New Grub Street
Part 5 out of 13
'Have the goodness to go away. You hear me?'
His eyes were inflamed, and his discoloured teeth showed
themselves savagely. Marian durst not, really durst not approach
him. She hesitated, but once more a sense of hateful injustice
moved within her, and she went away as quietly as she had
She said to herself that now it was her perfect right to go
whither she would. But the freedom was only in theory; her
submissive and timid nature kept her at home--and upstairs in her
own room; for, if she went to sit with her mother, of necessity
she must talk about what had happened, and that she felt unable
to do. Some friend to whom she could unbosom all her sufferings
would now have been very precious to her, but Maud and Dora were
her only intimates, and to them she might not make the full
confession which gives solace.
Mrs Yule did not venture to intrude upon her daughter's privacy.
That Marian neither went out nor showed herself in the house
proved her troubled state, but the mother had no confidence in
her power to comfort. At the usual time she presented herself in
the study with her husband's coffee; the face which was for an
instant turned to her did not invite conversation, but distress
obliged her to speak.
'Why are you cross with Marian, Alfred?'
'You had better ask what she means by her extraordinary
A word of harsh rebuff was the most she had expected. Thus
encouraged, she timidly put another question.
'How has she behaved?'
'I suppose you have ears?'
'But wasn't there something before that? You spoke so angry to
'Spoke so angry, did I? She is out, I suppose?'
'No, she hasn't gone out.'
'That'll do. Don't disturb me any longer.'
She did not venture to linger.
The breakfast next morning seemed likely to pass without any
interchange of words. But when Yule was pushing back his chair,
Marian--who looked pale and ill--addressed a question to him
about the work she would ordinarily have pursued to-day at the
Reading-room. He answered in a matter-of-fact tone, and for a few
minutes they talked on the subject much as at any other time.
Half an hour after, Marian set forth for the Museum in the usual
way. Her father stayed at home.
It was the end of the episode for the present. Marian felt that
the best thing would be to ignore what had happened, as her
father evidently purposed doing. She had asked his forgiveness,
and it was harsh in him to have repelled her; but by now she was
able once more to take into consideration all his trials and
toils, his embittered temper and the new wound he had received.
That he should resume his wonted manner was sufficient evidence
of regret on his part. Gladly she would have unsaid her resentful
words; she had been guilty of a childish outburst of temper, and
perhaps had prepared worse sufferings for the future.
And yet, perhaps it was as well that her father should be warned.
She was not all submission, he might try her beyond endurance;
there might come a day when perforce she must stand face to face
with him, and make it known she had her own claims upon life. It
was as well he should hold that possibility in view.
This evening no work was expected of her. Not long after dinner
she prepared for going out; to her mother she mentioned she
should be back about ten o'clock.
'Give my kind regards to them, dear--if you like to,' said Mrs
Yule just above her breath.
'Certainly I will.'
CHAPTER XIV. ECRUITS
Marian walked to the nearest point of Camden Road, and there
waited for an omnibus, which conveyed her to within easy reach of
the street where Maud and Dora Milvain had their lodgings. This
was at the north-east of Regent's Park, and no great distance
from Mornington Road, where Jasper still dwelt.
On learning that the young ladies were at home and alone, she
ascended to the second floor and knocked.
'That's right!' exclaimed Dora's pleasant voice, as the door
opened and the visitor showed herself And then came the friendly
greeting which warmed Marian's heart, the greeting which until
lately no house in London could afford her.
The girls looked oddly out of place in this second-floor sitting-
room, with its vulgar furniture and paltry ornaments. Maud
especially so, for her fine figure was well displayed by the
dress of mourning, and her pale, handsome face had as little
congruence as possible with a background of humble circumstances.
Dora impressed one as a simpler nature, but she too had
distinctly the note of refinement which was out of harmony with
these surroundings. They occupied only two rooms, the
sleeping-chamber being double-bedded; they purchased food for
themselves and prepared their own meals, excepting dinner. During
the first week a good many tears were shed by both of them; it
was not easy to transfer themselves from the comfortable country
home to this bare corner of lodgers' London. Maud, as appeared at
the first glance, was less disposed than her sister to make the
best of things; her countenance wore an expression rather of
discontent than of sorrow, and she did not talk with the same
readiness as Dora.
On the round table lay a number of books; when disturbed, the
sisters had been engaged in studious reading.
'I'm not sure that I do right in coming again so soon,' said
Marian as she took off her things. 'Your time is precious.'
'So are you,' replied Dora, laughing. 'It's only under protest
that we work in the evening when we have been hard at it all
'We have news for you, too,' said Maud, who sat languidly on an
'Good, I hope?'
'Someone called to see us yesterday. I dare say you can guess who
'And how did you like her?'
The sisters seemed to have a difficulty in answering. Dora was
the first to speak.
'We thought she was sadly out of spirits. Indeed she told us that
she hasn't been very well lately. But I think we shall like her
if we come to know her better.'
'It was rather awkward, Marian,' the elder sister explained. 'We
felt obliged to say something about Mr Reardon's books, but we
haven't read any of them yet, you know, so I just said that I
hoped soon to read his new novel. "I suppose you have seen
reviews of it?" she asked at once. Of course I ought to have had
the courage to say no, but I admitted that I had seen one or two
-- Jasper showed us them. She looked very much annoyed, and after
that we didn't find much to talk about.'
'The reviews are very disagreeable,' said Marian with a troubled
face. 'I have read the book since I saw you the other day, and I
am afraid it isn't good, but I have seen many worse novels more
'Jasper says it's because Mr Reardon has no friends among the
'Still,' replied Marian, 'I'm afraid they couldn't have given the
book much praise, if they wrote honestly. Did Amy ask you to go
and see her?'
'Yes, but she said it was uncertain how long they would be living
at their present address. And really. we can't feel sure whether
we should be welcome or not just now.'
Marian listened with bent head. She too had to make known to her
friends that they were not welcome in her own home; but she knew
not how to utter words which would sound so unkind.
'Your brother,' she said after a pause, 'will soon find suitable
friends for you.'
'Before long,' replied Dora, with a look of amusement, 'he's
going to take us to call on Mrs Boston Wright. I hardly thought
he was serious at first, but he says he really means it.'
Marian grew more and more silent. At home she had felt that it
would not be difficult to explain her troubles to these
sympathetic girls, but now the time had come for speaking, she
was oppressed by shame and anxiety. True, there was no absolute
necessity for making the confession this evening, and if she
chose to resist her father's prejudice, things might even go on
in a seemingly natural way. But the loneliness of her life had
developed in her a sensitiveness which could not endure
situations such as the present; difficulties which are of small
account to people who take their part in active social life,
harassed her to the destruction of all peace. Dora was not long
in noticing the dejected mood which had come upon her friend.
'What's troubling you, Marian?'
'Something I can hardly bear to speak of. Perhaps it will be the
end of your friendship for me, and I should find it very hard to
go back to my old solitude.'
The girls gazed at her, in doubt at first whether she spoke
'What can you mean?' Dora exclaimed. 'What crime have you been
Maud, who leaned with her elbows on the table, searched Marian's
face curiously, but said nothing.
'Has Mr Milvain shown you the new number of The Current?' Marian
went on to ask.
They replied with a negative, and Maud added:
'He has nothing in it this month, except a review.'
'A review?' repeated Marian in a low voice.
'Yes; of somebody's novel.'
'Markland's,' supplied Dora.
Marian drew a breath, but remained for a moment with her eyes
'Do go on, dear,' urged Dora. 'Whatever are you going to tell
'There's a notice of father's book,' continued the other, 'a very
ill-natured one; it's written by the editor, Mr Fadge. Father and
he have been very unfriendly for a long time. Perhaps Mr Milvain
has told you something about it?'
Dora replied that he had.
'I don't know how it is in other professions,' Marian resumed,
'but I hope there is less envy, hatred and malice than in this of
ours. The name of literature is often made hateful to me by the
things I hear and read. My father has never been very fortunate,
and many things have happened to make him bitter against the men
who succeed; he has often quarrelled with people who were at
first his friends, but never so seriously with anyone as with Mr
Fadge. His feeling of enmity goes so far that it includes even
those who are in any way associated with Mr Fadge. I am sorry to
say'--she looked with painful anxiety from one to the other of
her hearers--'this has turned him against your brother, and-- '
Her voice was checked by agitation.
'We were afraid of this,' said Dora, in a tone of sympathy.
'Jasper feared it might be the case,' added Maud, more coldly,
though with friendliness.
'Why I speak of it at all,' Marian hastened to say, 'is because I
am so afraid it should make a difference between yourselves and
'Oh! don't think that!' Dora exclaimed.
'I am so ashamed,' Marian went on in an uncertain tone, 'but I
think it will be better if I don't ask you to come and see me. It
sounds ridiculous; it is ridiculous and shameful. I couldn't
complain if you refused to have anything more to do with me.'
'Don't let it trouble you,' urged Maud, with perhaps a trifle
more of magnanimity in her voice than was needful. We quite
understand. Indeed, it shan't make any difference to us.'
