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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Story Of A Play: A Novel - Chapter 18
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The Story Of A Play: A Novel - Chapter 18 Post by :JC101 Category :Long Stories Author :William Dean Howells Date :May 2012 Read :1816

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The Story Of A Play: A Novel - Chapter 18


Some people began to call, old friends of her mother, whose visit to New York seemed to have betrayed to them the fact of Louise's presence for the first time, and some friends of her own, who had married, and come to New York to live, and who said they had just got back to town long enough to learn that she was there. These all reproached her for not having let them know sooner where she was, and they all more or less followed up their reproaches with the invitations which she dreaded because of Maxwell's aversion for them. But she submitted them to him, and submitted to his refusal to go with her, and declined them. In her heart she thought he was rather ungracious, but she did not say so, though in two or three cases of people whom she liked she coaxed him a little to go with her. Meeting her mother and talking over the life she used to lead in Boston, and the life so many people were leading there still, made her a little hungry for society; she would have liked well enough to find herself at a dinner again, and she would have felt a little dancing after the dinner no hardship; but she remembered the promise she had made herself not to tease Maxwell about such things. So she merely coaxed him, and he so far relented as to ask her why she could not go without him, and that hurt her, and she said she never would go without him. All the same, when there came an invitation for lunch, from a particularly nice friend of her girlhood, she hesitated and was lost. She had expected, somehow, that it was going to be a very little lunch, but she found it a very large one, in the number of people, and after the stress of accounting for her husband's failure to come with her, she was not sorry to have it so. She inhaled with joy the atmosphere of the flower-scented rooms; her eye dwelt with delight on their luxurious and tasteful appointments, the belongings of her former life, which seemed to emerge in them from the past and claim her again; the women in their _chic New York costumes and their miracles of early winter hats hailed her a long-lost sister by every graceful movement and cultivated tone; the correctly tailored and agreeably mannered men had polite intelligence of a world that Maxwell never would and never could be part of; the talk of the little amusing, unvital things that began at once was more precious to her than the problems which the austere imagination of her husband dealt with; it suddenly fatigued her to think how hard she had tried to sympathize with his interest in them. Her heart leaped at sight of the long, rose-heaped table, with its glitter of glass and silver, and the solemn perfection of the serving-men; a spectacle not important in itself was dear to her from association with gayeties, which now, for a wicked moment, seemed to her better than love.

There were all sorts of people: artists and actors, as well as people of fashion. Her friend had given her some society notable to go out with, but she had appointed for the chair next her, on the other hand, a young man in a pretty pointed beard, whom she introduced across from the head of the table as soon as she could civilly take the notable to herself. Louise did not catch his name, and it seemed presently that he had not heard hers, but their acquaintance prospered without this knowledge. He made some little jokes, which she promptly responded to, and they talked awhile as if they were both New-Yorkers, till she said, at some remark of his, "But I am not a New-Yorker," and then he said, "Well, neither am I," and offered to tell her what he was if she would tell him what she was.

"Oh, I'm from Boston, of course," she answered, but then, instead of saying where he was from, he broke out:

"Now I will fulfil my vow!"

"Your vow? What is your vow?"

"To ask the first Boston person I met if that Boston person knew anything about another Boston person, who wrote a most remarkable play I saw in the fall out at home."

"A play?" said Louise, with a total loss of interest in the gentleman's city or country.

"Yes, by a Boston man named Maxwell--"

Louise stared at him, and if their acquaintance had been a little older, she might have asked him to come off. As it was she could not speak, and she let him go on.

"I don't know when I've ever had a stronger impression in the theatre than I had from that play. Perfectly modern, and perfectly American." He briefly sketched it. "It was like a terrible experience on the tragic side, and on the other side it was a rapture. I never saw love-making on the stage before that made me wish to be a lover--"

A fire-red flew over Louise's face, and she said, almost snubbingly, as if he had made some unwarrantable advance: "I think I had better not let you go on. It was my husband who wrote that play. I am Mrs. Maxwell."

"Mrs. Maxwell! You are Mrs. Maxwell?" he gasped, and she could not doubt the honesty of his amaze.

His confusion was so charming that she instantly relented. "Of course I should like to have you go on all day as you've begun, but there's no telling what exceptions you might be going to make later. Where did you see my husband's play?"

"In Midland--"

"What! You are not--you can't be--Mr. Ray?"

"I am--I can," he returned, gleefully, and now Louise impulsively gave him her hand under the table-cloth.

The man(oe)uvre caught the eye of the hostess. "A bet?" she asked.

"Better," cried Louise, not knowing her pun, "a thousand times," and she turned without further explanation to the gentleman: "When I tell Mr. Maxwell of this he will suffer as he ought, and that's saying a great deal, for not coming with me to-day. To think of it's being _you_!"

"Ah, but to think of it's being _he_! You acquit me of the poor taste of putting up a job?"

"Oh, of anything you want to be acquitted of! What crime would you prefer? There are whole deluges of mercy for you. But now go on, and tell me everything you thought about the play."

"I'd rather you'd tell me what you know about the playwright."

"Everything, of course, and nothing." She added the last words from a sudden, poignant conviction. "Isn't that the way with the wives of you men of genius?"

"Am I a man of genius?"

"You're literary."

"Oh, literary, yes. But I'm not married."

