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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 1 - Chapter 5. Mr Sachs Talks
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The Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 1 - Chapter 5. Mr Sachs Talks Post by :MichelFortin Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :895

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The Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 1 - Chapter 5. Mr Sachs Talks

PART I CHAPTER V. MR SACHS TALKS

I

It was the sudden flash of the photographer's magnesium light, plainly felt by him through his closed lids, that somehow instantly inspired Edward Henry to a definite and ruthless line of action. He opened his eyes and beheld the triumphant group, and the photographer himself, victorious over even the triumphant, in a superb pose that suggested that all distinguished mankind in his presence was naught but food for the conquering camera. The photographer smiled indulgently, and his smile said: "Having been photographed by me, you have each of you reached the summit of your career. Be content. Retire! Die! Destiny is accomplished."

"Mr. Machin," said Rose Euclid, "I do believe your eyes were shut!"

"So do I!" Edward Henry curtly agreed.

"But you'll spoil the group!"

"Not a bit of it!" said Edward Henry. "I always shut my eyes when I'm being photographed by flash-light. I open my mouth instead. So long as something's open, what does it matter?"

The truth was that only in the nick of time had he, by a happy miracle of ingenuity, invented a way of ruining the photograph. The absolute necessity for its ruin had presented itself to him rather late in the proceedings, when the photographer had already finished arranging the hands and shoulders of everybody in an artistic pattern. The photograph had to be spoilt for the imperative reason that his mother, though she never read a newspaper, did as a fact look at a picture-newspaper, _The Daily Film_, which from pride she insisted on paying for out of her own purse, at the rate of one halfpenny a day. Now _The Daily Film specialized in theatrical photographs, on which it said it spent large sums of money: and Edward Henry in a vision had seen the historic group in a future issue of the _Film_. He had also, in the same vision, seen his mother conning the said issue, and the sardonic curve of her lips as she recognized her son therein, and he had even heard her dry, cynical, contemptuous exclamation: "Bless us!" He could never have looked squarely in his mother's face again if that group had appeared in her chosen organ! Her silent and grim scorn would have crushed his self-conceit to a miserable, hopeless pulp. Hence his resolve to render the photograph impossible.

"Perhaps I'd better take another one?" the photographer suggested, "though I think Mr.--er--Machin was all right." At the supreme crisis the man had been too busy with his fireworks to keep a watch on every separate eye and mouth of the assemblage.

"Of course I was all right!" said Edward Henry, almost with brutality. "Please take that thing away, as quickly as you can. We have business to attend to."

"Yes, sir," agreed the photographer, no longer victorious.

Edward Henry rang his bell, and two gentlemen-in-waiting arrived.

"Clear this table immediately!"

The tone of the command startled everybody except the gentlemen-in-waiting and Mr. Seven Sachs. Rose Euclid gave vent to her nervous giggle. The poet and Mr. Marrier tried to appear detached and dignified, and succeeded in appearing guiltily confused--for which they contemned themselves. Despite this volition, the glances of all three of them too clearly signified "This capitalist must be humoured. He has an unlimited supply of actual cash, and therefore he has the right to be peculiar. Moreover, we know that he is a card." ... And, curiously, Edward Henry himself was deriving great force of character from the simple reflection that he had indeed a lot of money, real available money, his to do utterly as he liked with it, hidden in a secret place in that very room. "I'll show 'em what's what!" he privately mused. "Celebrities or not, I'll show 'em! If they think they can come it over me--!"

It was, I regret to say, the state of mind of a bully. Such is the noxious influence of excessive coin!

He reproached the greatest actress and the greatest dramatic poet for deceiving him, and quite ignored the nevertheless fairly obvious fact that he had first deceived them.

"Now then," he began, with something of the pomposity of a chairman at a directors' meeting, as soon as the table had been cleared and the room emptied of gentlemen-in-waiting and photographer and photographic apparatus, "let us see exactly where we stand."

He glanced specially at Rose Euclid, who with an air of deep business acumen returned the glance.

"Yes," she eagerly replied, as one seeking after righteousness. "_Do let's see."

"The option must be taken up to-morrow. Good! That's clear. It came rather casual-like, but it's now clear. L4500 has to be paid down to buy the existing building on the land and so on.... Eh?"

"Yes. Of course Mr. Bryany told you all that, didn't he?" said Rose, brightly.

"Mr. Bryany did tell me," Edward Henry admitted sternly. "But if Mr. Bryany can make a mistake in the day of the week he might make a mistake in a few noughts at the end of a sum of money."

Suddenly Mr. Seven Sachs startled them all by emerging from his silence with the words:

"The figure is O.K."

Instinctively Edward Henry waited for more; but no more came. Mr. Seven Sachs was one of those rare and disconcerting persons who do not keep on talking after they have finished. He resumed his tranquillity, he re-entered into his silence, with no symptom of self-consciousness, entirely cheerful and at ease. And Edward Henry was aware of his observant and steady gaze. Edward Henry said to himself: "This man is expecting me to behave in a remarkable way. Bryany has been telling him all about me, and he is waiting to see if I really am as good as my reputation. I have just got to be as good as my reputation!" He looked up at the electric chandelier, almost with regret that it was not gas. One cannot light one's cigarette by twisting a hundred-pound bank-note and sticking it into an electric chandelier. Moreover, there were some thousands of matches on the table. Still further, he had done the cigarette-lighting trick once for all. A first-class card must not repeat himself.

