It was past midnight, and both men
were smoking leisurely by the study fireside.
Morgan Druce sat just on the edge of a low chair, his
long, slim body bent forward, his clean-shaven boyish
face well within the glow of the fire. Though
he appeared to be looking at it, he was only conscious
of its warmth.
Robert Ingram, middle-aged and bearded,
lolled back in sensuous comfort. “The long
and the short of it is,” he resumed, “you’ve
a soul-crisis on just at present. Crises are
bad for the digestion, and I took care to grow out
of them long ago.”
“Our temperaments are very different,”
“That’s what makes your
case so difficult to meet,” returned Ingram.
“It’s your infernal temperament. One
never knows how to take it. In fact, you’re
the sort of person in whose existence I never really
believed; for though, as you know, I once had ideals
and a literary conscience, I was always aware they
would go as soon as I had a market for everything
I could manufacture. You are the genuine incorruptible
artist, to whom art is sacred. I really don’t
know whether to be doubtful of my cynicism or your
“That my case is a pretty
bad one I’ve already admitted,” put in
“Now, if you were only some
poor devil who was alone in the world,” went
on Ingram without heeding his remark, “I could
take you in hand and make something of you, for you’ve
quite brains enough. Poor devils are generally
more reasonable in their views than you, even when
they’re geniuses. You simply keep on wearing
out your heart day after day. Why? For fame?
What is it worth? Well, I won’t answer the
question I deal quite enough in platitudes.”
“You don’t understand,
Ingram. What do you really know of me?”
“Well, if I don’t know
you by this time, you must be an uncommonly deep person or
perhaps I am an uncommonly shallow one.”
Morgan Druce did not answer.
His last remark had been more of a reflection than
an interrogation. What did Ingram really know
of him, he asked himself again, despite the five years
of the indefinable relation between them? Admitting
that the man beneath the cynic was kindly and sympathetic,
yet he could not but be aware that Ingram’s
treason to the aspirations of his youth had destroyed
the finer edge of feeling. His vision did not
respond to subtler vibrations; his judgment was broad
Such was Morgan’s intuition
about Robert Ingram. He believed the man to be
sincere with him and he trusted him. And yet,
as he looked up now and saw Ingram, relapsed into
his luxurious arm chair, blowing rings of smoke, he
seemed to detect something in his expression that
filled him with a vague distrust about the genuineness
of his professed interest in him. There was a
sort of swagger in his whole posture, a slickness
about his well-dressed, well-fed body, and a self-satisfaction
in his somewhat burly face, nay, even in the manner
his fat fingers held his fat cigar, that set Morgan
wondering for the first time whether Ingram’s
attitude to literature did not in truth sum up the
whole man; whether that popular novelist and dramatist
could really have a place in his heart for anything
that was of unimportance to his own personal existence for
a poor devil of a poetaster, for instance.
It was one of those sudden doubts
that are created by a chance glimpse from an accidental
new point of view; and Morgan thrust it from him as
absurd and unjust. It could have no foundation,
else why had Ingram responded to his appeal at the
beginning? Why had he tolerated his calls all
these years? Why were they talking together in
that room now?
He had often been puzzled about this
relation between them, though, as with his friendship
with Lady Thiselton, its very strangeness and originality
pleased him. His relation to that charming woman
was, he felt, both indefinable and incredible; and
his relation to the man beside him, though less odd,
could be included neither in the category of acquaintanceship
nor in that of friendship. Morgan was ignorant
of Ingram’s personal life, even as Ingram was
ignorant of such a large fact in his own as Lady Thiselton.
Their coming together had been always on the ground
of their one common interest; otherwise there was
the most absolute mutual exclusiveness between their
existences. True that Morgan’s periodical
appearance at this Albert Gate flat, of which Ingram
had made for himself a luxurious bachelor’s home,
had eventually resulted in a certain frankness of
speech and familiarity of manner between them.
But here their intercourse began and ended.
Perhaps Morgan had all along seen
the position a little bit out of perspective; the
very freedom with which Ingram had come to unmask
himself before him and the intimacy with which they
addressed each other had perhaps misled him.
