Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ernest Bramah While You Wait


Here is a very fine comic scenario by Ernest Bramah, poking fun at the popular magazine trade.  Bramah himself was for a time the secretary to Jerome K. Jerome, who was the editor of the London magazine To-Day.

The Bystander, v8, p. 519
December 6, 1905


"While you Wait"

Editorial Office of the Gigantic Monthly and seven other magazines; Tip-Top Bits and twenty-five other journals; the Morning Trumpet, etc. etc.

Editor-in-Chief seated at desk.  Lady Secretary writing from his dictations.  Enter Mr. Newman, nervously.

Editor (to Mr. Newman): One minute, if you will excuse me.  (Continuing dictating to Secretary): " — you will then proceed to St. Petersburg and wire us a column of bright, chatty interview with the Tsar and another with Count Witte, in both of which you will kindly bring the Morning Trumpet prominently before their notice.  During you two days' residence in the capital you can also do a series of thirteen authoritative articles on 'Russia from the Core'; a few light pages for the Tip-Top with titles such as, 'The Humour of Anarchy,' 'What it Feels Like to be Frozen to Death,' and so forth, and photograph anything of interest for the Gigantic.  If time hangs on your hands you might also continue your 'Mr. Wazygoose Gose His Ways' diary and drawings for Phunny Wabbits.  Cancel the Stockholm and Christiana detour, interest having subsided, and proceed direct to Trondheim, where you may as well occupy yourself with gathering material for the mediaeval Italian feuilleton which I suggested to you — changing the locale to Scandinavia, of course, and for Marco Polo, substituting as a hero, say, Gustavus Adolphus.  (Turning to Mr. Newman.)  Good afternoon, Mr. Newman.  I see that you bring an introduction from my friend Snarling, who suggests that you can do useful work for us.  Very good.  (Looking at watch.)  I think that I can just spare seven minutes.  Have you anything with you?

Mr. Newman (dropping some manuscripts and picking them up again): Er – yes, a few.  That is to say, I did — Tales, you know, but anything you thought —   

Editor (taking one):  Ah! short stories!  Excellent!  I think our stock is getting low.  How many have you with you?  About eighteen?  Oh, well; that's a start, of course.  I suppose you could manage an average eight or ten a week as a regular thing.  We require an immense number for our weekly Fountain of Fiction alone.  The great thing is to catch just the particular style we require.

Mr. Newman:  I, ah — hoped that you might like this, sir.  I have spent a great deal of time and thought upon it — "The Mirage of a Soul."  It is an attempt to work out the natural development of a woman's mind and destiny in certain circumstances and under the influence of romantic surroundings.

Editor:  H'm.  Can't really say that the title strikes me as being quite catchy enough for the Fountain.  Let me see how it goes on; perhaps I can give you some indication of the sort of thing I mean.  Ah, north-east coast of Cornwall!  Well, now, why not lift the thing bodily into London?  How many of our readers have ever been on the north-east coast of Cornwall?  On the other hand, make it London, and you are on terms with them straight off.

Mr. Newman:  Well, really, of course, if you think it better; but, as a matter of fact, I made rather a close study of the local colour down there.

Editor (turning over the leaves): Yes, I see.  Page on page of purple tints, space, and aching calm.  My dear sir, we should simply have to drop all that.  Now, where do we get to anyone?  Ah, here — "Mildred."  Very good; and "Vivien Mountford": yes.

Mr. Newman (wishing devoutly that he had chosen any other story to bring forward):  They meet suddenly under romantic conditions.  He saves her life, and before she can even thank him he has to fly for his own.  For this I had to use — it's not very original, I'm afraid, but nothing else served so well — I had to use a mad bull.

Editor:  Oh, a mad bull is all right.  I don't think that we have had one for the past six months.

Mr. Newman:  But you see the impossibility — in London?

Editor:  Not at all.  What is the difficulty?

Mr. Newman:  Why, the whole atmosphere of the incident.  The fields —

Editor:  Have it in Lincoln's Inn Fields, if you like.  Let me give you a rough outline.  (To Lady Secretary):  Miss Brown, just type this as I go on, please, and then Mr. Newman can take it with him.  Call it "Mildred's Mad Bull" — much more snappy of a title than the other.  Then open straight away without any beating about the bush:

'Excuse me, but I think this is yours.'

Mildred turned with a start.  'Oh, thank you,' she said, accepting the proffered glove.  'How careless of me!  I suppose I dropped it as I crossed the road.'

'Yes,' said Vivien, looking down admiringly into her velvet eyes, and thinking how they seemed to light up the dull prosaic region sacred to the legal profession — for the incident had taken place in Lincoln's Inn Fields.  'Yes, you did.  But' — with a frank boyish candour that became him well  — 'I kept it for a minute for the pleasure of watching you.'

Mildred's eyes fell before his honest admiration.  She would have gone on, yet she lingered.  At that moment a confused outcry, mingled with the roar of some infuriated animal, reached their ears.

'What can it mean?' exclaimed Mildred, trembling and turning pale.

'Do not be afraid,' he replied, drawing himself up with a gesture of simple manliness that became him — 'Whatever it is, I am here to protect you, and it is unlikely to come this way.'

