This etext was produced from the 1896 Harper and Brothers edition by David Price, email email@example.com
A REBELLIOUS HEROINE
by John Kendrick Bangs
CHAPTER I: STUART HARLEY: REALIST
"—if a word could save me, and that word were not the Truth, nay, if it did but swerve a hair's-breadth from the Truth, I would not say it!"—LONGFELLOW.
Stuart Harley, despite his authorship of many novels, still considered himself a realist. He affected to say that he did not write his books; that he merely transcribed them from life as he saw it, and he insisted always that he saw life as it was.
"The mission of the novelist, my dear Professor," he had once been heard to say at his club, "is not to amuse merely; his work is that of an historian, and he should be quite as careful to write truthfully as is the historian. How is the future to know what manner of lives we nineteenth century people have lived unless our novelists tell the truth?"
"Possibly the historians will tell them," observed the Professor of Mathematics. "Historians sometimes do tell us interesting things."
"True," said Harley. "Very true; but then what historian ever let you into the secret of the every-day life of the people of whom he writes? What historian ever so vitalized Louis the Fourteenth as Dumas has vitalized him? Truly, in reading mere history I have seemed to be reading of lay figures, not of men; but when the novelist has taken hold properly—ah, then we get the men."
"Then," objected the Professor, "the novelist is never to create a great character?"
"The humorist or the mere romancer may, but as for the novelist with a true ideal of his mission in life he would better leave creation to nature. It is blasphemy for a purely mortal being to pretend that he can create a more interesting character or set of characters than the Almighty has already provided for the use of himself and his brothers in literature; that he can involve these creations in a more dramatic series of events than it has occurred to an all-wise Providence to put into the lives of His creatures; that, by the exercise of that misleading faculty which the writer styles his imagination, he can portray phases of life which shall prove of more absorbing interest or of greater moral value to his readers than those to be met with in the every-day life of man as he is."
"Then," said the Professor, with a dexterous jab of his cue at the pool-balls—"then, in your estimation, an author is a thing to be led about by the nose by the beings he selects for use in his books?"
"You put it in a rather homely fashion," returned Harley; "but, on the whole, that is about the size of it."
"And all a man needs, then, to be an author is an eye and a type- writing machine?" asked the Professor.
"And a regiment of detectives," drawled Dr. Kelly, the young surgeon, "to follow his characters about."
Harley sighed. Surely these men were unsympathetic.
"I can't expect you to grasp the idea exactly," he said, "and I can't explain it to you, because you'd become irreverent if I tried."
"No, we won't," said Kelly. "Go on and explain it to us—I'm bored, and want to be amused."
So Harley went on and tried to explain how the true realist must be an inspired sort of person, who can rise above purely physical limitations; whose eye shall be able to pierce the most impenetrable of veils; to whom nothing in the way of obtaining information as to the doings of such specimens of mankind as he has selected for his pages is an insurmountable obstacle.
"Your author, then, is to be a mixture of a New York newspaper reporter and the Recording Angel?" suggested Kelly.
"I told you you'd become irreverent," said Harley; "nevertheless, even in your irreverence, you have expressed the idea. The writer must be omniscient as far as the characters of his stories are concerned—he must have an eye which shall see all that they do, a mind sufficiently analytical to discern what their motives are, and the courage to put it all down truthfully, neither adding nor subtracting, coloring only where color is needed to make the moral lesson he is trying to teach stand out the more vividly."
"In short, you'd have him become a photographer," said the Professor.
"More truly a soulscape-painter," retorted Harley, with enthusiasm.
"Heavens!" cried the Doctor, dropping his cue with a loud clatter to the floor. "Soulscape! Here's a man talking about not creating, and then throws out an invention like soulscape! Harley, you ought to write a dictionary. With a word like soulscape to start with, it would sweep the earth!"
Harley laughed. He was a good-natured man, and he was strong enough in his convictions not to weaken for the mere reason that somebody else had ridiculed them. In fact, everybody else might have ridiculed them, and Harley would still have stood true, once he was convinced that he was right.
"You go on sawing people's legs off, Billy," he said, good-naturedly. "That's a thing you know about; and as for the Professor, he can go on showing you and the rest of mankind just why the shortest distance between two points is in a straight line. I'll take your collective and separate words for anything on the subject of surgery or mathematics, but when it comes to my work I wouldn't bank on your theories if they were endorsed by the Rothschilds."
"He'll never write a decent book in his life if he clings to that theory," said Kelly, after Harley had departed. "There's precious little in the way of the dramatic nowadays in the lives of people one cares to read about."
Nevertheless, Harley had written interesting books, books which had brought him reputation, and what is termed genteel poverty—that is to say, his fame was great, considering his age, and his compensation was just large enough to make life painful to him. His income enabled him to live well enough to make a good appearance among, and share somewhat at their expense in the life of, others of far greater means; but it was too small to bring him many of the things which, while not absolutely necessities, could not well be termed luxuries, considering his tastes and his temperament. A little more was all he needed.
"If I could afford to write only when I feel like it," he said, "how happy I should be! But these orders—they make me a driver of men, and not their historian."
In fact, Harley was in that unfortunate, and at the same time happy, position where he had many orders for the product of his pen, and such financial necessities that he could not afford to decline one of them.
And it was this very situation which made his rebellious heroine of whom I have essayed to write so sore a trial to the struggling young author.
It was early in May, 1895, that Harley had received a note from Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick, the publishers, asking for a story from his pen for their popular "Blue and Silver Series."
"The success of your Tiffin-Talk," they wrote, "has been such that we are prepared to offer you our highest terms for a short story of 30,000 words, or thereabouts, to be published in our 'Blue and Silver Series.' We should like to have it a love-story, if possible; but whatever it is, it must be characteristic, and ready for publication in November. We shall need to have the manuscript by September 1st at the latest. If you can let us have the first few chapters in August, we can send them at once to Mr. Chromely, whom it is our intention to have illustrate the story, provided he can be got to do it."
The letter closed with a few formalities of an unimportant and stereotyped nature, and Harley immediately called at the office of Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick, where, after learning that their best terms were no more unsatisfactory than publishers' best terms generally are, he accepted the commission.
And then, returning to his apartment, he went into what Kelly called one of his trances.
"He goes into one of his trances," Kelly had said, "hoists himself up to his little elevation, and peeps into the private life of hoi polloi until he strikes something worth putting down and the result he calls literature."
"Yes, and the people buy it, and read it, and call for more," said the Professor.
"Possibly because they love notoriety," said Kelly, "and they think if they call for more often enough, he will finally peep in at their key-holes and write them up. If he ever puts me into one of his books I'll waylay him at night and amputate his writing-hand."
"He won't," said the Professor. "I asked him once why he didn't, and he said you'd never do in one of his books, because you don't belong to real life at all. He thinks you are some new experiment of an enterprising Providence, and he doesn't want to use you until he sees how you turn out."
"He could put me down as I go," suggested the Doctor.
"That's so," replied the other. "I told him so, but he said he had no desire to write a lot of burlesque sketches containing no coherent idea."
"Oh, he said that, did he?" observed the Doctor, with a smile. "Well—wait till Stuart Harley comes to me for a prescription. I'll get even with him. I'll give him a pill, and he'll disappear—for ten days."
Whether it was as Kelly said or not, that Harley went into a trance and poked his nose into the private life of the people he wrote about, it was a fact that while meditating upon the possible output of his pen our author was as deaf to his surroundings as though he had departed into another world, and it rarely happened that his mind emerged from that condition without bringing along with it something of value to him in his work.
So it was upon this May morning. For an hour or two Harley lay quiescent, apparently gazing out of his flat window over the uninspiring chimney-pots of the City of New York, at the equally uninspiring Long Island station on the far side of the East River. It was well for him that his eye was able to see, and yet not see: forgetfulness of those smoking chimney-pots, the red-zincked roofs, the flapping under-clothing of the poorer than he, hung out to dry on the tenement tops, was essential to the construction of such a story as Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick had in mind; and Harley successfully forgot them, and, coming back to consciousness, brought with him the dramatis personae of his story—and, taken as a whole, they were an interesting lot. The hero was like most of those gentlemen who live their little lives in the novels of the day, only Harley had modified his accomplishments in certain directions. Robert Osborne—such was his name—was not the sort of man to do impossible things for his heroine. He was not reckless. He was not a D'Artagnan lifted from the time of Louis the Fourteenth to the dull, prosaic days of President Faure. He was not even a Frenchman, but an essentially American American, who desires to know, before he does anything, why he does it, and what are his chances of success. I am not sure that if he had happened to see her struggling in the ocean he would have jumped in to rescue the young woman to whom his hand was plighted—I do not speak of his heart, for I am not Harley, and I do not know whether or not Harley intended that Osborne should be afflicted with so inconvenient an organ—I am not sure, I say, that if he had seen his best-beloved struggling in the ocean Osborne would have jumped in to rescue her without first stopping to remove such of his garments as might impede his progress back to land again. In short, he was not one of those impetuous heroes that we read about so often and see so seldom; but, taken altogether, he was sufficiently attractive to please the American girl who might be expected to read Harley's book; for that was one of the stipulations of Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick when they made their verbal agreement with Harley.
"Make it go with the girls, Harley," Mr. Chadwick had said. "Men haven't time to read anything but the newspapers in this country. Hit the girls, and your fortune is made."
