THE STORY OF A PLAY
W. D. HOWELLS
AUTHOR OF "THE LANDLORD AT LION'S HEAD" "AN OPEN-EYED CONSPIRACY" ETC.
NEW YORK AND LONDON
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
W. D. HOWELLS'S WORKS.
IN CLOTH BINDING.
Copyright, 1898, BY W. D. HOWELLS.
Electrotyped by J. A. Howells & Co., Jefferson, Ohio.
THE STORY OF A PLAY.
The young actor who thought he saw his part in Maxwell's play had so far made his way upward on the Pacific Coast that he felt justified in taking the road with a combination of his own. He met the author at a dinner of the Papyrus Club in Boston, where they were introduced with a facile flourish of praise from the journalist who brought them together, as the very men who were looking for each other, and who ought to be able to give the American public a real American drama. The actor, who believed he had an ideal of this drama, professed an immediate interest in the kind of thing Maxwell told him he was trying to do, and asked him to come the next day, if he did not mind its being Sunday, and talk the play over with him.
He was at breakfast when Maxwell came, at about the hour people were getting home from church, and he asked the author to join him. But Maxwell had already breakfasted, and he hid his impatience of the actor's politeness as well as he could, and began at the first moment possible: "The idea of my play is biblical; we're still a very biblical people." He had thought of the fact in seeing so many worshippers swarming out of the churches.
"That is true," said the actor.
"It's the old idea of the wages of sin. I should like to call it that."
"The name has been used, hasn't it?"
"I shouldn't mind; for I want to get a new effect from the old notion, and it would be all the stronger from familiar association with the name. I want to show that the wages of sin is more sinning, which is the very body of death."
"Well, I take a successful man at the acme of his success, and study him in a succession of scenes that bring out the fact of his prosperity in a way to strike the imagination of the audience, even the groundlings; and, of course, I have to deal with success of the most appreciable sort—a material success that is gross and palpable. I have to use a large canvas, as big as Shakespeare's, in fact, and I put in a great many figures."
"That's right," said the actor. "You want to keep the stage full, with people coming and going."
"There's a lot of coming and going, and a lot of incidents, to keep the spectator interested, and on the lookout for what's to happen next. The whole of the first act is working up to something that I've wanted to see put on the stage for a good while, or ever since I've thought of writing for the stage, and that is a large dinner, one of the public kind."
"Capital!" said the actor.
"I've seen a good deal of that sort of thing as a reporter; you know they put us at a table off to one side, and we see the whole thing, a great deal better than the diners themselves do. It's a banquet, given by a certain number of my man's friends, in honor of his fiftieth birthday, and you see the men gathering in the hotel parlor—well, you can imagine it in almost any hotel—and Haxard is in the foreground. Haxard is the hero's name, you know."
"It's a good name," the actor mused aloud. "It has a strong sound."
"Do you like it? Well, Haxard," Maxwell continued, "is there in the foreground, from the first moment the curtain rises, receiving his friends, and shaking hands right and left, and joking and laughing with everybody—a very small joke makes a very large laugh on occasions like that, and I shall try to give some notion of the comparative size of the joke and the laugh—and receiving congratulations, that give a notion of what the dinner is for, and the kind of man he is, and how universally respected and all that, till everybody has come; and then the doors between the parlor and the dining-room are rolled back, and every man goes out with his own wife, or his sister, or his cousin, or his aunt, if he hasn't got a wife; I saw them do that once, at a big commercial dinner I reported."
"Ah, I was afraid it was to be exclusively a man's dinner!" the actor interrupted.
"Oh, no," Maxwell answered, with a shade of vexation. "That wouldn't do. You couldn't have a scene, or, at least, not a whole act, without women. Of course I understand that. Even if you could keep the attention of the audience without them, through the importance of the intrigue, still you would have to have them for the sake of the stage-picture. The drama is literature that makes a double appeal; it appeals to the sense as well as the intellect, and the stage is half the time merely a picture-frame. I had to think that out pretty early."
The actor nodded. "You couldn't too soon."
"It wouldn't do to have nothing but a crowd of black coats and white shirt-fronts on the stage through a whole act. You want color, and a lot of it, and you can only get it, in our day, with the women's costumes. Besides, they give movement and life. After the dinner begins they're supposed to sparkle all through. I've imagined the table set down the depth of the stage, with Haxard and the nominal host at the head, fronting the audience, and the people talking back and forth on each side, and I let the ladies do most of the talking, of course. I mean to have the dinner served through all the courses, and the waiters coming and going; the events will have to be hurried, and the eating merely sketched, at times; but I should keep the thing in pretty perfect form, till it came to the speaking. I shall have to cut that a good deal, but I think I can give a pretty fair notion of how they butter the object of their hospitality on such occasions; I've seen it and heard it done often enough. I think, perhaps, I shall have the dinner an act by itself. There are only four acts in the play now, and I'll have to make five. I want to give Haxard's speech as fully as possible, for that's what I study the man in, and make my confidences to the audience about him. I shall make him butter himself, but all with the utmost humility, and brag of everything that he disclaims the merit of."
The actor rose and reached across the table for the sugar. "That's a capital notion. That's new. That would make a hit—the speech would."
"Do you think so?" returned the author. "I thought so. I believe that in the hands of a good actor the speech could be made tremendously telling. I wouldn't have a word to give away his character, his nature, except the words of his own mouth, but I would have them do it so effectually that when he gets through the audience will be fairly 'onto him,' don't you know."
"Magnificent!" said the actor, pouring himself some more cocoa.
Maxwell continued: "In the third act—for I see that I shall have to make it the third now—the scene will be in Haxard's library, after he gets home from the complimentary dinner, at midnight, and he finds a man waiting for him there—a man that the butler tells him has called several times, and was so anxious to see him that Mrs. Haxard has given orders to let him wait. Oh, I ought to go back a little, and explain—"
"Yes, do!" The actor stirred his cocoa with mounting interest. "Yes, don't leave anything out."
"I merely meant to say that in the talk in the scene, or the act, before the dinner—I shall have two acts, but with no wait between them; just let down the curtain and raise it again—it will come out that Haxard is not a Bostonian by birth, but has come here since the war from the Southwest, where he went, from Maine, to grow up with the country, and is understood to have been a sort of quiescent Union man there; it's thought to be rather a fine thing the way he's taken on Boston, and shown so much local patriotism and public spirit and philanthropy, in the way he's brought himself forward here. People don't know a great deal about his past, but it's understood to have been very creditable. I shall have to recast that part a little, and lengthen the delay before he comes on, and let the guests, or the hosts—for they're giving him the dinner—have time to talk about him, and free their minds in honor of him behind his back, before they begin to his face."
"Never bring your principal character on at once," the actor interjected.
"No," Maxwell consented. "I see that wouldn't have done." He went on: "Well, as soon as Haxard turns up the light in his library, the man rises from the lounge where he has been sitting, and Haxard sees who it is. He sees that it is a man whom he used to be in partnership with in Texas, where they were engaged in some very shady transactions. They get caught in one of them—I haven't decided yet just what sort of transaction it was, and I shall have to look that point up; I'll get some law-student to help me—and Haxard, who wasn't Haxard then, pulls out and leaves his partner to suffer the penalty. Haxard comes North, and after trying it in various places, he settles here, and marries, and starts in business and prospers on, while the other fellow takes their joint punishment in the penitentiary. By the way, it just occurs to me! I think I'll have it that Haxard has killed a man, a man whom he has injured; he doesn't mean to kill him, but he has to; and this fellow is knowing to the homicide, but has been prevented from getting onto Haxard's trail by the consequences of his own misdemeanors; that will probably be the best way out. Of course it all has to transpire, all these facts, in the course of the dialogue which the two men have with each other in Haxard's library, after a good deal of fighting away from the inevitable identification on Haxard's part. After the first few preliminary words with the butler at the door before he goes in to find the other man—his name is Greenshaw—"
"That's a good name, too," said the actor.
"Yes, isn't it? It has a sort of probable sound, and yet it's a made-up name. Well, I was going to say—"
"And I'm glad you have it a homicide that Haxard is guilty of, instead of a business crime of some sort. That sort of crime never tells with an audience," the actor observed.
