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   Chapter 10 MARK SNYDER

A Great Man By Arnold Bennett Characters: 10187

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Three-quarters of an hour later Henry might have been seen-in fact, was seen by a number of disinterested wayfarers-to enter a magnificent new block of offices and flats in Charing Cross Road. Love in Babylon was firmly gripped under his right arm. Partly this strange burden and partly the brilliant aspect of the building made him feel self-conscious and humble and rather unlike his usual calm self. For, although Henry was accustomed to offices, he was not accustomed to magnificent offices. There are offices in Lincoln's Inn Fields, offices of extreme wealth, which, were they common lodging-houses, would be instantly condemned by the County Council. Powells was such a one-and Sir George had a reputed income of twenty thousand a year. At Powells the old Dickensian tradition was kept vigorously alive by every possible means. Dirt and gloom were omnipresent. Cleanliness and ample daylight would have been deemed unbusinesslike, as revolutionary and dangerous as a typewriter. One day, in winter, Sir George had taken cold, and he had attributed his misfortune, in language which he immediately regretted, to the fact that 'that d--d woman had cleaned the windows'-probably with a damp cloth. 'That d--d woman' was the caretaker, a grey-haired person usually dressed in sackcloth, who washed herself, incidentally, while washing the stairs. At Powells, nothing but the stairs was ever put to the indignity of a bath.

That Henry should be somewhat diffident about invading Kenilworth Mansions was therefore not surprising. He climbed three granite steps, passed through a pair of swinging doors, traversed eight feet of tesselated pavement, climbed three more granite steps, passed through another pair of swinging doors, and discovered himself in a spacious marble hall, with a lift-cabinet resembling a confessional, and broad stairs behind curving up to Paradise. On either side of him, in place of priceless works by old masters, were great tablets inscribed with many names in gold characters. He scanned these tablets timidly, and at length found what he wanted, 'Mark Snyder, Literary Agent,' under the heading 'Third Floor.' At the same moment a flunkey in chocolate and cream approached him.

'Mr. Snyder?' asked Henry.

'Third-floor, left,' pronounced the flunkey, thus giving the tablets the force of his authority.

As Henry was wafted aloft in the elevator, with the beautiful and innocuous flunkey as travelling companion, he could not help contrasting that official with the terrible Powellian caretaker who haunted the Powellian stairs.

On the third-floor, which seemed to be quite a world by itself, an arrow with the legend 'Mark Snyder, Literary Agent,' directed his mazed feet along a corridor to a corner where another arrow with the legend 'Mark Snyder, Literary Agent,' pointed along another corridor. And as he progressed, the merry din of typewriters grew louder and louder. At length he stood in front of a glassy door, and on the face of the door, in a graceful curve, was painted the legend, 'Mark Snyder, Literary Agent.' Shadows of vague moving forms could be discerned on the opalescent glass, and the chatter of typewriters was almost disconcerting.

Henry paused.

That morning Mr. Mark Snyder had been to Powells on the business of one of his clients, a historian of the Middle Ages, and in the absence of Sir George had had a little talk with Henry. And Henry had learnt for the first time what a literary agent was, and, struck by the man's astuteness and geniality, had mentioned the matter of Love in Babylon. Mr. Snyder had kindly promised to look into the matter of Love in Babylon himself if Henry could call on him instantly with the manuscript. The reason for haste was that on the morrow Mr. Snyder was leaving England for New York on a professional tour of the leading literary centres of the United States. Hence Henry's telegram to Dawes Road.

Standing there in front of Mr. Snyder's door, Henry wondered whether, after all, he was not making a fool of himself. But he entered.

Two smart women in tight and elegant bodices, with fluffy bows at the backs of their necks, looked up from two typewriters, and the one with golden hair rose smiling and suave.

'Well, you seem a fairly nice sort of boy-I shall be kind to you,' her eyes appeared to say. Her voice, however, said nothing except, 'Will you take a seat a moment?' and not even that until Henry had asked if Mr. Snyder was in.

The prospective client examined the room. It had a carpet, and lovely almanacs on the walls, and in one corner, on a Japanese table, was a tea-service in blue and white. Tables more massive bore enormous piles of all shapes and sizes of manuscripts, scores and hundreds or unprinted literary works, and they all carried labels, 'Mark Snyder, Literary Agent.' Love in Babylon shrank so small that Henry could scarcely detect its presence under his arm.

Then Goldenhair, who had vanished, came back, and, with the most enchanting smile that Henry had ever seen on the face of a pretty woman, lured him by delicious gestures in

to Mr. Mark Snyder's private office.

'Well,' exclaimed Mr. Snyder, full of good-humour, 'here we are again.' He was a fair, handsome man of about forty, and he sat at a broad table playing with a revolver. 'What do you think of that, Mr. Knight?' he asked sharply, holding out the revolver for inspection.

