New Grub Street
Part 9 out of 13
is far from a sinecure, Carter assures me. There's a great deal
of purely secretarial work, and there's a great deal of practical
work, some of it rather rough, I fancy. It seems doubtful whether
I am exactly the man. The present holder is a burly fellow over
six feet high, delighting in gymnastics, and rather fond of a
fight now and then when opportunity offers. But he is departing
at Christmas--going somewhere as a missionary; and I can have the
place if I choose.'
'As I suppose you do?'
'Yes. I shall try it, decidedly.'
Biffen waited a little, then asked:
'I suppose your wife will go with you?'
'There's no saying.'
Reardon tried to answer indifferently, but it could be seen that
he was agitated between hopes and fears.
'You'll ask her, at all events?'
'Oh yes,' was the half-absent reply.
'But surely there can be no doubt that she'll come. A hundred and
fifty a year, without rent to pay. Why, that's affluence!'
'The rooms I might occupy are in the home itself. Amy won't take
very readily to a dwelling of that kind. And Croydon isn't the
most inviting locality.'
'Close to delightful country.'
'Yes, yes; but Amy doesn't care about that.'
'You misjudge her, Reardon. You are too harsh. I implore you not
to lose the chance of setting all right again! If only you could
be put into my position for a moment, and then be offered the
companionship of such a wife as yours!'
Reardon listened with a face of lowering excitement.
'I should be perfectly within my rights,' he said sternly, 'if I
merely told her when I have taken the position, and let her ask
me to take her back--if she wishes.'
'You have changed a great deal this last year,' replied Biffen,
shaking his head, 'a great deal. I hope to see you your old self
again before long. I should have declared it impossible for you
to become so rugged. Go and see your wife, there's a good
'No; I shall write to her.'
'Go and see her, I beg you! No good ever came of letter-writing
between two people who have misunderstood each other. Go to
Westbourne Park to-morrow. And be reasonable; be more than
reasonable. The happiness of your life depends on what you do
now. Be content to forget whatever wrong has been done you. To
think that a man should need persuading to win back such a wife!'
In truth, there needed little persuasion. Perverseness, one of
the forms or issues of self-pity, made him strive against his
desire, and caused him to adopt a tone of acerbity in excess of
what he felt; but already he had made up his mind to see Amy.
Even if this excuse had not presented itself he must very soon
have yielded to the longing for a sight of his wife's face which
day by day increased among all the conflicting passions of which
he was the victim. A month or two ago, when the summer sunshine
made his confinement to the streets a daily torture, he convinced
himself that there remained in him no trace of his love for Amy;
there were moments when he thought of her with repugnance, as a
cold, selfish woman, who had feigned affection when it seemed her
interest to do so, but brutally declared her true self when there
was no longer anything to be hoped from him. That was the self-
deception of misery. Love, even passion, was still alive in the
depths of his being; the animation with which he sped to his
friend as soon as a new hope had risen was the best proof of his
He went home and wrote to Amy.
'I have a reason for wishing to see you. Will you have the
kindness to appoint an hour on Sunday morning when I can speak
with you in private? It must be understood that I shall see no
She would receive this by the first post to-morrow, Saturday, and
doubtless would let him hear in reply some time in the afternoon.
Impatience allowed him little sleep, and the next day was a long
weariness of waiting. The evening he would have to spend at the
hospital; if there came no reply before the time of his leaving
home, he knew not how he should compel himself to the ordinary
routine of work. Yet the hour came, and he had heard nothing. He
was tempted to go at once to Westbourne Park, but reason
prevailed with him. When he again entered the house, having
walked at his utmost speed from the City Road, the letter lay
waiting for him; it had been pushed beneath his door, and when he
struck a match he found that one of his feet was upon the white
Amy wrote that she would be at home at eleven to-morrow morning.
Not another word.
In all probability she knew of the offer that had been made to
him; Mrs Carter would have told her. Was it of good or of ill
omen that she wrote only these half-dozen words? Half through the
night he plagued himself with suppositions, now thinking that her
brevity promised a welcome, now that she wished to warn him
against expecting anything but a cold, offended demeanour. At
seven he was dressed; two hours and a half had to be killed
before he could start on his walk westward. He would have
wandered about the streets, but it rained.
He had made himself as decent as possible in appearance, but he
must necessarily seem an odd Sunday visitor at a house such as
Mrs Yule's. His soft felt hat, never brushed for months, was a
greyish green, and stained round the band with perspiration. His
necktie was discoloured and worn. Coat and waistcoat might pass
muster, but of the trousers the less said the better. One of his
boots was patched, and both were all but heelless.
Very well; let her see him thus. Let her understand what it meant
to live on twelve and sixpence a week.
Though it was cold and wet he could not put on his overcoat.
Three years ago it had been a fairly good ulster; at present, the
edges of the sleeves were frayed, two buttons were missing, and
the original hue of the cloth was indeterminable.
At half-past nine he set out and struggled with his shabby
umbrella against wind and rain. Down Pentonville Hill, up Euston
Road, all along Marylebone Road, then north-westwards towards the
point of his destination. It was a good six miles from the one
house to the other, but he arrived before the appointed time, and
had to stray about until the cessation of bell-clanging and the
striking of clocks told him it was eleven. Then he presented
himself at the familiar door.
On his asking for Mrs Reardon, he was at once admitted and led up
to the drawing-room; the servant did not ask his name.
Then he waited for a minute or two, feeling himself a squalid
wretch amid the dainty furniture. The door opened. Amy, in a
simple but very becoming dress, approached to within a yard of
him; after the first glance she had averted her eyes, and she did
not offer to shake hands. He saw that his muddy and shapeless
boots drew her attention.
'Do you know why I have come?' he asked.
He meant the tone to be conciliatory, but he could not command
his voice, and it sounded rough, hostile.
'I think so,' Amy answered, seating herself gracefully. She would
have spoken with less dignity but for that accent of his.
'The Carters have told you?'
'Yes; I have heard about it.'
There was no promise in her manner. She kept her face turned
away, and Reardon saw its beautiful profile, hard and cold as
though in marble.
'It doesn't interest you at all?'
'I am glad to hear that a better prospect offers for you.'
He did not sit down, and was holding his rusty hat behind his
'You speak as if it in no way concerned yourself. Is that what
you wish me to understand?'
'Won't it be better if you tell me why you have come here? As you
are resolved to find offence in whatever I say, I prefer to keep
silence. Please to let me know why you have asked to see me.'
Reardon turned abruptly as if to leave her, but checked himself
at a little distance.
Both had come to this meeting prepared for a renewal of amity,
but in these first few moments each was so disagreeably impressed
by the look and language of the other that a revulsion of feeling
undid all the more hopeful effects of their long severance. On
entering, Amy had meant to offer her hand, but the unexpected
meanness of Reardon's aspect shocked and restrained her. All but
every woman would have experienced that shrinking from the livery
of poverty. Amy had but to reflect, and she understood that her
husband could in no wise help this shabbiness; when he parted
from her his wardrobe was already in a long-suffering condition,
and how was he to have purchased new garments since then? None
the less such attire degraded him in her eyes; it symbolised the
melancholy decline which he had suffered intellectually. On
Reardon his wife's elegance had the same repellent effect, though
this would not have been the case but for the expression of her
countenance. Had it been possible for them to remain together
during the first five minutes without exchange of words,
sympathies might have prevailed on both sides; the first speech
uttered would most likely have harmonised with their gentler
thoughts. But the mischief was done so speedily.
A man must indeed be graciously endowed if his personal
appearance can defy the disadvantage of cheap modern clothing
worn into shapelessness. Reardon had no such remarkable physique,
and it was not wonderful that his wife felt ashamed of him.
Strictly ashamed; he seemed to her a social inferior; the
impression was so strong that it resisted all memory of his
spiritual qualities. She might have anticipated this state of
things, and have armed herself to encounter it, but somehow she
had not done so. For more than five months she had been living
among people who dressed well; the contrast was too suddenly
forced upon her. She was especially susceptible in such matters,
and had become none the less so under the demoralising influence
of her misfortunes. True, she soon began to feel ashamed of her
shame, but that could not annihilate the natural feeling and its
'I don't love him. I can't love him.' Thus she spoke to herself,
with immutable decision. She had been doubtful till now, but all
doubt was at an end. Had Reardon been practical man enough to
procure by hook or by crook a decent suit of clothes for this
interview, that ridiculous trifle might have made all the
difference in what was to result.
He turned again, and spoke with the harshness of a man who feels
that he is despised, and is determined to show an equal contempt.
'I came to ask you what you propose to do in case I go to
'I have no proposal to make whatever.'
'That means, then, that you are content to go on living here?'