"This money," Edward Henry proceeded, "has to be paid to Slossons, Lord Woldo's solicitors, to-morrow, Wednesday, rain or shine?" He finished the phrase on a note of interrogation, and as nobody offered any reply, he rapped on the table, and repeated, half-menacingly: "Rain or shine!"

"Yes," said Rose Euclid, leaning timidly forward and taking a cigarette from a gold case that lay on the table. All her movements indicated an earnest desire to be thoroughly business-like.

"So that, Miss Euclid," Edward Henry continued impressively, but with a wilful touch of incredulity, "you are in a position to pay your share of this money to-morrow?"

"Certainly!" said Miss Euclid. And it was as if she had said, aggrieved: "Can you doubt my honour?"

"To-morrow morning?"

"Ye-es."

"That is to say, to-morrow morning you will have L2250 in actual cash--coin, notes--actually in your possession?"

Miss Euclid's disengaged hand was feeling out behind her again for some surface upon which to express its emotion and hers.

"Well--" she stopped, flushing.

("These people are astounding," Edward Henry reflected, like a god. "She's not got the money. I knew it!")

"It's like this, Mr. Machin," Marrier began.

"Excuse me, Mr. Marrier," Edward Henry turned on him, determined if he could to eliminate the optimism from that beaming face. "Any friend of Miss Euclid's is welcome here, but you've already talked about this theatre as 'ours,' and I just want to know where you come in."

"Where I come in?" Marrier smiled, absolutely unperturbed. "Miss Euclid has appointed me general manajah."

"At what salary, if it isn't a rude question?"

"Oh! We haven't settled details yet. You see the theatre isn't built yet."

"True!" said Edward Henry. "I was forgetting! I was thinking for the moment that the theatre was all ready and going to be opened to-morrow night with 'The Orient Pearl.' Have you had much experience of managing theatres, Mr. Marrier? I suppose you have."

"Eho yes!" exclaimed Mr. Marrier. "I began life as a lawyah's clerk, but--"

"So did I," Edward Henry interjected.

"How interesting!" Rose Euclid murmured with fervency, after puffing forth a long shaft of smoke.

"However, I threw it up," Marrier went on.

"I didn't," said Edward Henry. "I got thrown out!"

Strange that in that moment he was positively proud of having been dismissed from his first situation! Strange that all the company, too, thought the better of him for having been dismissed! Strange that Marrier regretted that he also had not been dismissed! But so it was. The possession of much ready money emits a peculiar effluence in both directions--back to the past, forward into the future.

"I threw it up," said Marrier, "because the stage had an irresistible attraction for me. I'd been stage-manajah for an amateur company, you knaoo. I found a shop as stage-manajah of a company touring 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' I stuck to that for six years, and then I threw that up too. Then I've managed one of Miss Euclid's provincial tours. And since I met our friend Trent I've had the chance to show what my ideas about play-producing really are. I fancy my production of Trent's one-act play won't be forgotten in a hurry.... You know--'The Nymph'? You read about it, didn't you?"

"I did not," said Edward Henry. "How long did it run?"

"Oh! It didn't run. It wasn't put on for a run. It was part of one of the Sunday night shows of the Play-Producing Society, at the Court Theatre. Most intellectual people in London, you know. No such audience anywhere else in the wahld!" His rather chubby face glistened and shimmered with enthusiasm. "You bet!" he added. "But that was only by the way. My real game is management--general management. And I think I may say I know what it is?"

"Evidently!" Edward Henry concurred. "But shall you have to give up any other engagement in order to take charge of The Muses' Theatre? Because if so--"

Mr. Marrier replied:

"No."

Edward Henry observed:

"Oh!"

"But," said Marrier, reassuringly, "if necessary I would throw up any engagement--you understand me, any--in favour of The Intellectual Theatah--as I prefer to call it. You see, as I own part of the option--"

By these last words Edward Henry was confounded, even to muteness.

"I forgot to mention, Mr. Machin," said Rose Euclid, very quickly. "I've disposed of a quarter of my half of the option to Mr. Marrier. He fully agreed with me it was better that he should have a proper interest in the theatre."

"Why of course!" cried Mr. Harrier, uplifted.

"Let me see," said Edward Henry, after a long breath, "a quarter. That makes it that you have to find L562, 10s. to-morrow, Mr. Marrier."

"Yes."

"To-morrow morning--you'll be all right?"

"Well, I won't swear for the morning, but I shall turn up with the stuff in the afternoon, anyhow. I've two men in tow, and one of them's a certainty."

"Which?"

"I don't know which," said Mr. Marrier. "How-evah, you may count on yours sincerely, Mr. Machin."

There was a pause.

