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Title: Nona Vincent
Author: James, Henry
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nona Vincent" ***

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Transcribed from 1893 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org.  Proofed by Nina Hall, Mohua Sen, Bridie, Francine
Smith and David.



                              NONA VINCENT.


I.


“I WONDERED whether you wouldn’t read it to me,” said Mrs. Alsager, as
they lingered a little near the fire before he took leave.  She looked
down at the fire sideways, drawing her dress away from it and making her
proposal with a shy sincerity that added to her charm.  Her charm was
always great for Allan Wayworth, and the whole air of her house, which
was simply a sort of distillation of herself, so soothing, so beguiling
that he always made several false starts before departure.  He had spent
some such good hours there, had forgotten, in her warm, golden
drawing-room, so much of the loneliness and so many of the worries of his
life, that it had come to be the immediate answer to his longings, the
cure for his aches, the harbour of refuge from his storms.  His
tribulations were not unprecedented, and some of his advantages, if of a
usual kind, were marked in degree, inasmuch as he was very clever for one
so young, and very independent for one so poor.  He was eight-and-twenty,
but he had lived a good deal and was full of ambitions and curiosities
and disappointments.  The opportunity to talk of some of these in
Grosvenor Place corrected perceptibly the immense inconvenience of
London.  This inconvenience took for him principally the line of
insensibility to Allan Wayworth’s literary form.  He had a literary form,
or he thought he had, and her intelligent recognition of the circumstance
was the sweetest consolation Mrs. Alsager could have administered.  She
was even more literary and more artistic than he, inasmuch as he could
often work off his overflow (this was his occupation, his profession),
while the generous woman, abounding in happy thoughts, but unedited and
unpublished, stood there in the rising tide like the nymph of a fountain
in the plash of the marble basin.

The year before, in a big newspapery house, he had found himself next her
at dinner, and they had converted the intensely material hour into a
feast of reason.  There was no motive for her asking him to come to see
her but that she liked him, which it was the more agreeable to him to
perceive as he perceived at the same time that she was exquisite.  She
was enviably free to act upon her likings, and it made Wayworth feel less
unsuccessful to infer that for the moment he happened to be one of them.
He kept the revelation to himself, and indeed there was nothing to turn
his head in the kindness of a kind woman.  Mrs. Alsager occupied so
completely the ground of possession that she would have been condemned to
inaction had it not been for the principle of giving.  Her husband, who
was twenty years her senior, a massive personality in the City and a
heavy one at home (wherever he stood, or even sat, he was monumental),
owned half a big newspaper and the whole of a great many other things.
He admired his wife, though she bore no children, and liked her to have
other tastes than his, as that seemed to give a greater acreage to their
life.  His own appetites went so far he could scarcely see the boundary,
and his theory was to trust her to push the limits of hers, so that
between them the pair should astound by their consumption.  His ideas
were prodigiously vulgar, but some of them had the good fortune to be
carried out by a person of perfect delicacy.  Her delicacy made her play
strange tricks with them, but he never found this out.  She attenuated
him without his knowing it, for what he mainly thought was that he had
aggrandised _her_.  Without her he really would have been bigger still,
and society, breathing more freely, was practically under an obligation
to her which, to do it justice, it acknowledged by an attitude of
mystified respect.  She felt a tremulous need to throw her liberty and
her leisure into the things of the soul—the most beautiful things she
knew.  She found them, when she gave time to seeking, in a hundred
places, and particularly in a dim and sacred region—the region of active
pity—over her entrance into which she dropped curtains so thick that it
would have been an impertinence to lift them.  But she cultivated other
beneficent passions, and if she cherished the dream of something fine the
moments at which it most seemed to her to come true were when she saw
beauty plucked flower-like in the garden of art.  She loved the perfect
work—she had the artistic chord.  This chord could vibrate only to the
touch of another, so that appreciation, in her spirit, had the added
intensity of regret.  She could understand the joy of creation, and she
thought it scarcely enough to be told that she herself created happiness.
She would have liked, at any rate, to choose her way; but it was just
here that her liberty failed her.  She had not the voice—she had only the
vision.  The only envy she was capable of was directed to those who, as
she said, could do something.

As everything in her, however, turned to gentleness, she was admirably
hospitable to such people as a class.  She believed Allan Wayworth could
do something, and she liked to hear him talk of the ways in which he
meant to show it.  He talked of them almost to no one else—she spoiled
him for other listeners.  With her fair bloom and her quiet grace she was
indeed an ideal public, and if she had ever confided to him that she
would have liked to scribble (she had in fact not mentioned it to a
creature), he would have been in a perfect position for asking her why a
woman whose face had so much expression should not have felt that she
achieved.  How in the world could she express better?  There was less
than that in Shakespeare and Beethoven.  She had never been more generous
than when, in compliance with her invitation, which I have recorded, he
brought his play to read to her.  He had spoken of it to her before, and
one dark November afternoon, when her red fireside was more than ever an
escape from the place and the season, he had broken out as he came
in—“I’ve done it, I’ve done it!”  She made him tell her all about it—she
took an interest really minute and asked questions delightfully apt.  She
had spoken from the first as if he were on the point of being acted,
making him jump, with her participation, all sorts of dreary intervals.
She liked the theatre as she liked all the arts of expression, and he had
known her to go all the way to Paris for a particular performance.  Once
he had gone with her—the time she took that stupid Mrs. Mostyn.  She had
been struck, when he sketched it, with the subject of his drama, and had
spoken words that helped him to believe in it.  As soon as he had rung
down his curtain on the last act he rushed off to see her, but after that
he kept the thing for repeated last touches.  Finally, on Christmas day,
by arrangement, she sat there and listened to it.  It was in three acts
and in prose, but rather of the romantic order, though dealing with
contemporary English life, and he fondly believed that it showed the hand
if not of the master, at least of the prize pupil.

Allan Wayworth had returned to England, at two-and-twenty, after a
miscellaneous continental education; his father, the correspondent, for
years, in several foreign countries successively, of a conspicuous London
journal, had died just after this, leaving his mother and her two other
children, portionless girls, to subsist on a very small income in a very
dull German town.  The young man’s beginnings in London were difficult,
and he had aggravated them by his dislike of journalism.  His father’s
connection with it would have helped him, but he was (insanely, most of
his friends judged—the great exception was always Mrs. Alsager)
_intraitable_ on the question of form.  Form—in his sense—was not
demanded by English newspapers, and he couldn’t give it to them in
_their_ sense.  The demand for it was not great anywhere, and Wayworth
spent costly weeks in polishing little compositions for magazines that
didn’t pay for style.  The only person who paid for it was really Mrs.
Alsager: she had an infallible instinct for the perfect.  She paid in her
own way, and if Allan Wayworth had been a wage-earning person it would
have made him feel that if he didn’t receive his legal dues his palm was
at least occasionally conscious of a gratuity.  He had his limitations,
his perversities, but the finest parts of him were the most alive, and he
was restless and sincere.  It is however the impression he produced on
Mrs. Alsager that most concerns us: she thought him not only remarkably
good-looking but altogether original.  There were some usual bad things
he would never do—too many prohibitive puddles for him in the short cut
to success.

