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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Little Warrior (jill The Reckless) - Chapter FOURTEEN
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The Little Warrior (jill The Reckless) - Chapter FOURTEEN Post by :globala Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :780

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The Little Warrior (jill The Reckless) - Chapter FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN


1.

Spring, whose coming the breeze had heralded to Wally as he smoked
upon the roof, floated graciously upon New York two mornings later.
The city awoke to a day of blue and gold and to a sense of hard times
over and good times to come. In a million homes, a million young men
thought of sunny afternoons at the Polo Grounds; a million young
women of long summer Sundays by the crowded waves of Coney Island. In
his apartment on Park Avenue, Mr Isaac Goble, sniffing the gentle air
from the window of his breakfast-room, returned to his meal and his
_Morning Telegraph with a resolve to walk to the theatre for
rehearsal: a resolve which had also come to Jill and Nelly Bryant,
eating stewed prunes in their boarding-house in the Forties. On the
summit of his sky-scraper, Wally Mason, performing Swedish exercises
to the delectation of various clerks and stenographers in the upper
windows of neighboring buildings, felt young and vigorous and
optimistic; and went in to his shower-bath thinking of Jill. And it
was of Jill, too, that young Mr Pilkington thought, as he propped his
long form up against the pillows and sipped his morning cup of tea.
He had not yet had an opportunity of inspecting the day for himself,
but his Japanese valet, who had been round the corner for papers, had
spoken well of it; and even in his bedroom the sunlight falling on
the carpet gave some indication of what might be expected outside.
For the first time in several days a certain moodiness which had
affected Otis Pilkington left him, and he dreamed happy daydreams.

The gaiety of Otis was not, however, entirely or even primarily due
to the improvement in the weather. It had its source in a
conversation which had taken place between himself and Jill's Uncle
Chris on the previous night. Exactly how it had come about, Mr
Pilkington was not entirely clear, but, somehow, before he was fully
aware of what he was saying, he had begun to pour into Major Selby's
sympathetic ears the story of his romance. Encouraged by the other's
kindly receptiveness, he had told him all--his love for Jill, his
hopes that some day it might be returned, the difficulties
complicating the situation owing to the known prejudices of Mrs
Waddesleigh Peagrim concerning girls who formed the personnel of
musical comedy ensembles. To all these outpourings Major Selby had
listened with keen attention, and finally had made one of those
luminous suggestions, so simple yet so shrewd, which emanate only
from your man of the world. It was Jill's girlish ambition, it seemed
from Major Selby's statement, to become a force in the motion-picture
world. The movies were her objective. When she had told him of this,
said Uncle Chris, he had urged her, speaking in her best interests,
to gain experience by joining in the humblest capacity the company of
some good musical play, where she could learn from the best masters
so much of the technique of the business. That done, she could go
about her life-work, fortified and competent.

What, he broke off to ask, did Pilkington think of the idea?

Pilkington thought the idea splendid. Miss Mariner, with her charm
and looks, would be wonderful in the movies.

There was, said Uncle Chris, a future for a girl in the movies.

Mr Pilkington agreed cordially. A great future.

"Look at Mary Pickford!" said Uncle Chris. "Millions a year!"

Mr Pilkington contemplated Miss Pickford, and agreed again. He
instanced other stars--lesser luminaries, perhaps, but each with her
thousands a week. There was no doubt about it--a girl's best friend
was the movies.

"Observe," proceeded Uncle Chris, gathering speed and expanding his
chest as he spread his legs before the fire, "how it would simplify
the whole matter if Jill were to become a motion-picture artist and
win fame and wealth in her profession. And there can be no reasonable
doubt, my boy, that she would. As you say, with her appearance and
her charm . . . Which of these women whose names you see all along
Broadway in electric lights can hold a candle to her? Once started,
with the proper backing behind her, her future would be assured. And
then. . . . Of course, as regards her feelings I cannot speak, as I
know nothing of them, but we will assume that she is not indifferent
to you . . . what then? You go to your excellent aunt and announce
that you are engaged to be married to Jill Mariner. There is a
momentary pause. 'Not _the Jill Mariner?' falters Mrs Peagrim. 'Yes,
the famous Miss Mariner!' you reply. Well, I ask you, my boy, can you
see her making an objection? Such a thing would be absurd. No, I can
se no flaw in the project whatsoever." Here Uncle Chris, as he had
pictured Mrs Peagrim doing, paused for a moment. "Of course, there
would be the preliminaries."

"The preliminaries?"

Uncle Chris' voice became a melodious coo. He beamed upon Mr
Pilkington.

"Well, think for yourself, my boy! These things cannot be done
without money. I do not propose to allow my niece to waste her time
and her energy in the rank and file of the profession, waiting years
for a chance that might never come. There is plenty of room at the
top, and that, in the motion-picture profession, is the place to
start. If Jill is to become a motion-picture artist, a special
company must be formed to promote her. She must be made a feature, a
star, from the beginning. That is why I have advised her to accept
her present position temporarily, in order that she may gain
experience. She must learn to walk before she runs. She must study
before she soars. But when the moment arrives for her to take the
step, she must not be hampered by lack of money. Whether," said Uncle
Chris, smoothing the crease of his trousers, "you would wish to take
shares in the company yourself . . ."

"Oo . . . !"

". . . is a matter," proceeded Uncle Chris, ignoring the
interruption, "for you yourself to decide. Possibly you have other
claims on your purse. Possibly this musical play of yours has taken
all the cash you are prepared to lock up. Possibly you may consider
the venture too speculative. Possibly . . . there are a hundred
reasons why you may not wish to join us. But I know a dozen men--I
can go down Wall Street tomorrow and pick out twenty men--who will be
glad to advance the necessary capital. I can assure you that I
personally shall not hesitate to risk--if one can call it
risking--any loose cash which I may have lying idle at my banker's."

He rattled the loose cash which he had lying idle in his
trouser-pocket--fifteen cents in all--and stopped to flick a piece of
fluff off his coat-sleeve. Mr Pilkington was thus enabled to insert a
word.