'It seems all right,' said Henry lamely.

Mr. Snyder laughed heartily. 'I'm going to America to-morrow. I told you, didn't I? Never been there before. So I thought I'd get a revolver. Never know, you know. Eh?' He laughed again.

Then he suddenly ceased laughing, and sniffed the air.

'Is this a business office?' Henry asked himself. 'Or is it a club?'

His feet were on a Turkey carpet. He was seated in a Chippendale chair. A glorious fire blazed behind a brass fender, and the receptacle for coal was of burnished copper. Photogravures in rich oaken frames adorned the roseate walls. The ceiling was an expanse of ornament, with an electric chandelier for centre.

'Have a cigarette?' said Mr. Snyder, pushing across towards Henry a tin of Egyptians.

'Thanks,' said Henry, who did not usually smoke, and he put Love in Babylon on the table.

Mr. Snyder sniffed the air again.

'Now, what can I do for you?' said he abruptly.

Henry explained the genesis, exodus, and vicissitudes of Love in Babylon, and Mr. Snyder stretched out an arm and idly turned over a few leaves of the manuscript as it lay before its author.

'Who's your amanuensis?' he demanded, smiling.

'My aunt,' said Henry.

'Ah yes!' said Mr. Snyder, smiling still, 'It's too short, you know,' he added, grave. 'Too short. What length is it?'

'Nearly three hundred folios.'

'None of your legal jargon here,' Mr. Snyder laughed again. 'What's a folio?'

'Seventy-two words.'

'About twenty thousand words then, eh? Too short!'

'Does that matter?' Henry demanded. 'I should have thought--'

'Of course it matters,' Mr. Snyder snapped. 'If you went to a concert, and it began at eight and finished at half-past, would you go out satisfied with the performers' assurance that quality and not quantity was the thing? Ha, ha!'

Mr. Snyder sniffed the air yet again, and looked at the fire inquisitively, still sniffing.

'There's only one price for novels, six-shillings,' Mr. Snyder proceeded. 'The public likes six shillings' worth of quality. But it absolutely insists on six shillings' worth of quantity, and doesn't object to more. What can I do with this?' he went on, picking up Love in Babylon and weighing it as in a balance. 'What can I do with a thing like this?'

'If Carlyle came to Kenilworth Mansions!' Henry speculated. At the same time Mr. Snyder's epigrammatic remarks impressed him. He saw the art of Richardson and Balzac in an entirely new aspect. It was as though he had walked round the house of literature, and peeped in at the backdoor.

Mr. Snyder suddenly put Love in Babylon to his nose.

'Oh, it's that!' he murmured, enlightened.

Henry had to narrate the disaster of the onion-cart, at which Mr. Snyder was immensely amused.

'Good!' he ejaculated. 'Good! By the way, might send it to Onions Winter. Know Onions Winter? No? He's always called Spring Onions in the trade. Pushing man. What a joke it would be!' Mr. Snyder roared with laughter. 'But seriously, Winter might--'

Just then Goldenhair entered the room with a slip of paper, and Mr. Snyder begged to be excused a moment. During his absence Henry reflected upon the singularly unbusinesslike nature of the conversation, and decided that it would be well to import a little business into it.

'I'm called away,' said Mr. Snyder, re-entering.

'I must go, too,' said Henry. 'May I ask, Mr. Snyder, what are your terms for arranging publication?'

'Ten per cent.,' said Mr. Snyder succinctly. 'On gross receipts. Generally, to unknown men, I charge a preliminary fee, but, of course, with you--'

'Ten per cent.?' Henry inquired.

'Ten per cent.,' repeated Mr. Snyder.

'Does that mean-ten per cent.?' Henry demanded, dazed.

Mr. Snyder nodded.

'But do you mean to say,' said the author of Love in Babylon impressively, 'that if a book of mine makes a profit of ten thousand pounds, you'll take a thousand pounds just for getting it published?'

'It comes to that,' Mr. Snyder admitted.

'Oh!' cried Henry, aghast, astounded. 'A thousand pounds!'

And he kept saying: 'A thousand pounds! A thousand pounds!'

He saw now where the Turkey carpets and the photogravures and the Teofani cigarettes came from.

'A thousand pounds!'

Mr. Snyder stuck the revolver into a drawer.

'I'll think it over,' said Henry discreetly. 'How long shall you be in America?'

'Oh, about a couple of months!' And Mr. Snyder smiled brightly. Henry could not find a satisfactory explanation of the man's eternal jollity.

'Well, I'll think it over,' he said once more, very courteously. 'And I'm much obliged to you for giving me an interview.' And he took up Love in Babylon and departed.

It appeared to have been a futile and ludicrous encounter.

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