Part 2 out of 13
steps. Amy had made the calculation, and wondered what was the
cause of this arrangement. The ascent was trying, but then no one
could contest the respectability of the abode. In the flat
immediately beneath resided a successful musician, whose carriage
and pair came at a regular hour each afternoon to take him and
his wife for a most respectable drive. In this special building
no one else seemed at present to keep a carriage, but all the
tenants were gentlefolk.
And as to living up at the very top, why, there were distinct
advantages--as so many people of moderate income are nowadays
hastening to discover. The noise from the street was diminished
at this height; no possible tramplers could establish themselves
above your head; the air was bound to be purer than that of
inferior strata; finally, one had the flat roof whereon to sit or
expatiate in sunny weather. True that a gentle rain of soot was
wont to interfere with one's comfort out there in the open, but
such minutiae are easily forgotten in the fervour of domestic
description. It was undeniable that on a fine day one enjoyed
extensive views. The green ridge from Hampstead to Highgate, with
Primrose Hill and the foliage of Regent's Park in the foreground;
the suburban spaces of St John's Wood, Maida Vale, Kilburn;
Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, lying low by the
side of the hidden river, and a glassy gleam on far-off hills
which meant the Crystal Palace; then the clouded majesty of
eastern London, crowned by St Paul's dome. These things one's
friends were expected to admire. Sunset often afforded rich
effects, but they were for solitary musing.
A sitting-room, a bedroom, a kitchen. But the kitchen was called
dining-room, or even parlour at need; for the cooking-range lent
itself to concealment behind an ornamental screen, the walls
displayed pictures and bookcases, and a tiny scullery which lay
apart sufficed for the coarser domestic operations. This was
Amy's territory during the hours when her husband was working, or
endeavouring to work. Of necessity, Edwin Reardon used the front
room as his study. His writing-table stood against the window;
each wall had its shelves of serried literature; vases, busts,
engravings (all of the inexpensive kind) served for ornaments.
A maid-servant, recently emancipated from the Board school, came
at half-past seven each morning, and remained until two o'clock,
by which time the Reardons had dined; on special occasions, her
services were enlisted for later hours. But it was Reardon's
habit to begin the serious work of the day at about three
o'clock, and to continue with brief interruptions until ten or
eleven; in many respects an awkward arrangement, but enforced by
the man's temperament and his poverty.
One evening he sat at his desk with a slip of manuscript paper
before him. It was the hour of sunset. His outlook was upon the
backs of certain large houses skirting Regent's Park, and lights
had begun to show here and there in the windows:in one room a man
was discoverable dressing for dinner, he had not thought it
worth while to lower the blind; in another, some people were
playing billiards. The higher windows reflected a rich glow from
the western sky.
For two or three hours Reardon had been seated in much the same
attitude. Occasionally he dipped his pen into the ink and seemed
about to write: but each time the effort was abortive. At the
head of the paper was inscribed 'Chapter III.,' but that was all.
And now the sky was dusking over; darkness would soon fall.
He looked something older than his years, which were two-and-
thirty; on his face was the pallor of mental suffering. Often he
fell into a fit of absence, and gazed at vacancy with wide,
miserable eyes. Returning to consciousness, he fidgeted nervously
on his chair, dipped his pen for the hundredth time, bent forward
in feverish determination to work. Useless; he scarcely knew what
he wished to put into words, and his brain refused to construct
the simplest sentence.
The colours faded from the sky, and night came quickly. Reardon
threw his arms upon the desk, let his head fall forward, and
remained so, as if asleep.
Presently the door opened, and a young, clear voice made inquiry:
'Don't you want the lamp, Edwin?'
The man roused himself, turned his chair a little, and looked
towards the open door.
'Come here, Amy.'
His wife approached. It was not quite dark in the room, for a
glimmer came from the opposite houses.
'What's the matter? Can't you do anything?'
'I haven't written a word to-day. At this rate, one goes crazy.
Come and sit by me a minute, dearest.'
'I'll get the lamp.'
'No; come and talk to me; we can understand each other better.'
'Nonsense; you have such morbid ideas. I can't bear to sit in the
At once she went away, and quickly reappeared with a
reading-lamp, which she placed on the square table in the middle
of the room.
'Draw down the blind, Edwin.'
She was a slender girl, but not very tall; her shoulders seemed
rather broad in proportion to her waist and the part of her
figure below it. The hue of her hair was ruddy gold; loosely
arranged tresses made a superb crown to the beauty of her small,
refined head. Yet the face was not of distinctly feminine type;
with short hair and appropriate clothing, she would have passed
unquestioned as a handsome boy of seventeen, a spirited boy too,
and one much in the habit of giving orders to inferiors. Her nose
would have been perfect but for ever so slight a crook which made
it preferable to view her in full face than in profile; her lips
curved sharply out, and when she straightened them of a sudden,
the effect was not reassuring to anyone who had counted upon her
for facile humour. In harmony with the broad shoulders, she had a
strong neck; as she bore the lamp into the room a slight turn of
her head showed splendid muscles from the ear downward. It was a
magnificently clear-cut bust; one thought, in looking at her, of
the newly-finished head which some honest sculptor has wrought
with his own hand from the marble block; there was a suggestion
of 'planes' and of the chisel. The atmosphere was cold; ruddiness
would have been quite out of place on her cheeks, and a flush
must have been the rarest thing there.
Her age was not quite two-and-twenty; she had been wedded nearly
two years, and had a child ten months old.
As for her dress, it was unpretending in fashion and colour, but
of admirable fit. Every detail of her appearance denoted
scrupulous personal refinement. She walked well; you saw that the
foot, however gently, was firmly planted. When she seated herself
her posture was instantly graceful, and that of one who is
indifferent about support for the back.
'What is the matter?' she began. 'Why can't you get on with the
It was the tone of friendly remonstrance, not exactly of
affection, not at all of tender solicitude.
Reardon had risen and wished to approach her, but could not do so
directly. He moved to another part of the room, then came round
to the back of her chair, and bent his face upon her shoulder.
'I think it's all over with me. I don't think I shall write any
'Don't be so foolish, dear. What is to prevent your writing?'
'Perhaps I am only out of sorts. But I begin to be horribly
afraid. My will seems to be fatally weakened. I can't see my way
to the end of anything; if I get hold of an idea which seems
good, all the sap has gone out of it before I have got it into
working shape. In these last few months, I must have begun a
dozen different books; I have been ashamed to tell you of each
new beginning. I write twenty pages, perhaps, and then my courage
fails. I am disgusted with the thing, and can't go on with it--
can't! My fingers refuse to hold the pen. In mere writing, I have
done enough to make much more than three volumes; but it's all
'Because of your morbid conscientiousness. There was no need to
destroy what you had written. It was all good enough for the
'Don't use that word, Amy. I hate it!'
'You can't afford to hate it,' was her rejoinder, in very
practical tones. 'However it was before, you must write for the
market now. You have admitted that yourself.'
He kept silence.
'Where are you?' she went on to ask. 'What have you actually
'Two short chapters of a story I can't go on with. The three
volumes lie before me like an interminable desert. Impossible to
get through them. The idea is stupidly artificial, and I haven't
a living character in it.'
'The public don't care whether the characters are living or not.-
-Don't stand behind me, like that; it's such an awkward way of
talking. Come and sit down.'
He drew away, and came to a position whence he could see her
face, but kept at a distance.
'Yes,' he said, in a different way, 'that's the worst of it.'
'That you--well, it's no use.'
She did not look at him; her lips, after she had spoken, drew in
'That your disposition towards me is being affected by this
miserable failure. You keep saying to yourself that I am not what
you thought me. Perhaps you even feel that I have been guilty of
a sort of deception. I don't blame you; it's natural enough.'
'I'll tell you quite honestly what I do think,' she replied,
after a short silence. 'You are much weaker than I imagined.
Difficulties crush you, instead of rousing you to struggle.'
'True. It has always been my fault.'
'But don't you feel it's rather unmanly, this state of things?
You say you love me, and I try to believe it. But whilst you are
saying so, you let me get nearer and nearer to miserable, hateful
poverty. What is to become of me--of us? Shall you sit here day
after day until our last shilling is spent?'
'No; of course I must do something.'
'When shall you begin in earnest? In a day or two you must pay
this quarter's rent, and that will leave us just about fifteen
pounds in the world. Where is the rent at Christmas to come from?
What are we to live upon? There's all sorts of clothing to be
bought; there'll be all the extra expenses of winter. Surely it's
bad enough that we have had to stay here all the summer; no
holiday of any kind. I have done my best not to grumble about it,
but I begin to think that it would be very much wiser if I did
She squared her shoulders, and gave her head just a little shake,
as if a fly had troubled her.
'You bear everything very well and kindly,' said Reardon. 'My
behaviour is contemptible; I know that. Good heavens! if I only
had some business to go to, something I could work at in any
state of mind, and make money out of! Given this chance, I would
work myself to death rather than you should lack anything you
desire. But I am at the mercy of my brain; it is dry and
powerless. How I envy those clerks who go by to their offices in
the morning! There's the day's work cut out for them; no question
of mood and feeling; they have just to work at something, and
when the evening comes, they have earned their wages, they are
free to rest and enjoy themselves. What an insane thing it is to
make literature one's only means of support! When the most
trivial accident may at any time prove fatal to one's power of
work for weeks or months. No, that is the unpardonable sin! To
make a trade of an art! I am rightly served for attempting such a
He turned away in a passion of misery.
