A TALE OF THREE IDEALISTS
LONDON: 48 PALL MALL
W. COLLINS SONS & CO. LTD.
GLASGOW — MELBOURNE — AUCKLAND
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
PETER HOMUNCULUS LITTLE BROTHER ROUND THE CORNER OLD MOLE YOUNG EARNEST THREE PRETTY MEN MENDEL THE STUCCO HOUSE PINK ROSES
FOUR PLAYS EVERYBODY'S HUSBAND
WINDMILLS SATIRE THE JOY OF THE THEATRE FREEDOM THE ANATOMY OF SOCIETY NOEL POEMS
AMY GWEN WILSON
Shakespeare dreamed you, Ariel, In a poet's ecstasy. I have loved and dare not tell Of your being's mystery.
Ariel, from Shakespeare's dream Flown into my love on earth, You shall help me to redeem Love and truth denied their birth.
In a world by Caliban Brutalised and done to death, We will weave a spell that Man May in freedom draw his breath.
I. A DESCENT ON LONDON II. THE DWELLERS IN ENCHANTMENT III. IMPERIUM IV. BEHIND THE SCENES V. THE OTHER WOMAN VI. BIRDS AND FISHES VII. SUPPER VIII. SOLITUDE IX. MAGIC X. THE ENGLISH LAKES XI. CHARING CROSS ROAD XII. RODD AT HOME XIII. THE TEMPEST XIV. VERSCHOYLE FORGETS HIMSELF XV. IN BLOOMSBURY XVI. ARIEL XVII. SUCCESS XVIII. LOVE
A DESCENT ON LONDON
On a day in August, in one of those swiftly-moving years which hurried Europe towards the catastrophe awaiting it, there arrived in London a couple of unusual appearance, striking, charming, and amusing. The man was tall, big, and queerly compounded of sensitive beauty and stodgy awkwardness. He entered London with an air of hostility; sniffed distastefully the smells of the station, peered in distress through the murky light, and clearly by his personality and his exploitation of it in his dress challenged the uniformity of the great city which was his home. His dress was peculiar: an enormous black hat above a shock of wispy fair hair, an ill-cut black coat, a cloak flung back over his shoulders, a very high starched collar, abominable trousers, and long, pointed French boots.
'But they have rebuilt the station!' he said, in a loud voice of almost peevish disapproval.
'I remember reading about it, Carlo,' replied his companion. 'It fell down and destroyed a theatre.'
'A bad omen,' said Charles Mann, 'I wish we had arrived at another station.'
'I don't think it matters,' smiled Clara Day.
'I say it does,' snapped he. 'It is a mean little station. A London station should be grand and spacious, the magnificent ante-room to a royal city. I must get them to let me design a station.'
'They don't often fall down,' said Clara. 'I wish you would see to the luggage.'
All the other passengers, French and English, had collected their baggage and had hurried away, but Charles Mann was never in a hurry, and he stayed scowling at the station which London had had the effrontery to erect in his absence.
'In Germany and Russia,' he muttered, 'they understand that stations are very important.'
'Do look after the luggage,' urged Clara, and very reluctantly Charles Mann strolled along the platform, leaving his companion to the admiration of the passengers arriving for the next out-going train. She deserved it, for she was extremely handsome, almost pathetically young for the knowledge written in her eyes and on her lips, and the charming dress of purple and old red designed for her slim figure by Charles drew the curious and rather scandalised eyes of the women. It was in no fashion, but the perfection of its individuality raised it above that tyranny, just as Clara's personality, in its compact force, and delicious free movement, raised her above the conventionalism which makes woman mere reflections of each other. When she moved, her clothes were liquid with her vitality. When she stood still, they were as monumental as herself. She and they were one.
She was happy. It had taken her nearly two years to bring Charles back to London, where, as an Englishman, and, as she knew, one of the most gifted Englishmen of his time, his work lay, and she felt certain that here, in London, among other artists, it would be possible to extricate him from his own thoughts, which abroad kept him blissfully happy but prevented his doing work which was intelligible to any one else.
He was rather a long time over the luggage, and at last she ran along the platform to find him lost in contemplation.
'Have you decided where we are going to?' she asked.
'Have you decided where we are going to?'
'I must get a secretary,' he replied, and Clara laughed. 'But I must,' he went on. 'It is absolutely necessary for me to have a secretary. I can do nothing without one.... He shall be a good man, and he shall be paid four hundred a year.'
Clara approached a porter and told him to take their luggage to the hotel.
'We can stay there while we look about us,' she said. She had learned that when Charles talked about money it was best to ignore him. She took cheap rooms at the top of the hotel, with a view out over the river to the Surrey hills, and there until three o'clock in the morning Charles smoked cigars and talked, as only he could talk, of art and Italy and Paris—which they had left without paying their rent—and the delights and abominations of London.
'I feel satisfied now that you were right,' he said. 'Here we are in London and I shall begin to do my real work. I shall have a secretary and an advertising agent, and I shall talk to London in the language it understands.... Paris knows me, Munich knows me, St Petersburg knows me; London shall know me. There are artists in London. All they want is a lead.'
Clara went to bed and lay for a long time with erratic memories streaming through her brain—days in the hills in Italy, nights of hunger in Paris, the cross-eyed man who stared so hard at her on the boat, the dismal port at Calais, the more dismal landing at Dover, the detached existence of her three years with Charles, whose astonishing vitality kindled and continually disappointed her hope.... And then queer, ugly memories of her own wandering, homeless childhood with her grandfather, who had died in Paris, leaving her the little money he had, so that she had stayed among the artists in Paris, had been numbed and dazed by them, until Charles took possession of her exactly as he did of stray cats and dogs and birds in cages.
'This is London,' she said, 'and I am twenty-one.' So she, too, approached London in a spirit of challenging hostility, determined if, as she believed, there was nothing a woman could not do, that London should acknowledge Charles as the genius of which he so constantly remarked it stood in need.
In the morning she was up betimes, and stood at the window looking out over the sprawl of the south side of the river to the dome of Bedlam and the tower of Southwark Cathedral, the clustered chimneys, and the gray litter of untidy, huddled roofs.
'That is not London,' said Charles from the bed, as she cried ecstatically. 'London is a very small circle, the centre of which is to the cultivated the National Gallery, and to the vulgar Piccadilly Circus.... Piccadilly Circus we can ignore. What we have to do is to stand on the dome of the National Gallery and sing our gospel. Then if we can make the cultured hear us, we shall have the vulgar gaping and opening their pockets.'
'I don't want you to be applauded by people who can't appreciate you,' said Clara.
'No?' grumbled Charles. 'Well, I'm going to have bath and breakfast and then I shall astonish you.'
'You always do that,' cried Clara. 'Darling Charles!'
She rang the bell, and sat on the bed, and in a few minutes they were enjoying their continental breakfast of coffee, rolls, and honey.
'I sometimes feel,' said Charles, 'that I have merely taken the place of your grandfather.... You are the only creature I have ever met who is younger than myself. That is why you can do as you like with me.... But you can't make me grow a beard.'
'I wish you would.'
'And then I should be like your grandfather?'
'No. You would be more like you.'
'You adorable child,' he said. 'You would reform me out of existence if you had your way.'
Charles got up, had his bath, shaved, and went out, leaving Clara to unpack and make out a list of clothes that he required before she could consider him fit to go out into that London whose centre is the National Gallery.
As he did not return for lunch, she set out alone to explore the region which he designed to conquer. She wandered in a dream of delight, first of all through the galleries and then through the streets, as far as Westminster on the one side, and as Oxford Street on the other, and fixed in her mind the location of every one of the theatres. She was especially interested in the women, and was both hurt and pleased by the dislike and suspicion with which they regarded her originality.... Every now and then she saw a face which made her want to go up to its owner and say: 'I'm Clara Day; I've just come to London,' but she forebore; and when people smiled at her, as many did, she returned their smile, and hurried on in her eagerness to explore and to understand the kingdom which was to be Charles Mann's—a kingdom, like others, of splendour and misery, but overwhelmingly rich with its huge hotels, great blocks of offices, vast theatres and music-halls, enormous shops full of merchandise of the finest quality; jewels, clothes, furs, napery, silver, cutlery; its monuments, its dense traffic; its flower-sellers and innumerable newsvendors; its glimpses through the high-walled streets of green trees, its dominating towers; its lounging men and women. Jews, with gold chains and diamond rings, Americans with large cigars and padded shoulders, painted women, niggers, policemen, match-sellers, boot-blacks; its huge coloured advertisements; its sudden holes, leading to regions underground; its sluggish, rich self-satisfaction.... It overawed Clara a little, and as she sped along she whispered to herself, 'This is me in London.'
