After that evening I became a regular and welcome visitor at Lord Elton'_ouse, and was soon on terms of the most friendly intimacy with all th_embers of his family, including even the severely pious Miss Charlott_itzroy. It was not difficult for me to see that my matrimonial aspiration_ere suspected,—and though the encouragement I received from Lady Siby_erself was so slight as to make me doubtful whether, after all, my hopes o_inning her would ever be realized, the Earl made no secret of his delight a_he idea of securing me as a son-in-law. Such wealth as mine was not to be me_ith every day,—and even had I been a blackleg of the turf, or a retire_ockey, instead of an 'author,' I should, "with five millions at my back, hav_een considered quite as desirable a suitor for the Lady Sibyl's hand. Rimane_carcely ever went with me to the Eltons' now, pleading as excuse muc_ressing business and many social engagements. I was not altogether sorry fo_his. Greatly as I admired and honoured him, his extraordinary physical beaut_nd fascination of manner were in dangerous contrast to my merely 'ordinar_oodlooking' personality, and it seemed to me impossible that any woman, seeing much of him, could be expected to give me the preference. All the sam_ had no fear that he would ever voluntarily become my rival,—his antipathy t_omen was too deep-rooted and sincere for that. On this point indeed hi_eelings were so strong and passionate, that I often wondered why the societ_irens who eagerly courted his attention remained so blind and unconscious t_he chill cynicism that lurked beneath his seeming courtesy,—the cuttin_atire that was coupled with apparent compliment, and the intensity of hatre_hat flamed under the assumed expression of admiring homage in his flashin_yes. However, it was not my business to point out to those who could not o_ould not see, the endless peculiarities of my friend's variable disposition.
I did not pay much heed to them even so far as I myself was concerned, for _ad grown accustomed to the quick changes he was wont to ring on all the gamu_f human feeling, and absorbed in my own life-schemes I did not trouble mysel_o intimately study the man who had in a couple of months become my _fidu_chates._ I was engrossed at the moment in doing all I could to increase th_arl of Elton's appreciative sense of my value as a man and a millionaire, an_o this end I paid some of his pressing debts, lent him a large sum of mone_ithout demanding interest or promise of repayment, and stocked his cella_ith presents of such rare old wines as he had not been able to afford t_urchase for himself for many years. Thus was confidence easily engendere_etween us, even to that point of affection which displayed itself in hi_ordship's readiness to thrust his arm through mine when we sauntered togethe_own Piccadilly, and his calling me 'my dear boy' in public. Never shall _orget the bewildered amazement of the scrubby little editor of a sixpenn_agazine who met me face to face thus accompanied in the Park one morning!
That he knew the Earl of Elton by sight was evident, and that he also knew me, his apoplectic stare confessed. He had pompously refused to even read any o_y offered contributions on the ground that I had'no name,'—and now!—he woul_ave given a month's salary if I had but condescended to recognize him. I di_ot so condescend,— but passed him by, listening to, and laughing with m_ntended future father-in-law, who was retailing an extremely ancient joke fo_y benefit. The incident was slight, even trumpery, —yet it put me in a goo_umour, for one of the chiefest pleasures I had out of my wealth was th_bility to repay with vengeful interest all the contempt and insult that ha_eaten me back from every chance of earning a livelihood while I was poor.
In all my visits to the Eltons, I never saw the paralyzed Countess again.
Since the last terrible visitation of her dread disease, she had not moved.
She merely lived and breathed —no more. Lord Elton told me that the worst par_f her illness at present, so far as it affected those who had to attend upo_er, was the particularly hideous alteration of her face.
"The fact is," he said, not without a shudder, "she's dreadful to loo_t,—positively dreadful!—no longer human, you know. She used to be a lovel_oman,—now she is literally frightful. Her eyes especially;—they are as scare_nd wild as if she had seen the devil. Quite an awful expression I assure you !—and it never alters. The doctors can do nothing—and of course it's ver_rying for Sibyl, and for everybody.''
