New Grub Street, by George Gissing

Chapter 7

Marian’s Home

Three weeks after her return from the country — which took place a week later than that of Jasper Milvain — Marian Yule was working one afternoon at her usual place in the Museum Reading-room. It was three o’clock, and with the interval of half an hour at midday, when she went away for a cup of tea and a sandwich, she had been closely occupied since half-past nine. Her task at present was to collect materials for a paper on ‘French Authoresses of the Seventeenth Century,’ the kind of thing which her father supplied on stipulated terms for anonymous publication. Marian was by this time almost able to complete such a piece of manufacture herself and her father’s share in it was limited to a few hints and corrections. The greater part of the work by which Yule earned his moderate income was anonymous: volumes and articles which bore his signature dealt with much the same subjects as his unsigned matter, but the writing was laboured with a conscientiousness unusual in men of his position. The result, unhappily, was not correspondent with the efforts. Alfred Yule had made a recognisable name among the critical writers of the day; seeing him in the title-lists of a periodical, most people knew what to expect, but not a few forbore the cutting open of the pages he occupied. He was learned, copious, occasionally mordant in style; but grace had been denied to him. He had of late begun to perceive the fact that those passages of Marian’s writing which were printed just as they came from her pen had merit of a kind quite distinct from anything of which he himself was capable, and it began to be a question with him whether it would not be advantageous to let the girl sign these compositions. A matter of business, to be sure — at all events in the first instance.

For a long time Marian had scarcely looked up from the desk, but at this moment she found it necessary to refer to the invaluable Larousse. As so often happened, the particular volume of which she had need was not upon the shelf she turned away, and looked about her with a gaze of weary disappointment. At a little distance were standing two young men, engaged, as their faces showed, in facetious colloquy; as soon as she observed them, Marian’s eyes fell, but the next moment she looked again in that direction. Her face had wholly changed; she wore a look of timid expectancy.

The men were moving towards her, still talking and laughing. She turned to the shelves, and affected to search for a book. The voices drew near, and one of them was well known to her; now she could hear every word; now the speakers were gone by. Was it possible that Mr Milvain had not recognised her? She followed him with her eyes, and saw him take a seat not far off he must have passed without even being aware of her.

She went back to her place and for some minutes sat trifling with a pen. When she made a show of resuming work, it was evident that she could no longer apply herself as before. Every now and then she glanced at people who were passing; there were intervals when she wholly lost herself in reverie. She was tired, and had even a slight headache. When the hand of the clock pointed to half-past three, she closed the volume from which she had been copying extracts, and began to collect her papers.

A voice spoke close behind her.

‘Where’s your father, Miss Yule?’

The speaker was a man of sixty, short, stout, tonsured by the hand of time. He had a broad, flabby face, the colour of an ancient turnip, save where one of the cheeks was marked with a mulberry stain; his eyes, grey-orbed in a yellow setting, glared with good-humoured inquisitiveness, and his mouth was that of the confirmed gossip. For eyebrows he had two little patches of reddish stubble; for moustache, what looked like a bit of discoloured tow, and scraps of similar material hanging beneath his creasy chin represented a beard. His garb must have seen a great deal of Museum service; it consisted of a jacket, something between brown and blue, hanging in capacious shapelessness, a waistcoat half open for lack of buttons and with one of the pockets coming unsewn, a pair of bronze-hued trousers which had all run to knee. Necktie he had none, and his linen made distinct appeal to the laundress.

Marian shook hands with him.

‘He went away at half-past two,’ was her reply to his question.

‘How annoying! I wanted particularly to see him. I have been running about all day, and couldn’t get here before. Something important — most important. At all events, I can tell you. But I entreat that you won’t breathe a word save to your father.’

Mr Quarmby — that was his name — had taken a vacant chair and drawn it close to Marian’s. He was in a state of joyous excitement, and talked in thick, rather pompous tones, with a pant at the end of a sentence. To emphasise the extremely confidential nature of his remarks, he brought his head almost in contact with the girl’s, and one of her thin, delicate hands was covered with his red, podgy fingers.

‘I’ve had a talk with Nathaniel Walker,’ he continued; ‘a long talk — a talk of vast importance. You know Walker? No, no; how should you? He’s a man of business; close friend of Rackett’s — Rackett, you know, the owner of The Study.’

Upon this he made a grave pause, and glared more excitedly than ever.

‘I have heard of Mr Rackett,’ said Marian.

‘Of course, of course. And you must also have heard that Fadge leaves The Study at the end of this year, eh?’

‘Father told me it was probable.’

