Alfred Yule's behaviour under his disappointment seemed to prove that even for him the uses of adversity could be sweet. On the day after his return home he displayed a most unwonted mildness in such remarks as he addressed to his wife, and his bearing towards Marian was gravely gentle. At meals he conversed, or rather monologised, on literary topics, with occasionally one of his grim jokes, pointed for Marian's appreciation. He became aware that the girl had been overtaxing her strength of late, and suggested a few weeks of recreation among new novels. The coldness and gloom which had possessed him when he made a formal announcement of the news appeared to have given way before the sympathy manifested by his wife and daughter; he was now sorrowful, but resigned.
He explained to Marian the exact nature of her legacy. It was to be paid out of her uncle's share in a wholesale stationery business, with which John Yule had been connected for the last twenty years, but from which he had not long ago withdrawn a large portion of his invested capital. This house was known as 'Turberville & Co.,' a name which Marian now heard for the first time.
'I knew nothing of his association with them,' said her father. 'They tell me that seven or eight thousand pounds will be realised from that source; it seems a pity that the investment was not left to you intact. Whether there will be any delay in withdrawing the money I can't say.
The executors were two old friends of the deceased, one of them a former partner in his paper-making concern.
On the evening of the second day, about an hour after dinner was over, Mr Hinks called at the house; as usual, he went into the study. Before long came a second visitor, Mr Quarmby, who joined Yule and Hinks. The three had all sat together for some time, when Marian, who happened to be coming down stairs, saw her father at the study door.
'Ask your mother to let us have some supper at a quarter to ten,' he said urbanely. 'And come in, won't you? We are only gossiping.'
It had not often happened that Marian was invited to join parties of this kind.
'Do you wish me to come?' she asked.
'Yes, I should like you to, if you have nothing particular to do.'
Marian informed Mrs Yule that the visitors would have supper, and then went to the study. Mr Quarmby was smoking a pipe; Mr Hinks, who on grounds of economy had long since given up tobacco, sat with his hands in his trouser pockets, and his long, thin legs tucked beneath the chair; both rose and greeted Marian with more than ordinary warmth.
'Will you allow me five or six more puffs?' asked Mr Quarmby, laying one hand on his ample stomach and elevating his pipe as if it were a glass of beaded liquor. 'I shall then have done.'
'As many more as you like,' Marian replied.
The easiest chair was placed for her, Mr Hinks hastening to perform this courtesy, and her father apprised her of the topic they were discussing.
'What's your view, Marian? Is there anything to be said for the establishment of a literary academy in England?'
Mr Quarmby beamed benevolently upon her, and Mr Hinks, his scraggy neck at full length, awaited her reply with a look of the most respectful attention.
'I really think we have quite enough literary quarrelling as it is,' the girl replied, casting down her eyes and smiling.
Mr Quarmby uttered a hollow chuckle, Mr Hinks laughed thinly and exclaimed, 'Very good indeed! Very good!' Yule affected to applaud with impartial smile.
'It wouldn't harmonise with the Anglo-Saxon spirit,' remarked Mr Hinks, with an air of diffident profundity.
Yule held forth on the subject for a few minutes in laboured phrases. Presently the conversation turned to periodicals, and the three men were unanimous in an opinion that no existing monthly or quarterly could be considered as representing the best literary opinion.
'We want,' remarked Mr Quarmby, 'we want a monthly review which shall deal exclusively with literature. The Fortnightly, the Contemporary -- they are very well in their way, but then they are mere miscellanies. You will find one solid literary article amid a confused mass of politics and economics and general clap-trap.'
'Articles on the currency and railway statistics and views of evolution,' said Mr Hinks, with a look as if something were grating between his teeth.
'The quarterlies?' put in Yule. 'Well, the original idea of the quarterlies was that there are not enough important books published to occupy solid reviewers more than four times a year. That may be true, but then a literary monthly would include much more than professed reviews. Hinks's essays on the historical drama would have come out in it very well; or your "Spanish Poets," Quarmby.'
'I threw out the idea to Jedwood the other day,' said Mr Quarmby, 'and he seemed to nibble at it.'
'Yes, yes,' came from Yule; 'but Jedwood has so many irons in the fire. I doubt if he has the necessary capital at command just now. No doubt he's the man, if some capitalist would join him.'
'No enormous capital needed,' opined Mr Quarmby. 'The thing would pay its way almost from the first. It would take a place between the literary weeklies and the quarterlies. The former are too academic, the latter too massive, for multitudes of people who yet have strong literary tastes. Foreign publications should be liberally dealt with. But, as Hinks says, no meddling with the books that are no books -- biblia abiblia; nothing about essays on bimetallism and treatises for or against vaccination.'
Even here, in the freedom of a friend's study, he laughed his Reading-room laugh, folding both hands upon his expansive waistcoat.
'Fiction? I presume a serial of the better kind might be admitted?' said Yule.
'That would be advisable, no doubt. But strictly of the better kind.'
'Oh, strictly of the better kind,' chimed in Mr Hinks.
They pursued the discussion as if they were an editorial committee planning a review of which the first number was shortly to appear. It occupied them until Mrs Yule announced at the door that supper was ready.
During the meal Marian found herself the object of unusual attention; her father troubled to inquire if the cut of cold beef he sent her was to her taste, and kept an eye on her progress. Mr Hinks talked to her in a tone of respectful sympathy, and Mr Quarmby was paternally jovial when he addressed her. Mrs Yule would have kept silence, in her ordinary way, but this evening her husband made several remarks which he had adapted to her intellect, and even showed that a reply would be graciously received.
Mother and daughter remained together when the men withdrew to their tobacco and toddy. Neither made allusion to the wonderful change, but they talked more light-heartedly than for a long time.
On the morrow Yule began by consulting Marian with regard to the disposition of matter in an essay he was writing. What she said he weighed carefully, and seemed to think that she had set his doubts at rest.
'Poor old Hinks!' he said presently, with a sigh. 'Breaking up, isn't he? He positively totters in his walk. I'm afraid he's the kind of man to have a paralytic stroke; it wouldn't astonish me to hear at any moment that he was lying helpless.'
'What ever would become of him in that case?'
'Goodness knows! One might ask the same of so many of us. What would become of me, for instance, if I were incapable of work?'
Marian could make no reply.
'There's something I'll just mention to you,' he went on in a lowered tone, 'though I don't wish you to take it too seriously. I'm beginning to have a little trouble with my eyes.'
She looked at him, startled.
'With your eyes?'
'Nothing, I hope; but -- well, I think I shall see an oculist. One doesn't care to face a prospect of failing sight, perhaps of cataract, or something of that kind; still, it's better to know the facts, I should say.'
'By all means go to an oculist,' said Marian, earnestly.
'Don't disturb yourself about it. It may be nothing at all. But in any case I must change my glasses.'
He rustled over some slips of manuscript, whilst Marian regarded him anxiously.
'Now, I appeal to you, Marian,' he continued: 'could I possibly save money out of an income that has never exceeded two hundred and fifty pounds, and often -- I mean even in latter years -- has been much less?'
'I don't see how you could.'
'In one way, of course, I have managed it. My life is insured for five hundred pounds. But that is no provision for possible disablement. If I could no longer earn money with my pen, what would become of me?'
Marian could have made an encouraging reply, but did not venture to utter her thoughts.
'Sit down,' said her father. 'You are not to work for a few days, and I myself shall be none the worse for a morning's rest. Poor old Hinks! I suppose we shall help him among us, somehow. Quarmby, of course, is comparatively flourishing. Well, we have been companions for a quarter of a century, we three. When I first met Quarmby I was a Grub Street gazetteer, and I think he was even poorer than I. A life of toil! A life of toil!'
'That it has been, indeed.'
'By-the-bye' -- he threw an arm over the back of his chair -- 'what did you think of our imaginary review, the thing we were talking about last night?'
'There are so many periodicals,' replied Marian, doubtfully. 'So many? My dear child, if we live another ten years we shall see the number trebled.'
'Is it desirable?'
'That there should be such growth of periodicals? Well, from one point of view, no. No doubt they take up the time which some people would give to solid literature. But, on the other hand, there's a far greater number of people who would probably not read at all, but for the temptations of these short and new articles; and they may be induced to pass on to substantial works. Of course it all depends on the quality of the periodical matter you offer. Now, magazines like' -- he named two or three of popular stamp -- 'might very well be dispensed with, unless one regards them as an alternative to the talking of scandal or any other vicious result of total idleness. But such a monthly as we projected would be of distinct literary value. There can be no doubt that someone or other will shortly establish it.'
'I am afraid,' said Marian, 'I haven't so much sympathy with literary undertakings as you would like me to have.'
Money is a great fortifier of self-respect. Since she had become really conscious of her position as the owner of five thousand pounds, Marian spoke with a steadier voice, walked with firmer step; mentally she felt herself altogether a less dependent being. She might have confessed this lukewarmness towards literary enterprise in the anger which her father excited eight or nine days ago, but at that time she could not have uttered her opinion calmly, deliberately, as now. The smile which accompanied the words was also new; it signified deliverance from pupilage.
'I have felt that,' returned her father, after a slight pause to command his voice, that it might be suave instead of scornful. 'I greatly fear that I have made your life something of a martyrdom ----'
'Don't think I meant that, father. I am speaking only of the general question. I can't be quite so zealous as you are, that's all. I love books, but I could wish people were content for a while with those we already have.'
'My dear Marian, don't suppose that I am out of sympathy with you here. Alas! how much of my work has been mere drudgery, mere labouring for a livelihood! How gladly I would have spent much more of my time among the great authors, with no thought of making money of them! If I speak approvingly of a scheme for a new periodical, it is greatly because of my necessities.'
He paused and looked at her. Marian returned the look.
'You would of course write for it,' she said.
'Marian, why shouldn't I edit it? Why shouldn't it be your property?',
'My property ----?'
She checked a laugh. There came into her mind a more disagreeable suspicion than she had ever entertained of her father. Was this the meaning of his softened behaviour? Was he capable of calculated hypocrisy? That did not seem consistent with his character, as she knew it.
'Let us talk it over,' said Yule. He was in visible agitation and his voice shook. 'The idea may well startle you at first. It will seem to you that I propose to make away with your property before you have even come into possession of it.' He laughed. 'But, in fact, what I have in mind is merely an investment for your capital, and that an admirable one. Five thousand pounds at three per cent. -- one doesn't care to reckon on more -- represents a hundred and fifty a year. Now, there can be very little doubt that, if it were invested in literary property such as I have in mind, it would bring you five times that interest, and before long perhaps much more. Of course I am now speaking in the roughest outline. I should have to get trustworthy advice; complete and detailed estimates would be submitted to you. At present I merely suggest to you this form of investment.'
He watched her face eagerly, greedily. When Marian's eyes rose to his he looked away.
'Then, of course,' she said, 'you don't expect me to give any decided answer.'
'Of course not -- of course not. I merely put before you the chief advantages of such an investment. As I am a selfish old fellow, I'll talk about the benefit to myself first of all. I should be editor of the new review; I should draw a stipend sufficient to all my needs -- quite content, at first, to take far less than another man would ask, and to progress with the advance of the periodical. This position would enable me to have done with mere drudgery; I should only write when I felt called to do so -- when the spirit moved me.' Again he laughed, as though desirous of keeping his listener in good humour. 'My eyes would be greatly spared henceforth.'
He dwelt on that point, waiting its effect on Marian. As she said nothing he proceeded:
'And suppose I really were doomed to lose my sight in the course of a few years, am I wrong in thinking that the proprietor of this periodical would willingly grant a small annuity to the man who had firmly established it?'
'I see the force of all that,' said Marian; 'but it takes for granted that the periodical will be successful.'
'It does. In the hands of a publisher like Jedwood -- a vigorous man of the new school -- its success could scarcely be doubtful.'
'Do you think five thousand pounds would be enough to start such a review?'
'Well, I can say nothing definite on that point. For one thing, the coat must be made according to the cloth; expenditure can be largely controlled without endangering success. Then again, I think Jedwood would take a share in the venture. These are details. At present I only want to familiarise you with the thought that an investment of this sort will very probably offer itself to you.'
'It would be better if we called it a speculation,' said Marian, smiling uneasily.
Her one object at present was to oblige her father to understand that the suggestion by no means lured her. She could not tell him that what he proposed was out of the question, though as yet that was the light in which she saw it. His subtlety of approach had made her feel justified in dealing with him in a matter-of-fact way. He must see that she was not to be cajoled. Obviously, and in the nature of the case, he was urging a proposal in which he himself had all faith; but Marian knew his judgment was far from infallible. It mitigated her sense of behaving unkindly to reflect that in all likelihood this disposal of her money would be the worst possible for her own interests, and therefore for his. If, indeed, his dark forebodings were warranted, then upon her would fall the care of him, and the steadiness with which she faced that responsibility came from a hope of which she could not speak.
