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1

Because of Jurgen Linds slow methods of work, it took longer to get Un Hommage a Robert-Houdin into a final form than we had expected, and it was nearly three months later when Eisengrim, Liesl, and I journeyed to London to see what it looked like. The polite invitation suggested that criticism would be welcome. Eisengrim was the star, and Liesl had put up a good deal of the money for the venture, expecting to get it back over the next two or three years, with substantial gains, but I think we all knew that criticism of Lind would not be gratefully received. A decent pretence was to be kept up, all the same.

We three rarely travelled together; when we did there was always a good deal of haggling about where we should stay. I favoured small, modest hotels; Liesl felt a Swiss nationalist pull toward any hotel, anywhere, that was called the Ritz; Eisengrim wanted to stop at the Savoy.

The suite we occupied at the Savoy was precisely to his taste. It had been decorated in the twenties, and not changed since; the rooms were large, and the walls were in that most dismal of decorators colours, off-white; below the ceiling of the drawing-room was a nine-inch border of looking-glass; there was an Art Moderne fireplace with an electric fire in it which, when in use, gave off a heavy smell of roasted dust and reminiscences of mice; the furniture was big, and clumsy in the twenties mode. The windows looked out on what I called an alley, and what even Liesl called a mean street, but to our amazement Magnus came up with the comment that nobody who called himself a gentleman ever looked out of the window. (What did he know about the fine points of upper-class behaviour?) There was a master bedroom of astonishing size, and Magnus grabbed it for himself, saying that Liesl might have the other bed in it. My room, not quite so large but still a big room, was nearer the bathroom. That chamber was gorgeous in a style long forgotten, with what seemed to be Roman tiling, a sunken bath, and a giantesss bidet. The daily rate for this grandeur startled me even when I had divided it by three, but I held my peace, and hoped we would not stay long. I am not a stingy man, but I think a decent prudence becoming even in the very rich, like Liesl. Also, I knew enough about the very rich to understand that I should not be let off with a penny less than my full third of whatever was spent.

Magnus was taking his new position as a film stareven though it was only as the star of a television special with a seriousness that seemed to me absurd. The very first night he insisted on having Lind and his gang join us for what he called a snack in our drawing-room. Snack! Solomon and the Queen of Sheba would have been happy with such a snack; when I saw it laid out by the waiters I was so oppressed by the thought of what a third of it would come to that I wondered if I should be able to touch a morsel. But the others ate and drank hugely, and almost as soon as they entered the room began hinting that Magnus should continue the story he had begun at Sorgenfrei. That was what I wanted, too, and as it was plain that I was going to pay dear to hear it, I overcame my scruple and made sure of my share of the feast.

The showing of Hommage had been arranged for the following afternoon at three oclock. Good, said Magnus; that will allow me the morning to make a little sentimental pilgrimage I have in mind.

Polite interest from Ingestree, and delicately inquisitive probings as to what this pilgrimage might be.

Something associated with a turning-point in my life, said Magnus. I feel that one should not be neglectful of such observances.

Was it anything with which the B.B.C. could be helpful, Ingestree asked.

No, not at all, said Magnus. I simply want to lay some flowers at the foot of a monument.

Surely, Ingestree persisted, Magnus would permit somebody from the publicity department, or from a newspaper, to get a picture of this charming moment? It could be so helpful later, when it was necessary to work up enthusiasm for the film.

Magnus was coy. He would prefer not to make public a private act of gratitude and respect. But he was willing to admit, among friends, that what he meant to do was part of the subtext of the film; an act related to his own career; something he did whenever he found himself in London.

He had now gone so far that it was plain he wanted to be coaxed, and Ingestree coaxed him with a mixture of affection and respect that was worthy of admiration. It was plain to be seen how Ingestree had not merely survived, but thriven, in the desperate world of television. It was not long before Magnus yielded, as I suppose he meant to do from the beginning.

