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Chapter 3 The friends of the family

  • It was natural that Amy should hint dissatisfaction with the loneliness i_hich her days were mostly spent. She had never lived in a large circle o_cquaintances; the narrowness of her mother's means restricted the family t_ntercourse with a few old friends and such new ones as were content wit_eacup entertainment; but her tastes were social, and the maturing proces_hich followed upon her marriage made her more conscious of this than she ha_een before. Already she had allowed her husband to understand that one of he_trongest motives in marrying him was the belief that he would achiev_istinction. At the time she doubtless thought of his coming fame only—o_rincipally—as it concerned their relations to each other; her pride in hi_as to be one phase of her love. Now she was well aware that no degree o_istinction in her husband would be of much value to her unless she had th_leasure of witnessing its effect upon others; she must shine with reflecte_ight before an admiring assembly.
  • The more conscious she became of this requirement of her nature, the mor_learly did she perceive that her hopes had been founded on an error. Reardo_ould never be a great man; he would never even occupy a prominent place i_he estimation of the public. The two things, Amy knew, might be as differen_s light and darkness; but in the grief of her disappointment she would rathe_ave had him flare into a worthless popularity than flicker down into tota_xtinction, which it almost seemed was to be his fate.
  • She knew so well how 'people' were talking of him and her. Even her unliterar_cquaintances understood that Reardon's last novel had been anything bu_uccessful, and they must of course ask each other how the Reardons were goin_o live if the business of novel-writing proved unremunerative. Her pride too_ffence at the mere thought of such conversations. Presently she would becom_n object of pity; there would be talk of 'poor Mrs Reardon.' It wa_ntolerable.
  • So during the last half year she had withheld as much as possible from th_ntercourse which might have been one of her chief pleasures. And to disguis_he true cause she made pretences which were a satire upon her state o_ind—alleging that she had devoted herself to a serious course of studies, that the care of house and child occupied all the time she could spare fro_er intellectual pursuits. The worst of it was, she had little faith in th_fficacy of these fictions; in uttering them she felt an unpleasant warmt_pon her cheeks, and it was not difficult to detect a look of doubt in th_yes of the listener. She grew angry with herself for being dishonest, an_ith her husband for making such dishonesty needful.
  • The female friend with whom she had most trouble was Mrs Carter. You remembe_hat on the occasion of Reardon's first meeting with his future wife, at th_rosvenor Gallery, there were present his friend Carter and a young lady wh_as shortly to bear the name of that spirited young man. The Carters had no_een married about a year; they lived in Bayswater, and saw much of a certai_orld which imitates on a lower plane the amusements and affectations o_ociety proper. Mr Carter was still secretary to the hospital where Reardo_ad once earned his twenty shillings a week, but by voyaging in the seas o_haritable enterprise he had come upon supplementary sources of income; fo_nstance, he held the post of secretary to the Barclay Trust, a charity whos_oderate funds were largely devoted to the support of gentlemen engaged i_dministering it. This young man, with his air of pleasing vivacity, had earl_ngratiated himself with the kind of people who were likely to be of use t_im; he had his reward in the shape of offices which are only procured throug_rivate influence. His wife was a good-natured, lively, and rather cleve_irl; she had a genuine regard for Amy, and much respect for Reardon. He_mbition was to form a circle of distinctly intellectual acquaintances, an_he was constantly inviting the Reardons to her house; a real live novelist i_ot easily drawn into the world where Mrs Carter had her being, and it annoye_er that all attempts to secure Amy and her husband for five-o'clock teas an_mall parties had of late failed.
  • On the afternoon when Reardon had visited a second-hand bookseller with a vie_f raising money—he was again shut up in his study, dolorously at work—Amy wa_isturbed by the sound of a visitor's rat-tat; the little servant went to th_oor, and returned followed by Mrs Carter.
  • Under the best of circumstances it was awkward to receive any but intimat_riends during the hours when Reardon sat at his desk. The little dining-room (with its screen to conceal the kitchen range) offered nothing more tha_omely comfort; and then the servant had to be disposed of by sending her int_he bedroom to take care of Willie. Privacy, in the strict sense, wa_mpossible, for the servant might listen at the door (one room led out of th_ther) to all the conversation that went on; yet Amy could not request he_isitors to speak in a low tone. For the first year these difficulties had no_een felt; Reardon made a point of leaving the front room at his wife'_isposal from three to six; it was only when dread of the future began t_ress upon him that he sat in the study all day long. You see how complicate_ere the miseries of the situation; one torment involved another, and in ever_uarter subjects of discontent were multiplied.
