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   Chapter 1 No.1

Vain Fortune By George Moore Characters: 15318

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The lamp had not been wiped, and the room smelt slightly of paraffin. The old window-curtains, whose harsh green age had not softened, were drawn. The mahogany sideboard, the threadbare carpet, the small horsehair sofa, the gilt mirror, standing on a white marble chimney-piece, said clearly, 'Furnished apartments in a house built about a hundred years ago.' There were piles of newspapers, there were books on the mahogany sideboard and on the horsehair sofa, and on the table there were various manuscripts,-The Gipsy, Act I.; The Gipsy, Act III., Scenes iii. and iv.

A sheet of foolscap paper, and upon it a long slender hand. The hand traced a few lines of fine, beautiful caligraphy, then it paused, correcting with extreme care what was already written, and in a hesitating, minute way, telling of a brain that delighted in the correction rather than in the creation of form.

The shirt-cuff was frayed and dirty. The coat was thin and shiny. A half-length figure of a man drew out of the massed shadows between the window and sideboard. The red beard caught the light, and the wavy brown hair brightened. Then a look of weariness, of distress, passed over the face, and the man laid down the pen, and, taking some tobacco from a paper, rolled a cigarette. Rising, and leaning forward, he lighted it over the lamp. He was a man of about thirty-six feet, broad-shouldered, well-built, healthy, almost handsome.

The time he spent in dreaming his play amounted to six times, if not ten times, as much as he devoted to trying to write it; and he now lit cigarette after cigarette, abandoning himself to every meditation,-the unpleasantness of life in lodgings, the charm of foreign travel, the beauty of the south, what he would do if his play succeeded. He plunged into calculation of the time it would take him to finish it if he were to sit at home all day, working from seven to ten hours every day. If he could but make up his mind concerning the beginning and the middle of the third act, and about the end, too,-the solution,-he felt sure that, with steady work, the play could be completed in a fortnight. In such reverie and such consideration he lay immersed, oblivious of the present moment, and did not stir from his chair until the postman shook the frail walls with a violent double knock. He hoped for a letter, for a newspaper-either would prove a welcome distraction. The servant's footsteps on the stairs told him the post had brought him something. His heart sank at the thought that it was probably only a bill, and he glanced at all the bills lying one above another on the table.

It was not a bill, nor yet an advertisement, but a copy of a weekly review. He tore it open. An article about himself!

After referring to the deplorable condition of the modern stage, the writer pointed out how dramatic writing has of late years come to be practised entirely by men who have failed in all other branches of literature. Then he drew attention to the fact that signs of weariness and dissatisfaction with the old stale stories, the familiar tricks in bringing about 'striking situations,' were noticeable, not only in the newspaper criticisms of new plays, but also among the better portion of the audience. He admitted, however, that hitherto the attempts made by younger writers in the direction of new subject-matter and new treatment had met with little success. But this, he held, was not a reason for discouragement. Did those who believed in the old formulas imagine that the new formula would be discovered straight away, without failures preliminary? Besides, these attempts were not utterly despicable; at least one play written on the new lines had met with some measure of success, and that play was Mr. Hubert Price's Divorce.

'Yes, the fellow is right. The public is ready for a good play: it wasn't when Divorce was given. I must finish The Gipsy. There are good things in it; that I know. But I wish I could get that third act right. The public will accept a masterpiece, but it will not accept an attempt to write a masterpiece. But this time there'll be no falling off in the last acts. The scene between the gipsy lover and the young lord will fetch 'em.' Taking up the review, Hubert glanced over the article a second time. 'How anxious the fellows are for me to achieve a success! How they believe in me! They desire it more than I do. They believe in me more than I do in myself. They want to applaud me. They are hungry for the masterpiece.'

At that moment his eye was caught by some letters written on blue paper. His face resumed a wearied and hunted expression. 'There's no doubt about it, money I must get somehow. I am running it altogether too fine. There isn't twenty pounds between me and the deep sea.'

