There were all sorts of people: artists and actors, as well as people of fashion. Her friend had given her some society notable to go out with, but she had appointed for the chair next her, on the other hand, a young man in a pretty pointed beard, whom she introduced across from the head of the table as soon as she could civilly take the notable to herself. Louise did not catch his name, and it seemed presently that he had not heard hers, but their acquaintance prospered without this knowledge. He made some little jokes, which she promptly responded to, and they talked awhile as if they were both New-Yorkers, till she said, at some remark of his, "But I am not a New-Yorker," and then he said, "Well, neither am I," and offered to tell her what he was if she would tell him what she was.
"Oh, I'm from Boston, of course," she answered, but then, instead of saying where he was from, he broke out:
"Now I will fulfil my vow!"
"Your vow? What is your vow?"
"To ask the first Boston person I met if that Boston person knew anything about another Boston person, who wrote a most remarkable play I saw in the fall out at home."
"A play?" said Louise, with a total loss of interest in the gentleman's city or country.
"Yes, by a Boston man named Maxwell—"
Louise stared at him, and if their acquaintance had been a little older, she might have asked him to come off. As it was she could not speak, and she let him go on.
"I don't know when I've ever had a stronger impression in the theatre than I had from that play. Perfectly modern, and perfectly American." He briefly sketched it. "It was like a terrible experience on the tragic side, and on the other side it was a rapture. I never saw love-making on the stage before that made me wish to be a lover—"
A fire-red flew over Louise's face, and she said, almost snubbingly, as if he had made some unwarrantable advance: "I think I had better not let you go on. It was my husband who wrote that play. I am Mrs. Maxwell."
"Mrs. Maxwell! You are Mrs. Maxwell?" he gasped, and she could not doubt the honesty of his amaze.
His confusion was so charming that she instantly relented. "Of course I should like to have you go on all day as you've begun, but there's no telling what exceptions you might be going to make later. Where did you see my husband's play?"
"What! You are not—you can't be—Mr. Ray?"
"I am—I can," he returned, gleefully, and now Louise impulsively gave him her hand under the table-cloth.
The man[oe]uvre caught the eye of the hostess. "A bet?" she asked.
"Better," cried Louise, not knowing her pun, "a thousand times," and she turned without further explanation to the gentleman: "When I tell Mr. Maxwell of this he will suffer as he ought, and that's saying a great deal, for not coming with me to-day. To think of it's being you!"
"Ah, but to think of it's being he! You acquit me of the poor taste of putting up a job?"
"Oh, of anything you want to be acquitted of! What crime would you prefer? There are whole deluges of mercy for you. But now go on, and tell me everything you thought about the play."
"I'd rather you'd tell me what you know about the playwright."
"Everything, of course, and nothing." She added the last words from a sudden, poignant conviction. "Isn't that the way with the wives of you men of genius?"
"Am I a man of genius?"
"Oh, literary, yes. But I'm not married."
"You're determined to get out of it, somehow. Tell me about Midland. It has filled such a space in our imagination! You can't think what a comfort and stay you have been to us! But why in Midland? Is it a large place?"
"Would it take such a very big one to hold me? It's the place I brought myself up in, and it's very good to me, and so I live there. I don't think it has any vast intellectual or aesthetic interests, but there are very nice people there, very cultivated, some of them, and very well read. After all, you don't need a great many people; three or four will do."
"And have you always lived there?"
"I lived a year or so in New York, and I manage to get on here some time every winter. The rest of the year Midland is quite enough for me. It's gay at times; there's a good deal going on; and I can write there as well as anywhere, and better than in New York. Then, you know, in a small way I'm a prophet in my own country, perhaps because I was away from it for awhile. It's very pretty. But it's very base of you to make me talk about myself when I'm so anxious to hear about Mr. Maxwell."
"And do you spend all your time writing Ibsen criticisms of Ibsen plays?" Louise pursued against his protest.
"I do some other kind of writing."
"Oh, no! I'm not here to interview myself."
"Oh, but you ought. I know you've written something—some novel. Your name was so familiar from the first." Mr. Ray laughed and shook his head in mockery of her cheap device. "You mustn't be vexed because I'm so vague about it. I'm very ignorant."
"You said you were from Boston."
"But there are Bostons and Bostons. The Boston that I belonged to never hears of American books till they are forgotten!"
"Ah, how famous I must be there!"
"I see you are determined to be bad. But I remember now; it was a play. Haven't you written a play?" He held up three fingers. "I knew it! What was it?"
"My plays," said the young fellow, with a mock of superiority, "have never been played. I've been told that they are above the heads of an audience. It's a great consolation. But now, really, about Mr. Maxwell's. When is it to be given here? I hoped very much that I might happen on the very time."
Louise hesitated a moment, and then she said: "You know he has taken it back from Godolphin." It was not so hard to say this as it was at first, but it still required resolution.
"Oh, I'm so glad!" said Mr. Ray. "I never thought he appreciated it. He was so anxious to make his part all in all that he would have been willing to damage the rest of it irretrievably. I could see, from the way he talked of it, that he was mortally jealous of Salome; and the girl who did that did it very sweetly and prettily. Who has got the play now?"
"Well," said Louise, with rather a painful smile, "nobody has it at present. We're trying to stir up strife for it among managers."
"What play is that?" asked her friend, the hostess, and all that end of the table became attentive, as any fashionable company will at the mention of a play; books may be more or less out of the range of society, but plays never at all.
"My husband's," said Louise, meekly.
"Why, does your husband write plays?" cried the lady.
"What did you think he did?" returned Louise, resentfully; she did not in the least know what her friend's husband did, and he was no more there to speak for himself than her own.
"He's written a very great play," Mr. Ray spoke up with generous courage; "the very greatest American play I have seen. I don't say ever written, for I've written some myself that I haven't seen yet," he added, and every one laughed at his bit of self-sacrifice. "But Mr. Maxwell's play is just such a play as I would have written if I could—large, and serious, and charming."
He went on about it finely, and Louise's heart swelled with pride. She wished Maxwell could have been there, but if he had been, of course Mr. Ray would not have spoken so freely.
The hostess asked him where he had seen it, and he said in Midland.
Then she said, "We must all go," and she had the effect of rising to do so, but it was only to leave the men to their tobacco.
Louise laid hold of her in the drawing-room: "Who is he? What is he?"
"A little dear, isn't he?"
"Yes, of course. But what has he done?"
"Why, he wrote a novel—I forget the name, but I have it somewhere. It made a great sensation. But surely you must know what it was?"
"No, no," Louise lamented. "I am ashamed to say I don't."
When the men joined the ladies, she lingered long enough to thank Mr. Ray, and try to make him tell her the name of his novel. She at least made him promise to let them know the next time he was in New York, and she believed all he said of his regret that he was going home that night. He sent many sweet messages to Maxwell, whom he wanted to talk with about his play, and tell him all he had thought about it. He felt sure that some manager would take it and bring it out in New York, and again he exulted that it was out of the actor's hands. A manager might not have an artistic interest in it; an actor could only have a personal interest in it.
Louise came home in high spirits. The world seemed to have begun to move again. It was full of all sorts of gay hopes, or at least she was, and she was impatient to impart them to Maxwell. Now she decided that her great office in his life must be to cheer him up, to supply that spring of joyousness which was so lacking in him, and which he never could do any sort of work without. She meant to make him go into society with her. It would do him good, and he would shine. He could talk as well as Mr. Ray, and if he would let himself go, he could be as charming.
She rushed in to speak with him, and was vexed to find a strange man sitting in the parlor alone. The stranger rose at her onset, and then, when she confusedly retreated, he sank into his chair again. She had seen him black against the window, and had not made out any feature or expression of his face.
