A DRAMATIC ENGAGEMENT

The Night Club has neither rules nor officials; that is what makes it unique. Bindle, Dick Little and I form a sort of unofficial committee of management. No one questions our rulings, because our rulings are so infrequent as scarcely to be noticeable. One of our great trials, almost our only trial, is the suppression of Angell Herald. He is for ever proposing to introduce intimates of his own, and we are often hard put to it to find excuses for his not being allowed to do so.
One evening he scored heavily against the “committee,” by bringing with him a tall man with long hair, a blue chin and an eye that spoke of a thirst with long arrears to be worked off.
His first remark was “Good evening, gentlemen,” as if he were entering the commercial room of a hotel. Windover screwed his glass firmly into his left eye. Windover’s monocle is always a social barometer—it “places” a man irrevocably. His face never shows the least expression; but it is quite possible to see from his bearing whether or no a new arrival be possible.
“Allow me to introduce my friend, Mr. Leonard Gimp, the actor,” said Angell Herald.
“Haaa! Very pleased to meet you, gentlemen, very pleased indeed, Haaa!” came somewhere from Mr. Gimp’s middle, via his mouth.
As host Dick Little came forward and shook hands: but it was clear from the look in his eye that he shared our homicidal views with regard to Angell Herald.
“Haaa! and how are you, Mr. Little?” enquired Gimp genially.
Little muttered something inaudible to the rest of us.
“That’s right!” said Gimp in hearty but hollow tones. “What wonderful weather we’re having,” he continued beaming upon the rest of us, as if determined to put us at our ease.
“Wonderful weather,” he repeated.
He was a strange creature, with ill-fitting garments and soiled linen. Before he began to speak he said “Haaa!” When he had finished speaking he said “Haaa!” If he had nothing at all to say, which was seldom, he said “Haaa!” His air was confidential and his manner friendly. It was obvious that he strove to model himself on the late Sir Henry Irving. The world held for him only one thing—the Drama; and the Drama only one interpreter—himself.
Gimp sat down and, stretching out his legs, bent over and stroked them from instep to loins, beaming upon us the while.
“May I offer you a cigarette?” he queried, picking up a box from the mantelpiece and proffering to Dick Little one of his own cigarettes.
Gimp seemed to be under the impression that he had come to entertain us and he began to talk. His sentences invariably began with “Haaa! I remember in 1885,” or some other date, and we quickly learned that with him dates were a danger signal.
His idea of conversation was a monologue. As we sat listening, we wondered how we should ever stop the flow of eloquence. He plunged into a memory involving a quotation from a drama in which, as far as we could gather, he had made one of the greatest hits the theatrical world had ever witnessed. His enthusiasm brought him to his feet. We sat and smoked and listened, mutely conscious that the situation was beyond us.
Angell Herald was the only man present, besides Gimp himself, who seemed to be satisfied. The rest of us felt that there was only one hope, and that lay in Bindle, who was unaccountably late. Bindle, we felt sure, would be able to rise to the occasion, and he did.
Gimp had reached a most impassioned scene in which the heroine denounces the villain, who is a coiner. Bindle entered the room unobserved by Gimp. For a few moments he stood watching the scene with intense interest. Gimp had reached the climax of the scene in which the heroine says to the villain, “Go! Your heart is as base as the coins you make.” He paused, pointing dramatically in the direction of Windover.
“‘Ullo! ‘Amlet,” said Bindle genially from behind.
Gimp span round as if he had been shot, and gazed down at Bindle in indignant surprise.
“Cheero! Where’d you spring from?” continued Bindle.
“Sir?” said Gimp.
“Your wrong,” said Bindle, “it’s plain Joe Bindle, Sir Joseph later perhaps; but not yet.”
Bindle smiled up innocently at Gimp, who gazed round him as if seeking for some explanation of Bindle’s presence, then a weak and weary smile fluttered across his features, and he walked over to the side-board and mixed himself a whisky and soda.
We seized the opportunity to break off Gimp’s demonstrations of his histrionic powers. We gave him a cigar, and every time he started “Haaa! I remember in 18——” somebody butted in and cut him short.
That evening Bindle was in a wicked mood. He flagrantly encouraged Gimp to talk “shop,” “feeding the furnace of his self-conceit,” as Dare whispered across me to Sallie.
“I went to the theatre last week,” said Bindle with guile, “but I didn’t see you there, sir.”
