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ON THE WRITING OF MY "ALIENS” *
BY WILLIAM McFEE
SO MANY people are unaware of struck dumb. What was a short story the number of works of fiction which in comparison with such issues? And have been rewritten after publica. I knew he had no more opinion of tion. I was rather surprised myself me as an author than I had of him when I came to recapitulate them. as an artist. I would not go so far as to say that But when another typed copy came second editions, like second thoughts, back from a round of visits to Amer. are the best, because I at once think ican magazines, I kept it. I had a of The Light That Failed. But strong conviction that, in making a I do believe that under the very book of what was then only a rather unusual circumstances of the genesis vague short story, I was not such and first issue of Aliens I am justi a fool as the mad artist seemed to fied in offering a maturer and more
think. I reckoned his judgment balanced representation of what that had been warped by the highly book stands for.
eccentric environment in which he The notion of a character like Mr. delighted. The empty store in which Carville came to me while I was busy he lived like a rat in a shipping-case finishing Casuals of the Sea dur was new and blatant. It thrust its ing the late fall of 1912. A short blind, lime-washed window-front out story was the result. It went to many over the sidewalk. Over the limelikely and unlikely publishers, for I wash one could see the new pine knew very little of the field. I do not shelving along the walls loaded with know whether the Farm Journal innumerable rolls of wall-paper. (of which I am a devoted reader) Who was responsible for this morigot it, but it is quite probable. A bund stock I could never discover. mad artist who lived near us, in an Perhaps the mad artist imagined empty store along with a studio them to be priceless Kakemonos of stove and three priceless Kake such transcendent and blinding monos, told me he would “put me beauty that he did not dare unroli next” an editor of his acquaintance. them. They resembled a library of I forget the name of the paper now, papyrus manuscripts. Here and there but I think it had some connection among them stood some exquisitely with women's clothes. I sent in my hideous dragon or bird of misfor. story, but unfortunately my friend tune. He had a bench in the store, forgot to "put me next" for I got too, I remember, and seemed to have neither cash nor manuscript. The some sort of business in mending such next time I passed the empty store, I things for dealers. And he did a stepped in to explain, but the artist little dealing himself, too, for his had a black eye, and his own interest
madness had not destroyed his apprewas so engrossed in Chinese lacquer ciation of the value of money. He work and a stormy divorce case he would exhibit some piece of oriental had coming on shortly, that I was rubbish, and when one had politely
admired it, he would say pleasantly, *This article is a part of the preface “Take it!” One took it, and a week which will appear in Mr. McFee's Aliens, to be published shortly by Doubleday,
later he would borrow its full value Page and Company.
as a loan.
With his Kakemonos he was even out of writing the book, and that, more mystifying, for he would de after all, is the main reason one has velop sudden and quite unnecessary for writing books. I finished the bursts of rage and announce his thing and immediately became derefusal of anything under a million spondent, a condition from which I for them. And then he would ex was raised by an unexpected admirer. hibit them, taking them from a This was the elderly gentleman who broken Libby, McNeil and Libby did my typewriting. He dwelt half milk case under his camp-bed, and way up a tall elevator shaft in Newhold the rolled splendours aloft. ark, New Jersey, and, as far as I could And then, with a grandiose gesture, gather, had farmed himself out to as of some insane nobleman showing a number of lawyers, none of whom his interminable pedigree, he would had much to do except telephone to let the thing unfold, and one beheld each other and smoke domestic a sad animal of unknown species sit- cigars. They say no man is a hero ting in a silver winter landscape, or to his valet. I have never had a valet a purple silk sunset. And over it except on shipboard, and I have no glared the mad artist, a sallow fraud, desire to compete with the heroes yet watching with some impatience of the average steward; but I have how the stranger regarded this secret had a typist, and I suppose it is · preoccupation of his life. I knew equally rare for an author to be innothing about such things and knew teresting to his amanuensis. And he scorned me for my ignorance. when I climbed one day (the elevator Like most artists, he was an uncon being out of order) to the eyrie scious liar. He strove also to give where my elderly henchman had his an impression of tremendous power. nest, his bald head was shining in He had gestures which were sup the westering sun, and he beamed posed to register virility, irresistible like a jolly old sun himself as he force, abysmal contempt. And if the apologised for not having finished. word had not been worked to death “He had got so interested in the parby people who don't know its mean ties," he explained, "that he hadn't ing, I would have added that he was got on as quick as he'd hoped to." a votary of the kultur of his race. I still like to think he was sincere His ideal, I suppose, was more the when he said this. Anyhow, I was Renaissance virtú than our milk-and- encouraged. I bound up my copies water virtue. He made me feel that of typescript and shoved them out I was a worm. In short, he was a into the world. They came back. very interesting, provocative and ex They became familiar at the local asperating humbug, and his very post-office. The mad artist, meeting existence seemed to me sufficient me with a parcel, would divine the reason for turning Aliens into a contents and inquire, “Well, and book which would shed a flickering how's Aliens?” He would also in light upon the fascinating problem form me that there were several of human folly.
