The Strand Magazine, July 1927
THE man in the corner took a sip of stout-and-mild, and proceeded to point the moral of the story which he had just told us.
“Yes, gentlemen,” he said, “Shakespeare was right. There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”
We nodded. He had been speaking of a favourite dog of his which, entered recently by some error in a local cat show, had taken first prize in the class for short-haired tortoiseshells; and we all thought the quotation well-chosen and apposite.
“There is, indeed,” said Mr. Mulliner. “A rather similar thing happened to my nephew Lancelot.”
In the nightly reunions of the bar-parlour of the Anglers’ Rest we have been trained to believe almost anything of Mr. Mulliner’s relatives, but this, we felt, was a little too much.
“You mean to say your nephew Lancelot took a prize at a cat show?”
“No, no,” said Mr. Mulliner hastily. “Certainly not. I have never deviated from the truth in my life, and I hope I never shall. No Mulliner has ever taken a prize at a cat show. No Mulliner, indeed, to the best of my knowledge, has even been entered for such a competition. What I meant was that the fact that we never know what the future holds in store for us was well exemplified in the case of my nephew Lancelot, just as it was in the case of this gentleman’s dog which suddenly found itself transformed for all practical purposes into a short-haired tortoiseshell cat. It is rather a curious story, and provides a good illustration of the adage that you never can tell and that it is always darkest before the dawn.”
AT the time at which my story opens (said Mr. Mulliner) Lancelot, then twenty-four years of age and recently come down from Oxford, was spending a few days with old Jeremiah Briggs, the founder and proprietor of the famous Briggs’s Breakfast Pickles, on the latter’s yacht at Cowes.
This Jeremiah Briggs was Lancelot’s uncle on the mother’s side, and he had always interested himself in the boy. It was he who had sent him to the University; and it was the great wish of his heart that his nephew, on completing his education, should join him in the business. It was consequently a shock to the poor old gentleman when, as they sat together on deck on the first morning of the visit, Lancelot, while expressing the greatest respect for pickles as a class, firmly refused to start in and learn the business from the bottom up.
“The fact is, uncle,” he said, “I have mapped out a career for myself on far different lines. I am a poet.”
“A poet? When did you feel this coming on?”
“Shortly after my twenty-second birthday.”
“Well,” said the old man, overcoming his first natural feeling of repulsion, “I don’t see why that should stop us getting together. I use quite a lot of poetry in my business.”
“I fear I could not bring myself to commercialize my Muse.”
“Young man,” said Mr. Briggs, “if an onion with a head like yours came into my factory, I should refuse to pickle it.”
He stumped below, thoroughly incensed. But Lancelot merely uttered a light laugh. He was young; it was summer; the sky was blue; the sun was shining; and the things in the world that really mattered were not cucumbers and vinegar, but Romance and Love. Oh, he felt, for some delightful girl to come along on whom he might lavish all the pent-up fervour which had been sizzling inside him for weeks.
And at this moment he saw her.
She was leaning against the rail of a yacht that lay at its moorings some forty yards away; and, as he beheld her, Lancelot’s heart leaped like a young gherkin in the boiling-vat. In her face, it seemed to him, was concentrated all the beauty of all the ages. Confronted with this girl, Cleopatra would have looked like Nellie Wallace, and Helen of Troy might have been her plain sister. He was still gazing at her in a sort of trance, when the bell sounded for luncheon and he had to go below.
All through the meal, while his uncle spoke of pickled walnuts he had known, Lancelot remained in a reverie. He was counting the minutes until he could get on deck and start goggling again. Judge, therefore, of his dismay when, on bounding up the companion-way, he found that the other yacht had disappeared. He recalled now having heard a sort of harsh, grating noise towards the end of luncheon; but at the time he had merely thought it was his uncle eating celery. Too late he realized that it must have been the raising of the anchor-chain.
