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   Chapter 2 No.2

Vain Fortune By George Moore Characters: 7957

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Rose often came to see Hubert in his rooms. Her manner was disappointing, and he thought he must be mistaken in his first judgment of her talents. But one afternoon she gave him a recitation of the sleep-walking scene in Macbeth. It was strange to see this little dark-complexioned, dark-eyed girl, the merest handful of flesh and bone, divest herself at will of her personality, and assume the tragic horror of Lady Macbeth, or the passionate rapture of Juliet detaining her husband-lover on the balcony of her chamber. Hubert watched in wonderment this girl, so weak and languid in her own nature, awaking only to life when she assumed the personality of another. There she lay, her wispy form stretched in his arm-chair, her great dark eyes fixed, her mind at rest, sunk in some inscrutable dream. Her thin hand lay on the arm of the chair: when she woke from her day-dream she burst into irresponsible laughter, or questioned him with petulant curiosity. He looked again: her dark curling hair hung on her swarthy neck, and she was somewhat untidily dressed in blue linen.

'Were you ever in love?' she said suddenly. 'I don't suppose you could be; you are too occupied with your play. I don't know, though; you might be in love, but I don't think that many women would be in love with you.... You are too good a man, and women don't like good men.'

Hubert laughed, and without a trace of offended vanity in his voice he said, 'I don't profess to be much of a lady-killer.'

'You don't know what I mean,' she said, looking at him fixedly, a maze of half-childish, half-artistic curiosity in her handsome eyes.

Perplexed in his shy, straightford nature, Hubert inquired if she took sugar in her tea. She said she did; stretched her feet to the fire, and lapsed into dream. She was one of the enigmas of Stageland. She supported herself, and went about by herself, looking a poor, lost little thing. She spoke with considerable freedom of language on all subjects, but no one had been able to fix a lover upon her.

'What a part Lady Hayward is! But tell me,-I don't quite catch your meaning in the second act. Is this it?' and starting to her feet, she became in a moment another being. With a gesture, a look, an intonation, she was the woman of the play,-a woman taken by an instinct, long submerged, but which has floated to the surface, and is beginning to command her actions. In another moment she had slipped back into her weary lymphatic nature, at once prematurely old and extravagantly childish. She could not talk of indifferent things; and having asked some strange questions, and laughed loudly, she wished Hubert 'Good-afternoon' in her curious, irresponsible fashion, taking her leave abruptly.

The next two days Hubert devoted entirely to his play. There were things in it which he knew were good, but it was incomplete. Montague Ford would not produce it in its present form. He must put his shoulder to the wheel and get it right; one more push, that was all that was wanted. And he could be heard walking to and fro, up and down, along and across his tiny sitting-room, stopping suddenly to take a note of an idea that had occurred to him.

One day he went to Hampstead Heath. A long walk, he thought, would clear his mind, and he returned home thinking of his play. The sunset still glittering in the skies; the bare trees were beautifully distinct on the blue background of the suburban street, and at the end of the long perspective, a 'bus and a hansom could be seen coming towards him. As they grew larger, his thoughts defined themselves, and the distressing problem of his fourth act seemed to solve itself. That very evening he would sketch out a new dramatic movement around which all the other movements of the act would cluster. But at the corner of Fitzroy Square, within a few yards of No. 17, he was accosted by a shabbily-dressed man, who inquired if he were Mr. Price. On being answered in the affirmative, the shabbily-dre

ssed man said, 'Then I have something for ye; I have been a-watching for ye for the last three days, but ye didn't come out; missed yer this morning: 'ere it is;' and he thrust a folded paper into Hubert's hand.

'What is this?'

'Don't yer know?' he said with a grin; 'Messrs. Tomkins & Co., Tailors, writ-twenty-two pound odd.'

Hubert made no answer; he put the paper in his pocket, opened the door quietly, stole up to his room, and sat down to think. The first thing to do was to examine into his finances. It was alarming to find that he was breaking into his last five-pound note. True that he was close on the end of his play, and when it was finished he would be able to draw on Ford. But a summons to appear in the county court could not fail to do him immense injury. He had heard of avoiding service, but he knew little of the law, and wondered what power the service of the writ gave his creditor over him. His instinct was to escape-hide himself where they would not be able to find him, and so obtain time to finish his play. But he owed his landlady money, and his departure would have to be clandestine. As he reflected on how many necessaries he might carry away in a newspaper, he began to feel strangely like a criminal, and while rolling up a couple of shirts, a few pairs of socks, and some collars, he paused, his hands resting on the parcel. He did not seem to know himself, and it was difficult to believe that he really intended to leave the house in this disreputable fashion. Mechanically he continued to add to his parcel, thinking all the while that he must go, otherwise his play would never be written.

He had been working very well for the last few days, and now he saw his way quite clearly; the inspiration he had been so long waiting for had come at last, and he felt sure of his fourth act. At the same time he wished to conduct himself honestly, even in this distressing situation. Should he tell his landlady the truth? But the desire to realise his idea was intolerable, and, yielding as if before an irresistible force, he tied the parcel and prepared to go. At that moment he remembered that he must leave a note for his landlady, and he was more than ever surprised at the naturalness with which lying phrases came into his head. But when it came to committing them to paper, he found he could not tell an absolute lie, and he wrote a simple little note to the effect that he had been called away on urgent business, and hoped to return in about a week.

He descended the stairs softly. Mrs. Wilson's sitting-room opened on to the passage; she might step out at any moment, and intercept his exit. He had nearly reached the last flight when he remembered that he had forgotten his manuscripts. His flesh turned cold, his heart stood still. There was nothing for it but to ascend those creaking stairs again. His already heavily encumbered pockets could not be persuaded to receive more than a small portion of the manuscripts. He gathered them in his hand, and prepared to redescend the perilous stairs. He walked as lightly as possible, dreading that every creak would bring Mrs. Wilson from her parlour. A few more steps, and he would be in the passage. A smell of dust, sounds of children crying, children talking in the kitchen! A few more steps, and, with his eyes on the parlour door, Hubert had reached the rug at the foot of the stairs. He hastened along, the passage. Mrs. Wilson was a moment too late. His hand was on the street-door when she appeared at the door of her parlour.

'Mr. Price, I want to speak to you before you go out. There has--'

'I can't wait-running to catch a train. You'll find a letter on my table. It will explain.'

Hubert slipped out, closed the door, and ran down the street, and it was not until he had put two or three streets between him and Fitzroy Street that he relaxed his pace, and could look behind him without dreading to feel the hand of the 'writter' upon his shoulder.

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