19th Century Actor Autobiographies
By George Iles, Editor
Public Domain Books
[Clara Morris, Mrs. Frederick C. Harriott, is a native of Toronto, Canada. Her remarkable powers as an emotional actress, early in evidence, gave her for years the foremost place at Daly’s Theatre, and the Union Square Theatre, New York. Among the parts in which she achieved distinction were Camille, Alixe, Miss Multon, Corn in “Article 47,” and Mercy Merrick in “The New Magdalen.” Since her retirement from the stage Clara Morris has proved herself to be a capital writer, shedding the light of experience on the difficulties of dramatic success. One of her books, “Life on the Stage," copyright, 1901, by Clara Morris Harriott and the S. S. McClure Company, New York, by permission, has furnished this episode.–Ed.]
Some Recollections of John Wilkes Booth
In glancing back over two crowded and busy seasons, one figure stands out with clearness and beauty. In his case only (so far as my personal knowledge goes), there was nothing derogatory to dignity or to manhood in being called beautiful, for he was that bud of splendid promise blasted to the core, before its full triumphant blooming–known to the world as a madman and an assassin, but to the profession as “that unhappy boy"–John Wilkes Booth.
He was so young, so bright, so gay–so kind. I could not have known him well; of course, too–there are two or three different people in every man’s skin; yet when we remember that stars are not generally in the habit of showing their brightest, their best side to the company at rehearsal, we cannot help feeling both respect and liking for the one who does.
There are not many men who can receive a gash over the eye in a scene at night, without at least a momentary outburst of temper; but when the combat between Richard and Richmond was being rehearsed, Mr. Booth had again and again urged Mr. McCollom (that six-foot tall and handsome leading-man, who entrusted me with the care of his watch during such encounters) to come on hard! to come on hot! hot, old fellow! harder-faster! He’d take the chance of a blow–if only they could make a hot fight of it!
And Mr. McCollom, who was a cold man, at night became nervous in his effort to act like a fiery one–he forgot he had struck the full number of head blows, and when Booth was pantingly expecting a thrust, McCollom, wielding his sword with both hands, brought it down with awful force fair across Booth’s forehead; a cry of horror rose, for in one moment his face was masked in blood, one eyebrow was cleanly cut through–there came simultaneously one deep groan from Richard and the exclamation: “Oh, good God! good God!” from Richmond, who stood shaking like a leaf and staring at his work. Then Booth, flinging the blood from his eyes with his left hand, said as genially as man could speak: “ That’s all right, old man! never mind me–only come on hard, for God’s sake, and save the fight!”
Which be resumed at once, and though he was perceptibly weakened, it required the sharp order of Mr. Ellsler, to “ring the first curtain bell,” to force him to bring the fight to a close a single blow shorter than usual. Then there was a running to and fro, with ice and vinegar-paper and raw steak and raw oysters. When the doctor had placed a few stitches where they were most required, he laughingly declared there was provision enough in the room to start a restaurant. Mr. McCollom came to try to apologise–to explain, but Booth would have none of it; be held out his hand, crying: “Why, old fellow, you look as if you had lost the blood. Don’t worry–now if my eye had gone, that would have been bad!” And so with light words he tried to set the unfortunate man at ease, and though he must have suffered much mortification as well as pain from the eye–that in spite of all endeavours would blacken–he never made a sign.
He was, like his great elder brother, rather lacking in height, but his head and throat, and the manner of their rising from his shoulders, were truly beautiful, His colouring was unusual–the ivory pallor of his skin, the inky blackness of his densely thick hair, the heavy lids of his glowing eyes were all Oriental, and they gave a touch of mystery to his face when it fell into gravity–but there was generally a flash of white teeth behind his silky moustache, and a laugh in his eyes.
I played the Player-Queen to my great joy, and in the “Marble Heart” I was one of the group of three statues in the first act. We were supposed to represent Lais, Aspasia, and Phryne, and when we read the cast I glanced at the other girls (we were not strikingly handsome) and remarked, gravely: “Well, it’s a comfort to know that we look so like the three beautiful Grecians.”
