On an evening of early summer, six months after the death of Edwin Reardon, Jasper of the facile pen was bending over his desk, writing rapidly by th_arm western light which told that sunset was near. Not far from him sat hi_ounger sister; she was reading, and the book in her hand bore the title, 'M_ailey, Grocer.'
'How will this do?' Jasper exclaimed, suddenly throwing down his pen.
And he read aloud a critical notice of the book with which Dora was occupied; a notice of the frankly eulogistic species, beginning with: 'It is seldo_owadays that the luckless reviewer of novels can draw the attention of th_ublic to a new work which is at once powerful and original;' and ending: 'Th_ord is a bold one, but we do not hesitate to pronounce this book _asterpiece.'
'Is that for The Current?' asked Dora, when he had finished.
'No, for The West End. Fadge won't allow anyone but himself to be lauded i_hat style. I may as well do the notice for The Current now, as I've got m_and in.'
He turned to his desk again, and before daylight failed him had produced _iece of more cautious writing, very favourable on the whole, but wit_eserves and slight censures. This also he read to Dora.
'You wouldn't suspect they were written by the same man, eh?'
'No. You have changed the style very skilfully.'
'I doubt if they'll be much use. Most people will fling the book down wit_awns before they're half through the first volume. If I knew a doctor who ha_any cases of insomnia in hand, I would recommend "Mr Bailey" to him as _pecific.'
'Oh, but it is really clever, Jasper!'
'Not a doubt of it. I half believe what I have written. And if only we coul_et it mentioned in a leader or two, and so on, old Biffen's fame would b_stablished with the better sort of readers. But he won't sell three hundre_opies. I wonder whether Robertson would let me do a notice for his paper?'
'Biffen ought to be grateful to you, if he knew,' said Dora, laughing.
'Yet, now, there are people who would cry out that this kind of thing i_isgraceful. It's nothing of the kind. Speaking seriously, we know that _eally good book will more likely than not receive fair treatment from two o_hree reviewers; yes, but also more likely than not it will be swamped in th_lood of literature that pours forth week after week, and won't have attentio_ixed long enough upon it to establish its repute. The struggle for existenc_mong books is nowadays as severe as among men. If a writer has friend_onnected with the press,. it is the plain duty of those friends to do thei_tmost to help him. What matter if they exaggerate, or even lie? The simple, sober truth has no chance whatever of being listened to, and it's only b_olume of shouting that the ear of the public is held. What use is it t_iffen if his work struggles to slow recognition ten years hence? Besides, a_ say, the growing flood of literature swamps everything but works of primar_enius. If a clever and conscientious book does not spring to success at once, there's precious small chance that it will survive. Suppose it were possibl_or me to write a round dozen reviews of this book, in as many differen_apers, I would do it with satisfaction. Depend upon it, this kind of thin_ill be done on that scale before long. And it's quite natural. A man'_riends must be helped, by whatever means, quocunque modo, as Biffen himsel_ould say.'
'I dare say he doesn't even think of you as a friend now.'
'Very likely not. It's ages since I saw him. But there's much magnanimity i_y character, as I have often told you. It delights me to be generous, whenever I can afford it.'
Dusk was gathering about them. As they sat talking, there came a tap at th_oor, and the summons to enter was obeyed by Mr Whelpdale.
'I was passing,' he said in his respectful voice, 'and couldn't resist th_emptation.'
Jasper struck a match and lit the lamp. In this clearer light Whelpdale wa_xhibited as a young man of greatly improved exterior; he wore a cream- coloured waistcoat, a necktie of subtle hue, and delicate gloves; prosperit_reathed from his whole person. It was, in fact, only a moderate prosperity t_hich he had as yet attained, but the future beckoned to him flatteringly.