'If I have no choice, I must make myself content.'
'But you have a choice.'
'None has yet been offered me.'
'Then I offer it now,' said Reardon, speaking less aggressively.
'I shall have a dwelling rent free, and a hundred and fifty
pounds a year--perhaps it would be more in keeping with my
station if I say that I shall have something less than three
pounds a week. You can either accept from me half this money, as
up to now, or come and take your place again as my wife. Please
to decide what you will do.'
'I will let you know by letter in a few days.'
It seemed impossible to her to say she would return, yet a
refusal to do so involved nothing less than separation for the
rest of their lives. Postponement of decision was her only
'I must know at once,' said Reardon.
'I can't answer at once.'
'If you don't, I shall understand you to mean that you refuse to
come to me. You know the circumstances; there is no reason why
you should consult with anyone else. You can answer me
immediately if you will.'
'I don't wish to answer you immediately,' Amy replied, paling
'Then that decides it. When I leave you we are strangers to each
Amy made a rapid study of his countenance. She had never
entertained for a moment the supposition that his wits were
unsettled, but none the less the constant recurrence of that idea
in her mother's talk had subtly influenced her against her
husband. It had confirmed her in thinking that his behaviour was
inexcusable. And now it seemed to her that anyone might be
justified in holding him demented, so reckless was his utterance.
It was difficult to know him as the man who had loved her so
devotedly, who was incapable of an unkind word or look.
'If that is what you prefer,' she said, 'there must be a formal
separation. I can't trust my future to your caprice.'
'You mean it must be put into the hands of a lawyer?'
'Yes, I do.'
'That will be the best, no doubt.'
'Very well; I will speak with my friends about it.'
'Your friends!' he exclaimed bitterly. 'But for those friends of
yours, this would never have happened. I wish you had been alone
in the world and penniless.'
'A kind wish, all things considered.'
'Yes, it is a kind wish. Then your marriage with me would have
been binding; you would have known that my lot was yours, and the
knowledge would have helped your weakness. I begin to see how
much right there is on the side of those people who would keep
women in subjection. You have been allowed to act with
independence, and the result is that you have ruined my life and
debased your own. If I had been strong enough to treat you as a
child, and bid you follow me wherever my own fortunes led, it
would have been as much better for you as for me. I was weak, and
I suffer as all weak people do.'
'You think it was my duty to share such a home as you have at
'You know it was. And if the choice had lain between that and
earning your own livelihood you would have thought that even such
a poor home might be made tolerable. There were possibilities in
you of better things than will ever come out now.'
There followed a silence. Amy sat with her eyes gloomily fixed on
the carpet; Reardon looked about the room, but saw nothing. He
had thrown his hat into a chair, and his fingers worked nervously
together behind his back.
'Will you tell me,' he said at length, 'how your position is
regarded by these friends of yours? I don't mean your mother and
brother, but the people who come to this house.'
'I have not asked such people for their opinion.'
'Still, I suppose some sort of explanation has been necessary in
your intercourse with them. How have you represented your
relations with me?'
'I can't see that that concerns you.'
'In a manner it does. Certainly it matters very little to me how
I am thought of by people of this kind, but one doesn't like to
be reviled without cause. Have you allowed it to be supposed that
I have made life with me intolerable for you?'
'No, I have not. You insult me by asking the question, but as you
don't seem to understand feelings of that kind I may as well
answer you simply.'
'Then have you told them the truth? That I became so poor you
couldn't live with me?'
'I have never said that in so many words, but no doubt it is
understood. It must be known also that you refused to take the
step which might have helped you out of your difficulties.'
She reminded him of his intention to spend half a year in working
at the seaside.
'I had utterly forgotten it,' he returned with a mocking laugh.
'That shows how ridiculous such a thing would have been.'
'You are doing no literary work at all?' Amy asked.
'Do you imagine that I have the peace of mind necessary for
anything of that sort?'
This was in a changed voice. It reminded her so strongly of her
husband before his disasters that she could not frame a reply.
'Do you think I am able to occupy myself with the affairs of
'I didn't necessarily mean fiction.'
'That I can forget myself, then, in the study of literature?--I
wonder whether you really think of me like that. How, in Heaven's
name, do you suppose I spend my leisure time?'
She made no answer.
'Do you think I take this calamity as light-heartedly as you do,
'I am far from taking it light-heartedly.'
'Yet you are in good health. I see no sign that you have
She kept silence. Her suffering had been slight enough, and
chiefly due to considerations of social propriety; but she would
not avow this, and did not like to make admission of it to
herself. Before her friends she frequently affected to conceal a
profound sorrow; but so long as her child was left to her she was
in no danger of falling a victim to sentimental troubles.
'And certainly I can't believe it,' he continued, 'now you
declare your wish to be formally separated from me.'
'I have declared no such wish.'
'Indeed you have. If you can hesitate a moment about returning to
me when difficulties are at an end, that tells me you would
prefer final separation.'
'I hesitate for this reason,' Amy said after reflecting. 'You are
so very greatly changed from what you used to be, that I think it
doubtful if I could live with you.'
'Changed?--Yes, that is true, I am afraid. But how do you think
this change will affect my behaviour to you?'
'Remember how you have been speaking to me.'
'And you think I should treat you brutally if you came into my
'Not brutally, in the ordinary sense of the word. But with faults
of temper which I couldn't bear. I have my own faults. I can't
behave as meekly as some women can.'
It was a small concession, but Reardon made much of it.
'Did my faults of temper give you any trouble during the first
year of our married life?' he asked gently.
'No,' she admitted.
'They began to afflict you when I was so hard driven by
difficulties that I needed all your sympathy, all your
forbearance. Did I receive much of either from you, Amy?'
'I think you did--until you demanded impossible things of me.'
'It was always in your power to rule me. What pained me worst,
and hardened me against you, was that I saw you didn't care to
exert your influence. There was never a time when I could have
resisted a word of yours spoken out of your love for me. But even
then, I am afraid, you no longer loved me, and now--'
He broke off, and stood watching her face.
'Have you any love for me left?' burst from his lips, as if the
words all but choked him in the utterance.
Amy tried to shape some evasive answer, but could say nothing.
'Is there ever so small a hope that I might win some love from
'If you wish me to come and live with you when you go to Croydon
I will do so.'
'But that is not answering me, Amy.'
'It's all I can say.'
'Then you mean that you would sacrifice yourself out of--what?
Out of pity for me, let us say.'
'Do you wish to see Willie?' asked Amy, instead of replying.
'No. It is you I have come to see. The child is nothing to me,
compared with you. It is you, who loved me, who became my wife--
you only I care about. Tell me you will try to be as you used to
be. Give me only that hope, Amy; I will ask nothing except that,
'I can't say anything except that I will come to Croydon if you
'And reproach me always because you have to live in such a place,
away from your friends, without a hope of the social success
which was your dearest ambition?'
Her practical denial that she loved him wrung this taunt from his
anguished heart. He repented the words as soon as they were
'What is the good?' exclaimed Amy in irritation, rising and
moving away from him. 'How can I pretend that I look forward to
such a life with any hope?'
He stood in mute misery, inwardly cursing himself and his fate.
'I have said I will come,' she continued, her voice shaken with
nervous tension. 'Ask me or not, as you please, when you are
ready to go there. I can't talk about it.'
'I shall not ask you,' he replied. 'I will have no woman slave
dragging out a weary life with me. Either you are my willing
wife, or you are nothing to me.'
'I am married to you, and that can't be undone. I repeat that I
shan't refuse to obey you. I shall say no more.'
She moved to a distance, and there seated herself, half turned
'I shall never ask you to come,' said Reardon, breaking a short
silence. 'If our married life is ever to begin again it must be
of your seeking. Come to me of your own will, and I shall never
reject you. But I will die in utter loneliness rather than ask
He lingered a few moments, watching her; she did not move. Then
he took his hat, went in silence from the room, and left the
It rained harder than before. As no trains were running at this
hour, he walked in the direction where he would be likely to meet
with an omnibus. But it was a long time before one passed which
was any use to him. When he reached home he was in cheerless
plight enough; to make things pleasanter, one of his boots had
let in water abundantly.
'The first sore throat of the season, no doubt,' he muttered to
Nor was he disappointed. By Tuesday the cold had firm grip of
him. A day or two of influenza or sore throat always made him so
weak that with difficulty he supported the least physical
exertion; but at present he must go to his work at the hospital.
Why stay at home? To what purpose spare himself? It was not as if
life had any promise for him. He was a machine for earning so
much money a week, and would at least give faithful work for his
wages until the day of final breakdown.
But, midway in the week, Carter discovered how ill his clerk was.
