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A Great Man By Arnold Bennett Characters: 13805

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

A few mornings later, in his post, whose proportions grew daily nobler and more imposing, Henry found a letter from Mark Snyder. 'I have been detained in America by illness,' wrote Mark in his rapid, sprawling, inexcusable hand, 'and am only just back. I wonder whether you have come to any decision about the matter which we discussed when you called here. I see you took my advice and went to Onions Winter. If you could drop in to-morrow at noon or a little after, I have something to show you which ought to interest you.' And then there was a postscript: 'My congratulations on your extraordinary success go without saying.'

After Henry had deciphered this invitation, he gave a glance at the page as a whole, which had the air of having been penned by Planchette in a state of violent hysteria, and he said to himself: 'It's exactly like Snyder, that is. He's a clever chap. He knows what he's up to. As to my choosing Onions Winter, yes, of course it was due to him.'

Henry was simple, but he was not a fool. He was modest and diffident, but, as is generally the case with modest and diffident persons, there existed, somewhere within the recesses of his consciousness, a very good conceit of himself. He had already learnt, the trout, to look up through the water from his hole and compare the skill of the various anglers on the bank who were fishing for the rise. And he decided that morning, finally: 'Snyder shall catch me.' His previous decision to the same effect, made under the influence of the personal magnetism of Miss Foster, had been annulled only the day before. And the strange thing was that it had been annulled because of Miss Foster's share in it, and in consequence of the interview in Home and Beauty. For the more Henry meditated upon that interview the less he liked it. He could not have defined its offence in his eyes, but the offence was nevertheless there. And, further, the interview seemed now scarcely a real interview. Had it dealt with any other celebrity, it would have been real enough, but in Henry's view Henry was different. He was only an imitation celebrity, and Miss Foster's production was an imitation interview. The entire enterprise, from the moment when he gave her Sir George's lead pencil to write with, to the moment when he gave her his own photograph out of the frame on the drawing-room mantelpiece, had been a pretence, and an imposition on the public. Surely if the public knew...! And then, 'pretty suburban home'! It wasn't ugly, the house in Dawes Road; indeed, he esteemed it rather a nice sort of a place, but 'pretty suburban home' meant-well, it meant the exact opposite of Dawes Road: he was sure of that. As for Miss Foster, he suspected, he allowed himself to suspect, he audaciously whispered when he was alone in a compartment on the Underground, that Miss Foster was a pushing little thing. A reaction had set in against Flossie Brighteye.

And yet, when he called upon Mark Snyder for the purpose of being caught, he was decidedly piqued, he was even annoyed, not to find her in her chair in the outer room. 'She must have known I was coming,' he reflected swiftly. 'No, perhaps she didn't. The letter was not dictated.... But then it was press-copied; I am sure of that by the smudges on it. She must certainly have known I was coming.' And, despite the verdict that she was a pushing young thing, Henry felt it to be in the nature of a personal grievance that she was not always waiting for him there, in that chair, with her golden locks and her smile and her tight bodice, whenever he cared to look in. His right to expect her presence seemed part of his heritage as a man, and it could not be challenged without disturbing the very foundations of human society. He did not think these thoughts clearly as he crossed the outer room into the inner under the direction of Miss Foster's unexciting colleague, but they existed vaguely and furtively in his mind. Had anyone suggested that he cared twopence whether Miss Foster was there or not, he would have replied with warm sincerity that he did not care three halfpence, nor two straws, nor a bilberry, nor even a jot.

'Well,' cried Mark Snyder, with his bluff and jolly habit of beginning interviews in the middle, and before the caller had found opportunity to sit down. 'All you want now is a little bit of judicious engineering!' And Mark's rosy face said: 'I'll engineer you.'

Upon demand Henry produced the agreement with Onions Winter, and he produced it with a shamed countenance. He knew that Mark Snyder would criticise it.

