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Page 393


It struck nine o'clock when I reached my lodgings. I
was half-way up the first flight of steps when I suddenly
asked myself the question, “What am I going to do?” My
duties called me to the newspaper-office, but I felt that I
was fit neither for labor, sleep, nor solitude. My only conscious
desire was oblivion of the Present, — escape from
myself. After a moment's reflection I turned, descended
the stairs, went out of the house, and made my way straight
to Crosby Street.

Miles welcomed me with, “Glad to see you, sir, — most
of the gents is in,” — and, as he spoke, the Avenger's
reporter issued from the Cave.

“You 're just in time, Godfrey,” said the latter; “they 're
in the humor for making a night of it. I wish I could stay,
but the Election plays the deuce with one's pleasures. No
less than three meetings to-night: I must down to the
office, and out again.”

“Then,” I observed, “you can do me a favor. I must
write a line to Severn. Will you drop it in the business
office, to be sent up to him?”

I got a scrap of paper from Miles, scribbled a few hasty
words saying that I was ill and unable to attend to my
work, inclosed it in a brown envelope and gave it to the
reporter. Having thus shirked my duties, I entered the

The usual company was assembled, with the exception
of Brandagee, who, however, had promised to be present.


Page 394
The plan of the City Oracle had been revived, I was
informed, and this time there would be no mistake.
There were two additions to the company, both of them
smart, comic writers, whose debût in the Sunday papers
had been immensely successful, while “the millstone,” as
Brandagee was accustomed to call Mr. Ponder, had been
fortunately removed. He had found a congenial place, as
the writer of moral essays for a religious weekly, and came
no more to the Ichneumon.

“I met him yesterday at the corner of the Bible House,”
said Smithers, “and I believe the fellow would have cut
my acquaintance if he had dared. He was so pompously
proper and pious that I said, `Have you a tract to spare?'
and turned down the collar of his overcoat, to see if he
wore a white cravat. But what can you expect from the
lymphatic temperament? There 's no muscle about him,
only adipose substance, and his neck is as thin as the
back of a rail.”

Smithers untied his scarlet cravat and loosened his
shirt-collar, as if to show that his neck was the reverse of
thin, — and, indeed, it bore no slight resemblance to a
plethoric column of the Indian cave-temples, surmounted
by its poppy-head capital. He would have accepted this
comparison as a compliment. He knew just enough of
the Indian mythology to suppose that some of its features
were rude, primitive forms of his own philosophy of life;
he also adored the symbol of Siva, but under a less
exalted significance.

All the initiation-fees of our clique or club had been
contributed long since, and each individual was now forced
to pay for his own refreshment; yet this necessity seemed
to be no embarrassment. There might be no funds on
hand for a new coat or pair of boots, but there was always
enough for beer. I ordered a Toby of old ale, and drank
it down, at one breath, from the cock of the hat. Mears
immediately drew a caricature of me, holding a barrel


Page 395
aloft by the chines, with the bung-hole over my open
mouth. Miles was an infallible judge of ales, and the
keen, ripe fluid brought life and warmth back to my stagnant
blood. I was too reckless to stop short of any extravagance,
whether of potation or of speech.

“Godfrey, is it to be an epic or a tragedy?” cried Mears.
“You 've got a thirsty idea in your head, — a big plant, I
should say, to require so much irrigation.” Then he roared
out a stanza of the old bacchanal of Walter de Mapes,
which he had learned to sing at Düsseldorf.

“Tales versus facio, quale vinum bibo;
Neque possum scribere, nisi sumto cibo;
Nihil valet penitus quod jejunus scribo;
Nasonem post calices carmine præibo.”

“That sounds more like a jubilate for a birth than a
mass for the dead,” said Brandagee, entering the room.
“Has any of you just been delivered?”

“It 's the inauguration hymn for the Oracle,” I retorted,
“and you are just in time to give the opening address.”

“Here it is, — Babcock has come to terms. This time
we shall begin with the Opera, and I fancy we 'll make a
sensation. The Impresario is all right; I 've just had a
bottle with him at Curet's. Now to lubricate my tongue,
— what can I take after Béaume?”

“Whiskey,” suggested Smithers.

“Yes, if I could order one of your famous 'long-shoremen's
stomachs with it. But my taste is delicate to-night,
— I want claret. Who 'll lend me money at the risk of
never being repaid?”

None of the others were eager to embrace the risk,
which noticing, I handed Brandagee a five-dollar note
across the table. The money had no value to me now,
and I wanted the help of his reckless fancy and his audacious

“Godfrey, you deserve to make heavier profits,” said he.
“I 'll put you in the way of it for the sake of a loan now


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and then. Meanwhile you shall have the half of what this
brings, and I 'll continue to owe you the whole of it. In
that way we shall both gain by the operation.”