"Perhaps I ought to tell you," Rose Euclid smiled, "perhaps I ought to tell you that Mr. Trent is also one of our partners. He has taken another quarter of my half."

Edward Henry controlled himself.

"Excellent!" said he, with glee. "Mr. Trent's money all ready, too?"

"I am providing most of it--temporarily," said Rose Euclid.

"I see. Then I understand you have your three quarters of L2250 all ready in hand."

She glanced at Mr. Seven Sachs.

"Have I, Mr. Sachs?"

And Mr. Sachs, after an instant's hesitation, bowed in assent.

"Mr. Sachs is not exactly going into the speculation, but he is lending us money on the security of our interests. That's the way to put it, isn't it, Mr. Sachs?"

Mr. Sachs once more bowed.

And Edward Henry exclaimed:

"Now I really do see!"

He gave one glance across the table at Mr. Seven Sachs, as who should say: "And have you too allowed yourself to be dragged into this affair? I really thought you were cleverer. Don't you agree with me that we're both fools of the most arrant description?" And under that brief glance Mr. Seven Sachs's calm deserted him as it had never deserted him on the stage, where for over fifteen hundred nights he had withstood the menace of revolvers, poison, and female treachery through three hours and four acts without a single moment of agitation.

Apparently Miss Rose Euclid could exercise a siren's charm upon nearly all sorts of men. But Edward Henry knew one sort of men upon whom she could not exercise it--namely, the sort of men who are born and bred in the Five Towns. His instinctive belief in the Five Towns as the sole cradle of hard practical common sense was never stronger than just now. You might by wiles get the better of London and America, but not of the Five Towns. If Rose Euclid were to go around and about the Five Towns trying to do the siren business, she would pretty soon discover that she was up against something rather special in the way of human nature!

Why, the probability was that these three--Rose Euclid (only a few hours since a glorious name and legend to him), Carlo Trent, and Mr. Marrier--could not at that moment produce even ten pounds between them!... And Marrier offering to lay fivers!... He scornfully pitied them. And he was not altogether without pity for Seven Sachs, who had doubtless succeeded in life by sheer accident and knew no more than an infant what to do with his too-easily-earned money.


II

"Well," said Edward Henry, "shall I tell you what I've decided?"

"Please do!" Rose Euclid entreated him.

"I've decided to make you a present of my half of the option."

"But aren't you going in with us?" exclaimed Rose, horror-struck.

"No, madam."

"But Mr. Bryany told us positively you were! He said it was all arranged!"

"Mr. Bryany ought to be more careful," said Edward Henry. "If he doesn't mind he'll be telling a downright lie some day."

"But you bought half the option!"

"Well," said Edward Henry, reasoning. "What _is an option? What does it mean? It means you are free to take something or leave it. I'm leaving it."

"But why?" demanded Mr. Marrier, gloomier.

Carlo Trent played with his eyeglasses and said not a word.

"Why?" Edward Henry replied. "Simply because I feel I'm not fitted for the job. I don't know enough. I don't understand. I shouldn't go the right way about the affair. For instance, I should never have guessed by myself that it was the proper thing to settle the name of the theatre before you'd got the lease of the land you're going to build it on. Then I'm old-fashioned. I hate leaving things to the last moment; but seemingly there's only one proper moment in these theatrical affairs, and that's the very last. I'm afraid there'd be too much trusting in providence for my taste. I believe in trusting in providence, but I can't bear to see providence overworked. And I've never even tried to be intellectual, and I'm a bit frightened of poetry plays--"

"But you've not read my play!" Carlo Trent mutteringly protested.

"That is so," admitted Edward Henry.

"Will you read it?"

"Mr. Trent," said Edward Henry, "I'm not so young as I was."

"We're ruined!" sighed Rose Euclid, with a tragic gesture.

"Ruined?" Edward Henry took her up smiling. "Nobody is ruined who knows where he can get a square meal. Do you mean to tell me you don't know where you're going to lunch to-morrow?" And he looked hard at her.

It was a blow. She blenched under it.

"Oh, yes," she said, with her giggle, "I know that."

("Well you just don't!" he answered her in his heart. "You think you're going to lunch with John Pilgrim. And you aren't. And it serves you right!")

"Besides," he continued aloud, "how can you say you're ruined when I'm making you a present of something that I paid L100 for?"

"But where am I to find the other half of the money--L2250?" she burst out. "We were depending absolutely on you for it. If I don't get it, the option will be lost, and the option's very valuable."

"All the easier to find the money then!"

"What? In less than twenty-four hours? It can't be done. I couldn't get it in all London."

"Mr. Marrier will get it for you ... one of his certainties!" Edward Henry smiled in the Five Towns manner.

"I _might_, you knaoo!" said Marrier, brightening to full hope in the fraction of a second.

But Rose Euclid only shook her head.

"Mr. Seven Sachs, then?" Edward Henry suggested.

"I should have been delighted," said Mr. Sachs, with the most perfect gracious tranquillity. "But I cannot find another L2250 to-morrow."

"I shall just speak to that Mr. Bryany!" said Rose Euclid, in the accents of homicide.