‘Rackett and he have done nothing but quarrel for months; the paper is falling off seriously. Well, now, when I came across Nat Walker this afternoon, the first thing he said to me was, “You know Alfred Yule pretty well, I think?” “Pretty well,” I answered; “why?” “I’ll tell you,” he said, “but it’s between you and me, you understand. Rackett is thinking about him in connection with The Study.” “I’m delighted to hear it.” “To tell you the truth,” went on Nat, “I shouldn’t wonder if Yule gets the editorship; but you understand that it would be altogether premature to talk about it.” Now what do you think of this, eh?’

‘It’s very good news,’ answered Marian.

‘I should think so! Ho, ho!’

Mr Quarmby laughed in a peculiar way, which was the result of long years of mirth-subdual in the Reading-room.

‘But not a breath to anyone but your father. He’ll be here to-morrow? Break it gently to him, you know; he’s an excitable man; can’t take things quietly, like I do. Ho, ho!’

His suppressed laugh ended in a fit of coughing — the Reading-room cough. When he had recovered from it, he pressed Marian’s hand with paternal fervour, and waddled off to chatter with someone else.

Marian replaced several books on the reference-shelves, returned others to the central desk, and was just leaving the room, when again a voice made demand upon her attention.

‘Miss Yule! One moment, if you please!’

It was a tall, meagre, dry-featured man, dressed with the painful neatness of self-respecting poverty: the edges of his coat-sleeves were carefully darned; his black necktie and a skull-cap which covered his baldness were evidently of home manufacture. He smiled softly and timidly with blue, rheumy eyes. Two or three recent cuts on his chin and neck were the result of conscientious shaving with an unsteady hand.

‘I have been looking for your father,’ he said, as Marian turned. ‘Isn’t he here?’

‘He has gone, Mr Hinks.’

‘Ah, then would you do me the kindness to take a book for him? In fact, it’s my little “Essay on the Historical Drama,” just out.’

He spoke with nervous hesitation, and in a tone which seemed to make apology for his existence.

‘Oh, father will be very glad to have it.’

‘If you will kindly wait one minute, Miss Yule. It’s at my place over there.’

He went off with long strides, and speedily came back panting, in his hand a thin new volume.

‘My kind regards to him, Miss Yule. You are quite well, I hope? I won’t detain you.’

And he backed into a man who was coming inobservantly this way.

Marian went to the ladies’ cloak-room, put on her hat and jacket, and left the Museum. Some one passed out through the swing-door a moment before her, and as soon as she had issued beneath the portico, she saw that it was Jasper Milvain; she must have followed him through the hall, but her eyes had been cast down. The young man was now alone; as he descended the steps he looked to left and right, but not behind him. Marian followed at a distance of two or three yards. Nearing the gateway, she quickened her pace a little, so as to pass out into the street almost at the same moment as Milvain. But he did not turn his head.

He took to the right. Marian had fallen back again, but she still followed at a very little distance. His walk was slow, and she might easily have passed him in quite a natural way; in that case he could not help seeing her. But there was an uneasy suspicion in her mind that he really must have noticed her in the Reading-room. This was the first time she had seen him since their parting at Finden. Had he any reason for avoiding her? Did he take it ill that her father had shown no desire to keep up his acquaintance?

She allowed the interval between them to become greater. In a minute or two Milvain turned up Charlotte Street, and so she lost sight of him.

In Tottenham Court Road she waited for an omnibus that would take her to the remoter part of Camden Town; obtaining a corner seat, she drew as far back as possible, and paid no attention to her fellow-passengers. At a point in Camden Road she at length alighted, and after ten minutes’ walk reached her destination in a quiet by-way called St Paul’s Crescent, consisting of small, decent houses. That at which she paused had an exterior promising comfort within; the windows were clean and neatly curtained, and the polishable appurtenances of the door gleamed to perfection. She admitted herself with a latch-key, and went straight upstairs without encountering anyone.

Descending again in a few moments, she entered the front room on the ground-floor. This served both as parlour and dining-room; it was comfortably furnished, without much attempt at adornment. On the walls were a few autotypes and old engravings. A recess between fireplace and window was fitted with shelves, which supported hundreds of volumes, the overflow of Yule’s library. The table was laid for a meal. It best suited the convenience of the family to dine at five o’clock; a long evening, so necessary to most literary people, was thus assured. Marian, as always when she had spent a day at the Museum, was faint with weariness and hunger; she cut a small piece of bread from a loaf on the table, and sat down in an easy chair.

Presently appeared a short, slight woman of middle age, plainly dressed in serviceable grey. Her face could never have been very comely, and it expressed but moderate intelligence; its lines, however, were those of gentleness and good feeling. She had the look of one who is making a painful effort to understand something; this was fixed upon her features, and probably resulted from the peculiar conditions of her life.

‘Rather early, aren’t you, Marian?’ she said, as she closed the door and came forward to take a seat.

‘Yes; I have a little headache.’

‘Oh, dear! Is that beginning again?’