Amid much laughter the order was given, and we were
fairly launched on the fun of the evening. Miles, who was
always in a good humor when there was a certainty of our
spending a respectable sum, contributed a handful of
cigars, and the air of the room soon put on its blue
mysterious density, severe upon the eyes, but stimulating
to the imagination.

“About the Oracle,” said Brandagee, throwing his heels
upon another chair and settling himself comfortably for
talk, — “we must seriously begin to work for it. I think it
would be best to open the first number with a burlesque
platform, in the style of the political papers, — making our
principles so broad that they would just amount to none at
all. I had it in mind to copy the plan of Le Flaneur,
which came out while I was in Paris. There was nothing
about it to indicate a new paper: the leader began, `In our
article of yesterday we said' so and so; and the novel in
the feuilleton was in its ninth chapter. It mystified everybody,
as you may imagine. But I guess the joke would be
too fine for the American mind to relish. What passes for
wit among us, is simply a colossal absurdity; our burlesques
are the most exaggerated the world ever saw. We
must throw tubs to the whale and sops to Cerberus. After
all, I rely most on the incidental sources of profit to keep
up the paper.”

“As how?” asked one of the company.

“Well, if there is audacity and arrogance enough among
us, we 'll soon get a reputation for critical knowledge.
Once let the Oracle become the oracle of opinion in artistic,
dramatic, and fashionable matters, and you see what our
recommendation will be worth. Why, two or three theatres
alone would club together to keep up a paper which sent
the public to their ticket-offices, if there were any danger


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of it going down. This is the simple philosophy of the
matter: we know what is good or bad, — the public don't.
The public, let me tell you, always takes its opinion on such
matters at second-hand, and is often put to much inconvenience
by the absence of an infallible standard. Now, suppose
we supply this standard; we then hold the fate of
every book, picture, play, opera, — to say nothing of hotels,
restaurants, tailors' and milliners' establishments, and the
like, — in our own hands. We have a positive power, and the
exercise of power is just what commands the highest price.
All we want is talent enough to maintain our position. I
think we have that, and the next thing is to work together.
Somebody must take the lead and direct the operations of
the concern, and the others must submit to his direction,
or we 're ruined before we begin.”

That somebody, we all understood, must be Brandagee
himself. The prospect of entire submission to his dictation
was not altogether pleasant to any of us, but he presented
it as an ultimatum which must needs be accepted.
I was not in a frame of mind to notice any other fact than
that I should be well paid for a few sharp, bitter, racy articles,
— such as I felt myself in a proper mood to write.
As to Brandagee's hints of the channels through which the
incidental profits were to be derived, they did not trouble
me now. If people paid, they were supposed to receive an
equivalent, — at least, they would think so, and they were
the parties most concerned.

“Not a bad plan,” said Smithers, referring to this branch
of the business. “It 's a sort of literary filibustering which
will develop mental courage and muscle, — qualities which
this age sorely needs. We shall be like the wandering
knights of the Middle Ages, going out to conquer domains
and principalities, or like the Highland chieftains, swooping
down on the plodding Lowlanders, and taking their
surplus cattle. In fact, we could n't have a better motto
than Rob Roy's.”


Page 398

“There 's Fiorentino, for instance,” said Brandagee.
“What he has done, we may do, — all the more easily here,
where there are no intelligent rivals in the field. He 's a
tolerably clever writer, but his chief power is in management.
He knows everybody, and has the run of all the influential
papers, so that whether his word is the strongest
or not, it goes further than any one else's. I suppose the
same thing might be tried here, if the chief dailies were
not such damnable cats and dogs, but if we can lump the influence
now scattered among them, and hold it as our own
property, don't you see how the system will be simplified?”

The others all professed they saw it very clearly. In
fact, as they began to understand “the system,” they grew
more willing to leave to Brandagee the task of carrying it
into effect. Mears no longer hinted at “black mail,” but
rejoiced in the opportunity offered to him of demolishing
Seacole, the allegorical painter. The opinions of the latter
on the connection between Faith and Art, which I was
wicked enough to betray, gave Mears the material for an
exquisitely ironical description of his rival, letting his beard
and nails grow and rolling himself in the ash-heap, to prepare
his soul for the conception of a figure of St. Jerome.

There was another feeling which instigated me to join in
this dishonorable scheme. My literary ambition, I have already
said, was disturbed; its fresh, eager appetite was
blunted, with increasing knowledge of myself, and from the
other fluctuations of my fortunes, — but I was also disappointed,
though I would not confess the fact to myself.
After the kind, almost tender reception of my volume, I
seemed to make no progress. I was welcomed at my entrance
into the literary guild, and then — ignored. The
curiosity attending the presentation of a new individuality
in letters is soon satisfied, and many are the unfortunate
authors who have accepted this curiosity as fame. But
serious achievement is necessary to retain an interest which
is liable to be overlaid by the next comer. The public


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seems to say, “This man may be a genius, — we have given
him welcome and encouragement; now let him prove his

The rule is natural, and I am satisfied that it is just.
The firstlings of any author generally have an artless, unpretending
beauty of their own, which is none the less interesting
because it is not permanent. Poets are like
apple-trees; there is a season of bloom and a season of
fruit, — but between the two we often find a long period
when the blossoms have fallen and the fruit is not yet ripe,
— a silent, noteless, almost unlovely season of growth and
transition. The world, at such times, passes heedlessly by
the tree.

