Part 4 out of 13
they have read it.'
'Couldn't you do that with the first two volumes?'
'No, I can't; indeed I can't. The other thing will be bad enough;
but to beg on an incomplete book, and such a book--I can't!'
There were drops on his forehead.
'They would help you if they knew,' said Amy in a low voice.
'Perhaps; I can't say. They can't help every poor devil. No; I
will sell some books. I can pick out fifty or sixty that I shan't
Amy knew what a wrench this would be. The imminence of distress
seemed to have softened her.
'Edwin, let me take those two volumes to the publishers, and ask
'Heavens! no. That's impossible. Ten to one you will be told that
my work is of such doubtful value that they can't offer even a
guinea till the whole book has been considered. I can't allow you
to go, dearest. This morning I'll choose some books that I can
spare, and after dinner I'll ask a man to come and look at them.
Don't worry yourself; I can finish in three weeks, I'm sure I
can. If I can get you three or four pounds you could make it do,
She averted her face as she spoke.
'You shall have that.' He still spoke very quietly. 'If the books
won't bring enough, there's my watch--oh, lots of things.'
He turned abruptly away, and Amy went on with her household work.
CHAPTER X. THE FRIENDS OF THE FAMILY
It was natural that Amy should hint dissatisfaction with the
loneliness in which her days were mostly spent. She had never
lived in a large circle of acquaintances; the narrowness of her
mother's means restricted the family to intercourse with a few
old friends and such new ones as were content with teacup
entertainment; but her tastes were social, and the maturing
process which followed upon her marriage made her more conscious
of this than she had been before. Already she had allowed her
husband to understand that one of her strongest motives in
marrying him was the belief that he would achieve distinction. At
the time she doubtless thought of his coming fame only--or
principally--as it concerned their relations to each other; her
pride in him was to be one phase of her love. Now she was well
aware that no degree of distinction in her husband would be of
much value to her unless she had the pleasure of witnessing its
effect upon others; she must shine with reflected light before an
The more conscious she became of this requirement of her nature,
the more clearly did she perceive that her hopes had been founded
on an error. Reardon would never be a great man; he would never
even occupy a prominent place in the estimation of the public.
The two things, Amy knew, might be as different as light and
darkness; but in the grief of her disappointment she would rather
have had him flare into a worthless popularity than flicker down
into total extinction, which it almost seemed was to be his fate.
She knew so well how 'people' were talking of him and her. Even
her unliterary acquaintances understood that Reardon's last novel
had been anything but successful, and they must of course ask
each other how the Reardons were going to live if the business of
novel-writing proved unremunerative. Her pride took offence at
the mere thought of such conversations. Presently she would
become an object of pity; there would be talk of 'poor Mrs
Reardon.' It was intolerable.
So during the last half year she had withheld as much as possible
from the intercourse which might have been one of her chief
pleasures. And to disguise the true cause she made pretences
which were a satire upon her state of mind--alleging that she had
devoted herself to a serious course of studies, that the care of
house and child occupied all the time she could spare from her
intellectual pursuits. The worst of it was, she had little faith
in the efficacy of these fictions; in uttering them she felt an
unpleasant warmth upon her cheeks, and it was not difficult to
detect a look of doubt in the eyes of the listener. She grew
angry with herself for being dishonest, and with her husband for
making such dishonesty needful.
The female friend with whom she had most trouble was Mrs Carter.
You remember that on the occasion of Reardon's first meeting with
his future wife, at the Grosvenor Gallery, there were present his
friend Carter and a young lady who was shortly to bear the name
of that spirited young man. The Carters had now been married
about a year; they lived in Bayswater, and saw much of a certain
world which imitates on a lower plane the amusements and
affectations of society proper. Mr Carter was still secretary to
the hospital where Reardon had once earned his twenty shillings a
week, but by voyaging in the seas of charitable enterprise he had
come upon supplementary sources of income; for instance, he held
the post of secretary to the Barclay Trust, a charity whose
moderate funds were largely devoted to the support of gentlemen
engaged in administering it. This young man, with his air of
pleasing vivacity, had early ingratiated himself with the kind of
people who were likely to be of use to him; he had his reward in
the shape of offices which are only procured through private
influence. His wife was a good-natured, lively, and rather clever
girl; she had a genuine regard for Amy, and much respect for
Reardon. Her ambition was to form a circle of distinctly
intellectual acquaintances, and she was constantly inviting the
Reardons to her house; a real live novelist is not easily drawn
into the world where Mrs Carter had her being, and it annoyed her
that all attempts to secure Amy and her husband for five-o'clock
teas and small parties had of late failed.
On the afternoon when Reardon had visited a second-hand
bookseller with a view of raising money--he was again shut up in
his study, dolorously at work--Amy was disturbed by the sound of
a visitor's rat-tat; the little servant went to the door, and
returned followed by Mrs Carter.
Under the best of circumstances it was awkward to receive any but
intimate friends during the hours when Reardon sat at his desk.
The little dining-room (with its screen to conceal the kitchen
range) offered nothing more than homely comfort; and then the
servant had to be disposed of by sending her into the bedroom to
take care of Willie. Privacy, in the strict sense, was
impossible, for the servant might listen at the door (one room
led out of the other) to all the conversation that went on; yet
Amy could not request her visitors to speak in a low tone. For
the first year these difficulties had not been felt; Reardon made
a point of leaving the front room at his wife's disposal from
three to six; it was only when dread of the future began to press
upon him that he sat in the study all day long. You see how
complicated were the miseries of the situation; one torment
involved another, and in every quarter subjects of discontent
Mrs Carter would have taken it ill had she known that Amy did not
regard her as strictly an intimate. They addressed each other by
their Christian names, and conversed without ceremony; but Amy
was always dissatisfied when the well-dressed young woman burst
with laughter and animated talk into this abode of concealed
poverty. Edith was not the kind of person with whom one can
quarrel; she had a kind heart, and was never disagreeably
pretentious. Had circumstances allowed it, Amy would have given
frank welcome to such friendship; she would have been glad to
accept as many invitations as Edith chose to offer. But at
present it did her harm to come in contact with Mrs Carter; it
made her envious, cold to her husband, resentful against fate.
'Why can't she leave me alone?' was the thought that rose in her
mind as Edith entered. 'I shall let her see that I don't want her
'Your husband at work?' Edith asked, with a glance in the
direction of the study, as soon as they had exchanged kisses and
'Yes, he is busy.'
'And you are sitting alone, as usual. I feared you might be out;
an afternoon of sunshine isn't to be neglected at this time of
'Is there sunshine?' Amy inquired coldly.
'Why, look! Do you mean to say you haven't noticed it? What a
comical person you are sometimes! I suppose you have been over
head and ears in books all day. How is Willie?'
'Very well, thank you.'
'Mayn't I see him?'
'If you like.'
Amy stepped to the bedroom door and bade the servant bring Willie
for exhibition. Edith, who as yet had no child of her own, always
showed the most flattering admiration of this infant; it was so
manifestly sincere that the mother could not but be moved to a
grateful friendliness whenever she listened to its expression.
Even this afternoon the usual effect followed when Edith had made
a pretty and tender fool of herself for several minutes. Amy bade
the servant make tea.
At this moment the door from the passage opened, and Reardon
'Well, if this isn't marvellous!' cried Edith. 'I should as soon
have expected the heavens to fall!'
'As what?' asked Reardon, with a pale smile.
'As you to show yourself when I am here.'
'I should like to say that I came on purpose to see you, Mrs
Carter, but it wouldn't be true. I'm going out for an hour, so
that you can take possession of the other room if you like, Amy.'
'Going out?' said Amy, with a look of surprise.
'Nothing--nothing. I mustn't stay.'
He just inquired of Mrs Carter how her husband was, and withdrew.
The door of the flat was heard to close after him.
'Let us go into the study, then,' said Amy, again in rather a
On Reardon's desk were lying slips of blank paper. Edith,
approaching on tiptoe with what was partly make believe, partly
genuine, awe, looked at the literary apparatus, then turned with
a laugh to her friend.
'How delightful it must be to sit down and write about people one
has invented! Ever since I have known you and Mr Reardon I have
been tempted to try if I couldn't write a story.'
'And I'm sure I don't know how you can resist the temptation. I
feel sure you could write books almost as clever as your
'I have no intention of trying.'
'You don't seem very well to-day, Amy.'
'Oh, I think I am as well as usual.'
She guessed that her husband was once more brought to a
standstill, and this darkened her humour again.
'One of my reasons for corning,' said Edith, 'was to beg and
entreat and implore you and Mr Reardon to dine with us next
Wednesday. Now, don't put on such a severe face! Are you engaged
'Yes; in the ordinary way. Edwin can't possibly leave his work.'
