By ANDRE CASTAIGNE
With Illustrations BY THE AUTHOR
A. L. BURT COMPANY Publishers—New York
Copyright, 1909 The Bobbs-Merrill Company
TO MY LITTLE FRIENDS THE STARS!
All around stretched the great blue sky and the blue sea of the Gulf of Bengal.
Mrs. Clifton lay dozing at full length on a pillowed bench and her husband sat near her and followed his Lily, his daughter, with his eyes: his Lily, eight years old, "that high," waving among the passengers the white coral necklace which Pa had bought her on leaving Australia; his Lily, his star, his New Zealander on Wheels! His Lily who had had such successes at Melbourne, at Sidney: bouquets, tons and cart-loads of bouquets! And the past would be nothing compared with the future, with the astounding tricks which he was inventing for his Lily. The mere sight of her raised his enthusiasm to boiling-point. And he was going to show them, in Calcutta and elsewhere, if they knew how to make stars in New Zealand or if they were only fit for raising mutton.
Clifton was an artist, an "artiste," a born artiste: starting as a mere clerk in an office, he had become an amateur cyclist and then a professional on the track. He married an Englishwoman at Wellington and, at Lily's birth, decided upon a career: the stage, with Lily for a star later on! And he set to work, with vim and vigor, learned a few tricks on his bike, taught his wife the business in less than no time; and Lily's first memories as a four-year-old were:
"I was sitting on Ma's shoulders, Ma on Pa's and Pa on the bike."
And Lily zigzagged through New Zealand, from east to west and north to south, and Australia after, where she received plenty of applause for her tricks, childish in themselves, but well presented. Her triumphant path wound among tinseled bottles containing paper flowers, with a faultless standstill for the climax, one hand on the handle-bar, the other blowing kisses to the audience. This procured Pa an engagement for India. He ordered a beautiful colored poster, "The Clifton Family, Trick Cyclists," with a portrait in the corner of his own strong face and bristling mustache—"P. T. Clifton, Manager"—one more rung in the ladder of life mounted, thanks to his Lily.
And Pa smiled to his daughter and, as she ran past him, lifted her on his knee and stroked her fair curls; and the child cuddled up to her Pa, opened her lips to ask questions, but was silent, with her eyes lost in space, puckering her little forehead, in which were heaped so many mingled memories of the stage and the great world outside: the Boxing Kangaroo; tall cliffs; green islands; the bike; Batavia among the trees; Singapore, with its noise and dust. And Lily, wearily, dreamed and murmured things, while the steamer sped on, thud, thud, thud, flat as a stage in its blue "set."
Lily's impressions of India were months of jolting and bumping, stops in the dead of night while the tent was pitched, rains, strong smells, oppressive heats—months and months of it, Ma on Pa, Pa on the wheel and she on top, waving flags. Yellow faces on the benches, red flowers and, somewhere, on a river-bank, two eyes glittering in the dark: a tiger, somebody said! And every night the artistes, carrying lanterns, walked in file between the circus and the hotel, with the ladies in the center and Lily clinging to Ma's skirt.
She did more now, in addition to the bike: a song-and-dance turn. In a piping falsetto, she quavered:
"Star light! Star bright!"
She was spoiled by the ladies, the wives of the officers stationed in those out-of-the-way holes. She played with smart children, was taken for drives, had her social successes! Chocolates, sweets, kisses. And a lady gave her such a pretty dress: his Lily! Pa burst with delighted pride to see her treated like that; and Ma scolded her a bit, for the little flirt that she was, while fondly tying the two satin bows over her ears.
Lily was a regular tomboy, with pranks invented by herself, from ideas which she picked up in traveling: for instance, she would choose her moment and chuck a piece of bacon among the Mohammedans sitting under her window; and she would revel in her own fright at those furious faces suddenly glaring up at her from below! And she would stand with drooping head, one finger in her mouth:
"Oh, so sorry!"
What fun! And as an artiste she was spoiled and petted everywhere. Goa, Bangalore, Tanjore and then Colombo, and a ship with elephants, tigers, camels, children, men, women, wagons, one great mix-up, a circus and menagerie in one, steaming toward South Africa; and Miss Lily of the Clifton Troupe paraded her well-brushed, neatly-parted curls in the midst of it all, gazed open-mouthed at the blue expanse of water until, her eyes drunk and dazed with light, she went and lay in her cabin.... And more and more blue water. And thud, thud, thud. And Cape Town in the mountains. Africa behind it: a country all yellow, where the trains wound in and out of the rocks; villages, up, up, up, or else right low down, on the yellow veldt; and, at night, on the benches, crowds and crowds. Immediately after the show came sleep, troubled by the jolting of the train; and the circus was always there next day, on the right or on the left, with its Chinamen and its niggers driving stakes or tugging at ropes. A bell for dinner, a whistle for the show; and, as soon as the show was over, to bed,—and off again.
Pa made her practice harder now, wanted to make a great artiste of her. And there was a class, too, kept by a "marm" who traveled with the circus and taught spelling and arithmetic and the art of letter-writing, from "Yours to hand with thanks" down to "Believe me to be." Lily would have been bored to death but for the accidents of travel: sometimes the engine broke down, bringing the train to a dead stop amid the great African silence, near a field of Indian corn, in which the children played hide-and-seek. Or else there were locusts, locusts "that thick," right inside the carriages. Lily would tie them by the leg and:
"Flip! Flap! Lively now! Jump!"
But funniest of all was the caravan—she couldn't remember where, in Natal or thereabouts—wagons with ten yoke of oxen. They climbed up endless winding roads. The men shot at birds and prospected for diamonds along the wayside; and at night they took the hay from the mattresses to give to the cattle. Lolling indolence was in the air and plenty in the larder: big fruits, strange game, which they cooked in a makeshift oven consisting of a few stones. Then they rolled themselves up in a blanket, near the elephants tugging at their chains, and slept under the tent in the cool, bright, starry night.
Months and months passed. Lily was becoming very clever: the New Zealander on Wheels! She was cleverer than Pa, who no longer performed, nor Ma either. On their return to Australia, Lily appeared by herself in the music-halls, and P. T. Clifton, Manager, watched her from the wings, in growing admiration: his Lily was a star now, too good for a circus! And Australia, pooh! Sidney, Melbourne, pooh! What Lily wanted was New York, London, the Hippodromes, the Palaces! He'd show them a star that was a star! And Clifton clenched his fists and pretended not to see when Lily made a blunder on the stage: his Lily missing a trick! Disgracing her Pa like that! He blushed to the eyes at the thought of it! And, when she returned to the wings, he twitted her proudly:
"What next, Lily! An artiste like you!"
And Ma adopted a sarcastic air and congratulated "mademoiselle" as she threw the white wrapper over "mademoiselle's" shoulders.
Ma detested the stage. She did not think it a nice place for herself; but for a brat like Lily, Lord, it was quite different! And she ought to have tried to please her Pa and Ma. Mrs. Clifton, though she never voiced the wish, had visions of a trip to London, to stagger some relations, a sister-in-law she had there, and sneer at the old country, in the usual colonial fashion, and show them what the new countries can do, countries where you make a fortune in less than no time! And, little by little, smitten with Mr. Clifton's enthusiasm, she came to believe that, in Lily, they really possessed the infant prodigy, the treasure-child upon whom their fortune depended. And Ma, too, was vexed when Lily missed a trick on the stage.
Lily laughed at their anger. Ma had never raised a hand to her; and, as for Pa, when he scolded, Lily had such a way of looking at him, with lowered head—"Oh, so sorry!"—that Pa simmered down again at once. Lily, a regular "tenter," shot up freely, grew up a real tomboy, went a bit too far, in fact, Ma said: at Honolulu, for instance, on the road to 'Frisco and New York, where Pa had resolved to go, at all costs, come what might—it was one step nearer London!—at Honolulu—ten days there and such a success!—the child played truant in the gardens teeming with birds and fruit, climbed apple-trees, was caught one day and scampered off at full speed, pursued by Ma, who threatened to give her a sound smacking this time, the little thief! But Pa thought it ridiculous, for the sake of an apple....
"And suppose Lily had broken her leg with her nonsense?" asked Ma indignantly. "Where would your New York be?"
Pa felt himself a conquering hero when they steamed through the Golden Gate: the States at last! And no sooner was his foot on the wharf at 'Frisco than off to the agents at once, with his photographs, his contracts, his posters! But it was her birth-certificate they asked to see. And no babes and sucklings allowed on the stage here. It was all right down yonder, but the law prevented it here.
"Damn your laws!" snapped Pa furiously. "Do you think we make stars to hide them under bushels?"
And whoosh! Off for Mexico, where children are allowed to perform.
Now, in Arizona, near Phoenix, where the train stopped for some hours, owing to an accident to the Rio Gila bridge, Pa happened upon a merrymaking which reminded him of West Australia. Cow-boys, galloping horses, a pretense at fighting, lassoing, revolvers, a track for amateur cyclists and—yes, there, in the desert!—on a platform, right in the middle, what should Pa see but an amazing artiste, riding on the back-wheel, with the other in the air! And such twirls! And the boys shouted to him:
"Hullo, Trampy! Have a drink, Trampy!"
And Trampy accepted:
"With you, my lord! As soon as I've done, my lord!"
And off he wheeled, head on the saddle, feet in the air, whistling Yankee Doodle!
