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der him unable to achieve a certain rugged simplicity, without which a particular type of story never could give the effect of being unquestionably "just so." And yet style comes as near as any one word can come to defining that subtle something upon which the quality of a work of fiction depends, as a musical composition depends upon the key in which it is written.
It is probably not too much to say that more otherwise well-written stories have been marred by being pitched, so to speak, in the wrong key than from any other one cause. Many a simple, pathetic little tale, showing real insight into life and character, has been robbed of its effect by too much verbal embroidery, like a young girl robbed of her simplicity by an overweight of velvet and jewels. The inimitable quality of Verga's Sicilian sketches, Cavelleria Rusticana and the rest, is due to the rare self-restraint with which the author kept himself absolutely in the background, telling these fierce, primitive, elemental tragedies in the simple, picturesque speech of the peasantry themselves. The cadenced rhythm of a d'Annunzio, the cumulative force of a Zola, might have expanded these short sketches into volumes, but they would have lost something of that primitive tensity that entitles Verga's tales to be numbered among the Just So Stories of the world.
Yet Verga's method, wrongly applied, may easily spoil an otherwise well-constructed story. Imagine, for instance, a novel of aboriginal life, among the Indians, the Australians, the Congo negroes, by an author who knows their manner of life intimately-a novel built on epic lines, with a central drama of native romance, based on savage customs of love and marriage; and back of this, a big, vital, national problem, in the awakening of the race to a consciousness of their need of union against the encroachment of the white man, a dim perception that even now such union would come too late. Such a theme, if rightly handled, would make a strong, virile, unique story; but to attempt to tell such a story with a studied simplicity of diction, a style borrowed from the native folk-lore, and revealing the primitive
thoughts and limited vocabulary of an inferior race, would be not only to sacrifice the epic strength of such a theme, but to alienate our sympathies by emphasising the intellectual gulf that separates them from us.
It would be an interesting and not unprofitable experiment for every reader to run over in his mind the stories and novels to which he would personally feel inclined to apply the term Just So Story -stories with which he is so intimately acquainted and so well satisfied, just as they are, that he would not, if he could, make any change in their construction or wording. There would be some queer lists drawn up, on such a principle, no doubt, and an extensive weeding-out of many so-called classics. But the tonic effect of making such a list would be valuable, because it would result in a new mental attitude towards certain books, a redistribution of values. For once each reader would find himself judging fiction, not from any dogmatic belief that realism is better than romanticism, or a detective novel better than a ghost story, but on the simple, common-sense ground that, so far as we are individually concerned, the best story is the story to which we most frequently go back, to read over piecemeal or in its entirety, quite satisfied with it just as it is, and not caring in the least whether it is what dogmatic criticism has pronounced literature or not.
It is interesting in such a frame of mind to approach a book of the type of The Mountain of Fears, by Henry C. Rowland. One does not need to have served an apprenticeship in literary criticism to know that here is a volume of short stories of very uncommon quality, gruesome, no doubt, even repellent some of them, but of a sort that not half a dozen authors writing to-day in the English language could duplicate. They are full of the glamour of strange lands and peoples, a suggestion of sunshine and palm trees and tinkly temple bells that awakens the spirit of unrest latent in most men and some women. To some readers, no doubt, the substance of the stories themselves, dealing as they do with unwholesome, degenerate types of
"The Mountain of Fears."
a shivering, grovelling, black human animal. "Two Savages" is too unsavoury a story to epitomise. It deals with queer racial admixtures and primitive passions. Its excuse is the masterly art with which the thing is told-an excuse which a condensed repetition would not have. But it is the story out of the whole book to which one should turn first. And next to this comes "The Bamboula," the burden of which is the rhythmic "tom, tom, tom," the beat of the primitive drum in the voodoo worship among the negroes of Haiti. The point of the story is how the call of that drum awakened an atavistic instinct in a strain of black blood diluted almost to whiteness; how a woman, to all intents and purposes pure French, forgot her breeding, her station, her dainty ways, and went out into the night, in dainty satin and lace, to a heathen orgy, in obedience to the call of the drum.