Mrs Yule’s speech was seldom ungrammatical, and her intonation was not flagrantly vulgar, but the accent of the London poor, which brands as with hereditary baseness, still clung to her words, rendering futile such propriety of phrase as she owed to years of association with educated people. In the same degree did her bearing fall short of that which distinguishes a lady. The London work-girl is rarely capable of raising herself or being raised, to a place in life above that to which she was born; she cannot learn how to stand and sit and move like a woman bred to refinement, any more than she can fashion her tongue to graceful speech. Mrs Yule’s behaviour to Marian was marked with a singular diffidence; she looked and spoke affectionately, but not with a mother’s freedom; one might have taken her for a trusted servant waiting upon her mistress. Whenever opportunity offered, she watched the girl in a curiously furtive way, that puzzled look on her face becoming very noticeable. Her consciousness was never able to accept as a familiar and unimportant fact the vast difference between herself and her daughter. Marian’s superiority in native powers, in delicacy of feeling, in the results of education, could never be lost sight of. Under ordinary circumstances she addressed the girl as if tentatively; however sure of anything from her own point of view, she knew that Marian, as often as not, had quite a different criterion. She understood that the girl frequently expressed an opinion by mere reticence, and hence the carefulness with which, when conversing, she tried to discover the real effect of her words in Marian’s features.

‘Hungry, too,’ she said, seeing the crust Marian was nibbling. ‘You really must have more lunch, dear. It isn’t right to go so long; you’ll make yourself ill.’

‘Have you been out?’ Marian asked.

‘Yes; I went to Holloway.’

Mrs Yule sighed and looked very unhappy. By ‘going to Holloway’ was always meant a visit to her own relatives — a married sister with three children, and a brother who inhabited the same house. To her husband she scarcely ever ventured to speak of these persons; Yule had no intercourse with them. But Marian was always willing to listen sympathetically, and her mother often exhibited a touching gratitude for this condescension — as she deemed it.

‘Are things no better?’ the girl inquired.

‘Worse, as far as I can see. John has begun his drinking again, and him and Tom quarrel every night; there’s no peace in the ’ouse.’

If ever Mrs Yule lapsed into gross errors of pronunciation or phrase, it was when she spoke of her kinsfolk. The subject seemed to throw her back into a former condition.

‘He ought to go and live by himself’ said Marian, referring to her mother’s brother, the thirsty John.

‘So he ought, to be sure. I’m always telling them so. But there! you don’t seem to be able to persuade them, they’re that silly and obstinate. And Susan, she only gets angry with me, and tells me not to talk in a stuck-up way. I’m sure I never say a word that could offend her; I’m too careful for that. And there’s Annie; no doing anything with her! She’s about the streets at all hours, and what’ll be the end of it no one can say. They’re getting that ragged, all of them. It isn’t Susan’s fault; indeed it isn’t. She does all that woman can. But Tom hasn’t brought home ten shillings the last month, and it seems to me as if he was getting careless. I gave her half-a-crown; it was all I could do. And the worst of it is, they think I could do so much more if I liked. They’re always hinting that we are rich people, and it’s no good my trying to persuade them. They think I’m telling falsehoods, and it’s very hard to be looked at in that way; it is, indeed, Marian.’

‘You can’t help it, mother. I suppose their suffering makes them unkind and unjust.’

‘That’s just what it does, my dear; you never said anything truer. Poverty will make the best people bad, if it gets hard enough. Why there’s so much of it in the world, I’m sure I can’t see.’

‘I suppose father will be back soon?’

‘He said dinner-time.’

‘Mr Quarmby has been telling me something which is wonderfully good news if it’s really true; but I can’t help feeling doubtful.

He says that father may perhaps be made editor of The Study at the end of this year.’

Mrs Yule, of course, understood, in outline, these affairs of the literary world; she thought of them only from the pecuniary point of view, but that made no essential distinction between her and the mass of literary people.

‘My word!’ she exclaimed. ‘What a thing that would be for us!’

Marian had begun to explain her reluctance to base any hopes on Mr Quarmby’s prediction, when the sound of a postman’s knock at the house-door caused her mother to disappear for a moment.

‘It’s for you,’ said Mrs Yule, returning. ‘From the country.’

Marian took the letter and examined its address with interest.

‘It must be one of the Miss Milvains. Yes; Dora Milvain.’

After Jasper’s departure from Finden his sisters had seen Marian several times, and the mutual liking between her and them had been confirmed by opportunity of conversation. The promise of correspondence had hitherto waited for fulfilment. It seemed natural to Marian that the younger of the two girls should write; Maud was attractive and agreeable, and probably clever, but Dora had more spontaneity in friendship.

