"We generally call it engaged in this country."
"Then I shall translate my question into the language of the country, and ask if——"
"Oh, don't ask it, please. I shall answer before you do ask it by saying, No. I do not know why I should countenance your bluntness, as you call it, by giving you an answer to such a question; but I do so on condition that the question is the last."
"But the second question cannot be the last. There is always the third reading of a bill. The auctioneer usually cries, 'Third and last time,' not 'Second and last time,' and the banns of approaching marriage are called out three times. So, you see, I have the right to ask you one more question."
"Very well. A person may sometimes have the right to do a thing, and yet be very foolish in exercising that right."
"I accept your warning," said the artist, "and reserve my right."
"What time is it, do you think?" she asked him.
"I haven't the least idea," he replied; "my watch has stopped. That case was warranted to resist water, but I doubt if it has done so."
"Don't you think that if the men managed to save themselves they would have been here by this time?"
"I am sure I don't know. I have no idea of the distance. Perhaps they may have taken it for granted we are drowned, and so there is one chance in a thousand that they may not come back at all."
"Oh, I do not think such a thing is possible. The moment Mr. Mason heard of the disaster he would come without delay, no matter what he might believe the result of the accident to be."
"Yes, I think you are right. I shall try to get out on this point and see if I can discover anything of them. The moon now lights up the river, and if they are within a reasonable distance I think I can see them from this point of rock."
The artist climbed up on the point, which projected over the river. The footing was not of the safest, and Miss Sommerton watched him with some anxiety as he slipped and stumbled and kept his place by holding on to the branches of the overhanging trees.
"Pray be careful, Mr. Trenton," she said; "remember you are over the water there, and it is very swift."
"The rocks seem rather slippery with the dew," answered the artist; "but I am reasonably surefooted."
"Well, please don't take any chances; for, disagreeable as you are, I don't wish to be left here alone."
"Thank you, Miss Sommerton."
The artist stood on the point of rock, and, holding by a branch of a tree, peered out over the river.
"Oh, Mr. Trenton, don't do that!" cried the young lady, with alarm. "Please come back."
"Say 'John,' then," replied the gentleman.
"Oh, Mr. Trenton, don't!" she cried as he leaned still further over the water, straining the branch to its utmost.
The branch cracked ominously as Trenton leaned yet a little further.
"John!" cried the young lady, sharply, "cease your fooling and come down from that rock."
The artist instantly recovered his position, and, coming back, sprang down to the ground again.
Miss Sommerton drew back in alarm; but Trenton merely put his hands in his pockets, and said—
"Well, Eva, I came back because you called me."
"It was a case of coercion," she said. "You English are too fond of coercion. We Americans are against it."
"Oh, I am a Home Ruler, if you are," replied the artist. "Miss Eva, I am going to risk my third and last question, and I shall await the answer with more anxiety than I ever felt before in my life. The question is this: Will—"
"Hello! there you are. Thank Heaven! I was never so glad to see anybody in my life," cried the cheery voice of Ed. Mason, as he broke through the bushes towards them.
Trenton looked around with anything but a welcome on his brow. If Mason had never been so glad in his life to see anybody, it was quite evident his feeling was not entirely reciprocated by the artist.
"How the deuce did you get here?" asked Trenton. "I was just looking for you down the river."
"Well, you see, we kept pretty close to the shore. I doubt if you could have seen us. Didn't you hear us shout?"
"No, we didn't hear anything. We didn't hear them shout, did we, Miss Sommerton?"
"No," replied that young woman, looking at the dying fire, whose glowing embers seemed to redden her face.
"Why, do you know," said Mason, "it looks as if you had been quarrelling. I guess I came just in the nick of time."
"You are always just in time, Mr. Mason," said Miss Sommerton. "For we were quarrelling, as you say. The subject of the quarrel is which of us was rightful owner of that canoe."
Mason laughed heartily, while Miss Sommerton frowned at him with marked disapprobation.
"Then you found me out, did you? Well, I expected you would before the day was over. You see, it isn't often that I have to deal with two such particular people in the same day. Still, I guess the ownership of the canoe doesn't amount to much now. I'll give it to the one who finds it."
"Oh, Mr. Mason," cried Miss Sommerton, "did the two men escape all right?"
"Why, certainly, I have just been giving them 'Hail Columbia,' because they didn't come back to you; but you see, a little distance down, the bank gets very steep—so much so that it is impossible to climb it, and then the woods here are thick and hard to work a person's way through. So they thought it best to come down and tell me, and we have brought two canoes up with us."
"Does Mrs. Mason know of the accident?"
"No, she doesn't; but she is just as anxious as if she did. She can't think what in the world keeps you."
"She doesn't realise," said the artist, "what strong attractions the Shawenegan Falls have for people alive to the beauties of nature."
"Well," said Mason, "we mustn't stand here talking. You must be about frozen to death." Here he shouted to one of the men to come up and put out the fire.
"Oh, don't bother," said the artist; "it will soon burn out."
"Oh yes," put in Ed. Mason; "and if a wind should happen to rise in the night, where would my pine forest be? I don't propose to have a whole section of the country burnt up to commemorate the quarrel between you two."
The half-breed flung the biggest brand into the river, and speedily trampled out the rest, carrying up some water in his hat to pour on the centre of the fire. This done, they stepped into the canoe and were soon on their way down the river. Reaching the landing, the artist gave his hand to Miss Sommerton and aided her out on the bank.
"Miss Sommerton," he whispered to her, "I intended to sail to-morrow. I shall leave it for you to say whether I shall go or not."
"You will not sail," said Miss Sommerton promptly.
"Oh, thank you," cried the artist; "you do not know how happy that makes me."
"Why should it?"
"Well, you know what I infer from your answer."
"My dear sir, I said that you would not sail, and you will not, for this reason: To sail you require to catch to-night's train for Montreal, and take the train from there to New York to get your boat. You cannot catch to-night's train, and, therefore, cannot get to your steamer. I never before saw a man so glad to miss his train or his boat. Good-night, Mr. Trenton. Good-night, Mr. Mason," she cried aloud to that gentleman, as she disappeared toward the house.
"You two appear to be quite friendly," said Mr. Mason to the artist.
"Do we? Appearances are deceitful. I really cannot tell at this moment whether we are friends or enemies."
"Well, not enemies, I am sure. Miss Eva is a very nice girl when you understand her."
"Do you understand her?" asked the artist.
"I can't say that I do. Come to think of it, I don't think anybody does."
"In that case, then, for all practical purposes, she might just as well not be a nice girl."
"Ah, well, you may change your opinion some day—when you get better acquainted with her," said Mason, shaking hands with his friend. "And now that you have missed your train, anyhow, I don't suppose you care for a very early start to-morrow. Good-night."
After Trenton awoke next morning he thought the situation over very calmly, and resolved to have question number three answered that day if possible.
When called to breakfast he found Ed. Mason at the head of the table.
"Shan't we wait for the ladies?" asked the artist.
"I don't think we'd better. You see we might have to wait quite a long time. I don't know when Miss Sommerton will be here again, and it will be a week at least before Mrs. Mason comes back. They are more than half-way to Three Rivers by this time."
"Good gracious!" cried Trenton, abashed; "why didn't you call me? I should have liked very much to have accompanied them."
"Oh, they wouldn't hear of your being disturbed; and besides, Mr. Trenton, our American ladies are quite in the habit of looking after themselves. I found that out long ago."
"I suppose there is nothing for it but get out my buckboard and get back to Three Rivers."
"Oh, I dismissed your driver long ago," said the lumberman. "I'll take you there in my buggy. I am going out to Three Rivers to-day anyhow."
"No chance of overtaking the ladies?" asked Trenton.
"I don't think so. We may overtake Mrs. Mason but I imagine Miss Sommerton will be either at Quebec or Montreal before we reach Three Rivers. I don't know in which direction she is going. You seem to be somewhat interested in that young lady. Purely artistic admiration, I presume. She is rather a striking girl. Well, you certainly have made the most of your opportunities. Let's see, you have known her now for quite a long while. Must be nearly twenty-four hours."
"Oh, don't underestimate it, Mason; quite thirty-six hours at least."
"So long as that? Ah, well, I don't wish to discourage you; but I wouldn't be too sure of her if I were you."
"Sure of her! Why, I am not sure of anything."
"Well, that is the proper spirit. You Englishmen are rather apt to take things for granted. I think you would make a mistake in this case if you were too sure. You are not the only man who has tried to awaken the interest of Miss Sommerton of Boston."