“Haaa! no!” said Gimp, “I’m restin’.”
“Sort o’ worn out,” said Bindle sympathetically.
Gimp looked sharply at Bindle, who gazed back with disarming innocence. “Haaa! a nervous breakdown,” he replied.
“To judge by his nose, neuritis of the elbow,” said Carruthers sotto voce.
“What was the piece you saw, J.B.?” enquired Roger Blint.
“Frisky Florrie. Them plays didn’t ought to be allowed. Made me ‘ot all over, it did.” Then turning to Gimp he added, “I’m surprised at you, sir, sayin’ there ain’t nothink like the drama.”
“That is not the Deraaama,” cried Gimp. “That’s a pollution,” his filmy eyes rolled and he jerked his head backwards in what was apparently the dramatic conception of indignation.
“Fancy that, an’ me not knowin’ it,” was Bindle’s comment.
“Haaa!” said Gimp.
“Won’t you say one o’ your pieces for us, sir?” enquired Bindle. “I’d like to ‘ear real drama.”
Gimp looked blankly at Bindle.
“J.B. means won’t you recite,” explained Dare in even tones.
Gimp was on his feet instantly, vowing that he was delighted. For a moment he was plunged in deep thought, his chin cupped in his left hand, the elbow supported by the palm of his right hand. It was extremely effective. Suddenly he gave utterance to the inevitable “Haaa!” and we knew that the gods had breathed inspiration upon him.
Straightening himself, he shot his hands still further through his already short coat sleeves, and gazed round. Raising his left hand he cried—
“Haaa! Shakespeare.”
Then he broke out into
“Ferends, Rhomans, Cohuntrymen lehend me your eeeeeeears.”
Quintilian was thrown overboard: for there was nothing restrained in Leonard Gimp’s declamation. His arms waved like flails, his legs, slack at the knee, took strides and then “as you were’d” with bewildering rapidity. It was ju-jitsu, foils and Swedish drill all mixed up together. One moment he was exhorting Windover, the next he was telling Sallie in a voice that throbbed like the engaged signal on the telephone how “gerievously hath Cæsar paid for it.” The emotion engendered by the munificence of Cæsar’s will produced a new action, which broke an electric globe and, midst the shattering of glass, the doom of Brutus was sealed.
“That is Shakespeare’s Deraaama,” he declared, as he resumed his seat and proceeded once more to stroke his legs.
It was clear to all of us that something had to be done, and it was Dick Little who did it.
Jocelyn Dare is a magnificent elocutionist, although he can seldom be prevailed upon to recite. To-night, however, he readily responded to Dick Little’s invitation. He selected Henry V’s exhortation to the troops before Harfleur. After Gimp’s vigorous demonstration, Dare’s almost immobile delivery seemed like calm after a storm. He looked a picturesque figure as he stood, from time to time tossing back the flood of black hair that cascaded down his forehead. He has a beautiful voice, deep, resonant, flexible and under perfect control.
Bindle seemed hypnotised. His pipe forgotten he leaned forward eagerly as if fearful of losing a word. Gimp sat with a puzzled look upon his face, impressed in spite of himself.
It was the first time the Night Club had heard Dare, and when he concluded there was a lengthy silence, broken at last by Gimp, whose voice sounded like an anæmic drum after Dare’s magnificent tones.
“Haaa! thank you, sir, excellent,” he cried patronisingly. “You should go on the stage, haaa!”
“Well that knocks the bottom out of ole Shakespeare any’ow,” said Bindle with decision, as he proceeded to light his neglected pipe.
“It is Shakespeare,” said Sallie.
Bindle looked at her over the lighted match, then to Dare and on to Gimp. Finally he completed the operation of lighting his pipe.
“Well,” he said somewhat enigmatically, “that proves wot they say about there bein’ somethink in the man be’ind the gun.”
Soon after Gimp took his departure with Angell Herald, leaving us with the consciousness that the evening had not been a success.
“You took it out of ole ‘Amlet, sir,” said Bindle with keen enjoyment. “That ole phonograph in ‘is middle sounds sort o’ funny arter ‘earin’ you. An’ didn’t ‘e throw ‘isself about, broke your globe too, sir,” this to Dick Little, “an’ then never said ‘e was sorry.”
“He regarded it as the jetsam of art,” said Windover.
“P’raps you’re right, sir,” was Bindle’s comment.
