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One of the critic's greatest difficulties is to put himself at the point of view of the man who goes to the theater once a month and desires only "a good time." Whether the critic ought to take that standpoint into account is debatable; the important fact is that it cannot be his standpoint. The critic is too often sick to death of the whole wearisome business of theater-going, sick of the same cloak-room crush, the same inhuman first-night audience, the same foul atmosphere, the same foolish play. He wants to see the curtain come down, not go up. Then, tastes in the theater differ so enormously, as indeed they have every right to differ. I remember, one night during the war, overhearing a party of young men also on leave discussing what play they should visit after dinner. They mentioned this theater and that, arguing long and vigorously but without coming to any agreement. So I approached the group and said: "Gentlemen, I have listened to your discussion. Let me ask you something. Do you want to see a play of great spirituality and noble meaning, couched in fine, nervous English, and likely to send you to your beds better men ?"
"Good God, no!" replied the most ardent spirit. "There's a war on." "Very well, then," I replied; "go and see "The Bing Boys."" They went,
and I have no doubt that the recollection of that bright revue helped them through many a dark hour.
Again it should be remembered. that many playgoers are as completely devoid of the esthetic sense as I am of any taste for engineering. Throughout all my cycling days I never managed to learn how to mend a puncture. When the tire went down I wheeled the thing to the nearest railway station. Now if I am in a car that breaks down I leave it in the ditch and walk. I am not, please God, the meaner creature for knowing nothing about plugs, sparking or otherwise. Why should I despise the honest stock-broker who cares nothing for the principles of drama and frankly finds Mr. Travers's tame cuckoo more exciting than Ibsen's wild duck? It so happens that I know nothing about bulls and bears, the best of my speculations approximating to ducks and drakes. Why, in any liberal view, must I be a godlike creature and my clever stock-broker an imbecile? It is my privilege to know a captain of industry whose brain controls the destinies of the greater part of a million of men. He told me quite frankly that, if he had his way, there would be no waiting for St. Paul's to fall down. "I should pull it down!" he said. I asked him with what he would replace it. "Sky-scrapers for insurance companies," he answered, "or just warehouses!" The Greeks had no sense of the past and invented whatever history they wanted. For them the present and the beauty of art sufficed. My business friend slakes his spiritual thirst in the materialism of the moment and his efforts to improve upon it. He thinks
that in his next incarnation he may be a cog in a machine and hopes only that the machine will not be a Ford motor-car. He is a brilliant mathematician, a first-class bridge player, a sound motorist, and kind to children. His outlook on the theater is, shall I say, pitiful. He adores Ralph Lynn and has never heard of Salvini. Nor does he want to hear of him. "A live dog is better than a dead lion," was his way of crushing my protest, "particularly when he's an amusing dog."
A very clever Harley Street specialist confided to me that he didn't like the theater because he found it too intellectual. "It can't get low enough for my taste," he said.
"Not even in Shaftesbury Avenue?" I asked.
"Not even in Shaftesbury Avenue." So I asked him what his idea of a good entertainment might be. "Every evening after dinner," he replied, "I devote half an hour to the latest medical treatise, and then settle down to a good read."
"And what is that?"
"I like what the school-boys call 'a blood,"" he replied. "I like a hero who is made to walk the plank but takes such a header that he dives clear of the ship's keel in time to snatch a princess from the jaws of a shark. Together they swim to a neighboring coral-reef, where the hero discovers that the pearl necklace round the princess's neck is worth a king's ransom. Next morning they are rescued by Admiral Sir Frobisher Drake, who has recognized his nephew through his spy-glass; in the afternoon the chaplain performs the wedding ceremony; and before nightfall they run in with the pirate,
whom they hang from his own yardarm. I can't get enough of books like that, and that sort of play isn't written."
Both these friends of mine "know what they like," and it is they and their kind who are the biggest nuisance to the critic. If they were to rule, then Shakspere, Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw, and all our young hopefuls would be forever silent. No theater would by law be allowed to produce any piece except on the lines of "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney" or "No, No, Nanette." People like my friends hinder the theater, but it may be that the theater helps them. And, taking a sufficiently wide view, may it not be that the theater at best is only a means toward brightening existence and that, as they used to say, Life is a bigger thing than Art? There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon. There is the harmony of the major stars and the twinkling melody of the minor. But let not many exquisite twilit evenings with modern players deter me from bidding farewell to the sun, which I fear, alas, will not rise again in my time. As I say good-bye, a theater gossip tells me that an admirable player whose Othello placed him in the class of "great" actors is to appear in musical comedy. Now, the age which applauded Macready would not have tolerated that, and it would have shown its intolerance in the best possible way. It would have gone to see Macready's Othello. It was "The Belle of New York" that sounded the death-knell of the great actor. For players must live, and even the greatest get tired of casting pearls . . . But I must not be rude to my bread and butter.
ILLICENT thought she had never seen such an ugly young man. He was not only ugly in a passive way, as many men are; but he had a grotesque, gargoyle-like face, and it was further distorted by an expression of great cheerfulness and good nature. A large nose that was slightly awry, a large mouth, a queer-shaped skull, beaming eyes, and nearly six feet of solid-looking flesh-such was Mr. Domayne. He advanced into the drawing-room, grinning (she felt) at her surprise, at that slight ruffling of temper which she could not wholly suppress in contemplating so odd a stranger; and Millicent resented everything about him. She resented his coming, and his happy ugliness and the air he had of being more at ease than she was herself; and worst of all she resented the fact that there was nothing really to resent about him at all. On the contrary.
"I'm sorry that my father is away," she remarked, trying to hide her annoyance. "He was called away unexpectedly by a telegram.'
"Is that so?" answered the stranger, becoming serious. "I hope it's not bad news."