"I think you ought to," Edward Henry concurred. "But that won't help things. I feel a little responsible, especially to a lady. You have a quarter of the whole option left in your hands, Miss Euclid. I'll pay you at the same rate as Bryany sold to me. I gave L100 for half. Your quarter is therefore worth L50. Well, I'll pay you L50."

"And then what?"

"Then let the whole affair slide."

"But that won't help me to my theatre!" Rose Euclid said, pouting. She was now decidedly less unhappy than her face pretended, because Edward Henry had reminded her of Sir John Pilgrim, and she had dreams of world-triumphs for herself and for Carlo Trent's play. She was almost glad to be rid of all the worry of the horrid little prospective theatre.

"I have bank-notes," cooed Edward Henry, softly.

Her head sank.

Edward Henry rose in the incomparable yellow dressing-gown and walked to and fro a little, and then from his secret store he produced a bundle of notes, and counted out five tens and, coming behind Rose, stretched out his arm, and laid the treasure on the table in front of her under the brilliant chandelier.

"I don't want you to feel you have anything against me," he cooed still more softly.

Silence reigned. Edward Henry resumed his chair, and gazed at Rose Euclid. She was quite a dozen years older than his wife, and she looked more than a dozen years older. She had no fixed home, no husband, no children, no regular situation. She accepted the homage of young men, who were cleverer than herself save in one important respect. She was always in and out of restaurants and hotels and express trains. She was always committing hygienic indiscretions. She could not refrain from a certain girlishness which, having regard to her years, her waist and her complexion, was ridiculous. His wife would have been afraid of her and would have despised her, simultaneously. She was coarsened by the continual gaze of the gaping public. No two women could possibly be more utterly dissimilar than Rose Euclid and the cloistered Nellie.... And yet, as Rose Euclid's hesitant fingers closed on the bank-notes with a gesture of relief, Edward Henry had an agreeable and kindly sensation that all women were alike, after all, in the need of a shield, a protection, a strong and generous male hand. He was touched by the spectacle of Rose Euclid, as naive as any young lass when confronted by actual bank-notes; and he was touched also by the thought of Nellie and the children afar off, existing in comfort and peace, but utterly, wistfully, dependent on himself.

"And what about me?" growled Carlo Trent.

"You!"

The fellow was only a poet. He negligently dropped him five fivers, his share of the option's value.

Mr. Marrier said nothing, but his eye met Edward Henry's, and in silence five fivers were meted out to Mr. Marrier also.... It was so easy to delight these persons who apparently seldom set eyes on real ready money.

"You might sign receipts, all of you, just as a matter of form," said Edward Henry.

A little later the three associates were off.

"As we're both in the hotel, Mr. Sachs," said Edward Henry, "you might stay for a chat and a drink."

Mr. Seven Sachs politely agreed.

Edward Henry accompanied the trio of worshippers and worshipped to the door of his suite, but no further, because of his dressing-gown. Rose Euclid had assumed a resplendent opera-cloak. They rang imperially for the lift. Lackeys bowed humbly before them. They spoke of taxi-cabs and other luxuries. They were perfectly at home in the grandeur of the hotel. As the illuminated lift carried them down out of sight, their smiling heads disappearing last, they seemed exactly like persons of extreme wealth. And indeed for the moment they were wealthy. They had parted with certain hopes, but they had had a windfall; and two of them were looking forward with absolute assurance to a profitable meal and deal with Sir John Pilgrim on the morrow.

"Funny place, London!" said the provincial to himself as he re-entered his suite to rejoin Mr. Seven Sachs.


III

"Well, sir," said Mr. Seven Sachs, "I have to thank you for getting me out of a very unsatisfactory situation."

"Did you really want to get out of it?" asked Edward Henry.

Mr. Sachs replied simply:

"I did, sir. There were too many partners for my taste."

They were seated more familiarly now in the drawing-room, being indeed separated only by a small table, upon which were glasses. And whereas on a night in the previous week Edward Henry had been entertained by Mr. Bryany in a private parlour at the Turk's Head, Hanbridge, on this night he was in a sort repaying the welcome to Mr. Bryany's master in a private parlour at Wilkins's, London. The sole difference in favour of Mr. Bryany was that while Mr. Bryany provided cigarettes and whisky, Edward Henry was providing only cigarettes and Vichy water. Mr. Seven Sachs had said that he never took whisky; and though Edward Henry's passion for Vichy water was not quite ungovernable, he thought well to give rein to it on the present occasion, having read somewhere that Vichy water placated the stomach.

Joseph had been instructed to retire.

"And not only that," resumed Mr. Seven Sachs, "but you've got a very good thing entirely into your own hands! Masterly, sir! Masterly! Why, at the end you positively had the air of doing them a favour! You made them believe you _were doing them a favour."

"And don't you think I was?"

Mr. Sachs reflected, and then laughed.

"You were," he said. "That's the beauty of it. But at the same time you were getting away with the goods!"