"No," said Maxwell. "Homicide is decidedly better. It's more melodramatic, and I don't like that, but it will be more appreciable, as a real sin, to most of the audience; we steal and cheat so much, and we kill comparatively so little in the North. Well, I was going to say that I shall have this whole act to consist entirely of the passage between the two men. I shall let it begin with a kind of shiver creeping over the spectator, when he recognizes the relation between them, and I hope I shall be able to make it end with a shudder, for Haxard must see from the first moment, and he must let the audience see at last, that the only way for him to save himself from his old crime is to commit a new one. He must kill the man who saw him kill a man."
"That's good," the actor thoughtfully murmured, as if tasting a pleasant morsel to try its flavor. "Excellent."
Maxwell laughed for pleasure, and went on: "He arranges to meet the man again at a certain time and place, and that is the last of Greenshaw. He leaves the house alone; and the body of an unknown man is found floating up and down with the tide under the Long Bridge. There are no marks of violence; he must have fallen off the bridge in the dark, and been drowned; it could very easily happen. Well, then comes the most difficult part of the whole thing; I have got to connect the casualty with Haxard in the most unmistakable way, unmistakable to the audience, that is; and I have got to have it brought home to him in a supreme moment of his life. I don't want to have him feel remorse for it; that isn't the modern theory of the criminal; but I do want him to be anxious to hide his connection with it, and to escape the consequences. I don't know but I shall try another dinner-scene, though I am afraid it would be a risk."
The actor said, "I don't know. It might be the very thing. The audience likes a recurrence to a distinctive feature. It's like going back to an effective strain in music."
"Yes," Maxwell resumed, "slightly varied. I might have a private dinner this time; perhaps a dinner that Haxard himself is giving. Towards the end the talk might turn on the case of the unknown man, and the guests might discuss it philosophically together; Haxard would combat the notion of a murder, and even of a suicide; he would contend for an accident, pure and simple. All the fellows would take a turn at the theory, but the summing-up opinion I shall leave to a legal mind, perhaps the man who had made the great complimentary speech at the public dinner to Haxard in the first act. I should have him warm to his work, and lay it down to Haxard in good round fashion, against his theory of accident. He could prove to the satisfaction of everybody that the man who was last seen with the drowned man—or was supposed to have been seen with him—according to some very sketchy evidence at the inquest, which never amounted to anything—was the man who pushed him off the bridge. He could gradually work up his case, and end the argument with a semi-jocular, semi-serious appeal to Haxard himself, like, 'Why, suppose it was your own case,' and so forth, and so forth, and so forth, and then suddenly stop at something he notices queer in Haxard, who is trying to get to his feet. The rest applaud: 'That's right! Haxard has the floor,' and so on, and then Haxard slips back into his chair, and his head falls forward—— I don't like death-scenes on the stage. They're usually failures. But if this was managed simply, I think it would be effective."
The actor left the table and began to walk about the room. "I shall want that play. I can see my part in Haxard. I know just how I could make up for him. And the play is so native, so American, that it will go like wildfire."
The author heard these words with a swelling heart. He did not speak, for he could not. He sat still, watching the actor as he paced to and fro, histrionically rapt in his representation of an actor who had just taken a piece from a young dramatist. "If you can realize that part as you've sketched it to me," he said, finally, "I will play it exclusively, as Jefferson does Rip Van Winkle. There are immense capabilities in the piece. Yes, sir; that thing will run for years!"
"Of course," Maxwell found voice to say, "there is one great defect in it, from the conventional point of view." The actor stopped and looked at him. "There's no love-business."
"We must have that. But you can easily bring it in."
"By the head and shoulders, yes. But I hate love-making on the stage, almost as much as I do dying. I never see a pair of lovers beyond the footlights without wanting to kill them." The actor remained looking at him over his folded arms, and Maxwell continued, with something like a personal rancor against love-making, while he gave a little, bitter laugh, "I might have it somehow that Haxard had killed a pair of stage-lovers, and this was what Greenshaw had seen him do. But that would have been justifiable homicide."
The actor's gaze darkened into a frowning stare, as if he did not quite make out this kind of fooling. "All the world loves a lover," he said, tentatively.
"I don't believe it does," said Maxwell, "except as it's stupid, and loves anything that makes it laugh. It loves a comic lover, and in the same way it loves a droll drunkard or an amusing madman."
"We shall have to have some sort of love-business," the actor returned, with an effect of leaving the right interpretation of Maxwell's peculiar humor for some other time. "The public wants it. No play would go without it. You can have it subordinate if you like, but you have got to have it. How old did you say Haxard was?"
"About fifty. Too old for a lover, unless you could make him in love with some one else's wife, as he has one of his own already. But that wouldn't do."
The actor looked as if he did not know why it would not do, but he said, "He could have a daughter."
"Yes, and his daughter could have a lover. I had thought of something of that kind, and of bringing in their ill-fated passion as an element of the tragedy. We could have his disgrace break their hearts, and kill two birds with one stone, and avenge a long-suffering race of playwrights upon stage-lovers."
The actor laughed like a man of small humor, mellowly, but hollowly. "No, no! We must have the love-affair end happily. You can manage that somehow. Have you got the play roughed out at all?"
"Not in manuscript. I've only got it roughed out in my mind."
"Well, I want that play. That's settled. I can't do anything with it this winter, but I should like to open with it next fall. Do you think you could have it ready by the end of July?"
They sat down and began to talk times and terms. They parted with a perfect understanding, and Maxwell was almost as much deceived as the actor himself. He went home full of gay hopes to begin work on the play at once, and to realize the character of Haxard with the personality of the actor in his eye. He heard nothing from him till the following spring, when the actor wrote with all the ardor of their parting moment, to say that he was coming East for the summer, and meant to settle down in the region of Boston somewhere, so that they could meet constantly and make the play what they both wanted. He said nothing to account for his long silence, and he seemed so little aware of it that Maxwell might very well have taken it for a simple fidelity to the understanding between them, too unconscious to protest itself. He answered discreetly, and said that he expected to pass the summer on the coast somewhere, but was not yet quite certain where he should be; that he had not forgotten their interview, and should still be glad to let him have the play if he fancied it. Between this time and the time when the actor appeared in person, he sent Maxwell several short notes, and two or three telegrams, sufficiently relevant but not very necessary, and when his engagement ended in the West, a fortnight after Maxwell was married, he telegraphed again and then came through without a stop from Denver, where the combination broke up, to Manchester-by-the-Sea. He joined the little colony of actors which summers there, and began to play tennis and golf, and to fish and to sail, almost without a moment's delay. He was not very fond of any of these things, and in fact he was fond only of one thing in the world, which was the stage; but he had a theory that they were recreation, and that if he went in for them he was building himself up for the season, which began early in September; he had appropriate costumes for all of them, and no one dressed the part more perfectly in tennis or golf or sailing or fishing. He believed that he ought to read up in the summer, too, and he had the very best of the recent books, in fiction and criticism, and the new drama. He had all of the translations of Ibsen, and several of Maeterlinck's plays in French; he read a good deal in his books, and he lent them about in the hotel even more. Among the ladies there he had the repute of a very modern intellect, and of a person you would never take for an actor, from his tastes. What his tastes would have been if you had taken him for an actor, they could not have said, perhaps, but probably something vicious, and he had not a vice. He did not smoke, and he did not so much as drink tea or coffee; he had cocoa for breakfast, and at lunch a glass of milk, with water at dinner. He had a tint like the rose, and when he smiled or laughed, which was often, from a constitutional amiability and a perfect digestion, his teeth showed white and regular, and an innocent dimple punctured either cheek. His name was Godolphin, for he had instinctively felt that in choosing a name he might as well take a handsome one while he was about it, and that if he became Godolphin there was no reason why he should not become Launcelot, too. He did not put on these splendors from any foible, but from a professional sense of their value in the bills; and he was not personally characterized by them. As Launcelot Godolphin he was simpler than he would have been with a simpler name, and it was his ideal to be modest in everything that personally belonged to him. He studied an unprofessional walk, and a very colloquial tone in speaking. He was of course clean-shaven, but during the summer he let his mustache grow, though he was aware that he looked better without it. He was tall, and he carried himself with the vigor of his perfect health; but on the stage he looked less than his real size, like a perfectly proportioned edifice.
