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   Chapter 5 No.5

Vain Fortune By George Moore Characters: 15486

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


There was much prophecy abroad. Stiggins' words, 'The piece never did, and never will draw money,' were evidently present in everybody's mind. They were visible in Ford's face, and more than once Hubert expected to hear that-on account of severe indisposition-Mr. Montague Ford has been obliged to indefinitely postpone his contemplated revival of Mr. Hubert Price's play Divorce. But, besides the apprehension that Stiggins' unfavourable opinion of his enterprise had engendered in him, Ford was obviously provoked by Hubert's reluctance to execute the alterations he had suggested. Night after night, sometimes until six in the morning, Hubert sat up considering them. Thanks to Ford's timely advance he was back in his old rooms in Fitzroy Street. All was as it had been. He was working at his play every evening, waiting for Rose's footsteps on the stairs. And yet a change had come into his life! He believed now that his feet were set on the way to fortune-that he would soon be happy.

He stared at the bright flame of the lamp, he listened to the silence. The clock chimed sharply, and the windows were growing grey. Hubert had begun to drowse in his chair; but he had promised to rewrite the young girl's part, Ford having definitely refused to intrust Rose with the part of the adventuress. He was sorry for this. He believed that Rose had not only talent, but genius. Besides, they were friends, neighbours; he would like to give her a chance of distinguishing herself-the chance which she was seeking. All the time he could not but realise that, however he might accentuate and characterise the part of the sentimental girl, Rose would not be able to do much with it. To bring out her special powers something strange, wild, or tragic was required. But of what use thinking of what was not to be? Having made some alterations and additions he folded his papers up, and addressed them to Miss Massey. He wrote on a piece of paper that they were to be given to her at once, and that he was to be called at ten. There was a rehearsal at twelve.

On the night of the first performance, Hubert asked Rose to dine in his rooms. Mr. Wilson proposed that they should have a roast chicken, and Annie was sent to fetch a bottle of champagne from the grocer's. Annie had been given a ticket for the pit. Mrs. Wilson was going to the upper boxes. Annie said,-

'Why, you look as if you was going to a funeral, and not to a play. Why don't ye laugh?'

In truth, Hubert and Rose were a little silent. Rose was thinking how she could say certain lines. She had said them right once at rehearsal, but had not since been able to reproduce to her satisfaction a certain effect of voice. Hubert was too nervous to talk. There was nothing in his mind but 'Will the piece succeed? What shall I do if it fails?' He could give heed to nothing but himself, all the world seemed blotted out, and he suffered the pain of excessive self-concentration. Rose, on the other hand, had lost sight of herself, and existed almost unconsciously in the soul of another being. She was sometimes like a hypnotised spectator watching with foolish, involuntary curiosity the actions of one whom she had been bidden to watch. Then a little cloud would gather over her eyes, and then this other being would rise as if out of her very entrails and recreate her, fashioning her to its own image and likeness.

She did not answer when she was spoken to, and when the question was repeated, she awoke with a little start. Dinner was eaten in morbid silence, with painful and fitful efforts to appear interested in each other. Walking to the theatre, they once took the wrong turning and had to ask the way. At the stage door they smiled painfully, nodded, glad to part. Hubert went up to Montague Ford's room. He found the comedian on a low stool, seated before a low table covered with brushes and cosmetics, in front of a triple glass.

'My dear friend, do not trouble me now. I am thinking of my part.'

Hubert turned to go.

'Stay a moment,' cried the actor. 'You know when the husband meets the wife he has divorced?'

Hubert remembered the moment referred to, and, with anxious, doubting eyes, the comedian sought from the author justification for some intonations and gestures which seemed to him to form part and parcel of the nature of the man whose drunkenness he had so admirably depicted on his face.

'"This is most unfortunate, very unlucky-very, my dear Louisa; but--"

'"I am no longer obliged to bear with your insults; I can now defend myself against you."

"In the third row Harding stood talking to a young man."

'Now, is that your idea of the scene?'

A pained look came upon Hubert's face. 'Don't question me now, my dear fellow. I cannot fix my attention. I can see, however, that your make-up is capital-you are the man himself.'

The actor was satisfied, and in his satisfaction he said, 'I think it will be all right, old chap.'

