Our last day was a Saturday, and the three film-makers appeared in time for lunch at the Savoy. Liesl had arranged that we should have one of the good tables looking out over the Embankment, and it was a splendid autumn day. The light, as it fell on our table, could not have been improved on by Kinghovn himself. Magnus never ate very much, and today he confined himself to some cold beef and a dish of rice pudding. It gave him a perverse pleasure to order these nursery dishes in restaurants where other people gorged on luxuries, and he insisted that the Savoy served the best rice pudding in London. The others ate heartily, Ingestree with naked and rather touching relish, Kinghovn like a man who has not seen food for a week, and Lind with a curious detachment, as though he were eating to oblige somebody else, and did not mean to disappoint them. Liesl was in one of her ogress moods and ordered steak tartare, which seemed to me no better than raw meat. I had the set lunch; excellent value.
“You spoke of Tresize’s egoism when last we dealt with the subtext,” said Lind, champing his great jaws on a lamb chop.
“I did, and I may have misled you. Shortly after I had my talk with Milady, we stopped rehearsing at the Crown and Two Chairmen, and moved into the theatre where Scaramouche was to appear. It was the Globe. We needed a theatre with plenty of backstage room because it was a pretty elaborate show. Sir John still held to the custom of opening in London with a new piece; no out-of-town tour to get things shaken down. It was an eye-opener to me to walk into a theatre that was better than the decrepit vaudeville houses where I had appeared with Willard; there was a discipline and a formality I had never met with. I was hired as an assistant stage manager (with a proviso that I should act ‘as cast’ if required) and I had everything to learn about the job. Luckily old Macgregor was a patient and thorough teacher. I had lots to do. That was before the time when the stagehands’ union was strict about people who were not members moving and arranging things, and some of my work was heavy. I was on good terms with the stage crew at once, and I quickly found out that this put a barrier between me and the actors, although I had to become a member of Actors’ Equity. But I was ‘crew’, and although everybody was friendly I was not quite on the level of ‘company’. What was I? I was necessary, and even important, to the play, but I found out that my name was to appear on the programme simply as Macgregor’s assistant. I had no place in the list of the cast.
“Yet I was rehearsed carefully, and it seemed to me that I was doing well. I was trying to capture Sir John’s rhythm, and now, to my surprise, he was helping me. We spent quite a lot of time on Two, two. I did my juggling with my back to the audience, but as I was to wear a costume identical with Sir John’s, the audience would assume that was who I was, if I could bring off another sort of resemblance.
“That was an eye-opener. I was vaudeville trained, and my one idea of stage deportment was to be fast and gaudy. That wasn’t Sir John’s way at all. ‘Deliberately; deliberately,’ he would say, over and over again. “Let them see what you’re doing. Don’t be flashy and confusing. Do it like this.’ And then he would caper across the stage, making motions like a man juggling plates, but at a pace I thought impossibly slow. ‘Its not keeping the plates in the air that’s important,’ he would say. ‘Of course you can do that. It’s being Scaramouche that’s important. It’s the character you must get across. Eh? You understand the character, don’t you? Eh? Have you looked at the Callots?’
“No, I hadn’t looked at the Callots, and didn’t know what they were. ‘Here m’boy; look here,’ he said, showing me some funny little pictures of people dressed as Scaramouche, and Polichinelle and other Commedia characters. ‘Get it like that! Make that real! You must be a Callot in motion.’
“It was new and hard work for me to catch the idea of making myself like a picture, but I was falling under Sir John’s spell and was ready to give it a try. So I capered and pointed my toes, and struck exaggerated postures like the little pictures, and did my best.
“ ‘Hands! Hands!’ he would shout, warningly, when I had my work cut out to make the plates dance. ‘Not like hooks, m’boy, like this! See! Keep ‘em like this!’ And then he would demonstrate what he wanted, which was a queer trick for a juggler, because he wanted me to hold my hands with the little finger and the forefinger extended, and the two middle fingers held together. It looked fine as he did it, but it wasn’t my style at all. And all the time he kept me dancing with my toes stuck out and my heels lifted, and he wanted me to get into positions which even I could see were picturesque, but couldn’t copy.
“ ‘Sorry, Sir John,’ I said one day. ‘It’s just that it feels a bit loony.’
“ ‘Aha, you’re getting it at last!’ he shouted, and for the first time he smiled at me. ‘That’s what I want! I want it a bit loony. Like Scaramouche, you see. Like a charlatan in a travelling show.’
“I could have told him a few things about charlatans in travelling shows, and the way their looniness takes them, but it wouldn’t have done. I see now that it was Romance he was after, not realism, but it was all a mystery to me then. I don’t think I was a slow learner, and in our second rehearsal in the theatre, where we had the plates, and the cloaks, and the tightrope to walk, I got my first real inkling of what it was all about, and where I was wrong and Sir John—in terms of Romance—was right.
“I told you I had to caper across the tightrope, as Scaramouche escaping from the angry aristocrats. I was high above their heads, and as I had only about thirty feet to go, at the farthest, I had to take quite a while over it while pretending to be quick. Sir John wanted the rope—it was a wire, really—to be slackish, so that it rocked and swayed. Apparently that was the Callot style. For balance I carried a long stick that I was supposed to have snatched from Polichinelle. I was doing it circus-fashion, making it look as hard as possible, but that wouldn’t do: I was to rock on the wire, and be very much at ease, and when I was half-way across the stage I was to thumb my nose at the Marquis de la Tour d’Azyr, my chief enemy. I could thumb my nose. Not the least trouble. But the way I did it didn’t please Sir John. ‘Like this,’ he would say, and put an elegant thumb to his long, elegant nose, and twiddle the fingers. I did it several times, and he shook his head. Then an idea seemed to strike him.
“ ‘M’boy, what does that gesture mean to you?’ he asked, fixing me with a lustrous brown eye.
“ ‘Kiss my arse, Sir John,’ said I, bashfully: I wasn’t sure he would know such a rude word. He looked grave, and shook his head slowly from side to side three or four times.
“ ‘You have the essence of it, but only in the sense that the snail on the garden wall is the essence of Escargots a la Nicoise. What you convey by that gesture is all too plainly the grossly derisive invitation expressed by your phrase. Kiss my arse; it doesn’t even get as far as Baisez mon cul. What I want is a Rabelaisian splendour of contempt linked with a Cailotesque elegance of grotesquerie. What it boils down to is that you’re not thinking it right. You’re thinking Kiss my arse with a strong American accent, when what you ought to be thinking is—’ and suddenly, though he was standing on the stage, he swayed perilously and confidently as though he were on the wire, and raised one eyebrow and opened his mouth in a grin like a leering wolf, and allowed no more than the tip of a very sharp red tongue to loll out on his lips and there it was! Kiss my arse with class, and God knows how many years of actors’ technique and a vivid memory of Henry Irving all backing it up.
“ ‘I think I get it,’ I said, and had a try. He was pleased. Again. Better pleased. ‘You’re getting close,’ he said; ‘now, tell me what you’re thinking when you do that? Mph? Kiss my arse, quonk? But what kind of Kiss my arse? Quonk? Quonk?’
“I didn’t know what to tell him, but I couldn’t be silent. ‘Not Kiss my arse at all,’ I said.
“ ‘What then? What are you thinking? Eh? You must be thinking something, because you’re getting what I want. Tell me what it is?’
“Better be truthful, I thought. He sees right into me and he’ll spot a lie at once. I took my courage in my hand. ‘I was thinking that I must be born again,’ I said. ‘Quite right, m’boy; born again and born different, as Mrs. Poyser very wisely said,’ was Sir John’s comment. (Who was Mrs. Poyser? I suppose its the kind of thing Ramsay knows.)
“Born again! I’d always thought of it, when I thought about it at all, as a spiritual thing; you went through a conversion, or you found Christ, or whatever it was, and from that time you were different and never looked back. But to get inside Sir John I had to be born again physically, and if the spiritual trick is harder than that. Heaven must be thinly populated. I spent hours capering about in quiet places offstage, whenever Macgregor didn’t need me, trying to be like Sir John, trying to get style even into Kiss my arse. What was the result? Next time we rehearsed Two, two, I was awful. I nearly dropped a plate, and for a juggler that’s a shattering experience. (Don’t laugh! I don’t mean it as a joke.) But worse was to come. At the right moment I stepped out on the swaying wire, capered toward middle stage, thumbed my nose at Gordon Barnard, who was playing the Marquis, lost my balance, and fell off; Duparc’s training stood by me, and I caught the wire with my hands, swung in mid-air for a couple of seconds, and then heaved myself back up and got my footing, and scampered to the opposite side. The actors who were rehearsing that day applauded, but I was destroyed with shame, and Sir John was grinning exactly like Scaramouche, with an inch of red tongue between his lips.
“ ‘Don’t think they’ll quite accept you as me if you do that, m’boy,’ said he. ‘Eh, Holroyd? Eh, Barnard? Quonk? Try it again.’
“I tried it again, and didn’t fall, but I knew I was hopeless; I hadn’t found Sir John’s style and I was losing my own. After another bad try Sir John moved on to another scene, but Milady beckoned me away into a box, from which she was watching the rehearsal. I was full of apologies.
“ ‘Of course you fell,’ she said. ‘But it was a good fall. Laudable pus, I call it. You’re learning.’
