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.'
'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?'
'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.'
'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.
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.'
'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?'
'Ah, then we'll discuss realism.'
'That's over for the evening. Greek metres also.'
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.'