Godolphin wanted the Maxwells to come to his hotel in Manchester, but there were several reasons for their not doing this; the one Maxwell alleged was that they could not afford it. They had settled for the summer, when they got home after their brief wedding journey, at a much cheaper house in Magnolia, and the actor and the author were then only three miles apart, which Mrs. Maxwell thought was quite near enough. "As it is," she said, "I'm only afraid he'll be with you every moment with his suggestions, and won't let you have any chance to work out your own conceptions."
Godolphin had not failed to notify the public through the press that Mr. Brice Maxwell had severed his connection with the Boston Abstract, for the purpose of devoting himself to a new play for Mr. Launcelot Godolphin, and he thought it would have been an effective touch if it could have been truthfully reported that Mr. Godolphin and Mr. Maxwell might be seen almost any day swinging over the roads together in the neighborhood of Manchester, blind and deaf to all the passing, in their discussion of the play, which they might almost be said to be collaborating. But failing Maxwell's consent to anything of the sort, Godolphin did the swinging over the roads himself, so far as the roads lay between Manchester and Magnolia. He began by coming in the forenoon, when he broke Maxwell up fearfully, but he was retarded by a waning of his own ideal in the matter, and finally got to arriving at that hour in the afternoon when Maxwell could be found revising his morning's work, or lying at his wife's feet on the rocks, and now and then irrelevantly bringing up a knotty point in the character or action for her criticism. For these excursions Godolphin had equipped himself with a gray corduroy sack and knickerbockers, and a stick which he cut from the alder thicket; he wore russet shoes of ample tread, and very thick-ribbed stockings, which became his stalwart calves.
Nothing could be handsomer than the whole effect he made in this costume, and his honest face was a pleasure to look at, though its intelligence was of a kind so wholly different from the intelligence of Maxwell's face, that Mrs. Maxwell always had a struggle with herself before she could allow that it was intelligence at all. He was very polite to her; he always brought her flowers, and he opened doors, and put down windows, and leaped to his feet for every imaginable occasion of hers, in a way that Maxwell never did, and somehow a way that the polite men of her world did not, either. She had to school herself to believe him a gentleman, and she would not accept a certain vivid cleanliness he had as at all aristocratic; she said it was too fresh, and he ought to have carried a warning placard of "Paint." She found that Godolphin had one great and constant merit: he believed in Maxwell's genius as devoutly as she did herself. This did not prevent him from coming every day with proposals for changes in the play, more or less structural. At one time he wished the action laid in some other country and epoch, so as to bring in more costume and give the carpenter something to do; he feared that the severity of the mise en scene would ruin the piece. At another time he wanted lines taken out of the speeches of the inferior characters and put into his own, to fatten the part, as he explained. At other times he wished to have paraphrases of passages that he had brought down the house with in other plays written into this; or scenes transposed, so that he would make a more effective entrance here or there. There was no end to his inventions for spoiling the simplicity and truthfulness of Maxwell's piece, which he yet respected for the virtues in it, and hoped the greatest things from.
One afternoon he arrived with a scheme for a very up-to-date scene in the last act; have it a supper instead of a dinner, and then have a skirt-dancer introduced, as society people had been having Carmencita. "When Haxard dies, you know," he explained, "it would be tremendously effective to have the woman catch him in her arms, and she would be a splendid piece of color in the picture, with Haxard's head lying in her lap, as the curtain comes down with a run."
At this suggestion Mrs. Maxwell was too indignant to speak; her husband merely said, with his cold smile, "Yes; but I don't see what it would have to do with the rest of the play."
"You could have it," said Godolphin, "that he was married to a Mexican during his Texas episode, and this girl was their daughter." Maxwell still smiled, and Godolphin deferred to his wife: "But perhaps Mrs. Maxwell would object to the skirt-dance?"
"Oh, no," she answered, ironically, "I shouldn't mind having it, with Carmencita in society for a precedent. But," she added, "the incident seems so out of keeping with the action and the temperament of the play, and everything. If I were to see such a thing on the stage, merely as an impartial spectator, I should feel insulted."
Godolphin flushed. "I don't see where the insult would come in. You mightn't like it, but it would be like anything else in a play that you were not personally concerned in."
"No, excuse me, Mr. Godolphin. I think the audience is as much concerned in the play as the actor or the author, and if either of these fails in the ideal, or does a bit of clap-trap when they have wrought the audience up in expectation of something noble, then they insult the audience—or all the better part of it."
"The better part of the audience never fills the house," said the actor.
"Very well. I hope my husband will never write for the worse part."
"And I hope I shall never play to it," Godolphin returned, and he looked hurt at the insinuation of her words.
"It isn't a question of all that," Maxwell interposed, with a worried glance at his wife. "Mr. Godolphin has merely suggested something that can be taken into the general account; we needn't decide it now. By the way," he said to the actor, "have you thought over that point about changing Haxard's crime, or the quality of it? I think it had better not be an intentional murder; that would kill the audience's sympathy with him from the start, don't you think? We had better have it what they call a rencontre down there, where two gentlemen propose to kill each other on sight. Greenshaw's hold on him would be that he was the only witness of the fight, and that he could testify to a wilful murder if he chose. Haxard's real crime must be the killing of Greenshaw."
"Yes," said Godolphin, and he entered into the discussion of the effect this point would have with the play. Mrs. Maxwell was too much vexed to forgive him for making the suggestion which he had already dropped, and she left the room for fear she should not be able to govern herself at the sight of her husband condescending to temporize with him. She thought that Maxwell's willingness to temporize, even when it involved no insincerity, was a defect in his character; she had always thought that, and it was one of the things that she meant to guard him against with all the strength of her zeal for his better self. When Godolphin was gone at last, she lost no time in coming back to Maxwell, where he sat with the manuscript of his play before him, apparently lost in some tangle of it. She told him abruptly that she did not understand how, if he respected himself, if he respected his own genius, he could consider such an idea as Godolphin's skirt-dance for an instant.
"Did I consider it?" he asked.
"You made him think so."
"Well," returned Maxwell, and at her reproachful look he added, "Godolphin never thought I was considering it. He has too much sense, and he would be astonished and disgusted if I took him in earnest and did what he wanted. A lot of actors get round him over there, and they fill him up with all sorts of stage notions, and what he wants of me is that I shall empty him of them and yet not put him to shame about them. But if you keep on in that way you took with him he'll throw me over."
"Well, let him!" cried Mrs. Maxwell. "There are twenty other actors who would jump at the chance to get such a play."
"Don't you believe it, my dear. Actors don't jump at plays, and Godolphin is the one man for me. He's young, and has the friendly regard from the public that a young artist has, and yet he isn't identified with any part in particular, and he will throw all his force into creating this, as he calls it."
"I can't bear to have him use that word, Brice. You created it."
"The word doesn't matter. It's merely a technical phrase. I shouldn't know where to turn if he gave it up."
"Pshaw! You could go to a manager."
"Thank you; I prefer an actor. Now, Louise, you must not be so abrupt with Godolphin when he comes out with those things."
"I can't help it, dearest. They are insulting to you, and insulting to common-sense. It's a kindness to let him know how they would strike the public. I don't pretend to be more than the average public."
"He doesn't feel it a kindness the way you put it."
"Then you don't like me to be sincere with him! Perhaps you don't like me to be sincere with you about your play?"
"Be as sincere with me as you like. But this—this is a matter of business, and I'd rather you wouldn't."
"Rather I wouldn't say anything at all?" demanded Louise.
"I didn't say so, and you know I didn't; but if you can't get on without ruffling Godolphin, why, perhaps—"
"Very well, then, I'll leave the room the next time he comes. That will be perfectly simple; and it will be perfectly simple to do as most other people would—not concern myself with the play in any way from this out. I dare say you would prefer that, too, though I didn't quite expect it to come to that before our honeymoon was out."
"Oh, now, my dear!"
"You know it's so. But I can do it! I might have expected it from a man who was so perfectly self-centred and absorbed. But I was such a fool—" Her tears came and her words stopped.
Maxwell leaned forward with his thin face between his hands. This made him miserable, personally, but he was not so miserable but his artistic consciousness could take note of the situation as a very good one, and one that might be used effectively on the stage. He analyzed it perfectly in that unhappy moment. She was jealous of his work, which she had tolerated only while she could share it, and if she could not share it, while some other was suffered to do so, it would be cruel for her. But he knew that he could not offer any open concession now without making bad worse, and he must wait till the right time for it came. He had so far divined her, without formulating her, that he knew she would be humiliated by anything immediate or explicit, but would later accept a tacit repentance from him; and he instinctively forebore.