It was by sheer instinct, and not by learning, that Edward Henry fully grasped, as he did, the deep significance of the American idiom employed by Mr. Seven Sachs. He too laughed, as Mr. Sachs had laughed. He was immeasurably flattered. He had not been so flattered since the Countess of Chell had permitted him to offer her China tea, meringues, and Berlin pancakes at the Sub Rosa tea-rooms in Hanbridge--and that was a very long time ago.

"You really _do think it's a good thing?" Edward Henry ventured, for he had not yet been convinced of the entire goodness of theatrical enterprise near Piccadilly Circus.

Mr. Seven Sachs convinced him--not by argument but by the sincerity of his gestures and tones. For it was impossible to question that Mr. Seven Sachs knew what he was talking about. The shape of Mr. Seven Sachs's chin was alone enough to prove that Mr. Sachs was incapable of a mere ignorant effervescence. Everything about Mr. Sachs was persuasive and confidence-inspiring. His long silences had the easy vigour of oratory, and they served also to make his speech peculiarly impressive. Moreover, he was a handsome and a dark man, and probably half a dozen years younger than Edward Henry. And the discipline of lime-light had taught him the skill to be forever graceful. And his smile, rare enough, was that of a boy.

"Of course," said he, "if Miss Euclid and the others had had any sense they might have done very well for themselves. If you ask me, the option alone is worth ten thousand dollars. But then they haven't any sense! And that's all there is to it."

"So you'd advise me to go ahead with the affair on my own?"

Mr. Seven Sachs, his black eyes twinkling, leaned forward and became rather intimately humorous:

"You look as if you wanted advice, don't you?" said he.

"I suppose I do--now I come to think of it!" agreed Edward Henry, with a most admirable quizzicalness; in spite of the fact that he had not really meant to "go ahead with the affair," being in truth a little doubtful of his capacity to handle it.

But Mr. Seven Sachs was, all unconsciously, forcing Edward Henry to believe in his own capacities; and the two as it were suddenly developed a more cordial friendliness. Each felt the quick lifting of the plane of their relations, and was aware of a pleasurable emotion.

"I'm moving onwards--gently onwards," crooned Edward Henry to himself. "What price Brindley and his half-crown now?" Londoners might call him a provincial, and undoubtedly would call him a provincial; he admitted, even, that he felt like a provincial in the streets of London. And yet here he was, "doing Londoners in the eye all over the place," and receiving the open homage of Mr. Seven Sachs, whose name was the basis of a cosmopolitan legend.

And now he made the cardinal discovery, which marks an epoch in the life of every man who arrives at it, that world-celebrated persons are very like other persons. And he was happy and rather proud in this discovery, and began to feel a certain vague desire to tell Mr. Seven Sachs the history of his career--or at any rate the picturesque portions of it. For he too was famous in his own sphere; and in the drawing-room of Wilkins's one celebrity was hob-nobbing with another! ("Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Brindley!") Yes, he was happy, both in what he had already accomplished, and in the contemplation of romantic adventures to come.

And yet his happiness was marred--not fatally but quite appreciably--by a remorse that no amount of private argument with himself would conjure away. Which was the more singular in that a morbid tendency to remorse had never been among Edward Henry's defects! He was worrying, foolish fellow, about the false telephone-call in which, for the purpose of testing Rose Euclid's loyalty to the new enterprise, he had pretended to be the new private secretary of Sir John Pilgrim. Yet what harm had it done? And had it not done a lot of good? Rose Euclid and her youthful worshipper were no worse off than they had been before being victimized by the deceit of the telephone-call. Prior to the call they had assumed themselves to be deprived for ever of the benefits which association with Sir John Pilgrim could offer, and as a fact they were deprived for ever of such benefits. Nothing changed there! Before the call they had had no hope of lunching with the enormous Sir John on the morrow, and as a fact they would not lunch with the enormous Sir John on the morrow. Nothing changed there, either! Again, in no event would Edward Henry have joined the trio in order to make a quartet in partnership. Even had he been as convinced of Rose's loyalty as he was convinced of her disloyalty, he would never have been rash enough to co-operate with such a crew. Again, nothing changed!

On the other hand, he had acquired an assurance of the artiste's duplicity, which assurance had made it easier for him to disappoint her, while the prospect of a business repast with Sir John had helped her to bear the disappointment as a brave woman should. It was true that on the morrow, about lunch-time, Rose Euclid and Carlo Trent might have to live through a few rather trying moments, and they would certainly be very angry; but these drawbacks would have been more than compensated for in advance by the pleasures of hope. And had they not between them pocketed seventy-five pounds which they had stood to lose?

Such reasoning was unanswerable, and his remorse did not attempt to answer it. His remorse was not open to reason; it was one of those stupid, primitive sentiments which obstinately persist in the refined and rational fabric of modern humanity.

He was just sorry for Rose Euclid.

"Do you know what I did?" he burst out confidentially, and confessed the whole telephone-trick to Mr. Seven Sachs.

Mr. Seven Sachs, somewhat to Edward Henry's surprise, expressed high admiration of the device.

"A bit mean, though, don't you think?" Edward Henry protested weakly.

"Not at all!" cried Mr. Sachs. "You got the goods on her. And she deserved it."