'But for one poor evening! It's such ages since we saw you.'
'I'm very sorry. I don't think we shall ever be able to accept
invitations in future.'
Amy spoke thus at the prompting of a sudden impulse. A minute
ago, no such definite declaration was in her mind.
'Never?' exclaimed Edith. 'But why? Whatever do you mean?'
'We find that social engagements consume too much time,' Amy
replied, her explanation just as much of an impromptu as the
announcement had been. 'You see, one must either belong to
society or not. Married people can't accept an occasional
invitation from friends and never do their social duty in return.
We have decided to withdraw altogether--at all events for the
present. I shall see no one except my relatives.'
Edith listened with a face of astonishment.
'You won't even see ME?' she exclaimed.
'Indeed, I have no wish to lose your friendship. Yet I am ashamed
to ask you to come here when I can never return your visits.'
'Oh, please don't put it in that way! But it seems so very
Edith could not help conjecturing the true significance of this
resolve. But, as is commonly the case with people in easy
circumstances, she found it hard to believe that her friends were
so straitened as to have a difficulty in supporting the ordinary
obligations of a civilised state.
'I know how precious your husband's time is,' she added, as if to
remove the effect of her last remark. 'Surely, there's no harm in
my saying --we know each other well enough--you wouldn't think it
necessary to devote an evening to entertaining us just because
you had given us the pleasure of your company. I put it very
stupidly, but I'm sure you understand me, Amy. Don't refuse just
to come to our house now and then.'
'I'm afraid we shall have to be consistent, Edith.'
'But do you think this is a WISE thing to do?'
'You know what you once told me, about how necessary it was for a
novelist to study all sorts of people. How can Mr Reardon do this
if he shuts himself up in the house? I should have thought he
would find it necessary to make new acquaintances.'
'As I said,' returned Amy, 'it won't be always like this. For the
present, Edwin has quite enough "material."'
She spoke distantly; it irritated her to have to invent excuses
for the sacrifice she had just imposed on herself. Edith sipped
the tea which had been offered her, and for a minute kept
'When will Mr Reardon's next book be published?' she asked at
'I'm sure I don't know. Not before the spring.'
'I shall look so anxiously for it. Whenever I meet new people I
always turn the conversation to novels, just for the sake of
asking them if they know your husband's books.'
She laughed merrily.
'Which is seldom the case, I should think,' said Amy, with a
smile of indifference.
'Well, my dear, you don't expect ordinary novel-readers to know
about Mr Reardon. I wish my acquaintances were a better kind of
people; then, of course, I should hear of his books more often.
But one has to make the best of such society as offers. If you
and your husband forsake me, I shall feel it a sad loss; I shall
Amy gave a quick glance at the speaker's face.
'Oh, we must be friends just the same,' she said, more naturally
than she had spoken hitherto. 'But don't ask us to come and dine
just now. All through this winter we shall be very busy, both of
us. Indeed, we have decided not to accept any invitations at
'Then, so long as you let me come here now and then, I must give
in. I promise not to trouble you with any more complaining. But
how you can live such a life I don't know. I consider myself more
of a reader than women generally are, and I should be mortally
offended if anyone called me frivolous; but I must have a good
deal of society. Really and truly, I can't live without it.'
'No?' said Amy, with a smile which meant more than Edith could
interpret. It seemed slightly condescending.
'There's no knowing; perhaps if I had married a literary man---'
She paused, smiling and musing. 'But then I haven't, you see.'
She laughed. 'Albert is anything but a bookworm, as you know.'
'You wouldn't wish him to be.'
'Oh no! Not a bookworm. To be sure, we suit each other very well
indeed. He likes society just as much as I do. It would be the
death of him if he didn't spend three-quarters of every day with
'That's rather a large portion. But then you count yourself among
the lively ones.'
They exchanged looks, and laughed together.
'Of course you think me rather silly to want to talk so much with
silly people,' Edith went on. 'But then there's generally some
amusement to be got, you know. I don't take life quite so
seriously as you do. People are people, after all; it's good fun
to see how they live and hear how they talk.'
Amy felt that she was playing a sorry part. She thought of sour
grapes, and of the fox who had lost his tail. Worst of all,
perhaps Edith suspected the truth. She began to make inquiries
about common acquaintances, and fell into an easier current of
A quarter of an hour after the visitor's departure Reardon came
back. Amy had guessed aright; the necessity of selling his books
weighed upon him so that for the present he could do nothing. The
evening was spent gloomily, with very little conversation.
Next day came the bookseller to make his inspection. Reardon had
chosen out and ranged upon a table nearly a hundred volumes. With
a few exceptions, they had been purchased second-hand. The
tradesman examined them rapidly.
'What do you ask?' he inquired, putting his head aside.
'I prefer that you should make an offer,' Reardon replied, with
the helplessness of one who lives remote from traffic.
'I can't say more than two pounds ten.'
'That is at the rate of sixpence a volume---?'
'To me that's about the average value of books like these.'
Perhaps the offer was a fair one; perhaps it was not. Reardon had
neither time nor spirit to test the possibilities of the market;
he was ashamed to betray his need by higgling.
'I'll take it,' he said, in a matter-of-fact voice.
A messenger was sent for the books that afternoon. He stowed them
skilfully in two bags, and carried them downstairs to a cart that
Reardon looked at the gaps left on his shelves. Many of those
vanished volumes were dear old friends to him; he could have told
you where he had picked them up and when; to open them recalled a
past moment of intellectual growth, a mood of hope or
despondency, a stage of struggle. In most of them his name was
written, and there were often pencilled notes in the margin. Of
course he had chosen from among the most valuable he possessed;
such a multitude must else have been sold to make this sum of two
pounds ten. Books are cheap, you know. At need, one can buy a
Homer for fourpence, a Sophocles for sixpence. It was not rubbish
that he had accumulated at so small expenditure, but the library
of a poor student--battered bindings, stained pages, supplanted
editions. He loved his books, but there was something he loved
more, and when Amy glanced at him with eyes of sympathy he broke
into a cheerful laugh.
'I'm only sorry they have gone for so little. Tell me when the
money is nearly at an end again, and you shall have more. It's
all right; the novel will be done soon.'
And that night he worked until twelve o'clock, doggedly,
The next day was Sunday. As a rule he made it a day of rest, and
almost perforce, for the depressing influence of Sunday in London
made work too difficult. Then, it was the day on which he either
went to see his own particular friends or was visited by them.
'Do you expect anyone this evening?' Amy inquired.
'Biffen will look in, I dare say. Perhaps Milvain.'
'I think I shall take Willie to mother's. I shall be back before
'Amy, don't say anything about the books.'
'I suppose they always ask you when we think of removing over the
He pointed in a direction that suggested Marylebone Workhouse.
Amy tried to laugh, but a woman with a child in her arms has no
keen relish for such jokes.
'I don't talk to them about our affairs,' she said.
She left home about three o'clock, the servant going with her to
carry the child.
At five a familiar knock sounded through the flat; it was a heavy
rap followed by half-a-dozen light ones, like a reverberating
echo, the last stroke scarcely audible. Reardon laid down his
book, but kept his pipe in his mouth, and went to the door. A
tall, thin man stood there, with a slouch hat and long grey
overcoat. He shook hands silently, hung his hat in the passage,
and came forward into the study.
His name was Harold Biffen, and, to judge from his appearance, he
did not belong to the race of common mortals. His excessive
meagreness would all but have qualified him to enter an
exhibition in the capacity of living skeleton, and the garments
which hung upon this framework would perhaps have sold for
three-and-sixpence at an old-clothes dealer's. But the man was
superior to these accidents of flesh and raiment. He had a fine
face: large, gentle eyes, nose slightly aquiline, small and
delicate mouth. Thick black hair fell to his coat-collar; he wore
a heavy moustache and a full beard. In his gait there was a
singular dignity; only a man of cultivated mind and graceful
character could move and stand as he did.
His first act on entering the room was to take from his pocket a
pipe, a pouch, a little tobacco-stopper, and a box of matches,
all of which he arranged carefully on a corner of the central
table. Then he drew forward a chair and seated himself.
'Take your top-coat off;' said Reardon.
'Thanks, not this evening.'
'Why the deuce not?'
'Not this evening, thanks.'
The reason, as soon as Reardon sought for it, was obvious. Biffen
had no ordinary coat beneath the other. To have referred to this
fact would have been indelicate; the novelist of course
understood it, and smiled, but with no mirth.
'Let me have your Sophocles,' were the visitor's next words.
Reardon offered him a volume of the Oxford Pocket Classics.
'I prefer the Wunder, please.'
