A Rebellious Heroine by John Kendrick Bangs
Chapter VI: Another Chapter from Harley
"Was ever woman in this humour woo'd?
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,
"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
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.
"It is a beautiful day," he began, after a pause.
"Is it?" she asked, indifferently.
("Frightfully snubbish," said I, appalled at the lengths to which Miss Andrews was going.
"Dreadfully," sighed Harley. "And so unlike her, too.")
"Yes," said Parker, "so very beautiful that it seemed a pity that you and I should stay indoors, with plenty of walks to be taken and--"
Marguerite interrupted him with a sarcastic laugh.
"With so much pity and so many walks, Mr. Parker, why don't you take a few of them!" she said.
("Good Lord!" said I. "This is the worst act of rebellion yet. She seems beside herself."
"Read on!" said Harley, in sepulchral tones.)
This was Parker's opportunity. "I am not fond of walking, Miss Andrews," he said; and then he added, quickly, "that is, alone--I don't like anything alone. Living alone, like walking alone, is--"
"Let's go walking," said Marguerite, shortly, as she rose up from her chair. "I'll be down in two minutes. I only need to put my hat on."
Parker acquiesced, and Miss Andrews walked majestically out of the parlor and went up-stairs.
"Confound it!" muttered Parker, as she left him. "A minute more, and I'd have known my fate."
("You see," said Harley, "I'd made up my mind that that proposal should take place in that chapter, and I thought I'd worked right up to it, in spite of all Miss Andrews's disagreeable remarks when, pop- -off she goes to put on her hat."
"Oh--as for that--that's all right," said I. "Parker had suggested the walk, and a girl really does like to stave off a proposal as long as she can when she knows it is sure to come. Furthermore, it gives you a chance to describe the hat, and so make up for a few of the words you lost when she refused to discuss ball-dresses with Mrs. Willard."
"I never thought of that; but don't you think I worked up to the proposal skilfully?" asked Harley.
"Very," said I. "But you're dreadfully hard on Parker. It would have been better to have had the butler fire him out, head over heels. He could have thrashed the butler for doing that, but with your heroine his hands were tied."
"Go on and read," said Harley.)
"She must have known what I was driving at," Parker reflected, as he awaited her return. "Possibly she loves me in spite of this frigid behavior. This may be her method of concealing it; but if it is, I must confess it's a case of
'Perhaps it was right to dissemble your love, But--why did you kick me down-stairs?'
Certainly, knowing, as she now must, what my feelings are, her being willing to go for a walk on the cliffs, or anywhere, is a favorable sign.
("Parker merely echoed my own hope in that remark," said Harley. "If I could get them engaged, I was satisfied to do it in any way that might be pleasing to her.")
A moment later Marguerite appeared, arrayed for the walk. Parker rose as she entered and picked up his gloves.
"You are a perfect picture this morning," said he.
"I'm ready," she said, shortly, ignoring the compliment. "Where are we scheduled to walk?--or are we to have something to say about it ourselves?"
Parker looked at her with a wondering smile. The aptness of the remark did not strike him. However, he was equal to the occasion.
"You don't believe in free will, then?" he asked.
("It was the only intelligent remark he could make, under the circumstances, you see," explained Harley.
"He was a clever fellow," said I, and resumed reading.)
"I believe in a great many things we are supposed to do without," said Marguerite, sharply.
They had reached the street, and in silence walked along Bellevue Avenue.
"There are a great many things," vouchsafed Parker, as they turned out of the avenue to the cliffs, "that men are supposed not to do without--"
"Yes," said Marguerite, sharply--"vices."
"I did not refer to them," laughed Parker. "In fact, Miss Andrews, the heart of man is supposed to be incomplete until he has lost it, and has succeeded in getting another for his very--"
"Are you an admirer of Max Nordau?" interposed Marguerite, quickly.
("Whatever led you to put that in?" I asked.
"Go on, and you'll see," said Harley. "I didn't put it in. It's what she said. I'm not responsible.")
"I don't know anything about Max Nordau," said Parker, somewhat surprised at this sudden turn of the conversation.
"Are you familiar with Schopenhauer?" she asked.
("It was awfully rough on the poor fellow," said Harley, "but I couldn't help him. I'd forced him in so far that I couldn't get him out. His answer floored me as completely as anything that Miss Andrews ever did.")
"Schopenhauer?" said Parker, nonplussed. "Oh yes," he added, an idea dawning on his mind. "That is to say, moderately familiar--though, as a matter of fact, I'm not at all musical."
Miss Andrews laughed immoderately, in which Parker, thinking that he had possibly said something witty, although he did not know what it was, joined. In a moment the laughter subsided, and for a few minutes the two walked on in silence. Finally Parker spoke, resignedly.
"Miss Andrews," he said, "perhaps you have noticed--perhaps not--that you have strongly interested me."
"Yes," she said, turning upon him desperately. "I have noticed it, and that is why I have on two separate occasions tried to keep you from saying so."
"And why should I not tell you that I love--" began Parker.
"Because it is hopeless," retorted Marguerite. "I am perfectly well aware, Mr. Parker, what we are down for, and I suppose I cannot blame you for your persistence. Perhaps you don't know any better; perhaps you do know better, but are willing to give yourself over unreservedly into the hands of another; perhaps you are being forced and cannot help yourself. It is just possible that you are a professional hero, and feel under obligations to your employer to follow out his wishes to the letter. However it may be, you have twice essayed to come to the point, and I have twice tried to turn you aside. Now it is time to speak truthfully. I admire and like you very much, but I have a will of my own, am nobody's puppet, and if Stuart Harley never writes another book in his life, he shall not marry me to a man I do not love; and, frankly, I do not love you. I do not know if you are aware of the fact, but it is true nevertheless that you are the third fiance he has tried to thrust upon me since July 3d. Like the others, if you insist upon blindly following his will, and propose marriage to me, you shall go by the board. I have warned you, and you can now do as you please. You were saying--?"
"That I love you with all my soul," said Parker, grimly.
("He didn't really love her then, you know," said Harley. "He'd been cured of that in five minutes. But I was resolved that he should say it, and he did. That's how he came to say it grimly. He did it just as a soldier rushes up to the cannon's mouth. He added, also:")
"Will you be my wife?"
"Most certainly not," said Marguerite, turning on her heel, and leaving the young man to finish his walk alone.
("And then," said Harley, with a chuckle, "Parker's manhood would assert itself in spite of all I could do. He made an answer, which I wrote down."
"I see," said I, "but you've scratched it out. What was that line?"
"'"Thank the Lord!" said Parker to himself, as Miss Andrews disappeared around the corner,'" said Stuart Harley. "That's what I wrote, and I flatter myself on the realism of it, for that's just what any self-respecting hero would have said under the circumstances."
A silence came over us.
"Do you wonder I've given it up," asked Stuart, after a while.
"Yes," said I, "I do. Such opposition would nerve me up to a battle royal. I wouldn't give it up until I'd returned from Barnegat, if I were you," I added, anxious to have him renew his efforts; for an idea had just flashed across my mind, which, although it involved a breach of faith on my part, I nevertheless believed to be good and justifiable, since it might relieve Stuart Harley of his embarrassment.
"Very well," I rejoiced to hear him say. "I won't give it up until then, but I haven't much hope after that last chapter."
So Harley went to Barnegat, after destroying his letter to Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick, whilst I put my breach of faith into operation.)