A laugh at our backs brought us around suddenly to face Mr. Booth, who said to me:
“You satirical little wretch, how do you come to know these Grecian ladies? Perhaps you have the advantage of them in being all beautiful within?”
“I wish it would strike outward then,” I answered. “You know it’s always best to have things come to the surface!”
“I know some very precious things are hidden from common sight; and I know, too, you caught my meaning in the first place. Good night!” and he left us.
We had been told to descend to the stage at night with our white robes hanging free and straight, that Mr. Booth himself might drape them as we stood upon the pedestal. It really is a charming picture–that of the statues in the first act. Against a backing of black velvet the three white figures, carefully posed, strongly lighted, stand out so marble-like that when they slowly turn their faces and point to their chosen master, the effect is uncanny enough to chill the looker-on.
Well, with white wigs, white tights, and white robes, and half strangled with the powder we had inhaled in our efforts to make our lips stay white, we cautiously descended the stairs we dared not talk, we dared not blink our eyes, for fear of disturbing the coat of powder-we were lifted to the pedestal and took our places as we expected to stand. Then Mr. Booth came–such a picture in his Greek garments as made even the men exclaim at him–and began to pose us. It happened one of us had very good limbs, one medium good, and the third had, apparently, walked on broom-sticks. When Mr. Booth slightly raised the drapery of No. 3 his features gave a twist as though he had suddenly tasted lemon-juice, but quick as a flash he said:
“I believe I’11 advance you to the centre for the stately and wise Aspasia"–the central figure wore her draperies hanging straight to her feet, hence the “advance” and consequent concealment of the unlovely limbs. It was quickly and kindly done, for the girl was not only spared mortification, but in the word “advance” she saw a compliment and was happy accordingly. Then my turn came. My arms were placed about Aspasia, my head bent and turned and twisted–my upon my breast so that the forefinger touched my chin–I felt I was a personified simper; but I was silent and patient, until the arrangement of my draperies began–then I squirmed anxiously.
“Take care–take care!” he cautioned. “You will sway the others if you move!” But in spite of the risk of my marble makeup I faintly groaned: “Oh dear! must it be like that?”
Regardless of the pins in the corner of his mouth he burst into laughter, and, taking a photograph from the bosom of his Greek shirt, he said: “I expected a protest from you, Miss, so I came prepared–don’t move your head, but just look at this.”
He held the picture of a group of statuary up to me. “This is you on the right. It’s not so dreadful; now, is it?” And I cautiously murmured: “That if I wasn’t any worse than that I wouldn’t mind.”
And so we were all satisfied, and our statue scene was very successful. Next morning I saw Mr. Booth come running out of the theatre on his way to the telegraph office at the corner, and right in the middle of the walk, staring about him, stood a child–a small roamer of the stony streets, who had evidently got far enough beyond his native ward to arouse misgivings as to his personal safety, and at the very moment he stopped to consider matters Mr. Booth dashed out of the stage-door and added to his bewilderment by capsizing him completely.
“Oh, good lord! Baby, are you hurt?” exclaimed Mr. Booth, pausing instantly to pick up the dirty, tousled small heap and stand it on its bandy legs again.
“Don’t cry, little chap!” And the aforesaid little chap not only ceased to cry, but gave him a damp and grimy smile, at which the actor bent towards him quickly, but paused, took out his handkerchief, and first carefully wiping the dirty little nose and mouth, stooped and kissed him heartily, put some change in each freckled paw, and continued his run to the telegraph office.
He knew of no witness to the act. To kiss a pretty, clean child under the approving eyes of mamma might mean nothing but politeness, but surely it required the prompting of a warm and tender heart to make a young and thoughtless man feel for and caress such a dirty, forlorn bit of babyhood as that.
