New Grub Street
Part 6 out of 13
It was very difficult to persuade her, but at last she accepted a
few shillings. I could see in her face that she was hungry. Just
imagine! A beautiful girl absolutely hungry; it drove me frantic!
But that was a great point gained. After that we saw each other
almost every day, and at last--she consented! Did indeed! I can
hardly believe it yet. We shall be married in a fortnight's
'I congratulate you,' said Reardon.
'So do I,' sighed Biffen.
'The day before yesterday she went to Birmingham to see her
father and tell him all about the affair. I agreed with her it
was as well; the old fellow isn't badly off; and he may forgive
her for running away, though he's under his wife's thumb, it
appears. I had a note yesterday. She had gone to a friend's house
for the first day. I hoped to have heard again this morning--must
to-morrow, in any case. I live, as you may imagine, in wild
excitement. Of course, if the old man stumps up a wedding
present, all the better. But I don't care; we'll make a living
somehow. What do you think I'm writing just now? An author's
Guide. You know the kind of thing; they sell splendidly. Of
course I shall make it a good advertisement of my business. Then
I have a splendid idea. I'm going to advertise: "Novel-writing
taught in ten lessons!" What do you think of that? No swindle;
not a bit of it. I am quite capable of giving the ordinary man or
woman ten very useful lessons. I've been working out the scheme;
it would amuse you vastly, Reardon. The first lesson deals with
the question of subjects, local colour--that kind of thing. I
gravely advise people, if they possibly can, to write of the
wealthy middle class; that's the popular subject, you know. Lords
and ladies are all very well, but the real thing to take is a
story about people who have no titles, but live in good
Philistine style. I urge study of horsey matters especially;
that's very important. You must be well up, too, in military
grades, know about Sandhurst, and so on. Boating is an important
topic. You see? Oh, I shall make a great thing of this. I shall
teach my wife carefully, and then let her advertise lessons to
girls; they'll prefer coming to a woman, you know.'
Biffen leant back and laughed noisily.
'How much shall you charge for the course?' asked Reardon.
'That'll depend. I shan't refuse a guinea or two; but some people
may be made to pay five, perhaps.'
Someone knocked at the door, and a voice said:
'A letter for you, Mr Whelpdale.'
He started up, and came back into the room with face illuminated.
'Yes, it's from Birmingham; posted this morning. Look what an
exquisite hand she writes!'
He tore open the envelope. In delicacy Reardon and Biffen averted
their eyes. There was silence for a minute, then a strange
ejaculation from Whelpdale caused his friends to look up at him.
He had gone pale, and was frowning at the sheet of paper which
trembled in his hand.
'No bad news, I hope?' Biffen ventured to say.
Whelpdale let himself sink into a chair.
'Now if this isn't too bad!' he exclaimed in a thick voice. 'If
this isn't monstrously unkind! I never heard anything so gross as
The two waited, trying not to smile.
'She writes--that she has met an old lover--in Birmingham--that
it was with him she had quarrelled-not with her father at all--
that she ran away to annoy him and frighten him--that she has
made it up again, and they're going to be married!'
He let the sheet fall, and looked so utterly woebegone that his
friends at once exerted themselves to offer such consolation as
the case admitted of. Reardon thought better of Whelpdale for
this emotion; he had not believed him capable of it.
'It isn't a case of vulgar cheating!' cried the forsaken one
presently. 'Don't go away thinking that. She writes in real
distress and penitence--she does indeed. Oh, the devil! Why did I
let her go to Birmingham? A fortnight more, and I should have had
her safe. But it's just like my luck. Do you know that this is
the third time I've been engaged to be married?--no, by Jove, the
fourth! And every time the girl has got out of it at the last
moment. What an unlucky beast I am! A girl who was positively my
ideal! I haven't even a photograph of her to show you; but you'd
be astonished at her face. Why, in the devil's name, did I let
her go to Birmingham?'
The visitors had risen. They felt uncomfortable, for it seemed as
if Whelpdale might find vent for his distress in tears.
'We had better leave you,' suggested Biffen. 'It's very hard--it
'Look here! Read the letter for yourselves! Do!'
They declined, and begged him not to insist.
'But I want you to see what kind of girl she is. It isn't a case
of farcical deceiving--not a bit of it! She implores me to
forgive her, and blames herself no end. Just my luck! The third--
no, the fourth time, by Jove! Never was such an unlucky fellow
with women. It's because I'm so damnably poor; that's it, of
Reardon and his companion succeeded at length in getting away,
though not till they had heard the virtues and beauty of the
vanished girl described again and again in much detail. Both were
in a state of depression as they left the house.
'What think you of this story?' asked Biffen. 'Is this possible
in a woman of any merit?'
'Anything is possible in a woman,' Reardon replied, harshly.
They walked in silence as far as Portland Road Station. There,
with an assurance that he would come to a garret-supper before
leaving London, Reardon parted from his friend and turned
As soon as he had entered, Amy's voice called to him:
'Here's a letter from Jedwood, Edwin!'
He stepped into the study.
'It came just after you went out, and it has been all I could do
to resist the temptation to open it.'
'Why shouldn't you have opened it?' said her husband, carelessly.
He tried to do so himself, but his shaking hand thwarted him at
first. Succeeding at length, he found a letter in the publisher's
own writing, and the first word that caught his attention was
'regret.' With an angry effort to command himself he ran through
the communication, then held it out to Amy.
She read, and her countenance fell. Mr Jedwood regretted that the
story offered to him did not seem likely to please that
particular public to whom his series of one-volume novels made
appeal. He hoped it would be understood that, in declining, he by
no means expressed an adverse judgment on the story itself &c.
'It doesn't surprise me,' said Reardon. 'I believe he is quite
right. The thing is too empty to please the better kind of
readers, yet not vulgar enough to please the worse.'
'But you'll try someone else?'
'I don't think it's much use.'
They sat opposite each other, and kept silence. Jedwood's letter
slipped from Amy's lap to the ground.
'So,' said Reardon, presently, 'I don't see how our plan is to be
'Oh, it must be!'
'You'll get seven or eight pounds from The Wayside. And--hadn't
we better sell the furniture, instead of--'
His look checked her.
'It seems to me, Amy, that your one desire is to get away from
me, on whatever terms.'
'Don't begin that over again!' she exclaimed, fretfully. 'If you
don't believe what I say--'
They were both in a state of intolerable nervous tension. Their
voices quivered, and their eyes had an unnatural brightness.
'If we sell the furniture,' pursued Reardon, 'that means you'll
never come back to me. You wish to save yourself and the child
from the hard life that seems to be before us.'
'Yes, I do; but not by deserting you. I want you to go and work
for us all, so that we may live more happily before long. Oh, how
wretched this is!'
She burst into hysterical weeping. But Reardon, instead of
attempting to soothe her, went into the next room, where he sat
for a long time in the dark. When he returned Amy was calm again;
her face expressed a cold misery.
'Where did you go this morning?' he asked, as if wishing to talk
of common things.
'I told you. I went to buy those things for Willie.'
There was a silence.
'Biffen passed you in Tottenham Court Road,' he added.
'I didn't see him.'
'No; he said you didn't.'
'Perhaps,' said Amy, 'it was just when I was speaking to Mr
'You met Milvain?'
'Why didn't you tell me?'
'I'm sure I don't know. I can't mention every trifle that
'No, of course not.'
Amy closed her eyes, as if in weariness, and for a minute or two
Reardon observed her countenance.
'So you think we had better sell the furniture.'
'I shall say nothing more about it. You must do as seems best to
'Are you going to see your mother to-morrow?'
'Yes. I thought you would like to come too.'
'No; there's no good in my going.'
He again rose, and that night they talked no more of their
difficulties, though on the morrow (Sunday) it would be necessary
to decide their course in every detail.
CHAPTER XVII. THE PARTING
Amy did not go to church. Before her marriage she had done so as
a mere matter of course, accompanying her mother, but Reardon's
attitude with regard to the popular religion speedily became her
own; she let the subject lapse from her mind, and cared neither
to defend nor to attack where dogma was concerned. She had no
sympathies with mysticism; her nature was strongly practical,
with something of zeal for intellectual attainment superadded.
This Sunday morning she was very busy with domestic minutiae.
Reardon noticed what looked like preparations for packing, and
being as little disposed for conversation as his wife, he went
out and walked for a couple of hours in the Hampstead region.
Dinner over, Amy at once made ready for her journey to Westbourne
'Then you won't come?' she said to her husband.
'No. I shall see your mother before I go away, but I don't care
to till you have settled everything.'
It was half a year since he had met Mrs Yule. She never came to
their dwelling, and Reardon could not bring himself to visit her.
'You had very much rather we didn't sell the furniture?' Amy
'Ask your mother's opinion. That shall decide.'