Early in this year, his enterprise as 'literary adviser' had brought him i_ontact with a man of some pecuniary resources, who proposed to establish a_gency for the convenience of authors who were not skilled in disposing o_heir productions to the best advantage. Under the name of Fleet & Co., thi_usiness was shortly set on foot, and Whelpdale's services were retained o_atisfactory terms. The birth of the syndicate system had given new scope t_iterary agencies, and Mr Fleet was a man of keen eye for commercia_pportunities.
'Well, have you read Biffen's book?' asked Jasper.
'Wonderful, isn't it! A work of genius, I am convinced. Ha! you have it there, Miss Dora. But I'm afraid it is hardly for you.'
'And why not, Mr Whelpdale?'
'You should only read of beautiful things, of happy lives. This book mus_epress you.'
'But why will you imagine me such a feeble-minded person?' asked Dora. 'Yo_ave so often spoken like this. I have really no ambition to be a doll of suc_uperfine wax.'
The habitual flatterer looked deeply concerned.
'Pray forgive me!' he murmured humbly, leaning forwards towards the girl wit_yes which deprecated her displeasure. 'I am very far indeed from attributin_eakness to you. It was only the natural, unreflecting impulse; one finds i_o difficult to associate you, even as merely a reader, with such squali_cenes.
The ignobly decent, as poor Biffen calls it, is so very far from that spher_n which you are naturally at home.'
There was some slight affectation in his language, but the tone atteste_incere feeling. Jasper was watching him with half an eye, and glancin_ccasionally at Dora.
'No doubt,' said the latter, 'it's my story in The English Girl that incline_ou to think me a goody-goody sort of young woman.'
'So far from that, Miss Dora, I was only waiting for an opportunity to tel_ou how exceedingly delighted I have been with the last two weeks'
instalments. In all seriousness, I consider that story of yours the best thin_f the kind that ever came under my notice. You seem to me to have discovere_ new genre; such writing as this has surely never been offered to girls, an_ll the readers of the paper must be immensely grateful to you. I run eagerl_o buy the paper each week; I assure you I do. The stationer thinks I purchas_t for a sister, I suppose. But each section of the story seems to be bette_han the last. Mark the prophecy which I now make: when this tale is publishe_n a volume its success will be great. You will be recognised, Miss Dora, a_he new writer for modern English girls.'
The subject of this panegyric coloured a little and laughed. Unmistakably sh_as pleased.
'Look here, Whelpdale,' said Jasper, 'I can't have this; Dora's conceit, please to remember, is, to begin with, only a little less than my own, and yo_ill make her unendurable. Her tale is well enough in its way, but then it_ay is a very humble one.'
'I deny it!' cried the other, excitedly. 'How can it be called a humble lin_f work to provide reading, which is at once intellectual and moving an_xquisitely pure, for the most important part of the population—the educate_nd refined young people who are just passing from girlhood to womanhood?'
'The most important fiddlestick!'
'You are grossly irreverent, my dear Milvain. I cannot appeal to your sister, for she's too modest to rate her own sex at its true value, but the vas_ajority of thoughtful men would support me. You yourself do, though yo_ffect this profane way of speaking. And we know,' he looked at Dora, 'that h_ouldn't talk like this if Miss Yule were present.'
Jasper changed the topic of conversation, and presently Whelpdale was able t_alk with more calmness. The young man, since his association with Fleet & Co., had become fertile in suggestions of literary enterprise, and at presen_e was occupied with a project of special hopefulness.
'I want to find a capitalist,' he said, 'who will get possession of that pape_hat, and transform it according to an idea I have in my head. The thing i_oing very indifferently, but I am convinced it might be made splendi_roperty, with a few changes in the way of conducting it.'
'The paper is rubbish,' remarked Jasper, 'and the kind of rubbish—oddl_nough—which doesn't attract people.'
'Precisely, but the rubbish is capable of being made a very valuable article, if it were only handled properly. I have talked to the people about it agai_nd again, but I can't get them to believe what I say. Now just listen to m_otion. In the first place, I should slightly alter the name; only slightly, but that little alteration would in itself have an enormous effect. Instead o_hat I should call it Chit-Chat!'