“Laudable pus! What in God’s name did she mean! I thought I would never get used to Milady’s lingo. But she saw the bewilderment in my face, and explained.
“ ‘It’s a medical expression. Out of fashion now, I expect. But my grandfather was rather a distinguished physician and he used it often. In those days, you know, when someone had a wound, they couldn’t heal it as quickly as they do now; they dressed it and probed it every few days to see how it was getting on. If it was healing well, from the bottom, there was a lot of nasty stuff near the surface, and that was evidence of proper healing. They called it laudable pus. I know you’re trying your very best to please Sir John, and it means a sharp wound to your own personality. As the wound heals, you will be nearer what we all want. But meanwhile there’s laudable pus, and it shows itself in clumsiness and falls. When you get your new style, you’ll understand what I mean.’
“Had I time to get a new style before the play opened? I was worried sick, and I suppose it showed, because when he had a chance old Frank Moore had a word with me.
“ ‘You’re trying to catch the Guvnor’s manner and you aren’t making a bad fist of it, but there are one or two things you haven’t noticed. You’re an acrobat, good enough to walk the slackwire, but you’re tight as a drum. Look at the Guvnor: he hasn’t a taut muscle in his body, nor a slack one, either. He’s in easy control all the time. Have you noticed him standing still? When he listens to another actor, have you seen how still he is? Look at you now, listening to me; you bob about and twist and turn and nod your head with enough energy to turn a windmill. But it’s all waste, y’see. If we were in a scene, you’d be killing half the value of what I say with all that movement. Just try to sit still. Yes, there you go; you’re not still at all, you’re frozen. Stillness isn’t looking as if you were full of coiled springs. It’s repose. Intelligent repose, that’s what the Guvnor has. What I have, too, as a matter of fact. What Barnard has. What Milady has. I suppose you think repose means asleep, or dead.
“ ‘Now look, my lad, and try to see how it’s done. It’s mostly your back. Got to have a good strong back, and let it do ninety per cent of the work. Forget legs. Look at the Guvnor hopping around when he’s being Scaramouche. He’s nippier on his pins than you are. Look at me. I’m real old, but I bet I can dance a hornpipe better than you can. Look at this! Can you do a double shuffle like that? That’s legs, to look at, but it’s back in reality. Strong back. Don’t pound down into the floor at every step. Forget legs.
“ ‘How do you get a strong back? Well, it’s hard to describe it, but once you get the feel of it you’ll see what I’m talking about. The main thing is to trust your back and forget you have a front; don’t stick out your chest or your belly; let ‘em look after themselves. Trust your back and lead from your back. And just let your head float on top of your neck. You’re all made of whipcord and wire. Loosen it up and take it easy. But not slump, mind it easy.’
“Suddenly the old man grabbed me by the neck and seemed about to throttle me. I jerked away, and he laughed. ‘Just as I said, you’re all wire. When I touch your neck you tighten up like a spring. Now you try to strangle me.’ I seized him by the neck, and I thought his poor old head would come off in my hands; he sank to the floor, moaning, ‘Nay, spare m’ life!’ Then he laughed like an old loony, because I suppose I looked horrified. ‘D’you see? I just let myself go and trusted to my back. You work on that for a while and bob’s your uncle; you’ll be fit to act with the Guvnor.’
“ ‘How long do you think it will take?’ I said. ‘Oh, ten or fifteen years should see you right,’ said old Frank, and walked away, still chuckling at the trick he had played on me.
“I had no ten or fifteen years. I had a week, and much of that was spent slaving for Macgregor, who kept me busy with lesser jobs while he and Holroyd fussed about the scenery and trappings for Scaramouche. I had never seen such scenery as the stage crew began to rig from the theatre grid; the vaudeville junk I was used to didn’t belong in the same world with it. The production had all been painted by the Harker Brothers, from designs by a painter who knew exactly what Sir John wanted. It was a revelation to me then, but now I understand that it owed much to prints and paintings of France during the Revolutionary period, and a quality of late-eighteenth-century detail had been used in it, apparently in a careless and half-hidden spirit, but adding up to pictures that supported and explained the play just as did the handsome costumes. People are supposed not to like scenery now, but it could be heart-stirring stuff when it was done with love by real theatre artists.
“The first act setting was in the yard of an inn, and when it was all in place I swear you could smell the horses, and the sweet air from the fields. Nowadays they fuss a lot about light in the theatre, and even stick a lot of lamps in plain sight of the audience, so you won’t miss how artistic they are being; but Sir John didn’t trouble about light in that way—the subtle effects of light were painted on the scenery, so you knew at once what time of day it was by the way the shadows fell, and what the electricians did was to illuminate the actors, and Sir John in particular.
“During all the years I worked with Sir John there was one standing direction for the electricians that was so well understood Macgregor hardly had to mention it: when the play began all lights were set at two-thirds of their power, and when Sir John was about to make his entrance they were gradually raised to full power, so that as soon as he came on the stage the audience had the sensation of seeing—and therefore understanding—much more clearly than before. Egoism, I suppose, and a little hard on the supporting actors, but Sir John’s audiences wanted him to be wonderful and he did whatever was necessary to make sure that he damned well was wonderful.
“Ah, that scenery! In the last act, which was in the salon of a great aristocratic house in Paris, there were large windows at the back, and outside those windows you saw a panorama of Paris at the time of the Revolution that conveyed, by means I don’t pretend to understand, the spirit of a great and beautiful city under appalling stress. The Harkers did it with colour; it was mostly in reddish browns highlighted with rose, and shadowed in a grey that was almost black. Busy as I was, I still found time to gape at that scenery as it was assembled.
“Costumes, too. Everybody had been fitted weeks before, but when the clothes were all assembled, and the wig-man had done his work, and the actors began to appear in carefully arranged ensembles in front of that scenery, things became clear that I had missed completely at rehearsals: things like the relation of one character to another, and of one class to another, and the Callot spirit of the travelling actors against the apparently everyday clothes of inn-servants and other minor people, and the superiority and unquestioned rank of the aristocrats. Above all, of the unquestioned supremacy of Sir John, because, though his clothes were not gorgeous, like those of Barnard as the Marquis, they had a quality of style that I did not understand until I had tried them on myself. Because, you see, as his double, I had to have a costume exactly like his when he appeared as the charlatan Scaramouche, and the first time I put it on I thought there must be some mistake, because it didn’t seem to fit at all. Sir John showed me what to do about that.
“ ‘Don’t try to drag your sleeves down, m’boy; they’re intended to be short, to show your hands to advantage, mphm? Keep ‘em up, like this, and if you use your hands the way I showed you, everything will fit, eh? And your hat—its not meant to keep off the rain, m’boy, but to show your face against the inside of the brim, quonk? Your breeches aren’t too tight; they’re not to sit down in—I don’t pay you to sit down in costume—but to stand up in, and show off your legs. Never shown your legs off before, have you? I thought as much. Well, learn to show ‘em off now, and not like a bloody chorus-girl, but like a man. Use ‘em in masculine postures, but not like a butcher boy either, and if you aren’t proud of your legs they’re going to look damned stupid, eh, when you’re walking across the stage on that rope.’
“I was green as grass. Naive, though I didn’t know the word at that time. It was very good for me to feel green. I had begun to think I knew all there was about the world, and particularly the performing world, because I had won in the struggle to keep alive in Wanless’s World of Wonders, and in Le grand Cirque forain de St. Vite. I had even dared in my heart to think I knew more about the world of travelling shows than Sir John. Of course I was right, because I knew a scrap of the reality. But he knew something very different, which was what the public wants to think the world of travelling shows is like. I possessed a few hard-won facts, but he had artistic imagination. My job was somehow to find my way into his world, and take a humble, responsible part in it.
“Little by little it dawned on me that I was important to Scaramouche; my two short moments, when I juggled the plates, and walked the wire and thumbed my nose at the Marquis, added a cubit to the stature of the character Sir John was creating. I had also to swallow the fact that I was to do that without anybody knowing it. Of course the public would tumble to the fact that Sir John, who was getting on for sixty, had not learned juggling and wire-walking since last they saw him, but they wouldn’t understand it until they had been thrilled by the spectacle, apparently, of the great man doing exactly those things. I was anonymous and at the same time conspicuous.
“I had to have a name. Posters with the names of the actors were already in place outside the theatre, but in the programme I must appear as Macgregor’s assistant, and I must be called something. Holroyd mentioned it now and again. My name at that time, Jules LeGrand, wouldn’t do. Too fancy and, said Holroyd, a too obvious fake.
“Here again I was puzzled. Jules LeGrand an obvious fake? What about the names of some of the other members of the company? What about Eugene Fitzwarren, who had false teeth and a wig and, I would bet any money, a name that he had not been born to? What about C. Pengelly Spickeraell, a withered, middle—aged fruit, whose eyes sometimes rested warmly on my legs, when Sir John was talking about them? Had any parents, drunk or sober, with such a surname as Spickeraell, ever christened a child Cuthbert Pengelly? And if it came to fancy sounds, what about Milady’s stage name? Annette de la Borderie? Macgregor assured me that it was indeed her own, and that she came from the Channel Islands, but why was it credible when Jules LeGrand was not?
