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

Table of Contents

<< chapter 17 chapter 33 >>

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CHAPTER XVIII
A TRIAL TURN—AND AFTER

ALTHOUGH Miss Sapio's influence, aided by the growing reputation of the author of Euphrosyne's sketch, had obtained the trial turn, it was beyond their power to secure her an appearance in the good part of the programme.

The manager of the Paramount, for all his admiration of Miss Sapio, was too good a business man to run unnecessary risks with his audiences. He had seen Phosie's turn and thought it charming, but when he said to the stage manager, "Put it on early," there was no appeal from his decision.

Phosie had discovered another old friend in the second violin of the Paramount orchestra, none other than Mr Simmons, once of Airy Street. She had recognised him at the first rehearsal, squinting up at her out of the depths below the stage.

Their meeting was mutually cordial. Mr Simmons, directly he was at liberty, made his way to where she stood and shook her warmly by the hand.

"Have you given up composing and scoring music, Mr Simmons?" asked Phosie, wondering whether he had been quite so stout in the old days.

"Oh, no, my dear," said Mr Simmons, bringing his tractable eye to bear on her face, while the other explored the dim distance of the gallery. "But I felt I wanted a change, so I returned to my first love, the fiddle. I still carry on the old business in the daytime. How you've grown, Phosie! Seems a long time since we was | | 160 all so happy and cosy together in Airy Street, don't it?"

Slightly surprised at this agreeable description of the domestic life of Mr and Mrs Simmons, she agreed that it seemed a very long time indeed.

"Your poor father was a wonderful man in his own line," he went on. "But he wouldn't have made anything of a living nowadays. Contortion, pure and simple, has gone out. The public taste is improving. What they want now is a show with brains with it."

Phosie glanced at the turn in rehearsal at that minute—a revoltingly ugly man in dirty rags making pantomimic love to a lady who was balancing a champagne bottle on her chin—and asked Mr Simmons if that was really his opinion.

"Yes, my dear," he answered solemnly. "What the British public wants is brains, and I'm pleased to see that your little turn has got 'em."

"Then you think I shall succeed."

"Don't you be afraid about that," he said kindly. "You've got a good thing. I know what I'm talking about. I haven't been in the business for thirty years for nothing."

Phosie was not at all nervous, but her excitement steadily increased, like a fever in the blood, as the fateful hour drew near.

Little Gus, with the best intentions in the world, proved himself a very trying companion, for he worried her all day long to eat, to drink, to sleep; to do everything in short for which she was disinclined.

Miss Sapio, whose own performance would prevent her from being present, sent Phosie many final instructions by Hewett Addison, together with a large tin of a certain meat extract, in which she had faith, a cupful to be taken just before, and after, she appeared on the stage.

Addison was the girl's tower of strength; he was not | | 161 fussy, and she could not help wondering that such a quiet, whimsical, artistic man should be happy in the daily companionship of Miss Sapio.

Phosie admired and loved her friend, but she found it very difficult to understand Hewett's attitude, until it dawned upon her that, in spite of their intimacy, she herself knew very little of the playwright's real character. Such a man is not to be labelled, pigeon-holed and pulled out at intervals, after the manner of the dear, faithful, but uninteresting, ordinary friend.

He must be given much, for his own rare gifts are of priceless value; he never satisfies curiosity; he flies from the one who claims his confidence as a right; he possesses, and will accord, absolute freedom in thought as well as action. To realise these things is not the only way, but one of the best ways—should one happen to meet a genius—to win his affection. Miss Sapio was learning the lesson, but it was the hardest lesson of her life.

The Paramount by day was as different from the Paramount by night as Mr Simmons, tinkling at his old piano in his shirt sleeves, was different from Mr Simmons, washed and brushed, playing the violin in the orchestra.

The spacious entrance to the hall was ablaze with lights and gay-coloured posters. Big men, in chocolate and fawn livery, stood at the swing doors, while the attendance within the building was divided between powdered footmen and black-gowned, white-aproned programme girls.