"I didn't suppose that I was. Nevertheless, I am going to Boston."
"Well, it's a nice town," said Mason, with a noncommittal air. "It hasn't the advantages of Three Rivers, of course; but still it is a very attractive place in some respects."
"In some respects, yes," said the artist.
* * * * *
Two days later Mr. John Trenton called at the house on Beacon Street.
"Miss Sommerton is not at home," said the servant. "She is in Canada somewhere."
And so Mr. Trenton went back to his hotel.
The artist resolved to live quietly in Boston until Miss Sommerton returned. Then the fateful number three could be answered. He determined not to present any of his letters of introduction. When he came to Boston first, he thought he would like to see something of society, of the art world in that city, if there was an art world, and of the people; but he had come and gone without being invited anywhere, and now he anticipated no trouble in living a quiet life, and thinking occasionally over the situation. But during his absence it appeared Boston had awakened to the fact that in its midst had resided a real live artist of prominence from the other side, and nothing had been done to overcome his prejudices, and show him that, after all, the real intellectual centre of the world was not London, but the capital of Massachusetts.
The first day he spent in his hotel he was called upon by a young gentleman whose card proclaimed him a reporter on one of the large daily papers.
"You are Mr. Trenton, the celebrated English artist, are you not?"
"My name is Trenton, and by profession I am an artist. But I do not claim the adjective, 'celebrated.'"
"All right. You are the man I am after. Now, I should like to know what you think of the art movement in America?"
"Well, really, I have been in America but a very short time, and during that time I have had no opportunity of seeing the work of your artists or of visiting any collections, so you see I cannot give an opinion."
"Met any of our American artists?"
"I have in Europe, yes. Quite a number of them, and very talented gentlemen some of them are, too."
"I suppose Europe lays over this country in the matter of art, don't it?"
"I beg your pardon."
"Knocks the spots out of us in pictures?"
"I don't know that I quite follow you. Do you mean that we produce pictures more rapidly than you do here?"
"No, I just mean the whole tout ensemble of the thing. They are 'way ahead of us, are they not, in art?"
"Well, you see, as I said before—really, I am not in a position to make any comparison, because I am entirely ignorant of American painting. It seems to me that certain branches of art ought to flourish here. There is no country in the world with grander scenery than America."
"Been out to the Rockies?"
"Where is that?"
"To the Rocky Mountains?"
"Oh no, no. You see I have been only a few weeks in this country. I have confined my attention to Canada mainly, the Quebec region and around there, although I have been among the White Mountains, and the Catskills, and the Adirondacks."
"What school of art do you belong to?"
"School? Well, I don't know that I belong to any. May I ask if you are a connoisseur in art matters. Are you the art critic of your journal?"
"Me? No—oh no. I don't know the first darn thing about it. That's why they sent me."
"Well, I should have thought, if he wished to get anything worth publishing, your editor would have sent somebody who was at least familiar with the subject he has to write about."
"I dare say; but, that ain't the way to get snappy articles written. You take an art man, now, for instance; he's prejudiced. He thinks one school is all right, and another school isn't; and he is apt to work in his own fads. Now, if our man liked the French school, and despised the English school, or the German school, if there is one, or the Italian school, whatever it happened to be, and you went against that; why, don't you see, he would think you didn't know anything, and write you up that way. Now, I am perfectly unprejudiced. I want to write a good readable article, and I don't care a hang which school is the best or the worst, or anything else about it."
"Ah! I see. Well, in that case, you certainly approach your work without bias."
"You bet I do. Now, who do you think is the best painter in England?"
"In what line?"
"Well, in any line. Who stands ahead? Who's the leader? Who tops them all? Who's the Raphael?"
"I don't know that we have any Raphael? We have good painters each in his own branch."
"Isn't there one, in your opinion, that is 'way ahead of all the rest?"
"Well, you see, to make an intelligent comparison, you have to take into consideration the specialty of the painter. You could hardly compare Alma Tadema, for instance, with Sir John Millais, or Sir Frederic Leighton with Hubert Herkomer, or any of them with some of your own painters. Each has his specialty, and each stands at the head of it."
"Then there is no one man in England like Old Man Rubens, or Van Dyke, or those other fellows, I forget their names, who are head and shoulders above everybody else? Sort of Jay Gould in art, you know."
"No, I wouldn't like to say there is. In fact, all of your questions require some consideration. Now, if you will write them down for me, and give me time to think them over, I will write out such answers as occur to me. It would be impossible for me to do justice to myself, or to art, or to your paper, by attempting to answer questions off-hand in this way."
"Oh, that's too slow for our time here. You know this thing comes out to-morrow morning, and I have got to do a column and a half of it. Sometimes, you know, it is very difficult; but you are different from most Englishmen I have talked with. You speak right out, and you talk to a fellow. I can make a column and a half out of what you have said now."
"Dear me! Can you really? Well, now, I should be careful, if I were you. I am afraid that, if you don't understand anything about art, you may give the public some very erroneous impressions."
"Oh, the public don't care a hang. All they want is to read something snappy and bright. That's what the public want. No, sir, we have catered too long for the public not to know what its size is. You might print the most learned article you could get hold of, it might be written by What's-his-name De Vinci, and be full of art slang, and all that sort of thing, but it wouldn't touch the general public at all."
"I don't suppose it would."
"What do you think of our Sunday papers here? You don't have any Sunday papers over in London."
"Oh yes, we do. But none of the big dailies have Sunday editions."
"They are not as big, or as enterprising as ours, are they? One Sunday paper, you know, prints about as much as two or three thirty-five cent magazines."
"What, the Sunday paper does?"
"Yes, the Sunday paper prints it, but doesn't sell for that. We give 'em more for the money than any magazine you ever saw."
"You certainly print some very large papers."
With this the reporter took his leave, and next morning Mr. Trenton saw the most astonishing account of his ideas on art matters imaginable. What struck him most forcibly was, that an article written by a person who admittedly knew nothing at all about art should be in general so free from error. The interview had a great number of head lines, and it was evident the paper desired to treat the artist with the utmost respect, and that it felt he showed his sense in preferring Boston to New York as a place of temporary residence; but what appalled him was the free and easy criticisms he was credited with having made on his own contemporaries in England. The principal points of each were summed up with a great deal of terseness and force, and in many cases were laughably true to life. It was evident that whoever touched up that interview possessed a very clear opinion and very accurate knowledge of the art movement in England.
Mr. Trenton thought he would sit down and write to the editor of the paper, correcting some of the more glaring inaccuracies; but a friend said—
"Oh, it is no use. Never mind. Nobody pays any attention to that. It's all right anyhow."
"Yes, but suppose the article should be copied in England, or suppose some of the papers should get over there?"
"Oh, that'll be all right," said his friend, with easy optimism. "Don't bother about it. They all know what a newspaper interview is; if they don't, why, you can tell them when you get back."
It was not long before Mr. Trenton found himself put down at all the principal clubs, both artistic and literary; and he also became, with a suddenness that bewildered him, quite the social lion for the time being. He was astonished to find that the receptions to which he was invited, and where he was, in a way, on exhibition, were really very grand occasions, and compared favourably with the finest gatherings he had had experience of in London.
His hostess at one of these receptions said to him, "Mr. Trenton, I want to introduce you to some of our art lovers in this city, whom I am sure you will be pleased to meet. I know that as a general thing the real artists are apt to despise the amateurs; but in this instance I hope you will be kind enough not to despise them, for my sake. We think they are really very clever indeed, and we like to be flattered by foreign preference."
"Am I the foreign preference in this instance?"
"You are, Mr. Trenton."
"Now, I think it is too bad of you to say that, just when I have begun to feel as much at home in Boston as I do in London. I assure you I do not feel in the least foreign here. Neither do I maintain, like Mrs. Brown, that you are the foreigners."
"How very nice of you to say so, Mr. Trenton. Now I hope you will say something like that to the young lady I want you to meet. She is really very charming, and I am sure you will like her; and I may say, in parenthesis, that she, like the rest of us, is perfectly infatuated with your pictures."
As the lady said this, she brought Mr. Trenton in her wake, as it were, and said, "Miss Sommerton, allow me to present to you Mr. Trenton."
Miss Sommerton rose with graceful indolence, and held out her hand frankly to the artist. "Mr. Trenton," she said, "I am very pleased indeed to meet you. Have you been long in Boston?"