'There'll be the expense of moving it, you know. Unless money
comes from The Wayside, you'll only have two or three pounds
Reardon made no reply. He was overcome by the bitterness of
'I shall say, then,' pursued Amy, who spoke with averted face,
'that I am to go there for good on Tuesday? I mean, of course,
for the summer months.'
'I suppose so.'
Then he turned suddenly upon her.
'Do you really imagine that at the end of the summer I shall be a
rich man? What do you mean by talking in this way? If the
furniture is sold to supply me with a few pounds for the present,
what prospect is there that I shall be able to buy new?'
'How can we look forward at all?' replied Amy. 'It has come to
the question of how we are to subsist. I thought you would rather
get money in this way than borrow of mother--when she has the
expense of keeping me and Willie.'
'You are right,' muttered Reardon. 'Do as you think best.' Amy
was in her most practical mood, and would not linger for
purposeless talk. A few minutes, and Reardon was left alone.
He stood before his bookshelves and began to pick out the volumes
which he would take away with him. Just a few, the indispensable
companions of a bookish man who still clings to life--his Homer,
The rest must be sold. He would get rid of them to-morrow
morning. All together they might bring him a couple of
Then his clothing. Amy had fulfilled all the domestic duties of a
wife; his wardrobe was in as good a state as circumstances
allowed. But there was no object in burdening himself with winter
garments, for, if he lived through the summer at all, he would be
able to repurchase such few poor things as were needful; at
present he could only think of how to get together a few coins.
So he made a heap of such things as might be sold.
The furniture? If it must go, the price could scarcely be more
than ten or twelve pounds; well, perhaps fifteen. To be sure, in
this way his summer's living would be abundantly provided for.
He thought of Biffen enviously. Biffen, if need be, could support
life on three or four shillings a week, happy in the thought that
no mortal had a claim upon him. If he starved to death--well,
many another lonely man has come to that end. If he preferred to
kill himself, who would be distressed? Spoilt child of fortune!
The bells of St Marylebone began to clang for afternoon service.
In the idleness of dull pain his thoughts followed their summons,
and he marvelled that there were people who could imagine it a
duty or find it a solace to go and sit in that twilight church
and listen to the droning of prayers. He thought of the wretched
millions of mankind to whom life is so barren that they must
needs believe in a recompense beyond the grave. For that he
neither looked nor longed. The bitterness of his lot was that
this world might be a sufficing paradise to him if only he could
clutch a poor little share of current coin. He had won the
world's greatest prize--a woman's love --but could not retain it
because his pockets were empty.
That he should fail to make a great name, this was grievous
disappointment to Amy, but this alone would not have estranged
her. It was the dread and shame of penury that made her heart
cold to him. And he could not in his conscience scorn her for
being thus affected by the vulgar circumstances of life; only a
few supreme natures stand unshaken under such a trial, and though
his love of Amy was still passionate, he knew that her place was
among a certain class of women, and not on the isolated pinnacle
where he had at first visioned her. It was entirely natural that
she shrank at the test of squalid suffering. A little money, and
he could have rested secure in her love, for then he would have
been able to keep ever before her the best qualities of his heart
and brain. Upon him, too, penury had its debasing effect; as he
now presented himself he was not a man to be admired or loved. It
was all simple and intelligible enough--a situation that would be
misread only by shallow idealism.
Worst of all, she was attracted by Jasper Milvain's energy and
promise of success. He had no ignoble suspicions of Amy, but it
was impossible for him not to see that she habitually contrasted
the young journalist, who laughingly made his way among men, with
her grave, dispirited husband, who was not even capable of
holding such position as he had gained. She enjoyed Milvain's
conversation, it put her into a good humour; she liked him
personally, and there could be no doubt that she had observed a
jealous tendency in Reardon's attitude to his former friend--
always a harmful suggestion to a woman. Formerly she had
appreciated her husband's superiority; she had smiled at
Milvain's commoner stamp of mind and character. But tedious
repetition of failure had outwearied her, and now she saw Milvain
in the sunshine of progress, dwelt upon the worldly advantages of
gifts and a temperament such as his. Again, simple and
Living apart from her husband, she could not be expected to
forswear society, and doubtless she would see Milvain pretty
often. He called occasionally at Mrs Yule's, and would not do so
less often when he knew that Amy was to be met there. There would
be chance encounters like that of yesterday, of which she had
chosen to keep silence.
A dark fear began to shadow him. In yielding thus passively to
stress of circumstances, was he not exposing his wife to a danger
which outweighed all the ills of poverty? As one to whom she was
inestimably dear, was he right in allowing her to leave him, if
only for a few months? He knew very well that a man of strong
character would never have entertained this project. He had got
into the way of thinking of himself as too weak to struggle
against the obstacles on which Amy insisted, and of looking for
safety in retreat; but what was to be the end of this weakness if
the summer did not at all advance him? He knew better than Amy
could how unlikely it was that he should recover the energies of
his mind in so short a time and under such circumstances; only
the feeble man's temptation to postpone effort had made him
consent to this step, and now that he was all but beyond turning
back, the perils of which he had thought too little forced
themselves upon his mind.
He rose in anguish, and stood looking about him as if aid might
somewhere be visible.
Presently there was a knock at the front door, and on opening he
beheld the vivacious Mr Carter. This gentleman had only made two
or three calls here since Reardon's marriage; his appearance was
'I hear you are leaving town for a time,' he exclaimed. 'Edith
told me yesterday, so I thought I'd look you up.'
He was in spring costume, and exhaled fresh odours. The contrast
between his prosperous animation and Reardon's broken-spirited
quietness could not have been more striking.
'Going away for your health, they tell me. You've been working
too hard, you know. You mustn't overdo it. And where do you think
of going to?'
'It isn't at all certain that I shall go,' Reardon replied. 'I
thought of a few weeks--somewhere at the seaside.'
'I advise you to go north,' went on Carter cheerily. 'You want a
tonic, you know. Get up into Scotland and do some boating and
fishing--that kind of thing. You'd come back a new man. Edith and
I had a turn up there last year, you know; it did me heaps of
'Oh, I don't think I should go so far as that.'
'But that's just what you want--a regular change, something
bracing. You don't look at all well, that's the fact. A winter in
London tries any man--it does me, I know. I've been seedy myself
these last few weeks. Edith wants me to take her over to Paris at
the end of this month, and I think it isn't a bad idea; but I'm
so confoundedly busy. In the autumn we shall go to Norway, I
think; it seems to be the right thing to do nowadays. Why
shouldn't you have a run over to Norway? They say it can be done
very cheaply; the steamers take you for next to nothing.'
He talked on with the joyous satisfaction of a man whose income
is assured, and whose future teems with a succession of lively
holidays. Reardon could make no answer to such suggestions; he
sat with a fixed smile on his face.
'Have you heard,' said Carter, presently, 'that we're opening a
branch of the hospital in the City Road?'
'No; I hadn't heard of it.'
'It'll only be for out-patients. Open three mornings and three
'Who'll represent you there?''I shall look in now and then, of
course; there'll be a clerk, like at the old place.'
He talked of the matter in detail--of the doctors who would
attend, and of certain new arrangements to be tried.
'Have you engaged the clerk?' Reardon asked.
'Not yet. I think I know a man who'll suit me, though.'
'You wouldn't be disposed to give me the chance?'
Reardon spoke huskily, and ended with a broken laugh.
'You're rather above my figure nowadays, old man!' exclaimed
Carter, joining in what he considered the jest.
'Shall you pay a pound a week?'
'Twenty-five shillings. It'll have to be a man who can be trusted
to take money from the paying patients.'
'Well, I am serious. Will you give me the place?'
Carter gazed at him, and checked another laugh.
'What the deuce do you mean?'
'The fact is,' Reardon replied, 'I want variety of occupation. I
can't stick at writing for more than a month or two at a time.
It's because I have tried to do so that--well, practically, I
have broken down. If you will give me this clerkship, it will
relieve me from the necessity of perpetually writing novels; I
shall be better for it in every way. You know that I'm equal to
the job; you can trust me; and I dare say I shall be more useful
than most clerks you could get.'
It was done, most happily done, on the first impulse. A minute
more of pause, and he could not have faced the humiliation. His
face burned, his tongue was parched.
'I'm floored!' cried Carter. 'I shouldn't have thought--but of
course, if you really want it. I can hardly believe yet that
you're serious, Reardon.'
'Why not? Will you promise me the work?'
'When shall I have to begin?'
'The place'll be opened to-morrow week. But how about your
'Oh, let that stand over. It'll be holiday enough to occupy
myself in a new way. An old way, too; I shall enjoy it.'
He laughed merrily, relieved beyond measure at having come to
what seemed an end of his difficulties. For half an hour they
continued to talk over the affair.
'Well, it's a comical idea,' said Carter, as he took his leave,
'but you know your own business best.'
When Amy returned, Reardon allowed her to put the child to bed
before he sought any conversation. She came at length and sat
down in the study.