‘It will amuse you to hear,’ wrote Dora, ‘that the literary project our brother mentioned in a letter whilst you were still here is really to come to something. He has sent us a specimen chapter, written by himself of the “Child’s History of Parliament,” and Maud thinks she could carry it on in that style, if there’s no hurry. She and I have both set to work on English histories, and we shall be authorities before long. Jolly and Monk offer thirty pounds for the little book, if it suits them when finished, with certain possible profits in the future. Trust Jasper for making a bargain! So perhaps our literary career will be something more than a joke, after all. I hope it may; anything rather than a life of teaching. We shall be so glad to hear from you, if you still care to trouble about country girls.’

And so on. Marian read with a pleased smile, then acquainted her mother with the contents.

‘I am very glad,’ said Mrs Yule; ‘it’s so seldom you get a letter.’

‘Yes.’

Marian seemed desirous of saying something more, and her mother had a thoughtful look, suggestive of sympathetic curiosity.

‘Is their brother likely to call here?’ Mrs Yule asked, with misgiving.

‘No one has invited him to,’ was the girl’s quiet reply.

‘He wouldn’t come without that?’

‘It’s not likely that he even knows the address.’

‘Your father won’t be seeing him, I suppose?’

‘By chance, perhaps. I don’t know.’

It was very rare indeed for these two to touch upon any subject save those of everyday interest. In spite of the affection between them, their exchange of confidence did not go very far; Mrs Yule, who had never exercised maternal authority since Marian’s earliest childhood, claimed no maternal privileges, and Marian’s natural reserve had been strengthened by her mother’s respectful aloofness. The English fault of domestic reticence could scarcely go further than it did in their case; its exaggeration is, of course, one of the characteristics of those unhappy families severed by differences of education between the old and young.

‘I think,’ said Marian, in a forced tone, ‘that father hasn’t much liking for Mr Milvain.’

She wished to know if her mother had heard any private remarks on this subject, but she could not bring herself to ask directly.

‘I’m sure I don’t know,’ replied Mrs Yule, smoothing her dress. ‘He hasn’t said anything to me, Marian.’

An awkward silence. The mother had fixed her eyes on the mantelpiece, and was thinking hard.

‘Otherwise,’ said Marian, ‘he would have said something, I should think, about meeting in London.’

‘But is there anything in — this gentleman that he wouldn’t like?’

‘I don’t know of anything.’

Impossible to pursue the dialogue; Marian moved uneasily, then rose, said something about putting the letter away, and left the room.

Shortly after, Alfred Yule entered the house. It was no uncommon thing for him to come home in a mood of silent moroseness, and this evening the first glimpse of his face was sufficient warning. He entered the dining-room and stood on the hearthrug reading an evening paper. His wife made a pretence of straightening things upon the table.

‘Well?’ he exclaimed irritably. ‘It’s after five; why isn’t dinner served?’

‘It’s just coming, Alfred.’

Even the average man of a certain age is an alarming creature when dinner delays itself; the literary man in such a moment goes beyond all parallel. If there be added the fact that he has just returned from a very unsatisfactory interview with a publisher, wife and daughter may indeed regard the situation as appalling. Marian came in, and at once observed her mother’s frightened face.

‘Father,’ she said, hoping to make a diversion, ‘Mr Hinks has sent you his new book, and wishes — ’

‘Then take Mr Hinks’s new book back to him, and tell him that I have quite enough to do without reading tedious trash. He needn’t expect that I’m going to write a notice of it. The simpleton pesters me beyond endurance. I wish to know, if you please,’ he added with savage calm, ‘when dinner will be ready. If there’s time to write a few letters, just tell me at once, that I mayn’t waste half an hour.’

Marian resented this unreasonable anger, but she durst not reply.

At that moment the servant appeared with a smoking joint, and Mrs Yule followed carrying dishes of vegetables. The man of letters seated himself and carved angrily. He began his meal by drinking half a glass of ale; then he ate a few mouthfuls in a quick, hungry way, his head bent closely over the plate. It happened commonly enough that dinner passed without a word of conversation, and that seemed likely to be the case this evening.

To his wife Yule seldom addressed anything but a curt inquiry or caustic comment; if he spoke humanly at table it was to Marian.

Ten minutes passed; then Marian resolved to try any means of clearing the atmosphere.

‘Mr Quarmby gave me a message for you,’ she said. ‘A friend of his, Nathaniel Walker, has told him that Mr Rackett will very likely offer you the editorship of The Study.’

Yule stopped in the act of mastication. He fixed his eyes intently on the sirloin for half a minute; then, by way of the beer-jug and the salt-cellar, turned them upon Marian’s face.

‘Walker told him that? Pooh!’

‘It was a great secret. I wasn’t to breathe a word to any one but you.’

‘Walker’s a fool and Quarmby’s an ass,’ remarked her father.

But there was a tremulousness in his bushy eyebrows; his forehead half unwreathed itself; he continued to eat more slowly, and as if with appreciation of the viands.

‘What did he say? Repeat it to me in his words.’