'Name it as you will,' returned her father, hardly suppressing a note of irritation. 'True, every commercial enterprise is a speculation. But let me ask you one question, and beg you to reply frankly. Do you distrust my ability to conduct this periodical?'
She did. She knew that he was not in touch with the interests of the day, and that all manner of considerations akin to the prime end of selling his review would make him an untrustworthy editor. But how could she tell him this?
'My opinion would be worthless,' she replied.
'If Jedwood were disposed to put confidence in me, you also would?'
'There's no need to talk of that now, father. Indeed, I can't say anything that would sound like a promise.'
He flashed a glance at her. Then she was more than doubtful?
'But you have no objection, Marian, to talk in a friendly way of a project that would mean so much to me?'
'But I am afraid to encourage you,' she replied, frankly. 'It is impossible for me to say whether I can do as you wish, or not.'
'Yes, yes; I perfectly understand that. Heaven forbid that I should regard you as a child to be led independently of your own views and wishes! With so large a sum of money at stake, it would be monstrous if I acted rashly, and tried to persuade you to do the same. The matter will have to be most gravely considered.'
'Yes.' She spoke mechanically.
'But if only it should come to something! You don't know what it would mean to me, Marian.'
'Yes, father; I know very well how you think and feel about it.'
'Do you?' He leaned forward, his features working under stress of emotion. 'If I could see myself the editor of an influential review, all my bygone toils and sufferings would be as nothing; I should rejoice in them as the steps to this triumph. Meminisse juvabit! My dear, I am not a man fitted for subordinate places. My nature is framed for authority. The failure of all my undertakings rankles so in my heart that sometimes I feel capable of every brutality, every meanness, every hateful cruelty. To you I have behaved shamefully. Don't interrupt me, Marian. I have treated you abominably, my child, my dear daughter -- and all the time with a full sense of what I was doing. That's the punishment of faults such as mine. I hate myself for every harsh word and angry look I have given you; at the time, I hated myself!'
'No, no; let me speak, Marian. You have forgiven me; I know it. You were always ready to forgive, dear. Can I ever forget that evening when I spoke like a brute, and you came afterwards and addressed me as if the wrong had been on your side? It burns in my memory. It wasn't I who spoke; it was the demon of failure, of humiliation. My enemies sit in triumph, and scorn at me; the thought of it is infuriating. Have I deserved this? Am I the inferior of -- of those men who have succeeded and now try to trample on me? No! I am not! I have a better brain and a better heart!'
Listening to this strange outpouring, Marian more than forgave the hypocrisy of the last day or two. Nay, could it be called hypocrisy? It was only his better self declared at the impulse of a passionate hope.
'Why should you think so much of these troubles, father? Is it such a great matter that narrow-minded people triumph over you?'
'Narrow-minded?' He clutched at the word. 'You admit they are that?'
'I feel very sure that Mr Fadge is.'
'Then you are not on his side against me?'
'How could you suppose such a thing?'
'Well, well; we won't talk of that. Perhaps it isn't a great matter. No -- from a philosophical point of view, such things are unspeakably petty. But I am not much of a philosopher.' He laughed, with a break in his voice. 'Defeat in life is defeat, after all; and unmerited failure is a bitter curse. You see, I am not too old to do something yet. My sight is failing, but I can take care of it. If I had my own review, I would write every now and then a critical paper in my very best style. You remember poor old Hinks's note about me in his book? We laughed at it, but he wasn't so far wrong. I have many of those qualities. A man is conscious of his own merits as well as of his defects. I have done a few admirable things. You remember my paper on Lord Herbert of Cherbury? No one ever wrote a more subtle piece of criticism; but it was swept aside among the rubbish of the magazines. And it's just because of my pungent phrases that I have excited so much enmity. Wait! Wait! Let me have my own review, and leisure, and satisfaction of mind -- heavens! what I will write! How I will scarify!'
'That is unworthy of you. How much better to ignore your enemies! In such a position, I should carefully avoid every word that betrayed personal feeling.'
'Well, well; you are of course right, my good girl. And I believe I should do injustice to myself if I made you think that those ignoble motives are the strongest in me. No; it isn't so. From my boyhood I have had a passionate desire of literary fame, deep down below all the surface faults of my character. The best of my life has gone by, and it drives me to despair when I feel that I have not gained the position due to me. There is only one way of doing this now, and that is by becoming the editor of an important periodical. Only in that way shall I succeed in forcing people to pay attention to my claims. Many a man goes to his grave unrecognised, just because he has never had a fair judgment. Nowadays it is the unscrupulous men of business who hold the attention of the public; they blow their trumpets so loudly that the voices of honest men have no chance of being heard.'
Marian was pained by the humility of his pleading with her -- for what was all this but an endeavour to move her sympathies? -- and by the necessity she was under of seeming to turn a deaf ear. She believed that there was some truth in his estimate of his own powers; though as an editor he would almost certainly fail, as a man of letters he had probably done far better work than some who had passed him by on their way to popularity. Circumstances might enable her to assist him, though not in the way he proposed. The worst of it was that she could not let him see what was in her mind. He must think that she was simply balancing her own satisfaction against his, when in truth she suffered from the conviction that to yield would be as unwise in regard to her father's future as it would be perilous to her own prospect of happiness.
'Shall we leave this to be talked of when the money has been paid over to me?' she said, after a silence.
'Yes. Don't suppose I wish to influence you by dwelling on my own hardships. That would be contemptible. I have only taken this opportunity of making myself better known to you. I don't readily talk of myself and in general my real feelings are hidden by the faults of my temper. In suggesting how you could do me a great service, and at the same time reap advantage for yourself I couldn't but remember how little reason you have to think kindly of me. But we will postpone further talk. You will think over what I have said?'
Marian promised that she would, and was glad to bring the conversation to an end.
When Sunday came, Yule inquired of his daughter if she had any engagement for the afternoon.
'Yes, I have,' she replied, with an effort to disguise her embarrassment.
'I'm sorry. I thought of asking you to come with me to Quarmby's. Shall you be away through the evening?'
'Till about nine o'clock, I think.'
'Ah! Never mind, never mind.'
He tried to dismiss the matter as if it were of no moment, but Marian saw the shadow that passed over his countenance. This was just after breakfast. For the remainder of the morning she did not meet him, and at the mid-day dinner he was silent, though he brought no book to the table with him, as he was wont to do when in his dark moods. Marian talked with her mother, doing her best to preserve the appearance of cheerfulness which was natural since the change in Yule's demeanour.
She chanced to meet her father in the passage just as she was going out. He smiled (it was more like a grin of pain) and nodded, but said nothing.
When the front door closed, he went into the parlour. Mrs Yule was reading, or, at all events, turning over a volume of an illustrated magazine.
'Where do you suppose she has gone?' he asked, in a voice which was only distant, not offensive.
'To the Miss Milvains, I believe,' Mrs Yule answered, looking aside.
'Did she tell you so?'
'No. We don't talk about it.'
He seated himself on the corner of a chair and bent forward, his chin in his hand.
'Has she said anything to you about the review?'
'Not a word.'
She glanced at him timidly, and turned a few pages of her book.
'I wanted her to come to Quarmby's, because there'll be a man there who is anxious that Jedwood should start a magazine, and it would be useful for her to hear practical opinions. There'd be no harm if you just spoke to her about it now and then. Of course if she has made up her mind to refuse me it's no use troubling myself any more. I should think you might find out what's really going on.'
Only dire stress of circumstances could have brought Alfred Yule to make distinct appeal for his wife's help. There was no underhand plotting between them to influence their daughter; Mrs Yule had as much desire for the happiness of her husband as for that of Marian, but she felt powerless to effect anything on either side.
'If ever she says anything, I'll let you know.'
'But it seems to me that you have a right to question her.'
'I can't do that, Alfred.'
'Unfortunately, there are a good many things you can't do.' With that remark, familiar to his wife in substance, though the tone of it was less caustic than usual, he rose and sauntered from the room. He spent a gloomy hour in the study, then went off to join the literary circle at Mr Quarmby's.
Occasionally Milvain met his sisters as they came out of church on Sunday morning, and walked home to have dinner with them. He did so to-day, though the sky was cheerless and a strong north-west wind made it anything but agreeable to wait about in open spaces.
'Are you going to Mrs Wright's this afternoon?' he asked, as they went on together.
'I thought of going,' replied Maud. 'Marian will be with Dora.'
'You ought both to go. You mustn't neglect that woman.'
He said nothing more just then, but when presently he was alone with Dora in the sitting-room for a few minutes, he turned with a peculiar smile and remarked quietly:
'I think you had better go with Maud this afternoon.'
'But I can't. I expect Marian at three.'
'That's just why I want you to go.
She looked her surprise.
'I want to have a talk with Marian. We'll manage it in this way. At a quarter to three you two shall start, and as you go out you can tell the landlady that if Miss Yule comes she is to wait for you, as you won't be long. She'll come upstairs, and I shall be there. You see?'
Dora turned half away, disturbed a little, but not displeased.
'And what about Miss Rupert?' she asked.
'Oh, Miss Rupert may go to Jericho for all I care. I'm in a magnanimous mood.'
'Very, I've no doubt.'
'Well, you'll do this? One of the results of poverty, you see; one can't even have a private conversation with a friend without plotting to get the use of a room. But there shall be an end of this state of things.'
He nodded significantly. Thereupon Dora left the room to speak with her sister.
The device was put into execution, and Jasper saw his sisters depart knowing that they were not likely to return for some three hours. He seated himself comfortably by the fire and mused. Five minutes had hardly gone by when he looked at his watch, thinking Marian must be unpunctual. He was nervous, though he had believed himself secure against such weakness. His presence here with the purpose he had in his mind seemed to him distinctly a concession to impulses he ought to have controlled; but to this resolve he had come, and it was now too late to recommence the arguments with himself. Too late? Well, not strictly so; he had committed himself to nothing; up to the last moment of freedom he could always ----
That was doubtless Marian's knock at the front door. He jumped up, walked the length of the room, sat down on another chair, returned to his former seat. Then the door opened and Marian came in.
She was not surprised; the landlady had mentioned to her that Mr Milvain was upstairs, waiting the return of his sisters.
'I am to make 'Dora's excuses,' Jasper said. 'She begged you would forgive her -- that you would wait.'
'And you were to be sure to take off your hat,' he added in a laughing tone; 'and to let me put your umbrella in the corner -- like that.'
He had always admired the shape of Marian's head, and the beauty of her short, soft, curly hair. As he watched her uncovering it, he was pleased with the grace of her arms and the pliancy of her slight figure.
'Which is usually your chair?'
'I'm sure I don't know.'
'When one goes to see a friend frequently, one gets into regular habits in these matters. In Biffen's garret I used to have the most uncomfortable chair it was ever my lot to sit upon; still, I came to feel an affection for it. At Reardon's I always had what was supposed to be the most luxurious seat, but it was too small for me, and I eyed it resentfully on sitting down and rising.'
'Have you any news about the Reardons?'
'Yes. I am told that Reardon has had the offer of a secretaryship to a boys' home, or something of the kind, at Croydon. But I suppose there'll be no need for him to think of that now.'
'Oh there's no saying.'
'Why should he do work of that kind now?'
'Perhaps his wife will tell him that she wants her money all for herself.'
Marian laughed. It was very rarely that Jasper had heard her laugh at all, and never so spontaneously as this. He liked the music.
'You haven't a very good opinion of Mrs Reardon,' she said.
'She is a difficult person to judge. I never disliked her, by any means; but she was decidedly out of place as the wife of a struggling author. Perhaps I have been a little prejudiced against her since Reardon quarrelled with me on her account.'
Marian was astonished at this unlooked-for explanation of the rupture between Milvain and his friend. That they had not seen each other for some months she knew from Jasper himself but no definite cause had been assigned.
'I may as well let you know all about it,' Milvain continued, seeing that he had disconcerted the girl, as he meant to. 'I met Reardon not long after they had parted, and he charged me with being in great part the cause of his troubles.'
The listener did not raise her eyes.
'You would never imagine what my fault was. Reardon declared that the tone of my conversation had been morally injurious to his wife. He said I was always glorifying worldly success, and that this had made her discontented with her lot. Sounds rather ludicrous, don't you think?'
'It was very strange.'
'Reardon was in desperate earnest, poor fellow. And, to tell you the truth, I fear there may have been something in his complaint. I told him at once that I should henceforth keep away from Mrs Edmund Yule's; and so I have done, with the result, of course, that they suppose I condemn Mrs Reardon's behaviour. The affair was a nuisance, but I had no choice, I think.'
'You say that perhaps your talk really was harmful to her.'
'It may have been, though such a danger never occurred to me.'
'Then Amy must be very weak-minded.'
'To be influenced by such a paltry fellow?'
