New Grub Street
Part 10 out of 13
'And what are we to do when you are married?' asked Dora.
The question was put on the first evening of their being all
under the same roof. The trio had had supper in the girls'
sitting-room, and it was a moment for frank conversation. Dora
rejoiced in the coming marriage; her brother had behaved
honourably, and Marian, she trusted, would be very happy,
notwithstanding disagreement with her father, which seemed
inevitable. Maud was by no means so well pleased, though she
endeavoured to wear smiles. It looked to her as if Jasper had
been guilty of a kind of weakness not to be expected in him.
Marian, as an individual, could not be considered an appropriate
wife for such a man with such a future; and as for her five
thousand pounds, that was ridiculous. Had it been ten-- something
can be made of ten thousand; but a paltry five! Maud's ideas on
such subjects had notably expanded of late, and one of the
results was that she did not live so harmoniously with her sister
as for the first few months of their London career.
'I have been thinking a good deal about that,' replied Jasper to
the younger girl's question. He stood with his back to the fire
and smoked a cigarette. 'I thought at first of taking a flat; but
then a flat of the kind I should want would be twice the rent of
a large house. If we have a house with plenty of room in it you
might come and live with us after a time. At first I must find
you decent lodgings in our neighbourhood.'
'You show a good deal of generosity, Jasper,' said Maud, 'but
pray remember that Marian isn't bringing you five thousand a
'I regret to say that she isn't. What she brings me is five
hundred a year for ten years--that's how I look at it. My own
income will make it something between six or seven hundred at
first, and before long probably more like a thousand. I am quite
cool and collected. I understand exactly where I am, and where I
am likely to be ten years hence. Marian's money is to be spent in
obtaining a position for myself. At present I am spoken of as a
"smart young fellow," and that kind of thing; but no one would
offer me an editorship, or any other serious help. Wait till I
show that I have helped myself and hands will be stretched to me
from every side. 'Tis the way of the world. I shall belong to a
club; I shall give nice, quiet little dinners to selected people;
I shall let it be understood by all and sundry that I have a
social position. Thenceforth I am quite a different man, a man to
be taken into account. And what will you bet me that I don't
stand in the foremost rank of literary reputabilities ten years
'I doubt whether six or seven hundred a year will be enough for
'If not, I am prepared to spend a thousand. Bless my soul! As if
two or three years wouldn't suffice to draw out the mean
qualities in the kind of people I am thinking of! I say ten, to
leave myself a great margin.'
'Marian approves this?'
'I haven't distinctly spoken of it. But she approves whatever I
The girls laughed at his way of pronouncing this.
'And let us just suppose that you are so unfortunate as to fail?'
'There's no supposing it, unless, of course, I lose my health. I
am not presuming on any wonderful development of powers. Such as
I am now, I need only to be put on the little pedestal of a
decent independence and plenty of people will point fingers of
admiration at me. You don't fully appreciate this. Mind, it
wouldn't do if I had no qualities. I have the qualities; they
only need bringing into prominence. If I am an unknown man, and
publish a wonderful book, it will make its way very slowly, or
not at all. If I, become a known man, publish that very same
book, its praise will echo over both hemispheres. I should be
within the truth if I had said "a vastly inferior book," But I am
in a bland mood at present. Suppose poor Reardon's novels had
been published in the full light of reputation instead of in the
struggling dawn which was never to become day, wouldn't they have
been magnified by every critic? You have to become famous before
you can secure the attention which would give fame.'
He delivered this apophthegm with emphasis, and repeated it in
'You have to obtain reputation before you can get a fair hearing
for that which would justify your repute. It's the old story of
the French publisher who said to Dumas: "Make a name, and I'll
publish anything you write." "But how the diable," cries the
author, "am I to make a name if I can't get published?" If a man
can't hit upon any other way of attracting attention, let him
dance on his head in the middle of the street; after that he may
hope to get consideration for his volume of poems. I am speaking
of men who wish to win reputation before they are toothless. Of
course if your work is strong, and you can afford to wait, the
probability is that half a dozen people will at last begin to
shout that you have been monstrously neglected, as you have. But
that happens when you are hoary and sapless, and when nothing
under the sun delights you.'
He lit a new cigarette.
'Now I, my dear girls, am not a man who can afford to wait. First
of all, my qualities are not of the kind which demand the
recognition of posterity. My writing is for to-day, most
distinctly hodiernal. It has no value save in reference to
to-day. The question is: How can I get the eyes of men fixed upon
me? The answer: By pretending I am quite independent of their
gaze. I shall succeed, without any kind of doubt; and then I'll
have a medal struck to celebrate the day of my marriage.'
But Jasper was not quite so well assured of the prudence of what
he was about to do as he wished his sisters to believe. The
impulse to which he had finally yielded still kept its force;
indeed, was stronger than ever since the intimacy of lovers'
dialogue had revealed to him more of Marian's heart and mind.
Undeniably he was in love. Not passionately, not with the
consuming desire which makes every motive seem paltry compared
with its own satisfaction; but still quite sufficiently in love
to have a great difficulty in pursuing his daily tasks. This did
not still the voice which bade him remember all the opportunities
and hopes he was throwing aside. Since the plighting of troth
with Marian he had been over to Wimbledon, to the house of his
friend and patron Mr Horace Barlow, and there he had again met
with Miss Rupert. This lady had no power whatever over his
emotions, but he felt assured that she regarded him with strong
interest. When he imagined the possibility of contracting a
marriage with Miss Rupert, who would make him at once a man of
solid means, his head drooped, and he wondered at his
precipitation. It had to be confessed that he was the victim of a
vulgar weakness. He had declared himself not of the first order
of progressive men.
The conversation with Amy Reardon did not tend to put his mind at
rest. Amy was astonished at so indiscreet a step in a man of his
calibre. Ah! if only Amy herself were free, with her ten thousand
pounds to dispose of! She, he felt sure, did not view him with
indifference. Was there not a touch of pique in the elaborate
irony with which she had spoken of his choice?--But it was idle
to look in that direction.
He was anxious on his sisters' account. They were clever girls,
and with energy might before long earn a bare subsistence; but it
began to be doubtful whether they would persevere in literary
work. Maud, it was clear, had conceived hopes of quite another
kind. Her intimacy with Mrs Lane was effecting a change in her
habits, her dress, even her modes of speech. A few days after
their establishment in the new lodgings, Jasper spoke seriously
on this subject with the younger girl.
'I wonder whether you could satisfy my curiosity in a certain
matter,' he said. 'Do you, by chance, know how much Maud gave for
that new jacket in which I saw her yesterday?'
Dora was reluctant to answer.
'I don't think it was very much.'
'That is to say, it didn't cost twenty guineas. Well, I hope not.
I notice, too, that she has been purchasing a new hat.'
'Oh, that was very inexpensive. She trimmed it herself.'
'Did she? Is there any particular, any quite special, reason for
'I really can't say, Jasper.'
'That's ambiguous, you know. Perhaps it means you won't allow
yourself to say?'
'No, Maud doesn't tell me about things of that kind.'
He took opportunities of investigating the matter, with the
result that some ten days after he sought private colloquy with
Maud herself. She had asked his opinion of a little paper she was
going to send to a ladies' illustrated weekly, and he summoned
her to his own room.
'I think this will do pretty well,' he said. 'There's rather too
much thought in it, perhaps. Suppose you knock out one or two of
the less obvious reflections, and substitute a wholesome
commonplace? You'll have a better chance, I assure you.'
'But I shall make it worthless.'
'No; you'll probably make it worth a guinea or so. You must
remember that the people who read women's papers are irritated,
simply irritated, by anything that isn't glaringly obvious. They
hate an unusual thought. The art of writing for such papers--
indeed, for the public in general--is to express vulgar thought
and feeling in a way that flatters the vulgar thinkers and
feelers. Just abandon your mind to it, and then let me see it
Maud took up the manuscript and glanced over it with a
contemptuous smile. Having observed her for a moment, Jasper
threw himself back in the chair and said, as if casually:
'I am told that Mr Dolomore is becoming a great friend of yours.'
The girl's face changed. She drew herself up, and looked away
towards the window.
'I don't know that he is a "great" friend.'
'Still, he pays enough attention to you to excite remark.'
'That of several people who go to Mrs Lane's.'
'I don't know any reason for it,' said Maud coldly.
'Look here, Maud, you don't mind if I give you a friendly
She kept silence, with a look of superiority to all monition.
'Dolomore,' pursued her brother, 'is all very well in his way,
but that way isn't yours. I believe he has a good deal of money,
but he has neither brains nor principle. There's no harm in your
observing the nature and habits of such individuals, but don't
allow yourself to forget that they are altogether beneath you.'
