New Grub Street
Part 3 out of 13
She wished to know if her mother had heard any private remarks on
this subject, but she could not bring herself to ask directly.
'I'm sure I don't know,' replied Mrs Yule, smoothing her dress.
'He hasn't said anything to me, Marian.'
An awkward silence. The mother had fixed her eyes on the
mantelpiece, and was thinking hard.
'Otherwise,' said Marian, 'he would have said something, I should
think, about meeting in London.'
'But is there anything in--this gentleman that he wouldn't like?'
'I don't know of anything.'
Impossible to pursue the dialogue; Marian moved uneasily, then
rose, said something about putting the letter away, and left the
Shortly after, Alfred Yule entered the house. It was no uncommon
thing for him to come home in a mood of silent moroseness, and
this evening the first glimpse of his face was sufficient
warning. He entered the dining-room and stood on the hearthrug
reading an evening paper. His wife made a pretence of
straightening things upon the table.
'Well?' he exclaimed irritably. 'It's after five; why isn't
'It's just coming, Alfred.'
Even the average man of a certain age is an alarming creature
when dinner delays itself; the literary man in such a moment goes
beyond all parallel. If there be added the fact that he has just
returned from a very unsatisfactory interview with a publisher,
wife and daughter may indeed regard the situation as appalling.
Marian came in, and at once observed her mother's frightened
'Father,' she said, hoping to make a diversion, 'Mr Hinks has
sent you his new book, and wishes--'
'Then take Mr Hinks's new book back to him, and tell him that I
have quite enough to do without reading tedious trash. He needn't
expect that I'm going to write a notice of it. The simpleton
pesters me beyond endurance. I wish to know, if you please,' he
added with savage calm, 'when dinner will be ready. If there's
time to write a few letters, just tell me at once, that I mayn't
waste half an hour.'
Marian resented this unreasonable anger, but she durst not reply.
At that moment the servant appeared with a smoking joint, and Mrs
Yule followed carrying dishes of vegetables. The man of letters
seated himself and carved angrily. He began his meal by drinking
half a glass of ale; then he ate a few mouthfuls in a quick,
hungry way, his head bent closely over the plate. It happened
commonly enough that dinner passed without a word of
conversation, and that seemed likely to be the case this evening.
To his wife Yule seldom addressed anything but a curt inquiry or
caustic comment; if he spoke humanly at table it was to Marian.
Ten minutes passed; then Marian resolved to try any means of
clearing the atmosphere.
'Mr Quarmby gave me a message for you,' she said. 'A friend of
his, Nathaniel Walker, has told him that Mr Rackett will very
likely offer you the editorship of The Study.'
Yule stopped in the act of mastication. He fixed his eyes
intently on the sirloin for half a minute; then, by way of the
beer-jug and the salt-cellar, turned them upon Marian's face.
'Walker told him that? Pooh!'
'It was a great secret. I wasn't to breathe a word to any one but
'Walker's a fool and Quarmby's an ass,' remarked her father.
But there was a tremulousness in his bushy eyebrows; his forehead
half unwreathed itself; he continued to eat more slowly, and as
if with appreciation of the viands.
'What did he say? Repeat it to me in his words.'
Marian did so, as nearly as possible. He listened with a scoffing
expression, but still his features relaxed.
'I don't credit Rackett with enough good sense for such a
proposal,' he said deliberately. 'And I'm not very sure that I
should accept it if it were made. That fellow Fadge has all but
ruined the paper. It will amuse me to see how long it takes him
to make Culpepper's new magazine a distinct failure.'
A silence of five minutes ensued; then Yule said of a sudden.
'Where is Hinks's book?'
Marian reached it from a side table; under this roof, literature
was regarded almost as a necessary part of table garnishing.
'I thought it would be bigger than this,' Yule muttered, as he
opened the volume in a way peculiar to bookish men.
A page was turned down, as if to draw attention to some passage.
Yule put on his eyeglasses, and soon made a discovery which had
the effect of completing the transformation of his visage. His
eyes glinted, his chin worked in pleasurable emotion. In a moment
he handed the book to Marian, indicating the small type of a
foot-note; it embodied an effusive eulogy--introduced a propos of
some literary discussion--of 'Mr Alfred Yule's critical acumen,
scholarly research, lucid style,' and sundry other distinguished
'That is kind of him,' said Marian.
'Good old Hinks! I suppose I must try to get him half-a-dozen
'May I see?' asked Mrs Yule, under her breath, bending to Marian.
Her daughter passed on the volume, and Mrs Yule read the footnote
with that look of slow apprehension which is so pathetic when it
signifies the heart's good-will thwarted by the mind's defect.
'That'll be good for you, Alfred, won't it?' she said, glancing
at her husband.
'Certainly,' he replied, with a smile of contemptuous irony. 'If
Hinks goes on, he'll establish my reputation.'
And he took a draught of ale, like one who is reinvigorated for
the battle of life. Marian, regarding him askance, mused on what
seemed to her a strange anomaly in his character; it had often
surprised her that a man of his temperament and powers should be
so dependent upon the praise and blame of people whom he justly
deemed his inferiors.
Yule was glancing over the pages of the work.
'A pity the man can't write English.' What a vocabulary!
to--averse to--did one ever come across such a mixture of antique
pedantry and modern vulgarism! Surely he has his name from the
German hinken--eh, Marian?'
With a laugh he tossed the book away again. His mood was wholly
changed. He gave various evidences of enjoying the meal, and
began to talk freely with his daughter.
'Finished the authoresses?'
'No hurry. When you have time I want you to read Ditchley's new
book, and jot down a selection of his worst sentences. I'll use
them for an article on contemporary style; it occurred to me this
He smiled grimly. Mrs Yule's face exhibited much contentment,
which became radiant joy when her husband remarked casually that
the custard was very well made to-day. Dinner over, he rose
without ceremony and went off to his study.
The man had suffered much and toiled stupendously. It was not
inexplicable that dyspepsia, and many another ill that literary
flesh is heir to, racked him sore.
Go back to the days when he was an assistant at a bookseller's in
Holborn. Already ambition devoured him, and the genuine love of
knowledge goaded his brain. He allowed himself but three or four
hours of sleep; he wrought doggedly at languages, ancient and
modern; he tried his hand at metrical translations; he planned
tragedies. Practically he was living in a past age; his literary
ideals were formed on the study of Boswell.
The head assistant in the shop went away to pursue a business
which had come into his hands on the death of a relative; it was
a small publishing concern, housed in an alley off the Strand,
and Mr Polo (a singular name, to become well known in the course
of time) had his ideas about its possible extension. Among other
instances of activity he started a penny weekly paper, called All
Sorts, and in the pages of this periodical Alfred Yule first
appeared as an author. Before long he became sub-editor of All
Sorts, then actual director of the paper. He said good-bye to the
bookseller, and his literary career fairly began.
Mr Polo used to say that he never knew a man who could work so
many consecutive hours as Alfred Yule. A faithful account of all
that the young man learnt and wrote from 1855 to 1860--that is,
from his twenty-fifth to his thirtieth year--would have the look
of burlesque exaggeration. He had set it before him to become a
celebrated man, and he was not unaware that the attainment of
that end would cost him quite exceptional labour, seeing that
nature had not favoured him with brilliant parts. No matter; his
name should be spoken among men unless he killed himself in the
struggle for success.
In the meantime he married. Living in a garret, and supplying
himself with the materials of his scanty meals, he was in the
habit of making purchases at a little chandler's shop, where he
was waited upon by a young girl of no beauty, but, as it seemed
to him, of amiable disposition. One holiday he met this girl as
she was walking with a younger sister in the streets; he made her
nearer acquaintance, and before long she consented to be his wife
and share his garret. His brothers, John and Edmund, cried out
that he had made an unpardonable fool of himself in marrying so
much beneath him; that he might well have waited until his income
improved. This was all very well, but they might just as
reasonably have bidden him reject plain food because a few years
hence he would be able to purchase luxuries; he could not do
without nourishment of some sort, and the time had come when he
could not do without a wife. Many a man with brains but no money
has been compelled to the same step. Educated girls have a
pronounced distaste for London garrets; not one in fifty thousand
would share poverty with the brightest genius ever born. Seeing
that marriage is so often indispensable to that very success
which would enable a man of parts to mate equally, there is
nothing for it but to look below one's own level, and be grateful
to the untaught woman who has pity on one's loneliness.
Unfortunately, Alfred Yule was not so grateful as he might have
been. His marriage proved far from unsuccessful; he might have
found himself united to a vulgar shrew, whereas the girl had the
great virtues of humility and kindliness. She endeavoured to
learn of him, but her dulness and his impatience made this
attempt a failure; her human qualities had to suffice. And they
did, until Yule began to lift his head above the literary mob.
