"Ah!" said I.
"That telegram, he tells me, was the outcome of a sudden panic."
"Dear me!" I said.
"It seems that he made some most ghastly mistake about his finances. What exactly happened I can't quite understand, but the gist of it is, he thought he was quite well off, whereas, really, his income is infinitesimal."
"How odd!" I remarked.
"It sounds odd; in fact, I could scarcely believe it until I got his letter of explanation. I'll show it to you. Here it is."
I read James Orlebar Cloyster's letter with care. It was not particularly long, but I wish I had a copy of it; for it is the finest work in an imaginative vein that has ever been penned.
"Masterly!" I exclaimed involuntarily.
"Yes, isn't it?" she echoed. "Enables one to grasp thoroughly how the mistake managed to occur."
"Has Eva seen it?"
"I notice he mentions five years as being about the period——"
"Yes; it's rather a long engagement, but, of course, she'll wait, she loves him so."
Eva now entered the room. When I caught sight of her I remembered I had pictured her crushed and humiliated. I had expected to gloat over a certain dewiness of her eyes, a patient drooping of her lips. I will say plainly there was nothing of that kind about Eva tonight.
She had decided to go to the ball as Peter Pan.
The costume had rather scandalised old Mr. Gunton-Cresswell, a venerable Tory who rarely spoke except to grumble. Even Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell, who had lately been elected to the newly-formed Les Serfs d'Avenir, was inclined to deprecate it.
But I was sure Eva had chosen the better part. The dress suited her to perfection. Her legs are the legs of a boy.
As I looked at her with concentrated hatred, I realised I had never seen a human soul so radiant, so brimming with espiglerie, so altogether to be desired.
"Why, Julian, is it you. This is good of you!"
It was evident that the past was to be waived. I took my cue.
"Thanks, Eva," I said; "it suits you admirably."
Events at this point move quickly.
Another card of invitation is produced. Would I care to use it, and take Eva to the ball?
"But I'm not in fancy dress."
Overruled. Fancy dress not an essential. Crowds of men there in ordinary evening clothes.
So we drove off.
We hardly exchanged a syllable. No one has much to say just before a dance.
I looked at Eva out of the corner of my eye, trying to discover just what it was in her that attracted men. I knew her charm, though I flattered myself that I was proof against it. I wanted to analyse it.
Her photograph is on the table before me as I write. I look at it critically. She is not what I should describe as exactly a type of English beauty. You know the sort of beauty I mean? Queenly, statuesque, a daughter of the gods, divinely fair. Her charm is not in her features. It is in her expression.
Tonight, for instance, as we drove to the ball, there sparkled in her eyes a light such as I had never seen in them before. Every girl is animated at a ball, but this was more than mere animation. There was a latent devilry about her; and behind the sparkle and the glitter a film, a mist, as it were, which lent almost a pathos to her appearance. The effect it had on me was to make me tend to forget that I hated her.
We arrive. I mutter something about having the pleasure.
Eva says I can have the last two waltzes.
Here comes a hiatus. I am told that I was seen dancing, was observed to eat an excellent supper, and was noticed in the smoking-room with a cigarette in my mouth.
At last the first of my two waltzes. The Eton Boating Song—one of my favourites. I threaded my way through the room in search of her. She was in neither of the doorways. I cast my eyes about the room. Her costume was so distinctive that I could hardly fail to see her.
I did see her.
She was dancing my waltz with another man.
The thing seemed to numb my faculties. I stood in the doorway, gaping. I couldn't understand it. The illogical nature of my position did not strike me. It did not occur to me that as I hated the girl so much, it was much the best thing that could happen that I should see as little of her as possible. My hatred was entirely concentrated on the bounder who had stolen my dance. He was a small, pink-faced little beast, and it maddened me to see that he danced better than I could ever have done.
As they whirled past me she smiled at him.
I rushed to the smoking-room.
Whether she gave my other waltz to the same man, or whether she chose some other partner, or sat alone waiting for me, I do not know. When I returned to the ballroom the last waltz was over, and the orchestra was beginning softly to play the first extra. It was "Tout Passe," an air that has always had the power to thrill me.