That evening resulted in the committee making it generally understood that no one was to be introduced to the Night Club without his name first being submitted to and approved by Bindle, Dick Little and myself.
Some weeks later I happened by chance to run across Gimp in the West End. He thrust himself upon me and clung like a limpet, insisting that I should have what he called “a tonic,” which in his case consisted of a continuous stream of glasses of port wine. When we parted some two hours later I had a story, in return for which he had received ten glasses of port wine, for which I paid, and five shillings. The last named he had obtained by a “Dear old boy, lend me a dollar till next Tuesday morning.
“Good-bye, my dear boy, God bless you,” he cried with emotion as he pocketed the two half-crowns and left me, turning when he had taken some half-a-dozen steps to cry once more, “God bless you.”
He did not inquire my address, and I am sure he did not know my name, so that in all probability he is to this day walking London searching for me to repay that dollar.
The story, however, was worth, not only the dollar but the port wine.
“Fancy Old ‘Amlet ‘avin’ a story like that in ‘is tummy,” was Bindle’s comment.
This was Leonard Gimp’s story:
I
“But how do you know I can’t do it, Mr. Telford, if you won’t let me try?” There was something suspiciously like a sob in Elsie Gwyn’s voice as she leaned forward across Roger Telford’s table. “Please let me try, it means so much to me.”
“My dear girl, a part like that requires experience and a knowledge that you could not possibly possess. The whole play turns on that one character. Now don’t be disappointed,” he continued kindly, “you’re doing very well and your time will come. Now you must run away like a good girl, because I’ve scores of things to do. I shan’t forget you and I’ll cast you for something later.
Seeing that further argument was useless the girl rose to go.
“Good-bye, Mr. Telford,” she said soberly, blinking her eyes more than seemed necessary, “I’m sure you don’t mean to be unkind; but really you ought to give me a chance before judging me. It’s not quite sporting of you.”
Telford placed his hand for a moment on her shoulder. “Now cheer up, little girl,” he said, “Your time will come.” He opened the door and closed it again after her—Telford’s courtesy and kindness were the “joke” of the profession.
Roger Telford returned to the table and for a few minutes sat pondering deeply. He was the most successful theatrical manager in London. Everything he turned his hand to seemed to prosper. Rival managers said he had the devil’s own luck; but instinctively they knew that it was the sureness of his judgment that resulted in one success after another being associated with his name.
In the profession he was regarded a “white man.” Many laughed at him for being a prude, and he was known among the inner circle as “Mrs. Telford,” on account of his attitude towards the girls in his companies. He had been known to knock a man down to teach him how to behave to a “Telford girl.” Those who could not get into his companies sneered at him as “a fish in an ice box”; but those who were in his employ knew what a good friend he could be. He was a bachelor and possessed a reputation that not even his worst enemy could sully. Men affected to despise him, and a certain class of theatrical girl looked upon him with contempt; but Roger Telford’s was a great name in the theatrical world.
“Little Elsie Gwyn wanted the part of Jenny Burrow in The Sixth Sense,” he remarked a few minutes later to Tom Bray, his stage manager at the Lyndhurst Theatre.
Bray shook his head. He was a man of few words.
“Exactly what I told her,” said Telford; “but where the devil are we going to get anyone? There’s Esther Grant, Phyllis Cowan, Lallie Moore; but none of them have got it in ’em. They’re just low comedy turns. This thing wants something more than that. It wants dramatic grip, it wants guts, and I’m hanged if I know of a woman who’s got ’em.”
“There’s not much time,” was the comment of the stage manager.
“Of all the damned uninspiring chaps, you beat the lot, Tom,” laughed Telford. “Here’s the infernal show getting into rehearsal on Monday, and you’re as calm as an oyster.”
“Better cast the understudy, let her do it for a time,” said Bray.
“It looks as if we shall have to fall back on Helen Strange,” grumbled Telford.
“She’ll wreck the show, sure,” commented the stage manager.
“Damn!” said Telford, as he crushed his hat on his head, seized his stick and gloves and went out to lunch.
II
Elsie Gwyn had been on the stage three years, two of which had been spent in the provinces, principally in understudying. Like many other ambitious people, she told herself that she had never had a chance.
