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   Chapter 27 NOT TWO MEN, BUT ONE

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 11132

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Great is the power of coincidence. Things have got a habit of happening just when they are most likely to be useful. It is not on the stage alone that the long-lost uncle turns up, or the long-missing will is found in the cupboard. And you cannot invent for fiction anything half so strange as the daily coincidence of common life. A tolerably long experience of the common life has convinced me of this great truth. Therefore, the coincidence which happened to Armorel on the very day when the young dramatist unfolded his griefs will not, by wise men, be thought at all strange.

It was in the evening. She was sitting with her companion, thinking over Archie and his play. Was it really good? Was it good enough to hold the stage, and to command the attention of the audience? To her it seemed a singularly beautiful, poetical, and romantic piece. But Armorel was of a lowly and humble mind. She knew that she had no experience in things dramatic. Had it been a picture, now--

'Oh!' cried her companion, suddenly starting upright in the cushioned chair where she was lying apparently asleep, 'I had almost forgotten. My dear, I have got a present for you.'

'From yourself, Zoe?'

'Yes; from myself. It is a present which cost me nothing, but is worth a good deal. The making of it cost nobody anything. Yet it is a very precious thing. The material of which it is made is worth nothing. Yet the thing is worth anything you please.'

'It must be a picture, then.'

'It is a Work of Art, but not a picture. Guess again.'

'No; I will not guess any more. May I have it without guessing?'

Zoe held in her hands a small roll of blue paper. This she now opened, and gazed at the writing upon it with idolatry: but it hardly carried conviction with it-perhaps it was a little overdone.

'Least imaginative of girls,' she said. It pleased her to consider Armorel's refusal to join in that little scheme of hers as proving a lack of imagination. 'I have brought you, though you do not deserve it, what any other girl in London would give-would give-a dance, perhaps, to obtain, and you shall have it for nothing.'

'I want to hear what it is.'

'It is nothing less, Armorel, nothing less-I got it to-day from the table in his studio-than an autograph: it is the copy used by the printers-an autograph poem of Alec's! An autograph poem, as yet unpublished.'

'Is that all?' replied the least imaginative of girls. 'You must not give it to me, really. You will value it far more than I shall. Besides, I suppose it is to be published some day.'

'But the original manuscript-the autograph poem, dear child! Don't you know the value of such a thing? Take it. You shall be enriched in spite of yourself. Take it and put it aside somewhere in your desk, in some safe place. Heavens! if one had the autograph of a poem of Byron, for example!'

'Mr. Feilding is not Byron,' said Armorel, coldly. 'He may write pretty feminine verses, but he is not Byron. Thank you, however. I will take it, and I will keep it and value it because you think it valuable. I do not suppose the autograph verses of small poets are worth keeping; but still-as you value it' ...

This was very ungracious and ungrateful. But she was really tired of Mr. Feilding's praises, and after the discovery of the pictures, and after the strange story she had heard only that morning-no; she wanted to hear no more, for the present, of the praises of this man-the cleverest man in London!

However, she unrolled the paper, and began to read the contents, at first carelessly. Then, 'Oh! what is this?' she cried.

'What is what?' asked Mrs. Elstree.

'This is a copy.'

They were the same words as she had used concerning the pictures. She remembered this, and a strange suspicion seized her. 'A copy,' she repeated, wondering.

'A copy? Not at all. They are the verses which are to appear in the next number of the journal-or the number after next. Alec's own verses, of course. Sweetly pretty, I think: what makes you say that they are copied?'

'I thought that I had seen them-something like them-somewhere before.' She went on reading. As she read she remembered the lines more clearly.

'What is the matter, Armorel?' asked Zoe. 'What makes you look so fierce? Heaven help your husband when you look like that!'

'Did I look fierce? It must have been something that I remembered. Yes-that was it.'

'May I read the verses again?' Zoe read them, suspiciously. There was something in them which had startled Armorel. What was it? She could see nothing to account for this emotion. Certainly she was not fond of poetry, and failed to appreciate the fine turns and subtle tones, the felicitous phrase and the unexpected thought with which the poet delights his readers. In this little poem she could find nothing but a few jingling rhymes. Why should Armorel behave so strangely?

'What is it, my dear?' she asked again.

'Something I remembered-nothing of any importance.'

'Armorel, has Alec said anything to you? Has he-has he wanted to make love to you? Has he offended you by speaking?'

'No. There has been no question of love-making between us, and there never will be.'

'One cannot say.' Zoe looked at the matter from experience. 'One can never say. Men are strange creatures; and Alec certainly thinks a great deal of you.'

'I cannot imagine his making love-any more than I can imagine his painting a picture or writing a poem. Perhaps he would make love as he paints.'