For the present in her resentment of his willingness to abase his genius before Godolphin, or even to hold it in abeyance, Mrs. Maxwell would not walk to supper with her husband in the usual way, touching his shoulder with hers from time to time, and making herself seem a little lower in stature by taking the downward slope of the path leading from their cottage to the hotel. But the necessity of appearing before the people at their table on as perfect terms with him as ever had the effect that conduct often has on feeling, and she took his arm in going back to their cottage, and leaned tenderly upon him.
Their cottage was one of the farthest from the hotel, and the smallest and quietest. In fact there was yet no one in it but themselves, and they dwelt there in an image of home, with the sole use of the veranda and the parlor, where Maxwell had his manuscripts spread about on the table as if he owned the place. A chambermaid came over from the hotel in the morning to put the cottage in order, and then they could be quite alone there for the rest of the day.
"Shall I light the lamp for you, Brice?" his wife asked, as they mounted the veranda steps.
"No," he said, "let us sit out here," and they took the arm-chairs that stood on the porch, and swung to and fro in silence for a little while. The sea came and went among the rocks below, marking its course in the deepening twilight with a white rope of foam, and raving huskily to itself, with now and then the long plunge of some heavier surge against the bowlders, and a hoarse shout. The Portland boat swam by in the offing, a glitter of irregular lights, and the lamps on the different points of the Cape blinked as they revolved in their towers. "This is the kind of thing you can get only in a novel," said Maxwell, musingly. "You couldn't possibly give the feeling of it in a play."
"Couldn't you give the feeling of the people looking at it?" suggested his wife, and she put out her hand to lay it on his.
"Yes, you could do that," he assented, with pleasure in her notion; "and that would be better. I suppose that is what would be aimed at in a description of the scene, which would be tiresome if it didn't give the feeling of the spectator."
"And Godolphin would say that if you let the carpenter have something to do he would give the scene itself, and you could have the effect of it at first hand."
Maxwell laughed. "I wonder how much they believe in those contrivances of the carpenter themselves. They have really so little to do with the dramatic intention; but they have been multiplied so since the stage began to make the plays that the actors are always wanting them in. I believe the time will come when the dramatist will avoid the occasion or the pretext for them."
"That will be after Godolphin's time," said Mrs. Maxwell.
"Well, I don't know," returned Maxwell. "If Godolphin should happen to imagine doing without them he would go all lengths."
"Or if you imagined it and let him suppose he had. He never imagines anything of himself."
"No, he doesn't. And yet how perfectly he grasps the notion of the thing when it is done! It is very different from literature, acting is. And yet literature is only the representation of life."
"Well, acting is the representation of life at second-hand, then, and it ought to be willing to subordinate itself. What I can't bear in Godolphin is his setting himself up to be your artistic equal. He is no more an artist than the canvas is that the artist paints a picture on."
Maxwell laughed. "Don't tell him so; he won't like it."
"I will tell him so some day, whether he likes it or not."
"No, you mustn't; for it isn't true. He's just as much an artist in his way as I am in mine, and, so far as the public is concerned, he has given more proofs."
"Oh, his public!"
"It won't do to despise any public, even the theatre-going public." Maxwell added the last words with a faint sigh.
"It's always second-rate," said his wife, passionately. "Third-rate, fourth-rate! Godolphin was quite right about that. I wish you were writing a novel, Brice, instead of a play. Then you would be really addressing refined people."
"It kills me to have you say that, Louise."
"Well, I won't. But don't you see, then, that you must stand up for art all the more unflinchingly if you intend to write plays that will refine the theatre-going public, or create a new one? That is why I can't endure to have you even seem to give way to Godolphin."
"You must stand it so long as I only seem to do it. He's far more manageable than I expected him to be. It's quite pathetic how docile he is, how perfectly ductile! But it won't do to browbeat him when he comes over here a little out of shape. He's a curious creature," Maxwell went on with a relish in Godolphin, as material, which his wife suffered with difficulty. "I wonder if he could ever be got into a play. If he could he would like nothing better than to play himself, and he would do it to perfection; only it would be a comic part, and Godolphin's mind is for the serious drama." Maxwell laughed. "All his artistic instincts are in solution, and it needs something like a chemical agent to precipitate them, or to give them any positive character. He's like a woman!"
"Thank you," said Mrs. Maxwell.
"Oh, I mean all sorts of good things by that. He has the sensitiveness of a woman."
"Is that a good thing? Then I suppose he was so piqued by what I said about his skirt-dance that he will renounce you."
"Oh, I don't believe he will. I managed to smooth him up after you went out."
Mrs. Maxwell sighed. "Yes, you are very patient, and if you are patient, you are good. You are better than I am."
"I don't see the sequence exactly," said Maxwell.
They were both silent, and she seemed to have followed his devious thought in the same muse, for when he spoke again she did not reproach him with an equal inconsequence. "I don't know whether I could write a novel, and, besides, I think the drama is the supreme literary form. It stands on its own feet. It doesn't have to be pushed along, or pulled along, as the novel does."
"Yes, of course, it's grand. That's the reason I can't bear to have you do anything unworthy of it."
"I know, Louise," he said, tenderly, and then again they did not speak for a little while.
He emerged from their silence, at a point apparently very remote, with a sigh. "If I could only know just what the feelings of a murderer really were for five minutes, I could out-Shakespeare Shakespeare in that play. But I shall have to trust to the fall of man, and the general depravity of human nature, I suppose. After all, there's the potentiality of every kind of man in every man. If you've known what it is to hate, you've known what it is to kill."
"I felt once as if I had killed you," she said, and then he knew that she was thinking of a phase of their love which had a perpetual fascination for them both. "But I never hated you."
"No; I did the hating," he returned, lightly.
"Ah, don't say so, dear," she entreated, half in earnest.
"Well, have it all to yourself, then," he said; and he rose and went indoors, and lighted the lamp, and she saw him get out the manuscript of his play, while she sat still, recalling the time when she had tried to dismiss him from her thoughts upon a theory of his unworthiness. He had not yet spoken of love to her then, but she felt as if she had refused to listen to him, and her remorse kept his image before her in an attitude of pathetic entreaty for at least a hearing. She knew that she had given him reason, if she had not given him courage, to believe that she cared for him; but he was too proud to renew the tacit approaches from which she had so abruptly retreated, and she had to invite them from him.
When she began to do this with the arts so imperceptible to the single-mindedness of a man, she was not yet sure whether she could endure to live with him or not; she was merely sure that she could not live without him, or, to be more specific, without his genius, which she believed no one else appreciated as she did. She believed that she understood his character better than any one else, and would know how to supplement it with her own. She had no ambition herself, but she could lend him a more telescopic vision in his, and keep his aims high, if his self-concentration ever made him short-sighted. He would write plays because he could not help it, but she would inspire him to write them with the lofty sense of duty she would have felt in writing them if she had his gifts.
She was as happy in their engagement and as unhappy as girls usually are during their courtship. It is the convention to regard those days as very joyous, but probably no woman who was honest about the fact would say that they were so from her own experience. Louise found them full of excitement and an interest from which she relaxed at times with such a sense of having strained forward to their end that she had a cold reluctance from Maxwell, and though she never dreamed of giving him up again, she sometimes wished she had never seen him. She was eager to have it all over, and be married and out of the way, for one thing because she knew that Maxwell could never be assimilated to her circumstance, and she should have no rest till she was assimilated to his. When it came to the dinners and lunches, which the Hilary kinship and friendship made in honor of her engagement, she found that Maxwell actually thought she could make excuse of his work to go without him, and she had to be painfully explicit before she could persuade him that this would not do at all. He was not timid about meeting her friends, as he might very well have been; but, in comparison with his work, he apparently held them of little moment, and at last he yielded to her wishes rather than her reasons. He made no pretence of liking those people, but he gave them no more offence than might have been expected. Among the Hilary cousins there were several clever women, who enjoyed the quality of Maxwell's somewhat cold, sarcastic humor, and there were several men who recognized his ability, though none of them liked him any better than he liked them. He had a way of regarding them all at first as of no interest, and then, if something kindled his imagination from them, of showing a sudden technical curiosity, which made the ladies, at least, feel as if he were dealing with them as so much material. They professed to think that it was only a question of time when they should all reappear in dramatic form, unless Louise should detect them in the manuscript before they were put upon the stage and forbid his using them. If it were to be done before marriage they were not sure that she would do it, or could do it, for it was plain to be seen that she was perfectly infatuated with him. The faults they found in him were those of manner mostly, and they perceived that these were such as passion might forgive to his other qualities. There were some who said that they envied her for being so much in love with him, but these were not many; and some did not find him good-looking, or see what could have taken her with him.