ALTHOUGH at heart a dreamer, Lancelot Mulliner was not without a certain practical streak. Thinking the matter over, he soon hit upon a rough plan of action for getting on the track of the fair unknown who had flashed in and out of his life with such tragic abruptness. A girl like that—beautiful, lissom, and, as far as he had been able to tell at such long range, gimp—was sure to be fond of dancing. The chances were, therefore, that sooner or late he would find her at some night club or other.
He started, accordingly, to make the round of the night clubs. As soon as one was raided, he went on to another. Within a month he had visited the Mauve Mouse, the Scarlet Centipede, the Vicious Cheese, the Gay Fritter, the Placid Prune, the Café de Bologna, Billy’s, Milly’s, Ike’s, Spike’s, Mike’s, and the Ham and Beef. And it was at the Ham and Beef that at last he found her.
He had gone there one evening for the fifth time, principally because at that establishment there were a couple of speciality dancers to whom he had taken a dislike shared by virtually every thinking man in London. It had always seemed to him that one of these nights the male member of the team, while whirling his partner round in a circle by her outstretched arms, might let her go and break her neck; and though constant disappointment had to some extent blunted the first fine enthusiasm of his early visits, he still hoped.
On this occasion the speciality dancers came and went unscathed as usual, but Lancelot hardly noticed them. His whole attention was concentrated on the girl seated across the room immediately opposite him. It was beyond a question she.
Well, you know what poets are. When their emotions are stirred, they are not like us dull, diffident fellows. They breathe quickly through their noses and get off to a flying start. In one bound Lancelot was across the room, his heart beating till it sounded like a by-request solo from the trap-drummer.
“Shall we dance?” he said.
“Can you dance?” said the girl.
Lancelot gave a short, amused laugh. He had had a good University education, and had not failed to profit by it. He was a man who never let his left hip know what his right hip was doing.
“I am old Colonel Charleston’s favourite son,” he said, simply.
A sound like the sudden descent of an iron girder on a sheet of tin, followed by a jangling of bells, a wailing of tortured cats, and the noise of a few steam-riveters at work, announced to their trained ears that the music had begun. Sweeping her to him with a violence which, attempted in any other place, would have earned him a sentence of thirty days coupled with some strong remarks from the Bench, Lancelot began to push her yielding form through the sea of humanity till they reached the centre of the whirlpool. There, unable to move in any direction, they surrendered themselves to the ecstasy of the dance, wiping their feet on the polished flooring and occasionally pushing an elbow into some stranger’s encroaching rib.
“This,” murmured the girl with closed eyes, “is divine.”
“What?” bellowed Lancelot, for the orchestra, in addition to ringing bells, had now begun to howl like wolves at dinnertime.
“Divine,” roared the girl. “You certainly are a beautiful dancer.”
“A beautiful what?”
“Good egg!” shrieked Lancelot, rather wishing, though he was fond of music, that the orchestra would stop beating the floor with hammers.
“What did you say?”
“I said ‘Good egg.’ ”
“Because the idea crossed my mind that, if you felt like that, you might care to marry me.”
There was a sudden lull in the storm. It was as if the audacity of his words had stricken the orchestra into a sort of paralysis. Dark-complexioned men who had been exploding bombs and touching off automobile hooters became abruptly immobile and sat rolling their eyeballs. One or two people left the floor, and plaster stopped falling from the ceiling.
“Marry you?” said the girl.
“I love you as no man has ever loved woman before.”
“Well, that’s always something. What would the name be?”
“Mulliner. Lancelot Mulliner.”
“It might be worse.” She looked at him with pensive eyes. “Well, why not?” she said. “It would be a crime to let a dancer like you go out of the family. On the other hand, my father will kick like a mule. Father is an Earl.”
“The Earl of Biddlecombe.”
“Well, earls aren’t everything,” said Lancelot with a touch of pique. “The Mulliners are an old and honourable family. A Sieur de Moulinières came over with the Conqueror.”