The cheery breeziness of Ingram had attracted him
a good deal from the first, and he had liked the man
for the ready good nature he had displayed towards
him. And altogether it had been easy for him
to think that he had done more than just rub up against
the surface of Ingram’s life, the depth and fullness
of which he had scarcely realised.
At the beginning he had looked upon
his being allowed to come and see the older man now
and again as a privilege. It had never struck
him to look at these visits of his from the other’s
point of view. It was precisely this point of
view that now forced itself upon him as he struggled
with the suspicion that had come to him. Had Ingram
looked upon him merely as somebody who deserved to
be good-humouredly tolerated? And was his openness
only due to the consciousness of his (Morgan’s)
being an outsider, into whose ears he had got into
the habit of speaking thoughts he would have told
to no other living person, pretty much as he might
have written them in a diary? Such a habit was
easy to acquire with regard to an outsider whom one
came into contact with periodically, and with whom
one had a long talk each time.
He was not pleased, however, that
such a train of thought should have come to him, and,
urged by something akin to remorse, his mind went
travelling back over the past five years in search
of arguments in favour of Ingram.
There was a long interval during which
both smoked in silence.
“Do you remember,” asked
Morgan, at length, “the circumstances under
which we first became acquainted?”
Ingram. “You wrote me a long letter, a rather
pathetic one. That was the first intimation I
had of your existence.”
“Did you destroy that letter?”
“I never destroy letters compromising
ones, of course, always excepted.”
“Then I may assume it still
exists. Would it give you very much trouble to
find it now?”
“I pride myself upon my system,” answered
“Please put it to the test, then.”
“Your system is excellent,”
admitted Morgan, as at the end of about five minutes
Ingram held up the sheets in triumph. “Now
I wonder if you’d read it to me. I want
to hear how it sounds.”
“Certainly, you amusing beggar,”
said Ingram. “You wrote it during your
last crisis and you want to compare your feelings then
“I forget what I wrote,”
said Morgan, with an attempt at gaiety. “It
must be very dramatic, so please put the proper expression
into it, just as if it were a passage in one of your
“Dear Mr. Ingram,” read
out that gentleman. “For nearly six years
I have been trying to live by writing verse ever
since I was seventeen. Six years of passionate
hope and longing, failure and failure, all years of
wandering in the desert, of groping in the dark.
I know no one no one to criticise me no
one to encourage, to blame, or to praise; only the
voice of purpose in my breast. Amid loneliness
this passion for fruitless labour has grown strong,
frenzied, blind. Perhaps one day I shall penetrate if
I live. But for life one must have food; for
work one must have shelter. At twenty-three one
does not want to die; not when one has lived always
in the future, when one has striven and toiled for
recognition that may yet come. Not mere recognition
of genius or talent, of knack or gift, but recognition
of Truth as opposed to Imposture, of my right to life,
of my right to give free and full expression of the
individuality that is mine.
“As matters are now I
am utterly friendless so far as my inner life is concerned I
can see no other end than fall. God knows what
shape that fall is destined to take; into what mire
my soul must plunge in the fight for life. I
could bear anything if I were not so utterly alone
and helpless. I would do hack-work if I but knew
Grub Street. I would sell my soul to a publisher
for fifty pounds a year. Anything to get my foot
on the lowest rung of the ladder! Anything to
help me on the way to freedom!
“If you could see me, speak
to me, help me in any way! Believe me, I do not
wish to force my personality on you. I do not
want you to give me any material thing. I only
beg of you to aid me in asserting my claim on life
by telling how I may win bread.
“I should be deeply grateful
for a word from you. In any case, pardon this
intrusion. Yours, etc., Morgan Druce.”
Ingram drew a long breath and threw
the sheets on to the table.
“Have I read it nicely?” he asked.
“And I wrote that to you, Robert
Ingram!” exclaimed Morgan, brokenly.
“You did,” said Ingram, quietly.
“And you know what the sequel was.”
“You were moved by my appeal. You came
to seek me out.”
“Well, your letter interested
me. It was not the letter of a duffer or a swindler the
sort of thing you can tell by its ornate pompousness;
and it just caught me when I was somewhat bored by
things, so that I rather welcomed it as an excitement.
