John Bangs.

Peeps at People



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"I am astonished!" I cried. "The magnitude of the work is appalling. Are your shops open to visitors?"

"Certainly. I shall be pleased if you will come out to Woking to-morrow, and I will show you over the establishment," replied Miss Phipps-Phipps, courteously. And then for the moment the conversation stopped.

The next day I was at Woking, where Miss Phipps-Phipps met me at the station. A ten-minutes' drive brought us to the factory, a detailed description of which would be impossible in the limits at my disposal. Suffice it to say that after an hour's walk through the various departments I was still not half acquainted with the marvels of the establishment. In the Essay and Letters to Dead Authors Department sixty-eight girls were driving their pens at a rate that made my head whirl. A whole floor was given over to the Fairy-Tale Department, and I saw fairy-books of all the colors in the rainbow being turned out at a rapid rate.

"Here," said the forelady, as we reached a large, capacious, and well-lighted writing-room, "is our latest venture. There are 700 employees in here, and they work from 9 a. m. to 12, have a half hour for luncheon, and resume. At five they go home. They have in hand the Lang Meredith. We have purchased from Mr. Meredith all right and title to his complete works, which we are having rewritten. These will appear at the proper time as 'The Lucid Meredith, by Andrew Lang.' The old gentleman at the desk over there," she added, pointing to a keen-eyed, sharp-visaged fellow, with a long nose and nervous manner, "is Mr. Fergus Holmes, who began life as a detective, and became a critic. He is here on a large salary, and has nothing to do but use his critical insight and detective instinct to find the thought in some of Mr. Meredith's most complicated periods. After all, Miss Witherup, our operators are only human, and some of them cannot understand Meredith as well as they might."

"I am glad to know," said I, with a laugh, "that you pay Mr. Fergus Holmes a large salary. A man employed to detect the thought of some of Mr. Meredith's paragraphs – "

"Oh, we understand all about that," Miss Phipps-Phipps smiled, in return. "We know his value, which is very great in this particular matter."

"And does he never fail?" I asked.

"I presume he does, but he never gives up. Once he asked to be allowed to consult with Mr. Meredith before giving an opinion, and we consented. He wrote to the author, and it turned out that Mr. Meredith had forgotten the paragraph entirely, and couldn't tell himself what he meant. But he was very nice about it. He gave us carte blanche to make it mean anything that would fit into the rest of the story."

We passed on into another room.

"This room," said Miss Phipps-Phipps, "is at present devoted to the British poets. There have been a great many bad poets in Britain who have become immortal, and we are trying to make them good. That young man over there with red hair is rewriting Burns – the introduction we are doing in our essay-room.

The young lady in blue glasses is doing Gay over again; and we have intrusted our Lang edition of Herrick to the retired clergyman whom you see sitting on that settee by the window with a slate on his lap. To show you how completely we do our work, let me tell you that in this case of Herrick all his poems were first copied off on slates by our ordinary copyists, so that the clergyman who is doing them over again has only to wet his finger to rub out what might strike some people as an immortal line."

"It's a splendid idea!" I cried. "But wouldn't a blackboard prove less expensive?"

"We never consider expense," said Miss Phipps-Phipps. "We really do not have to. You see, with a capacity of 800,000,000 words a year at the rates for Lang, for which we pay at rates for the unknown, we are left with a margin of profit which pleases our stockholders and does not arouse the cupidity of other authors."

"What a wonderful system!" said I.

"We think it so," said Miss Phipps-Phipps, placidly.

"And do you never have any troubles?" I asked.

"Oh yes," replied my hostess. "Only last week the Grass of Parnassus and Blue Ballade employees rose up and struck for sixpence more per quatrain. We locked them out, and to-day have filled their places with equally competent employees. You can always find plenty of unemployed and unpublished poets ready to step in. Our prose hands do not give us much trouble, and our revisers never say a word."

"Have you any novelties in hand?" I asked.

"Oh yes," said Miss Phipps-Phipps. "We are going to supersede Boswell with Lang's Johnson. We are preparing a Lang Shakespeare; and when the copyrights on Thackeray and Dickens have expired, we'll do them all over again. Then we are experimenting in colors for a new fairy-book; and our chromatic Bibles will be a great thing. We are also contemplating an offer to the French Academy to permit all the works of its members to be issued as ours. I really think that Daudet by Andrew Lang would pay. Hugo by Lang might prove too much for the British public, but we shall do it, because we have confidence in ourselves. We shall issue the Philosophy of Schopenhauer by Andrew Lang next week."

"How about our American authors?" I queried. "Are you going to rewrite any of them?"

