A Rebellious Heroine by John Kendrick Bangs
Chapter IV: A Chapter from Harley, with Notes
"Good-bye, proud world, I'm going home.
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
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.