Part II.—Despair.

Prev..

A FORTNIGHT had been given to us to prepare our matter, and during that fortnight I saw none of my colleagues. I purposely kept myself apart from them in order that I might thus give a fairer chance to the scheme which had been adopted. Others might borrow or lend their pages, but I would do the work allotted to me, and would attend the next meeting as anxious for the establishment and maintenance of the Panjandrum as I had been when I had hoped that the great consideration which I had given personally to the matter might have been allowed to have some weight. And gradually, as I devoted the first day of my fortnight to thinking of my work, I taught myself to hope again, and to look forward to a time when, by the sheer weight of my own industry and persistency, I might acquire that influence with my companions of which I had dreamed of becoming the master. After all, could I blame them for not trusting me, when as yet I had given them no ground for such confidence ? What had I done that they should be willing to put their thoughts, their aspirations, their very brains and inner selves under my control? But something might be done which would force them to regard me as their leader. So I worked hard at my twenty-one pages, and during the fortnight spoke no word of the “Panjandrum ” to any human being.

But my work did not get itself done without very great mental distress. The choice of a subject had been left free to each contributor. For myself I would almost have preferred that some one should have dictated to me the matter to which I should devote myself. How would it be with our first number if each of us were to write a political essay of exactly twenty-one pages, .or a poem of that length in blank verse, or a humorous narrative P Good heavens! How were we to expect success with the public if there were no agreement between ourselves as to the nature of our contributions, no editorial power in existence for our mutual support ? I went down and saw Mr. X., and found him to be almost indifferent as to the magazine. ” You see, sir,” said he, ” the matter isn’t in my hands. If I can give any assistance, I shall be very happy; but it seems to me that you want some one with experience.” ” I could have put them right if they’d have let me,” I replied. He was very civil, but it was quite clear to me that Mr. X.’s interest in the matter was over since the day of his banishment from Mrs. St. Quinten’s tea-table. ” What do you think is a good sort of subject,” I asked him,—as it were cursorily; ” with a view, you know, to the eye of the public, just at the present moment?” He declined to suggest any subject, and I was thrown back among the depths of my own feelings and convictions. Now, could we have blended our elements together, and discussed all this in really amicable council, each would have corrected what there might have been of rawness in the other, and in the freedom of conversation our wits would have grown from the warmth of mutual encouragement. Such, at least, was my belief then. Since that I have learned to look at the business with eyes less enthusiastic. Let a man have learned the trick of the pen, let him not smoke too many cigars overnight, and let him get into his chair within half an hour after breakfast, and I can tell you almost to a line how much of a magazine article he will produce in three hours. It does not much matter what the matter be,—only this, that if his task be that of reviewing, he may be expected to supply a double quantity. Three days, three out of the fourteen, passed by, and I could think of no fitting subject on which to begin the task I had appointed myself of teaching the British public. Politics at the moment were rather dull, and no very great question was agitating the minds of men. Lord Melbourne was Prime Minister, and had in the course of the Session been subjected to the usual party attacks. “We intended to go a great deal further than Lord Melbourne in advocating liberal measures, and were disposed to regard him and his colleagues as antiquated fogies in State-craft; but, nevertheless, as against Sir Robert Peel, we should have given him the benefit of our defence. I did not, however, feel any special call to write up Lord Melbourne. Lord John was just then our pet minister; but even on his behalf I did not find myself capable of filling twenty-one closely- printed pages with matter which should really stir the public mind. In a first number, to stir the public mind is everything. I didn’t think that my colleagues sufficiently realised that fact,—though I had indeed endeavoured to explain it to them. In the second, third, or fourth publication you may descend gradually to an ordinary level; you may become,—not exactly dull, for dulness in a magazine should be avoided,—but what I may perhaps call ” adagio ” as compared with the ” con forza” movement with which the publication certainly should be opened. No reader expects to be supplied from month to month with the cayenne pepper and shallot style of literature; but in the preparation of a new literary banquet, the first dish cannot be too highly spiced. I knew all that,—and then turned it over in my mind whether I could not do something about the ballot.

