A LOST STORY
BY FRANK NORRIS
AT nine o'clock that morning Rosella arrivedin her little office on the third floor of the great publishing-house of Conant& Companyand putting up her veil without removing her hataddressedherself to her day's work.
She went through her meager and unimportantmailwrote a few repliesand then turned to the pile of volunteer manuscriptswhich it was her duty to read and report upon.
For Rosella was Conant's "reader"and so well was she acquainted with the needs of the houseso thorough was shein her workand so great was the reliance upon her judgmentthat she was theonly one employed. Manuscripts that she "passed up" went direct toConant himselfwhile the great army of the "declined" had no secondchance. For the "unavailables" her word was final.
From the first -- which was when her initialliterary venturea little book of short tales of Sicily and the Sicilianswaspublished by the house -- her relations with the Conants had been intimate.Conant believed in herand for the sake of the time when her books could beconsidered safe investments was willing to lose a few dollars during the time ofher apprenticeship. For the tales had enjoyed only a fleeting succèsd'estime. Her style waslike her temperamentdelicately constructed and ofextreme refinementnot the style to appeal to the masses. It was "searched"a little précieuseand the tales themselves were diaphanous enoughpolished little contesthe points subtlethe action turning upon minutepsychological distinctions.
Yet she had worked desperately hard upon theircomposition. She was of those very few who sincerely cannot write unless themood be propitious; and her state of mindthe condition of her emotionswasvery apt to influence her work for good or illas the case might be.
But a succés d'estime fills no pursesandfavorable reviews in the literary periodicals are not "negotiable paper."Rosella could not yet live wholly by her penandwhile awaiting the time ofher arrivalthought herself fortunate when the house offered her the positionof reader.
This arrival of hers was no doubt to behastenedif not actually assuredby the publication of her first novel"Patroclus"upon which she was at this time at work. The evening beforeshe had read thedraft of the story to Trevorand even nowas she cut the string of the firstmanuscript of the pileshe was thinking over what Trevor
had said of itand smiling as she thought.
It was through Conant that Rosella had met thegreat novelist and criticand it was because of Conant that Trevor had readRosella's first little book. He had taken an interest at onceand had foundoccasion to say to her that she had it in her to make a niche for herself inAmerican letters.
He was a man old enough to be her grandfatherand Rosella often came to see him in his studyto advise with him as todoubtful points in her stories or as to ideas for those as yet unwritten. To herhis opinion was absolutely final. This old gentlemanthis elderly man ofletterswho had seen the rise and fall of a dozen schoolswas above theinfluence of fadsand he whose books were among the classics even before hisdeath was infallible in his judgments of the work of the younger writers. Allthe stages of their evolution were known to him -- all their mistakesall theirsuccesses. He understood; and a story by one of thema poema novelthat borethe stamp of his approvalwas "sterling." Work that he declared afailure was such in very earnestand might as well be consigned as speedily aspossible to the grate or the waste-basket.
Whenthereforehe had permitted himself tobe even enthusiastic over "Patroclus" Rosella had been elated beyondthe power of expressionand had returned home with blazing cheeks and shiningeyesto lie awake half the night thinking of her storyplanningperfectingconsidering and reconsidering.
Like her short storiesthe tale was ofextreme delicacy in both sentiment and design. it was a little fancifulalittle elaboratebut of an ephemeral poetry. It was all "atmosphere"and its success depended upon the minutest precision of phrasing and the nicestharmony between idea and word. There was much in mere effect of words; and moreimportant than mere plot was the feeling produced by the balancing of phrasesand the cadence of sentence and paragraph.
Only a young woman of Rosella's complexityofher extreme sensitivenesscould have conceived "Patroclus" nor couldshe herself hope to complete it successfully at any other period of her life.Any earlier she would have been too immature to adapt herself to its demands;any later she would have lost the spontaneitythe jeunesseand thefreshness which were to contribute to its greatest charm.
The tale itself was simple. Instead of a plota complicationit built itself around a central ideaand it was theoriginality of this ideathis motifthat had impressed Trevor so strongly.IndeedRosella's draft could convey no more than that. Her treatment was all tofollow. But here she was sure of herself. The style would come naturally as sheworked.
