His look checked her.

 

'It seems to me, Amy, that your one desire is to get away from me, on

whatever terms.'

 

'Don't begin that over again!' she exclaimed, fretfully. 'If you don't

believe what I say--'

 

They were both in a state of intolerable nervous tension. Their voices

quivered, and their eyes had an unnatural brightness.

 

'If we sell the furniture,' pursued Reardon, 'that means you'll never

come back to me. You wish to save yourself and the child from the hard

life that seems to be before us.'

 

'Yes, I do; but not by deserting you. I want you to go and work for us

all, so that we may live more happily before long. Oh, how wretched this

is!'

 

She burst into hysterical weeping. But Reardon, instead of attempting to

soothe her, went into the next room, where he sat for a long time in

the dark. When he returned Amy was calm again; her face expressed a cold

misery.

 

'Where did you go this morning?' he asked, as if wishing to talk of

common things.

 

'I told you. I went to buy those things for Willie.'

 

'Oh yes.'

 

There was a silence.

 

'Biffen passed you in Tottenham Court Road,' he added.

 

'I didn't see him.'

 

'No; he said you didn't.'

 

'Perhaps,' said Amy, 'it was just when I was speaking to Mr Milvain.'

 

'You met Milvain?'

 

'Yes.'

 

'Why didn't you tell me?'

 

'I'm sure I don't know. I can't mention every trifle that happens.'

 

'No, of course not.'

 

Amy closed her eyes, as if in weariness, and for a minute or two Reardon

observed her countenance.

 

'So you think we had better sell the furniture.'

 

'I shall say nothing more about it. You must do as seems best to you,

Edwin.'

 

'Are you going to see your mother to-morrow?'

 

'Yes. I thought you would like to come too.'

 

'No; there's no good in my going.'

 

He again rose, and that night they talked no more of their difficulties,

though on the morrow (Sunday) it would be necessary to decide their

course in every detail.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XVII. THE PARTING

 

Amy did not go to church. Before her marriage she had done so as a mere

matter of course, accompanying her mother, but Reardon's attitude with

regard to the popular religion speedily became her own; she let the

subject lapse from her mind, and cared neither to defend nor to attack

where dogma was concerned. She had no sympathies with mysticism; her

nature was strongly practical, with something of zeal for intellectual

attainment superadded.

 

This Sunday morning she was very busy with domestic minutiae. Reardon

noticed what looked like preparations for packing, and being as little

disposed for conversation as his wife, he went out and walked for a

couple of hours in the Hampstead region. Dinner over, Amy at once made

ready for her journey to Westbourne Park.

 

'Then you won't come?' she said to her husband.

 

'No. I shall see your mother before I go away, but I don't care to till

you have settled everything.'

 

It was half a year since he had met Mrs Yule. She never came to their

dwelling, and Reardon could not bring himself to visit her.

 

'You had very much rather we didn't sell the furniture?' Amy asked.

 

'Ask your mother's opinion. That shall decide.'

 

'There'll be the expense of moving it, you know. Unless money comes from

The Wayside, you'll only have two or three pounds left.'

 

Reardon made no reply. He was overcome by the bitterness of shame.

 

'I shall say, then,' pursued Amy, who spoke with averted face, 'that I

am to go there for good on Tuesday? I mean, of course, for the summer

months.'

 

'I suppose so.'

 

Then he turned suddenly upon her.

 

'Do you really imagine that at the end of the summer I shall be a rich

man? What do you mean by talking in this way? If the furniture is sold

to supply me with a few pounds for the present, what prospect is there

that I shall be able to buy new?'

 

'How can we look forward at all?' replied Amy. 'It has come to the

question of how we are to subsist. I thought you would rather get money

in this way than borrow of mother--when she has the expense of keeping

me and Willie.'

 

'You are right,' muttered Reardon. 'Do as you think best.' Amy was in

her most practical mood, and would not linger for purposeless talk. A

few minutes, and Reardon was left alone.

 

He stood before his bookshelves and began to pick out the volumes which

he would take away with him. Just a few, the indispensable companions of

a bookish man who still clings to life--his Homer, his Shakespeare--

 

The rest must be sold. He would get rid of them to-morrow morning. All

together they might bring him a couple of sovereigns.

 

Then his clothing. Amy had fulfilled all the domestic duties of a wife;

his wardrobe was in as good a state as circumstances allowed. But there

was no object in burdening himself with winter garments, for, if he

lived through the summer at all, he would be able to repurchase such few

poor things as were needful; at present he could only think of how to

get together a few coins. So he made a heap of such things as might be

sold.

 

The furniture? If it must go, the price could scarcely be more than ten

or twelve pounds; well, perhaps fifteen. To be sure, in this way his

summer's living would be abundantly provided for.

 

He thought of Biffen enviously. Biffen, if need be, could support life

on three or four shillings a week, happy in the thought that no mortal

had a claim upon him. If he starved to death--well, many another lonely

man has come to that end. If he preferred to kill himself, who would be

distressed? Spoilt child of fortune!

 

The bells of St Marylebone began to clang for afternoon service. In

the idleness of dull pain his thoughts followed their summons, and he

marvelled that there were people who could imagine it a duty or find it

a solace to go and sit in that twilight church and listen to the droning

of prayers. He thought of the wretched millions of mankind to whom life

is so barren that they must needs believe in a recompense beyond the

grave. For that he neither looked nor longed. The bitterness of his

lot was that this world might be a sufficing paradise to him if only he

could clutch a poor little share of current coin. He had won the world's

greatest prize--a woman's love--but could not retain it because his

pockets were empty.

 

That he should fail to make a great name, this was grievous

disappointment to Amy, but this alone would not have estranged her. It

was the dread and shame of penury that made her heart cold to him. And

he could not in his conscience scorn her for being thus affected by the

vulgar circumstances of life; only a few supreme natures stand unshaken

under such a trial, and though his love of Amy was still passionate, he

knew that her place was among a certain class of women, and not on the

isolated pinnacle where he had at first visioned her. It was entirely

natural that she shrank at the test of squalid suffering. A little

money, and he could have rested secure in her love, for then he would

have been able to keep ever before her the best qualities of his heart

and brain. Upon him, too, penury had its debasing effect; as he now

presented himself he was not a man to be admired or loved. It was all

simple and intelligible enough--a situation that would be misread only

by shallow idealism.

 

Worst of all, she was attracted by Jasper Milvain's energy and promise

of success. He had no ignoble suspicions of Amy, but it was impossible

for him not to see that she habitually contrasted the young journalist,

who laughingly made his way among men, with her grave, dispirited

husband, who was not even capable of holding such position as he had

gained. She enjoyed Milvain's conversation, it put her into a good

humour; she liked him personally, and there could be no doubt that she

had observed a jealous tendency in Reardon's attitude to his former

friend--always a harmful suggestion to a woman. Formerly she had

appreciated her husband's superiority; she had smiled at Milvain's

commoner stamp of mind and character. But tedious repetition of failure

had outwearied her, and now she saw Milvain in the sunshine of progress,

dwelt upon the worldly advantages of gifts and a temperament such as

his. Again, simple and intelligible enough.

 

Living apart from her husband, she could not be expected to forswear

society, and doubtless she would see Milvain pretty often. He called

occasionally at Mrs Yule's, and would not do so less often when he knew

that Amy was to be met there. There would be chance encounters like that

of yesterday, of which she had chosen to keep silence.

