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It was settled that Master Byles Gridley and Mr. Gifted Hopkins should leave early in the morning of the day appointed, to take the nearest train to the city. Mrs. Hopkins labored hard to get them ready, so that they might make a genteel appearance among the great people whom they would meet in society. She brushed up Mr. Gridley's best black suit, and bound the cuffs of his dress-coat, which were getting a little worried. She held his honest-looking hat to the fire, and smoothed it while it was warm, until one would have thought it had just been ironed by the hatter himself. She had his boots and shoes brought into a more brilliant condition than they had ever known: if Gifted helped, it was to his credit as much as if he had shown his gratitude by polishing off a copy of verses in praise of his benefactor.
When she had got Mr. Gridley's encumbrances in readiness for the journey, she devoted herself to fitting out her son Gifted. First, she had down from the garret a capacious trunk, of solid wood, but covered with leather, and adorned with brass-headed nails, by the cunning disposition of which, also, the paternal initials stood out on the rounded lid, in the most conspicuous manner. It was his father's trunk, and the first thing that went into it, as the widow lifted the cover, and the smothering shut-up smell struck an old chord of associations, was a single tear-drop. How well she remembered the time when she first unpacked it for her young husband, and the white shirt bosoms showed their snowy plaits! O dear, dear!
But women decant their affection, sweet and sound, out of the old bottles into the new ones,--off from the lees of the past generation, clear and bright, into the clean vessels just made ready to receive it. Gifted Hopkins was his mother's idol, and no wonder. She had not only the common attachment of a parent for him, as her offspring, but she felt that her race was to be rendered illustrious by his genius, and thought proudly of the time when some future biographer would mention her own humble name, to be held in lasting remembrance as that of the mother of Hopkins.
So she took great pains to equip this brilliant but inexperienced young man with everything he could by any possibility need during his absence. The great trunk filled itself until it bulged with its contents like a boa-constrictor who has swallowed his blanket. Best clothes and common clothes, thick clothes and thin clothes, flannels and linens, socks and collars, with handkerchiefs enough to keep the pickpockets busy for a week, with a paper of gingerbread and some lozenges for gastralgia, and "hot drops," and ruled paper to write letters on, and a little Bible, and a phial with hiera picra, and another with paregoric, and another with "camphire" for sprains and bruises,
--Gifted went forth equipped for every climate from the tropic to the pole, and armed against every malady from Ague to Zoster. He carried also the paternal watch, a solid silver bull's-eye, and a large pocketbook, tied round with a long tape, and, by way of precaution, pinned into his breast-pocket. He talked about having a pistol, in case he were attacked by any of the ruffians who are so numerous in the city, but Mr. Gridley told him, No! he would certainly shoot himself, and he shouldn't think of letting him take a pistol.
They went forth, Mentor and Telemachus, at the appointed time, to dare the perils of the railroad and the snares of the city. Mrs. Hopkins was firm up to near the last moment, when a little quiver in her voice set her eyes off, and her face broke up all at once, so that she had to hide it behind her handkerchief. Susan Posey showed the truthfulness of her character in her words to Gifted at parting. "Farewell," she said, "and think of me sometimes while absent. My heart is another's, but my friendship, Gifted--my friendship--"
Both were deeply affected. He took her hand and would have raised it to his lips; but she did not forget herself, and gently withdrew it, exclaiming, "O Gifted!" this time with a tone of tender reproach which made him feel like a profligate. He tore himself away, and when at a safe distance flung her a kiss, which she rewarded with a tearful smile.
Master Byles Gridley must have had some good dividends from some of his property of late. There is no other way of accounting for the handsome style in which he did things on their arrival in the city. He went to a tailor's and ordered a new suit to be sent home as soon as possible, for he knew his wardrobe was a little rusty. He looked Gifted over from head to foot, and suggested such improvements as would recommend him to the fastidious eyes of the selecter sort of people, and put him in his own tailor's hands, at the same time saying that all bills were to be sent to him, B. Gridley, Esq., parlor No. 6, at the Planet Hotel. Thus it came to pass that in three days from their arrival they were both in an eminently presentable condition. In the mean time the prudent Mr. Gridley had been keeping the young man busy, and amusing himself by showing him such of the sights of the city and its suburbs as he thought would combine instruction with entertainment.
When they were both properly equipped and ready for the best company, Mr. Gridley said to the young poet, who had found it very hard to contain his impatience, that they would now call together on the publisher to whom he wished to introduce him, and they set out accordingly.
"My name is Gridley," he said with modest gravity, as he entered the publisher's private room. "I have a note of introduction here from one of your authors, as I think he called himself, a very popular writer for whom you publish."
