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- Harlequin and Columbine - 5/16 -
"I'm here, Mr. Potter." Tinker came forward to the orchestra railing.
"I've been thinking about this play, Mr. Tinker," Potter said, shaking his head despondently. "I don't know about it. I'm very, very doubtful about it." He peered over Tinker's head, squinting his eyes, and seemed for the first time to be aware of the playwright's presence. "Oh, are you there, Mr. Canby? When did you come in?"
"I've been here all the time," said the dishevelled Canby, coming forward. "I supposed it was my business to be here, but-"
"Very glad to have you if you wish," Potter interrupted gloomily. "Any time. Any time you like. I was just telling Mr. Tinker that I don't know about your play. I don't know if it'll do at all."
"If you'd play it," Canby began, "the way I wrote it--"
"In the first place," Potter said with sudden vehemence, "it lacks Punch! Where's your Punch in this play, Mr. Canby? Where is there any Punch whatever in the whole four acts? Surely, after this rehearsal, you don't mean to claim that the first act has one single ounce of Punch in it!"
"But you've twisted this act all round," the unhappy young man protested. "The way you have it I can't tell what it's got to it. I meant Roderick Hanscom to be a disagr--"
"Mr. Canby," said the star, rising impressively, "if we played that act the way you wrote it, we'd last just about four minutes of the opening night. You gave me absolutely nothing to do! Other people talked at me and I had to stand there and be talked at for twenty minutes straight, like a blithering ninny!"
"Well, as you have it, the other actors have to stand there like ninnies," poor Canby retorted miserably, "while you talk at them almost the whole time."
"My soul!" Potter struck the table with the palm of his hand. "Do you think anybody's going to pay two dollars to watch me listen to my company for three hours? No, my dear man, your play's got to give me something to do! You'll have to rewrite the second and third acts. I've done what I could for the first, but, good God! Mr. Canby, I can't write your whole play for you! You'll have to get some Punch into it or we'll never be able to go on with it."
"I don't know what you mean," said the playwright helplessly. "I never did know what people mean by Punch."
"Punch? It's what grips 'em," Potter returned with vehemence. "Punch is what keeps 'em sitting on the edge of their seats. Big love scenes! They've got Punch. Or a big scene with a man. Give me a big scene with a man." He illustrated his meaning with startling intensity, crouching and seizing an imaginary antagonist by the throat, shaking him and snarling between his clenched teeth, while his own throat swelled and reddened: "Now, damn you! You dog! So on, so on, so on! Zowie!" Suddenly his figure straightened. "Then change. See?" He became serene, almost august. "'No! I will not soil these hands with you. So on, so on, so on. I give you your worthless life. Go!'" He completed his generosity by giving Canby and Tinker the smile, after which he concluded much more cheerfully: "Something like that, Mr. Canby, and we'll have some real Punch in your play."
"But there isn't any chance for that kind of a scene in it," the playwright objected. "It's the study of an egoist, a disagree--"
"There!" exclaimed Potter. "That's it! Do you think people are going to pay two dollars to see Talbot Potter behave like a cad? They won't do it; they pay two dollars to see me as I am--not pretending to be the kind of man your 'Roderick Hanscom' was. No, Mr. Canby, I accepted your play because it has got quite a fair situation in the third act, and because I thought I saw a chance in it to keep some of the strength of 'Roderick Hanscom' and yet make him lovable."
"But, great heavens! if you make him lovable the character's ruined. Besides, the audience won't want to see him lose the girl at the end and 'Donald Grey' get her!"
"No, they won't; that's it exactly," said Potter thoughtfully. "You'll have to fix that, Mr. Canby. 'Roderick Hanscom' will have to win her by a great sacrifice in the last act. A great, strong, lovable man, Mr. Canby; that's the kind of character I want to play: a big, sweet, lovable fellow, with the heart of a child, that makes a great sacrifice for a woman. I don't want to play 'egoists'; I don't want to play character parts. No." He shook his head musingly, and concluded, the while a light of ineffable sweetness shone from his remarkable eyes: "Mr. Canby, no! My audience comes to see Talbot Potter. You go over these other acts and write the part so that I can play myself."