But Marian had averted her face, and could not meet these
assurances with any show of pleasure. Now that the step was taken
she felt that her behaviour had been very weak. Unreasonable
harshness such as her father's ought to have been met more
steadily; she had no right to make it an excuse for such
incivility to her friends. Yet only in some such way as this
could she make known to Jasper Milvain how her father regarded
him, which she felt it necessary to do. Now his sisters would
tell him, and henceforth there would be a clear understanding on
both sides. That state of things was painful to her, but it was
better than ambiguous relations.
'Jasper is very sorry about it,' said Dora, glancing rapidly at
'But his connection with Mr Fadge came about in such a natural
way,' added the eldest sister. 'And it was impossible for him to
'Impossible; I know,' Marian replied earnestly. 'Don't think that
I wish to justify my father. But I can understand him, and it
must be very difficult for you to do so. You can't know, as I do,
how intensely he has suffered in these wretched, ignoble
quarrels. If only you will let me come here still, in the same
way, and still be as friendly to me. My home has never been a
place to which I could have invited friends with any comfort,
even if I had had any to invite. There were always reasons--but I
can't speak of them.'
'My dear Marian,' appealed Dora, 'don't distress yourself so! Do
believe that nothing whatever has happened to change our feeling
to you. Has there, Maud?'
'Nothing whatever. We are not unreasonable girls, Marian.'
'I am more grateful to you than I can say.'
It had seemed as if Marian must give way to the emotions which
all but choked her voice; she overcame them, however, and
presently was able to talk in pretty much her usual way, though
when she smiled it was but faintly. Maud tried to lead her
thoughts in another direction by speaking of work in which she
and Dora were engaged. Already the sisters were doing a new piece
of compilation for Messrs Jolly and Monk; it was more exacting
than their initial task for the book market, and would take a
much longer time.
A couple of hours went by, and Marian had just spoken of taking
her leave, when a man's step was heard rapidly ascending the
nearest flight of stairs.
'Here's Jasper,' remarked Dora, and in a moment there sounded a
short, sharp summons at the door.
Jasper it was; he came in with radiant face, his eyes blinking
before the lamplight.
'Well, girls! Ha! how do you do, Miss Yule? I had just the
vaguest sort of expectation that you might be here. It seemed a
likely night; I don't know why. I say, Dora, we really must get
two or three decent easy-chairs for your room. I've seen some
outside a second-hand furniture shop in Hampstead Road, about six
shillings apiece. There's no sitting on chairs such as these.'
That on which he tried to dispose himself, when he had flung
aside his trappings, creaked and shivered ominously.
'You hear? I shall come plump on to the floor, if I don't mind.
My word, what a day I have had! I've just been trying what I
really could do in one day if I worked my hardest. Now just
listen; it deserves to be chronicled for the encouragement of
aspiring youth. I got up at 7.30, and whilst I breakfasted I read
through a volume I had to review. By 10.30 the review was
written--three-quarters of a column of the Evening Budget.'
'Who is the unfortunate author?' interrupted Maud, caustically.
'Not unfortunate at all. I had to crack him up; otherwise I
couldn't have done the job so quickly. It's the easiest thing in
the world to write laudation; only an inexperienced grumbler
would declare it was easier to find fault. The book was
Billington's "Vagaries"; pompous idiocy, of course, but he lives
in a big house and gives dinners. Well, from 10.30 to 11, I
smoked a cigar and reflected, feeling that the day wasn't badly
begun. At eleven I was ready to write my Saturday causerie for
the Will o' the Wisp; it took me till close upon one o'clock,
which was rather too long. I can't afford more than an hour and a
half for that job. At one, I rushed out to a dirty little
eating-house in Hampstead Road. Was back again by a quarter to
two, having in the meantime sketched a paper for The West End.
Pipe in mouth, I sat down to leisurely artistic work; by five,
half the paper was done; the other half remains for to-morrow.
From five to half-past I read four newspapers and two magazines,
and from half-past to a quarter to six I jotted down several
ideas that had come to me whilst reading. At six I was again in
the dirty eating-house, satisfying a ferocious hunger. Home once
more at 6.45, and for two hours wrote steadily at a long affair I
have in hand for The Current. Then I came here, thinking hard all
the way. What say you to this? Have I earned a night's repose?'
'And what's the value of it all?' asked Maud.
'Probably from ten to twelve guineas, if I calculated.'
'I meant, what was the literary value of it?' said his sister,
with a smile.
'Equal to that of the contents of a mouldy nut.'
'Pretty much what I thought.'
'Oh, but it answers the purpose,' urged Dora, 'and it does no one
'Honest journey-work!' cried Jasper. 'There are few men in London
capable of such a feat. Many a fellow could write more in
quantity, but they couldn't command my market. It's rubbish, but
rubbish of a very special kind, of fine quality.'
Marian had not yet spoken, save a word or two in reply to
Jasper's greeting; now and then she just glanced at him, but for
the most part her eyes were cast down. Now Jasper addressed her.
'A year ago, Miss Yule, I shouldn't have believed myself capable
of such activity. In fact I wasn't capable of it then.'
'You think such work won't be too great a strain upon you?' she
'Oh, this isn't a specimen day, you know. To-morrow I shall very
likely do nothing but finish my West End article, in an easy two
or three hours. There's no knowing; I might perhaps keep up the
high pressure if I tried. But then I couldn't dispose of all the
work. Little by little--or perhaps rather quicker than that--I
shall extend my scope. For instance, I should like to do two or
three leaders a week for one of the big dailies. I can't attain
unto that just yet.'
'Not political leaders?'
'By no means. That's not my line. The kind of thing in which one
makes a column out of what would fill six lines of respectable
prose. You call a cigar a "convoluted weed," and so on, you know;
that passes for facetiousness. I've never really tried my hand at
that style yet; I shouldn't wonder if I managed it brilliantly.
Some day I'll write a few exercises; just take two lines of some
good prose writer, and expand them into twenty, in half-a-dozen
different ways. Excellent mental gymnastics!'
Marian listened to his flow of talk for a few minutes longer,
then took the opportunity of a brief silence to rise and put on
her hat. Jasper observed her, but without rising; he looked at
his sisters in a hesitating way. At length he stood up, and
declared that he too must be off. This coincidence had happened
once before when he met Marian here in the evening.
'At all events, you won't do any more work to-night,' said Dora.
'No; I shall read a page of something or other over a glass of
whisky, and seek the sleep of a man who has done his duty.'
'Why the whisky?' asked Maud.
'Do you grudge me such poor solace?'
'I don't see the need of it.'
'Nonsense, Maud!' exclaimed her sister. 'He needs a little
stimulant when he works so hard.'
Each of the girls gave Marian's hand a significant pressure as
she took leave of them, and begged her to come again as soon as
she had a free evening. There was gratitude in her eyes.
The evening was clear, and not very cold.
'It's rather late for you to go home,' said Jasper, as they left
the house. 'May I walk part of the way with you?'
Marian replied with a low 'Thank you.'
'I think you get on pretty well with the girls, don't you?'
'I hope they are as glad of my friendship as I am of theirs.'
'Pity to see them in a place like that, isn't it? They ought to
have a good house, with plenty of servants. It's bad enough for a
civilised man to have to rough it, but I hate to see women living
in a sordid way. Don't you think they could both play their part
in a drawing-room, with a little experience?'
'Surely there's no doubt of it.'
'Maud would look really superb if she were handsomely dressed.
She hasn't a common face, by any means. And Dora is pretty, I
think. Well, they shall go and see some people before long. The
difficulty is, one doesn't like it to be known that they live in
such a crib; but I daren't advise them to go in for expense. One
can't be sure that it would repay them, though-- Now, in my own
case, if I could get hold of a few thousand pounds I should know
how to use it with the certainty of return; it would save me,
probably, a clear ten years of life; I mean, I should go at a
jump to what I shall be ten years hence without the help of
money. But they have such a miserable little bit of capital, and
everything is still so uncertain. One daren't speculate under the
Marian made no reply.
'You think I talk of nothing but money?' Jasper said suddenly,
looking down into her face.
'I know too well what it means to be without money.'
'Yes, but--you do just a little despise me?'
'Indeed, I don't, Mr Milvain.'
'If that is sincere, I'm very glad. I take it in a friendly
sense. I am rather despicable, you know; it's part of my business
to be so. But a friend needn't regard that. There is the man
apart from his necessities.'
The silence was then unbroken till they came to the lower end of
Park Street, the junction of roads which lead to Hampstead, to
Highgate, and to Holloway.
'Shall you take an omnibus?' Jasper asked.
'Or will you give me the pleasure of walking on with you? You are
'Not the least.'
For the rest of her answer she moved forward, and they crossed
into the obscurity of Camden Road.
'Shall I be doing wrong, Mr Milvain,' Marian began in a very low
voice, 'if I ask you about the authorship of something in this
'I'm afraid I know what you refer to. There's no reason why I
shouldn't answer a question of the kind.'