Harley didn't exactly see how his fortune was going to be made on the best terms of Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick, even if he hit the girls with all the force of a battering-ram, but he promised to keep the idea in mind, and remained in his trance a trifle longer than might otherwise have been necessary, endeavoring to select the unquestionably correct hero for his story, and Osborne was the result. Osborne was moderately witty. His repartee smacked somewhat of the refined comic paper—that is to say, it was smart and cynical, and not always suited to the picture; but it wasn't vulgar or dull, and his personal appearance was calculated to arouse the liveliest interest. He was clean shaven and clean cut. He looked more like a modern ideal of infallible genius than Byron, and had probably played football and the banjo in college—Harley did not go back that far with him—all of which, it must be admitted, was pretty well calculated to assure the fulfilment of Harley's promise that the man should please the American girl. Of course the story was provided with a villain also, but he was a villain of a mild type. Mild villany was an essential part of Harley's literary creed, and this particular person was not conceived in heresy. His name was to have been Horace Balderstone, and with him Harley intended to introduce a lively satire on the employment, by certain contemporary writers, of the supernatural to produce dramatic effects. Balderstone was of course to be the rival of Osborne. In this respect Harley was commonplace; to his mind the villain always had to be the rival of the hero, just as in opera the tenor is always virtuous at heart if not otherwise, and the baritone a scoundrel, which in real life is not an invariable rule by any means. Indeed, there have been many instances in real life where the villain and the hero have been on excellent terms, and to the great benefit of the hero too. But in this case Balderstone was to follow in the rut, and become the rival of Osborne for the hand of Marguerite Andrews—the heroine. Balderstone was to write a book, which for a time should so fascinate Miss Andrews that she would be blind to the desirability of Osborne as a husband-elect; a book full of the weird and thrilling, dealing with theosophy and spiritualism, and all other "Tommyrotisms," as Harley called them, all of which, of course, was to be the making and the undoing of Balderstone; for equally of course, in the end, he would become crazed by the use of opium—the inevitable end of writers of that stamp. Osborne would rescue Marguerite from his fatal influence, and the last chapter would end with Marguerite lying pale and wan upon her sick-bed, recovering from the mental prostration which the influence over hers of a mind like Balderstone's was sure to produce, holding Osborne's hand in hers, and "smiling a sweet recognition at the lover to whose virtues she had so long been blind." Osborne would murmur, "At last!" and the book would close with a "first kiss," followed closely by six or eight pages of advertisements of other publications of Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick. I mention the latter to show how thoroughly realistic Harley was. He thought out his books so truly and so fully before he sat down to write them that he seemed to see each written, printed, made and bound before him, a concrete thing from cover to cover.
Besides Osborne and Balderstone and Miss Andrews—of whom I shall at this time not speak at length, since the balance of this little narrative is to be devoted to the setting forth of her peculiarities and charms—there were a number of minor characters, not so necessary to the story perhaps as they might have been, but interesting enough in their way, and very well calculated to provide the material needed for the filling out of the required number of pages. Furthermore, they completed the picture.
"I don't want to put in three vivid figures, and leave the reader to imagine that the rest of the world has been wiped out of existence," said Harley, as he talked it over with me. "That is not art. There should be three types of character in every book—the positive, the average, and the negative. In that way you grade your story off into the rest of the world, and your reader feels that while he may never have met the positive characters, he has met the average or the negative, or both, and is therefore by one of these links connected with the others, and that gives him a personal interest in the story; and it's the reader's personal interest that the writer is after."
So Miss Andrews was provided with a very conventional aunt—the kind of woman you meet with everywhere; most frequently in church squabbles and hotel parlors, however. Mrs. Corwin was this lady's name, and she was to enact the role of chaperon to Miss Andrews. With Mrs. Corwin, by force of circumstances, came a pair of twin children, like those in the Heavenly Twins, only more real, and not so Sarah Grandiose in their manners and wit.
These persons Harley booked for the steamship New York, sailing from New York City for Southampton on the third day of July, 1895. The action was to open at that time, and Marguerite Andrews was to meet Horace Balderstone on that vessel on the evening of the second day out, with which incident the interest of Harley's story was to begin. But Harley had counted without his heroine. The rest of his cast were safely stowed away on ship-board and ready for action at the appointed hour, but the heroine MISSED THE STEAMER BY THREE MINUTES, AND IT WAS ALL HARLEY'S OWN FAULT.
CHAPTER II: A PRELIMINARY TRIAL
"I'll not be made a soft and dull-eyed fool To shake the head, relent, and sigh, and yield." - "Merchant of Venice."
The extraordinary failure of Miss Andrews, cast for a star role in Stuart Harley's tale of Love and Villany, to appear upon the stage selected by the author for her debut, must be explained. As I have already stated at the close of the preceding chapter, it was entirely Harley's own fault. He had studied Miss Andrews too superficially to grasp thoroughly the more refined subtleties of her nature, and he found out, at a moment when it was too late to correct his error, that she was not a woman to be slighted in respect to the conventionalities of polite life, however trifling to a man of Harley's stamp these might seem to be. She was a stickler for form; and when she was summoned to go on board of an ocean steamship there to take part in a romance for the mere aggrandizement of a young author, she intended that he should not ignore the proprieties, even if in a sense the proprieties to which she referred did antedate the period at which his story was to open. She was willing to appear, but it seemed to her that Stuart Harley ought to see to it that she was escorted to the scene of action with the ceremony due to one of her position.
"What does he take me for?" she asked of Mrs. Corwin, indignantly, on the eve of her departure. "Am I a mere marionette, to obey his slightest behest, and at a moment's notice? Am I to dance when Stuart Harley pulls the string?"
"Not at all, my dear Marguerite," said Mrs. Corwin, soothingly. "If he thought that, he would not have selected you for his story. I think you ought to feel highly complimented that Mr. Harley should choose you for one of his books, and for such a conspicuous part, too. Look at me; do I complain? Am I holding out for the proprieties? And yet what is my situation? I'm simply dragged in by the hair; and my poor children, instead of having a nice, noisy Fourth of July at the sea-shore, must needs be put upon a great floating caravansary, to suffer seasickness and the other discomforts of ocean travel, so as to introduce a little juvenile fun into this great work of Mr. Harley's—and yet I bow my head meekly and go. Why? Because I feel that, inconspicuous though I shall be, nevertheless I am highly honored that Mr. Harley should select me from among many for the uses of his gifted pen."
"You are prepared, then," retorted Marguerite, "to place yourself unreservedly in Mr. Harley's hands? Shall you flirt with the captain if he thinks your doing so will add to the humorous or dramatic interest of his story? Will you permit your children to make impertinent remarks to every one aboard ship; to pick up sailors' slang and use it at the dining-table—in short, to make themselves obnoxiously clever at all times, in order that Mr. Harley's critics may say that his book fairly scintillates with wit, and gives gratifying evidence that 'the rising young author' has made a deep and careful analysis of the juvenile heart?"
"Mr. Harley is too much of a gentleman, Marguerite, to place me and my children in a false or ridiculous light," returned Mrs. Corwin, severely. "And even if he were not a gentleman, he is too true a realist to make me do anything which in the nature of things I should not do—which disposes of your entirely uncalled-for remark about the captain and myself. As for the children, Tommie would not repeat sailors' lingo at the table under any circumstances, and Jennie will not make herself obnoxiously clever at any time, because she has been brought up too carefully to fail to respect her elders. Both she and Tommie understand themselves thoroughly; and when Mr. Harley understands them, which he cannot fail to do after a short acquaintance, he will draw them as they are; and if previous to his complete understanding of their peculiarities he introduces into his story something foreign to their natures and obnoxious to me, their mother, I have no doubt he will correct his error when he comes to read the proofs of his story and sees his mistake."
"You have great confidence in Stuart Harley," retorted Miss Andrews, gazing out of the window with a pensive cast of countenance.
"Haven't you?" asked Mrs. Corwin, quickly.
"As a man, yes," returned Marguerite. "As an author, however, I think he is open to criticism. He is not always true to the real. Look at Lord Barncastle, in his study of English manners! Barncastle, as he drew him, was nothing but a New York society man with a title, living in England. That is to say, he talked like an American, thought like one—there was no point of difference between them."
"And why should there be?" asked Mrs. Corwin. "If a New York society man is generally a weak imitation of an English peer—and no one has ever denied that such is the case—why shouldn't an English peer be represented as a sort of intensified New York society man?"
"Besides," said Miss Andrews, ignoring Mrs. Corwin's point, "I don't care to be presented too really to the reading public, especially on board a ship. I never yet knew a woman who looked well the second day out, and if I were to be presented as I always am the second day out, I should die of mortification. My hair goes out of curl, my face is the color of an unripe peach, and if I do go up on deck it is because I am so thoroughly miserable that I do not care who sees me or what the world thinks of me. I think it is very inconsiderate of Mr. Harley to open his story on an ocean steamer; and, what is more, I don't like the American line. Too many Americans of the brass-band type travel on it. Stuart Harley said so himself in his last book of foreign travel; but he sends me out on it just the same, and expects me to be satisfied. Perhaps he thinks I like that sort of American. If he does, he's got more imagination than he ever showed in his books."