(Again this enigmatic and mystical word "goods"! But he understood it.)

Thus encouraged, he was now quite determined to give Mr. Seven Sachs a brief episodic account of his career. A fair conversational opening was all he wanted in order to begin.

"I wonder what will happen to her--ultimately?" he said, meaning to work back from the ends of careers to their beginnings, and so to himself.

"Rose Euclid?"

"Yes."

Mr. Sachs shook his head compassionately.

"How did Mr. Bryany get in with her?" asked Edward Henry.

"Bryany is a highly peculiar person," said Mr. Seven Sachs, familiarly. "He's all right so long as you don't unstrap him. He was born to convince newspaper reporters of his own greatness."

"I had a bit of a talk with him myself," said Edward Henry.

"Oh, yes! He told me all about you."

"But _I never told him anything about myself," said Edward Henry, quickly.

"No, but he has eyes, you know, and ears too. Seems to me the people of the Five Towns do little else of a night but discuss you, Mr. Machin. _I heard a good bit when _I was down there, though I don't go about much when I'm on the road. I reckon I could write a whole biography of you."

Edward Henry smiled self-consciously. He was, of course, enraptured, but at the same time it was disappointing to find Mr. Sachs already so fully informed as to the details of his career. However, he did not intend to let that prevent him from telling the story afresh, in his own manner.

"I suppose you've had your adventures, too," he remarked with nonchalance, partly from politeness but mainly in order to avoid the appearance of hurry in his egotism.


IV

"You bet I have!" Mr. Seven Sachs cordially agreed, abandoning the end of a cigarette, putting his hands behind his head, and crossing his legs.

Whereupon there was a brief pause.

"I remember--" Edward Henry began.

"I daresay you've heard--" began Mr. Seven Sachs, simultaneously.

They were like two men who by inadvertence had attempted to pass through a narrow doorway abreast. Edward Henry, as the host, drew back.

"I beg your pardon!" he apologized.

"Not at all," said Seven Sachs. "I was only going to say you've probably heard that I was always up against Archibald Florance."

"Really!" murmured Edward Henry, impressed in spite of himself. For the renown of Archibald Florance exceeded that of Seven Sachs as the sun the moon, and was older and more securely established than it as the sun the moon. The renown of Rose Euclid was as naught to it. Doubtful it was whether, in the annals of modern histrionics, the grandeur and the romance of that American name could be surpassed by any renown save that of the incomparable Henry Irving. The retirement of Archibald Florance from the stage a couple of years earlier had caused crimson gleams of sunset splendour to shoot across the Atlantic and irradiate even the Garrick Club, London, so that the members thereof had to shade their offended eyes. Edward Henry had never seen Archibald Florance, but it was not necessary to have seen him in order to appreciate the majesty of his glory. No male in the history of the world was ever more photographed, and few have been the subject of more anecdotes.

"I expect he's a wealthy chap in his old age," said Edward Henry.

"Wealthy!" exclaimed Mr. Sachs. "He's the richest actor in America, and that's saying in the world. He had the greatest reputation. He's still the handsomest man in the United States--that's admitted--with his white hair! They used to say he was the cruellest, but it's not so. Though of course he could be a perfect terror with his companies."

"And so you knew Archibald Florance?"

"You bet I did. He never had any friends--never--but I knew him as well as anybody could. Why, in San Francisco, after the show, I've walked with him back to his hotel, and he's walked with me back to mine, and so on and so on till three or four o'clock in the morning. You see, we couldn't stop until it happened that he finished a cigar at the exact moment when we got to his hotel door. If the cigar wasn't finished, then he must needs stroll back a bit, and before I knew where I was he'd be lighting a fresh one. He smoked the finest cigars in America. I remember him telling me they cost him three dollars apiece."

And Edward Henry then perceived another profound truth, his second cardinal discovery on that notable evening: namely, that no matter how high you rise, you will always find that others have risen higher. Nay, it is not until you have achieved a considerable peak that you are able to appreciate the loftiness of those mightier summits. He himself was high, and so he could judge the greater height of Seven Sachs; and it was only through the greater height of Seven Sachs that he could form an adequate idea of the pinnacle occupied by the unique Archibald Florance. Honestly, he had never dreamt that there existed a man who habitually smoked twelve-shilling cigars--and yet he reckoned to know a thing or two about cigars!

"I am nothing!" he thought modestly. Nevertheless, though the savour of the name of Archibald Florance was agreeable, he decided that he had heard enough for the moment about Archibald Florance, and that he would relate to Mr. Sachs the famous episode of his own career in which the Countess of Chell and a mule had so prominently performed.

"I remember--" he recommenced.

