THE objective of the Willa Cather Scholarly Edition is to provide to readers—present and future—various kinds of information relevant to Willa Cather's writing, obtained and presented according to the highest scholarly standards: a critical text faithful to her intention as she prepared it for the first edition, a historical essay providing relevant biographical and historical facts, explanatory notes identifying allusions and references, a textual commentary tracing the work through its lifetime and describing Cather's involvement with it, and a record of changes in the text's various editions. This edition is distinctive in the comprehensiveness of its apparatus, especially in its inclusion of extensive explanatory information that illuminates the fiction of a writer who drew so extensively upon actual experience, as well as the full textual information we have come to expect in a modern critical edition. It thus connects activities that are too often separate—literary scholarship and textual editing.
Editing Cather's writing means recognizing that Cather was as fiercely protective of her novels as she was of her private life. She suppressed much of her early writing and dismissed serial publication of her later work, discarded manuscripts and proofs, destroyed letters, and included in her will a stipulation against publication of her private papers. Yet the record remains surprisingly full. Manuscripts, typescripts, and proofs of some texts survive with corrections and revisions in Cather's hand; serial publications provide final "draft" versions of texts; correspondence with her editors and publishers helps clarify her intention for a work, and publishers' records detail each book's public life; correspondence with friends and acquaintances provides an intimate view of her writing; published interviews with and speeches by Cather provide a running commentary on her career; and through their memoirs, recollections, and letters, Cather's contemporaries provide their own commentary on circumstances surrounding her writing.
In assembling pieces of the editorial puzzle, we have been guided by principles and procedures articulated by the Committee on Scholarly Editions of the Modern Language Association. Assembling and comparing texts demonstrated the basic tenet of the textual editor—that only painstaking collations reveal what is actually there. Scholars had assumed, for example, that with the exception of a single correction in spelling, O Pioneers! passed unchanged from the 1913 first edition to the 1937 Autograph Edition. Collations revealed nearly a hundred word changes, thus providing information not only necessary to establish a critical text and to interpret how Cather composed but also basic to interpreting how her ideas about art changed as she matured.
Cather's revisions and corrections on typescripts and page proofs demonstrate that she brought to her own writing her extensive experience as an editor. Word changes demonstrate her practices in revising; other changes demonstrate that she gave extraordinarily close scrutiny to such matters as capitalization, punctuation, paragraphing, hyphenation, and spacing. Knowledgeable about production, Cather had intentions for her books that extended to their design and manufacture. For example, she specified typography, illustrations, page format, paper stock, ink color, covers, wrappers, and advertising copy.
To an exceptional degree, then, Cather gave to her work the close textual attention that modern editing practices respect, while in other ways she challenged her editors to expand the definition of "corruption" and "authoritative" beyond the text, to include the book's whole format and material existence. Believing that a book's physical form influenced its relationship with a reader, she selected type, paper, and format that invited the reader response she sought. The heavy texture and cream color of paper used for O Pioneers! and My Ántonia, for example, created a sense of warmth and invited a childlike play of imagination, as did these books' large, dark type and wide margins. By the same principle, she expressly rejected the anthology format of assembling texts of numerous novels within the covers of one volume, with tight margins, thin paper, and condensed print.
Given Cather's explicitly stated intentions for her works, printing and publishing decisions that disregard her wishes represent their own form of corruption, and an authoritative edition of Cather must go beyond the sequence of words and punctuation to include other matters: page format, paper stock, typeface, and other features of design. The volumes in the Cather Edition respect those intentions insofar as possible within a series format that includes a comprehensive scholarly apparatus. For example, the Cather Edition has adopted the format of six by nine inches, which Cather approved in Bruce Rogers's elegant work on the 1937 Houghton Mifflin Autograph Edition, to accommodate the various elements of design. While lacking something of the intimacy of the original page, this size permits the use of large, generously leaded type and ample margins—points of style upon which the author was so insistent. In the choice of paper we have deferred to Cather's declared preference for a warm, cream antique stock.
Today's technology makes it difficult to emulate the qualities of hot-metal typesetting and letterpress printing. In comparison, modern phototypesetting printed by offset lithography tends to look anemic and lacks the tactile quality of type impressed into the page. The version of the typeface employed in the original edition of Alexander's Bridge, were it available for phototypesetting, would hardly survive the transition. Instead, we have chosen Linotype Janson Text, a modern rendering of the type used by Rogers. The subtle adjustments of stroke weight in this reworking do much to retain the integrity of earlier metal versions. Therefore, without trying to replicate the design of single works, we seek to represent Cather's general preferences in a design that encompasses many volumes.
In each volume in the Cather Edition, the author's specific intentions for design and printing are set forth in textual commentaries. These essays also describe the history of the texts, identify those that are authoritative, explain the selection of copy-texts or basic texts, justify emendations of the copy-text, and describe patterns of variants. The textual apparatus in each volume—lists of variants, emendations, explanations of emendations, and end-line hyphenations— completes the textual story.
Historical essays provide essential information about the genesis, form, and transmission of each book, as well as supply its biographical, historical, and intellectual contexts. Illustrations supplement these essays with photographs, maps, and facsimiles of manuscript, typescript, or typeset pages. Finally, because Cather in her writing drew so extensively upon personal experience and historical detail, explanatory notes are an especially important part of the Cather Edition. By providing a comprehensive identification of her references to flora and fauna, to regional customs and manners, to the classics and the Bible, to popular writing, music, and other arts—as well as relevant cartography and census material—these notes provide a starting place for scholarship and criticism on subjects long slighted or ignored.
Within this overall standard format, differences occur that are informative in their own right. The straightforward textual history of O Pioneers! and My Ántonia contrasts with the more complicated textual challenges of A Lost Lady and Death Comes for the Archbishop; the allusive personal history of the Nebraska novels, so densely woven that My Ántonia seems drawn not merely upon Anna Pavelka but upon all of Webster County, contrasts with the more public allusions of novels set elsewhere. The Cather Edition reflects the individuality of each work while providing a standard reference for critical study.
LATE one brilliant April afternoon Professor Lucius Wilson stood at the head of Chestnut Street, looking about him with the pleased air of a man of taste who does not very often get to Boston. He had lived there as a student, but for twenty years and more, since he had been Professor of Philosophy in a Western university, he had seldom come East except to take a steamer for some foreign port. Wilson was standing quite still, contemplating with a whimsical smile the slanting street, with its worn paving, its irregular, gravely colored houses, and the row of naked trees on which the thin sunlight was still shining. The gleam of the river at the foot of the hill made him blink a little, not so much because it was too bright as because he found it so pleasant. The few passers-by glanced at him unconcernedly, and even the children who hurried along with their school-bags under their arms seemed to find it perfectly natural that a tall brown gentleman should be standing there, looking up through his glasses at the gray housetops.
The sun sank rapidly; the silvery light had faded from the bare boughs and the watery twilight was setting in when Wilson at last walked down the hill, descending into cooler and cooler depths of grayish shadow. His nostril, long unused to it, was quick to detect the smell of wood smoke in the air, blended with the odor of moist spring earth and the saltiness that came up the river with the tide. He crossed Charles Street between jangling street cars and shelving lumber drays, and after a moment of uncertainty wound into Brimmer Street. The street was quiet, deserted, and hung with a thin bluish haze. He had already fixed his sharp eye upon the house which he reasoned should be his objective point, when he noticed a woman approaching rapidly from the opposite direction. Always an interested observer of women, Wilson would have slackened his pace anywhere to follow this one with his impersonal, appreciative glance. She was a person of distinction he saw at once, and, moreover, very handsome. She was tall, carried her beautiful head proudly, and moved with ease and certainty. One immediately took for granted the costly privileges and fine spaces that must lie in the background from which such a figure could emerge with this rapid and elegant gait. Wilson noted her dress, too,—for, in his way, he had an eye for such things,— particularly her brown furs and her hat. He got a blurred impression of her fine color, the violets she wore, her white gloves, and, curiously enough, of her veil, as she turned up a flight of steps in front of him and disappeared.
Wilson was able to enjoy lovely things that passed him on the wing as completely and deliberately as if they had been dug-up marvels, long anticipated, and definitely fixed at the end of a railway journey. For a few pleasurable seconds he quite forgot where he was going, and only after the door had closed behind her did he realize that the young woman had entered the house to which he had directed his trunk from the South Station that morning. He hesitated a moment before mounting the steps. "Can that," he murmured in amazement,— "can that possibly have been Mrs. Alexander?"
When the servant admitted him, Mrs. Alexander was still standing in the hallway. She heard him give his name, and came forward holding out her hand.
"Is it you, indeed, Professor Wilson? I was afraid that you might get here before I did. I was detained at a concert, and Bartley telephoned that he would be late. Thomas will show you your room. Had you rather have your tea brought to you there, or will you have it down here with me, while we wait for Bartley?"
Wilson was pleased to find that he had been the cause of her rapid walk, and with her he was even more vastly pleased than before. He followed her through the drawing-room into the library, where the wide back windows looked out upon the garden and the sunset and a fine stretch of silver-colored river. A harp-shaped elm stood stripped against the pale-colored evening sky, with ragged last year's birds' nests in its forks, and through the bare branches the evening star quivered in the misty air. The long brown room breathed the peace of a rich and amply guarded quiet. Tea was brought in immediately and placed in front of the wood fire. Mrs. Alexander sat down in a high-backed chair and began to pour it, while Wilson sank into a low seat opposite her and took his cup with a great sense of ease and harmony and comfort.
"You have had a long journey, have n't you?" Mrs. Alexander asked, after showing gracious concern about his tea. "And I am so sorry Bartley is late. He's often tired when he's late. He flatters himself that it is a little on his account that you have come to this Congress of Psychologists."
"It is," Wilson assented, selecting his muffin carefully; "and I hope he won't be tired to-night. But, on my own account, I'm glad to have a few moments alone with you, before Bartley comes. I was somehow afraid that my knowing him so well would not put me in the way of getting to know you."
"That's very nice of you." She nodded at him above her cup and smiled, but there was a little formal tightness in her tone which had not been there when she greeted him in the hall.
Wilson leaned forward. "Have I said something awkward? I live very far out of the world, you know. But I did n't mean that you would exactly fade dim, even if Bartley were here."
Mrs. Alexander laughed relentingly. "Oh, I'm not so vain! How terribly discerning you are."
She looked straight at Wilson, and he felt that this quick, frank glance brought about an understanding between them.
He liked everything about her, he told himself, but he particularly liked her eyes; when she looked at one directly for a moment they were like a glimpse of fine windy sky that may bring all sorts of weather.
"Since you noticed something," Mrs. Alexander went on, "it must have been a flash of the distrust I have come to feel whenever I meet any of the people who knew Bartley when he was a boy. It is always as if they were talking of some one I had never met. Really, Professor Wilson, it would seem that he grew up among the strangest people. They usually say that he has turned out very well, or remark that he always was a fine fellow. I never know what reply to make."
Wilson chuckled and leaned back in his chair, shaking his left foot gently. "I expect the fact is that we none of us knew him very well, Mrs. Alexander. Though I will say for myself that I was always confident he'd do something extraordinary."
Mrs. Alexander's shoulders gave a slight movement, suggestive of impatience. "Oh, I should think that might have been a safe prediction. Another cup, please?"
"Yes, thank you. But predicting, in the case of boys, is not so easy as you might imagine, Mrs. Alexander. Some get a bad hurt early and lose their courage; and some never get a fair wind. Bartley"—he dropped his chin on the back of his long hand and looked at her admiringly—"Bartley caught the wind early, and it has sung in his sails ever since."
Mrs. Alexander sat looking into the fire with intent preoccupation, and Wilson studied her half-averted face. He liked the suggestion of stormy possibilities in the proud curve of her lip and nostril. Without that, he reflected, she would be too cold. "I should like to know what he was really like when he was a boy. I don't believe he remembers," she said suddenly. "Won't you smoke, Mr. Wilson?"
Wilson lit a cigarette. "No, I don't suppose he does. He was never introspective. He was simply the most tremendous response to stimuli I have ever known. We did n't know exactly what to do with him."
A servant came in and noiselessly removed the tea-tray. Mrs. Alexander screened her face from the firelight, which was beginning to throw wavering bright spots on her dress and hair as the dusk deepened.
"Of course," she said, "I now and again hear stories about things that happened when he was in college."
"But that is n't what you want." Wilson wrinkled his brows and looked at her with the smiling familiarity that had come about so quickly. "What you want is a picture of him, standing back there at the other end of twenty years. You want to look down through my memory."
She dropped her hands in her lap. "Yes, yes; that's exactly what I want."
At this moment they heard the front door shut with a jar, and Wilson laughed as Mrs. Alexander rose quickly. "There he is. Away with perspective! No past, no future for Bartley; just the fiery moment. The only moment that ever was or will be in the world!" The door from the hall opened, a voice called "Winifred?" hurriedly, and a big man came through the drawing-room with a quick, heavy tread, bringing with him a smell of cigar smoke and chill out-of-doors air. When Alexander reached the library door, he switched on the lights and stood six feet and more in the archway, glowing with strength and cordiality and rugged, blond good looks. There were other bridge-builders in the world, certainly, but it was always Alexander's picture that the Sunday Supplement men wanted, because he looked as a tamer of rivers ought to look. Under his tumbled sandy hair his head seemed as hard and powerful as a catapult, and his shoulders looked strong enough in themselves to support a span of any one of his ten great bridges that cut the air above as many rivers.
After dinner Alexander took Wilson up to his study. It was a large room over the library, and looked out upon the black river and the row of white lights along the Cambridge Embankment. The room was not at all what one might expect of an engineer's study. Wilson felt at once the harmony of beautiful things that have lived long together without obtrusions of ugliness or change. It was none of Alexander's doing, of course; those warm consonances of color had been blending and mellowing before he was born. But the wonder was that he was not out of place there,—that it all seemed to glow like the inevitable background for his vigor and vehemence. He sat before the fire, his shoulders deep in the cushions of his chair, his powerful head upright, his hair rumpled above his broad forehead. He sat heavily, a cigar in his large, smooth hand, a flush of after-dinner color in his face, which wind and sun and exposure to all sorts of weather had left fair and clear-skinned.
"You are off for England on Saturday, Bartley, Mrs. Alexander tells me."
"Yes, for a few weeks only. There's a meeting of British engineers, and I'm doing another bridge in Canada, you know."
"Oh, every one knows about that. And it was in Canada that you met your wife, was n't it?"
"Yes, at Allway. She was visiting her great-aunt there. A most remarkable old lady. I was working with MacKeller then, an old Scotch engineer who had picked me up in London and taken me back to Quebec with him. He had the contract for the Allway Bridge, but before he began work on it he found out that he was going to die, and he advised the committee to turn the job over to me. Otherwise I'd never have got anything good so early. MacKeller was an old friend of Mrs. Pemberton, Winifred's aunt. He had mentioned me to her, so when I went to Allway she asked me to come to see her. She was a wonderful old lady."
"Like her niece?" Wilson queried.
Bartley laughed. "She had been very handsome, but not in Winifred's way. When I knew her she was little and fragile, very pink and white, with a splendid head and a face like fine old lace, somehow,—but perhaps I always think of that because she wore a lace scarf on her hair. She had such a flavor of life about her. She had known Gordon and Livingstone and Beaconsfield when she was young,—every one. She was the first woman of that sort I'd ever known. You know how it is in the West,—old people are poked out of the way. Aunt Eleanor fascinated me as few young women have ever done. I used to go up from the works to have tea with her, and sit talking to her for hours. It was very stimulating, for she could n't tolerate stupidity."
"It must have been then that your luck began, Bartley," said Wilson, flicking his cigar ash with his long finger. "It's curious, watching boys," he went on reflectively. "I'm sure I did you justice in the matter of ability. Yet I always used to feel that there was a weak spot where some day strain would tell. Even after you began to climb, I stood down in the crowd and watched you with—well, not with confidence. The more dazzling the front you presented, the higher your façade rose, the more I expected to see a big crack zigzagging from top to bottom,"—he indicated its course in the air with his forefinger,—"then a crash and clouds of dust. It was curious. I had such a clear picture of it. And another curious thing, Bartley," Wilson spoke with deliberateness and settled deeper into his chair, "is that I don't feel it any longer. I am sure of you."
Alexander laughed. "Nonsense! It's not I you feel sure of; it's Winifred. People often make that mistake."
"No, I'm serious, Alexander. You've changed. You have decided to leave some birds in the bushes. You used to want them all."
Alexander's chair creaked. "I still want a good many," he said rather gloomily. "After all, life does n't offer a man much. You work like the devil and think you're getting on, and suddenly you discover that you've only been getting yourself tied up. A million details drink you dry. Your life keeps going for things you don't want, and all the while you are being built alive into a social structure you don't care a rap about. I sometimes wonder what sort of chap I'd have been if I had n'tbeen this sort; I want to go and live out his potentialities, too. I have n't forgotten that there are birds in the bushes."
Bartley stopped and sat frowning into the fire, his shoulders thrust forward as if he were about to spring at something. Wilson watched him, wondering. His old pupil always stimulated him at first, and then vastly wearied him. The machinery was always pounding away in this man, and Wilson preferred companions of a more reflective habit of mind. He could not help feeling that there were unreasoning and unreasonable activities going on in Alexander all the while; that even after dinner, when most men achieve a decent impersonality, Bartley had merely closed the door of the engine-room and come up for an airing. The machinery itself was still pounding on.
Bartley's abstraction and Wilson's reflections were cut short by a rustle at the door, and almost before they could rise Mrs. Alexander was standing by the hearth. Alexander brought a chair for her, but she shook her head.
"No, dear, thank you. I only came in to see whether you and Professor Wilson were quite comfortable. I am going down to the music-room."
"Why not practice here? Wilson and I are growing very dull. We are tired of talk."
"Yes, I beg you, Mrs. Alexander," Wilson began, but he got no further.
"Why, certainly, if you won't find me too noisy. I am working on the Schumann 'Carnival,' and, though I don't practice a great many hours, I am very methodical," Mrs. Alexander explained, as she crossed to an upright piano that stood at the back of the room, near the windows.
Wilson followed, and, having seen her seated, dropped into a chair behind her. She played brilliantly and with great musical feeling. Wilson could not imagine her permitting herself to do anything badly, but he was surprised at the cleanness of her execution. He wondered how a woman with so many duties had managed to keep herself up to a standard really professional. It must take a great deal of time, certainly, and Bartley must take a great deal of time. Wilson reflected that he had never before known a woman who had been able, for any considerable while, to support both a personal and an intellectual passion. Sitting behind her, he watched her with perplexed admiration, shading his eyes with his hand. In her dinner dress she looked even younger than in street clothes, and, for all her composure and self-sufficiency, she seemed to him strangely alert and vibrating, as if in her, too, there were something never altogether at rest. He felt that he knew pretty much what she demanded in people and what she demanded from life, and he wondered how she squared Bartley. After ten years she must know him; and however one took him, however much one admired him, one had to admit that he simply would n't square. He was a natural force, certainly, but beyond that, Wilson felt, he was not anything very really or for very long at a time.
Wilson glanced toward the fire, where Bartley's profile was still wreathed in cigar smoke that curled up more and more slowly. His shoulders were sunk deep in the cushions and one hand hung large and passive over the arm of his chair. He had slipped on a purple velvet smoking-coat. His wife, Wilson surmised, had chosen it. She was clearly very proud of his good looks and his fine color. But, with the glow of an immediate interest gone out of it, the engineer's face looked tired, even a little haggard. The three lines in his forehead, directly above the nose, deepened as he sat thinking, and his powerful head drooped forward heavily. Although Alexander was only forty-three, Wilson thought that beneath his vigorous color he detected the dulling weariness of on-coming middle age.
The next afternoon, at the hour when the river was beginning to redden under the declining sun, Wilson again found himself facing Mrs. Alexander at the tea-table in the library.
"Well," he remarked, when he was bidden to give an account of himself, "there was a long morning with the psychologists, luncheon with Bartley at his club, more psychologists, and here I am. I've looked forward to this hour all day."
Mrs. Alexander smiled at him across the vapor from the kettle. "And do you remember where we stopped yesterday?"
"Perfectly. I was going to show you a picture. But I doubt whether I have color enough in me. Bartley makes me feel a faded monochrome. You can't get at the young Bartley except by means of color." Wilson paused and deliberated. Suddenly he broke out: "He was n't a remarkable student, you know, though he was always strong in higher mathematics. His work in my own department was quite ordinary. It was as a powerfully equipped nature that I found him interesting. That is the most interesting thing a teacher can find. It has the fascination of a scientific discovery. We come across other pleasing and endearing qualities so much oftener than we find force."
"And, after all," said Mrs. Alexander, "that is the thing we all live upon. It is the thing that takes us forward."
Wilson thought she spoke a little wistfully. "Exactly," he assented warmly. "It builds the bridges into the future, over which the feet of every one of us will go."
"How interested I am to hear you put it in that way. The bridges into the future—I often say that to myself. Bartley's bridges always seem to me like that. Have you ever seen his first suspension bridge in Canada, the one he was doing when I first knew him? I hope you will see it sometime. We were married as soon as it was finished, and you will laugh when I tell you that it always has a rather bridal look to me. It is over the wildest river, with mists and clouds always battling about it, and it is as delicate as a cobweb hanging in the sky. It really was a bridge into the future. You have only to look at it to feel that it meant the beginning of a great career. But I have a photograph of it here." She drew a portfolio from behind a bookcase. "And there, you see, on the hill, is my aunt's house."
Wilson took up the photograph. "Bartley was telling me something about your aunt last night. She must have been a delightful person."
Winifred laughed. "The bridge, you see, was just at the foot of the hill, and the noise of the engines annoyed her very much at first. But after she met Bartley she pretended to like it, and said it was a good thing to be reminded that there were things going on in the world. She loved life, and Bartley brought a great deal of it in to her when he came to the house. Aunt Eleanor was very worldly in a frank, Early-Victorian manner. She liked men of action, and disliked young men who were careful of themselves and who, as she put it, were always trimming their wick as if they were afraid of their oil's giving out. MacKeller, Bartley's first chief, was an old friend of my aunt, and he told her that Bartley was a wild, ill-governed youth, which really pleased her very much. I remember we were sitting alone in the dusk after Bartley had been there for the first time. I knew that Aunt Eleanor had found him much to her taste, but she had n't said anything. Presently she came out, with a chuckle: 'MacKeller found him sowing wild oats in London, I believe. I hope he did n't stop him too soon. Life coquets with dashing fellows. The coming men are always like that. We must have him to dinner, my dear.' And we did. She grew much fonder of Bartley than she was of me. I had been studying in Vienna, and she thought that absurd. She was interested in the army and in politics, and she had a great contempt for music and art and philosophy. She used to declare that the Prince Consort had brought all that stuff over out of Germany. She always sniffed when Bartley asked me to play for him. She considered that a newfangled way of making a match of it."
When Alexander came in a few moments later, he found Wilson and his wife still confronting the photograph. "Oh, let us get that out of the way," he said, laughing. "Winifred, Thomas can bring my trunk down. I've decided to go over to New York to-morrow night and take a fast boat. I shall save two days."
ON the night of his arrival in London, Alexander went immediately to the hotel on the Embankment at which he always stopped, and in the lobby he was accosted by an old acquaintance, Maurice Mainhall, who fell upon him with effusive cordiality and indicated a willingness to dine with him. Bartley never dined alone if he could help it, and Mainhall was a good gossip who always knew what had been going on in town; especially, he knew everything that was not printed in the newspapers. The nephew of one of the standard Victorian novelists, Mainhall bobbed about among the various literary cliques of London and its outlying suburbs, careful to lose touch with none of them. He had written a number of books himself; among them a "History of Dancing," a "History of Costume," a "Key to Shakespeare's Sonnets," a study of "The Poetry of Ernest Dowson," etc. Although Mainhall's enthusiasm was often tiresome, and although he was often unable to distinguish between facts and vivid figments of his imagination, his imperturbable good nature overcame even the people whom he bored most, so that they ended by becoming, in a reluctant manner, his friends. In appearance, Mainhall was astonishingly like the conventional stage-Englishman of American drama: tall and thin, with high, hitching shoulders and a small head glistening with closely brushed yellow hair. He spoke with an extreme Oxford accent, and when he was talking well, his face sometimes wore the rapt expression of a very emotional man listening to music. Mainhall liked Alexander because he was an engineer. He had preconceived ideas about everything, and his idea about Americans was that they should be engineers or mechanics. He hated them when they presumed to be anything else.
While they sat at dinner Mainhall acquainted Bartley with the fortunes of his old friends in London, and as they left the table he proposed that they should go to see Hugh MacConnell's new comedy, "Bog Lights."
"It's really quite the best thing MacConnell's done," he explained as they got into a hansom. "It's tremendously well put on, too. Florence Merrill and Cyril Henderson. But Hilda Burgoyne's the hit of the piece. Hugh's written a delightful part for her, and she's quite inexpressible. It's been on only two weeks, and I've been half a dozen times already. I happen to have MacConnell's box for to-night or there'd be no chance of our getting places. There's everything in seeing Hilda while she's fresh in a part. She's apt to grow a bit stale after a time. The ones who have any imagination do."
"Hilda Burgoyne!" Alexander exclaimed mildly. "Why, I have n't heard of her for—years."
Mainhall laughed. "Then you can't have heard much at all, my dear Alexander. It's only lately, since MacConnell and his set have got hold of her, that she's come up. Myself, I always knew she had it in her. If we had one real critic in London—but what can one expect? Do you know, Alexander,"—Mainhall looked with perplexity up into the top of the hansom and rubbed his pink cheek with his gloved finger,—"do you know, I sometimes think of taking to criticism seriously myself. In a way, it would be a sacrifice; but, dear me, we do need some one."
Just then they drove up to the Duke of York's, so Alexander did not commit himself, but followed Mainhall into the theatre. When they entered the stage-box on the left the first act was well under way, the scene being the interior of a cabin in the south of Ireland. As they sat down, a burst of applause drew Alexander's attention to the stage. Miss Burgoyne and her donkey were thrusting their heads in at the half door. "After all," he reflected, "there's small probability of her recognizing me. She doubtless has n't thought of me for years." He felt the enthusiasm of the house at once, and in a few moments he was caught up by the current of MacConnell's irresistible comedy. The audience had come forewarned, evidently, and whenever the ragged slip of a donkey-girl ran upon the stage there was a deep murmur of approbation, every one smiled and glowed, and Mainhall hitched his heavy chair a little nearer the brass railing.
"You see," he murmured in Alexander's ear, as the curtain fell on the first act, "one almost never sees a part like that done without smartness or mawkishness. Of course, Hilda is Irish,—the Burgoynes have been stage people for generations,—and she has the Irish voice. It's delightful to hear it in a London theatre. That laugh, now, when she doubles over at the hips—who ever heard it out of Galway? She saves her hand, too. She's at her best in the second act. She's really MacConnell's poetic motif, you see; makes the whole thing a fairy tale."
The second act opened before Philly Doyle's underground still, with Peggy and her battered donkey come in to smuggle a load of potheen across the bog, and to bring Philly word of what was doing in the world without, and of what was happening along the roadsides and ditches with the first gleam of fine weather. Alexander, annoyed by Mainhall's sighs and exclamations, watched her with keen, half-skeptical interest. As Mainhall had said, she was the second act; the plot and feeling alike depended upon her lightness of foot, her lightness of touch, upon the shrewdness and deft fancifulness that played alternately, and sometimes together, in her mirthful brown eyes. When she began to dance, by way of showing the gossoons what she had seen in the fairy rings at night, the house broke into a prolonged uproar. After her dance she withdrew from the dialogue and retreated to the ditch wall back of Philly's burrow, where she sat singing "The Rising of the Moon" and making a wreath of primroses for her donkey.
When the act was over Alexander and Mainhall strolled out into the corridor. They met a good many acquaintances; Mainhall, indeed, knew almost every one, and he babbled on incontinently, screwing his small head about over his high collar. Presently he hailed a tall, bearded man, grim-browed and rather battered-looking, who had his opera cloak on his arm and his hat in his hand, and who seemed to be on the point of leaving the theatre.
"MacConnell, let me introduce Mr. Bartley Alexander. I say! It's going famously to-night, Mac. And what an audience! You'll never do anything like this again, mark me. A man writes to the top of his bent only once."
The playwright gave Mainhall a curious look out of his deep-set faded eyes and made a wry face. "And have I done anything so fool as that, now?" he asked.
"That's what I was saying," Mainhall lounged a little nearer and dropped into a tone even more conspicuously confidential. "And you'll never bring Hilda out like this again. Dear me, Mac, the girl could n't possibly be better, you know."
MacConnell grunted. "She'll do well enough if she keeps her pace and does n't go off on us in the middle of the season, as she's more than like to do."
He nodded curtly and made for the door, dodging acquaintances as he went.
"Poor old Hugh," Mainhall murmured. "He's hit terribly hard. He's been wanting to marry Hilda these three years and more. She does n't take up with anybody, you know. Irene Burgoyne, one of her family, told me in confidence that there was a romance somewhere back in the beginning. One of your countrymen, Alexander, by the way; an American student whom she met in Paris, I believe. I dare say it's quite true that there's never been any one else." Mainhall vouched for her constancy with a loftiness that made Alexander smile, even while a kind of rapid excitement was tingling through him. Blinking up at the lights, Mainhall added in his luxurious, worldly way: "She's an elegant little person, and quite capable of an extravagant bit of sentiment like that. Here comes Sir Harry Towne. He's another who's awfully keen about her. Let me introduce you. Sir Harry Towne, Mr. Bartley Alexander, the American engineer."
Sir Harry Towne bowed and said that he had met Mr. Alexander and his wife in Tokyo.
Mainhall cut in impatiently.
"I say, Sir Harry, the little girl's going famously tonight, is n't she?"
Sir Harry wrinkled his brows judiciously. "Do you know, I thought the dance a bit conscious to-night, for the first time. The fact is, she's feeling rather seedy, poor child. Westmere and I were back after the first act, and we thought she seemed quite uncertain of herself. A little attack of nerves, possibly."
He bowed as the warning bell rang, and Mainhall whispered: "You know Lord Westmere, of course,— the stooped man with the long gray mustache, talking to Lady Dowle. Lady Westmere is very fond of Hilda."
