Twilight (Frankau)/Chapter IV
That night, the very night after Ella had gone, I tested my slowly returning strength. Benham gave me my codein, and saw that I was well provided with all I might need for the night; the lemonade and glycerine lozenges, a second codein on the table by my side, the electric bell to my hand. This bell had been put up since the night nurse left; it rang into Benham's bedroom. I waited for a quarter of an hour after she had gone, she had a habit of coming back to see if I had forgotten anything, or to show me how thick and abundant her hair was without the uniform cap. I should have felt like a criminal when I stole out of bed. But I did not, I felt like an invalid, and a feeble one at that. It was only a couple of steps from the bed to the chest of drawers and I accomplished it without mishap, then was back again in bed, only to remember the seals were still unbroken and the string firm. A pair of nail scissors were on the dressing-table. I was disinclined for the journey, but managed it all the same. I was then so exhausted I had to wait for a quarter of an hour before I was able to use them. Only then was my curiosity rewarded. A small number of letters, not more than fifteen or sixteen in all, a bound diary, a very cursory glance at which showed me the disingenuousness, and half a dozen pages of MS. notes or chapter headings with several trial titles, "Between the Nisi and the Absolute," "Publisher and Sinner," headed two separate pages. "The Story of an Unhappy Woman" the third. The notes were all in the first person, and I should have known them anywhere for Margaret Capel's.
Small as the whole cache was, I did not think it possible I could get through it all that night. Neither did it seem possible to get out of bed again. The papers must remain where they were, or underneath my pillow. I should be strong enough, I hoped, by the morning to put up with or confront any wrath or argument Benham would advance.
I had got up because I chose. That was the beginning and end of it. She must learn to put up with my ways, or I with a change of nurse.
The letters were in an elastic band, without envelopes, labelled and numbered. Margaret's were on paper of a light mauve, with lines, like foreign paper. Her handwriting, masculine and square, was not very readable. She rarely dotted an i or crossed a t, used the Greek e and many ellipses. Gabriel's letters were as easy to read as print. It was a pity therefore that hers were so much longer than his. Still, once I began I was sorry to leave off, and should not have done so if I could have kept my eyes open or my attention from wandering. I am printing them just as they stand, those that I read that night, at least. Here they are:―
January 29th, 1902.
Would you care to publish a book by me on Staffordshire Pottery? What I have in my mind is a limited édition de luxe, illustrated in colours, highly priced. I may say I have a collection which I believe to be unique, if not complete, upon which I propose to draw largely. Of course the matter would have to be discussed both from your point of view and, mine. This is merely to ask if you are open.
My name is probably not unknown to you, or rather my pseudonym.
The critics have been kind to my novels, and I see no reason why they should be less so to a monograph on a subject I thoroughly understand. Although perhaps that will be hard for them to forgive. For it will be reviewed, if at all, by critics less well informed.
January 30th, 1902.
I have to thank you for your letter of yesterday with its suggestion for a book on Staffordshire Pottery.
The subject is outside my own knowledge, but I find there is no comprehensive work dealing with it, a small elementary booklet published in the Midlands some three years ago being the only volume catalogued.
In any case there can hardly be a large public for so special an interest, and it will probably be best, as you indicate, to issue a limited edition at a high price and appeal direct by prospectus to collectors. The success of the publication would be then largely dependent on the beauty of the illustrations and the general "get up" of the volume, for although I have no doubt your text will be excellent and accurate it must be properly "dressed" to secure attention.
Indeed I have the privilege of knowing your novels well. They have always appealed to me as having the cardinal qualities of courage and actuality. Complete frankness combined with delicacy and literary skill is so rare with modern-day writers that your work stands out.
Could you very kindly make it convenient to call here so that we may discuss the details and plan for the Staffordshire book? This would save a good deal of correspondence.
I will gladly keep any appointment you make—please avoid Saturday, as I try to take that day off at this time of year to go to a little fishing I have in Hampshire.
211 Queen Anne's Gate, S.W.,
February 1st, 1902.
