Boston Daily Globe, January 1906
The Copy Hunter
by Rafael Sabatini
Martin Vossicker beheld a slender, girlish figure and a gentle, tender, girlish face with fair hair and the softest eyes conceivable. A pathetic air of helplessness seemed to envelop her, and this was the magnet that first attracted Martin, being himself an athletic animal of something over 6 feet and as little like the popular notion of the popular novelist as possible.
She was idling away a summer morning with her aunt, Mrs. Randall, at the Manor, where Martin, who lived in an ivy-clad cottage at Saxton, was a frequent and ever-welcome visitor.
When he came to talk to her he found her less helpless than at first she had the conveyed the impression of being which is often the way with women. Nor were her eyes always as soft and gentle as the first glance from them had seemed to himwhich, again, is often the way with women.
Charmed at first Martin was dazzled presently. He found her bright and witty, with a subtle, scholarly wit which would have pleasantly surprised him in a man, but which he found inexplicable in a woman, for he was one of those whofrequently to their undoinghave a rather low estimate of the intellectuality of the so-called weaker sex.
Of what they talked as they sat under the beeches that summer afternoon, with Mrs. Randall purring in her wicker chair beside them, Martin would have found it difficult to say; for it was all so provokingly intangible.
But he went home inspired by a profound admiration for Rose Gerard and promising himself that, so long as she remained at the Manor he would find his way there even more often than usual.
He kept that promise so well that from a frequent he became a daily visitor. He was busy at the time upon one of those anaemic novels which had brought him a fair measure of fame with a decadent public, and each afternoon, when his four hours' workMartin only worked four hours a daywas done, he would stroll over to the Manor for tea.
Saxton began to talk, for in Saxton there was a good deal of human natureparticularly of that brand which is patronized by elderly ladies and by ladies on the border-line between girlhood and old maidenhood.
Saxton waited on tiptoe for the announcement of the engagement of its popular novelist to Mr. Randall's charming niece. But Saxton was disappointed. Martin Vossicker was certainly making love to Rose, but the love was purely artisticwithout yet being of that art which conceals art.
For the first time in his career he had come upon an opportunity of making copy out of a real, live person. He set himself to make it and she appeared to be assisting him with a degree of sympathy and understanding which, while it amazed him considerably, pleased him still more. He would drop into a chair beside her, tea cup in hand, and what time he handed her muffins and crumpets he would behave and talk like an ordinary human being of average self-respect.
But when they strolled away by themselves, as had presently become their custom, Martin would drop into strange mental attitudes.
His favorite pose was that of a victim of unrequited love. This the exigencies of his case demanded, for such were the circumstances under which the hero of his anaemic novel was laboring.
Never for a moment had he permitted himself a hopeful tone. From the outset his attitude had been pathetically despondent; it insinuated that he loved her hopelessly, and that, while he was consumed by his passion, he was persuadedand wished to continue sothat she was unmoved by it.
Rose had fallen a victim to his mental suggestion, and she accepted the situation with characteristicif hardly femininereadiness. She seemed to play the part he had assigned to her just as hehalf-consciously onlywas playing the part he had assigned to himself.
Martin, outwardly gloomy and saturnine, made phrases and talked in epigrams and inverted proverbs. She, taking her cue from him, replied in kind, with a wit and brilliancy that delighted his artistic sense while heightening the artistic gloom upon his countenance.
In short, these two young people behaved and talked as young people behave and talk in books or upon the stage, and, while each appeared to be fully conscious of the pose, each seemed content that it should be so.
But it was affording Martin something more than amusement, as I have hinted. It was equipping him with much rich material. The mental-notes he made whilst in her company he transferred to paper each evening, to be anon molded into his novel.
And so his book grew apace, and the frothy brilliancy which his readers had come to look for in his work was reaching in "The Futile Quest," a height to which it had never soared before.
At last, as the end of July approached, the time drew near for Rose's departure from Saxton. The hero of "The Futile Quest" had come to the stage of proposing to the heroine, and for two or three days Martin had been unable to decide whether to rely purely upon his imagination for that which should be the culminating scene of his book, or whether to avail himself once more of Rose Gerard and to first live through the scene.
He feared this might be driving his copy-hunting a little too far; but, on the other hand, the benefits his work might derive from it wereto judge by the pastlikely to be considerable. He was tempted very sorely.
At last he took his resolve. He would propose to her. He was assured that she was no more in love with him than he was wiith her. She would be amused by this consummation of all the poses they had hitherto assumed, and he never doubted but that she would rise to the occasion and supply him with the coloring he sought.
Opportunity came to him after tea. Of the few visitors that had dropped in; some had departed, others had gone indoors, whilst the remainder had strolled to the croquet lawn, leaving Rose and Martin alone togethera circumstance to which they were by now thoroughly inured.
Yet today a certain embarrassment seemed to hang over them. Martin realized it and appreciated it. He felt sure that this was the proper atmosphere, and he closely analyzed his feelings, that he might later on describe them.
"Rose," he said presently they had come to call each other by Christian names a week ago"do you know that I am glad you are going?"
"There are certain joys which it is more polite to dissemble than to express," said she, sententiously.