When they reached their box the house was darkened and the orchestra was playing "The Cloak of Old Gaul." In a moment Peggy was on the stage again, and Alexander applauded vigorously with the rest. He even leaned forward over the rail a little. For some reason he felt pleased and flattered by the enthusiasm of the audience. In the half-light he looked about at the stalls and boxes and smiled a little consciously, recalling with amusement Sir Harry's judicial frown. He was beginning to feel a keen interest in the slender, barefoot donkey-girl who slipped in and out of the play, singing, like some one winding through a hilly field. He leaned forward and beamed felicitations as warmly as Mainhall himself when, at the end of the play, she came again and again before the curtain, panting a little and flushed, her eyes dancing and her eager, nervous little mouth tremulous with excitement.
When Alexander returned to his hotel—he shook Mainhall at the door of the theatre—he had some supper brought up to his room, and it was late before he went to bed. He had not thought of Hilda Burgoyne for years; indeed, he had almost forgotten her. He had last written to her from Canada, after he first met Winifred, telling her that everything was changed with him— that he had met a woman whom he would marry if he could; if he could not, then all the more was everything changed for him. Hilda had never replied to his letter. He felt guilty and unhappy about her for a time, but after Winifred promised to marry him he really forgot Hilda altogether. When he wrote her that everything was changed for him, he was telling the truth. After he met Winifred Pemberton he seemed to himself like a different man. One night when he and Winifred were sitting together on the bridge, he told her that things had happened while he was studying abroad that he was sorry for,—one thing in particular,—and he asked her whether she thought she ought to know about them. She considered a moment and then said: "No, I think not, though I am glad you ask me. You see, one can't be jealous about things in general; but about particular, definite, personal things,"—here she had thrown her hands up to his shoulders with a quick, impulsive gesture—"oh, about those I should be very jealous. I should torture myself—I could n't help it." After that it was easy to forget, actually to forget. He wondered to-night, as he poured his wine, how many times he had thought of Hilda in the last ten years. He had been in London more or less, but he had never happened to hear of her. "All the same," he lifted his glass, "here's to you, little Hilda. You've made things come your way, and I never thought you'd do it.
"Of course," he reflected, "she always had that combination of something homely and sensible, and something utterly wild and daft. But I never thought she'd do anything. She had n't much ambition then, and she was too fond of trifles. She must care about the theatre a great deal more than she used to. Perhaps she has me to thank for something, after all. Sometimes a little jolt like that does one good. She was a daft, generous little thing. I'm glad she's held her own since. After all, we were awfully young. It was youth and poverty and proximity, and everything was young and kindly. I should n't wonder if she could laugh about it with me now. I should n't wonder—But they've probably spoiled her, so that she'd be tiresome if one met her again."
Bartley smiled and yawned and went to bed.
THE next evening Alexander dined alone at a club, and at about nine o'clock he dropped in at the Duke of York's. The house was sold out and he stood through the second act. When he returned to his hotel he examined the new directory, and found Miss Burgoyne's address still given as off Bedford Square, though at a new number. He remembered that, in so far as she had been brought up at all, she had been brought up in Bloomsbury. Her father and mother played in the provinces most of the year, and she was left a great deal in the care of an old aunt who was crippled by rheumatism and who had had to leave the stage altogether. In the days when Alexander knew her, Hilda always managed to have a lodging of some sort about Bedford Square, because she clung tenaciously to such scraps and shreds of memories as were connected with it. The mummy room of the British Museum had been one of the chief delights of her childhood. That forbidding pile was the goal of her truant fancy, and she was sometimes taken there for a treat, as other children are taken to the theatre. It was long since Alexander had thought of any of these things, but now they came back to him quite fresh, and had a significance they did not have when they were first told him in his restless twenties. So she was still in the old neighborhood, near Bedford Square. The new number probably meant increased prosperity. He hoped so. He would like to know that she was snugly settled. He looked at his watch. It was a quarter past ten; she would not be home for a good two hours yet, and he might as well walk over and have a look at the place. He remembered the shortest way.
It was a warm, smoky evening, and there was a grimy moon. He went through Covent Garden to Oxford Street, and as he turned into Museum Street he walked more slowly, smiling at his own nervousness as he approached the sullen gray mass at the end. He had not been inside the Museum, actually, since he and Hilda used to meet there; sometimes to set out for gay adventures at Twickenham or Richmond, sometimes to linger about the place for a while and to ponder by Lord Elgin's marbles upon the lastingness of some things, or, in the mummy room, upon the awful brevity of others. Since then Bartley had always thought of the British Museum as the ultimate repository of mortality, where all the dead things in the world were assembled to make one's hour of youth the more precious. One trembled lest before he got out it might somehow escape him, lest he might drop the glass from over-eagerness and see it shivered on the stone floor at his feet. How one hid his youth under his coat and hugged it! And how good it was to turn one's back upon all that vaulted cold, to take Hilda's arm and hurry out of the great door and down the steps into the sunlight among the pigeons— to know that the warm and vital thing within him was still there and had not been snatched away to flush Cæsar's lean cheek or to feed the veins of some bearded Assyrian king. They in their day had carried the flaming liquor, but to-day was his! So the song used to run in his head those summer mornings a dozen years ago. Alexander walked by the place very quietly, as if he were afraid of waking some one.
He crossed Bedford Square and found the number he was looking for. The house, a comfortable, well-kept place enough, was dark except for the four front windows on the second floor, where a low, even light was burning behind the white muslin sash curtains. Outside there were window boxes, painted white and full of flowers. Bartley was making a third round of the Square when he heard the far-flung hoof-beats of a hansom-cab horse, driven rapidly. He looked at his watch, and was astonished to find that it was a few minutes after twelve. He turned and walked back along the iron railing as the cab came up to Hilda's number and stopped. The hansom must have been one that she employed regularly, for she did not stop to pay the driver. She stepped out quickly and lightly. He heard her cheerful "Good-night, cabby," as she ran up the steps and opened the door with a latchkey. In a few moments the lights flared up brightly behind the white curtains, and as he walked away he heard a window raised. But he had gone too far to look up without turning round. He went back to his hotel, feeling that he had had a good evening, and he slept well.
For the next few days Alexander was very busy. He took a desk in the office of a Scotch engineering firm on Henrietta Street, and was at work almost constantly. He avoided the clubs and usually dined alone at his hotel. One afternoon, after he had tea, he started for a walk down the Embankment toward Westminster, intending to end his stroll at Bedford Square and to ask whether Miss Burgoyne would let him take her to the theatre. But he did not go so far. When he reached the Abbey, he turned back and crossed Westminster Bridge and sat down to watch the trails of smoke behind the Houses of Parliament catch fire with the sunset. The slender towers were washed by a rain of golden light and licked by little flickering flames; Somerset House and the bleached gray pinnacles about Whitehallwere floated in a luminous haze. The yellow light poured through the trees and the leaves seemed to burn with soft fires. There was a smell of acacias in the air everywhere, and the laburnums were dripping gold over the walls of the gardens. It was a sweet, lonely kind of summer evening. Remembering Hilda as she used to be, was doubtless more satisfactory than seeing her as she must be now— and, after all, Alexander asked himself, what was it but his own young years that he was remembering?
He crossed back to Westminster, went up to the Temple, and sat down to smoke in the Middle Temple gardens, listening to the thin voice of the fountain and smelling the spice of the sycamores that came out heavily in the damp evening air. He thought, as he sat there, about a great many things: about his own youth and Hilda's; above all, he thought of how glorious it had been, and how quickly it had passed; and, when it had passed, how little worth while anything was. None of the things he had gained in the least compensated. In the last six years his reputation had become, as the saying is, popular. Four years ago he had been called to Japan to deliver, at the Emperor's request, a course of lectures at the Imperial University, and had instituted reforms throughout the islands, not only in the practice of bridge-building but in drainage and road-making. On his return he had undertaken the bridge at Moor-lock, in Canada, the most important piece of bridge-building going on in the world,—a test, indeed, of how far the latest practice in bridge structure could be carried. It was a spectacular undertaking by reason of its very size, and Bartley realized that, whatever else he might do, he would probably always be known as the engineer who designed the great Moorlock Bridge, the longest cantilever in existence. Yet it was to him the least satisfactory thing he had ever done. He was cramped in every way by a niggardly commission, and was using lighter structural material than he thought proper. He had vexations enough, too, with his work at home. He had several bridges under way in the United States, and they were always being held up by strikes and delays resulting from a general industrial unrest.
Though Alexander often told himself he had never put more into his work than he had done in the last few years, he had to admit that he had never got so little out of it. He was paying for success, too, in the demands made on his time by boards of civic enterprise and committees of public welfare. The obligations imposed by his wife's fortune and position were sometimes distracting to a man who followed his profession, and he was expected to be interested in a great many worthy endeavors on her account as well as on his own. His existence was becoming a network of great and little details. He had expected that success would bring him freedom and power; but it had brought only power that was in itself another kind of restraint. He had always meant to keep his personal liberty at all costs, as old MacKeller, his first chief, had done, and not, like so many American engineers, to become a part of a professional movement, a cautious board member, a Nestor de pontibus. He happened to be engaged in work of public utility, but he was not willing to become what is called a public man. He found himself living exactly the kind of life he had determined to escape. What, he asked himself, did he want with these genial honors and substantial comforts? Hardships and difficulties he had carried lightly; overwork had not exhausted him; but this dead calm of middle life which confronted him,—of that he was afraid. He was not ready for it. It was like being buried alive. In his youth he would not have believed such a thing possible. The one thing he had really wanted all his life was to be free; and there was still something unconquered in him, something besides the strong workhorse that his profession had made of him. He felt rich to-night in the possession of that unstultified survival; in the light of his experience, it was more precious than honors or achievement. In all those busy, successful years there had been nothing so good as this hour of wild light-heartedness. This feeling was the only happiness that was real to him, and such hours were the only ones in which he could feel his own continuous identity—feel the boy he had been in the rough days of the old West, feel the youth who had worked his way across the ocean on a cattle-ship and gone to study in Paris without a dollar in his pocket. The man who sat in his offices in Boston was only a powerful machine. Under the activities of that machine the person who, at such moments as this, he felt to be himself, was fading and dying. He remembered how, when he was a little boy and his father called him in the morning, he used to leap from his bed into the full consciousness of himself. That consciousness was Life itself. Whatever took its place, action, reflection, the power of concentrated thought, were only functions of a mechanism useful to society; things that could be bought in the market. There was only one thing that had an absolute value for each individual, and it was just that original impulse, that internal heat, that feeling of one's self in one's own breast.
When Alexander walked back to his hotel, the red and green lights were blinking along the docks on the farther shore, and the soft white stars were shining in the wide sky above the river.
The next night, and the next, Alexander repeated this same foolish performance. It was always Miss Burgoyne whom he started out to find, and he got no farther than the Temple gardens and the Embankment. It was a pleasant kind of loneliness. To a man who was so little given to reflection, whose dreams always took the form of definite ideas, reaching into the future, there was a seductive excitement in renewing old experiences in imagination. He started out upon these walks half guiltily, with a curious longing and expectancy which were wholly gratified by solitude. Solitude, but not solitariness; for he walked shoulder to shoulder with a shadowy companion—not little Hilda Burgoyne, by any means, but some one vastly dearer to him than she had ever been—his own young self, the youth who had waited for him upon the steps of the British Museum that night, and who, though he had tried to pass so quietly, had known him and come down and linked an arm in his.
It was not until long afterward that Alexander learned that for him this youth was the most dangerous of companions.
One Sunday evening, at Lady Walford's, Alexander did at last meet Hilda Burgoyne. Mainhall had told him that she would probably be there. He looked about for her rather nervously, and finally found her at the farther end of the large drawing-room, the centre of a circle of men, young and old. She was apparently telling them a story. They were all laughing and bending toward her. When she saw Alexander, she rose quickly and put out her hand. The other men drew back a little to let him approach.
"Mr. Alexander! I am delighted. Have you been in London long?"
Bartley bowed, somewhat laboriously, over her hand. "Long enough to have seen you more than once. How fine it all is!"
She laughed as if she were pleased. "I'm glad you think so. I like it. Won't you join us here?"
"Miss Burgoyne was just telling us about a donkey-boy she had in Galway last summer," Sir Harry Towne explained as the circle closed up again. Lord Westmere stroked his long white mustache with his bloodless hand and looked at Alexander blankly. Hilda was a good story-teller. She was sitting on the edge of her chair, as if she had alighted there for a moment only. Her primrose satin gown seemed like a soft sheath for her slender, supple figure, and its delicate color suited her white Irish skin and brown hair. Whatever she wore, people felt the charm of her active, girlish body with its slender hips and quick, eager shoulders. Alexander heard little of the story, but he watched Hilda intently. She must certainly, he reflected, be thirty, and he was honestly delighted to see that the years had treated her so indulgently. If her face had changed at all, it was in a slight hardening of the mouth—still eager enough to be very disconcerting at times, he felt—and in an added air of self-possession and self-reliance. She carried her head, too, a little more resolutely.
When the story was finished, Miss Burgoyne turned pointedly to Alexander, and the other men drifted away.
"I thought I saw you in MacConnell's box with Mainhall one evening, but I supposed you had left town before this."
She looked at him frankly and cordially, as if he were indeed merely an old friend whom she was glad to meet again.
Hilda laughed gayly. "Mooning! I see you mooning! You must be the busiest man in the world. Time and success have done well by you, you know. You're handsomer than ever and you've gained a grand manner."
Alexander blushed and bowed. "Time and success have been good friends to both of us. Are n't you tremendously pleased with yourself ?"
She laughed again and shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, so-so. But I want to hear about you. Several years ago I read such a lot in the papers about the wonderful things you did in Japan, and how the Emperor decorated you. What was it, Commander of the Order of the Rising Sun? That sounds like 'The Mikado.' And what about your new bridge—in Canada, is n't it, and it's to be the longest one in the world and has some queer name I can't remember."
Bartley shook his head and smiled drolly. "Since when have you been interested in bridges? Or have you learned to be interested in everything? And is that a part of success?"
"Why, how absurd! As if I were not always interested!" Hilda exclaimed.
"Well, I think we won't talk about bridges here, at any rate." Bartley looked down at the toe of her yellow slipper which was tapping the rug impatiently under the hem of her gown. "But I wonder whether you'd think me impertinent if I asked you to let me come to see you sometime and tell you about them?"
"Why should I? Ever so many people come on Sunday afternoons."
"I know. Mainhall offered to take me. But you must know that I've been in London several times within the last few years, and you might very well think that just now is a rather inopportune time—"
She cut him short. "Nonsense. One of the pleasantest things about success is that it makes people want to look one up, if that's what you mean. I'm like every one else—more agreeable to meet when things are going well with me. Don't you suppose it gives me any pleasure to do something that people like?"
"Does it? Oh, how fine it all is, your coming on like this! But I did n't want you to think it was because of that I wanted to see you." He spoke very seriously and looked down at the floor.
Hilda studied him in wide-eyed astonishment for a moment, and then broke into a low, amused laugh. "My dear Mr. Alexander, you have strange delicacies. If you please, that is exactly why you wish to see me. We understand that, do we not?"
Bartley looked ruffled and turned the seal ring on his little finger about awkwardly.
Hilda leaned back in her chair, watching him indulgently out of her shrewd eyes. "Come, don't be angry, but don't try to pose for me, or to be anything but what you are. If you care to come, it's yourself I'll be glad to see, and you thinking well of yourself. Don't try to wear a cloak of humility; it does n't become you. Stalk in as you are and don't make excuses. I'm not accustomed to inquiring into the motives of my guests. That would hardly be safe, even for Lady Walford, in a great house like this."
"Sunday afternoon, then," said Alexander, as she rose to join her hostess. "How early may I come?"
"I'm at home after four, and I'll be glad to see you, Bartley."
She gave him her hand and flushed and laughed. He bent over it a little stiffly. She went away on Lady Walford's arm, and as he stood watching her yellow train glide down the long floor he looked rather sullen. He felt that he had not come out of it very brilliantly.
ON Sunday afternoon Alexander remembered Miss Burgoyne's invitation and called at her apartment. He found it a delightful little place and he met charming people there. Hilda lived alone, attended by a very pretty and competent French servant who answered the door and brought in the tea. Alexander arrived early, and some twenty-odd people dropped in during the course of the afternoon. Hugh MacConnell came with his sister, and stood about, managing his teacup awkwardly and watching every one out of his deepset, faded eyes. He seemed to have made a resolute effort at tidiness of attire, and his sister, a robust, florid woman with a splendid joviality about her, kept eyeing his freshly creased clothes apprehensively. It was not very long, indeed, before his coat hung with a discouraged sag from his gaunt shoulders and his hair and beard were rumpled as if he had been out in a gale. His dry humor went under a cloud of absentminded kindliness which, Mainhall explained, always overtook him here. He was never so witty or so sharp here as elsewhere, and Alexander thought he behaved as if he were an elderly relative come in to a young girl's party.
The editor of a monthly review came with his wife, and Lady Kildare, the Irish philanthropist, brought her young nephew, Robert Owen, who had come up from Oxford, and who was visibly excited and gratified by his first introduction to Miss Burgoyne. Hilda was very nice to him, and he sat on the edge of his chair, flushed with his conversational efforts and moving his chin about nervously over his high collar. Sarah Frost, the novelist, came with her husband, a very genial and placid old scholar who had become slightly deranged upon the subject of the fourth dimension. On other matters he was perfectly rational and he was easy and pleasing in conversation. He looked very much like Agassiz, and his wife, in her old-fashioned black silk dress, overskirted and tight-sleeved, reminded Alexander of the early pictures of Mrs. Browning. Hilda seemed particularly fond of this quaint couple, and Bartley himself was so pleased with their mild and thoughtful converse that he took his leave when they did, and walked with them over to Oxford Street, where they waited for their 'bus. They asked him to come to see them in Chelsea, and they spoke very tenderly of Hilda. "She's a dear, unworldly little thing," said the philosopher absently; "more like the stage people of my young days—folk of simple manners. There are n't many such left. American tours have spoiled them, I'm afraid. They have all grown very smart. Lamb would n't care a great deal about many of them, I fancy."
Alexander went back to Bedford Square a second Sunday afternoon. He had a long talk with MacConnell, but he got no word with Hilda alone, and he left in a discontented state of mind. For the rest of the week he was nervous and unsettled, and kept rushing his work as if he were preparing for immediate departure. On Thursday afternoon he cut short a committee meeting, jumped into a hansom, and drove to Bedford Square. He sent up his card, but it came back to him with a message scribbled across the front.
So sorry I can't see you. Will you come and dine with me Sunday evening at half-past seven?H. B.
When Bartley arrived at Bedford Square on Sunday evening, Marie, the pretty little French girl, met him at the door and conducted him upstairs. Hilda was writing in her living-room, under the light of a tall desk lamp. Bartley recognized the primrose satin gown she had worn that first evening at Lady Walford's.
"I'm so pleased that you think me worth that yellow dress, you know," he said, taking her hand and looking her over admiringly from the toes of her canary slippers to her smoothly parted brown hair. "Yes, it's very, very pretty. Every one at Lady Walford's was looking at it."
Hilda curtsied. "Is that why you think it pretty? I've no need for fine clothes in Mac's play this time, so I can afford a few duddies for myself. It's owing to that same chance, by the way, that I am able to ask you to dinner. I don't need Marie to dress me this season, so she keeps house for me, and my little Galway girl has gone home for a visit. I should never have asked you if Molly had been here, for I remember you don't like English cookery."
Alexander walked about the room, looking at everything.
"I have n't had a chance yet to tell you what a jolly little place I think this is. Where did you get those etchings? They're quite unusual, are n't they?"
"Lady Westmere sent them to me from Rome last Christmas. She is very much interested in the American artist who did them. They are all sketches made about the Villa d'Este, you see. He painted that group of cypresses for the Salon, and it was bought for the Luxembourg."
Alexander walked over to the bookcases. "It's the air of the whole place here that I like. You have n't got anything that does n't belong. Seems to me it looks particularly well to-night. And you have so many flowers. I like these little yellow irises."
"Rooms always look better by lamplight—in London, at least. Though Marie is clean—really clean, as the French are. Why do you look at the flowers so critically? Marie got them all fresh in Covent Garden market yesterday morning."
"I'm glad," said Alexander simply. "I can't tell you how glad I am to have you so pretty and comfortable here, and to hear every one saying such nice things about you. You've got awfully nice friends," he added humbly, picking up a little jade elephant from her desk. "Those fellows are all very loyal, even Mainhall. They don't talk of any one else as they do of you."
Hilda sat down on the couch and said seriously: "I've a neat little sum in the bank, too, now, and I own a mite of a hut in Galway. It's not worth much, but I love it. I've managed to save something every year, and that with helping my three sisters now and then, and tiding poor Cousin Mike over bad seasons. He's that gifted, you know, but he will drink and loses more good engagements than other fellows ever get. And I've traveled a bit, too."
Marie opened the door and smilingly announced that dinner was served.
"My dining-room," Hilda explained, as she led the way, "is the tiniest place you have ever seen."
It was a tiny room, hung all round with French prints, above which ran a shelf full of china. Hilda saw Alexander look up at it.
"It's not particularly rare," she said, "but some of it was my mother's. Heaven knows how she managed to keep it whole, through all our wanderings, or in what baskets and bundles and theatre trunks it has n't been stowed away. We always had our tea out of those blue cups when I was a little girl, sometimes in the queerest lodgings, and sometimes on a trunk at the theatre— queer theatres, for that matter."
It was a wonderful little dinner. There was watercress soup, and sole, and a delightful omelette stuffed with mushrooms and truffles, and two small rare ducklings, and artichokes, and a dry yellow Rhone wine of which Bartley had always been very fond. He drank it appreciatively and remarked that there was still no other he liked so well.
"I have some champagne for you, too. I don't drink it myself, but I like to see it behave when it's poured. There is nothing else that looks so jolly."
"Thank you. But I don't like it so well as this." Bartley held the yellow wine against the light and squinted into it as he turned the glass slowly about. "You have traveled, you say. Have you been in Paris much these late years?"
Hilda lowered one of the candle-shades carefully. "Oh, yes, I go over to Paris often. There are few changes in the old Quarter. Dear old Madame Anger is dead—but perhaps you don't remember her?"
"Don't I, though! I'm so sorry to hear it. How did her son turn out? I remember how she saved and scraped for him, and how he always lay abed till ten o'clock. He was the laziest fellow at the Beaux Arts; and that's saying a good deal."
"Well, he is still clever and lazy. They say he is a good architect when he will work. He's a big, handsome creature, and he hates Americans as much as ever. But Angel—do you remember Angel?"
"Ah, no. Poor Angel! She got tired of cooking and scouring the coppers in Madame Anger's little kitchen, so she ran away with a soldier, and then with another soldier. Too bad! She still lives about the Quarter, and, though there is always a soldat, she has become a blanchisseuse de fin. She did my blouses beautifully the last time I was there, and was so delighted to see me again. I gave her all my old clothes, even my old hats, though she always wears her Breton headdress. Her hair is still like flax, and her blue eyes are just like a baby's, and she has the same three freckles on her little nose, and talks about going back to her bains de mer."
Bartley looked at Hilda across the yellow light of the candles and broke into a low, happy laugh. "How jolly it was being young, Hilda! Do you remember that first walk we took together in Paris? We walked down to the Place Saint-Michel to buy some lilacs. Do you remember how sweet they smelled?"
"Indeed I do. Come, we'll have our coffee in the other room, and you can smoke."
Hilda rose quickly, as if she wished to change the drift of their talk, but Bartley found it pleasant to continue it.
"What a warm, soft spring evening that was," he went on, as they sat down in the study with the coffee on a little table between them; "and the sky, over the bridges, was just the color of the lilacs. We walked on down by the river, did n't we?"
Hilda laughed and looked at him questioningly. He saw a gleam in her eyes that he remembered even better than the episode he was recalling.
"I think we did," she answered demurely. "It was on the Quai we met that woman who was crying so bitterly. I gave her a spray of lilac, I remember, and you gave her a franc. I was frightened at your prodigality."
"I expect it was the last franc I had. What a strong brown face she had, and very tragic. She looked at us with such despair and longing, out from under her black shawl. What she wanted from us was neither our flowers nor our francs, but just our youth. I remember it touched me so. I would have given her some of mine off my back, if I could. I had enough and to spare then," Bartley mused, and looked thoughtfully at his cigar.
They were both remembering what the woman had said when she took the money: "God give you a happy love!" It was not in the ingratiating tone of the habitual beggar: it had come out of the depths of the poor creature's sorrow, vibrating with pity for their youth and despair at the terribleness of human life; it had the anguish of a voice of prophecy. Until she spoke, Bartley had not realized that he was in love. The strange woman, and her passionate sentence that rang out so sharply, had frightened them both. They went home sadly with the lilacs, back to the Rue Saint-Jacques, walking very slowly, arm in arm. When they reached the house where Hilda lodged, Bartley went across the court with her, and up the dark old stairs to the third landing; and there he had kissed her for the first time. He had shut his eyes to give him the courage, he remembered, and she had trembled so—
Bartley started when Hilda rang the little bell beside her. "Dear me, why did you do that? I had quite forgotten—I was back there. It was very jolly," he murmured lazily, as Marie came in to take away the coffee.
Hilda laughed and went over to the piano. "Well, we are neither of us twenty now, you know. Have I told you about my new play? Mac is writing one; really for me this time. You see, I'm coming on."
"I've seen nothing else. What kind of a part is it? Shall you wear yellow gowns? I hope so."
He was looking at her round, slender figure, as she stood by the piano, turning over a pile of music, and he felt the energy in every line of it.
"No, it is n't a dress-up part. He does n't seem to fancy me in fine feathers. He says I ought to be minding the pigs at home, and I suppose I ought. But he's given me some good Irish songs. Listen."
She sat down at the piano and sang. When she finished, Alexander shook himself out of a reverie. "Sing 'The Harp that Once,' Hilda. You used to sing it so well."
"Nonsense. Of course I can't really sing, except the way my mother and grandmother did before me. Most actresses nowadays learn to sing properly, so I tried a master; but he confused me, just!"
Alexander laughed. "All the same, sing it, Hilda."
Hilda started up from the stool and moved restlessly toward the window. "It's really too warm in this room to sing. Don't you feel it?"
Alexander went over and opened the window for her. "Are n't you afraid to let the wind blow like that on your neck? Can't I get a scarf or something?"
"Ask a theatre lydy if she's afraid of drafts!" Hilda laughed. "But perhaps, as I'm so warm—give me your handkerchief. There, just in front." He slipped the corners carefully under her shoulder-straps. "There, that will do. It looks like a bib." She pushed his hand away quickly and stood looking out into the deserted square. "Is n't London a tomb on Sunday night?"
Alexander caught the agitation in her voice. He stood a little behind her, and tried to steady himself as he said: "It's soft and misty. See how white the stars are."
For a long time neither Hilda nor Bartley spoke. They stood close together, looking out into the wan, watery sky, breathing always more quickly and lightly, and it seemed as if all the clocks in the world had stopped. Suddenly he moved the clenched hand he held behind him and dropped it violently at his side. He felt a tremor run through the slender yellow figure in front of him.
She caught his handkerchief from her throat and thrust it at him without turning round. "Here, take it. You must go now, Bartley. Good-night."
Bartley leaned over her shoulder, without touching her, and whispered in her ear: "You are giving me a chance?"
"Yes. Take it and go. This is n't fair, you know. Good-night."
Alexander unclenched the two hands at his sides. With one he threw down the window and with the other—still standing behind her—he drew her back against him.
She uttered a little cry, threw her arms over her head, and drew his face down to hers. "Are you going to let me love you a little, Bartley?" she whispered.
IT was the afternoon of the day before Christmas. Mrs. Alexander had been driving about all the morning, leaving presents at the houses of her friends. She lunched alone, and as she rose from the table she spoke to the butler: "Thomas, I am going down to the kitchen now to see Norah. In half an hour you are to bring the greens up from the cellar and put them in the library. Mr. Alexander will be home at three to hang them himself. Don't forget the stepladder, and plenty of tacks and string. You may bring the azaleas upstairs. Take the white one to Mr. Alexander's study. Put the two pink ones in this room, and the red one in the drawing-room."
A little before three o'clock Mrs. Alexander went into the library to see that everything was ready. She pulled the window shades high, for the weather was dark and stormy, and there was little light, even in the streets. A foot of snow had fallen during the morning, and the wide space over the river was thick with flying flakes that fell and wreathed the masses of floating ice.
Winifred was standing by the window when she heard the front door open. She hurried to the hall as Alexander came stamping in, covered with snow. He kissed her joyfully and brushed away the snow that fell on her hair.
"I wish I had asked you to meet me at the office and walk home with me, Winifred. The Common is beautiful. The boys have swept the snow off the pond and are skating furiously. Did the cyclamens come?"
"An hour ago. What splendid ones! But are n't you frightfully extravagant?"
"Not for Christmas-time. I'll go upstairs and change my coat. I shall be down in a moment. Tell Thomas to get everything ready."
When Alexander reappeared, he took his wife's arm and went with her into the library. "When did the azaleas get here? Thomas has got the white one in my room."
"I told him to put it there."
"But, I say, it's much the finest of the lot!"
"That's why I had it put there. There is too much color in that room for a red one, you know."
Bartley began to sort the greens. "It looks very splendid there, but I feel piggish to have it. However, we really spend more time there than anywhere else in the house. Will you hand me the holly?"
He climbed up the stepladder, which creaked under his weight, and began to twist the tough stems of the holly into the framework of the chandelier.
"I forgot to tell you that I had a letter from Wilson, this morning, explaining his telegram. He is coming on because an old uncle up in Vermont has conveniently died and left Wilson a little money—something like ten thousand. He's coming on to settle up the estate. Won't it be jolly to have him?"
"And how fine that he's come into a little money. I can see him posting down State Street to the steamship offices. He will get a good many trips out of that ten thousand. What can have detained him? I expected him here for luncheon."
"Those trains from Albany are always late. He'll be along sometime this afternoon. And now, don't you want to go upstairs and lie down for an hour? You've had a busy morning and I don't want you to be tired to-night."
