Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Collaborators - 1896
Author: Hichens, Robert
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Collaborators - 1896" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE COLLABORATORS.

By Robert S. Hichens

1896



I.

“Why shouldn’t we collaborate?” said Henley in his most matter-of-fact
way, as Big Ben gave voice to the midnight hour. “Everybody does it
nowadays. Two heads may be really better than one, although I seldom
believe in the truth of accepted sayings. Your head is a deuced good
one, Andrew; but--now don’t get angry--you are too excitable and too
intense to be left quite to yourself, even in book-writing, much less in
the ordinary affairs of life. I think you were born to collaborate, and
to collaborate with me. You can give me everything I lack, and I can
give you a little of the sense of humour, and act as a drag upon the
wheel.”

“None of the new humour, Jack; that shall never appear in a book with
my name attached to it. Dickens I can tolerate. He is occasionally
felicitous. The story of ‘The Dying Clown,’ for instance, crude as it is
it has a certain grim tragedy about it. But the new humour came from the
pit, and should go--to the _Sporting Times_.”

“Now, don’t get excited. The book is not in proof yet--perhaps never
will be. You need not be afraid. My humour will probably be old enough.
But what do you y to the idea?”

Andrew Trenchard sat for awhile in silent consideration. His legs were
stretched out, and his slippered feet rested on the edge of the brass
fender. A nimbus of smoke surrounded his swarthy features, his shock of
black hair, his large, rather morose, dark eyes. He was a man of about
twenty-five, with an almost horribly intelligent face, so observant that
he tried people, so acute that he frightened them. His intellect was
never for a moment at rest, unless in sleep. He devoured himself with
his own emotions, and others with his analysis of theirs. His mind was
always crouching to spring, except when it was springing. He lived an
irregular life, and all horrors had a subtle fascination for him. As
Henley had remarked, he possessed little sense of humour, but immense
sense of evil and tragedy and sorrow. He seldom found time to
calmly regard the drama of life from the front. He was always at the
stage-door, sending in his card, and requesting admittance behind the
scenes. What was on the surface only interested him in so far as
it indicated what was beneath, and in all mental matters his normal
procedure was that of the disguised detective. Stupid people disliked
him. Clever people distrusted him while they admired him. The mediocre
suggested that he was liable to go off his head, and the profound
predicted for him fame, tempered by suicide.

Most people considered him interesting, and a few were sincerely
attached to him. Among these last was Henley, who had been his friend
at Oxford, and had taken rooms in the same house with him in Smith’s
Square, Westminster. Both the young men were journalists. Henley, who,
as he had acknowledged, possessed a keen sense of humour, and was not
so much ashamed of it as he ought to have been, wrote--very
occasionally--for _Punch_, and more often for _Fun_, was dramatic critic
of a lively society paper, and “did” the books--in a sarcastic vein--for
a very unmuzzled “weekly,” that was libellous by profession and truthful
by oversight. Trenchard, on the other hand, wrote a good deal of very
condensed fiction, and generally placed it; contributed brilliant
fugitive articles to various papers and magazines, and was generally
spoken of by the inner circle of the craft as “a rising man,” and a
man to be afraid of. Henley was full of common-sense, only moderately
introspective, facile, and vivacious. He might be trusted to tincture a
book with the popular element, and yet not to spoil it; for his literary
sense was keen, despite his jocular leaning toward the new humour. He
lacked imagination; but his descriptive powers were racy, and he knew
instinctively what was likely to take, and what would be caviare to the
general.

Trenchard, as he considered the proposition now made to him, realized
that Henley might supply much that he lacked in any book that was
written with a view to popular success. There could be no doubt of it.

“But we should quarrel inevitably and doggedly,” he said at last. “If I
can not hold myself in, still less can I be held in. We should tear
one another in pieces. When I write, I feel that what I write must be,
however crude, however improper or horrible it may seem. You would want
to hold me back.”

“My dear boy, I should more than want to--I should do it. In
collaboration, no man can be a law unto himself. That must be distinctly
understood before we begin. I don’t wish to force the proposition on
you. Only we are both ambitious devils. We are both poor. We are both
determined to try a book. Have we more chance of succeeding if we try
one together? I believe so. You have the imagination, the grip, the
stern power to evolve the story, to make it seem inevitable, to force
it step by step on its way. I can lighten that way. I can plant a few
flowers--they shall not be peonies, I promise you--on the roadside.
And I can, and, what is more, will, check you when you wish to make the
story impossibly horrible or fantastic to the verge of the insane. Now,
you needn’t be angry. This book, if we write it, has got to be a
good book, and yet a book that will bring grist to the mill. That is
understood.”

