Pictorial Review, June 1915
HEN George Marlowe had been engaged to Grace Pemberton a little more than a week, he asked her a question. It was a question which he had been trying to ask ever since the day when she had promised to be his wife. A hundred times it had risen to his lips and every time he had swallowed it with a jerk. He was afraid. Her answer meant so much to him.
“Dearest,” he said, “have you ever written a story?”
“A magazine story or a novel, or anything like that?”
“And you don’t feel you want to?”
“Not in the least.”
George took her in his arms, and kissed her in a kind of awed way. He could scarcely believe his good fortune. He was an author himself by profession, and in the circles in which had moved all the women wrote profusely. It was his misfortune to dislike women writers. Every one has some pet aversion: some dislike slugs, some cockroaches; George disliked women writers.
He had been quite prepared to hear that Grace wrote. Every day he had been bracing himself for the sudden production of a manuscript fastened together in the top left-hand corner with pink silk. And now, from her own lips, he had learned that his fears had been groundless.
George Marlowe belonged to the new school of writers who write because they have the knack of writing and because it is an easy way of making enough money to enable them to do the things they want to do. He cultivated no pose, he had no message, he simply wrote. Without exerting himself unduly, he could earn more than enough to keep himself in comfort; and now that all these moving-picture companies were buying up the film rights of stories quicker than you could turn them out, the thing was a cinch.
That was George on Literature. What he really lived for was golf.
It was her supreme plus-twofulness which had first appealed to him in Grace Pemberton. She was a magnificent golfer. She had been in the first six in last year’s Ladies’ Open Competition. She drove divinely, putted to perfection, and to watch her getting out of casual water was like looking at some beautiful picture by a great master. And she did not write. George was stunned by the thought that to him alone of men it had been vouchsafed to win the love of the ideal woman.
He looked down the vista of the years, and told himself that all was well. Trouble might come—none realized more clearly than he his fatal tendency to slice his approach-shots—but she would be near him in the hour of trial, urging him on. They would journey through life together, the perfect companions. As a bachelor, his putting had been execrable. Who could say what feats he might not perform on the green, helped by her sympathy and encouragement? And there was such perfect trust between them that they could venture to speak freely of each other’s faults. If his stance was wrong, she would not hesitate to tell him so for fear of hurting his feelings. He, on his side, could criticize her only blemish, a tendency to overdo the use of the niblick. It is on this frankness, this absence of subterfuge, that wedded happiness can alone be based.
Soul-mates—that was the word he was trying to think of. He and she were soul-mates.
Life was very perfect during the first months after the wedding. They settled down to an ideal routine. In the morning George would go to his study, look at his typewriter, and decide to do no work till after lunch. After lunch and a leisurely pipe, off to the study once more, look at the typewriter, and decide to do no work till after dinner. After dinner there was no time for work, because the detail of the day’s play had to be gone over carefully.
These golden epochs in our lives do not last. The world is too much with us. Serpents wriggle into our Edens. The one that wriggled into George’s was named Henderson Banks. He was George’s literary agent.
For some time this man had been making himself a perfect nuisance. Letters arrived from him almost daily, couched in a strain of unmanly querulousness. George, it seemed, had contracted to deliver a serial story by a certain date, and that date had come and passed. The editor was calling Mr. Banks up on the telephone every half-hour. Mr. Banks’s reputation was at stake. Those and similar trivialities were the burden of the agent’s correspondence. It annoyed George, who was coming on rapidly with his putting and wished to concentrate undisturbed.
He made the serious mistake of introducing this man into his home. At the moment it seemed the only course. He could not find the time to answer all those letters, and he absolutely refused to go to New York; so the only thing to do was to ask Mr. Banks down for the night. He arrived; and, as he came in at the door, peace flew out of the window.
Henderson Banks talked about writers and editors and publishers and rates per word from the moment he arrived till the moment he left. It was his curious habit, when in conversation with one of his troupe of trained authors, to relate in detail all the big things he had done for all the rest of the troupe, together with full scenarios of all the plots of all their recent stories. He never listened to his victim’s remarks and he never stopped for breath. He was one of Nature’s monologists.