'How very silly it is to talk like this!' came in Amy's voice,
clearly critical. 'Art must be practised as a trade, at all
events in our time. This is the age of trade. Of course if one
refuses to be of one's time, and yet hasn't the means to live
independently, what can result but breakdown and wretchedness?
The fact of the matter is, you could do fairly good work, and
work which would sell, if only you would bring yourself to look
at things in a more practical way. It's what Mr Milvain is always
saying, you know.'
'Milvain's temperament is very different from mine. He is
naturally light-hearted and hopeful; I am naturally the opposite.
What you and he say is true enough; the misfortune is that I
can't act upon it. I am no uncompromising artistic pedant; I am
quite willing to try and do the kind of work that will sell;
under the circumstances it would be a kind of insanity if I
refused. But power doesn't answer to the will. My efforts are
utterly vain; I suppose the prospect of pennilessness is itself a
hindrance; the fear haunts me. With such terrible real things
pressing upon me, my imagination can shape nothing substantial.
When I have laboured out a story, I suddenly see it in a light of
such contemptible triviality that to work at it is an impossible
'You are ill, that's the fact of the matter. You ought to have
had a holiday. I think even now you had better go away for a week
or two. Do, Edwin!'
'Impossible! It would be the merest pretence of holiday. To go
away and leave you here--no!'
'Shall I ask mother or Jack to lend us some money?'
'That would be intolerable.'
'But this state of things is intolerable!'
Reardon walked the length of the room and back again.
'Your mother has no money to lend, dear, and your brother would
do it so unwillingly that we can't lay ourselves under such an
'Yet it will come to that, you know,' remarked Amy, calmly.
'No, it shall not come to that. I must and will get something
done long before Christmas. If only you--'
He came and took one of her hands.
'If only you will give me more sympathy, dearest. You see, that's
one side of my weakness. I am utterly dependent upon you. Your
kindness is the breath of life to me. Don't refuse it!'
'But I have done nothing of the kind.'
'You begin to speak very coldly. And I understand your feeling of
disappointment. The mere fact of your urging me to do anything
that will sell is a proof of bitter disappointment. You would
have looked with scorn at anyone who talked to me like that two
years ago. You were proud of me because my work wasn't altogether
common, and because I had never written a line that was meant to
attract the vulgar. All that's over now. If you knew how dreadful
it is to see that you have lost your hopes of me!'
'Well, but I haven't--altogether,' Amy replied, meditatively. 'I
know very well that, if you had a lot of money, you would do
better things than ever.'
'Thank you a thousand times for saying that, my dearest.'
'But, you see, we haven't money, and there's little chance of our
getting any. That scrubby old uncle won't leave anything to us; I
feel too sure of it. I often feel disposed to go and beg him on
my knees to think of us in his will.' She laughed. 'I suppose
it's impossible, and would be useless; but I should be capable of
it if I knew it would bring money.'
Reardon said nothing.
'I didn't think so much of money when we were married,' Amy
continued. 'I had never seriously felt the want of it, you know.
I did think--there's no harm in confessing it--that you were sure
to be rich some day; but I should have married you all the same
if I had known that you would win only reputation.'
'You are sure of that?'
'Well, I think so. But I know the value of money better now. I
know it is the most powerful thing in the world. If I had to
choose between a glorious reputation with poverty and a
contemptible popularity with wealth, I should choose the latter.'
'Perhaps you are right.'
He turned away with a sigh.
'Yes, you are right. What is reputation? If it is deserved, it
originates with a few score of people among the many millions who
would never have recognised the merit they at last applaud.
That's the lot of a great genius. As for a mediocrity like me--
what ludicrous absurdity to fret myself in the hope that
half-a-dozen folks will say I am "above the average!" After all,
is there sillier vanity than this? A year after I have published
my last book, I shall be practically forgotten; ten years later,
I shall be as absolutely forgotten as one of those novelists of
the early part of this century, whose names one doesn't even
recognise. What fatuous posing!'
Amy looked askance at him, but replied nothing.
'And yet,' he continued, 'of course it isn't only for the sake of
reputation that one tries to do uncommon work. There's the
shrinking from conscious insincerity of workmanship--which most
of the writers nowadays seem never to feel. "It's good enough for
the market"; that satisfies them. And perhaps they are justified.
I can't pretend that I rule my life by absolute ideals; I admit
that everything is relative. There is no such thing as goodness
or badness, in the absolute sense, of course. Perhaps I am
absurdly inconsistent when--though knowing my work can't be first
rate--I strive to make it as good as possible. I don't say this
in irony, Amy; I really mean it. It may very well be that I am
just as foolish as the people I ridicule for moral and religious
superstition. This habit of mine is superstitious. How well I can
imagine the answer of some popular novelist if he heard me speak
scornfully of his books. "My dear fellow," he might say, "do you
suppose I am not aware that my books are rubbish? I know it just
as well as you do. But my vocation is to live comfortably. I have
a luxurious house, a wife and children who are happy and grateful
to me for their happiness. If you choose to live in a garret,
and, what's worse, make your wife and children share it with you,
that's your concern." The man would be abundantly right.'
'But,' said Amy, 'why should you assume that his books are
rubbish? Good work succeeds--now and then.'
'I speak of the common kind of success, which is never due to
literary merit. And if I speak bitterly, well, I am suffering
from my powerlessness. I am a failure, my poor girl, and it isn't
easy for me to look with charity on the success of men who
deserved it far less than I did, when I was still able to work.'
'Of course, Edwin, if you make up your mind that you are a
failure, you will end by being so. But I'm convinced there's no
reason that you should fail to make a living with your pen. Now
let me advise you; put aside all your strict ideas about what is
worthy and what is unworthy, and just act upon my advice. It's
impossible for you to write a three-volume novel; very well, then
do a short story of a kind that's likely to be popular. You know
Mr Milvain is always saying that the long novel has had its day,
and that in future people will write shilling books. Why not try?
Give yourself a week to invent a sensational plot, and then a
fortnight for the writing. Have it ready for the new season at
the end of October. If you like, don't put your name to it; your
name certainly would have no weight with this sort of public.
Just make it a matter of business, as Mr Milvain says, and see if
you can't earn some money.'
He stood and regarded her. His expression was one of pained
'You mustn't forget, Amy, that it needs a particular kind of
faculty to write stories of this sort. The invention of a plot is
just the thing I find most difficult.'
'But the plot may be as silly as you like, providing it holds the
attention of vulgar readers. Think of "The Hollow Statue", what
could be more idiotic? Yet it sells by thousands.'
'I don't think I can bring myself to that,' Reardon said, in a
'Very well, then will you tell me what you propose to do?'
'I might perhaps manage a novel in two volumes, instead of
He seated himself at the writing-table, and stared at the blank
sheets of paper in an anguish of hopelessness.
'It will take you till Christmas,' said Amy, 'and then you will
get perhaps fifty pounds for it.'
'I must do my best. I'll go out and try to get some ideas. I--'
He broke off and looked steadily at his wife.
'What is it?' she asked.
'Suppose I were to propose to you to leave this flat and take
He uttered it in a shamefaced way, his eyes falling. Amy kept
'We might sublet it,' he continued, in the same tone, 'for the
last year of the lease.'
'And where do you propose to live?' Amy inquired, coldly.
'There's no need to be in such a dear neighbourhood. We could go
to one of the outer districts. One might find three unfurnished
rooms for about eight-and-sixpence a week--less than half our
'You must do as seems good to you.'
'For Heaven's sake, Amy, don't speak to me in that way! I can't
stand that! Surely you can see that I am driven to think of every
possible resource. To speak like that is to abandon me. Say you
can't or won't do it, but don't treat me as if you had no share
in my miseries!'
She was touched for the moment.
'I didn't mean to speak unkindly, dear. But think what it means,
to give up our home and position. That is open confession of
failure. It would be horrible.'
'I won't think of it. I have three months before Christmas, and I
will finish a book!'
'I really can't see why you shouldn't. Just do a certain number
of pages every day. Good or bad, never mind; let the pages be
finished. Now you have got two chapters--'
'No; that won't do. I must think of a better subject.'
Amy made a gesture of impatience.
'There you are! What does the subject matter? Get this book
finished and sold, and then do something better next time.'
'Give me to-night, just to think. Perhaps one of the old stories
I have thrown aside will come back in a clearer light. I'll go
out for an hour; you don't mind being left alone?'
'You mustn't think of such trifles as that.'
'But nothing that concerns you in the slightest way is a trifle
to me--nothing! I can't bear that you should forget that. Have
patience with me, darling, a little longer.'
He knelt by her, and looked up into her face.
'Say only one or two kind words--like you used to!'
She passed her hand lightly over his hair, and murmured something
with a faint smile.
Then Reardon took his hat and stick and descended the eight
flights of stone steps, and walked in the darkness round the
outer circle of Regent's Park, racking his fagged brain in a
hopeless search for characters, situations, motives.
CHAPTER V. THE WAY HITHER
Even in mid-rapture of his marriage month he had foreseen this
possibility; but fate had hitherto rescued him in sudden ways
when he was on the brink of self-abandonment, and it was hard to
imagine that this culmination of triumphant joy could be a
preface to base miseries.