But even as he spoke these reassuring words, the roar grew louder, and the next moment a huge and maddened bull emerged from Little Turnstile, and, with dilated eyes and proudly arching neck, bore down upon them.  Mildred gave a despairing cry, but Vivien was equal to the emergency.  He had already noticed that they were standing beneath a lamp-post.

'Quick!" he cried, lifting her lithe and fragile form in his arms.  'Pull yourself up to the bar and sit there!'

Even at that moment he did not fail to notice the easy grace with which she swung herself on to that precarious perch.

'Save yourself!" she called down in an agony of dread.  'Oh do something — but there is no more room up here.'

There, you see, that cuts out about two thousand words of opal sunsets and purple headlands, and reaches the same point.

Mr. Newman (somewhat dazed):  But what — what on earth is a mad bull doing in the heart of London?

Editor:  For the matter of that, what is a mad bull doing on the coast of Cornwall?  A mad bull must be somewhere, and considering the relative importance of the place it is much more likely to be in London than in Cornwall.

Mr Newman (anxious to propitiate):  I certainly now see the possibility of such an incident taking place in London, sir; and if your wide experience thinks the change desirable, I will alter the venue, of course.  But I might remind you that originally the bull was introduced to part Mildred and Vivien immediately after he had saved her life.

Editor:  True; I had forgotten that.  (Briskly, after a five seconds' pause)  And a very good opportunity it gives you, too, for something really stirring after this style.  Miss Brown:

On, on, he tore.  The thundering hoofs behind seemed nearer every step, the hot, sickening breath of the mighty beast rolling onward from its bellowing throat, lapped around him like a vaporous cloth that would choke him in its folds.  As in a dream, the long vista of the lamps of Oxford Street rose, only to fall in his wake, the familiar landmarks melted; like a nightmare the noises of the street and the cries of those behind blended into one great roar, like rushing water in his ears.  A shot rang out, still the pursuing hoofs never faltered.  On, on, on.  From the top a Bayswater 'bus a blue-garbed butcher trumpeted through his hands a stentorian message, possibly words of encouragement or advice, but they were as impotent to reach him as puny snow-flakes in a driving storm.  On, on, still and ever on.  At the window of a well-known soap emporium the beast paused, but only for a moment, and, as if refreshed by the halt, brief as it had been, it came on faster than before.  Vivien's breath was coming in gasps now; his burning feet blundered once or twice in their duty.  The pursuing hoofs were certainly nearer, the horrid breath lapped him in a closer embrace.  The world around him grew dim; the end could only be a matter of seconds now.  'Mildred!; he murmured between his set teeth, and at the word hope grew anew within him.  Ahead, through the hazy gloom, he had caught sight of the lights of the Frascati Restaurant.  Ahead, but oh! how far it seemed, that brightly illuminated haven of refuge.  Could he reach it?

Mr. Newman (bewildered out of all diplomacy):  But why in creation should he want to reach it?  What has Frascati's to do with the story?

Editor (shrugging his shoulders): He must stop somewhere.  You can't have the man pursued by a mad bull aimlessly wandering all over London with no definite object in view.

Mr. Newman (recovering himself):  Oh, quite so.  Only for the moment I failed to see the connection.

Editor:  Anywhere else would do equally well, only I understood that you were keen on a little local colour.  Let Vivien just reach the British Museum railings if you think Frascati's is too far, but if you find that the subject suits your pen there is no reason why you should not zigzag him all across Bloomsbury, and finally leave the bull foaming with rage outside the glass doors of Madame Tussaud's.  The great thing is to keep him moving, and growing fainter, and the bull always getting nearer, and don't forget to let his breath come in gasps — sobbing gasps towards the finish.  I've frequently watched people reading our stories in trains and tea-shops, and I've noticed that they almost invariably gasp themselves when the hard-pressed heroes do, if it's well sustained.  Well, good afternoon.  Sorry I can't detain you any longer now, but I've already overstepped —

Mr. Newman:  Thank you.  I think I understand the sort of thing you require exactly.  And if I alter "The Mirage of a Soul" in the way you have taken so much trouble to explain, you think that you will be able to accept it?

Editor (with sudden caution):  Of course, that depends on how it finally comes out.  But I think that you have the foundation for a striking piece of work there.  By the way, what length did you say it was?

Mr. Newman:  A little over eleven thousand words, I think.

Editor:  Um.  Better squeeze it down to three thousand five hundred.  You'll find it all the crisper after a little trimming.  That is practically our limit for a story of that type; the romantic period and heavy tragedies will stand another five hundred.  Good afternoon.

Mr. Newman:  Yes, I'll remember that.  And may I address the manuscript to you personally?

Editor:  Not at all necessary.  Everything is carefully read, you may rely upon it.  Ask to see Pogson when you bring it, if you like.  Good afternoon.  Miss Brown —

Mr. Newman:  Good afternoon, and I'm greatly obliged to you for the trouble you have taken.

Editor:  Not at all.  Glad to be of service, especially to a friend of Snarling's.  Miss Brown, will you tell the general office to —        [Exit Mr. Newman.


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