'There's no need whatever for you to teach me self-respect,'
replied the girl.
'I'm quite sure of that; but you are inexperienced. On the whole,
I do rather wish that you would go less frequently to Mrs Lane's.
It was rather an unfortunate choice of yours. Very much better if
you could have got on a good footing with the Barnabys. If you
are generally looked upon as belonging to the Lanes' set it will
make it difficult for you to get in with the better people.'
Maud was not to be drawn into argument, and Jasper could only
hope that his words would have some weight with her. The Mr
Dolomore in question was a young man of rather offensive type--
athletic, dandiacal, and half-educated. It astonished Jasper that
his sister could tolerate such an empty creature for a moment;
who has not felt the like surprise with regard to women's
inclinations? He talked with Dora about it, but she was not in
her sister's confidence.
'I think you ought to have some influence with her,' Jasper said.
'Maud won't allow anyone to interfere in--her private
affairs.''It would be unfortunate if she made me quarrel with
'Oh, surely there isn't any danger of that?'
'I don't know, she mustn't be obstinate.'
Jasper himself saw a good deal of miscellaneous society at this
time. He could not work so persistently as usual, and with wise
tactics he used the seasons of enforced leisure to extend his
acquaintance. Marian and he were together twice a week, in the
Of his old Bohemian associates he kept up intimate relations with
one only, and that was Whelpdale. This was in a measure
obligatory, for Whelpdale frequently came to see him, and it
would have been difficult to repel a man who was always making
known how highly he esteemed the privilege of Milvain's
friendship, and whose company on the whole was agreeable enough.
At the present juncture Whelpdale's cheery flattery was a
distinct assistance; it helped to support Jasper in his
self-confidence, and to keep the brightest complexion on the
prospect to which he had committed himself.
'Whelpdale is anxious to make Marian's acquaintance,' Jasper said
to his sisters one day. 'Shall we have him here tomorrow
'Just as you like,' Maud replied.
'You won't object, Dora?'
'Oh no! I rather like Mr Whelpdale.'
'If I were to repeat that to him he'd go wild with delight. But
don't be afraid; I shan't. I'll ask him to come for an hour, and
trust to his discretion not to bore us by staying too long.'
A note was posted to Whelpdale; he was invited to present himself
at eight o'clock, by which time Marian would have arrived.
Jasper's room was to be the scene of the assembly, and punctual
to the minute the literary adviser appeared. He was dressed with
all the finish his wardrobe allowed, and his face beamed with
gratification; it was rapture to him to enter the presence of
these three girls, one of whom he had, more suo, held in romantic
remembrance since his one meeting with her at Jasper's old
lodgings. His eyes melted with tenderness as he approached Dora
and saw her smile of gracious recognition. By Maud he was
profoundly impressed. Marian inspired him with no awe, but he
fully appreciated the charm of her features and her modest
gravity. After all, it was to Dora that his eyes turned again
most naturally. He thought her exquisite, and, rather than be
long without a glimpse of her, he contented himself with fixing
his eyes on the hem of her dress and the boot-toe that
occasionally peeped from beneath it.
As was to be expected in such a circle, conversation soon turned
to the subject of literary struggles.
'I always feel it rather humiliating,' said Jasper, 'that I have
gone through no very serious hardships. It must be so gratifying
to say to young fellows who are just beginning:
"Ah, I remember when I was within an ace of starving to death,"
and then come out with Grub Street reminiscences of the most
appalling kind. Unfortunately, I have always had enough to eat.'
'I haven't,' exclaimed Whelpdale. 'I have lived for five days on
a few cents' worth of pea-nuts in the States.'
'What are pea-nuts, Mr Whelpdale?' asked Dora.
Delighted with the question, Whelpdale described that undesirable
species of food.
'It was in Troy,' he went on, 'Troy, N.Y. To think that a man
should live on pea-nuts in a town called Troy!'
'Tell us those adventures,' cried Jasper. 'It's a long time since
I heard them, and the girls will enjoy it vastly.'
Dora looked at him with such good-humoured interest that the
traveller needed no further persuasion.
'It came to pass in those days,' he began, 'that I inherited from
my godfather a small, a very small, sum of money. I was making
strenuous efforts to write for magazines, with absolutely no
encouragement. As everybody was talking just then of the
Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, I conceived the brilliant
idea of crossing the Atlantic, in the hope that I might find
valuable literary material at the Exhibition--or Exposition, as
they called it--and elsewhere. I won't trouble you with an
account of how I lived whilst I still had money; sufficient that
no one would accept the articles I sent to England, and that at
last I got into perilous straits. I went to New York, and thought
of returning home, but the spirit of adventure was strong in me.
"I'll go West," I said to myself. "There I am bound to find
material." And go I did, taking an emigrant ticket to Chicago. It
was December, and I should like you to imagine what a journey of
a thousand miles by an emigrant train meant at that season. The
cars were deadly cold, and what with that and the hardness of the
seats I found it impossible to sleep; it reminded me of tortures
I had read about; I thought my brain would have burst with the
need of sleeping. At Cleveland, in Ohio, we had to wait several
hours in the night; I left the station and wandered about till I
found myself on the edge of a great cliff that looked over Lake
Erie. A magnificent picture! Brilliant moonlight, and all the
lake away to the horizon frozen and covered with snow. The clocks
struck two as I stood there.'
He was interrupted by the entrance of a servant who brought
'Nothing could be more welcome,' cried Dora. 'Mr Whelpdale makes
one feel quite chilly.'
There was laughter and chatting whilst Maud poured out the
beverage. Then Whelpdale pursued his narrative.
'I reached Chicago with not quite five dollars in my pockets,
and, with a courage which I now marvel at, I paid immediately
four dollars and a half for a week's board and lodging. "Well," I
said to myself, "for a week I am safe. If I earn nothing in that
time, at least I shall owe nothing when I have to turn out into
the streets." It was a rather dirty little boarding-house, in
Wabash Avenue, and occupied, as I soon found, almost entirely by
actors. There was no fireplace in my bedroom, and if there had
been I couldn't have afforded a fire. But that mattered little;
what I had to do was to set forth and discover some way of making
money. Don't suppose that I was in a desperate state of mind; how
it was, I don't quite know, but I felt decidedly cheerful. It was
pleasant to be in this new region of the earth, and I went about
the town like a tourist who has abundant resources.'
He sipped his coffee.
'I saw nothing for it but to apply at the office of some
newspaper, and as I happened to light upon the biggest of them
first of all, I put on a bold face, marched in, asked if I could
see the editor. There was no difficulty whatever about this; I
was told to ascend by means of the "elevator" to an upper storey,
and there I walked into a comfortable little room where a
youngish man sat smoking a cigar at a table covered with print
and manuscript. I introduced myself, stated my business. "Can you
give me work of any kind on your paper?" "Well, what experience
have you had?" "None whatever." The editor smiled. "I'm very much
afraid you would be no use to us. But what do you think you could
do?" Well now, there was but one thing that by any possibility I
could do. I asked him: "Do you publish any fiction--short
stories?" "Yes, we're always glad of a short story, if it's
good." This was a big daily paper; they have weekly supplements
of all conceivable kinds of matter. "Well," I said, "if I write a
story of English life, will you consider it?" "With pleasure." I
left him, and went out as if my existence were henceforth
He laughed heartily, and was joined by his hearers.
'It was a great thing to be permitted to write a story, but then-
-what story? I went down to the shore of Lake Michigan; walked
there for half an hour in an icy wind. Then I looked for a
stationer's shop, and laid out a few of my remaining cents in the
purchase of pen, ink, and paper--my stock of all these things was
at an end when I left New York. Then back to the boarding-house.
Impossible to write in my bedroom, the temperature was below
zero; there was no choice but to sit down in the common room, a
place like the smoke-room of a poor commercial hotel in England.
A dozen men were gathered about the fire, smoking, talking,
quarrelling. Favourable conditions, you see, for literary effort.
But the story had to be written, and write it I did, sitting
there at the end of a deal table; I finished it in less than a
couple of days, a good long story, enough to fill three columns
of the huge paper. I stand amazed at my power of concentration as
often as I think of it!'
'And was it accepted?' asked Dora.
'You shall hear. I took my manuscript to the editor, and he told
me to come and see him again next morning. I didn't forget the
appointment. As I entered he smiled in a very promising way, and
said, "I think your story will do. I'll put it into the Saturday
supplement. Call on Saturday morning and I'll remunerate you."
How well I remember that word "remunerate"! I have had an
affection for the word ever since. And remunerate me he did;
scribbled something on a scrap of paper, which I presented to the
cashier. The sum was eighteen dollars. Behold me saved!'
He sipped his coffee again.
