‘Thank you. I am deeply obliged to you.’
At the end of a long silence, Hubert said, ’Will you not come up-stairs, and let me read you the first act?’
’I should like to, but I think it better not. If Emily heard that you had read me your play, she would not close her eyes to-night; it would be tears and misery all the night through.’
The study in which he had determined to write his masterpiece had been fitted up with taste and care. The floor was covered with a rare Persian carpet, and the walls were lined with graceful bookcases of Chippendale design; the volumes, half morocco, calf, and the yellow paper of French novels, showed through the diamond panes. The writing-table stood in front of the window; like the bookcases, it was Chippendale, and on the dark mahogany the handsome silver inkstand seemed to invite literary composition. There was a scent of flowers in the room. Emily had filled a bowl of old china with some pale September roses. The curtains were made of a modern cretonne—their colour was similar to the bowl of roses; and the large couch on which Hubert lay was covered with the same material. On one wall there was a sea-piece by Courbet, and upon another a river landscape, with rosy-tinted evening sky, by Corot. The chimney-piece was set out with a large gilt timepiece, and candelabra in Dresden china. Hubert had bought these works of art on the occasion of his last visit to London, about two months ago.
It was twelve o’clock. He had finished reading his second act, and the reading had been a bitter disappointment. The idea floated, pure and seductive, in his mind; but when he tried to reduce it to a precise shape upon paper, it seemed to escape in some vague, mysterious way. Enticingly, like a butterfly it fluttered before him; he followed like a child, eagerly—his brain set on the mazy flight. It led him through a country where all was promise of milk and honey. He followed, sure that the alluring spirit would soon choose a flower; then he would capture it. Often it seemed to settle. He approached with palpitating heart; but lo! when the net was withdrawn it was empty.
A look of pain and perplexity came upon his face; he remembered the lodging at seven shillings a week in the Tottenham Court Road. He had suffered there; but it seemed to him that he was suffering more here. He had changed his surroundings, but he had not changed himself. Success and failure, despair and hope, joy and sorrow, lie within and not without us. His pain lay at his heart’s root; he could not pluck it forth, and its gratification seemed more than ever impossible. He changed his position on the couch. Suddenly his thoughts said, ’Perhaps I am mistaken in the subject. Perhaps that is the reason. Perhaps there is no play to be extracted from it; perhaps it would be better to abandon it and choose another.’