Broken Wings

No one was more surprised than I was when my book, Broken Wings, was a success. When my friends liked it, I was delighted; but still that seemed natural, — they wanted it to be good, — and I was sure that they had read new meanings into it between the lines, and that their friendly eyes had overlooked the crudities and blunders. The surprise came when the public liked it; when it began to be quoted as one of the most-called-for books at the public libraries, and when I saw it in great piles in the shop windows, marked, So many thousand copies sold to date ! I was inexpressibly pleased when the first request for my autograph arrived; but the time came when I could look callously upon these accompaniments of fame, and when the postage stamps with which my admirers favored me supplied the entire family. As time went on, my opinion upon pianos and soap began to be quoted. Interviews with me appeared in the papers and magazines, and I felt that it was only a matter of time before a Little Journey to my Famous Home would be in order. As the sale of the book continued, and a picture of Rose began to adorn the billboards, with an accompanying announcement of the superiority of the Rose Allen Cigar, I half believed that the success of Broken Wings was all a dream, and I wondered what my awakening would be.

I liked the book, myself, especially some parts of it; but I realized that it had not the usual elements of popular favor, and its sudden success was as much of a puzzle to me as it doubtless was to many others.

The hero, John Graham, is a New York man, about thirty years old when the story opens, and having the appearance of a cynical man of the world. Underneath this shell, however, is a nature sensitively questioning, — a nature which doubts its own leadings, and which fears that the guiding principle of action may be but superficial truth. This general attitude of inaction makes him distrust his own effectiveness; but his reserve keeps this from being seen, and his hesitation passes for indifference. When, therefore, forced to act quickly, he acts from impulse. Like many hesitating natures, action seems final to him, and while doubting its wisdom, he accepts unquestioningly the consequences of a hasty decision. While visiting in Plattsburg, a small New England village, Graham meets Rose Allen, a very beautiful girl, with a simple nature and an honest, healthy mind. Although much attracted by her, Graham, true to his character, hesitates; he questions first her fitness for the position he thinks of offering her, and then, quite honestly, his ability to make her happy. While he is trying to decide these problems, the courtship drags through several months. Sure at last that Rose cares for him, Graham proposes to her ; and no sooner has she owned her affection than, swept off his feet by a burst of passion, he adds to the already lengthy catalogue of her veritable charms all those that his fancy deems desirable. She is beautiful, she is intelligent, — nay, he will interrupt, she is more than that: she has a strength of imagination, a poetic fancy, an intellectual power, that have seldom been equaled! Rose is troubled by Graham’s imaginings, and assures him sincerely that she has none of these qualities. As he insists, she becomes very unhappy, fancying that when he knows the truth he will cease to care for her. She endeavors to get his point of view. Hoping to please him, she even tries to read poetry, which she has never cared for; but though she tries conscientiously, perhaps because she tries conscientiously, it still fails to interest her. This state of affairs goes on for some weeks ; Graham treading more and more on air, Rose becoming more and more wretched. One day she reads a short poem in a magazine. It sounds like some of the poems Graham has read to her. It is so simple that she wonders why any one thought it worth writing ; but she has an instinctive feeling that Graham would like it. He comes in just then, and she shows it to him. “You wrote it, Rose ? ” he cries. Poor Rose ! Her head swims ; she is only conscious that Graham is holding her hands, that he is insisting that she wrote the poem. “ You did, Rose, I know you did! ” Tired of the struggle, half hypnotized, she assents. Graham is delighted. He reads the poem again and again, assuring her that he would have known she had written it if she had not told him ; it is so fresh, so pure, so unaffected ! “ I did not know you cared for me like that,” he murmurs, tears in his eyes. “ There are depths in your soul of which I had not dreamed. I am all unworthy of you.”

Frightened now at what she has done, Rose tries to confess, but they are interrupted before she can do so. When they meet, the next day, she sees at once that Graham knows ; she reads her doom in his steady gray eyes. She feels her spiritual degradation, her intellectual impotence; not only she did not write the poem, but she knows that she could not have done so. She has laid claim to thoughts that were not her own as well as to words. And yet, she thinks angrily, drawing in her breath quickly, she loves John more than any other woman, poetess or not, could ever love any man. Why did he wish her to be so different from herself ? She loves him —

She looks up into his steady gray eyes. Cold fear enters her soul, and her lips grow white. “ I am going around the world,” she hears him say, “ to try to forget you. I hope our paths will never cross again.” She covers her face with her hands and does not see him go ; but she knows that his head is held high, and that he does not falter or look back.