"You must get to the other side in some way," said Mrs. Corwin. "It is at Venice that the trouble with Balderstone is to come, and that Osborne topples him over into the Grand Canal, and rescues you from his baleful influence."
"Humph!" said Marguerite, with a scornful shrug of her shoulders. "Robert Osborne! A likely sort of person to rescue me from anything! He wouldn't have nerve enough to rescue me from a grasshopper if he were armed to the teeth. Furthermore, I shall not go to Venice in August. It's bad enough in April—damp and hot—the home of malaria- -an asylum for artistic temperaments; and insecty. No, my dear aunt, even if I overlook everything else to please Mr. Harley, he'll have to modify the Venetian part of that story, for I am determined that no pen of his shall force me into Italy at this season. I wouldn't go there to please Shakespeare, much less Stuart Harley. Let the affair come off at Interlaken, if it is to come off at all, which I doubt."
"There is no Grand Canal at Interlaken," said Mrs. Corwin, sagely; for she had been an omnivorous reader of Baedeker since she had learned the part she was to play in Harley's book, and was therefore well up in geography.
"No; but there's the Jungfrau. Osborne can push Balderstone down the side of an Alp and kill him," returned Miss Andrews, viciously.
"Why, Marguerite! How can you talk so? Mr. Harley doesn't wish to have Balderstone killed," cried Mrs. Corwin, aghast. "If Osborne killed Balderstone he'd be a murderer, and they'd execute him."
"Which is exactly what I want," said Miss Andrews, firmly. "If he lives, it pleases the omnipotent Mr. Harley that I shall marry him, and I positively—Well, just you wait and see."
There was silence for some minutes.
"Then I suppose you will decline to go abroad altogether?" asked Mrs. Corwin after a while; "and Mr. Harley will be forced to get some one else; and I—I shall be deprived of a pleasant tour—because I'm only to be one of the party because I'm your aunt."
Mrs. Corwin's lip quivered a little as she spoke. She had anticipated much pleasure from her trip.
"No, I shall not decline to go," Miss Andrews replied. "I expect to go, but it is entirely on your account. I must say, however, that Stuart Harley will find out, to his sorrow, that I am not a doll, to be worked with a string. I shall give him a scare at the outset which will show him that I know the rights of a heroine, and that he must respect them. For instance, he cannot ignore my comfort. Do you suppose that because his story is to open with my beautiful self on board that ship, I'm to be there without his making any effort to get me there? Not I! You and the children and Osborne and Balderstone may go down any way you please. You may go on the elevated railroad or on foot. You may go on the horse-cars, or you may go on the luggage-van. It is immaterial to me what you do; but when it comes to myself, Stuart Harley must provide a carriage, or I miss the boat. I don't wish to involve you in this. You want to go, and are willing to go in his way, which simply means turning up at the right moment, with no trouble to him. From your point of view it is all right. You are anxious to go abroad, and are grateful to Mr. Harley for letting you go. For me, however, he must do differently. I have no particular desire to leave America, and if I go at all it is as a favor to him, and he must act accordingly. It is a case of carriage or no heroine. If I'm left behind, you and the rest can go along without me. I shall do very well, and it will be Mr. Harley's own fault. It may hurt his story somewhat, but that is no concern of mine."
"I suppose the reason why he doesn't send a carriage is that that part of your life doesn't appear in his story," explained Mrs. Corwin.
"That doesn't affect the point that he ought to send one," said Marguerite. "He needn't write up the episode of the ride to the pier unless he wants to, but the fact remains that it's his duty to see me safely on board from my home, and that he shall do, or I fail him at the moment he needs me. If he is selfish enough to overlook the matter, he must suffer the consequences."
All of which, I think, was very reasonable. No heroine likes to feel that she is called into being merely to provide copy for the person who is narrating her story; and to be impressed with the idea that the moment she is off the stage she must shift entirely for herself is too humiliating to be compatible with true heroism.
Now it so happened that in his meditations upon that opening chapter the scene of which was to be placed on board of the New York, Stuart realized that his story of Miss Andrews's character had indeed been too superficial. He found that out at the moment he sat down to describe her arrival at the pier, as it would be in all likelihood. What would she say the moment she—the moment she what?—the moment she "emerged from the perilous stream of vehicles which crowd West Street from morning until night," or the moment "she stepped out of the cab as it drew up at the foot of the gangway"? That was the point. How would she arrive—on foot or in a cab? Which way would she come, and at what time must she start from home? Should she come alone, or should Mrs. Corwin and the twins come with her?—or would a woman of her stamp not be likely to have an intimate friend to accompany her to the steamer? Stuart was a rapid thinker, and as he pondered over these problems it did not take him long to reach the conclusion that a cab was necessary for Miss Andrews; and that Mrs. Corwin and the twins, with Osborne and Balderstone, might get aboard in their own way. He also decided that it would be an excellent plan to have Marguerite's old school friend Mrs. Willard accompany her to the steamer. By an equally rapid bit of thought he concluded that if the cab started from the Andrews apartment at Fifty-ninth Street and Central Park at 9.30 A.M., the trip to the pier could easily be made in an hour, which would be in ample time, since the sailing hour of the New York was eleven. Unfortunately Harley, in his hurry, forgot two or three incidents of departures generally, especially departures of women, which he should not have overlooked. It was careless of him to forget that a woman about to travel abroad wants to make herself as stunning as she possibly can on the day of departure, so that the impression she will make at the start shall be strong enough to carry her through the dowdy stage which comes, as Marguerite had intimated, on the second and third days at sea; and to expect a woman like Marguerite Andrews, who really had no responsibilities to call her up at an early hour, to be ready at 9.30 sharp, was a fatal error, unless he provided his cab with an unusually fast horse, or a pair of horses, both of which Harley neglected to do. Miss Andrews was twenty minutes late at starting the first time, and just a half- hour behind schedule time when, having rushed back to her rooms for her gloves, which in the excitement of the moment she had forgotten, she started finally for the ship. Even then all would have been well had the unfortunate author not overlooked one other vital point. Instead of sending the cab straight down Fifth Avenue, to Broadway, to Barclay Street, he sent it down Sixth, and thence through Greenwich Village, emerging at West Street at its junction with Christopher, and then the inevitable happened.
THE CAB WAS BLOCKED!
"I had no idea it was so far," said Marguerite, looking out of the cab window at the crowded and dirty thoroughfare.
"It's a good mile farther yet," replied Mrs. Willard. "I shall have just that much more of your society."
"It looks to me," said Marguerite, with a short laugh, as the cab came suddenly to a halt -"it looks to me as if you were likely to have more than that of it; for we are in an apparently inextricable, immovable mixture of trucks, horse-cars, and incompetent policemen, and nothing short of a miracle will get us a mile farther along in twenty minutes."
"I do believe you are right," said Mrs. Willard, looking at her watch anxiously. "What will you do if you miss the steamer?"
"Escape a horrid fate," laughed Marguerite, gayly.
"Poor Mr. Harley—why, it will upset his whole story," said Mrs. Willard.
"And save his reputation," said Marguerite. "It wouldn't have been real, that story," she added. "In the first place, Balderstone couldn't write a story that would fascinate me; he could never acquire a baleful influence over me; and, finally, I never should marry Robert Osborne under any circumstances. He's not at all the style of man I admire. I'm willing to go along and let Mr. Harley try to work it out his way, but he will give it up as a bad idea before long—if I catch the steamer; and if I don't, then he'll have to modify the story. That modified, I'm willing to be his heroine."
"But your aunt and the twins—they must be aboard by this time. They will be worried to death about you," suggested Mrs. Willard.
"For a few moments—but Aunt Emma wanted to go, and she and the rest of them will have a good time, I've no doubt," replied Miss Andrews, calmly; and here Stuart Harley's heroine actually chuckled. "And maybe Mr. Harley can make a match between Aunt Emma and Osborne, which will suit the publishers and please the American girl," she said, gleefully. "I almost hope we do miss it."
And miss it they did, as I have already told you, by three minutes. As the cab entered the broad pier, the great steamer moved slowly but surely out into the stream, and Mrs. Willard and Mr. Harley's heroine were just in time to see Mrs. Corwin wildly waving her parasol at the captain on the bridge, beseeching him in agonized tones to go back just for a moment, while two separate and distinct twins, one male and one female, peered over the rail, weeping bitterly. Incidentally mention may be made of two young men, Balderstone and Osborne, who sat chatting gayly together in the smoking-room.
"Well, Osborne," said one, lighting his cigar, "she didn't arrive."
"No," smiled the other. "Fact is, Balderstone, I'm glad of it. She's too snippy for me, and I'm afraid I should have quarrelled with you about her in a half-hearted, unconvincing manner."
"I'm afraid I'd have been the same," rejoined Balderstone; "for, between us, there's a pretty little brunette from Chicago up on deck, and Marguerite Andrews would have got little attention from me while she was about, unless Harley violently outraged my feelings and his own convictions."
And so the New York sailed out to sea, and Marguerite Andrews watched her from the pier until she had faded from view.
As for Stuart Harley, the author, he sat in his study, wringing his hands and cursing his carelessness.
"I'll have to modify the whole story now," he said, impatiently, "since it is out of my power to bring the New York back into port, with my hero, villain, chaperon, and twins; but whenever or wherever the new story may be laid, Marguerite Andrews shall be the heroine— she interests me. Meantime let Mrs. Willard chaperon her."
