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A BLACK ADONIS.
* * * * *
THE ALBATROSS NOVELS
By ALBERT ROSS
May be had wherever books are sold at the price you paid for this volume
Black Adonis, A Garston Bigamy, The Her Husband's Friend His Foster Sister His Private Character In Stella's Shadow Love at Seventy Love Gone Astray Moulding a Maiden Naked Truth, The New Sensation, A Original Sinner, An Out of Wedlock Speaking of Ellen Stranger Than Fiction Sugar Princess, A That Gay Deceiver Their Marriage Bond Thou Shalt Not Thy Neighbor's Wife Why I'm Single Young Fawcett's Mabel Young Miss Giddy
G. W. DILLINGHAM CO. Publishers :: :: New York
* * * * *
A BLACK ADONIS.
Author of "Out of Wedlock," "Speaking of Ellen," "Thou Shalt Not," "Why I'm Single," "Love at Seventy," Etc., Etc.
"You see!" he answered, bitterly. "Because I am black I cannot touch the hand of a woman that is white. And yet you say the Almighty made of one blood all nations of the earth!"—Page 212.
New York: Copyright, 1896, by G. W. Dillingham. G. W. Dillingham Co., Publishers. [All rights reserved.]
I. A Rejected Manuscript 9
II. "Was my story too bold?" 23
III. "Her feet were pink" 35
IV. With Titian Tresses 49
V. Studying Miss Millicent 65
VI. "How the women stare!" 79
VII. A Dinner at Midlands 93
VIII. Holding Her Hand 99
IX. "Daisy, my darling!" 110
X. "Oh, so many, many maids!" 121
XI. Archie Pays Attention 136
XII. Dining at Isaac's 143
XIII. A Question of Color 155
XIV. "Let us have a betrayal" 166
XV. The Green-Eyed Monster 177
XVI. "I've had such luck!" 190
XVII. A Burglar in the House 198
XVIII. Black and White 204
XIX. "Play out your farce" 215
XX. Like a Stuck Pig 226
XXI. "We want Millie to understand" 238
XXII. Where Was Daisy? 246
XXIII. An Awful Night 254
XXIV. "This ends it, then?" 263
XXV. An Undiscoverable Secret 273
XXVI. "I played, and I lost" 282
XXVII. Absolutely Blameless 292
XXVIII. Trapping a Wolf 301
XXIX. "The Greatest Novel" 309
TO MY READERS.
I do not know how better to use the space that the printer always leaves me in this part of the book than to redeem the promise I made at the end of my last novel, and tell you in a few words what became of Blanche Brixton Fantelli and her husband.
But, do you really need to be told?
Could they have done anything else than live in connubial felicity, after the man had proved himself so noble and the woman had learned to appreciate him at his true worth?
Well, whether they could or not, they didn't. Blanche is the happiest of wedded wives. She still holds to her theory that marriage is based on wrong principles, and that the contract as ordinarily made is frightfully immoral; but she says if all men were like "her Jules" there would be no trouble.
In this she proves herself essentially feminine. She is learning, albeit a little late, that man was not made to live alone, and that the love a mother feels for her child is not the only one that brings joy to a woman's breast.
Fantelli does not claim that Blanche is his property. He is her lover still, even though he has gained the law's permission to be her master. He recognizes that she has rights in herself that are inviolable. This is why they live together so contentedly. She would not be his mate on any other terms.
If it is not the ideal existence, it is very near it. As near as a man and woman who care for the world's opinion can live it in these days.
And now, with heartfelt thanks for the continued favor of the reading public, which I am conscious is far beyond my desert, I bid a temporary farewell to American shores. By the time this book is on the shelves of the dealers I shall be on European soil, there to remain, I trust, for the better part of a year. Wherever I am, my thoughts will always turn to you who have made these journeys possible, and there as here my pen will continue devoted to your service.
Cambridge, Mass., June 1, 1895.
A BLACK ADONIS.
A REJECTED MANUSCRIPT.
"A letter for Mr. Roseleaf," he heard his landlady say to the chambermaid. And he was quite prepared to hear the girl reply, in a tone of surprise:
"For Mr. Roseleaf! This is the first letter he has had since he came."
The young man referred to stood just within his chamber door, waiting with some anxiety for the letter to be brought to him. He was about twenty years of age, of medium height, with rather dark complexion, curling hair and expressive eyes, and with a natural delicacy of manner that made him seem almost feminine at first view.
He had the greatest possible interest in the letter that the postman had just brought, but he was far too polite to disturb the landlady or her servant, who were not yet through with it.
"You can see that it is from a publishing house," commented Mrs. Ranning, inspecting the envelope with care. "It is from Cutt & Slashem, who bring out more novels than any other firm in the city. I told you he was some kind of a writer. Perhaps they are going to publish a book for him! If they do he will leave us for finer quarters. Novelists make a mint of money, I have heard. We must do our best to keep him as long as we can. Be very polite to him, Nellie. He appears to be an excellent young man."
Shirley Roseleaf's anxiety to get possession of his letter was not lessened by this conversation. It seemed as if his entire future hung on the contents of that envelope tarrying so long in Nellie's hands. The great publishers, Cutt & Slashem, had had a manuscript of his in their hands for nearly a fortnight. When they had definitely accepted it, his path would be perfectly clear. If they rejected it—but he had not got so far as that.
The manuscript was a romance—a romance of love! Its author had spent a great deal of time upon it. He had rewritten it with care, and finally made a neat copy, of which he was very proud. Then he had thought a long time over the question of a publishing firm. Cutt & Slashem stood at the top of their profession, and they finally received the preference. With the MSS. Roseleaf sent a pretty note, in which he included a delicate compliment on their success. The MSS. and the note were arranged tastefully in a neat white package and tied with pink twine.
After all of those precautions it is no wonder that the novelist felt surprise when days passed and no reply was sent to him. But never at any time was he discouraged. Had they intended to reject the novel, he reasoned, they could as easily have done so in three days as ten.
He pictured the members of the firm hugging themselves over their good fortune, passing the manuscript from one to the other, all eager for a taste of such a marvelous work. He did not think it egotism to believe they did not get stories like that every day.
His thoughts flew rapidly as Nellie slowly climbed the stairs. Now he would be famous, he would be courted, he would be envied! He would also be very, very rich, though that was not of so much account.
As Nellie handed him the letter he responded to her pleasant smile with one of his own, and even pressed a twenty-five cent piece into her hand. Then he closed his door behind him, bolting it in his eagerness to be alone. The morning was foggy, and he sank into a chair by the window, the only part of the room where he could see to read distinctly.
There was an attraction about the envelope. It was light buff in color, bearing the address of Cutt & Slashem in large letter on one side of the front face, besides the names of several of the most famous authors whose publishers the firm had the happiness to be.
"Shirley Roseleaf!" It would not look so badly in print.
So lost was he in the pleasant pictures which these thoughts conjured up that it was some minutes before he tore open the envelope. Then his astounded eyes rested upon these lines:
"Messrs. Cutt & Slashem regret to be obliged to decline with thanks the MSS. of M. Shirley Roseleaf, and request to be informed what disposition he desires made of the same."
Roseleaf read this dizzily. For some moments he could not understand what that sentence meant. "Obliged to decline" was plain enough; but his confused mind found some grains of comfort in the request of the firm to know what he wished done with his manuscript. They must, he reasoned, consider it of value, or they would not respond in that courteous manner. Still, he could not comprehend how they had had the asininity to "decline" it at all.
Were they unwilling to add another star to their galaxy?
Could they actually have read the tale?
A firm of their reputation, too!
When Roseleaf emerged from his temporary stupor it was into a state of great indignation. Why, the men were fools! He wished heartily he had never gone to them. They would yet see the day when, with tears in their eyes, they would regret their lack of judgment. His first act should be to go to their office and express his opinion of their stupidity, and then he would take his MSS. to some rival house. And never, never in the world—after he had become famous, and when every publisher on both sides of the Atlantic were besieging him—never, he said, should these ignorant fellows get a scrap of his writing, not even if they offered its weight in gold!
He was too excited for delay, and donning his hat, he took his way with all speed to Cutt & Slashem's office. At that instant he had more faith in his novel than ever. As he walked rapidly along he compared it with some of the stories issued by the firm that had rejected it, to the great disadvantage of the latter.
"I wish to see Mr. Cutt or Mr. Slashem," he said, imperiously, as he entered the counting room.
"Both are in," said the office boy, imperturbably. "Which will you have?"
"I will see them together."
Had they been tigers, fresh from an Indian jungle, it would have made no difference to him.
The boy asked for his card, vanished with it, returned and bade him follow. Up a flight of stairs they went, then to the left, then to the right, then across a little hall. A door with the name of the house and the additional word "Private" loomed before them.
"Come in!" was heard in response to the knock of the office boy.