“Of course I was too green to know that I did not stand on the same footing as the other actors. I was just a trick, a piece of animated scenery, when I was on the stage. Otherwise I was Macgregor’s assistant, and none too experienced at the job, and a grand name did not befit my humble station. What was I to be called?
“The question was brought to a head by Holroyd, who approached, not me, but Macgregor, in a break between an afternoon and evening rehearsal during the final week of preparation. I was at hand, but obviously not important to the discussion. ‘What are you going to call your assistant, Mac?’ said Hoyroyd. ‘Time’s up. He’s got to have a name.’ Macgregor looked solemn. ‘I’ve given it careful thought,’ he said, ‘and I think I’ve found the verra word for him. Y’see, what’s he to the play? He’s Sir John’s double. That and no more. A shadow, you might say. But can you call him Shadow? Nunno; absurd! And takes the eye, which is just what we don’t want to do. So where do we turn—’ Holroyd broke in here, because he was apt to be impatient when Macgregor had one of his explanatory fits. ‘Why not call him Double? Dick Double! Now there’s a good, simple name that nobody’s going to notice.’ ‘But!’ said Macgregor; ‘that’s a foolish name. Dick Double! It sounds like some fella in a pantomime!’ But Holroyd was not inclined to give up his flight of fancy. ‘Nothing wrong with Double,’ he persisted. ‘There’s a Double in Shakespeare. Henry IV, Part Two, don’t you remember? Is Old Double dead? So there must have been somebody called Double. The more I think of it the better I like it. I’ll put him down as Richard Double.’ But Macgregor wouldn’t have it. ‘Nay, nay, you’ll make the lad a figure of fun,’ he said. ‘Now listen to me, because I’ve worked it out verra carefully. He’s a double. And what’s a double? Well, in Scotland, when I was a boy, we had a name for such things. If a man met a creature like himself in a lane, or in town, maybe, in the dark, it was a sure sign of ill luck or even death. Not that I suggest anything of that kind here. Nunno; as I’ve often said Airt has her own rules, and they’re not the rules of common life. Now: such an uncanny creature was called a fetch. And this lad’s a fetch, and we can do no better than to name him Fetch.’ By this time old Frank Moore joined the group, and he liked the sound of Fetch. ‘But what first name will you tack on to it?’ he said. ‘I suppose he’s got to be something Fetch? Can’t be just naked, unaccommodated Fetch.’ Macgregor closed his eyes and raised a fat hand. ‘I’ve thought of that, also,’ he said. ‘Fetch being a Scots name, he’d do well to carry a Scots given name, for added authority. Now I’ve always had a fancy for the name Mungo. In my ear it has a verra firm sound. Mungo Fetch. Can we do better?’ He looked around, for applause. But Holroyd was not inclined to agree; I think he was still hankering after Double. ‘Sounds barbaric to me. A sort of cannibal-king name, to my way of thinking. If you want a Scotch name why don’t you call him Jock?’ Macgregor looked disgusted. ‘Because Jock is not a name, but a diminutive, as everybody knows well. It is the diminutive of John. And John is not a Scots name. The Scots form of that name is Ian. If you want to call him Ian Fetch, I shall say no more. Though I consider Mungo a much superior solution to the problem.’
“Holroyd nodded at me, as if he and Macgregor and Frank Moore had been generously expending their time to do me a great favour. ‘Mungo Fetch it’s to be then, is it?’ he said, and went about his business before I had time to collect my wits and say anything at all.
“That was my trouble. I was like someone living in a dream. I was active and occupied and heard what was said to me and responded reasonably, but nevertheless I seemed to be in a lowered state of consciousness. Otherwise, how could I have put up with a casual conversation that saddled me with a new name—and a name nobody in his right mind would want to possess? But not since my first days in Wanless’s World of Wonders had I been so little in command of myself, so little aware of what fate was doing to me. It was as if I were being thrust toward something I did not know by something I could not see. Part of it was love, for I was beglamoured by Milady and barely had sense enough to understand that my state was as hopeless as it could possibly be, and that my passion was in every way absurd. Part of it must have been physical, because I was getting a pretty good regular wage, and could eat better than I had done for several months. Part of it was just astonishment at the complex business of getting a play on the stage, which presented me with some new marvel every day.
“As Macgregor’s assistant I had to be everywhere and consequently I saw everything. Because of my mechanical bent I took pleasure in all the mechanism of a fine theatre, and wanted to know how the flymen and scene-shifters organized their work, how the electrician contrived his magic, and how Macgregor controlled it all with signal-lights from his little cubby-hole on the left-hand side of the stage, just inside the proscenium. I had to make up the call-lists, so that the call-boy—who was no boy but older than myself—could warn the actors when they were wanted on stage five minutes before each entrance. I watched Macgregor prepare his Prompt Book, which was an interleaved copy of the play, with every cue for light, sound, and action entered into it; he was proud of his books, and marked them in a fine round hand, in inks of different colours, and every night the book was carefully locked in a safe in his little office. I helped the property-man prepare his lists of everything that was needed in the play, so that a mass of materials from snuffboxes to hay-forks could be organized on the property-tables in the wings; my capacity to make or mend fiddling little bits of mechanism made me a favourite with him. Indeed the property-man and I worked up a neat little performance as a flock of hens who were heard clucking in the wings when the curtain rose on the inn scene. It was my job to hand C. Pengelly Spickernell the trumpet on which he sounded a fanfare just before the travelling-cart of the Commedia dell’ Arte players made its entrance into the inn-yard; to hand it to him and recover it later, and shake C. Pengelly’s spit out of it before putting it back on the property-table. There seemed to be no end to my duties.
“I had also to learn to make up my face for my brief appearance. Vaudevillian that I was, I had been accustomed to colour my face a vivid shade of salmon, and touch up my eyebrows; I had never made up my neck or my hands in my life. I quickly learned that something more subtle was expected by Sir John; his make-up was elaborate, to disguise some signs of age but even more to throw his best features into prominence. Eric Foss, a very decent fellow in the company, showed me what to do, and it was from him I learned that Sir John’s hands were always coloured an ivory shade, and that his ears were liberally touched up with carmine. Why red ears, I wanted to know. ‘The Guvnor thinks it gives an appearance of health,’ said Foss, ‘and make sure you touch up the insides of your nostrils with the same colour, because it makes your eyes look bright.’ I didn’t understand it, but I did as I was told.
“Make-up was a subject on which every actor had strong personal opinions. Gordon Barnard took almost an hour to put on his face, transforming himself from a rather ordinary-looking chap into a strikingly handsome man. Reginald Charlton, on the other hand, was of the modern school and used as little make-up as possible, because he said it made the face into a mask, and inexpressive. Grover Paskin, our comedian, put on paint almost with a trowel, and worked like a Royal Academician building up warts and nobbles and tufts of hair on his rubbery old mug. Eugene Fitzwarren strove for youth, and took enormous pains making his eyes big and lustrous, and putting white stuff on his false teeth so that they would flash to his liking.
“Old Frank Moore was the most surprising of the lot, because he had become an actor when water colours were used for make-up instead of the modern greasepaints. He washed his face with care, powdered it dead white, and then applied artist’s paints out of a large Reeves’ box, with fine brushes, until he had the effect he wanted. In the wings he looked as if his face were made of china, but under the lights the effect was splendid. I particularly marvelled at the way he put shadows where he wanted them by drawing the back of a lead spoon over the hollows of his eyes and cheeks. It wasn’t good for his skin, and he had a hide like an alligator in private life, but it was certainly good for the stage, and he was immensely proud of the fact that Irving, who made up in the same way, had once complimented him on his art.
“So, working fourteen hours a day, but nevertheless in a dream, I made my way through the week of the final dress rehearsal, and something happened there that changed my life. I did my stage manager’s work in costume, but with a long white coat over it, to keep it clean, and when Two, two came I had to whip it off, pop on my hat, take a final look in the full-length mirror just offstage in the corridor, and dash back to the wings to be ready for my plate-juggling moment. That went as rehearsed, but when it was time for my second appearance, walking the rope, I forgot something. During the scene when Andre-Louis made his revolutionary speech, he began by taking off his hat, and thrusting his Scaramouche mask up on his forehead. It was a half-mask, coming down to the mouth only; it was coloured a rosy red, and had a very long nose, just as Callot would have drawn it. When Sir John thrust it up on his brow, revealing his handsome, intent revolutionary’s face, extremely picturesque, it was a fine accent of colour, and the long nose seemed to add to his height. But when I appeared on the rope I was to have the mask pulled down, and when I made my contemptuous gesture toward the Marquis it was the long red nose of the mask I was to thumb.
“I managed very well till it came to the nose-thumbing bit, when I realized with horror that it was my own nose flesh I was thumbing. I had forgotten the mask! Unforgivable! So as soon as I could get away from Macgregor during the interval for the scene-change, I rushed to find Sir John and make my apologies. He had gone out into the stalls of the theatre, and was surrounded by a group of friends, who were congratulating him in lively tones, and I didn’t need to listen for long to find out that it was his performance on the rope they were talking about. So I crept away, and waited till he came backstage again. Then I approached him and said my humble say.
