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cBY MAX BEERBOHMYESTERDAY I found in a cupboard an oldsmallbattered portmanteau whichby the initials on itI recognized as my own property. The lock appeared to have been forced. I dimly remembered having forced it myselfwith a pokerin my hot youthafter some journey in which I had lost the key; and this act of violence was probably the reason why the trunk had so long ago ceased to travel. I unstrapped itnot without dust; it exhaled the faint scent of its long closure; it contained a tweed suit of late-Victorian patternsome billssome lettersa collar-studand -- something whichafter I had wondered for a moment or two what on earth it wascaused me suddenly to murmurDown below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle.Strange that these words hadyear after long yearbeen existing in some obscure cell at the back of my brain! -- forgotten but all the while existinglike the trunk in that cupboard. What released themwhat threw open the cell doorwas nothing but the fragment of a fan; just the butt-end of an inexpensive fan. The sticks are of white boneclipped together with a semicircular ring that is not silver. Ring and allthey have no market value; for a farthing is the least coin in our currency. And yetthough I had so long forgotten themfor me they are not worthless. They touch a chord. . . . Lest this confession raise false hopes in youI add that I did not know their owner.I did once see herand in Normandyand by moonlightand her name was Angélique. She was gracefulshe was even beautiful. I was but nineteen years old. Yet even so I cannot say that she impressed me favorably. I was seated at a table of a café on the terrace of a casino. I sat facing the seawith my back to the casino. The hour was latethere were few people about. I heard the swing-door behind me flap openand was aware of a sharp snapping and crackling sound as a lady in white passed quickly by me. I stared at her erectthin back and her agitated elbows. A short fat man passed in pursuit of her -- an elderly man in a black alpaca jacket that billowed. I saw that she had left a trail of little white things on the asphalt. I watched the efforts of the agonized shortfat man to overtake her as she swept wraith-like away to the distant end of the terrace. What was the matter? What had made her so spectacularly angry with him? The three or four waiters of the café were exchanging cynical smiles and shrugsas waiters will. I tried to feel cynicalbut was thrilled with excitementwith wonder and curiosity. The woman out yonder had doubled on her tracks. She had not slackened her furious speedbut the man waddlingly contrived to keep pace with her now. With every moment they became more distinctand the prospect that they would presently pass by meback into the casinogave me that physical tension which one feels on a wayside platform at the imminent passing of an express. In the rushingly enlarged vision I had of themthe wrath on the woman's face was even more saliently the main thing than I had supposed it would be. That very hard Parisian face must have been as white as the powder that coated it. "ÉcouteAngélique gasped the perspiring bourgeois, écouteje te supplie -- " The swing-door received them. I wanted to followbut had not paid for my bock. I beckoned my waiter. On his way to me he stooped and picked up something whichwith a smile and a shrughe laid on my table: "Il semble que Mademoiselle ne s'en servira plus." This was the thing I now write ofand at sight of it I understood why there had been that snapping and cracklingand---------------------------------------------------------------------------------835-what the white fragments on the ground were.I hurried through the roomshoping to see a continuation of that drama -- a scene of appeasementperhapsor of fury still implacable. But the two oddly assorted players were not performing there. My waiter had told me he had not seen either of them before. I suppose they had arrived that day. But I was not destined to see either of them again. They went awayI supposenext morningjointly or singly; singlyI imagine.They madehowevera prolonged stay in my young memoryand would have done so even had I not had that tangible memento of them. Who were theythose two of whom that one strange glimpse had befallen me? What had all that tragic pother been about? Mlle. Angélique I guessed to be thirty years oldher friend perhaps fifty-five. Each of their faces was as clear to me as in the moment of actual vision -- the man's fatshinybewildered face; the taut white face of the womanthe hard red line of her mouththe eyes that were not flashingbut positively dullwith rage. I presumed that the fan had been a present from himand a recent present -- bought perhaps that very dayafter their arrival in the town. But whatwhat had he done that she should break it between her handsscattering the splinters as who should sow dragon's-teeth? I could not believe he had done anything much amiss. I imagined her grievance a trivial one. But this did not make the case less engrossing. Again and again I would take the fan-stump from my pockethoping to read the mystery it had been mixed up inso that I might reveal that mystery to the world. To the worldyes; nothing less than that. I was determined to make a story of what I had seen -- a conte in the manner of great Guy de Maupassant. Now and againin the course of the past year or soit had occurred to me that I might be a writer. But I had not felt the impulse to sit down and write something. I did feel that impulse now. It would indeed have been an irresistible impulse if I had known just what to write.I felt I might know at any momentand had but to give my mind to it. Maupassant was an impeccable artistyet I think the secret of the hold he had on the young men of my day was not that we discerned his cunningbut that we delighted in the simplicity which his cunning achieved. I had read a great number of his short storiesbut none that had made me feel as though Iif I