He was the son of a man who had followed many different pursuits,
and in none had done much more than earn a livelihood. At the age
of forty--when Edwin, his only child, was ten years old--Mr
Reardon established himself in the town of Hereford as a
photographer, and there he abode until his death, nine years
after, occasionally risking some speculation not inconsistent
with the photographic business, but always with the result of
losing the little capital he ventured. Mrs Reardon died when
Edwin had reached his fifteenth year. In breeding and education
she was superior to her husband, to whom, moreover, she had
brought something between four and five hundred pounds; her
temper was passionate in both senses of the word, and the
marriage could hardly be called a happy one, though it was never
disturbed by serious discord. The photographer was a man of whims
and idealisms; his wife had a strong vein of worldly ambition.
They made few friends, and it was Mrs Reardon's frequently
expressed desire to go and live in London, where fortune, she
thought, might be kinder to them. Reardon had all but made up his
mind to try this venture when he suddenly became a widower; after
that he never summoned energy to embark on new enterprises.
The boy was educated at an excellent local school; at eighteen he
had a far better acquaintance with the ancient classics than most
lads who have been expressly prepared for a university, and,
thanks to an anglicised Swiss who acted as an assistant in Mr
Reardon's business, he not only read French, but could talk it
with a certain haphazard fluency. These attainments, however,
were not of much practical use; the best that could be done for
Edwin was to place him in the office of an estate agent. His
health was indifferent, and it seemed likely that open-air
exercise, of which he would have a good deal under the particular
circumstances of the case, might counteract the effects of study
too closely pursued.
At his father's death he came into possession (practically it was
put at his disposal at once, though he was little more than
nineteen) of about two hundred pounds--a life-insurance for five
hundred had been sacrificed to exigencies not very long before.
He had no difficulty in deciding how to use this money. His
mother's desire to live in London had in him the force of an
inherited motive; as soon as possible he released himself from
his uncongenial occupations, converted into money all the
possessions of which he had not immediate need, and betook
himself to the metropolis.
To become a literary man, of course.
His capital lasted him nearly four years, for, notwithstanding
his age, he lived with painful economy. The strangest life, of
almost absolute loneliness. From a certain point of Tottenham
Court Road there is visible a certain garret window in a certain
street which runs parallel with that thoroughfare; for the
greater part of these four years the garret in question was
Reardon's home. He paid only three-and-sixpence a week for the
privilege of living there; his food cost him about a shilling a
day; on clothing and other unavoidable expenses he laid out some
five pounds yearly. Then he bought books--volumes which cost
anything between twopence and two shillings; further than that he
durst not go. A strange time, I assure you.
When he had completed his twenty-first year, he desired to
procure a reader's ticket for the British Museum. Now this was
not such a simple matter as you may suppose; it was necessary to
obtain the signature of some respectable householder, and Reardon
was acquainted with no such person. His landlady was a decent
woman enough, and a payer of rates and taxes, but it would look
odd, to say the least of it, to present oneself in Great Russell
Street armed with this person's recommendation. There was nothing
for it but to take a bold step, to force himself upon the
attention of a stranger--the thing from which his pride had
always shrunk. He wrote to a well-known novelist--a man with
whose works he had some sympathy. 'I am trying to prepare myself
for a literary career. I wish to study in the Reading-room of the
British Museum, but have no acquaintance to whom I can refer in
the ordinary way. Will you help me--I mean, in this particular
only?' That was the substance of his letter. For reply came an
invitation to a house in the West-end. With fear and trembling
Reardon answered the summons. He was so shabbily attired; he was
so diffident from the habit of living quite alone; he was
horribly afraid lest it should be supposed that he looked for
other assistance than he had requested. Well, the novelist was a
rotund and jovial man; his dwelling and his person smelt of
money; he was so happy himself that he could afford to be kind to
'Have you published anything?' he inquired, for the young man's
letter had left this uncertain.
'Nothing. I have tried the magazines, but as yet without
'But what do you write?'
'Chiefly essays on literary subjects.'
'I can understand that you would find a difficulty in disposing
of them. That kind of thing is supplied either by men of
established reputation, or by anonymous writers who have a
regular engagement on papers and magazines. Give me an example of
'I have written something lately about Tibullus.'
'Oh, dear! Oh, dear!--Forgive me, Mr Reardon; my feelings were
too much for me; those names have been my horror ever since I was
a schoolboy. Far be it from me to discourage you, if your line is
to be solid literary criticism; I will only mention, as a matter
of fact, that such work is indifferently paid and in very small
demand. It hasn't occurred to you to try your hand at fiction?'
In uttering the word he beamed; to him it meant a thousand or so
'I am afraid I have no talent for that.'
The novelist could do no more than grant his genial signature for
the specified purpose, and add good wishes in abundance. Reardon
went home with his brain in a whirl. He had had his first glimpse
of what was meant by literary success. That luxurious study, with
its shelves of handsomely-bound books, its beautiful pictures,
its warm, fragrant air--great heavens! what might not a man do
who sat at his ease amid such surroundings!
He began to work at the Reading-room, but at the same time he
thought often of the novelist's suggestion, and before long had
written two or three short stories. No editor would accept them;
but he continued to practise himself in that art, and by degrees
came to fancy that, after all, perhaps he had some talent for
fiction. It was significant, however, that no native impulse had
directed him to novel-writing. His intellectual temper was that
of the student, the scholar, but strongly blended with a love of
independence which had always made him think with distaste of a
teacher's life. The stories he wrote were scraps of immature
psychology--the last thing a magazine would accept from an
His money dwindled, and there came a winter during which he
suffered much from cold and hunger. What a blessed refuge it was,
there under the great dome, when he must else have sat in his
windy garret with the mere pretence of a fire! The Reading-room
was his true home; its warmth enwrapped him kindly; the peculiar
odour of its atmosphere--at first a cause of headache--grew dear
and delightful to him. But he could not sit here until his last
penny should be spent. Something practical must be done, and
practicality was not his strong point.
Friends in London he had none; but for an occasional conversation
with his landlady he would scarcely have spoken a dozen words in
a week. His disposition was the reverse of democratic, and he
could not make acquaintances below his own intellectual level.
Solitude fostered a sensitiveness which to begin with was
extreme; the lack of stated occupation encouraged his natural
tendency to dream and procrastinate and hope for the improbable.
He was a recluse in the midst of millions, and viewed with dread
the necessity of going forth to fight for daily food.
Little by little he had ceased to hold any correspondence with
his former friends at Hereford. The only person to whom he still
wrote and from whom he still heard was his mother's father--an
old man who lived at Derby, retired from the business of a
draper, and spending his last years pleasantly enough with a
daughter who had remained single. Edwin had always been a
favourite with his grandfather, though they had met only once or
twice during the past eight years. But in writing he did not
allow it to be understood that he was in actual want, and he felt
that he must come to dire extremities before he could bring
himself to beg assistance.
He had begun to answer advertisements, but the state of his
wardrobe forbade his applying for any but humble positions. Once
or twice he presented himself personally at offices, but his
reception was so mortifying that death by hunger seemed
preferable to a continuance of such experiences. The injury to
his pride made him savagely arrogant; for days after the last
rejection he hid himself in his garret, hating the world.
He sold his little collection of books, and of course they
brought only a trifling sum. That exhausted, he must begin to
sell his clothes. And then--?
But help was at hand. One day he saw it advertised in a newspaper
that the secretary of a hospital in the north of London was in
need of a clerk; application was to be made by letter. He wrote,
and two days later, to his astonishment, received a reply asking
him to wait upon the secretary at a certain hour. In a fever of
agitation he kept the appointment, and found that his business
was with a young man in the very highest spirits, who walked up
and down a little office (the hospital was of the 'special'
order, a house of no great size), and treated the matter in hand
as an excellent joke.
'I thought, you know, of engaging someone much younger--quite a
lad, in fact. But look there! Those are the replies to my
He pointed to a heap of five or six hundred letters, and laughed
'Impossible to read them all, you know. It seemed to me that the
fairest thing would be to shake them together, stick my hand in,
and take out one by chance. If it didn't seem very promising, I
would try a second time. But the first letter was yours, and I
thought the fair thing to do was at all events to see you, you
know. The fact is, I am only able to offer a pound a week.'
'I shall be very glad indeed to take that,' said Reardon, who was
bathed in perspiration.
'Then what about references, and so on?' proceeded the young man,
chuckling and rubbing his hands together.
The applicant was engaged. He had barely strength to walk home;
the sudden relief from his miseries made him, for the first time,
sensible of the extreme physical weakness into which he had sunk.
For the next week he was very ill, but he did not allow this to
interfere with his new work, which was easily learnt and not
He held this position for three years, and during that time
important things happened. When he had recovered from his state
of semi-starvation, and was living in comfort (a pound a week is
a very large sum if you have previously had to live on ten
shillings), Reardon found that the impulse to literary production
awoke in him more strongly than ever. He generally got home from
the hospital about six o'clock, and the evening was his own. In
this leisure time he wrote a novel in two volumes; one publisher
refused it, but a second offered to bring it out on the terms of
half profits to the author. The book appeared, and was well
spoken of in one or two papers; but profits there were none to
divide. In the third year of his clerkship he wrote a novel in
three volumes; for this his publishers gave him twenty-five
pounds, with again a promise of half the profits after deduction
of the sum advanced. Again there was no pecuniary success. He had
just got to work upon a third book, when his grandfather at Derby
died and left him four hundred pounds.