Maxwell showed himself ignorant of the observances in every way, and if Louise had not rather loved him the more for what he made her suffer because of them, she must certainly have given him up at times. He had never, to her thinking, known how to put a note properly on paper; his letters were perfectly fascinating, but they lacked a final charm in being often written on one side of half-sheets, and numbered in the upper right-hand corner, like printer's copy. She had to tell him that he must bring his mother to call upon her; and then he was so long doing it that Louise imagined a timidity in his mother which he was too proud to own, and made her own mother go with her to see Mrs. Maxwell in the house which she partly let out in lodgings on a very modest street. It really did not matter about any of those things though, and she and Maxwell's mother got on very well after the first plunge, though the country doctor's widow was distinctly a country person, with the narrow social horizons of a villager whose knowledge of the city was confined to the compass of her courageous ventures in it.
To her own mother Louise feigned to see nothing repulsive in the humility of these. She had been rather fastidiously worldly, she had been even aggressively worldly, in her preference for a luxurious and tasteful setting, and her mother now found it hard to bear her contented acceptance of the pervading commonness of things at Mrs. Maxwell's. Either her senses were holden by her fondness for Maxwell, or else she was trying to hoodwink her mother by an effect of indifference; but Mrs. Hilary herself was certainly not obtuse to that commonness. If she did not rub it into Louise, which would have done no good, she did rub it into Louise's father, though that could hardly have been said to do any good either. Her report of the whole affair made him writhe, but when she had made him writhe enough she began to admit some extenuating circumstances. If Mrs. Maxwell was a country person, she was not foolish. She did not chant, in a vain attempt to be genteel in her speech; she did not expand unduly under Mrs. Hilary's graciousness, and she did not resent it. In fact, the graciousness had been very skilfully managed, and Mrs. Maxwell had not been allowed to feel that there was any condescension to her. She got on with Louise very well; if Mrs. Maxwell had any overweening pride in her son, she kept it as wholly to herself as any overweening pride she might have had in her son's choice.
Mrs. Hilary did not like her daughter's choice, but she had at last reached such resignation concerning it as the friends of a hopeless invalid may feel when the worst comes. She had tried to stop the affair when there was some hope or some use in trying, and now she determined to make the best of it. The worst was that Maxwell was undoubtedly of different origin and breeding, and he would always, in society, subject Louise to a consciousness of his difference if he did nothing more. But when you had said this, you seemed to have said all there was to say against him. The more the Hilarys learned about the young fellow the more reason they had to respect him. His life, on its level, was blameless. Every one who knew him spoke well of him, and those who knew him best spoke enthusiastically; he had believers in his talent and in his character. In a society so barometrical as ours, even in a city where it was the least barometrical, the obstacles to the acceptance of Maxwell were mainly subjective. They were formed not so much of what people would say as of what Mrs. Hilary felt they had a right to say, and, in view of the necessities of the case, she found herself realizing that if they did not say anything to her it would be much as if they had not said anything at all. She dealt with the fact before her frankly, and in the duties which it laid upon her she began to like Maxwell before Hilary did. Not that Hilary disliked him, but there was something in the young fellow taking his daughter away from him, in that cool matter-of-fact way, as if it were quite in the course of nature that he should, instead of being abashed and overwhelmed by his good fortune, which left Hilary with a misgiving lest he might realize it less and less as time went on.
Hilary had no definite ambition for her in marriage, but his vague dreams for her were not of a young man who meant to leave off being a newspaper writer to become a writer of plays. He instinctively wished her to be of his own order of things; and it had pleased him when he heard from his wife's report that Louise had seen the folly of her fancy for the young journalist whom a series of accidents had involved with their lives, and had decided to give him up. When the girl decided again, more tacitly, that she could not give him up, Hilary submitted, as he would have submitted to anything she wished. To his simple idolatry of her she was too good for anything on earth, and if he were to lose her, he found that after all he had no great choice in the matter. As soon as her marriage appeared inevitable, he agreed with his wife that their daughter must never have any unhappiness of their making; and they let her reverse without a word the purpose of going to spend the winter abroad which they had formed at her wish when she renounced Maxwell.
All this was still recent in point of time, and though marriage had remanded it to an infinite distance apparently with the young people, it had not yet taken away the importance or the charm of the facts and the feelings that had seemed the whole of life before marriage. When Louise turned from her retrospect she went in through the window that opened on the veranda and stood beside her husband, where he sat with his manuscript before him, frowning at it in the lamplight that made her blink a little after the dark outside. She put her hand on his head, and carried it down his cheek over his mouth, so that he might kiss its palm.
"Going to work much longer, little man?" she asked, and she kissed the top of his head in her turn. It always amused her to find how smooth and soft his hair was. He flung his pen away and threw himself back in his chair. "Oh, it's that infernal love business!" he said.
She sat down and let her hands fall on her lap. "Why, what makes it so hard?"
"Oh, I don't know. But it seems as if I were fighting it, as the actors say, all the way. It doesn't go of itself at all. It's forced, from the beginning."
"Why do you have it in, then?"
"I have to have it in. It has to be in every picture of life, as it has to be in every life. Godolphin is perfectly right. I talked with him about leaving it out to-day, but I had to acknowledge that it wouldn't do. In fact, I was the first to suggest that there must be some sort of love business when I first talked the play over with him. But I wish there hadn't. It makes me sick every time I touch it. The confounded fools don't know what to do with their love."
"They might get married with it," Louise suggested.
"I don't believe they have sense enough to think of that," said her husband. "The curse of their origin is on them, I suppose. I tried to imagine them when I was only fit to imagine a man hating a woman with all his might."
Louise laughed out her secure delight. "If the public could only know why your lovers were such feeble folk it would make the fortune of the play."
Maxwell laughed, too. "Yes, fancy Pinney getting hold of a fact like that and working it up with all his native delicacy in the Sunday edition of the Events!"
Pinney was a reporter of Maxwell's acquaintance, who stood to Louise for all that was most terrible in journalistic enterprise. "Don't!" she shrieked.
Maxwell went on. "He would have both our portraits in, and your father's and mother's, and my mother's; and your house on Commonwealth Avenue, and our meek mansion on Pinckney Street. He would make it a work of art, Pinney would, and he would believe that we were all secretly gratified with it, no matter how we pretended to writhe under it." He laughed and laughed, and then suddenly he stopped and was very grave.
"I know what you're thinking of now," said his wife.
"Whether you couldn't use our affair in the play?"
"You're a witch! Yes, I was! I was thinking it wouldn't do."
"Stuff! It will do, and you must use it. Who would ever know it? And I shall not care how blackly you show me up. I deserve it. If I was the cause of your hating love so much that you failed with your lovers on the old lines, I certainly ought to be willing to be the means of your succeeding on lines that had never been tried before."
"Generous girl!" He bent over—he had not to bend far—and kissed her. Then he rose excitedly and began to walk the floor, with his hands in his pockets, and his head dropped forward. He broke into speech: "I could disguise it so that nobody would ever dream of it. I'll just take a hint from ourselves. How would it do to have had the girl actually reject him? It never came to that with us; and instead of his being a howling outside swell that was rather condescending to her, suppose I have him some sort of subordinate in her father's business? It doesn't matter much what; it's easy to arrange such a detail. She could be in love with him all the time, without even knowing it herself, or, at least, not knowing it when he offers himself; and she could always be vaguely hoping or expecting that he would come to time again."
"That's what I did," said his wife, "and you hadn't offered yourself either."
Maxwell stopped, with an air of discomfiture and disappointment. "You wouldn't like me to use that point, then?"
"What a simpleton! Of course I should! I shouldn't care if all the world knew it."
"Ah, well, we won't give it to Pinney, anyway; but I really think it could be done without involving our own facts. I should naturally work farther and farther away from them when the thing got to spinning. Just take a little color from them now and then. I might have him hating her all the way through, or, supposing he hated her, and yet doing all sorts of nice little things, and noble big things for her, till it came out about her father's crime, and then—" He stopped again with a certain air of distaste.
