The prelude played by the Musicians is a prelude to a dream

That night, the very night after Ella had gone, I tested my slowly
returning strength. Benham gave me my codein, and saw that I was well
provided with all I might need for the night; the lemonade and glycerine
lozenges, a second codein on the table by my side, the electric bell to
my hand. This bell had been put up since the night nurse left; it rang
into Benham’s bedroom. I waited for a quarter of an hour after she had
gone, she had a habit of coming back to see if I had forgotten anything,
or to show me how thick and abundant her hair was without the uniform
cap. I should have felt like a criminal when I stole out of bed. But I
did not, I felt like an invalid, and a feeble one at that. It was only a
couple of steps from the bed to the chest of drawers and I accomplished
it without mishap, then was back again in bed, only to remember the
seals were still unbroken and the string firm. A pair of nail scissors
were on the dressing-table. I was disinclined for the journey, but
managed it all the same. I was then so exhausted I had to wait for a
quarter of an hour before I was able to use them. Only then was my
curiosity rewarded. A small number of letters, not more than fifteen or
sixteen in all, a bound diary, a very cursory glance at which showed me
the disingenuousness, and half a dozen pages of MS. notes or chapter
headings with several trial titles, “Between the Nisi and the Absolute,”
“Publisher and Sinner,” headed two separate pages. “The Story of an
Unhappy Woman” the third. The notes were all in the first person, and I
should have known them anywhere for Margaret Capel’s.

Small as the whole _cache_ was, I did not think it possible I could get
through it all that night. Neither did it seem possible to get out of
bed again. The papers must remain where they were, or underneath my
pillow. I should be strong enough, I hoped, by the morning to put up
with or confront any wrath or argument Benham would advance.

I had got up because I chose. That was the beginning and end of it. She
must learn to put up with my ways, or I with a change of nurse.

The letters were in an elastic band, without envelopes, labelled and
numbered. Margaret’s were on paper of a light mauve, with lines, like
foreign paper. Her handwriting, masculine and square, was not very
readable. She rarely dotted an _i_ or crossed a _t_, used the Greek _e_
and many ellipses. Gabriel’s letters were as easy to read as print. It
was a pity therefore that hers were so much longer than his. Still, once
I began I was sorry to leave off, and should not have done so if I could
have kept my eyes open or my attention from wandering. I am printing
them just as they stand, those that I read that night, at least. Here
they are:—

No. 1.

211 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.,
January 29th, 1902.

_Dear Sirs_:—

Would you care to publish a book by me on Staffordshire Pottery?
What I have in my mind is a limited _édition de luxe_, illustrated
in colours, highly priced. I may say I have a collection which I
believe to be unique, if not complete, upon which I propose to draw
largely. Of course the matter would have to be discussed both from
your point of view and, mine. This is merely to ask if you are open.

My name is probably not unknown to you, or rather my pseudonym.

The critics have been kind to my novels, and I see no reason why
they should be less so to a monograph on a subject I thoroughly
understand. Although perhaps that will be hard for them to forgive.
For it will be reviewed, if at all, by critics less well informed.

Yours sincerely,
MARGARET CAPEL (“_Simon Dare_”).
Author of “The Immoralists,”
“Love and the Lutist,” etc.

Messrs. Stanton & Co.

No. 2.

117–118 Greyfriars’ Square, E.C.,
January 30th, 1902.

_Dear Madam_:—

I have to thank you for your letter of yesterday with its suggestion
for a book on Staffordshire Pottery.

The subject is outside my own knowledge, but I find there is no
comprehensive work dealing with it, a small elementary booklet
published in the Midlands some three years ago being the only volume
catalogued.

In any case there can hardly be a large public for so special an
interest, and it will probably be best, as you indicate, to issue a
limited edition at a high price and appeal direct by prospectus to
collectors. The success of the publication would be then largely
dependent on the beauty of the illustrations and the general “get
up” of the volume, for although I have no doubt your text will be
excellent and accurate—it must be properly “dressed” to secure
attention.

Indeed I have the privilege of knowing your novels well. They have
always appealed to me as having the cardinal qualities of courage
and actuality. Complete frankness combined with delicacy and
literary skill is so rare with modern-day writers that your work
stands out.

Could you very kindly make it convenient to call here so that we may
discuss the details and plan for the Staffordshire book? This would
save a good deal of correspondence.