"We don't know yet. I don't expect so. Telegrams are always vague, aren't they? But we didn't know your address, and so we couldn't save you a useless journey."
"Ooh," said the Gargoyle reassuringly. He beamed afresh. Nothing, it seemed, could prevent him from beaming. "That's quite all right. Don't worry about me. I'll amuse myself easily. But I do want to see your father. He's promised to help me, you know."
"I know. You're writing a book, aren't you?" Millicent had a terrible fear that she was speaking to this man as if he were a slum child placed in her charge for twenty-four hours; but she could not alter her tone. She wished that Everard had been there to help her-Everard was her fiancé but unfortunately Everard was never there when he was wanted. That was Everard's chief quality as a fiancé, indeed.
"I'm writing a book," agreed the Gargoyle, seriously, as if he were amused by Millicent. As if she were the child, and as if she were in
his care. Ridiculous! Humiliating! She had never been more conscious of her two-and-twenty years, of the
Copyright, 1927, by THE CENTURY Co. All rights reserved.
half-hoop of diamonds and sapphires which decorated the third finger of her left hand, of her five feet two inches of maturity.
"What will you do, then?" she asked. "Father, I think, suggested that you should stay with us; but-" "Don't you trouble about that," answered the young man, grinning hideously and almost paternally, as if he were patting her hand and setting everything right. "I came down by motor-bike; and when I passed through the village I noticed a pretty little inn. The Crown, isn't it? I'll just get a room there, and come back, if I may, when Mr. Pearson returns."
small event in the world's history from which crises have developed. Annie officious Annie, the Pearsons' maid of all work-dropped something tinkling in the passage outside the door, and a moment later came blundering into the room bearing the best tea-tray, upon which, like lightning, she must have set the best tea-things as soon as the stranger had been admitted.
"Oh!" said Millicent quickly. And then, confronted by Fate, she added: "You'll have a cup of tea, Mr. Domayne? After your long ride . . .”
The Gargoyle was again distorted by that recurrent smile. It became almost handsome with delight.
"There's nothing I should like better," exclaimed Mr. Domayne with enthusiasm. "Thank you.'
Again Millicent had a sense that he was amused by her dignity. Nobody had ever before been so amused by her dignity; or by herself. But this ugly young man did not seem able to take her seriously. He was quite unlike Everard, who was never amused at anything she did. Everard adored her. It was nice to be adored. It was nicer to be adored than it was to be laughed at. With increased dignity, Millicent busied herself with the tea-tray.
"Sugar and milk?" she inquired. "Neither?"
It was four o'clock on midsummer day; and this old house lay in the
"No. If you don't mind my call- heart of Sussex, amid scenery that ing to ask . . .”
He was on his feet. There was every indication that he considered their interview to be at an end. And then something fatal happened. It was not seen at the moment to be fatal, but that might be said of every
was almost distractingly beautiful. For a wonder, midsummer day was radiantly fine. The sun shone hotly, and a fresh breeze stirred the leaves. Stirred, too, the tendrils of Millicent's fair hair, and fluttered about her soft cheeks. Blackbirds were
warbling thoughtfully in the garden beyond the wide-open French windows; sparrows were chirping; a thrush was varying his note with all the well-known impatience of thrushes. The setting was ideal. The silences of this part of the world, which was seven miles from a main road and a station, and sixty-five miles from London, were miraculous in a noisy modern world. And tea at Rest Harrow was the kind of tea that one reads about in old-fashioned books, for the Pearsons were oldfashioned people. Millicent had not been to London more than a dozen times in her life. The fact was to be read in her pretty face with its delicious complexion, and in her ordinarily simple manners; but it handicapped her, she felt, in pouring out tea for a young man with a face like a gargoyle, about whom she knew nothing, and who seemed to regard her smilingly as a child of fourteen.
She passed Mr. Domayne his tea and then looked quellingly at him. She might have spared her pains. Nothing could quell such a young man. Even Everard's mother, the vicar's wife, who was frightfully freezing, could not have quelled him. He would have beamed at her too. How dearly Millicent wished that Daddy had been at home to talk to this young man! Daddy, or even Everard, who was so clever and so adoring, and who (she was confident) could talk to anybody about any thing in the whole world, even Roman antiquities, because he was so learned and was so glad to put everybody right about what they did not understand.
Unconsciously, as she longed for
the support of Everard in this present ordeal, Millicent sighed; and as she had just placed a piece of Annie's rich home-made currant cake in her mouth, a crumb flew instantly into her windpipe. Choking, she knocked against the folding table which bore the tray, and spilled her tea into the saucer and into the tray. Embarrassment upon embarrassment! Tears-not of grief or anger or shame, but of mere ignominious choking-started to her eyes. She was blinded, suffocated . . . She knew that the Gargoyle had jumped to his feet, that he had moved the folding table a little to one side, that with his pocket-handkerchief in his hand he stood ready to give any necessary assistance, from that involved in carrying her into the fresh air to that which went no farther than dabbing the stain on her dress with a motor-cyclist's pocket-handkerchief. The knowledge, and the dread of any application of that terrible handkerchief, made Millicent choke more than ever. Her face burned cruelly. Overwhelmed by mischance, she began quite definitely
dislike Mr. Domayne. She thought him officious, as well as ugly. She also thought of him as the cause of all her misfortunes. She was right in this; but worse was to follow.
For just as Millicent stood upright, quite scarlet in the face, resisting Mr. Domayne's hand, which pressed upon her the grimy handkerchief from which she shrank; just as the gargoyle face was near her own, beaming reassuringly, and with something in the eyes which looked like laughter; just as they must have looked the most extraordinary couple in the world, the oldest of friends, the