'Mother advises us not to sell the furniture,' were her first
'I'm glad of that, as I had quite made up my mind not to.' There
was a change in his way of speaking which she at once noticed.
'Have you thought of something?'
'Yes. Carter has been here, and he happened to mention that
they're opening an out-patient department of the hospital, in the
City Road. He'll want someone to help him there. I asked for the
post, and he promised it me.'
The last words were hurried, though he had resolved to speak with
deliberation. No more feebleness; he had taken a decision, and
would act upon it as became a responsible man.
'The post?' said Amy. 'What post?'
'In plain English, the clerkship. It'll be the same work as I
used to have--registering patients, receiving their "letters,"
and so on. The pay is to be five-and-twenty shillings a week.'
Amy sat upright and looked steadily at him.
'Is this a joke?'
'Far from it, dear. It's a blessed deliverance.'
'You have asked Mr Carter to take you back as a clerk?'
'And you propose that we shall live on twenty-five shillings a
'Oh no! I shall be engaged only three mornings in the week and
three evenings. In my free time I shall do literary work, and no
doubt I can earn fifty pounds a year by it--if I have your
sympathy to help me. To-morrow I shall go and look for rooms some
distance from here; in Islington, I think. We have been living
far beyond our means; that must come to an end. We'll have no
more keeping up of sham appearances. If I can make my way in
literature, well and good; in that case our position and
prospects will of course change. But for the present we are poor
people, and must live in a poor way. If our friends like to come
and see us, they must put aside all snobbishness, and take us as
we are. If they prefer not to come, there'll be an excuse in our
Amy was stroking the back of her hand. After a long silence, she
said in a very quiet, but very resolute tone:
'I shall not consent to this.'
'In that case, Amy, I must do without your consent. The rooms
will be taken, and our furniture transferred to them.'
'To me that will make no difference,' returned his wife, in the
same voice as before. 'I have decided--as you told me to--to go
with Willie to mother's next Tuesday. You, of course, must do as
you please. I should have thought a summer at the seaside would
have been more helpful to you; but if you prefer to live in
Reardon approached her, and laid a hand on her shoulder.
'Amy, are you my wife, or not?'
'I am certainly not the wife of a clerk who is paid so much a
He had foreseen a struggle, but without certainty of the form
Amy's opposition would take. For himself he meant to be gently
resolute, calmly regardless of protest. But in a man to whom such
self-assertion is a matter of conscious effort, tremor of the
nerves will always interfere with the line of conduct he has
conceived in advance. Already Reardon had spoken with far more
bluntness than he proposed; involuntarily, his voice slipped from
earnest determination to the note of absolutism, and, as is wont
to be the case, the sound of these strange tones instigated him
to further utterances of the same kind. He lost control of
himself. Amy's last reply went through him like an electric
shock, and for the moment he was a mere husband defied by his
wife, the male stung to exertion of his brute force against the
physically weaker sex.
'However you regard me, you will do what I think fit. I shall not
argue with you. If I choose to take lodgings in Whitechapel,
there you will come and live.'
He met Amy's full look, and was conscious of that in it which
corresponded to his own brutality. She had become suddenly a much
older woman; her cheeks were tight drawn into thinness, her lips
were bloodlessly hard, there was an unknown furrow along her
forehead, and she glared like the animal that defends itself with
tooth and claw.
'Do as YOU think fit? Indeed!'
Could Amy's voice sound like that? Great Heaven! With just such
accent he had heard a wrangling woman retort upon her husband at
the street corner. Is there then no essential difference between
a woman of this world and one of that? Does the same nature lie
beneath such unlike surfaces?
He had but to do one thing: to seize her by the arm, drag her up
from the chair, dash her back again with all his force--there,
the transformation would be complete, they would stand towards
each other on the natural footing. With an added curse perhaps--
Instead of that, he choked, struggled for breath, and shed tears.
Amy turned scornfully away from him. Blows and a curse would have
overawed her, at all events for the moment; she would have felt:
'Yes, he is a man, and I have put my destiny into his hands.' His
tears moved her to a feeling cruelly exultant; they were the sign
of her superiority. It was she who should have wept, and never in
her life had she been further from such display of weakness.
This could not be the end, however, and she had no wish to
terminate the scene. They stood for a minute without regarding
each other, then Reardon faced to her.
'You refuse to live with me, then?'
'Yes, if this is the kind of life you offer me.'
'You would be more ashamed to share your husband's misfortunes
than to declare to everyone that you had deserted him?'
'I shall "declare to everyone" the simple truth. You have the
opportunity of making one more effort to save us from
degradation. You refuse to take the trouble; you prefer to drag
me down into a lower rank of life. I can't and won't consent to
that. The disgrace is yours; it's fortunate for me that I have a
decent home to go to.'
'Fortunate for you!--you make yourself unutterably contemptible.
I have done nothing that justifies you in leaving me. It is for
me to judge what I can do and what I can't. A good woman would
see no degradation in what I ask of you. But to run away from me
just because I am poorer than you ever thought I should be--'
He was incoherent. A thousand passionate things that he wished to
say clashed together in his mind and confused his speech.
Defeated in the attempt to act like a strong man, he could not
yet recover standing-ground, knew not how to tone his utterances.
'Yes, of course, that's how you will put it,' said Amy. 'That's
how you will represent me to your friends. My friends will see it
in a different light.'
'They will regard you as a martyr?'
'No one shall make a martyr of me, you may be sure. I was
unfortunate enough to marry a man who had no delicacy, no regard
for my feelings.--I am not the first woman who has made a mistake
of this kind.'
'No delicacy? No regard for your feelings?--Have I always utterly
misunderstood you? Or has poverty changed you to a woman I can't
He came nearer, and gazed desperately into her face. Not a muscle
of it showed susceptibility to the old influences.
'Do you know, Amy,' he added in a lower voice, 'that if we part
now, we part for ever?'
'I'm afraid that is only too likely.'
She moved aside.
'You mean that you wish it. You are weary of me, and care for
nothing but how to make yourself free.'
'I shall argue no more. I am tired to death of it.'
'Then say nothing, but listen for the last time to my view of the
position we have come to. When I consented to leave you for a
time, to go away and try to work in solitude, I was foolish and
even insincere, both to you and to myself. I knew that I was
undertaking the impossible. It was just putting off the evil day,
that was all--putting off the time when I should have to say
plainly: "I can't live by literature, so I must look out for some
other employment." I shouldn't have been so weak but that I knew
how you would regard such a decision as that. I was afraid to
tell the truth--afraid. Now, when Carter of a sudden put this
opportunity before me, I saw all the absurdity of the
arrangements we had made. It didn't take me a moment to make up
my mind. Anything was to be chosen rather than a parting from you
on false pretences, a ridiculous affectation of hope where there
was no hope.'
He paused, and saw that his words had no effect upon her.
'And a grievous share of the fault lies with you, Amy. You
remember very well when I first saw how dark the future was. I
was driven even to say that we ought to change our mode of
living; I asked you if you would be willing to leave this place
and go into cheaper rooms. And you know what your answer was. Not
a sign in you that you would stand by me if the worst came. I
knew then what I had to look forward to, but I durst not believe
it. I kept saying to myself: "She loves me, and as soon as she
really understands--" That was all self-deception. If I had been
a wise man, I should have spoken to you in a way you couldn't
mistake. I should have told you that we were living recklessly,
and that I had determined to alter it. I have no delicacy? No
regard for your feelings? Oh, if I had had less! I doubt whether
you can even understand some of the considerations that weighed
with me, and made me cowardly--though I once thought there was no
refinement of sensibility that you couldn't enter into. Yes, I
was absurd enough to say to myself: "It will look as if I had
consciously deceived her; she may suffer from the thought that I
won her at all hazards, knowing that I should soon expose her to
poverty and all sorts of humiliation." Impossible to speak of
that again; I had to struggle desperately on, trying to hope. Oh!
if you knew--'
His voice gave way for an instant.
'I don't understand how you could be so thoughtless and
heartless. You knew that I was almost mad with anxiety at times.
Surely, any woman must have had the impulse to give what help was
in her power. How could you hesitate? Had you no suspicion of
what a relief and encouragement it would be to me, if you said:
"Yes, we must go and live in a simpler way?" If only as a proof
that you loved me, how I should have welcomed that! You helped me
in nothing. You threw all the responsibility upon me--always
bearing in mind, I suppose, that there was a refuge for you. Even
now, I despise myself for saying such things of you, though I
know so bitterly that they are true. It takes a long time to see
you as such a different woman from the one I worshipped. In
passion, I can fling out violent words, but they don't yet answer
to my actual feeling. It will be long enough yet before I think
contemptuously of you. You know that when a light is suddenly
extinguished, the image of it still shows before your eyes. But
at last comes the darkness.'
Amy turned towards him once more.
'Instead of saying all this, you might be proving that I am
wrong. Do so, and I will gladly confess it.'