 

A dark fear began to shadow him. In yielding thus passively to stress of

circumstances, was he not exposing his wife to a danger which outweighed

all the ills of poverty? As one to whom she was inestimably dear, was

he right in allowing her to leave him, if only for a few months? He knew

very well that a man of strong character would never have entertained

this project. He had got into the way of thinking of himself as too weak

to struggle against the obstacles on which Amy insisted, and of looking

for safety in retreat; but what was to be the end of this weakness if

the summer did not at all advance him? He knew better than Amy could how

unlikely it was that he should recover the energies of his mind in

so short a time and under such circumstances; only the feeble man's

temptation to postpone effort had made him consent to this step, and

now that he was all but beyond turning back, the perils of which he had

thought too little forced themselves upon his mind.

 

He rose in anguish, and stood looking about him as if aid might

somewhere be visible.

 

Presently there was a knock at the front door, and on opening he beheld

the vivacious Mr Carter. This gentleman had only made two or three calls

here since Reardon's marriage; his appearance was a surprise.

 

'I hear you are leaving town for a time,' he exclaimed. 'Edith told me

yesterday, so I thought I'd look you up.'

 

He was in spring costume, and exhaled fresh odours. The contrast between

his prosperous animation and Reardon's broken-spirited quietness could

not have been more striking.

 

'Going away for your health, they tell me. You've been working too hard,

you know. You mustn't overdo it. And where do you think of going to?'

 

'It isn't at all certain that I shall go,' Reardon replied. 'I thought

of a few weeks--somewhere at the seaside.'

 

'I advise you to go north,' went on Carter cheerily. 'You want a tonic,

you know. Get up into Scotland and do some boating and fishing--that

kind of thing. You'd come back a new man. Edith and I had a turn up

there last year, you know; it did me heaps of good.'

 

'Oh, I don't think I should go so far as that.'

 

'But that's just what you want--a regular change, something bracing. You

don't look at all well, that's the fact. A winter in London tries any

man--it does me, I know. I've been seedy myself these last few weeks.

Edith wants me to take her over to Paris at the end of this month, and

I think it isn't a bad idea; but I'm so confoundedly busy. In the autumn

we shall go to Norway, I think; it seems to be the right thing to do

nowadays. Why shouldn't you have a run over to Norway? They say it can

be done very cheaply; the steamers take you for next to nothing.'

 

He talked on with the joyous satisfaction of a man whose income is

assured, and whose future teems with a succession of lively holidays.

Reardon could make no answer to such suggestions; he sat with a fixed

smile on his face.

 

'Have you heard,' said Carter, presently, 'that we're opening a branch

of the hospital in the City Road?'

 

'No; I hadn't heard of it.'

 

'It'll only be for out-patients. Open three mornings and three evenings

alternately.'

 

'Who'll represent you there?''I shall look in now and then, of course;

there'll be a clerk, like at the old place.'

 

He talked of the matter in detail--of the doctors who would attend, and

of certain new arrangements to be tried.

 

'Have you engaged the clerk?' Reardon asked.

 

'Not yet. I think I know a man who'll suit me, though.'

 

'You wouldn't be disposed to give me the chance?'

 

Reardon spoke huskily, and ended with a broken laugh.

 

'You're rather above my figure nowadays, old man!' exclaimed Carter,

joining in what he considered the jest.

 

'Shall you pay a pound a week?'

 

'Twenty-five shillings. It'll have to be a man who can be trusted to

take money from the paying patients.'

 

'Well, I am serious. Will you give me the place?'

 

Carter gazed at him, and checked another laugh.

 

'What the deuce do you mean?'

 

'The fact is,' Reardon replied, 'I want variety of occupation. I can't

stick at writing for more than a month or two at a time. It's because I

have tried to do so that--well, practically, I have broken down. If you

will give me this clerkship, it will relieve me from the necessity of

perpetually writing novels; I shall be better for it in every way. You

know that I'm equal to the job; you can trust me; and I dare say I shall

be more useful than most clerks you could get.'

 

It was done, most happily done, on the first impulse. A minute more of

pause, and he could not have faced the humiliation. His face burned, his

tongue was parched.

 

'I'm floored!' cried Carter. 'I shouldn't have thought--but of course,

if you really want it. I can hardly believe yet that you're serious,

Reardon.'

 

'Why not? Will you promise me the work?'

 

'Well, yes.'

 

'When shall I have to begin?'

 

'The place'll be opened to-morrow week. But how about your holiday?'

 

'Oh, let that stand over. It'll be holiday enough to occupy myself in a

new way. An old way, too; I shall enjoy it.'

 

He laughed merrily, relieved beyond measure at having come to what

seemed an end of his difficulties. For half an hour they continued to

talk over the affair.

 

'Well, it's a comical idea,' said Carter, as he took his leave, 'but you

know your own business best.'

 

When Amy returned, Reardon allowed her to put the child to bed before he

sought any conversation. She came at length and sat down in the study.

 

'Mother advises us not to sell the furniture,' were her first words.

 

'I'm glad of that, as I had quite made up my mind not to.' There was a

change in his way of speaking which she at once noticed.

 

'Have you thought of something?'

 

'Yes. Carter has been here, and he happened to mention that they're

opening an out-patient department of the hospital, in the City Road.

He'll want someone to help him there. I asked for the post, and he

promised it me.'

 

The last words were hurried, though he had resolved to speak with

deliberation. No more feebleness; he had taken a decision, and would act

upon it as became a responsible man.

 

'The post?' said Amy. 'What post?'

 

'In plain English, the clerkship. It'll be the same work as I used to

have--registering patients, receiving their "letters," and so on. The

pay is to be five-and-twenty shillings a week.'

 

Amy sat upright and looked steadily at him.

 

'Is this a joke?'

 

'Far from it, dear. It's a blessed deliverance.'

 

'You have asked Mr Carter to take you back as a clerk?'

 

'I have.'

 

'And you propose that we shall live on twenty-five shillings a week?'

 

'Oh no! I shall be engaged only three mornings in the week and three

evenings. In my free time I shall do literary work, and no doubt I can

earn fifty pounds a year by it--if I have your sympathy to help me.

To-morrow I shall go and look for rooms some distance from here; in

Islington, I think. We have been living far beyond our means; that must

come to an end. We'll have no more keeping up of sham appearances. If I

can make my way in literature, well and good; in that case our position

and prospects will of course change. But for the present we are poor

people, and must live in a poor way. If our friends like to come and see

us, they must put aside all snobbishness, and take us as we are. If they

prefer not to come, there'll be an excuse in our remoteness.'

 

Amy was stroking the back of her hand. After a long silence, she said in

a very quiet, but very resolute tone:

 

'I shall not consent to this.'

 

'In that case, Amy, I must do without your consent. The rooms will be

taken, and our furniture transferred to them.'

 

'To me that will make no difference,' returned his wife, in the same

voice as before. 'I have decided--as you told me to--to go with Willie

to mother's next Tuesday. You, of course, must do as you please. I

should have thought a summer at the seaside would have been more helpful

to you; but if you prefer to live in Islington--'

 

Reardon approached her, and laid a hand on her shoulder.

 

'Amy, are you my wife, or not?'

 

'I am certainly not the wife of a clerk who is paid so much a week.'

 

He had foreseen a struggle, but without certainty of the form Amy's

opposition would take. For himself he meant to be gently resolute,

calmly regardless of protest. But in a man to whom such self-assertion

is a matter of conscious effort, tremor of the nerves will always

interfere with the line of conduct he has conceived in advance.