I will gladly keep any appointment you make—please avoid Saturday,
as I try to take that day off at this time of year to go to a little
fishing I have in Hampshire.

Yours faithfully,
GABRIEL STANTON.

Mrs. Capel.

No. 3.

211 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.,
February 1st, 1902.

_Dear Sir_:—

I am obliged by your courteous letter, and will be with you at four
o’clock whichever day suits you. I propose to bring with me a short
synopsis of “The Staffordshire Potters, Their Inspiration and
Results,” and also a couple of specimens from which you might make
experiments for illustrations. I want to place the book definitely
before writing it.

Domestic circumstances with which I need not trouble you, they are I
fear already public property, make it advisable I should remain, if
not sequestered, at least practically in retreat for the next few
months. I find I cannot concentrate my mind on a novel at this
juncture. But my cottages and quaint figures, groups and animals,
jugs and plates, retain their attraction, and I shall do a better
book about them now, when I am dependent on things and isolated from
people, than I should at any other time.

It is good of you to say what you do about my novels, but I doubt if
I shall ever write another. My courage has turned to cowardice, and
under cross-examination I found my frankness was no longer complete.
I have taken a dislike to humanity.

Yours sincerely,
MARGARET CAPEL.

No. 4.

211 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.,
February 6th, 1902.

_Dear Mr. Stanton_:—

The agreement promised has not yet arrived; nor your photographer;
but I have made a first selection for him, and I think you will find
it sufficiently varied according to your suggestion. Thirty
illustrations in colour and seventy in monochrome will give the
cream of my collection, and be representative, although of course
not exhaustive. I have 375 specimens, no two alike! Ten groups, with
the dancing dogs for the half-title, six cottages, six single
figures, and the rest animal pieces will all look well in the
process you showed me. I propose the large so-called classical
examples in monochrome; their undoubted coarseness will then be
toned down in black or brown and none of their interest destroyed.
Julia, Lady Tweeddale, has one piece of which I have never been able
to secure a duplicate, and so has Mr. Montague Guest. Do you think
it advisable to ask permission to photograph these for inclusion, or
would it be better to use only my own collection, and keep to the
personal note in the letterpress?

Our brief interview gave me the feeling that I may ask you for help
in any difficulty or perplexity that occurs in the preparation of a
work so new to me. You were very kind to me. I daresay I seemed to
you nervous and uncertain of how I meant to proceed. I felt like a
trembling amateur in that big office of yours. I have never
interviewed a publisher before; my novels always went by post—and
came back that way too, at first! I had a false conception of
publishers, based on—but I must not tell you upon whom it was based.
Although why not? Perhaps you will recognise the portrait. A little
pot-bellied person, Jewish or German, with a cough, or a sniff, or a
sneeze, a suggestion of a coming expectoration, speaking many
languages badly and apparently all at once; impressed with his own
importance, talking Turgenieff and looking Abimelech. Why Abimelech
I don’t know; but that is the hero of whom he reminds me. I met him
at a literary garden party to which I was bidden after “The
Immoralists” had been so favourably reviewed. It was given by a lady
who seemed to know everybody and like no one, a keen two-bladed
tongue leapt out among her guests, scarifying them. She told me Mr.
Rosenstein was not only a publisher but an amorist. He looked
curiously unlike it; but an introduction and a short interview
turned me sceptic of my own impression, inclined me to the belief in
hers.

I have wandered from my theme—your kindness, my nervousness. I
shall try to do credit to your penetration. You said that you were
sure I should make a success of anything I undertook! I wonder if
you were right. And if my Staffordshire book will prove you so? I
am going to try and make it interesting, not too technical! But my
intentions vary all the time. A preliminary chapter on clays was
in my first scheme, I now want instead to tell of the family
history of half a dozen potters. From this I begin to dream of
stories of the figures; the short-waisted husband and wife
a-marketing with their basket of fruit and vegetables, the
clergyman in the tithe piece, a benignant villain this, with a
chucking-his-parishioners-under-the-chin expression. Dear Mr.
Stanton, what will happen if it turns out that I cannot write a
monograph, but am only a novelist? You said I could trust you to
act as Editor and blue-pencil my redundancies. But what if it
should be all redundancy? Put something about this in the
agreement, will you? I want to make money, but not at your
expense. I _am_ nervous. I fear that instead of a book on
Staffordshire Pottery I shall give you an illustrated volume of
short stories published at five guineas!! What an outcry from the
press! Already I have been called “precious.” Now they will talk
of “pretentiousness”; the “grand manner” without the grand brain
behind it! Will you really help and advise me? I have never felt
less self-confident.