'That you are wrong? I don't see your meaning.'
'You might prove that you are willing to do your utmost to save
me from humiliation.'
'Amy, I have done my utmost. I have done more than you can
'No. You have toiled on in illness and anxiety--I know that. But
a chance is offered you now of working in a better way. Till that
is tried, you have no right to give all up and try to drag me
down with you.'
'I don't know how to answer. I have told you so often-- You can't
'I can! I can!' Her voice trembled for the first time. 'I know
that you are so ready to give in to difficulties. Listen to me,
and do as I bid you.' She spoke in the strangest tone of command.
It was command, not exhortation, but there was no harshness in
her voice. 'Go at once to Mr Carter. Tell him you have made a
ludicrous mistake--in a fit of low spirits; anything you like to
say. Tell him you of course couldn't dream of becoming his clerk.
To-night; at once! You understand me, Edwin? Go now, this
'Have you determined to see how weak I am? Do you wish to be able
to despise me more completely still?'
'I am determined to be your friend, and to save you from
yourself. Go at once! Leave all the rest to me. If I have let
things take their course till now, it shan't be so in future. The
responsibility shall be with me. Only do as I tell you'
'You know it's impossible--'
'It is not! I will find money. No one shall be allowed to say
that we are parting; no one has any such idea yet. You are going
away for your health, just three summer months. I have been far
more careful of appearances than you imagine, but you give me
credit for so little. I will find the money you need, until you
have written another book. I promise; I undertake it. Then I will
find another home for us, of the proper kind. You shall have no
trouble. You shall give yourself entirely to intellectual things.
But Mr Carter must be told at once, before he can spread a
report. If he has spoken, he must contradict what he has said.'
'But you amaze me, Amy. Do you mean to say that you look upon it
as a veritable disgrace, my taking this clerkship?'
'I do. I can't help my nature. I am ashamed through and through
that you should sink to this.'
'But everyone knows that I was a clerk once!'
'Very few people know it. And then that isn't the same thing. It
doesn't matter what one has been in the past. Especially a
literary man; everyone expects to hear that he was once poor. But
to fall from the position you now have, and to take weekly wages
--you surely can't know how people of my world regard that.'
'Of your world? I had thought your world was the same as mine,
and knew nothing whatever of these imbecilities.'
'It is getting late. Go and see Mr Carter, and afterwards I will
talk as much as you like.'
He might perhaps have yielded, but the unemphasised contempt in
that last sentence was more than he could bear. It demonstrated
to him more completely than set terms could have done what a
paltry weakling he would appear in Amy's eyes if he took his hat
down from the peg and set out to obey her orders.
'You are asking too much,' he said, with unexpected coldness. 'If
my opinions are so valueless to you that you dismiss them like
those of a troublesome child, I wonder you think it worth while
to try and keep up appearances about me. It is very simple: make
known to everyone that you are in no way connected with the
disgrace I have brought upon myself. Put an advertisement in the
newspapers to that effect, if you like--as men do about their
wives' debts. I have chosen my part. I can't stultify myself to
She knew that this was final. His voice had the true ring of
shame in revolt.
'Then go your way, and I will go mine!'
Amy left the room.
When Reardon went into the bedchamber an hour later, he unfolded
a chair-bedstead that stood there, threw some rugs upon it, and
so lay down to pass the night. He did not close his eyes. Amy
slept for an hour or two before dawn, and on waking she started
up and looked anxiously about the room. But neither spoke.
There was a pretence of ordinary breakfast; the little servant
necessitated that. When she saw her husband preparing to go out,
Amy asked him to come into the study.
'How long shall you be away?' she asked, curtly.
'It is doubtful. I am going to look for rooms.'
'Then no doubt I shall be gone when you come back. There's no
object, now, in my staying here till to-morrow.'
'As you please.'
'Do you wish Lizzie still to come?'
'No. Please to pay her wages and dismiss her. Here is some
'I think you had better let me see to that.'
He flung the coin on to the table and opened the door. Amy
stepped quickly forward and closed it again.
'This is our good-bye, is it?' she asked, her eyes on the ground.
'As you wish it--yes.'
'You will remember that I have not wished it.'
'In that case, you have only to go with me to the new home.'
'Then you have made your choice.'
She did not prevent his opening the door this time, and he passed
out without looking at her.
His return was at three in the afternoon. Amy and the child were
gone; the servant was gone. The table in the dining-room was
spread as if for one person's meal.
He went into the bedroom. Amy's trunks had disappeared. The
child's cot was covered over. In the study, he saw that the
sovereign he had thrown on to the table still lay in the same
As it was a very cold day he lit a fire. Whilst it burnt up he
sat reading a torn portion of a newspaper, and became quite
interested in the report of a commercial meeting in the City, a
thing he would never have glanced at under ordinary
circumstances. The fragment fell at length from his hands; his
head drooped; he sank into a troubled sleep.
About six he had tea, then began the packing of the few books
that were to go with him, and of such other things as could be
enclosed in box or portmanteau. After a couple of hours of this
occupation he could no longer resist his weariness, so he went to
bed. Before falling asleep he heard the two familiar clocks
strike eight; this evening they were in unusual accord, and the
querulous notes from the workhouse sounded between the deeper
ones from St Marylebone. Reardon tried to remember when he had
last observed this; the matter seemed to have a peculiar interest
for him, and in dreams he worried himself with a grotesque
speculation thence derived.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE OLD HOME
Before her marriage Mrs Edmund Yule was one of seven motherless
sisters who constituted the family of a dentist slenderly
provided in the matter of income. The pinching and paring which
was a chief employment of her energies in those early days had
disagreeable effects upon a character disposed rather to
generosity than the reverse; during her husband's lifetime she
had enjoyed rather too eagerly all the good things which he put
at her command, sometimes forgetting that a wife has duties as
well as claims, and in her widowhood she indulged a
pretentiousness and querulousness which were the natural, but not
amiable, results of suddenly restricted circumstances.
Like the majority of London people, she occupied a house of which
the rent absurdly exceeded the due proportion of her income, a
pleasant foible turned to such good account by London landlords.
Whereas she might have lived with a good deal of modest comfort,
her existence was a perpetual effort to conceal the squalid
background of what was meant for the eyes of her friends and
neighbours. She kept only two servants, who were so ill paid and
so relentlessly overworked that it was seldom they remained with
her for more than three months. In dealings with other people
whom she perforce employed, she was often guilty of incredible
meanness; as, for instance, when she obliged her half-starved
dressmaker to purchase material for her, and then postponed
payment alike for that and for the work itself to the last
possible moment. This was not heartlessness in the strict sense
of the word; the woman not only knew that her behaviour was
shameful, she was in truth ashamed of it and sorry for her
victims. But life was a battle. She must either crush or be
crushed. With sufficient means, she would have defrauded no one,
and would have behaved generously to many; with barely enough for
her needs, she set her face and defied her feelings, inasmuch as
she believed there was no choice.
She would shed tears over a pitiful story of want, and without
shadow of hypocrisy. It was hard, it was cruel; such things
oughtn't to be allowed in a world where there were so many rich
people. The next day she would argue with her charwoman about
halfpence, and end by paying the poor creature what she knew was
inadequate and unjust. For the simplest reason: she hadn't more
to give, without submitting to privations which she considered
But whilst she could be a positive hyena to strangers, to those
who were akin to her, and those of whom she was fond, her
affectionate kindness was remarkable. One observes this
peculiarity often enough; it reminds one how savage the social
conflict is, in which those little groups of people stand serried
against their common enemies; relentless to all others, among
themselves only the more tender and zealous because of the
ever-impending danger. No mother was ever more devoted. Her son,
a gentleman of quite noteworthy selfishness, had board and
lodging beneath her roof on nominal terms, and under no stress of
pecuniary trouble had Mrs Yule called upon him to make the
slightest sacrifice on her behalf. Her daughter she loved with
profound tenderness, and had no will that was opposed to Amy's.
And it was characteristic of her that her children were never
allowed to understand of what baseness she often became guilty in
the determination to support appearances. John Yule naturally
suspected what went on behind the scenes; on one occasion--since
Amy's marriage--he had involuntarily overheard a dialogue between
his mother and a servant on the point of departing which made
even him feel ashamed. But from Amy every paltriness and meanness
had always been concealed with the utmost care; Mrs Yule did not
scruple to lie heroically when in danger of being detected by her
Yet this energetic lady had no social ambitions that pointed
above her own stratum. She did not aim at intimacy with her
superiors; merely at superiority among her intimates. Her circle
was not large, but in that circle she must be regarded with the
respect due to a woman of refined tastes and personal
distinction. Her little dinners might be of rare occurrence, but
to be invited must be felt a privilege. 'Mrs Edmund Yule' must
sound well on people's lips; never be the occasion of those
peculiar smiles which she herself was rather fond of indulging at
the mention of other people's names.