Andrew’s great eyes flashed in the lamplight.

“The mill,” he said. “Sometimes I feel inclined to let it stop working.
Who would care if one wheel ceased to turn? There are so many others.”

“Ah, that’s the sort of thing I shall cut out of the book!” cried
Henley, turning the soda-water into his whisky with a cheerful swish.

“We will be powerful, but never morbid; tragic, if you like, but not
without hope. We need not aspire too much; but we will not look at the
stones in the road all the time. And the dunghills, in which those weird
fowl, the pessimistic realists, love to rake, we will sedulously avoid.
Cheer up, old fellow, and be thankful that you possess a corrective in
me.”

Trenchard’s face lightened in a rare smile as, with a half-sigh, he
said:

“I believe you are right, and that I need a collaborator, an opposite,
who is yet in sympathy with me. Yes; either of us might fail alone;
together we should succeed.”

“_Will_ succeed, my boy!”

“But not by pandering to the popular taste,” added Andrew in his most
sombre tones, and with a curl of his thin, delicately-moulded lips. “I
shall never consent to that.”

“We will not call it pandering. But we must hit the taste of the day, or
we shall look a couple of fools.”

“People are always supposed to look fools when, for once, they are not
fools,” said Andrew.

“Possibly. But now our bargain is made. Strike hands upon it. Henceforth
we are collaborators as well as friends.”

Andrew extended his long, thin, feverish hand, and, as Henley held it
for a moment, he started at the intense, vivid, abnormal personality its
grasp seemed to reveal. To collaborate with Trenchard was to collaborate
with a human volcano.

“And now for the germ of our book,” he said, as the clock struck one.
“Where shall we find it?”

Trenchard leaned forward in his chair, with his hands pressed upon the
arms.

“Listen, and I will give it you,” he said.

And, almost until the dawn and the wakening of the slumbering city,
Henley sat and listened, and forgot that his pipe was smoked out, and
that his feet were cold. Trenchard had strange powers, and could enthral
as he could also repel.

*****

“It is a weird idea, and it is very powerful,” Henley said at last.
“But you stop short at the critical moment. Have you not devised a
_dénouement?_”

“Not yet. That is where the collaboration will come in. You must help
me. We must talk it over. I am in doubt.”

He got up and passed his hands nervously through his thick hair.

“My doubt has kept me awake so many nights!” he said, and his voice was
rather husky and worn.

Henley looked at him almost compassionately.

“How intensely you live in your fancies!”

“My fancies?” said Andrew, with a sudden harsh accent, and darting
a glance of curious watchfulness upon his friend. “My---- Yes, yes.
Perhaps I do. Perhaps I try to. Some people have souls that must escape
from their environment, their miserable life-envelope, or faint. Many
of us labour and produce merely to create an atmosphere in which we
ourselves may breathe for awhile and be happy. Damn this London, and
this lodging, and this buying bread with words! I must create for myself
an atmosphere. I must be always getting away from what is, even if I go
lower, lower. Ah! Well--but the _dénouement_. Give me your impressions.”

Henley meditated for awhile. Then he said; “Let us leave it. Let us get
to work; and in time, as the story progresses, it will seem inevitable.
We shall see it in front of us, and we shall not be able to avoid it.
Let us get to work”--he glanced at his watch and laughed--“or, rather,
let us get to bed. It is past four. This way madness lies. When we
collaborate, we will write in the morning. Our book shall be a book of
the dawn, and not of the darkness, despite its sombre theme.”

“No, no; it must be a book of the darkness.”

“Of the darkness, then, but written in the dawn. Your tragedy tempered
by my trust in human nature, and the power that causes things to right
themselves. Good-night, old boy.”

“Good-night.”

When Henley had left the room, Tren-chard sat for a moment with his head
sunk low on his breast and his eyes half closed. Then, with a jerk, he
gained his feet, went to the door, opened it, and looked forth on the
deserted landing. He listened, and heard Henley moving to and fro in his
bedroom. Then he shut the door, took off his smoking-coat, and bared his
left arm. There was a tiny blue mark on it.

“What will the _dénouement_ be?” he whispered to himself, as he felt in
his waistcoat pocket with a trembling hand.



II.

The book was moving onward by slow degrees and with a great deal of
discussion.