"Only a few days," replied Trenton. "I came up to Boston from Canada a short time since."
"Up? You mean down. We don't say up from Canada."
"Oh, don't you? Well, in England, you know, we say up to London, no matter from what part of the country we approach it. I think you are wrong in saying down, I think it really ought to be up to Boston from wherever you come."
His hostess appeared to be delighted with this bit of conversation, and she said, "I shall leave you two together for a few moments to get acquainted. Mr. Trenton, you know you are in demand this evening."
"Do you think that is true?" said Trenton to Miss Sommerton.
"Well, that I am in demand."
"I suppose it is true, if Mrs. Lennox says it is. You surely don't intend to cast any doubt on the word of your hostess, do you?"
"Oh, not at all. I didn't mean in a general way, you know, I meant in particular."
"I don't think I understand you, Mr. Trenton. By the way, you said you had been in Canada. Do you not think it is a very charming country?"
"Charming, Miss Sommerton, isn't the word for it. It is the most delightful country in the world."
"Ah, you say that because it belongs to England. I admit it is very delightful; but then there are other places on the Continent quite as beautiful as any part of Canada. You seem to have a prejudice in favour of monarchical institutions."
"Oh, is Canada monarchical? I didn't know that. I thought Canada was quite republican in its form of government."
"Well, it is a dependency; that's what I despise about Canada. Think of a glorious country like that, with hundreds of thousands of square miles, in fact, millions, I think, being dependent on a little island, away there among the fogs and rains, between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. To be a dependency of some splendid tyrannical power like Russia wouldn't be so bad; but to be dependent on that little island—I lose all my respect for Canada when I think of it."
"Well, you know, the United States were colonies once."
"Ah, that is a very unfortunate comparison, Mr. Trenton. The moment the colonies, as you call them, came to years of discretion, they soon shook off their dependency. You must remember you are at Boston, and that the harbour is only a short distance from here."
"Does that mean that I should take advantage of its proximity and leave?"
"Oh, not at all. I could not say anything so rude, Mr. Trenton. Perhaps you are not familiar with the history of our trouble with England? Don't you remember it commenced in Boston Harbour practically?"
"Oh yes, I recollect now. I had forgotten it. Something about tea, was it not?"
"Yes, something about tea."
"Well, talking of tea, Miss Sommerton, may I take you to the conservatory and bring you a cup of it?"
"May I have an ice instead of the tea, if I prefer it, Mr. Trenton?"
"Why, certainly. You see how I am already dropping into the American phraseology."
"Oh, I think you are improving wonderfully, Mr. Trenton."
When they reached the conservatory, Miss Sommerton said—
"This is really a very great breach of good manners on both your part and mine. I have taken away the lion of the evening, and the lion has forgotten his duty to his hostess and to the other guests."
"Well, you see, I wanted to learn more of your ideas in the matter of dependencies. I don't at all agree with you on that. Now, I think if a country is conquered, it ought to be a dependency of the conquering people. It is the right of conquest. I—I am a thorough believer in the right of conquest."
"You seem to have very settled opinions on the matter, Mr. Trenton."
"I have indeed, Miss Sommerton. It is said that an Englishman never knows when he is conquered. Now I think that is a great mistake. There is no one so quick as an Englishman to admit that he has met his match."
"Why, have you met your match already, Mr. Trenton? Let me congratulate you."
"Well, don't congratulate me just yet. I am not at all certain whether I shall need any congratulations or not."
"I am sure I hope you will be very successful."
"Do you mean that?"
Miss Sommerton looked at him quietly for a moment.
"Do you think," she said, "I am in the habit of saying things I do not mean?"
"I think you are."
"Well, you are not a bit more complimentary than—than—you used to be."
"You were going to say than I was on the banks of the St. Maurice?"
"Oh, you visited the St. Maurice, did you? How far away from Boston that seems, doesn't it?"
"It is indeed a great distance, Miss Sommerton. But apparently not half as long as the round-about way we are traveling just now. Miss Sommerton, I waited and waited in Boston for you to return. I want to be a dependence. I admit the conquest. I wish to swear fealty to Miss Eva Sommerton of Boston, and now I ask my third question, will you accept the allegiance?"
Miss Sommerton was a little slow in replying, and before she had spoken Mrs. Lennox bustled in, and said—
"Oh, Mr. Trenton, I have been looking everywhere for you. There are a hundred people here who wish to be introduced, and all at once. May I have him, Miss Sommerton?"
"Well, Mrs. Lennox, you know, if I said 'Yes,' that would imply a certain ownership in him."
"I brought Miss Sommerton here to get her to accept an ice from me, which as yet I have not had the privilege of bringing. Will you accept— the ice, Miss Sommerton?"
The young lady blushed, as she looked at the artist.
"Yes," she said with a sigh; the tone was almost inaudible.
The artist hurried away to bring the refreshment.
"Why, Eva Sommerton," cried Mrs. Lennox, "you accept a plate of ice cream as tragically as if you were giving the answer to a proposal."
Mrs. Lennox said afterward that she thought there was something very peculiar about Miss Sommerton's smile in reply to her remark.
THE HERALDS OF FAME
Now, when each man's place in literature is so clearly defined, it seems ridiculous to state that there was a time when Kenan Buel thought J. Lawless Hodden a great novelist. One would have imagined that Buel's keen insight into human nature would have made such a mistake impossible, but it must be remembered that Buel was always more or less of a hero-worshipper. It seems strange in the light of our after-knowledge that there ever was a day when Hodden's books were selling by the thousand, and Buel was tramping the streets of London fruitlessly searching for a publisher. Not less strange is the fact that Buel thought Hodden's success well deserved. He would have felt honoured by the touch of Hodden's hand.
No convict ever climbed a treadmill with more hopeless despair than Buel worked in his little room under the lofty roof. He knew no one; there were none to speak to him a cheering or comforting word; he was ignorant even of the names of the men who accepted the articles from his pen, which appeared unsigned in the daily papers and in some of the weeklies. He got cheques—small ones—with illegible and impersonal signatures that told him nothing. But the bits of paper were honoured at the bank, and this lucky fact enabled him to live and write books which publishers would not look at.
Nevertheless, showing how all things are possible to a desperate and resolute man, two of his books had already seen the light, if it could be called light. The first he was still paying for, on the instalment plan. The publishers were to pay half, and he was to pay half. This seemed to him only a fair division of the risk at the time. Not a single paper had paid the slightest attention to the book. The universal ignoring of it disheartened him. He had been prepared for abuse, but not for impenetrable silence.
He succeeded in getting another and more respectable publisher to take up his next book on a royalty arrangement. This was a surprise to him, and a gratification. His satisfaction did not last long after the book came out. It was mercilessly slated. One paper advised him to read "Hodden;" another said he had plagiarized from that popular writer. The criticisms cut him like a whip. He wondered why he had rebelled at the previous silence. He felt like a man who had heedlessly hurled a stone at a snow mountain and had been buried by the resulting avalanche.
He got his third publisher a year after that. He thought he would never succeed in getting the same firm twice, and wondered what would happen when he exhausted the London list. It is not right that a man should go on for ever without a word of encouragement. Fate recognised that there would come a breaking-point, and relented in time. The word came from an unexpected source. Buel was labouring, heavy-eyed, at the last proof-sheets of his third book, and was wondering whether he would have the courage not to look at the newspapers when the volume was published. He wished he could afford to go to some wilderness until the worst was over. He knew he could not miss the first notice, for experience had taught him that Snippit & Co., a clipping agency, would send it to him, with a nice type-written letter, saying—
"As your book is certain to attract a great deal of attention from the Press, we shall be pleased to send you clippings similar to the enclosed at the following rates."
It struck him as rather funny that any company should expect a sane man to pay so much good money for Press notices, mostly abusive. He never subscribed.
The word of encouragement gave notice of its approach in a letter, signed by a man of whom he had never heard. It was forwarded to him by his publishers. The letter ran:—
"Can you make it convenient to lunch with me on Friday at the Mtropole? If you have an engagement for that day can you further oblige me by writing and putting it off? Tell the other fellow you are ill or have broken your leg, or anything, and charge up the fiction to me. I deal in fiction, anyhow. I leave on Saturday for the Continent, not wishing to spend another Sunday in London if I can avoid it. I have arranged to get out your book in America, having read the proof-sheets at your publisher's. All the business part of the transaction is settled, but I would like to see you personally if you don't mind, to have a talk over the future—always an interesting subject. "Yours very truly, "L. F. BRANT, "Of Rainham Bros., Publishers, New York."