It was impossible! Pa rubbed his eyes: what! Was this what they did in the States in the desert? And he who had hoped, with Lily ... why, damn it, Lily knew nothing! He himself, her manager, knew less than nothing! He, who thought he had formed a star! Pa was red with shame. And, suddenly, he had a happy thought: he, too, offered Trampy a drink, something to propose to him....
They shook hands, went to the bar, lit a cigar, like men, by Jove! Clifton loved to talk business, to pull out notebooks, quick, and jot things down with a knowing air. Trampy, a mere boy, easy-going, genial, without a red cent for the time being, didn't care a hang about business and was soon telling Clifton the story of his life: drummer, reporter, racer; his descent,—"Two whiskies, boy!"—what was he saying? Oh, yes, his descent of a staircase on the bike, yes, siree, with a red-hot stove under his arm—a stove painted to look red-hot—pursued by a policeman, leaping over obstacles on the bike; great success at Duluth and Denver as a tramp cyclist: hence his name of Trampy Wheel-Pad. But those girls, by Jove! Well, he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. Still, a rolling stone doesn't climb hills. Here he was, stranded. Go to Mexico? So much a week? Such and such a turn? Teach the child? Cert!
Lily never alluded to Mexico afterward without shaking with anger. My, to listen to her, how badly they treated her in Mexico! Worse than a Dago! To tell the truth, it was hot; and Lily, already tired by those long journeys in varying climates, Lily would have preferred to do nothing and to continue to lead her careless life as a playful filly. But no, poor Lily was caught by the hind-leg in Mexico! Ambition had seized upon Pa, body and soul, and life became a more serious matter for the child.
"Look here!" said Pa, pointing to Trampy. "What he, a man, does, you can do! I'll see to that!"
Pa arranged for a place in which to practise at their ease. In the evening, on the stage, he watched and studied Trampy's tricks and, in the morning, quick, out of bed, look alive, the bike! Pa no longer had his open-mouthed admiration for Lily, as in South Africa and Asia: his Lily knew nothing at all! But in three months, six months, if necessary, if it cost him every penny he possessed. And it was:
"Come along, Lily ... to work! Show what you can do!"
Trampy, in this country of manolas—"Grand, by Jove!"—came round about eleven; and Pa, all out of breath, passed Lily on to him:
"You have a go at her, Trampy! I give up, she won't do what I say!"
And Trampy put down his cigar, took off his collar and cuffs and it was, "Come along, Lily!" till lunch-time. The child, her eyes blinking with fatigue, fell fast asleep before the end of the meal.
Pa was delighted.
And he confided her to Trampy more and more, with orders not to spare smackings in case of need:
"Eh, Lily? Eh?"
As for him, he had business to do, letters to write, great schemes in his head! for instance, he must try to get permission for Lily to appear in the States.
"Time for a cigar, I guess," said Trampy, as soon as Clifton was gone.
Work stopped abruptly; a tumbler's carpet rolled up in a corner formed an inviting lounge; and Lily, panting from her practice, would stretch herself beside him and enjoy a few happy moments, the only really happy moments of the day; for there were matinees in the afternoon and the evening performance at night, till she was ready to drop with weariness. Trampy treated Lily nicely, like a grown-up person, called her by the name of a fruit, or a flower, or a bird, jollied her, called her "little wifie:" it was all one to her. He made her laugh with his funny stories, his fairy tales about himself, his terrible struggle with a snake in the streets of 'Frisco, after a champagne supper: girls, by Jove! He toned down his anecdotes and dished them up for Lily's entertainment; told her absurd yarns enlivened with mimicry, in which he excelled, like the real mummer that he was, and Lily shrieked with laughter, head thrown back, full-throated.
And there was a spice of fear in it all: was that Pa coming back? No, a carpenter or scene-shifter, perhaps, or else the Martellos, brother and sister, going to practise slack-wire, head and hand balancing. Their father, old Martello, a famous name, lived in London, it appeared, alone with his Bambinis, mere babes still. His other children and his apprentices had all run away, to escape his horsewhip, and the brother in Mexico was continuing the tradition. His brutality, in fact, got him into trouble wherever he went, so much so that the big music-halls were closed to him, for fear of scandal. And he terrorized his sister, Ave Maria, a girl of sixteen, a dark girl with great dark eyes. Ave Maria never spoke to anybody; when she passed through the room where Lily was having fun with Trampy, she fixed a fiery glance upon them, even ventured on a smile, for Trampy in particular, whose lively stories reached her through the partition behind which she dressed. Oh, how she envied Lily! But she passed very quickly, because of her brother.
And this time it was Pa! Lily jumped on to the saddle like mad, played her part to perfection, puffed and panted, as if the last drop of strength were oozing out of her, and Trampy joined in the little comedy of fibbing and dissembling:
"There, like that, Lily, or I'll smack you!"
"That's right," said Pa. "Make her work!"
And, just to show Lily what work meant and that her Pa was not so unkind after all—"It's for your good, Lily! You'll thank me one of these days!"—he took her to the stage, where Ave Maria was practising. Now, of course, in the circuses, Lily, occasionally, had seen children knocked and cut about with blows and trained to say, "It was the cat," when any one asked them about the marks. They were ordinary children; she had rolled about in the sawdust with them, played hide-and-seek with them in the fields of Indian corn; they were children who romped and ran about and laughed. Ave Maria was different. The brother, a savage, scowling brute, was always after her, harrying her with muttered threats. She was in a constant, visible tremble of fear; and, if she slipped on her wire, the fellow snarled as if to bite her in the foot, pinched her black and blue, restored her balance with a blow of the belt, shook the supports to make her fall just to see!...
"Oh, Pa, he'll kill her!" whispered Lily, when she saw Ave Maria practising.
"It's none of our damned business," replied Pa curtly.
Martello's evil example ended by catching hold of Pa: that's how artistes were formed, damn it! And, at the thought of the time wasted, he clenched his fists. To have a Lily of his own, all his own, and to have made nothing out of her yet! Still, it was not Lily's fault. Yes, though, it was her fault, she was so stubborn, so wilful! When he told her to do a thing, why not do it? Instead of bleating:
"Pa, I can't! Pa, I can't!"
A brief struggle, in a way, followed between Lily and her Pa. Lily was not built for passive obedience, wasn't used to it. She no longer knew her Pa. When he came at her with his hand lifted to strike, when he spoke of unbuckling his belt—"Damn those blasted brats!"—Lily eyed him with a look of anguish:
"But Pa, I'm not Ave Maria!" she said. "I'm not a Dago."
And she raised her little rebellious face to him. He humbled her with a smack on the cheek:
"On the saddle! Up! Quick!"
The child, mastered by her Pa's strength and energy, ceased to be the spoiled child, became an artiste.... Head on the saddle, back-wheel: just like Trampy! Pooh, Trampy, after a few months of this life, was nowhere, Clifton admired him less and less, Lily was doing all that he did, more than he did; and without a fault, without a hitch, unerring and exact! Pa swelled with pride at the mere sight of his Lily, his four stone ten of flesh and bones fitted to the machine, his Lily, the Lily of his dreams!
"I'll dress you in velvet and satin!" he said, in his enthusiasm. "I'll cover you with diamonds."
Pa, thanks to his indomitable energy, had made something of his Lily, a real artiste, at last! And business was moving, too! He had a contract in his pocket for the States, where Lily would no doubt get permission to do her "childish tricks," seeing that she was traveling with her Pa and Ma. As for Trampy, Pa had no use for Trampy, made no bones about sacking him on some pretext or other:
"Run away and play with your girls, by Jove! Or whatever you please! Good-by! Ta-ta!"
And off for Denver, whence they were to continue the journey up to Chicago.
* * * * *
It was the dive for good and all into the stuffy atmosphere behind the scenes, which Lily was never again to leave, brick walls, where she waited her turn on the elaborate program of the "continuous performances," amid the thunder of the orchestra and the lightning of the reflectors. No time to go out, meals consumed in your dressing-room on the top of the basket trunk. In the mornings, new tricks to practise on the stage, in the midst of a herd of girls whom gentlemen in their shirtsleeves were training to sing in chorus and to keep step to the strum of the piano. And ever and ever so many new faces, a tumult of tongues which Lily heard on the stage, in the dressing-room, and even in her room at the hotel, through the thin partition walls: a lingo made up of coarse remarks and thick stories, punctuated with spitting and oaths strong enough to carry a tower of Babel. Lily opened her eyes and ears, heaping it all up, storing it all away behind her stubborn forehead....
And new people, new people: "families," "brothers," "sisters," troupes, troupes, troupes! Or else stars by themselves, "bests," "uniques:" a female-impersonator, a green-eyed boy who wagged his hips like the very devil and took off the girls; Poland, a Warsaw Jewess, a redheaded, overscented beauty, who did the "Parisienne," and ever and ever so many others. And Lily, so slender and frail, was the pet of them all. They called her their pretty baby, their petit cheri, and, with their painted mugs, kissed her full on the lips.
Pa detested this "rotten lot" and Pa was not always in a good temper. Lily "under age,"—again! Why, there were even managers who informed the police, so as to be on the safe side; "traveling with her parents; childish tricks; nothing difficult."... Ma's indignation knew no bounds: what nonsense to prevent a great big girl of fifteen from earning her living! For she aged Lily as much as she could, to obtain the permission, when no papers were asked for; and she had trained Lily to reply to the indiscreet questions of the officials: was her trick hard? Was she forced into doing it? Lily answered mechanically that she liked the bike very much. And then they allowed her to perform.