My heart gave a bound. Standing in the doorway just in front of me was Eva.
I drew back.
Two or three men came up, and asked her for the dance. She sent them away, and my heart leaped as they went.
She was standing with her back towards me. Now she turned. Our eyes met. We stood for a moment looking at one another.
Then I heard her give a little sigh; and instantly I forgot everything—my hatred, my two lost dances, the pink-faced blighter—everything. Everything but that I loved her.
"Tired, Eva?" I said.
"Perhaps I am," she replied. "Yes, I am, Julian."
"Give me this one," I whispered. "We'll sit it out."
"Very well. It's so hot in here. We'll go and sit it out in a hansom, shall we? I'll get my cloak."
I waited, numbed by her absence. Her cloak was pale pink. We walked out together into the starry night. A few yards off stood a hansom. "Drive to the corner of Sloane Street," I said to the man, "by way of the Park."
The night was very still.
I have said that I had forgotten everything except that I loved her. Could I remember now? Now, as we drove together through the empty streets alone, her warm, palpitating body touching mine.
James, and his awful predicament, which would last till Eva gave him up; Eva's callous treatment of my former love for her; my own newly-acquired affection for Margaret; my self-respect—these things had become suddenly of no account.
"Eva," I murmured; and I took her hand.
Her wonderful eyes met mine. The mist in them seemed to turn to dew. "My darling," she whispered, very low.
The road was deserted. We were alone.
I drew her face to mine and kissed her.
* * * * *
My love for her grows daily.
Old Gunton-Cresswell has introduced me to a big firm of linoleum manufacturers. I am taking over their huge system of advertising next week. My salary will be enormous. It almost frightens me. Old Mr. Cresswell tells me that he had had the job in his mind for me for some time, and had, indeed, mentioned to his wife and Eva at lunch that day that he intended to write to me about it. I am more grateful to him than I can ever make him understand. Eva, I know, cares nothing for money—she told me so—but it is a comfort to feel that I can keep her almost in luxury.
I have given up my rooms in Rupert Street.
I sleep in a bed.
I do Sandow exercises.
I am always down to breakfast at eight-thirty sharp.
I smoke less.
I am the happiest man on earth.
(End of Julian Eversleigh's narrative.)
Narrative Resumed by James Orlebar Cloyster
A RIFT IN THE CLOUDS
O perfidy of woman! O feminine inconstancy! That is the only allusion I shall permit to escape me on the subject of Eva Eversleigh's engagement to that scoundrel Julian.
I had the news by telegraph, and the heavens darkened above me, whilst the solid earth rocked below.
I had been trapped into dishonour, and even the bait had been withheld from me.
But it was not the loss of Eva that troubled me most. It should have outweighed all my other misfortunes and made them seem of no account, but it did not. Man is essentially a materialist. The prospect of an empty stomach is more serious to him than a broken heart. A broken heart is the luxury of the well-to-do. What troubled me more than all other things at this juncture was the thought that I was face to face with starvation, and that only the grimmest of fights could enable me to avoid it. I quaked at the prospect. The early struggles of the writer to keep his head above water form an experience which does not bear repetition. The hopeless feeling of chipping a little niche for oneself out of the solid rock with a nib is a nightmare even in times of prosperity. I remembered the grey days of my literary apprenticeship, and I shivered at the thought that I must go through them again.
I examined my position dispassionately over a cup of coffee at Groom's, in Fleet Street. Groom's was a recognised Orb rendezvous. When I was doing "On Your Way," one or two of us used to go down Fleet Street for coffee after the morning's work with the regularity of machines. It formed a recognised break in the day.
I thought things over. How did I stand? Holiday work at the Orb would begin very shortly, so that I should get a good start in my race. Fermin would be going away in a few weeks, then Gresham, and after that Fane, the man who did the "People and Things" column. With luck I ought to get a clear fifteen weeks of regular work. It would just save me. In fifteen weeks I ought to have got going again. The difficulty was that I had dropped out. Editors had forgotten my work. John Hatton they knew, and Sidney Price they knew; but who was James Orlebar Cloyster? There would be much creaking of joints and wobbling of wheels before my triumphal car could gather speed again. But, with a regular salary coming in week by week from the Orb, I could endure this. I became almost cheerful. It is an exhilarating sensation having one's back against the wall.