I assented sympathetically; and realizing that a house holding such a figur_f living death within it must of necessity be more or less gloomy an_epressing to a young and vigorous nature, I lost no opportunity of givin_ady Sibyl whatever slight pleasures were in my power to procure for he_istraction and entertainment. Costly flowers, boxes for the opera and 'firs_ights' at the play,—every sort of attention that a man can pay to a woma_ithout being considered officious or intrusive I offered, and was no_epulsed. Everything progressed well and favourably towards the eas_ttainment of my wishes,—I had no difficulties, no troubles of any kind, and _oluntarily led a life of selfishly absorbed personal gratification, bein_ommended and encouraged therein by a whole host of flatterers and intereste_cquaintances. Willowsmere Court was mine; and every newspaper in the kingdo_ad commented on the purchase, in either servile or spiteful paragraphs. M_awyers had warmly congratulated me on the possession of so admirable _roperty which they, in strict accordance with what they conceived to be thei_uty, had personally inspected and approved. The place was now in the hands o_ firm of decorators and furnishers, recommended by Rimanez, and it wa_xpected to be in perfect order for my habitation in early summer, at whic_ime I purposed entertaining a large house-party of more or less distinguishe_eople.
Meantime, what I had once considered would be the great event of my life, too_lace,—namely the publication of my book. Trumpeted forth by the most heraldi_dvertisements, it was at last launched on the uncertain and fluctuating tid_f public favour, and special 'advance' copies were sent to the office o_very magazine and journal in London. The day after this was done, Lucio, as _ow familiarly called him, came into my room with a mysterious and mischievou_ir.
"Geoffrey," he said, "I'm going to lend you five hundred pounds!''
I looked up with a smile.
He held out a cheque towards me. Glancing at it I saw that the sum h_entioned was filled in and endorsed with his signature, but that the name o_he person to whom the money was to be made payable, had not yet been written.
"Well ?—What does it mean?"
"It means," replied he, "that I am going to see Mr McWhing this morning. _ave an appointment with him at twelve. You, as Geoffrey Tempest, the autho_f the book Mr McWhing is going to criticise and make a 'boom' of, could no_ossibly put your name to such a cheque. It would not be 'good form'—it migh_rop up afterwards and so betray 'the secrets of the prison-house.' But for m_t is another affair. I am going to 'pose' as your businessman—your 'literar_gent' who pockets ten per cent of the profits, and wants to make a 'bi_hing' out of you, and I'm going to talk the matter over with the perfectl_ractical McWhing who has, like every true Scot, a keen eye for the mai_hance. Of course it will be in confidence,—strict confidence!" and h_aughed. "It's a'l a question of business you know,—in these commercial days, literature has become a trade like everything else, and even critics only wor_or what pays them. As indeed why should they not?"
"Do you mean to tell me McWhing will take that five hundred?" I aske_ubiously.
"I mean to tell you nothing of the kind. I would not put the matter s_oarsely for the world! This money is not for McWhing,—it is for a literar_harity."
"Indeed! I thought you had an idea perhaps of offering a bribe … "
"Bribe! Good Heavens! Bribe a critic! Impossible, my good Geoffrey !—such _hing was never heard of— never, never, never!" and he shook his head an_olled up his eyes with infinite solemnity. "No, no! Press people never tak_oney for anything,—not even for 'booming' a new gold-mining company,—not eve_or putting a notice of a fashionable concert into the Morning Post.
Everything in the English press is the just expression of pure and loft_entiment, believe me! This little cheque is for a charity of which Mr McWhin_s chief patron,—you see the Civil List pensions all go by favour to the wron_ersons now-adays; to the keeping of lunatic versifiers, and retired actresse_ho never could act—the actual bona-fide 'genius' never gets anything out o_overnment, and moreover would scorn to take a farthing from that penuriou_ody, which grudges him anything higher than a money-recognition. It is a_reat an insult to offer a beggarly pension of fifty or a hundred pounds _ear to a really great writer, as to give him a knighthood,—and we cannot fal_uch lower than to be a knight, as knights go. The present five hundred pound_ill help to relieve certain 'poor and proud' but pressing literary case_nown to McWhing alone!'' His expression at this moment was so extraordinary, that I entirely failed to fathom it. "I have no doubt I shall be able t_epresent the benevolent and respectable literary agent to perfection—o_ourse I shall insist on my ten per cent!"—and he began laughing again. "But _an't stop to discuss the matter now with you —I'm off. I promised McWhing t_e with him at twelve o'clock precisely, and it's now half-past-eleven. _hall probably lunch with him, so don't wait for me. And concerning the fiv_undred, you needn't be in my debt an hour longer than you like—I'll take _heque for the money back from you this evening.''
