A Three Volume Novel, by Anthony Hope
It was, I believe, mainly as a compliment to me that Miss Audrey Liston
was asked to Poltons. Miss Liston and I were very good friends, and my
cousin Dora Polton thought, as she informed me, that it would be nice
for me to have someone I could talk to about "books and so on." I did
not complain. Miss Liston was a pleasant young woman of six-and-twenty;
I liked her very much except on paper, and I was aware that she made it
a point of duty to read something at least of what I wrote. She was in
the habit of describing herself as an "authoress in a small way." If it
were pointed out that six three-volume novels in three years (the term
of her literary activity at the time of which I write) could hardly be
called "a small way." she would smile modestly and say that it was not
really much; and if she were told that the English language embraced no
such word as "authoress," she would smile again and say that it ought
to, a position towards the bugbear of correctness with which, I
confess, I sympathize in some degree. She was very diligent; she worked
from ten to one every day while she was at Poltons; how much she wrote
is between her and her conscience.
There was another impeachment which Miss Liston was hardly at the
trouble to deny. "Take my characters from life!" she would exclaim.
"Surely every artist (Miss Liston often referred to herself as an
artist) must!" And she would proceed to maintain—what is perhaps true
sometimes—that people rather liked being put into books, just as they
liked being photographed, for all that they grumble and pretend to be
afflicted when either process is levied against them. In discussing
this matter with Miss Liston I felt myself on delicate ground, for it
was notorious that I figured in her first book in the guise of a
misogynistic genius; the fact that she lengthened (and thickened) my
hair, converted it from an indeterminate brown to a dusty black, gave
me a drooping mustache, and invested my very ordinary work-a-day eyes
with a strange magnetic attraction, availed nothing; I was at once
recognized, and, I may remark in passing, an uncommonly disagreeable
fellow she made me. Thus I had passed through the fire. I felt
tolerably sure that I presented no other aspect of interest, real or
supposed, and I was quite content that Miss Liston should serve all the
rest of her acquaintance as she had served me. I reckoned they would
last her, at the present rate of production, about five years.
Fate was kind to Miss Liston, and provided her with most suitable
patterns for her next piece of work at Poltons itself. There were a
young man and a young woman staying in the house—Sir Gilbert
Chillington and Miss Pamela Myles. The moment Miss Liston was appraised
of a possible romance; she began the study of the protagonists. She was
looking out, she told me, for some new types (if it were any
consolation—and there is a sort of dignity about it—to be called a
type, Miss Liston's victims were always welcome to so much), and she
had found them in Chillington and Pamela. The former appeared to my
dull eye to offer no salient novelty; he was tall, broad, handsome, and
he possessed a manner of enviable placidity. Pamela, I allowed, was
exactly the heroine Miss Liston loved—haughty, capricious, difficile,
but sound and true at heart (I was mentally skimming Volume I.). Miss
Liston agreed with me in my conception of Pamela, but declared that I
did not do justice to the artistic possibilities latent in Chillington;
he had a curious attraction which it would tax her skill (so she
gravely informed me) to the utmost to reproduce. She proposed that I
also should make a study of him, and attributed my hurried refusal to a
shrinking from the difficulties of the task.
"Of course," she observed, looking at our young friends who were
talking nonsense at the other side of the lawn, "they must have a
"Why, 'of course'," said I, lighting my pipe. "What should you say to
"Or another woman?" said Miss Liston.
"It comes to the same thing," said I. (About a volume and a half I
"But it's more interesting'. Do you think she'd better be a married
woman?" And Miss Liston looked at me inquiringly.
"The age prefers them married," I remarked.
This conversation happened on the second day of Miss Liston's visit,
and she lost no time in beginning to study her subjects. Pamela, she
said, she found pretty plain sailing, but Chillington continued to
puzzle her. Again, she could not make up her mind whether to have a
happy or a tragic ending. In the interests of a tender-hearted public,
I pleaded for marriage-bells.