"How much would you want?" he enquired.

"That," said Uncle Chris meditatively, "is a little hard to say. I
should have to look into the matter more closely in order to give you
the exact figures. But let us say for the sake of argument that you
put up--what shall we say?--a hundred thousand? fifty thousand? . . .
no, we will be conservative. Perhaps you had better not begin with
more than ten thousand. You can always buy more shares later. I don't
suppose I shall begin with more than ten thousand myself."

"I could manage ten thousand all right."

"Excellent. We make progress, we make progress. Very well, then. I go
to my Wall Street friends--I would give you their names, only for the
present, till something definite has been done, that would hardly be
politic--I go to my Wall Street friends, and tell them about the
scheme, and say 'Here is ten thousand dollars! What is your
contribution?' It puts the affair on a business-like basis, you
understand. Then we really get to work. But use your own judgment my
boy, you know. Use your own judgment. I would not think of persuading
you to take such a step, if you felt at all doubtful. Think it over.
Sleep on it. And, whatever you decide to do, on no account say a word
about it to Jill. It would be cruel to raise her hopes until we are
certain that we are in a position to enable her to realize them. And,
of course, not a word to Mrs Peagrim."

"Of course."

"Very well, then, my boy." said Uncle Chris affably. "I will leave
you to turn the whole thing over in your mind. Act entirely as you
think best. How is your insomnia, by the way? Did you try Nervino?
Capital! There's nothing like it. It did wonders for _me!_
Good-night, good-night!"

Otis Pilkington had been turning the thing over in his mind, with an
interval for sleep, ever since. And the more he thought of it, the
better the scheme appeared to him. He winced a little at the thought
of the ten thousand dollars, for he came of prudent stock and had
been brought up in habits of parsimony, but, after all, he reflected,
the money would be merely a loan. Once the company found its feet, it
would be returned to him a hundred-fold. And there was no doubt that
this would put a completely different aspect on his wooing of Jill,
as far as his Aunt Olive was concerned. Why, a cousin of his--young
Brewster Philmore--had married a movie-star only two years ago, and
nobody had made the slightest objection. Brewster was to be seen with
his bride frequently beneath Mrs Peagrim's roof. Against the higher
strata of Bohemia Mrs Peagrim had no prejudice at all. Quite the
reverse, in fact. She liked the society of those whose names were
often in the papers and much in the public mouth. It seemed to Otis
Pilkington, in short, that Love had found a way. He sipped his tea
with relish, and when the Japanese valet brought in the toast all
burned on one side, chided him with a gentle sweetness which, one may
hope, touched the latter's Oriental heart and inspired him with a
desire to serve this best of employers more efficiently.

At half-past ten, Otis Pilkington removed his dressing-gown and began
to put on his clothes to visit the theatre. There was a
rehearsal-call for the whole company at eleven. As he dressed, his
mood was as sunny as the day itself.

And the day, by half-past ten, was as sunny as ever Spring day had
been in a country where Spring comes early and does its best from the
very start, The blue sky beamed down on a happy city. To and fro the
citizenry bustled, aglow with the perfection of the weather.
Everywhere was gaiety and good cheer, except on the stage of the
Gotham Theatre, where an early rehearsal, preliminary to the main
event, had been called by Johnson Miller in order to iron some of the
kinks out of the "My Heart and I" number, which, with the assistance
of the male chorus, the leading lady was to render in act one.

On the stage of the Gotham gloom reigned--literally, because the
stage was wide and deep and was illumined only by a single electric
light: and figuratively, because things were going even worse than
usual with the "My Heart and I" number, and Johnson Miller, always of
an emotional and easily stirred temperament, had been goaded by the
incompetence of his male chorus to a state of frenzy. At about the
moment when Otis Pilkington shed his flowered dressing-gown and
reached for his trousers (the heather-mixture with the red twill),
Johnson Miller was pacing the gangway between the orchestra pit and
the first row of the orchestra chairs, waving one hand and clutching
his white locks with the other, his voice raised the while in
agonized protest.

"Gentlemen, you silly idiots," complained Mr Miller loudly, "you've
had three weeks to get these movements into your thick heads, and you
haven't done a damn thing right! You're all over the place! You don't
seem able to turn without tumbling over each other like a lot of
Keystone Kops! What's the matter with you? You're not doing the
movements I showed you; you're doing some you have invented
yourselves, and they are rotten! I've no doubt you think you can
arrange a number better than I can, but Mr Goble engaged me to be the
director, so kindly do exactly as I tell you. Don't try to use your
own intelligence, because you haven't any. I'm not blaming you for
it. It wasn't your fault that your nurses dropped you on your heads
when you were babies. But it handicaps you when you try to think."

Of the seven gentlemanly members of the male ensemble present, six
looked wounded by this tirade. They had the air of good men
wrongfully accused. They appeared to be silently calling on Heaven to
see justice done between Mr. Miller and themselves. The seventh, a
long-legged young man in faultlessly-fitting tweeds of English cut,
seemed, on the other hand, not so much hurt as embarrassed. It was
this youth who now stepped down to the darkened footlights and spoke
in a remorseful and conscience-stricken manner.

"I say!"

Mr Miller, that martyr to deafness, did not hear the pathetic bleat.
He had swung off at right angles and was marching in an overwrought
way up the central aisle leading to the back of the house, his india
rubber form moving in convulsive jerks. Only when he had turned and
retraced his steps did he perceive the speaker and prepare to take
his share in the conversation.

"What?" he shouted. "Can't hear you!"

"I say, you know, it's my fault, really."

"What?"

"I mean to say, you know . . ."

"What? Speak up, can't you?"

Mr Saltzburg, who had been seated at the piano, absently playing a
melody from his unproduced musical comedy, awoke to the fact that the
services of an interpreter were needed. He obligingly left the
music-stool and crept, crablike, along the ledge of the stage-box. He
placed his arm about Mr Miller's shoulders and his lips to Mr
Miller's left ear, and drew a deep breath.

"He says it is his fault!"