Previously, he often lost his temper with her, but never
expressed or felt repentance of his marriage; now he began to see
only the disadvantages of his position, and, forgetting the facts
of the case, to imagine that he might well have waited for a wife
who could share his intellectual existence. Mrs Yule had to pass
through a few years of much bitterness. Already a martyr to
dyspepsia, and often suffering from bilious headaches of extreme
violence, her husband now and then lost all control of his
temper, all sense of kind feeling, even of decency, and
reproached the poor woman with her ignorance, her stupidity, her
low origin. Naturally enough she defended herself with such
weapons as a sense of cruel injustice supplied. More than once
the two all but parted. It did not come to an actual rupture,
chiefly because Yule could not do without his wife; her tendance
had become indispensable. And then there was the child to
From the first it was Yule's dread lest Marian should be infected
with her mother's faults of speech and behaviour. He would
scarcely permit his wife to talk to the child. At the earliest
possible moment Marian was sent to a day-school, and in her tenth
year she went as weekly boarder to an establishment at Fulham;
any sacrifice of money to insure her growing up with the tongue
and manners of a lady. It can scarcely have been a light trial to
the mother to know that contact with her was regarded as her
child's greatest danger; but in her humility and her love for
Marian she offered no resistance. And so it came to pass that one
day the little girl, hearing her mother make some flagrant
grammatical error, turned to the other parent and asked gravely:
'Why doesn't mother speak as properly as we do?' Well, that is
one of the results of such marriages, one of the myriad miseries
that result from poverty.
The end was gained at all hazards. Marian grew up everything that
her father desired. Not only had she the bearing of refinement,
but it early became obvious that nature had well endowed her
with brains. From the nursery her talk was of books, and at the
age of twelve she was already able to give her father some
assistance as an amanuensis.
At that time Edmund Yule was still living; he had overcome his
prejudices, and there was intercourse between his household and
that of the literary man. Intimacy it could not be called, for
Mrs Edmund (who was the daughter of a law-stationer) had much
difficulty in behaving to Mrs Alfred with show of suavity. Still,
the cousins Amy and Marian from time to time saw each other, and
were not unsuitable companions. It was the death of Amy's father
that brought these relations to an end; left to the control of
her own affairs Mrs Edmund was not long in giving offence to Mrs
Alfred, and so to Alfred himself. The man of letters might be
inconsiderate enough in his behaviour to his wife, but as soon as
anyone else treated her with disrespect that was quite another
matter. Purely on this account he quarrelled violently with his
brother's widow, and from that day the two families kept apart.
The chapter of quarrels was one of no small importance in
Alfred's life; his difficult temper, and an ever-increasing sense
of neglected merit, frequently put him at war with publishers,
editors, fellow-authors, and he had an unhappy trick of exciting
the hostility of men who were most likely to be useful to him.
With Mr Polo, for instance, who held him in esteem, and whose
commercial success made him a valuable connection, Alfred
ultimately broke on a trifling matter of personal dignity. Later
came the great quarrel with Clement Fadge, an affair of
considerable advantage in the way of advertisement to both the
men concerned. It happened in the year 1873. At that time Yule
was editor of a weekly paper called The Balance, a literary organ
which aimed high, and failed to hit the circulation essential to
its existence. Fadge, a younger man, did reviewing for The
Balance; he was in needy circumstances, and had wrought himself
into Yule's good opinion by judicious flattery. But with a clear
eye for the main chance Mr Fadge soon perceived that Yule could
only be of temporary use to him, and that the editor of a well-
established weekly which lost no opportunity of throwing scorn
upon Yule and all his works would be a much more profitable
conquest. He succeeded in transferring his services to the more
flourishing paper, and struck out a special line of work by the
free exercise of a malicious flippancy which was then without
rival in the periodical press. When he had thoroughly got his
hand in, it fell to Mr Fadge, in the mere way of business, to
review a volume of his old editor's, a rather pretentious and
longwinded but far from worthless essay 'On Imagination as a
National Characteristic.' The notice was a masterpiece; its
exquisite virulence set the literary circles chuckling.
Concerning the authorship there was no mystery, and Alfred Yule
had the indiscretion to make a violent reply, a savage assault
upon Fadge, in the columns of The Balance. Fadge desired nothing
better; the uproar which arose--chaff, fury, grave comments,
sneering spite--could only result in drawing universal attention
to his anonymous cleverness, and throwing ridicule upon the
heavy, conscientious man. Well, you probably remember all about
it. It ended in the disappearance of Yule's struggling paper, and
the establishment on a firm basis of Fadge's reputation.
It would be difficult to mention any department of literary
endeavour in which Yule did not, at one time or another, try his
fortune. Turn to his name in the Museum Catalogue; the list of
works appended to it will amuse you. In his thirtieth year he
published a novel; it failed completely, and the same result
awaited a similar experiment five years later. He wrote a drama
of modern life, and for some years strove to get it acted, but in
vain; finally it appeared 'for the closet'--giving Clement Fadge
such an opportunity as he seldom enjoyed. The one noteworthy
thing about these productions, and about others of equally
mistaken direction, was the sincerity of their workmanship. Had
Yule been content to manufacture a novel or a play with due
disregard for literary honour, he might perchance have made a
mercantile success; but the poor fellow had not pliancy enough
for this. He took his efforts au grand serieux; thought he was
producing works of art; pursued his ambition in a spirit of
fierce conscientiousness. In spite of all, he remained only a
journeyman. The kind of work he did best was poorly paid, and
could bring no fame. At the age of fifty he was still living in a
poor house in an obscure quarter. He earned enough for his actual
needs, and was under no pressing fear for the morrow, so long as
his faculties remained unimpaired; but there was no disguising
from himself that his life had been a failure. And the thought
Now there had come unexpectedly a gleam of hope. If indeed, the
man Rackett thought of offering him the editorship of The Study
he might even yet taste the triumphs for which he had so
vehemently longed. The Study was a weekly paper of fair repute.
Fadge had harmed it, no doubt of that, by giving it a tone which
did not suit the majority of its readers--serious people, who
thought that the criticism of contemporary writing offered an
opportunity for something better than a display of malevolent
wit. But a return to the old earnestness would doubtless set all
right again. And the joy of sitting in that dictatorial chair!
The delight of having his own organ once more, of making himself
a power in the world of letters, of emphasising to a large
audience his developed methods of criticism!
An embittered man is a man beset by evil temptations. The Study
contained each week certain columns of flying gossip, and when he
thought of this, Yule also thought of Clement Fadge, and sundry
other of his worst enemies. How the gossip column can be used for
hostile purposes, yet without the least overt offence, he had
learnt only too well. Sometimes the mere omission of a man's name
from a list of authors can mortify and injure. In our day the
manipulation of such paragraphs has become a fine art; but you
recall numerous illustrations. Alfred knew well enough how
incessantly the tempter would be at his ear; he said to himself
that in certain instances yielding would be no dishonour. He
himself had many a time been mercilessly treated; in the very
interest of the public it was good that certain men should suffer
a snubbing, and his fingers itched to have hold of the editorial
pen. Ha, ha! Like the war-horse he snuffed the battle afar off.
No work this evening, though there were tasks which pressed for
completion. His study--the only room on the ground level except
the dining-room--was small, and even a good deal of the floor was
encumbered with books, but he found space for walking nervously
hither and thither. He was doing this when, about half-past nine,
his wife appeared at the door, bringing him a cup of coffee and
some biscuits, his wonted supper. Marian generally waited upon
him at this time, and he asked why she had not come.
'She has one of her headaches again, I'm sorry to say,' Mrs Yule
replied. 'I persuaded her to go to bed early.'
Having placed the tray upon the table--books had to be pushed
aside--she did not seem disposed to withdraw.
'Are you busy, Alfred?'
'I thought I should like just to speak of something.'
She was using the opportunity of his good humour. Yule spoke to
her with the usual carelessness, but not forbiddingly.
'What is it? Those Holloway people, I'll warrant.'
'No, no! It's about Marian. She had a letter from one of those
young ladies this afternoon.'
'What young ladies?' asked Yule, with impatience of this
'The Miss Milvains.'
'Well, there's no harm that I know of. They're decent people.'
'Yes; so you told me. But she began to speak about their brother,
'What about him? Do say what you want to say, and have done with
'I can't help thinking, Alfred, that she's disappointed you
didn't ask him to come here.'
Yule stared at her in slight surprise. He was still not angry,
and seemed quite willing to consider this matter suggested to him
'Oh, you think so? Well, I don't know. Why should I have asked
him? It was only because Miss Harrow seemed to wish it that I saw
him down there. I have no particular interest in him. And as for-
He broke off and seated himself. Mrs Yule stood at a distance.
'We must remember her age,' she said.
'Why yes, of course.'
He mused, and began to nibble a biscuit.
'And you know, Alfred, she never does meet any young men. I've
often thought it wasn't right to her.'
'H'm! But this lad Milvain is a very doubtful sort of customer.
To begin with, he has nothing, and they tell me his mother for
the most part supports him. I don't quite approve of that. She
isn't well off, and he ought to have been making a living by now.
He has a kind of cleverness, may do something; but there's no
being sure of that.'
These thoughts were not coming into his mind for the first time.