The question of Amy's marriage had been her constant thought from
the time when the little girl shot into a woman grown. For Amy no
common match, no acceptance of a husband merely for money or
position. Few men who walked the earth were mates for Amy. But
years went on, and the man of undeniable distinction did not yet
present himself. Suitors offered, but Amy smiled coldly at their
addresses, in private not seldom scornfully, and her mother,
though growing anxious, approved. Then of a sudden appeared Edwin
A literary man? Well, it was one mode of distinction. Happily, a
novelist; novelists now and then had considerable social success.
Mr Reardon, it was true, did not impress one as a man likely to
push forward where the battle called for rude vigour, but Amy
soon assured herself that he would have a reputation far other
than that of the average successful storyteller. The best people
would regard him; he would be welcomed in the penetralia of
culture; superior persons would say: 'Oh, I don't read novels as
a rule, but of course Mr Reardon's--' If that really were to be
the case, all was well; for Mrs Yule could appreciate social and
Alas! alas! What was the end of those shining anticipations?
First of all, Mrs Yule began to make less frequent mention of 'my
son-in-law, Mr Edwin Reardon.' Next, she never uttered his name
save when inquiries necessitated it. Then, the most intimate of
her intimates received little hints which were not quite easy to
interpret. 'Mr Reardon is growing so very eccentric--has an odd
distaste for society--occupies himself with all sorts of out-of-
the-way interests. No, I'm afraid we shan't have another of his
novels for some time. I think he writes anonymously a good deal.
And really, such curious eccentricities!' Many were the tears she
wept after her depressing colloquies with Amy; and, as was to be
expected, she thought severely of the cause of these sorrows. On
the last occasion when he came to her house she received him with
such extreme civility that Reardon thenceforth disliked her,
whereas before he had only thought her a good-natured and silly
Alas for Amy's marriage with a man of distinction! From step to
step of descent, till here was downright catastrophe. Bitter
enough in itself, but most lamentable with reference to the
friends of the family. How was it to be explained, this return of
Amy to her home for several months, whilst her husband was no
further away than Worthing? The bald, horrible truth--impossible!
Yet Mr Milvain knew it, and the Carters must guess it. What
colour could be thrown upon such vulgar distress?
The worst was not yet. It declared itself this May morning, when,
quite unexpectedly, a cab drove up to the house, bringing Amy and
her child, and her trunks, and her band-boxes, and her what-nots.
From the dining-room window Mrs Yule was aware of this arrival,
and in a few moments she learnt the unspeakable cause.
She burst into tears, genuine as ever woman shed.
'There's no use in that, mother,' said Amy, whose temper was in a
dangerous state. 'Nothing worse can happen, that's one
'Oh, it's disgraceful! disgraceful!' sobbed Mrs Yule. 'What we
are to say I can NOT think.'
'I shall say nothing whatever. People can scarcely have the
impertinence to ask us questions when we have shown that they are
'But there are some people I can't help giving some explanation
to. My dear child, he is not in his right mind. I'm convinced of
it, there! He is not in his right mind.'
'That's nonsense, mother. He is as sane as I am.'
'But you have often said what strange things he says and does;
you know you have, Amy. That talking in his sleep; I've thought a
great deal of it since you told me about that. And--and so many
other things. My love, I shall give it to be understood that he
has become so very odd in his ways that--'
'I can't have that,' replied Amy with decision. 'Don't you see
that in that case I should be behaving very badly?'
'I can't see that at all. There are many reasons, as you know
very well, why one shouldn't live with a husband who is at all
suspected of mental derangement. You have done your utmost for
him. And this would be some sort of explanation, you know. I am
so convinced that there is truth in it, too.'
'Of course I can't prevent you from saying what you like, but I
think it would be very wrong to start a rumour of this kind.'
There was less resolve in this utterance. Amy mused, and looked
'Come up to the drawing-room, dear,' said her mother, for they
had held their conversation in the room nearest to the
house-door. 'What a state your mind must be in! Oh dear! Oh
She was a slender, well-proportioned woman, still pretty in face,
and dressed in a way that emphasised her abiding charms. Her
voice had something of plaintiveness, and altogether she was of
frailer type than her daughter.
'Is my room ready?' Amy inquired on the stairs.
'I'm sorry to say it isn't, dear, as I didn't expect you till
tomorrow. But it shall be seen to immediately.'
This addition to the household was destined to cause grave
difficulties with the domestic slaves. But Mrs Yule would prove
equal to the occasion. On Amy's behalf she would have worked her
servants till they perished of exhaustion before her eyes.
'Use my room for the present,' she added. 'I think the girl has
finished up there. But wait here; I'll just go and see to
'Things' were not quite satisfactory, as it proved. You should
have heard the change that came in that sweetly plaintive voice
when it addressed the luckless housemaid. It was not brutal; not
at all. But so sharp, hard, unrelenting--the voice of the goddess
Poverty herself perhaps sounds like that.
Mad? Was he to be spoken of in a low voice, and with finger
pointing to the forehead? There was something ridiculous, as well
as repugnant, in such a thought; but it kept possession of Amy's
mind. She was brooding upon it when her mother came into the
'And he positively refused to carry out the former plan?'
'Refused. Said it was useless.'
'How could it be useless? There's something so unaccountable in
'I don't think it unaccountable,' replied Amy. 'It's weak and
selfish, that's all. He takes the first miserable employment that
offers rather than face the hard work of writing another book.'
She was quite aware that this did not truly represent her
husband's position. But an uneasiness of conscience impelled her
to harsh speech.
'But just fancy!' exclaimed her mother. 'What can he mean by
asking you to go and live with him on twenty-five shillings a
week? Upon my word. if his mind isn't disordered he must have
made a deliberate plan to get rid of you.'
Amy shook her head.
'You mean,' asked Mrs Yule, 'that he really thinks it possible
for all of you to be supported on those wages?'
The last word was chosen to express the utmost scorn.
'He talked of earning fifty pounds a year by writing.'
'Even then it could only make about a hundred a year. My dear
child, it's one of two things: either he is out of his mind, or
he has purposely cast you off.'
Amy laughed, thinking of her husband in the light of the latter
'There's no need to seek so far for explanations,' she said. 'He
has failed, that's all; just like a man might fail in any other
business. He can't write like he used to. It may be all the
result of ill-health; I don't know. His last book, you see, is
positively refused. He has made up his mind that there's nothing
but poverty before him, and he can't understand why I should
object to live like the wife of a working-man.'
'Well, I only know that he has placed you in an exceedingly
difficult position. If he had gone away to Worthing for the
summer we might have made it seem natural; people are always
ready to allow literary men to do rather odd things--up to a
certain point. We should have behaved as if there were nothing
that called for explanation. But what are we to do now?'
Like her multitudinous kind, Mrs Yule lived only in the opinions
of other people. What others would say was her ceaseless
preoccupation. She had never conceived of life as something
proper to the individual; independence in the directing of one's
course seemed to her only possible in the case of very eccentric
persons, or of such as were altogether out of society. Amy had
advanced, intellectually, far beyond this standpoint, but lack of
courage disabled her from acting upon her convictions.
'People must know the truth, I suppose,' she answered
Now, confession of the truth was the last thing that would occur
to Mrs Yule when social relations were concerned. Her whole
existence was based on bold denial of actualities. And, as is
natural in such persons, she had the ostrich instinct strongly
developed; though very acute in the discovery of her friends'
shams and lies, she deceived herself ludicrously in the matter of
concealing her own embarrassments.
'But the fact is, my dear,' she answered, 'we don't know the
truth ourselves. You had better let yourself be directed by me.
It will be better, at first, if you see as few people as
possible. I suppose you must say something or other to two or
three of your own friends; if you take my advice you'll be rather
mysterious. Let them think what they like; anything is better
than to say plainly. "My husband can't support me, and he has
gone to work as a clerk for weekly wages." Be mysterious,
darling; depend upon it, that's the safest.'
The conversation was pursued, with brief intervals, all through
the day. In the afternoon two ladies paid a call, but Amy kept
out of sight. Between six and seven John Yule returned from his
gentlemanly occupations. As he was generally in a touchy temper
before dinner had soothed him, nothing was said to him of the
latest development of his sister's affairs until late in the
evening; he was allowed to suppose that Reardon's departure for
the seaside had taken place a day sooner than had been arranged.
Behind the dining-room was a comfortable little chamber set apart
as John's sanctum; here he smoked and entertained his male
friends, and contemplated the portraits of those female ones who
would not have been altogether at their ease in Mrs Yule's
drawing-room. Not long after dinner his mother and sister came to
talk with him in this retreat.
With some nervousness Mrs Yule made known to him what had taken
place. Amy, the while, stood by the table, and glanced over a
magazine that she had picked up.
'Well, I see nothing to be surprised at,' was John's first
remark. 'It was pretty certain he'd come to this. But what I want
to know is, how long are we to be at the expense of supporting
Amy and her youngster?'