For himself, he had never been so happy as since he had seen his way, as
he fondly believed, to some sort of mastery of the scenic idea, which
struck him as a very different matter now that he looked at it from
within.  He had had his early days of contempt for it, when it seemed to
him a jewel, dim at the best, hidden in a dunghill, a taper burning low
in an air thick with vulgarity.  It was hedged about with sordid
approaches, it was not worth sacrifice and suffering.  The man of
letters, in dealing with it, would have to put off all literature, which
was like asking the bearer of a noble name to forego his immemorial
heritage.  Aspects change, however, with the point of view: Wayworth had
waked up one morning in a different bed altogether.  It is needless here
to trace this accident to its source; it would have been much more
interesting to a spectator of the young man’s life to follow some of the
consequences.  He had been made (as he felt) the subject of a special
revelation, and he wore his hat like a man in love.  An angel had taken
him by the hand and guided him to the shabby door which opens, it
appeared, into an interior both splendid and austere.  The scenic idea
was magnificent when once you had embraced it—the dramatic form had a
purity which made some others look ingloriously rough.  It had the high
dignity of the exact sciences, it was mathematical and architectural.  It
was full of the refreshment of calculation and construction, the
incorruptibility of line and law.  It was bare, but it was erect, it was
poor, but it was noble; it reminded him of some sovereign famed for
justice who should have lived in a palace despoiled.  There was a fearful
amount of concession in it, but what you kept had a rare intensity.  You
were perpetually throwing over the cargo to save the ship, but what a
motion you gave her when you made her ride the waves—a motion as rhythmic
as the dance of a goddess!  Wayworth took long London walks and thought
of these things—London poured into his ears the mighty hum of its
suggestion.  His imagination glowed and melted down material, his
intentions multiplied and made the air a golden haze.  He saw not only
the thing he should do, but the next and the next and the next; the
future opened before him and he seemed to walk on marble slabs.  The more
he tried the dramatic form the more he loved it, the more he looked at it
the more he perceived in it.  What he perceived in it indeed he now
perceived everywhere; if he stopped, in the London dusk, before some
flaring shop-window, the place immediately constituted itself behind
footlights, became a framed stage for his figures.  He hammered at these
figures in his lonely lodging, he shaped them and he shaped their
tabernacle; he was like a goldsmith chiselling a casket, bent over with
the passion for perfection.  When he was neither roaming the streets with
his vision nor worrying his problem at his table, he was exchanging ideas
on the general question with Mrs. Alsager, to whom he promised details
that would amuse her in later and still happier hours.  Her eyes were
full of tears when he read her the last words of the finished work, and
she murmured, divinely—

“And now—to get it done, to get it done!”

“Yes, indeed—to get it done!” Wayworth stared at the fire, slowly rolling
up his type-copy.  “But that’s a totally different part of the business,
and altogether secondary.”

“But of course you want to be acted?”

“Of course I do—but it’s a sudden descent.  I want to intensely, but I’m
sorry I want to.”

“It’s there indeed that the difficulties begin,” said Mrs. Alsager, a
little off her guard.

“How can you say that?  It’s there that they end!”

“Ah, wait to see where they end!”

“I mean they’ll now be of a totally different order,” Wayworth explained.
“It seems to me there can be nothing in the world more difficult than to
write a play that will stand an all-round test, and that in comparison
with them the complications that spring up at this point are of an
altogether smaller kind.”

“Yes, they’re not inspiring,” said Mrs. Alsager; “they’re discouraging,
because they’re vulgar.  The other problem, the working out of the thing
itself, is pure art.”

“How well you understand everything!”  The young man had got up,
nervously, and was leaning against the chimney-piece with his back to the
fire and his arms folded.  The roll of his copy, in his fist, was
squeezed into the hollow of one of them.  He looked down at Mrs. Alsager,
smiling gratefully, and she answered him with a smile from eyes still
charmed and suffused.  “Yes, the vulgarity will begin now,” he presently
added.

“You’ll suffer dreadfully.”

“I shall suffer in a good cause.”

“Yes, giving _that_ to the world!  You must leave it with me, I must read
it over and over,” Mrs. Alsager pleaded, rising to come nearer and draw
the copy, in its cover of greenish-grey paper, which had a generic
identity now to him, out of his grasp.  “Who in the world will do it?—who
in the world _can_?” she went on, close to him, turning over the leaves.
Before he could answer she had stopped at one of the pages; she turned
the book round to him, pointing out a speech.  “That’s the most beautiful
place—those lines are a perfection.”  He glanced at the spot she
indicated, and she begged him to read them again—he had read them
admirably before.  He knew them by heart, and, closing the book while she
held the other end of it, he murmured them over to her—they had indeed a
cadence that pleased him—watching, with a facetious complacency which he
hoped was pardonable, the applause in her face.  “Ah, who can utter such
lines as _that_?” Mrs. Alsager broke out; “whom can you find to do
_her_?”

“We’ll find people to do them all!”

“But not people who are worthy.”

“They’ll be worthy enough if they’re willing enough.  I’ll work with
them—I’ll grind it into them.”  He spoke as if he had produced twenty
plays.

“Oh, it will be interesting!” she echoed.

“But I shall have to find my theatre first.  I shall have to get a
manager to believe in me.”

“Yes—they’re so stupid!”

“But fancy the patience I shall want, and how I shall have to watch and
wait,” said Allan Wayworth.  “Do you see me hawking it about London?”

“Indeed I don’t—it would be sickening.”

“It’s what I shall have to do.  I shall be old before it’s produced.”

“I shall be old very soon if it isn’t!” Mrs. Alsager cried.  “I know one
or two of them,” she mused.

“Do you mean you would speak to them?”

“The thing is to get them to read it.  I could do that.”

“That’s the utmost I ask.  But it’s even for that I shall have to wait.”

She looked at him with kind sisterly eyes.  “You sha’n’t wait.”

“Ah, you dear lady!” Wayworth murmured.

“That is _you_ may, but _I_ won’t!  Will you leave me your copy?” she
went on, turning the pages again.

“Certainly; I have another.”  Standing near him she read to herself a
passage here and there; then, in her sweet voice, she read some of them
out.  “Oh, if _you_ were only an actress!” the young man exclaimed.

“That’s the last thing I am.  There’s no comedy in _me_!”

She had never appeared to Wayworth so much his good genius.  “Is there
any tragedy?” he asked, with the levity of complete confidence.

She turned away from him, at this, with a strange and charming laugh and
a “Perhaps that will be for you to determine!”  But before he could
disclaim such a responsibility she had faced him again and was talking
about Nona Vincent as if she had been the most interesting of their
friends and her situation at that moment an irresistible appeal to their
sympathy.  Nona Vincent was the heroine of the play, and Mrs. Alsager had
taken a tremendous fancy to her.  “I can’t _tell_ you how I like that
woman!” she exclaimed in a pensive rapture of credulity which could only
be balm to the artistic spirit.

“I’m awfully glad she lives a bit.  What I feel about her is that she’s a
good deal like _you_,” Wayworth observed.

Mrs. Alsager stared an instant and turned faintly red.  This was
evidently a view that failed to strike her; she didn’t, however, treat it
as a joke.  “I’m not impressed with the resemblance.  I don’t see myself
doing what she does.”

“It isn’t so much what she _does_,” the young man argued, drawing out his
moustache.

“But what she does is the whole point.  She simply tells her love—I
should never do that.”

“If you repudiate such a proceeding with such energy, why do you like her
for it?”