“Milady was with him and she said, ‘Jack, you’d be mad to throw it away. It’s a gift from God. If it fooled Reynolds and Lucy Bellamy it will fool anyone. They’ve known you for years, and it deceived them completely. You must let him do it.’ But Sir John was not a man to excuse anything, even a happy accident, and he fixed me with a stern eye. ‘Do you swear that was by accident? You weren’t presuming? Because I won’t put up with any presumption from a member of my company.’ ‘Sir John, I swear on the soul of my mother it was a mistake,’ I said. (Odd that I should have said that, but it was a very serious oath of Zovene’s, and I needed something serious at that moment; actually, at the time I spoke, my mother was living and whatever Ramsay says to the contrary, her soul was in bad repair.) ‘Very well,’ said Sir John, ‘we’ll keep it in. In future, when you walk the rope, wear your mask up on your head, as I do mine. And you’d better come to me for a lesson in make-up. You look like Guy Fawkes. And bear in mind that this is not to be a precedent. Any other clever ideas that come to you you’d be wise to suppress. I don’t encourage original thought in my productions.’ He looked angry as he walked away. I wanted to thank Milady for intervening on my behalf, but she was off to make a costume change.
“When I went back to Macgregor I thought he looked at me very queerly. ‘You’re a lucky laddie, Mungo Fetch,’ said he, ‘but don’t press your luck too hard. Many a small talent has come to grief that way.’ I asked him what he meant, but he just made his Scotch noise—’Hut’—and went on with his work.
“I don’t think I would have dared to carry the matter any further if Holroyd and Frank Moore had not borne down on Macgregor after the last act. ‘What do you think of your Mungo now?’ said Frank, and once again they began to talk exactly as if I were not standing beside them, busy with a time-sheet. ‘I think it would have been better to give him another name,’ said Macgregor; ‘a fetch is an uncanny thing, and I don’t want anything uncanny in any theatre where I am in a place of responsibility.’ But Holroyd was as near buoyant as I ever saw him. ‘Uncanny, my eye,’ he said; ‘its the cherry on the top of the cake. The Guvnor’s close friends were deceived. Coup de theatre, they called it; that’s French for a bloody good wheeze.’ ‘You don’t need to tell me it’s French,’ said Macgregor. ‘I’ve no use for last-minute inspirations and unrehearsed effects. Amateurism, that’s what that comes to.’
“I couldn’t be quiet. ‘Mr. Macgregor, I didn’t mean to do it,’ I said; ‘I swear it on the soul of my mother.’ ‘All right, all right, I believe you without your Papist oaths,’ said Macgregor, ‘and I’m just telling you not to presume on the resemblance any further, or you’ll be getting a word from me.’ ‘What resemblance?’ I said. ‘Don’t talk to us as if we’re fools, m’boy,’ said old Frank. ‘You know damned well you’re the living image of the Guvnor in that outfit. Or the living image of him when I first knew him, I’d better say. Don’t you hear what’s said to you? Didn’t I tell you a fortnight ago? You’re as like the Guvnor as if you were spit out of his mouth. You’re his fetch, right enough.’ ‘Dinna say that,’ shouted Macgregor, becoming very broad in his Scots; ‘haven’t I told you it’s uncanny?’ But I began to understand, and I was as horrified as Macgregor. The impudence of it! Me, looking like the Guvnor! ‘What’d I better do?’ I said, and Holroyd and old Frank laughed like a couple of loonies. ‘Just be tactful, that’s all,’ said Holroyd. ‘It’s very useful. You’re the best double the Guvnor’s ever had, and it’ll be a livelihood to you for quite a while, I dare say. But be tactful.’
“Easy to tell me to be tactful. When your soul is blasted by a sudden uprush of pride, it’s cruel hard work to be tactful. Within an hour my sense of terrible impertinence in daring to look like the Guvnor had given way to a bloating vanity. Sir John was handsome, right enough, but thousands of men are handsome. He was something far beyond that. He had a glowing splendour that made him unlike anybody else—except me, it appeared, when the circumstances were right. I won’t say he had distinction, because the word has been chewed to death to describe all kinds of people who simply look frozen. Take almost any politician and put a special cravat on him and stick a monocle in his eye and he becomes the distinguished Sir Nincome Poop M.P. Sir John wasn’t frozen and his air of splendour had nothing to do with oddity. I suppose living and breathing Romance through a long career had a great deal to do with it, but it can’t have been the whole thing. And I was his fetch! I hadn’t really understood it when Moore and Holroyd had told me in the Crown and Two Chairmen that I looked like him. I knew I was of the same height, and we were built much the same—shorter than anybody wants to be, but with a length of leg that made the difference between being small and being stumpy. In my terrible clothes and with my flash, carnie’s ways—outward evidence of the life I had led and the kind of thinking it begot in me, I never thought the resemblance went beyond a reasonable facsimile. But when Sir John and I were on equal terms—dressed and wigged alike, against the same scenery and under the same lights, and lifted into the high sweet air of Romance—his friends had been deceived by the likeness. That was a stupefying drink for Paul Dempster, alias Cass Fletcher, alias Jules LeGrand—cheap people, every one of them. Ask me to be tactful in the face of that! Ask the Prince of Wales to call you a taxi!
“With the first night at hand my new vanity would not have been noticed, even if I had been free to display it. Our opening was exciting, but orderly. Macgregor, splendid in a dinner jacket, was a perfect field officer and everything happened smartly on cue. Sir John’s first entrance brought the expected welcome from the audience, and in my new role as a great gentleman of the theatre I watched carefully while he accepted it. He did it in the old style, though I didn’t know that at the time: as he walked swiftly down the steps from the inn, calling for the ostler, he paused as though surprised at the burst of clapping; ‘My dear friends, is this generosity truly for me?’ he seemed to be saying, and then, as the applause reached its peak, he gave the least perceptible bow, not looking toward the house, but keeping within the character of Andre-Louis Moreau, and began calling once more, which brought silence. Easy to describe, but no small thing to do, as I learned when my time came to do it myself. Only the most accomplished actors know how to manage applause, and I was lucky to learn it from a great master.
“Milady was welcomed in the same way, but her entrance was showy, as his was not—except, of course, for that little vanity of the lighting, which was a great help. She came on with the troupe of strolling players, and it couldn’t have failed. There was C. Pengelly Spickemell on the trumpet, to begin with, and a lot of excited shouting from the inn-servants, and then further shouting from the Italian Comedians, as they strutted onstage with their travelling-wagon; Grover Paskin led on the horse that pulled the cart, and it was heaped high with drums and gaudy trunks, baskets and rolls of flags, and on the top of the heap sat Milady, making more racket than anybody as she waved a banner in the air. It would have brought a round from a Presbyterian General Assembly. The horse alone was a sure card, because an animal on the stage gives an air of opulence to a play no audience can resist, and this stage horse was famous Old Betsy, who did not perhaps remember Garrick but who had been in so many shows that she was an admired veteran. My heart grew big inside me at the wonder of it, as I watched from the wings, and my eyes moistened with love.
“They were not too moist to notice one or two things that followed. The other women in the troupe of players walked on foot. How slim they looked, and I saw that Milady, with every aid of costume, was not slim. How fresh and pretty they looked, and Milady, though extraordinary, was not fresh nor pretty. When Eugene Fitzwarren gave her his arm to descend from the cart I could not help seeing that she came down on the stage heavily, with an audible plop that she tried to cover with laughter, and the ankles she showed were undeniably thick. All right, I thought, in my fierce loyalty, what of it? She could act rings around any of them, and did it. But she was not young, and if I had been driven to the last extreme of honesty I should have had to admit that she was like nothing in the heavens above, nor in the earth beneath, nor in the waters under the earth. I only loved her the more, and yearned for her to show how marvellous she was, though—it had to be faced—too old for Climene. She was supposed to be the daughter of old Frank Moore as Polichinelle, but I fear she looked more like his frivolous sister.
“It was not until I read the book, years later, that I found out what sort of woman Sabatini meant Climene to be. She was a child just on the verge of love whose ambition was to find a rich protector and make the best bargain for her beauty. That wasn’t in Milady’s range, physically or temperamentally, for there was nothing calculating or cheap about her. So, by patient rewriting of the lines during rehearsals, she became a witty, large-hearted actress, as young as the audience would believe her to be, but certainly no child, and no beauty. Or should I say that? She had a beauty all her own, of that rare kind that only great comic actresses have; she had beauty of voice, boundless charm of manner, and she made you feel that merely pretty women were lesser creatures. She had also I cannot tell how many decades of technique behind her, because she had begun her career when she really was a child, in Irving’s Lyceum, and she could make even an ordinary line sound like wit.
“I saw all of that, and felt it through and through me like the conviction of religion, but still, alas, I saw that she was old, and eccentric, and there was a courageous pathos about what she was doing.
“I was bursting with loyalty—a new and disturbing emotion for me—and Two, two went just as Sir John wanted it. My reward was that when I appeared on the tightrope there was an audible gasp from the house, and the curtain came down to great applause and even a few cries of Bravo. They were for Sir John; of course I knew that and wished it to be so. But I was aware that without me that climax would have been a lesser achievement.
“The play went on, it seemed to me, from triumph to triumph, and the last act in Madame de Plougastel’s salon, shook me as it had never done in rehearsal. When Andre-Louis Moreau, now a leader in the Revolution, was told by the tearful Madame de Plougastel that she was his mother and that his evil genius, the Marquis de la Tour d’Azyr, was his father—this revelation drawn from her only when Moreau had his enemy at the sword’s point—it seemed to me drama could go no higher. The look that came over Sir John’s face of disillusion and defeat, before he burst into Scaramouche’s mocking laugh, I thought the perfection of acting. And so it was. It wouldn’t do now—quite out of fashion—but if you’re going to act that kind of thing, that’s the way to do it.
