New Grub Street, by George Gissing

Chapter 22

The Legatees

Each day Jasper came to inquire of his sisters if they had news from Wattleborough or from Marian Yule. He exhibited no impatience, spoke of the matter in a disinterested tone; still, he came daily.

One afternoon he found Dora working alone. Maud, he was told, had gone to lunch at Mrs Lane’s.

‘So soon again? She’s getting very thick with those people. And why don’t they ask you?’

‘Maud has told them that I don’t care to go out.’

‘It’s all very well, but she mustn’t neglect her work. Did she write anything last night or this morning?’

Dora bit the end of her pen and shook her head.

‘Why not?’

‘The invitation came about five o’clock, and it seemed to unsettle her.’

‘Precisely. That’s what I’m afraid of. She isn’t the kind of girl to stick at work if people begin to send her invitations. But I tell you what it is, you must talk seriously to her; she has to get her living, you know. Mrs Lane and her set are not likely to be much use, that’s the worst of it; they’ll merely waste her time, and make her discontented.’

His sister executed an elaborate bit of cross-hatching on some waste paper. Her lips were drawn together, and her brows wrinkled. At length she broke the silence by saying:

‘Marian hasn’t been yet.’

Jasper seemed to pay no attention; she looked up at him, and saw that he was in thought.

‘Did you go to those people last night?’ she inquired.

‘Yes. By-the-bye, Miss Rupert was there.’

He spoke as if the name would be familiar to his hearer, but Dora seemed at a loss.

‘Who is Miss Rupert?’

‘Didn’t I tell you about her? I thought I did. Oh, I met her first of all at Barlow’s, just after we got back from the seaside. Rather an interesting girl. She’s a daughter of Manton Rupert, the advertising agent. I want to get invited to their house; useful people, you know.’

‘But is an advertising agent a gentleman?’

Jasper laughed.

‘Do you think of him as a bill-poster? At all events he is enormously wealthy, and has a magnificent house at Chislehurst. The girl goes about with her stepmother. I call her a girl, but she must be nearly thirty, and Mrs Rupert looks only two or three years older. I had quite a long talk with her — Miss Rupert, I mean — last night. She told me she was going to stay next week with the Barlows, so I shall have a run out to Wimbledon one afternoon.’

Dora looked at him inquiringly.

‘Just to see Miss Rupert?’ she asked, meeting his eyes.

‘To be sure. Why not?’

‘Oh!’ ejaculated his sister, as if the question did not concern her.

‘She isn’t exactly good-looking,’ pursued Jasper, meditatively, with a quick glance at the listener, ‘but fairly intellectual. Plays very well, and has a nice contralto voice; she sang that new thing of Tosti’s — what do you call it? I thought her rather masculine when I first saw her, but the impression wears off when one knows her better. She rather takes to me, I fancy.’

‘But — ‘ began Dora, after a minute’s silence.

‘But what?’ inquired her brother with an air of interest.

‘I don’t quite understand you.’

‘In general, or with reference to some particular?’

‘What right have you to go to places just to see this Miss Rupert?’

‘What right?’ He laughed. ‘I am a young man with my way to make. I can’t afford to lose any opportunity. If Miss Rupert is so good as to take an interest in me, I have no objection. She’s old enough to make friends for herself.’

‘Oh, then you consider her simply a friend?’

‘I shall see how things go on.’

‘But, pray, do you consider yourself perfectly free?’ asked Dora, with some indignation.

‘Why shouldn’t I?’

‘Then I think you have been behaving very strangely.’

Jasper saw that she was in earnest. He stroked the back of his head and smiled at the wall.

‘With regard to Marian, you mean?’

‘Of course I do.’

‘But Marian understands me perfectly. I have never for a moment tried to make her think that — well, to put it plainly, that I was in love with her. In all our conversations it has been my one object to afford her insight into my character, and to explain my position. She has no excuse whatever for misinterpreting me. And I feel assured that she has done nothing of the kind.’