Though I professed to be indifferent to the neglect of
my name, I was in reality embittered. I might value a literary
reputation less than formerly, but it was not pleasant
to feel that I was losing my chance for it. I saw that other
young authors, comparison with whom — impartially made,
although I did it — was not unfavorable to myself, kept
their hold on the public attention, while others, in whom I
found neither taste nor culture, were rising into notice. It
would be well, I thought, to let the public see how egregiously
it was mistaken in some of these cases; I would
show that slang and clap-trap very often make the staple
of a wide-spread reputation.

This petulant, captious disposition was encouraged by the
tone adopted by my associates of the Cave of Trophonius.
I was astonished and a little shocked at first, but I soon became
accustomed to the cool, assured manner in which contemporary
fames were pulled to pieces, and the judgment
of posterity pronounced in anticipation. This sort of assurance
is soon acquired, and in a short time I became as
great an expert as the rest. Having already unlearned so
much of my early faith and reverence, — making them responsible,
indeed, for my misfortunes, — I rather exaggerated
the opposite qualities, through fear of not sufficiently


Page 400
possessing them. It was a pitiful weakness, but, alas! we
can only see correctly our former, not our present selves.

When I arose, late the next day, after a revel carried
beyond midnight, I was in no better mood for resuming my
regular labors. Duty, in any shape, had become “flat,
stale, and unprofitable,” and I felt strongly inclined to compensate
for the lack of that luxurious indulgence which my
nature craved, by lower forms of license. The blow of the
previous evening had stunned rather than wounded me,
and I felt that I should never again be sensitive to the
good or ill report of men.

As for Miss Haworth, two explanations of her act presented
themselves to my mind. Either Penrose or Floyd
had misrepresented my character to her, or her position as
an heiress had made her suspicious, and she attributed a mercenary
object to my attentions. The latter surmise seemed
the more plausible, as the circle in which she moved probably
offered her few examples of pure, unselfish unions.
The higher her ideal of love, the more cautious she would
be to keep from her its baser semblance, and my principal
cause of grievance was, that, in her haste and suspicion, she
had misjudged my heart. I could not seek a justification;
it was too delicate a subject to be discussed, except between
confessed lovers. She might have dismissed me in less
cruel a fashion, I thought, but it made little difference in
the end. She was lost to me, without giving me a reason
for ceasing to love her.

The more I reflected on this subject, the more sure I
was of having guessed the true explanation. She had rejected
me, not because I was poor, but because she was
rich, — I, that would have thought it bliss to work for her,
to wear out my life in making hers smooth and pleasant to
her feet! I said, with a bitter ejaculation, that gold is the
god of the world, — that no heart can beat with a natural
emotion, no power of mind expand with a free growth, no
life rejoice in the performance of its appointed work, without


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first rendering sacrifice to this Moloch! And yet, what
Brandagee had said was true; it was no substance, it had
not even the dignity of a material force: it was simply an
appearance, — nothing when held and only turning into
possession when thrown away.

I accepted, with stolid indifference, the prospect of a
lonely life. Never again would I allow myself to love a
woman, when the love of this one should have gradually
perished (as I fancied it would), for want of sustenance.
No home, no household joys, should ever be mine. The
sainted spirit of my poor mother would never be called
upon to bless the grandchildren whom she would fain have
lived to kiss: I should go back to her alone, as on Saturday
nights from my school at Honeybrook, — if, indeed, there
was anything beyond the ashes of the grave. This life, that
opened so sunnily, that promised so fairly, — what had it
become? and why, therefore, should our dreams of rest and
peace hereafter be more securely based? What sort of a
preparation was there in the endurance of disappointment
and injustice, to a nature whose natural food is joy?

So I reasoned — or, rather, thought I reasoned — with
myself. There was no one to hold me up until my feet were
strong enough to tread the safe and difficult track alone.
Swansford was my only intimate friend, but, as I had not
confided to him the growth of my passion, so now I withheld
the confession of its untimely end. Besides, he seemed
to be growing more sad and morbid. His views of life, if
less cynical, were equally dark, and he often unconsciously
encouraged me in my reckless determination to enjoy “the
luck of the moment,” whatever it might be. My position
in Literature was similar to his in Musical Art; both had
aspired and failed to achieve. The drudgery by which he
supplied his personal wants was very irksome, but he would
not replace it, as he might have done, by labors which he
considered disgraceful to his art. Herein there was a
difference between us, — a difference which at first had


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made me respect him, but which I now turned to ridicule.
If he were fool enough to sacrifice his few possibilities of
enjoyment to an unprofitable idea, I would not imitate him.