'You ought to be in bed, my dear fellow, with gruel and mustard
plasters and all the rest of it. Go home and take care of
yourself--I insist upon it.'
Before leaving the office, Reardon wrote a few lines to Biffen,
whom he had visited on the Monday. 'Come and see me if you can. I
am down with a bad cold, and have to keep in for the rest of the
week. All the same, I feel far more cheerful. Bring a new chapter
of your exhilarating romance.'
CHAPTER XXVI. MARRIED WOMAN'S PROPERTY
On her return from church that Sunday Mrs Edmund Yule was anxious
to learn the result of the meeting between Amy and her husband.
She hoped fervently that Amy's anomalous position would come to
an end now that Reardon had the offer of something better than a
mere clerkship. John Yule never ceased to grumble at his sister's
permanence in the house, especially since he had learnt that the
money sent by Reardon each month was not made use of; why it
should not be applied for household expenses passed his
'It seems to me,' he remarked several times, 'that the fellow
only does his bare duty in sending it. What is it to anyone else
whether he lives on twelve shillings a week or twelve pence? It
is his business to support his wife; if he can't do that, to
contribute as much to her support as possible. Amy's scruples are
all very fine, if she could afford them; it's very nice to pay
for your delicacies of feeling out of other people's pockets.'
'There'll have to be a formal separation,' was the startling
announcement with which Amy answered her mother's inquiry as to
what had passed.
'A separation? But, my dear--!'
Mrs Yule could not express her disappointment and dismay.
'We couldn't live together; it's no use trying.'
'But at your age, Amy! How can you think of anything so shocking?
And then, you know it will be impossible for him to make you a
'I shall have to live as well as I can on the seventy-five pounds
a year. If you can't afford to let me stay with you for that, I
must go into cheap lodgings in the country, like poor Mrs Butcher
This was wild talking for Amy. The interview had upset her, and
for the rest of the day she kept apart in her own room. On the
morrow Mrs Yule succeeded in eliciting a clear account of the
conversation which had ended so hopelessly.
'I would rather spend the rest of my days in the workhouse than
beg him to take me back,' was Amy's final comment, uttered with
the earnestness which her mother understood but too well.
'But you are willing to go back, dear?'
'I told him so.'
'Then you must leave this to me. The Carters will let us know how
things go on, and when it seems to be time I must see Edwin
'I can't allow that. Anything you could say on your own account
would be useless, and there is nothing to say from me.'
Mrs Yule kept her own counsel. She had a full month before her
during which to consider the situation, but it was clear to her
that these young people must be brought together again. Her
estimate of Reardon's mental condition had undergone a sudden
change from the moment when she heard that a respectable post was
within his reach; she decided that he was 'strange,' but then all
men of literary talent had marked singularities, and doubtless
she had been too hasty in interpreting the peculiar features
natural to a character such as his.
A few days later arrived the news of their relative's death at
This threw Mrs Yule into a commotion. At first she decided to
accompany her son and be present at the funeral; after changing
her mind twenty times, she determined not to go. John must send
or bring back the news as soon as possible. That it would be of a
nature sensibly to affect her own position, if not that of her
children, she had little doubt; her husband had been the
favourite brother of the deceased, and on that account there was
no saying how handsome a legacy she might receive. She dreamt of
houses in South Kensington, of social ambitions gratified even
On the morning after the funeral came a postcard announcing
John's return by a certain train, but no scrap of news was added.
'Just like that irritating boy! We must go to the station to meet
him. You'll come, won't you, Amy?'
Amy readily consented, for she too had hopes, though
circumstances blurred them. Mother and daughter were walking
about the platform half an hour before the train was due; their
agitation would have been manifest to anyone observing them. When
at length the train rolled in and John was discovered, they
pressed eagerly upon him.
'Don't you excite yourself,' he said gruffly to his mother.
'There's no reason whatever.'
Mrs Yule glanced in dismay at Amy. They followed John to a cab,
and took places with him.
'Now don't be provoking, Jack. Just tell us at once.'
'By all means. You haven't a penny.'
'I haven't? You are joking, ridiculous boy!'
'Never felt less disposed to, I assure you.'
After staring out of the window for a minute or two, he at length
informed Amy of the extent to which she profited by her uncle's
decease, then made known what was bequeathed to himself. His
temper grew worse every moment, and he replied savagely to each
successive question concerning the other items of the will.
'What have you to grumble about?' asked Amy, whose face was
exultant notwithstanding the drawbacks attaching to her good
fortune. 'If Uncle Alfred receives nothing at all, and mother has
nothing, you ought to think yourself very lucky.'
'It's very easy for you to say that, with your ten thousand.'
'But is it her own?' asked Mrs Yule. 'Is it for her separate
'Of course it is. She gets the benefit of last year's Married
Woman's Property Act. The will was executed in January this year,
and I dare say the old curmudgeon destroyed a former one.
'What a splendid Act of Parliament that is!' cried Amy. 'The only
one worth anything that I ever heard of.'
'But my dear--' began her mother, in a tone of protest. However,
she reserved her comment for a more fitting time and place, and
merely said: 'I wonder whether he had heard what has been going
'Do you think he would have altered his will if he had?' asked
Amy with a smile of security.
'Why the deuce he should have left you so much in any case is
more than I can understand,' growled her brother. 'What's the use
to me of a paltry thousand or two? It isn't enough to invest;
isn't enough to do anything with.'
'You may depend upon it your cousin Marian thinks her five
thousand good for something,' said Mrs Yule. 'Who was at the
funeral? Don't be so surly, Jack; tell us all about it. I'm sure
if anyone has cause to be ill-tempered it's poor me.'
Thus they talked, amid the rattle of the cab-wheels. By when they
reached home silence had fallen upon them, and each one was
sufficiently occupied with private thoughts.
Mrs Yule's servants had a terrible time of it for the next few
days. Too affectionate to turn her ill-temper against John and
Amy, she relieved herself by severity to the domestic slaves, as
an English matron is of course justified in doing. Her daughter's
position caused her even more concern than before; she constantly
lamented to herself: 'Oh, why didn't he die before she was
married!'--in which case Amy would never have dreamt of wedding a
penniless author. Amy declined to discuss the new aspect of
things until twenty-four hours after John's return; then she
'I shall do nothing whatever until the money is paid to me. And
what I shall do then I don't know.'
'You are sure to hear from Edwin,' opined Mrs Yule.
'I think not. He isn't the kind of man to behave in that way.'
'Then I suppose you are bound to take the first step?'
'That I shall never do.'
She said so, but the sudden happiness of finding herself wealthy
was not without its softening effect on Amy's feelings. Generous
impulses alternated with moods of discontent. The thought of her
husband in his squalid lodgings tempted her to forget injuries
and disillusions, and to play the part of a generous wife. It
would be possible now for them to go abroad and spend a year or
two in healthful travel; the result in Reardon's case might be
wonderful. He might recover all the energy of his imagination,
and resume his literary career from the point he had reached at
the time of his marriage.
On the other hand, was it not more likely that he would lapse
into a life of scholarly self-indulgence, such as he had often
told her was his ideal? In that event, what tedium and regret lay
before her! Ten thousand pounds sounded well, but what did it
represent in reality? A poor four hundred a year, perhaps; mere
decency of obscure existence, unless her husband could glorify it
by winning fame. If he did nothing, she would be the wife of a
man who had failed in literature. She would not be able to take a
place in society. Life would be supported without struggle;
nothing more to be hoped.
This view of the future possessed her strongly when, on the
second day, she went to communicate her news to Mrs Carter. This
amiable lady had now become what she always desired to be, Amy's
intimate friend; they saw each other very frequently, and
conversed of most things with much frankness. It was between
eleven and twelve in the morning when Amy paid her visit, and she
found Mrs Carter on the point of going out.
'I was coming to see you,' cried Edith. 'Why haven't you let me
know of what has happened?'
'You have heard, I suppose?'
'Albert heard from your brother.'
'I supposed he would. And I haven't felt in the mood for talking
about it, even with you.'
They went into Mrs Carter's boudoir, a tiny room full of such
pretty things as can be purchased nowadays by anyone who has a
few shillings to spare, and tolerable taste either of their own
or at second-hand. Had she been left to her instincts, Edith
would have surrounded herself with objects representing a much
earlier stage of artistic development; but she was quick to
imitate what fashion declared becoming. Her husband regarded her
as a remarkable authority in all matters of personal or domestic
'And what are you going to do?' she inquired, examining Amy from
head to foot, as if she thought that the inheritance of so
substantial a sum must have produced visible changes in her
'I am going to do nothing.'
'But surely you're not in low spirits?'
'What have I to rejoice about?'