And closing his manuscript book with a bang, Harley lit a cigarette, put on his hat, and went to the club.
CHAPTER III: THE RECONSTRUCTION BEGINS
"Then gently scan your brother man, Still gentler sister woman; Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang, To step aside is human."—BURNS.
When, a few days later, Harley came to the reconstruction of his story, he began to appreciate the fact that what had seemed at first to be his misfortune was, on the whole, a matter for congratulation; and as he thought over the people he had sent to sea, he came to rejoice that Marguerite was not one of the party.
"Osborne wasn't her sort, after all," he mused to himself that night over his coffee. "He hadn't much mind. I'm afraid I banked too much on his good looks, and too little upon what I might call her independence; for of all the heroines I ever had, she is the most sufficient unto herself. Had she gone along I'm half afraid I couldn't have got rid of Balderstone so easily either, for he's a determined devil as I see him; and his intellectual qualities were so vastly superior to those of Osborne that by mere contrast they would most certainly have appealed to her strongly. The baleful influence might have affected her seriously, and Osborne was never the man to overcome it, and strict realism would have forced her into an undesirable marriage. Yes, I'm glad it turned out the way it did; she's too good for either of them. I couldn't have done the tale as I intended without a certain amount of compulsion, which would never have worked out well. She'd have been miserable with Osborne for a husband anyhow, even if he did succeed in outwitting Balderstone."
Then Harley went into a trance for a moment. From this he emerged almost immediately with a laugh. The travellers on the sea had come to his mind.
"Poor Mrs. Corwin," he said, "she's awfully upset. I shall have to give her some diversion. Let's see, what shall it be? She's a widow, young and fascinating. H'm—not a bad foundation for a romance. There must be a man on the ship who'd like her; but, hang it all! there are those twins. Not much romance for her with those twins along, unless the man's a fool; and she's too fine a woman for a fool. Men don't fall in love with whole families that way. Now if they had only been left on the pier with Miss Andrews, it would have worked up well. Mrs. Corwin could have fascinated some fellow- traveller, won his heart, accepted him at Southampton, and told him about the twins afterwards. As a test of his affection that would be a strong situation; but with the twins along, making the remarks they are likely to make, and all that—no, there is no hope for Mrs. Corwin, except in a juvenile story—something like 'Two Twins in a Boat, not to Mention the Widow,' or something of that sort. Poor woman! I'll let her rest in peace, for the present. She'll enjoy her trip, anyhow; and as for Osborne and Balderstone, I'll let them fight it out for that dark-eyed little woman from Chicago I saw on board, and when the best man wins I'll put the whole thing into a short story."
Then began a new quest for characters to go with Marguerite Andrews.
"She must have a chaperon, to begin with," thought Harley. "That is indispensable. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick regard themselves as conservators of public morals, in their 'Blue and Silver Series,' so a girl unmarried and without a chaperon would never do for this book. If they were to publish it in their 'Yellow Prism Series' I could fling all such considerations to the winds, for there they cater to stronger palates, palates cultivated by French literary cooks, and morals need not be considered, provided the story is well told and likely to sell; but this is for the other series, and a chaperon is a sine qua non. Marguerite doesn't need one half as much as the girls in the 'Yellow Prism' books, but she's got to have one just the same, or the American girl will not read about her: and who is better than Dorothy Willard, who has charge of her now?"
Harley slapped his knee with delight.
"How fortunate I'd provided her!" he said. "I've got my start already, and without having to think very hard over it either."
The trance began again, and lasted several hours, during which time Kelly and the Professor stole softly into Harley's rooms, and, perceiving his condition, respected it.
"He's either asleep or imagining," said the Professor, in a whisper.
"He can't imagine," returned the Doctor. "Call it—realizing. Whatever it is he's up to, we mustn't interfere. There isn't any use waking him anyhow. I know where he keeps his cigars. Let's sit down and have a smoke."
This the intruders did, hoping that sooner or later their host would observe their presence; but Harley lay in blissful unconsciousness of their coming, and they finally grew weary of waiting.
"He must be at work on a ten-volume novel," said the Doctor. "Let's go."
And with that they departed. Night came on, and with it darkness, but Harley never moved. The fact was he was going through an examination of the human race to find a man good enough for Marguerite Andrews, and it speaks volumes for the interest she had suddenly inspired in his breast that it took him so long to find what he wanted.
Along about nine o'clock he gave a deep sigh and returned to earth.
"I guess I've got him," he said, wearily, rubbing his forehead, which began to ache a trifle. "I'll model him after the Professor. He's a good fellow, moderately good-looking, has position, and certainly knows something, as professors go. I doubt if he is imposing enough for the American girl generally, but he's the best I can get in the time at my disposal."
So the Professor was unconsciously slated for the office of hero; Mrs. Willard was cast for chaperon, and the Doctor, in spite of Harley's previous resolve not to use him, was to be introduced for the comedy element. The villain selected was the usual poverty- stricken foreigner with a title and a passion for wealth, which a closer study of his heroine showed Harley that Miss Andrews possessed; for on her way home from the pier she took Mrs. Willard to the Amsterdam and treated her to a luncheon which nothing short of a ten-dollar bill would pay for, after which the two went shopping, replenishing Miss Andrews's wardrobe—most of which lay snugly stored in the hold of the New York, and momentarily getting farther and farther away from its fair owner—in the course of which tour Miss Andrews expended a sum which, had Harley possessed it, would have made it unnecessary for him to write the book he had in mind at all.
"It's good she's rich," sighed Harley. "That will make it all the easier to have her go to Newport and attract the Count."
At the moment that Harley spoke these words to himself Mrs. Willard and Marguerite, accompanied by Mr. Willard, entered the mansion of the latter on Fifth Avenue. They had spent the afternoon and evening at the Andrews apartment, arranging for its closing until the return of Mrs. Corwin. Marguerite meanwhile was to be the guest of the Willards.
"Next week we'll run up to Newport," said Dorothy. "The house is ready, and Bob is going for his cruise."
Marguerite looked at her curiously for a moment.
"Did you intend to go there all along?" she asked.
"Yes—of course. Why do you ask?" returned Mrs. Willard.
"Why, that very idea came into my mind at the moment," replied Marguerite. "I thought this afternoon I'd run up to Riverdale and stay with the Hallidays next week, when all of a sudden Newport came into my mind, and it has been struggling there with Riverdale for two hours—until I almost began to believe somebody was trying to compel me to go to Newport. If it is your idea, and has been all along, I'll go; but if Stuart Harley is trying to get me down there for literary purposes, I simply shall not do it."
"You had better dismiss that idea from your mind at once, my dear," said Mrs. Willard. "Mr. Harley never compels. No compulsion is the corner-stone of his literary structure; free will is his creed: you may count on that. If he means to make you his heroine still, it will be at Newport if you are at Newport, at Riverdale if you happen to be at Riverdale. Do come with me, even if he does impress you as endeavoring to force you; for at Newport I shall be your chaperon, and I should dearly love to be put in a book—with you. Bob has asked Jack Perkins down, and Mrs. Howlett writes me that Count Bonetti, of Naples, is there, and is a really delightful fellow. We shall have—"
"You simply confirm my fears," interrupted Marguerite. "You are to be Harley's chaperon, Professor Perkins is his hero, and Count Bonetti is the villain—"
"Why, Marguerite, how you talk!" cried Mrs. Willard. "Do you exist merely in Stuart Harley's brain? Do I? Are we none of us living creatures to do as we will? Are we nothing more than materials pigeon-holed for Mr. Harley's future use? Has Count Bonetti crossed the ocean just to please Mr. Harley?"
"I don't know what I believe," said Miss Andrews, "and I don't care much either way, as long as I have independence of action. I'll go with you, Dorothy; but if it turns out, as I fear, that we are expected to act our parts in a Harley romance, that romance will receive a shock from which it will never recover."
"Why do you object so to Mr. Harley, anyhow? I thought you liked his books," said Mrs. Willard.
"I do; some of them," Marguerite answered; "and I like him; but he does not understand me, and until he does he shall not put me in his stories. I'll rout him at every point, until he—"
Marguerite paused. Her face flushed. Tears came into her eyes.
"Until he what, dearest?" asked Mrs. Willard, sympathetically.
"I don't know," said Marguerite, with a quiver in her voice, as she rose and left the room.
"I fancy we'd better go at once, Bob," said Mrs. Willard to her husband, later on. "Marguerite is quite upset by the experiences of the day, and New York is fearfully hot."
"I agree with you," returned Willard. "Jerrold sent word this afternoon that the boat will be ready Friday, instead of Thursday of next week; so if you'll pack up to-morrow we can board her Friday, and go up the Sound by water instead of by rail. It will be pleasanter for all hands."
Which was just what Harley wanted. The Willards were of course not conscious of the fact, though Mrs. Willard's sympathy with Marguerite led her to suspect that such was the case; for that such was the case was what Marguerite feared.
"We are being forced, Dorothy," she said, as she stepped on the yacht two days later.
"Well, what if we are? It's pleasanter going this way than by rail, isn't it?" Mrs. Willard replied, with some impatience. "If we owe all this to Stuart Harley, we ought to thank him for his kindness. According to your theory he could have sent us up on a hot, dusty train, and had a collision ready for us at New London, in order to kill off a few undesirable characters and give his hero a chance to distinguish himself. I think that even from your own point of view Mr. Harley is behaving in a very considerate fashion."
