"It is a beautiful day," he began, after a pause.
"Is it?" she asked, indifferently.
("Frightfully snubbish," said I, appalled at the lengths to which Miss Andrews was going.
"Dreadfully," sighed Harley. "And so unlike her, too.")
"Yes," said Parker, "so very beautiful that it seemed a pity that you and I should stay indoors, with plenty of walks to be taken and—"
Marguerite interrupted him with a sarcastic laugh.
"With so much pity and so many walks, Mr. Parker, why don't you take a few of them!" she said.
("Good Lord!" said I. "This is the worst act of rebellion yet. She seems beside herself."
"Read on!" said Harley, in sepulchral tones.)
This was Parker's opportunity. "I am not fond of walking, Miss Andrews," he said; and then he added, quickly, "that is, alone—I don't like anything alone. Living alone, like walking alone, is—"
"Let's go walking," said Marguerite, shortly, as she rose up from her chair. "I'll be down in two minutes. I only need to put my hat on."
Parker acquiesced, and Miss Andrews walked majestically out of the parlor and went up-stairs.
"Confound it!" muttered Parker, as she left him. "A minute more, and I'd have known my fate."
("You see," said Harley, "I'd made up my mind that that proposal should take place in that chapter, and I thought I'd worked right up to it, in spite of all Miss Andrews's disagreeable remarks when, pop- -off she goes to put on her hat."
"Oh—as for that—that's all right," said I. "Parker had suggested the walk, and a girl really does like to stave off a proposal as long as she can when she knows it is sure to come. Furthermore, it gives you a chance to describe the hat, and so make up for a few of the words you lost when she refused to discuss ball-dresses with Mrs. Willard."
"I never thought of that; but don't you think I worked up to the proposal skilfully?" asked Harley.
"Very," said I. "But you're dreadfully hard on Parker. It would have been better to have had the butler fire him out, head over heels. He could have thrashed the butler for doing that, but with your heroine his hands were tied."
"Go on and read," said Harley.)
"She must have known what I was driving at," Parker reflected, as he awaited her return. "Possibly she loves me in spite of this frigid behavior. This may be her method of concealing it; but if it is, I must confess it's a case of
'Perhaps it was right to dissemble your love, But—why did you kick me down-stairs?'
Certainly, knowing, as she now must, what my feelings are, her being willing to go for a walk on the cliffs, or anywhere, is a favorable sign.
("Parker merely echoed my own hope in that remark," said Harley. "If I could get them engaged, I was satisfied to do it in any way that might be pleasing to her.")
A moment later Marguerite appeared, arrayed for the walk. Parker rose as she entered and picked up his gloves.
"You are a perfect picture this morning," said he.
"I'm ready," she said, shortly, ignoring the compliment. "Where are we scheduled to walk?—or are we to have something to say about it ourselves?"
Parker looked at her with a wondering smile. The aptness of the remark did not strike him. However, he was equal to the occasion.
"You don't believe in free will, then?" he asked.
("It was the only intelligent remark he could make, under the circumstances, you see," explained Harley.
"He was a clever fellow," said I, and resumed reading.)
"I believe in a great many things we are supposed to do without," said Marguerite, sharply.
They had reached the street, and in silence walked along Bellevue Avenue.
"There are a great many things," vouchsafed Parker, as they turned out of the avenue to the cliffs, "that men are supposed not to do without—"
"Yes," said Marguerite, sharply—"vices."
"I did not refer to them," laughed Parker. "In fact, Miss Andrews, the heart of man is supposed to be incomplete until he has lost it, and has succeeded in getting another for his very—"
"Are you an admirer of Max Nordau?" interposed Marguerite, quickly.
("Whatever led you to put that in?" I asked.
"Go on, and you'll see," said Harley. "I didn't put it in. It's what she said. I'm not responsible.")
"I don't know anything about Max Nordau," said Parker, somewhat surprised at this sudden turn of the conversation.
"Are you familiar with Schopenhauer?" she asked.
("It was awfully rough on the poor fellow," said Harley, "but I couldn't help him. I'd forced him in so far that I couldn't get him out. His answer floored me as completely as anything that Miss Andrews ever did.")
"Schopenhauer?" said Parker, nonplussed. "Oh yes," he added, an idea dawning on his mind. "That is to say, moderately familiar—though, as a matter of fact, I'm not at all musical."
Miss Andrews laughed immoderately, in which Parker, thinking that he had possibly said something witty, although he did not know what it was, joined. In a moment the laughter subsided, and for a few minutes the two walked on in silence. Finally Parker spoke, resignedly.
"Miss Andrews," he said, "perhaps you have noticed—perhaps not—that you have strongly interested me."
"Yes," she said, turning upon him desperately. "I have noticed it, and that is why I have on two separate occasions tried to keep you from saying so."
"And why should I not tell you that I love—" began Parker.
"Because it is hopeless," retorted Marguerite. "I am perfectly well aware, Mr. Parker, what we are down for, and I suppose I cannot blame you for your persistence. Perhaps you don't know any better; perhaps you do know better, but are willing to give yourself over unreservedly into the hands of another; perhaps you are being forced and cannot help yourself. It is just possible that you are a professional hero, and feel under obligations to your employer to follow out his wishes to the letter. However it may be, you have twice essayed to come to the point, and I have twice tried to turn you aside. Now it is time to speak truthfully. I admire and like you very much, but I have a will of my own, am nobody's puppet, and if Stuart Harley never writes another book in his life, he shall not marry me to a man I do not love; and, frankly, I do not love you. I do not know if you are aware of the fact, but it is true nevertheless that you are the third fiance he has tried to thrust upon me since July 3d. Like the others, if you insist upon blindly following his will, and propose marriage to me, you shall go by the board. I have warned you, and you can now do as you please. You were saying—?"
"That I love you with all my soul," said Parker, grimly.
("He didn't really love her then, you know," said Harley. "He'd been cured of that in five minutes. But I was resolved that he should say it, and he did. That's how he came to say it grimly. He did it just as a soldier rushes up to the cannon's mouth. He added, also:")
"Will you be my wife?"
"Most certainly not," said Marguerite, turning on her heel, and leaving the young man to finish his walk alone.
("And then," said Harley, with a chuckle, "Parker's manhood would assert itself in spite of all I could do. He made an answer, which I wrote down."
"I see," said I, "but you've scratched it out. What was that line?"
"'"Thank the Lord!" said Parker to himself, as Miss Andrews disappeared around the corner,'" said Stuart Harley. "That's what I wrote, and I flatter myself on the realism of it, for that's just what any self-respecting hero would have said under the circumstances."
A silence came over us.
"Do you wonder I've given it up," asked Stuart, after a while.