"Yes, I think so," said Miss Liston, but she sighed, and I think she
had an idea or two for a heart-broken separation, followed by mutual,
life-long, hopeless devotion.
The complexity of young Sir Gilbert did not, in Miss Liston's opinion,
appear less on further acquaintance; and indeed, I must admit that she
was not altogether wrong in considering him worthy of attention. As I
came to know him better, I discerned in him a smothered
self-appreciation, which came to light in response to the least tribute
of interest or admiration, but was yet far remote from the
aggressiveness of a commonplace vanity. In a moment of indiscretion I
had chaffed him—he was very good-natured—on the risks he ran at Miss
Liston's hands; he was not disgusted, but neither did he plume himself
or spread his feathers. He received the suggestions without surprise,
and without any attempt at disclaiming fitness for the purpose; but he
received it as a matter which entailed a responsibility on him. I
detected the conviction that, if the portrait was to be painted, it was
due to the world that it should be well painted; the subject must give
the artist full opportunities.
"What does she know about me?" he asked, in meditative tones.
"She's very quick; she'll soon pick up as much as she wants," I assured
"She'll probably go all wrong," he said, sombrely; and of course I
could not tell him that it was of no consequence if she did. He would
not have believed me, and would have done precisely what he proceeded
to do, and that was to afford Miss Liston every chance of appraising
his character and plumbing the depths of his soul.
I may say at once that I did not regret this course of action; for the
effect of it was to allow me a chance of talking to Pamela Myles, and
Pamela was exactly the sort of a girl to beguile the long pleasant
morning hours of a holiday in the country. No one had told Pamela that
she was going to be put in a book, and I don't think it would have made
any difference had she been told. Pamela's attitude towards books was
one of healthy scorn, confidently based on admitted ignorance. So we
never spoke of them, and my cousin Dora condoled with me more than once
on the way in which Miss Liston, false to the implied terms of her
invitation, deserted me in favor of Sir Gilbert, and left me to the
mercies of a frivolous girl. Pamela appeared to be as little aggrieved
as I was. I imagined that she supposed that Chillington would ask her
to marry him some day before very long, and I was sure she would accept
him; but it was quite plain that, if Miss Liston persisted in making
Pamela her heroine, she would have to supply from her own resources a
large supplement of passion. Pamela was far too deficient in the
commodity to be made anything of, without such reinforcement, even by
an art more adept at making much out of nothing than Miss Liston's
straightforward method could claim to be.
A week passed, and then, one Friday morning, a new light burst on me.
Miss Liston came into the garden at eleven o'clock and sat down by me
on the lawn. Chillington and Pamela had gone riding with the squire,
Dora was visiting the poor. We were alone. The appearance of Miss
Liston at this hour (usually sacred to the use of the pen), no less
than her puzzled look, told me that an obstruction had occurred in the
novel. Presently she let me know what it was.
"I'm thinking of altering the scheme of my story, Mr. Wynne," said she.
"Have you ever noticed how sometimes a man thinks he's in love when he
"Such a case sometimes occurs," I acknowledged.
"Yes, and he doesn't find out his mistake——"
"Till they're married?"
"Sometimes, yes," she said, rather as though she were making an
unwilling admission. "But sometimes he sees it before—when he meets
"Very true," said I, with a grave nod.
"The false can't stand against the real." pursued Miss Liston; and then
she fell into meditative silence. I stole a glance at her face; she was
smiling. Was it in the pleasure of literary creation—an artistic
ecstasy? I should have liked to answer yes, but I doubted it very much.
Without pretending to Miss Liston's powers, I have the little subtlety
that is needful to show me that more than one kind of smile may be seen
on the human face, and that there is one very different from others;
and finally, that that one is not evoked, as a rule, merely by the
evolution of the troublesome encumbrance in pretty writing, vulgarly
called a "plot."
"If," pursued Miss Liston, "some one comes who can appreciate him and
draw out what is best in him——"
"That's all very well," said I, "but what of the first girl?"
