New Grub Street, by George Gissing

Chapter 15

The Last Resource

The past twelve months had added several years to Edwin Reardon’s seeming age; at thirty-three he would generally have been taken for forty. His bearing, his personal habits, were no longer those of a young man; he walked with a stoop and pressed noticeably on the stick he carried; it was rare for him to show the countenance which tells of present cheerfulness or glad onward-looking; there was no spring in his step; his voice had fallen to a lower key, and often he spoke with that hesitation in choice of words which may be noticed in persons whom defeat has made self-distrustful. Ceaseless perplexity and dread gave a wandering, sometimes a wild, expression to his eyes.

He seldom slept, in the proper sense of the word; as a rule he was conscious all through the night of ‘a kind of fighting’ between physical weariness and wakeful toil of the mind. It often happened that some wholly imaginary obstacle in the story he was writing kept him under a sense of effort throughout the dark hours; now and again he woke, reasoned with himself, and remembered clearly that the torment was without cause, but the short relief thus afforded soon passed in the recollection of real distress. In his unsoothing slumber he talked aloud, frequently wakening Amy; generally he seemed to be holding a dialogue with someone who had imposed an intolerable task upon him; he protested passionately, appealed, argued in the strangest way about the injustice of what was demanded. Once Amy heard him begging for money — positively begging, like some poor wretch in the street; it was horrible, and made her shed tears; when he asked what he had been saying, she could not bring herself to tell him.

When the striking clocks summoned him remorselessly to rise and work he often reeled with dizziness. It seemed to him that the greatest happiness attainable would be to creep into some dark, warm corner, out of the sight and memory of men, and lie there torpid, with a blessed half-consciousness that death was slowly overcoming him. Of all the sufferings collected into each four-and-twenty hours this of rising to a new day was the worst.

The one-volume story which he had calculated would take him four or five weeks was with difficulty finished in two months. March winds made an invalid of him; at one time he was threatened with bronchitis, and for several days had to abandon even the effort to work. In previous winters he had been wont to undergo a good deal of martyrdom from the London climate, but never in such a degree as now; mental illness seemed to have enfeebled his body.

It was strange that he succeeded in doing work of any kind, for he had no hope from the result. This one last effort he would make, just to complete the undeniableness of his failure, and then literature should be thrown behind him; what other pursuit was possible to him he knew not, but perhaps he might discover some mode of earning a livelihood. Had it been a question of gaining a pound a week, as in the old days, he might have hoped to obtain some clerkship like that at the hospital, where no commercial experience or aptitude was demanded; but in his present position such an income would be useless. Could he take Amy and the child to live in a garret? On less than a hundred a year it was scarcely possible to maintain outward decency. Already his own clothing began to declare him poverty-stricken, and but for gifts from her mother Amy would have reached the like pass. They lived in dread of the pettiest casual expense, for the day of pennilessness was again approaching.

Amy was oftener from home than had been her custom.

Occasionally she went away soon after breakfast, and spent the whole day at her mother’s house. ‘It saves food,’ she said with a bitter laugh, when Reardon once expressed surprise that she should be going again so soon.

‘And gives you an opportunity of bewailing your hard fate,’ he returned coldly.

The reproach was ignoble, and he could not be surprised that Amy left the house without another word to him. Yet he resented that, as he had resented her sorrowful jest. The feeling of unmanliness in his own position tortured him into a mood of perversity. Through the day he wrote only a few lines, and on Amy’s return he resolved not to speak to her. There was a sense of repose in this change of attitude; he encouraged himself in the view that Amy was treating him with cruel neglect. She, surprised that her friendly questions elicited no answer, looked into his face and saw a sullen anger of which hitherto Reardon had never seemed capable. Her indignation took fire, and she left him to himself.

For a day or two he persevered in his muteness, uttering a word only when it could not be avoided. Amy was at first so resentful that she contemplated leaving him to his ill-temper and dwelling at her mother’s house until he chose to recall her. But his face grew so haggard in fixed misery that compassion at length prevailed over her injured pride. Late in the evening she went to the study, and found him sitting unoccupied.

