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   Chapter 21 TO MAKE HIM HAPPY

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 18399

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


'Shall we discuss Mr. Feilding any longer?' Armorel asked, with a little impatience. 'It really seems as if we had nothing to talk about but the perfections of this incomparable person.' It was in the evening. Armorel had discovered, already, that the evenings spent at home in the society of her companion were both long and dull; that they had nothing to talk about; that Zoe regarded every single subject from a point of view which was not her own; and that both in conversation and in personal intercourse she was having a great deal more than she desired of Mr. Alec Feilding. Therefore, she was naturally a little impatient. One cannot every evening go and sit alone in the study: one cannot play the violin all the evening: and one cannot reduce a companion to absolute silence.

Zoe, who had been talking into the fire from her cushions, turned her fluffy head, opened her blue eyes wide, and looked, not reproachfully but sorrowfully and with wonder, at a girl who could hear too much about Alec Feilding.

'Let me talk-just a little-sometimes-of my best friend, Armorel, dear. If you only knew what Alec has been to me and to my lost lover-my Jerome!'

'Forgive me, Zoe. Go on talking about him.'

'How quiet and cosy,' she murmured, in reply, 'this room is in the evening! It makes one feel virtuous only to think of the cold wind and the cold people outside. This heaven is surely a reward for the righteous. It is enough only to lie in the warmth without talking. But the time and the place invite confidences. Armorel, I am going to repose a great confidence in you-a secret plan of my own. And you are so very, very sympathetic when you please, dear child-especially when Effie is here-I wonder if she is worth it?-that you might spare me a little of your sympathy.'

'My dear Zoe'-Armorel felt a touch of remorse-she had been unsympathetic-'you shall have all there is to spare. But what kind of sympathy do you want? You were talking of Mr. Feilding-not of yourself.'

'Yes-and that is of myself in a way. I know you will not misunderstand me, dear. You will not imagine that I am-well, in love with Alec, when I confess to you that I think a very great deal about him.'

'I never thought so, at all,' said Armorel.

Zoe's eyes opened for a moment and gleamed. It was a doubtful saying. Why should not she be in love with Alec, or Alec with her? But Armorel knew nothing about love.

'When a woman has loved once, dear,' she murmured, 'her heart is gone. My love-passages,' she put her handkerchief to her eyes-to some women the drawing-room is the stage-'my love-story, dear, is finished and done. My heart is in the grave with Jerome. But this you cannot understand. I think so much of Alec-first, because he has been all goodness to me; and, next, because he is so wonderfully clever.'

'Talk about him, Zoe, as long as you please.'

'If he had been an ordinary man,' she went on, 'I should have been equally grateful, I suppose. But there it would have ended. To be under a debt of gratitude to such a man as Alec makes one long to do something in return. And, besides, there are so very, very few good men in the world that it does one good only to talk about them.'

'I suppose that Mr. Feilding is really a man of great genius,' said Armorel. 'I confess he seems to me rather ponderous in his talk-may I say, dull? From genius one expects the unexpected.'

'Dull? Oh, no! A little constrained in his manner. That comes from his excessive sensibility. But dull?-oh, no!'

'He seemed dull at the theatre last night.'

'It was a curious coincidence meeting him there, was it not?'

'I thought you must have told him that you were going.'

'No, no; quite a coincidence. And he so seldom goes to a theatre. The badness of the acting, he says, irritates his nerves to such a degree that it sometimes spoils his work for a week. And yet he is actually going to bring out a play himself. There is a paragraph in the paper about it-his own paper. Give it to me, dear; it is on the sofa. Thank you.' She read the paragraph, which we already know. 'What do you think of that, Armorel?'

'Isn't it rather arrogant-about good men turning out good work?'

'My dear, genius can afford to be arrogant. True genius is always impatient of small people and of stupidities. It suffers its contempt to be seen, and that makes the stupidities cry out about arrogance. Even the most stupid can cry out, you see. But think. He is going to add a new wreath to his brow. He is already known as a poet, a novelist, a painter, an essayist, and now he is to become a dramatist. He really is the cleverest man in the whole world.'

Armorel expressed none of the admiration that was expected. She was wondering whether, if Mr. Feilding had not been quite so clever, he might not have been quite so heavy and didactic in conversation. Less clever people, perhaps, are more prodigal of their cleverness, and give away some of it in conversation. Perhaps the very clever want it all for their books.

'I said I would give you his poems,' Zoe continued. 'I bought the book for you-the second series, which is better than the first. It is on the piano, dear; that little parcel, thank you.' She opened the parcel and disclosed a dainty little volume in white and gold. It was illustrated by a small etching of the poet's head for a frontispiece. It was printed in beautiful new type on thick paper-the kind called hand-made-the edges left ragged. There were about a hundred and twenty pages, and on every two pages there was a single poem. These were not arranged in any order or sequence of thought. They were all separate. The poet showed knowledge of contemporary manners in serving up so small a dish of verse. Fifty or sixty short poems is quite as much as the reader of poetry will stand in these days.