He was the son of the Rev. James Price, a Shropshire clergyman. The family was of Welsh extraction, but in Hubert none of the physical characteristics of the Celt appeared. He might have been selected as a typical Anglo-Saxon. The face was long and pale, and he wore a short reddish beard; the eyes were light blue, verging on grey, and they seemed to speak a quiet, steadfast soul. Hubert had always been his mother's favourite, and the scorn of his elder brothers, two rough boys, addicted in early youth to robbing orchards, and later on to gambling and drinking. The elder, after having broken his father's heart with debts and disgraceful living, had gone out to the Cape. News of his death came to the Rectory soon after; but James's death did not turn Henry from his evil courses, and one day his father and mother had to go to London on his account, and they brought him back a hopeless invalid. Hubert was twelve years of age when he followed his brother to the grave.

It was at his brother's funeral that Hubert met for the first time his uncle, Mr. Burnett. Mr. Burnett had spent the greater part of his life in New Zealand, where he had made a large fortune by sheep-farming and investments in land. He had seemed to be greatly taken with his nephew, and for many years it was understood that he would leave him the greater part, if not the whole, of his fortune. But Mr. Burnett had come under the influence of some poor relations, some distant cousins, the Watsons, and had eventually decided to adopt their daughter Emily and leave her his fortune. He did not dare intimate his change of mind to his sister; but the news having reached Mrs. Price in various rumours, she wrote to her brother asking him to confirm or deny these rumours; and when he admitted their truth, Mrs. Price never spoke to him again. She was a determined woman, and the remembrance of the wrong done to her son never left her.

While the other children had been a torment and disgrace, Hubert had been to his parents a consolation and a blessing. They had feared that he too might turn to betting and drink, but he had never shown sign of low tastes. He played no games, nor did he care for terriers or horses; but for books and drawing, and long country walks. Immediately on hearing of his disinheritance he had spoken at once of entering a profession; and for many months this was the subject of consideration in the Rectory. Hubert joined in these discussions willingly, but he could not bring himself to accept the army or the bar. It was indeed only necessary to look at him to see that neither soldier's tunic nor lawyer's wig was intended for him; and it was nearly as clear that those earnest eyes, so intelligent and yet so undetermined in their gaze, were not those of a doctor.

But if his eyes failed to predict his future, his hands told the story of his life distinctly

enough-those long, white, languid hands, what could they mean but art? And very soon Hubert began to draw, evincing some natural aptitude. Then an artist came into the neighbourhood, the two became friends, and went together on a long sketching tour. Life in the open air, the shade of the hedge, the glare of the highway, the meditation of the field, the languor of the river-side, the contemplation of wooded horizons, was what Hubert's pastoral nature was most fitted to enjoy; and, for the sake of the life it afforded him, he pursued the calling of a landscape painter long after he had begun to feel his desire turning in another direction. When the landscape on the canvas seemed hopelessly inadequate, he laid aside the brush for the pencil, and strove to interpret the summer fields in verse. From verse he drifted into the article and the short story, and from the story into the play. And it was in this last form that he felt himself strongest, and various were the dramas and comedies that he dreamed from year's end to year's end.

While he was in the midst of his period of verse-writing his mother died, and in the following year, just as he was working at his stories, he received a telegram calling him to attend his father's death-bed. When the old man was laid in the shadow of the weather-beaten village church, Hubert gathered all his belongings and bade farewell for ever to the Shropshire rectory.

In London Hubert made few friends. There were some two or three men with whom he was frequently seen-quiet folk like himself, whose enjoyment consisted in smoking a tranquil pipe in the evening, or going for long walks in the country. He was one of those men whose indefiniteness provokes curiosity, and his friends noticed and wondered why it was that he was so frequently the theme of their conversation. His simple, unaffected manners were full of suggestion, and in his writings there was always an indefinable rainbow-like promise of ultimate achievement. So, long before he had succeeded in writing a play, detached scenes and occasional verses led his friends into gradual belief that he was one from whom big things might be expected. And when the one-act play which they had all so heartily approved of was produced, and every newspaper praised it for its literary quality, the friends took pride in this public vindication of their opinion. After the production of his play people came to see the new author, and every Saturday evening some fifteen or twenty men used to assemble in Hubert's lodgings to drink whisky, smoke cigars, and talk drama. Encouraged by his success, Hubert wrote Divorce. He worked unceasingly upon it for more than a year, and when he had written the final scene, he was breaking into his last hundred pounds. The play was refused twice, and then accepted by a theatrical speculator, to whom it seemed to afford opportunity for the exhibition of the talents of a lady he was interested in.