“It isn’t what I like her for.”

“What else, then?  That’s intensely characteristic.”

Mrs. Alsager reflected, looking down at the fire; she had the air of
having half-a-dozen reasons to choose from.  But the one she produced was
unexpectedly simple; it might even have been prompted by despair at not
finding others.  “I like her because _you_ made her!” she exclaimed with
a laugh, moving again away from her companion.

Wayworth laughed still louder.  “You made her a little yourself.  I’ve
thought of her as looking like you.”

“She ought to look much better,” said Mrs. Alsager.  “No, certainly, I
shouldn’t do what _she_ does.”

“Not even in the same circumstances?”

“I should never find myself in such circumstances.  They’re exactly your
play, and have nothing in common with such a life as mine.  However,”
Mrs. Alsager went on, “her behaviour was natural for _her_, and not only
natural, but, it seems to me, thoroughly beautiful and noble.  I can’t
sufficiently admire the talent and tact with which you make one accept
it, and I tell you frankly that it’s evident to me there must be a
brilliant future before a young man who, at the start, has been capable
of such a stroke as that.  Thank heaven I can admire Nona Vincent as
intensely as I feel that I don’t resemble her!”

“Don’t exaggerate that,” said Allan Wayworth.

“My admiration?”

“Your dissimilarity.  She has your face, your air, your voice, your
motion; she has many elements of your being.”

“Then she’ll damn your play!” Mrs. Alsager replied.  They joked a little
over this, though it was not in the tone of pleasantry that Wayworth’s
hostess soon remarked: “You’ve got your remedy, however: have her done by
the right woman.”

“Oh, have her ‘done’—have her ‘done’!” the young man gently wailed.

“I see what you mean, my poor friend.  What a pity, when it’s such a
magnificent part—such a chance for a clever serious girl!  Nona Vincent
is practically your play—it will be open to her to carry it far or to
drop it at the first corner.”

“It’s a charming prospect,” said Allan Wayworth, with sudden scepticism.
They looked at each other with eyes that, for a lurid moment, saw the
worst of the worst; but before they parted they had exchanged vows and
confidences that were dedicated wholly to the ideal.  It is not to be
supposed, however, that the knowledge that Mrs. Alsager would help him
made Wayworth less eager to help himself.  He did what he could and felt
that she, on her side, was doing no less; but at the end of a year he was
obliged to recognise that their united effort had mainly produced the
fine flower of discouragement.  At the end of a year the lustre had, to
his own eyes, quite faded from his unappreciated masterpiece, and he
found himself writing for a biographical dictionary little lives of
celebrities he had never heard of.  To be printed, anywhere and anyhow,
was a form of glory for a man so unable to be acted, and to be paid, even
at encyclopædic rates, had the consequence of making one resigned and
verbose.  He couldn’t smuggle style into a dictionary, but he could at
least reflect that he had done his best to learn from the drama that it
is a gross impertinence almost anywhere.  He had knocked at the door of
every theatre in London, and, at a ruinous expense, had multiplied
type-copies of _Nona Vincent_ to replace the neat transcripts that had
descended into the managerial abyss.  His play was not even declined—no
such flattering intimation was given him that it had been read.  What the
managers would do for Mrs. Alsager concerned him little today; the thing
that was relevant was that they would do nothing for _him_.  That
charming woman felt humbled to the earth, so little response had she had
from the powers on which she counted.  The two never talked about the
play now, but he tried to show her a still finer friendship, that she
might not think he felt she had failed him.  He still walked about London
with his dreams, but as months succeeded months and he left the year
behind him they were dreams not so much of success as of revenge.
Success seemed a colourless name for the reward of his patience;
something fiercely florid, something sanguinolent was more to the point.
His best consolation however was still in the scenic idea; it was not
till now that he discovered how incurably he was in love with it.  By the
time a vain second year had chafed itself away he cherished his fruitless
faculty the more for the obloquy it seemed to suffer.  He lived, in his
best hours, in a world of subjects and situations; he wrote another play
and made it as different from its predecessor as such a very good thing
could be.  It might be a very good thing, but when he had committed it to
the theatrical limbo indiscriminating fate took no account of the
difference.  He was at last able to leave England for three or four
months; he went to Germany to pay a visit long deferred to his mother and
sisters.

Shortly before the time he had fixed for his return he received from Mrs.
Alsager a telegram consisting of the words: “Loder wishes see you—putting
_Nona_ instant rehearsal.”  He spent the few hours before his departure
in kissing his mother and sisters, who knew enough about Mrs. Alsager to
judge it lucky this respectable married lady was not there—a relief,
however, accompanied with speculative glances at London and the morrow.
Loder, as our young man was aware, meant the new “Renaissance,” but
though he reached home in the evening it was not to this convenient
modern theatre that Wayworth first proceeded.  He spent a late hour with
Mrs. Alsager, an hour that throbbed with calculation.  She told him that
Mr. Loder was charming, he had simply taken up the play in its turn; he
had hopes of it, moreover, that on the part of a professional pessimist
might almost be qualified as ecstatic.  It had been cast, with a margin
for objections, and Violet Grey was to do the heroine.  She had been
capable, while he was away, of a good piece of work at that foggy old
playhouse the “Legitimate;” the piece was a clumsy _réchauffé_, but she
at least had been fresh.  Wayworth remembered Violet Grey—hadn’t he, for
two years, on a fond policy of “looking out,” kept dipping into the
London theatres to pick up prospective interpreters?  He had not picked
up many as yet, and this young lady at all events had never wriggled in
his net.  She was pretty and she was odd, but he had never prefigured her
as Nona Vincent, nor indeed found himself attracted by what he already
felt sufficiently launched in the profession to speak of as her artistic
personality.  Mrs. Alsager was different—she declared that she had been
struck not a little by some of her tones.  The girl was interesting in
the thing at the “Legitimate,” and Mr. Loder, who had his eye on her,
described her as ambitious and intelligent.  She wanted awfully to get
on—and some of those ladies were so lazy!  Wayworth was sceptical—he had
seen Miss Violet Grey, who was terribly itinerant, in a dozen theatres
but only in one aspect.  Nona Vincent had a dozen aspects, but only one
theatre; yet with what a feverish curiosity the young man promised
himself to watch the actress on the morrow!  Talking the matter over with
Mrs. Alsager now seemed the very stuff that rehearsal was made of.  The
near prospect of being acted laid a finger even on the lip of inquiry; he
wanted to go on tiptoe till the first night, to make no condition but
that they should speak his lines, and he felt that he wouldn’t so much as
raise an eyebrow at the scene-painter if he should give him an old oak
chamber.

