“’Slovely,” said Miss Postlethwaite. “It lays the soul of Woman bare as with a scalpel.”
From far away in the distance came the faint strains of the town band, as it picked its way through the Star of Eve song from Tannhäuser—somewhat impeded by the second trombone, who had got his music-sheets mixed and was playing “The Wedding of the Painted Doll.”
For six months, week in and week out, Egbert Mulliner had been listening to female novelists talking about Art and their Ideals. He had seen them in cosy corners in their boudoirs, had watched them being kind to dogs and happiest when among their flowers. And one morning the proprietor of The Booklover, finding the young man sitting at his desk with little flecks of foam about his mouth and muttering over and over again in a dull, toneless voice the words, “Aurelia McGoggin, she draws her inspiration from the scent of white lilies!” had taken him straight off to a specialist.
Everyone has his pet aversion. Some dislike slugs, others cockroaches. Egbert Mulliner disliked female novelists.
As for his proposal, that was inserted verbatim; and, as he listened, Egbert shuddered to think that he could have polluted the air with such frightful horse-radish.
It is these swift, unheralded changes of the public mind which make publishers stick straws in their hair and powerful young novelists rush round to the wholesale grocery firms to ask if the berth of junior clerk is still open.
“Am I a serf?” demanded Evangeline.
“A what?” said Egbert.
“A serf. A slave. A peon. A creature subservient to your lightest whim.”
Ebert considered the point.
“No,” he said. “I shouldn’t think so.”
“No,” said Evangeline. “I am not. And I refuse to allow you to dictate to me in the choice of my friends.”
When a column on “Myrtle Bootle Among Her Books” was required, it was Egbert whom he sent to the No Man’s Land of Bloomsbury. When young Eustace Johnson, a novice who ought never to have been entrusted with such a dangerous commission, was found walking round in circles and bumping his head against the railings of Regent’s Park after twenty minutes with Laura La Motte Grindlay, the great sex novelist, it was Egbert who was flung into the breach.
“Oh, quite,” said Evangeline. “I will send out for a dog. I love dogs—and flowers.”
“You are happiest among your flowers, no doubt?”
“On the whole, yes.”
“You sometimes think they are the souls of little children who have died in their innocence?”
Evangeline’s “Oh, Egbert!” had been accompanied by a Niagara of tears. She had flung herself on the sofa and was now chewing the cushion in an ecstasy of grief. She gulped like a bull-pup swallowing a chunk of steak.
It is not the being paid money in advance that jars the sensitive artist: it is the having to work.