Of his work I suppose I was too young and too ignorant to judge correctly, but I remember well hearing the older members of the company express their opinions. Mr. Ellsler, who had been on terms of friendship with the elder Booth, was delighted with the promise of his work. He greatly admired Edwin’s intellectual power, his artistic care; but “John,” he cried, “has more of the old man’s power in one performance than Edwin can show in a year. He has the fire, the dash, the touch of strangeness. He often produces unstudied effects at night. I question him: ’Did you rehearse that business to-day, John?’ He answers:
’No; I didn’t rehearse it, it just came to me in the scene and I couldn’t help doing it, but it went all right didn’t it?’ Full of impulse just now, like a colt, his heels are in the air nearly as often as his head, but wait a year or two till he gets used to the harness and quiets down a bit, and you will see as great an actor as America can produce!”
One morning, going on the stage where a group were talking with John Wilkes, I beard him say: “No; oh, no: There’s but one Hamlet to my mind–that’s my brother Edwin. You see, between ourselves, he is Hamlet–melancholy and all!”
The Murder of President Lincoln
That was an awful time, when the dread news came to us. We were in Columbus, Ohio. We had been horrified by the great crime at Washington. My room-mate and I had, from our small earnings, bought some black cotton at a tripled price, as all the black material in the city was not sufficient to meet the demand; and as we tacked it about our one window, a man passing told us the assassin had been discovered, and that he was the actor Booth. Hattie laughed, so she nearly swallowed the tack that, girl-like, she held between her lips, and I after a laugh, told him it was a poor subject for a jest, and we went in. There was no store in Columbus then where play-books were sold, and as Mr. Ellsler had a very large and complete stage library, he frequently lent his books to us, and we would hurriedly copy out our lines and return the book for his own use. On that occasion he was going to study his part first and then leave the play with us as he passed, going home. We heard his knock. I was busy pressing a bit of stage finery. Hattie opened the door, and then I heard her exclaiming: “Why–why–what!” I turned quickly. Mr. Ellsler was coming slowly into the room. He is a very dark man, but be was perfectly livid then–his lips even were blanched to the whiteness of his cheeks. His eyes were dreadful, they were so glassy and seemed so unseeing. He was devoted to his children, and all I could think of as likely to bring such a look upon his face was disaster to one of them, and I cried, as I drew a chair to him: “What is it? Oh, what has happened to them?”
He sank down–he wiped his brow–he looked almost stupidly at me; then, very faintly, he said: “You–haven’t–heard–anything?”
Like a flash Hattie’s eyes and mine met. We thought of the supposed ill-timed jest of the stranger. My lips moved wordlessly. Hattie stammered: “A man–he–lied though–said that Wilkes Booth–but he did lie–didn’t he?” and in the same faint voice Mr. Ellsler answered slowly: “No–no! he did not lie–it’s true!”
Down fell our heads, and the waves of shame and sorrow seemed fairly to overwhelm us; and while our sobs filled the little room, Mr. Ellsler rose and laid two playbooks on the table. Then, while standing there, staring into space, I heard his far, faint voice saying: “So great–so good a man destroyed, and by the hand of that unhappy boy! my God! my God!” He wiped his brow again and slowly left the house, apparently unconscious of our presence.
When we resumed our work–the theatre had closed because of the national calamity–many a painted cheek showed runnels made by bitter tears, and one old actress, with quivering lips, exclaimed: “One woe doth tread upon another’s heels, so fast they follow!” but with no thought of quoting, and God knows, the words expressed the situation perfectly.
Mrs. Ellsler, whom I never saw shed a tear for any sickness, sorrow, or trouble of her own, shed tears for the mad boy, who had suddenly become the assassin of God’s anointed–the great, the blameless Lincoln.
We crept about, quietly. Every one winced at the sound of the overture. It was as if one dead lay within the walls–one who belonged to us.