"All right," I said. "But perhaps the great oracle of the cliques will rejec_our proposals with scorn."
"If he does, then is Utopia realized!'' replied Lucio, carefully drawing o_is gloves as he spoke. "Where's a copy of your book? Ah, here's one, smellin_ewly of the press," and he slipped the volume into his overcoat pocket.
"Allow me, before departure, to express the opinion that you are a singularl_ngrateful fellow Geoffrey! Here am I, perfectly devoted to you_nterests,—and despite my 'princedom' actually prepared to 'pose' to McWing a_our 'acting manager' _pro tern,_ and you haven't so much as a 'thank-you'
to throw at me!"
He stood before me smiling, the personification of kindness and good humour. _aughed a little.
"McWhing will never take _you_ for an acting manager or literary agent," _aid. "You don't look it. If I seem churlish, I'm sorry—but the fact is I a_isgusted … "
"At what?" he inquired, still smiling.
"Oh, at the humbug of everything," I answered impatiently; "the stupid farc_f it all. Why shouldn't a book get noticed on its own merits without an_ppeal to cliquism and influential wire-pulling on the press?"
"Exactly!" and he delicately flicked a grain of dust off" his coat whil_peaking. "And why shouldn't a man get received in society on his own merits, without any money to recommend him, or any influential friend to back him up?"
I was silent.
"The world is as it is made," he went on, regarding me fixedly. "It is move_y the lowest and pettiest motives,—it works for the most trivial, ridiculous, and perishable aims. It is not a paradise. It is not a happy family of unite_nd affectionate brethren. It is an over-populated colony of jabbering an_uarrelsome monkeys, who fancy they are men. Philosophers in old days tried t_each it that the monkeytype should be exterminated for the growth an_ncouragement of a nobler race,but they preached in vain,—there never wer_nough real men alive to overcome the swarming majority of the beasts. Go_imself, they say, came down from Heaven to try and set wrong things right, and to restore if possible His own defaced image to the general aspect o_umanity,— and even He failed."
"There is very little of God in this world,y I said bitterly. "There is muc_ore Devil!"
He smiled,—a musing, dreamy smile that transfigured his countenance and mad_im look like a fine Apollo absorbed in the thought of some new and gloriou_ong.
"No doubt!" he said, after a little pause. "Mankind certainly prefer the devi_o any other deity,—therefore if they elect him as their representative, it i_carcely to be wondered at that he governs, where he is asked to govern. An_et— do you know, Geoffrey—this devil,—if there is one,—can hardly, I think, be quite so bad as his detractors say. I myself don't believe he is a whi_orse than a nineteenth-century financier!"
I laughed aloud at the comparison.
"After that," I said, "you had better go to McWhing. I hope you will tell hi_hat I am the triple essence of all the newest 'discoveries' rolled into one."
"Never fear!" returned Lucio. "I've learned all my stockphrases by heart,—a
'star of the first magnitude,' etc.,—I've read the _Athenaum_ till I've go_he lingo of the literary auctioneer well-nigh perfect, and I believe I shal_cquit myself admirably. Aurevoir!"
He was gone; and I, after a little desultory looking over my papers, went ou_o lunch at Arthur's, of which club I was now a member. On my way I stopped t_ook in at a bookseller's window to see if my 'immortal' production was yet o_how. It was not,—and the volume put most conspicuously to the front among al_he 'newest books' was one entitled 'Differences. By Mavis Clare.' Acting on _udden impulse I went in to purchase it.
"Has this a good sale !" I asked, as the volume was handed to me.
The clerk at the counter opened his eyes wide.
"Sale?" he echoed. "Well, I should think so—rather! Why, everybody's readin_t!"
"Indeed;" and I turned over the uncut pages carelessly. "I see no allusio_hatever to it in the papers."
The clerk smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
"No—and you're not likely to, sir," he said. "Miss Clare is too popular t_eed reviews. Besides, a large number of the critics, the 'log-rollers'
especially, are mad against her for her success, and the public know it. Onl_he other day a man came in here from one of the big newspaper offices au_old me he was taking a few notes on the books which had the larges_ales,—would I tell him which author's works were most in demand? I said Mis_lare took the lead,— as she does,—and he got into a regular rage. Said he,
'That's the answer I've had all along the line, and however true it is, it'_o use to me, because I dare not mention it. My editor would instantly scratc_t out—he hates Miss Clare.' 'A precious editor you've got!' I said, and h_ooked rather queer. There's nothing like journalism, sir, for the suppressio_f truth !''
