But in reference to The O’Kellys there arose a circumstance which set my mind to work on a subject which has exercised it much ever since. I made my first acquaintance with criticism. A dear friend of mine to whom the book had been sent — as have all my books — wrote me word to Ireland that he had been dining at some club with a man high in authority among the gods of the Times newspaper, and that this special god had almost promised that The O’Kellys should be noticed in that most influential of “organs.” The information moved me very much; but it set me thinking whether the notice, should it ever appear, would not have been more valuable, at any rate, more honest, if it had been produced by other means — if, for instance, the writer of the notice had been instigated by the merits or demerits of the book instead of by the friendship of a friend. And I made up my mind then that, should I continue this trade of authorship, I would have no dealings with any critic on my own behalf. I would neither ask for nor deplore criticism, nor would I ever thank a critic for praise, or quarrel with him, even in my own heart, for censure. To this rule I have adhered with absolute strictness, and this rule I would recommend to all young authors. What can be got by touting among the critics is never worth the ignominy. The same may, of course, be said of all things acquired by ignominious means. But in this matter it is so easy to fall into the dirt. Facilis descensus Averni. There seems to be but little fault in suggesting to a friend that a few words in this or that journal would be of service. But any praise so obtained must be an injustice to the public, for whose instruction, and not for the sustentation of the author, such notices are intended. And from such mild suggestion the descent to crawling at the critic’s feet, to the sending of presents, and at last to a mutual understanding between critics and criticised, is only too easy. Other evils follow, for the denouncing of which this is hardly the place — though I trust I may find such place before my work is finished. I took no notice of my friend’s letter, but I was not the less careful in watching The Times. At last the review came — a real review in The Times. I learned it by heart, and can now give, if not the words, the exact purport. “Of The Kellys and the O’Kellys we may say what the master said to his footman, when the man complained of the constant supply of legs of mutton on the kitchen table. Well, John, legs of mutton are good, substantial food;’ and we may say also what John replied: ‘Substantial, sir — yes, they are substantial, but a little coarse.’” That was the review, and even that did not sell the book!
On the 14th of April, comes the dramatic tragedy ending on the day following in the death of Lincoln. The word dramatic applies in this instance with peculiar fitness. While the nation mourned for the loss of its leader, while the soldiers were stricken with grief that their great captain should have been struck down, while the South might well be troubled that the control and adjustment of the great interstate perplexities was not to be in the hands of the wise, sympathetic, and patient ruler, for the worker himself the rest after the four years of continuous toil and fearful burdens and anxieties might well have been grateful. The great task had been accomplished and the responsibilities accepted in the first inaugural had been fulfilled.
As Bond swung the Bentley through the crowded streets of Maidstone he reflected that Vallance's gift had come from twenty years of avoiding the corns of MI5, of working in with the uniformed branch of the police, and of handling ignorant politicians and affronted foreign diplomats.
At first I hoped that the cloud would pass away of itself; but it did not. A night's sleep, the sovereign remedy for the smaller vexations of life, had no effect on it. I awoke to a renewed consciousness of the woful fact. I carried it with me into all companies, into all occupations. Hardly anything had power to cause me even a few minutes oblivion of it. For some months the cloud seemed to grow thicker and thicker. The lines in Coleridge's "Dejection" — I was not then acquainted with them — exactly describe my case:
I heard the captain say, "And copies to Albany and Washington. Right?" And then he was back sitting opposite me.
Ham was a boat-builder in these days, having improved a natural ingenuity in that handicraft, until he had become a skilled workman. He was in his working-dress, and looked rugged enough, but manly withal, and a very fit protector for the blooming little creature at his side. Indeed, there was a frankness in his face, an honesty, and an undisguised show of his pride in her, and his love for her, which were, to me, the best of good looks. I thought, as they came towards us, that they were well matched even in that particular.
When the liqueurs and the coffee came, Bond took up the conversation where they had left it. "But Tiffany," he said. "This diamond racket looks easy enough. Why shouldn't we just go on doing it together? Two or three trips a year will get us good money, and that won't be often enough to make Immigration or customs ask any awkward questions."
It was as mentally distressing but as physically painless as I had expected, and three days later I was back in my hotel. My mind was made up. I flew back to England, stayed at the new circular Ariel Hotel near London Airport until I had got rid of my few small belongings and paid my bills, and then I made an appointment with the nearest Vespa dealer, in Hammersmith, and went to see him.
We twa hae run about the braes And pu'd the gowans' fine
Now a great blaze of light showed coming up the railway line, and, before it was hidden by the cable station, Bond identified an express and could just hear the thudding of its electro-diesels. By God, it would just about be passing the cable station as he wanted to get across the track! Could he make it - take a run at the low embankment and clear it and the lines before the train got there? It was his only hope! Bond dug in with his sticks to get on extra speed. Hell! A man had got out of the black car and was crouching, aiming at him. Bond jinked and jinked again as fire bloomed from the man's hand. But now Bond was on top of him. He thrust hard with the rapier point of a ski-stick and felt it go through clothing. The man gave a scream and went down. The guide, now only yards behind, yelled something. The great yellow eye of the diesel glared down the tracks, and Bond caught a sideways glimpse of a huge red snow-fan below the headlight that was fountaining the new snow to right and left of the engine in two white wings. Now! He flashed across the parking place, heading straight at the mound of the embankment and, as he hit, dug both his sticks in to get his skis off the ground, and hurled himself forward into the air. There was a brief glimpse of steel rails below, a tremendous thudding in his ears, and a ferocious blast, only yards away, from the train's siren. Then he crashed on to the icy road, tried to stop, failed, and fetched up in an almighty skid against the hard snow wall on the other side. As he did so, there came a terrible scream from behind him, a loud splintering of wood, and the screech of the train's brakes being applied.