"Good-bye! Good-bye! Good-bye!"
John went up the hall to Lizzie. "Good-bye, Lizzie!" he said, and then, "What on earth are you crying for?"
"I dunno," she answered, wiping her eyes. "Just 'appiness, I s'pose. I'll be doin' it myself some dy. See if I down't. It'd annoy aunt, anyway!"
They scrambled into the cab and were driven off. They leant back against the cushions and looked at each other.
"Well, we're married, Eleanor. I always said we would be," John said.
"It's frightfully funny," Eleanor replied. "Isn't it?"
He did not answer. He took her in his arms instead.
* * * * *
THE THIRD BOOK OF THE FOOLISH LOVERS
Ask, is Love divine, Voices all are, ay. Question for the sign, There's a common sigh. Would we through our years, Love forego, Quit of scars and tears? Ah, but no, no, no! MEREDITH.
THE FIRST CHAPTER
The honeymoon at Ballyards had been a triumph for Eleanor. Uncle William had immediately surrendered to her, making, indeed, no pretence to resist her. She had demanded his company on a boating excursion on the Lough, and when he had turned to her, sitting behind him in the bow of the boat, and had said, "This is great health! It's the first time I've been in a boat these years and years!" she had retorted indignantly, "The first time! But why?"
"Och ... busy!" he had explained.
She had called to John, sitting with his mother in the stern, and demanded an explanation of the causes which prevented Uncle William from taking holidays like other people.
"Sure, he likes work!" said John.
"Nobody likes work to that extent," Eleanor replied, and then Mrs. MacDermott gave the explanation. "There's no one else but him to do it," she said. "Uncle Matthew had his head full of romantic dreams and John fancied himself in other ways, so Uncle William had to do it all by himself!"
John flushed, and was angry with his mother for speaking in this way before Eleanor. He felt that she was stating the case unfairly. Had he not once offered to quit from his monitorial work to help in the shop and had not his offer been firmly refused?...
"There'll be no need for Uncle William to work hard when my play is produced," he said.
"Ah, quit blethering about hard work," Uncle William exclaimed, bending to the oars. "Sure, I'd be demented mad if I hadn't my work to do. What would an old fellow like me do gallivanting up and down the shore in my bare feet, paddling like a child in the water! Have sense, do, all of you. Eleanor, I'm surprised at you trying to make a loafer out of me!"
She leant forward and pulled him suddenly backwards and he fell into the bottom of the boat. "We'll all be drowned," he shouted. "I'll cowp the boat if you assault me again!..."
"What does 'cowp' mean?" she demanded.
"In God's name, girl, where were you brought up not to know what 'cowp' means! Upset!" said he.
"Well, why don't you say upset, you horrible old Orangeman," she retorted.
"I'm no Orangeman," he giggled at her. "I wouldn't own the name!"
"You are. You are. You say your prayers every night to King William and Carson!..."
"Ah, you're the tormenting wee tory, so you are! Here, take a hold of these oars and do something for your living!"
She had changed places with Uncle William, and John felt very proud of her as he observed the skilful way in which she handled the oars. Her strokes were clean and strong and deliberate. She did not thrust the oars too deeply into the water nor did she pull them, impotently along the surface nor did she lean too heavily on one oar so that the boat was drawn too much to one side or sent ungainly to this side and to that in an exhausting effort to keep a straight course. He lay back against his mother and regarded Eleanor out of half-shut eyes. She mystified him. Her timidity when he had first spoken to her had seemed to him then to be her chief characteristic and it had caused him to feel tenderly for her: he would be her protector. But she was not always timid. He had discovered courage in her and something uncommonly like obstinacy of mind. She uttered opinions which startled him, less because of the flimsy grounds on which they were built, than because of the queer chivalry that made her utter them. She defended the weak because they were weak, whereas he would have had her defend the truth because it was the truth. The attacked had her sympathy, whether they were in the right or in the wrong, and John demanded that sympathy should be given only to those who were in the right even if they happened also to be the stronger of the contestants. He had seen her behaving with extraordinary calmness at a time when he had been certain that she would show signs of hysteria, and while he was marvelling at her imperturbability, he had heard her screaming with fright at the sight of an ear-wig. He had rushed to her help, imagining that she was in terrible danger, and had found her trembling and shuddering because this pitiful insect had crawled on to her dressing-gown.... He had been very frightened when he heard her screaming to him for help, and he suffered so strange a reaction when he discovered that her trouble was trivial that he lost his temper. "Don't be such a fool," he said, putting his foot on the ear-wig. "You couldn't have made more noise if someone had been murdering you!"
"I hate ear-wigs!" she replied, still shuddering. "I hate all crawly things. Oh-h-h!"
And here was another aspect of her: her skill in doing things that required effort and thought. She handled a boat better than he could handle it. He was more astonished at this feat than he had been when he discovered that she had great skill in managing a house and in cooking food, for he assumed that all women were inspired by Almighty God with a genius for housekeeping and that only a deliberately sinful nature prevented a woman from serving her husband with an excellently-prepared dinner. In a vague way, he had imagined that Eleanor would need instruction in housekeeping, but that she would "soon pick it up." Any woman could "soon pick it up." His mother, he decided, would give tips to Eleanor while they were at Ballyards, and thereafter things would go very smoothly. He had determined that the flat at Hampstead which they had rented should be furnished according to his taste so that there should be no mistake about it; but when they began to choose furniture, he found that Eleanor had better judgment than he had, and he wisely deferred to her opinion. He was inclined, he discovered, to accept things which he disliked or did not want rather than take the trouble to get only the things he desired and appreciated; but Eleanor had no compunction in making a disinterested shop-assistant run about and fetch and carry until she had either obtained the thing for which she wished or was satisfied that it was not in the shop. John always had a sense of shame at leaving a shop without making a purchase when the assistant had been given much bother in their behalf; but Eleanor said that this was silliness. "That's what he's there for," she said of the shop-assistant. "I'm not going to buy things I don't want just because you're afraid of hurting his feelings!"
He began to feel, while they were furnishing their flat, that she knew her own mind at least as well as he knew his, and a fear haunted his thoughts that perhaps this adequacy of knowledge might bring trouble to them. Gradually he found himself consulting her as an equal, even accepting her advice, and seldom instructing her as one instructs a beloved pupil. When she required advice, she asked for it. At Ballyards, he had seen his mother quickening into zestful life because of Eleanor's desire to be informed of things. One evening he had come home from a visit to Mr. Cairnduff to find Eleanor seated on the high stool in the "Counting House" of the shop while Uncle William explained the working of the business to her.
"She's a great wee girl, that!" Uncle William said afterwards to John. "The great wee girl! You've done well for yourself marrying her, my son. She's a well-brought-up girl ... a girl with a family ... and that's more nor you could say for some of the women you might 'a' married. That Logan girl, now!..."
"I'd never have married her," John interrupted.
"No, I suppose you wouldn't. They're no family at all, the Logans ... just a dragged-up, thrown-together lot. They've no pride in themselves. They'd marry anybody, that family would. Willie's away to the bad altogether ... drinking and gambling and worse ... and Aggie got married on a traveller from Belfast, and two hours after she married the man, he was dead drunk. He's been drunk ever since, they say. Aw, she's a poor mouth, that woman, and not fit to hold a candle to Eleanor. I'm thankful glad you've married a sensible woman with her head on the right way, and not one of these flyaway pieces you see knocking around these times. I'd die of despair to see you married to a woman with no more gumption than an old hen!..."
He had experienced his most humiliating defect in comparison with Eleanor on board the mail-boat from Kingstown to Holyhead. He had been sea-sick, but she had seemed unaware of the fact that she was afloat on a rough sea. That terribly swift race of water that beats against a boat off Holyhead and causes the least queasy of stomachs a certain amount of discomposure, affected Eleanor not at all; and when they disembarked, it was she who found comfortable seats in the London train for them and saw to their luggage; for John still felt ill and miserable. "Poor old thing," she said, "you do look a sight!"
Mrs. MacDermott had begged him to stay beyond the stipulated time in Ballyards, and Uncle William, with a glance towards Eleanor, had reinforced her appeal; but John had refused to yield to it. There was work to be done in London, and Eleanor and he must return to town to do it. In a short while, his play would be produced ... he must attend the rehearsals of it ... and then there was his novel for which he had yet to find a publisher; and he must write another book. Eleanor had hesitated for a few moments, not irresponsive to Uncle William's look, but the desire to be in her own home had conquered her desire to remain in Ballyards, and so she had not asked John to stay away from London any longer. The flat was a small and incommodious one, but it was in a quiet street and not very far from Hampstead Heath. They had spent more money on furnishing it than they had intended to spend, but John had soothed Eleanor's mind by promising that his play would more than make up for their extravagance; and when, a fortnight after their return to town, Mr. Claude Jannissary, "the Progressive Publisher," wrote to John and invited him to call on him, they felt certain that their anxieties had been very foolish. John visited Mr. Jannissary on the morning after he had received that enlightened gentleman's letter, and was overwhelmed by the praise paid to his book. Mr. Jannissary said that he was not merely willing, but actually eager to publish it. He felt certain that its author had a great future before him, and he wished to be able to say in after years that he had been the first to recognize John's genius. He did not anticipate that he would make any profit whatever out of The Enchanted Lover ... the title of the story ... at all events for several years, partly because John still had to create a reputation for himself and partly because of the appalling conditions with which enlightened publishers had to contend. In time, no doubt, John would attract a substantial body of loyal readers, but in the meantime there was, if John would forgive the gross commercialism of the expression, "no immediate money in him." Nevertheless, Mr. Jannissary was prepared to gamble on John's future. Even if he should never make enough to cover the expense of publishing John's book, he would still feel compensated for his loss merely through having introduced the world to so excellent a novel. Idealism was not very popular, he said, but thank God he was an idealist. He believed in Art and Literature and Beauty, and he was prepared to make sacrifices for his beliefs. He could not offer any payment in advance on account of royalties to John ... much as he would like to do so ... for the conditions with which an enlightened publisher who tried to preserve his ideals intact had to contend were truly appalling; but he would publish the book immediately if John would consent to forego all royalties on the first five hundred copies, and would accept a royalty of ten per cent on all copies sold in excess of that number, the royalty to rise to fifteen per cent when the copies sold exceeded two thousand. Mr. Jannissary would put himself to the great inconvenience of trying to find a publisher for the book in America, and would only expect to receive twenty-five per cent of the author's proceeds for his trouble....