Already Reardon had spoken with far more bluntness than he proposed;

involuntarily, his voice slipped from earnest determination to the

note of absolutism, and, as is wont to be the case, the sound of these

strange tones instigated him to further utterances of the same kind.

He lost control of himself. Amy's last reply went through him like an

electric shock, and for the moment he was a mere husband defied by

his wife, the male stung to exertion of his brute force against the

physically weaker sex.

 

'However you regard me, you will do what I think fit. I shall not argue

with you. If I choose to take lodgings in Whitechapel, there you will

come and live.'

 

He met Amy's full look, and was conscious of that in it which

corresponded to his own brutality. She had become suddenly a much

older woman; her cheeks were tight drawn into thinness, her lips were

bloodlessly hard, there was an unknown furrow along her forehead, and

she glared like the animal that defends itself with tooth and claw.

 

'Do as YOU think fit? Indeed!'

 

Could Amy's voice sound like that? Great Heaven! With just such accent

he had heard a wrangling woman retort upon her husband at the street

corner. Is there then no essential difference between a woman of this

world and one of that? Does the same nature lie beneath such unlike

surfaces?

 

He had but to do one thing: to seize her by the arm, drag her up

from the chair, dash her back again with all his force--there, the

transformation would be complete, they would stand towards each other

on the natural footing. With an added curse perhaps--Instead of that, he

choked, struggled for breath, and shed tears.

 

Amy turned scornfully away from him. Blows and a curse would have

overawed her, at all events for the moment; she would have felt: 'Yes,

he is a man, and I have put my destiny into his hands.' His tears

moved her to a feeling cruelly exultant; they were the sign of her

superiority. It was she who should have wept, and never in her life had

she been further from such display of weakness.

 

This could not be the end, however, and she had no wish to terminate

the scene. They stood for a minute without regarding each other, then

Reardon faced to her.

 

'You refuse to live with me, then?'

 

'Yes, if this is the kind of life you offer me.'

 

'You would be more ashamed to share your husband's misfortunes than to

declare to everyone that you had deserted him?'

 

'I shall "declare to everyone" the simple truth. You have the

opportunity of making one more effort to save us from degradation. You

refuse to take the trouble; you prefer to drag me down into a lower rank

of life. I can't and won't consent to that. The disgrace is yours; it's

fortunate for me that I have a decent home to go to.'

 

'Fortunate for you!--you make yourself unutterably contemptible. I have

done nothing that justifies you in leaving me. It is for me to judge

what I can do and what I can't. A good woman would see no degradation in

what I ask of you. But to run away from me just because I am poorer than

you ever thought I should be--'

 

He was incoherent. A thousand passionate things that he wished to say

clashed together in his mind and confused his speech. Defeated in

the attempt to act like a strong man, he could not yet recover

standing-ground, knew not how to tone his utterances.

 

'Yes, of course, that's how you will put it,' said Amy. 'That's how you

will represent me to your friends. My friends will see it in a different

light.'

 

'They will regard you as a martyr?'

 

'No one shall make a martyr of me, you may be sure. I was unfortunate

enough to marry a man who had no delicacy, no regard for my feelings.--I

am not the first woman who has made a mistake of this kind.'

 

'No delicacy? No regard for your feelings?--Have I always utterly

misunderstood you? Or has poverty changed you to a woman I can't

recognise?'

 

He came nearer, and gazed desperately into her face. Not a muscle of it

showed susceptibility to the old influences.

 

'Do you know, Amy,' he added in a lower voice, 'that if we part now, we

part for ever?'

 

'I'm afraid that is only too likely.'

 

She moved aside.

 

'You mean that you wish it. You are weary of me, and care for nothing

but how to make yourself free.'

 

'I shall argue no more. I am tired to death of it.'

 

'Then say nothing, but listen for the last time to my view of the

position we have come to. When I consented to leave you for a time, to

go away and try to work in solitude, I was foolish and even insincere,

both to you and to myself. I knew that I was undertaking the impossible.

It was just putting off the evil day, that was all--putting off the time

when I should have to say plainly: "I can't live by literature, so I

must look out for some other employment." I shouldn't have been so weak

but that I knew how you would regard such a decision as that. I was

afraid to tell the truth--afraid. Now, when Carter of a sudden put this

opportunity before me, I saw all the absurdity of the arrangements we

had made. It didn't take me a moment to make up my mind. Anything was

to be chosen rather than a parting from you on false pretences, a

ridiculous affectation of hope where there was no hope.'

 

He paused, and saw that his words had no effect upon her.

 

'And a grievous share of the fault lies with you, Amy. You remember very

well when I first saw how dark the future was. I was driven even to say

that we ought to change our mode of living; I asked you if you would be

willing to leave this place and go into cheaper rooms. And you know what

your answer was. Not a sign in you that you would stand by me if the

worst came. I knew then what I had to look forward to, but I durst not

believe it. I kept saying to myself: "She loves me, and as soon as she

really understands--" That was all self-deception. If I had been a wise

man, I should have spoken to you in a way you couldn't mistake. I should

have told you that we were living recklessly, and that I had determined

to alter it. I have no delicacy? No regard for your feelings? Oh, if

I had had less! I doubt whether you can even understand some of the

considerations that weighed with me, and made me cowardly--though I once

thought there was no refinement of sensibility that you couldn't enter

into. Yes, I was absurd enough to say to myself: "It will look as if I

had consciously deceived her; she may suffer from the thought that I won

her at all hazards, knowing that I should soon expose her to poverty and

all sorts of humiliation." Impossible to speak of that again; I had to

struggle desperately on, trying to hope. Oh! if you knew--'

 

His voice gave way for an instant.

 

'I don't understand how you could be so thoughtless and heartless. You

knew that I was almost mad with anxiety at times. Surely, any woman must

have had the impulse to give what help was in her power. How could you

hesitate? Had you no suspicion of what a relief and encouragement it

would be to me, if you said: "Yes, we must go and live in a simpler

way?" If only as a proof that you loved me, how I should have welcomed

that! You helped me in nothing. You threw all the responsibility upon

me--always bearing in mind, I suppose, that there was a refuge for you.

Even now, I despise myself for saying such things of you, though I know

so bitterly that they are true. It takes a long time to see you as such

a different woman from the one I worshipped. In passion, I can fling out

violent words, but they don't yet answer to my actual feeling. It will

be long enough yet before I think contemptuously of you. You know that

when a light is suddenly extinguished, the image of it still shows

before your eyes. But at last comes the darkness.'

 

Amy turned towards him once more.

 

'Instead of saying all this, you might be proving that I am wrong. Do

so, and I will gladly confess it.'

 

'That you are wrong? I don't see your meaning.'

 

'You might prove that you are willing to do your utmost to save me from

humiliation.'

 

'Amy, I have done my utmost. I have done more than you can imagine.'

 

'No. You have toiled on in illness and anxiety--I know that. But a

chance is offered you now of working in a better way. Till that is

tried, you have no right to give all up and try to drag me down with

you.'

 

'I don't know how to answer. I have told you so often--You can't

understand me!'

 

'I can! I can!' Her voice trembled for the first time. 'I know that you

are so ready to give in to difficulties. Listen to me, and do as I bid

you.' She spoke in the strangest tone of command.

 

It was command, not exhortation, but there was no harshness in her

voice. 'Go at once to Mr Carter. Tell him you have made a ludicrous

mistake--in a fit of low spirits; anything you like to say. Tell him you

of course couldn't dream of becoming his clerk. To-night; at once! You

understand me, Edwin? Go now, this moment.'

 

'Have you determined to see how weak I am? Do you wish to be able to

despise me more completely still?'