After his wife went upstairs Alexander worked energetically at the greens for a few moments. Then, as he was cutting off a length of string, he sighed suddenly and sat down, staring out of the window at the snow. The animation died out of his face, but in his eyes there was a restless light, a look of apprehension and suspense. He kept clasping and unclasping his big hands as if he were trying to realize something. The clock ticked through the minutes of a half-hour and the afternoon outside began to thicken and darken turbidly. Alexander, since he first sat down, had not changed his position. He leaned forward, his hands between his knees, scarcely breathing, as if he were holding himself away from his surroundings, from the room, and from the very chair in which he sat, from everything except the wild eddies of snow above the river on which his eyes were fixed with feverish intentness, as if he were trying to project himself thither. When at last Lucius Wilson was announced, Alexander sprang eagerly to his feet and hurried to meet his old instructor.
"Hello, Wilson. What luck! Come into the library. We are to have a lot of people to dinner to-night, and Winifred's lying down. You will excuse her, won't you? And now what about yourself ? Sit down and tell me everything."
"I think I'd rather move about, if you don't mind. I've been sitting in the train for a week, it seems to me." Wilson stood before the fire with his hands behind him and looked about the room. "You have been busy. Bartley, if I'd had my choice of all possible places in which to spend Christmas, your house would certainly be the place I'd have chosen. Happy people do a great deal for their friends. A house like this throws its warmth out. I felt it distinctly as I was coming through the Berkshires. I could scarcely believe that I was to see Mrs. Bartley again so soon."
"Thank you, Wilson. She'll be as glad to see you. Shall we have tea now? I'll ring for Thomas to clear away this litter. Winifred says I always wreck the house when I try to do anything. Do you know, I am quite tired. Looks as if I were not used to work, does n't it?" Alexander laughed and dropped into a chair. "You know, I'm sailing the day after New Year's."
"Again? Why, you've been over twice since I was here in the spring, have n't you?"
"Oh, I was in London about ten days in the summer. Went to escape the hot weather more than anything else. I shan't be gone more than a month this time. Winifred and I have been up in Canada for most of the autumn. That Moorlock Bridge is on my back all the time. I never had so much trouble with a job before." Alexander moved about restlessly and fell to poking the fire.
"Have n't I seen in the papers that there is some trouble about a tidewater bridge of yours in New Jersey?"
"Oh, that does n't amount to anything. It's held up by a steel strike. A bother, of course, but the sort of thing one is always having to put up with. But the Moorlock Bridge is a continual anxiety. You see, the truth is, we are having to build pretty well to the strain limit up there. They've crowded me too much on the cost. It's all very well if everything goes well, but these estimates have never been used for anything of such length before. However, there's nothing to be done. They hold me to the scale I've used in shorter bridges. The last thing a bridge commission cares about is the kind of bridge you build."
When Bartley had finished dressing for dinner he went into his study, where he found his wife arranging flowers on his writing-table.
"These pink roses just came from Mrs. Hastings," she said, smiling, "and I am sure she meant them for you."
Bartley looked about with an air of satisfaction at the greens and the wreaths in the windows. "Have you a moment, Winifred? I have just now been thinking that this is our twelfth Christmas. Can you realize it?" He went up to the table and took her hands away from the flowers, drying them with his pocket handkerchief.
"They've been awfully happy ones, all of them, have n't they?" He took her in his arms and bent back, lifting her a little and giving her a long kiss. "You are happy, are n't you, Winifred? More than anything else in the world, I want you to be happy. Sometimes, of late, I've thought you looked as if you were troubled."
"No; it's only when you are troubled and harassed that I feel worried, Bartley. I wish you always seemed as you do to-night. But you don't, always." She looked earnestly and inquiringly into his eyes.
Alexander took her two hands from his shoulders and swung them back and forth in his own, laughing his big blond laugh.
"I'm growing older, my dear; that's what you feel. Now, may I show you something? I meant to save them until to-morrow, but I want you to wear them to-night." He took a little leather box out of his pocket and opened it. On the white velvet lay two long pendants of curiously worked gold, set with pearls. Winifred looked from the box to Bartley and exclaimed:—
"Where did you ever find such gold work, Bartley?"
"It's old Flemish. Is n't it fine?"
"They are the most beautiful things, dear. But, you know, I never wear earrings."
"Yes, yes, I know. But I want you to wear them. I have always wanted you to. So few women can. There must be a good ear, to begin with, and a nose"—he waved his hand—"above reproach. Most women look silly in them. They go only with faces like yours—very, very proud, and just a little hard."
Winifred laughed as she went over to the mirror and fitted the delicate springs to the lobes of her ears. "Oh, Bartley, that old foolishness about my being hard. It really hurts my feelings. But I must go down now. People are beginning to come."
Bartley drew her arm about his neck and went to the door with her. "Not hard to me, Winifred," he whispered. "Never, never hard to me."
Left alone, he paced up and down his study. He was at home again, among all the dear familiar things that spoke to him of so many happy years. His house tonight would be full of charming people, who liked and admired him. Yet all the time, underneath his pleasure and hopefulness and satisfaction, he was conscious of the vibration of an unnatural excitement. Amid this light and warmth and friendliness, he sometimes started and shuddered, as if some one had stepped on his grave. Something had broken loose in him of which he knew nothing except that it was sullen and powerful, and that it wrung and tortured him. Sometimes it came upon him softly, in enervating reveries. Sometimes it battered him like the cannon rolling in the hold of the vessel. Always, now, it brought with it a sense of quickened life, of stimulating danger. To-night it came upon him suddenly, as he was walking the floor, after his wife left him. It seemed impossible; he could not believe it. He glanced entreatingly at the door, as if to call her back. He heard voices in the hall below, and knew that he must go down. Going over to the window, he looked out at the lights across the river. How could this happen here, in his own house, among the things he loved? What was it that reached in out of the darkness and thrilled him? As he stood there he had a feeling that he would never escape. He shut his eyes and pressed his forehead against the cold window glass, breathing in the chill that came through it. "That this," he groaned, "that this should have happened to me!"
On New Year's day a thaw set in, and during the night torrents of rain fell. In the morning, the morning of Alexander's departure for England, the river was streaked with fog and the rain drove hard against the windows of the breakfast-room. Alexander had finished his coffee and was pacing up and down. His wife sat at the table, watching him. She was pale and unnaturally calm. When Thomas brought the letters, Bartley sank into his chair and ran them over rapidly.
"Here's a note from old Wilson. He's safe back at his grind, and says he had a bully time. 'The memory of Mrs. Bartley will make my whole winter fragrant.' Just like him. He will go on getting measureless satisfaction out of you by his study fire. What a man he is for looking on at life!" Bartley sighed, pushed the letters back impatiently, and went over to the window. "This is a nasty sort of day to sail. I've a notion to call it off. Next week would be time enough."
"That would only mean starting twice. It would n't really help you out at all," Mrs. Alexander spoke soothingly. "And you'd come back late for all your engagements."
Bartley began jingling some loose coins in his pocket. "I wish things would let me rest. I'm tired of work, tired of people, tired of trailing about." He looked out at the storm-beaten river.
Winifred came up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. "That's what you always say, poor Bartley! At bottom you really like all these things. Can't you remember that?"
He put his arm about her. "All the same, life runs smoothly enough with some people, and with me it's always a messy sort of patchwork. It's like the song; peace is where I am not. How can you face it all with so much fortitude?"
She looked at him with that clear gaze which Wilson had so much admired, which he had felt implied such high confidence and fearless pride. "Oh, I faced that long ago, when you were on your first bridge, up at old Allway. I knew then that your paths were not to be paths of peace, but I decided that I wanted to follow them."
Bartley and his wife stood silent for a long time; the fire crackled in the grate, the rain beat insistently upon the windows, and the sleepy Angora looked up at them curiously.
Presently Thomas made a discreet sound at the door. "Shall Edward bring down your trunks, sir?"
"Yes; they are ready. Tell him not to forget the big portfolio on the study table."
Thomas withdrew, closing the door softly. Bartley turned away from his wife, still holding her hand. "It never gets any easier, Winifred."
They both started at the sound of the carriage on the pavement outside. Alexander sat down and leaned his head on his hand. His wife bent over him. "Courage," she said gayly. Bartley rose and rang the bell. Thomas brought him his hat and stick and ulster. At the sight of these, the supercilious Angora moved restlessly, quitted her red cushion by the fire, and came up, waving her tail in vexation at these ominous indications of change. Alexander stooped to stroke her, and then plunged into his coat and drew on his gloves. His wife held his stick, smiling. Bartley smiled too, and his eyes cleared. "I'll work like the devil, Winifred, and be home again before you realize I've gone." He kissed her quickly several times, hurried out of the front door into the rain, and waved to her from the carriage window as the driver was starting his melancholy, dripping black horses. Alexander sat with his hands clenched on his knees. As the carriage turned up the hill, he lifted one hand and brought it down violently. "This time"—he spoke aloud and through his set teeth—"this time I'm going to end it!"
On the afternoon of the third day out, Alexander was sitting well to the stern, on the windward side where the chairs were few, his rugs over him and the collar of his fur-lined coat turned up about his ears. The weather had so far been dark and raw. For two hours he had been watching the low, dirty sky and the beating of the heavy rain upon the iron-colored sea. There was a long, oily swell that made exercise laborious. The decks smelled of damp woolens, and the air was so humid that drops of moisture kept gathering upon his hair and mustache. He seldom moved except to brush them away. The great open spaces made him passive and the restlessness of the water quieted him. He intended during the voyage to decide upon a course of action, but he held all this away from him for the present and lay in a blessed gray oblivion. Deep down in him somewhere his resolution was weakening and strengthening, ebbing and flowing. The thing that perturbed him went on as steadily as his pulse, but he was almost unconscious of it. He was submerged in the vast impersonal grayness about him, and at intervals the sidelong roll of the boat measured off time like the ticking of a clock. He felt released from everything that troubled and perplexed him. It was as if he had tricked and outwitted torturing memories, had actually managed to get on board without them. He thought of nothing at all. If his mind now and again picked a face out of the grayness, it was Lucius Wilson's, or the face of an old schoolmate, forgotten for years; or it was the slim outline of a favorite greyhound he used to hunt jackrabbits with when he was a boy.
Toward six o'clock the wind rose and tugged at the tarpaulin and brought the swell higher. After dinner Alexander came back to the wet deck, piled his damp rugs over him again, and sat smoking, losing himself in the obliterating blackness and drowsing in the rush of the gale. Before he went below a few bright stars were pricked off between heavily moving masses of cloud.
The next morning was bright and mild, with a fresh breeze. Alexander felt the need of exercise even before he came out of his cabin. When he went on deck the sky was blue and blinding, with heavy whiffs of white cloud, smoke-colored at the edges, moving rapidly across it. The water was roughish, a cold, clear indigo breaking into whitecaps. Bartley walked for two hours, and then stretched himself in the sun until lunch-time.
In the afternoon he wrote a long letter to Winifred. Later, as he walked the deck through a splendid golden sunset, his spirits rose continually. It was agreeable to come to himself again after several days of numbness and torpor. He stayed out until the last tinge of violet had faded from the water. There was literally a taste of life on his lips as he sat down to dinner and ordered a bottle of champagne. He was late in finishing his dinner, and drank rather more wine than he had meant to. When he went above, the wind had risen and the deck was almost deserted. As he stepped out of the door a gale lifted his heavy fur coat about his shoulders. He fought his way up the deck with keen exhilaration. The moment he stepped, almost out of breath, behind the shelter of the stern, the wind was cut off, and he felt, like a rush of warm air, a sense of close and intimate companionship. He started back and tore his coat open as if something warm were actually clinging to him beneath it. He hurried up the deck and went into the saloon parlor, full of women who had retreated thither from the sharp wind. He threw himself upon them. He talked delightfully to the older ones and played accompaniments for the younger ones until the last sleepy girl had followed her mother below. Then he went into the smoking-room. He played bridge until two o'clock in the morning, and managed to lose a considerable sum of money without really noticing that he was doing so.
After the break of one fine day the weather was pretty consistently dull. When the low sky thinned a trifle, the pale white spot of a sun did no more than throw a bluish lustre on the water, giving it the dark brightness of newly cut lead. Through one after another of those gray days Alexander drowsed and mused, drinking in the grateful moisture. But the complete peace of the first part of the voyage was over. Sometimes he rose suddenly from his chair as if driven out, and paced the deck for hours. People noticed his propensity for walking in rough weather, and watched him curiously as he did his rounds. From his abstraction and the determined set of his jaw, they fancied he must be thinking about his bridge. Every one had heard of the new cantilever bridge in Canada.
But Alexander was not thinking about his work. After the fourth night out, when his will suddenly softened under his hands, he had been continually hammering away at himself. More and more often, when he first wakened in the morning or when he stepped into a warm place after being chilled on the deck, he felt a sudden painful delight at being nearer another shore. Sometimes when he was most despondent, when he thought himself worn out with this struggle, in a flash he was free of it and leaped into an overwhelming consciousness of himself. On the instant he felt that marvelous return of the impetuousness, the intense excitement, the increasing expectancy of youth.
THE last two days of the voyage Bartley found almost intolerable. The stop at Queenstown, the tedious passage up the Mersey, were things that he noted dimly through his growing impatience. He had planned to stop in Liverpool; but, instead, he took the boat train for London.
Emerging at Euston at half-past three o'clock in the afternoon, Alexander had his luggage sent to the Savoy and drove at once to Bedford Square. When Marie met him at the door, even her strong sense of the proprieties could not restrain her surprise and delight. She blushed and smiled and fumbled his card in her confusion before she ran upstairs. Alexander paced up and down the hallway, buttoning and unbuttoning his overcoat, until she returned and took him up to Hilda's living-room. The room was empty when he entered. A coal fire was crackling in the grate and the lamps were lit, for it was already beginning to grow dark outside. Alexander did not sit down. He stood his ground over by the windows until Hilda came in. She called his name on the threshold, but in her swift flight across the room she felt a change in him and caught herself up so deftly that he could not tell just when she did it. She merely brushed his cheek with her lips and put a hand lightly and joyously on either shoulder.
"Oh, what a grand thing to happen on a raw day! I felt it in my bones when I woke this morning that something splendid was going to turn up. I thought it might be Sister Kate or Cousin Mike would be happening along. I never dreamed it would be you, Bartley. But why do you let me chatter on like this? Come over to the fire; you're chilled through."
She pushed him toward the big chair by the fire, and sat down on a stool at the opposite side of the hearth, her knees drawn up to her chin, laughing like a happy little girl.
"When did you come, Bartley, and how did it happen? You have n't spoken a word."
"I got in about ten minutes ago. I landed at Liverpool this morning and came down on the boat train." Alexander leaned forward and warmed his hands before the blaze. Hilda watched him with perplexity. "There's something troubling you, Bartley. What is it?" Bartley bent lower over the fire. "It's the whole thing that troubles me, Hilda. You and I."
Hilda took a quick, soft breath. She looked at his heavy shoulders and big, determined head, thrust forward like a catapult in leash.
"What about us, Bartley?" she asked in a thin voice.
He locked and unlocked his hands over the grate and spread his fingers close to the bluish flame, while the coals crackled and the clock ticked and a street vendor began to call under the window. At last Alexander brought out one word:—
Hilda was pale by this time, and her eyes were wide with fright. She looked about desperately from Bartley to the door, then to the windows, and back again to Bartley. She rose uncertainly, touched his hair with her hand, then sank back upon her stool.
"I'll do anything you wish me to, Bartley," she said tremulously. "I can't stand seeing you miserable."
"I can't live with myself any longer," he answered roughly.
He rose and pushed the chair behind him and began to walk miserably about the room, seeming to find it too small for him. He pulled up a window as if the air were heavy.
Hilda watched him from her corner, trembling and scarcely breathing, dark shadows growing about her eyes.
"It . . . it has n't always made you miserable, has it?" Her eyelids fell and her lips quivered.
"Always. But it's worse now. It's unbearable. It tortures me every minute."
"But why now?" she asked piteously, wringing her hands.
He ignored her question. "I am not a man who can live two lives," he went on feverishly. "Each life spoils the other. I get nothing but misery out of either. The world is all there, just as it used to be, but I can't get at it any more. There is this deception between me and everything."
At that word "deception," spoken with such self-contempt, the color flashed back into Hilda's face as suddenly as if she had been struck by a whiplash. She bit her lip and looked down at her hands, which were clasped tightly in front of her.
"Could you—could you sit down and talk about it quietly, Bartley, as if I were a friend, and not some one who had to be defied?"
He dropped back heavily into his chair by the fire. "It was myself I was defying, Hilda. I have thought about it until I am worn out."
He looked at her and his haggard face softened. He put out his hand toward her as he looked away again into the fire.
She crept across to him, drawing her stool after her. "When did you first begin to feel like this, Bartley?"
"After the very first. The first was—sort of in play, was n't it?"
Hilda's face quivered, but she whispered: "Yes, I think it must have been. But why did n't you tell me when you were here in the summer?"
Alexander groaned. "I meant to, but somehow I could n't. We had only a few days, and your new play was just on, and you were so happy."
"Yes, I was happy, was n't I?" She pressed his hand gently in gratitude. "Were n't you happy then, at all?"
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, as if to draw in again the fragrance of those days. Something of their troubling sweetness came back to Alexander, too. He moved uneasily and his chair creaked.
"Yes, I was then. You know. But afterward . . . "
"Yes, yes," she hurried, pulling her hand gently away from him. Presently it stole back to his coat sleeve. "Please tell me one thing, Bartley. At least, tell me that you believe I thought I was making you happy."
His hand shut down quickly over the questioning fingers on his sleeve. "Yes, Hilda; I know that," he said simply.
She leaned her head against his arm and spoke softly:—
"You see, my mistake was in wanting you to have everything. I wanted you to eat all the cakes and have them, too. I somehow believed that I could take all the bad consequences for you. I wanted you always to be happy and handsome and successful—to have all the things that a great man ought to have, and, once in a way, the careless holidays that great men are not permitted."
Bartley gave a bitter little laugh, and Hilda looked up and read in the deepening lines of his face that youth and Bartley would not much longer struggle together.
"I understand, Bartley. I was wrong. But I did n't know. You've only to tell me now. What must I do that I've not done, or what must I not do?" She listened intently, but she heard nothing but the creaking of his chair. "You want me to say it?" she whispered. "You want to tell me that you can only see me like this, as old friends do, or out in the world among people? I can do that."
"I can't," he said heavily.
Hilda shivered and sat still. Bartley leaned his head in his hands and spoke through his teeth. "It's got to be a clean break, Hilda. I can't see you at all, anywhere. What I mean is that I want you to promise never to see me again, no matter how often I come, no matter how hard I beg."
Hilda sprang up like a flame. She stood over him with her hands clenched at her side, her body rigid.
"No!" she gasped. "It's too late to ask that. Do you hear me, Bartley? It's too late. I won't promise. It's abominable of you to ask me. Keep away if you wish; when have I ever followed you? But, if you come to me, I'll do as I see fit. The shamefulness of your asking me to do that! If you come to me, I'll do as I see fit. Do you understand? Bartley, you're cowardly!"
Alexander rose and shook himself angrily. "Yes, I know I'm cowardly. I'm afraid of myself. I don't trust myself any more. I carried it all lightly enough at first, but now I don't dare trifle with it. It's getting the better of me. It's different now. I'm growing older, and you've got my young self here with you. It's through him that I've come to wish for you all and all the time." He took her roughly in his arms. "Do you know what I mean?"
Hilda held her face back from him and began to cry bitterly. "Oh, Bartley, what am I to do? Why did n't you let me be angry with you? You ask me to stay away from you because you want me! And I've got nobody but you. I will do anything you say—but that! I will ask the least imaginable, but I must have something!"
Bartley turned away and sank down in his chair again. Hilda sat on the arm of it and put her hands lightly on his shoulders.
"Just something, Bartley. I must have you to think of through the months and months of loneliness. I must see you. I must know about you. The sight of you, Bartley, to see you living and happy and successful—can I never make you understand what that means to me?" She pressed his shoulders gently. "You see, loving some one as I love you makes the whole world different. If I'd met you later, if I had n't loved you so well—but that's all over, long ago. Then came all those years without you, lonely and hurt and discouraged; those decent young fellows and poor Mac, and me never heeding— hard as a steel spring. And then you came back, not caring very much, but it made no difference."
She slid to the floor beside him, as if she were too tired to sit up any longer. Bartley bent over and took her in his arms, kissing her mouth and her wet, tired eyes.
"Don't cry, don't cry," he whispered. "We've tortured each other enough for to-night. Forget everything except that I am here."
"I think I have forgotten everything but that already," she murmured. "Ah, your dear arms!"
DURING the fortnight that Alexander was in London he drove himself hard. He got through a great deal of personal business and saw a great many men who were doing interesting things in his own profession. He disliked to think of his visits to London as holidays, and when he was there he worked even harder than he did at home.
The day before his departure for Liverpool was a singularly fine one. The thick air had cleared overnight in a strong wind which brought in a golden dawn and then fell off to a fresh breeze. When Bartley looked out of his windows from the Savoy, the river was flashing silver and the gray stone along the Embankment was bathed in bright, clear sunshine. London had wakened to life after three weeks of cold and sodden rain. Bartley breakfasted hurriedly and went over his mail while the hotel valet packed his trunks. Then he paid his account and walked rapidly down the Strand past Charing Cross Station. His spirits rose with every step, and when he reached Trafalgar Square, blazing in the sun, with its fountains playing and its column reaching up into the bright air, he signaled to a hansom, and, before he knew what he was about, told the driver to go to Bedford Square by way of the British Museum.
When he reached Hilda's apartment she met him, fresh as the morning itself. Her rooms were flooded with sunshine and full of the flowers he had been sending her. She would never let him give her anything else.
"Are you busy this morning, Hilda?" he asked as he sat down, his hat and gloves in his hand.
"Very. I've been up and about three hours, working at my part. We open in February, you know."
"Well, then you've worked enough. And so have I. I've seen all my men, my packing is done, and I go up to Liverpool this evening. But this morning we are going to have a holiday. What do you say to a drive out to Kew and Richmond? You may not get another day like this all winter. It's like a fine April day at home. May I use your telephone? I want to order the carriage."
"Oh, how jolly! There, sit down at the desk. And while you are telephoning I'll change my dress. I shan't be long. All the morning papers are on the table."
Hilda was back in a few moments wearing a long gray squirrel coat and a broad fur hat. Bartley rose and inspected her. "Why don't you wear some of those pink roses?" he asked.
"But they came only this morning, and they have not even begun to open. I was saving them. I am so unconsciously thrifty!" She laughed as she looked about the room. "You've been sending me far too many flowers, Bartley. New ones every day. That's too often; though I do love to open the boxes, and I take good care of them."
"Why won't you let me send you any of those jade or ivory things you are so fond of ? Or pictures? I know a good deal about pictures."
Hilda shook her large hat as she drew the roses out of the tall glass. "No, there are some things you can't do. There's the carriage. Will you button my gloves for me?"
Bartley took her wrist and began to button the long gray suede glove. "How gay your eyes are this morning, Hilda."
"That's because I've been studying. It always stirs me up a little."
He pushed the top of the glove up slowly. "When did you learn to take hold of your parts like that?"
"When I had nothing else to think of. Come, the carriage is waiting. What a shocking while you take."
"I'm in no hurry. We've plenty of time."
They found all London abroad. Piccadilly was a stream of rapidly moving carriages, from which flashed furs and flowers and bright winter costumes. The metal trappings of the harnesses shone dazzingly, and the wheels were revolving disks that threw off rays of light. The parks were full of children and nursemaids and joyful dogs that leaped and yelped and scratched up the brown earth with their paws.
"I'm not going until to-morrow, you know," Bartley announced suddenly. "I'll cut off a day in Liverpool. I have n't felt so jolly this long while."
Hilda looked up with a smile which she tried not to make too glad. "I think people were meant to be happy, a little," she said.
They had lunch at Richmond and then walked to Twickenham, where they had sent the carriage. They drove back, with a glorious sunset behind them, toward the distant gold-washed city. It was one of those rare afternoons when all the thickness and shadow of London are changed to a kind of shining, pulsing, special atmosphere; when the smoky vapors become fluttering golden clouds, nacreous veils of pink and amber; when all that bleakness of gray stone and dullness of dirty brick trembles in aureate light, and all the roofs and spires, and one great dome, are floated in golden haze. On such rare afternoons the ugliest of cities becomes the most beautiful, the most prosaic becomes the most poetic, and months of sodden days are offset by a moment of miracle.
"It's like that with us Londoners, too," Hilda was saying. "Everything is awfully grim and cheerless, our weather and our houses and our ways of amusing ourselves. But we can be happier than anybody. We can go mad with joy, as the people do out in the fields on a fine Whitsunday. We make the most of our moment."
She thrust her little chin out defiantly over her gray fur collar, and Bartley looked down at her and laughed.
"You are a plucky one, you." He patted her glove with his hand. "Yes, you are a plucky one."
Hilda sighed. "No, I'm not. Not about some things, at any rate. It does n't take pluck to fight for one's moment, but it takes pluck to go without—a lot. More than I have. I can't help it," she added fiercely.
After miles of outlying streets and little gloomy houses, they reached London itself, red and roaring and murky, with a thick dampness coming up from the river, that betokened fog again to-morrow. The streets were full of people who had worked indoors all through the priceless day and had now come hungrily out to drink the muddy lees of it. They stood in long black lines, waiting before the pit entrances of the theatres—short-coated boys, and girls in sailor hats, all shivering and chatting gayly. There was a blurred rhythm in all the dull city noises—in the clatter of the cab horses and the rumbling of the busses, in the street calls, and in the undulating tramp, tramp of the crowd. It was like the deep vibration of some vast underground machinery, and like the muffled pulsations of millions of human hearts.
"Seems good to get back, does n't it?" Bartley whispered, as they drove from Bayswater Road into Oxford Street. "London always makes me want to live more than any other city in the world. You remember our priestess mummy over in the mummy-room, and how we used to long to go and bring her out on nights like this? Three thousand years! Ugh!"
"All the same, I believe she used to feel it when we stood there and watched her and wished her well. I believe she used to remember," Hilda said thoughtfully.
"I hope so. Now let's go to some awfully jolly place for dinner before we go home. I could eat all the dinners there are in London to-night. Where shall I tell the driver? The Piccadilly Restaurant? The music's good there."
"There are too many people there whom one knows. Why not that little French place in Soho, where we went so often when you were here in the summer? I love it, and I've never been there with any one but you. Sometimes I go by myself, when I am particularly lonely."
"Very well, the sole's good there. How many street pianos there are about to-night! The fine weather must have thawed them out. We've had five miles of 'Il Trovatore' now. They always make me feel jaunty. Are you comfy, and not too tired?"
"I'm not tired at all. I was just wondering how people can ever die. Why did you remind me of the mummy? Life seems the strongest and most indestructible thing in the world. Do you really believe that all those people rushing about down there, going to good dinners and clubs and theatres, will be dead some day, and not care about anything? I don't believe it, and I know I shan't die, ever! You see, I feel too—too powerful!"
The carriage stopped. Bartley sprang out and swung her quickly to the pavement. As he lifted her in his two hands he whispered: "You are—powerful!"
THE last rehearsal was over, a tedious dress rehearsal which had lasted all day and exhausted the patience of everyone who had to do with it. When Hilda had dressed for the street and came out of her dressing-room, she found Hugh MacConnell waiting for her in the corridor.
"The fog's thicker than ever, Hilda. There have been a great many accidents to-day. It's positively unsafe for you to be out alone. Will you let me take you home?"
"How good of you, Mac. If you are going with me, I think I'd rather walk. I've had no exercise to-day, and all this has made me nervous."
"I should n't wonder," said MacConnell dryly. Hilda pulled down her veil and they stepped out into the thick brown wash that submerged St. Martin's Lane. MacConnell took her hand and tucked it snugly under his arm. "I'm sorry I was such a savage. I hope you did n't think I made an ass of myself."
"Not a bit of it. I don't wonder you were peppery. Those things are awfully trying. How do you think it's going?"
"Magnificently. That's why I got so stirred up. We are going to hear from this, both of us. And that reminds me; I've got news for you. They are going to begin repairs on the theatre about the middle of March, and we are to run over to New York for six weeks. Bennett told me yesterday that it was decided."
Hilda looked up delightedly at the tall gray figure beside her. He was the only thing she could see, for they were moving through a dense opaqueness, as if they were walking at the bottom of the ocean.
"Oh, Mac, how glad I am! And they love your things over there, don't they?"
"Shall you be glad for—any other reason, Hilda?"
MacConnell put his hand in front of her to ward off some dark object. It proved to be only a lamp-post, and they beat in farther from the edge of the pavement.
"What do you mean, Mac?" Hilda asked nervously.
"I was just thinking there might be people over there you'd be glad to see," he brought out awkwardly. Hilda said nothing, and as they walked on MacConnell spoke again, apologetically: "I hope you don't mind my knowing about it, Hilda. Don't stiffen up like that. No one else knows, and I did n't try to find out anything. I felt it, even before I knew who he was. I knew there was somebody, and that it was n't I."
They crossed Oxford Street in silence, feeling their way. The busses had stopped running and the cabdrivers were leading their horses. When they reached the other side, MacConnell said suddenly, "I hope you are happy."
"Terribly, dangerously happy, Mac,"—Hilda spoke quietly, pressing the rough sleeve of his greatcoat with her gloved hand.
"You've always thought me too old for you, Hilda,— oh, of course you've never said just that,—and here this fellow is not more than eight years younger than I. I've always felt that if I could get out of my old case I might win you yet. It's a fine, brave youth I carry inside me, only he'll never be seen."
"Nonsense, Mac. That has nothing to do with it. It's because you seem too close to me, too much my own kind. It would be like marrying Cousin Mike, almost. I really tried to care as you wanted me to, away back in the beginning."
"Well, here we are, turning out of the Square. You are not angry with me, Hilda? Thank you for this walk, my dear. Go in and get dry things on at once. You'll be having a great night to-morrow."
She put out her hand. "Thank you, Mac, for everything. Good-night."
MacConnell trudged off through the fog, and she went slowly upstairs. Her slippers and dressing gown were waiting for her before the fire. "I shall certainly see him in New York. He will see by the papers that we are coming. Perhaps he knows it already," Hilda kept thinking as she undressed. "Perhaps he will be at the dock. No, scarcely that; but I may meet him in the street even before he comes to see me." Marie placed the tea-table by the fire and brought Hilda her letters. She looked them over, and started as she came to one in a handwriting that she did not often see; Alexander had written to her only twice before, and he did not allow her to write to him at all. "Thank you, Marie. You may go now."
