AN APRIL FOOL.
Mrs. Chetwynd, wife of the eminent publisher, had been a trying wife to an excellent husband for thirty years. When she died, it must be confessed that it was something of a relief, though John Chetwynd, decorous in all things, scarcely acknowledged it even to himself. The big house at Surbiton, in which Philistia had so greatly triumphed, speedily becoming intolerable, the widower, in very deep black, went to do his mourning abroad. He was a handsome, well-preserved man of sixty, who had eschewed society and stuck to business, with the result that he was the predestined victim of the first clever woman who might come in his way.
He had had no time for travel till now; had actually never even done tourist Switzerland. It was in the middle of a balmy September when he drifted to Montreux; and the blue lake, the scarlet creepers, the great beds of begonias, the gay, white hotels, came on him as a startling surprise. Montreux is a naughty little town in winter. By the time the lovely white narcissus has covered the green slopes of Les Avants, no one has a rag of reputation left.
But when Mr. Chetwynd came out into the garden of the Hotel d’Edelweiss et de la Grande Bretagne on a dazzling, dewy morning, Montreux had not quite awakened from her summer somnolence, and was innocently charming. Truth to tell, Mr. Chetwynd was first bewildered, then bored. The hotel had misled him by its sub-title, and was full of chattering old foreign ladies. Besides, an orthodox widower, in deep mourning, does not make acquaintances. He was one of those uncomfortable men who do not smoke, and, in consequence, have never properly learnt to be idle. Nor did his French go beyond a timid petition for that menu that has become an English word, because the Briton simply cannot pronounce it.
It was three days before he became aware of the presence of a compatriot in the person of a very pretty young governess called “mademoiselle” by two weedy, overdressed French bits of precocity. It was many a long month before he knew that Miss Violet Baynes had found out all about him before he had been at the Edelweiss a night. This young person was twenty-four. She dressed with an ingénue simplicity that was the perfection of well-concealed art, and Mr. Chetwynd thought she was eighteen. Her grey frock, big, shady, white hat, and peach-blossom complexion, were set off most happily by a background of flaming crimson foliage, a foreground of turquoise lake. Pierre, with lean legs in striped socks; Camille, en bébé, though much too old for that style of costume, only set off her natural grace to further advantage. Mr. Chetwynd was struck by the group. For two days he looked and longed. On the third he daringly ventured on “good morning,” and was rewarded by a dimple-revealing smile. On the fourth he was entering a small summer-house, where he was in the habit of reading the Times, when, to his surprise, he found it tenanted. Miss Baynes sat there sewing at something frilly, minus the big hat, and plus a vision of hair in curly disorder.
She exhibited all the shyness the publisher felt, and then broke the ice with such success that, within half an hour, they were chattering as if they were old friends, Pierre and Camille meanwhile making mud-pies on the gravel with toy alpenstocks. Lesson time came too soon. There was no sign of Miss Baynes at table d’hôte. When Mr. Chetwynd strolled in the garden after dinner, and looked at the moon on the lake, his mind was so pleasingly engaged, he hardly felt lonely.
Next morning they met again. The publisher heard, with much satisfaction, that Madame de Fauche, the mamma of the smirking Camille, was an invalid, wintering at Montreux. Also that Miss Baynes was an orphan. He did not move on to Glion, as he had intended, and informed his confidential clerk that he should be abroad some time longer.
One day Violet confided to him, with the prettiest hesitation, that she had tried to write; that little stories of hers had appeared here and there. He had never alluded to his own vocation, and Miss Violet was all astonishment when she heard of it.
“You are really Mr. Chetwynd? Oh, if I had known, I should never, never have dared to tell you. Only you have been so good and kind, and I am so lonely.” She raised a great pair of dewy grey eyes to her companion irresistibly as she spoke.
“Now you must promise to let me help you,” began the publisher of two leading magazines into which a legion of beginners had striven in vain to enter.
Miss Baynes showed her lovely curling lashes, and hung her head. “Oh, I could not,” she began, bashfully. “My work is so poor. I know I am not clever, and you__” She broke off most expressively, and refused to renew the subject.
Next morning she sat mending a pathetically shabby little glove. “Such hands as hers ought never to go shabby,” thought the solid Chetwynd, and the thought so haunted him that he finally creaked into a shop in the Grande Rue and bashfully bought half a dozen pairs of a wary vendor, who thus disposed of the worst, dearest, and ugliest of her stock.
He rather dreaded being thanked, but he could not keep away from the little summer-house that was redder with autumn tints every day. On this occasion it disclosed an affecting little tableau, framed in bowery creepers. Violet Baynes sat at the table, with her face hidden, her slender shoulders shaken with sobs. She was all in white, and there was no sign of Pierre or Camille, no sound of their shrill voices. Round her lay a snowstorm of manuscript sheets, a few partly torn across. It was too much for the elderly lover to see unmoved.
“Miss Baynes, Violet, what is the matter? Do let me try and comfort you.”
“Oh, my kind friend, I am very, very silly, I know, but Harvey and Medway have refused my poor novel, and I had so hoped to have been able to tell you good news about it. I did want you so to read it!”
“Did you send it in like that?” asked Chetwynd, waxing practical, and gathering up the sheets with an accustomed hand.
The artful Violet was playing her trump card now. She had only just finished the novel, and she had been engaged to a sub-editor long enough to know that only type-written copy gives a novice any chance of being read.