On the occasion when he met Milvain and Marian together in the
country road he had necessarily reflected upon the possibilities
of such intercourse, and with the issue that he did not care to
give any particular encouragement to its continuance. He of
course heard of Milvain's leave-taking call, and he purposely
refrained from seeing the young man after that. The matter took
no very clear shape in his meditations; he saw no likelihood that
either of the young people would think much of the other after
their parting, and time enough to trouble one's head with such
subjects when they could no longer be postponed. It would not
have been pleasant to him to foresee a life of spinsterhood for
his daughter; but she was young, and--she was a valuable
How far did that latter consideration weigh with him? He put the
question pretty distinctly to himself now that his wife had
broached the matter thus unexpectedly. Was he prepared to behave
with deliberate selfishness? Never yet had any conflict been
manifested between his interests and Marian's; practically he was
in the habit of counting upon her aid for an indefinite period.
If indeed he became editor of The Study, why, in that case her
assistance would be less needful. And indeed it seemed probable
that young Milvain had a future before him.
'But, in any case,' he said aloud, partly continuing his
thoughts, partly replying to a look of disappointment on his
wife's face, 'how do you know that he has any wish to come and
'I don't know anything about it, of course.'
'And you may have made a mistake about her. What made you think
she--had him in mind?'
'Well, it was her way of speaking, you know. And then, she asked
if you had got a dislike to him.'
'She did? H'm! Well, I don't think Milvain is any good to Marian.
He's just the kind of man to make himself agreeable to a girl for
the fun of the thing.'
Mrs Yule looked alarmed.
'Oh, if you really think that, don't let him come. I wouldn't for
'I don't say it for certain.' He took a sip of his coffee. 'I
have had no opportunity of observing him with much attention. But
he's not the kind of man I care for.'
'Then no doubt it's better as it is.'
'Yes. I don't see that anything could be done now. We shall see
whether he gets on. I advise you not to mention him to her.'
'Oh no, I won't.'
She moved as if to go away, but her heart had been made uneasy by
that short conversation which followed on Marian's reading the
letter, and there were still things she wished to put into words.
'If those young ladies go on writing to her, I dare say they'll
often speak about their brother.'
'Yes, it's rather unfortunate.'
'And you know, Alfred, he may have asked them to do it.'
'I suppose there's one subject on which all women can be subtle,'
muttered Yule, smiling. The remark was not a kind one, but he did
not make it worse by his tone.
The listener failed to understand him, and looked with her
familiar expression of mental effort.
'We can't help that,' he added, with reference to her suggestion.
'If he has any serious thoughts, well, let him go on and wait for
'It's a great pity, isn't it, that she can't see more people--of
the right kind?'
'No use talking about it. Things are as they are. I can't see
that her life is unhappy.'
'It isn't very happy.'
'You think not?'
'I'm sure it isn't.'
'If I get The Study things may be different. Though-- But it's no
use talking about what can't be helped. Now don't you go
encouraging her to think herself lonely, and so on. It's best for
her to keep close to work, I'm sure of that.'
'Perhaps it is.'
'I'll think it over.'
Mrs Yule silently left the room, and went back to her sewing.
She had understood that 'Though--' and the 'what can't be
helped.' Such allusions reminded her of a time unhappier than the
present, when she had been wont to hear plainer language. She
knew too well that, had she been a woman of education, her
daughter would not now be suffering from loneliness.
It was her own choice that she did not go with her husband and
Marian to John Yule's. She made an excuse that the house could
not be left to one servant; but in any case she would have
remained at home, for her presence must needs be an embarrassment
both to father and daughter. Alfred was always ashamed of her
before strangers; he could not conceal his feeling, either from
her or from other people who had reason for observing him. Marian
was not perhaps ashamed, but such companionship put restraint
upon her freedom. And would it not always be the same? Supposing
Mr Milvain were to come to this house, would it not repel him
when he found what sort of person Marian's mother was?
She shed a few tears over her needlework.
At midnight the study door opened. Yule came to the dining-room
to see that all was right, and it surprised him to find his wife
still sitting there.
'Why are you so late?'
'I've forgot the time.'
'Forgotten, forgotten. Don't go back to that kind of language
again. Come, put the light out.'
CHAPTER VIII. TO THE WINNING SIDE
Of the acquaintances Yule had retained from his earlier years
several were in the well-defined category of men with
unpresentable wives. There was Hinks, for instance, whom, though
in anger he spoke of him as a bore, Alfred held in some genuine
regard. Hinks made perhaps a hundred a year out of a kind of
writing which only certain publishers can get rid of and of this
income he spent about a third on books. His wife was the daughter
of a laundress, in whose house he had lodged thirty years ago,
when new to London but already long-acquainted with hunger; they
lived in complete harmony, but Mrs Hinks, who was four years the
elder, still spoke the laundress tongue, unmitigated and
immitigable. Another pair were Mr and Mrs Gorbutt. In this case
there were no narrow circumstances to contend with, for the wife,
originally a nursemaid, not long after her marriage inherited
house property from a relative. Mr Gorbutt deemed himself a poet;
since his accession to an income he had published, at his own
expense, a yearly volume of verses; the only result being to keep
alive rancour in his wife, who was both parsimonious and vain.
Making no secret of it, Mrs Gorbutt rued the day on which she had
wedded a man of letters, when by waiting so short a time she
would have been enabled to aim at a prosperous tradesman, who
kept his gig and had everything handsome about him. Mrs Yule
suspected, not without reason, that this lady had an inclination
to strong liquors. Thirdly came Mr and Mrs Christopherson, who
were poor as church mice. Even in a friend's house they wrangled
incessantly, and made tragi-comical revelations of their home
life. The husband worked casually at irresponsible journalism,
but his chosen study was metaphysics; for many years he had had a
huge and profound book on hand, which he believed would bring him
fame, though he was not so unsettled in mind as to hope for
anything else. When an article or two had earned enough money for
immediate necessities he went off to the British Museum, and then
the difficulty was to recall him to profitable exertions. Yet
husband and wife had an affection for each other. Mrs
Christopherson came from Camberwell, where her father, once upon
a time, was the smallest of small butchers. Disagreeable stories
were whispered concerning her earlier life, and probably the
metaphysician did not care to look back in that direction. They
had had three children; all were happily buried.
These men were capable of better things than they had done or
would ever do; in each case their failure to fulfil youthful
promise was largely explained by the unpresentable wife. They
should have waited; they might have married a social equal at
something between fifty and sixty.
Another old friend was Mr Quarmby. Unwedded he, and perpetually
exultant over men who, as he phrased it, had noosed themselves.
He made a fair living, but, like Dr Johnson, had no passion for
Yule was not disdainful of these old companions, and the fact
that all had a habit of looking up to him increased his pleasure
in their occasional society. If, as happened once or twice in
half a year, several of them were gathered together at his house,
he tasted a sham kind of social and intellectual authority which
he could not help relishing. On such occasions he threw off his
habitual gloom and talked vigorously, making natural display of
his learning and critical ability. The topic, sooner or later,
was that which is inevitable in such a circle--the demerits, the
pretentiousness, the personal weaknesses of prominent
contemporaries in the world of letters. Then did the room ring
with scornful laughter, with boisterous satire, with shouted
irony, with fierce invective. After an evening of that kind Yule
was unwell and miserable for several days.
It was not to be expected that Mr Quarmby, inveterate chatterbox
of the Reading-room and other resorts, should keep silence
concerning what he had heard of Mr Rackett's intentions. The
rumour soon spread that Alfred Yule was to succeed Fadge in the
direction of The Study, with the necessary consequence that Yule
found himself an object of affectionate interest to a great many
people of whom he knew little or nothing. At the same time the
genuine old friends pressed warmly about him, with
congratulations, with hints of their sincere readiness to assist
in filling the columns of the paper. All this was not
disagreeable, but in the meantime Yule had heard nothing whatever
from Mr Rackett himself and his doubts did not diminish as week
after week went by.
The event justified him. At the end of October appeared an
authoritative announcement that Fadge's successor would be--not
Alfred Yule, but a gentleman who till of late had been quietly
working as a sub-editor in the provinces, and who had neither
friendships nor enmities among the people of the London literary
press. A young man, comparatively fresh from the university, and
said to be strong in pure scholarship. The choice, as you are
aware, proved a good one, and The Study became an organ of more
repute than ever.
Yule had been secretly conscious that it was not to men such as
he that positions of this kind are nowadays entrusted. He tried
to persuade himself that he was not disappointed. But when Mr
Quarmby approached him with blank face, he spoke certain wrathful
words which long rankled in that worthy's mind. At home he kept
No, not to such men as he--poor, and without social
recommendations. Besides, he was growing too old. In literature,
as in most other pursuits, the press of energetic young men was
making it very hard for a veteran even to hold the little
grazing-plot he had won by hard fighting. Still, Quarmby's story
had not been without foundation; it was true that the proprietor
of The Study had for a moment thought of Alfred Yule, doubtless
as the natural contrast to Clement Fadge, whom he would have
liked to mortify if the thing were possible. But counsellors had
proved to Mr Rackett the disadvantages of such a choice.