It had never occurred to me before that there could be any difficulty in finding a subject. I had to reject the ballot because at that period of my life I had, in fact, hardly studied the subject. I was liberal, and indeed radical, in all my political ideas. I was ready to ” go in ” for anything that was undoubtedly liberal and radical. In a general way I was as firm in my politics as any member of the House of Commons, and had thought as much on public subjects as some of them. I was an eager supporter of the ballot. But when I took the pen in my hand there came upon me a feeling that,—that,—that I didn’t exactly know how to say anything about it that other people would care to read. The twenty-one pages loomed before me as a wilderness, which, with such a staff, I could never traverse. It had not occurred to me before that it would be so difficult for a man to evoke from his mind ideas on a subject with which he supposed himself to be familiar. And, such thoughts as I had, I could clothe in no fitting words. On the fifth morning, driven to despair, I did write a page or two upon the ballot; and then,—sinking back in my chair, I began to ask myself a question, as to which doubt was terrible to me. Was this the kind of work to which my gifts were applicable ? The pages which I had already written were manifestly not adapted to stir the public mind. The sixth and seventh days I passed altogether within my room, never once leaving the house. I drank green tea. I eat meat very slightly cooked. I debarred myself from food for several hours, so that the flesh might be kept well under. I sat up one night, nearly till daybreak, with a wet towel round my head. On the next I got up, and lit my own fire at four o’clock. Thinking that I might be stretching the cord too tight, I took to reading a novel, but could not remember the words as I read them, so painfully anxious was I to produce the work I had undertaken to perform. On the morning of the eighth- day I was still without a subject.

I felt like the man who undertook to play the violin at a dance for five shillings and a dinner,—the dinner to be paid in advance; but who, when making his bargain, had forgotten that he had never learned a note of music ! I had undertaken even to lead the band, and, as it seemed, could not evoke a sound. A horrid idea came upon me that I was struck, as it were, with a sudden idiotcy. My mind had absolutely fled from me. I sat in my armchair, looking at the wall, counting the pattern on the paper, and hardly making any real effort to think. All the world seemed at once to have become a blank to me”. I went on muttering to myself, “No, the ballot won’t do;” as though there was nothing else but the ballot with which to stir the public mind. On the eighth morning I made a minute and quite correct calculation of the number of words that were demanded of me,—taking the whole as forty-two pages, because of the necessity of recopying,— and I found that about four hours a day would be required for the mere act of writing. The paper was there, and the pen and ink;—but beyond that there was nothing ready. I had thought to rack my brain, but I began to doubt whether I had a brain to rack. Of all those matters of public interest which had hitherto been to me the very salt of my life, I could not remember one which could possibly be converted into twenty-one pages of type. Unconsciously I kept on muttering words about the ballot.

” The ballot be !” I said, aloud to myself in my agony.

On that Sunday evening I began to consider what excuse I might best make to my colleagues. I might send and say I waa very sick. I might face them, and quarrel with them,—because of their ill-treatment of me. Or I might tell only half a lie, keeping within the letter of the truth, and say that I had not yet finished my work. But no. I would not lie at all. Late on that Sunday evening there came upon me a grand idea. I would stand up before them, and confess my inability to do the work I had undertaken. I arranged the words of my little speech, and almost took delight in them. ” I, who have intended to be a teacher, am now aware that I have hardly as yet become a pupil.” In such case the ” Panjandrum” would be at an end. The elements had not been happily blended; but without me they could not, I was sure, be kept in any concert. The ” Panjandrum,”— which I had already learned to love as a mother loves her first-born,—the dear old ” Panjandrum ” must perish before its birth. I felt the pity of it! The thing itself, —the idea and theory of it, had been very good. But how shall a man put forth a magazine when he finds himself unahle to write a page of it within the compass of a week ? The meditations of that Sunday were very bitter, but perhaps they were useful. I had long since perceived that mankind are divided into two classes,— those who shall speak, and those who shall listen to the speech of others. In seeing clearly the existence of such a division I had hitherto always assumed myself to belong to the first class. Might it not be probable that I had made a mistake, and that it would become me modestly to take my allotted place in the second ?

On the Monday morning I began to think that I was ill, and resolved that I would take my hat and go out into the Park, and breathe some air,—let the ” Panjandrum ” live or die. Such another week as the last would, I fancied, send me to Hanwell. It was now November, and at ten o’clock, when I looked out, there was a soft drizzling rain coming down, and the pavement of the street was deserted. It was just the morning for work, were work possible. There still lay on the little table in the corner of the room the square single sheet of paper, with its margin doubled down, all fitted for the printer,—only that the sheet was still blank. I looked at the page, and I rubbed my brow, and I gazed into the street,—and then determined that a two hours’ ring round the Regent’s Park was the only chance left for me.

As I put on my thick boots and old hat and prepared myself for a thorough wetting, I felt as though at last I had hit upon the right plan. Violent exercise was needed, and then inspiration might come. Inspiration would come the sooner if I could divest myself from all effort in searching for it. I would take my walk and employ my mind, simply, in observing the world around me. For some distance there was but little of the world to observe. I was lodging at this period in a quiet and eligible street not far from Theobald’s Road. Thence my way lay through Bloomsbury Square, Russell Square, and Gower Street, and as I went I found the pavement to be almost deserted. The thick soft rain came down, not with a splash and various currents, running off and leaving things washed though wet, but gently insinuating itself everywhere, and covering even the flags with mud. I cared nothing for the mud. I went through it all with a happy scorn for the poor creatures who were endeavouring to defend their clothes with umbrellas. “Let the heavens do their worst to me,” I said to myself as I spun along with eager steps ; and I was conscious of a feeling that external injuries could avail me nothing if I could only cure the weakness that was within.