“Lots of curtain calls. Flowers for Milady and some for Adele Chesterton, who had not been very good but who was so pretty you wanted to eat her with a silver spoon. Sir John’s speech, which I came to know very well, in which he declared himself and Milady to be the audience’s ‘most obedient, most devoted, and most humble servants’. Then the realities of covering the furniture with dust-sheets, covering the tables of properties, checking the time-sheet with Macgregor, and watching him hobble off to put the prompt-copy to bed in the safe. Then taking off my own paint, with a feeling of exaltation and desolation combined, as if I had never been so happy before, and would certainly never be so happy again.
“It was never the custom in that company to sit up and wait to see what the newspapers said; I think that was always more New York’s style than London’s. But when I went to the theatre the following afternoon to attend to some duties, all the reports were in but those of the great Sunday thunderers, which were very important indeed. Most of the papers said kind things, but even I sensed something about these criticisms that I could have wished otherwise expressed, or not said at all. ‘Unabashed romanticism… proof positive that the Old School is still vital… dear, familiar situations, resolved in the manner hallowed by romance… Sir John’s perfect command shows no sign of diminution with the years… Lady Tresize brings a wealth of experience to a role which, in younger hands, might have seemed contrived… Sabatini is a gift to players who require the full-flavoured melodrama of an earlier day… where do we look today for acting of this scope and authority?’
“Among the notices there had been one, in the News-Chronicle, where a clever new young man was on the job, which was downright bad. PITCHER GOES TOO OFTEN TO WELL, it was headed, and it said flatly that the Tresizes were old-fashioned and hammy, and should give way to the newer theatre.
“When the Sunday papers came, the Observer took the same line as the dailies, as though they had been looking at something very fine, but through the wrong end of the binoculars; it made Scaramouche seem small and very far away. James Agate, in the Sunday Times, condemned the play, which he likened to clockwork, and used Sir John and Milady as sticks to beat modern actors who did not know how to speak or move, and were ill bred and brittle.
“ ‘Nothing there to pull ‘em in,’ I heard Holroyd saying to Macgregor.
“Nevertheless, we did pull ‘em in for nearly ten weeks. Business was slack at the beginning of each week, and grew from Wednesday onward; matinees were usually sold out, chiefly to women from the suburbs, in town for a look at the shops and a play. But I knew from the gossip that business like that, in a London theatre, was covering running costs at best, and the expenses of production were still on the Guvnor’s overdraft. He seemed cheerful, and I soon found out why. He was going to do the old actor-manager’s trick and play Scaramouche as long as it would last and then replace it ‘by popular request’ with a few weeks of his old war-horse, The Master of Ballantrae.”
“Oh my God!” said Ingestree, and it seemed to me that he turned a little white.
“You remember this play?” said Lind.
“Vividly,” said Roly.
“A very bad play?”
“I don’t want to hurt the feelings of our friend here, who feels so strong about the Tresizes,” said Ingestree. “It’s just that The Master of Ballantrae coincided with rather a low point in my own career. I was finding my feet in the theatre, and it wasn’t really the kind of thing I was looking for.”
“Perhaps you would like me to pass over it,” said Magnus, and although he was pretending to be solicitous I knew he was enjoying himself.
“Is it vital to your subtext?” said Ingestree, and he too was half joking.
“It is, really. But I don’t want to give pain, my dear fellow.”
“Don’t mind me. Worse things have happened since.”
“Perhaps I can be discreet,” said Magnus. “You may rely on me to be as tactful as possible.”
“For God’s sake don’t do that,” said Ingestree. “In my experience tact is usually worse than the brutalities of truth. Anyhow, my recollections of that play can’t be the same as yours. My troubles were mostly private.”
“Then I shall go ahead. But please feel free to intervene whenever you feel like it. Put me right on matters of fact. Even on shades of opinion. I make no pretence of being an exact historian.”
“Shoot the works,” said Ingestree. “I’ll be as still as a mouse. I promise.”
“As you wish. Well—The Master of Ballantrae was another of the Guvnor’s romantic specials. It too was from a novel, by somebody-or-other—”
“By Robert Louis Stevenson,” said Ingestree, in an undertone, “though you wouldn’t have guessed it from what appeared on the stage. These adaptations! Butcheries would be a better word—”
“Shut up, Roly,” said Kinghovn. “You said you’d be quiet.”
“I’m no judge of what kind of adaptation it was,” said Magnus, “because I haven’t read the book and I don’t suppose I ever will. But it was a good, tight, well-caulked melodrama, and people had been eating it up since the Guvnor first brought it out, which I gathered was something like thirty years before the time I’m talking about. I told you he was an experimenter and an innovator, in his day. Well, whenever he had lost a packet on Maeterlinck, or something new by Stephen Phillips, he would pull The Master out of the storehouse and fill up the bank-account again. He could go to Birmingham, and Manchester, and Newcastle, and Glasgow, and Edinburgh or any big provincial town—and those towns had big theatres, not like the little pill-boxes in London—and pack ‘em in with The Master. Especially Edinburgh, because they seemed to take the play for their own. Macgregor told me, ‘The Master’s been a mighty get-penny for Sir John.’ When you saw him in it you knew why it was so. It was made for him.”
“It certainly was,” said Ingestree. “Made for him out of the blood and bones of poor old Stevenson. I have no special affection for Stevenson, but he didn’t deserve that.”
“As you can see, it was a play that called forth strong feeling,” said Magnus. “I never read it, myself, because Macgregor always held the prompt-copy and did the prompting himself, if anybody was so absurd as to need prompting. But of course I picked up the story as we rehearsed.
“It had a nice meaty plot. Took place in Scotland around the middle of the eighteenth century. There had been some sort of trouble—I don’t know the details—and Scottish noblemen were divided in allegiance between Bonnie Prince Charlie and the King of England. The play was about a family called Durie; the old Lord of Durrisdeer had two sons, the first-born being called the Master of Ballantrae and the younger being simply Mr. Henry Durie. The old Lord decided on a sneaky compromise when the trouble came, and sent the Master off to fight for Bonnie Charlie, while Mr. Henry remained at home to be loyal to King George. On those terms, you see, the family couldn’t lose, whichever way the cat jumped.
“The Master was a dashing, adventurous fellow, but essentially a crook, and he became a spy in Prince Charlie’s camp, leaking information to the English: Mr. Henry was a scholarly, poetic sort of chap, and he stayed at home and mooned after Miss Alison Graeme; she was the old Lord’s ward, and of course she loved the dashing Master. When news came from the wars that the Master had been killed, she consented to marry Mr. Henry as a matter of duty and to provide Durrisdeer with an heir. ‘But ye ken she never really likit the fella,’ as Macgregor explained it to me; her heart was always with the Master, alive or dead. But the Master wasn’t dead; he wasn’t the dying kind; he slipped away from the battle and became a pirate—not one of your low-living dirty-faced pirates, but a very classy privateer and spy. And so, when the troubles had died down and Bonnie Charlie was out of the way, the Master came back to claim Miss Alison, and found that she was Mrs. Henry, and the mother of a fine young laird.
“The Master tried to lure Miss Alison away from her husband; Mr. Henry was noble about it, and he nobly kept mum about the Master having turned spy during the war. ‘A verra strong situation,’ as Macgregor said. Consequence, a lot of taunting talk from the Master, and an equal amount of noble endurance from Mr. Henry, and at last a really good scene, of the kind Roly hates, but our audiences loved.
“The Master had picked up in his travels an Indian servant, called Secundra Class; he knew a lot of those Eastern secrets that Western people believe in so religiously. When Mr. Henry could bear things no longer, he had a fight with the Master, and seemed to kill him; but as I told you, the Master wasn’t the dying kind. So he allowed himself to be buried, having swallowed his tongue (he’d learned that from Secundra Class) and, as it said in the play, ‘so subdued his vital forces that the spark of life, though burning low, was not wholly extinguished’. Mr. Henry, tortured by guilt, confessed his crime to his wife and the old Lord, and led them to the grove of trees where the body was buried. When the servants dug up the corpse, it was no corpse at all, but the Master, in very bad shape; the tongue-trick hadn’t worked quite as he expected—something to do with the chill of the Scottish climate, I expect—and he came to life only to cry, ‘Murderer, Henry—false, false!’ and drop dead, but not before Mr. Henry shot himself. Thereupon the curtain came down to universal satisfaction.
“I haven’t described it very respectfully. I feel irreverent vibrations coming to me from Roly, the way mediums do when there is an unbeliever at a seance. But I assure you that as the Guvnor acted it, the play compelled belief and shook you up pretty bad. The beauty of the old piece, from the Guvnor’s point of view, was that it provided him with what actors used to call ‘a dual role’. He played both the Master and Mr. Henry, to the huge delight of his audiences; his fine discrimination between the two characters gave extraordinary interest to the play.
“It also meant some neat work behind the scenes, because there were times when Mr. Henry had barely left the stage before the Master came swaggering on through another door. Sir John’s dresser was an expert at getting him out of one coat, waistcoat, boots, and wig and into another in a matter of seconds, and his characterization of the two men was so sharply differentiated that it was art of a very special kind.
