TALES FROM BOHEMIA
By ROBERT NEILSON STEPHENS
ROBERT NEILSON STEPHENS
One crisp evening early in March, 1887, I climbed the three flights of rickety stairs to the fourth floor of the old "Press" building to begin work on the "news desk." Important as the telegraph department was in making the newspaper, the desk was a crude piece of carpentry. My companions of the blue pencil irreverently termed it "the shelf." This was my second night in the novel dignity of editorship. Though my rank was the humblest, I appreciated the importance of a first step from "the street." An older man, the senior on the news desk, had preceded me. He was engaged in a bantering conversation with a youth who lolled at such ease as a well-worn, cane-bottomed screw-chair afforded. The older man made an informal introduction, and I learned that the youth with pale face and serene smile was "Mr. Stephens, private secretary to the managing editor." That information scarcely impressed me any more than it would now after more than twenty years' experience of managing editors and their private secretaries.
The bantering continued, and I learned that the youth cherished literary aspirations, and that he performed certain work in connection with the dramatic department for the managing editor, who kept theatrical news and criticisms within his personal control.
Suddenly a chance remark broke the ice for a friendship between the young man and me which was to last unbroken until his untimely death. Stephens wrote the Isaac Pitman phonography! Here had I been for more than three years wondering to find the shorthand writers of wide-awake and progressive America floundering in what I conceived to be the Serbonian bog of an archaic system of stenography. Unexpectedly a most superior young man came within my ken who was a disciple of Isaac Pitman. Furthermore, like myself, he was entirely self taught. No old shorthand writer who can look back a quarter of a century on his own youthful enthusiasm for the art can fail to appreciate what a bond of sympathy this discovery constituted. From that night forward we were chosen friends, confiding our ambitions to each other, discussing the grave issues of life and death, settling the problems of literature. Notwithstanding his more youthful appearance, my seniority in age was but slight. Gradually "Bob," as all his friends called him with affectionate informality, was given opportunities to advance himself, under the kindly yet firm guidance of the managing editor, Mr. Bradford Merrill. That gentleman appreciated the distinct gifts of his young protege, journalistic and literary, and he fostered them wisely and well. I remember perfectly the first criticism of an important play which "Bob" was permitted to write unaided. It was Richard Mansfield's initial appearance in Philadelphia as "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde," at the Chestnut Street Theatre on Monday, October 3, 1887.
After the paper had gone to press, and while Mr. Merrill and a few of the telegraph editors were partaking of a light lunch, the night editor, the late R.E.A. Dorr, asked Mr. Merrill "how Stephens had made out."
"He has written a very clever and very interesting criticism," Mr. Merrill replied. "I had to edit it somewhat, because he was inclined to be Hugoesque and melodramatic in describing the action with very short sentences. But I am very much pleased, indeed."
That was the beginning of Bob's career as a dramatic critic, a career in which he gained authority and in which his literary faculties, his felicity of expression and soundness of judgment found adequate scope.
In the following two or three years the cultivation of the field of dramatic criticism occupied his time to the temporary exclusion of his ambition for creative work. He and I read independently; but our tastes had much in common, though his preference was for imaginative literature. Meanwhile I was writing short stories with plenty of plot, some of which found their way into various magazines; but his taste lay more in the line of the French short story writers who made an incident the medium for portraying a character. Historical romance had fascinations for me, but Alphonse Daudet attracted both of us to the artistic possibilities that lay in selecting the romance of real life for treatment in fiction as against the crude and repellent naturalism of Zola and his school. This fact is not a little significant in view of the turn toward historical romance which exercised all the activities of Robert Neilson Stephens after the production of his play, "An Enemy to the King," by E.H. Sothern.
Still our intimacy had prepared me for the change. Through many a long night after working hours we had wandered through the moonlit streets until daybreak exchanging views freely and sturdily on historical characters on the philosophy of history, on the character of Henry of Navarre and his followers, and on the worthies of Elizabethan England, in the literature of which we had immersed ourselves. Kipling had recently burst meteor-like on the world, and Barrie raised his head with a whimsical smile closely chasing a tear. Thomas Hardy was in the saddle writing "Tess," and in France Daudet was yet active though his prime was past. Guy de Maupassant continued the production of his marvellous short stories. These were the contemporary prose writers who engaged our attention. A little later we hailed the appearance of Stanley J. Weyman with "A Gentleman of France," and the Conan Doyle of "The White Company" and "Micah Clarke" rather than the creator of "Sherlock Holmes" commended our admiration. We were by no means in accord on the younger authors. Diversity of opinion stimulates critical discussion, however. I had not yet become reconciled to Kipling, who provoked my resentment by certain coarse flings at the Irish, but "Bob" hailed him with whole-hearted enthusiasm.
We were not the only members of the staff with literary aspirations. Others, like the late Andrew E. Watrous, had achievements of no mean order in prose and verse. Still others were sustaining the traditions of "The Press" as a newspaper office which throughout its history had been a stepping stone to magazine work and other forms of literary employment. Richard Harding Davis was on the paper and "Bob" Stephens was one of the two men most intimately in his confidence regarding his ambitions.
Finally Bob told me that "Dick" had taken him to his house and read to him "A bully short story," adding, "It's a corker."
I inquired the nature of the story.
"Just about the 'Press' office," Bob replied,
Among other particulars I asked the title.
"'Gallegher,'" said Bob.
Three years elapsed after our first acquaintance before Bob Stephens began writing stories and sketches. The "Tales from Bohemia" collected in this volume represent his early creative work. We were in the better sense a small band of Bohemians, the few friends and companions who will be found figuring in the tales under one guise or another. Many a merry prank and many a jest is recalled by these pages. Of criticism I have no word to say. Let the reader understand how they came into being and they will explain themselves. "Bob" Stephens took his own environment, the anecdotes he heard, the persons whom he met and the friends whom he knew, and he treated them as the writers of short stories in France twenty years ago treated their own Parisian environment. He made an incident the means of illustrating a portrayal of character. Later he was to construct elaborate plots for dramas and historical novels.
"Bohemianism" was but a brief episode in the life of "R. N. S." It ceased after his marriage. But his natural gaiety remained. Seldom was his joyous disposition overcast, or his winning smile eclipsed. For six months I was privileged to live in the house with his mother. If he had inherited his literary predilections from his father,—a highly respected educator of Huntington, Pa. from whose academy many eminent professional men were graduated,—his gentleness, his cheerfulness, his winning smile and the ingratiating qualities to which it was the key, as surely came from his mother.
I remember a time when he was inordinately grave for several days and pursued a tireless course of special reading through the office encyclopaedias and some books he had borrowed. At last he drew aside the veil of reserve which concealed his family affairs from even his closest friends and inquired if I could direct him to any recent authority on cancer. I divined the sad truth that his tenderly beloved mother was suffering from the dread disease. That was the day before serums, and nothing that he found to read in books or periodicals gave him a faint hope that his dear one could be cured. Thenceforward, mother and son awaited the inevitable end with uncomplaining patience which was characteristic of both. His cheerful smile returned, and while the blow of bereavement was impending practically all these "Tales from Bohemia" were written.
To follow the career of "R.N.S." and trace his development after he gave up newspaper work in the fall of 1893 is not required in this place. "Tales from Bohemia" will be found interesting in themselves, apart from the fact that they illustrate another phase of the literary gift of a young writer who contributed so materially to the entertainment of playgoers and novel readers for a period of ten years after the work in this book was all done.
I. THE ONLY GIRL HE EVER LOVED
II. A BIT OF MELODY
III. ON THE BRIDGE
IV. THE TRIUMPH OF MOGLEY
V. OUT OF HIS PAST
VI. THE NEW SIDE PARTNER
VII. THE NEEDY OUTSIDER
VIII. TIME AND THE TOMBSTONE
IX. HE BELIEVED THEM
X. A VAGRANT
XI. UNDER AN AWNING
XII. SHANDY'S REVENGE
XIII. THE WHISTLE
XV. THE BAD BREAK OF TOBIT MCSTENGER
XVI. THE SCARS
XVII. "LA GITANA"
XIX. A MAN WHO WAS NO GOOD
XX. MR. THORNBERRY'S ELDORADO
XXI. AT THE STAGE DOOR
XXII. "POOR YORICK"
XXIV. NEWGAG THE COMEDIAN
XXV. AN OPERATIC EVENING
TALES FROM BOHEMIA
* * * * *
THE ONLY GIRL HE EVER LOVED
When Jack Morrow returned from the World's Fair, he found Philadelphia thermometers registering 95. The next afternoon he boarded a Chestnut Street car, got out at Front Street, hurried to the ferry station, and caught a just departing boat for Camden, and on arriving at the other side of the Delaware, made haste to find a seat in the well-filled express train bound for Atlantic City.
While he was being whirled across the level surface of New Jersey, past the cornfields and short stretches of green trees and restful cottage towns, he thought of the pleasure in store for him—the meeting with the young person whom he had gradually come to consider the loveliest girl in the world. Having neglected to read the list of "arrivals" in the newspapers, he knew not at what hotel she and her aunt were staying. But he would soon make the rounds of the large beach hotels, at one of which she was likely to be found.
She did not expect to see him. Therefore her first expression on beholding him would betray her feelings toward him, whatever they were. Should the indication be favourable, he would propose to her at the first opportunity, on beach, boardwalk, hotel piazza, pavilion, yacht or in the surf. Such were the meditations of Jack Morrow while the train roared across New Jersey to the sea.
The first sign of the flat green meadows, the smooth waters of the thoroughfare, the sails afar at the inlet and the long side of the sea-city stretching out against the sky at the very end of the earth is refreshing and exhilarating to any one. It gave a doubly keen enjoyment to Jack Morrow.