Mr Miller nodded adhesion to this admirable sentiment.

"I know they're not worth their salt!" he replied.

Mr Saltzburg patiently took in a fresh stock of breath.

"This young man says it is his fault that the movement went wrong!"

"Tell him I only signed on this morning, laddie," urged the
tweed-clad young man.

"He only joined the company this morning!"

This puzzled Mr Miller.

"How do you mean, warning?" he asked.

Mr Saltzburg, purple in the face, made a last effort.

"This young man is new," he bellowed carefully, keeping to words of
one syllable. "He does not yet know the steps. He says this is his
first day here, so he does not yet know the steps. When he has been
here some more time he will know the steps. But now he does not know
the steps."

"What he means," explained the young man in tweeds helpfully, "is
that I don't know the steps."

"He does not know the steps!" roared Mr Saltzburg.

"I know he doesn't know the steps," said Mr Miller. "Why doesn't he
know the steps? He's had long enough to learn them."

"He is new!"

"Hugh?"

"New!"

"Oh, new?"

"Yes, new!"

"Why the devil is he new?" cried Mr Miller, awaking suddenly to the
truth and filled with a sense of outrage. "Why didn't he join with
the rest of the company? How can I put on chorus numbers if I am
saddled every day with new people to teach? Who engaged him?"

"Who engaged you?" enquired Mr Saltzburg of the culprit.

"Mr Pilkington."

"Mr Pilkington," shouted Mr Saltzburg.

"When?"

"When?"

"Last night."

"Last night."

Mr Miller waved his hands in a gesture of divine despair, spun round,
darted up the aisle, turned, and bounded back. "What can I do?" he
wailed. "My hands are tied! I am hampered! I am handicapped! We open
in two weeks, and every day I find somebody new in the company to
upset everything I have done. I shall go to Mr Goble and ask to be
released from my contract. I shall . . . Come along, come along, come
along now!" he broke off suddenly. "Why are we wasting time? The
whole number once more. The whole number once more from the
beginning!"

The young man tottered back to his gentlemanly colleagues, running a
finger in an agitated manner round the inside of his collar. He was
not used to this sort of thing. In a large experience of amateur
theatricals he had never encountered anything like it. In the
breathing-space afforded by the singing of the first verse and
refrain by the lady who played the heroine of "The Rose of America,"
he found time to make an enquiry of the artist on his right.

"I say! Is he always like this?"

"Who? Johnny?"

"The sportsman with the hair that turned white in a single night. The
barker on the skyline. Does he often get the wind up like this?"

His colleague smiled tolerantly.

"Why, that's nothing!" he replied. "Wait till you see him really cut
loose! That was just a gentle whisper!"

"My God!" said the newcomer, staring into a bleak future. The leading
lady came to the end of her refrain, and the gentlemen of the
ensemble, who had been hanging about up-stage, began to curvet nimbly
down towards her in a double line; the new arrival, with an eye on his
nearest neighbor, endeavouring to curvet as nimbly as the others. A
clapping of hands from the dark auditorium indicated--inappropriately--
that he had failed to do so. Mr Miller could be perceived--dimly--
with all his fingers entwined in his hair.

"Clear the stage!" yelled Mr Miller. "Not you!" he shouted, as the
latest addition to the company began to drift off with the others.
"You stay!"

"Me?"

"Yes, you. I shall have to teach you the steps by yourself, or we
shall get nowhere. Go on-stage. Start the music again, Mr Saltzburg.
Now, when the refrain begins, come down. Gracefully! Gracefully!"

The young man, pink but determined, began to come down gracefully.
And it was while he was thus occupied that Jill and Nelly Bryant,
entering the wings which were beginning to fill up as eleven o'clock
approached, saw him.

"Whoever is that?" said Nelly.

"New man," replied one of the chorus gentlemen. "Came this morning."

Nelly turned to Jill.

"He looks just like Mr Rooke!" she exclaimed.

"He _is Mr Rooke!" said Jill.

"He can't be!"

"He _is_!"

"But what is he doing here?"

Jill bit her lip.

"That's just what I'm going to ask him myself," she said.


2.

The opportunity for a private conversation with Freddie did not occur
immediately. For ten minutes he remained alone on the stage,
absorbing abusive tuition from Mr Miller: and at the end of that
period a further ten minutes was occupied with the rehearsing of the
number with the leading lady and the rest of the male chorus. When,
finally, a roar from the back of the auditorium announced the arrival
of Mr Goble and at the same time indicated Mr Goble's desire that the
stage should be cleared and the rehearsal proper begin, a wan smile
of recognition and a faint "What ho!" was all that Freddie was able
to bestow upon Jill, before, with the rest of the _ensemble_, they
had to go out and group themselves for the opening chorus. It was
only when this had been run through four times and the stage left
vacant for two of the principals to play a scene that Jill was able
to draw the Last of the Rookes aside in a dark corner and put him to
the question.

"Freddie, what are you doing here?"

Freddie mopped his streaming brow. Johnson Miller's idea of an
opening chorus was always strenuous. On the present occasion, the
ensemble were supposed to be guests at a Long Island house-party, and
Mr Miller's conception of the gathering suggested that he supposed
house-party guests on Long Island to consist exclusively of victims
of St Vitus' dance. Freddie was feeling limp, battered, and.
exhausted: and, from what he had gathered, the worst was yet to come.

"Eh?" he said feebly.

"What are you doing here?"

"Oh, ah, yes! I see what you mean! I suppose you're surprised to find
me in New York, what?"

"I'm not surprised to find you in New York. I knew you had come over.
But I am surprised to find you on the stage, being bullied by Mr
Miller."

"I say," said Freddie in an awed voice. "He's a bit of a nut, that
lad, what! He reminds me of the troops of Midian in the hymn. The
chappies who prowled and prowled around. I'll bet he's worn a groove
in the carpet. Like a jolly old tiger at the Zoo at feeding time.
Wouldn't be surprised at any moment to look down and find him biting
a piece out of my leg!"

Jill seized his arm and shook it.