"Yes," said I, "I do. Such opposition would nerve me up to a battle royal. I wouldn't give it up until I'd returned from Barnegat, if I were you," I added, anxious to have him renew his efforts; for an idea had just flashed across my mind, which, although it involved a breach of faith on my part, I nevertheless believed to be good and justifiable, since it might relieve Stuart Harley of his embarrassment.
"Very well," I rejoiced to hear him say. "I won't give it up until then, but I haven't much hope after that last chapter."
So Harley went to Barnegat, after destroying his letter to Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick, whilst I put my breach of faith into operation.)
CHAPTER VII: A BREACH OF FAITH
"Having sworn too hard-a-keeping oath, Study to break it, and not to break my troth." - "Love's Labor's Lost."
When I assured Harley that I should keep my hands off his heroine until he requested me to do otherwise, after my fruitless attempt to discipline her into a less refractory mood, I fully intended to keep my promise. She was his, as far as she possessed any value as literary material, and he had as clear a right to her exclusive use as if she had been copyrighted in his name—at least so far as his friends were concerned he had. Others might make use of her for literary purposes with a clear conscience if they chose to do so, but the hand of a friend must be stayed. Furthermore, my own experience with the young woman had not been successful enough to lead me to believe that I could conquer where Harley had been vanquished. Physical force I had found to be unavailing. She was too cunning to stumble into any of the pitfalls that with all my imagination I could conjure up to embarrass her; but something had to be done, and I now resolved upon a course of moral suasion, and wholly for Harley's sake. The man was actually suffering because she had so persistently defied him, and his discomfiture was all the more deplorable because it meant little short of the ruin of his life and ambitions. The problem had to be solved or his career was at an end. Harley never could do two things at once. The task he had in hand always absorbed his whole being until he was able to write the word finis on the last page of his manuscript, and until the finis to this elusive book he was now struggling with was written, I knew that he would write no other. His pot-boilers he could do, of course, and so earn a living, but pot-boilers destroy rather than make reputations, and Harley was too young a man to rest upon past achievements; neither had he done such vastly superior work that his fame could withstand much diminution by the continuous production of ephemera. It was therefore in the hope of saving him that I broke faith with him and temporarily stole his heroine. I did not dream of using her at all, as you might think, as a heroine of my own, but rather as an interesting person with ideas as to the duty of heroines—a sort of Past Grand Mistress of the Art of Heroinism—who was worth interviewing for the daily press. I flatter myself it was a good idea, worthy almost of a genius, though I am perfectly well aware that I am not a genius. I am merely a man of exceptional talent. I have talent enough for a genius, but no taste for the unconventional, and by just so much do I fall short of the realization of the hopes of my friends and fears of my enemies. There are stories I have in mind that are worthy of the most exalted French masters, for instance, and when I have the time to be careful, which I rarely do, I can write with the polished grace of a De Maupassant or a James, but I shall never write them, because I value my social position too highly to put my name to anything which it would never do to publish outside of Paris. I do not care to prove my genius at the cost of the respect of my neighbors—all of which, however, is foreign to my story, and is put in here merely because I have observed that readers are very much interested in their favorite authors, and like to know as much about them as they can.
My plan, to take up the thread of my narrative once more, was, briefly, to write an interview between myself, as a representative of a newspaper syndicate, and Miss Marguerite Andrews, the "Well-Known Heroine." It has been quite common of late years to interview the models of well-known artists, so that it did not require too great a stretch of the imagination to make my scheme a reasonable one. It must be remembered, too, that I had no intention of using this interview for my own aggrandizement. I planned it solely in the interests of my friend, hoping that I might secure from Miss Andrews some unguarded admission that might operate against her own principles, as Harley and I knew them, and that, that secured, I might induce her to follow meekly his schedule until he could bring his story to a reasonable conclusion. Failing in this, I was going to try and discover what style of man it was she admired most, what might be her ideas of the romance in which she would most like to figure, and all that, so that I could give Harley a few points which would enable him so to construct his romance that his heroine would walk through it as easily and as docilely as one could wish. Finally, all other things failing, I was going to throw Harley on her generosity, call attention to the fact that she was ruining him by her stubborn behavior, and ask her to submit to a little temporary inconvenience for his sake.
As I have already said, so must I repeat, there was genius in the idea, but I was forced to relinquish certain features of it, as will be seen shortly. I took up my pen, and with three bold strokes thereof transported myself to Newport, and going directly to the Willard Cottage, I rang the bell. Miss Andrews was still elusive. With all the resources of imagination at hand, and with not an obstacle in my way that I could not clear at a bound, she still held me at bay. She was not at home—had, in fact, departed two days previously for the White Mountains. Fortunately, however, the butler knew her address, and, without bothering about trains, luggage, or aught else, in one brief paragraph I landed myself at the Profile House, where she was spending a week with Mr. and Mrs. Rushton of Brooklyn. This change of location caused me to modify my first idea, to its advantage. I saw, when I thought the matter over, that, on the whole, the interview, as an interview for a newspaper syndicate, was likely to be nipped in the bud, since the moment I declared myself a reporter for a set of newspapers, and stated the object of my call, she would probably dismiss me with the statement that she was not a professional heroine, that her views were of no interest to the public, and that, not having the pleasure of my acquaintance, she must beg to be excused. I wonder I didn't think of this at the outset. I surely knew Harley's heroine well enough to have foreseen this possibility. I realized it, however, the moment I dropped myself into the great homelike office of the Profile House. Miss Andrews walked through the office to the dining-room as I registered, and as I turned to gaze upon her as she passed majestically on, it flashed across my mind that it would be far better to appear before her as a fellow-guest, and find out what I wanted and tell her why I had come in that guise, rather than introduce myself as one of those young men who earn their daily bread by poking their noses into other people's business.
Had this course been based upon any thing more solid than a pure bit of imagination, I should have found it difficult to accommodate myself so easily to circumstances. If it had been Harley instead of myself, it would have been impossible, for Harley would never have stooped to provide himself with a trunk containing fresh linen and evening-dress clothes and patent-leather pumps by a stroke of his pen. This I did, however, and that evening, having created another guest, who knew me of old and who also was acquainted with Miss Andrews, just as I had created my excellent wardrobe, I was presented.