Yours sincerely,
MARGARET CAPEL.

No. 5.

118 Greyfriars’ Square, E.C.,
February 6th, 1902.

_Dear Mrs. Capel_:—

As we arranged at our interview yesterday I now enclose a draft
contract for the book.

If there is any point not entirely clear to you please do not
hesitate to tell me, and I shall be glad also of any suggestion or
criticism that may occur to you in regard to possible alteration of
the various clauses, and will do my best to meet your wishes. For I
am more than anxious that we shall begin what I hope will prove a
long and successful “partnership” with complete understanding and
confidence.

Further enquiry makes me sanguine that the scheme is a good one, and
we will do everything we can to produce a beautiful book.

May I say that it was a great pleasure and privilege to me to meet
you here yesterday? I hope the interest you will find in this
present work will afford you some relief during this time of trouble
and anxiety you are passing through; and counteract to some extent
at least the pettiness and publicity of litigation. I only refer to
this with the greatest respect and sympathy.

There are many details, not only of the contract, but for the plan
of the book, which we could certainly best arrange if we discussed
them, rather than by writing.

Could you make it convenient to lunch with me one day next week? I
shall be in the West End on Wednesday, and suggest the Café Royal at
two o’clock.

It would be good of you to meet me there.

Yours sincerely,
GABRIEL STANTON.

No. 6.

211 Queen Anne’s Gate,
February 7th, 1902.

_Dear Mr. Stanton_:—

Our letters crossed. Thanks for yours with agreement. The greater
part seems to me to be merely technical, and I have no observations
to make about it.

Par. 2: guaranteeing that the work is in no way “a violation of any
existing copyright,” etc. I think this is your concern rather than
mine. You say there is a book existing on Staffordshire Pottery,
perhaps you can get me a copy, and then I can see that ours shall be
entirely different.

Par. 7: beginning “accounts to be made up annually,” etc., seems to
give you an exceptionally long time to pay me anything that may be
due. But perhaps I misunderstand it.

Therefore, and perhaps for other reasons, I very gladly accept your
kind invitation to lunch with you on Wednesday at the Café Royal,
and will be there at two, bringing the agreement with me.

With kind regards,
Yours very truly,
MARGARET CAPEL.

No. 7.

118 Greyfriars’ Square, E.C.,
February 13th, 1902.

_Dear Mrs. Capel_:—

I am breaking into the commonplace routine of a particularly
tiresome business day, to give myself the pleasure of writing to
you, and you will forgive me if I purposely avoid business—for
indeed it seems to me today that life might be so pleasant without
work. That little grumble has done me good. I want to say what I
fear I did not express to you yesterday—how greatly I enjoyed our
talk. It was good of you to come and more good of you to tell me
something of your present difficulties. I wish I could have been
more helpful—but please believe I am more sympathetic than I was
able to let you know, and I do understand much of what must be
trying and unhappy for you during these weeks. Counsels of
perfection are poor comfort, but perhaps that some one is most
genuinely in accord with you—and anxious to help in any way
possible—may be of some little value.

I beg you to believe that this is so, and I should welcome the
chance of being of any service to you. This all reads very formal I
fear, but your kindness must interpret the spirit rather than the
letter.

Last evening I went into an old curiosity shop to try and find a
wedding-present for a niece who is also my god-daughter, and I
secured six beautiful Chippendale chairs. Curiously enough the man
showed me what he said was the best specimen of Staffordshire he had
ever had. A group of musicians—seeming to my inexperienced eye good
in colour and design. I know not what impulse persuaded me to buy
the piece. Today I am fearing that my purchase is not genuine. May I
bring it to you on Sunday for approval or condemnation? Don’t
trouble to answer if you will be at home—I will call at five
o’clock.

Now I must return to less pleasant business affairs—the telephone is
insistent.

Yours very sincerely,
GABRIEL STANTON.

No. 8.

211 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.,
14th February, 1902.

