Not a Bad Deal by Anthony Hope

The little volume of verses entitled, “To Lalage,” made quite a stir in the literary world. One critic of note said that it was instinct with classic grace; another that it was informed by the true spirit of Hellas; a third that it had a whiff of Hymettus; a fourth that it was hardly suitable for family reading; and on the strength of all this laudation, “To Lalage” was a success, and several copies were bonâ fide sold to complete strangers. Imagine, then, the bitterness of heart with which Adrian Pottles, the gifted author, saw himself compelled to maintain strict anonymity, and to conceal from a world thirsting to know him that he was the “A. P.” whose initials appeared in Old English letters on the title-page. Yet he did not hesitate; for he knew that if his uncle, Mr. Thomas Pottles, of Clapham Common, discovered that he wrote not only verses, which was bad, but amatory verses, which was atrocious, his means of present livelihood and prospects of future affluence would vanish into thin air. For Mr. Pottles was a man of strict views; and, whether one regarded this world or the next, there could be no question that a bank clerk of Evangelical connections committed a grave fault in writing love poems. So poor Adrian had to make up his mind to remain unknown, and to hold his tongue even when he heard that another man had been claiming the authorship of “To Lalage.” Luckily, perhaps, he failed to find out who this miscreant was, or probably his indignation would have overcome his prudence, and he would at any cost have claimed his own.

The secret was well kept; and Adrian received the usual check at Christmas-time, and with it the usual invitation to spend the festive season with his uncle, and to bring with him his young friend Peter Allison, to whom old Mr. Pottles had taken a great fancy. Peter was a man of many engagements, but, sought after as he was and proclaimed himself to be, he remembered the good cheer at Mr. Pottles’, and accepted the invitation. They went down together; Adrian bewailing his hard fortune and denouncing the impostor; Peter warmly sympathizing, but counseling continued silence and prudence.

“Ah, if I could only claim it!” cried Adrian, opening his Gladstone bag and gazing fondly at half a dozen neat, clean copies of “To Lalage.” “I should be the lion of the season, Peter.”

Peter smiled and shook his head. “A fortune is better than fame, Adrian,” said he.

For a day or two all went well at Clapham. The old gentleman was in the best of tempers, and the two young men did their best to keep him in it, indorsing all his views as to the lax morality and disgraceful tone which pervaded modern literature and modern society; and when they had done their duty in this way they rewarded themselves by going in next door and having tea with Dora Chatterton, a young lady whom they both thought charming. Indeed, Adrian thought her so charming that, after a short acquaintance, he sent her a copy of “To Lalage”—with the author’s kind regards. Now, Miss Dora Chatterton adored genius. She had thought both Adrian and Peter very pleasant young men; she had perceived that they both thought her a very pleasant young woman; and she had been rather puzzled to know which of them she would, in a certain event, make up her mind to prefer. “To Lalage” settled the question. It was the gifted author, A. P., who deserved her love; and A. P. obviously stood, not for Peter Allison, but for Adrian Pottles.

The very next morning she called early at Mr. Pottles’. She found him alone; the boys, he explained, had gone for a walk. Dora was disappointed; but, failing the author himself, she was content to pour her praises into the ears of an appreciative and proud uncle. She did so, expressing immense admiration for Adrian’s modesty in not having told Mr. Pottles of his achievement.

“Humph!” said Mr. Pottles. “Let me see these—er—things.”

The effect of “To Lalage” on Mr. Pottles was surprising, and particularly so to Dora. In less than ten minutes she found herself being shown the door, and intrusted with a letter to her mother in which Mr. Pottles stated that she had been reading wicked books, and ought, in his opinion, to be sent to her own room for an indefinite period.

“And I shall know if you don’t give it her,” said Mr. Pottles viciously.

Thus it happened that Adrian and Peter, as they were returning, met poor Dora on the steps with this horrid note in one hand and her pocket-handkerchief in the other—for Mrs. Chatterton shared Mr. Pottles’ views, and Dora did not enjoy having to deliver the note. They were just hastening up to speak to her, when Mr. Pottles himself appeared on the steps, holding out “To Lalage” in his hand. Adrian grasped the situation.

“For Heaven’s sake, Peter,” he whispered, “say you wrote the beastly thing; I’m ruined if you don’t.”

“Eh? But he’ll kick me out.”

“I’ll stand a pony.”

Two,” said Peter firmly.

“Well, two; but be quick.”

Then Peter spoke up like a man, and accepted the blame of “To Lalage.”

“But your initials aren’t A. P.,” objected Mr. Pottles.

