Part 11 out of 13
and wept together over their miseries.
CHAPTER XXXI. A RESCUE AND A SUMMONS
The chances are that you have neither understanding nor sympathy
for men such as Edwin Reardon and Harold Biffen. They merely
provoke you. They seem to you inert, flabby, weakly envious,
foolishly obstinate, impiously mutinous, and many other things.
You are made angrily contemptuous by their failure to get on; why
don't they bestir themselves, push and bustle, welcome kicks so
long as halfpence follow, make place in the world's eye--in
short, take a leaf from the book of Mr Jasper Milvain?
But try to imagine a personality wholly unfitted for the rough
and tumble of the world's labour-market. From the familiar point
of view these men were worthless; view them in possible relation
to a humane order of Society, and they are admirable citizens.
Nothing is easier than to condemn a type of character which is
unequal to the coarse demands of life as it suits the average
man. These two were richly endowed with the kindly and the
imaginative virtues; if fate threw them amid incongruous
circumstances, is their endowment of less value? You scorn their
passivity; but it was their nature and their merit to be passive.
Gifted with independent means, each of them would have taken
quite a different aspect in your eyes. The sum of their faults
was their inability to earn money; but, indeed, that inability
does not call for unmingled disdain.
It was very weak of Harold Biffen to come so near perishing of
hunger as he did in the days when he was completing his novel.
But he would have vastly preferred to eat and be satisfied had
any method of obtaining food presented itself to him. He did not
starve for the pleasure of the thing, I assure you. Pupils were
difficult to get just now, and writing that he had sent to
magazines had returned upon his hands. He pawned such of his
possessions as he could spare, and he reduced his meals to the
minimum. Nor was he uncheerful in his cold garret and with his
empty stomach, for 'Mr Bailey, Grocer,' drew steadily to an end.
He worked very slowly. The book would make perhaps two volumes of
ordinary novel size, but he had laboured over it for many months,
patiently, affectionately, scrupulously. Each sentence was as
good as he could make it, harmonious to the ear, with words of
precious meaning skilfully set. Before sitting down to a chapter
he planned it minutely in his mind; then he wrote a rough draft
of it; then he elaborated the thing phrase by phrase. He had no
thought of whether such toil would be recompensed in coin of the
realm; nay, it was his conviction that, if with difficulty
published, it could scarcely bring him money. The work must be
significant, that was all he cared for. And he had no society of
admiring friends to encourage him. Reardon understood the merit
of the workmanship, but frankly owned that the book was repulsive
to him. To the public it would be worse than repulsive--tedious,
utterly uninteresting. No matter; it drew to its end.
The day of its completion was made memorable by an event
decidedly more exciting, even to the author.
At eight o'clock in the evening there remained half a page to be
written. Biffen had already worked about nine hours, and on
breaking off to appease his hunger he doubted whether to finish
to-night or to postpone the last lines till tomorrow. The
discovery that only a small crust of bread lay in the cupboard
decided him to write no more; he would have to go out to purchase
a loaf and that was disturbance.
But stay; had he enough money? He searched his pockets. Two pence
and two farthings; no more.
You are probably not aware that at bakers' shops in the poor
quarters the price of the half-quartern loaf varies sometimes
from week to week. At present, as Biffen knew, it was twopence
three-farthings, a common figure. But Harold did not possess
three farthings, only two. Reflecting, he remembered to have
passed yesterday a shop where the bread was marked twopence
halfpenny; it was a shop in a very obscure little street off
Hampstead Road, some distance from Clipstone Street. Thither he
must repair. He had only his hat and a muffler to put on, for
again he was wearing his overcoat in default of the under one,
and his ragged umbrella to take from the corner; so he went
To his delight the twopence halfpenny announcement was still in
the baker's window. He obtained a loaf wrapped it in the piece of
paper he had brought--small bakers decline to supply paper for
this purpose--and strode joyously homeward again.
Having eaten, he looked longingly at his manuscript. But half a
page more. Should he not finish it to-night? The temptation was
irresistible. He sat down, wrought with unusual speed, and at
half-past ten wrote with magnificent flourish 'The End.'
His fire was out and he had neither coals nor wood. But his feet
were frozen into lifelessness. Impossible to go to bed like this;
he must take another turn in the streets. It would suit his
humour to ramble a while. Had it not been so late he would have
gone to see Reardon, who expected the communication of this
So again he locked his door. Half-way downstairs he stumbled over
something or somebody in the dark.
'Who is that?' he cried.
The answer was a loud snore. Biffen went to the bottom of the
house and called to the landlady.
'Mrs Willoughby! Who is asleep on the stairs?'
'Why, I 'spect it's Mr Briggs,' replied the woman, indulgently.
'Don't you mind him, Mr Biffen. There's no 'arm: he's only had a
little too much. I'll go up an' make him go to bed as soon as
I've got my 'ands clean.'
'The necessity for waiting till then isn't obvious,' remarked the
realist with a chuckle, and went his way.
He walked at a sharp pace for more than an hour, and about
midnight drew near to his own quarter again. He had just turned
up by the Middlesex Hospital, and was at no great distance from
Clipstone Street, when a yell and scamper caught his attention; a
group of loafing blackguards on the opposite side of the way had
suddenly broken up, and as they rushed off he heard the word
'Fire!' This was too common an occurrence to disturb his
equanimity; he wondered absently in which street the fire might
be, but trudged on without a thought of making investigation.
Repeated yells and rushes, however, assailed his apathy. Two
women came tearing by him, and he shouted to them: 'Where is it?'
'In Clipstone Street, they say,' one screamed back.
He could no longer be unconcerned. If in his own street the
conflagration might be in the very house he inhabited, and in
that case-- He set off at a run. Ahead of him was a thickening
throng, its position indicating the entrance to Clipstone Street.
Soon he found his progress retarded; he had to dodge this way and
that, to force progress, to guard himself against overthrows by
the torrent of ruffiandom which always breaks forth at the cry of
fire. He could now smell the smoke, and all at once a black
volume of it, bursting from upper windows, alarmed his sight. At
once he was aware that, if not his own dwelling, it must be one
of those on either side that was in flames. As yet no engine had
arrived, and straggling policemen were only just beginning to
make their way to the scene of uproar. By dint of violent effort
Biffen moved forward yard by yard. A tongue of flame which
suddenly illumined the fronts of the houses put an end to his
'Let me get past!' he shouted to the gaping and swaying mass of
people in front of him. 'I live there! I must go upstairs to save
His educated accent moved attention. Repeating the demand again
and again he succeeded in getting forward, and at length was near
enough to see that people were dragging articles of furniture out
on to the pavement.
'That you, Mr Biffen?' cried someone to him.
He recognised the face of a fellow-lodger.
'Is it possible to get up to my room?' broke frantically from his
'You'll never get up there. It's that-- Briggs'--the epithet was
alliterative--''as upset his lamp, and I 'ope he'll--well get
roasted to death.'
Biffen leaped on to the threshold, and crashed against Mrs
Willoughby, the landlady, who was carrying a huge bundle of
'I told you to look after that drunken brute;' he said to her.
'Can I get upstairs?'
'What do I care whether you can or not!' the woman shrieked. 'My
God! And all them new chairs as I bought--!'
He heard no more, but bounded over a confusion of obstacles, and
in a moment was on the landing of the first storey. Here he
encountered a man who had not lost his head, a stalwart mechanic
engaged in slipping clothes on to two little children.
'If somebody don't drag that fellow Briggs down he'll be dead,'
observed the man. 'He's layin' outside his door. I pulled him
out, but I can't do no more for him.'
Smoke grew thick on the staircase. Burning was as yet confined to
that front room on the second floor tenanted by Briggs the
disastrous, but in all likelihood the ceiling was ablaze, and if
so it would be all but impossible for Biffen to gain his own
chamber, which was at the back on the floor above. No one was
making an attempt to extinguish the fire; personal safety and the
rescue of their possessions alone occupied the thoughts of such
people as were still in the house. Desperate with the dread of
losing his manuscript, his toil, his one hope, the realist
scarcely stayed to listen to a warning that the fumes were
impassable; with head bent he rushed up to the next landing.
There lay Briggs, perchance already stifled, and through the open
door Biffen had a horrible vision of furnace fury. To go yet
higher would have been madness but for one encouragement: he knew
that on his own storey was a ladder giving access to a trap-door,
by which he might issue on to the roof, whence escape to the
adjacent houses would be practicable. Again a leap forward!
In fact, not two minutes elapsed from his commencing the ascent
of the stairs to the moment when, all but fainting, he thrust the
key into his door and fell forward into purer air. Fell, for he
was on his knees, and had begun to suffer from a sense of failing
power, a sick whirling of the brain, a terror of hideous death.
His manuscript was on the table, where he had left it after
regarding and handling it with joyful self-congratulation; though
it was pitch dark in the room, he could at once lay his hand on
the heap of paper. Now he had it; now it was jammed tight under
his left arm; now he was out again on the landing, in smoke more
deadly than ever.