“It’s rotten,” she confided to a friend. “They always cast you according to your face. They’re as bad as the American managers, who are always talking about ‘the type.’ Just because I’ve got fair hair and small features and blue eyes, and a sort of washed out appearance (as a matter of fact Elsie Gwyn was exquisitely pretty with golden hair, refined features and deep blue eyes, almost violet in tint), they cast me for vicars’ daughters, milk-and-water misses and the like. I am sure I’ve got drama in me, only no one will give me the chance to get it out.”
“Oh! dry up, Elsie,” her friend had responded, “you want to be Juliet in your first year.”
Elsie Gwyn had walked down the stairs to the stage-door of the Lyndhurst Theatre feeling that if anyone spoke crossly to her she would inevitably cry.
“It isn’t fair,” she muttered to herself after saying good morning to the stage doorkeeper, “it isn’t fair to say I can’t do it without giving me a chance. It’s rotten of them, absolutely rotten.”
She seemed to find some comfort from this expression of opinion.
“When I’m famous, and I shall be famous some day,” she told herself, “he’ll be sorry that he didn’t give me my chance.” With this comforting assurance Elsie Gwyn entered the small Soho restaurant she frequented when in the West End and ordered lunch.
III
The Sixth Sense had been put into rehearsal, and still the part of Jenny Burrow had not been cast. Bray had urged upon Telford the necessity of securing Helen Strange; but Telford had hung out.
“I believe in my luck, old man,” he said, “something will turn up. I shall wait till the end of the week.”
This was Thursday. Telford and his stage-manager were in the throes of producing The Sixth Sense from a company that, according to Tom Bray, hadn’t a single sense, among the lot. The theatre was all gloom and strange shadows. The company was grouped round the stage, leaving a clear space in the centre for those actually rehearsing. Some sat on the two or three chairs available and three odd boxes, the rest stood about conversing in undertones.
To the uninitiated it would have seemed impossible that a play could be produced out of such chaos. It was difficult to disentangle the dramatist’s lines from Telford’s comments and instructions. He was probably the most hard-working producer in London, and the most difficult: but his company knew that by working with him whole-heartedly they were striving for a common object—success. There was less grumbling at his theatres than at any other in the kingdom. If he blamed unstintingly he paid well, and to have been with Telford was in itself a testimonial.
“Good God!” he broke out, “you make love as if the woman were a gas-pipe.”
The youth addressed flushed and turning to Telford rapped back, “Let me choose my own woman and I’ll show you how to make love, Mr. Telford.”
Telford walked over to him and putting his hand on his shoulder said, “My boy, I like that. Go ahead, do it your own way and you’ll get there.”
That was Roger Telford all over. He understood human nature. He knew that a man who could rap back an answer such as he had just received had imagination, and he was there merely to direct that imagination.
“That’s better,” he cried as the youth was warming to his work. “Hi! steady though, not too much realism in rehearsals, keep that for the first night.”
“My God!” cried Telford a few minutes later as he thrust his fingers through his hair. “That’s not Jenny Burrow, that’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. The understudy was not a success.”
Hour dragged after weary hour, lunch time came, three quarters of an hour, and then back again. There seemed no continuity. First a bit of this act then a bit of that: it was like building up a cinema film. It was depressing work this preparing for the public amusement. It would have been more depressing; but for the vitality and personal magnetism of Telford!
Two o’clock dragged on to three, three to half-past three, and thoughts were turning towards tea-time, the half hour that was permitted at four o’clock, when a startling interruption occurred. From the direction of the stage-door a woman’s voice was heard raised in anger.
“Engaged is he,” it cried. “Too busy to see me? I don’t think. You just run along and tell him that Florrie’s here and wants to see him, and if he don’t see her she’ll raise hell.” The murmur of the stage doorkeeper’s voice was heard.
“Here, get out of the way,” said the voice. A moment after a girl bounced on to the stage. She was young, stylishly dressed, fair as far as could be seen through her thick veil. The stage doorkeeper followed close upon her heels muttering protests. Turning on him like a fury the girl shouted:
“Here, clear out of it if you don’t want a thick ear.”
The man hurriedly stepped back a few paces. The girl who had announced herself as Florrie gave a swift look round, then spotting Telford went directly up to him.
“Said you were too busy, Roj. Not too to see Florrie, old sport, what?”
Telford gazed at the girl in astonishment.
“You’ve made a mistake, I think,” he said coldly.
“Oh, listen to the band,” she sang. “Look here, what’s your lay, what are you after?”