'To be influenced by anyone in such a way.'
'You think the worse of me for this story?' Jasper asked.
'I don't quite understand it. How did you talk to her?'
'As I talk to everyone. You have heard me say the same things many a time. I simply declare my opinion that the end of literary work -- unless one is a man of genius -- is to secure comfort and repute. This doesn't seem to me very scandalous. But Mrs Reardon was perhaps too urgent in repeating such views to her husband. She saw that in my case they were likely to have solid results, and it was a misery to her that Reardon couldn't or wouldn't work in the same practical way.
'It was very unfortunate.'
'And you are inclined to blame me?'
'No; because I am so sure that you only spoke in the way natural to you, without a thought of such consequences.'
'That's precisely the truth. Nearly all men who have their way to make think as I do, but most feel obliged to adopt a false tone, to talk about literary conscientiousness, and so on. I simply say what I think, with no pretences. I should like to be conscientious, but it's a luxury I can't afford. I've told you all this often enough, you know.'
'But it hasn't been morally injurious to you,' he said with a laugh.
'Not at all. Still I don't like it.'
Jasper was startled. He gazed at her. Ought he, then, to have dealt with her less frankly? Had he been mistaken in thinking that the unusual openness of his talk was attractive to her? She spoke with quite unaccustomed decision; indeed, he had noticed from her entrance that there was something unfamiliar in her way of conversing. She was so much more self-possessed than of wont, and did not seem to treat him with the same deference, the same subdual of her own personality.
'You don't like it?' he repeated calmly. 'It has become rather tiresome to you?'
'I feel sorry that you should always represent yourself in an unfavourable light.'
He was an acute man, but the self-confidence with which he had entered upon this dialogue, his conviction that he had but to speak when he wished to receive assurance of Marian's devotion, prevented him from understanding the tone of independence she had suddenly adopted. With more modesty he would have felt more subtly at this juncture, would have divined that the girl had an exquisite pleasure in drawing back now that she saw him approaching her with unmistakable purpose, that she wished to be wooed in less off-hand fashion before confessing what was in her heart. For the moment he was disconcerted. Those last words of hers had a slight tone of superiority, the last thing he would have expected upon her lips.
'Yet I surely haven't always appeared so -- to you?' he said.
'No, not always.'
'But you are in doubt concerning the real man?'
'I'm not sure that I understand you. You say that you do really think as you speak.'
'So I do. I think that there is no choice for a man who can't bear poverty. I have never said, though, that I had pleasure in mean necessities; I accept them because I can't help it.'
It was a delight to Marian to observe the anxiety with which he turned to self-defence. Never in her life had she felt this joy of holding a position of command. It was nothing to her that Jasper valued her more because of her money; impossible for it to be otherwise. Satisfied that he did value her, to begin with, for her own sake, she was very willing to accept money as her ally in the winning of his love. He scarcely loved her yet, as she understood the feeling, but she perceived her power over him, and passion taught her how to exert it.
'But you resign yourself very cheerfully to the necessity,' she said, looking at him with merely intellectual eyes.
'You had rather I lamented my fate in not being able to devote myself to nobly unremunerative work?'
There was a note of irony here. It caused her a tremor, but she held her position.
'That you never do so would make one think -- but I won't speak unkindly.'
'That I neither care for good work nor am capable of it,' Jasper finished her sentence. 'I shouldn't have thought it would make you think so.'
Instead of replying she turned her look towards the door. There was a footstep on the stairs, but it passed.
'I thought it might be Dora,' she said.
'She won't be here for another couple of hours at least,' replied Jasper with a slight smile.
'But you said ----?'
'I sent her to Mrs Boston Wright's that I might have an opportunity of talking to you. Will you forgive the stratagem?'
Marian resumed her former attitude, the faintest smile hovering about her lips.
'I'm glad there's plenty of time,' he continued. 'I begin to suspect that you have been misunderstanding me of late. I must set that right.'
'I don't think I have misunderstood you.'
'That may mean something very disagreeable. I know that some people whom I esteem have a very poor opinion of me, but I can't allow you to be one of them. What do I seem to you? What is the result on your mind of all our conversations?'
'I have already told you.'
'Not seriously. Do you believe I am capable of generous feeling?'
'To say no, would be to put you in the lowest class of men, and that a very small one.'
'Good! Then I am not among the basest. But that doesn't give me very distinguished claims upon your consideration. Whatever I am, I am high in some of my ambitions.'
'Which of them?'
'For instance, I have been daring enough to hope that you might love me.'
Marian delayed for a moment, then said quietly:
'Why do you call that daring?'
'Because I have enough of old-fashioned thought to believe that a woman who is worthy of a man's love is higher than he, and condescends in giving herself to him.'
His voice was not convincing; the phrase did not sound natural on his lips. It was not thus that she had hoped to hear him speak. Whilst he expressed himself thus conventionally he did not love her as she desired to be loved.
'I don't hold that view,' she said.
'It doesn't surprise me. You are very reserved on all subjects, and we have never spoken of this, but of course I know that your thought is never commonplace. Hold what view you like of woman's position, that doesn't affect mine.'
'Is yours commonplace, then?'
'Desperately. Love is a very old and common thing, and I believe I love you in the old and common way. I think you beautiful, you seem to me womanly in the best sense, full of charm and sweetness. I know myself a coarse being in comparison. All this has been felt and said in the same way by men infinite in variety. Must I find some new expression before you can believe me?'
Marian kept silence.
'I know what you are thinking,' he said. 'The thought is as inevitable as my consciousness of it.'
For an instant she looked at him.
'Yes, you look the thought. Why have I not spoken to you in this way before? Why have I waited until you are obliged to suspect my sincerity?'
'My thought is not so easily read, then,' said Marian.
'To be sure it hasn't a gross form, but I know you wish -- whatever your real feeling towards me -- that I had spoken a fortnight ago. You would wish that of any man in my position, merely because it is painful to you to see a possible insincerity. Well, I am not insincere. I have thought of you as of no other woman for some time. But -- yes, you shall have the plain, coarse truth, which is good in its way, no doubt. I was afraid to say that I loved you. You don't flinch; so far, so good. Now what harm is there in this confession? In the common course of things I shouldn't be in a position to marry for perhaps three or four years, and even then marriage would mean difficulties, restraints, obstacles. I have always dreaded the thought of marriage with a poor income. You remember?
You know that is true.'
'Not always, I dare say.'
'But for the vast majority of mortals. There's the instance of the Reardons. They were in love with each other, if ever two people were; but poverty ruined everything. I am not in the confidence of either of them, but I feel sure each has wished the other dead. What else was to be expected? Should I have dared to take a wife in my present circumstances -- a wife as poor as myself?'
'You will be in a much better position before long,' said Marian. 'If you loved me, why should you have been afraid to ask me to have confidence in your future?'
'It's all so uncertain. It may be another ten years before I can count on an income of five or six hundred pounds -- if I have to struggle on in the common way.'
'But tell me, what is your aim in life? What do you understand by success?'
'Yes, I will tell you. My aim is to have easy command of all the pleasures desired by a cultivated man. I want to live among beautiful things, and never to be troubled by a thought of vulgar difficulties. I want to travel and enrich my mind in foreign countries. I want to associate on equal terms with refined and interesting people. I want to be known, to be familiarly referred to, to feel when I enter a room that people regard me with some curiosity.'
He looked steadily at her with bright eyes.
'And that's all?' asked Marian.
'That is very much. Perhaps you don't know how I suffer in feeling myself at a disadvantage. My instincts are strongly social, yet I can't be at my ease in society, simply because I can't do justice to myself. Want of money makes me the inferior of the people I talk with, though I might be superior to them in most things. I am ignorant in many ways, and merely because I am poor. Imagine my never having been out of England! It shames me when people talk familiarly of the Continent. So with regard to all manner of amusements and pursuits at home. Impossible for me to appear among my acquaintances at the theatre, at concerts. I am perpetually at a disadvantage; I haven't fair play. Suppose me possessed of money enough to live a full and active life for the next five years; why, at the end of that time my position would be secure. To him that hath shall be given -- you know how universally true that is.'
'And yet,' came in a low voice from Marian, 'you say that you love me.'
'You mean that I speak as if no such thing as love existed. But you asked me what I understood by success. I am speaking of worldly things. Now suppose I had said to you: My one aim and desire in life is to win your love. Could you have believed me? Such phrases are always untrue; I don't know how it can give anyone pleasure to hear them. But if I say to you: All. the satisfactions I have described would be immensely heightened if they were shared with a woman who loved me -- there is the simple truth.'
Marian's heart sank. She did not want truth such as this; she would have preferred that he should utter the poor, common falsehoods. Hungry for passionate love, she heard with a sense of desolation all this calm reasoning. That Jasper was of cold temperament she had often feared; yet there was always the consoling thought that she did not see with perfect clearness into his nature. Now and then had come a flash, a hint of possibilities. She had looked forward with trembling eagerness to some sudden revelation; but it seemed as if he knew no word of the language which would have called such joyous response from her expectant soul.
'We have talked for a long time,' she said, turning her head as if his last words were of no significance. 'As Dora is not coming, I think I will go now.'
She rose, and went towards the chair on which lay her out-of-door things. At once Jasper stepped to her side.
'You will go without giving me any answer?'
'Answer? To what?'
'Will you be my wife?'
'It is too soon to ask me that.'
'Too soon? Haven't you known for months that I thought of you with far more than friendliness?'
'How was it possible I should know that? You have explained to me why you would not let your real feelings be understood.'
The reproach was merited, and not easy to be outfaced. He turned away for an instant, then with a sudden movement caught both her hands.
'Whatever I have done or said or thought in the past, that is of no account now. I love you, Marian. I want you to be my wife. I have never seen any other girl who impressed me as you did from the first. If I had been weak enough to try to win anyone but you, I should have known that I had turned aside from the path of my true happiness. Let us forget for a moment all our circumstances. I hold your hands, and look into your face, and say that I love you. Whatever answer you give, I love you!'
Till now her heart had only fluttered a little; it was a great part of her distress that the love she had so long nurtured seemed shrinking together into some far corner of her being whilst she listened to the discourses which prefaced Jasper's declaration. She was nervous, painfully self-conscious, touched with maidenly shame, but could not abandon herself to that delicious emotion which ought to have been the fulfilment of all her secret imaginings. Now at length there began a throbbing in her bosom. Keeping her face averted, her eyes cast down, she waited for a repetition of the note that was in that last 'I love you.' She felt a change in the hands that held hers -- a warmth, a moist softness; it caused a shock through her veins.
He was trying to draw her nearer, but she kept at full arm's length and looked irresponsive.
She wished to answer, but a spirit of perversity held her tongue.
'Marian, don't you love me? Or have I offended you by my way of speaking?'
Persisting, she at length withdrew her hands. Jasper's face expressed something like dismay.
'You have not offended me,' she said. 'But I am not sure that you don't deceive yourself in thinking, for the moment, that I am necessary to your happiness.'
The emotional current which had passed from her flesh to his whilst their hands were linked, made him incapable of standing aloof from her. He saw that her face and neck were warmer hued, and her beauty became more desirable to him than ever yet.
'You are more to me than anything else in the compass of life!' he exclaimed, again pressing forward. 'I think of nothing but you -- you yourself -- my beautiful, gentle, thoughtful Marian!'
His arm captured her, and she did not resist. A sob, then a strange little laugh, betrayed the passion that was at length unfolded in her.
'You do love me, Marian?'
'I love you.'
And there followed the antiphony of ardour that finds its first utterance -- a subdued music, often interrupted, ever returning upon the same rich note.
Marian closed her eyes and abandoned herself to the luxury of the dream. It was her first complete escape from the world of intellectual routine, her first taste of life. All the pedantry of her daily toil slipped away like a cumbrous garment; she was clad only in her womanhood. Once or twice a shudder of strange self-consciousness went through her, and she felt guilty, immodest; but upon that sensation followed a surge of passionate joy, obliterating memory and forethought.
'How shall I see you?' Jasper asked at length. 'Where can we meet?'
It was a difficulty. The season no longer allowed lingerings under the open sky, but Marian could not go to his lodgings, and it seemed impossible for him to visit her at her home.
'Will your father persist in unfriendliness to me?'
She was only just beginning to reflect on all that was involved in this new relation.
'I have no hope that he will change,' she said sadly.
'He will refuse to countenance your marriage?'
'I shall disappoint him and grieve him bitterly. He has asked me to use my money in starting a new review.'
'Which he is to edit?'
'Yes. Do you think there would be any hope of its success?'
Jasper shook his head.
'Your father is not the man for that, Marian. I don't say it disrespectfully; I mean that he doesn't seem to me to have that kind of aptitude. It would be a disastrous speculation.'
'I felt that. Of course I can't think of it now.'
She smiled, raising her face to his.