She was ambitiousand in her craving tosucceedto be recognized and acceptedwas all that passionate eagerness thatonly the artist knows. So far success had been denied her; but now at last sheseemed to see light. Her "Patroclus" would make her claims good.Everything depended upon that.
She had thought over this whole situationwhile she removed the wrappings from the first manuscript of the pile upon herdesk. Even then her fingers itched for the penand the sentences and phrases ofthe opening defined themselves clearly in her mind. But that was not to be theimmediate work. The unlovely bread-and-butter business pressed upon her. With along breath she put the vision from her and turned her attention to the task athand.
After her customshe went through the pileglancing at the titles and first lines of each manuscriptand putting it asidein the desk corner to be considered in detail later on.
She almost knew in advance that of thethirty-odd volunteers of that day's batch not one would prove available. Themanuscripts were tagged and numbered in the business office before they came toherand the number of the first she picked up that morning was 1120and thissince the first of the year. Of the eleven hundred she had accepted only three.Of these threetwo had failed entirely after publication; the third had barelypaid expenses. What a record! How hopeless it seemed! Yet the strugglerspersisted. Did it not seem as if No. 1120Mrs. Allen Bowen of BentonvilleSouth Dakota -- did it not seem as if she could know that the great Americanpublic has no interest inno use for"Thoughts on the Higher Life"a series of articles written for the county paper -- foolish little articlesrevamped from Ruskin and Matthew Arnold?
And 1121 -- what was this? The initial linesran: "'Ohdamn everything!' exclaimed Percival Holcombeas he droppedlanguidly into a deep-seated leather chair by the club window which commanded aview of the noisy street crowded with fashion and frivolitywherein theafternoon's sunfreed from its enthralling mistswhich all day long hadjealously obscured his beamswas gloating o'er the panels of the carriages ofnoblemen who were returning from race-track and parkand the towhead of thelittle sweeper who plied his humble trade which earned his scanty supper that heate miles away from that gay quarter wherein Percival Holcombewho -- "Rosella paused for sheer breath. This sort did not need to be read. it wasdeclined already. She picked up the next. It was in an underwear-box of greenpaste-board.
"The staid old town of Salem" itread"was all astir one bright and sunny morning in the year 1604."Rosella groaned. "Another!" she said. "Now" she continuedspeaking to herself and shutting her eyes -- "now about the next page the 'portlyburgess' will address the heroine as 'Mistress' and will say'An' whither awayso early?'" She turned over to verify. She was wrong. The portly burgesshad said: "Good morrowMistress Priscilla. An' where away so gailybedizened?" She sighed as she put the manuscript away. "Whyandohwhy will they do it!" she murmured.
The next one1123was a story "Compiledfrom the Memoirs of One Perkin AlthorpeEsq.Sometime Field-Cornet in HisMajesty's Troop of Horse" and was sown thick with objurgation -- "Ods-wounds!""Body o' me!" "A murrain on thee!" "By my halidom!"and all the rest of the sweepings and tailings of Scott and the third-rateromanticists.
"Declined" said Rosellafirmlytossing it aside. She turned to 1124:
"About three o'clock of a roseate day inearly spring two fashionables of the softer sexelegantly arrayedmight havebeen observed sauntering languidly down Fifth Avenue.
"'Are you going to Mrs. Van Billion'smusicale to-night?' inquired the older of the twoa tall and strikingdemi-brunetteturning to her companion.
"'Noindeed' replied the person thusaddresseda blonde of exquisite coloring. 'Noindeed. The only music one hearsthere is the chink of silver dollars. Ha! ha! ha! ha!'"
Rosella winced as if in actual physicalanguish. "And the author calls it a 'social satire'!" she exclaimed."How can she! How can she!"
She turned to the next. It was written inscript that was a model of neatnessmarginedcorrectly punctuatedandaddressed"Harold Vickers" with the town and State. Its title was"The Last Dryad" and the poetry of the phrase stuck in her mind. Sheread the first linesthen the first pagethen two.