When the rumours about Booth being the murderer proved to be authentic, the police feared a possible outbreak of mob feeling, and a demonstration against the theatre building, or against the actors individually; but we had been a decent, law-abiding, well-behaved people–liked and respected–so we were not made to suffer for the awful act of one of our number. Still, when the mass-meeting was held in front of the Capitol, there was much anxiety on the subject, and Mr. Ellsler urged all the company to keep away from it, lest their presence might arouse some ill-feeling. The crowd was immense, the sun had gloomed over, and the Capitol building, draped in black, loomed up with stern severity and that massive dignity only attained by heavily columned buildings. The people surged like waves about the speaker’s stand, and the policemen glanced anxiously toward the not far away new theatre, and prayed that some bombastic, revengeful ruffian might not crop up from this mixed crowd of excited humanity to stir them to violence.
Three speakers, however, in their addresses had confined themselves to eulogising the great dead. In life Mr. Lincoln had been abused by many–in death he was worshipped by all; and these speakers found their words of love and sorrow eagerly listened to, and made no harsh allusions to the profession from which the assassin sprang. And then an unknown man clambered up from the crowd to the portico platform and began to speak, without asking any one’s permission. He had a far-reaching voice–he had fire and go.
“Here’s the fellow to look out for!” said the policemen; and, sure enough, suddenly the dread word “theatre” was tossed into the air, and every one was still in a moment, waiting for–what? I don’t know what they hoped for–I do know what many feared; but this is what he said: “Yes, look over at our theatre and think of the little body of men and women there, who are to-day sore-hearted and cast down; who feel that they are looked at askant, because one of their number has committed that hideous crime! Think of what they have to bear of shame and horror, and spare them, too, a little pity!”
He paused. It had been a bold thing to do–to appeal for consideration for actors at such a time. The crowd swayed for a moment to and fro, a curious growling came from it, and then all heads turned toward the theatre. A faint cheer was given, and afterward there was not the slightest allusion made to us–and verily we were grateful.
That the homely, tender-hearted “Father Abraham"–rare combination of courage, justice, and humanity–died at an actor’s hand will be a grief, a horror, and a shame to the profession forever; yet I cannot believe that John Wilkes Booth was “the leader of a band of bloody conspirators.”
Who shall draw a line and say: here genius ends and madness begins? There was that touch of–strangeness. In Edwin it was a profound melancholy; in John it was an exaggeration of spirit–almost a wildness. There was the natural vanity of the actor, too, who craves a dramatic situation in real life. There was his passionate love and sympathy for the South–why, he was “easier to be played on than a pipe.”
Undoubtedly he conspired to kidnap the President–that would appeal to him; but after that I truly believe he was a tool–certainly he was no leader. Those who led him knew his courage, his belief in Fate, his loyalty to his friends; and, because they knew these things, he drew the lot, as it was meant he should from the first. Then, half mad, he accepted the part Fate cast him for–committed the monstrous crime, and paid the awful price. And since
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform,
we venture to pray for His mercy upon the guilty soul who may have repented and confessed his manifold sins and offences during those awful hours of suffering before the end came.
And “God shutteth not up His mercies forever in displeasure!” We can only shiver and turn our thoughts away from the bright light that went out in such utter darkness. Poor, guilty, unhappy John Wilkes Booth!
When in My Hunt for a Leading Man for Mr. Daly I First Saw Coghlan And Irving
[From “Life of a Star” copyright by the S. S. McClure Company, New York, 1906.]
When the late Mr. Augustin Daly bestowed even a modicum of his confidence, his friendship, upon man or woman, the person so honoured found the circulation of his blood well maintained by the frequent and generally unexpected demands for his presence, his unwavering attention, and sympathetic comprehension. As with the royal invitation that is a command, only death positive or threatening could excuse non-attendance; and though his friendship was in truth a liberal education, the position of even the humblest confidant was no sinecure, for the plans he loved to describe and discuss were not confined to that day and season, but were long, daring looks ahead; great coups for the distant, unborn years.