'It was Mr Fadge himself who reviewed my father's book?'
'It was--confound him! I don't know another man who could have
done the thing so vilely well.'
'I suppose he was only replying to my father's attack upon him
and his friends.'
'Your father's attack is honest and straightforward and
justifiable and well put. I read that chapter of his book with
huge satisfaction. But has anyone suggested that another than
Fadge was capable of that masterpiece?'
'Yes. I am told that Mr Jedwood, the publisher, has somehow made
'Jedwood? And what mistake?'
'Father heard that you were the writer.'
'I?' Jasper stopped short. They were in the rays of a street-
lamp, and could see each other's faces. 'And he believes that?'
'I'm afraid so.'
'And you believe--believed it?'
'Not for a moment.'
'I shall write a note to Mr Yule.'
Marian was silent a while, then said:
'Wouldn't it be better if you found a way of letting Mr Jedwood
know the truth?'
'Perhaps you are right.'
Jasper was very grateful for the suggestion. In that moment he
had reflected how rash it would be to write to Alfred Yule on
such a subject, with whatever prudence in expressing himself.
Such a letter, coming under the notice of the great Fadge, might
do its writer serious harm.
'Yes, you are right,' he repeated. 'I'll stop that rumour at its
source. I can't guess how it started; for aught I know, some
enemy hath done this, though I don't quite discern the motive.
Thank you very much for telling me, and still more for refusing
to believe that I could treat Mr Yule in that way, even as a
matter of business. When I said that I was despicable, I didn't
mean that I could sink quite to such a point as that. If only
because it was your father--'
He checked himself and they walked on for several yards without
'In that case,' Jasper resumed at length, 'your father doesn't
think of me in a very friendly way?'
'He scarcely could--'
'No, no. And I quite understand that the mere fact of my working
for Fadge would prejudice him against me. But that's no reason, I
hope, why you and I shouldn't be friends?'
'I hope not.'
'I don't know that my friendship is worth much,' Jasper
continued, talking into the upper air, a habit of his when he
discussed his own character. 'I shall go on as I have begun, and
fight for some of the good things of life. But your friendship is
valuable. If I am sure of it, I shall be at all events within
sight of the better ideals.'
Marian walked on with her eyes upon the ground. To her surprise
she discovered presently that they had all but reached St Paul's
'Thank you for having come so far,' she said, pausing.
'Ah, you are nearly home. Why, it seems only a few minutes since
we left the girls. Now I'll run back to the whisky of which Maud
'May it do you good!' said Marian with a laugh.
A speech of this kind seemed unusual upon her lips. Jasper smiled
as he held her hand and regarded her.
'Then you can speak in a joking way?'
'Do I seem so very dull?'
'Dull, by no means. But sage and sober and reticent--and exactly
what I like in my friend, because it contrasts with my own
habits. All the better that merriment lies below it. Goodnight,
He strode off and in a minute or two turned his head to look at
the slight figure passing into darkness.
Marian's hand trembled as she tried to insert her latch-key. When
she had closed the door very quietly behind her she went to the
sitting-room; Mrs Yule was just laying aside the sewing on which
she had occupied herself throughout the lonely evening.
'I'm rather late,' said the girl, in a voice of subdued
'Yes; I was getting a little uneasy, dear.'
'Oh, there's no danger.'
'You have been enjoying yourself, I can see.'
'I have had a pleasant evening.'
In the retrospect it seemed the pleasantest she had yet spent
with her friends, though she had set out in such a different
mood. Her mind was relieved of two anxieties; she felt sure that
the girls had not taken ill what she told them, and there was no
longer the least doubt concerning the authorship of that review
in The Current.
She could confess to herself now that the assurance from Jasper's
lips was not superfluous. He might have weighed profit against
other considerations, and have written in that way of her father;
she had not felt that absolute confidence which defies every
argument from human frailty. And now she asked herself if faith
of that unassailable kind is ever possible; is it not only the
poet's dream, the far ideal?
Marian often went thus far in her speculation. Her candour was
allied with clear insight into the possibilities of falsehood;
she was not readily the victim of illusion; thinking much, and
speaking little, she had not come to her twenty-third year
without perceiving what a distance lay between a girl's dream of
life as it might be and life as it is. Had she invariably
disclosed her thoughts, she would have earned the repute of a
very sceptical and slightly cynical person.
But with what rapturous tumult of the heart she could abandon
herself to a belief in human virtues when their suggestion seemed
to promise her a future of happiness!
Alone in her room she sat down only to think of Jasper Milvain,
and extract from the memory of his words, his looks, new
sustenance for her hungry heart. Jasper was the first man who had
ever evinced a man's interest in her. Until she met him she had
not known a look of compliment or a word addressed to her
emotions. He was as far as possible from representing the lover
of her imagination, but from the day of that long talk in the
fields near Wattleborough the thought of him had supplanted
dreams. On that day she said to herself: I could love him if he
cared to seek my love. Premature, perhaps; why, yes, but one who
is starving is not wont to feel reluctance at the suggestion of
food. The first man who had approached her with display of
feeling and energy and youthful self-confidence; handsome too, it
seemed to her. Her womanhood went eagerly to meet him.
Since then she had made careful study of his faults. Each
conversation had revealed to her new weakness and follies. With
the result that her love had grown to a reality.
He was so human, and a youth of all but monastic seclusion had
prepared her to love the man who aimed with frank energy at the
joys of life. A taint of pedantry would have repelled her. She
did not ask for high intellect or great attainments; but
vivacity, courage, determination to succeed, were delightful to
her senses. Her ideal would not have been a literary man at all;
certainly not a man likely to be prominent in journalism; rather
a man of action, one who had no restraints of commerce or
official routine. But in Jasper she saw the qualities that
attracted her apart from the accidents of his position. Ideal
personages do not descend to girls who have to labour at the
British Museum; it seemed a marvel to her, and of good augury,
that even such a man as Jasper should have crossed her path.
It was as though years had passed since their first meeting. Upon
her return to London had followed such long periods of
hopelessness. Yet whenever they encountered each other he had
look and speech for her with which surely he did not greet every
woman. From the first his way of regarding her had shown frank
interest. And at length had come the confession of his 'respect,'
his desire to be something more to her than a mere acquaintance.
It was scarcely possible that he should speak as he several times
had of late if he did not wish to draw her towards him.
That was the hopeful side of her thoughts. It was easy to forget
for a time those words of his which one might think were spoken
as distinct warning; but they crept into the memory, unwelcome,
importunate, as soon as imagination had built its palace of joy.
Why did he always recur to the subject of money? 'I shall allow
nothing to come in my way;' he once said that as if meaning,
'certainly not a love affair with a girl who is penniless.' He
emphasised the word 'friend,' as if to explain that he offered
and asked nothing more than friendship.
But it only meant that he would not be in haste to. declare
himself. Of a certainty there was conflict between his ambition
and his love, but she recognised her power over him and exulted
in it. She had observed his hesitancy this evening, before he
rose to accompany her from the house; her heart laughed within
her as the desire drew him. And henceforth such meetings would be
frequent, with each one her influence would increase. How kindly
fate had dealt with her in bringing Maud and Dora to London!
It was within his reach to marry a woman who would bring him
wealth. He had that in mind; she understood it too well. But not
one moment's advantage would she relinquish. He must choose her
in her poverty, and be content with what his talents could earn
for him. Her love gave her the right to demand this sacrifice;
let him ask for her love, and the sacrifice would no longer seem
one, so passionately would she reward him.
He would ask it. To-night she was full of a rich confidence,
partly, no doubt, the result of reaction from her miseries. He
had said at parting that her character was so well suited to his;
that he liked her. And then he had pressed her hand so warmly.
Before long he would ask her love.
The unhoped was all but granted her. She could labour on in the
valley of the shadow of books, for a ray of dazzling sunshine
might at any moment strike into its musty gloom.
CHAPTER XV. THE LAST RESOURCE
The past twelve months had added several years to Edwin Reardon's
seeming age; at thirty-three he would generally have been taken
for forty. His bearing, his personal habits, were no longer those
of a young man; he walked with a stoop and pressed noticeably on
the stick he carried; it was rare for him to show the countenance
which tells of present cheerfulness or glad onward-looking; there
was no spring in his step; his voice had fallen to a lower key,
and often he spoke with that hesitation in choice of words which
may be noticed in persons whom defeat has made self-distrustful.
Ceaseless perplexity and dread gave a wandering, sometimes a
wild, expression to his eyes.