Roseleaf entered, something slower than a cannon ball, and yet considerably faster than a snail. The two principal members of the firm were sitting together, with lighted cigars in their mouths, examining a lot of paper samples that lay upon a table. They did no more at first than glance up and nod, not having finished the business upon which they were engaged.
"Is it any better than the last?" asked Mr. Slashem, referring to the sample his partner was examining.
"It's just as good, at least," was the answer. "And an eighth of a cent a pound less. I think we had better order five hundred reams."
"Five hundred reams," repeated the other, slowly, making a memorandum in a little book that he carried. "And the other lot we'll wait about, eh? Paper is not very steady. It's gone off a sixteenth since Thursday."
This conversation only served to infuriate still more the visitor who stood waiting to pour out his wrath. Were these men wasting time over fractions of a cent in the price of stock, just after they had rejected one of the greatest romances of modern times!
With the precision of a duplex machine both partners finally looked up from the table at the young man.
"Mr. Shirley Roseleaf?" said Mr. Slashem, interrogatively, glancing at the card that the office boy had brought.
"Yes, sir!" was the sharp and disdainful reply.
"We need nothing in your line," interrupted Mr. Cutt. "I suppose Mr. Trimm has our other order well under way?"
The look of indignant protest that appeared in Roseleaf's face caused Mr. Slashem to speak.
"This is not Mr. Roseberg," he explained. "My partner took you for an agent of our bookbinder," he added.
The novelist thought his skin would burst.
"I am quite complimented," he said, in an icy tone. "Let me introduce myself. I am the author of 'Evelyn's Faith.'"
The partners consulted each other.
"The similarity of names confused me," said Mr. Cutt. "Is your book one that we have published?"
Saints and angels!
"It is one that was sent to you for publication," replied Roseleaf, with much heat, "and has been returned this morning—rejected!"
"Ah!" said Mr. Cutt.
"We have nothing to do with that department," said Mr. Slashem, coming to the rescue. "You should see Mr. Gouger, on the second floor above; though if he has rejected your story a visit would be quite useless. He never decides a matter without sufficient reason."
"Oh, dear, no!" added Mr. Cutt, feeling again of the paper samples.
Shirley Roseleaf listened with wild incredulity.
"Do you mean to tell me," he said, "that you, the members of the firm of Cutt & Slashem, have rejected my story without even reading it?"
The partners glanced at each other again.
"We never read books," said Mr. Cutt.
"Never," said Mr. Slashem, kindly. "We have things much more important to attend to. We pay Mr. Gouger a large salary. Why, my young friend, there are probably a dozen manuscripts received at our office every week. If we were to try to read them, who do you think would attend to the essential points of our business?"
Roseleaf's contempt for the concern was increasing at lightning speed. He did not care to mince his words, for it could make no difference now.
"I should imagine that the selection of the books you are to print would be at least as important as the paper you are to use," he retorted.
Mr. Cutt looked at him in great astonishment.
"You are much mistaken," said he.
"Entirely mistaken," confirmed Mr. Slashem.
The author had no desire to remain longer, as it was evident he was losing his temper to no purpose. If it was Mr. Gouger who had rejected his work, it was Mr. Gouger that he must see.
Bowing with ironical grace to the examiners of printing paper, he took leave of them, and mounted to the sanctum of the man who he had been told was the arbiter of his fate. A girl with soiled hands pointed out the room, for there was nothing to indicate it upon the dingy panel of the door; and presently Roseleaf stood in the presence of the individual he believed at that moment his worst enemy.
There were two men in the room. One of them indicated with a motion of his hand that the other was the one wanted, and with a second motion that the caller might be seated. Mr. Gouger was partly hidden behind a desk, engaged in turning over a heap of manuscript, and it appeared from the manner of his companion that he did not wish to be disturbed.
Somewhat cooled down by this state of affairs, the young novelist took the chair indicated and waited several minutes.
"What d—d nonsense they are sending me these days!" exclaimed Mr. Gouger at last, thrusting the sheets he had been scanning back into the wrapper in which they had come, without, however, raising his eyes from his desk. "Out of a hundred stories I read, not three are fit to build a fire with! This thing is written by a girl who ought to take a term in a grammar school. She has no more idea of syntax than a lapdog. Her father writes that he is willing to pay a reasonable sum to have it brought out. Why, Cutt & Slashem couldn't afford to put their imprint on that rot for fifty thousand dollars!"
He had finished saying this before he learned that a third person was in the room. Upon making this discovery he lowered his voice, as if regretting having exhibited too great warmth before a stranger. The novelist rose and handed him a card, and as Mr. Gouger glanced at the name a gleam of recognition lit up his face.
"I am glad to see you, Mr. Roseleaf," he said. "I had half a notion to ask you to call, when I felt obliged to send you that note yesterday. There are several things I would like to say to you. Archie, perhaps you would let us have the room for a few minutes."
The last remark was addressed familiarly to the man who occupied the third chair, and who looked so disheartened at the prospect of having to rise therefrom that Roseleaf hastened to express a hope that he would not do so on his account.
"Very well," said Mr. Gouger, abruptly. "You heard what I said about this copy I have just read, though it was not my intention that you should. I supposed I was talking only to Mr. Weil, who is not in the profession and does not expect to be. Now, let me say at once, Mr. Roseleaf, that your contribution is not open to any of the objections I have cited. You have evidently been well educated. Your English is pure and forcible. It is a real delight to read your pages. Every line shows the greatest care in construction. I did with your story what I have not done with another for a long time—I read it through. Why then did I reject it?"
The question was too great for the one most interested to answer, but in the glow of pleasure that the compliment brought he forgot for the moment his bitter feelings.
"Possibly," he suggested, "Cutt & Slashem have more novels on hand than they feel like producing at present."
"No," responded Mr. Gouger, disposing of that theory in one breath. "A house like ours would never reject a really desirable manuscript. If you will reflect that only one or two of this description are produced each year you will the more readily understand me. Your story has a cardinal fault for which no excellence of style or finish can compensate. Shall I tell you what it is, and before this gentleman?"
He indicated Mr. Weil as he spoke. Roseleaf's heart sank. For the first time he felt a deadly fear.
"Tell me, by all means," he responded, faintly.
Mr. Gouger's face bore its gentlest expression at that moment. He was taking valuable time, time that belonged to his employers, to say something that must temporarily disappoint, though in the end it might benefit his hearer.
"Let me repeat," he said, "that your work is well written, and that I have read it with the greatest interest. Its fault—an insuperable one—is that it lacks fidelity to nature. Mr. Roseleaf, I think I could gauge your past life with tolerable accuracy merely from what that manuscript reveals."
The novelist shook his head. There was not a line of autobiography in those pages, and he told his critic so.
"Oh, I understand," replied Mr. Gouger. "But this I have learned: Your life has been marvelously colorless. Yet, in spite of that, you have undertaken to write of things of which you know nothing, and about which, I may add, you have made very poor guesses."
Mr. Weil, leaning back in his chair, began to show a decided interest. Mr. Roseleaf, sitting upright, in an attitude of strained attention, inquired what Mr. Gouger meant.
"Well, for instance, this," responded the critic: "You attempt to depict the sensations of love, though you have never had a passion. Can you expect to know how it feels to hold a beautiful girl in your arms, when you never had one there? You put words of temptation into the mouth of your villain which no real scamp would think of using, for their only effect would be to alarm your heroine. You talk of a planned seduction as if it were part of an oratorio. And you make your hero so superlatively pure and sweet that no woman formed of flesh and blood could endure him for an hour."
The color mounted to Roseleaf's face. He felt that this criticism was not without foundation. But presently he rallied, and asked if it were necessary for a man to experience every sensation before he dared write about them.
"Do you suppose," he asked, desperately, "that Jules Verne ever traveled sixty thousand leagues under the sea or made a journey to the moon?"
Mr. Weil could not help uttering a little laugh. Mr. Gouger struck his hands together and clinched them.
"No," said he. "But he could have written neither of those wonderful tales without a knowledge of the sciences of which they treat."
"He has read, and I have read," responded Roseleaf. "What is the difference?"
"He has studied, and you have not," retorted the critic. "That makes all the difference in the world. He has a correct idea of the structure of the moon and what should be found in the unexplored caverns of the ocean; while you, in total ignorance, have attempted to deal in a science to which these are the merest bagatelles! You know as little of the tides that control the heart of a girl as you do of the personal history of the inhabitants of Jupiter! Your powers of description are good; those of invention feeble. Either throw yourself into a love affair, till you have learned it root and branch, or never again try to depict one."
Mr. Archie Weil smiled and nodded, as if he entirely agreed with the speaker.
"What a novel I could make, my dear fellow!" he exclaimed, "if I only had the talent. I have had experiences enough, but I could no more write them out than I could fly."
"It is quite as well," was the response, "your women would all be Messalinas and fiction has too many now."
"Not all of them, Lawrence," was the quick and meaning reply.