The evening passed pleasantly enough, and I found Harley's heroine to be all that he had told me and a great deal more besides. In fact, so greatly did I enjoy her society that I intentionally prolonged the evening to about three times its normal length—which was a very inartistic bit of exaggeration, I admit; but then I don't pretend to be a realist, and when I sit down to write I can make my evenings as long or as short as I choose. I will say, however, that, long as my evening was, I made it go through its whole length without having recourse to such copy-making subterfuges as the description of doorknobs and chairs; and except for its unholy length, it was not at all lacking in realism. Miss Andrews fascinated me and seemed to find me rather good company, and I found myself suggesting that as the next day was Sunday she take me for a walk. From what I knew of Harley's experience with her, I judged she'd be more likely to go if I asked her to take me instead of offering to take her. It was a subtle distinction, but with some women subtle distinctions are chasms which men must not try to overleap too vaingloriously, lest disaster overtake them. My bit of subtlety worked like a charm. Miss Andrews graciously accepted my suggestion, and I retired to my couch feeling certain that during that walk to Bald Mountain, or around the Lake, or down to the Farm, or wherever else she might choose to take me, I could do much to help poor Stuart out of the predicament into which his luckless choice of Miss Andrews as his heroine had plunged him. And I wasn't far wrong, as the event transpired, although the manner in which it worked out was not exactly according to my schedule.
I dismissed the night with a few paragraphs; the morning, with its divine service in the parlor, went quickly and impressively; for it IS an impressive sight to see gathered beneath those towering cliffs a hundred or more of pleasure and health seekers of different creeds worshipping heartily and simply together, as accordantly as though they knew no differences and all men were possessed of one common religion—it was too impressive, indeed, for my pen, which has been largely given over to matters of less moment, and I did not venture to touch upon it, passing hastily over to the afternoon, when Miss Andrews appeared, ready for the stroll.
I gazed at her admiringly for a moment, and then I began:
"Is that the costume you wore"—I was going to say, "when you rejected Parker?" but I fortunately caught my error in time to pass it off—"at Newport?" I finished, with a half gasp at the narrowness of my escape; for, it must be remembered, I was supposed as yet to know nothing of that episode.
"How do you know what I wore at Newport?" she asked, quickly—so quickly that I almost feared she had found me out, after all.
"Why—ah—I read about you somewhere," I stammered. "Some newspaper correspondent drew a picture of the scene on the promenade in the afternoon, and—ah—he had you down."
"Oh!" she replied, arching her eyebrows; "that was it, was it? And do you waste your valuable time reading the vulgar effusions of the society reporter?"
Wasn't I glad that I had not come as a man with a nose to project into the affairs of others—as a newspaper reporter!
"No, indeed," I rejoined, "not generally; but I happened to see this particular item, and read it and remembered it. After all," I added, as we came to the sylvan path that leads to the Lake—"after all, one might as well read that sort of stuff as most of the novels of the present day. The vulgar reporter may be ignorant or a boor, and all that is reprehensible in his methods, but he writes about real flesh and blood people; and, what is worse, he generally approximates the truth concerning them in his writing, which is more than can be said of the so-called realistic novel writers of the day. I haven't read a novel in three years in which it has seemed to me that the heroine, for instance, was anything more than a marionette, with no will of her own, and ready to do at any time any foolish thing the author wanted her to do."
Again those eyes of Miss Andrews rested on me in a manner which gave me considerable apprehension. Then she laughed, and I was at ease again.
"You are very amusing," she said, quietly. "The most amusing of them all."
The remark nettled me, and I quickly retorted:
"Then I have not lived in vain."
"You do really live, then, eh?" she asked, half chaffingly, gazing at me out of the corners of her eyes in a fashion which utterly disarmed me.
"Excuse me, Miss Andrews," I answered, "but I am afraid I don't understand you."
"I am afraid you don't," she said, the smile leaving her lips. "The fact that you are here on the errand you have charged yourself with proves that."
"I am not aware," I said, "that I have come on any particularly ridiculous errand. May I ask you what you mean by the expression 'most amusing of them all'? Am I one among many, and, if so, one what among many what?"
"Your errand is a good one," she said, gravely, "and not at all ridiculous; let me assure you that I appreciate that fact. Your question I will answer by asking another: Are you here of your own volition, or has Stuart Harley created you, as he did Messrs. Osborne, Parker, and the Professor? Are you my new hero, or what?"
The question irritated me. This woman was not content with interfering seriously with my friend's happiness: she was actually attributing me to him, casting doubts upon my existence, and placing me in the same category with herself—a mere book creature. To a man who regards himself as being the real thing, flesh and blood, and, well, eighteen-carat flesh and blood at that, to be accused of living only a figmentary existence is too much. I retorted angrily.
"If you consider me nothing more than an idea, you do not manifest your usual astuteness," I said.
Her reply laid me flat.
"I do not consider you anything of the sort. I never so much as associated you with anything resembling an idea. I merely asked a question," she said. "I repeat it. Do you or do you not exist? Are you a bit of the really real or a bit of Mr. Harley's realism? In short, are you here at Profile Lake, walking and talking with me, or are you not?"
A realizing sense of my true position crept over me. In reality I was not there talking to her, but in my den in New York writing about her. I may not be a realist, but I am truthful. I could not deceive her, so I replied, hesitatingly:
"Well, Miss Andrews, I am—no, I am not here, except in spirit."
"That's what I thought," she said, demurely. "And do you exist somewhere, or is this a 'situation' calculated to delight the American girl—with pin-money to spend on Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick's publications?"
"I do exist," I replied, meekly; for, I must confess it, I realized more than ever that Miss Andrews was too much for me, and I heartily wished I was well out of it. "And I alone am responsible for this. Harley is off fishing at Barnegat—and do you know why?"
"I presume he has gone there to recuperate," she said.
"Precisely," said I.
"After his ungentlemanly, discourteous, and wholly uncalled-for interference with my comfort at Newport," she said, her face flushing and tears coming into her eyes, "I don't wonder he's prostrated."
"I do not know to what you refer," said I.
"I refer to the episode of the runaway horse," she said, in wrathful remembrance of the incident. "Because I refuse to follow blindly his will, he abuses his power, places me in a false and perilous situation, from which I, a defenceless woman, must rescue myself alone and unaided. It was unmanly of him—and I will pay him the compliment of saying wholly unlike him."
I stood aghast. Poor Stuart was being blamed for my act. He must be set right at once, however unpleasant it might be for me.
"He—he didn't do that," I said, slowly; "it was I. I wrote that bit of nonsense; and he—well, he was mad because I did it, and said he'd like to kill any man who ill-treated you; and he made me promise never to touch upon your life again."
"May I ask why you did that?" she asked, and I was glad to note that there was no displeasure in her voice—in fact, she seemed to cheer up wonderfully when I told her that it was I, and not Stuart, who had subjected her to the misadventure.
"Because I was angry with you," I answered. "You were ruining my friend with your continued acts of rebellion: he was successful; now he is ruined. He thinks of you day and night—he wants you for his heroine; he wants to make you happy, but he wants you to be happy in your own way; and when he thinks he has discovered your way, he works along that line, and all of a sudden, by some act wholly unforeseen, and, if I may say so, unforeseeable, you treat him and his work with contempt, draw yourself out of it—and he has to begin again."