He became conscious, the next day, that his danger would be other than
this, and yet he couldn’t have expressed to himself what it would be.
Danger was there, doubtless—danger was everywhere, in the world of art,
and still more in the world of commerce; but what he really seemed to
catch, for the hour, was the beating of the wings of victory.  Nothing
could undermine that, since it was victory simply to be acted.  It would
be victory even to be acted badly; a reflection that didn’t prevent him,
however, from banishing, in his politic optimism, the word “bad” from his
vocabulary.  It had no application, in the compromise of practice; it
didn’t apply even to his play, which he was conscious he had already
outlived and as to which he foresaw that, in the coming weeks, frequent
alarm would alternate, in his spirit, with frequent esteem.  When he went
down to the dusky daylit theatre (it arched over him like the temple of
fame) Mr. Loder, who was as charming as Mrs. Alsager had announced,
struck him as the genius of hospitality.  The manager began to explain
why, for so long, he had given no sign; but that was the last thing that
interested Wayworth now, and he could never remember afterwards what
reasons Mr. Loder had enumerated.  He liked, in the whole business of
discussion and preparation, even the things he had thought he should
probably dislike, and he revelled in those he had thought he should like.
He watched Miss Violet Grey that evening with eyes that sought to
penetrate her possibilities.  She certainly had a few; they were
qualities of voice and face, qualities perhaps even of intelligence; he
sat there at any rate with a fostering, coaxing attention, repeating over
to himself as convincingly as he could that she was not common—a
circumstance all the more creditable as the part she was playing seemed
to him desperately so.  He perceived that this was why it pleased the
audience; he divined that it was the part they enjoyed rather than the
actress.  He had a private panic, wondering how, if they liked _that_
form, they could possibly like his.  His form had now become quite an
ultimate idea to him.  By the time the evening was over some of Miss
Violet Grey’s features, several of the turns of her head, a certain
vibration of her voice, had taken their place in the same category.  She
_was_ interesting, she was distinguished; at any rate he had accepted
her: it came to the same thing.  But he left the theatre that night
without speaking to her—moved (a little even to his own mystification) by
an odd procrastinating impulse.  On the morrow he was to read his three
acts to the company, and then he should have a good deal to say; what he
felt for the moment was a vague indisposition to commit himself.
Moreover he found a slight confusion of annoyance in the fact that though
he had been trying all the evening to look at Nona Vincent in Violet
Grey’s person, what subsisted in his vision was simply Violet Grey in
Nona’s.  He didn’t wish to see the actress so directly, or even so simply
as that; and it had been very fatiguing, the effort to focus Nona both
through the performer and through the “Legitimate.”  Before he went to
bed that night he posted three words to Mrs. Alsager—“She’s not a bit
like it, but I dare say I can make her do.”

He was pleased with the way the actress listened, the next day, at the
reading; he was pleased indeed with many things, at the reading, and most
of all with the reading itself.  The whole affair loomed large to him and
he magnified it and mapped it out.  He enjoyed his occupation of the big,
dim, hollow theatre, full of the echoes of “effect” and of a queer smell
of gas and success—it all seemed such a passive canvas for his picture.
For the first time in his life he was in command of resources; he was
acquainted with the phrase, but had never thought he should know the
feeling.  He was surprised at what Loder appeared ready to do, though he
reminded himself that he must never show it.  He foresaw that there would
be two distinct concomitants to the artistic effort of producing a play,
one consisting of a great deal of anguish and the other of a great deal
of amusement.  He looked back upon the reading, afterwards, as the best
hour in the business, because it was then that the piece had most struck
him as represented.  What came later was the doing of others; but this,
with its imperfections and failures, was all his own.  The drama lived,
at any rate, for that hour, with an intensity that it was promptly to
lose in the poverty and patchiness of rehearsal; he could see its life
reflected, in a way that was sweet to him, in the stillness of the little
semi-circle of attentive and inscrutable, of water-proofed and
muddy-booted, actors.  Miss Violet Grey was the auditor he had most to
say to, and he tried on the spot, across the shabby stage, to let her
have the soul of her part.  Her attitude was graceful, but though she
appeared to listen with all her faculties her face remained perfectly
blank; a fact, however, not discouraging to Wayworth, who liked her
better for not being premature.  Her companions gave discernible signs of
recognising the passages of comedy; yet Wayworth forgave her even then
for being inexpressive.  She evidently wished before everything else to
be simply sure of what it was all about.

He was more surprised even than at the revelation of the scale on which
Mr. Loder was ready to proceed by the discovery that some of the actors
didn’t like their parts, and his heart sank as he asked himself what he
could possibly do with them if they were going to be so stupid.  This was
the first of his disappointments; somehow he had expected every
individual to become instantly and gratefully conscious of a rare
opportunity, and from the moment such a calculation failed he was at sea,
or mindful at any rate that more disappointments would come.  It was
impossible to make out what the manager liked or disliked; no judgment,
no comment escaped him; his acceptance of the play and his views about
the way it should be mounted had apparently converted him into a veiled
and shrouded figure.  Wayworth was able to grasp the idea that they would
all move now in a higher and sharper air than that of compliment and
confidence.  When he talked with Violet Grey after the reading he
gathered that she was really rather crude: what better proof of it could
there be than her failure to break out instantly with an expression of
delight about her great chance?  This reserve, however, had evidently
nothing to do with high pretensions; she had no wish to make him feel
that a person of her eminence was superior to easy raptures.  He guessed,
after a little, that she was puzzled and even somewhat frightened—to a
certain extent she had not understood.  Nothing could appeal to him more
than the opportunity to clear up her difficulties, in the course of the
examination of which he quickly discovered that, so far as she _had_
understood, she had understood wrong.  If she was crude it was only a
reason the more for talking to her; he kept saying to her “Ask me—ask me:
ask me everything you can think of.”

She asked him, she was perpetually asking him, and at the first
rehearsals, which were without form and void to a degree that made them
strike him much more as the death of an experiment than as the dawn of a
success, they threshed things out immensely in a corner of the stage,
with the effect of his coming to feel that at any rate she was in
earnest.  He felt more and more that his heroine was the keystone of his
arch, for which indeed the actress was very ready to take her.  But when
he reminded this young lady of the way the whole thing practically
depended on her she was alarmed and even slightly scandalised: she spoke
more than once as if that could scarcely be the right way to construct a
play—make it stand or fall by one poor nervous girl.  She was almost
morbidly conscientious, and in theory he liked her for this, though he
lost patience three or four times with the things she couldn’t do and the
things she could.  At such times the tears came to her eyes; but they
were produced by her own stupidity, she hastened to assure him, not by
the way he spoke, which was awfully kind under the circumstances.  Her
sincerity made her beautiful, and he wished to heaven (and made a point
of telling her so) that she could sprinkle a little of it over Nona.
Once, however, she was so touched and troubled that the sight of it
brought the tears for an instant to his own eyes; and it so happened
that, turning at this moment, he found himself face to face with Mr.
Loder.  The manager stared, glanced at the actress, who turned in the
other direction, and then smiling at Wayworth, exclaimed, with the humour
of a man who heard the gallery laugh every night:

“I say—I say!”

“What’s the matter?” Wayworth asked.

“I’m glad to see Miss Grey is taking such pains with you.”

“Oh, yes—she’ll turn me out!” said the young man, gaily.  He was quite
aware that it was apparent he was not superficial about Nona, and
abundantly determined, into the bargain, that the rehearsal of the piece
should not sacrifice a shade of thoroughness to any extrinsic
consideration.

