Grand Magazine, May 1922
“THAT’S the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Ginger Kemp, a red-headed young Englishman, to his disagreeable cousin, Bruce Carmyle, when he first saw Sally on the sands at Roville-sur-Mer. He didn’t trouble to modulate his voice, for he supposed her to be French, a fact which the bright-eyed American Sally appreciated to the full.
A few moments later Ginger rescued Sally from the middle of a dog-fight. Then he discovered his mistake about her nationality, and realised that she must have heard what he said. “Oh my sainted aunt!” he exclaimed, and fled.
That night they met again, accidentally shut in the hotel lift for several hours without a hope of rescue. To pass the time they exchanged histories, and Sally learned that Ginger had been left penniless unexpectedly on the death of his father, just as he was leaving Cambridge. The family, including the disagreeable Mr. Carmyle, had found him various jobs, but he had made a hash of all of them, he naively explained.
“You do seem to be our most prominent young hasher,” said Sally, at the end of his recital.
Sally was returning to America next day, after a little holiday which was the result of her accession to a fortune of 25,000 dollars. But she was concerned about Ginger. Such dependence on the family shocked her sense of independence, and she decided to give him some parting advice.
She found him, just before her train left, in the Casino, where he was winning money at an alarming rate. He promptly left the tables at sight of her, and learning that she was just going back to America, exclaimed, “Oh, my aunt! I say, look here, will you marry me?”
“But my infant, my babe, has it occurred to you that we are practically strangers?” said Sally. She explained that she was already engaged to Gerald Foster, a young playwright, although the fact was still a secret from their friends.
The discussion was interrupted by the need to rush for Sally’s train. It was actually starting when they reached the platform, and Ginger gathered her up in his arms and threw her deftly into a first-class carriage, almost on top of its one occupant.
Picking herself up, Sally found herself facing Bruce Carmyle.
CHAPTER III (continued).
MR. CARMYLE recognised Sally now as the French girl who had attracted his cousin Lancelot’s notice on the beach. At least, he had assumed that she was French, and it was startling to be addressed by her now in fluent English. How had she suddenly acquired this gift of tongues? And how on earth had she had time since yesterday, when he had been a total stranger to her, to become sufficiently intimate with Cousin Lancelot to be sprinting with him down station platforms and addressing him out of railway carriage windows as Ginger?
If Sally had been less pretty, Mr. Carmyle would undoubtedly have looked disapprovingly at her, for she had given his rather rigid sense of the proprieties a nasty jar. But as, panting and flushed from her run, she was prettier than any girl he had yet met, he contrived to smile.
“Not at all,” he said, in answer to her question, though it was far from the truth. His left big toe was aching confoundedly. Even a girl with a foot as small as Sally’s can make her presence felt on a man’s toe if the scrum half who is handling her aims well and uses plenty of vigour.
“If you don’t mind,” said Sally, sitting down, “I think I’ll breathe a little.”
She breathed. The train sped on.
“Quite a close thing,” said Bruce Carmyle, affably. The pain in his toe was diminishing. “You nearly missed it.”
“Yes. It was lucky Mr. Kemp was with me. He throws very straight, doesn’t he?”
“Tell me,” said Carmyle, “how do you come to know my cousin? On the beach yesterday morning——”
“Oh, we didn’t know each other then. But we were staying at the same hotel, and we spent an hour or so shut up in a lift together. That was when we really got acquainted.”
A waiter entered the compartment, announcing, in unexpected English, that dinner was served in the restaurant-car.
“Would you care for dinner?”
“I’m starving,” said Sally.
She reproved herself, as they made their way down the corridor, for being so foolish as to judge anyone by his appearance. This man was perfectly pleasant in spite of his grim exterior. She had decided, by the time they had seated themselves at the table, that she liked him.
At the table, however, Mr. Carmyle’s manner changed for the worse. He lost his amiability. He was evidently a man who took his meals seriously and believed in treating waiters with severity. He shuddered austerely at a stain on the table-cloth, and then concentrated himself frowningly on the bill of fare. Sally, meanwhile, was establishing cosy relations with the much-too-friendly waiter, a cheerful old man who, from the start, seemed to have made up his mind to regard her as a favourite daughter. The waiter talked no English and Sally no French, but they were getting along capitally when Mr. Carmyle, who had been irritably waving aside the servitor’s light-hearted advice, gave his order crisply in the Anglo-Gallic dialect of the travelling Briton. The waiter remarked “Boum” in a pleased sort of way, and vanished.
“Nice old man!” said Sally.
“Infernally familiar!” said Mr. Carmyle.
Sally perceived that on the topic of the waiter she and her host did not see eye to eye, and that little pleasure or profit could be derived from any discussion centring about him. She changed the subject. She was not liking Mr. Carmyle quite so much as she had done a few minutes ago, but it was courteous of him to give her dinner, and she tried to like him as much as she could.
“By the way,” she said, “my name is Nicholas. I always think it’s a good thing to start with names, don’t you?”
“Oh, I know yours. Ginger—Mr. Kemp told me.”
Mr. Carmyle, who, since the waiter’s departure, had been thawing, stiffened again at the mention of Ginger.
“Indeed?” he said, coldly. “Apparently you got intimate.”
Sally did not like his tone. He seemed to be criticising her, and she resented criticism from a stranger. Her eyes opened wide, and she looked dangerously across the table.
“Why ‘apparently’? I told you that we got intimate, and I explained how. You can’t stay shut up in a lift half the night with anybody without getting to know him. I found Mr. Kemp very pleasant.”
“And very interesting.”