Hilda sat down by the table with the letter in her hand, still unopened. She looked at it intently, turned it over, and felt its thickness with her fingers. She believed that she sometimes had a kind of second-sight about letters, and could tell before she read them whether they brought good or evil tidings. She put this one down on the table in front of her while she poured her tea. At last, with a little shiver of expectancy, she tore open the envelope and read:—
It is after twelve o'clock. Every one else is in bed and I am sitting alone in my study. I have been happier in this room than anywhere else in the world. Happiness like that makes one insolent. I used to think these four walls could stand against anything. And now I scarcely know myself here. Now I know that no one can build his security upon the nobleness of another person. Two people, when they love each other, grow alike in their tastes and habits and pride, but their moral natures (whatever we may mean by that canting expression) are never welded. The base one goes on being base, and the noble one noble, to the end.
The last week has been a bad one; I have been realizing how things used to be with me. Sometimes I get used to being dead inside, but lately it has been as if a window beside me had suddenly opened, and as if all the smells of spring blew in to me. There is a garden out there, with stars overhead, where I used to walk at night when I had a single purpose and a single heart. I can remember how I used to feel there, how beautiful everything about me was, and what life and power and freedom I felt in myself. When the window opens I know exactly how it would feel to be out there. But that garden is closed to me. How is it, I ask myself, that everything can be so different with me when nothing here has changed? I am in my own house, in my own study, in the midst of all these quiet streets where my friends live. They are all safe and at peace with themselves. But I am never at peace. I feel always on the edge of danger and change.
I keep remembering locoed horses I used to see on the range when I was a boy. They changed like that. We used to catch them and put them up in the corral, and they developed great cunning. They would pretend to eat their oats like the other horses, but we knew they were always scheming to get back at the loco.
It seems that a man is meant to live only one life in this world. When he tries to live a second, he develops another nature. I feel as if a second man had been grafted into me. At first he seemed only a pleasure-loving simpleton, of whose company I was rather ashamed, and whom I used to hide under my coat when I walked the Embankment, in London. But now he is strong and sullen, and he is fighting for his life at the cost of mine. That is his one activity: to grow strong. No creature ever wanted so much to live. Eventually, I suppose, he will absorb me altogether. Believe me, you will hate me then.
And what have you to do, Hilda, with this ugly story?
Nothing at all. The little boy drank of the prettiest brook in the forest and he became a stag. I write all this because I can never tell it to you, and because it seems as if I could not keep silent any longer. And because I suffer, Hilda. If any one I loved suffered like this, I'd want to know it. Help me, Hilda!B. A.
ON the last Saturday in April, the New York "Times" published an account of the strike complications which were delaying Alexander's New Jersey bridge, and stated that the engineer himself was in town and at his office on West Tenth Street.
On Sunday, the day after this notice appeared, Alexander worked all day at his Tenth Street rooms. His business often called him to New York, and he had kept an apartment there for years, subletting it when he went abroad for any length of time. Besides his sleeping-room and bath, there was a large room, formerly a painter's studio, which he used as a study and office. It was furnished with the cast-off possessions of his bachelor days and with odd things which he sheltered for friends of his who followed itinerant and more or less artistic callings. Over the fireplace there was a large old-fashioned gilt mirror. Alexander's big work-table stood in front of one of the three windows, and above the couch hung the one picture in the room, a big canvas of charming color and spirit, a study of the Luxembourg Gardens in early spring, painted in his youth by a man who had since become a portrait-painter of international renown. He had done it for Alexander when they were students together in Paris.
Sunday was a cold, raw day and a fine rain fell continuously. When Alexander came back from dinner he put more wood on his fire, made himself comfortable, and settled down at his desk, where he began checking over estimate sheets. It was after nine o'clock and he was lighting a second pipe, when he thought he heard a sound at his door. He started and listened, holding the burning match in his hand; again he heard the same sound, like a firm, light tap. He rose and crossed the room quickly. When he threw open the door he recognized the figure that shrank back into the bare, dimly lit hallway. He stood for a moment in awkward constraint, his pipe in his hand.
"Come in," he said to Hilda at last, and closed the door behind her. He pointed to a chair by the fire and went back to his work-table. "Won't you sit down?"
He was standing behind the table, turning over a pile of blueprints nervously. The yellow light from the student's lamp fell on his hands and the purple sleeves of his velvet smoking-jacket, but his flushed face and big, hard head were in the shadow. There was something about him that made Hilda wish herself at her hotel again, in the street below, anywhere but where she was.
"Of course I know, Bartley," she said at last, "that after this you won't owe me the least consideration. But we sail on Tuesday. I saw that interview in the paper yesterday, telling where you were, and I thought I had to see you. That's all. Good-night; I'm going now." She turned and her hand closed on the door-knob.
Alexander hurried toward her and took her gently by the arm. "Sit down, Hilda; you're wet through. Let me take off your coat—and your boots; they're oozing water." He knelt down and began to unlace her shoes, while Hilda shrank into the chair. "Here, put your feet on this stool. You don't mean to say you walked down— and without overshoes!"
Hilda hid her face in her hands. "I was afraid to take a cab. Can't you see, Bartley, that I'm terribly frightened? I've been through this a hundred times to-day. Don't be any more angry than you can help. I was all right until I knew you were in town. If you'd sent me a note, or telephoned me, or anything! But you won't let me write to you, and I had to see you after that letter, that terrible letter you wrote me when you got home."
Alexander faced her, resting his arm on the mantel behind him, and began to brush the sleeve of his jacket. "Is this the way you mean to answer it, Hilda?" he asked unsteadily.
She was afraid to look up at him. "Did n't— did n't you mean even to say good-by to me, Bartley? Did you mean just to—quit me?" she asked. "I came to tell you that I'm willing to do as you asked me. But it's no use talking about that now. Give me my things, please." She put her hand out toward the fender.
Alexander sat down on the arm of her chair. "Did you think I had forgotten you were in town, Hilda? Do you think I kept away by accident? Did you suppose I did n't know you were sailing on Tuesday? There is a letter for you there, in my desk drawer. It was to have reached you on the steamer. I was all the morning writing it. I told myself that if I were really thinking of you, and not of myself, a letter would be better than nothing. Marks on paper mean something to you." He paused. "They never did to me."
Hilda smiled up at him beautifully and put her hand on his sleeve. "Oh, Bartley! Did you write to me? Why did n't you telephone me to let me know that you had? Then I would n't have come."
Alexander slipped his arm about her. "I did n't know it before, Hilda, on my honor I did n't, but I believe it was because, deep down in me somewhere, I was hoping I might drive you to do just this. I've watched that door all day. I've jumped up if the fire crackled. I think I have felt that you were coming." He bent his face over her hair.
"And I," she whispered,—"I felt that you were feeling that. But when I came, I thought I had been mistaken."
Alexander started up and began to walk up and down the room.
"No, you were n't mistaken. I've been up in Canada with my bridge, and I arranged not to come to New York until after you had gone. Then, when your manager added two more weeks, I was already committed." He dropped upon the stool in front of her and sat with his hands hanging between his knees. "What am I to do, Hilda?"
"That's what I wanted to see you about, Bartley. I'm going to do what you asked me to do, when you were in London. Only I'll do it more completely. I'm going to marry."
"Oh, it does n't matter much! One of them. Only not Mac. I'm too fond of him."
Alexander moved restlessly. "Are you joking, Hilda?"
"Indeed I'm not."
"Then you don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, I know very well. I've thought about it a great deal, and I've quite decided. I never used to understand how women did things like that, but I know now. It's because they can't be at the mercy of the man they love any longer."
Alexander flushed angrily. "So it's better to be at the mercy of a man you don't love?"
"Under such circumstances, infinitely!"
There was a flash in her eyes that made Alexander's fall. He got up and went over to the window, threw it open, and leaned out. He heard Hilda moving about behind him. When he looked over his shoulder she was lacing her boots. He went back and stood over her.
"Hilda, you'd better think a while longer before you do that. I don't know what I ought to say, but I don't believe you'd be happy; truly I don't. Are n't you trying to frighten me?"
She tied the knot of the last lacing and put her boot-heel down firmly. "No; I'm telling you what I've made up my mind to do. I suppose I would better do it without telling you. But afterward I shan't have an opportunity to explain, for I shan't be seeing you again."
Alexander started to speak, but caught himself. When Hilda rose he sat down on the arm of her chair and drew her back into it.
"I would n't be so much alarmed if I did n't know how utterly reckless you can be. Don't do anything like that rashly." His face grew troubled. "You would n't be happy. You are not that kind of woman. I'd never have another hour's peace if I helped to make you do a thing like that." He took her face between his hands and looked down into it. "You see, you are different, Hilda. Don't you know you are?" His voice grew softer, his touch more and more tender. "Some women can do that sort of thing, but you—you can love as queens did, in the old time."
Hilda had heard that soft, deep tone in his voice only once before. She closed her eyes; her lips and eyelids trembled. "Only one, Bartley. Only one. And he threw it back at me a second time."
She felt the strength leap in the arms that held her so lightly.
"Try him again, Hilda. Try him once again."
She looked up into his eyes, and hid her face in her hands.
ON Tuesday afternoon a Boston lawyer, who had been trying a case in Vermont, was standing on the siding at White River Junction when the Canadian Express pulled by on its northward journey. As the day-coaches at the rear end of the long train swept by him, the lawyer noticed at one of the windows a man's head, with thick rumpled hair. "Curious," he thought; "that looked like Alexander, but what would he be doing back there in the day-coaches?"
It was, indeed, Alexander.
That morning a telegram from Moorlock had reached him, telling him that there was serious trouble with the bridge and that he was needed there at once, so he had caught the first train out of New York. He had taken a seat in a day-coach to avoid the risk of meeting any one he knew, and because he did not wish to be comfortable. When the telegram arrived, Alexander was at his rooms on Tenth Street, packing his bag to go to Boston. On Monday night he had written a long letter to his wife, but when morning came he was afraid to send it, and the letter was still in his pocket. Winifred was not a woman who could bear disappointment. She demanded a great deal of herself and of the people she loved; and she never failed herself. If he told her now, he knew, it would be irretrievable. There would be no going back. He would lose the thing he valued most in the world; he would be destroying himself and his own happiness. There would be nothing for him afterward. He seemed to see himself dragging out a restless existence on the Continent—Cannes, Hyères, Algiers, Cairo—among smartly dressed, disabled men of every nationality; forever going on journeys that led nowhere; hurrying to catch trains that he might just as well miss; getting up in the morning with a great bustle and splashing of water, to begin a day that had no purpose and no meaning; dining late to shorten the night, sleeping late to shorten the day.
And for what? For a mere folly, a masquerade, a little thing that he could not let go. And he could even let it go, he told himself. But he had promised to be in London at midsummer, and he knew that he would go. . . . It was impossible to live like this any longer.
And this, then, was to be the disaster that his old professor had foreseen for him: the crack in the wall, the crash, the cloud of dust. And he could not understand how it had come about. He felt that he himself was unchanged, that he was still there, the same man he had been five years ago, and that he was sitting stupidly by and letting some resolute offshoot of himself spoil his life for him. This new force was not he, it was but a part of him. He would not even admit that it was stronger than he; but it was more active. It was by its energy that this new feeling got the better of him. His wife was the woman who had made his life, gratified his pride, given direction to his tastes and habits. The life they led together seemed to him beautiful. Winifred still was, as she had always been, Romance for him, and whenever he was deeply stirred he turned to her. When the grandeur and beauty of the world challenged him— as it challenges even the most self-absorbed people— he always answered with her name. That was his reply to the question put by the mountains and the stars; to all the spiritual aspects of life. In his feeling for his wife there was all the tenderness, all the pride, all the devotion of which he was capable. There was everything but energy; the energy of youth which must register itself and cut its name before it passes. This new feeling was so fresh, so unsatisfied and light of foot. It ran and was not wearied, anticipated him everywhere. It put a girdle round the earth while he was going from New York to Moorlock. At this moment, it was tingling through him, exultant, and live as quicksilver, whispering, "In July you will be in England."
Already he dreaded the long, empty days at sea, the monotonous Irish coast, the sluggish passage up the Mersey, the flash of the boat train through the summer country. He closed his eyes and gave himself up to the feeling of rapid motion and to swift, terrifying thoughts. He was sitting so, his face shaded by his hand, when the Boston lawyer saw him from the siding at White River Junction.
When at last Alexander roused himself, the afternoon had waned to sunset. The train was passing through a gray country and the sky overhead was flushed with a wide flood of clear color. There was a rose-colored light over the gray rocks and hills and meadows. Off to the left, under the approach of a weather-stained wooden bridge, a group of boys were sitting around a little fire. The smell of the wood smoke blew in at the window. Except for an old farmer, jogging along the highroad in his box-wagon, there was not another living creature to be seen. Alexander looked back wistfully at the boys, camped on the edge of a little marsh, crouching under their shelter and looking gravely at their fire. They took his mind back a long way, to a campfire on a sandbar in a Western river, and he wished he could go back and sit down with them. He could remember exactly how the world had looked then.
It was quite dark and Alexander was still thinking of the boys, when it occurred to him that the train must be nearing Allway. In going to his new bridge at Moorlock he had always to pass through Allway. The train stopped at Allway Mills, then wound two miles up the river, and then the hollow sound under his feet told Bartley that he was on his first bridge again. The bridge seemed longer than it had ever seemed before, and he was glad when he felt the beat of the wheels on the solid roadbed again. He did not like coming and going across that bridge, or remembering the man who built it. And was he, indeed, the same man who used to walk that bridge at night, promising such things to himself and to the stars? And yet, he could remember it all so well: the quiet hills sleeping in the moonlight, the slender skeleton of the bridge reaching out into the river, and up yonder, alone on the hill, the big white house; upstairs, in Winifred's window, the light that told him she was still awake and still thinking of him. And after the light went out he walked alone, taking the heavens into his confidence, unable to tear himself away from the white magic of the night, unwilling to sleep because longing was so sweet to him, and because, for the first time since first the hills were hung with moonlight, there was a lover in the world. And always there was the sound of the rushing water underneath, the sound which, more than anything else, meant death; the wearing away of things under the impact of physical forces which men could direct but never circumvent or diminish. Then, in the exaltation of love, more than ever it seemed to him to mean death, the only other thing as strong as love. Under the moon, under the cold, splendid stars, there were only those two things awake and sleepless; death and love, the rushing river and his burning heart.
Alexander sat up and looked about him. The train was tearing on through the darkness. All his companions in the day-coach were either dozing or sleeping heavily, and the murky lamps were turned low. How came he here among all these dirty people? Why was he going to London? What did it mean—what was the answer? How could this happen to a man who had lived through that magical spring and summer, and who had felt that the stars themselves were but flaming particles in the far-away infinitudes of his love?
What had he done to lose it? How could he endure the baseness of life without it? And with every revolution of the wheels beneath him, the unquiet quicksilver in his breast told him that at midsummer he would be in London. He remembered his last night there: the red foggy darkness, the hungry crowds before the theatres, the hand-organs, the feverish rhythm of the blurred, crowded streets, and the feeling of letting himself go with the crowd. He shuddered and looked about him at the poor unconscious companions of his journey, unkempt and travel-stained, now doubled in unlovely attitudes, who had come to stand to him for the ugliness he had brought into the world.
And those boys back there, beginning it all just as he had begun it; he wished he could promise them better luck. Ah, if one could promise any one better luck, if one could assure a single human being of happiness! He had thought he could do so, once; and it was thinking of that that he at last fell asleep. In his sleep, as if it had nothing fresher to work upon, his mind went back and tortured itself with something years and years away, an old, long-forgotten sorrow of his childhood.
When Alexander awoke in the morning, the sun was just rising through pale golden ripples of cloud, and the fresh yellow light was vibrating through the pine woods. The white birches, with their little unfolding leaves, gleamed in the lowlands, and the marsh meadows were already coming to life with their first green, a thin, bright color which had run over them like fire. As the train rushed along the trestles, thousands of wild birds rose screaming into the light. The sky was already a pale blue and of the clearness of crystal. Bartley caught up his bag and hurried through the Pullman coaches until he found the conductor. There was a stateroom unoccupied, and he took it and set about changing his clothes. Last night he would not have believed that anything could be so pleasant as the cold water he dashed over his head and shoulders and the freshness of clean linen on his body.
After he had dressed, Alexander sat down at the window and drew into his lungs deep breaths of the pine-scented air. He had awakened with all his old sense of power. He could not believe that things were as bad with him as they had seemed last night, that there was no way to set them entirely right. Even if he went to London at midsummer, what would that mean except that he was a fool? And he had been a fool before. That was not the reality of his life. Yet he knew that he would go to London.
Half an hour later the train stopped at Moorlock. Alexander sprang to the platform and hurried up the siding, waving to Philip Horton, one of his assistants, who was anxiously looking up at the windows of the coaches. Bartley took his arm and they went together into the station buffet.
"I'll have my coffee first, Philip. Have you had yours? And now, what seems to be the matter up here?"
The young man, in a hurried, nervous way, began his explanation.
But Alexander cut him short. "When did you stop work?" he asked sharply.
The young engineer looked confused. "I have n't stopped work yet, Mr. Alexander. I did n't feel that I could go so far without definite authorization from you."
"Then why did n't you say in your telegram exactly what you thought, and ask for your authorization? You'd have got it quick enough."
"Well, really, Mr. Alexander, I could n't be absolutely sure, you know, and I did n't like to take the responsibility of making it public."
Alexander pushed back his chair and rose. "Anything I do can be made public, Phil. You say that you believe the lower chords are showing strain, and that even the workmen have been talking about it, and yet you've gone on adding weight."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Alexander, but I had counted on your getting here yesterday. My first telegram missed you somehow. I sent one Sunday evening, to the same address, but it was returned to me."
"Have you a carriage out there? I must stop to send a wire."
Alexander went up to the telegraph-desk and penciled the following message to his wife:—
I may have to be here for some time. Can you come up at once? Urgent.
The Moorlock Bridge lay three miles above the town. When they were seated in the carriage, Alexander began to question his assistant further. If it were true that the compression members showed strain, with the bridge only two thirds done, then there was nothing to do but pull the whole structure down and begin over again. Horton kept repeating that he was sure there could be nothing wrong with the estimates.
Alexander grew impatient. "That's all true, Phil, but we never were justified in assuming that a scale that was perfectly safe for an ordinary bridge would work with anything of such length. It's all very well on paper, but it remains to be seen whether it can be done in practice. I should have thrown up the job when they crowded me. It's all nonsense to try to do what other engineers are doing when you know they're not sound."
"But just now, when there is such competition," the younger man demurred. "And certainly that's the new line of development."
Alexander shrugged his shoulders and made no reply.
When they reached the bridge works, Alexander began his examination immediately. An hour later he sent for the superintendent. "I think you had better stop work out there at once, Dan. I should say that the lower chord here might buckle at any moment. I told the Commission that we were using higher unit stresses than any practice has established, and we've put the dead load at a low estimate. Theoretically it worked out well enough, but it had never actually been tried." Alexander put on his overcoat and took the superintendent by the arm. "Don't look so chopfallen, Dan. It's a jolt, but we've got to face it. It is n't the end of the world, you know. Now we'll go out and call the men off quietly. They're already nervous, Horton tells me, and there's no use alarming them. I'll go with you, and we'll send the end riveters in first."
Alexander and the superintendent picked their way out slowly over the long span. They went deliberately, stopping to see what each gang was doing, as if they were on an ordinary round of inspection. When they reached the end of the river span, Alexander nodded to the superintendent, who quietly gave an order to the foreman. The men in the end gang picked up their tools and, glancing curiously at each other, started back across the bridge toward the river-bank. Alexander himself remained standing where they had been working, looking about him. It was hard to believe, as he looked back over it, that the whole great span was incurably disabled, was already as good as condemned, because something was out of line in the lower chord of the cantilever arm.
The end riveters had reached the bank and were dispersing among the tool-houses, and the second gang had picked up their tools and were starting toward the shore. Alexander, still standing at the end of the river span, saw the lower chord of the cantilever arm give a little, like an elbow bending. He shouted and ran after the second gang, but by this time every one knew that the big river span was slowly settling. There was a burst of shouting that was immediately drowned by the scream and cracking of tearing iron, as all the tension work began to pull asunder. Once the chords began to buckle, there were thousands of tons of iron-work, all riveted together and lying in midair without support. It tore itself to pieces with roaring and grinding and noises that were like the shrieks of a steam whistle. There was no shock of any kind; the bridge had no impetus except from its own weight. It lurched neither to right nor left, but sank almost in a vertical line, snapping and breaking and tearing as it went, because no integral part could bear for an instant the enormous strain loosed upon it. Some of the men jumped and some ran, trying to make the shore.
At the first shriek of the tearing iron, Alexander jumped from the downstream side of the bridge. He struck the water without injury and disappeared. He was under the river a long time and had great difficulty in holding his breath. When it seemed impossible, and his chest was about to heave, he thought he heard his wife telling him that he could hold out a little longer. An instant later his face cleared the water. For a moment, in the depths of the river, he had realized what it would mean to die a hypocrite, and to lie dead under the last abandonment of her tenderness. But once in the light and air, he knew he should live to tell her and to recover all he had lost. Now, at last, he felt sure of himself. He was not startled. It seemed to him that he had been through something of this sort before. There was nothing horrible about it. This, too, was life, and life was activity, just as it was in Boston or in London. He was himself, and there was something to be done; everything seemed perfectly natural. Alexander was a strong swimmer, but he had gone scarcely a dozen strokes when the bridge itself, which had been settling faster and faster, crashed into the water behind him. Immediately the river was full of drowning men. A gang of French Canadians fell almost on top of him. He thought he had cleared them, when they began coming up all around him, clutching at him and at each other. Some of them could swim, but they were either hurt or crazed with fright. Alexander tried to beat them off, but there were too many of them. One caught him about the neck, another gripped him about the middle, and they went down together. When he sank, his wife seemed to be there in the water beside him, telling him to keep his head, that if he could hold out the men would drown and release him. There was something he wanted to tell his wife, but he could not think clearly for the roaring in his ears. Suddenly he remembered what it was. He caught his breath, and then she let him go.
The work of recovering the dead went on all day and all the following night. By the next morning forty-eight bodies had been taken out of the river, but there were still twenty missing. Many of the men had fallen with the bridge and were held down under the débris. Early on the morning of the second day a closed carriage was driven slowly along the river-bank and stopped a little below the works, where the river boiled and churned about the great iron carcass which lay in a straight line two thirds across it. The carriage stood there hour after hour, and word soon spread among the crowds on the shore that its occupant was the wife of the Chief Engineer; his body had not yet been found. The widows of the lost workmen, moving up and down the bank with shawls over their heads, some of them carrying babies, looked at the rusty hired hack many times that morning. They drew near it and walked about it, but none of them ventured to peer within. Even half-indifferent sight-seers dropped their voices as they told a newcomer: "You see that carriage over there? That's Mrs. Alexander. They have n't found him yet. She got off the train this morning. Horton met her. She heard it in Boston yesterday—heard the newsboys crying it in the street."
At noon Philip Horton made his way through the crowd with a tray and a tin coffee-pot from the camp kitchen. When he reached the carriage he found Mrs. Alexander just as he had left her in the early morning, leaning forward a little, with her hand on the lowered window, looking at the river. Hour after hour she had been watching the water, the lonely, useless stone towers, and the convulsed mass of iron wreckage over which the angry river continually spat up its yellow foam.
"Those poor women out there, do they blame him very much?" she asked, as she handed the coffee-cup back to Horton.
"Nobody blames him, Mrs. Alexander. If any one is to blame, I'm afraid it's I. I should have stopped work before he came. He said so as soon as I met him. I tried to get him here a day earlier, but my telegram missed him, somehow. He did n't have time really to explain to me. If he'd got here Monday, he'd have had all the men off at once. But, you see, Mrs. Alexander, such a thing never happened before. According to all human calculations, it simply could n't happen."
Horton leaned wearily against the front wheel of the cab. He had not had his clothes off for thirty hours, and the stimulus of violent excitement was beginning to wear off.
"Don't be afraid to tell me the worst, Mr. Horton. Don't leave me to the dread of finding out things that people may be saying. If he is blamed, if he needs any one to speak for him,"—for the first time her voice broke and a flush of life, tearful, painful, and confused, swept over her rigid pallor,—"if he needs any one, tell me, show me what to do." She began to sob, and Horton hurried away.
When he came back at four o'clock in the afternoon he was carrying his hat in his hand, and Winifred knew as soon as she saw him that they had found Bartley. She opened the carriage door before he reached her and stepped to the ground.
Horton put out his hand as if to hold her back and spoke pleadingly: "Won't you drive up to my house, Mrs. Alexander? They will take him up there."
"Take me to him now, please. I shall not make any trouble."
The group of men down under the river-bank fell back when they saw a woman coming, and one of them threw a tarpaulin over the stretcher. They took off their hats and caps as Winifred approached, and although she had pulled her veil down over her face they did not look up at her. She was taller than Horton, and some of the men thought she was the tallest woman they had ever seen. "As tall as himself," some one whispered. Horton motioned to the men, and six of them lifted the stretcher and began to carry it up the embankment. Winifred followed them the half-mile to Horton's house. She walked quietly, without once breaking or stumbling. When the bearers put the stretcher down in Horton's spare bedroom, she thanked them and gave her hand to each in turn. The men went out of the house and through the yard with their caps in their hands. They were too much confused to say anything as they went down the hill.
Horton himself was almost as deeply perplexed. "Mamie," he said to his wife, when he came out of the spare room half an hour later, "will you take Mrs. Alexander the things she needs? She is going to do everything herself. Just stay about where you can hear her and go in if she wants you."
Everything happened as Alexander had foreseen in that moment of prescience under the river. With her own hands she washed him clean of every mark of disaster. All night he was alone with her in the still house, his great head lying deep in the pillow. In the pocket of his coat Winifred found the letter that he had written her the night before he left New York, water-soaked and illegible, but because of its length, she knew it had been meant for her.
For Alexander death was an easy creditor. Fortune, which had smiled upon him consistently all his life, did not desert him in the end. His harshest critics did not doubt that, had he lived, he would have retrieved himself. Even Lucius Wilson did not see in this accident the disaster he had once foretold.
When a great man dies in his prime there is no surgeon who can say whether he did well; whether or not the future was his, as it seemed to be. The mind that society had come to regard as a powerful and reliable machine, dedicated to its service, may for a long time have been sick within itself and bent upon its own destruction.
PROFESSOR Wilson had been living in London for six years and he was just back from a visit to America. One afternoon, soon after his return, he put on his frock-coat and drove in a hansom to pay a call upon Hilda Burgoyne, who still lived at her old number, off Bedford Square. He and Miss Burgoyne had been fast friends for a long time. He had first noticed her about the corridors of the British Museum, where he read constantly. Her being there so often had made him feel that he would like to know her, and as she was not an inaccessible person, an introduction was not difficult. The preliminaries once over, they came to depend a great deal upon each other, and Wilson, after his day's reading, often went round to Bedford Square for his tea. They had much more in common than their memories of a common friend. Indeed, they seldom spoke of him. They saved that for the deep moments which do not come often, and then their talk of him was mostly silence. Wilson knew that Hilda had loved him; more than this he had not tried to know.
It was late when Wilson reached Hilda's apartment on this particular December afternoon, and he found her alone. She sent for fresh tea and made him comfortable, as she had such a knack of making people comfortable.
"How good you were to come back before Christmas! I quite dreaded the Holidays without you. You've helped me over a good many Christmases." She smiled at him gayly.
"As if you needed me for that! But, at any rate, I needed you. How well you are looking, my dear, and how rested."
He peered up at her from his low chair, balancing the tips of his long fingers together in a judicial manner which had grown on him with years.
Hilda laughed as she carefully poured his cream. "That means that I was looking very seedy at the end of the season, does n't it? Well, we must show wear at last, you know."
Wilson took the cup gratefully. "Ah, no need to remind a man of seventy, who has just been home to find that he has survived all his contemporaries. I was most gently treated—as a sort of precious relic. But, do you know, it made me feel awkward to be hanging about still."
"Seventy? Never mention it to me." Hilda looked appreciatively at the Professor's alert face, with so many kindly lines about the mouth and so many quizzical ones about the eyes. "You've got to hang about for me, you know. I can't even let you go home again. You must stay put, now that I have you back. You're the realest thing I have."
Wilson chuckled. "Dear me, am I? Out of so many conquests and the spoils of conquered cities! You've really missed me? Well, then, I shall hang. Even if you have at last to put me in the mummy-room with the others. You'll visit me often, won't you?"
"Every day in the calendar. Here, your cigarettes are in this drawer, where you left them." She struck a match and lit one for him. "But you did, after all, enjoy being at home again?"
"Oh, yes. I found the long railway journeys trying. People live a thousand miles apart. But I did it thoroughly; I was all over the place. It was in Boston I lingered longest."
"Ah, you saw Mrs. Alexander?"
"Often. I dined with her, and had tea there a dozen different times, I should think. Indeed, it was to see her that I lingered on and on. I found that I still loved to go to the house. It always seemed as if Bartley were there, somehow, and that at any moment one might hear his heavy tramp on the stairs. Do you know, I kept feeling that he must be up in his study." The Professor looked reflectively into the grate. "I should really have liked to go up there. That was where I had my last long talk with him. But Mrs. Alexander never suggested it."
Wilson was a little startled by her tone, and he turned his head so quickly that his cuff-link caught the string of his nose-glasses and pulled them awry. "Why? Why, dear me, I don't know. She probably never thought of it."
Hilda bit her lip. "I don't know what made me say that. I did n't mean to interrupt. Go on, please, and tell me how it was."
"Well, it was like that. Almost as if he were there. In a way, he really is there. She never lets him go. It's the most beautiful and dignified sorrow I've ever known. It's so beautiful that it has its compensations, I should think. Its very completeness is a compensation. It gives her a fixed star to steer by. She does n't drift. We sat there evening after evening in the quiet of that magically haunted room, and watched the sunset burn on the river, and felt him. Felt him with a difference, of course."