"In that case," said Gouger, "I wish heartily you could write. The world is famishing for a real love story, based on modern lines, brought up to date. I tell you, there has been nothing satisfactory in that line since Goethe's day."
Mr. Weil suggested Balzac and Sand.
"Why don't you include George William Reynolds?" inquired Gouger, with a sneer. "Neither of them wrote until they were depraved by contract with humanity. If we could get a young man of true literary talent to see life and write of it as he went along, what might we not secure? But I have no more time to spare, Mr. Roseleaf. I was sorry to be obliged to reject your story. Some day, when you have seen just a little of the world, begin again on the lines I have outlined, and come here with the result."
Quite dispirited, now that the last plank had slipped from under him, the novelist walked slowly down the stairs. He did not even ask for his manuscript. After what he had heard, it did not seem worth carrying to his lodgings. His plans were shipwrecked. Instead of the fame and fortune he had hoped for, he felt the most bitter disappointment. All his bright dreams had vanished.
A step behind him quicker than his own, made him aware that some one was following him, and presently a voice called his name. It was Mr. Archie Weil, who had put himself to unusual exertion, and required some seconds to recover his breath before he could speak further.
"I want you to come over to my hotel and have a little talk with me," he said. "Gouger has interested me in you immensely. I believe, as he says, that you have the making of a distinguished author, and I want to arrange a plan by which you can carry out his scheme."
Mr. Roseleaf stared doubtfully at his companion.
"What scheme?" he said, briefly.
"Why, of imparting to you that knowledge of the world which will enable you to draw truthful portraits. You have the art, he says, the talent, the capacity—whatever you choose to call it. All you lack is experience. Given that, you would make a reputation second to none. What can be plainer than that you should acquire the thing you need without delay?"
"The 'thing I need'?" repeated Roseleaf, dolefully.
Mr. Weil laughed, delightfully.
"Yes!" he explained. "What you need is a friend able to interest you, to begin with. Pardon me if I say I may be described by that phrase. Come to my hotel a little while and let us talk it over."
It was not an opportunity to be refused, in Roseleaf's depressed condition, and the two men walked together to the Hoffman House, where Mr. Weil at that time made his home.
"WAS MY STORY TOO BOLD?"
"Well, Millie, your letter has come," said Mr. Wilton Fern, as he entered the parlor of his pleasant residence, situated about twenty miles from the limits of New York City. "Open it as quick as you can, and learn your fate."
His daughter started nervously from her seat near the window, where she had been spending the previous hour in speculations regarding the very missive that was now placed in her hands. She was a handsome girl, neither blonde nor brunette, with eyes of hazel gray and hair of that color that moderns call Titian red. She took the envelope that her father gave her, and though she wanted intensely to know the contents she hesitated to open it.
"Read it, Millie," smiled Mr. Fern. "Let us learn whether we have an authoress in our house who is destined to become famous."
But this remark made Miss Millicent less willing than before to open the letter in her father's presence. She slowly left the room without answering and did not break the seal of her communication till she was in the seclusion of her chamber.
And it was quite a while, even then, before she summoned the necessary courage. Some days previous she had sent a MSS. to the great publishing house of Cutt & Slashem. The writing had taken up the best of her time for a year. She had high hopes that it was destined to lay the foundation of an artistic success. Her plot was novel, not to say startling. It was entirely out of the conventional order. It would be certain to arouse talk and provoke comment, if it got into print; and to make sure that it would get into print she had persuaded her father to write a little note, which she enclosed with the MSS., saying that he would pay a cash bonus, if the firm demanded it, to guarantee them against possible loss.
With this note in her mind, Miss Millicent had felt little doubt that her story would be accepted and printed. She only wondered how warmly they would praise her work. It was not enough to have them print it; she wanted something to justify her in saying to her father, "There, you see I was not wrong after all in thinking I could have a literary career!"
At last the envelope was removed, and the girl's astonished eyes lit upon this cold, dry statement:
"Messrs. Cutt & Slashem regret to be obliged to decline with thanks the MSS. of Miss M. Fern, and request to be informed what disposition she desires made of the same."
Millicent felt a ringing in her ears. Her hands grew clammy. A dull pain pressed on her forehead. She felt a faintness, a sinking at the heart. Was it possible she had read aright? Rejected, in this cruel way, without even a reference to her father's offer! It was atrocious, and, girl-like, she burst into a spasm of weeping.
How could she ever face her father? The sacrifices she had made came back to her, sacrifices of which she had thought little at the time, but which now seemed gigantic. There had been nights when she had not gone to bed till three, other nights when she had been too full of her subject to sleep and had risen in the small hours to finish some particularly interesting chapter. Twelve hundred pages there were in all, note size, in her large, round, almost masculine hand. And this time was all lost! She had mistaken her vocation. The greatest publishing house in the country had decided against her.
Gradually she dried her eyes. It would do no good to weep. She read the curt answer that had come in the mail, a dozen times. Why could not the firm have sent her a reason, an excuse that meant something? She wanted to know wherein her fault lay. It might be possible to correct it. Perhaps the state of business was to blame. The more she thought, the more determined she grew to investigate this strange affair, and within an hour she had donned her street clothes and started, without saying anything to the rest of the household of her intention, for the office of Cutt & Slashem in the city.
She knew that each large concern had one or more "readers," on whose judgment they relied in such matters. She, therefore, paused only long enough at the counting-room to get directed to Mr. Gouger. Her knock on the critic's door brought forth a loud "Come in," and as she entered she saw two men standing with hats in their hand, as if about to take their departure.
"I beg your pardon," she said, "but I wish to see Mr. Gouger."
"That is my name," responded one of the men, stepping forward.
"I am Miss Fern."
Mr. Gouger did not seem very glad to hear it. The hour of one had just struck, and he was about to go to his lunch. He recognized the girl's name, as that of the author of the MSS. he had criticized so severely to his friend, Weil, who was, by-the-way, the third person in the room at this moment. Had she sent up her card, as is usual with women, he would have avoided seeing her at any hazard.
Mr. Weil took a long survey of the young lady, and then retired to the vicinity of the front windows. He pretended to interest himself in the rush of traffic that was going on in the street below, but he missed nothing of what was said, and stole from time to time a glance at his two companions, particularly the younger one.
"A mighty pretty girl," was his mental comment. "I hope Lawrence isn't going to be nasty with her."
Mr. Gouger motioned Miss Fern rather stiffly to a seat.
"I do not wish to detain you," she said, with feminine inconsistency, as she accepted it. "I only want to know, if you will be so kind as to tell me, what is the trouble with my story."
The critic was pleased at one thing. Miss Fern's voice was reasonably clear. She had finished her weeping at home. There was to be no scene, something he dreaded, and in the course of his connection with this house he had experienced scores of them. He inspected his caller critically in the few seconds that elapsed while she was asking this question, and when she paused he decided to answer her with as much of the truth as he dared use.
"The fact is," he began, "a firm like ours is unable to use more than one novel out of fifty that is submitted to it. Of our friends who send us manuscripts, the vast majority must, therefore, be disappointed. Now, your story—shall I be frank?"
"By all means," answered Miss Fern.
"Your story, though written with spirit and power, needs a great deal of revision from a—from a rhetorical standpoint. It is, in fact, carelessly put together. That is a cardinal fault in a literary production, and one for which no amount of talent, or even of genius, can compensate."
The girl listened with deep interest. She tried to think where the blemishes alluded to could be, for she had read the story twenty times. To say nothing of several girl friends, who had listened with evident wonder and delight, to various parts of the tale, as it progressed.
"If that is true," answered Miss Fern, slowly—, "could not the trouble be remedied by sending the MSS. to some very competent person and having the errors made right?"
Mr. Gouger smiled.
"Hardly," he said. "A novel is like a painting. The ensemble—do you understand?—is the thing. Can you conceive a painting being 'done over'? Your book would lose its quality if subjected to that process."
A look of discouragement crossed the features of the young woman.
"Of course, you know best," she stammered. "What would you advise me—try again?"
Mr. Gouger raised both his hands.
"It is difficult to say, in such a case," he replied. "But—if you want my best opinion—"
"That is just what I want," said the girl, with ill-concealed impatience.
"You are not dependent upon your exertions, I suppose, for a living?"
Millicent shook her head, almost sorry at the moment that she could not reply in the affirmative.
"Then—I should give up the idea of being an authoress."
This was very unpalatable medicine, and the critic realized it as he looked at the sombre face before him.
"Is your rejection of my story based at all," asked Miss Fern, after a pause, "on the—boldness of its subject?"
Mr. Gouger smiled again.
"We publish the works of Hall Caine and George Moore," he said. "I should not consider your story overbold, if there was nothing else against it. It is a wonder to me, and always will be, why such young girls as you choose risque themes, but if the work is well done the public will pay for it."