Its nothing in the least extraordinary. Im going to lay a few yellow rosesI hope I can get yellow onesat the foot of the monument to Henry Irving behind the National Portrait Gallery. You know it. Its one of the best-known monuments in London. Irving, splendid and gracious, in his academical robes, looking up Charing Cross Road. I promised Milady Id do that, in her name and my own, if I ever came to the point in life where I could afford such gestures. And I have. And so I shall.

Now you really mustnt tease us any more, said Ingestree. We must be told. Who is Milady?

Lady Tresize, said Magnus, and there was no hint of banter in his voice any longer. He was solemn. But Ingestree hooted with laughter.

My God! he said, You dont mean Old Mother Tresize? Old Nan? You knew her?

Better than you apparently did, said Magnus. She was a dear friend of mine, and very good to me when I needed a friend. She was one of Irvings protegees, and in her name I do honour to his memory.

WellI apologize. I apologize profoundly. I never knew her well, though I saw something of her. Youll admit she was rather a joke as an actress.

Perhaps. Though I saw her give some remarkable performances. She didnt always get parts that were suited to her.

I cant imagine what parts could ever have suited her. Its usually admitted she held the old man back. Dragged him down, in fact. He really may have been good, once. If hed had a decent leading lady he mightnt have ended up as he did.

I didnt know that he had ended up badly. Indeed I know for a fact that he had quite a happy retirement, and was happier because he shared it with her. Are we talking about the same people?

I suppose it depends on how one looks at it. Id better shutup.

No, no, said Lind. This is just the time to keep on. Who are these people called Tresize? Theatre people, I suppose?

Sir John Tresize was one of the most popular romantic actors of his day, said Magnus.

But in an absolutely appalling repertoire, said Ingestree, who seemed unable to hold his tongue. He went on into the twenties acting stuff that was moth-eaten when Irving died. You should have seen it, Jurgen! The Lyons Mail, The Corsican Brothers, and that interminable Master of Ballantrae; seeing him in repertory was a peep into the dark backward and abysm of time, let me tell you!

Thats not true, said Magnus, and I knew how hot he was by the coolness with which he spoke. He did some fine things, if you would take the trouble to find out. Some admired Shakespearean performances; a notable Hamlet. The money he made on The Master of Ballantrae he spent on introducing the work of Maeterlinck to England.

Maeterlincks frightfully old hat, said Ingestree.

Now, perhaps. But fashions change. And when Sir John Tresize introduced Maeterlinck to England he was an innovator. Have you no charity toward the past?

Not a scrap.

I think less of you for it.

Oh, come off it! Youre an immensely accomplished actor yourself. You know how the theatre is. Of all the arts it has least patience with bygones.

You have said several times that I am a good actor, because I can put up a decent show as Robert-Houdin. Im glad you think so. Have you ever asked yourself where I learned to do that? One of the things that has given my work a special flavour is that I give my audiences something to look at apart from good tricks. They like the way I act the part of a conjuror. They say it has romantic flair. What they really mean is that it is projected with a skilled nineteenth-century technique. And where did I learn that?

Well, obviously youre going to tell me you learned it from old Tresize. But it isnt the same, you know. I mean, I remember him. He was lousy.

Depends on the point of view, I suppose. Perhaps you had some reason not to like him.

Not at all.

You said you knew him.

Oh, very slightly.

Then you missed a chance to know him better. I had that chance and I took it. Probably I needed it more than you did. I took it, and I paid for it, because knowing Sir John didnt come cheap. And Milady was a great woman. So tomorrow morningyellow roses.

Youll let us send a photographer?

Not after what youve been saying. I dont pretend to an overwhelming delicacy, but I have some. So keep away, please, and if you disobey me I wont finish the few shots you still have to make on Hommage. Is that clear?

It was clear, and after lingering a few minutes, just to show that they could not be easily dismissed, Ingestree, and Jurgen Lind, and Kinghovn left us.


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