The playwright gazed upon him, inarticulate, and Potter, shaking himself slightly, like one aroused from a pleasant little reverie, turned to the waiting figure of the girl.
"What is it, Miss Malone?" he asked mildly. "Did you want to speak to me?"
"You told Mr. Packer to ask me to wait," she said.
"Did I? Oh, yes, so I did. If you please, take off your hat and veil, Miss Malone?"
She gave him a startled look; then, without a word, slowly obeyed.
"Ah, yes," he said a moment later. "We'll find something else for Miss Lyston when she recovers. You will keep the part."
When Canby (with his hair smoothed) descended to the basement dining room of his Madison Avenue boarding-house that evening, his table comrades gave him an effective entrance; they rose, waving napkins and cheering, and there were cries of "Author! Author!" "Speech!" and "Cher maitre!"
The recipient of these honours bore them with an uneasiness attributed to modesty, and making inadequate response, sat down to his soup with no importunate appetite.
"Seriously, though," said a bearded man opposite, who always broke into everything with "seriously though," or else, "all joking aside," and had thereby gained a reputation for conservatism and soundness--"seriously, though, it must have been a great experience to take charge of the rehearsal of such a company as Talbot Potter's."
"Tell us how it felt, Canby, old boy," said another. "How does it feel to sit up there like a king makin' everybody step around to suit you?"
Other neighbors took it up.
"Any pretty girls in the company, Can?"
"How does it feel to be a great dramatist, old man?"
"When you goin' to hire a valet-chauffeur?"
"Better ask him when he's goin' to take us to rehearsal, to see him in his glory."
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," said the hostess deprecatingly, "Miss Cornish is trying to speak to Mr. Canby."
Miss Cornish, a middle-aged lady in black lace, sat at her right, at the head of the largest table, being the most paying of these paying guests, by which virtue she held also the ingleside premiership of the parlour overhead. She was reputed to walk much among gentles, and to have a high taste in letters and the drama; for she was chief of an essay club, had a hushing manner, and often quoted with precision from reviews, or from such publishers' advertisements as contained no slang; and she was a member of one of the leagues for patronizing the theatre in moderation.
"Mr. Canby," said the hostess pleasantly, "Miss Cornish wishes to--"
This obtained the attention of the assembly, while Canby, at the other end of the room, sat back in his chair with the unenthusiastic air of a man being served with papers.
"Yes, Miss Cornish."
Miss Cornish cleared her throat, not practically, but with culture, as preliminary to an address. "I was saying, Mr. Canby," she began, "that I had a suggestion to make which may not only interest you, but certain others of us who do not enjoy equal opportunities in some matters--as--as others of us who do. Indeed, I believe it will interest all of us without regard to--to--to this. What I was about to suggest was that since today you have had a very interesting experience, not only interesting because you have entered into a professional as well as personal friendship with one of our foremost artists--an artist whose work is cultivated always--but also interesting because there are some of us here whose more practical occupations and walk in life must necessarily withhold them from--from this. What I meant to suggest was that, as this prevents them from--from this--would it not be a favourable opportunity for them to--to glean some commentary upon the actual methods of a field of art? Personally, it happens that whenever opportunities and invitations have been--have been urged, other duties intervened, but though, on that account never having been actually present, I am familiar, of course, through conversation with great artists and memoirs and--and other sources of literature--with the procedure and etiquette of rehearsal. But others among us, no doubt through lack of leisure, are perhaps less so than--than this. What I wished to suggest was that, not now, but after dinner, we all assemble quietly, in the large parlour upstairs, of which Mrs. Reibold has kindly consented to allow us the use for the evening, for this
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