Telford was conscious that the eyes of the company were upon him. “I’m afraid I don’t know you, and you’ve made a mistake.”
“I never saw the lady before so she can’t be mine you see,” sang Florrie, who seemed to be in high spirits.
“I’m busy,” said Telford, “and I must ask you to go. You’ve made a mistake.”
“Is your name Roger Telford, or is it not?”
“I am Mr. Telford, yes.”
“Oh! well, Mr. Telford, I’m Florrie. Never heard o’ Florrie before, I suppose. Look here Roj., none of your swank. You ain’t been keepin’ me for two years to give me the bird like this. You thought you’d done me, didn’t you, writing that letter and saying all was over.”
“I tell you,” said Telford with some asperity, “that I do not know you.”
“Oh, Roger boy, Roger boy,” said Florrie, wagging her finger at him. “Aint you the blooming limit?” She placed her hands upon her lips, threw her body back and regarded him with good-humoured aggressiveness.
“I tell you I’ve never seen you before. If you refuse to go I shall have you removed.”
Telford’s anger was rising.
“Oh! you’re stickin’ it on that lay, are you? All right, I’m your bird. Never seen me before, haven’t you? I suppose you don’t remember happening to meet me in “The Pocock Arms” two years ago last March do you? You don’t happen to remember seeing me home. You don’t happen to remember taking a flat for me. You don’t happen to remember giving me money and jewels. You don’t happen to remember getting tired of me? And I suppose you don’t happen to remember writing a letter and saying that it was all over and that you would give me fifty pounds to be off and all the furniture. Do you happen to remember any of those things, Mister Telford?”
Telford looked round him bewildered. The expression on the faces of his company left him in no doubt as to their view of the situation.
“I—I don’t know who you are or what you mean,” he stuttered. “And—and if you don’t leave this er—er—place I shall send for a policeman. Saunders,” 6he called to the stage doorkeeper who was still hovering about.
“Oh you will, will you,” screamed Florrie, working herself up into a passion. “You’ll send for a policeman will you? Go on Saunders, if that’s your ugly name, fetch a policeman. That’s just what I want. We’ll soon clear up this matter. You just fetch a bloomin’ policeman. Fetch two policemen while you’re about it, and bring a handful of specials as well.” She laughed stridently at her joke. As her anger rose her aitches disappeared, her idiom became coarser.
Seeing that Saunders hesitated she cried “Well! Why don’t you go?” Then she turned upon Telford. “Send ‘im for a rotten policeman. Go on. You dirty tyke. You mucky-souled liar. Never met me before? Never even seen me. After what ‘as ‘appened and what you done for me. I was a good gurl till I met you. Why don’t you send for a policeman?”
Saunders looked interrogatingly at Telford, who shook his head.
“Ah!” screamed the girl. “I thought you wouldn’t send for no policeman.”
“She’s mad,” muttered Telford under his breath. He looked helplessly about him. If there were a scene it might get into the papers, it would certainly be a nine days wonder in the “profession.”
“Now look ‘ere,” shrilled Florrie to the assembled company, “that dirty tyke says ‘e don’t know me, never seen me before this very hour. What about this?” She produced a photograph from one of the large pockets in her frock. “To the only woman in the world, from Roger,” she read.
She held out a recent photograph of Telford for the company to see. The writing was certainly very like his. Tom Bray came forward and examined it. He looked grave.
“Well!” cried Florrie to Bray, “Is it like ‘im. I suppose you’re Tom Bray, ‘is stage manager. ‘E’s told me about you. Called you an oyster because you never get flurried, said all you wanted was a bit o’ lemon.”
Tom Bray started and looked swiftly at Telford. That was a favourite phrase of the chief’s.
“It’s a forgery,” almost shouted Telford, making a clutch at the photograph.
“No you don’t, ducky,” was Florrie’s laughing retort. “We’ll put you away to bye-bye,” and she tucked the photograph down her blouse.
“What is it you want with me?” asked Telford mechanically.
“Oh! that’s it, is it,” she cried. “You think I want money. You think I’m a blackmailer, do you? You just offer me money and I’ll fling it in yer ugly face, I will, you dirty tyke. I want to know what you mean by writing me that letter—chucking me after what you done. That’s what I want to know. I’m going to let all the world know what sort of a man you are, Mrs. Telford. I suppose you’ve found someone amongst all these gurls here what you like better’n me.”
