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.