Mrs Yule and her daughter foresaw but too well the results of
this disappointment, notwithstanding that Alfred announced it to
them with dry indifference. The month that followed was a time of
misery for all in the house. Day after day Yule sat at his meals
in sullen muteness; to his wife he scarcely spoke at all, and his
conversation with Marian did not go beyond necessary questions
and remarks on topics of business. His face became so strange a
colour that one would have thought him suffering from an attack
of jaundice; bilious headaches exasperated his savage mood. Mrs
Yule knew from long experience how worse than useless it was for
her to attempt consolation; in silence was her only safety. Nor
did Marian venture to speak directly of what had happened. But
one evening, when she had been engaged in the study and was now
saying 'Good-night,' she laid her cheek against her father's, an
unwonted caress which had a strange effect upon him. The
expression of sympathy caused his thoughts to reveal themselves
as they never yet had done before his daughter.
'It might have been very different with me,' he exclaimed
abruptly, as if they had already been conversing on the subject.
'When you think of my failures--and you must often do so now you
are grown up and understand things--don't forget the obstacles
that have been in my way. I don't like you to look upon your
father as a thickhead who couldn't be expected to succeed. Look
at Fadge. He married a woman of good social position; she brought
him friends and influence. But for that he would never have been
editor of The Study, a place for which he wasn't in the least
fit. But he was able to give dinners; he and his wife went into
society; everybody knew him and talked of him. How has it been
with me? I live here like an animal in its hole, and go blinking
about if by chance I find myself among the people with whom I
ought naturally to associate. If I had been able to come in
direct contact with Rackett and other men of that kind, to dine
with them, and have them to dine with me, to belong to a club,
and so on, I shouldn't be what I am at my age. My one
opportunity--when I edited The Balance--wasn't worth much; there
was no money behind the paper; we couldn't hold out long enough.
But even then, if I could have assumed my proper social standing,
if I could have opened my house freely to the right kind of
people-- How was it possible?'
Marian could not raise her head. She recognised the portion of
truth in what he said, but it shocked her that he should allow
himself to speak thus. Her silence seemed to remind him how
painful it must be to her to hear these accusations of her
mother, and with a sudden 'Good-night' he dismissed her.
She went up to her room, and wept over the wretchedness of all
their lives. Her loneliness had seemed harder to bear than ever
since that last holiday. For a moment, in the lanes about Finden,
there had come to her a vision of joy such as fate owed her
youth; but it had faded, and she could no longer hope for its
return. She was not a woman, but a mere machine for reading and
writing. Did her father never think of this? He was not the only
one to suffer from the circumstances in which poverty had
She had no friends to whom she could utter her thoughts. Dora
Milvain had written a second time, and more recently had come a
letter from Maud; but in replying to them she could not give a
true account of herself. Impossible, to them. From what she wrote
they would imagine her contentedly busy, absorbed in the affairs
of literature. To no one could she make known the aching sadness
of her heart, the dreariness of life as it lay before her.
That beginning of half-confidence between her and her mother had
led to nothing. Mrs Yule found no second opportunity of speaking
to her husband about Jasper Milvain, and purposely she refrained
from any further hint or question to Marian. Everything must go
on as hitherto.
The days darkened. Through November rains and fogs Marian went
her usual way to the Museum, and toiled there among the other
toilers. Perhaps once a week she allowed herself to stray about
the alleys of the Reading-room, scanning furtively those who sat
at the desks, but the face she might perchance have discovered
was not there.
One day at the end of the month she sat with books open before
her, but by no effort could fix her attention upon them. It was
gloomy, and one could scarcely see to read; a taste of fog grew
perceptible in the warm, headachy air. Such profound
discouragement possessed her that she could not even maintain the
pretence of study; heedless whether anyone observed her, she let
her hands fall and her head droop. She kept asking herself what
was the use and purpose of such a life as she was condemned to
lead. When already there was more good literature in the world
than any mortal could cope with in his lifetime, here was she
exhausting herself in the manufacture of printed stuff which no
one even pretended to be more than a commodity for the day's
market. What unspeakable folly! To write--was not that the joy
and the privilege of one who had an urgent message for the world?
Her father, she knew well, had no such message; he had abandoned
all thought of original production, and only wrote about writing.
She herself would throw away her pen with joy but for the need of
earning money. And all these people about her, what aim had they
save to make new books out of those already existing, that yet
newer books might in turn be made out of theirs? This huge
library, growing into unwieldiness, threatening to become a
trackless desert of print--how intolerably it weighed upon the
Oh, to go forth and labour with one's hands, to do any poorest,
commonest work of which the world had truly need! It was ignoble
to sit here and support the paltry pretence of intellectual
dignity. A few days ago her startled eye had caught an
advertisement in the newspaper, headed 'Literary Machine'; had it
then been invented at last, some automaton to supply the place of
such poor creatures as herself to turn out books and articles?
Alas! the machine was only one for holding volumes conveniently,
that the work of literary manufacture might be physically
lightened. But surely before long some Edison would make the true
automaton; the problem must be comparatively such a simple one.
Only to throw in a given number of old books, and have them
reduced, blended, modernised into a single one for to-day's
The fog grew thicker; she looked up at the windows beneath the
dome and saw that they were a dusky yellow. Then her eye
discerned an official walking along the upper gallery, and in
pursuance of her grotesque humour, her mocking misery, she
likened him to a black, lost soul, doomed to wander in an
eternity of vain research along endless shelves. Or again, the
readers who sat here at these radiating lines of desks, what were
they but hapless flies caught in a huge web, its nucleus the
great circle of the Catalogue? Darker, darker. From the towering
wall of volumes seemed to emanate visible motes, intensifying the
obscurity; in a moment the book-lined circumference of the room
would be but a featureless prison-limit.
But then flashed forth the sputtering whiteness of the electric
light, and its ceaseless hum was henceforth a new source of
headache. It reminded her how little work she had done to-day;
she must, she must force herself to think of the task in hand. A
machine has no business to refuse its duty. But the pages were
blue and green and yellow before her eyes; the uncertainty of the
light was intolerable. Right or wrong she would go home, and hide
herself, and let her heart unburden itself of tears.
On her way to return books she encountered Jasper Milvain. Face
to face; no possibility of his avoiding her.
And indeed he seemed to have no such wish. His countenance
lighted up with unmistakable pleasure.
'At last we meet, as they say in the melodramas. Oh, do let me
help you with those volumes, which won't even let you shake
hands. How do you do? How do you like this weather? And how do
you like this light?'
'It's very bad.'
'That'll do both for weather and light, but not for yourself. How
glad I am to see you! Are you just going?'
'I have scarcely been here half-a-dozen times since I came back
'But you are writing still?'
'Oh yes! But I draw upon my genius, and my stores of observation,
and the living world.'
Marian received her vouchers for the volumes, and turned to face
Jasper again. There was a smile on her lips.
'The fog is terrible,' Milvain went on. 'How do you get home?'
'By omnibus from Tottenham Court Road.'
'Then do let me go a part of the way with you. I live in
Mornington Road--up yonder, you know. I have only just come in to
waste half an hour, and after all I think I should be better at
home. Your father is all right, I hope?'
'He is not quite well.'
'I'm sorry to hear that. You are not exactly up to the mark,
either. What weather! What a place to live in, this London, in
winter! It would be a little better down at Finden.'
'A good deal better, I should think. If the weather were bad, it
would be bad in a natural way; but this is artificial misery.'
'I don't let it affect me much,' said Milvain. 'Just of late I
have been in remarkably good spirits. I'm doing a lot of work. No
end of work--more than I've ever done.'
'I am very glad.'
'Where are your out-of-door things? I think there's a ladies'
vestry somewhere, isn't there?'
'Then will you go and get ready? I'll wait for you in the hall.
But, by-the-bye, I am taking it for granted that you were going
'I was, quite alone.'
The 'quite' seemed excessive; it made Jasper smile.
'And also,' he added, 'that I shall not annoy you by offering my
'Why should it annoy me?'
Milvain had only to wait a minute or two. He surveyed Marian from
head to foot when she appeared--an impertinence as unintentional
as that occasionally noticeable in his speech--and smiled
approval. They went out into the fog, which was not one of
London's densest, but made walking disagreeable enough.
'You have heard from the girls, I think?' Jasper resumed.
'Your sisters? Yes; they have been so kind as to write to me.'
'Told you all about their great work? I hope it'll be finished by
the end of the year. The bits they have sent me will do very well
indeed. I knew they had it in them to put sentences together. Now
I want them to think of patching up something or other for The
English Girl; you know the paper?'
'I have heard of it.'
'I happen to know Mrs Boston Wright, who edits it. Met her at a
house the other day, and told her frankly that she would have to
give my sisters something to do. It's the only way to get on; one
has to take it for granted that people are willing to help you. I
have made a host of new acquaintances just lately.'
