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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 7
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    For two hours, responding to the manipulation of the star and his thoroughly subjugated playwright, the character of "Roderick Hanscom" grew nobler and nobler, speech by speech and deed by deed, while the expression of the gentleman who was to impersonate it became, in precise parallel with this regeneration, sweeter and loftier and lovelier.

    "A little Biblical quotation wouldn't go so bad right in there," he said, when they had finally established the Great Sacrifice for a Woman. "We'll let Roderick have a line like: 'Greater love hath no man than laying down his life to save another's.'" He touched a page of the manuscript with his finger. "There's a good place for it."

    "Aren't you afraid it would sound a little--smug?" Canby asked timidly. "The way we've got him now, Roderick seems to me to be always seeing himself as a splendid man and sort of pointing it out to the--"

    "Good gracious!" cried Potter, astounded. "Hasn't it got to be pointed out? The audience hasn't got a whole lifetime to study him in; it's only got about two hours. Besides, I don't see what you say; I don't see it at all! It seems to me I've worked him around into being a perfectly natural character."

    "I suppose you're right," said Canby, meekly scribbling.

    "Biblical quotations never do any harm to the box-office," Potter added. "You may not get a hand on 'em, but you'll never get a cough, either." He looked dreamily at the ceiling. "I've often thought of doing a Biblical play. I'd have it built around the character of St. Paul. That's one they haven't touched yet, and it's new. I wouldn't do it with a beard and long hair. I wouldn't use much makeup. No. Just the face as it is."

    "You can do practically anything with a religious show," said Tinker. "That's been proved. You can run in gambling and horse- racing and ballys, and you'll get people into the house, night after night, that think the theatre's wicked and wouldn't go to see 'Rip Van Winkle.' They do a lot of good, too--religious shows--just that way."

    "I think I'd play it in armour," Potter continued his thought, still gazing at the ceiling. "I believe it would be a big thing."

    "It might if it was touted right," said Tinker. "It all depends on the touting. If you get it touted to the tank towns that you've got a play with the great religious gonzabo, then your show's a big property. Same if you get it touted for a great educational gonzabo. Or 'artistic.' Get it touted right for 'artistic,' and the tanks'll think they like it, even if they don't. Look at 'Cyrano'--they liked Mansfield and his acting, but they didn't like the show. They said they liked the show, and thought they did, but they didn't. If they'd like it as much as they said they did, that show would be running like 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' Speaking of that"--he paused, coughed, and went on--"I'm glad you've got the ingenue's part straightened out in this piece. I thought from the first it would stand a little lengthening."

    Potter, unheeding, dreamily proceeded: "In silver armour. Might silver the hair a little--not too much. Play it as a spiritual character, but not solemn. Wouldn't make it turgid; keep it light. Have the whole play spiritual but light. For instance, have room in it for a religious ingenue part--make her a younger sister of Mary Magdalene, say, with St. Paul becoming converted for her sake after he'd been a Roman General. I believe it's a big idea."

    Canby was growing nervous. All this seemed to be rambling farther and farther from "Roderick Hanscom." Potter relieved his anxiety, however, after a thoughtful sigh, by saying abruptly: "Well, well, we can't go into a big production like that, this late in the year. We'll have to see what can be done with 'Roderick Hanscom.'" He looked at the door, where the Japanese was performing a shrinking curtsey. "What is it, Sato?"

    "Miss Pata."


    "Miss Pata."

    A voice called from the hallway: "It's me, Mr. Potter. Packer."

    "Oh, come in! Come in!"

    The stage-manager made a deferential entrance. "It's about Miss--"

    "Sit down, Packer."

    "Thank you, Mr. Potter." Evidently considering the command a favour, Packer sat. "I saw Miss Lyston, sir--"

    "I won't turn her adrift," said his employer peevishly. "You see, Mr. Canby, here's another of the difficulties of my position. Miss Lyston has been with me for several years, and for this piece we've got somebody I think will play her part better, but I haven't any other part for Miss Lyston. And we start so late in the season, this year, she'll probably not be able to get anything else to do; so she's on my hands. I can't turn people out in the snow like that. Some managers can, but I can't. And yet I have letters begging me for all kinds of charities every day. They don't know what my company costs me in money like this--absolutely thrown away so far as any benefit to me is concerned. And often I find I've been taken advantage of, too. I shouldn't be at all surprised to find that Miss Lyston has comfortable investments right now, and that she's only scheming to--Packer, don't you know whether she's been saving her salary or not? If you don't you ought to."