Graham remains abroad for several years, and time serves somewhat to soften his anger; not to such an extent, however, that he goes to see Rose on his return, though he thinks of doing so. After a year or two at home he goes away again, and on his travels he meets a lady who spent a summer in Plattsburg two years before. Graham asks her about Rose. At first she does not remember her; then she says suddenly: “ Oh yes ! Poor little thing ! Did you never hear her story ? She married a cousin of hers, a very nice young fellow, who had been devoted to her for years. After her marriage she grew steadily thinner and thinner, and whiter and whiter, and the summer I was there she died. She never seemed unhappy,” adds the lady, glancing at Graham, “ but I always thought she must have been so.”

Graham is profoundly touched. All his old love for Rose surges back. His dear little Rose! She had died of a broken heart! He had not been quite fair to her, perhaps ; she had lacked a profound knowledge of the subtler ethical laws, but her nature had been a simple and a loving one, and he had expected too much.

The passage of time, bringing to Graham a deeper knowledge of life, shows him his own conduct in a new light. Rose had loved him, — loved him so much that she had tried to change her very nature to please him; and he had imposed on this love! Not satisfied with the gift the gods had given him, he had tried, in his stupid human way, to improve on it. He had insisted first that Rose could write poetry, and then that she had done so. Her very love for him had weakened her will power ; she wanted to please him, and he had overpowered her and left her. She had grown to depend on him utterly, and when the prop was withdrawn she could not stand alone. To be sure, his mocking, doubting self would add, when he was feeling most sentimental : “If you had married her, she might still have died of a broken heart. It may be better as it is.”

As the years go by, many of Graham’s friends die, but he is left: a lonely old man, still cynical in aspect, but ever hugging more closely to his bosom the ideal his own blindness kept him from realizing, — an ideal that might have freshened his dusty life. He always means to go back to Plattsburg, but is deterred by a series of trifling events, so that when he goes at last he is a white-haired man of seventy. The town has changed ; it does not interest him, and he turns his footsteps toward the churchyard. The sexton, to whom he applies for information, is an old resident of the town, and from him Graham learns that Rose never married. “ Course I’m sure,” the old man says. “ Ye must hev heered about anuther gell. Miss Allen lived two doors from us, en she never merried at ull, but lived by herself untell she died, two years ago. . . . Thet’s her stun, — the gray one with the cross on.”

The book notices puzzled me a good deal at first, until I came to the mortifying conclusion that none of the critics had read my book, and that some of them had not even opened it. A smile of gratified pride spread over my face when I saw that I was as “ analytical as George Eliot,” but by the time I read that “ no such clever satire had been penned since Thackeray wrote Vanity Fair ” I had begun to doubt ! The Daily Telegram started out well, I thought, but ended so queerly that I tried to believe there had been a typographical error: —

“ In this day of cheap sensationalism, it is a delight to find a book so fresh and charming as Broken Wings. It is so simply told, and yet with such consummate skill, that one follows the story eagerly, hardly realizing the tragic psychological problem underlying it. It is vital, true to life, but not didactic. It may be thoroughly appreciated by only a few ; its undercurrents are too deep to be felt by the masses, but it cannot fail to be an influence toward higher thoughts along those lines.”

I knew the book reviewer on the Weekly Spectator, and as he had informed me that he meant to give me a “stunning send-off,” I looked with interest for his notice.

“ In Broken Wings,” he said, “ we have a book of a type not unusual. The style and finish of this volume are, however, much above the average, and it is with regret that we notice a few faults, which, though trifling, keep it from being a really great book. For instance, in speaking of the heroine the author says : 1 She was simple and sweet, like a straight young apple tree, — a tree that has always had plenty of air and light, and whose fair pink flowers give vague, delicious promise of a coming summer.’ This, we admit, is a clever bit of phrasing, but it utterly fails to convey any impression. There are, indeed, throughout the story, many attempts at verbal brilliancy, which weaken the book, as does the author’s want of sympathy with her characters and her absolute lack of humor. In spite of these surface faults, it is a strong book, and one likely to be much read and discussed this coming winter. It is emphatically well worth reading.”