Hilda leaned forward, her elbow on her knee, her chin on her hand. "With a difference? Because of her, you mean?"
Wilson's brow wrinkled. "Something like that, yes. Of course, as time goes on, to her he becomes more and more their simple personal relation."
Hilda studied the droop of the Professor's head intently. "You did n't altogether like that? You felt it was n't wholly fair to him?"
Wilson shook himself and readjusted his glasses. "Oh, fair enough. More than fair. Of course, I always felt that my image of him was just a little different from hers. No relation is so complete that it can hold absolutely all of a person. And I liked him just as he was; his deviations, too; the places where he did n't square."
Hilda considered vaguely. "Has she grown much older?" she asked at last.
"Yes, and no. In a tragic way she is even handsomer. But colder. Cold for everything but him. 'Forget thyself to marble'; I kept thinking of that. Her happiness was a happiness à deux , not apart from the world, but actually against it. And now her grief is like that. She saves herself for it and does n't even go through the form of seeing people much. I'm sorry. It would be better for her, and might be so good for them, if she could let other people in."
"Perhaps she's afraid of letting him out a little, of sharing him with somebody." Wilson put down his cup and looked up with vague alarm. "Dear me, it takes a woman to think of that, now! I don't, you know, think we ought to be hard on her. More, even, than the rest of us she did n't choose her destiny. She underwent it. And it has left her chilled. As to her not wishing to take the world into her confidence—well, it is a pretty brutal and stupid world, after all, you know."
Hilda leaned forward. "Yes, I know, I know. Only I can't help being glad that there was something for him even in stupid and vulgar people. My little Marie worshiped him. When she is dusting I always know when she has come to his picture."
Wilson nodded. "Oh, yes! He left an echo. The ripples go on in all of us. He belonged to the people who make the play, and most of us are only onlookers at the best. We should n't wonder too much at Mrs. Alexander. She must feel how useless it would be to stir about, that she may as well sit still; that nothing can happen to her after Bartley."
"Yes," said Hilda softly, "nothing can happen to one after Bartley."
They both sat looking into the fire.THE END
The textual editing of Alexander's Bridge is the result of contributions from many members of the Cather Edition staff, among whom we wish to acknowledge especially Kari Ronning and Kathleen Danker. The graduate students who contributed to the textual work were Kelly Olson, Heather Wood, and Megan Sedoris.
We are grateful to Professor Herbert H. Johnson (College of Printing Sciences and Management, Rochester Institute of Technology) for his generous help in interpreting Houghton Mifflin production records. Richard Bucci brought his expertise to the inspection of our materials on behalf of the Committee on Scholarly Editions.
We are grateful to the staffs of Love Library, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, particularly those in Archives and Special Collections and the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities; the Heritage Room, Bennett Martin Public Library, Lincoln; and the Nebraska State Historical Society. Ms. Jennie Rathbun, at the Houghton Library, Harvard University, kindly supplied copies of Houghton Mifflin production records. Ms. Jane Le-Compte, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, also supplied us with a copy of another important Houghton Mifflin production record.
Many people and institutions have kindly made illustrations available for this volume. We wish to thank particularly the late Helen Cather Southwick, who generously gave her collection of family photographs and other materials to the Archives of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Andreas Praefke and Kari Ronning shared pictures from their collections. The Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, kindly supplied us with an image of Cather's inscription in a copy of Alexander's Bridge in their holdings. The Trustees of the British Museum, the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts graciously allowed us to reproduce works of art from their collections.
The historical editor would like to thank all those involved in the Cather Scholarly Edition Project, but particularly Guy Reynolds, Kari Ronning, and the late Susan Rosowski, who unfailingly offered encouragement and insightful recommendations. We appreciate the assistance of Kay Walter, Mary Ellen Ducey, and Carmella Orosco, of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Nebraska–Lincoln; Dr. Steven P. Ryan, former director of the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Educational Foundation, Red Cloud; Ann Billesbach, first at the Cather Historical Center, Red Cloud, and later at the Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln. And we wish to acknowledge our indebtedness to the late Mildred R. Bennett, whose work as founder and president of the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Educational Foundation ensured that Cather-related materials in Webster County would be preserved and whose knowledge guided us through those materials.
Consultations with several people were especially helpful in the early stages of the preparation of the Cather Edition. In Willa Cather: A Bibliography (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982), Joan Crane provided an authoritative starting place for our identification and assembly of basic materials, then in correspondence was unfailingly generous with her expertise. The late Fredson Bowers (University of Virginia) advised us about the steps necessary to organize the project. David J. Nordloh (Indiana University) provided advice as we established policies and procedures and wrote our editorial manual. As editor of the Lewis and Clark journals, Gary Moulton (University of Nebraska–Lincoln) generously provided expertise and encouragement. Conversations with Richard Rust (University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill) were helpful in refining procedures concerning variants.
For their administrative support at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln we thank Gerry Meisels, John G. Peters, and Brian L. Foster, successively deans of the College of Arts and Sciences; Richard Hoffmann, dean of Arts and Sciences; John Yost, formerly vice-chancellor for research; and John R. Wunder, former director of the Center for Great Plains Studies. We are especially grateful to Stephen Hilliard and Linda Ray Pratt, who as chairs of the Department of English provided both departmental support and personal encouragement for the Cather Edition.
For funding during the initial year of the project we are grateful to the Woods Charitable Fund. For research grants during subsequent years we thank the Nebraska Council for the Humanities; the Research Council, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, the University of Nebraska Foundation, and the Department of English, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. We deeply appreciate the generous gift from the late Mr. and Mrs. William Campbell in support of the Cather Edition.
The preparation of this volume was made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency.
THE conventional picture of the first novel by Willa Cather, Alexander's Bridge (1912), is that it was a misstep in her career, that she was too infatuated with the examples of Henry James and Edith Wharton and had to outgrow a literary manner that ill-suited her before she embraced her most vital material, life on the Nebraska Divide. Cather came into her own, she herself said, when she "hit the home pasture" in her second novel, O Pioneers! (1913). However, this view of the book is guided by the author's own published statements about her motives and her assessments of her creative origins. Because Cather made those three statements over a period of nearly twenty years, it is perhaps prudent to inspect them more closely, for in the absence of manuscripts, galleys, corrected proof sheets, or other forms of prepublication evidence, and with scant reference to Alexander's Bridge in her letters, we are inevitably drawn to Cather's published accounts of her first novel.
All three accounts raise as many questions as they answer. The first occurs in a brief interview in the New York Sun, 25 May 1912, "Literary News, Views, and Criticism" (see Bohlke 6). There, Cather attempts to correct certain misapprehensions of her purposes: Alexander's Bridge is not an "industrial novel"; it is not a story about bridge building, but about a man who happened to build bridges. Nor is the title character patterned after an identifiable person. Instead, Bartley Alexander "simply has some of the characteristics which I have noticed in a dozen architects, engineers and inventors." And the interviewer's suspicion notwithstanding, Hilda Burgoyne does not resemble the actress Hilda Trevelyan. On the contrary, Cather says, she tried "to give the actress in this story certain qualities which I have found oftener in English actresses than in our own." The psychological dimension of the novel is likewise characterized in straightforward fashion: Alexander is a "pagan, a crude force, with little respect for anything but youth and work and power." He marries a woman of greater sophistication and with "more clearly defined standards," standards he can admire but only imperfectly comprehend. So long as he is fully engaged in his work, she continues, Alexander functions well, but "he runs the risk of encountering new emotional as well as new intellectual stimuli" (Bohlke 6).
In the light of Cather's subsequent comments, this account is interesting for several reasons. First, the novel's theme appears to be in keeping with the implied thematic coherence of her collection of short fiction titled The Troll Garden (1905), expressed by epigrams Cather chose from Christina Rossetti and Charles Kingsley. As Bernice Slote observes, Alexander is something of a vigorous "forest child" inside a corrupting garden, who is in danger of the sort of dissipation and corruption that she had identified through the Kingsley epigram (xxv–xxvi). Second, nothing in Cather's statement indicates the influence of James or Wharton; instead, her commentary suggests a naturalistic approach to her subject. The forces that motivate her title character seem to be biological in nature and invite comparisons with Frank Norris's McTeague, a novel she admiringly reviewed in 1899. As a social type, Alexander is in keeping with a figure Elizabeth Ammons has identified—the engineer as cultural hero. Instead of following the example of Richard Harding Davis or Harold Bell Wright, Ammons suggests, Cather may have been calling this fictional archetype into deep question. Finally, Cather, contrary to her later commentary, presents herself not as an inexperienced novelist or even a first-time novelist but as someone who knew what she was doing and why.
Over the next two decades, Cather gave two other accounts of the creation of Alexander's Bridge. The first served as a preface to a reissue of the novel in 1922, the second as the essay "My First Novels (There Were Two)," published in The Colophon in 1931. In both instances, Cather looks back on the novel with a degree of skepticism. These essays substantially differ from the remarks in the earlier interview and somewhat from one another.
In the preface, Cather characterizes her writing of Alexander's Bridge as a youthful mistake and herself as an "inexperienced writer": "Everything is new to the young writer, and everything seems equally personal" (195). She had not yet come to appreciate the familiar, the life she had lived as opposed to the life she sought out or observed. But the "people and the places of the story interested me intensely at the time when it was written, because they were new to me and were in themselves attractive" (195). Alexander's Bridge was essentially an "external" story written out of the stimulus of the "glitter of the passing show" (196). (Her use of this phrase is interesting because "The Passing Show" was the title of one of the weekly columns she wrote for the Nebraska State Journal and, later, for the Lincoln Courier.) Furthermore, she announces that her literary manner was somewhat imitative. The young writer must necessarily "have his affair with the external material he covets" and "strive to follow the masters he most admires, until he finds he is starving for reality and cannot make this go any longer" (197). In contrast, O Pioneers! drew upon her natural material, and, borrowing from the language of Henri Bergson, she adds that it was written "with the wisdom of intuition as opposed to that of intellect" (197).
Of course, in 1912 Cather was not really an inexperienced writer. She was thirty-seven years old; her first essay had been published in 1891, her first short story the following year. By 1912 she had published a volume of poetry, April Twilights (1903), more than forty short stories, and The Troll Garden. As early as 1905 she had completed a first novel, about which we know little except that it had been rejected by S. S. McClure and that Cather thought it not good enough to rework but too good to throw away (Woodress 182). Cather's characterization of herself probably has less to do with experience, or lack of it, than with a sense of having since come into her artistic maturity.
Similarly, most if not all of the interesting "people and places" that entered into the making of her novel were not necessarily "new" to Cather. As we shall see, most of those scenes derived from earlier visits to Europe: her first to England and the Continent with Isabelle McClung in 1902, a second to Italy in 1908, and another to London and Paris in 1909. Cather never completely outgrew the stimulation she received from her first visit to Europe. As her longtime companion Edith Lewis notes, Cather's visit to Avignon on that first trip left a lasting impression: "She always wanted to write a story about Avignon; it was the subject of her last, unfinished story".
Passages in "My First Novels" provide yet another self-portrait of Cather as an artist. This essay is principally concerned with O Pioneers!, a book Cather reimagines as her first novel because its creation was "spontaneous" (92) and natural to her, and was a "novel of the soil" before that sort of story had become fashionable (93). Alexander's Bridge, by contrast, followed the "most conventional pattern": it was more or less set in London; it dealt with "interesting material," but only superficially and in the manner that painters call a "studio picture" (91); there was a great deal of "arranging" and "inventing" in it, because she had adopted the "conventional editorial point of view" (92); it was also conventional because it had a "hero" and "action" and "clever people" saying clever things. Finally, she suggests that, like most young writers at the time, she followed the literary manner of James and Wharton, "without having their qualifications" (93).
Cather added that shortly after finishing Alexander's Bridge she traveled to the desert Southwest, "a country I really did care about, and among people who were part of the country." The longer she stayed there, the more obvious it became to her how "unnecessary and superficial" Alexander's Bridge really was (92). If this is so, there is no hint of that attitude in her interview for the New York Sun, given after she returned from Arizona. Perhaps more interesting is the suggestion that her natural material was no longer confined to Nebraska; it now extended to New Mexico and Arizona.
The differences among these statements can be attributed to nothing more significant than Cather's presentation of a revised but attractive artistic identity, something any shrewd professional writer is apt to do. The later essays were instances of recollection through the lens of time, and her assessments of Alexander's Bridge were surely affected by her subsequent achievements and artistic growth. They usefully describe a writer finding her way at a critical point, and these very differences provoke questions about the novel itself.
Is Alexander's Bridge a "studio picture" filled with clever conversation? There is something of that, but the novel is by no means saturated with sophisticated banter. Much of the European setting is outdoors, not in the drawing room. More often we are given solitary walks or intimate carriage rides or Alexander and Hilda together in her apartment. Through dramatic presentation and recollection of Alexander's student days, Cather imagines the spectacle that is London or Paris, the city sights and revered public institutions, in preference to witty social scenes.
Does the novel actually reveal the fundamental influences of James and Wharton? While Cather may move her representative American character back and forth across the Atlantic, her novel is not "international" in the Jamesian sense. It does not render the Old World with the confidence derived from long acquaintance, nor does it inspect closely the cultural differences among several characters. Alexander is an American in London, where many admire him for his raw-boned energy and efficiency. But from the first, Professor Lucius Wilson directs the reader's attention to the true interest of Cather's title character: he is the "most tremendous response to stimuli I have ever known" (9); he is a "powerfully equipped nature" and has the "fascination of a scientific discovery" (17).
Cather had joined the staff of McClure's Magazine in 1906, after working as a journalist and as a teacher. Her first important editorial assignment had been to rework Georgine Milmine's manuscript, Mary Baker G. Eddy: Her Life and the History of Christian Science, which ran in fourteen installments in McClure's from 1907 until 1909. The job had required her to spend much time in Boston, verifying Milmine's information, as well as rewriting the manuscript. This experience gave her the background for the Boston setting of Alexander's Bridge as well as many new and stimulating acquaintances, such as Annie Fields and the writer Sarah Orne Jewett.
S. S. McClure liked Cather's work, but Cather found the job tedious and tiring. However, one consequence of her efforts was her appointment as managing editor of the magazine. McClure did not seem much interested in Cather's own artistic ambitions. Cather wrote to Jewett complaining that McClure wanted her to divide her time between writing in the manner of Ida Tarbell (on popular science and social issues) and running the office. Mr. McClure, she added somewhat bitterly, did not think much of her prospects as a writer; he believed she was better suited for the executive duties that continually left her tired and feeling she was missing out on life's more stimulating aspects (19 December 1908). Meantime, she was harried by illness, occupied with travel, and committed to a magazine that, though it had half a million readers, was in financial difficulty. Nevertheless, Cather was deeply involved in the literary culture, both in New York and, when editorial duties took her there, in London.
Cather had traveled to London in 1909, while still recuperating from an operation, and apparently anticipated a trip there in April 1911 and another in the spring of 1912: on 17 November 1911 she wrote to S. S. McClure saying that she would not go abroad if business at the magazine required her to stay in New York. Cather herself seems as anxious as Alexander often is to get back to London, though for different reasons. For Cather this desire was a cultural and geographical matter, whereas Alexander wants to be in London because Hilda and his lost youth seem to be there. Cather moves her title character back and forth across the Atlantic with such frequency that we might wonder whether his emotional dilemma and his eagerness to get back to London are plot devices designed to bring two realms of experience into conjunction. Although Alexander attends meetings, presumably to consult with British engineers about the Moorlock Bridge he is constructing in Quebec, engineering practices and building codes for bridge construction in Quebec were actually entirely a Canadian matter; they would not have required the designer to visit England.
Cather's projected trip to London in April 1911 apparently was canceled (Woodress 211). However, Cather did travel to Boston for a few weeks in May and early June, in part to see Mrs. Annie Fields. Later in June she was in Maine, where she visited Mary Jewett, the sister of Sarah Orne Jewett, who had died two years earlier. By the end of June she was back at her desk in New York. According to Edith Lewis, Cather composed Alexander's Bridge during these few months (May through September) (76). Apparently, the novel had been accepted for publication in McClure's before she left with her friend Isabelle McClung for Cherry Valley, New York, near Schenectady, on September.
In Cherry Valley, Cather may have revised her text for serial publication in McClure's; the novel, under the title Alexander's Masquerade, would appear in three installments in 1912. Presumably, Cather kept at least one other copy of her typescript in order to submit it, or a revision of it, to editor Ferris Greenslet of Houghton Mifflin, in Boston. Houghton Mifflin records show that the manuscript was received on 21 November 1911 and that Greenslet recommended acceptance to the publishers the next day. His report characterized this work (as he said some reviewers had characterized The Troll Garden) as comparable to Wharton's fiction. He emphasized this point once more at the end of the report.
Greenslet summarized the plot of Alexander's Bridge briefly but pointed out that it is the book's "least important part"; rather, the novel is distinguished by the "excellence of the workmanship, its remarkable perceptiveness, its actuality, and the spiritual sense of life that informs it." These are vague but strongly supportive statements. Greenslet was probably alert to the sensitivities of the publisher, for he noted that the illicit affair was "quite unobjectionably handled." By identifying a "spiritual sense of life" in the book he may have been anticipating some reluctance to accept the manuscript. He also observed that McClure's was scheduled to publish the novel and that S. S. McClure was to write the advertising, so the book would be publicized at no cost to them. Greenslet added that, should it prove desirable, they could no doubt obtain the illustrations used in the magazine at a reasonable cost.
This ardent sponsorship of the book would be necessary, since Greenslet was essentially arguing that Houghton Mifflin take the book not for immediate profit (he estimated the novel might sell at best four thousand copies) but because Cather was a "promising" writer and "in every way a desirable connection for us." Greenslet was right, of course; Houghton Mifflin did eventually profit by the connection. In any case, the book was accepted for publication on 22 November 1911. Cather might have made further revisions between that time and when she signed the contract on 1 December (see the Textual Essay), but she would have had very little time afterward, for the records indicate that the manuscript was ready for the printer by 6 December.
The sources for and influences upon Alexander's Bridge are of several sorts: Cather's personal experiences, especially travels to London and the Continent, which brought her in contact with fascinating people and places; literary influences, including specific texts that might have served as models for her novel, as well as the literary techniques of those artists she had read and admired; and newsworthy events of national interest that played an instrumental role in the development of plot and character, the most notable of which was the collapse of the Quebec Bridge on 29 August 1907. All of these sources and influences can be clarified through reference to the historical or social context of the time, and Cather's intentions can be discerned through certain patterns of allusions.
Of all these possible influences on the composition of the novel, Cather publicly acknowledged only the first—that is, the people and places that so excited her when she traveled to London. The impressions her travels provided her, she confessed in "My First Novels," were ones she "tried to communicate on paper"; they were "genuine," she added, "but they were very shallow" (91). On her trip to London in 1909, largely through her association with McClure's and her acquaintances with the drama critic and writer William Archer and the English publisher William Heinemann, she moved comfortably in established literary circles. Cather met Ford Madox Ford, H. G. Wells, John Galsworthy, and others. She sat in William Butler Yeats's box, along with Lady Gregory, to see Maire O'Neill in the London debut of John Millington Synge's notorious Playboy of the Western World (7 June 1909). No doubt her admittance to this social arena was both pleasing and somewhat dazzling, but apparently none of the luminaries she met served as prototypes for any characters in Alexander's Bridge. Some of her creations—Maurice Mainhall, for example—are probably composite pictures that borrowed features or mannerisms from her English acquaintances. Only one person provided her with a model for an important character in the book, and there is no evidence that Cather actually met her. That person was Maire O'Neill, who played Pegeen Mike in Playboy, and about whom we will have more to say.
Places impressed Cather: Alexander's Bridge may be an external novel in the sense that she imported recollections of different scenes and places into the book and made them serve her artistic purposes. Many of those places appear to have only an incidental relation to the plot. Cather might identify with her created character, because she and Alexander shared a feeling that one's "potentialities" were not being lived out (13); this feeling is clear from her letter to Jewett and elsewhere. Like Alexander, Cather was keenly responsive to certain stimuli. However, those stimuli were qualitatively different—Alexander responds to people and events seen through the lens of lost youth, while Cather, by her own admission, felt exhilarated by a new social environment and the dazzle of the passing show.
Cather drew upon memories of scenes that had for her the vivid brilliance of newness. In much the same way that she combined in "Paul's Case" the recollection of a high school boy she had known in Pittsburgh with her own excited reaction to New York City, she gave to Alexander emotions she had herself experienced. However, for Alexander, Cather located the origins of those feelings not in stimulating and interesting people and places but in his desperate sense of lost youth and ardor. In this sense, Alexander's Bridge could have easily worn the same subtitle she gave to "Paul's Case," for it too is a "study in temperament"; but, as with the short story, the author's temperament, which gives an emotional color to the narrative, ought not be confused with Alexander's psychological condition.
Some parts of Alexander's Bridge seem to have less to do with scene setting than with sightseeing. So far as the formal coherence of the novel or Alexander's emotional turmoil and indecision are concerned, the dialogue and events of these episodes could have happened anywhere. For Cather, however, these places were probably tinged with powerful emotional resonances. We can establish a catalog of the scenes that appear to derive principally from Cather's experience.
In chapter 1, Lucius Wilson's walk to the Alexander house on Brimmer Street retraces familiar territory, for Cather lived on nearby Chestnut Street when working on the Milmine manuscript. During her stay there she met, among others, Mrs. James T. (Annie) Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett, and the neighborhood had associations with a rich literary and intellectual environment. She describes some of those feelings in her essay "148 Charles St."
Nearly all of chapter 2 focuses on the Duke of York's Theatre, where Hilda Burgoyne plays Peggy, a donkey girl, in the obviously Irish though fictional play Bog Lights. Like Alexander, Cather was the beneficiary of her acquaintances and sat in Yeats's box at the opening of Synge's Playboy at the Royal Court Theatre, where she saw Maire O'Neill. In the company of drama critic William Archer she saw Lady Gregory's The Rising of the Moon, a one-act play that concludes with a fugitive singing the popular ballad of that name.
In chapter 3, Alexander walks from his hotel to locate Hilda's lodgings off Bedford Square; a few days later he walks along the Victoria Embankment, crosses the Thames on the Westminster Bridge, and watches the Houses of Parliament aglow with the color of sunset. In her 10 August 1902 travel letter for the Nebraska State Journal, Cather notes that she had found a comfortable hotel "almost under the dome" of St. Paul's Cathedral. "We came here," she wrote, "because we wanted to be within walking distance of the Tower, Old Bailey, and the Temple." She and Isabelle McClung typically began their walking tour of the city in the morning but would soon become diverted: one starts "to make pilgrimages in the orthodox fashion, but one ends by merely watching the procession with perplexity" (World and the Parish 2: 907).
In chapter 4, Hilda and Alexander recall their student days in Paris, including a particular walk to the Place Saint-Michel, and along the Rue Saint-Jacques. And there are vivid images of light, the scent of lilacs, and the tragic face of an old woman. Again, to the degree that it was not entirely invented, this recollection may have come from the 1902 trip; curiously, Cather did not write much about Paris for the Nebraska State Journal, restricting herself to a travel letter about "Two Cemeteries in Paris" (World and the Parish 2: 924–29).
In chapter 5, Cather renders with great detail Alexander's steamship trip to London—the high swells of an oily sea, the smell of damp woolens, the humidity that made his hair collect drops of moisture, and so forth. She divides her attention between descriptive passages of the voyage and an assessment of Alexander's vacillating and troubled state of mind. This scene could have been based on one of her trips abroad or a composite picture of different crossings.
Chapter 7 is given over almost entirely to Alexander and Hilda's carriage ride to Kew and Richmond and back into London. This is one of the most extensive travel-like scenes in the novel, and the reader's attention is divided between the lovers' conversation and a tour through London on a rare day of fine weather. Cather's description of London light here, as William Curtin observes in a footnote (World and the Parish 2: 912n), is reminiscent of a similar description in the travel letter "Kensington Studio." Cather remarked on the changing quality of light as one travels westward from the city along Piccadilly toward Kensington: "From Trafalgar westward the very color of the city changes; the grimy blackness of the smokeladen town grows to a splendid grey about the National Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and from there the color runs gradually into a higher and higher key, into the glorious green of the parks and the bold white of the club houses along Piccadilly, and finally into the broad asphalts of Kensington that are covered, or rather dusted, with a yellow sand that catches the sunlight like gold powder" (World and the Parish 2: 912).
Cather might have combined her own recollections with images evoked by a poem by Alfred Noyes. Toward the end of their carriage ride, Alexander observes: "How many street pianos there are about to-night! The fine weather must have thawed them out. We've had five miles of 'Il Trovatore' now. They always make me feel jaunty" (87). The reference to Il Trovatore may have less to do with Verdi's opera by that name than it does with Noyes's popular poem "The Barrel Organ" (1904; see the Explanatory Notes). The weather, the time of year, the sunset light, the bustle and tramp of the crowd, and of course the music of street pianos have their analogues in Noyes's poem. Perhaps more important is the fact that London is characterized as the land of lost love where "dead dreams go." A London laborer, for example, "stares into the sunset where his April love is fled, / For he hears her softly singing and his lonely soul is led / Through the land where the dead dreams go" (Noyes 230). Not only does Alexander ask Hilda to sing for him in chapter 4, but his search, through her love, for his own dream of youth and expectancy is mirrored in this and other passages in the poem.
Other episodes might also have drawn upon Cather's recollections. In chapter 8, for example, Hugh MacConnell walks Hilda home from the theater on a foggy night. And Alexander's train trip to Quebec might have been informed by Cather's own recent (1911) journey to Portland, Maine; she would not have had to go to Canada to see "gray rocks and hills and meadows" (105), smell the "pine-scented air" (109), or view the crystal-clear sky, at any rate. This journey is principally devoted to dramatizing Alexander's unquiet mind and sense of personal indecision, but Alexander does imagine yet another trip to London (145). While glancing out the window to see a group of boys camped along a marsh, he recalls camping "on a sandbar in a Western river" during his youth (105–06). As has often been pointed out, this seems to be a reference both to Cather's story "The Enchanted Bluff " (1909) and to her own childhood in Nebraska (see Explanatory Notes).
The reasons for this summary of episodes that probably derived from Cather's experience are several. First, as already suggested, the author might have imported her own feelings and impressions of people and places into her narrative quite easily. Second, this early in her career, it was an article of faith with Cather that such sharp feelings were necessary for good writing. In a letter to her former student Norman Foerster (10 July 1910), she advised that excellent writing comes from close and engaged acquaintance with the things of this world, for that is what gives it an individual character. And in a letter written in Naples to her former teacher Alice E. D. Goudy (3 May 1908), she says that one ought to read the densely detailed histories of Tacitus and Seutonius in Italy because the details must have a physical reality and tangible character. However, those same impressions of her trips to London, Cather later came to believe, were thin and shallow, or as she put it in her preface, "youthful vanities and gaudy extravagances" (196). Third, one of the reasons why she might have come to deprecate her first novel has to do with the imported character of those impressions. The scenes and episodes instanced above are for the most part attached to the consciousness of Bartley Alexander, but he is too self-absorbed, on the one hand, and too jaded, on the other, to be an adequate register of the sorts of emotions Cather had experienced.
Episodes deriving from Cather's travels and the feelings associated with them constitute nearly a quarter of the book. Cather's own comments in "My First Novels" notwithstanding, a great deal of this novel is not set in the "drawing room," nor does it deal with "smart and clever" people. Alexander and Hilda derive their most vital and engaging qualities from their rural backgrounds, and these same qualities are dramatized most effectively in scenes that reflect Cather's vivid and deeply felt memories in combination with their own passions and desires.
Two principal events influenced the genesis of Cather's novel. The first was the collapse of the Quebec Bridge on 29 August 1907. Ever since John P. Hinz's 1950 essay "The Real Alexander's Bridge," critics have acknowledged that the collapse of Moorlock Bridge was based on an actual bridge disaster and that, at least in certain details, elements of the plot and the behavior of Bartley Alexander were patterned after the consulting engineer, Theodore Cooper. The second event was the emergence of the Irish National Theatre, which promoted a nationalistic aesthetic ideology and achieved a certain notoriety with the production of Synge's Playboy of the Western World, in which the prototype for Hilda Burgoyne appeared in the role of Pegeen Mike. Critics have largely ignored the importance of this influence. The relation of these events to specific passages in or aspects of the novel are dealt with in some detail in the Explanatory Notes. Here we will describe these influences as they bear upon the genesis of Alexander's Bridge.
The construction of the Quebec Bridge was newsworthy even before its collapse; the bridge was an emblem for the progressive era of scientific efficiency. If only symbolically, the catastrophe left progressive prospects in doubt; nearly eighty workers died, and the event triggered an exhaustive Canadian inquiry into the disaster. In 1906, in an article titled "Erection of the Quebec Bridge," Scientific American had hailed the project as a prospective engineering triumph, and Canadian Magazine ran a lengthy article by James Johnstone on the history of "Bridging the St. Lawrence." The undertaking was a matter of national pride for Canadians and Americans alike, for it was to be the longest cantilever bridge in the world and it was, for all intents and purposes, an American feat of engineering. The designers were Americans; the steel members for the bridge were manufactured by the Phoenixville Bridge Company of Pennsylvania; many of the welders, mechanics, and riveters were Americans.
Once complete, the Quebec Bridge would have been an eighteen-hundred-foot steel construction spanning the St. Lawrence River, exceeding in length by some ninety feet the then-longest cantilever, the Forth Bridge in Scotland. The original design for the bridge called for a span of sixteen hundred feet, but Theodore Cooper, the consulting engineer, recommended changing the design after the contract for construction had been drawn up. Thus, cost projections were modified; resulting design changes led to strain on the lower compression members and the bridge's collapse.
Newspaper coverage was extensive and sensational, rivaling the subsequent coverage of the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912. The journalistic importance of the event is suggested by two front-page headlines printed side by side in the New York Times on 30 August 1907: MARS INHABITED, SAYS PROF. LOWELL" and, in larger bold type, "BRIDGE FALLS DROWNING 80." For the journalist, the Quebec Bridge collapse had all the ingredients of a newsworthy story —considerable loss of life, tragic technological miscalculation, the drama of an urgent telegram to cease work having been fatally delayed, and the fall from public esteem of a celebrated engineer.