"And why have you ventured to break your word to your friend?" she asked, calmly. "Surely you are touching upon my life now, in spite of your promise."
"Because I am willing to sacrifice my word to his welfare," I retorted; "to try to make you understand how you are blocking the path of a mighty fine-minded man by your devotion to what you call your independence. He will never ask you to do anything that he knows will be revolting to you, and until he has succeeded in pleasing you to the last page of his book he will never write again. I have done this in the hope of persuading you, at the cost even of some personal discomfort, not to rebel against his gentle leadership- -to fall in with his ideas until he can fulfil this task of his, whether it be realism or pure speculation on his part. If you do this, Stuart is saved. If you do not, literature will be called upon to mourn one who promises to be one of its brightest ornaments."
I stopped short. Miss Andrews was gazing pensively out over the mirror-like surface of the Lake. Finally she spoke.
"You may tell Mr. Harley," she said, with a sigh, "that I will trouble him no more. He can do with me as he pleases in all save one particular. He shall not marry me to a man I do not love. If he takes the man I love for my hero, then will I follow him to the death."
"And may I ask who that man is?"
"You may ask if you please," she replied, with a little smile. "But I won't answer you, except to say that it isn't you."
"And am I forgiven for my runaway story?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "You wouldn't expect me to condemn a man for loyalty to his friend, would you?"
With which understanding Miss Andrews and I continued our walk, and when we parted I found that the little interview I had started to write had turned into the suggestion of a romance, which I was in duty bound to destroy—but I began to have a glimmering of an idea as to who the man was that Marguerite Andrews wished for a hero, and I regretted also to find myself convinced of the truth of her statement that that man did not bear my name.
CHAPTER VIII: HARLEY RETURNS TO THE FRAY
"I will be master of what is mine own: She is my goods, my chattels." - "Taming of the Shrew."
At the end of ten days Harley returned from Barnegat, brown as a berry and ready for war, if war it was still to be. The outing had done him a world of good, and the fish stories he told as we sat at dinner showed that, realist though he might be, he had yet not failed to cultivate his imagination in certain directions. I may observe in passing, and in this connection, that if I had a son whom it was my ambition to see making his mark in the world as a writer of romance, as distinguished from the real, I should, as the first step in his development, take care that he became a fisherman. The telling of tales of the fish he caught when no one else was near to see would give him, as it has given many another, a good schooling in the realms of the imagination.
I was glad to note that Harley's wonted cheerfulness had returned, and that he had become more like himself than he had been at any time since his first failure with Miss Andrews.
"Your advice was excellent," he said, as we sipped our coffee at the club the night of his return. "I have a clear two weeks in which to tackle that story, and I feel confident now that I shall get it done. Furthermore, I shall send the chapters to Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick as I write them, so that there must be no failure. I shall be compelled to finish the tale, whatever may happen, and Miss Andrews shall go through to the bitter end, willy-nilly."
"Don't be rash, Harley," I said; for it seemed to me that Miss Andrews, having consented at my solicitation to be a docile heroine for just so long as Harley did not insist upon her marrying the man she did not love, it was no time for him to break away from the principles he had so steadfastly adhered to hitherto and become a martinet. He struck me as being more than likely to crack the whip like a ring-master in his present mood than to play the indulgent author, and I felt pretty confident that the instant the snap of the lash reached the ears of Marguerite Andrews his troubles would begin again tenfold, both in quality and in quantity, with no possible hope for a future reconciliation between them.
"I'm not going to be rash," said Harley. "I never was rash, and I'm not going to begin now, but I shall use my nerve. That has been the trouble with me in the past. I haven't been firm. I have let that girl have her own way in everything, and I'm very much afraid I have spoiled her. She behaves like a child with indulgent parents. In the last instance, the Parker proposal, she simply ran her independence into the ground. She was not only rebellious to me, but she was impertinent to him. Her attitude toward him was not nature at all; it was not realism, because she is a woman of good breeding, and would naturally be the last to treat any man, distasteful or not, with such excessive rudeness. I compelled him to go on and propose to her, though after he had been at it for five minutes I could see that he wished he was well out of it. I should have taken her in hand and controlled her with equal firmness, declining to permit her to speak so openly. Frankness is good enough, especially in women, among whom you rarely find it; but frankness of the sort she indulged in has no place in the polite circle in which she moves."
"Nevertheless, she spoke that way—you said yourself she did," I said, seeing that he was wrathful with Marguerite, and wishing to assuage his anger before it carried him to lengths he might regret. "And you've got to take her as she is or drop her altogether."
"She did—I repeat that she did speak that way, but that was no reason why I should submit to it," Harley answered. "It was the fault of her mood. She was nervous, almost hysterical—thanks to her rebellious spirit. The moment I discovered how things were going I should have gone back and started afresh, and kept on doing so until I had her submissive. A hunter may balk at a high fence, but the rider must not give in to him unless he wishes to let the animal get the better of him. If he is wise he will go back and put the horse to it again and again, until he finally clears the topmost bar. That I should have done in this instance, and that I now intend to do, until that book comes out as I want it."
I had to laugh in my sleeve. On the whole, Harley was very like most other realists, who pretend that they merely put down life as it is, and who go through their professional careers serenely unconscious of the truth that their fancies, after all, serve them when their facts are lacking. Even that most eminent disciple of the Realistic Cult, Mr. Darrow, has been known to kill off a hero in a railroad accident that owed its being to nothing short of his own imagination, in order that the unhappy wight might not offend the readers of the highly moral magazine, in which the story first appeared, by marrying a widow whom he had been forced by Mr. Darrow to love before her husband died. Mr. Darrow manufactured, with five strokes of his pen, an engine and a tunnel to crush the life out of the poor fellow, whom an immoral romancer would have allowed to live on and marry the lady, and with perfect propriety too, since the hero and the heroine were both of them the very models of virtue, in spite of the love which they did not seek, and which Mr. Darrow deliberately and almost brutally thrust into their otherwise happy lives. Of course the railway accident was needed to give the climax to the story, which without it might have run through six more numbers of the magazine, to the exclusion of more exciting material; but that will not relieve Mr. Darrow's soul of the stain he has put upon it by deserting Dame Realism for a moment to flirt with Romance, when it comes to the Judgment Day.
"As I want it to be, so must it be," quoth Harley.
"Good," thought I. "It will no doubt be excellent; but be honest, and don't insist that you've taken down life as it is; for you may have an astigmatism, for all you know, and life may not be at all what it has seemed to you while you were putting it down."