In those days Henley and Trenchard lived much with sported oaks.
They were battling for fame. They were doing all they knew. Literary
gatherings missed them. First nights knew them no more. The grim
intensity that was always characteristic of Trenchard seemed in some
degree communicated to Henley. He began to more fully understand what
the creating for one’s self of an atmosphere meant. The story he and his
friend were fashioning fastened upon him like some strange, determined
shadow from the realms of real life, gripped him more and more closely,
held him for long spells of time in a new and desolate world. For the
book so far was a deepening tragedy, and although, at times, Henley
strove to resist the paramount influence which the genius of Trenchard
began to exercise over him, he found himself comparatively impotent,
unable to shed gleams of popular light upon the darkness of the pages.
The power of the tale was undoubted. Henley felt that it was a big
thing that they two were doing; but would it be a popular thing--a
money-making thing? That was the question. He sometimes wished with all
his heart they had chosen a different subject to work their combined
talent upon. The germ of the work seemed only capable of tragic
treatment, if the book were to be artistic. Their hero was a man of
strong intellect, of physical beauty, full at first of the joy of life,
chivalrous, a believer in the innate goodness of human nature. Believing
in goodness, he believed also ardently in influence. In fact, he was
a worshipper of influence, and his main passion was to seize upon the
personalities of others, and impose his own personality upon them. He
loved to make men and women see with his eyes and hear with his ears,
adopt his theories as truth, take his judgment for their own. All that
he thought _was_--to him. He never doubted himself, therefore he could
not bear that those around him should not think with him, act towards
men and women as he acted, face life as he faced it. Yet he was too
subtle ever to be dogmatic. He never shouted in the market-place. He led
those with whom he came in contact as adroitly as if he had been evil,
and to the influence of others he was as adamant.

Events brought into his life a woman, complex, subtle too, with a
naturally noble character and fine understanding, a woman who, like so
many women, might have been anything, and was far worse than nothing--a
hopeless, helpless slave, the victim of the morphia habit, which had
gradually degraded her, driven her through sloughs of immorality,
wrecked a professional career which at one time had been almost great,
shattered her constitution, though not all her still curious beauty, and
ruined her, to all intents and purposes, body and soul. The man and the
woman met, and in a flash the man saw what she had been, what she might
have been, what, perhaps, in spite of all, she still was, somewhere,
somehow. In her horrible degradation, in her dense despair, she
fascinated him. He could only see the fire bursting out of the swamp. He
could only feel on his cheek the breath of the spring in the darkness of
the charnel-house. He knew that she gave to him his great lifework. Her
monstrous habit he simply could not comprehend. It was altogether as
fantastic to him as absolute virtue sometimes seems to absolute vice. He
looked upon it, and felt as little kinship with it as a saint might feel
with a vampire. To him it was merely a hideous and extraordinary growth,
which had fastened like a cancer upon a beautiful and wonderful body,
and which must be cut out. He was profoundly interested.

He loved the woman. Seeing her governed entirely by a vice, he made the
very common mistake of believing her to have a weak personality, easily
falling, perhaps for that very reason as easily lifted to her feet. He
resolved to save her, to devote all his powers, all his subtlety, all
his intellect, all his strong force of will, to weaning this woman from
her fatal habit. She was a married woman, long ago left, to kill herself
if she would, by the husband whose happiness she had wrecked. He took
her to live with him. For her sake he defied the world, and set himself
to do angel’s work when people believed him at the devil’s. He resolved
to wrap her, to envelop her in his influence, to enclose her in his
strong personality. Here, at last, was a grand, a noble opportunity
for the legitimate exercise of his master passion. He was confident of
victory.

But his faith in himself was misplaced. This woman, whom he thought so
weak, was yet stronger than he. Although he could not influence her, he
began to find that she could influence him. At first he struggled with
her vice, which he could not understand. He thought himself merely
horrified at it; then he began to lose the horror in wonder at its
power. Its virility, as it were, fascinated him just a little. A vice
so overwhelmingly strong seemed to him at length almost glorious, almost
God-like. There was a sort of humanity about it. Yes, it was like a
being who lived and who conquered.

The woman loved him, and he tried to win her from it; but her passion
for it was greater than her passion for him, greater than had been her
original passion for purity, for health, for success, for homage, for
all lovely and happiness-making things. Her passion for it was so great
that it roused the man’s curiosity at last; it made him hold his breath,
and stand in awe, and desire furtively to try just once for himself what
its dominion was like, to test its power as one may test the power of an
electric battery. He dared not do this openly, for fear the fact of his
doing so might drive the woman still farther on the downward path. So in
secret he tasted the fascinations of her vice, once--and again--and yet
again. But still he struggled for her while he was ceasing to struggle
for himself. Still he combated for her the foe who was conquering him.
Very strange, very terrible was his position in that London house with
her, isolated from the world. For his friends had dropped him. Even
those who were not scandalized at his relations with this woman had
ceased to come near him. They found him blind and deaf to the ordinary
interests of life. He never went out anywhere, unless occasionally with
her to some theatre. He never invited anyone to come and see him. At
first the woman absorbed all his interest, all his powers of love--and
then at last the woman and her vice, which was becoming his too. By
degrees he sank lower and lower, but he never told the woman the truth,
and he still urged her to give up her horrible habit, which now he
loved. And she laughed in his face, and asked him if a human creature
who had discovered a new life would be likely to give it up. “A new
death,” he murmured, and then, looking in a mirror near to him, saw his
lips curved in the thin, pale smile of the hypocrite.

