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Scene Fourteen: New York, late summer 1898
The scene is Madison Square Garden at an Anti-Imperialist League rally. William Jennings Bryan is giving his “Cross of Gold” speech from the 1896 Democrat presidential convention (also at the Garden). Margharita is already seated when Crane arrives.
Margharita: Mr. Stephen Crane, what brings you to an Anti-Imperialist Meeting?
(listening to Bryan) Is he doing the old “Cross of Gold” thing? Didn’t help him in ’96.
Margharita: Bryan is a great man. Just as he denounced Wall Street, he shows the lies of the jingoes who would have the United States occupy Cuba and the Philippines. What do you have against him?
Crane: I’ve no beef with the “Great Commoner.” I am also a man of the people. Who else writes about tramps in the Bowery the way I do? But all that Christian piety. He’s just too milquetoast. Reminds me of a cowardly lion. [In Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz (1900), the Cowardly Lion is likely modeled after Bryan.)
Margharita: We’ll see how much courage you have, Mr. Lion.
Crane: And all those Populist hayseeds are crackpots. And that rot about Free Silver. (peering at Margharita) A little like Free Cuba.
Margharita: If you bothered to vote, I suppose it would be for that warmonger Roosevelt. [In 1896 when Roosevelt was commissioner of the NYPD he reportedly suggested the best solution to the Populist threat was to line the Populists “against a wall to be shot.”]
(Crane is quiet)
Crane: Listen, Miss Quesadas, I made quite a pretty penny from both Hearst and Pulitzer writing about Sir Crane Launcelot saving his damsel in distress. The least I owe you is dinner and drinks — as I recall you like gin — at Pete’s Tavern. After the rally?
Margharita: Very well. And its gin straight.
(Later that evening at Pete’s Tavern. As the two are sitting down, Crane is greeted by a patron.)
William Sydney Porter: Crane! Last time I saw you here you were burning manuscripts of Maggie to stay warm in your cold water flat.
Crane: Oh, Henry. Good to see you.
(softly, winking at Porter who glances at Margharita)
Luckily the good sales of Red Badge have earned me some new fans.
(loudly) Waiter, Gilbeys and Porterhouse for myself and the lady.
So Porter, what are you writing in your gloomy cubby hole?
Porter: (addressing Crane and Margharita) It’s a story about two lovers who each give the other their prized possession.
Crane: (taking a butter knife and pretending to cut his hair) Gwendolyn, a lock of the starving poet’s hair for you.
Margharita: (tittering) And here is my handkerchief for you to wipe away your crocodile tears.
(Crane takes the handkerchief and stuffs it in his mouth, pretending he can’t speak).
Margharita: Much better! Hearst will make that a headline: “Crane rendered mute. Oh, and war declared on Germany.”
(sipping her Gilbeys) Mr. Crane, why have you invited me here?
Crane (removing the handerchief) : As you may know, senorita Quesadas, I am making a moving picture. And I need you as an actress. Starring the “Pearl of the Antilles.”
Margharita: (blushing) Me, an actress?
Crane: Yes, indeed. Our daring flight from the Casa de Recogidas is at the very heart of the story.
Margharita: Haven’t you gotten enough glory from that escapade?
Crane: Hardly. Anyway only you and I know the real story.
Margharita: The real story?
Crane: Of course. As only you and I know, it was I who was jailed with the prostitutes and you who freed me.
Crane: Well, Crane has been known to sell his soul for a handsome advance on a novel.
Anyway, you will again dress as a man—fake mustache and all—as you did in the cabana before departing on the French yacht. And I will be dressed as the woman.
Margharita: (lauging) You the senorita?
Crane: I’m told I can be a bit of a dandy. (stroking his hair). I think I make a cute girl.
Margharita: And what will happen in the cabana?
Crane: Shant give away the plot. But anyway film audiences today are crazy for that kind of stuff.
Margharita: While you would make a fine cherub, I will not be your actress. Why else did you invite me?
Crane: I come as a representative of the press to interview you. First question. Are you General Calixto Garcia’s mistress?
Margharita: You are an upfront boy. Garica is one of the greatest heroes in all Cuban history. He has been imprisoned twice and tortured for our cause. He is the father of our revolution.
And yes, we have made love. Or, as you Greenwich Village bohemians are saying, had sex. But I am not his mistress.
Crane: (blushing) My, my, you are a New Woman. But Garcia is 62 and you not yet 22.
Margharita: Mr. Crane, how little you know of women . . . or sex.
Calixto has the machismo of men half is age. And when he takes me bareback riding in the jungle on his horse, Libre, . . . oh, Mr. Crane, oh, Mr. Crane.
And if I choose I close my eyes and think of the many photographs I have when he was a young soldier. Leading his men into battle, his machete raised above his head.
But, understand Mr. Crane, I am not his mistress.
And what of your wife Cora?
Crane: (blushing and stammering) Well you see . . . Cora and I . . . well we’ve know each other for every. Back when we were growing up in New Jersey . . . we are like pals. Really like brother and sister . . .we have an understanding.
Margharita: Mr. Crane, have you ever been in love?
Crane: (startled) Yes, once. Her name was Nellie Crouse. I only met her twice, but I wrote her seven letters.
Dear me, how much I getting to admire graveyards—the calm unfretting unhopeing [sic] end of things –serene absence of passion—obliviousness to sin—ignorant of the accursed golden hopes that flame at night and make a man run his legs off and then in the daylight of experience turn out to be ingenious traps for the imagination. If there is a joy of living I cant find it. The future? The fuure is blue with obligations—new trials—conflicts. It was a rare old wine the gods brewed for mortals. Flagons of despair –
And the last one.
Really by this time I should have recovered enough to be able to write you a sane letter, but I cannot—my pen is dead. I am simply struggling with a life that is more than a mouthful of dust to him. Yours sincerely, Stephen Crane
Margharita: Quite histrionic. Did she write back?
(Crane wincing. Nods no)
Crane: She inspired Maggie, Margharita. Its really a book about love.
Margharita: With not a bit of sex. Stephen, I’ve noticed you never write about sex. Or is that your style again. First you write about something, then you live it.
Crane: Very perceptive senorita. I suppose my next novel—I mean movie—will have to be only about making love.
You remind me of Cleopatra.
Margharita: Why Cleopatra?
Crane: Besides her beauty, her self possession. And her mightiness.
Margharita: And I suppose you fancy yourself Marc Antony?
Crane: (musing) Only because I like that he trumped Julius Caesar. When will I see you next?
Margharita: Call me. (giving him her number). You know, since I’ve been in New York I am just about addicted to talking on the telephone.
Crane: Ha. So the New Woman is not much different from the old.