I am obliged by your courteous letter, and will be with you at four o'clock whichever day suits you. I propose to bring with me a short synopsis of "The Staffordshire Potters, Their Inspiration and Results," and also a couple of specimens from which you might make experiments for illustrations. I want to place the book definitely before writing it.
Domestic circumstances with which I need not trouble you, they are I fear already public property, make it advisable I should remain, if not sequestered, at least practically in retreat for the next few months. I find I cannot concentrate my mind on a novel at this juncture. But my cottages and quaint figures, groups and animals, jugs and plates, retain their attraction, and I shall do a better book about them now, when I am dependent on things and isolated from people, than I should at any other time.
It is good of you to say what you do about my novels, but I doubt if I shall ever write another. My courage has turned to cowardice, and under cross-examination I found my frankness was no longer complete. I have taken a dislike to humanity.
February 6th, 1902.
Dear Mr, Stanton: —
The agreement promised has not yet arrived; nor your photographer; but I have made a first selection for him, and I think you will find it sufficiently varied according to your suggestion. Thirty illustrations in colour and seventy in monochrome will give the cream of my collection, and be representative, although of course not exhaustive. I have 375 specimens, no two alike! Ten groups, with the dancing dogs for the half-title, six cottages, six single figures, and the rest animal pieces will all look well in the process you showed me. I propose the large so-called classical examples in monochrome; their undoubted coarseness will then be toned down in black or brown and none of their interest destroyed. Julia, Lady Tweeddale, has one piece of which I have never been able to secure a duplicate, and so has Mr. Montague Guest. Do you think it advisable to ask permission to photograph these for inclusion, or would it be better to use only my own collection, and keep to the personal note in the letterpress?
Our brief interview gave me the feeling that I may ask you for help in any difficulty or perplexity that occurs in the preparation of a work so new to me. You were very kind to me. I daresay I seemed to you nervous and uncertain of how I meant to proceed. I felt like a trembling amateur in that big office of yours. I have never interviewed a publisher before; my novels always went by post—and came back that way too, at first! I had a false conception of publishers, based on—but I must not tell you upon whom it was based. Although why not? Perhaps you will recognise the portrait. A little pot-bellied person, Jewish or German, with a cough, or a sniff, or a sneeze, a suggestion of a coming expectoration, speaking many languages badly and apparently all at once; impressed with his own importance, talking Turgenieff and looking Abimelech. Why Abimelech I don't know; but that is the hero of whom he reminds me. I met him at a literary garden party to which I was bidden after "The Immoralists" had been so favourably reviewed. It was given by a lady who seemed to know everybody and like no one, a keen two-bladed tongue leapt out among her guests, scarifying them. She told me Mr. Rosenstein was not only a publisher but an amorist. He looked curiously unlike it; but an introduction and a short interview turned me sceptic of my own impression, inclined me to the belief in hers.
I have wandered from my theme—your kindness, my nervousness. I shall try to do credit to your penetration. You said that you were sure I should make a success of anything I undertook! I wonder if you were right. And if my Staffordshire book will prove you so? I am going to try and make it interesting, not too technical! But my intentions vary all the time. A preliminary chapter on clays was in my first scheme, I now want instead to tell of the family history of half a dozen potters. From this I begin to dream of stories of the figures; the short-waisted husband and wife a-marketing with their basket of fruit and vegetables, the clergyman in the tithe piece, a benignant villain this, with a chucking-his-parishioners-under-the-chin expression. Dear Mr. Stanton, what will happen if it turns out that I cannot write a monograph, but am only a novelist? You said I could trust you to act as Editor and blue-pencil my redundancies. But what if it should be all redundancy? Put something about this in the agreement, will you? I want to make money, but not at your expense. I am nervous. I fear that instead of a book on Staffordshire Pottery I shall give you an illustrated volume of short stories published at five guineas!! What an outcry from the press! Already I have been called "precious." Now they will talk of "pretentiousness"; the "grand manner" without the grand brain behind it! Will you really help and advise me? I have never felt less self-confident.
No. 5. 118 Greyfriars' Square, E.C.,
February 6th, 1902.