'I'm glad to hear it,' said Marian.
'Do you know--but how should you? I am going to write for the new
magazine, The Current.'
'Edited by that man Fadge.'
'Your father has no affection for him, I know.'
'He has no reason to have, Mr Milvain.'
'No, no. Fadge is an offensive fellow, when he likes; and I fancy
he very often does like. Well, I must make what use of him I can.
You won't think worse of me because I write for him?'
'I know that one can't exercise choice in such things.'
'True. I shouldn't like to think that you regard me as a Fadge-
like individual, a natural Fadgeite.'
'There's no danger of my thinking that.'
But the fog was making their eyes water and getting into their
throats. By when they reached Tottenham Court Road they were both
thoroughly uncomfortable. The 'bus had to be waited for, and in
the meantime they talked scrappily, coughily. In the vehicle
things were a little better, but here one could not converse with
'What pestilent conditions of life!' exclaimed Jasper, putting
his face rather near to Marian's. 'I wish to goodness we were
back in those quiet fields--you remember?--with the September sun
warm about us. Shall you go to Finden again before long?'
'I really don't know.'
'I'm sorry to say my mother is far from well. In any case I must
go at Christmas, but I'm afraid it won't be a cheerful visit.'
Arrived in Hampstead Road he offered his hand for good-bye.
'I wanted to talk about all sorts of things. But perhaps I shall
find you again some day.'
He jumped out, and waved his hat in the lurid fog.
Shortly before the end of December appeared the first number of
The Current. Yule had once or twice referred to the forthcoming
magazine with acrid contempt, and of course he did not purchase a
'So young Milvain has joined Fadge's hopeful standard,' he
remarked, a day or two later, at breakfast. 'They say his paper
is remarkably clever; I could wish it had appeared anywhere else.
Evil communications, &c.'
'But I shouldn't think there's any personal connection,' said
'Very likely not. But Milvain has been invited to contribute, you
'Do you think he ought to have refused?'
'Oh no. It's nothing to me; nothing whatever.'
Mrs Yule glanced at her daughter, but Marian seemed unconcerned.
The subject was dismissed. In introducing it Yule had had his
purpose; there had always been an unnatural avoidance of
Milvain's name in conversation, and he wished to have an end of
this. Hitherto he had felt a troublesome uncertainty regarding
his position in the matter. From what his wife had told him it
seemed pretty certain that Marian was disappointed by the abrupt
closing of her brief acquaintance with the young man, and Yule's
affection for his daughter caused him to feel uneasy in the
thought that perhaps he had deprived her of a chance of
happiness. His conscience readily took hold of an excuse for
justifying the course he had followed. Milvain had gone over to
the enemy. Whether or not the young man understood how relentless
the hostility was between Yule and Fadge mattered little; the
probability was that he knew all about it. In any case intimate
relations with him could not have survived this alliance with
Fadge, so that, after all, there had been wisdom in letting the
acquaintance lapse. To be sure, nothing could have come of it.
Milvain was the kind of man who weighed opportunities; every step
he took would be regulated by considerations of advantage; at all
events that was the impression his character had made upon Yule.
Any hopes that Marian might have been induced to form would
assuredly have ended in disappointment. It was kindness to
interpose before things had gone so far.
Henceforth, if Milvain's name was unavoidable, it should be
mentioned just like that of any other literary man. It seemed
very unlikely indeed that Marian would continue to think of him
with any special and personal interest. The fact of her having
got into correspondence with his sisters was unfortunate, but
this kind of thing rarely went on for very long.
Yule spoke of the matter with his wife that evening.
'By-the-bye, has Marian heard from those girls at Finden lately?'
'She had a letter one afternoon last week.'
'Do you see these letters?'
'No; she told me what was in them at first, but now she doesn't.'
'She hasn't spoken to you again of Milvain?'
'Not a word.'
'Well, I understood what I was about,' Yule remarked, with the
confident air of one who doesn't wish to remember that he had
ever felt doubtful. 'There was no good in having the fellow here.
He has got in with a set that I don't at all care for. If she
ever says anything--you understand--you can just let me know.'
Marian had already procured a copy of The Current, and read it
privately. Of the cleverness of Milvain's contribution there
could be no two opinions; it drew the attention of the public,
and all notices of the new magazine made special reference to
this article. With keen interest Marian sought after comments of
the press; when it was possible she cut them out and put them
January passed, and February. She saw nothing of Jasper. A letter
from Dora in the first week of March made announcement that the
'Child's History of the English Parliament' would be published
very shortly; it told her, too, that Mrs Milvain had been very
ill indeed, but that she seemed to recover a little strength as
the weather improved. Of Jasper there was no mention.
A week later came the news that Mrs Milvain had suddenly died.
This letter was received at breakfast-time. The envelope was an
ordinary one, and so little did Marian anticipate the nature of
its contents that at the first sight of the words she uttered an
exclamation of pain. Her father, who had turned from the table to
the fireside with his newspaper, looked round and asked what was
'Mrs Milvain died the day before yesterday.'
He averted his face again and seemed disposed to say no more. But
in a few moments he inquired:
'What are her daughters likely to do?'
'I have no idea.'
'Do you know anything of their circumstances?'
'I believe they will have to depend upon themselves.'
Nothing more was said. Afterwards Mrs Yule made a few sympathetic
inquiries, but Marian was very brief in her replies.
Ten days after that, on a Sunday afternoon when Marian and her
mother were alone in the sitting-room, they heard the knock of a
visitor at the front door. Yule was out, and there was no
likelihood of the visitor's wishing to see anyone but him. They
listened; the servant went to the door, and, after a murmur of
voices, came to speak to her mistress.
'It's a gentleman called Mr Milvain,' the girl reported, in a way
that proved how seldom callers presented themselves. 'He asked
for Mr Yule, and when I said he was out, then he asked for Miss
Yule.' Mother and daughter looked anxiously at each other. Mrs
Yule was nervous and helpless.
'Show Mr Milvain into the study,' said Marian, with sudden
'Are you going to see him there?' asked her mother in a hurried
'I thought you would prefer that to his coming in here.'
'Yes--yes. But suppose father comes back before he's gone?'
'What will it matter? You forget that he asked for father first.'
'Oh yes! Then don't wait.'
Marian, scarcely less agitated than her mother, was just leaving
the room, when she turned back again.
'If father comes in, you will tell him before he goes into the
'Yes, I will.'
The fire in the study was on the point of extinction; this was
the first thing Marian's eye perceived on entering, and it gave
her assurance that her father would not be back for some hours.
Evidently he had intended it to go out; small economies of this
kind, unintelligible to people who have always lived at ease, had
been the life-long rule with him. With a sensation of gladness at
having free time before her, Marian turned to where Milvain was
standing, in front of one of the bookcases. He wore no symbol of
mourning, but his countenance was far graver than usual, and
rather paler. They shook hands in silence.
'I am so grieved--' Marian began with broken voice.
'Thank you. I know the girls have told you all about it. We knew
for the last month that it must come before long, though there
was a deceptive improvement just before the end.'
'Please to sit down, Mr Milvain. Father went out not long ago,
and I don't think he will be back very soon.'
'It was not really Mr Yule I wished to see,' said Jasper,
frankly. 'If he had been at home I should have spoken with him
about what I have in mind, but if you will kindly give me a few
minutes it will be much better.'
Marian glanced at the expiring fire. Her curiosity as to what
Milvain had to say was mingled with an anxious doubt whether it
was not too late to put on fresh coals; already the room was
growing very chill, and this appearance of inhospitality troubled
'Do you wish to save it?' Jasper asked, understanding her look
'I'm afraid it has got too low.'
'I think not. Life in lodgings has made me skilful at this kind
of thing; let me try my hand.'
He took the tongs and carefully disposed small pieces of coal
upon the glow that remained. Marian stood apart with a feeling of
shame and annoyance. But it is so seldom that situations in life
arrange themselves with dramatic propriety; and, after all, this
vulgar necessity made the beginning of the conversation easier.
'That will be all right now,' said Jasper at length, as little
tongues of flame began to shoot here and there.
Marian said nothing, but seated herself and waited.
'I came up to town yesterday,' Jasper began. 'Of course we have
had a great deal to do and think about. Miss Harrow has been very
kind indeed to the girls; so have several of our old friends in
Wattleborough. It was necessary to decide at once what Maud and
Dora are going to do, and it is on their account that I have come
to see you.
The listener kept silence, with a face of sympathetic attention.
'We have made up our minds that they may as well come to London.
It's a bold step; I'm by no means sure that the result will
justify it. But I think they are perhaps right in wishing to try
'They will go on with literary work?'
