It was the old story of woman comforting
man in his affliction; the trouble in this instance
appearing in the shape of a long blue envelope addressed
to himself in his own handwriting. Poor young
poet! He had no more appetite for eggs and bacon
that morning; he pushed aside even his coffee, and
buried his head in his hands.
“Back again!” he groaned.
“Always back, and back, and back, and these
are my last verses: the best I have written.
I felt sure that these would have been taken!”
“So they will be, some day,”
comforted the woman. “You have only to
be patient and go on trying. I’ll re-type
the first and last pages, and iron out the dog’s
ears, and we will send it off on a fresh journey.
Why don’t you try the Pinnacle Magazine?
There ought to be a chance there. They published
some awful bosh last month.”
The poet was roused to a passing indignation.
“As feeble as mine, I suppose!
Oh, well, if even you turn against me, it is time
I gave up the struggle.”
“Even you” was not in
this instance a wife, but “only a sister,”
so instead of falling on her accuser’s
neck with explanations and caresses, she helped
herself to a second cup of coffee, and replied coolly-
“Silly thing! You know
quite well that I do nothing of the sort, so don’t
be high-falutin. I should not encourage you to
waste time if I did not know that you were going to
succeed in the end. I don’t think; I know!”
“How?” queried the poet.
“How?” He had heard the reason a dozen
times before, but he longed to hear it again.
He lifted his face from his hands-an ideal
face for a poet; clean-cut, sensitive, with deep-set
eyes, curved lips, and a finely-modelled chin.
“How do you know?”
“I feel!” replied the
critic simply. “Of course, I am prejudiced
in favour of your work; but that would not make it
haunt me as if it were my own. I can see your
faults; you are horribly uneven. There are lines
here and there which make me cold; lines which are
put in for the sake of the rhyme, and nothing more;
but there are other bits,”-the girl’s
eyes turned towards the window, and gazed dreamily
into space-“which sing in my heart!
When it is fine, when it is dark, when I am glad,
when I am in trouble, why do your lines come unconsciously
into my mind, as if they expressed my own feelings
better than I can do it myself? That’s
not rhyme-that’s poetry! It
is the real thing; not pretence.”
A glad smile passed over the boy’s
face; he stretched out his hand towards the neglected
cup, and quaffed coffee and hope in one reviving draught.
“But no one seems to want poetry nowadays!”
“True! I think you may
have to wait until you have made a name in the other
direction. Why not try fiction? Your prose
is excellent, almost as good as your verse.”
“Can’t think of a plot!”
“Bah! you are behind the times,
my dear! You don’t need a plot. Begin
in the middle, meander back to the beginning, and end
in the thick of the strife. Then every one wonders
and raves, and the public-`mostly fools!’-think
it must be clever, because they don’t understand
what it’s about.”
“Like the lady and the tiger,-which
came out first?”
“Ah! if you could think of anything
as baffling as that, your future would be made.
Write a novel, Ron, and take me for the heroine.
You might have a poet, too, and introduce some of
your own love-songs. I’d coach you in
the feminine parts, and you could give me a royalty
on the sales.”
But Ronald shook his head.
“I might try short stories,
perhaps-I’ve thought of that-but
not a novel. It’s too big a venture; and
we can’t spare the time. There are only
four months left, and unless I make some money soon,
father will insist upon that hateful partnership.”
The girl left her seat and strolled
over to the window. She was strikingly like
her brother in appearance, but a saucy imp of humour
lurked in the corners of her curving lips, and danced
in her big brown eyes.
Margot Vane at twenty-two made a delightful
picture of youth and happiness, and radiant, unbroken
health. Her slight figure was upright as a dart;
her cheeks were smooth and fresh as a petal of a rose;
her hair was thick and luxuriant, and she bore herself
with the jaunty, self-confident gait of one whose
lines have been cast in pleasant places, and who is
well satisfied of her own ability to keep them pleasant
to the end.