On her way back to the hotel she bought a paper, and, on opening it, found that it contained an interview with Mr Charles Mann on his return to London, an announcement that a dinner was to be given in his honour, and that he intended to hold an exhibition; and then Charles's views on many subjects were set out at some length, and he had thrown out a suggestion that a committee of artists should be formed to supervise the regeneration of London and to defeat the Americanisation which threatened it.
Clara hurried back to the hotel and found Charles in a great state of excitement, talking to a thin, weedy little man whom he introduced as Mr Clott—his secretary.
'It has begun, child,' said Charles. 'Have you seen the papers? Things move quickly nowadays.... This evening I shall be very busy.'
'But you mustn't do anything without me,' Clara protested. 'You promised you wouldn't. You are sure to make a mess of it.'
'Clott,' said Charles magnificently, 'please send a copy of the letter I have dictated to the Press Association.'
'At once,' replied Mr Clott, with the alacrity of a man in a new job, and he darted from the room.
'He's a fool,' said Clara angrily, 'a perfect fool.'
'Of course he is,' answered Charles, 'or he would not be a secretary. He has undertaken that by the end of this week we shall be in a comfortable furnished house.'
'But who is to pay for it?'
'There is plenty of money in the world,' said Charles, who was so pleased with himself that Clara had not the heart to pursue the argument any further. 'London,' he continued, 'is a great talking shop. At present they haven't anything much to discuss so they shall talk about me.'
For a moment Clara felt that he had become as external to her as the people in the streets of the kingdom he designed to conquer, but she recollected that whenever he was at work he always was abstracted from her and entirely absorbed in what he was doing, only, however, to return like a giant refreshed to enter into her world again and make it more delightful than before. He was absorbed now, and she thought with a queer pang of alarm of the women with their dull, suspicious eyes, and, without realising the connection between what she thought and what she said, she broke into his absorption with,—
'Carlo, dear, I shall have to marry you.'
He spun round as though he had been stung and asked,—
'Good God, why?'
And again her answer was strange and came from some remote recess of her being,—
'London is different.'
Now Charles Mann was one of those sensitive people who yield at once to the will of another when it is precise and purposeful; and when in this girl, whom he had collected as he collected drunkards, cats, dogs, and other helpless creatures, such a will moved, though it cut like hot iron through his soul, he obeyed it without argument. He, whose faith in himself was scattered and dissipated, had in her a faith as whole as that of a child who accepts without a murmur a whipping from his father.
'My dear girl——' he murmured.
'You know you will have to,' she said firmly.
He looked uncomfortable. His large face was suddenly ashen and yellow, and a certain weakness crept into his ordinarily firm lips and nostrils. The girl's eyes were blazing at him, searching him, making him feel transparent, and so uncomfortable that he could do nothing but obey to relieve his own acute distress.
'Yes, of course.'
'Don't you want to?'
'Yes, of course.'
'It doesn't make any difference to us inside ourselves.'
'No. Of course not.'
What he wanted to say was, 'You're pinning me down. I'm not used to being pinned down. No one has ever pinned me down before.'
But he could not say it. He could only agree that it would be a good thing if they married, because London was different.
'At once?' he asked.
'At once,' said she.
He rang the bell, asked for Mr Clott, and when that gentleman appeared, ordered him to procure a special licence without delay. Mr Clott made a note of it in his little red book, tucked his pencil behind his ear, and trotted away, his narrow little back stiffened by elation. He, a gentleman of the Automobile Club, for whom there was no life outside the narrow circle whose centre is Piccadilly Circus, had been uneasy in his mind about the young lady, who was so clearly neither married nor purchasable, and it was a relief to him that she was to be his new employer's wife, though he was afraid of her, and shrivelled to the marrow in her presence.
THE DWELLERS IN ENCHANTMENT
'Ca marche,' said Charles Mann to his wife a few weeks later.
His programme was maturing. He had arranged for two books to be published, for an exhibition to be held, for a committee to be formed, for lectures to be delivered in provincial centres, and he had been insulted by an offer to play a part in a forthcoming production of King Lear at the Imperium Theatre. He had forgotten that he had ever been an actor and did not wish to be reminded of it, and he was incensed when the manager of the Imperium used the offer as an advertising paragraph.
'The fellow is jealous of the attention I am receiving in the Press and wants to divert some of it to himself.'
'You should go and see him,' suggested Clara.
'It is his place to come and see me.'
'No. Go and see him.'
'Are you right?'
'I always am.'
'Clott, take down this letter to Sir Henry Butcher, Imperium Theatre, S.W.... "Dear Sir Henry, When I declined your kind offer the other day, my refusal was as private as your suggestion. I can only conclude that some mistake has been made and I should like to have an understanding with you before I write a letter of explanation to the Press....'"
'You think too much of the Press, Carlo.'
'Only now, darling.... Later on the Press will have to come to me.'
Clara looked dubious.
'You're moving too quickly,' she said. 'I'm getting more used to London now, and I'm afraid of it. It is just a great big machine, and there's no control over it. There are times when I want to take you away from it.'
'You gave me no peace until we came here.'
'Yes. But I didn't want to begin at the top. I wanted to come over and live as we lived in Paris.'
'Impossible. What is freedom in Paris is poverty in London.'
'But all your time goes in writing to the papers and sitting on committees. You aren't doing any work.'
'I've worked in exile for ten years. I can carry on with that for a year at least.'
'Very well. Only don't stop believing in yourself.'
'I could never do that.'
'I think it would be very easy for you to begin believing in what the papers said about you.'
'You're too young, my dear. You see things too clearly.'
They were now in the furnished house found for them by Mr Clott, a most respectable house in an unimpeachable neighbourhood: an old house reclaimed from the slums, re-faced, re-panelled, painted, papered, decorated by a firm who supplied taste as well as furniture. Charles hated it, but Clara, who through her grandfather knew and appreciated comfort, was delighted with it, and with a few deft touches in every room made it her own. It hurt her that Charles should hate it because it was good and decent in its atmosphere, and belonged to the widow of a famous man of letters, who, intrigued by the remarkable couple, had called once or twice and had invited Clara to her house, where the foreign-bred girl for the first time encountered the muffins and tea element of London life, which is its best and most characteristic. It seemed to her that, if Charles would not accept that, he would never be reconciled to his native country as she wanted him to be. There was about the muffins and tea in a cosy drawing-room a serenity which had always been to her the distinguishing mark of Englishmen abroad. It had been in her grandfather's character, and she wanted it to be in Charles's. It was to a certain extent in his character through his art, but she wanted it also to be through more tangible things. As she wanted it, she willed it, and her will was an impersonal thing which in its movement dragged her whole being with it, and it had no more consideration for others than it had for herself. She could see no reason why an artist should not be in touch with what was best in the ordinary lives of ordinary people; indeed, she could not imagine from what other source he could draw sustenance....
Friends and acquaintances had come quickly. Success was so rapid as to be almost ridiculous, and hardly worth having, and people took everything that Charles said in a most maddeningly literal way. She understood what he meant, but very often she found that his utterances were translated into terms of money or politics or the commercial theatre, where they became just nonsense. He was being transformed from her Charles into a monstrous London Charles, a great artist whose greatness was of more importance than his art.
She first took alarm at this on the occasion of the dinner which the dear, delightful fellow arranged to have given to himself and then with childlike innocence accepted as a thing done in his honour—the first clear sign of the split in his personality which was to have such fatal consequences, for her and for so many others.
There were three hundred guests. The chair was taken by Professor Laverock, as a distinguished representative of modern painting, and he declared Mann to be the equal of Blake in vision, of Forain in technique, of Shelley in clear idealism. Representatives of the intellectual theatre of the time were present and spoke, but the theatre of success was unrepresented. There were critics, literary men, journalists of both sexes, idealists of both sexes, arrivists, careerists, everybody who had ever pleaded publicly for the theatre as a vehicle of art. Professor Laverock declared it to be Mann's mission to open the theatre to the musician, the poet, and the painter, and, if he might express his secret hope, to close it to the actor. There were many speeches, but Clara sat through them all staring straight in front of her, wondering if a single person in the room really understood what Charles wanted and what he meant. Whether they did so or not, Charles did not help them much, for in response to the toast of his health he rose, beamed boyishly at the company and said, 'I'm so happy to be back. Thank you very much. The theatre needs love. I give you my love.'
He sat down so suddenly that Clara gasped, and was frightened for a second or two by the idea that he had been taken ill. But when she turned to where he sat, he was chatting gaily to his neighbour and seemed to be unaware of any omission. She heard a man near her say, 'I did hope he was going to be indiscreet,' and she felt with acute disappointment that this was just a dinner, just an entertainment among many dinners and entertainments, and she was ashamed.
Charles, however, was delighted. 'Such nice people,' he said, as they walked home, 'such delightful people, and what a good dinner!'
'Get away. I hate you. You're horrible,' cried Clara, flinging from him.
'Now what's the matter?' he asked, utterly taken aback.
'You're so easily pleased,' she answered. 'People have only to be nice to you and you think the whole world is Heaven.'