'Well, it's our hope that they may be able to. Of course there's
no chance of their earning enough to live upon for some time. But
the matter stands like this. They have a trifling sum of money,
on which, at a pinch, they could live in London for perhaps a
year and a half. In that time they may find their way to a sort
of income; at all events, the chances are that a year and a half
hence I shall be able to help them to keep body and soul
The money of which he spoke was the debt owed to their father by
William Milvain. In consequence of Mrs Milvain's pressing
application, half of this sum had at length been paid and the
remainder was promised in a year's time, greatly to Jasper's
astonishment. In addition, there would be the trifle realised by
the sale of furniture, though most of this might have to go in
payment of rent unless the house could be relet immediately.
'They have made a good beginning,' said Marian.
She spoke mechanically, for it was impossible to keep her
thoughts under control. If Maud and Dora came to live in London
it might bring about a most important change in her life; she
could scarcely imagine the happiness of having two such friends
always near. On the other hand, how would it be regarded by her
father? She was at a loss amid conflicting emotions.
'It's better than if they had done nothing at all,' Jasper
replied to her remark. 'And the way they knocked that trifle
together promises well. They did it very quickly, and in a far
more workmanlike way than I should have thought possible.'
'No doubt they share your own talent.'
'Perhaps so. Of course I know that I have talent of a kind,
though I don't rate it very high. We shall have to see whether
they can do anything more than mere booksellers' work; they are
both very young, you know. I think they may be able to write
something that'll do for The English Girl, and no doubt I can hit
upon a second idea that will appeal to Jolly and Monk. At all
events, they'll have books within reach, and better opportunities
every way than at Finden.'
'How do their friends in the country think of it?'
'Very dubiously; but then what else was to be expected? Of
course, the respectable and intelligible path marked out for both
of them points to a lifetime of governessing. But the girls have
no relish for that; they'd rather do almost anything. We talked
over all the aspects of the situation seriously enough--it is
desperately serious, no doubt of that. I told them fairly all the
hardships they would have to face--described the typical London
lodgings, and so on. Still, there's an adventurous vein in them,
and they decided for the risk. If it came to the worst I suppose
they could still find governess work.'
'Let us hope better things.'
'Yes. But now, I should have felt far more reluctant to let them
come here in this way hadn't it been that they regard you as a
friend. To-morrow morning you will probably hear from one or both
of them. Perhaps it would have been better if I had left them to
tell you all this, but I felt I should like to see you and--put
it in my own way. I think you'll understand this feeling, Miss
Yule. I wanted, in fact, to hear from yourself that you would be
a friend to the poor girls.'
'Oh, you already know that! I shall be so very glad to see them
Marian's voice lent itself very naturally and sweetly to the
expression of warm feeling. Emphasis was not her habit; it only
needed that she should put off her ordinary reserve, utter
quietly the emotional thought which so seldom might declare
itself, and her tones had an exquisite womanliness.
Jasper looked full into her face.
'In that case they won't miss the comfort of home so much. Of
course they will have to go into very modest lodgings indeed. I
have already been looking about. I should like to find rooms for
them somewhere near my own place; it's a decent neighbourhood,
and the park is at hand, and then they wouldn't be very far from
you. They thought it might be possible to make a joint
establishment with me, but I'm afraid that's out of the question.
The lodgings we should want in that case, everything considered,
would cost more than the sum of our expenses if we live apart.
Besides, there's no harm in saying that I don't think we should
get along very well together. We're all of us rather quarrelsome,
to tell the truth, and we try each other's tempers.'
Marian smiled and looked puzzled.
'Shouldn't you have thought that?'
'I have seen no signs of quarrelsomeness.'
'I'm not sure that the worst fault is on my side. Why should one
condemn oneself against conscience? Maud is perhaps the hardest
to get along with. She has a sort of arrogance, an exaggeration
of something I am quite aware of in myself. You have noticed that
trait in me?'
'Arrogance--I think not. You have self-confidence.'
'Which goes into extremes now and then. But, putting myself
aside, I feel pretty sure that the girls won't seem quarrelsome
to you; they would have to be very fractious indeed before that
'We shall continue to be friends, I am sure.'
Jasper let his eyes wander about the room.
'This is your father's study?'
'Perhaps it would have seemed odd to Mr Yule if I had come in and
begun to talk to him about these purely private affairs. He knows
me so very slightly. But, in calling here for the first time-- '
An unusual embarrassment checked him.
'I will explain to father your very natural wish to speak of
these things,' said Marian, with tact.
She thought uneasily of her mother in the next room. To her there
appeared no reason whatever why Jasper should not be introduced
to Mrs Yule, yet she could not venture to propose it. Remembering
her father's last remarks about Milvain in connection with
Fadge's magazine, she must wait for distinct permission before
offering the young man encouragement to repeat his visit. Perhaps
there was complicated trouble in store for her; impossible to say
how her father's deep-rooted and rankling antipathies might
affect her intercourse even with the two girls. But she was of
independent years; she must be allowed the choice of her own
friends. The pleasure she had in seeing Jasper under this roof,
in hearing him talk with such intimate friendliness, strengthened
her to resist timid thoughts.
'When will your sisters arrive?' she asked.
'I think in a very few days. When I have fixed upon lodgings for
them I must go back to Finden; then they will return with me as
soon as we can get the house emptied. It's rather miserable
selling things one has lived among from childhood. A friend in
Wattleborough will house for us what we really can't bear to part
'It must be very sad,' Marian murmured.
'You know,' said the other suddenly, 'that it's my fault the
girls are left in such a hard position?'
Marian looked at him with startled eyes. His tone was quite
unfamiliar to her.
'Mother had an annuity,' he continued. 'It ended with her life,
but if it hadn't been for me she could have saved a good deal out
of it. Until the last year or two I have earned nothing, and I
have spent more than was strictly necessary. Well, I didn't live
like that in mere recklessness; I knew I was preparing myself for
remunerative work. But it seems too bad now. I'm sorry for it. I
wish I had found some way of supporting myself. The end of
mother's life was made far more unhappy than it need have been. I
should like you to understand all this.'
The listener kept her eyes on the ground.
'Perhaps the girls have hinted it to you?' Jasper added.
'Selfishness--that's one of my faults. It isn't a brutal kind of
selfishness; the thought of it often enough troubles me. If I
were rich, I should be a generous and good man; I know I should.
So would many another poor fellow whose worst features come out
under hardship. This isn't a heroic type; of course not. I am a
civilised man, that's all.'
Marian could say nothing.
'You wonder why I am so impertinent as to talk about myself like
this. I have gone through a good deal of mental pain these last
few weeks, and somehow I can't help showing you something of my
real thoughts. Just because you are one of the few people I
regard with sincere respect. I don't know you very well, but
quite well enough to respect you. My sisters think of you in the
same way. I shall do many a base thing in life, just to get money
and reputation; I tell you this that you mayn't be surprised if
anything of that kind comes to your ears. I can't afford to live
as I should like to.'
She looked up at him with a smile.
'People who are going to live unworthily don't declare it in this
'I oughtn't to; a few minutes ago I had no intention of saying
such things. It means I am rather overstrung, I suppose; but it's
all true, unfortunately.'
He rose, and began to run his eye along the shelves nearest to
'Well, now I will go, Miss Yule.'
Marian stood up as he approached.
'It's all very well,' he said, smiling, 'for me to encourage my
sisters in the hope that they may earn a living; but suppose I
can't even do it myself? It's by no means certain that I shall
make ends meet this year.'
'You have every reason to hope, I think.'
'I like to hear people say that, but it'll mean savage work. When
we were all at Finden last year, I told the girls that it would
be another twelve months before I could support myself. Now I am
forced to do it. And I don't like work; my nature is lazy. I
shall never write for writing's sake, only to make money. All my
plans and efforts will have money in view--all. I shan't allow
anything to come in the way of my material advancement.'
'I wish you every success,' said Marian, without looking at him,
and without a smile.
'Thank you. But that sounds too much like good-bye. I trust we
are to be friends, for all that?'
'Indeed, I hope we may be.'
They shook hands, and he went towards the door. But before
opening it, he asked:
'Did you read that thing of mine in The Current?'
'Yes, I did.'
'It wasn't bad, I think?'
'It seemed to me very clever.'
'Clever--yes, that's the word. It had a success, too. I have as
good a thing half done for the April number, but I've felt too
heavy-hearted to go on with it. The girls shall let you know when
they are in town.'
Marian followed him into the passage, and watched him as he
opened the front door. When it had closed, she went back into the
study for a few minutes before rejoining her mother.
CHAPTER IX. INVITA MINERVA
After all, there came a day when Edwin Reardon found himself
regularly at work once more, ticking off his stipulated quantum
of manuscript each four-and-twenty hours. He wrote a very small
hand; sixty written slips of the kind of paper he habitually used
would represent--thanks to the astonishing system which prevails
in such matters: large type, wide spacing, frequency of blank
pages--a passable three-hundred-page volume. On an average he
could write four such slips a day; so here we have fifteen days
for the volume, and forty-five for the completed book.