They talked for a while before Amy brought herself to utter what
she was thinking.
'Isn't it a most ridiculous thing that married people who both
wish to separate can't do so and be quite free again?'
'I suppose it would lead to all sorts of troubles--don't you
'So people say about every new step in civilisation. What would
have been thought twenty years ago of a proposal to make all
married women independent of their husbands in money matters? All
sorts of absurd dangers were foreseen, no doubt. And it's the
same now about divorce. In America people can get divorced if
they don't suit each other--at all events in some of the States--
and does any harm come of it? Just the opposite I should think.'
Edith mused. Such speculations were daring, but she had grown
accustomed to think of Amy as an 'advanced' woman, and liked to
imitate her in this respect.
'It does seem reasonable,' she murmured.
'The law ought to encourage such separations, instead of
forbidding them,' Amy pursued. 'If a husband and wife find that
they have made a mistake, what useless cruelty it is to condemn
them to suffer the consequences for the whole of their lives!'
'I suppose it's to make people careful,' said Edith, with a
'If so, we know that it has always failed, and always will fail;
so the sooner such a profitless law is altered the better. Isn't
there some society for getting that kind of reform? I would
subscribe fifty pounds a year to help it. Wouldn't you?'
'Yes, if I had it to spare,' replied the other.
Then they both laughed, but Edith the more naturally.
'Not on my own account, you know,' she added.
'It's because women who are happily married can't and won't
understand the position of those who are not that there's so much
difficulty in reforming marriage laws.'
'But I understand you, Amy, and I grieve about you. What you are
to do I can't think.'
'Oh, it's easy to see what I shall do. Of course I have no choice
really. And I ought to have a choice; that's the hardship and the
wrong of it. Perhaps if I had, I should find a sort of pleasure
in sacrificing myself.'
There were some new novels on the table; Amy took up a volume
presently, and glanced over a page or two.
'I don't know how you can go on reading that sort of stuff, book
after book,' she exclaimed.
'Oh, but people say this last novel of Markland's is one of his
'Best or worst, novels are all the same. Nothing but love, love,
love; what silly nonsense it is! Why don't people write about the
really important things of life? Some of the French novelists do;
several of Balzac's, for instance. I have just been reading his
"Cousin Pons," a terrible book, but I enjoyed it ever so much
because it was nothing like a love story. What rubbish is printed
'I get rather tired of it sometimes,' admitted Edith with
'I should hope you do, indeed. What downright lies are accepted
as indisputable! That about love being a woman's whole life; who
believes it really? Love is the most insignificant thing in most
women's lives. It occupies a few months, possibly a year or two,
and even then I doubt if it is often the first consideration.'
Edith held her head aside, and pondered smilingly.
'I'm sure there's a great opportunity for some clever novelist
who will never write about love at all.'
'But then it does come into life.'
'Yes, for a month or two, as I say. Think of the biographies of
men and women; how many pages are devoted to their love affairs?
Compare those books with novels which profess to be biographies,
and you see how false such pictures are. Think of the very words
"novel," "romance"--what do they mean but exaggeration of one bit
'That may be true. But why do people find the subject so
'Because there is so little love in real life. That's the truth
of it. Why do poor people care only for stories about the rich?
The same principle.'
'How clever you are, Amy!'
'Am I? It's very nice to be told so. Perhaps I have some
cleverness of a kind; but what use is it to me? My life is being
wasted. I ought to have a place in the society of clever people.
I was never meant to live quietly in the background. Oh, if I
hadn't been in such a hurry, and so inexperienced!'
'Oh, I wanted to ask you,' said Edith, soon after this. 'Do you
wish Albert to say anything about you--at the hospital?'
'There's no reason why he shouldn't.'
'You won't even write to say--?'
'I shall do nothing.'
Since the parting from her husband, there had proceeded in Amy a
noticeable maturing of intellect. Probably the one thing was a
consequence of the other. During that last year in the flat her
mind was held captive by material cares, and this arrest of her
natural development doubtless had much to do with the appearance
of acerbity in a character which had displayed so much sweetness,
so much womanly grace. Moreover, it was arrest at a critical
point. When she fell in love with Edwin Reardon her mind had
still to undergo the culture of circumstances; though a woman in
years she had seen nothing of life but a few phases of artificial
society, and her education had not progressed beyond the final
schoolgirl stage. Submitting herself to Reardon's influence, she
passed through what was a highly useful training of the
intellect; but with the result that she became clearly conscious
of the divergence between herself and her husband. In
endeavouring to imbue her with his own literary tastes, Reardon
instructed Amy as to the natural tendencies of her mind, which
till then she had not clearly understood. When she ceased to read
with the eyes of passion, most of the things which were Reardon's
supreme interests lost their value for her. A sound intelligence
enabled her to think and feel in many directions, but the special
line of her growth lay apart from that in which the novelist and
classical scholar had directed her.
When she found herself alone and independent, her mind acted like
a spring when pressure is removed. After a few weeks of
desoeuvrement she obeyed the impulse to occupy herself with a
kind of reading alien to Reardon's sympathies. The solid
periodicals attracted her, and especially those articles which
dealt with themes of social science. Anything that savoured of
newness and boldness in philosophic thought had a charm for her
palate. She read a good deal of that kind of literature which may
be defined as specialism popularised; writing which addresses
itself to educated, but not strictly studious, persons, and which
forms the reservoir of conversation for society above the sphere
of turf and west-endism. Thus, for instance, though she could not
undertake the volumes of Herbert Spencer, she was intelligently
acquainted with the tenor of their contents; and though she had
never opened one of Darwin's books, her knowledge of his main
theories and illustrations was respectable. She was becoming a
typical woman of the new time, the woman who has developed
concurrently with journalistic enterprise.
Not many days after that conversation with Edith Carter, she had
occasion to visit Mudie's, for the new number of some periodical
which contained an appetising title. As it was a sunny and warm
day she walked to New Oxford Street from the nearest Metropolitan
station. Whilst waiting at the library counter, she heard a
familiar voice in her proximity; it was that of Jasper Milvain,
who stood talking with a middle-aged lady. As Amy turned to look
at him his eye met hers; clearly he had been aware of her. The
review she desired was handed to her; she moved aside, and turned
over the pages. Then Milvain walked up.
He was armed cap-a-pie in the fashions of suave society; no
Bohemianism of garb or person, for Jasper knew he could not
afford that kind of economy. On her part, Amy was much better
dressed than usual, a costume suited to her position of bereaved
'What a time since we met!' said Jasper, taking her delicately
gloved hand and looking into her face with his most effective
'And why?' asked Amy.
'Indeed, I hardly know. I hope Mrs Yule is well?'
'Quite, thank you.'
It seemed as if he would draw back to let her pass, and so make
an end of the colloquy. But Amy, though she moved forward, added
'I don't see your name in any of this month's magazines.'
'I have nothing signed this month. A short review in The Current,
'But I suppose you write as much as ever?'
'Yes; but chiefly in weekly papers just now. You don't see the
'Oh yes. And I think I can generally recognise your hand.'
They issued from the library.
'Which way are you going?' Jasper inquired, with something more
of the old freedom.
'I walked from Gower Street station, and I think, as it's so
fine, I shall walk back again.'
He accompanied her. They turned up Museum Street, and Amy, after
a short silence, made inquiry concerning his sisters.
'I am sorry I saw them only once, but no doubt you thought it
better to let the acquaintance end there.'
'I really didn't think of it in that way at all,' Jasper
replied.'We naturally understood it so, when you even ceased to
'But don't you feel that there would have been a good deal of
awkwardness in my coming to Mrs Yule's?'
'Seeing that you looked at things from my husband's point of
'Oh, that's a mistake! I have only seen your husband once since
he went to Islington.'
Amy gave him a look of surprise.
'You are not on friendly terms with him?'
'Well, we have drifted apart. For some reason he seemed to think
that my companionship was not very profitable. So it was better,
on the whole, that I should see neither you nor him.'
Amy was wondering whether he had heard of her legacy. He might
have been informed by a Wattleborough correspondent, even if no
one in London had told him.
'Do your sisters keep up their friendship with my cousin Marian?'
she asked, quitting the previous difficult topic.
'Oh yes!' He smiled. 'They see a great deal of each other.'
'Then of course you have heard of my uncle's death?'
'Yes. I hope all your difficulties are now at an end.'
Amy delayed a moment, then said: 'I hope so,' without any
'Do you think of spending this winter abroad?'
It was the nearest he could come to a question concerning the
future of Amy and her husband.
'Everything is still quite uncertain. But tell me something about
our old acquaintances. How does Mr Biffen get on?'
'I scarcely ever see him, but I think he pegs away at an
interminable novel, which no one will publish when it's done.