_Dear Mr. Stanton_:—

Thank you so much for your kind letter, it made a charming savoury
to that little luncheon you ordered. Did I tell you how much I
enjoyed it? If not, please understand I am doing so now. The
_mousse_ was a dream of delight, the roses were very helpful. I have
a theory about flowers and food, and how to blend them. Which
reminds me that my father wants to share with me in the pleasure of
your acquaintance and bids me ask if you will dine with us on the
24th at eight o’clock. This of course must not prevent your coming
Sunday afternoon with your pottery “find.” I am more than curious, I
am devoured with curiosity to see it. I don’t know a Staffordshire
“group of musicians,” it sounds like Chelsea! Bring it by all means,
but if it is Staffordshire and not in my collection, I warn you I
shall at once begin bargaining with you, spending my royalties in
advance! Yes! I think I hate business too, as you say, and should
like to avoid it. We were fairly successful, by the way, in the Café
Royal! Our talk ranged over a large field, became rather personal—I
think I spoke too freely; it must have been the Steinberger! or
because I am really very worried and depressed. Depression is the
old age of the emotions, and garrulousness its distressing symptom.

Yours sincerely,
MARGARET CAPEL.

No. 9.

118 Greyfriars’ Square, E.C.,
15th February, 1902.

_Dear Mrs. Capel_:—

I am so glad to have your letter and look forward to Sunday. Should
my little pottery “find” prove authentic I have no doubt we can
arrange for its transfer to you, on business or even un-business
lines!

I accept with pleasure your invitation to dinner on the 24th. I have
heard often of your father from my friend Wilfrid Henning, who
attends to what little investments I make—and who meets your father
in connection with that big Newfoundland scheme for connecting the
traffic from the Eastern ports to Lake Ontario. I should value the
opportunity to hear of it, first hand.

Yours most sincerely,
GABRIEL STANTON.

No. 10.

211 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.,
16th February, 1902.

_Dear Mr. Stanton_:—

I am no longer puzzled about the “musicians”; it is Staffordshire, I
was convinced of that from the first but had to confirm my
impression. I will tell you all about it when we meet again (on the
24th), I am sure you will be interested. I want you to let me have
it. Whatever you paid for it I will give you, and any profit you
like. I won’t bargain with you, but I really feel I can never part
with it again. It was a wonderful chance that you should find it.
Wasn’t Sunday altogether strange? Such a crowd, and so difficult to
talk. I shall have to get out of London, I have a sense of fatigue
all the time, of restless incoherent fear. I dread sympathy, and
scent curiosity as if it were carrion. In that little talk I had
among the tea-things I said none of the things I meant. I believe
you understood this, although you only said yes, and yes again to my
wildest suggestions. I am only epigrammatic when I am shy; it is the
form taken by my mental stammer. Epigrams come to me too, when I
have a scene in my head too big to write. I find my hand shaking,
heart beating, tremulous. Then my queer brain relieves the pressure
on my feelings and stammers out my scene in short cryptic sentences.
That is why, although I am an emotional thinker, I am what you are
pleased to call an intellectual writer.

And now for the agreement, in which I have ventured to make
alterations, and even additions. Will you return it to me with
comments if you think I have been too difficult or exacting. My
father tells me I have inherited his business ability. He means to
pay me a compliment, but I gather your point of view is that
business ability is but deformity in an intellectual woman? I’m
sorry for this deformity of mine, realising the unfavourable
impression it may create. Try and forgive me for it, won’t you? You
need not even remember it when you are telling me what I am to give
you for the Staffordshire piece!

With kind regards,
Yours very sincerely,
MARGARET CAPEL.

No. 11.

118 Greyfriars’ Square, E.C.,
17th February, 1902.

_Dear Mrs. Capel_:—

What good news about the little “Staffordshire” piece! I am really
delighted. Please don’t mar my pleasure in thinking of it happily
housed with you by questions of price or bargaining. Rather add to
my pride in my “find” by accepting it as a small recognition of my
great good fortune in having made your acquaintance.

Out of the chatter and clatter of the tea on Sunday the things you
said remain with me; if they were epigrams they were vivid and to me
very real.

I hated everything that interrupted—and hated going away. Quite
humbly I say that I think I did understand, and was longing to tell
you so. But I have never had the tongue of a ready speaker, and as I
left your beautiful home I was choked with unspoken words a cleverer
man would have found more quickly.

How much I wished I could have expressed myself. I wanted to say
that I had no hateful curiosity, but only an overwhelming sympathy
and desire for your confidence, a bedrock craving for your
friendship. May I be your friend? May I? Or am I presuming on your
kindness and too short an acquaintanceship?

Anyhow, I can’t write on business, the contract is to go through
with all your alterations.

