"Why, you're very good, Mr. Godolphin," said Maxwell. "I knew that I could fully rely on your kind offer. Won't you come in?" He offered the actor his hand, and they moved together towards the cottage; Louise had at once gone before, but not so far as to be out of hearing.
"Why, thank you, I will sit down a moment. I found the walk over rather fatiguing. It's going to be a hot day." He passed his handkerchief across his forehead, and insisted upon placing a chair for Mrs. Maxwell before he could be made to sit down, though she said that she was going indoors, and would not sit. "You understand, of course, Mr. Maxwell, that I should still like to have your play, if it could be made what I want?"
Maxwell would not meet his wife's eye in answering. "Oh, yes; the only question with me is, whether I can make it what you want. That has been the trouble all along. I know that the love-business in the play, as it stood, was inadequate. But yesterday, just before I got your note, I had been working it over in a perfectly new shape. I wish, if you have a quarter of an hour to throw away, you'd let me show you what I've written. Perhaps you can advise me."
"Why, I shall be delighted to be of any sort of use, Mr. Maxwell," said Godolphin, with softened state; and he threw himself back in his chair with an air of eager readiness.
"I will get your manuscript, Brice," said Louise, at a motion her husband made to rise. She ran in and brought it out, and then went away again. She wished to remain somewhere within earshot, but, upon the whole, she decided against it, and went upstairs, where she kept herself from eavesdropping by talking with the chambermaid, who had come over from the hotel.
Louise did not come down till she heard Godolphin walking away on the plank. She said to herself that she had shipwrecked her husband once by putting in her oar, and she was not going to do it again. When the actor's footfalls died out in the distance she descended to the parlor, where she found Maxwell over his manuscript at the table.
She had to call to him, "Well?" before he seemed aware of her presence.
Even then he did not look round, but he said, "Godolphin wants to play Atland."
"Yes. He thinks he sees his part in it."
"And do you?"
"How do I know?"
"Well, I am glad I let him get safely away before I came back, for I certainly couldn't have held in when he proposed that, if I had been here. I don't understand you, Brice! Why do you have anything more to do with him? Why do you let him touch the new play? Was he ever of the least use with the old one?"
Maxwell lay back in his chair with a laugh. "Not the least in the world." The realization of the fact amused him more and more. "I was just thinking how everything he ever got me to do to it," he looked down at the manuscript, "was false and wrong. They talk about a knowledge of the stage as if the stage were a difficult science, instead of a very simple piece of mechanism whose limitations and possibilities any one can seize at a glance. All that their knowledge of it comes to is clap-trap, pure and simple. They brag of its resources, and tell you the carpenter can do anything you want nowadays, but if you attempt anything outside of their tradition they are frightened. They think that their exits and their entrances are great matters, and that they must come on with such a speech, and go off with such another; but it is not of the least consequence how they come or go if they have something interesting to say or do."
"Why don't you say these things to Godolphin?"
"I do, and worse. He admits their truth with a candor and an intelligence that are dismaying. He has a perfect conception of Atland's part, and he probably will play it in a way to set your teeth on edge."
"Why do you let him? Why don't you keep your play and offer it to a manager or some actor who will know how to do it?" demanded Louise, with sorrowful submission.
"Godolphin will know how to do it, even if he isn't able to. And, besides, I should be a fool to fling him away for any sort of promising uncertainty."
"He was willing to fling you away!"
"Yes, but I'm not so important to him as he is to me. He's the best I can do for the present. It's a compromise all the way through—a cursed spite from beginning to end. Your own words don't represent your ideas, and the more conscience you put into the work the further you get from what you thought it would be. Then comes the actor with the infernal chemistry of his personality. He imagines the thing perfectly, not as you imagined it, but as you wrote it, and then he is no more able to play it as he imagined it than you were to write it as you imagined it. What the public finally gets is something three times removed from the truth that was first in the dramatist's mind. But I'm very lucky to have Godolphin back again."
"I hope you're not going to let him see that you think so."
"Oh, no! I'm going to keep him in a suppliant attitude throughout, and I'm going to let you come in and tame his spirit, if he—kicks."
"Don't be vulgar, Brice," said Louise, and she laughed rather forlornly. "I don't see how you have the heart to joke, if you think it's so bad as you say."
"I haven't. I'm joking without any heart." He stood up. "Let us go and take a bath."
She glanced at him with a swift inventory of his fagged looks, and said, "Indeed, you shall not take a bath this morning. You couldn't react against it. You won't, will you?"
"No, I'll only lie on the sand, if you can pick me out a good warm spot, and watch you."
"I shall not bathe, either."
"Well, then, I'll watch the other women." He put out his hand and took hers.
She felt his touch very cold. "You are excited I can see. I wish—"
"What? That I was not an intending dramatist?"
"That you didn't have such excitements in your life. They will kill you."
"They are all that will keep me alive."
They went down to the beach, and walked back and forth on its curve several times before they dropped in the sand at a discreet distance from several groups of hotel acquaintance. People were coming and going from the line of bath-houses that backed upon the low sand-bank behind them, with its tufts of coarse silvery-green grasses. The Maxwells bowed to some of the ladies who tripped gayly past them in their airy costumes to the surf, or came up from it sobered and shivering. Four or five young fellows, with sun-blackened arms and legs, were passing ball near them. A pony-carriage drove by on the wet sand; a horseman on a crop-tailed roan thumped after it at a hard trot. Dogs ran barking vaguely about, and children with wooden shovels screamed at their play. Far off shimmered the sea, of one pale blue with the sky. The rooks were black at either end of the beach; a line of sail-boats and dories swung across its crescent beyond the bathers, who bobbed up and down in the surf, or showed a head here and there outside of it.
"What a singular spectacle," said Maxwell. "The casting off of the conventional in sea-bathing always seems to me like the effect of those dreams where we appear in society insufficiently dressed, and wonder whether we can make it go."
"Yes, isn't it?" His wife tried to cover all the propositions with one loosely fitting assent.
"I'm surprised," Maxwell went on, "that some realistic wretch hasn't put this sort of thing on the stage. It would be tremendously effective; if he made it realistic enough it would be attacked by the press as improper and would fill the house. Couldn't we work a sea-bathing scene into the 'Second Chapter'? It would make the fortune of the play, and it would give Godolphin a chance to show his noble frame in something like the majesty of nature. Godolphin would like nothing better. We could have Atland rescue Salome, and Godolphin could flop round among the canvas breakers for ten minutes, and come on for a recall with the heroine, both dripping real water all over the stage."
"Don't be disgusting, Brice," said his wife, absently. She had her head half turned from him, watching a lady who had just come out of her bath-house and was passing very near them on her way to the water. Maxwell felt the inattention in his wife's tone and looked up.
The bather returned their joint gaze steadily from eyes that seemed, as Maxwell said, to smoulder under their long lashes, and to question her effect upon them in a way that he was some time finding a phrase for. He was tormented to make out whether she were a large person or not; without her draperies he could not tell. But she moved with splendid freedom, and her beauty expressed a maturity of experience beyond her years; she looked young, and yet she looked as if she had been taking care of herself a good while. She was certainly very handsome, Louise owned to herself, as the lady quickened her pace, and finally ran down to the water and plunged into a breaker that rolled in at the right moment in uncommon volume.
"Well?" she asked her husband, whose eyes had gone with hers.
"We ought to have clapped."
"Do you think she is an actress?"
"I don't know. I never saw her before. She seemed to turn the sunshine into lime-light as she passed. Why! that's rather pretty, isn't it? And it's a verse. I wonder what it is about these people. The best of them have nothing of the stage in them—at least, the men haven't. I'm not sure, though, that the women haven't. There are lots of women off the stage who are actresses, but they don't seem so. They're personal; this one was impersonal. She didn't seem to regard me as a man; she regarded me as a house. Did you feel that?"
"Yes, that was it, I suppose. But she regarded you more than she did me, I think."
"Why, of course. You were only a matinee."
They sat half an hour longer in the sand, and then he complained that the wind blew all the warmth out of him as fast as the sun shone it into him. She felt his hand next her and found it still cold; after a glance round she furtively felt his forehead.
"You're still thinking," she sighed. "Come! We must go back."
"Yes. That girl won't be out of the water for half an hour yet; and we couldn't wait to see her clothed and in her right mind afterwards."
"What makes you think she's a girl?" asked his wife, as they moved slowly off.
He did not seem to have heard her question. He said, "I don't believe I can make the new play go, Louise; I haven't the strength for it. There's too much good stuff in Haxard; I can't throw away what I've done on it."
"That is just what I was thinking, Brice! It would be too bad to lose that. The love-business as you've remodeled it is all very well. But it is light; it's comedy; and Haxard is such splendid tragedy. I want you to make your first impression in that. You can do comedy afterwards; but if you did comedy first, the public would never think your tragedy was serious."
"Yes, there's a law in that. A clown mustn't prophesy. If a prophet chooses to joke, now and then, all well and good. I couldn't begin now and expand that love-business into a whole play. It must remain an episode, and Godolphin must take it or leave it. Of course he'll want Atland emaciated to fatten Haxard, as he calls it. But Atland doesn't amount to much, as it is, and I don't believe I could make him; it's essentially a passive part; Salome must make the chief effect in that business, and I think I'll have her a little more serious, too. It'll be more in keeping with the rest."
"I don't see why she shouldn't be serious. There's nothing ignoble in what she does."