Dear Mrs. Capel:—
As we arranged at our interview yesterday I now enclose a draft contract for the book.
If there is any point not entirely clear to you please do not hesitate to tell me, and I shall be glad also of any suggestion or criticism that may occur to you in regard to possible alteration of the various clauses, and will do my best to meet your wishes. For I am more than anxious that we shall begin what I hope will prove a long and successful "partnership" with complete understanding and confidence.
Further enquiry makes me sanguine that the scheme is a good one, and we will do everything we can to produce a beautiful book.
May I say that it was a great pleasure and privilege to me to meet you here yesterday? I hope the interest you will find in this present work will afford you some relief during this time of trouble and anxiety you are passing through; and counteract to some extent at least the pettiness and publicity of litigation. I only refer to this with the greatest respect and sympathy.
There are many details, not only of the contract, but for the plan of the book, which we could certainly best arrange if we discussed them, rather than by writing.
Could you make it convenient to lunch with me one day next week? I shall be in the West End on Wednesday, and suggest the Café Royal at two o'clock.
It would be good of you to meet me there.
No. 6. 211 Queen Anne's Gate,
February 7th, 1902.
Dear Mr. Stanton:—
Our letters crossed. Thanks for yours with agreement. The greater part seems to me to be merely technical, and I have no observations to make about it.
Par. 2: guaranteeing that the work is in no way "a violation of any existing copyright," etc. I think this is your concern rather than mine. You say there is a book existing on Staffordshire Pottery, perhaps you can get me a copy, and then I can see that ours shall be entirely different.
Par. 7: beginning "accounts to be made up annually," etc., seems to give you an exceptionally long time to pay me anything that may be due. But perhaps I misunderstand it.
Therefore, and perhaps for other reasons, I very gladly accept your kind invitation to lunch with you on Wednesday at the Café Royal, and will be there at two, bringing the agreement with me.
With kind regards,
Yours very truly,
No. 7. 118 Greyfriars' Square, E.C.,
February 13th, 1902.
Dear Mrs. Capel:—
I am breaking into the commonplace routine of a particularly tiresome business day, to give myself the pleasure of writing to you, and you will forgive me if I purposely avoid business―for indeed it seems to me today that life might be so pleasant without work. That little grumble has done me good. I want to say what I fear I did not express to you yesterday―how greatly I enjoyed our talk. It was good of you to come and more good of you to tell me something of your present difficulties. I wish I could have been more helpful―but please believe I am more sympathetic than I was able to let you know, and I do understand much of what must be trying and unhappy for you during these weeks. Counsels of perfection are poor comfort, but perhaps that some one is most genuinely in accord with you―and anxious to help in any way possible―may be of some little value.
I beg you to believe that this is so, and I should welcome the chance of being of any service to you. This all reads very formal I fear, but your kindness must interpret the spirit rather than the letter.
Last evening I went into an old curiosity shop to try and find a wedding-present for a niece who is also my god-daughter, and I secured six beautiful Chippendale chairs. Curiously enough the man showed me what he said was the best specimen of Staffordshire he had ever had. A group of musicians―seeming to my inexperienced eye good in colour and design. I know not what impulse persuaded me to buy the piece. To-day I am fearing that my purchase is not genuine. May I bring it to you on Sunday for approval or condemnation? Don't trouble to answer if you will be at home― I will call at five o'clock.
Now I must return to less pleasant business affairs―the telephone is insistent.
Yours very sincerely,
211 Queen Anne's Gate, S.W.,
14th February, 1902.