Buel read this letter over and over again. He had never seen anything exactly like it. There was a genial flippancy about it that was new to him, and he wondered what sort of a man the New Yorker was. Mr. Brant wrote to a stranger with the familiarity of an old friend, yet the letter warmed Buel's heart. He smiled at the idea the American evidently had about a previous engagement. Invitations to lunch become frequent when a man does not need them. No broken leg story would have to be told. He wrote and accepted Mr. Brant's invitation.
"You're Mr. Buel, I think?"
The stranger's hand rested lightly on the young author's shoulder. Buel had just entered the unfamiliar precincts of the Mtropole Hotel. The tall man with the gold lace on his hat had hesitated a moment before he swung open the big door, Buel was so evidently not a guest of the hotel.
"My name is Buel."
"Then you're my victim. I've been waiting impatiently for you. I am L. F. Brant."
"I thought I was in time. I am sorry to have kept you waiting."
"Don't mention it. I have been waiting but thirty seconds. Come up in the elevator. They call it a lift here, not knowing any better, but it gets there ultimately. I have the title-deeds to a little parlour while I am staying in this tavern, and I thought we could talk better if we had lunch there. Lunch costs more on that basis, but I guess we can stand it."
A cold shudder passed over the thin frame of Kenan Buel. He did not know but it was the custom in America to ask a man to lunch and expect him to pay half. Brant's use of the plural lent colour to this view, and Buel knew he could not pay his share. He regretted they were not in a vegetarian restaurant.
The table in the centre of the room was already set for two, and the array of wine-glasses around each plate looked tempting. Brant pushed the electric button, drew up his chair, and said—
"Sit down, Buel, sit down. What's your favourite brand of wine? Let's settle on it now, so as to have no unseemly wrangle when the waiter comes. I'm rather in awe of the waiter. It doesn't seem natural that any mere human man should be so obviously superior to the rest of us mortals as this waiter is. I'm going to give you only the choice of the first wines. I have taken the champagne for granted, and it's cooling now in a tub somewhere. We always drink champagne in the States, not because we like it, but because it's expensive. I calculate that I pay the expenses of my trip over here merely by ordering unlimited champagne. I save more than a dollar a bottle on New York prices, and these saved dollars count up in a month. Personally I prefer cider or lager beer, but in New York we dare not own to liking a thing unless it is expensive."
"It can hardly be a pleasant place for a poor man to live in, if that is the case."
"My dear Buel, no city is a pleasant place for a poor man to live in. I don't suppose New York is worse than London in that respect. The poor have a hard time of it anywhere. A man owes it to himself and family not to be poor. Now, that's one thing I like about your book; you touch on poverty in a sympathetic way, by George, like a man who had come through it himself. I've been there, and I know how it is. When I first struck New York I hadn't even a ragged dollar bill to my back. Of course every successful man will tell you the same of himself, but it is mostly brag, and in half the instances it isn't true at all; but in my case—well, I wasn't subscribing to the heathen in those days. I made up my mind that poverty didn't pay, and I have succeeded in remedying the state of affairs. But I haven't forgotten how it felt to be hard up, and I sympathise with those who are. Nothing would afford me greater pleasure than to give a helping hand to a fellow—that is, to a clever fellow who was worth saving—who is down at bed rock. Don't you feel that way too?"
"Yes," said Buel, with some hesitation, "it would be a pleasure."
"I knew when I read your book you felt that way—I was sure of it. Well, I've helped a few in my time; but I regret to say most of them turned out to be no good. That is where the trouble is. Those who are really deserving are just the persons who die of starvation in a garret, and never let the outside world know their trouble."
"I do not doubt such is often the case."
"Of course it is. It's always the case. But here's the soup. I hope you have brought a good appetite. You can't expect such a meal here as you would get in New York; but they do fairly well. I, for one, don't grumble about the food in London, as most Americans do. Londoners manage to keep alive, and that, after all, is the main thing."
Buel was perfectly satisfied with the meal, and thought if they produced a better one in New York, or anywhere else, the art of cookery had reached wonderful perfection. Brant, however, kept apologising for the spread as he went along. The talk drifted on in an apparently aimless fashion, but the publisher was a shrewd man, and he was gradually leading it up to the point he had in view from the beginning, and all the while he was taking the measure of his guest. He was not a man to waste either his time or his dinners without an object. When he had once "sized up" his man, as he termed it, he was either exceedingly frank and open with him, or the exact opposite, as suited his purpose. He told Buel that he came to England once a year, if possible, rapidly scanned the works of fiction about to be published by the various houses in London, and made arrangements for the producing of those in America that he thought would go down with the American people.
"I suppose," said Buel, "that you have met many of the noted authors of this country?"
"All of them, I think; all of them, at one time or another. The publishing business has its drawbacks like every other trade," replied Brant, jauntily.
"Have you met Hodden?"
"Several times. Conceited ass!"
"You astonish me. I have never had the good fortune to become acquainted with any of our celebrated writers. I would think it a privilege to know Hodden and some of the others."
"You're lucky, and you evidently don't know it. I would rather meet a duke any day than a famous author. The duke puts on less side and patronises you less."
"I would rather be a celebrated author than a duke if I had my choice."
"Well, being a free and independent citizen of the Democratic United States, I wouldn't. No, sir! I would rather be Duke Brant any day in the week than Mr. Brant, the talented author of, etc., etc. The moment an author receives a little praise and becomes talked about, he gets what we call in the States 'the swelled head.' I've seen some of the nicest fellows in the world become utterly spoiled by a little success. And then think of the absurdity of it all. There aren't more than two or three at the most of the present-day writers who will be heard of a century hence. Read the history of literature, and you will find that never more than four men in any one generation are heard of after. Four is a liberal allowance. What has any writer to be conceited about anyhow? Let him read his Shakespeare and be modest."
Buel said with a sigh, "I wish there was success in store for me. I would risk the malady you call the 'swelled head.'"
"Success will come all right enough, my boy. 'All things come to him who waits,' and while he is waiting puts in some good, strong days of work. It's the working that tells, not the waiting. And now, if you will light one of these cigars, we will talk of you for a while, if your modesty will stand it. What kind of Chartreuse will you have? Yellow or green?"
"Take the green, then. Where the price is the same I always take the green. It is the stronger, and you get more for your money. Now then, I will be perfectly frank with you. I read your book in the proof-sheets, and I ran it down in great style to your publisher."
"I am sorry you did not like it."
"I don't say I didn't like it. I ran it down because it was business. I made up my mind when I read that book to give a hundred pounds for the American rights. I got it for twenty."
Brant laughed, and Buel felt uncomfortable. He feared that after all he did not like this frank American.
"Having settled about the book, I wanted to see you, and here you are. Of course, I am utterly selfish in wanting to see you, for I wish you to promise me that we will have the right of publishing your books in America as long as we pay as much as any other publisher. There is nothing unfair in that, is there?"
"No. I may warn you, however, that there has been no great competition, so far, for the privilege of doing any publishing, either here or in America."
"That's all right. Unless I'm a Dutchman there will be, after your new book is published. Of course, that is one of the things no fellow can find out. If he could, publishing would be less of a lottery than it is. A book is sometimes a success by the merest fluke; at other times, in spite of everything, a good book is a deplorable failure. I think yours will go; anyhow, I am willing to bet on it up to a certain amount, and if it does go, I want to have the first look-in at your future books. What do you say?"
"Do you wish me to sign a contract?"
"No, I merely want your word. You may write me a letter if you like, that I could show to my partners, saying that we would have the first refusal of your future books."
"I am quite willing to do that."
"Very good. That's settled. Now, you look fagged out. I wish you would take a trip over to New York. I'll look after you when you get there. It would do you a world of good, and would show in the pages of your next book. What do you say to that? Have you any engagements that would prevent you making the trip?"
Buel laughed, "I am perfectly free as far as engagements are concerned."
"That's all right, then. I wish I were in that position. Now, as I said, I considered your book cheap at 100. I got it for 20. I propose to hand over the 80 to you. I'll write out the cheque as soon as the waiters clear away the dbris. Then your letter to the firm would form the receipt for this money, and—well, it need not be a contract, you know, or anything formal, but just your ideas on any future business that may crop up."
"I must say I think your offer is very generous."