“To avoid suspicion, I reversed the order; mine are P. A.”

“James,” said Mr. Pottles to the footman, “pack Mr. Allison’s bag.”

But Dora gave Peter the kindest and most admiring glance as she murmured softly to Adrian, “They’re lovely! Oh, don’t you wish you could write verses, Mr. Pottles?”

Adrian started. He had not bargained for this; but Peter had overheard, and interposed:

“I am more than consoled by your approval, Miss Chatterton.”

Mr. Pottles called to Adrian, and he had to go in, leaving Dora and Peter in close conversation, and to assure his uncle solemnly that he had been entirely disappointed and deceived in Peter, and, worse still, in Dora, and that he never wished to see either of them again. Mr. Pottles shook him by the hand and forgave him.

Adrian passed a wretched week. In several newspapers he saw it openly stated that Peter now admitted he was the author of “To Lalage.” Peter wrote that the fifty pounds were most convenient, and that he had had a most charming letter from Dora, and that all the literary world was paying him most flattering attentions. Adrian ground his teeth, but he had to write back, thanking Peter for all his kindness.

Meanwhile Mr. Pottles grew restless. Every paper he took up was full of the praises of “To Lalage.” The author was becoming famous, and Mr. Pottles began to doubt whether he had done well to drive him forth with contumely.

“Adrian,” he said suddenly one morning, “I don’t know that I did justice to young Allison. I shall have another look at that book. I shall order it at Smith’s.”

“I—I happen to have a copy,” said Adrian timidly.

“Get it,” said Mr. Pottles. Mr. Pottles read it—first with a deep frown, then with a judicial air, then with a smile, lastly with a chuckle.

“Ask him to dinner,” he said. “Oh, and, Adrian, we’ll have the Chattertons. I wish you could do something to get your name up, my boy.”

“You like it, uncle?”

“Yes, and I like the manly way he owned to it. If he had prevaricated about it, I’d never have forgiven him.”

After this Adrian did not dare to confess. It was too bad. Here were both his uncle and Dora admiring Peter for his poems, and crediting Peter with candor and courage. He was to lose both fame and Dora! It was certainly too much. A sudden thought struck him. He went to town, called on Peter, and, as the police reports say, “made a communication” to him.

“It makes me look a scoundrel,” objected Peter.

“Two hundred—at six months,” suggested Adrian.

“And she is a nice girl—— No, I’m dashed——”

“A monkey at three!” cried Adrian.

“Done!” said Peter.

It was a sad tale of depravity on one side, and of self-sacrificing friendship on the other, that Mr. Pottles and Dora Chatterton listened to that evening.

“He had made,” said Adrian sadly, “a deliberate attempt to rob me of my fame before, and he repeated it. And yet, uncle, an old friend—boyhood’s companion—how could I betray him? It was weak, but I could not. I stood by, and let him deceive you.”

“You’re a noble fellow,” said Mr. Pottles, in tones of emotion.

“Indeed, yes,” said Dora, with an adoring glance.

“There, let us say no more about it,” pursued Adrian magnanimously. “I have my reward,” and he returned Dora’s glance behind Mr. Pottles’ broad back.

The next time he met Peter, he said, “I am really immensely indebted to you, old fellow. My uncle has come down handsome, and if the monkey now would be conv——”

“By Gad, yes!” said Peter. He took it in crisp notes, and carefully pocketed them.

“And is Miss Dora kind?” he asked.

“She’s an angel.”

“And you are generally prosperous?”

“Thanks to you, my dear old friend.”

“Then,” said Peter, producing a piece of paper from his pocket, “you might persuade your publishers to withdraw this beastly thing.” It was a writ, and it claimed an injunction to restrain Peter from claiming the authorship of “To Lalage.”

“Then you’ve been publicly claiming it?”

“I had to keep up the illusion, Adrian. Do me justice.”

“But,” said Adrian, “how, Peter—how does it happen that the writ is dated the day before we went to Clapham?”

He paused. Peter grinned uneasily. A light broke in on Adrian.

“Why,” he exclaimed, “you’re the villain who——”

“Exactly. Wonderfully provident of me, wasn’t it? What, you’re not going?”

“Never let me see your face again,” said Adrian. “I have done with you.”

He rushed out. Peter whistled gently, and said to himself, “Not a bad deal! He must stop the action, or the old man will twig.”

Then he whistled again, and added, “Glad I got it in notes. He’d have stopped a check.”

A third time he whistled, and chuckled and said, “Now, I wonder if old Adrian’ll make five hundred and fifty out of it! Not a bad deal, Peter, my boy!”