“Of course I did. I am much too dreadfully poor to pay for type-writing.”
Mr. Chetwynd had by this time picked it all up, and noted that it was very illegible. But he was too much in love to be daunted. He held it tightly, and said firmly, “Now I have got it, I shall read it!”
An April smile came across his tearful listener’s pretty face. She put her small hand upon his with an appealing sweetness that thrilled him.
“I will read it to you,” she said, softly, “and you shall tell me if the poor thing is worth typing.”
It took four mornings. She used to sit in a low deck chair that afforded distracting glimpses of ankles and small shoes. She had the “excellent thing in woman,” a low voice, which sometimes seemed to tremble a little when the middle-aged hero talked to the young heroine. The heroine—Gladys, of course– refused a baronet and a captain, and was finally landed in a pair of rather elderly arms. It was neither clever nor original, but it was not worse than books often issued by other firms, if never by that of the pre-eminent Chetwynd and Chetwynd.
That love is blind, proved true, as usual. Mr. Chetwynd had married his senior’s mature daughter early, after the manner of the good apprentice. But he had never loved till now.
“There is charm and freshness in your little story, and the ending is particularly good. If we can come to terms, I shall be quite willing to publish—let me see, what is it?—‘A Heart of Gold.’ Give me the copy. I will see to the typing.”
That evening Miss Baynes found a note in her room containing a cheque for fifty pounds.
Two days later Mr. Chetwynd took his courage in both hands, and proposed to his new writer. He did it so well that Mr. Jim Beresford-Smith quite enjoyed the letter telling him all about it, and the pleasing reflection that he was engaged to one of the smartest little girls in England.
Miss Baynes listened with the grace of a Récamier, but her reply was rather disappointing: “I cannot answer you at once. I am too surprised, too unworthy of the great honour you have done me. Besides, it is too soon after. We must wait. Let us say good-bye till the spring, till my book comes out, and then I will give my decision.”
“Of course she was right,” reflected Mr. Chetwynd, after he had agreed to the hard condition, comforted by that small word, “we.”
He went back, and was horribly afraid to face his own press readers. The acceptance of “A Heart of Gold,” without their intervention, filled these worthies with an excusable indignation. “Flimsy rubbish,” was the kindest verdict privately recorded against it. Then it was found that the title had been appropriated, and there was quite a buzz among the minor paragraph-mongers. Gradually an uneasy conviction stole over Mr. Chetwynd that there was a lot of unaccountable log-rolling in connection with “George Henderson.” He was old-fashioned, and detested the modern method.
No answer had as yet come from Violet, in spite of another Grandisonian appeal on his part, and the book would be out next week.
The thirty-first of March found Mr. Chetwynd seated alone in his severely mahogany dining-room, with a howling East wind making the rain clash against the panes. A wet Sunday is always abominable, and this was a peculiarly depressing specimen. Surbiton, from the window, was a dismal contrast to a memory of Montreux, all sunshine, flowers, and soft, sympathetic grey eyes, above a grey frock.
He had little appetite for breakfast, and looked to his letters for the amusement the post so seldom affords. There were two papers, halfpenny evening papers of the sort he abhorred, with great red marks.
“George Eliot, George Sand, George Fleming, and George Egerton. It is, perhaps, premature to suggest that the new recruit to the formidable ranks of the Georges will equal these; yet George Henderson, whose first novel is to appear on Monday, makes her literary début under fortunate circumstances. Issued by Messrs. Chetwynd and Chetwynd under the pleasing title April Folly, it is whispered that the book has already received the hall-mark of distinct literary approval.”
“Slovenly, vulgar trash!” growled Chetwynd, adjusting his pince-nez for the second, but in no way prepared for the blow it was destined to inflict.
“Our Swiss correspondent informs us that an interesting literary wedding has just taken place at Montreux. The charming young lady who prefers to be known as ‘George Henderson,’ was privately married to the energetic sub-editor of Mr. Worthingham’s new venture, the ‘Merry-go-Round.’” There was a further panegyric of “this thoroughly up-to-date journal,”—but poor Chetwynd read no more.
It began to dawn on him that this simple little girl had been an actress from first to last, and it was hard to tell whether he was most hurt or angry. The rain poured down in torrents, and he felt the East wind in his aching bones. He saw his own bald reflection in the looking-glass. “No fool like an old fool,” he murmured, bitterly, and “April Folly,” “April Folly,” stared at him from all the advertisement columns till he was fairly sickened.
The weather was very different in Montreux, where Jim Beresford-Smith had had rather a nasty fall from his bicycle because he had imprudently tried to put his arm round his wife’s waist in an unfrequented bit of the road to Villeneuve. She had been telling him how she had written her first novel, and how she had got it accepted.
“You see, Jim, he fell in love with me directly, and that made it easy enough. Men are blind, though, for he believed all my nonsense about having tried Harvey and Medway, and never seemed to see I’d put him in.” “Poor old chap,” said Jim, with a pitying air of magnanimity; but it is possible that, later, he learnt to feel less compassion for Mr. Chetwynd.
To-Day 16 April 1898: pp. 320-5
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has a strong suspicion that “Rowland Grey” is the nom de plume of a young person possessed of a peach-blossom complexion and dewy grey eyes.
In fact, Miss Rowland Grey was associated with the Savoy circle (her brother was an intimate friend of W.S. Gilbert) and wrote novels such as Lindenblumen and Other Stories and In Sunny Switzerland.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.