"Within an hour, perhaps," he mused, as the reviving odour of the salt water touched his nostrils, "I shall see Edith."
When with the crowd he had made his way out of the train, and traversed the long platform at the Atlantic City station, ignoring the stentorian solicitations of the 'bus drivers, he started walking toward the ocean promenade, invited by the glimpse of sea at the far end of the avenue. Thus he crossed that wide thoroughfare—Atlantic Avenue—with its shops and trolley-cars; passed picturesque hotels and cottages; crossed Pacific Avenue where carriages and dog-carts were being driven rapidly between the rows of pretty summer edifices, and traversed the famously long block that ends at the boardwalk and the strand.
He succeeded in getting a third-floor room on the ocean side of the first hotel where he applied. He learned from the clerk that Edith was not at this house. Sea air having revived his appetite, he decided to dine before setting out in search of her.
When, after his meal, he reached the boardwalk, the electric lights had already been turned on and the regular evening crowd of promenaders was beginning to form. He strolled along now looking at the beach and the sea, now at the boardwalk crowd where he might perhaps at any moment behold the face of "the loveliest girl in the world." He beheld instead, as he approached the Tennessee pier, the face of his friend George Haddon.
"Hello, old boy!" exclaimed Morrow, grasping his friend's hand. "What are you doing here? I thought your affairs would keep you in New York all summer."
"So they would," replied Haddon, in a tone and with a look whose distress he made little effort to conceal. "But something happened."
"Why, what on earth's the matter? You seem horribly downcast."
Haddon was silent for a moment; then he said suddenly:
"I'll tell you all about it. I have to tell somebody or it will split my head. But come out on the pier, away from the noise of that merry-go-round organ."
Neither spoke as the two young men passed through the concert pavilion and dancing hall out to a quieter part of the long pier. They sat near the railing and looked out over the sea, on which, as evening fell, the rippling band of moonlight grew more and more luminous. They could see, at the right, the long line of brilliant lights on the boardwalk, and the increasing army of promenaders. Detached from the furthest end of the line of boardwalk lights, shone those of distant Longport. Above these, the sky had turned from heliotrope to hues dark and indefinable, but indescribably beautiful. Down on the beach were only a few people, strolling near the tide line, a carriage, a man on horseback, and three frolicking dogs.
"It's simply this," abruptly began Haddon. "Six weeks ago I was married to—"
"Why, I never heard of it. Let me congrat—"
"No, don't, I was married to a comic opera singer, named Lulu Ray. I don't suppose you've ever heard of her, for she was only recently promoted from the chorus to fill small parts. We took a flat, and lived happily on the whole, for a month, although with such small quarrels as might be expected. Two weeks ago she went out and didn't come back. Since then I haven't been able to find her in New York or at any of the resorts along the Jersey coast. I suppose she was offended at something I said during a quarrel that grew out of my insisting on our staying in New York all summer. Knowing her liking for Atlantic City—she was a Philadelphia girl before she went on the stage—I came here at once to hunt her up and apologize and agree to her terms."
"Well, I haven't found her. She's not at any hotel in Atlantic City. I'm going back to New York to-morrow to get some clue as to where she is."
"I suppose you're very fond of her still?"
"Yes; that's the trouble. And then, of course, a man doesn't like to have a woman who bears his name going around the country alone, her whereabouts unknown."
Morrow was on the point of saying: "Or perhaps with some other man," but he checked himself. He was sufficiently mundane to refrain from attempting to reason Haddon out of his affection for the fugitive, or to advise him as to what to do. He knew that in merely letting Haddon unburden on him the cause of anxiety, he had done all that Haddon would expect from any friend.
He limited himself, therefore, to reminding Haddon that all men have their annoyances in this life; to treating the woman's offence as light and commonplace, and to cheering him up by making him join in seeing the sights of the boardwalk.
They looked on at the pier hop, while Professor Willard's musicians played popular tunes; returned to the boardwalk and watched the pretty girls leaning against the wooden beasts on the merry-go-round while the organ screamed forth, "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow Wow;" experienced that not very illusive illusion known as "The Trip to Chicago;" were borne aloft on an observation wheel; made the rapid transit of the toboggan slide, visited the phonographs and heard a shrill reproduction of "Molly and I and the Baby;" tried the slow and monotonous ride on the "Figure Eight," and the swift and varied one on the switchback. They bought saltwater taffy and ate it as they passed down the boardwalk and looked at the moonlight. Down on the Bowery-like part of the boardwalk they devoured hot sausages, and in a long pavilion drank passable beer and saw a fair variety show. Thence they left the boardwalk, walked to Atlantic Avenue and mounted a car that bore them to Shauffler's, where among light-hearted beer drinkers they heard the band play "Sousa's Cadet March" and "After the Ball," and so they arrived at midnight.
All this was beneficial to Haddon and pleasant enough in itself, but it prevented Morrow that night from prosecuting his search for the loveliest girl in the world. He postponed the search to the next day. And when that time came, after Haddon had started for New York, occurred an event that caused Morrow to postpone the search still further.
He had decided to go up the boardwalk on the chance of seeing Edith in a pavilion or on the beach. If he should reach the vicinity of the lighthouse without finding her, he would turn back and inquire at every hotel near the beach until he should obtain news of her.
He had reached Pennsylvania Avenue when he was attracted by the white tents that here dotted the wide beach. He went down the high flight of steps from the boardwalk to rest awhile in the shade of one of the tents.
Although it was not yet 11 o'clock, several people in bathing suits were making for the sea. A little goat wagon with children aboard was passing the tents, and after it came the cart of the "hokey-pokey" peddler, drawn by a donkey that wore without complaint a decorated straw bathing hat. Morrow, looking at the feet of the donkey, saw in the sand something that shone in the sunlight. He picked it up and found that it was a gold bracelet studded with diamonds.
He questioned every near-by person without finding the owner. He therefore put the bracelet in his pocket, intending to advertise it. Then he resumed his stroll up the boardwalk. He went past the lighthouse and turned back.
He had reached the Tennessee Avenue pier without having found the loveliest girl in the world. His eye caught a small card that had just been tacked up at the pier entrance. Approaching it he read:
"Lost—On the beach between Virginia and South Carolina Avenues, a gold bracelet with seven diamonds. A liberal reward will be paid for its recovery at the —— Hotel."
The hotel named was the one at which Morrow was staying. He hurried thither.
"Who lost the diamond bracelet?" he asked the clerk.
"That young lady standing near the elevator. Miss Hunt, I think her name is," said the clerk consulting the register. "Yes, that's it, she only arrived last night."
Morrow saw standing near the elevator door, a lithe, well-rounded girl with brown hair and great gray eyes that were fixed on him. She was in the regulation summer-girl attire—blue Eton suit, pink shirtwaist, sailor hat, and russet shoes. He hastened to her.
"Miss Hunt, I have the honour to return your bracelet."
She opened her lips and eyes with pleasurable surprise and reached somewhat eagerly for the piece of jewelry.
"Thank you ever so much. I took a walk on the beach just after breakfast and dropped it somewhere. It's too large."
"I picked it up near Pennsylvania Avenue. It's a curious coincidence that it should be found by some one stopping at the same hotel. But, pardon me, you're going away without mentioning the reward."
She looked at him with some surprise, until she discovered that he was jesting. Then she smiled a smile that gave Morrow quite a pleasant thrill, and said, with some tenderness of tone:
"Let the reward be what you please."
"And that will be to do what you shall please to have me do."
"Ah, that's nice. Then I accept your services at once. I am quite alone here; haven't any acquaintances in the hotel. I want to go bathing and I'm rather timid about going alone, although I'd made up my mind to do so and was just going up after my bathing suit."
"Then I am to have the happiness of escorting you into the surf."
They went bathing together not far from where he had found the bracelet. He discovered that she could swim as well as he; also that in her dark blue bathing costume, with sailor collar and narrow white braid, she was a most shapely person.
She laughed frequently while they were breasting the breakers; and afterwards, as in their street attire they were returning on the boardwalk, she chatted brightly with him, revealing a certain cleverness in off-hand persiflage.
He took her into the tent behind the observation wheel to see the Egyptian exhibition, and she was good enough to laugh at his jokes about the mummies, although the mummies did not seem to interest her. Further down the boardwalk they stopped at the Japanese exhibition, and on the way out he caught himself saying that if it were possible, he would take great pleasure in hauling her in a jinrikisha.
"I'll remember that promise and make you push me in a wheel-chair," she answered.
When they were back at the hotel, she turned suddenly and said:
"By the way, what's your name? Mine's Clara Hunt."
He told her, and while she went up the elevator with her bathing suit, he arranged with the head waiter to have himself seated at her table.
He learned from the clerk that she had arrived alone with a letter of introduction from a former guest of the house, and intended to stay at least a fortnight.
At luncheon he proposed that they should take a sail in the afternoon. She said, with a smile:
"As it is you who invites me, I'll give up my nap and go."
They rode in a 'bus to the Inlet, and after spending half an hour drinking beer and listening to the band on the pavilion, they hired a skipper to take them out in his catboat. Six miles out the boat pitched considerably and Miss Hunt increased her hold on Morrow's admiration by not becoming seasick. At his suggestion they cast out lines for bluefish. She borrowed mittens from the captain and pulled in four fish in quick succession.
"What an athletic woman you are," said Morrow.
"In fact, everything that's charming," he continued.
She replied softly: "Don't say that unless you mean it. It pleases me too much, coming from you."
Morrow mused: "Here's a girl who is frank enough to say so when she likes a fellow. It makes her all the more fascinating, too. Some women would make me very tired throwing themselves at me this way. But it is different with her."
They gave the fish to the captain and returned from the Inlet by the Atlantic Avenue trolley, just in time for dinner. She did not lament her lack of opportunity to change her clothes for dinner, nor did she complain about the coat of sunburn she had acquired.