"No. It can be very impassioned."
Louise thought of the smouldering eyes of that woman, and she wondered if they were what suggested something very impassioned to Maxwell; but with all the frankness between them, she did not ask him.
On their way to the cottage they saw one of the hotel bell-boys coming out. "Just left a telegram in there for you," he called, as he came towards them.
Louise began, "Oh, dear, I hope there's nothing the matter with papa! Or your mother."
She ran forward, and Maxwell followed at his usual pace, so that she had time to go inside and come out with the despatch before he mounted the veranda steps.
"You open it!" she entreated, piteously, holding it towards him.
He pulled it impatiently open, and glanced at the signature. "It's from Godolphin;" and he read, "Don't destroy old play. Keep new love-business for episode. Will come over this afternoon." Maxwell smiled. "More mind transference."
Louise laughed in hysterical relief. "Now you can make him do just what you want."
Maxwell, now, at least, knew that he had got his play going in the right direction again. He felt a fresh pleasure in returning to the old lines after his excursion in the region of comedy, and he worked upon them with fresh energy. He rehabilitated the love-business as he and his wife had newly imagined it, and, to disguise the originals the more effectively, he made the girl, whom he had provisionally called Salome, more like himself than Louise in certain superficial qualities, though in an essential nobleness and singleness, which consisted with a great deal of feminine sinuosity and subtlety, she remained a portrait of Louise. He was doubtful whether the mingling of characteristics would not end in unreality, but she was sure it would not; she said he was so much like a woman in the traits he had borrowed from himself that Salome would be all the truer for being like him; or, at any rate, she would be finer, and more ideal. She said that it was nonsense, the way people regarded women as altogether different from men; she believed they were very much alike; a girl was as much the daughter of her father as of her mother; she alleged herself as proof of the fact that a girl was often a great deal more her father's daughter, and she argued that if Maxwell made Salome quite in his own spiritual image, no one would dream of criticising her as unwomanly. Then he asked if he need only make Atland in her spiritual image to have him the manliest sort of fellow. She said that was not what she meant, and, in any case, a man could have feminine traits, and be all the nicer for them, but, if a woman had masculine traits, she would be disgusting. At the same time, if you drew a man from a woman, he would be ridiculous.
"Then you want me to model Atland on myself, too," said Maxwell.
She thought a moment. "Yes, I do. If Salome is to be taken mostly from me, I couldn't bear to have him like anybody but you. It would be indelicate."
"Well, now, I'll tell you what, I'm not going to stand it," said Maxwell. "I am going to make Atland like Pinney."
But she would not be turned from the serious aspect of the affair by his joking. She asked, "Do you think it would intensify the situation if he were not equal to her? If the spectator could be made to see that she was throwing herself away on him, after all?"
"Wouldn't that leave the spectator a little too inconsolable? You don't want the love-business to double the tragedy, you want to have it relieved, don't you?"
"Yes, that is true. You must make him worth all the sacrifice. I couldn't stand it if he wasn't."
Maxwell frowned, as he always did when he became earnest, and said with a little sigh, "He must be passive, negative, as I said; you must simply feel that he is good, and that she will be safe with him, after the worst has happened to her father. And I must keep the interest of the love-business light, without letting it become farcical. I must get charm, all I can, into her character. You won't mind my getting the charm all from you?"
"Oh, Brice, what sweet things you say to me! I wish everybody could know how divine you are."
"The women would all be making love to me, and I should hate that. One is quite enough."
"Am I quite enough?" she entreated.
"You have been up to the present time."
"And do you think I shall always be?" She slid from her chair to her knees on the floor beside him, where he sat at his desk, and put her arms round him.
He did not seem to know it. "Look here, Louise, I have got to connect this love-business with the main action of the play, somehow. It won't do simply to have it an episode. How would it do to have Atland know all the time that Haxard has killed Greenshaw, and be keeping it from Salome, while she is betraying her love for him?"
"Wouldn't that be rather tawdry?" Louise let her arms slip down to her side, and looked up at him, as she knelt.
"Yes, it would," he owned.
He looked very unhappy about it, and she rose to her feet, as if to give it more serious attention. "Brice, I want your play to be thoroughly honest and true from beginning to end, and not to have any sort of catchpenny effectivism in it. You have planned it so nobly that I can't bear to have you lower the standard the least bit; and I think the honest and true way is to let the love-business be a pleasant fact in the case, as it might very well be. Those things do keep going on in life alongside of the greatest misery, the greatest unhappiness."
"Well," said Maxwell, "I guess you are right about the love-business. I'll treat it frankly for what it is, a fact in the case. That will be the right way, and that will be the strong way. It will be like life. I don't know that you are bound to relate things strictly to each other in art, any more than they are related in life. There are all sorts of incidents and interests playing round every great event that seem to have no more relation to it than the rings of Saturn have to Saturn. They form the atmosphere of it. If I can let Haxard's wretchedness be seen at last through the atmosphere of his daughter's happiness!"
"Yes," she said, "that will be quite enough." She knew that they had talked up to the moment when he could best begin to work, and now left him to himself.
Within a week he got the rehabilitated love-business in place, and the play ready to show to Godolphin again. He had managed to hold the actor off in the meantime, but now he returned in full force, with suggestions and misgivings which had first to be cleared away before he could give a clear mind to what Maxwell had done. Then Maxwell could see that he was somehow disappointed, for he began to talk as if there were no understanding between them for his taking the play. He praised it warmly, but he said that it would be hard to find a woman to do the part of Salome.
"That is the principal part in the piece now, you know," he added.
"I don't see how," Maxwell protested. "It seems to me that her character throws Haxard's into greater relief than before, and gives it more prominence."
"You've made the love-business too strong, I think. I supposed you would have something light and graceful to occupy the house in the suspense between the points in Haxard's case. If I were to do him, I should be afraid that people would come back from Salome to him with more or less of an effort, I don't say they would, but that's the way it strikes me now; perhaps some one else would look at it quite differently."
"Then, as it is, you don't want it?"
"I don't say that. But it seems to me that Salome is the principal figure now. I think that's a mistake."
"If it's a fact, it's a mistake. I don't want to have it so," said Maxwell, and he made such effort as he could to swallow his disgust.
Godolphin asked, after a while, "In that last scene between her and her father, and in fact in all the scenes between them, couldn't you give more of the strong speeches to him? She's a great creation now, but isn't she too great for Atland?"
"I've kept Atland under, purposely, because the part is necessarily a negative one, and because I didn't want him to compete with Haxard at all."
"Yes, that is all right; but as it is, she competes with Haxard."
After Godolphin had gone, Louise came down, and found Maxwell in a dreary muse over his manuscript. He looked up at her with a lack-lustre eye, and said, "Godolphin is jealous of Salome now. What he really wants is a five-act monologue that will keep him on the stage all the time. He thinks that as it is, she will take all the attention from him."
Louise appeared to reflect. "Well, isn't there something in that?"
"Good heavens! I should think you were going to play Haxard, too!"
"No; but of course you can't have two characters of equal importance in your play. Some one has to be first, and Godolphin doesn't want an actress taking all the honors away from him."
"Then why did you pretend to like the way I had done it," Maxwell demanded, angrily, "if you think she will take the honors from him?"
"I didn't say that I did. All that I want is that you should ask yourself whether she would or not."
"Are you jealous of her?"
"Now, my dear, if you are going to be unreasonable, I will not talk with you."
Nothing maddened Maxwell so much as to have his wife take this tone with him, when he had followed her up through the sinuosities that always began with her after a certain point. Short of that she was as frank and candid as a man, and he understood her, but beyond that the eternal womanly began, and he could make nothing of her. She evaded, and came and went, and returned upon her course, and all with as good a conscience, apparently, as if she were meeting him fairly and squarely on the question they started with. Sometimes he doubted if she really knew that she was behaving insincerely, or whether, if she knew it, she could help doing it. He believed her to be a more truthful nature than himself, and it was insufferable for her to be less so, and then accuse him of illogicality.
"I have no wish to talk," he said, smothering his rage, and taking up a page of manuscript.
"Of course," she went on, as if there had been no break in their good feeling, "I know what a goose Godolphin is, and I don't wonder you're vexed with him, but you know very well that I have nothing but the good of the play in view as a work of art, and I should say that if you couldn't keep Salome from rivalling Haxard in the interest of the spectator, you had better go back to the idea of making two plays of it. I think that the 'Second Chapter' would be a very good thing to begin with."
"Why, good heavens! you said just the contrary when we decided to drop it."
"Yes, but that was when I thought you would be able to subdue Salome."
"There never was any question of subduing Salome; it was a question of subduing Atland!"
"It's the same thing; keeping the love-business in the background."
"I give it up!" Maxwell flung down his manuscript in sign of doing so. "The whole thing is a mess, and you seem to delight in tormenting me about it. How am I to give the love-business charm, and yet keep it in the background?"
"I should think you could."
"Well, I was afraid you would give Salome too much prominence."
"Didn't you know whether I had done so or not? You knew what I had done before Godolphin came!"
"If Godolphin thinks she is too prominent, you ought to trust his instinct."
Maxwell would not answer her. He went out, and she saw him strolling down the path to the rocks. She took the manuscript and began to read it over.