 

'I am determined to be your friend, and to save you from yourself. Go at

once! Leave all the rest to me. If I have let things take their course

till now, it shan't be so in future. The responsibility shall be with

me. Only do as I tell you.'

 

'You know it's impossible--'

 

'It is not! I will find money. No one shall be allowed to say that we

are parting; no one has any such idea yet. You are going away for

your health, just three summer months. I have been far more careful of

appearances than you imagine, but you give me credit for so little. I

will find the money you need, until you have written another book. I

promise; I undertake it. Then I will find another home for us, of the

proper kind. You shall have no trouble. You shall give yourself entirely

to intellectual things.

 

But Mr Carter must be told at once, before he can spread a report. If he

has spoken, he must contradict what he has said.'

 

'But you amaze me, Amy. Do you mean to say that you look upon it as a

veritable disgrace, my taking this clerkship?'

 

'I do. I can't help my nature. I am ashamed through and through that you

should sink to this.'

 

'But everyone knows that I was a clerk once!'

 

'Very few people know it. And then that isn't the same thing. It

doesn't matter what one has been in the past. Especially a literary man;

everyone expects to hear that he was once poor. But to fall from the

position you now have, and to take weekly wages--you surely can't know

how people of my world regard that.'

 

'Of your world? I had thought your world was the same as mine, and knew

nothing whatever of these imbecilities.'

 

'It is getting late. Go and see Mr Carter, and afterwards I will talk as

much as you like.'

 

He might perhaps have yielded, but the unemphasised contempt in that

last sentence was more than he could bear. It demonstrated to him more

completely than set terms could have done what a paltry weakling he

would appear in Amy's eyes if he took his hat down from the peg and set

out to obey her orders.

 

'You are asking too much,' he said, with unexpected coldness. 'If my

opinions are so valueless to you that you dismiss them like those of a

troublesome child, I wonder you think it worth while to try and keep up

appearances about me. It is very simple: make known to everyone that you

are in no way connected with the disgrace I have brought upon myself.

Put an advertisement in the newspapers to that effect, if you like--as

men do about their wives' debts. I have chosen my part. I can't stultify

myself to please you.'

 

She knew that this was final. His voice had the true ring of shame in

revolt.

 

'Then go your way, and I will go mine!'

 

Amy left the room.

 

When Reardon went into the bedchamber an hour later, he unfolded a

chair-bedstead that stood there, threw some rugs upon it, and so lay

down to pass the night. He did not close his eyes. Amy slept for an hour

or two before dawn, and on waking she started up and looked anxiously

about the room. But neither spoke.

 

There was a pretence of ordinary breakfast; the little servant

necessitated that. When she saw her husband preparing to go out, Amy

asked him to come into the study.

 

'How long shall you be away?' she asked, curtly.

 

'It is doubtful. I am going to look for rooms.'

 

'Then no doubt I shall be gone when you come back. There's no object,

now, in my staying here till to-morrow.'

 

'As you please.'

 

'Do you wish Lizzie still to come?'

 

'No. Please to pay her wages and dismiss her. Here is some money.'

 

'I think you had better let me see to that.'

 

He flung the coin on to the table and opened the door. Amy stepped

quickly forward and closed it again.

 

'This is our good-bye, is it?' she asked, her eyes on the ground.

 

'As you wish it--yes.'

 

'You will remember that I have not wished it.'

 

'In that case, you have only to go with me to the new home.'

 

'I can't.'

 

'Then you have made your choice.'

 

She did not prevent his opening the door this time, and he passed out

without looking at her.

 

His return was at three in the afternoon. Amy and the child were gone;

the servant was gone. The table in the dining-room was spread as if for

one person's meal.

 

He went into the bedroom. Amy's trunks had disappeared. The child's cot

was covered over. In the study, he saw that the sovereign he had thrown

on to the table still lay in the same place.

 

As it was a very cold day he lit a fire. Whilst it burnt up he sat

reading a torn portion of a newspaper, and became quite interested in

the report of a commercial meeting in the City, a thing he would never

have glanced at under ordinary circumstances. The fragment fell at

length from his hands; his head drooped; he sank into a troubled sleep.

 

About six he had tea, then began the packing of the few books that were

to go with him, and of such other things as could be enclosed in box

or portmanteau. After a couple of hours of this occupation he could no

longer resist his weariness, so he went to bed. Before falling asleep

he heard the two familiar clocks strike eight; this evening they were

in unusual accord, and the querulous notes from the workhouse sounded

between the deeper ones from St Marylebone. Reardon tried to remember

when he had last observed this; the matter seemed to have a peculiar

interest for him, and in dreams he worried himself with a grotesque

speculation thence derived.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XVIII. THE OLD HOME

 

Before her marriage Mrs Edmund Yule was one of seven motherless sisters

who constituted the family of a dentist slenderly provided in the matter

of income. The pinching and paring which was a chief employment of her

energies in those early days had disagreeable effects upon a character

disposed rather to generosity than the reverse; during her husband's

lifetime she had enjoyed rather too eagerly all the good things which he

put at her command, sometimes forgetting that a wife has duties as

well as claims, and in her widowhood she indulged a pretentiousness

and querulousness which were the natural, but not amiable, results of

suddenly restricted circumstances.

 

Like the majority of London people, she occupied a house of which the

rent absurdly exceeded the due proportion of her income, a pleasant

foible turned to such good account by London landlords. Whereas she

might have lived with a good deal of modest comfort, her existence was a

perpetual effort to conceal the squalid background of what was meant for

the eyes of her friends and neighbours. She kept only two servants, who

were so ill paid and so relentlessly overworked that it was seldom they

remained with her for more than three months. In dealings with other

people whom she perforce employed, she was often guilty of incredible

meanness; as, for instance, when she obliged her half-starved dressmaker

to purchase material for her, and then postponed payment alike for

that and for the work itself to the last possible moment. This was not

heartlessness in the strict sense of the word; the woman not only knew

that her behaviour was shameful, she was in truth ashamed of it and

sorry for her victims. But life was a battle. She must either crush or

be crushed. With sufficient means, she would have defrauded no one, and

would have behaved generously to many; with barely enough for her needs,

she set her face and defied her feelings, inasmuch as she believed there

was no choice.

 

She would shed tears over a pitiful story of want, and without shadow of

hypocrisy. It was hard, it was cruel; such things oughtn't to be allowed

in a world where there were so many rich people. The next day she would

argue with her charwoman about halfpence, and end by paying the poor

creature what she knew was inadequate and unjust. For the simplest

reason: she hadn't more to give, without submitting to privations which

she considered intolerable.

 

But whilst she could be a positive hyena to strangers, to those who were

akin to her, and those of whom she was fond, her affectionate kindness

was remarkable. One observes this peculiarity often enough; it reminds

one how savage the social conflict is, in which those little groups of

people stand serried against their common enemies; relentless to all

others, among themselves only the more tender and zealous because of

the ever-impending danger. No mother was ever more devoted. Her son, a

gentleman of quite noteworthy selfishness, had board and lodging beneath

her roof on nominal terms, and under no stress of pecuniary trouble had

Mrs Yule called upon him to make the slightest sacrifice on her behalf.

Her daughter she loved with profound tenderness, and had no will that

was opposed to Amy's. And it was characteristic of her that her children

were never allowed to understand of what baseness she often became

guilty in the determination to support appearances. John Yule naturally

suspected what went on behind the scenes; on one occasion--since Amy's

marriage--he had involuntarily overheard a dialogue between his mother

and a servant on the point of departing which made even him feel

ashamed. But from Amy every paltriness and meanness had always been

concealed with the utmost care; Mrs Yule did not scruple to lie

heroically when in danger of being detected by her daughter.

