When Professor Linyard came back from his holiday in the Maine woods
the air of rejuvenation he brought with him was due less to the
influences of the climate than to the companionship he had enjoyed
on his travels. To Mrs. Linyard's observant eye he had appeared to
set out alone; but an invisible traveller had in fact accompanied
him, and if his heart beat high it was simply at the pitch of his
adventure: for the Professor had eloped with an idea.
No one who has not tried the experiment can divine its exhilaration.
Professor Linyard would not have changed places with any hero of
romance pledged to a flesh-and-blood abduction. The most fascinating
female is apt to be encumbered with luggage and scruples: to take up
a good deal of room in the present and overlap inconveniently into
the future; whereas an idea can accommodate itself to a single
molecule of the brain or expand to the circumference of the horizon.
The Professor's companion had to the utmost this quality of
adaptability. As the express train whirled him away from the
somewhat inelastic circle of Mrs. Linyard's affections, his idea
seemed to be sitting opposite him, and their eyes met every moment
or two in a glance of joyous complicity; yet when a friend of the
family presently joined him and began to talk about college matters,
the idea slipped out of sight in a flash, and the Professor would
have had no difficulty in proving that he was alone.
But if, from the outset, he found his idea the most agreeable of
fellow-travellers, it was only in the aromatic solitude of the woods
that he tasted the full savour of his adventure. There, during the
long cool August days, lying full length on the pine-needles and
gazing up into the sky, he would meet the eyes of his companion
bending over him like a nearer heaven. And what eyes they
were!--clear yet unfathomable, bubbling with inexhaustible laughter,
yet drawing their freshness and sparkle from the central depths of
thought! To a man who for twenty years had faced an eye reflecting
the obvious with perfect accuracy, these escapes into the
inscrutable had always been peculiarly inviting; but hitherto the
Professor's mental infidelities had been restricted by an unbroken
and relentless domesticity. Now, for the first time since his
marriage, chance had given him six weeks to himself, and he was
coming home with his lungs full of liberty.
It must not be inferred that the Professor's domestic relations were
defective: they were in fact so complete that it was almost
impossible to get away from them. It is the happy husbands who are
really in bondage; the little rift within the lute is often a
passage to freedom. Marriage had given the Professor exactly what he
had sought in it; a comfortable lining to life. The impossibility of
rising to sentimental crises had made him scrupulously careful not
to shirk the practical obligations of the bond. He took as it were a
sociological view of his case, and modestly regarded himself as a
brick in that foundation on which the state is supposed to rest.
Perhaps if Mrs. Linyard had cared about entomology, or had taken
sides in the war over the transmission of acquired characteristics,
he might have had a less impersonal notion of marriage; but he was
unconscious of any deficiency in their relation, and if consulted
would probably have declared that he didn't want any woman bothering
with his beetles. His real life had always lain in the universe of
thought, in that enchanted region which, to those who have lingered
there, comes to have so much more colour and substance than the
painted curtain hanging before it. The Professor's particular veil
of Maia was a narrow strip of homespun woven in a monotonous
pattern; but he had only to lift it to step into an empire.
This unseen universe was thronged with the most seductive shapes:
the Professor moved Sultan-like through a seraglio of ideas. But of
all the lovely apparitions that wove their spells about him, none
had ever worn quite so persuasive an aspect as this latest
favourite. For the others were mostly rather grave companions,
serious-minded and elevating enough to have passed muster in a
Ladies' Debating Club; but this new fancy of the Professor's was
simply one embodied laugh. It was, in other words, the smile of
relaxation at the end of a long day's toil: the flash of irony that
the laborious mind projects, irresistibly, over labour
conscientiously performed. The Professor had always been a hard
worker. If he was an indulgent friend to his ideas, he was also a
stern task-master to them. For, in addition to their other duties,
they had to support his family: to pay the butcher and baker, and
provide for Jack's schooling and Millicent's dresses. The
Professor's household was a modest one, yet it tasked his ideas to
keep it up to his wife's standard. Mrs. Linyard was not an exacting
wife, and she took enough pride in her husband's attainments to pay
for her honours by turning Millicent's dresses and darning Jack's
socks, and going to the College receptions year after year in the
same black silk with shiny seams. It consoled her to see an
occasional mention of Professor Linyard's remarkable monograph on
the Ethical Reactions of the Infusoria, or an allusion to his
investigations into the Unconscious Cerebration of the Amoeba.