"Come" said Rosella"there issomething in this." At once she was in a little valley in Boeotia in theArcadian day. It was evening. There was no wind. Somewhere a temple opalescentin the sunset suggested rather than defined itself. A landscape developed suchas Turner in a quiet mood might have evolvedand with it a feeling of fantasyof remotenessof puretrue classicism. A note of pipes was in the airsheepbleatedand Daphneknee-deep in the grasssurging an answer to the pipeswent down to meet her shepherd.
Rosella breathed a great sigh of relief. Hereat last was a possibility -- a new writer with a newsane view of his world andhis work. A new poetin fine. She consulted the name and address given --Harold VickersAsh ForkArizona. There was something in that Harold; perhapseducation and good people. But the Vickers told her nothing. And where was AshForkArizona; and why and how had "The Last Dryad" been written thereof all places the green world round? How came the inspiration for that classic paysagesuch as Ingres would have lovedfrom the sage-brush and cactus? "Well"she told herself"Moore wrote 'Lalla Rookh' in a back room in Londonamong the chimney-pots and soot. Maybe the proportion is inverse. ButMr.Harold Vickers of Ash ForkArizonayour little book isto say the leastwellworth its ink."
She went through the other manuscripts asquickly as was consistent with fairnessand declined them all. Then settlingherself comfortably in her chairshe plungedwith the delight of an explorerventuring upon new groundinto the pages of "The Last Dryad."
FOUR hours later she cameasit wereto herselfto find that she sat lax in her placewith openupturnedpalmsand eyes vacantly fixed upon the opposite wall. "The Last Dryad"read to the final wordwas tumbled in a heap upon the floor. It was past herluncheon-hour. Her cheeks flamed; her hands were cold and moist; and her heartbeat thick and slowcloggedas it wereby its own heaviness.
But the lapse of time was naught to hernorthe fever that throbbed in her head. Her worldlike a temple of glasshad comedown dashing about her. The futurewhich had beckoned her onward-- a fairy inthe path wherein her feet were set-- was goneand at the goal of her ambitionand striving she saw suddenly a stranger standplucking down the golden applesthat she so long and passionately had desired.
For "The Last Dryad" was her ownher veryvery own and cherished "Patroclus."
That the other author had taken the story froma different view-pointthat his treatment variedthat the approach was his ownthat the wording was his ownproduced not the least change upon the finalresult. The ideathe motifwas identical in each; identical in everyparticularidentical in effectin suggestion. The two tales were one. That wasthe factthe unshakable factthe block of granite that a malicious fortune hadflung athwart her little pavilion of glass.
At first she jumped to the conclusion ofchicanery. At first there seemed no other explanation. "He stole it"she criedrousing vehemently from her inertia -- "mine -- mine. He stolemy story."
But common sense prevailed in the end. Nothere was no possible chance for theft. She had not spoken of "Patroclus"to any one but Trevor. Her manuscript draft had not once left her hands. No; itwas a coincidencenothing more -- one of those fateful coincidences with whichthe scientific and literary worlds are crowded. And hethis unknown Vickersthis haphazard genius of Ash ForkArizonahad the prior claim. Her "Patroclus"must remain unwritten. The sob caught and clutched at her throat at last.
"Oh" she cried in a half-whisper --"ohmy chancemy hopesmy foolish little hopes! And now this! Tohave it all come to nothing -- when I was so proudso buoyant -- and Mr. Trevorand all! Ohcould anything be more cruel!"
And thenof all momentsex machinaHarold Vickers's card was handed in.
She stared at it an instantthrough tearsamazed and incredulous. Surely some one was playing a monstrous joke upon herto-day. Soon she would come upon the strings and false bottoms and wigs andmasks of the game. But the office-boy's contemplation of her distress was real.Something must be done. The whole machine of things could not indefinitely hangthus suspendedinertwaiting her pleasure.
"Yes" she exclaimed all at once."Very well; show him in"; and she had no more than gathered up themanuscript of "The Last Dryad" from the floor when its author enteredthe room.