"Don't _ramble_, Freddie! Tell me how you got here."

"Oh, that was pretty simple. I had a letter of introduction to this
chappie Pilkington who's running this show, and, we having got
tolerably pally in the last few days, I went to him and asked him to
let me join the merry throng. I said I didn't want any money and the
little bit of work I would do wouldn't make any difference, so he
said 'Right ho!' or words to that effect, and here I am."

"But why? You can't be doing this for fun, surely?"

"Fun!" A pained expression came into Freddie's face. "My idea of fun
isn't anything in which jolly old Miller, the bird with the snowy
hair, is permitted to mix. Something tells me that that lad is going
to make it his life-work picking on me. No, I didn't do this for fun.
I had a talk with Wally Mason the night before last, and he seemed to
think that being in the chorus wasn't the sort of thing you ought to
be doing, so I thought it over and decided that I ought to join the
troupe too. Then I could always be on the spot, don't you know, if
there was any trouble. I mean to say, I'm not much of a chap and all
that sort of thing, but still I might come in handy one of these
times. Keep a fatherly eye on you, don't you know, and what not!"

Jill was touched.

"You're a dear, Freddie!"

"I thought, don't you know, it would make poor old Derek a bit easier
in his mind."

Jill froze.

"I don't want to talk about Derek, Freddie, please."

"Oh, I know what you must be feeling. Pretty sick, I'll bet, what?
But if you could see him now . . ."

"I don't want to talk about him!"

"He's pretty cut up, you know. Regrets bitterly and all that sort of
thing. He wants you to come back again."

"I see! He sent you to fetch me?"

"That was more or less the idea."

"It's a shame that you had all the trouble. You can get
messenger-boys to go anywhere and do anything nowadays. Derek ought
to have thought of that."

Freddie looked at her doubtfully.

"You're spoofing, aren't you? I mean to say, you wouldn't have liked
that!"

"I shouldn't have disliked it any more than his sending you."

"Oh, but I wanted to pop over. Keen to see America and so forth."

Jill looked past him at the gloomy stage. Her face was set, and her
eyes sombre.

"Can't you understand, Freddie? You've known me a long time. I should
have thought that you would have found out by now that I have a
certain amount of pride. If Derek wanted me back, there was only one
thing for him to do--come over and find me himself."

"Rummy! That's what Mason said, when I told him. You two don't
realize how dashed busy Derek is these days."

"Busy!"

Something in her face seemed to tell Freddie that he was not saying
the right thing, but he stumbled on.

"You've no notion how busy he is. I mean to say, elections coming on
and so forth. He daren't stir from the metrop."

"Of course I couldn't expect him to do anything that might interfere
with his career, could I?"

"Absolutely not. I knew you would see it!" said Freddie, charmed at
her reasonableness. All rot, what you read about women being
unreasonable. "Then I take it it's all right, eh?"

"All right?"

"I mean you will toddle home with me at the earliest opp. and make
poor old Derek happy?"

Jill laughed discordantly.

"Poor old Derek!" she echoed. "He has been badly treated, hasn't he?"

"Well, I wouldn't say that," said Freddie doubtfully. "You see,
coming down to it, the thing was more or less his fault, what?"

"More or less!"

"I mean to say . . ."

"More or less!"

Freddie glanced at her anxiously. He was not at all sure now that he
liked the way she was looking or the tone in which she spoke. He was
not a keenly observant young man, but there did begin at this point
to seep through to his brain-centers a suspicion that all was not
well.

"Let me pull myself together!" said Freddie warily to his immortal
soul. "I believe I'm getting the raspberry!" And there was silence
for a space.

The complexity of life began to weigh upon Freddie. Life was like one
of those shots at squash which seem so simple till you go to knock
the cover off the ball, when the ball sort of edges away from you and
you miss it. Life, Freddie began to perceive, was apt to have a nasty
back-spin on it. He had never had any doubt when he had started, that
the only difficult part of his expedition to America would be the
finding of Jill. Once found, he had presumed that she would be
delighted to hear his good news and would joyfully accompany him home
on the next boat. It appeared now, however, that he had been too
sanguine. Optimist as he was, he had to admit that, as far as could
be ascertained with the naked eye, the jolly old binge might be said
to have sprung a leak.

He proceeded to approach the matter from another angle.

"I say!"

"Yes?"

"You do love old Derek, don't you? I mean to say, you know what I
mean, _love him and all that sort of rot?"

"I don't know!"

"You don't know! Oh, I say, come now! You must _know! Pull up your
socks, old thing . . . I mean, pull yourself together! You either
love a chappie or you don't."

Jill smiled painfully.

"How nice it would be if everything were as simple and
straightforward as that. Haven't you ever heard that the dividing
line between love and hate is just a thread? Poets have said so a
great number of times."

"Oh, poets!" said Freddie, dismissing the genus with a wave of the
hand. He had been compelled to read Shakespeare and all that sort of
thing at school, but it had left him cold, and since growing to man's
estate he had rather handed the race of bards the mitten. He liked
Doss Chiderdoss' stuff in the _Sporting Times_, but beyond that he
was not much of a lad for poets.

"Can't you understand a girl in my position not being able to make up
her mind whether she loves a man or despises him?"

Freddie shook his head.

"No," he said. "It sounds dashed silly to me!"

"Then what's the good of talking?" cried Jill. "It only hurts."

"But--won't you come back to England?"

"No."

"Oh, I say! Be a sport! Take a stab at it!"

Jill laughed again--another of those grating laughs which afflicted
Freddie with a sense of foreboding and failure. Something had
undoubtedly gone wrong with the works. He began to fear that at some
point in the conversation--just where he could not say--he had been
less diplomatic than he might have been.

"You speak as if you were inviting me to a garden-party! No, I won't
take a stab at it. You've a lot to learn about women, Freddie!"

"Women _are rum!" conceded that perplexed ambassador.

Jill began to move away.

"Don't go!" urged Freddie.

"Why not? What's the use of talking any more? Have you ever broken an
arm or a leg, Freddie?"