'It's gone, my boy.'
'Wanted a little cash.'
Biffen uttered a sound in which remonstrance and sympathy were
'I'm sorry to hear that; very sorry. Well, this must do. Now, I
want to know how you scan this chorus in the "Oedipus Rex."'
Reardon took the volume, considered, and began to read aloud with
'Choriambics, eh?' cried the other. 'Possible, of course; but
treat them as Ionics a minore with an anacrusis, and see if they
don't go better.'
He involved himself in terms of pedantry, and with such delight
that his eyes gleamed. Having delivered a technical lecture, he
began to read in illustration, producing quite a different effect
from that of the rhythm as given by his friend. And the reading
was by no means that of a pedant, rather of a poet.
For half an hour the two men talked Greek metres as if they lived
in a world where the only hunger known could be satisfied by
grand or sweet cadences.
They had first met in an amusing way. Not long after the
publication of his book 'On Neutral Ground' Reardon was spending
a week at Hastings. A rainy day drove him to the circulating
library, and as he was looking along the shelves for something
readable a voice near at hand asked the attendant if he had
anything 'by Edwin Reardon.' The novelist turned in astonishment;
that any casual mortal should inquire for his books seemed
incredible. Of course there was nothing by that author in the
library, and he who had asked the question walked out again. On
the morrow Reardon encountered this same man at a lonely part of
the shore; he looked at him, and spoke a word or two of common
civility; they got into conversation, with the result that Edwin
told the story of yesterday. The stranger introduced himself as
Harold Biffen, an author in a small way, and a teacher whenever
he could get pupils; an abusive review had interested him in
Reardon's novels, but as yet he knew nothing of them but the
Their tastes were found to be in many respects sympathetic, and
after returning to London they saw each other frequently. Biffen
was always in dire poverty, and lived in the oddest places; he
had seen harder trials than even Reardon himself. The teaching by
which he partly lived was of a kind quite unknown to the
respectable tutorial world. In these days of examinations,
numbers of men in a poor position--clerks chiefly--conceive a
hope that by 'passing' this, that, or the other formal test they
may open for themselves a new career. Not a few such persons
nourish preposterous ambitions; there are warehouse clerks
privately preparing (without any means or prospect of them) for a
call to the Bar, drapers' assistants who 'go in' for the
preliminary examination of the College of Surgeons, and untaught
men innumerable who desire to procure enough show of education to
be eligible for a curacy. Candidates of this stamp frequently
advertise in the newspapers for cheap tuition, or answer
advertisements which are intended to appeal to them; they pay
from sixpence to half-a-crown an hour--rarely as much as the
latter sum. Occasionally it happened that Harold Biffen had three
or four such pupils in hand, and extraordinary stories he could
draw from his large experience in this sphere.
Then as to his authorship.--But shortly after the discussion of
Greek metres he fell upon the subject of his literary projects,
and, by no means for the first time, developed the theory on
which he worked.
'I have thought of a new way of putting it. What I really aim at
is an absolute realism in the sphere of the ignobly decent. The
field, as I understand it, is a new one; I don't know any writer
who has treated ordinary vulgar life with fidelity and
seriousness. Zola writes deliberate tragedies; his vilest figures
become heroic from the place they fill in a strongly imagined
drama. I want to deal with the essentially unheroic, with the
day-to-day life of that vast majority of people who are at the
mercy of paltry circumstance. Dickens understood the possibility
of such work, but his tendency to melodrama on the one hand, and
his humour on the other, prevented him from thinking of it. An
instance, now. As I came along by Regent's Park half an hour ago
a man and a girl were walking close in front of me, love-making;
I passed them slowly and heard a good deal of their talk--it was
part of the situation that they should pay no heed to a
stranger's proximity. Now, such a love-scene as that has
absolutely never been written down; it was entirely decent, yet
vulgar to the nth power. Dickens would have made it ludicrous--a
gross injustice. Other men who deal with low-class life would
perhaps have preferred idealising it--an absurdity. For my own
part, I am going to reproduce it verbatim, without one single
impertinent suggestion of any point of view save that of honest
reporting. The result will be something unutterably tedious.
Precisely. That is the stamp of the ignobly decent life. If it
were anything but tedious it would be untrue. I speak, of course,
of its effect upon the ordinary reader.'
'I couldn't do it,' said Reardon.
'Certainly you couldn't. You--well, you are a psychological
realist in the sphere of culture. You are impatient of vulgar
'In a great measure because my life has been martyred by them.'
'And for that very same reason I delight in them,' cried Biffen.
'You are repelled by what has injured you; I am attracted by it.
This divergence is very interesting; but for that, we should have
resembled each other so closely. You know that by temper we are
rabid idealists, both of us.'
'I suppose so.'
'But let me go on. I want, among other things, to insist upon the
fateful power of trivial incidents. No one has yet dared to do
this seriously. It has often been done in farce, and that's why
farcical writing so often makes one melancholy. You know my stock
instances of the kind of thing I mean. There was poor Allen, who
lost the most valuable opportunity of his life because he hadn't
a clean shirt to put on; and Williamson, who would probably have
married that rich girl but for the grain of dust that got into
his eye, and made him unable to say or do anything at the
Reardon burst into a roar of laughter.
'There you are!' cried Biffen, with friendly annoyance. 'You take
the conventional view. If you wrote of these things you would
represent them as laughable.'
'They are laughable,' asserted the other, 'however serious to the
persons concerned. The mere fact of grave issues in life
depending on such paltry things is monstrously ludicrous. Life is
a huge farce, and the advantage of possessing a sense of humour
is that it enables one to defy fate with mocking laughter.'
'That's all very well, but it isn't an original view. I am not
lacking in sense of humour, but I prefer to treat these aspects
of life from an impartial standpoint. The man who laughs takes
the side of a cruel omnipotence, if one can imagine such a thing.
I want to take no side at all; simply to say, Look, this is the
kind of thing that happens.'
'I admire your honesty, Biffen,' said Reardon, sighing. 'You will
never sell work of this kind, yet you have the courage to go on
with it because you believe in it.'
'I don't know; I may perhaps sell it some day.'
'In the meantime,' said Reardon, laying down his pipe, 'suppose
we eat a morsel of something. I'm rather hungry.'
In the early days of his marriage Reardon was wont to offer the
friends who looked in on Sunday evening a substantial supper; by
degrees the meal had grown simpler, until now, in the depth of
his poverty, he made no pretence of hospitable entertainment. It
was only because he knew that Biffen as often as not had nothing
whatever to eat that he did not hesitate to offer him a slice of
bread and butter and a cup of tea. They went into the back room,
and over the Spartan fare continued to discuss aspects of
'I shall never,' said Biffen, 'write anything like a dramatic
scene. Such things do happen in life, but so very rarely that
they are nothing to my purpose. Even when they happen,
by-the-bye, it is in a shape that would be useless to the
ordinary novelist; he would have to cut away this circumstance,
and add that. Why? I should like to know. Such conventionalism
results from stage necessities. Fiction hasn't yet outgrown the
influence of the stage on which it originated. Whatever a man
writes FOR EFFECT is wrong and bad.'
'Only in your view. There may surely exist such a thing as the
ART of fiction.'
'It is worked out. We must have a rest from it. You, now--the
best things you have done are altogether in conflict with
novelistic conventionalities. It was because that blackguard
review of "On Neutral Ground" clumsily hinted this that I first
thought of you with interest. No, no; let us copy life. When the
man and woman are to meet for a great scene of passion, let it
all be frustrated by one or other of them having a bad cold in
the head, and so on. Let the pretty girl get a disfiguring pimple
on her nose just before the ball at which she is going to shine.
Show the numberless repulsive features of common decent life.
Seriously, coldly; not a hint of facetiousness, or the thing
About eight o'clock Reardon heard his wife's knock at the door.
On opening he saw not only Amy and the servant, the latter
holding Willie in her arms, but with them Jasper Milvain.
'I have been at Mrs Yule's,' Jasper explained as he came in.
'Have you anyone here?'
'Ah, then we'll discuss realism.'
'That's over for the evening. Greek metres also.'
The three men seated themselves with joking and laughter, and the
smoke of their pipes gathered thickly in the little room. It was
half an hour before Amy joined them. Tobacco was no disturbance
to her, and she enjoyed the kind of talk that was held on these
occasions; but it annoyed her that she could no longer play the
hostess at a merry supper-table.
'Why ever are you sitting in your overcoat, Mr Biffen?' were her
first words when she entered.
'Please excuse me, Mrs Reardon. It happens to be more convenient
She was puzzled, but a glance from her husband warned her not to
pursue the subject.