Jasper exploded with mirth.
'That's brilliant!' he cried. 'A stroke of genius!'
'Are you serious? Or are you making fun of me? I believe it is a stroke o_enius. Chat doesn't attract anyone, but Chit-Chat would sell like hot cakes, as they say in America. I know I am right; laugh as you will.'
'On the same principle,' cried Jasper, 'if The Tatler were changed to Tittle- Tattle, its circulation would be trebled.'
Whelpdale smote his knee in delight.
'An admirable idea! Many a true word uttered in joke, and this is an instance!
Tittle-Tattle—a magnificent title; the very thing to catch the multitude.'
Dora was joining in the merriment, and for a minute or two nothing but burst_f laughter could be heard.
'Now do let me go on,' implored the man of projects, when the noise subsided.
'That's only one change, though a most important one. What I next propose i_his:—I know you will laugh again, but I will demonstrate to you that I a_ight. No article in the paper is to measure more than two inches in length, and every inch must be broken into at least two paragraphs.'
'But you are joking, Mr Whelpdale!' exclaimed Dora.
'No, I am perfectly serious. Let me explain my principle. I would have th_aper address itself to the quarter-educated; that is to say, the great ne_eneration that is being turned out by the Board schools, the young men an_omen who can just read, but are incapable of sustained attention. People o_his kind want something to occupy them in trains and on 'buses and trams. A_ rule they care for no newspapers except the Sunday ones; what they want i_he lightest and frothiest of chit-chatty information—bits of stories, bits o_escription, bits of scandal, bits of jokes, bits of statistics, bits o_oolery. Am I not right? Everything must be very short, two inches at th_tmost; their attention can't sustain itself beyond two inches. Even chat i_oo solid for them: they want chit-chat.'
Jasper had begun to listen seriously.
'There's something in this, Whelpdale,' he remarked.
'Ha! I have caught you?' cried the other delightedly. 'Of course there'_omething in it?'
'But—' began Dora, and checked herself.
'You were going to say—' Whelpdale bent towards her with deference.
'Surely these poor, silly people oughtn't to be encouraged in their weakness.'
Whelpdale's countenance fell. He looked ashamed of himself. But Jasper cam_peedily to the rescue.
'That's twaddle, Dora. Fools will be fools to the world's end. Answer a foo_ccording to his folly; supply a simpleton with the reading he craves, if i_ill put money in your pocket. You have discouraged poor Whelpdale in one o_he most notable projects of modern times.'
'I shall think no more of it,' said Whelpdale, gravely. 'You are right, Mis_ora.'
Again Jasper burst into merriment. His sister reddened, and looke_ncomfortable. She began to speak timidly:
'You said this was for reading in trains and 'buses?'
Whelpdale caught at hope.
'Yes. And really, you know, it may be better at such times to read chit-cha_han to be altogether vacant, or to talk unprofitably. I am not sure; I bow t_our opinion unreservedly.'
'So long as they only read the paper at such times,' said Dora, stil_esitating. 'One knows by experience that one really can't fix one's attentio_n travelling; even an article in a newspaper is often too long.'
'Exactly! And if you find it so, what must be the case with the mass o_ntaught people, the quarter-educated? It might encourage in some of them _aste for reading—don't you think?'
'It might,' assented Dora, musingly. 'And in that case you would be doin_ood!'
They smiled joyfully at each other. Then Whelpdale turned to Jasper:
'You are convinced that there is something in this?'
'Seriously, I think there is. It would all depend on the skill of the fellow_ho put the thing together every week. There ought always to be one strongl_ensational item—we won't call it article. For instance, you might display o_ placard: "What the Queen eats!" or "How Gladstone's collars ar_ade!"—things of that kind.'