If this was my friend’s idea of a “ stunning send-off,” I was ready to stand by the French general who begged to be defended from his friends ! That notice amused me, on the whole, but I was really hurt by the one in the Advertiser. Had I tried to show the struggle of a soul, only to be greeted as the writer of a pleasant and harmless book for the young ? No Sunday-school library could afford to be without it ? I hope that critic did not read my book, but this is what he said : —

“ The book moves quietly as a summer stream, on whose calm surface is reflected the every-day affairs of those who dwell on its borders. The scrupulous avoidance of the sensational, and the dominance of the uneventful, far from weakening the book, impart an atmosphere of restful calm.”

The climax of my success, however, came one August day, when I received a letter from Mr. John Arthur Overdon, asking if he might dramatize Broken Wings, and begging an interview in which to set forth the mutual advantages of such an arrangement. I knew of him as the author of a very successful farce, What’s the Matter with Tompkins ? which was having a great run at one of the theatres, and I wondered what it was in my book that attracted him.

It was a small, alert man who rose neatly to meet me when I entered the drawing-room. He was below medium height, and his features, in no way remarkable of themselves, added to a general expression of keen watchfulness. His attire was careful, and he carried a silk hat. I thought of a fox terrier I had seen at the dog show, trained to wear a coat and walk upon his hind legs. I told him that I appreciated the compliment he paid me in wishing to put my book on the stage, but that I was forcibly reminded by the occurrence of Mrs. Stuart’s suggestion that Mrs. Dana’s How to Know the Wild Flowers be dramatized.

He admitted, unsmilingly, that the lack of incident in my story would add very much to his work. “I shall have to rearrange, to interpolate,” he said. “ There does seem to be very little to go on; but I have had some experience in this kind of thing, and you need not fear failure. I confess,” he added candidly, — to pay me, perhaps, for doubting his ability to make a silk purse out of the meagre materials at hand, — “ I don’t see why the book has had such a run. It’s all out of the popular line. But it’s had a great sale, for some reason, and if I can get it on the stage before people forget all about the book, the name will help the play.” He saw that I hesitated, and continued : “ I ’ll tell you what I ’ll do : make a pretty full outline of it, and bring it up for you to see. There’s no occasion, though, for you to be a bit uneasy ; the play will heighten, not spoil, the artistic effect of your book, beside bringing it to the knowledge of a greater public.”

After he had gone I realized that I had consented to let my book go. The first break was made, and I must now try to see Mr. Overdon’s point of view, and not to mind the few unimportant changes he might make. In my wildest flights of fancy, however, it never occurred to me that he might attempt to pass off my ewe lamb upon an unsuspecting public as a trick poodle.

“ It’s not so bad,” he said, the next time I saw him. “ By a few trifling changes we can make it really very dramatic. The first act will be set at the picnic where Rose and Graham meet. That will give a chance for effective setting and costumes, — white muslin and blue ribbons, and all that sweet simplicity, you know. There will be some pretty scenes between some of the girls and young men, and we might bring in an old fortune teller and have her tell Rose’s fortune : 1 After youth comes age, after love comes death, after sorrow comes peace, but happiness never comes,’ — something that sounds mysterious, and can be made to fit almost anything. To introduce a little action into the scene, Graham will fall into a ravine, and Rose will rescue him. Ropes and Rocks and Courage That Knows Not Fear and An Old Tree. It will be great.”

“ But Graham did not fall into a ravine,” I pleaded, “ and Rose never had her fortune told ” —

“It is the spirit of the book I am trying to get,” he explained patiently. “ We must make trifling concessions in detail to the demands of the drama. The only reason Robert Elsmere was not a success, when it was put on the stage, was because of a petty slavery to the letter of the book. To tell you the truth,” he added, “ I am thinking of the money, too. Why, do you realize that Barrie got more for his per cent on the play of The Little Minister than on the whole sales of the book ? A quarter of a million dollars! Why, on my farce, What’s the Matter with Tompkins ? I took in forty thousand dollars in one year.” There seemed to be nothing too high or too low for him to compare me with ; but my head swam with the figures he set so alluringly before me.

