The success of Verrian did not come early, and it did not come easily. He had been trying a long time to get his work into the best magazines, and when he had won the favor of the editors, whose interest he had perhaps had from the beginning, it might be said that they began to accept his work from their consciences, because in its way it was so good that they could not justly refuse it. The particular editor who took Verrian’s serial, after it had come back to the author from the editors of the other leading periodicals, was in fact moved mainly by the belief that the story would please the better sort of his readers. These, if they were not so numerous as the worse, he felt had now and then the right to have their pleasure studied.
It was a serious story, and it was somewhat bitter, as Verrian himself was, after his struggle to reach the public with work which he knew merited recognition. But the world which does not like people to take themselves too seriously also likes them to take themselves seriously, and the bitterness in Verrian’s story proved agreeable to a number of readers unexpectedly great. It intimated a romantic personality in the author, and the world still likes to imagine romantic things of authors. It likes especially to imagine them of novelists, now that there are no longer poets; and when it began to like Verrian’s serial, it began to write him all sorts of letters, directly, in care of the editor, and indirectly to the editor, whom they asked about Verrian more than about his story.
It was a man’s story rather than a woman’s story, as these may be distinguished; but quite for that reason women seemed peculiarly taken with it. Perhaps the women had more leisure or more courage to write to the author and the editor; at any rate, most of the letters were from women; some of the letters were silly and fatuous enough, but others were of an intelligence which was none the less penetrating for being emotional rather than critical. These maids or matrons, whoever or whichever they were, knew wonderfully well what the author would be at, and their interest in his story implied a constant if not a single devotion. Now and then Verrian was tempted to answer one of them, and under favor of his mother, who had been his confidant at every point of his literary career, he yielded to the temptation; but one day there came a letter asking an answer, which neither he nor his mother felt competent to deal with. They both perceived that they must refer it to the editor of the magazine, and it seemed to them so important that they decided Verrian must go with it in person to the editor. Then he must be so far ruled by him, if necessary, as to give him the letter and put himself, as the author, beyond an appeal which he found peculiarly poignant.