The maid explained that it was a gentleman who had called to see Mr. Maxwell earlier in the day, and the last time had asked if he might sit down and wait for him. He had been waiting only a few minutes.
"But who is he?" demanded Louise, with a provisional indignation in case it should be a liberty on some unauthorized person's part. "Didn't he give you a card?"
He had given the girl a card, and she now gave it to Mrs. Maxwell. It bore the name Mr. Lawrence Sterne, which Louise read with much the same emotion as if it had been Mr. William Shakespeare. She suspected what her husband would have called a fake of some sort, and she felt a little afraid. She did not like the notion of the man's sitting there in her parlor while she had nobody with her but the girl. He might be all right, and he might even be a gentleman, but the dark bulk which had risen up against the window and stood holding a hat in its hand was not somehow a gentlemanly bulk, the hat was not definitively a gentleman's hat, and the baldness which had shone against the light was not exactly what you would have called a gentleman's baldness. Clearly, however, the only thing to do was to treat the event as one of entire fitness till it proved itself otherwise, and Louise returned to the parlor with an air of lady-*like inquiry, expressed in her look and movement; if this effect was not wholly unmixed with patronage, it still was kind.
"I am sorry," she said, "that my husband is out, and I am sorry to say that I don't know just when he will be at home." She stood and the man had risen again, with his portly frame and his invisible face between her and the light again. "If I could be of any use in giving him a message—" She stopped; it was really sending the man out of the house, and she could not do that; it was not decent. She added, "Or if you don't mind waiting a few minutes longer—"
She sat down, but the man did not. He said: "I can't wait any longer just now; but if Mr. Maxwell would like to see me, I am at the Coleman House." She looked at him as if she did not understand, and he went on: "If he doesn't recall my name he'll remember answering my advertisement, some weeks ago in the Theatrical Register, for a play."
"Oh yes!" said Louise. This was the actor whom she had written to on behalf of Maxwell. With electrical suddenness and distinctness she now recalled the name, L. Sterne, along with all the rest, though the card of Mr. Lawrence Sterne had not stirred her sleeping consciousness. She had always meant to tell Maxwell what she had done, but she was always waiting for something to come of it, and when nothing came of it, she did not tell; she had been so disgusted at the mere notion of answering the man's advertisement. Now, here was the man himself, and he had to be answered, and that would probably be worse than answering his advertisement. "I remember," she said, provisionally, but with the resolution to speak exactly the truth; "I wrote to you for Mr. Maxwell," which did not satisfy her as the truth ought to have done.
"Well, then, I wish you would please tell him that I didn't reply to his letter because it kept following me from place to place, and I only got it at the Register office this morning."
"I will tell Mr. Maxwell," said Louise.
"I should be glad to see his play, if he still has it to dispose of. From what Mr. Grayson has told me of it, I think it might—I think I should like to see it. It might suit the—the party I am acting for," he added, letting himself go.
"Then you are not the—the—star?"
"I am the manager for the star."
"Oh," said Louise, with relief. The fact seemed to put another complexion on the affair. A distaste which she had formed for Mr. Sterne personally began to cede to other feelings. If he was manager for the star, he must be like other managers, such as Maxwell was willing to deal with, and if he knew Mr. Grayson he must be all right. "I will tell Mr. Maxwell," she said, with no provisionality this time.
Mr. Sterne prepared to go, so far as buttoning his overcoat and making some paces towards the door gave token of his intention. Louise followed him with a politeness which was almost gratitude to him for reinstating her in her own esteem. He seemed to have atmospheric intelligence of her better will towards him, for he said, as if it were something she might feel an interest in: "If I can get a play that will suit, I shall take the road with a combination immediately after New Year's. I don't know whether you have ever seen the lady I want the play for."
"The lady?" gasped Louise.
"She isn't very well-known in the East yet, but she will be. She wants a play of her own. As I understand Mr. Grayson, there is a part in Mr. Maxwell's play that would fit her to a T, or could be fitted to her; these things always need some little adaptation." Mr. Sterne's manner became easier and easier. "Curious thing about it is that you are next door—or next floor—neighbors, here. Mrs. Harley."
"We—we have met her," said Louise in a hollow murmur.
"Well, you can't have any idea what Yolande Havisham is from Mrs. Harley. I shall be at the Coleman the whole evening, if Mr. Maxwell would like to call. Well, good-morning," said Mr. Sterne, and he got himself away before Louise could tell him that Maxwell would never give his play to a woman; before she could say that it was already as good as accepted by another manager; before she could declare that if no manager ever wanted it, still, as far as Mrs. Harley was concerned, with her smouldering eyes, it would always be in negotiation; before she could form or express any utter and final refusal and denial of his abominable hopes.
It remained for her either to walk quietly down to the North River and drown herself or to wait her husband's return and tell him everything and throw herself on his mercy, implore him, adjure him, not to give that woman his play; and then to go into a decline that would soon rid him of the clog and hinderance she had always been to him. It flashed through her turmoil of emotion that it was already dark, in spite of Mr. Sterne's good-morning at parting, and that some one might speak to her on the way to the river; and then she thought how Maxwell would laugh when she told him the fear of being spoken to had kept her from suicide; and she sat waiting for him to come with such an inward haggardness that she was astonished, at sight of herself in the glass, to find that she wan looking very much as usual. Maxwell certainly noticed no difference when he came in and flung himself wearily on the lounge, and made no attempt to break the silence of their meeting; they had kissed, of course, but had not spoken.
She was by no means sure what she was going to do; she had hoped there would be some leading on his part that would make it easy for her to do right, whatever the right was, but her heart sank at sight of him. He looked defeated and harassed. But there was no help for it. She must speak, and speak unaided; the only question was whether she had better speak before dinner or after. She decided to speak after dinner, and then all at once she was saying: "Brice, I have brought something dreadful on myself."
"At the lunch?" he asked, wearily, and she saw that he thought she had been making some silly speech she was ashamed of.
"Oh, if it had only been at the lunch!" she cried. "No, it was here—here in this very room."
"I don't know what's the matter with you, Louise," he said, lying back and shutting his eyes.
"Then I must tell you!" And she came out with the whole story, which she had to repeat in parts before he could understand it. When he did understand that she had answered an advertisement in the Register, in his name, he opened his eyes and sat up.
"Well?" he said.
"Well, don't you see how wrong and wicked that was?"
"I've heard of worse things."
"Oh, don't say so, dearest! It was living a lie, don't you see. And I've been living a lie ever since, and now I'm justly punished for not telling you long ago."
She told him of the visit she had just had, and who the man was, and whom he wanted the play for; and now a strange thing happened with her. She did not beseech him not to give his play to that woman; on the contrary she said: "And now, Brice, I want you to let her have it. I know she will play Salome magnificently, and that will make the fortune of the piece, and it will give you such a name that anything you write after this will get accepted; and you can satisfy your utmost ambition, and you needn't mind me—no—or think of me at all any more than if I were the dust of the earth; and I am! Will you?"
He got up from the lounge and began to walk the floor, as he always did when he was perplexed; and she let him walk up and down in silence as long as she could bear it. At last she said: "I am in earnest, Brice, I am indeed, and if you don't do it, if you let me or my feelings stand in your way, in the slightest degree, I will never forgive you. Will you go straight down to the Coleman House, as soon as you've had your dinner, and tell that man he can have your play for that woman?"
"No," said Maxwell, stopping in his walk, and looking at her in a dazed way.
Her heart seemed to leap into her throat. "Why?" she choked.
"Because Godolphin is here."
"Godo—" she began; and she cast herself on the lounge that Maxwell had vacated, and plunged her face in the pillow and sobbed, "Oh, cruel, cruel, cruel! Oh, cruel, cruel, cruel, cruel!"
Maxwell stood looking at his wife with the cold disgust which hysterics are apt to inspire in men after they have seen them more than once. "I suppose that when you are ready you will tell me what is the matter with you."
