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with her sometimes, and staying late into the evening, talking literature and art, or that pleasant worldly talk in which the merits and reputations, intellectual gifts and social qualities, of our dearest friends come under the scalpel. When she upbraids him with the rareness of his visits, he tells her that he is deep in a new book, a story which is to be something better than his old stories, truer to nature, higher and purer in art; something which some other writer, lauded for qualities which he, Herman, is supposed to lack, might have written.
'I foresee a failure,' says Mrs. Brandreth, jealous of the work which robs her of his society. Do you remember that story in Forster's Goldsmith of the man who amused the audience of Covent Garden, while the curtain was down, by a very clever imitation of a cow? Emboldened by their applause he essayed other animals, when a Scottish voice from the gallery cried, "Stick to the coo, mon!" Don't you think that having succeeded in one line it is hazardous to attempt another ?'
Thanks for the friendly caution, but I don't believe honest work can ever be thrown away; and if my next book prove a failure, the labour I shall have given it will be not the less helpful to me as an artist. There are books a man writes which are like the solfeggi that make a singer's voice flexible; there may be nothing in the solfeggi, but when that voice attacks a real melody, the strength of past labour is its glory. I am ready to accept my failures as education.'
How much you have altered since last winter!' says Myra thoughtfully.
For the worse, perhaps?'
'I won't say that; but you have grown serious-serious à faire frémir.'
May not a man be in earnest now and then ?'
'Perhaps. But the now and then should be very far apart. Your late earnestness is chronic. I want you to write me a comedy for Easter; all grace and sparkle; modern to extremity; crystallising the very life of the day; a photograph of the season; as personal as you can make it without being libellous.'
'My Muse is not as the Muse of Foote, and does not delight in personality. Besides, I doubt if I shall write for the stage this
'What, not after the success of Hemlock! You have acknowledged that it has paid you better than anything you have done in literature.'
'Remuneration is not the ultimate aim of art.'
'Perhaps not; but it would be rather unkind of you to refuse to write for me, when you know that my success in life depends on the success of the Frivolity.'
And my last piece having succeeded, does it follow that my next will be equally fortunate? The Derby is rarely won two consecutive years by the same stable. Why not try a new hand?'
Myra shrugs her shoulders impatiently. She had rather fail in a play of his-or, at least, rather sustain a weak play of his by the power of her acting-than produce a better play by any one else. And he cannot see this; he cannot understand that it is sweet to her to be allied with him even in art. Those fine shades of a woman's feeling are beyond his comprehension, artist though he is.
In all their friendly intercourse of the last three years neither has ever spoken of their dead past. Myra would give worlds to break the ice that covers those deep waters of memory; but Herman is silent, and she dare not approach the subject. However deeply he may have felt her abandonment of him long ago, he has evidently forgiven her now. The fact of his forgiveness is more galling to her soul than his fiercest wrath could be. she but make him angry she would have cause for hope. The season wears on-January, February, March. London is filling, but as yet there is no sign of Mr. Morcombe or of the bill for the extension of the Pen-y-craig Railway. Herman takes the trouble to hunt up a friend versed in parliamentary business, in the hope of discovering when the Pen-y-craig extension is likely to come on; but the dim future reveals not the form of Pen-y-craig. Herman has heard nothing of the Lochwithian family from Richard Dewrance, who has accepted the charge of a Protestant flock in the south of France, where his convictions are widening every day, until between his acceptation of the reformed Church and that older faith from which it is an outcome there runs but a narrow brooklet of difference.
March sees the publication of Herman's new novel, the book in which he has striven to rise out of his old familiar self into something better; the story which in his heart of hearts he has dedicated to Editha Morcombe, the girl who has been but a passing shadow across his life, and yet, unawares, has deeply influenced his thoughts.
Alas for the fate of faithful work and lofty aspirations! The book is a failure. Kindly critics condemn with faint praise, recognise the intention of the writer, applaud the idyllic symplicity of the story, the purity of the sentiments, and give their readers a general impression of weakness and a half-realised design. The Censorin a slashing article three columns long-falls upon the fated volumes hip and thigh; ruthless as Jeffrey in his attack upon Wordsworth. Extract the acid cynicism and the half-veiled immorality from Mr. Westray's style, and the result is about as palatable as lemonade without lemon or sugar,' says the Censor, summing up with the grand air of impartiality and more than papal infalli
bility which distinguishes that journal. His Last Love is a novel which a schoolgirl might be proud to have written, for the grammar is faultless and the French quotations in no case misspelt. It is a work which Mr. Tupper might father without fear of lessening his hold upon the middle-class intellect, and it is a curious illustration of the depth of bathos to which a really clever writer may descend when he tries to dazzle his admirers in a line of art for which he lacks every element of success. Only to a Balzac is it given to create a Cousine Bette and a Lys dans la Vallée. Let Mr. Westray stick to tinsel, with which he has achieved some rather brilliant effects, and not waste his labour in deep-sinking operations upon an imagination which does not abound in gold.'