This was practical, and just what Mrs Yule had expected from her
'We can't consider such things as that,' she replied. 'You don't
wish, I suppose, that Amy should go and live in a back street at
Islington, and be hungry every other day, and soon have no decent
'I don't think Jack would be greatly distressed,' Amy put in
'This is a woman's way of talking,' replied John. 'I want to know
what is to be the end of it all? I've no doubt it's uncommonly
pleasant for Reardon to shift his responsibilities on to our
shoulders. At this rate I think I shall get married, and live
beyond my means until I can hold out no longer, and then hand my
wife over to her relatives, with my compliments. It's about the
coolest business that ever came under my notice.'
'But what is to be done?' asked Mrs Yule. 'It's no use talking
sarcastically, John, or making yourself disagreeable.'
'We are not called upon to find a way out of the difficulty. The
fact of the matter is, Reardon must get a decent berth. Somebody
or other must pitch him into the kind of place that suits men who
can do nothing in particular. Carter ought to be able to help, I
'You know very well,' said Amy, 'that places of that kind are not
to be had for the asking. It may be years before any such
'Confound the fellow! Why the deuce doesn't he go on with his
novel-writing? There's plenty of money to be made out of novels.'
'But he can't write, Jack. He has lost his talent.'
'That's all bosh, Amy. If a fellow has once got into the swing of
it he can keep it up if he likes. He might write his two novels a
year easily enough, just like twenty other men and women. Look
here, I could do it myself if I weren't too lazy. And that's
what's the matter with Reardon. He doesn't care to work.'
'I have thought that myself;' observed Mrs Yule. 'It really is
too ridiculous to say that he couldn't write some kind of novels
if he chose. Look at Miss Blunt's last book; why, anybody could
have written that. I'm sure there isn't a thing in it I couldn't
have imagined myself.'
'Well, all I want to know is, what's Amy going to do if things
'She shall never want a home as long as I have one to share with
John's natural procedure, when beset by difficulties, was to find
fault with everyone all round, himself maintaining a position of
'It's all very well, mother, but when a girl gets married she
takes her husband, I have always understood, for better or worse,
just as a man takes his wife. To tell the truth, it seems to me
Amy has put herself in the wrong. It's deuced unpleasant to go
and live in back streets, and to go without dinner now and then,
but girls mustn't marry if they're afraid to face these things.'
'Don't talk so monstrously, John!' exclaimed his mother. 'How
could Amy possibly foresee such things? The case is quite an
'Not so uncommon, I assure you. Some one was telling me the other
day of a married lady--well educated and blameless--who goes to
work at a shop somewhere or other because her husband can't
'And you wish to see Amy working in a shop?'
'No, I can't say I do. I'm only telling you that her bad luck
isn't unexampled. It's very fortunate for her that she has
Amy had taken a seat apart. She sat with her head leaning on her
'Why don't you go and see Reardon?' John asked of his mother.
'What would be the use? Perhaps he would tell me to mind my own
'By jingo! precisely what you would be doing. I think you ought
to see him and give him to understand that he's behaving in a
confoundedly ungentlemanly way. Evidently he's the kind of fellow
that wants stirring up. I've half a mind to go and see him
myself. Where is this slum that he's gone to live in?'
'We don't know his address yet.'
'So long as it's not the kind of place where one would be afraid
of catching a fever, I think it wouldn't be amiss for me to look
'You'll do no good by that,' said Amy, indifferently.
'Confound it! It's just because nobody does anything that things
have come to this pass!'
The conversation was, of course, profitless. John could only
return again and again to his assertion that Reardon must get 'a
decent berth.' At length Amy left the room in weariness and
'I suppose they have quarrelled terrifically,' said her brother,
as soon as she was gone.
'I am afraid so.'
'Well, you must do as you please. But it's confounded hard lines
that you should have to keep her and the kid. You know I can't
afford to contribute.'
'My dear, I haven't asked you to.'
'No, but you'll have the devil's own job to make ends meet; I
know that well enough.'
'I shall manage somehow.'
'All right; you're a plucky woman, but it's too bad. Reardon's a
humbug, that's my opinion. I shall have a talk with Carter about
him. I suppose he has transferred all their furniture to the
'He can't have removed yet. It was only this morning that he went
to search for lodgings.'
'Oh, then I tell you what it is: I shall look in there the first
thing to-morrow morning, and just talk to him in a fatherly way.
You needn't say anything to Amy. But I see he's just the kind of
fellow that, if everyone leaves him alone, he'll be content with
Carter's five-and-twenty shillings for the rest of his life, and
never trouble his head about how Amy is living.'
To this proposal Mrs Yule readily assented. On going upstairs she
found that Amy had all but fallen asleep upon a settee in the
'You are quite worn out with your troubles,' she said. 'Go to
bed, and have a good long sleep.'
'Yes, I will.'
The neat, fresh bedchamber seemed to Amy a delightful haven of
rest. She turned the key in the door with an enjoyment of the
privacy thus secured such as she had never known in her life; for
in maidenhood safe solitude was a matter of course to her, and
since marriage she had not passed a night alone. Willie was fast
asleep in a little bed shadowed by her own. In an impulse of
maternal love and gladness she bent over the child and covered
his face with kisses too gentle to awaken him.
How clean and sweet everything was! It is often said, by people
who are exquisitely ignorant of the matter, that cleanliness is a
luxury within reach even of the poorest. Very far from that; only
with the utmost difficulty, with wearisome exertion, with
harassing sacrifice, can people who are pinched for money
preserve a moderate purity in their persons and their
surroundings. By painful degrees Amy had accustomed herself to
compromises in this particular which in the early days of her
married life would have seemed intensely disagreeable, if not
revolting. A housewife who lives in the country, and has but a
patch of back garden, or even a good-sized kitchen, can, if she
thinks fit, take her place at the wash-tub and relieve her mind
on laundry matters; but to the inhabitant of a miniature flat in
the heart of London anything of that kind is out of the question.
When Amy began to cut down her laundress's bill, she did it with
a sense of degradation. One grows accustomed, however, to such
unpleasant necessities, and already she had learnt what was the
minimum of expenditure for one who is troubled with a lady's
No, no; cleanliness is a costly thing, and a troublesome thing
when appliances and means have to be improvised. It was, in part,
the understanding she had gained of this side of the life of
poverty that made Amy shrink in dread from the still narrower
lodgings to which Reardon invited her. She knew how subtly one's
self-respect can be undermined by sordid conditions. The
difference between the life of well-to-do educated people and
that of the uneducated poor is not greater in visible details
than in the minutiae of privacy, and Amy must have submitted to
an extraordinary change before it would have been possible for
her to live at ease in the circumstances which satisfy a decent
working-class woman. She was prepared for final parting from her
husband rather than try to effect that change in herself.
She undressed at leisure, and stretched her limbs in the cold,
soft, fragrant bed. A sigh of profound relief escaped her. How
good it was to be alone!
And in a quarter of an hour she was sleeping as peacefully as the
child who shared her room.
At breakfast in the morning she showed a bright, almost a happy
face. It was long, long since she had enjoyed such a night's
rest, so undisturbed with unwelcome thoughts on the threshold of
sleep and on awaking. Her life was perhaps wrecked, but the
thought of that did not press upon her; for the present she must
enjoy her freedom. It was like a recovery of girlhood. There are
few married women who would not, sooner or later, accept with joy
the offer of some months of a maidenly liberty. Amy would not
allow herself to think that her wedded life was at an end. With a
woman's strange faculty of closing her eyes against facts that do
not immediately concern her, she tasted the relief of the present
and let the future lie unregarded. Reardon would get out of his
difficulties sooner or later; somebody or other would help him;
that was the dim background of her agreeable sensations.
He suffered, no doubt. But then it was just as well that he
should. Suffering would perhaps impel him to effort. When he
communicated to her his new address--he could scarcely neglect to
do that--she would send a not unfriendly letter, and hint to him
that now was his opportunity for writing a book, as good a book
as those which formerly issued from his garret-solitude. If he
found that literature was in truth a thing of the past with him,
then he must exert himself to obtain a position worthy of an
educated man. Yes, in this way she would write to him, without a
word that could hurt or offend.
She ate an excellent breakfast, and made known her enjoyment of
'I am so glad!' replied her mother. 'You have been getting quite
thin and pale.'
'Quite consumptive,' remarked John, looking up from his
newspaper. 'Shall I make arrangements for a daily landau at the
livery stables round here?'
'You can if you like,' replied his sister; 'it would do both
mother and me good, and I have no doubt you could afford it quite
'Oh, indeed! You're a remarkable young woman, let me tell you.
By-the-bye, I suppose your husband is breakfasting on bread and
'I hope not, and I don't think it very likely.'
'Jack, Jack!' interposed Mrs Yule, softly.
Her son resumed his paper, and at the end of the meal rose with
an unwonted briskness to make his preparations for departure.
