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Title: Harlequin and Columbine
Author: Tarkington, Booth
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 "Harlequin and Columbine" ***

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HARLEQUIN AND COLUMBINE

By Booth Tarkington



I


For a lucky glimpse of the great Talbot Potter, the girls who caught it
may thank that conjunction of Olympian events which brings within the
boundaries of one November week the Horse Show and the roaring climax
of the football months and the more dulcet, yet vast, beginning of the
opera season. Some throbbing of attendant multitudes coming to the ears
of Talbot Potter, he obeyed an inward call to walk to rehearsal by way
of Fifth Avenue, and turning out of Forty-fourth Street to become
part of the people-sea of the southward current, felt the eyes of the
northward beating upon his face like the pulsing successions of an
exhilarating surf. His Fifth Avenue knew its Talbot Potter.

Strangers used to leisurely appraisals upon their own thoroughfares are
apt to believe that Fifth Avenue notices nothing; but they are mistaken;
it is New York that is preoccupied, not Fifth Avenue. The Fifth Avenue
eye, like a policeman’s, familiar with a variety of types, catalogues
you and replaces you upon the shelf with such automatic rapidity that
you are not aware you have been taken down. Fifth Avenue is secretly
populous with observers who take note of everything.

Of course, among these peregrinate great numbers almost in a stupor so
far as what is closest around them is concerned; and there are those,
too, who are so completely busied with either the consciousness of being
noticed, or the hope of being noticed, or the hatred of it, that they
take note of nothing else. Fifth Avenue expressions are a filling meal
for the prowling lonely joker; but what will most satisfy his cannibal
appetite is the passage of the self-conscious men and women. For here,
on a good day, he cannot fail to relish some extreme cases of their
whimsical disease: fledgling young men making believe to be haughty to
cover their dreadful symptoms, the mask itself thus revealing what it
seeks to conceal; timid young ladies, likewise treacherously exposed by
their defenses; and very different ladies, but in similar case, being
retouched ladies, tinted ladies; and ladies who know that they are
pretty at first sight, ladies who chat with some obscured companion only
to offer the public a treat of graceful gestures; and poor ladies
making believe to be rich ladies; and rich ladies making believe to be
important ladies; and many other sorts of conscious ladies. And men--ah,
pitiful!--pitiful the wretch whose hardihood has involved him in cruel
and unusual great gloss and unsheltered tailed coat. Any man in his
overcoat is wrapped in his castle; he fears nothing. But to this hunted
creature, naked in his robin’s tail, the whole panorama of the Avenue is
merely a blurred audience, focusing upon him a vast glare of derision;
he walks swiftly, as upon fire, pretends to careless sidelong interest
in shop-windows as he goes, makes play with his unfamiliar cane only to
be horror-stricken at the flourishings so evoked of his wild gloves; and
at last, fairly crawling with the eyes he feels all over him, he must
draw forth his handkerchief and shelter behind it, poor man, in the
dishonourable affectation of a sneeze!

Piquant contrast to these obsessions, the well-known expression of
Talbot Potter lifted him above the crowd to such high serenity his face
might have been that of a young Pope, with a dash of Sydney Carton. His
glance fixed itself, in its benign detachment, upon the misty top of the
Flatiron, far down the street, and the more frequent the plainly visible
recognitions among the north-bound people, the less he seemed aware
of them. And yet, whenever the sieving current of pedestrians brought
momentarily face to face with him a girl or woman, apparently civilized
and in the mode, who obviously had never seen him before and seemed not
to care if it should be her fate never to repeat the experience, Talbot
Potter had a certain desire. If society had established a rule that
all men must instantly obey and act upon every fleeting impulse, Talbot
Potter would have taken that girl or woman by the shoulders and said to
her: “What’s the matter with you!”

At Forty-second Street he crossed over, proceeded to the middle of the
block, and halted dreamily on the edge of the pavement, his back to the
crowd. His face was toward the Library, with its two annoyed pet lions,
typifying learning, and he appeared to study the great building. One
or two of the passersby had seen him standing on that self-same spot
before;--in fact, he always stopped there whenever he walked down the
Avenue.

For a little time (not too long) he stood there; and thus absorbed he
was, as they say, a Picture. Moreover, being such a popular one, he
attracted much interest. People paused to observe him; and all unaware
of their attention, he suddenly smiled charmingly, as at some gentle
pleasantry in his own mind--something he had remembered from a book,
no doubt. It was a wonderful smile, and vanished slowly, leaving a rapt
look; evidently he was lost in musing upon architecture and sculpture
and beautiful books. A girl whisking by in an automobile had time to
guess, reverently, that the phrase in his mind was: “A Stately Home for
Beautiful Books!” Dinner-tables would hear, that evening, how Talbot
Potter stood there, oblivious of everything else, studying the Library!

This slight sketch of artistic reverie completed, he went on, proceeding
a little more rapidly down the Avenue; presently turned over to the
stage door of Wallack’s, made his way through the ensuing passages, and
appeared upon the vasty stage of the old theatre, where his company of
actors awaited his coming to begin the rehearsal of a new play.



II


“First act, please, ladies and gentlemen!”

Thus spake, without emotion, Packer, the stage-manager; but out in the
dusky auditorium, Stewart Canby, the new playwright, began to tremble.
It was his first rehearsal.

He and one other sat in the shadowy hollow of the orchestra, two obscure
little shapes on the floor of the enormous cavern. The other was Talbot
Potter’s manager, Carson Tinker, a neat, grim, small old man with a
definite appearance of having long ago learned that after a little
while life will beat anybody’s game, no matter how good. He observed
the nervousness of the playwright, but without interest. He had seen too
many.

Young Canby’s play was a study of egoism, being the portrait of a man
wholly given over to selfish ambitions finally attained, but “at
the cost of every good thing in his life,” including the loss of his
“honour,” his lady-love, and the trust and affection of his friends.
Young Canby had worked patiently at his manuscript, rewriting,
condensing, pouring over it the sincere sweat of his brow and the light
of his boarding-house lamp during most of the evenings of two years,
until at last he was able to tell his confidants, rather huskily, that
there was “not one single superfluous word in it,” not one that could
possibly be cut, nor one that could be changed without “altering the
significance of the whole work.”

The moment was at hand when he was to see the vision of so many toilsome
hours begin to grow alive. What had been no more than little black marks
on white paper was now to become a living voice vibrating the actual
air. No wonder, then, that tremors seized him; Pygmalion shook as
Galatea began to breathe, and to young Canby it was no less a miracle
that his black marks and white paper should thus come to life.

“Miss Ellsling!” called the stage-manager. “Miss Ellsling, you’re on.
You’re on artificial stone bench in garden, down right. Mr. Nippert,
you’re on. You’re over yonder, right cen---”

“Not at all!” interrupted Talbot Potter, who had taken his seat at a
small table near the trough where the footlights lay asleep, like the
row of night-watchmen they were. “Not at all!” he repeated sharply,
thumping the table with his knuckles. “That’s all out. It’s cut. Nippert
doesn’t come on in this scene at all. You’ve got the original script
there, Packer. Good heavens! Packer, can’t you ever get anything right?
Didn’t I distinctly tell you--Here! Come here! Not garden set, at all.
Play it interior, same as act second. Look, Packer, look! Miss Ellsling
down left, in chair by escritoire. In heaven’s name, can you read,
Packer?”

“Yessir, yessir. I see, sir, I see!” said Packer with piteous eagerness,
taking the manuscript the star handed him. “Now, then, Miss Ellsling, if
you please--”

“I will have my tea indoors,” Miss Ellsling began promptly, striking an
imaginary bell. “I will have my tea indoors, to-day, I think, Pritchard.
It is cooler indoors, to-day, I think, on the whole, and so it will
be pleasanter to have my tea indoors to-day. Strike bell again. Do you
hear, Pritchard?”

Out in the dimness beyond the stage the thin figure of the new
playwright rose dazedly from an orchestra chair.

“What--what’s this?” he stammered, the choked sounds he made not
reaching the stage.

“What’s the matter?” The question came from Carson Tinker, but his tone
was incurious, manifesting no interest whatever. Tinker’s voice, like
his pale, spectacled glance, was not tired; it was dead.

“Tea!” gasped Canby. “People are sick of tea! I didn’t write any tea!”

“There isn’t any,” said Tinker. “The way he’s got it, there’s an
interruption before the tea comes, and it isn’t brought in.”

“But she’s ordered it! If it doesn’t come the audience will wonder--”

“No,” said Tinker. “They won’t think of that. They won’t hear her order
it.”

“Then for heaven’s sake, why has he put it in? I wrote this play to
begin right in the story--”

“That’s the trouble. They never hear the beginning. They’re slamming
seats, taking off wraps, looking round to see who’s there.
That’s why we used to begin plays with servants dusting and
‘Well-I-never-half-past-nine-and-the-young-master-not-yet-risen!”

“I wrote it to begin with a garden scene,” Canby protested, unheeding.
“Why--”

“He’s changed this act a good deal.”

“But I wrote--”

“He never uses garden sets. Not intimate enough; and they’re a nuisance
to light. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“But it changes the whole signifi--”

“Well, talk to him about it,” said Tinker, adding lifelessly, “I
wouldn’t argue with him much, though. I never knew anybody do anything
with him that way yet.”

Miss Ellsling, on the stage, seemed to be supplementing this remark.
“Roderick Hanscom is a determined man,” she said, in character. “He is
hard as steel to a treacherous enemy, but he is tender and gentle to
women and children. Only yesterday I saw him pick up a fallen crippled
child from beneath the relentless horses’ feet on a crossing, at the
risk of his very life, and then as he placed it in the mother’s arms,
he smiled that wonderful smile of his, that wonderful smile of his that
seems to brighten the whole world! Wait till you meet him. But that is
his step now and you shall judge for yourselves! Let us rise, if you
please, to give him befitting greeting.”

“What--what!” gasped Canby.

“Sh!” Tinker whispered.

“But all I wrote for her to say, when Roderick Hanscom’s name is
mentioned, was ‘I don’t think I like him.’ My God!”

“Sh!”

“The Honourable Robert Hanscom!” shouted Packer, in a ringing voice as a
stage-servant, or herald.

“It gives him an entrance, you see,” murmured Tinker. “Your script just
let him walk on.”

“And all that horrible stuff about his ‘wonderful smile!’” Canby
babbled. “Think of his putting that in himself.”

“Well, you hadn’t done it for him. It is a wonderful smile, isn’t it?”

“My God!”

“Sh!”

Talbot Potter had stepped to the centre of the stage and was smiling the
wonderful smile. “Mildred, and you, my other friends, good friends,” he
began, “for I know that you are all true friends here, and I can trust
you with a secret very near my heart--”

“Most of them are supposed never to have seen him before,” said Canby,
hoarsely. “And she’s just told them they could judge for themselves
when--”

“They won’t notice that.”

“You mean the audience won’t--”

“No, they won’t,” said Tinker.

“But good heavens! it’s ‘Donald Gray,’ the other character, that trusts
him with the secret, and he betrays it later. This upsets the whole--”

“Well, talk to him. I can’t help it.”

“It is a political secret,” Potter continued, reading from a manuscript
in his hand, “and almost a matter of life and death. But I trust you
with it openly and fearlessly because--”

At this point his voice was lost in a destroying uproar. Perceiving
that the rehearsal was well under way, and that the star had made his
entrance, two of the stage-hands attached to the theatre ascended to
the flies and set up a great bellowing on high. “Lower that strip!”
 “You don’t want that strip lowered, I tell you!” “Oh, my Lord! Can’t you
lower that strip!” Another workman at the rear of the stage began to saw
a plank, and somebody else, concealed behind a bit of scenery, hammered
terrifically upon metal. Altogether it was a successful outbreak.

Potter threw his manuscript upon the table, a gesture that caused the
shoulders of Packer to move in a visible shudder, and the company, all
eyes fixed upon the face of the star, suddenly wore the look of people
watching a mysterious sealed packet from which a muffled ticking is
heard. The bellowing and the sawing and the hammering increased in fury.

In the orchestra a rusty gleam of something like mummified pleasure
passed unseen behind the spectacles of old Carson Tinker. “Stage-hands
are the devil,” he explained to the stupefied Canby. “Rehearsals bore
them and they love to hear what an actor says when his nerves go to
pieces. If Potter blows up they’ll quiet down to enjoy it and then do it
again pretty soon. If he doesn’t blow up he’ll take it out on somebody
else later.”

Potter stood silent in the centre of the stage, expressionless, which
seemed to terrify the stage-manager. “Just one second, Mr. Potter!” he
screamed, his brow pearly with the anguish of apprehension. “Just one
second, sir!”

He went hotfoot among the disturbers, protesting, commanding, imploring,
and plausibly answering severe questions. “Well, when do you expect us
to git this work done?” “We got our work to do, ain’t we?” until finally
the tumult ceased, the saw slowing down last of all, tapering off
reluctantly into a silence of plaintive disappointment; whereupon Packer
resumed his place, under a light at the side of the stage, turning the
pages of his manuscript with fluttering fingers and keeping his eyes
fixed guiltily upon it. The company of actors also carefully removed
their gaze from the star and looked guilty.

Potter allowed the fatal hush to continue, while the culpability of
Packer and the company seemed mysteriously to increase until they
all reeked with it. The stage-hands had withdrawn in a grieved manner
somewhere into the huge rearward spaces of the old building. They
belonged to the theatre, not to Potter, and, besides, they had a union.
But the actors were dependent upon Potter for the coming winter’s work
and wages; they were his employees.

At last he spoke: “We will go on with the rehearsal,” he said quietly.

“Ah!” murmured old Tinker. “He’ll take it out on somebody else.” And
with every precaution not to jar down a seat in passing, he edged his
way to the aisle and went softly thereby to the extreme rear of the
house. He was an employee, too.



III


It was a luckless lady who helped to fulfil the prediction. Technically
she was the “ingenue”; publicly she was “Miss Carol Lyston”; legally she
was a Mrs. Surbilt, being wife to the established leading man of that
ilk, Vorly Surbilt. Miss Lyston had come to the rehearsal in a condition
of exhausted nerves, owing to her husband’s having just accepted, over
her protest, a “road” engagement with a lady-star of such susceptible
gallantry she had never yet been known to resist falling in love with
her leading-man before she quarrelled with him. Miss Lyston’s protest
having lasted the whole of the preceeding night, and not at all
concluding with Mr. Surbilt’s departure, about breakfast-time, avowedly
to seek total anaesthesia by means of a long list of liquors, which
he named, she had spent the hours before rehearsal interviewing female
acquaintances who had been members of the susceptible lady’s company--a
proceeding which indicates that she deliberately courted hysteria.