"Yes," said Freddie, mystified. "As a matter of fact, my last year at
Oxford, playing soccer for the college in a friendly game, some
blighter barged into me and I came down on my wrist. But . . ."

"It hurt?"

"Like the deuce!"

"And then it began to get better, I suppose. Well, used you to hit it
and twist it and prod it, or did you leave it alone to try and heal?
I won't talk any more about Derek! I simply won't! I'm all smashed up
inside, and I don't know if I'm ever going to get well again, but at
least I'm going to give myself a chance. I'm working as hard as ever
I can, and I'm forcing myself not to think of him. I'm in a sling,
Freddie, like your wrist, and I don't want to be prodded. I hope we
shall see a lot of each other while you're over here--you always were
the greatest dear in the world--but you mustn't mention Derek again,
and you mustn't ask me to go home. If you avoid those subjects, we'll
be as happy as possible. And now I'm going to leave you to talk to
poor Nelly. She has been hovering round for the last ten minutes,
waiting for a chance to speak to you. She worships you, you know!"

Freddie started violently.

"Oh, I say! What rot!"

Jill had gone, and he was still gaping after her, when Nelly Bryant
moved towards him--shyly, like a worshiper approaching a shrine.

"Hello, Mr Rooke!" said Nelly.

"Hullo-ullo-ullo!" said Freddie.

Nelly fixed her large eyes on his face. A fleeting impression passed
through Freddie's mind that she was looking unusually pretty this
morning: nor was the impression unjustified. Nelly was wearing for
the first time a Spring suit which was the outcome of hours of
painful selection among the wares of a dozen different stores, and
the knowledge that the suit was just right seemed to glow from her
like an inner light. She felt happy: and her happiness had lent an
unwonted color to her face and a soft brightness to her eyes.

"How nice it is, your being here!"

Freddie waited for the inevitable question, the question with which
Jill had opened their conversation; but it did not come. He was
surprised, but relieved. He hated long explanations, and he was very
doubtful whether loyalty to Jill could allow him to give them to
Nelly. His reason for being where he was had to do so intimately with
Jill's most private affairs. A wave of gratitude to Nelly swept
through him when he realised that she was either incurious or else
too delicate-minded to show inquisitiveness.

As a matter of fact, it was delicacy that kept Nelly silent. Seeing
Freddie here at the theatre, she had, as is not uncommon with
fallible mortals, put two and two together and made the answer four
when it was not four at all. She had been deceived by circumstantial
evidence. Jill, whom she had left in England wealthy and secure, she
had met again in New York penniless as the result of some Stock
Exchange cataclysm in which, she remembered with the vagueness with
which one recalls once-heard pieces of information, Freddie Rooke had
been involved. True, she seemed to recollect hearing that Freddie's
losses had been comparatively slight, but his presence in the chorus
of "The Rose of America" seemed to her proof that after all the must
have been devastating. She could think of no other reason except loss
of money which could have placed Freddie in the position in which she
now found him, so she accepted it; and, with the delicacy which was
innate in her and which a hard life had never blunted, decided,
directly she saw him, to make no allusion to the disaster.

Such was Nelly's view of the matter, and sympathy gave to her manner
a kind of maternal gentleness which acted on Freddie, raw from his
late encounter with Mr Johnson Miller and disturbed by Jill's
attitude in the matter of poor old Derek, like a healing balm. His
emotions were too chaotic for analysis, but one thing stood out clear
from the welter--the fact that he was glad to be with Nelly as he had
never been glad to be with a girl before, and found her soothing as
he had never supposed a girl could be soothing.

They talked desultorily of unimportant things, and every minute found
Freddie more convinced that Nelly was not as other girls. He felt
that he must see more of her.

"I say," he said. "When this binge is over . . . when the rehearsal
finishes, you know, how about a bite to eat?"

"I should love it. I generally go to the Automat."

"The how-much? Never heard of it."

"In Times Square. It's cheap, you know."

"I was thinking of the Cosmopolis."

"But that's so expensive."

"Oh, I don't know. Much the same as any of the other places, isn't
it?"

Nelly's manner became more motherly than ever. She bent forward and
touched his arm affectionately.

"You haven't to keep up any front with me," she said gently. "I don't
care whether you're rich or poor or what. I mean, of course I'm
awfully sorry you've lost your money, but it makes it all the easier
for us to be real pals, don't you think so?"

"Lost my money!"

"Well, I know you wouldn't be here if you hadn't. I wasn't going to
say anything about it, but, when you talked of the Cosmopolis, I just
had to. You lost your money in the same thing Jill Mariner lost hers,
didn't you? I was sure you had, the moment I saw you here. Who cares?
Money isn't everything!"

Astonishment kept Freddie silent for an instant: after that he
refrained from explanations of his own free will. He accepted the
situation and rejoiced in it. Like many other wealthy and modest
young men, he had always had a sneaking suspicion at the back of his
mind that any girl who was decently civil to him was so from mixed
motives--or more likely, motives that were not even mixed. Well,
dash it, here was a girl who seemed to like him although under the
impression that he was broke to the wide. It was an intoxicating
experience. It made him feel a better chap. It fortified his
self-respect.

"You know," he said, stammering a little, for he found a sudden
difficulty in controlling his voice. "You're a dashed good sort!"

"I'm awfully glad you think so."

There was a silence--as far, at least, as he and she were concerned.
In the outer world, beyond the piece of scenery under whose shelter
they stood, stirring things, loud and exciting things, seemed to be
happening. Some sort of an argument appeared to be in progress. The
rasping voice of Mr Goble was making itself heard from the unseen
auditorium. These things they sensed vaguely, but they were too
occupied with each other to ascertain details.

"What was the name of that place again?" asked Freddie. "The
what-ho-something?"

"The Automat?"

"That's the little chap! We'll go there, shall we?"

"The food's quite good. You go and help yourself out of
slot-machines, you know."

"My favorite indoor sport!" said Freddie with enthusiasm. "Hullo!
What's up? It sounds as if there were dirty work at the cross-roads!"