"Oh, not at all. It is merely business. The 80 is on account of royalties. If the book goes, as I think it will, I hope to pay you much more than that. Now I hope you will come over and see me as soon as you can."
"Yes. As you say, the trip will do me good. I have been rather hard at it for some time."
"Then I'll look out for you. I sail on the French line Saturday week. When will you come?"
"As soon as my book is out here, and before any of the reviews appear."
"Sensible man. What's your cable address?"
"I haven't one."
"Well, I suppose a telegram to your publishers will find you. I'll cable if anything turns up unexpectedly. You send me over a despatch saying what steamer you sail on. My address is 'Rushing, New York.' Just cable the name of the steamer, and I will be on the look-out for you."
It was doubtless the effect of the champagne, for Buel went back to his squalid room with his mind in the clouds. He wondered if this condition was the first indication of the swelled head Brant had talked about. Buel worked harder than ever at his proofs, and there was some growling at head-quarters because of the numerous corrections he made. These changes were regarded as impudence on the part of so unknown a man. He sent off to America a set of the corrected proofs, and received a cablegram, "Proofs received. Too late. Book published today."
This was a disappointment. Still he had the consolation of knowing that the English edition would be as perfect as he could make it. He secured a berth on the Geranium, sailing from Liverpool, and cabled Brant to that effect. The day before he sailed he got a cablegram that bewildered him. It was simply, "She's a-booming." He regretted that he had never learned the American language.
Kenan Buel received from his London publisher a brown paper parcel, and on opening it found the contents to be six exceedingly new copies of his book. Whatever the publisher thought of the inside of the work, he had not spared pains to make the outside as attractive as it could be made at the price. Buel turned it over and over, and could almost imagine himself buying a book that looked so tastefully got up as this one. The sight of the volume gave him a thrill, for he remembered that the Press doubtless received its quota at about the same time his parcel came, and he feared he would not be out of the country before the first extract from the clipping agency arrived. However, luck was with the young man, and he found himself on the platform of Euston Station, waiting for the Liverpool express, without having seen anything about his book in the papers, except a brief line giving its title, the price, and his own name, in the "Books Received" column.
As he lingered around the well-kept bookstall before the train left, he saw a long row of Hodden's new novel, and then his heart gave a jump as he caught sight of two copies of his own work in the row labelled "New Books." He wanted to ask the clerk whether any of them had been sold yet, but in the first place he lacked the courage, and in the second place the clerk was very busy. As he stood there, a comely young woman, equipped for traveling, approached the stall, and ran her eye hurriedly up and down the tempting array of literature. She bought several of the illustrated papers, and then scanned the new books. The clerk, following her eye, picked out Buel's book.
"Just out, miss. Three and sixpence."
"Who is the author?" asked the girl.
"Kenan Buel, a new man," answered the clerk, without a moment's hesitation, and without looking at the title-page. "Very clever work."
Buel was astonished at the knowledge shown by the clerk. He knew that W.H. Smith & Son never had a book of his before, and he wondered how the clerk apparently knew so much of the volume and its author, forgetting that it was the clerk's business. The girl listlessly ran the leaves of the book past the edge of her thumb. It seemed to Buel that the fate of the whole edition was in her hands, and he watched her breathlessly, even forgetting how charming she looked. There stood the merchant eager to sell, and there, in the form of a young woman, was the great public. If she did not buy, why should any one else; and if nobody bought, what chance had an unknown author?
She put the book down, and looked up as she heard some one sigh deeply near her.
"Have you Hodden's new book?" she asked.
"Yes, miss. Six shillings."
The clerk quickly put Buel's book beside its lone companion, and took down Hodden's.
"Thank you," said the girl, giving him a half sovereign; and, taking the change, she departed with her bundle of literature to the train.
Buel said afterwards that what hurt him most in this painful incident was the fact that if it were repeated often the bookstall clerk would lose faith in the book. He had done so well for a man who could not possibly have read a word of the volume, that Buel felt sorry on the clerk's account rather than his own that the copy had not been sold. He walked to the end of the platform, and then back to the bookstall.
"Has that new book of Buel's come out yet?" he asked the clerk in an unconcerned tone.
"Yes, sir. Here it is; three and sixpence, sir."
"Thank you," said Buel, putting his hand in his pocket for the money. "How is it selling?"
"Well, sir, there won't be much call for it, not likely, till the reviews begin to come out."
There, Mr. Buel, you had a lesson, if you had only taken it to heart, or pondered on its meaning. Since then you have often been very scornful of newspaper reviews, yet you saw yourself how the great public treats a man who is not even abused. How were you to know that the column of grossly unfair rancour which The Daily Argus poured out on your book two days later, when you were sailing serenely over the Atlantic, would make that same clerk send in four separate orders to the "House" during the week? Medicine may have a bad taste, and yet have beneficial results. So Mr. Kenan Buel, after buying a book of which he had six copies in his portmanteau, with no one to give them to, took his place in the train, and in due time found himself at Liverpool and on board the Geranium.
The stewards being busy, Buel placed his portmanteau on the deck, and, with his newly bought volume in his hand, the string and brown paper still around it, he walked up and down on the empty side of the deck, noticing how scrupulously clean the ship was. It was the first time he had ever been on board a steamship, and he could not trust himself unguided to explore the depths below, and see what kind of a state-room and what sort of a companion chance had allotted to him. They had told him when he bought his ticket that the steamer would be very crowded that trip, so many Americans were returning; but his state-room had berths for only two, and he had a faint hope the other fellow would not turn up. As he paced the deck his thoughts wandered to the pretty girl who did not buy his book. He had seen her again on the tender in company with a serene and placid older woman, who sat unconcernedly, surrounded by bundles, shawls, straps, valises, and hand-bags, which the girl nervously counted every now and then, fruitlessly trying to convince the elderly lady that something must have been left behind in the train, or lost in transit from the station to the steamer. The worry of travel, which the elderly woman absolutely refused to share, seemed to rest with double weight on the shoulders of the girl.
As Buel thought of all this, he saw the girl approach him along the deck with a smile of apparent recognition on her face. "She evidently mistakes me for some one else," he said to himself. "Oh, thank you," she cried, coming near, and holding out her hand. "I see you have found my book."
He helplessly held out the package to her, which she took.
"Is it yours?" he asked.
"Yes, I recognised it by the string. I bought it at Euston Station. I am forever losing things," she added. "Thank you, ever so much."
Buel laughed to himself as she disappeared. "Fate evidently intends her to read my book," he said to himself. "She will think the clerk has made a mistake. I must get her unbiased opinion of it before the voyage ends."
The voyage at that moment was just beginning, and the thud, thud of the screw brought that fact to his knowledge. He sought a steward, and asked him to carry the portmanteau to berth 159.
"You don't happen to know whether there is any one else in that room or not, do you?" he asked.
"It's likely there is, sir. The ship's very full this voyage."
Buel followed him into the saloon, and along the seemingly interminable passage; then down a narrow side alley, into which a door opened marked 159-160. The steward rapped at the door, and, as there was no response, opened it. All hopes of a room to himself vanished as Buel looked into the small state-room. There was a steamer trunk on the floor, a portmanteau on the seat, while the two bunks were covered with a miscellaneous assortment of hand-bags, shawl-strap bundles, and packages.
The steward smiled. "I think he wants a room to himself," he said.
On the trunk Buel noticed the name in white letters "Hodden," and instantly there arose within him a hope that his companion was to be the celebrated novelist. This hope was strengthened when he saw on the portmanteau the letters "J.L.H.," which were the novelist's initials. He pictured to himself interesting conversations on the way over, and hoped he would receive some particulars from the novelist's own lips of his early struggles for fame. Still, he did not allow himself to build too much on his supposition, for there are a great many people in this world, and the chances were that the traveller would be some commonplace individual of the same name.
The steward placed Buel's portmanteau beside the other, and backed out of the overflowing cabin. All doubt as to the identity of the other occupant was put at rest by the appearance down the passage of a man whom Buel instantly recognised by the portraits he had seen of him in the illustrated papers. He was older than the pictures made him appear, and there was a certain querulous expression on his face which was also absent in the portraits. He glanced into the state-room, looked for a moment through Buel, and then turned to the steward.
"What do you mean by putting that portmanteau into my room?"
"This gentleman has the upper berth, sir."
"Nonsense. The entire room is mine. Take the portmanteau out."
The steward hesitated, looking from one to the other.
"The ticket is for 159, sir," he said at last.
