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"What a fool I've been! I wish to Heaven I'd never seen her!" cried poor Maurice Passmore. His doors, outer and inner, were fast closed, and he was hard at work, washing.
THE AUTHOR'S CHAPTER.
I SAID at the commencement of this series that it was uncertain whom I should take up, and whom I should drop on the road. This uncertainty arose from the nature of the "Dictionary of Possibilities," which, in compliance with my poor father's last request, I was, and am determined to continue and complete, unless, indeed, I too should leave it as a legacy duty to one of my own family; yes, on Second Thoughts, I leave the history of the Pincotts, the story of Miss Rachel, and the complications gradually entangling the Rev. Mr. Maurice, and inspired with a grand desire to benefit my fellow-creatures, will devote myself to the "Dictionary." Whether I may take up my parable in another form and another place, I shall not here declare; but if I do, it shall appear in full-the story of each separate life perfected, and the interest only dropping with the last letter of the word Finis.
Had I known when I laid aside my " Dictionary" to become biographer and story-teller, that I was taking the first step towards the destruction of that quiet and peace of mind which has hitherto been my lot in this secluded village, I would rather have burnt the manuscripts, as did the converted magicians of old, and thrown my goosequills into the pond than have penned a single line.
Is it nothing to find, morning after morning, letters from all parts of the world (THE BROADWAY having such a vast Transatlantic connection) entreating, imploring, bullying, pitying, sneering, inquiring, demanding, advising, threatening, in every kind of handwriting, bold, feminine, niggling, masculine, spider-like, and, above all, in many cases, unpaid? A sample will suffice.
Letter to the author of Second Thoughts.
"SIR,-What is your story about? What do you mean by it? Pray get on, and let us have a great deal more, or none at all. "Yours etc., etc."
"Miss Soandso presents her compliments to the author of Second Thoughts, and having met him on several occasions, thinks it most
unfair to make capital out of their slight acquaintance by drawing the character of Miss Rachel, which all her friends consider a gross caricature. Miss Soandso's brother in the Artillery will take the earliest opportunity of waiting upon the author of Second Thoughts, and demanding an apology."
"SIR,-You are perhaps unaware that several years ago I invented and registered the title of Second Thoughts. I am in consultation with my solicitor, from whom you will, doubtless, hear in a few days." Another.
"SIR,-In the interest of morality I protest against the introduction into any tale of such a character as that of the clergyman, Mr. Maurice Passmore. I (speaking in the name of several influential supporters of this new publication) question whether you cannot be proceeded against. We shall see."
"You have no continuity of purpose. Why give us little dribblings from month to month? The idea of Second Thoughts is utterly marred in your hands. For my part I should have tuned it thus" (here follow six pages of letter-paper showing how he would have tuned it). "I offer these suggestions, as they may yet enable you to do something with your series."
"Second Thoughts ought to be funny. They're not. Make 'em funny."
"Second Thoughts are a serious subject. Why treat it with levity? Why introduce the jack-pudding in every page? A life ill-spent, a death-bed repentance, a false step in marriage-these, sir, are among the subjects for Second Thoughts, worthier the homilies of a pulpit than the wearisome jingle of the cap and bells."
I can't help thinking the writer of the last extract must have been mightily pleased with his own composition. Perhaps he read it over to himself several times, and then aloud to an admiring friend.
But enough of this. If my animal is to be carried at all, it will be in my own fashion, and my correspondents shall be disappointed, for they shall not see me again, until, bearing my burden as I will, I arrive at the goal, whence there can be no returning, no retracing steps for any one, be he or she who they may.
And does my Editor wonder that I am unhinged by these anonymous scribblers? Does he bid me go on fearlessly, or does he call upon me one morning when I am just sitting down to chapter the fortieth, and say, "I think you'd better finish this off; kill the people who are to be killed, marry the people who are to be married." The unkindest cut of all.
"But," I object. "There is no one to be killed."
He shakes his head. "In these sensational days the absence of such an incident is bad, decidedly bad.”
"Can't you kill Maurice Passmore ?" he asks. "Impossible," I immediately reply.
Yet being of a wavering dis
position, and willing to oblige, I offer to sacrifice Maurice Passmore, over a precipice, in the sixtieth chapter.'
why not in this ?"
"No, no, in the forty-first, or
I can't, I really can't. He is angry, "You can if you try." He puts it thus, being annoyed.
Very well," I sigh.
Again I think it over. "He dies." I mean Maurice Passmore dies in this chapter. I read to my Editor. Chapter XL. "A dark night. Maurice was alone. The edge of the cliff was crumbling beneath his feet. Alice!' he cried, and darting forward as if to grasp her form, missed his footing, and was precipitated a depth of four thousand feet on the rocks below." (End of Chapter XL.) My Editor is pleased. "Now then," he says, "marry Miss Rachel." I do it. "There's Dick Pincott and his step-aunt next, and there's the old Doctor: besides these, that unexplained scene about the keys." I rise with dignity.
"Sir, I have done. Here break we off. I have committed literary murder to please you, and to escape the badgering to which I have been subjected. In other crimes I will have no hand. On Second Thoughts, I consign the other characters to the Limbo of Possibilities; and, sir," I add, shaking hands with the gentleman, and congratulating myself upon the end of my troubles, "here, at all events, we are agreed, namely, that Second Thoughts are best."
[Note by F. C. B.]
So this is how Theophilus Day dreemer tried to do two things at once. Henceforth he acts only upon his Second Thoughts, and the result is one thing at a time, commencing with the "Dictionary of Possibilities."
THEY spake of thee to me: they said,
A challenge, turned; in measured speech
A sound of loosened earth fell through
I hid thee deep, and o'er thee drew
And die not till its odour shed
Made sweet the moment, sweet the hour
So endeth love, so endeth strife,-
THE FORTUNES OF A FREE LANCE.
BY THE AUTHOR OF GUY LIVINGSTONE," ETC., ETC.
MORNING broke-still and cloudless, as though the night had been innocent of storm or crime. Of the last, at least, no proofs remained, for the torrent had done its work thoroughly; and Réné d'Andelot's corpse, after making sport for eddy and rapid, found rest at last in a black pool ten fathoms deep in the Rhone. Yet none in the castle doubted that the page had come by foul play, nor by whose hand he had been done to death; and not a few-who, while he lived, had hated the spoiled favourite-thought of him half regretfully now. There were swollen eyelids amongst the women of the household; and Mathilde's cheeks all that day were deathly white; it was long before her voice was in tune for rondelai. Some even among the rough freebooters shrugged their shoulders, and looked askance at their leader, when, two hours before noon, he appeared in the midst of them.
The most heedless of the routiers could not fail to detect a marked change in Sir Ralph Brakespeare. His manner, usually so steady and cool, was hurried; his eyes were unnaturally bright, and his cheek flushed as though with fever; the very tone of his voice seemed altered. He scarcely spoke with any but Lanyon, and with him very briefly; saying, that he had determined to tarry at La Roche Dagon till the ransom of the castle, and of the three Burgundian knights, should be paid; but that these last were at liberty to depart on their parole to collect the money on their own fiefs, and that with them should go forth all the able soldiery of the garrison; so that, even with less careful ward than the Free Companions were like to keep, there should be no danger of rescue from within. The habits of discipline and submission were too deeply rooted in Lanyon to allow him to question; but his face was very gloomy as he listened, and he was scarce out of the knight's presence when his discontent broke forth.