The publisher rose and came forward in the most cordial and respectful manner. "Mr. Gridley? Professor Byles Gridley,--author of "Thoughts on the Universe'?"
The brave-hearted old man colored as if he had been a young girl. His dead book rose before him like an apparition. He groped in modest confusion for an answer. "A child I buried long ago, my dear sir," he said. "Its title-page was its tombstone. I have brought this young friend with me,--this is Mr. Gifted Hopkins of Oxbow Village,--who wishes to converse with you about--"
"I have come, sir--" the young poet began, interrupting him.
"Let me look at your manuscript, if you please,
Mr. Popkins," said the publisher, interrupting in his turn.
"Hopkins, if you please, sir," Gifted suggested mildly, proceeding to extract the manuscript, which had got wedged into his pocket, and seemed to be holding on with all its might. He was wondering all the time over the extraordinary clairvoyance of the publisher, who had looked through so many thick folds, broadcloth, lining, brown paper, and seen his poems lying hidden in his breast-pocket. The idea that a young person coming on such an errand should have to explain his intentions would have seemed very odd to the publisher. He knew the look which belongs to this class of enthusiasts just as a horse- dealer knows the look of a green purchaser with the equine fever raging in his veins. If a young author had come to him with a scrap of manuscript hidden in his boots, like Major Andre's papers, the publisher would have taken one glance at him and said, "Out with it!"
While he was battling for the refractory scroll with his pocket, which turned half wrong side out, and acted as things always do when people are nervous and in a hurry, the publisher directed his conversation again to Master Byles Gridley.
"A remarkable book, that of yours, Mr. Gridley, would have a great run if it were well handled. Came out twenty years too soon,--that was the trouble. One of our leading scholars was speaking of it to me the other day. 'We must have a new edition,' he said; people are just ripe for that book.' Did you ever think of that? Change the form of it a little, and give it a new title, and it will be a popular book. Five thousand or more, very likely."
Mr. Gridley felt as if he had been rapidly struck on the forehead with a dozen distinct blows from a hammer not quite big enough to stun him. He sat still without saying a word. He had forgotten for the moment all about poor Gifted Hopkins, who had got out his manuscript at last, and was calming the disturbed corners of it. Coming to himself a little, he took a large and beautiful silk handkerchief, one of his new purchases, from his pocket, and applied it to his face, for the weather seemed to have grown very warm all at once. Then he remembered the errand on which he had come, and thought of this youth, who had got to receive his first hard lesson in life, and whom he had brought to this kind man that it should be gently administered.
"You surprise me," he said,--"you surprise me. Dead and buried. Dead and buried. I had sometimes thought that--at some future period, after I was gone, it might--but I hardly know what to say about your suggestions. But here is my young friend, Mr. Hopkins, who would like to talk with you, and I will leave him in your hands. I am at the Planet Hotel, if you should care to call upon me. Good morning. Mr. Hopkins will explain everything to you more at his ease, without me, I am confident."
Master Gridley could not quite make up his mind to stay through the interview between the young poet and the publisher. The flush of hope was bright in Gifted's eye and cheek, and the good man knew that young hearts are apt to be over-sanguine, and that one who enters a shower-bath often feels very differently from the same person when he has pulled the string.
"I have brought you my Poems in the original autographs, sir," said Mr. Gifted Hopkins.
He laid the manuscript on the table, caressing the leaves still with one hand, as loath to let it go.
"What disposition had you thought of making of them?" the publisher asked, in a pleasant tone. He was as kind a man as lived, though he worked the chief engine in a chamber of torture.
"I wish to read you a few specimens of the poems," he said, "with reference to their proposed publication in a volume."
"By all means," said the kind publisher, who determined to be very patient with the protege of the hitherto little-known, but remarkable writer, Professor Gridley. At the same time he extended his foot in an accidental sort of way, and pressed it on the right hand knob of three which were arranged in a line beneath the table. A little bell in a distant apartment--the little bell marked C--gave one slight note; loud enough to start a small boy up, who looked at the clock, and knew that he was to go and call the publisher in just twenty-five minutes. "A, five minutes; B, ten minutes; C, twenty-five minutes ";--that was the youngster's working formula. Mr. Hopkins was treated to the full allowance of time, as being introduced by Professor Gridley.
The young man laid open the manuscript so that the title-page, written out very handsomely in his own hand, should win the eye of the publisher.
BLOSSOMS OF THE SOUL. A WREATH OF VERSE; Original. BY GIFTED HOPKINS.
"a youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown." --Gray.
"Shall I read you some of the rhymed pieces first, or some of the blank-verse poems, sir?" Gifted asked.