When he brought the second act he was sure he had pleased me. “ I’ve tried,” he said, “ in this act, to let you have things all your own way. Of course I’ve had to crowd events a little, but I’ve not put in a thing, and only changed one idea. I’ve opened up this act by the proposal ” —

“ But, Mr. Overdon,” I cried, “ the whole interest of the book lies in the development of Graham’s character, and the key to his nature is his hesitation, his questioning ! That is what brings his conduct in leaving Rose so suddenly out in strong relief. If he is rescued from sudden death at the end of Act I., and proposes at the beginning of Act II., you make it impossible for any one to get any idea of his character ! ”

“You could not very well explain his character without making it prosy,” he replied. “ It ’ll have to come out in the course of the play from his actions. That’s what ruined Dr. Claudius on the stage. It was not put into dramatic form at all; everything was reported, and nothing was done. It was an awful failure.”

“It is hardly fair,” I admitted, “to judge so hastily. Pray go on, Mr. Overdon.”

“ Well, when he proposes to her he tells her a lot about her imagination and her poetry, —you know, what you make him say a little later; and just then they are interrupted. Oh ! I did think, if you did not mind, we might introduce a little comedy right here in the person of a Swedish butler. Swedish is quite new, and would take like hot cakes. A kind of jolly ‘ Yump, Yonny, yump ! Ay tank ye can mek it in tu yumps ’ fellow. He comes in and interrupts them, and Rose takes up a magazine to hide her confusion. In it she finds the poem, you know, and shows it to Graham ; and then that scene is pretty straight out of the book, too. I have to prolong it a little, because it’s the strong scene of the play, you see, and gives the hero a chance to do the stern, unrelenting, and haughty. Right in the middle I thought I’d have the butler come in again and tell a funny story, to relieve the situation a bit. An audience won’t stand too much unadulterated tragedy. Coquelin told me himself that that is why Rostand introduced the character of Flambeau into L’Aiglon. Just at the end of the act I did make a trifling change. The idea is really the same, but it makes it a little more dramatic, more exciting. It turns out that the poem that Rose claims she has written was really written by Graham himself. I call that a pretty good idea. I wonder you,did not think of it.”

I eyed him sternly. “ I should hardly call it a trifle,” I said. He looked flattered. “ In fact,” I went on, “ it changes and spoils the whole situation. Instead of Graham’s being disappointed at the flaw in his ideal, it puts in an element of personal pique. It belittles him ” —

“ I think not,” said Mr. Overdon, with the air of a man who, as he would have said, has the ace up his sleeve. “ Graham ’s not going to tell her at all that he wrote the poem! The audience will know from his manner, but he’s going away letting her think that he believes she wrote the poem. It always flatters an audience to be in a secret when some of the people on the stage don’t know it. There ’s going to be a chance for some very pretty acting right there.”

“ What will be his reason for leaving her, then ? ” I inquired politely.

“ Oh, I don’t know. That’s not important. It’s always easy enough to trump up a lovers’ quarrel, you know. This is only the outline ; I have to fill it in later. There are lots of ragged ends that will have to be worked in. The prophecy of the fortune teller, for instance, will have to be alluded to in every act.

“ Now one great fault of your book — that is, in staging it — is that there are so few good rôles. The whole play cannot be done by two actors. It would be too hard on them, and not fair to the rest of the company, to say nothing of the danger of tiring out the audience. In the third act, therefore, while I’ve stuck closely to the spirit of the book, I’ve deviated considerably from the lines. This act is divided into two scenes, which contrast the way Rose and Graham took their separation. The first scene will be laid in a café in Paris. Graham will be there with a stunninglooking adventuress, and there will be lots of pretty girls and students, and jokes and singing. Kind of a Trilby business, you know. That might not have been a good play, madam,” glancing at my face. “ I admire the Bard of Avon, myself; but Trilby drew bigger houses than Hamlet ever did, and in these days a man must consider his heirs. Besides,” he went on shrewdly, “of course that scene’s not in the book, but John Arthur will wager considerable that’s just what Graham did in Paris.”