Shortly after the outraged rehearsal had been resumed, she unfortunately
uttered a loud, dry sob, startlingly irrelevant to the matter in hand.
It came during the revelation of “Roderick Hanscom’s” secret, and Potter
stopped instantly.

“Who did that?”

“Miss Lyston, sir,” Packer responded loyally, such matters being part of
his duty.

The star turned to face the agitated criminal. “Miss Lyston,” he said,
delaying each syllable to pack it more solidly with ice, “will you be
good enough to inform this company if there is anything in your lines to
warrant your breaking into a speech of mine with a horrible noise like
that?”

“Nothing.”

“Then perhaps you will inform us why you do break into a speech of mine
with a horrible noise like that?”

“I only coughed, Mr. Potter,” said Miss Lyston, shaking.

“Coughed!” he repeated slowly, and then with a sudden tragic fury
shouted at the top of his splendid voice, “COUGHED!” He swung away from
her, and strode up and down the stage, struggling with emotion, while
the stricken company fastened their eyes to their strips of manuscript,
as if in study, and looked neither at him nor Miss Lyston.

“You only coughed!” He paused before her in his stride. “Is it your
purpose to cough during my speeches when this play is produced before an
audience?” He waited for no reply, but taking his head woefully in his
hands, began to pace up and down again, turning at last toward the dark
auditorium to address his invisible manager:

“Really, really, Mr. Tinker,” he cried, despairingly, “we shall have to
change some of these people. I can’t act with--Mr. Tinker! Where’s Mr.
Tinker? Mr. Tinker! My soul! He’s gone! He always is gone when I want
him! I wonder how many men would bear what I--” But here he interrupted
himself unexpectedly. “Go on with the rehearsal! Packer, where were we?”

“Here, sir, right here,” brightly responded Packer, ready finger upon
the proper spot in the manuscript. “You had just begun, ‘Nothing in this
world but that one thing can defeat my certain election and nothing but
that one thing shall de--”

“That will do,” thundered his master. “Are you going to play the part?
Get out of the way and let’s get on with the act, in heaven’s name! Down
stage a step, Miss Ellsling. No; I said down. A step, not a mile!
There! Now, if you consent to be ready, ladies and gentlemen. Very well.
‘Nothing in this world but that one thing can defeat my certain election
and noth--’” Again he interrupted himself unexpectedly. In the middle
of the word there came a catch in his voice; he broke off, and whirling
once more upon the miserable Miss Lyston, he transfixed her with a
forefinger and a yell.

“It wasn’t a cough! What was that horrible noise you made?”

Miss Lyston, being unable to reply in words, gave him for answer an
object-lesson which demonstrated plainly the nature of the horrible
noise. She broke into loud, consecutive sobs, while Potter, very little
the real cause of them, altered in expression from indignation to the
neighborhood of lunacy.

“She’s doing this in purpose!” he cried. “What’s the matter with her?
She’s sick! Miss Lyston, you’re sick! Packer, get her away--take her
away. She’s sick! Send her home--send her home in a cab! Packer!”

“Yes, Mr. Potter, I’ll arrange it. Don’t be disturbed.”

The stage-manager was already at the sobbing lady’s side, and she leaned
upon him gratefully, continuing to produce the symptoms of her illness.

“Put her in a cab at once,” said the star, somewhat recovered from
his consternation. “You can pay the cabman,” he added. “Make her as
comfortable as you can; she’s really ill. Miss Lyston, you shouldn’t
have tried to rehearse when you’re so ill. Do everything possible for
Miss Lyston’s comfort, Packer.”

He followed the pair as they entered the passageway to the stage door;
then, Miss Lyston’s demonstrations becoming less audible, he halted
abruptly, and his brow grew dark with suspicion. When Packer returned,
he beckoned him aside. “Didn’t she seem all right as soon as she got out
of my sight?”

“No, sir; she seemed pretty badly upset.”

“What about?”

“Oh, something entirely outside of rehearsal, sir,” Packer answered in
haste. “Entirely outside. She wanted to know if I’d heard any gossip
about her husband lately. That’s it, Mr. Potter.”

“You don’t think she was shamming just to get off?”

“Oh, not at all. I--”

“Ha! She may have fooled you, Packer, or perhaps--perhaps”--he paused,
frowning--“perhaps you were trying to fool me, too. I don’t know your
private life; you may have reasons to help her de--”

“Mr. Potter!” cried the distressed man. “What could be my object? I
don’t know Miss Lyston off. I was only telling you the simple truth.”

“How do I know?” Potter gave him a piercing look. “People are always
trying to take advantage of me.”

“But Mr. Potter, I--”

“Don’t get it into your head that I am too easy, Packer! You think
you’ve got a luxurious thing of it here, with me, but--” He concluded
with an ominous shake of the head in lieu of words, then returned to
the centre of the stage. “Are we to be all day getting on with this
rehearsal?”

Packer flew to the table and seized the manuscript he had left there.
“All ready, sir! ‘Nothing in this world but one thing can defeat’--and
so on, so on. All ready, sir!”

The star made no reply but to gaze upon him stonily, a stare which
produced another dreadful silence. Packer tried to smile, a lamentable
sight.

“Something wrong, Mr. Potter?” he finally ventured, desperately.

The answer came in a voice cracking with emotional strain: “I wonder
how many men bear what I bear? I wonder how many men would pay a
stage-manager the salary I pay, and then do all his work for him!”

“Mr. Potter, if you’ll tell me what’s the matter,” Packer quavered; “if
you’ll only tell me--”

“The understudy, idiot! Where is the understudy to read Miss Lyston’s
part? You haven’t got one! I knew it! I told you last week to engage an
understudy for the women’s parts, and you haven’t done it. I knew it, I
knew it! God help me, I knew it!”

“But I did, sir. I’ve got her here.”

Packer ran to the back of the stage, shouting loudly: “Miss-oh, Miss--I
forget-your-name! Understudy! Miss--”

“I’m here!”

It was an odd, slender voice that spoke, just behind Talbot Potter, and
he turned to stare at a little figure in black--she had come so quietly
out of the shadows of the scenery into Miss Lyston’s place that no one
had noticed. She was indefinite of outline still, in the sparse light of
that cavernous place; and, with a veil lifted just to the level of her
brows, under a shadowing black hat, not much was to be clearly discerned
of her except that she was small and pale and had bright eyes. But even
the two words she spoke proved the peculiar quality of her voice: it was
like the tremolo of a zither string; and at the sound of it the actors
on each side of her instinctively moved a step back for a better view
of her, while in his lurking place old Tinker let his dry lips open
a little, which was as near as he ever came, nowadays, to a look of
interest. He had noted that this voice, sweet as rain, and vibrant, but
not loud, was the ordinary speaking voice of the understudy, and that
her “I’m here,” had sounded, soft and clear, across the deep orchestra
to the last row in the house.

“Of course!” Packer cried. “There she is, Mr. Potter! There’s
Miss--Miss--”

“Is her name ‘Missmiss’?” the star demanded bitterly.

“No sir. I’ve forgotten it, just this moment, Mr. Potter, but I’ve
got it. I’ve got it right here.” He began frantically to turn out the
contents of his pockets. “It’s in my memorandum book, if I could only
find--”

“The devil, the devil!” shouted Potter. “A fine understudy you’ve got
for us! She sees me standing here like--like a statue--delaying the
whole rehearsal, while we wait for you to find her name, and she won’t
open her lips!” He swept the air with a furious gesture, and a subtle
faint relief became manifest throughout the company at this token that
the newcomer was indeed to fill Miss Lyston’s place for one rehearsal at
least. “Why don’t you tell us your name?” he roared.

“I understood,” said the zither-sweet voice, “that I was never to speak
to you unless you directly asked me a question. My--”

“My soul! Have you got a name?”

“Wanda Malone.”

Potter had never heard it until that moment, but his expression showed
that he considered it another outrage.



IV


The rehearsal proceeded, and under that cover old Tinker came
noiselessly down the aisle and resumed his seat beside Canby, who was
uttering short, broken sighs, and appeared to have been trying with fair
success to give himself a shampoo.

“It’s ruined, Mr. Tinker!” he moaned, and his accompanying gesture was
misleading, seeming to indicate that he alluded to his hair. “It’s all
ruined if he sticks to these horrible lines he’s put in--people told me
I ought to have it in my contract that nothing could be changed. I was
trying to make the audience see the tragedy of egoism in my play--and
how people get to hating an egoist. I made ‘Roderick Hanscom’ a
disagreeable character on purpose, and--oh, listen to that!”

Miss Ellsling and Talbot Potter stood alone, near the front of the
stage. “Why do you waste such goodness on me, Roderick?” Miss Ellsling
was inquiring. “It is noble and I feel that I am unworthy of you.”

“No, Mildred, believe me,” Potter read from his manuscript, “I would
rather decline the nomination and abandon my career, and go to live in
some quiet spot far from all this, than that you should know one single
moment’s unhappiness, for you mean far more to me than worldly success.”
 He kissed her hand with reverence, and lifted his head slowly, facing
the audience with rapt gaze; his wonderful smile--that ineffable smile
of abnegation and benignity--just beginning to dawn.

Coming from behind him, and therefore unable to see his face, Miss Wanda
Malone advanced in her character of ingenue, speaking with an effect of
gayety: “Now what are you two good people conspiring about?”

Potter stamped the floor; there was wrenched from him an incoherent
shriek containing fragments of profane words and ending distinguishably
with: “It’s that Missmiss again!”

Packer impelled himself upon Miss Malone, pushing her back. “No, no,
no!” he cried. “Count ten! Count ten before you come down with that
speech. You mustn’t interrupt Mr. Potter, Miss--Miss--”

“It was my cue,” she said composedly, showing her little pamphlet of
typewritten manuscript. “Wasn’t I meant to speak on the cue?”

Talbot Potter recovered himself sufficiently to utter a cry of despair:
“And these are the kind of people an artist must work with!” He lifted
his arms to heaven, calling upon the high gods for pity; then, with
a sudden turn of fury, ran to the back of the stage and came mincing
forward evidently intending saturnine mimicry, repeating the ingenue’s
speech in a mocking falsetto: “Now what are you two good people
conspiring about?” After that he whirled upon her, demanding with
ferocity: “You’ve got something you can think with in your head, haven’t
you, Missmiss? Then what do you think of that?”

Miss Malone smiled, and it was a smile that would have gone a long way
at a college dance. Here, it made the pitying company shudder for her.
“I think it’s a silly, makeshift sort of a speech,” she said cheerfully,
in which opinion the unhappy playwright out in the audience hotly
agreed. “It’s a bit of threadbare archness, and if I were to play Miss
Lyston’s part, I’d be glad to have it changed!”

Potter looked dazed. “Is it your idea,” he said in a ghostly voice,
“that I was asking for your impression of the dramatic and literary
value of that line?”

She seemed surprised. “Weren’t you?”

It was too much for Potter. He had brilliant and unusual powers of
expression, but this was beyond them. He went to the chair beside the
little table, flung himself upon it, his legs outstretched, his arms
dangling inert, and stared haggardly upward at nothing.

Packer staggered into the breach. “You interrupted the smile,
Miss--Mi--”

“Miss Malone,” she prompted.

“You interrupted the smile, Miss Malone. Mr. Potter gives them the smile
there. You must count ten for it, after your cue. Ten--slow. Count slow.
Mark it on your sides, Miss--ah--Miss. ‘Count ten for smile. Write it
down please, Miss--Miss--”

Potter spoke wearily. “Be kind enough to let me know, Packer, when you
and Missmiss can bring yourselves to permit this rehearsal to continue.”

“All ready, sir,” said Packer briskly. “All ready now, Mr. Potter.” And
upon the star’s limply rising, Miss Ellsling, most tactful of leading
women, went back to his cue with a change of emphasis in her reading
that helped to restore him somewhat to his poise. “It is noble,” she
repeated, “and I feel that I am unworthy of you!”

Counting ten slowly proved to be the proper deference to the smile,
and Miss Malone was allowed to come down the stage and complete,
undisturbed, her ingenue request to know what the two good people were
conspiring about. Thereafter the rehearsal went on in a strange, unreal
peace like that of a prairie noon in the cyclone season.

“Notice that girl?” old Tinker muttered, as Wanda Malone finished
another ingenue question with a light laugh, as commanded by her
manuscript. “She’s frightened but she’s steady.”

“What girl?” Canby was shampooing himself feverishly and had little
interest in girls. “I made it a disagreeable character because--”

“I mean the one he’s letting out on--Malone,” said Tinker. “Didn’t
you notice her voice? Her laugh reminds me of Fanny Caton’s--and Dora
Preston’s--”

“Who?” Canby asked vaguely.

“Oh, nobody you’d remember; some old-time actresses that had their
day--and died--long ago. This girl’s voice made me think of them.”

“She may, she may,” said Canby hurriedly. “Mr. Tinker, the play is
ruined. He’s tangled the whole act up so that I can’t tell what it’s
about myself. Instead of Roderick Hanscom’s being a man that people
dislike for his conceit and selfishness he’s got him absolutely turned
round. I oughtn’t to allow it--but everything’s so different from what
I thought it would be! He doesn’t seem to know I’m here. I came prepared
to read the play to the company; I thought he’d want me to.”

“Oh, no,” said Tinker. “He never does that.”

“Why not?”

“Wastes time, for one thing. The actors don’t listen except when their
own parts are being read.”

“Good gracious!”

“Their own parts are all they have to look out for,” the old man
informed him dryly. “I’ve known actors to play a long time in parts that
didn’t appear in the last act, and they never know how the play ended.”

“Good gracious!”

“Never cared, either,” Tinker added.

“Good gr--”

“Sh! He’s breaking out again!”

A shriek of agony came from the stage. “Pack-e-r-r-! Where did you
find this Missmiss understudy? Can’t you get me people of experience?
I really cannot bear this kind of thing--I can not!” And Potter flung
himself upon the chair, leaving the slight figure in black standing
alone in the centre of the stage. He sprang up again, however,
surprisingly, upon the very instant of despairing collapse. “What do you
mean by this perpetual torture of me?” he wailed at her. “Don’t you know
what you did?”

“No, Mr. Potter.” She looked at him bravely, but she began to grow red.

“You don’t?” he cried incredulously. “You don’t know what you did? You
moved! How are they going to get my face if you move? Don’t you know
enough to hold a picture and not ruin it by moving?”

“There was a movement written for that cue,” she said, a little
tremulously. “The business in the script is, ‘Showing that she is
touched by Roderick’s nobleness, lifts handkerchief impulsive gesture to
eyes.’”

“Not,” he shouted, “not during the SMILE!”

“Oh!” she cried remorsefully. “Have I done that again?”

“‘Again!’ I don’t know how many times you’ve done it!” He flung his arms
wide, with hands outspread and fingers vibrating. “You do it every time
you get the chance! You do it perpetually! You don’t do anything else!
It’s all you live for!”