“Twice, a double was needed, simply for a fleeting moment of illusion, and in the brief last scene the double was of uttermost importance, because it was he who stood with his back to the audience, as Mr. Henry, while the Guvnor, as the Master, was being dug up and making his terrible accusation. Then—doubles don’t usually get such opportunities—it was the double’s job to put the gun to his head, fire it, and fall at the feet of Miss Alison, under the Master’s baleful eye. And I say with satisfaction that as I was an unusually successful double—or dead spit, as old Frank Moore insisted on saying—I was allowed to fall so that the audience could see something of my face, instead of dying under suspicion of being somebody else.
“Rehearsals went like silk, because some of the cast were old hands, and simply had to brush up their parts. Frank Moore had played the old Lord of Durrisdeer scores of times, and Eugene Fitzwarren was a seasoned Secundra Class; Gordon Barnard had played Burke, the Irishman, and built it up into a very good thing; C. Pengelly Spickemell fancied himself as Fond Barnie, a loony Scot who sang scraps of song, and Grover Paskin had a good funny part as a drunken butler; Emilia Pauncefort, who played Madame de Plougastel in Scaramouche, loved herself as a Scots witch who uttered the dire Curse of Durrisdeer—
Twa Dimes in Durrisdeer,
Ane to bide and ane to ride;
An ill day for the groom.
And a waur day for the bride.
And of course the role of Alison, the unhappy bride of Mr. Henry and the pining adorer of the Master, had been played by Milady since the play was new.
“That was where the difficulty lay. Sir John was still great as the Master, and looked surprisingly like himself in his earliest photographs in that part, taken thirty years before; time had been rougher with Milady. Furthermore, she had developed an emphatic style of acting which was not unacceptable in a part like Climene but which could become a little strong as a highbred Scots lady.
“There were murmurs among the younger members of the company. Why couldn’t Milady play Auld Cursin’ Jennie instead of Emilia Pauncefort? There was a self-assertive girl in the company named Audrey Sevenhowes who let it be known that she would be ideally cast as Alison. But there were others, Holroyd and Macgregor among them, who would not hear a word against Milady. I would have been one of them too, if anybody had asked my opinion, but nobody did. Indeed, I began to feel that the company thought I was rather more than an actor who doubled for Sir John; I was a double indeed, and a company spy, so that any disloyal conversation stopped as soon as I appeared. Of course there was lots of talk; all theatrical companies chatter incessantly. On the rehearsals went, and as Sir John and Milady didn’t bother to rehearse their scenes together, nobody grasped how extreme the problem had become.
“There was another circumstance about those early rehearsals that caused some curiosity and disquiet for a while; a stranger had appeared among us whose purpose nobody seemed to know, but who sat in the stalls making notes busily, and now and then exclaiming audibly in a tone of disapproval. He was sometimes seen talking with Sir John. What could he be up to? He wasn’t an actor, certainly. He was young, and had lots of hair, but he wasn’t dressed in a way that suggested the stage. His sloppy grey flannels and tweed coat, his dark blue shirt and tie like a piece of old rope—hand-woven, I suppose—and his scuffed suede shoes made him look even younger than he was. ‘University man,’ whispered Audrey Sevenhowes, who recognized the uniform. ‘Cambridge,’ she whispered, a day later. Then came the great revelation—’Writing a play’. Of course she didn’t confide these things to me, but they leaked from her close friends all through the company.
“Writing a play! Rumour was busily at work. It was to be a grand new piece for Sir John’s company, and great opportunities might be secured by buttering up the playwright. Reginald Chariton and Leonard Woulds, who hadn’t much to do in Scaromouche and rather less in The Master, began standing the university genius drinks; Audrey Sevenhowes didn’t speak to him, but was frequently quite near him, laughing a silvery laugh and making herself fascinating. Old Emilia Pauncefort passed him frequently, and gave him a stately nod every time. Grover Paskin told him jokes. The genius liked it all, and in a few days was on good terms with everybody of any importance, and the secret was out. Sir John wanted a stage version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the genius was to write it. But as he had never written a play before, and had never had stage experience except with the Cambridge Marlowe Society, he was attending rehearsals, as he said to ‘get the feel of the thing’.
“The genius was free with his opinions. He thought little of The Master of Ballantrae. ‘Fustian’ was the word he used to describe it, and he made it clear that the era of fustian was over. Audiences simply wouldn’t stand it any more. A new day had dawned in the theatre, and he was a particularly bright beam from the rising sun.
“He was modest, however. There were brighter beams than he, and the brightest, most blinding beam in the literature of the time was somebody called Aldous Huxley. No, Huxley didn’t write plays. It was his outlook—wry, brilliantly witty, rooted in tremendous scholarship, and drenched in the Ironic Spirit—that the genius admired, and was about to transfer to the stage. In no time he had a tiny court, in which Charlton and Woulds and Audrey Sevenhowes were the leaders, and after rehearsals they were always to be seen in the nearest pub, laughing a great deal. With my very long ears it wasn’t long before I knew they were laughing at Milady and Frank Moore and Emilia Pauncefort, who were the very warp and woof of fustian, and who couldn’t possibly be worked into the kind of play the genius had in mind. No, he hadn’t begun writing yet, but he had a Concept, and though he hated the word ‘metaphysical’ he didn’t mind using it to give a rough idea of how the Concept would take shape.
“Sir John didn’t know about the Concept as yet, but when it was explained to him he would get a surprise. The genius was hanging around The Master of Ballantrae because it was from a novel by the same chap that had written Jekyll and Hyde. But this chap—Roly says his name was Stevenson, and I’m sure he knows—had never fully shouldered the burden of his own creative gift. This was something the genius would have to do for him. Stevenson, when he had thought of Jekyll and Hyde, had seized upon a theme that was Dostoyevskian, but he had worked it out in terms of what some people might call Romance, but the genius regretfully had to use the word fustian. The only thing the genius could do, in order to be true to his Concept, was to rework the Stevenson material in such a way that its full implications—the ones Stevenson had approached, and run away from in fright—were revealed.
“He thought it could be done with masks. The genius confessed, with a laugh at his own determination, that he would not attempt the thing at all unless he was given a completely free hand to use masks in every possible way. Not only would Jekyll and Hyde wear masks, but the whole company would wear them, and sometimes there would be eight or ten Jekylls on the stage, all wearing masks showing different aspects of that character, and we would see them exchange the masks of Jekyll—because there was to be no nonsense about realism, or pretending to the audience that what they saw had any relationship to what they foolishly thought of as real life—for masks of Hyde. There would be dialogue, of course, but mostly in the form of soliloquies, and a lot of the action would be carried out in mime—a word which the genius liked to pronounce “meem”, to give it the flavour he thought it needed.
“Charlton and Woulds and Audrey Sevenhowes thought this sounded wonderful, though they had some reservations, politely expressed, about the masks. They thought stylized make-up might do just as well. But the genius was rock-like in his insistence that it would be masks or he would throw up the whole project.
“When this news leaked through to the other members of the company they were disgusted. They talked about other versions of Jekyll and Hyde they had seen, which did very well without any nonsense about masks. Old Frank Moore had played with Henry Irving’s son ‘H.B.’ in a Jekyll and Hyde play where H.B. had made the transformation from the humane doctor to the villainous Hyde before the eyes of the audience, simply by ruffing up his hair and distorting his body. Old Frank showed us how he did it: first he assumed the air of a man who is about to be wafted off the ground by his own moral grandeur, then he drank the dreadful potion out of his own pot of old-and-mild, and then, with an extraordinary display of snarling and gnawing the air, he crumpled up into a hideous gnome. He did this one day in the pub and some strangers, who weren’t used to actors, left hurriedly and the landlord asked Frank, as a personal favour, not to do it again. Frank had an extraordinarily gripping quality as an actor.
“Nevertheless, as I admired his snorting and chomping depiction of evil, I was conscious that I had seen even more convincing evil in the face of Willard the Wizard, and that there it had been as immovable and calm as stone.
“Suddenly, one day at rehearsal, the genius lost stature. Sir John called to him, ‘Come along, you may as well fit in here, mphm? Give you practical experience of the stage, quonk?’, and before we knew what was happening he had the genius acting the part of one of the menservants in Lord Dumsdeer’s household. He wasn’t bad at all, and I suppose he had learned a few things in his amateur days at Cambridge. But at a critical moment Sir John said, ‘Gear away your master’s chair, m’boy; when he comes downstage to Miss Alison you take the chair back to the upstage side of the fireplace.’ Which the genius did, but not to Sir John’s liking; he put one hand under the front of the seat, and the other on the back of the armchair, and hefted it to where he had been told. Sir John said, ‘Not like that, m’boy; lift it by the arms.’ But the genius smiled and said, ‘Oh no, Sir John, that’s not the way to handle a chair; you must always put one hand under its apron, so as not to put a strain on its back.’ Sir John went rather cool, as he did when he was displeased, and said, ‘That may have been all very well in your father’s shop, m’boy, but it won’t do on my stage. Lift it as I tell you.’ And the genius turned exceedingly red, and began to argue. At which Sir John said to the other extra, ‘You do it, and show him how.’ And he ignored the genius until the end of the scene.