He did not come back, and when she was ready to go to supper she had to go down to the rocks for him. His angry fit seemed to have passed, but he looked abjectly sad, and her heart ached at sight of him. She said, cheerfully, "I have been reading that love-business over again, Brice, and I don't find it so far out as I was afraid it was. Salome is a little too prononcee, but you can easily mend that. She is a delightful character, and you have given her charm—too much charm. I don't believe there's a truer woman in the whole range of the drama. She is perfect, and that is why I think you can afford to keep her back a little in the passages with Haxard. Of course, Godolphin wants to shine there. You needn't give him her speeches, but you can put them somewhere else, in some of the scenes with Atland; it won't make any difference how much she outshines him, poor fellow."
He would not be entreated at once, but after letting her talk on to much the same effect for awhile, he said, "I will see what can be done with it. At present I am sick of the whole thing."
"Yes, just drop it for the present," she said. "I'm hungry, aren't you?"
"I didn't know it was time."
She was very tender with him, walking up to the hotel, and all that evening she kept him amused, so that he would not want to look at his manuscript. She used him, as a wife is apt to use her husband when he is fretted and not very well, as if he were her little boy, and she did this so sweetly that Maxwell could not resent it.
The next morning she let him go to his play again, and work all the morning. He ended about noon, and told her he had done what she wanted done to the love-business, he thought, but he would not show it to her, for he said he was tired of it, and would have to go over it with Godolphin, at any rate, when he came in the afternoon. They went to the beach, but the person with the smouldering eyes failed to appear, and in fact they did not see her again at Magnolia, and they decided that she must have been passing a few days at one of the other hotels, and gone away.
Godolphin arrived in the sunniest good-humor, as if he had never had any thought of relinquishing the play, and he professed himself delighted with the changes Maxwell had made in the love-business. He said the character of Salome had the true proportion to all the rest now; and Maxwell understood that he would not be jealous of the actress who played the part, or feel her a dangerous rival in the public favor. He approved of the transposition of the speeches that Maxwell had made, or at least he no longer openly coveted them for Haxard.
What was more important to Maxwell was that Louise seemed finally contented with the part, too, and said that now, no matter what Godolphin wanted, she would never let it be touched again. "I am glad you have got that 'impassioned' rubbish out. I never thought that was in character with Salome."
The artistic consciousness of Maxwell, which caught all the fine reluctances and all the delicate feminine preferences of his wife, was like a subtle web woven around him, and took everything, without his willing it, from within him as well as from without, and held it inexorably for future use. He knew the source of the impassioned rubbish which had displeased his wife; and he had felt while he was employing it that he was working in a commoner material than the rest of Salome's character; but he had experimented with it in the hope that she might not notice it. The fact that she had instantly noticed it, and had generalized the dislike which she only betrayed at last, after she had punished him sufficiently, remained in the meshes of the net he wore about his mind, as something of value, which he could employ to exquisite effect if he could once find a scheme fit for it.
In the meantime it would be hard to say whether Godolphin continued more a sorrow or a joy to Maxwell, who was by no means always of the same mind about him. He told his wife sometimes, when she was pitying him, that it was a good discipline for him to work with such a man, for it taught him a great deal about himself, if it did not teach him much else. He said that it tamed his overweening pride to find that there was artistic ability employing itself with literature which was so unlike literary ability. Godolphin conceived perfectly of the literary intention in the fine passages of the play, and enjoyed their beauty, but he did not value them any more than the poorest and crudest verbiage that promised him a point. In fact, Maxwell found that in two or three places the actor was making a wholly wrong version of his words, and maturing in his mind an effect from his error that he was rather loath to give up, though when he was instructed as to their true meaning, he saw how he could get a better effect out of it. He had an excellent intelligence, but this was employed so entirely in the study of impression that significance was often a secondary matter with him. He had not much humor, and Maxwell doubted if he felt it much in others, but he told a funny story admirably, and did character-stuff, as he called it, with the subtlest sense; he had begun in sketches of the variety type. Sometimes Maxwell thought him very well versed in the history and theory of the drama; but there were other times when his ignorance seemed almost creative in that direction. He had apparently no feeling for values; he would want a good effect used, without regard to the havoc it made of the whole picture, though doubtless if it could have been realized to him, he would have abhorred it as thoroughly as Maxwell himself. He would come over from Manchester one day with a notion for the play so bad that it almost made Maxwell shed tears; and the next with something so good that Maxwell marvelled at it; but Godolphin seemed to value the one no more than the other. He was a creature of moods the most extreme; his faith in Maxwell was as profound as his abysmal distrust of him; and his frank and open nature was full of suspicion. He was like a child in the simplicity of his selfishness, as far as his art was concerned, but in all matters aside from it he was chaotically generous. His formlessness was sometimes almost distracting; he presented himself to the author's imagination as mere human material, waiting to be moulded in this shape or that. From day to day, from week to week, Maxwell lived in a superficial uncertainty whether Godolphin had really taken his play, or would ever produce it; yet at the bottom of his heart he confided in the promises which the actor lavished upon him in both the written and the spoken word. They had an agreement carefully drawn up as to all the business between them, but he knew that Godolphin would not be held by any clause of it that he wished to break; he did not believe that Godolphin understood what it bound him to, either when he signed it or afterward; but he was sure that he would do not only what was right, but what was noble, if he could be taken at the right moment. Upon the whole, he liked him; in a curious sort, he respected and honored him; and he defended him against Mrs. Maxwell when she said Godolphin was wearing her husband's life out, and that if he made the play as greatly successful as "Hamlet," or the "Trip to Chinatown," he would not be worth what it cost them both in time and temper.
They lost a good deal of time and temper with the play, which was almost a conjugal affair with them, and the struggle to keep up a show of gay leisure before the summering world up and down the coast told upon Mrs. Maxwell's nerves. She did not mind the people in the hotel so much; they were very nice, but she did not know many of them, and she could not care for them as she did for her friends who came up from Beverly Farms and over from Manchester. She hated to call Maxwell from his work at such times, not only because she pitied him, but because he came to help her receive her friends with such an air of gloomy absence and open reluctance; and she had hated still worse to say he was busy with his play, the play he was writing for Mr. Godolphin. Her friends were apparently unable to imagine anyone writing a play so seriously, and they were unable to imagine Mr. Godolphin at all, for they had never heard of him; the splendor of his unknown name took them more than anything else. As for getting Maxwell to return their visits with her, when men had come with the ladies who called upon her, she could only manage it if he was so fagged with working at his play that he was too weak to resist her will, and even then he had to be torn from it almost by main force. He behaved so badly in the discharge of some of these duties to society, and was, to her eye at least, so bored and worried by them that she found it hard to forgive him, and made him suffer for it on the way home till she relented at the sight of his thin face, the face that she loved, that she had thought the world well lost for. After the third or fourth time she made him go with her she gave it up and went alone, though she was aware that it might look as if they were not on good terms. She only obliged him after that to go with her to her father's, where she would not allow any shadow of suspicion to fall upon their happiness, and where his absent-mindedness would be accounted for. Her mother seemed to understand it better than her father, who, she could see, sometimes inwardly resented it as neglect. She also exacted of Maxwell that he should not sit silent through a whole meal at the hotel, and that, if he did not or could not talk, he should keep looking at her, and smiling and nodding, now and then. If he would remember to do this she would do all the talking herself. Sometimes he did not remember, and then she trod on his foot in vain.
The droll side of the case often presented itself for her relief, and, after all, she knew beforehand that this was the manner of man she was marrying, and she was glad to marry him. She was happier than she had ever dreamed of being. She was one of those women who live so largely in their sympathies that if these were employed she had no thought of herself, and not to have any thought of one's self is to be blessed. Maxwell had no thought of anything but his work, and that made his bliss; if she could have no thought but of him in his work, she could feel herself in Heaven with him.
July and August went by, and it was time for Godolphin to take the road again. By this time Maxwell's play was in as perfect form as it could be until it was tried upon the stage and then overhauled for repairs. Godolphin had decided to try it first in Toronto, where he was going to open, and then to give it in the West as often as he could. If it did as well as he expected he would bring it on for a run in New York about the middle of December. He would want Maxwell at the rehearsals there, but for the present he said he preferred to stage-manage it himself; they had talked it up so fully that he had all the author's intentions in mind.
He came over from Manchester the day before his vacation ended to take leave of the Maxwells. He was in great spirits with the play, but he confessed to a misgiving in regard to the lady whom he had secured for the part of Salome. He said there was only one woman he ever saw fit to do that part, but when he named the actress the Maxwells had to say they had never heard of her before. "She is a Southerner. She is very well known in the West," Godolphin said.
Louise asked if she had ever played in Boston, and when he said she had not, Louise said "Oh!"
Maxwell trembled, but Godolphin seemed to find nothing latent in his wife's offensive tone, and after a little further talk they all parted on the friendliest terms. The Maxwells did not hear from him for a fortnight, though he was to have tried the play in Toronto at least a week earlier. Then there came a telegram from Midland:
"Tried play here last night. Went like wildfire. Will write. GODOLPHIN.