"Oh, she's—she can be made shallow, you know; and I can put in a man
for her. People needn't be much interested in her."
"Yes, you could manage it that way," said I, thinking how Pamela—I
took the liberty of using her name for the shallow girl—would like
"She will really be valuable mainly as a foil," observed Miss Liston;
and she added generously, "I shall make her nice, you know, but
shallow—not worthy of him."
"And what are you going to make the other girl like?" I asked.
Miss Liston started slightly; also she colored very slightly, and she
answered, looking away from me across the lawn, "I haven't quite made
up my mind yet, Mr. Wynne."
With the suspicion which this conversation aroused fresh in my mind, it
was curious to hear Pamela laugh, as she said to me on the afternoon of
the same day, "Aren't Sir Gilbert and Audrey Liston funny? I tell you
what, Mr. Wynne, I believe they're writing a novel together."
"Perhaps Chillington's giving her the materials for one," I suggested.
"I shouldn't think," observed Pamela, in her dispassionate way, "that
anything very interesting had ever happened to him."
"I. thought you liked him," I remarked, humbly.
"So I do. What's that got to do with it?" asked Pamela.
It was beyond question that Chillington enjoyed Miss Liston's society;
the interest she showed in him was incense to his nostrils. I used to
overhear fragments of his ideas about himself, which he was revealing
in answer to her tactful inquiries. But neither was it doubtful that he
had by no means lost his relish for Pamela's lighter talk; in fact, he
seemed to turn to her with some relief—perhaps it is refreshing to
escape from self-analysis, even when the process is conducted in the
pleasantest possible manner—and the hours which Miss Liston gave to
work were devoted by Chillington to maintaining his cordial relations
with the lady whose comfortable and not over-tragical disposal was
taxing Miss Liston's skill. For she had definitely decided all her
plot; she told me so a few days later. It was all planned out; nay, the
scene in which the truth as to his own feelings bursts on Sir Gilbert
(I forget at the moment what name the novel gave him) was, I
understood, actually written; the shallow girl was to experience
nothing worse than a wound to her vanity, and was to turn with as much
alacrity as decency allowed to the substitute whom Miss Liston had now
provided. All this was poured into my sympathetic ear, and I say
sympathetic with all sincerity; for, although I may occasionally treat
Miss Liston's literary efforts with less than proper respect, she
herself was my friend, and the conviction under which she was now
living would, I knew, unless it were justified, bring her into much of
that unhappiness in which one generally found her heroine plunged about
the end of Volume II. The heroine generally got out all right, and the
knowledge that she would enabled the reader to preserve cheerfulness.
But would poor little Miss Liston get out? I was none too sure of it.
Suddenly a change came in the state of affairs. Pamela produced it. It
must have struck her that the increasing intimacy of Miss Liston and
Chillington might become something other than "funny." To put it
briefly and metaphorically, she whistled her dog back to her heels. I
am not skilled in understanding or describing the artifices of ladies;
but even I saw the transformation in Pamela. She put forth her strength
and put on her prettiest gowns; she refused to take her place in the
see-saw of society, which Chillington had recently established for his
pleasure. If he spent an hour with Miss Liston, Pamela would have
nothing of him for a day; she met his attentions with scorn unless they
were undivided. Chillington seemed at first puzzled; I believe that he
never regarded his talks with Miss Liston in other than a business
point of view, but directly he understood that Pamela claimed him, and
that she was prepared, in case he did not obey her call, to establish a
grievance against him, he lost no time in manifesting his obedience. A
whole day passed in which, to my certain knowledge, he was not alone a
moment with Miss Liston, and did not, save at the family meals,
exchange a word with her. As he walked off with Pamela, Miss Liston's
eyes followed him in wistful longing; she stole away upstairs and did
not come down till five o'clock. Then finding me strolling about with a
cigarette, she joined me.
"Well, how goes the book?" I asked.
"I haven't done much to it just lately," she answered, in a low voice.