Marian did so, as nearly as possible. He listened with a scoffing expression, but still his features relaxed.

‘I don’t credit Rackett with enough good sense for such a proposal,’ he said deliberately. ‘And I’m not very sure that I should accept it if it were made. That fellow Fadge has all but ruined the paper. It will amuse me to see how long it takes him to make Culpepper’s new magazine a distinct failure.’

A silence of five minutes ensued; then Yule said of a sudden.

‘Where is Hinks’s book?’

Marian reached it from a side table; under this roof, literature was regarded almost as a necessary part of table garnishing.

‘I thought it would be bigger than this,’ Yule muttered, as he opened the volume in a way peculiar to bookish men.

A page was turned down, as if to draw attention to some passage. Yule put on his eyeglasses, and soon made a discovery which had the effect of completing the transformation of his visage. His eyes glinted, his chin worked in pleasurable emotion. In a moment he handed the book to Marian, indicating the small type of a foot-note; it embodied an effusive eulogy — introduced a propos of some literary discussion — of ‘Mr Alfred Yule’s critical acumen, scholarly research, lucid style,’ and sundry other distinguished merits.

‘That is kind of him,’ said Marian.

‘Good old Hinks! I suppose I must try to get him half-a-dozen readers.’

‘May I see?’ asked Mrs Yule, under her breath, bending to Marian.

Her daughter passed on the volume, and Mrs Yule read the footnote with that look of slow apprehension which is so pathetic when it signifies the heart’s good-will thwarted by the mind’s defect.

‘That’ll be good for you, Alfred, won’t it?’ she said, glancing at her husband.

‘Certainly,’ he replied, with a smile of contemptuous irony. ‘If Hinks goes on, he’ll establish my reputation.’

And he took a draught of ale, like one who is reinvigorated for the battle of life. Marian, regarding him askance, mused on what seemed to her a strange anomaly in his character; it had often surprised her that a man of his temperament and powers should be so dependent upon the praise and blame of people whom he justly deemed his inferiors.

Yule was glancing over the pages of the work.

‘A pity the man can’t write English.’ What a vocabulary! Obstruent — reliable — particularization — fabulosity — different to — averse to — did one ever come across such a mixture of antique pedantry and modern vulgarism! Surely he has his name from the German hinken — eh, Marian?’

With a laugh he tossed the book away again. His mood was wholly changed. He gave various evidences of enjoying the meal, and began to talk freely with his daughter.

‘Finished the authoresses?’

‘Not quite.’

‘No hurry. When you have time I want you to read Ditchley’s new book, and jot down a selection of his worst sentences. I’ll use them for an article on contemporary style; it occurred to me this afternoon.’

He smiled grimly. Mrs Yule’s face exhibited much contentment, which became radiant joy when her husband remarked casually that the custard was very well made to-day. Dinner over, he rose without ceremony and went off to his study.

The man had suffered much and toiled stupendously. It was not inexplicable that dyspepsia, and many another ill that literary flesh is heir to, racked him sore.

Go back to the days when he was an assistant at a bookseller’s in Holborn. Already ambition devoured him, and the genuine love of knowledge goaded his brain. He allowed himself but three or four hours of sleep; he wrought doggedly at languages, ancient and modern; he tried his hand at metrical translations; he planned tragedies. Practically he was living in a past age; his literary ideals were formed on the study of Boswell.

The head assistant in the shop went away to pursue a business which had come into his hands on the death of a relative; it was a small publishing concern, housed in an alley off the Strand, and Mr Polo (a singular name, to become well known in the course of time) had his ideas about its possible extension. Among other instances of activity he started a penny weekly paper, called All Sorts, and in the pages of this periodical Alfred Yule first appeared as an author. Before long he became sub-editor of All Sorts, then actual director of the paper. He said good-bye to the bookseller, and his literary career fairly began.

Mr Polo used to say that he never knew a man who could work so many consecutive hours as Alfred Yule. A faithful account of all that the young man learnt and wrote from 1855 to 1860 — that is, from his twenty-fifth to his thirtieth year — would have the look of burlesque exaggeration. He had set it before him to become a celebrated man, and he was not unaware that the attainment of that end would cost him quite exceptional labour, seeing that nature had not favoured him with brilliant parts. No matter; his name should be spoken among men unless he killed himself in the struggle for success.