"Yes, sir," said Harley, leaning back in his chair and drawing a long breath, which showed his determination, "to the bitter end she shall go, through such complications as I choose to have her, encountering whatever villains I may happen to find most convenient, and to complete her story she shall marry the man I select for my hero, if he is as commonplace as the average salesman in a Brooklyn universal dry-goods emporium."
Imagine my feelings if you can! Having gone as a self-appointed ambassador to the enemy to secure terms of peace, to return to find my principal donning his armor and daubing his face with paint for a renewal of the combat, was certainly not pleasant. What could I say to Marguerite Andrews if I ever met her in real life? How could I look her in the eye? The situation overpowered me, and I hardly knew what to say. I couldn't beg Harley to stick to his realism and not indulge in compulsion, because I had often jeered at him for not infusing a little more of the dramatic into his stories, even if it had to be "lugged in by the ears," as he put it. Nor was he in any mood for me to tell him of my breach of faith—the mere knowledge that she had promised to be docile out of charity would have stung his pride, and I thought it would be better, for the time, at least, to let my interview remain a secret. Fortune favored me, however. Kelly and the Professor entered the dining room at this moment, and the Professor held in his hand a copy of the current issue of The Literary Man, Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick's fortnightly publication, a periodical having to do wholly with things bookish.
"Who sat for this, Stuart?" called out the Professor, tapping the frontispiece of the magazine.
"Who sat for what?" replied Stuart, looking up.
"This picture," said the Professor.
"It's a picture of a finely intellectual-looking person with your name under it, Harley," put in the Doctor.
"Oh—that," said Harley. "It does flatter me a bit."
"So does the article with it," said Kelly. "Says you are a great man—man with an idea, and all that. Is that true, or is it just plain libel? Have you an idea?"
Harley laughed good-naturedly. "I had one once, but it's lost," he said. "As to that picture, they're bringing out a book for me," he added, modestly. "Good ad., you know."
"When you are through with that, Professor," I put in, "let me have it, will you? I want to see what it says about Harley."
"It's a first-rate screed," replied the Professor, handing over the publication. "It hits Harley right on the head."
"I don't know as that's pleasant," said Harley.
"What I mean, my dear boy," said the Professor, "is that it does you justice."
And it really did do Harley justice, although, as he had suggested, it was written largely to advertise the forthcoming work. It spoke nicely of Harley's previous efforts, and judiciously, as it seemed to me. He had not got to the top of the ladder yet, but he was getting there by a slow, steady development, and largely because he was a man with a fixed idea as to what literature ought to be.
"Mr. Harley has seen clearly from the outset what it was that he wished to accomplish and how to accomplish it," the writer observed. "He has swerved neither to the right nor to the left, but has progressed undeviatingly along the lines he has mapped out for himself, and keeping constantly in mind the principles which seemed to him at the beginning of his career to be right. It has been this persistent and consistent adherence to principle that has gained for Mr. Harley his hearing, and which is constantly rendering more certain and permanent his position in the world literary. Others may be led hither and yon by the fads and follies of the scatter-brained, but Realism will ever have one steadfast champion in Stuart Harley."
"Read that," I said, tossing the journal across the table.
He read it, and blushed to the roots of his ears.
"This is no time to desert the flag, Harley," said I, as he read. "Stick to your colors, and let her stick to hers. You'd better be careful how you force your heroine."
"Ha, ha!" he laughed. "I should think so, and for more reasons than one. I never really intended to do horrible things with her, my boy. Trust me, if I do lead her, to lead her gently. My persuasion will be suggestive rather than mandatory."
"And that hero—from the Brooklyn dry-goods shop?" I asked, with a smile.
"I'd like to see him so much as—tell her the price of anything," cried Harley. "A man like that has no business to live in the same hemisphere with a woman like Marguerite Andrews. When I threatened her with him I was conversing through a large and elegant though wholly invisible hat."
I breathed more freely. She was still sacred and safe in his hands. Shortly after, dinner over, we left the table, and went to the theatre, where we saw what the programme called the "latest London realistic success," in which three of the four acts of an intensely exciting melodrama depended upon a woman's not seeing a large navy revolver, which lay on the table directly before her eyes in the first. The play was full of blood and replete with thunder, and we truly enjoyed it, only Harley would not talk much between the acts. He was unusually moody. After the play was over his tongue loosened, however, and we went to the Players for a supper, and there he burst forth into speech.
"If Marguerite Andrews had been the heroine of that play she'd have seen that gun, and the audience would have had to go home inside of ten minutes," he said. Later on he burst out with, "If my Miss Andrews had been the heroine of that play, the man who falls over the precipice in the second act would have been alive at this moment." And finally he demanded: "Do you suppose a heroine like Marguerite Andrews would have overlooked the comma on the postal card that woman read in the third act, and so made the fourth act possible? Not she. She's a woman with a mind. And yet they call that the latest London realistic success! Realistic! These Londoners do not seem to understand their own language. If that play was realism, what sort of a nightmare do you suppose a romantic drama would be?"
"Well, maybe London women in real life haven't any minds," I said, growing rather weary of the subject. I admired Miss Andrews myself, but there were other things I could talk about—"like lemonade and elephants," as the small boy said. "Let it go at that. It was an interesting play, and that's all plays ought to be. Realism in plays is not to be encouraged. A man goes to the theatre to be amused and entertained, not to be reminded of home discomforts."
Stuart looked at me reproachfully, ordered a fresh cigar, and suggested turning in for the night. I walked home with him and tried to get him interested in a farce I was at work on, but it was of no use. He had become a monomaniac, and his monomania was his rebellious heroine. Finally I blurted out:
"Well, for Heaven's sake, Stuart, get the woman caged, will you? For, candidly, I'd like to talk about something else, and until Marguerite Andrews is disposed of I don't believe you'll be able to."
"I'll have half the work done by this time to-morrow night," said he. "I've got ten thousand words of it in my mind now."
"I'll bet you there are only two words down in your mind," said I.
"What are they?" he asked.
"Marguerite and Andrews," said I.
Stuart laughed. "They're the only ones I'm sure of," said he. And then we parted.
But he was right about what he would have accomplished by that time the next night; for before sundown he had half the story written, and, what is more, the chapters had come as easily as any writing he ever did. For docility, Marguerite was a perfect wonder. Not only did she follow out his wishes; she often anticipated them, and in certain parts gave him a lead in a new direction, which, Stuart said, gave the story a hundred per cent. more character.
In short, Marguerite Andrews was keeping her promise to me nobly. The only thing I regretted about it, now that all seemed plain sailing, was its effect on Stuart. Her amiability was proving a great attraction to his susceptible soul, and I was beginning to fear that Stuart was slowly but surely falling in love with his rebellious heroine, which would never do, unless she were really real, on which point I was most uncertain.