George was used to him and had developed the faculty of ignoring the flow of information and thinking of other things. All the while that Henderson Banks was telling how he had fixed up Jones solid for three years with Blank’s Magazine at twenty cents a word and running over the main points of Jones’s forthcoming novel and going through all the plots of the twelve short stories which he had put across for Smith with the “Asterisk,” George was on the links, holing out in one under bogy. He was subconsciously aware that Henderson Banks was still in his midst, but that was all.
It was far different with Grace. This was the first time that she had ever heard the business of writing described intimately and at length. George never spoke of his work, and never seemed to do any. His attitude toward his profession was too offhand to be inspiring. But Mr. Banks made it all seem so exciting. It was a delightful game, with the additional inducement of enormous prizes. Moreover, he made the thing appear so easy. Mr. Banks was an enthusiast, and it was no doubt unintentionally that he gave people the impression that the only thing you had to do to become a successful writer was to employ him as an agent.
Toward the end of his monolog he mentioned a name that drew an exclamation from Grace.
“Maude Kellog Blenkinsop! Does she write?”
“Write! She’s a genius.” All Mr. Banks’s clients were geniuses. “I’ve put across a series for her with——”
“Why, I was at school with her,” said Grace. “Nobody thought she was clever there.”
“I’ve fixed up her whole output for the next two years at seven cents a word. But, listen! I want to tell you the idea of this series. It’s a wonder.”
Grace was not listening. Her mind, like George’s, was far away. But while George had plunged into the future, she was roaming in the past. She was back at school, examining Miss Blenkinsop with a critical eye and deciding that there was absolutely nothing in her mental equipment that marked her off from the rest of her peers. Yet here she was, an established writer. If Maude Blenkinsop—handicapped, now that she came to think of it, by red hair and a bad complexion—could do it, why could not . . . She was absent-minded during the rest of the dinner and George that night, when he spoke of Chick Evans’s lofting work, thought her manner strange.
T’S A GHASTLY nuisance,” said George next day, “but I really shall have to start in again on that serial this morning. It seems to be rather pressing. Why don’t you have a round with the pro?”
“I don’t believe I will. I think I’ll stay indoors.”
George was touched. That his absence should actually make golf distasteful to her was a striking tribute.
“I sha’n’t take very many days over the darned thing,” he said. “I’ve got about half of it done, and the rest will be easy.”
“I shouldn’t hurry it, dear. Make it as good as you can. I sha’n’t be dull. I can find lots of things to do.”
George kissed her fondly.
And what did she do? She sneaked off to her room, sat down at the little near-Chippendale table, ate five marshmallows, and began to write a novel.
In the old Greek tragedies, it was a recognized rule that any episode likely to excite the pity and terror of the audience to too great an extent must be enacted behind the scenes. Following this admirable plan, I shall not dwell upon the spectacle of that so soon-to-be-divided home. The thing is too poignant.
I shall not describe the feverish energy with which George, hammering his typewriter, peeled off the chapters of the noxious chunk of wholesome magazine fiction which stood between him and the links. I could mention—but will not—how at intervals he sprang from his chair, seized a walking-stick, and executed a Walter J. Travis shot at an invisible ball; and then, remembering that every moment he wasted meant one more moment of dull inaction for Grace, leaped back into his seat and got home on the key-board with a Gunboat Smith overhand swing which had the machine clinching and covering up in an instant. While, all the time, Grace, whom he imagined looking wistfully out of the window in the direction of the links, counting the minutes, was scratching away at her novel with a vim which made the undersized table vibrate like the “A” deck of the Lusitania.
These things are too strong meat for a gentle-souled public, so I omit them and skip to the moment when George, having brought his heroine and hero together with a click, leaped from his chair without even waiting to type “The End” with a couple of lines underneath it, and, snatching up his clubs, rushed from the room, yelling for Grace.