In the meantime he married. Living in a garret, and supplying himself with the materials of his scanty meals, he was in the habit of making purchases at a little chandler’s shop, where he was waited upon by a young girl of no beauty, but, as it seemed to him, of amiable disposition. One holiday he met this girl as she was walking with a younger sister in the streets; he made her nearer acquaintance, and before long she consented to be his wife and share his garret. His brothers, John and Edmund, cried out that he had made an unpardonable fool of himself in marrying so much beneath him; that he might well have waited until his income improved. This was all very well, but they might just as reasonably have bidden him reject plain food because a few years hence he would be able to purchase luxuries; he could not do without nourishment of some sort, and the time had come when he could not do without a wife. Many a man with brains but no money has been compelled to the same step. Educated girls have a pronounced distaste for London garrets; not one in fifty thousand would share poverty with the brightest genius ever born. Seeing that marriage is so often indispensable to that very success which would enable a man of parts to mate equally, there is nothing for it but to look below one’s own level, and be grateful to the untaught woman who has pity on one’s loneliness.

Unfortunately, Alfred Yule was not so grateful as he might have been. His marriage proved far from unsuccessful; he might have found himself united to a vulgar shrew, whereas the girl had the great virtues of humility and kindliness. She endeavoured to learn of him, but her dulness and his impatience made this attempt a failure; her human qualities had to suffice. And they did, until Yule began to lift his head above the literary mob. Previously, he often lost his temper with her, but never expressed or felt repentance of his marriage; now he began to see only the disadvantages of his position, and, forgetting the facts of the case, to imagine that he might well have waited for a wife who could share his intellectual existence. Mrs Yule had to pass through a few years of much bitterness. Already a martyr to dyspepsia, and often suffering from bilious headaches of extreme violence, her husband now and then lost all control of his temper, all sense of kind feeling, even of decency, and reproached the poor woman with her ignorance, her stupidity, her low origin. Naturally enough she defended herself with such weapons as a sense of cruel injustice supplied. More than once the two all but parted. It did not come to an actual rupture, chiefly because Yule could not do without his wife; her tendance had become indispensable. And then there was the child to consider.

From the first it was Yule’s dread lest Marian should be infected with her mother’s faults of speech and behaviour. He would scarcely permit his wife to talk to the child. At the earliest possible moment Marian was sent to a day-school, and in her tenth year she went as weekly boarder to an establishment at Fulham; any sacrifice of money to insure her growing up with the tongue and manners of a lady. It can scarcely have been a light trial to the mother to know that contact with her was regarded as her child’s greatest danger; but in her humility and her love for Marian she offered no resistance. And so it came to pass that one day the little girl, hearing her mother make some flagrant grammatical error, turned to the other parent and asked gravely: ‘Why doesn’t mother speak as properly as we do?’ Well, that is one of the results of such marriages, one of the myriad miseries that result from poverty.

The end was gained at all hazards. Marian grew up everything that her father desired. Not only had she the bearing of refinement, but it early became obvious that nature had well endowed her with brains. From the nursery her talk was of books, and at the age of twelve she was already able to give her father some assistance as an amanuensis.

At that time Edmund Yule was still living; he had overcome his prejudices, and there was intercourse between his household and that of the literary man. Intimacy it could not be called, for Mrs Edmund (who was the daughter of a law-stationer) had much difficulty in behaving to Mrs Alfred with show of suavity. Still, the cousins Amy and Marian from time to time saw each other, and were not unsuitable companions. It was the death of Amy’s father that brought these relations to an end; left to the control of her own affairs Mrs Edmund was not long in giving offence to Mrs Alfred, and so to Alfred himself. The man of letters might be inconsiderate enough in his behaviour to his wife, but as soon as anyone else treated her with disrespect that was quite another matter. Purely on this account he quarrelled violently with his brother’s widow, and from that day the two families kept apart.

The chapter of quarrels was one of no small importance in Alfred’s life; his difficult temper, and an ever-increasing sense of neglected merit, frequently put him at war with publishers, editors, fellow-authors, and he had an unhappy trick of exciting the hostility of men who were most likely to be useful to him. With Mr Polo, for instance, who held him in esteem, and whose commercial success made him a valuable connection, Alfred ultimately broke on a trifling matter of personal dignity. Later came the great quarrel with Clement Fadge, an affair of considerable advantage in the way of advertisement to both the men concerned. It happened in the year 1873. At that time Yule was editor of a weekly paper called The Balance, a literary organ which aimed high, and failed to hit the circulation essential to its existence. Fadge, a younger man, did reviewing for The Balance; he was in needy circumstances, and had wrought himself into Yule’s good opinion by judicious flattery. But with a clear eye for the main chance Mr Fadge soon perceived that Yule could only be of temporary use to him, and that the editor of a well-established weekly which lost no opportunity of throwing scorn upon Yule and all his works would be a much more profitable conquest. He succeeded in transferring his services to the more flourishing paper, and struck out a special line of work by the free exercise of a malicious flippancy which was then without rival in the periodical press. When he had thoroughly got his hand in, it fell to Mr Fadge, in the mere way of business, to review a volume of his old editor’s, a rather pretentious and longwinded but far from worthless essay ‘On Imagination as a National Characteristic.’ The notice was a masterpiece; its exquisite virulence set the literary circles chuckling. Concerning the authorship there was no mystery, and Alfred Yule had the indiscretion to make a violent reply, a savage assault upon Fadge, in the columns of The Balance. Fadge desired nothing better; the uproar which arose — chaff, fury, grave comments, sneering spite — could only result in drawing universal attention to his anonymous cleverness, and throwing ridicule upon the heavy, conscientious man. Well, you probably remember all about it. It ended in the disappearance of Yule’s struggling paper, and the establishment on a firm basis of Fadge’s reputation.