The Park too was nearly empty. No place in London is ever empty now, but thirty years ago the population was palpably thinner. I had not come out, however, to find a crowd. A damp boy sweeping a crossing, or an old woman trying to sell an apple, was sufficient to fill my mind with thoughts as to the affairs of my fellow- creatures. Why should it have been allotted to that old woman to sit there, placing all her hopes on the chance sale of a few apples, the cold rain entering her very bones and driving rheumatism into all her joints, while another old woman, of whom I had read a paragraph that morning, was appointed to entertain royalty, and go about the country with five or six carriagea and four? Was there injustice in this,—and if so, whence had the injustice come ? The reflection was probably not new; but, if properly thought out, might it not suffice for the one-and-twenty pages ? ” Sally Brown, the barrow- woman, /v. /the Duchess of !” Would it not be possible to make the two women plead against each other in some imaginary court of justice, beyond the limits of our conventional life,—some court in which the duchess should be forced to argue her own case, and in which the barrow-woman would decidedly get the better of her? If this could be done how happy would have been my walk through the mud and slush !

As I was thinking of this I saw before me on the pathway a stout woman,—apparently middle-aged, but her back was towards me,—leading a girl who perhaps might be ten or eleven years old. They had come up one of the streets from the New Road to the Park, and were hurrying along so fast that the girl, who held the woman by the arm, was almost running. The woman was evidently a servant, but in authority,—an upper nurse perhaps, or a housekeeper. Why she should have brought her charge out in the rain was a mystery ; but I could see from the elasticity of the child’s step that she was happy and very eager. She was a well-made girl, with long well-rounded legs, which came freely down beneath her frock, with strong firm boots, a straw hat, and a plaid shawl wound carefully round her throat and waist. As I followed them those rapid legs of hers

seemed almost to twinkle in their motion as she kept pace with the stout woman who was conducting her. The mud was all over her stockings; but still there was about her an air of well-to-do comfort which made me feel that the mud was no more than a joke to her. Every now and then I caught something of a glimpse of her face as she half turned herself round in talking to the woman. I could see, or at least I could fancy that I saw, that she was fair, with large round eyes and soft light brown hair. Children did not then wear wigs upon their backs, and I was driven to exercise my fancy as to her locks. At hist I resolved that I would pass them and have one look at her, —and I did so. It put me to my best pace to do it, but gradually I overtook them and could hear that the girl never ceased talking as she ran. As I went by them I distinctly heard the words, ” Oh, Anne, I do so wonder what he’s like!” ” You’ll see, miss,” said Anne. I looked back and saw that she was exactly as I had thought,—a fair, strong, healthy girl, with round eyes and large mouth, broad well-formed nose, and light hair. Who was the ” he,” as to whom her anxiety was so great, —the ” he ” whom she was tripping along through the rain and mud to see, and kiss, and love, and wonder at ?

And why hadn’t she been taken in a cab ? Would she be allowed to take off those very dirty stockings before she was introduced to her new-found brother, or wrapped in the arms of her stranger father ?

I saw no more of them, and heard no further word; but I thought a great deal of the girl. Ah, me, if she could have been a young unknown, newly-found sister of my own, how warmly would I have welcomed her! How little should I have cared for the mud on her stockings; how closely would I have folded her in my arms; how anxious would I have been with Anne as to those damp clothes; what delight would I have had in feeding her, coaxing her, caressing her, and playing with her ! There had seemed to belong to her a wholesome strong health, which it had made me for the moment happy even to witness. And then the sweet, eloquent anxiety of her voice,—” Oh, Anne, I do so wonder what he’s like!” While I heard her voice I had seemed to hear and know so much of her! And then she had passed out of my ken for ever!

I thought no more about the duchess and the apple- woman, but devoted my mind entirely to the girl and her brother. I was persuaded that it must be a brother.

Had it been a father there would have been more of awe in her tone. It certainly was a brother. Gradually, as the unforced imagination came to play upon the matter, a little picture fashioned itself in my mind. The girl was my own sister,—a sister whom I had never seen till she was thus brought to me for protection and love; but she was older, just budding into womanhood, instead of running beside her nurse with twinkling legs. There, . however, was the same broad, honest face, the same round eyes, the same strong nose and mouth. She had come to me for love and protection, having no other friend in the world to trust. But, having me, I proudly declared to myself that she needed nothing further. In two short months I was nothing to her,—or almost nothing. I had a friend, and in two little months my friend had become so much more than I ever could have been!

