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Chapter 15

  • 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.
  • "What for?"
  • 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
  • 'Differences' by Mavis Clare.