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- Harlequin and Columbine - 6/16 -
purpose, and that you, Mr. Canby, would then give us an informal talk--" (She was momentarily interrupted by a deferential murmur of "Hear! Hear!" from everybody.) "What I meant to suggest," she resumed, smiling graciously as from a platform, "was a sort of descriptive lecture, of course wholly informal--not so much upon your little play itself, Mr. Canby, for I believe we are all familiar with its subject-matter, but what would perhaps be more improving in artistic ways would be that you give us your impressions of this little experience of yours to-day while it is fresh in your mind. I would suggest that you tell us, simply, and in your own way, exactly what was the form of procedure at rehearsal, so that those of us not so fortunate as to be already en rapport with such matters may form a helpful and artistic idea of--of this. I would suggest that you go into some details of this, perhaps adding whatever anecdotes or incidents of--of--of the day--you think would give additional value to this. I would suggest that you tell us, for instance, how you were received upon your arrival, who took you to the most favourable position for observing the performance, and what was said. We should be glad to hear also, I am sure, and artistic thoughts or--or knowledge--Mr. Potter may have let fall in the green-room; or even a few witticisms might not be out of place, if you should recall these. We should all like to know, I am sure, what Mr. Potter's method of conceiving his part was. Also, does he leave entire freedom to his company in the creation of their own roles, or does he aid them? Many questions, no doubt, occur to all of us. For instance: Did Mr. Potter offer you any suggestions for changes and alterations that might aid to develop the literary and artistic value of the pl--"
The placid voice, flowing on in gentle great content of itself (while all the boarders gallantly refrained from eating), was checked by an interruption which united into one shattering impact the effects of lese-majeste and of violence.
"Couldn't! No! No parlour! Horrib--"
The words mingled in the throat of the playwright, producing an explosion somewhere between choke and bellow, as he got upon his feet, overturning his chair and coincidentally dislodging several articles of china and glassware. He stood among the ruins for one moment, publicly wiping his brow with a napkin, then plunged, murmuring, out of the room and up the stairway; and, before any of the company had recovered speech, the front door was heard to slam tumultuously, its reverberations being simultaneous with the sound of footsteps running down the stoop.
Turning northward upon the pavement, the fugitive hurriedly passed the two lighted windows of the dining-room; they rattled with a concussion--the outburst of suddenly released voices beginning what was to be a protracted wake over the remains of his reputation as a gentleman. He fled, flinging on his overcoat as he went. In his pockets were portions of the manuscript of his play, already distorted since rehearsal to suit the new nobleness of "Roderick Hanscom," and among these inky sheets was a note from Talbot Potter, received just before dinner:
Dear Mr. Canby,
Come up to my apartments at the Pantheon after dinner and let me see what changes you have been able to make in the second and third acts. I should like to look at them before deciding to put on another play I have been considering.
Canby walked fast, the clamorous dining-room seeming to pursue him, and the thought of what figure he had cut there filling him with horror of himself, though he found a little consolation in wondering if he hadn't insulted Miss Cornish because he was a genius and couldn't help doing queer things. That solace was slight, indeed; Canby was only twenty-seven, but he was frightened.
The night before he had been as eagerly happy as a boy at Christmas Eve. He had finished his last day at the office, and after initiating the youth who was to take his desk, had parted with his employer genially, but to the undeniable satisfaction of both. The new career, opening so gloriously, a month earlier, with Talbot Potter's acceptance of the play, was thus definitely adopted, and no old one left to fall back upon. And Madison Avenue, after dark, shows little to reassure a new playwright who carries in his pocket a note ending with the words, "before deciding to put on another play I have been considering." It was Bleak Street, that night, for young Stewart Canby, and a bleak, bleak walk he took therein.
Desperate alterations were already scratched into the manuscript; plans for more and more ran overlapping one another in his mind, accompanied by phrases--echoes and fragments of Talbot Potter: "Punch! What this play needs is Punch!" "Big love scenes!" "Big scene with a man!" "Great sacrifice for a woman!" "Big-hearted, lovable fellow!" "You dog! So on, so on!" "Zowie!" He must get all this into the play and yet preserve his "third act situation," leniently admitted to be "quite a fair" one. Slacking his gait somewhat, the tormented young man lifted his hat in order to run his hand viciously through his hair, which he seemed to blame for everything. Then he muttered, under his breath, indignantly: "Darn you, let me alone!"