John had not greatly liked the look of Mr. Claude Jannissary. So uncompromising an idealist might have been expected to possess a more pleasing appearance and a less shifty look in his eyes ... but soothed vanity and youthful eagerness to appear in print and a feeling that very often appearances were against idealists, caused him to sign the agreement which Mr. Jannissary had already prepared for him. A great thrill of pleasure went through him as he signed the long document, full of involved clauses. He was now entitled to call himself an author. In a little while, a book of his would be purchaseable in bookshops.... "We'll print immediately," said Mr. Jannissary, handing a copy of the agreement, signed by himself, to John and putting the other copy carefully away. "I'm sure the book will be a great success ... artistically, at all events ... and after all, that's the chief thing. That's the chief thing. Ah, Art, Art, Mr. MacDermott, what a compelling thing it is! I often feel that I have thrown my life away ever since I resolved to publish books instead of writing them. There are times when I long to throw up everything and run away into the country and meditate. Meditate! But one can't escape from the bonds of the body, Mr. MacDermott!"
"Oh, no," John vaguely answered.
"The world is too much for us ... poor, bewildered idealists, searching for the gleam and so often losing it. Rent has to be paid, butchers demand payment for their meat ... I'm speaking figuratively, of course, for I'm a vegetarian myself ... and one must pay one's way. So the body has us, and we have to compromise. Ah, yes! But at the bottom of Pandora's box, Mr. MacDermott, there is always.... Hope! This way, please, and good afternoon! It's been very nice indeed to meet you!..."
Hinde had disturbed John's complacency very considerably when he saw the agreement which John had signed. Eleanor had begun the process by failing to understand why the first five hundred copies of the novel should be published free of royalty. If Mr. Jannissary was to make money out of these five hundred copies why was John not to make any? He quelled her doubts momentarily by informing her that she was totally ignorant of the conditions of publishing. If she only knew how appalling they were!... Mr. Jannissary had so impressed John with the terrible state of the publisher's business that he had gone away from the office feeling exceedingly fortunate to have his book published at all without being asked to pay for it. Eleanor's doubts, however, had revived when Hinde, who dined with them on the evening of the day on which the agreement had been signed, declared with extraordinary emphasis that Mr. Jannissary was a common robber and would, if he had his way, be enduring torture in gaol.
"He's a notorious little scoundrel who has been living for years on robbing young authors by flattering their vanity. I suppose he told you you were a marvel and bleated about his ideals?"
John could not deny that Mr. Jannissary had spoken of his ideals several times during their interview.
"I know him, the greasy little bounder!" Hinde exclaimed. "You'll never get one farthing from that book of yours, for he won't print more than five hundred copies!..."
"He will if they're demanded."
"If they're demanded. Do you think they will be?"
"I hope so!"
"Oh, we can all hope, but there's not much chance of you realising your hope. Your book isn't a very good one!..." Eleanor glanced up at this. She had not felt very certain about John's book herself, but now that Hinde was belittling it, she was angry with him.
"I think it's good," she said decisively.
"Even if it is," Hinde retorted, "it will only sell well if it's advertised well. Lots of good books don't sell even when they are advertised. But Jannissary doesn't advertise. He hasn't got enough money to advertise. Look at the newspapers! How many times do you see Jannissary's list in the advertisements?" John could not remember. "Very seldom," said Hinde. "His books get less attention from reviewers than other people's because the reviewers know that he's a rascal and that nine out of ten of his books aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Booksellers will hardly stock them. He makes his living by selling copies to the libraries and persuading mugs to pay for the publication of their books. That's how Jannissary lives!..."
"He didn't ask me to pay for publishing my book," John murmured.
"That's a wonder," Hinde replied. "Why didn't you ask for advice before you signed this thing?"
"I want the book published as soon as possible. I have to make my name and I daresay I shall have to pay for making it!"
Hinde put the agreement down. "Oh, well, if you look at it like that," he said, "there's no more to be said, but you've done a silly thing!"
"I don't see it," John boldly asserted, though there was doubt in his mind.
"You'll see it some day!"
Hinde had parted from them earlier that evening than he had intended or they had expected. He made an excuse for leaving them by saying that he was tired and needed sleep after late nights of work, but he went because John's vanity had been hurt by his criticism of the agreement and also because he had said that John's book had no remarkable qualities. "I'm telling you the truth that you're always demanding, and I won't tell you anything else. You've been very anxious to tell it to other people and now you'll have a chance of hearing it yourself. Your book is not a good book. There are dozens like it published every year. The Sensation reviews them six-a-time in three or four hundred words. You may write good books some day, but The Enchanted Lover is just an ordinary, mediocre book. I think your tragedy is better!..."
"Well, it ought to be. It was written afterwards," John said, trying hard to speak without revealing resentment.
"Yes. Yes, of course!" Hinde murmured.
A little later, he had taken his leave of them.
"I wonder if he's right!" Eleanor said to John when he had gone.
"Of course he isn't," John tartly replied. "I believe he's jealous!"
"Yes. He's been talking for years of writing a tragedy about St. Patrick, but he's not done it, and then I come along and do it quite easily and get the play accepted. And my novel's to be published, too. Of course he's jealous! Any disappointed man's jealous when he sees someone else doing things he's failed to do. I'm sorry for him really!"
"Perhaps that is it," Eleanor said, taking comfort to herself.
"No doubt about it. Anyhow, even if the novel is a failure, there's the play. That's good. I know it's good. The novel was bound to have some faults. All first books have!"
Then came the disappointment of the tragedy. The manager of the Cottenham Repertory Theatre wrote to say that they were compelled to postpone the production of it for a few weeks because their season had been unfortunate and they were eager to replenish their treasury by the production of popular pieces. They all admired John's play very much and were quite certain that it would be a great artistic success, but its tragical nature made it unlikely to be profitable to any of them just at present....
"It's funny how these people keep on talking about artistic success when they think a thing isn't going to be any good," Eleanor said when he had finished reading the letter to her.
"No good!" he exclaimed. "What do you mean, no good!"
"Well ... of course I don't mean that your play isn't any good ... only I begin to feel doubtful about things when I hear the word artistic mentioned."
"They're only postponing the play for a short while until they've got enough money together to keep on. That's reasonable, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes. It's reasonable. I'm not saying anything about that ... only it's a disappointment!"
"I'm disappointed myself," he said, ruefully contemplating the letter.
"How much do you think you'll make out of it, John?" Eleanor asked pensively.
"Make? Oh, I don't know. About a hundred pounds or so on the first performances ... and then there's the London season ... and of course if the play's a great success, we shall make our fortune. But I think we can reckon on a hundred pounds anyhow. I don't want to expect too much. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I'm getting anxious about money. You see, dear, you haven't earned much since we got married, have you?"
"No, not much. One or two articles in the Sensation. But you needn't worry about that. I'll look after the money part. Don't you worry!"
"Perhaps you could get a regular job on the Evening Herald now that Mr. Hinde's in charge of it," she suggested.
Hinde had recently been appointed editor of the Evening Herald.
"Oh, no, Eleanor, I don't want a journalist's job. I'm a writer ... an artist ... not a reporter. Besides, I shouldn't have time to work at the book I'm doing now. Look at Hinde. He never has time to do anything but journalism. The worst of work like that is that after a time you can't do anything else. You think in paragraphs!..."
"Supposing the play isn't a success ... I mean a financial success?" she asked.
"Well, I'll make money for you some other way. Leave it to me, Eleanor, I'm pretty confident about myself. I feel convinced that the play and the novel will be successful financially as well as artistically. I've always been confident about myself!"
"And I feel quite confident about this. So don't worry your head any more like a good girl!"
The receipt of the proofs and the excitement of correcting them caused Eleanor to forget her anxiety about their finances. John and she sat in front of the fire, she with one batch of galley sheets in her lap, he with another; and he read the story to her, correcting misprints and making alterations as he went along, while she copied the corrections on to her proofs.
"Do you like it?" he asked, eager for her praise.
"Yes," she said, leaning her head against his shoulder, "I do like it. It's ... it's quite good, isn't it?"
He imagined that there was a note of dubiety in her voice, but he did not press her for greater praise, and they finished the correction of the proofs and sent them to Mr. Claude Jannissary as quickly as they could.
"What does it feel like to have written a book?" Eleanor said to him when the proofs had been dispatched.
"Fine," he replied. "I wish my Uncle Matthew were alive. He'd feel very proud of me!"
"I'm proud of you," she said, drawing nearer to him.