Mrs. Alsager, whom, late in the afternoon, he used often to go and ask
for a cup of tea, thanking her in advance for the rest she gave him and
telling her how he found that rehearsal (as _they_ were doing it—it was a
caution!) took it out of one—Mrs. Alsager, more and more his good genius
and, as he repeatedly assured her, his ministering angel, confirmed him
in this superior policy and urged him on to every form of artistic
devotion.  She had, naturally, never been more interested than now in his
work; she wanted to hear everything about everything.  She treated him as
heroically fatigued, plied him with luxurious restoratives, made him
stretch himself on cushions and rose-leaves.  They gossipped more than
ever, by her fire, about the artistic life; he confided to her, for
instance, all his hopes and fears, all his experiments and anxieties, on
the subject of the representative of Nona.  She was immensely interested
in this young lady and showed it by taking a box again and again (she had
seen her half-a-dozen times already), to study her capacity through the
veil of her present part.  Like Allan Wayworth she found her encouraging
only by fits, for she had fine flashes of badness.  She was intelligent,
but she cried aloud for training, and the training was so absent that the
intelligence had only a fraction of its effect.  She was like a knife
without an edge—good steel that had never been sharpened; she hacked away
at her hard dramatic loaf, she couldn’t cut it smooth.



II.


“CERTAINLY my leading lady won’t make Nona much like _you_!” Wayworth one
day gloomily remarked to Mrs. Alsager.  There were days when the prospect
seemed to him awful.

“So much the better.  There’s no necessity for that.”

“I wish you’d train her a little—you could so easily,” the young man went
on; in response to which Mrs. Alsager requested him not to make such
cruel fun of her.  But she was curious about the girl, wanted to hear of
her character, her private situation, how she lived and where, seemed
indeed desirous to befriend her.  Wayworth might not have known much
about the private situation of Miss Violet Grey, but, as it happened, he
was able, by the time his play had been three weeks in rehearsal, to
supply information on such points.  She was a charming, exemplary person,
educated, cultivated, with highly modern tastes, an excellent musician.
She had lost her parents and was very much alone in the world, her only
two relations being a sister, who was married to a civil servant (in a
highly responsible post) in India, and a dear little old-fashioned aunt
(really a great-aunt) with whom she lived at Notting Hill, who wrote
children’s books and who, it appeared, had once written a Christmas
pantomime.  It was quite an artistic home—not on the scale of Mrs.
Alsager’s (to compare the smallest things with the greatest!) but
intensely refined and honourable.  Wayworth went so far as to hint that
it would be rather nice and human on Mrs. Alsager’s part to go there—they
would take it so kindly if she should call on them.  She had acted so
often on his hints that he had formed a pleasant habit of expecting it:
it made him feel so wisely responsible about giving them.  But this one
appeared to fall to the ground, so that he let the subject drop.  Mrs.
Alsager, however, went yet once more to the “Legitimate,” as he found by
her saying to him abruptly, on the morrow: “Oh, she’ll be very
good—she’ll be very good.”  When they said “she,” in these days, they
always meant Violet Grey, though they pretended, for the most part, that
they meant Nona Vincent.

“Oh yes,” Wayworth assented, “she wants so to!”

Mrs. Alsager was silent a moment; then she asked, a little
inconsequently, as if she had come back from a reverie: “Does she want to
_very_ much?”

“Tremendously—and it appears she has been fascinated by the part from the
first.”

“Why then didn’t she say so?”

“Oh, because she’s so funny.”

“She _is_ funny,” said Mrs. Alsager, musingly; and presently she added:
“She’s in love with you.”

Wayworth stared, blushed very red, then laughed out.  “What is there
funny in that?” he demanded; but before his interlocutress could satisfy
him on this point he inquired, further, how she knew anything about it.
After a little graceful evasion she explained that the night before, at
the “Legitimate,” Mrs. Beaumont, the wife of the actor-manager, had paid
her a visit in her box; which had happened, in the course of their brief
gossip, to lead to her remarking that she had never been “behind.”  Mrs.
Beaumont offered on the spot to take her round, and the fancy had seized
her to accept the invitation.  She had been amused for the moment, and in
this way it befell that her conductress, at her request, had introduced
her to Miss Violet Grey, who was waiting in the wing for one of her
scenes.  Mrs. Beaumont had been called away for three minutes, and during
this scrap of time, face to face with the actress, she had discovered the
poor girl’s secret.  Wayworth qualified it as a senseless thing, but
wished to know what had led to the discovery.  She characterised this
inquiry as superficial for a painter of the ways of women; and he
doubtless didn’t improve it by remarking profanely that a cat might look
at a king and that such things were convenient to know.  Even on this
ground, however, he was threatened by Mrs. Alsager, who contended that it
might not be a joking matter to the poor girl.  To this Wayworth, who now
professed to hate talking about the passions he might have inspired,
could only reply that he meant it couldn’t make a difference to Mrs.
Alsager.

“How in the world do you know what makes a difference to _me_?” this lady
asked, with incongruous coldness, with a haughtiness indeed remarkable in
so gentle a spirit.

He saw Violet Grey that night at the theatre, and it was she who spoke
first of her having lately met a friend of his.

“She’s in love with you,” the actress said, after he had made a show of
ignorance; “doesn’t that tell you anything?”

He blushed redder still than Mrs. Alsager had made him blush, but
replied, quickly enough and very adequately, that hundreds of women were
naturally dying for him.

“Oh, I don’t care, for you’re not in love with _her_!” the girl
continued.

“Did she tell you that too?” Wayworth asked; but she had at that moment
to go on.

Standing where he could see her he thought that on this occasion she
threw into her scene, which was the best she had in the play, a brighter
art than ever before, a talent that could play with its problem.  She was
perpetually doing things out of rehearsal (she did two or three to-night,
in the other man’s piece), that he as often wished to heaven Nona Vincent
might have the benefit of.  She appeared to be able to do them for every
one but him—that is for every one but Nona.  He was conscious, in these
days, of an odd new feeling, which mixed (this was a part of its oddity)
with a very natural and comparatively old one and which in its most
definite form was a dull ache of regret that this young lady’s unlucky
star should have placed her on the stage.  He wished in his worst
uneasiness that, without going further, she would give it up; and yet it
soothed that uneasiness to remind himself that he saw grounds to hope she
would go far enough to make a marked success of Nona.  There were strange
and painful moments when, as the interpretress of Nona, he almost hated
her; after which, however, he always assured himself that he exaggerated,
inasmuch as what made this aversion seem great, when he was nervous, was
simply its contrast with the growing sense that there _were_
grounds—totally different—on which she pleased him.  She pleased him as a
charming creature—by her sincerities and her perversities, by the
varieties and surprises of her character and by certain happy facts of
her person.  In private her eyes were sad to him and her voice was rare.
He detested the idea that she should have a disappointment or an
humiliation, and he wanted to rescue her altogether, to save and
transplant her.  One way to save her was to see to it, to the best of his
ability, that the production of his play should be a triumph; and the
other way—it was really too queer to express—was almost to wish that it
shouldn’t be.  Then, for the future, there would be safety and peace, and
not the peace of death—the peace of a different life.  It is to be added
that our young man clung to the former of these ways in proportion as the
latter perversely tempted him.  He was nervous at the best, increasingly
and intolerably nervous; but the immediate remedy was to rehearse harder
and harder, and above all to work it out with Violet Grey.  Some of her
comrades reproached him with working it out only with her, as if she were
the whole affair; to which he replied that they could afford to be
neglected, they were all so tremendously good.  She was the only person
concerned whom he didn’t flatter.