Grace, at that moment, had just taken a fresh sheet of paper and written on it the words “Chapter XXIV.”
His clamor drew her from her work. She came downstairs. Her hair was rumpled, and her eyes had that far-away look.
“I’ve finished,” said George. “Grab your clubs, and let us make it in two jumps.”
Her voice was the voice of one slowly awaking from sleep. George felt a little chilled. He had anticipated the bright smile, the sparkling eye, possibly the joyful whoop.
“The idea,” he explained gently, “was to get swiftly onto the first tee and push the ball over the State line.”
“Oh, do you want to play golf?”
George looked at her anxiously.
“Aren’t you feeling well, dear?”
Grace seemed to pull herself together with an effort.
“I had no idea you would have finished so soon.”
“I speeded the thing up. My hero and heroine were good for another twenty thousand words of misunderstanding, but I got them by the scruffs of their necks and made a whirlwind finish. I doubt if there has ever been a more surprised couple than they were when they found themselves suddenly showering kisses on each other in the moonlight.”
HERE was a pause. Then Grace giggled. One would like to say that she gave a light laugh; but it was not a light laugh. It was a giggle, a furtive, sinister, shame-faced giggle, a giggle which froze George’s corpuscles with a nameless fear. He stared at her.
“George, I want to tell you something. I know it sounds absurd, but I—I——”
“I—I’ve been writing a novel, too.”
Strictly speaking, one ought to omit this scene as well. It is too painful. It takes hold of the sensibilities of the reader and ties them into knots. But there is not much more of it. Wince, but struggle on.
“You’ve been writing a novel!” said George dully.
“I’ve just got to chapter twenty-four.”
“You’ve just got to chapter twenty-four!”
“So I can’t play golf this morning.”
“You can’t play golf this morning!”
Silence fell for a space—a silence broken only by George’s tense breathing. Then Grace spoke impulsively.
“Oh, George, dear, it’s nearly finished, and I really do think that some of it is rather good. I am going to read it all to you after dinner.”
George wandered blindly out into the sunshine, uttering little moaning sounds.
How strange it is, when things have gone awry, when Life, the pugilist, is battering us all over the ring, to look back at the comparatively mild beginnings of our misfortunes and remember how we thought then that Fate had done its worst. George, that night, fancied that his cup was full. Grace, he told himself, Grace, whom he had set on such a pedestal, had fallen. It was the limit, the extreme edge.
It. was nothing of the kind. It bore the same resemblance to the limit that the first drop of rain bears to the thunderstorm.
He could not be blamed for the mistake. The acute agony which he suffered that night, from the “Parted Ways, a novel, by Grace Marlowe” to the “That’s as far as I’ve got. Well what do you think of it, dear? Honestly I really want your candid opinion” in the middle of chapter twenty-five, was sufficient excuse for his blunder in supposing that he had drained the bitter cup to the dregs. He writhed unceasingly.
It was a horrible, an indecent production—not in the sense that it would be likely to raise a blush to any cheek but his; but indecent because she had put on paper in bald words every detail of the only romance that had ever come under her notice—her own. There it was, his entire courtship, including the proposal and the quarrel which they had had within two days of the engagement. In the novel she had elaborated this quarrel, which in fact had lasted almost exactly three-quarters of an hour, into a ten years’ estrangement, thus justifying the title and preventing the story finishing in the first five thousand words.
He marveled how women could do these things. It made him, personally, feel as if he had been suddenly stripped as naked as the day he was born while walking up Fifth Avenue.
Something of his feelings he wanted to put into words, but one glance at Grace told him that it was impossible. He would, he imagined, feel a certain shame if he ever hit or kicked Grace; but that shame would be as nothing to the shame he would feel if he spoke what he thought about “Parted Ways.” It would be murder.
“Great!” he croaked, in spite of his internal fury.
Her eyes were shining.
“Do you really think so?”
He found it easier to talk in monosyllables.
“I don’t suppose any publisher would buy it.”
There was consolation in that thought. He began to feel a little better.