‘Very well, if you feel satisfied with yourself — ’

‘But come now, Dora; what’s all this about? You are Marian’s friend, and, of course, I don’t wish you to say a word about her.

But let me explain myself. I have occasionally walked part of the way home with Marian, when she and I have happened to go from here at the same time; now there was nothing whatever in our talk at such times that anyone mightn’t have listened to. We are both intellectual people, and we talk in an intellectual way. You seem to have rather old-fashioned ideas — provincial ideas. A girl like Marian Yule claims the new privileges of woman; she would resent it if you supposed that she couldn’t be friendly with a man without attributing “intentions” to him — to use the old word. We don’t live in Wattleborough, where liberty is rendered impossible by the cackling of gossips.’

‘No, but — ’

‘Well?’

‘It seems to me rather strange, that’s all. We had better not talk about it any more.’

‘But I have only just begun to talk about it; I must try to make my position intelligible to you. Now, suppose — a quite impossible thing — that Marian inherited some twenty or thirty thousand pounds; I should forthwith ask her to be my wife.’

‘Oh indeed!’

‘I see no reason for sarcasm. It would be a most rational proceeding. I like her very much; but to marry her (supposing she would have me) without money would he a gross absurdity, simply spoiling my career, and leading to all sorts of discontents.’

‘No one would suggest that you should marry as things are.’

‘No; but please to bear in mind that to obtain money somehow or other — and I see no other way than by marriage — is necessary to me, and that with as little delay as possible. I am not at all likely to get a big editorship for some years to come, and I don’t feel disposed to make myself prematurely old by toiling for a few hundreds per annum in the meantime. Now all this I have frankly and fully explained to Marian. I dare say she suspects what I should do if she came into possession of money; there’s no harm in that. But she knows perfectly well that, as things are, we remain intellectual friends.’

‘Then listen to me, Jasper. If we hear that Marian gets nothing from her uncle, you had better behave honestly, and let her see that you haven’t as much interest in her as before.’

‘That would be brutality.’

‘It would be honest.’

‘Well, no, it wouldn’t. Strictly speaking, my interest in Marian wouldn’t suffer at all. I should know that we could be nothing but friends, that’s all. Hitherto I haven’t known what might come to pass; I don’t know yet. So far from following your advice, I shall let Marian understand that, if anything, I am more her friend than ever, seeing that henceforth there can be no ambiguities.’

‘I can only tell you that Maud would agree with me in what I have been saying.’

‘Then both of you have distorted views.’

‘I think not. It’s you who are unprincipled.’

‘My dear girl, haven’t I been showing you that no man could be more above-board, more straightforward?’

‘You have been talking nonsense, Jasper.’

‘Nonsense? Oh, this female lack of logic! Then my argument has been utterly thrown away. Now that’s one of the things I like in Miss Rupert; she can follow an argument and see consequences. And for that matter so can Marian. I only wish it were possible to refer this question to her.’

There was a tap at the door. Dora called ‘Come in!’ and Marian herself appeared.

‘What an odd thing!’ exclaimed Jasper, lowering his voice. ‘I was that moment saying I wished it were possible to refer a question to you.’

Dora reddened, and stood in an embarrassed attitude.

‘It was the old dispute whether women in general are capable of logic. But pardon me, Miss Yule; I forget that you have been occupied with sad things since I last saw you.’

Dora led her to a chair, asking if her father had returned.

‘Yes, he came back yesterday.’

Jasper and his sister could not think it likely that Marian had suffered much from grief at her uncle’s death; practically John Yule was a stranger to her. Yet her face bore the signs of acute mental trouble, and it seemed as if some agitation made it difficult for her to speak. The awkward silence that fell upon the three was broken by Jasper, who expressed a regret that he was obliged to take his leave.

‘Maud is becoming a young lady of society,’ he said — just for the sake of saying something — as he moved towards the door. ‘If she comes back whilst you are here, Miss Yule, warn her that that is the path of destruction for literary people.’