Then there was Briggs, the actor. The very thought of him was a tonic. A born fighter, with the energy of six men, he was an ideal model for me. If I could work with a sixth of his dash and pluck, I should be safe. He was giving me work. He might give me more. The new edition of the Belle of Wells was due in another fortnight. My lyrics would be used, and I should get paid for them. Add this to my Orb salary, and I should be a man of substance.
I glared over my coffee-cup at an imaginary John Hatton.
"You thought you'd done me, did you?" I said to him. "By Gad! I'll have the laugh of you all yet."
I was shaking my fist at him when the door opened. I hurriedly tilted back my chair, and looked out of the window.
I looked round. It was Fermin. Just the man I wanted to see.
He seemed depressed. Even embarrassed.
"How's the column?" I asked.
"Oh, all right," he said awkwardly. "I wanted to see you about that. I was going to write to you."
"Oh, yes," I said, "of course. About the holiday work. When are you off?"
"I was thinking of starting next week."
"Good. Sorry to lose you, of course, but——"
He shuffled his feet.
"You're doing pretty well now at the game, aren't you, Cloyster?" he said.
It was not to my interests to cry myself down, so I said that I was doing quite decently. He seemed relieved.
"You're making quite a good income, I suppose? I mean, no difficulty about placing your stuff?"
"Editors squeal for it."
"Because, otherwise what I wanted to say to you might have been something of a blow. But it won't affect you much if you're doing plenty of work elsewhere."
A cold hand seemed laid upon my heart. My mind leaped to what he meant. Something had gone wrong with the Orb holiday work, my sheet-anchor.
"Do you remember writing a par about Stickney, the butter-scotch man, you know, ragging him when he got his peerage?"
It was one of the best paragraphs I had ever done. A two-line thing, full of point and sting. I had been editing "On Your Way" that day, Fermin being on a holiday and Gresham ill; and I had put the paragraph conspicuously at the top of the column.
"Well," said Fermin, "I'm afraid there was rather trouble about it. Hamilton came into our room yesterday, and asked if I should be seeing you. I said I thought I should. 'Well, tell him,' said Hamilton, 'that that paragraph of his about Stickney has only cost us five hundred pounds. That's all.' And he went out again. Apparently Stickney was on the point of advertising largely with the Orb, and had backed out in a huff. Today, I went to see him about my holiday, and he wanted to know who was coming in to do my work. I mentioned you, and he absolutely refused to have you in. I'm awfully sorry about it."
I was silent. The shock was too great. Instead of drifting easily into my struggle on a comfortable weekly salary, I should have to start the tooth-and-nail fighting at once. I wanted to get away somewhere by myself, and grapple with the position.
I said good-bye to Fermin, retaining sufficient presence of mind to treat the thing lightly, and walked swiftly along the restless Strand, marvelling at what I had suffered at the hands of Fortune. The deceiver of Margaret, deceived by Eva, a pauper! I covered the distance between Groom's and Walpole Street in sombre meditation.
In a sort of dull panic I sat down immediately on my arrival, and tried to work. I told myself that I must turn out something, that it would be madness to waste a moment.
I sat and chewed my pen from two o'clock till five, but not a page of printable stuff could I turn out. Looking back at myself at that moment, I am not surprised that my ideas did not flow. It would have been a wonderful triumph of strength of mind if I had been able to write after all that had happened. Dr. Johnson has laid it down that a man can write at any time, if he sets himself to it earnestly; but mine were exceptional circumstances. My life's happiness and my means for supporting life at all, happy or otherwise, had been swept away in a single morning; and I found myself utterly unable to pen a coherent sentence.
At five o'clock I gave up the struggle, and rang for tea.
While I was having tea there was a ring at the bell, and my landlady brought in a large parcel.