Telford looked round him as if expecting inspiration from somewhere. On his forehead stood beads of perspiration which he mopped up with his handkerchief.
Suddenly Florrie flopped down upon the stage and began to sob hysterically. “Roger boy, don’t chuck me,” she wailed, trying to clutch his knees, he stepped back in time to avoid her. “Don’t chuck me. I always been true to you, I ‘ave. You oughtn’t to do the dirty on me like this. I won’t worry you, only just let me see you sometimes.”
The girl’s self-abasement was so complete, her emotion so genuine that more than one of those present felt an uncomfortable sensation in their throats.
“What in God’s name am I to do?” Telford cried, half to himself; but looking in the direction of the low comedian, Ben Walters.
“You might marry the girl,” said Ben. He regretted his words the moment they were uttered.
In a flash Florrie was on her feet, her humility gone, her eyes flaming. “Who are you?” she screamed, turning on him like a fury. “You’re the funny man I s’pose, but you ain’t nearly so funny as what you think. Anyone could be funny with a face like yours. God made you a damn sight funnier than what you know.” Then with withering scorn, “I’ve seen better things won in a raffle.”
Never had a comedian looked less funny than Walters at that moment. With an almost imperceptible movement he edged away from his persecutor.
“Yes, that’s right. You slip off, and if you can get anyone to buy your face, don’t you ask too much for it. Well! What are you going to do?” This to Telford to whom she turned once more. Her movements were as swift as her emotional changes.
“I—I told you you’ve made a mistake,” repeated Telford; but he was conscious of the futility of the remark.
“And I tell you you’re a liar,” replied Florrie. “A gurl ain’t likely to make a mistake about a man what’s done to her what you’ve done to me. I was a good gurl till I met you.” There was a break in her voice that was perilously like a sob. “Look what you done for me, look, look. Oh! my God!” She buried her face in her handkerchief. Her whole body shaken with sobs, then slowly her knees gave way beneath her and she sank in a heap on the stage, still sobbing hysterically.
“Jenny Burrow in real life,” muttered Tom Bray. “If she could only act it all.”
“Oh, Roj,” she cried through her handkerchief. “Oh! Roj-boy, you’ve broken my heart. I love you so. I’d ‘ave done anything for you. I did. I—I—an’ now what’s to become of me? What’s fifty pounds to a gurl whose heart’s broken? You—you played the dirty on me, Roj-boy, you played the dirty on me. They got to know all about it at home and father won’t let mother see me. I—I—we was such pals, mother an’ me, an’ it’s all through you; but—but—” she struggled to her feet with heaving breast. “I ain’t done yet. I’ll pay you back, you and your play-actors. I was a decent gurl before I met you. You—you—dirty tyke.” She fell back on the old phrase from sheer poverty of vocabulary.
“You’re like all men,” she shrieked. “Like every cursed one of ’em. You come into a gurl’s life, ruin it, then off you go and you give her money; but I’ll break you this time, I’ll break you, I’ll smash you, Roger Telford, I’ll smash you. Damn you! Blast you! May hell open and swallow you.”
The vindictiveness in the girl’s voice made even the most hardened sinner shudder.
“I’m goin’ to do myself in,” she continued, “there’s nothing left for me; but I’ll leave behind me the whole story, I’ll ruin you, just as you’ve ruined me. These are your friends round you, these ‘ere men and women. Look at their faces, look at ’em, see what they think of you now; you stinkin’, low-bred swine.”
Telford looked on the point of collapse. Someone gently propelled a chair towards him, on which he sank gazing round him stupidly.
Suddenly Florrie gave a wild hysterical shriek and fell. For a moment her limbs twitched spasmodically, then she lay very still. She had fainted. Several of the girls ran forward and began fumbling about with the fastenings of her clothes. They removed her hat and veil, and one of them uttered a cry of surprise.
Suddenly Florrie sat up, and those about her, as if impelled by their instinct for the dramatic, stood aside that Telford could see her.
It was Elsie Gwyn.
“Please Mr. Telford,” she said smiling, and in her natural voice, “won’t you give me a trial in the part of Jenny Burrow.”
Telford stared as a drunken man might who had been roused by the glare of a policeman’s lantern.
The company looked first at the girl, then at Telford, then at each other. Telford drew a deep sigh.
“My God!” he muttered.