The season had closed on Saturday. Monday I was to sail for England, and early that morning the housemaid watched for the carriage. My landlady was growing quivery about the chin, because I had to cross alone to join Mr. and Mrs. James Lewis, who had gone ahead, My mother was gay with a sort of crippled hilarity that deceived no one, as she prepared to go with me to say good bye at the dock, while little Ned, the son of the house, proudly gathered together rug, umbrella, hand-bag, books, etc., ready to go down with us and escort my mother back home–when a cab whirled to the door and stopped.
“Good heaven!” I cried, “what a blunder! I ordered a carriage; we can’t all crowd into that thing!”
Then a boy was before me, holding out one of those familiar summoning half-sheets, with a line or two of the jetty-black, impishly-tiny, Daly scrawls–and I read: “Must see you one minute at office. Cabby will race you down. Have your carriage follow and pick you up here. Don’t fail! A. DALY.”
Ah, well! A. Daly–he who must be obeyed–had me in good training. I flung one hand to the mistress, the other to the maid in farewell, pitched headlong into the cab, and went whirling down Sixth Avenue and across to the theatre stage-door, then upstairs to the morsel of space called by courtesy the private office.
Mr. Daly nonchalantly held out his band, looked me over, and said: “That’s a very pretty dress–becoming too–but is it not too easily soiled? Salt water you know is–”
“Oh,” I broke in, “it’s for general street wear–my travelling will be done in nightdress, I fancy.”
“Ah, bad sailor, eh?” he asked, as I stood trembling with impatience.
“The worst! But you did not send for me to talk dress or about my sailing qualities?”
“My dear,” he said suavely, “your temper is positively rabid.” Then he glanced at the clock on his desk and his manner changed. He said swiftly and curtly: “Miss Morris, I want you to go to every theatre in London, and–”
“But I can’t!” I interrupted, “I have not money enough for that and my name is not known over there!”
He frowned and waved his hand impatiently. “Use my name, then, or ask courtesy from E. A. Sothern. He crosses with you and you know him. But mind, go to every reputable theatre, and,” impressively, “report to me at once if you see any leading man with exceptional ability of any kind.”
I gasped. It seemed to me I heard the leaden fall of my heart. “But Mr. Daly, what a responsibility! How on earth could I judge an actor for you?”
He held up an imperative band. “You think more after my own manner than any other person I know of. You are sensitive, responsive, quick to acknowledge another’s ability, and so are fitted to study London’s leading men for me!”
I was aghast, frightened to the point of approaching tears! Suddenly I bethought me.
“I’ll tell Mr. Lewis. He is there already you know, and let him judge for you.”
“Lewis? Good Lord! He has no independence! He’d see in an actor just what he thought I wanted him to see! I tell you, I want you to sort over London’s leading men, and, if you see anything exceptional, secure name and theatre and report to me. Heavens knows, two long years have not only taught me that you have opinions, but the courage of them!”
Racing steps came up the stairs, and little Ned’s voice called: “Miss Clara. Miss Clara, We are here!”
I turned to Mr. Daly and said mournfully:
“You have ruined the pleasure of my trip.”
“Miss Morris, that’s the first untruth you ever told me. Here, please” and he handed me a packet of new books.
“Thanks!” I cried and then flew down the stairs. Glancing up, I saw him looking earnestly after me. “Did you speak?” I asked hurriedly.
“That gown fits well–don’t spoil it with sea-water!”
And half-laughing, half-vexed, but wholly frightened at the charge laid upon me, I sprang into the carriage, to hold hands with mother all the way down to the crowded dock.
One day I received in London this note from Mr. Augustin Daly:
“MY DEAR MISS MORRIS: I find no letter here. Impatiently, A. D.”
And straightway I answered:
“MY DEAR MR. DALY: I find no actor here. Afflictedly, C. M.”
And lo, on my very last night in London, after our return from Paris, I found the exceptional leading man.
Ten days later, on a hot September morning, I was hurling myself upon my mother in all the joy of home-coming when I saw leaning against the clock on the mantel the unmistakable envelope, bearing the impious black scriggle that generally meant a summons. I opened it and read: “Cleaners in full possession here–look our for soap and pails, and report directly at box-office–don’t fail! A. DALY.”