He could not resist the temptation to recover his freedom. Four
hundred pounds, at the rate of eighty pounds a year, meant five
years of literary endeavour. In that period he could certainly
determine whether or not it was his destiny to live by the pen.
In the meantime his relations with the secretary of the hospital,
Carter by name, had grown very friendly. When Reardon began to
publish books, the high-spirited Mr Carter looked upon him with
something of awe; and when the literary man ceased to be a clerk,
there was nothing to prevent association on equal terms between
him and his former employer. They continued to see a good deal of
each other, and Carter made Reardon acquainted with certain of
his friends, among whom was one John Yule, an easy-going,
selfish, semi-intellectual young man who had a place in a
Government office. The time of solitude had gone by for Reardon.
He began to develop the power that was in him.
Those two books of his were not of a kind to win popularity. They
dealt with no particular class of society (unless one makes a
distinct class of people who have brains), and they lacked local
colour. Their interest was almost purely psychological. It was
clear that the author had no faculty for constructing a story,
and that pictures of active life were not to be expected of him;
he could never appeal to the multitude. But strong
characterisation was within his scope, and an intellectual
fervour, appetising to a small section of refined readers, marked
all his best pages.
He was the kind of man who cannot struggle against adverse
conditions, but whom prosperity warms to the exercise of his
powers. Anything like the cares of responsibility would sooner or
later harass him into unproductiveness. That he should produce
much was in any case out of the question; possibly a book every
two or three years might not prove too great a strain upon his
delicate mental organism, but for him to attempt more than that
would certainly be fatal to the peculiar merit of his work. Of
this he was dimly conscious, and, on receiving his legacy, he put
aside for nearly twelve months the new novel he had begun. To
give his mind a rest he wrote several essays, much maturer than
those which had formerly failed to find acceptance, and two of
these appeared in magazines.
The money thus earned he spent--at a tailor's. His friend Carter
ventured to suggest this mode of outlay.
His third book sold for fifty pounds. It was a great improvement
on its predecessors, and the reviews were generally favourable.
For the story which followed, 'On Neutral Ground,' he received a
hundred pounds. On the strength of that he spent six months
travelling in the South of Europe.
He returned to London at mid-June, and on the second day after
his arrival befell an incident which was to control the rest of
his life. Busy with the pictures in the Grosvenor Gallery, he
heard himself addressed in a familiar voice, and on turning he
was aware of Mr Carter, resplendent in fashionable summer attire,
and accompanied by a young lady of some charms. Reardon had
formerly feared encounters of this kind, too conscious of the
defects of his attire; but at present there was no reason why he
should shirk social intercourse. He was passably dressed, and the
half-year of travel had benefited his appearance in no slight
degree. Carter presented him to the young lady, of whom the
novelist had already heard as affianced to his friend.
Whilst they stood conversing, there approached two ladies,
evidently mother and daughter, whose attendant was another of
Reardon's acquaintances, Mr John Yule. This gentleman stepped
briskly forward and welcomed the returned wanderer.
'Let me introduce you,' he said, 'to my mother and sister. Your
fame has made them anxious to know you.'
Reardon found himself in a position of which the novelty was
embarrassing, but scarcely disagreeable. Here were five people
grouped around him, all of whom regarded him unaffectedly as a
man of importance; for though, strictly speaking, he had no
'fame' at all, these persons had kept up with the progress of his
small repute, and were all distinctly glad to number among their
acquaintances an unmistakable author, one, too, who was fresh
from Italy and Greece. Mrs Yule, a lady rather too pretentious in
her tone to be attractive to a man of Reardon's refinement,
hastened to assure him how well his books were known in her
house, 'though for the run of ordinary novels we don't care
much.' Miss Yule, not at all pretentious in speech, and seemingly
reserved of disposition, was good enough to show frank interest
in the author. As for the poor author himself, well, he merely
fell in love with Miss Yule at first sight, and there was an end
of the matter.
A day or two later he made a call at their house, in the region
of Westbourne Park. It was a small house, and rather showily than
handsomely furnished; no one after visiting it would be
astonished to hear that Mrs Edmund Yule had but a small income,
and that she was often put to desperate expedients to keep up the
gloss of easy circumstances. In the gauzy and fluffy and varnishy
little drawing-room Reardon found a youngish gentleman already in
conversation with the widow and her daughter. This proved to be
one Mr Jasper Milvain, also a man of letters. Mr Milvain was glad
to meet Reardon, whose books he had read with decided interest.
'Really,' exclaimed Mrs Yule, 'I don't know how it is that we
have had to wait so long for the pleasure of knowing you, Mr
Reardon. If John were not so selfish he would have allowed us a
share in your acquaintance long ago.'
Ten weeks thereafter, Miss Yule became Mrs Reardon.
It was a time of frantic exultation with the poor fellow. He had
always regarded the winning of a beautiful and intellectual wife
as the crown of a successful literary career, but he had not
dared to hope that such a triumph would be his. Life had been too
hard with him on the whole. He, who hungered for sympathy, who
thought of a woman's love as the prize of mortals supremely
blessed, had spent the fresh years of his youth in monkish
solitude. Now of a sudden came friends and flattery, ay, and love
itself. He was rapt to the seventh heaven.
Indeed, it seemed that the girl loved him. She knew that he had
but a hundred pounds or so left over from that little
inheritance, that his books sold for a trifle, that he had no
wealthy relatives from whom he could expect anything; yet she
hesitated not a moment when he asked her to marry him.
'I have loved you from the first.'
'How is that possible?' he urged. 'What is there lovable in me? I
am afraid of waking up and finding myself in my old garret, cold
'You will be a great man.'
'I implore you not to count on that! In many ways I am wretchedly
weak. I have no such confidence in myself.'
'Then I will have confidence for both.'
'But can you love me for my own sake--love me as a man?'
'I love you!'
And the words sang about him, filled the air with a mad pulsing
of intolerable joy, made him desire to fling himself in
passionate humility at her feet, to weep hot tears, to cry to her
in insane worship. He thought her beautiful beyond anything his
heart had imagined; her warm gold hair was the rapture of his
eyes and of his reverent hand. Though slenderly fashioned, she
was so gloriously strong. 'Not a day of illness in her life,'
said Mrs Yule, and one could readily believe it.
She spoke with such a sweet decision. Her 'I love you!' was a
bond with eternity. In the simplest as in the greatest things she
saw his wish and acted frankly upon it. No pretty petulance, no
affectation of silly-sweet languishing, none of the weaknesses of
woman. And so exquisitely fresh in her twenty years of
maidenhood, with bright young eyes that seemed to bid defiance to
all the years to come.
He went about like one dazzled with excessive light. He talked as
he had never talked before, recklessly, exultantly, insolently--
in the nobler sense. He made friends on every hand; he welcomed
all the world to his bosom; he felt the benevolence of a god.
'I love you!' It breathed like music at his ears when he fell
asleep in weariness of joy; it awakened him on the morrow as with
a glorious ringing summons to renewed life.
Delay? Why should there be delay? Amy wished nothing but to
become his wife. Idle to think of his doing any more work until
he sat down in the home of which she was mistress. His brain
burned with visions of the books he would henceforth write, but
his hand was incapable of anything but a love-letter. And what
letters! Reardon never published anything equal to those. 'I have
received your poem,' Amy replied to one of them. And she was
right; not a letter, but a poem he had sent her, with every word
The hours of talk! It enraptured him to find how much she had
read, and with what clearness of understanding. Latin and Greek,
no. Ah! but she should learn them both, that there might be
nothing wanting in the communion between his thought and hers.
For he loved the old writers with all his heart; they had been
such strength to him in his days of misery.
They would go together to the charmed lands of the South. No, not
now for their marriage holiday--Amy said that would be an
imprudent expense; but as soon as he had got a good price for a
book. Will not the publishers be kind? If they knew what
happiness lurked in embryo within their foolish cheque-books!
He woke of a sudden in the early hours of one morning, a week
before the wedding-day. You know that kind of awaking, so
complete in an instant, caused by the pressure of some
troublesome thought upon the dreaming brain. 'Suppose I should
not succeed henceforth? Suppose I could never get more than this
poor hundred pounds for one of the long books which cost me so
much labour? I shall perhaps have children to support; and Amy--
how would Amy bear poverty?'
He knew what poverty means. The chilling of brain and heart, the
unnerving of the hands, the slow gathering about one of fear and
shame and impotent wrath, the dread feeling of helplessness, of
the world's base indifference. Poverty! Poverty!
And for hours he could not sleep. His eyes kept filling with
tears, the beating of his heart was low; and in his solitude he
called upon Amy with pitiful entreaty: 'Do not forsake me! I love
you! I love you!'
But that went by. Six days, five days, four days--will one's
heart burst with happiness? The flat is taken, is furnished, up
there towards the sky, eight flights of stone steps.
'You're a confoundedly lucky fellow, Reardon,' remarked Milvain,
who had already become very intimate with his new friend. 'A good
fellow, too, and you deserve it.'
'But at first I had a horrible suspicion.'