The author and the actress stuck so to the business in hand that she had
very little time to speak to him again of Mrs. Alsager, of whom indeed
her imagination appeared adequately to have disposed.  Wayworth once
remarked to her that Nona Vincent was supposed to be a good deal like his
charming friend; but she gave a blank “Supposed by whom?” in consequence
of which he never returned to the subject.  He confided his nervousness
as freely as usual to Mrs. Alsager, who easily understood that he had a
peculiar complication of anxieties.  His suspense varied in degree from
hour to hour, but any relief there might have been in this was made up
for by its being of several different kinds.  One afternoon, as the first
performance drew near, Mrs. Alsager said to him, in giving him his cup of
tea and on his having mentioned that he had not closed his eyes the night
before:

“You must indeed be in a dreadful state.  Anxiety for another is still
worse than anxiety for one’s self.”

“For another?” Wayworth repeated, looking at her over the rim of his cup.

“My poor friend, you’re nervous about Nona Vincent, but you’re infinitely
more nervous about Violet Grey.”

“She _is_ Nona Vincent!”

“No, she isn’t—not a bit!” said Mrs. Alsager, abruptly.

“Do you really think so?” Wayworth cried, spilling his tea in his alarm.

“What I think doesn’t signify—I mean what I think about that.  What I
meant to say was that great as is your suspense about your play, your
suspense about your actress is greater still.”

“I can only repeat that my actress _is_ my play.”

Mrs. Alsager looked thoughtfully into the teapot.

“Your actress is your—”

“My what?” the young man asked, with a little tremor in his voice, as his
hostess paused.

“Your very dear friend.  You’re in love with her—at present.”  And with a
sharp click Mrs. Alsager dropped the lid on the fragrant receptacle.

“Not yet—not yet!” laughed her visitor.

“You will be if she pulls you through.”

“You declare that she _won’t_ pull me through.”

Mrs. Alsager was silent a moment, after which she softly murmured: “I’ll
pray for her.”

“You’re the most generous of women!” Wayworth cried; then coloured as if
the words had not been happy.  They would have done indeed little honour
to a man of tact.

The next morning he received five hurried lines from Mrs. Alsager.  She
had suddenly been called to Torquay, to see a relation who was seriously
ill; she should be detained there several days, but she had an earnest
hope of being able to return in time for his first night.  In any event
he had her unrestricted good wishes.  He missed her extremely, for these
last days were a great strain and there was little comfort to be derived
from Violet Grey.  She was even more nervous than himself, and so pale
and altered that he was afraid she would be too ill to act.  It was
settled between them that they made each other worse and that he had now
much better leave her alone.  They had pulled Nona so to pieces that
nothing seemed left of her—she must at least have time to grow together
again.  He left Violet Grey alone, to the best of his ability, but she
carried out imperfectly her own side of the bargain.  She came to him
with new questions—she waited for him with old doubts, and half an hour
before the last dress-rehearsal, on the eve of production, she proposed
to him a totally fresh rendering of his heroine.  This incident gave him
such a sense of insecurity that he turned his back on her without a word,
bolted out of the theatre, dashed along the Strand and walked as far as
the Bank.  Then he jumped into a hansom and came westward, and when he
reached the theatre again the business was nearly over.  It appeared,
almost to his disappointment, not bad enough to give him the consolation
of the old playhouse adage that the worst dress-rehearsals make the best
first nights.

The morrow, which was a Wednesday, was the dreadful day; the theatre had
been closed on the Monday and the Tuesday.  Every one, on the Wednesday,
did his best to let every one else alone, and every one signally failed
in the attempt.  The day, till seven o’clock, was understood to be
consecrated to rest, but every one except Violet Grey turned up at the
theatre.  Wayworth looked at Mr. Loder, and Mr. Loder looked in another
direction, which was as near as they came to conversation.  Wayworth was
in a fidget, unable to eat or sleep or sit still, at times almost in
terror.  He kept quiet by keeping, as usual, in motion; he tried to walk
away from his nervousness.  He walked in the afternoon toward Notting
Hill, but he succeeded in not breaking the vow he had taken not to meddle
with his actress.  She was like an acrobat poised on a slippery ball—if
he should touch her she would topple over.  He passed her door three
times and he thought of her three hundred.  This was the hour at which he
most regretted that Mrs. Alsager had not come back—for he had called at
her house only to learn that she was still at Torquay.  This was probably
queer, and it was probably queerer still that she hadn’t written to him;
but even of these things he wasn’t sure, for in losing, as he had now
completely lost, his judgment of his play, he seemed to himself to have
lost his judgment of everything.  When he went home, however, he found a
telegram from the lady of Grosvenor Place—“Shall be able to come—reach
town by seven.”  At half-past eight o’clock, through a little aperture in
the curtain of the “Renaissance,” he saw her in her box with a cluster of
friends—completely beautiful and beneficent.  The house was
magnificent—too good for his play, he felt; too good for any play.
Everything now seemed too good—the scenery, the furniture, the dresses,
the very programmes.  He seized upon the idea that this was probably what
was the matter with the representative of Nona—she was only too good.  He
had completely arranged with this young lady the plan of their relations
during the evening; and though they had altered everything else that they
had arranged they had promised each other not to alter this.  It was
wonderful the number of things they had promised each other.  He would
start her, he would see her off—then he would quit the theatre and stay
away till just before the end.  She besought him to stay away—it would
make her infinitely easier.  He saw that she was exquisitely dressed—she
had made one or two changes for the better since the night before, and
that seemed something definite to turn over and over in his mind as he
rumbled foggily home in the four-wheeler in which, a few steps from the
stage-door, he had taken refuge as soon as he knew that the curtain was
up.  He lived a couple of miles off, and he had chosen a four-wheeler to
drag out the time.

When he got home his fire was out, his room was cold, and he lay down on
his sofa in his overcoat.  He had sent his landlady to the dress-circle,
on purpose; she would overflow with words and mistakes.  The house seemed
a black void, just as the streets had done—every one was, formidably, at
his play.  He was quieter at last than he had been for a fortnight, and
he felt too weak even to wonder how the thing was going.  He believed
afterwards that he had slept an hour; but even if he had he felt it to be
still too early to return to the theatre.  He sat down by his lamp and
tried to read—to read a little compendious life of a great English
statesman, out of a “series.”  It struck him as brilliantly clever, and
he asked himself whether that perhaps were not rather the sort of thing
he ought to have taken up: not the statesmanship, but the art of brief
biography.  Suddenly he became aware that he must hurry if he was to
reach the theatre at all—it was a quarter to eleven o’clock.  He
scrambled out and, this time, found a hansom—he had lately spent enough
money in cabs to add to his hope that the profits of his new profession
would be great.  His anxiety, his suspense flamed up again, and as he
rattled eastward—he went fast now—he was almost sick with alternations.
As he passed into the theatre the first man—some underling—who met him,
cried to him, breathlessly:

“You’re wanted, sir—you’re wanted!”  He thought his tone very ominous—he
devoured the man’s eyes with his own, for a betrayal: did he mean that he
was wanted for execution?  Some one else pressed him, almost pushed him,
forward; he was already on the stage.  Then he became conscious of a
sound more or less continuous, but seemingly faint and far, which he took
at first for the voice of the actors heard through their canvas walls,
the beautiful built-in room of the last act.  But the actors were in the
wing, they surrounded him; the curtain was down and they were coming off
from before it.  They had been called, and _he_ was called—they all
greeted him with “Go on—go on!”  He was terrified—he couldn’t go on—he
didn’t believe in the applause, which seemed to him only audible enough
to sound half-hearted.