‘You should bear that in mind yourself’ remarked Dora, with a significant look.

‘Oh, I am cool-headed enough to make society serve my own ends.’

Marian turned her head with a sudden movement which was checked before she had quite looked round to him. The phrase he uttered last appeared to have affected her in some way; her eyes fell, and an expression of pain was on her brows for a moment.

‘I can only stay a few minutes,’ she said, bending with a faint smile towards Dora, as soon as they were alone. ‘I have come on my way from the Museum.’

‘Where you have tired yourself to death as usual, I can see.’

‘No; I have done scarcely anything. I only pretended to read; my mind is too much troubled. Have you heard anything about my uncle’s will?’

‘Nothing whatever.’

‘I thought it might have been spoken of in Wattleborough, and some friend might have written to you. But I suppose there has hardly been time for that. I shall surprise you very much. Father receives nothing, but I have a legacy of five thousand pounds.’

Dora kept her eyes down.

‘Then — what do you think?’ continued Marian. ‘My cousin Amy has ten thousand pounds.’

‘Good gracious! What a difference that will make!’

‘Yes, indeed. And her brother John has six thousand. But nothing to their mother. There are a good many other legacies, but most of the property goes to the Wattleborough park — “Yule Park” it will be called — and to the volunteers, and things of that kind. They say he wasn’t as rich as people thought.’

‘Do you know what Miss Harrow gets?’

‘She has the house for her life, and fifteen hundred pounds.’

‘And your father nothing whatever?’

‘Nothing. Not a penny. Oh I am so grieved! I think it so unkind, so wrong. Amy and her brother to have sixteen thousand pounds and father nothing! I can’t understand it. There was no unkind feeling between him and father. He knew what a hard life father has had. Doesn’t it seem heartless?’

‘What does your father say?’

‘I think he feels the unkindness more than he does the disappointment; of course he must have expected something. He came into the room where mother and I were, and sat down, and began to tell us about the will just as if he were speaking to strangers about something he had read in the newspaper — that’s the only way I can describe it. Then he got up and went away into the study. I waited a little, and then went to him there; he was sitting at work, as if he hadn’t been away from home at all. I tried to tell him how sorry I was, but I couldn’t say anything. I began to cry foolishly. He spoke kindly to me, far more kindly than he has done for a long time; but he wouldn’t talk about the will, and I had to go away and leave him. Poor mother! for all she was afraid that we were going to be rich, is broken-hearted at his disappointment.’

‘Your mother was afraid?’ said Dora.

‘Because she thought herself unfitted for life in a large house, and feared we should think her in our way.’ She smiled sadly. ‘Poor mother! she is so humble and so good. I do hope that father will be kinder to her. But there’s no telling yet what the result of this may be. I feel guilty when I stand before him.’

‘But he must feel glad that you have five thousand pounds.’

Marian delayed her reply for a moment, her eyes down.

‘Yes, perhaps he is glad of that.’

‘Perhaps!’

‘He can’t help thinking, Dora, what use he could have made of it.

It has always been his greatest wish to have a literary paper of his own — like The Study, you know. He would have used the money in that way, I am sure.’

‘But, all the same, he ought to feel pleasure in your good fortune.’

Marian turned to another subject.

‘Think of the Reardons; what a change all at once! What will they do, I wonder? Surely they won’t continue to live apart?’

‘We shall hear from Jasper.’

Whilst they were discussing the affairs of that branch of the family, Maud returned. There was ill-humour on her handsome face, and she greeted Marian but coldly. Throwing off her hat and gloves and mantle she listened to the repeated story of John Yule’s bequests.

‘But why ever has Mrs Reardon so much more than anyone else?’ she asked.

‘We can only suppose it is because she was the favourite child of the brother he liked best. Yet at her wedding he gave her nothing, and spoke contemptuously of her for marrying a literary man.’

‘Fortunate for her poor husband that her uncle was able to forgive her. I wonder what’s the date of the will? Who knows but he may have rewarded her for quarrelling with Mr Reardon.’

