Part 1 out of 4
[Illustration: "She slipped on her knees, and burst into a passionate fit
_With Five Illustrations By__Maurice Greiffenhagen_
London: Walter Scott, Ltd. Paternoster Square
Edinburgh: T. and A. Constable, Printers to Her Majesty
I hope it will not seem presumptuous to ask my critics to treat this new
edition of _Vain Fortune_ as a new book: for it is a new book. The first
edition was kindly noticed, but it attracted little attention, and very
rightly, for the story as told therein was thin and insipid; and when
Messrs. Scribner proposed to print the book in America, I stipulated that I
should be allowed to rewrite it. They consented, and I began the story with
Emily Watson, making her the principal character instead of Hubert Price.
Some months after I received a letter from Madam Couperus, offering to
translate the English edition into Dutch. I sent her the American edition,
and asked her which she would prefer to translate from. Madam Couperus
replied that many things in the English edition, which she would like to
retain, had been omitted from the American edition, that the hundred or
more pages which I had written for the American edition seemed to her
equally worthy of retention.
She pointed out that, without the alteration of a sentence, the two
versions could be combined. The idea had not occurred to me; I saw,
however, that what she proposed was not only feasible but advantageous. I
wrote, therefore, giving her the required permission, and thanking her for
a suggestion which I should avail myself of when the time came for a new
The union of the texts was no doubt accomplished by Madam Couperus, without
the alteration of a sentence; but no such accomplished editing is possible
to me; I am a victim to the disease of rewriting, and the inclusion of the
hundred or more pages of new matter written for the American edition led me
into a third revision of the story. But no more than in the second has the
skeleton, or the attitude of the skeleton been altered in this third
version, only flesh and muscle have been added, and, I think, a little
life. _Vain Fortune_, even in its present form, is probably not my best
book, but it certainly is far from being my worst. But my opinion regarding
my own work is of no value; I do not write this Prefatory Note to express
it, but to ask my critics and my readers to forget the original _Vain
Fortune_, and to read this new book as if it were issued under another
The lamp had not been wiped, and the room smelt slightly of paraffin. The
old window-curtains, whose harsh green age had not softened, were drawn.
The mahogany sideboard, the threadbare carpet, the small horsehair sofa,
the gilt mirror, standing on a white marble chimney-piece, said clearly,
'Furnished apartments in a house built about a hundred years ago.' There
were piles of newspapers, there were books on the mahogany sideboard and on
the horsehair sofa, and on the table there were various manuscripts,--_The
Gipsy_, Act I.; _The Gipsy_, Act III., Scenes iii. and iv.
A sheet of foolscap paper, and upon it a long slender hand. The hand traced
a few lines of fine, beautiful caligraphy, then it paused, correcting with
extreme care what was already written, and in a hesitating, minute way,
telling of a brain that delighted in the correction rather than in the
creation of form.
The shirt-cuff was frayed and dirty. The coat was thin and shiny. A
half-length figure of a man drew out of the massed shadows between the
window and sideboard. The red beard caught the light, and the wavy brown
hair brightened. Then a look of weariness, of distress, passed over the
face, and the man laid down the pen, and, taking some tobacco from a paper,
rolled a cigarette. Rising, and leaning forward, he lighted it over the
lamp. He was a man of about thirty-six feet, broad-shouldered, well-built,
healthy, almost handsome.
The time he spent in dreaming his play amounted to six times, if not ten
times, as much as he devoted to trying to write it; and he now lit
cigarette after cigarette, abandoning himself to every meditation,--the
unpleasantness of life in lodgings, the charm of foreign travel, the beauty
of the south, what he would do if his play succeeded. He plunged into
calculation of the time it would take him to finish it if he were to sit at
home all day, working from seven to ten hours every day. If he could but
make up his mind concerning the beginning and the middle of the third act,
and about the end, too,--the solution,--he felt sure that, with steady
work, the play could be completed in a fortnight. In such reverie and such
consideration he lay immersed, oblivious of the present moment, and did not
stir from his chair until the postman shook the frail walls with a violent
double knock. He hoped for a letter, for a newspaper--either would prove a
welcome distraction. The servant's footsteps on the stairs told him the
post had brought him something. His heart sank at the thought that it was
probably only a bill, and he glanced at all the bills lying one above
another on the table.
It was not a bill, nor yet an advertisement, but a copy of a weekly review.
He tore it open. An article about himself!
After referring to the deplorable condition of the modern stage, the writer
pointed out how dramatic writing has of late years come to be practised
entirely by men who have failed in all other branches of literature. Then
he drew attention to the fact that signs of weariness and dissatisfaction
with the old stale stories, the familiar tricks in bringing about 'striking
situations,' were noticeable, not only in the newspaper criticisms of new
plays, but also among the better portion of the audience. He admitted,
however, that hitherto the attempts made by younger writers in the
direction of new subject-matter and new treatment had met with little
success. But this, he held, was not a reason for discouragement. Did those
who believed in the old formulas imagine that the new formula would be
discovered straight away, without failures preliminary? Besides, these
attempts were not utterly despicable; at least one play written on the new
lines had met with some measure of success, and that play was Mr. Hubert
'Yes, the fellow is right. The public is ready for a good play: it wasn't
when _Divorce_ was given. I must finish _The Gipsy_. There are good things
in it; that I know. But I wish I could get that third act right. The public
will accept a masterpiece, but it will not accept an attempt to write a
masterpiece. But this time there'll be no falling off in the last acts. The
scene between the gipsy lover and the young lord will fetch 'em.' Taking up
the review, Hubert glanced over the article a second time. 'How anxious the
fellows are for me to achieve a success! How they believe in me! They
desire it more than I do. They believe in me more than I do in myself. They
want to applaud me. They are hungry for the masterpiece.'
At that moment his eye was caught by some letters written on blue paper.
His face resumed a wearied and hunted expression. 'There's no doubt about
it, money I must get somehow. I am running it altogether too fine. There
isn't twenty pounds between me and the deep sea.'
* * * * *
He was the son of the Rev. James Price, a Shropshire clergyman. The family
was of Welsh extraction, but in Hubert none of the physical characteristics
of the Celt appeared. He might have been selected as a typical Anglo-Saxon.
The face was long and pale, and he wore a short reddish beard; the eyes
were light blue, verging on grey, and they seemed to speak a quiet,
steadfast soul. Hubert had always been his mother's favourite, and the
scorn of his elder brothers, two rough boys, addicted in early youth to
robbing orchards, and later on to gambling and drinking. The elder, after
having broken his father's heart with debts and disgraceful living, had
gone out to the Cape. News of his death came to the Rectory soon after; but
James's death did not turn Henry from his evil courses, and one day his
father and mother had to go to London on his account, and they brought him
back a hopeless invalid. Hubert was twelve years of age when he followed
his brother to the grave.
It was at his brother's funeral that Hubert met for the first time his
uncle, Mr. Burnett. Mr. Burnett had spent the greater part of his life in
New Zealand, where he had made a large fortune by sheep-farming and
investments in land. He had seemed to be greatly taken with his nephew, and
for many years it was understood that he would leave him the greater part,
if not the whole, of his fortune. But Mr. Burnett had come under the
influence of some poor relations, some distant cousins, the Watsons, and
had eventually decided to adopt their daughter Emily and leave her his
fortune. He did not dare intimate his change of mind to his sister; but the
news having reached Mrs. Price in various rumours, she wrote to her brother
asking him to confirm or deny these rumours; and when he admitted their
truth, Mrs. Price never spoke to him again. She was a determined woman, and
the remembrance of the wrong done to her son never left her.
While the other children had been a torment and disgrace, Hubert had been
to his parents a consolation and a blessing. They had feared that he too
might turn to betting and drink, but he had never shown sign of low tastes.
He played no games, nor did he care for terriers or horses; but for books
and drawing, and long country walks. Immediately on hearing of his
disinheritance he had spoken at once of entering a profession; and for many
months this was the subject of consideration in the Rectory. Hubert joined
in these discussions willingly, but he could not bring himself to accept
the army or the bar. It was indeed only necessary to look at him to see
that neither soldier's tunic nor lawyer's wig was intended for him; and it
was nearly as clear that those earnest eyes, so intelligent and yet so
undetermined in their gaze, were not those of a doctor.
But if his eyes failed to predict his future, his hands told the story of
his life distinctly enough--those long, white, languid hands, what could
they mean but art? And very soon Hubert began to draw, evincing some
natural aptitude. Then an artist came into the neighbourhood, the two
became friends, and went together on a long sketching tour. Life in the
open air, the shade of the hedge, the glare of the highway, the meditation
of the field, the languor of the river-side, the contemplation of wooded
horizons, was what Hubert's pastoral nature was most fitted to enjoy; and,
for the sake of the life it afforded him, he pursued the calling of a
landscape painter long after he had begun to feel his desire turning in
another direction. When the landscape on the canvas seemed hopelessly
inadequate, he laid aside the brush for the pencil, and strove to interpret
the summer fields in verse. From verse he drifted into the article and the
short story, and from the story into the play. And it was in this last form
that he felt himself strongest, and various were the dramas and comedies
that he dreamed from year's end to year's end.
While he was in the midst of his period of verse-writing his mother died,
and in the following year, just as he was working at his stories, he
received a telegram calling him to attend his father's death-bed. When the
old man was laid in the shadow of the weather-beaten village church, Hubert
gathered all his belongings and bade farewell for ever to the Shropshire
In London Hubert made few friends. There were some two or three men with
whom he was frequently seen--quiet folk like himself, whose enjoyment
consisted in smoking a tranquil pipe in the evening, or going for long
walks in the country. He was one of those men whose indefiniteness provokes
curiosity, and his friends noticed and wondered why it was that he was so
frequently the theme of their conversation. His simple, unaffected manners
were full of suggestion, and in his writings there was always an
indefinable rainbow-like promise of ultimate achievement. So, long before
he had succeeded in writing a play, detached scenes and occasional verses
led his friends into gradual belief that he was one from whom big things
might be expected. And when the one-act play which they had all so heartily
approved of was produced, and every newspaper praised it for its literary
quality, the friends took pride in this public vindication of their
opinion. After the production of his play people came to see the new
author, and every Saturday evening some fifteen or twenty men used to
assemble in Hubert's lodgings to drink whisky, smoke cigars, and talk
drama. Encouraged by his success, Hubert wrote _Divorce_. He worked
unceasingly upon it for more than a year, and when he had written the final
scene, he was breaking into his last hundred pounds. The play was refused
twice, and then accepted by a theatrical speculator, to whom it seemed to
afford opportunity for the exhibition of the talents of a lady he was
The success of the play was brief. But before it was withdrawn, Hubert had
sold the American rights for a handsome sum, and within the next two years
he had completed a second play, which he called _An Ebbing Tide_. Some of
the critics argued that it contained scenes as fine as any in _Divorce_,
but it was admitted on all sides that the interest withered in the later
acts. But the failure of the play did not shake the established belief in
Hubert's genius; it merely concentrated the admiration of those interested
in the new art upon _Divorce_, the partial failure of which was now
attributed to the acting. If it had only been played at the Haymarket or
the Lyceum, it could not have failed.
