But before he could sleep he must eat. Though it was cold, he could not exert himself to light a fire; there was some food still in the cupboard, and he consumed it in the fashion of a tired labourer, with the plate on his lap, using his fingers and a knife. What had he to do with delicacies?
He felt utterly alone in the world. Unless it were Biffen, what mortal would give him kindly welcome under any roof? These stripped rooms were symbolical of his life; losing money, he had lost everything. 'Be thankful that you exist, that these morsels of food are still granted you. Man has a right to nothing in this world that he cannot pay for. Did you imagine that love was an exception? Foolish idealist! Love is one of the first things to be frightened away by poverty. Go and live upon your twelve-and-sixpence a week, and on your memories of the past.'
In this room he had sat with Amy on their return from the wedding holiday. 'Shall you always love me as you do now?'--'For ever! for ever!'--'Even if I disappointed you? If I failed?'--'How could that affect my love?' The voices seemed to be lingering still, in a sad, faint echo, so short a time it was since those words were uttered.
His own fault. A man has no business to fail; least of all can he expect others to have time to look back upon him or pity him if he sink under the stress of conflict. Those behind will trample over his body; they can't help it; they themselves are borne onwards by resistless pressure.
He slept for a few hours, then lay watching the light of dawn as it revealed his desolation.
The morning's post brought him a large heavy envelope, the aspect of which for a moment puzzled him. But he recognised the handwriting, and understood. The editor of The Wayside, in a pleasantly-written note, begged to return the paper on Pliny's Letters which had recently been submitted to him; he was sorry it did not strike him as quite so interesting as the other contributions from Reardon's pen.
This was a trifle. For the first time he received a rejected piece of writing without distress; he even laughed at the artistic completeness of the situation. The money would have been welcome, but on that very account he might have known it would not come.
The cart that was to transfer his property to the room in Islington arrived about mid-day. By that time he had dismissed the last details of business in relation to the flat, and was free to go back to the obscure world whence he had risen. He felt that for two years and a half he had been a pretender. It was not natural to him to live in the manner of people who enjoy an assured income; he belonged to the class of casual wage-earners. Back to obscurity!
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