  • Mrs Carter would have taken it ill had she known that Amy did not regard he_s strictly an intimate. They addressed each other by their Christian names, and conversed without ceremony; but Amy was always dissatisfied when the well- dressed young woman burst with laughter and animated talk into this abode o_oncealed poverty. Edith was not the kind of person with whom one can quarrel; she had a kind heart, and was never disagreeably pretentious. Ha_ircumstances allowed it, Amy would have given frank welcome to suc_riendship; she would have been glad to accept as many invitations as Edit_hose to offer. But at present it did her harm to come in contact with Mr_arter; it made her envious, cold to her husband, resentful against fate.
  • 'Why can't she leave me alone?' was the thought that rose in her mind as Edit_ntered. 'I shall let her see that I don't want her here.'
  • 'Your husband at work?' Edith asked, with a glance in the direction of th_tudy, as soon as they had exchanged kisses and greetings.
  • 'Yes, he is busy.'
  • 'And you are sitting alone, as usual. I feared you might be out; an afternoo_f sunshine isn't to be neglected at this time of year.'
  • 'Is there sunshine?' Amy inquired coldly.
  • 'Why, look! Do you mean to say you haven't noticed it? What a comical perso_ou are sometimes! I suppose you have been over head and ears in books al_ay. How is Willie?'
  • 'Very well, thank you.'
  • 'Mayn't I see him?'
  • 'If you like.'
  • Amy stepped to the bedroom door and bade the servant bring Willie fo_xhibition. Edith, who as yet had no child of her own, always showed the mos_lattering admiration of this infant; it was so manifestly sincere that th_other could not but be moved to a grateful friendliness whenever she listene_o its expression. Even this afternoon the usual effect followed when Edit_ad made a pretty and tender fool of herself for several minutes. Amy bade th_ervant make tea.
  • At this moment the door from the passage opened, and Reardon looked in.
  • 'Well, if this isn't marvellous!' cried Edith. 'I should as soon have expecte_he heavens to fall!'
  • 'As what?' asked Reardon, with a pale smile.
  • 'As you to show yourself when I am here.'
  • 'I should like to say that I came on purpose to see you, Mrs Carter, but i_ouldn't be true. I'm going out for an hour, so that you can take possessio_f the other room if you like, Amy.'
  • 'Going out?' said Amy, with a look of surprise.
  • 'Nothing—nothing. I mustn't stay.'
  • He just inquired of Mrs Carter how her husband was, and withdrew. The door o_he flat was heard to close after him.
  • 'Let us go into the study, then,' said Amy, again in rather a cold voice.
  • On Reardon's desk were lying slips of blank paper. Edith, approaching o_iptoe with what was partly make believe, partly genuine, awe, looked at th_iterary apparatus, then turned with a laugh to her friend.
  • 'How delightful it must be to sit down and write about people one ha_nvented! Ever since I have known you and Mr Reardon I have been tempted t_ry if I couldn't write a story.'
  • 'Have you?'
  • 'And I'm sure I don't know how you can resist the temptation. I feel sure yo_ould write books almost as clever as your husband's.'
  • 'I have no intention of trying.'
  • 'You don't seem very well to-day, Amy.'
  • 'Oh, I think I am as well as usual.'
  • She guessed that her husband was once more brought to a standstill, and thi_arkened her humour again.
  • 'One of my reasons for corning,' said Edith, 'was to beg and entreat an_mplore you and Mr Reardon to dine with us next Wednesday. Now, don't put o_uch a severe face! Are you engaged that evening?'
  • 'Yes; in the ordinary way. Edwin can't possibly leave his work.'
  • 'But for one poor evening! It's such ages since we saw you.'
  • 'I'm very sorry. I don't think we shall ever be able to accept invitations i_uture.'
  • Amy spoke thus at the prompting of a sudden impulse. A minute ago, no suc_efinite declaration was in her mind.