He said to himself: 'If I cannot instantly break out by the trap-
door it's all over with me.' That the exit would open to a
vigorous thrust he knew, having amused himself not long ago by
going on to the roof. He touched the ladder, sprang upwards, and
felt the trap above him. But he could not push it back. 'I'm a
dead man,' flashed across his mind, 'and all for the sake of "Mr
Bailey, Grocer."' A frenzied effort, the last of which his
muscles were capable, and the door yielded. His head was now
through the aperture, and though the smoke swept up about him,
that gasp of cold air gave him strength to throw himself on the
flat portion of the roof that he had reached.
So for a minute or two he lay. Then he was able to stand, to
survey his position, and to walk along by the parapet. He looked
down upon the surging and shouting crowd in Clipstone Street, but
could see it only at intervals, owing to the smoke that rolled
from the front windows below him.
What he had now to do he understood perfectly. This roof was
divided from those on either hand by a stack of chimneys; to get
round the end of these stacks was impossible, or at all events
too dangerous a feat unless it were the last resource, but by
climbing to the apex of the slates he would be able to reach the
chimney-pots, to drag himself up to them, and somehow to tumble
over on to the safer side. To this undertaking he forthwith
addressed himself. Without difficulty he reached the ridge;
standing on it he found that only by stretching his arm to the
utmost could he grip the top of a chimney-pot. Had he the
strength necessary to raise himself by such a hold? And suppose
the pot broke?
His life was still in danger; the increasing volumes of smoke
warned him that in a few minutes the uppermost storey might be in
flames. He took off his overcoat to allow himself more freedom of
action; the manuscript, now an encumbrance, must precede him over
the chimney-stack, and there was only one way of effecting that.
With care he stowed the papers into the pockets of the coat; then
he rolled the garment together, tied it up in its own sleeves,
took a deliberate aim--and the bundle was for the present in
Now for the gymnastic endeavour. Standing on tiptoe, he clutched
the rim of the chimney-pot, and strove to raise himself. The hold
was firm enough, but his arms were far too puny to perform such
work, even when death would be the penalty of failure. Too long
he had lived on insufficient food and sat over the debilitating
desk. He swung this way and that, trying to throw one of his
knees as high as the top of the brickwork, but there was no
chance of his succeeding. Dropping on to the slates, he sat there
He must cry for help. In front it was scarcely possible to stand
by the parapet, owing to the black clouds of smoke, now mingled
with sparks; perchance he might attract the notice of some person
either in the yards behind or at the back windows of other
houses. The night was so obscure that he could not hope to be
seen; voice alone must be depended upon, and there was no
certainty that it would be heard far enough. Though he stood in
his shirt-sleeves in a bitter wind no sense of cold affected him;
his face was beaded with perspiration drawn forth by his futile
struggle to climb. He let himself slide down the rear slope, and,
holding by the end of the chimney brickwork, looked into the
yards. At the same instant a face appeared to him--that of a man
who was trying to obtain a glimpse of this roof from that of the
next house by thrusting out his head beyond the block of
'Hollo!' cried the stranger. 'What are you doing there?'
'Trying to escape, of course. Help me to get on to your roof.'
'By God! I expected to see the fire coming through already. Are
you the-- as upset his lamp an' fired the bloomin' 'ouse?'
'Not I! He's lying drunk on the stairs; dead by this time.'
'By God! I wouldn't have helped you if you'd been him. How are
you coming round? Blest if I see! You'll break your bloomin' neck
if you try this corner. You'll have to come over the chimneys;
wait till I get a ladder.'
'And a rope,' shouted Biffen.
The man disappeared for five minutes. To Biffen it seemed half an
hour; he felt, or imagined he felt, the slates getting hot
beneath him, and the smoke was again catching his breath. But at
length there was a shout from the top of the chimney-stack. The
rescuer had seated himself on one of the pots, and was about to
lower on Biffen's side a ladder which had enabled him to ascend
from the other. Biffen planted the lowest rung very carefully on
the ridge of the roof, climbed as lightly as possible, got a
footing between two pots; the ladder was then pulled over, and
both men descended in safety.
'Have you seen a coat lying about here?' was Biffen's first
question. 'I threw mine over.'
'What did you do that for?'
'There are some valuable papers in the pockets.'
They searched in vain; on neither side of the roof was the coat
'You must have pitched it into the street,' said the man.
This was a terrible blow; Biffen forgot his rescue from
destruction in lament for the loss of his manuscript. He would
have pursued the fruitless search, but his companion, who feared
that the fire might spread to adjoining houses, insisted on his
passing through the trap-door and descending the stairs.'If the
coat fell into the street,' Biffen said, when they were down on
the ground floor, 'of course it's lost; it would be stolen at
once. But may not it have fallen into your back yard?'
He was standing in the midst of a cluster of alarmed people, who
stared at him in astonishment, for the reek through which he had
fought his way had given him the aspect of a sweep. His
suggestion prompted someone to run into the yard, with the result
that a muddy bundle was brought in and exhibited to him.
'Is this your coat, Mister?'
'Heaven be thanked! That's it! There are valuable papers in the
He unrolled the garment, felt to make sure that 'Mr Bailey' was
safe, and finally put it on.
'Will anyone here let me sit down in a room and give me a drink
of water?' he asked, feeling now as if he must drop with
The man who had rescued him performed this further kindness, and
for half an hour, whilst tumult indescribable raged about him,
Biffen sat recovering his strength. By that time the firemen were
hard at work, but one floor of the burning house had already
fallen through, and it was probable that nothing but the shell
would be saved. After giving a full account of himself to the
people among whom he had come, Harold declared his intention of
departing; his need of repose was imperative, and he could not
hope for it in this proximity to the fire. As he had no money,
his only course was to inquire for a room at some house in the
immediate neighbourhood, where the people would receive him in a
With the aid of the police he passed to where the crowd was
thinner, and came out into Cleveland Street. Here most of the
house-doors were open, and he made several applications for
hospitality, but either his story was doubted or his grimy
appearance predisposed people against him. At length, when again
his strength was all but at an end, he made appeal to a
'Surely you can tell,' he protested, after explaining his
position, 'that I don't want to cheat anybody. I shall have money
to-morrow. If no one will take me in you must haul me on some
charge to the police-station; I shall have to lie down on the
pavement in a minute.'
The officer recognised a man who was standing half-dressed on a
threshold close by; he stepped up to him and made representations
which were successful. In a few minutes Biffen took possession of
an underground room furnished as a bedchamber, which he agreed to
rent for a week. His landlord was not ungracious, and went so far
as to supply him with warm water, that he might in a measure
cleanse himself. This operation rapidly performed, the hapless
author flung himself into bed, and before long was fast asleep.
When he went upstairs about nine o'clock in the morning he
discovered that his host kept an oil-shop.
'Lost everything, have you?' asked the man sympathetically.
'Everything, except the clothes I wear and some papers that I
managed to save. All my books burnt!'
Biffen shook his head dolorously.
'Your account-books!' cried the dealer in oil. 'Dear, dear!--and
what might your business be?'
The author corrected this misapprehension. In the end he was
invited to break his fast, which he did right willingly. Then,
with assurances that he would return before nightfall, he left
the house. His steps were naturally first directed to Clipstone
Street; the familiar abode was a gruesome ruin, still smoking.
Neighbours informed him that Mr Briggs's body had been brought
forth in a horrible condition; but this was the only loss of life
that had happened.
Thence he struck eastward, and at eleven came to Manville Street,
Islington. He found Reardon by the fireside, looking very ill,
and speaking with hoarseness.
'It looks like it. I wish you would take the trouble to go and
buy me some vermin-killer. That would suit my case.'
'Then what would suit mine? Behold me, undeniably a philosopher;
in the literal sense of the words omnia mea mecum porto.'
He recounted his adventures, and with such humorous vivacity that
when he ceased the two laughed together as if nothing more
amusing had ever been heard.
'Ah, but my books, my books!' exclaimed Biffen, with a genuine
groan. 'And all my notes! At one fell swoop! If I didn't laugh,
old friend, I should sit down and cry; indeed I should. All my
classics, with years of scribbling in the margins! How am I to
buy them again?'
'You rescued "Mr Bailey." He must repay you.'
Biffen had already laid the manuscript on the table; it was dirty
and crumpled, but not to such an extent as to render copying
necessary. Lovingly he smoothed the pages and set them in order,
then he wrapped the whole in a piece of brown paper which Reardon
supplied, and wrote upon it the address of a firm of publishers.
'Have you note-paper? I'll write to them; impossible to call in
my present guise.'
Indeed his attire was more like that of a bankrupt costermonger
than of a man of letters. Collar he had none, for the griminess
of that he wore last night had necessitated its being thrown
aside; round his throat was a dirty handkerchief. His coat had
been brushed, but its recent experiences had brought it one stage
nearer to that dissolution which must very soon be its fate. His
grey trousers were now black, and his boots looked as if they had
not been cleaned for weeks.
'Shall I say anything about the character of the book?' he asked,
seating himself with pen and paper. 'Shall I hint that it deals
with the ignobly decent?'