"No doubt you think so," returned Marguerite, spiritedly. "But it's different with you. You are settled in life. Your husband is the man of your choice; you are happy, with everything you want. You will do nothing extraordinary in the book. If you did do something extraordinary you would cease to be a good chaperon, and from that moment would be cast aside; but I—I am in a different position altogether. I am a single woman, unsettled as yet, for whom this author in his infinite wisdom deems it necessary to provide a lover and husband; and in order that his narrative of how I get this person he has selected—without consulting my tastes—may interest a lot of other girls, who are expected to buy and read his book, he makes me the object of an intriguing fortune-hunter from Italy. I am to believe he is a real nobleman, and all that; and a stupid wiseacre from the York University, who can't dance, and who thinks of nothing but his books and his club, is to come in at the right moment and expose the Count, and all such trash as that. I know at the outset how it all is to be. You couldn't deceive a sensible girl five minutes with Count Bonetti, any more than that Balderstone man, who is now making a useless trip across the Atlantic with my aunt and her twins, could have exerted a 'baleful influence' over me with his diluted spiritualism. I'm not an idiot, my dear Dorothy."
"You are a heroine, love," returned Mrs. Willard.
"Perhaps—but I am the kind of heroine who would stop a play five minutes after the curtain had risen on the first act if the remaining four acts depended on her failing to see something that was plain to the veriest dolt in the audience," Marguerite replied, with spirit. "Nobody shall ever write me up save as I am."
"Well—perhaps you are wrong this time. Perhaps Mr. Harley isn't going to make a book of you," said Mrs. Willard.
"Very likely he isn't," said Marguerite; "but he's trying it—I know that much."
"And how, pray?" asked Mrs. Willard.
"That," said Marguerite, her frown vanishing and a smile taking its place—"that is for the present my secret. I'll tell you some day, but not until I have baffled Mr. Harley in his ill-advised purpose of marrying me off to a man I don't want, and wouldn't have under any circumstances. Even if I had caught the New York the other day his plans would have miscarried. I'd never have married that Osborne man; I'd have snubbed Balderstone the moment he spoke to me; and if Stuart Harley had got a book out of my trip to Europe at all, it would have been a series of papers on some such topic as 'The Spinster Abroad, or How to be Happy though Single.' No more shall I take the part he intends me to in this Newport romance, unless he removes Count Bonetti from the scene entirely, and provides me with a different style of hero from his Professor, the original of whom, by- the-way, as I happen to know, is already married and has two children. I went to school with his wife, and I know just how much of a hero he is."
And so they went to Newport, and Harley's novel opened swimmingly. His description of the yacht was perfect; his narration of the incidents of the embarkation could not be improved upon in any way. They were absolutely true to the life.
But his account of what Marguerite Andrews said and did and thought while on the Willards' yacht was not realism at all—it was imagination of the wildest kind, for she said, did, and thought nothing of the sort.
Harley did his best, but his heroine was obdurate, and the poor fellow did not know that he was writing untruths, for he verily believed that he heard and saw all that he attributed to her exactly as he put it down.
So the story began well, and Harley for a time was quite happy. At the end of a week, however, he had a fearful set-back. Count Bonetti was ready to be presented to Marguerite according to the plan, but there the schedule broke down.
Harley's heroine took a new and entirely unexpected tack.
CHAPTER IV: A CHAPTER FROM HARLEY, WITH NOTES
"Good-bye, proud world, I'm going home. Thou art not my friend, and I'm not thine." - EMERSON.
I think the reader will possibly gain a better idea of what happened at the Howlett dance, at which Count Bonetti was to have been presented to Miss Andrews, if I forego the pleasure of writing this chapter myself, and produce instead the chapter of Stuart Harley's ill-fated book which was to have dealt with that most interesting incident. Having relinquished all hope of ever getting that particular story into shape without a change of heroine, and being unwilling to go to that extreme, Mr. Harley has very kindly placed his manuscript at my disposal.
"Use it as you will, my dear fellow," he said, when I asked him for it. "I can't do anything with it myself, and it is merely occupying space in my pigeon-holes for which I can find better use. It may need a certain amount of revision—in fact, it is sure to, for it is unconscionably long, and, thanks to the persistent failure of Miss Andrews to do as I thought she would, may frequently seem incoherent. For your own sake revise it, for the readers of your book won't believe that you are telling a true story anyhow; they will say that you wrote this chapter and attributed it to me, and you will find yourself held responsible for its shortcomings. I have inserted a few notes here and there which will give you an idea of what I suffered as I wrote on and found her growing daily less and less tractable, with occasionally an indication of the point of divergence between her actual behavior and that which I expected of her."
To a fellow-workman in literary fields this chapter is of pathetic interest, though it may not so appear to the reader who knows little of the difficulties of authorship. I can hardly read it myself without a feeling of most intense pity for poor Harley. I can imagine the sleepless nights which followed the shattering of his hopes as to what his story might be by the recalcitrant attitude of the young woman he had honored so highly by selecting her for his heroine. I can almost feel the bitter sense of disappointment, which must have burned to the very depths of his soul, when he finally realized how completely overturned were all his plans, and I cannot forego calling attention to the constancy to his creed of Stuart Harley, in sacrificing his opportunity rather than his principles, as shown by his resolute determination not to force Miss Andrews to do his bidding, even though it required merely the dipping of his pen into the ink and the resolution to do so.
I cannot blame her, however. Granting to Harley the right to a creed, Miss Andrews, too, it must be admitted, was entitled to have views as to how she ought to behave under given circumstances, and if she found her notions running counter to his, it was only proper that she should act according to the dictates of her own heart, or mind, or whatever else it may be that a woman reasons with, rather than according to his wishes.
As to all questions of this kind, however, as between the two, the reader must judge, and one document in evidence is Harley's chapter, which ran in this wise:
"Stop beating, heart, and in a moment calm The question answer—is this, then, my fate?" - PERKINS'S "Odes."
As the correspondents of the New York papers had surmised, invitations for the Howlett ball were issued on the 12th. It is not surprising that the correspondents in this instance should be guilty of that rare crime among society reporters, accuracy, for their information was derived from a perfectly reliable source, Mrs. Howlett's butler, in whose hands the addressing of the envelopes had been placed—a man of imposing presence, and of great value to the professional snappers-up of unconsidered trifles of social gossip in the pay of the Sunday newspapers, with many of whom he was on terms of closest intimacy. Of course Mrs. Howlett was not aware that her household contained a personage of great journalistic importance, any more than her neighbor, Mrs. Floyd-Hopkins, was aware that it was her maid who had furnished the Weekly Journal of Society with the vivid account of the scandalous behavior, at her last dinner, of Major Pompoly, who had to be forcibly ejected from the Floyd-Hopkins domicile by the husband of Mrs. Jernigan Smith—a social morsel which attracted much attention several years ago. Every effort was made to hush that matter up, and the guests all swore eternal secrecy; but the Weekly Journal of Society had it, and, strangely enough, had it right, in its next issue; but the maid was never suspected, even though she did appear to be possessed of more ample means than usual for some time after. Mrs. Floyd-Hopkins preferred to suspect one of her guests, and, on the whole, was not sorry that the matter had got abroad, for everybody talked about it, and through the episode her dinner became one of the historic banquets of the season.
The Willards, who were by this time comfortably settled at "The Needles," their cottage on the cliff, it is hardly necessary to state, were among those invited, and with their cards was included one for Marguerite. Added to the card was a personal note from Mrs. Howlett to Miss Andrews, expressing the especial hope that she would not fail them, all of which was very gratifying to the young girl.
"See what I've got," she cried, gleefully, running into Mrs. Willard's "den" at the head of the beautiful oaken stairs.
(Note.—At this point in Harley's manuscript there is evidence of indecision on the author's part. His heroine had begun to bother him a trifle. He had written a half-dozen lines descriptive of Miss Andrews's emotions at receiving a special note of invitation, subsequently erasing them. The word "gleefully" had been scratched out, and then restored in place of "scornfully," which had at first been substituted for it. It was plain that Harley was not quite certain as to how much a woman of Miss Andrews's type would care for a special attention of this nature, even if she cared for it at all. As a matter of fact, the word chosen should have been "dubiously," and neither "gleefully" nor "scornfully"; for the real truth was that there was no reason why Mrs. Howlett should so honor Marguerite, and the girl at once began to wonder if it were not an extra precaution of Harley's to assure her presence at the ball for the benefit of himself and his publishers. The author finally wrote it as I have given it above, however, and Miss Andrews received her special invitation "gleefully"—according to Harley. He perceives her doubt, however, without comprehending it; for after describing Mrs. Willard's reading of the note, he goes on.)
"That is very nice of Mrs. Howlett," said Mrs. Willard, handing Marguerite back her note. "It is a special honor, my dear, by which you should feel highly flattered. She doesn't often do things like that."
"I should think not," said Marguerite. "I am a perfect stranger to her, and that she should do it at all strikes me as being most extraordinary. It doesn't seem sincere, and I can't help thinking that some extraneous circumstance has been brought to bear upon her to force her to do it."