  • 'Never?' exclaimed Edith. 'But why? Whatever do you mean?'
  • 'We find that social engagements consume too much time,' Amy replied, he_xplanation just as much of an impromptu as the announcement had been. 'Yo_ee, one must either belong to society or not. Married people can't accept a_ccasional invitation from friends and never do their social duty in return.
  • We have decided to withdraw altogether—at all events for the present. I shal_ee no one except my relatives.'
  • Edith listened with a face of astonishment.
  • 'You won't even see ME?' she exclaimed.
  • 'Indeed, I have no wish to lose your friendship. Yet I am ashamed to ask yo_o come here when I can never return your visits.'
  • 'Oh, please don't put it in that way! But it seems so very strange.'
  • Edith could not help conjecturing the true significance of this resolve. But, as is commonly the case with people in easy circumstances, she found it har_o believe that her friends were so straitened as to have a difficulty i_upporting the ordinary obligations of a civilised state.
  • 'I know how precious your husband's time is,' she added, as if to remove th_ffect of her last remark. 'Surely, there's no harm in my saying —we know eac_ther well enough—you wouldn't think it necessary to devote an evening t_ntertaining us just because you had given us the pleasure of your company. _ut it very stupidly, but I'm sure you understand me, Amy. Don't refuse jus_o come to our house now and then.'
  • 'I'm afraid we shall have to be consistent, Edith.'
  • 'But do you think this is a WISE thing to do?'
  • 'Wise?'
  • 'You know what you once told me, about how necessary it was for a novelist t_tudy all sorts of people. How can Mr Reardon do this if he shuts himself u_n the house? I should have thought he would find it necessary to make ne_cquaintances.'
  • 'As I said,' returned Amy, 'it won't be always like this. For the present, Edwin has quite enough "material."'
  • She spoke distantly; it irritated her to have to invent excuses for th_acrifice she had just imposed on herself. Edith sipped the tea which had bee_ffered her, and for a minute kept silence.
  • 'When will Mr Reardon's next book be published?' she asked at length.
  • 'I'm sure I don't know. Not before the spring.'
  • 'I shall look so anxiously for it. Whenever I meet new people I always tur_he conversation to novels, just for the sake of asking them if they know you_usband's books.'
  • She laughed merrily.
  • 'Which is seldom the case, I should think,' said Amy, with a smile o_ndifference.
  • 'Well, my dear, you don't expect ordinary novel-readers to know about M_eardon. I wish my acquaintances were a better kind of people; then, o_ourse, I should hear of his books more often. But one has to make the best o_uch society as offers. If you and your husband forsake me, I shall feel it _ad loss; I shall indeed.'
  • Amy gave a quick glance at the speaker's face.
  • 'Oh, we must be friends just the same,' she said, more naturally than she ha_poken hitherto. 'But don't ask us to come and dine just now. All through thi_inter we shall be very busy, both of us. Indeed, we have decided not t_ccept any invitations at all.'
  • 'Then, so long as you let me come here now and then, I must give in. I promis_ot to trouble you with any more complaining. But how you can live such a lif_ don't know. I consider myself more of a reader than women generally are, an_ should be mortally offended if anyone called me frivolous; but I must have _ood deal of society. Really and truly, I can't live without it.'
  • 'No?' said Amy, with a smile which meant more than Edith could interpret. I_eemed slightly condescending.
  • 'There's no knowing; perhaps if I had married a literary man—' She paused, smiling and musing. 'But then I haven't, you see.' She laughed. 'Albert i_nything but a bookworm, as you know.'
  • 'You wouldn't wish him to be.'
  • 'Oh no! Not a bookworm. To be sure, we suit each other very well indeed. H_ikes society just as much as I do. It would be the death of him if he didn'_pend three-quarters of every day with lively people.'
  • 'That's rather a large portion. But then you count yourself among the livel_nes.'
  • They exchanged looks, and laughed together.
  • 'Of course you think me rather silly to want to talk so much with sill_eople,' Edith went on. 'But then there's generally some amusement to be got, you know. I don't take life quite so seriously as you do. People are people, after all; it's good fun to see how they live and hear how they talk.'
  • Amy felt that she was playing a sorry part. She thought of sour grapes, and o_he fox who had lost his tail. Worst of all, perhaps Edith suspected th_ruth. She began to make inquiries about common acquaintances, and fell int_n easier current of gossip.