"Then there is some mistake. The room is mine. Don't have me ask you again to remove the portmanteau."
"Perhaps you would like to see the purser, sir."
"I have nothing to do with the purser. Do as I tell you."
All this time he had utterly ignored Buel, whose colour was rising. The young man said quietly to the steward, "Take out the portmanteau, please."
When it was placed in the passage, Hodden entered the room, shut and bolted the door.
"Will you see the purser, sir?" said the steward in an awed whisper.
"I think so. There is doubtless some mistake, as he says."
The purser was busy allotting seats at the tables, and Buel waited patiently. He had no friends on board, and did not care where he was placed.
When the purser was at liberty, the steward explained to him the difficulty which had arisen. The official looked at his list.
"159—Buel. Is that your name, sir? Very good; 160—Hodden. That is the gentleman now in the room. Well, what is the trouble?"
"Mr. Hodden says, sir, that the room belongs to him."
"Have you seen his ticket?"
"Then bring it to me."
"Mistakes sometimes happen, Mr. Buel," said the purser, when the steward vanished. "But as a general thing I find that people simply claim what they have no right to claim. Often the agents promise that if possible a passenger shall have a room to himself, and when we can do so we let him have it. I try to please everybody; but all the steamers crossing to America are full at this season of the year, and it is not practicable to give every one the whole ship to himself. As the Americans say, some people want the earth for 12 or 15, and we can't always give it to them. Ah, here is the ticket. It is just as I thought. Mr. Hodden is entitled merely to berth 160."
The arrival of the ticket was quickly followed by the advent of Mr. Hodden himself. He still ignored Buel.
"Your people in London," he said to the purser, "guaranteed me a room to myself. Otherwise I would not have come on this line. Now it seems that another person has been put in with me. I must protest against this kind of usage."
"Have you any letter from them guaranteeing the room?" asked the purser blandly.
"No. I supposed until now that their word was sufficient."
"Well, you see, I am helpless in this case. These two tickets are exactly the same with the exception of the numbers. Mr. Buel has just as much right to insist on being alone in the room as far as the tickets go, and I have had no instructions in the matter."
"But it is an outrage that they should promise me one thing in London, and then refuse to perform it, when I am helpless on the ocean."
"If they have done so—"
"If they have done so? Do you doubt my word, sir?"
"Oh, not at all, sir, not at all," answered the purser in his most conciliatory tone. "But in that case your ticket should have been marked 159-160."
"I am not to suffer for their blunders."
"I see by this list that you paid 12 for your ticket. Am I right?"
"That was the amount, I believe. I paid what I was asked to pay."
"Quite so, sir. Well, you see, that is the price of one berth only. Mr. Buel, here, paid the same amount."
"Come to the point. Do I understand you to refuse to remedy the mistake (to put the matter in its mildest form) of your London people?"
"I do not refuse. I would be only too glad to give you the room to yourself, if it were possible. Unfortunately, it is not possible. I assure you there is not an unoccupied state-room on the ship."
"Then I will see the captain. Where shall I find him?"
"Very good, sir. Steward, take Mr. Hodden to the captain's room."
When they were alone again Buel very contritely expressed his sorrow at having been the innocent cause of so much trouble to the purser.
"Bless you, sir, I don't mind it in the least. This is a very simple case. Where both occupants of a room claim it all to themselves, and where both are angry and abuse me at the same time, then it gets a bit lively. I don't envy him his talk with the captain. If the old man happens to be feeling a little grumpy today, and he most generally does at the beginning of the voyage, Mr. Hodden will have a bad ten minutes. Don't you bother a bit about it, sir, but go down to your room and make yourself at home. It will be all right."
Mr. Hodden quickly found that the appeal to Caesar was not well timed. The captain had not the suave politeness of the purser. There may be greater and more powerful men on earth than the captain of an ocean liner, but you can't get any seafaring man to believe it, and the captains themselves are rarely without a due sense of their own dignity. The man who tries to bluff the captain of a steamship like the Geranium has a hard row to hoe. Mr. Hodden descended to his state-room in a more subdued frame of mind than when he went on the upper deck. However, he still felt able to crush his unfortunate room-mate.
"You insist, then," he said, speaking to Buel for the first time, "on occupying this room?"
"I have no choice in the matter."
"I thought perhaps you might feel some hesitation in forcing yourself in where you were so evidently not wanted?"
The hero-worshipper in Buel withered, and the natural Englishman asserted itself.
"I have exactly the same right in this room that you have. I claim no privilege which I have not paid for."
"Do you wish to suggest that I have made such a claim?"
"I suggest nothing; I state it. You have made such a claim, and in a most offensive manner."
"Do you understand the meaning of the language you are using, sir? You are calling me a liar."
"You put it very tersely, Mr. Hodden. Thank you. Now, if you venture to address me again during this voyage, I shall be obliged if you keep a civil tongue in your head."
"Good heavens! You talk of civility?" cried the astonished man, aghast.
His room-mate went to the upper deck. In the next state-room pretty Miss Carrie Jessop clapped her small hands silently together. The construction of staterooms is such that every word uttered in one above the breath is audible in the next room; Miss Jessop could not help hearing the whole controversy, from the time the steward was ordered so curtly to remove the portmanteau, until the culmination of the discussion and the evident defeat of Mr. Hodden. Her sympathy was all with the other fellow, at that moment unknown, but a sly peep past the edge of the scarcely opened door told her that the unnamed party in the quarrel was the awkward young man who had found her book. She wondered if the Hodden mentioned could possibly be the author, and, with a woman's inconsistency, felt sure that she would detest the story, as if the personality of the writer had anything whatever to do with his work. She took down the parcel from the shelf and undid the string. Her eyes opened wide as she looked at the title.
"Well I never!" she gasped. "If I haven't robbed that poor, innocent young man of a book he bought for himself! Attempted eviction by his room-mate, and bold highway robbery by an unknown woman! No, it's worse than that; it's piracy, for it happened on the high seas." And the girl laughed softly to herself.
Kenan Buel walked the deck alone in the evening light, and felt that he ought to be enjoying the calmness and serenity of the ocean expanse around him after the noise and squalor of London; but now that the excitement of the recent quarrel was over, he felt the reaction, and his natural diffidence led him to blame himself. Most of the passengers were below, preparing for dinner, and he had the deck to himself. As he turned on one of his rounds, he saw approaching him the girl of Euston Station, as he mentally termed her. She had his book in her hand.
"I have come to beg your pardon," she said. "I see it was your own book I took from you to-day."
"My own book!" cried Buel, fearing she had somehow discovered his guilty secret.
"Yes. Didn't you buy this for yourself?" She held up the volume.
"Oh, certainly. But you are quite welcome to it, I am sure."
"I couldn't think of taking it away from you before you have read it."
"But I have read it," replied Buel, eagerly: "and I shall be very pleased to lend it to you."
"Indeed? And how did you manage to read it without undoing the parcel?"
"That is to say I—I skimmed over it before it was done up," he said in confusion. The clear eyes of the girl disconcerted him, and, whatever his place in fiction is now, he was at that time a most unskilful liar.
"You see, I bought it because it is written by a namesake of mine. My name is Buel, and I happened to notice that was the name on the book; in fact, if you remember, when you were looking over it at the stall, the clerk mentioned the author's name, and that naturally caught my attention."
The girl glanced with renewed interest at the volume.
"Was this the book I was looking at? The story I bought was Hodden's latest. I found it a moment ago down in my state-room, so it was not lost after all."
They were now walking together as if they were old acquaintances, the girl still holding the volume in her hand.
"By the way," she said innocently, "I see on the passenger list that there is a Mr. Hodden on board. Do you think he can be the novelist?"
"I believe he is," answered Buel, stiffly.
"Oh, that will be too jolly for anything. I would so like to meet him. I am sure he must be a most charming man. His books show such insight into human nature, such sympathy and noble purpose. There could be nothing petty or mean about such a man."
"Why, of course there couldn't. You have read his books, have you not?"
"All of them except his latest."
"Well, I'll lend you that, as you have been so kind as to offer me the reading of this one."
"Thank you. After you have read it yourself."
"And when you have become acquainted with Mr. Hodden, I want you to introduce him to me."
"With pleasure. And—and when I do so, who shall I tell him the young lady is?"
The audacious girl laughed lightly, and, stepping back, made him a saucy bow.
