Michael sat correcting the proofs of ‘Counterfeits’— the book left by Wilfrid behind him.
“Can you see Butterfield, sir?”
In Michael the word Butterfield excited an uneasy pride. The young man fulfilled with increasing success the function for which he had been engaged, on trial, four months ago. The head traveller had even called him “a find.” Next to ‘Copper Coin’ he was the finest feather in Michael’s cap. The Trade were not buying, yet Butterfield was selling books, or so it was reported; he appeared to have a natural gift of inspiring confidence where it was not justified. Danby and Winter had even entrusted to him the private marketing of that vellum-bound ‘Limited’ of ‘A Duet,’ by which they were hoping to recoup their losses on the ordinary edition. He was now engaged in working through a list of names considered likely to patronise the little masterpiece. This method of private approach had been suggested by himself.
“You see, sir,” he had said to Michael: “I know a bit about Coue. Well, you can’t work that on the Trade — they’ve got no capacity for faith. What can you expect? Every day they buy all sorts of stuff, always basing themselves on past sales. You can’t find one in twenty that’ll back the future. But with private gentlemen, and especially private ladies, you can leave a thought with them like Coue does — put it into them again and again that day by day in every way the author’s gettin’ better and better; and ten to one when you go round next, it’s got into their subconscious, especially if you take ’em just after lunch or dinner, when they’re a bit drowsy. Let me take my own time, sir, and I’ll put that edition over for you.”
“Well, Michael had answered, “if you can inspire confidence in the future of my governor, Butterfield, you’ll deserve more than your ten per cent.”
“I can do it, sir; it’s just a question of faith.”
“But you haven’t any, have you?”
“Well, not, so to speak, in the author — but I’ve got faith that I can give THEM faith in him; that’s the real point.”
“I see — the three-card stunt; inspire the faith you haven’t got, that the card is there, and they’ll take it. Well, the disillusion is not immediate — you’ll probably always get out of the room in time. Go ahead, then!”
The young man Butterfield had smiled . . . .
The uneasy part of the pride inspired in Michael now by the name was due to old Forsyte’s continually saying to him that he didn’t know — he couldn’t tell — there was that young man and his story about Elderson, and they got no further . . . .
“Good morning, sir. Can you spare me five minutes?”
“Come in, Butterfield. Bunkered with ‘Duet’?”
“No, sir. I’ve placed forty already. It’s another matter.” Glancing at the shut door, the young man came closer.
“I’m working my list alphabetically. Yesterday I was in the E’s.” His voice dropped. “Mr. Elderson.”
“Phew!” said Michael. “You can give HIM the go-by.”
“As a fact, sir, I haven’t.”
“What! Been over the top?”
“Yes, sir. Last night.”
“Good for you, Butterfield! What happened?”
“I didn’t send my name in, sir — just the firm’s card.”
Michael was conscious of a very human malice in the young man’s voice and face.
“Mr. Elderson, sir, was at his wine. I’d thought it out, and I began as if I’d never seen him before. What struck me was — he took my cue!”
“Didn’t kick you out?”
“Far from it, sir. He said at once: ‘Put my name down for two copies.’”
Michael grinned. “You both had a nerve.”
“No, sir; that’s just it. Mr. Elderson got it between wind and water. He didn’t like it a little bit.”
“I don’t twig,” said Michael.
“My being in this firm’s employ, sir. He knows you’re a partner here, and Mr. Forsyte’s son-inlaw, doesn’t he?”
“Well, sir, you see the connection — two directors believing me — not HIM. That’s why I didn’t miss him out. I fancied it’d shake him up. I happened to see his face in the sideboard glass as I went out. HE’S got the wind up all right.”
Michael bit his forefinger, conscious of a twinge of sympathy with Elderson, as for a fly with the first strand of cob-web round his hind leg.
“Thank you, Butterfield,” he said.
When the young man was gone, he sat stabbing his blotting-paper with a paper-knife. What curious ‘class’ sensation was this? Or was it merely fellow-feeling with the hunted, a tremor at the way things found one out? For, surely, this was real evidence, and he would have to pass it on to his father, and ‘Old Forsyte.’ Elderson’s nerve must have gone phut, or he’d have said: “You impudent young scoundrel — get out of here!” That, clearly, was the only right greeting from an innocent, and the only advisable greeting from a guilty man. Well! Nerve did fail sometimes — even the best. Witness the very proof-sheet he had just corrected:
THE COURT MARTIAL
“See ’ere! I’m myde o’ nerves and blood
The syme as you, not meant to be
Froze stiff up to me ribs in mud.