"To let me suffer so, when you knew all the time that Godolphin was here, and you needn't give your play to that creature at all," wailed Louise.
"How did I know you were suffering?" he retorted. "And how do I know that I can do anything with Godolphin?"
"Oh, I know you can!" She sprang up with the greatest energy, and ran into the bedroom to put in order her tumbled hair; she kept talking to him from there. "I want you to go down and see him the instant you have had dinner; and don't let him escape you. Tell him he can have the play on any terms. I believe he is the only one who can make it go. He was the first to appreciate the idea, and—Frida!" she called into the hall towards the kitchen, "we will have dinner at once, now, please—he always talked so intelligently about it; and now if he's where you can superintend the rehearsals, it will be the greatest success. How in the world did you find out he was here?"
She came out of her room, in surprising repair, with this question, and the rest of their talk went on through dinner.
It appeared that Maxwell had heard of Godolphin's presence from Grayson, whom he met in the street, and who told him that Godolphin had made a complete failure of his venture. His combination had gone to pieces at Cleveland, and his company were straggling back to New York as they could. Godolphin was deeply in debt to them all, and to everybody else; and yet the manager spoke cordially of him, and with no sort of disrespect, as if his insolvency were only an affair of the moment, which he would put right. Louise took the same view of it, and she urged Maxwell to consider how Godolphin had promptly paid him, and would always do so.
"Probably I got the pay of some poor devil who needed it worse," said Maxwell.
She said, "Nonsense! The other actors will take care of all that. They are so good to each other," and she blamed Maxwell for not going to see Godolphin at once.
"That was what I did," he answered, "but he wasn't at home. He was to be at home after dinner."
"Well, that makes it all the more providential," said Louise; her piety always awoke in view of favorable chances. "You mustn't lose any time. Better not wait for the coffee."
"I think I'll wait for the coffee," said Maxwell. "It's no use going there before eight."
"No," she consented. "Where is he stopping?"
"At the Coleman House."
"The Coleman House? Then if that wretch should see you?" She meant the manager of Mrs. Harley.
"He wouldn't know me, probably," Maxwell returned, scornfully. "But if you think there's any danger of his laying hold of me, and getting the play away before Godolphin has a chance of refusing it, I'll go masked. I'm tired of thinking about it. What sort of lunch did you have?"
"I had the best time in the world. You ought to have come with me, Brice. I shall make you, the next one. Oh, and guess who was there! Mr. Ray!"
"Our Mr. Ray?" Maxwell breathlessly demanded.
"There is no other, and he's the sweetest little dear in the world. He isn't so big as you are, even, and he's such a merry spirit; he hasn't the bulk your gloom gives you. I want you to be like him, Brice. I don't see why you shouldn't go into society, too."
"If I'd gone into society to-day, I should have missed seeing Grayson, and shouldn't have known Godolphin was in town."
"Well, that is true, of course. But if you get your play into Godolphin's hands, you'll have to show yourself a little, so that nice people will be interested in it. You ought to have heard Mr. Ray celebrate it. He piped up before the whole table."
Louise remembered what Ray said very well, and she repeated it to a profound joy in Maxwell. It gave him an exquisite pleasure, and it flattered him to believe that, as the hostess had said in response, they, the nice people, must see it, though he had his opinion of nice people, apart from their usefulness in seeing his play. To reward his wife for it all, he rose as soon as he had drunk his coffee, and went out to put on his hat and coat. She went with him, and saw that he put them on properly, and did not go off with half his coat-collar turned up. After he got his hat on, she took it off to see whether his cow-lick was worse than usual.
"Why, good heavens! Godolphin's seen me before, and besides, I'm not going to propose marriage to him," he protested.
"Oh, it's much more serious than that!" she sighed. "Anybody would take you, dear, but it's your play we want him to take—or take back."
When Maxwell reached the hotel, he did not find Godolphin there. He came back twice; then, as something in his manner seemed to give Maxwell authority, the clerk volunteered to say that he thought he might find the actor at the Players' Club. In this hope he walked across to Gramercy Park. Godolphin had been dining there, and when he got Maxwell's name, he came half way down the stairs to meet him. He put his arm round him to return to the library.
There happened to be no one else there, and he made Maxwell sit down in an arm-chair fronting his own, and give an account of himself since they parted. He asked after Mrs. Maxwell's health, and as far as Maxwell could make out he was sincere in the quest. He did not stop till he had asked, with the most winning and radiant smile, "And the play, what have you done with the play?"
He was so buoyant that Maxwell could not be heavy about it, and he answered as gayly: "Oh, I fancy I have been waiting for you to come on and take it."
Godolphin did not become serious, but he became if possible more sincere. "Do you really think I could do anything with it?"
"If you can't nobody can."
"Why, that is very good of you, very good indeed, Maxwell. Do you know, I have been thinking about that play. You see, the trouble was with the Salome. The girl I had for the part was a thoroughly nice girl, but she hadn't the weight for it. She did the comic touches charmingly, but when it came to the tragedy she wasn't there. I never had any doubt that I could create the part of Haxard. It's a noble part. It's the greatest role on the modern stage. It went magnificently in Chicago—with the best people. You saw what the critics said of it?"
"No; you didn't send me the Chicago papers." Maxwell did not say that all this was wholly different from what Godolphin had written him when he renounced the play. Yet he felt that Godolphin was honest then and was honest now. It was another point of view; that was all.
"Ah, I thought I sent them. There was some adverse criticism of the play as a whole, but there was only one opinion of Haxard. And you haven't done anything with the piece yet?"
"And you think I could do Haxard? You still have faith in me?"
"As much faith as I ever had," said Maxwell; and Godolphin found nothing ambiguous in a thing certainly susceptible of two interpretations.
"That is very good of you, Maxwell; very good." He lifted his fine head and gazed absently a moment at the wall before him. "Well, then I will tell you what I will do, Mr. Maxwell; I will take the play."
"Yes; that is if you think I can do the part."
"Why, of course!"
"And if—if there could be some changes—very slight changes—made in the part of Salome. It needs subduing." Godolphin said this as if he had never suggested anything of the kind before; as if the notion were newly evolved from his experience.
"I will do what I can, Mr. Godolphin," Maxwell promised, while he knitted his brows in perplexity "But I do think that the very strength of Salome gives relief to Haxard—gives him greater importance."
"It may be so, dramatically. But theatrically, it detracts from him. Haxard must be the central figure in the eye of the audience from first to last."
Maxwell mused for a moment of discouragement. They were always coming back to that; very likely Godolphin was right; but Maxwell did not know just how to subdue the character of Salome so as to make her less interesting. "Do you think that was what gave you bad houses in Chicago—the double interest, or the weakened interest in Haxard?"
"I think so," said Godolphin.
"Were the houses bad—comparatively?"
Godolphin took a little note-book out of his breast-pocket. "Here are my dates. I opened the first night, the tenth of November, with Haxard, but we papered the house thoroughly, and we made a good show to the public and the press. There were four hundred and fifty dollars in it. The next night there were three hundred; the next night, two eighty; Wednesday matinee, less than two hundred. That night we put on 'Virginius,' and played to eight hundred dollars; Thursday night, with the 'Lady of Lyons,' we had eleven hundred; Friday night, we gave the 'Lady' to twelve hundred; Saturday afternoon with the same piece, we took in eleven hundred and fifty; Saturday night, with 'Ingomar,' we had fifteen hundred dollars in the house, and a hundred people standing." Maxwell listened with a drooping head; he was bitterly mortified. "But it was too late then," said Godolphin, with a sigh, as he shut his hook.
"Do you mean," demanded Maxwell, "that my piece had crippled you so that—that—"
"I didn't say that, Mr. Maxwell. I never meant to let you see the figures. But you asked me."