'Better let them form their own judgment,' replied Reardon, in
his hoarse voice.
'Then I'll just say that I submit to them a novel of modern life,
the scope of which is in some degree indicated by its title. Pity
they can't know how nearly it became a holocaust, and that I
risked my life to save it. If they're good enough to accept it
I'll tell them the story. And now, Reardon, I'm ashamed of
myself, but can you without inconvenience lend me ten shillings?'
'I must write to two pupils, to inform them of my change of
address--from garret to cellar. And I must ask help from my
prosperous brother. He gives it me unreluctantly, I know, but I
am always loth to apply to him. May I use your paper for these
The brother of whom he spoke was employed in a house of business
at Liverpool; the two had not met for years, but they
corresponded, and were on terms such as Harold indicated. When he
had finished his letters, and had received the half-sovereign
from Reardon, he went his way to deposit the brown-paper parcel
at the publishers'. The clerk who received it from his hands
probably thought that the author might have chosen a more
Two days later, early in the evening, the friends were again
enjoying each other's company in Reardon's room. Both were
invalids, for Biffen had of course caught a cold from his
exposure in shirt-sleeves on the roof, and he was suffering from
the shock to his nerves; but the thought that his novel was safe
in the hands of publishers gave him energy to resist these
influences. The absence of the pipe, for neither had any palate
for tobacco at present, was the only external peculiarity of this
meeting. There seemed no reason why they should not meet
frequently before the parting which would come at Christmas; but
Reardon was in a mood of profound sadness, and several times
spoke as if already he were bidding his friend farewell.
'I find it difficult to think,' he said, 'that you will always
struggle on in such an existence as this. To every man of mettle
there does come an opportunity, and it surely is time for yours
to present itself. I have a superstitious faith in "Mr Bailey."
If he leads you to triumph, don't altogether forget me.'
'Don't talk nonsense.'
'What ages it seems since that day when I saw you in the library
at Hastings, and heard you ask in vain for my book! And how
grateful I was to you! I wonder whether any mortal ever asks for
my books nowadays? Some day, when I am well established at
Croydon, you shall go to Mudie's, and make inquiry if my novels
ever by any chance leave the shelves, and then you shall give me
a true and faithful report of the answer you get. "He is quite
forgotten," the attendant will say; be sure of it.'
'I think not.'
'To have had even a small reputation, and to have outlived it, is
a sort of anticipation of death. The man Edwin Reardon, whose
name was sometimes spoken in a tone of interest, is really and
actually dead. And what remains of me is resigned to that. I have
an odd fancy that it will make death itself easier; it is as if
only half of me had now to die.'
Biffen tried to give a lighter turn to the gloomy subject.
'Thinking of my fiery adventure,' he said, in his tone of dry
deliberation, 'I find it vastly amusing to picture you as a
witness at the inquest if I had been choked and consumed. No
doubt it would have been made known that I rushed upstairs to
save some particular piece of property--several people heard me
say so--and you alone would be able to conjecture what this was.
Imagine the gaping wonderment of the coroner's jury! The Daily
Telegraph would have made a leader out of me. "This poor man was
so strangely deluded as to the value of a novel in manuscript,
which it appears he had just completed, that he positively
sacrificed his life in the endeavour to rescue it from the
flames." And the Saturday would have had a column of sneering
jocosity on the irrepressibly sanguine temperament of authors. At
all events, I should have had my day of fame.'
'But what an ignoble death it would have been!' he pursued.
'Perishing in the garret of a lodging-house which caught fire by
the overturning of a drunkard's lamp! One would like to end
'Where would you wish to die?' asked Reardon, musingly.
'At home,' replied the other, with pathetic emphasis. 'I have
never had a home since I was a boy, and am never likely to have
one. But to die at home is an unreasoning hope I still cherish.'
'If you had never come to London, what would you have now been?'
'Almost certainly a schoolmaster in some small town. And one
might be worse off than that, you know.'
'Yes, one might live peaceably enough in such a position. And I--
I should be in an estate-agent's office, earning a sufficient
salary, and most likely married to some unambitious country girl.
I should have lived an intelligible life, instead of only trying
to live, aiming at modes of life beyond my reach. My mistake was
that of numberless men nowadays. Because I was conscious of
brains, I thought that the only place for me was London. It's
easy enough to understand this common delusion. We form our ideas
of London from old literature; we think of London as if it were
still the one centre of intellectual life; we think and talk like
Chatterton. But the truth is that intellectual men in our day do
their best to keep away from London--when once they know the
place. There are libraries everywhere; papers and magazines reach
the north of Scotland as soon as they reach Brompton; it's only
on rare occasions, for special kinds of work, that one is bound
to live in London. And as for recreation, why, now that no
English theatre exists, what is there in London that you can't
enjoy in almost any part of England? At all events, a yearly
visit of a week would be quite sufficient for all the special
features of the town. London is only a huge shop, with an hotel
on the upper storeys. To be sure, if you make it your artistic
subject, that's a different thing. But neither you nor I would do
that by deliberate choice.'
'I think not.'
'It's a huge misfortune, this will-o'-the-wisp attraction
exercised by London on young men of brains. They come here to be
degraded, or to perish, when their true sphere is a life of
peaceful remoteness. The type of man capable of success in London
is more or less callous and cynical. If I had the training of
boys, I would teach them to think of London as the last place
where life can be lived worthily.'
'And the place where you are most likely to die in squalid
'The one happy result of my experiences,' said Reardon, is that
they have cured me of ambition. What a miserable fellow I should
be if I were still possessed with the desire to make a name! I
can't even recall very clearly that state of mind. My strongest
desire now is for peaceful obscurity. I am tired out; I want to
rest for the remainder of my life.'
'You won't have much rest at Croydon.'
'Oh, it isn't impossible. My time will be wholly occupied in a
round of all but mechanical duties, and I think that will be the
best medicine for my mind. I shall read very little, and that
only in the classics. I don't say that I shall always be content
in such a position; in a few years perhaps something pleasanter
will offer. But in the meantime it will do very well. Then there
is our expedition to Greece to look forward to. I am quite in
earnest about that. The year after next, if we are both alive,
assuredly we go.'
'The year after next.' Biffen smiled dubiously.
'I have demonstrated to you mathematically that it is possible.'
'You have; but so are a great many other things that one does not
dare to hope for.'
Someone knocked at the door, opened it, and said:
'Here's a telegram for you, Mr Reardon.'
The friends looked at each other, as if some fear had entered the
minds of both. Reardon opened the despatch. It was from his wife,
and ran thus:
'Willie is ill of diphtheria. Please come to us at once. I am
staying with Mrs Carter, at her mother's, at Brighton.'
The full address was given.
'You hadn't heard of her going there?' said Biffen, when he had
read the lines.
'No. I haven't seen Carter for several days, or perhaps he would
have told me. Brighton, at this time of year? But I believe
there's a fashionable "season" about now, isn't there? I suppose
that would account for it.'
He spoke in a slighting tone, but showed increasing agitation.
'Of course you will go?'
'I must. Though I'm in no condition for making a journey.'
His friend examined him anxiously.
'Are you feverish at all this evening?'
Reardon held out a hand that the other might feel his pulse. The
beat was rapid to begin with, and had been heightened since the
arrival of the telegram.
'But go I must. The poor little fellow has no great place in my
heart, but, when Amy sends for me, I must go. Perhaps things are
at the worst.'
'When is there a train? Have you a time table?'
Biffen was despatched to the nearest shop to purchase one, and in
the meanwhile Reardon packed a few necessaries in a small
travelling-bag, ancient and worn, but the object of his affection
because it had accompanied him on his wanderings in the South.
When Harold returned, his appearance excited Reardon's
astonishment--he was white from head to foot.
'It must have been falling heavily for an hour or more.'
'Can't be helped; I must go.'
The nearest station for departure was London Bridge, and the next
train left at 7.20. By Reardon's watch it was now about five
minutes to seven.
'I don't know whether it's possible,' he said, in confused hurry,
'but I must try. There isn't another train till ten past nine.
Come with me to the station, Biffen.'
Both were ready. They rushed from the house, and sped through the
soft, steady fall of snowflakes into Upper Street. Here they were
several minutes before they found a disengaged cab. Questioning
the driver, they learnt what they would have known very well
already but for their excitement: impossible to get to London
Bridge Station in a quarter of an hour.
'Better to go on, all the same,' was Reardon's opinion. 'If the
snow gets deep I shall perhaps not be able to have a cab at all.
But you had better not come; I forgot that you are as much out of
sorts as I am.'
'How can you wait a couple of hours alone? In with you!'
'Diphtheria is pretty sure to be fatal to a child of that age,
isn't it?' Reardon asked when they were speeding along City Road.
'I'm afraid there's much danger.'
'Why did she send?'
'What an absurd question! You seem to have got into a thoroughly
morbid state of mind about her. Do be human, and put away your
'In my position you would have acted precisely as I have done. I
have had no choice.'