These wondrous castles in the air never get themselves well built when the mind, with premeditated skill and labour, sets itself to work to build them. It is when they come uncalled for that they stand erect and strong before the mind’s eye, with every mullioned window perfect, the rounded walls all there, the embrasures cut, the fosse dug, and the drawbridge down. As I had made this castle for myself, as I had sat with this girl by my side, calling her the sweetest names, as I had seen her blush when my friend came near her, and had known at once, with a mixed agony and joy, how the thing was to be, I swear that I never once thought of the ” Panjandrum.” I walked the whole round of the Regent’s Park, perfecting the building;—and I did perfect it, took the girl to church, gave her away to my friend Walker, and came back and sobbed and sputtered out my speech at the little breakfast, before it occurred to me to suggest to myself that I might use the thing.

Churchill Smith and Walter Watt had been dead against a novel; and, indeed, the matter had been put to the vote, and it had been decided that there should be no novel. But, what is a novel ? The purport of that vote had been to negative a long serial tale, running on from number to number, in a manner which has since become well understood by the reading public. I had thought my colleagues wrong, and so thinking, it was clearly my duty to correct their error, if I might do so without infringing that loyalty and general obedience to expressed authority which are so essential to such a society as ours. Before I had got back to Theobald’s Eoad I had persuaded myself that a short tale would be the very thing for the first number. It might not stir the public mind. To do that I would leave to Churchill Smith and Walter Watt. But a well-formed little story, such as that of which I had now the full possession, would fall on the readers of the “Panjandrum” like sweet rain in summer, making things fresh and green and joyous. I was quite sure that it was needed. Walter Watt might say what he pleased, and Churchill Smith might look at me as sternly as he would, sitting there silent with his forehead on his hand; but I knew at least as much about a magazine as they did. At any rate, I would write my tale. That very morning it had seemed to me to be impossible to get anything written. Now, as I hurried up-stairs to get rid of my wet clothes, I felt that I could not take the pen quickly enough into my hand. I had a thing to say, and I would say it. If I could complete my story,—and I did not doubt its completion from the very moment in which I realised its conception,—I should be saved, at any rate, from the disgrace of appearing empty-handed in Mrs. St. Quinten’s parlour. Within a quarter of an hour of my arrival at home I had seated myself at my table and written the name of the tele,—” The New Inmate.”

I doubt whether any five days in my life were ever happier than those which were devoted to this piece of work. I began it that Monday afternoon, and finished it on the Friday night. While I was at the task all doubt vanished from my mind. I did not care a fig for Watt or Smith, and was quite sure that I should carry Mrs. St. Quinten with me. Each night I copied fairly what I had written in the day, and I came to love the thing with an exceeding love. There was a deal of pathos in it,—at least so I thought,—and I cried over it like a child. I had strained all my means to prepare for the coming of the girl,—I am now going back for a moment to my castle in the air,—and had furnished for her a little sitting-room and as pretty a white-curtained chamber as a girl ever took pleasure in calling her own. There were books for her, and a small piano, and a low sofa, and all little feminine belongings. I had said to myself that everything should be for her, and I had sold my horse, —the horse of my imagination, the reader will understand, for I had never in truth possessed such an animal,—and told my club friends that I should no longer be one of them. Then the girl had come, and had gone away to Walker,—as it seemed to me at once,—to Walker, who still lived in lodgings, and had not even a second sitting- room for her comfort,—to “Walker, who was, indeed, a good fellow in his way, but possessed of no particular attractions either in wit, manners, or beauty ! I wanted them to change with me, and to take my pretty home. I should have been delighted to go to a garret, leaving them everything. But Walker was proud, and would not have it so; and the girl protested that .the piano and the white dimity curtains were nothing to her. Walker was everything;—Walker, of whom she had never heard, when she came but a few weeks since to me as the only friend left to her in the world! I worked myself up to such a pitch of feeling over my story, that I could hardly write it for my tears. I saw myself standing all alone in that pretty sitting-room after they were gone, and I pitied myself with an exceeding pity. ” Si vis me flere, dolendum est primum ipsi tibi.” If success was to be obtained by obeying that instruction, I might certainly expect success.