The next three years Hubert wasted in various aestheticisms. He explained
the difference between the romantic and realistic methods in the reviews;
he played with a poetic drama to be called _The King of the Beggars_, and
it was not until the close of the third year that he settled down to
definite work. Then all his energies were concentrated on a new play--_The
Gipsy_. A young woman of Bohemian origin is suddenly taken with the
nostalgia of the tent, and leaves her husband and her home to wander with
those of her race. He had read portions of this play to his friends, who at
last succeeded in driving Montague Ford, the popular actor-manager, to
Hubert's door; and after hearing some few scenes he had offered a couple of
hundred pounds in advance of fees for the completed manuscript. 'But when
can I have the manuscript?' said Ford, as he was about to leave. 'As soon
as I can finish it,' Hubert replied, looking at him wistfully out of pale
blue-grey eyes. 'I could finish it in a month, if I could count on not
being worried by duns or disturbed by friends during that time.'
Ford looked at Hubert questioningly; then he said 'I have always noticed
that when a fellow wants to finish a play, the only way to do it is to go
away to the country and leave no address.'
But the country was always so full of pleasure for him, that he doubted his
power to remain indoors with the temptation of fields and rivers before his
eyes, and he thought that to escape from dunning creditors it would be
sufficient to change his address. So he left Norfolk Street for the more
remote quarter of Fitzroy Street, where he took a couple of rooms on the
second floor. One of his fellow-lodgers, he soon found, was Rose Massey, an
actress engaged for the performance of small parts at the Queen's Theatre.
The first time he spoke to her was on the doorstep. She had forgotten her
latch-key, and he said, 'Will you allow me to let you in?' She stepped
aside, but did not answer him. Hubert thought her rude, but her strange
eyes and absent-minded manner had piqued his curiosity, and, having nothing
to do that night, he went to the theatre to see her act. She was playing a
very small part, and one that was evidently unsuited to her--a part that
was in contradiction to her nature; but there was something behind the
outer envelope which led him to believe she had real talent, and would make
a name for herself when she was given a part that would allow her to reveal
what was in her.
In the meantime, Rose had been told that the gentleman she had snubbed in
the passage was Mr. Hubert Price, the author of _Divorce_.
'Oh, it was very silly of me,' she said to Annie. 'If I had only known!'
'Lor', he don't mind; he'll be glad enough to speak to you when you meets
And when they met again on the stairs, Rose nodded familiarly, and Hubert
'I went to the Queen's the other night.'
'Did you like the piece?'
'I did not care about the piece; but when you get a wild, passionate part
to play, you'll make a hit. The sentimental parts they give you don't suit
A sudden light came into the languid face. 'Yes, I shall do something if I
can get a part like that.'
Hubert told her that he was writing a play containing just such a part.
Her eyes brightened again. 'Will you read me the play?' she said, fixing
her dark, dreamy eyes on him.
'I shall be very glad.... Do you think it won't bore you?' And his wistful
grey eyes were full of interrogation.
'No, I'm sure it won't.'
And a few days after she sent Annie with a note, reminding him of his
promise to read her what he had written. As she had only a bedroom, the
reading had to take place in his sitting-room. He read her the first and
second acts. She was all enthusiasm, and begged hard to be allowed to study
the part--just to see what she could do with it--just to let him see that
he was not mistaken in her. Her interest in his work captivated him, and he
couldn't refuse to lend her the manuscript.
Rose often came to see Hubert in his rooms. Her manner was disappointing,
and he thought he must be mistaken in his first judgment of her talents.
But one afternoon she gave him a recitation of the sleep-walking scene in
_Macbeth_. It was strange to see this little dark-complexioned, dark-eyed
girl, the merest handful of flesh and bone, divest herself at will of her
personality, and assume the tragic horror of Lady Macbeth, or the
passionate rapture of Juliet detaining her husband-lover on the balcony of
her chamber. Hubert watched in wonderment this girl, so weak and languid in
her own nature, awaking only to life when she assumed the personality of
another. There she lay, her wispy form stretched in his arm-chair, her
great dark eyes fixed, her mind at rest, sunk in some inscrutable dream.
Her thin hand lay on the arm of the chair: when she woke from her day-dream
she burst into irresponsible laughter, or questioned him with petulant
curiosity. He looked again: her dark curling hair hung on her swarthy neck,
and she was somewhat untidily dressed in blue linen.
'Were you ever in love?' she said suddenly. 'I don't suppose you could be;
you are too occupied with your play. I don't know, though; you might be in
love, but I don't think that many women would be in love with you.... You
are too good a man, and women don't like good men.'
Hubert laughed, and without a trace of offended vanity in his voice he
said, 'I don't profess to be much of a lady-killer.'
'You don't know what I mean,' she said, looking at him fixedly, a maze of
half-childish, half-artistic curiosity in her handsome eyes.
Perplexed in his shy, straightford nature, Hubert inquired if she took
sugar in her tea. She said she did; stretched her feet to the fire, and
lapsed into dream. She was one of the enigmas of Stageland. She supported
herself, and went about by herself, looking a poor, lost little thing. She
spoke with considerable freedom of language on all subjects, but no one had
been able to fix a lover upon her.
'What a part Lady Hayward is! But tell me,--I don't quite catch your
meaning in the second act. Is this it?' and starting to her feet, she
became in a moment another being. With a gesture, a look, an intonation,
she was the woman of the play,--a woman taken by an instinct, long
submerged, but which has floated to the surface, and is beginning to
command her actions. In another moment she had slipped back into her weary
lymphatic nature, at once prematurely old and extravagantly childish. She
could not talk of indifferent things; and having asked some strange
questions, and laughed loudly, she wished Hubert 'Good-afternoon' in her
curious, irresponsible fashion, taking her leave abruptly.
The next two days Hubert devoted entirely to his play. There were things in
it which he knew were good, but it was incomplete. Montague Ford would not
produce it in its present form. He must put his shoulder to the wheel and
get it right; one more push, that was all that was wanted. And he could be
heard walking to and fro, up and down, along and across his tiny
sitting-room, stopping suddenly to take a note of an idea that had occurred
One day he went to Hampstead Heath. A long walk, he thought, would clear
his mind, and he returned home thinking of his play. The sunset still
glittering in the skies; the bare trees were beautifully distinct on the
blue background of the suburban street, and at the end of the long
perspective, a 'bus and a hansom could be seen coming towards him. As they
grew larger, his thoughts defined themselves, and the distressing problem
of his fourth act seemed to solve itself. That very evening he would sketch
out a new dramatic movement around which all the other movements of the act
would cluster. But at the corner of Fitzroy Square, within a few yards of
No. 17, he was accosted by a shabbily-dressed man, who inquired if he were
Mr. Price. On being answered in the affirmative, the shabbily-dressed man
said, 'Then I have something for ye; I have been a-watching for ye for the
last three days, but ye didn't come out; missed yer this morning: 'ere it
is;' and he thrust a folded paper into Hubert's hand.
'What is this?'
'Don't yer know?' he said with a grin; 'Messrs. Tomkins & Co., Tailors,
writ--twenty-two pound odd.'
Hubert made no answer; he put the paper in his pocket, opened the door
quietly, stole up to his room, and sat down to think. The first thing to do
was to examine into his finances. It was alarming to find that he was
breaking into his last five-pound note. True that he was close on the end
of his play, and when it was finished he would be able to draw on Ford. But
a summons to appear in the county court could not fail to do him immense
injury. He had heard of avoiding service, but he knew little of the law,
and wondered what power the service of the writ gave his creditor over him.
His instinct was to escape--hide himself where they would not be able to
find him, and so obtain time to finish his play. But he owed his landlady
money, and his departure would have to be clandestine. As he reflected on
how many necessaries he might carry away in a newspaper, he began to feel
strangely like a criminal, and while rolling up a couple of shirts, a few
pairs of socks, and some collars, he paused, his hands resting on the
parcel. He did not seem to know himself, and it was difficult to believe
that he really intended to leave the house in this disreputable fashion.
Mechanically he continued to add to his parcel, thinking all the while that
he must go, otherwise his play would never be written.
He had been working very well for the last few days, and now he saw his way
quite clearly; the inspiration he had been so long waiting for had come at
last, and he felt sure of his fourth act. At the same time he wished to
conduct himself honestly, even in this distressing situation. Should he
tell his landlady the truth? But the desire to realise his idea was
intolerable, and, yielding as if before an irresistible force, he tied the
parcel and prepared to go. At that moment he remembered that he must leave
a note for his landlady, and he was more than ever surprised at the
naturalness with which lying phrases came into his head. But when it came
to committing them to paper, he found he could not tell an absolute lie,
and he wrote a simple little note to the effect that he had been called
away on urgent business, and hoped to return in about a week.
He descended the stairs softly. Mrs. Wilson's sitting-room opened on to the
passage; she might step out at any moment, and intercept his exit. He had
nearly reached the last flight when he remembered that he had forgotten his
manuscripts. His flesh turned cold, his heart stood still. There was
nothing for it but to ascend those creaking stairs again. His already
heavily encumbered pockets could not be persuaded to receive more than a
small portion of the manuscripts. He gathered them in his hand, and
prepared to redescend the perilous stairs. He walked as lightly as
possible, dreading that every creak would bring Mrs. Wilson from her
parlour. A few more steps, and he would be in the passage. A smell of dust,
sounds of children crying, children talking in the kitchen! A few more
steps, and, with his eyes on the parlour door, Hubert had reached the rug
at the foot of the stairs. He hastened along, the passage. Mrs. Wilson was
a moment too late. His hand was on the street-door when she appeared at the
door of her parlour.
'Mr. Price, I want to speak to you before you go out. There has----'
'I can't wait--running to catch a train. You'll find a letter on my table.
It will explain.'
Hubert slipped out, closed the door, and ran down the street, and it was
not until he had put two or three streets between him and Fitzroy Street
that he relaxed his pace, and could look behind him without dreading to
feel the hand of the 'writter' upon his shoulder.
Then he wandered, not knowing where he was going, still in the sensation of
his escape, a little amused, and yet with a shadow of fear upon his soul,
for he grew more and more conscious of the fact that he was homeless, if
not quite penniless. Suddenly he stopped walking. Night was thickening in
the street, and he had to decide where he would sleep. He could not afford
to pay more than five or six shillings a week for a room, and he thought of
Holloway, as being a neighbourhood where creditors would not be able to
find him. So he retraced his steps, and, tired and footsore, entered the
Tottenham Court Road by the Oxford Street end.
There the omnibuses stopped. A conductor shouted for fares, with the light
of the public-house lamps on his open mouth. There was smell of mud, of
damp clothes, of bad tobacco, and where the lights of the costermongers'
barrows broke across the footway the picture was of a group of three
coarse, loud-voiced girls, followed by boys. There were fish shops, cheap
Italian restaurants, and the long lines of low houses vanished in crapulent
night. The characteristics of the Tottenham Court Road impressed themselves
on Hubert's mind, and he thought how he would have to bear for at least
three weeks with all the grime of its poverty. It would take about that
time to finish his play, and the neighbourhood would suit his purpose
excellently well. So long as he did not pass beyond it he ran little risk
of discovery, and to secure himself against friends and foes he penetrated
farther northward, not stopping till he reached the confines of Holloway.
Then a little dim street caught his eye, and he knocked at the door of the
first house exhibiting a card in the parlour window. But they did not let
their bedroom under seven shillings, and this seemed to Hubert to be an
extravagant price. He tried farther on, and at last found a clean room for
six shillings. Having no luggage, he paid a week's rent in advance, and the
landlady promised to get him a small table, on which he could write, a
small table that would fit in somewhere near the window. She asked him when
he would like to be called, and put the candlestick on the chair. Hubert
looked round the room, and a moment sufficed to complete the survey. It was
about seven feet long. The lower half of the window was curtained by a
piece of muslin hardly bigger than a good-sized pocket-handkerchief; to do
anything in this room except to lie in bed seemed difficult, and Hubert sat
down on the bed and emptied out his pockets. He had just four pounds, and
the calculation how long he could live on such a sum took him some time.
