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   Chapter 16 No.16

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 13581

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"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 [135] 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."

[136] "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.

[137] "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 protége [138] 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 [139] 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 [140] 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.'

[141] "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 [142] 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!"

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