As for practising, permission or none, that was nobody's damned business. And if some old sheep took to bleating—"Poor child, you'll be the death of her!"—Pa sent the old sheep to eat coke; and it was:
"Up, Lily! Get on your bike! Look alive!"
And the bloomers that Lily wore out! Ma was kept busy in the dressing-room mending the rents at the knees and patching the seats:
"What a tomboy!" Ma cried.
And this went on for months and months. And then came Chicago; a visit of Pa's to the agents; and a contract with the New York Olympians, a variety-show coming from the West and returning to New York by Columbus and Pittsburg. And new people, new people; stars of every kind: the Para woman, a rheumatic juggler, who was obliged to change her turn and become an exhibitor of performing parrots, a ragged, molting troupe, picked up cheap at second-hand; an infant prodigy who topped the bill, a boy-violinist, leading an orchestra, too, at fourteen, a pretentious little humbug trained to make a few movements, while others did the work. Lily thought him so good-looking she simply couldn't take her eyes off him. And then she had some big girl-friends who had had love affairs! They were the Three Graces, gymnasts endowed with bodies like so many Apollos, honest German faces and a bewildering amount of strength, pluck and precision....
"What smackings that must have taken!" thought Pa.
But no, their uncle and manager, Mr. Fuchs—a name as famous in its way as Martello's—was known for his gentleness and adored and coddled and pampered by the Three Graces, who, at a sign from "Nunkie," as they called him, joyously rushed to practice, taking a pride in pleasing their dear Nunkie.
"The old rogue!" said Pa enviously. "He has an easy time of it; whereas I, with my skinny kitten, damn it ...!"
Well, well, he mustn't complain, as he himself admitted: one more rung which he had mounted, thanks to his Lily, that engagement with the best variety-show in the States; nothing but big theaters: Orpheums! Dominions! And New York next! And then London! Things were moving, moving! And Pa looked lovingly at his Lily, as she played at being grown up with the Three Graces, in the train on Sunday, traveling from town to town, while Ma was knitting things for her tomboy. He talked to Mr. Fuchs as between equals, as between man and man, as between the manager of a star and the owner of a troupe; and the train rushed on, rushed on, with an indistinct sound of the engine-bell, now and again, when they crossed a street. Mr. Fuchs, heavy-jawed, slow of speech, said that he had had enough of traveling, at his age, if it were not for his dear nieces. He would like to retire to the country, to his little home, and grow his roses, as soon as he had married off his dear nieces, which would not be long, no doubt. As it was, one of them, Thea, the one who did five pullings-up with her left hand, had his permission to receive letters from her sweetheart, a young man at St. Louis, quite well-off. The idyl made good Mr. Fuchs blossom into a genial smile: family life! Simple joys! The only true ones! Worth more than the stage! And Nunkie talked and talked: the Parisienne, a perpetual scandal! And wait a bit: what was that he heard at an agent's the other day? Yes, the daughter of his old friend Martello, Ave Maria her name was, had left her brother, and run away from Mexico with a man! Tut, tut, the things one saw nowadays!
Pa hardly listened to the old crock, preferred to dream of New York and the success his Lily would achieve there! And Lily, sitting close by, listened with all her ears, puckered her little forehead: love, love.... And Ave Maria, who had run away with a man.... Why with a man? And she squeezed up against Thea, the Grace who was in love ... put question after question.... She talked of her boy-violinist, of Trampy. And they all laughed boisterously, with heads thrown back, full-throated, and Nunkie, very paternally, congratulated Mr. Clifton on his daughter's niceness.
"For goodness' sake, don't go putting it into her head that she's pretty, the little devil!" protested Ma. "That would be the last straw!"
* * * * *
The arrival in New York was a disappointment to Pa. The authorities insisted on seeing the papers this time. Lily was under age; just as at 'Frisco. What! Why? Because of former scandals, it appeared: Martello and Ave Maria. What had he, a British subject, to do with those Dagoes who spoil the profession? growled Pa. He ended by rebelling against the injustice of it, thought of the Three Graces hard at work rehearsing under Nunkie's eye, while he, Clifton, had not even the right to set foot on a stage and let Lily practise there. To work, to work, damn it! And he locked her up all day in her room doing her balancings, the boomerang on the front wheel, the standstill on the back-wheel, or the bike upside down, with Lily standing on the pedals, like a convict on the tread-mill. The pack of fools! Because a Dago had whipped his sister, wasn't a Pa to have the right to bring his own daughter up? To work, to work! And he kept her at it for hours and hours, watched and knit his brows, like a sage pondering for hours over the solution of a problem.
Lily, breathless, would turn a look of entreaty upon her Ma, but Mrs. Clifton, with her nose bent over her work, pretended not to see, obstinately went on cutting out, patching, sewing her tomboy's bloomers. Lily longed for Trampy....
At night, Pa ran from theater to theater: from Fourteenth Street, where they lodged, to Twenty-third Street; took the elevated to Fifty-eighth Street, to Hundred and-twenty-fifth Street! All theaters at which Lily would have triumphed but for those dirty Dagoes! And the things that were served up to the public, pooh! Clifton laughed with scorn. Troupes of English dancing-girls—the famous Roofers—with movements like stuffed dolls; and cyclists, pooh! Hauptmanns, fat freaks turned out in Berlin: if that was the best they could do, pooh! Oh, if he had only had the right to send his New Zealander on Wheels scooting in among their legs, just to show the public what a star really was! And all the morning he ran about the town talking of "childish tricks—a big girl" to the police and "wonderful tricks—the only girl of her age who can do them" to the agents in the St. James' Building. Oh, if he could have London! He longed to measure his strength against all those famous names—Marjutti, Laurence, the Pawnees—just to show them his Lily!
* * * * *
And now it was the last stage. All around stretched the dark sea; and the liner sped—thud, thud, thud—through a gloomy set. Three days more and then Liverpool; and London at last! Pa was about to realize his dream. He had signed, at last, for the Castle, in London! It was all right, it was all right! Prospects fine! And Harrasford was on board; it seemed a sign of good luck! He was traveling with his architect. Harrasford, the great English manager—Pa knew them all by name—Harrasford, the man for whom a whole nation of "artistes" toiled and moiled nightly. Pa had caught a glimpse of him.... He would have liked to introduce his Lily to him; no matter, he would know her one day, when she was starring in his halls! And on the Bill and Boom Tour! And elsewhere! She would soon be famous.
Ma, who remained lying in her bunk sucking lemons, would have liked to have her Lily by her, within call, to keep her mother company, that great big girl spoiled by her Pa, even when she was not performing, as in New York; ... a new cloak and boots and gewgaws ... a couple of fools together, that's what Ma called them! And she needed watching, that tomboy, who would break her leg one of these days, tumbling up and down the companion-way. But Lily preferred to enjoy herself and expended on running about the energies which she no longer had to devote to her practising. Her accumulated weariness disappeared under the influence of the sleep and the good meals, which she had not the boredom of having to get ready, as in Fourteenth Street, where Lily, big girl that she was, had to help her Ma.
She flitted all over the deck, munching candies, showed everybody her new boots and her red cloak, held her head high, was very proud of being looked at. Lily dreamed of the Three Graces; of the boy-violinist; of Trampy. She made conquest upon conquest, down to the electrician of the ship, quite a young lad, who looked as cold as ice.
She sometimes stopped at his door, watched him handling levers, pressing buttons. It was like the switchboard of a theater. She pointed to this and to that. The lad smiled, told the New Zealander on Wheels all about his little world....
As for Lily, she was going to star in London, where her Pa would cover her with diamonds! And she went on to tell him stories, like a little school-girl who has read a book or two: India, two eyes glittering in the dark, gee! And elephants she had known, little birds which she had kept in a cage in Natal, and kangaroos. The lion, who stands up on his hind legs when he's angry; and the tiger, who lies down flat. And parrots. And starry nights in Africa: stars "that big." And storms: waves "miles high!" And successes at Gangpur; and in Chicago, where she shared a dressing-room with three girls who, when they were undressed, were all over muscles, just like men. She liked the bike well enough, but those falls: oh, damn it!
"That little monkey has seen everything in her time," thought Jimmy, the electrician.
And he mused upon the numberless things which she had seen, the countries, the cities, and all that she would yet see, in her life as a wandering star, while he would remain walled up in his cabin, with his nose to the switchboard.
And the steamer sped—thud, thud, thud—over the dark sea, where the noise of the waves sounded like the roar of multitudes of men. Huge clouds in the east were tinged with red, as though London were about to loom above the horizon in all its glory, filling the vast expanse with its rumors and its lights....
"Lily ... who's Lily? A New Zealander: really? Ah well, we will look into the matter; it will be settled later on ..."
Clifton, when he returned home that evening, gnawed his mustache and clenched his fists with rage. Ah, he would not soon forget his arrival in London! To get there and be chucked! Was that what he had come from New York for? To see Lily's place at the Castle filled by another troupe of the Hauptmanns—the Hauptmanns again, those fat freaks!—and nothing to be said or done?
"Engagement not valid. Ought at least to have waited for the London agency's signed contract before leaving!"