"It would be a terrible thing," said I confidentially to myself, "if Stuart Harley were to fall in love with a creation of his own realism."
CHAPTER IX: A SUMMONS NORTH
"PORTIA. A quarrel, ho, already? What's the matter? "GRATIANO. About a hoop of gold, a paltry ring." - "Merchant of Venice."
The events just narrated took place on the 15th of August, and as Harley's time to fulfil his contract with Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick was growing very short—two weeks is short shrift for an author with a book to write for waiting presses, even with a willing and helpful cast of characters—so I resolved not to intrude upon him until he himself should summon me. I knew myself, from bitter experience, how unwelcome the most welcome of one's friends can be at busy hours, having had many a beautiful sketch absolutely ruined by the untimely intrusion of those who wished me well, so I resolutely kept myself away from his den, although I was burning with curiosity to know how he was getting on.
On occasions my curiosity would get the better of my judgment, and I would endeavor, with the aid of my own muses, to hold a moment's chat with Miss Andrews; but she eluded me. I couldn't find her at all— as, indeed, how should I, since Harley had not taken me into his confidence as to his intentions in the new story? He might have laid the scene of it in Singapore, for aught I knew, and, wander where I would in my fancy, I was utterly unable to discover her whereabouts, until one evening a very weird thing happened—a thing so weird that I have been pinching myself with great assiduity ever since in order to reassure myself of my own existence. I had come home from a hard day's editorial work, had dined alone and comfortably, and was stretched out at full length upon the low divan that stands at the end of my workshop—the delight of my weary bones and the envy of my friends, who have never been able to find anywhere another exactly like it. My cigar was between my lips, and above my head, rising in a curling cloud to the ceiling, was a mass of smoke. I am sure I was not dreaming, although how else to account for it I do not know. What happened, to put it briefly, was my sudden transportation to a little mountain hotel not far from Lake George, where I found myself sitting and talking to the woman I had so futilely sought.
"How do you do?" said she, pleasantly, as I materialized at her side.
"I am as well as a person can be," I replied, rubbing my eyes in confusion, "who suddenly finds himself two hundred and fifty miles away from the spot where, a half-hour before, he had lain down to rest."
Miss Andrews laughed. "You see how it is yourself," she said.
"See how what is myself?" I queried.
"To be the puppet of a person who—writes," she answered.
"And have I become that?" I asked.
"You have," she smiled. "That's why you are here."
The idea made me nervous, and I pinched my arm to see whether I was there or not. The result was not altogether reassuring. I never felt the pinch, and, try as I would, I couldn't make myself feel it.
"Excuse me," I said, "for deviating a moment from the matter in hand, but have you a hat-pin?"
"No," she answered; "but I have a brooch, if that will serve your purpose. What do you want it for?"
"I wish to run it into my arm for a moment," I explained.
"It won't help you any," she answered, smiling divinely. "I must have a word with you; all the hat-pins in the world shall not prevent me, now that you are here."
"Well, wait a minute, I beg of you," I implored. "You intimated a moment ago that I was a puppet in the hands of some author. Whose? I've a reputation to sustain, and shall not give myself up willingly, unless I am sure that that person will not trifle with my character."
"Exactly my position," said she. "As I said, you can now understand how it is yourself. But I will tell you in whose hands you are now— you are in mine. Surely if you had the right to send me tearing down Bellevue Avenue at Newport behind a runaway horse, and then pursue me in spirit to the Profile House, I have the right to bring you here, and I have accordingly done so."
For a woman's, her logic was surprisingly convincing. She certainly had as much right to trifle with my comfort as I had to trifle with hers.
"You are right, Miss Andrews," I murmured, meekly. "Pray command me as you will—and deal gently with the erring."
"I will treat you far better than you treated me," she said. "So have no fear—although I have been half minded at times to revenge myself upon you for that runaway. I could make you dreadfully uncomfortable, for when I take my pen in hand my imagination in the direction of the horrible is something awful. I shall be merciful, however, for I believe in the realistic idea, and I will merely make use of the power my pen possesses over you to have you act precisely as you would if you were actually here."
"Then I am not here?" I queried.
"What do you think?' she asked, archly.
I was about to say that if I weren't, I wished most heartily that I were; but I remembered fortunately that it would never do for me to flirt with Stuart Harley's heroine, so I contented myself with saying, boldly, "I don't know what to think."
Miss Andrews looked at me for a moment, and then, reaching out her hand, took mine, pressed it, and relinquished it, saying, "You are a loyal friend indeed."
There was nothing flirtatious about the act; it was a simple and highly pleasing acknowledgment of my forbearance, and it made me somewhat more comfortable than I had been at any time since my sudden transportation through the air.
"You remember what I said to you?" she resumed. "That I would cease to rebel, whatsoever Mr. Harley asked me to do, unless he insisted upon marrying me to a man I did not love?"
"I do," I replied. "And, as far as I am aware, you have stuck by your agreement. Stuart, I doubt not, has by this time got ready for his finishing-touches."
"Your surmise is correct," she answered, sadly; and then, with some spirit, she added: "And they are finishing-touches with a vengeance. I have been loyal to my word, in spite of much discomfort. I have travelled from pillar to post as meekly as a lamb, because it fitted in with Stuart Harley's convenience that I should do so. He has taken me and my friend Mrs. Willard to and through five different summer resorts, where I have cut the figure he wished me to cut without regard to my own feelings. I have discussed all sorts of topics, of which in reality I know nothing, to lend depth to his book. I have snubbed men I really liked, and appeared to like men I profoundly hated, for his sake. I have wittingly endured peril for his sake, knowing of course that ultimately he would get me out of danger; but peril is peril just the same, and to that extent distracting to the nerves. I have been upset in a canoe at Bar Harbor, and lost on a mountain in Vermont. I have sprained my ankle at Saratoga, and fainted at a dance at Lenox; but no complaint have I uttered—not even the suggestion of a rebellion have I given. Once, I admit, I was disposed to resent his desire that I should wear a certain costume, which he, man as he is, could not see would be wofully unbecoming. Authors have no business to touch on such things. But I overcame the temptation to rebel, and to please him wore a blue and pink shirt-waist with a floral silk skirt at a garden-party—I suppose he thought floral silk was appropriate to the garden; nor did I even show my mortification to those about me. Nothing was said in the book about its being Stuart Harley's taste; it must needs be set down as mine; and while the pages of Harley's book contain no criticism of my costume, I know well enough what all the other women thought about it. Still, I stood it. I endured also without a murmur the courtship and declaration of love of a perfect booby of a man; that is to say, he was a booby in the eyes of a woman—men might like him. I presume that as Mr. Harley has chosen him to stand for the hero of his book, he must admire him; but I don't, and haven't, and sha'n't. Yet I have pretended to do so; and finally, when he proposed marriage to me I meekly answered 'yes,' weeping in the bitterness of my spirit that my promise bound me to do so; and Stuart Harley, noting those tears, calls them tears of joy!"
