Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Women's Genre Fiction Project

A Spirit of Mirth, an electronic edition

by Peggy Webling [Webling, Peggy]

date: 1913
source publisher: Methuen & Co., Ltd.
collection: Genre Fiction

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<< chapter 11 chapter 33 >>

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THE success of Miss Sapio in Hughie's comedy—the clever young playwright with the peculiar-shaped head was named Hewett Addison—steadily increased as the weeks passed.

Hughie lived in his days of triumph as in his days of waiting, quietly and modestly. He had many quaint ideas for future plays, and he discussed them all with Miss Sapio. She was the only person among his numberless friends who knew about the odd, laughable crowd of brain children, long before they saw the light in Hughie's manuscripts, with which he has peopled the modern stage.

He talked about his work when they were in Miss Sapio's little drawing-room, and as she listened, at first with amusement at the young man's interest in his imaginary characters, but soon with greater interest in the characters themselves, she began to be influenced by the innate delicacy and depths of his nature.

Euphrosyne had instinctively shrunk away from her in the old Airy Street days; even her beauty as a younger woman had been hard and brazen, but in the happiness of success, and in the companionship of Addison, she regained something of the lost bloom of her womanhood.

It was despicable to lie to Hughie, because, with all his cleverness, he never seemed to doubt the truth of her foolish stories; she tried to forget the darker chapters in a life of many secret, and even sordid, adventures; she even reached the height of giving up absinthe, and the use of bad language.

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Miss Sapio was still a beautiful woman, well into the seventh inch over five feet. The playwright, with that inscrutable face of his, illuminated by the clear, keen vision of the imaginative mind, hardly reached to the level of her eyebrows, but Miss Sapio was afraid of Hewett—afraid of displeasing him, afraid of losing his friendship, afraid of her own unworthiness.

The knowledge of this would have amused Hewett and struck him as Gilbertian, for he had no false illusions about his insignificant appearance, and there was not an ounce of conceit in his whole composition. He would have been even more amused to know that she had persuaded herself that he was good-looking.

It was when she was walking in Hyde Park, a long tramp on a bright December day, that Miss Sapio met with Euphrosyne Moore.

Phosie was alone. Her eyes were on the ground, for she was brooding over Mr Revell, who was ill at home. It was the first day for a week she had left the house.

As she turned down one of the side paths, a few minutes' walk from Marble Arch, to cross the Park in the direction of Kensington, her dog made a rush at another dog approaching from the opposite direction.

There was a great deal of barking and scuffling on the part of the dogs, accompanied by whistling and commands of their owners, before Taffy and his enemy would listen to reason. Phosie, seizing her excited Welsh terrier by the collar, began to apologise to the mistress of the flurried and indignant chow. But the words died away, and her first stare of blank amazement changed into a flash of pleasure.

"Miss Sapio!" she cried.

"Good Lord! It's Eddy Moore's little kid!" exclaimed the lady.

Delighted to hear her father's name, Phosie forgot all about the straining Taffy, let him go, and literally threw herself into Miss Sapio's arms. She was lost in an equally | | 103 effusive embrace—smothered among Miss Sapio's furs, while she was kissed a dozen times in the midst of the perfume of violets and the soft fluff against her cheeks of a delicately-scented powder.

"Oh, my stars-and-what-do-you-call-'ems!" exclaimed Miss Sapio, holding the girl at arm's length and then smothering her again. "How the child has grown. How well you look! Upon my word! Give him to me, Hughie, for pity's sake."

She clutched her chow out of Mr Addison's arms while Phosie turned her attention once more to the capture of her own dog.

"This is Euphrosyne, the dearest, merriest little grig in the world!" continued Miss Sapio to Hughie. "Mr Hewett Addison—Miss Moore."

Hughie lifted his hat and saw, by her unchanged expression, that Miss Moore was not a theatre-goer. She had never heard of Mr Hewett Addison.

"Where are you going all by yourself?" asked her old friend. "Do you still live in that pig-sty off Edgware Road?"

Phosie gave a brief sketch of her life since the time they parted.

They all walked on together, the chow tucked under Miss Sapio's arm, while Taffy strained at the lead.