He hurled his manuscript violently at the table, Packer making a
wonderful pick-up catch of it just as it touched the floor.

“That’s all!” And the unhappy artist sank into the chair in a crumpled
stupor.

“Ten o’clock to-morrow morning, ladies and gentlemen!” Packer called
immediately, with brisk cheerfulness. “Please notice: to-morrow’s
rehearsal is in the morning. Ten o’clock to-morrow morning!”

“Tell the understudy to wait, Packer,” said the star abysmally, and
Packer addressed himself to the departing backs of the company:

“Mr. Potter wants to speak to Miss--Miss--”

“Malone,” prompted the owner of the name, without resentment.

“Wait a moment, Miss Malone,” said Potter, looking up wearily. “Is Mr.
Tinker anywhere about?”

“I’m here, Mr. Potter.” Tinker came forward to the orchestra railing.

“I’ve been thinking about this play, Mr. Tinker,” Potter said, shaking
his head despondently. “I don’t know about it. I’m very, very doubtful
about it.” He peered over Tinker’s head, squinting his eyes, and seemed
for the first time to be aware of the playwright’s presence. “Oh, are
you there, Mr. Canby? When did you come in?”

“I’ve been here all the time,” said the dishevelled Canby, coming
forward. “I supposed it was my business to be here, but-”

“Very glad to have you if you wish,” Potter interrupted gloomily. “Any
time. Any time you like. I was just telling Mr. Tinker that I don’t know
about your play. I don’t know if it’ll do at all.”

“If you’d play it,” Canby began, “the way I wrote it--”

“In the first place,” Potter said with sudden vehemence, “it lacks
Punch! Where’s your Punch in this play, Mr. Canby? Where is there any
Punch whatever in the whole four acts? Surely, after this rehearsal, you
don’t mean to claim that the first act has one single ounce of Punch in
it!”

“But you’ve twisted this act all round,” the unhappy young man
protested. “The way you have it I can’t tell what it’s got to it. I
meant Roderick Hanscom to be a disagr--”

“Mr. Canby,” said the star, rising impressively, “if we played that act
the way you wrote it, we’d last just about four minutes of the opening
night. You gave me absolutely nothing to do! Other people talked at me
and I had to stand there and be talked at for twenty minutes straight,
like a blithering ninny!”

“Well, as you have it, the other actors have to stand there like
ninnies,” poor Canby retorted miserably, “while you talk at them almost
the whole time.”

“My soul!” Potter struck the table with the palm of his hand. “Do
you think anybody’s going to pay two dollars to watch me listen to my
company for three hours? No, my dear man, your play’s got to give me
something to do! You’ll have to rewrite the second and third acts. I’ve
done what I could for the first, but, good God! Mr. Canby, I can’t write
your whole play for you! You’ll have to get some Punch into it or we’ll
never be able to go on with it.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said the playwright helplessly. “I never
did know what people mean by Punch.”

“Punch? It’s what grips ‘em,” Potter returned with vehemence. “Punch
is what keeps ‘em sitting on the edge of their seats. Big love scenes!
They’ve got Punch. Or a big scene with a man. Give me a big scene with a
man.” He illustrated his meaning with startling intensity, crouching and
seizing an imaginary antagonist by the throat, shaking him and snarling
between his clenched teeth, while his own throat swelled and reddened:
“Now, damn you! You dog! So on, so on, so on! Zowie!” Suddenly his
figure straightened. “Then change. See?” He became serene, almost
august. “‘No! I will not soil these hands with you. So on, so on, so
on. I give you your worthless life. Go!’” He completed his generosity
by giving Canby and Tinker the smile, after which he concluded much more
cheerfully: “Something like that, Mr. Canby, and we’ll have some real
Punch in your play.”

“But there isn’t any chance for that kind of a scene in it,” the
playwright objected. “It’s the study of an egoist, a disagree--”

“There!” exclaimed Potter. “That’s it! Do you think people are going to
pay two dollars to see Talbot Potter behave like a cad? They won’t do
it; they pay two dollars to see me as I am--not pretending to be the
kind of man your ‘Roderick Hanscom’ was. No, Mr. Canby, I accepted your
play because it has got quite a fair situation in the third act, and
because I thought I saw a chance in it to keep some of the strength of
‘Roderick Hanscom’ and yet make him lovable.”

“But, great heavens! if you make him lovable the character’s ruined.
Besides, the audience won’t want to see him lose the girl at the end and
‘Donald Grey’ get her!”

“No, they won’t; that’s it exactly,” said Potter thoughtfully. “You’ll
have to fix that, Mr. Canby. ‘Roderick Hanscom’ will have to win her
by a great sacrifice in the last act. A great, strong, lovable man,
Mr. Canby; that’s the kind of character I want to play: a big, sweet,
lovable fellow, with the heart of a child, that makes a great sacrifice
for a woman. I don’t want to play ‘egoists’; I don’t want to play
character parts. No.” He shook his head musingly, and concluded, the
while a light of ineffable sweetness shone from his remarkable eyes:
“Mr. Canby, no! My audience comes to see Talbot Potter. You go over
these other acts and write the part so that I can play myself.”

The playwright gazed upon him, inarticulate, and Potter, shaking himself
slightly, like one aroused from a pleasant little reverie, turned to the
waiting figure of the girl.

“What is it, Miss Malone?” he asked mildly. “Did you want to speak to
me?”

“You told Mr. Packer to ask me to wait,” she said.

“Did I? Oh, yes, so I did. If you please, take off your hat and veil,
Miss Malone?”

She gave him a startled look; then, without a word, slowly obeyed.

“Ah, yes,” he said a moment later. “We’ll find something else for Miss
Lyston when she recovers. You will keep the part.”



V


When Canby (with his hair smoothed) descended to the basement dining
room of his Madison Avenue boarding-house that evening, his table
comrades gave him an effective entrance; they rose, waving napkins and
cheering, and there were cries of “Author! Author!” “Speech!” and “Cher
maitre!”

The recipient of these honours bore them with an uneasiness attributed
to modesty, and making inadequate response, sat down to his soup with no
importunate appetite.

“Seriously, though,” said a bearded man opposite, who always broke into
everything with “seriously though,” or else, “all joking aside,” and had
thereby gained a reputation for conservatism and soundness--“seriously,
though, it must have been a great experience to take charge of the
rehearsal of such a company as Talbot Potter’s.”

“Tell us how it felt, Canby, old boy,” said another. “How does it feel
to sit up there like a king makin’ everybody step around to suit you?”

Other neighbors took it up.

“Any pretty girls in the company, Can?”

“How does it feel to be a great dramatist, old man?”

“When you goin’ to hire a valet-chauffeur?”

“Better ask him when he’s goin’ to take us to rehearsal, to see him in
his glory.”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” said the hostess deprecatingly, “Miss Cornish is
trying to speak to Mr. Canby.”

Miss Cornish, a middle-aged lady in black lace, sat at her right, at the
head of the largest table, being the most paying of these paying guests,
by which virtue she held also the ingleside premiership of the parlour
overhead. She was reputed to walk much among gentles, and to have a high
taste in letters and the drama; for she was chief of an essay club, had
a hushing manner, and often quoted with precision from reviews, or from
such publishers’ advertisements as contained no slang; and she was a
member of one of the leagues for patronizing the theatre in moderation.

“Mr. Canby,” said the hostess pleasantly, “Miss Cornish wishes to--”

This obtained the attention of the assembly, while Canby, at the other
end of the room, sat back in his chair with the unenthusiastic air of a
man being served with papers.

“Yes, Miss Cornish.”

Miss Cornish cleared her throat, not practically, but with culture, as
preliminary to an address. “I was saying, Mr. Canby,” she began, “that
I had a suggestion to make which may not only interest you, but
certain others of us who do not enjoy equal opportunities in some
matters--as--as others of us who do. Indeed, I believe it will interest
all of us without regard to--to--to this. What I was about to suggest
was that since today you have had a very interesting experience, not
only interesting because you have entered into a professional as well
as personal friendship with one of our foremost artists--an artist whose
work is cultivated always--but also interesting because there are
some of us here whose more practical occupations and walk in life must
necessarily withhold them from--from this. What I meant to suggest
was that, as this prevents them from--from this--would it not be a
favourable opportunity for them to--to glean some commentary upon the
actual methods of a field of art? Personally, it happens that whenever
opportunities and invitations have been--have been urged, other duties
intervened, but though, on that account never having been actually
present, I am familiar, of course, through conversation with great
artists and memoirs and--and other sources of literature--with the
procedure and etiquette of rehearsal. But others among us, no doubt
through lack of leisure, are perhaps less so than--than this. What I
wished to suggest was that, not now, but after dinner, we all assemble
quietly, in the large parlour upstairs, of which Mrs. Reibold has kindly
consented to allow us the use for the evening, for this purpose, and
that you, Mr. Canby, would then give us an informal talk--” (She was
momentarily interrupted by a deferential murmur of “Hear! Hear!” from
everybody.) “What I meant to suggest,” she resumed, smiling graciously
as from a platform, “was a sort of descriptive lecture, of course wholly
informal--not so much upon your little play itself, Mr. Canby, for I
believe we are all familiar with its subject-matter, but what would
perhaps be more improving in artistic ways would be that you give us
your impressions of this little experience of yours to-day while it is
fresh in your mind. I would suggest that you tell us, simply, and in
your own way, exactly what was the form of procedure at rehearsal, so
that those of us not so fortunate as to be already en rapport with
such matters may form a helpful and artistic idea of--of this. I would
suggest that you go into some details of this, perhaps adding whatever
anecdotes or incidents of--of--of the day--you think would give
additional value to this. I would suggest that you tell us, for
instance, how you were received upon your arrival, who took you to the
most favourable position for observing the performance, and what was
said. We should be glad to hear also, I am sure, and artistic thoughts
or--or knowledge--Mr. Potter may have let fall in the green-room; or
even a few witticisms might not be out of place, if you should recall
these. We should all like to know, I am sure, what Mr. Potter’s method
of conceiving his part was. Also, does he leave entire freedom to his
company in the creation of their own roles, or does he aid them? Many
questions, no doubt, occur to all of us. For instance: Did Mr. Potter
offer you any suggestions for changes and alterations that might aid to
develop the literary and artistic value of the pl--”

The placid voice, flowing on in gentle great content of itself (while
all the boarders gallantly refrained from eating), was checked by an
interruption which united into one shattering impact the effects of
lese-majeste and of violence.

“Couldn’t! No! No parlour! Horrib--”

The words mingled in the throat of the playwright, producing an
explosion somewhere between choke and bellow, as he got upon his feet,
overturning his chair and coincidentally dislodging several articles of
china and glassware. He stood among the ruins for one moment, publicly
wiping his brow with a napkin, then plunged, murmuring, out of the
room and up the stairway; and, before any of the company had
recovered speech, the front door was heard to slam tumultuously, its
reverberations being simultaneous with the sound of footsteps running
down the stoop.

Turning northward upon the pavement, the fugitive hurriedly passed
the two lighted windows of the dining-room; they rattled with a
concussion--the outburst of suddenly released voices beginning what
was to be a protracted wake over the remains of his reputation as a
gentleman. He fled, flinging on his overcoat as he went. In his pockets
were portions of the manuscript of his play, already distorted since
rehearsal to suit the new nobleness of “Roderick Hanscom,” and among
these inky sheets was a note from Talbot Potter, received just before
dinner:

Dear Mr. Canby,

Come up to my apartments at the Pantheon after dinner and let me see
what changes you have been able to make in the second and third acts.
I should like to look at them before deciding to put on another play I
have been considering.

Hastily y’rs,

Tal’t Potter.



VI


Canby walked fast, the clamorous dining-room seeming to pursue him, and
the thought of what figure he had cut there filling him with horror of
himself, though he found a little consolation in wondering if he hadn’t
insulted Miss Cornish because he was a genius and couldn’t help
doing queer things. That solace was slight, indeed; Canby was only
twenty-seven, but he was frightened.

The night before he had been as eagerly happy as a boy at Christmas Eve.
He had finished his last day at the office, and after initiating the
youth who was to take his desk, had parted with his employer genially,
but to the undeniable satisfaction of both. The new career, opening
so gloriously, a month earlier, with Talbot Potter’s acceptance of the
play, was thus definitely adopted, and no old one left to fall back
upon. And Madison Avenue, after dark, shows little to reassure a new
playwright who carries in his pocket a note ending with the words,
“before deciding to put on another play I have been considering.” It was
Bleak Street, that night, for young Stewart Canby, and a bleak, bleak
walk he took therein.

Desperate alterations were already scratched into the manuscript; plans
for more and more ran overlapping one another in his mind, accompanied
by phrases--echoes and fragments of Talbot Potter: “Punch! What this
play needs is Punch!” “Big love scenes!” “Big scene with a man!” “Great
sacrifice for a woman!” “Big-hearted, lovable fellow!” “You dog! So on,
so on!” “Zowie!” He must get all this into the play and yet preserve
his “third act situation,” leniently admitted to be “quite a fair” one.
Slacking his gait somewhat, the tormented young man lifted his hat in
order to run his hand viciously through his hair, which he seemed to
blame for everything. Then he muttered, under his breath, indignantly:
“Darn you, let me alone!”

Curious bedevilment! It was not Talbot Potter whom he thus adjured: it
was Wanda Malone. And yet, during the rehearsal, he had not once thought
consciously of the understudy; and he had come away from the theatre
occupied--exclusively, he would have sworn--with the predicament in
which he found himself and his play. Surely that was enough to fill and
overflow any new playwright’s mind, but, about half an hour after he had
reached his room and set to work upon the manuscript of the second
act, he discovered that he had retained, unawares, a singularly clear
impression of Miss Malone.

Then, presently, he realized that distinct pictures of her kept
coming between him and his work, and that her voice rang softly
and persistently in his ear. Over and over in that voice’s slender
music--plaintive, laughing, reaching everywhere so clearly--he heard the
detested “line”: “What are you two good people conspiring about?” Over
and over he saw the slow, comprehending movement with which she removed
her hat and veil to let Talbot Potter judge her. And as she stood, with
that critic’s eye searching her, Canby remembered that through some
untraceable association of ideas he had inexplicably thought of a
drawing of “Florence Dombey” in an old set of Dickens engravings he had
seen at his grandfather’s in his boyhood--and had not seen since. And
he remembered the lilac bushes in bloom on a May morning at his
grandfather’s. Somehow she made him think of them, too.