In the evening, they sat together for a time on the pier, took a turn together at one of the waltzes, although neither cared much for dancing at this time of year, walked up the boardwalk and compared the moon with the high beacon light of the lighthouse.
He bought her marshmallows at a confectioner's booth, a fan at a Japanese store, and a queer oriental paper cutter at a Turkish bazaar. They took two switchback rides, during which he was compelled to put his arm around her. Finally, reluctant to end the evening, they stood for some minutes leaning against the boardwalk railing, listening to the moan of the sea and watching the shaft of moonlight stretching from beach to horizon.
It was not until he was alone in his room that Morrow bethought of his neglect of the loveliest girl in the world. And remorseful as he was, he did not form any distinct intention of resuming his search for her the next day. He rather congratulated himself on not having met her while he was with this enchanting Clara Hunt.
And he passed next day also with the enchanting Clara Hunt. They sat on the piazza together reading different parts of the same newspaper for an hour after breakfast; went to the boardwalk and turned in at a shuffle-board hall, where they spent another hour making the weights slide along the sanded board and then took another ocean bath.
After luncheon they walked up the boardwalk to the iron pier.
Seeing the lifeboat there, rising and falling in the waves, Clara asked:
"Would the lifeguard take us in his boat for a while, I wonder?"
Morrow went down to the beach and shouted to the lifeguard, who was none other than the robust and stentorian Captain Clark. The captain brought the boat ashore and as there were no bathers in the water at this point, he agreed to row the young people out to the end of the pier.
"This is a great place for brides and grooms this summer," remarked the captain in his frank and jocular way.
Clara looked at Morrow with a blush and a laugh. Morrow was pleased at seeing that she seemed not displeased.
"We're not married," said Morrow to the captain.
"Not yet, mebbe," said the captain with one of his significant winks, and then he gave vent to loud and long laughter.
That evening Morrow and Clara took the steamer trip from the Inlet to Brigantine and the ride on the electric car along flat and sandy Brigantine beach. On the return, they became very sentimental. They decided to walk all the way from the Inlet down the boardwalk. He found himself quite oblivious to the crowd of promenaders. The loveliest girl in the world might have passed him a dozen times without attracting his attention. He had eyes and ears for none but Clara Hunt.
And that night, far from reproaching himself for his conduct toward the loveliest girl, etc., he hardly thought of her at all, more than to wonder by what good fortune he had avoided meeting her. Some of the people at their hotel made the same mistake regarding Morrow and Clara as Captain Clark had made; the two were seen constantly together. Others thought they were engaged.
Morrow spoke of this to her next morning as they were being whirled down to Longport on a trolley car along miles of smooth beach and stunted distorted pine trees. "I heard a woman on the piazza whisper that I was your fiance," he said.
"Well, what if you were—I mean what if she did?"
At Longport they took the steamer for Ocean City. They rode through that quiet place of trees and cottages on the electric car, returning to the landing just in time to miss the 11.50 boat for Longport. They had to wait an hour and a half and they were the only people there who were not bored by the delay. They returned by way of Somers' Point.
While the boat was gliding through the sunlit waters of Great Egg Harbour Inlet, Clara's hand happened to fall on Morrow's, which was resting on the gunwale. She let her hand remain there. Morrow looked at it, and then at her face. She smiled. When the Italian violin player on the boat came that way, Morrow gave him a dollar. Alas for the loveliest girl in the world!
They passed most of that evening in a boardwalk pavilion, ostensibly watching the sea and the crowd. They went up the thoroughfare in a catboat the next morning, and, strange as it seemed to them, were the only people out who caught no fish. The captain winked at his mate, who grinned.
In the afternoon, while Morrow and Clara stood on the boardwalk looking down at the Salvation Army tent, along came that innocent eccentric "Professor" Walters in bathing costume and with his swimming machine. The tall, lean whiskered, loquacious "Professor" had made Morrow's acquaintance in a former summer and now greeted him politely.
"How d'ye do?" said the "Professor." "Glad to see you here. You turn up every year."
"You're still given to rhyming," commented Morrow.
"Yes, I have a rhyme for every time, in pleasure or sorrow. Is this Mrs. Morrow?"
"You ought to be sorry she isn't," remarked the "Professor," taking his departure.
Morrow and Clara walked on in silence. At last he said somewhat nervously:
"Everybody thinks we're married. Why shouldn't we be?"
She answered softly, with downcast eyes:
"I would be willing if I were sure of one thing."
"That you have never loved any other woman. Have you?"
"How can you ask? Believe me, you are the only girl I have ever loved."
That evening, after dinner, Morrow and Clara, the newly affianced, about starting from the hotel to the boardwalk, were at the top of the hotel steps when a man appeared at the bottom.
Morrow uttered a cry of recognition.
"Why, Haddon, old boy, I'm glad to see you. Let me introduce you to my wife that is to be."
Haddon stood still and stared. Clara, too, remained motionless. After a moment, Haddon said very quietly:
"You're mistaken. Let me introduce you to my wife that is."
Morrow looked at Clara. She turned her gray eyes fearlessly on Haddon.
"You, too, are mistaken," she said. "I had a husband before you married me. He's my husband still. He's doing a song and dance act in a variety theatre in Chicago. I'm sorry about all this, Mr. Morrow. I really like you. Good-bye."
She ran back into the hotel and arranged to make her departure on an early train next morning.
Haddon turned toward the boardwalk, and Morrow, quite dazed, involuntarily followed him. After a period of silence, Morrow said:
"This is astonishing. A bigamist, and a would-be trigamist. She came here the night before you left. How did you find out she was here?"
"I read it in the Atlantic City letter of The Philadelphia Press that one of the Comic Opera singers daily seen on the boardwalk is Miss Clara Hunt, who is known to theatre-goers by her stage name, Lulu Ray. These newspaper correspondents know some of the obscurest people. If I had told you her real name, you would have known who she was in time to have avoided being taken in by her."
"Her having another husband lets you out."
"Yes. I'm glad and sorry, for damn it, I was fond of the girl. Excuse me awhile, old fellow. I want to go on the pier and think awhile."
Haddon went out on the pier and looked down on the incoming waves and thought awhile. He found it a disconsolate occupation, even with a cigar to sweeten it. So he came back and mingled with the gay crowd on the boardwalk and tried to forget her.
Morrow had no sooner left Haddon than he felt his arm touched. Looking around, he saw the smiling face of the loveliest girl in the world.
"Well, by Jove, Edith," he said. "At last I've found you!"
"Yes. I heard you were down here. You see, I've been up in town for the last week. Gracious, but Philadelphia is hot! Here's Aunt Laura."
Morrow spent the evening with Edith. One night a week later, he proposed to her on the pier.
"I will say yes," she replied, "if you can give me your assurance that you've never been in love with any one else."
"That's easily given. You know very well you're the only girl I've ever loved."
A BIT OF MELODY [Footnote: Copyrighted by J. Brisbane Walker, and used by the courtesy of the Cosmopolitan Magazine.]
It was twelve o'clock that Sunday night when, leaving the lodging-house for a breath of winter air before going to bed, I met the two musicians coming in, carrying under their arms their violins in cases. They belonged to the orchestra at the —— Theatre, and were returning from a dress rehearsal of the new comic opera that was to be produced there on the following night.
Schaaf, who entered the hallway in advance of the professor, responded to my greeting in his customary gruff, almost suspicious manner, and passed on, turning down the collar of his overcoat. His heavily bearded face was as gloomy-looking as ever in the light of the single flickering gaslight.
The professor, although by birth a compatriot of the other, was in disposition his opposite. In his courteous, almost affectionate way, he stopped to have a word with me about the coldness of the weather and the danger of the icy pavements. "I'm t'ankful to be at last home," he said, showing his teeth with a cordial smile, as he removed the muffler from his neck, which I thought nature had sufficiently protected with an ample red beard. "Take my advice, my frient, tempt not de wedder. Stay warm in de house and I play for you de music of de new opera."
"Thanks for your solicitude," I said, "but I must have my walk. Play to your sombre friend, Schaaf, and see if you can soften him into geniality. Good night."
The professor, with his usual kindliness, deprecated my thrust at the taciturnity of his countryman and confrere, with a gesture and a look of reproach in his soft gray eyes, and we parted. I watched him until he disappeared at the first turn of the dingy stairs.
As I passed up the street, where I was in constant peril of losing my footing, I saw his windows grow feebly alight. He had ignited the gas in his room, which was that of the professor's sinister friend Schaaf.
My regard for the professor was born of his invariable goodness of heart. Never did I know him to speak an uncharitable word of any one, while his practical generosity was far greater than expected of a second violinist. When I commended his magnanimity he would say, with a smile:
"My frient, you mistake altogedder. I am de most selfish man. Charity cofers a multitude of sins. I haf so many sins to cofer."
We called him the professor because besides fulfilling his nightly and matinee duties at the theatre, he gave piano lessons to a few pupils, and because those of us who could remember his long German surname could not pronounce it.
One proof of the professor's beneficence had been his rescue of his friend Schaaf on a bench in Madison Square one day, a recent arrival from Germany, muttering despondently to himself. The professor learned that he had been unable to secure employment, and that his last cent had departed the day before. The professor took him home, clothed him and cared for him until eventually another second violin was needed in the —— Theatre orchestra.
Schaaf was now on his feet, for he was apt at the making of tunes, and he picked up a few dollars now and then as a composer of songs and waltzes.
All of which has little to do, apparently, with my post-midnight walk in that freezing weather. As I turned into Broadway, I was surprised to collide with my friend the doctor.
"I came out for a stroll and a bit to eat," I said. "Won't you join me? I know a snug little place that keeps open till two o'clock, where devilled crabs are as good as the broiled oyster."