There was a slight blush on Miss Fern's face, partly at the insinuation and partly at the adverse criticism that had crept thoughtlessly into the sentence.
"For my part," she explained, "I wanted to write something that would attract attention—that would put my name prominently before the public and keep it there. The girls I read it to thought the scenes just lovely, though some said perhaps their mothers would not feel that way. And I told them that the mothers of to-day were very old-fashioned, and that the public taste was changing rapidly. If the story is too bold, there are things I could cut out of it, but if you say that would make no difference, I would rather let them stand. I intend to try some other concern before I give up."
Mr. Archie Weil had abandoned all pretence of looking out the window. He stood with his eyes fastened on the pretty girl, as she made these statements in such a matter-of-fact way. He wondered what the dickens the story was about, and made up his mind that he would try to get possession of it.
"All the same," responded Mr. Gouger, who had apparently forgotten his lunch in his growing interest in the conversation, "I don't see where girls like you obtain such an intimate knowledge of things. You are not over twenty—excuse me, I am old enough to tell you this without offence. It is not you alone, but a hundred others who have made me ask myself this question. As soon as the modern girl gets a bottle of ink and a pen and begins to let her thoughts flow over paper, it transpires that she knows everything—more than everything, almost. Why, I was twenty-five before I was as wise as the heroine of sixteen, in this story of yours!"
Miss Fern reddened again, all the more because she had glanced up and encountered the bright eyes of Mr. Weil fixed upon her.
"Why, Archie," pursued the literary man—he turned toward Mr. Weil—"you remember Lelia Dante, you have seen her here. Five or six years ago I got a letter from that young girl's mother asking me to come to their residence and hear a story she had written. It was her first one, and the child was not a day over seventeen. I couldn't believe it when she came into the room, with her hair tumbled about her shoulders, and began to read to me the first chapter of 'Zaros.' 'Did she write that?' I asked her mother, incredulously. 'Certainly,' she replied. 'Without aid from any one?' 'Absolutely alone.' My hair stood on end. I could not keep it down for the next week with a brush. You know the story. We printed it, and it sold well, and that is all that C. & S. cared about it; but I never understood how that infant could conceive it. No more than I can understand your ability to write this story of yours, Miss Fern," he added, pointedly.
The young woman bridled a little.
"It does not matter much, if you are not going to print it," she said, raising her eyes to his.
He bowed low to express whatever apology might be necessary.
"I would have accepted it if I could," he said. "My entire life is spent in reading manuscripts in the hope of discovering one that will make a hit with the public to whom we cater. When successful I am as pleased as a South African who fishes a diamond of the first water out of the mine. Your story, Miss Fern, shows decided talent. You have a greater knowledge of some of the important things of life, I will wager, than your grandmother had at eighty, if she lived so long. As I am obliged to go now, let me add, without mincing matters, that you are very deficient in English grammar, and that nothing you can write will be acceptable to any first-class house until that fault is remedied. Are you ready, Archie?"
Mr. Weil felt indignant. He could not have spoken to any girl as pretty as this one in such language, and he thought it quite inexcusable on the part of his friend to do so. Mr. Gouger, though feeling that it was best to use little circumlocution, had not meant to wound his caller. But her countenance showed that he had wounded her, and the natural gallantry of his younger companion came to the rescue.
"I am not ready yet," said Mr. Weil, telegraphing at the same time a series of signals with his eyes. "I want a few minutes' talk with Miss Fern, if you will introduce me. I think I can say something she will like to hear."
Mr. Gouger, who now stood in such a position that Miss Fern could not see him, shook his head to imply that he did not fancy this arrangement; but he ended by saying, "Very well." He then abruptly made the presentation, put on his hat, said good-by, and vanished.
Miss Millicent, who had risen, turned with an air of puzzled inquiry toward Mr. Weil.
"Be seated again, for a moment," he said, politely. "I want your permission to read your story."
"Why, I don't know," she answered. "Are you one of the employes of Cutt & Slashem?"
He smilingly denied the imputation.
"I have not that felicity," he added, "but I am much interested in things literary, and have a rather wide acquaintance in this line of business. If I could be allowed to read your MSS. perhaps I should form a milder opinion of its faults than my unbending friend. And in that case a word from me, to another house, would certainly do you no harm."
A brighter light came into Miss Millicent's eyes.
"I shall be only too glad to have you read it," she answered. "It is hard to believe that I have wasted almost a year in something entirely worthless. You may take it with pleasure."
Mr. Weil went to Mr. Gouger's desk, from which he soon came with the parcel in question. He untied the string and for a moment his gaze rested on the handwriting.
"Do you live far from here?" he began; and then added, as he noticed the address on an enclosed card, "Ah, I see! At Midlands."
She explained herself rather more to him, giving the full address of her father, and some particulars about the manner in which she had been drawn into attempting literary work. He listened intently, all the time engaged in rapid thought.
"The best way for me to get a thoroughly correct impression of this novel," he said, when she came to a pause, "is to hear you read it aloud. In that manner," he added, as he saw that she was about to interrupt, "a hundred meanings would come to the surface that a mere inspection of the pages might fail to show. Beside, there would be an opportunity for discussion. If convenient to you I would gladly come to your residence for this purpose."
The eyes of the young girl brightened. She was greatly pleased at the idea and said so without delay.
"Very well," said Mr. Weil, more than delighted with the success of his experiment. "To-day is Tuesday; shall I come for the first time, say, Thursday evening?"
"That would suit me perfectly; or to-morrow, if you wish. I shall put aside everything and have my time free for you."
Mr. Weil nodded.
"Let it be Thursday then. And the hour—shall we call it eight?"
The time was promptly agreed to.
"In the meantime, I will take the MSS. and look it over, to form a general idea of the plot. Here is my card. By-the-way, you will of course arrange it so that we shall not be interrupted during our conference. It disturbs anything of that kind to have people coming in and out. We want to be entirely alone so as to give our full attention to the work in hand."
Miss Fern smilingly acquiesced, saying that it was exactly what she would wish.
"And do you think there may be hope for it yet—that poor little manuscript?" she asked, as she stood by the door ready to take her departure.
"That is a question I can hardly answer," he replied. "I shall be better able to tell you in a week or two, I trust."
She lingered, with her hand on the door knob.
"My father is willing to take all the financial risks," she said. "That ought to make a difference, don't you think so?"
"It would, with many houses," he admitted. "I am glad to know these things. Thursday, then, Miss—Miss Fern."
He wanted to call her "Millicent," for he had read the name on the package he still held in his hand; but on the whole he concluded that this would be a little premature.
"HER FEET WERE PINK."
When Miss Millicent Fern entered the office of Lawrence Gouger, as detailed in the preceding chapter, it will be remembered that she found that gentleman and his friend, Archie Weil, with their hats in their hands. The fact was that Mr. Weil had but just entered the room, and that Mr. Gouger had accepted an invitation to take lunch with him, an arrangement that was by no means an infrequent one between them. The entrance of Miss Fern, and the subsequent proceedings, compelled the literary critic to go out alone, as has been seen. When he returned he found Mr. Weil still there.
"Haven't you been to lunch yet!" exclaimed Mr. Gouger.
"I have not been out of this office," was the reply, "and all appetite for anything to eat has left me. Lawrence, that is one of the most interesting girls I ever met."
Mr. Gouger pursed up his lips, and uttered an impatient, "Pah!" He then remarked that Mr. Weil had a habit of finding such a quality in the latest women of his acquaintance.
"What does she amount to?" he asked. "An overgrown schoolgirl, who did not half learn her lessons. Read that MSS. she left here, and get disillusionized in short order. Why, she doesn't even know how to spell, and her periods and commas are in a hopeless tangle."
His companion eyed him quizzically.
"Are periods and commas, even a correct spelling of the English language, the only things you can see in a bright, handsome girl?" he demanded. "For shame, Lawrence! You are a dried-up old mummy. Your senses are numb. A lively wind will come in at the keyhole some day and blow you out of that chimney."
Mr. Gouger heaved a sigh, as if to say that discussion with such a nonsensical fellow was useless, and took his seat at his desk, where an unfinished pile of MSS. awaited his reading.
"She's given me leave to take her story home," said Mr. Weil, with a mischievous expression.
The critic stared at his friend.
"Given it to you?" he repeated. "How did that happen?"
"I asked her for it, naturally. You were so severe on the poor child, that I couldn't help putting in a cheering word. We talked of the whole business, and she was willing I should see if my opinion agreed with yours."
"Your opinion!" echoed Gouger, testily. "What is that worth? But take the stuff, if you want it, and when you are done, send it to her; it will make less rubbish in this confounded hole. One thing I'll tell you, though, in advance. You'll never be able to make sense of it, unless you get some one to straighten it out."
"That's all right," replied the other. "After I have read it through, I am going to Miss Fern's house, where she will read it to me."
Mr. Gouger started from his chair.