As I had lost the power of speech, he took my silence for assent, and proceeded : “ The adventuress will get in some tall work, and one of the girls will sing a song, — in French, you know, to make the audience think it’s something spicy. Then the tables will be piled up in the corner, and some of the girls will sit on the tables, and the rest will dance. How does that strike you ? ”

“ Who am I,” I replied feebly, “ to block the way of Progress ? They have introduced two little Evas and a cake walk into Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Mr. Overdon laughed genially. “ I suppose it is tough on you,” he said. “ But if you’d study the drama a little, and look up the books that have been staged, and why they succeeded or failed, you would feel better about this one of yours. I am honestly trying to get the spirit of your book, and to convey dramatically the same impression you created by the narrative.”

I did not see Mr. Overdon again for some days. Then he informed me that he had been working very hard. “ The second scene in the third act may seem simple to you,” he remarked, “ but it’s the kind of thing that’s got to ring true, or it’s not worth trying. There’s no effect, no sensation, to carry it through. In the first scene we have Graham in Paris ; in the second, Rose in her simple New England home. That’s an effective contrast, in the first place. She will be simply dressed, and look a little pale. When the curtain goes up she will be seated by the lamp, sewing or knitting a shawl for a poor old woman. One or two neighbors come in to ask favors of her, showing her kind heart and the way she is loved in the village. Then the minister comes and proposes to her — I beg your pardon, I thought you were going to say something. The minister, I say, proposes to her. He is a goodlooking chap, and full of these newfangled ideas about making the church a centre for the poor, and mothers’ clubs, and soup kitchens, and all that. He is fond of Rose, and then he appeals to her generosity, too, by telling her how much he needs her advice and help. The stage will be in half light, and the firelight will flicker on their faces and on the blue and white dishes on the dresser. That’s another good contrast, you see, between these two and Graham and the adventuress in the glare of the lighted café. Those two scenes will work up finely for the posters. Rose tells the minister that a life of activity and usefulness appeals to her, and that she thanks him for his offer, but that her hand can never be his, because her heart belongs to another. Then he gives up talking about Sunday schools, and goes in for love-making; but though she is much affected, she remains firm, and he goes away. The curtain goes down as she sits there alone, looking into the fire.”

I felt as though I were reading a continued story in a magazine, and waited eagerly for the next installment. There was a new expression on Mr. Overdon’s face when I saw him again, and, after careful study, I made up my amazed mind that it was one of embarrassment.

“ Yes,” he confessed, “I’m bunkered on this hole. There are two or three possible ways to get out, but the thing is, which way is going to take with the populace? Of course, an effective scene might be made of the village churchyard, and the white-haired old man and the sexton with leaves falling on them” —

“ Cyrano de Bergerac ? ” I inquired.

“ That would be a pretty risky attempt, though,” he pursued. “ You see, in Cyrano, the ending is tragic enough, but the hero and heroine are both there. Now we might have Graham get to Plattsburg just in time to have an affecting scene with Rose before she dies; but, to tell you the truth, I am plain afraid to put an unhappy ending to this play. The whole course of the story demands a reconciliation. I know that you did not have one, and that the book sold, but it’s different with a play. Did you ever hear what Fox said about an oration ? ‘ Does it read well ? ’ he asked. ‘ If it does, it’s a very bad oration.’ Now that’s pretty true of a play; and just because one ending went in the book, it’s no sign it would in a play. There’s plenty of precedent for as great changes. When Henry Esmond was dramatized, Henry married Beatrix. What do you think ? ”

“ My inexperience is infinite,” I pleaded. “ What, Mr. Overdon, would be your idea ? ”

“ I have an idea in my mind of an ending that might be both effective and suitable. Set the last act after five years, say, and at the time of the Cuban war. Let Rose go as a nurse, and have the scene in a hospital ward in Cuba.”