"With pleasure," he replied, cordially, still holding my hand; "not for your food, but for your society. But do you know what you did when you ran against me at the corner? For a long time I've been trying to recall a certain tune that I heard once. Three minutes ago, as I was walking along, it came back to me, and I was whistling it when you came up. You knocked it quite out of mind. I'm sorry, for interesting circumstances connected with my first hearing of it make it desirable that I should remember it."
"I can never express my regret," I said. "But you may be able to catch it again. Where were you when it came back to you three minutes ago?"
"Two blocks away, passing a church. I think it was the shining of the electric light upon the stained glass window that brought it back to me, for on the night of the day when I first heard it in Paris a strong light was falling upon the stained glass windows of the church opposite the house in which I had apartments."
"Perhaps, then," I suggested, "the law of association may operate again if you take the trouble to walk back and repass the church in the same manner and the same state of mind, as nearly as you can resume them."
"By Jove," said the doctor, who likes experiments of this kind, "I'll try it. Wait for me here."
I stood at the corner while the doctor briskly retraced his steps. His firmly built, comfortable-looking form passed rapidly away. Within five minutes he was back, a triumphant smile lighting his face.
"Success!" he said. "I have it, although whether from chance or as a result of repeating my impression of light falling on a church window I can't say. Certainly, after all these years, the tune is again mine. Listen."
As we proceeded up the street the doctor whistled a few measures composing a rather peculiar melody, expressive, it seemed to me, of unrest. I never forget a tune I have once heard, and this one was soon fixed in my memory.
"And the interesting circumstances under which you heard it?" I interrogated. "Surely after the concern I've shown in the matter, you're not going to deprive me of the story that goes with the tune?"
"There is no reason why I should. But I hope you will not circulate the melody. It is the music that accompanies a tragedy."
"Indeed? You have written one, then? It must be brief, as there isn't much of the music."
"I refer to a tragedy which actually occurred. Tragedies in real life are not, as a rule, accompanied by music, and, to be accurate, in this case music preceded the tragedy. Ten years ago, when I was living in Paris, apartments adjoining mine were taken by a musician and his wife. His name, as I learned afterward, was Heinrich Spellerberg, and he came from Breslau. The wife, a very young and pretty creature, showed herself, by her attire and manners, to be frivolous and vain, and without having more than the slightest acquaintance with the pair, I soon learned that she had no knowledge of or taste for music. He had married her, I suppose, for her beauty, and had too late discovered the incompatibility of their temperaments. But he loved her passionately and jealously. One day I heard loud words between them, from which I gathered unintentionally that something had aroused his jealousy. She replied with laughter and taunts to his threats. The quarrel ended with her abrupt departure from the room and from the house.
"He did not follow her, but sat down at the piano and began to play in the manner of one who improvises. Correcting the melody that first responded to his touch, modifying it at several repetitions, he eventually gave out the form that I have just whistled.
"Evening came and the wife did not return. He continued to play that strain over and over, into the night. I dropped my book, turned down my lamp light, and stood at the window, looking at the church across the way. Suddenly the music ceased. The wife had returned. 'Where did you dine?' I heard him ask. I could not hear her reply, but the next speech was plainly distinguished. 'You lie!' he said, in vehement tone of rage; 'you were with ——.' I did not catch the name he mentioned, nor did I know what she said in answer, or actually what happened. I heard only a confused sound, which did not impress me at the time as indicating a struggle, and which was followed by silence. I imagined that harmony or a sullen truce had been restored in the household, and thought no more about the affair. The next morning the wife was found dead, strangled. The husband had disappeared, and has never, I believe, been heard of to this day."
We reached the restaurant as the doctor finished his story. How the account had impressed me I need not tell. Seated in the warm cafe, with appetizing viands and a bottle before us, I asked the doctor to tell me again the husband's name.
"And who had the woman been?"
"I never ascertained. She was a vain, insignificant, shallow little blonde. The Paris newspapers could learn nothing as to her antecedents. She, too, was German, but slight and delicate in physique."
"You didn't save any of the newspapers giving accounts of the affair?"
"No. My evidence was printed, but they spelled my name wrong."
"Do you remember the exact date of the murder?"
"Yes, because it was the birthday of a friend of mine. It was February 17, 187-. Twelve years ago! And that tune has been with me, off and on, ever since—forgotten, most of the time; a few times recalled—as to-night."
"And the man, what did he look like?"
"Slim and of medium height. Very light complexion and eyes. His face was entirely smooth. His hair, a bit flaxen in colour, was curly and plentiful, especially about the back of his neck."
"In your evidence did you say anything about the strain of music, which was manifestly of the murderer's own composition?"
"No, it did not recur to me until later."
"And nothing was said about it by anybody?"
"No one but myself knew anything about it—except the murderer; and unless he afterward circulated it, he and you and I are the only men in the world who have heard it."
"But if he continued, wherever he went, to exercise his profession, he doubtless made some use of that bit of melody. The tune is so odd—quite too good for him to have wasted."
"Still, neither of us has ever heard it, or anything like it. And if you ever should come upon it, it would be interesting to trace the thing, wouldn't it?"
I began to whistle the air softly. Presently two handsome girls, with jimp raiment and fearless demeanour, came in and took possession of an adjacent table.
"What'll it be, Nell?"
"I'll take a dozen panned. I'm hungry enough to eat all the oysters that ever came out of the sea. A rehearsal like that gives one an appetite."
"A dozen panned, and lobster salad for me, and two bottles of beer," was the order of the first speaker to the waiter.
I recognized the faces as pertaining to the chorus of the opera company at the —— Theatre. I stopped whistling while I watched them.
Suddenly, like a delayed and multiplied echo of my own whistling, came in a soft hum from one of the girls the notes of the doctor's tragically associated strain of music.
The doctor and I exchanged glances. The girl stopped humming.
"I think that's the prettiest thing in the piece, Maude," said she.
Undoubtedly it was the comic opera to be produced at the —— Theatre to which she alluded as "the piece."
"Amazing," I said to the doctor. "Millocker composed the piece she's talking about. Millocker never killed a wife in Paris. Nor would he steal bodily from another. Perhaps the thing has been interpolated by the local producer. It doesn't sound quite like Millocker, anyhow. I must see about this."
"Where are you going?"
"To the Actors' Club, or a dozen other places, until I find Harry Griffiths. He's one of the comedians in the company at the —— Theatre, and he has a leading part in that piece to-morrow night. He'll know where that tune came from."
"As you please," said the amiable doctor. "But I must go home. You can tell me the result of your investigation to-morrow. It may lead to nothing, but it will be interesting pastime."
"And again," I said, putting on my overcoat, "it may lead to something. I'll see you to-morrow. Good night."
I found Griffiths at the Actors' Club, telling stories over a mutton-chop and a bottle of champagne. When the opportunity came I drew him aside.
"I have bet with a man about a certain air in the new piece. He says it's in the original score, and I say it's introduced, because I don't think Millocker did it. This is it," and I whistled it.
"Quite right, my boy. It's not in the original. Miss Elton's part was so small that she refused to play until the manager agreed to let her fatten it up. So Weinmann composed that and put—"
"This Weinmann," I interrupted, abruptly, "what do you know about him? Who is he?"
"He's Gustav Weinmann, the new musical director. I don't know anything about him. He's not been long in the country. The manager found him in some small place in Germany last summer."
"How old is he? Where does he live?"
"Somewhat in forty, I should say. I don't know where he stays. If you want to see him, why don't you come to the theatre when he's there?"
"Good idea, this. Good night."
I would look up this German musician who had come from an obscure German town. I would go to him and bluntly say:
"Mr. Weinmann, I beg your pardon, but is it true, as some people say it is, that your real name is Heinrich Spellerberg?"
Meanwhile there was nothing to do but go to bed.
All the way home the tune rang in my head. I whistled it softly as I began to undress, until I heard the sound of the piano in the parlour down-stairs. Few of us ever touched that superannuated instrument. The only ones who ever did so intelligently were Schaaf and the professor. The latter was wont to visit the piano at any hour of the night. We all were used to his way, and we liked the subdued melodies, the dreamy caprices, the vague, trembling harmonies that stole through the silent house.
I never see moonlight stretching its soft glory athwart a darkened room but I hear in fancy the infinitely gentle yet often thrilling strains that used to float through the still night from the piano as its keys took touch from the delicate white fingers of the professor.
Suddenly the musical summonings of the player assumed a familiar aspect,—that of the tune which I had been singing in my own brain for the past hour.
Then it occurred to me that the professor, being a second violin in the orchestra at the —— Theatre, would doubtless know more about the antecedents of the new musical director than Griffiths had been able to tell me. This was the more probable as the professor himself had come from Germany.
I descended the stairs softly, traversed the hallway, and, looking through the open door, beheld the professor at the piano.
The curtains of a window were drawn aside, and the moonlight swept grandly in. It passed over a part of the piano, bathed the professor's head in soft radiance, fell upon the carpet, and touched the base of the opposite wall. Upon a sofa, half in light, half in shadow, reclined Schaaf, who had fallen asleep listening while the professor played.
The professor's face was uplifted and calm. Rapture and pain—so often mutual companions—were depicted upon it. I hesitated to break the spell which he had woven for himself. After watching for some seconds, however, I began quietly:
The tune broke off with a jangling discord, and the player turned to face me, smiling pleasantly.
"Pardon me," I went on, advancing into the room and standing in the moonshine that he might recognize me, "but I was attracted by the air you were playing. They tell me that it isn't Millocker's, but was composed by your new conductor at the ——"
The professor answered with a laugh:
"Ja! He got de honour of it. Honour is sheap. He buy dat. It doesn't matter."
"Ah, then it isn't his own. And he bought the tune? From whom?"
"Ja. And I have many oder to gif sheap, too."
"But where did you get it?"
