The moment he disappeared, Susy slipped the knot which she had just made on the parcel and flung the paper away.

“Now we can settle down to it properly, Fanny,” she cried, catching up the bundle of unstitched sheets and throwing herself back upon the little sofa. “Come beside me, dear, and we shall go through every word together. Never mind what Eddy said; I think it looks quite lovely, and how easily it reads—just like poetry—‘Evelina’!—how did you think of that sweet name?—‘or, A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World.’ Not a mistake so far. The printers must surely be careful men! And now that you come to think of it, this is really the entrance of the Young Lady into the world. Here she is, smiling, but a little shy—just like her mamma—your Evelina takes after you, dear—now, confess that there is something agreeably shy in the italics printing of that line beginning with ‘A Young Lady’s Entrance,’ Fanny; it may be wrong to write a novel, but don’t you think that this is worth it? Edward is a goose to talk as he did about crying over spilt milk. I wonder that you had patience to listen to him.”

“Eddy is a dear boy, and he only said what he knew nearly everybody else would be disposed to say about this business. I started the story, as you know, half in fun—by way of exercising my hand—but then it got hold of me, and it became deadly earnest, and now—oh, Susy, what I feel now about it is just what I said to Edward: it seems as if it were the best part of myself that I am giving to the world. I wonder if it is right for anyone who has written a book, if it be only a novel, to look upon it in that light.”

“Why should it not be right? Didn’t you put all your thoughts into it, and are not one’s thoughts part of oneself?” said Susy. “And although so many people look down upon novels—all the novels that have been written since Mr. Richardson died—still—oh, did not Dr. Johnson once write a novel? Yes, ‘Rasselas’ was what he called it. I tried to read it but—”

“H’sh, Susy. Dr. Johnson might write anything that he pleased. Though Dr. Johnson wrote a novel, that should be no excuse for such as I having the audacity to do the like.”

“I suppose that’s what some people will say. But I can’t see that if a good man does an evil thing, it becomes a good thing simply because he does it.”

“Stop, Susy: I remember that he confessed to someone, who told it to Mr. Crisp, that he had written ‘Rasselas’ in order to get money enough to pay for his mother’s funeral.”

“Oh, in that case—might he not have written something a good deal better, Fanny? Oh, I see that you are stricken with horror at my thinking anything that came from Dr. Johnson to be dull. I daresay I began reading it too soon: I should have waited until I had learned that if a great man writes a book it is a great book, but that if a simple girl writes a novel—well, there’s no use crying over spilt milk. Now that’s the last word that I have to say, for I mean to read every word that’s printed here—here—here!” She brought down her open hand on the topmost sheets of “Evelina” in three crescendo slaps, and then tucked her feet under her and buried herself in the book.

Fanny sat laughing beside her; and when Susy paid no attention to her laughter, she continued sitting there in silence, while Susy read page after page.

Several minutes had passed before the authoress asked:

“How does the thing read, dear?”

Susy gave a start at the sound of her voice and looked around her as if she had just been awakened. This should have been enough for Fanny. She should not have repeated her question: it was already answered.

“How does the thing read, Susy?”

“How does it read?” cried Susy. “Oh, Fanny, it reads exactly like a book—exactly. There is no difference between this and a real book. Oh, ’tis a thousand times nicer to read in print than it was as you wrote it. It is so good, too!—the best story I ever read! I can’t understand how you ever came to write it. You who have seen nothing of life—how did such a story ever come to you?”

“I wish I knew,” replied Fanny. “And do you think that anyone else will read it now that it is printed?” she asked (she was rapidly acquiring the most prominent traits of the complete novel writer).

“Anyone else? Nay, everyone—everyone will read it, and everyone will love it. How could anyone help—even daddy and mamma? Now please don’t interrupt me again.”

Down went Susy’s face once more among the printed sheets, and Fanny watched her with delight. She had been quite ready a short time before to accept the verdict of Cousin Edward as equivalent to that of the public upon her book; and now she was prepared to accept Susy as the representative of all readers of taste and discrimination.

“Edward—psha! What could he know about it?” she was ready to exclaim: every moment was bringing her nearer to the complete novelist.

“Surely,” she thought, “there can be no dearer pleasure in life than to watch the effect of one’s own book upon an appreciative reader!”

(The appreciative reader is always the one who is favourably impressed; the other sort knows nothing about what constitutes an interesting book.)