He seldom slept, in the proper sense of the word; as a rule he
was conscious all through the night of 'a kind of fighting'
between physical weariness and wakeful toil of the mind. It often
happened that some wholly imaginary obstacle in the story he was
writing kept him under a sense of effort throughout the dark
hours; now and again he woke, reasoned with himself, and
remembered clearly that the torment was without cause, but the
short relief thus afforded soon passed in the recollection of
real distress. In his unsoothing slumber he talked aloud,
frequently wakening Amy; generally he seemed to be holding a
dialogue with someone who had imposed an intolerable task upon
him; he protested passionately, appealed, argued in the strangest
way about the injustice of what was demanded. Once Amy heard him
begging for money--positively begging, like some poor wretch in
the street; it was horrible, and made her shed tears; when he
asked what he had been saying, she could not bring herself to
When the striking clocks summoned him remorselessly to rise and
work he often reeled with dizziness. It seemed to him that the
greatest happiness attainable would be to creep into some dark,
warm corner, out of the sight and memory of men, and lie there
torpid, with a blessed half-consciousness that death was slowly
overcoming him. Of all the sufferings collected into each
four-and-twenty hours this of rising to a new day was the worst.
The one-volume story which he had calculated would take him four
or five weeks was with difficulty finished in two months. March
winds made an invalid of him; at one time he was threatened with
bronchitis, and for several days had to abandon even the effort
to work. In previous winters he had been wont to undergo a good
deal of martyrdom from the London climate, but never in such a
degree as now; mental illness seemed to have enfeebled his body.
It was strange that he succeeded in doing work of any kind, for
he had no hope from the result. This one last effort he would
make, just to complete the undeniableness of his failure, and
then literature should be thrown behind him; what other pursuit
was possible to him he knew not, but perhaps he might discover
some mode of earning a livelihood. Had it been a question of
gaining a pound a week, as in the old days, he might have hoped
to obtain some clerkship like that at the hospital, where no
commercial experience or aptitude was demanded; but in his
present position such an income would be useless. Could he take
Amy and the child to live in a garret? On less than a hundred a
year it was scarcely possible to maintain outward decency.
Already his own clothing began to declare him poverty-stricken,
and but for gifts from her mother Amy would have reached the like
pass. They lived in dread of the pettiest casual expense, for the
day of pennilessness was again approaching.
Amy was oftener from home than had been her custom.
Occasionally she went away soon after breakfast, and spent the
whole day at her mother's house. 'It saves food,' she said with a
bitter laugh, when Reardon once expressed surprise that she
should be going again so soon.
'And gives you an opportunity of bewailing your hard fate,' he
The reproach was ignoble, and he could not be surprised that Amy
left the house without another word to him. Yet he resented that,
as he had resented her sorrowful jest. The feeling of unmanliness
in his own position tortured him into a mood of perversity.
Through the day he wrote only a few lines, and on Amy's return he
resolved not to speak to her. There was a sense of repose in this
change of attitude; he encouraged himself in the view that Amy
was treating him with cruel neglect. She, surprised that her
friendly questions elicited no answer, looked into his face and
saw a sullen anger of which hitherto Reardon had never seemed
capable. Her indignation took fire, and she left him to himself.
For a day or two he persevered in his muteness, uttering a word
only when it could not be avoided. Amy was at first so resentful
that she contemplated leaving him to his ill-temper and dwelling
at her mother's house until he chose to recall her. But his face
grew so haggard in fixed misery that compassion at length
prevailed over her injured pride. Late in the evening she went to
the study, and found him sitting unoccupied.
'What do you want?' he asked indifferently.
'Why are you behaving to me like this?'
'Surely it makes no difference to you how I behave? You can
easily forget that I exist, and live your own life.'
'What have I done to make this change in you?'
'Is it a change?'
'You know it is.'
'How did I behave before?' he asked, glancing at her.
'Like yourself--kindly and gently.'
'If I always did so, in spite of things that might have
embittered another man's temper, I think it deserved some return
of kindness from you.'
'What "things" do you mean?'
'Circumstances for which neither of us is to blame.'
'I am not conscious of having failed in kindness,' said Amy,
'Then that only shows that you have forgotten your old self, and
utterly changed in your feeling to me. When we first came to live
here could you have imagined yourself leaving me alone for long,
miserable days, just because I was suffering under misfortunes?
You have shown too plainly that you don't care to give me the
help even of a kind word. You get away from me as often as you
can, as if to remind me that we have no longer any interests in
common. Other people are your confidants; you speak of me to them
as if I were purposely dragging you down into a mean condition.'
'How can you know what I say about you?'
'Isn't it true?' he asked, flashing an angry glance at her.
'It is not true. Of course I have talked to mother about our
difficulties; how could I help it?'
'And to other people.'
'Not in a way that you could find fault with.'
'In a way that makes me seem contemptible to them. You show them
that I have made you poor and unhappy, and you are glad to have
'What you mean is, that I oughtn't to see anyone. There's no
other way of avoiding such a reproach as this. So long as I don't
laugh and sing before people, and assure them that things
couldn't be more hopeful, I shall be asking for their sympathy,
and against you. I can't understand your unreasonableness.'
'I'm afraid there is very little in me that you can understand.
So long as my prospects seemed bright, you could sympathise
readily enough; as soon as ever they darkened, something came
between us. Amy, you haven't done your duty. Your love hasn't
stood the test as it should have done. You have given me no help;
besides the burden of cheerless work I have had to bear that of
your growing coldness. I can't remember one instance when you
have spoken to me as a wife might--a wife who was something more
than a man's housekeeper.'
The passion in his voice and the harshness of the accusation made
her unable to reply.
'You said rightly,' he went on, 'that I have always been kind and
gentle. I never thought I could speak to you or feel to you in
any other way. But I have undergone too much, and you have
deserted me. Surely it was too soon to do that. So long as I
endeavoured my utmost, and loved you the same as ever, you might
have remembered all you once said to me. You might have given me
help, but you haven't cared to.'
The impulses which had part in this outbreak were numerous and
complex. He felt all that he expressed, but at the same time it
seemed to him that he had the choice between two ways of uttering
his emotion--the tenderly appealing and the sternly reproachful:
he took the latter course because it was less natural to him than
the former. His desire was to impress Amy with the bitter
intensity of his sufferings; pathos and loving words seemed to
have lost their power upon her, but perhaps if he yielded to that
other form of passion she would be shaken out of her coldness.
The stress of injured love is always tempted to speech which
seems its contradiction. Reardon had the strangest mixture of
pain and pleasure in flinging out these first words of wrath that
he had ever addressed to Amy; they consoled him under the
humiliating sense of his weakness, and yet he watched with dread
his wife's countenance as she listened to him. He hoped to cause
her pain equal to his own, for then it would be in his power at
once to throw off this disguise and soothe her with every softest
word his heart could suggest. That she had really ceased to love
him he could not, durst not, believe; but his nature demanded
frequent assurance of affection. Amy had abandoned too soon the
caresses of their ardent time; she was absorbed in her maternity,
and thought it enough to be her husband's friend. Ashamed to make
appeal directly for the tenderness she no longer offered, he
accused her of utter indifference, of abandoning him and all but
betraying him, that in self-defence she might show what really
was in her heart.
But Amy made no movement towards him.
'How can you say that I have deserted you?' she returned, with
cold indignation. 'When did I refuse to share your poverty? When
did I grumble at what we have had to go through?'
'Ever since the troubles really began you have let me know what
your thoughts were, even if you didn't speak them. You have never
shared my lot willingly. I can't recall one word of encouragement
from you, but many, many which made the struggle harder for me.'
'Then it would be better for you if I went away altogether, and
left you free to do the best for yourself. If that is what you
mean by all this, why not say it plainly? I won't be a burden to
you. Someone will give me a home.'
'And you would leave me without regret? Your only care would be
that you were still bound to me?'
'You must think of me what you like. I don't care to defend
'You won't admit, then, that I have anything to complain of? I
seem to you simply in a bad temper without a cause?'
'To tell you the truth, that's just what I do think. I came here
to ask what I had done that you were angry with me, and you break
out furiously with all sorts of vague reproaches. You have much
to endure, I know that, but it's no reason why you should turn
against me. I have never neglected my duty. Is the duty all on my
side? I believe there are very few wives who would be as patient
as I have been.'
Reardon gazed at her for a moment, then turned away. The distance
between them was greater than he had thought, and now he repented
of having given way to an impulse so alien to his true feelings;
anger only estranged her, whereas by speech of a different kind
he might have won the caress for which he hungered.
Amy, seeing that he would say nothing more, left him to himself.
It grew late in the night. The fire had gone out, but Reardon
still sat in the cold room. Thoughts of self-destruction were
again haunting him, as they had done during the black months of
last year. If he had lost Amy's love, and all through the mental
impotence which would make it hard for him even to earn bread,
why should he still live? Affection for his child had no weight
with him; it was Amy's child rather than his, and he had more
fear than pleasure in the prospect of Willie's growing to
He had just heard the workhouse clock strike two, when, without
the warning of a footstep, the door opened. Amy came in; she wore
her dressing-gown, and her hair was arranged for the night.
'Why do you stay here?' she asked.
It was not the same voice as before. He saw that her eyes were
red and swollen.
'Have you been crying, Amy?'
'Never mind. Do you know what time it is?'
He went towards her.
'Why have you been crying?'
'There are many things to cry for.'
'Amy, have you any love for me still, or has poverty robbed me of
'I have never said that I didn't love you. Why do you accuse me
of such things?'