"Oh, you're quite right," said Maxwell. He thought how he had blamed the actor, in his impatience with him, for not playing his piece oftener—and called him fool and thought him knave for not doing it all the time, as Godolphin had so lavishly promised to do. He caught at a straw to save himself from sinking with shame. "But the houses, were they so bad everywhere?"
Godolphin checked himself in a movement to take out his note-book again; Maxwell had given him such an imploring glance. "They were pretty poor everywhere. But it's been a bad season with a good many people."
"No, no," cried Maxwell. "You did very well with the other plays, Godolphin. Why do you want to touch the thing again? It's been ruinous to you so far. Give it up! Come! I can't let you have it!"
Godolphin laughed, and all his beautiful white teeth shone. There was a rich, wholesome red in his smoothly shaven cheeks; he was a real pleasure to the eye. "I believe it would go better in New York. I'm not afraid to try it. You mustn't take away my last chance of retrieving the season. Hair of the dog, you know. Have you seen Grayson lately?"
"Yes, I saw him this afternoon. It was he that told me you were in town."
"And Godolphin, I've got it on my conscience, if you do take the play, to tell you that I offered it to Grayson, and he refused it. I think you ought to know that; it's only fair; and for the matter of that, it's been kicking round all the theatres in New York."
"Dear boy!" said Godolphin, caressingly, and with a smile that was like a benediction, "that doesn't make the least difference."
"Well, I wished you to know," said Maxwell, with a great load off his mind.
"Yes, I understand that. Will you drink anything, or smoke anything? Or—I forgot! I hate all that, too. But you'll join me in a cup of tea downstairs?" They descended to the smoking-room below, and Godolphin ordered the tea, and went on talking with a gay irrelevance till it came. Then he said, as he poured out the two cups of it: "The fact is, Grayson is going in with me, if I do your piece." This was news to Maxwell, and yet he was somehow not surprised at it. "I dare say he told you?"
"No, he didn't give me any hint of it. He simply told me that you were in town, and where you were."
"Ah, that was like Grayson. Queer fish."
"But I'm mighty glad to know it. You can make it go, together, if any power on earth can do it; and if it fails," Maxwell added, "I shall have the satisfaction of ruining some one else this time."
"Well, Grayson has made nearly as bad a mess of it as I have, this season," said Godolphin. "He's got to take off that thing he has going now, and it's a question of what he shall put on. It will be an experiment with Haxard, but I believe it will be a successful experiment. I have every confidence in that play." Godolphin looked up, his lips set convincingly, and with the air of a man who had stood unfalteringly by his opinion from the first. "Now, if you will excuse me, I will tell you what I think ought to be done to it."
"By all means," said Maxwell; "I shall be glad to do anything you wish, or that I can."
Godolphin poured out a cloudy volume of suggestion, with nothing clear in it but the belief that the part of Haxard ought to be fattened. He recurred to all the structural impossibilities that he had ever desired, and there was hardly a point in the piece that he did not want changed. At the end he said: "But all these things are of no consequence, comparatively speaking. What we need is a woman who can take the part of Salome, and play it with all the feminine charm that you've given it, and yet keep it strictly in the background, or thoroughly subordinated to the interest of Haxard."
For all that Godolphin seemed to have learned from his experience with the play, Maxwell might well have thought they were still talking of it at Magnolia. It was a great relief to his prepossessions in the form of conclusions to have Grayson appear, with the air of looking for some one, and of finding the object of his search in Godolphin. He said he was glad to see Maxwell, too, and they went on talking of the play. From the talk of the other two Maxwell perceived that the purpose of doing his play had already gone far with them; but they still spoke of it as something that would be very good if the interest could be unified in it. Suddenly the manager broke out: "Look here, Godolphin! I have an idea! Why not frankly accept the inevitable! I don't believe Mr. Maxwell can make the play different from what it is, structurally, and I don't believe the character of Salome can be subdued or subordinated. Then why not play Salome as strongly as possible, and trust to her strength to enhance Haxard's effect, instead of weakening it?"
Godolphin smiled towards Maxwell: "That was your idea."
"Yes," said Maxwell, and he kept himself from falling on Grayson's neck for joy.
"It might do," the actor assented with smiling eagerness and tolerant superiority. "But whom could you get for such a Salome as that?"
"Well, there's only one woman for it," said Grayson.
The name made Maxwell's heart stop. He started forward to say that Mrs. Harley could not have the part, when the manager said: "And we couldn't get her. Sterne has engaged her to star in his combination. By the way, he was looking for you to-day, Mr. Maxwell."
"I missed him," answered Maxwell, with immense relief. "But I should not have let him have the piece while I had the slightest hope of your taking it."
Neither the manager nor the actor was perhaps greatly moved by his generous preference, though they both politely professed to be so. They went on to canvass the qualities and reputations of all the other actresses attainable, and always came back to Yolande Havisham, who was unattainable; Sterne would never give her up in the world, even if she were willing to give up the chance he was offering her. But she was the one woman who could do Salome.
They decided that they must try to get Miss Pettrell, who had played the part with Godolphin, and who had done it with refinement, if not with any great force. When they had talked to this conclusion, Grayson proposed getting something to eat, and the others refused, but they went into the dining-room with him, where he showed Maxwell the tankards of the members hanging on the walls over their tables—Booth's tankard, Salvini's, Irving's, Jefferson's. He was surprised that Maxwell was not a member of the Players, and said that he must be; it was the only club for him, if he was going to write for the stage. He came out with them and pointed out several artists whose fame Maxwell knew, and half a dozen literary men, among them certain playwrights; they were all smoking, and the place was blue with the fumes of their cigars. The actors were coming in from the theatres for supper, and Maxwell found himself with his friends in a group with a charming old comedian who was telling brief, vivid little stories, and sketching character, with illustrations from his delightful art. He was not swagger, like some of the younger men who stood about with their bell-crowned hats on, before they went into supper; and two or three other elderly actors who sat round him and took their turn in the anecdote and mimicry looked, with their smooth-shaven faces, like old-fashioned ministers. Godolphin, who was like a youthful priest, began to tell stories, too; and he told very good ones admirably, but without appearing to feel their quality, though he laughed loudly at them with the rest.
When Maxwell refused every one's wish to have him eat or drink something, and said good-night, Grayson had already gone in to his supper, and Godolphin rose and smiled so fondly upon him that Maxwell felt as if the actor had blessed him. But he was less sure than in the beginning of the evening that the play was again in Godolphin's hands; and he had to confirm himself from his wife's acceptance of the facts in the belief that it was really so.
Louise asked Maxwell, as soon as they had established their joint faith, whom Godolphin was going to get to play Salome, and he said that Grayson would like to re-engage Miss Pettrell, though he had a theory that the piece would be strengthened, and the effect of Haxard enhanced, if they could have a more powerful Salome.
"Mr. Ray told me at lunch," said Louise, impartially but with an air of relief, "that in all the love-making she was delightful; but when it came to the tragedy, she wasn't there."
"Grayson seemed to think that if she could be properly rehearsed, she could be brought up to it," Maxwell interposed.
"Mr. Ray said she was certainly very refined, and her Salome was always a lady. And that is the essential thing," Louise added, decisively. "I don't at all agree with Mr. Grayson about having Salome played so powerfully. I think Mr. Godolphin is right."
"For Heaven's sake don't tell him so!" said Maxwell. "We have had trouble enough to get him under."
"Indeed, I shall tell him so! I think he ought to know how we feel."
"We?" repeated Maxwell.
"Yes. What we want for Salome is sweetness and delicacy and refinement; for she has to do rather a bold thing, and yet keep herself a lady."
"Well, it may be too late to talk of Miss Pettrell now," said Maxwell. "Your favorite Godolphin parted enemies with her."