Given the widespread publicity about the event, it is curious that only one reviewer of Alexander's Bridge even mentions, and then only in passing, the Quebec Bridge calamity as a source. Surely contemporary readers could not have failed to notice the similarities, but perhaps the connection was so obvious that it did not require explanation. The parallels are so explicit that it seems clear Cather was not attempting to disguise the connection. However, there is no evidence that she was trying to exploit the notoriety of the subject,and she insisted that hers was not an "industrial novel" of the muckraking sort. Although her story followed accurately the events leading up to the bridge collapse, the divergences from fact are the more interesting because they show that Cather adapted the historical event to her own artistic purposes.
Moorlock, like its prototype, was to be the longest cantilever bridge in the world. The cause of the collapse is also identical—too much stress on a lower compression member. The Moorlock Bridge, like the Quebec Bridge, "sank almost in a vertical line, snapping and breaking and tearing as it went" (114; see illustrations 18–21, esp. 21). Cather reduced the number of casualties only slightly. She writes that "by morning forty-eight bodies had been taken out of the river, but there were still twenty missing" (115); the New York Times (30 August 1907) initially reported that eighty men had died, but that estimate was later lowered to seventy-five.
Cather changed the facts in some important ways. Although he was not the bridge's principal designer, Theodore Cooper, the consulting engineer, was the focus of most newspaper and magazine pieces about the disaster. In appearance and manner he was nothing like Bartley Alexander. He was sixty-eight years old at the time of the collapse; he had not been on the site of construction for more than two years prior to the accident; he was somewhat vain and arrogant; and, by his own admission, he was a frail and unhealthy man.Alexander, by contrast, looks "as a tamer of rivers ought to look"—forty-three years old, over six feet tall, and "glowing with strength and cordiality and rugged, blond good looks" (10). He complains that he is being forced by the bridge commission to "build pretty well to the strain limit up there. They've crowded me too much on the cost" (62). Cooper, on the other hand, was at least complicitous in cost-cutting measures, and in fact boasted that the Quebec Bridge would be the "best and cheapest," a future model of bridge construction.
A fatal moment in Cather's plot involves the nondelivery of a telegram sent to Alexander apprising him of worries about the bridge and asking him to come at once. The first telegram does not reach him because he is with Hilda in his New York apartment and unavailable to receive it; a second reaches him the next day, too late to avert the catastrophe. In actuality, Cooper had been advised by Norman McLure (the man he had appointed to keep him informed about the construction project), first by telegram and then in person, that the lower chords of the bridge were shifting. After meeting with McLure on 29 August, Cooper sent a wire to the chief engineer advising them not to add more weight to the bridge until the condition of the compression members could be properly evaluated. Delivery of that telegram was delayed, perhaps obstructed, by a telegraph strike. Cooper at first said he ordered that work on the bridge be stopped immediately; later he modified those remarks, saying that, as consulting engineer, he lacked the authority to stop construction. In any event, apparently he made no plans to visit the site even after the danger became clear.
There are other changes to the facts. First, Cather says Alexander was the "Chief Engineer" (116) for the Moorlock Bridge project, but he was the designer, not an engineer. The chief engineer would be required to work on the construction site. Neither the designer of the Quebec Bridge, Paul Szlapka, nor the consulting engineer, Theodore Cooper, worked on-site.Second, for dramatic purposes, Cather was likely drawn to the notion of the intertwined fates of the creator and the creation, but she altered facts in having her bridge builder die in the St. Lawrence River. Third, Alexander often complains about the pressures from the "commission" to build the bridge cheaply, but there was no such commission. The Quebec Bridge and Railway Company was in charge of the construction and oversight since the very beginning in 1900. From time to time work on the bridge was halted until the Canadian Parliament could appropriate additional funding for construction.
What seems clear is that the Quebec Bridge disaster was fundamental to the story Cather wished to tell from the very beginning. It seems equally clear that, in adjusting the facts of the event to suit her purposes, she meant the reader to be sympathetic to her bridge builder and, because he was to die on the Moorlock Bridge, perhaps even see him as a tragic figure. When Alexander learns of the shifting lower chords of the bridge he acts with concern and dispatch. He is the victim of the collapse rather than its haughty perpetrator. He is largely indifferent to his public reputation and material comfort; in fact, his success has given him the feeling of being "built alive into a social structure you don't care a rap about" (13). He is, in effect, a heroic character living in an unheroic time. Labor organizations, petty profit takers, social and charitable obligations, and, finally, desperate and, we are to assume, lesser men who cling to him in the river bring him down.
Nothing in the story of the Quebec Bridge catastrophe would have suggested several trips to London, however, or the title character's involvement with an Irish actress. Much of that dimension of the narrative came from an entirely different sort of event. Although Cather had seen the London debut of Synge's Playboy of the Western World and a performance of Lady Gregory's The Rising of the Moon during her 1909 trip, that is all we know about Cather's personal acquaintance with the performances of the Irish National Theatre Company.
The initial purpose of the company, which was established in 1903 but actually had its beginnings, under other names, a few years earlier, was to represent authentic Irish character and culture onstage. The actors and actresses were unpaid amateurs, often performing on makeshift stages and under difficult circumstances throughout the country. Thanks to the philanthropic support of a wealthy Englishwoman, Miss Annie Horniman, the company leased the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Thereafter they were able to perform their plays in more favorable and professional conditions. Among the important members were George Moore, John Millington Synge, Lady Gregory, and William Butler Yeats, but the entire acting company was united in wishing to avoid caricature, to shun the "stage Irishman," and to reclaim in dramatic form authentic Irish speech and folk culture. They also wished to avoid a self-conscious "literary taste," preferring to deal with common and local themes and to address directly the Irish people as the true standard of aesthetic judgment. There was some hope as well that the various community performances would help to unite Ireland and promote national independence. For a time there were divisive sentiments in the company—one group claimed that the dramas should serve largely political purposes, while the other approved of a literary nationalism but thought that artistic excellence was their primary concern. The drama of the Irish National Theatre was regionalist in character and nationalist in outlook at the same time that, in the minds of Yeats, Lady Gregory, and others, it aspired to the highest literary achievement.
When the company first played in London in 1903, a handful of English critics, including drama critic William Archer, praised the performances. After Cather saw The Rising of the Moon with Archer in 1909, they discussed the brief play's curious simplicity and strange appeal. This conversation apparently made a lasting impression on Cather, for she recalled it many years later in a letter to E. K. Brown (24 January 1947). She had been perplexed by the lack of drama in this short play. Archer explained that anything interesting on the stage is perforce dramatically interesting and belongs there. Cather was to recall that she had learned something important that evening. "All at once," writes James Woodress, Archer "had struck out a foolish platitude she had previously respected devotedly" (207).
Archer published an essay in McClure's elaborating his ideas about modern drama only a few months later, "The New Drama and the New Theater" (November 1909). In this relatively brief essay, he traces the dramatic inheritance of the nineteenth century, locating the primary cause for revolutionary change in the person of Henrik Ibsen. It was not merely Ibsen's realism but his "localism" and his "nationalism"—the unembarrassed attachment to a dramatic rendering of the familiar—that made him such an important figure. One of the beneficiaries of Ibsen's revolution was the Irish theater. For Archer, Ibsen's influence could not be underestimated, for it reenergized the drama and in England "meant a declaration of independence from France; just as the progress of American drama, from about 1900, has meant a declaration of independence from both France and England" (10). For Archer, London theatergoers were now forced to look to Dublin or Manchester or even New York for something new and important in the drama. He concludes his essay by recalling his visit to New York in 1907 and discovering this radical change: "[I] saw nothing but plays not only by American authors, but taking firm hold of modern American life, political, social, commercial, domestic, in the East and in the West, in the heart of civilization and on its frontiers" (14).
Her conversations with Archer and her reading of his essay might have had contradictory influences upon Cather. On the one hand, as Loretta Wasserman has argued, Archer was forthrightly urging her to remove to London; on the other hand, if she really took his artistic statements to heart, he was suggesting that to be an artist one must return to one's native materials. Synge had faced the same sort of decision; at Yeats's urging, he had left Paris and returned to Ireland, and he began to write about Irish peasant life in Mayo or on the Aran Isles. The success of Riders to the Sea proved that Yeats was right, but the Irish reaction to Playboy of the Western World proved that he was notoriously right.
When Playboy debuted in Dublin in 1907, many theatergoers were outraged, and the performances occasioned what are typically known as the "Playboy riots." Upset theatergoers objected loudly and sometimes violently to its supposed indecency, its coarse language, and its putative theme (parricide); the play depicted Irish life and character in ways that the more refined, or more insecure, Irishman or Irishwoman found scandalous. When the Irish National Theatre performed in the United States in the fall and winter of 1911–12, Irish Americans reacted similarly to Playboy in several cities, including New York—hooting the players offstage, pelting them with rotten vegetables, and the like.
The London audience was perplexed but not outraged by Synge's play. Whatever she might have thought about the play, Cather found Maire O'Neill, the woman who played Pegeen Mike, particularly interesting. Edith Lewis recalled that Cather thought O'Neill a "gifted young actress . . . whose beauty and engaging personality vividly impressed her" (68). Lewis was perhaps referring to O'Neill's "personality" as a dramatic presence, but it is possible that Cather actually met her. We do not know how much Cather knew about O'Neill's life, though Yeats or Lady Gregory could have given at least an anecdotal biography of her; the ways in which Cather presented the life and background of Hilda may be wholly invention or, as in the case of the Quebec Bridge story, deliberate alteration of the facts to fit her own fictional purposes.
We may note the differences. Hilda Burgoyne comes from an acting family; she is originally from rural Ireland, though she grew up in London; she keeps a "mite of a hut in Galway" (49); she sends money home to her sisters and her cousin Mike; the playwright Hugh MacConnell is in love with her; Alexander remembers her as a combination of the "homely and sensible" and the "utterly wild and daft" (30); she plays the donkey girl Peggy in the play Bog Lights; and Maurice Mainhall says she has "the Irish voice" (24).
Maire O'Neill was actually named Molly Allgood; she changed her name because her sister Sara Allgood was an actress in the same company. However, O'Neill did not come from Galway or from an acting family: her parents were working-class Dubliners. She never studied in Paris, but she became famous in the role of Pegeen Mike in Playboy of the Western World. She was engaged to John Millington Synge, more than twelve years her elder, until his death in early 1909, only a few months before Cather saw her perform in London. Perhaps O'Neill recognized that her dramatic success was largely due to her Irish voice. "In dialect she is the one poetical actress our movement has produced," wrote Yeats (654–55).
These two events—the Quebec Bridge disaster and the dramatic experiments of the Irish National Theatre Company—were important influences upon Cather's novel. The first Cather knew largely through newspaper accounts; the second had more personal associations. The highly publicized bridge collapse helped shape her plot; Abbey Theatre nationalism and her interest in Maire O'Neill also contributed to the book. Together, the events epitomized the seemingly irreconcilable claims of art and life that characterized so much of Cather's fiction prior to the publication of Alexander's Bridge.The oppositions suggested by a successful engineer from the American West and a successful Galway actress were familiar to Cather, but her novel was to deal with this theme far more ambitiously than she had ever attempted before.
Bartley Alexander's problem, or one of his problems, is that he is a public man. Alexander is building the largest cantilever bridge in the world; he is internationally famous; he is the desired guest or speaker at important gatherings. He is, for both Lucius Wilson and Winifred Alexander, the one who is building "bridges into the future, over which the feet of every one of us will go" (18). It seems that Alexander has succeeded mightily. But Cather also portrays a second self, an unlived potentiality that refuses to die. In fact, as Alexander complains, this other self "is fighting for his life at the cost of mine" (130). But Cather never lets the reader know what sort of self or aspiration has been denied in him or to what degree his present life is a diminished thing. We know that Alexander studied at the Ècole des Beaux-Arts, but we do not know what he was studying. Presumably he was studying architecture, but if one wanted to learn how to build bridges it would have been better to go to Scotland than to Paris, and better still to join the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where so many bridge builders, Theodore Cooper included, trained. Alexander is something of an American Everyman, or at least the sort of man the "Sunday Supplement" men wanted for their newspaper articles—a restless, mechanical force, advancing a materialist, capitalist culture he neither understands nor desires.
Hilda Burgoyne is a success story too. She has succeeded largely through the resources of her attractive personality and her charming Irish voice. If Alexander's life has become hollow and false, as McClure's editorial staff apparently wished to emphasize by entitling the novel Alexander's Masquerade, Hilda's success derives from her straightforward authenticity. She is very much the "fairy child" who has entered the garden walls, but her primitive energy has not been enervated by the trolls. "She's really MacConnell's poetic motif, you see," says Maurice Mainhall; she "makes the whole thing a fairy tale" (24). The plot and the feeling of Bog Lights depend on "her lightness of foot, her lightness of touch, upon the shrewdness and deft fancifulness that played alternately, sometimes together, in her mirthful brown eyes" (25).
Without extratextual evidence, there is no way of knowing how, or in what order, Cather fused an engineering disaster and the story of a theater company's controversial triumph into a single narrative. What is more certain is that there is a tissue of oppositions in the book. The opposition of the practical world of bridge building to the artistic world of drama lends considerable weight to Susan Rosowski's observation that Alexander's Bridge is "an allegory about art in which Cather explored relationships among the creative energy of the artist, the spiritual world, and the physical one" (35).
Some of these oppositions are straightforward. The Victoria and Albert embankments in London or the quays in Paris, built to control and tame the Thames and the Seine, are set against the strong St. Lawrence River or a meandering river with its sandy banks that Alexander recalls from his youth. The Elgin Marbles, testifying to the "lastingness of some things," are in the British Museum, but so is the mummy room, that "ultimate repository of mortality" (32) which so terrifies Alexander.
The allusive expression of some of these oppositions is more subtle. Note the songs Cather refers to. In chapter 4, Alexander asks Hilda to sing "The Harp that Once," one of Thomas Moore's songs from Irish Melodies, which were intended to capture the Irish spirit and did in fact win sympathy for Irish nationalists. The song itself is a lament, for the harp "hangs as mute," "As if that soul were fled,— / So sleeps the pride of former days, / So glory's thrill is o'er." It is a song, in other words, of the loss of Irish soul as reflected in the loss of music or art. "The Rising of the Moon," the song that Hilda sings in Bog Lights and which Lady Gregory used in her play by the same name, is not so benign as it might appear, or so poetic as some critics have thought. A celebration of Irish bravery in the rebellion of 1798, it was written several decades later by the nationalist John Keegan Casey while he was in prison. It is a military song, a call to arms and a chant for Irish freedom, whose lyrics include: "Death to every foe and traitor. Onward, strike the marching tune / And hurrah me boys for freedom, it's the rising of the moon" (Gregory n.p.). "The Cloak of Gaul" is playing when Alexander enters the theater to see the final act of Bog Lights. The actual title of the song is "In the Garb of Old Gaul," composed by a major in the Black Watch in 1748. It is also fiercely nationalistic and was often used later as a recruitment song: "No effeminate customs our sinews embrace, / No luxurious tables enervate our race; / Our loud-sounding pipe bears the true martial strain, / So do we the old Scottish valor retain" (Graham 112–13). These songs have nothing to do with bridge building or bridge builders, nor, given the martialism of the lyrics, do they lend a realistic element of Irish charm to the scene. Instead, they reflect Cather's musings on a native and local culture whose folkways and dialect are the stuff of art.
Just as the Irish National Theatre Company tried to do away with the stock Irish character, Cather particularly prided herself on her representation of the Swede in O Pioneers! In "My First Novels" she wrote that her novel was "not only about Nebraska farmers, the farmers were Swedes! At that time, 1912, the Swede had never appeared on the printed page in this country except in broadly humorous sketches; and the humor was based on two peculiarities: his physical strength, and his inability to pronounce the letter 'j'. I had certainly good reason for supposing that the book I had written for myself would remain faithfully with me, and continue to be exclusively my property" (94–95). Cather may have been somewhat disingenuous in that last remark, since William Archer and her own experience had convinced her that a faithful rendering of the local was actually the future of a reinvigorated art.
Since John Hinz's brief essay on the novel in 1950, several literary sources and influences for Alexander's Bridge have been nominated, but we are particularly interested in those influences that may have contributed in some measure to the genesis and composition of the book. This is an appropriate emphasis, because as Bernice Slote, James Woodress, and others have noted, after The Professor's House (1925), Alexander's Bridge is psychologically the most autobiographical of Cather's novels. Generally, these influences are of two sorts: those that contribute to the creation of character and psychological motives, and those that contribute to plot and narrative texture.
Cather herself confessed she was too much under the sway of Wharton and James when she wrote the novel, though her comments indicate the influence of a literary manner, not specific textual sources. Hinz briefly notes the Jamesian qualities in Alexander's Bridge: "The international flavor, the genteel drawing rooms, the Boston-London axis of the story, and above all the painstaking analysis of motive and dissection of character are manifestly Jamesian" (473). Bernice Slote nominates Anthony Bream in James's The Other House as a possible model for Bartley Alexander and notes that Cather reviewed James's novel in 1896, but she also believes that it is wrong to describe the novel as "Jamesian" (xvii; see also viii n. 3). We might also surmise that James's "The Jolly Corner" (1908), with its emphasis on a dreaded and ghostly alter ego, had something to do with Alexander's psychology.
Cather's novel is filled with Whartonian ironies, such as the wet and illegible letter Alexander wrote but never mailed to Winifred announcing his love for Hilda, but which his wife takes as evidence of devotion to her, or his statement to Philip Horton that "Anything I do can be made public" (110). Tonally, Cather's ironies are seldom so wry or comically pungent as Wharton's, but perhaps Wharton's suggestion in The House of Mirth (1905) that Lily Bart is psychologically pursued by the Furies has some parallel in Cather's novel. Both Cather and Wharton were interested in myth, and L. V. Jacks and Bernice Slote believe that the love triangle between Paris (also known as Alexander), his wife, Oenone, and Helen of Troy may have contributed to Cather's conception of the love triangle she was developing in the novel. James Woodress has reaffirmed those correspondences and added that Keats's Endymion might have contributed to the moon imagery that Slote locates in Greek and Roman myth and in Cather's novel (220).
Elizabeth Ammons sees Cather working with a different sort of myth—"the energizing myth of American manhood, nationhood, and empire" (748). She instances an abundance of essays published in Scribner's, Harper's, Century, and, of course, McClure's that celebrated engineers, and often bridge builders, as providing social and cultural background for the novel. To this list she adds the possible influences of Rudyard Kipling's "The Bridge Builders" (1894), Richard Harding Davis's Soldiers of Fortune (1897), Harold Bell Wright's The Winning of Barbara Worth (1911), and the personal and published example of that epitome of masculinity, Theodore Roosevelt. These essays and fictions, according to Ammons, indicate the "well-developed backdrop of literature and cultural mythology" associated with "conquest of the environment, expansion of Anglo hegemony, and veneration of the Wild masculine West" (754). However, according to Ammons, Cather undertook to "demythologize" this myth in much the same way that Viola Roseboro's story "The Mistaken Man" (1907) did. Ammons speculates that Roseboro's story of a bridge disaster provided the "spark" for Cather's novel: the bridge builder in "The Mistaken Man" also works reluctantly but uncomplainingly under cost-cutting pressures; his bridge collapses, taking with it a trainload of Sunday School children.
Marilee Lindemann has identified the influence of Frank Norris's McTeague, though not in regard to the "second self " that bedevils both McTeague and Alexander. And, though they are not literary sources per se, Lindemann argues that Cather may have been influenced in a negative or ambivalent way by the writings of Theodore Roosevelt and Jane Addams. E. K. Brown, while recognizing that Cather tempered the violent emotions found there, suggests that Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde may have served as a source for her protagonist. However, Cather's fiction, both before and after the publication of Alexander's Bridge, is so saturated with the theme of a divided self that this line of inquiry can only generally be related to the process of composition of the novel.
Susan Rosowski has discerned traces of Wordsworth, Keats, and Tennyson's "The Lady of Shallott" in the novel, but she also notes that at points Cather drops her authorial persona and "experiments in the manner of the French symbolists, using language rich in synaesthesia to evoke a private mood in which the present moment hangs suspended" (37). As evidence for this quality she instances two richly descriptive passages, both deriving from Cather's experience in London. This is an especially rich vein of inquiry. Despite their incidental relation to plot or to character development, these passages often give energy and emotional color to the story out of proportion to the events they dramatize. This also helps to explain the patterned allusions that seem to disclose and underwrite an intellectual complex, a tension between the nationalistic art of "localism" of the Irish theater (suggested by passing references to songs whose titles were benign but whose lyrics were militant) and the august embodiment of a universal world culture (hence mention of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum). T. S. Eliot, also influenced by French symbolism, developed an analogous technique at that time.
A final strand of literary influence may offer some clues about Cather's approach to her material. As has often been noted, Cather reviewed Kipling's volume of stories The Day's Work (1898) in the Pittsburgh Leader in February 1899. Of the writer in general, she said, "The world has been a great many centuries in evolving its present gigantic industries, but Mr. Kipling is the first man who has ever written of them seriously or sympathetically" (World and the Parish 2: 557). Kipling, she wrote, "finds energy the most wonderful and terrible and beautiful thing in the universe" and has made energy "the subject matter for art" (558). Included in The Day's Work was the story "The Bridge Builders," about an engineer building a bridge over the Ganges, a man who, in Cather's words, "built his life into the bridge" (558).
Readers of Alexander's Bridge were made to understand, largely through the
comments of Cather's Jamesian ficelle, Lucius Wilson, that Alexander, too, had
built his life into the Moorlock Bridge:
"I'm sure I did you justice in the matter of ability. Yet I always used to feel
that there was a weak spot where someday strain would tell. Even after you began
to climb, I stood down in the crowd and watched you with—well not with
confidence. The more dazzling the front you presented, the higher your
façade rose, the more I expected to see a big crack zigzagging from
top to bottom,"—he indicated its course in the air with his
forefinger,—"then a crash and clouds of dust." (12–13)
"I'm sure I did you justice in the matter of ability. Yet I always used to feel that there was a weak spot where someday strain would tell. Even after you began to climb, I stood down in the crowd and watched you with—well not with confidence. The more dazzling the front you presented, the higher your façade rose, the more I expected to see a big crack zigzagging from top to bottom,"—he indicated its course in the air with his forefinger,—"then a crash and clouds of dust." (12–13)
The parallels between material stress (on the lower chord of the Moorlock Bridge) and psychological stress (the foundation of Alexander's being) imply the inevitable collapse of both.
As Merrill Skaggs points out, such locutions as a "crack zigzagging from top to bottom" suggest that Cather borrowed some of her inspiration from Poe, especially from "The Fall of the House of Usher." The passage quoted above, and others scattered throughout the novel, show how Cather meant to connect, symbolically, the fates of creator and creation.
For this reason, Hinz's brief identification of Ibsen's The Master Builder as a literary model is provocative, even beyond the claims Hinz makes for it: "A great builder grows old reluctantly; he becomes infatuated with Hilda—the symbol of his loss; he plans one last triumphant work; he suffers a fall from his own great structure. . . . It is not at all unlikely that she unconsciously drew upon her earlier readings to lend her novel its pattern" (473–74). Hinz adds only that Cather wrote an essay on Ibsen for Hesperian (1 November 1892).
There are other parallels between the two works, however. Halvard Solness, the master builder, has achieved greatly and unexpectedly. He was a poor boy from a rural village who rose to the top of his profession. Because he is largely self-taught he is not called an architect, but he has prospered through his own ambition, through the aid of circumstances and "luck" (what he rather mysteriously calls his supernatural "helpers" in the world).Dogged by a vague fear that he will be dethroned by the younger generation, Solness sometimes thinks he is mad. He believes there is a "troll" inside him that has caused his good fortune but will also turn against him in time. For Hilda, the origin of Solness's problem is that he has a "sickly conscience": "I mean your conscience is feeble—too delicately built, as it were— hasn't strength to take a grip of things—to lift and bear what is heavy" (299). Solness is attracted to Hilda because she is youthful, an emissary from the younger generation he so fears. She is to be his "princess," and his future constructions will be castles in the air with "firm" foundations.It is Hilda who says the master builder "cannot climb as high as he builds" (315); she urges him to climb the tower of a new house he has built for his wife. Solness, claiming he can no longer live without joy, climbs the scaffolding with expectant purpose in his life, but, becoming dizzy, falls to his death.
Ibsen's play provided Cather with an imaginative example of dramatic contrast between two different activities: the building of a bridge and a romantic involvement with a woman perhaps not so coincidentally named Hilda. Furthermore, details in Ibsen's play would have been suggestive to Cather: a builder wrestling with some internal "troll"; a man whose conscience is too weak for the burdens placed upon it; marriage to an elegant woman whose attachments to duty seem stronger than life with her husband; a spontaneous young woman who reanimates the joy within a successful man but drives him to destruction.
Indeed, Cather, through her acquaintance with William Archer, had a more tangible link to Ibsen's dramas than when she wrote her college essay on Ibsen. The only English translation of Ibsen's plays available to Cather was by William Archer and Edmund Gosse. Archer was among the earliest and most prolific of Ibsen's champions, translating Ibsen's complete works and writing many essays and books about the man. If Cather read The Master Builder in the English edition of Ibsen's Collected Works (1906–12), she might have also read Archer's introduction to the play. There she would have learned about the play's genesis and also about the originality of Ibsen's method and subject matter. Archer considered The Master Builder the most autobiographical of Ibsen's works,and one filled with symbolism. But he insisted that it was a mistake to think of the play as purely symbolic. "There is nothing in the play which has no meaning on the natural-psychological plane, and absolutely requires a symbolic interpretation to make it comprehensible," he wrote. "It is true that, in order to accept the action on what we may call the realistic level, we must suppose Solness to possess and to exercise, sometimes in spite of himself, and sometimes unconsciously, a considerable measure of hypnotic power. But the time is surely past when we could reckon hypnotism among 'supernatural' phenomena" (xxxii).
Whether or not Cather got them from Archer, these two critical observations are pertinent to Alexander's Bridge. The St. Lawrence River, the mummy room in the British Museum, the Moorlock Bridge, London—even Hilda and Alexander—exist in their own right, but they also function as symbols in a narrative that Ferris Greenslet, at least, thought was informed by a "spiritual sense of life." Perhaps this is why critics have been able to speak, by turns and in uncontradictory ways, about the novel as realistic, naturalistic, allegorical, or symbolist.
Archer's second point is also germane because, even as a youth, Alexander exerted a powerful mystery and energy. This is true not only for Professor Wilson but also for Alexander's schoolmates; not only for Winifred, who asks Wilson to explain the man by recalling his youth, but also for Hilda; not only for London colleagues but also for the Sunday Supplement journalists. If the audience does not accept Ibsen's investment in Solness of "hypnotic power," says Archer, the originality and spiritual power of The Master Builder will simply disappear. One might say the same about Bartley Alexander. This helps to explain Wilson's final comment in the epilogue: "He left an echo. The ripples go on in all of us. He belonged to the people who make the play, and most of us are only onlookers at the best" (126). Ibsen's drama also helps to explain Wilson's comment about Alexander in the opening chapter. There, Wilson imagines himself an onlooker who, like the spectators at the end of The Master Builder, anxiously watches the protagonist climb ever higher, with a foretaste of catastrophe.
If Cather had read The Master Builder in the 1893 edition, she would have encountered an introduction where Archer made an analogous point. To demonstrate that this hypnotic quality was not at all incredible, he retold the story of Solness but relocated the play in England and made the builder a journalist. Archer would have shown Cather, in a brief way, how translatable Ibsen's story was. If this drama—this "soul history," to use Archer's phrase—could as easily be about a London journalist as a builder in Norway, could it not also be about a Boston engineer?
As Ferris Greenslet noted in his reader's report, S. S. McClure had taken a personal hand in advertising the story in his magazine. In McClure's, Alexander's Masquerade appeared in three installments with five illustrations by F. Graham Cootes; one illustration appeared on the cover of the magazine that contained the first installment. Marilee Lindemann finds this cover illustration "garish" and notes that it curiously pictures a seductive Hilda in the role of Peggy in Bog Lights, thus misrepresenting the subject matter of the novel. All of the illustrations are somewhat romantic, but those in the text do emphasize Alexander instead of Hilda. Lindemann believes the cover painting "tries to place Cather's story within the conventional framework of the adultery novel" (xiv).
The illustration does suggest a certain eroticism (Hilda is barefoot and seductively looking up at the audience), but if McClure superintended the illustrations he might have had something more calculating in mind. To the degree that the painting is reminiscent of Playboy of the Western World, he might have been trying to capitalize on the recent notoriety of Synge's play and the U.S. tour of the Irish National Theatre Company. In the New York Times alone, twenty-three articles appeared between October 1911 and January 1912 on the "Playboy riots" and attendant circumstances. Yeats and Moncure Conway published defenses of the play, and Lady Gregory rather shrewdly and dramatically had Theodore Roosevelt attend the play as her personal guest. Most of the detractors, on the other hand, thought the play was indecent and an offense to Irish morality and character. From the cover illustration, the unsuspecting reader might have anticipated an altogether different sort of story than the one Cather wrote, but it would have generated interest in the story nonetheless.
Greenslet's original suggestion that the publisher might use the illustrations in McClure's was abandoned, except that one was reprinted on the dust jacket above the publisher's description of the novel. In a sense, this publisher's blurb was the first review of the novel. Several of the phrases Greenslet had used in his original reader's report are repeated there. Not only does the description emphasize the resemblance to Wharton's fiction, but it uses such phrases as "dramatic, powerful, and haunting to the memory" and "marked ... by the qualities of distinction, of excellence of workmanship, perceptiveness, actuality, and the spiritual sense of life."
The reviews were generally favorable and tended to repeat the views, and sometimes the same language, that the publisher had advanced in its announcement—that it was an important first novel, reminiscent of Wharton, and that it demonstrated commendable craft and emotional restraint. The reviewer for Living Age wrote, "Willa S. Cather has given the world an exceedingly finished piece of work, and a story which haunts the memory," and observed that, though its theme was intense, the author handled it with "refinement and distinction": "there is no hint of sordidness, and the pathos is never unrestrained" (192). A reviewer for Current Literature detected "great artistic skill" in the book, "brilliant in its reflections of character and life, and admirably restrained and graceful in form and diction" (338).