Intent upon his vexations of the moment, he described his day to Mrs. Clifton. What had staggered him, done for him, was his visit to the agent, where they hadn't seemed to know Lily!
He had rushed at once to others, just to show them who Miss Lily was! But he got the same reply wherever he went:
"Lily? Who's Lily? A Maori? Let's see the photograph."
And would Mrs. Clifton ever believe, asked the indignant Pa, what they said when they handed him back the photograph? Yes, to him, the father, to his face, they said:
"She's too thin, that Lily of yours!" "If that's the way they welcome British subjects returning to the mother-country, it's jolly encouraging, on my word it is!" concluded Clifton.
Ma, among the open boxes, listened and said nothing; she was exasperated. Their entry into the metropolis struck her, too, as anything but triumphal. For all her dislike of those breakneck trades, for all her contempt for the bike, she displayed even more anxiety than Pa. With those fat freaks at the Castle and if engagements continued scarce, how would they manage, later on, lost in that huge London, with no money, and a child to feed? Her vanity was wounded as well. She had dreamed of dazzling her sister-in-law, making them all burst with jealousy over the splendid engagement at the Castle; and now everything was slipping from their hands, on the very day of their arrival, and there was nothing for them but to sit at home and keep quiet.
But Pa, the next day, tore through London like one possessed, grinding his teeth and clenching his fists, railing at everybody, himself included. He thought of Lily, who had lost a week on the voyage and who was now messing about in the house, instead of practising her bike. This idea pursued him, clung to him; but his perseverance was indomitable, his courage ready to face anything or anybody. Lily should perform at the Castle! She had come to perform there and perform there she should! There were more visits to the agents, to this one and that one, to one and all, indefatigable visits. Clifton insisted on his Lily's merits, pulled out his pocket-book, bursting with press-cuttings, offered to prove his statements. The agent, on his side, had made inquiries. Lily was very clever for her age: a little thin, it was true, but very graceful; and the New Zealander on Wheels ought to get on. Clifton would work up her turn, no doubt. And, at last, Pa obtained a promise in writing—and signed—of an engagement in eight months' time ... at the Castle, damn it!
An engagement in eight months was better than nothing; but what to do in the meanwhile? It wasn't the money question that bothered him; Pa had money; but Lily worried him: he wanted work for Lily, bike all the time and hard at it. Now, London was closed to him; he couldn't let her perform in London before appearing at the Castle; that was in the contract; and there was nothing for the provinces.
His tenacity continued to do him good service. He got a few offers, in the London suburbs; that could do him no harm, he knew, though his Lily did appear at Dulwich, Deptford or West Ham: who would think of going there to discover that shrimp?... damn their impudence! And meantime the shrimp would work and her day would come, you pack of fat freaks, you!
Pa, on the whole, was satisfied. To show Lily, that was all he asked for! He was quieter, now that she could practise. And Lily, also, was delighted and relieved. At first it was jolly, doing nothing; but to be always at home with Ma had its drawbacks; only the other day, because she had asked for a tam-o'-shanter with a feather in it, like those she saw the little girls wear in the street, she had nearly had a box on the ear, the extravagant little beast, who would bring them all to the workhouse!
Better biking with Pa, from morning till night, and only coming home after the show. Besides, away from the work, Pa was nice to her: a packet of sweets here, a bunch of violets there; and then there were the train journeys out of London and back, over the roofs: all those little yellow houses, with white curtains, and those little back yards, no bigger than that—real dolls' houses, all alike—and such lots of little chimneys, such lots and lots of little chimneys; and those gorgeous posters: Hippodrome, Olympia, Bovril, mustard, elephants, the Hauptmanns. Pa wouldn't look at them, those fat freaks; but, oh, if he had them here—and a whip—just for five minutes ... and the chance of saying a word or two! To think that they were working at the Castle, while he was puffing out to the suburbs! And he racked his brain, as he traveled over the town—that town which he had to conquer and which was veiled from him between-whiles by the curtain of posters in the railway-stations, on the hoardings, everywhere—again, again; and imperial troupes and royal troupes, endless troupes, arrays of pink tights, lines of legs uplifted amid a flight of scarlet skirts, alternating with Sunlight and Van Houten and national and colonial troupes, loud as a trumpet-blare and with nothing behind them, he dared say....
Those "troupes," those "families"—he turned it all over in his mind—yes, they judged talent by weight; the public wanted a lot for its money: well, why shouldn't he have a troupe? Why not? Lily—he had noticed it in the few shows she had given—Lily didn't cut much of a figure in London: five stone of flesh and bones, a mite, a minnow, a nothing. Well, if Lily wasn't enough by herself, he'd give them more: a whole troupe, if need be! Why, he'd set about it at once!
With his customary determination, yielding to a fixed idea, he devoted himself to it. And, in the halls, at the agents', in the bars, at the Internationale Artisten-Klause in Lisle Street, that universal meeting-place, Pa, ever on the watch, strove to make people talk, listened with all his ears, took notes. It was very difficult to get at the real facts; one had to ferret them out; the owners of the troupes jealously concealed their methods, endeavored to put you off, talked of apprentices at five or six shillings a day, plus food and expenses. Pa saw through these tricks and, to arrive at the truth, discounted the six shillings down to sixpence. Lily, her Pa's own daughter, easily obtained information from the apprentices themselves which she afterward repeated to him. He studied The Era, the paper of the Profession, got the names by heart: the managers, the "Pas", the "bosses", the "profs." He got acquainted with some of them personally. Old Martello, for instance, the father of Ave Maria and the "Bambinis." Martello could have given Pa hints; but he no longer interested himself in anything except his Bambinis, whom the poor man, grown calm with age and overwork, was now spoiling. The rest left him indifferent; he hardly listened, spoke in short sentences, like a man too old to care:
"Train apprentices? What's the good? Run a troupe? Pooh, madness!"
Pa thought this exclusive admiration very touching, but it wasn't what he wanted and, madness or not, damn it, he was resolved to carry out his idea to the end!
There were imperial and royal troupes, "Risleys," carpet acrobats, pyramids of tumblers, some of them undergoing an apprenticeship of cuffs and thumps. Pa was not interested in these methods, did not approve of them; he had never knocked Lily about, never let her fall on purpose—"Have I, Lily?"—whereas in the imperial and royal they sent the apprentice sprawling on his back, just to teach him, when he started wrong.
Still, all these were boys; and it was the little girls that interested him, for he meant to have only girls among his apprentices. The rest wasn't his damned business; but the different troupes of Roofer girls, for instance, affected him directly: where did old Roofer fish those girls out? That's what Pa wanted to know. He had even, in order to visit the school, pretended to bring Lily as a pupil. He had seen the place in Broad Street, where they turned out "sisters" by the gross; had watched the squads in knickerbockers, scattered over the immense room, like recruits drilling in a barrack-yard: groups engaged in club-swinging, juggling, clog-dancing, all together, a tangle of different movements timed "one, two, three!" Roofer chose among the heap, sorted out the sizes, called this lot the Merry Wives, that lot the Crazy Things, christened them after an insect or a flower, packed them up in lots of ten or twelve girls, with snub-noses or Greek profiles, as preferred, despatched them, carriage-paid, C. O. D., with words, music and muslin skirts complete, and received every day a detailed account of his Honeysuckles and Bees, scattered all over the world, from the Klondike to Calcutta.
This superlative organization produced upon Pa the effect of a state affair; it was something beyond him, above him; it interested him especially from the recruiting point of view; and what stimulated him above all was the troupes of trick cyclists. He had seen plenty of them in America, but then, wholly occupied as he was with his Lily, they did not interest him, whereas now he was seeking to fathom their lives, so that he might know. Some of them, who went cheap, slept three in a bed, niggers and whites all mixed; others, who were well paid, lived easily and comfortably and put themselves forward with less work and for more money than Lily, Lily who possessed artistic talent, and who had toiled harder than all the rest of them put together! Patience, his turn would come ... when she was a bit less thin. And he would have the troupe of troupes, he'd show them, jolly soon!
Mrs. Clifton was terrified at her husband's boldness, but dared not protest; however, she observed that it was a big undertaking.
"We shall have five apprentices," interrupted Clifton, "six including Lily. We must find lodgings."
"Don't you think...?"
As for the apprentices, he would see to that to-morrow. Ma suggested that her sister-in-law's daughter might do, but Pa wouldn't have relatives at any price—blubbering for a smacking bestowed upon their daughters—he knew all about them, thank you. Let such sheep bleat elsewhere. No, give him strangers. He could be freer with them and get as many as he wished. An advertisement in The Daily Mail—"Wanted, young girls for trick cycling," followed by the address—fetched them the same day. The pavement before the house was blocked with white aprons, sailor-hats and tam-o'-shanters. There were consumptive-looking girls, long hanks of girls, chunky girls, all crowding outside the door, until the landlady drove them away with her broom and threatened to do as much for Pa and Ma if all the street-arabs of London were to go on soiling her nice white steps.
Pa, for that matter, found nothing in the bunch, not one in twenty that was any good; or else they made exhorbitant demands—two shillings a day those guttersnipes expected—as though shillings were to be had for the asking! But why look so far? There were girls, sometimes, at the back entrances of the theaters: stage-struck kids who devoured Lily with their eyes and looked at Pa as though to say, "Take me, take me!" That's what he wanted, damn it, girls who had the business in their blood and who wouldn't go whining over a professional slap or two, which he dared say he'd have to distribute to make up for lost time.