"I—it's—I don't quite know what to do with it."
"I thought you'd settled?"
"So I had, but—oh, don't let's talk about it, Mr. Wynne!"
But a moment later she went on talking about it.
"I don't know why I should make it end happily," she said. "I'm sure
life isn't always happy, is it?"
"Certainly not," I answered. "You mean your man might stick to the
shallow girl after all?"
"Yes," I just heard her whisper.
"And be miserable afterwards?" I pursued.
"I don't know," said Miss Liston. "Perhaps he wouldn't."
"Then you must make him shallow himself."
"I can't do that," she said quickly. "Oh, how difficult it is!"
She may have meant merely the art of writing—when I cordially agreed
with her—but I think she meant also the way of the world, which does
not make me withdraw my assent. I left her walking up and down in front
of the drawing-room windows, a rather forlorn little figure, thrown
into distinctness by the cold rays of the setting sun.
All was not over yet. That evening Chillington broke away. Led by
vanity, or interest, or friendliness, I know not which—tired maybe of
paying court (the attitude in which Pamela kept him), and thinking it
would be pleasant to play the other part for a while—after dinner he
went straight to Miss Liston, talked to her while we had coffee on the
terrace, and then walked about with her. Pamela sat by me; she was very
silent; she did not appear to be angry, but her handsome mouth wore a
resolute expression. Chillington and Miss Liston wandered on into the
shrubbery, and did not come into sight again for nearly half an hour.
"I think it's cold," said Pamela, in her cool, quiet tones. "And it's
also, Mr. Wynne, rather slow. I shall go to bed."
I thought it a little impertinent of Pamela to attribute the 'slowness'
(which had undoubtedly existed) to me, so I took my revenge by saying,
with, an assumption of innocence purposely and obviously unreal, "Oh,
but won't you wait and bid Miss Liston and Chillington good-night?"
Pamela looked at me for a moment. I made bold to smile.
Pamela's face broke slowly into an answering smile.
"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Wynne," said she.
"No?" said I.
"No," said Pamela, and she turned away. But before she went she looked
over her shoulder, and, still smiling, said, "Wish Miss Liston
good-night for me, Mr. Wynne. Anything I have to say to Sir Gilbert
will wait very well till to-morrow."
She had hardly gone in when the wanderers came out of the shrubbery and
rejoined me. Chillington wore his usual passive look, but Miss Liston's
face was happy and radiant. Chillington passed on into the
drawing-room. Miss Liston lingered a moment by me.
"Why, you look," said I, "as if you'd invented the finest scene ever
She did not answer me directly, but stood looking up at the stars.
Then she said in a dreamy tone, "I think I shall stick to my old idea
in the book."
As she spoke Chillington came out. Even in the dim light I saw a frown
on his face.
"I say, Wynne," said he, "where's Miss Myles?"
"She's gone to bed," I answered. "She told me to wish you good-night
for her, Miss Liston. No message for you, Chillington."
Miss Liston's eyes were on him. He took no notice of her; he stood
frowning for an instant, then, with some muttered ejaculation, he
strode back into the house. We hoard his heavy tread across the
drawing-room; we heard the door slammed behind him, and I found myself
looking on Miss Liston's altered face.
"What does he want her for, I wonder?" she said, in an agitation that
made my presence, my thoughts, my suspicions, nothing to her. "He said
nothing to me about wanting to speak to her to-night." And she walked
slowly into the house, her eyes on the ground, and all the light gone
from her face and the joy dead in it. Whereupon I, left alone, began to
rail at the gods that a dear, silly little soul like Miss Liston should
bother her poor, silly little head about a hulking fool; in which
reflections I did, of course, immense injustice not only to an eminent
author, but also to a perfectly honorable, though somewhat dense and
decidedly conceited, gentleman.
The next morning Sir Gilbert Chillington ate dirt—there is no other
way of expressing it—in great quantities and with infinite humility.