The way in which my work went without a pause was delightful. When the pen was not in my hand I was longing for it. While I was walking, eating, or reading, I was still thinking of my story. I dreamt of it. It came to me to be a matter that admitted of no doubt. The girl with the muddy stockings, who had thus provided me in my need, was to me a blessed memory. When I kissed my sister’s brow, on her first arrival, she was in my arms, —palpably. All her sweetnesses were present to me, as though I had her there, in the little street turning out of Theobald’s Road. To this moment I can distinguish the voice in which she spoke to me that little whispered word, when I asked her whether she cared for Walker. When one thinks of it, the reality of it all is appalling. What need is there of a sister or a friend in the flesh,—a sister or a friend with probably so many faults,—when by a little exercise of the mind they may be there at your elbow, faultless ? It came to pass that the tale was more dear to me than the magazine. As I read it through for the third or fourth time on the Sunday morning, I was chiefly anxious for the ” Panjandrum,” in order that ” The New Inmate ” might see the world.

We were to meet that evening at eight o’clock, and it was understood that the sitting would be prolonged to a late hour, because of the readings. It would fall to my lot to take the second reading, as coming next to Mrs. St. Quinten, and I should, at any rate, not be subjected to a weary audience. “We had, however, promised each other to be very patient; and I was resolved that, even to the production of Churchill Smith, who would be the last, I would give an undivided and eager attention. I determined also in my joy that I would vote against the insertion of no colleague’s contribution. “Were we not in a boat together, and would not each do his best ? Even though a paper might be dull, better a little dulness than the crushing of a friend’s spirit. I fear that I thought that ” The New Inmate ” might atone for much dulness. I dined early on that day; then took a walk round the Regent’s Park, -to renew my thoughts on the very spot on which they had first occurred to me, and after that, returning home, gave a last touch to my work. Though it had been written after so hurried a fashion, there was not a word in it which I had not weighed and found to be fitting.

I was the first at Mrs. St. Quinten’s house, and found that lady very full of the magazine. She asked, however, no questions as to my contribution. Of her own she at once spoke to me. ” What do you think I have done at last?” she said. In my reply to her question I made some slight allusion to ” The New Inmate,” but I don’t think she caught the words. ” I have reviewed Bishop Berkeley’s whole Theory on Matter,” said she. What feeling I expressed by my gesture I cannot say, but I think it must have been one of great awe. ” And I have done it exhaustively,” she continued; ” so that the subject need not be continued. Churchill does not like continuations.” Perhaps it did not signify much. If she were heavy, I at any rate was light. If her work should prove difficult of comprehension, mine was easy. If she spoke only to the wise and old, I had addressed myself to babes and sucklings. I said something as to the contrast, again naming my little story. But she was too full of Bishop Berkeley to heed me. If she had worked as I had worked, of course she was full of Bishop Berkeley. To me, “The New Inmate” at that moment was more than all the bishops.

The other men soon came in, clustering together, and our number was complete. Regan whispered to me that Jack Hallam had not written a line. “And youP” I asked. ” Oh, I am all right,” said he. ” I don’t suppose they’ll let it pass; but that’s their affair;—not mine.” Watt and Smith took their places almost without speaking, and preparation was made for the preliminary feast of the body. The after-feast was matter of such vital importance to us that we hardly possessed our customary light-hearted elasticity. There was, however, an air of subdued triumph about our ” Lydia,”—of triumph subdued by the presence of her cousin. As for myself, I was supremely happy. I said a word to Watt, asking him as to his performance. ” I don’t suppose you will like it,” he replied; “but it is at any rate a fair specimen of that which it has been my ambition to produce.” I assured him with enthusiasm that I was thoroughly prepared to approve, and that, too, without carping criticism. ” But we must be critics,” he observed. Of Churchill Smith I asked no question.

When we had eaten and drunk we began the work of the evening by giving in the names of our papers, and describing the nature of the work we had done. Mrs. St. Quinten was the first, and read her title from a scrap of paper. “A Review of Bishop Berkeley’s Theory.” Churchill Smith remarked that it was a very dangerous subject. The lady begged him to wait till he should hear the paper read. ” Of course I will hear it read,” said her cousin. To me it was evident that Smith would object to this essay without any scruple, if he did not in truth approve of it. Then it was my turn, and I explained in the quietest tone which I could assume that I had written a little tale called ” The New Inmate.” It was very simple, I said, hut I trusted it might not be rejected on that score. There was silence for a moment, and I prompted Regan to proceed ; but I was interrupted by “Walter “Watt. ” I thought,” said he, ” that we had positively decided against ‘ prose fiction.'” I protested that the decision had been given against novels, against long serial stories to be continued from number to number. This was a little thing, completed within my twenty-one allotted pages. ” Our vote was taken as to prose fiction,” said “Watt. I appealed to Hallam, who at once took my part,—as also did Regan. ” Walter is quite correct as to the purport of our decision,” said Churchill Smith. I turned to Mrs. St. Quinten. ” I don’t see why we shouldn’t have a short story,” she said. I then declared that with their permission I would at any rate read it, and again requested Regan to proceed. Upon this “Walter Watt rose upon his feet, and made a speech. The vote had been taken, and could not be rescinded. After such a vote it was not open to me to read my story. The story, no doubt, was very good,—he was pleased to say so,— but it was not matter of the sort which they intended to use. Seeing the purpose which they had in view, he thought that the reading of the story would be waste of time. ” It will clearly be waste of time,” said Churchill Smith. Walter Watt went on to explain to us that if from one meeting to another we did not allow ourselves to be bound by our own decisions, we should never appear before the public.