"It is not a question of politeness," he answered lugubriously. "What, after all, is politeness?"
"A lost art?" she suggested.
"It is the veneer with which modern civilization compels us to cover the true inwardness of our natures. In great moments it drops from us like a garment, and we standah" (He was about to say "naked," but it occurred to him that the metaphor might be a shade indelicate). "We stand revealed as we really are."
"If you cannot reveal yourself more graciously, I would rather that you left yourself unrevealed. Why are you glad that I am going? For my own part, I am sorry."
His hand fastened instantly upon her arm.
"Do you really mean it?" he asked, with sudden fervency.
"Why, of course," she laughed. "I am very sorry to leave auntie; she has been so very kind."
He removed his hand from her arm.
"O! Mrs. Randall!" he complained. "You can think of everybody but me."
"Why should I think of you, since you confess yourself glad that I am going? Why are you glad?"
He hesitated. Then, looking up and encountering the steady gaze of her brown eyes
"I am glad because"his voice trembled"because it is better so: better that I should see no more of you." He dropped his glance.
"My lot does not lie in the smooth places of the world." he continued, tragically. "It is not such an existence as I could ask any woman to share. That is why I rejoice that, in a couple of days, we shall have passed out of each other's way of life."
He paused. Somehow, he was not doing at all well. He was beginning to feel ashamed of himself. This was driving a pose too far, perhapsa fact which, in his absorption in the artistic side of the question, he had not hitherto contemplated.
On the whole, he thought it best to drop the subject, and effect as orderly a retreat as possible. But it was her hand that now fell upon his sleeve, and her voice quivered slightly.
"Do you mean that you care?" she asked.
Inwardly he groaned. He was not to be allowed to retreat, after all. As he was a gentleman, he could not do so now. He had overreached himself in his infernal copy-hunting, and he must now go on, although a church and a nuptial service should be at the end of the road he was following.
"That," he faltered, "is what I mean."
"But if that is so," she murmured, "why should you rejoice at my going?"
He shivered at the thought of all the things her words seemed to suggest.
"Have I not said that it is because my road through life is one which I cannot ask a woman to tread?"
"But ifif she cared?" The brown eyes flashed him a glance and were veiled again.
He trembled. The artistic researches that had lured him into this situation were all forgotten. He did not even stop to analyze what might be his true feelings for Rose. The pose had so become a part of him that his real nature was smothered by it.
But at the moment he was dominated by suddenly aroused instincts of self-preservation. He felt like one who had stumbled into a trap, and his only thought was how he might extricate himself.
"If she cared," he replied unsteadily, "that would be all the more reason why I should go."
"There speaks no lover," said she quietly. "It is too cold and calculating. If you really cared, you would make a bid for her, and ask her, at least, whether she were not willing to risk the future with you, whatever it might be. No, Martin my friend, you have deluded yourself. You do not care; you only fancy that you do."
"I fancy nothing of the sort," he broke out, half angrily, feeling that he was called upon to make some protest.
"What," she retorted. "You do not even fancy it? Your pose is not sufficiently ingrained to delude you?" And a soft ripple of laughter, at once gay and mocking, broke from her. "Let us go and join the croquet players," she cried, rising. "You are too dull for conversation this afternoon, Martin."
He looked at her, and he could not say whether anger or relief was swaying him. He seemed no longer capable of effective introspection.
"You have no feelings!" he exclaimed at last. "I can say of youas Carlyle said of Ruskinyou are like a beautiful bottle of soda water,"
That was practically their last interview before she left Saxton. He was filled by an unaccountable sense of injury. For some days it lay more or less latent in him, His work absorbed him, and he pursued it feverishly until his novel was finished. Then in the idleness which followed its dispatch to the publishers, his thoughts reverted to Rose, and the sense of injury returned.
Next the explanation of it came home to him little by little. He was in love with her. He had become so absorbed in his mental attitude that the natural inclinations of his heart had gone unperceived.
It occurred to him to obtain her address from Mrs. Randall, and to follow her. But when he recalled their last words that day at the manor, he lacked the courage. He had burnt his boats, he argued; and, after all, it might be better so.
He contended that he was a poor man, and that there were others in the world who, no doubt, would make her happier. And so, with one consideration and another, he turned down that page of his life, and resolutely combatted the desire to reopen it.
"The Futile Quest" by Martin Vossicker was published in the autumn. A week after its appearance, Martin was in town, and one afternoon at his club an acquaintance thrust a paper under his nose, and pointed to a review article headed "A Literary Coincidence."
"Have you seen that, Vossicker? You are in good company, anyhow."
Martin, glancing at the article, saw his name coupled with that of Sebastian Rule, an author who had leapt into fame a year ago and whose work was being everywhere discussed. In gathering surprise he perused the article, which ran:
"We have lighted upon what we think our readers will agree is the most astounding literary coincidence that has ever been recorded. Last week saw the appearance of "The Idealists" by Sebastian Rule, and "The Futile Quest" by Martin Vossicker. Each of these novels is remarkable for vigor, power and insight, but more remarkable still for the amazing resemblance that exists between them.