“Has it gone?—_has_ it gone?” he gasped to the people round him; and he
heard them say “Rather—rather!” perfunctorily, mendaciously too, as it
struck him, and even with mocking laughter, the laughter of defeat and
despair.  Suddenly, though all this must have taken but a moment, Loder
burst upon him from somewhere with a “For God’s sake don’t keep them, or
they’ll _stop_!”  “But I can’t go on for _that_!”  Wayworth cried, in
anguish; the sound seemed to him already to have ceased.  Loder had hold
of him and was shoving him; he resisted and looked round frantically for
Violet Grey, who perhaps would tell him the truth.  There was by this
time a crowd in the wing, all with strange grimacing painted faces, but
Violet was not among them and her very absence frightened him.  He
uttered her name with an accent that he afterwards regretted—it gave
them, as he thought, both away; and while Loder hustled him before the
curtain he heard some one say “She took her call and disappeared.”  She
had had a call, then—this was what was most present to the young man as
he stood for an instant in the glare of the footlights, looking blindly
at the great vaguely-peopled horseshoe and greeted with plaudits which
now seemed to him at once louder than he deserved and feebler than he
desired.  They sank to rest quickly, but he felt it to be long before he
could back away, before he could, in his turn, seize the manager by the
arm and cry huskily—“Has it really gone—_really_?”

Mr. Loder looked at him hard and replied after an instant: “The play’s
all right!”

Wayworth hung upon his lips.  “Then what’s all wrong?”

“We must do something to Miss Grey.”

“What’s the matter with her?”

“She isn’t _in_ it!”

“Do you mean she has failed?”

“Yes, damn it—she has failed.”

Wayworth stared.  “Then how can the play be all right?”

“Oh, we’ll save it—we’ll save it.”

“Where’s Miss Grey—where _is_ she?” the young man asked.

Loder caught his arm as he was turning away again to look for his
heroine.  “Never mind her now—she knows it!”

Wayworth was approached at the same moment by a gentleman he knew as one
of Mrs. Alsager’s friends—he had perceived him in that lady’s box.  Mrs.
Alsager was waiting there for the successful author; she desired very
earnestly that he would come round and speak to her.  Wayworth assured
himself first that Violet had left the theatre—one of the actresses could
tell him that she had seen her throw on a cloak, without changing her
dress, and had learnt afterwards that she had, the next moment, flung
herself, after flinging her aunt, into a cab.  He had wished to invite
half a dozen persons, of whom Miss Grey and her elderly relative were
two, to come home to supper with him; but she had refused to make any
engagement beforehand (it would be so dreadful to have to keep it if she
shouldn’t have made a hit), and this attitude had blighted the pleasant
plan, which fell to the ground.  He had called her morbid, but she was
immovable.  Mrs. Alsager’s messenger let him know that he was expected to
supper in Grosvenor Place, and half an hour afterwards he was seated
there among complimentary people and flowers and popping corks, eating
the first orderly meal he had partaken of for a week.  Mrs. Alsager had
carried him off in her brougham—the other people who were coming got into
things of their own.  He stopped her short as soon as she began to tell
him how tremendously every one had been struck by the piece; he nailed
her down to the question of Violet Grey.  Had she spoilt the play, had
she jeopardised or compromised it—had she been utterly bad, had she been
good in any degree?

“Certainly the performance would have seemed better if _she_ had been
better,” Mrs. Alsager confessed.

“And the play would have seemed better if the performance had been
better,” Wayworth said, gloomily, from the corner of the brougham.

“She does what she can, and she has talent, and she looked lovely.  But
she doesn’t _see_ Nona Vincent.  She doesn’t see the type—she doesn’t see
the individual—she doesn’t see the woman you meant.  She’s out of it—she
gives you a different person.”

“Oh, the woman I meant!” the young man exclaimed, looking at the London
lamps as he rolled by them.  “I wish to God she had known _you_!” he
added, as the carriage stopped.  After they had passed into the house he
said to his companion:

“You see she _won’t_ pull me through.”

“Forgive her—be kind to her!” Mrs. Alsager pleaded.

“I shall only thank her.  The play may go to the dogs.”

“If it does—if it does,” Mrs. Alsager began, with her pure eyes on him.

“Well, what if it does?”

She couldn’t tell him, for the rest of her guests came in together; she
only had time to say: “It _sha’n’t_ go to the dogs!”

He came away before the others, restless with the desire to go to Notting
Hill even that night, late as it was, haunted with the sense that Violet
Grey had measured her fall.  When he got into the street, however, he
allowed second thoughts to counsel another course; the effect of knocking
her up at two o’clock in the morning would hardly be to soothe her.  He
looked at six newspapers the next day and found in them never a good word
for her.  They were well enough about the piece, but they were unanimous
as to the disappointment caused by the young actress whose former efforts
had excited such hopes and on whom, on this occasion, such pressing
responsibilities rested.  They asked in chorus what was the matter with
her, and they declared in chorus that the play, which was not without
promise, was handicapped (they all used the same word) by the odd want of
correspondence between the heroine and her interpreter.  Wayworth drove
early to Notting Hill, but he didn’t take the newspapers with him; Violet
Grey could be trusted to have sent out for them by the peep of dawn and
to have fed her anguish full.  She declined to see him—she only sent down
word by her aunt that she was extremely unwell and should be unable to
act that night unless she were suffered to spend the day unmolested and
in bed.  Wayworth sat for an hour with the old lady, who understood
everything and to whom he could speak frankly.  She gave him a touching
picture of her niece’s condition, which was all the more vivid for the
simple words in which it was expressed: “She feels she isn’t right, you
know—she feels she isn’t right!”

“Tell her it doesn’t matter—it doesn’t matter a straw!” said Wayworth.

“And she’s so proud—you know how proud she is!” the old lady went on.

“Tell her I’m more than satisfied, that I accept her gratefully as she
is.”

“She says she injures your play, that she ruins it,” said his
interlocutress.

“She’ll improve, immensely—she’ll grow into the part,” the young man
continued.

“She’d improve if she knew how—but she says she doesn’t.  She has given
all she has got, and she doesn’t know what’s wanted.”

“What’s wanted is simply that she should go straight on and trust me.”

“How can she trust you when she feels she’s losing you?”

“Losing me?” Wayworth cried.

“You’ll never forgive her if your play is taken off!”

“It will run six months,” said the author of the piece.

The old lady laid her hand on his arm.  “What will you do for her if it
does?”

He looked at Violet Grey’s aunt a moment.  “Do you say your niece is very
proud?”

“Too proud for her dreadful profession.”

“Then she wouldn’t wish you to ask me that,” Wayworth answered, getting
up.