“Well——” A frigid half smile came and went on Bruce Carmyle’s dark face. “My cousin has many excellent qualities, no doubt—he used to play football well, and I understand that he is a capable amateur pugilist—but I should not have supposed him entertaining.”
“Mr. Kemp was telling me about Mr. Scrymgeour,” she went on.
Bruce Carmyle stared for a moment at the yard or so of French bread which the waiter had placed on the table.
“Indeed?” he said. “He has an engaging lack of reticence.”
The waiter returned, bearing soup, and dumped it down.
“V’la!” he observed, with the satisfied air of a man who has successfully performed a difficult conjuring trick. He smiled at Sally expectantly, as though confident of applause from this section of his audience, at least. But Sally’s face was set and rigid. She had been snubbed, and the sensation was as pleasant as it was novel.
Snubbed! She found herself now disliking Mr. Carmyle with an almost Gingerian intensity. If she wanted to talk about Ginger, she was going to talk about Ginger.
“I think Mr. Kemp had hard luck.”
“If you will excuse me, I would prefer not to discuss the matter.”
Mr. Carmyle’s attitude was that Sally might be a pretty girl, but she was a stranger, and the intimate affairs of the family were not to be discussed with strangers, however prepossessing.
“He was quite in the right. Mr. Scrymgeour was beating a dog——”
“I have heard the details.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. Well, don’t you agree with me, then?”
“I do not. A man who would throw away an excellent position simply because——”
“Oh, well, if that’s your view, I suppose it is useless to talk about it.”
“Still, there’s no harm in asking what you propose to do about Gin—about Mr. Kemp.”
Mr. Carmyle became more glacial.
“I’m afraid I cannot discuss——”
Sally’s quick impatience, nobly restrained till now, finally got the better of her.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake!” she snapped. “Do try to be human, and don’t always be snubbing people. You remind me of one of those portraits of men in the eighteenth century, with wooden faces, who look out of heavy gold frames at you with fishy eyes, as if you were a regrettable incident.”
“I am sorry,” said Mr. Carmyle, ponderously, “if my eyes are fishy. The fact has not been called to my attention before.”
“I suppose you never had any sisters,” said Sally. “They would have told you.”
Mr. Carmyle relapsed into an offended dumbness, which lasted till the waiter had brought the coffee.
“I think,” said Sally, getting up, “I’ll be going now. I don’t seem to want any coffee, and, if I stay on, I may say something rude. I thought I might be able to put in a good word for Mr. Kemp and save him from being massacred, but apparently it’s no use. Good-bye, Mr. Carmyle, and thank you for giving me dinner.”
She made her way down the car, followed by Bruce Carmyle’s indignant yet fascinated gaze. Strange emotions were stirring in Mr. Carmyle’s bosom.
the finishing touch
SOME few days later, owing to the fact that the latter, being preoccupied, did not see him first, Bruce Carmyle met his cousin Lancelot in Piccadilly.
“Just the man I wanted to see,” he observed.
“Oh, hullo!” said Ginger, without joy.
“I was thinking of calling at your club.”
Ginger peered at the proffered case with the vague suspicion of the man who has allowed himself to be lured on to the platform and is accepting a card from the conjurer. He felt bewildered. In all the years of their acquaintance he could not recall another such exhibition of geniality on his cousin’s part. He was surprised, indeed, at Mr. Carmyle speaking to him at all, for the affaire Scrymgeour remained an unhealed wound, and the family, Ginger knew, were even now in session upon it.
“Been back in London long?”
“Day or two.”
“I heard quite by accident that you had returned, and that you were staying at the club. By the way, thank you for introducing me to Miss Nicholas.”
Ginger started violently.
“I was in that compartment, you know, at Roville Station. You threw her right on top of me. We agreed to consider that an introduction. An attractive girl.”
Bruce Carmyle had not entirely made up his mind regarding Sally, but on one point he was clear—that she should not, if he could help it, pass out of his life. Her abrupt departure had left him with that baffled and dissatisfied feeling which, though it has little in common with love at first sight, frequently produces the same effects. She had had—he could not disguise it from himself—the better of their late encounter; and he was conscious of a desire to meet her again and show her that there was more in him than she apparently supposed.
“A very attractive girl. We had a very pleasant talk.”
“I bet you did,” said Ginger, enviously.
“By the way, she did not give you her address by any chance?”
“Why?” said Ginger, suspiciously. His attitude toward Sally’s address resembled somewhat that of a connoisseur who has acquired a unique work of art. He wanted to keep it to himself and gloat over it.
“Well, I—er—I promised to send her some books she was anxious to read—books which are not published in America.”
“Oh, pretty nearly everything is published in America, what? Bound to be, I mean.”
“Well, these particular books are not,” said Mr. Carmyle, shortly. He was finding Ginger’s reserve a little trying, and wished that he had been more inventive.
“Give them to me, and I’ll send them to her,” suggested Ginger.
“Good Lord, man!” snapped Mr. Carmyle. “I’m capable of sending a few books to America. Where does she live?”
Ginger revealed the sacred number of the holy street which had the luck to be Sally’s headquarters. He did it because, with a persistent devil like his cousin, there seemed no way of getting out of it; but he did it grudgingly.
“Thanks.” Bruce Carmyle wrote the information down with a gold pencil in a dapper little morocco-bound note-book. He was the sort of man who always has a pencil, and the backs of old envelopes never entered into his life.
There was a pause. Bruce Carmyle coughed.
“I saw Uncle Donald this morning,” he said.
His manner had lost its geniality. There was no need for it now, and he was a man who objected to waste. He spoke coldly, and in his voice there was a familiar sub-tinkle of reproof.