I recognised the writing on the label. The hand was Margaret's. I wondered in an impersonal sort of way what Margaret could be sending to me. From the feel of it the contents were paper.
It amuses me now to think that it was a good half-hour before I took the trouble to cut the string. Fortune and happiness were waiting for me in that parcel, and I would not bother to open it. I sat in my chair, smoking and thinking, and occasionally cast a gloomy eye at the parcel. But I did not open it. Then my pipe went out, and I found that I had no matches in my pocket. There were some at the farther end of the mantelpiece. I had to get up to reach them, and, once up, I found myself filled with a sufficient amount of energy to take a knife from the table and cut the string.
Languidly I undid the brown paper. The contents were a pile of typewritten pages and a letter.
It was the letter over which my glassy eyes travelled first.
"My own dear, brave, old darling James," it began, and its purport was that she had written a play, and wished me to put my name to it and hawk it round: to pass off as my work her own amateurish effort at playwriting. Ludicrous. And so immoral, too. I had always imagined that Margaret had a perfectly flawless sense of honesty. Yet here she was asking me deliberately to impose on the credulity of some poor, trusting theatrical manager. The dreadful disillusionment of it shocked me.
Most men would have salved their wounded susceptibilities by putting a match to the manuscript without further thought or investigation.
But I have ever been haunted by a somewhat over-strict conscience, and I sat down there and then to read the stupid stuff.
At seven o'clock I was still reading.
My dinner was brought in. I bolted it with Margaret's play propped up against the potato dish.
I read on and on. I could not leave it. Incredible as it would appear from anyone but me, I solemnly assure you that the typewritten nonsense I read that evening was nothing else than The Girl who Waited.
BRIGGS TO THE RESCUE (James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)
I finished the last page, and I laid down the typescript reverently. The thing amazed me. Unable as I was to turn out a good acting play of my own, I was, nevertheless, sufficiently gifted with an appreciation of the dramatic to be able to recognise such a play when I saw it. There were situations in Margaret's comedy which would grip a London audience, and force laughter and tears from it.... Well, the public side of that idiotic play is history. Everyone knows how many nights it ran, and the Press from time to time tells its readers what were the profits from it that accrued to the author.
I turned to Margaret's letter and re-read the last page. She put the thing very well, very sensibly. As I read, my scruples began to vanish. After all, was it so very immoral, this little deception that she proposed?
"I have written down the words," she said; "but the conception is yours. The play was inspired by you. But for you I should never have begun it." Well, if she put it like that——
"You alone are able to manage the business side of the production. You know the right men to go to. To approach them on behalf of a stranger's work is far less likely to lead to success."
"I have assumed, you will see, that the play is certain to be produced. But that will only be so if you adopt it as your own,"
(There was sense in this.)
"Claim the authorship, and all will be well."
"I will," I said.
I packed up the play in its brown paper, and rushed from the house. At the post-office, at the bottom of the King's Road, I stopped to send a telegram. It consisted of the words, "Accept thankfully.—Cloyster."
Then I took a cab from the rank at Sloane Square, and told the man to drive to the stage-door of the Briggs Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue.
The cab-rank in Sloane Square is really a Home for Superannuated Horses. It is a sort of equine Athenaeum. No horse is ever seen there till it has passed well into the sere and yellow. A Sloane Square cab-horse may be distinguished by the dignity of its movements. It is happiest when walking.
The animal which had the privilege of making history by conveying me and The Girl who Waited to the Briggs Theatre was asthmatic, and, I think, sickening for the botts. I had plenty of time to cool my brain and think out a plan of campaign.
Stanley Briggs, whom I proposed to try first, was the one man I should have liked to see in the part of James, the hero of the piece. The part might have been written round him.
There was the objection, of course, that The Girl who Waited was not a musical comedy, but I knew he would consider a straight play, and put it on if it suited him. I was confident that The Girl who Waited would be just what he wanted.
The problem was how to get him to himself for a sufficient space of time. When a man is doing the work of half a dozen he is likely to get on in the world, but he has, as a rule, little leisure for conversation.