The success of the play was brief. But before it was withdrawn, Hubert had sold the American rights for a handsome sum, and within the next two years he had completed a second play, which he called An Ebbing Tide. Some of the critics argued that it contained scenes as fine as any in Divorce, but it was admitted on all sides that the interest withered in the later acts. But the failure of the play did not shake the established belief in Hubert's genius; it merely concentrated the admiration of those interested in the new art upon Divorce, the partial failure of which was now attributed to the acting. If it had only been played at the Haymarket or the Lyceum, it could not have failed.

The next three years Hubert wasted in various aestheticisms. He explained the difference between the romantic and realistic methods in the reviews; he played with a poetic drama to be called The King of the Beggars, and it was not until the close of the third year that he settled down to definite work. Then all his energies were concentrated on a new play-The Gipsy. A young woman of Bohemian origin is suddenly taken with the nostalgia of the tent, and leaves her husband and her home to wander with those of her race. He had read portions of this play to his friends, who at last succeeded in driving Montague Ford, the popular actor-manager, to Hubert's door; and after hearing some few scenes he had offered a couple of hundred pounds in advance of fees for the completed manuscript. 'But when can I have the manuscript?' said Ford, as he was about to leave. 'As soon as I can finish it,' Hubert replied, looking at him wistfully out of pale blue-grey eyes. 'I could finish it in a month, if I could count on not being worried by duns or disturbed by friends during that time.'

Ford looked at Hubert questioningly; then he said 'I have always noticed that when a fellow wants to finish a play, the only way to do it is to go away to the country and leave no address.'

But the country was always so full of pleasure for him, that he doubted his power to remain indoors with the temptation of fields and rivers before his eyes, and he thought that to escape from dunning creditors it would be sufficient to change his address. So he left Norfolk Street for the more remote quarter of Fitzroy Street, where he took a couple of rooms on the second floor. One of his fellow-lodgers, he soon found, was Rose Massey, an actress engaged for the performance of small parts at the Queen's Theatre. The first time he spoke to her was on the doorstep. She had forgotten her latch-key, and he said, 'Will you allow me to let you in?' She stepped aside, but did not answer him. Hubert thought her rude, but her strange eyes and absent-minded manner had piqued his curiosity, and, having nothing to do that night, he went to the theatre to see her act. She was playing a very small part, and one that was evidently unsuited to her-a part that was in contradiction to her nature; but there was something behind the outer envelope which led him to believe she had real talent, and would make a name for herself when she was given a part that would allow her to reveal what was in her.

In the meantime, Rose had been told that the gentleman she had snubbed in the passage was Mr. Hubert Price, the author of Divorce.

'Oh, it was very silly of me,' she said to Annie. 'If I had only known!'

'Lor', he don't mind; he'll be glad enough to speak to you when you meets him again.'

And when they met again on the stairs, Rose nodded familiarly, and Hubert said-

'I went to the Queen's the other night.'

'Did you like the piece?'

'I did not care about the piece; but when you get a wild, passionate part to play, you'll make a hit. The sentimental parts they give you don't suit you.'

A sudden light came into the languid face. 'Yes, I shall do something if I can get a part like that.'

Hubert told her that he was writing a play containing just such a part.

Her eyes brightened again. 'Will you read me the play?' she said, fixing her dark, dreamy eyes on him.

'I shall be very glad.... Do you think it won't bore you?' And his wistful grey eyes were full of interrogation.

'No, I'm sure it won't.'

And a few days after she sent Annie with a note, reminding him of his promise to read her what he had written. As she had only a bedroom, the reading had to take place in his sitting-room. He read her the first and second acts. She was all enthusiasm, and begged hard to be allowed to study the part-just to see what she could do with it-just to let him see that he was not mistaken in her. Her interest in his work captivated him, and he couldn't refuse to lend her the manuscript.

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