Armorel turned over the pages and began to read them. Strange! How could a man so ponderous, so pompous in his conceit, so dogmatic, so self-conscious, write such pretty, easy-flowing numbers? The metres fitted the subject; the rhymes were apt, the cadence true, the verses tripped light and graceful like a maiden dancing.

'How could such a man,' she cried, 'get a touch so light? It is truly wonderful.'

'I told you so, dear. He is altogether wonderful.'

She went on reading. Presently she cried out, 'Why! he writes like a woman. Only a woman could have written these lines.' She read them out. 'It is a woman's hand, and a woman's way of thinking.'

'That shows his genius. No one except Alec-or a woman-could have said just that thing in just that manner.'

Armorel closed the volume. 'I think,' she said, 'that I like a man to write like a man and a woman like a woman.'

'Then,' said Zoe, 'how is a novelist to make a woman talk?'

'He makes his women talk like women if he can. But when he speaks himself it must be with the voice of a man. In these poems it is the poet who speaks, not any character, man or woman.'

'You will like the poems better as you read them. They will grow upon you. And you will find the poet himself-not a woman, but a man-in his verses. It helps one so much to understand the verses when you know the poet. I think I could almost understand Browning if I had ever known him. Think of Alec when you read his verses.'

'Yes,' said Armorel, still without enthusiasm.

'You said we were talking about nothing else, dear,' Zoe went on. 'I talk so much of him because I respect and revere him so much. I have known Alec a long time'-she lay back with her head turned from her companion, talking softly into the fire, as if she was communing with herself. 'He is, though you do not understand it yet, a man of the most highly strung and sensitive nature. The true reason why he talks ponderously-as you call it, Armorel-is that he is conscious of the traps into which this very sensitiveness of his may lead him: for instance, he may say, before persons unworthy of his confidence, things which they would most likely misunderstand. It is simply wicked to cast pearls before swine. A poet, more than any other man, must be quite sure of his audience before he gives himself away. I assure you, when Alec feels himself alone with his intimates-a very little circle-his talk is brilliant.'

'We are unlucky, then,' said Armorel, still without enthusiasm.

'Another thing may make him seem dull. He is always preoccupied, always thinking about his work: his mind is overcharged.'

'I thought he was always in society-a great diner-out?'

'He is. Society brings him relief. The inanities of social intercourse rest his brain. Without this rest he would be crushed.'

'I see,' said Armorel, coldly.

'Then there is that other side of him-of which you know nothing. My dear, he is constantly thinking of others. His private life-but I must not tell too much. Not only the cleverest man in London, but the best.'

Armorel felt guilty. She had not, hitherto, looked upon this ph?nix with the reverence which was due to so great a creature. Nay, she did not like him. She was repelled rather than attracted by him. She liked him less every time she met him. And this was oftener than she desired. Som

ehow or other, they were always meeting. On some pretext or other he was always calling. And certainly for the last few days Zoe was unable to talk about anything else. The genius, the greatness of this man seemed to overwhelm her.

'And now, my dear,' she went on, still talking about him, 'for my little confidences. I have a great scheme in my head. Oh! a very great scheme indeed.' She turned round and sat up, looking Armorel full in the face. Her eyes under her fluffy hair were large and luminous, when she lifted them. Oftener, they were large but sleepy eyes. Now they were quite bright. She was wide awake and she was in earnest. 'I have spoken to no one but you about it as yet. Perhaps you and I can manage it all by ourselves.'

'What is it?'

'You and I, dear, you and I, we two-we can be so associated and bound up in the life of the poet-painter as to be for ever joined with his name. Petrarch and Laura are not more closely connected than we may be with Alec Feilding, if you only join with me.'

'First tell me what it is-this plan of yours.'

'It is nothing less than just to relieve him, once for all, from his business cares.'

'Has he business cares?'

'They take up his precious time. They weigh upon his mind. Why should such a man have any business at all to look after?'

'Well, but,' said Armorel, refusing to rise to this tempting bait, 'why does such a man allow himself to have business cares, if they worry him?'

'It is the conduct of his journal, my dear.'

'But other authors and painters do not conduct journals. Why should he? I believe that successful writers and artists make very large incomes. If he is so successful, why does he trouble about managing a paper? That is certainly work that can be done by a man of inferior brain.'

'You are so matter-of-fact, dear. The paper is his own, and he thinks, I suppose, that nobody but himself could edit the thing. Leave poor Alec one or two human weaknesses. He may think this, and yet make no allowance for his own shrinking and sensitive nature.'

Certainly Armorel had seen no indications in this poet-painter of the shrinking nature. It was very carefully concealed.

'Of course,' Zoe continued, 'you hardly know him. But his genius you do know. And the business worries that are inseparable from a journal are a serious hindrance to his higher work. Believe me, dear, even if you do not understand why it should be so.'

'I can very well believe it-I only ask why Mr. Feilding alone, among authors and painters, should hamper himself with such worries.'

'Well, dear-there they are. And I have formed a plan-Oh!'-she clasped her hands and opened her eyes wide-'such a plan! The best and the cleverest plan in the world for the best and the cleverest man in the world! But I want your help.'

'What can I do?'