*****

So far the two young men had written. They worked hard, but their
industry was occasionally interrupted by the unaccountable laziness
of Andrew, who, after toiling with unremitting fury for some days, and
scarcely getting up from his desk, would disappear, and perhaps not
return for several nights. Henley remonstrated with him, but in vain.

“But what do you do, my dear fellow?” he asked. “What becomes of you?”

“I go away to think out what is coming. The environment I seek helps
me,” answered Andrew, with a curious, gleaming smile. “I return full of
fresh copy.”

This was true enough. He generally mysteriously departed when the book
was beginning to flag, and on his reappearance he always set to work
with new vigour and confidence.

“It seems to me,” Henley said, “that it will be your book after all, not
mine. It is your plot, and when I think things over I find that every
detail is yours. You insisted on the house where the man and the woman
hid themselves being on the Chelsea Embankment. You invented the woman,
her character, her appearance. You named her Olive Beauchamp.”

“Olive Beauchamp,” Andrew repeated, with a strange lingering over the
two words, which he pronounced in a very curious voice that trembled, as
if with some keen emotion, love or hate. “Yes; I named her as you say.”

“Then, as the man in the play remarks, ‘Where do I come in?’” Henley
asked, half laughing, half vexed. “Upon my word, I shall have some
compunction in putting my name below yours on the title-page when the
book is published, if it ever is.”

Andrew’s lips twitched once or twice uneasily. Then he said, “You need
not have any such compunction. The greatest chapter will probably be
written by you.”

“Which chapter do you mean?”

“That which winds the story up--that which brings the whole thing to its
legitimate conclusion. You must write the _dénouement_.”

“I doubt if I could. And then we have not even now decided what it is to
be.”

“We need not bother about that yet. It will come. Fate will decide it
for us.”

“What do you mean, Andrew? How curiously you talk about the book
sometimes--so precisely as if it were true!”

Trenchard smiled again, struck a match, and lit his pipe.

“It seems true to me--when I am writing it,” he answered. “I have been
writing it these last two days and nights when I have been away, and now
I can go forward, if you agree to the new development which I suggest.”

It was night. He had been absent for some days, and had just returned.
Henley, meanwhile, had been raging because the book had come to a
complete standstill. He himself could do nothing at it, since they had
reached a dead-lock, and had not talked over any new scenes, or mutually
decided upon the turn events were now to take. He felt rather cross and
sore.

“_You_ can go forward,” he said: “yes, after your holiday. You might at
least tell me when you are going.”

“I never know myself,” Andrew said rather sadly.

He was looking very white and worn, and his eyes were heavy.

“But I have thought some fresh material out. My idea is this: The man
now becomes such a complete slave to the morphia habit that concealment
of the fact is scarcely possible. And, indeed, he ceases to desire to
conceal it from the woman. The next scene will be an immensely powerful
one--that in which he tells her the truth.”

“You do not think it would be more natural if she found it out against
his will? It seems to me that what he had concealed so long he would try
to hide for ever.”

“No,” Andrew said emphatically; “that would not be so.”

“But----”

“Look here,” the other interrupted, with some obvious irritability; “let
me tell you what I have conceived, and raise any objections afterwards
if you wish to raise them. He would tell her the truth himself. He
would almost glory in doing so. That is the nature of the man. We have
depicted his pride in his own powers, his temptation, his struggle--his
fall, as it would be called----”

“As it would be called.”

“Well, well!--his fall, then. And now comes the moment when his fall is
complete. He bends the neck finally beneath his tyrant, and then he goes
to the woman and he tells her the truth.”

“But explain matters a little more. Do you mean that he is glad, and
tells almost with triumph; or that he is appalled, and tells her with
horror?”

“Ah! That is where the power of the scene lies. He is appalled. He is
like a man plunged at last into hell without hope of future redemption.
He tells her the truth with horror.”

“And she?”

“It is she who triumphs. Look here: it will be like this.”

Andrew leaned forward across the table that stood between their two worn
armchairs. His thin, feverish-looking hands, with the fingers strongly
twisted together, rested upon it. His dark eyes glittered with
excitement.