“So what I am going to do is to pay the expenses of publication. Then it will be all right.”
George did not reply. He was staring into the middle distance, and trying to light an empty pipe with an unlighted match.
And Fate chuckled grimly, knowing that it had only just begun having fun with George.
Once in every few publishing seasons there is an Event. For no apparent reason the great heart of the public gives a startled jump, and the public’s great purse is emptied to secure copies of some novel which has stolen into the world without advance advertising and whose only claim to recognition is that the Kankakee Intelligencer has stated in a five-line review that it is “readable.” You cannot manufacture these miracles; they just happen.
The rising firm of Mainprice and Bassett published a first edition of five hundred copies of “Parted Ways,” and when they found, to their chagrin, that Grace was only going to buy twenty of these—somehow Mainprice, who was an optimist, had got the idea that she was good for a hundred (“You can sell them to your friends”)—their only interest in the matter was to keep an eye on the current quotations for waste paper. The book they were going to make their money on was young Swaffham’s “Rose-Red Lips of Vivette,” in connection with which they had arranged in advance for a newspaper discussion on “The Sex Problem in Modern Fiction: Should there be a Censor?”
Within a month Swaffham was off the map. The newspaper discussion raged before an utterly indifferent public, which had made one of its quick changes and discovered that it had had enough of Sex and what it wanted now was good, sweet, wholesome, tender tales of the pure, simple love of a man for a maid which you could leave lying about. And the particular tale which it selected for its favor was Grace’s “Parted Ways.”
It is these swift, unheralded changes of the public mind which make publishers stick straws in their hair and powerful young novelists go off and start writing comic scenarios for the movies. Up to the very moment of the change, Sex had been the one best bet. Everybody was overdoing it. Publishers’ lists were congested with scarlet tales of Men Who Did and Women Who Shouldn’t. And now the bottom had dropped out of the market without a word of warning, and practically the only way in which readers could gratify their newborn taste for the pure and simple was by fighting for copies of “Parted Ways.”
They fought like tigers. The offices of Mainprice and Bassett hummed like a hive. Printing-machines worked day and night. From the rock-bound coasts of Maine to the Everglades of Florida a great cry went up for “Parted Ways.’’ Wherever Civilization reigned, and in Hoboken, “Parted Ways” was found on the what-not. Ministers preached about it, parodists parodied it, tired business-men stayed away from the roof-gardens and cried over it. It broke like a tidal wave over the entire continent.
And on the crest of the wave, breathless but happy, rode Grace. George? Oh, that’s George, spluttering down in the trough there somewhere. We can’t be bothered about George now.
George, however, found ample time to be bothered about himself. He passed the days in a frame of mind which it would be ridiculous to call bewilderment. He was stunned, overwhelmed, sandbagged and utterly flabbergasted. Dimly he realized that considerably over a million perfect strangers were gloating over the most sacred secrecies of his private life, and that the exact words of his proposal of marriage were graven on considerably over a million minds. But, except that it made him feel as if he were being tarred and feathered in front of a large and interested audience, he did not mind that so much. What really troubled him was the alteration in Grace. She was a different woman in every way.
The human mind adjusts itself readily to prosperity. Grace’s first phase, when Celebrity was new and bewildering, soon passed. The stammering reception of the first interviewer became a memory. At the end of a week she was talking to the Press with the easy manner of an empress, and coming back at note-book bearing young men with words which they had to look up in the office Webster.
And the Quiet Smile . . . . . . . .
“Mr. Marlowe is also an author, Mrs. Marlowe, is he not?”
“Yes. My husband—writes.”
And then the Smile.
EORGE never saw the Smile, for he was never present at these interviews. But he sensed it. He was aware of it in the atmosphere of the home. That was her attitude toward him now—a pleasant, indulgent, patronizing smile.
She had soared above his low-browed enthusiasms. When he suggested the links, she excused herself. She had letters to get off; people would keep writing to her, saying how much “Parted Ways” had helped them, and she must answer. Autographs, too. She really could not spare a moment.