"I make it."
"Long 'go. I forget. I have make so many. Dey go away from my mindt an' come again back long time after."
"Professor, what would you give me to tell you where and when you composed that tune?"
He looked at me with a slightly bewildered expression. It was with an effort that I continued, as I looked straight into his eyes:
"I will hazard a guess. Could it have been in Paris—one day twelve years ago—"
"I neffer be in Paris," he interrupted, with a start which shocked and convinced me, slight evidence though it may seem. So I spoke on:
"What, never? Not even just that night—that 17th of February? Try to recall it, Heinrich Spellerberg. You remember she came in late, and—who would think that those soft white fingers had been strong enough?"
"Hush, my friendt! I not touch her! She kill herself—she try to hang and she shoke her neck. No, no, to you I vill not lie! You speak all true! Mein Gott! Vat vill you do?"
The man was on his knees. I thought of the circumstances, the persons concerned, the high-strung, sensitive lover of music, the coarse, derisive, perhaps faithless woman, and I replied quickly:
"What will I do? Nothing to-night. It's none of my business, anyhow. I'll sleep over it and tell you in the morning."
I left him alone.
In the morning the professor's door stood ajar. I looked in. Man, clothes, violin case, and valise had gone. Whither I have not tried to ascertain.
When the new opera was produced that evening the —— Theatre orchestra was unexpectedly minus two of its second violins, for Schaaf, half-distracted, was wandering the cold streets in search of his friend.
ON THE BRIDGE
When I tell you, my only friend, to whom I so rarely write and whom I more rarely see, that my lonely life has not been without love for woman, you will perhaps laugh or doubt.
"What," you will say, "that gaunt old spectre in his attic with his books, his tobacco, and his three flower-pots! He would not know that there is such a word as love, did he not encounter it now and then in his reading."
True, I have divided my days between the books in a rich man's counting-room and those in my attic. True, again, I have never been more than merely passable to look at, even in my best days.
Yet I have loved a woman.
During the five years when my elder brother lay in a hospital across the river, where he died, it was my custom to visit him every Sunday. I enjoyed the afternoon walk to the suburbs, when the air has more of nature in it, especially that portion of the walk which lay upon the bridge. More life than was usual upon the bridge moved there on Sunday. Then the cars were crowded with people seeking the parks. Many crossed on foot, stopping to look idly down at the dark and sluggish water.
One afternoon, as I stood thus leaning over the parapet, the sound of woman's gentle laugh caused me to turn and ocularly inquire its source. The woman and a man were approaching. At the side of the woman walked soberly a handsome dog, a collie. There was that in their appearance and manner which plainly told me that here were husband and wife, of the middle class, intelligent but poor, out for a stroll. That they were quite devoted to each other was easily discoverable.
The man looked about thirty years of age, was tall, slender, and was neither strong nor handsome, but had an amiable face. He was doubtless a clerk fit to be something better. The woman was perhaps twenty-four. She was not quite beautiful, yet she was more than pretty. She was of good size and figure, and the short plush coat that she wore, and the manner in which she kept her hands thrust in the pockets thereof, gave to her a dauntless air which the quiet and affectionate expression of her face softened.
She was a brunette, her eyes being large and distinctly dark brown, her face having a peculiar complexion which is most quickly affected by any change in health.
The colour of her cheek, the dark rim under her eyes, and the other indefinable signs, indicated some radical ailment. In the quick glance that I had of that pair, while the woman was smiling, a feeling of pity came over me. I have never detected the exact cause of that emotion. Perhaps in the woman's face I read the trace of past bodily and mental suffering; perhaps a subtle mark that death had already set there.
Neither the woman nor her husband noticed me as they passed. The dog regarded me cautiously with the corner of his eye. I probably would never have thought of the three again had I not seen them upon the bridge, under exactly the same circumstances, on the next Sunday.
So these young and then happy people walked here every Sunday, I thought. This, perhaps, was an event looked forward to throughout the week. The husband, doubtless, was kept a prisoner and slave at his desk from Monday morning until Saturday night, with respite only for eating and sleeping. Such cases are common, even with people who can think and have some taste for luxury, and who are not devoid of love for the beautiful.
The sight of happiness which exists despite the cruelty of fate and man, and which is temporarily unconscious of its own liabilities to interruption and extinction, invariably fills me with sadness, and the sadness which arose at the contemplation of these two beings begat in me a strange sympathy for an interest in them.
On Sundays thereafter I would go early to the bridge and wait until they passed, for it proved that this was their habitual Sunday walk. Sometimes they would pause and join those who gazed down at the black river. I would, now and again, resume my journey toward the hospital while they thus stood, and I would look back from a distance. The bridge would then appear to me an abrupt ascent, rising to the dense city, and their figures would stand out clearly against the background.
It became a matter of care to me to observe each Sunday whether the health of either had varied during the previous week. The husband, always pale and slight, showed little change and that infrequently. But the fluctuations of the woman as indicated by complexion, gait, expression and otherwise, were numerous and pronounced. Often she looked brighter and more robust than on the preceding Sunday. Her face would be then rounded out, and the dark crescents beneath her eyes would be less marked. Then I found myself elated.
But on the next Sunday the cheeks had receded slightly, the healthy lustre of the eyes had given way to an ominous glow, the warning of death had returned. Then my heart would sink, and, sighing, I would murmur inaudibly:
"This is one of the bad Sundays."
There came a time when every Sunday was a bad one.
What made me love this woman? Simply the unmistakable completeness and constancy of her devotion to her husband,—the absorption of the woman in the wife. Had the strange ways of chance ever made known to her my feelings, and had she swerved from that devotion even to render me back love for love, then my own adoration for her would surely have departed.
Yes, I loved her,—if to fill one's life with thoughts of a woman, if in fancy to see her face by day and night, if to have the will to die for her or to bear pain for her, if those and many more things mean love.
My richest joy was to see her content with her husband, and the darkest woe of my life was to anticipate the termination of their happiness.
So the Sundays passed. One afternoon I waited until almost dusk, yet the couple did not appear.
For seven Sundays in succession I did not meet them upon their wonted walk.
On the eighth Sunday I saw the dog first, then the man. The latter was looking over the railing. The woman was not with him. Apprehensively I sought with my eyes his face. Much grief and loneliness were depicted there.
Was he or I the greater mourner? I wondered.
I suppose two years passed after that day ere I again beheld the widower—whose name I did not and probably never shall know—upon the bridge. The dog was not with him this time. It was a fine, sunny afternoon in May. Grief was no longer in his face. By his side was a very pretty, animated, rosy little woman whom I had never seen before. They walked close to each other, and she looked with the utmost tenderness into his face. She evidently was not yet entirely accustomed to the wedding-ring which I observed on her finger.
I think that tears came to my eyes at this sight. Those great brown eyes, the plush sack, the lovely face that had borne the impress of sorrow so speedily, had felt death—those might never have existed, so soon had they been forgotten by the one being in the world for whom that face had worn the aspect of a perfect love.
Yet one upon whom those eyes never rested has remembered. And surely the memory of her is mine to wed, since he, whose right was to cherish it, has allowed himself to be divorced from it in so brief a time.
The memory of her is with me always, fills my soul, beautifies my life, makes green and radiant this existence which all who know me think cold, bleak, empty, repellent.
You will not laugh, then, my friend, when I tell you that love is not to me a thing unknown.
* * * * *
So runs a part of the last letter to my father that the old bookkeeper ever wrote.
THE TRIUMPH OF MOGLEY [Footnote: Courtesy of Lippincott's Magazine. Copyright, 1892, by J.B. Lippincott Company.]
Mr. Mogley was an actor of what he termed the "old school." He railed against the prevalence of travelling theatrical troupes, and when he attitudinized in the barroom, his left elbow upon the brass rail, his right hand encircling a glass of foaming beer, he often clamoured for a return of the system of permanently located dramatic companies, and sighed at the departure of the "palmy days."
A picturesque figure, typical of an almost bygone race of such figures, was Mogley at these moments, his form being long and attenuated, his visage smooth and of angular contour, his facial mildness really enhanced by the severity which he attempted to impart to his countenance when he conversed with such of his fellow men as were not of "the profession."
Like Mogley's style of acting, his coat was old. But, although neither he nor any of his acquaintances suspected it, his heart was young. He still waited and hoped.
For Mogley's long professional career had not once been brightened by a distinct success. He had never made what the men and women of his occupation designate a hit, or even what the dramatic critics wearily describe as a "favourable impression." This he ascribed to lack of opportunity, as he was merely human. Mr. and Mrs. Mogley eagerly sent for the newspapers on the morning after each opening night and sought the notices of the performance. These records never contained a word of either praise or censure for Mogley.
Mrs. Mogley had first met Mogley when she was a soubrette and he a "walking gentleman." It was his Guildenstern (or it may have been his Rosencrantz) that had won her. Shortly after their marriage there came to her that life-ailment which made it impossible for her to continue acting. She had swallowed her aspirations, shedding a few tears. She lived in the hope of his triumph, and, as she had more time to think than he had, she suffered more keenly the agony of yearning unsatisfied.
She was a little, fragile being, with large pale blue eyes, and a face from which the roses had fled when she was twenty. But she was very much to Mogley: she did his planning, his thinking, the greater part of his aspiring. She always accompanied him upon tours, undergoing cheerfully the hard life that a player at "one-night stands" must endure in the interest of art.
This continued through the years until last season. Then when Mogley was about to start "on the road" with the "Two Lives for One" Company, the doctor said that Mrs. Mogley would have to stay in New York or die,—perhaps die in any event. So Mogley went alone, playing the melodramatic father in the first act, and later the secondary villain, who in the end drowns the principal villain in the tank of real water, while his heart was with the pain-racked little woman pining away in the small room at the top of the dingy theatrical boarding-house on Eleventh Street.