"You will introduce me as Miss Caroline Jessop, of New York. Be sure that you say 'New York,' for that will account to Mr. Hodden for any eccentricities of conduct or conversation he may be good enough to notice. I suppose you think American girls are very forward? All Englishmen do."
"On the contrary, I have always understood that they are very charming."
"Indeed? And so you are going over to see?"
Buel laughed. All the depression he felt a short time before had vanished.
"I had no such intention when I began the voyage, but even if I should quit the steamer at Queenstown, I could bear personal testimony to the truth of the statement."
"Oh, Mr. Buel, that is very nicely put. I don't think you can improve on it, so I shall run down and dress for dinner. There is the first gong. Thanks for the book."
The young man said to himself, "Buel, my boy, you're getting on;" and he smiled as he leaned over the bulwark and looked at the rushing water. He sobered instantly as he remembered that he would have to go to his state-room and perhaps meet Hodden. It is an awkward thing to quarrel with your room-mate at the beginning of a long voyage. He hoped Hodden had taken his departure to the saloon, and he lingered until the second gong rang. Entering the stateroom, he found Hodden still there. Buel gave him no greeting. The other cleared his throat several times and then said—
"I have not the pleasure of knowing your name."
"My name is Buel."
"Well, Mr. Buel, I am sorry that I spoke to you in the manner I did, and I hope you will allow me to apologise for doing so. Various little matters had combined to irritate me, and—Of course, that is no excuse. But——"
"Don't say anything more. I unreservedly retract what I was heated enough to say, and so we may consider the episode ended. I may add that if the purser has a vacant berth anywhere, I shall be very glad to take it, if the occupants of the room make no objection."
"You are very kind," said Hodden, but he did not make any show of declining the offer.
"Very well, then, let us settle the matter while we are at it." And Buel pressed the electric button.
The steward looked in, saying,—
"Dinner is ready, gentlemen."
"Yes, I know. Just ask the purser if he can step here for a moment."
The purser came promptly, and if he was disturbed at being called at such a moment he did not show it. Pursers are very diplomatic persons.
"Have you a vacant berth anywhere, purser?"
An expression faintly suggestive of annoyance passed over the purser's serene brow. He thought the matter had been settled. "We have several berths vacant, but they are each in rooms that already contain three persons."
"One of those will do for me; that is, if the occupants have no objection."
"It will be rather crowded, sir."
"That doesn't matter, if the others are willing."
"Very good, sir. I will see to it immediately after dinner."
The purser was as good as his word, and introduced Buel and his portmanteau to a room that contained three wild American collegians who had been doing Europe "on the cheap" and on foot. They received the new-comer with a hilariousness that disconcerted him.
"Hello, purser!" cried one, "this is an Englishman. You didn't tell us you were going to run in an Englishman on us."
"Never, mind, we'll convert him on the way over."
"I say, purser, if you sling a hammock from the ceiling and put up a cot on the floor you can put two more men in here. Why didn't you think of that?"
"It's not too late yet. Why did you suggest it?"
"Gentlemen," said Buel, "I have no desire to intrude, if it is against your wish."
"Oh, that's all right. Never mind them. They have to talk or die. The truth is, we were lonesome without a fourth man."
"What's his name, purser?"
"My name is Buel."
One of them shouted out the inquiry, "What's the matter with Buel?" and all answered in concert with a yell that made the steamer ring, "He's all right."
"You'll have to sing 'Hail Columbia' night and morning if you stay in this cabin."
"Very good," said Buel, entering into the spirit of the occasion. "Singing is not my strong point, and after you hear me at it once, you will be glad to pay a heavy premium to have it stopped."
"Say, Buel, can you play poker?"
"No, but I can learn."
"That's business. America's just yearning for men who can learn. We have had so many Englishmen who know it all, that we'll welcome a change. But poker's an expensive game to acquire."
"Don't be bluffed, Mr. Buel. Not one of the crowd has enough money left to buy the drinks all round. We would never have got home if we hadn't return tickets."
"Say, boys, let's lock the purser out, and make Buel an American citizen before he can call for help. You solemnly swear that you hereby and hereon renounce all emperors, kings, princes, and potentates, and more especially—how does the rest of it go!"
"He must give up his titles, honours, knighthoods, and things of that sort."
"Say, Buel, you're not a lord or a duke by any chance? Because, if you are, we'll call back the purser and have you put out yet."
"No, I haven't even the title esquire, which, I understand, all American citizens possess."
"Oh, you'll do. Now, I propose that Mr. Buel take his choice of the four bunks, and that we raffle for the rest."
When Buel reached the deck out of this pandemonium, he looked around for another citizen of the United States, but she was not there. He wondered if she were reading his book, and how she liked it.
Next morning Mr. Buel again searched the deck for the fair American, and this time he found her reading his book, seated very comfortably in her deck chair. The fact that she was so engaged put out of Buel's mind the greeting he had carefully prepared beforehand, and he stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to say. He inwardly cursed his unreadiness, and felt, to his further embarrassment, that his colour was rising. He was not put more at his ease when Miss Jessop looked up at him coldly, with a distinct frown on her pretty face.
"Mr. Buel, I believe?" she said pertly.
"I—I think so," he stammered.
She went on with her reading, ignoring him, and he stood there not knowing how to get away. When he pulled himself together, after a few moments' silence, and was about to depart, wondering at the caprice of womankind, she looked up again, and said icily—
"Why don't you ask me to walk with you? Do you think you have no duties, merely because you are on shipboard?"
"It isn't a duty, it is a pleasure, if you will come with me. I was afraid I had offended you in some way."
"You have. That is why I want to walk with you. I wish to give you a piece of my mind, and it won't be pleasant to listen to, I can assure you. So there must be no listener but yourself."
"Is it so serious as that?"
"Quite. Assist me, please. Why do you have to be asked to do such a thing? I don't suppose there is another man on the ship who would see a lady struggling with her rugs, and never put out his hand."
Before the astonished young man could offer assistance the girl sprang to her feet and stood beside him. Although she tried to retain her severe look of displeasure, there was a merry twinkle in the corner of her eye, as if she enjoyed shocking him.
"I fear I am very unready."
"Will you take my arm as we walk?"
"Certainly not," she answered, putting the tips of her fingers into the shallow pockets of her pilot jacket. "Don't you know the United States are long since independent of England?"
"I had forgotten for the moment. My knowledge of history is rather limited, even when I try to remember. Still, independence and all, the two countries may be friends, may they not?"
"I doubt it. It seems to be natural that an American should hate an Englishman."
"Dear me, is it so bad as that? Why, may I ask? Is it on account of the little trouble in 1770, or whenever it was?"
"1776, when we conquered you."
"Were we conquered? That is another historical fact which has been concealed from me. I am afraid England doesn't quite realise her unfortunate position. She has a good deal of go about her for a conquered nation. But I thought the conquering, which we all admit, was of much more recent date, when the pretty American girls began to come over. Then Englishmen at once capitulated."
"Yes," she cried scornfully. "And I don't know which to despise most, the American girls who marry Englishmen, or the Englishmen they marry. They are married for their money."
"Who? The Englishmen?"
The girl stamped her foot on the deck as they turned around.
"You know very well what I mean. An Englishman thinks of nothing but money."
"Really? I wonder where you got all your cut-and-dried notions about Englishmen? You seem to have a great capacity for contempt. I don't think it is good. My experience is rather limited, of course, but, as far as it goes, I find good and bad in all nations. There are Englishmen whom I find it impossible to like, and there are Americans whom I find I admire in spite of myself. There are also, doubtless, good Englishmen and bad Americans, if we only knew where to find them. You cannot sum up a nation and condemn it in a phrase, you know."
"Can't you? Well, literary Englishmen have tried to do so in the case of America. No English writer has ever dealt even fairly with the United States."
"Don't you think the States are a little too sensitive about the matter?"
"Sensitive? Bless you, we don't mind it a bit."
"Then where's the harm? Besides, America has its revenge in you. Your scathing contempt more than balances the account."
"I only wish I could write. Then I would let you know what I think of you."
"Oh, don't publish a book about us. I wouldn't like to see war between the two countries."
Miss Jessop laughed merrily for so belligerent a person.
"War?" she cried. "I hope yet to see an American army camped in London."
"If that is your desire, you can see it any day in summer. You will find them tenting out at the Mtropole and all the expensive hotels. I bivouacked with an invader there some weeks ago, and he was enduring the rigours of camp life with great fortitude, mitigating his trials with unlimited champagne."