"Read what you think is best,--a specimen of your first-class style of composition."
"I will read you the very last poem I have written," he said, and he began:
"THE TRIUMPH OF SONG. I met that gold-haired maiden, all too dear; And I to her: Lo! thou art very fair, Fairer than all the ladies in the world That fan the sweetened air with scented fans, And I am scorched with exceeding love, Yea, crisped till my bones are dry as straw. Look not away with that high-arched brow, But turn its whiteness that I may behold, And lift thy great eyes till they blaze on mine, And lay thy finger on thy perfect mouth, And let thy lucent ears of careen pearl Drink in the murmured music of my soul, As the lush grass drinks in the globed dew; For I have many scrolls of sweetest rhyme I will unroll and make thee glad to hear. "Then she: O shaper of the marvellous phrase That openeth woman's heart as Both a key, I dare not hear thee--lest the bolt should slide That locks another's heart within my own. Go, leave me,--and she let her eyelids fall, And the great tears rolled from her large blue eyes. "Then I: If thou not hear me, I shall die, Yea, in my desperate mood may lift my hand And do myself a hurt no leach can mend; For poets ever were of dark resolve, And swift stern deed That maiden heard no more, But spike: Alas! my heart is very weak, And but for--Stay! And if some dreadful morn, After great search and shouting thorough the wold, We found thee missing,--strangled,--drowned i' the mere, Then should I go distraught and be clean mad! O poet, read! read all thy wondrous scrolls. Yea, read the verse that maketh glad to hear! Then I began and read two sweet, brief hours, And she forgot all love save only mine!"
"Is all this from real life?" asked the publisher.
"It--no, sir--not exactly from real life--that is, the leading female person is not wholly fictitious--and the incident is one which might have happened. Shall I read you the poems referred to in the one you have just heard, sir?"
"Allow me, one moment. Two hours' reading, I think, you said. I fear I shall hardly be able to spare quite time to hear them a11. Let me ask what you intend doing with these productions, Mr.--- rr Poplins."
"Hopkins, if you please, sir, not Poplins," said Gifted, plaintively. He expressed his willingness to dispose of the copyright, to publish on shares, or perhaps to receive a certain percentage on the profits.
"Suppose we take a glass of wine together, Mr.--Hopkins, before we talk business," the publisher said, opening a little cupboard and taking therefrom a decanter and two glasses. He saw the young man was looking nervous. He waited a few minutes, until the wine had comforted his epigastrium, and diffused its gentle glow through his unspoiled and consequently susceptible organisation.
"Come with me," he said.
Gifted followed him into a dingy apartment in the attic, where one sat at a great table heaped and piled with manuscripts. By him was a huge basket, ha'f full of manuscripts also. As they entered he dropped another manuscript into the basket and looked up.
"Tell me," said Gifted, " what are these papers, and who is he that looks upon them and drops them into the basket?"
"These are the manuscript poems that we receive, and the one sitting at the table is commonly spoken of among us as The Butcher. The poems he drops into the basket are those rejected as of no account"
"But does he not read the poems before he rejects them?"
"He tastes them. Do you eat a cheese before you buy it?"
"And what becomes of all those that he drops into the basket?"
"If they are not claimed by their author in proper season, they go to the devil."
"What!" said Gifted, with his eyes stretched very round.
"To the paper factory, where they have a horrid machine they call the devil, that tears everything to bits,--as the critics treat our authors, sometimes, sometimes, Mr. Hopkins."
Gifted devoted a moment to silent reflection.
After this instructive sight they returned together to the publisher's private room. The wine had now warmed the youthful poet's praecordia, so that he began to feel a renewed confidence in his genius and his fortunes.
"I should like to know what that critic of yours would say to my manuscript," he said boldly.
"You can try it if you want to," the publisher replied, with an ominous dryness of manner which the sanguine youth did not perceive, or, perceiving, did not heed.
"How can we manage to get an impartial judgment?"
"Oh, I'll arrange that. He always goes to his luncheon about this time. Raw meat and vitriol punch,--that 's what the authors say. Wait till we hear him go, and then I will lay your manuscript so that he will come to it among the first after he gets back. You shall see with your own eyes what treatment it gets. I hope it may please him, but you shall see."
They went back to the publisher's private room and talked awhile. Then the little office-boy came up with some vague message about a gentleman--business--wants to see you, sir, etc., according to the established programme; all in a vacant, mechanical sort of way, as if he were a talking-machine just running down.
The publisher told the boy that he was engaged, and the gentleman must wait. Very soon they heard The Butcher's heavy footstep as he went out to get his raw meat and vitriol punch.