The "Two Lives for One" Company "collapsed," as the newspapers say, in Ohio, three months after its departure from New York; this notwithstanding the tank of real water. Mogley and the leading actress overtook the manager at the railway station, as he was about to flee, and extorted enough money from him to take them back to New York.
Mogley had not returned too soon to the small room at the top of the house on Eleventh Street. He turned paler than his wife when he saw her lying on the bed. She smiled through her tears,—a really heartrending smile.
"Yes, Tom, I've changed much since you left, and not for the better. I don't know whether I can live out the season."
"Don't say that, Alice, for God's sake!"
"I would be resigned, Tom, if only—if only you would make a success before I go."
"If only I could get the chance, Alice!"
As the days went by, Mrs. Mogley rapidly grew worse. She seemed to fail perceptibly. But Mogley had to seek an engagement. They could not live on nothing. Mrs. Jones would wait with the daily increasing board-bill, but medicine required cash. Each evening, when Mogley returned from his tour of the theatrical agencies of Fourteenth Street and of Broadway, the ill woman put the question, almost before he opened the door:
"Not yet. You see this is the bad part of the season. Ah, the profession is overcrowded!"
But one Monday afternoon he rushed up the stairs, his face aglow. In the dark, narrow hallway on the top floor he met the doctor.
"Mrs. Mogley has had a sudden turn for the worse," said the physician, abruptly. "I'm afraid she won't live until midnight."
Doctors need not give themselves the trouble to "break news gently" in cases where they stand small chances of remuneration.
Mogley staggered. It was cruel that this should occur just when he had such good news. But an idea occurred to him. Perhaps the good news would reanimate her.
"Alice," he cried, as he threw open the door, "you must get well! My chance has come. The tide, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune, is here."
She sat up in bed, trembling. "What is it, Tom?"
"This. Young Hopkins asked me to have a drink at the Hoffman this afternoon, and, while I was in there, Hexter, who managed the 'Silver King' Company the season I played Coombe, came in all rattled. 'Why this extravagant wrath?' Hopkins asked, in his picturesque way. Then Hexter explained that his revival of Wilkins' old burlesque on 'Faust' couldn't be put on to-night, because Renshaw, who was to be the Mephisto, was too sick to walk. 'No one else knows the part,' Hexter said. Then I told him I knew the part; how I'd played Valentine to Wilkins' Mephisto when the piece was first produced before these Gaiety people brought their 'Faust up-to-date' from London. You remember how, as Wilkins was given to late dinners and too much ale, he made me understudy his Mephisto, and if the piece had run more'n two weeks, I'd probably had a chance to play it. Well, Hexter said, as everything was ready to put on the piece, if I thought I was up in the part, he'd let me try it. So we went to Renshaw's room and got the part and here it is."
"But, Tom, burlesque isn't in your line."
"Isn't it? Anything's in my line. 'Versatility is the touchstone of power.' That's where we of the old stock days come in! Besides, burlesque is the thing now. Look at Leslie, and Wilson, and Hopper, and Powers. They're the men who draw the salaries nowadays. If I make a hit in this part, my fortune is sure."
"But Hexter's Theatre is on the Bowery."
"That doesn't matter. Hexter pays salaries."
Objections like this last one had often been made, and as often overcome in the same words.
"And then besides—why, Alice, what's the matter?"
She had fallen back on the bed with a feeble moan. He leaned over her. Slowly she opened her eyes.
"Tom, I'm afraid I'm dying."
Then Mogley remembered the doctor's words. Alice dying! Life was hard enough even when he had her to sustain his courage. What would it be without her?
The typewritten part had fallen on the bed. He pushed it aside.
"Hexter and his Mephisto be d——d!" said Mogley. "I shall stay at home with you to-night."
"No, no, Tom: your one chance, remember! If you should make a hit before I die, I could go easier. It would brighten the next world for me until you come to join me."
Mogley's weaker will succumbed to hers. So, with his right hand around Mrs. Mogley's wrist, turning his eyes now and then to the clock in the steeple which was visible through the narrow window, that he might know when to administer her medicine, he held his "part" in his left hand and refreshed his recollection of the lines.
At seven o'clock, with a last pressure of her thin fingers, a kiss upon her cheek where a tear lay, he left her. He had thought she was asleep, but she murmured:
"May God help you to-night, Tom! My thoughts will be at the theatre with you. Good-bye."
Mrs. Jones's daughter had promised to look in at Mrs. Mogley now and then during the evening, and to give her the medicine at the proper intervals.
Mogley reported to the stage manager, who showed him Renshaw's dressing-room and gave him Renshaw's costume for the part. His mind ever turning back to the little room at the top of the house and then to the words and "business" of his part, he got into Renshaw's red tights and crimson cape. Then he donned the scarlet cap and plume and pasted the exaggerated eyebrows upon his forehead, while the stage manager stood by, giving him hints as to new "business" invented by Renshaw.
"You have the stage to yourself, you know, at that time, for a specialty."
"Yes, I'll sing the song Wilkins did there. I see it's marked in the part and the orchestra must be 'up' in it. In the second act I'll do some imitations of actors."
At eight he was ready to go on the stage.
"May God be with you!" reechoed in his ear,—the echo of a weak voice put forth with an effort.
He heard the stage manager in front of the curtain announcing that, "owing to Mr. Renshaw's sudden illness, the talented comedian, Mr. Thomas Mogley, had kindly consented to play Mephisto, at short notice, without a rehearsal."
He had never heard himself called a talented comedian before, and he involuntarily held his head a trifle higher as the startling and delicious words reached his ears.
The opening chorus, the witless dialogue of secondary personages, then an almost empty stage, old Faust alone remaining, and the entrance of Mephisto.
Some applause that came from people that had not heard the preliminary announcement, and whose demonstration was intended for Renshaw, rather disconcerted Mogley. Then, ere he had spoken a word, or his eyes had ranged over the hazy lighted theatre on the other side of the footlights, there sounded in the depths of his brain:
"My thoughts will be at the theatre with you!"
There were many vacant seats in the house. He singled out one of them on the front row and imagined she was in it. He would play to that vacant seat throughout the evening.
In all burlesques of "Faust" the role of Mephisto is the leading comic figure. The actor who assumes it undertakes to make people laugh.
Mogley made people laugh that night, but it was not his intentional humourous efforts that excited their hilarity. It was the man himself. They began by jeering him quietly. Then the gallery grew bold.
"Ah there, Edwin Booth!" sarcastically yelled an urchin aloft.
"Oh, what a funny little man he is!" ironically quoted another from a song in one of Mr. Hoyt's farces, alluding to Mogley's spare if elongated frame.
"He t'inks dis is a tragedy," suggested a Bowery youth.
But Mogley tried not to heed.
In the second act some one threw an apple at him. Mogley laboured zealously. The ribald gallery had often been his foe. Wait until such and such a scene! He would show them how a pupil of the old stock companies could play burlesque! Song and dance men from the varieties had too long enjoyed undisputed possession of that form of drama.
But, one by one, he passed his opportunities without capturing the house. Nearer came the end of the piece. Slimmer grew his chance of making the longed-for impression. The derision of the audience increased. Now the gallery made comments upon his personal appearance.
"He could get between raindrops," yelled one, applying a recent speech of Edwin Stevens, the comic opera comedian.
And at home Mogley's wife was dying—holding to life by sheer power of will, that she might rejoice with him over his triumph. Tears blinded his eyes. Even the other members of the company were laughing at his discomfiture.
Only a little brunette in pink tights who played Siebel, and whom he had never met before, had a look of sympathy for him.
"It's a tough audience. Don't mind them," she whispered.
Mogley has never seen or heard of the little brunette since. But he anticipates eventually to behold her ranking first after Alice among the angels of heaven.
The curtain fell and Mogley, somewhat dazed in mind, mechanically removed his apparel, washed off his "make-up," donned his worn street attire and his haughty demeanour, and started for home.
Home! Behind him failure and derision. Before him, Alice, dying, waiting impatiently his return, the news of his triumph.
"We won't need you to-morrow night, Mr. Mogley," said the stage manager as he reached the stage door. "Mr. Hexter told me to pay you for to-night. Here's your money now."
Mogley took the envelope as in a dream, answered not a word, and hastened homeward. He thought only:
"To tell her the truth will kill her at once."
Mrs. Mogley was awake and in a fever of anticipation when Mogley entered the little room. She was sitting up in bed, staring at him with shining eyes.
"Well, how was it?" she asked, quickly.
Mogley's face wore a look of jubilant joy.
"Success!" he cried. "Tremendous hit! The house roared! Called before the curtain four times and had to make a speech!"
Mogley's ecstasy was admirably simulated. It was a fine bit of acting. Never before or since did Mogley rise to such a height of dramatic illusion.
"Ah, Tom, at last, at last! And, now, I must live till morning, to read about it in the papers!"
Mogley's heart fell. If the papers would mention the performance at all, they would dismiss it in three or four lines, bestowing perhaps a word of ridicule upon him. She was sure to see one paper, the one that the landlady's daughter lent her every day.
Mogley looked at the illuminated clock on the steeple across the way. A quarter to twelve.
"My love," he said, "I promised Hexter I would meet him to-night at the Five A's Club, to arrange about salary and so forth. I'll be gone only an hour. Can you do without me that long?"
"Yes, go; and don't let him have you for less than fifty dollars a week."
Shortly after midnight the dramatic editor of that newspaper Miss Jones daily lent to Mrs. Mogley, having sent up the last page of his notice of the new play at Palmer's, was confronted by the office-boy ushering to the side of his desk a tall, spare, smooth-faced man with a sober countenance, an ill-concealed manner of being somewhat over-awed by his surroundings, and a coat frayed at the edges.