“But the Ladies’ Open Championship! You must get some practise before the day of the tryouts.”
It had been settled between them during the honeymoon that this year she was to win the Ladies’ Open Championship.
“I’m afraid I shall have to give up any idea of that now.”
“Give it up?” gasped George.
“The date clashes with my lectures on ‘Some Tendencies of Modern Fiction,’ ” said Grace.
In all great tragedies there is some one point at which the sufferer realizes the futility of further struggles, some one moment at which he definitely admits defeat. It came to George now. With a silent gulp he faced the truth. His idyl was ended. His marriage was a failure. There cannot be happiness where there is not respect, and, though he loved her still, he could not respect a woman who talked in that light way of the Ladies’ Open Championship.
Possibly it was the morbid lure which drags a murderer back to look upon the corpse that drew Henderson Banks at this juncture to visit once more the home he had wrecked. More probably, however, it was the thought of making ten per cent. on Grace’s future earnings. Be that as it may, he came on the run. Barely pausing to tell her the plots of the last six novels he had sold for other clients, he urged Grace to place her affairs in his hands.
Grace received him warmly. She was grateful to him for having shown her, if unconsciously, the right outlet for her genius. Henderson Banks returned to New York her accredited agent.
It seemed to George, brooding upon life in the course of solitary walks, that, dating from soon after this visit of Mr. Banks, matters became even worse than they had succeeded in being hitherto. Use had accustomed him to a Grace who found no fascination in golf: Grace at breakfast, preoccupied and silent amidst a jungle of letters from admiring readers, he could look upon without active discomfort; and Time, the great healer, had taken the keener edge off the misery of the quiet smile. But Grace irritable, Grace with little lines of bad temper spoiling her forehead, Grace biting her underlip and eying him with positive dislike when he spoke to her, was something new.
HE HAD entered upon another phase—the worst to date of them all. It puzzled and worried George. He felt, not unjustly, that if there was to be irritability in the home, he was the person to supply it—not Grace. What, he asked himself in his simple language was her kick? She was all right. She had sold over three hundred thousand copies of the only novel she had ever written. Newspapers published her photograph; school-girls wrote for her autograph; reporters treated her as respectfully as a champion pugilist. What more did she want? The injustice of the thing bore heavily upon George.
“What’s the matter?” he asked abruptly one morning, observing across the breakfast table a sudden deepening of the perpendicular line which had new taken up fixed post duty between her eyebrows.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re worried about something.”
“I’ve got a headache.”
A few months back, George would have become volubly sympathetic. Now, he merely fiddled silently with his roll. Becoming aware that Grace was watching his movements with a kind of tense fury, he suspended them, and there was an uncomfortable pause.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“So am I,” said Grace.
It was not encouraging.
Presently she gathered up her letters, and left the room. George lit a meditative pipe.
The result of his meditations was to send him, an hour later, laden with remorse and all the patent headache remedies which the local drug store could supply, to Grace’s room. He had examined the situation squarely and had come to the conclusion that he was a brute, practically a fiend. Had his manner during the recent interview been tender and sympathetic? It had not. He had looked like a stuffed frog and spoken like a bored policeman. He had conveyed the impression that he did not believe that she had a headache, that, if she had a headache, it was her own fault and that, anyway, it had nothing to do with him.
He loathed himself. He was beyond the pale. He was the sort of man you read about in the character-study novels, the fellow who breaks his wife’s heart with his cold inhumanity.
Grace was sitting at her table, a pen in her hand. She looked at him with weary eyes.
“Oh, what is it now?” she said.
There are some speeches before which amiability wilts like a stricken flower, affection hits the resin with a thud, and the milk of human kindness is turned off with a spigot. The “Oh” was bad; the emphasis on the “is” was worse: and the “now” had all the quality of a well-directed punch on the solar plexus. George’s remorse left him.
He was hurt and angry. There he stood, the human pack-mule, bowed down with the weight of the patent medicines for which he had sprinted a quarter of a mile in a hot sun; and all she had to say to him was “Oh, what is it now?”