  • A quarter of an hour after the visitor's departure Reardon came back. Amy ha_uessed aright; the necessity of selling his books weighed upon him so tha_or the present he could do nothing. The evening was spent gloomily, with ver_ittle conversation.
  • Next day came the bookseller to make his inspection. Reardon had chosen ou_nd ranged upon a table nearly a hundred volumes. With a few exceptions, the_ad been purchased second-hand. The tradesman examined them rapidly.
  • 'What do you ask?' he inquired, putting his head aside.
  • 'I prefer that you should make an offer,' Reardon replied, with th_elplessness of one who lives remote from traffic.
  • 'I can't say more than two pounds ten.'
  • 'That is at the rate of sixpence a volume—?'
  • 'To me that's about the average value of books like these.'
  • Perhaps the offer was a fair one; perhaps it was not. Reardon had neither tim_or spirit to test the possibilities of the market; he was ashamed to betra_is need by higgling.
  • 'I'll take it,' he said, in a matter-of-fact voice.
  • A messenger was sent for the books that afternoon. He stowed them skilfully i_wo bags, and carried them downstairs to a cart that was waiting.
  • Reardon looked at the gaps left on his shelves. Many of those vanished volume_ere dear old friends to him; he could have told you where he had picked the_p and when; to open them recalled a past moment of intellectual growth, _ood of hope or despondency, a stage of struggle. In most of them his name wa_ritten, and there were often pencilled notes in the margin. Of course he ha_hosen from among the most valuable he possessed; such a multitude must els_ave been sold to make this sum of two pounds ten. Books are cheap, you know.
  • At need, one can buy a Homer for fourpence, a Sophocles for sixpence. It wa_ot rubbish that he had accumulated at so small expenditure, but the librar_f a poor student—battered bindings, stained pages, supplanted editions. H_oved his books, but there was something he loved more, and when Amy glance_t him with eyes of sympathy he broke into a cheerful laugh.
  • 'I'm only sorry they have gone for so little. Tell me when the money is nearl_t an end again, and you shall have more. It's all right; the novel will b_one soon.'
  • And that night he worked until twelve o'clock, doggedly, fiercely.
  • The next day was Sunday. As a rule he made it a day of rest, and almos_erforce, for the depressing influence of Sunday in London made work to_ifficult. Then, it was the day on which he either went to see his ow_articular friends or was visited by them.
  • 'Do you expect anyone this evening?' Amy inquired.
  • 'Biffen will look in, I dare say. Perhaps Milvain.'
  • 'I think I shall take Willie to mother's. I shall be back before eight.'
  • 'Amy, don't say anything about the books.'
  • 'No, no.'
  • 'I suppose they always ask you when we think of removing over the way?'
  • He pointed in a direction that suggested Marylebone Workhouse. Amy tried t_augh, but a woman with a child in her arms has no keen relish for such jokes.
  • 'I don't talk to them about our affairs,' she said.
  • 'That's best.'
  • She left home about three o'clock, the servant going with her to carry th_hild.
  • At five a familiar knock sounded through the flat; it was a heavy rap followe_y half-a-dozen light ones, like a reverberating echo, the last strok_carcely audible. Reardon laid down his book, but kept his pipe in his mouth, and went to the door. A tall, thin man stood there, with a slouch hat and lon_rey overcoat. He shook hands silently, hung his hat in the passage, and cam_orward into the study.
  • His name was Harold Biffen, and, to judge from his appearance, he did no_elong to the race of common mortals. His excessive meagreness would all bu_ave qualified him to enter an exhibition in the capacity of living skeleton, and the garments which hung upon this framework would perhaps have sold fo_hree-and-sixpence at an old-clothes dealer's. But the man was superior t_hese accidents of flesh and raiment. He had a fine face: large, gentle eyes, nose slightly aquiline, small and delicate mouth. Thick black hair fell to hi_oat-collar; he wore a heavy moustache and a full beard. In his gait there wa_ singular dignity; only a man of cultivated mind and graceful character coul_ove and stand as he did.
  • His first act on entering the room was to take from his pocket a pipe, _ouch, a little tobacco-stopper, and a box of matches, all of which h_rranged carefully on a corner of the central table. Then he drew forward _hair and seated himself.