I will acknowledge that I was enraged. It seemed to me impossible that such folly should be allowed to prevail, or that after all my efforts I should be treated by my own friends after such a fashion. I also got upon my legs and protested loudly that Mr. Watt and Mr. Smith did not even know what had been the subject under discussion, when the vote adverse to novels had been taken. No record was kept of our proceedings; and, as I clearly showed to them, Mr. Regan and Mr. Hallam were quite as likely to hold correct views on this subject as were Mr. Watt and Mr. Smith. All calling of men Pat, and Jack, and Walter, was for the moment over. Watt admitted the truth of this argument, and declared that they must again decide whether my story of “The New Inmate” was or was not a novel in the sense intended when the previous vote was taken. If not,—if the decision on that point should be in my favour,—then the privilege of reading it would at any rate belong to me. I believed so thoroughly in my own work that I desired nothing beyond this. We went to work, therefore, and took the votes on the proposition,—”Was or was not the story of “The New Inmate” debarred by the previous resolution against the admission of novels ?

The decision manifestly rested with Mrs. St. Quinten. I was master, easily master, of three votes. Hallam and Regan were altogether with me, and in a matter of such import I had no hesitation in voting for myself. Had the question been the acceptance or rejection of the story for the magazine, then, by the nature of our constitution, I should have had no voice in the matter. But this was not the case, and I recorded my own vote in my own favour without a blush. Having done so, I turned to Mrs. St. Quinten with an air of supplication in my face of which I myself was aware, and of which I became at once ashamed. She looked round at me almost furtively, keeping her eyes otherwise fixed upon Churchill Smith’s immovable countenance. I did not condescend to speak a word to her. What words I had to say, I had spoken to them all, and was confident in the justice of my cause. I quickly dropped that look of supplication and threw myself back in my chair. The moment was one of intense interest^ almost of agony, but I could not allow myself to think that in very truth my work would be rejected by them before it was seen. If such were to be their decision, how would it be possible that the ” Panjandrum” should ever be brought into existence ? Who could endure such ignominy and still persevere ?

There was silence among us, which to me in the intensity of my feelings seemed to last for minutes. Regan was the first to speak. ” Now, Mrs. St. Quinten,” he said, ” it all rests with you.” An idea shot across my mind at the moment, of the folly of which we had been guilty in placing our most vital interests in the hands of a woman merely on the score of gallantry. Two votes had been given to her as against one of ours simply because, —she was a woman. It may be that there had been something in the arrangement of compensation for the tea and muffins; but if so, how poor was the cause for so great an effect! She sat there the arbiter of our destinies. “You had better give your vote,” said Smith roughly. “You think it is a novel?” she said, appealing to him. ” There can be no doubt of it,” he replied; “a novel is not a novel because it is long or short. Such is the matter which we intended to declare that we would not put forth in our magazine.” ” I protest,” said I, jumping up,—” I protest against this interference.”

Then there was a loud and a very angry discussion whether Churchill Smith was justified in his endeavour to bias Mrs. St. Quinten; and we were nearly brought to a vote upon that. I myself was very anxious to have that question decided,—to have any question decided in which Churchill Smith could be shown to be in the wrong. But no one would back me, and it seemed to me as though even Regan and Jack Hallam were falling off from me,— though Jack had never yet restored to me that article of clothing to which allusion was made in the first chapter of this little history, and I had been almost as anxious for Pat’s Latin translation as for my own production. It was decided without a vote that any amount of free questioning as to each other’s opinions, and of free answering, was to be considered fair. ” I tell her my opinion. You can tell her yours,” said Churchill Smith. ” It is my opinion,” said I, ” that you want to dictate to everybody and to rule the whole thing.” ” I think we did mean to exclude all story-telling,” said Mrs. St. Quinten, and so the decision was given against me.