“Anything may happen in four
months-and everything!” she cried
cheerily. “I don’t say that you will
have made your name by September, but if you have
drawn a reasonable amount of blood-money, father will
have to be satisfied. It is in the bond!
Work away, and don’t worry. You are improving
all the time, and spring is coming, when even ordinary
people like myself feel inspired. We will stick
to the ordinary methods yet awhile, but if matters
get desperate, we will resort to strategy. I’ve
several lovely plans simmering in my brain!”
The boy looked up eagerly.
What plans? What can we possibly do out of the
But Margot only laughed mischievously,
and refused to be drawn.
The cruel parent in the case of Ronald
Vane was exemplified by an exceedingly worthy and
kind-hearted gentleman, who followed the profession
of underwriter at Lloyd’s. His family had
consisted of three daughters before Ronald appeared
to gratify a long ambition. Now, Mr Vane was
a widower, and his son engrossed a large share in his
affections, being at once his pride, his hope, and
his despair. The lad was a good lad; upright,
honourable, and clean-living; everything, in fact,
that a father could wish, if only,-but that
“if” was the mischief! It was hard
lines on a steady-going City man, who was famed for
his level-headed sobriety, to possess a son who eschewed
fact in favour of fancy, and preferred rather to roam
the countryside composing rhymes and couplets, than
to step into a junior partnership in an established
and prosperous firm.
It is part of an Englishman’s
creed to appreciate the great singers of his race,-Shakespeare,
Milton, Tennyson, not to mention a dozen lesser fry;
but, strange to say, though he feels a due pride in
the row of poets on his library shelves, he yet regards
a poet by his own fireside as a humiliation and an
offence. A budding painter, a sculptor, a musician,
may be the boast of a proud family circle, but to give
a youth the reputation of writing verses is at once
to call down upon his head a storm of ridicule and
patronising disdain! He is credited with being
effeminate, sentimental, and feeble-minded; his failure
is taken as a preordained fact; he becomes a butt
and a jest.
Mr Vane profoundly hoped that none
of the underwriters at Lloyd’s would hear of
Ronald’s scribbling. It would handicap
the boy in his future work, and make it harder for
him to get rid of his “slips”! No
one could guess from the lad’s appearances that
there was anything wrong,- that was one
comfort! He kept his hair well cropped, and wore
as high and glossy collars as any fellow in his right
“You don’t know when you
are well off!” cried the irate father.
“How many thousands would be thankful to be
in your shoes, with a place kept warm to step into,
and an income assured from the start! I am not
asking you to sit mewed up at a desk all day.
If you want to use your gift of words, you couldn’t
have a better chance than as a writer at Lloyd’s.
There’s scope for imagination too,-judiciously
applied! And you would have your evenings free
for scribbling, if you haven’t had enough of
it in the daytime.”
Ronald’s reply dealt at length
with the subject of environment, and his father was
given to understand that the conditions in which his
life was spent were mean, sordid, demoralising; fatal
to all that was true and beautiful. The lad
also gave it as his opinion that, so far from regarding
money as a worthy object for a life’s ambition,
the true lover of Nature would be cumbered by the
possession of more than was absolutely necessary for
food and clothing. And as for neglecting a God-given
“What authority have you for
asking me to believe that the gift exists at all,
except in your own imagination? Tell me that,
if you please!” cried the father. “You
spend a small income in stamps and paper, but so far
as I know no human creature can be induced to publish
your God-given rhymes!”
At this point matters became decidedly
strained, and a serious quarrel might have developed,
had it not been for the diplomatic intervention of
Margot, the youngest and fairest of Mr Vane’s
Margot pinched her father’s
ears and kissed him on the end of his nose, a form
of caress which he seemed to find extremely soothing.
“He is only twenty-one, darling,”
she said, referring to the turbulent heir. “You
ought to be thankful that he has such good tastes,
instead of drinking and gambling, like some other
young men. Really and truly I believe he is
a genius, but even if he is not, there is nothing to
be gained by using force. Ron has a very strong
will-you have yourself, you know, dear,
only of course in your case it is guided by judgment
and common sense-and you will never drive
him into doing a thing against his will. Now
just suppose you let him go his own way for a time!