 

Yet this energetic lady had no social ambitions that pointed above her

own stratum. She did not aim at intimacy with her superiors; merely at

superiority among her intimates. Her circle was not large, but in that

circle she must be regarded with the respect due to a woman of refined

tastes and personal distinction. Her little dinners might be of rare

occurrence, but to be invited must be felt a privilege. 'Mrs Edmund

Yule' must sound well on people's lips; never be the occasion of those

peculiar smiles which she herself was rather fond of indulging at the

mention of other people's names.

 

The question of Amy's marriage had been her constant thought from the

time when the little girl shot into a woman grown. For Amy no common

match, no acceptance of a husband merely for money or position. Few men

who walked the earth were mates for Amy. But years went on, and the man

of undeniable distinction did not yet present himself. Suitors offered,

but Amy smiled coldly at their addresses, in private not seldom

scornfully, and her mother, though growing anxious, approved. Then of a

sudden appeared Edwin Reardon.

 

A literary man? Well, it was one mode of distinction. Happily, a

novelist; novelists now and then had considerable social success.

 

Mr Reardon, it was true, did not impress one as a man likely to push

forward where the battle called for rude vigour, but Amy soon assured

herself that he would have a reputation far other than that of the

average successful storyteller. The best people would regard him; he

would be welcomed in the penetralia of culture; superior persons would

say: 'Oh, I don't read novels as a rule, but of course Mr Reardon's--'

If that really were to be the case, all was well; for Mrs Yule could

appreciate social and intellectual differences.

 

Alas! alas! What was the end of those shining anticipations?

 

First of all, Mrs Yule began to make less frequent mention of 'my

son-in-law, Mr Edwin Reardon.' Next, she never uttered his name save

when inquiries necessitated it. Then, the most intimate of her intimates

received little hints which were not quite easy to interpret.

'Mr Reardon is growing so very eccentric--has an odd distaste for

society--occupies himself with all sorts of out-of-the-way interests.

No, I'm afraid we shan't have another of his novels for some time.

I think he writes anonymously a good deal. And really, such curious

eccentricities!' Many were the tears she wept after her depressing

colloquies with Amy; and, as was to be expected, she thought severely

of the cause of these sorrows. On the last occasion when he came to

her house she received him with such extreme civility that Reardon

thenceforth disliked her, whereas before he had only thought her a

good-natured and silly woman.

 

Alas for Amy's marriage with a man of distinction! From step to step of

descent, till here was downright catastrophe. Bitter enough in itself,

but most lamentable with reference to the friends of the family. How was

it to be explained, this return of Amy to her home for several months,

whilst her husband was no further away than Worthing? The bald, horrible

truth--impossible! Yet Mr Milvain knew it, and the Carters must guess

it. What colour could be thrown upon such vulgar distress?

 

The worst was not yet. It declared itself this May morning, when, quite

unexpectedly, a cab drove up to the house, bringing Amy and her child,

and her trunks, and her band-boxes, and her what-nots.

 

From the dining-room window Mrs Yule was aware of this arrival, and in a

few moments she learnt the unspeakable cause.

 

She burst into tears, genuine as ever woman shed.

 

'There's no use in that, mother,' said Amy, whose temper was in a

dangerous state. 'Nothing worse can happen, that's one consolation.'

 

'Oh, it's disgraceful! disgraceful!' sobbed Mrs Yule. 'What we are to

say I can NOT think.'

 

'I shall say nothing whatever. People can scarcely have the impertinence

to ask us questions when we have shown that they are unwelcome.'

 

'But there are some people I can't help giving some explanation to. My

dear child, he is not in his right mind. I'm convinced of it, there! He

is not in his right mind.'

 

'That's nonsense, mother. He is as sane as I am.'

 

'But you have often said what strange things he says and does; you know

you have, Amy. That talking in his sleep; I've thought a great deal of

it since you told me about that. And--and so many other things. My love,

I shall give it to be understood that he has become so very odd in his

ways that--'

 

'I can't have that,' replied Amy with decision. 'Don't you see that in

that case I should be behaving very badly?'

 

'I can't see that at all. There are many reasons, as you know very well,

why one shouldn't live with a husband who is at all suspected of mental

derangement. You have done your utmost for him. And this would be some

sort of explanation, you know. I am so convinced that there is truth in

it, too.'

 

'Of course I can't prevent you from saying what you like, but I think it

would be very wrong to start a rumour of this kind.'

 

There was less resolve in this utterance. Amy mused, and looked

wretched.

 

'Come up to the drawing-room, dear,' said her mother, for they had held

their conversation in the room nearest to the house-door. 'What a state

your mind must be in! Oh dear! Oh dear!'

 

She was a slender, well-proportioned woman, still pretty in face, and

dressed in a way that emphasised her abiding charms. Her voice had

something of plaintiveness, and altogether she was of frailer type than

her daughter.

 

'Is my room ready?' Amy inquired on the stairs.

 

'I'm sorry to say it isn't, dear, as I didn't expect you till tomorrow.

But it shall be seen to immediately.'

 

This addition to the household was destined to cause grave difficulties

with the domestic slaves. But Mrs Yule would prove equal to the

occasion. On Amy's behalf she would have worked her servants till they

perished of exhaustion before her eyes.

 

'Use my room for the present,' she added. 'I think the girl has finished

up there. But wait here; I'll just go and see to things.'

 

'Things' were not quite satisfactory, as it proved. You should have

heard the change that came in that sweetly plaintive voice when it

addressed the luckless housemaid. It was not brutal; not at all. But

so sharp, hard, unrelenting--the voice of the goddess Poverty herself

perhaps sounds like that.

 

Mad? Was he to be spoken of in a low voice, and with finger pointing to

the forehead? There was something ridiculous, as well as repugnant, in

such a thought; but it kept possession of Amy's mind. She was brooding

upon it when her mother came into the drawing-room.

 

'And he positively refused to carry out the former plan?'

 

'Refused. Said it was useless.'

 

'How could it be useless? There's something so unaccountable in his

behaviour.'

 

'I don't think it unaccountable,' replied Amy. 'It's weak and selfish,

that's all. He takes the first miserable employment that offers rather

than face the hard work of writing another book.'

 

She was quite aware that this did not truly represent her husband's

position. But an uneasiness of conscience impelled her to harsh speech.

 

'But just fancy!' exclaimed her mother. 'What can he mean by asking you

to go and live with him on twenty-five shillings a week? Upon my word.

if his mind isn't disordered he must have made a deliberate plan to get

rid of you.'

 

Amy shook her head.

 

'You mean,' asked Mrs Yule, 'that he really thinks it possible for all

of you to be supported on those wages?'

 

The last word was chosen to express the utmost scorn.

 

'He talked of earning fifty pounds a year by writing.'

 

'Even then it could only make about a hundred a year. My dear child,

it's one of two things: either he is out of his mind, or he has

purposely cast you off.'

 

Amy laughed, thinking of her husband in the light of the latter

alternative.

 

'There's no need to seek so far for explanations,' she said. 'He has

failed, that's all; just like a man might fail in any other business. He

can't write like he used to. It may be all the result of ill-health; I

don't know. His last book, you see, is positively refused. He has made

up his mind that there's nothing but poverty before him, and he can't

understand why I should object to live like the wife of a working-man.'