He was very young-- certainly not more thantwenty-three-- tallrather poorly dressedan invalidbeyond doubtand thecough and the flush on the high cheek-bone spelled the name of the disease. Thepepper-and-salt suitthe shoe-string cravatand the broad felt hat werefrankly Arizona. And he was diffidentconstrainedsitting uncomfortably on thechair as a mark of respectsmiling continuallyandas he talkedthrowing inher name at almost every phrase:
"NoMiss Beltis; yesMiss Beltis; quiterightMiss Beltis."
His embarrassment helped her to her owncomposureand by the time she came to question him as to his book and thereasons that brought him from Ash Fork to New Yorkshe had herself in hand.
"I have received an unimportantgovernment appointment in the Fisheries Department" he explained"and as I was in New York for the week I thought I might -- not that Iwished to seem to hurry youMiss Beltis -- but I thought I might ask if you hadcome to -- to my little book yet."
In five minutes of time Rosella knew justwhere Harold Vickers was to be placedto what type he belonged. He was theyoung man of great talent whoso far from being discovered by the outsideworldhad not even discovered himself. He would be in two minds as yet abouthis calling in lifewhether it was to be the hatching of fish or the writing of"Last Dryads." No one had yet taken him in handhad so much as
spoken a word to him. If she told him now that his book was a ridiculous failurehe would no doubt say -- and believe -- that she was quite rightthat he hadfelt as much himself. If she told him his book was a little masterpiecehewould be just as certain to tell himselfand with equal sinceritythat he hadknown it from the first.
He had offered his manuscript nowhere else asyet. He was as new as an overnight daisyand as destructible in Rosella's hands.
"Yes" she said at length"Ihave read your manuscript." She paused a momentthen: "But I am notquite ready to pass upon it yet."
He was voluble in his protestations.
"Ohthat is all right" sheinterrupted. "I can come to the second reading in a day or two. I couldsend you word by the end of the week."
"Thank youMiss Beltis." He pausedawkwardlysmiling in deprecatory fashion. "Do you -- from what you haveseen of it -- read of it -- do you -- how does it strike you? As good enough topublish -- or fit for the waste-basket?"
Ahwhy had this situation leaped upon herthus unawaresand all unprepared! Why had she not been allowed timeopportunityto fortify herself! What she said now would mean so much. Best errthenon the safe side; and which side was that? Her words seemed to come ofthemselvesand she almost physically felt herself withdraw from theresponsibility of what this other material Rosella Beltis was saying.
"I don't know" said the otherRosella. "I should not care to say -- so soon. You see -- there are so manymanuscripts. I generally trust to the first impression on the second reading."She did not even hear his answerbut she saidwhen he had done speakingthateven in case of an unfavorable report there wereof courseother publishers.
But he answered that the judgment of such ahouse as the Conants would suffice for him. Somehow he could not peddle hisstory about New York. If the Conants would not take his worknobody would.
And that was the last remark of importance hemade. During the few remaining moments of his visit they spoke of unessentialsand before she was aware he had gone awayleaving with her a memorandum of hisaddress at the time.
SHE did not sleep that night.When she left the office she brought "The Last Dryad" home with herand till far into the night she read it and re-read itcomparing it andcontrasting it with "Patroclus" searching diligently if perhaps therewere not some minute loophole of evasion for hersome devious passage throughwhich tortuously she might escape. But amid the shattered panes of her glasspavilion the block of stone persistedinertimmovable. The stone could not beraisedthe little edifice could not be rebuilt.
Then at lastinevitablythe temptation came-- came and grew and shut about her and gripped her close. She began totemporizeto advance excuses. Was not her story the better one? Granted thatthe idea was the samewas not the treatmentthe presentationmore effective?Should not the fittest survive? Was it not right that the public should have thebetter version? Suppose "Patroclus" had been written by a third personand she had been called upon to choose between it and "The Last Dryad"would she not have taken "Patroclus" and rejected the other? Ahbut"Patroclus" was not yet written! Wellthat was true. But the draft ofit was; the idea of it had been conceived eight months ago. Perhaps she hadthought of her story before Vickers had thought of his. Perhaps? No; it was veryprobable; there was no doubt of itin fact. That was the important thing: theconception of the ideanot the execution. And if this was trueher claim wasprior.
