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   Chapter 4 No.4

Vain Fortune By George Moore Characters: 8429

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Hubert at last found himself obliged to write to Ford for an advance of money. But Ford replied that he would advance money only on the delivery of the completed manuscript. And the whole of one night, in a room hardly eight feet long, sitting on his bed, he strove to complete the fourth and fifth acts. But under the pressure of such necessity ideas died within him. And all through the night, and even when the little window, curtained with a bit of muslin hardly bigger than a pocket-handkerchief, had grown white with dawn, he sat gazing at the sheet of paper, his brain on fire, unable to think. Laying his pen down in despair, he thought of the thousands who would come to his aid if they only knew-if they only knew! And soon after he heard life beginning again in the little brick street. He felt that his brain was giving way, that if he did not find change, whatever it was, he must surely run raving mad. He had had enough of England, and would leave it for America, Australia-anywhere. He wanted change. The present was unendurable. How would he get to America? Perhaps a clerkship on board one of the great steamships might be obtained.

The human animal in extreme misery becomes self-reliant, and Hubert hardly thought of making application to his uncle. The last time he had applied for help his letter had remained unanswered, and he now felt that he must make his own living or die. And, quite indifferent as to what might befall him, he walked next day to the Victoria Docks. He did not know where or how to apply for work, and he tired himself in fruitless endeavour. At last he felt he could strive with fate no longer, and wandered mile after mile, amused and forgetful of his own misery in the spectacle of the river-the rose sky, the long perspectives, the houses and warehouses showing in fine outline, and then the wonderful blue night gathering in the forest of masts and rigging. He was admirably patient. There was no fretfulness in his soul, nor did he rail against the world's injustice, but took his misfortunes with sweet gentleness.

He slept in a public-house, and next day resumed his idle search for employment. The weather was mild and beautiful, his wants were simple, a cup of coffee and a roll, a couple of sausages, and the day passed in a sort of morose and passionless contemplation. He thought of everything and nothing, least of all of how he should find money for the morrow. When the day came, and the penny to buy a cup of coffee was wanting, he quite naturally, without giving it a second thought, engaged himself as a labourer, and worked all day carrying sacks of grain out of a vessel's hold. For a large part of his nature was patient and simple, docile as an animal's. There was in him so much that was rudimentary, that in accepting this burden of physical toil he was acting not in contradiction to, but in full and perfect harmony with, his true nature.

But at the end of a week his health began to give way, and, like a man after a violent debauch, he thought of returning to a more normal existence. He had left the manuscript of his unfortunate play in the North. Had they destroyed it? The involuntary fear of the writer for his child made him smile. What did it matter? Clearly the first thing to do would be to write to the editor of The Cosmopolitan, and ask if he could find him some employment, something certain; writing occasional articles for newspapers, that he couldn't do.

Hubert had saved twelve shillings. He would therefore be able to pay his landlady: he smiled-one of his landladies! The earlier debt was now hopelessly out of his reach, and seemed to represent a social plane from which he had for ever fallen. If he had succeeded in getting that play right, what a difference it would have made! He would have been able to do a number of things he had never done, things which he had always desired to do. He had desired above all to travel-to see France and Italy; to linger, to muse in the shadows of the world's past; and after this he had desired marriage, an English wife, an English home, beautiful children, leisure, the society of friends. A successful play would have given him all these things, and now his dream

must remain for ever unrealised by him. He had sunk out of sight and hearing of such life.

Rose was another; she might sink as he had sunk; she might never find the opportunity of realising her desire. How well she would have played that part! He knew what was in her. And now! What did his failure to write that play condemn him to? Heaven only knows, he did not wish to think. Strange, was it not strange?... A man of genius-many believed him a genius-and yet he was incapable of earning his daily bread otherwise than by doing the work of a navvy. Even that he could not do well, society had softened his muscles and effeminised his constitution. Indeed, he did not know what life fate had willed him for. He seemed to be out of place everywhere. His best chance was to try to obtain a clerkship. The editor of The Cosmopolitan might be able to do that for him; if he could not, far better it would be to leave a world in which he was out of place, and through no fault of his own-that was the hard part of it. Hard part! Nonsense! What does Fate know of our little rights and wrongs-or care? Her intentions are inscrutable; she watches us come and go, and gives no sign. Prayers are vain. The good man is punished, and the wicked is sent on his way rejoicing.

In such mournful thought, his clothes stained and torn, with all the traces of a week's toil in the docks upon them, Hubert made his way round St. Paul's and across Holborn. As he was about to cross into Oxford Street, he heard some one accost him,-

'Oh, Mr. Price, is that you?' It was Rose. 'Where have you been all this time?'

She seemed so strange, so small, and so much alone in the great thoroughfare, that Hubert forgot all his own troubles in a sudden interest in this little mite. 'Where have you been hiding yourself?... It is lucky I met you. Don't you know that Ford has decided to revive Divorce?'

'You don't mean it!'

'Yes; Ford said that the last acts of The Gipsy were not satisfactorily worked out, and as there was something wrong with that Hamilton Brown's piece, he has decided to revive Divorce. He says it never was properly played ... he thinks he'll make a hit in the husband's part, and I daresay he will. But I have been unfortunate again; I wanted the part of the adventuress. I really could play it. I don't look it, I know ... I have no weight, but I could play it for all that. The public mightn't see me in it at first, but in five minutes they would.'

'And what part has he cast you for-the young girl?'

'Of course; there's no other part. He says I look it; but what's the good of looking it when you don't feel it? If he had cast me for Mrs. Barrington, I should have had just the five minutes in the second act that I have been waiting for so long, and I should have just wiped Miss Osborne out, acted her off the stage.... I know I should; you needn't believe it if don't like, but I know I should.'

Hubert wondered how any one could feel so sure of herself, and then he said, 'Yes, I think you could do just what you say.... How do you think Miss Osborne will play the part?'

'She'll be correct enough; she'll miss nothing, and yet somehow she'll miss the whole thing. But you must go at once to Ford. He was saying only this morning that if you didn't turn up soon, he'd have to give up the idea.'

'I can't go and see him to-night. You see what a state I'm in.'

'You're rather dusty; where have you been? what have you been doing?'

'I've been down at the dock.... I thought of going to America.'

'Well, we'll talk about that another time. It doesn't matter if you are a bit dusty and worn-out-looking. Now that he's going to revive your play, he'll let you have some money. You might get a new hat, though. I don't know how much they cost, but I've five shillings; can you get one for that?'

Hubert thanked her.

'But you are not offended?'

'Offended, my dear Rose! I shall be able to manage. I'll get a brush up somewhere.'

'That's all right. Now I'm going to jump into that 'bus,' and she signed with her parasol to the conductor. 'Mind you see Ford to-night,' she cried; and a moment after he saw a small space of blue back seated against one of the windows.

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