‘Edwin — ’

‘What do you want?’ he asked indifferently.

‘Why are you behaving to me like this?’

‘Surely it makes no difference to you how I behave? You can easily forget that I exist, and live your own life.’

‘What have I done to make this change in you?’

‘Is it a change?’

‘You know it is.’

‘How did I behave before?’ he asked, glancing at her.

‘Like yourself — kindly and gently.’

‘If I always did so, in spite of things that might have embittered another man’s temper, I think it deserved some return of kindness from you.’

‘What “things” do you mean?’

‘Circumstances for which neither of us is to blame.’

‘I am not conscious of having failed in kindness,’ said Amy, distantly.

‘Then that only shows that you have forgotten your old self, and utterly changed in your feeling to me. When we first came to live here could you have imagined yourself leaving me alone for long, miserable days, just because I was suffering under misfortunes? You have shown too plainly that you don’t care to give me the help even of a kind word. You get away from me as often as you can, as if to remind me that we have no longer any interests in common. Other people are your confidants; you speak of me to them as if I were purposely dragging you down into a mean condition.’

‘How can you know what I say about you?’

‘Isn’t it true?’ he asked, flashing an angry glance at her.

‘It is not true. Of course I have talked to mother about our difficulties; how could I help it?’

‘And to other people.’

‘Not in a way that you could find fault with.’

‘In a way that makes me seem contemptible to them. You show them that I have made you poor and unhappy, and you are glad to have their sympathy.’

‘What you mean is, that I oughtn’t to see anyone. There’s no other way of avoiding such a reproach as this. So long as I don’t laugh and sing before people, and assure them that things couldn’t be more hopeful, I shall be asking for their sympathy, and against you. I can’t understand your unreasonableness.’

‘I’m afraid there is very little in me that you can understand. So long as my prospects seemed bright, you could sympathise readily enough; as soon as ever they darkened, something came between us. Amy, you haven’t done your duty. Your love hasn’t stood the test as it should have done. You have given me no help; besides the burden of cheerless work I have had to bear that of your growing coldness. I can’t remember one instance when you have spoken to me as a wife might — a wife who was something more than a man’s housekeeper.’

The passion in his voice and the harshness of the accusation made her unable to reply.

‘You said rightly,’ he went on, ‘that I have always been kind and gentle. I never thought I could speak to you or feel to you in any other way. But I have undergone too much, and you have deserted me. Surely it was too soon to do that. So long as I endeavoured my utmost, and loved you the same as ever, you might have remembered all you once said to me. You might have given me help, but you haven’t cared to.’

The impulses which had part in this outbreak were numerous and complex. He felt all that he expressed, but at the same time it seemed to him that he had the choice between two ways of uttering his emotion — the tenderly appealing and the sternly reproachful: he took the latter course because it was less natural to him than the former. His desire was to impress Amy with the bitter intensity of his sufferings; pathos and loving words seemed to have lost their power upon her, but perhaps if he yielded to that other form of passion she would be shaken out of her coldness. The stress of injured love is always tempted to speech which seems its contradiction. Reardon had the strangest mixture of pain and pleasure in flinging out these first words of wrath that he had ever addressed to Amy; they consoled him under the humiliating sense of his weakness, and yet he watched with dread his wife’s countenance as she listened to him. He hoped to cause her pain equal to his own, for then it would be in his power at once to throw off this disguise and soothe her with every softest word his heart could suggest. That she had really ceased to love him he could not, durst not, believe; but his nature demanded frequent assurance of affection. Amy had abandoned too soon the caresses of their ardent time; she was absorbed in her maternity, and thought it enough to be her husband’s friend. Ashamed to make appeal directly for the tenderness she no longer offered, he accused her of utter indifference, of abandoning him and all but betraying him, that in self-defence she might show what really was in her heart.

But Amy made no movement towards him.

‘How can you say that I have deserted you?’ she returned, with cold indignation. ‘When did I refuse to share your poverty? When did I grumble at what we have had to go through?’