  • 'Take your top-coat off;' said Reardon.
  • 'Thanks, not this evening.'
  • 'Why the deuce not?'
  • 'Not this evening, thanks.'
  • The reason, as soon as Reardon sought for it, was obvious. Biffen had n_rdinary coat beneath the other. To have referred to this fact would have bee_ndelicate; the novelist of course understood it, and smiled, but with n_irth.
  • 'Let me have your Sophocles,' were the visitor's next words.
  • Reardon offered him a volume of the Oxford Pocket Classics.
  • 'I prefer the Wunder, please.'
  • 'It's gone, my boy.'
  • 'Gone?'
  • 'Wanted a little cash.'
  • Biffen uttered a sound in which remonstrance and sympathy were blended.
  • 'I'm sorry to hear that; very sorry. Well, this must do. Now, I want to kno_ow you scan this chorus in the "Oedipus Rex."'
  • Reardon took the volume, considered, and began to read aloud with metri_mphasis.
  • 'Choriambics, eh?' cried the other. 'Possible, of course; but treat them a_onics a minore with an anacrusis, and see if they don't go better.'
  • He involved himself in terms of pedantry, and with such delight that his eye_leamed. Having delivered a technical lecture, he began to read i_llustration, producing quite a different effect from that of the rhythm a_iven by his friend. And the reading was by no means that of a pedant, rathe_f a poet.
  • For half an hour the two men talked Greek metres as if they lived in a worl_here the only hunger known could be satisfied by grand or sweet cadences.
  • They had first met in an amusing way. Not long after the publication of hi_ook 'On Neutral Ground' Reardon was spending a week at Hastings. A rainy da_rove him to the circulating library, and as he was looking along the shelve_or something readable a voice near at hand asked the attendant if he ha_nything 'by Edwin Reardon.' The novelist turned in astonishment; that an_asual mortal should inquire for his books seemed incredible. Of course ther_as nothing by that author in the library, and he who had asked the questio_alked out again. On the morrow Reardon encountered this same man at a lonel_art of the shore; he looked at him, and spoke a word or two of commo_ivility; they got into conversation, with the result that Edwin told th_tory of yesterday. The stranger introduced himself as Harold Biffen, a_uthor in a small way, and a teacher whenever he could get pupils; an abusiv_eview had interested him in Reardon's novels, but as yet he knew nothing o_hem but the names.
  • Their tastes were found to be in many respects sympathetic, and afte_eturning to London they saw each other frequently. Biffen was always in dir_overty, and lived in the oddest places; he had seen harder trials than eve_eardon himself. The teaching by which he partly lived was of a kind quit_nknown to the respectable tutorial world. In these days of examinations, numbers of men in a poor position—clerks chiefly—conceive a hope that by
  • 'passing' this, that, or the other formal test they may open for themselves _ew career. Not a few such persons nourish preposterous ambitions; there ar_arehouse clerks privately preparing (without any means or prospect of them) for a call to the Bar, drapers' assistants who 'go in' for the preliminar_xamination of the College of Surgeons, and untaught men innumerable wh_esire to procure enough show of education to be eligible for a curacy.
  • Candidates of this stamp frequently advertise in the newspapers for chea_uition, or answer advertisements which are intended to appeal to them; the_ay from sixpence to half-a-crown an hour—rarely as much as the latter sum.
  • Occasionally it happened that Harold Biffen had three or four such pupils i_and, and extraordinary stories he could draw from his large experience i_his sphere.
  • Then as to his authorship.—But shortly after the discussion of Greek metres h_ell upon the subject of his literary projects, and, by no means for the firs_ime, developed the theory on which he worked.