I smiled, and went away with my purchase, convinced that I had wasted a fe_hillings on a mere piece of woman's trash. If this Mavis Clare was indeed so
'popular,' then her work must naturally be of the 'penny dreadful' order, fo_, like many another literary man, laboured under the ludicrous inconsistenc_f considering the public an 'ass' while I myself desired nothing so much a_he said 'ass's' applause and approval!—and therefore I could not imagine i_apable of voluntarily selecting for itself any good work of literatur_ithout guidance from the critics. Of course I was wrong; the great masses o_he public in all nations are always led by some instinctive sense of right, that moves them to reject the false and unworthy, and select the true.
Completely prepared, like most men of my type, to sneer and cavil at the book, chiefly because it was written by a feminine hand, I sat down in a retire_orner of the club reading-room, and began to cut and skim the pages. I ha_ot read many sentences before my heart sank with a heavy sense of fear and,— jealousy!—the slow fire of an insidious envy began to smoulder in my mind.
What power had so gifted this author—this mere _woman_ —that she should dar_o write better than I! And that she should force me, by the magic of her pe_o mentally acknowledge, albeit with wrath and shame, my own inferiority!
Clearness of thought, brilliancy of style, beauty of diction, all these wer_ers, united to consummate ease of expression and artistic skill,—and all a_nce, in the very midst of reading, such a violent impulse of insensate rag_ossessed me that I flung the book down, dreading to go on with it. Th_otent, resistless, unpurchasable quality of Genius!—ah, I was not yet s_linded by my own conceit as to be unable to recognise that divine fire when _aw it flashing up from every page, as I saw it now; but, to be compelled t_ive that recognition to a _woman's_ work, galled and irritated me almos_eyond endurance. Women, I considered, should be kept in their places as men'_rudges or toys,—as wives, mothers, nurses, cooks, menders of socks an_hirts, and housekeepers generally,—what right had they to intrude into th_ealms of art and snatch the laurels from their masters' brows? If I could bu_et the chance of reviewing this book, I thought to myself savagely! I woul_isquote, misrepresent, and cut it to shreds with a joy too great for words!
This Mavis Clare—'unsexed,' as I at once called her in my own mind, simpl_ecause she had the power I lacked—wrote what she had to say with a graciou_harm, freedom, and innate consciousness of strength, —a strength which force_e back upon myself and filled me with the bitterest humiliation. Withou_nowing her I hated her,—this woman who could win fame without the aid o_oney, and who was crowned so brightly and visibly to the world that she wa_eyond criticism. I took up her book again, and tried to cavil at it,—over on_r two dainty bits of poetic simile and sentiment I laughed,—enviously. When _eft the club later in the day, I took the book with me, divided between _urious desire to read it honestly through, with justice to it and its author, and an impulse to tear it asunder and fling it into the road to be crushed i_he mud under rolling cab and cart wheels. In this strange humour Rimane_ound me, when at about four o'clock he returned from his mission to Davi_cWhing, smiling and—triumphant.
"Congratulate me, Geoffrey!" he exclaimed as he entered my room. "Congratulat_e, and yourself! I am _minus_ the five hundred pound cheque I showed yo_his morning!"
"McWhing has pocketed it then," I said sullenly. "All right! Much good may i_o him, and his 'charity'!"
Rimanez gave me a quick observant glance.
"Why, what has happened to you since we parted?" he inquired, throwing off hi_vercoat and sitting down opposite to me. "You seem out of temper! Yet yo_ught to be a perfectly happy man—for your highest ambition is about to b_ratified. You said you wished to make your book and yourself ' the talk o_ondon,'—well, within the next two or three weeks you will see yoursel_raised in a very large number of influential newspapers as the newes_iscovered 'genius' of the day, only a little way removed from Shakespear_imself (three of the big leading magazines are guaranteed to say that), an_ll this through the affability of Mr McWhing and the trifling sum of fiv_undred pounds! And are you not satisfied? Really, my friend, you are becomin_ifficult!—I warned you that too much good fortune spoils a man."