Now, then," said the publisher, and led forth the confiding literary lamb once more, to enter the fatal door of the critical shambles.
"Hand me your manuscript, if you please, Mr. Hopkins. I will lay it so that it shall be the third of these that are coming to hand. Our friend here is a pretty good judge of verse, and knows a merchantable article about as quick as any man in his line of business. If he forms a favorable opinion of your poems, we will talk over your propositions."
Gifted was conscious of a very slight tremor as he saw his precious manuscript deposited on the table, under two others, and over a pile of similar productions. Still he could not help feeling that the critic would be struck by his title. The quotation from Gray must touch his feelings. The very first piece in the collection could not fail to arrest him. He looked a little excited, but he was in good spirits.
"We will be looking about here when our friend comes back," the publisher said." He is a very methodical person, and will sit down and go right to work just as if we were not here. We can watch him, and if he should express any particular interest in your poems, I will, if you say so, carry you up to him and reveal the fact that you are the author of the works that please him."
They waited patiently until The Butcher returned, apparently refreshed by his ferocious refection, and sat down at his table. He looked comforted, and not in ill humor. The publisher and the poet talked in low tones, as if on business of their own, and watched him as he returned to his labor.
The Butcher took the first manuscript that came to hand, read a stanza here and there, turned over the leaves, turned back and tried again,--shook his head--held it for an instant over the basket, as if doubtful,--and let it softly drop. He took up the second manuscript, opened it in several places, seemed rather pleased with what he read, and laid it aside for further examination.
He took up the third. "Blossoms of the Soul," etc. He glared at it in a dreadfully ogreish way. Both the lockers-on held their breath. Gifted Hopkins felt as if half a glass more of that warm sherry would not hurt him. There was a sinking at the pit of his stomach, as if he was in a swing, as high as he could go, close up to the swallows' nests and spiders' webs. The Butcher opened the manuscript at random, read ten seconds, and gave a short low grunt. He opened again, read ten seconds, and gave another grunt, this time a little longer and louder. He opened once more, read five seconds, and, with something that sounded like the snort of a dangerous animal, cast it impatiently into the basket, and took up the manuscript that came next in order.
Gifted Hopkins stood as if paralyzed for a moment.
"Safe, perfectly safe," the publisher said to him in a whisper." I'll get it for you presently. Come in and take another glass of wine," he said, leading him back to his own office.
"No, I thank you," he said faintly, "I can bear it. But this is dreadful, sir. Is this the way that genius is welcomed to the world of letters?"
The publisher explained to him, in the kindest manner, that there was an enormous over-production of verse, and that it took a great part of one man's time simply to overhaul the cart-loads of it that were trying to get themselves into print with the imprimatur of his famous house. "You are young, Mr. Hopkins. I advise you not to try to force your article of poetry on the market. The B---, our friend, there, that is, knows a thing that will sell as soon as he sees it. You are in independent circumstances, perhaps? If so, you can print --at your own expense--whatever you choose. May I take the liberty to ask your--profession? "
Gifted explained that he was "clerk" in a "store," where they sold dry goods and West India goods, and goods promiscuous.
"Oh, well, then," the publisher said, "you will understand me. Do you know a good article of brown sagas when you see it?"
Gifted Hopkins rather thought he did. He knew at sight whether it was a fair, salable article or not.
"Just so. Now our friend, there, knows verses that are salable and unsalable as well as you do brown sugar. --Keep quiet now, and I will go and get your manuscript for you.
"There, Mr. Hopkins, take your poems,--they will give you a reputation in your village, I don't doubt, which, is pleasant, but it will cost you a good deal of money to print them in a volume. You are very young: you can afford to wait. Your genius is not ripe yet, I am confident, Mr. Hopkins. These verses are very well for a beginning, but a man of promise like you, Mr. Hopkins, must n't throw away his chance by premature publication! I should like to make you a present of a few of the books we publish. By and by, perhaps, we can work you into our series of poets; but the best pears ripen slowly, and so with genius. --Where shall I send the volumes?"
Gifted answered, to parlor No. 6, Planet Hotel, where he soon presented himself to Master Gridley, who could guess pretty well what was coming. But he let him tell his story.
"Shall I try the other publishers?" said the disconsolate youth.
"I would n't, my young friend, I would n't. You have seen the best one of them--all. He is right about it, quite right: you are young, and had better wait. Look here, Gifted, here is something to please you. We are going to visit the gay world together. See what has been left here this forenoon."
He showed him two elegant notes of invitation requesting the pleasure of Professor Byles Gridley's and of Mr. Gifted Hopkins's company on Thursday evening, as the guests of Mrs. Clymer Ketchum, of 24 Carat Place.
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