"Who are they?" asked Miss Phipps-Phipps, with an admirable expression of ingenuousness.

"Well," said I, "myself, and – ah – Edgar Poe."

"Any poets?" said Miss Phipps-Phipps.

"Some," I answered. "Myself and – ah – Longfellow."

[Pg 69] [Pg 70]

"I don't know," said Miss Phipps-Phipps, becoming somewhat reserved. "Send me your manuscripts. I have heard of you, of course – but – ah – who is Miss Longfellow?"

I contented myself with a reference to the scenery, and then I said: "Miss Double Phipps, I wish you would conduct me into the presence of Mr. Lang. I like him as a manly man, and I love him for the books he has put forth, which not only show his manliness, but his appreciation of everything in letters that is good."

"Well, really, Miss Witherup," said Miss Phipps-Phipps, "we don't know where he is, but we think – it is not my thought, but that of the corporation – we think you will find him playing golf at St. Andrews."

"Thank you," said I. "But, after all," I added, "it is not what the corporation thinks so much as what you as an individual think. Where do you believe I may find Mr. Lang?"

"Among the Immortals," was the answer, spoken with enthusiasm.

And believing that the lady was right, I ceased to look for Mr. Lang, for in the presence of immortals I always feel myself to be foolish.

Nevertheless, I am very glad to have seen the Lang Company at Woking, and I now understand many things that I never understood before.

ZOLA

To visit a series of foreign celebrities at home without including ?mile Zola in the list would be very like refusing to listen to the lines of Hamlet in Bacon's immortal tragedy of that name. Furthermore, to call upon the justly famous novelist presupposes a visit to Paris, which is a delightful thing, even for a lady journalist. Hence it was that on leaving Woking, after my charming little glimpse into the home life of the Lang Manuscript-Manufacturing Company, I decided to take a run across the Channel and look up the Frenchman of the hour. The diversion had about it an air of adventure which made it pleasantly exciting. For ten hours after my arrival at Paris I did not dare ask where the novelist lived, for fear that I might be arrested and sent to Devil's Island with Captain Dreyfus, or forced to languish for a year or two at the Ch?teau d'If, near Marseilles, until the government could get a chance formally to inquire why I wished to know the abiding-place of M. Zola. There was added to this also some apprehension that even if I escaped the gendarmes the people themselves might rise up and string me to a lamp-post as a suitable answer to so treasonable a question.

To tell the truth, I did not go about my business with my usual nerve and aplomb. Had I represented only myself, I should not have hesitated to expose myself to any or to all danger. Intrusted as I was, however, with a commission of great importance to those whom I serve at home, it was my duty to proceed cautiously and save my life. I therefore went at the matter diplomatically. For fifty centimes I induced a small flower-girl, whom I encountered in front of the Caf? de la Paix, to inquire of the head waiter of that establishment where M. Zola could be met. The tragedy that ensued was terrible. What became of the child I do not know, but when, three hours later, the troops cleared the square in front of the caf?, the dead and wounded amounted to between two hundred and fifty and three hundred, and the china, tables, and interior decorations of the caf? were strewn down the Avenue de l'Op?ra as far as the Rue de l'Echelle, and along the boulevard to the Madeleine. The opera-house itself was not appreciably damaged, although I am told that pieces of steak and chops and canned pease have since been found clinging to the third-story windows of its splendid fa?ade.

My next effort was even more cautious. I bought a plain sheet of note-paper, and addressed it anonymously to the editor of La Patrie, asking for the desired information. The next morning La Patrie announced that if I would send my name and address to its office the communication would be answered suitably. My caution was still great, however, and the name and address I gave were those of a blanchisseuse who ran a pretty little shop on Rue Rivoli. That night the poor woman was exiled from France, and the block in which she transacted business demolished by a mob of ten thousand.

I was about to give up, when chance favored me. The next evening, while seated in my box at the opera, the door was suddenly opened, and a heavy but rather handsome-eyed brunette of I should say fifty years of age burst in upon me.

"Mon Dieu!" she cried, as I turned. "Save me! Tell them I am your chaperon, your mother, your sister – anything – only save me! You will never regret it."

She had hardly uttered these words when a sharp rap came upon the door. "Entrez," I cried. "Que voulez-vous, messieurs?" I added, with some asperity, as five hussars entered, their swords clanking ominously.

"Your name?" said one, who appeared to be their leader.

"Anne Warrington Witherup, if you refer to me," said I, drawing myself up proudly. "If you refer to this lady," I added, "she is Mrs. Watkins Wilbur Witherup, my – ah – my step-mother. We are Americans, and I am a lady journalist."

Fortunately my remarks were made in French, and my French was of a kind which was convincing proof that I came from Westchester County.