"Are you?" he exclaimed, his eyes brightening. He put his arm round her neck and she took hold of his hand. "Do you like me better now, Eleanor, than you did when we were married?"
"Oh, yes, dear, of course I do."
"Do you remember that night on the Embankment when we were both so scared of getting married?"
"Yes. Weren't we silly? I very nearly ran away that night ... only I didn't know where to run to. I was awfully frightened, John. I thought we were both making terrible mistakes!..."
"Well, we haven't regretted it yet, have we?"
"No, not yet. So far our marriage has been successful!"
"I told you it would be all right, didn't I? I knew I could make you happy. You're such a darling ... how could I help loving you?"
The novel was published in the same week that the tragedy was produced at the Cottenham Repertory Theatre. John had intended to be present at all the rehearsals of his play, but the manager of the theatre informed him that this was hardly necessary. It would be sufficient if he were to attend the last two and the dress rehearsal, and when John considered the state of his work on the second novel, he decided to accept the manager's advice. "After all," he said to Eleanor, "I don't know anything at all about producing plays and this chap spends his life at the job, so I can safely leave it to him!"
The complimentary copies of his novel reached him on the evening before he was to travel to Cottenham to attend his first rehearsal. He opened the parcel with trembling fingers and took out the six red-covered volumes and spread them on the table. He liked the bold black letters in which the title of the book and his name were printed on the covers: THE ENCHANTED LOVER by JOHN MACDERMOTT. It seemed incredible to him that a book should bear his name, but there, in big, black letters on a red ground, was his name. He turned the pages, reading a sentence here and a sentence there until Eleanor, who had been out when the parcel arrived, came in.
"Look!" he said, holding one of the books towards her. She exclaimed with delight and ran forward to take the book from him. "Oh, my dear," she said, clasping the novel with one hand while she embraced him with the other. "I'm so proud of you, you clever creature!"
He was greatly moved by her affection, and he felt that he wanted to cry. There were very queer sensations in his throat, and he had tremendous difficulty in keeping his eyes from blinking.
"It's rather nice?" he said, touching the book.
"It's lovely," she said. She went to the table. "Are these the others?" She drew a chair forward and sat down. "Let's send them out to-night. This one to your mother and this one to Uncle William. I'll keep this one!" She opened the book at the dedication "To Eleanor." "Here," she said, "write your name in it!" He found a pen and ink and wrote under the dedication, "from her devoted husband," and when she saw what he had written, she hugged him and told him again that she was proud of him.
"What about the others? Are you going to send them out, too?" she asked, and he proposed to her that one should be sent to Hinde, one to Mr. Cairnduff and one to Mr. McCaughan....
"We shan't have any left, except my copy, if you do that!" she objected.
"We can easily get some more," he replied.
"I'd like to send one to that beastly cousin in Exeter just to let him see how clever you are. He hadn't the decency to send us a wedding present, the stingy miser!"
They packed up the books after John had inscribed them, and went off to the post-office together to send them off.
"Won't it be fun reading the reviews?" said John as they walked up High Street.
"I hope they'll like it, the people who review it," she answered. "Don't let's go in just yet. Let's walk along the Spaniards' Road a little while!"
They walked up Heath Street, and when they came to the railings above The Vale of Health, they stood against them and looked towards London. A blue haze had settled over the city and the trees were like long hanging veils through which little, yellow lights from the street-lamps shone like tiny jewels. The air was full of drowsy sounds, as if the earth were happily tired and were resting for a while before the pleasures of the night began.
"Would you like to go back to your club, Eleanor?" John said.
"Silly old silly!" she replied, pinching his arm.
"I feel as if I want to tell everybody that you've written a book and a play," she said, as they walked on. "It doesn't seem right that all these people don't know about you!"
He went to Cottenham on the next day, carrying with him an early edition of the Evening Herald in which Hinde had printed a very flattering review of The Enchanted Lover. Eleanor had been puzzled by the promptness with which the review had appeared until John explained to her that review copies of books were sent to the newspapers a week or a fortnight before the date of publication.
"It's a very good review," she said. "I thought he didn't like the book much!"
"So did I. I hope he isn't just writing like this to please me. I don't want insincere reviews!..."
"I expect," said Eleanor, "he didn't tell you how much, he really liked it!"
"Hmmm! Perhaps that's it," John replied.
He put the paper in his pocket, and as the train drew out of Easton and started on its journey to Cottenham, he speculated on the sincerity of Hinde's review. He took the paper out of his pocket and read it again. The review was headed, "A REMARKABLE FIRST NOVEL" and was full of phrases that seemed fulsome even to John. "We prophesy that this notable novel will have a very great success among the reading public. It is certainly the finest story of its kind that has been published in this country for a generation."
"I wouldn't have said that about it myself," John reflected. "Of course, I'd like to think it's true, but!... I hope this isn't just logrolling!" He remembered how fiercely Hinde had described the back-scratching, high-minded poets who boomed each other in their papers. "I don't want to get praise that way," he thought, putting the paper back into his pocket. "I'll order half-a-dozen copies of the Herald when I get back from Cottenham. My Uncle William will be glad of a copy, and so will Mr. Cairnduff and the minister!..."
The Cottenham Repertory Theatre was a dingy, ill-built house in a back street in Cottenham. It had been a music-hall of a low class until the earnest playgoers of Cottenham, extremely anxious about the condition of the drama, formed themselves into a society to improve the theatre. By dint of agitation and much hard work, they contrived to get enough money together to take the music-hall over from its owner who was unable to compete against the syndicate halls and was steadily drinking himself to death in consequence, and turned it into a repertory theatre. Their success had been moderate, for they united to their good intentions a habit of denunciation of all plays that were not "repertory" plays which had the effect partly of irritating the common playgoer and partly of frightening him. All the plays that were labelled "repertory" plays were praised by these earnest students of the drama without any sort of discrimination, and when, as often happened, a very poor play was produced at the Repertory Theatre, any common playgoer who saw it and was bored by it, went away in the belief that he was not educated up to the standard of such austere work and resolved that he would seek his entertainment elsewhere in future. It was to this theatre that John went on the day after his arrival in Cottenham. The town itself depressed him immeasurably. It was the most shapeless, nondescript, undignified town he had ever seen, and yet it was one of the richest places in England. There was no seemliness in its main streets; little huckstering shops hustled larger and more pretentious shops, but all of them had an air of vivacious vulgarity. They had not been given the look of sobriety which age gives even to ugly streets in ugly towns. They seemed to be striving against each other in a competition to decide which was the commonest and shoddiest shop in the city. It seemed to John that all these Cottenham shops dropped their aitches!... The clouds were grey when he arrived in Cottenham, dirty-grey and very cheerless; they were still dirty-grey when he went to the theatre, and rain fell before he reached it; and the clouds remained in that dismal state until he quitted Cottenham after the first performance of Milchu and St. Patrick: A Tragedy. It seemed to John that they would never be otherwise than dirty-grey, that the streets would always be wet and the shops always clamantly vulgar.
"I wouldn't live in this place for the wide world," he said, as he turned into the stage-door of the Repertory Theatre.
He was directed to the manager's office by the doorkeeper. The Manager was on the stage, so the girl secretary informed him, and if Mr. MacDermott would kindly follow her she would take him there at once. He had never seen the stage side of the proscenium before, and although the place was dark and he stumbled over properties, he felt enormously interested in what he saw.
"Is that the scenery?" he said to the secretary as they passed some tawdry looking flats lying against the walls of the scene-dock.
"Yes," she answered. "It looks awful in the daylight, doesn't it? But when the footlights are on and the limes are lit, you'd be surprised to see how fine it looks. They say that common materials look better in limelight than good things do. Funny, isn't it?"
She led him on to the stage and brought him to the manager.
"This is Mr. MacDermott," she said to a tall, lean, worried man who was standing immediately in front of the footlights, directing the rehearsal which was then beginning.
"Oh, ah, yes!" said the manager, and then he turned to John. "I'm Gidney," he said.
John murmured a politeness.
"Now, let me introduce you to people!" He turned to the players, all of whom had that appearance of depression which actors habitually wear in daylight, as if they felt naked and ashamed without their grease-paint. "This is the author of the play," he exclaimed to them. "Mr. MacDermott!" He led John to each of the players, naming them as he did so, and each of them murmured that he or she was delighted to have the pleasure!...
"I think if you were to sit in the front row of the stalls, Mr. MacDermott!" said Gidney, "while the rehearsal proceeds, that would be best. You can tell me at the end of each act what alterations or suggestions you wish to propose!"
"Very good," said John, feeling his spirits running rapidly into his boots. What were these cheerless people going to do with the play over which he had laboured and sweated for weeks and weeks?...
They went through their parts with a lifeless facility that turned his tragedy, he imagined, into a neat piece of machinery and left it without any glow of emotion whatever. Now and then the ease with which they recited their words was interrupted by forgetfulness and the player, whose memory had failed him, would snap his fingers and call to the prompter, "What is it?" or "Give me that line, will you?"
"How do you think it's going?" said the manager to John at the end of the first act.
"Well, I don't know," he answered with a nervous laugh. "They aren't putting much enthusiasm into it, are they?"
"Ah, but this is only a rehearsal. Wait till you see the dress rehearsal!"