The message meant success, and the Maxwells walked the air. The production of the piece was mentioned in the Associated Press despatches to the Boston papers, and though Mrs. Maxwell studied these in vain for some verbal corroboration of Godolphin's jubilant message, she did not lose faith in it, nor allow her husband to do so. In fact, while they waited for Godolphin's promised letter, they made use of their leisure to count the chickens which had begun to hatch. The actor had agreed to pay the author at the rate of five dollars an act for each performance of the play, and as it was five acts long a simple feat of arithmetic showed that the nightly gain from it would be twenty-five dollars, and that if it ran every night and two afternoons, for matinees, the weekly return from it would be two hundred dollars. Besides this, Godolphin had once said, in a moment of high content with the piece, that if it went as he expected it to go he would pay Maxwell over and above this twenty-five dollars a performance five per cent. of the net receipts whenever these passed one thousand dollars. His promise had not been put in writing, and Maxwell had said at the time that he should be satisfied with his five dollars an act, but he had told his wife of it, and they had both agreed that Godolphin would keep it. They now took it into the account in summing up their gains, and Mrs. Maxwell thought it reasonable to figure at least twenty-five dollars more from it for each time the play was given; but as this brought the weekly sum up to four hundred dollars, she so far yielded to her husband as to scale the total at three hundred dollars, though she said it was absurd to put it at any such figure. She refused, at any rate, to estimate their earnings from the season at less than fifteen thousand dollars. It was useless for Maxwell to urge that Godolphin had other pieces in his repertory, things that had made his reputation, and that he would naturally want to give sometimes. She asked him whether Godolphin himself had not voluntarily said that if the piece went as he expected he would play nothing else as long as he lived, like Jefferson with Rip Van Winkle; and here, she said, it had already, by his own showing, gone at once like wildfire. When Maxwell pleaded that they did not know what wildfire meant she declared that it meant an overwhelming house and unbridled rapture in the audience; it meant an instant and lasting triumph for the play. She began to praise Godolphin, or, at least, to own herself mistaken in some of her decrials of him. She could not be kept from bubbling over to two or three ladies at the hotel, where it was quickly known what an immense success the first performance of Maxwell's play had been. He was put to shame by several asking him when they were to have it in Boston, but his wife had no embarrassment in answering that it would probably be kept the whole winter in New York, and not come to Boston till some time in the early spring.
She was resolved, now, that he should drive over to Beverly Farms with her, and tell her father and mother about the success of the play. She had instantly telegraphed them on getting Godolphin's despatch, and she began to call out to her father as soon as she got inside the house, and saw him coming down the stairs in the hall, "Now, what do you say, papa? Isn't it glorious? Didn't I tell you it would be the greatest success? Did you ever hear anything like it? Where's mamma? If she shouldn't be at home, I don't know what I shall do!"
"She's here," said her father, arriving at the foot of the stairs, where Louise embraced him, and then let him shake hands with her husband. "She's dressing. We were just going over to see you."
"Well, you've been pretty deliberate about it! Here it's after lunch, and I telegraphed you at ten o'clock." She went on to bully her father more and more, and to flourish Maxwell's triumph in his face. "We're going to have three hundred dollars a week from it at the very least, and fifteen thousand dollars for the season. What do you think of that? Isn't that pretty good, for two people that had nothing in the world yesterday? What do you say now, papa?"
There were all sorts of lurking taunts, demands, reproaches, in these words, which both the men felt, but they smiled across her, and made as if they were superior to her simple exultation.
"I should say you had written the play yourself, Louise," said her father.
"No," answered her husband, "Godolphin wrote the play; or I've no doubt he's telling the reporters so by this time."
Louise would not mind them. "Well, I don't care! I want papa to acknowledge that I was right, for once. Anybody could believe in Brice's genius, but I believed in his star, and I always knew that he would get on, and I was all for his giving up his newspaper work, and devoting himself to the drama; and now the way is open to him, and all he has got to do is to keep on writing."
"Come now, Louise," said her husband.
"Well," her father interposed, "I'm glad of your luck, Maxwell. It isn't in my line, exactly, but I don't believe I could be any happier, if it were. After all, it's doing something to elevate the stage. I wish someone would take hold of the pulpit."
Maxwell shrugged. "I'm not strong enough for that, quite. And I can't say that I had any conscious intention to elevate the stage with my play."
"But you had it unconsciously, Brice," said Louise, "and it can't help having a good effect on life, too."
"It will teach people to be careful how they murder people," Maxwell assented.
"Well, it's a great chance," said Hilary, with the will to steer a middle course between Maxwell's modesty and Louise's overweening pride. "There really isn't anything that people talk about more. They discuss plays as they used to discuss sermons. If you've done a good play, you've done a good thing."
His wife hastened to make answer for him. "He's done a great play, and there are no ifs or ans about it." She went on to celebrate Maxwell's achievement till he was quite out of countenance, for he knew that she was doing it mainly to rub his greatness into her father, and he had so much of the old grudge left that he would not suffer himself to care whether Hilary thought him great or not. It was a relief when Mrs. Hilary came in. Louise became less defiant in her joy then, or else the effect of it was lost in Mrs. Hilary's assumption of an entire expectedness in the event. Her world was indeed so remote from the world of art that she could value success in it only as it related itself to her family, and it seemed altogether natural to her that her daughter's husband should take its honors. She was by no means a stupid woman; for a woman born and married to wealth, with all the advantages that go with it, she was uncommonly intelligent; but she could not help looking upon aesthetic honors of any sort as in questionable taste. She would have preferred position in a son-in-law to any distinction appreciable to the general, but wanting that it was fit he should be distinguished in the way he chose. In her feeling it went far to redeem the drama that it should be related to the Hilarys by marriage, and if she had put her feeling into words, which always oversay the feelings, they would have been to the effect that the drama had behaved very well indeed, and deserved praise. This is what Mrs. Hilary's instinct would have said, but, of course, her reason would have said something quite different, and it was her reason that spoke to Maxwell, and expressed a pleasure in his success that was very gratifying to him. He got on with her better than with Hilary, partly because she was a woman and he was a man, and partly because, though she had opposed his marriage with Louise more steadily than her husband, there had been no open offence between them. He did not easily forgive a hurt to his pride, and Hilary, with all his good will since, and his quick repentance at the time, had never made it quite right with Maxwell for treating him rudely once, when he came to him so helplessly in the line of his newspaper work. They were always civil to each other, and they would always be what is called good friends; they had even an air of mutual understanding, as regarded Louise and her exuberances. Still, she was so like her father in these, and so unlike her mother, that it is probable the understanding between Hilary and Maxwell concerning her was only the understanding of men, and that Maxwell was really more in sympathy with Mrs. Hilary, even about Louise, even about the world. He might have liked it as much as she, if he had been as much of it, and he thought so well of it as a world that he meant to conquer one of the chief places in it. In the meantime he would have been very willing to revenge himself upon it, to satirize it, to hurt it, to humble it—but for his own pleasure, not the world's good.
Hilary wanted the young people to stay the afternoon, and have dinner, but his wife perceived that they wished to be left alone in their exultation, and she would not let him keep them beyond a decent moment, or share too much in their joy. With only that telegram from Godolphin they could not be definite about anything but their future, which Louise, at least, beheld all rose color. Just what size or shape their good fortune had already taken they did not know, and could not, till they got the letter Godolphin had promised, and she was in haste to go back to Magnolia for that, though it could not arrive before the next morning at the earliest. She urged that he might have written before telegraphing, or when he came from the theatre after the play was given. She was not satisfied with the reception of her news, and she said so to Maxwell, as soon as they started home.
"What did you want?" he retorted, in a certain vexation. "They were as cordial as they could be."
"Cordial is not enough. You can't expect anything like uproar from mamma, but she took it too much as a matter of course, and I did suppose papa would be a little more riotous."
"If you are going to be as exacting as that with people," Maxwell returned, "you are going to disappoint yourself frightfully; and if you insist, you will make them hate you. People can't share your happiness any more than they can share your misery; it's as much as they can do to manage their own."
"But I did think my own father and mother might have entered into it a little more," she grieved. "Well, you are right, Brice, and I will try to hold in after this. It wasn't for myself I cared."
"I know," said Maxwell, so appreciatively that she felt all her loss made up to her, and shrunk closer to him in the buggy he was driving with a lax, absent-minded rein. "But I think a little less Fourth of July on my account would be better."
"Yes, you are wise, and I shall not say another word about it to anybody; just treat it as a common every-day event."
He laughed at what was so far from her possibilities, and began to tell her of the scheme for still another play that had occurred to him while they were talking with her father. She was interested in the scheme, but more interested in the involuntary workings of his genius, and she celebrated that till he had to beg her to stop, for she made him ashamed of himself even in the solitude of the woodland stretches they were passing through. Then he said, as if it were part of the same strain of thought, "You have to lose a lot of things in writing a play. Now, for instance, that beautiful green light there in the woods." He pointed to a depth of the boscage where it had almost an emerald quality, it was so vivid, so intense. "If I were writing a story about two lovers in such a light, and how it bathed their figures and illumined their faces, I could make the reader feel it just as I did. I could make them see it. But if I were putting them in a play, I should have to trust the carpenter and the scene-painter for the effect; and you know what broken reeds they are."
"Yes," she sighed, "and some day I hope you will write novels. But now you've made such a success with this play that you must do some others, and when you've got two or three going steadily you can afford to take up a novel. It would be wicked to turn your back on the opportunity you've won."
He silently assented and said, "I shall be all the the better novelist for waiting a year or two."