Biffen always behaved to Amy with a sincerity of respect which
had made him a favourite with her. To him, poor fellow, Reardon
seemed supremely blessed. That a struggling man of letters should
have been able to marry, and such a wife, was miraculous in
Biffen's eyes. A woman's love was to him the unattainable ideal;
already thirty-five years old, he had no prospect of ever being
rich enough to assure himself a daily dinner; marriage was wildly
out of the question. Sitting here, he found it very difficult not
to gaze at Amy with uncivil persistency. Seldom in his life had
he conversed with educated women, and the sound of this clear
voice was always more delightful to him than any music.
Amy took a place near to him, and talked in her most charming way
of such things as she knew interested him. Biffen's deferential
attitude as he listened and replied was in strong contrast with
the careless ease which marked Jasper Milvain. The realist would
never smoke in Amy's presence, but Jasper puffed jovial clouds
even whilst she was conversing with him.
'Whelpdale came to see me last night,' remarked Milvain,
presently. 'His novel is refused on all hands. He talks of
earning a living as a commission agent for some sewing-machine
'I can't understand how his book should be positively refused,'
said Reardon. 'The last wasn't altogether a failure.'
'Very nearly. And this one consists of nothing but a series of
conversations between two people. It is really a dialogue, not a
novel at all. He read me some twenty pages, and I no longer
wondered that he couldn't sell it.'
'Oh, but it has considerable merit,' put in Biffen. 'The talk is
'But what's the good of talk that leads to nothing?' protested
'It's a bit of real life.'
'Yes, but it has no market value. You may write what you like, so
long as people are willing to read you. Whelpdale's a clever
fellow, but he can't hit a practical line.'
'Like some other people I have heard of;' said Reardon, laughing.
'But the odd thing is, that he always strikes one as practical-
minded. Don't you feel that, Mrs Reardon?'
He and Amy talked for a few minutes, and Reardon, seemingly lost
in meditation, now and then observed them from the corner of his
At eleven o'clock husband and wife were alone again.
'You don't mean to say,' exclaimed Amy, 'that Biffen has sold his
'Or pawned it.'
'But why not the overcoat?'
'Partly, I should think, because it's the warmer of the two;
partly, perhaps, because the other would fetch more.'
'That poor man will die of starvation, some day, Edwin.'
'I think it not impossible.'
'I hope you gave him something to eat?'
'Oh yes. But I could see he didn't like to take as much as he
wanted. I don't think of him with so much pity as I used that's a
result of suffering oneself.'
Amy set her lips and sighed.
CHAPTER XI. RESPITE
The last volume was written in fourteen days. In this achievement
Reardon rose almost to heroic pitch, for he had much to contend
with beyond the mere labour of composition. Scarcely had he begun
when a sharp attack of lumbago fell upon him; for two or three
days it was torture to support himself at the desk, and he moved
about like a cripple. Upon this ensued headaches, sore-throat,
general enfeeblement. And before the end of the fortnight it was
necessary to think of raising another small sum of money; he took
his watch to the pawnbroker's (you can imagine that it would not
stand as security for much), and sold a few more books. All this
notwithstanding, here was the novel at length finished. When he
had written 'The End' he lay back, closed his eyes, and let time
pass in blankness for a quarter of an hour.
It remained to determine the title. But his brain refused another
effort; after a few minutes' feeble search he simply took the
name of the chief female character, Margaret Home. That must do
for the book. Already, with the penning of the last word, all its
scenes, personages, dialogues had slipped away into oblivion; he
knew and cared nothing more about them.
'Amy, you will have to correct the proofs for me. Never as long
as I live will I look upon a page of this accursed novel. It has
all but killed me.'
'The point is,' replied Amy, 'that here we have it complete. Pack
it up and take it to the publishers' to-morrow morning.'
'And--you will ask them to advance you a few pounds?'
But that undertaking was almost as hard to face as a rewriting of
the last volume would have been. Reardon had such superfluity of
sensitiveness that, for his own part, he would far rather have
gone hungry than ask for money not legally his due. To-day there
was no choice. In the ordinary course of business it would be
certainly a month before he heard the publishers' terms, and
perhaps the Christmas season might cause yet more delay. Without
borrowing, he could not provide for the expenses of more than
another week or two.
His parcel under his arm, he entered the ground-floor office, and
desired to see that member of the firm with whom he had
previously had personal relations. This gentleman was not in
town; he would be away for a few days. Reardon left the
manuscript, and came out into the street again.
He crossed, and looked up at the publishers' windows from the
opposite pavement. 'Do they suspect in what wretched
circumstances I am? Would it surprise them to know all that
depends upon that budget of paltry scribbling? I suppose not; it
must be a daily experience with them. Well, I must write a
It was raining and windy. He went slowly homewards, and was on
the point of entering the public door of the flats when his
uneasiness became so great that he turned and walked past. If he
went in, he must at once write his appeal for money, and he felt
that he could not. The degradation seemed too great.
Was there no way of getting over the next few weeks? Rent, of
course, would be due at Christmas, but that payment might be
postponed; it was only a question of buying food and fuel. Amy
had offered to ask her mother for a few pounds; it would be
cowardly to put this task upon her now that he had promised to
meet the difficulty himself. What man in all London could and
would lend him money? He reviewed the list of his acquaintances,
but there was only one to whom he could appeal with the slightest
hope--that was Carter.
Half an hour later he entered that same hospital door through
which, some years ago, he had passed as a half-starved applicant
for work. The matron met him.
'Is Mr Carter here?'
'No, sir. But we expect him any minute. Will you wait?'
He entered the familiar office, and sat down. At the table where
he had been wont to work, a young clerk was writing. If only all
the events of the last few years could be undone, and he, with no
soul dependent upon him, be once more earning his pound a week in
this room! What a happy man he was in those days!
Nearly half an hour passed. It is the common experience of
beggars to have to wait. Then Carter came in with quick step; he
wore a heavy ulster of the latest fashion, new gloves, a
resplendent silk hat; his cheeks were rosy from the east wind.
'Ha, Reardon! How do? how do? Delighted to see you!'
'Are you very busy?'
'Well, no, not particularly. A few cheques to sign, and we're
just getting out our Christmas appeals. You remember?'
He laughed gaily. There was a remarkable freedom from
snobbishness in this young man; the fact of Reardon's
intellectual superiority had long ago counteracted Carter's
'I should like to have a word with you.'
'Right you are!'
They went into a small inner room. Reardon's pulse beat at fever-
rate; his tongue was cleaving to his palate.
'What is it, old man?' asked the secretary, seating himself and
flinging one of his legs over the other. 'You look rather seedy,
do you know. Why the deuce don't you and your wife look us up now
'I've had a hard pull to finish my novel.'
'Finished, is it? I'm glad to hear that. When'll it be out? I'll
send scores of people to Mudie's after it.
'Thanks; but I don't think much of it, to tell you the truth.'
'Oh, we know what that means.'
Reardon was talking like an automaton. It seemed to him that he
turned screws and pressed levers for the utterance of his next
'I may as well say at once what I have come for. Could you lend
me ten pounds for a month--in fact, until I get the money for my
The secretary's countenance fell, though not to that expression
of utter coldness which would have come naturally under the
circumstances to a great many vivacious men. He seemed genuinely
'By Jove! I--confound it! To tell you the truth, I haven't ten
pounds to lend. Upon my word, I haven't, Reardon! These infernal
housekeeping expenses! I don't mind telling you, old man, that
Edith and I have been pushing the pace rather.' He laughed, and
thrust his hands down into his trousers-pockets. 'We pay such a
darned rent, you know--hundred and twenty-five. We've only just
been saying we should have to draw it mild for the rest of the
winter. But I'm infernally sorry; upon my word I am.'
'And I am sorry to have annoyed you by the unseasonable request.'
'Devilish seasonable, Reardon, I assure you!' cried the
secretary, and roared at his joke. It put him into a better
temper than ever, and he said at length: 'I suppose a fiver
wouldn't be much use?--For a month, you say?--1 might manage a
fiver, I think.'
'It would be very useful. But on no account if ---'
'No, no; I could manage a fiver, for a month. Shall I give you a
'I'm ashamed ---'
'Not a bit of it! I'll go and write the cheque.'
Reardon's face was burning. Of the conversation that followed
when Carter again presented himself he never recalled a word. The
bit of paper was crushed together in his hand. Out in the street
again, he all but threw it away, dreaming for the moment that it
was a 'bus ticket or a patent medicine bill.
He reached home much after the dinner-hour. Amy was surprised at
his long absence.
'Got anything?' she asked.
It was half his intention to deceive her, to say that the
publishers had advanced him five pounds. But that would be his
first word of untruth to Amy, and why should he be guilty of it?