I confess I was angry, for I was so tired and the motion of the steamer was still with me, and besides my own small affairs were of more interest to me just then than the greater ones of the manager. However, my two years of training held good. In an hour I was picking my way across wet floors, among mops and pails toward the sanity and dry comfort of Mr. Daly’s office. He held my hands closely for a moment, then broke out complainingly: “You’ve behaved nicely, haven’t you? Not a single line sent to tell what you were seeing, doing, thinking?”
“I beg your pardon–I distinctly remember sending you a line.” He scowled blackly. I went on: “I thought your note to me was meant as a model, so I copied it carefully.”
Formerly this sort of thing had kept us at daggers drawn, but now he only laughed, and shaking his hand impatiently to and fro, said: “Stop it! ah, stop it! So you could not find even one leading man worth while, eh?”
“Then why on earth didn’t you write me?”
“Couldn’t–I only found him on our last night in London.”
Mr. Daly’s face was alight in a moment. He caught up a scrap of paper and a pencil, and, after the manner of the inexperienced interviewer, began: “What’s he like?”
“Tall, flat-backed, square-shouldered, free-moving, and wears a long dress-coat–that shibboleth of a gentleman–as if that had been his custom since ever he left his mother’s knee.”
Mr. Daly ejaculated “good!” at each clause, and scribbled his impish small scribble on the bit of paper which rested on his palm.
“What did he do?” he asked eagerly.
“He didn’t do,” I answered lucidly.
“What do you mean, Miss Morris?”
“What I say, Mr. Daly.”
“But if the man doesn’t do anything, what is there remarkable about him?”
“Why, just that. It was what he didn’t do that produced the effect.”
“A-a-ah,” said Mr. Daly, with long-drawn satisfaction, scribbling rapidly. “I understand, and you thought, miss, that you could not judge an actor for me! What was the play?”
“Bulwer’s ’Money,’ and Marie Wilton was superb as–”
“Never mind Marie Wilton,” he interrupted impatiently, writing, “but Alfred Evelyn is such an awful prig.”
“Isn’t he?” I acquiesced, “but this actor made him human. You see, Mr. Daly, most Evelyns are like a bottle of gas-charged water: forcibly restrained for a time, then there’s a pop and a bang, and in wild freedom the water is foaming thinly over everything in sight. This man didn’t kowtow in the early acts, but was curt, cold, showing signs of rebellion more than once, and in the big scene, well–!”
“Yes?” asked Mr. Daly eagerly.
“Well, that was where he didn’t do. He didn’t bang nor rave nor work himself up to a wild burst of tears!” ("Thank God!” murmured Mr. Daly and scribbled fast.) “He told the story of his past sometimes rapidly, sometimes making a short, absolute pause. When he reached the part referring to his dead mother, his voice fell two tones, his words grew slower, more difficult, and finally stopped. He left some of his lines out entirely–actually forcing the people to do his work in picturing for themselves his sorrow and his loss–while he sat staring helplessly at the floor, his closed fingers slowly tightening, trying vainly to moisten his dry lips. And when the unconsciously sniffling audience broke suddenly into applause, he swiftly turned his head aside, and with the knuckle of his forefinger brushed away two tears. Ah, but that knuckle was clever! His fingertips would have been girly-girly or actory, but the knuckle was the movement of a man, who still retained something of his boyhood about him.”
Mr. Daly’s gray, dark-lashed eyes were almost black with pleased excitement as he asked: “What’s his name?”
“Why, he’s Irish?”
“So are you–Irish-American,” I answered defensively, pretending to misunderstand him.
“Well, you ought to be Irish yourself!” he said sternly.
“I did my best,” I answered modestly. “I was born on St. Patrick’s Day!”
“In the mornin’?” he asked.
“The very top of it, sor!”
“More power to you then!” at which we both laughed, and I rose to go.
As I picked up my sunshade, I remarked casually: “Ah, but I was glad to have seen, for once at least, England’s great actor.”