The voice of the assistant stage-manager was calling--sharply
excited, agitation in every syllable.

"All the gentlemen of the chorus on the stage, please! Mr Goble wants
all the chorus--gentlemen on the stage!"

"Well, cheerio for the present," said Freddie. "I suppose I'd better
look into this." He made his way onto the stage.


3.

There is an insidious something about the atmosphere of a rehearsal
of a musical play which saps the finer feelings of those connected
with it. Softened by the gentle beauty of the Spring weather, Mr
Goble had come to the Gotham Theatre that morning in an excellent
temper, firmly intending to remain in an excellent temper all day.
Five minutes of "The Rose of America" had sent him back to the
normal: and at ten minutes past eleven he was chewing his cigar and
glowering at the stage with all the sweetness gone from his soul.
When Wally Mason arrived at a quarter past eleven and dropped into
the seat beside him, the manager received him with a grunt and even
omitted to offer him a cigar. And when a New York theatrical manager
does that, it is a certain sign that his mood is of the worst.

One may find excuses for Mr Goble. "The Rose of America" would have
tested the equanimity of a far more amiable man: and on Mr Goble what
Otis Pilkington had called its delicate whimsicality jarred
profoundly. He had been brought up in the lower-browed school of
musical comedy, where you shelved the plot after the opening number
and filled in the rest of the evening by bringing on the girls in a
variety of exotic costumes, with some good vaudeville specialists to
get the laughs. Mr Goble's idea of a musical piece was something
embracing trained seals, acrobats, and two or three teams of skilled
buck-and-wing dancers, with nothing on the stage, from a tree to a
lamp-shade, which could not suddenly turn into a chorus-girl. The
austere legitimateness of "The Rose of America" gave him a pain in
the neck. He loathed plot, and "The Rose of America" was all plot.

Why, then, had the earthy Mr. Goble consented to associate himself
with the production of this intellectual play? Because he was
subject, like all other New York managers, to intermittent spasms of
the idea that the time is ripe for a revival of comic opera.
Sometimes, lunching in his favorite corner in the Cosmopolis
grill-room, he would lean across the table and beg some other manager
to take it from him that the time was ripe for a revival of comic
opera--or more cautiously, that pretty soon the time was going to be
ripe for a revival of comic opera. And the other manager would nod
his head and thoughtfully stroke his three chins and admit that, sure
as God made little apples, the time was darned soon going to be ripe
for a revival of comic opera. And then they would stuff themselves
with rich food and light big cigars and brood meditatively.

With most managers these spasms, which may be compared to twinges of
conscience, pass as quickly as they come, and they go back to coining
money with rowdy musical comedies, quite contented. But Otis
Pilkington, happening along with the script of "The Rose of America"
and the cash to back it, had caught Mr Goble in the full grip of an
attack, and all the arrangements had been made before the latter
emerged from the influence. He now regretted his rash act.

"Say, listen," he said to Wally, his gaze on the stage, his words
proceeding from the corner of his mouth, "you've got to stick around
with this show after it opens on the road. We'll talk terms later.
But we've got to get it right, don't care what it costs. See?"

"You think it will need fixing?"

Mr Goble scowled at the unconscious artists, who were now going
through a particularly arid stretch of dialogue.

"Fixing! It's all wrong! It don't add up right! You'll have to
rewrite it from end to end."

"Well, I've got some ideas about it. I saw it played by amateurs last
summer, you know. I could make a quick job of it, if you want me to.
But will the author stand for it?"

Mr Goble allowed a belligerent eye to stray from the stage, and
twisted it round in Wally's direction.

"Say, listen! He'll stand for anything I say. I'm the little guy that
gives orders round here. I'm the big noise!"

As if in support of this statement he suddenly emitted a terrific
bellow. The effect was magical. The refined and painstaking artists
on the stage stopped as if they had been shot. The assistant
stage-director bent sedulously over the footlights, which had now
been turned up, shading his eyes with the prompt script.

"Take that over again!" shouted Mr Goble. "Yes, that speech about
life being like a water-melon. It don't sound to me as though it
meant anything." He cocked his cigar at an angle, and listened
fiercely. He clapped his hands. The action stopped again. "Cut it!"
said Mr Goble tersely.

"Cut the speech, Mr Goble?" queried the obsequious assistant
stage-director.

"Yes. Cut it. It don't mean nothing!"

Down the aisle, springing from a seat at the back, shimmered Mr
Pilkington, wounded to the quick.

"Mr Goble! Mr Goble!"

"Well?"

"That is the best epigram in the play."

"The best what?"

"Epigram. The best epigram in the play."

Mr. Goble knocked the ash off his cigar. "The public don't want
epigrams. The public don't like epigrams. I've been in the show
business fifteen years, and I'm telling you! Epigrams give them a
pain under the vest. All right, get on."

Mr Pilkington fluttered agitatedly. This was his first experience of
Mr Goble in the capacity of stage-director. It was the latter's
custom to leave the early rehearsals of the pieces with which he was
connected to a subordinate producer, who did what Mr Goble called the
breaking-in. This accomplished, he would appear in person, undo most
of the other's work, make cuts, tell the actors how to read their
lines, and generally enjoy himself. Producing plays was Mr Goble's
hobby. He imagined himself to have a genius in that direction, and it
was useless to try to induce him to alter any decision to which he
might have come. He regarded those who did not agree with him with
the lofty contempt of an Eastern despot.

Of this Mr Pilkington was not yet aware.

"But, Mr Goble . . . !"

The potentate swung irritably round on him.

"What is it? What is it? Can't you see I'm busy?"

"That epigram . . ."

"It's out!"

"But . . . !"

"It's out!"

"Surely," protested Mr Pilkington almost tearfully, "I have a voice
. . ."

