"Adventure," said the successful author, "should be lived before it is written."
We were sitting around the little club room just after the business meeting, and the conversation had of course closed around Mark Lewis's latest short story. Someone had asked Mark where he got his ideas, and Mark, always willing to talk of himself, had launched into what might be called a lecture on his success.
Mark was an interesting talker, and one forgave him his usual song of praise when his monologue was spiced with interesting anecdotes of other people. Mark had just told us how to write short stories, as though there were the slightest possibility that one of us duffers might get the urge. Since we're all dyed-in-the-wool businessmen whose romances consist of the wife, the children, and a flower garden, with perhaps a drop of home-made wine occasionally, the lecture, as a lecture, didn't greatly appeal to us.
"But look here, Mark," Fred Clarke protested. "Practically all of your stories are horror tales, murders and mysteries. And we know the most horrible thing that ever happened to you was that you missed the five fifteen one night and had to take a taxi home."
"Nevertheless," Mark answered in his most pompous manner, "I live every one of those stories first. You'd be surprised at the number of times I've murdered each one of you fellows."
"Murdered us ?" I gasped in astonishment.
"Exactly. For instance. Mallory, when you were reading the minutes of last week's meeting tonight, I noticed that that boar's head over your desk had slipped a little. Immediately, in my mind, I decided that you would have to return to this room after we had left, perhaps to steal Garrison's priceless collection of cavalry pistols. The boar's head fell on yours, the tusk pierced your brain, and you were found dead the next morning by the porter. Another mystery."
I looked at the boar's head and shuddered. Decidedly, it was not a pleasant way to die, and I could see that the damned thing had slipped a trifle. "And do you mean to say," I asked, "that by mentally putting your friends through such accidents and ordeals, you create the stories and then write them up?"
"That's it. Of course it would be lots better for the things to actually happen. I don't mean, you know, that I'd like to see you fellows all murdered just to give me material for stories." Mark was trying to be humorous now. "But you can write up an adventure a lot better if you actually see it or are in it. Without that, it isn't just a case of sitting down and slapping out a lot of words. Before I can do that, I've got to construct the whole thing in my mind, and most important of all, I've got to get excited about it myself. And I don't think anybody could get upset over the murder of someone who doesn't exist; therefore, when I want a murder or a suicide, I get you fellows to do it for me."
He smiled triumphantly, but I could see the other men were as nettled as I was. Of course, what went on in Mark's head couldn't harm us, but nevertheless, it is uncomfortable to learn that a fellow club member, sitting alongside you, smoking the same brand of cigars, may be plotting your death in any number of ghastly ways. If Mark wrote love stories, now, romances with lovely ladies in the South Seas, I bet we'd all be willing to figure in the tales, but this murder business was not so hot.
"Well, all I can say is it's a hell of a way to mistreat us," said Garrison. "You can pretend all the adventures you want, so far as you yourself are concerned, but I'd just as soon be left out of the horrors if you don't mind, even though they aren't actual."
Mark snorted. "Nonsense," he said. "After all, the next best thing to actually living an adventure, is to create it in your own mind, and it makes it much more realistic when you place people you know in the middle of the experience."
Seeing our blank faces, he expanded, became more animated.
"For instance," he continued, "did any of you see Fitch standing at the French window here tonight, just before the meeting ? He's worried about something, I think. Anyway, he stood over here, like this—" Mark walked to the window through which came the faint hum of the street below—"and I thought. Fitch's worried about something. The ghost of a wicked past is rising up from the grave, and he is haunted by a great Fear. Fear, you see, is with a capital letter. Then I thought, he's thinking of his past misdeeds, when suddenly he hears a noise behind him. He savings around suddenly," Mark screwed his fat body around in an attempt to depict a startled reaction—"and sees something large and vague approaching him. He draws back in horror as he feels a damp hand touching him. His foot slips!"
Mark Lewis's story ended in a wild scream as his foot actually slipped on the polished floor. His arms whirled like windmills as he attempted to recover his balance. Then we caught a last glimpse of his terrorised face, and the window was empty. From the street below came a horrible sound of something soft and heavy landing. An ugly, grisly sound. A sound which found its echo in the sharply drawn breath of the men who had seen Mark Lewis actually live—and die—an adventure, THE ADVENTURE, of which he would never write.