“Yes?” said Ginger, moodily. This was the uncle in whose office he had made his début as a hasher—a worthy man, highly respected in the National Liberal Club, but never a favourite of Ginger’s. There were other minor uncles and a few subsidiary aunts who went to make up the family, but Uncle Donald was unquestionably the managing director of that body, and it was Ginger’s considered opinion that in this capacity he approximated to a human blister.
“He wants you to dine with him to-night at Bleke’s.”
Ginger’s depression deepened. A dinner with Uncle Donald would hardly have been a cheery function even in the surroundings of a banquet in the Arabian Nights. There was that about Uncle Donald’s personality which would have cast a sobering influence over the orgies of the Emperor Tiberius at Capri. To dine with him at a morgue like that relic of old London, Bleke’s Coffee House, which confined its custom principally to regular patrons who had not missed an evening there in half a century, was to touch something very near bed-rock. Ginger was extremely doubtful whether flesh and blood were equal to it.
“To-night?” he said. “Oh, you mean to-night? Well——”
“Don’t be a fool. You know as well as I do that you’ve got to go.” Uncle Donald’s invitations were royal commands in the family. “If you’ve another engagement, you must put it off.”
“Oh, all right.”
“All right,” said Ginger, gloomily.
The two men went their ways, Bruce Carmyle eastwards, because he had clients to see in his chambers at the Temple; Ginger westwards, because Mr. Carmyle had gone east.
Since his return to London, Ginger had been in bad shape. He mooned through the days and slept poorly at night. If there is one thing rottener than another in a pretty blighted world, one thing which gives a fellow the pip, and reduces him to the condition of an absolute onion, it is hopeless love. Hopeless love had got Ginger all stirred up. Things irritated him acutely which before he had accepted as inevitable—his uncle Donald’s moustache, for instance, and its owner’s habit of employing it during meals as a sort of zareba or earthwork against the assaults of soup.
“By gad!” thought Ginger, stopping suddenly opposite Devonshire House. “If he uses that damned shrubbery as a soup-strainer to-night, I’ll slosh him with a fork!”
Hard thoughts—hard thoughts! And getting harder all the time, for nothing grows more quickly than a mood of rebellion. Rebellion is a forest fire that flames across the soul. The spark had been lighted in Ginger, and long before he reached Hyde Park Corner he was ablaze and crackling. By the time he returned to his club he was practically a menace to society—to that section of it, at any rate, which embraced his uncle Donald, his minor uncles George and William, and his aunts Mary, Geraldine, and Louise.
Nor had the mood passed when he began to dress for the dismal festivities of Bleke’s Coffee House. He scowled as he struggled morosely with an obstinate tie. One cannot disguise the fact, Ginger was warming up. And it was just at this moment that Fate applied the finishing touch. There was a knock at the door, and a waiter came in with a telegram.
Ginger looked at the envelope. It had been readdressed and forwarded on from the Hotel Normandie. It was a wireless, handed in on board the White Star liner Olympic, and it ran as follows :—
Remember. Death to the family.—S.
Ginger sat down heavily on the bed.
an angel of mercy
IT had been Sally’s intention, on arriving in New York, to take a room at the “St. Regis” and revel in the gilded luxury to which her wealth entitled her before moving into the small but comfortable apartment which she intended to find and make her permanent abode. But when the moment came it seemed to her the decent thing to do was to go back temporarily to Mrs. Meecher’s and foregather with her old friends.
When she arrived at the house Mrs. Meecher informed Sally that Gerald Foster had left town that morning.
“Gone to Detroit, he has,” said Mrs. Meecher. “Miss Doland, too. There’s that play of his being tried out there, you know, Monday. They been rehearsing ever since you left.”
Sally was disappointed, but she was not going to allow herself to be depressed without good reason. After all, she could go on to Detroit to-morrow.
“Oh, is Elsa in the company?” she said.
“Sure. And very good, too, I hear.” Mrs. Meecher kept abreast of theatrical gossip. She was an ex-member of the profession herself. “Mr. Faucitt was down to see a rehearsal, and he said Miss Doland was fine. And he’s not easy to please, as you know.”
“How is Mr. Faucitt?”
“Poor old gentleman, he ain’t over and above well. Went to bed early last night with a headache, and this morning I been to see him and he don’t look well. There’s a lot of this influenza about. It might be that. Lots o’ people been dying of it, if you believe what you see in the papers,” said Mrs. Meecher buoyantly.
“Good gracious! You don’t think——”
“Well, he ain’t turned black,” admitted Mrs. Meecher, with regret. “They say they turn black. Of course, that may come later,” she added, with the air of one confident that all will come right in the future. “The doctor’ll be in to see him pretty soon. He’s quite happy. Toto’s sitting with him.”
Sally’s concern increased. Like everyone who had ever spent any length of time in the house, she had strong views on Toto. This quadruped, who stained the fame of the entire canine race by posing as a dog, was a small, woolly animal with a persistent and penetrating yap, hard to bear with equanimity in health and certainly quite outside the range of a sick man. Her heart bled for Mr. Faucitt. Mrs. Meecher, on the other hand, seemed to feel that, with Toto on the spot, all that could be done had been done as far as pampering the invalid was concerned.
“I must go up and see him,” cried Sally. “Poor old dear!”
“Sure. You know his room. You can hear Toto talking to him now,” said Mrs. Meecher, complacently. “He wants a biscuit, that’s what he wants. Toto likes a biscuit after breakfast.”
The invalid’s eyes, at the sight of Sally, lit up with an incredulous rapture. Almost any intervention would have pleased Mr. Faucitt at that moment, for his little playmate had long outstayed any welcome that might originally have been his; but that the caller should be his beloved Sally seemed to the old man something in the nature of a return of the age of miracles.