My admirable friend Miss Pamela was severe. I saw him walk six yards
behind her for the length of the terrace; not a look nor a turn of her
head gave him leave to join her. Miss Liston had gone upstairs, and I
watched the scene from the window of the smoking-room. At last, at the
end of the long walk, just where the laurel-bushes mark the beginning
of the shrubberies—on the threshold of the scene of his crime—Pamela
turned round suddenly and faced the repentant sinner. The most
interesting things in life are those which, perhaps by the inevitable
nature of the case, one does not hear; and I did not hear the scene
which followed. For a while they stood talking—rather, he talked and
she listened. Then she turned again and walked slowly into the
shrubbery. Chillington followed. It was the end of a chapter, and I
laid down the book.
How and from whom Miss Liston heard the news, which Chillington himself
told me without a glimmer of shame or a touch of embarrassment some two
hours later, I do not know; but hear it she did before luncheon; for
she came down, ready armed with the neatest little speeches for both
the happy lovers. I did not expect Pamela to show an ounce more feeling
than the strictest canons of propriety demanded, and she fulfilled my
expectations to the letter; but I had hoped, I confess, that
Chillington would have displayed some little consciousness. He did not;
and it is my belief that, throughout the events which I have recorded,
he retained, and that he still retains, the conviction that Miss
Liston's interest in him was purely literary and artistic, and that she
devoted herself to his society simply because he offered an interesting
problem and an inspiring theme. An ingenious charity may find in that
attitude evidence of modesty; to my thinking it argues a more subtle
and magnificent conceit than if he had fathomed the truth, as many
humbler men in his place would have done.
On the day after the engagement was accomplished Miss Liston left us to
return to London. She came out in her hat and jacket and sat down by
me; the carriage was to be round in ten minutes. She put on her gloves
slowly and buttoned them carefully. This done, she said, "By the way,
Mr. Wynne, I've adopted your suggestion. The man doesn't find out."
"Then you've made him a fool?" I asked bluntly.
"No," she answered. "I—I think it might happen though he wasn't a
She sat with her hands in her lap for a moment or two, then she went on
in a lower voice, "I'm going to make him find out afterwards."
I felt her glance on me, but I looked straight in front of me.
"What! after he's married the shallow girl?"
"Yes," said Miss Liston.
"Rather too late, isn't it? At least if you mean there is to be a happy
Miss Liston enlaced her fingers.
"I haven't decided about the ending yet," said she.
"If you're intent is to be tragical—which is the fashion—you'll do as
you stand," said I.
"Yes," she answered slowly, "if I'm tragical I shall do as I stand."
There was another pause, and rather a long one; the wheels of the
carriage were audible on the gravel of the front drive. Miss Liston
stood up. I rose and held out my hand.
"Of course," said Miss Liston, still intent on her novel, "I could—"
She stopped again, and looked apprehensively at me. My face, I believe,
expressed nothing more than polite attention and friendly interest.
"Of course," she began again, "the shallow girl—his wife—might—might
die, Mr. Wynne."
"In novels," said I, with a smile, "while there's death there's hope."
"Yes, in novels," she answered, giving me her hand.
The poor little woman was very unhappy. Unwisely, I dare say, I
pressed, her hand. It was enough; the tears leapt to her eyes; she gave
my great fist a hurried squeeze. I have seldom been more touched by any
thanks, however warm or eloquent, and hurried away.
I have read the novel. It came out a little while ago. The man finds
out after the marriage; the shallow girl dies un regretted (she turns
out as badly as possible); the real love comes, and all ends joyfully.
It is simple story, prettily told in its little way, and the scene of
the reunion is written with genuine feeling—nay, with a touch of real
passion. But then Sir Gilbert Chillington never meets Miss Liston now.
And Lady Chillington not only behaves with her customary propriety, but
is in the enjoyment of most excellent health and spirits.
True art demands an adaptation, not a copy, of life. I saw that remark
somewhere the other day. It seems correct, if Miss Liston be any