"You don't mean that!" he exclaimed.
"But I do. She asked me, and I'm going. I understand that it's a rather bold tale, and I can conceive nothing more entertaining than to hear that kind of thing from the red lips of such a pretty piece of flesh and blood as has just left here."
There was an uneasy expression on the face of the critic as he heard these words. He liked Weil, although they were as different in their natures as two men could well be. He wanted to please him, but the aspect of this affair was not agreeable.
"Look here, Archie," he said, earnestly, "there are some things that I can't permit, you know. My office must not be made a starting-place for one of your lawless adventures. You met Miss Fern here. Now, I protest against your going to her house, pretending that you are interested in that novel, when your real purpose is of a much more questionable kind."
Mr. Weil put on the air of one whose feelings are lacerated by an unjust suspicion.
"My dear Lawrence—" he began.
"That's all right," growled the critic. "I may or may not be your 'dear Lawrence,' but I know you like—like a book," he added, hitting by accident on a very excusable simile. "You are an old dog that is not likely to learn new tricks. I shall send this MSS. back to Miss Fern, myself, enclosing a letter warning her to have nothing to do with you."
A laugh escaped the lips of Archie Weil at this proposition.
"If you knew the feminine mind half as well as you do modern literature," he answered, "you would see how little that would avail. I have met Miss Fern and made a distinctly favorable impression. Her address is in my pocket, and I have received a pressing invitation to call. If you choose to send the MSS. by another messenger you will relieve me of the task of carrying a bundle, but you will accomplish nothing more."
Mr. Gouger's mouth opened in astonishment at the evident advantage which his friend had gained in so short a time.
"You must have convinced her that your literary opinions are of value," he said, presently. "If I write that you are a charletan and entirely unworthy of attention, what will happen then?"
The smiling gentleman opposite crossed his hands over his left knee, and did not delay his answer.
"I will tell you," he said. "In the same mail she will receive a letter from me, warning her that a certain party, who has given an adverse judgment on her writings, may attempt to influence her against others more likely to decide in her favor. She will be told that, having rejected a book, this certain party does not wish any one else to print it. Send the severest note you can construct, Lawrence. I have few talents, but I know how to write letters."
The critic could hardly believe that fate had thrown so many cords around his neck in the brief space of one hour, but the more he thought the more he became convinced that his best course was to shut his eyes.
"Well, gang your gait," he said, after a long pause, during which the look of triumph deepened on his companion's face. "You will have to answer for your own sins. But I'll tell you one thing, that may save your time. Women who write racy novels are almost without exception remarkably correct in their own lives."
Mr. Weil inquired if his friend was certain of this, and there was a suspicion of disappointment in his tone.
"Absolutely," said Mr. Gouger, refreshing his memory. "I can think of a dozen instances to prove the point. There is Lelia Dante, for instance, who writes like a—like a—well, you know how she writes. She sticks to her mother's apron strings like a four-year-old child. They never are seen apart, I am told. Then there is Mrs. Helen Walker Wilbur, the poetess. We have a volume of her verse that is positively combustible from its own heat. The sheets had to be run off the press soaked in water to keep them from igniting. The room was full of steam all the time the work was going on. Warm! I should say so! Now, that woman is vain, and she dresses foolishly, and she does odd things for the sake of being talked about—but nobody questions her loyalty to her husband. You would think by some of her poems that an East Indian regiment would not suffice for her, and yet she is the straightest wife on Manhattan Island. Oh, I know so many cases. You remember that girl who wrote, 'Love's Extremities,' a work as passionate as Sappho. She is a little Quaker-like maiden,[A] who dresses and talks like a sister of one of the Episcopal guilds. These women are on fire at the brain only. They would repel a physical advance with more indignation than those endowed with less esthetic perceptions. So, see Miss Fern as much as you like. Should you attempt anything improper you will prove the truth of my assertions."
[Footnote A: Now dead, alas!—A. R.]
Mr. Weil changed the knee he had been nursing, but the quiet smile did not leave his countenance.
"What an inconsistent fellow you are, Lawrence," he said. "I could convict you of a hundred errors of logic. Do you remember telling Mr. Roseleaf that a man should have a passion before he attempts to depict one."
"And I say so still," retorted Gouger. "You don't call the ravings of these poetesses and female novelists real life, do you? You know the actual lover isn't content with kissing the hair and the feet of his divinity! There is more about women's feet in these poems and novels than all the rest of their anatomy put together. And what is a woman's foot? Did you ever see one that was pretty—that you wanted to put to your lips?"
"Yes," interrupted Archie, dreamily, "once. At Capri. She was fifteen. Her feet were pink, like a shell. She was walking along the shore in the early evening."
"With the dirt of the soil on them!" exclaimed Mr. Gouger, in disgust.
"No, she had just emerged from her bath. The sand there was clean as a carpet, cleaner, in fact. Gods! They were exquisite!"
The critic uttered an exclamation.
"I waste time talking to you," he said, sharply. "You are like the rest of the imaginative crowd. It is a pity you were not gifted with the divine afflatus, that you could have added your volumes to the nonsense they print."
"And which you are always glad to get," interpolated Mr. Weil.
"Because it will sell. Cutt & Slashem are in this business to make money, and my thoughts must be directed to the saleable quality of the manuscripts submitted. If I was running the concern, though, I would touch the mooney, maundering mess. It makes my flesh creep, sometimes, to read it."
Archie Weil uttered another of his winsome laughs.
"How would you like to be a serpent," he asked, "and have your flesh creep all the time? But before we dismiss this matter of Miss Fern, I want you to clear your mind, if you can, of the haunting suspicions you always have when a woman is concerned. You know there are concerns in the city who would print her book, with a proper amount paid down, if it had neither sense, syntax nor orthography. If she wants it fixed up, I can find tailors to help her out; and if her papa wants it on the market, why shouldn't he be able to get it there? Now, let us talk a little about Roseleaf."
Mr. Gouger brightened at the change of subject. His interest in Mr. Roseleaf was genuine, and he had already learned that Archie had formed a sort of copartnership with the novelist, in the hope of making his future work a success. While the critic could not be said to have any real faith in the arrangement, it certainly interested him.
"What strange freak will you take to next?" he asked. "And do you really expect to make a novelist out of that young man?"
Mr. Weil's eyes had a twinkle in them.
"Didn't you say, yourself, that it could be done?" he inquired. "If I have made any mistake in my investment, I shall charge the loss to you."
The critic reflected a minute.
"I'm not so certain it can't be done," he said. "But that's quite different from investing money in it, as you are doing. A man wants pretty near a certainty before he puts up the stuff."
"You greedy fellow!" exclaimed Weil. "Will you never think of anything but gain? I have to spend about so much money every year, in a continual attempt to amuse myself, and it might as well be this way as another. I have a document, signed and solemnly sealed, by which I am to back him against the field in the interest of romantic and realistic literature, and in return he is to give me a third of the net profits of his writings. I don't know that I have done so badly. Perhaps you may live to see Cutt & Slashem pay us a handsome sum in royalties."
Mr. Gouger looked oddly at his friend, whose face was perfectly serious.
"What are you going to begin with?" he asked.
"Love, of course. It is the A B C, as well as the X Y Z of the whole business."
"What kind of love?"
"The best that can be got," replied Weil, now laughing in spite of himself. "The very finest quality in the market. Oh, we shall do this up brown, I tell you."
"What have you done so far?" asked Gouger.
"You want to know it all, eh?" responded Mr. Weil. "I don't think I am justified in letting you too deeply into our secrets. However, you are too honorable to betray us, and so here goes: I have instructed my protege that he must fall violently under the tender passion before next Saturday night."
"With a lady whom you have selected, of course?"
"By no means. He must catch his own sweethearts."
Mr. Gouger played with his watchchain.
"And this is Tuesday," he commented. "Do you think he will succeed?"
"He must," laughed Weil. "It's like the case of the boy who was digging out the woodchuck. 'The minister's coming to dinner.'"
"You might at least have got an introduction for him," said Gouger, reflectively.
"Not I. There's nothing in our agreement that puts such a task on me. Besides, there's no romance in an introduction. He would write a story as prosy as one of Henry James' if he started off like that."
Mr. Gouger nodded his head slowly.
"That would be something to avoid at all hazards," he assented.
And at this juncture, to the surprise of both the parties to this conversation, the young man of whom they were speaking entered the room.
"I was telling Mr. Gouger of our agreement," said Mr. Weil, as soon as the greetings were over. "How do you get along? Have you discovered your heroine yet?"
Mr. Roseleaf answered, with an air of timidity, in the negative.
"I don't quite know where to find one," he said.
Mr. Weil spread out his arms to their fullest capacity.
"There are thirty millions of them in the United States alone," he exclaimed. "Out of that number you ought to find a few whom you can study. What a pity that I cannot write! I would go out of that door and in ten minutes I would have a subject ready for vivisection."