“One moment. Here, Toto!”
Toto, struck momentarily dumb by the sight of food, had jumped off the bed and was standing with his head on one side, peering questioningly at the biscuit. He was a suspicious dog, but he allowed himself to be lured into the passage, upon which Sally threw the biscuit down and slipped in and shut the door. Toto, after a couple of yaps which may have been gratitude or baffled fury, trotted off downstairs, and Mr. Faucitt drew a deep breath.
“Sally, you come, as ever, as an angel of mercy. Our worthy Mrs. Meecher means well, and I yield to no man in my respect of her innate kindness of heart; but she errs in supposing that that thrice-damned whelp of hers is a combination of sick-nurse, soothing medicine, and a week at the seaside. She insisted on bringing him in here. He was yapping then, as he was yapping when, with a womanly resource which I cannot sufficiently praise, you decoyed him hence. When did you get back?”
“I’ve only just arrived in my hired barouche from the pier.”
“And you came to see your old friend without delay? I am grateful and flattered, Sally, my dear.”
“Of course I came to see you. Do you suppose that, when Mrs. Meecher told me you were ill, I just said ‘Is that so?’ and went on talking about the weather? Well, what do you mean by it? Frightening everybody. Poor old darling, do you feel very bad?”
“One thousand individual mice are nibbling the base of my spine, and I am conscious of a constant need of cooling refreshment. But what of that? Your presence is a tonic. Tell me, how did our Sally enjoy foreign travel?”
“Our Sally had the time of her life.”
“Did you visit England?”
“Only passing through.”
“How did it look?” asked Mr. Faucitt, eagerly.
“Moist. Very moist.”
“It would,” said Mr. Faucitt, indulgently. You missed something by not lingering in England, Sally.”
“I know I did—pneumonia. But, of course, I wanted to see you all again. And I wanted to be at the opening of Mr. Foster’s play. Mrs. Meecher tells me you went to one of the rehearsals.”
“I attended a dog-fight which I was informed was a rehearsal,” said Mr. Faucitt, severely. “There is no rehearsing nowadays.”
“Oh dear! Was it as bad as all that?”
“The play is good. The play—I will go further—is excellent. It has fat. But the acting——”
“Mrs. Meecher said you told her that Elsa was good.”
“Our worthy hostess did not misreport me. Miss Doland has great possibilities, but she is wasted in the present case on an insignificant part. There is only one part in the play. I allude to the one murdered by Miss Mabel Hobson.”
“Murdered!” Sally’s heart sank. She had been afraid of this, and it was no satisfaction to feel that she had warned Gerald. “Is she very terrible?”
“She has the face of an angel and the histrionic ability of that curious suet pudding which our estimable Mrs. Meecher is apt to give us on Fridays. In my professional career I have seen many cases of what I may term the Lady Friend in the rôle of star, but Miss Hobson eclipses them all.”
“Oh, poor Ger—poor Mr. Foster!”
“I do not share your commiseration for that young man,” said Mr. Faucitt, austerely. “You probably are almost a stranger to him, but he and I have been thrown together a good deal of late. A young man upon whom, mark my words, success, if it ever comes, will have the worst effects. I dislike him, Sally. He is, I think, without exception the most selfish and self-centred young man of my acquaintance.”
The old man’s innocent criticism of Gerald had stabbed Sally deeply, and she changed the conversation.
“Have you seen anything of Fillmore while I’ve been away?”
“Fillmore? Why, yes, my dear, curiously enough I happened to run into him on Broadway only a few days ago. He seemed changed—less stiff and aloof than he had been for some time past. I rather fancy that the softening influence has been the young man’s fiancée.”
“What! Fillmore’s not engaged?”
“Did he not write and tell you? I suppose he was waiting to inform you when you returned. Yes, Fillmore is betrothed. The lady was with him when we met. A Miss Winch. In the profession, I understand. He introduced me. A very charming and sensible young lady, I thought.”
Sally shook her head.
“She can’t be. Fillmore would never have got engaged to anyone like that. Was her hair crimson?”
“Brown, if I recollect rightly.”
“Very loud, I suppose, and overdressed?”
“On the contrary, neat and quiet.”
“You’ve made a mistake,” said Sally, decidedly. “She can’t have been like that. I shall have to look into this. It does seem hard that I can’t go away for a few weeks without all my friends taking to beds of sickness and all my brothers getting ensnared by vampires.”
A knock at the door interrupted her complaint. Mrs. Meecher entered, ushering in a pleasant little man with spectacles and a black bag.
“The doctor to see you, Mr. Faucitt.” Mrs. Meecher cast an appraising eye at the invalid, as if to detect symptoms of approaching discoloration. “I’ve been telling him that what I think you’ve got is this Spanish influenza.”
The examination did not take long. At the end of it the doctor, who had cleverly got rid of Mrs. Meecher, seemed somewhat chagrined.
“Our good friend’s diagnosis was correct. I’d give a leg to say it wasn’t, but it was. It is this wretched influenza. Not a bad attack. You want to stay in bed and keep warm, and I’ll write you out a prescription. You ought to be nursed. Is this young lady a nurse?”
“No, no, merely——”
“Of course I’m a nurse,” said Sally, decidedly. “It isn’t difficult, is it, doctor? I know nurses smooth pillows. I can do that. Is there anything else?”
“Their principal duty is to sit here and prevent the excellent but garrulous lady who has just left us from getting in. They must also be able to aim straight with a book or an old shoe if that small woolly dog I met downstairs tries to force an entrance. If you are equal to these tasks, I can leave the case in your hands with every confidence.”
