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No one could have resisted turning to He made the statement perfectly observe the object of her favor. A tall naturally. man, in uniform, with broad shoulders, “Just after that?" Maclay remarked, with the fouragère of the French Foreign with as close to a hint of jest as he ever Legion, was bowing to some party by the doorway, his back half turned “Yes, after that,” Bissell answered, toward us.
without a trace of humor. “I suppose “That's Bissell,” said Maclay, ab- you always considered it odd that I ruptly.
didn't produce it-or anything more. I Stunned surprise enveloped me. considered writing you the explanation “Our Bissell?” I managed to inquire. for some while, but I gave up the idea, “Floyd,” Maclay answered.
finally. It didn't matter, I knew." I drowned my nervous expectation in Maclay put his hand on Bissell's arm a dram of reasoned reassurance. Well, abruptly. Maclay might have met him any day “My dear boy, it mattered like hell,” these last seven years. The only coinci- he said. “You owe your friends somedence was the fact that he had just hap- thing." pened to be telling me about him.
“Yes," said Bissell, and stopped. The next moment Bissell saw us.
Well, we didn't urge him, of course. Something caught in my throat. His We couldn't. But there wasn't any eyes were like burned holes. Like iron necessity, as it happened. Decision was the set of his jaw, too; and he had seemed to come to him suddenly. a half-amused, tolerant smile that I “There's no reason why I shouldn't could not for the life of me master. tell you,” he said. He came over to us at once.
He began in Clewesbury. He had been “All the world comes to Madame born there, on Congress Avenue, he said Bourgnon's," he greeted us, and sat -which I gathered was the proper place down. We fell into conversation—the to be born in that mid-Eastern city. publishing business, the Comédie Fran What social position there was in the çaise, Sacha Guitry, Broadway. For a city his family had shared. As a boy he moment I was inclined to think Maclay had had two gifts—writing and drawing. had been telling me a fairy tale. And He had gone to Harvard in pursuit of then I noticed suddenly that Bissell one of them, and come out an architect. had not once referred to the past. He When he married he was already fairly was confining himself to the talk of well established. He had an office in the moment while his eyes burned one of the buildings downtown, and deep into us.
several country houses and the new But it was not until we had ordered Chamber of Commerce to his creditmore liqueurs and got them that Maclay due partly to his own ability, but more asked him about his book. It was an to the aid and prestige his position in inevitable thing for Maclay to do, I sup Clewesbury society gave him. pose. He would have asked it of any His wife, Eveline, had come from St. author he had ever done business with. Louis. She was a rather imperious, It was the one question he never failed spoiled sort of woman, blessed with unto put. But it gave me a queer feeling. usual charm, much given to outdoor
“I suppose you mean the book I things riding, walking, golf, dogs. He meant to have follow Tragic Conquest?” had met her at Lake Placid during the Bissell replied, while Maclay nodded. winter sports. About a year after their “I gave that up finally."
marriage his boyhood desire to write had “Lose interest?”
come back to him. “Not exactly,” Bissell replied. "Not “I tried a play, and a short story or for the first three years."
two,” he said, staring at the marble
table between us, “but they weren't any it until my eyes could make out the good. They never got outside my faded writing no longer. And it wasn't library. It used to seem ironical to me because of the autumn dusk entirely, once in a while—that pleasant house of either. The thing was the most tragic mine just off the Avenue, with the big story I have ever read. It was the record cool library-just the place in which to of my aunt's thoughts preceding the write a 'Candida' or a ‘Youth.' And year she committed suicide. My aunt I without the ability to do it! Eveline was an Elaine. didn't particularly sympathize, either. Bissell clenched his fist. Plays were just things you went to, so “An Elaine in a miserable, narrow, far as she was concerned-she rather small-minded western New York town leaned to vaudeville. In fact, in Clewes of the early 'eighties.. Some day I'll let bury everyone considers you fairly queer you take a look at that diary. And if you fool with literature or drama. If you'll know why I wrote Tragic Conyou write, you write on the quiet, unless quest. I can never begin to tell you
the you make so much money at it that you tragedy of it. Evidently there had been can be respectably compared to one of not a word of understanding, not a the factories. That makes you a success, glimpse of human charity in her life, not of course. And success is all right. I a soul to see that passion and the tender remember the only remark George heart had been to her what drink was Broadhead made to me after he read to Poe, what ambition was to Alexander, Tragic Conquest. “How much money what opium was to De Quincey-her did they give you for it?' says he! curse. And every mean-spirited soul in
“I suppose, though, that literature is that New York town was tarred a little a sort of passion in a man. There was a with the same brush which had spoiled remnant of the idealistic philosophy of God's portrait of her. student days in medie, and leave be “Even before I finished the last page hind you a magnificent building, a fine I think I had the idea. I had heard all book, a great play, a good example. my life of my aunt Julia-heard this Something to make it worth while to the thing now, this thing then, been aware world for having bred you. Maybe there of odd discrepancies, suspected peccawas some conceit in me, too, some desire dilloes. But this thing lit the whole landfor fame-probably there was. But I scape with a flash of reality. This was wasn't conscious of it. I just wanted to the hell in which my aunt had lived and write, and write something damn good. struggled. This was what she had Well, I tried plays for about three years thought and felt, and struggled against -unsuccessfully.