A writer for the New York Times Book Review characterized the book in much the same way that Cather herself would in "My First Novels": "There are dramatic situations, much clever conversation, and some graphic description. Miss Cather has a faculty . . . of catching and describing in terse, refined phrase the salient features of personality, both mental and physical" (295). An Athenæum reviewer for the British edition of the novel was much more succinct; the novel was "interesting" and the story was told with "some force" (217). Only the reviewer in the Independent was dismissive, saying, "We sometimes doubt whether it is a compliment after all to be likened in literary style to Mrs. Wharton." While there is some feeling in the story, the reviewer thought that, "as a novel, it all seems rather futile" (47).
The review in Current Literature summarized newspaper comments on the novel before offering its own opinion, noting that the Louisville Courier-Journal had called it a "portrait group . . . in which the personages are presented with such intensity, with such feeling for character, as to make the canvas lose a moment its static quality, the figures seem but caught a moment in the scene of a drama" (337). The Providence Journal commented that "only readers as finely sensitive as the author will appreciate it"; and the New York World praised its compact energy and grace and thought it might instruct other novelists in the "power and blessedness of simplicity" (337). The reviewer then observed that the story was loosely based on the Quebec Bridge disaster but praised the author's "individualism and her determination to use social and industrial conditions for her own purposes as an artist" (338).
Only two of the reviews of Alexander's Bridge were signed. Margaret Sherwood, whose novels were also published by Houghton Mifflin, wrote a lengthy review essay for Atlantic Monthly entitled "Some Recent Fiction." The essay begins with a lament that modern fiction is overburdened with complexities. She regrets the loss of the ballad's power and simplicity, and, in a remark prefiguring the most famous phrase in Cather's essay "The Novel Démeublé," writes, "As much by what is left unsaid as by what is said, the imagination is set stirring" (680). Sherwood has relatively little to say about Cather's novel, but what she does say is wholly complimentary: "One finds in Alexander's Bridge a welcome contrast to the over-emotional tales. . . . [T]here is a steady and harmonious development of plot and character, a dignity and reticence in the treatment of the dramatic scenes. The author's workmanship is deft and skillful, and the swift, clean stroke tells on every page" (683).
H. L. Mencken's review is more surly and robust. In the present day, Mencken says, there are two schools of fiction— "The School of Plot and the School of Piffle" (156). But Cather as an artist has the intelligence to "aim higher," and Alexander's Bridge proves to be a "very promising piece of writing" (156). If she has chosen to follow Wharton, there are worse choices she might have made, for Wharton at least is an artist. Mencken commends Cather's style, her dialogue, and her pictures of "the cold Winifred" and the "alluring Hilda." Her treatment of Alexander, too, is good, or at least good enough, but by having him drown at the end Cather evades the problem of the book and sidesteps the realism of the situation. The average man, says Mencken, would have let the situation "drift" and settled into a complacent role as lover of two women separated by an ocean.
It is probably true that the first novel by any writer not content to write formula fiction is, in a way, experimental. Certainly, Cather's diverse materials and literary models indicate her ambition. It is probably true, as well, that looking back upon that first novel, with the full confidence of an achieved mastery of one's craft, Cather felt a twinge of embarrassment about her beginnings. Nevertheless, the novel went through five printings, and she agreed to write a preface for the 1922 reissue of the novel (albeit an apologetic one). Perhaps she liked the novel more than she was willing to admit. Later readers, at any rate, have been kinder to the book than she was. Edith Lewis reread it after Cather's death and was surprised at the intensity of feeling in it. E. K. Brown, Bernice Slote, James Woodress, and others have recognized its limitations but have admired it still. Marilee Lindemann has called it a "minor 'classic"' (vii).
To the extent that the novel represents the unavoidable and tentative first step toward Cather's later works, its significance ought not be undervalued. In her 1922 preface to Alexander's Bridge, Cather herself promoted the belief that a belated obedience to Sarah Orne Jewett's advice prompted her return to the "home pasture" and the creation of O Pioneers!: "Of course, one day you will write about your own country. In the meantime, get all you can" (vii). Whether or not Jewett pointed the way for Cather's artistic development, what Cather got from the world at large was not merely a congeries of literary techniques and a rather artificial sophistication. Her literary aspirations were high ones. James, Wharton, the symbolists, Ibsen, Synge—these were literary examples of a rare order. And in a sense their examples, as artists, were the same. Henry James truly was a world citizen; he was born in New York, but he claimed his earliest memory was of the Place de Vendôme in Paris. But, by 1904, even James had come home to take stock of his native land, publishing The American Scene in 1907. It was James, too, after reading Wharton's The Valley of Indecision, a novel set in eighteenth-century Italy, who believed Wharton should be "tethered in native pastures" and advised that she take up her "American subject," and "Do New York!" (Edel 580). The result was The House of Mirth. Ibsen and Synge had lived and studied in the cultural capitals of Europe, but they too came home, to Christiania, Norway, or the Aran Isles of Ireland, for imaginative sustenance and a subject matter that truly belonged to them. The lives of the writers Cather deeply admired told the same story. Alexander's Bridge was an ambitious experiment which moved her that much more quickly and securely into her own literary territory, not because she was reacting against that first novel but because it set in motion imaginative energies that would eventually take her there.
The second is from Charles Kingsley's The Roman and the Teuton: "A fairy palace, with a fairy garden; . . . Inside the trolls dwell, . . . Working at their magic forges, making and making always things rare and strange."(Go back.)
It is difficult to comply with the publisher's request that I write a preface for this new edition of an early book. "Alexander's Bridge" was my first novel, and does not deal with the kind of subject-matter in which I now find myself most at home. The people and the places of the story interested me intensely at the time when it was written, because they were new to me and were in themselves attractive. "Alexander's Bridge" was written in 1911, and "O Pioneers!" the following year. The difference in quality in the two books is an illustration of the fact that it is not always easy for the inexperienced writer to distinguish between his own material and that which he would like to make his own. Everything is new to the young writer, and everything seems equally personal. That which is outside his deepest experience, which he observes and studies, often seems more vital than that which he knows well, because he regards it with all the excitement of discovery. The things he knows best he takes for granted, since he is not continually thrilled by new discoveries about them. They lie at the bottom of his consciousness, whether he is aware of it or no, and they continue to feed him, but they do not stimulate him.
There is a time in a writer's development when his "life line" and the line of his personal endeavor meet. This may come early or late, but after it occurs his work is never quite the same. After he has once or twice done a story that formed itself, inevitably, in his mind, he will not often turn back to the building of external stories again. The inner feeling produces for him a deeper excitement than the thrill of novelty or the glitter of the passing show.
The writer, at the beginning of his career, is often more interested in his discoveries about his art than in the homely truths which have been about him from his cradle. He is likely to feel that writing is one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, in the world, and that what he learns about it is his one really precious possession. He understands, of course, that he must know a great deal about life, but he thinks this knowledge is something he can get by going out to look for it, as one goes to a theatre. Perhaps it is just as well for him to believe this until he has acquired a little facility and strength of hand; to work through his youthful vanities and gaudy extravagances before he comes to deal with the material that is truly his own. One of the few really helpful words I ever heard from an older writer, I had from Sarah Orne Jewett when she said to me: "Of course, one day you will write about your own country. In the meantime, get all you can. One must know the world so well before one can know the parish."
There have been notable and beautiful exceptions, but I think usually the young writer must have his affair with the external material he covets; must imitate and strive to follow the masters he most admires, until he finds he is starving for reality and cannot make this go any longer. Then he learns that it is not the adventure he sought, but the adventure that sought him, which has made the enduring mark upon him.
When a writer once begins to work with his own material, he realizes that, no matter what his literary excursions may have been, he has been working with it from the beginning— by living it. With this material he is another writer. He has less and less power of choice about the moulding of it. It seems to be there of itself, already moulded. If he tries to meddle with its vague outline, to twist it into some categorical shape, above all if he tries to adapt or modify its mood, he destroys its value. In working with this material he finds that he need have little to do with literary devices; he comes to depend more and more on something else—the thing by which our feet find the road home on a dark night, accounting of themselves for roots and stones which we had never noticed by day. This guide is not always with him, of course. He loses it and wanders. But when it is with him it corresponds to what Mr. Bergson calls the wisdom of intuition as opposed to that of intellect. With this to shape his course, a writer contrives and connives only as regards mechanical details, and questions of effective presentation, always debatable. About the essential matter of his story he cannot argue this way or that; he has seen it, has been enlightened about it in flashes that are as unreasoning, often as unreasonable, as life itself.Willa Cather Whale Cove Cottage
INFORMATION on the Quebec Bridge collapse is derived from the following sources: James Johnstone, "Bridging the St. Lawrence," Canadian Magazine Aug. 1906: 329–36; John P. Hinz, "The Real Alexander's Bridge," American Literature 21 ( Jan. 1950): 473–76; Canadian Department of Railways and Canals, The Quebec Bridge, Carrying the Transcontinental Line of the Canadian Government Railways over the St. Lawrence River Near the City of Quebec, Canada ([Ottawa]: Printed by order of the Governor-General in Council, ); Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Select Committee on Quebec Bridge, Report of the Select Committee appointed to investigate the conditions and guarantees under which the Dominion government paid moneys to the Quebec Bridge Company, &c., &c. Also with minutes of proceedings and minutes of evidence, Printed by order of Parliament (Ottawa: Printed by S. E. Dawson, Printer to the King, 1908); "Erection of the Quebec Bridge, Scientific American 29 Sept. 1906: 228; "The Quebec Bridge Disaster," Scientific American 7 Sept. 1907: 162; "A Portentous Bridge Disaster," Scientific American 14 Sept. 1907: 182; "Why the Quebec Bridge Failed," Scientific American 12 Oct. 1907: 257–58; "Report on the Quebec Bridge Disaster," Scientific American 25 Apr. 1908: 290; "The Quebec Bridge Disaster," Engineering Magazine: An Industrial Review Oct. 1907: 181–84; Engineering Magazine: An Industrial Review Apr. 1908: 100–102; David Plowden, Bridges: The Spans of North America (New York: Norton, 1974); "Bridge Falls, Drowning 80," New York Times 30 Aug. 1907: 1, 7; "Had Warned Men on Bridge," New York Times 31 Aug. 1907: 1, 7; "Bridge Warning Was Just Too Late," New York Times 1 Sept. 1907: 2, 3; "Engineer Found Flaw," New York Times 2 Sept. 1907: 3; "The Quebec Disaster," New York Times 5 Sept. 1907: 8; "Charges against Cooper," New York Times 21 Nov. 1907: 4; Michel L'Hébreux, Le Pont de Québec, rev. ed. (Québec: Septentrion, 2001).
Information on the Abbey Theatre company (including the performers) is derived from the following sources: Elizabeth Coxhead, Daughters of Erin (London: Secker and Warburg, 1965); John P. Harrington, The Irish Play on the New York Stage, 1874–1966 (Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1997); Lennox Robinson, Ireland's Abbey Theatre: A History, 1899– 1951 (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat P, 1968); Tracy Mishkin, The Harlem and Irish Renaissances: Language, Identity, and Representation (Gainesville: U of Florida P, 1998); The Modern Irish Drama: A Documentary History, vol. 2, Laying the Foundations, 1902–1904, by Robert Hogan and James Kilroy, vol. 3, The Abbey Theatre: The Years of Synge, 1905– 1909 by Robert Hogan and James Kilroy, and vol. 4, The Rise of the Realists, 1910–1915, by Robert Hogan, Richard Burnham, and Daniel P. Poteet (Dublin: Dolmen P, 1976, 1978, 1979, respectively).
Information on locations and sites in London, Paris, and Boston is derived from the following sources: A Guide to the Exhibition Galleries of the British Museum, 5th ed. revised (London: Clowes, 1904); Edwin M. Bacon, Boston: A Guide Book (Boston: Ginn, 1910); Karl Baedeker, Baedeker's Paris and Its Environs, with Routes from London to Paris (Leipzig: Baedeker, 1907); Karl Baedeker, London and Its Environs: Handbook for Travellers (Leipzig: Baedeker, 1908).
Bartley: There is no known prototype for Bartley Alexander. Although Cather adopted the circumstances and behavior of the consulting engineer for the Quebec Bridge, she did not model Alexander on Theodore Cooper. At the time of the bridge disaster, Cooper was sixty-eight years old and in poor health.
Bartley Alexander's name recalls that of Hartley Burr Alexander, a former classmate of Cather's at the University of Nebraska and evidently in her mind when she wrote the novel. He received a Ph.D. from Columbia University and in 1908 became professor of philosophy at the University of Nebraska. While the character's name may derive from Hartley Alexander, his circumstances more closely resemble Lucius Wilson's.
The name itself has a certain suggestiveness. Bernice Slote noted correspondences between Bartley Alexander's personal situation and that of Alexander (Paris), who preferred Helen over his wife; in both instances, personal desires had significant and disastrous public consequences (xvii–xviii). The name may also recall Alexander the Great, who in crossing the Hellespont began his ambitious campaign for domination of the known world.(Go back.)
Maurice Mainhall: This character is representative of the aesthetic movement, whose most famous members included Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley. Cather's reference to Mainhall's publications may indicate that she had the impressionist critic and poet Arthur Symons (1865–1945) particularly in mind. While no book on the "Poetry of Ernest Dowson" is listed in the National Union Catalogue, Symons did publish an edition of Ernest Dowson's poetry in 1909 and had included a chapter on the man in Studies in Prose and Verse (1904). Symons also published a celebratory essay, "The Decadent Movement in Literature," in 1893.
As early as 1895, Cather had damned the aesthetic movement as "the most fatal and dangerous school of art that has ever voiced itself in the English tongue. . . . It is a peculiar fact that the aesthetic school which has from the beginning set out to seek what was most beautiful has ended by finding what was most grotesque, misshapen and unlovely" (Slote, Kingdom of Art, 389–90). However, Mainhall appears more ridiculous than pernicious.(Go back.)
Hilda Burgoyne: John P. Hinz observes in "The Real Alexander's Bridge" that Ibsen's The Master Builder was a likely influence for Cather's novel and that Cather might have taken this character's name from that play, for the aging master builder is, like Alexander, infatuated with a woman named Hilda, who represents for him his lost youth.
According to Edith Lewis, Cather modeled this figure after "a gifted young actress in the cast [of Playboy of the Western World] whose beauty and engaging personality vividly impressed her" (68). That actress must have been Maire O'Neill (1887–1952), whom Cather had seen play the role of Pegeen Mike in Synge's rustic drama of Irish life in London, on 7 June 1909. Maire O'Neill was born Molly Allgood, but her older sister, Sara Allgood, was also an actress for the same theater company, so Molly took her mother's maiden name. Synge had created the role of Pegeen Mike with Maire O'Neill in mind, and it was common knowledge, though seldom publicized, that Synge and O'Neill were engaged. One must suppose that O'Neill was still grieving Synge's death at the time of this performance. Their romantic involvement was frowned upon by friends and family alike for a number of reasons: he was sixteen years older than she; he was an atheist from a well-established family, while she was from working-class parents who were ardently religious; and finally, W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory disapproved of the relationship because it was disruptive to the purposes of the National Theatre.
How much of this Cather would have known is uncertain, but she did attend the production with Yeats and Lady Gregory and may have learned something of the, by then, poignant details of Synge and O'Neill's relationship. At all events, Cather would have been responsive to O'Neill's voice, which even Yeats praised: "In dialect she is the one poetical actress our movement has produced" (654–55). Hilda, Mainhall says, "has the Irish voice" (18). For more information on the life of Maire O'Neill see Coxhead 167–224.(Go back.)
"The Rising of the Moon": This popular Irish folk ballad celebrates the bravery of Irishmen and their failed rebellion in 1798. It was written by John Keegan Casey (1845–69), sometimes referred to as the "Poet of the Fenians," while he was in prison, where he died at the age of twenty-three. Since it is a call to arms, the song is not customarily sung by a woman. The appropriateness of the song to Cather's theme may lie in the fact that it tells of pikemen gathering at a river before battle. The death along that unnamed river presages the deaths of workers at the Moorlock Bridge in chapter 10. Lady Gregory took the title of the song for the title of her one-act play (1907) about a fugitive and three policemen, which Cather saw with drama critic William Archer (Woodress 207). It was performed in London in 1909 and in New York when the Abbey Theatre performed there in November 1911. The fugitive sings the ballad at the close of the play. Both Woodress (207) and Marilee Lindemann (102 n. 17) mistakenly attribute the play to Synge, not Lady Gregory.
Given the military character of the lyrics, it is unlikely that Cather meant to suggest, as some have argued, the moon goddess, Diana. The song concludes: All along the shining river one black mass of men was seen And above them in the night wind floated our immortal green. Death to every foe and traitor! Onward, strike the marching tune And hurrah me boys for freedom, it's the rising of the moon. Well they fought for dear old Ireland, and full bitter was their fate, Oh what glorious pride and sorrow fills the name of ninety- eight. But thank God e'en now are beating hearts in mankind's burning noon, Who will follow in their footsteps, at the rising of the moon. (Gregory n.p.)(Go back.)
Lord Elgin's Marbles: A Guide to the Exhibition Galleries of the British Museum notes: "In the years 1801–1803 many of the sculptures of the Parthenon, which was still continually suffering wanton mutilations, were removed to England by the Earl of Elgin, then British Ambassador at Constantinople, with the consent of the Porte. The collection here exhibited, and commonly known as the 'Elgin Marbles' (but also including some additional pieces), was purchased from Lord Elgin by the British Government in 1816" (11).
There may also be a residual suggestion here of Keats's "On Seeing the Elgin Marbles" (1817), since Alexander's reaction to the British Museum as the "ultimate repository of mortality, where all the dead things of the world were assembled to make one's hour of youth the more precious" (32–33) recalls Keats's reaction to the statuary: "My spirit is too weak—mortality / Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep, / And each imagin'd pinnacle and steep / Of godlike hardship, tells me I must die / Like a sick Eagle looking at the sky" (ll. 1–5). The "undescribable feud" in Keats's heart (a mingling of "Grecian grandeur" with the "rude / Wasting of old Time") likewise parallels the feud in Alexander, in which a second self is "fighting for his life at the cost of mine" (93).(Go back.)
Houses of Parliament: Westminster Palace was built for Edward the Confessor in the eleventh century; after it ceased to be used as a royal residence in the sixteenth century, the House of Commons and the House of Lords began meeting there. Most of the ancient building was destroyed in a fire in 1837; it was rebuilt in a neo-Gothic style for the British Parliament by Sir Charles Barry between 1837 and 1860. The great clock, Big Ben, is in one of the towers.
In one of her articles in the Nebraska State Journal ("Seeing Things in London," 10 Aug. 1902), Cather observes that from "the beautiful river front on the east side of the Thames called the Albert Embankment, . . . one gets the most satisfying and altogether happy view of the Houses of Parliament up the river" (World and the Parish 2: 908).(Go back.)
the Luxembourg: The Luxembourg Galleries are located in the Luxembourg Palace. Built in the seventeenth century, the palace was occupied by members of the royal family until the French Revolution, when it was used as a prison. In the early twentieth century the palace was used for sittings of the Senate, but the chief interest was, and is, the galleries of paintings on the first floor. The galleries are mostly devoted to French artists. However, one room is devoted to "Foreign Painters." Baedeker's Paris and Its Environs (1908) lists several paintings by Americans, including Carmencita by John Singer Sargent and Portrait of His Mother by James M. Whistler. The guidebook does not name a painting of a group of cypress trees by an American or any other artist, however.
In contrast to the British Museum as a repository of the ancient past, the Luxembourg featured a collection of contemporary artists. Evidently in an effort to keep the collection truly modern, about ten years after an artist's death his or her works were transferred to the Louvre or to some provincial gallery.(Go back.)
'The Harp that Once': A song from Irish Melodies by Thomas Moore (1779–1852). The opening lines are: The harp that once through Tara's halls The soul of music shed, Now hangs as mute on Tara's walls As if that soul were fled,— So sleeps the pride of former days, So glory's thrill is o'er, And hearts, that once beat high for praise, Now feel that pulse no more.
Moore's popular Irish Melodies appeared in ten parts between 1807 and 1835 and were thought to capture the Irish character and spirit. The songs gained some sympathy for Irish nationalists.(Go back.)
like the song; peace is where I am not: Perhaps an allusion to section LI of A. E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad: Still he stood and eyed me hard, An earnest and a grave regard: 'What, lad, drooping with your lot? I too would be where I am not. I too survey that endless line Of men whose thoughts are not as mine. (ll. 11–16)
Cather admired Housman's poetry; according to Woodress, "Cather's highest priority on her trip to England was to visit Shropshire and to meet A. E. Housman" (158).(Go back.)
'Il Trovatore': Il Trovatore (The Troubadour), an opera composed in 1853 by Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901). Evidently, portions of this violent opera concerned with love, war, betrayal, and revenge, were often played on London barrel organs. Verdi composed much of his music during the risorgimento, when Italy was dominated by foreign powers. His operas often contained nationalistic scenes, and he was a hero for Italians who sought national unity. However, an allusion to Il Trovatore seems out of keeping with the pleasant sunset drive, and the reference is probably meant to evoke a popular poem by Alfred Noyes (1880–1958) called "The Barrel-Organ," in his Poems (1904). Two stanzas are especially pertinent in this context:And then the troubadour begins to thrill the golden street, In the city as the sun sinks low; And in all the gaudy busses there are scores of weary feet Marking time, sweet time, with a dull mechanic beat, And a thousand hearts are plunging to a love they'll never meet, Through the meadows of the sunset, through the poppies and the wheat, In the land where the dead dreams go.
run over to New York for six weeks: From September 1911 through March 1913 the Irish Players conducted a tour of the United States, through some thirty-one cities, and performed sixteen plays. They performed in New York City in December 1911. Although Playboy of the Western World was well received in many U.S. cities, in New York it caused the same sort of controversy about its depiction of Irish character as it had in its debut in Dublin a few years earlier. Much of the Irish American community found Synge's portrayal of Irish character offensive and inauthentic, and on opening night Irish Americans threw vegetables and stink bombs at the cast. In January 1912, in Philadelphia, the entire cast was arrested for indecency (see Robinson 97–98).
When Hilda says, "And they love your things over there, don't they?" Cather may have intended some comic irony or, perhaps, merely meant to indicate Hilda's naïveté. Maire O'Neill was not among the players who traveled with the company to the United States (see Harrington 55–74).(Go back.)
canvas . . . a study of the Luxembourg Gardens . . . portrait painter – of international renown: Probably a reference to John Singer Sargent's painting The Luxembourg Gardens at Twilight (1879; see illustration 16). Sargent (1856–1925), an American painter known for his portraits of eminent or socially prominent people, had studied art in Italy, France, and Germany and received a formal art education at the École des Beaux-Arts.
Sargent was an expatriate who spent most of his adult life in England, visiting America infrequently. He was sometimes criticized for an artificial brilliance. Around 1907 Sargent tired of portrait painting and thereafter accepted few commissions. He then worked chiefly on impressionistic European scenes in watercolor. Sargent is probably instanced as someone who forfeited his genius for a public reputation, as Alexander fears he has. However, since after 1907 he returned to scenes of what might be described as "charming color and spirit," the allusion may indicate the successful return to the vitality of an earlier time.(Go back.)
This eighth volume of the Cather Edition presents a critical text of Willa Cather's first novel, Alexander's Bridge, published in April 1912 by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. A magazine version of the novel, titled Alexander's Masquerade, was published in three installments in McClure's Magazine in February, March, and April 1912. The first British edition, titled Alexander's Bridges, was published in London by Heinemann in August of the same year. A "new" Houghton Mifflin edition appeared in 1922; this included a preface by Cather. The book was part of volume 3 of the Autograph Edition of Cather's fiction, which appeared in 1937. No other edition in English was published during Cather's lifetime, nor have manuscripts, proofs, or other materials antedating or contemporary with these texts been located.
The editorial procedure of the Cather Edition is guided by the protocols of the Modern Language Association's Committee on Scholarly Editions. We begin with a bibliographical survey of the history of the text, sorting out any problems it may present. Making a calendar of extant texts, we collect and examine examples of all texts published during Cather's lifetime, identifying those forms that may be authorial (i.e., that involved or may have involved Cather's participation or intervention). These forms are collated against a base text serving as a standard of collation.The collations provide lists of substantive and accidental variations among these forms.A conflation, constructed from the collations, then provides us with a list of variant readings in all relevant (authoritative) editions. After an analysis of this conflation, we choose a copy-text and prepare a critical text. The collations and their conflation also provide the materials for an emendations list, which identifies changes the editors have made in the setting copy, and for a list of significant variants in authoritative editions that were not included in the list of emendations. In a separate procedure, we make a list of end-hyphenated compounds with their proper resolution.
This essay includes discussions of the composition of Alexander's Bridge and of the production and printing history of the text during Cather's lifetime, an analysis of the changes made in the text during this period, a rationale for the choice of text for this edition, and a statement of the policy under which emendations have been introduced. All page and line references are to the text of the present edition, unless otherwise noted.
Cather apparently wrote most of Alexander's Bridge during 1911; in that year she also had surgery for a mastoid infection, which required several weeks of recuperation; spent approximately a month on McClure's Magazine business in London and another week visiting Mrs. James T. Fields in Boston; and worked again at McClure's for the three months preceding September 28. She then took a six-month leave from the magazine and, with Isabelle McClung, rented a house for three months in Cherry Valley, west of Schenectady, New York. Here she worked on revisions for the magazine text of her novel, which one source reports she had sent to McClure's from St. Louis under the pseudonym "Miss Fanny Cadwallader."
Cather customarily wrote the first drafts of her novels in longhand, then prepared or had prepared one or more typescripts, revising each as she went along.Although no manuscripts or typescripts of Alexander's Bridge are known to have survived, we have every reason to believe that she followed this procedure with her first novel. Presumably, one copy of the final typescript went to McClure's for the magazine edition, and Cather retained another copy, which she revised fairly extensively before sending it (or a retyped copy of it) to Houghton Mifflin. Ferris Greenslet wrote the reader's report, dated 21 November 1911, noting that the manuscript "comes to us as the result of many solicitations" and remarking on the "likeness" of the work to that of Edith Wharton. After summarizing the plot, Greenslet says that the novel is remarkable for "the excellence of the workmanship, its remarkable perceptiveness, its actuality, and the spiritual sense of life that informs it." He expects a modest sale of three or four thousand copies, but adds that Cather will be "in every way a very desirable connection for us." The contract, dated 1 December 1911, provided for a 10 percent royalty on the first 3,000 copies sold at trade-list retail, escalating to 15 percent on copies sold above 5,000.
The McClure's Magazine installments are of roughly equal length, the last one only slightly shorter than the first two. Part 1 in the magazine (pp. 384–95) includes chapters 1–3 of the novel; part 2 (pp. 523–36) includes chapters 4–7; part 3 (pp. 659–68) includes chapters 8–10 and the Epilogue. Illustrations by F. Graham Cootes appear on pp. 384, 524–25, 527, and 658. They are full-page except for the one on pp. 524–25, which is double-page. Quotations (in caps) key them to the text as follows:
384: "Alexander switched on the lights and stood in the archway, glowing with strength and cordiality" (10.5–7, altered). The illustration shows a distinctly fortyish Alexander in an arched doorway, his tall wife to his left, both looking at Lucius Wilson, who appears to be rising from his chair. A bowl of roses on a table occupies the foreground. (Used on p. 11 of the first British edition.)
524–25: "Bartley looked at Hilda across the yellow light of the candles and broke into a low, happy laugh. 'How jolly it was being young, Hilda! Do you remember that first walk we took together in Paris?"' (52.8–11). The center of the table divides the composition: Bartley on the right, looking at Hilda animatedly; Hilda on the left, looking away from him with a much more serious expression. (Used on p. 73 of the first British edition.)
527: " 'Are you going to let me love you a little, Bartley?"' (56.18–19). This illustration accurately depicts the scene described in the text. (Used as the frontispiece to the first British edition.)
658: " 'I thought I had to see you. That's all. Good-night; I'm going now.' She turned and her hand closed on the doorknob" (97.7–9, slightly altered). The illustration shows Hilda, hand on the knob of the door, looking sad; Alexander has her arm, as if about to stop her. The effects of the wet weather, prominent in the text, are not depicted. (Used on p. 139 of the first British edition.)
The first edition of Alexander's Bridge in book form was published on 20 April 1912.Crane reports that a preliminary dummy was ordered on 19 December 1911, that the composition order was placed at the Riverside Press on 28 December, and that printing was authorized 3 January 1912. Complete proof was sent to Cather on 30 January 1912, and two copies of the finished book were sent to secure British copyright on 25 March (23). This information is confirmed by Houghton Mifflin estimate cards and production records.
Crane records two issues of the first edition. In what she calls the "first issue," the half title appears on p. i, p. ii is blank, the title page is p. iii, and the copyright notice appears on p. iv. In the "second issue," the title page is p. i, copyright information appears on p. ii, the half title is on p. iii, and p. iv is blank. Crane argues that, although the rearrangement of the preliminaries "may have occurred in the second pressrun from the standing plates," the rarity of copies of the first issue "indicates that the change was made earlier in the first run, probably a stop-press correction" (23).Crane seems to conclude that what she calls the first issue precedes the second because the Library of Congress deposit copy has the normal arrangement of preliminaries and would presumably have been an early copy, and because there are many more extant copies of the book with the abnormal arrangement of preliminaries than with the normal one.
However, it is difficult to understand why a printer would have ordered a stop-press correction involving the reimposition of plates for no other reason than to change the usual arrangement of preliminaries to an anomalous one—the half title, by convention, precedes the title. Frederick B. Adams suggests that the change might have been made for "esthetic" reasons, in order to have a blank page facing the first page of text (103–04). Adams had previously stated, basing his argument on the Library of Congress deposit copy and on the paucity of copies of the book with the normal arrangement of preliminaries, "that the correct order of preliminaries represents a true first issue, and that the incorrect order is characteristic of all later issues," adding that he could not say "by what freak of production so extraordinary a situation could exist" (99).
