A Rebellious Heroine by John Kendrick Bangs
Chapter VIII: Harley Returns to the Fray
"I will be master of what is mine own:
At the end of ten days Harley returned from Barnegat, brown as a berry and ready for war, if war it was still to be. The outing had done him a world of good, and the fish stories he told as we sat at dinner showed that, realist though he might be, he had yet not failed to cultivate his imagination in certain directions. I may observe in passing, and in this connection, that if I had a son whom it was my ambition to see making his mark in the world as a writer of romance, as distinguished from the real, I should, as the first step in his development, take care that he became a fisherman. The telling of tales of the fish he caught when no one else was near to see would give him, as it has given many another, a good schooling in the realms of the imagination.
I was glad to note that Harley's wonted cheerfulness had returned, and that he had become more like himself than he had been at any time since his first failure with Miss Andrews.
"Your advice was excellent," he said, as we sipped our coffee at the club the night of his return. "I have a clear two weeks in which to tackle that story, and I feel confident now that I shall get it done. Furthermore, I shall send the chapters to Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick as I write them, so that there must be no failure. I shall be compelled to finish the tale, whatever may happen, and Miss Andrews shall go through to the bitter end, willy-nilly."
"Don't be rash, Harley," I said; for it seemed to me that Miss Andrews, having consented at my solicitation to be a docile heroine for just so long as Harley did not insist upon her marrying the man she did not love, it was no time for him to break away from the principles he had so steadfastly adhered to hitherto and become a martinet. He struck me as being more than likely to crack the whip like a ring-master in his present mood than to play the indulgent author, and I felt pretty confident that the instant the snap of the lash reached the ears of Marguerite Andrews his troubles would begin again tenfold, both in quality and in quantity, with no possible hope for a future reconciliation between them.
"I'm not going to be rash," said Harley. "I never was rash, and I'm not going to begin now, but I shall use my nerve. That has been the trouble with me in the past. I haven't been firm. I have let that girl have her own way in everything, and I'm very much afraid I have spoiled her. She behaves like a child with indulgent parents. In the last instance, the Parker proposal, she simply ran her independence into the ground. She was not only rebellious to me, but she was impertinent to him. Her attitude toward him was not nature at all; it was not realism, because she is a woman of good breeding, and would naturally be the last to treat any man, distasteful or not, with such excessive rudeness. I compelled him to go on and propose to her, though after he had been at it for five minutes I could see that he wished he was well out of it. I should have taken her in hand and controlled her with equal firmness, declining to permit her to speak so openly. Frankness is good enough, especially in women, among whom you rarely find it; but frankness of the sort she indulged in has no place in the polite circle in which she moves."
"Nevertheless, she spoke that way--you said yourself she did," I said, seeing that he was wrathful with Marguerite, and wishing to assuage his anger before it carried him to lengths he might regret. "And you've got to take her as she is or drop her altogether."
"She did--I repeat that she did speak that way, but that was no reason why I should submit to it," Harley answered. "It was the fault of her mood. She was nervous, almost hysterical--thanks to her rebellious spirit. The moment I discovered how things were going I should have gone back and started afresh, and kept on doing so until I had her submissive. A hunter may balk at a high fence, but the rider must not give in to him unless he wishes to let the animal get the better of him. If he is wise he will go back and put the horse to it again and again, until he finally clears the topmost bar. That I should have done in this instance, and that I now intend to do, until that book comes out as I want it."