Whelpdale I meet occasionally.'
He talked of the latter's projects and achievements in a lively
'Your own prospects continue to brighten, no doubt,' said Amy.
'I really think they do. Things go fairly well. And I have lately
received a promise of very valuable help.'
'A relative of yours.'
Amy turned to interrogate him with a look.
'A relative? You mean--?'
They were passing Bedford Square. Amy glanced at the trees, now
almost bare of foliage; then her eyes met Jasper's, and she
'I should have thought your aim would have been far more
ambitious,' she said, with distinct utterance.
'Marian and I have been engaged for some time--practically.'
'Indeed? I remember now how you once spoke of her. And you will
be married soon?'
'Probably before the end of the year. I see that you are
criticising my motives. I am quite prepared for that in everyone
who knows me and the circumstances. But you must remember that I
couldn't foresee anything of this kind. It enables us to marry
sooner, that's all.'
'I am sure your motives are unassailable,' replied Amy, still
with a smile. 'I imagined that you wouldn't marry for years, and
then some distinguished person. This throws new light upon your
'You thought me so desperately scheming and cold-blooded?'
'Oh dear no! But--well, to be sure, I can't say that I know
Marian. I haven't seen her for years and years. She may be
admirably suited to you.'
'Depend upon it, I think so.'
'She's likely to shine in society? She is a brilliant girl, full
of tact and insight?'
'Scarcely all that, perhaps.'
He looked dubiously at his companion.
'Then you have abandoned your old ambitions?' Amy pursued.
'Not a bit of it. I am on the way to achieve them.'
'And Marian is the ideal wife to assist you?'
'From one point of view, yes. Pray, why all this ironic
'Not ironic at all.'
'It sounded very much like it, and I know from of old that you
have a tendency that way.'
'The news surprised me a little, I confess. But I see that I am
in danger of offending you.'
'Let us wait another five years, and then I will ask your opinion
as to the success of my marriage. I don't take a step of this
kind without maturely considering it. Have I made many blunders
'As yet, not that I know of.'
'Do I impress you as one likely to commit follies?'
'I had rather wait a little before answering that.'
'That is to say, you prefer to prophesy after the event. Very
well, we shall see.'
In the length of Gower Street they talked of several other things
less personal. By degrees the tone of their conversation had
become what it was used to be, now and then almost confidential.
'You are still at the same lodgings?' asked Amy, as they drew
near to the railway station.
'I moved yesterday, so that the girls and I could be under the
same roof--until the next change.'
'You will let us know when that takes place?'
He promised, and with exchange of smiles which were something
like a challenge they took leave of each other.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE LONELY MAN
A touch of congestion in the right lung was a warning to Reardon
that his half-year of insufficient food and general waste of
strength would make the coming winter a hard time for him, worse
probably than the last. Biffen, responding in person to the
summons, found him in bed, waited upon by a gaunt, dry,
sententious woman of sixty--not the landlady, but a lodger who
was glad to earn one meal a day by any means that offered.
'It wouldn't be very nice to die here, would it?' said the
sufferer, with a laugh which was cut short by a cough. 'One would
like a comfortable room, at least. Why, I don't know. I dreamt
last night that I was in a ship that had struck something and was
going down; and it wasn't the thought of death that most
disturbed me, but a horror of being plunged in the icy water. In
fact, I have had just the same feeling on shipboard. I remember
waking up midway between Corfu and Brindisi, on that shaky tub of
a Greek boat; we were rolling a good deal, and I heard a sort of
alarmed rush and shouting up on deck. It was so warm and
comfortable in the berth, and I thought with intolerable horror
of the possibility of sousing into the black depths.'
'Don't talk, my boy,' advised Biffen. 'Let me read you the new
chapter of "Mr Bailey." It may induce a refreshing slumber.'
Reardon was away from his duties for a week; he returned to them
with a feeling of extreme shakiness, an indisposition to exert
himself, and a complete disregard of the course that events were
taking. It was fortunate that he had kept aside that small store
of money designed for emergencies; he was able to draw on it now
to pay his doctor, and provide himself with better nourishment
than usual. He purchased new boots, too, and some articles of
warm clothing of which he stood in need--an alarming outlay.
A change had come over him; he was no longer rendered miserable
by thoughts of Amy--seldom, indeed, turned his mind to her at
all. His secretaryship at Croydon was a haven within view; the
income of seventy-five pounds (the other half to go to his wife)
would support him luxuriously, and for anything beyond that he
seemed to care little. Next Sunday he was to go over to Croydon
and see the institution.
One evening of calm weather he made his way to Clipstone Street
and greeted his friend with more show of light-heartedness than
he had been capable of for at least two years.
'I have been as nearly as possible a happy man all to-day,' he
said, when his pipe was well lit. 'Partly the sunshine, I
suppose. There's no saying if the mood will last, but if it does
all is well with me. I regret nothing and wish for nothing.'
'A morbid state of mind,' was Biffen's opinion.
'No doubt of that, but I am content to be indebted to morbidness.
One must have a rest from misery somehow. Another kind of man
would have taken to drinking; that has tempted me now and then, I
assure you. But I couldn't afford it. Did you ever feel tempted
to drink merely for the sake of forgetting trouble?'
'Often enough. I have done it. I have deliberately spent a
certain proportion of the money that ought to have gone for food
in the cheapest kind of strong liquor.'
'Ha! that's interesting. But it never got the force of a habit
you had to break?'
'No. Partly, I dare say, because I had the warning of poor Sykes
before my eyes.'
'You never see that poor fellow?'
'Never. He must be dead, I think. He would die either in the
hospital or the workhouse.'
'Well,' said Reardon, musing cheerfully, 'I shall never become a
drunkard; I haven't that diathesis, to use your expression.
Doesn't it strike you that you and I are very respectable
persons? We really have no vices. Put us on a social pedestal,
and we should be shining lights of morality. I sometimes wonder
at our inoffensiveness. Why don't we run amuck against law and
order? Why, at the least, don't we become savage revolutionists,
and harangue in Regent's Park of a Sunday?'
'Because we are passive beings, and were meant to enjoy life very
quietly. As we can't enjoy, we just suffer quietly, that's all.
By-the-bye, I want to talk about a difficulty in one of the
Fragments of Euripides. Did you ever go through the Fragments?'
This made a diversion for half an hour. Then Reardon returned to
his former line of thought.
'As I was entering patients yesterday, there came up to the table
a tall, good-looking, very quiet girl, poorly dressed, but as
neat as could be. She gave me her name, then I asked
"Occupation?" She said at once, "I'm unfortunate, sir." I
couldn't help looking up at her in surprise; I had taken it for
granted she was a dressmaker or something of the kind. And, do
you know, I never felt so strong an impulse to shake hands, to
show sympathy, and even respect, in some way. I should have liked
to say, "Why, I am unfortunate, too!" such a good, patient face
'I distrust such appearances,' said Biffen in his quality of
'Well, so do I, as a rule. But in this case they were convincing.
And there was no need whatever for her to make such a
declaration; she might just as well have said anything else; it's
the merest form. I shall always hear her voice saying, "I'm
unfortunate, sir." She made me feel what a mistake it was for me
to marry such a girl as Amy. I ought to have looked about for
some simple, kind-hearted work-girl; that was the kind of wife
indicated for me by circumstances. If I had earned a hundred a
year she would have thought we were well-to-do. I should have
been an authority to her on everything under the sun--and above
it. No ambition would have unsettled her. We should have lived in
a couple of poor rooms somewhere, and--we should have loved each
'What a shameless idealist you are!' said Biffen, shaking his
head. 'Let me sketch the true issue of such a marriage. To begin
with, the girl would have married you in firm persuasion that you
were a "gentleman" in temporary difficulties, and that before
long you would have plenty of money to dispose of. Disappointed
in this hope, she would have grown sharp-tempered, querulous,
selfish. All your endeavours to make her understand you would
only have resulted in widening the impassable gulf. She would
have misconstrued your every sentence, found food for suspicion
in every harmless joke, tormented you with the vulgarest forms of
jealousy. The effect upon your nature would have been degrading.
In the end, you must have abandoned every effort to raise her to
your own level, and either have sunk to hers or made a rupture.
Who doesn't know the story of such attempts? I myself ten years
ago, was on the point of committing such a folly, but, Heaven be
praised! an accident saved me.'
'You never told me that story.'
'And don't care to now. I prefer to forget it.'
'Well, you can judge for yourself but not for me. Of course I
might have chosen the wrong girl, but I am supposing that I had
been fortunate. In any case there would have been a much better
chance than in the marriage that I made.'
'Your marriage was sensible enough, and a few years hence you
will be a happy man again.'