“ I see,” I interrupted ; “ and by some happy coincidence, Graham, who has been fired with patriotism and joined the army, is wounded, and brought into this very ward ? ”

“ That’s the idea,” he said cordially ; “ that’s it exactly. We might have one of his legs amputated, you know, and have an affecting scene ; have the doctor say that Rose has saved his life, and the curtain go down on a God-bless you-theyall-lived-happy-after tableau.

“ That happy scene reminds me I’ve got some news for you. Rattling good news from a financial standpoint, — and from an artistic one, too, — though it means a rush for me. Juliette Irman wants to star in Broken Wings this season, and she wants the play all finished by the first of September.”

“ Miss Irman is a very charming actress,” I said, much pleased, “but I should hardly think the part would give her enough scope. Even she would have difficulty in making much of Rose.”

“ Rose ! ” he cried. “ Rose ! Bless me, I thought I told you ! She does not want to play Rose ! She will play Graham ! ”

My acquaintance with Mr. Overdon had been a season of growing mortification to me. Consciously, day by day, I had lost my individuality. Powerless to prevent, I had seen my will power grow weaker and weaker. I had even begun to feel a sneaking sympathy for Rose, whom I had always looked down upon. I felt now that my last opportunity was slipping away, and I tried for the last time to assert myself.

“ Mr. Overdon,” I asked coldly, in reply to his inquiry if we had not done pretty well, after all, — “ Mr. Overdon, what did you think of calling your play ? ”

He looked puzzled for a moment, as if unable to fathom the reason for my discontent. “ Oh, pshaw ! ” he declared generously. “ Why, my dear young lady, it’s your book all right. You put altogether too much emphasis on the trifling innovations I’ve made. No one else would even notice them. I’ve only put your thoughts into dramatic form. Don’t you be bothered by any ideas of false pride about the authorship. The credit is yours, and you 'll get it fast enough. All I have tried to do is to preserve the spirit of your book.”

I succumbed weakly. Could degradation farther go ? Desperate at my own weakness, I felt a mad desire to trample upon the upturned face of my fallen idol, as it lay at my feet, mutely reproaching me for its existence.

“Mr. Overdon,” I cried gayly, “I think the last scene is a little dull! It might be improved. Set it in a hospital tent in Cuba, by all means, and have Rose there as nurse, and Graham as patient. The adventuress also will be there, having followed Graham from Paris ; but she will be converted by the minister who was in love with Rose, and who now opportunely turns up as a fighting chaplain in one of the regiments stationed there. Then, why not have some of the negroes sing and dance to amuse the patients, and then have Colonel Roosevelt come in on horseback in his Rough Rider uniform ? Don’t you remember how well it took when Mansfield came in on horseback in Henry V. ? And then any allusion to Roosevelt is sure to awaken applause just now. He could stop by Graham’s cot and lean over to take his hand, saying, ‘ If there were more men like you, this would be a better country.’ Then every one would cheer, and Roosevelt would go out to lead the charge up the San Juan hill. The flap of the tent could be left open, enabling the audience to see the charge, and hear the cheering and the guns. A few wounded might be brought in, and then cries of ‘Victory ! Victory! ’ be heard. Rose and Graham, who up to this time have been a little distant, find themselves together; and as the cry of ‘ Victory! ’ comes, Graham takes her hands, and says : ‘ We, too, Rose, have had our struggle. Thank God that we, too, have won a victory ! ’ Tableau ! Curtain ! ”

Mr. Overdon had been sitting on the edge of his chair, listening. As I finished he jumped up, and, seizing me by both hands, forced me to execute an uncouth dance in celebration of my complete defeat.

“It’s wonderful!” he said, when obliged to pause for want of breath. “ Wonderful! There is not a play on the boards to-day that can touch it. We ’ll make a dramatist of you yet,” looking at me admiringly. “ No one would ever have imagined from reading the book that you had it in you ! ”

I signed the contracts without a murmur. Mr. Overdon’s patent-leather boots may have concealed a cloven hoof, for all I knew ; I was too completely crushed to care. A vision of Peter Schlemil dickering with the devil for his shadow flitted through my mind. Ah, Peter Schlemil, the devil has more tricks than one !

Katharine Head.