CHAPTER XIX. THE PAST REVIVED
Nor would it be true to represent Edwin Reardon as rising to the
new day wholly disconsolate. He too had slept unusually well, and
with returning consciousness the sense of a burden removed was
more instant than that of his loss and all the dreary
circumstances attaching to it. He had no longer to fear the
effects upon Amy of such a grievous change as from their homelike
flat to the couple of rooms he had taken in Islington; for the
moment, this relief helped him to bear the pain of all that had
happened and the uneasiness which troubled him when he reflected
that his wife was henceforth a charge to her mother.
Of course for the moment only. He had no sooner begun to move
about, to prepare his breakfast (amid the relics of last
evening's meal), to think of all the detestable work he had to do
before to-morrow night, than his heart sank again. His position
was well-nigh as dolorous as that of any man who awoke that
morning to the brutal realities of life. If only for the shame of
it! How must they be speaking of him, Amy's relatives, and her
friends? A novelist who couldn't write novels; a husband who
couldn't support his wife and child; a literate who made eager
application for illiterate work at paltry wages--how interesting
it would all sound in humorous gossip! And what hope had he that
things would ever be better with him?
Had he done well? Had he done wisely? Would it not have been
better to have made that one last effort? There came before him a
vision of quiet nooks beneath the Sussex cliffs, of the long
lines of green breakers bursting into foam; he heard the
wave-music, and tasted the briny freshness of the sea-breeze.
Inspiration, after all, would perchance have come to him.
If Amy's love had but been of more enduring quality; if she had
strengthened him for this last endeavour with the brave
tenderness of an ideal wife! But he had seen such hateful things
in her eyes. Her love was dead, and she regarded him as the man
who had spoilt her hopes of happiness. It was only for her own
sake that she urged him to strive on; let his be the toil, that
hers might be the advantage if he succeeded.
'She would be glad if I were dead. She would be glad.'
He had the conviction of it. Oh yes, she would shed tears; they
come so easily to women. But to have him dead and out of her way;
to be saved from her anomalous position; to see once more a
chance in life; she would welcome it.
But there was no time for brooding. To-day he had to sell all the
things that were superfluous, and to make arrangements for the
removal of his effects to-morrow. By Wednesday night, in
accordance with his agreement, the flat must be free for the new
He had taken only two rooms, and fortunately as things were.
Three would have cost more than he was likely to be able to
afford for a long time. The rent of the two was to be six-and-
sixpence; and how, if Amy had consented to come, could he have
met the expenses of their living out of his weekly twenty-five
shillings? How could he have pretended to do literary work in
such cramped quarters, he who had never been able to write a line
save in strict seclusion? In his despair he had faced the
impossible. Amy had shown more wisdom, though in a spirit of
Towards ten o'clock he was leaving the flat to go and find people
who would purchase his books and old clothing and other
superfluities; but before he could close the door behind him, an
approaching step on the stairs caught his attention. He saw the
shining silk hat of a well-equipped gentleman. It was John Yule.
'Ha! Good-morning!' John exclaimed, looking up. 'A minute or two
and I should have been too late, I see.'
He spoke in quite a friendly way, and, on reaching the landing,
'Are you obliged to go at once? Or could I have a word with you?'
They entered the study, which was in some disorder; Reardon made
no reference to circumstances, but offered a chair, and seated
'Have a cigarette?' said Yule, holding out a box of them.
'No, thank you; I don't smoke so early.'
'Then I'll light one myself; it always makes talk easier to me.
You're on the point of moving, I suppose?'
'Yes, I am.'
Reardon tried to speak in quite a simple way, with no admission
of embarrassment. He was not successful, and to his visitor the
tone seemed rather offensive.
'I suppose you'll let Amy know your new address?'
'Certainly. Why should I conceal it?'
'No, no; I didn't mean to suggest that. But you might be taking
it for granted that--that the rupture was final, I thought.'
There had never been any intimacy between these two men. Reardon
regarded his wife's brother as rather snobbish and disagreeably
selfish; John Yule looked upon the novelist as a prig, and now of
late as a shuffling, untrustworthy fellow. It appeared to John
that his brother-in-law was assuming a manner wholly
unjustifiable, and he had a difficulty in behaving to him with
courtesy. Reardon, on the other hand, felt injured by the turn
his visitor's remarks were taking, and began to resent the visit
'I take nothing for granted,' he said coldly. 'But I'm afraid
nothing is to be gained by a discussion of our difficulties. The
time for that is over.
'I can't quite see that. It seems to me that the time has just
'Please tell me, to begin with, do you come on Amy's behalf?'
'In a way, yes. She hasn't sent me, but my mother and I are so
astonished at what is happening that it was necessary for one or
other of us to see you.'
'I think it is all between Amy and myself.'
'Difficulties between husband and wife are generally best left to
the people themselves, I know. But the fact is, there are
peculiar circumstances in the present case. It can't be necessary
for me to explain further.'
Reardon could find no suitable words of reply. He understood what
Yule referred to, and began to feel the full extent of his
'You mean, of course--' he began; but his tongue failed him.
'Well, we should really like to know how long it is proposed that
Amy shall remain with her mother.'
John was perfectly self-possessed; it took much to disturb his
equanimity. He smoked his cigarette, which was in an amber
mouthpiece, and seemed to enjoy its flavour. Reardon found
himself observing the perfection of the young man's boots and
'That depends entirely on my wife herself;' he replied
'I offer her the best home I can.'
Reardon felt himself a poor, pitiful creature, and hated the
well-dressed man who made him feel so.
'But really, Reardon,' began the other, uncrossing and recrossing
his legs, 'do you tell me in seriousness that you expect Amy to
live in such lodgings as you can afford on a pound a week?'
'I don't. I said that I had offered her the best home I could. I
know it's impossible, of course.'
Either he must speak thus, or break into senseless wrath. It was
hard to hold back the angry words that were on his lips, but he
succeeded, and he was glad he had done so.
'Then it doesn't depend on Amy,' said John.
'I suppose not.'
'You see no reason, then, why she shouldn't live as at present
for an indefinite time?'
To John, whose perspicacity was not remarkable, Reardon's changed
tone conveyed simply an impression of bland impudence. He eyed
his brother-in-law rather haughtily.
'I can only say,' returned the other, who was become wearily
indifferent, 'that as soon as I can afford a decent home I shall
give my wife the opportunity of returning to me.'
'But, pray, when is that likely to be?'
John had passed the bounds; his manner was too frankly
'I see no right you have to examine me in this fashion,' Reardon
exclaimed. 'With Mrs Yule I should have done my best to be
patient if she had asked these questions; but you are not
justified in putting them, at all events not in this way.'
'I'm very sorry you speak like this, Reardon,' said the other,
with calm insolence. 'It confirms unpleasant ideas, you know.'
'What do you mean?'
'Why, one can't help thinking that you are rather too much at
your ease under the circumstances. It isn't exactly an everyday
thing, you know, for a man's wife to be sent back to her own
Reardon could not endure the sound of these words. He interrupted
'I can't discuss it with you. You are utterly unable to
comprehend me and my position, utterly! It would be useless to
defend myself. You must take whatever view seems to you the
John, having finished his cigarette, rose.
'The natural view is an uncommonly disagreeable one,' he said.
'However, I have no intention of quarrelling with you. I'll only
just say that, as I take a share in the expenses of my mother's
house, this question decidedly concerns me; and I'll add that I
think it ought to concern you a good deal more than it seems to.'
Reardon, ashamed already of his violence, paused upon these
'It shall,' he uttered at length, coldly. 'You have put it
clearly enough to me, and you shan't have spoken in vain. Is
there anything else you wish to say?'
'Thank you; I think not.'
They parted with distant civility, and Reardon closed the door
behind his visitor.
He knew that his character was seen through a distorting medium
by Amy's relatives, to some extent by Amy herself; but hitherto
the reflection that this must always be the case when a man of
his kind is judged by people of the world had strengthened him in
defiance. An endeavour to explain himself would be maddeningly
hopeless; even Amy did not understand aright the troubles through
which his intellectual and moral nature was passing, and to speak
of such experiences to Mrs Yule or to John would be equivalent to
addressing them in alien tongues; he and they had no common
criterion by reference to which he could make himself
intelligible. The practical tone in which John had explained the
opposing view of the situation made it impossible for him to
proceed as he had purposed. Amy would never come to him in his
poor lodgings; her mother, her brother, all her advisers would
regard such a thing as out of the question. Very well;
recognising this, he must also recognise his wife's claim upon
him for material support. It was not in his power to supply her
with means sufficient to live upon, but what he could afford she
When he went out, it was with a different purpose from that of
half an hour ago. After a short search in the direction of
Edgware Road, he found a dealer in second-hand furniture, whom he
requested to come as soon as possible to the flat on a matter of
business. An hour later the man kept his appointment. Having
brought him into the study, Reardon said:
'I wish to sell everything in this flat, with a few exceptions
that I'll point out to you'.