I had to laugh in my sleeve. On the whole, Harley was very like most other realists, who pretend that they merely put down life as it is, and who go through their professional careers serenely unconscious of the truth that their fancies, after all, serve them when their facts are lacking. Even that most eminent disciple of the Realistic Cult, Mr. Darrow, has been known to kill off a hero in a railroad accident that owed its being to nothing short of his own imagination, in order that the unhappy wight might not offend the readers of the highly moral magazine, in which the story first appeared, by marrying a widow whom he had been forced by Mr. Darrow to love before her husband died. Mr. Darrow manufactured, with five strokes of his pen, an engine and a tunnel to crush the life out of the poor fellow, whom an immoral romancer would have allowed to live on and marry the lady, and with perfect propriety too, since the hero and the heroine were both of them the very models of virtue, in spite of the love which they did not seek, and which Mr. Darrow deliberately and almost brutally thrust into their otherwise happy lives. Of course the railway accident was needed to give the climax to the story, which without it might have run through six more numbers of the magazine, to the exclusion of more exciting material; but that will not relieve Mr. Darrow's soul of the stain he has put upon it by deserting Dame Realism for a moment to flirt with Romance, when it comes to the Judgment Day.
"As I want it to be, so must it be," quoth Harley.
"Good," thought I. "It will no doubt be excellent; but be honest, and don't insist that you've taken down life as it is; for you may have an astigmatism, for all you know, and life may not be at all what it has seemed to you while you were putting it down."
"Yes, sir," said Harley, leaning back in his chair and drawing a long breath, which showed his determination, "to the bitter end she shall go, through such complications as I choose to have her, encountering whatever villains I may happen to find most convenient, and to complete her story she shall marry the man I select for my hero, if he is as commonplace as the average salesman in a Brooklyn universal dry-goods emporium."
Imagine my feelings if you can! Having gone as a self-appointed ambassador to the enemy to secure terms of peace, to return to find my principal donning his armor and daubing his face with paint for a renewal of the combat, was certainly not pleasant. What could I say to Marguerite Andrews if I ever met her in real life? How could I look her in the eye? The situation overpowered me, and I hardly knew what to say. I couldn't beg Harley to stick to his realism and not indulge in compulsion, because I had often jeered at him for not infusing a little more of the dramatic into his stories, even if it had to be "lugged in by the ears," as he put it. Nor was he in any mood for me to tell him of my breach of faith--the mere knowledge that she had promised to be docile out of charity would have stung his pride, and I thought it would be better, for the time, at least, to let my interview remain a secret. Fortune favored me, however. Kelly and the Professor entered the dining room at this moment, and the Professor held in his hand a copy of the current issue of The Literary Man, Messrs. Herring, Beemer, & Chadwick's fortnightly publication, a periodical having to do wholly with things bookish.
"Who sat for this, Stuart?" called out the Professor, tapping the frontispiece of the magazine.
"Who sat for what?" replied Stuart, looking up.
"This picture," said the Professor.
"It's a picture of a finely intellectual-looking person with your name under it, Harley," put in the Doctor.
"Oh--that," said Harley. "It does flatter me a bit."
"So does the article with it," said Kelly. "Says you are a great man--man with an idea, and all that. Is that true, or is it just plain libel? Have you an idea?"
Harley laughed good-naturedly. "I had one once, but it's lost," he said. "As to that picture, they're bringing out a book for me," he added, modestly. "Good ad., you know."
"When you are through with that, Professor," I put in, "let me have it, will you? I want to see what it says about Harley."
"It's a first-rate screed," replied the Professor, handing over the publication. "It hits Harley right on the head."
"I don't know as that's pleasant," said Harley.
"What I mean, my dear boy," said the Professor, "is that it does you justice."
And it really did do Harley justice, although, as he had suggested, it was written largely to advertise the forthcoming work. It spoke nicely of Harley's previous efforts, and judiciously, as it seemed to me. He had not got to the top of the ladder yet, but he was getting there by a slow, steady development, and largely because he was a man with a fixed idea as to what literature ought to be.
"Mr. Harley has seen clearly from the outset what it was that he wished to accomplish and how to accomplish it," the writer observed. "He has swerved neither to the right nor to the left, but has progressed undeviatingly along the lines he has mapped out for himself, and keeping constantly in mind the principles which seemed to him at the beginning of his career to be right. It has been this persistent and consistent adherence to principle that has gained for Mr. Harley his hearing, and which is constantly rendering more certain and permanent his position in the world literary. Others may be led hither and yon by the fads and follies of the scatter-brained, but Realism will ever have one steadfast champion in Stuart Harley."