'I guess what you mean. No; I wasn't even in love with her,
though I admired her. She would never have cared for me in any
case; I am not sentimental enough.'
'I mean it in an inoffensive sense. She and I are rather too much
alike, I fancy.'
'How do you mean?' asked Reardon, puzzled, and not very well
'There's a great deal of pure intellect about Miss Yule, you
know. She was sure to choose a man of the passionate kind.'
'I think you are talking nonsense, my dear fellow.'
'Well, perhaps I am. To tell you the truth, I have by no means
completed my study of women yet. It is one of the things in which
I hope to be a specialist some day, though I don't think I shall
ever make use of it in novels--rather, perhaps, in life.'
Three days--two days--one day.
Now let every joyous sound which the great globe can utter ring
forth in one burst of harmony! Is it not well done to make the
village-bells chant merrily when a marriage is over? Here in
London we can have no such music; but for us, my dear one, all
the roaring life of the great city is wedding-hymn. Sweet, pure
face under its bridal-veil! The face which shall, if fate spare
it, be as dear to me many a long year hence as now at the
culminating moment of my life!
As he trudged on in the dark, his tortured memory was living
through that time again. The images forced themselves upon him,
however much he tried to think of quite other things--of some
fictitious story on which he might set to work. In the case of
his earlier books he had waited quietly until some suggestive
'situation,' some group of congenial characters, came with sudden
delightfulness before his mind and urged him to write; but
nothing so spontaneous could now be hoped for. His brain was too
weary with months of fruitless, harassing endeavour; moreover, he
was trying to devise a 'plot,' the kind of literary
Jack-in-the-box which might excite interest in the mass of
readers, and this was alien to the natural working of his
imagination. He suffered the torments of nightmare--an oppression
of the brain and heart which must soon be intolerable.
CHAPTER VI. THE PRACTICAL FRIEND
When her husband had set forth, Amy seated herself in the study
and took up a new library volume as if to read. But she had no
real intention of doing so; it was always disagreeable to her to
sit in the manner of one totally unoccupied, with hands on lap,
and even when she consciously gave herself up to musing an open
book was generally before her. She did not, in truth, read much
nowadays; since the birth of her child she had seemed to care
less than before for disinterested study. If a new novel that had
succeeded came into her hands she perused it in a very practical
spirit, commenting to Reardon on the features of the work which
had made it popular; formerly, she would have thought much more
of its purely literary merits, for which her eye was very keen.
How often she had given her husband a thrill of exquisite
pleasure by pointing to some merit or defect of which the common
reader would be totally insensible! Now she spoke less frequently
on such subjects. Her interests were becoming more personal; she
liked to hear details of the success of popular authors--about
their wives or husbands, as the case might be, their arrangements
with publishers, their methods of work. The gossip columns of
literary papers--and of some that were not literary--had an
attraction for her. She talked of questions such as international
copyright, was anxious to get an insight into the practical
conduct of journals and magazines, liked to know who 'read' for
the publishing-houses. To an impartial observer it might have
appeared that her intellect was growing more active and mature.
More than half an hour passed. It was not a pleasant train of
thought that now occupied her. Her lips were drawn together, her
brows were slightly wrinkled; the self-control which at other
times was agreeably expressed upon her features had become rather
too cold and decided. At one moment it seemed to her that she
heard a sound in the bedroom--the doors were purposely left ajar-
-and her head turned quickly to listen, the look in her eyes
instantaneously softening; but all remained quiet. The street
would have been silent but for a cab that now and then passed--
the swing of a hansom or the roll of a four-wheeler--and within
the buildings nothing whatever was audible.
Yes, a footstep, briskly mounting the stone stairs. Not like that
of the postman. A visitor, perhaps, to the other flat on the
topmost landing. But the final pause was in this direction, and
then came a sharp rat-tat at the door. Amy rose immediately and
went to open.
Jasper Milvain raised his urban silk hat, then held out his hand
with the greeting of frank friendship. His inquiries were in so
loud a voice that Amy checked him with a forbidding gesture.
'You'll wake Willie!'
'By Jove! I always forget,' he exclaimed in subdued tones. 'Does
the infant flourish?'
'Reardon out? I got back on Saturday evening, but couldn't come
round before this.' It was Monday. 'How close it is in here! I
suppose the roof gets so heated during the day. Glorious weather
in the country! And I've no end of things to tell you. He won't
be long, I suppose?'
'I think not.'
He left his hat and stick in the passage, came into the study,
and glanced about as if he expected to see some change since he
was last here, three weeks ago.
'So you have been enjoying yourself?' said Amy as, after
listening for a moment at the door, she took a seat.
'Oh, a little freshening of the faculties. But whose acquaintance
do you think I have made?'
'Yes. Your uncle Alfred and his daughter were staying at John
Yule's, and I saw something of them. I was invited to the house.'
'Did you speak of us?'
'To Miss Yule only. I happened to meet her on a walk, and in a
blundering way I mentioned Reardon's name. But of course it
didn't matter in the least. She inquired about you with a good
deal of interest--asked if you were as beautiful as you promised
to be years ago.'
'Doesn't that proceed from your fertile invention, Mr Milvain?'
'Not a bit of it! By-the-bye, what would be your natural question
concerning her? Do you think she gave promise of good looks?'
'I'm afraid I can't say that she did. She had a good face, but--
'I see.' Jasper threw back his head and seemed to contemplate an
object in memory. 'Well, I shouldn't wonder if most people called
her a trifle plain even now; and yet--no, that's hardly possible,
after all. She has no colour. Wears her hair short.'
'Oh, I don't mean the smooth, boyish hair with a parting--not the
kind of hair that would be lank if it grew long. Curly all over.
Looks uncommonly well, I assure you. She has a capital head. Odd
girl; very odd girl! Quiet, thoughtful--not very happy, I'm
afraid. Seems to think with dread of a return to books.'
'Indeed! But I had understood that she was a reader.'
'Reading enough for six people, probably. Perhaps her health is
not very robust. Oh, I knew her by sight quite well--had seen her
at the Reading-room. She's the kind of girl that gets into one's
head, you know--suggestive; much more in her than comes out until
one knows her very well.'
'Well, I should hope so,' remarked Amy, with a peculiar smile.
'But that's by no means a matter of course. They didn't invite me
to come and see them in London.'
'I suppose Marian mentioned your acquaintance with this branch of
'I think not. At all events, she promised me she wouldn't.'
Amy looked at him inquiringly, in a puzzled way.
'She promised you?'
'Voluntarily. We got rather sympathetic. Your uncle--Alfred, I
mean--is a remarkable man; but I think he regarded me as a youth
of no particular importance. Well, how do things go?'
Amy shook her head.
'None whatever. He can't work; I begin to be afraid that he is
really ill. He must go away before the fine weather is over. Do
persuade him to-night! I wish you could have had a holiday with
'Out of the question now, I'm sorry to say. I must work savagely.
But can't you all manage a fortnight somewhere--Hastings,
'It would be simply rash. One goes on saying, "What does a pound
or two matter?"--but it begins at length to matter a great deal.'
'I know, confound it all! Think how it would amuse some rich
grocer's son who pitches his half-sovereign to the waiter when he
has dined himself into good humour! But I tell you what it is:
you must really try to influence him towards practicality. Don't
He paused, and Amy sat looking at her hands.
'I have made an attempt,' she said at length, in a distant
'You really have?'
Jasper leaned forward, his clasped hands hanging between his
knees. He was scrutinising her face, and Amy, conscious of the
too fixed regard, at length moved her head uneasily.
'It seems very clear to me,' she said, 'that a long book is out
of the question for him at present. He writes so slowly, and is
so fastidious. It would be a fatal thing to hurry through
something weaker even than the last.'
'You think "The Optimist" weak?' Jasper asked, half absently.
'I don't think it worthy of Edwin; I don't see how anyone can.
'I have wondered what your opinion was. Yes, he ought to try a
new tack, I think.'
Just then there came the sound of a latch-key opening the outer
door. Jasper lay back in his chair and waited with a smile for
his expected friend's appearance; Amy made no movement.
'Oh, there you are!' said Reardon, presenting himself with the
dazzled eyes of one who has been in darkness; he spoke in a voice
of genial welcome, though it still had the note of depression.
'When did you get back?'
Milvain began to recount what he had told in the first part of
his conversation with Amy. As he did so, the latter withdrew, and
was absent for five minutes; on reappearing she said:
'You'll have some supper with us, Mr Milvain?'
'I think I will, please.'
Shortly after, all repaired to the eating-room, where
conversation had to be carried on in a low tone because of the
proximity of the bedchamber in which lay the sleeping child.
Jasper began to tell of certain things that had happened to him
since his arrival in town.
'It was a curious coincidence--but, by-the-bye, have you heard of
what The Study has been doing?'
'I should rather think so,' replied Reardon, his face lighting
up. 'With no small satisfaction.'
'Delicious, isn't it?' exclaimed his wife. 'I thought it too good
to be true when Edwin heard of it from Mr Biffen.'