"Sure you have a voice," retorted Mr Goble, "and you can use it any
old place you want, except in my theatre. Have all the voice you
like! Go round the corner and talk to yourself! Sing in your bath!
But don't come using it here, because I'm the little guy that does
all the talking in this theatre! That fellow gets my goat," he added
complainingly to Wally, as Mr Pilkington withdrew like a foiled
python. "He don't know nothing about the show business, and he keeps
butting in and making fool suggestions. He ought to be darned glad
he's getting his first play produced and not trying to teach me how
to direct it." He clapped his hands imperiously. The assistant
stage-manager bent over the footlights. "What was that that guy said?
Lord Finchley's last speech. Take it again."

The gentleman who was playing the part of Lord Finchley, an English
character actor who specialized in London "nuts," raised his
eyebrows, annoyed. Like Mr Pilkington, he had never before come into
contact with Mr Goble as stage-director, and, accustomed to the
suaver methods of his native land, he was finding the experience
trying. He had not yet recovered from the agony of having that
water-melon line cut out of his part. It was the only good line, he
considered, that he had. Any line that is cut out of an actor's part
is always the only good line he has.

"The speech about Omar Khayyam?" he enquired with suppressed
irritation.

"I thought that was the way you said it. All wrong! It's Omar _of_
Khayyam."

"I think you will find that Omar Khayyam is the--ah--generally
accepted version of the poet's name," said the portrayer of Lord
Finchley, adding beneath his breath. "You silly ass!"

"You say Omar _of Khayyam," bellowed Mr Goble. "Who's running this
show, anyway?"

"Just as you please."

Mr Goble turned to Wally.

"These actors . . ." he began, when Mr Pilkington appeared again at
his elbow.

"Mr Goble! Mr Goble!"

"What is it _now?_"

"Omar Khayyam was a Persian poet. His name was Khayyam."

"That wasn't the way _I heard it," said Mr Goble doggedly. "Did
_you?_" he enquired of Wally. "I thought he was born at Khayyam."

"You're probably quite right," said Wally, "but, if so, everybody
else has been wrong for a good many years. It's usually supposed that
the gentleman's name was Omar Khayyam. Khayyam, Omar J. Born 1050
A.D., educated privately and at Bagdad University. Represented Persia
in the Olympic Games of 1072, winning the sitting high-jump and the
egg-and-spoon race. The Khayyams were quite a well-known family in
Bagdad, and there was a lot of talk when Omar, who was Mrs Khayyam's
pet son, took to drink writing poetry. They had had it all fixed for
him to go into his father's date business."

Mr Goble was impressed. He had a respect for Wally's opinion, for
Wally had written "Follow the Girl" and look what a knock-out that
had been. He stopped the rehearsal again.

"Go back to that Khayyam speech!" he said, interrupting Lord Finchley
in mid-sentence.

The actor whispered a hearty English oath beneath his breath. He had
been up late last night, and, in spite of the fair weather, he was
feeling a trifle on edge.

"'In the words of Omar of Khayyam' . . ."

Mr Goble clapped his hands.

"Cut that 'of,'" he said. "The show's too long, anyway."

And, having handled a delicate matter in masterly fashion, he leaned
back in his chair and chewed the end off another cigar.

For some minutes after this the rehearsal proceeded smoothly. If Mr
Goble did not enjoy the play, at least he made no criticisms except
to Wally. To him he enlarged from time to time on the pain which "The
Rose of America" caused him.

"How I ever came to put on junk like this beats me," confessed Mr
Goble frankly.

"You probably saw that there was a good idea at the back of it,"
suggested Wally. "There is, you know. Properly handled, it's an idea
that could be made into a success."

"What would you do with it?"

"Oh, a lot of things," said Wally warily. In his younger and callower
days he had sometimes been rash enough to scatter views on the
reconstruction of plays broadcast, to find them gratefully absorbed
and acted upon and treated as a friendly gift. His affection for Mr
Goble was not so overpowering as to cause him to give him ideas for
nothing now. "Any time you want me to fix it for you, I'll come
along. About one and a half per cent of the gross would meet the
case, I think."

Mr Goble faced him, registering the utmost astonishment and horror.

"One and a half per cent for fixing a show like this? Why, darn it,
there's hardly anything to do to it! It's--it's--in!"

"You called it junk just now."

"Well, all I meant was that it wasn't the sort of thing I cared for
myself. The public will eat it! Take it from me, the time is just
about ripe for a revival of comic opera."

"This one will want all the reviving you can give it. Better use a
pulmotor."

"But that long boob, that Pilkington . . . he would never stand for
my handing you one and a half per cent."

"I thought _you were the little guy who arranged things round here."

"But he's got money in the show."

"Well, if he wants to get any out, he'd better call in somebody to
rewrite it. You don't have to engage me if you don't want to. But I
know I could make a good job of it. There's just one little twist the
thing needs and you would have quite a different piece."

"What's that?" enquired Mr Goble casually.

"Oh, just a little . . . what shall I say? . . . a little touch of
what-d'you-call-it and a bit of thingummy. You know the sort of
thing! That's all it wants."

Mr Goble gnawed his cigar, baffled.

"You think so, eh?" he said at length.

"And perhaps a suspicion of je-ne-sais-quoi," added Wally.

Mr Goble worried his cigar, and essayed a new form of attack.

"You've done a lot of work for me," he said. "Good work!"

"Glad you liked it," said Wally.

"You're a good kid! I like having you around. I was half thinking of
giving you a show to do this Fall. Corking book. French farce. Ran
two years in Paris. But what's the good, if you want the earth?"

"Always useful, the earth. Good thing to have."

"See here, if you'll fix up this show for half of one per cent, I'll
give you the other to do."

"You shouldn't slur your words so. For a moment I thought you said
'half of one per cent.' One and a half of course you really said."

"If you won't take half, you don't get the other."

"All right," said Wally. "There are lots of other managers in New
York. Haven't you seen them popping about? Rich, enterprising men,
and all of them love me like a son."

"Make it one per cent," said Mr Goble, "and I'll see if I can fix it
with Pilkington."

"One and a half."

"Oh, damn it, one and a half, then," said Mr Goble morosely. "What's
the good of splitting straws?"