The first girl whom he engaged he had already seen gazing ecstatically at Lily, as they left the theater, far away down the Mile End Road, and he saw her again, one morning, in front of his house in the very heart of London! He could not believe his eyes. She must have followed his scent, slept on the threshold like a lost dog. Her Pa? Gone away. Her Ma? Dead. Her name? Maud. Her age? Didn't know. Born somewhere in the immensity of Whitechapel, towheaded, round-faced. Nothing to eat for two days. She'd do! He would go to the police-court, get the license later; meantime, he netted her and that was one!
As regards the others, he had to make a selection. He chose them by preference in families which were overstocked with brats, so that one more or less, in the heap, made no difference. He got one this way; that made two! Next, a "local girl," seized with ambition, came and offered herself. Three! He found two others: a little Beak Street shop-girl and a Shoreditch Jewess. That made five. It did not take him long to judge the girls. He gave them a few days' trial before signing a contract; and what an anxiety for them, Mr. Clifton's final decision! If one trembled too much, was caught holding Pa's shoulder for no reason, for fear of falling, or blubbered because of a scratch on the skin, her fate was settled.
"Pack up, my lady," Pa would say quite calmly.
There was no getting out of it: off she had to go, before dinner, and home she went, through the gloomy streets, after a brief glimpse of paradise.
He had to replace some of them: they were slack; or else, independent at times, they looked at him for the least push, as if they would fly at his throat. He asked himself whether he wouldn't be compelled to get some over from Germany or else to pick up on the highroads, in the Gipsies' caravans, children with skins tanned like donkeys', a troupe of blackamoors on wheels, who, perched up on the handle-bars of the bikes, would have looked like cockroaches mounted as brooches, damn it!
However, by dint of selection, he ended by having only good ones left; and then he made a contract in due form with the parents for three years, or even five, such was his faith in the future. A few pence a week to the family, a few pence to the baggage herself: he to dress, lodge and board her and engage to make an artiste of her. Everything was provided for: during the training, just the board and the rest; when she began to work, a shilling a day in addition. Over and above, she would be looked after by a lady, Mrs. Clifton. Was that all right? Both parties signed; the girl was an artiste, became a New Zealander.
They brought their little wardrobe: one spare chemise, on the average, one pair of stockings; their only protection against the weather was the dress they had on, a factory-girl's ulster and a tam-o'-shanter. Later on, when performing, they would be entitled to a celluloid collar, satinette knickers and pumps.
Pa, though at first he took one extra room and then two in the same house and though he also made his apprentices sleep three in a bed, Pa soon found himself cramped. It would have been nice to have a little house somewhere in good air, next door to the country. But there was one thing which made Pa decide to remain in the West Central district. Jimmy, the young electrician with whom Lily used to chat on shipboard, had given up traveling. Harrasford and his architect had noticed him on board and the great man had engaged him to manage the electric installation of his theaters. Jimmy had taken possession of a lodging in Gresse Street, Tottenham Court Road. He slept over the shop, which, for the rest, served him rather as a place in which to keep the tools for his outside work. Pa often ran upon him in the neighborhood and had a nodding acquaintance with him which turned out to be useful, as Jimmy, being in Harrasford's employment, was more or less at home in the variety-theaters and nothing was easier than for him to obtain leave for Clifton to practise on the stage. This it was that persuaded Clifton to settle in the west end. In any case, it would be cheaper than dragging the six girls and himself daily from one end of London to the other. The house in which he took up his quarters, in Rathbone Place, quite close to Jimmy, was small and dark, but not dear. The upper story was occupied by people who were out all day and the basement served as a lumber room. They would feel quite at home here ... with no old sheep to listen at the keyholes.
And then he would have slept in the parks, if necessary, anywhere, rather than waste more precious time! His Lily, his troupe, before everything. What he had to do was to get a move on. He went so far as to engage a boy, a shoeblack at the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road for the rest of the time, to attend to the bikes and the girls at practice.
Pa gave his mind to the gear, the expenses, the general business. Ma saw to good order, to domestic discipline. It was no longer the quiet life of a Pa and Ma trotting round the world in the company of their one and only bread-winning star. As for Lily, the daughter of the boss and manager, she owed a good example to one and all. In the morning, with Maud, she went down to the kitchen, lit the stove, made the coffee. Next, she carried up the breakfast to Pa and Ma in bed, then distributed their rations to the famished girls. And off they went, all six of them, with Pa following at their heels.
The stage-door gave the apprentices a thrill the first day they entered. The passage, gently sloping, tall and wide, because of the scenery, smelt of elephants and cheap scent. It was blocked with properties, with queer-shaped cases, flat as a slab or round as a ball. There were long, narrow boxes, for the horizontal bars; sometimes a row of wicker coffins, with a ventriloquist's figures inside. And labels from everywhere—Melbourne, Chicago, Berlin, Lisbon—and "Rlys." and "S. S." that made you feel in the hold of a liner, off to foreign ports.
At the end, beyond an iron door, was the stage, very dark, pricked here and there with electric lamps. There were things that glittered with spangles. To the girls it seemed like the Kingdom of Puss-in-Boots or Blue-Beard; but to Lily it was an old story. She was a little like the school-girl in the good days long past, for whom the master was always waiting, cane in hand. The rest she didn't care about.
Nevertheless, huge as the stage was, there was not always room to practise: ponies or elephants would monopolize it for hours at a time. Or else, when Roofer was supplying a ballet, he took up the whole stage, all day long: Lily, secretly delighted, sat down modestly in a corner, so as to be in no one's way. Roofer made his collection of calves and ankles flutter about, followed the new dances with an expert eye, throwing his hat back on his head, mopping his forehead, grumbling, finding fault:
"Don't eat chocolates while you're dancing, you, Eva! Hi, you, Gwendolen!"
And, to emphasize his remarks, he threw his felt hat at them.
"Silly old ass!" thought Pa, with a grin. "To think you can train artistes like that. You'll use up fifty hats, you old fool, while my belt remains as good as new!"
For that was now Pa's system, the strap—"a la Mexico!"—not that he used it often nor very hard; but he terrorized Lily with it and the other girls were afraid of it, too, though they never got more than the threat, seeing that they were apprentices, who might have run away if he had struck out.
All this did not prevent them from working with a will—trot, trot, trot—when there was no Roofer on the stage and no elephants or ponies: yoop, on to the bikes and the fun began! The sight of Pa training his star made the apprentices shake in their knickers. Lily was to do everything and to do it very well: Pa ran after her, in a never-ending circle, and, from the corner of his eye, watched Tom, who held the girls and made them work, upon his instructions; and when they got off their bikes to wipe their foreheads:
"Bravo, Miss Woolly-legs!" said Pa sarcastically. "Tired, eh? Dead, eh? Suppose you tried to get up again ... and be quick about it! And as for you, Tom, don't let them fall, or I'll catch you one on the side of the head!"
For Pa already knew by experience that their little ladyships shirked work; that they shook with fright; that they lost confidence after a bad fall; and that then it was finished, nothing to be done with them: they'd let themselves be killed sooner.
Maud, for instance, that Jonah, ever after one day she had seen her blood flow, trembled before her bike like a sheep that scents the slaughter-house. It was no use Pa's threatening her with his belt: she wouldn't let herself go, on the contrary, held on to everything, no matter what, for fear of falling. He ought to have sent her away long ago; he would pack her off that very night ... and made no bones about telling her so, that Jonah!
Then Pa, giving Lily a rest, occupied himself with the girls: taught them the principle of the standstill, of side-riding, of the "swan," of the "frog." And,—quickly!—the indefatigable Pa went back to Lily, made her begin a trick ten times, twenty times over, so great was his rage at the lost time, the elephants, the Hauptmanns, Roofer. He pulled faces, clenched his fists:
"Why don't you do as I say when I tell you, damn it!"
"But, Pa, I can't!" protested Lily.
"You can, if you like," said Pa, exasperated this time and unbuckling his belt.
Crash! A heap behind him, a medley of limbs and steel fittings! Maud, who was still trying, on her bike, startled by Pa's threatening movement, had fallen flat down.
"Maud again! That damned Jonah!" cried Pa, going up to her. "Well, Miss Woolly-legs, do you mean to stay there all night?"
But she did not move; and, when they had disentangled her from the bike, Pa saw an eye that was quite red and a little stream of blood trickling down her cheek.
"Let's look!" said Pa anxiously.
A spoke sprung from the felly had scratched her eye.
It was a serious accident. Sprained wrists, barked shins didn't count; but a spoke in the eye.... Luckily, Maud had no relations; there was no claim to be feared: not a vestige of old sheep on the mother's side. Pa said all this to himself as he ran to the chemist, and Lily consoled poor Maud as best she could, said that, after all, it was part of the game: she'd know better another time, eh? She'd be a great star yet, eh, Maud?
The poor maimed thing lifted her face to Lily, stammered through her tears that it was nothing ... all right again now ... Pa's fault, with his belt.
"For a little thing like that!" said Lily, laughing. "Fancy falling from your bike for that! Why, I'd rather have twenty 'contracts on the back' than lose an eye."
