THE deluge began punctually on the Thursday, and Vyse, arriving as punctually, had an impressive pile of letters to attack. Betton, on his way to the Park for a ride, came into the library, smoking the cigarette of indolence, to look over his secretary’s shoulder.
“How many of ’em? Twenty? Good Lord! It’s going to be worse than ‘Diadems.’ I’ve just had my first quiet breakfast in two years—time to read the papers and loaf. How I used to dread the sight of my letter-box! Now I sha’n’t know I have one.”
He leaned over Vyse’s chair, and the secretary handed him a letter.
“Here’s rather an exceptional one—lady, evidently. I thought you might want to answer it yourself—”
“Exceptional?” Betton ran over the mauve pages and tossed them down. “Why, my dear man, I get hundreds like that. You’ll have to be pretty short with her, or she’ll send her photograph.”
He clapped Vyse on the shoulder and turned away, humming a tune. “Stay to luncheon,” he called back gaily from the threshold.
After luncheon Vyse insisted on showing a few of his answers to the first batch of letters. “If I’ve struck the note I won’t bother you again,” he urged; and Betton groaningly consented.
“My dear fellow, they’re beautiful—too beautiful. I’ll be let in for a correspondence with every one of these people.”
Vyse, at this, meditated for a while above a blank sheet. “All right—how’s this?” he said, after another interval of rapid writing.
Betton glanced over the page. “By George—by George! Won’t she see it?” he exulted, between fear and rapture.
“It’s wonderful how little people see,” said Vyse reassuringly.
The letters continued to pour in for several weeks after the appearance of “Abundance.” For five or six blissful days Betton did not even have his mail brought to him, trusting to Vyse to single out his personal correspondence, and to deal with the rest according to their agreement. During those days he luxuriated in a sense of wild and lawless freedom; then, gradually, he began to feel the need of fresh restraints to break, and learned that the zest of liberty lies in the escape from specific obligations. At first he was conscious only of a vague hunger, but in time the craving resolved into a shame-faced desire to see his letters.
“After all, I hated them only because I had to answer them”; and he told Vyse carelessly that he wished all his letters submitted to him before the secretary answered them.
At first he pushed aside those beginning: “I have just laid down ‘Abundance’ after a third reading,” or: “Every day for the last month I have been telephoning my bookseller to know when your novel would be out.” But little by little the freshness of his interest revived, and even this stereotyped homage began to arrest his eye. At last a day came when he read all the letters, from the first word to the last, as he had done when “Diadems and Faggots” appeared. It was really a pleasure to read them, now that he was relieved of the burden of replying: his new relation to his correspondents had the glow of a love-affair unchilled by the contingency of marriage.