Forty-five days; an eternity in the looking forward. Yet the
calculation gave him a faint-hearted encouragement. At that rate
he might have his book sold by Christmas. It would certainly not
bring him a hundred pounds; seventy-five perhaps. But even that
small sum would enable him to pay the quarter's rent, and then
give him a short time, if only two or three weeks, of mental
rest. If such rest could not be obtained all was at an end with
him. He must either find some new means of supporting himself and
his family, or--have done with life and its responsibilities
The latter alternative was often enough before him. He seldom
slept for more than two or three consecutive hours in the night,
and the time of wakefulness was often terrible. The various
sounds which marked the stages from midnight to dawn had grown
miserably familiar to him; worst torture to his mind was the
chiming and striking of clocks. Two of these were in general
audible, that of Marylebone parish church, and that of the
adjoining workhouse; the latter always sounded several minutes
after its ecclesiastical neighbour, and with a difference of note
which seemed to Reardon very appropriate--a thin, querulous
voice, reminding one of the community it represented. After lying
awake for awhile he would hear quarters sounding; if they ceased
before the fourth he was glad, for he feared to know what time it
was. If the hour was complete, he waited anxiously for its
number. Two, three, even four, were grateful; there was still a
long time before he need rise and face the dreaded task, the
horrible four blank slips of paper that had to be filled ere he
might sleep again. But such restfulness was only for a moment; no
sooner had the workhouse bell become silent than he began to toil
in his weary imagination, or else, incapable of that, to vision
fearful hazards of the future. The soft breathing of Amy at his
side, the contact of her warm limbs, often filled him with
intolerable dread. Even now he did not believe that Amy loved him
with the old love, and the suspicion was like a cold weight at
his heart that to retain even her wifely sympathy, her wedded
tenderness, he must achieve the impossible.
The impossible; for he could no longer deceive himself with a
hope of genuine success. If he earned a bare living, that would
be the utmost. And with bare livelihood Amy would not, could not,
If he were to die a natural death it would be well for all. His
wife and the child would be looked after; they could live with
Mrs Edmund Yule, and certainly it would not be long before Amy
married again, this time a man of whose competency to maintain
her there would be no doubt. His own behaviour had been cowardly
selfishness. Oh yes, she had loved him, had been eager to believe
in him. But there was always that voice of warning in his mind;
he foresaw--he knew--
And if he killed himself? Not here; no lurid horrors for that
poor girl and her relatives; but somewhere at a distance, under
circumstances which would render the recovery of his body
difficult, yet would leave no doubt of his death. Would that,
again, be cowardly? The opposite, when once it was certain that
to live meant poverty and wretchedness. Amy's grief, however
sincere, would be but a short trial compared with what else might
lie before her. The burden of supporting her and Willie would be
a very slight one if she went to live in her mother's house. He
considered the whole matter night after night, until perchance it
happened that sleep had pity upon him for an hour before the time
Autumn was passing into winter. Dark days, which were always an
oppression to his mind, began to be frequent, and would soon
succeed each other remorselessly. Well, if only each of them
represented four written slips.
Milvain's advice to him had of course proved useless. The
sensational title suggested nothing, or only ragged shapes of
incomplete humanity that fluttered mockingly when he strove to
fix them. But he had decided upon a story of the kind natural to
him; a 'thin' story, and one which it would be difficult to spin
into three volumes. His own, at all events. The title was always
a matter for head-racking when the book was finished; he had
never yet chosen it before beginning.
For a week he got on at the desired rate; then came once more the
crisis he had anticipated.
A familiar symptom of the malady which falls upon outwearied
imagination. There were floating in his mind five or six possible
subjects for a book, all dating back to the time when he first
began novel-writing, when ideas came freshly to him. If he
grasped desperately at one of these, and did his best to develop
it, for a day or two he could almost content himself; characters,
situations, lines of motive, were laboriously schemed, and he
felt ready to begin writing. But scarcely had he done a chapter
or two when all the structure fell into flatness. He had made a
mistake. Not this story, but that other one, was what he should
have taken. The other one in question, left out of mind for a
time, had come back with a face of new possibility; it invited
him, tempted him to throw aside what he had already written.
Good; now he was in more hopeful train. But a few days, and the
experience repeated itself. No, not this story, but that third
one, of which he had not thought for a long time. How could he
have rejected so hopeful a subject?
For months he had been living in this way; endless circling,
perpetual beginning, followed by frustration. A sign of
exhaustion, it of course made exhaustion more complete. At times
he was on the border-land of imbecility; his mind looked into a
cloudy chaos, a shapeless whirl of nothings. He talked aloud to
himself, not knowing that he did so. Little phrases which
indicated dolorously the subject of his preoccupation often
escaped him in the street: 'What could I make of that, now?'
'Well, suppose I made him--?' 'But no, that wouldn't do,' and so
on. It had happened that he caught the eye of some one passing
fixed in surprise upon him; so young a man to be talking to
himself in evident distress!
The expected crisis came, even now that he was savagely
determined to go on at any cost, to write, let the result be what
it would. His will prevailed. A day or two of anguish such as
there is no describing to the inexperienced, and again he was
dismissing slip after slip, a sigh of thankfulness at the
completion of each one. It was a fraction of the whole, a
fraction, a fraction.
The ordering of his day was thus. At nine, after breakfast, he
sat down to his desk, and worked till one. Then came dinner,
followed by a walk. As a rule he could not allow Amy to walk with
him, for he had to think over the remainder of the day's toil,
and companionship would have been fatal. At about half-past three
he again seated himself; and wrote until half-past six, when he
had a meal. Then once more to work from half-past seven to ten.
Numberless were the experiments he had tried for the day's
division. The slightest interruption of the order for the time
being put him out of gear; Amy durst not open his door to ask
however necessary a question.
Sometimes the three hours' labour of a morning resulted in
half-a-dozen lines, corrected into illegibility. His brain would
not work; he could not recall the simplest synonyms; intolerable
faults of composition drove him mad. He would write a sentence
beginning thus: 'She took a book with a look of--;' or thus: 'A
revision of this decision would have made him an object of
derision.' Or, if the period were otherwise inoffensive, it ran
in a rhythmic gallop which was torment to the ear. All this, in
spite of the fact that his former books had been noticeably good
in style. He had an appreciation of shapely prose which made him
scorn himself for the kind of stuff he was now turning out. 'I
can't help it; it must go; the time is passing.'
Things were better, as a rule, in the evening. Occasionally he
wrote a page with fluency which recalled his fortunate years; and
then his heart gladdened, his hand trembled with joy.
Description of locality, deliberate analysis of character or
motive, demanded far too great an effort for his present
condition. He kept as much as possible to dialogue; the space is
filled so much more quickly, and at a pinch one can make people
talk about the paltriest incidents of life.
There came an evening when he opened the door and called to Amy.
'What is it?' she answered from the bedroom. 'I'm busy with
'Come as soon as you are free.'
In ten minutes she appeared. There was apprehension on her face;
she feared he was going to lament his inability to work. Instead
of that, he told her joyfully that the first volume was finished.
'Thank goodness!' she exclaimed. 'Are you going to do any more
'I think not--if you will come and sit with me.'
'Willie doesn't seem very well. He can't get to sleep.'
'You would like to stay with him?'
'A little while. I'll come presently.'
She closed the door. Reardon brought a high-backed chair to the
fireside, and allowed himself to forget the two volumes that had
still to be struggled through, in a grateful sense of the portion
that was achieved. In a few minutes it occurred to him that it
would be delightful to read a scrap of the 'Odyssey'; he went to
the shelves on which were his classical books, took the desired
volume, and opened it where Odysseus speaks to Nausicaa:
'For never yet did I behold one of mortals like to thee, neither
man nor woman; I am awed as I look upon thee. In Delos once, hard
by the altar of Apollo, I saw a young palm-tree shooting up with
even such a grace.'
Yes, yes; THAT was not written at so many pages a day, with a
workhouse clock clanging its admonition at the poet's ear. How it
freshened the soul! How the eyes grew dim with a rare joy in the
sounding of those nobly sweet hexameters!
Amy came into the room again.
'Listen,' said Reardon, looking up at her with a bright smile.
'Do you remember the first time that I read you this?'
And he turned the speech into free prose. Amy laughed.
'I remember it well enough. We were alone in the drawing-room; I
had told the others that they must make shift with the dining-
room for that evening. And you pulled the book out of your pocket
unexpectedly. I laughed at your habit of always carrying little
The cheerful news had brightened her. If she had been summoned to
hear lamentations her voice would not have rippled thus
soothingly. Reardon thought of this, and it made him silent for a
'The habit was ominous,' he said, looking at her with an
uncertain smile. 'A practical literary man doesn't do such
'Milvain, for instance. No.'
With curious frequency she mentioned the name of Milvain. Her
unconsciousness in doing so prevented Reardon from thinking about
the fact; still, he had noted it.
'Did you understand the phrase slightingly?' he asked.
'Slightingly? Yes, a little, of course. It always has that sense
on your lips, I think.'
In the light of this answer he mused upon her readily-offered
instance. True, he had occasionally spoken of Jasper with
something less than respect, but Amy was not in the habit of
'I hadn't any such meaning just then,' he said. 'I meant quite
simply that my bookish habits didn't promise much for my success
as a novelist.'