    "I came to tell you, sir. I thought you might be relieved to know. We don't have to bother about her, Mr. Potter. I've been to see her at her flat, this evening, and she's as anxious to get away from us, Mr. Potter, as we are to--"

    The star rose to his feet, his face suffusing. "You sit there," he exclaimed, "and tell me that a member of my company finds the association so distasteful that she wants to get away!"

    "Oh, no, Mr. Potter!" the stage-manager protested. "Not that at all! She's very sorry to go. She asked me to tell you that she felt she was giving up a great honour, and to thank you for all your kindness to her."

    "Go on!" Potter sternly bade him. "Why does she wish to leave my company?"

    "Why, it seems she's very much in love with her husband, sir, Vorley Surbilt--"

    "It doesn't seem possible," said Potter, shaking his head. "I know him, and it sounds like something you're making up as you go along, Packer."

    "Indeed, I'm not, Mr. Potter!" the stage-manager cried, in simple distress. "I wouldn't know how."

    "Go on!"

    "Well, sir, it seems Vorly Surbilt was to go out with Mrs. Romaley, and it seems that when Miss Lyston left rehearsal she drove around till she found him--"

    "Ah! I knew she was fooling me! I knew she wasn't sick! Went to drive with her husband, and I pay the cab bill!"

    "No, no, sir! I forgot to tell you; she wouldn't let me pay it. She took him home and put him to bed--and from what I heard on Broadway it was time somebody did! It seems they'd had an offer to go into a vaudeville piece together, and after she got him to bed she telephoned the vaudeville man, and had him bring up a contract, and they signed it, though she had to guide Vorley's hand for him. Anyway, he's signed up all right, and so is she. That's why she was so anxious about fixing it up with us. I told her it would be all right."

    Potter relapsed into his chair in an attitude of gloom. "So they've begun to leave Talbot Potter's company!" he said, nodding his head with bitter melancholy. "For vaudeville! I'd better go to farming at once; I often think of it. What sort of an act is it that Miss Lyston prefers to remaining with me? Acrobatic?"

    "It's a little play," said Packer. "It's from the Grand Guignol."

    "French!" Potter this simply as an added insult on the part of Miss Lyston. "French!"

    "They say it's a wonderful little thing," said Packer innocently, but it was as if he had run a needle into his sensitive employer. Potter instantly sprang up again with a cry of pain.

    "Of course it's wonderful! It's French; everything French is wonderful, magnificent, Supreme! Everything French is HOLY! Good God, Packer! You'll be telling me what my 'technique' ought to be, next!"

    He hurled himself again into the chair and moaned, then in a dismal voice inquired; "Miss Lyston struck you as feeling that her condition in life was distinctly improved by this ascent into vaudeville, didn't she?"

    "Oh, not at all, Mr. Potter! But, of course," Packer explained deprecatingly, "she's pleased to have Vorly where she can keep an eye on him. She said that though she was all broken up about leaving the company, she expected to be very happy in looking after him. You see, sir, it's the first time in all their married life they've had a chance to be together except one summer when neither of 'em could get a stock engagement."

    Potter made no reply but to shake his head despondently, and Packer sat silent in deference, as if waiting to be questioned further. It was the playwright who presently filled the void. "Why haven't Mr. and Mrs. Surbilt gone into the same companies, if they care to be together? I should think they'd have made it a point to get engagements in the same ones."

    Packer looked disturbed. "It's not done much," he said.

    "Besides, Vorly Surbilt plays leading parts with women stars," old Tinker volunteered. "You see, naturally, it wouldn't do at all."

    "Jealousy, you mean?"

    "Not necessarily the kind you're thinking of. But it just doesn't do."

    "Some managers will allow married couples in their companies," Potter said, adding emphatically: "I won't! I never have and I never will! Never! There's just one thing every soul in my support has got to keep working for, and that is a high-tension performance every night in the year. If married people are in love with each other, they're going to think more about that than about the fact that they're working for me. If they aren't in love with each other, there's the devil to pay. I'd let the best man or woman in the profession go--and they could go to vaudeville, for all I cared!--if I had to keep their wives or husbands travelling with us. I won't have 'em! My soul! I don't marry, do I?"

    Packer rose. "Is there anything else for me, Mr. Potter?"

