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Kenan Buel received from his London publisher a brown paper parcel, and on opening it found the contents to be six exceedingly new copies of his book. Whatever the publisher thought of the inside of the work, he had not spared pains to make the outside as attractive as it could be made at the price. Buel turned it over and over, and could almost imagine himself buying a book that looked so tastefully got up as this one. The sight of the volume gave him a thrill, for he remembered that the Press doubtless received its quota at about the same time his parcel came, and he feared he would not be out of the country before the first extract from the clipping agency arrived. However, luck was with the young man, and he found himself on the platform of Euston Station, waiting for the Liverpool express, without having seen anything about his book in the papers, except a brief line giving its title, the price, and his own name, in the "Books Received" column.
As he lingered around the well-kept bookstall before the train left, he saw a long row of Hodden's new novel, and then his heart gave a jump as he caught sight of two copies of his own work in the row labelled "New Books." He wanted to ask the clerk whether any of them had been sold yet, but in the first place he lacked the courage, and in the second place the clerk was very busy. As he stood there, a comely young woman, equipped for traveling, approached the stall, and ran her eye hurriedly up and down the tempting array of literature. She bought several of the illustrated papers, and then scanned the new books. The clerk, following her eye, picked out Buel's book.
"Just out, miss. Three and sixpence."
"Who is the author?" asked the girl.
"Kenan Buel, a new man," answered the clerk, without a moment's hesitation, and without looking at the title-page. "Very clever work."
Buel was astonished at the knowledge shown by the clerk. He knew that W.H. Smith & Son never had a book of his before, and he wondered how the clerk apparently knew so much of the volume and its author, forgetting that it was the clerk's business. The girl listlessly ran the leaves of the book past the edge of her thumb. It seemed to Buel that the fate of the whole edition was in her hands, and he watched her breathlessly, even forgetting how charming she looked. There stood the merchant eager to sell, and there, in the form of a young woman, was the great public. If she did not buy, why should any one else; and if nobody bought, what chance had an unknown author?
She put the book down, and looked up as she heard some one sigh deeply near her.
"Have you Hodden's new book?" she asked.
"Yes, miss. Six shillings."
The clerk quickly put Buel's book beside its lone companion, and took down Hodden's.
"Thank you," said the girl, giving him a half sovereign; and, taking the change, she departed with her bundle of literature to the train.
Buel said afterwards that what hurt him most in this painful incident was the fact that if it were repeated often the bookstall clerk would lose faith in the book. He had done so well for a man who could not possibly have read a word of the volume, that Buel felt sorry on the clerk's account rather than his own that the copy had not been sold. He walked to the end of the platform, and then back to the bookstall.
"Has that new book of Buel's come out yet?" he asked the clerk in an unconcerned tone.
"Yes, sir. Here it is; three and sixpence, sir."
"Thank you," said Buel, putting his hand in his pocket for the money. "How is it selling?"
"Well, sir, there won't be much call for it, not likely, till the reviews begin to come out."
There, Mr. Buel, you had a lesson, if you had only taken it to heart, or pondered on its meaning. Since then you have often been very scornful of newspaper reviews, yet you saw yourself how the great public treats a man who is not even abused. How were you to know that the column of grossly unfair rancour which The Daily Argus poured out on your book two days later, when you were sailing serenely over the Atlantic, would make that same clerk send in four separate orders to the "House" during the week? Medicine may have a bad taste, and yet have beneficial results. So Mr. Kenan Buel, after buying a book of which he had six copies in his portmanteau, with no one to give them to, took his place in the train, and in due time found himself at Liverpool and on board the Geranium.
The stewards being busy, Buel placed his portmanteau on the deck, and, with his newly bought volume in his hand, the string and brown paper still around it, he walked up and down on the empty side of the deck, noticing how scrupulously clean the ship was. It was the first time he had ever been on board a steamship, and he could not trust himself unguided to explore the depths below, and see what kind of a state-room and what sort of a companion chance had allotted to him. They had told him when he bought his ticket that the steamer would be very crowded that trip, so many Americans were returning; but his state-room had berths for only two, and he had a faint hope the other fellow would not turn up. As he paced the deck his thoughts wandered to the pretty girl who did not buy his book. He had seen her again on the tender in company with a serene and placid older woman, who sat unconcernedly, surrounded by bundles, shawls, straps, valises, and hand-bags, which the girl nervously counted every now and then, fruitlessly trying to convince the elderly lady that something must have been left behind in the train, or lost in transit from the station to the steamer. The worry of travel, which the elderly woman absolutely refused to share, seemed to rest with double weight on the shoulders of the girl.
