DURING the ensuing weeks the letters grew fewer and fewer, and Betton foresaw the approach of the fatal day when his secretary, in common decency, would have to say: “I can’t draw my pay for doing nothing.”
What a triumph for Vyse!
The thought was intolerable, and Betton cursed his weakness in not having dismissed the fellow before such a possibility arose.
“If I tell him I’ve no use for him now, he’ll see straight through it, of course;—and then, hang it, he looks so poor!”
This consideration came after the other, but Betton, in rearranging them, put it first, because he thought it looked better there, and also because he immediately perceived its value in justifying a plan of action that was beginning to take shape in his mind.
“Poor devil, I’m damned if I don’t do it for him!” said Betton, sitting down at his desk.
Three or four days later he sent word to Vyse that he didn’t care to go over the letters any longer, and that they would once more be carried directly to the library.
The next time he lounged in, on his way to his morning ride, he found his secretary’s pen in active motion.
“A lot to-day,” Vyse told him cheerfully.
His tone irritated Betton: it had the inane optimism of the physician reassuring a discouraged patient.
“Oh, Lord—I thought it was almost over,” groaned the novelist.
“No: they’ve just got their second wind. Here’s one from a Chicago publisher—never heard the name—offering you thirty per cent. on your next novel, with an advance royalty of twenty thousand. And here’s a chap who wants to syndicate it for a bunch of Sunday papers: big offer, too. That’s from Ann Arbor. And this—oh, this one’s funny!”
He held up a small scented sheet to Betton, who made no movement to receive it.
“Funny? Why’s it funny?” he growled.
“Well, it’s from a girl—a lady—and she thinks she’s the only person who understands ’Abundance’—has the clue to it. Says she’s never seen a book so misrepresented by the critics—”
“Ha, ha! That is good!” Betton agreed with too loud a laugh.
“This one’s from a lady, too—married woman. Says she’s misunderstood, and would like to correspond.”
“Oh, Lord,” said Betton.—“What are you looking at?” he added sharply, as Vyse continued to bend his blinking gaze on the letters.
“I was only thinking I’d never seen such short letters from women. Neither one fills the first page.”
“Well, what of that?” queried Betton.
Vyse reflected. “I’d like to meet a woman like that,” he said wearily; and Betton laughed again.
The letters continued to pour in, and there could be no farther question of dispensing with Vyse’s services. But one morning, about three weeks later, the latter asked for a word with his employer, and Betton, on entering the library, found his secretary with half a dozen documents spread out before him.