    "Yes. Take this interlined script, get some copies typewritten, and see that the company's sides are changed to suit it. Be especially careful about that young Miss--ah--Miss Malone's. You'll find her part is altered considerably, and will be even more, when Mr. Canby gets the dialogue for other changes finished. He'll let you have them to-morrow. By the way, Packer, where did you find--" He paused, stretched out his hand to the miniature sedan chair of liqueurs, took a decanter and tiny glass therefrom, and carefully poured himself a sparkling emerald of creme de menthe. "Will you have something, Mr. Canby?" he asked. "You, Tinker?"

    Both declined in silence; they seemed preoccupied.

    "Where did I what, Mr. Potter?" asked the stage-manager, reminding him of the question left unfinished.


    "You said: 'By the way, where did you find--'"

    "Oh, yes." Potter smiled negligently. "Where did you find that little Miss Malone? At the agents'?"

    Packer echoed him: "Where did I find her?" He scratched his head. "Miss"--he said ruminatively, repeating the word slowly, like a man trying to work out the solution of a puzzle--"Miss--"

    "Miss Malone. I suppose you got her at an agent's?"

    "Let's see," said Packer. "At an agent's? No. No, it wasn't. Come to think of it, it wasn't."

    "Then where did you get her?" Tinker inquired.

    "That's what I just asked him," Potter said, placing his glass upon a table without having tasted the liqueur. "What's the matter, Packer? Gone to sleep?"

    "I remember now," said Packer, laughing deferentially. "Of course! No. It wasn't through any of the agents. Now I remember--come to think of it--I sort of ran across her myself, as a matter of fact. I wasn't just sure who you meant at first. You mean the understudy, the one that's to play Miss Lyston's part, that Miss--Miss--" He snapped a finger and thumb to spur memory and then, as in triumphant solution of his puzzle, cried, "Ma-- Malone! Miss Malone!"

    "Yes," said Potter, looking upon him darkly. "Where did you sort of run across her, come to think of it, as a matter of fact?"

    "Oh, I remember all about it, now," said Packer brightly. "Why, she was playing last summer in stock out at Seeleyville, Pennsylvania. That's only about six miles from Packer's Ridge, where my father lives. I spent a couple of weeks with him, and we trolleyed over one evening to see 'The Little Minister,' because father got it in his head some way that it was about the Baptists, and I couldn't talk him out of it. It wasn't as bad a performance as you'd think, and this little girl was a pretty fair 'Babbie.' Father forgot all about the Baptists and kept talking about her after we got home, until nothing would do but we must go over and see that show again. He wanted to take her right out to the farm and adopt her--or something; he's a widower, and all alone out there. Fact is, I had all I could do to keep him from going around to ask her, and I was pretty near afraid he'd speak to her from the audience. Well, to satisfy him, I did go around after the show, and gave her my card, and told her if I could do anything for her in New York to let me know. Of course, naturally, when I got back to town I forgot all about it, but I got a note from her that she was here, looking for an engagement, the very day you told me to scare up an understudy. So I thought she might do as well as anybody I'd get at the agent's, and I let her have it." He drew a breath of relief, like that of a witness leaving the stand, and with another placative laugh, letting his eyes fall humbly under the steady scrutiny of his master, he concluded: "Of course I remember all about it, only at first I wasn't sure which one you meant; it's such a large company."

    "I see," said Potter grimly. "You engaged her to please your father."

    "Oh, Mr. Potter!" the stage-manager protested. "If you don't like her--"

    "That will do!" Potter cut him off, and paced the floor, virulently brooding. "And so Talbot Potter's company is to be made up of actors engaged to suit the personal whims of L. Smith Packer's father, old Mister Packer of Baptist Ridge, near Seeleyville, Pennsylvania!"

    "But, Mr. Potter, if you don't--"

    "I said that would DO!" roared Potter. "Good-night!"

    "Good-night, sir," said the stage-manager humbly, and humbly got himself out of the room, to be heard, an instant later, bidding the Japanese an apologetic good-night at the outer door of the apartment.

    Canby rose to take his own departure, promising to have the new dialogue "worked out" by morning.

    "He is, too!" said Potter, not heeding the playwright, but confirming an unuttered thought in his own mind. He halted at the table, where he had set his tiny glass, and gulped the emerald at a swallow. "I always thought he was!"

    "Was what?" inquired old Tinker.

    "A hypocrite!"

    "D'you mean Packer?" said Tinker incredulously.

    "He's a hypocrite!" Potter shouted fiercely. "And I shouldn't be surprised if his father was another! Widower! I never saw the man in my life, but I'd swear it on oath! He is a hypocrite! Packer's father is a damned old Baptist hypocrite!"
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