From the club where the farewell dinner was given him, Ray went to the depot of the East & West Railroad with a friend of his own age, and they walked up and down the platform talking of their lives and their loves, as young men do, till they both at once found themselves suddenly very drowsy. They each pretended not to be so; his friend made a show of not meaning to leave him till the through express should come along at two o’clock and pick up the sleeping-car waiting for it on the side track, and Ray feigned that he had no desire to turn in, but would much rather keep walking and talking.

They got rid of each other at last, and Ray hurried aboard his sleeper and plunged into his berth as soon as he could get his coat and boots off. Then he found himself very wakeful. The soporific first effect of the champagne had passed, but it still sent the blood thumping in his neck and pounding in his ears as he lay smiling and thinking of the honor that had been done him, and the affection that had been shown him by his fellow-townsmen. In the reflected light of these, the future stretched brightly before him. He scarcely felt it a hardship anymore that he should be forced to leave Midland by the business change which had thrown him out of his place on the Midland Echo, and he certainly did not envy the friend who had just parted from him, and who was going to remain with the new owners. His mind kept, in spite of him, a sort of grudge toward the Hanks Brothers who had bought the paper, and who had thought they must reduce the editorial force as a first step towards making the property pay. He could not say that they had treated him unfairly or unkindly; they had been very frank and very considerate with him, but he could not conceal from himself the probability that if they had really appreciated him they would have seen that it would be a measure of the highest wisdom to keep him. He had given the paper standing and authority in certain matters; he knew that, and he smiled to think of Joe Hanks conducting his department. He hoped the estimation in which the dinner showed that his fellow-citizens held him, had done something to open the eyes of the brothers to the mistake they had made; they were all three at the dinner, and Martin Hanks had made a speech expressive of regard and regret which did not reconcile Ray to them. He now tried to see them as benefactors in disguise, and when he recalled the words of people who said that they always thought he was thrown away on a daily paper, he was willing to acknowledge that the Hanks had{3} probably, at least, not done him an injury. He had often been sensible himself of a sort of incongruity in using up in ephemeral paragraphs, and even leading articles, the mind-stuff of a man who had published poems in the Century Bric-à-Brac and Harper’s Drawer, and had for several years had a story accepted by the Atlantic, though not yet printed. With the manuscript of the novel which he was carrying to New York and the four or five hundred dollars he had saved from his salary, he felt that he need not undertake newspaper work at once again. He meant to make a thorough failure of literature first. There would be time enough then to fall back upon journalism, as he could always do.

He counted a good deal upon his novel in certain moods. He knew it had weak points which he was not able to strengthen because he was too ignorant of life, though he hated to own it, but he thought it had some strong ones too, and he believed it would succeed if he could get a publisher for it.

He had read passages of it to his friend, and Sanderson had praised them. Ray knew he had not entered fully into the spirit of the thing, because he was merely and helplessly a newspaper mind, though since Ray had left the Echo, Sanderson had talked of leaving it too and going on to devote himself to literature in New York. Ray knew he would fail, but he encouraged him because he was so fond of him; he thought now what a good, faithful fellow Sanderson was. Sanderson not only praised the novel to its author, but he celebrated it to the young ladies. They all knew that Ray had written it, and several of them spoke to him about it; they said they were just dying to see it. One of them had seen it, and when he asked her what she thought of his novel, in the pretense that he did not imagine she had looked at the manuscript, it galled him a little to have her say that it was like Thackeray; he knew he had imitated Thackeray, but he feigned that he did not know, and he hoped no one else would see it. She recognized traits that he had drawn from himself, and he did not like that, either; in the same way that he feigned not to know that he had imitated Thackeray, he feigned not to know that he had drawn his own likeness. But the sum of what she said gave him great faith in himself, and in his novel. He theorized that if its subtleties of thought and its flavors of style pleased a girl like her, and at the same time a fellow like Sanderson was taken with the plot, he had got the two essentials of success in it. He thought how delicately charming that girl was; still, he knew that he was not in love with her. He thought how nice girls were, anyway; there were lots of perfectly delightful girls in Midland, and he should probably have fallen in love with some of them if it had not been for that long passion of his early youth, which seemed to have vacated him before he came there. He was rather proud of his vastation, and he found it not only fine but upon the whole very convenient, to be going away heart-free.

He had no embarrassing ties, no hindering obligations of any kind. He had no one but himself to look out for in seeking his fortune. His father, after long years of struggle, was very well placed in the little country town which Ray had come from to Midland; his brothers had struck out for themselves farther west; one of his sisters was going to be married; the other was at school. None of them needed his help or was in anywise dependent upon him. He realized, in thinking of it all, that he was a very lucky fellow; and he was not afraid but he should get on if he kept trying, and if he did his best, the chances were that it would be found out. He lay in his berth, with a hopeful and flattering smile on his lips, and listened to the noises of the station: the feet on the platforms; the voices, as from some disembodied life; the clang of engine bells; the jar and clash and rumble of the trains that came and went, with a creaking and squealing of their slowing or starting wheels, while his sleeper was quietly side-tracked, waiting for the express to arrive and pick it up. He felt a sort of slight for the town he was to leave behind; a sort of contemptuous fondness; for though it was not New York, it had used him well; it had appreciated him, and Ray was not ungrateful. Upon the whole, he was glad that he had agreed to write those letters from New York which the Hanks Brothers had finally asked him to do for the Echo. He knew that they had asked him under a pressure of public sentiment and because they had got it through them at last that other people thought he would be a loss to the paper. He liked well enough the notion of keeping the readers of the Echo in mind of him; if he failed to capture New York, Midland would always be a good point to fall back upon. He expected his novel to succeed, and then he should be independent. But till then, the five dollars a week which the Hanks Brothers proposed to pay him for his letters would be very convenient, though the sum was despicable in itself. Besides, he could give up the letters whenever he liked. He had his dreams of fame and wealth, but he knew very well that they were dreams, and he was not going to kick over his basket of glass till they had become realities.

A keen ray from one of the electric moons depending from the black roof of the depot suddenly pierced his window at the side of his drawn curtain, and he felt the car jolted backward. He must have been drowsing, for the express had come in unknown to him, and was picking up his sleeper. With a faint thrill of homesickness for the kindly town he was leaving, he felt the train pull forward and so out of its winking lamps into the night. He held his curtain aside to see the last of these lights. Then, with a luxurious sense of helplessness against fate, he let it fall; and Midland slipped back into the irrevocable past.

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