WHEN the artist fellow and I foregathered over a friendly omelette before going to the Duke of York’s Theatre, he, collaring the conversation with an adroitness that spoke of long practice, began to tell me what a headache he had got. I “saw” his headache, and “raised” him with a cold and a sore throat. We agreed that two people more unfit to appreciate a play could not be found within the radius. Yet we came away bubbling over with enthusiasm.
Stirring Times Below Stairs.
The play opens in what looks like the cellar of a Hungarian castle. Szentes Istvan, leader of the Magyars, is discussing affairs with his daughter and a lady who seems to be a sort of complicated blend of niece and daughter-in-law. Their conversation deals principally with a certain Maeternich, and it is evident at once that this person has not been making himself popular. His hobby is persecution, and when on his persecuting stunt, as New Yorkers put it, he always selects for his victims the friends and relations of the gallant Magyar. It is consequently with a certain pleasure that the old man looks forward to the interview which will follow between them, when his retainers, who have been sent out to kidnap the oppressor, return with their quarry.
Unfortunately, when they do so return, and just as the counsel for the prosecution is warming to his work, it is found that the press-gang has put up the wrong bird, and that the captive is not Maeternich, but one Jim Poulett, a wandering Englishman. The logical Hungarians argue that, as a gentleman has been told off to be killed, a gentleman must be killed, and if it is not the right one they must put up with an imitation. So Poulett is tied up and left to think it over. Leta, daughter of Istvan, releases him, not knowing that her father is watching from behind a pillar. Poulett, leaving the cellar, is attacked by Istvan, and in the struggle inserts the latter’s knife below the fifth rib, with the result that Szentes Istvan goes down and out. His daughter returns to find him dead. One cannot help feeling that this is not the best possible opening for Love’s Young Dream.
The Globe-Trotting Avengers.
In the next act we have Poulett on his native heath—Comarlapatan, India. Nearly ten years have passed, and it is now May, 1857. Visitors come to Comarlapatan in the shape of two foreign ladies and a foreign gentleman, none other than the niece-daughter-in-law, Leta, and the niece-daughter-in-law’s brother. Ever since the episode of the Hungarian castle they have been globe-trotting in search of vengeance. They realise that it is only a matter of time. They have argued the thing out. There are only a certain number of people in the world, and one of them must be the murderer. All that remains is to find him, on the principle of elimination. They have drawn one or two continents without success before coming to India. When Poulett introduces himself to them—somewhat gratuitously—as their old friend, they settle down for a long stay. Their well-meant attempts, however, to cook Poulett’s goose fail, mainly through the agency of Mootooswami (Cuthbert Reginald), his native servant, who not only intercepts some poisoned coffee on its way to his master, but in his simple zeal nearly induces Leta to drink it.
Poulett Puts His Foot Down.
Poulett, who is now getting on famously with Leta, explains to the niece-daughter-in-law that this must stop. For himself, he says, he rather likes being murdered than otherwise. It adds just that zest to life which exile in the tropics so often lacks. But, when it comes to Leta he must draw the line. The niece-daughter-in-law, the soul of tact, leaves at once and dies of a fever, while Poulett marries Leta. All this time he does not know that it was her father that he slew in the cellar, while she, owing to brain fever and loss of memory, and all the rest of the dear old formula, does not recollect the incident at all. The late niece-daughter-in-law’s brother hastens to inform her of the true facts. Murder Poulett! That is his advice to her. She declines. She may be a daughter of Hungary, but she is not such a daughter of Hungary as all that.
Rash Act by a Brother-in-law.
So, sooner than see the thing fall through for want of popular support, Ferenz, the brother, takes it on himself, fires two shots in rapid succession, and wounds Leta. Your true Hungarian patriot has a positive mania for hurting the wrong person. At this moment the native regiment, which has mutinied, attacks the house. Ferenz is killed, but at the last moment help arrives from the French province across the river, Poulett having agreed with the Governor that two pistol shots in rapid succession should be the signal that he wanted help. Ferenz had saved the garrison by his “rash act,” the moral of which is that you should always shoot your sister-in-law if so disposed, for the chances are that it will be All for the Best. However, Leta recovers, and all is joy.
Forbes Robertson was splendid as Jim Poulett. Miss Gertrude Elliot made a charming Leta. Honourable Mention: Ian Robertson as Major de Trafford, Miss Henrietta Watson as Mrs. de Trafford, and Frank Mills as Ferenz. Staging: Excellent.