All three laughed in subdued chorus. For the moment, Reardon
became a new man in his exultation over the contradictory
'Oh, Biffen told you, did he? Well,' continued Jasper, 'it was an
odd thing, but when I reached my lodgings on Saturday evening
there lay a note from Horace Barlow, inviting me to go and see
him on Sunday afternoon out at Wimbledon, the special reason
being that the editor of The Study would be there, and Barlow
thought I might like to meet him. Now this letter gave me a fit
of laughter; not only because of those precious reviews, but
because Alfred Yule had been telling me all about this same
editor, who rejoices in the name of Fadge. Your uncle, Mrs
Reardon, declares that Fadge is the most malicious man in the
literary profession; though that's saying such a very great deal
--well, never mind! Of course I was delighted to go and meet
Fadge. At Barlow's I found the queerest collection of people,
most of them women of the inkiest description. The great Fadge
himself surprised me; I expected to see a gaunt, bilious man, and
he was the rosiest and dumpiest little dandy you can imagine; a
fellow of forty-five, I dare say, with thin yellow hair and blue
eyes and a manner of extreme innocence. Fadge flattered me with
confidential chat, and I discovered at length why Barlow had
asked me to meet him; it's Fadge that is going to edit
Culpepper's new monthly--you've heard about it?--and he had
actually thought it worth while to enlist me among contributors!
Now, how's that for a piece of news?'
The speaker looked from Reardon to Amy with a smile of vast
'I rejoice to hear it!' said Reardon, fervently.
'You see! you see!' cried Jasper, forgetting all about the infant
in the next room, 'all things come to the man who knows how to
wait. But I'm hanged if I expected a thing of this kind to come
so soon! Why, I'm a man of distinction! My doings have been
noted; the admirable qualities of my style have drawn attention;
I'm looked upon as one of the coming men! Thanks, I confess, in
some measure, to old Barlow; he seems to have amused himself with
cracking me up to all and sundry. That last thing of mine in The
West End has done me a vast amount of good, it seems. And Alfred
Yule himself had noticed that paper in The Wayside. That's how
things work, you know; reputation comes with a burst, just when
you're not looking for anything of the kind.'
'What's the new magazine to be called?' asked Amy.
'Why, they propose The Current. Not bad, in a way; though you
imagine a fellow saying "Have you seen the current Current?" At
all events, the tone is to be up to date, and the articles are to
be short; no padding, merum sal from cover to cover. What do you
think I have undertaken to do, for a start? A paper consisting of
sketches of typical readers of each of the principal daily and
weekly papers. A deuced good idea, you know--my own, of course --
but deucedly hard to carry out. I shall rise to the occasion, see
if I don't. I'll rival Fadge himself in maliciousness--though I
must confess I discovered no particular malice in the fellow's
way of talking. The article shall make a sensation. I'll spend a
whole month on it, and make it a perfect piece of satire.'
'Now that's the kind of thing that inspires me with awe and
envy,' said Reardon. 'I could no more write such a paper than an
article on Fluxions.'
''Tis my vocation, Hal! You might think I hadn't experience
enough, to begin with. But my intuition is so strong that I can
make a little experience go an immense way. Most people would
imagine I had been wasting my time these last few years, just
sauntering about, reading nothing but periodicals, making
acquaintance with loafers of every description. The truth is, I
have been collecting ideas, and ideas that are convertible into
coin of the realm, my boy; I have the special faculty of an
extempore writer. Never in my life shall I do anything of solid
literary value; I shall always despise the people I write for.
But my path will be that of success. I have always said it, and
now I'm sure of it.'
'Does Fadge retire from The Study, then?' inquired Reardon, when
he had received this tirade with a friendly laugh.
'Yes, he does. Was going to, it seems, in any case. Of course I
heard nothing about the two reviews, and I was almost afraid to
smile whilst Fadge was talking with me, lest I should betray my
thought. Did you know anything about the fellow before?'
'Not I. Didn't know who edited The Study.'
'Nor I either. Remarkable what a number of illustrious obscure
are going about. But I have still something else to tell you. I'm
going to set my sisters afloat in literature.'
'Well, I don't see why they shouldn't try their hands at a little
writing, instead of giving lessons, which doesn't suit them a
bit. Last night, when I got back from Wimbledon, I went to look
up Davies. Perhaps you don't remember my mentioning him; a fellow
who was at Jolly and Monk's, the publishers, up to a year ago. He
edits a trade journal now, and I see very little of him. However,
I found him at home, and had a long practical talk with him. I
wanted to find out the state of the market as to such wares as
Jolly and Monk dispose of. He gave me some very useful hints, and
the result was that I went off this morning and saw Monk himself
--no Jolly exists at present. "Mr Monk," I began, in my blandest
tone--you know it--"I am requested to call upon you by a lady who
thinks of preparing a little volume to be called 'A Child's
History of the English Parliament.' Her idea is, that"--and so
on. Well, I got on admirably with Monk, especially when he learnt
that I was to be connected with Culpepper's new venture; he
smiled upon the project, and said he should be very glad to see a
specimen chapter; if that pleased him, we could then discuss
'But has one of your sisters really begun such a book?' inquired
'Neither of them knows anything of the matter, but they are
certainly capable of doing the kind of thing I have in mind,
which will consist largely of anecdotes of prominent statesmen. I
myself shall write the specimen chapter, and send it to the girls
to show them what I propose. I shouldn't wonder if they make some
fifty pounds out of it. The few books that will be necessary they
can either get at a Wattleborough library, or I can send them.'
'Your energy is remarkable, all of a sudden,' said Reardon.
'Yes. The hour has come, I find. "There is a tide"--to quote
something that has the charm of freshness.'
The supper--which consisted of bread and butter, cheese,
sardines, cocoa--was now over, and Jasper, still enlarging on his
recent experiences and future prospects, led the way back to the
sitting-room. Not very long after this, Amy left the two friends
to their pipes; she was anxious that her husband should discuss
his affairs privately with Milvain, and give ear to the practical
advice which she knew would be tendered him.
'I hear that you are still stuck fast,' began Jasper, when they
had smoked awhile in silence.
'Getting rather serious, I should fear, isn't it?'
'Yes,' repeated Reardon, in a low voice.
'Come, come, old man, you can't go on in this way. Would it, or
wouldn't it, be any use if you took a seaside holiday?'
'Not the least. I am incapable of holiday, if the opportunity
were offered. Do something I must, or I shall fret myself into
'Very well. What is it to be?'
'I shall try to manufacture two volumes. They needn't run to more
than about two hundred and seventy pages, and those well spaced
'This is refreshing. This is practical. But look now: let it be
something rather sensational. Couldn't we invent a good title--
something to catch eye and ear? The title would suggest the
story, you know.'
Reardon laughed contemptuously, but the scorn was directed rather
against himself than Milvain.
'Let's try,' he muttered.
Both appeared to exercise their minds on the problem for a few
minutes. Then Jasper slapped his knee.
'How would this do: "The Weird Sisters"? Devilish good, eh?
Suggests all sorts of things, both to the vulgar and the
educated. Nothing brutally clap-trap about it, you know.'
'But--what does it suggest to you?'
'Oh, witch-like, mysterious girls or women. Think it over.'
There was another long silence. Reardon's face was that of a man
in blank misery.
'I have been trying,' he said at length, after an attempt to
speak which was checked by a huskiness in his throat, 'to explain
to myself how this state of things has come about. I almost think
I can do so.'
'That half-year abroad, and the extraordinary shock of happiness
which followed at once upon it, have disturbed the balance of my
nature. It was adjusted to circumstances of hardship, privation,
struggle. A temperament like mine can't pass through such a
violent change of conditions without being greatly affected; I
have never since been the man I was before I left England. The
stage I had then reached was the result of a slow and elaborate
building up; I could look back and see the processes by which I
had grown from the boy who was a mere bookworm to the man who had
all but succeeded as a novelist. It was a perfectly natural,
sober development. But in the last two years and a half I can
distinguish no order. In living through it, I have imagined from
time to time that my powers were coming to their ripest; but that
was mere delusion. Intellectually, I have fallen back. The
probability is that this wouldn't matter, if only I could live on
in peace of mind; I should recover my equilibrium, and perhaps
once more understand myself. But the due course of things is
troubled by my poverty.'
He spoke in a slow, meditative way, in a monotonous voice, and
without raising his eyes from the ground.
'I can understand,' put in Jasper, 'that there may be
philosophical truth in all this. All the same, it's a great pity
that you should occupy your mind with such thoughts.'
'A pity--no! I must remain a reasoning creature. Disaster may end
by driving me out of my wits, but till then I won't abandon my
heritage of thought.'
'Let us have it out, then. You think it was a mistake to spend
those months abroad?'
'A mistake from the practical point of view. That vast broadening
of my horizon lost me the command of my literary resources. I
lived in Italy and Greece as a student, concerned especially with
the old civilisations; I read little but Greek and Latin. That
brought me out of the track I had laboriously made for myself I
often thought with disgust of the kind of work I had been doing;
my novels seemed vapid stuff so wretchedly and shallowly modern.
If I had had the means, I should have devoted myself to the life
of a scholar. That, I quite believe, is my natural life; it's
only the influence of recent circumstances that has made me a
writer of novels. A man who can't journalise, yet must earn his
bread by literature, nowadays inevitably turns to fiction, as the
Elizabethan men turned to the drama. Well, but I should have got
back, I think, into the old line of work. It was my marriage that
completed what the time abroad had begun.'
He looked up suddenly, and added:
'I am speaking as if to myself. You, of course, don't
misunderstand me, and think I am accusing my wife.'
'No, I don't take you to mean that, by any means.'