'I have never come across an English editor who treated me with
anything like that consideration and general kindliness. How the
man had time, in his position, to see me so often, and do things
in such a human way, I can't understand. Imagine anyone trying
the same at the office of a London newspaper! To begin with, one
couldn't see the editor at all. I shall always think with
profound gratitude of that man with the peaked brown beard and
'But did the pea-nuts come after that!' inquired Dora.
'Alas! they did. For some months I supported myself in Chicago,
writing for that same paper, and for others. But at length the
flow of my inspiration was checked; I had written myself out. And
I began to grow home-sick, wanted to get back to England. The
result was that I found myself one day in New York again, but
without money enough to pay for a passage home. I tried to write
one more story. But it happened, as I was looking over newspapers
in a reading-room, that I saw one of my Chicago tales copied into
a paper published at Troy. Now Troy was not very far off; and it
occurred to me that, if I went there, the editor of this paper
might be disposed to employ me, seeing he had a taste for my
fiction. And I went, up the Hudson by steamboat. On landing at
Troy I was as badly off as when I reached Chicago; I had less
than a dollar. And the worst of it was I had come on a vain
errand; the editor treated me with scant courtesy, and no work
was to be got. I took a little room, paying for it day by day,
and in the meantime I fed on those loathsome pea-nuts, buying a
handful in the street now and then. And I assure you I looked
starvation in the face.'
'What sort of a town is Troy?' asked Marian, speaking for the
'Don't ask me. They make straw hats there principally, and they
sell pea-nuts. More I remember not.'
'But you didn't starve to death,' said Maud.
'No, I just didn't. I went one afternoon into a lawyer's office,
thinking I might get some copying work, and there I found an odd-
looking old man, sitting with an open Bible on his knees. He
explained to me that he wasn't the lawyer; that the lawyer was
away on business, and that he was just guarding the office. Well,
could he help me? He meditated, and a thought occurred to him.
"Go," he said, "to such-and-such a boarding-house, and ask for Mr
Freeman Sterling. He is just starting on a business tour, and
wants a young man to accompany him." I didn't dream of asking
what the business was, but sped, as fast as my trembling limbs
would carry me, to the address he had mentioned. I asked for Mr
Freeman Sterling, and found him. He was a photographer, and his
business at present was to go about getting orders for the
reproducing of old portraits. A good-natured young fellow. He
said he liked the look of me, and on the spot engaged me to
assist him in a house-to-house visitation. He would pay for my
board and lodging, and give me a commission on all the orders I
obtained. Forthwith I sat down to a "square meal," and ate--my
conscience, how I ate!'
'You were not eminently successful in that pursuit, I think?'
'I don't think I got half-a-dozen orders. Yet that good Samaritan
supported me for five or six weeks, whilst we travelled from Troy
to Boston. It couldn't go on; I was ashamed of myself; at last I
told him that we must part. Upon my word, I believe he would have
paid my expenses for another month; why, I can't understand. But
he had a vast respect for me because I had written in newspapers,
and I do seriously think that he didn't like to tell me I was a
useless fellow. We parted on the very best of terms in Boston.'
'And you again had recourse to pea-nuts?' asked Dora.
'Well, no. In the meantime I had written to someone in England,
begging the loan of just enough money to enable me to get home.
The money came a day after I had seen Sterling off by train.'
An hour and a half quickly passed, and Jasper, who wished to have
a few minutes of Marian's company before it was time for her to
go, cast a significant glance at his sisters. Dora said
'You wished me to tell you when it was half-past nine, Marian.'
And Marian rose. This was a signal Whelpdale could not disregard.
Immediately he made ready for his own departure, and in less than
five minutes was gone, his face at the last moment expressing
blended delight and pain.
'Too good of you to have asked me to come,' he said with
gratitude to Jasper, who went to the door with him. 'You are a
happy man, by Jove! A happy man!'
When Jasper returned to the room his sisters had vanished. Marian
stood by the fire. He drew near to her, took her hands, and
repeated laughingly Whelpdale's last words.
'Is it true?' she asked.
'Tolerably true, I think.'
'Then I am as happy as you are.'
He released her hands, and moved a little apart.
'Marian, I have been thinking about that letter to your father. I
had better get it written, don't you think?'
She gazed at him with troubled eyes.
'Perhaps you had. Though we said it might be delayed until--'
'Yes, I know. But I suspect you had rather I didn't wait any
longer. Isn't that the truth?'
'Partly. Do just as you wish, Jasper.'
'I'll go and see him, if you like.'
'I am so afraid-- No, writing will be better.'
'Very well. Then he shall have the letter to-morrow afternoon.'
'Don't let it come before the last post. I had so much rather
not. Manage it, if you can.'
'Very well. Now go and say good-night to the girls. It's a vile
night, and you must get home as soon as possible.'
She turned away, but again came towards him, murmuring:
'Just a word or two more.'
'About the letter?'
'No. You haven't said--'
'And you couldn't go away contentedly unless I repeated for the
hundredth time that I love you?'
Marian searched his countenance.
'Do you think it foolish? I live only on those words.'
'Well, they are better than pea-nuts.'
'Oh don't! I can't bear to--'
Jasper was unable to understand that such a jest sounded to her
like profanity. She hid her face against him, and whispered the
words that would have enraptured her had they but come from his
lips. The young man found it pleasant enough to be worshipped,
but he could not reply as she desired. A few phrases of
tenderness, and his love-vocabulary was exhausted; he even grew
weary when something more--the indefinite something--was vaguely
required of him.
'You are a dear, good, tender-hearted girl,' he said, stroking
her short, soft hair, which was exquisite to the hand. 'Now go
and get ready.'
She left him, but stood for a few moments on the landing before
going to the girls' room.
CHAPTER XXIX. CATASTROPHE
Marian had finished the rough draft of a paper on James
Harrington, author of 'Oceana.' Her father went through it by the
midnight lamp, and the next morning made his comments. A black
sky and sooty rain strengthened his inclination to sit by the
study fire and talk at large in a tone of flattering benignity.
'Those paragraphs on the Rota Club strike me as singularly
said, tapping the manuscript with the mouthpiece of his pipe.
'Perhaps you might say a word or two more about Cyriac Skinner;
one mustn't be too allusive with general readers, their ignorance
is incredible. But there is so little to add to this paper--so
little to alter--that I couldn't feel justified in sending it as
my own work. I think it is altogether too good to appear
anonymously. You must sign it, Marian, and have the credit that
is due to you.'
'Oh, do you think it's worth while?' answered the girl, who was
far from easy under this praise. Of late there had been too much
of it; it made her regard her father with suspicions which
increased her sense of trouble in keeping a momentous secret from
'Yes, yes; you had better sign it. I'll undertake there's no
other girl of your age who could turn out such a piece of work. I
think we may fairly say that your apprenticeship is at an end.
Before long,' he smiled anxiously, 'I may be counting upon you as
a valued contributor. And that reminds me; would you be disposed
to call with me on the Jedwoods at their house next Sunday?'
Marian understood the intention that lay beneath this proposal.
She saw that her father would not allow himself to seem
discouraged by the silence she maintained on the great subject
which awaited her decision. He was endeavouring gradually to
involve her in his ambitions, to carry her forward by insensible
steps. It pained her to observe the suppressed eagerness with
which he looked for her reply.
'I will go if you wish, father, but I had rather not.'
'I feel sure you would like Mrs Jedwood. One has no great opinion
of her novels, but she is a woman of some intellect. Let me book
you for next Sunday; surely I have a claim to your companionship
now and then.'
Marian kept silence. Yule puffed at his pipe, then said with a
'I suppose it has never even occurred to you to try your hand at
'I haven't the least inclination that way.'
'You would probably do something rather good if you tried. But I
don't urge it. My own efforts in that line were a mistake, I'm
disposed to think. Not that the things were worse than multitudes
of books which nowadays go down with the many-headed. But I never
quite knew what I wished to be at in fiction. I wasn't content to
write a mere narrative of the exciting kind, yet I couldn't hit
upon subjects of intellectual cast that altogether satisfied me.
Well, well; I have tried my hand at most kinds of literature.
Assuredly I merit the title of man of letters.'
'You certainly do.'
'By-the-by, what should you think of that title for a review--
Letters? It has never been used, so far as I know. I like the
word "letters." How much better "a man of letters" than "a
literary man"! And apropos of that, when was the word
"literature" first used in our modern sense to signify a body of
writing? In Johnson's day it was pretty much the equivalent of
our "culture." You remember his saying, "It is surprising how
little literature people have." His dictionary, I believe,
defines the word as "learning, skill in letters"--nothing else.'
It was characteristic of Yule to dwell with gusto on little
points such as this; he prosed for a quarter of an hour, with a
pause every now and then whilst he kept his pipe alight.
