In the days that followed, Magnus was busy filming the last scraps of Hommage in a studio near London; these were close-ups, chiefly of his hands, as he did intricate things with cards and coins, but he insisted on wearing full costume and make-up. There was also a time-taking quarrel with a fashionable photographer who was to provide publicity pictures, and who kept assuring Magnus that he wanted to catch “the real you”. But Magnus didn’t want candid pictures of himself, and he was rather personal in his insistence that the photographer, a bearded fanatic who wore sandals, was not likely to capture with his camera something he had taken pains to conceal for more than thirty years. So we went to a very famous photographer who was celebrated for his pictures of royalty, and he and Magnus plotted some portraits, taken in a splendid old theatre, that satisfied both of them. All of this took time, until there was no longer any reason for us to stay in London. But Lind and Ingestree, and to a lesser degree Kinghovn, were determined to hear the remainder of Magnus’s story, and after a good deal of teasing and protesting that there was really nothing to it, and that he was tired of talking about himself, it was agreed that they should spend our last day in London with us, and have their way.
“I’m doing it for Ingestree, really,” said Magnus, and I thought it an odd remark, as he and Roly had not been on the best of terms since they first met at Sorgenfrei. Inquisitive, as always, I found a time to mention this to Roly, who was puzzled and flattered. “Can’t imagine why he said that,” was his comment; “but there’s something about him that rouses more than ordinary curiosity in me. He’s terribly like someone I’ve known, but I can’t say who it is. And I’m fascinated by his crusty defence of old Tresize and his wife. I know a bit about Sir John that puts him in a very different light from the rosy glow Magnus spreads over his memories. These recollections of old actors, you know—awful old hams, most of them. Its the most perishable of the arts. Have you ever had the experience of seeing a film you saw thirty or even forty years ago and thought wonderful? Avoid it, I urge you. Appallingly disillusioning. One remembers something that never had any reality. No, old actors should be let die.”
“What about old conjurors?” I said; “Why Hommage? Why don’t you leave Robert-Houdin in his grave?”
“That’s precisely where he is. You don’t think this film we’re making is really anything like the old boy, do you? With every modern technique at our command, and Jurgen Lind sifting every shot through his own marvellously contemporary concept of magic—no, no, if you could be whisked back in time and see Robert-Houdin you’d see something terribly tacky in comparison with what we’re offering. He’s just a peg on which Jurgen is hanging a fine modern creation. We need all the research and reconstruction and whatnot to produce something inescapably contemporary; a paradox, but that’s how it is.”
“Then you believe that there is no time but the present moment, and that everything in the past is diminished by the simple fact that it is irrecoverable? I suppose there’s a name for that point of view, but at present I can’t put my tongue to it.”
“Yes, that’s pretty much what I believe. Eisengrim’s raptures about Sir John and Milady interest me as a phenomenon of the present; I’m fascinated that he should think as he does at this moment, and put so much feeling into expressing what he feels. I can’t be persuaded for an instant that those two old spooks were anything very special.”
“You realize, of course, that you condemn yourself to the same treatment? You’ve done some work that people have admired and admire still. Are you agreed that it should be judged as you judge Magnus’s idols?”
“Of course. Let it all go! I’ll have my whack and that’ll be the end of me. I don’t expect any yellow roses on my monument. Nor a monument, as a matter of fact. But I’m keenly interested in other monument-worshippers. Magnus loves the past simply because it feeds his present, and that’s all there is to it. It’s the piety and ancestor-worship of a chap who, as he’s told us, had a nasty family and a horrid childhood and has had to dig up a better one. Before he’s finished he’ll tell us the Tresizes were his real parents, or his parents in art, or something of that sort. Want to bet?”
I never bet, and I wouldn’t have risked money on that, because I thought that Ingestree was probably right.