'I might; but we have both of us too little practicality. The art
of living is the art of compromise. We have no right to foster
sensibilities, and conduct ourselves as if the world allowed of
ideal relations; it leads to misery for others as well as
ourselves. Genial coarseness is what it behoves men like you and
me to cultivate. Your reply to your wife's last letter was
preposterous. You ought to have gone to her of your own accord as
soon as ever you heard she was rich; she would have thanked you
for such common-sense disregard of delicacies. Let there be an
end of this nonsense, I implore you!'
Reardon stared through the glass at the snow that fell thicker
'What are we--you and I?' pursued the other. 'We have no belief
in immortality; we are convinced that this life is all; we know
that human happiness is the origin and end of all moral
considerations. What right have we to make ourselves and others
miserable for the sake of an obstinate idealism? It is our duty
to make the best of circumstances. Why will you go cutting your
loaf with a razor when you have a serviceable bread-knife?'
Still Reardon did not speak. The cab rolled on almost silently.
'You love your wife, and this summons she sends is proof that her
thought turns to you as soon as she is in distress.'
'Perhaps she only thought it her duty to let the child's father
'Perhaps--perhaps--perhaps!' cried Biffen, contemptuously. 'There
goes the razor again! Take the plain, human construction of what
happens. Ask yourself what the vulgar man would do, and do
likewise; that's the only safe rule for you.'
They were both hoarse with too much talking, and for the last
half of the drive neither spoke.
At the railway-station they ate and drank together, but with poor
pretence of appetite. As long as possible they kept within the
warmed rooms. Reardon was pale, and had anxious, restless eyes;
he could not remain seated, though when he had walked about for a
few minutes the trembling of his limbs obliged him to sink down.
It was an unutterable relief to both when the moment of the
train's starting approached.
They clasped hands warmly, and exchanged a few last requests and
'Forgive my plain speech, old fellow,' said Biffen. 'Go and be
Then he stood alone on the platform, watching the red light on
the last carriage as the train whirled away into darkness and
CHAPTER XXXII. REARDON BECOMES PRACTICAL
Reardon had never been to Brighton, and of his own accord never
would have gone; he was prejudiced against the place because its
name has become suggestive of fashionable imbecility and the
snobbishness which tries to model itself thereon; he knew that
the town was a mere portion of London transferred to the
sea-shore, and as he loved the strand and the breakers for their
own sake, to think of them in such connection could be nothing
but a trial of his temper. Something of this species of
irritation affected him in the first part of his journey, and
disturbed the mood of kindliness with which he was approaching
Amy; but towards the end he forgot this in a growing desire to be
beside his wife in her trouble. His impatience made the hour and
a half seem interminable.
The fever which was upon him had increased. He coughed
frequently; his breathing was difficult; though constantly
moving, he felt as if, in the absence of excitement, his one wish
would have been to lie down and abandon himself to lethargy. Two
men who sat with him in the third-class carriage had spread a rug
over their knees and amused themselves with playing cards for
trifling sums of money; the sight of their foolish faces, the
sound of their laughs, the talk they interchanged, exasperated
him to the last point of endurance; but for all that he could not
draw his attention from them. He seemed condemned by some
spiritual tormentor to take an interest in their endless games,
and to observe their visages until he knew every line with a
hateful intimacy. One of the men had a moustache of unusual form;
the ends curved upward with peculiar suddenness, and Reardon was
constrained to speculate as to the mode of training by which this
singularity had been produced. He could have shed tears of
nervous distraction in his inability to turn his thoughts upon
On alighting at his journey's end he was seized with a fit of
shivering, an intense and sudden chill which made his teeth
chatter. In an endeavour to overcome this he began to run towards
the row of cabs, but his legs refused such exercise, and coughing
compelled him to pause for breath. Still shaking, he threw
himself into a vehicle and was driven to the address Amy had
mentioned. The snow on the ground lay thick, but no more was
Heedless of the direction which the cab took, he suffered his
physical and mental unrest for another quarter of an hour, then a
stoppage told him that the house was reached. On his way he had
heard a clock strike eleven.
The door opened almost as soon as he had rung the bell. He
mentioned his name, and the maid-servant conducted him to a
drawing-room on the ground-floor. The house was quite a small
one, but seemed to be well furnished. One lamp burned on the
table, and the fire had sunk to a red glow. Saying that she would
inform Mrs Reardon at once, the servant left him alone.
He placed his bag on the floor, took off his muffler, threw back
his overcoat, and sat waiting. The overcoat was new, but the
garments beneath it were his poorest, those he wore when sitting
in his garret, for he had neither had time to change them, nor
thought of doing so.
He heard no approaching footstep but Amy came into the room in a
way which showed that she had hastened downstairs. She looked at
him, then drew near with both hands extended, and laid them on
his shoulders, and kissed him. Reardon shook so violently that it
was all he could do to remain standing; he seized one of her
hands, and pressed it against his lips.
'How hot your breath is!' she said. 'And how you tremble! Are you
'A bad cold, that's all,' he answered thickly, and coughed. 'How
'In great danger. The doctor is coming again to-night; we thought
that was his ring.'
'You didn't expect me to-night?'
'I couldn't feel sure whether you would come.'
'Why did you send for me, Amy? Because Willie was in danger, and
you felt I ought to know about it?'
'Yes--and because I--'
She burst into tears. The display of emotion came very suddenly;
her words had been spoken in a firm voice, and only the pained
knitting of her brows had told what she was suffering.
'If Willie dies, what shall I do? Oh, what shall I do?' broke
forth between her sobs.
Reardon took her in his arms, and laid his hand upon her head in
the old loving way.
'Do you wish me to go up and see him, Amy?'
'Of course. But first, let me tell you why we are here. Edith--
Mrs Carter--was coming to spend a week with her mother, and she
pressed me to join her. I didn't really wish to; I was unhappy,
and felt how impossible it was to go on always living away from
you. Oh, that I had never come! Then Willie would have been as
well as ever.'
'Tell me when and how it began.'
She explained briefly, then went on to tell of other
'I have a nurse with me in the room. It's my own bedroom, and
this house is so small it will be impossible to give you a bed
here, Edwin. But there's an hotel only a few yards away.'
'Yes, yes; don't trouble about that.'
'But you look so ill--you are shaking so. Is it a cold you have
'Oh, my old habit; you remember. One cold after another, all
through the accursed winter. What does that matter when you speak
kindly to me once more? I had rather die now at your feet and see
the old gentleness when you look at me, than live on estranged
from you. No, don't kiss me, I believe these vile sore-throats
'But your lips are so hot and parched! And to think of your
coming this journey, on such a night!'
'Good old Biffen came to the station with me. He was angry
because I had kept away from you so long. Have you given me your
heart again, Amy?'
'Oh, it has all been a wretched mistake! But we were so poor. Now
all that is over; if only Willie can be saved to me! I am so
anxious for the doctor's coming; the poor little child can hardly
draw a breath. How cruel it is that such suffering should come
upon a little creature who has never done or thought ill!'
'You are not the first, dearest, who has revolted against
'Let us go up at once, Edwin. Leave your coat and things here.
Mrs Winter--Edith's mother--is a very old lady; she has gone to
bed. And I dare say you wouldn't care to see Mrs Carter to-
'No, no! only you and Willie.'
'When the doctor comes hadn't you better ask his advice for
'We shall see. Don't trouble about me.'
They went softly up to the first floor, and entered a bedroom.
Fortunately the light here was very dim, or the nurse who sat by
the child's bed must have wondered at the eccentricity with which
her patient's father attired himself. Bending over the little
sufferer, Reardon felt for the first time since Willie's birth a
strong fatherly emotion; tears rushed to his eyes, and he almost
crushed Amy's hand as he held it during the spasm of his intense
He sat here for a long time without speaking. The warmth of the
chamber had the reverse of an assuaging effect upon his difficult
breathing and his frequent short cough--it seemed to oppress and
confuse his brain. He began to feel a pain in his right side, and
could not sit upright on the chair.
Amy kept regarding him, without his being aware of it.
'Does your head ache?' she whispered.
He nodded, but did not speak.
'Oh, why doesn't the doctor come? I must send in a few minutes.'
But as soon as she had spoken a bell rang in the lower part of
the house. Amy had no doubt that it announced the promised visit.
She left the room, and in a minute or two returned with the
medical man. When the examination of the child was over, Reardon
requested a few words with the doctor in the room downstairs.
'I'll come back to you,' he whispered to Amy.
The two descended together, and entered the drawing-room.
'Is there any hope for the little fellow?' Reardon asked.
Yes, there was hope; a favourable turn might be expected.
'Now I wish to trouble you for a moment on my own account. I
shouldn't be surprised if you tell me that I have congestion of
The doctor, a suave man of fifty, had been inspecting his
interlocutor with curiosity. He now asked the necessary
questions, and made an examination.
'Have you had any lung trouble before this?' he inquired gravely.
'Slight congestion of the right lung not many weeks ago.'
'I must order you to bed immediately. Why have you allowed your
symptoms to go so far without--'
'I have just come down from London,' interrupted Reardon.
'Tut, tut, tut! To bed this moment, my dear sir! There is
'I can't have a bed in this house; there is no spare room. I must
go to the nearest hotel.'