'I will tell you. First of all. You must remember that Alec is the sole proprietor, as well as the editor of this journal-The Muses Nine. It is his property. He created it. But the business management of the paper worries him. My plan, Armorel-my plan'-she spoke and looked most impressive-'will relieve him altogether of the work.'

'Yes-and how do I come into your plan?'

'This way. I have found out, through a person of business, that if he would sell a share-say a quarter, or an eighth-of his paper he would be able to put the business part of it into paid hands-the people who do nothing else. Now, Armorel, we will buy that share-you and I between us will buy it. You shall advance the whole of the money, and I will pay you back half. The price will be nothing to you. That is, it will be a great deal, because the investment will be such a splendid thing, and the returns will be so brilliant. You will increase your income enormously, and you will have the satisfaction'-she paused, because, though she was herself more animated, earnest, and eloquent with voice and eyes, and though she threw so much persuasion into her manner, the tell-tale face of the girl showed no kindling light of response at all-'the satisfaction,' she continued, 'of feeling that such a help to Literature and Art will make us both immortal.'

Armorel made no reply. She was considering the proposition coldly, and it was one of those things which must be considered without enthusiasm.

'As for money,' Zoe continued, with one more attempt to awaken a responsive fire, 'I have found out what will be wanted. For three thousand five hundred pounds we can get this share in the paper. Only three thousand five hundred pounds! That is no more than one thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds apiece! I shall insist upon having my share in the investment, because I should grudge you the whole of the work. As for the returns, I have been well advised of that. Of course, Alec is beyond all paltry desire for gain, and he might ask a great deal more. But he leaves everything to his advisers-and oh! my dear, he must on no account know-yet-who is doing this for him. Afterwards, we will break it to him gradually, perhaps, when he has quite recovered from the worries and is rested. If we think of returns, ten, twenty, even fifty per cent. may be expected as the paper gets on. Think of fifty per cent.!'

'No,' said Armorel. 'Let us, too, be above paltry desire for gain. Let those who do want more money go in for this business. If your advice is correct, Mr. Feilding can have no difficulty at all in selling a share of the paper. People who want more money will be only too eager to buy it.'

'My dear child, everybody wants more money.'

'I have quite enough. But why do you ask me to join you, Zoe? I do not know Mr. Feilding, except as an acquaintance. He is, I dare say, all that you think. But I do not find him personally interesting. And there is no reason why I should pretend to be one of the train who follow him and admire him.'

'But I want you-I want you, Armorel.' Zoe clasped her hands and lifted her eyes, humid now. But a woman's eyes move a girl less than a man. 'I want you, and none but you, to join me in this. We two alone will do it. It will be such a splendid thing to do! Nothing short of the rescue of the finest and most poetic mind of the day from sordid cares and worries. Think of what future ages will say of you!'

Armorel laughed. 'Indeed!' she said. 'This kind of immortality does not tempt me very much. But, Zoe, it is really useless to urge me. I could not do this, if I would. And truly I would not if I could; for I made a promise to Mr. Jagenal, when I came of age the other day, that I would not lend or part with any money without taking his advice; and that I would not change any of his investments without consulting him. I seem to know, beforehand, what he would say if I consulted him about this proposal.'

'Then, my dear,' said Zoe, lying back in her cushions and turning her face to the fire, 'let us talk about the matter no more.'

She had failed. From the outset she felt that she was going to fail. The man had had every chance. He had met the girl constantly: she had left him alone with her: but he had not attracted her in the least. Well: she confessed, in spite of his cleverness, Alec had somewhat of a wooden manner: he was too authoritative; and Armorel was too independent. She had failed.

Armorel, for her part, remembered how her lawyer had warned her on the day when she became twenty-one and of age to manage her own affairs: all kinds of traps, he told her, are set to catch women who have got money in order to rob them of their money: they are besieged on every side, especially on the sides presumably the weakest: she must put on the armour of suspicion: she must never-never-never-here he held up a terrifying forefinger-enter into any engagement or promise, verbal or in writing, without consulting him. The memory of this warning made her uneasy-because it was her own companion, the lady appointed by her lawyer himself, who had made the first attempt upon her money. True, the attempt was entirely disinterested. There would be no gain to Zoe even if she were to accede: the proposal was prompted by the purest friendship. And yet she felt uneasy.

As for the disinterested companion, she wrote a letter that very night. She said: 'I have made an attempt to get this money for you. It has failed. It was hopeless from the first. You have had your chance: you have been with the girl often enough to attract and interest her: yet she is neither attracted nor interested. I have given her your poems: she says they ought to be the work of a woman: she likes the verse, but she cares nothing about the poet. Strange! For my own part, I have been foolish enough to love the man, and to care not one brass farthing about his work. Your poems-your pictures-they all seem to me outside yourself, and not a part of you at all. Why it is so I cannot explain. Well, Alec, you planted me here, and I remain till you tell me I may go. It is not very lively: the girl and I have nothing in common: but it is restful and cosy, and I always did like comfort and warmth. And Armorel pays all the bills. What next, however? Is there any other way? What are my lord's commands?'

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