He felt considerably relieved. A rehearsal, of course, must be very different from a performance. But on the night of the dress rehearsal ... it took place on Sunday, for the stage was occupied on week-nights by regular performances ... the players seemed to go to pieces. All of them had difficulty in remembering their lines, and when at the end of the last act, a piece of the scenery collapsed upon St. Patrick, John felt that he could have cheerfully seen the entire theatre collapse on everybody concerned with it. He went to the grubby Temperance hotel in which he had taken a room, and gave himself completely to gloom and despair. He felt that his play was not quite so brilliant as he had imagined it to be, but he was not sure that his dissatisfaction with it ought not really to be displayed against the actors. Any play, treated as his had been treated, must seem to be a poor piece. Gidney had appeared to be pleased with the dress rehearsal and had wrung John's hand with great heartiness when they separated. "Going splendidly!" he murmured. "Congratulate you. Excellent piece!..." On the way to his hotel, he had seen a play-bill in the window of a tobacconist's shop, and a thrill of pleasure had quickened him as he stood in front of the glass and read his name beneath the title of the play. He must remember to ask Gidney for a copy of the play-bill to hang up in his flat! Now, in the dull and not very clean bedroom of the Temperance Hotel, he felt indifferent to play-bills and the thrill of seeing his name in print. He wished that Eleanor were with him. They had decided that she should not be present at the first night in Cottenham because of the expense of hotel bills and railway fares.
"I'll see it in London," she had said bravely, trying to conceal her disappointment. Now, however, he wished that she were with him. She had remarkable powers of comforting. If he were depressed, Eleanor would draw his head down to her shoulder and would soothe him into a good temper again. There had been times since their marriage when he had been dubious about her ... when it seemed to him that she had only a kindly affection for him and still had not got love for him ... and the thought filled him with resentment against her. Why could she not love him? He was lovable enough and he loved her. A woman ought to love a man who loved her!... Then some perception of the self-sufficiency and the smugness of these thoughts went through his mind and he would abase himself in spirit before her and reproach himself for unkindnesses that he imagined he had shown to her ... hasty words that hurt her. His temper was quick to rise, but equally quick to fall; and sometimes he failed to realise that in the sudden outburst of anger he had said cruel, hurting things which made no impression on him because they were said without any feeling, but left a hard impression on those to whom they were addressed. He had seen pain in Eleanor's eyes when he had spoken some swift and biting word to her, and then, all repentance, he had tried to kiss the pain from her....
To-night, in this grubby bedroom, smelling of teetotallers and grim, forbidding people in whom are to be found none of the genial foibles of ordinary, hearty men, he felt an excess of remorse for any unkind thing he had ever said to Eleanor. His pessimism about his play caused him to exaggerate the enormity of his offences. He pictured her, looking at him with that queer air of puzzled pathos that had so impressed him when he first saw her, and intense shame filled him when he thought that he had done or said anything to make her look at him in that way. Well, he would compensate her for any pain that he had caused her. He would love her so dearly that her life would be passed in continual sunshine and comfort. Even if she were never to return his love or to return only a slight share of it, he would devote himself to her just as completely as if she gave everything to him. His play might be miserably acted and be a failure, apart from the acting, but what mattered that! While he had Eleanor he had everything.
He went down to the theatre on the evening of the first performance in a state of calm and quietness which greatly astonished him. He had expected to tremble and quake with nervousness and to be reluctant to go near the theatre. He remembered to have read somewhere an account of the way in which some melodramatist of repute behaved on a first night. He walked up and down the Embankment while his play was being performed, mopping his fevered brow and groaning in agony. Someone had found the melodramatist on one occasion, sitting at the foot of Cleopatra's Needle, howling into his handkerchief.... John, however, had no terrors whatever when he entered the theatre, and he told himself that the melodramatist was either an extremely emotional man or a very considerable liar. There was a moderate number of people in the auditorium, enough to preserve the theatre from seeming sparsely- occupied, but not enough to justify anyone in saying that the house was full. The atmosphere resembled that of a church. People spoke, when they spoke at all, in whispers, and John was so infected by the air of solemnity that when a small boy in the gallery began to call out "Acid drops or cigarettes!" he felt that a sidesman must appear from a pew and take the lad to the police-station for brawling in a sacred edifice. He waited for the orchestra to appear, but the play began without any preliminary music. The lights were lowered, and soon afterwards someone beat the floor of the stage with a wooden mallet ... sending forth three sepulchral sounds that seemed to hammer out of the audience any tendency it might have had to enjoy itself. Then the curtain ascended, and the play began.
The actors were much better than they had promised to be at the dress rehearsal, but they were still far from being good. It was very plain that they had been insufficiently rehearsed and there were some bad cases of mis-casting. Nevertheless, the performance was better than he had anticipated, and his spirits rose almost as rapidly as they had fallen on the previous night; and when at the end of the performance there were calls for the author, he passed through the door that gave access from the auditorium to the stage with a great deal of elation. He was thrust on to the stage by Gidney, and found himself standing between two of the actresses. There was a great black cavern in front of him which, he realised, was the auditorium, and he could hear applause rising out of it. The curtain rose and fell again, and the buzz of voices calling praise to him grew louder. Then the curtain fell again, and this time it remained down. He realised that he had gripped the actresses by the hand and that he was holding them very tightly.... "I beg your pardon!" he said, releasing them.
"Awf'lly good!" said one of the actresses, smiling at him as she moved across the stage. How horrible actors and actresses in their make-up looked close to! He could not conceive of himself kissing that woman while she had so much paint on her face.... He turned to walk off the stage, and found that walking was very difficult. He was trembling so that his knees were almost knocking together and when he moved, he reeled slightly.
"I say," he said to one of the actors, "my nerve's gone to pieces. Funny thing ... I ... felt nothing at all ... nothing ... until just now!"
The actor took hold of his arm and steadied him. "Queer how nerves affect people," he said, as John and he left the stage. "I knew a man who got stage fright two days before the first night of a play in which he had a big part. Nearly collapsed in the street. All right afterwards ... never turned a hair on the stage. Must congratulate you on your play ... jolly good, I call it. Tragedy, of course!..."
He had expected some sort of festivity after the performance, but there was none. The players were eager to get home, and Gidney had a headache, so John thanked each of them and went back to his hotel.
"Thank goodness," he said, "I shall be at home tomorrow."
He got into bed and lay quietly in the darkness, but he could not sleep, and so he turned on the light again and tried to read; but his head was thumping, thumping and the words had no meaning for him. He put the book down. How extraordinary is the common delusion, he thought, that actors and actresses lead gay lives! Could anything be more dull than the life of an actor in a repertory theatre? Daily rehearsals in a dingy and draughty theatre and nightly performances in half-rehearsed plays!... "Give me the life of a bank clerk for real gaiety," he murmured. "An actor's just a drudge ... and a dull drudge, too! Very uninteresting people, actors!... Why the devil did I leave Eleanor behind?"
He returned to London on the following morning, carrying copies of the Cottenham Daily Post and the Cottenham Mercury with him. The notices of his play were mildly appreciative ... that of the Post being so mild as to be almost denunciatory. The critic asserted that John's play, while interesting, showed that its author had no real understanding of the meaning of tragedy. He found no evidence in Milchu and St. Patrick that John appreciated the importance of the pressure of the Significant Event. The Significant Event decided the development of a tragedy, but in Mr. MacDermott's play there was no Significant Event. The play just happened, so to speak, and it ought not to "just happen." It was an excellent discursus on the drama from the time of the morality plays to the time of the Irish Players, and it included references to Euripides, Ibsen, the Noh plays of Japan, Mr. Bernard Shaw (in a patronising manner), Synge and Mr. Masefield; but John felt, when he had read it, that most of it had been written before its author had seen his play. The other notice was less learned, but it left no doubt in the mind of the readers that although Milchu and St. Patrick was an interesting piece ... the word "interesting," after he had read these notices, seemed to John to be equivalent to the word "poor" ... it was not likely to mark any epochs.
"I don't think much of Cottenham anyhow!" said John, putting, the papers in his pocket.
Eleanor met him at Euston. The fatigue which settles on a traveller in the last hour of a long railway journey had raised the devil of depression in John. He had reread the notices in the Cottenham papers, and as he considered their very restrained praises of his play, he remembered that Hinde had said The Enchanted Lover was an ordinary novel.
"I wonder am I any good," he said to himself as the train hauled itself into Euston.
He looked out of the window and saw Eleanor standing on the platform, scanning the carriage as she sought for him.
"Well, she thinks I am," he thought, as he alighted from the train. "Eleanor!" he called to her, and she turned and when she saw him, her eyes lit and she hurried to him.
THE SECOND CHAPTER
Hinde's enthusiastic review of The Enchanted Lover had not been followed by other reviews equally enthusiastic or nearly so. Many papers failed to do more than include it in the List of Books Received. The Times Literary Supplement gave six lines of small type to a cold account of it. The reviewer declared that "this first novel is not without merit" but either had not been able to discover the merit or had not enough space in which to describe it, for he omitted to say what it was. John had paid a visit to the local lending library every morning for a week in order that he might see all the London newspapers and such of the provincial papers as were exhibited, and had searched their columns eagerly for references to his book; but the references were few and slight. Mr. Claude Jannissary, when John visited him, wagged his head dolefully and uttered some mournful remarks on the sad state of idealism in England. He regretted to say that the book was not selling so well as he had hoped it would sell. The appalling conditions of the publishing trade were accentuated by the extraordinary reluctance of the booksellers to take risks or to show any enthusiasm for new things. Between Mr. Jannissary and John, he might say that booksellers were a very unsatisfactory lot. Most of them were quite uncultured men. Hardly any of them read books. Mr. Jannissary longed for the day when booksellers would look upon their shops as places of adventure and romance!...