"Oh, stage enemies! Mr. Grayson can get her, and he must."
"I'll tell him what your orders are," said Maxwell.
The next day he saw the manager, but nothing had been done, and the affair seemed to be hanging fire again. In the evening, while he was talking it over with his wife in a discouragement which they could not shake off, a messenger came to him with a letter from the Argosy Theatre, which he tore nervously open.
"What is it, dear?" asked his wife, tenderly. "Another disappointment?"
"Not exactly," he returned, with a husky voice, and after a moment of faltering he gave her the letter. It was from Grayson, and it was to the effect that he had seen Sterne, and that Sterne had agreed to a proposition he had made him, to take Maxwell's play on the road, if it succeeded, and in view of this had agreed to let Yolande Havisham take the part of Salome.
Godolphin was going to get all his old company together as far as possible, with the exception of Miss Pettrell, and there was to be little or no delay, because the actors had mostly got back to New York, and were ready to renew their engagements. That no time might be lost, Grayson asked Maxwell to come the next morning and read the piece to such of them as he could get together in the Argosy greenroom, and give them his sense of it.
Louise handed him back the letter, and said, with dangerous calm: "You might save still more time by going down to Mrs. Harley's apartment and reading it to her at once." Maxwell was miserably silent, and she pursued: "May I ask whether you knew they were going to try to get her?"
"No," said Maxwell.
"Was there anything said about her?"
"Yes, there was, last night. But both Grayson and Godolphin regarded it as impossible to get her."
"Why didn't you tell me that they would like to get her?"
"You knew it, already. And I thought, as they both had given up the hope of getting her, I wouldn't mention the subject. It's always been a very disagreeable one."
"Yes." Louise sat quiet, and then she said: "What a long misery your play has been to me!"
"You haven't helped make it any great joy to me," said Maxwell, bitterly.
She began to weep, silently, and he stood looking down at her in utter wretchedness. "Well," he said at last, "what shall I do about it?"
Louise wiped her tears, and cleared up cold, as we say of the weather. She rose, as if to leave the room, and said, haughtily: "You shall do as you think best for yourself. You must let them have the play, and let them choose whom they think best for the part. But you can't expect me to come to see it."
"Then that unsays all the rest. If you don't come to see it, I sha'n't, and I shall not let them have the piece. That is all. Louise," he entreated, after these first desperate words, "can't we grapple with this infernal nightmare, so as to get it into the light, somehow, and see what it really is? How can it matter to you who plays the part? Why do you care whether Miss Pettrell or Mrs. Harley does it?"
"Why do you ask such a thing as that?" she returned, in the same hard frost. "You know where the idea of the character came from, and why it was sacred to me. Or perhaps you forget!"
"No, I don't forget. But try—can't you try?—to specify just why you object to Mrs. Harley?"
"You have your theory. You said I was jealous of her."
"I didn't mean it. I never believed that."
"Then I can't explain. If you don't understand, after all that's been said, what is the use of talking? I'm tired of it!"
She went into her room, and he sank into the chair before his desk and sat there, thinking. When she came back, after a while, he did not look round at her, and she spoke to the back of his head. "Should you have any objection to my going home for a few days?"
"No," he returned.
"I know papa would like to have me, and I think you would be less hampered in what you will have to do now if I'm not here."
"You're very considerate. But if that's what you are going for, you might as well stay. I'm not going to do anything whatever."
"Now, you mustn't talk foolishly, Brice," she said, with an air of superior virtue mixed with a hint of martyrdom. "I won't have you doing anything rash or boyish. You will go on and let them have your play just the same as if I didn't exist." She somewhat marred the effect of her self-devotion by adding: "And I shall go on just as if it didn't exist." He said nothing, and she continued: "You couldn't expect me to take any interest in it after this, could you? Because, though I am ready to make any sort of sacrifice for you, I think any one, I don't care who it was, would say that was a little too much. Don't you think so yourself?"
"You are always right. I think that."
"Don't be silly. I am trying to do the best I can, and you have no right to make it hard for me."
Maxwell wheeled round in his chair: "Then I wish you wouldn't make your best so confoundedly disagreeable."
"Oh!" she twitted. "I see that you have made up your mind to let them have the play, after all."
"Yes, I have," he answered, savagely.
"Perhaps you meant to do it all along?"
"Perhaps I did."
"Very well, then," said Louise. "Would you mind coming to the train with me on your way down town to-morrow?"
"Not at all."
In the morning neither of them recurred to what Louise had said of her going home for a few days. She had apparently made no preparation for the journey; but if she was better than her words in this, he was quite as bad as his in going down town after breakfast to let Grayson have the play, no matter whom he should get to do Salome. He did not reiterate his purpose, but she knew from the sullen leave, or no-leave, which he took of her, that it was fixed.
When he was gone she had what seemed to her the very worst quarter of an hour she had ever known; but when he came back in the afternoon, looking haggard but savage, her ordeal had long been over. She asked him quietly if they had come to any definite conclusion about the play, and he answered, with harsh aggression, yes, that Mrs. Harley had agreed to take the part of Salome; Godolphin's old company had been mostly got together, and they were to have the first rehearsal the next morning.
"Should you like me to come some time?" asked Louise.
"I should like you very much to come," said Maxwell, soberly, but with a latent doubt of her meaning, which she perceived.
"I have been thinking," she said, "whether you would like me to call on Mrs. Harley this evening with you?"
"What for?" he demanded, suspiciously.
"Well, I don't know. I thought it might be appropriate."
Maxwell thought a moment. "I don't think it would be expected. After all, it isn't a personal thing," he said, with a relenting in his defiance.
"No," said Louise.
They got through the evening without further question.
They had always had some sort of explicit making-up before, even when they had only had a tacit falling out, but this time Louise thought there had better be none of that. They were to rehearse the play every day that week, and Maxwell said he must be at the theatre the next morning at eleven. He could not make out to his wife's satisfaction that he was of much use, but he did not try to convince her. He only said that they referred things to him now and then, and that generally he did not seem to know much about them. She saw that his aesthetic honesty kept him from pretending to more than this, and she believed he ought to have greater credit than he claimed.
Four or five days later she went with him to a rehearsal. By this time they had got so well forward with their work at the theatre that Maxwell said it would now be in appreciable shape; but still he warned her not to expect too much. He never could tell her just what she wanted to know about Mrs. Harley; all he could say was that her Salome was not ideal, though it had strong qualities; and he did not try to keep her from thinking it offensive; that would only have made bad worse.
It had been snowing overnight, and there was a bright glare of sunshine on the drifts, which rendered the theatre doubly dark when they stepped into it from the street. It was a dramatic event for Louise to enter by the stage-door, and to find Maxwell recognized by the old man in charge as having authority to do so; and she made as much of the strange interior as the obscurity and her preoccupation would allow. There was that immediate bareness and roughness which seems the first characteristic of the theatre behind the scenes, where the theatre is one of the simplest and frankest of workshops, in which certain effects are prepared to be felt before the footlights. Nothing of the glamour of the front is possible; there is a hard air of business in everything; and the work that goes to the making of a play shows itself the severest toil. Figures now came and went in the twilight beyond the reach of the gas in the door-keeper's booth, but rapidly as if bent upon definite errands, and with nothing of that loitering gayety which is the imagined temperament of the stage.
Louise and Maxwell were to see Grayson first in his private office, and while their names were taken in, the old door-keeper gave them seats on the Mourners' Bench, a hard wooden settee in the corridor, which he said was the place where actors wanting an engagement waited till the manager sent word that he could see them. The manager did not make the author and his wife wait, but came for them himself, and led the way back to his room. When he gave them seats there, Maxwell had the pleasure of seeing that Louise made an excellent impression with the magnate, of whom he had never quite lost the awe we feel for the master of our fortunes, whoever he is. He perceived that her inalienable worldly splendor added to his own consequence, and that his wife's air of grande dame was not lost upon a man who could at least enjoy it artistically. Grayson was very polite to her, and said hopefuller things about the play than he had yet said to Maxwell, though he had always been civil about its merits. He had a number of papers before him, and he asked Louise if she had noticed their friendliness. She said, yes, she had seen some of those things, but she had supposed they were authorized, and she did not know how much to value them.
