Literary Lapses/A Lesson in Fiction

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Suppose that in the opening pages of the modern melodramatic novel you find some such situation as the following, in which is depicted the terrific combat between Gaspard de Vaux, the boy lieutenant, and Hairy Hank, the chief of the Italian banditti:

"The inequality of the contest was apparent. With a mingled yell of rage and contempt, his sword brandished above his head and his dirk between his teeth, the enormous bandit rushed upon his intrepid opponent. De Vaux seemed scarce more than a stripling, but he stood his ground and faced his hitherto invincible assailant. 'Mong Dieu,' cried De Smythe, 'he is lost!'"

Question. On which of the parties to the above contest do you honestly feel inclined to put your money?
Answer. On De Vaux. He'll win. Hairy Hank will force him down to one knee and with a brutal cry of "Har! har!" will be about to dirk him, when De Vaux will make a sudden lunge (one he had learnt at home out of a book of lunges) and--
Very good. You have answered correctly. Now, suppose you find, a little later in the book, that the killing of Hairy Hank has compelled De Vaux to flee from his native land to the East. Are you not fearful for his safety in the desert?
Answer. Frankly, I am not. De Vaux is all right. His name is on the title page, and you can't kill him.
Question. Listen to this, then: "The sun of Ethiopia beat fiercely upon the desert as De Vaux, mounted upon his faithful elephant, pursued his lonely way. Seated in his lofty hoo-doo, his eye scoured the waste. Suddenly a solitary horseman appeared on the horizon, then another, and another, and then six. In a few moments a whole crowd of solitary horsemen swooped down upon him. There was a fierce shout of 'Allah!' a rattle of firearms. De Vaux sank from his hoo-doo on to the sands, while the affrighted elephant dashed off in all directions. The bullet had struck him in the heart."
There now, what do you think of that? Isn't De Vaux killed now?
Answer. I am sorry. De Vaux is not dead. True, the ball had hit him, oh yes, it had hit him, but it had glanced off against a family Bible, which he carried in his waistcoat in case of illness, struck some hymns that he had in his hip-pocket, and, glancing off again, had flattened itself against De Vaux's diary of his life in the desert, which was in his knapsack.
Question. But even if this doesn't kill him, you must admit that he is near death when he is bitten in the jungle by the deadly dongola?
Answer. That's all right. A kindly Arab will take De Vaux to the Sheik's tent.
Question. What will De Vaux remind the Sheik of?
Answer. Too easy. Of his long-lost son, who disappeared years ago.
Question. Was this son Hairy Hank?
Answer. Of course he was. Anyone could see that, but the Sheik never suspects it, and heals De Vaux. He heals him with an herb, a thing called a simple, an amazingly simple, known only to the Sheik. Since using this herb, the Sheik has used no other.
Question. The Sheik will recognize an overcoat that De Vaux is wearing, and complications will arise in the matter of Hairy Hank deceased. Will this result in the death of the boy lieutenant?
Answer. No. By this time De Vaux has realized that the reader knows he won't die and resolves to quit the desert. The thought of his mother keeps recurring to him, and of his father, too, the grey, stooping old man--does he stoop still or has he stopped stooping? At times, too, there comes the thought of another, a fairer than his father; she whose--but enough, De Vaux returns to the old homestead in Piccadilly.
Question. When De Vaux returns to England, what will happen?
Answer. This will happen: "He who left England ten years before a raw boy, has returned a sunburnt soldierly man. But who is this that advances smilingly to meet him? Can the mere girl, the bright child that shared his hours of play, can she have grown into this peerless, graceful girl, at whose feet half the noble suitors of England are kneeling? 'Can this be her?' he asks himself in amazement."
Question. Is it her?
Answer. Oh, it's her all right. It is her, and it is him, and it is them. That girl hasn't waited fifty pages for nothing.
Question. You evidently guess that a love affair will ensue between the boy lieutenant and the peerless girl with the broad feet. Do you imagine, however, that its course will run smoothly and leave nothing to record?
Answer. Not at all. I feel certain that the scene of the novel having edged itself around to London, the writer will not feel satisfied unless he introduces the following famous scene:
"Stunned by the cruel revelation which he had received, unconscious of whither his steps were taking him, Gaspard de Vaux wandered on in the darkness from street to street until he found himself upon London Bridge. He leaned over the parapet and looked down upon the whirling stream below. There was something in the still, swift rush of it that seemed to beckon, to allure him. After all, why not? What was life now that he should prize it? For a moment De Vaux paused irresolute."
Question. Will he throw himself in?
Answer. Well, say you don't know Gaspard. He will pause irresolute up to the limit, then, with a fierce struggle, will recall his courage and hasten from the Bridge.
Question. This struggle not to throw oneself in must be dreadfully difficult?
Answer. Oh! dreadfully! Most of us are so frail we should jump in at once. But Gaspard has the knack of it. Besides he still has some of the Sheik's herb; he chews it.
Question. What has happened to De Vaux anyway? Is it anything he has eaten?
Answer. No, it is nothing that he has eaten. It's about her. The blow has come. She has no use for sunburn, doesn't care for tan; she is going to marry a duke and the boy lieutenant is no longer in it. The real trouble is that the modern novelist has got beyond the happy-marriage mode of ending. He wants tragedy and a blighted life to wind up with.
Question. How will the book conclude?
Answer. Oh, De Vaux will go back to the desert, fall upon the Sheik's neck, and swear to be a second Hairy Hank to him. There will be a final panorama of the desert, the Sheik and his newly found son at the door of the tent, the sun setting behind a pyramid, and De Vaux's faithful elephant crouched at his feet and gazing up at him with dumb affection.