Still there were moments when the healthy indifference of Jack and
Millicent reacted on the maternal sympathies; when Mrs. Linyard
would have made her husband a railway-director, if by this
transformation she might have increased her boy's allowance and
given her daughter a new hat, or a set of furs such as the other
girls were wearing. Of such moments of rebellion the Professor
himself was not wholly unconscious. He could not indeed understand
why any one should want a new hat; and as to an allowance, he had
had much less money at college than Jack, and had yet managed to buy
a microscope and collect a few "specimens"; while Jack was free from
such expensive tastes! But the Professor did not let his want of
sympathy interfere with the discharge of his paternal obligations.
He worked hard to keep the wants of his family gratified, and it was
precisely in the endeavor to attain this end that he at length broke
down and had to cease from work altogether.
To cease from work was not to cease from thought of it; and in the
unwonted pause from effort the Professor found himself taking a
general survey of the field he had travelled. At last it was
possible to lift his nose from the loom, to step a moment in front
of the tapestry he had been weaving. From this first inspection of
the pattern so long wrought over from behind, it was natural to
glance a little farther and seek its reflection in the public eye.
It was not indeed of his special task that he thought in this
connection. He was but one of the great army of weavers at work
among the threads of that cosmic woof; and what he sought was the
general impression their labour had produced.
When Professor Linyard first plied his microscope, the audience of
the man of science had been composed of a few fellow-students,
sympathetic or hostile as their habits of mind predetermined, but
versed in the jargon of the profession and familiar with the point
of departure. In the intervening quarter of a century, however, this
little group had been swallowed up in a larger public. Every one now
read scientific books and expressed an opinion on them. The ladies
and the clergy had taken them up first; now they had passed to the
school-room and the kindergarten. Daily life was regulated on
scientific principles; the daily papers had their "Scientific
Jottings"; nurses passed examinations in hygienic science, and
babies were fed and dandled according to the new psychology.
The very fact that scientific investigation still had, to some
minds, a flavour of heterodoxy, gave it a perennial interest. The
mob had broken down the walls of tradition to batten in the orchard
of forbidden knowledge. The inaccessible goddess whom the Professor
had served in his youth now offered her charms in the market-place.
And yet it was not the same goddess after all, but a pseudo-science
masquerading in the garb of the real divinity. This false goddess
had her ritual and her literature. She had her sacred books, written
by false priests and sold by millions to the faithful. In the most
successful of these works, ancient dogma and modern discovery were
depicted in a close embrace under the lime-lights of a hazy
transcendentalism; and the tableau never failed of its effect. Some
of the books designed on this popular model had lately fallen into
the Professor's hands, and they filled him with mingled rage and
hilarity. The rage soon died: he came to regard this mass of
pseudo-literature as protecting the truth from desecration. But the
hilarity remained, and flowed into the form of his idea. And the
idea--the divine, incomparable idea--was simply that he should
avenge his goddess by satirizing her false interpreters. He would
write a skit on the "popular" scientific book; he would so heap
platitude on platitude, fallacy on fallacy, false analogy on false
analogy, so use his superior knowledge to abound in the sense of the
ignorant, that even the gross crowd would join in the laugh against
its augurs. And the laugh should be something more than the
distension of mental muscles; it should be the trumpet-blast
bringing down the walls of ignorance, or at least the little stone
striking the giant between the eyes.
The Professor, on presenting his card, had imagined that it would
command prompt access to the publisher's sanctuary; but the young
man who read his name was not moved to immediate action. It was
clear that Professor Linyard of Hillbridge University was not a
specific figure to the purveyors of popular literature. But the
publisher was an old friend; and when the card had finally drifted
to his office on the languid tide of routine he came forth at once
to greet his visitor.
The warmth of his welcome convinced the Professor that he had been
right in bringing his manuscript to Ned Harviss. He and Harviss had
been at Hillbridge together, and the future publisher had been one
of the wildest spirits in that band of college outlaws which yearly
turns out so many inoffensive citizens and kind husbands and
fathers. The Professor knew the taming qualities of life. He was
aware that many of his most reckless comrades had been transformed
into prudent capitalists or cowed wage-earners; but he was almost
sure that he could count on Harviss. So rare a sense of irony, so
keen a perception of relative values, could hardly have been blunted
even by twenty years' intercourse with the obvious.