'I think Letters wouldn't be amiss,' he said at length, returning
to the suggestion which he wished to keep before Marian's mind.
'It would clearly indicate our scope. No articles on bimetallism,
as Quarmby said--wasn't it Quarmby?'
He laughed idly.
'Yes, I must ask Jedwood how he likes the name.'
Though Marian feared the result, she was glad when Jasper made up
his mind to write to her father. Since it was determined that her
money could not be devoted to establishing a review, the truth
ought to be confessed before Yule had gone too far in nursing his
dangerous hope. Without the support of her love and all the
prospects connected with it, she would hardly have been capable
of giving a distinct refusal when her reply could no longer be
postponed; to hold the money merely for her own benefit would
have seemed to her too selfish, however slight her faith in the
project on which her father built so exultantly. When it was
declared that she had accepted an offer of marriage, a sacrifice
of that kind could no longer be expected of her. Opposition must
direct itself against the choice she had made. It would be stern,
perhaps relentless; but she felt able to face any extremity of
wrath. Her nerves quivered, but in her heart was an exhaustless
source of courage.
That a change had somehow come about in the girl Yule was aware.
He observed her with the closest study day after day. Her health
seemed to have improved; after a long spell of work she had not
the air of despondent weariness which had sometimes irritated
him, sometimes made him uneasy. She was more womanly in her
bearing and speech, and exercised an independence, appropriate
indeed to her years, but such as had not formerly declared itself
The question with her father was whether these things resulted
simply from her consciousness of possessing what to her seemed
wealth, or something else had happened of the nature that he
dreaded. An alarming symptom was the increased attention she paid
to her personal appearance; its indications were not at all
prominent, but Yule, on the watch for such things, did not
overlook them. True, this also might mean nothing but a sense of
relief from narrow means; a girl would naturally adorn herself a
little under the circumstances.
His doubts came to an end two days after that proposal of a title
for the new review. As he sat in his study the servant brought
him a letter delivered by the last evening post. The handwriting
was unknown to him; the contents were these:
'DEAR MR YULE,--It is my desire to write to you with perfect
frankness and as simply as I can on a subject which has the
deepest interest for me, and which I trust you will consider in
that spirit of kindness with which you received me when we first
met at Finden.
'On the occasion of that meeting I had the happiness of being
presented to Miss Yule. She was not totally a stranger to me; at
that time I used to work pretty regularly in the Museum Reading-
room, and there I had seen Miss Yule, had ventured to observe her
at moments with a young man's attention, and had felt my interest
aroused, though I did not know her name. To find her at Finden
seemed to me a very unusual and delightful piece of good fortune.
When I came back from my holiday I was conscious of a new purpose
in life, a new desire and a new motive to help me on in my chosen
'My mother's death led to my sisters' coming to live in London.
Already there had been friendly correspondence between Miss Yule
and the two girls, and now that the opportunity offered they
began to see each other frequently. As I was often at my sisters'
lodgings it came about that I met Miss Yule there from time to
time. In this way was confirmed my attachment to your daughter.
The better I knew her, the more worthy I found her of reverence
'Would it not have been natural for me to seek a renewal of the
acquaintance with yourself which had been begun in the country?
Gladly I should have done so. Before my sisters' coming to London
I did call one day at your house with the desire of seeing you,
but unfortunately you were not at home. Very soon after that I
learnt to my extreme regret that my connection with The Current
and its editor would make any repetition of my visit very
distasteful to you. I was conscious of nothing in my literary
life that could justly offend you--and at this day I can say the
same--but I shrank from the appearance of importunity, and for
some months I was deeply distressed by the fear that what I most
desired in life had become unattainable. My means were very
slight; I had no choice but to take such work as offered, and
mere chance had put me into a position which threatened ruin to
the hope that you would some day regard me as a not unworthy
suitor for your daughter's hand.
'Circumstances have led me to a step which at that time seemed
impossible. Having discovered that Miss Yule returned the feeling
I entertained for her, I have asked her to be my wife, and she
has consented. It is now my hope that you will permit me to call
upon you. Miss Yule is aware that I am writing this letter; will
you not let her plead for me, seeing that only by an unhappy
chance have I been kept aloof from you? Marian and I are equally
desirous that you should approve our union; without that
approval, indeed, something will be lacking to the happiness for
which we hope.
'Believe me to be sincerely yours,
Half an hour after reading this Yule was roused from a fit of the
gloomiest brooding by Marian's entrance. She came towards him
timidly, with pale countenance. He had glanced round to see who
it was, but at once turned his head again.
'Will you forgive me for keeping this secret from you, father?'
'Forgive you?' he replied in a hard, deliberate voice. 'I assure
you it is a matter of perfect indifference to me. You are long
since of age, and I have no power whatever to prevent your
falling a victim to any schemer who takes your fancy. It would be
folly in me to discuss the question. I recognise your right to
have as many secrets as may seem good to you. To talk of
forgiveness is the merest affectation.'
'No, I spoke sincerely. If it had seemed possible I should gladly
have let you know about this from the first. That would have been
natural and right. But you know what prevented me.'
'I do. I will try to hope that even a sense of shame had
something to do with it.'
'That had nothing to do with it,' said Marian, coldly. 'I have
never had reason to feel ashamed.'
'Be it so. I trust you may never have reason to feel repentance.
May I ask when you propose to be married?'
'I don't know when it will take place.'
'As soon, I suppose, as your uncle's executors have discharged a
piece of business which is distinctly germane to the matter?'
'Does your mother know?'
'I have just told her.'
'Very well, then it seems to me that there's nothing more to be
'Do you refuse to see Mr Milvain?'
'Most decidedly I do. You will have the goodness to inform him
that that is my reply to his letter.'
'I don't think that is the behaviour of a gentleman,' said
Marian, her eyes beginning to gleam with resentment.
'I am obliged to you for your instruction.'
'Will you tell me, father, in plain words, why you dislike Mr
'I am not inclined to repeat what I have already fruitlessly told
you. For the sake of a clear understanding, however, I will let
you know the practical result of my dislike. From the day of your
marriage with that man you are nothing to me. I shall distinctly
forbid you to enter my house. You make your choice, and go your
own way. I shall hope never to see your face again.'
Their eyes met, and the look of each seemed to fascinate the
'If you have made up your mind to that,' said Marian in a shaking
voice, 'I can remain here no longer. Such words are senselessly
cruel. To-morrow I shall leave the house.'
'I repeat that you are of age, and perfectly independent. It can
be nothing to me how soon you go. You have given proof that I am
of less than no account to you, and doubtless the sooner we cease
to afflict each other the better.'
It seemed as if the effect of these conflicts with her father
were to develop in Marian a vehemence of temper which at length
matched that of which Yule was the victim. Her face, outlined to
express a gentle gravity, was now haughtily passionate; nostrils
and lips thrilled with wrath, and her eyes were magnificent in
their dark fieriness.
'You shall not need to tell me that again,' she answered, and
immediately left him.
She went into the sitting-room, where Mrs Yule was awaiting the
result of the interview.
'Mother,' she said, with stern gentleness, 'this house can no
longer be a home for me. I shall go away to-morrow, and live in
lodgings until the time of my marriage.'
Mrs Yule uttered a cry of pain, and started up.
'Oh, don't do that, Marian! What has he said to you? Come and
talk to me, darling--tell me what he's said--don't look like
She clung to the girl despairingly, terrified by a transformation
she would have thought impossible.
'He says that if I marry Mr Milvain he hopes never to see my face
again. I can't stay here. You shall come and see me, and we will
be the same to each other as always. But father has treated me
too unjustly. I can't live near him after this.'
'He doesn't mean it,' sobbed her mother. 'He says what he's sorry
for as soon as the words are spoken. He loves you too much, my
darling, to drive you away like that. It's his disappointment,
Marian; that's all it is. He counted on it so much. I've heard
him talk of it in his sleep; he made so sure that he was going to
have that new magazine, and the disappointment makes him that he
doesn't know what he's saying. Only wait and see; he'll tell you
he didn't mean it, I know he will. Only leave him alone till he's
had time to get over it. Do forgive him this once.'
'It's like a madman to talk in that way,' said the girl,
releasing herself. 'Whatever his disappointment, I can't endure
it. I have worked hard for him, very hard, ever since I was old
enough, and he owes me some kindness, some respect. It would be
different if he had the least reason for his hatred of Jasper. It
is nothing but insensate prejudice, the result of his quarrels
with other people. What right has he to insult me by representing
my future husband as a scheming hypocrite?'
'My love, he has had so much to bear--it's made him so quick-
'Then I am quick-tempered too, and the sooner we are apart the
better, as he said himself'
'Oh, but you have always been such a patient girl.'