'Well, he paints very well.'

'Very well indeed, I dare say.'

She got up. 'I am going to leave you to-night, Zoe. I want to go to my own room. I have things to write. You don't mind?'

'My dear child, mind! Of course, one would rather have your company. But since you must leave me'-she sank back in her chair with a sigh. 'Give me that book, dear-if you please-the French novel. When one has been married one can read French novels without trying to conceal the fact. They are mostly wicked, and sometimes witty. Not always. Good-night, dear. I shall not expect you back this evening.'

Armorel, in her own room, opened the manuscript book of poems which Archie had given her, and found-the very last of all-the lines which she had remembered. She laid the precious autograph beside Effie's poem. Word for word-comma for comma-they were exactly the same. There was not the slightest difference. And again Armorel thought of the two pictures.

Then she thought of the little dainty volume in white parchment containing the Second Series of 'Voice and Echo, by Alec Feilding.' She had tossed it aside, impatient with the man, when Zoe gave it to her. Now she looked for it, and found it after a little search. She opened it side by side with Effie's manuscript book. Presently she found the page in Effie's book which corresponded with the first page of the printed volume. There were about thirty or forty poems in the little book: in the manuscript book there were double that number; but the same poems followed each other one after the other in the same order, and without the difference of a single word, both in book and manuscript.

This discovery justifies my remarks about the common coincidences of daily life.

Again Armorel remembered that Zoe possessed another volume-the First Series of 'Voice and Echo, by Alec Feilding.' It was lying-she had seen it in the afternoon-in the drawing-room. She went in search of it, and returned without waking her companion, who had apparently fallen asleep over her novel.

As a matter of fact, Mrs. Elstree was not sleeping. She was broad awake, but she was curious. She desired to know what it all meant: why Armorel was suddenly struck with hardness, why her cheek burned, and her eyes flashed; and what she wanted in the drawing-room. She perceived that Armorel had come in search of Alec's first volume of verse. Oh! Alec's first volume of verse. Now-what might Armorel want with that book?

* * *

At the end of March it is light at about half-past five. Everybody is then in their soundest sleep. But at that hour Mrs. Elstree came softly out of her bedroom, wrapped in a dressing-gown, her feet in soft slippers of white wool, and looked at the books and papers on the table in Armorel's room. There was a manuscript volume of verse, professing to be by one Effie Wilmot. There were also two printed little volumes, bound in white-and-gold, containing verses by one Alec Feilding. Strange and wonderful! The verses in both books were exactly the same! Mrs. Elstree returned to bed, thoughtful.

* * *

Armorel, for her part, when she returned to her own room, compared the first series of poems, as she had compared the second, with the manuscript book. And the first series, too, word for word, was the same as the earlier poems in the book.

'Good heavens!' cried Armorel. 'The man steals his verses, as he steals his pictures! Poor Effie! She is as bad as Roland!'

This was Thought the First. One has already seen how the three Thoughts treated her before. This time it was just the same. Thought the Second came next, and began to argue. A very capable logician is Thought the Second, once distinguished for what Oxford men call Science. If, said Thought the Second, the manuscript and the volumes agree, it seems to show that Effie has copied the latter into her own book, and now tries to pass the poems off as her own. Such things have been done. If this was the case-and why not?-Effie would be, indeed, a girl full of deceit and desperately wicked. But then, how came Effie to have in her volume a poem hitherto unpublished, which was lying on Mr. Feilding's table? Yet, surely, it was quite as probable that the girl should deceive her as that the man should deceive the world.

Next. Thought the Third. This sage remarked calmly, 'The man is full of villany. He has deceived the world in the matter of the pictures. Why not also in the matter of the poems? But let us consider the character of the verses. Take internal evidence.' Then Armorel read the whole series right through in the two little printed volumes. Oh! They were feminine. Only a woman could write these lines. Womanhood breathed in every one. Now that the key was supplied, she understood. She recognised the voice, eager, passionate, of her friend.

'They are all Effie's!' she cried again; 'all-all. The man has stolen his verses as well as his pictures.'

This discovery, when she had quite made up her mind that it was as true as the former, entirely fell in with all that Effie had told her concerning herself. She had sold her poems all to one editor-he was the only editor who would ever take them-and now she was afraid that he would take no more. Why?-why?-because-oh, now she understood all-because he wanted to be a dramatist in the same way that he was a painter and a poet, and neither Archie nor his sister would consent! 'Yes,' she said, 'he is, indeed, the cleverest man in London.'

Before she went to bed that night she had devised a little plan-quite an ingenious clever little plan. You shall hear what it was, and how it came off.

* * *

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