"So your poor dad got himself smashed?" said Miss Sapio. "Poor old fellow! You'd have liked Phosie's father, Hughie, he was the kindest, simplest soul! And now you've been adopted at the British Museum, have you? Well, I hope they treat you properly and let you have plenty to eat and drink."

Phosie hastened to explain that Mr Revell had given her a home in his private capacity, not on behalf of the nation. Miss Sapio was under the impression that she lodged and boarded at the Museum.

"I suppose you're rich?" continued her questioner.

Phosie laughed.

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"Oh, no," she replied. "Mr Revell gives me a few shillings a week, but I'm afraid I don't save any money. You see I have Little Gus to take care of."

"Who's Little Gus? That brute of a dog?"

"No, it is a boy. He is my greatest friend. We ran away together."

"Eloped!" cried Miss Sapio in a voice that made the people within hearing stare at her. "Good heavens, child! You're not married?"

"No, no!" answered Phosie. "Little Gus is younger than I am—he's like a brother. Of course I'm not married."

"I should hope not! No girl ought to be married at your age. I'm sure you agree with me, Hughie?"

"I don't know Miss Moore's age," said Addison, smiling at her in his friendly way.

"You gave me quite a turn!" said Miss Sapio. "It's made me feel positively faint. I don't think I can walk any farther. Suppose we get a cab, Hughie, and both of you come and have a bit of lunch with me?"

"Thank you very much, but I must not be away from home for very long," said Phosie. "Mr Revell is ill and he will miss me."

"I'll let you go directly we've stuffed," said Miss Sapio. "Will you come, Hughie?"

"M—yes, I've nothing better to do Just now," said Addison.

Phosie thought this acceptance of an invitation somewhat ungracious, till she caught the smile of mutual understanding between her friend and the odd-looking, grave young man.

They found the retired comedian, Mr Quizzical Quilter, reading a newspaper in Miss Sapio's tiny drawing-room, with a glass of whisky-and-water on the table beside him. He had invited himself to lunch, but his hostess, after slapping him on the back and observing that she liked his cheek, seemed very pleased to have him. She | | 105 introduced him in an effusive manner to her new guest.

"This is my dear old pal, Mr Quizzical Quilter, known to all the world as Quizzy."

The old gentleman, who was quite sober and smartly dressed, with a vivid red waistcoat, shook Phosie quite affectionately by the hand, giving her a characteristic greeting:

"How de do? God bless you! Many happy returns!"

While they were having lunch, which was elegantly cooked and served, Miss Sapio questioned Phosie about her dancing.

"I haven't forgotten the steps you taught me," said the girl.

"Think of that!" exclaimed Miss Sapio, turning to Addison. "This little lady has got the most beautiful ' point' I've ever come across. It's natural to her. You must see her dance."

"Oh, Miss Sapio! I can't dance properly," interrupted Phosie, with flushed cheeks.

Mr Quizzical Quilter, whose attention hitherto had been entirely concentrated on his plate, laid down his knife and fork and wagged his head from side to side, pulling his mouth square and squinting horribly at Phosie.

"Never say die, my pet!" he exclaimed. "Don't get fluffy! You're among friends. We're all goin' to be hung on the same gallers!"

Having thus proffered his professional encouragement, Quizzy allowed the pupils of his eyes to roll back to their proper position and returned to his food pell-mell.

Miss Sapio, struck with an idea which prevented her from noticing the interruption, glanced at Phosie and Addison alternately for several minutes without speaking.

Then she banged the table with her clenched hand.

"By Jove, I've got it!" she ejaculated, and the play- | | 106 wright looked at her in sudden admiration, for her fine eyes flashed with excitement.

"What have you got, Flo?" he asked curiously.

"A bright idea, my boy!"

"Is that all?" said Addison, coolly. "I've got dozens. They flock round me whenever I deign to take any notice of them."

"But you're a genius, Hughie," put in his friend.

"Tell us the idea," he went on. "You'll never get another till you've worked it out, my dear Florence. That's the way of ideas; a second rarely takes definite shape until one has completed a first."

"You shall write a little pantomime for Phosie and I'll teach her the steps!" said Miss Sapio. "What do you think of it?"

"Cap-i-tal!" observed Quizzy. The word "pantomime" appealed to him.

"What do you mean? A little story without words?" asked Addison. "Do you want to drive Miss Moore on to the stage?"