There was no letter from Godolphin in the morning, but in the course of the forenoon there came a newspaper addressed in his handwriting, and later several others. They were Midland papers, and they had each, heavily outlined in ink, a notice of the appearance of Mr. Launcelot Godolphin in a new play written expressly for him by a young Boston litterateur. Mr. Godolphin believed the author to be destined to make his mark high in the dramatic world, he said in the course of a long interview in the paper which came first, an evening edition preceeding the production of the piece, and plainly meant to give the public the right perspective. He had entered into a generous expression of his own feelings concerning it, and had given Maxwell full credit for the lofty conception of an American drama, modern in spirit, and broad in purpose. He modestly reserved to himself such praise as might be due for the hints his life-long knowledge of the stage had enabled him to offer the dramatist. He told how they had spent the summer near each other on the north shore of Massachusetts, and had met almost daily; and the reporter got a picturesque bit out of their first meeting at the actor's hotel, in Boston, the winter before, when the dramatist came to lay the scheme of the play before Godolphin, and Godolphin made up his mind before he had heard him half through, that he should want the piece. He had permitted himself a personal sketch of Maxwell, which lost none of its original advantages in the diction of the reporter, and which represented him as young, slight in figure, with a refined and delicate face, bearing the stamp of intellectual force; a journalist from the time he left school, and one of the best exponents of the formative influences of the press in the training of its votaries. From time to time it was hard for Maxwell to make out whose words the interview was couched in, but he acquitted Godolphin of the worst, and he certainly did not accuse him of the flowery terms giving his patriotic reasons for not producing the piece first in Toronto as he had meant to do. It appeared that, upon second thoughts, he had reserved this purely American drama for the opening night of his engagement in one of the most distinctively American cities, after having had it in daily rehearsal ever since the season began.
"I should think they had Pinney out there," said Maxwell, as he and his wife looked over the interview, with their cheeks together.
"Not at all!" she retorted. "It isn't the least like Pinney," and he was amazed to find that she really liked the stuff. She said that she was glad, now, that she understood why Godolphin had not opened with the play in Toronto, as he had promised, and she thoroughly agreed with him that it ought first to be given on our own soil. She was dashed for a moment when Maxwell made her reflect that they were probably the losers of four or five hundred dollars by the delay; then she said she did not care, that it was worth the money. She did not find the personal account of Maxwell offensive, though she contended that it did not do him full justice, and she cut out the interview and pasted it in a book, where she was going to keep all the notices of his play and every printed fact concerning it. He told her she would have to help herself out with some of the fables, if she expected to fill her book, and she said she did not care for that, either, and probably it was just such things as this interview that drew attention to the play, and must have made it go like wildfire that first night in Midland. Maxwell owned that it was but too likely, and then he waited hungrily for further word of his play, while she expected the next mail in cheerful faith.
It brought them four or five morning papers, and it seemed from these that a play might have gone like wildfire, and yet not been seen by a very large number of people. The papers agreed in a sense of the graceful compliment paid their city by Mr. Godolphin, who was always a favorite there, in producing his new piece at one of their theatres, and confiding it at once to the judgment of a cultivated audience, instead of trying it first in a subordinate place, and bringing it on with a factitious reputation worked up from all sorts of unknown sources. They agreed, too, that his acting had never been better; that it had great smoothness, and that it rose at times into passion, and was full of his peculiar force. His company was well chosen, and his support had an even excellence which reflected great credit upon the young star, who might be supposed, if he had followed an unwise tradition, to be willing to shine at the expense of his surroundings. His rendition of the role of Haxard was magnificent in one journal, grand in another, superb in a third, rich, full and satisfying in a fourth, subtle and conscientious in a fifth. Beyond this, the critics ceased to be so much of one mind. They were, by a casting vote, adverse to the leading lady, whom the majority decided an inadequate Salome, without those great qualities which the author had evidently meant to redeem a certain coquettish lightness in her; the minority held that she had grasped the role with intelligence, and expressed with artistic force a very refined intention in it. The minority hinted that Salome was really the great part in the piece, and that in her womanly endeavor to win back the lover whom she had not at first prized at his true worth, while her heart was wrung by sympathy with her unhappy father in the mystery brooding over him, she was a far more interesting figure than the less complex Haxard; and they intimated that Godolphin had an easier task in his portrayal. They all touched more or less upon the conduct of the subordinate actors in their parts, and the Maxwells, in every case, had to wade through their opinions of the playing before they got to their opinions of the play, which was the only vital matter concerned.
Louise would have liked to read them, as she had read the first, with her arm across Maxwell's shoulder, and, as it were, with the same eye and the same mind, but Maxwell betrayed an uneasiness under the experiment which made her ask: "Don't you like to have me put my arm round you, Brice?"
"Yes, yes," he answered, impatiently, "I like to have you put your arm around me on all proper occasions; but—it isn't favorable to collected thought."
"Why, I think it is," she protested with pathos, and a burlesque of her pathos. "I never think half so well as when I have my arm around you. Then it seems as if I thought with your mind. I feel so judicial."
"Perhaps I feel too emotional, under the same conditions, and think with your mind. At any rate, I can't stand it; and we can't both sit in the same chair either. Now, you take one of the papers and go round to the other side of the table. I want to have all my faculties for the appreciation of this noble criticism; it's going to be full of instruction."
He made her laugh, and she feigned a pout in obeying him; but, nevertheless, in her heart she felt herself postponed to the interest that was always first in him, and always before his love.
"And don't talk," he urged, "or keep calling out, or reading passages ahead. I want to get all the sense there doesn't seem to be in this thing."
In fact the critics had found themselves confronted with a task which is always confusing to criticism, in the necessity of valuing a work of art so novel in material that it seems to refuse the application of criterions. As he followed their struggles in the endeavor to judge his work by such canons of art as were known to them, instead of taking it frankly upon the plane of nature and of truth, where he had tried to put it, and blaming or praising him as he had failed or succeeded in this, he was more and more bowed down within himself before the generous courage of Godolphin in rising to an appreciation of his intention. He now perceived that he was a man of far more uncommon intelligence than he had imagined him, and that in taking his play Godolphin had shown a zeal for the drama which was not likely to find a response in criticism, whatever its fate with the public might be. The critics frankly owned that in spite of its defects the piece had a cordial reception from the audience; that the principal actors were recalled again and again, and they reported that Godolphin had spoken both for the author and himself in acknowledging the applause, and had disclaimed all credit for their joint success. This made Maxwell ashamed of the suspicion he had harbored that Godolphin would give the impression of a joint authorship, at the least. He felt that he had judged the man narrowly and inadequately, and he decided that as soon as he heard from him, he would write and make due reparation for the tacit wrong he had done him.
Upon the whole he had some reason to be content with the first fortune of his work, whatever its final fate might be. To be sure, if the audience which received it was enthusiastic, it was confessedly small, and it had got no more than a foothold in the public favor. It must remain for further trial to prove it a failure or a success. His eye wandered to the column of advertised amusements for the pleasure of seeing the play announced there for the rest of the week. There was a full list of the pieces for the time of Godolphin's stay; but it seemed that neither at night nor at morning was Maxwell's play to be repeated. The paper dropped from his hand.
"What is the matter?" his wife asked, looking up from her own paper. "This poor man is the greatest possible goose. He doesn't seem to know what he is talking about, even when he praises you. But of course he has to write merely from a first impression. Do you want to change papers?"
Maxwell mechanically picked his up, and gave it to her. "The worst of it is," he said, with the sardonic smile he had left over from an unhappier time of life, "that he won't have an opportunity to revise his first impression."
"What do you mean?"
He told her, but she could not believe him till she had verified the fact by looking at the advertisements in all the papers.
Then she asked: "What in the world does he mean?"
"Not to give it there any more, apparently. He hasn't entered upon the perpetual performance of the piece. But if he isn't like Jefferson, perhaps he's like Rip; he don't count this time. Well, I might have known it! Why did I ever trust one of that race?" He began to walk up and down the room, and to fling out, one after another, the expressions of his scorn and his self-scorn. "They have no idea of what good faith is, except as something that brings down the house when they register a noble vow. But I don't blame him; I blame myself. What an ass, what an idiot, I was! Why, he could have told me not to believe in his promises; he is a perfectly honest man, and would have done it, if I had appealed to him. He didn't expect me to believe in them, and from the wary way I talked, I don't suppose he thought I did. He hadn't the measure of my folly; I hadn't, myself!"
"Now, Brice!" his wife called out to him, severely, "I won't have you going on in that way. When I denounced Godolphin you wouldn't listen to me; and when I begged and besought you to give him up, you always said he was the only man in the world for you, till I got to believing it, and I believe it now. Why, dearest," she added, in a softer tone, "don't you see that he probably had his programme arranged all beforehand, and couldn't change it, just because your play happened to be a hit? I'm sure he paid you a great compliment by giving it the first night. Now, you must just wait till you hear from him, and you may be sure he will have a good reason for not repeating it there."
"Oh, Godolphin would never lack for a good reason. And I can tell you what his reason in this case will be: that the thing was practically a failure, and that he would have lost money if he had kept it on."
"Is that what is worrying you? I don't believe it was a failure. I think from all that the papers say, and the worst that they say, the piece was a distinct success. It was a great success with nice people, you can see that for yourself, and it will be a popular success, too; I know it will, as soon as it gets a chance. But you may be sure that Godolphin has some scheme about it, and that if he doesn't give it again in Midland, it's because he wants to make people curious about it, and hold it in reserve, or something like that. At any rate, I think you ought to wait for his letter before you denounce him."