"That would be rather romantic, wouldn't it?" his wife asked.
"That was what I was thinking," he answered. "It would be confoundedly romantic."
"Well, I'll tell you," said Louise; "you could have them squabbling all the way through, and doing hateful things to one another."
"That would give it the cast of comedy."
"And that wouldn't do either."
"Not if it led up to the pathos and prettiness of their reconciliation in the end? Shakespeare mixes the comic and the tragic all through!"
"Oh yes, I know that—"
"And it would be very effective to leave the impression of their happiness with the audience, so that they might have strength to get on their rubbers and wraps after the tremendous ordeal of your Haxard death-scene."
"Godolphin wouldn't stand that. He wants the gloom of Haxard's death to remain in unrelieved inkiness at the end. He wants the people to go away thinking of Godolphin, and how well he did the last gasp. He wouldn't stand any love business there. He would rather not have any in the play."
"Very well, if you're going to be a slave to Godolphin—"
"I'm not going to be a slave to Godolphin, and if I can see my way to make the right use of such a passage at the close I'll do it even if it kills the play or Godolphin."
"Now you're shouting," said Louise. She liked to use a bit of slang when it was perfectly safe—as in very good company, or among those she loved; at other times she scrupulously shunned it.
"But I can do it somehow," Maxwell mused aloud. "Now I have the right idea, I can make it take any shape or color I want. It's magnificent!"
"And who thought of it?" she demanded.
"Who? Why, I thought of it myself."
"Oh, you little wretch!" she cried, in utter fondness, and she ran at him and drove him into a corner. "Now, say that again and I'll tickle you."
"No, no, no!" he laughed, and he fought away the pokes and thrusts she was aiming at him. "We both thought of it together. It was mind transference!"
She dropped her hands with an instant interest in the psychological phenomena. "Wasn't it strange? Or, no, it wasn't, either! If our lives are so united in everything, the wonder is that we don't think more things and say more things together. But now I want you to own, Brice, that I was the first to speak about your using our situation!"
"Yes, you were, and I was the first to think of it. But that's perfectly natural. You always speak of things before you think, and I always think of things before I speak."
"Well, I don't care," said Louise, by no means displeased with the formulation. "I shall always say it was perfectly miraculous. And I want you to give me credit for letting you have the idea after you had thought of it."
"Yes, there's nothing mean about you, Louise, as Pinney would say. By Jove, I'll bring Pinney in! I'll have Pinney interview Haxard concerning Greenshaw's disappearance."
"Very well, then, if you bring Pinney in, you will leave me out," said Louise. "I won't be in the same play with Pinney."
"Well, I won't bring Pinney in, then," said Maxwell. "I prefer you to Pinney—in a play. But I have got to have in an interviewer. It will be splendid on the stage, and I'll be the first to have him." He went and sat down at his table.
"You're not going to work any more to-night!" his wife protested.
"No, just jot down a note or two, to clinch that idea of ours in the right shape." He dashed off a few lines with pencil in his play at several points, and then he said: "There! I guess I shall get some bones into those two flabby idiots to-morrow. I see just how I can do it." He looked up and met his wife's adoring eyes.
"You're wonderful, Brice!" she said.
"Well, don't tell me so," he returned, "or it might spoil me. Now I wouldn't tell you how good you were, on any account."
"Oh yes, do, dearest!" she entreated, and a mist came into her eyes. "I don't think you praise me enough."
"How much ought I to praise you?"
"You ought to say that you think I'll never be a hinderance to you."
"Let me see," he said, and he pretended to reflect. "How would it do to say that if I ever come to anything worth while, it'll be because you made me?"
"Oh, Brice! But would it be true?" She dropped on her knees at his side.
"Well, I don't know. Let's hope it would," and with these words he laughed again and put his arms round her. Presently she felt his arm relax, and she knew that he had ceased to think about her and was thinking about his play again.
She pulled away, and "Well?" she asked.
He laughed at being found out so instantly. "That was a mighty good thing your father said when you went to tell him of our engagement."
"It was very good. But if you think I'm going to let you use that you're very much mistaken. No, Brice! Don't you touch papa. He wouldn't like it; he wouldn't understand it. Why, what a perfect cormorant you are!"
They laughed over his voracity, and he promised it should be held in check as to the point which he had thought for a moment might be worked so effectively into the play.
The next morning Louise said to her husband: "I can see, Brice, that you are full of the notion of changing that love business, and if I stay round I shall simply bother. I'm going down to lunch with papa and mamma, and get back here in the afternoon, just in time to madden Godolphin with my meddling."
She caught the first train after breakfast, and in fifteen minutes she was at Beverly Farms. She walked over to her father's cottage, where she found him smoking his cigar on the veranda.
He was alone; he said her mother had gone to Boston for the day; and he asked: "Did you walk from the station? Why didn't you come back in the carriage? It had just been there with your mother."
"I didn't see it. Besides, I might not have taken it if I had. As the wife of a struggling young playwright, I should have probably thought it unbecoming to drive. But the struggle is practically over, you'll be happy to know."
"What? Has he given it up?" asked her father.
"Given it up! He's just got a new light on his love business!"
"I thought his love business had gone pretty well with him," said Hilary, with a lingering grudge in his humor.
"This is another love business!" Louise exclaimed. "The love business in the play. Brice has always been so disgusted with it that he hasn't known what to do. But last night we thought it out together, and I've left him this morning getting his hero and heroine to stand on their legs without being held up. Do you want to know about it?"
"I think I can get on without," said Hilary.
Louise laughed joyously. "Well, you wouldn't understand what a triumph it was if I told you. I suppose, papa, you've no idea how Philistine you are. But you're nothing to mamma!"
"I dare say," said Hilary, sulkily. But she looked at him with eyes beaming with gayety, and he could see that she was happy, and he was glad at heart. "When does Maxwell expect to have his play done?" he relented so far as to ask.
"Why, it's done now, and has been for a month, in one sense, and it isn't done at all in another. He has to keep working it over, and he has to keep fighting Godolphin's inspirations. He comes over from Manchester with a fresh lot every afternoon."
"I dare say Maxwell will be able to hold his own," said Hilary, but not so much proudly as dolefully.
She knew he was braving it out about the theatre, and that secretly he thought it undignified, and even disreputable, to be connected with it, or to be in such close relations with an actor as Maxwell seemed to be with this fellow who talked of taking his play. Hilary could go back very easily to the time in Boston when the theatres were not allowed open on Saturday night, lest they should profane the approaching Sabbath, and when you would no more have seen an actor in society than an elephant. He had not yet got used to meeting them, and he always felt his difference, though he considered himself a very liberal man, and was fond of the theatre—from the front.
He asked now, "What sort of chap is he, really?" meaning Godolphin, and Louise did her best to reassure him. She told him Godolphin was young and enthusiastic; and he had an ideal of the drama; and he believed in Brice; and he had been two seasons with Booth and Barrett; and now he had made his way on the Pacific Coast, and wanted a play that he could take the road with. She parroted those phrases, which made her father's flesh creep, and she laughed when she saw it creeping, for sympathy; her own had crept first.
"Well," he said, at last, "he won't expect you and Maxwell to take the road too with it?"
"Oh no, we shall only be with him in New York. He won't put the play on there first; they usually try a new play in the country."
"Oh, do they?" said Hilary, with a sense that his daughter's knowledge of the fact was disgraceful to her.
"Yes. Shall I tell you what they call that? Trying it on a dog!" she shrieked, and Hilary had to laugh, too. "It's dreadful," she went on. "Then, if it doesn't kill the dog, Godolphin will bring it to New York, and put it on for a run—a week or a month—as long as his money holds out. If he believes in it, he'll fight it." Her father looked at her for explanation, and she said, with a gleeful perception of his suffering, "He'll keep it on if he has to play to paper every night. That is, to free tickets."
"Oh!" said Hilary. "And are you to be there the whole time with him?"
"Why, not necessarily. But Brice will have to be there for the rehearsals; and if we are going to live in New York—"
Hilary sighed. "I wish Maxwell was going on with his newspaper work; I might be of use to him in that line, if he were looking forward to an interest in a newspaper; but I couldn't buy him a theatre, you know."
