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- Green Fancy - 5/51 -
and tell the neighbours that they know quite a number of stage people. Human nature, I guess. I used to think that if I could ever meet an actress I'd be the happiest thing in the world. Well, I've met a lot of 'em, and God knows I'm not as happy as I was when I was WISHING I could meet one of them. Listen! Hear that? Rushcroft is reciting Gunga Din. You can't hear the thunder for the noise he's making."
They descended the stairs and entered the tap-room, where a dozen men were seated around the tables, all of them with pewter mugs in front of them. Standing at the top table,--that is to say, the one farthest removed from the door and commanding the attention of every creature in the room--was the imposing figure of Lyndon Rushcroft. He was reciting, in a sonorous voice and with tremendous fervour, the famous Kipling poem. Barnes had heard it given a score of times at The Players in New York, and knew it by heart. He was therefore able to catch Mr. Rushcroft in the very reprehensible act of taking liberties with the designs of the author. The "star," after a sharp and rather startled look at the newcomer, deliberately "cut" four stanzas and rushed somewhat hastily through the concluding verse, marring a tremendous climax.
A genial smile wiped the tragic expression from his face. He advanced upon Barnes and the beaming Mr. Dillingford, his hand extended.
"My dear fellow," he exclaimed resoundingly, "how are you?" Cordiality boomed in his voice. "I heard you had arrived. Welcome,--thricefold welcome!" He neglected to say that Mr. Montague Bacon, in passing a few minutes before, had leaned over and whispered behind his hand:
"Fellow upstairs from New York, Mr. Rushcroft,--fellow named Barnes. Quite a swell, believe me."
It was a well-placed tip, for Mr. Rushcroft had been telling the natives for days that he knew everybody worth knowing in New York.
Barnes was momentarily taken aback. Then he rose to the spirit of the occasion.
"Hello, Rushcroft," he greeted, as if meeting an old time and greatly beloved friend. "This IS good. 'Pon my soul, you are like a thriving date palm in the middle of an endless desert. How are you?"
They shook hands warmly. Mr. Dillingford slapped the newcomer on the shoulder, affectionately, familiarly, and shouted:
"Who would have dreamed we'd run across good old Barnesy up here? By Jove, it's marvellous!"
"Friends, countrymen," boomed Mr. Rushcroft, "this is Mr. Barnes of New York. Not the man the book was written about, but one of the best fellows God ever put into this little world of ours. I do not recall your names, gentlemen, or I would introduce each of you separately and divisibly. And when did you leave New York, my dear fellow?"
"A fortnight ago," replied Barnes. "I have been walking for the past two weeks."
Mr. Rushcroft's expression changed. His face fell.
"Walking?" he repeated, a trifle stiffly. Was the fellow a tramp? Was he in no better condition of life than himself and his stranded companions, against whom the mockery of the assemblage was slyly but indubitably directed? If so, what was to be gained by claiming friendship with him? It behooved him to go slow. He drew himself up to his full height. "Well, well! Really?" he said.
The others looked on with interest. The majority were farmers, hardy, rawboned men with misty eyes. Two of them looked like mechanics,-- blacksmiths, was Barnes' swift estimate,--and as there was an odor of gasolene in the low, heavy-timbered room, others were no doubt connected with the tavern garage. For that matter, there was also an atmosphere of the stables.
Lyndon Rushcroft was a tall, saggy man of fifty. Despite his determined erectness, he was inclined to sag from the shoulders down. His head, huge and grey, appeared to be much too ponderous for his yielding body, and yet he carried it manfully, even theatrically. The lines in his dark, seasoned face were like furrows; his nose was large and somewhat bulbous, his mouth wide and grim. Thick, black eyebrows shaded a pair of eyes in which white was no longer apparent; it had given way to a permanent red. A two days' stubble covered his chin and cheeks. Altogether he was a singular exemplification of one's idea of the old-time actor. He was far better dressed than the two male members of his company who had come under Barnes' observation. A fashionably made cutaway coat of black, a fancy waistcoat, and trousers with a delicate stripe (sadly in need of creasing) gave him an air of distinction totally missing in his subordinates. (Afterwards Barnes was to learn that he was making daily use of his last act drawing-room costume, which included a silk hat and a pair of pearl grey gloves.) Evidently he had possessed the foresight to "skip out" in the best that the wardrobe afforded, leaving his ordinary garments for the sheriff to lay hands upon.