As Buel thought of all this, he saw the girl approach him along the deck with a smile of apparent recognition on her face. "She evidently mistakes me for some one else," he said to himself. "Oh, thank you," she cried, coming near, and holding out her hand. "I see you have found my book."
He helplessly held out the package to her, which she took.
"Is it yours?" he asked.
"Yes, I recognised it by the string. I bought it at Euston Station. I am forever losing things," she added. "Thank you, ever so much."
Buel laughed to himself as she disappeared. "Fate evidently intends her to read my book," he said to himself. "She will think the clerk has made a mistake. I must get her unbiased opinion of it before the voyage ends."
The voyage at that moment was just beginning, and the thud, thud of the screw brought that fact to his knowledge. He sought a steward, and asked him to carry the portmanteau to berth 159.
"You don't happen to know whether there is any one else in that room or not, do you?" he asked.
"It's likely there is, sir. The ship's very full this voyage."
Buel followed him into the saloon, and along the seemingly interminable passage; then down a narrow side alley, into which a door opened marked 159-160. The steward rapped at the door, and, as there was no response, opened it. All hopes of a room to himself vanished as Buel looked into the small state-room. There was a steamer trunk on the floor, a portmanteau on the seat, while the two bunks were covered with a miscellaneous assortment of hand-bags, shawl-strap bundles, and packages.
The steward smiled. "I think he wants a room to himself," he said.
On the trunk Buel noticed the name in white letters "Hodden," and instantly there arose within him a hope that his companion was to be the celebrated novelist. This hope was strengthened when he saw on the portmanteau the letters "J.L.H.," which were the novelist's initials. He pictured to himself interesting conversations on the way over, and hoped he would receive some particulars from the novelist's own lips of his early struggles for fame. Still, he did not allow himself to build too much on his supposition, for there are a great many people in this world, and the chances were that the traveller would be some commonplace individual of the same name.
The steward placed Buel's portmanteau beside the other, and backed out of the overflowing cabin. All doubt as to the identity of the other occupant was put at rest by the appearance down the passage of a man whom Buel instantly recognised by the portraits he had seen of him in the illustrated papers. He was older than the pictures made him appear, and there was a certain querulous expression on his face which was also absent in the portraits. He glanced into the state-room, looked for a moment through Buel, and then turned to the steward.
"What do you mean by putting that portmanteau into my room?"
"This gentleman has the upper berth, sir."
"Nonsense. The entire room is mine. Take the portmanteau out."
The steward hesitated, looking from one to the other.
"The ticket is for 159, sir," he said at last.
"Then there is some mistake. The room is mine. Don't have me ask you again to remove the portmanteau."
"Perhaps you would like to see the purser, sir."
"I have nothing to do with the purser. Do as I tell you."
All this time he had utterly ignored Buel, whose colour was rising. The young man said quietly to the steward, "Take out the portmanteau, please."
When it was placed in the passage, Hodden entered the room, shut and bolted the door.
"Will you see the purser, sir?" said the steward in an awed whisper.
"I think so. There is doubtless some mistake, as he says."
The purser was busy allotting seats at the tables, and Buel waited patiently. He had no friends on board, and did not care where he was placed.
When the purser was at liberty, the steward explained to him the difficulty which had arisen. The official looked at his list.
"159--Buel. Is that your name, sir? Very good; 160--Hodden. That is the gentleman now in the room. Well, what is the trouble?"
"Mr. Hodden says, sir, that the room belongs to him."
"Have you seen his ticket?"
"Then bring it to me."
"Mistakes sometimes happen, Mr. Buel," said the purser, when the steward vanished. "But as a general thing I find that people simply claim what they have no right to claim. Often the agents promise that if possible a passenger shall have a room to himself, and when we can do so we let him have it. I try to please everybody; but all the steamers crossing to America are full at this season of the year, and it is not practicable to give every one the whole ship to himself. As the Americans say, some people want the earth for L12 or L15, and we can't always give it to them. Ah, here is the ticket. It is just as I thought. Mr. Hodden is entitled merely to berth 160."
The arrival of the ticket was quickly followed by the advent of Mr. Hodden himself. He still ignored Buel.