His breakfast, whether he had it at home or in the coffee-house, would cost
him at least fourpence. He thought he would be able to obtain a fairly good
dinner in one of the little Italian restaurants for ninepence. His tea
would cost the same as his breakfast. To these sums he must add twopence
for tobacco and a penny for an evening paper--impossible to do without
tobacco, and he must know what was going on in the world. He could
therefore live for one shilling and eightpence a day--eleven shillings a
week--to which he would have to add six shillings a week for rent,
altogether seventeen shillings a week. He really did not see how he could
do it cheaper. Four times seventeen are sixty-eight; sixty-eight shillings
for a month of life, and he had eighty shillings--twelve shillings for
incidental expenses; and out of that twelve shillings he must buy a shirt,
a sponge, and a tooth brush, and when they were bought there would be very
little left. He must finish his play under the month. Nothing could be
clearer than that.
Next morning he asked the landlady to let him have a cup of tea and some
bread and butter, and he ate as much bread as he could, to save himself
from being hungry in the middle of the day. He began work immediately, and
continued until seven, and feeling then somewhat light-headed, but
satisfied with himself, went to the nearest Italian restaurant. The food
was better than he expected; but he spent twopence more than he had
intended, so, to accustom himself to a life of strict measure and
discipline, he determined to forego his tea that evening. And so he lived
and worked until the end of the week.
But the situation he had counted on to complete his fourth act had proved
almost impracticable in the working out; he laboured on, however, and at
the end of the tenth day at least one scene satisfied him. He read it over
slowly, carefully, thought about it, decided that it was excellent, and lay
down on his bed to consider it. At that moment it struck him that he had
better calculate how much he had spent in the last ten days. He gathered
himself into a sitting posture and counted his money; he had spent thirty
shillings, and at that rate his money would not hold out till the end of
the month. He must reduce his expenditure; but how? Impossible to find a
room where he could live more cheaply than in the one he had got, and it is
not easy to dine in London on less than ninepence. Only the poor can live
cheaply. He pressed his hands to his face. His head seemed like splitting,
and his monetary difficulty, united with his literary difficulties,
produced a momentary insanity. Work that morning was impossible, so he went
out to study the eating-houses of the neighbourhood. He must find one where
he could dine for sixpence. Or he might buy a pound of cooked beef and take
it home with him in a paper bag; but that would seem an almost intolerable
imprisonment in his little room. He could go to a public-house and dine off
a sausage and potato. But at that moment his attention was caught by black
letters on a dun, yellowish ground: 'Lockhart's Cocoa Rooms.' Not having
breakfasted, he decided to have a cup of cocoa and a roll.
It was a large, barn-like place, the walls covered with a coat of grey-blue
paint. Under the window there was a zinc counter, with zinc urns always
steaming, emiting odours of tea, coffee, and cocoa. The seats were like
those which give a garden-like appearance to the tops of some omnibuses.
Each was made to hold two persons, and the table between them was large
enough for four plates and four pairs of hands. A few hollow-chested men,
the pale vagrants of civilisation, drowsed in the corners. They had been
hunted through the night by the policeman, and had come in for something
hot. Hubert noted the worn frock-coats, and the miserable arms coming out
of shirtless sleeves. One looked up inquiringly, and Hubert thought how
slight had become the line that divided him from the outcast. A
serving-maid collected the plates, knives and forks, when the customers
left, and carried them back to the great zinc counter.
Impressed by his appearance, she brought him what he had ordered and took
the money for it, although the custom of the place was for the customer to
pay for food at the counter and carry it himself to the table at which he
chose to eat. Hubert learnt that there was no set dinner, but there was a
beef-steak pudding at one, price fourpence, a penny potatoes, a penny
bread. So by dining at Lockhart's he would be able to cut down his daily
expense by at least twopence; that would extend the time to finish his play
by nearly a week. And if his appetite were not keen, he could assuage it
with a penny plum pudding; or he could take a middle course, making his
dinner off a sausage and mashed potatoes. The room was clean, well lighted,
and airy; he could read his paper there, and forget his troubles in the
observation of character. He even made friends. An old wizen creature, who
had been a prize-fighter, told him of his triumphs. If he hadn't broke his
hand on somebody's nose he'd have been champion light-weight of England.
'And to think that I have come to this,' he added emphatically. 'Even them
boys knock me about now, and 'alf a century ago I could 'ave cleared the
bloomin' place.' There was a merry little waif from the circus who loved to
come and sit with Hubert. She had been a rider, she said, but had broken
her leg on one occasion, and cut her head all open on another, and had
ended by running away with some one who had deserted her. 'So here I am,'
she remarked, with a burst of laughter, 'talking to you. Did you never hear
of Dolly Dayrell?' Hubert confessed that he had not. 'Why,' she said, 'I
thought every one had.'
About eight o'clock in the evening, the table near the stairs was generally
occupied by flower-girls, dressed in dingy clothes, and brightly feathered
hats. They placed their empty baskets on the floor, and shouted at their
companions--men who sold newspapers, boot-laces, and cheap toys. About nine
the boys came in, the boys who used to push the old prize-fighter about,
and Hubert soon began to perceive how representative they were of all
vices--gambling, theft, idleness, and cruelty were visible in their faces.
They were led by a Jew boy who sold penny jewellery at the corner of Oxford
Street, and they generally made for the tables at the end of the room, for
there, unless custom was slack indeed, they could defeat the vigilance of
the serving-maid and play at nap at their ease. The tray of penny jewellery
was placed at the corner of a table, and a small boy set to watch over it.
His duty was also to shuffle his feet when the servant-maid approached, and
a precious drubbing he got if he failed to shuffle them loud enough. The
''ot un,' as he was nicknamed, always had a pack of cards in his pocket,
and to annex everything left on the tables he considered to be his
privilege. One day, when he was asked how he came by the fine carnation in
his buttonhole, he said it was a present from Sally, neglecting to add that
he had told the child to steal it from a basket which a flower-girl had
just put down.
[Illustration: "'A dirty, hignominious lot, them boys is.'"]
Hubert hated this boy, and once could not resist boxing his ears. The ''ot
un' writhed easily out of his reach, and then assailed him with foul
language, and so loud were his words that they awoke the innocent cause of
the quarrel, a weak, sickly-looking man, with pale blue eyes and a blonde
beard. Hubert had protected him before now against the brutality of the
boys, who, when they were not playing nap, divided their pleasantries
between him and the decrepit prize-fighter. He came in about nine, took a
cup of coffee from the counter, and settled himself for a snooze. The boys
knew this, and it was their amusement to keep him awake by pelting him with
egg-shells and other missiles. Hubert noticed that he had always with him a
red handkerchief full of some sort of loose rubbish, which the boys
gathered when it fell about the floor, or purloined from the handkerchief
when they judged that the owner was sufficiently fast asleep. Hubert now
saw that the handkerchief was filled with bits of coloured chalk, and
guessed that the man must be a pavement artist.
'A dirty, hignominious lot, them boys is,' said the artist, fixing his
pale, melancholy eyes on Hubert; 'bad manners, no eddication, and, above
all, no respect.'
'They are an unmannerly lot--that Jew boy especially. I don't think there's
a vice he hasn't got.'
The artist stared at Hubert a long time in silence. A thought seemed to be
stirring in his mind.
'I'm speaking, I can see, to a man of eddication. I'm a fust-rate judge of
character, though I be but a pavement artist; but a picture's none the less
a picture, no matter where it is drawn. That's true, ain't it?'
'Quite true. A horse is a horse, and an ass is an ass, no matter what
stable you put them into.'
The artist laughed a guttural laugh, and, fixing his pale blue porcelain
eyes on Hubert, he said--
'Yes; see I made no bloomin' error when I said you was a man of eddication.
A literary gent, I should think. In the reporting line, most like. Down in
the luck like myself. What was it--drink? Got the chuck?'
'No,' said Hubert, 'never touch it. Out of work.'
'No offence, master, we're all mortal, we is all weak, and in misfortune we
goes to it. It was them boys that drove me to it.'
'How was that?'
'They was always round my show; no getting rid of them, and their remarks
created a disturbance; the perlice said he wouldn't 'ave it, and when the
perlice won't 'ave it, what's a poor man to do? They are that hignorant.
But what's the use of talking of it, it only riles me.' The blue-eyed man
lay back in his seat, and his head sank on his chest. He looked as if he
were going to sleep again, but on Hubert's asking him to explain his
troubles, he leaned across the table.
'Well, I'll tell yer. Yer be an eddicated man, and I likes to talk to them
that 'as 'ad an eddication. Yer says, and werry truly, just now, that
changing the stable don't change an 'orse into a hass, or a hass into an
'orse. That is werry true, most true, none but a eddicated man could 'ave
made that 'ere hobservation. I likes yer for it. Give us yer 'and. The
public just thinks too much of the stable, and not enough of what's inside.
Leastways that's my experience of the public, and I 'ave been a-catering
for the public ever since I was a growing lad--sides of bacon, ships on
fire, good old ship on fire.... I knows the public. Yer don't follow me?'
'A moment, and I'll explain. You'll admit there's no blooming reason except
the public's blooming hignorance why a man shouldn't do as good a picture
on the pavement as on a piece of canvas, provided he 'ave the blooming
genius. There is no doubt that with them 'ere chalks and a nice smooth
stone that Raphael--I 'ave been to the National Gallery and 'ave studied
'is work, and werry fine some of it is, although I don't altogether
hold--but that's another matter. What was I a-saying of? I remember,--that
with them 'ere chalks, and a nice smooth stone, there's no reason why a
masterpiece shouldn't be done. That's right, ain't it? I ask you, as a man
of eddication, to say if that ain't right; as a representative of the
Press, I asks you to say.' Hubert nodded, and the pale-eyed man continued.
'Well, that's what the public won't see, can't see. Raphael, says I, could
'ave done a masterpiece with them 'ere chalks and a nice smooth stone. But
do yer think 'e 'd 'ave been allowed? Do yer think the perlice would 'ave
stood it? Do yer think the public would 'ave stood him doing masterpieces
on the pavement? I'd give 'im just one afternoon. Them boys would 'ave got
'im into trouble, just as they did me. Raphael would 'ave been told to wipe
them out just as I was.'
The conversation paused; and, half amused, half frightened, Hubert
considered the pale vague face, and he was struck by the scattered look of
aspiration that wandered in the pale blue eyes.
'I'll tell you,' said the man, growing more excited, and leaning further
across the table; 'I'll tell you, because I knows you for an eddicated man,
and won't blab. S'pose yer thinks, like the rest of the world, that the
chaps wot smears, for it ain't drawing, the pavement with bits of bacon, a
ship on fire, and the regulation oysters, does them out of their own
'eads?' Hubert nodded. 'I'm not surprised that you do, all the world do,
and the public chucks down its coppers to the poor hartist; but 'e aint no
hartist, no more than is them 'ere boys that did for my show.' Leaning
still further forward, he lowered his voice to a whisper. 'They learns it
all by 'art; there is schools for the teaching of it down in Whitechapel.
