It has been suggested to the Council,” said Mr. Richmond—the name Council was the one by which he desired to be known to the pupils of the school upon occasions—“that, as the Slum Novel is that branch of fiction by which it is easiest to make a reputation for profound thought, at the least expenditure of thought, I should deal with the technicalities of such a composition.

“I think the suggestion an excellent one, and I trust that I shall succeed in enabling you to produce, after a little practice, such a book as will certainly be reviewed to the extent of a full column in more than one of the leading newspapers.”

There was a general movement of attention throughout the class at this point. The lady with the two ink bottles, who lived in an atmosphere strongly impregnated with monograms done in silver, carefully chose a pen from her rack.

“In addition to the novel receiving a lengthy review or two, it may even sell,” continued Mr. Richmond. “But if it should not sell, the writer will, in the estimation of a certain circle—a circle which I do not say it is impossible to ‘square’—I speak paradoxically—have constituted a still stronger claim to be regarded as a profound thinker.

“Now at the outset I ask you to write at the head of your notes the word ‘Dulness.’ This is the goal to which you must press forward in the Slum Novel. You must be dull at all hazards. No matter what you have to sacrifice to produce this impression you must aim at being dull. Now it is not generally recognised that there are many ways of being dull. There is genial dulness and there is jocular dulness. There is dulness of diction and dulness of characterisation. There is dulness of morality and dulness of criminality. There is dulness of Socialism and dulness of Suburbanism. Now, if you succeed in making a blend of all these forms of dulness you will have gone far in making a successful Slum Novel.

“The next note which I will beg of you to make is this: ‘The Slum Novel must neither embody lessons nor suggest Remedies.’

“You must invent your characters, add if you will, a plot, but the latter is by no means essential, and then you must get up your topography. Too great emphasis cannot be laid upon the necessity for a minute topographical scheme—with a map, if possible. I must remind you that a map in a work of fiction imparts to it an aspect of dulness which even the most brilliant writer might fail to achieve in a dozen pages.

“Next in importance to imaginary topography is imaginary dialect. I will ask you to write the word Dialect large in your notes. The Argot of the Slums cannot be made too unintelligible, nor can its inconsistency be over-emphasised. An excellent recipe for true Cockney is to mix with the broadest Lancashire a phrase or two of Norfolk, a word or two of stage Irish, and all the oaths in daily use in the mining districts. The result will be pure Cockney. But you must be very careful of your oaths. Swearing is to a Slum Novel what vinegar is to salad—what the sulphur tip is to the lucifer match. On the whole I think that those ladies who are desirous of writing dialogue that can scarcely fail to receive the heartiest recognition from critics, would do well to allow no character to make even the simplest remark without intruding at least two of those words which a few years ago a printer would refuse to print. The effect will be startling at first, more especially if the coarsest words are put into the mouths of women and children; but you must remember that the object of a Slum Novel is to startle a reader without interesting a reader. It is in furtherance of this aim that you must so disguise the everyday words spoken by your characters as to make them quite unintelligible to the most adroit of readers. If the least clue is obtainable to the simplest words you may be sure that there is something wrong in your technique.

“Now I come to the important element known as Cruelty. Will you kindly write down the word Cruelty. Respecting the technicalities of this element a good deal of advice might be given. But I shall have said enough on this point to give you a good working acquaintance with its place in the Slum Novel when I assure you that you cannot make it too revolting, and that you cannot describe the details of any revolting act too closely. Your blood stains cannot be too large or dark or damp—you must be careful that the blood stains are kept damp.

“The entire technique of the plot may be included in this precept: Make your heroine a woman with fists like those of a man and let her be murdered by the man whom she loves and let her die in the act of assuring the policeman that she did it herself. Her last words must be ‘S’elp me Gawd.’ This is understood to be genuine pathos. It is not for me to say that it is otherwise. When I shall have the honour of dealing with the technicalities of pathos you may depend on my not neglecting the important branch of Slum Pathos.”

Mr. Owen Glendower Richmond paused and took a glass of water with the air of a connoisseur of vintages. He seemed to trust that it would be understood that the water was of a delicate cru. There was another distinct movement among his audience that almost suggested relief. There were whispers. It seemed to be understood that the relaxing of the strain put upon the members of the class meant a period of complete repose.

“He kept it up wonderfully, did he not?” remarked Josephine.

“Kept it up?” cried Amber, assuming the wrinkle of the one who is puzzled.

“Yes; the tennis ball of satire and the shuttlecock of irony,” said Josephine. “Do these folks take him seriously?”

“We do,” replied Amber with a touch of dignity. “We do. He will prevent a good many of us from making fools of ourselves.”

“But I thought that you had only reached the Aunt Dorothy stage of machine-made literature,” said Josephine. “Have you already mastered the technique of Aunt Dorothy?”

“I am occasionally allowed to join the higher fiction class as a treat,” said Amber. “You see, Mr. Overton comes to this class.”

“I see. You are leading him to higher things by the primrose path of technical literature,” said Josephine. “This primrose path seems to me to resemble the mule track through the valley from Stalden to Saas Fée. It does not admit of much independence of travelling.”

“Hush! Mr. Richmond is going to set us our home exercise,” said Amber as the teacher gave a little tap to his desk with the stem of a quill pen, holding it by the feather end. The sound that it made was curious and its effect was electrical: all faces were instantly turned toward him.