“Ah, but did a Sieur de Moulinières ever do down the common people for a few hundred thousand and salt it away in gilt-edged securities? That’s what’s going to count with the aged parent. What with taxes and super-taxes and death duties and falling land-values, there has of recent years been very, very little of the right stuff in the Biddlecombe sock. Shake the family money-box and you will hear but the faintest rattle. And I ought to tell you that at the Junior Lipstick Club seven to two is being freely offered on my marrying Slingsby Purvis, of Purvis’s Liquid Dinner Glue. Nothing is definitely decided yet, but you can take it as coming straight from the stable that, unless something happens to upset current form, she whom you now see before you is the future Ma Purvis.”
Lancelot stamped his foot defiantly, eliciting a howl of agony from a passing reveller.
“This shall not be,” he muttered.
“If you care to bet against it,” said the girl, producing a small note-book, “I can accommodate you at the current odds.”
“I’m not saying it’s a pretty name. All I’m trying to point out is that at the present moment he heads the ‘All the above have arrived’ list. He is Our Newmarket Correspondent’s Five-Pound Special and Captain Coe’s final selection. What makes you think you can nose him out? Are you rich?”
“At present, only in love. But tomorrow I go to my uncle, who is immensely wealthy——”
“And touch him?”
“Not quite that. Nobody has touched Uncle Jeremiah since the early winter of 1885. But I shall get him to give me a job, and then we shall see.”
“Do,” said the girl, warmly. “And if you can stick the gaff into Purvis and work the Young Lochinvar business, I shall be the first to touch off red fire. On the other hand, it is only fair to inform you that at the Junior Lipstick all the girls look on the race as a walk-over. None of the big punters will touch it.”
LANCELOT returned to his rooms that night undiscouraged. He intended to sink his former prejudices and write a poem in praise of Briggs’s Breakfast Pickles which would mark a new era in commercial verse. This he would submit to his uncle; and, having stunned him with it, would agree to join the firm as chief poetry-writer. He tentatively pencilled down five thousand pounds a year as the salary which he would demand. With a long-term contract for five thousand a year in his pocket, he could approach Lord Biddlecombe and jerk a father’s blessing out of him in no time. It would be humiliating, of course, to lower his genius by writing poetry about pickles; but a lover must make sacrifices. He bought a quire of the best foolscap, brewed a quart of the strongest coffee, locked his door, disconnected his telephone, and sat down at his desk.
GENIAL old Jeremiah Briggs received him, when he called next day at his palatial house, the Villa Chutney, at Putney, with a bluff good-humour which showed that he still had a warm spot in his heart for the young rascal.
“Sit down, boy, and have a pickled onion,” said he, cheerily, slapping Lancelot on the shoulder. “You’ve come to tell me you’ve reconsidered your idiotic decision about not joining the business, eh? No doubt we thought it a little beneath our dignity to start at the bottom and work our way up? But consider, my dear lad. We must learn to walk before we can run, and you could hardly expect me to make you chief cucumber-buyer, or head of the vinegar-bottling department, before you have acquired hard-won experience.”
“If you will allow me to explain, uncle——”
“Eh?” Mr. Briggs’s geniality faded somewhat. “Am I to understand that you don’t want to come into the business?”
“Yes and no,” said Lancelot. “I still consider that slicing up cucumbers and dipping them in vinegar is a poor life-work for a man with the Promethean fire within him; but I propose to place at the disposal of the Briggs Breakfast Pickle my poetic gifts.”
“Well, that’s better than nothing. I’ve just been correcting the proofs of the last thing our man turned in. It’s really excellent. Listen.
“ ‘ Soon, soon all human joys must end:
Grim Death approaches with his sickle:
Courage! There is still time, my friend,
To eat a Briggs’s Breakfast Pickle.’
“If you could give us something like that——”
Lancelot raised his eyebrows. His lip curled.
“The little thing I have dashed off is not quite like that.”