Grayson laughed and confessed that he did not practice any concealments with the press when it was a question of getting something to the public notice. "Of course," he said, "we don't want the piece to come in on rubbers."
"What do you mean?" she demanded, with an ignorant joy in the phrase.
"That's what we call it when a thing hasn't been sufficiently heralded, or heralded at all. We have got to look after that part of it, you know."
"Of course, I am not complaining, though I think all that's dreadful."
The manager assented partly. Then he said: "There's something curious about it. You may put up the whole affair yourself, and yet in what's said you can tell whether there's a real good will that comes from the writers themselves or not."
"And you mean that there is this mystical kindness for Mr. Maxwell's play in the prophecies that all read so much alike to me?"
"Yes, I do," said the manager, laughing. "They like him because he's new and young, and is making his way single-handed."
"Well," said Louise, "those seem good grounds for preference to me, too;" and she thought how nearly they had been her own grounds for liking Maxwell.
Grayson went with them to the stage and found her the best place to sit and see the rehearsal. He made some one get chairs, and he sat with her chatting while men in high hats and overcoats and women in bonnets and fur-edged butterfly-capes came in one after another. Godolphin arrived among the first, with an ulster which came down to where his pantaloons were turned up above his overshoes. He caught sight of Louise, and approached her with outstretched hand, and Grayson gave up his chair to the actor. Godolphin was very cordial, deferentially cordial, with a delicate vein of reminiscent comradery running through his manner. She spoke to him of having at last got his ideal for Salome, and he said, with a slight sigh and a sort of melancholy absence: "Yes, Miss Havisham will do it magnificently." Then he asked, with a look of latent significance:
"Have you ever seen her?"
Louise laughed for as darkling a reason. "Only in real life. You know we live just over and under each other."
"Ah, true. But I meant, on the stage. She's a great artist. You know she's the one I wanted for Salome from the start."
"Then you ought to be very happy in getting her at last."
"She will do everything for the play," sighed Godolphin. "She'll make up for all my shortcomings."
"You won't persuade us that you have any shortcomings, Mr. Godolphin," said Louise. "You are Haxard, and Haxard is the play. You can't think, Mr. Godolphin, how deeply grateful we both are to you for your confidence in my husband's work, your sacrifices—"
"You overpay me a thousand times for everything, Mrs. Maxwell," said the actor. "Any one might have been proud and happy to do all I've done, and more, for such a play. I've never changed my opinion for a moment that it was the American drama. And now if Miss Havisham only turns out to be the Salome we want!"
"If?" returned Louise, and she felt a wild joy in the word. "Why, I thought there could be no earthly doubt about it."
"Oh, there isn't. We are all united on that point, I believe, Maxwell?"
Maxwell shrugged. "I confide in you and Mr. Grayson."
Godolphin looked at his watch. "It's eleven now, and she isn't here yet. I would rather not have begun without her, but I think we had better not delay any longer." He excused himself to Louise, and went and sat down with his hat on at a small table, lit with a single electric bulb, dropping like a luminous spider by a thread from the dark above. Other electric bulbs were grouped before reflectors on either side of the stage, and these shone on the actors before Godolphin. Back in the depths of the stage, some scene-painters and carpenters were at work on large strips of canvas lying unrolled upon the floor or stretched upon light wooden frames. Across Godolphin's head the dim hollow of the auditorium showed, pierced by long bars of sunlight full of dancing motes, which slanted across its gloom from the gallery windows. Women in long aprons were sweeping the floors and pounding the seats, and a smell of dust from their labors mixed with the smell of paint and glue and escaping gas which pervaded the atmosphere of the stage.
Godolphin made Maxwell come and sit with him at the table; he opened his prompt-book and directed the rehearsal to begin. The people were mostly well up in their parts, and the work went smoothly, except for now and then an impatience in Godolphin which did not seem to come from what was going forward.
He showed himself a thorough master of his trade in its more mechanical details, and there were signal instances of his intelligence in the higher things of it which might well have put Mrs. Maxwell to shame for her many hasty judgments of the actor. He was altogether more of a man, more of a mind, than she had supposed, even when she supposed the best of him. She perceived that Godolphin grasped the whole meaning of her husband's work, and interpreted its intentions with perfect accuracy, not only in his own part of Haxard, but in all the other persons, and he corrected the playing of each of the roles as the rehearsal went on. She saw how he had really formed the other actors upon himself. They repeated his tones, his attitudes, his mannerisms, in their several ways. His touch could be felt all through the performance, and his limitations characterized it. He was very gentle and forbearing with their mistakes, but he was absolute master all the same. If some one erred, Godolphin left his place and went and showed how the thing should be said and done. He carefully addressed the men by their surnames, with the Mr. always; the women were all Dear to him, according to a convention of the theatre. He said, "No, dear," and "Yes, dear," and he was as caressingly deferential to each of them as he was formally deferential to the men; he required the same final obedience of them, and it was not always so easy to make them obey. In non-essentials he yielded at times, as when one of the ladies had overdone a point, and he demurred. "But I always got a laugh on that, Mr. Godolphin," she protested. "Oh, well, my dear, hang on to your laugh, then." However he meant to do Haxard himself, his voice was for simplicity and reality in others. "Is that the way you would do it, is that the way you would say it, if it were you?" he stopped one of the men in a bit of rant.
Even of Maxwell he exacted as clear a vision of his own work as he exacted of its interpreters. He asked the author his notion of points in dress and person among the different characters, which he had hitherto only generalized in his mind, and which he was gladly willing, when they were brought home to him, to leave altogether to Godolphin's judgment.
The rehearsal had gone well on towards the end of the first act, and Godolphin was beginning to fidget. From where she sat Louise saw him take out his watch and lean towards her husband to say something. An actor who was going through a piece of business perceived that he had not Godolphin's attention, and stopped. Just then Mrs. Harley came in.
Godolphin rose and advanced towards her with the prompt-book shut on his thumb. "You are late, Miss Havisham."
"Yes," she answered, haughtily, as if in resentment of his tone. She added in concession, "Unavoidably. But Salome doesn't come on till the end of the act."
"I think it best for the whole company to be present from the beginning," said Godolphin.
"I quite agree with you," said Mrs. Harley. "Where are we?" she asked, and then she caught sight of Louise, and came up to her. "How do you do, Mrs. Maxwell? I don't know whether I'm glad to see you or not. I believe I'm rather afraid to have you see my Salome; I've an idea you are going to be very severe with her."
"I am sure no severity will be needed. You'll see me nodding approval all the way through," Louise returned.
"I have always thought, somehow, that you had the part especially under your protection. I feel that I'm a very bold woman to attempt it."
In spite of her will to say "Yes, a very bold woman indeed!" Louise answered: "Then I shall admire your courage, as well as your art."
She was aware of Godolphin fretting at the colloquy he could not interrupt, and of Mrs. Harley prolonging it wilfully. "I know you are sincere, and I am going to make you tell me everything you object to in me when it's over. Will you?"
"Of course," Louise answered, gayly; and now Mrs. Harley turned to Godolphin again: "Where were you?"
Twice during the rehearsal Maxwell came to Louise and asked her if she were not tired and would not like to go home; he offered to go out and put her on a car. But both times she made him the same answer: she was not tired, and would not go away on any account; the second time she said, with a certain meaning in her look and voice, that she thought she could stand it if he could. At the end she went up and made her compliments to Mrs. Harley. "You must enjoy realizing your ideal of a character so perfectly," she began.