books called by that title. He would For that is what it amounted to. regard me with a glassy-eyed grin as I was obsessed with the problem of I hurried on. He had no more faith human folly, and he focussed that in me than he had in himself. Someobsession. It often happens that the times he would pretend not to see character which inspires
which inspires a book me, but go stalking down the avenue, never appears in it. In all sincere his fists twisted in his pocket, his work I think it must be so. And, head bent, his brows portentous with the mad artist in my mind all with thought
a grotesque the time, I got a good deal of fun humbug!
But the time came when, as I have I make no complaint. If there be explained elsewhere, I had had
one person for whom I cherish a enough of artists and books. Of art profound dislike it is the literary I never grow weary, but she calls me character who whines because his cirover the world. I suspect the seden cumstances hinder his writing. I was tary art-worker. Most of all, I suspect no George Gissing, cursed with a the sedentary writer. I divide authors dreary distaste of common toil and into two classes-genuine artists, and mechanical things. I love both the educated men who wish to earn Grecian Isles and gas-burners. But enough to let them live like country for the moment I had chosen gasgentlemen. With the latter I have no burners, or rather steam engines, and concern. But the artist knows when I knew I could not have both. So his time has come. In the same way Aliens went back to London, and I I turned with irresistible longing to went my daily round of the Caribthe sea, whereon I had been wont bean. I felt that for once I could trust to earn my living. It is a good life the judgment of a first-class puband I love it. I love the men and lisher. their ships. I find in them a never Much happened between the day ending panorama which illustrates my when I mailed my proofs from the theme, the problem of human folly! big post-office on Canal Street in Suffice it, I sent my manuscripts to New Orleans, and the day when I London, looked out my sea dunnage, set out to write this present version. and the publishing offices of New . I was now in another hemisphere and York City knew me no more.
the world was at war. By a happy About a year later I received the chance I laid hold of a copy of proofs of Aliens while in Cristobal, Aliens, sent previously to a naval Canal Zone. Without exaggeration, relative serving on the same station. I scarcely knew what to do with them. Up and down the Ægean Sea, past The outward trappings of literature fields of mines and fields of asphodel, had fallen away from me with the past many an isle familiar in happier heavy northern clothing which I had days to me, I took my book and my discarded on coming south. I was new convictions about human folly. first assistant engineer on a mail-boat It was a slow business, for it so serving New Orleans, the West Indies chanced that my own contribution to and the Canal Zone. I had become the war involved long hours. But inured once more to an enchanting Aliens grew. existence which alternated between And one evening, I remember, I bunk and engine-room. I regarded left off in the middle of Mr. Carville's the neatly bound proof-copy of Aliens courtship and went to bed. We were with misgiving. My esteemed chief, speeding southward. It was a dark, a Scotsman in whose family learning moonless night. The islands of the is an honourable tradition, suggested Grecian Archipelago were roofed over an empty passenger cabin as a suit with a vault of low-lying clouds, as able study. I forget exactly how the if those ferniferous hummocks and proof-reading was dove-tailed into the limestone peaks were the invisible watch below, but dove-tailed it was, pillars of an enormous crypt. And and when the job was done, the book since across the floor of this crypt once more sailed across the Atlantic. many other vessels were speeding
But I was not satisfied. Through without lights, it was not wonderful the dense jungle of preoccupying af- that for once our good fortune failed fairs in which I was buried I could us. For we had had good fortune. see that I was not satisfied. I was Aeroplanes had bombed, and missed trying to eat my cake and have it. us by yards. Zeppelins had come
down in flaming ruin before our wooden building, bleached and blisastonished eyes. Islands had loomed tered by many a dust-storm and torrid under the very fore-foot of sun, its cracked and distorted winship in a fog, and we had gone dow-panes were curtained with deastern in time. But this time it cayed illustrated papers in many was our turn. We were, in the tongues, discoloured Greek and Ital. succinct phraseology of the sea, in ian penny-dreadfuls, and few collision.