"Your people in London," he said to the purser, "guaranteed me a room to myself. Otherwise I would not have come on this line. Now it seems that another person has been put in with me. I must protest against this kind of usage."
"Have you any letter from them guaranteeing the room?" asked the purser blandly.
"No. I supposed until now that their word was sufficient."
"Well, you see, I am helpless in this case. These two tickets are exactly the same with the exception of the numbers. Mr. Buel has just as much right to insist on being alone in the room as far as the tickets go, and I have had no instructions in the matter."
"But it is an outrage that they should promise me one thing in London, and then refuse to perform it, when I am helpless on the ocean."
"If they have done so--"
"If they have done so? Do you doubt my word, sir?"
"Oh, not at all, sir, not at all," answered the purser in his most conciliatory tone. "But in that case your ticket should have been marked 159-160."
"I am not to suffer for their blunders."
"I see by this list that you paid L12 for your ticket. Am I right?"
"That was the amount, I believe. I paid what I was asked to pay."
"Quite so, sir. Well, you see, that is the price of one berth only. Mr. Buel, here, paid the same amount."
"Come to the point. Do I understand you to refuse to remedy the mistake (to put the matter in its mildest form) of your London people?"
"I do not refuse. I would be only too glad to give you the room to yourself, if it were possible. Unfortunately, it is not possible. I assure you there is not an unoccupied state-room on the ship."
"Then I will see the captain. Where shall I find him?"
"Very good, sir. Steward, take Mr. Hodden to the captain's room."
When they were alone again Buel very contritely expressed his sorrow at having been the innocent cause of so much trouble to the purser.
"Bless you, sir, I don't mind it in the least. This is a very simple case. Where both occupants of a room claim it all to themselves, and where both are angry and abuse me at the same time, then it gets a bit lively. I don't envy him his talk with the captain. If the old man happens to be feeling a little grumpy today, and he most generally does at the beginning of the voyage, Mr. Hodden will have a bad ten minutes. Don't you bother a bit about it, sir, but go down to your room and make yourself at home. It will be all right."
Mr. Hodden quickly found that the appeal to Caesar was not well timed. The captain had not the suave politeness of the purser. There may be greater and more powerful men on earth than the captain of an ocean liner, but you can't get any seafaring man to believe it, and the captains themselves are rarely without a due sense of their own dignity. The man who tries to bluff the captain of a steamship like the Geranium has a hard row to hoe. Mr. Hodden descended to his state-room in a more subdued frame of mind than when he went on the upper deck. However, he still felt able to crush his unfortunate room-mate.
"You insist, then," he said, speaking to Buel for the first time, "on occupying this room?"
"I have no choice in the matter."
"I thought perhaps you might feel some hesitation in forcing yourself in where you were so evidently not wanted?"
The hero-worshipper in Buel withered, and the natural Englishman asserted itself.
"I have exactly the same right in this room that you have. I claim no privilege which I have not paid for."
"Do you wish to suggest that I have made such a claim?"
"I suggest nothing; I state it. You have made such a claim, and in a most offensive manner."
"Do you understand the meaning of the language you are using, sir? You are calling me a liar."
"You put it very tersely, Mr. Hodden. Thank you. Now, if you venture to address me again during this voyage, I shall be obliged if you keep a civil tongue in your head."
"Good heavens! You talk of civility?" cried the astonished man, aghast.
His room-mate went to the upper deck. In the next state-room pretty Miss Carrie Jessop clapped her small hands silently together. The construction of staterooms is such that every word uttered in one above the breath is audible in the next room; Miss Jessop could not help hearing the whole controversy, from the time the steward was ordered so curtly to remove the portmanteau, until the culmination of the discussion and the evident defeat of Mr. Hodden. Her sympathy was all with the other fellow, at that moment unknown, but a sly peep past the edge of the scarcely opened door told her that the unnamed party in the quarrel was the awkward young man who had found her book. She wondered if the Hodden mentioned could possibly be the author, and, with a woman's inconsistency, felt sure that she would detest the story, as if the personality of the writer had anything whatever to do with his work. She took down the parcel from the shelf and undid the string. Her eyes opened wide as she looked at the title.
"Well I never!" she gasped. "If I haven't robbed that poor, innocent young man of a book he bought for himself! Attempted eviction by his room-mate, and bold highway robbery by an unknown woman! No, it's worse than that; it's piracy, for it happened on the high seas." And the girl laughed softly to herself.
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