'Don't trouble,' said Jasper. 'Wait a little, till I have made myself independent of Fadge and a few other men, and your father shall see how heartily I wish to be of use to him. He will miss your help, I'm afraid?'
'Yes. I shall feel it a cruelty when I have to leave him. He has only just told me that his sight is beginning to fail. Oh, why didn't his brother leave him a little money? It was such unkindness! Surely he had a much better right than Amy, or than myself either. But literature has been a curse to father all his life. My uncle hated it, and I suppose that was why he left father nothing.'
'But how am I to see you often? That's the first question. I know what I shall do. I must take new lodgings, for the girls and myself, all in the same house. We must have two sitting-rooms; then you will come to my room without any difficulty. These astonishing proprieties are so easily satisfied after all.'
'You will really do that?'
'Yes. I shall go and look for rooms to-morrow. Then when you come you can always ask for Maud or Dora, you know. They will be very glad of a change to more respectable quarters.'
'I won't stay to see them now, Jasper,' said Marian, her thoughts turning to the girls.
'Very well. You are safe for another hour, but to make certain you shall go at a quarter to five. Your mother won't be against us?'
'Poor mother -- no. But she won't dare to justify me before father.'
'I feel as if I should play a mean part in leaving it to you to tell your father. Marian, I will brave it out and go and see him.'
'Oh, it would be better not to.'
'Then I will write to him -- such a letter as he can't possibly take in ill part.'
Marian pondered this proposal.
'You shall do that, Jasper, if you are willing. But not yet; presently.'
'You don't wish him to know at once?'
'We had better wait a little. You know,' she added laughing, 'that my legacy is only in name mine as yet. The will hasn't been proved. And then the money will have to be realised.'
She informed him of the details; Jasper listened with his eyes on the ground.
They were now sitting on chairs drawn close to each other. It was with a sense of relief that Jasper had passed from dithyrambs to conversation on practical points; Marian's excited sensitiveness could not but observe this, and she kept watching the motions of his countenance. At length he even let go her hand.
'You would prefer,' he said reflectively, 'that nothing should be said to your father until that business is finished?'
'If you consent to it.'
'Oh, I have no doubt it's as well.'
Her little phrase of self-subjection, and its tremulous tone, called for another answer than this. Jasper fell again into thought, and clearly it was thought of practical things.
'I think I must go now, Jasper,' she said.
'Must you? Well, if you had rather.'
He rose, though she was still seated. Marian moved a few steps away, but turned and approached him again.
'Do you really love me?' she asked, taking one of his hands and folding it between her own.
'I do indeed love you, Marian. Are you still doubtful?'
'You're not sorry that I must go?'
'But I am, dearest. I wish we could sit here undisturbed all through the evening.'
Her touch had the same effect as before. His blood warmed again, and he pressed her to his side, stroking her hair and kissing her forehead.
'Are you sorry I wear my hair short?' she asked, longing for more praise than he had bestowed on her.
'Sorry? It is perfect. Everything else seems vulgar compared with this way of yours. How strange you would look with plaits and that kind of thing!'
'I am so glad it pleases you.
'There is nothing in you that doesn't please me, my thoughtful girl.'
'You called me that before. Do I seem so very thoughtful?'
'So grave, and sweetly reserved, and with eyes so full of meaning.'
She quivered with delight, her face hidden against his breast.
'I seem to be new-born, Jasper. Everything in the world is new to me, and I am strange to myself. I have never known an hour of happiness till now, and I can't believe yet that it has come to me.
She at length attired herself, and they left the house together, of course not unobserved by the landlady. Jasper walked about half the way to St Paul's Crescent. It was arranged that he should address a letter for her to the care of his sisters; but in a day or two the change of lodgings would be effected.
When they had parted, Marian looked back. But Jasper was walking quickly away, his head bent, in profound meditation.
Refuge from despair is often found in the passion of self-pity and that spirit of obstinate resistance which it engenders. In certain natures the extreme of self-pity is intolerable, and leads to self-destruction; but there are less fortunate beings whom the vehemence of their revolt against fate strengthens to endure in suffering. These latter are rather imaginative than passionate; the stages of their woe impress them as the acts of a drama, which they cannot bring themselves to cut short, so various are the possibilities of its dark motive. The intellectual man who kills himself is most often brought to that decision by conviction of his insignificance; self-pity merges in self-scorn, and the humiliated soul is intolerant of existence. He who survives under like conditions does so because misery magnifies him in his own estimate.
It was by force of commiserating his own lot that Edwin Reardon continued to live through the first month after his parting from Amy. Once or twice a week, sometimes early in the evening, sometimes at midnight or later, he haunted the street at Westbourne Park where his wife was dwelling, and on each occasion he returned to his garret with a fortified sense of the injustice to which he was submitted, of revolt against the circumstances which had driven him into outer darkness, of bitterness against his wife for saving her own comfort rather than share his downfall. At times he was not far from that state of sheer distraction which Mrs Edmund Yule preferred to suppose that he had reached. An extraordinary arrogance now and then possessed him; he stood amid his poor surroundings with the sensations of an outraged exile, and laughed aloud in furious contempt of all who censured or pitied him.
On hearing from Jasper Milvain that Amy had fallen ill, or at all events was suffering in health from what she had gone through, he felt a momentary pang which all but determined him to hasten to her side. The reaction was a feeling of distinct pleasure that she had her share of pain, and even a hope that her illness might become grave; he pictured himself summoned to her sick chamber, imagined her begging his forgiveness. But it was not merely, nor in great part, a malicious satisfaction; he succeeded in believing that Amy suffered because she still had a remnant of love for him. As the days went by and he heard nothing, disappointment and resentment occupied him. At length he ceased to haunt the neighbourhood. His desires grew sullen; he became fixed in the resolve to hold entirely apart and doggedly await the issue.
At the end of each month he sent half the money he had received from Carter, simply enclosing postal orders in an envelope addressed to his wife. The first two remittances were in no way acknowledged; the third brought a short note from Amy:
'As you continue to send these sums of money, I had perhaps better let you know that I cannot use them for any purposes of my own. Perhaps a sense of duty leads you to make this sacrifice, but I am afraid it is more likely that you wish to remind me every month that you are undergoing privations, and to pain me in this way. What you have sent I have deposited in the Post Office Savings' Bank in Willie's name, and I shall continue to do so. -- A.R.'
For a day or two Reardon persevered in an intention of not replying, but the desire to utter his turbid feelings became in the end too strong. He wrote:
'I regard it as quite natural that you should put the worst interpretation on whatever I do. As for my privations, I think very little of them; they are a trifle in comparison with the thought that I am forsaken just because my pocket is empty. And I am far indeed from thinking that you can be pained by whatever I may undergo; that would suppose some generosity in your nature.'
This was no sooner posted than he would gladly have recalled it. He knew that it was undignified, that it contained as many falsehoods as lines, and he was ashamed of himself for having written so. But he could not pen a letter of retractation, and there remained with him a new cause of exasperated wretchedness.
Excepting the people with whom he came in contact at the hospital, he had no society but that of Biffen. The realist visited him once a week, and this friendship grew closer than it had been in the time of Reardon's prosperity. Biffen was a man of so much natural delicacy, that there was a pleasure in imparting to him the details of private sorrow; though profoundly sympathetic, he did his best to oppose Reardon's harsher judgments of Amy, and herein he gave his friend a satisfaction which might not be avowed.
'I really do not see,' he exclaimed, as they sat in the garret one night of midsummer, 'how your wife could have acted otherwise. Of course I am quite unable to judge the attitude of her mind, but I think, I can't help thinking, from what I knew of her, that there has been strictly a misunderstanding between you. It was a hard and miserable thing that she should have to leave you for a time, and you couldn't face the necessity in a just spirit. Don't you think there's some truth in this way of looking at it?'
'As a woman, it was her part to soften the hateful necessity; she made it worse.
'I'm not sure that you don't demand too much of her. Unhappily, I know little or nothing of delicately-bred women, but I have a suspicion that one oughtn't to expect heroism in them, any more than in the women of the lower classes. I think of women as creatures to be protected. Is a man justified in asking them to be stronger than himself?'
'Of course,' replied Reardon, 'there's no use in demanding more than a character is capable of. But I believed her of finer stuff. My bitterness comes of the disappointment.'
'I suppose there were faults of temper on both sides, and you saw at last only each other's weaknesses.'
'I saw the truth, which had always been disguised from me.' Biffen persisted in looking doubtful, and in secret Reardon thanked him for it.
As the realist progressed with his novel, 'Mr Bailey, Grocer,' he read the chapters to Reardon, not only for his own satisfaction, but in great part because he hoped that this example of productivity might in the end encourage the listener to resume his own literary tasks. Reardon found much to criticise in his friend's work; it was noteworthy that he objected and condemned with much less hesitation than in his better days, for sensitive reticence is one of the virtues wont to be assailed by suffering, at all events in the weaker natures. Biffen purposely urged these discussions as far as possible, and doubtless they benefited Reardon for the time; but the defeated novelist could not be induced to undertake another practical illustration of his own views. Occasionally he had an impulse to plan a story, but an hour's turning it over in his mind sufficed to disgust him. His ideas seemed barren, vapid; it would have been impossible for him to write half a dozen pages, and the mere thought of a whole book overcame him with the dread of insurmountable difficulties, immeasurable toil.
In time, however, he was able to read. He had a pleasure in contemplating the little collection of sterling books that alone remained to him from his library; the sight of many volumes would have been a weariness, but these few -- when he was again able to think of books at all -- were as friendly countenances. He could not read continuously, but sometimes he opened his Shakespeare, for instance, and dreamed over a page or two. From such glimpses there remained in his head a line or a short passage, which he kept repeating to himself wherever he went; generally some example of sweet or sonorous metre which had a soothing effect upon him.
With odd result on one occasion. He was walking in one of the back streets of Islington, and stopped idly to gaze into the window of some small shop. Standing thus, he forgot himself and presently recited aloud:
The last two lines he uttered a second time, enjoying their magnificent sound, and then was brought back to consciousness by the loud mocking laugh of two men standing close by, who evidently looked upon him as a strayed lunatic.
He kept one suit of clothes for his hours of attendance at the hospital; it was still decent, and with much care would remain so for a long time. That which he wore at home and in his street wanderings declared poverty at every point; it had been discarded before he left the old abode. In his present state of mind he cared nothing how disreputable he looked to passers-by. These seedy habiliments were the token of his degradation, and at times he regarded them (happening to see himself in a shop mirror) with pleasurable contempt. The same spirit often led him for a meal to the poorest of eating-houses, places where he rubbed elbows with ragged creatures who had somehow obtained the price of a cup of coffee and a slice of bread and butter. He liked to contrast himself with these comrades in misfortune. 'This is the rate at which the world esteems me; I am worth no better provision than this.' Or else, instead of emphasising the contrast, he defiantly took a place among the miserables of the nether world, and nursed hatred of all who were well-to-do.
One of these he desired to regard with gratitude, but found it difficult to support that feeling. Carter, the vivacious, though at first perfectly unembarrassed in his relations with the City Road clerk, gradually exhibited a change of demeanour. Reardon occasionally found the young man's eye fixed upon him with a singular expression, and the secretary's talk, though still as a rule genial, was wont to suffer curious interruptions, during which he seemed to be musing on something Reardon had said, or on some point of his behaviour. The explanation of this was that Carter had begun to think there might be a foundation for Mrs Yule's hypothesis -- that the novelist was not altogether in his sound senses. At first he scouted the idea, but as time went on it seemed to him that Reardon's countenance certainly had a gaunt wildness which suggested disagreeable things. Especially did he remark this after his return from an August holiday in Norway. On coming for the first time to the City Road branch he sat down and began to favour Reardon with a lively description of how he had enjoyed himself abroad; it never occurred to him that such talk was not likely to inspirit the man who had passed his August between the garret and the hospital, but he observed before long that his listener was glancing hither and thither in rather a strange way.
'You haven't been ill since I saw you?' he inquired.
'But you look as if you might have been. I say, we must manage for you to have a fortnight off, you know, this month.'
'I have no wish for it,' said Reardon. 'I'll imagine I have been to Norway. It has done me good to hear of your holiday.'
'I'm glad of that; but it isn't quite the same thing, you know, as having a run somewhere yourself.'
'Oh, much better! To enjoy myself may be mere selfishness, but to enjoy another's enjoyment is the purest satisfaction, good for body and soul. I am cultivating altruism.'
'A highly rarefied form of happiness. The curious thing about it is that it won't grow unless you have just twice as much faith in it as is required for assent to the Athanasian Creed.'
Carter went away more than puzzled. He told his wife that evening that Reardon had been talking to him in the most extraordinary fashion -- no understanding a word he said.