A babel of conversation and chatter broke out. Telford gazed at Elsie Gwyn as if fascinated.
“Listen, everybody.”
A hush fell over the stage. It was Elsie Gwyn who spoke. “I asked Mr. Telford to give me a trial as Jenny Burrow. He said that I was not sufficiently experienced and could not create such a part. I thought I could. Of course what I have just said was all——”
“Fudge and Florrie,” broke in Walters, as if to reassert his claims as a comedian.
“Exactly, Mr. Walters. You’ll forgive me, won’t you?”
“Sure, girl,” he said genially. “There’s no one here who’ll ever want to quarrel with you after to-day,” he added, at which there was a laugh.
“Now, Mr. Telford,” said Elsie, “can I or can I not play the part of Jenny Burrow?”
“Play it, girl, I should think you could,” cried Telford, jumping up from the chair. “But you’ve given me the fright of my life. Come along upstairs and we’ll sign a contract.”
The two left the stage together, and the company trooped out after them, knowing that rehearsal was over for that day.
Roger Telford was a sportsman, and too happy at the termination of his nightmare to bear malice. He was delighted to find that his luck had not failed him, and that he had found an actress capable of creating the part that he had found such difficulty in casting.
“She knew some fancy words,” was Bindle’s comment. “She ought to get on.”
“Was she a success?” enquired Sallie eagerly.
“She made the hit of the season,” I replied. “Somehow the story leaked out and got into the papers. It was the biggest advertising boom Telford has ever had. The public flocked to see the girl who had scored off Roger Telford.”
“A great advertisin’ stunt,” said Angell Herald. “Wish I’d had it. Some fellows get all the luck.”
“She ought to have married him,” murmured Sallie, gazing at nothing in particular.
“She did,” I said, “last season. It was regarded as her greatest hit.”
“Oh! how splendid,” cried Sallie, clapping her hands in a way that would seem like gush in anyone else.
Bindle looked gloomy disapproval.
“It’s all very well for you miss, but think of ‘im an’ all them words she knew.”
“But, Mr. Bindle, she was an actress,” cried Sallie.
“So’s every woman, miss. They can’t ‘elp it.”
“Mr. Bindle!” Sallie reproved.
“Think o’ that poor chap goin’ an’ doin’ it after wot ‘e’d ‘eard. Isn’t it jest like ’em. Nobody won’t believe nothink till they’ve tried it themselves.
“I ‘ad a mate, a real sport ‘e was. ‘E wouldn’t believe me, said ‘is little bit o’ fluff wasn’t like other bits wot I’d seen. ‘E talked as if ‘e could ‘ear ‘er feathers a-rustling when the wind blew, poor chap! Then ‘e did it.”
Bindle paused as if overcome by the memory of his mate’s misfortune.
“‘E ‘adn’t ‘ad ‘er a month when ‘e comes round to me one Saturday afternoon. I was sittin’ in the back-yard a-listenin’ to a canary and wot Mrs. ‘Iggins thought of ‘er ole man.
“‘You was right, Joe,’ ‘e says, lookin’ about as ‘appy as a lobster wot ‘ears the pot bubblin’.
“‘So you don’t ‘ear the wind through ‘er feathers now, Jim?’ I says.
“‘There never warn’t no feathers, Joe,’ ‘e says, ‘only claws. Come an’ ‘ave a drink?’
“When a cove wot’s been talkin’ about ‘is misses says, ‘Come an’ ‘ave a drink,’ you can lay outsider’s odds on ‘is ‘avin’ drawn a blank.”
“J.B. never admits of the law of exception,” remarked Dare. “That is the fundamental weakness of his logical equipment.”
“Fancy it bein’ all that,” remarked Bindle drily.
“As Sallie remarked,” continued Dare, “this young woman was an actress, and she was out for an engagement.”
“An’ got a weddin’ thrown in,” said Bindle. “Every woman’s out for an engagement, an’ yer can leave it to them that it ain’t goin’ to end there. Well, ‘ere’s for Fulham, an’ my little allotment of ‘eaven. S’long everybody,” and Bindle departed, knowing that as Carruthers was present he would not be required to call a taxi for Sallie.
It was unusual for Bindle to be the first to leave, and we speculated as to the cause. It was Sallie who guessed the reason as Bindle had told her Mrs. Bindle was poorly, having caught “wot Abraham ‘ud call a cold on ‘er bosom.”