'Positively? Then let me take you. My carriage is at the door.'
'One thing--I beg you won't tell my wife that this is serious.
Wait till she is out of her anxiety about the child.'
'You will need the services of a nurse. A most unfortunate thing
that you are obliged to go to the hotel.'
'It can't be helped. If a nurse is necessary, I must engage one.'
He had the strange sensation of knowing that whatever was needful
could be paid for; it relieved his mind immensely. To the rich,
illness has none of the worst horrors only understood by the
'Don't speak a word more than you can help,' said the doctor as
he watched Reardon withdraw.
Amy stood on the lower stairs, and came down as soon as her
husband showed himself.
'The doctor is good enough to take me in his carriage,' he
whispered. 'It is better that I should go to bed, and get a good
night's rest. I wish I could have sat with you, Amy.'
'Is it anything? You look worse than when you came, Edwin.'
'A feverish cold. Don't give it a thought, dearest. Go to Willie.
She threw her arms about him.
'I shall come to see you if you are not able to be here by nine
in the morning,' she said, and added the name of the hotel to
which he was to go.
At this establishment the doctor was well known. By midnight
Reardon lay in a comfortable room, a huge cataplasm fixed upon
him, and other needful arrangements made. A waiter had undertaken
to visit him at intervals through the night, and the man of
medicine promised to return as soon as possible after daybreak.
What sound was that, soft and continuous, remote, now clearer,
now confusedly murmuring? He must have slept, but now he lay in
sudden perfect consciousness, and that music fell upon his ears.
Ah! of course it was the rising tide; he was near the divine sea.
The night-light enabled him to discern the principal objects in
the room, and he let his eyes stray idly hither and thither. But
this moment of peacefulness was brought to an end by a fit of
coughing, and he became troubled, profoundly troubled, in mind.
Was his illness really dangerous? He tried to draw a deep breath,
but could not. He found that he could only lie on his right side
with any ease. And with the effort of turning he exhausted
himself; in the course of an hour or two all his strength had
left him. Vague fears flitted harassingly through his thoughts.
If he had inflammation of the lungs--that was a disease of which
one might die, and speedily. Death? No, no, no; impossible at
such a time as this, when Amy, his own dear wife, had come back
to him, and had brought him that which would insure their
happiness through all the years of a long life.
He was still quite a young man; there must be great reserves of
strength in him. And he had the will to live, the prevailing
will, the passionate all-conquering desire of happiness.
How he had alarmed himself! Why, now he was calmer again, and
again could listen to the music of the breakers. Not all the
folly and baseness that paraded along this strip of the shore
could change the sea's eternal melody. In a day or two he would
walk on the sands with Amy, somewhere quite out of sight of the
repulsive town. But Willie was ill; he had forgotten that. Poor
little boy! In future the child should be more to him; though
never what the mother was, his own love, won again and for ever.
Again an interval of unconsciousness, brought to an end by that
aching in his side. He breathed very quickly; could not help
doing so. He had never felt so ill as this, never. Was it not
Then he dreamt. He was at Patras, was stepping into a boat to be
rowed out to the steamer which would bear him away from Greece. A
magnificent night, though at the end of December; a sky of deep
blue, thick set with stars. No sound but the steady splash of the
oars, or perhaps a voice from one of the many vessels that lay
anchored in the harbour, each showing its lantern-gleams. The
water was as deep a blue as the sky, and sparkled with reflected
And now he stood on deck in the light of early morning. Southward
lay the Ionian Islands; he looked for Ithaca, and grieved that it
had been passed in the hours of darkness. But the nearest point
of the main shore was a rocky promontory; it reminded him that in
these waters was fought the battle of Actium.
The glory vanished. He lay once more a sick man in a hired
chamber, longing for the dull English dawn.
At eight o'clock came the doctor. He would allow only a word or
two to be uttered, and his visit was brief. Reardon was chiefly
anxious to have news of the child, but for this he would have to
At ten Amy entered the bedroom. Reardon could not raise himself,
but he stretched out his hand and took hers, and gazed eagerly at
her. She must have been weeping, he felt sure of that, and there
was an expression on her face such as he had never seen there.
'How is Willie?'
'Better, dear; much better.'
He still searched her face.
'Ought you to leave him?'
'Hush! You mustn't speak.'
Tears broke from her eyes, and Reardon had the conviction that
the child was dead.
'The truth, Amy!'
She threw herself on her knees by the bedside, and pressed her
wet cheek against his hand.
'I am come to nurse you, dear husband,' she said a moment after,
standing up again and kissing his forehead. 'I have only you
His heart sank, and for a moment so great a terror was upon him
that he closed his eyes and seemed to pass into utter darkness.
But those last words of hers repeated themselves in his mind, and
at length they brought a deep solace. Poor little Willie had been
the cause of the first coldness between him and Amy; her love for
him had given place to a mother's love for the child. Now it
would be as in the first days of their marriage; they would again
be all in all to each other.
'You oughtn't to have come, feeling so ill,' she said to him.
'You should have let me know, dear.'
He smiled and kissed her hand.
'And you kept the truth from me last night, in kindness.'
She checked herself, knowing that agitation must be harmful to
him. She had hoped to conceal the child's death, but the effort
was too much for her overstrung nerves. And indeed it was only
possible for her to remain an hour or two by this sick-bed, for
she was exhausted by her night of watching, and the sudden agony
with which it had concluded. Shortly after Amy's departure, a
professional nurse came to attend upon what the doctor had
privately characterised as a very grave case.
By the evening its gravity was in no respect diminished. The
sufferer had ceased to cough and to make restless movements, and
had become lethargic; later, he spoke deliriously, or rather
muttered, for his words were seldom intelligible. Amy had
returned to the room at four o'clock, and remained till far into
the night; she was physically exhausted, and could do little but
sit in a chair by the bedside and shed silent tears, or gaze at
vacancy in the woe of her sudden desolation. Telegrams had been
exchanged with her mother, who was to arrive in Brighton
to-morrow morning; the child's funeral would probably be on the
third day from this.
When she rose to go away for the night, leaving the nurse in
attendance, Reardon seemed to lie in a state of unconsciousness,
but just as she was turning from the bed, he opened his eyes and
pronounced her name.
'I am here, Edwin,' she answered, bending over him.
'Will you let Biffen know?' he said in low but very clear tones.
'That you are ill dear? I will write at once, or telegraph, if
you like. What is his address?'
He had closed his eyes again, and there came no reply. Amy
repeated her question twice; she was turning from him in
hopelessness when his voice became audible.
'I can't remember his new address. I know it, but I can't
She had to leave him thus.
The next day his breathing was so harassed that he had to be
raised against pillows. But throughout the hours of daylight his
mind was clear, and from time to time he whispered words of
tenderness in reply to Amy's look. He never willingly
relinquished her hand, and repeatedly he pressed it against his
cheek or lips. Vainly he still endeavoured to recall his friend's
'Couldn't Mr Carter discover it for you?' Amy asked.
'Perhaps. You might try.'
She would have suggested applying to Jasper Milvain, but that
name must not be mentioned. Whelpdale, also, would perchance know
where Biffen lived, but Whelpdale's address he had also
At night there were long periods of delirium; not mere confused
muttering, but continuous talk which the listeners could follow
For the most part the sufferer's mind was occupied with revival
of the distress he had undergone whilst making those last efforts
to write something worthy of himself. Amy's heart was wrung as
she heard him living through that time of supreme misery--misery
which she might have done so much to alleviate, had not selfish
fears and irritated pride caused her to draw further and further
from him. Hers was the kind of penitence which is forced by sheer
stress of circumstances on a nature which resents any form of
humiliation; she could not abandon herself to unreserved grief
for what she had done or omitted, and the sense of this defect
made a great part of her affliction. When her husband lay in mute
lethargy, she thought only of her dead child, and mourned the
loss; but his delirious utterances constrained her to break from
that bittersweet preoccupation, to confuse her mourning with
self-reproach and with fears.
Though unconsciously, he was addressing her: 'I can do no more,
Amy. My brain seems to be worn out; I can't compose, I can't even
think. Look! I have been sitting here for hours, and I have done
only that little bit, half a dozen lines. Such poor stuff too! I
should burn it, only I can't afford. I must do my regular
quantity every day, no matter what it is.'
The nurse, who was present when he talked in this way, looked to
Amy for an explanation.
'My husband is an author,' Amy answered. 'Not long ago he was
obliged to write when he was ill and ought to have been resting.'
'I always thought it must be hard work writing books,' said the
nurse with a shake of her head.
'You don't understand me,' the voice pursued, dreadful as a voice
always is when speaking independently of the will. 'You think I
am only a poor creature, because I can do nothing better than
this. If only I had money enough to rest for a year or two, you
should see. Just because I have no money I must sink to this
degradation. And I am losing you as well; you don't love me!'
He began to moan in anguish.
But a happy change presently came over his dreaming. He fell into
animated description of his experiences in Greece and Italy, and
after talking for a long time, he turned his head and said in a
perfectly natural tone:
'Amy, do you know that Biffen and I are going to Greece?'
