But I can’t have my hero killed, naturally, as this is a first-person story, so I pass the torch to another, one of the hero’s friends, an English officer.

     This man, as the hero discovers later, is murdered for the kubanka and the kubanka is recovered by the enemy while the hero sleeps in a hut of a muzjik beside the trail.

     The suspense up to here and ever farther is simple. You’re worried over the hero, naturally. And you want to know, what’s better, why a hat should cause all this trouble. That in itself is plenty reason for writing a story.

     Now while the hero sleeps in the loft, three or four Russian Reds come in and argue over the money they’ve taken from the dead Englishman, giving the hero this news without the hero being on the scene.


     The hat sits in the center of the table. There it is, another death to its name. Why?

     So they discover the hero’s horse in the barn and come back looking for the hero. Stuart upsets a lamp in the fight, the hut burns but he cannot rescue the hat. It’s gone.

     Score nine men for the hat. But this isn’t an end in itself. Far from it. If I merely went ahead and said that the hat was worth a couple hundred kopeks, the reader would get mad as hell after reading all this suspense and sudden death. No, something’s got to be done about that hat, something startling.

     What’s the most startling thing I can think of? The empire connected with the fate of the kubanka. So the Russian Empire begins to come into it more and more.

     The allies want to set the Czar back on the throne, thinking that will save them later grief from the Reds. Germany is pressing the Western front and Russia must be made to bear its share.

     But I can’t save Russia by this hat. Therefore I’ll have to destroy Russia by it. And what destroyed it? The Czar, of course. Or rather his death.

     The Czech army moves on Ekaterinburg, slowly because they’re not interested so much in that town. They could move faster if they wanted. This for a feeling of studied futility in the end.

     They can’t find the Czar when they get there. No one knows where the Czar is or even if he’s alive.

     This must be solved. Stuart finds the hat and solves it.

     He sees a Red wearing a kubanka. That’s strange because Cossacks wear kubankas and Reds don’t. Of all the hats in Russia this one must stand out, so I make the wrong man wear it.

     Stuart recovers the kubanka when this man challenges him. He recognizes the fellow as one of the Englishman’s murderers. In a scrap, seconded by a sergeant to even up the odds, Stuart kills three men.

     Score twelve for one secondhand hat. Now about here the reader’s patience is tried and weary. He’s had enough of this. He’s still curious but the thing can’t go any farther. He won’t have it.

     That’s the same principle used in conversation. You’ve got to know enough to shut up before you start boring your listeners. Always stop talking while they’re still interested.


Magic out of a Hat continued...

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