Louise laughed. "He wouldn't let you buy him anything, papa; Brice is awfully proud. Now, I'll tell you, if you want to know, just how we expect to manage in New York; Brice and I have been talking it all over; and it's all going to be done on that thousand dollars he saved up from his newspaper work, and we're not going to touch a cent of my money till that is gone. Don't you call that pretty business-like?"
"Very," said Hilary, and he listened with apparent acquiescence to the details of a life which he divined that Maxwell had planned from his own simple experience. He did not like the notion of it for his daughter, but he could not help himself, and it was a consolation to see that she was in love with it.
She went back from it to the play itself, and told her father that now Maxwell had got the greatest love business for it that there ever was. She would not explain just what it was, she said, because her father would get a wrong notion of it if she did. "But I have a great mind to tell you something else," she said, "if you think you can behave sensibly about it, papa. Do you suppose you can?"
Hilary said he would try, and she went on: "It's part of the happiness of having got hold of the right kind of love business now, and I don't know but it unconsciously suggested it to both of us, for we both thought of the right thing at the same time; but in the beginning you couldn't have told it from a quarrel." Her father started, and Louise began to laugh. "Yes, we had quite a little tiff, just like real married people, about my satirizing one of Godolphin's inspirations to his face, and wounding his feelings. Brice is so cautious and so gingerly with him; and he was vexed with me, and told me he wished I wouldn't do it; and that vexed me, and I said I wouldn't have anything to do with his play after this; and I didn't speak to him again till after supper. I said he was self-centred, and he is. He's always thinking about his play and its chances; and I suppose I would rather have had him think more about me now and then. But I've discovered a way now, and I believe it will serve the same purpose. I'm going to enter so fully into his work that I shall be part of it; and when he is thinking of that he will be thinking of me without knowing it. Now, you wouldn't say there was anything in that to cry about, would you? and yet you see I'm at it!" and with this she suddenly dropped her face on her father's shoulder.
Hilary groaned in his despair of being able to imagine an injury sufficiently atrocious to inflict on Maxwell for having brought this grief upon his girl. At the sound of his groan, as if she perfectly interpreted his meaning in it, she broke from a sob into a laugh. "Will you never," she said, dashing away the tears, "learn to let me cry, simply because I am a goose, papa, and a goose must weep without reason, because she feels like it? I won't have you thinking that I am not the happiest person in the world; and I was, even when I was suffering so because I had to punish Brice for telling me I had done wrong. And if you think I'm not, I will never tell you anything more, for I see you can't be trusted. Will you?"
He said no to her rather complicated question, and he was glad to believe that she was really as happy as she declared, for if he could not have believed it, he would have had to fume away an intolerable deal of exasperation. This always made him very hot and uncomfortable, and he shrank from it, but he would have done it if it had been necessary. As it was, he got back to his newspaper again with a sufficiently light heart, when Louise gave him a final kiss, and went indoors and put herself in authority for the day, and ordered what she liked for luncheon. The maids were delighted to have her, and she had a welcome from them all, which was full of worship for her as a bride whose honeymoon was not yet over.
She went away before her mother got home, and she made her father own, before she left him, that he had never had such a lovely day since he could remember. He wanted to drive over to Magnolia with her; but she accused him of wanting to go so that he could spy round a little, and satisfy himself of the misery of her married life; and then he would not insist.
Louise kept wondering, the whole way back, how Maxwell had managed the recasting of the love-business, and she wished she had stayed with him, so that he could have appealed to her at any moment on the points that must have come up all the time. She ought to have coached him more fully about it, and told him the woman's side of such a situation, as he never could have imagined how many advances a woman can make with a man in such an affair and the man never find it out. She had not made any advances herself when she wished to get him back, but she had wanted to make them; and she knew he would not have noticed it if she had done the boldest sort of things to encourage him, to let him know that she liked him; he was so simple, in his straightforward egotism, beside her sinuous unselfishness.
She began to think how she was always contriving little sacrifices to his vanity, his modesty, and he was always accepting them with a serene ignorance of the fact that they were offered; and at this she strayed off on a little by-way in her revery, and thought how it was his mind, always, that charmed her; it was no ignoble fondness she felt; no poor, grovelling pleasure in his good looks, though she had always seen that in a refined sort he had a great deal of manly beauty. But she had held her soul aloof from all that, and could truly say that what she adored in him was the beauty of his talent, which he seemed no more conscious of than of his dreamy eyes, the scornful sweetness of his mouth, the purity of his forehead, his sensitive nostrils, his pretty, ineffective little chin. She had studied her own looks with reference to his, and was glad to own them in no wise comparable, though she knew she was more graceful, and she could not help seeing that she was a little taller; she kept this fact from herself as much as possible. Her features were not regular, like his, but she could perceive that they had charm in their irregularity; she could only wonder whether he thought that line going under her chin, and suggesting a future double chin in the little fold it made, was so very ugly. He seemed never to have thought of her looks, and if he cared for her, it was for some other reason, just as she cared for him. She did not know what the reason could be, but perhaps it was her sympathy, her appreciation, her cheerfulness; Louise believed that she had at least these small merits.
The thought of them brought her back to the play again, and to the love-business, and she wondered how she could have failed to tell him, when they were talking about what should bring the lovers together, after their prefatory quarrel, that simply willing it would do it. She knew that after she began to wish Maxwell back, she was in such a frenzy that she believed her volition brought him back; and now she really believed that you could hypnotize fate in some such way, and that your longings would fulfil themselves if they were intense enough. If he could not use that idea in this play, then he ought to use it in some other, something psychological, symbolistic, Maeterlinckish.
She was full of it when she dismounted from the barge at the hotel and hurried over to their cottage, and she was intolerably disappointed when she did not find him at work in the parlor.
"Brice! Brice!" she shouted, in the security of having the whole cottage to herself. She got no answer, and ran up to their room, overhead. He was not there, either, and now it seemed but too probable that he had profited by her absence to go out for a walk alone, after his writing, and fallen from the rocks, and been killed—he was so absent-minded. She offered a vow to Heaven that if he were restored to her she would never leave him again, even for a half-day, as long as either of them lived. In reward for this she saw him coming from the direction of the beach, where nothing worse could have befallen him than a chill from the water, if the wind was off shore and he had been taking a bath.
She had not put off her hat yet, and she went out to meet him; she could not kiss him at once, if she went to meet him, but she could wait till she got back to the cottage, and then kiss him. It would be a trial to wait, but it would be a trial to wait for him to come in, and he might stroll off somewhere else, unless she went to him. As they approached each other she studied his face for some sign of satisfaction with his morning's work. It lighted up at sight of her, but there remained an inner dark in it to her eye.
"What is the matter?" she asked, as she put her hand through his arm, and hung forward upon it so that she could look up into his face. "How did you get on with the love-business?"
"Oh, I think I've got that all right," he answered, with a certain reservation. "I've merely blocked it out, of course."
"So that you can show it to Godolphin?"
"I guess so."
"I see that you're not sure of it. We must go over it before he comes. He hasn't been here yet?"
"Why are you so quiet, Brice? Is anything the matter? You look tired."
"I'm not particularly tired."
"Then you are worried. What is it?"
"Oh, you would have to know, sooner or later." He took a letter from his pocket and gave it to her. "It came just after I had finished my morning's work."
She pulled it out of the envelope and read:
"DEAR SIR: I beg leave to relinquish any claim that you may feel I have established to the play you have in hand. As it now stands, I do not see my part in it, and I can imagine why you should be reluctant to make further changes in it, in order to meet my requirements.
"If I can be of any service to you in placing the piece, I shall be glad to have you make use of me.
"Yours truly, "LAUNCELOT GODOLPHIN."
"You blame me!" she said, after a blinding moment, in which the letter darkened before her eyes, and she tottered in her walk. She gave it back to him as she spoke.
"What a passion you have for blaming!" he answered, coldly. "If I fixed the blame on you it wouldn't help."
"No," Louise meekly assented, and they walked along towards their cottage. They hardly spoke again before they reached it and went in. Then she asked, "Did you expect anything like this from the way he parted with you yesterday?"
Maxwell gave a bitter laugh. "From the way we parted yesterday I was expecting him early this afternoon, with the world in the palm of his hand, to lay it at my feet. He all but fell upon my neck when he left me. I suppose his not actually doing it was an actor's intimation that we were to see each other no more."
"I wish you had nothing to do with actors!" said Louise.