'You seriously think Amy will come back to me?'
'Of course I do.'
'Upon my word, I don't know that I desire it.'
'Because you are in a strangely unhealthy state.'
'I rather think I regard the matter more sanely than ever yet. I
am quite free from sexual bias. I can see that Amy was not my fit
intellectual companion, and all emotion at the thought of her has
gone from me. The word "love" is a weariness to me. If only our
idiotic laws permitted us to break the legal bond, how glad both
of us would be!'
'You are depressed and anaemic. Get yourself in flesh, and view
things like a man of this world.'
'But don't you think it the best thing that can happen to a man
if he outgrows passion?'
'In certain circumstances, no doubt.'
'In all and any. The best moments of life are those when we
contemplate beauty in the purely artistic spirit--objectively. I
have had such moments in Greece and Italy; times when I was a
free spirit, utterly remote from the temptations and harassings
of sexual emotion. What we call love is mere turmoil. Who
wouldn't release himself from it for ever, if the possibility
'Oh, there's a good deal to be said for that, of course.'
Reardon's face was illumined with the glow of an exquisite
'Haven't I told you,' he said, 'of that marvellous sunset at
Athens? I was on the Pnyx; had been rambling about there the
whole afternoon. For I dare say a couple of hours I had noticed a
growing rift of light in the clouds to the west; it looked as if
the dull day might have a rich ending. That rift grew broader and
brighter--the only bit of light in the sky. On Parnes there were
white strips of ragged mist, hanging very low; the same on
Hymettus, and even the peak of Lycabettus was just hidden. Of a
sudden, the sun's rays broke out. They showed themselves first in
a strangely beautiful way, striking from behind the seaward hills
through the pass that leads to Eleusis, and so gleaming on the
nearer slopes of Aigaleos, making the clefts black and the
rounded parts of the mountain wonderfully brilliant with golden
colour. All the rest of the landscape, remember, was untouched
with a ray of light. This lasted only a minute or two, then the
sun itself sank into the open patch of sky and shot glory in
every direction; broadening beams smote upwards over the dark
clouds, and made them a lurid yellow. To the left of the sun, the
gulf of Aegina was all golden mist, the islands floating in it
vaguely. To the right, over black Salamis, lay delicate strips of
pale blue--indescribably pale and delicate.'
'You remember it very clearly.'
'As if I saw it now! But wait. I turned eastward, and there to my
astonishment was a magnificent rainbow, a perfect semicircle,
stretching from the foot of Parnes to that of Hymettus, framing
Athens and its hills, which grew brighter and brighter--the
brightness for which there is no name among colours. Hymettus was
of a soft misty warmth, a something tending to purple, its ridges
marked by exquisitely soft and indefinite shadows, the rainbow
coming right down in front. The Acropolis simply glowed and
blazed. As the sun descended all these colours grew richer and
warmer; for a moment the landscape was nearly crimson. Then
suddenly the sun passed into the lower stratum of cloud, and the
splendour died almost at once, except that there remained the
northern half of the rainbow, which had become double. In the
west, the clouds were still glorious for a time; there were two
shaped like great expanded wings, edged with refulgence.'
'Stop!' cried Biffen, 'or I shall clutch you by the throat. I
warned you before that I can't stand those reminiscences.'
'Live in hope. Scrape together twenty pounds, and go there, if
you die of hunger afterwards.'
'I shall never have twenty shillings,' was the despondent answer.
'I feel sure you will sell "Mr Bailey."'
'It's kind of you to encourage me; but if "Mr Bailey" is ever
sold I don't mind undertaking to eat my duplicate of the proofs.'
'But now, you remember what led me to that. What does a man care
for any woman on earth when he is absorbed in contemplation of
'But it is only one of life's satisfactions.'
'I am only maintaining that it is the best, and infinitely
preferable to sexual emotion. It leaves, no doubt, no bitterness
of any kind. Poverty can't rob me of those memories. I have lived
in an ideal world that was not deceitful, a world which seems to
me, when I recall it, beyond the human sphere, bathed in diviner
It was four or five days after this that Reardon, on going to his
work in City Road, found a note from Carter. It requested him to
call at the main hospital at half-past eleven the next morning.
He supposed the appointment had something to do with his business
at Croydon, whither he had been in the mean time. Some
unfavourable news, perhaps; any misfortune was likely.
He answered the summons punctually, and on entering the general
office was requested by the clerk to wait in Mr Carter's private
room; the secretary had not yet arrived. His waiting lasted some
ten minutes, then the door opened and admitted, not Carter, but
Mrs Edmund Yule.
Reardon stood up in perturbation. He was anything but prepared,
or disposed, for an interview with this lady. She came towards
him with hand extended and a countenance of suave friendliness.
'I doubted whether you would see me if I let you know,' she said.
'Forgive me this little bit of scheming, will you? I have
something so very important to speak to you about.'
He said nothing, but kept a demeanour of courtesy.
'I think you haven't heard from Amy?' Mrs Yule asked.
'Not since I saw her.'
'And you don't know what has come to pass?'
'I have heard of nothing.'
'I am come to see you quite on my own responsibility, quite. I
took Mr Carter into my confidence, but begged him not to let Mrs
Carter know, lest she should tell Amy; I think he will keep his
promise. It seemed to me that it was really my duty to do
whatever I could in these sad, sad circumstances.'
Reardon listened respectfully, but without sign of feeling.
'I had better tell you at once that Amy's uncle at Wattleborough
is dead, and that in his will he has bequeathed her ten thousand
Mrs Yule watched the effect of this. For a moment none was
visible, but she saw at length that Reardon's lips trembled and
his eyebrows twitched.
'I am glad to hear of her good fortune,' he said distantly and in
'You will feel, I am sure,' continued his mother-in-law, 'that
this must put an end to your most unhappy differences.'
'How can it have that result?'
'It puts you both in a very different position, does it not? But
for your distressing circumstances, I am sure there would never
have been such unpleasantness--never. Neither you nor Amy is the
kind of person to take a pleasure in disagreement. Let me beg you
to go and see her again. Everything is so different now. Amy has
not the faintest idea that I have come to see you, and she
mustn't on any account be told, for her worst fault is that
sensitive pride of hers. And I'm sure you won't be offended,
Edwin, if I say that you have very much the same failing. Between
two such sensitive people differences might last a lifetime,
unless one could be persuaded to take the first step. Do be
generous! A woman is privileged to be a little obstinate, it is
always said. Overlook the fault, and persuade her to let bygones
There was an involuntary affectedness in Mrs Yule's speech which
repelled Reardon. He could not even put faith in her assurance
that Amy knew nothing of this intercession. In any case it was
extremely distasteful to him to discuss such matters with Mrs
'Under no circumstances could I do more than I already have
done,' he replied. 'And after what you have told me, it is
impossible for me to go and see her unless she expressly invites
'Oh, if only you would overcome this sensitiveness!'
'It is not in my power to do so. My poverty, as you justly say,
was the cause of our parting; but if Amy is no longer poor, that
is very far from a reason why I should go to her as a suppliant
'But do consider the facts of the case, independently of feeling.
I really think I don't go too far in saying that at least some--
some provocation was given by you first of all. I am so very,
very far from wishing to say anything disagreeable--I am sure you
feel that--but wasn't there some little ground for complaint on
Amy's part? Wasn't there, now?'
Reardon was tortured with nervousness. He wished to be alone, to
think over what had happened, and Mrs Yule's urgent voice rasped
upon his ears. Its very smoothness made it worse.
'There may have been ground for grief and concern,' he answered,
'but for complaint, no, I think not.'
'But I understand'--the voice sounded rather irritable now--'that
you positively reproached and upbraided her because she was
reluctant to go and live in some very shocking place.'
'I may have lost my temper after Amy had shown-- But I can't
review our troubles in this way.'
'Am I to plead in vain?'
'I regret very much that I can't possibly do as you wish. It is
all between Amy and myself. Interference by other people cannot
do any good.'
'I am sorry you should use such a word as "interference,"'
replied Mrs Yule, bridling a little. 'Very sorry, indeed. I
confess it didn't occur to me that my good-will to you could be
seen in that light.'
'Believe me that I didn't use the word offensively.'
'Then you refuse to take any step towards a restoration of good
'I am obliged to, and Amy would understand perfectly why I say
His earnestness was so unmistakable that Mrs Yule had no choice
but to rise and bring the interview to an end. She commanded
herself sufficiently to offer a regretful hand.
'I can only say that my daughter is very, very unfortunate.'
Reardon lingered a little after her departure, then left the
hospital and walked at a rapid pace in no particular direction.