'So it is with you, chicken.'
'Oh! Don't be so pleased! Don't be so pleased! Do lose your temper with me sometimes! I'm not a child.'
'But they were nice people.'
'They weren't. They were dreadful people. They were only there because they think you may succeed, and then there will be jobs for them all.'
'You see through people so much that you forget they are people at all.'
'That comes from living with you. I have to see through you to realise that you are a person....'
'Oh! I am a person then?'
'Only to me.... You reflect everybody else.'
'They are not worth more.'
'They are. Everybody is. If only you would be yourself to them, they would be themselves.'
She had stung him, as she so often did, into self-realisation and self-criticism, a process so painful that, left to himself, he avoided it altogether.... He walked along moodily. They were crossing St James's Park. On the bridge he stopped, looked down into the water and said gloomily.
'I sometimes think that my soul is as placid and still and shallow as that water, and that you, like all the rest, have only seen your own reflection in me.... That's why I like the comfort of restlessness and change. Anything to break the stillness.'
'You couldn't say that if it were true,' she said.
'No. I suppose not,' and, with one of his astonishing changes of mood, he took her arm and began to talk of the day when he had first met her in Picquart's studio, where everybody was gay and lively except they two, so that he talked to her, and seemed to have been talking for ever and had no idea of ever ceasing to do so. And then he told her how better than even talking to her was being silent with her, and how all kinds of ideas in him that had been too shy to appear in solitude or with others had come tumbling out like notes of music because of her.
'I've nearly forgotten,' he said, 'what being in love is like. This was at the farthest end of love from that, something entirely new, so new as to be altogether outside life. I have had to grope back into it again.'
'I liked you,' said she, 'because you were English.'
'Did you?' He was puzzled. 'I thought that was precisely what I am not.'
Neither could be angry for very long, and neither could be rancorous. The enchantment in which they lived would sometimes disappear for a space, when they would suffer, and he would tell himself that he was too old for the girl, or that he was not the kind of man who could live with a woman, or that she was seducing him from his work, while she would just sit numbed until the enchantment came again. Without it there were moments when he seemed just ridiculous with his masses of papers, and Mr Clott, and his fussy insistence on being a great artist.... It was a keen pleasure to her to bring him back suddenly to physical things like food and clothes and to care for him. Sometimes he would forget everything except food and clothes, and then she lived in a horror lest he should remain so and lose altogether the power of abstraction and concentration which made him so singular and forceful, and so near the man she most deeply knew him to be if only some power, some event, even some accident, could make him realise it and force him out of his imprisonment and almost entombment in his own thoughts.
Her will concentrated on him anew and she said to herself, 'I can do it. I can do it. I know I can, and I will.' And when she was in these fierce passions she used to remember her grandfather, the kindly old bibliophile, looking anxiously at her and saying,—
'My dear, when you want a thing just look round and see if there aren't one or two other things you want.'
But she had never understood what he meant, and she had never been able to look round, for always there was one thing she wanted, and when she wanted it she could not help herself, but had to sacrifice everything, friends, possessions, even love. And as time went on, she realised that it was not Charles she wanted so much as some submerged quality in him. The object of her desire being simplified, her will set, only the more firmly, even rigidly.
It made her analyse him ruthlessly; his childish lack of self-criticism, his placidity, his insatiable vanity, his almost deliberate exploitation of his personal charm, all these things she cast aside and ignored. She came then to his thoughts, and here she was baffled because she knew so little of his history. Beyond his thoughts lay that in which she was passionately interested, but between her and it danced innumerable Charleses all inviting her attention, all bidding her look away from that one Charles Mann for whom she hungered with something of the worship which religious women have for their Saviour.
He was immensely kind to her, almost oppressively kind. He could never be otherwise to any living creature—in personal contact, but without that he was careless, indifferent, forgetful, although when she saw him again it was as though he had never been away. They were considered a charming and most devoted couple, and their domestic felicity helped him in his success.
Much talk in the newspapers, many committees—but Clara felt that merely another Charles was being created to dance between her and her desire. This was too far from what she wanted, and she could not see how it could lead to it; there was altogether too much talk. What he said was very fine but it merely gathered a rather flabby set of people round him—and most exasperatingly he liked it and them... 'Such nice people.'
'That is all very well,' said Clara, 'but we are spending far more than there is any possibility of your making.'
'There are rich men interested,' said Charles.
'But until you make money, they won't give you any.'
Hard sense was always too much for him, and he retired puzzled and rather pained from the argument.
Because she was beautiful she attracted many men, many flatterers, but as they penetrated her graciousness, they came upon the hard granite of her will and were baffled, unpleasantly disturbed, and used to leave her, darting angry glances at the blissful Charles, who was sublimely unconscious of criticism in those whom he approached. He accepted them as they were or seemed to be and expected the like from them. He was too busy, too eager, to question or to look for hidden motives in those who supported him, and that he was concealing anything or had anything to conceal never crossed his mind! He had other things to think of, always new things, new plans, new schemes, and he was fundamentally not interested in himself. A charming face, a lovely cloud in the sky, the scent of a flower, a glass of good wine could give him such delight as made him beam upon the world and find all things good. It was always a trifle which sent him soaring like a singing lark, always a trifle that could lift him from the depths of depression. Great emotion he did not seem to need, though the concentrated emotion with which he hurled himself at his work was tremendous. Happy is the people that has no history. For all that he was aware of, Charles had no history. He was born again every morning, and he could not realise that the world went grinding on from day to day....
Never had life been so sweet, never had he been so successful, never had he had so much money, never had he been so exquisitely cared for, never had so many doors been open to him, never had such pleasant things been said of him! He went to bed singing, and singing he awoke in the morning, but in her heart Clara was anxious and suspicious of London, most suspicious of the artists and literary men who thronged the house, and gathered at the elaborate supper which Charles insisted on giving every Sunday night. They were too denunciatory, too much aloof, too proud of their aloofness, and talked too much. She thought Charles too good for them and said so.
'Art is a brotherhood,' he said magnificently, 'and the meanest of the brethren is my equal.'
'That is no reason why you should be familiar with them. You cheapen yourself. Besides it is a waste of time.... A lot of people never do anything, and—I don't like it.'
'Ho! ho! Are you in revolt, chicken?'
'I don't want you to fritter away what you have got. It isn't worth while to spend money on people who can do nothing for you.'
'I don't want anybody to do anything for me. It is for art.'
'But they don't understand that. They think all sorts of wonderful things are going to happen through you.'
'So they are.... Hasn't it been wonderful so far?'
'For us. Yes.'
'Wasn't the exhibition a great success?'
'Very well then.'
'But you only sold the work you have done during the last ten years. It is the work you are doing now that matters. What work are you doing?'
'Plenty—plenty. Mr Clott sends out not less than forty letters a day. And I have just invented some beautiful designs for Volpone.'
'Is it going to be done?'
'It will be when they see my designs.'
Clara bit her lip. This was precisely what she had hoped to scotch by coming to London. In Paris he had made marvellous designs. Artists had come to look at them and then they had been put away in a portfolio.
'What I want,' said he, 'is a patron, some one who, having made his money in soap, or pills, or margarine, wishes to make reparation through art.... Michael Angelo had a patron and I ought to have one, so that I can do for my theatre what he did for the Sistine Chapel.'
They didn't build the Sistine Chapel for him.'
'No.... N—o,' he mumbled.
'Don't you see that things are different now, Charles. Everything has to pay nowadays, and there aren't great public works for artists to do. Michael Angelo was an engineer as well.... You couldn't design a theatre without an architect now, could you?'
'Why should I when there are architects to do it?' He was beginning to get angry.
'If you could you would be able to carry out your own theories as well.... People want something more than drawings on paper....'
'You talk as though I had done nothing.'
'It has been too easy.... Appreciation is so easy for the kind of people who come here. It costs nothing, and they get a good deal in return.'
'Don't you worry about me, chick. I'm a great deal more practical than you suppose.'
'I only want to know,' she said, rising to leave the room, 'because, if you are not going to work, I must.'
'My dearest child,' he shouted, 'don't be so impatient. It is only a question of time. My book is not out yet. We are arranging for the reviews now. When that is done then the ball will really be set rolling.'
'To be quite frank with you,' retorted Clara. 'I hate it all being on paper. I am going to learn acting, and I'm going on the stage to find out what the theatre is like.... I don't see how else I can help you, and if I can't help you I must leave you.'
He protested loudly against that, so loudly and so vehemently that she pounced and, with her eyes blazing, told him that she intended to make her own career, and that whether it fitted in with his depended entirely upon himself.
'I won't have you wasted,' she cried, 'I won't. It has been going on too long, this writing down on paper, and drawing designs on paper, and now with all these columns about you in the papers you look like being smothered in paper. You might as well be a politician or an adventurer—You have no passion.'