And as he sat at his desk, striving to concentrate upon the manuscript,
the clearness with which Wanda Malone came before him increased; she
became more and more vivid to him, and she would not be dismissed; she
persisted and insisted, becoming first an annoyance, and then, as he
fought the witchery, a serious detriment to his writing. She became part
of every thought about his play, and of every other thought. He did not
want her; he felt no interest in her; he had vital work to do--and she
haunted him, seemed to be in the very room with him. He worked in spite
of her, but she pursued him none the less constantly; she had gone down
the stairs to dinner with him; she floated before him throughout the
torture of Miss Cornish’s address; she was present even when he exploded
and fled; she was with him now, in this desolate walk toward Talbot
Potter’s apartment--the pale, symmetrical little face and the relentless
sweet voice commandeering the attention he wanted desperately to keep
upon what he meant to say to Potter.

Once before in his life he had suffered such an experience: that of
having his thoughts possessed, against his will, by a person he did not
know and did not care to know. It had followed his happening to see an
intoxicated truck-driver lying beneath an overturned wagon. “Easy, boys!
Don’ mangle me!” the man kept begging his rescuers. And Canby recalled
how “Easy, boys! Don’ mangle me!” sounded plaintively in his ears for
days, bothering him in his work at the office. Remembering it now, he
felt a spiteful satisfaction in classing that obsession with this one.
It seemed at least a step toward teaching Miss Wanda Malone to know her
place.

But he got no respite from the siege, and was still incessantly
beleaguered when he encountered the marble severities of the Pantheon
Apartments’ entrance hall and those of its field-marshal, who paraded
him stonily to the elevator. Mr. Potter’s apartment was upon the twelfth
floor, a facet stated in a monosyllable by the field-marshal, and
confirmed, upon the opening of the cage at that height, by Mr. Potter’s
voice melodiously belling a flourish of laughter on the other side of
a closed door bearing his card. It was rich laughter, cadenced and deep
and loud, but so musically modulated that, though it might never seem
impromptu, even old Carson Tinker had once declared that he liked to
listen to it almost as much as Potter did.

Old Carson Tinker was listening to it now, as Canby discovered, after
a lisping Japanese had announced him at the doorway of a cream-coloured
Louis Sixteenth salon: an exquisite apartment, delicately personalized
here and there by luxurious fragilities which would have done
charmingly, on the stage, for a marquise’s boudoir. Old Tinker, in
evening dress, sat uncomfortably, sideways, upon the edge of a wicker
and brocade “chaise lounge,” finishing a tiny glass of chartreuse, while
Talbot Potter, in the middle of the room, took leave of a second guest
who had been dining with him.

Potter was concluding the rendition of hilarity which had penetrated to
the outer hall, and, merely waving the playwright toward Tinker, swept
the same gesture upward to complete it by resting a cordial hand
upon the departing guest’s shoulder. This personage, a wasp-figured,
languorous youth, with pale plastered hair over a talcum face, flicked
his host lightly upon the breast with a pair of white gloves.

“None the less, Pottuh,” he said, “why shouldn’t you play Othello as a
mulatto? I maintain, you see, it would be taking a step in technique;
they’d get the face, you see. Then I want you to do something really and
truly big: Oedipus. Why not Oedipus? Think of giving the States a thing
like Oedipus done as you could do it! Of coss, I don’t say you could
ever be another Mewnay-Sooyay. No. I don’t go that far. You haven’t
Mewnay-Sooyay’s technique. But you could give us just the savour of
Attic culture--at least the savour, you see. The mere savour would be
something. Why should you keep on producing these cheap little plays
they foist on you? Oh, I know you always score a personal success in
the wahst of them, but they’ve never given you a Big character--and
the play, outside of you, is always piffle. Of coss, you know what
I’ve always wanted you to do, what I’ve constantly insisted in print:
Rostand. You commission Rostand to do one of his magnificent things for
you and we serious men will do our part. Now, my duh good chap, I must
be getting on, or the little gel will be telephoning all round the
town!” He turned to the door, pausing upon the threshold. “Now, don’t
let any of these cheap little fellows foist any of their cheap little
plays on you. This for my stirrup-cup: you cable Rostand tomorrow. Drop
the cheap little things and cable Rostand. Tell him I suggested it, if
you like.” He disappeared in the hallway, calling back: “My duh Pottuh,
good-night!” And the outer door was heard to close.

Canby, feeling a natural prejudice against this personage, glanced
uneasily at Talbot Potter’s face and was surprised to find that fine
bit of modelling contorted with rage. The sight of this emotion was
reassuring, but its source was a mystery, for it had seemed to the
playwright that the wasp-waisted youth’s remarks--though horribly
damaging to the cheap little Canbys with their cheap little “Roderick
Hanscoms”--were on the whole rather flattering to the subject of them,
and betokened a real interest in his career.

“Ass!” said Potter.

Canby exhaled a breath of relief. He began to feel that it might be
possible to like this man.

“Ass!” said Potter, striding up and down the room. “Ass! Ass! Ass! Ass!”

And Canby felt easier and happier. He foresaw, too, that there would be
no cabling to Rostand, a thing he had naively feared, for a moment, as
imminent.

Potter halted, bursting into speech less monosyllabic but no less
vehement: “Mr. Tinker, did you ever see Mounet-Sully?”

“No.”

“Did you, Mr. Canby?”

“No.”

“Mewnay-Sooyay!” Potter mimicked the pronunciation of his adviser.
“‘Mewnay-Sooyay! Of coss I don’t say YOU could ever be another
Mewnay-Sooyay!’ Ass! I’ll tell you what Mounet-Sully’s ‘technique’
amounts to, Mr. Tinker. It’s yell! Just yell, yell, yell! Does he think
I can’t yell! Why, Packer could open his mouth like a hippopotamus and
yell through a part! Ass!”

“Was that young man a-a critic?” Canby asked.

“No!” shouted Potter. “There aren’t any!”

“He writes about theatrical matters,” said Carson Tinker. “Talky-talk
writing: ‘the drama’--‘temperament’--‘people of cultivation’--quotes
Latin or Italian or something. ‘Technique’ is his star word; he plays
‘technique’ for a hand every other line. Doesn’t do any harm; in fact,
I think he does us a good deal of good. Lots of people read that
talky-talk writing nowadays. Not in New York, but in road-towns, where
they have plenty of time. This fellow’s never against any show much,
unless he takes a notion. You slip ‘dolsy far nienty’ or something about
Danty or logarithms somewhere into your play, where it won’t delay the
action much, and he’ll be for you.”

Canby nodded and laughed eagerly. Tinker seemed to take it for granted
that “Roderick Hanscom” was to be produced in spite of “another play I
have been considering.”

“There aren’t any critics, I tell you!” Potter stormed. “Mounet-Sully!”

“Well,” said old Tinker quietly, “I’d like to believe it, but people
making a living that way have ruined a good many million dollars’ worth
of property in this town. Some of it was very good property.” He paused,
and added: “Some of it was mine, too.”

“Good property?” said the playwright with fresh uneasiness. “You mean
the critics sometimes ruin a good play?”

“How do they know a good play--or good acting?” Tinker returned
placidly. “Every play you ever saw in your life, some people in the
audience said they thought it was good; some said it was bad. How do
critics know any more about it than anybody else? For instance, how can
anybody that hasn’t been in the business tell what’s good acting and
what’s a good part?”

“But a critic--aren’t critics in the bus--”

“No. They aren’t theatrical people,” said Tinker dryly. “They’re
writers.”

“But some of them must have studied from the inside,” Canby urged,
feeling that “Roderick Hanscom’s” chances were getting slighter and
slighter. “Some of them must have either been managers for a while, or
actors--or had plays pro--”

“No,” said Tinker. “If they had they wouldn’t do for critics. They
wouldn’t have the heart.”

“They oughtn’t to have so much power!” the young man exclaimed
passionately. “Think of a playwright working on his play--two years,
maybe--night after night--and then, all in one swoop, these fellows that
you say don’t know anything--”

“Power!” Potter laughed contemptuously. “Tinker, you’re in your dotage!
Look at what I’ve done: Haven’t I made my way in spite of everything
they could do to stifle me? And have I ever compromised for one moment?
Haven’t I gone my own way, absolutely?”

“Yes.” Tinker’s face was more cryptic than usual. “Yes, indeed!”

“Power! Haven’t I made them eat out of my hand? Look at that ass--glad
to crawl in here and nibble a crust from my table to-night! Ass!” He had
halted for a second in front of the manager, but resumed his pacing with
a mutter of subterranean thunder: “Mounet-Sully!”

“Hasn’t the public got a mind?” cried Canby. “Doesn’t the public
understand that a good play might be ruined by these scoundrels?”

Old Tinker returned his chartreuse glass to the case whence it came, a
miniature sedan chair in silver and painted silk. “The public?” he said.
“I’ve never been able to find out what that was. Just about the time I
decided it was a trained sheep it turned out to be a cyclone. You think
it’s intelligent, and it plays the fool; you decide it’s a fool, and
it turns out to know more than you do. You make love to it, and it may
sidle up and kiss you--or give you a good, hard kick!”

“But if we make this a good play--”

“It won’t be a play at all,” said Tinker, “unless the public thinks it’s
a good one. A play isn’t something you read; it’s something actors do on
a stage; and they can’t afford to do it unless the public pays to watch
‘em. If it won’t buy tickets, you haven’t got a play; you’ve only got
some typewriting.”

Canby glanced involuntarily at the blue-covered manuscript he had placed
upon a table beside him. It had a guilty look.

“I get confused,” he said. “If the public’s so flighty, why does it take
so much stock in what these wolves print about a play?”

“Print. That’s it,” old Tinker answered serenely. “Write your opinion in
a letter or say it with your mouth, and it doesn’t amount to anything.
Print’s different. You see some nonsense about yourself in a newspaper,
and you think I’m an idiot for believing it. But you read nonsense about
me, and you believe it. You don’t stop and think; ‘That’s a lie; he
isn’t that sort of a man.’ No. You just wonder why I’m such a darn
fool.”

“Then these cannibals have got us where--”

“Dotage!” Talbot Potter broke in, halting under the chandelier.
“Tinker’s reached his dotage!” He levelled a denouncing forefinger at
the manager. “Do you mean to tell me that if I decide to go on with Mr.
Canby’s play any critic or combination or cabal of critics can keep it
from being a success? Then I tell you, you’re in your dotage! For one
point, if I play this part they’re going to say it’s a big thing; I
don’t mean the play, of course, because you must know, yourself, Mr.
Canby, we could bribe them into calling it a strong play. We know it
isn’t, and they’ll know it isn’t. What I mean is the characterization of
‘Roderick Hanscom.’ I tell you, if I do it, they’re going to call it
a big thing. They aren’t all maniacs about everything made in France,
thank heaven! Rostand! Ass! I’m not playing parts with a clothespin on
the end of my nose!” And again he mimicked the departed visitor: “‘This
for my stirrup-cup: you cable Rostand tomorrow.’ My soul! Does he think
I want to play CHICKENS?”

Sulphurously, he resumed his pacing of the floor.

Old Tinker seemed unaffected by this outburst, but for that matter he
seemed unaffected by anything. His dead gaze followed his employer’s
to-and-fro striding as a cat’s follows a pendulum, but without the
cat’s curiosity about a pendulum. He never interrupted when Potter was
speaking; and Canby noticed that whenever Potter talked at any length
Tinker looked thoughtful and distant, like a mechanic so accustomed
to the whirr and thunder of the machine-shop that he may indulge in
reveries there. After a moment or two the old fellow ceased to follow
the pendulum stride, and turned to the playwright.

“I’ll tell you the two surest ways to make what you call the public like
a play, Mr. Canby,” he said. “Nothing is sure, but these are the nearest
to it. Make ‘em laugh. I mean, make ‘em laugh after they get home, or
the next day in the office, any time they get to thinking about it. The
other way is to get two actors for your lovers that the audience, young
and old, can’t help falling in love with; a young actor that the females
in the audience think they’d like to marry, and a young actress that the
males all think they’d like to marry. It doesn’t matter much about the
writing; just have something interfere between them from eight-fifteen
until along about twenty-five minutes after ten. The two lovers don’t
necessarily have to know much about acting, either, though of course
it’s better if they happen to. The best stage-lover I ever knew, and the
one that played in the most successes, did happen to understand acting
thor--”

“Who was that?” Potter interrupted fiercely. “Mounet-Sully?”

“No. I meant Dora Preston.”

“Never heard of her!”

“No,” said the old man. “You wouldn’t. They don’t put up monuments to
pretty actresses, nor write about them in school histories. She dropped
dead in her dressing-room one night forty-two years ago. I was thinking
of her to-day; something reminded me of her.”

“Was she a friend of yours, Mr. Tinker?” Canby asked.

“Friend? No. I was an usher in the old Calumet Theatre, and she owned
New York. She had this quality; every man in the audience fell in love
with her. So did the women, too, for that matter, and the actors who
played with her. When she played a love-scene, people who’d been married
thirty years would sit and watch her and hold each other’s hands--yes,
with tears in their eyes. I’ve seen ‘em. And after the performance,
one night, the stage-door keeper, a man seventy years old, was caught
kissing the latch of the door where she’d touched it; and he was sober,
too. There was something about her looks and something about her voice
you couldn’t get away from. You couldn’t tell to save you what it was,
but after you’d seen her she’d seem to be with you for days, and you
couldn’t think much about anything else, even if you wanted to. People
used to go around in a kind of spell; they couldn’t think of anything or
talk of anything but Dora Preston. It didn’t matter much what she did;
everything she did made you feel like a boy falling in love the first
time. It made you think of apple-blossoms and moonlight just to look at
her. She--”

“See here, Mr. Canby”--Talbot Potter interrupted suddenly. He dropped
into a chair and picked up the manuscript--“See here! I’ve got an idea
that may save this play. Suppose we let ‘Roderick Hanscom’ make his
sacrifice, not for the heroine, but because he’s in love with the other
girl--the ingenue--I’ve forgotten the name you call her in
the script. I mean the part played by that little Miss Miss
girl--Miss-what’s-her-name--Wanda Malone!”

Canby stared at Potter in fascinated amazement, his straining eyes
showing the whites above and below the pupils. It was the look of a man
struck dumb by a sudden marvel of telepathy.

“Why, yes,” he said slowly, when he had recovered his breath, “I believe
that would be a good idea!”



VII


For two hours, responding to the manipulation of the star and his
thoroughly subjugated playwright, the character of “Roderick Hanscom”
 grew nobler and nobler, speech by speech and deed by deed, while the
expression of the gentleman who was to impersonate it became, in precise
parallel with this regeneration, sweeter and loftier and lovelier.

“A little Biblical quotation wouldn’t go so bad right in there,” he
said, when they had finally established the Great Sacrifice for a Woman.
“We’ll let Roderick have a line like: ‘Greater love hath no man than
laying down his life to save another’s.’” He touched a page of the
manuscript with his finger. “There’s a good place for it.”