  • 'I have thought of a new way of putting it. What I really aim at is a_bsolute realism in the sphere of the ignobly decent. The field, as _nderstand it, is a new one; I don't know any writer who has treated ordinar_ulgar life with fidelity and seriousness. Zola writes deliberate tragedies; his vilest figures become heroic from the place they fill in a strongl_magined drama. I want to deal with the essentially unheroic, with the day-to- day life of that vast majority of people who are at the mercy of paltr_ircumstance. Dickens understood the possibility of such work, but hi_endency to melodrama on the one hand, and his humour on the other, prevente_im from thinking of it. An instance, now. As I came along by Regent's Par_alf an hour ago a man and a girl were walking close in front of me, love- making; I passed them slowly and heard a good deal of their talk—it was par_f the situation that they should pay no heed to a stranger's proximity. Now, such a love-scene as that has absolutely never been written down; it wa_ntirely decent, yet vulgar to the nth power. Dickens would have made i_udicrous—a gross injustice. Other men who deal with low-class life woul_erhaps have preferred idealising it—an absurdity. For my own part, I am goin_o reproduce it verbatim, without one single impertinent suggestion of an_oint of view save that of honest reporting. The result will be somethin_nutterably tedious. Precisely. That is the stamp of the ignobly decent life.
  • If it were anything but tedious it would be untrue. I speak, of course, of it_ffect upon the ordinary reader.'
  • 'I couldn't do it,' said Reardon.
  • 'Certainly you couldn't. You—well, you are a psychological realist in th_phere of culture. You are impatient of vulgar circumstances.'
  • 'In a great measure because my life has been martyred by them.'
  • 'And for that very same reason I delight in them,' cried Biffen. 'You ar_epelled by what has injured you; I am attracted by it. This divergence i_ery interesting; but for that, we should have resembled each other s_losely. You know that by temper we are rabid idealists, both of us.'
  • 'I suppose so.'
  • 'But let me go on. I want, among other things, to insist upon the fatefu_ower of trivial incidents. No one has yet dared to do this seriously. It ha_ften been done in farce, and that's why farcical writing so often makes on_elancholy. You know my stock instances of the kind of thing I mean. There wa_oor Allen, who lost the most valuable opportunity of his life because h_adn't a clean shirt to put on; and Williamson, who would probably hav_arried that rich girl but for the grain of dust that got into his eye, an_ade him unable to say or do anything at the critical moment.'
  • Reardon burst into a roar of laughter.
  • 'There you are!' cried Biffen, with friendly annoyance. 'You take th_onventional view. If you wrote of these things you would represent them a_aughable.'
  • 'They are laughable,' asserted the other, 'however serious to the person_oncerned. The mere fact of grave issues in life depending on such paltr_hings is monstrously ludicrous. Life is a huge farce, and the advantage o_ossessing a sense of humour is that it enables one to defy fate with mockin_aughter.'
  • 'That's all very well, but it isn't an original view. I am not lacking i_ense of humour, but I prefer to treat these aspects of life from an impartia_tandpoint. The man who laughs takes the side of a cruel omnipotence, if on_an imagine such a thing.
  • I want to take no side at all; simply to say, Look, this is the kind of thin_hat happens.'
  • 'I admire your honesty, Biffen,' said Reardon, sighing. 'You will never sel_ork of this kind, yet you have the courage to go on with it because yo_elieve in it.'
  • 'I don't know; I may perhaps sell it some day.'
  • 'In the meantime,' said Reardon, laying down his pipe, 'suppose we eat _orsel of something. I'm rather hungry.'
  • In the early days of his marriage Reardon was wont to offer the friends wh_ooked in on Sunday evening a substantial supper; by degrees the meal ha_rown simpler, until now, in the depth of his poverty, he made no pretence o_ospitable entertainment. It was only because he knew that Biffen as often a_ot had nothing whatever to eat that he did not hesitate to offer him a slic_f bread and butter and a cup of tea. They went into the back room, and ove_he Spartan fare continued to discuss aspects of fiction.
  • 'I shall never,' said Biffen, 'write anything like a dramatic scene. Suc_hings do happen in life, but so very rarely that they are nothing to m_urpose. Even when they happen, by-the-bye, it is in a shape that would b_seless to the ordinary novelist; he would have to cut away this circumstance, and add that. Why? I should like to know. Such conventionalism results fro_tage necessities. Fiction hasn't yet outgrown the influence of the stage o_hich it originated. Whatever a man writes FOR EFFECT is wrong and bad.'
  • 'Only in your view. There may surely exist such a thing as the ART o_iction.'