(Note.—Stuart Harley has commented upon this as follows: "As I read this over I must admit that Miss Andrews was right. Why I had Mrs. Howlett do such a thing I don't know, unless it was that my own admiration for my heroine led me to believe that some more than usual attention was her due. In my own behalf I will say that I should in all probability have eliminated or corrected this false note when I came to the revision of my proofs." The chapter then proceeds.)
"What shall we wear?" mused Mrs. Willard, as Marguerite folded Mrs. Howlett's note and replaced it in its envelope.
"I must positively decline to discuss that question. It is of no public interest," snapped Marguerite, her face flushing angrily. "My clothing is my own business, and no one's else." She paused a moment, and then, in an apologetic tone, she added, "I'd be perfectly willing to talk with you about it generally, my dear Dorothy, but not now."
Mrs. Willard looked at the girl in surprise.
(Note.—Stuart Harley has written this in the margin: "Here you have one of the situations which finally compelled me to relinquish this story. You know yourself how hard it is to make 30,000 words out of a slight situation, and at the same time stick to probability. I had an idea, in mapping out this chapter, that I could make three or four interesting pages—interesting to the girls, mind you—out of a discussion of what they should wear at the Howlett dance. It was a perfectly natural subject for discussion at the time and under the circumstances. It would have been a good thing in the book, too, for it might have conveyed a few wholesome hints in the line of good taste in dress which would have made my story of some value. Women are always writing to the papers, asking, 'What shall I wear here?' and 'What shall I wear there?' The ideas of two women like Mrs. Willard and Marguerite Andrews would have been certain to be interesting, elevating, and exceedingly useful to such people, but the moment I attempted to involve them in that discussion Miss Andrews declined utterly to speak, and I was cut out of some six or seven hundred quite important words. I had supposed all women alike in that matter, but I find I was mistaken; one, at least, won't discuss clothes—but I don't wonder that Mrs. Willard looked up in surprise. I put that in just to please myself, for of course the whole incident would have had to be cut out when the manuscript went to the type-setter." The chapter takes a new lead here, as follows:)
Mrs. Willard was punctiliously prompt in sending the acceptances of herself and Mr. Willard to Mrs. Howlett, and at the same time Marguerite's acceptance was despatched, although she was at first disposed to send her regrets. She was only moderately fond of those inconsequent pleasures which make the life social. She was a good dancer, but a more excellent talker, and she preferred talking to dancing; but the inanity of what are known as stair talks at dances oppressed her; nor did she look forward with any degree of pleasure to what we might term conservatory confidences, which in these luxurious days have become so large a factor in terpsichorean diversions, for Marguerite was of a practical nature. She had once chilled the heart of a young poet by calling Venice malarious (Harley little realized when he wrote this how he would have suffered had he carried out his original intention and transplanted Marguerite to the City of the Sea!), and a conservatory to her was a thing for mid-day, and not for midnight. She was therefore not particularly anxious to spend an evening—which began at an aggravatingly late hour instead of at a reasonable time, thanks to a social custom which has its foundation in nothing short of absolute insanity—in the pursuit of nothing of greater value than dancing, stair talks, and conservatory confidences; but Mrs. Willard soon persuaded her that she ought to go, and go she did.
It was a beautiful night, that of the 22d of July. Newport was at her best. The morning had been oppressively warm, but along about three in the afternoon a series of short and sharp electrical storms came, and as quickly went, cooling the heated city, and freshening up the air until it was as clear as crystal, and refreshing as a draught of cold spring-water.
At the Howlett mansion on Bellevue Avenue all was in readiness for the event. The caterer's wagons had arrived with their dainty contents, and had gone, and now the Hungarian band was sending forth over the cool night air those beautiful and weird waves of melody which entrance the most unwilling ear. About the broad and spacious grounds festooned lights hung from tree to tree; here and there little rose-scented bowers for tete-a-tete talks were set; from within, streaming through the windows in regal beauty, came the lights of the vast ballroom, the reception-rooms, and the beautifully designed dining-hall—lately added by young Morris Black, the architect, to Mrs. Howlett's already perfect house.
On the ballroom floor are some ten or twenty couples gracefully waltzing to the strains of Sullivan, and in the midst of these we see Marguerite Andrews threading her way across the room with some difficulty, attended by Mr. and Mrs. Willard. They have just arrived. As Marguerite walks across the hall she attracts every one. There is that about her which commands attention. At the instant of her entrance Count Bonetti is on the qui Vive.
"Py Chove!" he cries, as he leans gracefully against the doorway opening into the conservatory. "Zare, my dear friend, zat iss my idea of ze truly peautiful woman. Vat iss her name?"
"That is Miss Andrews of New York, Count," the person addressed replies. "She is up here with the Willards."
"I musd meed her," says the Count, his eye following Marguerite as she walks up to Mrs. Howlett and is greeted effusively by that lady.
Marguerite is pale, and appears anxious. Even to the author the ways of the women in his works are inscrutable; so upon this occasion. She is pale, but I cannot say why. Can it be that she has an intuitive knowledge that to-night may decide her whole future life? Who can tell? Woman's intuitions are great, and there be those who say they are unerringly true. One by one, with the exception of Count Bonetti, the young men among Mrs. Howlett's guests are presented—Bonetti prefers to await a more favorable opportunity—and to all Marguerite appears to be the beautiful woman she is. Hers is an instant success. A new beauty has dawned upon the Newport horizon.
Let us describe her as she stands.
(Note.—There is a blank space left here. At first I thought it was because Harley wished to reflect a little before drawing a picture of so superb a woman as he seemed to think her, and go on to the conclusion of the chapter, the main incidents being hot in his mind, and the purely descriptive matters more easily left to calmer moments. He informs me, however, that such was not the case. "When I came to describe her as she stood," he said, "she had disappeared, and I had to search all over the house before I finally found her in the conservatory. So I changed the chapter to read thus:")
After a half-hour of dancing and holding court—for Marguerite's triumph was truly that of a queen, it was so complete—Miss Andrews turned to Mr. Willard and took his arm.
"Let us go into the conservatory," she said, in a whisper. "I have heard so much about Mrs. Howlett's orchids, I should like to see them."
Willard, seeing that she was tired and slightly bored by the incessant chatter of those about her, escorted her out through the broad door into the conservatory. As she passed from the ballroom the dark eyes of Count Bonetti flashed upon her, but she heeded them not, moving on into the floral bower in apparently serene unconsciousness of that person's presence. Here Willard got her a chair.
"Will you have an ice?" he asked, as she seated herself beneath one of the lofty palms.
"Yes," she answered, simply. "I can wait here alone if you will get it."
Willard passed out, and soon returned with the ice; but as he came through the doorway Bonetti stopped him and whispered something in his ear.
"Certainly, Count, right away," Willard answered. "Come along."
Bonetti needed no second bidding, but followed Willard closely, and soon stood expectant before Marguerite.
"Miss Andrews," said Willard, "may I have the pleasure of presenting Count Bonetti?"
The Count's head nearly collided with his toes in the bow that he made.
"Mr. Willard," returned Miss Andrews, coldly, ignoring the Count, "feeling as I do that Count Bonetti is merely a bogus Count with acquisitive instincts, brought here, like myself, for literary purposes of which I cannot approve, I must reply to your question that you may not have that pleasure."
With which remark (concludes Stuart Harley) Miss Marguerite Andrews swept proudly from the room, ordered her carriage, and went home, thereby utterly ruining the second story of her life that I had undertaken to write. But I shall make one more effort.
CHAPTER V: AN EXPERIMENT
"And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humor. He that knows better how to tame a shrew, Now let him speak; 'tis charity to show." —"Taming of the Shrew."
"What would have happened if she had behaved differently, Stuart?" I asked, after I had read the pages he had so kindly placed at my disposal.
"Oh, nothing in particular to which she could reasonably object," returned Harley. "The incidents of a truly realistic novel are rarely objectionable, except to people of a captious nature. I intended to have Bonetti dance attendance upon Miss Andrews for the balance of the season, that's all, hoping thereby to present a good picture of life at Newport in July and part of August. About the middle of August I was going to transport the whole cast to Bar Harbor, for variety's sake. That would have been another opportunity to get a good deal of the American summer atmosphere into the book. I wish I could afford the kind of summer I contemplated giving her."
"You didn't intend that she should fall in love with Bonetti?" I asked.
"Not to any serious extent," said Harley, deprecatingly. "Even if she had a little, she'd have come out of it all right as soon as the hero turned up, and she had a chance to see the difference between a manly man of her own country and a little titled fortune hunter from the land of macaroni. Bonetti wasn't to be a bad fellow at all. He was merely an Italian, which he couldn't help, being born so, and therefore, as she said, of an acquisitive nature. There is no villany in that, however—that is, no reprehensible villany. He was after a rich marriage because he was fond of a life of ease. She'd have found him amusing, at any rate."
"But he was bogus!" I suggested.
"Not at all," said Harley, impatiently. "That's what vexes me more than anything else. She made a very bad mistake there. As a Count, Bonetti was quite as real as his financial necessities."
"It was a beastly awkward situation, that conservatory scene," said I. "Especially for Willard. The Count might have challenged him. What became of the Count when it was over?"