shelves of cheap curios. Over the The story of that night will no door a long shingle displayed on one doubt be told in its proper place and side the legend Librairie Universelle, time. Suffice it that for some weeks while the other bore the word we were laid aside, and local Levan ΒΙΒΛΙΟΠΩΛΙΟΝ which you may transtine talent invoked to make good the late as it please your fancy. Inside disaster. And in spite of the clangour the narrow doors were craters and of rivetters, the unceasing cries of
trenches and redoubts and dugouts fezzed and turbaned mechanics, and of books. They lay everywhere, the heavy blows of sweating carpen
underfoot and overhead. They ran ters, caulkers and blacksmiths, Aliens up at the back in a steep glacis with grew. There was a blessed interval, embrasures for curios, and were rebetween five o'clock, when my day's flected to infinity in tall dusty pierwork ended, and the late cabin-dinner glasses propped against the walls. at six-thirty, when the setting sun High up under the mansard roof shone into my room and illumined hung an antique oriental candelamy study-table-a board laid across brum with one candle. Hanging an open drawer. And Aliens grew. from twine were stuffed fish of groFor some time, while the smashed tesque globular proportions, and bulwarks and distorted frames of the with staring apoplectic eyes.
А upper-works were being hacked away stuffed monkey was letting himself outside my window, the uproar was down, one-hand, from a thin chain, unendurable, and I would go ashore and regarded the customer with a note-book in pocket, to find a refuge contemptuous sneer, the dust lying where I could write. I would walk thick on his head and arms and his through the city and sit in her gar- exquisitely curled tail. And out of dens; and the story grew. I found ob an apparently bomb-proof shelter scure cafés where I could sit with below several tons of books there coffee and narghileh, and watch the emerged a little old gentleman in a Arabic letter-writers worming the brilliant tarbush, who looked in. thoughts from their inarticulate
their inarticulate quiringly in my direction. For a clients, and Aliens grew. And later, moment I paused, fascinated by the near the Greek Patriarchate, I found notion that I had discovered the that which to me is home-a second- great Library of Alexandria, reported hand bookstore. For I mark my burned so many centuries ago. For passage about this very wonderful once within those musty, warped, unworld by old bookstores. London, painted walls one forgot the modern Glasgow, Liverpool, Rotterdam, world. I looked out. Across the Genoa, Venice, New York, Ancona, street, backed by the immense and Rouen, Tunis, Savannah, Kobé and level blaze of an Egyptian sunset, New Orleans have, in my memory,
blocks of Carrara marble blushed to their old bookstores, where I could pink with mauve shadows, and turned browse in peace. And here in Alex the common stone mason's yard into andria I found one that might have a garden of gigantic jewels. The hum been lifted out of Royal Street or of a great city, the grind of the trol. Lafayette Square, A ramshackle ley-cars, the cries of the itinerant sell.
ers of nuts and fruit, of chewing gum Universal Library, and write. And and lottery-tickets, of shoelaces and Mr. Bizikas, the little old gentleman suspenders, of
newspapers, and in the vivid tarbush, who was lightprawns, and oysters, and eggs, and ing a very dirty tin lamp to assist bread, the rattle of carriages and all the one candle in the oriental canthe flashing brilliance of the palaces delabrum, had no objection. I have of pleasure, were shut out from that a feeling occasionally that here I quiet street near the Greek Patriar- topped the rise of human felicity, chate. I had the sudden notion of as I conceive it. Perhaps I did. Anyasking for permission to sit in that how, Aliens grew.
BY WILLARD WATTLES
THOSE who in their hearts have known
Who have beheld the flaming sword
Who carry in their deep-set eyes
Whose feet have walked with scarce a sound
For whom each feathered throat that stirs
Who look and look and always see
Whose thoughts are instant everywhere. . .