Hubert hoped to reach his box without meeting critics or authors. The serving-maids bowed and smiled,-he was the author of the play. 'They'll think still more of me if the notices are right,' he thought, as he hurried upstairs, and from behind the curtain of his box he peeped down and counted the critics who edged their way down the stalls. Harding stood in the third row talking to a young man. He said, 'You mean the woman with the black hair piled into a point, and fastened with a steel circlet. A face of sheep-like sensuality. Red lips and a round receding chin. A large bosom, and two thin arms showing beneath the opera cloak, which she has not yet thrown from her shoulders. I do not know her-une laideur attirante. Many a man might be interested in her. But do you see the woman in the stage-box? You would not believe it, but she is sixty, and has only just begun to speak of herself as an old woman. She kept her figure, and had an admirer when she was fifty-eight.'

'What has become of him?'

'They quarrelled; two years ago he told her he hoped never to see her ugly old face again. And that delicate little creature in the box next to her-that pale diaphanous face?'

'With a young man hanging over her whispering in her ear?'

'Yes. She hates the theatre; it gives her neuralgia; but she attends all the first nights because her one passion is to be made love to in public. If her admirer did not hang over her in front of the box just as that man is doing, she would not tolerate him for a week.'

At that moment the conversation was interrupted by a new-comer, who asked if he had seen the play when it was first produced.

'Yes,' said Harding; 'I did.' And he continued his search for acquaintances amid white rows of female backs, necks, and half-seen profiles-amid the black cloth shoulders cut sharply upon the illumined curtain.

'And what do you think of it? Do you think it will succeed this time?'

'Ford will create an impression in the part; but I don't think the piece will run.'

'And why? Because the public is too stupid?'

'Partly, and partly because Price is only an intentionist. He cannot carry an idea quite through.'

'Are you going to write about it?'

'I may.'

'And what will you say?'

'Oh, most interesting things to be said. Let's take the case of Hubert Price ... Ah, there, the curtain is going up.'

The curtain rolled slowly up, and in a small country drawing-room, in very simple but very pointedly written dialogue, the story of Mrs. Holmes' domestic misfortunes was gradually unfolded. It appeared that she had flirted with Captain Grey; he had written her some compromising letters, and she had once been to his rooms alone. So the Court had pronounced a decree nisi. But Mrs. Holmes had not been unfait

hful to her husband. She had flirted with Captain Grey because her husband's attentions to a certain Mrs. Barrington had maddened her, and in her jealous rage had written foolish letters, and been to see Captain Grey.

Hubert noticed that folk were still asking for their seats, and pushing down the very rows in which the most influential critics were sitting. They exchanged a salutation with their friends in the dress-circle, and, when they were seated, looked around, making observations regarding the appearance of the house; and all the while the actors were speaking. Hubert trembled with fear and rage. Would these people never give their attention to the stage? If they had been sitting by him, he could have struck them. Then a line turned into nonsense by the actress who played Mrs. Holmes was a lancinating pain; and the actor who played Captain Grey, played so slowly that Hubert could hardly refrain from calling from his box. He looked round the theatre, noticing the indifferent faces of the critics, and the women's shoulders seemed to him especially vacuous and imbecile.

The principal scene of the second act was between Mrs. Holmes and the man who had divorced her. He has-been driven to drink by the vile behaviour of his second wife; he is ruined in health and in pocket, and has come to the woman he wronged to beg forgiveness; he knows she has learnt to love Captain Grey, but will not marry him, because she believes that once married always married. There is only one thing he can do to repair the wrong he has done-he will commit suicide, and so enable her to marry the man she loves. He tells her that he has bought the pistol to do it with, and the words, 'Not here! not here!' escape from her; and he answers, 'No, not here, but in a cab. I've got one at the door.' He goes out; Captain Grey enters, and Mrs. Holmes begs him to save her husband. While they are discussing how this is to be done, he re-enters, saying that his conscience smote him as he was going to pull the trigger. Will she forgive him? If she won't, he must make an end of himself. She says she will.