No voice has come down from heaven to pronounce the Censor infallible, and even earthly opinion varies in its estimate of that journal's wisdom and disinterestedness; yet this review wounds Herman as keenly as if all the voices of heaven and earth had proclaimed the critic's judgment unassailable. His book is the expression of all that was best and truest in his mind, and neither press nor public care a straw for it. His publishers politely regret that the second edition has been somewhat slower in sale than any previous work of the author's; altogether, Herman is compelled to confess that the book is a failure.
He drops in upon Myra on Sunday evening. Yesterday's Censor lies open on her reading-desk, and that expressive face of hers wears an indignant look. It changes at sight of him to a tender sympathy; she comes to him without a word and takes his hand affectionately, as if he had just lost some one very dear to him. The ridiculous element in the position strikes him sharply despite the actual pain which has attended his disappointment.
'You were a true prophet, you see, Myra. The critics condemn my book. I see you have been reading the Censor.'
There is something else which he sees-traces of tears around the dark eyes-angry tears which she has wiped away hastily at his entrance.
'It is infamous-unjust-malignant!'
Malignant? Not the least in the world. If I were to meet the writer to-morrow, we should be bosom friends. But the Censor is nothing without slashing criticism. I am sorry to say the book is a failure—even an adverse review won't help it. But, as I told you before, a book written is so much labour done-the worker must be the better for it.'
"Your book is lovely-I have read and cried over it-good, true, pure, noble! O Herman, if you knew how I feel any injustice to you!'
One thing he does know-that they are getting upon dangerous ground. Myra is more excited than he has ever seen her, even on
the opening night of the season, when the fortunes of the new theatre were at stake. Hectic spots burn in her cheeks-the dark hazel eyes are feverishly bright.
It is kind and friendly of you to take this matter to heart,' he replies in his calmest tones; but, believe me, you distress yourself needlessly.'
'Kind and friendly! How can you talk of kindness and friendliness from me to you! Herman, do you think I have forgotten? Can you have so utterly forgotten on your part as to believe it possible for me to forget ?' with passionate tears. 'I threw away your love when it was verily mine-foolish-ignorant of my own heart. O Herman, can it never be mine again? can the dear old days never come back? I was little more than a child when I wronged you, and had but a child's knowledge of your worth. I am a woman now, educated by sorrow; and my love for you-my knowledge of you-has grown with my growth. Can I never win back what I lost? Am I so worthless a creature, I whom the world praises, that my penitence and my love count for nothing with you, Herman?' she asks with piteous pleading.
Five minutes ago, and, to herself, this confession would have seemed of all things the most impossible. The words have burst from her in a little gust of passion, sudden as a stormy blast rushing in at a rashly-opened casement. She turns from Herman, after that last question, stricken with shame, and bows her head upon the mantelpiece, hiding the crimson of her tearful face.
He approaches her, takes her hand in his, ever so gently, and with gravest tenderness replies:
'My dear, the age of miracles is past, and in our days the dead do not come back to life. I shall be your friend always, Myra ; your lover never again.'
PERHAPS there never smiled a brighter autumn than that of the year 1865. After an August which can only be described as disgraceful to the clerk of the weather, inasmuch as it all but disorganised the R.Y.S. Regatta, and spoiled alike the temper of bowlers and the toilettes of their fair spectators, September opened with such heat as sent all London which happened to be in town flying down to Richmond and Greenwich in search of cooling drinks, and viands from which the element of grease had been eliminated by gastronomic science, or at all events disguised under mystic sauces.
As I am on one of my pet hobbies, I may as well pause incontinently to inquire why and wherefore English cooks cannot concoct a menu? Why, alas, out of thirteen courses should eleven be as brown as a berry? And why should nearly all have precisely the same taste? On the other side of the Channel, your soup is pink or white, your fish yellow, your entrée green, whilst the pièce de résistance alone approaches the inevitable burnt umber. Each sauce has its own distinct flavour; and those two horrors of the English kitchen, the flour-box and the onion, are not permitted to glutinise or taint every mortal dish and each unoffending sauce. sequence is that the foreigner, with infinitely inferior materials, gives you a dinner, which when eaten is done with; whereas the native sits you down to a feed, which reminds you forcibly of Webbe's famous glee:
'Discord, dire sister of the slaught'ring power,
However, to descend from romance to reality in the aforementioned autumn of '65, two travellers might have been observed on the Shoreditch platform, clad in the ordinary garb of the British tourist, but with rather more of the devil-me-care air about their faces than is usual even in pleasure-seekers; perhaps for one reason because they were young and jovially minded; for another, because they had got a biggish banker's account in circular notes concealed beneath the folds of their jackets, and the comfortable assurance that when that was melted there was more to come by the simple use of the continental postage and telegraph system.
'Well,' said the elder, with an air of languid indifference, if I'm to get the tickets, hadn't we better settle where to go to? Shall we say Rotterdam or-'
Rotter how much ?' asked his companion.