“Last week I made you acquainted with the technique of the Historical Novel,” said Mr. Richmond, “and I am naturally anxious to learn to what extent you have availed yourselves of suggestions. I will therefore offer you for home exercise the following problem: ‘Given Richelieu and a dark alley in a Seventeenth Century Continental city, with a cold damp wind blowing through it when the hero of the story takes shelter in one of the doorways, describe the fight in the cellar when he descends on hearing the shrieks of a girl with fair hair and a curious cross set with pearls and sapphires on her breast, proceeding from that portion of the building.

“You may do me the honour to recollect that I made you acquainted with the technique of the brawl of the historical romance, with its three motives—Cardinal Richelieu, the marked pack of cards, and the girl with fair hair and the cross with pearls and sapphires on her breast. You are at perfect liberty in the exercise to make the young woman either haughty or humble, but I need scarcely remind you, I hope, that she must be either the one or the other to an extravagant degree, but Richelieu must always be old. Now I will read out the terms of the problem once more: ‘Given a dark alley—a dark alley’—have you got that down?”

Mr. Richmond repeated slowly with praiseworthy distinctness, the terms of the problem and the members of the class scratched away at their notes with pencils of varying shapes and sizes—all except the young lady with the big silver monograms and the blotter inside them: she used a pen which she dipped alternately into the bottle of red and the bottle of black ink, such is the absent-mindedness of authorship even in the jelly-fish period of its evolution.

“Is it possible that you are taking it all down?” asked Josephine of Amber.

“It is only to encourage the others,” replied Amber. “If Guy Overton did not see me taking it all down he wouldn’t write a line.”

“And will you make the attempt to work out the problem at home?” asked Josephine.

“Perhaps I may have a shot at it. After all it’s no more difficult than an ordinary equation: given the hero, the cold damp wind and the shrieks, to find the girl—I think I shall make her simple, not haughty; the haughty ones are a little boring, are they not?”

“And now we shall proceed to the dialect lesson,” said Mr. Richmond. “Having dealt with Somersetshire during the past week I will now offer you for translation a few sentences containing the fundamental words necessary to the dialogue of the Lowland Scotch novel. You will observe that these words are really not numerous. But, as you can ring some thousands of changes upon a peal of eight bells so by the free use of a dozen dialect words you can impart a strong local colour to any commonplace story. Of course it ceases to be commonplace when the characters speak in the dialect of the Lowlands.” He then wrote a few sentences on the black board embodying such words as “muckle,” “mickle,” “hoot awa’,” “bonnie—bonnie—bonnie”—“you cannot have too many ‘bonnies,’” he remarked—“wee” in its direct application, and “wee” when combined with another diminutive, such as “wee bit.” He explained the significance of every phrase and pointed out how directly it appealed to the heart of a reader. He applied a critical stethoscope, as it were, to every phrase, showing the strong manly heart of a sturdy people beating through such sentences as he had placed before his class.

“I will now, with your permission,” said Mr. Richmond, “conclude the business of the class with a time study. A short time ago I brought under your notice the technicalities of the novel of phrases. You will, I hope, recollect that I laid considerable emphasis upon the effect capable of being produced by a startling definition of something that, in common acceptation, in no way stands in need of being defined. Now, you all know what Platonic Love means; well, a definition or a series of definitions of Platonic Love, will form the ten minutes time study for to-day. Ladies and gentlemen, Platonic Love—a definition for the purpose of the Novel of Phrases.”

There was nothing like a smile on Mr. Richmond’s face at any part of his lecture. He treated every technical point which he suggested in the most serious way. He handled every portion of the subject with the freedom and the gravity of a surgeon in the dissecting room. There was a certain frankness in his assumption that any one could be taught how to make the great mass of the people smile or laugh or weep or feel—that the production of certain effects in prose was as entirely a matter of machinery as the effects produced by the man at the throttle-valve of the locomotive when he jerks the piece of metal with the handle. Some people might have called this frankness cynicism; but Josephine could not see that there was anything cynical about it.

She had attended for some years a life-class at the studio of a painter of distinction and he had lectured to his pupils on the technical aspects of the art of painting, referring occasionally to what he called the depth of feeling in certain chromatic combinations. He had also showed them how to produce the effect of tears on a face, by making a little smudge on the cheeks. If it was possible to teach such technicalities why should not one do as Mr. Richmond was doing, and teach a crowd of students how to write so as to draw tears or compel smiles?

“I don’t think that I will trouble myself with the time-study,” said Amber.

Josephine looked at her and gave a laugh.

“Platonic affection,” she said musingly. “I wonder why you should shirk a paper on that question. You are supposed to be an exponent of that virtue. I should like to know what Mr. Guy Overton thinks about it. I should like to know what Mr. Galmyn thinks about it. The definition of Mr. Willie Bateman’s opinion might also possess some element of interest.”

“Write down what you think of it,” cried Amber, pushing the paper towards her.

Josephine shook her head at first, smiling gently. Then she made a sudden grab at the pencil that hung to one of the chains of her chatelaine.

“I’ll define Platonic affection for you, my dear,” she whispered, “for you—not for Mr. Richmond: he needs no definition of that or anything else.”

She began to write a good deal more rapidly than the others in the class-room. So rapidly did she write that she was unable to see how great was the interest in Mr. Richmond’s face while he watched her and how great was the interest in the face of a young man who sat at the most distant desk while he watched Amber.

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