A great change came over the intruders.

"Pardon, mademoiselle," said the leader, with an apologetic bow to myself. "We have made the grand faux pas. We have entered the wrong box."

"And may I know the cause of your unwarranted intrusion," I demanded, "without referring the question to the State Department at home?"

"We sought – we sought an enemy to

France, mademoiselle," said they. "We thought he entered here."

"I harbor only the friends of France," said I.

"Vive la Witherup!" cried the hussars, taking the observation as a compliment, and then chucking me under the chin and again apologizing, with a sweeping bow to my newly acquired step-mother, they withdrew.

"Well, mamma," said I, turning to the lady at my side, "perhaps you can shed some light on this mystery. Who are you?"

"Softly, if you value your life," came the answer. "Zola, c'est moi!"

"Mon Doo!" said I. "Vous? Bien, bien, bien!"

"Speak in English," he whispered. "Then I can understand."

"Oh, I only said well, well, well," I explained. "And you have adopted this disguise?"

"Because I have resolved to live long enough to get into the Academy," he explained. "I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your timely aid. If they had caught me they would have thrown me down into the midst of the claque."

"Come," said I, rising and taking him by the hand. "I have come to Paris to see you at home. It was my only purpose. I will escort you thither."

"Non, non!" he cried. "Never again. I am much more at home here, my dear lady, much more. Pray sit down. Why, when I left home by a subterranean passage, perhaps you are not aware, over a thousand members of the National Guard were singing the 'Marseillaise' on the front piazza. Three thousand were dancing that shocking dance, the cancan, in my back yard, and four regiments of volunteers were looking for something to eat in the kitchen, assisted by one hundred and fifty p?troleuses to do their cooking. All my bedroom furniture was thrown out of the second-story windows, and the manuscripts of my new novel were being cut up into souvenirs."

"Poor old mamma!" said I, taking him by the hand. "You can always find comfort in the thought that you have done a noble action."

"It was a pretty good scheme," replied Zola. "A million pounds sterling paid to your best advertising mediums couldn't have brought in a quarter the same amount of fame or notoriety; and then, you see, it places me on a par with Hugo, who was exiled. That's really what I wanted, Miss Witherup. Hugo was a poseur, however, and if he hadn't had the kick to be born before me – "

"Ah," said I, interrupting, for I have rather liked Hugo. "And where do you wish to go?"

"To America," he replied, dramatically. "To America. It is the only country in the world where realism is not artificial. You are a simple, unaffected, outspoken people, who can hate without hating, can love without marrying, can fight without fighting. I love you."

"Sir – or rather mamma!" said I, somewhat indignantly, for as a married man Zola had no right to make a declaration like that, even if he is a Frenchman.

"Not you as you," he hastened to say, "but you as an American I love. Ah, who is your best publisher, Miss Witherup?"

I shall not tell you what I told Zola, but they may get his next book.

"M. Zola," said I, placing great emphasis on the M, "tell me, what interested you in Dreyfus – humanity – or literature?"

"Both," he replied; "they are the same. Literature that is not humanity is not literature. Humanity that does not provide literary people with opportunity is not broad humanity, but special and selfish, and therefore is not humanity at all."

"Did Dreyfus write to you?" I asked.

"No," said he. "Nor I to him. I have no time to write letters."

"Then how did it all come about?" I demanded.

"He was attracting too much attention!" cried the novelist, passionately. "He was living tragedy while I was only writing it. People said his story was greater than any I, ?mile – "

"Witherup!" said I, anxiously, for it seemed to me that the people in the next box were listening.

"Merci!" said he. "Yes, I, Mrs. Watkins Wilbur Witherup, of Westchester City, U. S. A., was told that this man's story was greater and deeper in its tragic significance than any I could conceive. Wherefore I wrote to the War Department and accused it of concealing the truth from France in the mere interests of policy, of diplomacy. I made them tremble. I made the army shiver. I have struck a blow at the republic from which it will not soon recover. And to-day Dreyfus pales beside the significance of Zola. I believe in free institutions, but Heaven help a free institution when it clashes with a paying corporation like ?mile – "

"Witherup! Do be cautious," I put in again. "Yet, sir," I added, "they have quashed your sentence, and you need not go to jail."

"No," said he, gloomily. "I need not. Why? Because jail is safer than home. That is why they did it. They dare not exile me. They hope by quashing me to be rid of me. But they will see. I will force them to imprison me yet."

"If you are so anxious to visit America, why don't you?" I suggested. "There is no duty on the kind of thing we do not wish to manufacture ourselves."

"Ah," said he; "if I was exiled, they would send me. If I go as a private citizen, well, I pay my own way."