He told her all that had happened. The result of this frankness
was something that he had not anticipated; Amy exhibited profound
'Oh, you SHOULDN'T have done that!' she exclaimed. 'Why didn't
you come home and tell me? I would have gone to mother at once.'
'But does it matter?'
'Of course it does,' she replied sharply. 'Mr Carter will tell
his wife, and how pleasant that is?'
'I never thought of that. And perhaps it wouldn't have seemed to
me so annoying as it does to you.'
'Very likely not.'
She turned abruptly away, and stood at a distance in gloomy
'Well,' she said at length, 'there's no helping it now. Come and
have your dinner.'
'You have taken away my appetite.'
'Nonsense! I suppose you're dying of hunger.'
They had a very uncomfortable meal, exchanging few words. On
Amy's face was a look more resembling bad temper than anything
Reardon had ever seen there. After dinner he went and sat alone
in the study. Amy did not come near him. He grew stubbornly
angry; remembering the pain he had gone through, he felt that
Amy's behaviour to him was cruel. She must come and speak when
At six o'clock she showed her face in the doorway and asked if he
would come to tea.
'Thank you,' he replied, 'I had rather stay here.'
'As you please.'
And he sat alone until about nine. It was only then he
recollected that he must send a note to the publishers, calling
their attention to the parcel he had left. He wrote it, and
closed with a request that they would let him hear as soon as
they conveniently could. As he was putting on his hat and coat to
go out and post the letter Amy opened the dining-room door.
'You're going out?'
'Shall you be long?'
'I think not.'
He was away only a few minutes. On returning he went first of all
into the study, but the thought of Amy alone in the other room
would not let him rest. He looked in and saw that she was sitting
without a fire.
'You can't stay here in the cold, Amy.'
'I'm afraid I must get used to it,' she replied, affecting to be
closely engaged upon some sewing.
That strength of character which it had always delighted him to
read in her features was become an ominous hardness. He felt his
heart sink as he looked at her.
'Is poverty going to have the usual result in our case?' he
asked, drawing nearer.
'I never pretended that I could be indifferent to it.'
'Still, don't you care to try and resist it?'
She gave no answer. As usual in conversation with an aggrieved
woman it was necessary to go back from the general to the
'I'm afraid,' he said, 'that the Carters already knew pretty well
how things were going with us.'
'That's a very different thing. But when it comes to asking them
'I'm very sorry. I would rather have done anything if I had known
how it would annoy you.'
'If we have to wait a month, five pounds will be very little use
She detailed all manner of expenses that had to be met--outlay
there was no possibility of avoiding so long as their life was
maintained on its present basis.
'However, you needn't trouble any more about it. I'll see to it.
Now you are free from your book try to rest.'
'Come and sit by the fire. There's small chance of rest for me if
we are thinking unkindly of each other.'
A doleful Christmas. Week after week went by and Reardon knew
that Amy must have exhausted the money he had given her. But she
made no more demands upon him, and necessaries were paid for in
the usual way. He suffered from a sense of humiliation; sometimes
he found it difficult to look in his wife's face.
When the publishers' letter came it contained an offer of
seventy-five pounds for the copyright of 'Margaret Home,'
twenty-five more to be paid if the sale in three-volume form
should reach a certain number of copies.
Here was failure put into unmistakable figures. Reardon said to
himself that it was all over with his profession of authorship.
The book could not possibly succeed even to the point of
completing his hundred pounds; it would meet with universal
contempt, and indeed deserved nothing better.
'Shall you accept this?' asked Amy, after dreary silence.
'No one else would offer terms as good.'
'Will they pay you at once?'
'I must ask them to.'
Well, it was seventy-five pounds in hand. The cheque came as soon
as it was requested, and Reardon's face brightened for the
moment. Blessed money! root of all good, until the world invent
some saner economy.
'How much do you owe your mother?' he inquired, without looking
'Six pounds,' she answered coldly.
'And five to Carter; and rent, twelve pounds ten. We shall have a
matter of fifty pounds to go on with.'
CHAPTER XII. WORK WITHOUT HOPE
The prudent course was so obvious that he marvelled at Amy's
failing to suggest it. For people in their circumstances to be
paying a rent of fifty pounds when a home could be found for half
the money was recklessness; there would be no difficulty in
letting the flat for this last year of their lease, and the cost
of removal would be trifling. The mental relief of such a change
might enable him to front with courage a problem in any case very
difficult, and, as things were, desperate. Three months ago, in a
moment of profoundest misery, he had proposed this step; courage
failed him to speak of it again, Amy's look and voice were too
vivid in his memory. Was she not capable of such a sacrifice for
his sake? Did she prefer to let him bear all the responsibility
of whatever might result from a futile struggle to keep up
Between him and her there was no longer perfect confidence. Her
silence meant reproach, and--whatever might have been the case
before--there was no doubt that she now discussed him with her
mother, possibly with other people. It was not likely that she
concealed his own opinion of the book he had just finished; all
their acquaintances would be prepared to greet its publication
with private scoffing or with mournful shaking of the head. His
feeling towards Amy entered upon a new phase. The stability of
his love was a source of pain; condemning himself, he felt at the
same time that he was wronged. A coldness which was far from
representing the truth began to affect his manner and speech, and
Amy did not seem to notice it, at all events she made no kind of
protest. They no longer talked of the old subjects, but of those
mean concerns of material life which formerly they had agreed to
dismiss as quickly as possible. Their relations to each other--
not long ago an inexhaustible topic--would not bear spoken
comment; both were too conscious of the danger-signal when they
looked that way.
In the time of waiting for the publishers' offer, and now again
when he was asking himself how he should use the respite granted
him, Reardon spent his days at the British Museum. He could not
read to much purpose, but it was better to sit here among
strangers than seem to be idling under Amy's glance. Sick of
imaginative writing, he turned to the studies which had always
been most congenial, and tried to shape out a paper or two like
those he had formerly disposed of to editors. Among his unused
material lay a mass of notes he had made in a reading of Diogenes
Laertius, and it seemed to him now that he might make something
salable out of these anecdotes of the philosophers. In a happier
mood he could have written delightfully on such a subject--not
learnedly, but in the strain of a modern man whose humour and
sensibility find free play among the classic ghosts; even now he
was able to recover something of the light touch which had given
value to his published essays.
Meanwhile the first number of The Current had appeared, and
Jasper Milvain had made a palpable hit. Amy spoke very often of
the article called 'Typical Readers,' and her interest in its
author was freely manifested. Whenever a mention of Jasper came
under her notice she read it Out to her husband. Reardon smiled
and appeared glad, but he did not care to discuss Milvain with
the same frankness as formerly.
One evening at the end of January he told Amy what he had been
writing at the Museum, and asked her if she would care to hear it
'I began to wonder what you were doing,' she replied.
'Then why didn't you ask me?'
'I was rather afraid to.'
'It would have seemed like reminding you that--you know what I
'That a month or two more will see us at the same crisis again.
Still, I had rather you had shown an interest in my doings.'
After a pause Amy asked:
'Do you think you can get a paper of this kind accepted?'
'It isn't impossible. I think it's rather well done. Let me read
you a page--'
'Where will you send it?' she interrupted.
'To The Wayside.'
'Why not try The Current? Ask Milvain to introduce you to Mr
Fadge. They pay much better, you know.'
'But this isn't so well suited for Fadge. And I much prefer to be
independent, as long as it's possible.'
'That's one of your faults, Edwin,' remarked his wife, mildly.
'It's only the strongest men that can make their way
independently. You ought to use every means that offers.'
'Seeing that I am so weak?'
'I didn't think it would offend you. I only meant---'
'No, no; you are quite right. Certainly, I am one of the men who
need all the help they can get. But I assure you, this thing
won't do for The Current.'
'What a pity you will go hack to those musty old times! Now think
of that article of Milvain's. If only you could do something of
that kind! What do people care about Diogenes and his tub and his
'My dear girl, Diogenes Laertius had neither tub nor lantern,
that I know of. You are making a mistake; but it doesn't matter.'
'No, I don't think it does.' The caustic note was not very
pleasant on Amy's lips. 'Whoever he was, the mass of readers will
be frightened by his name.'
'Well, we have to recognise that the mass of readers will never
care for anything I do.'
'You will never convince me that you couldn't write in a popular
way if you tried. I'm sure you are quite as clever as Milvain-- '
Reardon made an impatient gesture.
'Do leave Milvain aside for a little! He and I are as unlike as
men could be. What's the use of constantly comparing us?'
Amy looked at him. He had never spoken to her so brusquely.
'How can you say that I am constantly comparing you?'