'My patience is at an end when I am treated as if I had neither
rights nor feelings. However wrong the choice I had made, this
was not the way to behave to me. His disappointment? Is there a
natural law, then, that a daughter must be sacrificed to her
father? My husband will have as much need of that money as my
father has, and he will be able to make far better use of it. It
was wrong even to ask me to give my money away like that. I have
a right to happiness, as well as other women.'
She was shaken with hysterical passion, the natural consequence
of this outbreak in a nature such as hers. Her mother, in the
meantime, grew stronger by force of profound love that at length
had found its opportunity of expression. Presently she persuaded
Marian to come upstairs with her, and before long the
overburdened breast was relieved by a flow of tears. But Marian's
purpose remained unshaken.
'It is impossible for us to see each other day after day,' she
said when calmer. 'He can't control his anger against me, and I
suffer too much when I am made to feel like this. I shall take a
lodging not far off where you can see me often.'
'But you have no money, Marian,' replied Mrs Yule, miserably.
'No money? As if I couldn't borrow a few pounds until all my own
comes to me! Dora Milvain can lend me all I shall want; it won't
make the least difference to her. I must have my money very soon
At about half-past eleven Mrs Yule went downstairs, and entered
'If you are coming to speak about Marian,' said her husband,
turning upon her with savage eyes, 'you can save your breath. I
won't hear her name mentioned.'
She faltered, but overcame her weakness.
'You are driving her away from us, Alfred. It isn't right! Oh, it
'If she didn't go I should, so understand that! And if I go, you
have seen the last of me. Make your choice, make your choice!'
He had yielded himself to that perverse frenzy which impels a man
to acts and utterances most wildly at conflict with reason. His
sense of the monstrous irrationality to which he was committed
completed what was begun in him by the bitterness of a great
'If I wasn't a poor, helpless woman,' replied his wife, sinking
upon a chair and crying without raising her hands to her face,
'I'd go and live with her till she was married, and then make a
home for myself. But I haven't a penny, and I'm too old to earn
my own living; I should only be a burden to her.'
'That shall be no hindrance,' cried Yule. 'Go, by all means; you
shall have a sufficient allowance as long as I can continue to
work, and when I'm past that, your lot will be no harder than
mine. Your daughter had the chance of making provision for my old
age, at no expense to herself. But that was asking too much of
her. Go, by all means, and leave me to make what I can of the
rest of my life; perhaps I may save a few years still from the
curse brought upon me by my own folly.'
It was idle to address him. Mrs Yule went into the sitting-room,
and there sat weeping for an hour. Then she extinguished the
lights, and crept upstairs in silence.
Yule passed the night in the study. Towards morning he slept for
an hour or two, just long enough to let the fire go out and to
get thoroughly chilled. When he opened his eyes a muddy twilight
had begun to show at the window; the sounds of a clapping door
within the house, which had probably awakened him, made him aware
that the servant was already up.
He drew up the blind. There seemed to be a frost, for the
moisture of last night had all disappeared, and the yard upon
which the window looked was unusually clean. With a glance at the
black grate he extinguished his lamp, and went out into the
passage. A few minutes' groping for his overcoat and hat, and he
left the house.
His purpose was to warm himself with a vigorous walk, and at the
same time to shake off if possible, the nightmare of his rage and
hopelessness. He had no distinct feeling with regard to his
behaviour of the past evening; he neither justified nor condemned
himself; he did not ask himself whether Marian would to-day leave
her home, or if her mother would take him at his word and also
depart. These seemed to be details which his brain was too weary
to consider. But he wished to be away from the wretchedness of
his house, and to let things go as they would whilst he was
absent. As he closed the front door he felt as if he were
escaping from an atmosphere that threatened to stifle him.
His steps directing themselves more by habit than with any
deliberate choice, he walked towards Camden Road. When he had
reached Camden Town railway-station he was attracted by a coffee-
stall; a draught of the steaming liquid, no matter its quality,
would help his blood to circulate. He laid down his penny, and
first warmed his hands by holding them round the cup. Whilst
standing thus he noticed that the objects at which he looked had
a blurred appearance; his eyesight seemed to have become worse
this morning. Only a result of his insufficient sleep perhaps. He
took up a scrap of newspaper that lay on the stall; he could read
it, but one of his eyes was certainly weaker than the other;
trying to see with that one alone, he found that everything
He laughed, as if the threat of new calamity were an amusement in
his present state of mind. And at the same moment his look
encountered that of a man who had drawn near to him, a shabbily-
dressed man of middle age, whose face did not correspond with his
'Will you give me a cup of coffee?' asked the stranger, in a low
voice and with shamefaced manner. 'It would be a great kindness.'
The accent was that of good breeding. Yule hesitated in surprise
for a moment, then said:
'Have one by all means. Would you care for anything to eat?'
'I am much obliged to you. I think I should be none the worse for
one of those solid slices of bread and butter.'
The stall-keeper was just extinguishing his lights; the frosty
sky showed a pale gleam of sunrise.
'Hard times, I'm afraid,' remarked Yule, as his beneficiary began
to eat the luncheon with much appearance of grateful appetite.
'Very hard times.' He had a small, thin, colourless countenance,
with large, pathetic eyes; a slight moustache and curly beard.
His clothes were such as would be worn by some very poor clerk.
'I came here an hour ago,' he continued, 'with the hope of
meeting an acquaintance who generally goes from this station at a
certain time. I have missed him, and in doing so I missed what I
had thought my one chance of a breakfast. When one has neither
dined nor supped on the previous day, breakfast becomes a meal of
'True. Take another slice.'
'I am greatly obliged to you.'
'Not at all. I have known hard times myself, and am likely to
'I trust not. This is the first time that I have positively
begged. I should have been too much ashamed to beg of the kind of
men who are usually at these places; they certainly have no money
to spare. I was thinking of making an appeal at a baker's shop,
but it is very likely I should have been handed over to a
policeman. Indeed I don't know what I should have done; the last
point of endurance was almost reached. I have no clothes but
these I wear, and they are few enough for the season. Still, I
suppose the waistcoat must have gone.'
He did not talk like a beggar who is trying to excite compassion,
but with a sort of detached curiosity concerning the difficulties
of his position.
'You can find nothing to do?' said the man of letters.
'Positively nothing. By profession I am a surgeon, but it's a
long time since I practised. Fifteen years ago I was comfortably
established at Wakefield; I was married and had one child. But my
capital ran out, and my practice, never anything to boast of,
fell to nothing. I succeeded in getting a place as an assistant
to a man at Chester. We sold up, and started on the journey.'
He paused, looking at Yule in a strange way.
'What happened then?'
'You probably don't remember a railway accident that took place
near Crewe in that year--it was 1869? I and my wife and child
were alone in a carriage that was splintered. One moment I was
talking with them, in fairly good spirits, and my wife was
laughing at something I had said; the next, there were two
crushed, bleeding bodies at my feet. I had a broken arm, that was
all. Well, they were killed on the instant; they didn't suffer.
That has been my one consolation.'
Yule kept the silence of sympathy.
'I was in a lunatic asylum for more than a year after that,'
continued the man. 'Unhappily, I didn't lose my senses at the
moment; it took two or three weeks to bring me to that pass. But
I recovered, and there has been no return of the disease. Don't
suppose that I am still of unsound mind. There can be little
doubt that poverty will bring me to that again in the end; but as
yet I am perfectly sane. I have supported myself in various ways.
No, I don't drink; I see the question in your face. But I am
physically weak, and, to quote Mrs Gummidge, "things go contrairy
with me." There's no use lamenting; this breakfast has helped me
on, and I feel in much better spirits.'
'Your surgical knowledge is no use to you?'
The other shook his head and sighed.
'Did you ever give any special attention to diseases of the
'Special, no. But of course I had some acquaintance with the
'Could you tell by examination whether a man was threatened with
cataract, or anything of that kind?'
'I think I could.'
'I am speaking of myself.'
The stranger made a close scrutiny of Yule's face, and asked
certain questions with reference to his visual sensations.
'I hardly like to propose it,' he said at length, 'but if you
were willing to accompany me to a very poor room that I have not
far from here, I could make the examination formally.'
'I will go with you.'
They turned away from the stall, and the ex-surgeon led into a
by-street. Yule wondered at himself for caring to seek such a
singular consultation, but he had a pressing desire to hear some
opinion as to the state of his eyes. Whatever the stranger might
tell him, he would afterwards have recourse to a man of
recognised standing; but just now companionship of any kind was
welcome, and the poor hungry fellow, with his dolorous life-
story, had made appeal to his sympathies. To give money under
guise of a fee would be better than merely offering alms.
'This is the house,' said his guide, pausing at a dirty door. 'It
isn't inviting, but the people are honest, so far as I know. My
room is at the top.'