"I'm Mr. Thomas Mogley," said this apparition.
"Ah! Have a cigarette, Mr. Mogley?" replied the dramatic editor, absently, lighting one himself.
"Thank you, sir. I was this evening, but am not now, the leading comedian of the company that played Wilkins's 'Faust' at the —— Theatre. I played Mephisto." (He had begun his speech in a dignified manner, but now he spoke quickly and in a quivering voice.) "I was a failure—a very great failure. My wife is extremely ill. If she knew I was a failure, it would kill her, so I told her I made a success. I have really never made a success in my life. She is sure to read your paper to-morrow. Will you kindly not speak of my failure in your criticism of the performance? She cannot live later than to-morrow morning, and I should not like—you see—I have never deigned to solicit favours from the press before, sir, and—"
"I understand, Mr. Mogley. It's very late, but I'll see what I can do."
Mogley passed out, walking down the five flights of stairs to the street, forgetful of the elevator.
The dramatic editor looked at his watch. "Half-past twelve," he said; then, to a man at another desk:
"Jack, I can't come just yet. I'll meet you at the club. Order devilled crabs and a bottle of Bass for me."
He ran up-stairs to the night editor. "Mr. Dorney, have you the theatre proofs? I'd like to make a change in one of the theatre notices."
"Too late for the first edition, my boy. Is it important?"
"Yes, an exceptional case. I'll deem it a personal favour."
"All right. I'll get it in the city edition. Here are the proofs."
"Let's see," mused the dramatic editor, looking over the wet proofs. "Who covered the —— Theatre to-night? Some one in the city department. I suppose he 'roasted' Gugley, or whatever his name is. Ah, here it is."
And he read on the proof:
"The revival of an ancient burlesque on 'Faust' at the —— Theatre last night was without any noteworthy feature save the pitiful performance of the part of Mephisto by a doleful gentleman named Thomas Mogley, who showed not the faintest of humour and who was tremendously guyed by a turbulent audience. Mr. Mogley was temporarily taking the place of William Renshaw, a funmaker of more advanced methods, who will appear in the role to-night. There are some pretty girls and agile dancers in the company."
Which the dramatic editor changed to read as follows:
"The revival of a familiar burlesque on 'Faust' at the —— Theatre last night was distinguished by a decidedly novel and original embodiment of Mephisto by Thomas Mogley, a trained and painstaking comedian. His performance created an abundance of merriment, and it was the manifest thought of the audience that a new type of burlesque comedian had been discovered."
All of which was literally true. And the dramatic editor laughed over it later over his bottle of white label at the club.
By what power Mrs. Mogley managed to keep alive until morning I do not know. The dull gray light was stealing into the little room through the window as Mogley, leaning over the bed, held a fresh newspaper close to her face. Her head was propped up by means of pillows. She laughed through her tears. Her face was all gladness.
"A new—comedian—discovered," she repeated. "Ah, Tom, at last! That is what I lived for! I can die happy now. We've made a—great—hit—Tom—"
The voice ceased. There was a convulsion at her throat. Nothing stirred in the room. From the street below came the sound of a passing car and a boy's voice, "Morning papers." Mogley was weeping.
The dead woman's hand clutched the paper. Her face wore a smile.
OUT OF HIS PAST
This is no fable; it is the hardest kind of fact. I met Craddock not more than a week ago. His inebriety prevented his recognizing me.
What a joyous, hopeful man he was upon the day of his marriage! He looked toward the future as upon a cloudless spring dawn one looks forward to the day.
He had sown his wild oats and had already reaped a crop of knowledge. "I have put the past behind me," he said. And he thought it would stay there.
He married one of the sweetest and best of women. The match was an ideal one—exceptionally so. His wife's mother objected to it and moved away on account of it. "That's a detail," said Craddock.
There are details and details. The importance of any one of them depends on circumstances.
Craddock had all the qualities and attributes requisite to make him a son-in-law to the liking of his mother-in-law—lack of money.
So she went to live in Boston, maintained a chilly correspondence with her daughter, and bided her time.
Craddock had had his old loves, a fact that he did not attempt to conceal from his wife. She insisted upon his telling her about them, although the narration put her into manifest vexation of mind. Such is the way of young wives.
There was one love about which Craddock said less than about any of the others, because it had encroached more upon his life than any of them. It had nearly approached being a serious affair. He had a delicacy concerning the mention of it, too, for he flattered himself that the flame, although entirely extinguished upon his own side, yet smouldered deep in the heart of the woman. Therefore, he spoke of that episode in vague and general terms.
Strange as it seemed to Craddock, clear as it is to any student of men and women, it was this amour that excited the most curiosity in the mind of his wife.
"What was her name?" asked the latter.
"I don't think she has a pretty name, at all events."
"Oh, that was only her stage name. I really don't remember what her real name was."
This was a judicious falsehood.
"Well, I'm sorry that you ever made love to actresses. I'm afraid I can't think as much of you after knowing—"
"After knowing that the first sight of you drove the memory of all actresses and other women in the world out of my head," cried Craddock, with a merry fervour that made his speech irresistible.
So they persisted in being extremely happy together for three years, to the grinding chagrin of Craddock's mother-in-law in Boston.
One July Friday, Craddock's wife was at the seashore, while Craddock, who ran down each Saturday to remain with her until Monday, was battling with his work and the heat and the summer insects, in his office in the city. Mrs. Craddock received her mail, two letters addressed to her at the seaside, two forwarded from the city whither they had first come.
Of the latter one was a milliner's announcement of removal. The other was in a large envelope, and the address was in a chirography unknown to her. The large envelope contained a smaller one.
This second envelope was addressed to Miss Agnes Darrell, —— Hotel, Chicago, in the handwriting of Craddock.
The feelings of Craddock's wife are imaginable. She took from this already opened second envelope the letter that it contained. It also was in Craddock's penmanship. She succeeded in a semistupefied condition in reading it to the end.
"My Dearest Agnes:—I have just a moment in which to tell you the old story that one heart, thousands of miles east of you, beats for you alone. With what joy do I anticipate the early ending of the season, when, like young Lochinvar, you will come out of the West. I shall contrive to be with you as often as possible this summer. With renewed vows of my unalterable devotion, I must hastily say good night.
Any who seek a new emotion would ask for nothing more than Craddock's wife then experienced. It was not until the first shock had given away to a calm, stupendous indignation that she began to comment upon the epistle in detail.
"May 13th—at that very time Jack was sighing at the thought of my being away from him during the hot weather and telling me how he would miss me. All deception! His heart at that very time was beating for her alone. And he would contrive to see her as often as possible this summer—during my absence!"
It was then that Craddock's wife learned the great value of pride and anger as a compound antidote to overwhelming grief in certain circumstances.
When Craddock, quite unarmed, rushed to meet her at the seashore upon the next evening, she was en route for Boston.
In several ensuing years, Craddock's wife's mother took care that every communication from him, every demand for an explanation, every piteous plea for enlightenment, for one interview, should be ignored. The mother sent the girl to relatives in Europe; and after Craddock had spent three years and all the money that he had saved toward the buying of a house for his wife and himself, in trying to cross her path that he might have a moment's hearing, he came back home and went to the dogs.
He would have killed himself had not hope remained—the hope that some chance turn of events would bring him face to face with her, that he might know wherefore his punishment. He would have proudly resolved to forget her, and he would have striven day and night to make a name that some day would reach her ears whereever she might go, had he not felt that some terrible mistake had taken her from him; time would eventually rectify matters. As hope bade him live and as his inability to forget her made it impossible for him to put his thoughts upon work, he became a drunkard.
He might not have done so had he been you or I; but he was only Craddock, and whether or not you find his offence beyond the extent of palliation, the fact is that he drank himself penniless and entirely beyond the power of his own will to resume respectability.
Naturally his friends abandoned him.
"Craddock is making a beast of himself," said one who had formerly sat at his table. "To give him money merely accelerates the process."
"When a man loses all self-respect, how can he expect to retain the sympathy of other people?" queried a second.
"I never thought much of a man who would go to the gutter on account of a woman. It shows a lack of stamina," observed a third.
All of which was true. But particular cases have exceptionally aggravating circumstances. Special combinations may produce results which, although seemingly under human control, are almost, if not quite, inevitable.
One day Craddock's wife came back to him. In Paris she had made a discovery. She had kept the letter from Jack to the actress in a box that always accompanied her. Opening this box suddenly, her eye fell upon the postmark, stamped upon the envelope. She had never noticed this before. She knew that the date written above the letter itself was incomplete, the year not being indicated. According to the postmark, the year was 1875.
That was four years before Jack married her; two years before he first saw her.
She had always supposed the sending of the letter to her to be the act of some jealous rival of Jack's for the actress's affection. Now she knew not to what it might have been attributable.
When she arrived at the hospital where Craddock was recovering from the effects of an unconscious attempt at suicide, she was ten years older, in fact, than when she had left him; twenty years older in appearance. She took him home and has been trying to make a man of him. She manifests toward him limitless patience and tenderness, and she tolerates uncomplainingly his bi-weekly carousals. But she can afford to, having come into possession of a small fortune at her mother's recent death.
Craddock is amiably content with her. He cannot bring himself to regard her as the beautiful young bride of his youth. So little remains of her former charm, her former vivacity and girlishness, that it seems as if Craddock's wife of other times had died.
A few days ago, I met at the Sheepshead Races a passee actress who was telling about the conquests of her early career.
"There was one young fellow awfully infatuated with me," she said, "who used to write me the sweetest letters. I kept them long after he stopped caring for me, until he was married; then I destroyed them. I found one short one, though, in an old handbag some years after, and, just for a joke I mailed it to his wife at his old address. I don't suppose it ever reached her, though, or he would have acknowledged it, for the sake of old times. I wonder whatever became of Jack Craddock. People used to say he had a bright future—I say, tell that messenger-boy to come here! I'm going to put five on Tenny for this next race. And you'll lend me the five, won't you?"