“Aren’t you afraid it would sound a little--smug?” Canby asked timidly.
“The way we’ve got him now, Roderick seems to me to be always seeing
himself as a splendid man and sort of pointing it out to the--”

“Good gracious!” cried Potter, astounded. “Hasn’t it got to be pointed
out? The audience hasn’t got a whole lifetime to study him in; it’s only
got about two hours. Besides, I don’t see what you say; I don’t see it
at all! It seems to me I’ve worked him around into being a perfectly
natural character.”

“I suppose you’re right,” said Canby, meekly scribbling.

“Biblical quotations never do any harm to the box-office,” Potter added.
“You may not get a hand on ‘em, but you’ll never get a cough, either.”
 He looked dreamily at the ceiling. “I’ve often thought of doing a
Biblical play. I’d have it built around the character of St. Paul.
That’s one they haven’t touched yet, and it’s new. I wouldn’t do it with
a beard and long hair. I wouldn’t use much makeup. No. Just the face as
it is.”

“You can do practically anything with a religious show,” said Tinker.
“That’s been proved. You can run in gambling and horse-racing and
ballys, and you’ll get people into the house, night after night, that
think the theatre’s wicked and wouldn’t go to see ‘Rip Van Winkle.’ They
do a lot of good, too--religious shows--just that way.”

“I think I’d play it in armour,” Potter continued his thought, still
gazing at the ceiling. “I believe it would be a big thing.”

“It might if it was touted right,” said Tinker. “It all depends on the
touting. If you get it touted to the tank towns that you’ve got a play
with the great religious gonzabo, then your show’s a big property. Same
if you get it touted for a great educational gonzabo. Or ‘artistic.’
Get it touted right for ‘artistic,’ and the tanks’ll think they like
it, even if they don’t. Look at ‘Cyrano’--they liked Mansfield and his
acting, but they didn’t like the show. They said they liked the show,
and thought they did, but they didn’t. If they’d like it as much as
they said they did, that show would be running like ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’
Speaking of that”--he paused, coughed, and went on--“I’m glad you’ve got
the ingenue’s part straightened out in this piece. I thought from the
first it would stand a little lengthening.”

Potter, unheeding, dreamily proceeded: “In silver armour. Might silver
the hair a little--not too much. Play it as a spiritual character, but
not solemn. Wouldn’t make it turgid; keep it light. Have the whole
play spiritual but light. For instance, have room in it for a religious
ingenue part--make her a younger sister of Mary Magdalene, say, with St.
Paul becoming converted for her sake after he’d been a Roman General. I
believe it’s a big idea.”

Canby was growing nervous. All this seemed to be rambling farther and
farther from “Roderick Hanscom.” Potter relieved his anxiety, however,
after a thoughtful sigh, by saying abruptly: “Well, well, we can’t go
into a big production like that, this late in the year. We’ll have to
see what can be done with ‘Roderick Hanscom.’” He looked at the door,
where the Japanese was performing a shrinking curtsey. “What is it,
Sato?”

“Miss Pata.”

“Who?”

“Miss Pata.”

A voice called from the hallway: “It’s me, Mr. Potter. Packer.”

“Oh, come in! Come in!”

The stage-manager made a deferential entrance. “It’s about Miss--”

“Sit down, Packer.”

“Thank you, Mr. Potter.” Evidently considering the command a favour,
Packer sat. “I saw Miss Lyston, sir--”


“I won’t turn her adrift,” said his employer peevishly. “You see, Mr.
Canby, here’s another of the difficulties of my position. Miss Lyston
has been with me for several years, and for this piece we’ve got
somebody I think will play her part better, but I haven’t any other part
for Miss Lyston. And we start so late in the season, this year, she’ll
probably not be able to get anything else to do; so she’s on my hands.
I can’t turn people out in the snow like that. Some managers can, but
I can’t. And yet I have letters begging me for all kinds of charities
every day. They don’t know what my company costs me in money like
this--absolutely thrown away so far as any benefit to me is concerned.
And often I find I’ve been taken advantage of, too. I shouldn’t be at
all surprised to find that Miss Lyston has comfortable investments right
now, and that she’s only scheming to--Packer, don’t you know whether
she’s been saving her salary or not? If you don’t you ought to.”

“I came to tell you, sir. I thought you might be relieved to know. We
don’t have to bother about her, Mr. Potter. I’ve been to see her at
her flat, this evening, and she’s as anxious to get away from us, Mr.
Potter, as we are to--”

The star rose to his feet, his face suffusing. “You sit there,”
 he exclaimed, “and tell me that a member of my company finds the
association so distasteful that she wants to get away!”

“Oh, no, Mr. Potter!” the stage-manager protested. “Not that at all!
She’s very sorry to go. She asked me to tell you that she felt she was
giving up a great honour, and to thank you for all your kindness to
her.”

“Go on!” Potter sternly bade him. “Why does she wish to leave my
company?”

“Why, it seems she’s very much in love with her husband, sir, Vorley
Surbilt--”

“It doesn’t seem possible,” said Potter, shaking his head. “I know him,
and it sounds like something you’re making up as you go along, Packer.”

“Indeed, I’m not, Mr. Potter!” the stage-manager cried, in simple
distress. “I wouldn’t know how.”

“Go on!”

“Well, sir, it seems Vorly Surbilt was to go out with Mrs. Romaley, and
it seems that when Miss Lyston left rehearsal she drove around till she
found him--”

“Ah! I knew she was fooling me! I knew she wasn’t sick! Went to drive
with her husband, and I pay the cab bill!”

“No, no, sir! I forgot to tell you; she wouldn’t let me pay it. She took
him home and put him to bed--and from what I heard on Broadway it was
time somebody did! It seems they’d had an offer to go into a vaudeville
piece together, and after she got him to bed she telephoned the
vaudeville man, and had him bring up a contract, and they signed it,
though she had to guide Vorley’s hand for him. Anyway, he’s signed up
all right, and so is she. That’s why she was so anxious about fixing it
up with us. I told her it would be all right.”

Potter relapsed into his chair in an attitude of gloom. “So they’ve
begun to leave Talbot Potter’s company!” he said, nodding his head with
bitter melancholy. “For vaudeville! I’d better go to farming at once; I
often think of it. What sort of an act is it that Miss Lyston prefers to
remaining with me? Acrobatic?”

“It’s a little play,” said Packer. “It’s from the Grand Guignol.”

“French!” Potter this simply as an added insult on the part of Miss
Lyston. “French!”

“They say it’s a wonderful little thing,” said Packer innocently, but
it was as if he had run a needle into his sensitive employer. Potter
instantly sprang up again with a cry of pain.

“Of course it’s wonderful! It’s French; everything French is wonderful,
magnificent, Supreme! Everything French is HOLY! Good God, Packer!
You’ll be telling me what my ‘technique’ ought to be, next!”

He hurled himself again into the chair and moaned, then in a dismal
voice inquired; “Miss Lyston struck you as feeling that her condition
in life was distinctly improved by this ascent into vaudeville, didn’t
she?”

“Oh, not at all, Mr. Potter! But, of course,” Packer explained
deprecatingly, “she’s pleased to have Vorly where she can keep an eye
on him. She said that though she was all broken up about leaving the
company, she expected to be very happy in looking after him. You see,
sir, it’s the first time in all their married life they’ve had a chance
to be together except one summer when neither of ‘em could get a stock
engagement.”

Potter made no reply but to shake his head despondently, and Packer sat
silent in deference, as if waiting to be questioned further. It was
the playwright who presently filled the void. “Why haven’t Mr. and Mrs.
Surbilt gone into the same companies, if they care to be together? I
should think they’d have made it a point to get engagements in the same
ones.”

Packer looked disturbed. “It’s not done much,” he said.

“Besides, Vorly Surbilt plays leading parts with women stars,” old
Tinker volunteered. “You see, naturally, it wouldn’t do at all.”

“Jealousy, you mean?”

“Not necessarily the kind you’re thinking of. But it just doesn’t do.”

“Some managers will allow married couples in their companies,” Potter
said, adding emphatically: “I won’t! I never have and I never will!
Never! There’s just one thing every soul in my support has got to keep
working for, and that is a high-tension performance every night in the
year. If married people are in love with each other, they’re going to
think more about that than about the fact that they’re working for me.
If they aren’t in love with each other, there’s the devil to pay. I’d
let the best man or woman in the profession go--and they could go to
vaudeville, for all I cared!--if I had to keep their wives or husbands
travelling with us. I won’t have ‘em! My soul! I don’t marry, do I?”

Packer rose. “Is there anything else for me, Mr. Potter?”

“Yes. Take this interlined script, get some copies typewritten, and see
that the company’s sides are changed to suit it. Be especially careful
about that young Miss--ah--Miss Malone’s. You’ll find her part is
altered considerably, and will be even more, when Mr. Canby gets the
dialogue for other changes finished. He’ll let you have them to-morrow.
By the way, Packer, where did you find--” He paused, stretched out his
hand to the miniature sedan chair of liqueurs, took a decanter and tiny
glass therefrom, and carefully poured himself a sparkling emerald of
creme de menthe. “Will you have something, Mr. Canby?” he asked. “You,
Tinker?”

Both declined in silence; they seemed preoccupied.

“Where did I what, Mr. Potter?” asked the stage-manager, reminding him
of the question left unfinished.

“What?”

“You said: ‘By the way, where did you find--’”

“Oh, yes.” Potter smiled negligently. “Where did you find that little
Miss Malone? At the agents’?”

Packer echoed him: “Where did I find her?” He scratched his head.
“Miss”--he said ruminatively, repeating the word slowly, like a man
trying to work out the solution of a puzzle--“Miss--”

“Miss Malone. I suppose you got her at an agent’s?”

“Let’s see,” said Packer. “At an agent’s? No. No, it wasn’t. Come to
think of it, it wasn’t.”

“Then where did you get her?” Tinker inquired.

“That’s what I just asked him,” Potter said, placing his glass upon a
table without having tasted the liqueur. “What’s the matter, Packer?
Gone to sleep?”

“I remember now,” said Packer, laughing deferentially. “Of course! No.
It wasn’t through any of the agents. Now I remember--come to think of
it--I sort of ran across her myself, as a matter of fact. I wasn’t just
sure who you meant at first. You mean the understudy, the one that’s
to play Miss Lyston’s part, that Miss--Miss--” He snapped a finger and
thumb to spur memory and then, as in triumphant solution of his puzzle,
cried, “Ma--Malone! Miss Malone!”

“Yes,” said Potter, looking upon him darkly. “Where did you sort of run
across her, come to think of it, as a matter of fact?”

“Oh, I remember all about it, now,” said Packer brightly. “Why, she was
playing last summer in stock out at Seeleyville, Pennsylvania. That’s
only about six miles from Packer’s Ridge, where my father lives. I spent
a couple of weeks with him, and we trolleyed over one evening to see
‘The Little Minister,’ because father got it in his head some way that
it was about the Baptists, and I couldn’t talk him out of it. It wasn’t
as bad a performance as you’d think, and this little girl was a pretty
fair ‘Babbie.’ Father forgot all about the Baptists and kept talking
about her after we got home, until nothing would do but we must go over
and see that show again. He wanted to take her right out to the farm and
adopt her--or something; he’s a widower, and all alone out there. Fact
is, I had all I could do to keep him from going around to ask her, and
I was pretty near afraid he’d speak to her from the audience. Well, to
satisfy him, I did go around after the show, and gave her my card, and
told her if I could do anything for her in New York to let me know. Of
course, naturally, when I got back to town I forgot all about it, but
I got a note from her that she was here, looking for an engagement, the
very day you told me to scare up an understudy. So I thought she might
do as well as anybody I’d get at the agent’s, and I let her have it.” He
drew a breath of relief, like that of a witness leaving the stand, and
with another placative laugh, letting his eyes fall humbly under the
steady scrutiny of his master, he concluded: “Of course I remember all
about it, only at first I wasn’t sure which one you meant; it’s such a
large company.”

“I see,” said Potter grimly. “You engaged her to please your father.”

“Oh, Mr. Potter!” the stage-manager protested. “If you don’t like her--”

“That will do!” Potter cut him off, and paced the floor, virulently
brooding. “And so Talbot Potter’s company is to be made up of actors
engaged to suit the personal whims of L. Smith Packer’s father, old
Mister Packer of Baptist Ridge, near Seeleyville, Pennsylvania!”

“But, Mr. Potter, if you don’t--”

“I said that would DO!” roared Potter. “Good-night!”

“Good-night, sir,” said the stage-manager humbly, and humbly got himself
out of the room, to be heard, an instant later, bidding the Japanese an
apologetic good-night at the outer door of the apartment.

Canby rose to take his own departure, promising to have the new dialogue
“worked out” by morning.

“He is, too!” said Potter, not heeding the playwright, but confirming an
unuttered thought in his own mind. He halted at the table, where he
had set his tiny glass, and gulped the emerald at a swallow. “I always
thought he was!”

“Was what?” inquired old Tinker.

“A hypocrite!”

“D’you mean Packer?” said Tinker incredulously.

“He’s a hypocrite!” Potter shouted fiercely. “And I shouldn’t be
surprised if his father was another! Widower! I never saw the man in my
life, but I’d swear it on oath! He is a hypocrite! Packer’s father is a
damned old Baptist hypocrite!”



VIII


With this sonorous bit of character reading still ringing in his
ears, Canby emerged from the cream-coloured apartment to find the
stoop-shouldered figure of the also hypocritical son leaning wearily
against the wall, waiting for a delaying elevator. The attitude was
not wholly devoid of pathos, to Canby’s view of it. Neither was
the careworn, harried face, unharmoniously topped by a green hat so
sparklingly jaunty, not only in colour but in its shape and the angle
of its perch, that it was outright hilarious, and, above the face of
Packer, made the playwright think pityingly of a St. Patrick’s Day party
holding a noisy celebration upon a hearse.

Its wearer nodded solemnly as the elevator bounced up, flashing, and
settled to the level of the floor; but the quick drop through the long
shaft seemed to do the stage-manager a disproportionate amount of good.
Halfway down he emitted a heavy “Whew!” of relief and threw back his
shoulders. He seemed to swell, to grow larger; lines verged into the
texture of his face, disappearing; and with them went care and seeming
years. Canby had casually taken him to be about forty, but so radical
was the transformation of him that, as the distance from his harrowing
overlord increased, the playwright beheld another kind of creature. In
place of the placative, middle-aged varlet, troubled and hurrying
to serve, there stepped out of the elevator, at the street level, a
deep-chested, assertive, manly adventurer, about thirty, kindly eyed,
picturesque, and careless. The green hat belonged to him perfectly.