It would be difficult to mention any department of literary endeavour in which Yule did not, at one time or another, try his fortune. Turn to his name in the Museum Catalogue; the list of works appended to it will amuse you. In his thirtieth year he published a novel; it failed completely, and the same result awaited a similar experiment five years later. He wrote a drama of modern life, and for some years strove to get it acted, but in vain; finally it appeared ‘for the closet’ — giving Clement Fadge such an opportunity as he seldom enjoyed. The one noteworthy thing about these productions, and about others of equally mistaken direction, was the sincerity of their workmanship. Had Yule been content to manufacture a novel or a play with due disregard for literary honour, he might perchance have made a mercantile success; but the poor fellow had not pliancy enough for this. He took his efforts au grand serieux; thought he was producing works of art; pursued his ambition in a spirit of fierce conscientiousness. In spite of all, he remained only a journeyman. The kind of work he did best was poorly paid, and could bring no fame. At the age of fifty he was still living in a poor house in an obscure quarter. He earned enough for his actual needs, and was under no pressing fear for the morrow, so long as his faculties remained unimpaired; but there was no disguising from himself that his life had been a failure. And the thought tormented him.

Now there had come unexpectedly a gleam of hope. If indeed, the man Rackett thought of offering him the editorship of The Study he might even yet taste the triumphs for which he had so vehemently longed. The Study was a weekly paper of fair repute. Fadge had harmed it, no doubt of that, by giving it a tone which did not suit the majority of its readers — serious people, who thought that the criticism of contemporary writing offered an opportunity for something better than a display of malevolent wit. But a return to the old earnestness would doubtless set all right again. And the joy of sitting in that dictatorial chair! The delight of having his own organ once more, of making himself a power in the world of letters, of emphasising to a large audience his developed methods of criticism!

An embittered man is a man beset by evil temptations. The Study contained each week certain columns of flying gossip, and when he thought of this, Yule also thought of Clement Fadge, and sundry other of his worst enemies. How the gossip column can be used for hostile purposes, yet without the least overt offence, he had learnt only too well. Sometimes the mere omission of a man’s name from a list of authors can mortify and injure. In our day the manipulation of such paragraphs has become a fine art; but you recall numerous illustrations. Alfred knew well enough how incessantly the tempter would be at his ear; he said to himself that in certain instances yielding would be no dishonour. He himself had many a time been mercilessly treated; in the very interest of the public it was good that certain men should suffer a snubbing, and his fingers itched to have hold of the editorial pen. Ha, ha! Like the war-horse he snuffed the battle afar off.

No work this evening, though there were tasks which pressed for completion. His study — the only room on the ground level except the dining-room — was small, and even a good deal of the floor was encumbered with books, but he found space for walking nervously hither and thither. He was doing this when, about half-past nine, his wife appeared at the door, bringing him a cup of coffee and some biscuits, his wonted supper. Marian generally waited upon him at this time, and he asked why she had not come.

‘She has one of her headaches again, I’m sorry to say,’ Mrs Yule replied. ‘I persuaded her to go to bed early.’

Having placed the tray upon the table — books had to be pushed aside — she did not seem disposed to withdraw.

‘Are you busy, Alfred?’

‘Why?’

‘I thought I should like just to speak of something.’

She was using the opportunity of his good humour. Yule spoke to her with the usual carelessness, but not forbiddingly.

‘What is it? Those Holloway people, I’ll warrant.’

‘No, no! It’s about Marian. She had a letter from one of those young ladies this afternoon.’

‘What young ladies?’ asked Yule, with impatience of this circuitous approach.

‘The Miss Milvains.’

‘Well, there’s no harm that I know of. They’re decent people.’

‘Yes; so you told me. But she began to speak about their brother, and — ’

‘What about him? Do say what you want to say, and have done with it!’

‘I can’t help thinking, Alfred, that she’s disappointed you didn’t ask him to come here.’

Yule stared at her in slight surprise. He was still not angry, and seemed quite willing to consider this matter suggested to him so timorously.

‘Oh, you think so? Well, I don’t know. Why should I have asked him? It was only because Miss Harrow seemed to wish it that I saw him down there. I have no particular interest in him. And as for — ’

He broke off and seated himself. Mrs Yule stood at a distance.

‘We must remember her age,’ she said.

‘Why yes, of course.’