THE NEW SIDE PARTNER
A chance in life is like worldly greatness—to which, indeed, it is commonly a requisite preliminary. Some are born with it, some achieve it, and some have it thrust upon them.
There is a youth who has had it thrust upon him. What he will do with it remains to be seen. Know the story, which is true in every detail save in two proper names:
The midnight train from New York, which crawls out of the Jersey City ferry station at 12:25, is usually doleful, especially in the ordinary cars. One who cannot sleep easily therein has a weary two or three hours' time to Philadelphia. Almost any equally wakeful companion is then a source of joy.
A girl of medium size, wearing a veil, and being rather carelessly attired in dark clothes which fitted a charming figure, walked jauntily up the aisle, saw that no seat was entirely vacant, and therefore, after a hasty glance at me, sat down beside me.
Had not the two very young men in the seat behind us drunk too much wine that night in New York, the girl and I might never have exchanged a word. But the conversation of the youths was such as to cause between us the intercommunication of smiles, and eventually of speeches.
Then casual observations about the fulness of the car, the time of the train, and our respective destinations,—mine being Philadelphia, hers being Baltimore, led to the revelation that she was a constant traveller, because she was an actress. She had been a soubrette in musical farce, but lately she had belonged to a variety and burlesque company. She had gone upon the stage when she was thirteen, and she was now twenty.
"What kind of an act do you do?" I asked, in the language of the variety "profession."
"Oh, I can do almost anything," she said, in a tone of a self-possessed, careless, and vivacious woman. "I sing well enough, and I can dance anything, a skirt dance, a clog, a Mexican fandango, a Carmencita kind of step, anything at all. I don't know when I ever learned to dance. I didn't learn, it just came to me; but the best thing I do is whistling. I'm not afraid of any man in the business when it's a case of whistling. There's no fake about my whistle; it's the real thing. I can whistle any sort of music that goes."
"Your company appears in Baltimore this week?"
"Oh, no! I've left the company. You see, I've been off for six weeks on account of illness, and now I'm going over to Baltimore to my father's funeral. He is to be buried to-morrow. See, here's the telegram. I've been having hard lines lately. I've not had any sleep for three days, and I won't get to Baltimore till daylight. I want to start back to New York to-morrow night, if I can raise the stuff. I had just enough money to get a ticket to Baltimore, and now I'm dead broke."
Then she laughed and got me to untie her veil. When it was removed, I saw a frank young face with an abundance of soft brown hair. About the light blue eyes were the marks of fatigue, and the colour of the cheeks further confirmed her account of loss of sleep.
Her feet pattered softly upon the floor of the car.
"I'm doing a single shuffle," she said, in explanation of the movement of her feet. "If you could do one too, we might do a double."
"Do you do your act alone on the stage?" I asked, "or are you one of a team?"
"We're a team. My side partner's a man. It pays better that way. We get $40 a week and transportation. I used to get only $12 except when I stood around and posed, then I got $35 and had to pay my own railroad fare. You can bet I have a good figure, when I get $35 for that alone! I handle the money of the team and I divide it even between us. I don't believe in the man getting nine-tenths of the stuff, do you? Besides, I'm older than my partner is. I put him in the business."
"How was that?"
"Oh, I picked him up on the street in New York. I saw that he had a good voice and was a bright kid, so I took him for my partner."
"But tell me how it came about."
She was quite willing to do so. And the rumbling of the wheels, the rush of the train over the night-swathed plains of New Jersey, accompanied her voice. All the other passengers were sleeping. To the following effect was her narrative:
At evening a crowd of boys had gathered at the corner of Broadway and a down-town street. One of them—ragged, unkempt, but handsome—was singing and dancing for the diversion of the others. That way came the variety actress, then out of an engagement. She stopped, heard the boy sing, and saw him dance. She pushed through the crowd to him.
"How did you learn to dance?" she asked.
"Didn't ever learn," he said, with impudent sullenness.
"Who taught you to sing?"
"None o' yer business."
"But who did teach you?"
"What's your name?"
"None of your business."
"Will you come along with me into the restaurant over there?"
But presently he was induced to go, although he continued to answer her questions in the savage, distrustful manner of his class. They went into a cheap eating-house and saloon, through the "Ladies' Entrance," and while they sat at a table there, she learned by means of resolute and patient questions that the boy earned his living by blacking shoes now and then, and that he did not know who his parents were, as he had been "put" with a family whose ill-usage he had fled from to live in the street. He began to melt under her manifestations of interest in him, and with pretended reluctance he gave his promise to wash his face and hands and to call upon her that evening at the theatrical boarding-house on Twenty-seventh Street where she was living. Then she left him.
When he called, she took him to her room and induced him to allow her to comb his hair. A deal of persuasion was necessary to this. Then she took him out and bought him a cheap suit of clothes on the Bowery. A half-hour later he was standing with her in the wings at Miner's Variety Theatre. A man and woman were doing a song and dance upon the stage.
"Watch that man," the actress said to the boy of the streets. "I want you to do that sort of an act with me one of these days."
When he had thus received his first lesson, she led him back to the theatrical boarding-house, and in her room he showed her what ability he had picked up as a singer and dancer. She secured a room for him in the house, and she had the precaution to lock him in lest he should take fright at his novel change of surroundings and flee in the night. When she released him on the next morning she found him docile and cheerful.
She escorted him into the big dining-room to breakfast.
"Who's your friend, Lil?" asked a certain actor whose name is known from Portland to Portland.
"He's my new side partner," she said, looking at the boy, who was not in the least abashed at the bold gaze of the negligently dressed soubrettes and the chaffing comedians who sat at the tables.
Everybody laughed. "What can he do?" was the general question.
"Get out there and show them, young one," she said, pointing to the centre of the dining-room.
The boy obeyed without timidity. When he had sung and danced, there was hilarious applause.
"Good for the kid," said the well-known actor. "What are you going to do with him, Lil?"
"I'm going to try to get an engagement for us together in Rose St. Clair's Burlesque Company."
"I'll help you," said the actor. "I know Rose. I'll go and see her right away, and you come there with the kid about 11 o'clock."
When the girl and her protege arrived at the boarding-house of the fat manageress they found that the actor had so far kept his promise as to have inveigled her into a condition of alcoholic amiability. She asked them what they could do. Each one sang and danced, and the girl, who also whistled, outlined to the manageress her idea of an "act" in which the two should appear. There was a hitch when the question of salary arose. The girl fixed upon $40. Rose thought that amount was too large. Lil adhered to her terms, and was about to leave without having made an agreement, when the manageress called her back, and a contract for a three weeks' engagement was signed at once.
The period between that day and the beginning of the engagement, which subsequently opened at Miner's Theatre, was spent by the girl in coaching her protege. He was a year younger than she, a fact which tended to increase the influence that she promptly obtained over him. His sullenness having been overcome, he became a devoted and apt pupil. Having beheld himself in neat clothes and acquired habits of cleanliness, he speedily developed into a handsome youth of soft disposition and good behaviour.
The new song and dance "team" was successful. The boy quickly gained applause, and especially did he easily win the liking of such women as he met or appeared before. A new world was open to him. Naturally he enjoyed the easy conquests that he made in the curious, careless circle into which he had been brought.
He is still having his "fling." But he has been from the first most obedient and unquestioning to his benefactress. He goes nowhere, does nothing, without previously obtaining permission from her.
She is proud of the advancement that he has accomplished already, and she is determined to make him a conspicuous figure upon the stage.
What is it that actuates this girl in her endeavour to elevate this boy in the world? What the mystery that brought to the gamin this guardian angel in the form of a variety actress who mingles bright sayings with lack of grammar, who tells Rabelaisian anecdotes in one minute and philosophizes in slang about the issues of life the next?
"You're in love with him, aren't you?" I said, as the train plunged on through the darkness.
"I don't know whether I am or not. He's just a kid, you know. I suppose the proper end of such a romance is that we should marry. But then I wouldn't be married to a man that I couldn't look up to."
"But women don't invariably love that way. I'm sure you're in love with the boy. Have you never thought as to whether you were or not?"
"Have I? I should smile! I thought of it even on the first night, after I picked him up, when I locked him in his room. But I have always regarded him in a sort of motherly way, although only a year older. It seems kind of unnatural for me to love him as a woman loves a man. If he was only older!"
"Ah, that wish is sure evidence that you love him!"
"One thing I do know is that, though he always obeys me, he doesn't care as much for me as I do for him."
"How do you know that?"
"He wouldn't think so much of other girls if he did. He doesn't look upon me as a woman for him to fall in love with. He regards me as an older sister. Why, he never even takes a girl to supper after the performance without asking my permission."
"And you give it?"
"Yes; but he never knows how I feel when I do."
"And how do you feel then?"
"The first time he asked me, it was like a knife going through me. I haven't got used to it yet."
She paused for a time before adding:
"But, anyhow, he's going to make a name for himself some day. He has it in him. I'm not the only one that thinks so. I'm trying now to get him to go to a school of acting, but he thinks variety is good enough for him. He'll get over that, though."
She spoke so tenderly and yet so proudly of him, that I could not without a pang of pity meditate upon the probable outcome of this attachment, which, according to the logic of realists, will be the boy's eventual success in life, long after he will have forgotten the hand that lifted him out of the depth in which he first opened his eyes.
He knows nothing of his parentage. His benefactress once sought, by means of Inspector Byrnes's penetrating eye, to pierce the clouds surrounding his origin, but the inspector smiled at the hopelessness of the attempt.
"Where is he now?" I asked.
"I left him in New York," she said. "I suppose he'll blow in all his money as soon as he can possibly manage to do so."