They can just do what they learns by 'art, not one of them could draw that
'ere chair or table from natur'; but I could. I 'ave an original talent. It
was a long time afore I found out it was there,' he said, tapping his
forehead; 'but it is there,' he said, fixing his eyes on Hubert, 'and when
it is there they can't take it away--I mean my mates--though they do laugh
at my ideas. They call me "the genius," for they don't believe in me, but I
believe in myself, and they laughs best that laughs last.... I don't know,'
he said, looking round him, his eyes full of reverie, 'that the public
liked my fancy landscapes better than the ship on fire, but I said the
public will come to them in time, and I continued my fancy landscapes. But
one day in Trafalgar Square it came on to rain very 'eavy, and I went for
shelter into the National Gallery. It was my fust visit, and I was struck
all of a 'eap, and ever since I can 'ardly bring myself to go on with the
drudgery of the piece of bacon, and the piece of cheese, with the mouse
nibbling at it. And ever since my 'ead 'as been filled with other things,
though for a long time I could not make exactly out what. I 'ave 'eard that
that is always the case with men that 'as an idea--daresay you 'ave found
it so yourself. So in my spare time I goes to the National to think it out,
and in studying the pictures there I got wery interested in a chap called
Hetty, and 'e do paint the female form divine. I says to myself, Why not go
in for lovely woman? the public may not care for fancy landscapes, but the
public allus likes a lovely woman, and, as well as being popular, lovely
woman is 'igh 'art. So, after dinner hour, I sets to work, and sketches in
a blue sea with three bathers, and two boxes, with the 'orse's head looking
out from behind one of the boxes. For a fust attempt at the nude, I assure
you--it ain't my way to blow my own trumpet, but I can say that the crowd
that 'ere picture did draw was bigger than any that 'ad assembled about the
bits o' bacon and ship-a-fire of all the other coves. 'Ad I been let alone,
I should 'ave made my fortune, but the crowd was so big and the curiosity
so great that it took the perlice all their time to keep the pavement from
being blocked. It wasn't that the public didn't like it enough, it was that
the public liked it too much, that was the reason of my misfortune.'
'What do you mean?' said Hubert.
'Well, yer see them boys was a-hawking their cheap toys in the
neighbourhood, and when they got wind of my success they comes round to
see, and they remains on account of the crowd. Pockets was picked, I don't
say they wasn't, and the perlice turned rusty, and then a pious old gent
comes along, and 'earing the remarks of them boys, which I admit wasn't
nice, complains to the hauthorities, and I was put down! Now, what I wants
to know is why my art should be made to suffer for the beastly-mindedness
of them 'ere boys.'
Hubert admitted that there seemed to be an injustice somewhere, and asked
the artist if he had never tried again.
'Try again? Should think I did. When once a man 'as tasted of 'igh art, he
can't keep his blooming fingers out of it. It was impossible after the
success of my bathers to go back to the bacon, so I thought I would
circumvent the hauthorities. I goes to the National Gallery, makes a
sketch, 'ere it is,' and after some fumbling in his breast pocket, he
produced a greasy piece of paper, which he handed to Hubert. 'S'pose yer
know the picture?' Hubert admitted that he did not. 'Well, that is a
drawing from Gainsborough's celebrated picture of Medora a-washing of her
feet.... But the perlice wouldn't 'ave it any more than my original, 'e
said it was worse than the bathers at Margaret, and when I told the
hignorant brute wot it was, 'e said he wanted no hargument, that 'e
wouldn't 'ave it.'
Hubert had noticed, during the latter part of the narrative, a look of
dubious cunning twinkling in the pale eyes; but now this look died away,
and the eyes resumed their habitual look of vague reverie.
'I've been 'ad up before the Beak: from him I expected more enlightenment,
but he, too, said 'e wouldn't 'ave it, and I got a month. But I'll beat
them yet, the public is on my side, and if it worn't for them 'ere boys,
I'd say that the public could be helevated. They calls me "the genius," and
they is right.' Then something seemed to go out like a flame, the face grew
dim, and changed expression. 'It is 'ere all right,' he said, no longer
addressing Hubert, but speaking to himself, 'and since it is there, it must
Hubert at last found himself obliged to write to Ford for an advance of
money. But Ford replied that he would advance money only on the delivery of
the completed manuscript. And the whole of one night, in a room hardly
eight feet long, sitting on his bed, he strove to complete the fourth and
fifth acts. But under the pressure of such necessity ideas died within him.
And all through the night, and even when the little window, curtained with
a bit of muslin hardly bigger than a pocket-handkerchief, had grown white
with dawn, he sat gazing at the sheet of paper, his brain on fire, unable
to think. Laying his pen down in despair, he thought of the thousands who
would come to his aid if they only knew--if they only knew! And soon after
he heard life beginning again in the little brick street. He felt that his
brain was giving way, that if he did not find change, whatever it was, he
must surely run raving mad. He had had enough of England, and would leave
it for America, Australia--anywhere. He wanted change. The present was
unendurable. How would he get to America? Perhaps a clerkship on board one
of the great steamships might be obtained.
The human animal in extreme misery becomes self-reliant, and Hubert hardly
thought of making application to his uncle. The last time he had applied
for help his letter had remained unanswered, and he now felt that he must
make his own living or die. And, quite indifferent as to what might befall
him, he walked next day to the Victoria Docks. He did not know where or how
to apply for work, and he tired himself in fruitless endeavour. At last he
felt he could strive with fate no longer, and wandered mile after mile,
amused and forgetful of his own misery in the spectacle of the river--the
rose sky, the long perspectives, the houses and warehouses showing in fine
outline, and then the wonderful blue night gathering in the forest of masts
and rigging. He was admirably patient. There was no fretfulness in his
soul, nor did he rail against the world's injustice, but took his
misfortunes with sweet gentleness.
He slept in a public-house, and next day resumed his idle search for
employment. The weather was mild and beautiful, his wants were simple, a
cup of coffee and a roll, a couple of sausages, and the day passed in a
sort of morose and passionless contemplation. He thought of everything and
nothing, least of all of how he should find money for the morrow. When the
day came, and the penny to buy a cup of coffee was wanting, he quite
naturally, without giving it a second thought, engaged himself as a
labourer, and worked all day carrying sacks of grain out of a vessel's
hold. For a large part of his nature was patient and simple, docile as an
animal's. There was in him so much that was rudimentary, that in accepting
this burden of physical toil he was acting not in contradiction to, but in
full and perfect harmony with, his true nature.
But at the end of a week his health began to give way, and, like a man
after a violent debauch, he thought of returning to a more normal
existence. He had left the manuscript of his unfortunate play in the North.
Had they destroyed it? The involuntary fear of the writer for his child
made him smile. What did it matter? Clearly the first thing to do would be
to write to the editor of _The Cosmopolitan_, and ask if he could find him
some employment, something certain; writing occasional articles for
newspapers, that he couldn't do.
Hubert had saved twelve shillings. He would therefore be able to pay his
landlady: he smiled--one of his landladies! The earlier debt was now
hopelessly out of his reach, and seemed to represent a social plane from
which he had for ever fallen. If he had succeeded in getting that play
right, what a difference it would have made! He would have been able to do
a number of things he had never done, things which he had always desired to
do. He had desired above all to travel--to see France and Italy; to linger,
to muse in the shadows of the world's past; and after this he had desired
marriage, an English wife, an English home, beautiful children, leisure,
the society of friends. A successful play would have given him all these
things, and now his dream must remain for ever unrealised by him. He had
sunk out of sight and hearing of such life.
Rose was another; she might sink as he had sunk; she might never find the
opportunity of realising her desire. How well she would have played that
part! He knew what was in her. And now! What did his failure to write that
play condemn him to? Heaven only knows, he did not wish to think. Strange,
was it not strange?... A man of genius--many believed him a genius--and yet
he was incapable of earning his daily bread otherwise than by doing the
work of a navvy. Even that he could not do well, society had softened his
muscles and effeminised his constitution. Indeed, he did not know what life
fate had willed him for. He seemed to be out of place everywhere. His best
chance was to try to obtain a clerkship. The editor of _The Cosmopolitan_
might be able to do that for him; if he could not, far better it would be
to leave a world in which he was _out of place_, and through no fault of
his own--that was the hard part of it. Hard part! Nonsense! What does Fate
know of our little rights and wrongs--or care? Her intentions are
inscrutable; she watches us come and go, and gives no sign. Prayers are
vain. The good man is punished, and the wicked is sent on his way
In such mournful thought, his clothes stained and torn, with all the traces
of a week's toil in the docks upon them, Hubert made his way round St.
Paul's and across Holborn. As he was about to cross into Oxford Street, he
heard some one accost him,--
'Oh, Mr. Price, is that you?' It was Rose. 'Where have you been all this
She seemed so strange, so small, and so much alone in the great
thoroughfare, that Hubert forgot all his own troubles in a sudden interest
in this little mite. 'Where have you been hiding yourself?... It is lucky I
met you. Don't you know that Ford has decided to revive _Divorce_?'
'You don't mean it!'
'Yes; Ford said that the last acts of _The Gipsy_ were not satisfactorily
worked out, and as there was something wrong with that Hamilton Brown's
piece, he has decided to revive _Divorce_. He says it never was properly
played ... he thinks he'll make a hit in the husband's part, and I daresay
he will. But I have been unfortunate again; I wanted the part of the
adventuress. I really could play it. I don't look it, I know ... I have no
weight, but I could play it for all that. The public mightn't see me in it
at first, but in five minutes they would.'
'And what part has he cast you for--the young girl?'
'Of course; there's no other part. He says I look it; but what's the good
of looking it when you don't feel it? If he had cast me for Mrs.
Barrington, I should have had just the five minutes in the second act that
I have been waiting for so long, and I should have just wiped Miss Osborne
out, acted her off the stage.... I know I should; you needn't believe it if
don't like, but I know I should.'
Hubert wondered how any one could feel so sure of herself, and then he
said, 'Yes, I think you could do just what you say.... How do you think
Miss Osborne will play the part?'
'She'll be correct enough; she'll miss nothing, and yet somehow she'll miss
the whole thing. But you must go at once to Ford. He was saying only this
morning that if you didn't turn up soon, he'd have to give up the idea.'
'I can't go and see him to-night. You see what a state I'm in.'
'You're rather dusty; where have you been? what have you been doing?'
'I've been down at the dock.... I thought of going to America.'
'Well, we'll talk about that another time. It doesn't matter if you are a
bit dusty and worn-out-looking. Now that he's going to revive your play,
he'll let you have some money. You might get a new hat, though. I don't
know how much they cost, but I've five shillings; can you get one for
Hubert thanked her.
'But you are not offended?'
'Offended, my dear Rose! I shall be able to manage. I'll get a brush up
'That's all right. Now I'm going to jump into that 'bus,' and she signed
with her parasol to the conductor. 'Mind you see Ford to-night,' she cried;
and a moment after he saw a small space of blue back seated against one of
There was much prophecy abroad. Stiggins' words, 'The piece never did, and
never will draw money,' were evidently present in everybody's mind. They
were visible in Ford's face, and more than once Hubert expected to hear
that--on account of severe indisposition--Mr. Montague Ford has been
obliged to indefinitely postpone his contemplated revival of Mr. Hubert
Price's play _Divorce_. But, besides the apprehension that Stiggins'
unfavourable opinion of his enterprise had engendered in him, Ford was
obviously provoked by Hubert's reluctance to execute the alterations he had
suggested. Night after night, sometimes until six in the morning, Hubert
sat up considering them. Thanks to Ford's timely advance he was back in his
old rooms in Fitzroy Street. All was as it had been. He was working at his
play every evening, waiting for Rose's footsteps on the stairs. And yet a
change had come into his life! He believed now that his feet were set on
the way to fortune--that he would soon be happy.