Dear Mr. Stanton:—
Thank you so much for your kind letter, it made a charming savoury to that little luncheon you ordered. Did I tell you how much I enjoyed it? If not, please understand I am doing so now. The mousse was a dream of delight, the roses were very helpful. I have a theory about flowers and food, and how to blend them. Which reminds me that my father wants to share with me in the pleasure of your acquaintance and bids me ask if you will dine with us on the 24th at eight o'clock. This of course must not prevent your coming Sunday afternoon with your pottery "find." I am more than curious, I am devoured with curiosity to see it. I don't know a Staffordshire "group of musicians," it sounds like Chelsea! Bring it by all means, but if it is Staffordshire and not in my collection, I warn you I shall at once begin bargaining with you, spending my royalties in advance! Yes! I think I hate business too, as you say, and should like to avoid it. We were fairly successful, by the way, in the Café Royal! Our talk ranged over a large field, became rather personal―I think I spoke too freely; it must have been the Steinberger! or because I am really very worried and depressed. Depression is the old age of the emotions, and garrulousness its distressing symptom.
No. 9. 118 Greyfriars' Square, E.C.,
15th February, 1902.
Dear Mrs. Capel:—
I am so glad to have your letter and look forward to Sunday. Should my little pottery "find" prove authentic I have no doubt we can arrange for its transfer to you, on business or even unbusiness lines!
I accept with pleasure your invitation to dinner on the 24th. I have heard often of your father from my friend Wilfrid Henning, who attends to what little investments I make―and who meets your father in connection with that big Newfoundland scheme for connecting the traffic from the Eastern ports to Lake Ontario. I should value the opportunity to hear of it, first hand.
Yours most sincerely,
211 Queen Anne's Gate, S.W.,
16th February, 1902.
Dear Mr. Stanton:—
I am no longer puzzled about the "musicians"; it is Staffordshire, I was convinced of that from the first but had to confirm my impression. I will tell you all about it when we meet again (on the 24th), I am sure you will be interested. I want you to let me have it. Whatever you paid for it I will give you, and any profit you like. I won't bargain with you, but I really feel I can never part with it again. It was a wonderful chance that you should find it. Wasn't Sunday altogether strange? Such a crowd, and so difficult to talk. I shall have to get out of London, I have a sense of fatigue all the time, of restless incoherent fear. I dread sympathy, and scent curiosity as if it were carrion. In that little talk I had among the tea-things I said none of the things I meant. I believe you understood this, although you only said yes, and yes again to my wildest suggestions. I am only epigrammatic when I am shy; it is the form taken by my mental stammer. Epigrams come to me too, when I have a scene in my head too big to write. I find my hand shaking, heart beating, tremulous. Then my queer brain relieves the pressure on my feelings and stammers out my scene in short cryptic sentences. That is why, although I am an emotional thinker, I am what you are pleased to call an intellectual writer.
And now for the agreement, in which I have ventured to make alterations, and even additions. Will you return it to me with comments if you think I have been too difficult or exacting. My father tells me I have inherited his business ability. He means to pay me a compliment, but I gather your point of view is that business ability is but deformity in an intellectual woman? I'm sorry for this deformity of mine, realising the unfavourable impression it may create. Try and forgive me for it, won't you? You need not even remember it when you are telling me what I am to give you for the Staffordshire piece!
With kind regards,
Yours very sincerely,
No. 11. 118 Greyfriars' Square, E.C.,
17th February, 1902.
Dear Mrs. Capel:—
What good news about the little "Staffordshire" piece! I am really delighted. Please don't mar my pleasure in thinking of it happily housed with you by questions of price or bargaining. Rather add to my pride in my "find" by accepting it as a small recognition of my great good fortune in having made your acquaintance.
Out of the chatter and clatter of the tea on Sunday the things you said remain with me; if they were epigrams they were vivid and to me very real.
I hated everything that interrupted―and hated going away. Quite humbly I say that I think I did understand, and was longing to tell you so. But I have never had the tongue of a ready speaker, and as I left your beautiful home I was choked with unspoken words a cleverer man would have found more quickly.
How much I wished I could have expressed myself. I wanted to say that I had no hateful curiosity, but only an overwhelming sympathy and desire for your confidence, a bedrock craving for your friendship. May I be your friend? May I? Or am I presuming on your kindness and too short an acquaintanceship?
Anyhow, I can't write on business, the contract is to go through with all your alterations.
Looking forward to the 24th, I need only sign,
Yours very truly,
No. 12. 211 Queen Anne's Gate, S.W.,
18th February, 1902.