He mused, and began to nibble a biscuit.

‘And you know, Alfred, she never does meet any young men. I’ve often thought it wasn’t right to her.’

‘H’m! But this lad Milvain is a very doubtful sort of customer. To begin with, he has nothing, and they tell me his mother for the most part supports him. I don’t quite approve of that. She isn’t well off, and he ought to have been making a living by now.

He has a kind of cleverness, may do something; but there’s no being sure of that.’

These thoughts were not coming into his mind for the first time. On the occasion when he met Milvain and Marian together in the country road he had necessarily reflected upon the possibilities of such intercourse, and with the issue that he did not care to give any particular encouragement to its continuance. He of course heard of Milvain’s leave-taking call, and he purposely refrained from seeing the young man after that. The matter took no very clear shape in his meditations; he saw no likelihood that either of the young people would think much of the other after their parting, and time enough to trouble one’s head with such subjects when they could no longer be postponed. It would not have been pleasant to him to foresee a life of spinsterhood for his daughter; but she was young, and — she was a valuable assistant.

How far did that latter consideration weigh with him? He put the question pretty distinctly to himself now that his wife had broached the matter thus unexpectedly. Was he prepared to behave with deliberate selfishness? Never yet had any conflict been manifested between his interests and Marian’s; practically he was in the habit of counting upon her aid for an indefinite period.

If indeed he became editor of The Study, why, in that case her assistance would be less needful. And indeed it seemed probable that young Milvain had a future before him.

‘But, in any case,’ he said aloud, partly continuing his thoughts, partly replying to a look of disappointment on his wife’s face, ‘how do you know that he has any wish to come and see Marian?’

‘I don’t know anything about it, of course.’

‘And you may have made a mistake about her. What made you think she — had him in mind?’

‘Well, it was her way of speaking, you know. And then, she asked if you had got a dislike to him.’

‘She did? H’m! Well, I don’t think Milvain is any good to Marian. He’s just the kind of man to make himself agreeable to a girl for the fun of the thing.’

Mrs Yule looked alarmed.

‘Oh, if you really think that, don’t let him come. I wouldn’t for anything.’

‘I don’t say it for certain.’ He took a sip of his coffee. ‘I have had no opportunity of observing him with much attention. But he’s not the kind of man I care for.’

‘Then no doubt it’s better as it is.’

‘Yes. I don’t see that anything could be done now. We shall see whether he gets on. I advise you not to mention him to her.’

‘Oh no, I won’t.’

She moved as if to go away, but her heart had been made uneasy by that short conversation which followed on Marian’s reading the letter, and there were still things she wished to put into words.

‘If those young ladies go on writing to her, I dare say they’ll often speak about their brother.’

‘Yes, it’s rather unfortunate.’

‘And you know, Alfred, he may have asked them to do it.’

‘I suppose there’s one subject on which all women can be subtle,’ muttered Yule, smiling. The remark was not a kind one, but he did not make it worse by his tone.

The listener failed to understand him, and looked with her familiar expression of mental effort.

‘We can’t help that,’ he added, with reference to her suggestion. ‘If he has any serious thoughts, well, let him go on and wait for opportunities.’

‘It’s a great pity, isn’t it, that she can’t see more people — of the right kind?’

‘No use talking about it. Things are as they are. I can’t see that her life is unhappy.’

‘It isn’t very happy.’

‘You think not?’

‘I’m sure it isn’t.’

‘If I get The Study things may be different. Though — But it’s no use talking about what can’t be helped. Now don’t you go encouraging her to think herself lonely, and so on. It’s best for her to keep close to work, I’m sure of that.’

‘Perhaps it is.’

‘I’ll think it over.’

Mrs Yule silently left the room, and went back to her sewing.

She had understood that ‘Though — ‘ and the ‘what can’t be helped.’ Such allusions reminded her of a time unhappier than the present, when she had been wont to hear plainer language. She knew too well that, had she been a woman of education, her daughter would not now be suffering from loneliness.

It was her own choice that she did not go with her husband and Marian to John Yule’s. She made an excuse that the house could not be left to one servant; but in any case she would have remained at home, for her presence must needs be an embarrassment both to father and daughter. Alfred was always ashamed of her before strangers; he could not conceal his feeling, either from her or from other people who had reason for observing him. Marian was not perhaps ashamed, but such companionship put restraint upon her freedom. And would it not always be the same? Supposing Mr Milvain were to come to this house, would it not repel him when he found what sort of person Marian’s mother was?

She shed a few tears over her needlework.

At midnight the study door opened. Yule came to the dining-room to see that all was right, and it surprised him to find his wife still sitting there.

‘Why are you so late?’

‘I’ve forgot the time.’

‘Forgotten, forgotten. Don’t go back to that kind of language again. Come, put the light out.’

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gissing/george/g53ne/chapter7.html

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