With a sudden movement I flung down Mavis Clare's book before him.
"Look at this," I said. "Does _she_ pay five hundred pounds to Davi_cWhing's charity?"
He took up the volume and glanced at it.
"Certainly not. But then,—she gets slandered, not criticised!"
"What does that matter!" I retorted. "The man from whom I bought this boo_ays that everybody is reading it."
"Exactly!" and Rimanez surveyed me with a curious expression, half of pity, half of amusement. "But you know the old axiom, my dear Geoffrey?—'you ma_ead a horse to the water but you cannot make him drink.' Which statement, interpreted for the present occasion, means that though certain log-rollers, headed by our estimable friend McWhing, may drag the horse— _i.e._ th_ublic—up to their own particularly prepared literary trough, they canno_orce it to swallow the mixture. The horse frequently turns tail and runs awa_n search of its own provender,—it has done so in the case of Miss Clare. Whe_he public choose an author for themselves, it is a dreadful thing of cours_or other authors,—but it really can't be helped!"
"Why should they choose Mavis Clare?" I demanded gloomily.
"Ah, why indeed!" he echoed smiling. "McWhing would tell you they do it out o_heer idiotcy;—the public would answer that they choose her because she ha_enius."
"Genius!" I repeated scornfully. "The public are perfectly incapable o_ecognising such a quality!"
"You think so!" he said still smiling—"you really think so? In that case it'_ery odd isn't it, how everything that is truly great in art and literatur_ecomes so widely known and honoured, not only in this country, but in ever_ivilized land where people think or study? You must remember that all th_ery famous men and women have been steadily 'written down' in their day, eve_o the late English Laureate, Tennyson, who was 'criticised' for the most par_n the purest 'Billingsgate';—it is only the mediocrities who are ever
'written up.' It seems as if the stupid public really had a hand in selectin_hese 'great,' for the reviewers would never stand them at any price, til_riven to acknowledge them by the popular _force majeure._ But considerin_he barbarous want of culture and utter foolishness of the public, Geoffrey, what /wonder at, is that you should care to appeal to it at all!"
I sat silent,—inwardly chafing under his remarks.
"I am afraid," he resumed, rising and taking a white flower from one of th_ases on the table to pin in his buttonhole, "that Miss Clare is going to be _horn in your side, my friend! A man rival in literature is bad enough,—but _oman rival is too much to endure with any amount of patience! However, yo_ay console yourself with the certainty that _she_ will never get
'boomed,'—while you—thanks to my tender fostering of the sensitive and high- principled McWhing, will be the one delightful and unique 'discovery' of th_ress for at least one month, perhaps two, which is about as long as any 'ne_tar of the first magnitude' lasts in the latter-day literary skies. Shooting- stars, all of them!— such as poor old forgotten Beranger sang of—
"les e^oiles qui filent,
'Qui filent,—qui filent—et disparaissent!'"
"Except—Mavis Clare!" I said.
"True! Except Mavis Clare!" and he laughed aloud,— a laugh that jarred upon m_ecause there was a note of mockery in it. "She is a small fixture in the vas_eavens,— or so it seems,—revolving very contentedly and smoothly in her ow_ppointed orbit,—but she is not, and never will be attended by the brillian_eteor-flames that will burst round _you,_ my excellent fellow, at th_ignal of McWhing! Fie, Geoffrey!—get over your sulks! Jealous of a woman! B_shamed,—is not woman the inferior creature! and shall the mere spectre of _eminine fame cause a five-fold millionaire to abase his lofty spirit in th_ust? Conquer your strange fit of the spleen, Geoffrey, and join me a_inner!"
He laughed again as he left the room,—and again his laughter irritated me.
When he had gone, I gave way to the base and unworthy impulse that had fo_ome minutes been rankling within me, and sitting down at my writing table, penned a hasty note to the editor of a rather powerful magazine, a man whom _ad formerly known and worked for. He was aware of my altered fortunes, an_he influential position I now occupied, and I felt confident he would be gla_o oblige me in any matter if he could. My letter, marked ' _private an_onfidential,'_ contained the request that I might be permitted to write fo_is next number, an anonymous 'slashing' review of the new novel entitled