When he reached home he was very tired, and for a person to whom it was
open to consider that he had scored a success he spent a remarkably
dismal day.  All his restlessness had gone, and fatigue and depression
possessed him.  He sank into his old chair by the fire and sat there for
hours with his eyes closed.  His landlady came in to bring his luncheon
and mend the fire, but he feigned to be asleep, so as not to be spoken
to.  It is to be supposed that sleep at last overtook him, for about the
hour that dusk began to gather he had an extraordinary impression, a
visit that, it would seem, could have belonged to no waking
consciousness.  Nona Vincent, in face and form, the living heroine of his
play, rose before him in his little silent room, sat down with him at his
dingy fireside.  She was not Violet Grey, she was not Mrs. Alsager, she
was not any woman he had seen upon earth, nor was it any masquerade of
friendship or of penitence.  Yet she was more familiar to him than the
women he had known best, and she was ineffably beautiful and consoling.
She filled the poor room with her presence, the effect of which was as
soothing as some odour of incense.  She was as quiet as an affectionate
sister, and there was no surprise in her being there.  Nothing more real
had ever befallen him, and nothing, somehow, more reassuring.  He felt
her hand rest upon his own, and all his senses seemed to open to her
message.  She struck him, in the strangest way, both as his creation and
as his inspirer, and she gave him the happiest consciousness of success.
If she was so charming, in the red firelight, in her vague,
clear-coloured garments, it was because he had made her so, and yet if
the weight seemed lifted from his spirit it was because she drew it away.
When she bent her deep eyes upon him they seemed to speak of safety and
freedom and to make a green garden of the future.  From time to time she
smiled and said: “I live—I live—I live.”  How long she stayed he couldn’t
have told, but when his landlady blundered in with the lamp Nona Vincent
was no longer there.  He rubbed his eyes, but no dream had ever been so
intense; and as he slowly got out of his chair it was with a deep still
joy—the joy of the artist—in the thought of how right he had been, how
exactly like herself he had made her.  She had come to show him that.  At
the end of five minutes, however, he felt sufficiently mystified to call
his landlady back—he wanted to ask her a question.  When the good woman
reappeared the question hung fire an instant; then it shaped itself as
the inquiry:

“Has any lady been here?”

“No, sir—no lady at all.”

The woman seemed slightly scandalised.  “Not Miss Vincent?”

“Miss Vincent, sir?”

“The young lady of my play, don’t you know?”

“Oh, sir, you mean Miss Violet Grey!”

“No I don’t, at all.  I think I mean Mrs. Alsager.”

“There has been no Mrs. Alsager, sir.”

“Nor anybody at all like her?”

The woman looked at him as if she wondered what had suddenly taken him.
Then she asked in an injured tone: “Why shouldn’t I have told you if
you’d ’ad callers, sir?”

“I thought you might have thought I was asleep.”

“Indeed you were, sir, when I came in with the lamp—and well you’d earned
it, Mr. Wayworth!”

The landlady came back an hour later to bring him a telegram; it was just
as he had begun to dress to dine at his club and go down to the theatre.

“See me to-night in front, and don’t come near me till it’s over.”

It was in these words that Violet communicated her wishes for the
evening.  He obeyed them to the letter; he watched her from the depths of
a box.  He was in no position to say how she might have struck him the
night before, but what he saw during these charmed hours filled him with
admiration and gratitude.  She _was_ in it, this time; she had pulled
herself together, she had taken possession, she was felicitous at every
turn.  Fresh from his revelation of Nona he was in a position to judge,
and as he judged he exulted.  He was thrilled and carried away, and he
was moreover intensely curious to know what had happened to her, by what
unfathomable art she had managed in a few hours to effect such a change
of base.  It was as if _she_ had had a revelation of Nona, so convincing
a clearness had been breathed upon the picture.  He kept himself quiet in
the _entr’actes_—he would speak to her only at the end; but before the
play was half over the manager burst into his box.

“It’s prodigious, what she’s up to!” cried Mr. Loder, almost more
bewildered than gratified.  “She has gone in for a new reading—a blessed
somersault in the air!”

“Is it quite different?” Wayworth asked, sharing his mystification.

“Different?  Hyperion to a satyr!  It’s devilish good, my boy!”

“It’s devilish good,” said Wayworth, “and it’s in a different key
altogether from the key of her rehearsal.”

“I’ll run you six months!” the manager declared; and he rushed round
again to the actress, leaving Wayworth with a sense that she had already
pulled him through.  She had with the audience an immense personal
success.

When he went behind, at the end, he had to wait for her; she only showed
herself when she was ready to leave the theatre.  Her aunt had been in
her dressing-room with her, and the two ladies appeared together.  The
girl passed him quickly, motioning him to say nothing till they should
have got out of the place.  He saw that she was immensely excited, lifted
altogether above her common artistic level.  The old lady said to him:
“You must come home to supper with us: it has been all arranged.”  They
had a brougham, with a little third seat, and he got into it with them.
It was a long time before the actress would speak.  She leaned back in
her corner, giving no sign but still heaving a little, like a subsiding
sea, and with all her triumph in the eyes that shone through the
darkness.  The old lady was hushed to awe, or at least to discretion, and
Wayworth was happy enough to wait.  He had really to wait till they had
alighted at Notting Hill, where the elder of his companions went to see
that supper had been attended to.

“I was better—I was better,” said Violet Grey, throwing off her cloak in
the little drawing-room.

“You were perfection.  You’ll be like that every night, won’t you?”

She smiled at him.  “Every night?  There can scarcely be a miracle every
day.”

“What do you mean by a miracle?”

“I’ve had a revelation.”

Wayward stared.  “At what hour?”

“The right hour—this afternoon.  Just in time to save me—and to save
_you_.”

“At five o’clock?  Do you mean you had a visit?”

“She came to me—she stayed two hours.”

“Two hours?  Nona Vincent?”

“Mrs. Alsager.”  Violet Grey smiled more deeply.  “It’s the same thing.”

“And how did Mrs. Alsager save you?”

“By letting me look at her.  By letting me hear her speak.  By letting me
know her.”

“And what did she say to you?”

“Kind things—encouraging, intelligent things.”

“Ah, the dear woman!” Wayworth cried.

“You ought to like her—she likes _you_.  She was just what I wanted,” the
actress added.

“Do you mean she talked to you about Nona?”

“She said you thought she was like her.  She _is_—she’s exquisite.”

“She’s exquisite,” Wayworth repeated.  “Do you mean she tried to coach
you?”

“Oh, no—she only said she would be so glad if it would help me to see
her.  And I felt it did help me.  I don’t know what took place—she only
sat there, and she held my hand and smiled at me, and she had tact and
grace, and she had goodness and beauty, and she soothed my nerves and
lighted up my imagination.  Somehow she seemed to _give_ it all to me.  I
took it—I took it.  I kept her before me, I drank her in.  For the first
time, in the whole study of the part, I had my model—I could make my
copy.  All my courage came back to me, and other things came that I
hadn’t felt before.  She was different—she was delightful; as I’ve said,
she was a revelation.  She kissed me when she went away—and you may guess
if I kissed _her_.  We were awfully affectionate, but it’s _you_ she
likes!” said Violet Grey.

Wayworth had never been more interested in his life, and he had rarely
been more mystified.  “Did she wear vague, clear-coloured garments?” he
asked, after a moment.

Violet Grey stared, laughed, then bade him go in to supper.  “_You_ know
how she dresses!”

He was very well pleased at supper, but he was silent and a little
solemn.  He said he would go to see Mrs. Alsager the next day.  He did
so, but he was told at her door that she had returned to Torquay.  She
remained there all winter, all spring, and the next time he saw her his
play had run two hundred nights and he had married Violet Grey.  His
plays sometimes succeed, but his wife is not in them now, nor in any
others.  At these representations Mrs. Alsager continues frequently to be
present.





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