The publisher's appearance was a little disconcerting. He looked as
if he had been fattened on popular fiction; and his fat was full of
optimistic creases. The Professor seemed to see him bowing into his
office a long train of spotless heroines laden with the maiden
tribute of the hundredth thousand volume.
Nevertheless, his welcome was reassuring. He did not disown his
early enormities, and capped his visitor's tentative allusions by
such flagrant references to the past that the Professor produced his
manuscript without a scruple.
"What--you don't mean to say you've been doing something in our
The Professor smiled. "You publish scientific books sometimes, don't
The publisher's optimistic creases relaxed a little. "H'm--it all
depends--I'm afraid you're a little _too_ scientific for us. We have
a big sale for scientific breakfast foods, but not for the
concentrated essences. In your case, of course, I should be
delighted to stretch a point; but in your own interest I ought to
tell you that perhaps one of the educational houses would do you
The Professor leaned back, still smiling luxuriously.
"Well, look it over--I rather think you'll take it."
"Oh, we'll _take_ it, as I say; but the terms might not--"
"No matter about the terms--"
The publisher threw his head back with a laugh. "I had no idea that
science was so profitable; we find our popular novelists are the
hardest hands at a bargain."
"Science is disinterested," the Professor corrected him. "And I have
a fancy to have you publish this thing."
"That's immensely good of you, my dear fellow. Of course your name
goes with a certain public--and I rather like the originality of our
bringing out a work so out of our line. I daresay it may boom us
both." His creases deepened at the thought, and he shone
encouragingly on the Professor's leave-taking.
Within a fortnight, a line from Harviss recalled the Professor to
town. He had been looking forward with immense zest to this second
meeting; Harviss's college roar was in his tympanum, and he pictured
himself following up the protracted chuckle which would follow his
friend's progress through the manuscript. He was proud of the
adroitness with which he had kept his secret from Harviss, had
maintained to the last the pretense of a serious work, in order to
give the keener edge to his reader's enjoyment. Not since
under-graduate days had the Professor tasted such a draught of pure
fun as his anticipations now poured for him.
This time his card brought instant admission. He was bowed into the
office like a successful novelist, and Harviss grasped him with both
"Well--do you mean to take it?" he asked, with a lingering coquetry.
"Take it? Take it, my dear fellow? It's in press already--you'll
excuse my not waiting to consult you? There will be no difficulty
about terms, I assure you, and we had barely time to catch the
autumn market. My dear Linyard, why didn't you _tell_ me?" His voice
sank to a reproachful solemnity, and he pushed forward his own
The Professor dropped into it with a chuckle. "And miss the joy of
letting you find out?"
"Well--it _was_ a joy." Harviss held out a box of his best cigars.
"I don't know when I've had a bigger sensation. It was so deucedly
unexpected--and, my dear fellow, you've brought it so exactly to the
"I'm glad to hear you say so," said the Professor modestly.
Harviss laughed in rich appreciation. "I don't suppose you had a
doubt of it; but of course I was quite unprepared. And it's so
extraordinarily out of your line--"
The Professor took off his glasses and rubbed them with a slow
"Would you have thought it so--at college?"
Harviss stared. "At college?--Why, you were the most iconoclastic
There was a perceptible pause. The Professor restored his glasses
and looked at his friend. "Well--?" he said simply.
"Well--?" echoed the other, still staring. "Ah--I see; you mean that
that's what explains it. The swing of the pendulum, and so forth.
Well, I admit it's not an uncommon phenomenon. I've conformed
myself, for example; most of our crowd have, I believe; but somehow
I hadn't expected it of you."
The close observer might have detected a faint sadness under the
official congratulation of his tone; but the Professor was too
amazed to have an ear for such fine shades.
"Expected it of me? Expected what of me?" he gasped. "What in heaven
do you think this thing is?" And he struck his fist on the
manuscript which lay between them.
Harviss had recovered his optimistic creases. He rested a benevolent
eye on the document.
"Why, your apologia--your confession of faith, I should call it. You
surely must have seen which way you were going? You can't have
written it in your sleep?"
"Oh, no, I was wide awake enough," said the Professor faintly.
"Well, then, why are you staring at me as if I were _not?"_ Harviss
leaned forward to lay a reassuring hand on his visitor's worn
coat-sleeve. "Don't mistake me, my dear Linyard. Don't fancy there
was the least unkindness in my allusion to your change of front.