 

'Well, I only know that he has placed you in an exceedingly difficult

position. If he had gone away to Worthing for the summer we might have

made it seem natural; people are always ready to allow literary men to

do rather odd things--up to a certain point. We should have behaved as

if there were nothing that called for explanation. But what are we to do

now?'

 

Like her multitudinous kind, Mrs Yule lived only in the opinions of

other people. What others would say was her ceaseless preoccupation.

She had never conceived of life as something proper to the individual;

independence in the directing of one's course seemed to her only

possible in the case of very eccentric persons, or of such as were

altogether out of society. Amy had advanced, intellectually, far beyond

this standpoint, but lack of courage disabled her from acting upon her

convictions.

 

'People must know the truth, I suppose,' she answered dispiritedly.

 

Now, confession of the truth was the last thing that would occur to Mrs

Yule when social relations were concerned. Her whole existence was based

on bold denial of actualities. And, as is natural in such persons, she

had the ostrich instinct strongly developed; though very acute in

the discovery of her friends' shams and lies, she deceived herself

ludicrously in the matter of concealing her own embarrassments.

 

'But the fact is, my dear,' she answered, 'we don't know the truth

ourselves. You had better let yourself be directed by me. It will be

better, at first, if you see as few people as possible. I suppose you

must say something or other to two or three of your own friends; if you

take my advice you'll be rather mysterious. Let them think what they

like; anything is better than to say plainly. "My husband can't support

me, and he has gone to work as a clerk for weekly wages." Be mysterious,

darling; depend upon it, that's the safest.'

 

The conversation was pursued, with brief intervals, all through the

day. In the afternoon two ladies paid a call, but Amy kept out of

sight. Between six and seven John Yule returned from his gentlemanly

occupations. As he was generally in a touchy temper before dinner had

soothed him, nothing was said to him of the latest development of his

sister's affairs until late in the evening; he was allowed to suppose

that Reardon's departure for the seaside had taken place a day sooner

than had been arranged.

 

Behind the dining-room was a comfortable little chamber set apart as

John's sanctum; here he smoked and entertained his male friends, and

contemplated the portraits of those female ones who would not have been

altogether at their ease in Mrs Yule's drawing-room. Not long after

dinner his mother and sister came to talk with him in this retreat.

 

With some nervousness Mrs Yule made known to him what had taken place.

Amy, the while, stood by the table, and glanced over a magazine that she

had picked up.

 

'Well, I see nothing to be surprised at,' was John's first remark. 'It

was pretty certain he'd come to this. But what I want to know is, how

long are we to be at the expense of supporting Amy and her youngster?'

 

This was practical, and just what Mrs Yule had expected from her son.

 

'We can't consider such things as that,' she replied. 'You don't wish, I

suppose, that Amy should go and live in a back street at Islington, and

be hungry every other day, and soon have no decent clothes?'

 

'I don't think Jack would be greatly distressed,' Amy put in quietly.

 

'This is a woman's way of talking,' replied John. 'I want to know what

is to be the end of it all? I've no doubt it's uncommonly pleasant for

Reardon to shift his responsibilities on to our shoulders. At this rate

I think I shall get married, and live beyond my means until I can hold

out no longer, and then hand my wife over to her relatives, with my

compliments. It's about the coolest business that ever came under my

notice.'

 

'But what is to be done?' asked Mrs Yule. 'It's no use talking

sarcastically, John, or making yourself disagreeable.'

 

'We are not called upon to find a way out of the difficulty. The fact of

the matter is, Reardon must get a decent berth. Somebody or other must

pitch him into the kind of place that suits men who can do nothing in

particular. Carter ought to be able to help, I should think.'

 

'You know very well,' said Amy, 'that places of that kind are not to be

had for the asking. It may be years before any such opportunity offers.'

 

'Confound the fellow! Why the deuce doesn't he go on with his

novel-writing? There's plenty of money to be made out of novels.'

 

'But he can't write, Jack. He has lost his talent.'

 

'That's all bosh, Amy. If a fellow has once got into the swing of it he

can keep it up if he likes. He might write his two novels a year easily

enough, just like twenty other men and women. Look here, I could do it

myself if I weren't too lazy. And that's what's the matter with Reardon.

He doesn't care to work.'

 

'I have thought that myself;' observed Mrs Yule. 'It really is too

ridiculous to say that he couldn't write some kind of novels if he

chose. Look at Miss Blunt's last book; why, anybody could have written

that. I'm sure there isn't a thing in it I couldn't have imagined

myself.'

 

'Well, all I want to know is, what's Amy going to do if things don't

alter?'

 

'She shall never want a home as long as I have one to share with her.'

 

John's natural procedure, when beset by difficulties, was to find

fault with everyone all round, himself maintaining a position of

irresponsibility.

 

'It's all very well, mother, but when a girl gets married she takes her

husband, I have always understood, for better or worse, just as a man

takes his wife. To tell the truth, it seems to me Amy has put herself in

the wrong. It's deuced unpleasant to go and live in back streets, and

to go without dinner now and then, but girls mustn't marry if they're

afraid to face these things.'

 

'Don't talk so monstrously, John!' exclaimed his mother. 'How could Amy

possibly foresee such things? The case is quite an extraordinary one.'

 

'Not so uncommon, I assure you. Some one was telling me the other day of

a married lady--well educated and blameless--who goes to work at a shop

somewhere or other because her husband can't support her.'

 

'And you wish to see Amy working in a shop?'

 

'No, I can't say I do. I'm only telling you that her bad luck isn't

unexampled. It's very fortunate for her that she has good-natured

relatives.'

 

Amy had taken a seat apart. She sat with her head leaning on her hand.

 

'Why don't you go and see Reardon?' John asked of his mother.

 

'What would be the use? Perhaps he would tell me to mind my own

business.'

 

'By jingo! precisely what you would be doing. I think you ought to see

him and give him to understand that he's behaving in a confoundedly

ungentlemanly way. Evidently he's the kind of fellow that wants stirring

up. I've half a mind to go and see him myself. Where is this slum that

he's gone to live in?'

 

'We don't know his address yet.'

 

'So long as it's not the kind of place where one would be afraid of

catching a fever, I think it wouldn't be amiss for me to look him up.'

 

'You'll do no good by that,' said Amy, indifferently.

 

'Confound it! It's just because nobody does anything that things have

come to this pass!'

 

The conversation was, of course, profitless. John could only return

again and again to his assertion that Reardon must get 'a decent berth.'

At length Amy left the room in weariness and disgust.

 

'I suppose they have quarrelled terrifically,' said her brother, as soon

as she was gone.

 

'I am afraid so.'

 

'Well, you must do as you please. But it's confounded hard lines that

you should have to keep her and the kid. You know I can't afford to

contribute.'

 

'My dear, I haven't asked you to.'

 

'No, but you'll have the devil's own job to make ends meet; I know that

well enough.'

 

'I shall manage somehow.'

 

'All right; you're a plucky woman, but it's too bad. Reardon's a humbug,

that's my opinion. I shall have a talk with Carter about him. I suppose

he has transferred all their furniture to the slum?'

 

'He can't have removed yet. It was only this morning that he went to

search for lodgings.'

 

'Oh, then I tell you what it is: I shall look in there the first thing

to-morrow morning, and just talk to him in a fatherly way. You needn't

say anything to Amy. But I see he's just the kind of fellow that,

if everyone leaves him alone, he'll be content with Carter's

five-and-twenty shillings for the rest of his life, and never trouble

his head about how Amy is living.'