'If not in spoken words, then in your thoughts.'
'That's not a very nice thing to say, Edwin.'
'You make it so unmistakable, Amy. What I mean is, that you are
always regretting the difference between him and me. You lament
that I can't write in that attractive way. Well, I lament it
myself--for your sake. I wish I had Milvain's peculiar talent, so
that I could get reputation and money. But I haven't, and there's
an end of it. It irritates a man to be perpetually told of his
'I will never mention Milvain's name again,' said Amy coldly.
'Now that's ridiculous, and you know it.'
'I feel the same about your irritation. I can't see that I have
given any cause for it.'
'Then we'll talk no more of the matter.'
Reardon threw his manuscript aside and opened a book. Amy never
asked him to resume his intention of reading what he had written.
However, the paper was accepted. It came out in The Wayside for
March, and Reardon received seven pounds ten for it. By that time
he had written another thing of the same gossipy kind, suggested
by Pliny's Letters. The pleasant occupation did him good, but
there was no possibility of pursuing this course. 'Margaret Home'
would be published in April; he might get the five-and-twenty
pounds contingent upon a certain sale, yet that could in no case
be paid until the middle of the year, and long before then he
would be penniless. His respite drew to an end.
But now he took counsel of no one; as far as it was possible he
lived in solitude, never seeing those of his acquaintances who
were outside the literary world, and seldom even his colleagues.
Milvain was so busy that he had only been able to look in twice
or thrice since Christmas, and Reardon nowadays never went to
He had the conviction that all was over with the happiness of his
married life, though how the events which were to express this
ruin would shape themselves he could not foresee. Amy was
revealing that aspect of her character to which he had been
blind, though a practical man would have perceived it from the
first; so far from helping him to support poverty, she perhaps
would even refuse to share it with him. He knew that she was
slowly drawing apart; already there was a divorce between their
minds, and he tortured himself in uncertainty as to how far he
retained her affections. A word of tenderness, a caress, no
longer met with response from her; her softest mood was that of
mere comradeship. All the warmth of her nature was expended upon
the child; Reardon learnt how easy it is for a mother to forget
that both parents have a share in her offspring.
He was beginning to dislike the child. But for Willie's existence
Amy would still love him with undivided heart; not, perhaps, so
passionately as once, but still with lover's love. And Amy
understoed --or, at all events, remarked--this change in him.
She was aware that he seldom asked a question about Willie, and
that he listened with indifference when she spoke of the little
fellow's progress. In part offended, she was also in part
But for the child, mere poverty, he said to himself, should never
have sundered them. In the strength of his passion he could have
overcome all her disappointments; and, indeed, but for that new
care, he would most likely never have fallen to this extremity of
helplessness. It is natural in a weak and sensitive man to dream
of possibilities disturbed by the force of circumstance. For one
hour which he gave to conflict with his present difficulties,
Reardon spent many in contemplation of the happiness that might
Even yet, it needed but a little money to redeem all. Amy had no
extravagant aspirations; a home of simple refinement and freedom
from anxiety would restore her to her nobler self. How could he
find fault with her? She knew nothing of such sordid life as he
had gone through, and to lack money for necessities seemed to her
degrading beyond endurance. Why, even the ordinary artisan's wife
does not suffer such privations as hers at the end of the past
year. For lack of that little money his life must be ruined. Of
late he had often thought about the rich uncle, John Yule, who
might perhaps leave something to Amy; but the hope was so
uncertain. And supposing such a thing were to happen; would it be
perfectly easy to live upon his wife's bounty--perhaps exhausting
a small capital, so that, some years hence, their position would
be no better than before? Not long ago, he could have taken
anything from Amy's hand; would it be so simple since the change
that had come between them?
Having written his second magazine-article (it was rejected by
two editors, and he had no choice but to hold it over until
sufficient time had elapsed to allow of his again trying The
Wayside), he saw that he must perforce plan another novel. But
this time he was resolute not to undertake three volumes. The
advertisements informed him that numbers of authors were
abandoning that procrustean system; hopeless as he was, he might
as well try his chance with a book which could be written in a
few weeks. And why not a glaringly artificial story with a
sensational title? It could not be worse than what he had last
So, without a word to Amy, he put aside his purely intellectual
work and began once more the search for a 'plot.' This was
towards the end of February. The proofs of 'Margaret Home' were
coming in day by day; Amy had offered to correct them, but after
all he preferred to keep his shame to himself as long as
possible, and with a hurried reading he dismissed sheet after
sheet. His imagination did not work the more happily for this
repugnant task; still, he hit at length upon a conception which
seemed absurd enough for the purpose before him. Whether he could
persevere with it even to the extent of one volume was very
doubtful. But it should not be said of him that he abandoned his
wife and child to penury without one effort of the kind that
Milvain and Amy herself had recommended.
Writing a page or two of manuscript daily, and with several
holocausts to retard him, he had done nearly a quarter of the
story when there came a note from Jasper telling of Mrs Milvain's
death. He handed it across the breakfast-table to Amy, and
watched her as she read it.
'I suppose it doesn't alter his position,' Amy remarked, without
'I suppose not appreciably. He told me once his mother had a
sufficient income; but whatever she leaves will go to his
sisters, I should think. He has never said much to me.'
Nearly three weeks passed before they heard anything more from
Jasper himself; then he wrote, again from the country, saying
that he purposed bringing his sisters to live in London. Another
week, and one evening he appeared at the door.
A want of heartiness in Reardon's reception of him might have
been explained as gravity natural under the circumstances. But
Jasper had before this become conscious that he was not welcomed
here quite so cheerily as in the old days. He remarked it
distinctly on that evening when he accompanied Amy home from Mrs
Yule's; since then he had allowed his pressing occupations to be
an excuse for the paucity of his visits. It seemed to him
perfectly intelligible that Reardon, sinking into literary
insignificance, should grow cool to a man entering upon a
successful career; the vein of cynicism in Jasper enabled him to
pardon a weakness of this kind, which in some measure flattered
him. But he both liked and respected Reardon, and at present he
was in the mood to give expression to his warmer feelings.
'Your book is announced, I see,' he said with an accent of
pleasure, as soon as he had seated himself.
'I didn't know it.'
'Yes. "New novel by the author of 'On Neutral Ground.'" Down for
the sixteenth of April. And I have a proposal to make about it.
Will you let me ask Fadge to have it noticed in "Books of the
Month," in the May Current?'
'I strongly advise you to let it take its chance. The book isn't
worth special notice, and whoever undertook to review it for
Fadge would either have to lie, or stultify the magazine.'
Jasper turned to Amy.
'Now what is to be done with a man like this? What is one to say
to him, Mrs Reardon?'
'Edwin dislikes the book,' Amy replied, carelessly.
'That has nothing to do with the matter. We know quite well that
in anything he writes there'll be something for a well-disposed
reviewer to make a good deal of. If Fadge will let me, I should
do the thing myself.'
Neither Reardon nor his wife spoke.
'Of course,' went on Milvain, looking at the former, 'if you had
rather I left it alone--'
'I had much rather. Please don't say anything about it.'
There was an awkward silence. Amy broke it by saying:
'Are your sisters in town, Mr Milvain?'
'Yes. We came up two days ago. I found lodgings for them not far
from Mornington Road. Poor girls! they don't quite know where
they are, yet. Of course they will keep very quiet for a time,
then I must try to get friends for them. Well, they have one
already--your cousin, Miss Yule. She has already been to see
'I'm very glad of that.'
Amy took an opportunity of studying his face. There was again a
silence as if of constraint. Reardon, glancing at his wife, said
'When they care to see other visitors, I'm sure Amy would be very
'Certainly!' his wife added.
'Thank you very much. Of course I knew I could depend on Mrs
Reardon to show them kindness in that way. But let me speak
frankly of something. My sisters have made quite a friend of Miss
Yule, since she was down there last year. Wouldn't that'--he
turned to Amy--'cause you a little awkwardness?'
Amy had a difficulty in replying. She kept her eyes on the
'You have had no quarrel with your cousin,' remarked Reardon.
'None whatever. It's only my mother and my uncle.'
'I can't imagine Miss Yule having a quarrel with anyone,' said
Jasper. Then he added quickly: 'Well, things must shape
themselves naturally. We shall see. For the present they will be
fully occupied. Of course it's best that they should be. I shall
see them every day, and Miss Yule will come pretty often, I dare
Reardon caught Amy's eye, but at once looked away again.
'My word!' exclaimed Milvain, after a moment's meditation. 'It's
well this didn't happen a year ago. The girls have no income;
only a little cash to go on with. We shall have our work set.
It's a precious lucky thing that I have just got a sort of
Reardon muttered an assent.