“But, Sally, my dear,” said Mr. Faucitt, concerned, “you must not waste your time looking after me. You have a thousand things to occupy you.”
“There’s nothing I want to do more than help you get better. I’ll just go out and send a wire, and then I’ll be right back.”
Five minutes later Sally was telegraphing to Gerald that she would be unable to reach Detroit in time for the opening.
the man of destiny
IT was not till the following Friday that Sally was able to start for Detroit. She arrived on the Saturday morning, and drove to the Hotel Statler. Having ascertained that Gerald was stopping in the hotel and having ’phoned up to his room to tell him to join her, she went into the dining-room and ordered breakfast.
She felt low-spirited as she waited for the food to arrive. There had been a lack of enthusiasm in Gerald’s greeting over the telephone just now. He had spoken listlessly, as though the fact of her returning after all these weeks was a matter of no account, and she felt hurt and perplexed.
A cup of coffee had a stimulating effect. Men, of course, were always like this in the early morning. It would, no doubt, be a very different Gerald who would presently bound into the dining-room, quickened and restored by a cold shower-bath. In the meantime, here was food, and she needed it.
She was pouring out her second cup of coffee when a stout young man came in and stood peering about as though in search of someone. The momentary sight she had had of this young man in the hotel lobby had interested Sally. She had thought how extraordinarily like he was to her brother Fillmore. Now she perceived that it was Fillmore himself.
Sally was puzzled. What could Fillmore be doing so far West? She had supposed him to be a permanent resident of New York. But, of course, your man of affairs and vast interests flits about all over the place. At any rate, here he was, and she called to him.
“Why, Sally!” His manner, she thought, was nervous—one might almost have said embarrassed. She attributed this to a guilty conscience. Presently he would have to break to her the news that he had become engaged to be married without her sisterly sanction, and no doubt he was wondering how to begin. “What are you doing here? I thought you were in Europe.”
“I got back a week ago, but I’ve been nursing poor old Mr. Faucitt ever since then. He’s been ill. I’ve come here to see Mr. Foster’s play. The Primrose Way, you know. Is it a success?”
“It hasn’t opened yet.”
“Don’t be silly, Fill. Do pull yourself together. It opened last Monday.”
“No it didn’t. Haven’t you heard? They’ve closed all the theatres because of this infernal influenza. Nothing has been playing this week. You must have seen it in the papers.”
“I haven’t had time to read the papers. Oh, Fill, what an awful shame!”
“Yes, it’s pretty tough. Makes the company all on edge. I’ve had the darndest time, I can tell you.”
“Why, what have you got to do with it?”
“I—er—oh, I didn’t tell you that. I’m sort of—er—mixed up in the show. Cracknell—you remember he was at college with me—suggested that I should come down and look at it. I shouldn’t wonder if he wants me to put money into it and so on.”
“I thought he had all the money in the world.”
“Yes, he has a lot, but these fellows like to let a pal in on a good thing.”
“Is it a good thing?”
“The play’s fine.”
“That’s what Mr. Faucitt said. But Mabel Hobson——”
Fillmore’s ample face registered emotion.
“She’s an awful woman, Sally! She can’t act, and she throws her weight about all the time. The other day there was a fuss about a paper-knife——”
“How do you mean, a fuss about a paper-knife?”
“One of the props, you know. It got mislaid. I’m certain it wasn’t my fault——”
“How could it have been your fault?” asked Sally, wonderingly. Love seemed to have had the worst effects on Fillmore’s mentality.
“Well—er—you know how it is. Angry woman—blames the first person she sees. This paper-knife——”
Fillmore’s voice trailed off into pained silence.
“Mr. Faucitt said Elsa Doland was good.”
“Oh, she’s all right,” said Fillmore, indifferently. “But”—his face brightened and animation crept into his voice—“but the girl you want to watch is Miss Winch. Gladys Winch. She plays the maid. She’s only on in the first act, and hasn’t much to say except ‘Did you ring, madam?’ and things like that. But it’s the way she says ’em! Sally, that girl’s a genius. The greatest character-actress in a dozen years! You mark my words. Personality? Ask me! Charm? She wrote the words and music! Looks——”
“All right! All right! I know all about it, Fill. And will you kindly inform me how you dared to get engaged without consulting me?”
Fillmore blushed richly.
“Oh, do you know?”
“Yes, Mr. Faucitt told me.”
“Well, I’m only human,” argued Fillmore.
“I call that a very handsome admission. You’ve got quite modest, Fill.”
He had certainly changed for the better since their last meeting. It was as if someone had punctured him and let out all the pomposity. If this was due, as Mr. Faucitt had suggested, to the influence of Miss Winch, Sally felt that she could not but approve of the romance.
“I’ll introduce you some time,” said Fillmore.
“I want to meet her very much.”
“I’ll have to be going now. I’ve got to see Bunbury, the producer. I thought he might be in here.”
“You are busy, aren’t you? Little marvel! It’s lucky they’ve got you to look after them!”
Fillmore retired, and Sally settled down to wait for Gerald, no longer hurt by his manner over the telephone. Poor Gerald! No wonder he had seemed upset.
A few minutes later he came in.
“Oh, Jerry, darling,” said Sally, as he reached the table. “I’m so sorry. I’ve just been hearing about it.”
Gerald sat down. A sort of nervous dullness wrapped him about like a garment.