Maxwell laughed again at these specious arguments, but he could not refuse to be comforted by them, and he had really nothing to do but to wait for Godolphin's letter. It did not come the next mail, and then his wife and he collated his dispatch with the newspaper notices, and tried to make up a judicial opinion from their combined testimony concerning the fate of the play with the audience. Their scrutiny of the telegram developed the fact that it must have been sent the night of the performance, and while Godolphin was still warm from his recalls and from the congratulations of his friends; it could not have reached them so soon as it did in the morning if it had been sent to the office then; it was not a night message, but it had probably lain in the office over night. In this view it was not such valuable testimony to the success of the play as it had seemed before. But a second and a third reading of the notices made them seem friendlier than at first. The Maxwells now perceived that they had first read them in the fever of their joy from Godolphin's telegram, and that their tempered approval had struck cold upon them because they were so overheated. They were really very favorable, after all, and they witnessed to an interest in the play which could not be ignored. Very likely the interest in it was partly from the fact that Godolphin had given it, but apart from this it was evident that the play had established a claim of its own. The mail, which did not bring a letter from Godolphin, brought another copy of that evening paper which had printed the anticipatory interview with him, and this had a long and careful consideration of the play in its editorial columns, apparently written by a lover of the drama, as well as a lover of the theatre. Very little regard was paid to the performance, but a great deal to the play, which was skilfully analyzed, and praised and blamed in the right places. The writer did not attempt to forecast its fate, but he said that whatever its fate with the public might be, here, at least, was a step in the direction of the drama dealing with facts of American life—simply, vigorously, and honestly. It had faults of construction, but the faults were not the faults of weakness. They were rather the effects of a young talent addressing itself to the management of material too rich, too abundant for the scene, and allowing itself to touch the borders of melodrama in its will to enforce some tragic points of the intrigue. But it was not mawkish and it was not romantic. In its highest reaches it made you think, by its stern and unflinching fidelity to the implications, of Ibsen; but it was not too much to say that it had a charm often wanting to that master. It was full of the real American humor; it made its jokes, as Americans did, in the very face of the most disastrous possibilities; and in the love-passages it was delicious. The whole episode of the love between Haxard's daughter, Salome, and Atland was simply the sweetest and freshest bit of nature in the modern drama. It daringly portrayed a woman in circumstances where it was the convention to ignore that she ever was placed, and it lent a grace of delicate comedy to the somber ensemble of the piece, without lowering the dignity of the action or detracting from the sympathy the spectator felt for the daughter of the homicide; it rather heightened this.
Louise read the criticism aloud, and then she and Maxwell looked at each other. It took their breath away; but Louise got her breath first. "Who in the world would have dreamed that there was any one who could write such a criticism, out there?"
Maxwell took the paper, and ran the article over again. Then he said, "If the thing did nothing more than get itself appreciated in that way, I should feel that it had done enough. I wonder who the fellow is! Could it be a woman?"
There was, in fact, a feminine fineness in the touch, here and there, that might well suggest a woman, but they finally decided against the theory: Louise said that a woman writer would not have the honesty to own that the part Salome played in getting back her lover was true to life, though every woman who saw it would know that it was. She examined the wrapper of the newspaper, and made sure that it was addressed in Godolphin's hand, and she said that if he did not speak of the article in his letter, Maxwell must write out to the newspaper and ask who had done it.
Godolphin's letter came at last, with many excuses for his delay. He said he had expected the newspaper notices to speak for him, and he seemed to think that they had all been altogether favorable to the play. It was not very consoling to have him add that he now believed the piece would have run the whole week in Midland, if he had kept it on; but he had arranged merely to give it a trial, and Maxwell would understand how impossible it was to vary a programme which had once been made out. One thing was certain, however: the piece was an assured success, and a success of the most flattering and brilliant kind, and Godolphin would give it a permanent place in his repertoire. There was no talk of his playing nothing else, and there was no talk of putting the piece on for a run, when he opened in New York. He said he had sent Maxwell a paper containing a criticism in the editorial columns, which would serve to show him how great an interest the piece had excited in Midland, though he believed the article was not written by one of the regular force, but was contributed from the outside by a young fellow who had been described to Godolphin as a sort of Ibsen crank. At the close, he spoke of certain weaknesses which the piece had developed in the performance, and casually mentioned that he would revise it at these points as he found the time; it appeared to him that it needed overhauling, particularly in the love episode; there was too much of that, and the interest during an entire act centred so entirely upon Salome that, as he had foreseen, the role of Haxard suffered.
The Maxwells stared at each other in dismay when they had finished this letter, which Louise had opened, but which they had read together, she looking over his shoulder. All interest in the authorship of the article of the Ibsen crank, all interest in Godolphin's apparent forgetfulness of his solemn promises to give the rest of his natural life to the performance of the piece, was lost in amaze at the fact that he was going to revise it to please himself, and to fashion Maxwell's careful work over in his own ideal of the figure he should make in it to the public. The thought of this was so petrifying that even Louise could not at once find words for it, and they were both silent, as people sometimes are, when a calamity has befallen them, in the hope that if they do not speak it will turn out a miserable dream.
"Well, Brice," she said at last, "you certainly never expected this!"
"No," he answered with a ghastly laugh; "this passes my most sanguine expectations, even of Godolphin. Good Heaven! Fancy the botch he will make of it!"
"You mustn't let him touch it. You must demand it back, peremptorily. You must telegraph!"
"What a mania you have for telegraphing," he retorted. "A special delivery postage-stamp will serve every purpose. He isn't likely to do the piece again for a week, at the earliest." He thought for awhile, and then he said: "In a week he'll have a chance to change his mind so often, that perhaps he won't revise and overhaul it, after all."
"But he mustn't think that you would suffer it for an instant," his wife insisted. "It's an indignity that you should not submit to; it's an outrage!"
"Very likely," Maxwell admitted, and he began to walk the floor, with his head fallen, and his fingers clutched together behind him. The sight of his mute anguish wrought upon his wife and goaded her to more and more utterance.
"It's an insult to your genius, Brice, dear, and you must resent it. I am sure I have been as humble about the whole affair as any one could be, and I should be the last person to wish you to do anything rash. I bore with Godolphin's suggestions, and I let him worry you to death with his plans for spoiling your play, but I certainly didn't dream of anything so high-handed as his undertaking to work it over himself, or I should have insisted on your breaking with him long ago. How patient you have been through it all! You've shown so much forbearance, and so much wisdom, and so much delicacy in dealing with his preposterous ideas, and then, to have it all thrown away! It's too bad!"
Maxwell kept walking hack and forth, and Louise began again at a new point.
"I was willing to have it remain simply a succes d'estime, as far as Midland was concerned, though I think you were treated abominably in that, for he certainly gave you reason to suppose that he would do it every night there. He says himself that it would have run the whole week; and you can see from that article how it was growing in public favor all the time. What has become of his promise to play nothing else, I should like to know? And he's only played it once, and now he proposes to revise it himself!"
Still Maxwell walked on and she continued:
"I don't know what I shall say to my family. They can never understand such a thing, never! Papa couldn't conceive of giving a promise and not keeping it, much less giving a promise just for the pleasure of breaking it. What shall I tell them, Brice? I can't bear to say that Godolphin is going to make your play over, unless I can say at the same time that you've absolutely forbidden him to do so. That's why I wanted you to telegraph. I wanted to say you had telegraphed."
Maxwell stopped in his walk and gazed at her, but she could feel that he did not see her, and she said:
"I don't know that it's actually necessary for me to say anything at present. I can show them the notices, or that article alone. It's worth all the rest put together, and then we can wait, and see if we hear anything more from Godolphin. But now I don't want you to lose any more time. You must write to him at once, and absolutely forbid him to touch your play. Will you?"
Her husband returned from his wanderings of mind and body, and as he dropped upon the lounge at her side, he said, gently, "No, I don't think I'll write at all, Louise."
"Not write at all! Then you're going to let him tamper with that beautiful work of yours?"
"I'm going to wait till I hear from him again. Godolphin is a good fellow—"
"And he won't be guilty of doing me injustice. Besides," and here Maxwell broke off with a laugh that had some gayety in it, "he couldn't. Godolphin is a fine actor, and he's going to be a great one, but his gifts are not in the line of literature."
"I should think not!"
"He couldn't change the piece any more than if he couldn't read or write. And if he could, when it came to touching it, I don't believe he would, because the fact would remind him that it wasn't fair. He has to realize things in the objective way before he can realize them at all. That's the stage. If they can have an operator climbing a real telegraph-pole to tap the wire and telegraph the girl he loves that he is dead, so that she can marry his rich rival and go to Europe and cultivate her gift for sculpture, they feel that they have got real life."
Louise would not be amused, or laugh with her husband at this. "Then what in the world does Godolphin mean?" she demanded.
"Why, being interpreted out of actor's parlance, he means that he wishes he could talk the play over with me again and be persuaded that he is wrong about it."
"I must say," Louise remarked, after a moment for mastering the philosophy of this, "that you take it very strangely, Brice."
"I've thought it out," said Maxwell.
"And what are you going to do?"
"I am going to wait the turn of events. My faith in Godolphin is unshaken—such as it is."
"And what is going to be our attitude in regard to it?"
"Attitude? With whom?"
"With our friends. Suppose they ask us about the play, and how it is getting along. And my family?"
"I don't think it will be necessary to take any attitude. They can think what they like. Let them wait the turn of events, too. If we can stand it, they can."
"No, Brice," said his wife. "That won't do. We might be silently patient ourselves, but if we left them to believe that it was all going well, we should be living a lie."