I expected to find you lodging in some miserable cottage a
Chatterton in a garret. I came to bring food
to the hungry. Instead ”
“You found me living in a palace
standing in a fine park, with no lack of loaves and
fishes, of milk and honey.”
“It was the greatest surprise
of my life. When I could no longer doubt that
the only people called Druce in the neighbourhood lived
in the magnificent Elizabethan mansion, whose name
was that of the supposed cottage from which you addressed
your letter, I began to think the family kept a skeleton
in one of the cupboards. In plain language ”
“You thought one of the members
of the family must be a lunatic.”
“Anyway, the champagne was first-class,
the cigars were worth half-a-crown apiece,”
said Ingram, laughing.
“And when you had gone into
the matter you thought that if I wasn’t quite
a lunatic, I was not far short of one for disagreeing
with my father.”
“Frankly, I did.”
“You never really sympathised.”
“I did all the time I conceived of
you as a Chatterton.”
“A palace is worse than a garret,”
asserted Morgan, “under the conditions in which
“Bah! You know nothing
about garrets. And, as I pointed out to you,
even if, in spite of the competition, you did sell
your soul to a publisher for fifty pounds a year,
he’d take care to stick to it. You were
hopelessly wrong in your ideas about getting your foot
on the first rung of the ladder.”
“I am ashamed of ever having
had those ideas of ever having been willing
to suppress my individuality, if only temporarily,
for the sake of living. It all ought to have
ended then. Why did you advise me to go on?”
“I only advised you to go on
writing I took the other thing for granted.
In the light of my experience of myself at the same
age, I judged it was the only advice you would take.
And then having entered on the adventure, I wanted
to finish it; so naturally I set about making peace
between father and son. Excellent man, your father!
So open to reason! You must have been deuced
clumsy to irritate him. To refuse to enter such
a business! You’d have been a rich man in
a few years. But I’m sorry to see your
last remark implied a sort of reproach.”
“It was a stupid remark,”
admitted Morgan. “Of course I wanted to
go on. At twenty-three one does not want to die.”
“If there is still a prospect
of being allowed to write poetry,” added Ingram.
“You wanted to be put in the way of earning fifty
pounds a year, and naturally you invoked the assistance
of the man who was reputed to have a weakness for
embryo genius. However, at the age of twenty-eight,
it appears, one does want to die. I helped you
over the last crisis; perhaps I may help you over
this one. Let us look at the facts. You’ve
had a good chance and you’ve been defeated.
Your poetry is not wanted. As I’ve told
you before, I am not competent to say whether it’s
great or whether it’s downright drivel it’s
years since I discovered my limitations. You’ve
been imprudent enough to pay the expenses of publishing
two small volumes, and certain it is that nobody found
any greatness in them. I admit I couldn’t
make head or tail of the bulk of the stuff I’m
satisfied myself to write what plain folk can understand.
To put the matter bluntly, you send work to market
that most people would look on as the ravings of a
lunatic. Now, my advice is cut poetry.
There is plenty in the world for you to live for.
Go and travel awhile. See men and cities, sculpture
and paintings. Study humanity instead of merely
thinking about it. Sail over the wide seas; breathe
in the good air; be true to your youth and fall in
love right bravely. You are rich all
this is in your power. I am sure your father
will be pleased.”
Morgan was touched by the other’s enthusiasm.
“I have always misunderstood
you,” he cried, remorsefully; “you are
not the mere gross tradesman you boast of being.”
“Really, you embarrass me.
Anyway, I hope that, now your opinion of me has gone
up, my advice will bear fruit. After which I shall
not mind confessing that that last nice bit is a quotation
from my first novel. I could have invented nothing
“You give me advice I am powerless
to act on,” said Morgan, after some hesitation.
“I spent my last shilling to-day.”
“No money!” ejaculated
Ingram. “The deuce! Don’t you
draw a regular income from your father?”
“That was not the arrangement,”
said Morgan. “I was the first-born, and
he was mortally offended by my refusal to enter the
bank and carry on the name and the tradition of the
house. During all those six years there had been
friction and bitterness between us. At last came
an appalling outbreak, and I was suffering from the
full pain of my wounds when I wrote to you. You
were good enough to tell him that genius sometimes
earned quite considerable amounts, and the ultimate
result of your intercession, of which you only knew
the happy issue, not the details, was that he agreed
to give me six thousand pounds, with the understanding
I was never to expect another penny from him.