What is growth but the shifting of the stand-point? Why should a man
be expected to look at life with the same eyes at twenty and at--our
age? It never occurred to me that you could feel the least delicacy
in admitting that you have come round a little--have fallen into
line, so to speak."
But the Professor had sprung up as if to give his lungs more room to
expand; and from them there issued a laugh which shook the editorial
"Oh, Lord, oh Lord--is it really as good as that?" he gasped.
Harviss had glanced instinctively toward the electric bell on his
desk; it was evident that he was prepared for an emergency.
"My dear fellow--" he began in a soothing tone.
"Oh, let me have my laugh out, do," implored the Professor.
"I'll--I'll quiet down in a minute; you needn't ring for the young
man." He dropped into his chair again, and grasped its arms to
steady his shaking. "This is the best laugh I've had since college,"
he brought out between his paroxysms. And then, suddenly, he sat up
with a groan. "But if it's as good as that it's a failure!" he
Harviss, stiffening a little, examined the tip of his cigar. "My
dear Linyard," he said at length, "I don't understand a word you're
The Professor succumbed to a fresh access, from the vortex of which
he managed to fling out--"But that's the very core of the joke!"
Harviss looked at him resignedly. "What is?"
"Why, your not seeing--your not understanding--"
"Not understanding _what?"_
"Why, what the book is meant to be." His laughter subsided again and
he sat gazing thoughtfully at the publisher. "Unless it means," he
wound up, "that I've over-shot the mark."
"If I am the mark, you certainly have," said Harviss, with a glance
at the clock.
The Professor caught the glance and interpreted it. "The book is a
skit," he said, rising.
The other stared. "A skit? It's not serious, you mean?"
"Not to me--but it seems you've taken it so."
"You never told me--" began the publisher in a ruffled tone.
"No, I never told you," said the Professor.
Harviss sat staring at the manuscript between them. "I don't pretend
to be up in such recondite forms of humour," he said, still stiffly.
"Of course you address yourself to a very small class of readers."
"Oh, infinitely small," admitted the Professor, extending his hand
toward the manuscript.
Harviss appeared to be pursuing his own train of thought. "That is,"
he continued, "if you insist on an ironical interpretation."
"If I insist on it--what do you mean?"
The publisher smiled faintly. "Well--isn't the book susceptible of
another? If _I_ read it without seeing--"
"Well?" murmured the other, fascinated.--"why shouldn't the rest
of the world?" declared Harviss boldly. "I represent the Average
Reader--that's my business, that's what I've been training myself to
do for the last twenty years. It's a mission like another--the thing
is to do it thoroughly; not to cheat and compromise. I know fellows
who are publishers in business hours and dilettantes the rest of the
time. Well, they never succeed: convictions are just as necessary in
business as in religion. But that's not the point--I was going to
say that if you'll let me handle this book as a genuine thing I'll
guarantee to make it go."
The Professor stood motionless, his hand still on the manuscript.
"A genuine thing?" he echoed.
"A serious piece of work--the expression of your convictions. I tell
you there's nothing the public likes as much as convictions--they'll
always follow a man who believes in his own ideas. And this book is
just on the line of popular interest. You've got hold of a big
thing. It's full of hope and enthusiasm: it's written in the
religious key. There are passages in it that would do splendidly in
a Birthday Book--things that popular preachers would quote in their
sermons. If you'd wanted to catch a big public you couldn't have
gone about it in a better way. The thing's perfect for my purpose--I
wouldn't let you alter a word of it. It'll sell like a popular novel
if you'll let me handle it in the right way."
When the Professor left Harviss's office, the manuscript remained
behind. He thought he had been taken by the huge irony of the
situation--by the enlarged circumference of the joke. In its
original form, as Harviss had said, the book would have addressed
itself to a very limited circle: now it would include the world. The
elect would understand; the crowd would not; and his work would thus
serve a double purpose. And, after all, nothing was changed in the
situation; not a word of the book was to be altered. The change was
merely in the publisher's point of view, and in the "tip" he was to
give the reviewers. The Professor had only to hold his tongue and
These arguments found a strong reinforcement in the large premium
which expressed Harviss's sense of his opportunity. As a satire, the
book would have brought its author nothing; in fact, its cost would
have come out of his own pocket, since, as Harviss assured him, no
publisher would have risked taking it. But as a profession of faith,
as the recantation of an eminent biologist, whose leanings had
hitherto been supposed to be toward a cold determinism, it would
bring in a steady income to author and publisher. The offer found
the Professor in a moment of financial perplexity. His illness, his
unwonted holiday, the necessity of postponing a course of well-paid
lectures, had combined to diminish his resources; and when Harviss
offered him an advance of a thousand dollars the esoteric savour of
the joke became irresistible. It was still as a joke that he
persisted in regarding the transaction; and though he had pledged
himself not to betray the real intent of the book, he held _in
petto_ the notion of some day being able to take the public into his
confidence. As for the initiated, they would know at once: and
however long a face he pulled, his colleagues would see the tongue
in his cheek. Meanwhile it fortunately happened that, even if the
book should achieve the kind of triumph prophesied by Harviss, it
would not appreciably injure its author's professional standing.