"They appear to have nothing to do with me," said Maxwell. "It comes to the same thing."
They reached the cottage, and sat down in the little parlor where she had left him so hopefully at work in the morning, where they had talked his play over so jubilantly the night before.
"What are you going to do?" she asked, after an abysmal interval.
"Nothing. What is there to do?"
"You have a right to an explanation; you ought to demand it."
"I don't need any explanation. The case is perfectly clear. Godolphin doesn't want my play. That is all."
"Oh, Brice!" she lamented. "I am so dreadfully sorry, and I know it was my fault. Why don't you let me write to him, and explain—"
Maxwell shook his head. "He doesn't want any explanation. He doesn't want the play, even. We must make up our minds to that, and let him go. Now we can try it with your managers."
Louise felt keenly the unkindness of his calling them her managers, but she was glad to have him unkind to her; deep within her Unitarianism she had the Puritan joy in suffering for a sin; her treatment of Godolphin's suggestion of a skirt-dance, while very righteous in itself, was a sin against her husband's interest, and she would rather he were unkind to her than not. The sooner she was punished for it and done with it, the better; in her unscientific conception of life, the consequences of a sin ended with its punishment. If Maxwell had upbraided her with the bitterness she merited, it would have been to her as if it were all right again with Godolphin. His failure to do so left the injury unrepaired, and she would have to do something. "I suppose you don't care to let me see what you've written to-day?"
"No, not now," said Maxwell, in a tone that said, "I haven't the heart for it."
They sat awhile without speaking, and then she ventured, "Brice, I have an idea, but I don't know what you will think of it. Why not take Godolphin's letter on the face of it, and say that you are very sorry he must give up the play, and that you will be greatly obliged to him if he can suggest some other actor? That would be frank, at least."
Maxwell broke into a laugh that had some joy in it. "Do you think so? It isn't my idea of frankness exactly."
"No, of course not. You always say what you mean, and you don't change. That is what is so beautiful in you. You can't understand a nature that is one thing to-day and another thing to-morrow."
"Oh, I think I can," said Maxwell, with a satirical glance.
"Brice!" she softly murmured; and then she said, "Well, I don't care. He is just like a woman."
"You didn't like my saying so last night."
"That was a different thing. At any rate, it's I that say so now, and I want you to write that to him. It will bring him back flying. Will you?"
"I'll think about it," said Maxwell; "I'm not sure that I want Godolphin back, or not at once. It's a great relief to be rid of him, in a certain way, though a manager might be worse slavery. Still, I think I would like to try a manager. I have never shown this play to one, and I know the Odeon people in Boston, and, perhaps—"
"You are saying that to comfort me."
"I wouldn't comfort you for worlds, my dear. I am saying this to distress you. But since I have worked that love-business over, it seems to me much less a one-part play, and if I could get a manager to take a fancy to it I could have my own way with it much better; at least, he wouldn't want me to take all the good things out of the other characters' mouths and stuff them into Haxard's."
"Do you really think so?"
"I really thought so before I got Godolphin's letter. That made him seem the one and only man for me."
"Yes," Louise assented, with a sad intelligence.
Maxwell seemed to have got some strength from confronting his calamity. At any rate, he said, almost cheerfully, "I'll read you what I wrote this morning," and she had to let him, though she felt that it was taking her at a moment when her wish to console him was so great that she would not be able to criticise him. But she found that he had done it so well there was no need of criticism.
"You are wonderful, Brice!" she said, in a transport of adoration, which she indulged as simply his due. "You are miraculous! Well, this is the greatest triumph yet, even of your genius. How you have seized the whole idea! And so subtly, so delicately! And so completely disguised! The girl acts just as a girl would have acted. How could you know it?"
"Perhaps I've seen it," he suggested, demurely.
"No, no, you didn't see it! That is the amusing part of it. You were as blind as a bat all the time, and you never had the least suspicion; you've told me so."
"Well, then, I've seen it retrospectively."
"Perhaps that way. But I don't believe you've seen it at all. You've divined it; and that's where your genius is worth all the experience in the world. The girl is twice as good as the man, and you never experienced a girl's feelings or motives. You divined them. It's pure inspiration. It's the prophet in you!"
"You'll be stoning me next," said Maxwell. "I don't think the man is so very bad, even if I didn't divine him."
"Yes, for a poor creature of experience and knowledge, he will do very well. But he doesn't compare with the girl."
"I hadn't so good a model."
She hugged him for saying that. "You pay the prettiest compliments in the world, even if you don't pick up handkerchiefs."
Their joy in the triumph of his art was unalloyed by the hope of anything outside of it, of any sort of honor or profit from it, though they could not keep the thought of these out very long.
"Yes," she said, after one of the delicious silences that divided their moments of exaltation. "There won't be any trouble about getting your play taken, now."
After supper they strolled down for the sunset and twilight on the rocks. There, as the dusk deepened, she put her wrap over his shoulders as well as her own, and pulled it together in front of them both. "I am not going to have you taking cold, now, when you need all your health for your work more than ever. That love-business seems to me perfect just as it is, but I know you won't be satisfied till you have put the very last touch on it."
"Yes, I see all sorts of things I can do to it. Louise!"
"Don't you see that the love-business is the play now? I have got to throw away all the sin-interest, all the Haxard situation, or keep them together as they are, and write a new play altogether, with the light, semi-comic motive of the love-business for the motive of the whole. It's out of tone with Haxard's tragedy, and it can't be brought into keeping with it. The sin-interest will kill the love-business, or the love-business will kill the sin-interest. Don't you see?"
"Why, of course! You must make this light affair now, and when it's opened the way for you with the public you can bring out the old play," she assented, and it instantly became the old play in both their minds; it became almost the superannuated play. They talked it over in this new aspect, and then they went back to the cottage, to look at the new play as it shadowed itself forth in the sketch Maxwell had made. He read the sketch to her again, and they saw how it could be easily expanded to three or four acts, and made to fill the stage and the evening.
"And it will be the most original thing that ever was!" she exulted.
"I don't think there's been anything exactly like it before," he allowed.
From time to time they spoke to each other in the night, and she asked if he were asleep, and he if she were asleep, and then they began to talk of the play again. Towards morning they drowsed a little, but at their time of life the loss of a night's sleep means nothing, and they rose as glad as they had lain down.
"I'll tell you, Brice," she said, the first thing, "you must have it that they have been engaged, and you can call the play 'The Second Chapter,' or something more alliterative. Don't you think that would be a good name?"
"It would make the fortune of any play," he answered, "let alone a play of such merit as this."
"Well, then, sha'n't you always say that I did something towards it?"
"I shall say you did everything towards it. You originated the idea, and named it, and I simply acted as your amanuensis, as it were, and wrote it out mostly from your dictation. It shall go on the bills, 'The Second Chapter,' a demi-semi-serious comedy by Mrs. Louise Hilary Maxwell—in letters half a foot high—and by B. Maxwell—in very small lower case, that can't be read without the aid of a microscope."
"Oh, Brice! If you make him talk that way to her, it will be perfectly killing."
"I dare say the audience will find it so."
They were so late at breakfast, and sat there so long talking, for Maxwell said he did not feel like going to work quite so promptly as usual, that it was quite ten o'clock when they came out of the dining-room, and then they stayed awhile gossiping with people on the piazza of the hotel before they went back to their cottage. When they came round the corner in sight of it they saw the figure of a man pacing back and forth on the veranda, with his head dropped forward, and swinging a stick thoughtfully behind him. Louise pulled Maxwell convulsively to a halt, for the man was Godolphin.
"What do you suppose it means?" she gasped.
"I suppose he will tell us," said Maxwell, dryly. "Don't stop and stare at him. He has got eyes all over him, and he's clothed with self-consciousness as with a garment, and I don't choose to let him think that his being here is the least important or surprising."
"No, of course not. That would be ridiculous," and she would have liked to pause for a moment's worship of her husband's sense, which appeared to her almost as great as his genius. But it seemed to her an inordinately long time before they reached the cottage-gate, and Godolphin came half-way down the walk to meet them.
He bowed seriously to her, and then said, with dignity, to her husband, "Mr. Maxwell, I feel that I owe you an apology—or an explanation, rather—for the abrupt note I sent you yesterday. I wish to assure you that I had no feeling in the matter, and that I am quite sincere in my offer of my services."