"Oh," said I. "I see."

And then, as the opera was over, we departed. Zola saw me to my carriage, and just as I entered it he said: "Excuse me, Miss Witherup, but what paper do you write for?"

I told him.

"It is a splendid journal!" he cried. "I take it every day, and especially enjoy its Sunday edition. In fact, it is the only American newspaper I read. Tell your editor this, and here is my photograph and my autograph, and a page of my manuscript for reproduction."

He took all these things out of his basque as he spoke.

"I will send you to-morrow," he added, "an original sketch in black and white of my house, with the receipt of my favorite dish, together with a recommendation of a nerve tonic that I use. With this will go a complete set of my works with a few press notices of the same, and the prices they bring on all book-stands. Good-bye. God bless you!" he concluded, huskily. "I shall miss my step-daughter as I would an only son. Adieu!"

We parted, and I returned, much affected, to my rooms, while he went back, I presume, to his mob-ridden home.

SIR HENRY IRVING

The impression left upon my mind by my curious and intensely dramatic encounter with Zola was of so theatric a nature that I resolved to get back to conventional ground once more through the medium of the stage. I was keyed up to a high pitch of nervous excitement by my unexpected meeting with an unsuspected step-mother, and the easiest return to my norm of equanimity, it seemed to me, lay through the doors of the greenroom. Hence I sought out London's only actor, Sir Henry Irving.

I found him a most agreeable gentleman. He received me cordially on the stage of his famous theatre. There was no setting of any kind. All about us were the bare cold walls of the empty stage and it was difficult to believe that this very same spot, the night before, had been the scene of brilliant revels.

"How do you do, Miss Witherup?" said Sir Henry, as I arrived, advancing with his peculiar stride, which reminds me of dear old Dobbin on my father's farm. "It is a great pleasure to welcome to England so fair a representative of so fine a press."

"I wished to see you, 'at home,' Sir Henry," I replied, not desiring to let him see how completely his cordiality had won me, and so affecting a coldness I was far from feeling.

"That is why I have you here, madam," he replied. "The stage is my home. The boards for me; the flare of the lime-lights; the pit; the sweet family circle; the auditorium in the dim distance; the foot-lights – ah, these are the inspiring influences of my life! The old song 'Home Is Where the Heart Is' must, in my case, be revised to favor the box-office, and instead of the 'Old Oaken Bucket,' the song I sing is the song of the 'Old Trap Door.' Did you ever hear that beautiful poem, 'The Song of the Old Trap Door'?"

"No, Sir Henry, I never did," said I. "I hope to, however."

"I will do it now for you," he said; and assisting me over the foot-lights into a box, he took the centre of the stage, ordered the calcium turned upon him, and began:

 
"How dear to my heart are the scenes of my triumphs,
In Hamlet, Othello, and Shylock as well!
Completely confounding the critics who cry 'Humphs!'
And casting o'er others a magical spell!
How dear to my soul are the fond recollections
Of thunderous clappings and stampings and roars
As, bowing and scraping in many directions,
I sink out of sight through the old trap doors!
The old trap doors, the bold trap doors,
That creaking and squeaking sink down thro' the floors!"
 

I could not restrain my enthusiasm when he had finished.

"Bravo!" I cried, clapping my hands together until my palms ached. "More!"

"There is no more," said Sir Henry, with a gratified smile. "You see, recited before ten or twenty thousand people with the same verve that I put into 'Eugene Aram,' or 'Ten Little Nigger Boys,' so much enthusiasm is aroused that I cannot go on. The applause never stops, so of course a second verse would be a mere waste of material."

"Quite so," I observed. Then a thought came to me which I resolved to turn to my profit. "Sir Henry," I said, "I'll bet a box of cigars against a box for your performance to-night that I can guess who wrote that poem for you in one guess."

"Done!" he replied, eagerly.

"Austin," said I.

"Make Miss Witherup out a ticket for Box A for the 'Merchant of Venice' to-night," cried the famous actor to his secretary. "How the deuce did you know?"

"Oh, that was easy," I replied, much gratified at having won my wager. "I don't believe any one else could have thought of a rhyme to triumphs like 'cry Humphs'!"

"You have wonderful insight," remarked Sir Henry. "But come, Miss Witherup, I did not mean to receive you in a box, or on a bare stage. What is your favorite style of interior decoration?"

His question puzzled me. I did not know but that possibly Sir Henry's words were a delicate method of suggesting luncheon, and then it occurred to me that this could not possibly be so at that hour, one o'clock. Actors never eat at hours which seem regular to others. I hazarded an answer, however, and all was made clear at once.



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