We think it equally possible that Crane's "first issue" was the second (showing the half title in its customary position preceding the title) and that what she calls the "second issue" was the first (showing the half title following the title). As Herbert Johnson notes, it was not uncommon for an imposition error to persist through most of the copies printed, and advance copies (and presumably copyright copies) were always made up of the corrected sheets.We also believe it more accurate to label Crane's two "issues" as states of a single issue.In what follows we adopt that terminology.
Crane states that the book was "reissued by Houghton Mifflin in about 1918 using surplus sheets of the original printing," priority of issue determinable only by differences in binding (22). However, the production record card does not mention a reissue in 1918. If no changes were made to the signatures used, it is at least possible that no entry was made (though one would expect to see an entry to cover binding costs, and there is none), but we can find no other evidence of a printing or issue c. 1918. At one point Crane states that "270 sets of the original sheets" were offered to Heinemann, which eventually decided to reset the text for the British edition (23). This cannot have been a c. 1918 reissue, however, because there would have been no reason to offer Heinemann copies of the U.S. edition after Heinemann had published its own (in 1912), unless one makes the unlikely assumption that the original British edition had been exhausted and Heinemann did not wish to reprint from its own plates. More likely, the new issue was the "small edition" (i.e., printing or issue) "which will tide us over for a few months" referred to by Ferris Greenslet, Cather's editor at Houghton Mifflin, in his 4 May 1922 letter to her. It had been printed, he said, while he was in Europe, which would date it between 23 January and 21 April 1922. The Houghton Mifflin production card has an entry "X/4" dated 1/22, involving 270 copies at $.215 per copy. "X" usually indicates a "correction" or "repair" order, and changes involving new plates were made in the copies mentioned below. The most likely assumption is that Houghton Mifflin made changes to the plates and either reprinted 270 copies or altered, bound, and reissued 270 previously unbound sets of sheets of the first issue. The charge of $58.13 (c. 270 x $.215) was for those changes and possibly for binding.We think it more likely that this was a new printing, and treat it as such.
We have seen two copies, and have a description of another copy, of the book without date on title page, with conventionally arranged preliminaries, with colophon but without advertising leaves, and with "low" corrected to "blow" at 55.10. A two-leaf fold is inserted in the last gathering, leading to a new collational formula. These copies are bound in blue mesh cloth with gilt stamping and lack the "S." in Cather's name on cover and spine. We believe they are copies of the January 1922 printing.
Crane says that, in all, the first edition comprised 5,270 copies, that the first impression was of 2,270 sheets (22, 23), and that there was a second printing of 3,000 sets of sheets (23). Crane might have based the 5,270 figure on information provided her by Linda J. Rush, of Houghton Mifflin's contracts department, in a letter dated 31 March 1977, which specifies "a total printing of 5,270 copies." However, this number, as Herbert Johnson points out, is merely the sum of copies entered on the production record card, and clearly refers to all copies of the book printed between 1912 and 1933. In a letter dated 1 May 2001, Ms. Jane LeCompte, corporate communications manager for Houghton Mifflin, reports from printing records "that the first printing was 2500 copies in March 1912," that "a new edition of 1000 copies was printed in 1922; 500 more were printed in 1925," and that "there was a re-issue, with a printing of 1000, in 1933." Crane gives no date for the "second printing" she lists; its size agrees with the figure obtained by subtracting 2,270 from the 5,270 figure she gives for the size of the first edition. We conclude that there was no second printing of 3,000 copies from standing type.
What Houghton Mifflin called a second edition of Alexander's Bridge was initiated in 1921. Greenslet wrote Cather on 27 October of that year: "I think that conditions are coming to a point where we can afford to reprint, but reprinting ought to be accompanied by some sort of reannouncement to restimulate interest in it." He suggested appending a long, uncollected short story, a proposal that came to nothing. He wrote again, on 21 April 1922, that the "reissue" was tentatively scheduled for the fall list and asked Cather if she would like to write a preface. She agreed, and sent the typescript to him in September; he acknowledged receiving it on 25 September. On 30 October Greenslet wrote to say that he was sending Cather two copies under separate cover; she wrote him on 11 November that she still had not received them. The date of publication entered on the Houghton Mifflin record card is 25 October 1922, and the "New ed." is listed in the "Index to Fall Announcements" in Publishers' Weekly for 23 September 1922: 1020. Crane's date of January 1922 for publication is a slip (the preface itself is dated September 1922); the January printing was presumably the second printing of 270 sets of sheets discussed above. The "new edition" had three printings: 1,000 copies on 25 October 1922, 500 in July 1925, and 1,000 in June 1933 (a Houghton Mifflin production record specifies the 1933 printing as consisting of 1,000 copies and dates it 21 June 1933). The list of Cather titles in the preliminaries of the 1922 printing ends with One of Ours (September 1922), in the 1925 printing with A Lost Lady (1923), and in the 1933 printing with Obscure Destinies (1932).
Crane says that the text of the 1922 "edition" is "set from the original 1912 plates to which is added the new front matter" (25) and notes that the error at 55.10 ("low" for "blow") is corrected. If this text was indeed reset from a copy of the first edition or from the plates of the first edition, the 1922 edition is a true edition. If, however, the 1922 printing was made from the 1912 plates with a preface added, it is bibliographically another printing of the first edition; the addition of new preliminary materials does not in itself constitute a new edition, since it does not affect the text of the novel. Careful examination of several copies confirms that the 1922 "edition" text was printed from plates of the 1912 edition, not reset; following a common practice, Houghton Mifflin called the edition a "new" one because it added Cather's preface (it also changed the front matter and omitted the four pages of advertisements at the end already deleted in the 1922 printing) and because a new copyright was secured.Copies of "new edition" printings 2 and 3 bear no date on the title page but have "1912 and 1922" on the copyright page. As noted above, they may be distinguished by the contents of the list of Cather novels included in the preliminary materials.
Alexander's Bridge formed part of volume 3 of the Autograph Edition of Cather's fiction, published in 1937. Scribner's had initiated the idea of a subscription edition as early as 1932, but Houghton Mifflin would not release the rights to the four early novels it had published (Lewis 180–81; Greenslet to Cather, 1 July 1933; Knopf memoirs). When Houghton Mifflin took up the idea, Cather worked with Greenslet, her former editor there, and after some negotiation the edition was agreed to.Cather wanted W. A. Dwiggins, who had designed some of her Knopf novels, as the designer, and she wanted the same type font that had been used in the Thistle Edition of Robert Louis Stevenson (Cather to Greenslet, 18 December 1936). Greenslet demurred (21 December 1936), and Bruce Rogers was engaged instead (Woodress 468). During 1936 Cather looked over the titles to be included and made changes, the number varying with the particular title. There are also blanket changes in the edition, due either to Cather's intervention or, more likely, to Houghton Mifflin house style or Rogers's design—changes Cather probably did not specify but to some of which she may have assented.
In summary, we suggest a simplification of Crane's account, with distinguishing points:
Houghton Mifflin published the first book edition of Alexander's Bridge as soon as the third installment appeared in McClure's, yet there are more than four hundred variants between the two texts, over 40 percent of them substantive. We believe that these substantive changes are authorial; they are not the sort of variants that results from an editor's hand, and they are typical of the kind of changes that Cather was to make over and over again in later novels. The variants usually affect a word or a phrase. When they involve a sentence or two, the typical change rearranges clauses or phrases, or adds to or deletes from the original version without recasting whole paragraphs. Cather does not reorganize her material or alter her conceptions of character or event; instead, she makes her diction more colorful or precise, eliminates the unnecessary or the redundant, clarifies pronoun reference, and improves the rhythm of a phrase or a sentence. Changes deleting material in the McClure's text outnumber more than two to one changes amplifying such material. A substantial part of the Houghton Mifflin text is set line for line with the magazine text.
The following tables illustrate the different levels of substantive revision made for the Houghton Mifflin text. The reading of the magazine text is given first.
|6.22||apt to be||often|
|19.18||to be much||much|
|26.1||a house||an audience|
|54.19||dressed up||in fine feathers|
|83.15||buttoned||began to button|
|111.23||me too close||me|
|7.25||people||any of the people|
|35.9–10||more restful||doubtless more satisfactory|
|38.2–3||seemed to-night to have found again||felt rich to-night in the possession of|
|48.24–26||the Luxembourg bought it||it was bought for the Luxembourg|
|55.3||really learn how to sing||learn to sing properly|
|115.10||beat them off fiercely||tried to beat them off|
|27.12||But Mainhall was averse to general topics of conversation||Mainhall cut in impatiently|
|36.25–37.2||His wife's fortune and position had always made distracting complications for||The obligations imposed by his wife's fortune and position were sometimes distracting to|
|44.18–19||felt rather sullen and got the better of||looked rather sullen. He felt that he had not come out if it very brilliantly|
|60.12–14||It was not until Lucius Wilson arrived that Alexander roused himself, but then he seemed glad of the distraction and he fairly fell upon it.||When at last Lucius Wilson was announced, Alexander sprang eagerly to his feet an hurried to meet|
One sees in the frequency of these variants that Cather's tendency to regard the magazine versions of her novels as drafts that she would improve for the first editions in book form, but which she would not in most cases revise extensively thereafter, is evident in her very first novel.
Some 250 additional variants between these two texts involve accidentals. It is far from clear that Cather initiated all such changes. However, because she read the proofs of the HM1.i text, we believe she acceded to its accidentals, at least tacitly. For example, almost half the spelling variants change McClure's "theater" to "theatre" (Alexander attends the theatre in London, not in the United States), some 70 percent of word-division variants change one-word contractions such as "didn't" to two-word contractions ("did n't"), and more than half the punctuation variants involve the addition or deletion of a comma (especially the addition of a comma to introductory phrases). These changes are often matters of house style, although it is possible that Cather made a blanket specification of the changes she wanted. The fifty-odd typographical changes may also have been made by the Houghton Mifflin copy editor. More than 80 percent of them add or delete a paragraph indentation, usually the former. These variants might have been authorial, but it is equally likely that they were not; for example, a great many of them mark new speech with a new paragraph, a practice that is more probably the result of house style than of a deliberate authorial request.
The first British edition of Alexander's Bridge was printed by J. Miles & Company and published by Heinemann in August 1912. Presumably set from a copy of HM1, the text exhibits more than 250 variants from that of HM1.i, some 40 of them substantive. As is usual, many of the differences adapt U.S. style to British conventions: "apartment" is changed to "flat," "greens" to "holly and mistletoe" or "holly" or "evergreens," "street clothes" to "outdoor clothes," "daft" to "crazy" or "wild," and "shades" to "blinds."Other changes seem arbitrary: "elegant" to "graceful," "jolt" to "nuisance," "reliable" to "trustworthy." In some cases the Heinemann reading seems simply fussy: "poured" to "poured out," "wrote her" to "wrote to her," "converse" to "conversation," "offset by" to "compensated for by."
Of the more than two hundred accidental variants, some 70 percent are accounted for by the change from "o" or "u" to "ou" in words such as "color" and "mustache," by the omission or addition of a comma, and by the change from two-word contractions to one-word contractions. "Every one" and similar compounds are set as one word, "gayly" is spelled "gaily," and words like "travel" have their final consonant doubled in past tense.
There is no external evidence that these variants were the result of Cather's intervention. Most of the accidental variants can be explained as the result of Heinemann's house style (especially the use of British spelling conventions), and most of the substantive changes could have been the result of the desire to clarify or "improve" readings that were thought inaccurate or unfamiliar to British readers. Moreover, none of the substantive variants (except the correction of "low" to "blow" at 55.10 and "sleeves" to "sleeve" at 77.23) appears in the Autograph Edition text. For these reasons, the Cather Edition does not consider the Heinemann edition authoritative, and its readings are omitted from the Table of Rejected Substantives.
InAlexander's Bridge there are fewer than a dozen substantive variants between the text of the first book edition and that of the text of the novel in the Autograph Edition:
No external evidence shows that these changes are authorial, nor is the internal evidence especially convincing. The first two Autograph Edition readings in the table are awkward, the third and fifth are unnecessary, and the fourth may be an error. "Sleeves" is an error in HM1.i that any copy editor should notice and correct, and the two variants following are unnecessary changes. "Was stopped" is grammatically parallel with "was driven" in its sentence, but this is the sort of fussy "improvement" that Cather generally disdained. The last Autograph Edition reading changes the meaning of the sentence, but the HM1.i reading is not incorrect. Cather might have specified these revisions, but they are insignificant in comparison with the changes she made to the magazine text for HM1.i.
Although a marked copy of HM1 was presumably setting copy for the Autograph Edition text, the accidental variants between the two texts number over three hundred. There is no external evidence that they are authorial: although Cather might have requested some classes of them or have agreed to the styling of the Autograph Edition, the evidence suggests that most if not all of the variants are the result of Houghton Mifflin's house style or of Bruce Rogers's design for the edition. For example, the use of single quotation marks instead of double to mark speech is characteristic of the edition as a whole, as is the following of British spelling: more than half the variants add the "u" to words such as "color," and another quarter change "gray" to "grey." Over 60 percent of word-division changes turn HM1.i's two-word contractions into one-word forms ("are n't" to "aren't," e.g.), and two-thirds of the variants in punctuation involve the addition or deletion of a comma. It is most unlikely that Cather would mark hundreds of specific changes in accidentals yet give only cursory attention to substantives.
The general policy of the Cather Edition is to prefer the earliest edition of a text in book form to a later one, because the first printing of the first book edition usually best represents Cather's intention for her work at the time when it most fully engaged her imagination. No decision is made, however, until collations are done and their conflation analyzed; it is always possible that the existence of late proofs or other materials could lead to a different choice. In the case of Alexander's Bridge there are only three possibilities: the magazine text, that of the first book edition, and that of the Autograph Edition. After a study of these texts, we have chosen to reprint a copy of the first trade printing of the first edition of the novel in book form (Houghton Mifflin, 1912), emended to correct three errors.
We believe that Cather followed what became her usual practice in producing her first novel. That is, the McClure's text was based on one typescript (ts1) and HM1.i either on a revised copy or carbon of ts1 or, possibly, on a retyped copy of this revision (ts2). Although it is likely that Cather made some changes on the Houghton Mifflin galleys, the differences between the HM and MM texts seem too substantial and numerous to have resulted entirely from galley changes to identical setting copy.
Our experience with other Cather novels for which typescripts exist has convinced us that McClure's house style and copyediting practices would have altered the accidentals of ts1, just as Houghton Mifflin's house style and copyediting practices altered those of the lost revision of the typescript which served as setting copy for HM1.i. That is, both MM and HM1.i are, with respect to accidentals and typographical variants, "social" texts—the result in the first case of passive acquiescence in McClure's copyediting, and in the second case of at least tacit collaboration between Cather and her publisher.Neither text represents accurately or completely the accidentals of the typescript on which it was based. However, we believe that HM1.i comes closer to Cather's intention for her work than MM, because Cather more actively participated in its preparation and because it is more typical of her work.
Although the text in McClure's was published first, the evidence cited above, and confirmed by Cather's practice in other novels that first appeared in magazine form, indicates that Cather regarded the magazine versions of her fiction as essentially drafts to be polished. In the case of Alexander's Bridge, the sheer number of substantive and accidental variants between MM and HM1.i clearly supports this view. Moreover, once a novel appeared in book form, there are in most cases (The Song of the Lark is the obvious exception) comparatively few substantive variants in later texts. Finally, external evidence suggests that Cather was interested in the magazine versions of her work only as they provided income; she told Knopf on one occasion that she reacted negatively to the very idea of such publication but recognized its income potential and publicity value (Cather to Knopf, 22 November 1922). There is little indication that she took pains with any of the magazine texts of her fiction except for the Forum text of Death Comes for the Archbishop, of which corrected proof sheets exist for some chapters of book 1. On the other hand, there is ample evidence that she took great pains with the book versions. Edith Lewis, for example, notes that Cather "did not much like serial publication" (180) but insisted on seeing foundry proofs of her novels and asked Lewis herself to look at those proofs for Shadows on the Rock in her absence (161). We also know that Cather read proof for HM1.i, but it is unlikely that she did so for MM.
There are good reasons to prefer the HM1.i text in selecting both substantive and accidental variants—the substantives because they are clearly later, authorial readings representing Cather's final intention for her novel, the accidentals because the readings of HM1.i not only received Cather's attention but better represent her usual practice in other novels, for example, in such frequent cases as the substitution of a comma plus dash for MM comma, or the British spelling of "theatre" and "grey." The "theatre" reading is particularly interesting, because Houghton Mifflin's use of the British spelling reflects the international flavor of the book and Cather's sensitivity to cultural nuance.
Because HM1.i, alone of the authorial texts, is superior with respect to substantives and follows Cather's known practice with respect to accidentals better than MM, we retain here a limited concept of copy-text. We have in the case of Alexander's Bridge an example of "radiating" texts: MM and HM.i derive independently from a lost original. The earliest forms of the text (holograph versions and early typescripts) are lost. A late typescript, also lost, was copyedited at McClure's and used as setting copy for MM. Meanwhile, Cather continued to revise, quickly producing a later text that was used as setting copy for HM1.i.The readings of MM are those of a magazine text Cather regarded merely as a source of additional income—little more than a draft to be further revised. The substantive readings of HM1.i are later, authorial, and superior. Its accidental readings result from at least tacit collaboration between Cather and her copy editor (or publisher). We know that Cather read proof prior to publication, and in this case the HM1.i accidentals are far more characteristic of Cather's practice in later novels than are the readings of MM. Thus, unless we find a nonsensical reading, some sort of error, or other evidence, there is no reason not to prefer the HM1.i readings over those of MM. In dealing with other Cather novels we have made many more emendations than is the case here; in editing One of Ours, for example, we emend dozens of accidentals as well as nearly twenty substantives. The resulting text of Alexander's Bridge is essentially an emended edition of HM1.i. It is a critical text in the sense that it was arrived at as the result of a series of editorial choices based on our belief that HM1.i derives from revisions to a lost typescript closer to Cather's intentions for her work than the "draft" version that served as setting copy for MM.
In the case of the Autograph Edition text of Alexander's Bridge, there are even fewer substantive variants than is the case for most other novels included in that edition. This suggests that Cather's attention to this novel was perfunctory. Most of the accidental variants, we believe, are the result of house or edition styling; it is possible that Cather made some of these changes or acceded to blanket changes, but there is no direct external evidence that she did so, and the internal evidence is unconvincing.
Moreover, the Autograph Edition had a context quite different from that of HM1. It aimed to present the work of a well-established author to libraries and collectors, and it came twenty-five years after the first book edition, which had presented the reading public with a first novel by a relatively new author. Cather's engagement with her work in 1912, especially given her later disparaging remarks about Alexander's Bridge, was obviously fuller; it is not surprising that she gave the Autograph Edition text so little attention.
The stemma we adopt is as follows:
The Cather Edition emends setting copy under the following circumstances: (1) to correct a typographical error; (2) to change an accidental when it is clear from many other examples that a particular reading is anomalous—a slip or a rare exception; (3) to resolve inconsistencies in accidentals occurring in such close proximity as to distract a reader, provided that the prevailing practice of the text can be determined; (4) to correct a misspelling or supply the proper accent on a word in a foreign language; (5) to correct a substantive error or make a substantive change that Cather herself asked to have corrected or which can be reasonably inferred to be a change she requested; and (6) to correct a substantive error when it is clear from many other examples that a particular reading is a slip or a rare exception.We do not emend to "improve" Cather's wording or grammar, to modernize her diction or usage or use of accidentals, to impose consistency where inconsistency is not obtrusive, to incorporate authorial revisions that do not belong to the period of Cather's fullest imaginative engagement with the work, or to correct errors that Cather herself did not address (except when a simple factual error can be corrected without further revising the text).
Houghton Mifflin set Alexander's Bridge with some care. There are few compositorial errors in HM1.i, and little of the inconsistency in the treatment of accidentals that is obvious in, for example, One of Ours. We emend "low" to "blow" at 55.10, "Mrs" to "Mrs." at 57.2, and "sleeves" to "sleeve" at 77.23, but we leave "good-by" at 98.5 as an acceptable form even though it is changed to "good-bye" in the Autograph Edition text. Although the Autograph Edition's "Hortons"' at 119.1 has merit, we leave "Horton's" because it also makes good sense. We make one class of typographical changes silently, setting in roman type all italicized punctuation marks that follow italicized phrases whenever that punctuation belongs to the whole sentence instead of the phrase in italic. For example, "that this should have happened to me!" is silently changed to "that this should have happened to me!" (89.3–4).
We do not admit the variant substantive readings of the Autograph Edition. We know that Cather did an unspecified amount of work on the text of the novel for the edition, and she may well have indicated specific changes she wanted or have agreed with Houghton Mifflin on blanket procedures for some accidentals and even some substantives (e.g., the change from two-word contractions like "did n't" to one-word contractions ("didn't"). In a letter to Norman Holmes Pearson dated 23 October 1937, for example, Cather notes that she made changes involving wording and punctuation even in the case of Death Comes for the Archbishop, where the changes were not extensive, but that she read proof and revised proof of the Autograph text only when there were extensive changes. The substantive changes in the Autograph Edition text might have been authorial, but we believe that, taken together with the other features of this text and considering that it comes a quarter century after the first book edition of the novel, the differences reflect a different intention for the collected edition text, especially in evincing a more formal style. We are committed to providing readers with the most fully realized text belonging to the period of Cather's most complete imaginative engagement with her work, not with what might be in our opinion the "best" text of that work. When Cather made the revisions for the Autograph Edition, she and her publisher wanted a new and collected edition that would confirm her status as a major author, and Cather might have made a few changes with that new intention in mind. We have no external evidence of the particular changes she made, but we do not believe those changes should take precedence over the readings of the first book edition.
Some readers may be uncomfortable with this approach; they will argue that the relatively few substantive changes perfect the intention realized in HM1.i rather than contribute to what we have considered a new intention in the Autograph Edition. Such readers may prefer the readings of the Autograph Edition found in the Table of Rejected Substantives, which lists all substantive and quasi-substantive variants, other than those accepted as emendations, between our text, the McClure's magazine text, and the text of the Autograph Edition. Because we do not consider variants from the Heinemann edition to be authorial, they are not included.
Records of Cather's direct involvement in the design and production of her works have led the Cather Edition to take special care in the presentation of them. We are particularly concerned with compositor error. By agreement with the University of Nebraska Press, we undertake proofreading in stages to meet the Committee on Scholarly Editions guidelines, which call for at least four readings. Insofar as is feasible within the series format of a scholarly edition, the editors have cooperated with the designer to create a volume that reflects Cather's known wishes for the presentation of her works.
McClure's Magazine 38, nos. 4–6 (February–April 1912): 384–95, 523–36, 658–68, under title Alexander's Masquerade: unl
HM1.i, a or b: first printing, title before half title (1912): unls ps3505 a87 a7, copies 1–3; unls Faulkner ps3505 a87 a7; unls Slote ps3505 a87 a7; unls Sullivan ps3505 a87 a7; lclh 3 3045 00782 8367; lclh 3 3045 00782 8375; a copy owned by Kari Ronning; five copies at U Va (Taylor 1912 c38 a4; Barrett ps3505 a87 a7 1912, copies 1–4). Four copies seen have ink stamping instead of gilt stamping on the cover and spine and lack the "S." in the author's name: lclh ps3505 a87 a7 8375; U Va Barrett ps 3505 a87 a7 1912, copies 5–6; a copy owned by Kari Ronning.
HM1.i, a or b: first printing, half title before title (1912): The Library of Congress deposit copy, Washington, D.C.; an unbound advance review copy at U Va (Barrett ps 3505 a87 a7 1912a.).
HM1.ii: second printing (n.d. on title page, but January 1922): A copy owned by Kari Ronning; a copy owned by Frederick M. Link; a copy owned by Bow Street Books, North Reading ma.
HM1.iii: third printing (October 1922) ["New" edition, with a preface; 1922 date on title-page, list of Cather's works ends with One of Ours (1922)]: A copy owned by Kari Ronning; two copies at U Va (Lehman ps3505 a87 a7 1922a, copy 1; Barrett ps3505 a87 a7 1922a, copy 2).
HM1.iv: fourth printing ( July 1925) [list of Cather's works ends with A Lost Lady (1923)]: unls Slote ps3505 a87 a7 1922; hlcl 33045 0078 2 8201; U Va 1922, copy 2 (Clemons); a copy owned by Kari Ronning.
HM1.v: fifth printing ( June 1933) [list of Cather's works ends with Obscure Destinies (1932)]: unls ps3505 a87 a7 1922; U Va Alderman ps3505 a87 a7 1922, copy 1; a copy owned by Kari Ronning.
HM2: Autograph Edition (1937): unls ps33505 a87 a15 1937x, volume 3 ("Author's copy"); unls Slote ps3505 a87 a1937x, volume 3 (141/970); lclh 3 3045 00782 8383 (450/970).
Autograph Edition, Library reprint (1940): unl ps33505 a87 a15 1937bx, volume 3, copies 1–2.
Heinemann edition (first British ed.): U Wyoming ps3505 a87 a55x; U Va Barrett ps3505 a87 a8 1912b (McClung copy); a copy owned by Kari Ronning.
For this volume we conducted or supervised two independent solo hand collations and one independent team hand collation of a copy of the McClure's Magazine text against a copy of HM1.i; and two independent solo hand collations and one independent team hand collation of a copy of the Autograph Edition text against a copy of HM1.i. The HM1.i standard of collation was hand collated or spot-checked against copies of HM1.ii–v. A copy of the Heinemann edition was also hand collated against the standard of collation. The collations were checked for accuracy, then checked against each other; the conflation was checked three times. The full record of the collations and conflations is on file and available to interested persons in the offices of the Cather Project, Department of English, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The final conflation will also be presented in full in the online edition of the novel in the Cather Electronic Archive (http://www.Cather.unl.edu).(Go back.)
Professor Johnson has provided a likely scenario for the presence of two
states of the first printing (letter to F. M. Link, 23 May 2002):
The original book was specified by the production manager to print as three
64-page printing forms yielding 192 pages overall, but with eight pages of the
last signature to be canceled (blank pages to be thrown away). This would reduce
the overall number of pages to 184. The original pagination was intended to be: i–first half title;
ii–blank; iii–title page; iv–copyright;
v–second half title; vi–blank;
1––author's text; –rp imprint page; and
[177–178]–blanks = 184 pp. overall. Then someone got the bright idea to add four pages of ads at the end, only
they didn't make it clear to the pressman that the eight-page cancel was
superseded and the overall number of pages for the book was increased to 192. The hapless pressman thought he had to get the four pages of ads into the 184 pp.
overall, but he was still two blank pages short. He had two alternatives: remove
pages i and ii or remove pages v and vi. He decided to remove pp. i and ii.
The original book was specified by the production manager to print as three 64-page printing forms yielding 192 pages overall, but with eight pages of the last signature to be canceled (blank pages to be thrown away). This would reduce the overall number of pages to 184.
The original pagination was intended to be: i–first half title; ii–blank; iii–title page; iv–copyright; v–second half title; vi–blank; 1––author's text; –rp imprint page; and [177–178]–blanks = 184 pp. overall.
Then someone got the bright idea to add four pages of ads at the end, only they didn't make it clear to the pressman that the eight-page cancel was superseded and the overall number of pages for the book was increased to 192.
The hapless pressman thought he had to get the four pages of ads into the 184 pp. overall, but he was still two blank pages short. He had two alternatives: remove pages i and ii or remove pages v and vi. He decided to remove pp. i and ii.
The University of Nebraska Press, using a copy of the copy-text with emendations marked, typesets the text directly into page proofs for the following readings: (1) a first proofing by press staff, (2) a team collation by editors of the Cather Edition during which the corrected version of the newly typeset text is read against the emended copy-text, and (3) a solo hand collation by Cather Edition editors of the same materials. The Cather Edition staff also replaces page and line numbers in the apparatus, keying references to the reset type of the copy-text; checks the compounds of Word Division, List A, against the reset text to ensure accurate resolutions; and lists and resolves the end-line hyphenated compounds of the reset text to construct List B in the same section. The Cather editors collate their sets of corrected proofs on the press's master proof copy, which is then sent to the compositor for correction.
When the compositor returns the corrected text and newly typeset apparatus, the press conducts the first proofing before sending them to the Cather Edition editors, who conduct the second and third proofings: again, a team and a solo hand collation of the typeset apparatus against the typeset printer's copy. Edition staff checks page and line numbers against the corrected text and revises word-division List B as necessary. After the typesetters make these corrections, the press proofreads again, comparing the pages to the corrected proofs to ensure that no text has been dropped and reading the lines that have been corrected. The Cather Edition editors then do a complete solo hand proofing of the entire volume, and, if necessary, check any corrected pages that may result from this last proofreading.(Go back.)
THE following list records all substantive and accidental changes introduced into the copy-text, a copy of the second state of the first printing of the first edition of Alexander's Bridge, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1912. The reading of the present edition appears to the left of the bracket; to the right are recorded the source of that reading, followed by a semicolon; and following the semicolon, the copy-text reading and the abbreviation for the copy-text. The decision to emend is made on the authority of the editors, although most emendations are supported by readings from other authorial texts. Page and line numbers refer to the Cather Edition text.
The following texts of Alexander's Bridge are referred to:
This list records substantive and quasi-substantive variants between the copy-text (HM1.i) and the texts of the novel in McClure's Magazine and the Autograph Edition. The page, line number, and reading of the present edition text appear to the left of the bracket; to the right of the bracket appear, in chronological sequence, the variant readings and the abbreviations for their sources. Each variant is separated by a semicolon. Ellipsis dots indicate an omission made for the sake of brevity; they are not part of the Cather Edition text unless so indicated. If no reference is given, that text agrees with HM1.i. We have used the paragraph symbol without brackets to indicate variants in paragraphing; although typographical rather than substantive, such breaks sometimes have an effect on meaning.
The following texts are referred to:
LIST A records compounds or possible compounds hyphenated at the ends of lines in the copy-text and resolved by the editors as one word, as two words, or as hyphenated compounds. See the Textual Essay for the criteria for resolving these forms. List B contains the end-line hyphenations that are to be retained as hyphenations in quotations from the Cather Edition text; page and line references are to that text. Note that hyphenated words that obviously resolve as one word (e.g., "com-/pound") are not included in either list.
Note: The following are always to appear as one word: anywhere, everything, somehow, something, sometime, somewhere. The following are always to appear hyphenated: to-day, to-night, to-morrow.