"I don't know," said Harley. "I left him to get out of his predicament as best he could. Possibly he did challenge Willard. I haven't taken the trouble to find out. If, as I think, however, he's a living person, he'll extricate himself from his difficulty all right; if he's not, and I have unwittingly allowed myself to conjure him up in my fancy, there's no great harm done. If he's nothing more than a marionette, let him fall on the floor, and stay there until I find some imaginative writer who will take him off my hands—you, for instance. You can have Bonetti for a Christmas present, with my compliments. I'm through with him; but as for Miss Andrews, she has been so confoundedly elusive that she has aroused my deepest interest, and I couldn't give her up if I wanted to. I never encountered a heroine like her in all my life before, and the one object of my future career will be to catch her finally in the meshes of a romance. Romance will come into her life some time. She is not at all of an unsentimental nature—only fractious—new-womanish, perhaps; but none the less lovable, and Cupid will have a shot at her when she least expects it; and when it does come, I'll be on hand to report the attempted assassination for the delectation of the Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick public."
"I should think you would try a little persuasion, just for larks," I suggested.
"You forget I am a realist," he replied, as he went out.
Now I sincerely admired Stuart Harley, and I wished to the bottom of my heart to help him if I could. It seemed to me that, however admirable Miss Andrews had shown herself to be generally as a woman, she had been an altogether unsatisfactory person in the role of a heroine. I respected her scruples about marrying men she did not care for, and, as I have already said, no one could deny her the right to her own convictions; but it seemed to me that in the Bonetti incident she might and truly ought to have acted differently when the time came for the presentation. There is no doubt in my mind that her little speech to Willard, in which she stated that the Count was a fraud and might not be presented, was a deliberately planned rebuff, and therefore not in any sense excusable. She could have avoided it by telling Willard before leaving home that she did not care to meet the Count. To make a scene at Mrs. Howlett's was not a thing which a sober-minded, self-contained woman would have done; it was bad form to behave so rudely to one of Mrs. Howlett's guests, and was so inconsiderate of Willard and unreasonable in other ways that I blamed her unreservedly.
"She deserves to be punished," I thought to myself, as Harley went dejectedly out of the room. "And there is no kind of punishment for a woman like that so galling to her soul as to find herself in the hands of a relentless despot who forces her this way and that, according to his whim. I'd like to play Petrucio to her Katherine for five minutes. She'd soon find out that I'm not a realist bound by a creed to which I must adhere. Whatever I choose to do I can do without violating my conscientious scruples, because I haven't any conscientious scruples in literature. And, by Jove, I'll do it! I'll take Miss Marguerite Andrews in hand myself this very afternoon, and I'll put her through a course of training that will make her rue the day she ever trifled with Stuart Harley—and when he takes her up again she'll be as meek as Moses."
Strong in my belief that I could bring the young woman to terms, I went to my desk and tried my hand at a story, with Miss Andrews as its heroine, and I was not particular about being realistic either. Neither did I go off into any trances in search of heroes and villains. I did what Harley could not do. I brought the New York back to port that very day, and despatched Robert Osborne, the despised lover of the first tale, to Newport.
"She shall have him whether she likes him or not," said I, gritting my teeth determinedly; "and she won't know whether she loves him or Count Bonetti best; and she'll promise to marry both of them; and she shall go to Venice in August, despite her uncompromising refusal to do so for Harley; and she shall meet Balderstone there, and, no matter what her opinion of him or of his literary work, she shall be fascinated by the story I'll have him write, and under the spell of that fascination she shall promise to marry him also; whereupon the Willards will turn up and take her to Heidelberg, where I'll have her meet the hero she couldn't wait for at the Howlett dance, the despised Professor, and she shall promise to be his wife likewise; and finally I'll put her on board a steamer at Southampton, bound for New York, with Mrs. Corwin and the twins; and the second day out, when she is feeling her very worst, all four of her fiances will turn up at the same time beside her chair. Then I shall leave her to get out of her trouble the best way she can. I imagine, after she has had a taste of my literary regimen, she'll quite fall in love with the Harley method, and behave herself as a heroine should."
I sat down all aglow with the idea of being able to tame Harley's heroine and place her in a mood more suited for his purposes. The more I thought of how his failures were weighing on his mind, the more viciously ready was I to play the tyrant with Marguerite, and— well, I might as well confess it at once, with all my righteous indignation against her, I could not do it. Five times I started, and as many times did I destroy what I wrote. On the sixth trial I did haul the New York relentlessly back into port, never for an instant considering the inconvenience of the passengers, or the protests of the officers, crew, or postal authorities. This done, I seized upon the unfortunate Osborne, spirited his luggage through the Custom-house, and sent the ship to sea again. That part was easy. I have written a great deal for the comic papers, and acrobatic nonsense of that sort comes almost without an effort on my part. With equal ease I got Osborne to Newport—how, I do not recollect. It is just possible that I took him through from New York without a train, by the mere say-so of my pen. At any rate, I got him there, and I fully intended to have him meet Miss Andrews at a dance at the Ocean House the day after his arrival. I even progressed so far as to get up the dance. I described the room, the decorations, and the band. I had Osborne dressed and waiting, with Bonetti also dressed and waiting on the other side of the room, Scylla and Charybdis all over again, but by no possibility could I force Miss Andrews to appear. Why it was, I do not pretend to be able to say—she may have known that Bonetti was there, she may have realized that I was trying to force Osborne upon her; but whatever it was that enabled her to do so, she resisted me successfully—or my pen did; for that situation upon which I had based the opening scene of my story of compulsion I found beyond my ability to depict; and as Harley had done before me, so was I now forced to do—to change my plan.
"I'll have her run away with!" I cried, growing vicious in my wrath; "and both Bonetti and Osborne shall place her under eternal obligations by rushing out to stop the horse, one from either side of the street. She'll have to meet Bonetti then," I added, with a chuckle.
And I tried that plan. As docile as a lamb she entered the phaeton, which I conjured up out of my ink-pot, and like a veteran Jehu did she seize the reins. I could not help admiring her as I wrote of it- -she was so like a goddess; but I did not relent. Run away with she must be, and run away with she was. But again did this extraordinary woman assert herself to my discomfiture; for the moment she saw Bonetti rushing out to rescue her from the east, she jerked the left rein so violently that the horse swerved to one side, toppled over on Osborne, who had sprung gallantly to the rescue from the west; and Bonetti, missing his aim as the horse turned, fell all in a heap in the roadway two yards back of the phaeton. Miss Andrews was not hurt, but my story was, for she had not even observed the unhappy Osborne; and as for Bonetti, he cut so ridiculous a figure that, Italian though he was, even he seemed aware of it, and he shrank dejectedly out of sight. Again had this supernaturally elusive heroine upset the plans of one who had essayed to embalm her virtues in a literary mould. I could not bring her into contact with either of my heroes.
I threw my pen down in disgust, slammed to the cover of my ink-well, and for two hours paced madly through the maze-like walks of the Central Park, angry and depressed; and from that moment until I undertook the narration of this pathetic story I gave Harley's heroine up as unavailable material for my purposes. She was worse, if anything, in imaginative work than in realism, because she absolutely defied the imagination, while the realist she would be glad to help so long as his realism was kept in strict accord with her ideas of what the real really was.
It was some days before I saw Harley again, and I thought he looked tired and anxious—so anxious, indeed, that I was afraid he might possibly be in financial straits, for I knew that for three weeks he had not turned out any of his usual pot-boilers, having been too busy trying to write the story for Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick. It happened, oddly enough, that I had two or three uncashed checks in my pocket; so, feeling like a millionaire, I broached the subject to him.
"What's the matter, old fellow?" I said. "You seem in a blue funk. Has the mint stopped? If it has, command me. I'm overburdened with checks this week."
"Not at all; thanks just the same," he said, wearily. "My Tiffin royalties came in Wednesday, and I'm all right for a while, anyhow."
"What's up, then, Stuart?" I asked. "You look worried. I've just offered to share my prosperity with you, you might share your grief with me. Lend me a peck of trouble overnight, will you?"
"Oh, it's nothing much," he said. "It's that rebellious heroine of mine. She's weighing on my mind, that's all. She's very real to me, that woman; and, by Jove! I've been as jealous as a lover for two days over a fancy that came into my head. You'll laugh when I tell you, but I've been half afraid somebody else would take her up and— well, treat her badly. There is something that tells me that she has been forced into some brutal situation by somebody, somewhere, within the past two or three days. I believe I'd want to kill a man who did that."
I didn't laugh at him. I was the man who was in a fair way to get killed for "doing that," and I thought laughter would be a little bit misplaced; but I am not a coward, and I didn't flinch. I confessed. I tried to ease his mind by telling him what I had attempted to do.
"It was a mistake," he said, shortly, when I had finished. "And you must promise me one thing," he added, very seriously.
"I'll promise anything," I said, meekly.
"Don't ever try anything of the sort again," he went on, gravely. "If you had succeeded in writing that story, and subjected her to all that horror, I should never have spoken to you again. As it is, I realize that what you did was out of the kindness of your heart, prompted by a desire to be of service to me, and I'm just as much obliged as I can be, only I don't want any assistance."
"Until you ask me to, Stuart," I replied, "I'll never write another line about her; but you'd better keep very mum about her yourself, or get her copyrighted. The way she upset that horse on Osborne, completely obliterating him, and at the same time getting out of the way of that little simian Count, in spite of all I could do to place her under obligations to both of them, was what the ancients would have called a caution. She has made a slave of me forever, and I venture to predict that if you don't hurry up and get her into a book, somebody else will; and whoever does will make a name for himself alongside of which that of Smith will sink into oblivion."