My octogenarian came to a standstill at last at the stage-door, and seemed relieved at having won safely through a strenuous bit of work.
I went through in search of my man.
His dressing-room was the first place I drew. I knew that he was not due on the stage for another ten minutes. Mr. Richard Belsey, his valet, was tidying up the room as I entered.
"Mr. Briggs anywhere about, Richard?" I asked.
"Down on the side, sir, I think. There's a new song in tonight for Mrs. Briggs, and he's gone to listen how it goes."
"Which side, do you know?"
"O.P., sir, I think."
I went downstairs and through the folding-doors into the wings. The O.P. corner was packed—standing room only—and the overflow reached nearly to the doors. The Black Hole of Calcutta was roomy compared with the wings on the night of a new song. Everybody who had the least excuse for being out of his or her dressing-room at that moment was peering through odd chinks in the scenery. Chorus-girls, show-girls, chorus-men, principals, children, scene-shifters, and other theatrical fauna waited in a solid mass for the arrival of the music-cue.
The atmosphere behind the scenes has always had the effect of making me feel as if my boots were number fourteens and my hands, if anything, larger. Directly I have passed the swing-doors I shuffle like one oppressed with a guilty conscience. Outside I may have been composed, even jaunty. Inside I am hangdog. Beads of perspiration form on my brow. My collar tightens. My boots begin to squeak. I smile vacuously.
I shuffled, smiling vacuously and clutching the type-script of The Girl who Waited, to the O.P. corner. I caught the eye of a tall lady in salmon-pink, and said "Good evening" huskily—my voice is always husky behind the scenes: elsewhere it is like some beautiful bell. A piercing whisper of "Sh-h-h-!" came from somewhere close at hand. This sort of thing does not help bright and sparkling conversation. I sh-h-hed, and passed on.
At the back of the O.P. corner Timothy Prince, the comedian, was filling in the time before the next entrance by waltzing with one of the stage-carpenters. He suspended the operation to greet me.
"Hullo, dear heart," he said, "how goes it?"
"Seen Briggs anywhere?" I asked.
"Round on the prompt side, I think. He was here a second ago, but he dashed off."
At this moment the music-cue was given, and a considerable section of the multitude passed on to the stage.
Locomotion being rendered easier, I hurried round to the prompt side.
But when I arrived there were no signs of the missing man.
"Seen Mr. Briggs anywhere?" I asked.
"Here a moment ago," said one of the carpenters. "He went out after Miss Lewin's song began. I think he's gone round the other side."
I dashed round to the O.P. corner again. He had just left.
Taking up the trail, I went to his dressing-room once more.
"You're just too late, sir," said Richard; "he was here a moment ago."
I decided to wait.
"I wonder it he'll be back soon."
"He's probably downstairs. His call is in another two minutes."
I went downstairs, and waited on the prompt side. Sir Boyle Roche's bird was sedentary compared with this elusive man.
Presently he appeared.
"Hullo, dear old boy," he said. "Welcome to Elsmore. Come and see me before you go, will you? I've got an idea for a song."
"I say," I said, as he flitted past, "can I——"
"Tell me later on."
And he sprang on to the stage.
By the time I had worked my way, at the end of the performance, through the crowd of visitors who were waiting to see him in his dressing-room, I found that he had just three minutes in which to get to the Savoy to keep an urgent appointment. He explained that he was just dashing off. "I shall be at the theatre all tomorrow morning, though," he said. "Come round about twelve, will you?"
* * * * *
There was a rehearsal at half-past eleven next morning. When I got to the theatre I found him on the stage. He was superintending the chorus, talking to one man about a song and to two others about motors, and dictating letters to his secretary. Taking advantage of this spell of comparative idleness, I advanced (l.c.) with the typescript.
"Hullo, old boy," he said, "just a minute! Sit down, won't you? Have a cigar."
I sat down on the Act One sofa, and he resumed his conversations.
