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New Grub Street by George Gissing

Part 13 out of 13

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'On no account! I couldn't be civil to her.'

Jasper's brows blackened.

'This is idiotic prejudice, Dora. I think I have some claim upon
you; I have shown some kindness--'

'You have, and I am not ungrateful. But I dislike Mrs Reardon,
and I couldn't bring myself to be friendly with her.'

'You don't know her.'

'Too well. You yourself have taught me to know her. Don't compel
me to say what I think of her.'

'She is beautiful, and high-minded, and warm-hearted. I don't
know a womanly quality that she doesn't possess. You will offend
me most seriously if you speak a word against her.'

'Then I will be silent. But you must never ask me to meet her.'



'Then we shall quarrel. I haven't deserved this, Dora. If you
refuse to meet my wife on terms of decent friendliness, there's
no more intercourse between your house and mine. You have to
choose. Persist in this fatuous obstinacy, and I have done with

'So be it!'

'That is your final answer?'

Dora, who was now as angry as he, gave a short affirmative, and
Jasper at once left her.

But it was very unlikely that things should rest at this pass.
The brother and sister were bound by a strong mutual affection,
and Whelpdale was not long in effecting a compromise.

'My dear wife,' he exclaimed, in despair at the threatened
calamity, 'you are right, a thousand times, but it's impossible
for you to be on ill terms with Jasper. There's no need for you
to see much of Mrs Reardon--'

'I hate her! She killed her husband; I am sure of it.'

'My darling!'

'I mean by her base conduct. She is a cold, cruel, unprincipled
creature! Jasper makes himself more than ever contemptible by
marrying her.'

All the same, in less than three weeks Mrs Whelpdale had called
upon Amy, and the call was returned. The two women were perfectly
conscious of reciprocal dislike, but they smothered the feeling
beneath conventional suavities. Jasper was not backward in making
known his gratitude for Dora's concession, and indeed it became
clear to all his intimates that this marriage would be by no
means one of mere interest; the man was in love at last, if he
had never been before.

Let lapse the ensuing twelve months, and come to an evening at
the end of July, 1886. Mr and Mrs Milvain are entertaining a
small and select party of friends at dinner. Their house in
Bayswater is neither large nor internally magnificent, but it
will do very well for the temporary sojourn of a young man of
letters who has much greater things in confident expectation, who
is a good deal talked of, who can gather clever and worthy people
at his table, and whose matchless wife would attract men of taste
to a very much poorer abode.

Jasper had changed considerably in appearance since that last
holiday that he spent in his mother's house at Finden. At present
he would have been taken for five-and-thirty, though only in his
twenty-ninth year; his hair was noticeably thinning; his
moustache had grown heavier; a wrinkle or two showed beneath his
eyes; his voice was softer, yet firmer. It goes without saying
that his evening uniform lacked no point of perfection, and
somehow it suggested a more elaborate care than that of other men
in the room. He laughed frequently, and with a throwing back of
the head which seemed to express a spirit of triumph.

Amy looked her years to the full, but her type of beauty, as you
know, was independent of youthfulness. That suspicion of
masculinity observable in her when she became Reardon's wife
impressed one now only as the consummate grace of a
perfectly-built woman. You saw that at forty, at fifty, she would
be one of the stateliest of dames. When she bent her head towards
the person with whom she spoke, it was an act of queenly favour.
Her words were uttered with just enough deliberation to give them
the value of an opinion; she smiled with a delicious shade of
irony; her glance intimated that nothing could be too subtle for
her understanding.

The guests numbered six, and no one of them was insignificant.
Two of the men were about Jasper's age, and they had already made
their mark in literature; the third was a novelist of circulating
fame, spirally crescent. The three of the stronger sex were
excellent modern types, with sweet lips attuned to epigram, and
good broad brows.

The novelist at one point put an interesting question to Amy.

'Is it true that Fadge is leaving The Current?'

'It is rumoured, I believe.'

'Going to one of the quarterlies, they say,' remarked a lady. 'He
is getting terribly autocratic. Have you heard the delightful
story of his telling Mr Rowland to persevere, as his last work
was one of considerable promise?'

Mr Rowland was a man who had made a merited reputation when Fadge
was still on the lower rungs of journalism. Amy smiled and told
another anecdote of the great editor. Whilst speaking, she caught
her husband's eye, and perhaps this was the reason why her story,
at the close, seemed rather amiably pointless--not a common fault
when she narrated.

When the ladies had withdrawn, one of the younger men, in a
conversation about a certain magazine, remarked:

'Thomas always maintains that it was killed by that solemn old
stager, Alfred Yule. By the way, he is dead himself, I hear.'