"Count on me for that," said he. "'Faint heart never won fair lady,' and I don't intend to stop climbing just because I fear a few more falls."
CHAPTER VI: ANOTHER CHAPTER FROM HARLEY
"Was ever woman in this humour woo'd? Was ever woman in this humour won? I'll have her,—but I will not keep her long." - "Richard III."
There was no doubt about it that Harley, true to his purpose, was making a good fight to conquer without compulsion, and appreciated as much as I the necessity of reducing his heroine to concrete form as speedily as possible, lest some other should prove more successful, and so deprive him of the laurels for which he had worked so hard and suffered so much. In his favor was his disposition. He was a man of great determination, and once he set about doing something he was not an easy man to turn aside, and now that, for the first time in his life, he found himself baffled at every point, and by a heroine of no very great literary importance, he became more determined than ever.
"I'll conquer yet," he said to me, a week or so later; but the weariness with which he spoke made me fear that victory was afar off.
"I've no doubt of it—ultimately," I answered, to encourage him; "but don't you think you'll stand a better chance if you let her rest for a while, and then steal in upon her unawares, and catch her little romance as it flies? She is apparently nerved up against you now, and the more conscious she is of your efforts to put her on paper, the more she will rebel. In fact, her rebelliousness will become more and more a matter of whim than of principle, unless you let up on her for a little while. Half of her opposition now strikes me as obstinacy, and the more you try to break her spirit, even though you do it gently, the more stubborn will she become. Put this book aside for a few weeks anyhow. Why not tackle something else? You'd do better work, too, after a little variety."
"This must be finished by September 1st, that's why not," said Stuart. "I've promised Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick to send them the completed manuscript by that time. Besides, no heroine of mine shall ever say that she swerved me from doing what I have set about doing. It is now or never with Marguerite Andrews."
So I left him at his desk, and for a week was busy with my own affairs. Late the following Friday night I dropped in at Harley's rooms to see how matters were progressing. As I entered I saw him at his desk, his back turned towards me, silhouetted in the lamp-light, scratching away furiously with his pen.
"Ah!" I thought, as my eye took in the picture, "it goes at last. I guess I won't disturb his train of thought."
And I tried to steal softly out, for he had not observed my entrance. As luck would have it, I stepped upon the sill of the door as I passed out, and it creaked.
"Hello!" cried Harley, wheeling about in his chair, startled by the sound.
"Oh! It's you, is it?" he added, as he recognized me. "What are you up to? Come back here. I want to see you."
His manner was cheerful, but I could see that the cheerfulness was assumed. The color had completely left his cheeks, and great rings under his eyes betokened weariness of spirit.
"I didn't want to disturb you," said I, returning. "You seem to have your pen on a clear track, with full steam up."
"I had," he said, quietly. "I was just finishing up that Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick business."
"Aha!" I cried, grasping his hand and shaking it. "I congratulate you. Success at last, eh?"
"Well, I've got something done—and that's it," he said, and he tossed the letter block upon which he had been writing across the table to me. "Read that, and tell me what you think of it."
I read it over carefully. It was a letter to Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick, in which Stuart asked to be relieved of the commission he had undertaken:
"I find myself utterly unable to complete the work in the stipulated time," he wrote, "for reasons entirely beyond my control. Nor can I at this writing say with any degree of certainty when I shall be able to finish the story. I have made constant and conscientious effort to carry out my agreement with you, but fruitlessly, and I beg that you will relieve me of the obligation into which I entered at the signing of our contract. Of course I could send you something long enough to cover the required space—words come easy enough for that— but the result would be unsatisfactory to you and injurious to me were I to do so. Please let me hear from you, releasing me from the obligation, at your earliest convenience, as I am about to leave town for a fortnight's rest. Regretting my inability to serve you at this time, and hoping soon to be able to avail myself of your very kind offer, I beg to remain,
"Yours faithfully, "STUART HARLEY."
"Oh!" said I. "You've finished it, then, by—"
"By giving it up," said he, sadly.
"It's the strangest thing that ever happened to me, but that girl is impossible. I take up my pen intending to say that she did this, and before I know it she does that. I cannot control my story at all, nor can I perceive in what given direction she will go. If I could, I could arrange my scenario to suit, but as it is, I cannot go on. It may come later, but it won't come now, and I'm going to give her up, and go down to Barnegat to fish for ten days. I hate to give the book up, though," he added, tapping the table with his pen-holder reflectively. "Chadwick's an awfully good fellow, and his firm is one of the best in the country, liberal and all that, and here at my first opportunity to get on their list, I'm completely floored. It's beastly hard luck, I think."
"Don't be floored," said I. "Take my advice and tackle something else. Write some other book."
"That's the devil of it!" he replied, angrily pounding the table with his fist. "I can't. I've tried, and I can't. My mind is full of that woman. If I don't get rid of her I'm ruined—I'll have to get a position as a salesman somewhere, or starve, for until she is caught between good stiff board covers I can't write another line."
"Oh, you take too serious a view of it, Stuart," I ventured. "You're mad and tired now. I don't blame you, of course, but you mustn't be rash. Don't send that letter yet. Wait until you've had the week at Barnegat—you'll feel better then. You can write the book in ten days after your return; or if you still find you can't do it, it will be time enough to withdraw then."
"What hope is there after that?" he cried, tossing a bundle of manuscript into my lap. "Just read that, and tell me what's the use. I'd mapped out a meeting between Marguerite Andrews and a certain Mr. Arthur Parker, a fellow with wealth, position, brains, good looks—in short, everything a girl could ask for, and that's what came of it."
I spread the pages out upon the table before me and read:
CHAPTER IV: A DECLARATION
"I have not seen So likely an ambassador of love." - "Merchant of Venice."
Parker mounted the steps lightly and rang the bell. Marguerite's kindness of the night before, which was in marked contrast to her coolness at the MacFarland dance, had led him to believe that he was not wholly without interest to her, and her invitation that he should call upon her had given him a sincere pleasure; in fact, he wondered that he should be so pleased over so trivial a circumstance.
"I'm afraid I've lost my heart again," he said to himself. "That is, again if I ever lost it before," he added.
And his mind reverted to a little episode at Bar Harbor the summer before, and he was not sorry to feel that that wound was cured— though, as a matter of fact, it had never amounted to more than a scratch.
A moment later the door opened, and Parker entered, inquiring for Miss Andrews as he did so.
"I do not know, but I will see if Miss Andrews is at home," said the butler, ushering him into the parlor. That imposing individual knew quite well that Miss Andrews was at home, but he also knew that it was not his place to say so until the young lady had personally assured him of the facts in so far as they related to this particular caller. All went well for Parker, however. Miss Andrews consented to be at home to him, and five minutes later she entered the drawing room where Parker was seated.
"How do you do?" she said, frigidly, ignoring his outstretched hand.
("Think of that, will you?" interposed Harley. "He'd come to propose, and was to leave engaged, and she insists upon opening upon him frigidly, ignoring his outstretched hand."
I couldn't help smiling. "Why did you let her do it?" I asked.
"I could no more have changed it than I could fly," returned Stuart. "She ought never to have been at home if she was going to behave that way. I couldn't foresee the incident, and before I knew it that's the way it happened. But I thought I could fix it up later, so I went on. Read along, and see what I got let into next."
I proceeded to read as follows:)
"You see," said Parker, with an admiring glance at her eyes, in spite of the fact that the coolness of her reception rather abashed him— "you see, I have not delayed very long in coming."
"So I perceive," returned Marguerite, with a bored manner. "That's what I said to Mrs. Willard as I came down. You don't allow your friends much leeway, Mr. Parker. It doesn't seem more than five minutes since we were together at the card party."
("That's cordial, eh?" said Harley, as I read. "Nice sort of talk for a heroine to a hero. Makes it easy for me, eh?"
"I must say if you manage to get a proposal in now you're a genius," said I.
"Oh—as for that, I got reckless when I saw how things were going," returned Harley. "I lost my temper, and took it out of poor Parker. He proposes, as you will see when you come to it; but it isn't realism—it's compulsion. I simply forced him into it—poor devil. But go on and read for yourself."
I did so, as follows:)
This was hardly the treatment Parker had expected at the hands of one who had been undeniably gracious to him at the card-table the night before. He had received the notice that she was to be his partner at the tables with misgivings, on his arrival at Mrs. Stoughton's, because his recollection of her behavior towards him at the MacFarland dance had led him to believe that he was personally distasteful to her; but as the evening at cards progressed he felt instinctively drawn towards her, and her vivacity of manner, cleverness at repartee, and extreme amiability towards himself had completely won his heart, which victory their little tete-a-tete during supper had confirmed. But here, this morning, was reversion to her first attitude.
What could it mean? Why should she treat him so?
("I couldn't answer that question to save my life," said Stuart. "That is, not then, but I found out later. I put it in, however, and let Parker draw his own conclusions. I'd have helped him out if I could, but I couldn't. Go on and see for yourself."
Parker could not solve the problem, but it pleased him to believe that something over which he had no control had gone wrong that morning, and that this had disturbed her equanimity, and that he was merely the victim of circumstances; and somehow or other it pleased him also to think that he could be the victim of her circumstances, so he stood his ground.