"Why not?" said Miss Sapio, warming to her subject. "She is wholly dependent on this old gentleman who keeps the British Museum. What would happen if he died? Don't look shocked, child. People do die, even the best of them."

"Gentleman might hop the twig any minute—poor old boy!" agreed Quizzy, who was at leisure as he sipped his coffee to join in the conversation.

"I suppose you want me to invent something suitable for music-halls?" said Addison, looking at Phosie with new interest.

"Of course I do, dear!" said Miss Sapio. "There's no opening for anything of that kind in an ordinary theatre. Will you try it, Hughie? Does it appeal to you? What do you say?"

"I think Miss Moore is the one to be consulted first," said Addison.

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Phosie's colour had come and gone, but her lips were smiling and the old light of adventure shone in her eyes.

It struck the playwright, for the first time, that she was a very captivating little person. He blamed himself for not perceiving when they met in the Park the possible charm of her quick changes of expression.

"I shall be only too pleased—if I can do anything—but I'm so untrained—so ignorant—" She stopped as abruptly as she had begun to speak, overcome with shyness.

"Good!" said Miss Sapio, clapping her hands. "I knew you were a sensible little soul. We'll make your fortune. How do you think of working out the idea, Hughie?"

Addison rose with a laugh to open the door.

"You must give me time, my dear Flo. I shall have to think it over."

"Authors can't be drove," observed Quizzy, as he followed the ladies upstairs, cigar in hand. "I know the way of authors. I've met scores of 'em. They're the most annoyin' lot of men."

"Why do you think that?" asked Addison, who professed great respect for the old clown's opinions.

"They fuss! They grumble! They're always interferin'," answered Mr Quilter. "I've known managers who didn't dare put a speech into a play—a play they'd bought, mind you—without consultin' the author! It's ridiculous. Authors won't let you gag. They think they know the public better than you do! They want to be original. They want to have it all their own way, as if it was anything to do with them how you act their plays! It's sickenin', my boy. If I had a theatre I'd never let an author inside the doors. They screw a percentage out of your earnings, and what more do they want?"

The indignant old gentleman re-lighted his cigar and puffed great clouds of smoke through his nostrils.

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Addison had listened to his outburst with great attention.

"You're quite right, Quizzy," he said. "Authors ought not to be allowed to see their own plays acted. It only makes them conceited or miserable, and in either case it gives them a false notion of their own importance. But I really think they deserve to be paid. After all, Quizzy, they've got to buy boots and support their families like their superiors."

"Just so!" agreed Mr Quilter. "But if you look at it from the manager's point of view, it's hard lines to see so much of his profits goin' into another man's pockets, isn't it? The least authors can do is to make 'emselves agreeable, but they don't!"

"No?" queried Addison.

"God bless my soul! I ought to know," said Quizzy, "for I've had to do with the whole lot—drama, comedy, burlesque, tragedy—but I must say they've got a little more sense when they write panto. There they give the actors a free hand, and what's the result? We cut out half the rubbish the author has written and make a success. There you are! It's as plain"—he concluded, turning to Miss Sapio—" it's as plain as the nose on your face! I can't put it more emphatically than that—it's as plain as your nose, my dear."

Phosie, who had waited patiently during Quizzy's discourse on authors, now entreated her friend to let her go. She was anxious about Mr Revell.

"I won't keep you a minute longer, sweetie," said Miss Sapio. "But you really must do the 'point' once, if you can still manage it, for Mr Addison to see."

"Do you mean stand on my toes?"

Phosie, blushing again at being the centre of observation, lifted her skirt daintily and walked across the room on the tips of her toes with the ease and grace of an accomplished prima ballerina.

"Now see if you can dance a bit like that!" com- | | 109 manded Miss Sapio, and she whistled a lively tune. Mr Quizzical Quilter joined in with snapping fingers.

Of course Phosie's attempts to the observant eyes of Hewett Addison, who had seen all the dancers worth seeing of his generation, at once showed her lack of training, but after a few seconds he forgot to look at the steps in his admiration of the girl.

She smiled continually, but it was not the set smile of the stage dancer, being absolutely un-self-conscious, caused by an inner fancy too delicate for words, while her little feet gave Addison the impression of dancing on notes, as if they tapped the music out of the ground. She possessed the captivation of a child, earnestly doing her best, mingled with the light-hearted, irresponsible joy of a being untouched by care and ignorant of evil.