A curious sensation of distaste for these words passed through John when he heard them spoken by Mr. Jannissary. The booksellers, said the publishers, should be ambitious to earn the title of the new Elizabethans ... hungering and thirsting after dangerous experiences. He would like to see a bookseller turning disdainfully from "best sellers" and eagerly purchasing large quantities of books by unknown authors. "Think of the thrill of it," said Mr. Jannissary; and John, perturbed in his mind, tried hard to think of the thrill of it. His mental perturbation was due to the lean look of his bank balance. Money was going out of his house more rapidly than it was coming in, and Eleanor had been full of anxiety that morning. He had not yet received a cheque from the Cottenham Repertory Theatre for the royalties due on the week's performance of Milchu and St. Patrick, but he had soothed Eleanor's fears by assuring her that there would be the better part of a hundred pounds to come to them from Cottenham in a few days. In the meantime, he told her, he would call on Jannissary and see whether he could not obtain some money from him. "He must have sold much more than five hundred copies by this time," he said. "If all the bookshops in the country only took one copy each, he'd have sold more than five hundred, and I'm sure they'd all take two or three each. Perhaps more!"
The suggestion that he might make a small advance to John on account of accrued royalties had a very chilling effect upon Mr. Jannissary. "My dear fellow," he said, putting up his hands in a benedictory manner and then dropping them as if to say that even he found difficulty in believing in the nobility of man, "impossible! Absolutely impossible! I've sunk ... Money ... much Money ... in your book ... I don't regret it ... not for a moment ... I believe in you, MacDermott ... strongly ... but it will be a long time before I recover any of that ... Money ... if I ever recover it. I'm sorry!..."
John had come away from the publisher in a cheerless state of mind, and as he turned into the Strand, he collided with Hinde.
"How's the book getting on?" Hinde demanded when they had greeted each other.
John told him of what Jannissary had said.
"I tell you what I'll do." said Hinde. "I'll work up a boom for it in the Evening Herald. I'll turn one of my chaps on to writing half a dozen letters to the Editor about it!..."
"But you don't like the book," John expostulated. "You told me it wasn't much good!"
"Och, I know that," Hinde replied, "but that doesn't matter. I'd like to do you a good turn. There's a smart chap working for me now ... he can put more superlatives into a paragraph than any other man in Fleet Street, and he isn't afraid of committing himself to anything. Most useful fellow to have on your staff. He does our Literary article, and he's discovered a fresh genius every week since he came to me. He'll get on, that chap! I'll turn him on to your book!"
"I don't want praise that I don't deserve," John said, thrusting out his lower lip.
"Oh, you'll deserve it all right. Everybody deserves some praise. How's Eleanor?"
Then Hinde hurried away, and John went home. There was a letter from the Cottenham Repertory Theatre awaiting him, and he eagerly opened the envelope.
"You needn't worry any longer," he said to Eleanor as he took out the contents of the envelope....
He gaped at the cheque and the Returns Sheet.
"How much is it?" Eleanor asked.
"There must be a mistake!..."
"How much is it?" she repeated.
"Sixteen pounds, nine shillings and sevenpence! But!..."
She took the Returns Sheet from him. "No," she said after she had examined it, "there doesn't appear to be any mistake. It seems to be all right!"
She put the paper and the cheque down, and turned away.
"It's queer, isn't it?" he said.
"Yes. Yes, very! We shall have to do something, John. We've very little left!"
"Of course, there's the London season to come yet," he said to comfort her.
"Not for a very long time," she answered, "and it may not be any better than this!" She hesitated for a moment, then she hurriedly said, "John, why shouldn't I go on with my work!"
"On with your work! What do you mean?"
"Why shouldn't I get a job again? We could manage, I think, and the money I'd earn would be useful. You could finish your new book!..."
His pride was hurt. "Oh, no," he said at once. "No, no, I can't agree to that. What sort of a husband would I look like if people heard that I couldn't maintain my wife. Oh, Eleanor, I couldn't think of such a thing!...
"I don't see why not. You're not going to make money easily, so far as I can see, and either you or I must get work of some sort. I know you want to finish your book, so why shouldn't I earn something to help us to keep going?"
"No," he said, "that's my job. I daresay Hinde would give me work if I asked for it!"
"But you've always been against doing journalism."
"I know. I'm still against it, but one can't always resist things. He might let me do literary work for him. I'll go in and see him to-morrow."
He told her of his encounter with Hinde that day and of Hinde's proposal to boom The Enchanted Lover. "I don't like the idea much, but perhaps it'll be useful!" He picked up the cheque from the Cottenham Repertory Theatre. "I'm actually out of pocket over this affair," he said. "What with the cost of typing the play and my expenses in Cottenham...."
"I wish we could go back to Ballyards," Eleanor said.
"Go back to Ballyards!" he exclaimed, staring at her in astonishment.
"Yes, we'd be much better off there!"
"Go back and admit I've failed in London! Crawl home with my tail between my legs!..."
"Don't be melodramatic," said Eleanor.
"I have my pride," he retorted. "You can call that being melodramatic, if you like, but I call it decent pride. I won't admit to anybody that I've failed. I haven't failed!..."
"I didn't say you had, dear!"
"I won't fail. You wait. Just you wait. I'll succeed all right. If I have failed so far, I can try again, can't I? Can't I?"
"I'm not going to take a knock-down blow as a knockout. I know I can write. I feel the stuff inside me. The book I'm doing now, isn't that good?"
"Isn't it good? You'll have to admit it's good!"
"I daresay it is. It isn't the kind of book I like, but I'm sure it's good. That's why I want to get a job, so that you can finish it in peace. Let me try ... just until you've finished the book. Then perhaps things will be all right. I'd like to be able to say that I helped you!"
"You're a lot too good for me."
"Oh, no, I'm not. Any girl who is a girl would want to help, wouldn't she?"
His temper had subsided now, and the reproach he always felt after such a scene as this made him feel very ashamed of himself.
"I'm sorry, Eleanor, that I lost my temper just now. I didn't mean to say what I did!..."
"But, my dear," she exclaimed, "you didn't say much, and if you did it was because you were upset about the play and the novel. Don't worry about that. Now, listen to me. I met Mr. Crawford this morning!..."
"Yes. He's managing director of that motor place I used to be in. He told me he had never had a secretary so useful as I was, and that he wished I'd never met you!..."
"Did he, indeed?"
"Yes. Of course, that was only a joke. I'm sure he'd let me go back to my old job for a while!..."
"No. No, no!"
She stood up, half turned away from him, and said, "Well, I'm going to ask for it anyhow!"
"Yes, John, I'm going to ask for it. Don't shout at me! You really must listen to sense. I'm not going to run into debt or have trouble with tradesmen about money just because of your pride. I want you to finish that book!"
"I'd rather sweep the streets than let you go back to your old job."
"Well, I'll get a new one then!"
"Or any job," he said. "I don't care what it is. That man Crawford, what do you think he'd say if you went back to him? I know. 'Poor Mrs. MacDermott, her husband must be a rum sort of a fellow ... not able to keep his wife ... she had to go out to work again soon after he married her!' That's what he'd say!"
"But does it matter what he says?"
"Yes. I'm not going to have anybody say that I can't earn enough to keep you decently!"
"That's all very fine, John, but you're not doing it. Your novel hasn't brought you any money at all, and you've spent as much on the play as you've got so far. You've had one or two articles printed, and that's all. The rest of the money we've lived on has come from your Uncle William!..."
"Uncle William! None of it came from him. Uncle Matthew left me his money and my mother gave me the rest!"
"Yes, and how did they get it? From your Uncle William, of course. His work has kept them, hasn't it? And you? We're sponging on your Uncle William, and I hate to think we're sponging on him. You're very proud about not letting me go out to work, but you're not so proud about letting Uncle William keep you!"
This was a blow between the eyes for him. "That's a bitterly unkind thing to say," he murmured.
"It's true, isn't it?" she retorted. "I don't want to be unkind, John, but we've really got to face things. I'm frightened. I don't like the thought of getting into debt. I've never been in debt before. Never! And I can't see what's going to happen when we've spent our money if one of us doesn't start to earn something now!" She changed her tone. "John, don't be silly about it. Do agree to my getting a job for the present. You'll be able to get on with your book at home, and any other writing you want to do, and then perhaps things will get straight and we'll be all right!"
"The point is, do you believe in me?" he demanded.
"Of course I believe in you!..."
"Ah, but I mean in my work. In my writing. Do you believe in that?"
"What's that got to do with it? Lots of books are very good that I don't much care for. I liked The Enchanted Lover—it was quite good—but I don't much care for the one you're doing now. I can't help that. I daresay other people will like it better!"
"Why don't you like it?"
"Well, it doesn't seem to me to be about anything."
"Listen, Eleanor! I don't want just to be one of a mob of fairly good writers. If I can't be a great writer, I don't want to be a writer at all. I'll have everything or I'll have nothing!"
"So now you know. I feel I have greatness in me ... but you don't feel like that about me," he said.
"I don't know anything about greatness. All I know is that I like some things and that I don't like others. I don't know why a book is great or why it isn't. You can't judge things by what I say. It's quite possible that you are a great writer, and that's why I want you to let me get a job, so that you can go on with your work and be able to show the world what you can do. I'd hate to think you'd been prevented from doing your best work because you'd had to use up your energy doing other things. It won't take long to finish this book, will it?"
"Well, then, I shan't have to work for very long. By the time it's finished, The Enchanted Lover may have earned a lot of money for us ... and the play, too ... and then we can just laugh at our troubles now!..."