“Oh, you’ve written something, eh?”
“A mere morceau. You would care to hear it?”
“Fire away, my boy.”
Lancelot produced his manuscript and cleared his throat. He began to read in a low, musical voice.
“DARKLING (A Threnody).
By L. Bassington Mulliner.
(Copyright in all languages, including the Scandinavian.)
(The dramatic, musical comedy, and motion-picture rights of this Threnody are strictly reserved. Applications for these should be made to the author.)”
“What is a Threnody?” asked Mr. Briggs.
“This is,” said Lancelot.
He cleared his throat again and resumed.
Like a corpse’s withered hands,
Waving against the blacker sky:
Bitter like the tang of half-remembered sins;
Bats wheeling mournfully through the air,
And on the ground
And nameless creeping things;
And all around
I am a bat that wheels through the air of Fate;
I am a worm that wriggles in a swamp of Disillusionment;
I am a despairing toad;
I have got dyspepsia.”
He paused. His uncle’s eyes were protruding rather like those of a nameless creeping frog.
“What’s all this?” said Mr. Briggs.
It seemed almost incredible to Lancelot that his poem should present any aspect of obscurity to even the meanest intellect; but he explained.
“The thing,” he said, “is symbolic. It essays to depict the state of mind of the man who has not yet tried Briggs’s Breakfast Pickles. I shall require it to be printed in hand-set type on deep cream-coloured paper.”
“Yes?” said Mr. Briggs, touching the bell.
“With bevelled edges. It must be published, of course, bound in limp leather, preferably of a violet shade, in a limited edition, confined to one hundred and five copies. Each of these copies I will sign——”
“You rang, sir?” said the butler, appearing in the doorway.
Mr. Briggs nodded curtly.
“Bewstridge,” said he, “throw Mr. Lancelot out.”
“Very good, sir.”
“And see,” added Mr. Briggs, superintending the subsequent proceedings from his library window, “that he never darkens my doors again. When you have finished, Bewstridge, ring up my lawyers on the telephone. I wish to alter my will.”
YOUTH IS a resilient period. With all his worldly prospects swept away and a large bruise on his person which made it uncomfortable for him to assume a sitting posture, you might have supposed that the return of Lancelot Mulliner from Putney would have resembled that of the late Napoleon from Moscow. Such, however, was not the case. What, Lancelot asked himself as he rode back to civilization on top of an omnibus, did money matter? Love, true love, was all. He would go to Lord Biddlecombe and tell him so in a few neatly-chosen words. And his lordship, moved by his eloquence, would doubtless drop a well-bred tear and at once see that the arrangements for his wedding to Angela—for such, he had learned, was her name—were hastened along with all possible speed. So uplifted was he by this picture that he began to sing, and would have continued for the remainder of the journey had not the conductor in a rather brusque manner ordered him to desist. He was obliged to content himself until the bus reached Hyde Park Corner by singing in dumb show.
The Earl of Biddlecombe’s town residence was in Berkeley Square. Lancelot rang the bell and a massive butler appeared.
“No hawkers, street cries, or circulars,” said the butler.
“I wish to see Lord Biddlecombe.”
“Is his lordship expecting you?”
“Yes,” said Lancelot, feeling sure that the girl would have spoken to her father over the morning toast and marmalade of a possible visit from him.
A voice made itself heard through an open door on the left of the long hall.
“Is that the feller?”
“Yes, your lordship.”
“Then bung him in, Fotheringay.”
“Very good, your lordship.”
Lancelot found himself in a small, comfortably-furnished room, confronting a dignified-looking old man with a patrician nose and small side-whiskers, who looked like something that long ago had come out of an egg.
“Afternoon,” said this individual.
“Good afternoon, Lord Biddlecombe,” said Lancelot.
“Now, about these trousers.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“These trousers,” said the other, extending a shapely leg. “Do they fit? Aren’t they a bit baggy round the ankles? Won’t they jeopardize my social prestige if I am seen in them in the Park?”