'And what are you doing now?' Jasper inquired suddenly.
'Writing a one-volume story.'
'I'm glad to hear that. Any special plan for its publication?'
'Then why not offer it to Jedwood? He's publishing a series of
one-volume novels. You know of Jedwood, don't you? He was
Culpepper's manager; started business about half a year ago, and
it looks as if he would do well. He married that woman--what's
her name?--Who wrote "Mr Henderson's Wives"?'
'Never heard of it.'
'Nonsense!--Miss Wilkes, of course. Well, she married this fellow
Jedwood, and there was a great row about something or other
between him and her publishers. Mrs Boston Wright told me all
about it. An astonishing woman that; a cyclopaedia of the day's
small talk. I'm quite a favourite with her; she's promised to
help the girls all she can. Well, but I was talking about
Jedwood. Why not offer him this book of yours? He's eager to get
hold of the new writers. Advertises hugely; he has the whole back
page of The Study about every other week. I suppose Miss Wilkes's
profits are paying for it. He has just given Markland two hundred
pounds for a paltry little tale that would scarcely swell out to
a volume. Markland told me himself. You know that I've scraped an
acquaintance with him? Oh! I suppose I haven't seen you since
then. He's a dwarfish fellow with only one eye. Mrs Boston Wright
cries him up at every opportunity.'
'Who IS Mrs Boston Wright?' asked Reardon, laughing impatiently.
'Edits The English Girl, you know. She's had an extraordinary
life. Was born in Mauritius--no, Ceylon--I forget; some such
place. Married a sailor at fifteen. Was shipwrecked somewhere,
and only restored to life after terrific efforts;--her story
leaves it all rather vague. Then she turns up as a newspaper
correspondent at the Cape. Gave up that, and took to some kind of
farming, I forget where. Married again (first husband lost in
aforementioned shipwreck), this time a Baptist minister, and
began to devote herself to soup-kitchens in Liverpool. Husband
burned to death, somewhere. She's next discovered in the thick of
literary society in London. A wonderful woman, I assure you. Must
be nearly fifty, but she looks twenty-five.'
He paused, then added impulsively:
'Let me take you to one of her evenings--nine on Thursday. Do
persuade him, Mrs Reardon?'
Reardon shook his head.
'No, no. I should be horribly out of my element.'
'I can't see why. You would meet all sorts of well-known people;
those you ought to have met long ago. Better still, let me ask
her to send an invitation for both of you. I'm sure you'd like
her, Mrs Reardon. There's a good deal of humbug about her, it's
true, but some solid qualities as well. No one has a word to say
against her. And it's a splendid advertisement to have her for a
friend. She'll talk about your books and articles till all is
Amy gave a questioning look at her husband. But Reardon moved in
an uncomfortable way.
'We'll see about it,' he said. 'Some day, perhaps.'
'Let me know whenever you feel disposed. But about Jedwood: I
happen to know a man who reads for him.'
'Heavens!' cried Reardon. 'Who don't you know?'
'The simplest thing in the world. At present it's a large part of
my business to make acquaintances. Why, look you; a man who has
to live by miscellaneous writing couldn't get on without a vast
variety of acquaintances. One's own brain would soon run dry; a
clever fellow knows how to use the brains of other people.'
Amy listened with an unconscious smile which expressed keen
'Oh,' pursued Jasper, 'when did you see Whelpdale last?'
'Haven't seen him for a long time.'
'You don't know what he's doing? The fellow has set up as a
"literary adviser." He has an advertisement in The Study every
week. "To Young Authors and Literary Aspirants"--something of the
kind. "Advice given on choice of subjects, MSS. read, corrected,
and recommended to publishers. Moderate terms." A fact! And
what's more, he made six guineas in the first fortnight; so he
says, at all events. Now that's one of the finest jokes I ever
heard. A man who can't get anyone to publish his own books makes
a living by telling other people how to write!'
'But it's a confounded swindle!'
'Oh, I don't know. He's capable of correcting the grammar of
"literary aspirants," and as for recommending to publishers--
well, anyone can recommend, I suppose.'
Reardon's indignation yielded to laughter.
'It's not impossible that he may thrive by this kind of thing.'
'Not at all,' assented Jasper.
Shortly after this he looked at his watch.
'I must be off, my friends. I have something to write before I
can go to my truckle-bed, and it'll take me three hours at least.
Good-bye, old man. Let me know when your story's finished, and
we'll talk about it. And think about Mrs Boston Wright; oh, and
about that review in The Current. I wish you'd let me do it. Talk
it over with your guide, philosopher, and friend.'
He indicated Amy, who laughed in a forced way.
When he was gone, the two sat without speaking for several
'Do you care to make friends with those girls?' asked Reardon at
'I suppose in decency I must call upon them?'
'I suppose so.'
'You may find them very agreeable.'
They conversed with their own thoughts for a while. Then Reardon
burst out laughing.
'Well, there's the successful man, you see. Some day he'll live
in a mansion, and dictate literary opinions to the universe.'
'How has he offended you?'
'Offended me? Not at all. I am glad of his cheerful prospects.'
'Why should you refuse to go among those people? It might be good
for you in several ways.'
'If the chance had come when I was publishing my best work, I
dare say I shouldn't have refused. But I certainly shall not
present myself as the author of "Margaret Home," and the rubbish
I'm now writing.'
'Then you must cease to write rubbish.'
'Yes. I must cease to write altogether.'
'And do what?'
'I wish to Heaven I knew!'
CHAPTER XIII. A WARNING
In the spring list of Mr Jedwood's publications, announcement was
made of a new work by Alfred Yule. It was called 'English Prose
in the Nineteenth Century,' and consisted of a number of essays
(several of which had already seen the light in periodicals)
strung into continuity. The final chapter dealt with contemporary
writers, more especially those who served to illustrate the
author's theme--that journalism is the destruction of prose
style: on certain popular writers of the day there was an
outpouring of gall which was not likely to be received as though
it were sweet ointment. The book met with rather severe treatment
in critical columns; it could scarcely be ignored (the safest
mode of attack when one's author has no expectant public), and
only the most skilful could write of it in a hostile spirit
without betraying that some of its strokes had told. An evening
newspaper which piqued itself on independence indulged in
laughing appreciation of the polemical chapter, and the next day
printed a scornful letter from a thinly-disguised correspondent
who assailed both book and reviewer. For the moment people talked
more of Alfred Yule than they had done since his memorable
conflict with Clement Fadge.
The publisher had hoped for this. Mr Jedwood was an energetic and
sanguine man, who had entered upon his business with a
determination to rival in a year or so the houses which had
slowly risen into commanding stability. He had no great capital,
but the stroke of fortune which had wedded him to a popular
novelist enabled him to count on steady profit from one source,
and boundless faith in his own judgment urged him to an initial
outlay which made the prudent shake their heads. He talked much
of 'the new era,' foresaw revolutions in publishing and
book-selling, planned every week a score of untried ventures
which should appeal to the democratic generation just maturing;
in the meantime, was ready to publish anything which seemed
likely to get talked about.
The May number of The Current, in its article headed 'Books of
the Month,' devoted about half a page to 'English Prose in the
Nineteenth Century.' This notice was a consummate example of the
flippant style of attack. Flippancy, the most hopeless form of
intellectual vice, was a characterising note of Mr Fadge's
periodical; his monthly comments on publications were already
looked for with eagerness by that growing class of readers who
care for nothing but what can be made matter of ridicule. The
hostility of other reviewers was awkward and ineffectual compared
with this venomous banter, which entertained by showing that in
the book under notice there was neither entertainment nor any
other kind of interest. To assail an author without increasing
the number of his readers is the perfection of journalistic
skill, and The Current, had it stood alone, would fully have
achieved this end. As it was, silence might have been better
tactics. But Mr Fadge knew that his enemy would smart under the
poisoned pin-points, and that was something gained.
On the day that The Current appeared, its treatment of Alfred
Yule was discussed in Mr Jedwood's private office. Mr Quarmby,
who had intimate relations with the publisher, happened to look
in just as a young man (one of Mr Jedwood's 'readers') was
expressing a doubt whether Fadge himself was the author of the
'But there's Fadge's thumb-mark all down the page,' cried Mr
'He inspired the thing, of course; but I rather think it was
written by that fellow Milvain.'
'Think so?' asked the publisher.
'Well, I know with certainty that the notice of Markland's novel
is his writing, and I have reasons for suspecting that he did
Yule's book as well.'
'Smart youngster, that,' remarked Mr Jedwood. 'Who is he, by-the-
'Somebody's illegitimate son, I believe,' replied the source of
trustworthy information, with a laugh. 'Denham says he met him in
New York a year or two ago, under another name.