For that was what it amounted to. Pa realized it, after he had dressed the wound. Clifton's mind was not at ease: a glass eye was not a very difficult matter ... but, who knows, some callous person might inform Harrasford, who stood no nonsense on that subject. Fortunately the artistes present had not paid much attention ... had hardly noticed anything, in the dim light of the stage....
And soon after the New Zealanders were walking back to Rathbone place with Maud in their midst, her head a roll of bandages, leaning on Lily's arm.
It was a pathetic home-coming. Ma had told them what would happen! That would teach them to take in vagabonds from the streets. Mrs. Clifton thought that, in a respectable house....
"That'll do," said Pa, dropping into the easy-chair in the dining-room. "I'm worn out. If you'd been like me, Mrs. Clifton, running after those Woolly-legs all the morning"—and he pointed to the apprentices standing round the table—"gee, you wouldn't talk so much! I'll take Maud to the hospital this afternoon; it's only a trifle. Is dinner ready?"
"Come along, then, all of you Woolly-legs," said Pa jovially.
Pa was sorry for poor Maud, as a rule, but he felt a need to shed a little gaiety, to extenuate the accident as far as possible, to turn it into a joke, so as to prevent his girls from being panic-stricken. He talked of heads smashed to a jelly, of legs in smithereens, of a bicyclist who had had not one, but both eyes caught in the chain. As for himself, when he was a small boy—that was in the time when they brought up artistes, real ones, mind you; not, as nowadays, on sugar and sweets; no, real ones, on the whip and the stick, damn it!—why, the accidents which he'd seen! Yes, he himself, to go no farther, he could have shown them, here, there, there, here, damn it, all over his body, scars deep enough to put your finger in!
"Eh? Frightens you, does it? Never fear," added Pa, in a good-humored voice, "that sort of thing won't happen to any of you Woolley-legs; a good Irish stew is better than a kick of the pedal, eh?"
And Pa, after a last cup of strong tea, dismissed the girls, lit his pipe, threw himself into the easy-chair, with his legs long out in front of him; but soon:
"Well, Maud, what is it? What are you crying for now? I tell you, I'll buy you a glass one," said Pa, at the sight of Maud, who blubbered silently and sat glued to her chair instead of getting up to go.
Poor lost dog! Clifton, at the theater, had threatened to send her away. She knew what that meant: leaving Miss Lily, losing those good meals....
Maud faltered something about packing up; pain in her eye; not her fault.
"So what you want is to stay with us?" asked Pa.
"Oh!" gasped Maud.
"Well, then, stay! But no more bike; you shall be Lily's lady's maid," said Pa, puffing at his pipe.
It went down so well, as an effort of dry humor, that Ma could not help laughing. But Mr. Clifton was talking seriously. Then Ma, amazed, protested: what, a servant in her house! A lady's maid for Lily! He would end by giving her the moon! And what would Lily do all day? She'd sit twiddling her thumbs! Had Mr. Clifton thought of that?
Yes, Mr. Clifton had thought of it. He was too tired to explain his reasons; but take it from him, it was best like that. Pa, in fact, feared lest that smashed eye might prove a worry to him: the papers weren't in order. He had made no declaration to the police; there was the Workmen's Compensation Act.... Much better keep Maud safe in the house, for a while ...
"Lily won't sit twiddling her thumbs for all that, will you, Lily?" continued Pa, smiling to his star.
A touch of the brush and comb, a stroll through the streets with the girls, by leave of Pa, who wished Lily to take the air, then home again, more housework.... The apprentices, who did not yet perform in public, were sent to bed early, while Lily, escorted by Pa, went off to East, West, South or North London. An hour to get there; then undress, dress, appear on the stage under Pa's eye, undress and dress again; another hour to get back; a morsel of cold Irish stew, a cup of tea; and drowsily up to her room and bed....
Ma's voice woke her with a start in the morning. Lily dressed quickly and quickly ran down-stairs to the kitchen, where Maud had gone before her; and it was the same thing every day, except on tour, when discipline was less strict. It had gone on for months and months, for two years, ever since they came to London. Pa, with his iron will, had overcome everything. He felt at home in the old country, at last. After his engagements in the London suburbs, he had obtained a triumph at the Castle, a Bill and Boom tour of forty weeks, a season at Blackpool, the Harrasford tour now, successes everywhere. Before his boyish little girls, before his own particular troupe, the fat freaks trembled in their knickers! For Clifton, the new-comer, but yesterday unknown, it was an unhoped-for success and fame and fortune.
Ma nearly always remained in London with Maud. Lily was not big enough yet to need the supervision of a Ma. Therefore, on tour,—when she was not practising with her Pa,—Lily did the catering, saw to the porridge and the Irish stew; Pa was not hard to please. Provided Lily was "great" on the stage, he asked for nothing more. Dishes burned for want of butter, salad mixed in the wash-hand basin: he swallowed everything with an appetite, ate standing, with his plate on the trunk, or else seated with the girls round a little table hardly large enough for three. This Bohemian life pleased him. He loved youth, gaiety and good fellowship. He was fond of a laugh, took Lily on his knee after dinner, played with her, praised her home-made cakes, her tough chops, and then began talking bike to Lily ... who hated bikes, and who got something different from a hat flung at her, when she missed a trick.
No matter, hard as it was, she preferred touring to staying in London. The work was the same, but, at least, it was a change. She was spoiled by every one, down to that landlady who cried when she left.... After all there were many worse off than she, everlastingly set about by "profs," confined to their rooms all day to practise their balancing; she had had a taste of it in New York; no, thank you! She preferred having good times with the girls, practical jokes, boxing-matches even, scrimmages, pillow-fights. In the boarding-houses, they flirted with the boys; they kept pet pigeons, white mice, a lizard; they exchanged secrets, stories of every country, professionals all! Sometimes, they consoled one another; promised to send kisses—x x x—on post-cards. And then there were new faces, always; a week in each town, no longer; a real life of adventure from one end of England to the other. Now it wasn't like that in London; she felt less free there. Ma was particular and hard to please; there were no pillow-fights, no romps; Ma hated those ways. The stage, yes, she put up with that because it was Lily's profession; but one came in contact with all sorts there; and that little devil of a Lily was wicked enough already! It took all the home influence to thwart the bad examples which she received outside; and it was Ma's business to see to it.
The house in Rathbone Place had been smartened up. There was a dining-room which was used only for meals and which never had a bed put into it at night. There were things on what-nots: little photograph-frames, loose photographs, lucky charms, china cups; all shining and bright, thanks to the adjunction of a lady's maid, as Pa called Maud, in his funny way. At first, after the accident, it was terrible. Her natural awkwardness was made worse by a glass eye; she could not tell one side from the other, spilt the tea on the cloth, broke the crockery. Maud did the heavy work, washed and scrubbed all day long. When the girls were in London, she went with them to the theater, as dresser. Maud stood in the wings and admired the New Zealanders whirling about in the light. She stretched out her face in ecstasy toward Lily: that Lily who had traveled everywhere, who was born so far away, in a land full of monkeys and parrots. She followed Lily to her dressing-room, trotted after her like a dog, worshiped her open-mouthed.
Lily had ripened out, was becoming more beautiful, more of a woman daily, despite the fact that her Pa still treated her like a kid. She no longer looked at things from the point of view of the child-girl who had been delighted with a satin hair-ribbon in India; now her pride was not appeased with such trifles. Ma, according to Lily, seemed ashamed of her, dressed her badly: an odd skirt here, an odd frock there, of a cheap make. That was not what Lily wanted. She was an artiste: she wanted a hat with big feathers and a gown with gold braid to it; but, when she showed Ma a dress which she liked in the shop windows, Ma would exclaim:
"What do you want with that? My poor Lily, you must be mad! That's for rich little girls, girls who have time to be pretty; it wouldn't suit you at all. Why, if we listened to you, we'd soon be in the workhouse!"
Ma always said no, pretending that she had no money; whereas Lily knew to the contrary. She knew that the troupe earned a great deal and that the troupe was herself. The other day, at the theater, she had heard her aunt, who felt bitter that Mr. Clifton had not accepted her daughter Daisy—who could have learned the business and later on have starred by herself!—she had heard that "old sheep" say, speaking of her:
"What a shame to dress her like that! A girl who brings them in capital to invest!"
So Pa was investing capital. She didn't exactly know what investing capital meant; no doubt it meant making a lot of money. She asked for none of it! Children belong to their parents! But she would have liked to be treated with more consideration, to be spoiled; to get presents, nice things. She had plenty from her Pa, true enough: presents, my! But they were cheap gifts, for all that.... She was always having promises made her of more important things; and the promises were never kept: that big gold watch, for instance. She had a thirsting for luxury. It seemed to her that she was being treated like a performing dog, not a bit better. Ma, without exactly knowing, but with an infallible instinct, saw all this budding under that obstinate brow. Mr. Clifton might see nothing in it; but it was not so easy to take in a mother! Was there a love affair beneath it all, Ma asked herself. No, not yet; it might come later on, as with that apprentice who had run away, or that other one whom she had had to send packing for being too free with men. But Lily would not leave them like that.