men and women, will prove unpalatable. But the reader with a stronger mental digestion, who does not mind having his reading served up with high condiments, an oriental lavishness of seasoning, will find it unnecessary to weigh and analyse these eight stories critically, or to discover what is eminently true, that they have close kinship with Kipling, with Conrad, with Dawson's African Nights. He will be content to recognise that in this particular volume Mr. Rowland has revealed himself as one of the few writers who can tell a tale "just so" when he wants to do so. Yet it must be added that he has either acquired the art recently, or else he has wantonly chosen not to do so in the past; for his earlier books have contained pages and chapters that made one wish some benevolent friend, with influence over him, had intervened and begged him not to do it. The stories all purport to be the adventures and experiences of a certain Dr. Leyden, collector, traveller, hardheaded man of science, with a special fondness for psychological problems. The opening tale, which gives the book its title, is the most fantastic of the collection, and aside from the well-sustained note of creepiness, is the least interesting of them all. It describes the panic of fear which overcomes a party of three white men and a native girl in a mysterious valley in Papua, where they have gone in quest of gold. The cause may be narcotics in the strange vegetable growths that they eat; it may be evil spirits; it may be pure imagination; but the native girl dies, and the white men escape by the narrowest margin. It is when one turns to "Oil and Water," or "Two Savages," or "The Bamboula," that one finds Mr. Rowland at his best. The first of these is a study of the mulatto temperament. "Did you ever notice," asks Dr. Leyden, "how African blood is curdled by being mixed with Anglo-Saxon?" and he goes on to tell a story to illustrate how the black and white will no more mix than oil and water-how, in this specific case, the fate of an expedition was sealed by the cowardice of a mulatto, who one moment had the stolid courage of the German officer who begot him, and the next was
Another collection of curious, faraway, exotic tales with a touch of real distinc
tion both in theme and treatment is Sons o' Men, by G. B. Lancaster, whose chosen field is New Zealand and the neighbouring islands. Measured either academically or by the "just so" standard, they belong to a lower plane than Mr. Rowland's volume. One cannot unhesitatingly say that they are best just as they are, that they would not be improved by a little judicious pruning. But there are some strong stories among them, and especially "The Story of Wi,' which fits in well with the problems of racial admixture and primitive psychology in which Mr. Rowland delights. Wi, when we first meet him, is "a piece of six-year-old Maori flesh, with the carriage of a conqueror, and the tongue of a dissolute gutter-snipe, and the brown of the earth that bore him in his supple skin." The taming of Wi is like the taming of any passionate, primitive jungle beast; but Lane, the Englishman who adopts him, finally succeeds beyond his hopes, and Wi develops into a splendid young Hercules, with a veneer of AngloSaxon culture and Christian religion. Lane would have this educated young Maori, this domesticated human animal,
"Sons o' Men."
enter the legislature, to speak on behalf of his own people; but Wi will have none of it; he wants to go into the Church; "there is nothing that messes up a race so much as want of religion," he says, "I am going to pass my knowledge on to my people." But while he is studying in the seminary, Wi so far forgets his dusky skin as to fall in love with a Little White Girl, and tragedy follows. "How can I believe your Bible that does not speak truth?" asks Wi. "It calls all men equal. The black and white are meant to be two people forever. And your faith teaches that they are one. Then is your faith false? This has eaten into me until it has eaten all my faith away. I will go to my own gods. They are many, and I can cut new ones out of wood if I like. But I think that I will not believe in them either."
The trick of pitching an unpretentious story in just the right key is rare enough to entitle Jean Chamblin's placid little idyl of the Azores, Lady Bobs, Her Brother and I, to a word or two of cordial commendation. It would be needless irony to question the likelihood of Lady Bobs, Brother George, and the DeGray Streeter girl, who made all the trouble, severally turning up at Ponta Delgada, whither the narrator, known to us only as Kate, has gone in quest of seclusion and forgetfulness. Likelihood is not an essential ingredient of this sort of bright, vivacious, guide-book fiction. All you want is a light, running comment upon strange, picturesque places and people, a sense of blue sky, tropical vegetation and human gladness; and two young people, temporarily estranged, yet obviously quite ready to be reconciled as soon as a favourable opportunity occurs. Of course, there are readers who would question whether this kind of fiction is worth doing at all; but if it is worth doing, then it should be done with Miss Chamblin's sustained note of lightness.
There is an old-fashioned type of plot that at one time was worn well-nigh threadbare; it was a favourite, one recalls, of the "Duchess" and "Rita;" it was not unknown to "Ouida;" it formed the keynote of Georges Ohnet's first popular
"Lady Bobs, Her Brother And I."
success, the Maître de Forges. Through an infinite variety of minor details, the essential features were always the same. The woman always loved, or thought she loved, some one else than the man she was persuaded to marry. The husband remained blind to her lack of love until just after the ceremony. Then came her confession, his reproaches, and an estrangement carefully hidden from the world. It takes two or three chapters for her to discover that her husband is, after all, the man she loves-and a dozen chapters, at least, to convince him of her change of heart. The Professor's Legacy, by Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick, is the latest example of this type of fiction. It is better than most of its kind, in being rather carefully done, the characters being drawn with a care that makes them seem real, and the background filled in with suggestive little touches that help one to see. But that does not alter the fact that it is the same
old plot, warmed over and served up under a new name. The best thing about it is that from the opening chapter it leaves you not in the least doubt as to what sort of a book you have before you.