The much-frequented bar was discreetly placed at the rear of the hall. A thick cord was stretched between the lounge and the stalls. When the performance began, at eight o'clock, only the cheap parts of the house, the upper circle and gallery, were filled.

Phosie's sketch was announced by a specially-printed slip inserted in the programme, Addison's name having saved her from appearing simply as "Extra Turn."

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As Walter Race lounged into the Paramount, a few minutes past eight, he was amazed at the sight of row upon row of empty seats, forgetting that he himself, on all other occasions, never dreamed of entering a music-hall before nine o'clock. He glanced over his shoulder at the friend with whom he had been dining.

"Hard lines for the first turns," he observed.

'Devilish hard lines!" agreed the friend, his eyes fixed on a girl who was singing on the stage as he paid for his programme.

Race dropped into his seat and lighted a cigar. He was disappointed at the smallness of the audience for Phosie's sake, and pleasantly conscious of suppressed excitement.

He had not seen her since they parted at the top of the stairs in Belton Terrace. Forty-eight hours' absence had filled him with an almost painful longing to be with her again, for he had thought of her continually, and even dreamed of her at night.

Walter Race did not attempt to hide the truth from himself. He had fallen in love with this girl, but it was not yet the overwhelming, headstrong love he had experienced once or twice in his life.

He was still master of himself, and able to see the absurdity of his sudden infatuation. What did he know of Phosie? A social gulf yawned between them.

Ordinary friendship was out of the question—there was nothing of the hypocrite about Walter—and to tell her of his passion, to try to awaken her love in return, could only end in one way—marriage.

Yes, marriage! Little as he understood Phosie at this time, and little as he understood himself, there was never any doubt in his mind about that.

"Is this the turn you're interested in?" said Carl Stratton, passing him the slip out of the programme.

Stratton was a worn, thin man of Hebrew descent, with noticeably fine, restless dark eyes, and a small, | | 163 mobile mouth, hardly hidden at all by a black, pointed moustache. His thin hair, also black and glossy, was parted in the middle and slightly curled on his high temples. His nose was big and showed his race; he was deeply wrinkled, and his sallow skin, about the nostrils and under the eyes, looked unhealthy. The well-kept hand which he stretched out to Race was adorned with a heavy gold ring, the bezel beautifully chased.

Mr Stratton, to the casual observer, was a well-groomed, fashionably-dressed man of five-and-thirty, pleasant to see and pleasant to hear. A student of men, such as Hewett Addison, might have classed him as a crafty Jew, older than he looked, a rogue most cleverly disguised both by nature and by art.

"Yes, this is the turn I am interested in," answered Race.

"I'm sorry it isn't in the middle of the programme," said Carl Stratton. "Is the lady quite a novice?"

"I believe so, but I don't know much about her," said Race. "I have only met her once."

"I hope she will appeal to the gallery," said his companion, with a glance round the empty stalls.

"I'm afraid not," said Walter. "She seems to be a very artistic, dainty little person, the cameo type of beauty. I doubt whether it will be effective behind the footlights."

"The footlights certainly create and shatter illusion," said Stratton, vaguely. "But on the whole I think they are kind to beauty of any sort. I don't admire actresses myself."

"How can you talk of actresses in the lump?" said Walter, smiling. "Every actress is an individual woman, you know."

"Oh, yes, but I think they are all alike," rejoined his friend. "The only difference is in the place they hold in the profession—promising, passing, passé"

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Race laughed absently and did not reply. The orchestra had started to play Tailing's melodious, haunting overture to Phosie's turn.

His longing to see her was suddenly tinged with unreasonable jealousy. He was jealous of Stratton, of the rest of the audience, of the people on the stage. Then a foolish dread took possession of his mind. Would he be disappointed? Was she really as pretty, winning and light-hearted as he imagined?

The curtain rose on the dim, soft light of a garden beneath the moon.

Hewett Addison, standing in the wings, was satisfied with the stage effect, and Hewett was very hard to satisfy.