 

To this proposal Mrs Yule readily assented. On going upstairs she found

that Amy had all but fallen asleep upon a settee in the drawing-room.

 

'You are quite worn out with your troubles,' she said. 'Go to bed, and

have a good long sleep.'

 

'Yes, I will.'

 

The neat, fresh bedchamber seemed to Amy a delightful haven of rest. She

turned the key in the door with an enjoyment of the privacy thus secured

such as she had never known in her life; for in maidenhood safe solitude

was a matter of course to her, and since marriage she had not passed a

night alone. Willie was fast asleep in a little bed shadowed by her own.

In an impulse of maternal love and gladness she bent over the child and

covered his face with kisses too gentle to awaken him.

 

How clean and sweet everything was! It is often said, by people who are

exquisitely ignorant of the matter, that cleanliness is a luxury within

reach even of the poorest. Very far from that; only with the utmost

difficulty, with wearisome exertion, with harassing sacrifice, can

people who are pinched for money preserve a moderate purity in their

persons and their surroundings. By painful degrees Amy had accustomed

herself to compromises in this particular which in the early days of her

married life would have seemed intensely disagreeable, if not revolting.

A housewife who lives in the country, and has but a patch of back

garden, or even a good-sized kitchen, can, if she thinks fit, take her

place at the wash-tub and relieve her mind on laundry matters; but to

the inhabitant of a miniature flat in the heart of London anything of

that kind is out of the question.

 

When Amy began to cut down her laundress's bill, she did it with a

sense of degradation. One grows accustomed, however, to such unpleasant

necessities, and already she had learnt what was the minimum of

expenditure for one who is troubled with a lady's instincts.

 

No, no; cleanliness is a costly thing, and a troublesome thing when

appliances and means have to be improvised. It was, in part, the

understanding she had gained of this side of the life of poverty that

made Amy shrink in dread from the still narrower lodgings to which

Reardon invited her. She knew how subtly one's self-respect can be

undermined by sordid conditions. The difference between the life of

well-to-do educated people and that of the uneducated poor is not

greater in visible details than in the minutiae of privacy, and Amy

must have submitted to an extraordinary change before it would have been

possible for her to live at ease in the circumstances which satisfy a

decent working-class woman. She was prepared for final parting from her

husband rather than try to effect that change in herself.

 

She undressed at leisure, and stretched her limbs in the cold, soft,

fragrant bed. A sigh of profound relief escaped her. How good it was to

be alone!

 

And in a quarter of an hour she was sleeping as peacefully as the child

who shared her room.

 

At breakfast in the morning she showed a bright, almost a happy face. It

was long, long since she had enjoyed such a night's rest, so undisturbed

with unwelcome thoughts on the threshold of sleep and on awaking. Her

life was perhaps wrecked, but the thought of that did not press upon

her; for the present she must enjoy her freedom. It was like a recovery

of girlhood. There are few married women who would not, sooner or later,

accept with joy the offer of some months of a maidenly liberty. Amy

would not allow herself to think that her wedded life was at an end.

With a woman's strange faculty of closing her eyes against facts that

do not immediately concern her, she tasted the relief of the present and

let the future lie unregarded. Reardon would get out of his difficulties

sooner or later; somebody or other would help him; that was the dim

background of her agreeable sensations.

 

He suffered, no doubt. But then it was just as well that he should.

Suffering would perhaps impel him to effort. When he communicated to her

his new address--he could scarcely neglect to do that--she would send a

not unfriendly letter, and hint to him that now was his opportunity for

writing a book, as good a book as those which formerly issued from his

garret-solitude. If he found that literature was in truth a thing of the

past with him, then he must exert himself to obtain a position worthy of

an educated man. Yes, in this way she would write to him, without a word

that could hurt or offend.

 

She ate an excellent breakfast, and made known her enjoyment of it.

 

'I am so glad!' replied her mother. 'You have been getting quite thin

and pale.'

 

'Quite consumptive,' remarked John, looking up from his newspaper.

'Shall I make arrangements for a daily landau at the livery stables

round here?'

 

'You can if you like,' replied his sister; 'it would do both mother and

me good, and I have no doubt you could afford it quite well.'

 

'Oh, indeed! You're a remarkable young woman, let me tell you.

By-the-bye, I suppose your husband is breakfasting on bread and water?'

 

'I hope not, and I don't think it very likely.'

 

'Jack, Jack!' interposed Mrs Yule, softly.

 

Her son resumed his paper, and at the end of the meal rose with an

unwonted briskness to make his preparations for departure.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIX. THE PAST REVIVED

 

Nor would it be true to represent Edwin Reardon as rising to the new day

wholly disconsolate. He too had slept unusually well, and with returning

consciousness the sense of a burden removed was more instant than that

of his loss and all the dreary circumstances attaching to it. He had no

longer to fear the effects upon Amy of such a grievous change as from

their homelike flat to the couple of rooms he had taken in Islington;

for the moment, this relief helped him to bear the pain of all that had

happened and the uneasiness which troubled him when he reflected that

his wife was henceforth a charge to her mother.

 

Of course for the moment only. He had no sooner begun to move about, to

prepare his breakfast (amid the relics of last evening's meal), to think

of all the detestable work he had to do before to-morrow night, than his

heart sank again. His position was well-nigh as dolorous as that of any

man who awoke that morning to the brutal realities of life. If only for

the shame of it! How must they be speaking of him, Amy's relatives,

and her friends? A novelist who couldn't write novels; a husband

who couldn't support his wife and child; a literate who made eager

application for illiterate work at paltry wages--how interesting it

would all sound in humorous gossip! And what hope had he that things

would ever be better with him?

 

Had he done well? Had he done wisely? Would it not have been better to

have made that one last effort? There came before him a vision of quiet

nooks beneath the Sussex cliffs, of the long lines of green breakers

bursting into foam; he heard the wave-music, and tasted the briny

freshness of the sea-breeze. Inspiration, after all, would perchance

have come to him.

 

If Amy's love had but been of more enduring quality; if she had

strengthened him for this last endeavour with the brave tenderness of

an ideal wife! But he had seen such hateful things in her eyes. Her love

was dead, and she regarded him as the man who had spoilt her hopes of

happiness. It was only for her own sake that she urged him to strive on;

let his be the toil, that hers might be the advantage if he succeeded.

 

'She would be glad if I were dead. She would be glad.'

 

He had the conviction of it. Oh yes, she would shed tears; they come so

easily to women. But to have him dead and out of her way; to be saved

from her anomalous position; to see once more a chance in life; she

would welcome it.

 

But there was no time for brooding. To-day he had to sell all the things

that were superfluous, and to make arrangements for the removal of his

effects to-morrow. By Wednesday night, in accordance with his agreement,

the flat must be free for the new occupier.

 

He had taken only two rooms, and fortunately as things were. Three would

have cost more than he was likely to be able to afford for a long time.

The rent of the two was to be six-and-sixpence; and how, if Amy had

consented to come, could he have met the expenses of their living out

of his weekly twenty-five shillings? How could he have pretended to do

literary work in such cramped quarters, he who had never been able to

write a line save in strict seclusion? In his despair he had faced the

impossible. Amy had shown more wisdom, though in a spirit of unkindness.

 

Towards ten o'clock he was leaving the flat to go and find people who

would purchase his books and old clothing and other superfluities; but

before he could close the door behind him, an approaching step on

the stairs caught his attention. He saw the shining silk hat of a

well-equipped gentleman. It was John Yule.

