He held this position for three years, and during that time important things happened. When he had recovered from his state of semi-starvation, and was living in comfort (a pound a week is a very large sum if you have previously had to live on ten shillings), Reardon found that the impulse to literary production awoke in him more strongly than ever. He generally got home from the hospital about six o'clock, and the evening was his own. In this leisure time he wrote a novel in two volumes; one publisher refused it, but a second offered to bring it out on the terms of half profits to the author. The book appeared, and was well spoken of in one or two papers; but profits there were none to divide. In the third year of his clerkship he wrote a novel in three volumes; for this his publishers gave him twenty-five pounds, with again a promise of half the profits after deduction of the sum advanced. Again there was no pecuniary success. He had just got to work upon a third book, when his grandfather at Derby died and left him four hundred pounds.
He could not resist the temptation to recover his freedom. Four hundred pounds, at the rate of eighty pounds a year, meant five years of literary endeavour. In that period he could certainly determine whether or not it was his destiny to live by the pen.
In the meantime his relations with the secretary of the hospital, Carter by name, had grown very friendly. When Reardon began to publish books, the high-spirited Mr Carter looked upon him with something of awe; and when the literary man ceased to be a clerk, there was nothing to prevent association on equal terms between him and his former employer. They continued to see a good deal of each other, and Carter made Reardon acquainted with certain of his friends, among whom was one John Yule, an easy-going, selfish, semi-intellectual young man who had a place in a Government office. The time of solitude had gone by for Reardon. He began to develop the power that was in him.
Those two books of his were not of a kind to win popularity. They dealt with no particular class of society (unless one makes a distinct class of people who have brains), and they lacked local colour. Their interest was almost purely psychological. It was clear that the author had no faculty for constructing a story, and that pictures of active life were not to be expected of him; he could never appeal to the multitude. But strong characterisation was within his scope, and an intellectual fervour, appetising to a small section of refined readers, marked all his best pages.
He was the kind of man who cannot struggle against adverse conditions, but whom prosperity warms to the exercise of his powers. Anything like the cares of responsibility would sooner or later harass him into unproductiveness. That he should produce much was in any case out of the question; possibly a book every two or three years might not prove too great a strain upon his delicate mental organism, but for him to attempt more than that would certainly be fatal to the peculiar merit of his work. Of this he was dimly conscious, and, on receiving his legacy, he put aside for nearly twelve months the new novel he had begun. To give his mind a rest he wrote several essays, much maturer than those which had formerly failed to find acceptance, and two of these appeared in magazines.
The money thus earned he spent--at a tailor's. His friend Carter ventured to suggest this mode of outlay.
His third book sold for fifty pounds. It was a great improvement on its predecessors, and the reviews were generally favourable. For the story which followed, 'On Neutral Ground,' he received a hundred pounds. On the strength of that he spent six months travelling in the South of Europe.
He returned to London at mid-June, and on the second day after his arrival befell an incident which was to control the rest of his life. Busy with the pictures in the Grosvenor Gallery, he heard himself addressed in a familiar voice, and on turning he was aware of Mr Carter, resplendent in fashionable summer attire, and accompanied by a young lady of some charms. Reardon had formerly feared encounters of this kind, too conscious of the defects of his attire; but at present there was no reason why he should shirk social intercourse. He was passably dressed, and the half-year of travel had benefited his appearance in no slight degree. Carter presented him to the young lady, of whom the novelist had already heard as affianced to his friend.