"Forgotten Sports of the Past--Splitting the Straw. All right. If you
drop me a line to that effect, legibly signed with your name, I'll
wear it next my heart. I shall have to go now. I have a date.
Good-bye. Glad everything's settled and everybody's happy."

For some moments after Wally had left, Mr Goble sat hunched up in his
orchestra-chair, smoking sullenly, his mood less sunny than ever.
Living in a little world of sycophants, he was galled by the off-hand
way in which Wally always treated him. There was something in the
latter's manner which seemed to him sometimes almost contemptuous. He
regretted the necessity of having to employ him. There was, of
course, no real necessity why he should have employed Wally. New York
was full of librettists who would have done the work equally well for
half the money, but, like most managers, Mr Goble had the mental
processes of a sheep. "Follow the Girl" was the last outstanding
musical success in New York theatrical history: Wally had written it:
therefore nobody but Wally was capable of rewriting "The Rose of
America." The thing had for Mr Goble the inevitability of Fate.
Except for deciding mentally that Wally had swelled head, there was
nothing to be done.

Having decided that Wally had swelled head and not feeling much
better, Mr Goble concentrated his attention on the stage. A good deal
of action had taken place there during recently concluded business
talk, and the unfortunate Finchley was back again, playing another of
his scenes. Mr Goble glared at Lord Finchley. He did not like him, and
he did not like the way he was speaking his lines.

The part of Lord Finchley was a non-singing role. It was a type part.
Otis Pilkington had gone to the straight stage to find an artist, and
had secured the not uncelebrated Wentworth Hill, who had come over
from London to play in an English comedy which had just closed. The
newspapers had called the play thin, but had thought that Wentworth
Hill was an excellent comedian. Mr Hill thought so too, and it was
consequently a shock to his already disordered nerves when a bellow
from the auditorium stopped him in the middle of one of his speeches
and a rasping voice informed him that he was doing it all wrong.

"I beg your pardon?" said Mr. Hill, quietly but dangerously, stepping
to the footlights.

"All wrong!" repeated Mr Goble.

"Really?" Wentworth Hill, who a few years earlier had spent several
terms at Oxford University before being sent down for aggravated
disorderliness, had brought little away with him from that seat of
learning except the Oxford manner. This he now employed upon Mr Goble
with an icy severity which put the last touch to the manager's
fermenting state of mind. "Perhaps you would be kind enough to tell
me just how you think that part should be played?"

Mr Goble marched down the aisle.

"Speak out to the audience," he said, stationing himself by the
orchestra pit. "You're turning your head away all the darned time."

"I may be wrong," said Mr Hill, "but I have played a certain amount,
don't you know, in pretty good companies, and I was always under the
impression that one should address one's remarks to the person one
was speaking to, not deliver a recitation to the gallery. I was
taught that that was the legitimate method."

The word touched off all the dynamite in Mr Goble. Of all things in
the theatre he detested most the "legitimate method." His idea of
producing was to instruct the cast to come down to the footlights and
hand it to 'em. These people who looked up stage and talked to the
audience through the backs of their necks revolted him.

"Legitimate! That's a hell of a thing to be! Where do you get that
legitimate stuff? You aren't playing Ibsen!"

"Nor am I playing a knockabout vaudeville sketch."

"Don't talk back at me!"

"Kindly don't shout at _me! Your voice is unpleasant enough without
your raising it."

Open defiance was a thing which Mr Goble had never encountered
before, and for a moment it deprived him of breath. He recovered it,
however, almost immediately.

"You're fired!"

"On the contrary," said Mr Hill, "I'm resigning." He drew a
green-covered script from his pocket and handed it with an air to the
pallid assistant stage-director. Then, more gracefully than ever
Freddie Rooke had managed to move downstage under the tuition of
Johnson Miller, he moved upstage to the exit. "I trust that you will
be able to find someone who will play the part according to your
ideas!"

"I'll find," bellowed Mr Goble at his vanishing back, "a chorus-man
who'll play it a damned sight better than you!" He waved to the
assistant stage-director. "Send the chorus-men on the stage!"

"All the gentlemen of the chorus on the stage, please!" shrilled the
assistant stage-director, bounding into the wings like a retriever.

"Mr Goble wants all the chorus-gentlemen on the stage!"

There was a moment, when the seven male members of "The Rose of
America" ensemble lined up self-consciously before his gleaming eyes,
when Mr Goble repented of his brave words. An uncomfortable feeling
passed across his mind that Fate had called his bluff and that he
would not be able to make good. All chorus-men are exactly alike, and
they are like nothing else on earth. Even Mr Goble, anxious as he was
to overlook their deficiencies, could not persuade himself that in
their ranks stood even an adequate Lord Finchley. And then, just as a
cold reaction from his fervid mood was about to set in, he perceived
that Providence had been good to him. There, at the extreme end of
the line, stood a young man who, as far as appearance went, was the
ideal Lord Finchley,--as far as appearance went, a far better Lord
Finchley than the late Mr Hill. He beckoned imperiously.

"You at the end!"

"Me?" said the young man.

"Yes, you. What's your name?"

"Rooke. Frederick Rooke, don't you know."

"You're English, aren't you?"

"Eh? Oh, yes, absolutely!"

"Ever played a part before?"

"Part? Oh, I see what you mean. Well, in amateur theatricals, you
know, and all that sort of rot."

His words were music to Mr Goble's ears. He felt that his Napoleonic
action had justified itself by success. His fury left him. If he had
been capable of beaming, one would have said that he beamed at
Freddie.

"Well, you play the part of Lord Finchley from now on. Come to my
office this afternoon for your contract. Clear the stage. We've
wasted enough time."

Five minutes later, in the wings, Freddie, receiving congratulations
from Nelly Bryant, asserted himself.

"_Not the Automat today, I think, what! Now that I'm a jolly old
star and all that sort of thing, it can't be done. Directly this is
over we'll roll round to the Cosmopolis. A slight celebration is
indicated, what? Right ho! Rally round, dear heart, rally round!"

Content of CHAPTER FOURTEEN (P G Wodehouse's novel: The Little Warrior)

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