Jasper bent forward.

'Alfred Yule is dead?'

'So Jedwood told me this morning. He died in the country
somewhere, blind and fallen on evil days, poor old fellow.'

All the guests were ignorant of any tie of kindred between their
host and the man spoken of.

'I believe,' said the novelist, 'that he had a clever daughter
who used to do all the work he signed. That used to be a current
bit of scandal in Fadge's circle.'

'Oh, there was much exaggeration in that,' remarked Jasper,
blandly. 'His daughter assisted him, doubtless, but in quite a
legitimate way. One used to see her at the Museum.'

The subject was dropped.

An hour and a half later, when the last stranger had taken his
leave, Jasper examined two or three letters which had arrived
since dinner-time and were lying on the hall table. With one of
them open in his hand, he suddenly sprang up the stairs and
leaped, rather than stepped, into the drawing-room. Amy was
reading an evening paper.

'Look at this!' he cried, holding the letter to her.

It was a communication from the publishers who owned The Current;
they stated that the editorship of that review would shortly be
resigned by Mr Fadge, and they inquired whether Milvain would
feel disposed to assume the vacant chair.

Amy sprang up and threw her arms about her husband's neck,
uttering a cry of delight.

'So soon! Oh, this is great! this is glorious!'

'Do you think this would have been offered to me but for the
spacious life we have led of late? Never! Was I right in my
calculations, Amy?'

'Did I ever doubt it?'

He returned her embrace ardently, and gazed into her eyes with
profound tenderness.

'Doesn't the future brighten?'

'It has been very bright to me, Jasper, since I became your

'And I owe my fortune to you, dear girl. Now the way is smooth!'

They placed themselves on a settee, Jasper with an arm about his
wife's waist, as if they were newly plighted lovers. When they
had talked for a long time, Milvain said in a changed tone:

'I am told that your uncle is dead.'

He mentioned how the news had reached him.

'I must make inquiries to-morrow. I suppose there will be a
notice in The Study and some of the other papers. I hope somebody
will make it an opportunity to have a hit at that ruffian Fadge.
By-the-by, it doesn't much matter now how you speak of Fadge; but
I was a trifle anxious when I heard your story at dinner.'

'Oh, you can afford to be more independent.--What are you
thinking about?'


'Why do you look sad?--Yes, I know, I know. I'll try to forgive

'I can't help thinking at times of the poor girl, Amy. Life will
be easier for her now, with only her mother to support. Someone
spoke of her this evening, and repeated Fadge's lie that she used
to do all her father's writing.'

'She was capable of doing it. I must seem to you rather a poor-
brained woman in comparison. Isn't it true?'

'My dearest, you are a perfect woman, and poor Marian was only a
clever school-girl. Do you know, I never could help imagining
that she had ink-stains on her fingers. Heaven forbid that I
should say it unkindly! It was touching to me at the time, for I
knew how fearfully hard she worked.'

'She nearly ruined your life; remember that.'

Jasper was silent.

'You will never confess it, and that is a fault in you.'

'She loved me, Amy.'

'Perhaps! as a school-girl loves. But you never loved her.'


Amy examined his face as he spoke.

'Her image is very faint before me,' Jasper pursued, 'and soon I
shall scarcely be able to recall it. Yes, you are right; she
nearly ruined me. And in more senses than one. Poverty and
struggle, under such circumstances, would have made me a
detestable creature. As it is, I am not such a bad fellow, Amy.'

She laughed, and caressed his cheek.

'No, I am far from a bad fellow. I feel kindly to everyone who
deserves it. I like to be generous, in word and deed. Trust me,
there's many a man who would like to be generous, but is made
despicably mean by necessity. What a true sentence that is of
Landor's: "It has been repeated often enough that vice leads to
misery; will no man declare that misery leads to vice?" I have
much of the weakness that might become viciousness, but I am now
far from the possibility of being vicious. Of course there are
men, like Fadge, who seem only to grow meaner the more prosperous
they are; but these are exceptions. Happiness is the nurse of virtue.'

'And independence the root of happiness.'

'True. "The glorious privilege of being independent"--yes, Burns
understood the matter. Go to the piano, dear, and play me
something. If I don't mind, I shall fall into Whelpdale's vein,
and talk about my "blessedness". Ha! isn't the world a glorious place?'

'For rich people.'

'Yes, for rich people. How I pity the poor devils!--Play
anything. Better still if you will sing, my nightingale!'

So Amy first played and then sang, and Jasper lay back in dreamy bliss.

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