After a few days of idle and gloomy brooding, followed
by nights at the Ichneumon, I was driven back to the
Wonder office, by the emptiness of my purse. I resumed
my duties, performing them in a spiritless, mechanical fashion,
with omissions which drew upon me Mr. Clarendon's
censure. The Oracle was to appear in a fortnight or so,
and I comforted myself with the pecuniary prospect which
it held out to me, resolving, if it were successful, to cut
loose from the daily treadmill round of the Wonder. My
short articles for Jenks's Ship of the Line became smart
and savage, as they reflected the change of my temper, and
Jenks began to send back the proofs to me with a query on
the margin, — “Is n't this a little too strong?” Following
Brandagee's advice, I had demanded twenty dollars instead
of the original five, but, as I lacked his brass, compromised
for ten. This, however, was a small matter: I counted on
receiving fifty dollars a week, at least, from the Oracle.

The days went by, fogs and chill, lowering skies succeeded
to the soft autumnal days, and finally the opera season
opened and the important paper appeared. There was an
office in a third story in Nassau Street, a sign in illuminated
Gothic letters, advertisements in the daily papers, negotiations
with news-dealers, and all the other evidences of an
establishment, intended not for a day but for — several
years, at least. We celebrated the issue of the first number
by a supper at Curet's, at which Mr. Babcock was present.
It was unanimously agreed that nothing so spicy and
brilliant had ever been published in New York. It transpired,
in the course of the entertainment, that Babcock and
Brandagee had equal shares in the proprietorship, and I
was, consequently, a little disappointed when the latter
handed me only fifteen dollars for one of my most dashing
and spiteful sketches, three columns in length.


Page 403

“We must have the power first,” he said, “and then we 'll
have the pay. Babcock is tight, and I don't want to make
him nervous at the start. It will take about three or four
weeks to get the reins in my hands.”

He gave me a significant wink, and I was reassured.
There was the great fact of the paper being actually in
existence. Creation, of course, implied vitality, and the
mere start, to my mind, involved permanence and success.
An easy, careless life was before me for the immediate
future, at least, and I did not care to look farther.

I knew, from Mr. Severn's hints, as well as from Mr.
Clarendon's ominous looks, that I was getting into disgrace
with both of them. Accordingly, I was not surprised one
Saturday morning, on being summoned to the sanctum of
the latter, — a call which I obeyed with a dogged indifference
to the result.

“I am sorry to notice your remissness, Mr. Godfrey,”
said the chief, with a grave air, “and I have only postponed
speaking of it, because I hoped you would have
seen and corrected it yourself. The paper is injured, sir,
by your neglect.”

“I work as I am paid,” I answered. “If you can find a
better man, on the same terms, I am willing to give him
my place.”

“It is not that alone, Mr. Godfrey. You promised to
become an available writer, and your remuneration would
have been increased. I am afraid the company you keep
or the habits you have formed are responsible for your
failure to advance as fast as I anticipated. For your own
sake, I shall be glad if you can assure me that this is not
the case.”

“I was not aware,” I said, “that I was to look to some
one else to choose my company and prescribe my habits.”

“I suspect,” he continued, without noticing this defiant
remark, “that Brandagee has too much influence over you.
I see your name in his new paper, — a clever rocket, but it


Page 404
will soon burn itself out. I advise you to have nothing
more to do with it.”

“No,” said I, “I prefer giving up my place here.”

“Very well, but I am sorry for it. Mr. Severn!” he
called, rising and going to the door, “see Phelps this afternoon,
and tell him to be on hand to-morrow evening!”

Severn looked at me, for the first time in his life, with a
malignant expression. I laughed in his face, took a few
private papers from the drawers of the desk I had used
for two years and a half, thrust them into my pocket, and
walked out of the office.

On the steps I met Mr. Lettsom, with his hands full of
law-reports on transfer-paper. I had always liked the
plain, plodding, kind-hearted fellow, and would fain present
him in these pages as he deserved, but that, after his
first service, he mingled no more in the events of my life.

“Good-bye, Lettsom,” I said, giving him my hand; “you
brought me here, and now I am taking myself off.”

He looked bewildered and pained when I told him what
had occurred. “Don't do it, — don't think of doing it!”
he cried.

“It is already done.”

I ran down the steps past him, and gained the street.
My days of drudgery were over, but I could not enjoy the
sense of freedom. There was a pang in breaking off this
association which I could not keep down, — it was like
pushing away from the last little cape which connected
me with the firm land, and trusting myself to the unstable