"A customary adventure with me," said Barnes. "I take a month's walking tour every spring, usually timing my pilgrimage so as to miss the hoi-polloi that blunders into the choice spots of the world later on and spoils them completely for me. This is my first jaunt into this part of New England. Most attractive walking, my dear fellow. Wonderful scenery, splendid air--" "Deliver me from the hoi-polloi," said Mr. Rushcroft, at his ease once more. "I may also add, deliver me from walking. I'm damned if I can see anything in it. What will you have to drink, old chap?"
He turned toward the broad aperture which served as a passageway in the wall for drinks leaving the hands of a fat bartender beyond to fall into the clutches of thirsty customers in the tap-room. There was no outstanding bar. A time-polished shelf, as old as the house itself, provided the afore-said bartender with a place on which to spread his elbows while not actively engaged in advancing mugs and bottles from more remote resting-places at his back.
"Everything comes through 'the hole in the wall,'" explained Rushcroft, wrinkling his face into a smile.
He unceremoniously turned his back on the audience of a moment before, and pounded smartly on the shelf, notwithstanding the fact that the bartender was less than a yard away and facing him expectantly. "What ho! Give ear, professor. Ye gods, what a night! Devil-brewed pandemonium--I beg pardon?"
"I was just about to ask what you will have," said Barnes, lining up beside him with Mr. Dillingford.
Mr. Rushcroft drew himself up once more. "My dear fellow, I asked you to have a--"
"But I had already invited Dillingford. You must allow me to extend the invitation--"
"Say no more, sir. I understand perfectly. A flagon of ale, Bob, for me." He leaned closer to Barnes and said, in what was supposed to be a confidential aside: "Don't tackle the whiskey. It would kill a rattlesnake."
A few minutes later he laid one hand fondly upon Barnes' shoulder and, with a graceful sweep of the other in the direction of the hall, addressed himself to Dillingford.
"Lead the way to the banquet-hall, good fellow. We follow." To the patrons he was abandoning:
"We return anon." Passing through the office, his arm linked in one of Barnes', Mr. Rushcroft hesitated long enough to impress upon Landlord Jones the importance of providing his "distinguished friend, Robert W. Barnes," with the very best that the establishment afforded. Putnam Jones blinked slightly and his eyes sought the register as if to accuse or justify his memory. Then he spat copiously into the corner, a necessary preliminary to a grin. He hadn't much use for the great Lyndon Rushcroft. His grin was sardonic. Something told him that Mr. Rushcroft was about to be liberally fed.
MR. RUSHCROFT DISSOLVES, MR. JONES INTERVENES, AND TWO MEN RIDE AWAY
Mr. Rushcroft explained that he had had his supper. In fact, he went on to confess, he had been compelled, like the dog, to "speak" for it. What could be more disgusting, more degrading, he mourned, than the spectacle of a man who had appeared in all of the principal theatres of the land as star and leading support to stars, settling for his supper by telling stories and reciting poetry in the tap-room of a tavern?
"Still," he consented, when Barnes insisted that it would be a kindness to him, "since you put it that way, I dare say I could do with a little snack, as you so aptly put it. Just a bite or two. Like you, my dear fellow, I loathe and detest eating alone. I covet companionship, convivial com--what have you ready, Miss Tilly?"
Miss Tilly was a buxom female of forty or thereabouts, with spectacles. She was one of a pair of sedentary waitresses who had been so long in the employ of Mr. Jones that he hated the sight of them. Close proximity to a real star affected her intensely. In fact, she was dazzled. For something like twenty years she had nursed an ambition that wavered between the desire to become an actress or an authoress. At present she despised literature. More than once she had confessed to Mr. Rushcroft that she hated like poison to write out the bill-o'-fare, a duty devolving solely upon her, it appears, because of a local tradition that she possessed literary talent. Every one said that she wrote the best hand in the county.
Mr. Rushcroft's conception of a bite or two may have staggered Barnes but it did not bewilder Miss Tilly. He had four eggs with his ham, and other things in proportion. He talked a great deal, proving in that way that it was a supper well worth speaking for. Among other things, he dilated at great length upon his reasons for not being a member of The Players or The Lambs in New York City. It seems that he had promised his dear, devoted wife that he would never join a club of any description. Dear old girl, he would as soon have cut off his right hand as to break any promise made to her. He brushed something away from his eyes, and his chin, contracting, trembled slightly.
"Quite right," said Barnes, sympathetically. "And how long has Mrs. Rushcroft been dead?"
A hurt, incredulous look came into Mr. Rushcroft's eyes. "Is it
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