He stared at the bright flame of the lamp, he listened to the silence. The
clock chimed sharply, and the windows were growing grey. Hubert had begun
to drowse in his chair; but he had promised to rewrite the young girl's
part, Ford having definitely refused to intrust Rose with the part of the
adventuress. He was sorry for this. He believed that Rose had not only
talent, but genius. Besides, they were friends, neighbours; he would like
to give her a chance of distinguishing herself--the chance which she was
seeking. All the time he could not but realise that, however he might
accentuate and characterise the part of the sentimental girl, Rose would
not be able to do much with it. To bring out her special powers something
strange, wild, or tragic was required. But of what use thinking of what was
not to be? Having made some alterations and additions he folded his papers
up, and addressed them to Miss Massey. He wrote on a piece of paper that
they were to be given to her at once, and that he was to be called at ten.
There was a rehearsal at twelve.
On the night of the first performance, Hubert asked Rose to dine in his
rooms. Mr. Wilson proposed that they should have a roast chicken, and Annie
was sent to fetch a bottle of champagne from the grocer's. Annie had been
given a ticket for the pit. Mrs. Wilson was going to the upper boxes. Annie
'Why, you look as if you was going to a funeral, and not to a play. Why
don't ye laugh?'
In truth, Hubert and Rose were a little silent. Rose was thinking how she
could say certain lines. She had said them right once at rehearsal, but had
not since been able to reproduce to her satisfaction a certain effect of
voice. Hubert was too nervous to talk. There was nothing in his mind but
'Will the piece succeed? What shall I do if it fails?' He could give heed
to nothing but himself, all the world seemed blotted out, and he suffered
the pain of excessive self-concentration. Rose, on the other hand, had lost
sight of herself, and existed almost unconsciously in the soul of another
being. She was sometimes like a hypnotised spectator watching with foolish,
involuntary curiosity the actions of one whom she had been bidden to watch.
Then a little cloud would gather over her eyes, and then this other being
would rise as if out of her very entrails and recreate her, fashioning her
to its own image and likeness.
She did not answer when she was spoken to, and when the question was
repeated, she awoke with a little start. Dinner was eaten in morbid
silence, with painful and fitful efforts to appear interested in each
other. Walking to the theatre, they once took the wrong turning and had to
ask the way. At the stage door they smiled painfully, nodded, glad to part.
Hubert went up to Montague Ford's room. He found the comedian on a low
stool, seated before a low table covered with brushes and cosmetics, in
front of a triple glass.
'My dear friend, do not trouble me now. I am thinking of my part.'
Hubert turned to go.
'Stay a moment,' cried the actor. 'You know when the husband meets the wife
he has divorced?'
Hubert remembered the moment referred to, and, with anxious, doubting eyes,
the comedian sought from the author justification for some intonations and
gestures which seemed to him to form part and parcel of the nature of the
man whose drunkenness he had so admirably depicted on his face.
'"_This is most unfortunate, very unlucky--very, my dear Louisa; but----_"
'"_I am no longer obliged to bear with your insults; I can now defend
myself against you._"
[Illustration: "In the third row Harding stood talking to a young man."]
'Now, is that your idea of the scene?'
A pained look came upon Hubert's face. 'Don't question me now, my dear
fellow. I cannot fix my attention. I can see, however, that your make-up is
capital--you are the man himself.'
The actor was satisfied, and in his satisfaction he said, 'I think it will
be all right, old chap.'
Hubert hoped to reach his box without meeting critics or authors. The
serving-maids bowed and smiled,--he was the author of the play. 'They'll
think still more of me if the notices are right,' he thought, as he hurried
upstairs, and from behind the curtain of his box he peeped down and counted
the critics who edged their way down the stalls. Harding stood in the third
row talking to a young man. He said, 'You mean the woman with the black
hair piled into a point, and fastened with a steel circlet. A face of
sheep-like sensuality. Red lips and a round receding chin. A large bosom,
and two thin arms showing beneath the opera cloak, which she has not yet
thrown from her shoulders. I do not know her--_une laideur attirante_. Many
a man might be interested in her. But do you see the woman in the
stage-box? You would not believe it, but she is sixty, and has only just
begun to speak of herself as an old woman. She kept her figure, and had an
admirer when she was fifty-eight.'
'What has become of him?'
'They quarrelled; two years ago he told her he hoped never to see her ugly
old face again. And that delicate little creature in the box next to
her--that pale diaphanous face?'
'With a young man hanging over her whispering in her ear?'
'Yes. She hates the theatre; it gives her neuralgia; but she attends all
the first nights because her one passion is to be made love to in public.
If her admirer did not hang over her in front of the box just as that man
is doing, she would not tolerate him for a week.'
At that moment the conversation was interrupted by a new-comer, who asked
if he had seen the play when it was first produced.
'Yes,' said Harding; 'I did.' And he continued his search for acquaintances
amid white rows of female backs, necks, and half-seen profiles--amid the
black cloth shoulders cut sharply upon the illumined curtain.
'And what do you think of it? Do you think it will succeed this time?'
'Ford will create an impression in the part; but I don't think the piece
'And why? Because the public is too stupid?'
'Partly, and partly because Price is only an intentionist. He cannot carry
an idea quite through.'
'Are you going to write about it?'
'And what will you say?'
'Oh, most interesting things to be said. Let's take the case of Hubert
Price ... Ah, there, the curtain is going up.'
The curtain rolled slowly up, and in a small country drawing-room, in very
simple but very pointedly written dialogue, the story of Mrs. Holmes'
domestic misfortunes was gradually unfolded. It appeared that she had
flirted with Captain Grey; he had written her some compromising letters,
and she had once been to his rooms alone. So the Court had pronounced a
decree _nisi_. But Mrs. Holmes had not been unfaithful to her husband. She
had flirted with Captain Grey because her husband's attentions to a certain
Mrs. Barrington had maddened her, and in her jealous rage had written
foolish letters, and been to see Captain Grey.
Hubert noticed that folk were still asking for their seats, and pushing
down the very rows in which the most influential critics were sitting. They
exchanged a salutation with their friends in the dress-circle, and, when
they were seated, looked around, making observations regarding the
appearance of the house; and all the while the actors were speaking. Hubert
trembled with fear and rage. Would these people never give their attention
to the stage? If they had been sitting by him, he could have struck them.
Then a line turned into nonsense by the actress who played Mrs. Holmes was
a lancinating pain; and the actor who played Captain Grey, played so slowly
that Hubert could hardly refrain from calling from his box. He looked round
the theatre, noticing the indifferent faces of the critics, and the women's
shoulders seemed to him especially vacuous and imbecile.
The principal scene of the second act was between Mrs. Holmes and the man
who had divorced her. He has-been driven to drink by the vile behaviour of
his second wife; he is ruined in health and in pocket, and has come to the
woman he wronged to beg forgiveness; he knows she has learnt to love
Captain Grey, but will not marry him, because she believes that once
married always married. There is only one thing he can do to repair the
wrong he has done--he will commit suicide, and so enable her to marry the
man she loves. He tells her that he has bought the pistol to do it with,
and the words, 'Not here! not here!' escape from her; and he answers, 'No,
not here, but in a cab. I've got one at the door.' He goes out; Captain
Grey enters, and Mrs. Holmes begs him to save her husband. While they are
discussing how this is to be done, he re-enters, saying that his conscience
smote him as he was going to pull the trigger. Will she forgive him? If she
won't, he must make an end of himself. She says she will.
In the third act Hubert had attempted to paint Mr. Holmes' vain efforts to
reform his life. But the constant presence of Captain Grey in the
household, his attempts to win Mrs. Holmes from her husband, and the
drunken husband's amours with the servant-maid disgusted rather than
horrified. In the fourth act the wretched husband admits that his
reformation is impossible, and that, although he has no courage to commit
suicide and set his wife free, he will return to his evil courses; they
will sooner or later make an end of him. The slowness and deadly gravity
with which Ford took this scene rendered it intolerable; and,
notwithstanding the beauty of the conclusion, when the deserted wife, in
the silence of her drawing-room, reads again Captain Grey's letter, telling
her that he has left England for ever, and with another, the success of the
play was left in doubt, and the audience filed out, talking, chattering,
arguing, wondering what the public verdict would be.
To avoid commiseration of heartless friends and the triumphant glances of
literary enemies, Hubert passed through the door leading on to the stage.
Scene-shifters were brutally pushing away what remained of his play; and
the presence of Hamilton Brown, the dramatic author, talking to Ford, was
at that moment particularly disagreeable. On catching sight of Hubert,
Brown ran to him, shook him by the hand, and murmured some discreet
congratulations. He preferred the piece, however, as it had been originally
written, and suggested to Ford the advisability of returning to the first
text. Then Ford went upstairs to take his paint off, and Hubert walked
about the stage with Brown. Brown's insincerity was sufficiently
transparent; but men in Hubert's position catch at straws, and he soon
began to believe that the attitude of the public towards his play was not
so unfavourable as he had imagined.
Hubert tried to summon up a smile for the stage-door keeper, who, he
feared, had heard that the piece had failed, and then the moment they got
outside he begged Rose to tell him the exact truth. She assured him that
Ford had said that he had always counted on a certain amount of opposition;
but that he believed that the general public, being more free of prejudice
and less sophisticated, would be impressed by the simple humanity of the
play. The conversation paused, and at the end of an irritating silence he
said, 'You were excellent, as good as any one could be in a part that did
not suit them. Ah, if he had cast you for the adventuress, how you would
have played it!...'
'I'm so glad you are pleased. I hope my notices will be good. Do you think
'Yes, your notices will be all right,' he answered, with a sigh.
'And your notices will be all right too. No one can say what is going to
succeed. There was a call after each of the last three acts.... I don't see
how a piece could go better. It is the suspense....'
'Ah, yes, the suspense!'
They lingered on the landing, and Hubert said, 'Won't you come in for a
moment?' She followed him into the room. His calm face, usually a perfect
picture of repose and self-possession, betrayed his emotion by a certain
blankness in the eyes, certain contractions in the skin of the forehead.
'I'm afraid,' he said, 'there's no hope.'
'Oh, you mustn't say that!' she replied. 'I think it went very well
indeed.... I know I did nothing with the young girl. I oughtn't to have
undertaken the part.'
'You were excellent. If we only get some good notices. If we don't, I shall
never get another play of mine acted.' He looked at her imploringly,
thirsting for a woman's sympathy. But the little girl was thinking of
certain effects which she would have made, and which the actress who had
played the adventuress had failed to make.
'I watched her all the time,' she said, 'following every line, saying all
the time, "Oh yes, that's all very nice and very proper, my young woman;
but it's not it; no, not at all--not within a hundred miles of it." I don't
think she ever really touched the part--do you?' Hubert did not answer, and
a quiver of distraction ran through the muscles of her face.
'Why don't you answer me?'
'I can't answer you,' he said abruptly. Then remembering, he added,
'Forgive me; I can think of nothing now.' He hid his face in his hands, and
sobbed twice--two heavy, choking sobs, pregnant with the weight of anguish
lying on his heart.
Seeing how much he suffered, she laid her hand on his shoulder. 'I am very
sorry; I wish I could help you. I know how it tears the heart when one
cannot get out what one has in one's brain.'
Her artistic appreciation of his suffering only jarred him the more. What
he longed for was some kind, simple-hearted woman who would say, 'Never
mind, dear; the play was perfectly right, only they did not understand it;
I love you better than ever.' But Rose could not give him the sympathy he
wanted; and to be alone was almost a relief. He dared not go to bed; he sat
looking into space. The roar of London hushed till it was no more than a
faint murmur, the hissing of the gas grew louder, and still Hubert sat
thinking, the same thoughts battling in his brain. He looked into the
future, but could see nothing but suicide. His uncle? He had applied to him
before for help; there was no hope there. Then he tramped up and down,
maddened by the infernal hissing of the gas; and then threw himself into
his arm-chair. And so a terrible night wore away; and it was not until long
after the early carts had begun to rattle in the streets that exhaustion
brought an end to his sufferings, and he rolled into bed.