She did not let her go out. "Glass-eye Maud" ran the errands and Lily stayed at home, like a good little girl of whom her mother wished to make a lady. When she did happen to go out, she must not be long, or else it was, "Where have you been? Tell me at once!" At the theater, when Pa lost his temper, she could reckon on a mighty fillip, and then it was over: Pa was sorry, rather than otherwise. Ma, on the contrary, would nag for hours; muttered inarticulate phrases about "devil," "wild bull," and "taming her;" there was no end to it. Lily champed the bit! A star, indeed! Was that being a star? She thought differently! She had seen others drive up to the theater in their motors, accompanied by gentlemen carrying flowers, like that famous "M'dlle" at the Palace. Yes, those were stars: they dined at the Horse Shoe and did not spend their time in useless housework. Oh, she was quite sick and tired of that life! She'd had enough of it. Meanwhile, the days passed and the weeks and it was always the same thing: housework and stage-work; work, work, work....
It was late that morning; they were not practising. Pa had run down on the previous day to see a troupe of cyclists, the famous Pawnees, who were back from the Continent, on their way to New York, and performing that week at the Brighton Hippodrome. Lily was in her room later than usual, as Ma was not awake. Maud had gone down to the kitchen. The apprentices were getting up, joking with one another, like tom-boys used to sharing the same bed at home, the same room at the theater, to dressing, undressing, splashing about naked in the same bath-tub.
"Get up, Lily," said one of them, laughing and raising her sturdy little hand. "Get up, or...."
"No," said Lily, "let me alone, I'm dead."
As it happened, on the day before there had been a general tumble, six in a row, on the back-wheel; one of them, losing her balance, had dragged the others with her and the lot had fallen flat in a tangle of steel and flesh. Bucking Horse, Old Jigger, Street Donkey—the nicknames they gave their bikes—had kicked them to the raw. They showed one another the bruises on their limbs: "Oh, don't it hurt, just!" "What about mine?" "Look here!" like young recruits bragging of their wounds after the skirmish.
And Lily washed quickly, put on her frock and ran down-stairs to prepare the coffee, but her Ma stopped her on her way.
"Lily, you light the fire."
"What about Maud?" said Lily. "Why can't Maud do it?"
"You young impudence," ... said Ma; "Maud has gone to Jimmy's to take the bike which Tom couldn't get to him yesterday; he was shut. It's the bike you spoiled, you little bedlamite!"
Lily had to laugh at the thought of Maud struggling with Old Jigger: Maud, who couldn't lead the machine by the handle-bar, or even walk beside it, without barking her shins.
"Why!" cried Lily. "She'll explain everything wrong to Jimmy, and the bike will be no use!"
"Well, then, go yourself," said Ma, after a pause. "And mind you, come back quickly; don't go loitering in the street; and don't stay long with that drunkard."
Gresse Street, where Jimmy lived, was quite as dreary as Rathbone Place: here and there, a few posters on the walls; some low-fronted shops, displaying sweets and candies, or else a dazzling case of oranges on the muddy pavement; alleys, stables, cab-yards....
It was here that Jimmy had his workshop, or rather his tool-store, for he did not do much work there. The time which his occupation at the theater left him he devoted to improving himself. Electricity and its manifold uses held his interest. There was no doubt that, had he given all his time to it, he would have become very clever, for he had an inventor's brain and, moreover, possessed an astonishing manual skill for altering and perfecting things. He worked in copper and steel, was glad to make and repair bikes for a few customers, the New Zealanders, among others. While working, he brewed all manner of plans in his brain. They all revealed a practical intelligence. Saddle-supports which reduced the shaking on a bike, improved carriage-springs and so on; and, on the stage, inventions to dispense with men in the flies and wings; to work everything—scenery, curtain, lime-light—by means of the switchboard; and ever so many other things....
Since joining the theater, Jimmy had naturally undergone the influence of the stage. It had affected his ideas, with all its new-fangled "turns," which owed their success to a maximum of daring—or bluff—coupled with a minimum of scientific knowledge: illusionists basing their effects upon the reflections of invisible mirrors and the cunning use of combined lights; "looping the loop," "circles of death," in which sheer weight did the cyclist's work for him, his arrival at a given point depending upon his accelerated and calculated speed. From seeing so many of this sort scouring the world—erstwhile acrobats, former laboratory-students, who now, venturing all and risking all, topped the bills at the music-halls—Jimmy, greatly interested in this scientific side, had himself made researches in that direction. Engineering and other journals had printed some of his schemes, including that of an apparatus based upon the notion of exterior ballistics: the resistance of the air proportional to the square of the velocity and, according to this velocity, the exact proportion of the angle of incidence to the angle of projection. Theoretically, it was perfect; in reality there might be some unexpected hitch. It was a question for the venturesome performer, who allowed himself to be projected by a series of powerful springs, to fall accurately from pedestal to pedestal, preserving a faultless balance; in a word, to risk his life six times in as many seconds. The daring of a Laurence and the agility of a Lily combined would not have been enough for the task; and so Jimmy had prudently contented himself with pinning his diagrams on the walls of the workshop and dismissing the idea from his mind. Not that he was afraid, rather not; but simply because it appeared impossible to him.
Other plans had interested him, besides; flying machines, for instance, etc. He was a real enthusiast about flying machines! One day, perhaps, when he knew more ... to say nothing of the theater, which did not leave him much leisure; yet he managed, somehow, for he took but little sleep and the rest of the time he devoted to study.
This was the Jimmy of whom Ma made a bugbear to Lily—in Lily's interest—for he was one of the few men whom she saw often; and you can never tell ... with those devils of the stage....
Meanwhile, Lily, as soon as she had turned the corner of the street, drew herself up and, with a light step, went down Percy Street and Tottenham Court Road, instead of keeping straight on. It took her only five minutes longer and it suggested luxury, fine shops, handsome furniture, patent-leather shoes. She adored shopping, even if it was only with the eyes, through the plate-glass windows.
She loved to pass in front of the Horse Shoe, where stars lived, real ones, not performing dogs. And then, round a piece of waste land, there was a hoarding covered with advertisements that interested her: the Hippodrome, the Kingdom, the Castle were displayed between extract of beef and mustard; and there were always new programs; always new names; and elephants, horses, lions; and tights....
Lily looked at this for a few seconds. And, suddenly, she felt a thrill; on a scarlet poster, dazzling as the sun, she read:
"Great success! Trampy Wheel-Pad!! At the Kingdom!!!" Trampy in London!
Not that Lily was astonished: it seemed to her quite simple that he should be there, as simple as for her to be in Chicago, Bombay or Capetown; people do sometimes meet on tour, it all depends: you can be separated for years and then perform at the same theater for months. No, she was not in the least astonished: a little excited, that was all, without exactly knowing why....
"But, if I should meet him," she thought, "what shall I say to him? What will he say to me? Will he think me grown prettier or uglier?"
Lily came to herself again and continued on her errand; crossed Tottenham Court Road, plunged into a labyrinth of blocked alleys, of dark courts, and, suddenly, was at Jimmy's.
Lily did not like him much; she considered him good-looking, for a man, but too shy. He never paid her a compliment. He seemed to think her ugly, whereas many others admired her and made no bones about telling her so, especially since the last few months; but he was ashamed of himself, no doubt: a drunkard, as Ma said.
Poor Lily had no luck. She would have been so happy to be courted, to relieve her boredom. But nothing disgusted her so much as drink. And yet it didn't show in Jimmy. He always walked straight, never fell, like that head-balancer who, the other night, had come tumbling down from his perch. Besides, that one had an excuse; he drank because he was crossed in love; to forget, they said. Lily forgave everything the moment there was love in it; but an icicle like Jimmy, who loved nobody and who drank for the sake of drinking ... ugh!
Jimmy was at work when Lily entered. The small, dark shop, crammed with things in steel, with loose wheels, queer-shaped objects, reminded Lily of a property store, only it was dirtier. There were tools everywhere; designs for machinery pinned on the walls; it was all very ugly.
And Jimmy's greeting was none too engaging either. A curt smile—"Glad to see you, Miss Lily"—and, as for the bike, he hadn't understood a word of what the one-eyed creature who had just left had tried to say.
"I thought as much," said Lily, laughing. "That's why I came."
And, in a few words, she explained what she wanted. First, repair the twisted frame; next, a slight alteration for a new trick; a step here, another there.
"Always fresh tricks, Lily?"
"Always, Jimmy. No end of bruises, I tell you!"
"It's part of the game," said Jimmy.
"I should like to see you try it," retorted Lily contemptuously, "squeezing through the frame while it's going, with that pedal barking your back," and she rubbed herself as she spoke. "Only yesterday I got a kick; gee! It's like those new tricks in which I don't feel safe: riding with one foot on the saddle and the other on the bar and playing a banjo; it makes me shiver as I go past the footlights; and Pa watching me, you know; and, if I lose my balance, I get black and blue somewhere."
"Pooh!" said Jimmy. "One can't expect a white skin at the game."
Lily didn't care for this. If she couldn't be courted, at least she liked to be pitied: that flattered her pride.... It was all very well for Pa to say, "It's part of the game, my little lady." But that josser of a Jimmy, talking like that at his ease!
"I'm glad I'm not your daughter!" she said. "My! You'd be harder than Pa."
"Your Pa is hard, sometimes; but he's very fond of you, for all that."
"Of course," said Lily, "he wouldn't like me to break my neck; I bring him in too much for that, eh?"
"Come," interrupted Jimmy, "don't talk nonsense. It's not right to speak as you're doing. You'll be sorry for it, I'm sure. Tell me, rather: you were saying you wanted a step here, another there; do you mean like this?"