"Yes? Did you feel that about it?" the actress returned. "It is a satisfaction. But if one has a strong conception of a part, I don't see how one can help rendering it strongly. And this Salome, she takes hold of me so powerfully. Her passion and her will, that won't stop at anything, seem to pierce through and through me. You can feel that she wouldn't mind killing a man or two to carry her point."
"That is certainly what you make one feel about her. And you make her very living, very actual."
"You are very good," said Mrs. Harley. "I am so glad you liked it. I was dreadfully afraid you wouldn't like it."
"Oh, I couldn't imagine your being afraid of anything," said Louise, lightly. Her smile was one which the other woman might have known how to interpret rightly, but her husband alone among men could feel its peculiar quality. Godolphin beamed with apparent satisfaction in it.
"Wasn't Salome magnificent?" he said; and he magnanimously turned to the actress. "You will make everybody forget Haxard. You made me forget him."
"I didn't forget him though," said Mrs. Harley. "I was trying all the time to play up to him—and to Mrs. Maxwell."
The actor laughed his deep, mellow, hollow laugh, which was a fine work of art in itself, and said: "Mrs. Maxwell, you must let me present the other dramatis personae to you," and he introduced the whole cast of the play, one after another. Each said something of the Salome, how grand it was, how impassioned, how powerful. Maxwell stood by, listening, with his eyes on his wife's face, trying to read her thought.
They were silent most of the way home, and she only talked of indifferent things. When the door of their apartment shut them in with themselves alone, she broke out: "Horrible, horrible, horrible! Well, the play is ruined, ruined! We might as well die; or I might! I suppose you really liked it!"
Maxwell turned white with anger. "I didn't try to make her think I did, anyway. But I knew how you really felt, and I don't believe you deceived her very much, either. All the same I was ashamed to see you try."
"Don't talk to me—don't speak! She knew from every syllable I uttered that I perfectly loathed it, and I know that she tried to make it as hateful to me all the way through as she could. She played it at me, and she knew it was me. It was as if she kept saying all the time, 'How do you like my translation of your Boston girl into Alabama, or Mississippi, or Arkansas, or wherever I came from? This is the way you would have acted, if you were me!' Yes, that is the hideous part of it. Her nature has come off on the character, and I shall never see, or hear, or think, or dream Salome, after this, without having Yolande Havisham before me. She's spoiled the sweetest thing in my life. She's made me hate myself; she's made me hate you! Will you go out somewhere and get your lunch? I don't want anything myself, and just now I can't bear to look at you. Oh, you're not to blame, that I know of, if that's what you mean. Only go!"
"I can go out for lunch, certainly," said Maxwell "Perhaps you would rather I stayed out for dinner, too?"
"Don't be cruel, dearest. I am trying to control myself—"
"I shouldn't have thought it. You're not succeeding."
"No, not so well as you, if you hated this woman's Salome as much as I did. If it's always been as bad as it was to-day you've controlled yourself wonderfully well never to give me any hint of it, or prepare me for it in the least."
"How could I prepare you? You would have come to it with your own prepossessions, no matter what I said."
"Was that why you said nothing?"
"You would have hated it if she had played it with angelic perfection, because you hated her."
"Perhaps you think she really did play it with angelic perfection! Well, you needn't come back to dinner."
Louise passed into their room, to lay off her hat and sack.
"I will not come back at all, if you prefer," Maxwell called after her.
"I have no preferences in the matter," she mocked back.
Maxwell and Louise had torn at each other's hearts till they were bleeding, and he wished to come back at once and she wished him to come, that they might hurt themselves still more savagely; but when this desire passed, they longed to meet and bind up one another's wounds. This better feeling brought them together before night-fall, when Maxwell returned, and Louise, at the sound of his latch-key in the door, ran to let him in.
"Mr. Godolphin is here," she said, in a loud, cheery voice, and he divined that he owed something of his eager welcome to her wish to keep him from resuming the quarrel unwittingly. "He has just come to talk over the rehearsal with you, and I wouldn't let him go. I was sure you would be back soon."
She put her finger to her lip, with whatever warning intention, and followed her husband into the presence of the actor, and almost into his arms, so rapturous was the meeting between them.
"Well," cried Godolphin, "I couldn't help looking in a moment to talk with you and Mrs. Maxwell about our Salome. I feel that she will make the fortune of the piece—of any piece. Doesn't Miss Havisham's rendition grow upon you? It's magnificent. It's on the grand scale. It's immense. The more I think about it, the more I'm impressed with it. She'll carry the house by storm. I've never seen anything like it; and I'm glad to find that Mrs. Maxwell feels just as I do about it." Maxwell looked at his wife, who returned his glance with a guiltless eye. "I was afraid she might feel the loss of things that certainly are lost in it. I don't say that Miss Havisham's Salome, superb as it is, is your Salome—or Mrs. Maxwell's. I've always fancied that Mrs. Maxwell had a great deal to do with that character, and—I don't know why—I've always thought of her when I've thought of it; but at the same time it's a splendid Salome. She makes it Southern, almost tropical. It isn't the Boston Salome. You may say that it is wanting in delicacy and the nice shades; but it's full of passion; there's nothing caviare to the general in it. The average audience will understand just what the girl that Miss Havisham gives is after, and she gives her so abundantly that there's no more doubt of the why than there is of the how. Sometimes I used to think the house couldn't follow Miss Pettrell in her subtle touches, but the house, to the topmost tier of the gallery, will get Miss Havisham's intention."
Godolphin was standing while he said all this, and Maxwell now asked: "Won't you sit down?"
The actor had his overcoat on his arm, and his hat in one hand. He tapped at his boot with the umbrella he held in the other. "No, I don't believe I will, thank you. The fact is, I just dropped in a moment to reassure you if you had misgivings about the Salome, and to give you my point of view."
Maxwell did not say anything; he looked at Louise again, and it seemed to her that he meant her to speak. She said, "Oh, we understood that we couldn't have all kinds of a Salome in one creation of the part; and I'm sure no one can see Mrs. Harley in it without feeling her intensity."
"She's a force," said Godolphin. "And if, as we all decided," he continued, to Maxwell, "when we talked it over with Grayson, that a powerful Salome would heighten the effect of Haxard, she is going to make the success of the piece."
"You are going to make the success of the piece!" cried Louise.
"Ah, I sha'n't care if they forget me altogether," said the actor; "I shall forget myself." He laughed his mellow, hollow laugh, and gave his hand to Louise and then to Maxwell. "I'm so glad you feel as you do about it, and I don't wish you to lose your faith in our Salome for a moment. You've quite confirmed mine." He wrung the hands of each with a fervor of gratitude that left them with a disquiet which their eyes expressed to each other when he was gone.
"What does it mean?" asked Louise.
Maxwell shook his head. "It's beyond me."
"Brice," she appealed, after a moment, "do you think I had been saying anything to set him against her?"
"No," he returned, instantly. "Why should I suspect you of anything so base?"
Her throat was full, but she made out to say, "No, you are too generous, too good for such a thing;" and now she went on to eat humble-pie with a self-devotion which few women could practise. "I know that if I don't like having her I have no one but myself to thank for it. If I had never written to that miserable Mr. Sterne, or answered his advertisement, he would never have heard of your play, and nothing that has happened would have happened."
"No, you don't know that at all," said Maxwell; and it seemed to her that she must sink to her knees under his magnanimity. "The thing might have happened in a dozen different ways."
"No matter. I am to blame for it when it did happen; and now you will never hear another word from me. Would you like me to swear it?"
"That would be rather unpleasant," said Maxwell.
They both felt a great physical fatigue, and they neither had the wish to prolong the evening after dinner. Maxwell was going to lock the door of the apartment at nine o'clock, and then go to bed, when there came a ring at it. He opened it, and stood confronted with Grayson, looking very hot and excited.