'What will ye 'ave to eat? Eggs and bacon?'
'Well, then, 'ave a chop?'
'Ye must 'ave something.'
'A cup of tea, a slice of toast. I'm not hungry.'
'Well, ye are worse than a young lady for a happetite. Miss Massey 'as sent
you down these 'ere papers.'
The servant-girl laid the papers on the bed, and Hubert lay back on his
pillow, so that he might collect his thoughts. Stretching forth his hands,
he selected the inevitable paper.
'For those who do not believe that our English home life is composed
mainly, if not entirely, of lying, drunkenness, and conjugal infidelity,
and its sequel divorce, yester evening at the Queen's Theatre must have
been a sad and dismal experience. That men and women who have vowed to love
each other do sometimes prove false to their troth no reasonable man will
deny. With the divorce court before our eyes, even the most enthusiastic
believer in the natural goodness and ultimate perfectibility of human
nature must admit that men and women are frail. But drunkenness and
infidelity are happily not characteristic of our English homes. Then why,
we ask, should a dramatist select such a theme, and by every artifice of
dialogue force into prominence all that is mean and painful in an
unfortunate woman's life? Always the same relentless method; the cold,
passionless curiosity of the vivisector; the scalpel is placed under the
nerve, and we are called upon to watch the quivering flesh. Never the kind
word, the tears, the effusion, which is man's highest prerogative, and
which separates him from the brute and signifies the immortal end for which
he was created. We hold that it is a pity to see so much talent wasted, and
it was indeed a melancholy sight to see so many capable actors and
actresses labouring to----'
'This is even worse than usual,' said Hubert; and glancing through half a
column of hysterical commonplace, he came upon the following:--
'But if this woman had succeeded in reclaiming from vice the man who
unjustly divorced her, and who in his misery goes back to ask her
forgiveness for pity's sake, what a lesson we should have had! And, with
lightened and not with heavier hearts, we should have left the theatre
comforted, better and happier men and women. But turning his back on the
goodness, truth, and love whither he had induced us to believe he was
leading us, the author flagrantly makes the woman contradict her whole
nature in the last act; and, because her husband falls again, she, instead
of raising him with all the tender mercies and humanities of wifehood,
declares that her life has been one long mistake, and that she accepts the
divorce which the Court had unjustly granted. The moral, if such a word may
be applied to such a piece is this: "The law may be bad, but human nature
The other morning papers took the same view,--a great deal of talent wasted
on a subject that could please no one. Hubert threw the papers aside, lay
back, and in the lucid idleness of the bed his thoughts grew darker. It was
hardly possible that the piece could survive such notices; and if it did
not? Well, he would have to go. But until the piece was taken out of the
bills it would be a weakness to harbour the ugly thought.
There were, however, the evening papers to look forward to, and soon after
midday Annie was sent to buy all that had appeared. Hubert expected to find
in these papers a more delicate appreciation of his work. Many of the
critics of the evening press were his personal friends, and nearly all were
young men in full sympathy with the new school of dramatic thought. He read
paper after paper with avidity; and Annie was sent in a cab to buy one that
had not yet found its way so far north as Fitzroy Street. The opinion of
this paper was of all importance, and Hubert tore it open with trembling
fingers. Although more temperately written than the others, it was clearly
favourable, and Hubert sighed a sweet sigh of relief. A weight was lifted
from him; the world suddenly seemed to grow brighter; and he went to the
theatre that evening, and, half doubting and half confidently, presented
himself at the door of Montague Ford's dressing-room. The actor had not yet
begun to dress, and was busy writing letters. He stretched his hand
hurriedly to Hubert.
'Excuse me, my dear fellow; I have a couple of letters to finish.'
Hubert sat down, glancing nervously from the actor to the morning papers
with which the table was strewn. There was not an evening paper there. Had
he not seen them? At the end of about ten minutes the actor said,--
'Well, this is a bad business; they are terribly down on us--aren't they?
What do you think?'
'Have you seen the evening papers--_The Telephone_, for instance?'
'Oh yes, I've seen them all; but the evening papers don't amount to much.
Stiggins's article was terrible. I am afraid he has killed the piece.'
'Don't you think it will run, then?'
'Well, that depends upon the public, of course. If they like it, I'll keep
'How's the booking?'
'Not good.' Montague Ford moved his papers absent-mindedly. At the end of a
long silence he said, 'Even if the piece did catch on, it would take a lot
of working up to undo the mischief of those articles. Of course you can
rely on me to give it every chance. I shan't take it out of the bills if I
can possibly help.'
'There is my _Gipsy_.'
'I have another piece ready to put into rehearsal; it was arranged for six
months ago. I only consented to produce your play because--well, because
there has been such an outcry lately about art.... Tremendous part for me
in the new piece... I'm sure you'll like it.'
The business did improve, but so very slowly that Hubert was afraid Ford
would lose patience and take the play out of the bills. But while the fate
of the play hung in the balance, Hubert's life was being rendered
unbearable by duns. They had found him out, one and all; to escape being
served was an impossibility; and now his table was covered with summonses
to appear at the County Court. This would not matter if the piece once took
the public taste. Then he would be able to pay every one, and have some
time to rest and think. And there seemed every prospect of its catching on.
Discussions regarding the morality of the play had arisen in the
newspapers, and the eternal question whether men and women are happier
married or unmarried had reached its height. Hubert spent the afternoon
addressing letters to the papers, striving to fan the flame of controversy.
Every evening he listened for Rose's footstep on the stairs.--How did the
piece go?--Was there a better house? Money or paper?--Have you seen the
notice in the ----?--First-rate, wasn't it?--That ought to do some
good.--I've heard there was a notice in the ----, but I haven't seen it.
Have you?--No; but So-and-so saw the paper, and said there was nothing in
it. And, do you know, I hear there's going to be a notice in _The Modern
Review_, and that So-and-so is writing it.
Every post brought newspapers; the room was filled with newspapers--all
kinds of newspapers--papers one has never heard of,--French papers, Welsh
papers, North of England papers, Scotch and Irish papers. Hubert read
columns about himself, anecdotes of all kinds,--where he was born, who were
his parents, and what first induced him to attempt writing for the stage;
his personal appearance, mode of life, the cut of his clothes; his
religious, moral, and political views. Had he been the plaintiff in an
action for criminal libel, greater industry in the collection and the
fabrication of personal details could hardly have been displayed.
But at these articles Hubert only glanced; he was interested in his piece,
not in himself, and when Annie brought up _The Modern Review_ he tore it
open, knowing he would find there criticism more fundamental, more
searching. But as he read, the expression of hope which his face wore
changed to one of pain pitiful to look upon. The article began with a
sketch of the general situation, and in a tone of commiseration, of
benevolent malice, the writer pointed out how inevitable it was that the
critics should have taken Mr. Price, when _Divorce_ was first produced, for
the new dramatic genius they were waiting for. 'There comes a moment,' said
this caustic writer, 'in the affairs of men when the new is not only
eagerly accepted, but when it is confounded with the original. Wearied by
the old stereotyped form of drama, the critics had been astonished by a
novelty of subject, more apparent than real, and by certain surface
qualities in the execution; they had hailed the work as being original both
in form and in matter, whereas all that was good in the play had been
borrowed from France and Scandinavia. _Divorce_ was the inevitable product
of the time. It had been written by Mr. Price, but it might have been
written by a dozen other young men--granting intelligence, youth, leisure,
a university education, and three or four years of London life--any one of
a dozen clever young men who frequent West End drawing-rooms and dabble in
literature might have written it. All that could be said was that the play
was, or rather had been, _dans le mouvement_; and original work never is
_dans le mouvement_. _Divorce_ was nothing more than the product of certain
surroundings, and remembering Mr. Price's other plays, there seemed to be
no reason to believe that he would do better. Mr. Price had tried his hand
at criticism, and that was a sure sign that the creative faculty had begun
to wither. His critical essays were not rich nor abundant in thought, they
were not the skirmishing of a man fighting for his ideas, they were not
preliminary to a great battle; they were at once vague and pedantic,
somewhat futile, _les ébats d'un esprit en peine_, and seemed to announce
a talent in progress of disintegration rather than of reconstruction.
'Sometimes the critic's phrases seemed wet with tears; sometimes,
abandoning his tone of commiseration, he would assume one of scientific
indifference. The phenomenon was the commonest. There were dozens of Hubert
Prices in London. The universities and the newspapers, working singly and
in collaboration, turned them out by the dozen. And the mission of these
men of intelligent culture seemed to be to _poser des lapins sur la jeune
presse_. Each one came in turn with his little volume of poems, his little
play, his little picture; all were men of "advanced ideas"; in other words,
they were all _dans le mouvement_. There was the rough Hubert Price, who
made mild consternation in the drawing-room, and there was the
sophisticated Hubert Price, who cajoled the drawing-room; there was the
sincere and the insincere, and the Price that suffered and the Price that
didn't. Each one brought a different _nuance_, a thousand infinitesimal
variations of the type, but, considered merely in its relation to art, the
species may be said to be divided into two distinct categories. In the
first category are those who rise almost at the first bound to a certain
level, who produce quickly, never reaching again the original standard,
dropping a little lower at each successive effort until their work becomes
indistinguishable from the ordinary artistic commercialism of the time. The
fate of those in the second category is more pathetic; they gradually
wither and die away like flowers planted in a thin soil. Among these men
many noble souls are to be found, men who have surrendered all things for
love of their art, and who seemed at starting to be the best equipped to
win, but who failed, impossible to tell how or why. Sometimes their failure
turns to comedy, sometimes to tragedy. They may become refined, delicate,
elderly bachelors, the ornaments of drawing-rooms, professional
diners-out--men with brilliant careers behind them. But if fate has not
willed that they should retire into brilliant shells; if chance does not
allow them to retreat, to separate themselves from their kind, but
arbitrarily joins them to others, linking their fate to the fate of others'
unhappiness, disaster may and must accrue from the alliance; honesty of
purpose, trueness of heart, deep love, every great, good, and gracious
quality to be found in nature, will not suffice to save them.'
The paper dropped from his hands, and he recollected all his failures.
'Once I could do good work; now I can do neither good work nor bad. Were I
a rich man, I should collect my scattered papers and write songs to be sung
in drawing-rooms; but being a poor one, I must--I suppose I must get out.
Positively, there is no hope,--debts on every side. Fate has willed me to
go as went Haydon, Gerard de Nerval, and Maréchal. The first cut his
throat, the second hanged himself, and the third blew out his brains.
Clearly the time has come to consider how I shall make my exit. It is a
little startling to be called upon so peremptorily to go.'
In this moment of extreme dejection it seemed to Hubert that the writer of
the article had told him the exact truth. He refused to admit the plea of
poverty. It was of course hard to write when one is being harassed by
creditors. But if he had had it in him, it would have come out. The critic
had very probably told him the truth. He could not hope to make a living
out of literature. He had not the strength to write the masterpiece which
the perverse cruelty of nature had permitted him only to see, and he was
hopelessly unfit for journalism. But in his simple, wholesome mind there
was no bent towards suicide; and he scanned every horizon. Once again he
thought of his uncle. Five years ago he had written, asking him for the
loan of a hundred pounds. He had received ten. And how vain it would be to
write a second time! A few pounds would only serve to prolong his misery.
No; he would not drift from degradation to degradation.