My brother was to take my commercial birthright and
I the responsibility for my whole future. I’ve
earned nothing save an odd few shillings now and again,
and all I had from my father I’ve somehow managed
to mess away.”
“Good God!” shrieked Ingram.
“Six thousand pounds in five years! An
exemplary young man of simple habits like you!
What could you have done with it all? You’re
not a spendthrift. You don’t gamble, do
“I don’t know how it has
gone,” said Morgan, helplessly. “I
made bad investments, I lent some of it away, and
I suppose I spent the rest.”
“And you wanted to sell your
soul to a publisher for fifty pounds a year!
The fact is, I suppose, you don’t know the value
of money at all it just melts away.”
“For me money has no value.
I don’t care a pin about it,” said Morgan,
“That’s scarcely the point,”
said Ingram. “Whether you care about it
or not, you’ll have to raise some of it.
Let me interview your father. The fault is his.
He knew you were a poet, and yet he was imprudent
enough to give you capital instead of an income.”
“It was my doing. I wanted
to be perfectly free and independent of him not
to be worried by sordid complaints and lectures and
warnings with each quarter’s cheque. I
told him so frankly, and I so annoyed him even at
the end that he gave me the money, saying he did not
care what I did with it. I certainly intend to
stand by the arrangement I made with him. That
money was to be the last, and the last it shall be.”
“You are difficult,” said Ingram.
“You must be indulgent.”
Ingram lighted a new cigar and appeared
lost in reflection a little while.
“There is only one thing, then, I can suggest,”
he said at last.
“And that is?” asked Morgan,
in a tone that clearly indicated his belief that he
was beyond all suggestions.
“You can be my ghost. Don’t
be alarmed you must do some work, you know,
and that is the only work I can think of for you.
I have to refuse very many commissions. Try your
hand at some of them and I’ll run over the work
and sign. As I’ve said before, you’ve
got brains enough if you’ll only use them in
the right direction.”
“You mean it for the best; but
I could not be party to a fraud.”
“How so? My business in
life is to manufacture stories and plays for the people.
My signature merely guarantees the quality just as
the name of a maker on a pianoforte guarantees the
instrument. But every such maker employs others
whose names do not appear in connection with the finished
“The whole thing is impossible.
Forgive me for ignoring your arguments. I ought
never to have troubled you with my miserable concerns.
It would, perhaps, have been better if I had never
written you this.”
And Morgan took up his own letter
from the table, morbidly fascinated by it, and impelled
to read again the words that had been wrung from him
five years before by his torturing sense of his position
But, as he began to read, an odour
he had been vaguely conscious of inhaling all along
was wafted very perceptibly to his nostrils. Then
he became aware that the letter was subtly scented.
An unreasoning anger came upon him.
“Some woman has had this in her possession,”
Ingram looked at him strangely, hesitated,
then seemed finally to comprehend.
“You are a veritable Lecoq,” he said coolly.
Then that conception of Ingram that
had before begun to hover in Morgan’s mind now
forced itself upon him wholly. He had always
understood that the man had been inclined to take him
somewhat as a good joke, but this he had not minded
so much, so long as he believed that his personality
and his aspirations really interested him. Now
his sense of not having been looked upon seriously
predominated, and with it came an exaggerated consciousness
of everything in Ingram that was obnoxious to his
spirit. If the re-reading of the letter had been
a torture for him, the knowledge that it had been ruthlessly
exposed to other eyes aggravated the pain tenfold,
especially at this particular moment.
“And so this person, whose vile
scent impregnates this, has had my soul laid bare
before her for her amusement!”
“Whose vile scent?” repeated
Ingram, angrily. “I must ask you not to
use such language about any friend of mine.”
“You went to her, no doubt,
to be praised and fawned upon for your generosity
to me, and afterwards ”
“Don’t be a fool!” exclaimed Ingram,
cutting him short.
“Thank you. I shall take the advice.
I have been a fool long enough.”
Morgan moved out of the room, leaving Ingram flushed