Looking forward to the 24th, I need only sign,

Au revoir,
Yours very truly,
GABRIEL STANTON.

No. 12.

211 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.,
18th February, 1902.

_Dear Mr. Stanton_:—

I don’t know what to say about “The Musicians,” that is why I have
not already written to say it! I have not put the group into my
collection, it is on my bedroom mantelpiece. I see it when I first
wake in the morning, it is the last thing upon which my tired eyes
rest before I turn off the light at night. Sometimes I think those
musicians are playing the prelude to the friendship of which you
speak.

I wonder why you are so curiously sympathetic to me, and why I mind
so little admitting it. Friendship has been rare in my life. You
offer me yours, and I am on the point of accepting it; thinking all
the time what it may mean, what I can give you in return. An hour
now and again of detached talk, a great deal of trouble with my
literary affairs … there is not much in that for you; is there?
Are the Musicians really a gift? They must go on playing to me
softly then, and the prelude be slow and long-drawn-out. I am afraid
even of friendship, that is the truth. I’m disillusioned,
disappointed, tired. Nothing has ever happened to me as I meant it.
When I first came from America with my father, I was full of the
wildest hopes, and now I have outlived them all. It is not an
affectation, it is a profound truth, and at twenty-eight I find
myself worn out, dimmed, exhausted. I have had fame (a small measure
of it, but enough for comparison), wealth, and that horrid
nightmare, love.

My father spoiled me when I was small, believed too much in me.
He thought me a genius, and I … perhaps I thought so too. I
puzzled and perplexed him, and he felt overweighted with his
responsibilities, with character-studying an egotistic girl of
sixteen. The result was a stepmother. Can you imagine what I
suffered! She began almost immediately to suffocate me with her
kindness. She too admitted I was a genius. Do you know we had
the idea, these besotted parents of mine and I, that I was to be
a great pianist! I practised many hours a day, sustained by
jellies, and beef-tea and encouragement. I had the best
teachers, a few weeks in Dresden with Lentheric, my father
poured out his money like water. The end of that period was a
prolonged fainting fit, the first of many, the discovery I had a
weak heart, that the exertion of piano-playing affected it
unfavourably. I came back from Dresden at eighteen, was
presented the same year, the papers said I was beautiful; father
put himself out of the way to be nice to pressmen; he had
acquired the habit in America whilst he was building up his
fortune. That I was accounted beautiful and could play Chopin
and was to have a fortune, made me appear also brilliant. My
father paid for the printing of my first book. My first one-act
play was performed at a West End theatre. Then I met James
Capel. Mr. Justice Jeune knows the story of my married life
better than any one else. I was high-spirited before it began.
At the end of a year I was physically, mentally, morally a
wreck. I don’t know which of us hated the other more, my husband
or I. Anyway, he made no objection to my returning to my father.
My stepmother’s suffocating kindness descended upon me again,
and now I found it healing. When I was healed I wrote “The
Immoralists.” Then my father’s pride in me revived. He and my
stepmother kept open house and collected celebrities to show the
dimness of their light as a background for my supposed more
brilliant shining! Society was pleased to come, my father
growing always richer…. I wrote “The Farce of Fearlessness”
and “Love and the Lutist” about this time, and my other play.
When my husband made it imperative by his proved and public
blackguardism I resorted to the law, and acting under advice,
fought him in the arena he chose, and have now won my freedom,
but at an incredible, hardly yet to be realised cost, all my
wounds exposed in the market-place.

I wonder why I am recapitulating all this. I think it is to show you
I am in no mood for friendship. There are times when I am savage
with pain, and times when I am exhausted from it, times when I feel
bruised all over, so tender that the touch of a word brings tears,
times when my overwhelming pity for myself leaves me incapable of
realizing anything beyond my wrongs. I say I have won my freedom,
but even this is untrue: at present I have only won six months of
probation, during which I am still James Capel’s wife. Sometimes I
think I shall never live through them, the stain of my connection
with him is like mortification.

The prelude played by the Musicians is a prelude to a dream.

And still I am grateful you gave them to me.

Yours very truly,
MARGARET CAPEL.

When I had read as far as this the codein exerted its influence. My
eyelids drooped, I slept and recovered myself. The sense of what I was
reading began to escape, I knew it was time to put the bundle away.
There were not very many more letters. I put all the papers on the table
by my side, then dropped off. Margaret betrayed herself completely in
her letters. Gabriel Stanton was still a strange unrealisable figure.