A Rebellious Heroine by John Kendrick Bangs
Chapter III: The Reconstruction Begins
"Then gently scan your brother man,
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.