In the third act Hubert had attempted to paint Mr. Holmes' vain efforts to reform his life. But the constant presence of Captain Grey in the household, his attempts to win Mrs. Holmes from her husband, and the drunken husband's amours with the servant-maid disgusted rather than horrified. In the fourth act the wretched husband admits that his reformation is impossible, and that, although he has no courage to commit suicide and set his wife free, he will return to his evil courses; they will sooner or later make an end of him. The slowness and deadly gravity with which Ford took this scene rendered it intolerable; and, notwithstanding the beauty of the conclusion, when the deserted wife, in the silence of her drawing-room, reads again Captain Grey's letter, telling her that he has left England for ever, and with another, the success of the play was left in doubt, and the audience filed out, talking, chattering, arguing, wondering what the public verdict would be.

To avoid commiseration of heartless friends and the triumphant glances of literary enemies, Hubert passed through the door leading on to the stage. Scene-shifters were brutally pushing away what remained of his play; and the presence of Hamilton Brown, the dramatic author, talking to Ford, was at that moment particularly disagreeable. On catching sight of Hubert, Brown ran to him, shook him by the hand, and murmured some discreet congratulations. He preferred the piece, however, as it had been originally written, and suggested to Ford the advisability of returning to the first text. Then Ford went upstairs to take his paint off, and Hubert walked about the stage with Brown. Brown's insincerity was sufficiently transparent; but men in Hubert's position catch at straws, and he soon began to believe that the attitude of the public towards his play was not so unfavourable as he had imagined.

Hubert tried to summon up a smile for the stage-door keeper, who, he feared, had heard that the piece had failed, and then the moment they got outside he begged Rose to tell him the exact truth. She assured him that Ford had said that he had always counted on a certain amount of opposition; but that he believed that the general public, being more free of prejudice and less sophisticated, would be impressed by the simple humanity of the play. The conversation paused, and at the end of an irritating silence he said, 'You were excellent, as good as any one could be in a part that did not suit them. Ah, if he had cast you for the adventuress, how you would have played it!...'

'I'm so glad you are pleased. I hope my notices will be good. Do you think they will?'

'Yes, your notices will be all right,' he answered, with a sigh.

'And your notices will be all right too. No one can say what is going to succeed. There was a call after each of the last three acts.... I don't see how a piece could go better. It is the suspense....'

'Ah, yes, the suspense!'

They lingered on the landing, and Hubert said, 'Won't you come in for a moment?' She followed him into the room. His calm face, usually a perfect picture of repose and self-possession, betrayed his emotion by a certain blankness in the eyes, certain contractions in the skin of the forehead. 'I'm afraid,' he said, 'there's no hope.'

'Oh, you mustn't say that!' she replied. 'I think it went very well indeed.... I know I did nothing with the young girl. I oughtn't to have undertaken the part.'

'You were excellent. If we only get some good notices. If we don't, I shall never get another play of mine acted.' He looked at her imploringly, thirsting for a woman's sympathy. But the little girl was thinking of certain effects which she would have made, and which the actress who had played the adventuress had failed to make.

'I watched her all the time,' she said, 'following every line, saying all the time, "Oh yes, that's all very nice and very proper, my young woman; but it's not it; no, not at all-not within a hundred miles of it." I don't think she ever really touched the part-do you?' Hubert did not answer, and a quiver of distraction ran through the muscles of her face.

'Why don't you answer me?'

'I can't answer you,' he said abruptly. Then remembering, he added, 'Forgive me; I can think of nothing now.' He hid his face in his hands, and sobbed twice-two heavy, choking sobs, pregnant with the weight of anguish lying on his heart.

Seeing how much he suffered, she laid her hand on his shoulder. 'I am very sorry; I wish I could help you. I know how it tears the heart when one cannot get out what one has in one's brain.'

Her artistic appreciation of his suffering only jarred him the more. What he longed for was some kind, simple-hearted woman who would say, 'Never mind, dear; the play was perfectly right, only they did not understand it; I love you better than ever.' But Rose could not give him the sympathy he wanted; and to be alone was almost a relief. He dared not go to bed; he sat looking into space. The roar of London hushed till it was no more than a faint murmur, the hissing of the gas grew louder, and still Hubert sat thinking, the same thoughts battling in his brain. He looked into the future, but could see nothing but suicide. His uncle? He had applied to him before for help; there was no hope there. Then he tramped up and down, maddened by the infernal hissing of the gas; and then threw himself into his arm-chair. And so a terrible night wore away; and it was not until long after the early carts had begun to rattle in the streets that exhaustion brought an end to his sufferings, and he rolled into bed.

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