All this time he was on the look-out for employment that would be more suitable to his unfortunate clerk. Whether slightly demented or not, Reardon gave no sign of inability to discharge his duties; he was conscientious as ever, and might, unless he changed greatly, be relied upon in positions of more responsibility than his present one. And at length, early in October, there came to the secretary's knowledge an opportunity with which he lost no time in acquainting Reardon. The latter repaired that evening to Clipstone Street, and climbed to Biffen's chamber. He entered with a cheerful look, and exclaimed:
'I have just invented a riddle; see if you can guess it. Why is a London lodging-house like the human body?'
Biffen looked with some concern at his friend, so unwonted was a sally of this kind.
'Why is a London lodging-house ----? Haven't the least idea.'
'Because the brains are always at the top. Not bad, I think, eh?'
'Well, no; it'll pass. Distinctly professional though. The general public would fail to see the point, I'm afraid. But what has come to you?'
'Good tidings. Carter has offered me a place which will be a decided improvement. A house found -- or rooms, at all events -- and salary a hundred and fifty a year.
'By Plutus! That's good hearing. Some duties attached, I suppose?'
'I'm afraid that was inevitable, as things go. It's the secretaryship of a home for destitute boys at Croydon. The post 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 fellow.'
'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 feeling.
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 one else.'
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 envelope.
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 back.
'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 results.
'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 Croydon.'
'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 resource.
'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 slightly.
'Then that decides it. When I leave you we are strangers to each other.'
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 present?'
'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 imaginary people?'
'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, Amy?'
'I am far from taking it light-heartedly.'
'Yet you are in good health. I see no sign that you have suffered.'
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 power?'
'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 you again?'
'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, now.'
'I can't say anything except that I will come to Croydon if you wish it.'
'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 spoken.
'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 from him.
'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 you again.'
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 house.
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 himself
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.'
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 understanding.
'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 sufficient allowance.'
'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 did.'
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 myself.'
'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 Wattleborough.
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 thus late.
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 use?'
'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 on?'
'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 said:
'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 ornamentation.
'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 friend.
'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 think?'
'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 laugh.
'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.'
'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 about love!'
'I get rather tired of it sometimes,' admitted Edith with amusement.
'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 of life?'
'That may be true. But why do people find the subject so interesting?'
'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 désoeuvrement 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-è-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 heiress.
'What a time since we met!' said Jasper, taking her delicately gloved hand and looking into her face with his most effective smile.
'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 a remark:
'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, that's all.'
'But I suppose you write as much as ever?'
'Yes; but chiefly in weekly papers just now. You don't see the Will-o'-the-Wisp?'
'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 call, yourself.'
'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 view?'
'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 emphasis.
'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 strain.
'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 smiled significantly.
'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 character.'
'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 questioning?'
'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?'
'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.
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 she had.'
'I distrust such appearances,' said Biffen in his quality of realist.
'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 other.'
'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 offered?'
'Oh, there's a good deal to be said for that, of course.'
Reardon's face was illumined with the glow of an exquisite memory.
'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 that kind?'
'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 light.'
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 pounds.'
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 even tones.
'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 be 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 Yule.
'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 me.'
'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 for forgiveness.'
'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 feeling?'
'I am obliged to, and Amy would understand perfectly why I say so.'
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 for him.
'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 grand news?'
'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 excited laughter.
'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 year.'
'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 aimless.
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 see him.'
'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 confused noises.
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 racing horse.
'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 hour!'
'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 education.
'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 naiïveté 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 melodrama.'
Presently the three went out together, and had dinner at an è 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 taciturn.
'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 you about.'
'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 independent fortune.'
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 silence.
'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 misunderstood me.
'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 always degrade.
'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!
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.
'And what are we to do when you are married?' asked Dora.
The question was put on the first evening of their being all under the same roof. The trio had had supper in the girls' sitting-room, and it was a moment for frank conversation. Dora rejoiced in the coming marriage; her brother had behaved honourably, and Marian, she trusted, would be very happy, notwithstanding disagreement with her father, which seemed inevitable. Maud was by no means so well pleased, though she endeavoured to wear smiles. It looked to her as if Jasper had been guilty of a kind of weakness not to be expected in him. Marian, as an individual, could not be considered an appropriate wife for such a man with such a future; and as for her five thousand pounds, that was ridiculous. Had it been ten ---- something can be made of ten thousand; but a paltry five! Maud's ideas on such subjects had notably expanded of late, and one of the results was that she did not live so harmoniously with her sister as for the first few months of their London career.
'I have been thinking a good deal about that,' replied Jasper to the younger girl's question. He stood with his back to the fire and smoked a cigarette. 'I thought at first of taking a flat; but then a flat of the kind I should want would be twice the rent of a large house. If we have a house with plenty of room in it you might come and live with us after a time. At first I must find you decent lodgings in our neighbourhood.'
'You show a good deal of generosity, Jasper,' said Maud, 'but pray remember that Marian isn't bringing you five thousand a year.'
'I regret to say that she isn't. What she brings me is five hundred a year for ten years -- that's how I look at it. My own income will make it something between six or seven hundred at first, and before long probably more like a thousand. I am quite cool and collected. I understand exactly where I am, and where I am likely to be ten years hence. Marian's money is to be spent in obtaining a position for myself. At present I am spoken of as a "smart young fellow," and that kind of thing; but no one would offer me an editorship, or any other serious help. Wait till I show that I have helped myself and hands will be stretched to me from every side. 'Tis the way of the world. I shall belong to a club; I shall give nice, quiet little dinners to selected people; I shall let it be understood by all and sundry that I have a social position. Thenceforth I am quite a different man, a man to be taken into account. And what will you bet me that I don't stand in the foremost rank of literary reputabilities ten years hence?'
'I doubt whether six or seven hundred a year will be enough for this.'
'If not, I am prepared to spend a thousand. Bless my soul! As if two or three years wouldn't suffice to draw out the mean qualities in the kind of people I am thinking of! I say ten, to leave myself a great margin.'
'Marian approves this?'
'I haven't distinctly spoken of it. But she approves whatever I think good.'
The girls laughed at his way of pronouncing this.
'And let us just suppose that you are so unfortunate as to fail?'
'There's no supposing it, unless, of course, I lose my health. I am not presuming on any wonderful development of powers. Such as I am now, I need only to be put on the little pedestal of a decent independence and plenty of people will point fingers of admiration at me. You don't fully appreciate this. Mind, it wouldn't do if I had no qualities. I have the qualities; they only need bringing into prominence. If I am an unknown man, and publish a wonderful book, it will make its way very slowly, or not at all. If I, become a known man, publish that very same book, its praise will echo over both hemispheres. I should be within the truth if I had said "a vastly inferior book," But I am in a bland mood at present. Suppose poor Reardon's novels had been published in the full light of reputation instead of in the struggling dawn which was never to become day, wouldn't they have been magnified by every critic? You have to become famous before you can secure the attention which would give fame.'
He delivered this apophthegm with emphasis, and repeated it in another form.
'You have to obtain reputation before you can get a fair hearing for that which would justify your repute. It's the old story of the French publisher who said to Dumas: "Make a name, and I'll publish anything you write." "But how the diable," cries the author, "am I to make a name if I can't get published?" If a man can't hit upon any other way of attracting attention, let him dance on his head in the middle of the street; after that he may hope to get consideration for his volume of poems. I am speaking of men who wish to win reputation before they are toothless. Of course if your work is strong, and you can afford to wait, the probability is that half a dozen people will at last begin to shout that you have been monstrously neglected, as you have. But that happens when you are hoary and sapless, and when nothing under the sun delights you.'
He lit a new cigarette.
'Now I, my dear girls, am not a man who can afford to wait. First of all, my qualities are not of the kind which demand the recognition of posterity. My writing is for to-day, most distinctly hodiernal. It has no value save in reference to to-day. The question is: How can I get the eyes of men fixed upon me? The answer: By pretending I am quite independent of their gaze. I shall succeed, without any kind of doubt; and then I'll have a medal struck to celebrate the day of my marriage.'
But Jasper was not quite so well assured of the prudence of what he was about to do as he wished his sisters to believe. The impulse to which he had finally yielded still kept its force; indeed, was stronger than ever since the intimacy of lovers' dialogue had revealed to him more of Marian's heart and mind. Undeniably he was in love. Not passionately, not with the consuming desire which makes every motive seem paltry compared with its own satisfaction; but still quite sufficiently in love to have a great difficulty in pursuing his daily tasks. This did not still the voice which bade him remember all the opportunities and hopes he was throwing aside. Since the plighting of troth with Marian he had been over to Wimbledon, to the house of his friend and patron Mr Horace Barlow, and there he had again met with Miss Rupert. This lady had no power whatever over his emotions, but he felt assured that she regarded him with strong interest. When he imagined the possibility of contracting a marriage with Miss Rupert, who would make him at once a man of solid means, his head drooped, and he wondered at his precipitation. It had to be confessed that he was the victim of a vulgar weakness. He had declared himself not of the first order of progressive men.
The conversation with Amy Reardon did not tend to put his mind at rest. Amy was astonished at so indiscreet a step in a man of his calibre. Ah! if only Amy herself were free, with her ten thousand pounds to dispose of! She, he felt sure, did not view him with indifference. Was there not a touch of pique in the elaborate irony with which she had spoken of his choice? -- But it was idle to look in that direction.
He was anxious on his sisters' account. They were clever girls, and with energy might before long earn a bare subsistence; but it began to be doubtful whether they would persevere in literary work. Maud, it was clear, had conceived hopes of quite another kind. Her intimacy with Mrs Lane was effecting a change in her habits, her dress, even her modes of speech. A few days after their establishment in the new lodgings, Jasper spoke seriously on this subject with the younger girl.
'I wonder whether you could satisfy my curiosity in a certain matter,' he said. 'Do you, by chance, know how much Maud gave for that new jacket in which I saw her yesterday?'
Dora was reluctant to answer.
'I don't think it was very much.'
'That is to say, it didn't cost twenty guineas. Well, I hope not. I notice, too, that she has been purchasing a new hat.'
'Oh, that was very inexpensive. She trimmed it herself.'
'Did she? Is there any particular, any quite special, reason for this expenditure?'
'I really can't say, Jasper.'
'That's ambiguous, you know. Perhaps it means you won't allow yourself to say?'
'No, Maud doesn't tell me about things of that kind.'
He took opportunities of investigating the matter, with the result that some ten days after he sought private colloquy with Maud herself. She had asked his opinion of a little paper she was going to send to a ladies' illustrated weekly, and he summoned her to his own room.
'I think this will do pretty well,' he said. 'There's rather too much thought in it, perhaps. Suppose you knock out one or two of the less obvious reflections, and substitute a wholesome commonplace? You'll have a better chance, I assure you.'
'But I shall make it worthless.'
'No; you'll probably make it worth a guinea or so. You must remember that the people who read women's papers are irritated, simply irritated, by anything that isn't glaringly obvious. They hate an unusual thought. The art of writing for such papers -- indeed, for the public in general -- is to express vulgar thought and feeling in a way that flatters the vulgar thinkers and feelers. Just abandon your mind to it, and then let me see it again.'
Maud took up the manuscript and glanced over it with a contemptuous smile. Having observed her for a moment, Jasper threw himself back in the chair and said, as if casually:
'I am told that Mr Dolomore is becoming a great friend of yours.'
The girl's face changed. She drew herself up, and looked away towards the window.
'I don't know that he is a "great" friend.'
'Still, he pays enough attention to you to excite remark.'
'That of several people who go to Mrs Lane's.'
'I don't know any reason for it,' said Maud coldly.
'Look here, Maud, you don't mind if I give you a friendly warning?'
She kept silence, with a look of superiority to all monition.
'Dolomore,' pursued her brother, 'is all very well in his way, but that way isn't yours. I believe he has a good deal of money, but he has neither brains nor principle. There's no harm in your observing the nature and habits of such individuals, but don't allow yourself to forget that they are altogether beneath you.'
'There's no need whatever for you to teach me self-respect,' replied the girl.
'I'm quite sure of that; but you are inexperienced. On the whole, I do rather wish that you would go less frequently to Mrs Lane's. It was rather an unfortunate choice of yours. Very much better if you could have got on a good footing with the Barnabys. If you are generally looked upon as belonging to the Lanes' set it will make it difficult for you to get in with the better people.'
Maud was not to be drawn into argument, and Jasper could only hope that his words would have some weight with her. The Mr Dolomore in question was a young man of rather offensive type -- athletic, dandiacal, and half-educated. It astonished Jasper that his sister could tolerate such an empty creature for a moment; who has not felt the like surprise with regard to women's inclinations? He talked with Dora about it, but she was not in her sister's confidence.
'I think you ought to have some influence with her,' Jasper said.
'Maud won't allow anyone to interfere in -- her private affairs.'
'It would be unfortunate if she made me quarrel with her.'
'Oh, surely there isn't any danger of that?'