“It’s just my luck,” he said, gloomily. “It’s the kind of thing that couldn’t happen to anyone but me. Damned fools! Where’s the sense in shutting the theatres, even if there is influenza about? They let people jam against one another all day in the shops. If that doesn’t hurt them, why should it hurt them to go to the theatre? Besides, it’s all infernal nonsense about this thing. I don’t believe there is such a thing as influenza. People get colds in their heads and think they’re dying. It’s all a fake scare.”
“I don’t think it’s that,” said Sally. “Poor Mr. Faucitt had it quite badly. That’s why I couldn’t come earlier.”
Gerald did not seem interested either by the news of Mr. Faucitt’s illness or by the fact that Sally, after delay, had at last arrived.
“We’ve been hanging about here day after day, getting bored to death all the time. The company’s going all to pieces. It will ruin the play, of course. My first chance! Just chucked away.”
Sally was listening with a growing feeling of desolation. She tried to be fair, to remember that he had had a terrible disappointment and was under a great strain. And yet—it was unfortunate that self-pity was a thing she particularly disliked in a man. Her vanity, too, was hurt. It was obvious that her arrival, so far from acting as a magic restorative, had effected nothing. She could not help remembering, though it made her feel disloyal, what Mr. Faucitt had said about Gerald. She had never noticed before that he was remarkably self-centred, but he was thrusting the fact upon her attention now.
“That Hobson woman is beginning to make trouble,” went on Gerald. “She ought never to have had the part—never! She can’t handle it. Elsa Doland could play it a thousand times better. I wrote Elsa in a few lines the other day, and the Hobson went right up in the air. It took me an hour to talk her round and keep her from throwing up her part.”
“Why not let her throw up her part?”
“For Heaven’s sake talk sense!” said Gerald, querulously. “Do you suppose that man Cracknell would keep the play on if she wasn’t in it? He would close the show in a second, and where would I be then? You don’t seem to realise that this is a big chance for me. I’d look a fool throwing it away.”
“I see,” said Sally, shortly. She had never felt so wretched in her life. She analysed her sensations, and arrived at the conclusion that what she was resenting was the fact that Gerald was trying to get the advantages of two attitudes simultaneously. A man in trouble may either be the captain of his soul and superior to pity, or he may be a broken thing for a woman to pet and comfort. Gerald, it seemed to her, was advertising himself as an object for her commiseration, and at the same time raising a barrier against it. She had the uncomfortable sensation of feeling herself shut out and useless.
“By the way,” said Gerald, “there’s one thing. I have to keep jollying her along all the time, so for goodness’ sake don’t go letting it out that we’re engaged.”
Sally’s chin went up with a jerk. This was too much.
“If you find it a handicap being engaged to me——”
“Don’t be silly!” Gerald took refuge in pathos. “Good God! It’s tough! Here am I, worried to death, and you——”
Before he could finish the sentence Sally’s mood had undergone one of those swift changes which sometimes made her feel that she must be lacking in character. A simple, comforting thought had come to her, altering her entire outlook. She had come off the train tired and gritty, and what seemed the general out-of-jointness of the world was entirely due, she decided, to the fact that she had not had a bath and that her hair was all anyhow. She felt suddenly tranquil.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’ve been a brute. But I do sympathise, really.”
“I’ve had an awful time,” mumbled Gerald.
“I know, I know. But you never told me you were glad to see me.”
“Of course I’m glad to see you.”
“Why didn’t you say so, then? And why didn’t you ask me if I had enjoyed myself in Europe?”
“Did you enjoy yourself?”
“Yes, except that I missed you so much. There! Now we can consider my lecture on foreign travel finished, and you can go on telling me your troubles.”
Gerald accepted the invitation. He spoke at considerable length, though with little variety. It appeared definitely established in his mind that Providence had invented this influenza purely with a view to wrecking his future. But now he seemed less aloof, more open to sympathy. Sally lost that sense of detachment and exclusion which had weighed upon her.
“Well,” said Gerald at length, looking at his watch, “I suppose I had better be off to rehearsal. Are you coming along?”
“I’ll come directly I’ve unpacked and tidied myself up.”
“See you at the theatre, then.”
THE rehearsal had started when she reached the theatre. She sat down at the back of the house, and, as her eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, was able to see Gerald sitting in the front row beside a man with a bald head fringed with orange hair, whom she took correctly to be Mr. Bunbury, the producer. Dotted about the house in ones and twos were members of the company whose presence was not required in the first act. On the stage, Elsa Doland, looking very attractive, was playing a scene with a man in a bowler hat. She was speaking a line as Sally came in.
“Why, what do you mean, father?”
“Tiddly-omty-om,” was the bowler-hatted one’s surprising reply. “Tiddly-omty-om—long speech ending in ‘find me in the library.’ And exit,” said the man in the bowler hat, starting to do so.
For the first time Sally became aware of the atmosphere of nerves. Mr. Bunbury, who seemed to be a man of temperament, picked up his walking stick, which was leaning against the next seat, and flung it with some violence across the house.
“For God’s sake!” said Mr. Bunbury.
“Now what?” inquired the bowler hat, interested, pausing half-way across the stage.
“Do speak the lines, Teddy,” exclaimed Gerald. “Don’t skip them in that sloppy way.”
“You don’t want me to go over the whole thing?” asked the bowler hat, amazed.
“This is a rehearsal!” snapped Mr. Bunbury. “If we are not going to do it properly, what’s the use of doing it at all?”
This seemed to strike the erring Teddy, if not as reasonable, at any rate as one way of looking at it. He delivered the speech in an injured tone and shuffled off. The atmosphere of tenseness was unmistakable now. Sally could feel it.
Elsa Doland now moved to the door, pressed a bell, and, taking a magazine from the table, sat down in a chair near the footlights. A moment later, in answer to the ring, a young woman entered, to be greeted instantly by an impassioned bellow from Mr. Bunbury.