“It will be like this. It is evening--a dark, dull evening, like the
day before yesterday, closing in early, throttling the afternoon
prematurely, as it were. A drizzling rain falls softly, drenching
everything--the sodden leaves of the trees on the Embankment, the road,
which is heavy with clinging yellow mud, the stone coping of the wall
that skirts the river.

“And the river heaves along. Its gray, dirty waves are beaten up by a
light, chilly wind, and chase the black barges with a puny, fretful,
sinister fury, falling back from their dark, wet sides with a hiss of
baffled hatred. Yes, it is dreary weather.

“Do you know, Henley, as I know, the strange, subtle influence of
certain kinds of weather? There are days on which I could do great deeds
merely because of the way the sun is shining. There are days, there are
evenings, when I could commit crimes merely because of the way the
wind is whispering, the river is sighing, the dingy night is clustering
around me. There can be an angel in the weather, or there can be a
devil. On this evening I am describing there is a devil in the night!

“The lights twinkle through the drizzling rain, and they are blurred, as
bright eyes are blurred, and made dull and ugly, by tears. Two or three
cabs roll slowly by the houses on the Embankment.. A few people hurry
past along the slippery, shining pavement. But as the night closes in
there is little life outside those tall, gaunt houses that are so near
the river! And in one of those houses the man comes down to the woman to
tell her the truth.

“There is a devil in the weather that night, as I said, and that devil
whispers to the man, and tells him that it is now his struggle must end
finally, and the new era of unresisted yielding to the vice begin. In
the sinister darkness, in the diminutive, drenching mist of rain, he
speaks, and the man listens, and bows his head and answers ‘yes!’ It
is over. He has fallen finally. He is resolved, with a strange, dull
obstinacy that gives him a strange, dull pleasure--do you see?--to
go down to the room below, and tell the woman that she has conquered
him--that his power of will is a reed which can be crushed--that
henceforth there shall be two victims instead of one. He goes down.”

Andrew paused a moment. His lips were twitching again. He looked
terribly excited. Henley listened in silence. He had lost all wish to
interrupt.

“He goes down into the room below where the woman is, with her dark
hair, and her dead-white face, and her extraordinary eyes--large,
luminous, sometimes dull and without expression, sometimes dilated, and
with an unnatural life staring out of them. She is on the sofa near the
fire. He sits down beside her. His head falls into his hands, and at
first he is silent. He is thinking how he will tell her. She puts her
soft, dry hand on his, and she says: ‘I am very tired to-night. Do not
begin your evening sermon. Let me have it to-morrow. How you must love
me to be so persistent! and how you must love me to be so stupid as to
think that your power of will can break the power of such a habit as
mine!’

“Then he draws his hand away from hers, and he lifts his head from his
hands, and he tells her the truth. She leans back against a cushion
staring at him in silence, devouring him with her eyes, which have
become very bright and eager and searching. Presently he stops.

“‘Go on,’ she says, ‘go on. Tell me more. Tell me all you feel. Tell
me how the habit stole upon you, and came to you again and again, and
stayed with you. Tell me how you first liked it, and then loved it, and
how it was something to you, and then much, and then everything. Go on!
go on!’

“And he catches her excitement. He conceals nothing from her. All the
hideous, terrible, mental processes he has been through, he details
to her, at first almost gloating over his own degradation. He even
exaggerates, as a man exaggerates in telling a story to an eager
auditor. He is carried away by her strange fury of listening. He lays
bare his soul; he exposes its wounds; he sears them with red-hot irons
for her to see. And then at last all is told. He can think of no more
details. He has even embellished the abominable truth. So he is silent,
and he looks at her.”

“And what does she do?” asked Henley, with a catch in his voice as he
spoke. Undoubtedly in relating a fictitious narrative Andrew had a quite
abnormal power of making it appear true and real.

“She looks at him, and then she bursts out laughing. Her eyes shine with
triumph. She is glad; she is joyous with the joy of a lost soul when it
sees that other souls are irrevocably lost too; she laughs, and she says
nothing.”

“And the man?”

Andrew’s eyes suddenly dilated. He leaned forward and laid his hand on
Henley’s arm.

“Ah, the man! that is my great idea. As she laughs his heart is changed.
His love for her suddenly dies. Its place is taken by hatred. He
realizes then, for the first time, while he hears her laugh, what she
has done to him. He knows that she has ruined him, and that she is proud
of it--that she is rejoicing in having won him to destruction. He sees
that his perdition is merely a feather in her cap. He hates her. Oh, how
he hates her!--hates her!”