Ah! if this had happened in the first year of his marriage, what
more blessed man than he would have walked the earth! But it came
after irreparable harm. No amount of wealth could undo the ruin
caused by poverty.
It was natural for him, as soon as he could think with
deliberation, to turn towards his only friend. But on calling at
the house in Clipstone Street he found the garret empty, and no
one could tell him when its occupant was likely to be back. He
left a note, and made his way back to Islington. The evening had
to be spent at the hospital, but on his return Biffen sat waiting
'You called about twelve, didn't you?' the visitor inquired.
'I was at the police-court. Odd thing--but it always happens so--
that I should have spoken of Sykes the other night. Last night I
came upon a crowd in Oxford Street, and the nucleus of it was no
other than Sykes himself very drunk and disorderly, in the grip
of two policemen. Nothing could be done for him; I was useless as
bail; he e'en had to sleep in the cell. But I went this morning
to see what would become of him. Such a spectacle when they
brought him forward! It was only five shillings fine, and to my
astonishment he produced the money. I joined him outside--it
required a little courage--and had a long talk with him. He's
writing a London Letter for some provincial daily, and the first
payment had thrown him off his balance.'
Reardon laughed gaily, and made inquiries about the eccentric
gentleman. Only when the subject was exhausted did he speak of
his own concerns, relating quietly what he had learnt from Mrs
Yule. Biffen's eyes widened.
'So,' Reardon cried with exultation, 'there is the last burden
off my mind! Henceforth I haven't a care! The only thing that
still troubled me was my inability to give Amy enough to live
upon. Now she is provided for in secula seculorum. Isn't this
'Decidedly. But if she is provided for, so are you.'
'Biffen, you know me better. Could I accept a farthing of her
money? This has made our coming together again for ever
impossible, unless--unless dead things can come to life. I know
the value of money, but I can't take it from Amy.'
The other kept silence.
'No! But now everything is well. She has her child, and can
devote herself to bringing the boy up. And I--but I shall be rich
on my own account. A hundred and fifty a year; it would be a
farce to offer Amy her share of it. By all the gods of Olympus,
we will go to Greece together, you and I!'
'I swear it! Let me save for a couple of years, and then get a
good month's holiday, or more if possible, and, as Pallas Athene
liveth! we shall find ourselves at Marseilles, going aboard some
boat of the Messageries. I can't believe yet that this is true.
Come, we will have a supper to-night. Come out into Upper Street,
and let us eat, drink, and be merry!'
'You are beside yourself. But never mind; let us rejoice by all
means. There's every reason.'
'That poor girl! Now, at last, she'll be at ease.'
'Amy, of course! I'm delighted on her account. Ah! but if it had
come a long time ago, in the happy days! Then she, too, would
have gone to Greece, wouldn't she? Everything in life comes too
soon or too late. What it would have meant for her and for me!
She would never have hated me then, never. Biffen, am I base or
contemptible? She thinks so. That's how poverty has served me. If
you had seen her, how she looked at me, when we met the other
day, you would understand well enough why I couldn't live with
her now, not if she entreated me to. That would make me base if
you like. Gods! how ashamed I should be if I yielded to such a
temptation! And once--'
He had worked himself to such intensity of feeling that at length
his voice choked and tears burst from his eyes.
'Come out, and let us have a walk,' said Biffen.
On leaving the house they found themselves in a thick fog,
through which trickled drops of warm rain. Nevertheless, they
pursued their purpose, and presently were seated in one of the
boxes of a small coffee-shop. Their only companion in the place
was a cab-driver, who had just finished a meal, and was now
nodding into slumber over his plate and cup. Reardon ordered
fried ham and eggs, the luxury of the poor, and when the
attendant woman was gone away to execute the order, he burst into
'Here we sit, two literary men! How should we be regarded by-- '
He named two or three of the successful novelists of the day.
'With what magnificent scorn they would turn from us and our
squalid feast! They have never known struggle; not they. They are
public-school men, University men, club men, society men. An
income of less than three or four hundred a year is inconceivable
to them; that seems the minimum for an educated man's support. It
would be small-minded to think of them with rancour, but, by
Apollo! I know that we should change places with them if the work
we have done were justly weighed against theirs.'
'What does it matter? We are different types of intellectual
workers. I think of them savagely now and then, but only when
hunger gets a trifle too keen. Their work answers a demand; ours-
-or mine at all events--doesn't. They are in touch with the
reading multitude; they have the sentiments of the respectable;
they write for their class. Well, you had your circle of readers,
and, if things hadn't gone against you, by this time you
certainly could have counted on your three or four hundred a
'It's unlikely that I should ever have got more than two hundred
pounds for a book; and, to have kept at my best, I must have been
content to publish once every two or three years. The position
was untenable with no private income. And I must needs marry a
wife of dainty instincts! What astounding impudence! No wonder
Fate pitched me aside into the gutter.'
They ate their ham and eggs, and exhilarated themselves with a
cup of chicory--called coffee. Then Biffen drew from the pocket
of his venerable overcoat the volume of Euripides he had brought,
and their talk turned once more to the land of the sun. Only when
the coffee-shop was closed did they go forth again into the foggy
street, and at the top of Pentonville Hill they stood for ten
minutes debating a metrical effect in one of the Fragments.
Day after day Reardon went about with a fever upon him. By
evening his pulse was always rapid, and no extremity of weariness
brought him a refreshing sleep. In conversation he seemed either
depressed or excited, more often the latter. Save when attending
to his duties at the hospital, he made no pretence of employing
himself; if at home, he sat for hours without opening a book, and
his walks, excepting when they led him to Clipstone Street, were
The hours of postal delivery found him waiting in an anguish of
suspense. At eight o'clock each morning he stood by his window,
listening for the postman's knock in the street. As it approached
he went out to the head of the stairs, and if the knock sounded
at the door of his house, he leaned over the banisters, trembling
in expectation. But the letter was never for him. When his
agitation had subsided he felt glad of the disappointment, and
laughed and sang.
One day Carter appeared at the City Road establishment, and made
an opportunity of speaking to his clerk in private.
'I suppose,' he said with a smile, 'they'll have to look out for
someone else at Croydon?'
'By no means! The thing is settled. I go at Christmas.'
'You really mean that?'
Seeing that Reardon was not disposed even to allude to private
circumstances, the secretary said no more, and went away
convinced that misfortunes had turned the poor fellow's brain.
Wandering in the city, about this time, Reardon encountered his
friend the realist.
'Would you like to meet Sykes?' asked Biffen. 'I am just going to
'Where does he live?'
'In some indiscoverable hole. To save fuel, he spends his
mornings at some reading-rooms; the admission is only a penny,
and there he can see all the papers and do his writing and enjoy
a grateful temperature.'
They repaired to the haunt in question. A flight of stairs
brought them to a small room in which were exposed the daily
newspapers; another ascent, and they were in a room devoted to
magazines, chess, and refreshments; yet another, and they reached
the department of weekly publications; lastly, at the top of the
house, they found a lavatory, and a chamber for the use of those
who desired to write. The walls of this last retreat were of blue
plaster and sloped inwards from the floor; along them stood
school desks with benches, and in one place was suspended a
ragged and dirty card announcing that paper and envelopes could
be purchased downstairs. An enormous basket full of waste-paper,
and a small stove, occupied two corners; ink blotches, satirical
designs, and much scribbling in pen and pencil served for mural
adornment. From the adjacent lavatory came sounds of splashing
and spluttering, and the busy street far below sent up its
Two persons only sat at the desks. One was a hunger-bitten, out-
of-work clerk, evidently engaged in replying to advertisements;
in front of him lay two or three finished letters, and on the
ground at his feet were several crumpled sheets of note-paper,
representing abortive essays in composition. The other man, also
occupied with the pen, looked about forty years old, and was clad
in a very rusty suit of tweeds; on the bench beside him lay a
grey overcoat and a silk hat which had for some time been
moulting. His face declared the habit to which he was a victim,
but it had nothing repulsive in its lineaments and expression; on
the contrary, it was pleasing, amiable, and rather quaint. At
this moment no one would have doubted his sobriety. With
coat-sleeve turned back, so as to give free play to his right
hand and wrist, revealing meanwhile a flannel shirt of singular
colour, and with his collar unbuttoned (he wore no tie) to leave
his throat at ease as he bent myopically over the paper, he was
writing at express speed, evidently in the full rush of the
ardour of composition. The veins of his forehead were dilated,
and his chin pushed forward in a way that made one think of a
'Are you too busy to talk?' asked Biffen, going to his side.
'I am! Upon my soul I am!' exclaimed the other looking up in
alarm. 'For the love of Heaven don't put me out! A quarter of an
'All right. I'll come up again.'
The friends went downstairs and turned over the papers.