It was the first draught of which she had ever partaken of this particular cup of happiness, and it was a bombard. She was draining it to the very dregs: it was making her intoxicated, even though it was only offered to her by her younger sister, who had never read half a dozen novels in all her life, and these surreptitiously. She could know by the varying changes in expression on Susy’s face what place she had come to in the book: the turning over of the pages was no guide to her, for she had no idea of the quantity of her writing the printers had put into a page, but she had no trouble in finding Susy’s place, so exquisitely reflective was the girl’s face of the incidents among which she was wandering. Surely little Susy had always been her favourite sister (she was smiling at one of the drolleries of characterization upon which she had come); oh, there could be no doubt that she had never loved any of her sisters as she loved Susy (Susy’s eyes were now becoming watery, and Fanny knew that she had reached the first of Evelina’s troubles).

It was the happiest hour of Fanny’s life, and she gave herself up to it. She did not feel any irresistible desire to judge for herself if the opinion expressed by Susy respecting the story was correct or otherwise. She had no impulse to see how her ideas “looked in print.” She was content to observe the impression they were making upon her first lay reader. She had a vague suspicion that her own pleasure in reading the book would be infinitely less than the pleasure she derived from following the course of the story in her sister’s face.

Half an hour had actually passed before Susy seemed to awaken to the realities of life. She jumped up from the sofa with an exclamation of surprise, and then glanced down at Fanny with an inquiring look on her face—a puzzled look that gave the seal to Fanny’s happiness.

“You are wondering how I come to be here, Susy,” said she smiling. “You are wondering how I come to be mixed up with the Branghtons and the Mervains and the rest of them. You would make me out to be an enchantress carrying you into the midst of a strange society; and I don’t want any more delightful compliments, dear.”

“Oh, Fanny, ’tis so wonderful—so—”

“I don’t want to hear anything about it beyond what you have already told me, my dear Susy. I watched your face and it told me all. Give me a kiss, Susy. You have given me a sensation of pleasure such as I never knew before, and such as, I fear, I shall never know again.”

In an instant the two girls were in each other’s arms, mingling their tears and then their laughter, but exchanging no word until they had exhausted every other means of expressing what they felt.

It was Susy who spoke first.

“Take it away, Fanny,” she said. “Take the book away, for I know that if I read any more of it I shall betray your secret to all the house. They will read it on my face every time I look at you.”

“I think that the hour has come for me to relieve you of the precious book,” said Fanny. “There is the letter from Mr. Lowndes asking me to make out the list of errata as quickly as possible, and I do believe that I shall have to read the book before I can oblige him.”

“’Twas thoughtless for me to jump into the middle as I did, when you had to read it,” cried Susy. “But there is really no mistake on any page, so far as I could see.”

“Unless the whole is a mistake,” said Fanny. “But I will not suggest that now, having seen your face while you were devouring it. Dear Susy, if I find many such readers I shall be happy.”

She gathered together the loose sheets and carried them off to the little room at the top of the house where it was understood she wrote her long weekly letter to Mr. Crisp, who had made himself a hermit at Chessington, but who, like some other hermits, looked forward with impatience to the delightful glimpses of the world which he had forsaken, afforded to him on every page written by her.

Susy did not see her again until dinner-time, and by that time the younger girl felt that she had herself under such complete control that she could preserve inviolate the secret of the authorship until it should cease to be a secret. The result of her rigid control of herself was that her brother James said to her when they were having tea in the drawing-room:

“What was the matter with you at dinner, Sue? You looked as if you were aware that something had happened and you were fearful lest it might be found out. Have you broken a china ornament, or has the cat been turning over the leaves of the ‘History of Music’ with her claws, and left her signature on the morocco of the cover?”

“What nonsense!” cried Susan. “Nothing has happened. What was there to happen, prithee tell me?”

“Ah, that is beyond my power,” he replied. “I suppose you girls will have your secrets—ay, ay; until some day you reveal them to another girl with the strictest of cautions never to let the matter go beyond her—and so forth—and so forth. Never mind, I’ll not be the one to tempt you to blab. I never yet had a secret told to me that was worth wasting words over.”

“If I had a secret of importance I think that you would be a safe person to tell it to,” said Susy.

“You are right there,” he assented with a nautical wink. “You could find in me the safest depository you could wish for; you might safely depend upon my forgetting all about it within the hour.”

He did not trouble her any further, but she felt somewhat humiliated to think that she had had so little control of herself as to cause her brother’s suspicions to be aroused. She thought that it would only be a matter of minutes when her father or her stepmother would approach her with further questions. Happily, however, it seemed that James was the keenest observer in the household, for no one put a question to her respecting her tell-tale face.

Still she was glad when she found herself safely and snugly in bed and so in a position to whisper across the room to her sister Charlotte the news that Fanny’s novel had been printed and that a copy was safely locked up in Fanny’s desk, and that it looked lovely in its new form.

Charlotte was greatly excited, but thought that Fanny might have told her the news before dinner.

“Poor Fanny! she will have to tell the Padre to-morrow and ask his leave to—to do what she has already done without it. Poor Fanny!”

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