“Seems a trivial thing, but it rocked the genius to his foundations; after that he never seemed to be able to do anything right. And the people who had been all over him before were much cooler after that slight incident. It was the mention of the word ‘shop’. I don’t think actors are particularly snobbish, but I suppose Audrey Sevenhowes and the others had seen him as a gilded undergraduate; all of a sudden he was just a clumsy actor who had come from some sort of shop, and he never quite regained his former lustre. When we dress-rehearsed The Master it was apparent that he knew nothing about make-up; he appeared with a horrible red face and a huge pair of false red eyebrows. ‘Good God, m’boy,’ Sir John called from the front of the house, when this Spock appeared, ‘what have you been doing to your face?’ The genius walked to the footlights—inexcusable, he should have spoken from his place on the stage—and began to explain that as he was playing a Scots servant he thought he should have a very fresh complexion to suggest a peasant ancestry, a childhood spent on the moors, and a good deal more along the same lines. Sir John shut him up, and told Darton Flesher, a good, useful actor, to show the boy how to put on a decent, unobtrusive face, suited to chair-lifting.
“The genius was huffy, backstage, and talked about throwing up the whole business of Jekyll and Hyde and leaving Sir John to stew in his own juice. But Audrey Sevenhowes said, ‘Oh, don’t be so silly; everybody has to learn,’ and that cooled him down. Audrey also threw him a kind word about how she couldn’t spare him because he was going to write a lovely part for her in the new play, and gave him a smile that would have melted—well, I mustn’t be extreme—that would have melted a lad down from Cambridge whose self-esteem had been wounded. It wouldn’t have melted me; I had taken Miss Sevenhowes’ number long before. But then, I was a hard case.
“Not so hard that I hadn’t a little sympathy for Adele Chesterton, whose nose was out of joint. She was still playing in Scaramouche, but she had not been cast in The Master; an actress called Felicity Larcombe had been brought in for the second leading female role in that. She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen anywhere: very dark brown hair, splendid eyes, a superb slim figure, and that air of enduring a secret sorrow bravely which so many men find irresistible. What was more, she could act, which poor Adele Chesterton, who was the Persian-kitten type, could only do by fits and starts. But she was a decent kid, and I was sorry for her, because the company, without meaning it unkindly, neglected her. You know how theatre companies are: if you’re working with them, you’re real, and if you aren’t, you have only a half-life in their estimation. Adele was the waning, and Felicity the waxing, moon.
“As usual, Audrey Sevenhowes had a comment. ‘Nobody to blame but herself,’ said she; ‘Made a Horlicks—an utter Horlicks—of her part. I could have shown them, but—’ Her shrug showed what she thought of the management’s taste. ‘Horlicks’ was a word she used a lot; it suggested ‘ballocks’ but avoided a direct indecency. Charlton and Woulds loved to hear her say it; it seemed delightfully daring, and sexy, and knowing. It was my first encounter with this sort of allurement, and I disliked it.
“I mentioned to Macgregor that Miss Larcombe seemed a very good, and probably expensive, actress for her small part in The Master. ‘Ah, she’ll have a great deal to do on the tour,’ he replied, and I pricked up my ears. But there was nothing more to be got out of him about the tour.
“It was all clear before we opened The Master, however; Sir John was engaging a company to make a longish winter tour in Canada, with a repertoire of some of his most successful old pieces, and Scaramouche as a novelty. Holroyd was asking people to drop into his office and talk about contracts.
“Of course the company buzzed about it. For the established actors a decision had to be made: would they absent themselves from London for the best part of a winter season? All actors under a certain age are hoping for some wonderful chance that will carry them into the front rank of their profession, and a tour in Sir John’s repertoire wasn’t exactly it. On the other hand, a tour of Canada could be a lark, because Sir John was known to be a great favourite there and they would play to big audiences, and see a new country while they did it.
“For the middle-aged actors it was attractive. Jim Hailey and his wife Gwenda Lewis jumped at it, because they had a boy to educate and it was important to them to keep in work. Frank Moore was an enthusiastic sightseer and traveller, and had toured Australia and South Africa but had not been to Canada since 1924. Grover Paskin and C. Pengelly Spickernell were old standbys of Sir John’s, and would cheerfully have toured Hell with him. Emilia Pauncefort wasn’t likely to get other offers, because stately old women and picturesque hags were not frequent in West End shows that season, and the Old Vie, where she had staked out quite a little claim in cursing queens, had a new director who didn’t fancy her.
“But why Gordon Barnard, who was a very good leading man, or Felicity Larcombe, who was certain to go to the top of the profession? Macgregor explained to me that Barnard hadn’t the ambition that should have gone with his talent, and Miss Larcombe, wise girl, wanted to get as much varied experience as she could before descending on the West End and making it hers forever. There was no trouble at all in recruiting a good company, and I was glad to sign my own contract, to be assistant to Mac and play doubles without having my name on the programme. And to everybody’s astonishment, the genius was offered a job on the tour, and took it. So eighteen actors were recruited, not counting Sir John and Milady, and with Holroyd and some necessary technical staff, the final number of the company was to be twenty-eight.
“The work was unrelenting. We opened The Master of Ballantrae, and although the other critics were not warm about it, Agate gave it a push and we played a successful six weeks in London. God, what audiences! People came out of the woodwork to see it, and it seemed they had all seen it before and couldn’t get enough of it. ‘It’s like peeping into the dark backward and abysm of time,’ the genius said, and even I felt that in some way the theatre had been put back thirty years when we appeared in that powerful, thrilling, but strangely antique piece.
“Every day we were called for rehearsal, in order to get the plays ready for the tour. And what plays they were! The Lyons Mail and The Corsican Brothers, in both of which I doubled for Sir John, and Rosemary, a small play with a minimum of scenery, which was needed to round out a repertoire in which all the other plays were big ones, with cartloads of scenery and dozens of costumes. I liked Rosemary especially, because I didn’t double in it but I had a showy appearance as a stilt walker. How we sweated! It was rough on the younger people, who had to learn several new parts during days when they were working a full eight hours, but Moore and Spickernell and Paskin and Miss Pauncefort seemed to have been playing these melodramas for years, and the lines rolled off their tongues like grave old music. As for Sir John and Milady, they couldn’t have been happier, and there is nothing so indestructibly demanding and tireless as a happy actor.
“Did I say we worked eight hours? Holroyd and Macgregor, with me as their slave, worked much longer than that, because the three plays we were adding to Scaramouche and The Master had to be retrieved from storage and brushed up and made smart for the tour. But it was all done at last, and we closed in London one Saturday night, with everything finished that would make it possible for us to sail for Canada the following Tuesday.
“A small matter must be mentioned. The genius’s mother turned up for one of the last performances of The Master, and it fell to me to show her to Sir John’s dressing-room. She was a nice little woman, but not what one expects of the mother of such a splendid creature, and when I showed her through the great man’s door she looked as if she might faint from the marvel of it all. I felt sorry for her; it must be frightening when one mothers such a prodigy, and she had the humble look of somebody who can’t believe her luck.”
It was here that Roland Ingestree, who had been decidedly out of sorts for the past half-hour, intervened.
“Magnus, I don’t much mind you taking the mickey out of me, if that’s how you get your fun, but I think you might leave poor old Mum out of it.”
Magnus pretended astonishment. “But my dear fellow, I don’t see how I can. I’ve done my best to afford you the decency of obscurity. I’d hoped to finish my narrative without letting the others in on our secret. I could have gone on calling you ‘the genius’, though you had other names in the company. There were some who called you ‘the Cantab’ because of your degree from Cambridge, and there were others who called you ‘One’ because you had that mock-modest trick of referring to yourself as One when in your heart you were crying, ‘Me, me, glorious ME!’ But I can’t leave you out, and I don’t see how I can leave your Mum out because she threw so much light on you, and therefore lent a special flavour to the whole story of Sir John’s touring company.”
“All right Magnus; I was a silly young ass, and I freely admit it. But isn’t one permitted to be an ass for a year or two, when one is young, and the whole world appears to be open to one, and waiting for one? Because you had a rotten childhood, don’t suppose that everybody else who had better luck was utterly a fool. Have you any idea what you looked like in those days?”
“No, I haven’t, really, but I see you are dying to tell me. Do please go ahead.”
“I shall. You were disliked and distrusted because everybody thought you were a sneak, as you’ve said yourself. But you haven’t told us that you were a sneak, and blabbed to Macgregor about every trivial breach of company discipline—who came into the theatre after the half-hour call, and who might happen to have a friend in the dressing-room during the show, and who watched Sir John from the wings when he had said they weren’t to, and anything else you could find out by pussyfooting and snooping. Even that might have passed as your job, if you hadn’t had such a nasty personality—always smiling like a pantomime demon—always stinking of some sort of cheap hair oil—always running like a rabbit to open doors for Milady—and vain as a peacock about your tuppenny-ha’penny juggling and wire-walking. You were a thoroughly nasty little piece of work, let me tell you.”
“I suppose I was. But you make the mistake of thinking I was pleased with myself. Not a bit of it. I was trying to learn the ropes of another mode of life—”
“Indeed you were. You were trying to be Sir John off the stage as well as on. And what a caricature you made of it! Walking like Spring-Heeled Jack because Frank Moore had tried to show you something about deportment, and parting your greasy long hair in the middle because Sir John was the last actor on God’s earth to do so, and wearing clothes that would make a cat laugh because Sir John wore eccentric duds that looked as if he’d had ‘em since Mafeking Night.”