Lancelot was charmed with his affability. It gave him the feeling of having been made one of the family straight away.
“You really want my opinion?
“I do. I want your candid opinion as a God-fearing man and a member of a West-end tailoring firm.”
“But I’m not.”
“Not a God-fearing man?”
“Not a member of a West-end tailoring firm.”
“Come, come,” said his lordship, testily. “You represent Gusset and Mainprice, of Cork Street.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Then who the devil are you?”
“My name is Mulliner.”
Lord Biddlecombe rang the bell furiously.
“You told me this man was the feller I was expecting from Gusset and Mainprice.”
“He certainly led me to suppose so, your lordship.”
“Well, he isn’t. His name is Mulliner. And—this is the point, Fotheringay. This is the core and centre of the thing—what the blazes does he want?”
“I could not say, your lordship.”
“I came here, Lord Biddlecombe,” said Lancelot, “to ask your consent to my immediate marriage with your daughter.”
“My daughter Angela?”
“You want to marry my daughter Angela?”
“Oh? Well, be that as it may,” said Lord Biddlecombe, “can I interest you in an ingenious little combination mousetrap and pencil-sharpener?”
Lancelot was for a moment a little taken aback by the question. Then, remembering what Angela had said of the state of the family finances, he recovered his poise. He thought no worse of this Grecian-beaked old man for eking out a slender income by acting as agent for the curious little object which he was now holding out to him. Many of the aristocracy, he was aware, had been forced into similar commercial enterprises by recent legislation of a harsh and Socialistic trend.
“I should like it above all things,” he said, courteously. “I was thinking only this morning that it was just what I needed.”
“Highly educational. Not a toy. Fotheringay, book one Mouso-Penso.”
“Very good, your lordship.”
“Are you troubled at all with headaches, Mr. Mulliner?”
“Then what you want is Clark’s Cure for Corns. Shall we say one of the large bottles?”
“Then that—with a year’s subscription to ‘Our Tots’—will come to precisely one pound three shillings and sixpence. Thank you. Will there be anything further?”
“No, thank you. Now, touching the matter of——”
“You wouldn’t care for a scarf-pin? Any ties, collars, shirts? No? Then good-bye, Mr. Mulliner.”
“Fotheringay,” said Lord Biddlecombe, “throw Mr. Mulliner out.”
As Lancelot scrambled to his feet from the hard pavement of Berkeley Square, he was conscious of a rush of violent anger which deprived him momentarily of speech. He stood there, glaring at the house from which he had been ejected, his face working hideously. So absorbed was he that it was some time before he became aware that somebody was plucking at his coat-sleeve.
“Pardon me, sir.”
Lancelot looked round. A stout, smooth-faced man with horn-rimmed spectacles was standing beside him.
“If you could spare me a moment——”
Lancelot shook him off impatiently. He had no desire at a time like this to chatter with strangers. The man was babbling something, but the words made no impression upon his mind. With a savage scowl, Lancelot snatched the fellow’s umbrella from him and, poising it for an instant, flung it with a sure aim through Lord Biddlecombe’s study window. Then, striding away, he made for Berkeley Street. Glancing over his shoulder as he turned the corner, he saw that Fotheringay, the butler, had come out of the house and was standing over the spectacled man with a certain quiet menace in his demeanour. He was rolling up his sleeves, and his fingers were twitching a little.
LANCELOT dismissed the man from his thoughts. His whole mind now was concentrated on the coming interview with Angela. For he had decided that the only thing to do was to seek her out at her club, where she would doubtless be spending the afternoon, and plead with her to follow the dictates of her heart and, abandoning parents and wealthy suitors, come with her true mate to a life of honest poverty sweetened by love and vers libre.