He took her in his arms and held her passionately and kissed her
face again and again. Amy's tears broke forth anew.
'Why should we come to such utter ruin?' she sobbed. 'Oh, try,
try if you can't save us even yet! You know without my saying it
that I do love you; it's dreadful to me to think all our happy
life should be at an end, when we thought of such a future
together. Is it impossible? Can't you work as you used to and
succeed as we felt confident you would? Don't despair yet, Edwin;
do, do try, whilst there is still time!'
'Darling, darling--if only I COULD!'
'I have thought of something, dearest. Do as you proposed last
year; find a tenant for the flat whilst we still have a little
money, and then go away into some quiet country place, where you
can get back your health and live for very little, and write
another book--a good book, that'll bring you reputation again. I
and Willie can go and live at mother's for the summer months. Do
this! It would cost you so little, living alone, wouldn't it?
You would know that I was well cared for; mother would be willing
to have me for a few months, and it's easy to explain that your
health has failed, that you're obliged to go away for a time.'
'But why shouldn't you go with me, if we are to let this place?'
'We shouldn't have enough money. I want to free your mind from
the burden whilst you are writing. And what is before us if we go
on in this way? You don't think you will get much for what you're
writing now, do you?'
Reardon shook his head.
'Then how can we live even till the end of the year? Something
must be done, you know. If we get into poor lodgings, what hope
is there that you'll be able to write anything good?'
'But, Amy, I have no faith in my power of--'
'Oh, it would be different! A few days--a week or a fortnight of
real holiday in this spring weather. Go to some seaside place.
How is it possible that all your talent should have left you?
It's only that you have been so anxious and in such poor health.
You say I don't love you, but I have thought and thought what
would be best for you to do, how you could save yourself. How can
you sink down to the position of a poor clerk in some office?
That CAN'T be your fate, Edwin; it's incredible. Oh, after such
bright hopes, make one more effort! Have you forgotten that we
were to go to the South together--you were to take me to Italy
and Greece? How can that ever be if you fail utterly in
literature? How can you ever hope to earn more than bare
sustenance at any other kind of work?'
He all but lost consciousness of her words in gazing at the face
she held up to his.
'You love me? Say again that you love me!'
'Dear, I love you with all my heart. But I am so afraid of the
future. I can't bear poverty; I have found that I can't bear it.
And I dread to think of your becoming only an ordinary man--'
'But I am NOT "only an ordinary man," Amy! If I never write
another line, that won't undo what I have done. It's little
enough, to be sure; but you know what I am. Do you only love the
author in me? Don't you think of me apart from all that I may do
or not do? If I had to earn my living as a clerk, would that make
me a clerk in soul?'
'You shall not fall to that! It would be too bitter a shame to
lose all you have gained in these long years of work. Let me plan
for you; do as I wish. You are to be what we hoped from the
first. Take all the summer months. How long will it be before you
can finish this short book?'
'A week or two.'
'Then finish it, and see what you can get for it. And try at once
to find a tenant to take this place off our hands; that would be
twenty-five pounds saved for the rest of the year. You could live
on so little by yourself, couldn't you?'
'Oh, on ten shillings a week, if need be.'
'But not to starve yourself, you know. Don't you feel that my
plan is a good one? When I came to you to-night I meant to speak
of this, but you were so cruel--'
'Forgive me, dearest love! I was half a madman. You have been so
cold to me for a long time.'
'I have been distracted. It was as if we were drawing nearer and
nearer to the edge of a cataract.'
'Have you spoken to your mother about this?' he asked uneasily.
'No--not exactly this. But I know she will help us in this way.'
He had seated himself and was holding her in his arms, his face
laid against hers.
'I shall dread to part from you, Amy. That's such a dangerous
thing to do. It may mean that we are never to live as husband and
'But how could it? It's just to prevent that danger. If we go on
here till we have no money--what's before us then? Wretched
lodgings at the best. And I am afraid to think of that. I can't
trust myself if that should come to pass.'
'What do you mean?' he asked anxiously.
'I hate poverty so. It brings out all the worst things in me; you
know I have told you that before, Edwin?'
'But you would never forget that you are my wife?'
'I hope not. But--I can't think of it; I can't face it! That
would be the very worst that can befall us, and we are going to
try our utmost to escape from it. Was there ever a man who did as
much as you have done in literature and then sank into hopeless
'But at your age, I mean. Surely not at your age?'
'I'm afraid there have been such poor fellows. Think how often
one hears of hopeful beginnings, new reputations, and then--you
hear no more. Of course it generally means that the man has gone
into a different career; but sometimes, sometimes--'
'The abyss.' He pointed downward. 'Penury and despair and a
'Oh, but those men haven't a wife and child! They would struggle
'Darling, they do struggle. But it's as if an ever-increasing
weight were round their necks; it drags them lower and lower. The
world has no pity on a man who can't do or produce something it
thinks worth money. You may be a divine poet, and if some good
fellow doesn't take pity on you you will starve by the roadside.
Society is as blind and brutal as fate. I have no right to
complain of my own ill-fortune; it's my own fault (in a sense)
that I can't continue as well as I began; if I could write books
as good as the early ones I should earn money. For all that, it's
hard that I must be kicked aside as worthless just because I
don't know a trade.'
'It shan't be! I have only to look into your face to know that
you will succeed after all. Yours is the kind of face that people
come to know in portraits.'
He kissed her hair, and her eyes, and her mouth.
'How well I remember your saying that before! Why have you grown
so good to me all at once, my Amy? Hearing you speak like that I
feel there's nothing beyond my reach. But I dread to go away from
you. If I find that it is hopeless; if I am alone somewhere, and
know that the effort is all in vain--'
'Well, I can leave you free. If I can't support you, it will be
only just that I should give you back your freedom.'
'I don't understand--'
She raised herself and looked into his eyes.
'We won't talk of that. If you bid me go on with the struggle, I
shall do so.'
Amy had hidden her face, and lay silently in his arms for a
minute or two. Then she murmured:
'It is so cold here, and so late. Come!'
'So early. There goes three o'clock.'
The next day they talked much of this new project. As there was
sunshine Amy accompanied her husband for his walk in the
afternoon; it was long since they had been out together. An open
carriage that passed, followed by two young girls on horseback,
gave a familiar direction to Reardon's thoughts.
'If one were as rich as those people! They pass so close to us;
they see us, and we see them; but the distance between is
infinity. They don't belong to the same world as we poor
wretches. They see everything in a different light; they have
powers which would seem supernatural if we were suddenly endowed
'Of course,' assented his companion with a sigh.
'Just fancy, if one got up in the morning with the thought that
no reasonable desire that occurred to one throughout the day need
remain ungratified! And that it would be the same, any day and
every day, to the end of one's life! Look at those houses; every
detail, within and without, luxurious. To have such a home as
'And they are empty creatures who live there.'
'They do live, Amy, at all events. Whatever may be their
faculties, they all have free scope. I have often stood staring
at houses like these until I couldn't believe that the people
owning them were mere human beings like myself. The power of
money is so hard to realise; one who has never had it marvels at
the completeness with which it transforms every detail of life.
Compare what we call our home with that of rich people; it moves
one to scornful laughter. I have no sympathy with the stoical
point of view; between wealth and poverty is just the difference
between the whole man and the maimed. If my lower limbs are
paralysed I may still be able to think, but then there is such a
thing in life as walking. As a poor devil I may live nobly; but
one happens to be made with faculties of enjoyment, and those
have to fall into atrophy. To be sure, most rich people don't
understand their happiness; if they did, they would move and talk
like gods--which indeed they are.'
Amy's brow was shadowed. A wise man, in Reardon's position, would
not have chosen this subject to dilate upon.
'The difference,' he went on, 'between the man with money and the
man without is simply this: the one thinks, "How shall I use my
life?" and the other, "How shall I keep myself alive?" A
physiologist ought to be able to discover some curious
distinction between the brain of a person who has never given a
thought to the means of subsistence, and that of one who has
never known a day free from such cares. There must be some
special cerebral development representing the mental anguish kept
up by poverty.'
'I should say,' put in Amy, 'that it affects every function of
the brain. It isn't a special point of suffering, but a misery
that colours every thought.'
'True. Can I think of a single subject in all the sphere of my
experience without the consciousness that I see it through the
medium of poverty? I have no enjoyment which isn't tainted by
that thought,. and I can suffer no pain which it doesn't
increase. The curse of poverty is to the modern world just what
that of slavery was to the ancient. Rich and destitute stand to
each other as free man and bond. You remember the line of Homer I
have often quoted about the demoralising effect of enslavement;
poverty degrades in the same way.'
'It has had its effect upon me--I know that too well,' said Amy,
with bitter frankness.
Reardon glanced at her, and wished to make some reply, but he
could not say what was in his thoughts.
