Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
The Downfall of Abner Joyce
Though Mrs. Palmer Pence kept looking forward, off and on, to the pleasure of making Abner's acquaintance, it was a full six months before the happy day finally came round. But when she read The Rod of the Oppressor that seemed to settle it; her salon would be incomplete without its author, and she must take steps to find him.
Abner's second book, in spirit and substance, was a good deal like his first: the man who has succeeded follows up his success, naturally, with something of the same sort. The new book was a novel, however,--the first of the long series that Abner was to put forth with the prodigal ease and carelessness of Nature herself; and it was as gloomy, strenuous and positive as its predecessor.
Abner, by this time, had enlarged his circle. Through the reformers he had become acquainted with a few journalists, and journalists had led on to versifiers and novelists, and these to a small clique of artists and musicians. Abner was now beginning to find his best account in a sort of decorous Bohemia and to feel that such, after all, was the atmosphere he had been really destined to breathe. The morals of his new associates were as correct as even he could have insisted upon, and their manners were kindly and not too ornate. They indulged in a number of little practices caught, he supposed, from "society," but after all their modes were pleasantly trustful and informal and presently quite ceased to irk and to intimidate him. Many members of his new circle were massed in one large building whose owner had attempted to name it the Warren Block; but the artists and the rest simply called it the Warren--sometimes the Burrow or the Rabbit-Hutch--and referred to themselves collectively as the Bunnies.
Abner found it hard to countenance such facetiousness in a world so full of pain; yet after all these dear people did much to cushion his discomfort, and before long hardly a Saturday afternoon came round without his dropping into one studio or another for a chat and a cup of tea. To tell the truth, Abner could hardly "chat" as yet, but he was beginning to learn, and he was becoming more reconciled as well to all the paraphernalia involved in the brewing of the draught. He was boarding rather roughly with a landlady who, like himself, was from "down state" and who had never cultivated fastidiousness in table-linen or in tableware, and he sniffed at the fanciful cups and spoons and pink candle-shades that helped to insure the attendance of the "desirable people," as the Burrow phrased it, and at the manifold methods of tea-making that were designed to turn the desirable people into profitable patrons. That is, he sniffed at the samovar and the lemons and so on; but when the rum came along he looked away sternly and in silence.
Well, the desirable people came in numbers--studios were the fad that year--and as soon as Mrs. Palmer Pence understood that Abner was to be met with somewhere in the Burrow she hastened to enroll herself among them.
Eudoxia Pence was a robust and vigorous woman in her prime--and by "prime" I mean about thirty-six. She was handsome and rich and intelligent and ambitious, and she was hesitating between a career as a Society Queen and a self-devotion to the Better Things: perhaps she was hoping to combine both. With her she brought her niece, Miss Clytie Summers, who had been in society but a month, yet who was enterprising enough to have joined already a class in sociological science, composed of girls that were quite the ones to know, and to have undertaken two or three little excursions into the slums. Clytie hardly felt sure just yet whether what she most wanted was to gain a Social Triumph or to lend a Helping Hand. It was Abner's lot to help influence her decision.