‘Ever since the troubles really began you have let me know what your thoughts were, even if you didn’t speak them. You have never shared my lot willingly. I can’t recall one word of encouragement from you, but many, many which made the struggle harder for me.’

‘Then it would be better for you if I went away altogether, and left you free to do the best for yourself. If that is what you mean by all this, why not say it plainly? I won’t be a burden to you. Someone will give me a home.’

‘And you would leave me without regret? Your only care would be that you were still bound to me?’

‘You must think of me what you like. I don’t care to defend myself.’

‘You won’t admit, then, that I have anything to complain of? I seem to you simply in a bad temper without a cause?’

‘To tell you the truth, that’s just what I do think. I came here to ask what I had done that you were angry with me, and you break out furiously with all sorts of vague reproaches. You have much to endure, I know that, but it’s no reason why you should turn against me. I have never neglected my duty. Is the duty all on my side? I believe there are very few wives who would be as patient as I have been.’

Reardon gazed at her for a moment, then turned away. The distance between them was greater than he had thought, and now he repented of having given way to an impulse so alien to his true feelings; anger only estranged her, whereas by speech of a different kind he might have won the caress for which he hungered.

Amy, seeing that he would say nothing more, left him to himself.

It grew late in the night. The fire had gone out, but Reardon still sat in the cold room. Thoughts of self-destruction were again haunting him, as they had done during the black months of last year. If he had lost Amy’s love, and all through the mental impotence which would make it hard for him even to earn bread, why should he still live? Affection for his child had no weight with him; it was Amy’s child rather than his, and he had more fear than pleasure in the prospect of Willie’s growing to manhood.

He had just heard the workhouse clock strike two, when, without the warning of a footstep, the door opened. Amy came in; she wore her dressing-gown, and her hair was arranged for the night.

‘Why do you stay here?’ she asked.

It was not the same voice as before. He saw that her eyes were red and swollen.

‘Have you been crying, Amy?’

‘Never mind. Do you know what time it is?’

He went towards her.

‘Why have you been crying?’

‘There are many things to cry for.’

‘Amy, have you any love for me still, or has poverty robbed me of it all?’

‘I have never said that I didn’t love you. Why do you accuse me of such things?’

He took her in his arms and held her passionately and kissed her face again and again. Amy’s tears broke forth anew.

‘Why should we come to such utter ruin?’ she sobbed. ‘Oh, try, try if you can’t save us even yet! You know without my saying it that I do love you; it’s dreadful to me to think all our happy life should be at an end, when we thought of such a future together. Is it impossible? Can’t you work as you used to and succeed as we felt confident you would? Don’t despair yet, Edwin; do, do try, whilst there is still time!’

‘Darling, darling — if only I COULD!’

‘I have thought of something, dearest. Do as you proposed last year; find a tenant for the flat whilst we still have a little money, and then go away into some quiet country place, where you can get back your health and live for very little, and write another book — a good book, that’ll bring you reputation again. I and Willie can go and live at mother’s for the summer months. Do this! It would cost you so little, living alone, wouldn’t it? You would know that I was well cared for; mother would be willing to have me for a few months, and it’s easy to explain that your health has failed, that you’re obliged to go away for a time.’

‘But why shouldn’t you go with me, if we are to let this place?’

‘We shouldn’t have enough money. I want to free your mind from the burden whilst you are writing. And what is before us if we go on in this way? You don’t think you will get much for what you’re writing now, do you?’

Reardon shook his head.

‘Then how can we live even till the end of the year? Something must be done, you know. If we get into poor lodgings, what hope is there that you’ll be able to write anything good?’

‘But, Amy, I have no faith in my power of — ’

‘Oh, it would be different! A few days — a week or a fortnight of real holiday in this spring weather. Go to some seaside place. How is it possible that all your talent should have left you? It’s only that you have been so anxious and in such poor health. You say I don’t love you, but I have thought and thought what would be best for you to do, how you could save yourself. How can you sink down to the position of a poor clerk in some office? That CAN’T be your fate, Edwin; it’s incredible. Oh, after such bright hopes, make one more effort! Have you forgotten that we were to go to the South together — you were to take me to Italy and Greece? How can that ever be if you fail utterly in literature? How can you ever hope to earn more than bare sustenance at any other kind of work?’