'Excuse me,' interposed Mr Quarmby, 'there's some mistake in all
He went on to state what he knew, from Yule himself, concerning
Milvain's history. Though in this instance a corrector, Mr
Quarmby took an opportunity, a few hours later, of informing Mr
Hinks that the attack on Yule in The Current was almost certainly
written by young Milvain, with the result that when the rumour
reached Yule's ears it was delivered as an undoubted and
It was a month prior to this that Milvain made his call upon
Marian Yule, on the Sunday when her father was absent. When told
of the visit, Yule assumed a manner of indifference, but his
daughter understood that he was annoyed. With regard to the
sisters who would shortly be living in London, he merely said
that Marian must behave as discretion directed her. If she wished
to invite the Miss Milvains to St Paul's Crescent, he only begged
that the times and seasons of the household might not be
As her habit was, Marian took refuge in silence. Nothing could
have been more welcome to her than the proximity of Maud and
Dora, but she foresaw that her own home would not be freely open
to them; perhaps it might be necessary to behave with simple
frankness, and let her friends know the embarrassments of the
situation. But that could not be done in the first instance; the
unkindness would seem too great. A day after the arrival of the
girls, she received a note from Dora, and almost at once replied
to it by calling at her friends' lodgings. A week after that,
Maud and Dora came to St Paul's Crescent; it was Sunday, and Mr
Yule purposely kept away from home. They had only been once to
the house since then, again without meeting Mr Yule. Marian,
however, visited them at their lodgings frequently; now and then
she met Jasper there. The latter never spoke of her father, and
there was no question of inviting him to repeat his call.
In the end, Marian was obliged to speak on the subject with her
mother. Mrs Yule offered an occasion by asking when the Miss
Milvains were coming again.
'I don't think I shall ever ask them again,' Marian replied.
Her mother understood, and looked troubled.
'I must tell them how it is, that's all,' the girl went on. 'They
are sensible; they won't be offended with me.'
'But your father has never had anything to say against them,'
urged Mrs Yule. 'Not a word to me, Marian. I'd tell you the truth
if he had.'
'It's too disagreeable, all the same. I can't invite them here
with pleasure. Father has grown prejudiced against them all, and
he won't change. No, I shall just tell them.'
'It's very hard for you,' sighed her mother. 'If I thought I
could do any good by speaking--but I can't, my dear.'
'I know it, mother. Let us go on as we did before.'
The day after this, when Yule came home about the hour of dinner,
he called Marian's name from within the study. Marian had not
left the house to-day; her work had been set, in the shape of a
long task of copying from disorderly manuscript. She left the
sitting-room in obedience to her father's summons.
'Here's something that will afford you amusement,' he said,
holding to her the new number of The Current, and indicating the
notice of his book.
She read a few lines, then threw the thing on to the table.
'That kind of writing sickens me,' she exclaimed, with anger in
her eyes. 'Only base and heartless people can write in that way.
You surely won't let it trouble you?'
'Oh, not for a moment,' her father answered, with exaggerated
show of calm. 'But I am surprised that you don't see the literary
merit of the work. I thought it would distinctly appeal to you.'
There was a strangeness in his voice, as well as in the words,
which caused her to look at him inquiringly. She knew him well
enough to understand that such a notice would irritate him
profoundly; but why should he go out of his way to show it her,
and with this peculiar acerbity of manner?
'Why do you say that, father?'
'It doesn't occur to you who may probably have written it?'
She could not miss his meaning; astonishment held her mute for a
moment, then she said:
'Surely Mr Fadge wrote it himself?'
'I am told not. I am informed on very good authority that one of
his young gentlemen has the credit of it.'
'You refer, of course, to Mr Milvain,' she replied quietly. 'But
I think that can't be true.'
He looked keenly at her. He had expected a more decided protest.
'I see no reason for disbelieving it.'
'I see every reason, until I have your evidence.'
This was not at all Marian's natural tone in argument with him.
She was wont to be submissive.
'I was told,' he continued, hardening face and voice, 'by someone
who had it from Jedwood.'
Yule was conscious of untruth in this statement, but his mood
would not allow him to speak ingenuously, and he wished to note
the effect upon Marian of what he said. There were two beliefs in
him: on the one hand, he recognised Fadge in every line of the
writing; on the other, he had a perverse satisfaction in
convincing himself that it was Milvain who had caught so
successfully the master's manner. He was not the kind of man who
can resist an opportunity of justifying, to himself and others, a
course into which he has been led by mingled feelings, all more
or less unjustifiable.
'How should Jedwood know?' asked Marian.
Yule shrugged his shoulders.
'As if these things didn't get about among editors and
'In this case, there's a mistake.'
'And why, pray?' His voice trembled with choler. 'Why need there
be a mistake?'
'Because Mr Milvain is quite incapable of reviewing your book in
such a spirit.'
'There is your mistake, my girl. Milvain will do anything that's
asked of him, provided he's well enough paid.'
Marian reflected. When she raised her eyes again they were
'What has led you to think that?'
'Don't I know the type of man? Noscitur ex sociis--have you Latin
enough for that?'
'You'll find that you are misinformed,' Marian replied, and
therewith went from the room.
She could not trust herself to converse longer. A resentment such
as her father had never yet excited in her--such, indeed, as she
had seldom, if ever, conceived--threatened to force utterance for
itself in words which would change the current of her whole life.
She saw her father in his worst aspect, and her heart was shaken
by an unnatural revolt from him. Let his assurance of what he
reported be ever so firm, what right had he to make this use of
it? His behaviour was spiteful. Suppose he entertained suspicions
which seemed to make it his duty to warn her against Milvain,
this was not the way to go about it. A father actuated by simple
motives of affection would never speak and look thus.
It was the hateful spirit of literary rancour that ruled him; the
spirit that made people eager to believe all evil, that blinded
and maddened. Never had she felt so strongly the unworthiness of
the existence to which she was condemned. That contemptible
review, and now her father's ignoble passion--such things were
enough to make all literature appear a morbid excrescence upon
Forgetful of the time, she sat in her bedroom until a knock at
the door, and her mother's voice, admonished her that dinner was
waiting. An impulse all but caused her to say that she would
rather not go down for the meal, that she wished to be left
alone. But this would be weak peevishness. She just looked at the
glass to see that her face bore no unwonted signs, and descended
to take her place as usual.
Throughout the dinner there passed no word of conversation. Yule
was at his blackest; he gobbled a few mouthfuls, then occupied
himself with the evening paper. On rising, he said to Marian:
'Have you copied the whole of that?'
The tone would have been uncivil if addressed to an impertinent
'Not much more than half,' was the cold reply.
'Can you finish it to-night?'
'I'm afraid not. I am going out.'
'Then I must do it myself'
And he went to the study.
Mrs Yule was in an anguish of nervousness.
'What is it, dear?' she asked of Marian, in a pleading whisper.
'Oh, don't quarrel with your father! Don't!'
'I can't be a slave, mother, and I can't be treated unjustly.'
'What is it? Let me go and speak to him.'
'It's no use. We CAN'T live in terror.'
For Mrs Yule this was unimaginable disaster. She had never dreamt
that Marian, the still, gentle Marian, could be driven to revolt.
And it had come with the suddenness of a thunderclap. She wished
to ask what had taken place between father and daughter in the
brief interview before dinner; but Marian gave her no chance,
quitting the room upon those last trembling words.
The girl had resolved to visit her friends, the sisters, and tell
them that in future they must never come to see her at home. But
it was no easy thing for her to stifle her conscience, and leave
her father to toil over that copying which had need of being
finished. Not her will, but her exasperated feeling, had replied
to him that she would not do the work; already it astonished her
that she had really spoken such words. And as the throbbing of
her pulses subsided, she saw more clearly into the motives of
this wretched tumult which possessed her. Her mind was harassed
with a fear lest in defending Milvain she had spoken foolishly.
Had he not himself said to her that he might be guilty of base
things, just to make his way? Perhaps it was the intolerable pain
of imagining that he had already made good his words, which
robbed her of self-control and made her meet her father's
rudeness with defiance.
Impossible to carry out her purpose; she could not deliberately
leave the house and spend some hours away with the thought of
such wrath and misery left behind her. Gradually she was
returning to her natural self; fear and penitence were chill at
She went down to the study, tapped, and entered.
'Father, I said something that I did not really mean. Of course I
shall go on with the copying and finish it as soon as possible.'
'You will do nothing of the kind, my girl.' He was in his usual
place, already working at Marian's task; he spoke in a low, thick
voice. 'Spend your evening as you choose, I have no need of you.'
'I behaved very ill-temperedly. Forgive me, father.'