"My first encounter with Archibald Florance was very funny," proceeded Mr. Seven Sachs, blandly deaf. "I was starving in New York,--trying to sell a new razor on commission--and I was determined to get on to the stage. I had one visiting-card left--just one. I wrote 'Important' on it, and sent it up to Wunch. I don't know whether you've ever heard of Wunch. Wunch was Archibald Florance's stage-manager, and nearly as famous as Archibald himself. Well, Wunch sent for me upstairs to his room, but when he found I was only the usual youngster after the usual job he just had me thrown out of the theatre. He said I'd no right to put 'Important' on a visiting-card. 'Well,' I said to myself, 'I'm going to get back into that theatre somehow!' So I went up to Archibald's private house--Sixtieth Street I think it was--and asked to see him, and I saw him. When I got into his room he was writing. He kept on writing for some minutes, and then he swung round on his chair.

"'And what can I do for you, sir?' he said.

"'Do you want any actors, Mr. Florance?' I said.

"'Are you an actor?' he said.

"'I want to be one,' I said.

"'Well,' he said, 'there's a school round the corner.'

"'Well,' I said, 'you might give me a card of introduction, Mr. Florance.'

"He gave me the card. I didn't take it to the school. I went straight back to the theatre with it, and had it sent up to Wunch. It just said, 'Introducing Mr. Sachs, a young man anxious to get on.' Wunch took it for a positive order to find me a place. The company was full, so he threw out one poor devil of a super to make room for me. Curious thing--old Wunchy got it into his head that I was a _protege of Archibald's, and he always looked after me. What d'ye think about that?"

"Brilliant!" said Edward Henry. And it was! The simplicity of the thing was what impressed him. Since winning a scholarship at school by altering the number of marks opposite his name on a paper lying on the master's desk, Edward Henry had never achieved advancement by a device so simple. And he thought: "I am nothing! The Five Towns is nothing! All that one hears about Americans and the United States is true. As far as getting on goes, they can make rings round us. Still, I shall tell him about the Countess and the mule--"

"Yes," continued Mr. Seven Sachs, "Wunch was very kind to me. But he was pretty well down and out, and he left, and Archibald got a new stage-manager, and I was promoted to do a bit of assistant stage-managing. But I got no increase of salary. There were two women stars in the play Archibald was doing then--'The Forty-Niners.' Romantic drama, you know! Melodrama you'd call it over here. He never did any other sort of play. Well, these two women stars were about equal, and when the curtain fell on the first act they'd both make a bee line for Archibald to see who'd get to him first and engage him in talk. They were jealous enough of each other to kill. Anybody could see that Archibald was frightfully bored, but he couldn't escape. They got him on both sides, you see, and he just _had to talk to 'em, both at once. I used to be fussing around fixing the properties for the next act. Well, one night he comes up to me, Archibald does, and he says:

"'Mr.--what's your name?'

"'Sachs, sir,' I says.

"'You notice when those two ladies come up to me after the first act. Well, when you see them talking to me, I want you to come right along and interrupt,' he says.

"'What shall I say, sir?'

"'Tap me on the shoulder and say I'm wanted about something very urgent. You see?'

"So the next night when those women got hold of him, sure enough I went up between them and tapped him on the shoulder. 'Mr. Florance,' I said. 'Something very urgent.' He turned on me and scowled: 'What is it?' he said, and he looked very angry. It was a bit of the best acting the old man ever did in his life. It was so good that at first I thought it was real. He said again louder, 'What is it?' So I said, 'Well, Mr. Florance, the most urgent thing in this theatre is that I should have an increase of salary!' I guess I licked the stuffing out of him that time."

Edward Henry gave vent to one of those cordial and violent guffaws which are a specialty of the humorous side of the Five Towns. And he said to himself: "I should never have thought of anything as good as that."

"And did you get it?" he asked.

"The old man said not a word," Mr. Seven Sachs went on in the same even, tranquil, smiling voice. "But next pay-day I found I'd got a rise of ten dollars a week. And not only that, but Mr. Florance offered me a singing part in his new drama, if I could play the mandolin. I naturally told him I'd played the mandolin all my life. I went out and bought a mandolin and hired a teacher. He wanted to teach me the mandolin, but I only wanted him to teach me that one accompaniment. So I fired him, and practised by myself night and day for a week. I got through all the rehearsals without ever singing that song. Cleverest dodging I ever did! On the first night I was so nervous I could scarcely hold the mandolin. I'd never played the infernal thing before anybody at all--only up in my bedroom. I struck the first chord, and found the darned instrument was all out of tune with the orchestra. So I just pretended to play it, and squawked away with my song, and never let my fingers touch the strings at all. Old Florance was waiting for me in the wings. I knew he was going to fire me. But no! 'Sachs,' he said, 'that accompaniment was the most delicate piece of playing I ever heard. I congratulate you.' He was quite serious. Everybody said the same! Luck, eh?"

"I should say so," said Edward Henry, gradually beginning to be interested in the odyssey of Mr. Seven Sachs. "I remember a funny thing that happened to me--"

"However," Mr. Sachs swept smoothly along, "that piece was a failure. And Archibald arranged to take a company to Europe with 'Forty-Niners.' And I was left out! This rattled me, specially after the way he liked my mandolin-playing. So I went to see him about it in his dressing-room one night, and I charged around a bit. He did rattle me! Then I rattled him. I would get an answer out of him. He said:

"'I'm not in the habit of being cross-examined in my own dressing-room.'