'I! No passion!'
'On paper. The world's choked with paper, and London is stifled with it. My grandfather told me that. He spent his life travelling and reading old books—running away from it. I'm not going to run away from it, and I am not going to let you be smothered by it——'
'How long has this been simmering up in you?'
'Ever since that first day when you were interviewed.... We're not living our own lives at all, but the lives dictated to us by this ridiculous machinery that turns out papers ten times a day. We're——'
'Very well,' said Charles submissively. 'What do you want me to do?'
'I want you to keep your appointment with Sir Henry Butcher.'
He pulled a long face.
'You'll hate it, I know,' she added, 'but there is the theatre, and you've got to make the best of it. I dare say Michael Angelo didn't care particularly for the Sistine Chapel.'
Sir Henry Butcher sat in his sanctum, pulling his aggressive, bulbous nose, and ruefully turning over the account presented by his manager of the last week's business with his new production, a spectacular version of Ivanhoe, in which he appeared as Isaac of York.
'No pull,' he muttered. 'No pull.' And to console himself he took up a little pink packet of Press cuttings, and perused them.... 'Wonderful notices! Wonderful notices! It's these confounded music-halls and cinemas, lowering the people's taste. Yet the public's loyal, wonderfully loyal. Must be the play. Wish I'd read the book before I let old Kinslake have his three hundred. Told me everybody had read it....'
Sir Henry was a man of sixty, well-preserved, with the soft, infantine quality which grease paint imparts to the skin. He had an enormous head, large dark eyes, sly and humorous, in which, as his shallow whimsical thoughts flitted through his brain, mischief glinted. He was surrounded with portraits of himself in his various successes, and above his head was a bust of himself in the character of Napoleon. Every now and then, when he remembered it, he compressed his lips, and tucked his chin into his breast, but he could not deceive even himself, much less anybody else, and his habitual expression was that of a bland baby miraculously endowed with a knowledge of the world's mischief.
His room was luxurious but dark, being lit only by a skylight. The walls were lined with a dull gold lincrusta, and on them were hung portraits of the proprietor of the Imperium and a series of drawings for the famous Imperium posters, which had through many years brightened the gloomy streets of London and its ever expanding outskirts. Sir Henry's mischievous eyes flitted from drawing to drawing, and his tongue passed over his thick lips as he tasted again the savour of his success—more than twenty unbroken years of it. He thought of the crowded houses, the brilliant audiences he had gathered together, the happy speeches he had made, the banquets he had held after so many first performances—and then he thought of Ivanhoe, a mistake. Worse than a mistake, a strategical blunder, for now had come the time when his crowning ambition should be fulfilled, to have the Imperium unofficially acknowledged as the national theatre, so that when he retired it should be purchased for the nation and make his achievement immortal.... Macready, Irving, all of the great line had perished and were but names, while Henry Butcher would be remembered as the creator of the theatre, the people's theatre, the nation's theatre.... Then he remembered a particularly delicious wine he had drunk in this very room at supper, after rehearsal with the brilliant woman who had steered him through his early career and had saved him again and again from disaster—Teresa Chesney. Ah! there was no one like her now, no one. Actresses were ladies now, they were not of the theatre.... There was no one now with whom a bottle of old claret had so divine a flavour.... She would never have let him produce Ivanhoe. She would have read the book for him. She always used to stand between him and those idiots at the club.
He went to the tantalus on his sideboard and poured himself out a brandy and soda, and drank to Teresa's memory, and then to the portrait of his wife, who had been so wonderfully skilful in decorating the front of the house with Dukes, Duchesses, and celebrities, but it needed Teresa's power behind the scenes.
It was very distressing that all qualities could not be found in one woman, and a mocking litany floated through Sir Henry's brain, 'One for the front of the house, one for the back, one for paragraphs, one for posters, but a man for business.'
He lay back in his chair and cudgelled his brains for some means of turning Ivanhoe from a disastrous failure into an apparent success, but no idea came, and throwing out his long legs and caressing his round belly he said,—
'If I paint my nose red, and give myself two large eyebrows they'll laugh, and it might go. I must have a play in which I enter down the chimney....'
The telephone by his side rang.
'Yes. I'm terribly busy, terribly.... Very well. I'll ring as soon as I can see him.'
He put down the receiver, flung out his legs once more, and resumed his thoughts.
'I might pay a visit to America. They keep sending people over here.' But his memory twinged as he thought of the insulting criticisms he had encountered on his last visit to Broadway.
'Teresa would tell me what to do. Some one told me Scott was the next best thing to Shakespeare. Oh, well!'
He put his hand to a bell-button in the arm of his chair, and in a few moments his secretary ushered in Mr Charles Mann. Sir Henry rose, drew himself up to his full height, but even then had to look up at his visitor.
'How d'you do? I remember you as a boy, and I remember your father. I even remember his father at Drury Lane.... Pity you've broken the tradition. The public is proud of the old theatrical families.... I'm sorry you wouldn't take that part I offered you. I saw your photograph in the papers and your face was the very thing, and, besides, your return to the stage would have been interesting.'
Charles bristled, and flung his portfolio and large black hat down on the table.
'I have brought you my designs for Volpone.'
'Volpone—a comedy by Ben Jonson.'
'Oh, Ben Jonson!'
Sir Henry was depressed. He had met people before who had talked to him about the Old Dramatists.
Charles opened his portfolio.
'These are designs I have just completed. You see, classical, like Ben's mind.'
'It looks immensely high,' said Sir Henry, his eyes twinkling.
'That,' replied Charles, 'is what I want, so that the figures are dwarfed.'
'I should have to alter my proscenium,' chuckled Sir Henry, and Charles, who missed the chuckle, continued eagerly,—
'I should like it played by dolls.'
Sir Henry turned over the drawings and played with the money in his pocket.
'You never saw my King Lear, did you?'
'I have seen pictures of it. Too realistic. A visit to Stonehenge would have answered the same purpose. You would have then to make such a storm as would drown the storm in Lear.'
Sir Henry remembered his part and fetched up an enormous voice from his stomach and roared,—
'Rage, blow and drown the steeples.' Then he kept his voice rumbling in his belly and tapped with his foot like the bass-trumpet man in a street band.
'Superb,' cried Charles.
'My voice?' asked Sir Henry, now very pleased with himself.
'My drawings,' replied Charles, rubbing his thumb along a line that especially delighted him.
'O Heavens!' Sir Henry paid no further attention to the drawings and drawled, 'Wonderful thing the theatre.' There's life in it—life! I hate leaving it. You haven't been to my room before?'
'I once waited for two hours downstairs to ask you to give me a part. You didn't see me and I gave up acting.
'Oh! and now when I offer you a part you refuse it——'
'Things are very different now.... I have had a great welcome back to London.'
'What do you think of a national theatre?'
'Every nation, every city, ought to have its theatre.'
'Mine is the best theatre in London.'
'You won't do Volpone? It is one of the finest comedies ever written.'
'I never heard of its being done.'
Charles flung his drawings back into his portfolio, seized his hat, crammed it on to his head, and had reached the door when Sir Henry called him back.
'What do you say to The Tempest?'
'It doesn't need scenery.'
'Oh, come! The ship, the yellow sands. Prospero's cave—pictures all the way—and the masque.... I want to do The Tempest shortly and I should be glad of your assistance.'
'I should expect you to buy my drawings and to pay me ten thousand pounds.'
Sir Henry ignored that. He knew his man by reputation. Ten thousand pounds meant no more to him than one and sixpence. He merely mentioned the first figures that came into his head. Sir Henry resumed,—
'I want The Tempest to be my first Autumn production. I place my theatre at your disposal.... To be quite frank with you, that was why I offered you that part. The theatre wants something new. The Russian ballet has upset people. They are expecting something startling.... Poor old Smithson who has painted my scenery for twenty years is horrified when I suggest anything of the kind.'
'If I do The Tempest for you will you join my committee?'
'Er—I—er—You must give me time to think it over. You know we managers have to think of each other.'
Charles began to wish he had not come. The suggestion of mysterious influences behind Sir Henry alarmed him, and at home was the furious energy in Clara forcing him into the embraces of this huge machine of a theatre, which discarded his Volpone and required him to do something for which he had not the smallest inclination. Yet so implicit was his faith in her, so wonderful had been his life since she came into it, that he accepted the accuracy of her divination of the futility of his procedure through artists and literary persons, who would feed upon his fame and increase it to have more to devour.... He decided then to say no more about his committee for the present, to accept Sir Henry's offer, and to escape as quickly as possible from the stifling room, with its horrible drawings, and its atmosphere in which were blended a fashionable restaurant and a stockbroker's office. He had not felt so uncomfortable since he had been a schoolboy in the presence of his head master, and yet he enjoyed a European reputation, while outside the Anglo-Saxon world Sir Henry was hardly known.