'Now let's try him again,' said Biffen, when considerably more
than the requested time had elapsed. They went up, and found Mr
Sykes in an attitude of melancholy meditation. He had turned back
his coat sleeve, had buttoned his collar, and was eyeing the
slips of completed manuscript. Biffen presented his companion,
and Mr Sykes greeted the novelist with much geniality.
'What do you think this is?' he exclaimed, pointing to his work.
'The first instalment of my autobiography for the "Shropshire
Weekly Herald." Anonymous, of course, but strictly veracious,
with the omission of sundry little personal failings which are
nothing to the point. I call it "Through the Wilds of Literary
London." An old friend of mine edits the "Herald," and I'm
indebted to him for the suggestion.'
His voice was a trifle husky, but he spoke like a man of
'Most people will take it for fiction. I wish I had inventive
power enough to write fiction anything like it. I have published
novels, Mr Reardon, but my experience in that branch of
literature was peculiar --as I may say it has been in most others
to which I have applied myself. My first stories were written for
"The Young Lady's Favourite," and most remarkable productions
they were, I promise you. That was fifteen years ago, in the days
of my versatility. I could throw off my supplemental novelette of
fifteen thousand words without turning a hair, and immediately
after it fall to, fresh as a daisy, on the "Illustrated History
of the United States," which I was then doing for Edward Coghlan.
But presently I thought myself too good for the "Favourite"; in
an evil day I began to write three-volume novels, aiming at
reputation. It wouldn't do. I persevered for five years, and made
about five failures. Then I went back to Bowring. "Take me on
again, old man, will you?" Bowring was a man of few words; he
said, "Blaze away, my boy." And I tried to. But it was no use; I
had got out of the style; my writing was too literary by a long
chalk. For a whole year I deliberately strove to write badly, but
Bowring was so pained with the feebleness of my efforts that at
last he sternly bade me avoid his sight. "What the devil," he
roared one day, "do you mean by sending me stories about men and
women? You ought to know better than that, a fellow of your
experience!" So I had to give it up, and there was an end of my
career as a writer of fiction.'
He shook his head sadly.
'Biffen,' he continued, 'when I first made his acquaintance, had
an idea of writing for the working classes; and what do you think
he was going to offer them? Stories about the working classes!
Nay, never hang your head for it, old boy; it was excusable in
the days of your youth. Why, Mr Reardon, as no doubt you know
well enough, nothing can induce working men or women to read
stories that treat of their own world. They are the most consumed
idealists in creation, especially the women. Again and again
work-girls have said to me: "Oh, I don't like that book; it's
nothing but real life."'
'It's the fault of women in general,' remarked Reardon.
'So it is, but it comes out with delicious naivete in the working
classes. Now, educated people like to read of scenes that are
familiar to them, though I grant you that the picture must be
idealised if you're to appeal to more than one in a thousand. The
working classes detest anything that tries to represent their
daily life. It isn't because that life is too painful; no, no;
it's downright snobbishness. Dickens goes down only with the best
of them, and then solely because of his strength in farce and his
Presently the three went out together, and had dinner at an a la
mode beef shop. Mr Sykes ate little, but took copious libations
of porter at twopence a pint. When the meal was over he grew
'Can you walk westwards?' Biffen asked.
'I'm afraid not, afraid not. In fact I have an appointment at
two--at Aldgate station.'
They parted from him.
'Now he'll go and soak till he's unconscious,' said Biffen. 'Poor
fellow! Pity he ever earns anything at all. The workhouse would
be better, I should think.'
'No, no! Let a man drink himself to death rather. I have a horror
of the workhouse. Remember the clock at Marylebone I used to tell
'Unphilosophic. I don't think I should be unhappy in the
workhouse. I should have a certain satisfaction in the thought
that I had forced society to support me. And then the absolute
freedom from care! Why, it's very much the same as being a man of
It was about a week after this, midway in November, that there at
length came to Manville Street a letter addressed in Amy's hand.
It arrived at three one afternoon; Reardon heard the postman, but
he had ceased to rush out on every such occasion, and to-day he
was feeling ill. Lying upon the bed, he had just raised his head
wearily when he became aware that someone was mounting to his
room. He sprang up, his face and neck flushing.
This time Amy began 'Dear Edwin'; the sight of those words made
his brain swim.
'You must, of course, have heard [she wrote] that my uncle John
has left me ten thousand pounds. It has not yet come into my
possession, and I had decided that I would not write to you till
that happened, but perhaps you may altogether misunderstand my
'If this money had come to me when you were struggling so hard to
earn a living for us, we should never have spoken the words and
thought the thoughts which now make it so difficult for me to
write to you. What I wish to say is that, although the property
is legally my own, I quite recognise that you have a right to
share in it. Since we have lived apart you have sent me far more
than you could really afford, believing it your duty to do so;
now that things are so different I wish you, as well as myself,
to benefit by the change.
'I said at our last meeting that I should be quite prepared to
return to you if you took that position at Croydon. There is now
no need for you to pursue a kind of work for which you are quite
unfitted, and I repeat that I am willing to live with you as
before. If you will tell me where you would like to make a new
home I shall gladly agree. I do not think you would care to leave
London permanently, and certainly I should not.
'Please to let me hear from you as soon as possible. In writing
like this I feel that I have done what you expressed a wish that
I should do. I have asked you to put an end to our separation,
and I trust that I have not asked in vain.
The letter fell from his hand. It was such a letter as he might
have expected, but the beginning misled him, and as his agitation
throbbed itself away he suffered an encroachment of despair which
made him for a time unable to move or even think.
His reply, written by the dreary twilight which represented
sunset, ran thus.
'Dear Amy,--I thank you for your letter, and I appreciate your
motive in writing it. But if you feel that you have "done what I
expressed a wish that you should do," you must have strangely
'The only one thing that I wished was, that by some miracle your
love for me might be revived. Can I persuade myself that this is
the letter of a wife who desires to return to me because in her
heart she loves me? If that is the truth you have been most
unfortunate in trying to express yourself.
'You have written because it seemed your duty to do so. But,
indeed, a sense of duty such as this is a mistaken one. You have
no love for me, and where there is no love there is no mutual
obligation in marriage. Perhaps you think that regard for social
conventions will necessitate your living with me again. But have
more courage; refuse to act falsehoods; tell society it is base
and brutal, and that you prefer to live an honest life.
'I cannot share your wealth, dear. But as you have no longer need
of my help--as we are now quite independent of each other--I
shall cease to send the money which hitherto I have considered
yours. In this way I shall have enough, and more than enough, for
my necessities, so that you will never have to trouble yourself
with the thought that I am suffering privations. At Christmas I
go to Croydon, and I will then write to you again.
'For we may at all events be friendly. My mind is relieved from
ceaseless anxiety on your account. I know now that you are safe
from that accursed poverty which is to blame for all our
sufferings. You I do not blame, though I have sometimes done so.
My own experience teaches me how kindness can be embittered by
misfortune. Some great and noble sorrow may have the effect of
drawing hearts together, but to struggle against destitution, to
be crushed by care about shillings and sixpences--that must
'No other reply than this is possible, so I beg you not to write
in this way again. Let me know if you go to live elsewhere. I
hope Willie is well, and that his growth is still a delight and
happiness to you.
That one word 'dear,' occurring in the middle of the letter, gave
him pause as he read the lines over. Should he not obliterate it,
and even in such a way that Amy might see what he had done? His
pen was dipped in the ink for that purpose, but after all he held
his hand. Amy was still dear to him, say what he might, and if
she noted the word--if she pondered over it--
A street gas lamp prevented the room from becoming absolutely
dark. When he had closed the envelope he lay down on his bed
again, and watched the flickering yellowness upon the ceiling. He
ought to have some tea before going to the hospital, but he cared
so little for it that the trouble of boiling water was too great.
The flickering light grew fainter; he understood at length that
this was caused by fog that had begun to descend. The fog was his
enemy; it would be wise to purchase a respirator if this hideous
weather continued, for sometimes his throat burned, and there was
a rasping in his chest which gave disagreeable admonition.
He fell asleep for half an hour, and on awaking he was feverish,
as usual at this time of day. Well, it was time to go to his
work. Ugh! That first mouthful of fog!
CHAPTER XXVIII. INTERIM
The rooms which Milvain had taken for himself and his sisters
were modest, but more expensive than their old quarters. As the
change was on his account he held himself responsible for the
extra outlay. But for his immediate prospects this step would
have been unwarrantable, as his earnings were only just
sufficient for his needs on the previous footing. He had resolved
that his marriage must take place before Christmas; till that
event he would draw when necessary upon the girls' little store,
and then repay them out of Marian's dowry.
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