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HOW I DIDN'T BECOME AN AUTHOR.
I have some imagination, and a great many near relations. These two facts go far towards explaining why I nearly became an author, and did not quite.
As a child I was fond of imagining things, and for this reason was considered untruthful; but all the punishments and scoldings endured on this account from nurserymaids and governesses failed to entirely crush my love of inventing. Indeed, when I became emancipated from their thraldom, I found the early habit return in greater force, and at last, some years after I had been "out," it occurred to me to try my hand at authorship. The reason that I had not done so before was not because I was entirely given up to gaieties. I went to dances more as a duty than a pleasure; and in my secret, very secret soul, I disliked dinners and loathed afternoon teas-as social functions, be it understood, for I have a very healthy appetite. No; the main reason why I did not seek this outlet earlier lay in Family influence. I write it with a capital, for in our household Family reigns supreme. It is not so much a matter of pedigree-though I believe we go back to the Edwards. One of my brothers declared once that Edward V was an ancestor in the direct line. But I have never troubled to hunt it up myself, though I suggested to Fred that it might be as well to study the history of England before making statements, not thoroughly corroborated, about the history of the Gwenlions.
However, to return to family influence. My people, I had, perhaps, better explain at once, are of the oldfashioned type, and the idea of any female member of the Gwenlion family ever doing anything is undreamt of by
them. I and my four sisters drift along in our old country house, sewing and chatting and visiting our neighbors, as our aunts and great-aunts and greatgreat-aunts have done before us for generations.
When my friend Edith Marsden took a studio, and turned from an elegant amateur into a professional painter, who actually sent her pictures to exhibitions and offered them for sale, the news was received by my family with every expression of sympathy.
"Sold her pictures!" cried my eldest sister Marianne. "Poor girl! has she really come to that?" while my Aunt Sarah, who, with her sister Ellen, lives in the dower-house on my father's estate, said, in a shocked tone of voice, that "it did not seem to her quite nice."
"But it does to Edith," I could not refrain from saying. "She thinks it very nice indeed."
"Well," said Aunt Sarah, with a still more horrified expression, "all I can say is that I don't know what can have possessed the girl. She has a good home and kind relations, what can she want more?"
"Don't you think," said my gentle little Aunt Ellen, "that we ought to pity rather than blame her? It seems so sad to be reduced to really making money for her pictures. She must be very poor."
But Aunt Sarah was not to be mollified. "Ellen, my dear," she said severely, "in our young days a gentlewoman would have preferred starvation to remunerative work."
It would of course have been quite useless for me to attempt to explain that Edith had not even the excuse of poverty and had sold her work from choice not necessity, preferring to do
so, even if the returns did little more than cover the outlying expenses, as they at least gave her the means of pursuing her art. It was soon after this, and probably as the result of Edith Marsden's success, that it suddenly occurred to me that I too might earn an honest penny, and add to my scanty supply of pocket-money by turning my taste for imagining things to account; so I wrote a story. It is not necessary to relate the plot in detail here; perhaps it is better not to revive what has long since been forgotten; let it suffice to say that it turned partly on the idea of a woman giving her love unknown to, and unreturned by, the man on whom it was bestowed. The subject seemed to me serious enough, and I endeavored to treat it in a befitting spirit. For weeks before I put pen to paper I thought of my characters, and tried to imagine how they would act, and what they would say, until at last I felt as if I was actually living with them, and knew them far better than the people really around me, though at the same time I flattered myself that they were all entirely the creatures of my imagination, and unlike any one whom I had ever met or known.
At last it was completed, and sent up with much trepidation to the editor of Morris's Journal, which was the only magazine I was in the habit of seeing and which was taken by most of the families in the neighborhood. It was so characteristic of our neighborhood that we all followed each other, even to the matter of the magazine we took in, thereby losing the advantage we might have had from interchanging different ones! For a few days I was in a state of feverish excitement every time the postman came; but after a little time this subsided, and I had, indeed, almost ceased to think about my story, when one day, a few weeks after it was sent up, I opened a packet in an VOL. VIII. 442
unfamiliar writing, and was greeted, to my great surprise, by my story in print, with a note requesting me to correct the proof and return it immediately.
About a fortnight later I received a copy of the magazine containing the story, and by the same post a letter from the editor enclosing a cheque for five pounds.
I don't believe that any one who has never earned a penny entirely by the fruit of their own brains can imagine the joy with which I beheld that little piece of paper; but my spirits were slightly checked when, on opening the magazine, I saw at the end of my story my name, Dora Gwenlion, in full. Of course I had signed it as I should a letter, unthinkingly. The fact of my name really appearing, to proclaim to all the world that I had written a story, never struck me, even when I saw it in proof.