The new arrival stopped and looked out over the footlights, not in the pained manner of the man in the bowler hat, but with the sort of genial indulgence of one who has come to a juvenile party to amuse the children. She was a square, wholesome, good-humoured looking girl with a serious face, the gravity of which was contradicted by the faint smile that seemed to lurk about the corner of her mouth. She was certainly not pretty, and Sally, watching her with keen interest, was surprised that Fillmore had had the sense to disregard surface homeliness and recognise her charm. Deep down in Fillmore, Sally decided, there must lurk an unsuspected vein of intelligence.
“Hello?” said Miss Winch, amiably.
Mr. Bunbury seemed profoundly moved.
“Miss Winch, did I or did I not ask you to refrain from chewing gum during rehearsal?”
“That’s right. So you did,” admitted Miss Winch, chummily.
“Then why are you doing it?”
Fillmore’s fiancée revolved the criticised refreshment about her tongue for a moment before replying.
“Character stuff,” explained Miss Winch, in her pleasant, drawling voice. “Thought it out myself. Maids chew gum, you know.”
Mr. Bunbury ruffled his orange hair in an overwrought manner with the palm of his right hand.
“Have you ever seen a maid?” he asked, despairingly.
“Yes, sir. And they chew gum.”
“I mean a parlourmaid in a smart house,” moaned Mr. Bunbury. “Do you imagine for a moment that in a house such as this is supposed to be the parlourmaid would be allowed to come into the drawing-room champing that disgusting, beastly stuff?”
Miss Winch considered the point.
“Maybe you’re right.” She brightened. “Listen! Great idea! Mr. Foster can write in a line for Elsa, calling me down, and another giving me a good come-back, and then another for Elsa saying something else, and then something really funny for me, and so on. We could work it up into a big comic scene. Five or six minutes, all laughs.”
This ingenious suggestion had the effect of depriving the producer momentarily of speech, and while he was struggling for utterance there dashed out from the wings a gorgeous being in blue velvet and a hat of such unimpeachable smartness that Sally ached at the sight of it with a spasm of pure envy.
Miss Mabel Hobson had practically every personal advantage which nature can bestow with the exception of a musical voice. Her figure was perfect, her face beautiful, and her hair a mass of spun gold; but her voice in moments of emotion was the voice of a peacock.
“Say, listen to me for just one moment!”
Mr. Bunbury recovered from his trance.
“Miss Hobson! Please! You are interrupting the rehearsal.”
“You bet your sorrowful existence I’m interrupting the rehearsal,” agreed Miss Hobson, with emphasis. “And, if you want to make a little easy money, you go and bet somebody that I’m going to interrupt it again every time there’s any talk of writing up any darned part in the show except mine. Write up other people’s parts? Not while I have my strength.”
A young man with butter-coloured hair, who had entered from the wings in close attendance on the injured lady, attempted to calm the storm.
“Oh, cheese it, Reggie!” said Miss Hobson, curtly.
Mr. Cracknell obediently cheesed it. He subsided into the recesses of a high collar and began to chew the knob of his stick.
“I’m the star,” resumed Miss Hobson, vehemently, “and if you think anybody else’s part’s going to be written up—well, pardon me while I choke with laughter! If so much as a syllable is written into anybody’s part, I walk straight out on my two feet. You won’t see me go, I’ll be so quick.”
Mr. Bunbury sprang to his feet and waved his hands.
“For Heaven’s sake! Are we rehearsing, or is this a debating society? Miss Hobson, nothing is going to be written into anybody’s part. Now are you satisfied?”
“Oh, never mind,” observed Miss Winch, equably. “It was only a random thought. Working for the good of the show all the time. That’s me.”
“Now, sweetie!” pleaded Mr. Cracknell, emerging from the collar like a tortoise.
Miss Hobson reluctantly allowed herself to be reassured.
“Oh, well, that’s all right, then. But don’t forget I know how to look after myself,” she said. “Any raw work, and out I walk so quick it’ll make you giddy.”
She retired, followed by Mr. Cracknell, and the wings swallowed her up.
The rehearsal proceeded, and Sally watched it with a sinking heart. It was all wrong. Novice as she was in things theatrical, she could see that. There was no doubt that Miss Hobson was superbly beautiful and would have shed lustre on any part which involved the minimum of words and the maximum of clothes; but in the pivotal rôle of a serious play her very physical attributes only served to emphasise and point her hopeless incapacity.
A shrill, passionate cry from the front row, and Mr. Bunbury was on his feet again.
The action of the drama had just brought that emotional lady on left centre and had taken her across to the desk which stood on the other side of the stage.
“Oh, gee!” said Miss Hobson, ceasing to be the distressed wife and becoming the offended star. “What’s it this time?”
“I suggested at the last rehearsal, and at the rehearsal before that, and the rehearsal before that, that, on that line, you should pick up the paper-knife and toy negligently with it. You did it yesterday, and to-day you’ve forgotten it again.”
“My God!” cried Miss Hobson, wounded to the quick. “If this doesn’t beat everything! How can I toy negligently with a paper-knife when there’s no paper-knife for me to toy negligently with?”
“The paper-knife is on the desk.”
“It’s not on the desk. And it’s no good picking on me. I’m the star, not the assistant stage manager. If you’re going to pick on anybody, pick on him.”
The advice appeared to strike Mr. Bunbury as good. He threw back his head and bayed like a bloodhound.