But what would Conant say of such reasoningand Trevor -- would they approve? Would they agree?
"Yesthey would" she cried theinstant the thought occurred to her. "Yesthey wouldthey wouldtheywould; I know they would. I am sure of it; sure of it."
But she knew they would not. The idea of rightpersisted and persisted. Rosella was on the rackand slowlyinevitablyresistlessly the temptation grew and gatheredand snared her feet and her handsandfold on foldlapped around her like a veil.
A great and feminine desire to shift theresponsibility began to possess her mind.
"I cannot help it" she cried."I am not to blame. It is all very well to preachbut how would -- any onedo in my case? It is not my fault."
And all at oncewithout knowing how or whyshe found that she had writtensealedstampedand addressed a note to HaroldVickers declining his story.
But this was a long way from actuallyrejecting "The Last Dryad" -- rejecting it in favor of "Patroclus."She had only written the noteso she told herselfjust to see how the wordswould look. It was merely an impulse; would come to nothingof course. Let usput it asidethat noteand seriously consider this trying situation.
Somehow it seemed less trying now; somehow thefact of her distress seemed less poignant. There was a way out of it -- stop.No; do not look at the note there on the table. There was a way outno doubtbut not that one; noof course not that one. Rosella laughed a little. Howeasily some one elseless scrupulouswould solve this problem! Wellshe couldsolve ittooand keep her scruples as well; but not to-night. Now she was wornout. To-morrow it would look different to her.
She went to bed and tossed wide-eyed andwakeful till morningthen roseand after breakfast prepared to go to theoffice as usual. The manuscript of "The Last Dryad" lay on her tableand while she was wrapping it up her eye fell upon the note to Harold Vickers.
"Why" she murmuredwith a littlegrimace of astonishment -- "whyhow is this? I thought I burned that lastnight. How could I have forgotten!"
She could have burned it then. The fire wascrackling in the grate; she had but to toss it in. But she preferred to delay.
"I will drop it in some ash-can or downsome sewer on the way to the office" she said to herself. She slipped itinto her muff and hurried away. But on the way to the cable-car no ash-canpresented itself. Trueshe discovered the opening of a sewer on the cornerwhere she took her car. But a milkman and a police officer stood near at hand inconversationoccasionally glancing at herand no doubt they would have thoughtit strange to see this well-dressed young woman furtively dropping a sealedletter into a sewer-vent.
She held it awkwardly in her hand all of herway down-townand still carried it there when she had descended from her carand took her way up the cross-street toward Conant's.
She suddenly remembered that she had otherletters to mail that morning. For two days the weekly epistles that she wrotehome to her mother and younger sister had been overlooked in her pocket. Shefound a mail-box on the corner by the Conant building and crossed over to itholding her mother's and sister's letters in one hand and the note to Vickers inthe other.
Carefully scanning the addressesto make sureshe did not confuse the lettersshe dropped in her home correspondencethenstood there a moment irresolute.
Irresolute as to whatshe could not say. Herdecision had been taken in the matter of "The Last Dryad." She wouldaccept itas it deserved. Whether she was still to write "Patroclus"was a matter to be considered later. Wellshe was glad she had settled it all.If she had not come to this conclusion she might have beenat that veryinstantdropping the letter to Harold Vickers into the box. She would havestoodthusfacing the boxhave raised the cast-iron flap-- this with onehand-- and with the other have thrust the note into the slide -- thus.
Her fingers closed hard upon the letter at thevery last instant -- ahnot too late. But suppose she hadbut for one secondopened her thumb and forefinger and -- what? What would come of it?
And therewith the letter yet on the edge ofthe drop she called up again the entire situationthe identity of the storiesthe jeopardizing -- nothe wrecking -- of her future career by thischance-thrown barrier in the way. Why hesitatewhy procrastinate? Her thoughtscame to her in a whirl. If she acted quickly now-- took the leap with shuteyesreckless of result-- she could truly be sorry thentruly acknowledgewhat was rightbelieve that Vickers had the prior claim without the hardnecessity of acting up to her convictions. At leastthis harrowing indecisionwould be over with.