'Worse than I expected,' Mr. Snyder observed. 'Worse than I expected. A royalty of twopence in the shilling is all right. But why did you let him off the royalty on the first five thousand copies? You call yourself a lawyer! Listen, young man. I have seen the world, but I have never seen a lawyer who didn't make a d--d fool of himself when it came to his own affairs. Supposing Love in Babylon sells fifty thousand-which it won't; it won't go past forty-you would have saved my ten per cent. commission by coming to me in the first place, because I should have got you a royalty on the first five thousand. See?'

'But you weren't here,' Henry put in.

'I wasn't here! God bless my soul! Little Geraldine Foster would have had the sense to get that!'

(So her name was Geraldine.)

'It isn't the money,' Mark Snyder proceeded. 'It's the idea of Onions Winter playing his old game with new men. And then I see you've let yourself in for a second book on the same terms, if he chooses to take it. That's another trick of his. Look here,' Mr. Snyder smiled persuasively, 'I'll thank you to go right home and get that second book done. Make it as short as you can. When that's out of the way-- Ah!' He clasped his hands in a sort of ecstasy.

'I will,' said Henry obediently. But a dreadful apprehension which had menaced him for several weeks past now definitely seized him.

'And I perceive further,' said Mr. Snyder, growing sarcastic, 'that in case Mr. Onions Winter chooses to copyright the book in America, you are to have half-royalties on all copies sold over there. Now about America,' Mark continued after an impressive pause, at the same time opening a drawer and dramatically producing several paper-covered volumes therefrom. 'See this-and this-and this-and this! What are they? They're pirated editions of Love in Babylon, that's what they are. You didn't know? No, of course not. I'm told that something like a couple of hundred thousand copies have been sold in America up to date. I brought these over with me as specimens.'

'Then Onions Winter didn't copyright--'

'No, sir, he didn't. That incredible ass did not. He's just issued what he calls an authorized edition there at half a dollar, but what will that do in the face of this at twenty cents, and this wretched pamphlet at ten cent

s?' Snyder fingered the piracies. 'Twopence in the shilling on two hundred thousand copies at half a dollar means over three thousand pounds. That's what you might well have made if Providence, doubtless in a moment of abstraction, had not created Onions Winter an incredible ass, and if you had not vainly imagined that because you were a lawyer you had nothing to learn about contracts.'

'Still,' faltered Henry, after he had somewhat recovered from these shrewd blows, 'I shall do pretty well out of the English edition.'

'Three thousand pounds is three thousand pounds,' said Mark Snyder with terrible emphasis. And suddenly he laughed. 'You really wish me to act for you?'

'I do,' said Henry.

'Very well. Go home and finish book number two. And don't let it be a page longer than the first one. I'll see Onions Winter. With care we may clear a couple of thousand out of book number two, even on that precious screed you call an agreement. Perhaps more. Perhaps I may have a pleasant little surprise for you. Then you shall do a long book, and we'll begin to make money, real money. Oh, you can do it! I've no fear at all of you fizzling out. You simply go home and sit down and write. I'll attend to the rest. And if you think Powells can struggle along without you, I should be inclined to leave.'

'Surely not yet?' Henry protested.

'Well,' said Snyder in a different tone, looking up quickly from his desk, 'perhaps you're right. Perhaps it will be as well to wait a bit, and just make quite sure about the quality of the next book. Want any money?'

'No,' said Henry.

'Because if you do, I can let you have whatever you need. And you can carry off these piracies if you like.'