The great actor condescendingly escorted the great artist down the heavily carpeted stairs to a private door which led to the dress circle. The theatre was in darkness. The seats were covered up in their white sheets, and Sir Henry looked round him and sighed,—
'Ah! cold, cold, a theatre soon grows cold. But it possesses you. Art is very like a woman. She only yields up her treasure to the purest passion.'
'Art has nothing to do with women,' Charles rapped out, and, as Sir Henry had only been making a phrase, he was not offended. Charles shook the large fat hand which was held out to him, and plunged into the street.... Ah! It was good to be in the air again, to gaze up at the sky, to see the passers-by moving about their business. There was a stillness about the theatre which made him think of Sir Henry in his room as rather like a large pale fish swimming about in a tank in a dark aquarium.... After his years of freedom in delightful countries, where people were in no hurry and were able most charmingly to do nothing in particular for weeks on end, the captivity of so eminent and powerful a person appalled and crushed him.... He had not encountered anything like it in his previous sojourn in London, and he was again possessed with the bewildered rage that had seized him when he saw the rebuilt station on his arrival. He had been out of it all for so long, yet he was of it, and he shuddered away from the increased captivity of London, yet longed to have been part of it.... It was almost bewilderingly a new city. During his absence, the immense change from horse to petrol-driven vehicles had taken place and a new style of architecture had been introduced. The air was cleaner: so were the streets. Shop windows were larger. There was everywhere more display, more colour, more and swifter movement, and yet in the theatre was that deadly stillness.
He turned into a magnificent shop, where all the flowers looked rather like little girls dressed up for a party, and ordered some roses to be sent to Clara, for whom he had begun to feel a rudimentary responsibility. It comforted him to do that. Somehow it broke the stillness which had infected him, and most profoundly shocked him, so different was it from the theatre in which he had been born and bred, the rather fatuous, very sentimental theatre which was inhabited by simple kind-hearted vagabonds, isolated from the world of morals and religion, yet passionately proud of their calling, and setting it above both morals and religion. But this theatre, magnificent in this new magnificent London, was empty and still. So much of the theatre that had been dear to him was gone, and he mourned for it, lamented, too, over his own folly, for he was suddenly brought face to face with the fact that the theatre he proposed so light-heartedly to overthrow, the theatre of the actor, had disappeared. In attacking it he was beating the air. He had to deal with a new enemy.
As he was emerging from St James's Park into Victoria Street a woman accosted him. He looked at her, did not recognise her, and moved to pass on, for he was fastidious and took no interest in chance women. She was a little woman, very alert, and she was rather poorly dressed. She was young, but already her lips had stiffened into the hardness of baffled hope and passion and her eyes smouldered with that extraordinary glow which rouses a pity as cold as ice.
'I saw you were back in the papers,' she said. 'It's a pity you can't hide yourself.'
Charles stared at her, stared and stared, cast about for some excuse for pretending not to know her but remained rooted.
'You're not so young as you were,' she went on. 'There's a lot of talk about you in the papers, but I know you; it's all talk.'
'My good woman,' said he, 'is that all you have to say?'
'It'll keep,' said she, and she turned abruptly and left him, feeling that all the strength had gone out of his legs, all the feeling from his bowels, leaving only a nauseating pity which brought up memory upon memory of horrible emotions, without any physical memory to fix them so that he was at their mercy. At last physical memories began to emerge, rather ridiculously, theatrical lodgings, provincial theatres, the arcades at Birmingham. And a blue straw hat that he had bought for her long ago; and at last her name. Kitty Messenger, and her mother, a golden-haired actress with a tongue like a flail in one temper, like the honey-seeking proboscis of a bee in another.
'I had forgotten,' said Charles to himself. 'I really had forgotten. Well—money will settle it. I shall have to do The Tempest for that fish.'
Thinking of the money restored his sense of serenity. Wonderful money that can swamp so many ills: money that means work done somewhere—work, the sole solace of human misery. But Charles had no notion of the relation between work and money, or that in using up large quantities of it he was diverting to his own uses more than his fair share of the comfort of humanity. He had so much to give if only humanity would take—and pay for it. What he had to give was beyond price, wherefore he had no qualms in setting his price high.... From The Tempest boundless wealth would flow. He quickly persuaded himself of that, and by the time he reached his furnished house had lulled his alarm to sleep and had allayed the disgust and loathing of the past roused in him by the meeting with Kitty Messenger.... So rosy had the vision become under the influence of his potential wealth that he met Clara without a qualm, and forgot even that Sir Henry was like a fish in an aquarium.
'We got on splendidly,' he said, 'and I am to have the whole theatre for The Tempest in the Autumn.'
'I told you I was right,' said she.
'Bless you, child,' he cried. 'You always are, always. And now we will go out and drink champagne—Here's a health unto His Majesty, with a fal-lal-la.'
He was like a rebellious boy, and Clara disliked that mood in him, because he was rather rough and cumbrous in his humour, cracked gusty and rather stupid jokes, ate voraciously, and drank like a carter.
They went to a most elegant restaurant, where their entry created a stir, and it was whispered from end to end of the room who he was. And the girl with him? People shrugged.... Clara's eyes were alight, and she looked from table to table at the sleek, well-groomed men, and the showy women with their gaudy hair ornaments, bare powdered shoulders, and beautiful gowns. She looked from face to face searching eagerly for—she knew not what; power, perhaps, some power which should justify their costly elegance. This hurt as a lie hurt her, because, as she gazed from person to person, she could not divine the individuality beneath the uniform, and she was still young enough to wish to do so.... Meanwhile, as she gazed, Charles ate and drank lustily, and, it must be admitted, noisily. There was no suppression of individuality about Charles. It brimmed over in him. He had gone to that restaurant to enjoy himself; not because it was a place frequented by successful persons.... Clara's eyes came back to him. Yes, she preferred her Charles to every one else, if only—if only he would realise that she thought of other things besides himself.
From a table near by a very good-looking man came and tapped Charles on the shoulder.
'There's no mistaking you, old chap,' he said. 'I'm just back from America. They think a lot of you over there since your conquest of London.'
'You haven't met my wife,' said Charles, with his mouth full. 'What a splendid place this is! Chicken, this is Freeland Moore. We were together in the old days with the Old Man.'
'I was with him when he died,' said Freeland, 'died in harness. There's no one like him now.'
'Who?' asked Clara, alive at once to even the memory of a great personality.
'Henry Irving. He was a prince, and kept royalty alive in England. It seems a long time ago now. Won't you come over and join us for coffee, when you have finished? I am with Miss Julia Wainwright; she's with us at the Imperium. Not for long, I'm afraid. It's a wash-out.'
'Ah!' said Charles, remembering Sir Henry's depressed glance round the theatre, and he saw himself restoring splendour and success to the Imperium.
After dinner they went over to Mr Moore's table, and Clara, shaking hands with Miss Wainwright, warmed to the large, generous creature with her expansive bosom, her drooping figure, her tinted face and hair and ludicrously long soft eyes. There was room in Miss Wainwright for a dozen Claras. She looked sentimentally and with amazement spreading in ripples over her big face at the girl's wedding-ring and said,—
'So pleased to meet you, child. I made Freeland go over and fetch you.... You're not on the stage, are you?'
'No,' replied Clara, 'but I'm going to be.'
'It is not what it was,' resumed Miss Wainwright, sipping her creme de menthe.' The Wainwrights have always been in the profession, but I'm sending my boy to a public-school.... You're not English, are you?'
'Oh, yes,' answered Clara, 'but I have always lived abroad in Italy and Germany and France with my grandfather. My father and mother died in India, but I was born in London.'
'If you want to get about,' said Miss Wainwright, 'there's nothing like the profession. I've been in Australia, Ceylon, South Africa, America, but never Canada.... I'm just back from America with Freeland, and we took the first thing that came along—Ivanhoe. It's a lovely show but the play's no good.... Why not come and see it? Freeland, go and telephone Mr Gillies to keep a box for Mrs Mann.'
Freeland obeyed, treading the floor of the restaurant as though it were a stage.
'I suppose you're not sorry you gave up acting, Charles,' said Miss Wainwright, with her most expansive affability. She oozed charm, and surrounded Charles and Clara with it, so that almost for the first time Clara felt that she really was identified with her great man. Those who worshipped at the shrine of his greatness always regarded her as an adjunct and their politeness chilled her, but Miss Wainwright swept greatness aside and was delightfully concerned only with what she regarded as a striking and very happy couple.
Charles, who was absorbed in eating an orange, made no reply other than a grimace.
'I don't know how you did it.... I couldn't. Once a player, always a player—money or no money, and there's a great deal more money in it than there used to be.'
Freeland Moore returned, announced that a box had been reserved, and, telling Miss Wainwright that it was time to go, he helped her on with her wrap of swan's down and velvet....