The younger man raised his eyebrows slightly.
"But, that kind of a woman—would be what you would want—the kind that would let you talk to her on a mere street acquaintance!"
Mr. Weil leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs.
"Oh, yes," he said. "She would do for a beginning. Don't imagine that none of these easy going girls are worth the attention of a novelist. Sometimes they are vastly more interesting than the bread and butter product of the drawing rooms. It won't do, in your profession, to ignore any sort of human being."
Roseleaf breathed a sigh as soft as his name.
"You were right, Mr. Gouger," he said, turning to that gentleman. "I do not know anything. I have judged by appearances, and I now see that truth cannot be learned in that way."
"All the better!" broke in Archie. "The surest progress is made by the man who has learned his deficiencies. You remember the hare and the tortoise. I have read somewhere that the race is not always to the swift. You must treat your fellow men and women as if you had just arrived on this earth from the planet Mars. You must dig through the strata of conventionality to the virgin soil beneath. The great human passions are lust and avarice, though they take a thousand forms, in many of which they have more polite names. For instance, the former, when kept within polite boundaries, is usually known as Love. As Avarice makes but a sorry theme for the romantic writer, Love is the subject that must principally claim your attention. All the world loves a lover, while the miser is despised even by those who cringe beneath the power of his gold. Study the women, my lad, and when you know them thoroughly begin your great novel in earnest."
Roseleaf listened with rapt attention.
"And the men?" he asked.
"The men," was the quick reply, "are too transparent to require study. It is the women, with their ten million tricks to cajole and wheedle us, that afford the best field for your efforts."
Mr. Gouger, who had never been known to take so much time from his work during business hours, tried to begin his reading, but without success. When at his usual occupation he would not have been disturbed by the conversation of a room full of people, so preoccupied was he with what he had to do; but on this occasion he was too much entertained with his companions to do anything but hear them through.
"Is there no such thing as unselfish love—in a woman—love that sacrifices itself for its object?" asked Roseleaf, with a trace of anxiety in his tone.
"M——m, possibly," drawled Mr. Weil. "A female animal with young sometimes evinces the possession of that sort of thing, and women may have touches of it on occasions. That will be a good point for you to remember when you are deeper in your investigations. However, I ought not to fill your head with ideas of my own. I think what we most desire in our friend," he added, turning to the critic, "is complete originality."
The young man shifted his feet nervously.
"Pardon me," he said, "would it not be well to talk with people and learn their impressions? Then I can compare these with my own experiences, when they come. You would not send a blind man out on the street unled."
Archie Weil laughed deliciously.
"You are ingenious, when you should only be ingenuous," he replied. "You do not act at all like the young man from Mars that I have in mind. Perhaps, nevertheless, you are not wholly wrong, for even my traveler from that planet might have to ask his way to the nearest town. Supposing you had just reached the earth, and had met me with a thousand questions. What could I answer that would be of any use?"
Mr. Roseleaf reflected a moment.
"You could tell me your idea of a perfect woman," he suggested.
"Well, I will," said Weil, glancing meaningly at Mr. Gouger. "The perfect woman is about nineteen years of age. She is neither very light nor very dark. Her eyes are hazel, with a touch of gray in them. She measures, say, five feet, four inches in height, and—about—twenty-two inches around the waist. She has a plump arm, not too fleshy, a well-made leg, a head set on her shoulders with enough neck to give it freedom and grace of movement, but not sufficient to warrant comparison with a swan, or even a goose. Her hands match her feet, being not too slender nor too dainty. Her hips are medium, but not bulging. She weighs in the vicinity of a hundred and twenty-five pounds. And her hair—there is but one color for a woman's hair—is Titian red."
The young man had taken out his note-book and rapidly sketched this list of attractions.
"Every woman cannot have Titian hair," remarked Mr. Gouger. "Would you condemn one with all the other attributes on account of missing that?"
"I would, decidedly," was the reply, "when it is obtained so easily. I think it only costs two dollars a bottle, for the finest shade. Have you written it all down, Mr. Roseleaf?"
The young man ran over his notes.
"I have it—all but the hair," he said. "Of course I could not forget that."
"Very well. And this hair must be long enough, but not too long, remember, for everything unduly accentuated spoils a woman. It should hang about five inches below the waist, when unfastened, and be thick enough to make a noticeable coil. There should be sufficient to hide her face and her lover's when he takes her in his arms."
Mr. Roseleaf started slightly.
"Then she should have a lover?" he remarked, curiously.
"Undoubtedly. Else why the hair and the arms, and the five feet four! It is a woman's business to be loved and to make herself lovable. When you have found this woman, if she has no lover, you will be expected to officiate in that capacity. If she has one, you must supplant him as soon as possible. And when you have fallen desperately, ravingly in love with such a creature, you will not have to come to me for further advice."
The young man surveyed the speaker with the utmost gravity.
"Have you ever been in love?" he inquired.
"It was not necessary; I did not intend to write novels," said Archie, with a laugh. "But, come, we have bothered Lawrence enough. Let us go."
He took the package containing Miss Fern's story, and sauntered out, paying no attention to the peculiar glances that his friend, the critic, threw at him as he was leaving.
WITH TITIAN TRESSES.
Mr. Weil deciphered the MSS. of Miss Fern with some difficulty. Not that the handwriting was particularly illegible, though it did not in the least resemble copperplate engraving; but, as Mr. Gouger had intimated, the sentences were so badly constructed, and the punctuation so different from that prescribed by the usual authorities, that he was continually obliged to go back over his tracks and hunt for meanings. Nevertheless, within an hour from the time when he sat down in his room at the Hoffman House and opened the package he had brought, he had to confess himself deeply interested.
Miss Fern had conceived some entertaining characters, and some very unconventional situations. Her people were virile; her hero was strong if not always grammatical; her heroine did and said things not common in real life, and yet that were quite reasonable when her peculiar nature and environment were considered.
Archie paused once in awhile to wonder how much of all this record was within the direct knowledge of the young authoress; which expressions conveyed her own ideas and which sentiments she would personally endorse. Gouger might be right as to the exceeding purity of most of the ladies who dealt in eroticism, but in this especial case Mr. Weil meant to make an investigation on his own account before he accepted as a universal rule the one his friend had laid down.
He did not go to sleep that night until he had finished his story. Had it been arranged by a competent hand he could have read it in four hours, but as it was he consumed eight in the work. With all its faults, he liked it. There was something breezy about it, and it had a theme that he did not remember had been treated exactly in the same way before. Though, as he himself had said, without much talent for composition, Archie had read a great many books. It is no proof because a person cannot write that he would make a poor critic. Mr. Weil might almost have filled Lawrence Gouger's place at Cutt & Slashem's. He had written fugitive pieces in his time for the papers, in reference to his travels, which had been extensive, and had even contributed occasional book reviews to the magazines. His connection with Gouger enabled him to keep in touch with what was going on in the literary world, and the dozens of new volumes which passed through that office were always at his disposal.
"She's not a fool, by any means," he remarked to himself, when he put down the last sheet of Miss Fern's work. "A fellow who understood his business might put that into such shape that it would be worth using. I mean to find some one who can do it, and suggest the idea to her, when I get to that stage in this affair. Let me see, who do I know that could undertake it?"
He had begun to undress, and was in the act of taking off his collar as he spoke. His mind ran over a list of struggling literary men. Something seemed the matter with most of them. There was Hamlin, but he would be too exacting, and would want to suggest alterations in the story itself, which would never do. There was Insley, whose last three books had been flat failures, and for whom Cutt & Slashem had positively refused to print anything more; but Insley had gone into the country for the summer and nobody knew his address. Then there was—
Archie received this thought like an inspiration. He threw his cravat on the bureau and began tugging at his shoestrings to the imminent danger of getting them into hard knots that no one could unravel. Roseleaf! Why not? The boy would do almost anything he suggested, so great was his confidence that a road to literary preferment could be staked out over that path. Roseleaf would not undertake the work for the sake of pecuniary compensation, but the thing could be presented to him in quite another light. In Miss Fern's story there were living, breathing men and women. In his own there were beautifully drawn marionettes. He could be made to see that the study of the young lady's method was worth his while. And then!
Mr. Weil's shoes lay on the floor, in the disorder of a bachelor who had never in his life taken pains to put anything in the place where it really belonged. He took out the studs of his shirt, pulled that garment over his head, and then sat for some minutes wrapped in active thought.
"They must be introduced to each other!" he exclaimed, at last. "Between them they have every qualification for success; apart they are like the separated wheels of a watch. There is Shirley, with a style so sweetly subtle, a grace so perfect, every line a gem; and with it all not a sign of human emotion. There is Millicent, full of plot and daring and breathing characters, and bold conceptions, and no more able to write good English than an Esquimaux squaw. I have both these interesting persons on my hands, and I must combine them, for their mutual good.