He gave Canby a look of burlesque ruefulness over his shoulder, the
comedy appeal of one schoolboy to another as they leave a scolding
teacher on the far side of the door. “The governor does keep himself
worked up!” he laughed, as they reached the street and paused. “If it
isn’t one thing, it’s some thing!”

“Perhaps it’s my play just now,” said Canby. “I was afraid, earlier this
evening, he meant to drop it. Making so many changes may have upset his
nerves.”

“Lord bless your soul! No!” exclaimed the new Packer. “His nerves are
all right! He’s always the same! He can’t help it!”

“I thought possibly he might have been more upset than usual,” Canby
said. “There was a critic or something that--”

“No, no, Mr. Canby!” Packer chuckled. “New plays and critics, they don’t
worry him any more than anything else. Of course he isn’t going to be
pleased with any critics. Most of them give him splendid notices, but
they don’t please him. How could they?”

“He’s always the same, you think?” Canby said blankly.

“Always--always at top pitch, that is, and always unexpected. You’ll see
as you get to know him. You won’t know him any better than you do
now, Mr. Canby; you’ll only know him more. I’ve been with him for four
years--stage-manager--hired man--maid-of-all-work--order his meals for
him in hotels--and I guess old Tinker and I know him as well as anybody
does, but it’s a mighty big job to handle him just right. It keeps us
hopping, but that’s bread and butter. Not much bread and butter anywhere
these days unless you do hop! We all have to hop for somebody!” He
chuckled again, and then unexpectedly became so serious he was almost
truculent. “And I tell you, Mr. Canby,” he cried, “by George! I’d
sooner hop for Talbot Potter than for any other man that ever walked the
earth!”

He took a yellow walking-stick from under his arm, thrust the manuscript
Potter had given him into the pocket of his light overcoat, and bade
his companion good-night with a genial flourish of the stick. “Subway to
Brooklyn for mine. Your play will go, all right; don’t worry about that,
Mr. Canby. Good-night and good luck, Mr. Canby.”

Canby went the other way, marvelling.

It was eleven; and for half an hour the theatres had been releasing
their audiences to the streets;--the sidewalks were bobbing and
fluttering; automobiles cometed by bleating peevishly. Suddenly, through
the window of a limousine, brilliantly lighted within, Canby saw the
face of Wanda Malone, laughing, and embowered in white furs. He stopped,
startled; then he realized that Wanda Malone’s hair was not red. The
girl in the limousine had red hair, and was altogether unlike Wanda
Malone in feature and expression.

He walked on angrily.

Immediately a slender girl, prettily dressed, passed him. She clung
charmingly to the arm of a big boy; and to Canby’s first glance she was
Wanda Malone. Wrenching his eyes from her, he saw Wanda Malone across
the street getting into a taxicab, and then he stumbled out of the
way of a Wanda Malone who almost walked into him. Wherever there was a
graceful gesture or turn of the head, there was Wanda Malone.

He wheeled, and walked back toward Broadway, and thought he caught a
glimpse of Packer going into a crowded drug-store near the corner. The
man he took to be Packer lifted his hat and spoke to a girl who was
sitting at a table and drinking soda-water, but when she looked up
and seemed to be Wanda Malone with a blue veil down to her nose, Canby
turned on his heel, face-about, and headed violently for home.

When he reached quieter streets his gait slackened, and he walked
slowly, lost in deep reverie. By and by he came to a halt, and stood
still for several minutes without knowing it. Slowly he came out of the
trance, wondering where he was. Then he realized that his staring
eyes had halted him automatically; and as they finally conveyed their
information to his conscious mind, he perceived that he was standing
directly in front of a saloon, and glaring at the sign upon the window:

ALES WINES LIQUORS AND CIGARS

TIM MALONE

At that, somewhere in his inside, he cried out, in a kind of anguish:
“Isn’t there anything--anywhere--any more--except Wanda Malone!”



IX


“Second act, ladies and gentlemen!” cried Packer, at precisely ten
o’clock the next morning.

About a dozen actors were chatting in small groups upon the stage;
three or four paced singly, muttering and mildly gesticulating, with
the fretful preoccupation of people trying to remember; two or three,
seated, bent over their typewritten “sides,” studying intently; and a
few, invisible from the auditorium, were scattered about the rearward
rooms and passageways. Talbot Potter, himself, was nowhere to be seen,
and, what was even more important to one tumultuously beating heart “in
front,” neither was Wanda Malone. Mr. Stewart Canby in a silvery
new suit, wearing a white border to his waistcoat collar and other
decorations proper to a new playwright, sat in the centre of the front
row of the orchestra. Yesterday he had taken a seat about nine rows
back.

He bore no surface signs of the wear and tear of a witches’ night;
riding his runaway play and fighting the enchantment that was upon him.
Elastic twenty-seven does not mark a bedless session with violet arcs
below its eyes;--what violet a witch had used upon Stewart Canby this
morning appeared as a dewey boutonniere in the lapel of his new coat; he
was that far gone.

Miss Ellsling and a youth of the company took their places near the
front of the stage and began the rehearsal of the second act with a
dialogue that led up to the entrance of the star with the “ingenue,”
 both of whom still remained out of the playwright’s range of vision.

As the moment for their appearance drew near, Canby became, to his own
rage, almost uncontrollably agitated. Miss Ellsling’s scene, which he
should have followed carefully, meant nothing to him but a ticking off
of the seconds before he should behold with his physical eyes the
living presence of the fairy ghost that had put a spell upon him. He was
tremulous all over.

Miss Ellsling and her companion came to a full stop and stood waiting.
Thereupon Packer went to the rear of the stage, leaned through an open
doorway, and spoke deferentially:

“Mr. Potter? All ready, sir. All ready, Miss--ah--Malone?”

Then he stepped back with the air of an unimportant person making way
for his betters to pass before him, while Canby’s eyes fixed themselves
glassily upon the shabby old doorway through which an actual, breathing
Wanda Malone was to come.

But he was destined not to see her appear in that expectant frame.
Twenty years before--though he had forgotten it--in a dazzling room
where there was a Christmas tree, he had uttered a shriek of ecstatic
timidity just as a jingling Santa Claus began to emerge from behind
the tree, and he had run out of the room and out of the house. He did
exactly the same thing now, though this time the shriek was not vocal.

Suffocating, he fled up the aisle and out into the lobby. There he
addressed himself distractedly but plainly:

“Jackass!”

Breathing heavily, he went out to the wide front steps of the theatre
and stood, sunlit Broadway swimming before him.

“Hello, Canby!”

A shabby, shaggy, pale young man, with hot eyes, checked his ardent gait
and paused, extending a cordial, thin hand, the fingers browned at the
sides by cigarettes smoked to the bitter end. “Rieger,” he said. “Arnold
Rieger. Remember me at the old Ink Club meetings before we broke up?”

“Yes,” said Canby dimly. “Yes. The old Ink Club. I came out for a breath
of air. Just a breath.”

“We used to settle the universe in that little back restaurant room,”
 said Rieger. “Not one of use had ever got a thing into print--and me, I
haven’t yet, for that matter. Editors still hate my stuff. I’ve kept my
oath, though; I’ve never compromised--never for a moment.”

“Yes,” Canby responded feebly, wondering what the man was talking about.
Wanda Malone was surely on the stage, now. If he turned, walked about
thirty feet, and opened a door, he would see her--hear her speaking!

“I’ve had news of your success,” said Rieger. “I saw in the paper that
Talbot Potter was to put on a play you’d written. I congratulate you.
That man’s a great artist, but he never seems to get a good play; he’s
always much, much greater than his part. I’m sure you’ve given him a
real play at last. I remember your principles: Realism; no compromise!
The truth; no shirking it, no tampering with it! You’ve struck out for
that--you’ve never compro--”

“No. Oh, no,” said Canby, waking up a little. “Of course you’ve got to
make a little change or two in plays. You see, you’ve got to make an
actor like a play or he won’t play it, and if he won’t play it you
haven’t got any play--you’ve only got some typewriting.”

Rieger set his foot upon the step and rested his left forearm upon his
knee, and attitude comfortable for street debate. “Admitting the truth
of that for the sake of argument, and only for the moment, because I
don’t for one instant accept such a jesuitism--”

“Yes,” said Canby dreamily. “Yes.” And, with not only apparent but
genuine unconsciousness of this one-time friend’s existence, he turned
and walked back into the lobby, and presently was vaguely aware that
somebody near the street doors of the theatre seemed to be in a temper.
Somebody kept shouting “Swell-headed pup!” and “Go to the devil!”
 at somebody else repeatedly, but finally went away, after reaching a
vociferous climax of even harsher epithets and instructions.

The departure of this raging unknown left the lobby quiet; Canby had
gone near to the inner doors. Listening fearfully, he heard through
these a murmurous baritone cadencing: Talbot Potter declaiming the
inwardness of “Roderick Hanscom”; and then--oh, bells of Elfland faintly
chiming!--the voice of Wanda Malone!

He pressed, trembling, against the doors, and went in.

Talbot Potter and Wanda Malone stood together, the two alone in the
great hollow space of the stage. The actors of the company, silent
and remote, watched them; old Tinker, halfway down an aisle, stood
listening; and near the proscenium two workmen, tools in their hands,
had paused in attitudes of arrested motion. Save for the voices of the
two players, the whole vast cavern of the theatre was as still as the
very self of silence. And the stirless air that filled it was charged
with necromancy.

Rehearsal is like the painted canvas without a frame; it is more like a
plaster cast, most like of all to the sculptor’s hollow moulds. It needs
the bronze to bring a statue to life, and it needs the audience to bring
a play to life. Some glamour must come from one to the other; some wind
of enchantment must blow between them--there must be a magic spell. But
these two actors had produced the spell without the audience.

And yet they were only reading a wistful little love-scene that Stewart
Canby had written the night before.

Two people were falling in love with each other, neither realizing it.
And these two who played the lovers had found some hidden rhythm that
brought them together in one picture as a chord is one sound. They
played to each other and with each other instinctively; Talbot Potter
had forgotten “the smile” and all the mechanism that went with it. The
two held the little breathless silences of lovers; they broke these
silences timidly, and then their movements and voices ran together
like waters in a fountain. A radiance was about them as it is about all
lovers; they were suffused with it.

To Stewart Canby, watching, they seemed to move within a sorcerer’s
circle of enchantment. Upon his disturbed mind there was dawning a
conviction that these inspired mummers were beings apart from him,
knowing things he never could know, feeling things he never could feel,
belonging to another planet whither he could never voyage, where
strange winds blew and all things lived and grew in a light beyond his
understanding. For the light that shone in the faces of these two was
“the light that never was, on sea or land.”

It had its blessing for him. From that moment, if he had known it, this
play, which was being born of so many parents, was certain of “success,”
 of “popularity,” and of what quality of renown such things may bring.
And he who was to be called its author stood there a Made Man, unless
some accident befell.

Miss Ellsling spoke and came forward, another actor with her. The
scene was over. There was a clearing of throats; everybody moved. The
stage-carpenter and his assistant went away blinking, like men roused
from deep sleep. The routine of rehearsal resumed its place; and old
Tinker, who had not stirred a muscle, rubbed the back of his neck
suddenly, and came up the aisle to Canby.

“Good business!” he cried. “Did you see that little run off the stage
she made when Miss Ellsling came on? And you saw what he can do when he
wants to!”

“He?” Canby echoed. “He?”

“Played for the scene instead of himself. Oh, he can do it! He’s an old
hand--got too many tricks in the bag to let her get the piece away from
him--but he’s found a girl that can play with him at last, and he’ll use
every value she’s got. He knows good property when he sees it. She’s got
a pretty good box of tricks herself; stock’s the way to learn ‘em, but
it’s apt to take the bloom off. It hasn’t taken off any of hers, the
darlin’! What do you think, Mr. Canby?”

To Canby, who hardly noticed that this dead old man had come to life,
the speech was jargon. The playwright was preoccupied with the fact that
Talbot Potter was still on the stage, would continue there until the
rather distant end of the act, and that the “ingenue,” after completing
the little run at her exit, had begun to study the manuscript of her
part, and in that absorption had disappeared through a door into the
rear passageway. Canby knew that she was not to be “on” again until the
next act, and he followed a desperate impulse.

“See a person,” he mumbled, and went out through the lobby, turned south
to the cross-street, proceeded thereby to the stage-door of the theatre,
and resolutely crossed the path of the distrustful man who lounged
there.

“Here!” called the distrustful man.

“I’m with the show,” said Canby, an expression foreign to his lips and a
clear case of inspiration. The distrustful man waved him on.

Wanda Malone was leaning against the wall at the other end of the
passageway, studying her manuscript. She did not look up until he paused
beside her.

“Miss Malone,” he began. “I have come--I have come--I have-ah--”

These were his first words to her. She did nothing more than look at him
inquiringly, but with such radiance that he floundered to a stop. There
were only two things within his power to do: he had either to cough or
to speak much too sweetly.

“There’s a draught here,” she said, Christian anxiety roused by the
paroxysm which rescued him from the damning alternative. “You oughtn’t
to stand here perhaps, Mr. Canby.”

“‘Canby?’” he repeated inquiringly, the name seeming new to him.
“Canby?”

“You’re Mr. Canby, aren’t you?”

“I meant where--who--” he stammered. “How did you know?”

“The stage-manager pointed you out to me yesterday at rehearsal. I was so
excited! You’re the first author I ever saw, you see. I’ve been in stock
where we don’t see authors.”

“Do you--like it?” he said. “I mean stock. Do you like stock? How much
do you like stock? I ah--” Again he fell back upon the faithful old
device of nervous people since the world began.

“I’m sure you oughtn’t to stand in this passageway,” she urged.

“No, no!” he said hurriedly. “I love it! I love it! I haven’t any
cold. It’s the air. That’s what does it.” He nodded brightly, with the
expression of a man who knows the answer to everything. “It’s bad for
me.”

“Then you--”

“No,” he said, and went back to the beginning. “I have come--I wanted
to come--I wished to say that I wi--” He put forth a manful effort which
made him master of the speech he had planned. “I want to thank you for
the way you play your part. What I wrote seemed dry stuff, but when you
act it, why, then, it seems to be--beautiful!”

“Oh! Do you think so?” she cried, her eyes bedewing ineffably. “Do you
think so?”

“Oh--I--oh!--” He got no further, and, although a stranger to the
context of this conversation might have supposed him to be speaking of
a celebrated commonwealth, Mother of Presidents, his meaning was
sufficiently clear to Wanda Malone.

“You’re lovely to me,” she said, wiping her eyes. “Lovely! I’ll never
forget it! I’ll never forget anything that’s happened to me all this
beautiful, beautiful week!”