This excited a laugh.

‘I don’t know when the will was made,’ said Marian. ‘And I don’t know whether uncle had even heard of the Reardons’ misfortunes. I suppose he must have done. My cousin John was at the funeral, but not my aunt. I think it most likely father and John didn’t speak a word to each other. Fortunately the relatives were lost sight of in the great crowd of Wattleborough people; there was an enormous procession, of course.’

Maud kept glancing at her sister. The ill-humour had not altogether passed from her face, but it was now blended with reflectiveness.

A few moments more, and Marian had to hasten home. When she was gone the sisters looked at each other.

‘Five thousand pounds,’ murmured the elder. ‘I suppose that is considered nothing.’

‘I suppose so. — He was here when Marian came, but didn’t stay.’

‘Then you’ll take him the news this evening?’

‘Yes,’ replied Dora. Then, after musing, ‘He seemed annoyed that you were at the Lanes’ again.’

Maud made a movement of indifference.

‘What has been putting you out?’

‘Things were rather stupid. Some people who were to have come didn’t turn up. And — well, it doesn’t matter.’

She rose and glanced at herself in the little oblong mirror over the mantelpiece.

‘Did Jasper ever speak to you of a Miss Rupert?’ asked Dora.

‘Not that I remember.’

‘What do you think? He told me in the calmest way that he didn’t see why Marian should think of him as anything but the most ordinary friend — said he had never given her reason to think anything else.’

‘Indeed! And Miss Rupert is someone who has the honour of his preference?’

‘He says she is about thirty, and rather masculine, but a great heiress. Jasper is shameful!’

‘What do you expect? I consider it is your duty to let Marian know everything he says. Otherwise you help to deceive her. He has no sense of honour in such things.’

Dora was so impatient to let her brother have the news that she left the house as soon as she had had tea on the chance of finding Jasper at home. She had not gone a dozen yards before she encountered him in person.

‘I was afraid Marian might still be with you,’ he said, laughing.

‘I should have asked the landlady. Well?’

‘We can’t stand talking here. You had better come in.’

He was in too much excitement to wait.

‘Just tell me. What has she?’

Dora walked quickly towards the house, looking annoyed.

‘Nothing at all? Then what has her father?’

‘He has nothing,’ replied his sister, ‘and she has five thousand pounds.’

Jasper walked on with bent head. He said nothing more until he was upstairs in the sitting-room, where Maud greeted him carelessly.

‘Mrs Reardon anything?’

Dora informed him.

‘What?’ he cried incredulously. ‘Ten thousand? You don’t say so!’

He burst into uproarious laughter.

‘So Reardon is rescued from the slum and the clerk’s desk! Well, I’m glad; by Jove, I am. I should have liked it better if Marian had had the ten thousand and he the five, but it’s an excellent joke. Perhaps the next thing will be that he’ll refuse to have anything to do with his wife’s money; that would be just like him.’ After amusing himself with this subject for a few minutes more, he turned to the window and stood there in silence.

‘Are you going to have tea with us?’ Dora inquired.

He did not seem to hear her. On a repetition of the inquiry, he answered absently:

‘Yes, I may as well. Then I can go home and get to work.’

During the remainder of his stay he talked very little, and as Maud also was in an abstracted mood, tea passed almost in silence. On the point of departing he asked:

‘When is Marian likely to come here again?’

‘I haven’t the least idea,’ answered Dora.

He nodded, and went his way.

It was necessary for him to work at a magazine article which he had begun this morning, and on reaching home he spread out his papers in the usual businesslike fashion. The subject out of which he was manufacturing ‘copy’ had its difficulties, and was not altogether congenial to him; this morning he had laboured with unwonted effort to produce about a page of manuscript, and now that he tried to resume the task his thoughts would not centre upon it. Jasper was too young to have thoroughly mastered the art of somnambulistic composition; to write, he was still obliged to give exclusive attention to the matter under treatment. Dr Johnson’s saying, that a man may write at any time if he will set himself doggedly to it, was often upon his lips, and had even been of help to him, as no doubt it has to many another man obliged to compose amid distracting circumstances; but the formula had no efficacy this evening. Twice or thrice he rose from his chair, paced the room with a determined brow, and sat down again with vigorous clutch of the pen; still he failed to excogitate a single sentence that would serve his purpose.