And he rummaged among his tools, looked for loose pieces, showed them to Lily, while thinking of other things:
"Look here," he went on, "do you think you're the only one that's got to work? Suppose you were shut up all day in a factory? Have you ever been to a factory? Do you know the life of a metal-buffer girl at Sheffield, standing in front of her wheel, from morning till night, and work, work, work?"
"But I'm not a work-girl, you great silly! You know I'm an artiste! And, now, shall I tell you what I think of you, Jimmy?" said Lily, pouting. "You're a bad man, that's what you are!"
And thereupon she put out her tongue, turned her back on him and began to look at the walls, the diagrams, the drawings, an illustration out of Engineering.
There was a pause.
Jimmy, while handling the bike, gazed at Lily. There was no sentimentality about Jimmy, but his lively imagination made him see things through and through; and, whatever he might be, Jimmy was not bad. That little Lily: to think that, among all the girls of her own age, she was the only one to do that trick! He pitied her and all child prodigies. To his mind, there was something unsportsmanlike about it; something like a race won by a one-year-old, with jockey, whip and spurs. He did not believe all he heard, of course. He knew, he lived with them, he was one of them. He knew the peculiar mania of the music-hall, the instinctive lie, uttered as if to discourage competition by giving it a fright at the start. To listen to them, it meant the horsewhip, the belt, all day long; going "through the mill," all the time. Among the people with the painted faces, it was a shot at martyrdom, a chance for professional boasting. The most commonplace, the most coddled lives were made more interesting by means of imaginary wounds and scars, like those explorers, in the books, who cross Africa without food or drink, barefooted, with a crocodile snapping at their heels.
He took good care not to exaggerate. Life in the halls was no worse than anywhere else, thank God! It had its good side and its bad side and its professional risks. The "pros," taking them all round, were as good as the "jossers." He wanted to be just. He had seen many who were very happy; one could get anything done by firm kindness. He could also understand, in the terrible struggle for bread, that a man went on toiling hard in the trade in which he was born. A pro could not make a blue-stocking of his daughter; some were born duchesses, on satin; others artistes on the boards. One trade was as good as another; but dangerous practicings, bruised flesh, seamed skins: no, he didn't approve of that. He had seen the Laurences, mad with ambition, beginning all over again, in spite of falls calculated to stave in the stage; had seen girls who "do knots" lying in the dressing-rooms, gasping, exhausted. Even when professional vanity alone prompted such excesses, Jimmy protested within himself; and then there were so many abuses.... Besides, the stage so often spoiled a woman: every branch of the stage, from the highest to the lowest. All that coaxing familiarity! What he said was, if Lily had been his daughter, she should not be on the stage; but there she was and he couldn't help it; and, as it was her natural place to be there, he would not be guilty of the meanness of disgusting a poor girl with the profession which she had been at pains to learn. He preferred to let her call him "a bad man." And that required a certain courage; for it was no longer a child talking to him, but an exquisitely pretty girl. Jimmy could not believe his eyes. What a change! Was it possible? Having been away from London, on Harrasford's service, he had not seen her for many months, except the day before, just in time to shake hands behind the scenes, in the dusk; but here, in his shop, he hardly recognized her, he could not exactly say why. One thing was certain: he had left her a child and he now found her a beautiful girl.
"Tush!" he said to himself. "She's a child for all that. Only, if she keeps on like this, what a handsome woman she will be!"
That familiarity on the stage: he reproached himself for thinking of it; it seemed to him an insult to Lily. And he began to talk to her of different things, kindly and pleasantly, changing from subject to subject. He explained his drawings on the wall, his ideas: exterior ballistics; the resistance of the air; risking his life six times in as many seconds....
"He's drunk," thought Lily.
And, to stop this flow of words, as though talking to herself, Lily said she did not complain; no, she would quite like the bike, if she hadn't got to practise so hard; she only complained that they didn't treat her "fair" at home:
"And look how I'm dressed! I've had the same toque two years. And what do you think of this frock? The material cost four-three a yard. I look like a tenter in it."
Jimmy did not share Lily's indignation. He thought her neatly and nicely dressed, in spite of her performing-dog's toque, as she said. It all suited her so well. But, on examining that clear-cut little face, lifted toward him with a rebellious air, he felt that the fatigue, even the blows didn't count; that the hardest thing, for Lily, was to be "badly dressed;" that she would never swallow that.
"But, look here," said Jimmy, "all this isn't worth making a fuss for; you get cross about nothing at all; when you came, you were all smiles; and now ..."
"That's because," Lily began, with a sly laugh—oh, she was exasperated with Jimmy's coldness! She'd show him, the icicle, and have a bit of fun with him—"on my way here, Jimmy, I met ... now you won't give me away, Jimmy? ... I met my ... sweetheart."
"A sweetheart? You? Lily?"
"Yes, yes, yes," said Lily, nodding her head and looking at him archly, for she could see, by Jimmy's expression, that he was caught.
"And your father and mother know nothing about it?" insisted Jimmy, nonplussed.
"No, no; it doesn't concern them: at my age, a girl earns a living for her Pa and Ma; I have as much right to a sweetheart as any one else, I suppose."
And, greatly amused, she fixed Jimmy with her mocking eyes.
Jimmy stared at her in amazement.
Then she understood that it was not a thing to joke about and that what she had just said was terrible. And, suddenly:
"No, it's not true, Jimmy! I was only laughing! Oh, Jimmy, you're going to give me away!" cried Lily, squeezing Jimmy's arm with a convulsive little hand. "Oh, Jimmy, don't tell Ma, please, please, Jimmy!"
And there was something so sincere in her voice that Jimmy saw that she was speaking the truth, that it was only the jest of a flapper used to the manners of the stage.
"No," he said briskly, "I shan't tell; don't be afraid, Lily; only ..."
"Ah, that's nice of you," said Lily, much relieved. "Marriage! If you only knew! And what would become of the troupe? I shall never marry. I think...."
"Still, some day, it's bound to come," said Jimmy, interrupting her. "You won't spend all your life on a bike. You are sure to marry some day...."
"Don't talk to me about marriage! No, not that. Gee!"
"Love stories! With men! I! And you believed it," said Lily, drawing back her shoulder and raising her hand. "I could smack you, you great silly!" And, all of a sudden, "I must go," she cried, "I've stayed too long; Ma will be waiting for me with her broom!"
And Lily rushed outside, without giving Jimmy time to answer. He could just see her turn the corner of the street.
Jimmy went back to his work, silently, wrapped up in his thoughts. That nice little Lily! She could be easy in her mind. No, he would never be a cause of worry to her....
Meanwhile, Lily ran home as fast as she could and, on entering, saw that it was no use; her Ma was waiting for her, furious.
"Where have you been?"
"Why, I've come straight from Jimmy's, Ma."
"That's a lie! The butcher's boy, who has just left, saw you outside the Horse Shoe. Who were you waiting for?"
"I wasn't waiting for any one!" cried Lily, her eyes blazing with anger.
"You devil!" said Ma, looking round for a stick, an umbrella....
And, when she saw nothing within reach, her anger increased. Then she stiffened her arm and made for Lily, who sprang behind the table....
But Ma, tripping on the carpet, fell at full length, dragging down with her the table-cloth and two cups that were on it.
"My two china cups! You viper!" she yelled.
At that moment, the door opened; Clifton entered. He seemed preoccupied; looked at his watch:
"Nine o'clock. We ought to be at the theater! Where are the girls? And what ... what's all this?" he asked, on seeing the disorder, Mrs. Clifton scrambling up from the floor, Lily scowling in a corner.
Ma grunted an explanation. Two cups broken, Lily a gadabout who would bring them to the grave with shame!
"But, Pa, I was only looking at the posters."
"Posters?" repeated Clifton. "Which posters? What's all this nonsense?"
And, when Ma had told him, interrupted by despairing "But, Pas," and "No, Pas," from Lily, he very calmly asked, was he going to have peace in his own house, or was he not? All this fuss about two broken cups; beating Lily for nothing!
Never, in any circumstances, would Clifton have snubbed Mrs. Clifton like this before Lily. He would have waited until she had gone. But to come upon all this rot when there were so many serious things to discuss! The sisters Pawnee whom he had seen last night: Polly, Edith, Lillian. Yes, that Lillian, damn it, a winged rose! And the things they did on their bike without seeming to touch it!
"My poor Lily," Pa went on, going up to his daughter and stroking her hair. "I'm not saying it to vex you; but you're not in it with the Pawnees! Come on! Beg your Ma's pardon; and let's be off to the theater. I'm in form this morning. We shall have a great practice."
A few minutes later, Pa was hustling his herd before him:
"Quicker, my Woolly-legs! No time to lose!"
He thought of the tricks which he had jotted down the evening before in his note-book. Lily would learn them quick enough: she was as clever as the Pawnees, when all was said, only less graceful. She had the balancing power all right; but grace, grace, damn it, to do a thing like that as though it were child's play: that's what she hadn't got! You saw the effort. And the apprentices had no precision in their groupings. Now the fat freaks had. To combine German discipline with English gracefulness, that was the question; to have the troupe of troupes; to have a Lily who would be worth more by herself than Polly, Edith and Lillian put together. But that meant work and going through the mill! This last made Pa think of the old sheep and their bleatings. He gave a nervous little laugh and his hand had a convulsive movement, as though to strangle those pests.