Looking back at it I know that they were right on the exact point then under discussion. They had intended to exclude all stories. But,—heaven and earth,—was there ever such folly as that of which they had been guilty in coming to such a resolution ? I have often suggested to myself since, that had ” The New Inmate ” been read on that evening, the ” Panjandrum” might have become a living reality, and that the fortieth volume of the publication might now have been standing on the shelves of many a well-filled library. The decision, however, had been given against me, and I sat like one stricken dumb, paralysed, or turned to stone. I remember it as though it were yesterday. I did not speak a word, but simply moving my chair an inch or two, I turned my face away from the lady who had thus blasted all my hopes. I fear that my eyes were wet, and that a hot tear trickled down each cheek. No note of triumph was sounded, and I verily believe they all suffered in my too conspicuous sufferings. To both Watt and Smith it had been a matter of pure conscience. Mrs. St. Quinten, womanlike, had obeyed the man in whose strength she trusted. There was silence for a few moments, and then “Watt invited Regan to proceed. He had divided his work into three portions, but what they were called, whether they were verse or prose, translations or original, comic or serious, I never knew. I could not listen then. For me to continue my services to the “Panjandrum” was an impossibility. I had been crushed,—so crushed that I had not vitality left me to escape from the room, or I should not have remained there. Pat Regan’s papers were nothing to me now. Watt I knew had written an essay called ” The Real Aristocrat,” which was published elsewhere afterwards. Jack Hallam’s work was not ready. There was something said of his delinquency, but I cared not what. I only wished that my work also had been unready. Churchill Smith also had some essay, ” On the Basis of Political Right.” That, if I remember rightly, was its title. I often talked the matter over in after days with Pat Regan, and I know that from the moment in which my consternation was made apparent to them, the thing went very heavily. At the time, and for some hours after the adverse decision, I was altogether unmanned and unable to collect my thoughts. Before the evening was over there occurred a further episode in our affairs which awakened me.

The names of the papers had been given in, and Mrs. St. Quinten began to read her essay. Nothing more than the drone of her voice reached the tympanum of my ears. I did not look at her, or think of her, or care to hear a word that she uttered. I believe I almost slept in my agony; but sleeping or waking I was turning over in my mind, wearily and incapably, the idea of declining to give any opinion as to the propriety of inserting or rejecting the review of Bishop Berkeley’s theory, on the score that my connection with the ” Panjandrum” had been severed. But the sound of the reading went on, and I did not make up my mind. I hardly endeavoured to make it up, but sat dreamily revelling in my own grievance, and pondering over the suicidal folly of the ” Panjandrum” Company. The reading went on and on without interruption, without question, and without applause. I know I slept during some portion of the time, for I remember that Regan kicked my shin. And I remember, also, a feeling of compassion for the reader, who was hardly able to rouse herself up to the pitch of spirit necessary for the occasion,—but allowed herself to be quelled by the cold, steady gaze of her cousin Churchill. Watt sat immovable, with his hands in his trousers pockets, leaning back in his chair, the very picture of dispassionate criticism. Jack Hallam amused himself by firing paper pellets at Regan, sundry of which struck me on the head and face. Once Mrs. Quinten burst forth in offence. ” Mr. Hallam,” she said, ” I am sorry to be so tedious.” ” I like it of all things,” said Jack. It was certainly very long. Half comatose, as I was, with my own sufferings I had begun to ask myself before Mrs. St. Quinten had finished her task whether it would be possible to endure three other readings lengthy as this. Ah! if I might have read ” My New Inmate,” how different would the feeling have been ! Of what the lady said about Berkeley, I did not catch a word; but the name of the philosophical bishop seemed to be repeated usque ad nauseam. Of a sudden I was aware that I had snored,—a kick from Pat Regan wounded my shin; a pellet from Jack Hallam fell on my nose; and the essay was completed. I looked up, and could see that drops of perspiration were standing on the lady’s brow.

There was a pause, and even I was now aroused to attention. We were to write our verdicts on paper,— simply the word, ” Insert,” or ” Reject,”—and what should I write ? Instead of doing so, should I declare at once that I was severed from the ” Panjandrum ” by the treatment I had received /? /That I was severed, in fact, I was very sure. Could any human flesh and blood have continued its services to any magazine after such humiliation as I had suffered ? Nevertheless it might perhaps be more manly were I to accept the responsibility of voting on the present occasion,—and if so, how should I vote ? I had not followed a single sentence, and yet I was convinced that matter such as that would never stir the British public mind. But as the thing went, we were not called upon for our formal verdicts. ” Lydia,” as soon as she had done reading, turned at once to her cousin. She cared for no verdict but his. ” Well,” said she, “what do you think of it?” At first he did not answer. “I know I read it badly,” she continued, “but I hope you caught my meaning.”

” It is utter nonsense,” he said, without moving his head.

” Oh, Churchill! ” she exclaimed.

