New Grub Street, by George Gissing

Chapter 23

A Proposed Investment

Alfred Yule’s behaviour under his disappointment seemed to prove that even for him the uses of adversity could be sweet. On the day after his return home he displayed a most unwonted mildness in such remarks as he addressed to his wife, and his bearing towards Marian was gravely gentle. At meals he conversed, or rather monologised, on literary topics, with occasionally one of his grim jokes, pointed for Marian’s appreciation. He became aware that the girl had been overtaxing her strength of late, and suggested a few weeks of recreation among new novels. The coldness and gloom which had possessed him when he made a formal announcement of the news appeared to have given way before the sympathy manifested by his wife and daughter; he was now sorrowful, but resigned.

He explained to Marian the exact nature of her legacy. It was to be paid out of her uncle’s share in a wholesale stationery business, with which John Yule had been connected for the last twenty years, but from which he had not long ago withdrawn a large portion of his invested capital. This house was known as ‘Turberville & Co.,’ a name which Marian now heard for the first time.

‘I knew nothing of his association with them,’ said her father. ‘They tell me that seven or eight thousand pounds will be realised from that source; it seems a pity that the investment was not left to you intact. Whether there will be any delay in withdrawing the money I can’t say.’

The executors were two old friends of the deceased, one of them a former partner in his paper-making concern.

On the evening of the second day, about an hour after dinner was over, Mr Hinks called at the house; as usual, he went into the study. Before long came a second visitor, Mr Quarmby, who joined Yule and Hinks. The three had all sat together for some time, when Marian, who happened to be coming down stairs, saw her father at the study door.

‘Ask your mother to let us have some supper at a quarter to ten,’ he said urbanely. ‘And come in, won’t you? We are only gossiping.’

It had not often happened that Marian was invited to join parties of this kind.

‘Do you wish me to come?’ she asked.

‘Yes, I should like you to, if you have nothing particular to do.’

Marian informed Mrs Yule that the visitors would have supper, and then went to the study. Mr Quarmby was smoking a pipe; Mr Hinks, who on grounds of economy had long since given up tobacco, sat with his hands in his trouser pockets, and his long, thin legs tucked beneath the chair; both rose and greeted Marian with more than ordinary warmth.

‘Will you allow me five or six more puffs?’ asked Mr Quarmby, laying one hand on his ample stomach and elevating his pipe as if it were a glass of beaded liquor. ‘I shall then have done.’

‘As many more as you like,’ Marian replied.

The easiest chair was placed for her, Mr Hinks hastening to perform this courtesy, and her father apprised her of the topic they were discussing.

‘What’s your view, Marian? Is there anything to be said for the establishment of a literary academy in England?’

Mr Quarmby beamed benevolently upon her, and Mr Hinks, his scraggy neck at full length, awaited her reply with a look of the most respectful attention.

‘I really think we have quite enough literary quarrelling as it is,’ the girl replied, casting down her eyes and smiling.

Mr Quarmby uttered a hollow chuckle, Mr Hinks laughed thinly and exclaimed, ‘Very good indeed! Very good!’ Yule affected to applaud with impartial smile.

‘It wouldn’t harmonise with the Anglo-Saxon spirit,’ remarked Mr Hinks, with an air of diffident profundity.

Yule held forth on the subject for a few minutes in laboured phrases. Presently the conversation turned to periodicals, and the three men were unanimous in an opinion that no existing monthly or quarterly could be considered as representing the best literary opinion.

‘We want,’ remarked Mr Quarmby, ‘we want a monthly review which shall deal exclusively with literature. The Fortnightly, the Contemporary — they are very well in their way, but then they are mere miscellanies. You will find one solid literary article amid a confused mass of politics and economics and general clap-trap.’

‘Articles on the currency and railway statistics and views of evolution,’ said Mr Hinks, with a look as if something were grating between his teeth.

‘The quarterlies?’ put in Yule. ‘Well, the original idea of the quarterlies was that there are not enough important books published to occupy solid reviewers more than four times a year. That may be true, but then a literary monthly would include much more than professed reviews. Hinks’s essays on the historical drama would have come out in it very well; or your “Spanish Poets,” Quarmby.’

‘I threw out the idea to Jedwood the other day,’ said Mr Quarmby, ‘and he seemed to nibble at it.’

‘Yes, yes,’ came from Yule; ‘but Jedwood has so many irons in the fire. I doubt if he has the necessary capital at command just now. No doubt he’s the man, if some capitalist would join him.’