and lost and died for-generous, cursed, "Then one day I came upon an old sin-stained Julia Bissell! diary of a dead aunt of mine. I had been " Tragic Conquest was born in my going over some of the old things in the mind as I came down the attic stairs, as Congress Avenue attic, looking for a tin I stood in front of my mother and realbox in which my father had been accus ized I could never tell her what I had tomed to put stocks of such ventures as found, as I realized that she had been went 'busted' on him, as he used to one of the hardest, most uncompromisexpress it before he died. Mother was ing of all the persons in her sister-in-law's getting too old to fuss over things, and life-as I realized the pettiness of us all, she had an idea there were some photo our pitiful lack of understanding, the graphs that she wanted before the attic wheel on which we break one another was cleaned out.
day after day. I knew, of course, that “The diary was one of those old, hand- I could never reconstruct Julia Bissell's clasp things. It covered about a year. existence and put the breath of life into I sat in the late afternoon light and read it. Her generation was too far removed
from mine. I could not publish the diary “There isn't any need for me to repeat as it stood so long as I had any family. it all here. I only say it so you will see The diary was not understandable,
not understandable, how completely the climax of Elaine either, without the background which dominated the people of the story from youth and childhood in the Congress the beginning. Like a prescription of Avenue house had unconsciously given some kind the thing was, calling for just it for me.
If anything was done with these ingredients, just these characters, it, it would be better to pour the wine and nothing else to make an inevitable, into some new vessel-into a Tragic crashing tragedy. All the details I Conquest. So that was what I decided to would add would be simply for veriwrite. That, I decided, would be my similitude, to make the thing like life. great book, my example, my contribu A real human soul, living a real life. To tion. A little more charity in the world. make that life real and true to the presA little more understanding, induced by ent day, I ransacked every incident I had the story of Elaine, if I could write it. heard or experienced, selected the most Elaine, to-day, in Clewesbury, like Julia likely ten from a thousand—the ten she Bissell back in the 'eighties.
could have experienced—reshaped and Bissell stared at us with that half remade those ten, changing them to play smile I couldn't master.
their necessary part, and added them. “Naïve, I suppose considering I had By the time Elaine was married I could never written anything, but very real no more have told you where she came to me. In fact, I began that night to from than I could have told you write my novel. Day and night, perhaps whence came my opinions. She was a I should say here, I wrote it, during thousand people. She was Julia Bissell; every spare moment I could find. I took
she was anything but Julia Bissell. She forgotten Julia Bissell and gave her a was a new person. She was Elaine. . . childhood in present-day Clewesbury—a Elaine, with that same tragic nature childhood such as a sister of mine might that Julia Bissell must have had, and have had if she had been born in one of married now, and living in Clewesbury. the hard, materialistic homes just off I had her where I wanted her. I gave Congress Avenue-one of those homes her a shallow, literary husband. I gave where cynicism and the dollar rule and her an elemental desire for the masterful convention masquerades as principle. type of man. That was inevitable. I By every device I could think of I con gave her a fearful struggle to strangle trived to produce the girl she must be to her desires, leading her to ride, to shoot, make my story teach its lesson. You to play madly in an effort to exhaust remember-I took away her mother; I herself so she would not have to face her gave her no brothers or sisters; her own nature. She was no longer Julia father could not bear her because of the Bissell at all. In my desire to get away past; everything that would throw her from the strong impression which that only on herself, that would make her forgotten figure had made on me I even lonely, self-willed, passionate, afraid, made her fair, not dark; charming, not suspicious, likely to be the victim of her the moody person Julia had been. Then, inheritance. I did all that in preparation to heighten the tragedy, I gave her the for her first indiscretion and her mar aspirations that all fine women have. riage-that marriage which society the aspirations that women such as Evepractically forced on her because it line have. She was always glimpsing told her there could be no love but the that vision as she dragged herself one love, and she must marry, even
through the mud of passion's gutter. though she was never made for mar "Then I began her slow, tragic downriage and did not know love as the fall, from passion to passion, from reworld understood it.
spectability to demimonde, to hell, to
suicide. I think you will remember even would have done so had it not been for now that scene in the bar in San Fran those plays, and her lack of analyzing cisco where she had the vision for the ability. There is a magic about the last time and passed it on to the tiny printed page that doesn't lurk in manudaughter of the saloon keeper to cherish script. I wanted to surprise her, toofor all time. Elaine died for me in that prove to her I could do something, after hour, the victim of her own desires, all, besides live on the Bissell money and reaching her destiny because she had not draw plans for contractors to work upon. the character to re
I could write a fine sist it, because a
book. I could give sneering world had
back what life had kicked her, step by
given me in my two step, down all the
talents. tragic stairs.