Another old-time plot, worn so thin and shabby that even the most skilful rip
ping and turning and refurbishing with bright bits of local colour cannot give it a look of newness, is Rose o' the River, by Kate Douglas Wiggin. The silly country girl, who fails to see true worth clothed in homespun, and mistakes a vulgar-minded salesman from a Boston department store for a sort of fairy prince, because he wears kid gloves and a loud necktie-all this we have had many times before, in Sunday-school stories and elsewhere. The author of Rebecca has a touch which goes a long way towards putting new dignity and beauty into the cheapest of material, but even she must have felt the flimsiness of her latest effort. The obvious little story moves forward to its obvious little end, when the silly little girl goes back to her honest homespun lover, who has all the time kept a modest little house waiting for her
"The Professor's Legacy."
o' the River."
Perhaps it would help him to cultivate the art of telling a tale "just so."
in the heart of the northern woods. The vivid glimpses of life among the lumbermen are the best feature of a book which surely must have made its way on the strength of its predecessor, Rebecca, rather than on its own merits.
It is a pleasure, occasionally, to take up a book written with the ability, the intelligent sympathy, the serious purpose that stamp the new volume by Arthur Stanwood Pier, The Ancient Grudge. There are two young men, whom fate seems to have designed to be close friends for life. Each of them has qualities which win the other's admiration; they go to the same college, they are classmates, roommates, members of the same fraternity; later in life, their active interests bring them to dwell in the same city, their lives are interwoven in a dozen different ways. But far back in the past, one of these men saved the other from drowning, and ever since, the other has felt the burden of this obligation, which he can never hope to pay, grow heavier and heavier, until he comes to hate the one to whom he owes his life. As already said, the whole book is an unusually careful piece of work. The Harvard chapters are taken straight out of life. So also are the chapters in the big steel works, where Floyd Halket serves his apprenticeship, before his grandfather advances him to be general superintendent of the works. Floyd is the man who saved the life of Stewart Lee. Stewart later becomes an architect and marries the woman that Floyd has loved for years. An obligation that one cannot pay weighs heavily upon any man; but it is only a mean-spirited man who would hate his rescuer, as Stewart hates Floyd. Perhaps the best feature in the book is the way in which we are made to feel, under the surface glitter of transient popularity and success, the real smallness of Stewart's nature, the secret of his failure as an architect, as a husband, as a man; and on the other hand, the sterling qualities of Floyd's character, that bring him victory at last. Mr. Pier has done some good things in the past, but this book, more than any of the others, goes to prove that, if he has not yet learned how to write a story that is unquestionably "just so," he has advanced a long way in that direction. Frederic Taber Cooper.
If there is any one kind of story that needs to be told "just so," in order to pass muster at all, it is the story involving an element of mystery and ghostliness. The difference is that of jumping across a chasm, instead of upon level ground. In the one case you may land short of your mark; in the other, you land nowhere at all. The House of a Thousand Candles, by Meredith Nicholson, may be cited as an example, not of an author who has fallen into the chasm, but of one who landed so near to the edge, with such a desperate scramble for a footing, that there need not be much elation at his success. There is an old ghost story, told with many variations, but always beginning with a haunted house that is offered rent-free to the adventurous person who will spend one night in it quite alone. Mr. Nicholson goes the old ghost story one better. His hero is required to spend not one night, but a whole year, in the isolated house, which, according to his grandfather's will, shall then become his. But if he violates the terms of the will, the house goes to a young woman of whom he has never heard, and whom the will, furthermore, forbids him to marry. He has not been in the mysterious house half an hour when the melodrama begins. He is shot at from just outside the parlour window, the bullet flattening itself on the wall and accommodatingly bounding back upon the table before him, so that he may examine it without trouble. Add to this a swiftly moving sequence of hidden dangers, ghostly footsteps passing up and down through solid walls, enemies that enter at night through subterranean passages, and a beautiful neighbour, who seems one day to favour him, and the next to be in league with his secret foes -with such elaborate machinery for a gruesome, uncanny story, the wonder is, not that Mr. Nicholson did passably well, but that he did not do a good deal better.
"The House of a Thousand Candles."