"You needn't have accepted him," I said, softly. "That wasn't part of the bargain."
"Yes, it was," she returned, positively; "that is, I regarded it so, and I must act according to my views of things. What I promised was to follow his wishes in all things save in marriage to a man I didn't love. Getting engaged is not getting married, and as he wished me to get engaged, so I did, expecting of course that the book would end there, as it ought to have done, and that therefore no marriage would ever come of the engagement."
"Certainly the book should end there, then," said I. "You have kept to the letter of your agreement, and nobly," I added, with enthusiasm, for I now saw what the poor girl must have suffered. "Harley didn't try to go further, did he?"
"He did," she said, her voice trembling with emotion. "He set the time and place for the wedding, issued the cards, provided me with a trousseau—a trousseau based upon his intuitions of what a trousseau ought to be, and therefore about as satisfactory to a woman of taste as that floral silk costume of the garden-party; he engaged the organist, chose my bridesmaids—girls I detested—and finally assembled the guests. The groom was there at the chancel rail; Mr. Willard, whom he had selected to give me away, was waiting outside in the lobby, clad in his frock-coat, a flower in his button-hole, and his arm ready for the bride to lean on; the minister was behind the rail; the wedding-march was sounding—"
"And you?" I cried, utterly unable to contain myself longer.
"I was speeding past Yonkers on the three-o'clock Saratoga express— bound hither," she answered, with a significant toss of her head. "No one but yourself knows where I am, and I have summoned you to explain my action before you hear of it from him. I do not wish to be misjudged. Stuart Harley had his warning, but he chose to ignore it, and he can get out of the difficulty he has brought upon himself in his own way—possibly he will destroy the whole book; but I wanted you to know that while he did not keep the faith, I did."
I suddenly realized the appalling truth. My own weakness was responsible for it all. I had not told Harley of my interview and her promise, feeling that it was not necessary, and fearing its effect upon his pride.
"I may add," she said, quietly, "that I am bitterly disappointed in your friend. I was interested in him, and believed in him. Most of my acts of rebellion—if you can call me rebellious—were prompted by my desire to keep him true to his creed; and I will tell you what I have never told to another: I regarded Stuart Harley almost as an ideal man, but this has changed it all. If he was what I thought him, he could not have acted with so little conscience as to try to force this match upon me, when he must have known that I did not love Henry Dunning."
"He didn't know," I said.
"He should have been sure before providing for the ceremony, after hearing what I had promised you I would and would not do," said Marguerite.
"But—I never told him anything about your promise!" I shouted, desperately. "He has done all this unwittingly."
"Is that true? Didn't you tell him?" she cried, eagerly grasping my hand.
Her manner left no doubt in my mind as to who the hero of her choice would be—and again I sighed to think that it was not I.
"As true as that I stand here," I said. "I never told him."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Oh, well, you know what I mean!" I said, excitedly. "Wherever I do stand, it's as true as that I stand there."
The phrase was awkward, but it fulfilled its purpose.
"Why didn't you tell him?" she asked.
"Because I didn't think it necessary. Fact is," I added, "I had a sort of notion that if you married anybody in one of Harley's books, if Harley had his own way it would be to the man who—who tells the sto—"
A loud noise interrupted my remark and I started up in alarm, and in an instant I found myself back in my rooms in town once more. The little mountain house near Lake George, with its interesting and beautiful guest, had faded from sight, and I realized that somebody was hammering with a stick upon my door.
"Hello there!" I cried. "What's wanted?"
"It's I—Harley," came Stuart's voice. "Let me in."
I unlocked the door and he entered. The brown of Barnegat had gone, and he was his broken self again.
"Well," I said, trying to ignore his appearance, which really shocked me, "how's the book? Got it done?"
He sank into a chair with a groan.
"Hang the book!—it's all up with that; I'm going to Chadwick to- morrow and call the thing off," he said. "She won't work—two weeks' steady application gone for nothing."
"Oh, come!" I said; "not as bad as that."
"Precisely as bad as that," he retorted. "What can a fellow do if his heroine disappears as completely as if the earth had opened and swallowed her up?"
"Gone?" I cried, with difficulty repressing my desire to laugh.
"Completely—searched high and low for her—no earthly use," he answered. "I can't even imagine where she is."
"All of which, my dear Stuart," I said, adopting a superior tone for the moment, "shows that an imagination that is worth something wouldn't be a bad possession for a realist, after all. I know where your heroine is. She is at a little mountain house near Lake George, and she has fled there to escape your booby of a hero, whom you should have known better than to force upon a girl like Marguerite Andrews. You're getting inartistic, my dear boy. Sacrifice something to the American girl, but don't sacrifice your art. Just because the aforesaid girl likes her stories to end up with a wedding is no reason why you should try to condemn your heroine to life-long misery."
Stuart looked at me with a puzzled expression for a full minute.
"How the deuce do you know anything about it?" he asked.
I immediately enlightened him. I told him every circumstance—even my suspicion as to the hero of her heart, and it seemed to please him.
"Won't the story go if you stop it with the engagement?" I asked, after it was all over.
"Yes," he said, thoughtfully. "But I shall not publish it. If it was all so distasteful to her as you say, I'd rather destroy it."
"Don't do that," I said. "Change the heroine's name, and nobody but ourselves will ever be the wiser."
"I never thought of that," said he.
"That's because you've no imagination," I retorted.
Stuart smiled. "It's a good idea, and I'll do it; it won't be the truest realism, but I think I am entitled to the leeway on one lapse," he said.
"You are," I rejoined. "Lapse for the sake of realism. The man who never lapses is not real. There never was such a man. You might change that garden-party costume too. If you can't think of a better combination than that, leave it to me. I'll write to my sister and ask her to design a decent dress for that occasion."
"Thanks," said Stuart, with a laugh. "I accept your offer; but, I say, what was the name of the little mountain house where you found her?"
"I don't know," I replied. "You made such an infernal row battering down my door that I came away in a hurry and forgot to ask."
"That is unfortunate," said Stuart. "I should have liked to go up there for a while—she might help me correct the proofs, you know."
That's what he said, but he didn't deceive me. He loved her, and I began again to hope to gracious that Harley had not deceived himself and me, and that Marguerite Andrews was a bit of real life, and not a work of the imagination.
