After the Cuban War, Crane and Cora moved to the English countryside where they rented Brede Manor or Brede Place, an ancient demense in Sussex, an enormous house, with high stone walls and Gothic windows. There they befriended major English literary figures of the day (some of whom Crane had already known): Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) Ford Maddox Ford (1873 – 1939) Henry James (1843 – 1916) H.G. Wells (1866 – 1943)
Crane is his in office. He is reading over two letters received from Margharita in Spain.
Dear Stevie, my obedient slave!
I received your letter. Yes, yes, yes. I also miss you terribly. Your Queen needs her Pharoah’ s Hopesh. I shouldn’t tell you this but I’ve looked at the film we made in secret. In my bed. I become as wet as the Nile.
I can barely wait for you to come to Spain. Together we will make Birth of Nation. You will love Madrid. The “the Generation of ’98” are visionaries and revolutionaries.
Your Maggie, Your Coqui, Your Cleo
I received your latest letter. It was wonderful, but letters are such dry substitutes for the flesh. I know you are “giving your last measure of devotion” to come to Spain.
As I wrote last letter, it is so grand here. Oh, I met up again with Pablo Picasso. Stephen, he’s still young but will be the artistic genius of the 20th century. Don’t mind this, but I showed him just a portion of my film. He saw in it, “compressed eros.” He even did a few sketches he said the film inspired. They remind me of you.
Please come when you can. We will give birth to Birth. And as I told you before, yes, by all means invite Cora. I’ve told you I am not your mistress. Oh, letters are such dry substitutes for the flesh.
ps I am also including a brief note. If anyone should ever ask about Picasso’s sketches, show them this:
Dear Mr. Stephen Crane,
I hope you have returned safely to New York. After I left Havana, I went directly to Spain, where I am now.
I never had the chance to properly thank you and Mr. Hearst for arranging my escape. As a token of my appreciation, I am sending you sketches done here in Barcelona. They were done by a very promising young painter named Pablo Picasso. His work already sells well. He has also signed them. In the future, they may become very valuable.
Senorita Margharita Quesadas
(Cora knocks. Crane puts the letter away.)
Crane: (coughing) Cora, it’s so grand to be here. To be with all our friends. And my creative juices are spouting again. But my cough. And my health. The doctors think it might be tuberculosis.
(Cora is quiet)
But, also, I can’t get out of my mind what Davis said about Black and Blue. Too much pageantry, too much fife and drum, too many banners unfurling, too many Gattlings. I did let Teddy talk me into doing many of those scenes his way. I knew that his backing would make the movie a smash hit.
It’s missing just what Teddy implied he didn’t like about Red Badge: “I did not see [in Cuba] any sign among the fighting men, whether wounded or unwounded, of the very complicated emotions assigned to their kind by some of the realistic modern novelists who have written about battles.” [from The Rough Riders]
And, as for the black troopers, do I really care about them or was I just using them?
And when I had myself charging up the Hill. As implausible as Johnnie’s stunts in “This Majestic Lie” As if I was Johnnie. I am worried it will all end up like what the correspondent says of Johnnie: “If Johnnie was to end his life and leave a little book about it no one cared–least of all Johnnie and the admiral.”
Cora: Stephen, stop being so self pitying. Your little books have been read by millions.
As for Black and Blue, it has all the defects and grandeur of its creator. The Roosevelt parts are your fawning for literary fame at the expense of your art. On San Juan Hill is you the absurd and flimsy egoist.
And the parts with the black troopers, your daring, your genius your newnesss. What was that strange term, Teddy said, your postmodernness. And that part of you compelled to tell the truth.
Crane: As usual you are right. And I’ve written another good one Spitzbergen Tales. I rake imperialism over the coals.
Crane: And also “Upturned Face” Here’s part of it:
“O, Father, our friend has sunk in the deep waters of death, but his spirit has leaped toward Thee as the bubble arises from the lips of the drowning. Perceive, we beseech, O, Father, the little flying bubble and — “
Lean, although husky and ashamed, had suffered no hesitation up to this point, but he stopped with a hopeless feeling and looked at the corpse.
The adjutant moved uneasily. “And from Thy superb heights — “ he began, and then he, too, came to an end.
“And from Thy superb heights,” said Lean.
The adjutant suddenly remembered a phrase in the back part of the Spitzbergen burial service, and he exploited it with the triumphant manner of a man who has recalled everything and can go on.
“Oh, God, have mercy — “
“Oh, God, have mercy — “ said Lean.
“‘Mercy,'” repeated the adjutant, in a quick failure.