"You're determined to get out of it, somehow. Tell me about Midland. It has filled such a space in our imagination! You can't think what a comfort and stay you have been to us! But why in Midland? Is it a large place?"

"Would it take such a very big one to hold me? It's the place I brought myself up in, and it's very good to me, and so I live there. I don't think it has any vast intellectual or aesthetic interests, but there are very nice people there, very cultivated, some of them, and very well read. After all, you don't need a great many people; three or four will do."

"And have you always lived there?"

"I lived a year or so in New York, and I manage to get on here some time every winter. The rest of the year Midland is quite enough for me. It's gay at times; there's a good deal going on; and I can write there as well as anywhere, and better than in New York. Then, you know, in a small way I'm a prophet in my own country, perhaps because I was away from it for awhile. It's very pretty. But it's very base of you to make me talk about myself when I'm so anxious to hear about Mr. Maxwell."

"And do you spend all your time writing Ibsen criticisms of Ibsen plays?" Louise pursued against his protest.

"I do some other kind of writing."


"Oh, no! I'm not here to interview myself."

"Oh, but you ought. I know you've written something--some novel. Your name was so familiar from the first." Mr. Ray laughed and shook his head in mockery of her cheap device. "You mustn't be vexed because I'm so vague about it. I'm very ignorant."

"You said you were from Boston."

"But there are Bostons and Bostons. The Boston that I belonged to never hears of American books till they are forgotten!"

"Ah, how famous I must be there!"

"I see you are determined to be bad. But I remember now; it was a play. Haven't you written a play?" He held up three fingers. "I knew it! What was it?"

"My plays," said the young fellow, with a mock of superiority, "have never been played. I've been told that they are above the heads of an audience. It's a great consolation. But now, really, about Mr. Maxwell's. When is it to be given here? I hoped very much that I might happen on the very time."

Louise hesitated a moment, and then she said: "You know he has taken it back from Godolphin." It was not so hard to say this as it was at first, but it still required resolution.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" said Mr. Ray. "I never thought he appreciated it. He was so anxious to make his part all in all that he would have been willing to damage the rest of it irretrievably. I could see, from the way he talked of it, that he was mortally jealous of Salome; and the girl who did that did it very sweetly and prettily. Who has got the play now?"

"Well," said Louise, with rather a painful smile, "nobody has it at present. We're trying to stir up strife for it among managers."

"What play is that?" asked her friend, the hostess, and all that end of the table became attentive, as any fashionable company will at the mention of a play; books may be more or less out of the range of society, but plays never at all.

"My husband's," said Louise, meekly.

"Why, does _your husband write _plays_?" cried the lady.

"What did you think he did?" returned Louise, resentfully; she did not in the least know what her friend's husband did, and he was no more there to speak for himself than her own.

"He's written a very _great play," Mr. Ray spoke up with generous courage; "the very greatest American play I have seen. I don't say ever written, for I've written some myself that I haven't seen yet," he added, and every one laughed at his bit of self-sacrifice. "But Mr. Maxwell's play is just such a play as I would have written if I could--large, and serious, and charming."

He went on about it finely, and Louise's heart swelled with pride. She wished Maxwell could have been there, but if he had been, of course Mr. Ray would not have spoken so freely.

The hostess asked him where he had seen it, and he said in Midland.

Then she said, "We must all go," and she had the effect of rising to do so, but it was only to leave the men to their tobacco.

Louise laid hold of her in the drawing-room: "Who is he? What is he?"

"A little dear, isn't he?"

"Yes, of course. But what has he done?"

"Why, he wrote a novel--I forget the name, but I have it somewhere. It made a great sensation. But surely _you must know what it was?"

"No, no," Louise lamented. "I am ashamed to say I don't."

When the men joined the ladies, she lingered long enough to thank Mr. Ray, and try to make him tell her the name of his novel. She at least made him promise to let them know the next time he was in New York, and she believed all he said of his regret that he was going home that night. He sent many sweet messages to Maxwell, whom he wanted to talk with about his play, and tell him all he had thought about it. He felt sure that some manager would take it and bring it out in New York, and again he exulted that it was out of the actor's hands. A manager might not have an artistic interest in it; an actor could only have a personal interest in it.

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The Story Of A Play: A Novel - Chapter 19 The Story Of A Play: A Novel - Chapter 19

The Story Of A Play: A Novel - Chapter 19
CHAPTER XIXLouise came home in high spirits. The world seemed to have begun to move again. It was full of all sorts of gay hopes, or at least she was, and she was impatient to impart them to Maxwell. Now she decided that her great office in his life must be to cheer him up, to supply that spring of joyousness which was so lacking in him, and which he never could do any sort of work without. She meant to make him go into society with her. It would do him good, and he would shine. He could talk as

The Story Of A Play: A Novel - Chapter 17 The Story Of A Play: A Novel - Chapter 17

The Story Of A Play: A Novel - Chapter 17
CHAPTER XVIIThey did not try working the play into a story again together. Maxwell kept doggedly at it, though he said it was of no use; the thing had taken the dramatic form with inexorable fixity as it first came from his mind; it could be changed, of course, but it could only be changed for the worse, artistically. If he could sell it as a story, the work would not be lost; he would gain the skill that came from doing, in any event, and it would keep him alive under the ill-luck that now seemed to have set in.