She believed he spoke consciously, and replied:
'You must take me with you, Edwin.'
He paid no attention to this remark, but went on with the same
'He deserves a holiday after nearly getting burnt to death to
save his novel. Imagine the old fellow plunging headlong into the
flames to rescue his manuscript! Don't say that authors can't be
And he laughed gaily.
Another morning broke. It was possible, said the doctors (a
second had been summoned), that a crisis which drew near might
bring the favourable turn; but Amy formed her own opinion from
the way in which the nurse expressed herself. She felt sure that
the gravest fears were entertained. Before noon Reardon awoke
from what had seemed natural sleep--save for the rapid breathing-
-and of a sudden recollected the number of the house in Cleveland
Street at which Biffen was now living. He uttered it without
explanation. Amy at once conjectured his meaning, and as soon as
her surmise was confirmed she despatched a telegram to her
That evening, as Amy was on the point of returning to the sick-
room after having dined at her friend's house, it was announced
that a gentleman named Biffen wished to see her. She found him in
the dining-room, and, even amid her distress, it was a
satisfaction to her that he presented a far more conventional
appearance than in the old days. All the garments he wore, even
his hat, gloves, and boots, were new; a surprising state of
things, explained by the fact of his commercial brother having
sent him a present of ten pounds, a practical expression of
sympathy with him in his recent calamity. Biffen could not speak;
he looked with alarm at Amy's pallid face. In a few words she
told him of Reardon's condition.
'I feared this,' he replied under his breath. 'He was ill when I
saw him off at London Bridge. But Willie is better, I trust?'
Amy tried to answer, but tears filled her eyes and her head
drooped. Harold was overcome with a sense of fatality; grief and
dread held him motionless.
They conversed brokenly for a few minutes, then left the house,
Biffen carrying the hand-bag with which he had travelled hither.
When they reached the hotel he waited apart until it was
ascertained whether he could enter the sick-room. Amy rejoined
him and said with a faint smile:
'He is conscious, and was very glad to hear that you had come.
But don't let him try to speak much.'
The change that had come over his friend's countenance was to
Harold, of course, far more gravely impressive than to those who
had watched at the bedside. In the drawn features, large sunken
eyes, thin and discoloured lips, it seemed to him that he read
too surely the presage of doom. After holding the shrunken hand
for a moment he was convulsed with an agonising sob, and had to
Amy saw that her husband wished to speak to her; she bent over
'Ask him to stay, dear. Give him a room in the hotel.'
Biffen sat down by the bedside, and remained for half an hour.
His friend inquired whether he had yet heard about the novel; the
answer was a shake of the head. When he rose, Reardon signed to
him to bend down, and whispered:
'It doesn't matter what happens; she is mine again.'
The next day was very cold, but a blue sky gleamed over land and
sea. The drives and promenades were thronged with people in
exuberant health and spirits. Biffen regarded this spectacle with
resentful scorn; at another time it would have moved him merely
to mirth, but not even the sound of the breakers when he had
wandered as far as possible from human contact could help him to
think with resignation of the injustice which triumphs so
flagrantly in the destinies of men. Towards Amy he had no shadow
of unkindness; the sight of her in tears had impressed him as
profoundly, in another way, as that of his friend's wasted
features. She and Reardon were again one, and his love for them
both was stronger than any emotion of tenderness he had ever
In the afternoon he again sat by the bedside. Every symptom of
the sufferer's condition pointed to an approaching end: a face
that had grown cadaverous, livid lips, breath drawn in hurrying
gasps. Harold despaired of another look of recognition. But as he
sat with his forehead resting on his hand Amy touched him;
Reardon had turned his face in their direction, and with a
'I shall never go with you to Greece,' he said distinctly.
There was silence again. Biffen did not move his eyes from the
deathly mask; in a minute or two he saw a smile soften its
lineaments, and Reardon again spoke:
'How often you and I have quoted it!--"We are such stuff as
dreams are made on, and our--"'
The remaining words were indistinguishable, and, as if the effort
of utterance had exhausted him, his eyes closed, and he sank into
When he came down from his bedroom on the following morning,
Biffen was informed that his friend had died between two and
three o'clock. At the same time he received a note in which Amy
requested him to come and see her late in the afternoon. He spent
the day in a long walk along the eastward cliffs; again the sun
shone brilliantly, and the sea was flecked with foam upon its
changing green and azure. It seemed to him that he had never
before known solitude, even through all the years of his lonely
and sad existence.
At sunset he obeyed Amy's summons. He found her calm, but with
the signs of long weeping.
'At the last moment,' she said, 'he was able to speak to me, and
you were mentioned. He wished you to have all that he has left in
his room at Islington. When I come back to London, will you take
me there and let me see the room just as when he lived in it? Let
the people in the house know what has happened, and that I am
responsible for whatever will be owing.'
Her resolve to behave composedly gave way as soon as Harold's
broken voice had replied. Hysterical sobbing made further speech
from her impossible, and Biffen, after holding her hand
reverently for a moment, left her alone.
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE SUNNY WAY
On an evening of early summer, six months after the death of
Edwin Reardon, Jasper of the facile pen was bending over his
desk, writing rapidly by the warm western light which told that
sunset was near. Not far from him sat his younger sister; she was
reading, and the book in her hand bore the title, 'Mr Bailey,
'How will this do?' Jasper exclaimed, suddenly throwing down his
And he read aloud a critical notice of the book with which Dora
was occupied; a notice of the frankly eulogistic species,
beginning with: 'It is seldom nowadays that the luckless reviewer
of novels can draw the attention of the public to a new work
which is at once powerful and original;' and ending: 'The word is
a bold one, but we do not hesitate to pronounce this book a
'Is that for The Current?' asked Dora, when he had finished.
'No, for The West End. Fadge won't allow anyone but himself to be
lauded in that style. I may as well do the notice for The Current
now, as I've got my hand in.'
He turned to his desk again, and before daylight failed him had
produced a piece of more cautious writing, very favourable on the
whole, but with reserves and slight censures. This also he read
'You wouldn't suspect they were written by the same man, eh?'
'No. You have changed the style very skilfully.'
'I doubt if they'll be much use. Most people will fling the book
down with yawns before they're half through the first volume. If
I knew a doctor who had many cases of insomnia in hand, I would
recommend "Mr Bailey" to him as a specific.'
'Oh, but it is really clever, Jasper!'
'Not a doubt of it. I half believe what I have written. And if
only we could get it mentioned in a leader or two, and so on, old
Biffen's fame would be established with the better sort of
readers. But he won't sell three hundred copies. I wonder whether
Robertson would let me do a notice for his paper?'
'Biffen ought to be grateful to you, if he knew,' said Dora,
'Yet, now, there are people who would cry out that this kind of
thing is disgraceful. It's nothing of the kind. Speaking
seriously, we know that a really good book will more likely than
not receive fair treatment from two or three reviewers; yes, but
also more likely than not it will be swamped in the flood of
literature that pours forth week after week, and won't have
attention fixed long enough upon it to establish its repute. The
struggle for existence among books is nowadays as severe as among
men. If a writer has friends connected with the press,. it is the
plain duty of those friends to do their utmost to help him. What
matter if they exaggerate, or even lie? The simple, sober truth
has no chance whatever of being listened to, and it's only by
volume of shouting that the ear of the public is held. What use
is it to Biffen if his work struggles to slow recognition ten
years hence? Besides, as I say, the growing flood of literature
swamps everything but works of primary genius. If a clever and
conscientious book does not spring to success at once, there's
precious small chance that it will survive. Suppose it were
possible for me to write a round dozen reviews of this book, in
as many different papers, I would do it with satisfaction. Depend
upon it, this kind of thing will be done on that scale before
long. And it's quite natural. A man's friends must be helped, by
whatever means, quocunque modo, as Biffen himself would say.'
'I dare say he doesn't even think of you as a friend now.'
'Very likely not. It's ages since I saw him. But there's much
magnanimity in my character, as I have often told you. It
delights me to be generous, whenever I can afford it.'
Dusk was gathering about them. As they sat talking, there came a
tap at the door, and the summons to enter was obeyed by Mr
'I was passing,' he said in his respectful voice, 'and couldn't
resist the temptation.'
Jasper struck a match and lit the lamp. In this clearer light
Whelpdale was exhibited as a young man of greatly improved
exterior; he wore a cream-coloured waistcoat, a necktie of subtle
hue, and delicate gloves; prosperity breathed from his whole
person. It was, in fact, only a moderate prosperity to which he
had as yet attained, but the future beckoned to him flatteringly.
Early in this year, his enterprise as 'literary adviser' had
brought him in contact with a man of some pecuniary resources,
who proposed to establish an agency for the convenience of
authors who were not skilled in disposing of their productions to
the best advantage. Under the name of Fleet & Co., this business
was shortly set on foot, and Whelpdale's services were retained
on satisfactory terms. The birth of the syndicate system had
given new scope to literary agencies, and Mr Fleet was a man of
keen eye for commercial opportunities.