Dear Mr. Stanton:—
I don't know what to say about "The Musicians," that is why I have not already written to say it! I have not put the group into my collection, it is on my bedroom mantelpiece. I see it when I first wake in the morning, it is the last thing upon which my tired eyes rest before I turn off the light at night. Sometimes I think those musicians are playing the prelude to the friendship of which you speak. I wonder why you are so curiously sympathetic to me, and why I mind so little admitting it. Friendship has been rare in my life. You offer me yours, and I am on the point of accepting it; thinking all the time what it may mean, what I can give you in return. An hour now and again of detached talk, a great deal of trouble with my literary affairs . . . there is not much in that for you; is there? Are the Musicians really a gift? They must go on playing to me softly then, and the prelude be slow and long-drawn-out. I am afraid even of friendship, that is the truth. I'm disillusioned, disappointed, tired. Nothing has ever happened to me as I meant it. When I first came from America with my father, I was full of the wildest hopes, and now I have outlived them all. It is not an affectation, it is a profound truth, and at twenty-eight I find myself worn out, dimmed, exhausted. I have had fame (a small measure of it, but enough for comparison), wealth, and that horrid nightmare, love.
My father spoiled me when I was small, believed too much in me. He thought me a genius, and I . . . perhaps I thought so too. I puzzled and perplexed him, and he felt overweighted with his responsibilities, with character-studying an egotistic girl of sixteen. The result was a stepmother. Can you imagine what I suffered! She began almost immediately to suffocate me with her kindness. She too admitted I was a genius. Do you know we had the idea, these besotted parents of mine and I, that I was to be a great pianist! I practised many hours a day, sustained by jellies, and beef-tea and encouragement. I had the best teachers, a few weeks in Dresden with Lentheric, my father poured out his money like water. The end of that period was a prolonged fainting fit, the first of many, the discovery I had a weak heart, that the exertion of piano-playing affected it unfavourably. I came back from Dresden at eighteen, was presented the same year, the papers said I was beautiful; father put himself out of the way to be nice to pressmen; he had acquired the habit in America whilst he was building up his fortune. That I was accounted beautiful and could play Chopin and was to have a fortune, made me appear also brilliant. My father paid for the printing of my first book. My first one-act play was performed at a West End theatre. Then I met James Capel. Mr. Justice Jeune knows the story of my married life better than any one else. I was high-spirited before it began. At the end of a year I was physically, mentally, morally a wreck. I don't know which of us hated the other more, my husband or I. Anyway, he made no objection to my returning to my father. My stepmother's suffocating kindness descended upon me again, and now I found it healing. When I was healed I wrote "The Immoralists." Then my father's pride in me revived. He and my stepmother kept open house and collected celebrities to show the dimness of their light as a background for my supposed more brilliant shining! Society was pleased to come, my father growing always richer. ... I wrote "The Farce of Fearlessness" and "Love and the Lutist" about this time, and my other play. When my husband made it imperative by his proved and public blackguardism I resorted to the law, and acting under advice, fought him in the arena he chose, and have now won my freedom, but at an incredible, hardly yet to be realised cost, all my wounds exposed in the market-place.
I wonder why I am recapitulating all this. I think it is to show you I am in no mood for friendship. There are times when I am savage with pain, and times when I am exhausted from it, times when I feel bruised all over, so tender that the touch of a word brings tears, times when my overwhelming pity for myself leaves me incapable of realizing anything beyond my wrongs. I say I have won my freedom, but even this is untrue: at present I have only won six months of probation, during which I am still James Capel's wife. Sometimes I think I shall never live through them, the stain of my connection with him is like mortification.
The prelude played by the Musicians is a prelude to a dream.
And still I am grateful you gave them to me.
Your very truly,
When I had read as far as this the codein exerted its influence. My eyelids drooped, I slept and recovered myself. The sense of what I was reading began to escape, I knew it was time to put the bundle away. There were not very many more letters. I put all the papers on the table by my side, then dropped off. Margaret betrayed herself completely in her letters. Gabriel Stanton was still a strange unrealisable figure.