He all but lost consciousness of her words in gazing at the face she held up to his.

‘You love me? Say again that you love me!’

‘Dear, I love you with all my heart. But I am so afraid of the future. I can’t bear poverty; I have found that I can’t bear it. And I dread to think of your becoming only an ordinary man — ’

Reardon laughed.

‘But I am NOT “only an ordinary man,” Amy! If I never write another line, that won’t undo what I have done. It’s little enough, to be sure; but you know what I am. Do you only love the author in me? Don’t you think of me apart from all that I may do or not do? If I had to earn my living as a clerk, would that make me a clerk in soul?’

‘You shall not fall to that! It would be too bitter a shame to lose all you have gained in these long years of work. Let me plan for you; do as I wish. You are to be what we hoped from the first. Take all the summer months. How long will it be before you can finish this short book?’

‘A week or two.’

‘Then finish it, and see what you can get for it. And try at once to find a tenant to take this place off our hands; that would be twenty-five pounds saved for the rest of the year. You could live on so little by yourself, couldn’t you?’

‘Oh, on ten shillings a week, if need be.’

‘But not to starve yourself, you know. Don’t you feel that my plan is a good one? When I came to you to-night I meant to speak of this, but you were so cruel — ’

‘Forgive me, dearest love! I was half a madman. You have been so cold to me for a long time.’

‘I have been distracted. It was as if we were drawing nearer and nearer to the edge of a cataract.’

‘Have you spoken to your mother about this?’ he asked uneasily.

‘No — not exactly this. But I know she will help us in this way.’

He had seated himself and was holding her in his arms, his face laid against hers.

‘I shall dread to part from you, Amy. That’s such a dangerous thing to do. It may mean that we are never to live as husband and wife again.’

‘But how could it? It’s just to prevent that danger. If we go on here till we have no money — what’s before us then? Wretched lodgings at the best. And I am afraid to think of that. I can’t trust myself if that should come to pass.’

‘What do you mean?’ he asked anxiously.

‘I hate poverty so. It brings out all the worst things in me; you know I have told you that before, Edwin?’

‘But you would never forget that you are my wife?’

‘I hope not. But — I can’t think of it; I can’t face it! That would be the very worst that can befall us, and we are going to try our utmost to escape from it. Was there ever a man who did as much as you have done in literature and then sank into hopeless poverty?’

‘Oh, many!’

‘But at your age, I mean. Surely not at your age?’

‘I’m afraid there have been such poor fellows. Think how often one hears of hopeful beginnings, new reputations, and then — you hear no more. Of course it generally means that the man has gone into a different career; but sometimes, sometimes — ’

‘What?’

‘The abyss.’ He pointed downward. ‘Penury and despair and a miserable death.’

‘Oh, but those men haven’t a wife and child! They would struggle — ’

‘Darling, they do struggle. But it’s as if an ever-increasing weight were round their necks; it drags them lower and lower. The world has no pity on a man who can’t do or produce something it thinks worth money. You may be a divine poet, and if some good fellow doesn’t take pity on you you will starve by the roadside. Society is as blind and brutal as fate. I have no right to complain of my own ill-fortune; it’s my own fault (in a sense) that I can’t continue as well as I began; if I could write books as good as the early ones I should earn money. For all that, it’s hard that I must be kicked aside as worthless just because I don’t know a trade.’

‘It shan’t be! I have only to look into your face to know that you will succeed after all. Yours is the kind of face that people come to know in portraits.’

He kissed her hair, and her eyes, and her mouth.

‘How well I remember your saying that before! Why have you grown so good to me all at once, my Amy? Hearing you speak like that I feel there’s nothing beyond my reach. But I dread to go away from you. If I find that it is hopeless; if I am alone somewhere, and know that the effort is all in vain — ’

‘Then?’

‘Well, I can leave you free. If I can’t support you, it will be only just that I should give you back your freedom.’

‘I don’t understand — ’

She raised herself and looked into his eyes.