"Indecision?" What was this she wassaying? Had she not this moment told herself that she was resolved -- resolvedto accept "The Last Dryad"? Resolved to accept it? Was that true? Hadshe done
"HE WAS DIFFIDENTCONSTRAINEDSITTING UNCOMFORTABLY ON THE CHAIR"
so? Had she not made up her mind long ago to decline it -- decline it with fullknowledge that its author would destroy it once the manuscript should bereturned?
These thoughts had whisked through her mindwith immeasurable rapidity. The letter still rested half inhalf out of thedrop. She still held it there.
By now Rosella knew if she let it fall shewould do so deliberatelywith full knowledge of what she was about. She couldnot afterward excuse herself by saying that she had been confusedexcitedacting upon an unreasoned impulse. No; it would be deliberatedeliberatedeliberate. She would have to live up to that decisionwhatever it wasformany months to comeperhaps for years. Perhaps-- who could say? -- perhaps itmight affect her character permanently. In a crisis little forces are importantdisproportionately so. And then it wasand thus it wasthat Rosella took herresolve. She raised the iron flap once moreand saying aloud and with a ring ofdefiance in her voice: "Deliberatelydeliberately; I don't care"loosed her hold upon the letter. She heard it fall with a soft rustling impactupon the accumulated mail-matter in the bottom of the box.
A week later she received her letter back witha stamped legend across its face informing her with dreadful terseness that theparty to whom the letter was addressed was deceased. She divined a blunderbutfor all thatand with Heaven knew what conflicting emotionssoughtconfirmation in the daily press. Thereat the very end of the columnstood thenotice:
VICKERS. At New Yorkon SundayNovember 12Harold Anderson Vickersin the twenty-third year of his age. Arizona papersplease copy. Notice of funeral hereafter.
Three days later she began to write"Patroclus."
ROSELLA stood upon thedoor-step of Trevor's houseclosing her umbrella and shaking the water from thefolds of her mackintosh. It was between eight and nine in the eveningand sincemorning a fine rain had fallen steadily. But no stress of weather could havekept Rosella at home that evening. A week previous she had sent to Trevor thetype-written copy of the completed "Patroclus" and to-night she wasto call for the manuscript and listen to his suggestions and advice.
She had triumphed in the end -- triumphed overwhatshe had not always cared to inquire. But once the pen in her handonce"Patroclus" begunand the absorption of her mindher imaginationher every facultyin the composition of the storyhad not permitted her tothink of or to remember anything else.
And she saw that her work was good. She hadtested it by every methodheld it up to her judgment in all positions and fromall sidesand in her mindso far as she could seeand she was a harsh criticfor her own workit stood the tests. Not the least of her joys was the pleasurethat she knew Trevor would take in her success. She could foresee just theexpression of his face when he would speakcould forecast just the tones of thevoicethe twinkle of the kindly eyes behind the glasses.
When she entered the studyshe found Trevorhimselfas she had expectedwaiting for her in slippers and worn velvetjacketpipe in handand silk skullcap awry upon the silver-white hair. Heextended an inky handand still holding it and talkingled her to aneasy-chair near the hearth.
Even through the perturbation of her mindRosella could not but wonder -- for the hundredth time -- at the apparentdiscrepancy between the great novelist and the nature of his books. These latterwereeach and all of themwonders of artistic compositioncompared with thehordes of latter-day pictures. They were the aristocrats of their kindfull ofreserved forceunimpeachable in dignitystately evenat times veritablyaustere.
And Trevor himself was a shortrotund manrubicund as to facebourgeois as to clothes and surroundings (the bisquestatuette of a fisher-boy obtruded the vulgarity of its gilding and tinting fromthe mantel-piece)jovial in mannerindulging even in slang. One might easilyhave set him down as a retired groceryman -- wholesale perhapsbut none theless a groceryman. Yet touch him upon the subject of his professionand thebonhomie lapsed away from him at once. Then he became serious. Literature wasnot a thing to be trifled with.