 

'Ha! Good-morning!' John exclaimed, looking up. 'A minute or two and I

should have been too late, I see.'

 

He spoke in quite a friendly way, and, on reaching the landing, shook

hands.

 

'Are you obliged to go at once? Or could I have a word with you?'

 

'Come in.'

 

They entered the study, which was in some disorder; Reardon made no

reference to circumstances, but offered a chair, and seated himself.

 

'Have a cigarette?' said Yule, holding out a box of them.

 

'No, thank you; I don't smoke so early.'

 

'Then I'll light one myself; it always makes talk easier to me. You're

on the point of moving, I suppose?'

 

'Yes, I am.'

 

Reardon tried to speak in quite a simple way, with no admission of

embarrassment. He was not successful, and to his visitor the tone seemed

rather offensive.

 

'I suppose you'll let Amy know your new address?'

 

'Certainly. Why should I conceal it?'

 

'No, no; I didn't mean to suggest that. But you might be taking it for

granted that--that the rupture was final, I thought.'

 

There had never been any intimacy between these two men. Reardon

regarded his wife's brother as rather snobbish and disagreeably selfish;

John Yule looked upon the novelist as a prig, and now of late as

a shuffling, untrustworthy fellow. It appeared to John that his

brother-in-law was assuming a manner wholly unjustifiable, and he had a

difficulty in behaving to him with courtesy. Reardon, on the other hand,

felt injured by the turn his visitor's remarks were taking, and began to

resent the visit altogether.

 

'I take nothing for granted,' he said coldly. 'But I'm afraid nothing is

to be gained by a discussion of our difficulties. The time for that is

over.

 

'I can't quite see that. It seems to me that the time has just come.'

 

'Please tell me, to begin with, do you come on Amy's behalf?'

 

'In a way, yes. She hasn't sent me, but my mother and I are so

astonished at what is happening that it was necessary for one or other

of us to see you.'

 

'I think it is all between Amy and myself.'

 

'Difficulties between husband and wife are generally best left to

the people themselves, I know. But the fact is, there are peculiar

circumstances in the present case. It can't be necessary for me to

explain further.'

 

Reardon could find no suitable words of reply. He understood what Yule

referred to, and began to feel the full extent of his humiliation.

 

'You mean, of course--' he began; but his tongue failed him.

 

'Well, we should really like to know how long it is proposed that Amy

shall remain with her mother.'

 

John was perfectly self-possessed; it took much to disturb his

equanimity. He smoked his cigarette, which was in an amber mouthpiece,

and seemed to enjoy its flavour. Reardon found himself observing the

perfection of the young man's boots and trousers.

 

'That depends entirely on my wife herself;' he replied mechanically.

 

'How so?'

 

'I offer her the best home I can.'

 

Reardon felt himself a poor, pitiful creature, and hated the

well-dressed man who made him feel so.

 

'But really, Reardon,' began the other, uncrossing and recrossing his

legs, 'do you tell me in seriousness that you expect Amy to live in such

lodgings as you can afford on a pound a week?'

 

'I don't. I said that I had offered her the best home I could. I know

it's impossible, of course.'

 

Either he must speak thus, or break into senseless wrath. It was hard to

hold back the angry words that were on his lips, but he succeeded, and

he was glad he had done so.

 

'Then it doesn't depend on Amy,' said John.

 

'I suppose not.'

 

'You see no reason, then, why she shouldn't live as at present for an

indefinite time?'

 

To John, whose perspicacity was not remarkable, Reardon's changed

tone conveyed simply an impression of bland impudence. He eyed his

brother-in-law rather haughtily.

 

'I can only say,' returned the other, who was become wearily

indifferent, 'that as soon as I can afford a decent home I shall give my

wife the opportunity of returning to me.'

 

'But, pray, when is that likely to be?'

 

John had passed the bounds; his manner was too frankly contemptuous.

 

'I see no right you have to examine me in this fashion,' Reardon

exclaimed. 'With Mrs Yule I should have done my best to be patient if

she had asked these questions; but you are not justified in putting

them, at all events not in this way.'

 

'I'm very sorry you speak like this, Reardon,' said the other, with calm

insolence. 'It confirms unpleasant ideas, you know.'

 

'What do you mean?'

 

'Why, one can't help thinking that you are rather too much at your ease

under the circumstances. It isn't exactly an everyday thing, you know,

for a man's wife to be sent back to her own people--'

 

Reardon could not endure the sound of these words. He interrupted hotly.

 

'I can't discuss it with you. You are utterly unable to comprehend me

and my position, utterly! It would be useless to defend myself. You must

take whatever view seems to you the natural one.'

 

John, having finished his cigarette, rose.

 

'The natural view is an uncommonly disagreeable one,' he said. 'However,

I have no intention of quarrelling with you. I'll only just say that,

as I take a share in the expenses of my mother's house, this question

decidedly concerns me; and I'll add that I think it ought to concern you

a good deal more than it seems to.'

 

Reardon, ashamed already of his violence, paused upon these remarks.

 

'It shall,' he uttered at length, coldly. 'You have put it clearly

enough to me, and you shan't have spoken in vain. Is there anything else

you wish to say?'

 

'Thank you; I think not.'

 

They parted with distant civility, and Reardon closed the door behind

his visitor.

 

He knew that his character was seen through a distorting medium by Amy's

relatives, to some extent by Amy herself; but hitherto the reflection

that this must always be the case when a man of his kind is judged by

people of the world had strengthened him in defiance. An endeavour

to explain himself would be maddeningly hopeless; even Amy did not

understand aright the troubles through which his intellectual and moral

nature was passing, and to speak of such experiences to Mrs Yule or to

John would be equivalent to addressing them in alien tongues; he and

they had no common criterion by reference to which he could make

himself intelligible. The practical tone in which John had explained the

opposing view of the situation made it impossible for him to proceed as

he had purposed. Amy would never come to him in his poor lodgings; her

mother, her brother, all her advisers would regard such a thing as out

of the question. Very well; recognising this, he must also recognise his

wife's claim upon him for material support. It was not in his power to

supply her with means sufficient to live upon, but what he could afford

she should have.

 

When he went out, it was with a different purpose from that of half

an hour ago. After a short search in the direction of Edgware Road, he

found a dealer in second-hand furniture, whom he requested to come as

soon as possible to the flat on a matter of business. An hour later the

man kept his appointment. Having brought him into the study, Reardon

said:

 

'I wish to sell everything in this flat, with a few exceptions that I'll

point out to you'.

 

'Very good, sir,' was the reply. 'Let's have a look through the rooms.'

 

That the price offered would be strictly a minimum Reardon knew well

enough. The dealer was a rough and rather dirty fellow, with the

distrustful glance which distinguishes his class. Men of Reardon's type,

when hapless enough to be forced into vulgar commerce, are doubly at a

disadvantage; not only their ignorance, but their sensitiveness, makes

them ready victims of even the least subtle man of business. To deal

on equal terms with a person you must be able to assert with calm

confidence that you are not to be cheated; Reardon was too well aware

that he would certainly be cheated, and shrank scornfully from the

higgling of the market. Moreover, he was in a half-frenzied state of

mind, and cared for little but to be done with the hateful details of

this process of ruin.

 

He pencilled a list of the articles he must retain for his own use; it

would of course be cheaper to take a bare room than furnished

lodgings, and every penny he could save was of importance to him. The

chair-bedstead, with necessary linen and blankets, a table, two chairs,

a looking-glass--strictly the indispensable things; no need to complete

the list. Then there were a few valuable wedding-presents, which