Professor Linyard was known chiefly as a microscopist. On the
structure and habits of a certain class of coleoptera he was the
most distinguished living authority; but none save his intimate
friends knew what generalizations on the destiny of man he had drawn
from these special studies. He might have published a treatise on
the Filioque without disturbing the confidence of those on whose
approval his reputation rested; and moreover he was sustained by the
thought that one glance at his book would let them into its secret.
In fact, so sure was he of this that he wondered the astute Harviss
had cared to risk such speedy exposure. But Harviss had probably
reflected that even in this reverberating age the opinions of the
laboratory do not easily reach the street; and the Professor, at any
rate, was not bound to offer advice on this point.
The determining cause of his consent was the fact that the book was
already in press. The Professor knew little about the workings of
the press, but the phrase gave him a sense of finality, of having
been caught himself in the toils of that mysterious engine. If he
had had time to think the matter over, his scruples might have
dragged him back; but his conscience was eased by the futility of
Mrs. Linyard did not often read the papers; and there was therefore
a special significance in her approaching her husband one evening
after dinner with a copy of the _New York Investigator_ in her hand.
Her expression lent solemnity to the act: Mrs. Linyard had a limited
but distinctive set of expressions, and she now looked as she did
when the President of the University came to dine.
"You didn't tell me of this, Samuel," she said in a slightly
"Tell you of what?" returned the Professor, reddening to the margin
of his baldness.
"That you had published a book--I might never have heard of it if
Mrs. Pease hadn't brought me the paper."
Her husband rubbed his eye-glasses with a groan. "Oh, you would have
heard of it," he said gloomily.
Mrs. Linyard stared. "Did you wish to keep it from me, Samuel?" And
as he made no answer, she added with irresistible pride: "Perhaps
you don't know what beautiful things have been said about it."
He took the paper with a reluctant hand. "Has Pease been saying
beautiful things about it?"
"The Professor? Mrs. Pease didn't say he had mentioned it."
The author heaved a sigh of relief. His book, as Harviss had
prophesied, had caught the autumn market: had caught and captured
it. The publisher had conducted the campaign like an experienced
strategist. He had completely surrounded the enemy. Every newspaper,
every periodical, held in ambush an advertisement of "The Vital
Thing." Weeks in advance the great commander had begun to form his
lines of attack. Allusions to the remarkable significance of the
coming work had appeared first in the scientific and literary
reviews, spreading thence to the supplements of the daily journals.
Not a moment passed without a quickening touch to the public
consciousness: seventy millions of people were forced to remember at
least once a day that Professor Linyard's book was on the verge of
appearing. Slips emblazoned with the question: _Have you read "The
Vital Thing"?_ fell from the pages of popular novels and whitened
the floors of crowded street-cars. The query, in large lettering,
assaulted the traveller at the railway bookstall, confronted him on
the walls of "elevated" stations, and seemed, in its ascending
scale, about to supplant the interrogations as to soap and
stove-polish which animate our rural scenery.
On the day of publication, the Professor had withdrawn to his
laboratory. The shriek of the advertisements was in his ears, and
his one desire was to avoid all knowledge of the event they
heralded. A reaction of self-consciousness had set in, and if
Harviss's cheque had sufficed to buy up the first edition of "The
Vital Thing" the Professor would gladly have devoted it to that
purpose. But the sense of inevitableness gradually subdued him, and
he received his wife's copy of the _Investigator_ with a kind of
impersonal curiosity. The review was a long one, full of extracts:
he saw, as he glanced over them, how well they would look in a
volume of "Selections." The reviewer began by thanking his author
"for sounding with no uncertain voice that note of ringing optimism,
of faith in man's destiny and the supremacy of good, which has too
long been silenced by the whining chorus of a decadent nihilism....