"I didn't care what happened then, so I said:

"'And I'm not in the habit of being treated as you're treating me.'

"All of a sudden he became quite quiet, and patted me on the shoulder. 'You're getting on very well, Sachs,' he said. 'You've only been at it one year. It's taken me twenty-five years to get where I am.'

"However, I was too angry to stand for that sort of talk. I said to him:

"'I daresay you're a very great and enviable man, Mr. Florance, but I propose to save fifteen years on your twenty-five. I'll equal or better your position in ten years.'

"He shoved me out--just shoved me out of the room.... It was that that made me turn to play-writing. Florance wrote his own plays sometimes, but it was only his acting and his face that saved them. And they were too American. He never did really well outside America except in one play, and that wasn't his own. Now I was out after money. And I still am. I wanted to please the largest possible public. So I guessed there was nothing for it but the universal appeal. I never write a play that won't appeal to England, Germany, France just as well as to America. America's big, but it isn't big enough for me.... Well, as I was saying, soon after that I got a one-act play produced at Hannibal, Missouri. And the same week there was a company at another theatre there playing the old man's 'Forty-Niners.' And the next morning the theatrical critic's article in the Hannibal _Courier-Post was headed: 'Rival attractions. Archibald Florance's "Forty-Niners" and new play by Seven Sachs.' I cut that heading out and sent it to the old man in London, and I wrote under it, 'See how far I've got in six months.' When he came back he took me into his company again.... What price that, eh?"

Edward Henry could only nod his head. The customarily silent Seven Sachs had little by little subdued him to an admiration as mute as it was profound.

"Nearly five years after that I got a Christmas card from old Florance. It had the usual printed wishes--'Merriest possible Christmas and so on'--but, underneath that, Archibald had written in pencil, 'You've still five years to go.' That made me roll my sleeves up, as you may say. Well, a long time after that I was standing at the corner of Broadway and Forty-fourth Street, and looking at my own name in electric letters on the Criterion Theatre. First time I'd ever seen it in electric letters on Broadway. It was the first night of 'Overheard.' Florance was playing at the Hudson Theatre, which is a bit higher up Forty-fourth Street, and _his name was in electric letters too, but further off Broadway than mine. I strolled up, just out of idle curiosity, and there the old man was standing in the porch of the theatre, all alone! 'Hullo, Sachs,' he said, 'I'm glad I've seen you. It's saved me twenty-five cents.' I asked how. He said, 'I was just going to send you a telegram of congratulations.' He liked me, old Archibald did. He still does. But I hadn't done with him. I went to stay with him at his house on Long Island in the spring. 'Excuse me, Mr. Florance,' I says to him. 'How many companies have you got on the road?' He said, 'Oh! I haven't got many now. Five, I think.' 'Well,' I says, 'I've got six here in the United States, two in England, three in Austria, and one in Italy.' He said, 'Have a cigar, Sachs; you've got the goods on me!' He was living in that magnificent house all alone, with a whole regiment of servants!"


V

"Well," said Edward Henry, "you're a great man!"

"No, I'm not," said Mr. Seven Sachs. "But my income is four hundred thousand dollars a year, and rising. I'm out after the stuff, that's all."

"I say you are a great man!" Edward Henry repeated. Mr. Sachs's recital had inspired him. He kept saying to himself: "And I'm a great man, too. And I'll show 'em."

Mr. Sachs, having delivered himself of his load, had now lapsed comfortably back into his original silence, and was prepared to listen. But Edward Henry, somehow, had lost the desire to enlarge on his own variegated past. He was absorbed in the greater future.

At length he said very distinctly:

"You honestly think I could run a theatre?"

"You were born to run a theatre," said Seven Sachs.

Thrilled, Edward Henry responded:

"Then I'll write to those lawyer people, Slossons, and tell 'em I'll be around with the brass about eleven to-morrow."

Mr. Sachs rose. A clock had delicately chimed two.

"If ever you come to New York, and I can do anything for you--" said Mr. Sachs, heartily.

"Thanks," said Edward Henry. They were shaking hands. "I say," Edward Henry went on. "There's one thing I want to ask you. Why _did you promise to back Rose Euclid and her friends? You must surely have known--" He threw up his hands.

Mr. Sachs answered:

"I'll be frank with you. It was her cousin that persuaded me into it--Elsie April."

"Elsie April? Who's she?"

"Oh! You must have seen them about together--her and Rose Euclid! They're nearly always together."

"I saw her in the restaurant here to-day with a rather jolly girl--blue hat."

"That's the one. As soon as you've made her acquaintance you'll understand what I mean," said Mr. Seven Sachs.

"Ah! But I'm not a bachelor like you," Edward Henry smiled archly.

"Well, you'll see when you meet her," said Mr. Sachs. Upon which enigmatic warning he departed, and was lost in the immense glittering nocturnal silence of Wilkins's.

Edward Henry sat down to write to Slossons by the 3 A.M. post. But as he wrote he kept saying to himself: "So Elsie April's her name, is it? And she actually persuaded Sachs--Sachs--to make a fool of himself!"

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