There have been dignified men in the world before, and there will be dignified men again; but none will surpass the dignity which George achieved at that moment. Pale and silent, he took the packages from his pocket one by one, and laid them on the table. His manner was a sublime blend of the martyr at the stake, pained but uncomplaining, and the conjurer producing rabbits from a hat.
“I am sorry to disturb you,” he said. “I brought you these for your headache.”
And he turned to leave the room.
Grace burst into tears.
“Oh, George!” she said.
There are some speeches before which dignity melts like ice in August, resentment takes the full count, and the milk of human kindness surges back into the aching heart as if the dam had given way. Of these “Oh, George!” is one of the most notable.
The only flaw in George’s happiness, as he knelt beside her, babbling comforting words, was the firm conviction that Grace would lift the entire scene, dialog and all, and use it in her next novel: and it was for this reason that when he could manage it, he censored his remarks to some extent. But, as he warmed to his work, he forgot caution altogether, and by the time he had finished he had committed himself to about two thousand words of a kind calculated to send Mainprice and his partner Bassett screaming with joy about their office.
“Oh, George!” said Grace.
“My darling, what is it? I know it’s something worse than a headache. Tell me.”
Grace gulped. Then she spoke.
“It’s Mr. Banks.”
“I’ll murder him. I ought to have done it ages ago. One keeps putting these things off. What has he done?”
“He has been fixing me up solid.”
“Fixing you up solid?”
“Yes, with everybody. He has arranged for me to do three more novels and I don’t know how many series of short stories. And they’ve been sending me checks in advance, millions of them. What am I to do?”
“Cash them,” he said.
“Spend the money.”
“But after that?”
“Well, it’s a nuisance, but after that I suppose you’ll have to write the stuff.”
“But I can’t! I’ve been trying for weeks, and I can’t write anything. And I never shall be able to write anything. I don’t want to write anything. I hate writing. I don’t know what to write about. I wish I was dead.”
She clung to him sobbing.
“I got a letter from him this morning. He has just fixed me up solid with two more magazines.”
EORGE kissed her tenderly. He was an author himself and he understood. It is not the being paid in advance that jars the sensitive artist; it is the having to work.
“Drop the whole thing,” he said. “Grace, do you remember your first drive at golf? I wasn’t there, but I bet it traveled about five hundred yards, and you wondered what people meant when they talked about golf being a difficult game. After that, for ages, you couldn’t do anything right. And then, gradually, after a year or so of frightful toil, you began to get the knack of it. It’s just the same with writing. You’ve had your first drive, and it has been some smite. Now, if you’re going to stick to it, you’ve got to do the frightful toil. What’s the use? Drop it.”
“And return the money?”
“No,” said George firmly. “There you go too far. Stick to the money like glue. Clutch it with both hands. Bury it in the garden and mark the spot with a cross.”
“Then what about the stories? Who is going to write them?”
“I am. Dearest, when we were married I said to you, ‘With all my worldly goods I thee endow.’ They include a historical novel of life at the court of Louis the Eleventh which even I have never had the gall to offer to any publisher. We will put your name to it, and sit back and watch Mainprice and Bassett sell half a million copies. As for the short stories, I’ve one or two stowed away somewhere. The others, I suppose, I shall have to write.”
His face clouded for a moment.
“It will cut into the mornings rather,” he said.
Then he brightened.
“But, by lunching early, we ought to be able to get in a couple of rounds in the afternoons.”
Compare this American version of the story, reprinted here for the first time in 99 years as far as we know, with the slightly more familiar version from the Strand magazine, “Parted Ways,” and with “Best Seller,” the 1930 Mr. Mulliner version of the story, in Mulliner Nights and The World of Mr. Mulliner. This version is a few phrases longer than the Strand version, with more characteristic Americanisms, so is probably closer to Wodehouse’s original manuscript. See also the end notes to the Strand version.
Printer’s error corrected above:
Magazine had “holding out in one under bogy”; corrected to “holing out” as the golf context suggests.