‘We won’t talk of that. If you bid me go on with the struggle, I shall do so.’

Amy had hidden her face, and lay silently in his arms for a minute or two. Then she murmured:

‘It is so cold here, and so late. Come!’

‘So early. There goes three o’clock.’

The next day they talked much of this new project. As there was sunshine Amy accompanied her husband for his walk in the afternoon; it was long since they had been out together. An open carriage that passed, followed by two young girls on horseback, gave a familiar direction to Reardon’s thoughts.

‘If one were as rich as those people! They pass so close to us; they see us, and we see them; but the distance between is infinity. They don’t belong to the same world as we poor wretches. They see everything in a different light; they have powers which would seem supernatural if we were suddenly endowed with them.’

‘Of course,’ assented his companion with a sigh.

‘Just fancy, if one got up in the morning with the thought that no reasonable desire that occurred to one throughout the day need remain ungratified! And that it would be the same, any day and every day, to the end of one’s life! Look at those houses; every detail, within and without, luxurious. To have such a home as that!’

‘And they are empty creatures who live there.’

‘They do live, Amy, at all events. Whatever may be their faculties, they all have free scope. I have often stood staring at houses like these until I couldn’t believe that the people owning them were mere human beings like myself. The power of money is so hard to realise; one who has never had it marvels at the completeness with which it transforms every detail of life. Compare what we call our home with that of rich people; it moves one to scornful laughter. I have no sympathy with the stoical point of view; between wealth and poverty is just the difference between the whole man and the maimed. If my lower limbs are paralysed I may still be able to think, but then there is such a thing in life as walking. As a poor devil I may live nobly; but one happens to be made with faculties of enjoyment, and those have to fall into atrophy. To be sure, most rich people don’t understand their happiness; if they did, they would move and talk like gods — which indeed they are.’

Amy’s brow was shadowed. A wise man, in Reardon’s position, would not have chosen this subject to dilate upon.

‘The difference,’ he went on, ‘between the man with money and the man without is simply this: the one thinks, “How shall I use my life?” and the other, “How shall I keep myself alive?” A physiologist ought to be able to discover some curious distinction between the brain of a person who has never given a thought to the means of subsistence, and that of one who has never known a day free from such cares. There must be some special cerebral development representing the mental anguish kept up by poverty.’

‘I should say,’ put in Amy, ‘that it affects every function of the brain. It isn’t a special point of suffering, but a misery that colours every thought.’

‘True. Can I think of a single subject in all the sphere of my experience without the consciousness that I see it through the medium of poverty? I have no enjoyment which isn’t tainted by that thought,. and I can suffer no pain which it doesn’t increase. The curse of poverty is to the modern world just what that of slavery was to the ancient. Rich and destitute stand to each other as free man and bond. You remember the line of Homer I have often quoted about the demoralising effect of enslavement; poverty degrades in the same way.’

‘It has had its effect upon me — I know that too well,’ said Amy, with bitter frankness.

Reardon glanced at her, and wished to make some reply, but he could not say what was in his thoughts.

He worked on at his story. Before he had reached the end of it, ‘Margaret Home’ was published, and one day arrived a parcel containing the six copies to which an author is traditionally entitled. Reardon was not so old in authorship that he could open the packet without a slight flutter of his pulse. The book was tastefully got up; Amy exclaimed with pleasure as she caught sight of the cover and lettering:

‘It may succeed, Edwin. It doesn’t look like a book that fails, does it?’

She laughed at her own childishness. But Reardon had opened one of the volumes, and was glancing over the beginning of a chapter.

‘Good God!’ he cried. ‘What hellish torment it was to write that page! I did it one morning when the fog was so thick that I had to light the lamp. It brings cold sweat to my forehead to read the words. And to think that people will skim over it without a suspicion of what it cost the writer! — What execrable style! A potboy could write better narrative.’

‘Who are to have copies?’

‘No one, if I could help it. But I suppose your mother will expect one?’

‘And — Milvain?’