He remained obdurate for a while, but in the end she wore his opposition down. Mr. Crawford gladly welcomed her back to her old job, and even offered her a larger salary than she had been receiving before her marriage. "I've learned your value since you went away," he said. "I'm a fool to tell you that, perhaps, but I can't help it. Half the young women who go out to offices nowadays would be dear at ninepence a week. The last girl we had here caused me to imperil my immortal soul twice a day through her incompetence. I've sworn more in a week since you left us, than I ever swore in my life before!..."
Eleanor insisted that John should not inform his mother of her return to work. Intuitively she knew that Mrs. MacDermott's pride would be outraged by this knowledge, and that she would make bitter complaint to John of his failure to maintain his wife in a way worthy of his family; and so she urged John to say nothing at all of the matter either to Mrs. MacDermott or to Uncle William. He had made no comment on the matter, but she knew that he had been relieved by her request.
Hinde had fulfilled his promise to boom The Enchanted Lover in the Evening Herald, and Mr. Jannissary reluctantly admitted that the book was selling. "Slowly, of course, but still ... selling! I think I shall get my money back," he said.
"Do you think I'll get any money out of it?" John asked.
"Ah, these things are on the knees of the gods, my dear fellow! It is impossible to say!"
The second book moved in a leisurely manner to its close, and Mr. Jannissary declared that he was delighted to hear that The Enchanted Lover would shortly have a successor. He thought that perhaps he could promise to pay royalties from the first copy of the new novel!...
"How do writers manage to live, Mr. Jannissary?" John said to him at this point, and Mr. Jannissary murmured that there was a divinity which shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we may.
"Oh, is that it?" said John.
"Some men have been very hungry, MacDermott because they served their Art faithfully. Think of the garrets, the lonely attics in which beautiful things have been imagined!..."
"I've no desire to go hungry or to live in a lonely attic, Mr. Jannissary. Let me tell you that!"
"No ... no, of course not. None of us have. I trust I am not a voluptuary or self-indulgent in any way, but I too would dislike to be excessively hungry. Still, I think it must be a great consolation to a man to think that he had made a great work out of ... his pain, so to speak!"
John reflected for a moment on this. Then he said, "How do you manage to keep going, Mr. Jannissary, when you publish so many books that don't bring you any return?"
Mr. Jannissary glanced very interrogatively at John. Then he waved his hands, and murmured vaguely. "Sacrifices," he said. "We all have to make sacrifices!..."
John left the publisher and went on to the office of the Evening Herald where he saw Hinde. "I've brought an article I thought you'd like to print," he said when he had been admitted to Hinde's office. Hinde glanced quickly through it. "Good," he said, "I'll put it in to-morrow. I suppose," he continued, "you wouldn't like to do a job for me?"
"What sort of a job?"
"There's to be a great ceremony at Westminster Abbey to-morrow ... dedication of a chapel for the Order of the Bath. The King'll be there. Like to go and write an account of it?"
"Yes, I would!"
"Good. I'll get Masters to send the ticket of admission on to you to-night!"
He felt much happier when he left the Herald offices than he had felt when he entered them. He had sold an article and had been commissioned to do an interesting job. Eleanor would be pleased. He hurried home so that he might be there to greet her when she returned from her work.
She was sitting in front of the fire when he entered the flat. "Hilloa," he said, "you're home early, aren't you?"
She looked up and smiled rather wanly at him.
"Yes," she said, "I came home about three!..."
"Why? Aren't you well?"
"I'm not feeling very grand!"
"What's the matter!"
"I don't know. At least I ... Oh, I don't know. It may only be imagination!"
He sat down beside her. "Imagination!..." She looked at him very steadily, and he found himself remembering how beautiful he had thought her eyes were that day when he saw her for the first time. They were still very beautiful.
"I'm not sure," she said. "I don't know ... but I ... I think I'm going to have a baby!"
"I don't know. I feel so stupid!..."
She had been smiling while she was telling this to him, but now she dismayed him by bursting into tears.
"Eleanor!" he exclaimed, not knowing what to say or to do, and she let herself subside into his arms and lay there, half laughing and half crying.
"I'm being a ... frightful ... fool," she said between sobs, "but I ... I can't help it!"
They sat together until the dusk had turned to darkness, holding each other and whispering explanations and hopes and fears. A queer sense of responsibility settled upon John, a feeling that he must bear burdens and be glad to bear them. Eleanor seemed to him now to be a very fragile and timid creature, turning instinctively to him for care and protection. Immeasureable love for her surged in his heart. This very dear and gentle girl, so full of courage and yet so full of alarm, had become inexpressibly precious to him. She had come to him in doubt and had entrusted her life to him, not certain that she cared for him sufficiently to be entirely happy with him. He had tried to make her happy, and slowly he had seen her liking for him growing into some sort of affection. Perhaps now she loved him as he loved her. Soon she would be the mother of a child ... his child!... How very extraordinary it seemed! A few months ago, Eleanor and he had been strangers to each other ... and now she was about to bear a child to him!
"I must work hard," he said to himself, and then to her, "Of course, you can't go back to Mr. Crawford. I'll write to my mother and tell her!"
He remembered the commission from Hinde, and while he was telling her of it, the postman delivered a letter from the Herald in which was the invitation card for the ceremony in Westminster Abbey.
She examined it with interest. "But it says Morning Dress must be worn," she exclaimed, pointing to the notice in the corner of the card. "You haven't got any Morning Dress!"
"Do you think it'll matter?"
"They may not let you in if you go as you are now. You haven't even a silk hat!"
"What shall I do then?" he asked.
"We must think of something. Perhaps Mrs. Townley's husband would lend you his silk hat!" The Townleys were their neighbours. "He hardly ever wears it, and he's about your size!"
"I shouldn't like to ask them!..."
"Oh, I'll ask them all right," Eleanor said.
She left the flat and crossed the staircase to the door of the Townleys' flat, and after a little while, she returned carrying a silk hat that was much in need of ironing.
"She lent it quite willingly," Eleanor said. "She says Mr. Townley's only used it twice. Once when they were married and once at a funeral. Put it on!" She fixed it on his head. "It doesn't quite fit," she said. "Perhaps if I were to put some paper inside the band, that would make it sit better!"
She lined the hat with, tissue paper and then, put it on his head again. "That's a lot better," she exclaimed. "Look at yourself in the glass!"
"I feel an awful fool in it," he murmured, glancing at his reflection in the mirror.
"Oh, well, I suppose all men do feel like fools when they put on silk hats ... at first anyhow ... but it isn't any worse than a bowler hat or one of those awful squash-hats that Socialists wear. Men's hats are hideous whatever shape they are. I don't know what we're to do about a morning coat for you. I didn't like to ask Mrs. Townley to lend her husband's to me!..."
"Good Lord, no! You can't borrow the man's entire wardrobe from him!"
"Your grey flannel trousers might look like ordinary trousers, if we could get a morning-coat for you!" She paused as if she were reflecting on the problem. "I know," she said at last. "It's sure to rain, in the morning. King George is going to the thing, so it's sure to rain. Wear your overcoat ... then you won't need a morning coat ... and the silk hat and your grey flannel trousers and your patent leather boots!..."
"It's a bit of a mixture, isn't it?"
"It won't be noticed. That'll do very nicely! Thank goodness, we've solved that problem! The money will be useful, dearest!"
"What luck!" said Eleanor, looking out of the window in the morning. The sky was grey and the streets were wet and dirty.
John had urged her to stay at home, offering to explain to Mr. Crawford why she was not returning to her employment, but she had insisted that she was well enough now and must treat Mr. Crawford as fairly as he had treated her. "I'll give notice to him at once," she said, "and he can get someone else as soon as possible ... but I can't leave him in the lurch!"
They travelled by Tube to town together, and John went on to Westminster Abbey. He was very early and when he arrived at the entrance nominated on the Invitation Card he found that he was the first arrival. Ten minutes afterwards, a grubby-looking man in a slouch hat ambled up the asphalt path to the narrow door against which John was leaning. "Good morning!" John said, glancing at the slouch hat and the shabby reefer coat and the brown boots. "Have you come to do this ceremony, too?" The man nodded his head. He was very uncommunicative and had a surly look. "But they won't let you in, like that!" said John.
"Won't let me in! Who won't let me in?" the man demanded.
"It says 'Morning Dress to be worn' on the Invitation Card," John answered, showing his card as he spoke.
"That's all bunkum! They'd let me in if I were naked. I'm here to report the performance, not to display my elegance, and these people want the thing reported as much as possible. I don't suppose you know me?"
"No, I don't," said John.
"Well, I'm known as the Funeral Expert in Fleet Street. My paper always sends me out on special occasions to report big funerals. I'm very good at that sort of thing. I seem to have a flair for funerals somehow. I've never done a show like this before, but if I can only persuade myself to believe that there's a corpse about, I'll do it better than anybody else. I make a specialty of quoting the more literary parts of the Burial Service in my reports!..."
"You won't be able to do that to-day. This isn't a funeral," said John.
"No, but I can quote the hymns if they've got any merit at all. Otherwise I shall drag in the psalms. Hymns aren't very quotable as a rule. Shocking doggerel most of 'em!..."
They were joined by other reporters, and John observed that he alone among them was wearing a silk hat. He commented on the fact to the Funeral Expert.
"There's only one silk hat in the whole of Fleet Street," the Funeral Expert replied, "and it belongs to the man who specialises in Murders. He never investigates a murder without wearing his silk hat. He says it's in keeping with the theme!"
