Chapter II finds me some months later at home again.
“Do you remember that joke about the rats in one of your letters?” said Celia one evening.
“Yes. You never told me if you liked it.”
“I simply loved it. You aren’t going to waste it, are you?”
“If you simply loved it, it wasn’t wasted.”
“But I want everybody else—Couldn’t you use it in the Revue?”
I was supposed to be writing a Revue at this time for a certain impresario. I wasn’t getting on very fast, because whenever I suggested a scene to him, he either said, “Oh, that’s been done,” which killed it, or else he said, “Oh, but that’s never been done,” which killed it even more completely.
“Good idea,” I said to Celia. “We’ll have a Trench Scene.”
I suggested it to the impresario when next I saw him.
“Oh, that’s been done,” he said.
“Mine will be quite different from anybody else’s,” I said firmly.
He brightened up a little.
“All right, try it,” he said.
I seemed to have discovered the secret of successful revue-writing.
The Trench Scene was written. It was written round the Joke, whose bright beams, like a perfect jewel in a perfect setting—However, I said all that to Celia at the time. She was just going to have said it herself, she told me.
So far, so good. But a month later the Revue collapsed. The impresario and I agreed upon many things—as, for instance, that the War would be a long one, and that Hindenburg was no fool—but there were two points upon which we could never quite agree: (1) What was funny, and (2) which of us was writing the Revue. So, with mutual expressions of goodwill, and hopes that one day we might write a tragedy together, we parted.
That ended the Revue; it ended the Trench Scene; and, for the moment, it ended the Joke.
Chapter III finds the war over and Celia still at it.
“You haven’t got that Joke in yet.”
She had just read an article of mine called “Autumn in a Country Vicarage.”
“It wouldn’t go in there very well,” I said.
“It would go in anywhere where there were rats. There might easily be rats in a vicarage.”
“Not in this one.”
“You talk about ‘poor as a church mouse.’”
“I am an artist,” I said, thumping my heart and forehead and other seats of the emotions. “I don’t happen to see rats there, and if I don’t see them I can’t write about them. Anyhow, they wouldn’t be secular rats, like the ones I made my joke about.”
“I don’t mind whether the rats are secular or circular,” said Celia, “but do get them in soon.”
Well, I tried. I really did try, but for months I couldn’t get those rats in. It was a near thing sometimes, and I would think that I had them, but at the last moment they would whisk off and back into their holes again. I even wrote an article about “Cooking in the Great War,” feeling that that would surely tempt them, but they were not to be drawn....