'Lead on,' answered Yule.
In the room they entered was nothing noticeable; it was only the
poorest possible kind of bed-chamber, or all but the poorest
possible. Daylight had now succeeded to dawn, yet the first thing
the stranger did was to strike a match and light a candle.
'Will you kindly place yourself with your back to the window?' he
said. 'I am going to apply what is called the catoptric test. You
have probably heard of it?'
'My ignorance of scientific matters is fathomless.'
The other smiled, and at once offered a simple explanation of the
term. By the appearance of the candle as it reflected itself in
the patient's eye it was possible, he said, to decide whether
cataract had taken hold upon the organ.
For a minute or two he conducted his experiment carefully, and
Yule was at no loss to read the result upon his face.
'How long have you suspected that something was wrong?' the
surgeon asked, as he put down the candle.
'For several months.'
'You haven't consulted anyone?'
'No one. I have kept putting it off. Just tell me what you have
'The back of the right lens is affected beyond a doubt.'
'That means, I take it, that before very long I shall be
'I don't like to speak with an air of authority. After all, I am
only a surgeon who has bungled himself into pauperdom. You must
see a competent man; that much I can tell you in all earnestness.
Do you use your eyes much?'
'Fourteen hours a day, that's all.'
'H'm! You are a literary man, I think?'
'I am. My name is Alfred Yule.'
He had some faint hope that the name might be recognised; that
would have gone far, for the moment, to counteract his trouble.
But not even this poor satisfaction was to be granted him; to his
hearer the name evidently conveyed nothing.
'See a competent man, Mr Yule. Science has advanced rapidly since
the days when I was a student; I am only able to assure you of
the existence of disease.'
They talked for half an hour, until both were shaking with cold.
Then Yule thrust his hand into his pocket.
'You will of course allow me to offer such return as I am able,'
he said. 'The information isn't pleasant, but I am glad to have
He laid five shillings on the chest of drawers--there was no
table. The stranger expressed his gratitude.
'My name is Duke,' he said, 'and I was christened Victor--
possibly because I was doomed to defeat in life. I wish you could
have associated the memory of me with happier circumstances.'
They shook hands, and Yule quitted the house.
He came out again by Camden Town station. The coffee-stall had
disappeared; the traffic of the great highway was growing
uproarious. Among all the strugglers for existence who rushed
this way and that, Alfred Yule felt himself a man chosen for
fate's heaviest infliction. He never questioned the accuracy of
the stranger's judgment, and he hoped for no mitigation of the
doom it threatened. His life was over--and wasted.
He might as well go home, and take his place meekly by the
fireside. He was beaten. Soon to be a useless old man, a burden
and annoyance to whosoever had pity on him.
It was a curious effect of the imagination that since coming into
the open air again his eyesight seemed to be far worse than
before. He irritated his nerves of vision by incessant tests,
closing first one eye then the other, comparing his view of
nearer objects with the appearance of others more remote,
fancying an occasional pain--which could have had no connection
with his disease. The literary projects which had stirred so
actively in his mind twelve hours ago were become an
insubstantial memory; to the one crushing blow had succeeded a
second, which was fatal. He could hardly recall what special
piece of work he had been engaged upon last night. His thoughts
were such as if actual blindness had really fallen upon him.
At half-past eight he entered the house. Mrs Yule was standing at
the foot of the stairs; she looked at him, then turned away
towards the kitchen. He went upstairs. On coming down again he
found breakfast ready as usual, and seated himself at the table.
Two letters waited for him there; he opened them.
When Mrs Yule came into the room a few moments later she was
astonished by a burst of loud, mocking laughter from her husband,
excited, as it appeared, by something he was reading.
'Is Marian up?' he asked, turning to her.
'She is not coming to breakfast?'
'Then just take that letter to her, and ask her to read it.'
Mrs Yule ascended to her daughter's bedroom. She knocked, was
bidden enter, and found Marian packing clothes in a trunk. The
girl looked as if she had been up all night; her eyes bore the
traces of much weeping.
'He has come back, dear,' said Mrs Yule, in the low voice of
apprehension, 'and he says you are to read this letter.'
Marian took the sheet, unfolded it, and read. As soon as she had
reached the end she looked wildly at her mother, seemed to
endeavour vainly to speak, then fell to the floor in
unconsciousness. The mother was only just able to break the
violence of her fall. Having snatched a pillow and placed it
beneath Marian's head, she rushed to the door and called loudly
for her husband, who in a moment appeared.
'What is it?' she cried to him. 'Look, she has fallen down in a
faint. Why are you treating her like this?'
'Attend to her,' Yule replied roughly. 'I suppose you know better
than I do what to do when a person faints.'
The swoon lasted for several minutes.
'What's in the letter?' asked Mrs Yule whilst chafing the
'Her money's lost. The people who were to pay it have just
'She won't get anything?'
'Most likely nothing at all.'
The letter was a private communication from one of John Yule's
executors. It seemed likely that the demand upon Turberville &
Co. for an account of the deceased partner's share in their
business had helped to bring about a crisis in affairs that were
already unstable. Something might be recovered in the legal
proceedings that would result, but there were circumstances which
made the outlook very doubtful.
As Marian came to herself her father left the room. An hour
afterwards Mrs Yule summoned him again to the girl's chamber; he
went, and found Marian lying on the bed, looking like one who had
been long ill.
'I wish to ask you a few questions,' she said, without raising
herself. 'Must my legacy necessarily be paid out of that
'It must. Those are the terms of the will.'
'If nothing can be recovered from those people, I have no
'None whatever that I can see.'
'But when a firm is bankrupt they generally pay some portion of
'Sometimes. I know nothing of the case.'
'This of course happens to me,' Marian said, with intense
bitterness. 'None of the other legatees will suffer, I suppose?'
'Someone must, but to a very small extent.'
'Of course. When shall I have direct information?'
'You can write to Mr Holden; you have his address.'
'Thank you. That's all.'
He was dismissed, and went quietly away.
CHAPTER XXX. WAITING ON DESTINY
Throughout the day Marian kept her room. Her intention to leave
the house was, of course, abandoned; she was the prisoner of
fate. Mrs Yule would have tended her with unremitting devotion,
but the girl desired to be alone. At times she lay in silent
anguish; frequently her tears broke forth, and she sobbed until
weariness overcame her. In the afternoon she wrote a letter to Mr
Holden, begging that she might be kept constantly acquainted with
the progress of things.
At five her mother brought tea.
'Wouldn't it be better if you went to bed now, Marian?' she
'To bed? But I am going out in an hour or two.'
'Oh, you can't, dear! It's so bitterly cold. It wouldn't be good
'I have to go out, mother, so we won't speak of it.'
It was not safe to reply. Mrs Yule sat down, and watched the girl
raise the cup to her mouth with trembling hand.
'This won't make any difference to you--in the end, my darling,'
the mother ventured to say at length, alluding for the first time
to the effect of the catastrophe on Marian's immediate prospects.
'Of course not,' was the reply, in a tone of self-persuasion.
'Mr Milvain is sure to have plenty of money before long.'
'You feel much better now, don't you?'
'Much. I am quite well again.'
At seven, Marian went out. Finding herself weaker than she had
thought, she stopped an empty cab that presently passed her, and
so drove to the Milvains' lodgings. In her agitation she inquired
for Mr Milvain, instead of for Dora, as was her habit; it
mattered very little, for the landlady and her servants were of
course under no misconception regarding this young lady's visits.
Jasper was at home, and working. He had but to look at Marian to
see that something wretched had been going on at her home;
naturally he supposed it the result of his letter to Mr Yule.
'Your father has been behaving brutally,' he said, holding her
hands and gazing anxiously at her.
'There is something far worse than that, Jasper.'
She threw off her outdoor things, then took the fatal letter from
her pocket and handed it to him. Jasper gave a whistle of
consternation, and looked vacantly from the paper to Marian's
'How the deuce comes this about?' he exclaimed. 'Why, wasn't your
uncle aware of the state of things?'
'Perhaps he was. He may have known that the legacy was a mere
'You are the only one affected?'
'So father says. It's sure to be the case.'
'This has upset you horribly, I can see. Sit down, Marian. When
did the letter come?'
'And you have been fretting over it all day. But come, we must
keep up our courage; you may get something substantial out of the
Even whilst he spoke his eyes wandered absently. On the last word
his voice failed, and he fell into abstraction. Marian's look was
fixed upon him, and he became conscious of it. He tried to smile.
'What were you writing?' she asked, making involuntary diversion
from the calamitous theme.
'Rubbish for the Will-o'-the-Wisp. Listen to this paragraph about
English concert audiences.'