"Dainty! Dainty!" cried Addison, with an enthusiasm which surprised his friends, when Miss Sapio's whistling ended in a breathless pant, and Phosie stopped in the middle of a wild and original pirouette, breaking the spell she had thrown over the level-headed playwright.

"Isn't she a duck?" asked Miss Sapio. "Have you ever seen such a ' point'?"

"I endorse the sentiment, Flo," said Quizzy, before Addison could reply. "This young lady is a perfect duck—a duck and green peas, my pet, and don't forget the taters!"

He placed his hand on his heart and bowed low to the dancer, accompanying his compliment with one of the most hideous grimaces of which his india-rubber face was capable. Phosie's eyes twinkled. Mr Quilter flattered himself he had made a conquest.

"I will try to write a sketch worthy of my subject," said Addison.

"How kind you are!" exclaimed Phosie.

"He's the kindest, best Hughie on earth!" said Miss | | 110 Sapio. "If he says he'll do a thing, he always does it. Give me your address, dearie, and directly Mr Addison has got his idea on paper I'll drop you a line."

She sat down at her little writing-table, scattering notes and bills on to the floor in a search for her address-book. Addison rose and neatly picked it out of a pigeon-hole in the desk.

"Why, there it was all the time!" said Miss Sapio, and tipped the ink-bottle over with her sleeve.

Addison took up the blotting-book, tore out several sheets, and quickly mopped up the black pool.

"Don't be so impetuous!" he said. "We have eternity before us, my dear Flo."

Miss Sapio, who had bitten a foul word off the tip of her tongue, compressed her lips and looked up into his face as he bent over the desk.

"I'm sorry, Hughie!" she said in a low, humble voice.

"You ought to be glad that your ink-bottle was nearly empty," he rejoined, and went back to his seat.

Miss Sapio wrote down Phosie's address, kissed her many times, and said once more they would make her fortune.

Mr Quizzical Quilter bade her a jocular farewell, sending his love to the old folks at home, and Hewett Addison, who took her to the door, watched her from the steps until she disappeared.

He returned in a thoughtful mood to the drawing-room. Quizzy had settled himself for a nap by the fire. Miss Sapio was still sitting at the writing-desk, her cheek resting on her hand, staring into vacancy. Hewett drew a chair close.

"What a fairy that girl is!" he said. "What a pretty little creature. Everything seems to give her pleasure. I never came across any girl who laughed so readily without being stupid."

"She's good and happy. If we women could only | | 111 keep our youth and innocence, Hughie—" said his companion, and she pressed her hand against her mouth, as if she feared to say too much.

He looked at her seriously for a minute, with the thoughtful expression deepening in his face.

"What is the matter, Flo? What have I said to trouble you?" he asked.

Her eyes flashed and she brought her hand smartly down on the desk, making Quizzy start and snort, before he again settled into a comfortable position.

"I'm a devil, Hughie!" said Miss Sapio. "I want to love that child, I do love her, but when you speak of her like that, and look at her as you did—she's so young and fresh—and I—"

Addison sighed. He was never jealous himself, and he could not understand jealousy in others.

"My dear Flo, if I am to talk to you at all I must say what I please," he said. "I do admire your little friend. She is rare and exquisite. A wave of delight from God."

Miss Sapio laid her head down on her arm, hiding her face. Addison quickly moved away a little vase of flowers which was in danger of being overturned.

"Don't be foolish, Flo!" he remonstrated. "Don't confuse the artist with the man. What is the strength, the very foundation of our good fellowship? Sincerity. To be sincere with each other, you and I must be free to say what we like, to praise whom we choose, to enlarge, not to cramp, our capacity for enjoyment and work. You see what I mean?"

"I see what you mean, Hughie," she murmured, without lifting her head.

"Then don't be so unreasonable as to be annoyed with me for admiring a flower, or a bird, or the gaiety of a girl. Why, Flo—"

He glanced over his shoulder. Quilter was asleep, Hewett stooped over Miss Sapio and kissed her hair.

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She raised her head and looked at him with bright, incredulous eyes, her whole face a yearning question.

The level-headed playwright moved hastily over to the fire and began to talk on indifferent subjects.

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