‘No enormous capital needed,’ opined Mr Quarmby. ‘The thing would pay its way almost from the first. It would take a place between the literary weeklies and the quarterlies. The former are too academic, the latter too massive, for multitudes of people who yet have strong literary tastes. Foreign publications should be liberally dealt with. But, as Hinks says, no meddling with the books that are no books — biblia abiblia; nothing about essays on bimetallism and treatises for or against vaccination.’

Even here, in the freedom of a friend’s study, he laughed his Reading-room laugh, folding both hands upon his expansive waistcoat.

‘Fiction? I presume a serial of the better kind might be admitted?’ said Yule.

‘That would be advisable, no doubt. But strictly of the better kind.’

‘Oh, strictly of the better kind,’ chimed in Mr Hinks.

They pursued the discussion as if they were an editorial committee planning a review of which the first number was shortly to appear. It occupied them until Mrs Yule announced at the door that supper was ready.

During the meal Marian found herself the object of unusual attention; her father troubled to inquire if the cut of cold beef he sent her was to her taste, and kept an eye on her progress. Mr Hinks talked to her in a tone of respectful sympathy, and Mr Quarmby was paternally jovial when he addressed her. Mrs Yule would have kept silence, in her ordinary way, but this evening her husband made several remarks which he had adapted to her intellect, and even showed that a reply would be graciously received.

Mother and daughter remained together when the men withdrew to their tobacco and toddy. Neither made allusion to the wonderful change, but they talked more light-heartedly than for a long time.

On the morrow Yule began by consulting Marian with regard to the disposition of matter in an essay he was writing. What she said he weighed carefully, and seemed to think that she had set his doubts at rest.

‘Poor old Hinks!’ he said presently, with a sigh. ‘Breaking up, isn’t he? He positively totters in his walk. I’m afraid he’s the kind of man to have a paralytic stroke; it wouldn’t astonish me to hear at any moment that he was lying helpless.’

‘What ever would become of him in that case?’

‘Goodness knows! One might ask the same of so many of us. What would become of me, for instance, if I were incapable of work?’

Marian could make no reply.

‘There’s something I’ll just mention to you,’ he went on in a lowered tone, ‘though I don’t wish you to take it too seriously. I’m beginning to have a little trouble with my eyes.’

She looked at him, startled.

‘With your eyes?’

‘Nothing, I hope; but — well, I think I shall see an oculist. One doesn’t care to face a prospect of failing sight, perhaps of cataract, or something of that kind; still, it’s better to know the facts, I should say.’

‘By all means go to an oculist,’ said Marian, earnestly.

‘Don’t disturb yourself about it. It may be nothing at all. But in any case I must change my glasses.’

He rustled over some slips of manuscript, whilst Marian regarded him anxiously.

‘Now, I appeal to you, Marian,’ he continued: ‘could I possibly save money out of an income that has never exceeded two hundred and fifty pounds, and often — I mean even in latter years — has been much less?’

‘I don’t see how you could.’

‘In one way, of course, I have managed it. My life is insured for five hundred pounds. But that is no provision for possible disablement. If I could no longer earn money with my pen, what would become of me?’

Marian could have made an encouraging reply, but did not venture to utter her thoughts.

‘Sit down,’ said her father. ‘You are not to work for a few days, and I myself shall be none the worse for a morning’s rest. Poor old Hinks! I suppose we shall help him among us, somehow. Quarmby, of course, is comparatively flourishing. Well, we have been companions for a quarter of a century, we three. When I first met Quarmby I was a Grub Street gazetteer, and I think he was even poorer than I. A life of toil! A life of toil!’

‘That it has been, indeed.’

‘By-the-bye’ — he threw an arm over the back of his chair — ‘what did you think of our imaginary review, the thing we were talking about last night?’

‘There are so many periodicals,’ replied Marian, doubtfully.

‘So many? My dear child, if we live another ten years we shall see the number trebled.’

‘Is it desirable?’

‘That there should be such growth of periodicals? Well, from one point of view, no. No doubt they take up the time which some people would give to solid literature. But, on the other hand, there’s a far greater number of people who would probably not read at all, but for the temptations of these short and new articles; and they may be induced to pass on to substantial works. Of course it all depends on the quality of the periodical matter you offer. Now, magazines like’ — he named two or three of popular stamp — ‘might very well be dispensed with, unless one regards them as an alternative to the talking of scandal or any other vicious result of total idleness. But such a monthly as we projected would be of distinct literary value. There can be no doubt that someone or other will shortly establish it.’