You try it, like I ‘ave, an’ see!
“‘Aye, you snug beauty brass hats, when
You stick what I stuck out that d’y,
An’ keep yer ruddy ‘earts up — then
You’ll learn, maybe, the right to s’y:
“‘Take aht an’ shoot ’im in the snow,
Shoot ’im for cowardice! ‘E who serves
His King and Country’s got to know
There’s no such bloody thing as nerves.’”
Good old Wilfrid!
“Yes, Miss Perren?”
“The letter to Sir James Foggart, Mr. Mont; you told me to remind you. And will you see Miss Manuelli?”
“Miss Manu — Oh! Ah! Yes.”
Bicket’s girl wife, whose face they had used on Storbert’s novel, the model for Aubrey Greene’s —! Michael rose, for the girl was in the room already.
‘I remember that dress!’ he thought: ‘Fleur never liked it.’
“What can I do for you, Mrs. Bicket? How’s Bicket, by the way?”
“Fairly, sir, thank you.”
“Still in balloons?”
“Well, we all are, Mrs. Bicket.”
“In the air — don’t you think? But you didn’t come to tell me that?”
A slight flush in those sallow cheeks, fingers concerned with the tips of the worn gloves, lips uncertain; but the eyes steady — really an uncommon girl!
“You remember givin’ me a note to Mr. Greene, sir?”
“I do; and I’ve seen the result; it’s topping, Mrs. Bicket.”
“Yes. But it’s got into the papers — my husband saw it there last night; and of course, he doesn’t know about me.”
Phew! For what had he let this girl in?
“I’ve made a lot of money at it, sir — almost enough for our passage to Australia; but now I’m frightened. ‘Isn’t it like you?’ he said to me. I tore the paper up, but suppose he remembers the name of the Gallery and goes to see the picture! That’s even much more like me! He might go on to Mr. Greene. So would you mind, sir, speaking to Mr. Greene, and beggin’ him to say it was some one else, in case Tony did go?”
“Not a bit,” said Michael. “But do you think Bicket would mind so very much, considering what it’s done for you? It can be quite a respectable profession.”
Victorine’s hands moved up to her breast.
“Yes,” she said, simply. “I have been quite respectable. And I only did it because we do so want to get away, and I couldn’t bear seein’ him standin’ in the gutter there sellin’ those balloons in the fogs. But I’m ever so scared, sir, now.”
“My God!” he said; “money’s an evil thing!”
Victorine smiled faintly. “The want of it is, I know.”
“How much more do you need, Mrs. Bicket?”
“Only another ten pound, about, sir.”
“I can let you have that.”
“Oh! thank you; but it’s not that — I can easy earn it — I’ve got used to it; a few more days don’t matter.”
“But how are you going to account for having the money?”
“Say I won it bettin’.”
“THIN!” said Michael. “Look here! Say you came to me and I advanced it. If Bicket repays it from Australia, I can always put it to your credit again at a bank out there. I’ve got you into a hole, in a way, and I’d like to get you out of it.”
“Oh! no, sir; you did me a service. I don’t want to put you about, telling falsehoods for me.”
“It won’t worry me a bit, Mrs. Bicket. I can lie to the umteenth when there’s no harm in it. The great thing for you is to get away sharp. Are there many other pictures of you?”
“Oh! yes, a lot — not that you’d recognise them, I think, they’re so square and funny.”
“Ah! well — Aubrey Greene has got you to the life!”
“Yes; it’s like me all over, Tony says.”
“Quite. Well, I’ll speak to Aubrey, I shall be seeing him at lunch. Here’s the ten pounds! That’s agreed, then? You came to me today — see? Say you had a brain wave. I quite understand the whole thing. You’d do a lot for him; and he’d do a lot for you. It’s all right — don’t cry!”
Victorine swallowed violently. Her hand in the worn glove returned his squeeze.
“I’d tell him to-night, if I were you,” said Michael, “and I’ll get ready.”
When she had gone he thought: ‘Hope Bicket won’t think I received value for that sixty pounds!’ And, pressing his bell, he resumed the stabbing of his blotting-paper.
“Yes, Mr. Mont?”
“Now let’s get on with it, Miss Perren.”
“‘DEAR SIR JAMES FOGGART — We have given the utmost consideration to your very interesting — er — production. While we are of opinion that the views so well expressed on the present condition of Britain in relation to the rest of the world are of great value to all — er — thinking persons, we do not feel that there are enough — er — thinking persons to make it possible to publish the book, except at a loss. The — er — thesis that Britain should now look for salvation through adjustment of markets, population, supply and demand, within the Empire, put with such exceedingly plain speech, will, we are afraid, get the goat of all the political parties; nor do we feel that your plan of emigrating boys and girls in large quantities before they are spoiled by British town life, can do otherwise than irritate a working-class which knows nothing of conditions outside its own country, and is notably averse to giving its children a chance in any other.’”