He only glanced at the letter which Annie had brought up with the copy of
_The Modern Review_. It was clearly a lawyer's letter. Should he open it?
Why not spare himself the pain? He could alter nothing; and in these last
days---- Leaving the thought unfinished, he sought for his keys; he went to
his box, unlocked it, and took out a small paper package. Of the fifty
pounds he had received from Ford about twenty remained: he had been poorer
before, but hardly quite so hopeless. He scanned every horizon--all were
barred. The thought of suicide, and with it the instinctive shrinking from
it, came into his mind again. Suppose he took, that very night, an overdose
of chloral? He tried to put the thought from him, and returned, a little
dazed and helpless, to his chair. Had the critic in _The Modern Review_
told him the truth? Was he incapable of earning a living? It seemed so.
Above all, was he incapable of finishing _The Gipsy_ as he intended? No;
that he felt was a lie. Give him six months' quiet, free from worry and all
anxiety, and he would do it. Many a year had passed since he had enjoyed a
month of quiet; and glancing again at the letter on the table, he thought
that perhaps at that very moment a score of gallery boys were hissing his
play. Perhaps at that very moment Ford was making up his mind to announce
the last six nights of _Divorce_. At a quarter to twelve he heard Rose's
foot on the stairs. He opened the door.
'How did the piece go to-night?'
'Only pretty well? Won't you come in for a few minutes?... So the piece
didn't go very well to-night?'
'Oh yes, it did. I've seen it go better; but----'
'Did you get a call?'
'Yes, after the second act.'
'Not after the third?'
'No. That act never goes well. Harding came behind; I was speaking to him,
and he said something which struck me as being very true. Ford, he said,
plays the part a great deal too seriously. When the piece was first
produced, it was played more good-humouredly by indifferent actors, who let
the thing run without trying to bring out every point. Ford makes it as
hard as nails. I think those were his exact words.'
Hubert did not answer. At the end of a long silence he said,--
'Did you hear anything about the last night's?'
'No,' she said; 'I heard nothing of that.'
'Ford appeared quite satisfied then?'
'Yes, quite,' she answered, with difficulty; for his eyes were fixed on
her, and she felt he knew she was not telling the truth. The conversation
paused again, and to turn it into another channel she said, 'Why, you have
not opened your letter!'
'I can see it is a lawyer's letter, on account of some unpaid bill. If I
could pay it, I would; but as I can't----'
'You are afraid to open it,' said Rose.
Ashamed of his weakness, Hubert opened the letter, and began to read. Rose
saw that the letter was not such an one as he had expected, and a moment
after his face told her that fortunate news had come to him. The signs of
the tumult within were represented by the passing of the hand across the
brow, as if to brush aside some strange hallucination, and the sudden
coming of a vague look of surprise and fear into the eyes. He said,--
'Read it! Read it!'
Relieved of much detail and much cumbersome legal circumlocution, it was to
the following effect:--That about three months ago Mr. Burnett had come up
from his place in Sussex, and at the offices of Messrs. Grandly & Co. had
made a will, in which he had disinherited his adopted daughter, Miss Emily
Watson, and left everything to Mr. Hubert Price. There was no question as
to the validity of the will; but Messrs. Grandly deemed it their duty to
inform Mr. Hubert Price of the circumstances under which it had been made,
and also of the fact that a few weeks before his death Mr. Burnett had told
Mr. John Grandly, who was then staying with Mr. Burnett at Ashwood, that he
intended adding a codicil, leaving some two or three hundred a year to Miss
Watson. It was unfortunate that Mr. Burnett had not had time to do this;
for Miss Watson was an orphan, eighteen years of age, and entirely
unprovided for. Messrs. Grandly begged to submit these facts to the
consideration of Mr. Hubert Price. Miss Watson was now residing at Ashwood.
She was there with a friend of hers, Mrs. Bentley; and should Mr. Hubert
Price feel inclined to do what Mr. Burnett had left undone, Messrs. Grandly
would have very great pleasure in carrying his wishes into effect.
'I'm not dreaming, am I?'
'No, you are not. It is quite true. Your uncle has left his money to you. I
am so glad; indeed I am. You will be able to finish your play, and take a
theatre and produce it yourself if you like. I hope you won't forget me. I
do want to play that part. You can't quite know what I shall do with it.
One can't explain oneself in a scene here and there.... What are you
'I'm thinking of that poor girl, Emily Watson. It comes very hard upon
'Who is she?'
'The girl my uncle disinherited.'
'Oh, she! Well, you can marry her if you like. That would not be a bad
notion. But if you do, you'll forget all about me and Lady Hayward.'
'No; I shall never forget you, Rose.' He stretched his hand to her; but,
irrespective of his will, the gesture seemed full of farewell.
'I'm so much obliged to you,' he said; 'had it not been for you, I might
never have opened that letter.'
'Even if you hadn't, it wouldn't have mattered; you would have heard of
your good fortune some other way. But it is getting very late. I must say
good-night. I hope you will have a pleasant time in the country, and will
finish your play. Good-night.'
Returning from the door, he stopped to think. 'We have been very good
friends--that is all. How strangely determined she is!... More so than I
am. She is bound to succeed. There is in her just that note of individual
passion.... Perhaps some one will find her out before I have
finished,--that would be a pity. I wonder which of us will succeed first?'
Then the madness of good fortune came upon him suddenly; he could think no
more of Rose, and had to go for a long walk in the streets.
'Dearest Emily, you must prepare yourself for the worst.'
'Is he dead?'
'Yes; he passed away quite quietly. To look at him one would say he was
asleep; he does not appear to have suffered at all.'
'Oh, Julia, Julia, do you think he forgave me? I could not do what he asked
me.... I loved him very dearly as a father, but I could not have married
'No, dear, you could not. Such a marriage would have been most unnatural;
he was more than forty years older than you.'
'I do not think he ever thought of such a thing until about a month or six
weeks ago. You remember how I ran to you? I was as white as a ghost, and I
trembled like a leaf. I could hardly speak.... You remember?'
'Yes, I remember; and some hours after, when I came into this room, he was
standing there, just there, on the hearth-rug; there was a fearful look of
pain and despair on his face--he looked as if he was going mad. I never saw
such a look before, and I never wish to see such a look again. And the
effort he made to appear unconcerned when he saw me was perhaps the worst
part of it. I pretended to see nothing, and walked away towards the window
and looked out. But all the while I could feel that some terrible drama was
passing behind me. At last I had to look round. He was sitting in that
chair, his elbows on his knees, clasping his head with both hands, the old,
gnarled fingers twined in the iron-grey hair. Then, unable to contain
himself any longer, he rushed out of the room, out of the house, and across
'You say that he passed away quietly; he did not seem to suffer at all?'
'No, he never recovered consciousness.'
'But do you think that my refusal to marry him had anything to do with his
'Oh no, Emily; a fit of apoplexy, with a man of his age, generally ends
'Even if I had known it all beforehand I don't think I could have acted
differently. I could not have married him. Indeed I couldn't, Julia, not
even if I knew I should save his life by doing so. I daresay it is very
wicked of me, but----'
'Dearest Emily, you must not give way to such thoughts; you did quite right
in refusing to marry Mr. Burnett. It was very wrong of him even to think of
asking you, and if he had lived he would have seen how wrong it was of him
to desire such a thing.'
'If he had lived! But then he didn't live, not even long enough to forgive
me, and when we think of how much he suffered--I don't mean in dying, you
say he passed away quietly, but all this last month how heart-broken he
looked! You remember when he sat at the head of the table, never speaking
to us, and how frightened I was lest I should meet him on the stairs; I
used to stand at the door of my room, afraid to move. I know he suffered,
poor old man. I was very, very sorry for him. Indeed I was, Julia, for I'm
not selfish, and when I think now that he died without forgiving me, I
feel, I feel--oh, I feel as if I should like to die myself. Why do such
things happen to me? I feel just as miserable now as I used to when I lived
with father and mother, who could not agree. I have often told you how
miserable I was then, but I don't think you ever quite understood. I feel
just the same now, just as if I never wanted to see any one or anything
again. I was so unhappy when I was a child, they thought I would die, and I
should have died if I had remained listening to father and mother any
longer. ... Every one thought I was so lucky when Mr. Burnett decided to
adopt me and leave me all his money, and he has done that, poor old man, so
I suppose I should be happy; but I'm not.'
The girl's eyes turned instinctively towards the window and rested for a
moment on the fair, green prospects of the park.
'I hated to listen to father and mother quarrelling, but I loved them, and
I had not been here a year before father died, and darling mother was not
long following him--only six months. Then I had no one: a few distant
relatives, whom I knew nothing of, whom I did not care for, so I gave all
my love to Mr. Burnett. He was so good to me; he never denied me anything;
he gave me everything, even you, dearest Julia. When he thought I wanted a
companion, he found you for me. I learnt to love you. You became my best
and dearest friend. Then things seemed to brighten up, and I thought I was
happy, when all this dreadful trouble came upon us. Don't let's speak of it
more than we can help. I often wished myself dead. Didn't you, Julia?'
Emily Watson told the story of her misfortunes in a low, musical voice,
heedless of two or three interruptions, hardly conscious of her listener,
impressed and interested by the fatality of circumstances which she
believed in design against her. She was a small, slender girl of about
eighteen. Her abundant chestnut hair--exquisite, soft, and silky--was
looped picturesquely, and fastened with a thin tortoiseshell comb. The tiny
mouth trembled, and the large, prominent eyes reflected a strange, yearning
soul. She was dressed in white muslin, and the fantastically small waist
was confined with a white band. Her friend and companion, Julia Bentley,
was a woman of about thirty, well above the medium height, full-bosomed and
small-waisted. The type was Anglo-Saxon even to commonplace. The face was
long, with a look of instinctive kindness upon it. She was given to
staring, and as she looked at Emily, her blue eyes filled with an
expression which told of a nature at once affectionate and intelligent. She
was dressed in yellow linen, and wore a gold bracelet on a well-turned arm.
The room was a long, old-fashioned drawing-room. It had three windows, and
all three were filled with views of the park, now growing pale in the
evening air. The flower-gardens were drawn symmetrically about the house
and were set with blue flower-vases in which there were red geraniums. It
was a very large room, nearly forty feet long, with old portraits on the
walls--ugly things and ill done; and where there were no portraits the
walls were decorated with vine leaves and mountains. The parqueted floor
was partially covered with skins, and the furniture seemed to have known
many a generation; some of it was heavy and cumbersome, some of it was
modern. There was a grand piano, and above it two full-length portraits--a
lady in a blue dress and a man in black velvet knee-breeches. At the end of
a long silence, Emily suddenly threw herself weeping into Julia's arms.
'Oh, you are my only friend; you will not leave me now.... We shall always
love one another, shall we not? If anything ever came between us it would
kill me.... That poor old man lying dead up-stairs! He loved me very
dearly, and I loved him, too. Yet I said just now I could not have married
him even if I had known it would save his life. I was wrong; yes, I would
have married him if I had known.... You don't believe me?'
'My dearest girl, you must try to forget that Mr. Burnett ever entertained
so foolish a thought. He was a very good man, and loved you for a long time
as he should have loved you--as a daughter. We shall respect his memory
best by forgetting the events of the last six weeks. And now, Emily, dinner
will be ready at seven o'clock, and it is now six. What are you going to
'I shall go out for a little walk. I shall go down and see the swans.'
'Shall I come with you?'
'No, thank you, dear; I think I'd sooner be alone. I want to think.'
Julia looked a moment anxiously at this fragile girl, whose tiny head was
poised on a long, delicate neck like a fruit on its stem.