'I don't know, she mustn't be obstinate.'
Jasper himself saw a good deal of miscellaneous society at this time. He could not work so persistently as usual, and with wise tactics he used the seasons of enforced leisure to extend his acquaintance. Marian and he were together twice a week, in the evening.
Of his old Bohemian associates he kept up intimate relations with one only, and that was Whelpdale. This was in a measure obligatory, for Whelpdale frequently came to see him, and it would have been difficult to repel a man who was always making known how highly he esteemed the privilege of Milvain's friendship, and whose company on the whole was agreeable enough. At the present juncture Whelpdale's cheery flattery was a distinct assistance; it helped to support Jasper in his self-confidence, and to keep the brightest complexion on the prospect to which he had committed himself.
'Whelpdale is anxious to make Marian's acquaintance,' Jasper said to his sisters one day. 'Shall we have him here tomorrow evening?'
'Just as you like,' Maud replied.
'You won't object, Dora?'
'Oh no! I rather like Mr Whelpdale.'
'If I were to repeat that to him he'd go wild with delight. But don't be afraid; I shan't. I'll ask him to come for an hour, and trust to his discretion not to bore us by staying too long.'
A note was posted to Whelpdale; he was invited to present himself at eight o'clock, by which time Marian would have arrived. Jasper's room was to be the scene of the assembly, and punctual to the minute the literary adviser appeared. He was dressed with all the finish his wardrobe allowed, and his face beamed with gratification; it was rapture to him to enter the presence of these three girls, one of whom he had, more suo, held in romantic remembrance since his one meeting with her at Jasper's old lodgings. His eyes melted with tenderness as he approached Dora and saw her smile of gracious recognition. By Maud he was profoundly impressed. Marian inspired him with no awe, but he fully appreciated the charm of her features and her modest gravity. After all, it was to Dora that his eyes turned again most naturally. He thought her exquisite, and, rather than be long without a glimpse of her, he contented himself with fixing his eyes on the hem of her dress and the boot-toe that occasionally peeped from beneath it.
As was to be expected in such a circle, conversation soon turned to the subject of literary struggles.
'I always feel it rather humiliating,' said Jasper, 'that I have gone through no very serious hardships. It must be so gratifying to say to young fellows who are just beginning: "Ah, I remember when I was within an ace of starving to death," and then come out with Grub Street reminiscences of the most appalling kind. Unfortunately, I have always had enough to eat.'
'I haven't,' exclaimed Whelpdale. 'I have lived for five days on a few cents' worth of pea-nuts in the States.'
'What are pea-nuts, Mr Whelpdale?' asked Dora.
Delighted with the question, Whelpdale described that undesirable species of food.
'It was in Troy,' he went on, 'Troy, N.Y. To think that a man should live on pea-nuts in a town called Troy!'
'Tell us those adventures,' cried Jasper. 'It's a long time since I heard them, and the girls will enjoy it vastly.'
Dora looked at him with such good-humoured interest that the traveller needed no further persuasion.
'It came to pass in those days,' he began, 'that I inherited from my godfather a small, a very small, sum of money. I was making strenuous efforts to write for magazines, with absolutely no encouragement. As everybody was talking just then of the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, I conceived the brilliant idea of crossing the Atlantic, in the hope that I might find valuable literary material at the Exhibition -- or Exposition, as they called it -- and elsewhere. I won't trouble you with an account of how I lived whilst I still had money; sufficient that no one would accept the articles I sent to England, and that at last I got into perilous straits. I went to New York, and thought of returning home, but the spirit of adventure was strong in me. "I'll go West," I said to myself. "There I am bound to find material." And go I did, taking an emigrant ticket to Chicago. It was December, and I should like you to imagine what a journey of a thousand miles by an emigrant train meant at that season. The cars were deadly cold, and what with that and the hardness of the seats I found it impossible to sleep; it reminded me of tortures I had read about; I thought my brain would have burst with the need of sleeping. At Cleveland, in Ohio, we had to wait several hours in the night; I left the station and wandered about till I found myself on the edge of a great cliff that looked over Lake Erie. A magnificent picture! Brilliant moonlight, and all the lake away to the horizon frozen and covered with snow. The clocks struck two as I stood there.'
He was interrupted by the entrance of a servant who brought coffee.
'Nothing could be more welcome,' cried Dora. 'Mr Whelpdale makes one feel quite chilly.'
There was laughter and chatting whilst Maud poured out the beverage. Then Whelpdale pursued his narrative.
'I reached Chicago with not quite five dollars in my pockets, and, with a courage which I now marvel at, I paid immediately four dollars and a half for a week's board and lodging. "Well," I said to myself, "for a week I am safe. If I earn nothing in that time, at least I shall owe nothing when I have to turn out into the streets." It was a rather dirty little boarding-house, in Wabash Avenue, and occupied, as I soon found, almost entirely by actors. There was no fireplace in my bedroom, and if there had been I couldn't have afforded a fire. But that mattered little; what I had to do was to set forth and discover some way of making money. Don't suppose that I was in a desperate state of mind; how it was, I don't quite know, but I felt decidedly cheerful. It was pleasant to be in this new region of the earth, and I went about the town like a tourist who has abundant resources.'
He sipped his coffee.
'I saw nothing for it but to apply at the office of some newspaper, and as I happened to light upon the biggest of them first of all, I put on a bold face, marched in, asked if I could see the editor. There was no difficulty whatever about this; I was told to ascend by means of the "elevator" to an upper storey, and there I walked into a comfortable little room where a youngish man sat smoking a cigar at a table covered with print and manuscript. I introduced myself, stated my business. "Can you give me work of any kind on your paper?" "Well, what experience have you had?" "None whatever." The editor smiled. "I'm very much afraid you would be no use to us. But what do you think you could do?" Well now, there was but one thing that by any possibility I could do. I asked him: "Do you publish any fiction -- short stories?" "Yes, we're always glad of a short story, if it's good." This was a big daily paper; they have weekly supplements of all conceivable kinds of matter. "Well," I said, "if I write a story of English life, will you consider it?" "With pleasure." I left him, and went out as if my existence were henceforth provided for.'
He laughed heartily, and was joined by his hearers.
It was a great thing to be permitted to write a story, but then -- what story? I went down to the shore of Lake Michigan; walked there for half an hour in an icy wind. Then I looked for a stationer's shop, and laid out a few of my remaining cents in the purchase of pen, ink, and paper -- my stock of all these things was at an end when I left New York. Then back to the boarding-house. Impossible to write in my bedroom, the temperature was below zero; there was no choice but to sit down in the common room, a place like the smoke-room of a poor commercial hotel in England. A dozen men were gathered about the fire, smoking, talking, quarrelling. Favourable conditions, you see, for literary effort. But the story had to be written, and write it I did, sitting there at the end of a deal table; I finished it in less than a couple of days, a good long story, enough to fill three columns of the huge paper. I stand amazed at my power of concentration as often as I think of it!'
'And was it accepted?' asked Dora.
'You shall hear. I took my manuscript to the editor, and he told me to come and see him again next morning. I didn't forget the appointment. As I entered he smiled in a very promising way, and said, "I think your story will do. I'll put it into the Saturday supplement. Call on Saturday morning and I'll remunerate you." How well I remember that word "remunerate"! I have had an affection for the word ever since. And remunerate me he did; scribbled something on a scrap of paper, which I presented to the cashier. The sum was eighteen dollars. Behold me saved!'
He sipped his coffee again.
'I have never come across an English editor who treated me with anything like that consideration and general kindliness. How the man had time, in his position, to see me so often, and do things in such a human way, I can't understand. Imagine anyone trying the same at the office of a London newspaper! To begin with, one couldn't see the editor at all. I shall always think with profound gratitude of that man with the peaked brown beard and pleasant smile.'
'But did the pea-nuts come after that!' inquired Dora.
'Alas! they did. For some months I supported myself in Chicago, writing for that same paper, and for others. But at length the flow of my inspiration was checked; I had written myself out. And I began to grow home-sick, wanted to get back to England. The result was that I found myself one day in New York again, but without money enough to pay for a passage home. I tried to write one more story. But it happened, as I was looking over newspapers in a reading-room, that I saw one of my Chicago tales copied into a paper published at Troy. Now Troy was not very far off; and it occurred to me that, if I went there, the editor of this paper might be disposed to employ me, seeing he had a taste for my fiction. And I went, up the Hudson by steamboat. On landing at Troy I was as badly off as when I reached Chicago; I had less than a dollar. And the worst of it was I had come on a vain errand; the editor treated me with scant courtesy, and no work was to be got. I took a little room, paying for it day by day, and in the meantime I fed on those loathsome pea-nuts, buying a handful in the street now and then. And I assure you I looked starvation in the face.'
'What sort of a town is Troy?' asked Marian, speaking for the first time.
'Don't ask me. They make straw hats there principally, and they sell pea-nuts. More I remember not.'
'But you didn't starve to death,' said Maud.
'No, I just didn't. I went one afternoon into a lawyer's office, thinking I might get some copying work, and there I found an odd-looking old man, sitting with an open Bible on his knees. He explained to me that he wasn't the lawyer; that the lawyer was away on business, and that he was just guarding the office. Well, could he help me? He meditated, and a thought occurred to him. "Go," he said, "to such-and-such a boarding-house, and ask for Mr Freeman Sterling. He is just starting on a business tour, and wants a young man to accompany him." I didn't dream of asking what the business was, but sped, as fast as my trembling limbs would carry me, to the address he had mentioned. I asked for Mr Freeman Sterling, and found him. He was a photographer, and his business at present was to go about getting orders for the reproducing of old portraits. A good-natured young fellow. He said he liked the look of me, and on the spot engaged me to assist him in a house-to-house visitation. He would pay for my board and lodging, and give me a commission on all the orders I obtained. Forthwith I sat down to a "square meal," and ate -- my conscience, how I ate!'
'You were not eminently successful in that pursuit, I think?' said Jasper.
'I don't think I got half-a-dozen orders. Yet that good Samaritan supported me for five or six weeks, whilst we travelled from Troy to Boston. It couldn't go on; I was ashamed of myself; at last I told him that we must part. Upon my word, I believe he would have paid my expenses for another month; why, I can't understand. But he had a vast respect for me because I had written in newspapers, and I do seriously think that he didn't like to tell me I was a useless fellow. We parted on the very best of terms in Boston.'
'And you again had recourse to pea-nuts?' asked Dora.
'Well, no. In the meantime I had written to someone in England, begging the loan of just enough money to enable me to get home. The money came a day after I had seen Sterling off by train.'
An hour and a half quickly passed, and Jasper, who wished to have a few minutes of Marian's company before it was time for her to go, cast a significant glance at his sisters. Dora said innocently:
'You wished me to tell you when it was half-past nine, Marian.'
And Marian rose. This was a signal Whelpdale could not disregard. Immediately he made ready for his own departure, and in less than five minutes was gone, his face at the last moment expressing blended delight and pain.
'Too good of you to have asked me to come,' he said with gratitude to Jasper, who went to the door with him. 'You are a happy man, by Jove! A happy man!'
When Jasper returned to the room his sisters had vanished. Marian stood by the fire. He drew near to her, took her hands, and repeated laughingly Whelpdale's last words.
'Is it true?' she asked.
'Tolerably true, I think.'
'Then I am as happy as you are.'
He released her hands, and moved a little apart.
'Marian, I have been thinking about that letter to your father. I had better get it written, don't you think?'
She gazed at him with troubled eyes.
'Perhaps you had. Though we said it might be delayed until ----'
'Yes, I know. But I suspect you had rather I didn't wait any longer. Isn't that the truth?'
'Partly. Do just as you wish, Jasper.'
'I'll go and see him, if you like.'
'I am so afraid ---- No, writing will be better.'
'Very well. Then he shall have the letter to-morrow afternoon.'
'Don't let it come before the last post. I had so much rather not. Manage it, if you can.'
'Very well. Now go and say good-night to the girls. It's a vile night, and you must get home as soon as possible.'
She turned away, but again came towards him, murmuring:
'Just a word or two more.'
'About the letter?'
'No. You haven't said ----'
'And you couldn't go away contentedly unless I repeated for the hundredth time that I love you?'
Marian searched his countenance.
'Do you think it foolish? I live only on those words.'
'Well, they are better than pea-nuts.'
'Oh don't! I can't bear to ----'
Jasper was unable to understand that such a jest sounded to her like profanity. She hid her face against him, and whispered the words that would have enraptured her had they but come from his lips. The young man found it pleasant enough to be worshipped, but he could not reply as she desired. A few phrases of tenderness, and his love-vocabulary was exhausted; he even grew weary when something more ---- the indefinite something -- was vaguely required of him.
'You are a dear, good, tender-hearted girl,' he said, stroking her short, soft hair, which was exquisite to the hand. 'Now go and get ready.'