” It is utter nonsense,” he repeated. ” It is out of the question that it should be published.” She glanced her eyes round the company, but ventured no spoken appeal. Jack I i ;illain said something about unnecessary severity and want of courtesy. Watt simply shook his head. ” I say it is trash,” said Smith, rising from his chair. ” You shall not disgrace yourself. Give it to me.” She put her hand upon the manuscript, as though to save it. ” Give it to me,” he said sternly, and took it from her unresisting grasp. Then he stalked to the fire, and tearing the sheets in pieces, thrust them between the bars. Of course there was a great commotion. We were all up in a moment, standing around her as though to console her. Miss Collins came in and absolutely wept over her ill-used friend. For the instant I had forgotten ” The New Inmate,” as though it had never been written. She was deluged in tears, hiding her face upon the table; but she uttered no word of reproach, and ventured not a syllable in defence of her essay. ” I didn’t think it was so bad as that,” she murmured amidst her sobs. I did not dare to accuse the man of cruelty. I myself had become so small among them that my voice would have had no weight. But I did think him cruel, and hated him on her account as well as on my own. Jack Hallam remarked that for this night, at least, our work must be considered to be over. “It is over altogether,” said Churchill Smith. ” I have known that for weeks past; and I have known, too, what fools we have been to make the attempt. I hope, at least, that we may have learnt a lesson that will be of service to us. Perhaps you had better go now, and I’ll just say a word or two to my cousin before I leave her.”

How we got out of the room I hardly remember. There was, no doubt, some leave-taking between us four and the unfortunate Lydia, but it amounted, I think, to no more than mere decency required. To Churchill Smith I know that I did not speak. I never saw either of the cousins again; nor, as has been already told, did I ever distinctly hear what was their fate in life. And yet how intimately connected with them had I been for the last six or eight months! For not calling upon her, so that we might have mingled the tears of our disappointment together, I much blamed myself; but the subject which we must have discussed,—the failure, namely, of the ” Panjandrum,”—was one so sore and full of sorrow, that I could not bring myself to face the interview. Churchill Smith, I know, made various efforts to obtain literary employment; but never succeeded, because he would yield no inch in the expression of his own violent opinions. I doubt whether he ever earned as much as £10 by his writings. I heard of his living,—and almost starving,—still in London, and then that he went to fight for Polish freedom. It is believed that he died in a Russian prison, but I could never find any one who knew with accuracy the circumstances of his fate. He was a man who could go forth with his life in his hand, and in meeting death could feel that he encountered only that which he had expected. Mrs. St. Quinten certainly vanished during the next summer from the street in which she had bestowed upon us so many muffins, and what became of her I never heard.

On that evening Pat Regan and I consoled ourselves together as best we might, Jack Hallam and Walter Watt having parted from us under the walls of Maryle- bone Workhouse. Pat and I walked down to a modest house of refreshment with which we were acquainted in Leicester Square, and there arranged the obsequies of the ” Panjandrum ” over a pint of stout and a baked potato. Pat’s equanimity was marvellous. It had not even yet been ruffled, although the indignities thrown upon him had almost surpassed those inflicted on myself. His ” Lord Bateman” had been first rejected; and, after that, his subsequent contributions had been absolutely ignored, merely because Mr. Churchill Smith had not approved his cousin’s essay upon Bishop Berkeley! ” It was rot; real rot,” said Pat, alluding to Lydia’s essay, and apologising for Smith. ” But why not have gone on and heard yours ?” said I. ” Mine would have been rot, too,” said Pat. ” It isn’t so easy, after all, to do this kind of thing.”

We agreed that the obsequies should be very private. Indeed, as the ” Panjandrum ” had as yet not had a body of its own, it was hardly necessary to open the earth for the purposes of interment. We agreed simply to say nothing about it to any one. I would go to Mr. X. and tell him that we had abandoned our project, and there would be an end of it. As the night advanced, I offered to read ” The New Inmate ” to my friend; but he truly remarked that of reading aloud they had surely had enough that night. When he reflected that but for the violence of Mr. Smith’s proceedings we might even then, at that moment, have been listening to an essay upon the ” Basis of Political Rights,” I think that he rejoiced that the ” Panjandrum ” was no more.

On the following morning I called on Mr. X., and explained to him that portion of the occurrences of the previous evening with which it was necessary that he should be made acquainted. I thought that he was rather brusque; but I cannot complain that he was, upon the whole, unfriendly. ” The truth is, sir,” he said, ” you none of you exactly knew what you wanted to be after. You were very anxious to do something grand, but hadn’t got this grand thing clear before your eye. People, you know, may have too much genius, or may have too little.” Which of the two he thought was our case he did not say ; but he did promise to hear my story of ” The New Inmate ” read, with reference to its possible insertion in another periodical publication with which he had lately become connected. Perhaps some of my readers may remember its appearance in the first number of the ” Marble Arch,” where it attracted no little attention, and was supposed to have given assistance, not altogether despicable, towards the establishment of that excellent periodical. * Such was the history of the “Panjandrum.”

Prev..