Mr Quizzical Quilter, puffing his cigar in the front row of the circle, started a faint, but encouraging, little burst of applause.

''Charmin'! Quite charmin'!" said Quizzy to the unknown gentlemen on either side of him.

Phosie appeared. Her bright brown hair rippled and curled to her waist, and she wore a wreath of great white blossoms. Her slender arms were outspread, and she hovered over the ground as lightly as a butterfly over a meadow.

The smile which had captivated Hewett Addison, when he first saw her dance in Miss Sapio's drawing-room, played about her mouth. She seemed to be possessed by happy thoughts, unconscious of the audience, dancing for sheer joy.

Walter Race, with hardly an effort, gave himself up to the delights of Fancy. The stage changed to a real garden with real flowers nodding in the night wind, a real owl blinking in the branches of a shady tree, a real bat flying past, and an ideal fairy lost in the wonder of a real world.

But Fancy is ever an illusive sprite. Suddenly he realised that she had flown. The stage was a stage | | 165 again; he recollected having seen similar mechanical effects in Christmas pantomimes; he was able to criticise the turn as a good turn, a pretty turn, but he doubted the success of it.

Phosie was delightful. There was no doubt about that, but he admired her more away from the footlights. He was feeling the inevitable reaction from his intense longing to see her again.

Was he in love after all? Walter hoped so. It was pleasant to be in love, up to a certain point. Yes, she was delightful. Of course he was in love!

"Quite a little beauty!" said Carl Stratton, tapping his hands together once or twice, without making any sound, as the curtain fell. "What do we have next?"

"Whatever it is I'm sick of the whole show!" exclaimed Walter.

Mr Stratton looked at him in mild surprise, little suspecting that his own indifference to Phosie's turn had occasioned this outburst.

"My dear Race, it has only just begun!" he said.

Walter recovered his temper.

"I only came in to see this new turn," he said hastily. "And I've promised to go to supper with some friends."

"As early as this?" asked his companion.

"Yes! Ridiculous, I know, but I'm afraid I can't get out of it."

He flung his coat over his arm and shook hands with his friend.

"You needn't hurry for a few minutes," said Stratton, quietly. "She has to change her dress. You'll only be kept waiting at a draughty stage-door."

"Why, what do you mean, Carl?" asked Walter Race, smiling in spite of himself.

"I suppose you're going to hunt for the lost fairy, are you not?" asked Stratton.

Walter laughed outright.

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"Good-night, Carl," was all he answered, and went away.

Mr Stratton turned his head to look after him, showing his white teeth in a wide smile of friendly farewell.

'What a waste of money to buy a stall for that!" he thought, and returned to his languid enjoyment of the entertainment.

Walter Race found his way to the stage-door, where he met Hewett Addison just coming out.

"Well, how do you think it went?" asked the playwright, whose imperturbable face expressed neither satisfaction nor disappointment.

"Very well on the whole," answered Race. "What did you think of it yourself? You're a better judge than I am."

"I've just seen Burnett," said Addison—Burnett was the manager of the Paramount. "He seems very pleased, and I think he'll book it. I've made an appointment to meet him to-morrow. Now I am going round to see Miss Sapio. She will be waiting anxiously for my report. I shall see you later. Miss Moore will be out directly."

Race pushed through the swing-door into a narrow passage, from which he could see, at the bottom of half a dozen steps, a strip of the stage.

He had never been behind the scenes of a theatre before, and even such a tiny glimpse was not without its interest. The stage-manager, with a shiny silk hat tilted to the back of his head, was talking seriously with a couple of men in Pierrot costumes, while a French artiste, with a wholly inadequate shawl thrown over her shoulders, held an animated discussion with a little Frenchman in evening dress, who held the lady's tiny slippers in one hand and grasped the chain of a performing dog in the other. This fox terrier was shaking all over, from nervousness or cold, and kept his eyes on his master's face. Race, who understood French and | | 167 caught some of Madame's phrases, thought that Monsieur was even more to be pitied than Monsieur's dog.