"What an extraordinary idea!"
"I've told papa and mamma—we've both told them, though I did the talking, you can say—that the play was a splendid success, and Godolphin was going to give it seven or eight times a week; and now if it's a failure—"
"It isn't a failure!" Maxwell retorted, as if hurt by the notion.
"No matter! If he's only going to play it once a fortnight or so, and is going to tinker it up to suit himself without saying by-your-leave to you, I say we're occupying a false position, and that's what I mean by living a lie."
Maxwell looked at her in that bewilderment which he was beginning to feel at the contradictions of her character. She sometimes told outright little fibs which astonished him; society fibs she did not mind at all; but when it came to people's erroneously inferring this or that from her actions, she had a yearning for the explicit truth that nothing else could appease. He, on the contrary, was indifferent to what people thought, if he had not openly misled them. Let them think this, or let them think that; it was altogether their affair, and he did not hold himself responsible; but he was ill at ease with any conventional lie on his conscience. He hated to have his wife say to people, as he sometimes overheard her saying, that he was out, when she knew he had run upstairs with his writing to escape them; she contended that it was no harm, since it deceived nobody.
Now he said, "Aren't you rather unnecessarily complex?"
"No, I'm not. And I shall tell papa as soon as I see him just how the case stands. Why, it would be dreadful if we let him believe it was all going well, and perhaps tell others that it was, and we knew all the time that it wasn't. He would hate that, and he wouldn't like us for letting him."
"Hadn't you better give the thing a chance to go right? There hasn't been time yet."
"No, dearest, I feel that since I've bragged so to papa, I ought to eat humble-pie before him as soon as possible."
"Yes. Why should you make me eat it, too?"
"I can't help that; I would if I could. But, unfortunately, we are one."
"And you seem to be the one. Suppose I should ask you not to eat humble-pie before your father?"
"Then, of course, I should do as you asked. But I hope you won't."
Maxwell did not say anything, and she went on, tenderly, entreatingly, "And I hope you'll never allow me to deceive myself about anything you do. I should resent it a great deal more than if you had positively deceived me. Will you promise me, if anything sad or bad happens, that you don't want me to know because it will make me unhappy or disagreeable, you'll tell me at once?"
"It won't be necessary. You'll find it out."
"No, do be serious, dearest. I am very serious. Will you?"
"What is the use of asking such a thing as that? It seems to me that I've invited you to a full share of the shame and sorrow that Godolphin has brought upon me."
"Yes, you have," said Louise, thoughtfully. "And you may be sure that I appreciate it. Don't you like to have me share it?"
"Well, I don't know. I might like to get at it first myself."
"Ah, you didn't like my opening Godolphin's letter when it came!"
"I shouldn't mind, now, if you would answer it."
"I shall be only too glad to answer it, if you will let me answer it as it deserves."
"That needs reflection."
The weather grew rough early in September, and all at once, all in a moment, as it were, the pretty watering-place lost its air of summer gayety. The sky had an inner gray in its blue; the sea looked cold. A few hardy bathers braved it out on select days in the surf, but they were purple and red when they ran up to the bath-houses, and they came out wrinkled, and hurried to their hotels, where there began to be a smell of steam-heat and a snapping of radiators in the halls. The barges went away laden to the stations, and came back empty, except at night, when they brought over the few and fewer husbands whose wives were staying down simply because they hated to go up and begin the social life of the winter. The people who had thronged the grassy-bordered paths of the village dwindled in number; the riding and driving on the roads was less and less; the native life showed itself more in the sparsity of the sojourners. The sweet fern in the open fields, and the brakes and blackberry-vines among the bowlders, were blighted with the cold wind; even the sea-weed swaying at the foot of the rocks seemed to feel a sharper chill than that of the brine. A storm came, and strewed the beach with kelp, and blew over half the bath-houses; and then the hardiest lingerer ceased to talk of staying through October. There began to be rumors at the Maxwells' hotel that it would close before the month was out; some ladies pressed the landlord for the truth, and he confessed that he expected to shut the house by the 25th. This spread dismay; but certain of the boarders said they would go to the other hotels, which were to keep open till October. The dependent cottages had been mostly emptied before; those who remained in them, if they did not go away, came into the hotel. The Maxwells themselves did this at last, for the sake of the warmth and the human companionship around the blazing hearth-fires in the parlors. They got a room with a stove in it, so that he could write; and there was a pensive, fleeting coziness in it all, with the shrinking numbers in the vast dining-room grouped at two or three tables for dinner, and then gathered in the light of the evening lamps over the evening papers. In these conditions there came, if not friendship, an intensification of acquaintance, such as is imaginable of a company of cultured castaways. Ladies who were not quite socially certain of one another in town gossiped fearlessly together; there was whist among the men; more than once it happened that a young girl played or sang by request, and not, as so often happens where a hotel is full, against the general desire. It came once to a wish that Mr. Maxwell would read something from his play; but no one had the courage to ask him. In society he was rather severe with women, and his wife was not sorry for that; she made herself all the more approachable because of it. But she discouraged the hope of anything like reading from him; she even feigned that he might not like to do it without consulting Mr. Godolphin, and if she did not live a lie concerning the status of his play, she did not scruple to tell one, now and then.
That is, she would say it was going beyond their expectations, and this was not so fabulous as it might seem, for their expectations were not so high as they had been, and Godolphin was really playing the piece once or twice a week. They heard no more from him by letter, for Maxwell had decided that it would be better not to answer his missive from Midland; but he was pretty faithful in sending the newspaper notices whenever he played, and so they knew that he had not abandoned it. They did not know whether he had carried out his threat of overhauling it; and Maxwell chose to remain in ignorance of the fact till Godolphin himself should speak again. Unless he demanded the play back he was really helpless, and he was not ready to do that, for he hoped that when the actor brought it on to New York he could talk with him about it, and come to some understanding. He had not his wife's belief in the perfection of the piece; it might very well have proved weak in places, and after his first indignation at the notion of Godolphin's revising it, he was willing to do what he could to meet his wishes. He did not so much care what shape it had in these remote theatres of the West; the real test was New York, and there it should appear only as he wished.
It was a comfort to his wife when he took this stand, and she vowed him to keep it; she would have made him go down on his knees and hold up his right hand, which was her notion of the way an oath was taken in court, but she did not think he would do it, and he might refuse to seal any vow at all if she urged it.
In the meanwhile she was not without other consolations. At her insistence he wrote to the newspaper which had printed the Ibsen crank's article on the play, and said how much pleasure it had given him, and begged his thanks to the author. They got a very pretty letter back from him, adding some praises of the piece which he said he had kept out of print because he did not want to seem too gushing about it; and he ventured some wary censures of the acting, which he said he had preferred not to criticise openly, since the drama was far more important to him than the theatre. He believed that Mr. Godolphin had a perfect conception of the part of Haxard, and a thorough respect for the piece, but his training had been altogether in the romantic school; he was working out of it, but he was not able at once to simplify himself. This was in fact the fault of the whole company. The girl who did Salome had moments of charming reality, but she too suffered from her tradition, and the rest went from bad to worse. He thought that they would all do better as they familiarized themselves with the piece, and he deeply regretted that Mr. Godolphin had been able to give it only once in Midland.
At this Mrs. Maxwell's wounds inwardly bled afresh, and she came little short of bedewing the kind letter with her tears. She made Maxwell answer it at once, and she would not let him deprecate the writer's worship of him as the first American dramatist to attempt something in the spirit of the great modern masters abroad. She contended that it would be as false to refuse this tribute as to accept one that was not due him, and there could be no doubt but it was fully and richly merited. The critic wrote again in response to Maxwell, and they exchanged three or four letters.
What was even more to Louise was the admirable behavior of her father when she went to eat humble-pie before him. He laughed at the notion of Godolphin's meddling with the play, and scolded her for not taking her husband's view of the case, which he found entirely reasonable, and the only reasonable view of it. He argued that Godolphin simply chose to assert in that way a claim to joint authorship, which he had all along probably believed he had, and he approved of Maxwell's letting him have his head in the matter, so far as the West was concerned. If he attempted to give it with any alterations of his own in the East, there would be time enough to stop him. Louise seized the occasion to confirm herself in her faith that her father admired Maxwell's genius as much as she did herself; and she tried to remember just the words he used in praising it, so that she could repeat them to Maxwell. She also committed to memory his declaration that the very fact of Godolphin's playing the piece every now and then was proof positive that he would be very reluctant to part with it, if it came to that. This seemed to her very important, and she could hardly put up with Maxwell's sardonic doubt of it.
Before they left Magnolia there came a letter from Godolphin himself, wholly different in tone from his earlier letter. He said nothing now of overhauling the piece, which he felt was gradually making its way. He was playing it at various one-night stands in the Northwest, preparatory to bringing it to Chicago and putting it on for a week, and he asked if Maxwell could not come out and see it there. He believed they were all gradually getting down to it, and the author's presence at the rehearsals would be invaluable. He felt more and more that they had a fortune in it, and it only needed careful working to realize a bonanza. He renewed his promises, in view of his success so far, to play it exclusively if the triumph could be clinched by a week's run in such a place as Chicago. He wrote from Grand Rapids, and asked Maxwell to reply to him at Oshkosh.
"Tell him you'll come, of course," said his wife.
Maxwell shook his head. "He doesn't mean this any more than he meant to revise the thing himself. He probably finds that he can't do that, and wants me to do it. But if I did it he might take it off after the first night in Chicago if the notices were unfavorable."