As he thoughtfully descended the stairways of Kenilworth Mansions, Henry's mind was an arena of emotions. Undoubtedly, then, a considerable number of hundreds of pounds were to come from Love in Babylon, to say nothing of three thousand lost! Two thousand from the next book! And after that, 'money, real money'! Mark Snyder had awakened the young man's imagination. He had entered the parlour of Mark Snyder with no knowledge of the Transatlantic glory of Love in Babylon beyond the fact, gathered from a newspaper cutting, that the book had attracted attention in America; and in five minutes Mark had opened wide to him the doors of Paradise. Or, rather, Mark had pointed out to him that the doors of Paradise were open wide. Mr. Snyder, as Henry perceived, was apt unwittingly to give the impression that he, and not his clients, earned the wealth upon which he received ten per cent. commission. But Henry was not for a single instant blind to the certitude that, if his next book realized two thousand pounds, the credit would be due to himself, and to no other person whatever. Henry might be tongue-tied in front of Mark Snyder, but he was capable of estimating with some precision their relative fundamental importance in the scheme of things.

In the clerks' office Henry had observed numerous tin boxes inscribed in white paint with the names of numerous eminent living authors. He wondered if Mr. Snyder played to all these great men the same r?le-half the frank and bluff uncle, half the fairy-godmother. He was surprised that he could remember no word said about literature, ideas, genius, or even talent. No doubt Mr. Snyder took such trifles for granted. No doubt he began where they left off.

He sighed. He was dazzled by golden visions, but beneath the dizzy and delicious fabric of the dream, eating away at the foundations, lurked always that dreadful apprehension.

As he reached the marble hall on the ground-floor a lady was getting into the lift. She turned sharply, gave a joyous and yet timid commencement of a scream, and left the lift to the liftman.

'I'm so glad I've not missed you,' she said, holding out her small gloved hand, and putting her golden head on one side, and smiling. 'I was afraid I should. I had to go out. Don't tell me that interview was too awful. Don't crush me. I know it was pretty bad.'

So her name was Geraldine.

'I thought it was much too good for its subject,' said Henry. He saw in the tenth of a second that he had been wholly wrong, very unjust, and somewhat cruel, to set her down as a pushing little thing. She was nothing of the kind. She was a charming and extremely stylish woman, exquisitely feminine; and she admired him with a genuine admiration. 'I was just going to write and thank you,' he added. And he really believed that he was.

What followed was due to the liftman. The impatient liftman, noticing that the pair were enjoying each other's company, made a disgraceful gesture behind their backs, slammed the gate, and ascended majestically alone in the lift towards some high altitude whence emanated an odour of boiled Spanish onions. Geraldine Foster glanced round carelessly at the rising and beautiful flunkey, and it was the sudden curve of her neck that did it. It was the sudden curve of her neck, possibly assisted by Henry's appreciation of the fact that they were now unobserved and solitary in the hall.

Henry was made aware that women are the only really interesting phenomena in the world. And just as he stumbled on this profound truth, Geraldine, for her part, caught sight of the pirated editions in his hand, and murmured: 'So Mr. Snyder has told you! What a shame, isn't it?'

The sympathy in her voice, the gaze of her eyes under the lashes, finished him.

'Do you live far from here?' he stammered, he knew not why.

'In Chenies Street,' she replied. 'I share a little flat with my friend upstairs. You must come and have tea with me some afternoon-some Saturday or Sunday. Will you? Dare I ask?'

He said he should like to, awfully.

'I was dining out last night, and we were talking about you,' she began a few seconds later.

Women! Wine! Wealth! Joy! Life itself! He was swept off his feet by a sudden and tremendous impulse.

'I wish,' he blurted out, interrupting her-'I wish you'd come and dine with me some night, at a restaurant.'

'Oh!' she exclaimed, 'I should love it.'

'And we might go somewhere afterwards.' He was certainly capable of sublime conceptions.

And she exclaimed again: 'I should love it!' The na?ve and innocent candour of her bliss appealed to him with extraordinary force.

In a moment or so he had regained his self-control, and he managed to tell her in a fairly usual tone that he would write and suggest an evening.

He parted from her in a whirl of variegated ecstasies. 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,' he remarked to the street. What he meant was that, after more than a month's excogitation, he had absolutely failed to get any single shred of a theme for the successor to Love in Babylon-that successor out of which a mere couple of thousand pounds was to be made; and that he didn't care.

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