At any rate, Harley had an abiding faith in her existence, for the following Monday night he packed his case and set out for Lake George. He was going to explore, he said.
CHAPTER X: BY WAY OF EPILOGUE
"Let, down the curtain, the farce is done." - RABELAIS.
I suppose my story ought to end here, since Harley's rebellious heroine has finally been subdued for the use of his publishers and the consequent declaration of dividends for the Harley exchequer; but there was an epilogue to the little farce, which nearly turned it into tragedy, from which the principals were saved by nothing short of my own ingenuity. Harley had fallen desperately in love with Marguerite Andrews, and Marguerite Andrews had fallen in love with Stuart Harley, and Harley couldn't find her. She eluded his every effort, and he began to doubt that he had drawn her from real life, after all. She had become a Marjorie Daw to him, and the notion that he must go through life cherishing a hopeless passion was distracting to him. His book was the greatest of his successes, which was an additional cause of discomfort to him, since, knowing as he now did that his study was not a faithful portrayal of the inner life of his heroine, he felt that the laurels that were being placed upon his brow had been obtained under false pretences.
"I feel like a hypocrite," he said, as he read an enthusiastic review of his little work from the pen of no less a person than Mr. Darrow, the high-priest of the realistic sect. "I am afraid I shall not be able to look Darrow in the eye when I meet him at the club."
"Never fear for that, Stuart," I said, laughing inwardly at his plight. "Brazen it out; keep a stiff upper lip, and Darrow will never know. He has insight, of course, but he can't see as far in as you and he think."
"It's a devilish situation," he cried, impatiently striding up and down the room, "that a man of my age should be so hopelessly in love with a woman he can't find; and that he can't find her is such a cruel sarcasm upon his literary creed! What cursed idiosyncrasy of fate is it that has brought this thing upon me?"
"It's the punishment that fits your crime, Harley," I said. "You've been rather narrow minded in your literary ideas. Possibly it will make a more tolerant critic of you hereafter, when you come to flay fellows like Balderstone for venturing to think differently from you as to the sort of books it is proper to write. He has as much right to the profits he can derive from his fancy as you have to the emoluments of your insight."
"I'd take some comfort if I thought that she really loved me," he said, mournfully.
"Have no doubt on that score, Stuart," I said. "She does love you. I know that. I wish she didn't."
"Then why can't I find her? Why does she hide from me?" he cried, fortunately ignoring my devoutly expressed wish, which slipped out before I knew it.
"Because she is a woman," I replied. "Hasn't your analytical mind told you yet that the more a woman loves a man, the harder he's got to work to find it out and—and clinch the bargain?"
"I suppose you are right," he said, gloomily. "But if I were a woman, and knew I was killing a man by keeping myself in hiding, I'd come out and show myself at any cost, especially if I loved him."
"Now you are dealing in imagination, Harley," I said; "and that never was your strong point."
Nevertheless, he was right on one point. The hopelessness of his quest was killing Harley—not physically exactly, but emotionally, as it were. It was taking all the heart out of him, and his present state of mind was far more deplorable than when he was struggling with the book, and constantly growing worse. He tried every device to find her—the Willards were conjured up, and knew nothing; Mrs. Corwin and the twins were brought back from Europe, and refused to yield up the secret; all the powers of a realistic pen were brought to bear upon her, and yet she refused utterly to materialize.
Finally, I found it necessary to act myself. I could not stand the sight of Harley being gradually eaten up by the longing of his own soul, and I tried my hand at exploration. I had no better success for several weeks; and then, like an inspiration, the whole thing came to me. "She won't come when he summons her, because she loves him. She won't summon him to come to her, for the same reason. Why not summon both of them yourself to a common ground? Embalm them in a little romance of your own. Force them if need be, but get them there, and so bring them together, and let them work out their own happiness," said I to myself. The only difficulty that presented itself was as to whether or not Marguerite would allow herself to be forced. It was worth the trial, however, and fortune favored me. I found her far from rebellious. My pen had hardly touched paper when she materialized, more bewilderingly beautiful than ever. I laid the scene of my little essay at Lake-wood, and I found her sitting down by the water, dreamily gazing out over the lake. In her lap was Stuart Harley's book, and daintily pasted on the fly-leaf of this was the portrait which had appeared in the August issue of The Literary Man, which she had cut out and preserved.
Having provided the heroine with a spot conducive to her comfort, I hastened to transport Harley to the scene. It was easy to do, seeing how deeply interested I was in my plot and how willing he was. I got him there looking like a Greek god, only a trifle more interesting, because of his sympathy-arousing pallor—the pallor which comes from an undeserved buffeting at the hands of a mischievous Cupid. I know it well, for I have observed it several times upon my own countenance. The moment Harley appeared upon the scene I chose to have Marguerite hastily clasp the book in her hands, raise it to her lips, and kiss the picture—and it must have been intensely true to life, for she did it without a moment's hesitation, almost anticipating my convenience, throwing an amount of passion into the act which made my pen fairly hiss as I dipped it into the ink. Of course Harley could not fail to see it—I had taken care to arrange all that—and equally of course he could not fail to comprehend what that kiss meant; could not fail to stop short, with a convulsive effort to control himself—heroes always do that; could not fail thereby to attract her attention. After this nothing was more natural than that she should spring to her feet, "the blushes of a surprised love mantling her cheeks"; it was equally natural that she should try to run, should slip, have him catch her arm and save her from falling, and—well, I am not going to tell the whole story. I have neither the time, the inclination, nor the talent to lay bare to the world the love-affairs of my friend. Furthermore, having got them together, I discreetly withdrew, so that even if I were to try to write up the rest of the courtship, it would merely result in my telling you how I imagined it progressed, and I fancy my readers are as well up in matters of that sort as I am. Suffice it to say, therefore, that in this way I brought Stuart Harley and Marguerite Andrews together, and that the event justified the means: and that the other day, when Mr. and Mrs. Harley returned from their honeymoon, they told me they thought I ought to give up humor and take to writing love-stories.
"That kissing the picture episode," said Stuart, looking gratefully at me, "was an inspiration. To my mind, it was the most satisfactory thing you've ever done."
"I like that!" cried his wife, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. "He didn't do it. It was I who kissed the picture. He couldn't have made me do anything else to save his life."
"Rebellious to the last!" said I, with a sigh to think that I must now write the word "Finis" to my little farce.
"Yes," she answered. "Rebellious to the last. I shall never consent to be the heroine of a book again, until—"
She paused and looked at Stuart.
"Until what?" he asked, tenderly.
"Until you write your autobiography," said she. "I have always wanted of be the heroine of that."
And throwing down my pen, I discovered I was alone.