'I see. But you didn't think of it in that way at the time.'
'No. At least--no.'
'At least what?'
'Well, no; on the whole I had good hope.'
Amy twisted her fingers together impatiently.
'Edwin, let me tell you something. You are getting too fond of
speaking in a discouraging way. Now, why should you do so? I
don't like it. It has one disagreeable effect on me, and that is,
when people ask me about you, how you are getting on, I don't
quite know how to answer. They can't help seeing that I am
uneasy. I speak so differently from what I used to.'
'Do you, really?'
'Indeed I can't help it. As I say, it's very much your own
'Well, but granted that I am not of a very sanguine nature, and
that I easily fall into gloomy ways of talk, what is Amy here
'Yes, yes. But--'
'I am not here only to try and keep you in good spirits, am I?'
She asked it prettily, with a smile like that of maidenhood.
'Heaven forbid! I oughtn't to have put it in that absolute way. I
was half joking, you know. But unfortunately it's true that I
can't be as light-spirited as I could wish. Does that make you
impatient with me?'
'A little. I can't help the feeling, and I ought to try to
overcome it. But you must try on your side as well. Why should
you have said that thing just now?'
'You're quite right. It was needless.'
'A few weeks ago I didn't expect you to be cheerful. Things began
to look about as bad as they could. But now that you've got a
volume finished, there's hope once more.'
Hope? Of what quality? Reardon durst not say what rose in his
thoughts. 'A very small, poor hope. Hope of money enough to
struggle through another half year, if indeed enough for that.'
He had learnt that Amy was not to be told the whole truth about
anything as he himself saw it. It was a pity. To the ideal wife a
man speaks out all that is in him; she had infinitely rather
share his full conviction than be treated as one from whom facts
must be disguised. She says: 'Let us face the worst and talk of
it together, you and I.' No, Amy was not the ideal wife from that
point of view. But the moment after this half-reproach had
traversed his consciousness he condemned himself; and looked with
the joy of love into her clear eyes.
'Yes, there's hope once more, my dearest. No more gloomy talk to-
night! I have read you something, now you shall read something to
me; it is a long time since I delighted myself with listening to
you. What shall it be?'
'I feel rather too tired to-night.'
'I have had to look after Willie so much. But read me some more
Homer; I shall be very glad to listen.'
Reardon reached for the book again, but not readily. His face
showed disappointment. Their evenings together had never been the
same since the birth of the child; Willie was always an excuse--
valid enough --for Amy's feeling tired. The little boy had come
between him and the mother, as must always be the case in poor
homes, most of all where the poverty is relative. Reardon could
not pass the subject without a remark, but he tried to speak
'There ought to be a huge public creche in London. It's monstrous
that an educated mother should have to be nursemaid.'
'But you know very well I think nothing of that. A creche,
indeed! No child of mine should go to any such place.'
There it was. She grudged no trouble on behalf of the child. That
was love; whereas-- But then maternal love was a mere matter of
'As soon as you get two or three hundred pounds for a book,' she
added, laughing, 'there'll be no need for me to give so much
'Two or three hundred pounds!' He repeated it with a shake of the
head. 'Ah, if that were possible!'
'But that's really a paltry sum. What would fifty novelists you
could name say if they were offered three hundred pounds for a
book? How much do you suppose even Markland got for his last?'
'Didn't sell it at all, ten to one. Gets a royalty.'
'Which will bring him five or six hundred pounds before the book
ceases to be talked of.'
'Never mind. I'm sick of the word "pounds."'
'So am I.'
She sighed, commenting thus on her acquiescence.
'But look, Amy. If I try to be cheerful in spite of natural
dumps, wouldn't it be fair for you to put aside thoughts of
'Yes. Read some Homer, dear. Let us have Odysseus down in Hades,
and Ajax stalking past him. Oh, I like that!'
So he read, rather coldly at first, but soon warming. Amy sat
with folded arms, a smile on her lips, her brows knitted to the
epic humour. In a few minutes it was as if no difficulties
threatened their life. Every now and then Reardon looked up from
his translating with a delighted laugh, in which Amy joined.
When he had returned the book to the shelf he stepped behind his
wife's chair, leaned upon it, and put his cheek against hers.
'Do you still love me a little?'
'Much more than a little.'
'Though I am sunk to writing a wretched pot-boiler?'
'Is it so bad as all that?'
'Confoundedly bad. I shall be ashamed to see it in print; the
proofs will be a martyrdom.'
'Oh, but why? why?'
'It's the best I can do, dearest. So you don't love me enough to
hear that calmly.'
'If I didn't love you, I might be calmer about it, Edwin. It's
dreadful to me to think of what they will say in the reviews.'
'Curse the reviews!'
His mood had changed on the instant. He stood up with darkened
face, trembling angrily.
'I want you to promise me something, Amy. You won't read a single
one of the notices unless it is forced upon your attention. Now,
promise me that. Neglect them absolutely, as I do. They're not
worth a glance of your eyes. And I shan't be able to bear it if I
know you read all the contempt that will be poured on me.'
'I'm sure I shall be glad enough to avoid it; but other people,
our friends, read it. That's the worst.'
'You know that their praise would be valueless, so have strength
to disregard the blame. Let our friends read and talk as much as
they like. Can't you console yourself with the thought that I am
not contemptible, though I may have been forced to do poor work?'
'People don't look at it in that way.'
'But, darling,' he took her hands strongly in his own, 'I want
you to disregard other people. You and I are surely everything to
each other? Are you ashamed of me, of me myself?'
'No, not ashamed of you. But I am sensitive to people's talk and
'But that means they make you feel ashamed of me. What else?'
There was silence.
'Edwin, if you find you are unable to do good work, you mustn't
do bad. We must think of some other way of making a living.'
'Have you forgotten that you urged me to write a trashy
She coloured and looked annoyed.
'You misunderstood me. A sensational story needn't be trash. And
then, you know, if you had tried something entirely unlike your
usual work, that would have been excuse enough if people had
called it a failure.'
'We can't live in solitude, Edwin, though really we are not far
from it.' He did not dare to make any reply to this. Amy was so
exasperatingly womanlike in avoiding the important issue to which
he tried to confine her; another moment, and his tone would be
that of irritation. So he turned away and sat down to his desk,
as if he had some thought of resuming work.
'Will you come and have some supper?' Amy asked, rising.
'I have been forgetting that to-morrow morning's chapter has
still to be thought out.'
'Edwin, I can't think this book will really be so poor. You
couldn't possibly give all this toil for no result.'
'No; not if I were in sound health. But I am far from it.'
'Come and have supper with me, dear, and think afterwards.'
He turned and smiled at her.
'I hope I shall never be able to resist an invitation from you,
The result of all this was, of course, that he sat down in
anything but the right mood to his work next morning. Amy's
anticipation of criticism had made it harder than ever for him to
labour at what he knew to be bad. And, as ill-luck would have it,
in a day or two he caught his first winter's cold. For several
years a succession of influenzas, sore-throats, lumbagoes, had
tormented him from October to May; in planning his present work,
and telling himself that it must be finished before Christmas, he
had not lost sight of these possible interruptions. But he said
to himself: 'Other men have worked hard in seasons of illness; I
must do the same.' All very well, but Reardon did not belong to
the heroic class. A feverish cold now put his powers and
resolution to the test. Through one hideous day he nailed himself
to the desk--and wrote a quarter of a page. The next day Amy
would not let him rise from bed; he was wretchedly ill. In the
night he had talked about his work deliriously, causing her no
'If this goes on,' she said to him in the morning, 'you'll have
brain fever. You must rest for two or three days.'
'Teach me how to. I wish I could.'
Rest had indeed become out of the question. For two days he could
not write, but the result upon his mind was far worse than if he
had been at the desk. He looked a haggard creature when he again
sat down with the accustomed blank slip before him.
The second volume ought to have been much easier work than the
first; it proved far harder. Messieurs and mesdames the critics
are wont to point out the weakness of second volumes; they are
generally right, simply because a story which would have made a
tolerable book (the common run of stories) refuses to fill three
books. Reardon's story was in itself weak, and this second volume
had to consist almost entirely of laborious padding. If he wrote
three slips a day he did well.
And the money was melting, melting, despite Amy's efforts at
economy. She spent as little as she could; not a luxury came into
their home; articles of clothing all but indispensable were left
unpurchased. But to what purpose was all this? Impossible, now,
that the book should be finished and sold before the money had
all run out.
At the end of November, Reardon said to his wife one morning:
'To-morrow I finish the second volume.'
'And in a week,' she replied, 'we shan't have a shilling left.'
He had refrained from making inquiries, and Amy had forborne to
tell him the state of things, lest it should bring him to a dead
stop in his writing. But now they must needs discuss their
'In three weeks I can get to the end,' said Reardon, with
unnatural calmness. 'Then I will go personally to the publishers,
and beg them to advance me something on the manuscript before
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