Chapter X: By Way of Epilogue
 

"Let, down the curtain, the farce is done."
- RABELAIS.

I suppose my story ought to end here, since Harley's rebellious heroine has finally been subdued for the use of his publishers and the consequent declaration of dividends for the Harley exchequer; but there was an epilogue to the little farce, which nearly turned it into tragedy, from which the principals were saved by nothing short of my own ingenuity. Harley had fallen desperately in love with Marguerite Andrews, and Marguerite Andrews had fallen in love with Stuart Harley, and Harley couldn't find her. She eluded his every effort, and he began to doubt that he had drawn her from real life, after all. She had become a Marjorie Daw to him, and the notion that he must go through life cherishing a hopeless passion was distracting to him. His book was the greatest of his successes, which was an additional cause of discomfort to him, since, knowing as he now did that his study was not a faithful portrayal of the inner life of his heroine, he felt that the laurels that were being placed upon his brow had been obtained under false pretences.

"I feel like a hypocrite," he said, as he read an enthusiastic review of his little work from the pen of no less a person than Mr. Darrow, the high-priest of the realistic sect. "I am afraid I shall not be able to look Darrow in the eye when I meet him at the club."

"Never fear for that, Stuart," I said, laughing inwardly at his plight. "Brazen it out; keep a stiff upper lip, and Darrow will never know. He has insight, of course, but he can't see as far in as you and he think."

"It's a devilish situation," he cried, impatiently striding up and down the room, "that a man of my age should be so hopelessly in love with a woman he can't find; and that he can't find her is such a cruel sarcasm upon his literary creed! What cursed idiosyncrasy of fate is it that has brought this thing upon me?"

"It's the punishment that fits your crime, Harley," I said. "You've been rather narrow minded in your literary ideas. Possibly it will make a more tolerant critic of you hereafter, when you come to flay fellows like Balderstone for venturing to think differently from you as to the sort of books it is proper to write. He has as much right to the profits he can derive from his fancy as you have to the emoluments of your insight."

"I'd take some comfort if I thought that she really loved me," he said, mournfully.

"Have no doubt on that score, Stuart," I said. "She does love you. I know that. I wish she didn't."

"Then why can't I find her? Why does she hide from me?" he cried, fortunately ignoring my devoutly expressed wish, which slipped out before I knew it.

"Because she is a woman," I replied. "Hasn't your analytical mind told you yet that the more a woman loves a man, the harder he's got to work to find it out and--and clinch the bargain?"

"I suppose you are right," he said, gloomily. "But if I were a woman, and knew I was killing a man by keeping myself in hiding, I'd come out and show myself at any cost, especially if I loved him."

"Now you are dealing in imagination, Harley," I said; "and that never was your strong point."

Nevertheless, he was right on one point. The hopelessness of his quest was killing Harley--not physically exactly, but emotionally, as it were. It was taking all the heart out of him, and his present state of mind was far more deplorable than when he was struggling with the book, and constantly growing worse. He tried every device to find her--the Willards were conjured up, and knew nothing; Mrs. Corwin and the twins were brought back from Europe, and refused to yield up the secret; all the powers of a realistic pen were brought to bear upon her, and yet she refused utterly to materialize.

Finally, I found it necessary to act myself. I could not stand the sight of Harley being gradually eaten up by the longing of his own soul, and I tried my hand at exploration. I had no better success for several weeks; and then, like an inspiration, the whole thing came to me. "She won't come when he summons her, because she loves him. She won't summon him to come to her, for the same reason. Why not summon both of them yourself to a common ground? Embalm them in a little romance of your own. Force them if need be, but get them there, and so bring them together, and let them work out their own happiness," said I to myself. The only difficulty that presented itself was as to whether or not Marguerite would allow herself to be forced. It was worth the trial, however, and fortune favored me. I found her far from rebellious. My pen had hardly touched paper when she materialized, more bewilderingly beautiful than ever. I laid the scene of my little essay at Lake-wood, and I found her sitting down by the water, dreamily gazing out over the lake. In her lap was Stuart Harley's book, and daintily pasted on the fly-leaf of this was the portrait which had appeared in the August issue of The Literary Man, which she had cut out and preserved.

Having provided the heroine with a spot conducive to her comfort, I hastened to transport Harley to the scene. It was easy to do, seeing how deeply interested I was in my plot and how willing he was. I got him there looking like a Greek god, only a trifle more interesting, because of his sympathy-arousing pallor--the pallor which comes from an undeserved buffeting at the hands of a mischievous Cupid. I know it well, for I have observed it several times upon my own countenance. The moment Harley appeared upon the scene I chose to have Marguerite hastily clasp the book in her hands, raise it to her lips, and kiss the picture--and it must have been intensely true to life, for she did it without a moment's hesitation, almost anticipating my convenience, throwing an amount of passion into the act which made my pen fairly hiss as I dipped it into the ink. Of course Harley could not fail to see it--I had taken care to arrange all that--and equally of course he could not fail to comprehend what that kiss meant; could not fail to stop short, with a convulsive effort to control himself--heroes always do that; could not fail thereby to attract her attention. After this nothing was more natural than that she should spring to her feet, "the blushes of a surprised love mantling her cheeks"; it was equally natural that she should try to run, should slip, have him catch her arm and save her from falling, and--well, I am not going to tell the whole story. I have neither the time, the inclination, nor the talent to lay bare to the world the love-affairs of my friend. Furthermore, having got them together, I discreetly withdrew, so that even if I were to try to write up the rest of the courtship, it would merely result in my telling you how I imagined it progressed, and I fancy my readers are as well up in matters of that sort as I am. Suffice it to say, therefore, that in this way I brought Stuart Harley and Marguerite Andrews together, and that the event justified the means: and that the other day, when Mr. and Mrs. Harley returned from their honeymoon, they told me they thought I ought to give up humor and take to writing love-stories.

"That kissing the picture episode," said Stuart, looking gratefully at me, "was an inspiration. To my mind, it was the most satisfactory thing you've ever done."

"I like that!" cried his wife, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. "He didn't do it. It was I who kissed the picture. He couldn't have made me do anything else to save his life."

"Rebellious to the last!" said I, with a sigh to think that I must now write the word "Finis" to my little farce.

"Yes," she answered. "Rebellious to the last. I shall never consent to be the heroine of a book again, until--"

She paused and looked at Stuart.

"Until what?" he asked, tenderly.

"Until you write your autobiography," said she. "I have always wanted of be the heroine of that."

And throwing down my pen, I discovered I was alone.