‘I suppose so,’ he replied indifferently. ‘But not unless he asks for it. Poor old Biffen, of course; though it’ll make him despise me. Then one for ourselves. That leaves two — to light the fire with. We have been rather short of fire-paper since we couldn’t afford our daily newspaper.’

‘Will you let me give one to Mrs Carter?’

‘As you please.’

He took one set and added it to the row of his productions which stood on a topmost shelf Amy laid her hand upon his shoulder and contemplated the effect of this addition.

‘The works of Edwin Reardon,’ she said, with a smile.

‘The work, at all events — rather a different thing, unfortunately. Amy, if only I were back at the time when I wrote “On Neutral Ground,” and yet had you with me! How full my mind was in those days! Then I had only to look, and I saw something; now I strain my eyes, but can make out nothing more than nebulous grotesques. I used to sit down knowing so well what I had to say; now I strive to invent, and never come at anything. Suppose you pick up a needle with warm, supple fingers; try to do it when your hand is stiff and numb with cold; there’s the difference between my manner of work in those days and what it is now.’

‘But you are going to get back your health. You will write better than ever.’

‘We shall see. Of course there was a great deal of miserable struggle even then, but I remember it as insignificant compared with the hours of contented work. I seldom did anything in the mornings except think and prepare; towards evening I felt myself getting ready, and at last I sat down with the first lines buzzing in my head. And I used to read a great deal at the same time. Whilst I was writing “On Neutral Ground” I went solidly through the “Divina Commedia,” a canto each day. Very often I wrote till after midnight, but occasionally I got my quantum finished much earlier, and then I used to treat myself to a ramble about the streets. I can recall exactly the places where some of my best ideas came to me. You remember the scene in Prendergast’s lodgings? That flashed on me late one night as I was turning out of Leicester Square into the slum that leads to Clare Market; ah, how well I remember! And I went home to my garret in a state of delightful fever, and scribbled notes furiously before going to bed.’

‘Don’t trouble; it’ll all come back to you.’

‘But in those days I hadn’t to think of money. I could look forward and see provision for my needs. I never asked myself what I should get for the book; I assure you, that never came into my head — never. The work was done for its own sake. No hurry to finish it; if I felt that I wasn’t up to the mark, I just waited till the better mood returned. “On Neutral Ground” took me seven months; now I have to write three volumes in nine weeks, with the lash stinging on my back if I miss a day.’

He brooded for a little.

‘I suppose there must be some rich man somewhere who has read one or two of my books with a certain interest. If only I could encounter him and tell him plainly what a cursed state I am in, perhaps he would help me to some means of earning a couple of pounds a week. One has heard of such things.’

‘In the old days.’

‘Yes. I doubt if it ever happens now. Coleridge wouldn’t so easily meet with his Gillman nowadays. Well, I am not a Coleridge, and I don’t ask to be lodged under any man’s roof; but if I could earn money enough to leave me good long evenings unspoilt by fear of the workhouse — ’

Amy turned away, and presently went to look after her little boy.

A few days after this they had a visit from Milvain. He came about ten o’clock in the evening.

‘I’m not going to stay,’ he announced. ‘But where’s my copy of “Margaret Home”? I am to have one, I suppose?’

‘I have no particular desire that you should read it,’ returned Reardon.

‘But I HAVE read it, my dear fellow. Got it from the library on the day of publication; I had a suspicion that you wouldn’t send me a copy. But I must possess your opera omnia.’

‘Here it is. Hide it away somewhere. — You may as well sit down for a few minutes.’

‘I confess I should like to talk about the book, if you don’t mind. It isn’t so utterly and damnably bad as you make out, you know. The misfortune was that you had to make three volumes of it. If I had leave to cut it down to one, it would do you credit.

The motive is good enough.’

‘Yes. Just good enough to show how badly it’s managed.’

Milvain began to expatiate on that well-worn topic, the evils of the three-volume system.

‘A triple-headed monster, sucking the blood of English novelists. One might design an allegorical cartoon for a comic literary paper. By-the-bye, why doesn’t such a thing exist? — a weekly paper treating of things and people literary in a facetious spirit. It would be caviare to the general, but might be supported, I should think. The editor would probably be assassinated, though.’