"Can I come in a moment?" the manager asked. "Are you alone? Can I speak with you?"
"There's no one here but Mrs. Maxwell," said her husband, and he led the way into the parlor.
"And if you don't like," Louise confessed to have overheard him, "you needn't speak before her even."
"No, no," said the manager, "don't go! We may want your wisdom. We certainly want all the wisdom we can get on the question. It's about Godolphin."
"Godolphin?" they both echoed.
"Yes. He's given up the piece."
The manager drew out a letter, which he handed to Maxwell, and which Louise read with her husband, over his shoulder. It was addressed to Grayson, and began very formally.
"I wish to resign to you all claim I may have to a joint interest in Mr. Maxwell's piece, and to withdraw from the company formed for its representation. I feel that my part in it has been made secondary to another, and I have finally decided to relinquish it altogether. I trust that you will be able to supply my place, and I offer you my best wishes for the success of your enterprise.
"Yours very truly, "L. GODOLPHIN."
The Maxwells did not look at each other; they both looked at the manager, and neither spoke.
"You see," said the manager, putting the letter back in its envelope, "it's Miss Havisham. I saw some signs of what was coming at the rehearsals, but I didn't think it would take such peremptory shape."
"Why, but he was here only a few hours ago, praising her to the skies," said Louise; and she hoped that she was keeping secret the guilty joy she felt; but probably it was not unknown to her husband.
"Oh, of course," said Grayson, with a laugh, "that was Godolphin's way. He may have felt all that he said; or he may have been trying to find out what Mr. Maxwell thought, and whether he could count upon him in a move against her."
"We said nothing," cried Louise, and she blessed heaven that she could truly say so, "which could possibly be distorted into that."
"I didn't suppose you had," said the manager. "But now we have got to act. We have got to do one of two things, and Godolphin knows it; we have got to let Miss Havisham go, or we have got to let him go. For my part I would much rather let him go. She is a finer artist every way, and she is more important to the success of the piece. But it would be more difficult to replace him than it would be to replace her, and he knows it. We could get Miss Pettrell at once for Salome, and we should have to look about for a Haxard. Still, I am disposed to drop Godolphin, if Mr. Maxwell feels as I do."
He looked at Maxwell; but Louise lowered her eyes, and would not influence her husband by so much as a glance. It seemed to her that he was a long time answering.
"I am satisfied with Godolphin's Haxard much better than I am with Miss Havisham's Salome, strong as it is. On the artistic side alone, I should prefer to keep Godolphin and let her go, if it could be done justly. Then, I know that Godolphin has made sacrifices and borne losses on account of the play, and I think that he has a right to a share in its success, if it has a chance of succeeding. He's jealous of Miss Havisham, of course; I could see that from the first minute; but he's earned the first place, and I'm not surprised he wants to keep it. I shouldn't like to lose it if I were he. I should say that we ought to make any concession he asks in that way."
"Very well," said Grayson. "He will ask to have our agreement with Mrs. Harley broken; and we can say that we were compelled to break it. I feel as you do, that he has some right on his side. She's a devilish provoking woman—excuse me, Mrs. Maxwell!—and I've seen her trying to take the centre from Godolphin ever since the rehearsals began; but I don't like to be driven by him; still, there are worse things than being driven. In any case we have to accept the inevitable, and it's only a question of which inevitable we accept. Good-night. I will see Godolphin at once. Good-night, Mrs. Maxwell. We shall expect you to do what you can in consoling your fair neighbor and reconciling her to the inevitable." Louise did not know whether this was ironical or not, and she did not at all like the laugh from Maxwell which greeted the suggestion.
"I shall have to reconcile Sterne, and I don't believe that will be half so easy."
The manager's words were gloomy, but there was an imaginable relief in his tone and a final cheerfulness in his manner. He left the Maxwells to a certain embarrassment in each other's presence. Louise was the first to break the silence that weighed upon them both.
"Brice, did you decide that way to please me?"
"I am not such a fool," said Maxwell.
"Because," she said, "if you did, you did very wrong, and I don't believe any good could come of it."
Yet she did not seem altogether averse to the risks involved; and in fact she could not justly accuse herself of what had happened, however devoutly she had wished for such a consummation.
It was Miss Havisham and not Godolphin who appeared to the public as having ended the combination their managers had formed. The interviewing on both sides continued until the interest of the quarrel was lost in that of the first presentation of the play, when the impression that Miss Havisham had been ill-used was effaced by the impression made by Miss Pettrell in the part of Salome. Her performance was not only successful in the delicacy and refinement which her friends expected of her, but she brought to the work a vivid yet purely feminine force which took them by surprise and made the public her own. No one in the house could have felt, as the Maxwells felt, a certain quality in it which it would be extremely difficult to characterize without overstating it. Perhaps Louise felt this more even than her husband, for when she appealed to him, he would scarcely confess to a sense of it; but from time to time in the stronger passages she was aware of an echo, to the ear and to the eye, of a more passionate personality than Miss Pettrell's. Had Godolphin profited by his knowledge of Miss Havisham's creation, and had he imparted to Miss Pettrell, who never saw it, hints of it which she used in her own creation of the part? If he had, just what was the measure and the nature of his sin? Louise tormented herself with this question, while a sense of the fact went as often as it came, and left her in a final doubt of it. What was certain was that if Godolphin had really committed this crime, of which he might have been quite unconsciously guilty, Miss Pettrell was wholly innocent of it; and, indeed, the effect she made might very well have been imagined by herself, and only have borne this teasing resemblance by pure accident. Godolphin was justly punished if he were culpable, and he suffered an eclipse in any case which could not have been greater from Miss Havisham. There were recalls for the chief actors at every fall of the curtain, and at the end of the third act, in which Godolphin had really been magnificent, there began to be cries of "Author! Author!" and a messenger appeared in the box where the Maxwells sat and begged the author, in Godolphin's name, to come behind at once. The next thing that Louise knew the actor was leading her husband on the stage and they were both bowing to the house, which shouted at them and had them back once and twice and still shouted, but now with a certain confusion of voices in its demand, which continued till the author came on a fourth time, led by the actor as before, and himself leading the heroine of his piece. Then the storm of applause left no doubt that the will of the house had been rightly interpreted.
Louise sat still, with the tears blurring the sight before her. They were not only proud and happy tears, but they were tears of humble gratitude that it was Miss Pettrell, and not Mrs. Harley, whom her husband was leading on to share his triumph. She did not think her own desert was great; but she could not tax herself with any wrong that she had not at least tried to repair; she felt that what she had escaped she could not have suffered, and that Heaven was merciful to her weakness, if not just to her merit. Perhaps this was why she was so humble and so grateful.
There arose in her a vague fear as to what Godolphin might do in the case of a Salome who was certainly no more subordinated to his Haxard than Miss Havisham's, or what new demands he might not make upon the author; but Maxwell came back to her with a message from the actor, which he wished conveyed with his congratulations upon the success of the piece. This was to tell her of his engagement to Miss Pettrell, which had suddenly taken place that day, and which he thought there could be no moment so fit to impart to her as that of their common triumph.
Louise herself went behind at the end of the piece, and made herself acceptable to both the artists in her cordial good wishes. Neither of them resented the arch intention with which she said to Godolphin, "I suppose you won't mind such a beautiful Salome as Miss Pettrell has given us, now that it's to be all in the family."
Miss Pettrell answered for him with as complete an intelligence: "Oh, I shall know how to subdue her to his Haxard, if she ever threatens the peace of the domestic hearth."
That Salome has never done so in any serious measure Maxwell argues from the fact that, though the Godolphins have now been playing his piece together for a whole year since their marriage, they have not yet been divorced.
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