The expression on Andrew’s face became terrible as he spoke--cruel,
malignant, almost fiendish. Henley turned cold, and shook off his hand
abruptly.

“That is horrible!” he said. “I object to that. The book will be one of
unrelieved gloom.”

“The book!” said Andrew.

“Yes. You behave really as if the story were true, as if everything in
it were ordained--inevitable.”

“It seems so to me; it is so. What must be, must be. If you are afraid
of tragedy, you ought never to have joined me in starting upon such a
story. Even what has never happened must be made to seem actual to
be successful. The art of fiction is to imitate truth with absolute
fidelity, not to travesty it. In such circumstances the man’s love would
be changed to hatred.”

“Yes, if the woman’s demeanour were such as you have described. But why
should she be so callous? I do not think that is natural.”

“You do not know the woman,” began Andrew harshly. Then he stopped
speaking abruptly, and a violent flush swept over his face.

“I know her as well as you do, my dear fellow,” rejoined Henley,
laughing. “How you manage to live in your dreams! You certainly do
create an atmosphere for yourself with a vengeance, and for me too. I
believe you have an abnormal quantity of electricity concealed about you
somewhere, and sometimes you give me a shock and carry me out of myself.
If this is collaboration, it is really a farce. From the very first you
have had things all your own way. You have talked me over to your view
upon every single occasion; but now I am going to strike. I object to
the conduct you have devised for Olive. It will alienate all sympathy
from her; it is the behaviour of a devil.”

“It is the behaviour of a woman,” said Andrew, with a cold cynicism that
seemed to cut like a knife.

“How can you tell? How can you judge of women so surely?”

“I study all strange phenomena, women among the rest.”

“Have you ever met an Olive Beauchamp, then, in real life?” said Henley.

The question was put more than half in jest; but Trenchard received it
with a heavy frown.

“Don’t let us quarrel about the matter,” he said, “I can only tell you
this; and mind, Jack, I mean it. It is my unalterable resolve. Either
the story must proceed upon the lines that I have indicated, or I
cannot go on with it at all. It would be impossible for me to write it
differently.”

“And this is collaboration, is it?” exclaimed the other, trying to force
a laugh, though even his good-nature could scarcely stand Trenchard’s
trampling demeanour.

“I can’t help it. I cannot be inartistic and untrue to Nature even for
the sake of a friend.”

“Thank you. Well, I have no desire to ruin your work, Andrew; but it is
really useless for this farce to continue. Do what you like, and let us
make no further pretence of collaborating. I cannot act as a drag upon
such a wheel as yours. I will not any longer be a dead-weight upon you.
Our temperaments evidently unfit us to be fellow-workers; and I feel
that your strength and power are so undeniable that you may, perhaps,
be able to carry this weary tragedy through, and by sheer force make it
palatable to the public. I will protest no more; I will only cease any
longer to pretend to have a finger in this literary pie.”

Andrew’s morose expression passed away like a cloud. He got up and laid
his hand upon Henley’s shoulder.

“You make me feel what a beast I am,” he said. “But I can’t help it. I
was made so. Do forgive me, Jack. I have taken the bit between my teeth,
I know. But--this story seems to me no fiction; it is a piece of life,
as real to me as those stars I see through the window-pane are real to
me--as my own emotions are real to me. Jack, this book has seized me.
Believe me, if it is written as I wish, it will make an impression upon
the world that will be great. The mind of the world is given to me like
a sheet of blank paper. I will write upon it with my heart’s blood.
But”--and here his manner became strangely impressive, and his sombre,
heavy eyes gazed deeply into the eyes of his friend--“remember this!
You will finish this book. I feel that; I know it. I cannot tell you
why. But so it is ordained. Let me write as far as I can, Jack, and let
me write as I will. But do not let us quarrel. The book is ours, not
mine. And--don’t--don’t take away your friendship from me.”

The last words were said with an outburst of emotion that was almost
feminine in intensity. Henley felt deeply moved, for, as a rule,
Andrew’s manner was not specially affectionate, or even agreeable.

“It is all right, old fellow,” he said, in the embarrassed English
manner which often covers so much that might with advantage be
occasionally revealed. “Go on in your own way. I believe you are a
genius, and I am only trying to clip the wings that may carry you
through the skies. Go on in your own way, and consult me only when you
feel inclined.”

Andrew took his hand and pressed it in silence.



III.

It was some three weeks after this that one afternoon Trenchard laid
down his pen at the conclusion of a chapter, and, getting up, thrust his
hands into his pockets and walked to the window.