It was as necessary to him as to her to have a respite before the
graver discussion began. He seized gladly the opportunity she
offered, and read several pages of manuscript, slipping from one
topic to another. To hear him one would have supposed that he was
in his ordinary mood; he laughed at his own jokes and points.
'They'll have to pay me more,' was the remark with which he
closed. 'I only wanted to make myself indispensable to them, and
at the end of this year I shall feel pretty sure of that. They'll
have to give me two guineas a column; by Jove! they will.'
'And you may hope for much more than that, mayn't you, before
'Oh, I shall transfer myself to a better paper presently. It
seems to me I must be stirring to some purpose.'
He gave her a significant look.
'What shall we do, Jasper?'
'Work and wait, I suppose.'
'There's something I must tell you. Father said I had better sign
that Harrington article myself. If I do that, I shall have a
right to the money, I think. It will at least be eight guineas.
And why shouldn't I go on writing for myself--for us? You can
help me to think of subjects.'
'First of all, what about my letter to your father? We are
forgetting all about it.'
'He refused to answer.'
Marian avoided closer description of what had happened. It was
partly that she felt ashamed of her father's unreasoning wrath,
and feared lest Jasper's pride might receive an injury from which
she in turn would suffer; partly that she was unwilling to pain
her lover by making display of all she had undergone.
'Oh, he refused to reply! Surely that is extreme behaviour.'
What she dreaded seemed to be coming to pass. Jasper stood rather
stiffly, and threw his head back.
'You know the reason, dear. That prejudice has entered into his
very life. It is not you he dislikes; that is impossible. He
thinks of you only as he would of anyone connected with Mr
'Well, well; it isn't a matter of much moment. But what I have in
mind is this. Will it be possible for you, whilst living at home,
to take a position of independence, and say that you are going to
work for your own profit?'
'At least I might claim half the money I can earn. And I was
thinking more of--'
'When I am your wife, I may be able to help. I could earn thirty
or forty pounds a year, I think. That would pay the rent of a
She spoke with shaken voice, her eyes fixed upon his face.
'But, my dear Marian, we surely oughtn't to think of marrying so
long as expenses are so nicely fitted as all that?'
'No. I only meant--'
She faltered, and her tongue became silent as her heart sank.
'It simply means,' pursued Jasper, seating himself and crossing
his legs, 'that I must move heaven and earth to improve my
position. You know that my faith in myself is not small; there's
no knowing what I might do if I used every effort. But, upon my
word, I don't see much hope of our being able to marry for a year
or two under the most favourable circumstances.'
'No; I quite understand that.'
'Can you promise to keep a little love for me all that time?' he
asked with a constrained smile.
'You know me too well to fear.'
'I thought you seemed a little doubtful.'
His tone was not altogether that which makes banter pleasant
between lovers. Marian looked at him fearfully. Was it possible
for him in truth so to misunderstand her? He had never satisfied
her heart's desire of infinite love; she never spoke with him but
she was oppressed with the suspicion that his love was not as
great as hers, and, worse still, that he did not wholly
comprehend the self-surrender which she strove to make plain in
'You don't say that seriously, Jasper?'
'But answer seriously.'
'How can you doubt that I would wait faithfully for you for years
if it were necessary?'
'It mustn't be years, that's very certain. I think it
preposterous for a man to hold a woman bound in that hopeless
'But what question is there of holding me bound? Is love
dependent on fixed engagements? Do you feel that, if we agreed to
part, your love would be at once a thing of the past?'
'Why no, of course not.'
'Oh, but how coldly you speak, Jasper!'
She could not breathe a word which might be interpreted as fear
lest the change of her circumstances should make a change in his
feeling. Yet that was in her mind. The existence of such a fear
meant, of course, that she did not entirely trust him, and viewed
his character as something less than noble. Very seldom indeed is
a woman free from such doubts, however absolute her love; and
perhaps it is just as rare for a man to credit in his heart all
the praises he speaks of his beloved. Passion is compatible with
a great many of these imperfections of intellectual esteem. To
see more clearly into Jasper's personality was, for Marian, to
suffer the more intolerable dread lest she should lose him.
She went to his side. Her heart ached because, in her great
misery, he had not fondled her, and intoxicated her senses with
'How can I make you feel how much I love you?' she murmured.
'You mustn't be so literal, dearest. Women are so desperately
matter-of-fact; it comes out even in their love-talk.'
Marian was not without perception of the irony of such an opinion
on Jasper's lips.
'I am content for you to think so,' she said. 'There is only one
fact in my life of any importance, and I can never lose sight of
'Well now, we are quite sure of each other. Tell me plainly, do
you think me capable of forsaking you because you have perhaps
lost your money?'
The question made her wince. If delicacy had held her tongue, it
had no control of HIS.
'How can I answer that better,' she said, 'than by saying I love
It was no answer, and Jasper, though obtuse compared with her,
understood that it was none. But the emotion which had prompted
his words was genuine enough. Her touch, the perfume of her
passion, had their exalting effect upon him. He felt in all
sincerity that to forsake her would be a baseness, revenged by
the loss of such a wife.
'There's an uphill fight before me, that's all,' he said,
'instead of the pretty smooth course I have been looking forward
to. But I don't fear it, Marian. I'm not the fellow to be beaten.
You shall be my wife, and you shall have as many luxuries as if
you had brought me a fortune.'
'Luxuries! Oh, how childish you seem to think me!'
'Not a bit of it. Luxuries are a most important part of life. I
had rather not live at all than never possess them. Let me give
you a useful hint; if ever I seem to you to flag, just remind me
of the difference between these lodgings and a richly furnished
house. Just hint to me that So-and-so, the journalist, goes about
in his carriage, and can give his wife a box at the theatre. Just
ask me, casually, how I should like to run over to the Riviera
when London fogs are thickest. You understand? That's the way to
keep me at it like a steam-engine.'
'You are right. All those things enable one to live a better and
fuller life. Oh, how cruel that I--that we are robbed in this
way! You can have no idea how terrible a blow it was to me when I
read that letter this morning.'
She was on the point of confessing that she had swooned, but
something restrained her.
'Your father can hardly be sorry,' said Jasper.
'I think he speaks more harshly than he feels. The worst was,
that until he got your letter he had kept hoping that I would let
him have the money for a new review.'
'Well, for the present I prefer to believe that the money isn't
all lost. If the blackguards pay ten shillings in the pound you
will get two thousand five hundred out of them, and that's
something. But how do you stand? Will your position be that of an
'I am so ignorant. I know nothing of such things.'
'But of course your interests will be properly looked after. Put
yourself in communication with this Mr Holden. I'll have a look
into the law on the subject. Let us hope as long as we can. By
Jove! There's no other way of facing it.'
'Mrs Reardon and the rest of them are safe enough, I suppose?'
'Oh, no doubt.'
'Confound them!--It grows upon one. One doesn't take in the whole
of such a misfortune at once. We must hold on to the last rag of
hope, and in the meantime I'll half work myself to death. Are
you going to see the girls?'
'Not to-night. You must tell them.'
'Dora will cry her eyes out. Upon my word, Maud'll have to draw
in her horns. I must frighten her into economy and hard work.'
He again lost himself in anxious reverie.
'Marian, couldn't you try your hand at fiction?'
She started, remembering that her father had put the same
question so recently.
'I'm afraid I could do nothing worth doing.'
'That isn't exactly the question. Could you do anything that
would sell? With very moderate success in fiction you might make
three times as much as you ever will by magazine pot-boilers. A
girl like you. Oh, you might manage, I should think.'
'A girl like me?'
'Well, I mean that love-scenes, and that kind of thing, would be
very much in your line.'Marian was not given to blushing; very
few girls are, even on strong provocation. For the first time
Jasper saw her cheeks colour deeply, and it was with anything but
pleasure. His words were coarsely inconsiderate, and wounded her.
'I think that is not my work,' she said coldly, looking away.
'But surely there's no harm in my saying--' he paused in
astonishment. 'I meant nothing that could offend you.'
'I know you didn't, Jasper. But you make me think that--'
'Don't be so literal again, my dear girl. Come here and forgive
She did not approach, but only because the painful thought he had
excited kept her to that spot.
'Come, Marian! Then I must come to you.'
He did so and held her in his arms.
'Try your hand at a novel, dear, if you can possibly make time.
Put me in it, if you like, and make me an insensible masculine.
The experiment is worth a try I'm certain. At all events do a few
chapters, and let me see them. A chapter needn't take you more
than a couple of hours I should think.'
Marian refrained from giving any promise. She seemed irresponsive
to his caresses. That thought which at times gives trouble to all
women of strong emotions was working in her: had she been too
demonstrative, and made her love too cheap? Now that Jasper's
love might be endangered, it behoved her to use any arts which
nature prompted. And so, for once, he was not wholly satisfied
with her, and at their parting he wondered what subtle change had
affected her manner to him.