'To be sure, to be sure. And then, you know,' added Whelpdale, glancin_nxiously at Dora, 'when people had been attracted by these devices, the_ould find a few things that were really profitable. We would give nicel_ritten little accounts of exemplary careers, of heroic deeds, and so on. O_ourse nothing whatever that could be really demoralising—cela va sans dire.
Well, what I was going to say was this: would you come with me to the offic_f Chat, and have a talk with my friend Lake, the sub- editor? I know you_ime is very valuable, but then you're often running into the Will-o'-the- Wisp, and Chat is just upstairs, you know.'
'What use should I be?'
'Oh, all the use in the world. Lake would pay most respectful attention t_our opinion, though he thinks so little of mine. You are a man of note, I a_obody. I feel convinced that you could persuade the Chat people to adopt m_dea, and they might be willing to give me a contingent share of contingen_rofits, if I had really shown them the way to a good thing.'
Jasper promised to think the matter over. Whilst their talk still ran on thi_ubject, a packet that had come by post was brought into the room. Opening it, Milvain exclaimed:
'Ha! this is lucky. There's something here that may interest you, Whelpdale.'
'Yes. A paper I have written for The Wayside.' He looked at Dora, who smiled.
'How do you like the title?—"The Novels of Edwin Reardon!"'
'You don't say so!' cried the other. 'What a good-hearted fellow you are, Milvain! Now that's really a kind thing to have done. By Jove! I must shak_ands with you; I must indeed! Poor Reardon! Poor old fellow!'
His eyes gleamed with moisture. Dora, observing this, looked at him so gentl_nd sweetly that it was perhaps well he did not meet her eyes; the experienc_ould have been altogether too much for him.
'It has been written for three months,' said Jasper, 'but we have held it ove_or a practical reason. When I was engaged upon it, I went to see Mortimer, and asked him if there was any chance of a new edition of Reardon's books. H_ad no idea the poor fellow was dead, and the news seemed really to affec_im. He promised to consider whether it would be worth while trying a ne_ssue, and before long I heard from him that he would bring out the two bes_ooks with a decent cover and so on, provided I could get my article o_eardon into one of the monthlies. This was soon settled. The editor of Th_ayside answered at once, when I wrote to him, that he should be very glad t_rint what I proposed, as he had a real respect for Reardon. Next month th_ooks will be out—"Neutral Ground," and "Hubert Reed." Mortimer said he wa_ure these were the only ones that would pay for themselves. But we shall see.
He may alter his opinion when my article has been read.'
'Read it to us now, Jasper, will you?' asked Dora.
The request was supported by Whelpdale, and Jasper needed no pressing. H_eated himself so that the lamplight fell upon the pages, and read the articl_hrough. It was an excellent piece of writing (see The Wayside, June 1884), and in places touched with true emotion. Any intelligent reader would divin_hat the author had been personally acquainted with the man of whom he wrote, though the fact was nowhere stated. The praise was not exaggerated, yet al_he best points of Reardon's work were admirably brought out. One who kne_asper might reasonably have doubted, before reading this, whether he wa_apable of so worthily appreciating the nobler man.
'I never understood Reardon so well before,' declared Whelpdale, at the close.
'This is a good thing well done. It's something to be proud of, Miss Dora.'
'Yes, I feel that it is,' she replied.
'Mrs Reardon ought to be very grateful to you, Milvain. By-the- by, do yo_ver see her?'
'I have met her only once since his death—by chance.'
'Of course she will marry again. I wonder who'll be the fortunate man?'
'Fortunate, do you think?' asked Dora quietly, without looking at him.
'Oh, I spoke rather cynically, I'm afraid,' Whelpdale hastened to reply. '_as thinking of her money. Indeed, I knew Mrs Reardon only very slightly.'
'I don't think you need regret it,' Dora remarked.
'Oh, well, come, come!' put in her brother. 'We know very well that there wa_ittle enough blame on her side.'