She left him, but stood for a few moments on the landing before going to the girls' room.
Marian had finished the rough draft of a paper on James Harrington, author of 'Oceana.' Her father went through it by the midnight lamp, and the next morning made his comments. A black sky and sooty rain strengthened his inclination to sit by the study fire and talk at large in a tone of flattering benignity.
'Those paragraphs on the Rota Club strike me as singularly happy,' he said, tapping the manuscript with the mouthpiece of his pipe. 'Perhaps you might say a word or two more about Cyriac Skinner; one mustn't be too allusive with general readers, their ignorance is incredible. But there is so little to add to this paper -- so little to alter -- that I couldn't feel justified in sending it as my own work. I think it is altogether too good to appear anonymously. You must sign it, Marian, and have the credit that is due to you.'
'Oh, do you think it's worth while?' answered the girl, who was far from easy under this praise. Of late there had been too much of it; it made her regard her father with suspicions which increased her sense of trouble in keeping a momentous secret from him.
'Yes, yes; you had better sign it. I'll undertake there's no other girl of your age who could turn out such a piece of work. I think we may fairly say that your apprenticeship is at an end. Before long,' he smiled anxiously, 'I may be counting upon you as a valued contributor. And that reminds me; would you be disposed to call with me on the Jedwoods at their house next Sunday?'
Marian understood the intention that lay beneath this proposal. She saw that her father would not allow himself to seem discouraged by the silence she maintained on the great subject which awaited her decision. He was endeavouring gradually to involve her in his ambitions, to carry her forward by insensible steps. It pained her to observe the suppressed eagerness with which he looked for her reply.
'I will go if you wish, father, but I had rather not.'
'I feel sure you would like Mrs Jedwood. One has no great opinion of her novels, but she is a woman of some intellect. Let me book you for next Sunday; surely I have a claim to your companionship now and then.'
Marian kept silence. Yule puffed at his pipe, then said with a speculative air:
'I suppose it has never even occurred to you to try your hand at fiction?'
'I haven't the least inclination that way.'
'You would probably do something rather good if you tried. But I don't urge it. My own efforts in that line were a mistake, I'm disposed to think. Not that the things were worse than multitudes of books which nowadays go down with the many-headed. But I never quite knew what I wished to be at in fiction. I wasn't content to write a mere narrative of the exciting kind, yet I couldn't hit upon subjects of intellectual cast that altogether satisfied me. Well, well; I have tried my hand at most kinds of literature. Assuredly I merit the title of man of letters.'
'You certainly do.'
'By-the-by, what should you think of that title for a review -- Letters? It has never been used, so far as I know. I like the word "letters." How much better "a man of letters" than "a literary man"! And apropos of that, when was the word "literature" first used in our modern sense to signify a body of writing? In Johnson's day it was pretty much the equivalent of our "culture." You remember his saying, "It is surprising how little literature people have." His dictionary, I believe, defines the word as "learning, skill in letters" -- nothing else.'
It was characteristic of Yule to dwell with gusto on little points such as this; he prosed for a quarter of an hour, with a pause every now and then whilst he kept his pipe alight.
'I think Letters wouldn't be amiss,' he said at length, returning to the suggestion which he wished to keep before Marian's mind. 'It would clearly indicate our scope. No articles on bimetallism, as Quarmby said -- wasn't it Quarmby?'
He laughed idly.
'Yes, I must ask Jedwood how he likes the name.'
Though Marian feared the result, she was glad when Jasper made up his mind to write to her father. Since it was determined that her money could not be devoted to establishing a review, the truth ought to be confessed before Yule had gone too far in nursing his dangerous hope. Without the support of her love and all the prospects connected with it, she would hardly have been capable of giving a distinct refusal when her reply could no longer be postponed; to hold the money merely for her own benefit would have seemed to her too selfish, however slight her faith in the project on which her father built so exultantly. When it was declared that she had accepted an offer of marriage, a sacrifice of that kind could no longer be expected of her. Opposition must direct itself against the choice she had made. It would be stern, perhaps relentless; but she felt able to face any extremity of wrath. Her nerves quivered, but in her heart was an exhaustless source of courage.
That a change had somehow come about in the girl Yule was aware. He observed her with the closest study day after day. Her health seemed to have improved; after a long spell of work she had not the air of despondent weariness which had sometimes irritated him, sometimes made him uneasy. She was more womanly in her bearing and speech, and exercised an independence, appropriate indeed to her years, but such as had not formerly declared itself The question with her father was whether these things resulted simply from her consciousness of possessing what to her seemed wealth, or something else had happened of the nature that he dreaded. An alarming symptom was the increased attention she paid to her personal appearance; its indications were not at all prominent, but Yule, on the watch for such things, did not overlook them. True, this also might mean nothing but a sense of relief from narrow means; a girl would naturally adorn herself a little under the circumstances.
His doubts came to an end two days after that proposal of a title for the new review. As he sat in his study the servant brought him a letter delivered by the last evening post. The handwriting was unknown to him; the contents were these:
'DEAR MR YULE, -- It is my desire to write to you with perfect frankness and as simply as I can on a subject which has the deepest interest for me, and which I trust you will consider in that spirit of kindness with which you received me when we first met at Finden.
'On the occasion of that meeting I had the happiness of being presented to Miss Yule. She was not totally a stranger to me; at that time I used to work pretty regularly in the Museum Reading-room, and there I had seen Miss Yule, had ventured to observe her at moments with a young man's attention, and had felt my interest aroused, though I did not know her name. To find her at Finden seemed to me a very unusual and delightful piece of good fortune. When I came back from my holiday I was conscious of a new purpose in life, a new desire and a new motive to help me on in my chosen career.
'My mother's death led to my sisters' coming to live in London. Already there had been friendly correspondence between Miss Yule and the two girls, and now that the opportunity offered they began to see each other frequently. As I was often at my sisters' lodgings it came about that I met Miss Yule there from time to time. In this way was confirmed my attachment to your daughter. The better I knew her, the more worthy I found her of reverence and love.
'Would it not have been natural for me to seek a renewal of the acquaintance with yourself which had been begun in the country? Gladly I should have done so. Before my sisters' coming to London I did call one day at your house with the desire of seeing you, but unfortunately you were not at home. Very soon after that I learnt to my extreme regret that my connection with The Current and its editor would make any repetition of my visit very distasteful to you. I was conscious of nothing in my literary life that could justly offend you -- and at this day I can say the same -- but I shrank from the appearance of importunity, and for some months I was deeply distressed by the fear that what I most desired in life had become unattainable. My means were very slight; I had no choice but to take such work as offered, and mere chance had put me into a position which threatened ruin to the hope that you would some day regard me as a not unworthy suitor for your daughter's hand.
'Circumstances have led me to a step which at that time seemed impossible. Having discovered that Miss Yule returned the feeling I entertained for her, I have asked her to be my wife, and she has consented. It is now my hope that you will permit me to call upon you. Miss Yule is aware that I am writing this letter; will you not let her plead for me, seeing that only by an unhappy chance have I been kept aloof from you? Marian and I are equally desirous that you should approve our union; without that approval, indeed, something will be lacking to the happiness for which we hope.
Half an hour after reading this Yule was roused from a fit of the gloomiest brooding by Marian's entrance. She came towards him timidly, with pale countenance. He had glanced round to see who it was, but at once turned his head again.
'Will you forgive me for keeping this secret from you, father?'
'Forgive you?' he replied in a hard, deliberate voice. 'I assure you it is a matter of perfect indifference to me. You are long since of age, and I have no power whatever to prevent your falling a victim to any schemer who takes your fancy. It would be folly in me to discuss the question. I recognise your right to have as many secrets as may seem good to you. To talk of forgiveness is the merest affectation.'
'No, I spoke sincerely. If it had seemed possible I should gladly have let you know about this from the first. That would have been natural and right. But you know what prevented me.'
'I do. I will try to hope that even a sense of shame had something to do with it.'
'That had nothing to do with it,' said Marian, coldly. 'I have never had reason to feel ashamed.'
'Be it so. I trust you may never have reason to feel repentance. May I ask when you propose to be married?'
'I don't know when it will take place.'
'As soon, I suppose, as your uncle's executors have discharged a piece of business which is distinctly germane to the matter?'
'Does your mother know?'
'I have just told her.'
'Very well, then it seems to me that there's nothing more to be said.'
'Do you refuse to see Mr Milvain?'
'Most decidedly I do. You will have the goodness to inform him that that is my reply to his letter.'
'I don't think that is the behaviour of a gentleman,' said Marian, her eyes beginning to gleam with resentment.
'I am obliged to you for your instruction.'
'Will you tell me, father, in plain words, why you dislike Mr Milvain?'
'I am not inclined to repeat what I have already fruitlessly told you. For the sake of a clear understanding, however, I will let you know the practical result of my dislike. From the day of your marriage with that man you are nothing to me. I shall distinctly forbid you to enter my house. You make your choice, and go your own way. I shall hope never to see your face again.'
Their eyes met, and the look of each seemed to fascinate the other.
'If you have made up your mind to that,' said Marian in a shaking voice, 'I can remain here no longer. Such words are senselessly cruel. To-morrow I shall leave the house.'
'I repeat that you are of age, and perfectly independent. It can be nothing to me how soon you go. You have given proof that I am of less than no account to you, and doubtless the sooner we cease to afflict each other the better.'
It seemed as if the effect of these conflicts with her father were to develop in Marian a vehemence of temper which at length matched that of which Yule was the victim. Her face, outlined to express a gentle gravity, was now haughtily passionate; nostrils and lips thrilled with wrath, and her eyes were magnificent in their dark fieriness.
'You shall not need to tell me that again,' she answered, and immediately left him.
She went into the sitting-room, where Mrs Yule was awaiting the result of the interview.
'Mother,' she said, with stern gentleness, 'this house can no longer be a home for me. I shall go away to-morrow, and live in lodgings until the time of my marriage.'
Mrs Yule uttered a cry of pain, and started up.
'Oh, don't do that, Marian! What has he said to you? Come and talk to me, darling -- tell me what he's said -- don't look like that!'
She clung to the girl despairingly, terrified by a transformation she would have thought impossible.
'He says that if I marry Mr Milvain he hopes never to see my face again. I can't stay here. You shall come and see me, and we will be the same to each other as always. But father has treated me too unjustly. I can't live near him after this.'
'He doesn't mean it,' sobbed her mother. 'He says what he's sorry for as soon as the words are spoken. He loves you too much, my darling, to drive you away like that. It's his disappointment, Marian; that's all it is. He counted on it so much. I've heard him talk of it in his sleep; he made so sure that he was going to have that new magazine, and the disappointment makes him that he doesn't know what he's saying. Only wait and see; he'll tell you he didn't mean it, I know he will. Only leave him alone till he's had time to get over it. Do forgive him this once.'
'It's like a madman to talk in that way,' said the girl, releasing herself. 'Whatever his disappointment, I can't endure it. I have worked hard for him, very hard, ever since I was old enough, and he owes me some kindness, some respect. It would be different if he had the least reason for his hatred of Jasper. It is nothing but insensate prejudice, the result of his quarrels with other people. What right has he to insult me by representing my future husband as a scheming hypocrite?'
'My love, he has had so much to bear -- it's made him so quick-tempered.'
'Then I am quick-tempered too, and the sooner we are apart the better, as he said himself'
'Oh, but you have always been such a patient girl.'
'My patience is at an end when I am treated as if I had neither rights nor feelings. However wrong the choice I had made, this was not the way to behave to me. His disappointment? Is there a natural law, then, that a daughter must be sacrificed to her father? My husband will have as much need of that money as my father has, and he will be able to make far better use of it. It was wrong even to ask me to give my money away like that. I have a right to happiness, as well as other women.'
She was shaken with hysterical passion, the natural consequence of this outbreak in a nature such as hers. Her mother, in the meantime, grew stronger by force of profound love that at length had found its opportunity of expression. Presently she persuaded Marian to come upstairs with her, and before long the overburdened breast was relieved by a flow of tears. But Marian's purpose remained unshaken.
'It is impossible for us to see each other day after day,' she said when calmer. 'He can't control his anger against me, and I suffer too much when I am made to feel like this. I shall take a lodging not far off where you can see me often.'
'But you have no money, Marian,' replied Mrs Yule, miserably.
'No money? As if I couldn't borrow a few pounds until all my own comes to me! Dora Milvain can lend me all I shall want; it won't make the least difference to her. I must have my money very soon now.'
At about half-past eleven Mrs Yule went downstairs, and entered the study.
'If you are coming to speak about Marian,' said her husband, turning upon her with savage eyes, 'you can save your breath. I won't hear her name mentioned.'
She faltered, but overcame her weakness.
'You are driving her away from us, Alfred. It isn't right! Oh, it isn't right!'
'If she didn't go I should, so understand that! And if I go, you have seen the last of me. Make your choice, make your choice!'