However, the joy of being accepted, and of having my five pounds, outweighed my momentary discomfiture; and feeling that I must share my delight with some one, I made a confidante of Dolly, my youngest sister, the one of us whose rôle was that of the family beauty, as mine was of the family bookworm-if, indeed, any of us could be said to be allowed enough individuality to have a rôle at all.
"Dolly," I said, "I have written a story in this month's Morris's."
"Written a story!" cried Dolly, pausing with a pair of curling-tongs in midair, for she was dressing for dinner at the time. "What on earth have you done such a thing as that for? What will papa say?"
"I don't know," I said. "Perhaps he won't find out; but as the editor has inserted my name after it, I am afraid he will."
"Dora," cried Dolly, "how could you? I thought it was only people likewell, the sort of people one doesn't
know, who really wrote and had their names in print."
"I don't see that it matters much," I said. "I have done nothing to be ashamed of and I've got five pounds for it."
"Five pounds!" said Dolly, looking at me with rather more respect. "What a joke! What shall you do with it? It would almost buy you a new evening gown."
I did not answer, for the idea of spending such precious earnings on a dress, that would be done for with a few evenings' wear seemed to me almost sacrilege, and I felt that Dolly would never understand such an attitude of mind.
"Shall you tell the others?" was her next question.
"They will soon find out," I replied. "Adelaide always reads Morris's on the first evening."
The next afternoon, when I came in from a walk, I found my two elder sisters seated in front of the fire, and on Adelaide's lap was the copy of Morris's, containing my story.
"Oh, Dora," she cried on seeing me, "such an annoying thing has occurred; some one has written a miserable story in Morris's, and they have taken your name! It must be some one who has heard it, for no one would ever have hit on such a name as Gwenlion of their own accord."
"Yes, is it not dreadful?" echoed Marianne. "Papa will be quite put out to see our name used like that. It is very impertinent of whoever has done it. You don't seem to mind much," she continued, as I made no reply; "and surely you are the one who ought to resent it most, since it is your name in full that appears."
"But I can't resent it," I said meekly, "because you see the person who wrote the story has every right to the use of my name since it was myself."
"You wrote it!" and "How could you do such a thing! You have disgraced the family!" were the remarks which greeted my announcement, though the surprise displayed struck me as being a little too great to be natural, and I largely suspected that the authorship had not been unguessed by my sisters. This surmise on my part was strengthened by the inconsistency of the next remark I heard.
"It is in shockingly bad taste," said Adelaide. "Everyone will know that the old aunt is meant for Cousin Susan, and the clergyman is, of course, Mr. Stopford."
"Indeed, it is nothing of the kind,” I exclaimed indignantly.
"And the sentiment is so false," chimed in Marianne; "one can tell at once that the writer is trying to describe feelings she has never herself experienced. Look at this passage in evidence," and taking the magazine from Adelaide's lap, she opened it at a passage which, more than anything else in the story, contained a little bit of my own inner self, and which, on that account, I had for some time hesitated to include. "It has at once the touch of unreality, my dear," said Marianne. "If you must write stories you must at least have felt a little more and lived a little more first; but it is the fact that women of our position cannot see life from the point of view of the vulgar, which should in itself debar us from entering the professions of those who happen to be placed lower than ourselves in the social scale."
At this point Louisa, the sister next younger to myself, came in. She had evidently read the story before the others, and made no preamble about the authorship. She took up the magazine from the table upon which Marianne had placed it, and with a withering glance at me said:
"Well, I little thought a sister of mine would prove so false a friend!"
"False a friend!" I echoed feebly; "what can you mean?"
"Oh, don't pretend you don't know," she said. "I am only wondering what poor Minnie Watson will think when she sees her own personal, private story told in print with your name at the end."
"But I never even knew she had a story," I protested.
"Nonsense!" said Louisa; "all the neighborhood knew that she was heartbroken when Major Cunliffe married Madge Westbrook."
"I did not," I said.
"That's what comes of being a bookworm," said Louisa. "You are SO dreamy that the world might tumble to pieces under your very nose and you would never notice it. But it makes no difference. Every one will think you knew, and it will bring all the family into bad odium just the same."
Now, as a matter of fact if any one had had a fancy for Major Cunliffe I should have said it was Louisa herself -not that I thought of her any more than of Minnie Watson in writing the story, which really was planned before either of them had met Major Cunliffe at all.