There was a momentary pause, and then from the wings on the prompt side there shambled out a stout and shrinking figure, in whose hand was a script of the play and on whose face, lit up by the footlights, there shone a look of apprehension. It was Fillmore, the Man of Destiny!
ALAS, poor Fillmore! He stood in the middle of the stage with the lightning of Mr. Bunbury’s wrath playing about his defenceless head, and Sally, recovering from her first astonishment, sent a wave of sisterly commiseration floating across the theatre to him. Somehow or other disaster must have smitten the Fillmore bank-roll, and he was back where he had started. His presence here this morning could mean nothing else.
She recalled his words at the breakfast-table about financing the play. How like Fillmore to try to save his face for the moment with an outrageous bluff, though well aware that he would have to reveal the truth sooner or later. She realised now how he must have felt when he had seen her at the hotel. Yes, she was sorry for Fillmore.
And, as she listened to the fervid eloquence of Mr. Bunbury, she perceived that she had every reason to be. Fillmore was having a bad time. The paper-knife seemed to inspire Mr. Bunbury. Gradually Sally began to get the feeling that this harmless necessary stage property was the source from which sprang most, if not all, of the trouble in the world. It had disappeared before. Now it had disappeared again. Could Mr. Bunbury go on struggling in a universe where this sort of thing happened? He seemed to doubt it. He had asked for a paper-knife. There was no paper-knife. Why was there no paper-knife? Where was the paper-knife, anyway?
“I assure you, Mr. Bunbury,” bleated the unhappy Fillmore, obsequiously, “I placed it with the rest of the properties after the last rehearsal.”
“And it walked away, I suppose,” said Miss Hobson, with cold scorn, pausing in the operation of brightening up her lower lip with a lip-stick.
A calm, clear voice spoke.
“It was taken away,” said the calm, clear voice.
Miss Winch had added herself to the symposium. She stood beside Fillmore, chewing placidly.
“Miss Hobson took it,” she went on, in her cosy, drawling voice. “I saw her.”
Sensation in court. The prisoner, who seemed to feel his position deeply, cast a pop-eyed glance full of gratitude at his advocate. Mr. Bunbury, in his capacity of prosecuting counsel, ran his fingers through his hair in some embarrassment, for he was regretting now that he had made such a fuss. Miss Hobson, thus assailed by an underling, spun round and dropped the lip-stick, which was neatly retrieved by the assiduous Mr. Cracknell. Mr. Cracknell had his limitations, but he was rather good at picking up lip-sticks.
“What’s that? I took it? I never did anything of the sort.”
“Miss Hobson took it after the rehearsal yesterday,” drawled Gladys Winch, addressing the world in general, “and threw it at the theatre cat.”
Miss Hobson seemed taken aback. Her composure was not restored by Mr. Bunbury’s next remark.
“In future, Miss Hobson, I should be glad if, when you wish to throw anything at the cat, you would not select a missile from the property-box. Good heavens!” he cried, stung by the way fate was maltreating him, “I have never experienced anything like this before. I have been producing plays all my life, and this is the first time this has happened. I have produced Nazimova. Nazimova never threw paper-knives at cats.”
“Well, I hate cats,” said Miss Hobson, as though that settled it.
“I,” murmured Miss Winch, “love little pussy. Her fur is so warm, and if I don’t hurt her she’ll do me no——”
“Oh, my heavens!” shouted Gerald Foster, bounding from his seat and for the first time taking a share in the debate. “Are we going to spend the whole day arguing about cats and paper-knives? For goodness’ sake clear the stage and stop wasting time.”
Miss Hobson chose to regard this intervention as an affront.
“Don’t shout at me, Mr. Foster!”
“I wasn’t shouting at you.”
“If you have anything to say to me, lower your voice.”
“He can’t,” observed Miss Winch. “He’s a tenor.”
“In the shows I’ve been in,” Miss Hobson said, mordantly, “the author wasn’t allowed to go about the place getting fresh with the leading lady. In the shows I’ve been in the author sat at the back and spoke when he was spoken to. In the shows I’ve been in——”
Sally was tingling all over. This reminded her of the dog-fight on the Roville sands. She wanted to be in it, and only the recognition that it was a private fight and that she would be intruding kept her silent. The lure of the fray was too strong for her wholly to resist it. Almost unconsciously she had risen from her place and drifted down the aisle so as to be nearer the white-hot centre of things. She was now standing in the lighted space by the orchestra-pit, and her presence attracted the roving attention of Miss Hobson, who, having concluded her remarks on authors and their legitimate sphere of activity, was looking about for some other object of attack.
“Who the devil,” inquired Miss Hobson, “is that?”
Sally found herself an object of universal scrutiny, and wished that she had remained in the obscurity of the back row.
“I am Mr. Nicholas’s sister,” was the best method of identification that she could find.
“Who’s Mr. Nicholas?”
Fillmore timidly admitted that he was Mr. Nicholas. He did it in the manner of one in the dock pleading guilty to a major charge.
Miss Hobson received the information with a laugh of such exceeding bitterness that strong men blenched and Mr. Cracknell started so convulsively that he nearly jerked his collar off its stud.
“Now, sweetie!” urged Mr. Cracknell.
“I’m through!” announced Miss Hobson. It appeared that Sally’s presence had in some mysterious fashion fulfilled the function of the last straw. “I can stand a lot, but when it comes to the assistant stage-manager being allowed to fill the theatre with his sisters and his cousins and his aunts it’s time to quit.”
“But, sweetie!” pleaded Mr. Cracknell, coming to the surface.
“Oh, go and choke yourself!” said Miss Hobson, crisply. And, swinging round like a blue panther, she strode off.
(A further long instalment of this splendid story will appear in our next issue.)