The look-out was rather dreary. A gray sky leaned over the great,
barrack-like church that gives an ecclesiastical flavour to
Smith’s Square. A few dirty sparrows fluttered above the gray
pavement--feverish, unresting birds, Trenchard named them silently,
as he watched their meaningless activity, their jerky, ostentatious
deportment, with lacklustre, yet excited, eyes. How gray everything
looked, tame, colourless, indifferent! The light was beginning to
fade stealthily out of things. The gray church was gradually becoming
shadowy. The flying forms of the hurrying sparrows disappeared in the
weary abysses of the air and sky. The sitting-room in Smith’s Square
was nearly dark now. Henley had gone out to a _matinée_ at one of the
theatres, so Trenchard was alone. He struck a match presently, lit a
candle, carried it over to his writing-table, and began to examine the
littered sheets he had just been writing. The book was nearing its end.
The tragedy was narrowing to a point. Trenchard read the last paragraph
which he had written:

“He hardly knew that he lived, except during those many hours when,
plunged in dreams, he allowed, nay, forced, life to leave him for
awhile. He had sunk to depths below even those which Olive had reached.
And the thought that she was ever so little above him haunted him like a
spectre impelling him to some mysterious deed. When he was not dreaming,
he was dwelling upon this idea which had taken his soul captive. It
seemed to be shaping itself towards an act. Thought was the ante-room
through which he passed to the hall where Fate was sitting, ready to
give him audience. He traversed this ante-room, which seemed lined with
fantastic and terrible pictures, at first with lagging footfalls. But at
length he laid his hand upon the door that divided him from Fate.”

*****

And when he had read the final words he gathered the loose sheets
together with his long, thin fingers, and placed them one on the top
of the other in a neat pile. He put them into a drawer which contained
other unfinished manuscripts, shut the drawer, locked it, and carried
the key to Henley’s room. There he scribbled some words on a bit of
notepaper, wrapped the key in it, and inclosed it in an envelope on
which he wrote Henley’s name. Then he put on his overcoat, descended the
narrow stairs, and opened the front-door. The landlady heard him, and
screamed from the basement to know if he would be in to dinner.

“I shall not be in at all to-night,” he answered, in a hard, dry voice
that travelled along the dingy passage with a penetrating distinctness.
The landlady murmured to the slatternly maidservant an ejaculatory
diatribe on the dissipatedness of young literary gentlemen as the door
banged. Trenchard disappeared in the gathering darkness, and soon left
Smith’s Square behind him.

It chanced that day that, in the theatre, Henley encountered some
ladies who carried him home to tea after the performance. They lived in
Chelsea, and in returning to Smith’s Square afterwards Henley took his
way along the Chelsea Embankment. He always walked near to the dingy
river when he could. The contrast of its life to the town’s life through
which it flowed had a perpetual fascination for him. In the early
evening, too, the river presents many Doré effects. It is dim,
mysterious, sometimes meretricious, with its streaks of light close to
the dense shadows that lie under the bridges, its wailful, small waves
licking the wharves, and bearing up the inky barges that look like the
ferry-boat of the Styx. Henley loved to feel vivaciously despairing, and
he hugged himself in the belief that the Thames at nightfall tinged his
soul with a luxurious melancholy, the capacity for which was not far
from rendering him a poet. So he took his way by the river. As he neared
Cheyne Row, he saw in front of him the figure of a man leaning over
the low stone wall, with his face buried in his hands. On hearing his
approaching footsteps the man lifted himself up, turned round, and
preceded him along the pavement with a sort of listless stride which
seemed to Henley strangely familiar. He hastened his steps, and on
coming closer recognised that the man was Trenchard; but, just as he
was about to hail him, Trenchard crossed the road to one of the houses
opposite, inserted a key in the door, and disappeared within, shutting
the door behind him.

Henley paused a moment opposite to the house. It was of a dull red
colour, and had a few creepers straggling helplessly about it, looking
like a torn veil that can only partially conceal a dull, heavy face.

“Andrew seems at home here,” he thought, gazing up at the blind, tall
windows, which showed no ray of light. “I wonder----”

And then, still gazing at the windows, he recalled the description of
the house where Olive Beauchamp lived in their book.

“He took it from this,” Henley said to himself. Yes, that was obvious.
Trenchard had described the prison-house of despair, where the two
victims of a strange, desolating habit shut themselves up to sink, with
a curious minuteness. He had even devoted a paragraph to the tall iron
gate, whose round handle he had written of as “bald, and exposed to the
wind from the river, the paint having long since been worn off it.” In
the twilight Henley bent down and examined the handle of the gate. The
paint seemed to have been scraped from it.

“How curiously real that book has become to me!” he muttered. “I could
almost believe that if I knocked upon that door, and was let in, I
should find Olive Beauchamp stretched on a couch in the room that lies
beyond those gaunt, shuttered windows.”