‘I must have it out with myself before I can do anything,’ was his thought as he finally abandoned the endeavour. ‘I must make up my mind.’

To this end he settled himself in an easy-chair and began to smoke cigarettes. Some dozen of these aids to reflection only made him so nervous that he could no longer remain alone. He put on his hat and overcoat and went out — to find that it was raining heavily. He returned for an umbrella, and before long was walking aimlessly about the Strand, unable to make up his mind whether to turn into a theatre or not. Instead of doing so, he sought a certain upper room of a familiar restaurant, where the day’s papers were to be seen, and perchance an acquaintance might be met. Only half-a-dozen men were there, reading and smoking, and all were unknown to him. He drank a glass of lager beer, skimmed the news of the evening, and again went out into the bad weather.

After all it was better to go home. Everything he encountered had an unsettling effect upon him, so that he was further than ever from the decision at which he wished to arrive. In Mornington Road he came upon Whelpdale, who was walking slowly under an umbrella.

‘I’ve just called at your place.’

‘All right; come back if you like.’

‘But perhaps I shall waste your time?’ said Whelpdale, with unusual diffidence.

Reassured, he gladly returned to the house. Milvain acquainted him with the fact of John Yule’s death, and with its result so far as it concerned the Reardons. They talked of how the couple would probably behave under this decisive change of circumstances.

‘Biffen professes to know nothing about Mrs Reardon,’ said Whelpdale. ‘I suspect he keeps his knowledge to himself, out of regard for Reardon. It wouldn’t surprise me if they live apart for a long time yet.’

‘Not very likely. It was only want of money.’

‘They’re not at all suited to each other. Mrs Reardon, no doubt, repents her marriage bitterly, and I doubt whether Reardon cares much for his wife.’

‘As there’s no way of getting divorced they’ll make the best of it. Ten thousand pounds produce about four hundred a year; it’s enough to live on.’

‘And be miserable on — if they no longer love each other.’

‘You’re such a sentimental fellow!’ cried Jasper. ‘I believe you seriously think that love — the sort of frenzy you understand by it — ought to endure throughout married life. How has a man come to your age with such primitive ideas?’

‘Well, I don’t know. Perhaps you err a little in the opposite direction.’

‘I haven’t much faith in marrying for love, as you know. What’s more, I believe it’s the very rarest thing for people to be in love with each other. Reardon and his wife perhaps were an instance; perhaps — I’m not quite sure about her. As a rule, marriage is the result of a mild preference, encouraged by circumstances, and deliberately heightened into strong sexual feeling. You, of all men, know well enough that the same kind of feeling could be produced for almost any woman who wasn’t repulsive.’

‘The same kind of feeling; but there’s vast difference of degree.’

‘To be sure. I think it’s only a matter of degree. When it rises to the point of frenzy people may strictly be said to be in love; and, as I tell you, I think that comes to pass very rarely indeed. For my own part, I have no experience of it, and think I never shall have.’

‘I can’t say the same.’

They laughed.

‘I dare say you have imagined yourself in love — or really been so for aught I know — a dozen times. How the deuce you can attach any importance to such feeling where marriage is concerned I don’t understand.’

‘Well, now,’ said Whelpdale, ‘I have never upheld the theory — at least not since I was sixteen — that a man can be in love only once, or that there is one particular woman if he misses whom he can never be happy. There may be thousands of women whom I could love with equal sincerity.’