The little kerchief she had lifted to her eyes was wet with tears not of
the stage. “It seems so foolish!” she said bravely. “It’s because I’m so
happy! Everything has come all at once, this week. I’d never been in New
York before in my life. Doesn’t that seem funny for a girl that’s been
on the stage ever since she left school? And now I am here, all at
once I get this beautiful part you’ve written, and you tell me you like
it--and Mr. Potter says he likes it. Oh! Mr. Potter’s just beautiful to
me! Don’t you think Mr. Potter’s wonderful, Mr. Canby?”

The truth about Mr. Canby’s opinion of Mr. Potter at this moment was not
to the playwright’s credit. However, he went only so far as to say: “I
didn’t like him much yesterday afternoon.”

“Oh, no, no!” she said quickly. “That was every bit my fault. I was
frightened and it made me stupid. And he’s just beautiful to me to-day!
But I’d never mind anything from a man that works with you as he does.
It’s the most wonderful thing! To a woman who loves her profession for
its own sake--”

“You do, Miss Malone?”

“Love it?” she cried. “Is there anything like it in the world?”

“I might have known you felt that, from your acting,” he said, managing
somehow to be coherent, though it was difficult.

“Oh, but we all do!” she protested eagerly. “I believe all actors love
it more than they love life itself. Don’t think I mean those that never
grew up out of their ‘show-off’ time in childhood. Those don’t count,
in what I mean, any more than the ‘show-girls’ and heaven knows what not
that the newspapers call ‘actresses’. Oh, Mr. Canby, I mean the people
with the art and the fire born in them: those who must come to the stage
and who ought to and who do. It isn’t because we want to be ‘looked at’
that we go on the stage and starve to stay there! It’s because we want
to make pictures--to make pictures of characters in plays for people
in audiences. It’s like being a sculptor or painter; only we paint and
model with ourselves--and we’re different from sculptors and painters
because they do their work in quiet studios, while we do ours under
the tension of great crowds watching every stroke we make--and, oh, the
exhilaration when they show us we make the right stroke!”

“Bravo!” he said. “Bravo!”

“Isn’t it the greatest of all the arts? Isn’t it?” she went on with the
same glowing eagerness. “We feed our nerves to it, and our lives to it,
and are glad! It makes us different from other people. But what of
that? Don’t we give ourselves? Don’t we live and die just to make
these pictures for the world? Oughtn’t the world to be thankful for us?
Oughtn’t it? Oh, it is, Mr. Canby; it is thankful for us; and I, for
one, never forget that a Prime Minister of England was proud to warm
Davy Garrick’s breeches at the grate for him!”

She clapped her hands together in a gesture of such spirit and fire that
Canby could have thrown his hat in the air and cheered, she had lifted
him so clear of his timidity.

“Bravo!” he cried again. “Bravo!”

At that she blushed. “What a little goose I am!” she cried. “Playing the
orator! Mr. Canby, you mustn’t mind--”

“I won’t!”

“It’s because I’m so happy,” she explained--to his way of thinking,
divinely. “I’m so happy I just pour out everything. I want to sing every
minute. You see, it seemed such a long while that I was waiting for my
chance. Some of us wait forever, Mr. Canby, and I was so afraid mine
might never come. If it hadn’t come now it might never have come. If
I’d missed this one, I might never have had another. It frightens me to
think of it--and I oughtn’t to be thinking of it! I ought to be spending
all my time on my knees thanking God that old Mr. Packer got it into his
head that ‘The Little Minister’ was a play about the Baptists!”

“I don’t see--”

“If he hadn’t,” she said, “I wouldn’t be here!”

“God bless old Mr. Packer!”

“I hope you mean it, Mr. Canby.” She blushed again, because there was
no possible doubt that he meant it. “It seems a miracle to me that I am
here, and that my chance is here with me, at last. It’s twice as good
a chance as it was yesterday, thanks to you. You’ve given me such
beautiful new things to do and such beautiful new things to say. How
I’ll work at it! After rehearsal this afternoon I’ll learn every word of
it in the tunnel before I get to my station in Brooklyn. That’s funny,
too, isn’t it; the first time I’ve ever been to New York I go and board
over in Brooklyn! But it’s a beautiful place to study, and by the time
I get home I’ll know the lines and have all the rest of the time for the
real work: trying to make myself into a faraway picture of the adorable
girl you had in your mind when you wrote it. You see--”

She checked herself again. “Oh! Oh!” she said, half-laughing,
half-ashamed. “I’ve never talked so much in my life! You see it seems to
me that the whole world has just burst into bloom!”

She radiated a happiness that was almost tangible; it was a glow so
real it seemed to warm and light that dingy old passageway. Certainly it
warmed and lighted the young man who stood there with her. For him,
too, the whole world was transfigured, and life just an orchard to walk
through in perpetual April morning.

The voice of Packer proclaimed: “Two o’clock, ladies and gentlemen!
Rehearsal two o’clock this afternoon!”

The next moment he looked into the passageway. “This afternoon’s
rehearsal, two o’clock, Miss--ahh--Malone. Oh, Mr. Canby, Mr. Potter
wants you to go to lunch with him and Mr. Tinker. He’s waiting. This
way, Mr. Canby.”

“In a moment,” said the young playwright. “Miss Malone, you spoke of
your going home to work at making yourself into ‘the adorable girl’
I had in my mind when I wrote your part. It oughtn’t”--he faltered,
growing red--“it oughtn’t to take much--much work!”

And, breathless, he followed the genially waiting Packer.



X


“Your overcoat, Mr. Potter!” called that faithful servitor as Potter
was going out through the theatre with old Tinker and Canby. “You’ve
forgotten your overcoat, sir.”

“I don’t want it.”

“Yes sir; but it’s a little raw to-day.” He leaped down into the
orchestra from the high stage, striking his knee upon a chair with
violence, but, pausing not an instant for that, came running up the
aisle carrying the overcoat. “You might want it after you get out into
the air, Mr. Potter. I’m sure Mr. Tinker or Mr. Canby won’t mind taking
charge of it for you until you feel like putting it on.”

“Lord! Don’t make such a fuss, Packer. Put it on me--put it on me!”

He extended his arms behind him, and was enveloped solicitously and
reverently in the garment.

“Confound him!” said Potter good-humouredly, as they came out into the
lobby. “It is chilly; he’s usually right, the idiot!”

Turning from Broadway, at the corner, they went over to Fifth Avenue,
where Potter’s unconsciousness of the people who recognized and stared
at him was, as usual, one of the finest things he did, either upon the
stage or “off.” Superb performance as it was, it went for nothing with
Stewart Canby, who did not even see it, for he walked entranced, not in
a town, but through orchards in bloom.

If Wanda Malone had remained with him, clear and insistent after
yesterday’s impersonal vision of her at rehearsal, what was she now,
when every tremulous lilt of the zither-string voice, and every little
gesture of the impulsive hands, and every eager change of the glowing
face, were fresh and living, in all their beautiful reality, but a
matter of minutes past? He no longer resisted the bewitchment; he wanted
all of it. His companions and himself were as trees walking, and when
they had taken their seats at a table in the men’s restaurant of a hotel
where he had never been, he was not roused from his rapturous apathy
even by the conduct of probably the most remarkable maitre d’hotel in
the world.

“You don’t git ‘em!” said this personage briefly, when Potter had
ordered chops and “oeufs a la creole” and lettuce salad, from a card.
“You got to eat partridge and asparagus tips salad!”

And he went away, leaving the terrible Potter resigned and unrebellious.

The partridge was undeniable when it came; a stuffed man would have
eaten it. But Talbot Potter and his two guests did little more than
nibble it; they neither ate nor talked, and yet they looked anything
but unhappy. Detached from their surroundings, as they sat over
their coffee, they might have been taken to be three poetic gentlemen
listening to a serenade.

After a long and apparently satisfactory silence, Talbot Potter looked
at his watch, but not, as it proved, to see if it was time to return to
the theatre, his ensuing action being to send a messenger to procure
a fresh orchid to take the place of the one that had begun to droop a
little from his buttonhold. He attached the new one with an attentive
gravity shared by his companions.

“Good thing, a boutonniere,” he explained. “Lighten it up a little.
Rehearsal’s dry work, usually. Thinking about it last night. Why not
lighten it up a little? Why shouldn’t an actor dress as well for a
company of strangers at a reception? Ought to make it as cheerful as we
can.”

“Yes,” said Tinker, nodding. “Something in that. I believe they work
better. I must say I never saw much better work than those people were
doing this morning. It was a fine rehearsal.”

“It’s a fine company,” Potter said warmly. “They’re the best people I
ever had. They’re all good, every one of them, and they’re putting their
hearts into this play. It’s the kind of work that makes me proud to
be an actor. I am proud to be an actor! Is there anything better?”
 He touched the young playwright on the arm, a gesture that hinted
affection. “Stewart Canby,” he said, “I want to tell you I think we’re
going to make a big thing out of this play. It’s going to be the best
I’ve ever done. It’s going to be beautiful!”

From the doorway into the lobby of the hotel there came a pretty sound
of girlish voices whispering and laughing excitedly, and, glancing that
way, the three men beheld a group of peering nymphs who fled, delighted.

“Ladies stop to rubber at Mr. Potter,” explained the remarkable
headwaiter over the star’s shoulder. “Mr. Potter, it’s time you got
marrit, anyhow. You git marrit, you don’t git stared at so much!” He
paused not for a reply, but hastened away to countermand the order of
another customer.

“Married,” said Potter musingly. “Well, there is such a thing as
remaining a bachelor too long--even for an actor.”

“Widower, either,” assented Mr. Tinker as from a gentle reverie. “A
man’s never too old to get married.”

His employer looked at him somewhat disapprovingly, but said nothing;
and presently the three rose, without vocal suggestion from any of them,
and strolled thoughtfully back to the theatre, pausing a moment by the
way, while Tinker bought a white carnation for his buttonhole. There was
a good deal, he remarked absent-mindedly, in what Mr. Potter had said
about lightening up a rehearsal.

Probably there never was a more lightened-up rehearsal than that
afternoon’s. Potter’s amiability continued;--nay, it increased: he was
cordial; he was angelic; he was exalted and unprecedented. A stranger
would have thought Packer the person in control; and the actors, losing
their nervousness, were allowed to display not only their energy but
their intelligence. The stage became a cheery workshop, where ambition
flourished and kindness was the rule. For thus did the starry happiness
that glowed within the beatific bosom of the little “ingenue” make
Arcady around her.

At four o’clock Talbot Potter stepped to the front of the stage and
lifted his hand benevolently. “That will do for to-day,” he said, facing
the company. “Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you. I have never had
a better rehearsal, and I think it is only your due to say you have
pleased me very much, indeed. I cannot tell you how much. I feel
strongly assured of our success in this play. Again I thank you.
Ladies and gentlemen”--he waved his hand in dismissal--“till to-morrow
morning.”

“By Joles!” old Carson Tinker muttered. “I never knew anything like it!”

“Oh--ah--Packer,” called the star, as the actors moved toward the doors.
“Packer, ask Miss--Malone to wait a moment. I want--I’d like to go over
a little business in the next act before tomorrow.”

“Yes, Mr. Potter?” It was she who answered, turning eagerly to him.

“In a moment, Miss Malone.” He spoke to the stage-manager in a low tone,
and the latter came down into the auditorium, where Canby and Tinker had
remained in their seats.

“He says for you not to wait, gentlemen. There’s nothing more to do this
afternoon, and he may be detained quite a time.”

The violet boutonniere and the white carnation went somewhat reluctantly
up the aisle together, and, after a last glance back at the stage from
the doorway, found themselves in the colder air of the lobby, a little
wilted.

Bidding Tinker farewell, on the steps of the theatre, Canby walked
briskly out to the Park, and there, abating his energy, paced the
loneliest paths he could find until long after dark. They were not
lonely for him; a radiant presence went with him through the twilight.
She was all about him: in the blue brightness of the afterglow, in the
haze of the meadow stretches, and in the elusive woodland scents that
vanished as he caught them;--she was in the rosy vapour wreaths on
the high horizon, in the laughter of children playing somewhere in the
darkness, in the twinkling of the lights that began to show--for now
she was wherever a lover finds his lady, and that is everywhere. He went
over and over their talk of the morning, rehearsing wonderful things he
would say to her upon the morrow, and taking the liberty of suggesting
replies from her even more wonderful. It was a rhapsody; he was as happy
as Tom o’Bedlam.

By and by, he went to a restaurant in the Park and ordered food to
be brought him. Then, after looking at it with an expression of fixed
animation for half an hour, he paid for it and went home. He let himself
into the boarding-house quietly, having hazy impressions that he was
not popular there, also that it might be embarrassing to encounter
Miss Cornish in the hall; and, after reconnoitering the stairway, went
cautiously up to his room.

Three minutes later he came bounding down again, stricken white, and
not caring if he encountered the devil. On his table he had found a
package--the complete manuscript of “Roderick Hanscom” and this scrawl:

Canby,

I can’t produce your play--everything off.

Y’rs,

Tal’t P’r.



XI


Carson Tinker was in the elevator at the Pantheon, and the operator was
closing the door thereof, about to ascend, but delayed upon a sound of
running footsteps and a call of “Up!” Stewart Canby plunged into the
cage; his hat, clutched in his hand, disclosing emphatically that he had
been at his hair again.

“What’s he mean?” he demanded fiercely. “What have I done?”

“What’s the matter?” inquired the calm Tinker.

“What’s he called it off for?”

“Called what off?”

“The play! My play!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t seen him since
rehearsal. His Japanese boy called me on the telephone a little while
ago and told me he wanted to see me.”

“He did?” cried the distracted Canby. “The Japanese boy wanted to see--”

“No,” Tinker corrected. “He did.”

“And you haven’t heard--”

“Twelfth,” urged the operator, having opened the door. “Twelfth, if you
please, gentlemen.”

“I haven’t heard anything to cause excitement,” said Tinker, stepping
out. “I haven’t heard anything at all.” He pressed the tiny disc beside
the door of Potter’s apartment. “What’s upset you?”

With a pathetic gesture Canby handed him Potter’s note. “What have I
done? What does he think I’ve done to him?”

Tinker read the note and shook his head. “The Lord knows! You see he’s
all moods, and they change--they change any time. He knows his business,
but you can’t count on him. He’s liable to do anything--anything at
all.”

“But what reason--”

The Japanese boy, Sato, stood bobbing in the doorway.

“Mis’ Potter kassee,” he said courteously. “Ve’y so’y Mis’ Potter kassee
nobody.”

“Can’t see us?” said Tinker. “Yes, he can. You telephoned me that he
wanted to see me, not over a quarter of an hour ago.”

Sato beamed upon him enthusiastically. “Yisso, yisso! See Mis’ Tinker,
yisso! You come in, Mis’ Tinker. Ve’y so’y. Mis’ Potter kassee nobody.”