"It is true that in the matters of plot and mise-en-scene these two works have, perhaps, not much in common; but the characters of the hero and heroine are not only almost identical in each case, but they utter identical sentiments frequently in identical words, and a fitting climax to this astounding coincidence of thought and expression is afforded by the parting sentence which the hero addresses to the heroine,
"In both novels we find him taking leave of her with the words: 'You have no feelings! I can say of you as Carlyle said of Ruskinyou are like a beautiful bottle of soda water.'"
This was followed by the reviewer's theories and speculations in explanation of this remarkable fact.
But Vossicker didn't trouble to read what the reviewer thought. His own thoughts were more than enough for him just then. He let the paper fall, and, reclining in his chair, he gave himself up to the luxury of conjecture. But it proved for once rather more of a torture than a luxury.
He was quick to evolve a theory of his own. Rose must be very intimate with Sebastian Rule, and must have confided in him touching that curiously conducted wooing of his at Saxton. If what the reviewer said was trueand it hardly admitted of doubtthere could scarcely be any other explanation.
Having reached that conclusion Martin rose. He must see Rule at once, and they must discuss what attitude they were to take before the public, particularly if the seemingly inevitable imputation came to be cast upon their work of having been plagiarized from a common source.
To this end he repaired there and then to Brett & Hackett, Sebastian Rule's publishers, with a view to ascertaining Mr. Rule's address. He was received by Mr. Brett, the senior partner, who welcomed him cordially, for Mr. Brett was in a state of considerable excitement at the astounding coincidence which would presently be the talk of the literary world.
Martin demanded Mr. Rule's address, informing Mr. Brett that it was his intention to see that gentleman at once.
"Mr. Rule," said the publisher, "chooses to maintain the strictest incognito, and I am under promise not to divulge his address to anybody. But if you care to write to him I will see that your letter is forwarded."
Martin, however, did not care to write. He insisted upon seeing the author of "The Idealists," and he contendedwith expressions of much justifiable strength and even of some profanitythat, whatever Mr. Rule's instructions may have been concerning his address they had to deal with a very exceptional case which would demand very exceptional treatment.
In the end he won his way, and he left Brett & Hackett's with Sebastian Rule's address in his pocket.
Half an hour later saw him on the doorstep of a pretty villa in St. Johns Wood, asking to see Mr. Rule. The inquiry seemed to cast the maid into some agitation, and for some moments he was kept waiting in a room on the ground floor.
At last the door opened and Martin gasped to behold Rose Gerard herself standing before him.
"How do you do?" came her pleasant greeting.
"What are you doing here?" he blurted out.
"I live herewith my mother. This is my house."
"But Mr. Rule," he asked. "I"
"I am Mr. Rule," she answered with a quiet, half-wistful smile.
"You?" he cried in unbelief, "you?" and his fine eyes were opened very wide, "You are Sebastian Rule?"
"Yes," she reassured him, "I am the man." Then with a laugh, "Don't look so shocked, Martin," she continued, "I know that you find it hard to credit you, whose opinion of woman's intellectuality is so unflattering to us. But, if you will think for yourself, you will see that it could not be otherwise. You have, of course, seen what the Daily Wire says about this literary coincidence? At least, I assume that that is the explanation of your presence here."
Then Martin understood everything. He understood the sympathy with which she had entered upon those make-believe conversations at Saxton. Whilst he was making copy of her, she was making copy of him. Each had been posing unconsciously for the other's benefit.
When, at last, he put his feelings into words, his diction lacked that artistic finish which had characterized his old-time expressions.
"We have," said he, "made a very charming mess of it."
"Hardly as bad as that," she laughed. "People will wonder, and the wonder will advertise our books."
An expression of settled gloom overclouded Martin's good-looking face. Rose knew it of old. It had been the expression he adopted when he struck his mental attitudes. But her keen perception told her also that for once it was a sincere reflection of what was passing in his mind.
"I was an ass," he acknowledged with melancholy conviction, and for the momentas he met her brown eyeshe forgot the literary coincidence. "I was an ass," he repeated.
"No, no," she answered with soothing politeness.
"But I was," he insisted. "You don't know the worst."
"Tell me," she begged. She was standing close to him. The proximity seemed to affect him. His hand fell upon her arm as it had done that day at Saxton.
"By dint of posing as lovelorn I became lovelorn," he bluntly avowed, "and without knowing it. But I found it out after you had gone away, Rose, and I wanted to come after you. But I didn't dare. I don't suppose that you'll ever forgive me. I'm sure I don't deserve that you should. I behaved"
"Silly boy, you forget that I was just as bad. If you talk of forgiving, you have quite as much to forgive me. And, O, Martin, I have been punished!" she cried.
"Just as you have been punished. I acted a part until it ceased to be acting, and"
"Rose," he exclaimed, and at that moment the literary coincidence was completely forgotten.
"It's true, Rose?"
"It's true, dear," said she, "and I think that in future we might collaborate very satisfactorily don't you?"
"Rather! Sebastian Rule and Martin Vossicker united should prove an overwhelming combination. We were born to collaborate, Rose."
"And at least we shall be safe-guarded against coincidences," she concluded with a smile.