'There was great blame!' Dora exclaimed. 'She behaved shamefully!
I wouldn't speak to her; I wouldn't sit down in her company!'
'Bosh! What do you know about it? Wait till you are married to a man lik_eardon, and reduced to utter penury.'
'Whoever my husband was, I would stand by him, if I starved to death.'
'If he ill-used you?'
'I am not talking of such cases. Mrs Reardon had never anything of the kind t_ear. It was impossible for a man such as her husband to behave harshly. He_onduct was cowardly, faithless, unwomanly!'
'Trust one woman for thinking the worst of another,' observed Jasper wit_omething like a sneer.
Dora gave him a look of strong disapproval; one might have suspected tha_rother and sister had before this fallen into disagreement on the delicat_opic. Whelpdale felt obliged to interpose, and had of course no choice but t_upport the girl.
'I can only say,' he remarked with a smile, 'that Miss Dora takes a very nobl_oint of view. One feels that a wife ought to be staunch. But it's so ver_nsafe to discuss matters in which one cannot know all the facts.'
'We know quite enough of the facts,' said Dora, with delightful pertinacity.
'Indeed, perhaps we do,' assented her slave. Then, turning to her brother,
'Well, once more I congratulate you. I shall talk of your article incessantly, as soon as it appears. And I shall pester every one of my acquaintances to bu_eardon's books— though it's no use to him, poor fellow. Still, he would hav_ied more contentedly if he could have foreseen this. By-the-by, Biffen wil_e profoundly grateful to you, I'm sure.'
'I'm doing what I can for him, too. Run your eye over these slips.'
Whelpdale exhausted himself in terms of satisfaction.
'You deserve to get on, my dear fellow. In a few years you will be th_ristarchus of our literary world.'
When the visitor rose to depart, Jasper said he would walk a short distanc_ith him. As soon as they had left the house, the future Aristarchus made _onfidential communication.
'It may interest you to know that my sister Maud is shortly to be married.'
'Indeed! May I ask to whom?'
'A man you don't know. His name is Dolomore—a fellow in society.'
'Rich, then, I hope?'
'Tolerably well-to-do. I dare say he has three or four thousand a year!'
'Gracious heavens! Why, that's magnificent.'
But Whelpdale did not look quite so much satisfaction as his words expressed.
'Is it to be soon?' he inquired.
'At the end of the season. Make no difference to Dora and me, of course.'
'Oh? Really? No difference at all? You will let me come and see you—both—jus_n the old way, Milvain?'
'Why the deuce shouldn't you?'
'To be sure, to be sure. By Jove! I really don't know how I should get on if _ouldn't look in of an evening now and then. I have got so much into the habi_f it. And—I'm a lonely beggar, you know. I don't go into society, an_eally—'
He broke off, and Jasper began to speak of other things.
When Milvain re-entered the house, Dora had gone to her own sitting-room. I_as not quite ten o'clock. Taking one set of the proofs of his 'Reardon'
article, he put it into a large envelope; then he wrote a short letter, whic_egan 'Dear Mrs Reardon,' and ended 'Very sincerely yours,' the communicatio_tself being as follows:
'I venture to send you the proofs of a paper which is to appear in nex_onth's Wayside, in the hope that it may seem to you not badly done, and tha_he reading of it may give you pleasure. If anything occurs to you which yo_ould like me to add, or if you desire any omission, will you do me th_indness to let me know of it as soon as possible, and your suggestion shal_t once be adopted. I am informed that the new edition of "On Neutral Ground"
and "Hubert Reed" will be ready next month. Need I say how glad I am that m_riend's work is not to be forgotten?'
This note he also put into the envelope, which he made ready for posting. The_e sat for a long time in profound thought.
Shortly after eleven his door opened, and Maud came in. She had been dining a_rs Lane's. Her attire was still simple, but of quality which would hav_ignified recklessness, but for the outlook whereof Jasper spoke to Whelpdale.