He had yielded himself to that perverse frenzy which impels a man to acts and utterances most wildly at conflict with reason. His sense of the monstrous irrationality to which he was committed completed what was begun in him by the bitterness of a great frustration.
'If I wasn't a poor, helpless woman,' replied his wife, sinking upon a chair and crying without raising her hands to her face, 'I'd go and live with her till she was married, and then make a home for myself. But I haven't a penny, and I'm too old to earn my own living; I should only be a burden to her.'
'That shall be no hindrance,' cried Yule. 'Go, by all means; you shall have a sufficient allowance as long as I can continue to work, and when I'm past that, your lot will be no harder than mine. Your daughter had the chance of making provision for my old age, at no expense to herself. But that was asking too much of her. Go, by all means, and leave me to make what I can of the rest of my life; perhaps I may save a few years still from the curse brought upon me by my own folly.'
It was idle to address him. Mrs Yule went into the sitting-room, and there sat weeping for an hour. Then she extinguished the lights, and crept upstairs in silence.
Yule passed the night in the study. Towards morning he slept for an hour or two, just long enough to let the fire go out and to get thoroughly chilled. When he opened his eyes a muddy twilight had begun to show at the window; the sounds of a clapping door within the house, which had probably awakened him, made him aware that the servant was already up.
He drew up the blind. There seemed to be a frost, for the moisture of last night had all disappeared, and the yard upon which the window looked was unusually clean. With a glance at the black grate he extinguished his lamp, and went out into the passage. A few minutes' groping for his overcoat and hat, and he left the house.
His purpose was to warm himself with a vigorous walk, and at the same time to shake off if possible, the nightmare of his rage and hopelessness. He had no distinct feeling with regard to his behaviour of the past evening; he neither justified nor condemned himself; he did not ask himself whether Marian would to-day leave her home, or if her mother would take him at his word and also depart. These seemed to be details which his brain was too weary to consider. But he wished to be away from the wretchedness of his house, and to let things go as they would whilst he was absent. As he closed the front door he felt as if he were escaping from an atmosphere that threatened to stifle him.
His steps directing themselves more by habit than with any deliberate choice, he walked towards Camden Road. When he had reached Camden Town railway-station he was attracted by a coffee-stall; a draught of the steaming liquid, no matter its quality, would help his blood to circulate. He laid down his penny, and first warmed his hands by holding them round the cup. Whilst standing thus he noticed that the objects at which he looked had a blurred appearance; his eyesight seemed to have become worse this morning. Only a result of his insufficient sleep perhaps. He took up a scrap of newspaper that lay on the stall; he could read it, but one of his eyes was certainly weaker than the other; trying to see with that one alone, he found that everything became misty.
He laughed, as if the threat of new calamity were an amusement in his present state of mind. And at the same moment his look encountered that of a man who had drawn near to him, a shabbily-dressed man of middle age, whose face did not correspond with his attire.
'Will you give me a cup of coffee?' asked the stranger, in a low voice and with shamefaced manner. 'It would be a great kindness.'
The accent was that of good breeding. Yule hesitated in surprise for a moment, then said:
'Have one by all means. Would you care for anything to eat?'
'I am much obliged to you. I think I should be none the worse for one of those solid slices of bread and butter.'
The stall-keeper was just extinguishing his lights; the frosty sky showed a pale gleam of sunrise.
'Hard times, I'm afraid,' remarked Yule, as his beneficiary began to eat the luncheon with much appearance of grateful appetite.
'Very hard times.' He had a small, thin, colourless countenance, with large, pathetic eyes; a slight moustache and curly beard. His clothes were such as would be worn by some very poor clerk. 'I came here an hour ago,' he continued, 'with the hope of meeting an acquaintance who generally goes from this station at a certain time. I have missed him, and in doing so I missed what I had thought my one chance of a breakfast. When one has neither dined nor supped on the previous day, breakfast becomes a meal of some importance.'
'True. Take another slice.'
'I am greatly obliged to you.'
'Not at all. I have known hard times myself, and am likely to know worse.'
'I trust not. This is the first time that I have positively begged. I should have been too much ashamed to beg of the kind of men who are usually at these places; they certainly have no money to spare. I was thinking of making an appeal at a baker's shop, but it is very likely I should have been handed over to a policeman. Indeed I don't know what I should have done; the last point of endurance was almost reached. I have no clothes but these I wear, and they are few enough for the season. Still, I suppose the waistcoat must have gone.'
He did not talk like a beggar who is trying to excite compassion, but with a sort of detached curiosity concerning the difficulties of his position.
'You can find nothing to do?' said the man of letters.
'Positively nothing. By profession I am a surgeon, but it's a long time since I practised. Fifteen years ago I was comfortably established at Wakefield; I was married and had one child. But my capital ran out, and my practice, never anything to boast of, fell to nothing. I succeeded in getting a place as an assistant to a man at Chester. We sold up, and started on the journey.'
He paused, looking at Yule in a strange way.
'What happened then?'
'You probably don't remember a railway accident that took place near Crewe in that year -- it was 1869? I and my wife and child were alone in a carriage that was splintered. One moment I was talking with them, in fairly good spirits, and my wife was laughing at something I had said; the next, there were two crushed, bleeding bodies at my feet. I had a broken arm, that was all. Well, they were killed on the instant; they didn't suffer. That has been my one consolation.'
Yule kept the silence of sympathy.
'I was in a lunatic asylum for more than a year after that,' continued the man. 'Unhappily, I didn't lose my senses at the moment; it took two or three weeks to bring me to that pass. But I recovered, and there has been no return of the disease. Don't suppose that I am still of unsound mind. There can be little doubt that poverty will bring me to that again in the end; but as yet I am perfectly sane. I have supported myself in various ways. No, I don't drink; I see the question in your face. But I am physically weak, and, to quote Mrs Gummidge, "things go contrairy with me." There's no use lamenting; this breakfast has helped me on, and I feel in much better spirits.'
'Your surgical knowledge is no use to you?'
The other shook his head and sighed.
'Did you ever give any special attention to diseases of the eyes?'
'Special, no. But of course I had some acquaintance with the subject.'
'Could you tell by examination whether a man was threatened with cataract, or anything of that kind?'
'I think I could.'
'I am speaking of myself.'
The stranger made a close scrutiny of Yule's face, and asked certain questions with reference to his visual sensations.
'I hardly like to propose it,' he said at length, 'but if you were willing to accompany me to a very poor room that I have not far from here, I could make the examination formally.'
'I will go with you.'
They turned away from the stall, and the ex-surgeon led into a by-street. Yule wondered at himself for caring to seek such a singular consultation, but he had a pressing desire to hear some opinion as to the state of his eyes. Whatever the stranger might tell him, he would afterwards have recourse to a man of recognised standing; but just now companionship of any kind was welcome, and the poor hungry fellow, with his dolorous life-story, had made appeal to his sympathies. To give money under guise of a fee would be better than merely offering alms.
'This is the house,' said his guide, pausing at a dirty door. 'It isn't inviting, but the people are honest, so far as I know. My room is at the top.'
'Lead on,' answered Yule.
In the room they entered was nothing noticeable; it was only the poorest possible kind of bed-chamber, or all but the poorest possible. Daylight had now succeeded to dawn, yet the first thing the stranger did was to strike a match and light a candle.
'Will you kindly place yourself with your back to the window?' he said. 'I am going to apply what is called the catoptric test. You have probably heard of it?'
'My ignorance of scientific matters is fathomless.'
The other smiled, and at once offered a simple explanation of the term. By the appearance of the candle as it reflected itself in the patient's eye it was possible, he said, to decide whether cataract had taken hold upon the organ.
For a minute or two he conducted his experiment carefully, and Yule was at no loss to read the result upon his face.
'How long have you suspected that something was wrong?' the surgeon asked, as he put down the candle.
'For several months.'
'You haven't consulted anyone?'
'No one. I have kept putting it off. Just tell me what you have discovered.'
'The back of the right lens is affected beyond a doubt.'
'That means, I take it, that before very long I shall be practically blind?'
'I don't like to speak with an air of authority. After all, I am only a surgeon who has bungled himself into pauperdom. You must see a competent man; that much I can tell you in all earnestness. Do you use your eyes much?'
'Fourteen hours a day, that's all.'
'H'm! You are a literary man, I think?'
'I am. My name is Alfred Yule.'
He had some faint hope that the name might be recognised; that would have gone far, for the moment, to counteract his trouble. But not even this poor satisfaction was to be granted him; to his hearer the name evidently conveyed nothing.
'See a competent man, Mr Yule. Science has advanced rapidly since the days when I was a student; I am only able to assure you of the existence of disease.'
They talked for half an hour, until both were shaking with cold. Then Yule thrust his hand into his pocket.
'You will of course allow me to offer such return as I am able,' he said. 'The information isn't pleasant, but I am glad to have it.'
He laid five shillings on the chest of drawers -- there was no table. The stranger expressed his gratitude.
'My name is Duke,' he said, 'and I was christened Victor -- possibly because I was doomed to defeat in life. I wish you could have associated the memory of me with happier circumstances.'
They shook hands, and Yule quitted the house.
He came out again by Camden Town station. The coffee-stall had disappeared; the traffic of the great highway was growing uproarious. Among all the strugglers for existence who rushed this way and that, Alfred Yule felt himself a man chosen for fate's heaviest infliction. He never questioned the accuracy of the stranger's judgment, and he hoped for no mitigation of the doom it threatened. His life was over -- and wasted.
He might as well go home, and take his place meekly by the fireside. He was beaten. Soon to be a useless old man, a burden and annoyance to whosoever had pity on him.
It was a curious effect of the imagination that since coming into the open air again his eyesight seemed to be far worse than before. He irritated his nerves of vision by incessant tests, closing first one eye then the other, comparing his view of nearer objects with the appearance of others more remote, fancying an occasional pain -- which could have had no connection with his disease. The literary projects which had stirred so actively in his mind twelve hours ago were become an insubstantial memory; to the one crushing blow had succeeded a second, which was fatal. He could hardly recall what special piece of work he had been engaged upon last night. His thoughts were such as if actual blindness had really fallen upon him.
At half-past eight he entered the house. Mrs Yule was standing at the foot of the stairs; she looked at him, then turned away towards the kitchen. He went upstairs. On coming down again he found breakfast ready as usual, and seated himself at the table. Two letters waited for him there; he opened them.
When Mrs Yule came into the room a few moments later she was astonished by a burst of loud, mocking laughter from her husband, excited, as it appeared, by something he was reading.
'Is Marian up?' he asked, turning to her.
'She is not coming to breakfast?'
'Then just take that letter to her, and ask her to read it.'
Mrs Yule ascended to her daughter's bedroom. She knocked, was bidden enter, and found Marian packing clothes in a trunk. The girl looked as if she had been up all night; her eyes bore the traces of much weeping.
'He has come back, dear,' said Mrs Yule, in the low voice of apprehension, 'and he says you are to read this letter.'
Marian took the sheet, unfolded it, and read. As soon as she had reached the end she looked wildly at her mother, seemed to endeavour vainly to speak, then fell to the floor in unconsciousness. The mother was only just able to break the violence of her fall. Having snatched a pillow and placed it beneath Marian's head, she rushed to the door and called loudly for her husband, who in a moment appeared.
'What is it?' she cried to him. 'Look, she has fallen down in a faint. Why are you treating her like this?'
'Attend to her,' Yule replied roughly. 'I suppose you know better than I do what to do when a person faints.'
The swoon lasted for several minutes.
'What's in the letter?' asked Mrs Yule whilst chafing the lifeless hands.
'Her money's lost. The people who were to pay it have just failed.'
'She won't get anything?'
'Most likely nothing at all.'
The letter was a private communication from one of John Yule's executors. It seemed likely that the demand upon Turberville & Co. for an account of the deceased partner's share in their business had helped to bring about a crisis in affairs that were already unstable. Something might be recovered in the legal proceedings that would result, but there were circumstances which made the outlook very doubtful.
As Marian came to herself her father left the room. An hour afterwards Mrs Yule summoned him again to the girl's chamber; he went, and found Marian lying on the bed, looking like one who had been long ill.
'I wish to ask you a few questions,' she said, without raising herself. 'Must my legacy necessarily be paid out of that investment?'
'It must. Those are the terms of the will.'
'If nothing can be recovered from those people, I have no remedy?'
'None whatever that I can see.'
'But when a firm is bankrupt they generally pay some portion of their debts?'
'Sometimes. I know nothing of the case.'
'This of course happens to me,' Marian said, with intense bitterness. 'None of the other legatees will suffer, I suppose?'
'Someone must, but to a very small extent.'
'Of course. When shall I have direct information?'
'You can write to Mr Holden; you have his address.'
'Thank you. That's all.'
He was dismissed, and went quietly away.
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