'I'll come and call if I may,' said Miss Wainwright, with a billowing bow, and, with a magnificent setting of all her sails she moved away from the table, and, taking the wind of approval from her audience, the other diners, she preened her way out.
'Pouf! Pah! Pah!' said Charles, shaking back his mane. 'Pouf! The stink of green-paint.'
'I'm sure she's the kindest woman in the world.'
'So are they all,' growled Charles, 'dripping with kindness or burning with jealousy.... The theatrical woman!—It's a modern indecency.'
'And suppose I became one.'
'But I'm going to.'
'You'd never stand it for a week, my dear. I'd ... I'd ...'
'What would you do?'
'I'd forbid it.'
'Then I should not stay with you.... You know that.'
Charles knew it. He had learned painfully that though she had some respect for his opinion, she had none for his authority.
He had more coffee, liqueurs, fruit, a cigar, gave the waiter a tip which sent him running to fetch the noble diner's overcoat, and, hailing a taxi, they drove the few hundred yards to the Imperium, where he growled, grunted, muttered, dashed his hands through his hair, and she sat with her eyes glued on the stage, and her brows puckered as the dull, illiterate version of Scott's novel, denuded of all dramatic quality, was paraded before her.... In an interval, Charles asked her what she thought of it.
'It is death,' she said. 'It is nothing but money.'
'Money,' repeated Charles. 'Money.... Whose money? ...' And he suddenly felt again that splendid feeling of confidence. With his Tempest all the money in that place should sustain beauty, and every ugly thing, every ugly thought should disappear. He touched Clara's hair, and for the first time, somewhat to his alarm, realised that she was something more than an amusing and delightful child, and that he had married her.
He looked down from the box into the stalls, and wondered if behind the white-shirt fronts and the bare bosoms there were also anxious thoughts and uneasy emotions, and if everybody had troubles that lurked in the past and might race ahead of them to meet them in the future.... Then he laughed at himself. After all, whatever happened, his fame grew, and he went on being Charles Mann.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Miss Julia Wainwright might be sentimental, and she might be jealous, but she was shrewd, and she understood intuitively the relationship between Charles and Clara. At first she refused to believe that they were married, as Charles was notoriously careless in these matters, but when she was faced with the fact her warm heart warned her of tragedy and she took it upon herself to inform Clara of the mysterious difficulties of married life, especially for two sensitive people.
'Charles wants a stupid woman and you want a stupid man,' she said.
Clara, of course, refused to believe that, and said that with a stupid woman Charles would just rot away in a studio and grow more and more unintelligible.
'Never mind, then,' said Miss Wainwright. 'I'll show you round. If you are meant for the theatre nothing can keep you away from it. The only thing I can see against you is that you're a lady.'
'Is that against me?' asked Clara, a little astonished.
'Well,' replied Miss Wainwright, 'we're different.'
And indeed Clara discovered very soon that actors and actresses were different from other people, because they concealed nothing. Their personalities were entirely on view, and exposed for sale. They reserved nothing. Such as they were, they were for the theatre and for no other purpose, but to be moved at a moment's notice from theatre to theatre, from town to town, from country to country. They were refreshing in their frank simplicity, compared with which life with Charles was oppressive in its complexity.
As she surveyed the two, Clara was torn asunder for a time and was reluctant to take the plunge, and yet she knew that this was the world to which Charles belonged, this world of violent contrasts, of vivid light and shadowy darkness, of painted illusion and the throbbing reality of the audience, of idle days and feverish nights. His mind was soaked in it, and his soul, all except that obscure part of it that delighted in flowers and in her own youth, hungered for it, and yet it seemed she had to force him into it.... If only he had a little more will, a little more intelligence.
Often she found herself thinking of him as 'poor Charles,' and then she set her teeth, and shook back her hair, and vowed that no one should ever think of her as 'poor Clara.' ... Life had been so easy when they had drifted together from studio to studio, but it threatened to be mighty difficult now that they had squared up to life and to this huge London....
Ivanhoe staggered on for six weeks and then collapsed, and an old successful melodrama was revived to carry the Imperium over the early summer months. In this production, as a protegee of Miss Wainwright's, Clara played a small part in which she had ten words to say.... She was quite inaudible though she seemed to herself to be using every atom of voice in her slim young body, but always her voice seemed to fill her own head until it must surely burst.
'Nerves,' said Miss Wainwright. 'You'll get your technique all right, and then you won't hear yourself speak any more than you do when you are talking in a room. It's just a question of losing yourself, and that you learn to do unconsciously.... It'll come all right, dearie. It'll come all right.'
Clara was determined that it should come all right, though she knew it would not until she had overcome her loathing of painting her face, and pencilling her eyes, and dabbing red paint into the corners of them. So much did she detest this at first that her personality repudiated this false projection of herself and left her helpless. Over and over again she said to herself,—
'I shall never be an actress. I shall never be an actress....' But then again she said, 'I will.'
There was a violence in appearing in the glaring light before so many people which offended her deeply, and yet she knew that she was wrong to be offended, because the people had come not to look at her, Clara Day, but at the false projection of Clara Day which was needed for the play.... Her objection was moral, and so strong that it made her really ill, and it was with the greatest difficulty that she could keep going at all, but not a word did she say to a soul. She fought through it with clenched teeth, going through agony night after night, smiling when it was over, going home exhausted, and dreading the coming of the morrow when it would all have to be borne again....
She used to look at the others and wonder if they had been through the same thing, but it was plain to her clear eyes that they had nearly all accepted without a struggle, and had surrendered to the false projection of themselves which the theatre needed. Stage-fright they knew, but not this moral struggle in which, determined not to be beaten, she fought on.
Rehearsals she enjoyed. Then the actors were at their indolent best, and the half-lit stage was full of a dim, suggestive beauty, which entirely disappeared by the time the scene-painter, the lime-light man, and the stage-carpenter had done their work. Often at rehearsal, words would give her the shock of truth that in performance would just puzzle her by their banality; voices would seem to come from some remote recess of life; movements would take on dignity; the players seemed indeed to move and live in an enchanted world.... And so, off the stage, they did.
Miss Wainwright and Mr Freeland Moore, who had played together for so many years, were idyllic lovers, though he had a wife in America, and she a husband who had gone his ways. To them there were no further stages of love than those which are shown to the Anglo-American public. For them there were but Romeo and Juliet at the ball with no contending houses to plague them. They lived in furnished flats and paid their way, impervious to every conspiracy of life to bring them down to earth.... Both adored Clara, both soon accepted her and Charles as lovers even more perfect than themselves, because younger, and both were never tired of thinking what kindness they could next do to help their friends.
And Clara struggled on. Sometimes she could have screamed with rage against the theatre, and these people whose enchantment had been won by the sacrifice of the fiery essence of themselves, so that they accepted meekly insults from the manager, from the stage-manager, from the very dressing-room staff of the theatre, who could make their lives uncomfortable. She understood then what it was that had driven Charles out, and made him so reluctant to return, and why his immense talent, which should have been expressed in terms of the theatre, was reduced to making what, after all, were only notes on paper. Convinced that she could help to bring him back from exile, she struggled on, though the strain increased as more and more fiercely she had to pit her will against the powerful machinery of the theatre.
Everybody was kind to her, though many were alarmed by the intent force with which she set about her work. Very often she had no energy left for conversation, and would then take refuge in a book, a volume of Meredith, or Bernard Shaw, Schopenhauer or Browning, who had been the poet of her first discovery of the world of books. That frightened off the young men, who were at first greatly taken with her charm. They were subdued themselves as everybody was, from the business manager down, but her silence chilled and alarmed them.... Except those she bought herself, she never saw a book in the theatre.
At first, full of Charles's fierce denunciation of Sir Henry Butcher, she detested the man, who seemed to her like some monster who absorbed all the vitality of the rest and used it to inflate his egoism. He never spoke to her for some weeks, and she avoided meeting him, did not wish to speak to him, felt, indeed, that she was perhaps using him a little unfairly in turning his theatre to her own ends, forcing herself to accept it in order to make things easier for Charles, to whom she used to go with a most vivid caricature of Sir Henry at rehearsals.
Until he appeared there was a complete languor upon the stage. The actors and actresses still had upon them the mood of breakfast-in-bed; some looked as though they were living in the day before yesterday and had given up all hope of catching up with the rest of the world; some of the men talked sport; all the women chattered scandal; some read their letters, others the telegrams by which their correspondence was conducted. In none was the slightest indication of preparedness for work, for the thoughts of all were obviously miles away from the theatre.... Stagehands moved noisily about. They, at least, were conscious of earning their living. Messages were brought in from the stage-door. Back cloths were let down: the fire-proof curtain descended slowly, and remained shutting out the vast and gloomy spaces of the auditorium, also a melancholy gray-haired lady who was the widow of the author of the melodrama in rehearsal.