“When the book “When I finished
came out I gave the last page, I
five advance copies knew I had done
to my mother, Evsomething great.
eline, two of EvThe story was noth
eline's best friends, ing like Julia Bis
and Fred Comyn, sell! It was almost
my best friend. the opposite. Julia
didn't read his. married. But it was
The book came out greater, it was finer,
three weeks later. it was literature.
Two days after“Yes,"exclaimed SOME ONE IN THE AUDIENCE INTERRUPTED
ward we went to Maclay, hoarsely,
Fred's to dinner. “by Godfrey ! it is.'
“I hear you've “That's all, then,” said Bissell, with got me in your book,' Fred said, jokingsudden emotion. “I did it.”
ly, as he poured out some of his old “All?” Maclay and I echoed our sur brandy by the sideboard. I asked him prise together.
what he meant by that, and he said: “Well, all of Elaine,” he answered. “Why, that's what Amelia Bond told my "The rest—the rest, well, the rest is just wife this afternoon at the Babies' Sewing merely Floyd Bissell—and I don't count, Circle. Sorry I haven't had a chance I suppose.
to read the yarn yet.' Maclay and I sat in silence at that. “Well, you tell Amelia to guess He meant so patently that the rest had again,' I laughed. “How does she figbeen tragedy for him. He meant, so plainly, that he had given the world his “She had figured him, Fred said, as one book. He took it for granted so the best friend of the husband in the plainly that it had only been Elaine we story. And he made some joke about were interested in.
suing me for giving him such a minor “But your second book mattered, role in a book, and we forgot the incididn't it?" Maclay asked, unsteadily. dent in some bridge.
"I paid for my first with my second," “But I didn't forget it completely, of Bissell said, gently. “Though perhaps
Not that I attached any parnot just as you suppose.” He broke off, ticular importance to it, but because I and did not resume for a moment. “I knew Amelia Bond. I suppose there is made my mistake, perhaps, in not show- always such a woman in every society. ing Eveline the story first. I suppose I Brilliant, but shallow, with a gift for
Vol. CXLIV.-No. 859.6
smart talk that passes for brains, ready the first ten days. I was enormously always to sacrifice truth for an epigram pleased. It occurred to me that possibly or a laugh.
Clewesbury was wiser than its critics. “Would she, I wondered, consider 'me What did the five hundred think of the shallow literary husband in the story Elaine? if Fred were my best friend? Eveline, “That was about all I was speculating too. Would Eveline play the role of on, as a matter of fact, during the first Elaine? I rather grinned at that two months after Tragic Conquest was grinned, that is, until it occurred to me published. I had no idea of any perhow far Amelia must have missed the sonal gossip. I did sit behind two point of the book to have made such a strange women in the street car one remark, even in jest. llad my purpose morning and hear them discuss Tragic failed so utterly as that? Would it fail Conquest. They evidently considered it like that with the public at large? salacious. The 'warmest' thing she had
“You can imagine the eagerness with ever read, one of them declared. That which I awaited the reviews of the made me angry—to think that was all critics in the metropolitan papers and those two well-fed old harpies could see weeklies. I had subscribed to a clipping in it. It was in accord, in a way, with agency, of course, and in about a week
what a good many people said almost to the criticisms began to come in. They my face, notably some of the men with ran the gamut of the critic's soul, from whom I played pool of a later afternoon first to last. They ranged from the three at the Clewesbury Club. Elaine was brief lines-clipped from your publishing ‘some baby,' according to them—and announcement—to full pages. In tone where had I met her, and how did I they varied from gentlemen who raged know all these things, anyhow? But because I had split an infinitive on page what was only badinage with them was twelve to gentlemen who wrote columns plain filthiness with these two. of drivel about the magic of my style and “It gave me my second shock. I my insight. They varied from compar wondered how many people there were ing the story to fiction of the Three who would take Elaine's tragedy that Weeks genre to placing the story in the way, and made a mental note of what a same category as Camille and Tess. give-away of character such opinions But mixed in with them were the re were. But I knew that a certain amount views that really counted-the fine, fair, of misinterpretation was inevitable becritical appreciations that called it a sin cause of the very fact that such a tragedy cere piece of work, marred by many as Elaine's was possible. There would be minor faults, but good despite them, and people who would view the book as they criticized it as such. That minority, had viewed Julia Bissell, no matter what even though I was unknown, saw my new view of her soul I gave them. My point and drove it home to their public. mother felt that way, I was sure. She To that minority I owe the success of had sufficient perception to appreciate Tragic Conquest.
the art of the book, but she still believed "To Clewesbury, however, this was that 'you didn't have to write about all completely unknown, of course, ex such things.' Next time she hoped I cept to those few who followed the lite would choose a subject that didn't conrary tide in other cities. Don't imagine, tain so much rubbish. however, that the book didn't sell in “I had hit upon the idea for that next Clewesbury. It did. It sold amazingly. book, however, by that time, and was Not even the derogatory reviews the two completely wrapped up in it. A man local papers gave it seemed to have any who believed in people, and whose belief effect upon its selling qualities. Henry was so strong that in the end they beDrew told me he had sold five hundred in came what he believed them to be that