Usually it is a cold day in July when you can stroll up Broadway
in that month and get a story out of the drama. I found one a few
breathless, parboiling days ago, and it seems to decide a serious
question in art.
There was not a soul left in the city except Hollis and me--and two
or three million sunworshippers who remained at desks and counters.
The elect had fled to seashore, lake, and mountain, and had already
begun to draw for additional funds. Every evening Hollis and I
prowled about the deserted town searching for coolness in empty
cafes, dining-rooms, and roofgardens. We knew to the tenth part of a
revolution the speed of every electric fan in Gotham, and we followed
the swiftest as they varied. Hollis's fiancee. Miss Loris Sherman,
had been in the Adirondacks, at Lower Saranac Lake, for a month. In
another week he would join her party there. In the meantime, he
cursed the city cheerfully and optimistically, and sought my society
because I suffered him to show me her photograph during the black
coffee every time we dined together.
My revenge was to read to him my one-act play.
It was one insufferable evening when the overplus of the day's heat
was being hurled quiveringly back to the heavens by every surcharged
brick and stone and inch of iron in the panting town. But with the
cunning of the two-legged beasts we had found an oasis where the
hoofs of Apollo's steed had not been allowed to strike. Our seats
were on an ocean of cool, polished oak; the white linen of fifty
deserted tables flapped like seagulls in the artificial breeze; a
mile away a waiter lingered for a heliographic signal--we might have
roared songs there or fought a duel without molestation.
Out came Miss Loris's photo with the coffee, and I once more praised
the elegant poise of the neck, the extremely low-coiled mass of heavy
hair, and the eyes that followed one, like those in an oil painting.
"She's the greatest ever," said Hollis, with enthusiasm. "Good as
Great Northern Preferred, and a disposition built like a watch. One
week more and I'll be happy Jonny-on-the-spot. Old Tom Tolliver, my
best college chum, went up there two weeks ago. He writes me that
Loris doesn't talk about anything but me. Oh, I guess Rip Van Winkle
didn't have all the good luck!"
"Yes, yes," said I, hurriedly, pulling out my typewritten play.
"She's no doubt a charming girl. Now, here's that little curtain-
raiser you promised to listen to."
"Ever been tried on the stage?" asked Hollis.
"Not exactly," I answered. "I read half of it the other day to a
fellow whose brother knows Robert Edeson; but he had to catch a train
before I finished."
"Go on," said Hollis, sliding back in his chair like a good fellow.
"I'm no stage carpenter, but I'll tell you what I think of it from a
first-row balcony standpoint. I'm a theatre bug during the season,
and I can size up a fake play almost as quick as the gallery can.
Flag the waiter once more, and then go ahead as hard as you like with
it. I'll be the dog."
I read my little play lovingly, and, I fear, not without some
elocution. There was one scene in it that I believed in greatly.
The comedy swiftly rises into thrilling and unexpectedly developed
drama. Capt. Marchmont suddenly becomes cognizant that his wife is
an unscrupulous adventuress, who has deceived him from the day of
their first meeting. The rapid and mortal duel between them from that
moment--she with her magnificent lies and siren charm, winding about
him like a serpent, trying to recover her lost ground; he with his
man's agony and scorn and lost faith, trying to tear her from his
heart. That scene I always thought was a crackerjack. When Capt.
Marchmont discovers her duplicity by reading on a blotter in a mirror
the impression of a note that she has written to the Count, he raises
his hand to heaven and exclaims: "O God, who created woman while Adam
slept, and gave her to him for a companion, take back Thy gift and
return instead the sleep, though it last forever!"
"Rot," said Hollis, rudely, when I had given those lines with proper
"I beg your pardon!" I said, as sweetly as I could.
"Come now," went on Hollis, "don't be an idiot. You know very well
that nobody spouts any stuff like that these days. That sketch went
along all right until you rang in the skyrockets. Cut out that
right-arm exercise and the Adam and Eve stunt, and make your captain
talk as you or I or Bill Jones would."
"I'll admit," said I, earnestly (for my theory was being touched
upon), "that on all ordinary occasions all of us use commonplace
language to convey our thoughts. You will rememberthat up to the
moment when the captain makes his terrible discovery all the
characters on the stage talk pretty much as they would, in real life.
But I believe that I am right in allowing him lines suitable to the
strong and tragic situation into which he falls."
"Tragic, my eye!" said my friend, irreverently. "In Shakespeare's
day he might have sputtered out some high-cockalorum nonsense of
that sort, because in those days they ordered ham and eggs in blank
verse and discharged the cook with an epic. But not for B'way in
the summer of 1905!"
"It is my opinion," said I, "that great human emotions shake up our
vocabulary and leave the words best suited to express them on top. A
sudden violent grief or loss or disappointment will bring expressions
out of an ordinary man as strong and solemn and dramatic as those used
in fiction or on the stage to portray those emotions."
"That's where you fellows are wrong," said Hollis. "Plain, every-day
talk is what goes. Your captain would very likely have kicked the
cat, lit a cigar, stirred up a highball, and telephoned for a lawyer,
instead of getting off those Robert Mantell pyrotechnics."
"Possibly, a little later," I continued. "But just at the time--just
as the blow is delivered, if something Scriptural or theatrical and
deep-tongued isn't wrung from a man in spite of his modern and
practical way of speaking, then I'm wrong."
"Of course," said Hollis, kindly, "you've got to whoop her up some
degrees for the stage. The audience expects it. When the villain
kidnaps little Effie you have to make her mother claw some chunks out
of the atmosphere, and scream: "Me chee-ild, me chee-ild!" What she
would actually do would be to call up the police by 'phone, ring for
some strong tea, and get the little darling's photo out, ready for
the reporters. When you get your villain in a corner--a stage corner
--it's all right for him to clap his hand to his forehead and hiss:
"All is lost!" Off the stage he would remark: "This is a conspiracy
against me-- I refer you to my lawyers.'"
"I get no consolation," said I, gloomily, "from your concession of an
accentuated stage treatment. In my play I fondly hoped that I was
following life. If people in real life meet great crises in a
commonplace way, they should do the same on the stage."
And then we drifted, like two trout, out of our cool pool in the great
hotel and began to nibble languidly at the gay flies in the swift
current of Broadway. And our question of dramatic art was unsettled.
We nibbled at the flies, and avoided the hooks, as wise trout do; but
soon the weariness of Manhattan in summer overcame us. Nine stories
up, facing the south, was Hollis's apartment, and we soon stepped into
an elevator bound for that cooler haven.
I was familiar in those quarters, and quickly my play was forgotten,
and I stood at a sideboard mixing things, with cracked ice and
glasses all about me. A breeze from the bay came in the windows not
altogether blighted by the asphalt furnace over which it had passed.
Hollis, whistling softly, turned over a late-arrived letter or two
on his table, and drew around the coolest wicker armchairs.
I was just measuring the Vermouth carefully when I heard a sound.
Some man's voice groaned hoarsely: "False, oh, God!--false, and
Love is a lie and friendship but the byword of devils!"
I looked around quickly. Hollis lay across the table with his head
down upon his outstretched arms. And then he looked up at me and
laughed in his ordinary manner.
I knew him--he was poking fun at me about my theory. And it did seem
so unnatural, those swelling words during our quiet gossip, that I
half began to believe I had been mistaken--that my theory was wrong.
Hollis raised himself slowly from the table.
"You were right about that theatrical business, old man," he said,
quietly, as he tossed a note to me.
I read it.
Loris had run away with Tom Tolliver.