He worked on at his story. Before he had reached the end of it,
'Margaret Home' was published, and one day arrived a parcel
containing the six copies to which an author is traditionally
entitled. Reardon was not so old in authorship that he could open
the packet without a slight flutter of his pulse. The book was
tastefully got up; Amy exclaimed with pleasure as she caught
sight of the cover and lettering:
'It may succeed, Edwin. It doesn't look like a book that fails,
She laughed at her own childishness. But Reardon had opened one
of the volumes, and was glancing over the beginning of a chapter.
'Good God!' he cried. 'What hellish torment it was to write that
page! I did it one morning when the fog was so thick that I had
to light the lamp. It brings cold sweat to my forehead to read
the words. And to think that people will skim over it without a
suspicion of what it cost the writer!--What execrable style! A
potboy could write better narrative.'
'Who are to have copies?'
'No one, if I could help it. But I suppose your mother will
'I suppose so,' he replied indifferently. 'But not unless he asks
for it. Poor old Biffen, of course; though it'll make him despise
me. Then one for ourselves. That leaves two--to light the fire
with. We have been rather short of fire-paper since we couldn't
afford our daily newspaper.'
'Will you let me give one to Mrs Carter?'
'As you please.'
He took one set and added it to the row of his productions which
stood on a topmost shelf Amy laid her hand upon his shoulder and
contemplated the effect of this addition.
'The works of Edwin Reardon,' she said, with a smile.
'The work, at all events--rather a different thing,
unfortunately. Amy, if only I were back at the time when I wrote
"On Neutral Ground," and yet had you with me! How full my mind
was in those days! Then I had only to look, and I saw something;
now I strain my eyes, but can make out nothing more than nebulous
grotesques. I used to sit down knowing so well what I had to say;
now I strive to invent, and never come at anything. Suppose you
pick up a needle with warm, supple fingers; try to do it when
your hand is stiff and numb with cold; there's the difference
between my manner of work in those days and what it is now.'
'But you are going to get back your health. You will write better
'We shall see. Of course there was a great deal of miserable
struggle even then, but I remember it as insignificant compared
with the hours of contented work. I seldom did anything in the
mornings except think and prepare; towards evening I felt myself
getting ready, and at last I sat down with the first lines
buzzing in my head. And I used to read a great deal at the same
time. Whilst I was writing "On Neutral Ground" I went solidly
through the "Divina Commedia," a canto each day. Very often I
wrote till after midnight, but occasionally I got my quantum
finished much earlier, and then I used to treat myself to a
ramble about the streets. I can recall exactly the places where
some of my best ideas came to me. You remember the scene in
Prendergast's lodgings? That flashed on me late one night as I
was turning out of Leicester Square into the slum that leads to
Clare Market; ah, how well I remember! And I went home to my
garret in a state of delightful fever, and scribbled notes
furiously before going to bed.'
'Don't trouble; it'll all come back to you.'
'But in those days I hadn't to think of money. I could look
forward and see provision for my needs. I never asked myself what
I should get for the book; I assure you, that never came into my
head--never. The work was done for its own sake. No hurry to
finish it; if I felt that I wasn't up to the mark, I just waited
till the better mood returned. "On Neutral Ground" took me seven
months; now I have to write three volumes in nine weeks, with the
lash stinging on my back if I miss a day.'
He brooded for a little.
'I suppose there must be some rich man somewhere who has read one
or two of my books with a certain interest. If only I could
encounter him and tell him plainly what a cursed state I am in,
perhaps he would help me to some means of earning a couple of
pounds a week. One has heard of such things.'
'In the old days.'
'Yes. I doubt if it ever happens now. Coleridge wouldn't so
easily meet with his Gillman nowadays. Well, I am not a
Coleridge, and I don't ask to be lodged under any man's roof; but
if I could earn money enough to leave me good long evenings
unspoilt by fear of the workhouse--'
Amy turned away, and presently went to look after her little boy.
A few days after this they had a visit from Milvain. He came
about ten o'clock in the evening.
'I'm not going to stay,' he announced. 'But where's my copy of
"Margaret Home"? I am to have one, I suppose?'
'I have no particular desire that you should read it,' returned
'But I HAVE read it, my dear fellow. Got it from the library on
the day of publication; I had a suspicion that you wouldn't send
me a copy. But I must possess your opera omnia.'
'Here it is. Hide it away somewhere.--You may as well sit down
for a few minutes.'
'I confess I should like to talk about the book, if you don't
mind. It isn't so utterly and damnably bad as you make out, you
know. The misfortune was that you had to make three volumes of
it. If I had leave to cut it down to one, it would do you credit.
The motive is good enough.'
'Yes. Just good enough to show how badly it's managed.'
Milvain began to expatiate on that well-worn topic, the evils of
the three-volume system.
'A triple-headed monster, sucking the blood of English novelists.
One might design an allegorical cartoon for a comic literary
paper. By-the-bye, why doesn't such a thing exist?--a weekly
paper treating of things and people literary in a facetious
spirit. It would be caviare to the general, but might be
supported, I should think. The editor would probably be
'For anyone in my position,' said Reardon, 'how is it possible to
abandon the three volumes? It is a question of payment. An author
of moderate repute may live on a yearly three-volume novel--I
mean the man who is obliged to sell his book out and out, and who
gets from one to two hundred pounds for it. But he would have to
produce four one-volume novels to obtain the same income; and I
doubt whether he could get so many published within the twelve
months. And here comes in the benefit of the libraries; from the
commercial point of view the libraries are indispensable. Do you
suppose the public would support the present number of novelists
if each book had to be purchased? A sudden change to that system
would throw three-fourths of the novelists out of work.'
'But there's no reason why the libraries shouldn't circulate
novels in one volume.'
'Profits would be less, I suppose. People would take the minimum
'Well, to go to the concrete, what about your own one-volume?'
'All but done.'
'And you'll offer it to Jedwood? Go and see him personally. He's
a very decent fellow, I believe.'
Milvain stayed only half an hour. The days when he was wont to
sit and talk at large through a whole evening were no more;
partly because of his diminished leisure, but also for a less
simple reason--the growth of something like estrangement between
him and Reardon.
'You didn't mention your plans,' said Amy, when the visitor had
been gone some time.
Reardon was content with the negative, and his wife made no
The result of advertising the flat was that two or three persons
called to make inspection. One of them, a man of military
appearance, showed himself anxious to come to terms; he was
willing to take the tenement from next quarter-day (June), but
wished, if possible, to enter upon possession sooner than that.
'Nothing could be better,' said Amy in colloquy with her husband.
'If he will pay for the extra time, we shall be only too glad.'
Reardon mused and looked gloomy. He could not bring himself to
regard the experiment before him with hopefulness, and his heart
sank at the thought of parting from Amy.
'You are very anxious to get rid of me,' he answered, trying to
'Yes, I am,' she exclaimed; 'but simply for your own good, as you
know very well.'
'Suppose I can't sell this book?'
'You will have a few pounds. Send your "Pliny" article to The
Wayside. If you come to an end of all your money, mother shall
lend you some.'
'I am not very likely to do much work in that case.'
'Oh, but you will sell the book. You'll get twenty pounds for it,
and that alone would keep you for three months. Think--three
months of the best part of the year at the seaside! Oh, you will
The furniture was to be housed at Mrs Yule's. Neither of them
durst speak of selling it; that would have sounded too ominous.
As for the locality of Reardon's retreat, Amy herself had
suggested Worthing, which she knew from a visit a few years ago;
the advantages were its proximity to London, and the likelihood
that very cheap lodgings could be found either in the town or
near it. One room would suffice for the hapless author, and his
expenses, beyond a trifling rent, would be confined to mere food.
Oh yes, he might manage on considerably less than a pound a week.
Amy was in much better spirits than for a long time; she appeared
to have convinced herself that there was no doubt of the issue of
this perilous scheme; that her husband would write a notable
book, receive a satisfactory price for it, and so re-establish
their home. Yet her moods varied greatly. After all, there was
delay in the letting of the flat, and this caused her annoyance.
It was whilst the negotiations were still pending that she made
her call upon Maud and Dora Milvain; Reardon did not know of her
intention to visit them until it had been carried out. She
mentioned what she had done in almost a casual manner.
'I had to get it over,' she said, when Reardon exhibited
surprise, 'and I don't think I made a very favourable
'You told them, I suppose, what we are going to do?'
'No; I didn't say a word of it.'
'But why not? It can't be kept a secret. Milvain will have heard
of it already, I should think, from your mother.'
'From mother? But it's the rarest thing for him to go there. Do
you imagine he is a constant visitor? I thought it better to say
nothing until the thing is actually done. Who knows what may
She was in a strange, nervous state, and Reardon regarded her
uneasily. He talked very little in these days, and passed hours
in dark reverie. His book was finished, and he awaited the
CHAPTER XVI. REJECTION
One of Reardon's minor worries at this time was the fear that by
chance he might come upon a review of 'Margaret Home.' Since the
publication of his first book he had avoided as far as possible
all knowledge of what the critics had to say about him; his
nervous temperament could not bear the agitation of reading these
remarks, which, however inept, define an author and his work to
so many people incapable of judging for themselves. No man or
woman could tell him anything in the way of praise or blame which
he did not already know quite well; commendation was pleasant,
but it so often aimed amiss, and censure was for the most part so
unintelligent. In the case of this latest novel he dreaded the
sight of a review as he would have done a gash from a rusty
knife. The judgments could not but be damnatory, and their
expression in journalistic phrase would disturb his mind with
evil rancour. No one would have insight enough to appreciate the
nature and cause of his book's demerits; every comment would be
wide of the mark; sneer, ridicule, trite objection, would but
madden him with a sense of injustice.