"You see, laddie," he said, "what you want in a song like this is tune. It's no good doing stuff that your wife and family and your aunts say is better than Wagner. They don't want that sort of thing here—Dears, we simply can't get on if you won't do what you're told. Begin going off while you're singing the last line of the refrain, not after you've finished. All back. I've told you a hundred times. Do try and get it right—I simply daren't look at a motor bill. These fellers at the garage cram it on—I mean, what can you do? You're up against it—Miss Hinckel, I've got seventy-five letters I want you to take down. Ready? 'Mrs. Robert Boodle, Sandringham, Mafeking Road, Balham. Dear Madam: Mr. Briggs desires me to say that he fears that he has no part to offer to your son. He is glad that he made such a success at his school theatricals.' 'James Winterbotham, Pleasant Cottage, Rhodesia Terrace, Stockwell. Dear Sir: Mr. Briggs desires me to say that he remembers meeting your wife's cousin at the public dinner you mention, but that he fears he has no part at present to offer to your daughter.' 'Arnold H. Bodgett, Wistaria Lodge....'"
My attention wandered.
At the end of a quarter of an hour he was ready for me.
"I wish you'd have a shot at it, old boy," he said, as he finished sketching out the idea for the lyric, "and let me have it as soon as you can. I want it to go in at the beginning of the second act. Hullo, what's that you're nursing?"
"It's a play. I was wondering if you would mind glancing at it if you have time?"
"Yes. There's a part in it that would just suit you."
"What is it? Musical comedy?"
"No. Ordinary comedy."
"I shouldn't mind putting on a comedy soon. I must have a look at it. Come and have a bit of lunch."
One of the firemen came up, carrying a card.
"Hullo, what's this? Oh, confound the feller! He's always coming here. Look here: tell him that I'm just gone out to lunch, but can see him at three. Come along, old boy."
He began to read the play over the coffee and cigars.
He read it straight through, as I had done.
"What rot!" he said, as he turned the last page.
"Isn't it!" I exclaimed enthusiastically. "But won't it go?"
"Go?" he shouted, with such energy that several lunchers spun round in their chairs, and a Rand magnate, who was eating peas at the next table, started and cut his mouth. "Go? It's the limit! This is just the sort of thing to get right at them. It'll hit them where they live. What made you think of that drivel at the end of Act Two?"
"Genius, I suppose. What do you think of James as a part for you?"
"Top hole. Good Lord, I haven't congratulated you! Consider it done."
We drained our liqueur glasses to The Girl who Waited and to ourselves.
Briggs, after a lifetime spent in doing three things at once, is not a man who lets a great deal of grass grow under his feet. Before I left him that night the "ideal cast" of the play had been jotted down, and much of the actual cast settled. Rehearsals were in full swing within a week, and the play was produced within ten days of the demise of its predecessor.
Meanwhile, the satisfactory sum which I received in advance of royalties was sufficient to remove any regrets as to the loss of the Orb holiday work. With The Girl who Waited in active rehearsal, "On Your Way" lost in importance.
MY TRIUMPH (James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)
On the morning of the day for which the production had been fixed, it dawned upon me that I had to meet Mrs. Goodwin and Margaret at Waterloo. All through the busy days of rehearsal, even on those awful days when everything went wrong and actresses, breaking down, sobbed in the wings and refused to be comforted, I had dimly recognised the fact that when I met Margaret I should have to be honest with her. Plans for evasion had been half-matured by my inventive faculties, only to be discarded, unpolished, on account of the insistent claims of the endless rehearsals. To have concocted a story with which to persuade Margaret that I stood to lose money if the play succeeded would have been a clear day's work. And I had no clear days.
But this was not all. There was another reason. Somehow my sentiments with regard to her were changing again. It was as if I were awaking from some dream. I felt as if my eyes had been blindfolded to prevent me seeing Margaret as she really was, and that now the bandage had been removed. As the day of production drew nearer, and the play began to take shape, I caught myself sincerely admiring the girl who could hit off, first shot, the exact shade of drivel which the London stage required. What culture, what excessive brain-power she must have. How absurdly nave, how impossibly melodramatic, how maudlinly sentimental, how improbable—in fact, how altogether womanly she must have grown.