“You mean he’ll see Mister Tinker but won’t see anybody else?” cried the
playwright.

“Yisso,” said Sato, delighted. “Ve’y so’y. Mis’ Potter kassee nobody.”

“I will see him. I--”

“Wait. It’s all right,” Tinker reassured him soothingly. “It’s all
right, Sato. You go and tell Mr. Potter that I’m here and Mr. Canby came
with me.”

“Yisso.” Sato stood back from the door obediently, and they passed into
the hall. “You sidowm, please.”

“Tell him we’re waiting in here,” said Tinker, leading the way into the
cream-coloured salon.

“Yisso.” Sato disappeared.

The pretty room was exquisitely cheerful, a coal fire burning rosily in
the neat little grate, but for its effect upon Canby it might have been
a dentist’s anteroom. He was unable to sit, and began to pace up and
down, shampooing himself with both hands.

“I’ve racked my brains every step of the way here,” he groaned. “All
I could think of was that possibly I’ve unconsciously paralleled some
other play that I never saw. Maybe someone’s told him about a plot like
mine. Such things must happen--they do happen, of course--because
all plots are old. But I can’t believe my treatment of it could be so
like--”

“I don’t think it’s that,” said Tinker. “It’s never anything you
expect--with him.”

“Well, what else can it be?” the playwright demanded. “I haven’t done
anything to offend him. What have I done that he should--”

“You’d better sit down,” the manager advised him. “Going plumb crazy
never helped anything yet that I know of.”

“But, good heavens! How can I--”

“Sh!” whispered Tinker.

A tragic figure made its appearance upon the threshold of the inner
doorway: Potter, his face set with epic woe, gloom burning in his eyes
like the green fire in a tripod at a funeral of state. His plastic hair
hung damp and irregular over his white brow--a wreath upon a tombstone
in the rain--and his garment, from throat to ankle, was a dressing-gown
of dead black, embroidered in purple; soiled, magnificent, awful.
Beneath its midnight border were his bare ankles, final testimony to his
desperate condition, for only in ultimate despair does a suffering man
remove his trousers. The feet themselves were distractedly not of the
tableau, being immersed in bedroom shoes of gay white fur shaped in a
Romeo pattern; but this was the grimmest touch of all--the merry song of
mad Ophelia.

“Mr. Potter!” the playwright began, “I--”

Potter turned without a word and disappeared into the room whence he
came.

“Mr. Potter!” Canby started to follow. “Mr. Pot--”

“Sh!” whispered Tinker.

Potter appeared again upon the threshold In one hand he held a large
goblet; in the other a bottle of Bourbon whiskey, just opened. With
solemn tread he approached a delicate table, set the goblet upon it, and
lifted the bottle high above.

“I am in no condition to talk to anybody,” he said hoarsely. “I am about
to take my first drink of spirits in five years.”

And he tilted the bottle. The liquor clucked and guggled, plashed into
the goblet, and splashed upon the table; but when he set the bottle down
the glass was full to its capacious brim, and looked, upon the little
“Louis Sixteenth” table, like a sot at the Trianon. Potter stepped back
and pointed to it majestically.

“That,” he said, “is the size of the drink I am about to take!”

“Mr. Potter,” said Canby hotly, “will you tell me what’s the matter with
my play? Haven’t I made every change you suggested? Haven’t--”

Potter tossed his arms above his head and flung himself full length upon
the chaise lounge.

“STOP it!” he shouted. “I won’t be pestered. I won’t! Nothing’s the
matter with your play!”

“Then what--”

Potter swung himself round to a sitting position and hammered with his
open palm upon his knee for emphasis: “Nothing’s the matter with it, I
tell you! I simply won’t play it!”

“Why not?”

“I simply won’t play it! I don’t like it!”

The playwright dropped into a chair, open-mouthed. “Will you tell me why
you ever accepted it?”

“I don’t like any play! I hate ‘em all! I’m through with ‘em all! I’m
through with the whole business! ‘Show-business!’ Faugh!”

Old Tinker regarded him thoughtfully, then inquired: “Gone back on it?”

“I tell you I’m going to buy a farm!” He sprang up, went to the mantel
and struck it a startling blow with his fist, which appeared to calm
him somewhat--for a moment. “I’ve been thinking of it for a long time. I
ought never to have been in this business at all, and I’m going to
live in the country. Oh, I’m in my right mind!” He paused to glare
indignantly in response to old Tinker’s steady gaze. “Of course you
think ‘something’s happened’ to upset me. Well, nothing has. Nothing
of the slightest consequence has occurred since I saw you at rehearsal.
Can’t a man be allowed to think? I just came home here and got to
thinking of the kind of life I lead--and I decided that I’m tired of it.
And I’m not going to lead it any longer. That’s all.”

“Ah,” said Tinker quietly. “Nerves.”

Talbot Potter appealed to the universe with a passionate gesture.
“Nerves!” he cried bitterly. “Yes, that’s what they say when an actor
dares to think. ‘Go on! Play your part! Be a marionette forever!’ That’s
what you tell us! ‘Slave for your living, you sordid little puppet!
Squirm and sweat and strut, but don’t you ever dare to think!’ You tell
us that because you know if we ever did stop to think for one instant
about ourselves you wouldn’t have any actors! Actors! Faugh! What do we
get, I ask you?”

He strode close to Tinker and shook a frantic forefinger within a foot
of the quiet old fellow’s face.

“What do I get?” he demanded, passionately. “Do you think it means
anything to me that some fat old woman sees me making love to a sawdust
actress at a matinee and then goes home and hates her fat old husband
across the dinner-table?”

He returned to the fireplace, seeming appeased, at least
infinitesimally, by this thought. “There wouldn’t even be that, except
for the mystery. It’s only because I’m mysterious to them--the way a
man always thinks the girl he doesn’t know is prettier than the one he’s
with. What’s that got to do with acting? What is acting, anyhow?” His
voice rose passionately again. “I’ll tell you one thing it is: It’s the
most sordid profession in this devilish world!”

He strode to the centre of the room. “It’s at the bottom--in the muck!
That’s where it is. And it ought to be! What am I, out there on that
silly platform they call a stage? A fool, that’s all, making faces,
and pretending to be somebody with another name, for two dollars! A
monkey-on-a-stick for the children! Of course the world despises us! Why
shouldn’t it? It calls us mummers and mountebanks, and that’s what we
are! Buffoons! We aren’t men and women at all--we’re strolling players!
We’re gypsies! One of us marries a broker’s daughter and her relatives
say she’s married ‘a damned actor!’ That’s what they say--‘a damned
actor!’ Great heavens, Tinker, can’t a man get tired of being called a
‘damned actor’ without your making all this uproar over it--squalling
‘nerves’ in my face till I wish I was dead and done with it!”

He went back to the fireplace again, but omitted another dolorous
stroke upon the mantel. “And look at the women in the profession,” he
continued, as he turned to face his visitors. “My soul! Look at them!
Nothing but sawdust--sawdust--sawdust! Do you expect to go on acting
with sawdust? Making sawdust love with sawdust? Sawdust, I tell you!
Sawdust--sawdust--saw--”

“Oh, no,” said Tinker easily. “Not all. Not by any means. No.”

“Show me one that isn’t sawdust!” the tragedian cried fiercely. “Show me
just one!”

“We-ll,” said Tinker with extraordinary deliberation, “to start near
home: Wanda Malone.”

Potter burst into terrible laughter. “All sawdust! That’s why I
discharged her this afternoon.”

“You what?” Canby shouted incredulously.

“I dismissed her from my company,” said Potter with a startling change
to icy calmness. “I dismissed her from my company this afternoon.”

Old Tinker leaned forward. “You didn’t!”

Potter’s iciness increased. “Shall I repeat it? I was obliged to dismiss
Miss Wanda Malone from my company, this afternoon, after rehearsal.”

“Why?” Canby gasped.

“Because,” said Potter, with the same calmness, “she has an utterly
commonplace mind.”

Canby rose in agitation, quite unable, for that moment, to speak; but
Tinker, still leaning forward, gazing intently at the face of the
actor, made a low, long-drawn sound of wonder and affirmation, the slow
exclamation of a man comprehending what amazes him. “So that’s it!”

“Besides being intensely ordinary,” said Potter, with superiority, “I
discovered that she is deceitful. That had nothing whatever to do with
my decision to leave the stage.” He whirled upon Tinker suddenly, and
shouted: “No matter what you think!”

“No,” said Tinker. “No matter.”

Potter laughed. “Talbot Potter leaves the stage because a little
‘ingenue’ understudy tries to break the rules of his company! Likely,
isn’t it?”

“Looks so,” said old Tinker.

“Does it?” retorted Potter with rising fury. “Then I’ll tell you, since
you seem not to know it, that I’m not going to leave the stage! Can’t a
man give vent to his feelings once in his life without being caught
up and held to it by every old school-teacher that’s stumbled into the
‘show-business’ by mistake! We’re going right on with this play, I tell
you; we rehearse it to-morrow morning just the same as if this hadn’t
happened. Only there will be a new ‘ingenue’ in Miss Malone’s place.
People can’t break iron rules in my company. Maybe they could in
Mounet-Sully’s, but they can’t in mine!”

“What rule did she break?” Canby’s voice was unsteady. “What rule?”

“Yes,” Tinker urged. “Tell us what it was.”

“After rehearsal,” the star began with dignity, “I was--I--” He paused.
“I was disappointed in her.”

“Ye-es?” drawled Tinker encouragingly.

Potter sent him a vicious glance, but continued: “I had hopes of
her intelligence--as an actress. She seemed to have, also, a fairly
attractive personality. I felt some little--ah, interest in her,
personally. There is something about her that--” Again he paused. “I
talked to her--about her part--at length; and finally I--ah--said I
should be glad to walk home with her, as it was after dark. She said no,
she wouldn’t let me take so much trouble, because she lived almost
at the other end of Brooklyn. It seemed to me that--ah, she is very
young--you both probably noticed that--so I said I would--that is, I
offered to drive her home in a taxicab. She thanked me, but said she
couldn’t. She kept saying that she was sorry, but she couldn’t. It
seemed very peculiar, and, in fact, I insisted. I asked her if she
objected to me as an escort, and she said, ‘Oh, no!’ and got more and
more embarrassed. I wanted to know what was the matter and why she
couldn’t seem to like--that is, I talked very kindly to her, very kindly
indeed. Nobody could have been kinder!” He cleared his throat loudly
and firmly, with an angry look at Tinker. “I say nobody could have been
kinder to an obscure member of the company that I was to Miss Malone.
But I was decided. That’s all. That’s all there was to it. I was merely
kind. That’s all.” He waved his hand as in dismissal of the subject.

“All?” repeated Canby. “All? You haven’t--”

“Oh, yes.” Potter seemed surprised at his own omission. “Oh, yes. Right
in the midst of--of what I was saying--she blurted out that she couldn’t
let me take her home, because ‘Lancelot’ was waiting for her at a corner
drug-store.”

“Lancelot!” There was a catch of dismay in Canby’s outcry.

“That’s what I said, ‘Lancelot’!” cried Potter, more desolately than he
intended. “It seems they’ve been meeting after rehearsal, in their damn
corner drug-store. Lancelot!” His voice rose in fury. “If I’d known I
had a man named Lancelot in my company I’d have discharged him long
ago! If I’d known it was his name I’d have shot him. ‘Lancelot!’ He
came sneaking in there just after she’d blundered it all out to me. Got
uneasy because she didn’t come, and came to see what was the matter.
Naturally, I discharged them both, on the spot! I’ve never had a rule of
my company broken yet--and I never will! He didn’t say a word. He didn’t
dare.”

“Who?” shouted Canby and old Tinker together.

“Lancelot!” said Potter savagely.

“Who?”

“Packer! His first name’s Lancelot, the hypocrite! L. Smith Packer!
She’s Mrs. Packer! They were married two days before rehearsals began.
She’s Mrs. L. Smith Packer!”



XII


As the sound of the furious voice stopped short, there fell a stricken
silence upon these three men.

Old Carson Tinker’s gaze drifted downward from his employer’s face. He
sat, then, gazing into the rosy little fire until something upon the
lapel of his coat caught his attention--a wilted and disreputable
carnation. He threw it into the fire; and, with a sombre satisfaction,
watched it sizzle. This brief pleasure ended, he became expressionless
and relapsed into complete mummification.

Potter cleared his throat several times, and as many times seemed about
to speak, and did not; but finally, hearing a murmur from the old man
gazing at the fire, he requested to be informed of its nature.

“What?” Tinker asked, feebly.

“I said: ‘What are you mumbling about?’”

“Nothing.”

“What was it you said?”

“I said it was the bride-look,” said the old man gently. “That’s what it
was about her--the bride-look.”

“The bride-look!”

It was a word that went deep into the mourning heart of the playwright.
“The bride-look!” That was it: the bride’s happiness!

“She had more than that,” said Potter peevishly, but, if the others had
noticed it his voice shook. “She could act! And I don’t know how the
devil to get along without that hypocrite. Just like her to marry the
first regular man that asked her!”

Then young Stewart Canby had a vision of a room in a boarding-house far
over in Brooklyn, and of two poor, brave young people there, and of a
loss more actual than his own--a vision of a hard-working, careworn,
stalwart Packer trying to comfort a weeping little bride who had lost
her chance--the one chance--“that might never have come!”

Something leaped into generous life within him.

“I think I was almost going to ask her to marry me, to-morrow,” he said,
turning to Talbot Potter. “But I’m glad Packer’s the man. For years he’s
been a kind of nurse for you, Mr. Potter. And that’s what she needs--a
nurse--because she’s a genius, too. And it will all be wasted if she
doesn’t get her chance!”

“Are you asking me to take her back?” Potter cried fiercely. “Do you
think I’ll break one of my iron--”

“We couldn’t all have married her!” said the playwright with a fine
inspiration. “But if you take her back we can all see her--every day!”

The actor gazed upon him sternly, but with sensitive lips beginning to
quiver. He spoke uncertainly.

“Well,” he began. “I’m no stubborn Frenchman--”

“Do it!” cried Canby.

Then Potter’s expression changed; he looked queer.

He clapped his hands loudly;--Sato appeared.

“Sato, take that stuff out.” He pointed to the untouched whiskey. “Order
supper at ten o’clock--for five people. Champagne. Orchids. Get me a
taxicab in half an hour.”

“Yisso!”

Tinker rose, astounded. “Taxicab? Where you--”

“To Brooklyn!” shouted Potter with shining eyes. “She’ll drive with me
if I bring them both, I guess, won’t she?”

He began to sing:

    “For to-night we’ll merry, merry be!
     For to-night we’ll merry, merry be--”

Leaping uproariously upon the aged Tinker, he caught him by the waist
and waltzed him round and round the room.


THE END





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