His position was illogical--one result of the moral weakness
which was allied with his aesthetic sensibility. Putting aside
the worthlessness of current reviewing, the critic of an isolated
book has of course nothing to do with its author's state of mind
and body any more than with the condition of his purse. Reardon
would have granted this, but he could not command his emotions.
He was in passionate revolt against the base necessities which
compelled him to put forth work in no way representing his
healthy powers, his artistic criterion. Not he had written this
book, but his accursed poverty. To assail him as the author was,
in his feeling, to be guilty of brutal insult. When by ill-hap a
notice in one of the daily papers came under his eyes, it made
his blood boil with a fierceness of hatred only possible to him
in a profoundly morbid condition; he could not steady his hand
for half an hour after. Yet this particular critic only said what
was quite true--that the novel contained not a single striking
scene and not one living character; Reardon had expressed himself
about it in almost identical terms. But he saw himself in the
position of one sickly and all but destitute man against a
relentless world, and every blow directed against him appeared
dastardly. He could have cried 'Coward!' to the writer who
The would-be sensational story which was now in Mr Jedwood's
hands had perhaps more merit than 'Margaret Home'; its brevity,
and the fact that nothing more was aimed at than a concatenation
of brisk events, made it not unreadable. But Reardon thought of
it with humiliation. If it were published as his next work it
would afford final proof to such sympathetic readers as he might
still retain that he had hopelessly written himself out, and was
now endeavouring to adapt himself to an inferior public. In spite
of his dire necessities he now and then hoped that Jedwood might
refuse the thing.
At moments he looked with sanguine eagerness to the three or four
months he was about to spend in retirement, but such impulses
were the mere outcome of his nervous disease. He had no faith in
himself under present conditions; the permanence of his
sufferings would mean the sure destruction of powers he still
possessed, though they were not at his command. Yet he believed
that his mind was made up as to the advisability of trying this
last resource; he was impatient for the day of departure, and in
the interval merely killed time as best he might. He could not
read, and did not attempt to gather ideas for his next book; the
delusion that his mind was resting made an excuse to him for the
barrenness of day after day. His 'Pliny' article had been
despatched to The Wayside, and would possibly be accepted. But he
did not trouble himself about this or other details; it was as
though his mind could do nothing more than grasp the bald fact of
impending destitution; with the steps towards that final stage he
seemed to have little concern.
One evening he set forth to make a call upon Harold Biffen, whom
he had not seen since the realist called to acknowledge the
receipt of a copy of 'Margaret Home' left at his lodgings when he
was out. Biffen resided in Clipstone Street, a thoroughfare
discoverable in the dim district which lies between Portland
Place and Tottenham Court Road. On knocking at the door of the
lodging-house, Reardon learnt that his friend was at home. He
ascended to the third storey and tapped at a door which allowed
rays of lamplight to issue from great gaps above and below. A
sound of voices came from within, and on entering he perceived
that Biffen was engaged with a pupil.
'They didn't tell me you had a visitor,' he said. 'I'll call
'No need to go away,' replied Biffen, coming forward to shake
hands. 'Take a book for a few minutes. Mr Baker won't mind.'
It was a very small room, with a ceiling so low that the tall
lodger could only just stand upright with safety; perhaps three
inches intervened between his head and the plaster, which was
cracked, grimy, cobwebby. A small scrap of weedy carpet lay in
front of the fireplace; elsewhere the chinky boards were
unconcealed. The furniture consisted of a round table, which kept
such imperfect balance on its central support that the lamp
entrusted to it looked in a dangerous position, of three small
cane-bottomed chairs, a small wash-hand-stand with sundry rude
appurtenances, and a chair-bedstead which the tenant opened at
the hour of repose and spread with certain primitive trappings at
present kept in a cupboard. There was no bookcase, but a few
hundred battered volumes were arranged some on the floor and some
on a rough chest. The weather was too characteristic of an
English spring to make an empty grate agreeable to the eye, but
Biffen held it an axiom that fires were unseasonable after the
first of May.
The individual referred to as Mr Baker, who sat at the table in
the attitude of a student, was a robust, hard-featured,
black-haired young man of two-or three-and-twenty; judging from
his weather-beaten cheeks and huge hands, as well as from the
garb he wore, one would have presumed that study was not his
normal occupation. There was something of the riverside about
him; he might be a dockman, or even a bargeman. He looked
intelligent, however, and bore himself with much modesty.
'Now do endeavour to write in shorter sentences,' said Biffen,
who sat down by him and resumed the lesson, Reardon having taken
up a volume. 'This isn't bad--it isn't bad at all, I assure you;
but you have put all you had to say into three appalling periods,
whereas you ought to have made about a dozen.'
'There it is, sir; there it is!' exclaimed the man, smoothing his
wiry hair. 'I can't break it up. The thoughts come in a lump, if
I may say so. To break it up--there's the art of compersition.'
Reardon could not refrain from a glance at the speaker, and
Biffen, whose manner was very grave and kindly, turned to his
friend with an explanation of the difficulties with which the
student was struggling.
'Mr Baker is preparing for the examination of the outdoor Customs
Department. One of the subjects is English composition, and
really, you know, that isn't quite such a simple matter as some
Baker beamed upon the visitor with a homely, good-natured smile.
'I can make headway with the other things, sir,' he said,
striking the table lightly with his clenched fist. 'There's
handwriting, there's orthography, there's arithmetic; I'm not
afraid of one of 'em, as Mr Biffen 'll tell you, sir. But when it
comes to compersition, that brings out the sweat on my forehead,
I do assure you.
'You're not the only man in that case, Mr Baker,' replied
'It's thought a tough job in general, is it, sir?'
'It is indeed.'
'Two hundred marks for compersition,' continued the man. 'Now how
many would they have given me for this bit of a try, Mr Biffen?'
'Well, well; I can't exactly say. But you improve; you improve,
decidedly. Peg away for another week or two.'
'Oh, don't fear me, sir! I'm not easily beaten when I've set my
mind on a thing, and I'll break up the compersition yet, see if I
Again his fist descended upon the table in a way that reminded
one of the steam-hammer cracking a nut.
The lesson proceeded for about ten minutes, Reardon, under
pretence of reading, following it with as much amusement as
anything could excite in him nowadays. At length Mr Baker stood
up, collected his papers and books, and seemed about to depart;
but, after certain uneasy movements and glances, he said to
Biffen in a subdued voice:
'Perhaps I might speak to you outside the door a minute, sir?'
He and the teacher went out, the door closed, and Reardon heard
sounds of muffled conversation. In a minute or two a heavy
footstep descended the stairs, and Biffen re-entered the room.
'Now that's a good, honest fellow,' he said, in an amused tone.
'It's my pay-night, but he didn't like to fork out money before
you. A very unusual delicacy in a man of that standing. He pays
me sixpence for an hour's lesson; that brings me two shillings a
week. I sometimes feel a little ashamed to take his money, but
then the fact is he's a good deal better off than I am.'
'Will he get a place in the Customs, do you think?'
'Oh, I've no doubt of it. If it seemed unlikely, I should have
told him so before this. To be sure, that's a point I have often
to consider, and once or twice my delicacy has asserted itself at
the expense of my pocket. There was a poor consumptive lad came
to me not long ago and wanted Latin lessons; talked about going
in for the London Matric., on his way to the pulpit. I couldn't
stand it. After a lesson or two I told him his cough was too bad,
and he had no right to study until he got into better health;
that was better, I think, than saying plainly he had no chance on
earth. But the food I bought with his money was choking me. Oh
yes, Baker will make his way right enough. A good, modest fellow.
You noticed how respectfully he spoke to me? It doesn't make any
difference to him that I live in a garret like this; I'm a man of
education, and he can separate this fact from my surroundings.'
'Biffen, why don't you get some decent position? Surely you
'What position? No school would take me; I have neither
credentials nor conventional clothing. For the same reason I
couldn't get a private tutorship in a rich family. No, no; it's
all right. I keep myself alive, and I get on with my work.--
By-the-bye, I've decided to write a book called "Mr Bailey,
'What's the idea?'
'An objectionable word, that. Better say: "What's the reality?"
Well, Mr Bailey is a grocer in a little street by here. I have
dealt with him for a long time, and as he's a talkative fellow
I've come to know a good deal about him and his history. He's
fond of talking about the struggle he had in his first year of
business. He had no money of his own, but he married a woman who
had saved forty-five pounds out of a cat's-meat business. You
should see that woman! A big, coarse, squinting creature; at the
time of the marriage she was a widow and forty-two years old. Now
I'm going to tell the true story of Mr Bailey's marriage and of
his progress as a grocer. It'll be a great book--a great book!'