'Well, have you read Biffen's book?' asked Jasper.
'Wonderful, isn't it! A work of genius, I am convinced. Ha! you
have it there, Miss Dora. But I'm afraid it is hardly for you.'
'And why not, Mr Whelpdale?'
'You should only read of beautiful things, of happy lives. This
book must depress you.'
'But why will you imagine me such a feeble-minded person?' asked
Dora. 'You have so often spoken like this. I have really no
ambition to be a doll of such superfine wax.'
The habitual flatterer looked deeply concerned.
'Pray forgive me!' he murmured humbly, leaning forwards towards
the girl with eyes which deprecated her displeasure. 'I am very
far indeed from attributing weakness to you. It was only the
natural, unreflecting impulse; one finds it so difficult to
associate you, even as merely a reader, with such squalid scenes.
The ignobly decent, as poor Biffen calls it, is so very far from
that sphere in which you are naturally at home.'
There was some slight affectation in his language, but the tone
attested sincere feeling. Jasper was watching him with half an
eye, and glancing occasionally at Dora.
'No doubt,' said the latter, 'it's my story in The English Girl
that inclines you to think me a goody-goody sort of young woman.'
'So far from that, Miss Dora, I was only waiting for an
opportunity to tell you how exceedingly delighted I have been
with the last two weeks' instalments. In all seriousness, I
consider that story of yours the best thing of the kind that ever
came under my notice. You seem to me to have discovered a new
genre; such writing as this has surely never been offered to
girls, and all the readers of the paper must be immensely
grateful to you. I run eagerly to buy the paper each week; I
assure you I do. The stationer thinks I purchase it for a sister,
I suppose. But each section of the story seems to be better than
the last. Mark the prophecy which I now make: when this tale is
published in a volume its success will be great. You will be
recognised, Miss Dora, as the new writer for modern English
The subject of this panegyric coloured a little and laughed.
Unmistakably she was pleased.
'Look here, Whelpdale,' said Jasper, 'I can't have this; Dora's
conceit, please to remember, is, to begin with, only a little
less than my own, and you will make her unendurable. Her tale is
well enough in its way, but then its way is a very humble one.'
'I deny it!' cried the other, excitedly. 'How can it be called a
humble line of work to provide reading, which is at once
intellectual and moving and exquisitely pure, for the most
important part of the population--the educated and refined young
people who are just passing from girlhood to womanhood?'
'The most important fiddlestick!'
'You are grossly irreverent, my dear Milvain. I cannot appeal to
your sister, for she's too modest to rate her own sex at its true
value, but the vast majority of thoughtful men would support me.
You yourself do, though you affect this profane way of speaking.
And we know,' he looked at Dora, 'that he wouldn't talk like this
if Miss Yule were present.'
Jasper changed the topic of conversation, and presently Whelpdale
was able to talk with more calmness. The young man, since his
association with Fleet & Co., had become fertile in suggestions
of literary enterprise, and at present he was occupied with a
project of special hopefulness.
'I want to find a capitalist,' he said, 'who will get possession
of that paper Chat, and transform it according to an idea I have
in my head. The thing is doing very indifferently, but I am
convinced it might be made splendid property, with a few changes
in the way of conducting it.'
'The paper is rubbish,' remarked Jasper, 'and the kind of
rubbish--oddly enough--which doesn't attract people.'
'Precisely, but the rubbish is capable of being made a very
valuable article, if it were only handled properly. I have talked
to the people about it again and again, but I can't get them to
believe what I say. Now just listen to my notion. In the first
place, I should slightly alter the name; only slightly, but that
little alteration would in itself have an enormous effect.
Instead of Chat I should call it Chit-Chat!'
Jasper exploded with mirth.
'That's brilliant!' he cried. 'A stroke of genius!'
'Are you serious? Or are you making fun of me? I believe it is a
stroke of genius. Chat doesn't attract anyone, but Chit-Chat
would sell like hot cakes, as they say in America. I know I am
right; laugh as you will.'
'On the same principle,' cried Jasper, 'if The Tatler were
changed to Tittle-Tattle, its circulation would be trebled.'
Whelpdale smote his knee in delight.
'An admirable idea! Many a true word uttered in joke, and this is
an instance! Tittle-Tattle--a magnificent title; the very thing
to catch the multitude.'
Dora was joining in the merriment, and for a minute or two
nothing but bursts of laughter could be heard.
'Now do let me go on,' implored the man of projects, when the
noise subsided. 'That's only one change, though a most important
one. What I next propose is this:--I know you will laugh again,
but I will demonstrate to you that I am right. No article in the
paper is to measure more than two inches in length, and every
inch must be broken into at least two paragraphs.'
'But you are joking, Mr Whelpdale!' exclaimed Dora.
'No, I am perfectly serious. Let me explain my principle. I would
have the paper address itself to the quarter-educated; that is to
say, the great new generation that is being turned out by the
Board schools, the young men and women who can just read, but are
incapable of sustained attention. People of this kind want
something to occupy them in trains and on 'buses and trams. As a
rule they care for no newspapers except the Sunday ones; what
they want is the lightest and frothiest of chit-chatty
information--bits of stories, bits of description, bits of
scandal, bits of jokes, bits of statistics, bits of foolery. Am I
not right? Everything must be very short, two inches at the
utmost; their attention can't sustain itself beyond two inches.
Even chat is too solid for them: they want chit-chat.'
Jasper had begun to listen seriously.
'There's something in this, Whelpdale,' he remarked.
'Ha! I have caught you?' cried the other delightedly. 'Of course
there's something in it?'
'But--' began Dora, and checked herself.
'You were going to say--' Whelpdale bent towards her with
'Surely these poor, silly people oughtn't to be encouraged in
Whelpdale's countenance fell. He looked ashamed of himself. But
Jasper came speedily to the rescue.
'That's twaddle, Dora. Fools will be fools to the world's end.
Answer a fool according to his folly; supply a simpleton with the
reading he craves, if it will put money in your pocket. You have
discouraged poor Whelpdale in one of the most notable projects of
'I shall think no more of it,' said Whelpdale, gravely. 'You are
right, Miss Dora.'
Again Jasper burst into merriment. His sister reddened, and
looked uncomfortable. She began to speak timidly:
'You said this was for reading in trains and 'buses?'
Whelpdale caught at hope.
'Yes. And really, you know, it may be better at such times to
read chit-chat than to be altogether vacant, or to talk
unprofitably. I am not sure; I bow to your opinion unreservedly.'
'So long as they only read the paper at such times,' said Dora,
still hesitating. 'One knows by experience that one really can't
fix one's attention in travelling; even an article in a newspaper
is often too long.'
'Exactly! And if you find it so, what must be the case with the
mass of untaught people, the quarter-educated? It might encourage
in some of them a taste for reading--don't you think?'
'It might,' assented Dora, musingly. 'And in that case you would
be doing good!'
They smiled joyfully at each other. Then Whelpdale turned to
'You are convinced that there is something in this?'
'Seriously, I think there is. It would all depend on the skill of
the fellows who put the thing together every week. There ought
always to be one strongly sensational item--we won't call it
article. For instance, you might display on a placard: "What the
Queen eats!" or "How Gladstone's collars are made!"--things of
'To be sure, to be sure. And then, you know,' added Whelpdale,
glancing anxiously at Dora, 'when people had been attracted by
these devices, they would find a few things that were really
profitable. We would give nicely written little accounts of
exemplary careers, of heroic deeds, and so on. Of course nothing
whatever that could be really demoralising--cela va sans dire.
Well, what I was going to say was this: would you come with me to
the office of Chat, and have a talk with my friend Lake, the sub-
editor? I know your time is very valuable, but then you're often
running into the Will-o'-the-Wisp, and Chat is just upstairs, you
'What use should I be?'
'Oh, all the use in the world. Lake would pay most respectful
attention to your opinion, though he thinks so little of mine.
You are a man of note, I am nobody. I feel convinced that you
could persuade the Chat people to adopt my idea, and they might
be willing to give me a contingent share of contingent profits,
if I had really shown them the way to a good thing.'
Jasper promised to think the matter over. Whilst their talk still
ran on this subject, a packet that had come by post was brought
into the room. Opening it, Milvain exclaimed:
'Ha! this is lucky. There's something here that may interest you,
'Yes. A paper I have written for The Wayside.' He looked at Dora,
who smiled. 'How do you like the title?--"The Novels of Edwin
'You don't say so!' cried the other. 'What a good-hearted fellow
you are, Milvain! Now that's really a kind thing to have done. By
Jove! I must shake hands with you; I must indeed! Poor Reardon!
Poor old fellow!'