'Very good, sir,' was the reply. 'Let's have a look through the
That the price offered would be strictly a minimum Reardon knew
well enough. The dealer was a rough and rather dirty fellow, with
the distrustful glance which distinguishes his class. Men of
Reardon's type, when hapless enough to be forced into vulgar
commerce, are doubly at a disadvantage; not only their ignorance,
but their sensitiveness, makes them ready victims of even the
least subtle man of business. To deal on equal terms with a
person you must be able to assert with calm confidence that you
are not to be cheated; Reardon was too well aware that he would
certainly be cheated, and shrank scornfully from the higgling of
the market. Moreover, he was in a half-frenzied state of mind,
and cared for little but to be done with the hateful details of
this process of ruin.
He pencilled a list of the articles he must retain for his own
use; it would of course be cheaper to take a bare room than
furnished lodgings, and every penny he could save was of
importance to him. The chair-bedstead, with necessary linen and
blankets, a table, two chairs, a looking-glass--strictly the
indispensable things; no need to complete the list. Then there
were a few valuable wedding-presents, which belonged rather to
Amy than to him; these he would get packed and send to Westbourne
The dealer made his calculation, with many side-glances at the
'And what may you ask for the lot?'
'Please to make an offer.'
'Most of the things has had a good deal of wear--'
'I know, I know. Just let me hear what you will give.'
'Well, if you want a valuation, I say eighteen pound ten.'
It was more than Reardon had expected, though much less than a
man who understood such affairs would have obtained.
'That's the most you can give?'
'Wouldn't pay me to give a sixpence more. You see--'
He began to point out defects, but Reardon cut him short.
'Can you take them away at once?'
'At wunst? Would two o'clock do?'
'Yes, it would.'
'And might you want these other things takin' anywheres?'
'Yes, but not till to-morrow. They have to go to Islington. What
would you do it for?'
This bargain also was completed, and the dealer went his way.
Thereupon Reardon set to work to dispose of his books; by
half-past one he had sold them for a couple of guineas. At two
came the cart that was to take away the furniture, and at four
o'clock nothing remained in the flat save what had to be removed
on the morrow.
The next thing to be done was to go to Islington, forfeit a
week's rent for the two rooms he had taken, and find a single
room at the lowest possible cost. On the way, he entered an
eating-house and satisfied his hunger, for he had had nothing
since breakfast. It took him a couple of hours to discover the
ideal garret; it was found at length in a narrow little by-way
running out of Upper Street. The rent was half-a-crown a week.
At seven o'clock he sat down in what once was called his study,
and wrote the following letter:
'Enclosed in this envelope you will find twenty pounds. I have
been reminded that your relatives will be at the expense of your
support; it seemed best to me to sell the furniture, and now I
send you all the money I can spare at present. You will receive
to-morrow a box containing several things I did not feel
justified in selling. As soon as I begin to have my payment from
Carter, half of it shall be sent to you every week. My address
is: 5 Manville Street, Upper Street, Islington.--EDWIN REARDON.'
He enclosed the money, in notes and gold, and addressed the
envelope to his wife. She must receive it this very night, and he
knew not how to ensure that save by delivering it himself. So he
went to Westbourne Park by train, and walked to Mrs Yule's house.
At this hour the family were probably at dinner; yes, the window
of the dining-room showed lights within, whilst those of the
drawing-room were in shadow. After a little hesitation he rang
the servants' bell. When the door opened, he handed his letter to
the girl, and requested that it might be given to Mrs Reardon as
soon as possible. With one more hasty glance at the window--Amy
was perhaps enjoying her unwonted comfort--he walked quickly
As he re-entered what had been his home, its bareness made his
heart sink. An hour or two had sufficed for this devastation;
nothing remained upon the uncarpeted floors but the needments he
would carry with him into the wilderness, such few evidences of
civilisation as the poorest cannot well dispense with. Anger,
revolt, a sense of outraged love--all manner of confused passions
had sustained him throughout this day of toil; now he had leisure
to know how faint he was. He threw himself upon his
chair-bedstead, and lay for more than an hour in torpor of body
But before he could sleep he must eat. Though it was cold, he
could not exert himself to light a fire; there was some food
still in the cupboard, and he consumed it in the fashion of a
tired labourer, with the plate on his lap, using his fingers and
a knife. What had he to do with delicacies?
He felt utterly alone in the world. Unless it were Biffen, what
mortal would give him kindly welcome under any roof? These
stripped rooms were symbolical of his life; losing money, he had
lost everything. 'Be thankful that you exist, that these morsels
of food are still granted you. Man has a right to nothing in this
world that he cannot pay for. Did you imagine that love was an
exception? Foolish idealist! Love is one of the first things to
be frightened away by poverty. Go and live upon your
twelve-and-sixpence a week, and on your memories of the past.'
In this room he had sat with Amy on their return from the wedding
holiday. 'Shall you always love me as you do now?'--'For ever!
for ever!'--'Even if I disappointed you? If I failed?'--'How
could that affect my love?' The voices seemed to be lingering
still, in a sad, faint echo, so short a time it was since those
words were uttered.
His own fault. A man has no business to fail; least of all can he
expect others to have time to look back upon him or pity him if
he sink under the stress of conflict. Those behind will trample
over his body; they can't help it; they themselves are borne
onwards by resistless pressure.
He slept for a few hours, then lay watching the light of dawn as
it revealed his desolation.
The morning's post brought him a large heavy envelope, the aspect
of which for a moment puzzled him. But he recognised the
handwriting, and understood. The editor of The Wayside, in a
pleasantly-written note, begged to return the paper on Pliny's
Letters which had recently been submitted to him; he was sorry it
did not strike him as quite so interesting as the other
contributions from Reardon's pen.
This was a trifle. For the first time he received a rejected
piece of writing without distress; he even laughed at the
artistic completeness of the situation. The money would have been
welcome, but on that very account he might have known it would
The cart that was to transfer his property to the room in
Islington arrived about mid-day. By that time he had dismissed
the last details of business in relation to the flat, and was
free to go back to the obscure world whence he had risen. He felt
that for two years and a half he had been a pretender. It was not
natural to him to live in the manner of people who enjoy an
assured income; he belonged to the class of casual wage-earners.
Back to obscurity!
Carrying a bag which contained a few things best kept in his own
care, he went by train to King's Cross, and thence walked up
Pentonville Hill to Upper Street and his own little by-way.
Manville Street was not unreasonably squalid; the house in which
he had found a home was not alarming in its appearance, and the
woman who kept it had an honest face. Amy would have shrunk in
apprehension, but to one who had experience of London garrets
this was a rather favourable specimen of its kind. The door
closed more satisfactorily than poor Biffen's, for instance, and
there were not many of those knot-holes in the floor which gave
admission to piercing little draughts; not a pane of the window
was cracked, not one. A man might live here comfortably--could
memory be destroyed.
'There's a letter come for you,' said the landlady as she
admitted him. 'You'll find it on your mantel.'
He ascended hastily. The letter must be from Amy, as no one else
knew his address. Yes, and its contents were these:
'As you have really sold the furniture, I shall accept half this
money that you send. I must buy clothing for myself and Willie.
But the other ten pounds I shall return to you as soon as
possible. As for your offer of half what you are to receive from
Mr Carter, that seems to me ridiculous; in any case, I cannot
take it. If you seriously abandon all further hope from
literature, I think it is your duty to make every effort to
obtain a position suitable to a man of your education.--AMY
Doubtless Amy thought it was her duty to write in this way. Not a
word of sympathy; he must understand that no one was to blame but
himself; and that her hardships were equal to his own.
In the bag he had brought with him there were writing materials.
Standing at the mantelpiece, he forthwith penned a reply to this
'The money is for your support, as far as it will go. If it comes
back to me I shall send it again. If you refuse to make use of
it, you will have the kindness to put it aside and consider it as
belonging to Willie. The other money of which I spoke will be
sent to you once a month. As our concerns are no longer between
us alone, I must protect myself against anyone who would be
likely to accuse me of not giving you what I could afford. For
your advice I thank you, but remember that in withdrawing from me
your affection you have lost all right to offer me counsel.'
He went out and posted this at once.
By three o'clock the furniture of his room was arranged. He had
not kept a carpet; that was luxury, and beyond his due. His score
of volumes must rank upon the mantelpiece; his clothing must be
kept in the trunk. Cups, plates, knives, forks, and spoons would
lie in the little open cupboard, the lowest section of which was
for his supply of coals. When everything was in order he drew
water from a tap on the landing and washed himself; then, with
his bag, went out to make purchases. A loaf of bread, butter,
sugar, condensed milk; a remnant of tea he had brought with him.
On returning, he lit as small a fire as possible, put on his
kettle, and sat down to meditate.
Back to Full Books