'Yes, go for a walk, dear,' said Julia; 'it will do you good. Shall I go
and fetch your hat and jacket?'
'No, thank you, I will not trouble you; I'll go myself.'
'No, Emily, I think you had better let me go.'
'Oh, no; I am not afraid.'
And she went up the wide oak staircase, thinking of the man who lay dead in
the room at the end of the passage. She was conscious of a sense of dread;
the house seemed to wear a strange air, and her dog, Dandy, was conscious
of it, too; he was more silent, less joyful than usual. And when she came
from her room, dressed to go out, instead of rushing down-stairs, barking
with joy, he dropped his tail and lingered at the end of the passage. She
called him; he still hesitated, and then, yielding to a sudden desire, she
went down the passage and knocked at the door of the room. The nurse
answered her knock.
'Oh, don't come in, miss.'
'Why not? I want to see him before he goes away for ever.'
Upon the limp, white curtains of an old four-posted bed she saw the
memorable profile--stern, unrelenting. How still he lay! Never would that
face speak or laugh or see again. Although sixty-five, his head was covered
with short, thick, iron-grey hair; the beard, too, was short and thick, and
iron-grey. The face was rugged, and when Emily touched the coarse hand,
telling of a life of toil, she started--it was singularly cold. Fear and
sorrow in like measure choked her, and her soul awoke, and tremblingly she
walked out of the house, glad to breathe the sweet evening air.
She walked towards the artificial water. The sky was melancholy and grey,
and the park lay before her, hushed and soundless. Through the shadows of
the darkening island two swans floated softly, leaving behind slight silver
lines; above, the swallows flew high in the evening. There was sensation of
death, too, in this cold, mournful water, and in the silence that hung
about it, and in some vague way it reminded Emily of her own life. She had
known little else but death; her life seemed full of death; and those
reflections, so distinct and so colourless, were like death.
Then, in a sudden expansion of youth she wondered. Her own life, how
strange, how personal, how intense! What did it mean, what meaning had it
in the great, wide world? And the impressive tranquillity, the pale death
of the day, lying like a flower on the water, seemed to symbolise her
thought, and she felt more distinctly than she had ever done before. And
there arose in her a nervous and passionate interest in herself. She seemed
so strange, so wonderful. Her childhood was in itself an enigma. That sad
and sorrowful childhood of hers, passed in that old London house; her
mother's love for her; her cruel, stern stepfather, and the endless
quarrels between her father and mother, which made her young life so
unbearable, so wretched, that she could never think of those years without
tears rising to her eyes. And then the going away, coming to live with Mr.
Burnett! The death of her father and her dear mother, so sudden, following
so soon one after the other. How much there had been in her life, how
wonderful it was! Her love of Mr. Burnett, and then that bitter and
passionate change in him! That proposal of marriage; could she ever forget
it? And then this cruel and sudden death. Everything she had ever loved had
been taken from her. Only Julia remained, and should Julia be taken from
her, she felt that she must die. But that would not, could not, happen. She
was now mistress of Ashwood, she was a great heiress; and she and Julia
would live always together, they would always love one another, they would
always live here in this beautiful place which they loved so well.
There were at the funeral a few personal friends who lived in the
neighbourhood, the farmers on the estate, and the labourers; and when the
little crowd separated outside the church, Emily and Julia walked back to
Ashwood with Mr. Grandly, Mr. Burnett's intimate friend and solicitor. They
returned through the park, hardly speaking at all, Emily absent-minded as
usual, waving her parasol occasionally at a passing butterfly. The grass
was warm and beautiful to look on, and they lingered, prolonging the walk.
It was very good of Mr. Grandly to accompany them back; he might have gone
on straight to the station, so Julia thought, and she was surprised indeed
when, instead of bidding them good-bye at the front door, he said--
'Before I return to London I have a communication to make to both you
ladies. Will it suit you to come into the drawing-room with me?'
'Perfectly, so far as I'm concerned; and you, Emily?'
'Oh, I've nothing to do; but if it is about business, Julia will
'I think you had better be present, Miss Watson.'
Mr. Grandly was a tall, massive man with benevolent features; his bald,
pink skull was partly covered with one lock of white hair. There was an
anxious look in his pale, deep-set eyes which impressed Julia, and she
said: 'I hope this communication you have to make to us is not of a painful
nature. We have----'
'Yes, Mrs. Bentley, I know that you have been severely tried lately, but
there is no help for it. I cannot keep you in ignorance any longer of
certain facts relating to Mr. Burnett's will.' The words 'will' and 'facts'
struck on Emily's ear. She had been thinking about her fortune. The very
ground she was walking on was hers. She was the owner of this beautiful
park; it seemed like a fairy tale. And that house, that dear, old-fashioned
house, that rambling, funny old place of all sizes and shapes, full of deep
staircases and pictures, was hers. Her eyes wandered along the smooth wide
drive, down to the placid water crossed by the great ornamental bridge, the
island where she had watched the swans floating last night--all these
things were hers. So the words 'will' and 'facts' and 'ignorance of them'
jarred her clutching little dream, and she turned her eyes--they wore an
anxious look--towards Mr. Grandly, and said with an authoritative air:
'Yes, let us go into the drawing-room; I want to hear what Mr. Grandly has
to say about----Let us go into the drawing-room at once.'
Julia took the chair nearest to her. Emily stood at the window, waiting
impatiently for Mr. Grandly to begin. He laid his hat on the parquet, wiped
his forehead with his handkerchief, and drew an arm-chair forward. 'Mr.
Burnett, as you know, made a will some years ago, in favour of his cousin
and adopted daughter, Miss Emily Watson. In that will he left his entire
fortune to her, Ashwood Park and all his invested money. No other person
was mentioned in that will, except Miss Watson. It was I who drew up this
will. I remember discussing its provisions with Mr. Burnett, and advising
him to leave something, even if it were only a few hundred pounds, to his
nephew, Hubert Price. But Mr. Burnett was always a very headstrong man; he
had quarrelled with this young man, as he said, irreparably, and could not
be induced to leave him even a hundred pounds. I thought this was harsh,
and as Mr. Burnett's friend I told him so--I have always been opposed to
extreme measures,--but he was not to be gainsaid. So the matter remained
for many years; never did Mr. Burnett mention his nephew's name. I thought
he had forgotten the young man's existence, when, suddenly, without
warning, Mr. Burnett came into my office and told me that he intended to
alter his will, leaving all his property to his nephew, Hubert Price. You
know what old friends we were, and, presuming on our friendship, I told him
what I thought of his project of disinheritance, for it amounted to that.
Well, suffice it to say, we very nearly quarrelled over the matter. I
refused to draw up the will, so iniquitous did it seem to me. He said:
"Very well, Grandly, I'll go elsewhere." Then I remembered that if I
allowed him to go elsewhere I should lose all hold over him, and I
consented to draw up the will.'
Emily listened, a vague expression of pain in her pathetic eyes. Then this
house, this room where she was sitting, was not hers, and a strange man
would come soon and drive her away!
'And he has left Ashwood to Mr. Price, is not that his name?' she said,
'Yes; he has left Ashwood to Mr. Price.'
'And when did he make this new will?'
'I think it is just about a month ago.'
Emily leaned forward, and her great eyes, full of light and sorrow, were
fixed in space, her little pale hands linked, and the great mass of
chestnut hair slipping from the comb. She was, in truth, at that moment the
subject of a striking picture, and she was even more impressive when she
said, speaking slowly: 'Then that old man was even wickeder than I thought.
Oh, what I have learned in the last three or four weeks! Oh, what
wickedness, what wickedness!... But go on,' she said, looking at Mr.
Grandly; 'tell me all.'
'I suppose there was some very serious reason, but on that point Mr.
Burnett absolutely refused to answer me. He said his reasons were his own,
and that he intended to leave his money to whom he pleased.'
'There was----' Julia stopped short, and looked interrogatively at Emily.
'Go on, Julia, tell him; we have nothing to conceal.'
'Mr. Burnett asked Emily to marry him a short time ago; she, of course,
refused, and ever since he seemed more like----'
'A madman than anything else,' broke in Emily. 'Oh, for the last month we
have led a miserable life! It was a happy release.'
'Is it possible,' said Mr. Grandly, 'that Mr. Burnett seriously
contemplated marriage with Miss Watson?'
'Yes, and her refusal seemed to drive him out of his mind.'
'I never was more surprised.' The placid face of the eminently respectable
solicitor lapsed into contemplation. 'I often tried,' he said, suddenly,
'to divine the reason why he changed his will. Disappointed love seemed the
only conceivable reason, but I rejected it as being quite inconceivable.
Well, it only shows how little we know what is passing in each other's
'Then,' said Julia, 'Mr. Burnett has divided his fortune, leaving Ashwood
to Mr. Price, and all his invested money to Emily?'
A look of pain passed over Mr. Grandly's benevolent face, and he answered:
'Unfortunately he has left everything to Mr. Price.'
'I'm glad,' exclaimed Emily, 'that he has left me nothing. Once he thought
fit to disinherit me because I would not marry him, I prefer not to have
anything to do with his money.'
Mr. Grandly and Julia looked at each other; they did not need to speak;
each knew that the girl did not realise at once the full and irretrievable
nature of this misfortune. The word 'destitute' was at present unrealised,
and she only thought that she had been deprived of what she loved best in
the world--Ashwood. Mr. Grandly glanced at her, and then speaking a little
more hurriedly, said--
'I was saying just now that I only consented to draw up the will so that I
might be able at some future time to induce Mr. Burnett to add a codicil to
it. Later on I spoke to him again on the subject, and he promised to
consider it, and a few days after he wrote to me, saying that he had
decided to take my advice and add a codicil. Subsequently, in another
letter he mentioned three hundred a year as being the sum he thought he
would be in honour bound to leave Miss Watson. Unfortunately, he did not
live long enough to carry this intention into execution. But the letters he
addressed to me on the subject exist, and I have every hope that the heir,
Mr. Price, will be glad to make some provision for his cousin.'
'Have you any reason for thinking that Mr. Price will do so?' said Julia.
'No. But it seems impossible for any honourable man to act otherwise.'
'He cannot bear enmity against Emily, who of course knew nothing of his
quarrel with his uncle. Do you know anything about Mr. Price? What is he?
Where does he live?'
'He is a literary man, I believe. I have heard that he writes plays!'
'Oh, a writer of plays.'
'Yes. I am glad of it; he may be easier to deal with. I daresay it is a
mistaken notion, but one is apt to imagine that these artist folk are more
generous with their money than ordinary mortals.'
'Is he married?' said Julia, and involuntarily she glanced toward Emily.
Mr. Grandly, too, looked toward the girl, and then he said: 'I don't know
if Mr. Price is married; I hope not.'
'Why do you hope so?' said Emily, suddenly.
'Because if he isn't, there will only be one person to deal with. If he had
a wife, she would have a voice in the matter; and in such circumstances as
ours a man is easier to deal with. I earnestly hope Mr. Hubert Price is not
married, and shall consider it a great point in our favour if on returning
to town I find he is not.' Then assuming a lighter tone, for the nervous
strain of the last ten minutes had been intense, he said: 'If he is not
married, who knows--you may take a fancy to him, and he to you; then things
would be just the same as before--only better.'
'I should not marry him--I hate him already. I wonder how you can think of
such a thing, Mr. Grandly? You know that he must be a very wicked man for
uncle to have disinherited him. I have always heard that--but I don't know
what I am saying.' Tears welled up into her eyes. 'I daresay my cousin is
not so bad as--but I can talk no more.... I am very miserable, I have