‘I object to the word “love” altogether. It has been vulgarised. Let us talk about compatibility. Now, I should say that, no doubt, and speaking scientifically, there is one particular woman supremely fitted to each man. I put aside consideration of circumstances; we know that circumstances will disturb any degree of abstract fitness. But in the nature of things there must be one woman whose nature is specially well adapted to harmonise with mine, or with yours. If there were any means of discovering this woman in each case, then I have no doubt it would be worth a man’s utmost effort to do so, and any amount of erotic jubilation would be reasonable when the discovery was made. But the thing is impossible, and, what’s more, we know what ridiculous fallibility people display when they imagine they have found the best substitute for that indiscoverable. This is what makes me impatient with sentimental talk about marriage. An educated man mustn’t play so into the hands of ironic destiny. Let him think he wants to marry a woman; but don’t let him exaggerate his feelings or idealise their nature.’

‘There’s a good deal in all that,’ admitted Whelpdale, though discontentedly.

‘There’s more than a good deal; there’s the last word on the subject. The days of romantic love are gone by. The scientific spirit has put an end to that kind of self-deception. Romantic love was inextricably blended with all sorts of superstitions — belief in personal immortality, in superior beings, in — all the rest of it. What we think of now is moral and intellectual and physical compatibility; I mean, if we are reasonable people.’

‘And if we are not so unfortunate as to fall in love with an incompatible,’ added Whelpdale, laughing.

‘Well, that is a form of unreason — a blind desire which science could explain in each case. I rejoice that I am not subject to that form of epilepsy.’

‘You positively never were in love!’

‘As you understand it, never. But I have felt a very distinct preference.’

‘Based on what you think compatibility?’

‘Yes. Not strong enough to make me lose sight of prudence and advantage. No, not strong enough for that.’

He seemed to be reassuring himself.

‘Then of course that can’t be called love,’ said Whelpdale.

‘Perhaps not. But, as I told you, a preference of this kind can be heightened into emotion, if one chooses. In the case of which I am thinking it easily might be. And I think it very improbable indeed that I should repent it if anything led me to indulge such an impulse.’

Whelpdale smiled.

‘This is very interesting. I hope it may lead to something.’

‘I don’t think it will. I am far more likely to marry some woman for whom I have no preference, but who can serve me materially.’

‘I confess that amazes me. I know the value of money as well as you do, but I wouldn’t marry a rich woman for whom I had no preference. By Jove, no!’

‘Yes, yes. You are a consistent sentimentalist.’

‘Doomed to perpetual disappointment,’ said the other, looking disconsolately about the room.

‘Courage, my boy! I have every hope that I shall see you marry and repent.’

‘I admit the danger of that. But shall I tell you something I have observed? Each woman I fall in love with is of a higher type than the one before.’

Jasper roared irreverently, and his companion looked hurt.

‘But I am perfectly serious, I assure you. To go back only three or four years. There was the daughter of my landlady in Barham Street; well, a nice girl enough, but limited, decidedly limited.

Next came that girl at the stationer’s — you remember? She was distinctly an advance, both in mind and person. Then there was Miss Embleton; yes, I think she made again an advance. She had been at Bedford College, you know, and was really a girl of considerable attainments; morally, admirable. Afterwards — ’

He paused.

‘The maiden from Birmingham, wasn’t it?’ said Jasper, again exploding.

‘Yes, it was. Well, I can’t be quite sure. But in many respects that girl was my ideal; she really was.’

‘As you once or twice told me at the time.’

‘I really believe she would rank above Miss Embleton — at all events from my point of view. And that’s everything, you know. It’s the effect a woman produces on one that has to be considered.’

‘The next should be a paragon,’ said Jasper.

‘The next?’

Whelpdale again looked about the room, but added nothing, and fell into a long silence.

When left to himself Jasper walked about a little, then sat down at his writing-table, for he felt easier in mind, and fancied that he might still do a couple of hours’ work before going to bed. He did in fact write half-a-dozen lines, but with the effort came back his former mood. Very soon the pen dropped, and he was once more in the throes of anxious mental debate.

He sat till after midnight, and when he went to his bedroom it was with a lingering step, which proved him still a prey to indecision.

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