“Am I to put that, Mr. Mont?”
“Yes; but tone it in a bit. Er —”
“‘Finally, your view that the land should be used to grow food is so very unusual in these days, that we feel your book would have a hostile Press except from the Old Guard and the Die-hard, and a few folk with vision.’”
“Yes, Mr. Mont?”
“‘In a period of veering — er — transitions’— keep that, Miss Perren — ‘and the airy unreality of hopes that have long gone up the spout’— almost keep that —‘any scheme that looks forward and defers harvest for twenty years, must be extraordinarily unpopular. For all these reasons you will see how necessary it is for you to — er — seek another publisher. In short, we are not taking any.
“‘With — er —’ what you like —‘dear Sir James Foggart,
“‘We are your obedient servants,
‘“DANBY AND WINTER.’”
“When you’ve translated that, Miss Perren, bring it in, and I’ll sign it.”
“Yes. Only, Mr. Mont — I thought you were a Socialist. This almost seems — forgive my asking?”
“Miss Perren, it’s struck me lately that labels are ‘off.’ How can a man be anything at a time when everything’s in the air? Look at the Liberals. They can’t see the situation whole because of Free Trade; nor can the Labour Party because of their Capital levy; nor can the Tories because of Protection; they’re all hag-ridden by catchwords! Old Sir James Foggart’s jolly well right, but nobody’s going to listen to him. His book will be waste paper if anybody ever publishes it. The world’s unreal just now, Miss Perren; and of all countries we’re the most unreal.”
“Why, Mr. Mont?”
“Why? Because with the most stickfast of all the national temperaments, we’re holding on to what’s gone more bust for us than for any other country. Anyway, Mr. Danby shouldn’t have left the letter to me, if he didn’t mean me to enjoy myself. Oh! and while we’re about it — I’ve got to refuse Harold Master’s new book. It’s a mistake, but they won’t have it.”
“Why not, Mr. Mont? ‘The Sobbing Turtle’ was such a success!”
“Well, in this new thing Master’s got hold of an idea which absolutely forces him to say something. Winter says those who hailed ‘The Sobbing Turtle’ as such a work of art, are certain to be down on this for that; and Mr. Danby calls the book an outrage on human nature. So there’s nothing for it. Let’s have a shot:
“‘MY DEAR MASTER — In the exhilaration of your subject it has obviously not occurred to you that you’ve bust up the show. In ‘The Sobbing Turtle’ you were absolutely in tune with half the orchestra, and that — er — the noisiest half. You were charmingly archaic, and securely cold-blooded. But now, what have you gone and done? Taken the last Marquesan islander for your hero and put him down in London town! The thing’s a searching satire, a real criticism of life. I’m sure you didn’t mean to be contemporary, or want to burrow into reality; but your subject has run off with you. Cold acid and cold blood are very different things, you know, to say nothing of your having had to drop the archaic. Personally, of course, I think this new thing miles better than ‘The Sobbing Turtle,’ which was a nice little affair, but nothing to make a song about. But I’m not the public, and I’m not the critics. The young and thin will be aggrieved by your lack of modernity, they’ll say you’re moralising; the old and fat will call you bitter and destructive; and the ordinary public will take your Marquesan seriously, and resent your making him superior to themselves. The prospects, you see, are not gaudy. How d’you think we’re going to ‘get away’ with such a book? Well, we’re not! Such is the fiat of the firm. I don’t agree with it. I’d publish it tomorrow; but needs must when Danby and Winter drive. So, with every personal regret, I return what is really a masterpiece.
“D’you know, Miss Perren, I don’t think you need translate that?”
“I’m afraid it would be difficult.”
“Right-o, then; but do the other, please. I’m going to take my wife out to see a picture; back by four. Oh! and if a little chap called Bicket, that we used to have here, calls any time and asks to see me, he’s to come up; but I want warning first. Will you let them know downstairs?”
“Yes, Mr. Mont. Oh! didn’t — wasn’t that Miss Manuelli the model for the wrapper on Mr. Storbert’s novel?”
“She was, Miss Perren; alone I found her.”
“She’s very interesting-looking, isn’t she?”
“She’s unique, I’m afraid.”
“She needn’t mind that, I should think.”
“That depends,” said Michael; and stabbed his blotting-paper.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54