Arriving at the Junior Lipstick, he inquired for her, and the hall-porter dispatched a boy in buttons to fetch her from the billiard-room, where she was refereeing the finals of the Debutantes’ Shove-Ha’penny Tournament. And presently his heart leaped as he saw her coming towards him, looking more like a vision of Springtime than anything human and earthly. She was smoking a cigarette in a long holder, and as she approached she inserted a monocle inquiringly in her right eye.
“Hullo, laddie!” she said. “You here? What’s on the mind besides hair? Talk quick. I’ve only got a minute.”
“Angela,” said Lancelot, “I have to report a slight hitch in the programme which I sketched out at our last meeting. I have just been to see my uncle and he has washed his hands of me and cut me out of his will.”
“Nothing doing in that quarter, you mean?” said the girl, chewing her lower lip thoughtfully.
“Nothing. But what of it? What matters it so long as we have each other? Money is dross. Love is everything. Yes, love indeed is light from heaven, a spark of that immortal fire with angels shared, by Allah given to lift from earth our low desire. Give me to live with Love alone and let the world go dine and dress. If life’s a flower, I choose my own. ’Tis Love in Idleness. When beauty fires the blood, how love exalts the mind! Come. Angela, let us read together in a book more moving than the Koran, more eloquent than Shakespeare, the book of books, the crown of all literature—Bradshaw’s Railway Guide. We will turn up a page and you shall put your finger down, and wherever it rests there we will go, to live for ever with our happiness. Oh, Angela, let us——”
“Sorry,” said the girl. “Purvis wins. The race goes by the form-book after all. There was a time when I thought you might be going to crowd him on the rails and get your nose first under the wire with a quick last-minute dash, but apparently it is not to be. Deepest sympathy, old crocus, but that’s that.”
“You mean you intend to marry this Purvis?”
“Pop in about a month from now at St. George’s, Hanover Square, and see for yourself.”
“You would allow this man to buy you with his gold?”
“Don’t overlook his diamonds.”
“Does love count for nothing? Surely you love me?”
“Of course I do, my desert king. When you do that flat-footed Black Bottom step with the sort of wiggly twiggle at the end, I feel as if I were eating plovers’ eggs in a new dress to the accompaniment of heavenly music.” She sighed. “Yes, I love you, Lancelot. And women are not like men. They do not love lightly. When a woman gives her heart, it is for ever. The years will pass, and you will turn to another. But I shall not forget. However, as you haven’t a bob in the world——” She beckoned to the hall-porter. “Margerison.”
“Is it raining?”
“No, your ladyship.”
“Are the front steps clean?”
“Yes, your ladyship.”
“Then throw Mr. Mulliner out.”
LANCELOT leaned against the railings of the Junior Lipstick, and looked out through a black mist upon a world that heaved and rocked and seemed on the point of disintegrating into ruin and chaos. And a lot he would care, he told himself bitterly, if it did. If Seamore Place from the west and Charles Street from the east had taken a running jump and landed on the back of his neck, it would have added little or nothing to the turmoil of his mind. In fact, he would rather have preferred it.
Fury, as it had done on the pavement of Berkeley Square, robbed him of speech. But his hands, his shoulders, his brows, his lips, his nose, and even his eyelashes seemed to be charged with a silent eloquence. He twitched his eyebrows in agony. He twiddled his fingers in despair. Nothing was left now, he felt, as he shifted the lobe of his left ear in a nor’-nor’-easterly direction, but suicide. Yes, he told himself, tightening and relaxing the muscles of his cheeks, all that remained now was death.
But, even as he reached this awful decision, a kindly voice spoke in his ear.
“Oh, come now, I wouldn’t say that,” said the kindly voice.
And Lancelot, turning, perceived the smooth-faced man who had tried to engage him in conversation in Berkeley Square.
“Say, listen,” said the smooth-faced man, sympathy in each lens of his horn-rimmed spectacles. “Tempests may lower and a strong man stand face to face with his soul, but hope, like a healing herb, will show the silver lining where beckons joy and life and happiness.”