Sir Henry appeared with a bald-headed Frenchman, with a red ribbon in his button-hole, his secretary, carrying a shorthand notebook, and a stout, thick-set Jew, who waited obsequiously for the great actor to take further notice of him. Sir Henry talked volubly and laughed uproariously. He was very happy and he beamed round the stage at his company. The ladies said,—
'Good-morning, Sir Henry.'
The gentlemen said,—
Sir Henry gesticulating violently turned away and began in French to tell a humorous story to which the Frenchman said, 'Oui, oui,' and the Jew said, 'Oui, oui,' while Clara, who could speak French as fluently as English, understood not a word of it; but this morning she liked Sir Henry because he was so happy and because he was so full of vitality.
His business with the Jew and the Frenchman was soon settled fairly to their satisfaction. They went away, and Sir Henry began to collect his thoughts. He turned to his secretary and asked,—
'We are rehearsing a play, eh? All these ladies and gentlemen are not here for nothing, eh? What play?'
'The Golden Hawk.'
'Ah! Yes.... I have rehearsed so many plays.... I am thinking of my big Autumn success.... I can feel it in the air. I can always feel it. I felt that Ivanhoe was no good, but I was over-persuaded. My instinct is always right. The business men and the authors are always wrong....'
He flew into a sudden passion, and roared, 'Who the hell let down the fire-proof? I hate the thing. Take it away. How can a man rehearse to a fire-proof curtain? Take it away. Send it to the London County Council who inflicted it on me. I don't want it.'
The stage-manager shouted to a man in the flies,—
'I never let it down,' came a voice.
'Who did then?'
The stage-manager came over to where Clara was standing and pressed a button. The heavy fire-proof curtain slowly rose to reveal the author's widow sitting patiently with the dark empty theatre for background.
Who's that lady?' asked Sir Henry.
'The author's widow,' replied the secretary.
'I was afraid it was his ghost,' said Sir Henry, with his mischievous chuckle. He went to her and chatted to her for a few moments about her late husband, who had been something of a figure in his time and had made a career in the traffic in French plays adapted for the British theatre.
A scene or two was rehearsed, when an artist arrived with a model for a 'set' for The School for Scandal. The company gathered round and admired, while Sir Henry sat and played with it, trying various lighting effects with an electric torch.
'No,' he said, 'you can't get the effects with electric light that you used to be able to obtain with gas.... Give me gas. The theatre has never been the same. This electric light is cold. It is killing the theatre.'
When the artist had gone, a journalist arrived for an interview, which was granted on condition that an article by Sir Henry on British Audiences was printed, and for the rest of the morning the secretary was kept busy taking down notes for the article.
For Clara it was a very delightful morning. Her own scene was not reached, and she sat happily in a corner by the proscenium turning over the pages of her book, watching Sir Henry's antics, appreciating the skill with which, in spite of all his digressions, he kept things lively, and managed to get the work he wanted out of his company....
As the players dispersed, he stood in the middle of the stage and sighed heavily. Clara was for stealing away, when he strode across to her, seized her by the arm, and said in his deep rolling voice,—
'Don't go, little girl. Don't go.'
'But I want to go,' replied she. 'And I'm not a little girl. I'm a married lady.'
'Ah! marriage makes us all so old,' said Sir Henry, with a gallant sigh.... 'You're the little girl who reads books, aren't you? I've heard of you. I've written a book or two, but I never read them. I have quite a lot of books upstairs in my room—given me by the authors.... Won't you come to lunch? I feel I could talk to you.'
He had suddenly dropped his mannerisms, his affectation of thinking of a thousand and one things at once, and was a simple and very charming person of no particular age, position, or period—just a human being who wanted for a little to be at his ease. He took Clara by the arm, and, regardless of the staring eyes of those whom they met in the corridors, swept her along to the room which Charles had likened to an aquarium. Then he made her sit in the most comfortable chair, while he bestrode another not a yard away, and stared at her with his extraordinary eyes, which never had one but always the suggestion of a hundred different expressions.
'I love my room,' he said, 'it is the only place I have in the world. Don't you like it?'
'It is very quiet,' said Clara.
Sir Henry rang a bell and ordered lunch to be brought up, vol-au-vents, cold chicken, Creme Caramel, champagne.
'You're not old enough to understand food,' he said. 'That comes with the beginning of wisdom.'
'But I understand food very well,' protested Clara, 'my grandfather knew all there was to know about it.'
'Ah! You are used to old men, eh? Boys don't exist for you, eh?'
With extraordinary gusto he produced a photograph album, and showed her portraits of himself at various ages, slim and romantic at twenty, at forty impressively Byronic, at fifty monumentally successful—and 'present day.' He showed her portraits of his mother and father, his wife, his children, Miss Teresa Chesney in her pieces, his various leading ladies, his sisters who had both married noble lords, and of a large number of actors and actresses who had passed through his company. Of them he talked with real knowledge and enthusiasm. He adored acting for its own sake, and as he talked brought all these performers vividly before Clara's eyes so that she must accept the validity of his criticism: he knew, or seemed to know, exactly what each could do or could not do, though it was difficult to understand how he could ever have found time to see them all. Whether or not he had done so, he had exactly weighed up the value of their theatrical personalities, and it was in those and those alone that he was interested. As human beings, he was indifferent to them, though he spoke of them all with the exaggerated affection common to the theatre—'dear old Arthur' ... 'adorable Lily' ... 'delicious Irene. Ah! she's a good woman.' He talked rhapsodically, and his talk rather reminded Clara of Liszt's music, until lunch came, and then his greedy pleasure in the food made her think of certain gluttonous musicians she had known in Germany. He ate quickly, and his eyes beamed satisfaction at her, so young, so fresh, so altogether unusual and challenging.... She would neither eat nor drink, so absorbed was she in this strange man who so overwhelmingly imposed his personality upon her until she felt that she was merely part of the furniture of the room.
When he had done eating and drinking, he lit a cigar and lay back in his large chair, and closed his eyes in the ecstatic distention of his surfeit. After a grunt or two, he turned suddenly and asked with a strange intensity,—
'Charles Mann—is he a genius?'
'Of course,' replied Clara.
'Then why does he talk so much?'
'He works very hard.'
'You can't expect me to discuss him.'
'No, no. I only think it is a pity he gave up acting. He's lost touch with the public.... I've tried it at intervals; giving up acting, I mean. The public lose interest, and no amount of advertising will get it back.'
'It is for the artist to command the public,' said Clara, rather uncomfortably feeling that she was only an echo. It was a very curious thing that words in this room lost half their meaning, and she, who was accustomed to giving all her words their precise value, was rather at a loss.
'Little girl,' said Sir Henry, 'I feel that you understand me. That is rare. After all, we actors are human. We are governed by the heart in a world that is standing on its head.'
He took out a little book and made a note of that last observation. Then with a sigh he leaned over and held Clara's hands, looked long into her large dark eyes, and said,—
'With such purity you could outstare the angels.'
For answer Clara outstared him, and he dropped her hands and began to hum. 'Opera!' he said. 'I feel opera in the air; music invading the theatre, uplifting the souls of the people.... Ah! life is not long enough....'
Clara began to feel sorry for him though she knew in her heart that this was precisely what he wanted.
'You mustn't be angry,' he rumbled in his deepest bass, 'if I tell you that Charles Mann ought to have his neck wrung.'
'But—you are going to do his Tempest?'
'If it were not for you, little girl, I would not have him near the theatre,' said Sir Henry, with a sudden heat.
'How dare you talk like that?' Clara was all on fire. 'It is an honour for you to be associated with him at all.'
Sir Henry laughed.
'We know our Charles,' he said. 'We knew his father. We are not all so young as you.'
Clara hid her alarm, but it was as though the ground had suddenly opened and swallowed her up, as though the London about which she had been hovering in delighted excitement had engulfed her. And then she felt that she was failing Charles.
'I won't allow you to talk like that. I won't let Charles do The Tempest at all, if you talk like that. He is a very great genius, and it is your duty to let the public see his work. It is shameful that all his life people have talked about him, and have never helped him to reach his natural position. He has been an exile and but for me would still be so.'
'But for you,' repeated Sir Henry.... 'Would you like to play Miranda? A perfect Miranda, but where is Ferdinand?'
Clara was alarmed at this prospect. She had read The Tempest with her grandfather, and knew long passages by heart. Its beauty was in her blood, and she could not reconcile it with this theatre of Sir Henry Butcher's. Sitting with him in the heart of it, she felt trapped and as though all her dreams and purposes had been sponged out. Never before had she even suspected that her freedom could be extinguished; never before had she even been anywhere near feeling that her will might break and leave her at the mercy of circumstances. She clutched desperately at her loyalty to Charles, and she summoned up all her will only to find that it forced her to regard him, to weigh and measure him as a man.... He and she were no longer exiles, wandering untrammelled in strange lands, but here in London among their own people, confronted with their responsibility to the world outside themselves and to each other. She was prepared to accept it, but was he?