"Why, Mr. Buel," cried the girl admiringly, "you're beginning to talk just like an American yourself."
"Oh, now, you are trying to make me conceited."
Miss Jessop sighed, and shook her head.
"I had nearly forgotten," she said, "that I despised you. I remember now why I began to walk with you. It was not to talk frivolously, but to show you the depth of my contempt! Since yesterday you have gone down in my estimation from 190 to 56."
"No, that was a Wall Street quotation. Your stock has 'slumped,' as we say on the Street."
"Now you are talking Latin, or worse, for I can understand a little Latin."
"'Slumped' sounds slangy, doesn't it? It isn't a pretty word, but it is expressive. It means going down with a run, or rather, all in a heap."
"What have I done?"
"Nothing you can say will undo it, so there is no use in speaking any more about it. Second thoughts are best. My second thought is to say no more."
"I must know my crime. Give me a chance to, at least, reach par again, even if I can't hope to attain the 90 above."
"I thought an Englishman had some grit. I thought he did not allow any one to walk over him. I thought he stood by his guns when he knew he was in the right. I thought he was a manly man, and a fighter against injustice!"
"Dear me! Judging by your conversation of a few minutes ago, one would imagine that you attributed exactly the opposite qualities to him."
"I say I thought all this—yesterday. I don't think so to-day."
"Oh, I see! And all on account of me?"
"All on account of you."
"Once more, what have I done?"
"What have you done? You have allowed that detestably selfish specimen of your race, Hodden, to evict you from your room."
The young man stopped abruptly in his walk, and looked at the girl with astonishment. She, her hands still coquettishly thrust in her jacket-pockets, returned his gaze with unruffled serenity.
"What do you know about it?" he demanded at last.
"Everything. From the time you meekly told the steward to take out your valise until the time you meekly apologised to Hodden for having told him the truth, and then meekly followed the purser to a room containing three others."
"But Hodden meekly, as you express it, apologised first. I suppose you know that too, otherwise I would not have mentioned it."
"Certainly he did. That was because he found his overbearing tactics did not work. He apologised merely to get rid of you, and did. That's what put me out of patience with you. To think you couldn't see through his scheme!"
"Oh! I thought it was the lack of manly qualities you despised in me. Now you are accusing me of not being crafty."
"How severely you say that! You quite frighten me! You will be making me apologise by-and-by, and I don't want to do that."
Buel laughed, and resumed his walk.
"It's all right," he said; "Hodden's loss is my gain. I've got in with a jolly lot, who took the trouble last night to teach me the great American game at cards—and counters."
Miss Jessop sighed.
"Having escaped with my life," she said, "I think I shall not run any more risks, but shall continue with your book. I had no idea you could look so fierce. I have scarcely gotten over it yet. Besides, I am very much interested in that book of yours."
"Why do you say so persistently 'that book of mine'?"
"Isn't it yours? You bought it, didn't you? Then it was written by your relative, you know."
"I said my namesake."
"So you did. And now I'm going to ask you an impudent question. You will not look wicked again, will you?"
"I won't promise. That depends entirely on the question."
"It is easily answered."
"What is your Christian name, Mr. Buel?"
"My Christian name?" he repeated, uncomfortably.
"Yes, what is it?"
"Why do you wish to know?"
"A woman's reason—because."
They walked the length of the deck in silence.
"Come, now," she said, "confess. What is it?"
Miss Jessop laughed heartily, but quietly.
"You think John commonplace, I suppose?"
"Oh, it suits you, Mr. Buel. Goodbye."
As the young woman found her place in the book, she mused, "How blind men are, after all—with his name in full on the passage list." Then she said to herself, with a sigh, "I do wish I had bought this book instead of Hodden's."
At first Mr. Hodden held somewhat aloof from his fellow-passengers; but, finding perhaps that there was no general desire to intrude upon him, he condescended to become genial to a select few. He walked the deck alone, picturesquely attired. He was a man who paid considerable attention to his personal appearance. As day followed day, Mr. Hodden unbent so far as to talk frequently with Miss Jessop on what might almost be called equal terms. The somewhat startling opinions and unexpected remarks of the American girl appeared to interest him, and doubtless tended to confirm his previous unfavourable impressions of the inhabitants of the Western world. Mr. Buel was usually present during these conferences, and his conduct under the circumstances was not admirable. He was silent and moody, and almost gruff on some occasions. Perhaps Hodden's persistent ignoring of him, and the elder man's air of conscious superiority, irritated Buel; but if he had had the advantage of mixing much in the society of his native land he would have become accustomed to that. People thrive on the condescension of the great; they like it, and boast about it. Yet Buel did not seem to be pleased. But the most astounding thing was that the young man should actually have taken it upon himself to lecture Miss Jessop once, when they were alone, for some remarks she had made to Hodden as she sat in her deck-chair, with Hodden loquacious on her right and Buel taciturn on her left. What right had Buel to find fault with a free and independent citizen of another country? Evidently none. It might have been expected that Miss Jessop, rising to the occasion, would have taught the young man his place, and would perhaps have made some scathing remark about the tendency of Englishmen to interfere in matters that did not concern them. But she did nothing of the kind. She looked down demurely on the deck, with the faint flicker of a smile hovering about her pretty lips, and now and then flashed a quick glance at the serious face of the young man. The attitude was very sweet and appealing, but it was not what we have a right to expect from one whose ruler is her servant towards one whose ruler is his sovereign. In fact, the conduct of those two young people at this time was utterly inexplicable.
"Why did you pretend to Hodden that you had never heard of him, and make him state that he was a writer of books?" Buel had said.
"I did it for his own good. Do you want me to minister to his insufferable vanity? Hasn't he egotism enough already? I saw in a paper a while ago that his most popular book had sold to the extent of over 100,000 copies in America. I suppose that is something wonderful; but what does it amount to after all? It leaves over fifty millions of people who doubtless have never heard of him. For the time being I merely went with the majority. We always do that in the States."
"Then I suppose you will not tell him you bought his latest book in London, and so you will not have the privilege of bringing it up on deck and reading it?"
"No. The pleasure of reading that book must be postponed until I reach New York. But my punishment does not end there. Would you believe that authors are so vain that they actually carry with them the books they have written?"
"You astonish me."
"I thought I should. And added to that, would you credit the statement that they offer to lend their works to inoffensive people who may not be interested in them and who have not the courage to refuse? Why do you look so confused, Mr. Buel? I am speaking of Mr. Hodden. He kindly offered me his books to read on the way over. He has a prettily bound set with him. He gave me the first to-day, which I read ever so many years ago."
"I thought you liked his books?"
"For the first time, yes; but I don't care to read them twice."
The conversation was here interrupted by Mr. Hodden himself, who sank into the vacant chair beside Miss Jessop. Buel made as though he would rise and leave them together, but with an almost imperceptible motion of the hand nearest him, Miss Jessop indicated her wish that he should remain, and then thanked him with a rapid glance for understanding. The young man felt a glow of satisfaction at this, and gazed at the blue sea with less discontent than usual in his eyes.
"I have brought you," said the novelist, "another volume."
"Oh, thank you," cried Miss Duplicity, with unnecessary emphasis on the middle word.
"It has been considered," continued Mr. Hodden, "by those whose opinions are thought highly of in London, to be perhaps my most successful work. It is, of course, not for me to pass judgment on such an estimate; but for my own part I prefer the story I gave you this morning. An author's choice is rarely that of the public."
"And was this book published in America?"
"I can hardly say it was published. They did me the honour to pirate it in your most charming country. Some friend—or perhaps I should say enemy—sent me a copy. It was a most atrocious production, in a paper cover, filled with mistakes, and adorned with the kind of spelling, which is, alas! prevalent there."
"I believe," said Buel, speaking for the first time, but with his eyes still on the sea, "there is good English authority for much that we term American spelling."
"English authority, indeed!" cried Miss Jessop; "as if we needed English authority for anything. If we can't spell better than your great English authority, Chaucer—well!" Language seemed to fail the young woman.
"Have you read Chaucer?" asked Mr. Hodden, in surprise.
"Certainly not; but I have looked at his poems, and they always remind me of one of those dialect stories in the magazines."
Miss Jessop turned over the pages of the book which had been given her, and as she did so a name caught her attention. She remembered a problem that had troubled her when she read the book before. She cried impulsively—"Oh, Mr. Hodden, there is a question I want to ask you about this book. Was—" Here she checked herself in some confusion.