The girl looked very beautiful. There was a flush of health and happiness o_er cheek, and when she spoke it was in a voice that rang quite differentl_rom her tones of a year ago; the pride which was natural to her had now _irm support; she moved and uttered herself in queenly fashion.
'Has anyone been?' she asked.
'Oh! I wanted to ask you, Jasper: do you think it wise to let him come quit_o often?'
'There's a difficulty, you see. I can hardly tell him to sheer off. And he'_eally a decent fellow.'
'That may be. But—I think it's rather unwise. Things are changed. In a fe_onths, Dora will be a good deal at my house, and will see all sorts o_eople.'
'Yes; but what if they are the kind of people she doesn't care anything about?
You must remember, old girl, that her tastes are quite different from yours. _ay nothing, but—perhaps it's as well they should be.'
'You say nothing, but you add an insult,' returned Maud, with a smile o_uperb disregard. 'We won't reopen the question.'
'Oh dear no! And, by-the-by, I have a letter from Dolomore. It came just afte_ou left.'
'He is quite willing to settle upon you a third of his income from th_ollieries; he tells me it will represent between seven and eight hundred _ear. I think it rather little, you know; but I congratulate myself on havin_ot this out of him.'
'Don't speak in that unpleasant way! It was only your abruptness that made an_ind of difficulty.'
'I have my own opinion on that point, and I shall beg leave to keep it.
Probably he will think me still more abrupt when I request, as I am now goin_o do, an interview with his solicitors.'
'Is that allowable?' asked Maud, anxiously. 'Can you do that with an_ecency?'
'If not, then I must do it with indecency. You will have the goodness t_emember that if I don't look after your interests, no one else will. It'_erhaps fortunate for you that I have a good deal of the man of business abou_e. Dolomore thought I was a dreamy, literary fellow. I don't say that h_sn't entirely honest, but he shows something of a disposition to play th_utocrat, and I by no means intend to let him. If you had a father, Dolomor_ould have to submit his affairs to examination.
I stand to you in loco parentis, and I shall bate no jot of my rights.'
'But you can't say that his behaviour hasn't been perfectly straightforward.'
'I don't wish to. I think, on the whole, he has behaved more honourably tha_as to be expected of a man of his kind. But he must treat me with respect. M_osition in the world is greatly superior to his. And, by the gods! I will b_reated respectfully! It wouldn't be amiss, Maud, if you just gave him a hin_o that effect.'
'All I have to say is, Jasper, don't do me an irreparable injury. You might, without meaning it.'
'No fear whatever of it. I can behave as a gentleman, and I only expec_olomore to do the same.'
Their conversation lasted for a long time, and when he was again left alon_asper again fell into a mood of thoughtfulness.
By a late post on the following day he received this letter:
'DEAR MR MILVAIN,—I have received the proofs, and have just read them; _asten to thank you with all my heart. No suggestion of mine could possibl_mprove this article; it seems to me perfect in taste, in style, in matter. N_ne but you could have written this, for no one else understood Edwin so well, or had given such thought to his work. If he could but have known that suc_ustice would be done to his memory! But he died believing that already he wa_tterly forgotten, that his books would never again be publicly spoken of.
This was a cruel fate. I have shed tears over what you have written, but the_ere not only tears of bitterness; it cannot but be a consolation to me t_hink that, when the magazine appears, so many people will talk of Edwin an_is books. I am deeply grateful to Mr Mortimer for having undertaken t_epublish those two novels; if you have an opportunity, will you do me th_reat kindness to thank him on my behalf? At the same time, I must remembe_hat it was you who first spoke to him on this subject. You say that i_laddens you to think Edwin will not be forgotten, and I am very sure that th_riendly office you have so admirably performed will in itself reward you mor_han any poor expression of gratitude from me. I write hurriedly, anxious t_et you hear as soon as possible.