‘I am afraid,’ said Marian, ‘I haven’t so much sympathy with literary undertakings as you would like me to have.’

Money is a great fortifier of self-respect. Since she had become really conscious of her position as the owner of five thousand pounds, Marian spoke with a steadier voice, walked with firmer step; mentally she felt herself altogether a less dependent being. She might have confessed this lukewarmness towards literary enterprise in the anger which her father excited eight or nine days ago, but at that time she could not have uttered her opinion calmly, deliberately, as now. The smile which accompanied the words was also new; it signified deliverance from pupilage.

‘I have felt that,’ returned her father, after a slight pause to command his voice, that it might be suave instead of scornful. ‘I greatly fear that I have made your life something of a martyrdom —— ’

‘Don’t think I meant that, father. I am speaking only of the general question. I can’t be quite so zealous as you are, that’s all. I love books, but I could wish people were content for a while with those we already have.’

‘My dear Marian, don’t suppose that I am out of sympathy with you here. Alas! how much of my work has been mere drudgery, mere labouring for a livelihood! How gladly I would have spent much more of my time among the great authors, with no thought of making money of them! If I speak approvingly of a scheme for a new periodical, it is greatly because of my necessities.’

He paused and looked at her. Marian returned the look.

‘You would of course write for it,’ she said.

‘Marian, why shouldn’t I edit it? Why shouldn’t it be your property?’,

‘My property —?’

She checked a laugh. There came into her mind a more disagreeable suspicion than she had ever entertained of her father. Was this the meaning of his softened behaviour? Was he capable of calculated hypocrisy? That did not seem consistent with his character, as she knew it.

‘Let us talk it over,’ said Yule. He was in visible agitation and his voice shook. ‘The idea may well startle you at first. It will seem to you that I propose to make away with your property before you have even come into possession of it.’ He laughed. ‘But, in fact, what I have in mind is merely an investment for your capital, and that an admirable one. Five thousand pounds at three per cent. — one doesn’t care to reckon on more — represents a hundred and fifty a year. Now, there can be very little doubt that, if it were invested in literary property such as I have in mind, it would bring you five times that interest, and before long perhaps much more. Of course I am now speaking in the roughest outline. I should have to get trustworthy advice; complete and detailed estimates would be submitted to you. At present I merely suggest to you this form of investment.’

He watched her face eagerly, greedily. When Marian’s eyes rose to his he looked away.

‘Then, of course,’ she said, ‘you don’t expect me to give any decided answer.’

‘Of course not — of course not. I merely put before you the chief advantages of such an investment. As I am a selfish old fellow, I’ll talk about the benefit to myself first of all. I should be editor of the new review; I should draw a stipend sufficient to all my needs — quite content, at first, to take far less than another man would ask, and to progress with the advance of the periodical. This position would enable me to have done with mere drudgery; I should only write when I felt called to do so — when the spirit moved me.’ Again he laughed, as though desirous of keeping his listener in good humour. ‘My eyes would be greatly spared henceforth.’

He dwelt on that point, waiting its effect on Marian. As she said nothing he proceeded:

‘And suppose I really were doomed to lose my sight in the course of a few years, am I wrong in thinking that the proprietor of this periodical would willingly grant a small annuity to the man who had firmly established it?’

‘I see the force of all that,’ said Marian; ‘but it takes for granted that the periodical will be successful.’

‘It does. In the hands of a publisher like Jedwood — a vigorous man of the new school — its success could scarcely be doubtful.’

‘Do you think five thousand pounds would be enough to start such a review?’

‘Well, I can say nothing definite on that point. For one thing, the coat must be made according to the cloth; expenditure can be largely controlled without endangering success. Then again, I think Jedwood would take a share in the venture. These are details. At present I only want to familiarise you with the thought that an investment of this sort will very probably offer itself to you.’

‘It would be better if we called it a speculation,’ said Marian, smiling uneasily.