Six months or a year can’t matter so very much
out of a lifetime, and you will never regret erring
on the side of kindness.”
“Since when, may I ask, have
you set yourself up as your father’s mentor?”
cried that gentleman with a growl; but he was softening
obviously, and Margot knew as much, and pinched his
nose for a change.
“You must try to remember how
you felt yourself when you were young. If you
wanted a thing, how badly you wanted it, and
how soon, and how terribly cruel every one
seemed who interfered! Give Ron a chance, like
the dear old sportsman as you are, before you tie him
down for life! It’s a pity I’m not
a boy-I should have loved to be at Lloyd’s.
Even now-if I went round with the slips,
and coaxed the underwriters, don’t you think
it might be a striking and lucrative innovation?”
Mr Vane laughed at that, and reflected
with pride that not a man in the room could boast
such a taking little witch for his daughter.
Then he grew grave, and returned to the subject in
“In what way do you propose
that I shall give the boy a chance?”
“Continue his allowance for
a year, and let him give himself up to his work!
If at the end of the year he has made no headway,
it should be an understanding that he joins you in
business without any more fuss; but if he has
received real encouragement,-if even one
or two editors have accepted his verses, and think
well of them-”
“Yes? What then?”
“Then you must consider that
Ron has proved his point! It is really a stiff
test, for it takes mediocre people far longer than
a year to make a footing on the literary ladder.
You would then have to continue his allowance, and
try to be thankful that you are the father of a poet,
instead of a clerk!”
Mr Vane growled again, and, what was
worse, sighed into the bargain, a sigh of real heartache
“I have looked forward for twenty
years to the time when my son should be old enough
to help me! I have slaved all my life to keep
a place for him, and now he despises me for my pains!
And you will want to be off with him, I suppose,
rambling about the country while he writes his rhymes.
I shall have to say good-bye to the pair of you!
It doesn’t matter how dull or lonely the poor
old father may be.”
Margot looked at him with a reproving eye.
“That’s not true, and
you know it isn’t! I love you best of any
one on earth, and I am only talking to you for your
own good. I’d like to stay in the country
with Ronald in summer, for he does so hate the town,
but I’ll strike a bargain with you, too!
Last year I spent three months in visiting friends.
This year I’ll refuse all invitations, so that
you shan’t be deprived of any more of my valuable
“And why should you give up
your pleasures, pray? Why are you so precious
anxious to be with the boy? Are you going to
aid and abet him in his efforts?”
“Yes, I am!” answered
Margot bravely. “He has his life to live,
and I want him to spend it in his own way. If
he becomes a great writer, I’ll be prouder of
him than if he were the greatest millionaire on earth.
I’ll move heaven and earth to help him, and if
he fails I’ll move them again to make him a
good underwriter! So now you know!”
Mr Vane chewed his moustache, disconsolately resigned.
“Ah well! the partnership will
have to go to a stranger, I suppose. I can’t
get on much longer without help. I hoped it might
be one of my own kith and kin, but-”
“Don’t be in a hurry,
dear. I may fall in love with a pauper, and then
you can have a son-in-law to help you, instead of a
Mr Vane pushed her away with an impatient hand.
“No more son-in-laws, thank
you! One is about as many as I can tackle at
a time. Edith has been at me again with a sheaf
His eldest daughter’s husband
had recently failed in business, in consequence of
which he himself was at present supporting a second
establishment. He sighed, and reflected that
it was a thankless task to rear a family. The
infantine troubles of teething, whooping-cough, and
scarlatina were trifles as compared with the later
annoyance and difficulties of dealing with striplings
who had the audacity to imagine themselves grown-up,
and competent to have a say in their own lives!
If things turned out well, they took
the credit to themselves! If ill, then papa
had to pay the bills! Mr Vane was convinced that
he was an ill-used and much-to-be-pitied martyr.