It is well," the writer continued, "when such reminders come to us
not from the moralist but from the man of science--when from the
desiccating atmosphere of the laboratory there rises this glorious
cry of faith and reconstruction."
The review was minute and exhaustive. Thanks no doubt to Harviss's
diplomacy, it had been given to the _Investigator's_ "best man," and
the Professor was startled by the bold eye with which his
emancipated fallacies confronted him. Under the reviewer's handling
they made up admirably as truths, and their author began to
understand Harviss's regret that they should be used for any less
The _Investigator_, as Harviss phrased it, "set the pace," and the
other journals followed, finding it easier to let their critical
man-of-all-work play a variation on the first reviewer's theme than
to secure an expert to "do" the book afresh. But it was evident that
the Professor had captured his public, for all the resources of the
profession could not, as Harviss gleefully pointed out, have carried
the book so straight to the heart of the nation. There was something
noble in the way in which Harviss belittled his own share in the
achievement, and insisted on the inutility of shoving a book which
had started with such headway on.
"All I ask you is to admit that I saw what would happen," he said
with a touch of professional pride. "I knew you'd struck the right
note--I knew they'd be quoting you from Maine to San Francisco. Good
as fiction? It's better--it'll keep going longer."
"Will it?" said the Professor with a slight shudder. He was resigned
to an ephemeral triumph, but the thought of the book's persistency
"I should say so! Why, you fit in everywhere--science, theology,
natural history--and then the all-for-the-best element which is so
popular just now. Why, you come right in with the How-to-Relax
series, and they sell way up in the millions. And then the book's so
full of tenderness--there are such lovely things in it about flowers
and children. I didn't know an old Dryasdust like you could have
such a lot of sentiment in him. Why, I actually caught myself
snivelling over that passage about the snowdrops piercing the frozen
earth; and my wife was saying the other day that, since she's read
'The Vital Thing,' she begins to think you must write the
'What-Cheer Column,' in the _Inglenook."_ He threw back his head with
a laugh which ended in the inspired cry: "And, by George, sir, when
the thing begins to slow off we'll start somebody writing against
it, and that will run us straight into another hundred thousand."
And as earnest of this belief he drew the Professor a supplementary
Mrs. Linyard's knock cut short the importunities of the lady who had
been trying to persuade the Professor to be taken by flashlight at
his study table for the Christmas number of the _Inglenook_. On this
point the Professor had fancied himself impregnable; but the
unwonted smile with which he welcomed his wife's intrusion showed
that his defences were weakening.
The lady from the _Inglenook_ took the hint with professional
promptness, but said brightly, as she snapped the elastic around her
note-book: "I shan't let you forget me, Professor."
The groan with which he followed her retreat was interrupted by his
wife's question: "Do they pay you for these interviews, Samuel?"
The Professor looked at her with sudden attention. "Not directly,"
he said, wondering at her expression.
She sank down with a sigh. "Indirectly, then?"
"What is the matter, my dear? I gave you Harviss's second cheque the
Her tears arrested him. "Don't be hard on the boy, Samuel! I really
believe your success has turned his head."
"The boy--what boy? My success--? Explain yourself, Susan!"
"It's only that Jack has--has borrowed some money--which he can't
repay. But you mustn't think him altogether to blame, Samuel. Since
the success of your book he has been asked about so much--it's given
the children quite a different position. Millicent says that
wherever they go the first question asked is, 'Are you any relation
of the author of "The Vital Thing"?' Of course we're all very proud
of the book; but it entails obligations which you may not have
thought of in writing it."
The Professor sat gazing at the letters and newspaper clippings on
the study-table which he had just successfully defended from the
camera of the _Inglenook_. He took up an envelope bearing the name
of a popular weekly paper.
"I don't know that the _Inglenook_ would help much," he said, "but I
suppose this might."
Mrs. Linyard's eyes glowed with maternal avidity.
"What is it, Samuel?"
"A series of 'Scientific Sermons' for the Round-the-Gas-Log column
of _The Woman's World_. I believe that journal has a larger
circulation than any other weekly, and they pay in proportion."