He gave a last glance at the house, and as he did so he fancied that
he heard a slight cry come from it to him. He listened attentively and
heard nothing more. Then he walked away toward home.

When he reached his room, he found upon his table the envelope which
Trenchard had directed to him. He opened it, and unwrapped the key from
the inclosed sheet of note-paper, on which were written these words:

     “Dear Jack,

     “I am off again. And this time I can’t say when I shall be
     back. In any case, I have completed my part of the book, and
     leave the finishing of it in your hands. This is the key of
     the drawer in which I have locked the manuscript. You have
     not seen most of the last volume. Read it, and judge for
     yourself whether the _dénouement_ can be anything but
     utterly tragic. I will not outline to you what I have
     thought of for it. If you have any difficulty about the
     _finale_, I shall be able to help you with it even if you do
     not see me again for some time. By the way, what nonsense
     that saying is, ‘Dead men tell no tales!’ Half the best
     tales in the world are told, or at least completed, by dead
     men.

    “Yours ever,

     “A. T.”

Henley laid this note down and turned cold all over. It was the
concluding sentence which had struck a chill through his heart. He took
the key in his hand, went down to Trenchard’s room, unlocked the drawer
in his writing-table, and took out the manuscript. What did Andrew mean
by that sinister sentence? A tale completed by a dead man! Henley sat
down by the fire with the manuscript in his hands and began to read. He
was called away to dinner; but immediately afterward he returned to
his task, and till late into the night his glance travelled down the
closely-written sheets one after the other, until the light from the
candles grew blurred and indistinct, and his eyes ached. But still he
read on. The power and gloom of Andrew’s narrative held him in a vice,
and then he was searching for a clue in the labyrinth of words. At last
he came to the final paragraph, and then to the final sentence:

“But at length he laid his hand upon the door that divided him from
Fate.”

Henley put the sheet down carefully upon the table. It was three o’clock
in the morning, and the room seemed full of a strange, breathless cold,
the peculiar chilliness that precedes the dawn. The fire was burning
brightly enough, yet the warmth it emitted scarcely seemed to combat the
frosty air that penetrated from without, and Henley shivered as he
rose from his seat. His brows were drawn together, and he was thinking
deeply. A light seemed slowly struggling into his soul. That last
sentence of Tren-chard’s connected itself with what he had seen in the
afternoon on the Chelsea Embankment. “He laid his hand upon the door
that divided him from Fate.”

A strange idea dawned in Henley’s mind, an idea which made many things
clear to him. Yet he put it away, and sat down again to read the
unfinished book once more. Andrew had carried on the story of the man’s
growing hatred of the woman whom he had tried to rescue, until it had
developed into a deadly fury, threatening immediate action. Then he had
left the _dénouement_ in Henley’s hands. He had left it ostensibly
in Henley’s hands, but the latter, reading the manuscript again with
intense care, saw that matters had been so contrived that the knot of
the novel could only be cut by murder. As it had been written, the man
must inevitably murder the woman. And Andrew? All through the night
Henley thought of him as he had last seen him, opening the door of the
red house with the tattered creepers climbing over it.

At last, when it was dawn, he went up to bed tired out, after leaving a
written direction to the servant not to call him in the morning. When he
awoke and looked at his watch it was past two o’clock in the afternoon.
He sprang out of bed, dressed, and after a hasty meal, half breakfast,
half lunch, set out towards Chelsea. The day was bright and cold. The
sun shone on the river and sparkled on the windows of the houses on the
Embankment. Many people were about, and they looked cheerful. The weight
of depression that had settled upon Henley was lifted. He thought of the
strange, yet illuminating, idea that had occurred to him in the night,
and now, in broad daylight, it seemed clothed in absurdity. He laughed
at it. Yet he quickened his steps toward the red house with the
tarnished iron gate and the tattered creepers.

But long before he reached it he met a boy sauntering along the
thoroughfare and shouting newspapers. He sang out unflinchingly in the
gay sunshine, “Murder! Murder!” and between his shouts he whistled
a music-hall song gaily in snatches. Henley stopped him and bought a
paper. He opened the paper in the wind, which seemed striving to prevent
him, and cast his eyes over the middle pages. Then suddenly he dropped
it to the ground with a white face, and falteringly signed to a cabman.
The _dénouement_ was written. The previous night, in a house on the
Chelsea Embankment, a woman had been done to death, and the murderer had
crept out and thrown himself into the gray, hurrying river.

The woman’s name was Olive Beauchamp.


THE END.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Collaborators - 1896" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home