His observations were cut short by the voice of the door-keeper.

"Yes, sir?" said the door-keeper, leaning forward in his little office.

"Will you give my card to Miss Moore?" said Race.

The door-keeper, after the manner of his kind, read the card, looked at the gentleman with patronising curiosity, and whistled to a call-boy who happened to be within hearing.

"If you're going past No. 7, Jimmy, you can take his card to Miss Moore—she's that extra turn," he explained. "Tell her both the gentlemen are waiting. Stand back against the wall, please, sir, you're blocking up the gangway."

Walter did as he was asked, and found himself shoulder to shoulder with the gentleman whom he supposed, by the door-keeper's words, had already sent in a card to Phosie.

They naturally glanced at each other. Race saw a man much shorter than himself, heavy-featured, flushed, with bright, curious eyes and full, thick lips. He was not at all favourably impressed, and, with the coolness of his age and class, returned the fellow's stare with a vague expression of contemptuous indifference.

It was Jules Revell. Race did not look at him a second time, but it was characteristic of Jules to furtively study Walter, impressed by his ease of manner, his clothes, his evident superiority to his surroundings.

Phosie rose in Jules's estimation. He would have liked to see half a dozen such men hanging round the stage-door to see her come out, discussing her freely. In his eyes it would have enhanced her value.

When she appeared at last, half hidden behind a magnificent bouquet, both young men started forward.

Her eyes met Race's and a beautiful colour leapt into | | 168 her cheeks. For a second she was oblivious to everything else, but then she saw Jules. He pushed in front, beaming on her, hat in hand. Race took a step back and waited courteously. He did not listen to what they said.

"That is not my bouquet, Phosie!" exclaimed Jules. "Did you get the flowers I sent you? Where are they?"

"I can't accept them. I have left them in the dressing-room," she answered. "Will you never understand me?"

He began to reproach her in a hurried whisper—she was cruel, heartless, wicked! Phosie stopped him with an imperious gesture which suited her well.

"It is no good, Jules. I am very sorry, but it is no good. I wish you would try to keep out of my way. You only make yourself miserable."

She looked at him imploringly for a second, and then, as his eyes grew soft and eloquent, dropped her own and hurried past him.

"Are you going to Miss Sapio's house?" she said quickly to the other man.

Before he could answer she had pushed through the swing-door and was in the street. Race, amazed at her sudden energy, followed her at once, leaving Jules Revell alone in the passage.

If the door-keeper and the call-boy, who had witnessed the little scene, hoped to see him make a fool of himself they were disappointed. He only shrugged his shoulders and gave them a nod of good-night.

Anger and humiliation warned him to hold his tongue. For the minute he hated Phosie with all the bitterness of his heart.

She had forgotten him. Walter Race sat beside her in the cab, and the perfume of his flowers filled the air.

He praised her turn in extravagant terms. She laughed with pleasure and leaned her head back against the cushion.

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"Are you tired?" he asked, anxiously, bending close.

"No, I am happy! Too happy!" she answered.

"Why? Tell me why?" he entreated.

With truth she could have answered "Because I am with you." But even Phosie, with all her frankness, would not say that.

"I have made a success," she said. "I have pleased Mr Addison and the manager of the Paramount. I shall be able to earn a good living for myself and Little Gus."

"Why are you so fond of that boy?" asked Race. "I can't understand it."

Phosie's bright eyes opened wide in surprise.

"We have been friends, brother and sister so long. People don't like Gus, for they don't know him as well as I do. Poor fellow!"

"He is so dull, so stupid!" urged Walter.

"Oh, no, he isn't. He can be very funny when we're all by ourselves. At least, he thinks I'm very funny, and perhaps I like that even better."

"Forgive me," said Walter. "I ought not to have spoken of your old friend like that, but I can't help seeing how utterly unworthy—"

To his surprise she laid her hand on his arm, her whole manner changed. She was serious, appealing.

"I want you to be generous to Gus, even in your thoughts," she said. "He has no friends and all his life has been unfortunate."