He had not even asked the extent of Jack's indebtedness. It had been
so easy to relieve recent domestic difficulties by the timely
production of Harviss's two cheques, that it now seemed natural to
get Mrs. Linyard out of the room by promising further
reinforcements. The Professor had indignantly rejected Harviss's
suggestion that he should follow up his success by a second volume
on the same lines. He had sworn not to lend more than a passive
support to the fraud of "The Vital Thing"; but the temptation to
free himself from Mrs. Linyard prevailed over his last scruples, and
within an hour he was at work on the Scientific Sermons.
The Professor was not an unkind man. He really enjoyed making his
family happy; and it was his own business if his reward for so doing
was that it kept them out of his way. But the success of "The Vital
Thing" gave him more than this negative satisfaction. It enlarged
his own existence and opened new doors into other lives. The
Professor, during fifty virtuous years, had been cognizant of only
two types of women: the fond and foolish, whom one married, and the
earnest and intellectual, whom one did not. Of the two, he
infinitely preferred the former, even for conversational purposes.
But as a social instrument woman was unknown to him; and it was not
till he was drawn into the world on the tide of his literary success
that he discovered the deficiencies in his classification of the
sex. Then he learned with astonishment of the existence of a third
type: the woman who is fond without foolishness and intellectual
without earnestness. Not that the Professor inspired, or sought to
inspire, sentimental emotions; but he expanded in the warm
atmosphere of personal interest which some of his new acquaintances
contrived to create about him. It was delightful to talk of serious
things in a setting of frivolity, and to be personal without being
Even in this new world, where all subjects were touched on lightly,
and emphasis was the only indelicacy, the Professor found himself
constrained to endure an occasional reference to his book. It was
unpleasant at first; but gradually he slipped into the habit of
hearing it talked of, and grew accustomed to telling pretty women
just how "it had first come to him."
Meanwhile the success of the Scientific Sermons was facilitating his
family relations. His photograph in the _Inglenook_, to which the
lady of the note-book had succeeded in appending a vivid interview,
carried his fame to circles inaccessible even to "The Vital Thing";
and the Professor found himself the man of the hour. He soon grew
used to the functions of the office, and gave out hundred-dollar
interviews on every subject, from labour-strikes to Babism, with a
frequency which reacted agreeably on the domestic exchequer.
Presently his head began to figure in the advertising pages of the
magazines. Admiring readers learned the name of the only
breakfast-food in use at his table, of the ink with which "The Vital
Thing" had been written, the soap with which the author's hands were
washed, and the tissue-builder which fortified him for further
effort. These confidences endeared the Professor to millions of
readers, and his head passed in due course from the magazine and the
newspaper to the biscuit-tin and the chocolate-box.
The Professor, all the while, was leading a double life. While the
author of "The Vital Thing" reaped the fruits of popular approval,
the distinguished microscopist continued his laboratory work
unheeded save by the few who were engaged in the same line of
investigations. His divided allegiance had not hitherto affected the
quality of his work: it seemed to him that he returned to the
laboratory with greater zest after an afternoon in a drawing-room
where readings from "The Vital Thing" had alternated with plantation
melodies and tea. He had long ceased to concern himself with what
his colleagues thought of his literary career. Of the few whom he
frequented, none had referred to "The Vital Thing"; and he knew
enough of their lives to guess that their silence might as fairly be
attributed to indifference as to disapproval. They were intensely
interested in the Professor's views on beetles, but they really
cared very little what he thought of the Almighty.
The Professor entirely shared their feelings, and one of his chief
reasons for cultivating the success which accident had bestowed on
him, was that it enabled him to command a greater range of
appliances for his real work. He had known what it was to lack books
and instruments; and "The Vital Thing" was the magic wand which
summoned them to his aid. For some time he had been feeling his way
along the edge of a discovery: balancing himself with professional
skill on a plank of hypothesis flung across an abyss of uncertainty.
The conjecture was the result of years of patient gathering of
facts: its corroboration would take months more of comparison and
classification. But at the end of the vista victory loomed. The
Professor felt within himself that assurance of ultimate
justification which, to the man of science, makes a life-time seem
the mere comma between premiss and deduction. But he had reached the
point where his conjectures required formulation. It was only by
giving them expression, by exposing them to the comment and
criticism of his associates, that he could test their final value;
and this inner assurance was confirmed by the only friend whose
confidence he invited.
Professor Pease, the husband of the lady who had opened Mrs.