"Yes, that's just it," said Adelaide, chiming in with Louisa's last remark. "It is what the county will say of us that I cannot forget. We shall all be talked about and looked upon as so peculiar."
"No one has ever called us that before," said Dolly, who had now joined us, and who always went with the majority in any discussion; "and now it will always be said that one of us writes. Sophie Mortimer told me a story about some one she knew who knew some one who wrote, and one day a man came to the house, a very nice man, good family, lots of money and everything, I believe, and Sophie happened to mention that they were expecting a woman who had written a
book, and he said at once, "Then I'm off,' and he went."
"What a solemn warning," I could not help saying. "I see that you are afraid of the effects of my scribbling on the matrimonial prospects of the family."
"Really," cried Adelaide," you might at least spare us your vulgarity."
"I am sorry if I am vulgar," I retorted; "but does it never strike you that it is a little dull to be always exactly like every one else?"
"Surely," said Marianne, "one must. be a lady before anything else." "Even before a nice woman, I sup. pose," I said.
"Why, certainly," she said; "one's cook may be that."
"You are very flippant," replied Adelaide. "I wish you would try to remember your family."
If by remembering was meant not forgetting, there was not much chance I should not.
The next afternoon my Aunts Sarah and Ellen appeared, and I could see at a glance that they too had read the story. After a few frigid remarks, Aunt Sarah plunged into the subject.
"Dora," she said coldly, "is it indeed true that you have allowed your full name, your family name, to appear in this month's Morris's?"
"It is my family name, of course," I said. "You see I have not any other." "It is then, indeed, true that the name, which was also that of your sainted grandmother, and which can be seen any day on our family tomb, actually appears after a story in a magazine."
"I fear it is," I said.
"Well, all I can remark is, that I blush to think that any niece of mine should have come to this," she replied.
Here my Aunt Ellen's soft cooing voice chimed in.
"We should not mind it so much-at least, I think not, should we?" she said
with a deprecating glance at her sister, "if the story were rather different-how shall I say? rather different in tone-and-yes, not quite so unmaidenlywas not unmaidenly the word you used when speaking of it, Sarah?"
"I believe it was," said Aunt Sarah; "and I must confess that, in addition to every other consideration, there was a touch of immodesty about it which pained me very much as coming from so near a relative. In my young days it would have been considered a shocking thing for any young lady to give away her heart unasked."
From this statement I felt sure I might conclude that Aunt Sarah had never given her own.
"It was indeed," she continued, "considered bold and forward for the idea of love even to occur to a young lady until an actual proposal had been made. But your heroine, Dora, gives her affection when the man has not even asked her father's consent to paying her his addresses. I cannot think where you can have come across such an idea. Certainly any tendency in that direction is not inherited from the Gwenlion side of the family."
It may not seem strange after this if I mention that the Gwenlion family has always been noted for the number of its unmarried women.
So much for the Aunts; but I knew the worst would not be over until I had faced my father. This, however, was not so bad as I anticipated. His language, as usual, was forcible, but, at the same time, it was brief. Our conversation on the subject was as follows:
"So I hear you have been writing a story, eh?"
"And under your own name." "Well, I am afraid my own name has appeared."
"Well, mind this, if I hear of any more of this folly, I shall pack you off
to your Aunt Sophia for a six months visit.
Aunt Sophia was my father's only married sister, and a visit to her was amongst the most painful of our duties, and never, as he knew, extended beyond the regulation fortnight if we could possibly help it. After this interview with my father, I began to breathe more freely; but I found even more trying experiences were in store for me. The next day a great friend of ours, named Laura Charteris, called, and after chatting pleasantly for some time, managed to make an excuse to get me to herself in the garden.
"Dear old Dora!" she cried, "how I feel for you!"
"Feel for me!" I said in bewilderment.
"Oh, yes," she said. "I have read your story, and I assure you it went to my heart. Other people may not see beneath the surface, but it has that touch about it that I, as your friend cannot mistake. I know it is your own inner experiences that you relate."
In vain I tried to assure her that she was mistaken. She only shook her head and smiled.
"It is no use, dear, trying to have concealments from me," she said. "I knew as I read the story that it canie straight from your own heart. How you must have suffered, and I never knew!"
Hardly had Laura left me when another intimate friend, Geraldine Burton, called.
"Dora," she said almost at once, in her blunt way, "we have read your story, and think it very clever and all that, but at the same time I must tell you that we are very angry with the way you have made use of that unfortunate experience of Sydney's. It is very unjust, and he never encouraged the girl a bit, as your horrid hero does!"
"I don't know what you mean," I