"But they won't be," she argued. "I know they won't."
"I should simply break him up from the form he's got into, if I went to the rehearsals. He must keep on doing it in his own way till he comes to New York."
"But think of the effect it will have in New York if you should happen to make it go in Chicago."
"It won't have the slightest effect. When he brings it East, it will have to make its way just as if it had never been played anywhere before."
A bright thought occurred to Louise. "Then tell him that if he will bring it on to Boston you will superintend all the rehearsals. And I will go with you to them."
Maxwell only laughed at this. "Boston wouldn't serve any better than Chicago, as far as New York is concerned. We shall have to build a success from the ground up there, if we get one. It might run a whole winter in Boston, and then we should probably begin with half a house in New York, or a third. The only advantage of trying it anywhere before, is that the actors will be warm in their parts. Besides, do you suppose Godolphin could get a theatre in Boston out of the order of his engagement there next spring?"
"Simply because every night at every house is taken six months beforehand."
"Who would ever have dreamt," said Louise, ruefully, "that simply writing a play would involve any one in all these exasperating business details."
"Nobody can get free of business," Maxwell returned.
"Then I will tell you," she brightened up to say. "Why not sell him the piece outright, and wash your hands of it?"
"Because he wouldn't buy it outright, and if I washed my hands of it he could do what he pleased with it. If he couldn't tinker it up himself he could hire some one else to do it, and that would be worse yet."
"Well, then, the only thing for us to do is to go on to New York, and wait there till Godolphin comes. I suppose papa and mamma would like to have us stay through October with them in Boston, but I don't see much sense in that, and I don't choose to have the air of living on them. I want to present an unbroken front of independence from the beginning, as far as inquiring friends are concerned; and in New York we shall be so lost to sight that nobody will know how we are living. You can work at your new play while we're waiting, and we can feel that the onset in the battle of life has sounded."
Maxwell laughed, as she meant him, at the mock heroics of her phrase, and she pulled off his hat, and rubbed his hair round on his skull in exultation at having arrived at some clear understanding. "I wouldn't have hair like silk," she jeered.
"And I wouldn't have hair like corn-silk," he returned. "At least not on my own head."
"Yes, it is coarse. And it's yours quite as much as mine," she said, thoughtfully. "We do belong to each other utterly, don't we? I never thought of it in that light before. And now our life has gone into your work, already! I can't tell you, Brice, how sweet it is to think of that love-business being our own! I shall be so proud of it on the stage! But as long as we live no one but ourselves must know anything about it. Do you suppose they will?" she asked, in sudden dismay.
He smiled. "Should you care?"
She reflected a moment. "No!" she shouted, boldly. "What difference?"
"Godolphin would pay any sum for the privilege of using the fact as an advertisement. If he could put it into Pinney's hands, and give him carte blanche, to work in all the romance he liked—"
"Brice!" she shrieked.
"Well, we needn't give it away, and if we don't, nobody else will."
"No, and we must always keep it sacredly secret. Promise me one thing!"
"That you will let me hold your hand all through the first performance of that part. Will you?"
"Why, we shall be set up like two brazen images in a box for all the first-nighters to stare at and the society reporters to describe. What would society journalism say to your holding my hand throughout the tender passages? It would be onto something personal in them in an instant."
"No; now I will show you how we will do." They were sitting in a nook of the rocks, in the pallor of the late September sunshine, with their backs against a warm bowlder. "Now give me your hand."
"Why, you've got hold of it already."
"Oh yes, so I have! Well, I'll just grasp it in mine firmly, and let them both rest on your knee, so; and fling the edge of whatever I'm wearing on my shoulders over them, or my mantle, if it's hanging on the back of the chair, so"—she flung the edge of her shawl over their clasped hands to illustrate—"and nobody will suspect the least thing. Suppose the sea was the audience—a sea of faces you know; would any one dream down there that I was squeezing your hand at all the important moments, or you squeezing mine?"
"I hope they wouldn't think me capable of doing anything so indelicate as squeezing a lady's hand," said Maxwell. "I don't know what they might think of you, though, if there was any such elaborate display of concealment as you've got up here."
"Oh, this is merely rehearsing. Of course, I shall be more adroit, more careless, when I really come to it. But what I mean is that when we first see it together, the love-business, I shall want to feel that you are feeling every instant just as I do. Will you?"
"I don't see any great objection to that. We shall both be feeling very anxious about the play, if that's what you mean."
"That's what I mean in one sense," Louise allowed. "Sha'n't you be very anxious to see how they have imagined Salome and Atland?"
"Not so anxious as about how Godolphin has 'created' Haxard."
"I care nothing about that. But if the woman who does me is vulgar, or underbred, or the least bit coarse, and doesn't keep the character just as sweet and delicate as you imagined it, I don't know what I shall do to her."
"Nothing violent, I hope," Maxwell suggested languidly.
"I am not so sure," said Louise. "It's a dreadfully intimate affair with me, and if I didn't like it I should hiss, anyway."
Maxwell laughed long and loud. "What a delightful thing that would be for society journalism. 'At one point the wife of the author was apparently unable to control her emotions, and she was heard to express her disapprobation by a prolonged sibilation. All eyes were turned upon the box where she sat with her husband, their hands clasped under the edge of her mantle.' No, you mustn't hiss, my dear; but if you find Salome getting too much for you you can throw a dynamite bomb at the young woman who is doing her. I dare say we shall want to blow up the whole theatre before the play is over."
"Oh, I don't believe we shall. I know the piece will go splendidly if the love-business is well done. But you can understand, can't you, just how I feel about Salome?"
"I think I can, and I am perfectly sure that you will be bitterly disappointed in her, no matter how she's done, unless you do her yourself."
"I wish I could!"
"Then the other people might be disappointed."
The Maxwells went to New York early in October, and took a little furnished flat for the winter on the West Side, between two streets among the Eighties. It was in a new apartment-house, rather fine on the outside, and its balconies leaned caressingly towards the tracks of the Elevated Road, whose trains steamed back and forth under them night and day. At first they thought it rather noisy, but their young nerves were strong, and they soon ceased to take note of the uproar, even when the windows were open.
The weather was charming, as the weather of the New York October is apt to be. The month proved much milder than September had been at Magnolia. They were not very far from Central Park, and they went for whole afternoons into it. They came to have such a sense of ownership in one of the seats in the Ramble, that they felt aggrieved when they found anybody had taken it, and they resented other people's intimacy with the squirrels, which Louise always took a pocketful of nuts to feed; the squirrels got a habit of climbing into her lap for them. Sometimes Maxwell hired a boat and rowed her lazily about on the lake, while he mused and she talked. Sometimes, to be very lavish, they took places in the public carriage which plied on the drives of the Park, and went up to the tennis-grounds beyond the reservoirs, and watched the players, or the art-students sketching the autumn scenery there. They began to know, without acquaintance, certain attached or semi-attached couples; and no doubt they passed with these for lovers themselves, though they felt a vast superiority to them in virtue of their married experience; they looked upon them, though the people were sometimes their elders, as very young things, who were in the right way, but were as yet deplorably ignorant how happy they were going to be. They almost always walked back from these drives, and it was not so far but they could walk over to the North River for the sunset before their dinner, which they had late when they did that, and earlier when they did not do it. Dinner was rather a matter of caprice with them. Sometimes they dined at a French or Italian table d'hote; sometimes they foraged for it before they came in from their sunset, or their afternoon in the park. When dinner consisted mainly of a steak or chops, with one of the delicious salads their avenue abounded in, and some improvisation of potatoes, and coffee afterward, it was very easy to get it up in half an hour. They kept one maid, who called herself a Sweden's girl, and Louise cooked some of the things herself. She did not cook them so well as the maid, but Maxwell never knew what he was eating, and he thought it all alike good.
In their simple circumstances, Louise never missed the affluence that had flattered her whole life in her father's house. It seemed to her as if she had not lived before her marriage—as if she had always lived as she did now. She made the most of her house-keeping, but there was not a great deal of that, at the most. She knew some New York people, but it was too early yet for them to be back to town, and, besides, she doubted if she should let them know where she was; for society afflicted Maxwell, and she could not care for it unless he did. She did not wish to do anything as yet, or be anything apart from him; she was timid about going into the street without him. She wished to be always with him, and always talking to him; but it soon came to his imploring her not to talk when she was in the room where he was writing; and he often came to the table so distraught that the meal might have passed without a word but for her.
He valued her all she could possibly have desired in relation to his work, and he showed her how absolutely he rested upon her sympathy, if not her judgment, in it. He submitted everything to her, and forbore, and changed, and amended, and wrote and rewrote at her will; or when he revolted, and wrote on in defiance of her, he was apt to tear the work up. He destroyed a good deal of good literature in this way, and more than once it happened that she had tacitly changed her mind and was of his way of thinking when it was too late. In view of such a chance she made him promise that he would always show her what he had written, even when he had written wholly against her taste and wish. He was not to let his pride keep him from doing this, though, as a general thing, she took a good deal of pride in his pride, having none herself, as she believed. Whether she had or not, she was very wilful, and rather prepotent; but she never bore malice, as the phrase is, when she got the worst of anything, though she might have been quite to blame. She had in all things a high ideal of conduct, which she expected her husband to live up to when she was the prey of adverse circumstances. At other times she did her share of the common endeavor.