Thus it was to-night. For five minutes Trevorfilled the room with the roaring of
his own laughter and the echoes of his own vociferous voice. He was telling astory -- a funny storyabout what Rosellawith her thoughts on"Patroclus" could not for the life of her have saidand she mustneeds listen in patience and with perfunctory merriment while the narrative wasconducted to its close with all the accompaniment of stamped feet and slappedknees.
"'Whybecothmithtah' said thatnigger. 'Dat dawg ain' good fo' nothin' ailse; so I jes rickon he 'th boun' tobe a coon dawg'"; and the author of "Snow in April" pounded thearm of his chair and roared till the gas-fixtures vibrated.
Then at lasttaking advantage of a lull inthe talkRosellaunable to contain her patience longerfound breath toremark:
"And 'Patroclus' -- my -- my littlebook?"
"Ah -- humyes. 'Patroclus' your story.I've read it."
At once another man was before heror ratherthe writer -- the novelist -- in the man. Something of the dignity of hisliterary style immediately seemed to invest him with a new character. He fellquietgravenot a little abstractedand Rosella felt her heart sink. Herlittle book (never had it seemed so insignificantso presumptuous as now) hadbeen on trial before a relentless tribunalhad indeed undergone the ordeal offire. But the verdictthe verdict! Quietlybut with cold hands clasped tighttogethershe listened while the greatest novelist of America passed judgmentupon her effort.
"Yes; I've read it" continuedTrevor. "Read it carefully -- carefully. You have worked hard upon it. Ican see that. You have put your whole soul into itput all of yourself into it.The narrative is all thereand I have nothing but good words to say to youabout the constructionthe mere mechanics of it. But -- "
Would he never go on? What was this? What didthat "But" mean? What else but disaster could it mean? Rosella shuther teeth.
"Butto speak very franklymy deargirlthere is something lacking. Ohthe ideathe motif -- that -- " heheld up a hand. "That is as intact as when you read me the draft. Thecentral themethe approachthe grouping of the charactersthe dialogue -- allgood -- all good. The thing that is lacking I find very hard to define. But the moodof the storyshall we say? -- the mood of the story is -- " he stoppedfrowning in perplexityhesitating. The great master of words for once foundhimself at a loss for expression. "The mood is somehow truculentwhen itshould be as suaveas quietas the very river you describe. Don't you see?Can't you understand what I mean? In this 'Patroclus' the atmospherethelittledelicatesubtle sentimentis everything -- everything. What was themere story? Nothing without the proper treatment. And it was just in this fineintimate relationship between theme and treatment that the success of the bookwas to be looked for. I thought I could be sure of you there. I thought that youof all people could work out that motif adequately. But -- " he waved ahand over the manuscript that lay at her elbow -- "this -- it is not thething. This is a poor criticismyou will saymerely a marshaling of emptyphrasesabstractions. Wellthat may be; I repeatit is very hard for me todefine just what there is of failure in your 'Patroclus.' But it is emptydryhardbarren. Am I cruel to speak so frankly? If I were less frankmy deargirlI would be less justless kind. You have told merely the storyhavenarrated episodes in their sequence of timeand where the episodes have stoppedthere you have ended the book. The whole animus that should have put the lifeinto it is goneorif it is not goneit is so perverted that it isincorrigible. To my mind the book is a failure."
Rosella did not answer when Trevor ceasedspeakingand there was a long silence. Trevor looked at her anxiously. He hadhated to hurt her. Rosella gazed vaguely at the fire. Then at last the tearsfilled her eyes.
"I am sorryveryvery sorry" saidTrevorkindly. "But to have told you anything but the truth would havedone you a wrong -- andthenno earnest work is altogether wasted. Even though'Patroclus' is -- not what we expected of ityour effort over it will help youin something else. You did work hard at it. I saw that. You must have put yourwhole soul into it."
"That" said Rosellaspeaking halfto herself -- "that was just the trouble."
But Trevor did not understand.