'Why didn't Marian come to speak a word?' said Dora, when her
brother entered the girls' sitting-room about ten o'clock.
'You knew she was with me, then?'
'We heard her voice as she was going away.'
'She brought me some enspiriting news, and thought it better I
should have the reporting of it to you.'
With brevity he made known what had befallen.
'Cheerful, isn't it? The kind of thing that strengthens one's
trust in Providence.'
The girls were appalled. Maud, who was reading by the fireside,
let her book fall to her lap, and knit her brows darkly.
'Then your marriage must be put off, of course?' said Dora.
'Well, I shouldn't be surprised if that were found necessary,'
replied her brother caustically. He was able now to give vent to
the feeling which in Marian's presence was suppressed, partly out
of consideration for her, and partly owing to her influence.
'And shall we have to go back to our old lodgings again?'
Jasper gave no answer, but kicked a footstool savagely out of his
way and paced the room.
'Oh, do you think we need?' said Dora, with unusual protest
'Remember that it's a matter for your own consideration,' Jasper
replied at length. 'You are living on your own resources, you
Maud glanced at her sister, but Dora was preoccupied.
'Why do you prefer to stay here?' Jasper asked abruptly of the
'It is so very much nicer,' she replied with some embarrassment.
He bit the ends of his moustache, and his eyes glared at the
impalpable thwarting force that to imagination seemed to fill the
air about him.
'A lesson against being over-hasty,' he muttered, again kicking
'Did you make that considerate remark to Marian?' asked Maud.
'There would have been no harm if I had done. She knows that I
shouldn't have been such an ass as to talk of marriage without
the prospect of something to live upon.'
'I suppose she's wretched?' said Dora.
'What else can you expect?'
'And did you propose to release her from the burden of her
engagement?' Maud inquired.
'It's a confounded pity that you're not rich, Maud,' replied her
brother with an involuntary laugh. 'You would have a brilliant
reputation for wit.'
He walked about and ejaculated splenetic phrases on the subject
of his ill-luck.
'We are here, and here we must stay,' was the final expression of
his mood. 'I have only one superstition that I know of and that
forbids me to take a step backward. If I went into poorer
lodgings again I should feel it was inviting defeat. I shall stay
as long as the position is tenable. Let us get on to Christmas,
and then see how things look. Heavens! Suppose we had married,
and after that lost the money!'
'You would have been no worse off than plenty of literary men,'
'Perhaps not. But as I have made up my mind to be considerably
better off than most literary men that reflection wouldn't
console me much. Things are in statu quo, that's all. I have to
rely upon my own efforts. What's the time? Half-past ten; I can
get two hours' work before going to bed.'
And nodding a good-night he left them.
When Marian entered the house and went upstairs, she was followed
by her mother. On Mrs Yule's countenance there was a new
distress, she had been crying recently.
'Have you seen him?' the mother asked.
'Yes. We have talked about it.'
'What does he wish you to do, dear?'
'There's nothing to be done except wait.'
'Father has been telling me something, Marian,' said Mrs Yule
after a long silence. 'He says he is going to be blind. There's
something the matter with his eyes, and he went to see someone
about it this afternoon. He'll get worse and worse, until there
has been an operation; and perhaps he'll never be able to use his
eyes properly again.'
The girl listened in an attitude of despair.
'He has seen an oculist?--a really good doctor?'
'He says he went to one of the best.'
'And how did he speak to you?'
'He doesn't seem to care much what happens. He talked of going to
the workhouse, and things like that. But it couldn't ever come to
that, could it, Marian? Wouldn't somebody help him?'
'There's not much help to be expected in this world,' answered
Physical weariness brought her a few hours of oblivion as soon as
she had lain down, but her sleep came to an end in the early
morning, when the pressure of evil dreams forced her back to
consciousness of real sorrows and cares. A fog-veiled sky added
its weight to crush her spirit; at the hour when she usually rose
it was still all but as dark as midnight. Her mother's voice at
the door begged her to lie and rest until it grew lighter, and
she willingly complied, feeling indeed scarcely capable of
leaving her bed.
The thick black fog penetrated every corner of the house. It
could be smelt and tasted. Such an atmosphere produces low-
spirited languor even in the vigorous and hopeful; to those
wasted by suffering it is the very reek of the bottomless pit,
poisoning the soul. Her face colourless as the pillow, Marian lay
neither sleeping nor awake, in blank extremity of woe; tears now
and then ran down her cheeks, and at times her body was shaken
with a throe such as might result from anguish of the torture
Midway in the morning, when it was still necessary to use
artificial light, she went down to the sitting-room. The course
of household life had been thrown into confusion by the disasters
of the last day or two; Mrs Yule, who occupied herself almost
exclusively with questions of economy, cleanliness, and routine,
had not the heart to pursue her round of duties, and this
morning, though under normal circumstances she would have been
busy in 'turning out' the dining-room, she moved aimlessly and
despondently about the house, giving the servant contradictory
orders and then blaming herself for her absent-mindedness. In the
troubles of her husband and her daughter she had scarcely greater
share--so far as active participation went--than if she had been
only a faithful old housekeeper; she could only grieve and lament
that such discord had come between the two whom she loved, and
that in herself was no power even to solace their distresses.
Marian found her standing in the passage, with a duster in one
hand and a hearth-brush in the other.
'Your father has asked to see you when you come down,' Mrs Yule
'I'll go to him.'
Marian entered the study. Her father was not in his place at the
writing-table, nor yet seated in the chair which he used when he
had leisure to draw up to the fireside; he sat in front of one of
the bookcases, bent forward as if seeking a volume, but his chin
was propped upon his hand, and he had maintained this position
for a long time. He did not immediately move. When he raised his
head Marian saw that he looked older, and she noticed--or fancied
she did--that there was some unfamiliar peculiarity about his
'I am obliged to you for coming,' he began with distant
formality. 'Since I saw you last I have learnt something which
makes a change in my position and prospects, and it is necessary
to speak on the subject. I won't detain you more than a few
He coughed, and seemed to consider his next words.
'Perhaps I needn't repeat what I have told your mother. You have
learnt it from her, I dare say.'
'Yes, with much grief.'
'Thank you, but we will leave aside that aspect of the matter.
For a few more months I may be able to pursue my ordinary work,
but before long I shall certainly be disabled from earning my
livelihood by literature. Whether this will in any way affect
your own position I don't know. Will you have the goodness to
tell me whether you still purpose leaving this house?'
'I have no means of doing so.'
'Is there any likelihood of your marriage taking place, let us
say, within four months?'
'Only if the executors recover my money, or a large portion of
'I understand. My reason for asking is this. My lease of this
house terminates at the end of next March, and I shall certainly
not be justified in renewing it. If you are able to provide for
yourself in any way it will be sufficient for me to rent two
rooms after that. This disease which affects my eyes may be only
temporary; in due time an operation may render it possible for me
to work again. In hope of that I shall probably have to borrow a
sum of money on the security of my life insurance, though in the
first instance I shall make the most of what I can get for the
furniture of the house and a large part of my library; your
mother and I could live at very slight expense in lodgings. If
the disease prove irremediable, I must prepare myself for the
worst. What I wish to say is, that it will be better if from
to-day you consider yourself as working for your own subsistence.
So long as I remain here this house is of course your home; there
can be no question between us of trivial expenses. But it is
right that you should understand what my prospects are. I shall
soon have no home to offer you; you must look to your own efforts
'I am prepared to do that, father.'
'I think you will have no great difficulty in earning enough for
yourself. I have done my best to train you in writing for the
periodicals, and your natural abilities are considerable. If you
marry, I wish you a happy life. The end of mine, of many long
years of unremitting toil, is failure and destitution.'
'That's all I had to say,' concluded her father, his voice
tremulous with self-compassion. 'I will only beg that there may
be no further profitless discussion between us. This room is open
to you, as always, and I see no reason why we should not converse
on subjects disconnected with our personal differences.'
'Is there no remedy for cataract in its early stages?' asked
'None. You can read up the subject for yourself at the British
Museum. I prefer not to speak of it.'
'Will you let me be what help to you I can?'
'For the present the best you can do is to establish a connection
for yourself with editors. Your name will be an assistance to
you. My advice is, that you send your "Harrington" article
forthwith to Trenchard, writing him a note. If you desire my help
in the suggestion of new subjects, I will do my best to be of
Marian withdrew. She went to the sitting-room, where an ochreous
daylight was beginning to diffuse itself and to render the lamp
superfluous. With the dissipation of the fog rain had set in; its
splashing upon the muddy pavement was audible.
Mrs Yule, still with a duster in her hand, sat on the sofa.
Marian took a place beside her. They talked in low, broken tones,
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