Curious bedevilment! It was not Talbot Potter whom he thus adjured: it was Wanda Malone. And yet, during the rehearsal, he had not once thought consciously of the understudy; and he had come away from the theatre occupied--exclusively, he would have sworn--with the predicament in which he found himself and his play. Surely that was enough to fill and overflow any new playwright's mind, but, about half an hour after he had reached his room and set to work upon the manuscript of the second act, he discovered that he had retained, unawares, a singularly clear impression of Miss Malone.
Then, presently, he realized that distinct pictures of her kept coming between him and his work, and that her voice rang softly and persistently in his ear. Over and over in that voice's slender music--plaintive, laughing, reaching everywhere so clearly--he heard the detested "line": "What are you two good people conspiring about?" Over and over he saw the slow, comprehending movement with which she removed her hat and veil to let Talbot Potter judge her. And as she stood, with that critic's eye searching her, Canby remembered that through some untraceable association of ideas he had inexplicably thought of a drawing of "Florence Dombey" in an old set of Dickens engravings he had seen at his grandfather's in his boyhood--and had not seen since. And he remembered the lilac bushes in bloom on a May morning at his grandfather's. Somehow she made him think of them, too.
And as he sat at his desk, striving to concentrate upon the manuscript, the clearness with which Wanda Malone came before him increased; she became more and more vivid to him, and she would not be dismissed; she persisted and insisted, becoming first an annoyance, and then, as he fought the witchery, a serious detriment to his writing. She became part of every thought about his play, and of every other thought. He did not want her; he felt no interest in her; he had vital work to do-- and she haunted him, seemed to be in the very room with him. He worked in spite of her, but she pursued him none the less constantly; she had gone down the stairs to dinner with him; she floated before him throughout the torture of Miss Cornish's address; she was present even when he exploded and fled; she was with him now, in this desolate walk toward Talbot Potter's apartment--the pale, symmetrical little face and the relentless sweet voice commandeering the attention he wanted desperately to keep upon what he meant to say to Potter.
Once before in his life he had suffered such an experience: that of having his thoughts possessed, against his will, by a person he did not know and did not care to know. It had followed his happening to see an intoxicated truck-driver lying beneath an overturned wagon. "Easy, boys! Don' mangle me!" the man kept begging his rescuers. And Canby recalled how "Easy, boys! Don' mangle me!" sounded plaintively in his ears for days, bothering him in his work at the office. Remembering it now, he felt a spiteful satisfaction in classing that obsession with this one. It seemed at least a step toward teaching Miss Wanda Malone to know her place.
But he got no respite from the siege, and was still incessantly beleaguered when he encountered the marble severities of the Pantheon Apartments' entrance hall and those of its field-marshal, who paraded him stonily to the elevator. Mr. Potter's apartment was upon the twelfth floor, a facet stated in a monosyllable by the field-marshal, and confirmed, upon the opening of the cage at that height, by Mr. Potter's voice melodiously belling a flourish of laughter on the other side of a closed door bearing his card. It was rich laughter, cadenced and deep and loud, but so musically modulated that, though it might never seem impromptu, even old Carson Tinker had once declared that he liked to listen to it almost as much as Potter did.
Old Carson Tinker was listening to it now, as Canby discovered, after a lisping Japanese had announced him at the doorway of a cream-coloured Louis Sixteenth salon: an exquisite apartment, delicately personalized here and there by luxurious fragilities which would have done charmingly, on the stage, for a marquise's boudoir. Old Tinker, in evening dress, sat uncomfortably, sideways, upon the edge of a wicker and brocade "chaise lounge," finishing a tiny glass of chartreuse, while Talbot Potter, in the middle of the room, took leave of a second guest who had been dining with him.
Potter was concluding the rendition of hilarity which had penetrated to the outer hall, and, merely waving the playwright toward Tinker, swept the same gesture upward to complete it by resting a cordial hand upon the departing guest's shoulder. This personage, a wasp-figured, languorous youth, with pale plastered hair over a talcum face, flicked his host lightly upon the breast with a pair of white gloves.
"None the less, Pottuh," he said, "why shouldn't you play Othello as a mulatto? I maintain, you see, it would be taking a step in technique; they'd get the face, you see. Then I want you to do something really and truly big: Oedipus. Why not Oedipus? Think of
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