His eyes gleamed with moisture. Dora, observing this, looked at
him so gently and sweetly that it was perhaps well he did not
meet her eyes; the experience would have been altogether too much
'It has been written for three months,' said Jasper, 'but we have
held it over for a practical reason. When I was engaged upon it,
I went to see Mortimer, and asked him if there was any chance of
a new edition of Reardon's books. He had no idea the poor fellow
was dead, and the news seemed really to affect him. He promised
to consider whether it would be worth while trying a new issue,
and before long I heard from him that he would bring out the two
best books with a decent cover and so on, provided I could get my
article on Reardon into one of the monthlies. This was soon
settled. The editor of The Wayside answered at once, when I wrote
to him, that he should be very glad to print what I proposed, as
he had a real respect for Reardon. Next month the books will be
out--"Neutral Ground," and "Hubert Reed." Mortimer said he was
sure these were the only ones that would pay for themselves. But
we shall see. He may alter his opinion when my article has been
'Read it to us now, Jasper, will you?' asked Dora.
The request was supported by Whelpdale, and Jasper needed no
pressing. He seated himself so that the lamplight fell upon the
pages, and read the article through. It was an excellent piece of
writing (see The Wayside, June 1884), and in places touched with
true emotion. Any intelligent reader would divine that the author
had been personally acquainted with the man of whom he wrote,
though the fact was nowhere stated. The praise was not
exaggerated, yet all the best points of Reardon's work were
admirably brought out. One who knew Jasper might reasonably have
doubted, before reading this, whether he was capable of so
worthily appreciating the nobler man.
'I never understood Reardon so well before,' declared Whelpdale,
at the close. 'This is a good thing well done. It's something to
be proud of, Miss Dora.'
'Yes, I feel that it is,' she replied.
'Mrs Reardon ought to be very grateful to you, Milvain. By-the-
by, do you ever see her?'
'I have met her only once since his death--by chance.'
'Of course she will marry again. I wonder who'll be the fortunate
'Fortunate, do you think?' asked Dora quietly, without looking at
'Oh, I spoke rather cynically, I'm afraid,' Whelpdale hastened to
reply. 'I was thinking of her money. Indeed, I knew Mrs Reardon
only very slightly.'
'I don't think you need regret it,' Dora remarked.
'Oh, well, come, come!' put in her brother. 'We know very well
that there was little enough blame on her side.'
'There was great blame!' Dora exclaimed. 'She behaved shamefully!
I wouldn't speak to her; I wouldn't sit down in her company!'
'Bosh! What do you know about it? Wait till you are married to a
man like Reardon, and reduced to utter penury.'
'Whoever my husband was, I would stand by him, if I starved to
'If he ill-used you?'
'I am not talking of such cases. Mrs Reardon had never anything
of the kind to fear. It was impossible for a man such as her
husband to behave harshly. Her conduct was cowardly, faithless,
'Trust one woman for thinking the worst of another,' observed
Jasper with something like a sneer.
Dora gave him a look of strong disapproval; one might have
suspected that brother and sister had before this fallen into
disagreement on the delicate topic. Whelpdale felt obliged to
interpose, and had of course no choice but to support the girl.
'I can only say,' he remarked with a smile, 'that Miss Dora takes
a very noble point of view. One feels that a wife ought to be
staunch. But it's so very unsafe to discuss matters in which one
cannot know all the facts.'
'We know quite enough of the facts,' said Dora, with delightful
'Indeed, perhaps we do,' assented her slave. Then, turning to her
brother, 'Well, once more I congratulate you. I shall talk of
your article incessantly, as soon as it appears. And I shall
pester every one of my acquaintances to buy Reardon's books--
though it's no use to him, poor fellow. Still, he would have died
more contentedly if he could have foreseen this. By-the-by,
Biffen will be profoundly grateful to you, I'm sure.'
'I'm doing what I can for him, too. Run your eye over these
Whelpdale exhausted himself in terms of satisfaction.
'You deserve to get on, my dear fellow. In a few years you will
be the Aristarchus of our literary world.'
When the visitor rose to depart, Jasper said he would walk a
short distance with him. As soon as they had left the house, the
future Aristarchus made a confidential communication.
'It may interest you to know that my sister Maud is shortly to be
'Indeed! May I ask to whom?'
'A man you don't know. His name is Dolomore--a fellow in
'Rich, then, I hope?'
'Tolerably well-to-do. I dare say he has three or four thousand a
'Gracious heavens! Why, that's magnificent.'
But Whelpdale did not look quite so much satisfaction as his
'Is it to be soon?' he inquired.
'At the end of the season. Make no difference to Dora and me, of
'Oh? Really? No difference at all? You will let me come and see
you--both--just in the old way, Milvain?'
'Why the deuce shouldn't you?'
'To be sure, to be sure. By Jove! I really don't know how I
should get on if I couldn't look in of an evening now and then. I
have got so much into the habit of it. And--I'm a lonely beggar,
you know. I don't go into society, and really--'
He broke off, and Jasper began to speak of other things.
When Milvain re-entered the house, Dora had gone to her own
sitting-room. It was not quite ten o'clock. Taking one set of the
proofs of his 'Reardon' article, he put it into a large envelope;
then he wrote a short letter, which began 'Dear Mrs Reardon,' and
ended 'Very sincerely yours,' the communication itself being as
'I venture to send you the proofs of a paper which is to appear
in next month's Wayside, in the hope that it may seem to you not
badly done, and that the reading of it may give you pleasure. If
anything occurs to you which you would like me to add, or if you
desire any omission, will you do me the kindness to let me know
of it as soon as possible, and your suggestion shall at once be
adopted. I am informed that the new edition of "On Neutral
Ground" and "Hubert Reed" will be ready next month. Need I say
how glad I am that my friend's work is not to be forgotten?'
This note he also put into the envelope, which he made ready for
posting. Then he sat for a long time in profound thought.
Shortly after eleven his door opened, and Maud came in. She had
been dining at Mrs Lane's. Her attire was still simple, but of
quality which would have signified recklessness, but for the
outlook whereof Jasper spoke to Whelpdale. The girl looked very
beautiful. There was a flush of health and happiness on her
cheek, and when she spoke it was in a voice that rang quite
differently from her tones of a year ago; the pride which was
natural to her had now a firm support; she moved and uttered
herself in queenly fashion.
'Has anyone been?' she asked.
'Oh! I wanted to ask you, Jasper: do you think it wise to let him
come quite so often?'
'There's a difficulty, you see. I can hardly tell him to sheer
off. And he's really a decent fellow.'
'That may be. But--I think it's rather unwise. Things are
changed. In a few months, Dora will be a good deal at my house,
and will see all sorts of people.'
'Yes; but what if they are the kind of people she doesn't care
anything about? You must remember, old girl, that her tastes are
quite different from yours. I say nothing, but--perhaps it's as
well they should be.'
'You say nothing, but you add an insult,' returned Maud, with a
smile of superb disregard. 'We won't reopen the question.'
'Oh dear no! And, by-the-by, I have a letter from Dolomore. It
came just after you left.'
'He is quite willing to settle upon you a third of his income
from the collieries; he tells me it will represent between seven
and eight hundred a year. I think it rather little, you know; but
I congratulate myself on having got this out of him.'
'Don't speak in that unpleasant way! It was only your abruptness
that made any kind of difficulty.'
'I have my own opinion on that point, and I shall beg leave to
keep it. Probably he will think me still more abrupt when I
request, as I am now going to do, an interview with his
'Is that allowable?' asked Maud, anxiously. 'Can you do that with
'If not, then I must do it with indecency. You will have the
goodness to remember that if I don't look after your interests,
no one else will. It's perhaps fortunate for you that I have a
good deal of the man of business about me. Dolomore thought I was
a dreamy, literary fellow. I don't say that he isn't entirely
honest, but he shows something of a disposition to play the
autocrat, and I by no means intend to let him. If you had a
father, Dolomore would have to submit his affairs to examination.
I stand to you in loco parentis, and I shall bate no jot of my
'But you can't say that his behaviour hasn't been perfectly
'I don't wish to. I think, on the whole, he has behaved more
honourably than was to be expected of a man of his kind. But he
must treat me with respect. My position in the world is greatly
superior to his. And, by the gods! I will be treated
respectfully! It wouldn't be amiss, Maud, if you just gave him a
hint to that effect.'
'All I have to say is, Jasper, don't do me an irreparable injury.
You might, without meaning it.'
'No fear whatever of it. I can behave as a gentleman, and I only
expect Dolomore to do the same.'
Their conversation lasted for a long time, and when he was again
left alone Jasper again fell into a mood of thoughtfulness.
By a late post on the following day he received this letter:
'DEAR MR MILVAIN,--I have received the proofs, and have just read
them; I hasten to thank you with all my heart. No suggestion of
mine could possibly improve this article; it seems to me perfect
in taste, in style, in matter. No one but you could have written
this, for no one else understood Edwin so well, or had given such
thought to his work. If he could but have known that such justice
would be done to his memory! But he died believing that already
he was utterly forgotten, that his books would never again be
publicly spoken of. This was a cruel fate. I have shed tears over
what you have written, but they were not only tears of
bitterness; it cannot but be a consolation to me to think that,
when the magazine appears, so many people will talk of Edwin and
his books. I am deeply grateful to Mr Mortimer for having
undertaken to republish those two novels; if you have an
opportunity, will you do me the great kindness to thank him on my
behalf? At the same time, I must remember that it was you who
first spoke to him on this subject. You say that it gladdens you