'No, no; of course not. All that's wrong is my accursed want of
money. But that threatens to be such a fearful wrong, that I
begin to wish I had died before my marriage-day. Then Amy would
have been saved. The Philistines are right: a man has no business
to marry unless he has a secured income equal to all natural
demands. I behaved with the grossest selfishness. I might have
known that such happiness was never meant for me.'
'Do you mean by all this that you seriously doubt whether you
will ever be able to write again?'
'In awful seriousness, I doubt it,' replied Reardon, with haggard
'It strikes me as extraordinary. In your position I should work
as I never had done before.'
'Because you are the kind of man who is roused by necessity. I am
overcome by it. My nature is feeble and luxurious. I never in my
life encountered and overcame a practical difficulty.'
'Yes; when you got the work at the hospital.'
'All I did was to write a letter, and chance made it effective.'
'My view of the case, Reardon, is that you are simply ill.'
'Certainly I am; but the ailment is desperately complicated. Tell
me: do you think I might possibly get any kind of stated work to
do? Should I be fit for any place in a newspaper office, for
'I fear not. You are the last man to have anything to do with
'If I appealed to my publishers, could they help me?'
'I don't see how. They would simply say: Write a book and we'll
'Yes, there's no help but that.'
'If only you were able to write short stories, Fadge might be
'But what's the use? I suppose I might get ten guineas, at most,
for such a story. I need a couple of hundred pounds at least.
Even if I could finish a three-volume book, I doubt if they would
give me a hundred again, after the failure of "The Optimist"; no,
'But to sit and look forward in this way is absolutely fatal, my
dear fellow. Get to work at your two-volume story. Call it "The
Weird Sisters," or anything better that you can devise; but get
it done, so many pages a day. If I go ahead as I begin to think I
shall, I shall soon be able to assure you good notices in a lot
of papers. Your misfortune has been that you had no influential
friends. By-the-bye, how has The Study been in the habit of
'I'll make an opportunity of talking about your books to Fadge. I
think Fadge and I shall get on pretty well together. Alfred Yule
hates the man fiercely, for some reason or other. By the way, I
may as well tell you that I broke short off with the Yules on
'I had begun to think far too much about the girl. Wouldn't do,
you know. I must marry someone with money, and a good deal of it.
That's a settled point with me.'
'Then you are not at all likely to meet them in London?'
'Not at all. And if I get allied with Fadge, no doubt Yule will
involve me in his savage feeling. You see how wisely I acted. I
have a scent for the prudent course.'
They talked for a long time, but again chiefly of Milvain's
affairs. Reardon, indeed, cared little to say anything more about
his own. Talk was mere vanity and vexation of spirit, for the
spring of his volition seemed to be broken, and, whatever resolve
he might utter, he knew that everything depended on influences he
could not even foresee.
CHAPTER VII. MARIAN'S HOME
Three weeks after her return from the country--which took place a
week later than that of Jasper Milvain--Marian Yule was working
one afternoon at her usual place in the Museum Reading-room. It
was three o'clock, and with the interval of half an hour at
midday, when she went away for a cup of tea and a sandwich, she
had been closely occupied since half-past nine. Her task at
present was to collect materials for a paper on 'French
Authoresses of the Seventeenth Century,' the kind of thing which
her father supplied on stipulated terms for anonymous
publication. Marian was by this time almost able to complete such
a piece of manufacture herself and her father's share in it was
limited to a few hints and corrections. The greater part of the
work by which Yule earned his moderate income was anonymous:
volumes and articles which bore his signature dealt with much the
same subjects as his unsigned matter, but the writing was
laboured with a conscientiousness unusual in men of his position.
The result, unhappily, was not correspondent with the efforts.
Alfred Yule had made a recognisable name among the critical
writers of the day; seeing him in the title-lists of a
periodical, most people knew what to expect, but not a few
forbore the cutting open of the pages he occupied. He was
learned, copious, occasionally mordant in style; but grace had
been denied to him. He had of late begun to perceive the fact
that those passages of Marian's writing which were printed just
as they came from her pen had merit of a kind quite distinct from
anything of which he himself was capable, and it began to be a
question with him whether it would not be advantageous to let the
girl sign these compositions. A matter of business, to be sure--
at all events in the first instance.
For a long time Marian had scarcely looked up from the desk, but
at this moment she found it necessary to refer to the invaluable
Larousse. As so often happened, the particular volume of which
she had need was not upon the shelf she turned away, and looked
about her with a gaze of weary disappointment. At a little
distance were standing two young men, engaged, as their faces
showed, in facetious colloquy; as soon as she observed them,
Marian's eyes fell, but the next moment she looked again in that
direction. Her face had wholly changed; she wore a look of timid
The men were moving towards her, still talking and laughing. She
turned to the shelves, and affected to search for a book. The
voices drew near, and one of them was well known to her; now she
could hear every word; now the speakers were gone by. Was it
possible that Mr Milvain had not recognised her? She followed him
with her eyes, and saw him take a seat not far off he must have
passed without even being aware of her.
She went back to her place and for some minutes sat trifling with
a pen. When she made a show of resuming work, it was evident that
she could no longer apply herself as before. Every now and then
she glanced at people who were passing; there were intervals when
she wholly lost herself in reverie. She was tired, and had even a
slight headache. When the hand of the clock pointed to half-past
three, she closed the volume from which she had been copying
extracts, and began to collect her papers.
A voice spoke close behind her.
'Where's your father, Miss Yule?'
The speaker was a man of sixty, short, stout, tonsured by the
hand of time. He had a broad, flabby face, the colour of an
ancient turnip, save where one of the cheeks was marked with a
mulberry stain; his eyes, grey-orbed in a yellow setting, glared
with good-humoured inquisitiveness, and his mouth was that of the
confirmed gossip. For eyebrows he had two little patches of
reddish stubble; for moustache, what looked like a bit of
discoloured tow, and scraps of similar material hanging beneath
his creasy chin represented a beard. His garb must have seen a
great deal of Museum service; it consisted of a jacket, something
between brown and blue, hanging in capacious shapelessness, a
waistcoat half open for lack of buttons and with one of the
pockets coming unsewn, a pair of bronze-hued trousers which had
all run to knee. Necktie he had none, and his linen made distinct
appeal to the laundress.
Marian shook hands with him.
'He went away at half-past two,' was her reply to his question.
'How annoying! I wanted particularly to see him. I have been
running about all day, and couldn't get here before. Something
important--most important. At all events, I can tell you. But I
entreat that you won't breathe a word save to your father.'
Mr Quarmby--that was his name--had taken a vacant chair and drawn
it close to Marian's. He was in a state of joyous excitement, and
talked in thick, rather pompous tones, with a pant at the end of
a sentence. To emphasise the extremely confidential nature of his
remarks, he brought his head almost in contact with the girl's,
and one of her thin, delicate hands was covered with his red,
'I've had a talk with Nathaniel Walker,' he continued; 'a long
talk--a talk of vast importance. You know Walker? No, no; how
should you? He's a man of business; close friend of Rackett's--
Rackett, you know, the owner of The Study.'
Upon this he made a grave pause, and glared more excitedly than
'I have heard of Mr Rackett,' said Marian.
'Of course, of course. And you must also have heard that Fadge
leaves The Study at the end of this year, eh?'
'Father told me it was probable.'
'Rackett and he have done nothing but quarrel for months; the
paper is falling off seriously. Well, now, when I came across Nat
Walker this afternoon, the first thing he said to me was, "You
know Alfred Yule pretty well, I think?" "Pretty well," I
answered; "why?" "I'll tell you," he said, "but it's between you
and me, you understand. Rackett is thinking about him in
connection with The Study." "I'm delighted to hear it." "To tell
you the truth," went on Nat, "I shouldn't wonder if Yule gets the
editorship; but you understand that it would be altogether
premature to talk about it." Now what do you think of this, eh?'
'It's very good news,' answered Marian.
'I should think so! Ho, ho!'
Mr Quarmby laughed in a peculiar way, which was the result of
long years of mirth-subdual in the Reading-room.
'But not a breath to anyone but your father. He'll be here to-
morrow? Break it gently to him, you know; he's an excitable man;
can't take things quietly, like I do. Ho, ho!'
His suppressed laugh ended in a fit of coughing--the Reading-room
cough. When he had recovered from it, he pressed Marian's hand
with paternal fervour, and waddled off to chatter with someone
Marian replaced several books on the reference-shelves, returned
others to the central desk, and was just leaving the room, when
again a voice made demand upon her attention.
'Miss Yule! One moment, if you please!'
It was a tall, meagre, dry-featured man, dressed with the painful
neatness of self-respecting poverty: the edges of his coat-
sleeves were carefully darned; his black necktie and a skull-cap
which covered his baldness were evidently of home manufacture. He
smiled softly and timidly with blue, rheumy eyes. Two or three
recent cuts on his chin and neck were the result of conscientious
shaving with an unsteady hand.
'I have been looking for your father,' he said, as Marian turned.
'Isn't he here?'
'He has gone, Mr Hinks.'
'Ah, then would you do me the kindness to take a book for him? In
fact, it's my little "Essay on the Historical Drama," just out.'
He spoke with nervous hesitation, and in a tone which seemed to
make apology for his existence.
'Oh, father will be very glad to have it.'