Womanly! That did it. I felt that she was womanly. And it came about that it was my Margaret of the Cobo shrimping journeys that I was prepared to welcome as I drove that morning to Waterloo Station.
And so, when the train rolled in, and the Goodwins alighted, and Margaret kissed me, by an extraordinarily lucky chance I found that I loved her more dearly than ever.
* * * * *
That premire is still fresh in my memory.
Mrs. Goodwin, Margaret, and myself occupied the stage box, and in various parts of the house I could see the familiar faces of those whom I had invited as my guests.
I felt it was the supreme event of my life. It was the moment. And surely I should have spoilt it all unless my old-time friends had been sitting near me.
Eva and Julian were with Mr. and Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell in the box opposite us. To the Barrel Club I had sent the first row of the dress circle. It was expensive, but worth it. Hatton and Sidney Price were in the stalls. Tom Blake had preferred a free pass to the gallery. Kit and Malim were at the back of the upper circle (this was, Malim told me, Kit's own choice).
One by one the members of the orchestra took their places for the overture, and it was to the appropriate strains of "Land of Hope and Glory" that the curtain rose on the first act of my play.
The first act, I should mention (though it is no doubt superfluous to do so) is bright and suggestive, but ends on a clear, firm note of pathos. That is why, as soon as the lights went up, I levelled my glasses at the eyes of the critics. Certainly in two cases, and, I think, in a third, I caught the glint of tear-drops. One critic was blowing his nose, another sobbed like a child, and I had a hurried vision of a third staggering out to the foyer with his hand to his eyes. Margaret was removing her own tears with a handkerchief. Mrs. Goodwin's unmoved face may have hidden a lacerated soul, but she did not betray herself. Hers may have been the thoughts that lie too deep for tears. At any rate, she did not weep. Instead, she drew from her reticule the fragmentary writings of an early Portuguese author. These she perused during the present and succeeding entr'actes.
Pressing Margaret's hand, I walked round to the Gunton-Cresswells's box to see what effect the act had had on them. One glance at their faces was enough. They were long and hard. "This is a real compliment," I said to myself, for the whole party cut me dead. I withdrew, delighted. They had come, of course, to assist at my failure. I had often observed to Julian how curiously lacking I was in dramatic instinct, and Julian had predicted to Eva and her aunt and uncle a glorious fiasco. They were furious at their hopes being so egregiously disappointed. Had they dreamt of a success they would have declined to be present. Indeed, half-way through Act Two, I saw them creeping away into the night.
The Barrel Club I discovered in the bar. As I approached, I heard Michael declare that "there'd not been such an act produced since his show was put on at——" He was interrupted by old Maundrell asserting that "the business arranged for valet reminded him of a story about Leopold Lewis."
They, too, added their quota to my cup of pleasure by being distinctly frigid.
Ascending to the gallery I found another compliment awaiting me. Tom Blake was fast asleep. The quality of Blake's intellect was in inverse ratio to that of Mrs. Goodwin. Neither of them appreciated the stuff that suited so well the tastes of the million; and it was consequently quite consistent that while Mrs. Goodwin dozed in spirit Tom Blake should snore in reality.
With Hatton and Price I did not come into contact. I noticed, however, that they wore an expression of relief at the enthusiastic reception my play had received.
But an encounter with Kit and Malim was altogether charming. They had had some slight quarrel on the way to the theatre, and had found a means of reconciliation in their mutual emotion at the pathos of the first act's finale. They were now sitting hand in hand telling each other how sorry they were. They congratulated me warmly.
* * * * *
A couple of hours more, and the curtain had fallen.
The roar, the frenzied scene, the picture of a vast audience, half-mad with excitement—how it all comes back to me.
And now, as I sit in this quiet smoking-room of a St. Peter's Port hotel, I hear again the shout of "Author!" I see myself again stepping forward from the wings. That short appearance of mine, that brief speech behind the footlights fixed my future....
* * * * *
"James Orlebar Cloyster, the plutocratic playwright, to Margaret, only daughter of the late Eugene Grandison Goodwin, LL.D."