‘For anyone in my position,’ said Reardon, ‘how is it possible to abandon the three volumes? It is a question of payment. An author of moderate repute may live on a yearly three-volume novel — I mean the man who is obliged to sell his book out and out, and who gets from one to two hundred pounds for it. But he would have to produce four one-volume novels to obtain the same income; and I doubt whether he could get so many published within the twelve months. And here comes in the benefit of the libraries; from the commercial point of view the libraries are indispensable. Do you suppose the public would support the present number of novelists if each book had to be purchased? A sudden change to that system would throw three-fourths of the novelists out of work.’

‘But there’s no reason why the libraries shouldn’t circulate novels in one volume.’

‘Profits would be less, I suppose. People would take the minimum subscription.’

‘Well, to go to the concrete, what about your own one-volume?’

‘All but done.’

‘And you’ll offer it to Jedwood? Go and see him personally. He’s a very decent fellow, I believe.’

Milvain stayed only half an hour. The days when he was wont to sit and talk at large through a whole evening were no more; partly because of his diminished leisure, but also for a less simple reason — the growth of something like estrangement between him and Reardon.

‘You didn’t mention your plans,’ said Amy, when the visitor had been gone some time.

‘No.’

Reardon was content with the negative, and his wife made no further remark.

The result of advertising the flat was that two or three persons called to make inspection. One of them, a man of military appearance, showed himself anxious to come to terms; he was willing to take the tenement from next quarter-day (June), but wished, if possible, to enter upon possession sooner than that.

‘Nothing could be better,’ said Amy in colloquy with her husband. ‘If he will pay for the extra time, we shall be only too glad.’

Reardon mused and looked gloomy. He could not bring himself to regard the experiment before him with hopefulness, and his heart sank at the thought of parting from Amy.

‘You are very anxious to get rid of me,’ he answered, trying to smile.

‘Yes, I am,’ she exclaimed; ‘but simply for your own good, as you know very well.’

‘Suppose I can’t sell this book?’

‘You will have a few pounds. Send your “Pliny” article to The Wayside. If you come to an end of all your money, mother shall lend you some.’

‘I am not very likely to do much work in that case.’

‘Oh, but you will sell the book. You’ll get twenty pounds for it, and that alone would keep you for three months. Think — three months of the best part of the year at the seaside! Oh, you will do wonders!’

The furniture was to be housed at Mrs Yule’s. Neither of them durst speak of selling it; that would have sounded too ominous. As for the locality of Reardon’s retreat, Amy herself had suggested Worthing, which she knew from a visit a few years ago; the advantages were its proximity to London, and the likelihood that very cheap lodgings could be found either in the town or near it. One room would suffice for the hapless author, and his expenses, beyond a trifling rent, would be confined to mere food.

Oh yes, he might manage on considerably less than a pound a week.

Amy was in much better spirits than for a long time; she appeared to have convinced herself that there was no doubt of the issue of this perilous scheme; that her husband would write a notable book, receive a satisfactory price for it, and so re-establish their home. Yet her moods varied greatly. After all, there was delay in the letting of the flat, and this caused her annoyance. It was whilst the negotiations were still pending that she made her call upon Maud and Dora Milvain; Reardon did not know of her intention to visit them until it had been carried out. She mentioned what she had done in almost a casual manner.

‘I had to get it over,’ she said, when Reardon exhibited surprise, ‘and I don’t think I made a very favourable impression.’

‘You told them, I suppose, what we are going to do?’

‘No; I didn’t say a word of it.’

‘But why not? It can’t be kept a secret. Milvain will have heard of it already, I should think, from your mother.’

‘From mother? But it’s the rarest thing for him to go there. Do you imagine he is a constant visitor? I thought it better to say nothing until the thing is actually done. Who knows what may happen?’

She was in a strange, nervous state, and Reardon regarded her uneasily. He talked very little in these days, and passed hours in dark reverie. His book was finished, and he awaited the publisher’s decision.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gissing/george/g53ne/chapter15.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37