“Do you think I’d have been better off to model myself on you?”
“I was no prize as an actor. Don’t think I don’t know it. But at least I was living in 1932, and you were aping a man who was still living in 1902, and if there hadn’t been a very strong uncanny whiff about you you’d have been a total freak.”
“Ah, but there was an uncanny whiff about me. I was Mungo Fetch, don’t forget. We fetches can’t help being uncanny.”
Lind intervened. “Dear friends,” he said, being very much the courtly Swede, “let us not have a quarrel about these grievances which are so long dead. You are both different men now. Think, Roly, of your achievements as a novelist and broadcaster; One, and the Genius and the Cantab are surely buried under that? And you, my dear Eisengrim, what reason have you to be bitter toward anyone? What have you desired that life has not given you? Including what I now see is a very great achievement; you modelled yourself on a fine actor of the old school, and you have put all you learned at the service of your own art, where it has flourished wonderfully. Roly, you sought to be a literary man, and you are one; Magnus, you wanted to be Sir John, and it looks very much as if you had succeeded, in so far as anyone can succeed—”
“Just a little more than most people succeed,” said Ingestree, who was still hot; “you ate poor old Sir John. You ate him down to the core. We could see it happening, right from the beginning of that tour.”
“Did I really?” said Magnus, apparently pleased. “I didn’t know it showed so plainly. But now you are being melodramatic, Roly. I simply wanted to be like him. I told you, I apprenticed myself to an egoism, because I saw how invaluable that egoism was. Nobody can steal another man’s ego, but he can learn from it, and I learned. You didn’t have the wits to learn.”
“I’d have been ashamed to toady as you did, whatever it brought me.”
“Toady? Now that’s an unpleasant word. You didn’t learn what there was to be learned in that company, Ingestree. You were at every rehearsal and every performance of The Master of Ballantrae that I was. Don’t you remember the splendid moment when Sir John, as Mr. Henry, said to his father: ‘There are double words for everything; the word that swells and the word that belittles; my brother cannot fight me with a word.’ Your word for my relationship to Sir John is toadying, but mine is emulation, and I think mine is the better word.”
“Yours is the dishonest word. Your emulation, as you call it, sucked the pith out of that poor old ham, and gobbled it up and made it part of yourself. It was a very nasty process.”
“Roly, I idolized him.”
“Yes, and to be idolized by you, as you were then, was a terrible, vampire-like feeding on his personality and his spirit—because his personality as an actor was all there was of his spirit. You were a double, right enough, and such a double as Poe and Dostoyevsky would have understood. When we first met at Sorgenfrei I thought there was something familiar about you, and the minute you began to act I sensed what it was; you were the fetch of Sir John. But I swear it wasn’t until today, as we sat at this table, that I realized you really were Mungo Fetch.”
“Extraordinary! I recognized you the minute I set eyes on you, in spite of the rather Pickwickian guise you have acquired during the past forty years.”
“And you were waiting for a chance to knife me?”
“Knife! Knife! Always these belittling words! Have you no sense of humour, my dear man?”
“Humour is a poisoned dagger in the hands of a man like you. People talk of humour as if it were all jolly, always the lump of sugar in the coffee of life. A man’s humour takes its quality from what a man is, and your humour is like the scratch of a rusty nail.”
“Oh, balls,” said Kinghovn. Ingestree turned on him, very white in the face.
“What the hell do you mean by interfering?” he said.
“I mean what I say. Balls! You people who are so clever with words never allow yourselves or anybody else a moment’s peace. What is this all about? You two knew each other when you were young and you didn’t hit it off. So now we have all this gaudy abuse about vampires and rusty nails from Roly, and Magnus is leading him on to make a fool of himself and cause a fight. I’m enjoying myself. I like this subtext and I want the rest of it. We had just got to where Roly’s Mum was paying a visit to Sir John backstage. I want to know about that. I can see it in my mind’s eye. Colour, angle of camera, quality of light—the whole thing. Get on with it and let’s forget all this subjective stuff; it has no reality except what somebody like me can provide for it, and at the moment I’m not interested in subjective rubbish. I want the story. Enter Roly’s Mum; what next?”
“Since Roly’s Mum is such a hot potato, perhaps Roly had better tell you,” said Eisengrim.
“So I will. My Mum was a very decent body, though at the time I was silly enough to underrate her; as Magnus has made clear I was a little above myself in those days. University does it, you know. It’s such a protected life for a young man, and he so easily loses his frail hold on reality.
“My people weren’t grand, at all. My father had an antique shop in Norwich, and he was happy about that because he had risen above his father, who had combined a small furniture shop with an undertaking business. Both my parents had adored Sir John, and ages before the time we are talking about—before the First Great War, in fact—they did rather a queer thing that brought them to his attention. They loved The Master of Ballantrae; it was just their meat, full of antiquery and romance; they liked selling antiques because it seemed romantic, I truly believe. They saw The Master fully ten times when they were young, and loved it so that they wrote out the whole play from memory—I don’t suppose it was very accurate, but they did—and sent it to Sir John with an adoring letter. Sort of tribute from playgoers whose life he had illumined, you know. I could hardly believe it when I was young, but I know better now; fans get up to the queerest things in order to associate themselves with their idols.
“Sir John wrote them a nice letter, and when next he was near Norwich, he came to the shop. He loved antiques, and bought them all over the place, and I honestly think his interest in them was simply romantic, like my parents’. They never tired of telling about how he came into the shop, and inquired about a couple of old chairs, and finally asked if they were the people who had sent him the manuscript. That was a glory-day for them, I can tell you. And afterward, whenever they had anything that was in his line, they wrote to him, and quite often he bought whatever it was. That was why it was so bloody-minded of him to take it out of me about the proper way to handle a chair, and to make that crack about the shop. He knew it would hurt.
“Anyhow, my mother was out of her mind with joy when she wangled me a job with his company; thought he was going to be my great patron, I suppose. My father had died, and the shop could keep her, but certainly not me, and anyhow I was set on being a writer. I admit I was pleased to be asked to do a literary job for him; it wasn’t quite as grand as I may have pretended to Audrey Sevenhowes, but who hasn’t been a fool in his time? If I’d been shrewd enough to resist a pretty girl I’d have been a sharp little piece of glass like Mungo Fetch, instead of a soft boy who had got a swelled head at Cambridge, and knew nothing about the world.
“When my Mum knew I was going to Canada with the company she came to London to say good-bye—I’m ashamed to say I had told her there was no chance of my going to Norwich, though I suppose I could have made it—and she wanted to see Sir John. She’d brought him a gift, the loveliest little wax portrait relievo of Garrick you ever saw; I don’t know where she picked it up, but it was worth eighty pounds if it was worth a ha’penny, and she gave it to him. And she asked him, in terms that made me blush, to take good care of me while I was abroad. I must say the old boy was decent, and said very kindly that he was sure I didn’t need supervision, but that he would always be glad to talk with me if anything came up that worried me.”“Audrey Sevenhowes put it about that your Mum had asked Milady to see that you didn’t forget your bedsocks in the Arctic wildernesses of Canada,” said Eisengrim.
“You don’t surprise me. Audrey Sevenhowes was a bitch, and she made a fool of me. But I don’t care. I’d rather be a fool than a tough any day. But I assure you there was no mention of bedsocks; my Mum was not a complex woman, but she wasn’t stupid, either.”
“Ah, there you have the advantage of me,” said Magnus, with a smile of great charm. “My mother, I fear, was very much more than stupid, as I have already told you. She was mad. So perhaps we can be friends again, Roly?”
He put out his hand across the table. It was not a gesture an Englishman would have made, and I couldn’t quite make up my mind whether he was sincere or not. But Ingestree took his hand, and it was perfectly plain that he meant to make up the quarrel.
The waiters were beginning to look at us meaningly, so we adjourned upstairs to our expensive apartment, where everybody had a chance to use the loo. The film-makers were not to be shaken. They wanted the story to the end. So, after the interval—not unlike an interval at the theatre—we reassembled in our large sitting-room, and it now seemed to be understood, without anybody having said so, that Roly and Magnus were going to continue the story as a duet.
I was pleased, as I was pleased by anything that gave me a new light or a new crumb of information about my old friend, who had become Magnus Eisengrim. I was puzzled, however, by the silence of Liesl, who had sat through the narration at the lunch table without saying a word. Her silence was not of the unobtrusive kind; the less she said the more conscious one became of her presence. I knew her well enough to bide my time. Though she said nothing, she was big with feeling, and I knew that she would have something to say when she felt the right moment had come. After all, Magnus was in a very real sense her property: did he not live in her house, treat it as his own, share her bed, and accept the homage of her extraordinary courtesy, yet always understanding who was the real ruler of Sorgenfrei? What did Liesl think about Magnus undressing himself, inch by inch, in front of the film-makers? Particularly now that it was clear that there was an old, unsettled hostility between him and Roland Ingestree. What did she think?
What did I think, as I carefully wiped my newly scrubbed dentures on one of the Savoy’s plentiful linen hand-towels, before slipping them back over my gums? I thought I wanted all I could get of this vicarious life. I wanted to be off to Canada with Sir John Tresize. I knew what Canada meant to me: what had it meant to him?