were a writermightn't have written it myself. Maupassant had an European reputation. It was pleasingit was soothing and gratifyingto feel that one could at any time win an equal fame if one chose to set pen to paper. And nowsuddenlythe spring had been touched in methe time was come. I was grateful for the fluke by which I had witnessed on the terrace that evocative scene. I looked forward to reading the MS. of "The Fan" -- to-morrowat latest. I was not wildly ambitious. I was not inordinately vain. I knew I couldn't everwith the best will in the worldwrite like George Meredith. Those wondrous works of hisseething with witwith poetry and philosophy and what notnever had beguiled me with the sense that I might do something similar. I had full consciousness of not being a philosopherof not being a poetand of not being a wit. WellMaupassant was none of these things. He was just an observerlike me. Of course he was a good deal older than Iand had observed a good deal more. But it seemed to me that he was not my superior in knowledge of life. I knew all about life through him.Dimlythe initial paragraph of my tale floated in my mind. I -- not exactly I myselfbut rather that impersonal je familiar to me through Maupassant -- was to be sitting at that tablewith a bock before mejust as I had sat. Four or five sentences would give the whole scene. One of these I had quite definitely composed. You have already heard it. "Down belowthe sea rustled to and fro over the shingle."These wordswhich pleased me muchwere to do double duty. They were to recur. They were to beby a fine strokethe very last words of my taletheir tranquillity striking a sharp ironic contrast with the stress of what had just been narrated. I hadyou seeadvanced farther in the form of my tale than in---------------------------------------------------------------------------------836-the matter. But even the form was as yet vague. Whatexactlywas to happen after Mlle. Angélique and M. Joumand (as I provisionally called him) had rushed back past me into the casino? It was clear that I must hear the whole inner history from the lips of one or the other of them. Which? Should M. Joumand stagger out on to the terracesit down heavily at the table next to minebury his head in his handsand presentlyin broken wordsblurt out to me all that might be of interest? "'And I tell you I gave up everything for her -- everything!' He stared at me with his old hopeless eyes. 'She is more than the fiend I have described to you. Yet I swear to youmonsieurthat if I had anything left to giveit should be hers.'Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle.Or should the lady herself be my informant? For a whileI rather leaned to this alternative. It was more excitingit seemed to make the writer more signally a man of the world. On the other handit was less simple to manage. Wronged persons might be ever so communicativebut I surmised that persons in the wrong were reticent. Mlle. Angéliquethereforewould have to be modified by me in appearance and behaviortoned downtouched up; and poor M. Joumand must look like a man of whom one could believe anything. . . . "She ceased speaking. She gazed down at the fragments of her fanand thenas though finding in them an image of her own lifewhispered'To think what I once wasmonsieur! -- whatbut for himI might beeven now!' She buried her face in her handsthen stared out into the night. Suddenly she uttered a shortharsh laugh.Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle.I decided that I must choose the first of these two ways. It was the less chivalrous as well as the less lurid waybut clearly it was the more artistic as well as the easier. The "chose vue the tranche de la vie" -- this was the thing to aim at. Honesty was the best policy. I must be nothing if not merciless. Maupassant was nothing if not merciless. He would not have spared Mlle. Angélique. Besideswhy should I libel M. Joumand? Poor -- nonot poor M. Joumand! I warned myself against pitying him. One touch of "sentimentality and I should be lost. M. Joumand was ridiculous. I must keep him so. But -- what was his position in life? I toyed with the possibility that he kept a fan-shop -- that the business had once been a prosperous one, but had gone down, down, because of his infatuation for this woman to whom he was always giving fans -- which she always smashed. . . . 'Ahmonsieurcruel and ungrateful to me though she isI swear to you that if I had anything left to giveit should be hers; but' -- he stared at me with his oldhopeless eyes -- 'the fan she broke to-night was the last -- the lastmonsieur -- of my stock.' Down below -- but I pulled myself together, and asked pardon of my Muse.
It may be that I had offended her by my fooling. Or it may be that she had a sisterly desire to shield Mlle. Angélique from my mordant art. Or it may be that she was bent on saving M. de Maupassant from a dangerous rivalry. Anyway, she withheld from me the inspiration I had so confidently solicited. I could not think what had led up to that scene on the terrace. I tried hard and soberly. I turned the chose vue" over and over in my mindday by dayand the fan-stump over and over in my hand. But the "chose à figurer" -- whatoh whatwas that? Nightly I revisited the caféand sat there with an open mind -- a mind wide open to catch the idea that should drop into it like a ripe golden plum. The plum did not ripen. The mind remained wide open for a week or morebut nothing except that phrase about the sea rustled to and fro in it.A full quarter of a century has gone by. M. Joumand's deathso far too fat was he all those years agomay be presumed. A temper so violent as Mlle. Angélique's must surely have brought its owner to the gravelong since. But hereall unchangedthe stump of her fan is; and once more I turn it over and over in my hand. The chord this relic strikes in me is not one of curiosity as to that old quarrelbut (if you will forgive me) one of tenderness for my first effort to write and for my first hopes of excellence.