Linyard's eyes to the triumph of "The Vital Thing," was the
repository of her husband's scientific experiences. What he thought
of "The Vital Thing" had never been divulged; and he was capable of
such vast exclusions that it was quite possible that pervasive work
had not yet reached him. In any case, it was not likely to affect
his judgment of the author's professional capacity.
"You want to put that all in a book, Linyard," was Professor Pease's
summing-up. "I'm sure you've got hold of something big; but to see
it clearly yourself you ought to outline it for others. Take my
advice--chuck everything else and get to work tomorrow. It's time
you wrote a book, anyhow."
_ It's time you wrote a book, anyhow!_ The words smote the Professor
with mingled pain and ecstasy: he could have wept over their
significance. But his friend's other phrase reminded him with a
start of Harviss. "You have got hold of a big thing--" it had been
the publisher's first comment on "The Vital Thing." But what a world
of meaning lay between the two phrases! It was the world in which
the powers who fought for the Professor were destined to wage their
final battle; and for the moment he had no doubt of the outcome. The
next day he went to town to see Harviss. He wanted to ask for an
advance on the new popular edition of "The Vital Thing." He had
determined to drop a course of supplementary lectures at the
University, and to give himself up for a year to his book. To do
this, additional funds were necessary; but thanks to "The Vital
Thing" they would be forthcoming.
The publisher received him as cordially as usual; but the response
to his demand was not as prompt as his previous experience had
entitled him to expect.
"Of course we'll be glad to do what we can for you, Linyard; but the
fact is, we've decided to give up the idea of the new edition for
"You've given up the new edition?"
"Why, yes--we've done pretty well by 'The Vital Thing,' and we're
inclined to think it's _your_ turn to do something for it now."
The Professor looked at him blankly. "What can I do for it?" he
asked--"what _more_" his accent added.
"Why, put a little new life in it by writing something else. The
secret of perpetual motion hasn't yet been discovered, you know, and
it's one of the laws of literature that books which start with a
rush are apt to slow down sooner than the crawlers. We've kept 'The
Vital Thing' going for eighteen months--but, hang it, it ain't so
vital any more. We simply couldn't see our way to a new edition. Oh,
I don't say it's dead yet--but it's moribund, and you're the only
man who can resuscitate it."
The Professor continued to stare. "I--what can I do about it?" he
"Do? Why write another like it--go it one better: you know the
trick. The public isn't tired of you by any means; but you want to
make yourself heard again before anybody else cuts in. Write another
book--write two, and we'll sell them in sets in a box: The Vital
Thing Series. That will take tremendously in the holidays. Try and
let us have a new volume by October--I'll be glad to give you a big
advance if you'll sign a contract on that."
The Professor sat silent: there was too cruel an irony in the
Harviss looked up at him in surprise.
"Well, what's the matter with taking my advice--you're not going out
of literature, are you?"
The Professor rose from his chair. "No--I'm going into it," he said
"Going into it?"
"I'm going to write a real book--a serious one."
"Good Lord! Most people think 'The Vital Thing' 's serious."
"Yes--but I mean something different."
"In your old line--beetles and so forth?"
"Yes," said the Professor solemnly.
Harviss looked at him with equal gravity. "Well, I'm sorry for
that," he said, "because it takes you out of our bailiwick. But I
suppose you've made enough money out of 'The Vital Thing' to permit
yourself a little harmless amusement. When you want more cash come
back to us--only don't put it off too long, or some other fellow
will have stepped into your shoes. Popularity don't keep, you know;
and the hotter the success the quicker the commodity perishes."
He leaned back, cheerful and sententious, delivering his axioms with
The Professor, who had risen and moved to the door, turned back with
a wavering step.
"When did you say another volume would have to be ready?" he
"I said October--but call it a month later. You don't need any
"And--you'd have no objection to letting me have a little advance
now? I need some new instruments for my real work."
Harviss extended a cordial hand. "My dear fellow, that's
talking--I'll write the cheque while you wait; and I daresay we can
start up the cheap edition of 'The Vital Thing' at the same time, if
you'll pledge yourself to give us the book by November.--How much?"
he asked, poised above his cheque-book.
In the street, the Professor stood staring about him, uncertain and
a little dazed.
"After all, it's only putting it off for six months," he said to
himself; "and I can do better work when I get my new instruments."
He smiled and raised his hat to the passing victoria of a lady in
whose copy of "The Vital Thing" he had recently written:
Labor est etiam ipsa voluptas.