"Read that," I said, tossing the journal across the table.
He read it, and blushed to the roots of his ears.
"This is no time to desert the flag, Harley," said I, as he read. "Stick to your colors, and let her stick to hers. You'd better be careful how you force your heroine."
"Ha, ha!" he laughed. "I should think so, and for more reasons than one. I never really intended to do horrible things with her, my boy. Trust me, if I do lead her, to lead her gently. My persuasion will be suggestive rather than mandatory."
"And that hero--from the Brooklyn dry-goods shop?" I asked, with a smile.
"I'd like to see him so much as--tell her the price of anything," cried Harley. "A man like that has no business to live in the same hemisphere with a woman like Marguerite Andrews. When I threatened her with him I was conversing through a large and elegant though wholly invisible hat."
I breathed more freely. She was still sacred and safe in his hands. Shortly after, dinner over, we left the table, and went to the theatre, where we saw what the programme called the "latest London realistic success," in which three of the four acts of an intensely exciting melodrama depended upon a woman's not seeing a large navy revolver, which lay on the table directly before her eyes in the first. The play was full of blood and replete with thunder, and we truly enjoyed it, only Harley would not talk much between the acts. He was unusually moody. After the play was over his tongue loosened, however, and we went to the Players for a supper, and there he burst forth into speech.
"If Marguerite Andrews had been the heroine of that play she'd have seen that gun, and the audience would have had to go home inside of ten minutes," he said. Later on he burst out with, "If my Miss Andrews had been the heroine of that play, the man who falls over the precipice in the second act would have been alive at this moment." And finally he demanded: "Do you suppose a heroine like Marguerite Andrews would have overlooked the comma on the postal card that woman read in the third act, and so made the fourth act possible? Not she. She's a woman with a mind. And yet they call that the latest London realistic success! Realistic! These Londoners do not seem to understand their own language. If that play was realism, what sort of a nightmare do you suppose a romantic drama would be?"
"Well, maybe London women in real life haven't any minds," I said, growing rather weary of the subject. I admired Miss Andrews myself, but there were other things I could talk about--"like lemonade and elephants," as the small boy said. "Let it go at that. It was an interesting play, and that's all plays ought to be. Realism in plays is not to be encouraged. A man goes to the theatre to be amused and entertained, not to be reminded of home discomforts."
Stuart looked at me reproachfully, ordered a fresh cigar, and suggested turning in for the night. I walked home with him and tried to get him interested in a farce I was at work on, but it was of no use. He had become a monomaniac, and his monomania was his rebellious heroine. Finally I blurted out:
"Well, for Heaven's sake, Stuart, get the woman caged, will you? For, candidly, I'd like to talk about something else, and until Marguerite Andrews is disposed of I don't believe you'll be able to."
"I'll have half the work done by this time to-morrow night," said he. "I've got ten thousand words of it in my mind now."
"I'll bet you there are only two words down in your mind," said I.
"What are they?" he asked.
"Marguerite and Andrews," said I.
Stuart laughed. "They're the only ones I'm sure of," said he. And then we parted.
But he was right about what he would have accomplished by that time the next night; for before sundown he had half the story written, and, what is more, the chapters had come as easily as any writing he ever did. For docility, Marguerite was a perfect wonder. Not only did she follow out his wishes; she often anticipated them, and in certain parts gave him a lead in a new direction, which, Stuart said, gave the story a hundred per cent. more character.
In short, Marguerite Andrews was keeping her promise to me nobly. The only thing I regretted about it, now that all seemed plain sailing, was its effect on Stuart. Her amiability was proving a great attraction to his susceptible soul, and I was beginning to fear that Stuart was slowly but surely falling in love with his rebellious heroine, which would never do, unless she were really real, on which point I was most uncertain.
"It would be a terrible thing," said I confidentially to myself, "if Stuart Harley were to fall in love with a creation of his own realism."