'If you will kindly wait one minute, Miss Yule. It's at my place
He went off with long strides, and speedily came back panting, in
his hand a thin new volume.
'My kind regards to him, Miss Yule. You are quite well, I hope? I
won't detain you.'
And he backed into a man who was coming inobservantly this way.
Marian went to the ladies' cloak-room, put on her hat and jacket,
and left the Museum. Some one passed out through the swing-door a
moment before her, and as soon as she had issued beneath the
portico, she saw that it was Jasper Milvain; she must have
followed him through the hall, but her eyes had been cast down.
The young man was now alone; as he descended the steps he looked
to left and right, but not behind him. Marian followed at a
distance of two or three yards. Nearing the gateway, she
quickened her pace a little, so as to pass out into the street
almost at the same moment as Milvain. But he did not turn his
He took to the right. Marian had fallen back again, but she still
followed at a very little distance. His walk was slow, and she
might easily have passed him in quite a natural way; in that case
he could not help seeing her. But there was an uneasy suspicion
in her mind that he really must have noticed her in the
Reading-room. This was the first time she had seen him since
their parting at Finden. Had he any reason for avoiding her? Did
he take it ill that her father had shown no desire to keep up his
She allowed the interval between them to become greater. In a
minute or two Milvain turned up Charlotte Street, and so she lost
sight of him.
In Tottenham Court Road she waited for an omnibus that would take
her to the remoter part of Camden Town; obtaining a corner seat,
she drew as far back as possible, and paid no attention to her
fellow-passengers. At a point in Camden Road she at length
alighted, and after ten minutes' walk reached her destination in
a quiet by-way called St Paul's Crescent, consisting of small,
decent houses. That at which she paused had an exterior promising
comfort within; the windows were clean and neatly curtained, and
the polishable appurtenances of the door gleamed to perfection.
She admitted herself with a latch-key, and went straight upstairs
without encountering anyone.
Descending again in a few moments, she entered the front room on
the ground-floor. This served both as parlour and dining-room; it
was comfortably furnished, without much attempt at adornment. On
the walls were a few autotypes and old engravings. A recess
between fireplace and window was fitted with shelves, which
supported hundreds of volumes, the overflow of Yule's library.
The table was laid for a meal. It best suited the convenience of
the family to dine at five o'clock; a long evening, so necessary
to most literary people, was thus assured. Marian, as always when
she had spent a day at the Museum, was faint with weariness and
hunger; she cut a small piece of bread from a loaf on the table,
and sat down in an easy chair.
Presently appeared a short, slight woman of middle age, plainly
dressed in serviceable grey. Her face could never have been very
comely, and it expressed but moderate intelligence; its lines,
however, were those of gentleness and good feeling. She had the
look of one who is making a painful effort to understand
something; this was fixed upon her features, and probably
resulted from the peculiar conditions of her life.
'Rather early, aren't you, Marian?' she said, as she closed the
door and came forward to take a seat.
'Yes; I have a little headache.'
'Oh, dear! Is that beginning again?'
Mrs Yule's speech was seldom ungrammatical, and her intonation
was not flagrantly vulgar, but the accent of the London poor,
which brands as with hereditary baseness, still clung to her
words, rendering futile such propriety of phrase as she owed to
years of association with educated people. In the same degree did
her bearing fall short of that which distinguishes a lady. The
London work-girl is rarely capable of raising herself or being
raised, to a place in life above that to which she was born; she
cannot learn how to stand and sit and move like a woman bred to
refinement, any more than she can fashion her tongue to graceful
speech. Mrs Yule's behaviour to Marian was marked with a singular
diffidence; she looked and spoke affectionately, but not with a
mother's freedom; one might have taken her for a trusted servant
waiting upon her mistress. Whenever opportunity offered, she
watched the girl in a curiously furtive way, that puzzled look on
her face becoming very noticeable. Her consciousness was never
able to accept as a familiar and unimportant fact the vast
difference between herself and her daughter. Marian's superiority
in native powers, in delicacy of feeling, in the results of
education, could never be lost sight of. Under ordinary
circumstances she addressed the girl as if tentatively; however
sure of anything from her own point of view, she knew that
Marian, as often as not, had quite a different criterion. She
understood that the girl frequently expressed an opinion by mere
reticence, and hence the carefulness with which, when conversing,
she tried to discover the real effect of her words in Marian's
'Hungry, too,' she said, seeing the crust Marian was nibbling.
'You really must have more lunch, dear. It isn't right to go so
long; you'll make yourself ill.'
'Have you been out?' Marian asked.
'Yes; I went to Holloway.'
Mrs Yule sighed and looked very unhappy. By 'going to Holloway'
was always meant a visit to her own relatives--a married sister
with three children, and a brother who inhabited the same house.
To her husband she scarcely ever ventured to speak of these
persons; Yule had no intercourse with them. But Marian was always
willing to listen sympathetically, and her mother often exhibited
a touching gratitude for this condescension--as she deemed it.
'Are things no better?' the girl inquired.
'Worse, as far as I can see. John has begun his drinking again,
and him and Tom quarrel every night; there's no peace in the
If ever Mrs Yule lapsed into gross errors of pronunciation or
phrase, it was when she spoke of her kinsfolk. The subject seemed
to throw her back into a former condition.
'He ought to go and live by himself' said Marian, referring to
her mother's brother, the thirsty John.
'So he ought, to be sure. I'm always telling them so. But there!
you don't seem to be able to persuade them, they're that silly
and obstinate. And Susan, she only gets angry with me, and tells
me not to talk in a stuck-up way. I'm sure I never say a word
that could offend her; I'm too careful for that. And there's
Annie; no doing anything with her! She's about the streets at all
hours, and what'll be the end of it no one can say. They're
getting that ragged, all of them. It isn't Susan's fault; indeed
it isn't. She does all that woman can. But Tom hasn't brought
home ten shillings the last month, and it seems to me as if he
was getting careless. I gave her half-a-crown; it was all I could
do. And the worst of it is, they think I could do so much more if
I liked. They're always hinting that we are rich people, and it's
no good my trying to persuade them. They think I'm telling
falsehoods, and it's very hard to be looked at in that way; it
is, indeed, Marian.'
'You can't help it, mother. I suppose their suffering makes them
unkind and unjust.'
'That's just what it does, my dear; you never said anything
truer. Poverty will make the best people bad, if it gets hard
enough. Why there's so much of it in the world, I'm sure I can't
'I suppose father will be back soon?'
'He said dinner-time.'
'Mr Quarmby has been telling me something which is wonderfully
good news if it's really true; but I can't help feeling doubtful.
He says that father may perhaps be made editor of The Study at
the end of this year.'
Mrs Yule, of course, understood, in outline, these affairs of the
literary world; she thought of them only from the pecuniary point
of view, but that made no essential distinction between her and
the mass of literary people.
'My word!' she exclaimed. 'What a thing that would be for us!'
Marian had begun to explain her reluctance to base any hopes on
Mr Quarmby's prediction, when the sound of a postman's knock at
the house-door caused her mother to disappear for a moment.
'It's for you,' said Mrs Yule, returning. 'From the country.'
Marian took the letter and examined its address with interest.
'It must be one of the Miss Milvains. Yes; Dora Milvain.'
After Jasper's departure from Finden his sisters had seen Marian
several times, and the mutual liking between her and them had
been confirmed by opportunity of conversation. The promise of
correspondence had hitherto waited for fulfilment. It seemed
natural to Marian that the younger of the two girls should write;
Maud was attractive and agreeable, and probably clever, but Dora
had more spontaneity in friendship.
'It will amuse you to hear,' wrote Dora, 'that the literary
project our brother mentioned in a letter whilst you were still
here is really to come to something. He has sent us a specimen
chapter, written by himself of the "Child's History of
Parliament," and Maud thinks she could carry it on in that style,
if there's no hurry. She and I have both set to work on English
histories, and we shall be authorities before long. Jolly and
Monk offer thirty pounds for the little book, if it suits them
when finished, with certain possible profits in the future. Trust
Jasper for making a bargain! So perhaps our literary career will
be something more than a joke, after all. I hope it may; anything
rather than a life of teaching. We shall be so glad to hear from
you, if you still care to trouble about country girls.'
And so on. Marian read with a pleased smile, then acquainted her
mother with the contents.
'I am very glad,' said Mrs Yule; 'it's so seldom you get a
Marian seemed desirous of saying something more, and her mother
had a thoughtful look, suggestive of sympathetic curiosity.
'Is their brother likely to call here?' Mrs Yule asked, with
'No one has invited him to,' was the girl's quiet reply.
'He wouldn't come without that?'
'It's not likely that he even knows the address.'
'Your father won't be seeing him, I suppose?'
'By chance, perhaps. I don't know.'
It was very rare indeed for these two to touch upon any subject
save those of everyday interest. In spite of the affection
between them, their exchange of confidence did not go very far;
Mrs Yule, who had never exercised maternal authority since
Marian's earliest childhood, claimed no maternal privileges, and
Marian's natural reserve had been strengthened by her mother's
respectful aloofness. The English fault of domestic reticence
could scarcely go further than it did in their case; its
exaggeration is, of course, one of the characteristics of those
unhappy families severed by differences of education between the
old and young.
'I think,' said Marian, in a forced tone, 'that father hasn't
much liking for Mr Milvain.'