THE OTHER WOMAN
Clara could hardly remember ever having been unhappy before. All her life she had done exactly as she wished to do. Her grandfather had never gainsaid her: had always indulged her every caprice, and had supported her even when she had been to all outward seeming in the wrong. He used to say in his whimsical manner that explosions never did any one any harm.... 'It is all wrong,' thought she, as she left the sanctum, and she was alarmed for Charles as she was still vibrant from the hostility in the actor-manager. What was the occasion of it? She could not guess. It was incredible to her that any one could object to Charles, so kindly, so industrious, so simple in his work and his belief in himself. People laughed at him sometimes indulgently, but that was a very different thing to this hostility, this cold, implacable condemnation. That was beyond her, for she had been brought up in a school of absolute tolerance except of the vulgar and ill-mannered.
Her quick wits worked on this new situation. She divined that Sir Henry resented the intrusion of a personality as powerful as his own and the check upon his habit of exuding patronage. His theatre had always been animated with his own vitality, and he obviously resented a position in which he had to employ that of another and openly to acknowledge it.
'He wants to patronise Charles,' thought Clara, and then she decided that for once in a way it would be a good thing for Charles to submit to it. It must be either that or his chosen interminable procedure by committee.
She decided to take a walk to think it over, and as she moved along Piccadilly towards the Green Park, where she proposed to ponder her problem, she had a distressing idea that she was followed. Several times she turned and stopped, but she could see no one who could be pursuing her. Men stared at her, but none dared molest so purposeful a young woman.... She stayed for some time in the Green Park, turning over and over in her mind how best she could engage Sir Henry's interest without aggravating his hostility to Charles, and still she was aware of eyes upon her.... She walked away very fast, but as she turned out into the roadway in front of Buckingham Palace she turned, stopped, and was accosted by a little dark woman with a smouldering fury in her eyes.
'Are you Mrs Mann?' said the woman.
'Yes,' said Clara, at once on her guard.
'So am I,' rejoined the other woman.
'Oh, no!' said Clara, with a smile that barely concealed the catch at her heart.
'Oh, yes,' replied the other woman. 'I should think I was married to him before you were born. And I wasn't the only one. He left the country——'
Clara turned on her heel and walked away. The other woman followed her breathing heavily and gasping out details.
'You horrible woman,' cried Clara, unable at last to bear any more. 'Go away...' And in her heart she said—
'It is my fault. I made him marry me.'
Still the other woman was at her heels, babbling and gasping out her sordid little tragedy—-two children, no money, her mother to keep.
Clara was stunned and so nauseated that she could not speak. Only in her mind the thought went round and round,—
'It is my fault.... It is my fault.'
But Charles ought to have told her. He ought not to have been so will-less, so ready to fall in with every suggestion she made.
'I must have this out at once,' she said, and hailing a taxi she bundled the other woman into it and drove home. Charles was out. She ordered tea, and quickly had the whole story out—the lodgings in Birmingham, the intrigue, the ultimatum, Charles's catastrophic collapse and inertia, years of poverty in London going from studio to studio, lodging to lodging: his flight—with another woman: her struggles, her present hand to mouth existence on the outskirts of the musical comedy theatre.
'I wouldn't have spoken,' said Kitty, 'if you hadn't been so young.'
'I should have thought that was a reason for keeping quiet,' replied Clara, who was now almost frozen with horror.
'You were bound to hear sooner or later.'
Charles came in followed by Mr Clott. He was in the highest spirits and called out,—
'Darling, Lord Verschoyle is interested.'
His jaw dropped as he saw Kitty there at tea. His pince-nez fell off his nose, and he stood pulling at his necktie for a few seconds. Then he gave Mr Clott a commission to perform, and stood looking with horror, disgust, and loathing at the unhappy Kitty.... It was Clara who first found her voice,—
'I ... I brought her here, Charles,' she said. 'I thought it would save us all—trouble.'
In a tone icy with fury he said,—
'If you will go quietly, I will write to you. Please leave your address, and I will write to you.'
Kitty hoped for a moment that he was talking to Clara, but his fury was so obviously concentrated on her that at last she rose and said meekly,—
'You will find a writing-block by the telephone in the hall. Please leave your address there.'
With that she left the room. Charles and Clara were too much for her. All her venom trickled away in a thin stream of dread as she felt the gathering rage in the two of them. At the same time she had some exultation in having produced a storm so much beyond her own capacity.
'You did not tell me,' said Clara, when Kitty had gone.
'Honestly, honestly I had forgotten.'
'Forgotten! You did not tell me. You did not need her to come into this house to remember.'
'What do you mean, then? You had forgotten?'
'Honestly, I never thought of it until one day when I met her in the street.'
'Does everybody know?'
'Yes. I don't conceal these things.'
'You concealed it from me, from me, from me....'
'Yes. I never thought of it. She'd gone out of my life years ago.'
'Have many women gone out of your life?'
'A good many.... I never meant to conceal it. Truly I didn't. I just didn't mention it.... You were so happy, chicken; so was I. I hadn't been happy before—not like that.'
'She can ruin us.... Do you know that? She has only to go up to the nearest policeman and ruin us. Do you know that?'
'She won't.... She'd never dare.'
'She would.... I'm young. That's the unpardonable thing in a woman....'
'I don't understand,' said Charles, sitting down suddenly. And quite perceptibly he did not understand that any one, man or woman, could deliberately hurt another.
'But you must understand,' she cried. 'You must understand.... You must protect yourself.'
'How can I?'
'She is your wife. You must give her what she wants.'
'Money? Oh, yes.'
'You fool,' said Clara, in exasperation, 'you've married me. If she moves at all you will be ruined. You will be sent to prison.'
'Do you want to get out of it?' he asked.
'I? No.... I want to protect you.... Oh, it's my fault. It's my fault I thought I could help you. I thought I could help you.... I could have helped you if only you had told me.... You must have known. You couldn't imagine that you could come back to London and not be——'
'But I did,' he said. 'I never thought of it. I never do think of anything except in terms of my work.... I'll tell Clott to see to it.'
Clara clenched her fists until her nails dug into the palms of her hands.
'I shall have to leave you,' she said at last. 'I shall have to leave you.'
She pulled off her wedding-ring
'Perhaps I'd better go away,' he muttered at last very slowly. 'It's a pity. Everything was going so well. Lord Verschoyle is deeply interested. He has two hundred thousand a year.'
Clara laughed at him.
'He is willing to sit on my committee.'
'Does he know?'
'But can't you see that these people ought to know.'
'No. What has it got to do with my work?'
'To you nothing. To them everything. They can't support you if they know——'
'But they don't know.'
'You are in that woman's hands. So am I. You can't expect me to live upon her sanction.'
This was a new aspect of the matter to Charles, who had never admitted the right of any other person to interfere in his affairs. It hurt him terribly as it slowly dawned upon him that the miserable Kitty had behind her the whole force of the law.
'Oh, good God!' he said. 'I'm a criminal. Oh, good God! This is serious.'
'I'm glad you realise it at last,' said she.
He broke down and wept, and began to tumble out the whole ridiculous story of his life; his perpetual disappointment: his terror of being bound down to anything except the work in which he felt so free, so wholly master of himself and his destiny; his delight in at last finding in her a true companion who, unlike all other women, allowed him to be something more than her possession.
'I'm afraid,' he said in the end, 'that I have never understood women.'
'Leave it to me.' Poor Clara felt that if she tried to explain any more her head would burst.
He looked up at her gratefully and was at once happy again.
'It was my fault,' said Clara. 'It wouldn't have happened if I'd thought about life at all. But it was so wonderful being with you and making your work come to life that I never thought about the rest.... I never looked at it from the woman's point of view, as, being a woman, I ought to have done.... I think the shock has made me a woman.... I don't think anything will ever make you a man.'
Charles gaped at her, but was not the least bit hurt. He did not particularly want to be a man as manhood is generally understood.
'Yes,' he said, 'Lord Verschoyle is deeply interested, and he has two hundred thousand a year.'
'Wait a moment,' replied Clara, 'I'll go and see if she has left her address.'
She ran downstairs, but Kitty had left no address. As Clara, considering the matter, decided that meant either that she intended to make trouble or that she had good reason for waiting before she made it.
When she returned, Charles was lover-like in his gratitude, but she repulsed him, told him that he must get on with his designs for The Tempest and she would see what could be done about his troubles. For the present, for a little while at all events, she proposed to leave him and to stay with Julia Wainwright.
'I may have to tell her,' she said, 'but I don't think so.... I won't let this woman ruin you, Charles.'
'I have hurt you far more than I have hurt her,' he said miserably. 'I suppose things will never be the same. You'll always feel that I am keeping things from you....'
'No. No. I know that is all that matters.... It is just the law that is somehow wrong, giving advantage to any one who is mean enough to take it.... But women are mean.'