  • 'It is worked out. We must have a rest from it. You, now—the best things yo_ave done are altogether in conflict with novelistic conventionalities. It wa_ecause that blackguard review of "On Neutral Ground" clumsily hinted thi_hat I first thought of you with interest. No, no; let us copy life. When th_an and woman are to meet for a great scene of passion, let it all b_rustrated by one or other of them having a bad cold in the head, and so on.
  • Let the pretty girl get a disfiguring pimple on her nose just before the bal_t which she is going to shine. Show the numberless repulsive features o_ommon decent life. Seriously, coldly; not a hint of facetiousness, or th_hing becomes different.'
  • About eight o'clock Reardon heard his wife's knock at the door. On opening h_aw not only Amy and the servant, the latter holding Willie in her arms, bu_ith them Jasper Milvain.
  • 'I have been at Mrs Yule's,' Jasper explained as he came in. 'Have you anyon_ere?'
  • 'Biffen.'
  • 'Ah, then we'll discuss realism.'
  • 'That's over for the evening. Greek metres also.'
  • 'Thank Heaven!'
  • The three men seated themselves with joking and laughter, and the smoke o_heir pipes gathered thickly in the little room. It was half an hour befor_my joined them. Tobacco was no disturbance to her, and she enjoyed the kin_f talk that was held on these occasions; but it annoyed her that she could n_onger play the hostess at a merry supper-table.
  • 'Why ever are you sitting in your overcoat, Mr Biffen?' were her first word_hen she entered.
  • 'Please excuse me, Mrs Reardon. It happens to be more convenient thi_vening.'
  • She was puzzled, but a glance from her husband warned her not to pursue th_ubject.
  • Biffen always behaved to Amy with a sincerity of respect which had made him _avourite with her. To him, poor fellow, Reardon seemed supremely blessed.
  • That a struggling man of letters should have been able to marry, and such _ife, was miraculous in Biffen's eyes. A woman's love was to him th_nattainable ideal; already thirty-five years old, he had no prospect of eve_eing rich enough to assure himself a daily dinner; marriage was wildly out o_he question. Sitting here, he found it very difficult not to gaze at Amy wit_ncivil persistency. Seldom in his life had he conversed with educated women, and the sound of this clear voice was always more delightful to him than an_usic.
  • Amy took a place near to him, and talked in her most charming way of suc_hings as she knew interested him. Biffen's deferential attitude as h_istened and replied was in strong contrast with the careless ease whic_arked Jasper Milvain. The realist would never smoke in Amy's presence, bu_asper puffed jovial clouds even whilst she was conversing with him.
  • 'Whelpdale came to see me last night,' remarked Milvain, presently. 'His nove_s refused on all hands. He talks of earning a living as a commission agen_or some sewing-machine people.'
  • 'I can't understand how his book should be positively refused,' said Reardon.
  • 'The last wasn't altogether a failure.'
  • 'Very nearly. And this one consists of nothing but a series of conversation_etween two people. It is really a dialogue, not a novel at all. He read m_ome twenty pages, and I no longer wondered that he couldn't sell it.'
  • 'Oh, but it has considerable merit,' put in Biffen. 'The talk is remarkabl_rue.'
  • 'But what's the good of talk that leads to nothing?' protested Jasper.
  • 'It's a bit of real life.'
  • 'Yes, but it has no market value. You may write what you like, so long a_eople are willing to read you. Whelpdale's a clever fellow, but he can't hi_ practical line.'
  • 'Like some other people I have heard of;' said Reardon, laughing.
  • 'But the odd thing is, that he always strikes one as practical- minded. Don'_ou feel that, Mrs Reardon?'
  • He and Amy talked for a few minutes, and Reardon, seemingly lost i_editation, now and then observed them from the corner of his eye.
  • At eleven o'clock husband and wife were alone again.
  • 'You don't mean to say,' exclaimed Amy, 'that Biffen has sold his coat?'
  • 'Or pawned it.'
  • 'But why not the overcoat?'
  • 'Partly, I should think, because it's the warmer of the two; partly, perhaps, because the other would fetch more.'
  • 'That poor man will die of starvation, some day, Edwin.'
  • 'I think it not impossible.'
  • 'I hope you gave him something to eat?'
  • 'Oh yes. But I could see he didn't like to take as much as he wanted. I don'_hink of him with so much pity as I used that's a result of sufferin_neself.'
  • Amy set her lips and sighed.