Her one object at present was to oblige her father to understand that the suggestion by no means lured her. She could not tell him that what he proposed was out of the question, though as yet that was the light in which she saw it. His subtlety of approach had made her feel justified in dealing with him in a matter-of-fact way. He must see that she was not to be cajoled. Obviously, and in the nature of the case, he was urging a proposal in which he himself had all faith; but Marian knew his judgment was far from infallible. It mitigated her sense of behaving unkindly to reflect that in all likelihood this disposal of her money would be the worst possible for her own interests, and therefore for his. If, indeed, his dark forebodings were warranted, then upon her would fall the care of him, and the steadiness with which she faced that responsibility came from a hope of which she could not speak.

‘Name it as you will,’ returned her father, hardly suppressing a note of irritation. ‘True, every commercial enterprise is a speculation. But let me ask you one question, and beg you to reply frankly. Do you distrust my ability to conduct this periodical?’

She did. She knew that he was not in touch with the interests of the day, and that all manner of considerations akin to the prime end of selling his review would make him an untrustworthy editor.

But how could she tell him this?

‘My opinion would be worthless,’ she replied.

‘If Jedwood were disposed to put confidence in me, you also would?’

‘There’s no need to talk of that now, father. Indeed, I can’t say anything that would sound like a promise.’

He flashed a glance at her. Then she was more than doubtful?

‘But you have no objection, Marian, to talk in a friendly way of a project that would mean so much to me?’

‘But I am afraid to encourage you,’ she replied, frankly. ‘It is impossible for me to say whether I can do as you wish, or not.’

‘Yes, yes; I perfectly understand that. Heaven forbid that I should regard you as a child to be led independently of your own views and wishes! With so large a sum of money at stake, it would be monstrous if I acted rashly, and tried to persuade you to do the same. The matter will have to be most gravely considered.’

‘Yes.’ She spoke mechanically.

‘But if only it should come to something! You don’t know what it would mean to me, Marian.’

‘Yes, father; I know very well how you think and feel about it.’

‘Do you?’ He leaned forward, his features working under stress of emotion. ‘If I could see myself the editor of an influential review, all my bygone toils and sufferings would be as nothing; I should rejoice in them as the steps to this triumph. Meminisse juvabit! My dear, I am not a man fitted for subordinate places. My nature is framed for authority. The failure of all my undertakings rankles so in my heart that sometimes I feel capable of every brutality, every meanness, every hateful cruelty. To you I have behaved shamefully. Don’t interrupt me, Marian. I have treated you abominably, my child, my dear daughter — and all the time with a full sense of what I was doing. That’s the punishment of faults such as mine. I hate myself for every harsh word and angry look I have given you; at the time, I hated myself!’

‘Father — ’

‘No, no; let me speak, Marian. You have forgiven me; I know it. You were always ready to forgive, dear. Can I ever forget that evening when I spoke like a brute, and you came afterwards and addressed me as if the wrong had been on your side? It burns in my memory. It wasn’t I who spoke; it was the demon of failure, of humiliation. My enemies sit in triumph, and scorn at me; the thought of it is infuriating. Have I deserved this? Am I the inferior of — of those men who have succeeded and now try to trample on me? No! I am not! I have a better brain and a better heart!’

Listening to this strange outpouring, Marian more than forgave the hypocrisy of the last day or two. Nay, could it be called hypocrisy? It was only his better self declared at the impulse of a passionate hope.

‘Why should you think so much of these troubles, father? Is it such a great matter that narrow-minded people triumph over you?’

‘Narrow-minded?’ He clutched at the word. ‘You admit they are that?’

‘I feel very sure that Mr Fadge is.’

‘Then you are not on his side against me?’

‘How could you suppose such a thing?’

‘Well, well; we won’t talk of that. Perhaps it isn’t a great matter. No — from a philosophical point of view, such things are unspeakably petty. But I am not much of a philosopher.’ He laughed, with a break in his voice. ‘Defeat in life is defeat, after all; and unmerited failure is a bitter curse. You see, I am not too old to do something yet. My sight is failing, but I can take care of it. If I had my own review, I would write every now and then a critical paper in my very best style. You remember poor old Hinks’s note about me in his book? We laughed at it, but he wasn’t so far wrong. I have many of those qualities. A man is conscious of his own merits as well as of his defects. I have done a few admirable things. You remember my paper on Lord Herbert of Cherbury? No one ever wrote a more subtle piece of criticism; but it was swept aside among the rubbish of the magazines. And it’s just because of my pungent phrases that I have excited so much enmity. Wait! Wait! Let me have my own review, and leisure, and satisfaction of mind — heavens! what I will write! How I will scarify!’