"I wonder what Gouger will say when I unfold my plan. Perhaps I had best not tell him. He actually came near threatening, to-day, to send a line to Miss Fern, warning her against me. He wouldn't have done it, though. Lawrence has a bark that is worse than his bite by a great deal. Yes, I'll bring these young folks together. I'll take them as Hermann does the rabbits, and press them gently but firmly into one. And then sha'n't we get a combination! And won't Mr. Lawrence Gouger hug himself when the product of their joint endeavor comes to him for a reading!"
The muser finished disrobing and donned his night robes, but it was a long time before he felt like slumber. He could think of nothing but his scheme. As he revolved it over in his mind, it took many new forms. At first Roseleaf was to be asked to rewrite the story that Miss Fern had offered Cutt & Slashem. And afterwards there must be an entirely new novel, conceived together and worked out slowly, using the best of what was brightest in both of them.
The last idea Mr. Weil had before he relapsed into unconsciousness contained two novels, worked out at the same time. Roseleaf was all right, if he could only get a glimpse of realism into his work. Miss Fern would have no trouble if her ideas could find a garb that suited them.
There would be a way to make them of service to each other, and the time to cross a bridge is always when you come to it. So thought Archie Weil, as he fell asleep.
In the morning he laughed to think of the description he had given to Shirley, in his offhand way, of "the perfect woman." It was a faithful list of Miss Millicent's charms, so far as they were apparent to him. Shirley had noted them down with great carefulness, and would be sure to notice how fully the authoress met the ideal he now had in mind. It only remained for the schemer to say something to Miss Fern that would suggest Roseleaf to her, whenever they were made acquainted.
It must be plain to the reader that Mr. Weil's principal intention in this whole matter was to dispose of the ennui which idleness brings even to its most adoring devotees. He had a fair fortune, accumulated by a father who had denied himself every luxury to amass it. Drifting to New York, he had found the vicinity of the Hoffman House very agreeable, and his companions, with the exception of Mr. Gouger, were of about as light views of life as himself. The critic was one of those strange exceptions with which most of us come in contact, where persons of entirely opposite tastes and inclinations become attached friends.
Breakfast was served so late to Mr. Weil that he had not finished that repast when the young novelist made his appearance. Seating himself on the side of the table that faced his friend, Mr. Roseleaf responded to the latter's inquiries in regard to his health by saying that he was quite well. Indeed, he looked it. His eye was bright, his cheek rosy. His attire showed just enough of a negligent quality to be attractive. There was an air about him such as is often associated with an artist of the pencil and brush.
"Never better in health," he said, "but very anxious to begin something definite in the way of work."
Mr. Weil smiled his most affable smile.
"What did I tell you to do, first?" he asked, playfully.
"To fall in love."
"Which you have not yet done!"
The young man shook his head.
"Good Heavens! And you have lost more than a week!"
Roseleaf colored more than ever.
"Isn't there something else—that I could—begin on?" he asked, humbly.
"I don't know of anything. Love is the alphabet of the novelist. You'd best go straight. Aren't there any eligible young women at your lodging house?"
The younger man thought a moment.
"No; only the chambermaid."
Mr. Weil sipped his coffee with a wise expression.
"It may come to that," he said, putting down the cup, "but we'll hope not. We will hope not. What's the matter with Central Park? There are five hundred nice girls there every afternoon."
"But I don't know them," said Roseleaf, desperately. "And—I have been there. Yesterday one of them looked at me and smiled. I walked toward her, and she slackened her speed. When I came within a few feet she almost stopped. Then—I could think of nothing to say to her, and I walked on, looking in the other direction."
Several breakfasters in the vicinity turned their heads to note the couple at the table, from which a laugh that could be heard all over the room came musically.
"Why didn't you say 'Good-morning?'"
"Yes! And she might have said 'Good-morning.' And then it would be my turn, and what could I have done?"
Mr. Weil folded up his napkin and laid it by his plate.
"You coward," he replied, affably, "you could have done a thousand things. You could have remarked that the day was fair, or that you wondered if it would rain. And you could have asked her to stroll over to a restaurant and take a little refreshment. Once opposite to her, the rest would have come fast enough."
The novelist took out a handkerchief and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. It all seemed very easy the way Archie described it, but he was sure it would be very different in practice. How could he know, he demanded, that the young lady would go to the restaurant with him? She might have declined, and then he would have been in a worse position than ever.
"Declined!" echoed Archie. "Declined a lunch? Declined ice cream? Declined champagne frappe! Well, you are ignorant of the sex. My dear boy, it is evident that I shall have to introduce you to the leading lady of your company, and if you will be patient for a very few days, I hope to be able to do so."
Rousing himself with a show of genuine interest, Roseleaf inquired for further particulars.
"Listen," replied the other. "I expect, to-morrow evening, to spend a few hours in the company of one of the most charming members of her sex. She, like you, has an ambition to become a successful writer. Like you, also, she lacks some of the prime qualities that are needed for that end. It happens, however, that the things wanting are entirely different in each of your cases—that you will, if you choose, be able to supplement and perfect each other. I shall tell her that I know a young man of literary taste who will give her advice on the points in which she is deficient. With such an opening you will be at once on Easy street, and if you cannot fall in love within forty-eight hours, I shall regard you as a case too hopeless to merit further attention at my hands."
The young man's cheek glowed with pleasure.
"That is more like it," he said. "When do you think I shall be able to meet this young lady?"
"Within a week or two, at the latest. I must sound her before I trust you with her, for she is nearly as much a stranger to me, so far, as to you. Of course there is no objection—quite the contrary—to your falling in love elsewhere in the meantime, if opportunity serves."
At this moment Mr. Weil called his companion's attention to a rather corpulent gentleman who had just entered the breakfast room and was stopping near the door to hold a brief conversation with some one he had met there.
"You see that fellow?" he remarked. "Wait a minute, and I will get him over here. If you ever want to put a real character into one of your stories you will only need to take his photograph. In actual life he is as dull as a rusty meat axe, but for literary purposes he would be a godsend."
Catching the eye of the person of whom he was speaking, Mr. Weil motioned to him to come to his part of the room, and as he approached arranged a chair for him invitingly.
"Mr. Boggs, I want to present a young friend of mine to you," said Archie, rising. "Mr. Walker Boggs—Mr. Shirley Roseleaf."
Mr. Boggs went through the usual ceremony, announcing that he was most happy, etc., in the perfunctory style that a million other men follow every day. Then he took the chair that was offered him, and gave an order for his breakfast to a waiter.
"Are you a New Yorker, Mr. Roseleaf?" he asked, when this important matter was disposed of.
"Mr. Roseleaf is staying here for the present," explained Mr. Weil. "He is a novelist by profession, and I tell him there is no better place to study the sensational than this vicinity."
The young man's color deepened. He doubted if it was right to introduce the subject in exactly these terms. Mr. Boggs' next question did not detract from his uneasiness.
"Excuse me—I am not altogether up in current literature, and I must ask what Mr. Roseleaf has written."
Mr. Weil helped his young friend out of this dilemma as well as he could.
"He has written nothing, as yet; at least nothing that has been printed," he said. "He is wise, I think, in laying a deep foundation for his romances, instead of rushing into print with the first thoughts that enter his head, as so many do, to their own subsequent regret and the distress of their readers. I want him to meet men and women who have known what life is by their own experiences. You ought to be worth something to a bright writer, Walker. You have had many an adventure in your day."
Mr. Walker Boggs shrugged his shoulders.
"In my 'day,' yes," he assented. "Enough to fill the Astor and Lenox libraries and leave enough for Charlie Dillingham and The American News Company. But that is nothing but history now. My 'day' is over and it will never return."
He paused and ran his right hand dejectedly across his vest in the vicinity of the waist band. Though he knew perfectly what Mr. Boggs referred to, Archie Weil wanted him to express it in his own words to Shirley.
"You wouldn't think," continued Mr. Boggs, after a pause which seemed filled with strange emotions, "that my figure was once the admiration of every lady who saw it, that they used to stop and gaze at me with eyes of positive envy. And now—look at this!"
He indicated his embonpoint again, and shook his head wrathfully.
"It is simply damnable," he continued, as neither of the others thought best to interrupt him. "When I was twenty-four I had a reputation that was as wide as the continent. When I walked down Broadway you would have supposed a procession was passing, the crowds gathered in such numbers. If it was mentioned that I would spend a week at Saratoga or Newport, the hotels had not a room to spare while I remained. The next year I married, and as one of the fashion journals put it, two thousand women went into mourning. For a decade I devoted myself entirely to my wife and to business. I made some money, and kept out of the public eye. Then my wife died, and I retired from the firm with which I had been connected. The next twelve months dragged terribly. I did not know what to do. Finally I decided that there was but one course open to me. I must resume again the position I had vacated as a leader of fashion."