The door was opened by a verger and the journalists entered the Abbey and were led up some very narrow and dark and damp stone stairs until at last they emerged on to a rude platform of planks high up in the roof. At one end of the platform a pole had been placed breast-high between two pillars, and against this the journalists were invited to lean. Far below, the ceremony was to take place. John felt giddy as he looked down on the floor of the Cathedral.
"We shan't be able to see anything up here," he said to the Funeral Expert.
"What do you want to see?" was the reply he received. "You've got a programme of the ceremony, haven't you, and an imagination. That's all you need. I suppose you've never done a job of this sort before?"
"No. I'm a beginner!"
"Well, write a lot of slushy staff about the sun shining through the rose-coloured window just as the King entered the Abbey. That always goes down well. There are three psalms to be sung during the service. If you quote the first one, I'll quote the second, and then we shan't clash. Is that agreed?"
Half the journalists retreated from the pole-barrier and sat on a pile of planks at the back of the platform. Like John, they suffered from giddiness. They had their writing-pads open, however, and were busily engaged in inventing accounts of the ceremonial that was presently to be performed. John glanced over a man's shoulder and caught sight of the words, "As His Majesty entered the ancient abbey, a burst of sunlight fell through the old rose window and cast a glorious crimson light on his beautiful regalia!...."
"Lord!" said John, moving away.
He went to the end of the platform, and then, moved by some feeling which he could not explain, descended the dark, stone stairs which he had lately mounted. He could hear the music of the organ, and presently the choir began to sing an anthem.
"I suppose it's beginning," he thought.
He reached the ground-floor, and presently found himself standing behind a stone-screen in the company of selected persons and officials in brilliant uniforms. There were three special reporters here, to whom an official in a gorgeous green garb, looking very like a figure on a pack of cards, was giving information. John edged nearer to them, and as he did so, he saw that some ceremony was proceeding in one of the chapels.
"What's happening?" he asked in a whisper.
His neighbor whispered back that this was to be the chapel of the Order of the Bath, and that the King was about to conduct some ceremonial with the Knights of the Order. He raised himself on the edge of a tomb and saw two lines of old men in rich claret-coloured robes facing each other, with a broad space between them, and while he looked, the King passed between the Knights who bowed to him as he passed towards the altar. He heard the murmur of old, feeble voices as the Knights swore to protect the widow and the orphan and the virgin from wrong and injury!...
"They haven't the strength to protect a fly," John whispered to his neighbour.
"Ssh!" his neighbour whispered back, "it's a symbolical promise!..."
He hurried to the offices of the Evening Herald and wrote his account of the ceremony he had seen. He described the old and venerable men who had sworn to protect the widow and the orphan and the distressed virgin, and demanded of those in authority by what right they degraded an ancient and honourable Order by allowing feeble octogenarians to make promises they were incapable of fulfilling. Heaven help the distressed virgin who depended on these tottering knights for succour!... He had written half a column of very vituperative stuff when Hinde came into the room.
"Hilloa," said Hinde, "done that job all right?"
John smiled and nodded his head.
"I've got a letter for you," Hinde continued. "Cream sent it to me and asked me to pass it on to you. He hasn't got your address!"
He handed the letter to John and then picked up some of the sheets on which the report of the ceremony in the Abbey was being written. He read the first two sheets and then uttered a sharp exclamation.
"Anything wrong?" John asked.
"Wrong!" Hinde gaped at him, incapable of expressing himself with sufficient force. He swallowed and then, with a great effort, spoke very calmly. "My dear chap," he said, "I regard it as a merciful act of God that I came into this room when I did. What the!... Oh, well, it's no good talking to you. You're absolutely hopeless!"
"Why, what's the matter?"
"Matter! I can't print your stuff. I should get the sack if I were to let this sort of thing go into the paper. Haven't you any sense of proportion at all?"
"But the whole thing was ridiculous!..."
"What's that got to do with it? Half the world is ridiculous, but there's no need to run about telling everybody!"
"But if you'd seen them ... old fellows swearing to draw their swords in defence of women and children, and them not fit to do more than draw their pensions!..."
"Yes, yes, we know all about that. But a certain amount of humbug is decent and necessary!" He turned to a young man who had just entered the room. "Here, Chilvers, I want you to do a couple of columns on that stunt at the Abbey this morning!"
"Righto," said Chilvers.
"But he wasn't there!" John protested.
"Wasn't there!" Hinde echoed scornfully. "A good journalist doesn't need to be there. Just give the programme to him, will you?" John handed the order of proceedings to Chilvers, and Hinde added a few instructions. "Write up the King," he said. "Every inch a sovereign and that sort of stuff. Royal dignity!... Was Kitchener there?" he said turning again to John.
"Yes. A disappointing-looking man!..."
"Write him up, too. Say something about soldierly mien and stern, unbending features!"
"I see," said Chilvers. "The other chaps.... I'll work them off as venerable wiseacres!..."
"No, don't rub their age in. Venerable's not a nice word to use about anything except a cathedral. You can call the Abbey a venerable edifice or the sacred fane, but it would look nicer if you call the old buffers "the Elder Statesmen." Good phrase that! Hasn't been used much, either. Get it done quickly, will you?" He turned to John. "You might have made us miss the Home Edition with your desire to tell the truth!"
John turned away. The sense of failure that had been in possession of him since the production of Milchu and St. Patrick filled him now and made him feel terribly desolate. Whatever he did seemed to fail. He set off with high hopes and fine intentions, but when he reached his destination, his arrival seemed to be of very little importance and his small boat seemed to be very small and his cargo of slight value. Almost mechanically he opened Cream's letter. Hinde, having discussed other matters with Chilvers, called to John. "Come and see me in my room, will you, before you go!" and John answered, "Very good!" He read Cream's note. Cream had suddenly to produce a new sketch, and he had overhauled John's piece and put it on at the Wolverhampton Coliseum. "It went with a bang, my boy! Absolutely knocked 'em clean off their perch! I wish you'd do another!..."
He enclosed postal orders for two pounds, the fee for one week's performance. John put the letter into his pocket and, nodding to Chilvers, now busily writing up the King and Lord Kitchener, he left the room and went to Hinde's office.
"I'm. sorry, Mac," Hinde said to him, "I'm sorry I let out at you just now, but you gave me a fright. I'd have been fired if I'd let your thing go to press!"
"I quite understand," John answered. "I see that I'm not fit for this sort of work. I don't seem to be much good at anything!"
"What about Cream? He told me he'd done your sketch very successfully!"
John passed Cream's letter to him. "Well, you can do that sort of thing all right anyhow," Hinde said when he had read the letter.
"Cream re-wrote it," John murmured. "And even if he hadn't, it's not much of an achievement, is it? I wanted to write good stuff, and I can't do it. I can't even do decent journalism!..."
"Oh, those articles you do aren't too bad," Hinde said encouragingly.
"What are a few articles! The only success I have is with a low music-hall sketch, and even that has to be rewritten!"
"Come, come!" said Hinde. "You're feeling depressed now. You'll change your mind presently. I daresay there's plenty of good stuff in you and one of these days it'll come out. You needn't get into the dumps because you've failed to make good as a journalist. God knows that's no triumphant career! Plenty of good writers have tried to make a living at journalism and failed hopelessly. Haven't had half the success you've had! Finished that new book of yours yet?"
"I suppose Jannissary is going to do it, too?"
"Yes. I've contracted for three novels with him!"
"I wonder how that man would live if it weren't for the vanity of young authors!"
"I don't know," said John. "I'm too busy wondering how young authors manage to live!"
THE THIRD CHAPTER
The money derived from Cream's sketch had compensated them for the loss of the money earned by Eleanor; but two pounds per week was insufficient for their needs, and, now that the bank balance was exhausted and they were dependent upon actual earnings, John had less time for creative work. Free lance journalism seemed likely to provide an adequate income for them, but he soon discovered that if he were to make a reasonable livelihood from it, he must give up the greater part of his time and thought to it. He could not depend upon certain or immediate acceptance of any article he wrote for the newspapers. Sometimes a topical article was sent to the wrong newspaper and kept there until too late for publication in another newspaper. Regularly- employed journalists, engaged to choose contributions from outside writers, were extraordinarily inconsiderate in their relationships with him. They would hold up a manuscript for a long time and then arbitrarily return it; they would return a manuscript in a dirty state, even scribbled over, because they had capriciously changed their minds about it, and he would waste time and money in having it re-typed; they even mislaid manuscripts and offered neither compensation nor apology for so doing.... In a very short while, John discovered that the more high-minded were the principles professed by a newspaper, the worse was the payment made to its contributors and the longer was the time consumed in making the payment. The low-minded journals paid for contributions well and quickly, but the noble-minded journals kept their contributors waiting weeks for small sums.... He could not depend upon the publication of one article each week. Could he have done so, his financial position, while meagre, would have been fairly easy and regular. There were weeks when no money was earned, and there were weeks when he earned ten or twelve guineas ... gay, exhilarating weeks were those ... and there were even weeks when he could not think of a suitable theme for an acceptable article. In this state of uncertainty and constant effort to get enough money to pay for common needs, the second novel became neglected, and it was not until several months after the adventure at Westminster Abbey that the manuscript was completed and sent to Mr. Jannissary. By that time, John was in debt to tradesmen and to a typewriting company from which he had purchased a typewriter on the hire system. The Cottenham Repertory Theatre had failed to arrange a London season, consequently he had had no further income from Milchu and St. Patrick, and Mr. Jannissary, when John talked about royalties from The Enchanted Lover, never failed to express his astonishment at the fact that the sales of that excellent book had not exceeded five hundred copies. He had been certain that at least a thousand copies would have been sold as a result of the boom in the Evening Herald.