‘That is unworthy of you. How much better to ignore your enemies!

In such a position, I should carefully avoid every word that betrayed personal feeling.’

‘Well, well; you are of course right, my good girl. And I believe I should do injustice to myself if I made you think that those ignoble motives are the strongest in me. No; it isn’t so. From my boyhood I have had a passionate desire of literary fame, deep down below all the surface faults of my character. The best of my life has gone by, and it drives me to despair when I feel that I have not gained the position due to me. There is only one way of doing this now, and that is by becoming the editor of an important periodical. Only in that way shall I succeed in forcing people to pay attention to my claims. Many a man goes to his grave unrecognised, just because he has never had a fair judgment. Nowadays it is the unscrupulous men of business who hold the attention of the public; they blow their trumpets so loudly that the voices of honest men have no chance of being heard.’

Marian was pained by the humility of his pleading with her — for what was all this but an endeavour to move her sympathies? — and by the necessity she was under of seeming to turn a deaf ear. She believed that there was some truth in his estimate of his own powers; though as an editor he would almost certainly fail, as a man of letters he had probably done far better work than some who had passed him by on their way to popularity. Circumstances might enable her to assist him, though not in the way he proposed. The worst of it was that she could not let him see what was in her mind. He must think that she was simply balancing her own satisfaction against his, when in truth she suffered from the conviction that to yield would be as unwise in regard to her father’s future as it would be perilous to her own prospect of happiness.

‘Shall we leave this to be talked of when the money has been paid over to me?’ she said, after a silence.

‘Yes. Don’t suppose I wish to influence you by dwelling on my own hardships. That would be contemptible. I have only taken this opportunity of making myself better known to you. I don’t readily talk of myself and in general my real feelings are hidden by the faults of my temper. In suggesting how you could do me a great service, and at the same time reap advantage for yourself I couldn’t but remember how little reason you have to think kindly of me. But we will postpone further talk. You will think over what I have said?’

Marian promised that she would, and was glad to bring the conversation to an end.

When Sunday came, Yule inquired of his daughter if she had any engagement for the afternoon.

‘Yes, I have,’ she replied, with an effort to disguise her embarrassment.

‘I’m sorry. I thought of asking you to come with me to Quarmby’s. Shall you be away through the evening?’

‘Till about nine o’clock, I think.’

‘Ah! Never mind, never mind.’

He tried to dismiss the matter as if it were of no moment, but Marian saw the shadow that passed over his countenance. This was just after breakfast. For the remainder of the morning she did not meet him, and at the mid-day dinner he was silent, though he brought no book to the table with him, as he was wont to do when in his dark moods. Marian talked with her mother, doing her best to preserve the appearance of cheerfulness which was natural since the change in Yule’s demeanour.

She chanced to meet her father in the passage just as she was going out. He smiled (it was more like a grin of pain) and nodded, but said nothing.

When the front door closed, he went into the parlour. Mrs Yule was reading, or, at all events, turning over a volume of an illustrated magazine.

‘Where do you suppose she has gone?’ he asked, in a voice which was only distant, not offensive.

‘To the Miss Milvains, I believe,’ Mrs Yule answered, looking aside.

‘Did she tell you so?’

‘No. We don’t talk about it.’

He seated himself on the corner of a chair and bent forward, his chin in his hand.

‘Has she said anything to you about the review?’

‘Not a word.’

She glanced at him timidly, and turned a few pages of her book.

‘I wanted her to come to Quarmby’s, because there’ll be a man there who is anxious that Jedwood should start a magazine, and it would be useful for her to hear practical opinions. There’d be no harm if you just spoke to her about it now and then. Of course if she has made up her mind to refuse me it’s no use troubling myself any more. I should think you might find out what’s really going on.’

Only dire stress of circumstances could have brought Alfred Yule to make distinct appeal for his wife’s help. There was no underhand plotting between them to influence their daughter; Mrs Yule had as much desire for the happiness of her husband as for that of Marian, but she felt powerless to effect anything on either side.

‘If ever she says anything, I’ll let you know.’

‘But it seems to me that you have a right to question her.’

‘I can’t do that, Alfred.’

‘Unfortunately, there are a good many things you can’t do.’ With that remark, familiar to his wife in substance, though the tone of it was less caustic than usual, he rose and sauntered from the room. He spent a gloomy hour in the study, then went off to join the literary circle at Mr Quarmby’s.

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