Mr. Weil bowed, as if to say that this was a very natural and praiseworthy conclusion; precisely as if he had not heard the story told in substantially the same way a dozen times before. He was watching Roseleaf's interested expression and had difficulty in repressing an inclination to laugh aloud.
"I sought out the best tailor in the city," continued Mr. Boggs. "I went to the most fashionable hair dresser. I spent considerable time in selecting hats, cravats and gloves. When all was ready I took a stroll, as I had done in the old days, from Fiftieth street, down Fifth Avenue and Broadway to Union Square. I met a few acquaintances who stared at me slightly, but did not act in the least impressed. The women merely glanced up and glanced away again. What was the matter? I went home and took a long survey of myself in the mirror, a cheval glass that showed me from crown to toe. My costume was perfect. There was not a wrinkle in my face—this was several years ago, remember. There was not a gray hair in my head then—there are a few now, I admit. 'What is it?' I asked myself a hundred times as I stood there, studying out the cursed problem. My tie was all right, my shirt front of the latest cut, my watch chain straight from Tiffany's, my—ah! I saw it all in a moment!"
Roseleaf, who did not see it even yet, wore such an astonished expression that Mr. Weil had to stuff his napkin into his mouth to prevent an explosion.
"It was this devilish abdomen!" said Mr. Boggs, slapping that portion of his frame as if he had a special grudge against it and would be glad if he could hit it hard enough to bring it to a realizing sense of its turpitude. "My figure had gone to the devil! It was not as large as it is now, but it was large enough to cook my gruel. My waist had increased so gradually that I had never noticed it. I got a tape and took its measure. Forty-two inches, sir! The jig was up. With a heart as young as ever, with a face as good and a purse able to supply all reasonable demands, I was knocked out of the race on the first round by this adipose tissue that no ingenuity could hope to conceal!"
Mr. Weil could wait no longer. His musical laugh rang out over the room.
"Let this be a warning to you, Shirley," he said, "to wear corsets."
"It is no joke," was the indignant comment of Mr. Walker Boggs, as he proceeded to add to his rotundity by devouring the hearty breakfast that the waiter had just brought him. "I am left like a marooned sailor on the sea of life. The only occupation that could have entertained me is gone. It is no time to enter business again, I couldn't have selected a wiser one to leave it. I don't want to marry, once was enough of that. The only women I can attract are those commercially inclined females that any other man could have as well as I. What is the result? My life is ruined. I take no pleasure in anything. I eat, walk about, go to a play, sleep. A pig could do as much; and a pig would not have these memories to haunt him, these recollections of a time so different that I am almost driven wild."
Roseleaf felt a sincere pity for the unfortunate gentleman, and did not see the slightest element of humor in his melancholy recital. But Archie Weil could not be restrained.
"You're right about that pig business," he remarked. "You recall the incident in Mother Goose, where—
'A little pig found a fifty dollar note, And purchased a hat and a very fine coat.'
"There are strange parallels in history."
Mr. Boggs would have replied to this remark in the terms it deserved had he not been too much engaged at the moment in masticating a particularly fine chop. As it was he growled over the meat like a mastiff in bad humor.
"Are there no remedies for excessive accumulation of fat in the abdominal region?" asked Weil, taking his advantage. "It seems to me I have read advertisements of them in the newspapers."
"Remedies!" retorted the other, having swallowed the food and supplemented it with a glass of ale. "There are a thousand, and I have tried them all. I have taken things by the gross. I have paid money to every quack I could find. For awhile I starved myself so nearly to death that I went to making my will. And every day I grew stouter. I don't know what I measure now, and I don't care. A few fathoms more or less, doesn't count, when one falls from a steamer in midocean."
Mr. Weil took occasion to say that there was no need for this extreme discouragement. A little coin in the hand, or a new diamond ring, would still bring youth and beauty to his disconsolate friend.
"That's just it," retorted Boggs. "It's the contrast that's killing me. The only women who would look at me to-day are mercenary ones that wouldn't care if I was black as Othello or big as George IV. Why, I could show you a trunkful of letters, written me by the finest women in this country, when I was at my best. They breathe but one thing—love, love, love! I lived on it! It was the air that kept my lungs in motion. And I thought to go back to it so easily! Ah!"
Mr. Boggs commenced upon his fourth chop and emptied the last of the quart bottle into his glass.
"Well, I'm sorry for you," said Weil. "I think the times must have changed, as well as yourself, though. Now, here's a young fellow, with all the qualifications of face, figure and address that you once had, and he claims to be unable to make the acquaintance of a single interesting woman between Brooklyn Bridge and Spuyten Duyvil."
The heavy eyes of Mr. Walker Boggs rested upon the youthful face opposite to him. Under the scrutiny to which he was subjected Roseleaf reddened, in the way he had. He had never looked more handsome.
"This is evidently a jest of yours," said Boggs, turning to Mr. Weil.
"Not in the least, I assure you."
"Then I say he can do what he likes, and I know it," replied the stout man. "If I had his form I'd have to ask the police to clear the way for me. I have seen circulation impeded in front of this very hotel because I was coming out to take my carriage. If he won't look at them, why, of course, the women can't do it all, but it lies with him."
Roseleaf's eyes glistened with a strange mixture of hope and fear. He did not think he would care to be in such great demand as that, but he dearly wished to break through the iron bars that enclosed him. He glanced in a glass that paneled the wall near by. He was good-looking enough, it was no vanity to say so. What he lacked was confidence.
"He is afraid of them, that's his trouble," smiled Weil. "We will cure him of that, and when he gets to know women as they are he will give us a novel that will set all creation by the ears. Gouger—you know Gouger—says he writes the purest English. All he needs is a taste of life."
To this Mr. Boggs gave his unqualified assent. And he added that if he could be of any service in the matter he would only be too glad.
"We thank you for the offer, and may be able later to make use of it," said Mr. Weil. "And now good-morning, for we have important business to attend to."
Roseleaf looked long and earnestly at the person they were leaving. He seemed to him a very ordinary individual. If such a man had won the love of scores of beautiful women, surely he himself could gain the affections of one. When he stood with Weil in front of the hotel, by which an unrivaled procession of ladies and gentleman was already beginning to pass, though it was only eleven o'clock, he felt much encouraged.
"They are looking at you," whispered Archie, "plenty of them. Did you see those two girls in pink in that landau? Why, they nearly broke their necks to get the last glimpse of you. There is another lady who would stop if you asked her, pretty as any of them, though she must be nearly thirty. Your eyes are not open. Ah, here is something better! In that carriage, with the Titian tresses!"
It was Miss Millicent Fern, and she bowed to Mr. Weil. Then her bright eyes lit up with a new lustre as they fell upon his companion.
STUDYING MISS MILLICENT.
When Mr. Weil made his appearance at the residence of Mr. Wilton Fern, the door was opened for him by a young negro of such superb proportions that the caller could not help observing him with admiration. He thought he had never seen a man more perfectly formed. The face, though too dark to suggest the least admixture of Caucasian blood, was well featured. The lips were not thick nor was the nose flat, as is the case with so many of the African race. The voice, as the visitor heard it, was by no means unpleasant. Mr. Weil could not imagine a better model for an ebony statue than this butler, or footman, or whatever position, perhaps both, he might be engaged to fill.
"Yes, sir, Miss Millicent is in, and she is expecting you," said the negro, in his pleasant and strong tones. "Let me take your hat and stick. Now, sir, this way."
Miss Fern came in a few moments to the parlor, where Archie was left, and greeted him most cordially.
"There is a sitting-room on the next floor," she said, "where we shall not be disturbed. I have given Hannibal orders to admit no one, saying that we shall want the evening entirely to ourselves."
"Hannibal?" repeated the visitor. "Is that the name of the remarkable individual who received me just now?"
"Yes," said Miss Fern, rather coldly. "Though I do not know why you call him 'remarkable.'"
"He is so tall, so grand, so entirely overpowering," explained Mr. Weil. "One would think he might be the son of an African king. I never saw a black man that gave me such an impression of force and power."
Millicent elevated her eyebrows a little, as if annoyed at these expressions. She answered, still frigidly, that she had noticed nothing unusual about Hannibal. She did not believe she had looked closely enough at his face to be able to identify him in a court.
"He would make a fine character for a novel," said Mr. Weil, as they walked together up the broad staircase. "I could almost write one myself, around such a personality."
The young lady looked disgusted.
"A negro servant!" she exclaimed. "What kind of a novel could you write with such a central figure?"
"Perhaps I should not put him in the centre," laughed Archie, determined to win her good nature. "Every story needs lights and shades. You can't deny that he would cast a magnificent shadow."
The humor of this observation struck Miss Fern and she joined mildly in her companion's mirth. Then she remarked that the central figure of a novel—the main thing in it—to her mind, should be a being who could be given the attributes of beauty and grace. The minor characters were of less account, and would come into existence almost of their own accord.