He walked up and down the room, fervid with his conception.
'There'll be nothing bestial in it, you know. The decently
ignoble--as I've so often said. The thing'll take me a year at
least. I shall do it slowly, lovingly. One volume, of course; the
length of the ordinary French novel. There's something fine in
the title, don't you think? "Mr Bailey, Grocer"!'
'I envy you, old fellow,' said Reardon, sighing. 'You have the
right fire in you; you have zeal and energy. Well, what do you
think I have decided to do?'
'I should like to hear.'
Reardon gave an account of his project. The other listened
gravely, seated across a chair with his arms on the back.
'Your wife is in agreement with this?'
'Oh yes.' He could not bring himself to say that Amy had
suggested it. 'She has great hopes that the change will be just
what I need.'
'I should say so too--if you were going to rest. But if you have
to set to work at once it seems to me very doubtful.'
'Never mind. For Heaven's sake don't discourage me! If this fails
I think--upon my soul, I think I shall kill myself.'
'Pooh!' exclaimed Biffen, gently. 'With a wife like yours?'
'Just because of that.'
'No, no; there'll be some way out of it. By-the-bye, I passed Mrs
Reardon this morning, but she didn't see me. It was in Tottenham
Court Road, and Milvain was with her. I felt myself too seedy in
appearance to stop and speak.'
'In Tottenham Court Road?'
That was not the detail of the story which chiefly held Reardon's
attention, yet he did not purposely make a misleading remark. His
mind involuntarily played this trick.
'I only saw them just as they were passing,' pursued Biffen. 'Oh,
I knew I had something to tell you! Have you heard that Whelpdale
is going to be married?'
Reardon shook his head in a preoccupied way.
'I had a note from him this morning, telling me. He asked me to
look him up to-night, and he'd let me know all about it. Let's go
together, shall we?'
'I don't feel much in the humour for Whelpdale. I'll walk with
you, and go on home.'
'No, no; come and see him. It'll do you good to talk a little.--
But I must positively eat a mouthful before we go. I'm afraid you
won't care to join?'
He opened his cupboard, and brought out a loaf of bread and a
saucer of dripping, with salt and pepper.
'Better dripping this than I've had for a long time. I get it at
Mr Bailey's--that isn't his real name, of course. He assures me
it comes from a large hotel where his wife's sister is a
kitchen-maid, and that it's perfectly pure; they very often mix
flour with it, you know, and perhaps more obnoxious things that
an economical man doesn't care to reflect upon. Now, with a
little pepper and salt, this bread and dripping is as appetising
food as I know. I often make a dinner of it.'
'I have done the same myself before now. Do you ever buy pease-
'I should think so! I get magnificent pennyworths at a shop in
Cleveland Street, of a very rich quality indeed. Excellent
faggots they have there, too. I'll give you a supper of them some
night before you go.'
Biffen rose to enthusiasm in the contemplation of these dainties.
He ate his bread and dripping with knife and fork; this always
made the fare seem more substantial.
'Is it very cold out?' he asked, rising from the table. 'Need I
put my overcoat on?'
This overcoat, purchased second-hand three years ago, hung on a
door-nail. Comparative ease of circumstances had restored to the
realist his ordinary indoor garment--a morning coat of the cloth
called diagonal, rather large for him, but in better preservation
than the other articles of his attire.
Reardon judging the overcoat necessary, his friend carefully
brushed it and drew it on with a caution which probably had
reference to starting seams. Then he put into the pocket his
pipe, his pouch, his tobacco-stopper, and his matches, murmuring
to himself a Greek iambic line which had come into his head a
propos of nothing obvious.
'Go out,' he said, 'and then I'll extinguish the lamp. Mind the
second step down, as usual.'
They issued into Clipstone Street, turned northward, crossed
Euston Road, and came into Albany Street, where, in a house of
decent exterior, Mr Whelpdale had his present abode. A girl who
opened the door requested them to walk up to the topmost storey.
A cheery voice called to them from within the room at which they
knocked. This lodging spoke more distinctly of civilisation than
that inhabited by Biffen; it contained the minimum supply of
furniture needed to give it somewhat the appearance of a study,
but the articles were in good condition. One end of the room was
concealed by a chintz curtain; scrutiny would have discovered
behind the draping the essential equipments of a bedchamber.
Mr Whelpdale sat by the fire, smoking a cigar. He was a plain-
featured but graceful and refined-looking man of thirty, with
wavy chestnut hair and a trimmed beard which became him well. At
present he wore a dressing-gown and was without collar.
'Welcome, gents both!' he cried facetiously. 'Ages since I saw
you, Reardon. I've been reading your new book. Uncommonly good
things in it here and there--uncommonly good.'
Whelpdale had the weakness of being unable to tell a disagreeable
truth, and a tendency to flattery which had always made Reardon
rather uncomfortable in his society. Though there was no need
whatever of his mentioning 'Margaret Home,' he preferred to frame
smooth fictions rather than keep a silence which might be
construed as unfavourable criticism.
'In the last volume,' he went on, 'I think there are one or two
things as good as you ever did; I do indeed.'
Reardon made no acknowledgment of these remarks. They irritated
him, for he knew their insincerity. Biffen, understanding his
friend's silence, struck in on another subject.
'Who is this lady of whom you write to me?'
'Ah, quite a story! I'm going to be married, Reardon. A serious
marriage. Light your pipes, and I'll tell you all about it.
Startled you, I suppose, Biffen? Unlikely news, eh? Some people
would call it a rash step, I dare say. We shall just take another
room in this house, that's all. I think I can count upon an
income of a couple of guineas a week, and I have plans without
end that are pretty sure to bring in coin.'
Reardon did not care to smoke, but Biffen lit his pipe and waited
with grave interest for the romantic narrative. Whenever he heard
of a poor man's persuading a woman to share his poverty he was
eager of details; perchance he himself might yet have that
heavenly good fortune.
'Well,' began Whelpdale, crossing his legs and watching a wreath
he had just puffed from the cigar, 'you know all about my
literary advisership. The business goes on reasonably well. I'm
going to extend it in ways I'll explain to you presently. About
six weeks ago I received a letter from a lady who referred to my
advertisements, and said she had the manuscript of a novel which
she would like to offer for my opinion. Two publishers had
refused it, but one with complimentary phrases, and she hoped it
mightn't be impossible to put the thing into acceptable shape. Of
course I wrote optimistically, and the manuscript was sent to me.
Well, it wasn't actually bad--by Jove! you should have seen some
of the things I have been asked to recommend to publishers! It
wasn't hopelessly bad by any means, and I gave serious thought to
it. After exchange of several letters I asked the authoress to
come and see me, that we might save postage stamps and talk
things over. She hadn't given me her address: I had to direct to
a stationer's in Bayswater. She agreed to come, and did come. I
had formed a sort of idea, but of course I was quite wrong.
Imagine my excitement when there came in a very beautiful girl, a
tremendously interesting girl, about one-and-twenty--just the
kind of girl that most strongly appeals to me; dark, pale, rather
consumptive-looking, slender--no, there's no describing her;
there really isn't! You must wait till you see her.'
'I hope the consumption was only a figure of speech,' remarked
Biffen in his grave way.
'Oh, there's nothing serious the matter, I think. A slight cough,
'The deuce!' interjected Reardon.
'Oh, nothing, nothing! It'll be all right. Well, now, of course
we talked over the story--in good earnest, you know. Little by
little I induced her to speak of herself--this, after she'd come
two or three times--and she told me lamentable things. She was
absolutely alone in London, and hadn't had sufficient food for
weeks; had sold all she could of her clothing; and so on. Her
home was in Birmingham; she had been driven away by the brutality
of a stepmother; a friend lent her a few pounds, and she came to
London with an unfinished novel. Well, you know, this kind of
thing would be enough to make me soft-hearted to any girl, let
alone one who, to begin with, was absolutely my ideal. When she
began to express a fear that I was giving too much time to her,
that she wouldn't be able to pay my fees, and so on, I could
restrain myself no longer. On the spot I asked her to marry me. I
didn't practise any deception, mind. I told her I was a poor
devil who had failed as a realistic novelist and was earning
bread in haphazard ways; and I explained frankly that I thought
we might carry on various kinds of business together: she might
go on with her novel-writing, and--so on. But she was frightened;
I had been too abrupt. That's a fault of mine, you know; but I
was so confoundedly afraid of losing her. And I told her as much,
'This would be exciting,' he said, 'if we didn't know the end of
'Yes. Pity I didn't keep it a secret. Well, she wouldn't say yes,
but I could see that she didn't absolutely say no. "In any case,"
I said, "you'll let me see you often? Fees be hanged! I'll work
day and night for you. I'll do my utmost to get your novel
accepted." And I implored her to let me lend her a little money.
Back to Full Books