"Is he—is he—" began Race, and hesitated for a word. "Is he at all feeble-minded?"

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Phosie. "But he hasn't a good memory and he can't study. He always seems to me to be groping in the dark, longing to understand life, but unable to see his way, undeveloped, childish without the bright promise of a child."

She had forgotten her companion for a second, and | | 170 now she looked at him again and her gravity passed away. He had hardly noticed what she said, absorbed in studying her face.

"Why do you look at me so earnestly?" said Phosie.

No other girl could have asked that question, he thought, with such direct simplicity. For once in his life he could find no words to answer. His pulse quickened and he struggled with himself, knowing that his safety lay in silence. He could not speak to her at that minute without betraying his infatuation.

She was apparently unconscious of his confusion, and played the accompaniment to a little tune running in her head on the closed doors of the cab. She had taken off one glove and he noticed the curious ring of turquoise hearts. Phosie, accustomed to wearing it, did not suspect his pang of jealousy, but the tense silence which had fallen between them suddenly struck her as very amusing.

Miss Sapio had described Walter as "singularly fascinating," and she wondered whether all singularly fascinating young men glared at a girl without speaking for minutes at a stretch. She really could see no occasion for such solemnity.

The cab stopped and she gave a little gasp of relief. Walter instantly returned to his usual manner. She hardly touched his hand in stepping out, but their eyes met in a swift flash of mirthful understanding.

Gus, who had been in the upper circle at the Paramount, was waiting for them in the little drawing-room.

"Fine!" exclaimed Gus, squeezing Phosie's hand. "Fine!"

He could say no more, but he repeated "Fine!" at intervals during the evening.

It was over an hour before Miss Sapio, accompanied by Hewett Addison, returned from the theatre, but Race and Phosie chattered without ceasing the whole of the | | 171 time. Their talk was the lightest of the light and bewildered Gus. After a few weak attempts to join in, only to find himself several topics behind, he gave it up and passed the time in slow, solemn perusal of a comic paper.

Miss Sapio, when she reached home in a state of bubbling excitement, made Phosie describe every incident of the evening, having found Addison a poor reporter of interesting details.

Mr Quizzical Quilter, arriving when supper was in full swing, added greatly to the hilarity of the party. He admired Phosie more than ever, and expressed it, according to his usual habit with ladies, by expressive winks or grotesque grimaces whenever she looked in his direction.

Walter Race was inclined to resent, on the girl's account, these attentions, but Phosie flattered the old gentleman, and even liked him, out of sheer good-temper and friendliness to all men. She preferred Quizzy when he was sensible and told amusing little anecdotes about his grandchildren, but she always treated him with pretty consideration.

It was past midnight before Miss Sapio bade her guests good-night. She accompanied them to the hall door.

Hewett Addison, who lived at that time only a couple of streets away, offered to take Quizzy home, for that veteran, when he felt the cold night air, was seized with a violent fit of coughing and seemed to shrivel up in his big check ulster, as if he had been touched by the wand of a spiteful magician.

Little Gus echoed the cough. Phosie looked at him anxiously, and, by great good fortune, saw an empty cab meandering along in the distance. The young man whistled, the driver raised his whip in answering signal, and clattered down the road to the house.

Gus scrambled into the cab. Phosie put her foot upon | | 172 the step to follow him, when she felt the light touch of Race's hand on her arm, and she heard him say, quickly and softly:

"Will you walk?"

She looked at him in surprise, one foot still on the pavement.

It was a beautiful night, clear and starry.

Phosie answered his question with a little nod, and bent forward to speak to Gus, while Race told Miss Sapio of their intention.

Miss Sapio only laughed, quite content for her friends to be as unconventional as herself.

Phosie was embraced again, and Walter enjoined to take "jolly good care of her."

The cab rattled away. Addison and Quizzy slowly departed in the opposite direction. Miss Sapio went in, slamming the door behind her.

Euphrosyne and Walter were alone.

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