"Why don't you put a chartered accountant on his track?" said Hinde when John told him of what Mr. Jannissary had said.
John shrugged his shoulders. His experience with the Cottenham Repertory Theatre had cured him of all desire to send good money after bad. He wished now that he had taken Hinde's advice and had kept away from Mr. Jannissary, but it was useless to repine over that. He turned instinctively to Hinde for advice, and Hinde was generous with it. He was generous, too, with more profitable things. He put work in John's way as often as he could, and in spite of the fiasco over the Abbey ceremony, had offered employment on the Herald to him, but John had refused it, feeling that his novel would never reach its end if he were tied to a newspaper. When, however, the book was completed, he went to Hinde again and consulted him about the prospect of obtaining regular work. His immediate needs were important, but overshadowing these was the need that would presently come upon him. Eleanor in a few months would be brought to bed ... and he had no money saved for that time. She would need a nurse ... there would be doctor's bills!...
"I must get a job of some sort that will bring a decent amount of money," he said to Hinde.
Hinde nodded his head. "There's nothing on the Herald," he said, "but I may hear of something elsewhere. What about a short series of articles for us? Write six or seven articles on London Streets. Take Fleet Street, Piccadilly, Bond Street, the Strand and the Mile End Road, and write about their characteristics, showing how different they are from each other. That kind of stuff. I'll give you three guineas each for them, and I'll take six for certain if they're good. If they're very good, I'll take some more. That'll help a bit, won't it?"
"It'll help a lot," said John very heartily.
Soon after this interview, Hinde informed John that the Sensation had a vacancy for a sub-editor, and that Mr. Clotworthy was willing to try him in the job for a month. "And for heaven's sake, don't make an ass of yourself this time!" he added. "Clotworthy was very unwilling to take you on, but I convinced him that you are sensible now and so he consented!" John had taken the news to Eleanor, expecting that she would be elated by it, but when he told her that his work would keep him in Fleet Street half the night, she showed very little enthusiasm for it. Her normal dislike of being alone was intensified now, and the thought of being in the flat by herself until one or two in the morning frightened her. "I shan't see anything of you," she complained.
"I shall be at home in the daytime," he replied.
"Yes ... writing," she said bitterly. "People like you have no right to get married or ... have children!"
He considered for a while.
"I wonder if my mother would come and stay with us?" he said at last.
"And leave Uncle William alone?"
"Oh, he could manage all right!"
"Don't be childish, John. How can he manage all right? Is he to attend to the house and cook his meals as well as look after the shop? It looks as if someone has got to be left alone through this work of yours ... either me or Uncle William ... and you don't care much who it is!..."
"That's unfair, Eleanor!"
"Everything's unfair that isn't just exactly what you want it to be. I'm sick of this life ... debt and discomfort ... and now I'm to be left alone half the night!..."
He remembered that she was overwrought, and made no answer to her complaint. He would write to his mother and ask her to think of a solution of their problem that would not involve Uncle William in difficulties. It was useless to talk to Eleanor while she was in this nervous state of mind. He could see quite plainly that decisions must be made by him even against her desire. Poor Eleanor would realise all this after the baby was born, and would thank him for not showing signs of weakness!... He wrote to Mr. Clotworthy, as Hinde had suggested, about the sub-editorial work, and to his mother about the problem that puzzled them.
Mrs. MacDermott solved the problem, not by letter, but by word of mouth. She telegraphed to John to meet her at Euston, and on the way from the station to Hampstead, she told him of her plan.
"I'd settled this in my mind from the beginning," she said, "and you've only just advanced things a week or two by your letter. I'm going to take Eleanor back to Ballyards with me!..."
"What for!" she exclaimed. "So's your child can be born in the house where you were born and your da and his da!... That's why! Where else would a MacDermott be born but in his own home?"
"But what about me?"
"You! You can come home too, if you like!"
"How can I come home when I have my work to do? It'll be three months yet before the child is born!..."
"Well, you can stay here by yourself then!"
"In the flat ... alone?"
"Aye. What's to hinder you? That's what your Uncle William that's twice your age would have to do, if you had your way!"
"I don't see that at all. He could easily give Cassie McClurg a few shillings a week to come and look after him while you stay here with us!..."
"I'm not thinking about you or your Uncle William. I'm thinking about Eleanor and the child. I want it to be born at home!"
"Och, what does it matter where it's born," John impatiently demanded, "so long as it is born?"
"You fool!" said Mrs. MacDermott, and there was such scorn in her voice as John had never heard in any voice before. She turned away and would not speak to him again. He lay back against the cushions of the cab and considered Eleanor would certainly be well cared for at home, but ... "what about me?" he asked. He supposed he could manage by himself. Of course, he could. That was not the point that was worrying him. He hated the thought of being separated from Eleanor!...
"No," he said to his mother, "I don't think I can agree to that!"
"It doesn't matter whether you agree to it or not," she replied. "It's what's going to happen!" She turned on him furiously. "Have you no nature or pride? Where else would Eleanor be so well-tended as at home?..."
"It isn't her home," he objected.
"It is her home. She's a MacDermott now, and anyway the child is. You'd keep her here in this Godforsaken town, surrounded by strangers, and no relation of her own to be near her when her trouble comes!... There's times, John, when I wonder are you a man at all? Your mind is so set on yourself that you're like a lump of stone. You and your old books ... as if they matter a tinker's curse to anybody!..."
"I know you never thought anything of my work," he complained, "and Eleanor doesn't think much of it either. I get little encouragement from any of you!"
"You get encouragement," Mrs. MacDermott retorted, "when you've earned it. It's no use pulling a poor mouth to me, my son. I come from a family that never asked for pity, and I married into one that never asked for pity. My family and your da's family went through the world, giving back as much as we got and a wee bit more, and we never let a murmur out of us when we got hurt. There were times when I thought it was hard on the women of the family, but I see now, well and plain, that there's no pleasure in this world but to be keeping your head high and never to let nothing downcast you. I'd be ashamed to be a cry-ba!..."
"I'm no cry-ba!" he muttered sulkily.
"Well, prove it then. Let Eleanor come without making a sour face over it. Come yourself if you want to, but anyway let her come!"
"I don't believe she'll go," he said.
"She will, if you persuade her!" Suddenly her tone altered, and the hard tone went out of her voice. She leant towards him, touching him on the arm. "Persuade her, son!" she said. "My heart's hungry to have her child born in its own home among its own people!"
She looked at him so pleadingly that he was deeply moved. He felt his blood calling to him, and the ties of kinship stirring strongly in his heart. Pictures of Ballyards passed swiftly through his mind, and in rapid succession he saw the shop and Uncle Matthew and Uncle William and Mr. McCaughan and Mr. Cairnduff and the Logans and the Square and the Lough, and could smell the sweet odours of the country, the smell of wet earth and the reek of turf fires and the cold smell of brackish water....
"Have your own way," he said to his mother, and she drew him to her and kissed him more tenderly than she had kissed him for many years.
When they told their plan to Eleanor her eyes lit up immediately, and he saw that she was eager to go to Ballyards, but almost at once, she turned to him and said, "Oh, but you, John? What about you?"
"I'll be all right," he replied. "Don't worry about me!"
"Couldn't you come, too?"
"You know I can't. How can I give up this job on the Sensation the minute I've got it!"
"Easy enough," Mrs. MacDermott interjected. "If you've only just got it, there'll be no hardship to you or to them if you give it up now!"
"I have to earn our keep," he insisted.
"There's the shop," Mrs. MacDermott insisted.
"I won't go next or near the shop," he shouted in sudden fury. "I came here to write books and I'll write them!"
"You're not writing books when you're sitting up half the night in a newspaper office!"
"I know I'm not. But I must get money to ... to pay for!..."
"Are you worrying yourself about Eleanor's confinement, son? Never bother your head about that. I'll not let her want for anything!..."
"I know you won't," he replied in a softer voice, "but I'd rather earn the money myself!"
Mrs. MacDermott tightened her mouth. "Very well," she said.
"I've a good mind to let the flat till you come back," John murmured to Eleanor.
"What's that?" Mrs. MacDermott demanded.
"I was saying I'd a good mind to let the flat until she comes back. I could go to Miss Squibb's for a while. It 'ud really be cheaper!..."
"Would you let strangers walk into your house and use your furniture?"
"Yes. Why not? We shall be able to pay the rent and have a profit out of what we shall get for sub-letting it."
"Making a hotel out of your home," Mrs. MacDermott said in disgust.
"Och, we're not all home-mad," John retorted.
"That's the pity," his mother rejoined.
Three weeks later, Eleanor, and Mrs. MacDermott departed for Ballyards. Eleanor had refused to go away from London until she had seen John settled in his work and the flat sub-let to suitable tenants. She arranged for his return to Miss Squibb who, most opportunely, had his old room vacant, and she made Lizzie promise to take particular care of his comfort. "I can tyke care of 'im all right," Lizzie said. "I've tyken care of Mr. 'Inde for years, an' I feel I can tyke care of anybody after 'im. You leave 'im to me, Mrs. MacDermott, an' I wown't let 'im come to no 'arm!" She leant forward suddenly and whispered to Eleanor. "I do 'ope it's a boy," she said.