“‘Mercy,'” said Lean. And then he was moved by some violence of feeling,
for he turned suddenly upon his two men and tigerishly said: “Throw the dirt in.”
(Cora is quiet for a moment.)
Cora: Stevie, I will be at your side no matter what.
(cheerfully) I’ve been re-reading some of your Spanish War stories. I know you don’t think of yourself as political but you’ve really caught some of the zeitgeist, as the Viennese say.
I know you don’t like Bryan. But in “Virtue in War” you’ve dramatized populism. Lige, that farmer, joins the army and goes down to Cuba. His Major Gates is a former manager at Standard Oil Corporation — as immovable and impersonal as an obelisk in Central Park. And Lige’s story is usurped.
Just like when Bryan was forced to spend the war in Tampa with his Silver Regiment. It’s political allegory. As the populist Tom Watson said in ’98: “The Spanish War finished us. The blare of the bugle drowned out the voice of the Reformer. The privileged classes all profit by this war.”
Crane: Well, Bryan’s not so bad. Just a cowardly lion.
Cora: And you are downright prescient in The Clan of No-Name. When Monola the Cuban rebel boy both loses his head in the jungle and the hand of Margharita who drops him for a rich American businessman. Margharita sells her Cuban sugar cane to the highest bidder. It’s the failure of the Cuban revolution.
Crane: Yes, that machete. And the hand of Margharita. . .
Cora: And The Second Generation (from the original Saturday Evening Post with illustrations) is better than you think. When that dandy socialite Caspar Cadogan goes down to Cuba to please his Senator father, “the Skowmulligan war-horse.”
Crane: Let me guess, you think Caspar is supposed to be “queer” as they say.
Cora: No I don’t. But I think he’s a hero. Why, Caspar sees through all the war rot. He refuses to re-enlist. He doesn’t like the army.
Crane: Hmm, Caspar as a pacifist hero. More courageous than the unnamed youth in Red Badge.
I’ve been thinking, Cora. You know, you’ve probably read every word I’ve written. It’s a term I’d hate to impose upon you, but are you my muse?
Cora: Well, of course, silly boy. It’s been my pleasure reading every vowel and syllable – -and watching some film scenes — of the inimitable, and infuriating, Mr. Stephen Crane. Writing is how you express your love and I’ve felt it with every word.
I remember when you were a shy and awkward cadet back at Claverack Academy. And you thought the only way you could win the hearts of the girls (and maybe more) was by sending them verse. Especially me. The same way you tried to impress me with your baseball playing at Syracuse.
Crane: Ugh, only one semester.
Cora: But understand, you foolish artists have it all wrong about muses.
Crane: We do?
Cora: You think you cast some enchanting spell over us. But of course it is we who hold all the power. It’s like Yeats’ poem, Leda and the Swan You think you are the swan and we Leda. But it’s quite the reverse. We are sending you our thoughts telephatically and you are merely dictating. Our scribes.
Crane: So it was you who wrote Maggie. And Red Badge.
Cora: Precisely, Bartelby [Melville’s notoriously idle scrivener]
Crane: They are masterpieces.
Cora: Yes, I am your muse. Of course, I know and accept that you’ve had other muses. I am not the only muse in the world. Paradise is to love many things with a passion.
(Cora shows Crane Picasso’s sketches)
Cora: Stephen. These were lying downstairs. What exactly are they?
Crane: Oh, uh, they are nothing. Quite odd that girl sent them. Here, read the accompanying letter.
(Cora reads the letter)
They are from Margarita Quesadas. That Cuba girl who Hearst paid me to free from jail in Havana. I guess she went straight to Spain and met some chap, Pablo Icasso or Picasso or something. Quite frankly, I think the sketches are quite pedestrian. Oh my, that girl was insufferable. The whole time in jail talking my ear off about Cuba Libre.
Cora: Remember when I said I want us to go to Spain together. I still do.
Crane: Yes, yes, I remember.
Cora: I want to meet Picasso. Word is already spreading he will be the genius of the 20th century. And I very much want to meet Margharita. The most beautiful girl in Iberia, I’ve heard. Fiery and rebellious. You know, when it comes to Margharita, there’s a certain side of me you don’t know that much about.
Crane: (coughing) If my health allows . . .
Cora: Yes, let’s go. And you shall make a movie about our adventure. This time starring Cora-patra.
Crane: My darling Cora. Who has been at my side the whole time. And read every word. Promise me one thing, if I can’t go, you will go to Spain without me. And bring me in your heart.
Cora: I will. And bring you in my heart. My red badge of courage.