Lancelot eyed him haughtily.
“I am not aware——” he began.
“Say, listen,” said the other, laying a soothing hand on his shoulder. “I know just what has happened. Mammon has conquered Cupid, and once more Youth has had to learn the old, old lesson that though the face be fair the heart may be cold and callous.”
The smooth-faced man raised his hand.
“That afternoon. Her apartment. ‘No. It can never be. I shall wed a wealthier wooer.’ ”
Lancelot’s fury began to dissolve into awe. There seemed something uncanny in the way this total stranger had diagnosed the situation. He stared at him, bewildered.
“How did you know?” he gasped.
“You told me.”
“Your face did. I could read every word. I’ve been watching you for the last two minutes, and, say, boy, it was a wow!”
“Who are you?” asked Lancelot.
The smooth-faced man produced from his waistcoat pocket a fountain-pen, two cigars, a packet of chewing-gum, a small button bearing the legend, ‘Boost for Hollywood,’ and a visiting-card—in the order named. Replacing the other articles, he handed the card to Lancelot.
“I’m Isadore Zinzinheimer, kid,” he said. “I represent the Bigger, Better, and Brighter Motion-Picture Company of Hollywood, Cal., incorporated last July for sixteen hundred million dollars. And, if you’re thinking of asking me what I want, I want you. Yes, sir! Say, listen. A fellow that can register the way you can is needed in my business; and, if you think money can stop me getting him, name the biggest salary you can think of and hear me laugh. Boy, I use bank-notes for summer underclothing, and I don’t care how bad you’ve got the gimme’s if only you’ll sign on the dotted line. Say, listen. A bozo that with a mere twitch of the upper lip can make it plain to one and all that he loves a haughty aristocrat and that she has given him the air because his rich uncle, who is a pickle manufacturer living in Putney, won’t have anything more to do with him, is required out at Hollywood by the next boat if the movies are ever to become an educational force in the truest and deepest sense of the words.”
Lancelot stared at him.
“You want me to become a motion-picture actor?”
“I want you, and I’m going to get you. And, if you think you’re going to prevent me, you’re trying to stop Niagara with a tennis racket. Boy, you’re great! When you register, you register. Your face is as chatty as a board of directors. Say, listen. You know the great thing we folks in the motion-picture industry have got to contend with? The curse of the motion-picture industry is that in every audience there are from six to seven young women with adenoids who will insist on reading out the titles as they are flashed on the screen, filling the rest of the customers with harsh thoughts and dreams of murder. What we’re trying to collect is stars that can register so well that titles won’t be needed. And, boy, you’re the king of them. I know you’re feeling good and sore just now because that beazle in there spurned your honest love; but forget it. Think of your Art. Think of your Public. Come now, what shall we say to start with? Five thousand a week? Ten thousand? You call the shots, and I’ll provide the blank contract and fountain-pen.”
Lancelot needed no further urging. Already love had turned to hate, and he no longer wished to marry Angela. Instead, he wanted to make her burn with anguish and vain regrets; and it seemed to him that Fate was pointing the way. Pretty silly the future Lady Angela Purvis would feel when she discovered that she had rejected the love of a man with a salary of ten thousand dollars a week. And fairly foolish her old father would feel when news reached him of the good thing he had allowed to get away. And racking would be the remorse, when he returned to London as Civilized Girlhood’s Sweetheart and they saw him addressing mobs from an hotel balcony, of his Uncle Jeremiah, of Fotheringay, of Bewstridge, and of Margerison.
A light gleamed in Lancelot’s eye, and he rolled the tip of his nose in a circular movement.
“You consent?” said Mr. Zinzinheimer, delighted. “ ’At-a-boy! Here’s the pen and here’s the contract.”
“Gimme!” said Lancelot.
A benevolent glow irradiated the other’s spectacles.
“Came the Dawn!” he murmured. “Came the Dawn!”
(Next month: “Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey!”)