“Good gracious, no!”
“What, there is another, and you have not mentioned him–after my asking you to report any exceptional actor you saw?”
“I beg your pardon, sir. You asked me to report every exceptional leading man. This actor’s leading man’s days are past. He is a star by the grace of God’s great gifts to him, and his own hard work.”
“Well!” snapped Mr. Daly. “Even a star will play where money enough is offered him, will he not?”
“There’s a legend to that effect, I believe.’
“Will you favour me, Miss Morris, with this actor’s name?”
“Certainly. He is billed as Mr. Henry Irving.”
Mr. Daly looked up from his scribbling. “Irving? Irving? Is not he the actor that old man Bateman secured as support for his daughters?”
“Yes, that was the old gentleman’s mistaken belief; but the public thought differently, and laboured with Papa Bateman till it convinced him that his daughters were by way of supporting Mr. Irving.”
A grim smile came upon the managerial lips as be asked. “What does he look like?”
“Well, as a general thing, I think he will look wonderfully like the character he is playing. Oh, don’t frown so! He–well, he is not beautiful, neither can I imagine him a pantaloon actor, but his face will adapt itself splendidly to any strong character make-up, whether noble or villainous.” Mr. Daly was looking pleased again. I went on: “He aspires, I hear, to Shakespeare, but there is one thing of which I am sure. He is the mightiest man in melodrama to-day!”
“How long did it take to convince you of that, Miss Morris? One act–two–the whole five acts?”
“His first five minutes on the stage, sir. His business wins applause without the aid of words, and you know what that means.”
Again that elongated “A-a-ah!” Then, “Tell me of that five minutes," and he thrust a chair toward me.
“Oh,” I cried, despairingly, “that will take so long, and will only bore you.
“Understand, please, nothing under heaven that is connected with the stage can ever bore me.” Which statement was unalloyed truth.
“But, indeed,” I feebly insisted, only to be brought up short with the words, “Kindly allow me to judge for myself.”
To which I beamingly made answer: “Did I not beg you to do that months ago?” But he was growing vexed, and curtly commanded:
“I want those first five minutes–what he did, and how he did it, and what the effect was, and then"–speaking dreamily–"I shall know–I shall know.”
Now at Mr. Daly’s last long-drawn-out “A-a-ah,” anent Mr. Irving’s winning applause without words, I believed an idea, new and novel, had sprung into his mind, while his present rapt manner would tell anyone familiar with his ways that the idea was rapidly becoming a plan. I was wondering what it could be, when a sharp “Well?” startled me into swift and beautiful obedience,
“You see, Mr. Daly, I knew absolutely nothing of the story of the play that night. ’The Bells’ were, I supposed, church-bells. In the first act the people were rustic–the season winter–snow flying in every time the door opened. The absent husband and father was spoken of by mother and daughter, lover and neighbour. Then there were sleigh-bells heard, whose jingle stopped suddenly. The door opened–Mathias entered, and for the first time winter was made truly manifest to us, and one drew himself together instinctively, for the tall, gaunt man at the door was cold-chilled, just to the very marrow of his bones. Then, after general greetings had been exchanged, he seated himself in a chair directly in the centre of the stage, a mere trifle in advance of others in the scene, and proceeded to remove his long leggings. He drew a great coloured handkerchief and brushed away some clinging snow; then leaning forward, with slightly tremulous fingers, he began to unfasten a top buckle. Suddenly the trembling ceased, the fingers clenched hard upon the buckle, the whole body became still, then rigid–it seemed not to breathe! The one sign of life in the man was the agonisingly strained sense of hearing! His tortured eyes saw nothing. Utterly without speech, without feeling, he listened–breathlessly listened! A cold chill crept stealthily about the roots of my hair, I clenched my hands hard and whispered to myself: ’Will it come, good God, will it come, the thing he listens for?’ When with a wild bound, as if every nerve and muscle had been rent by an electric shock, he was upon his feet; and I was answered even before that suffocating cry of terror–’The bells! the bells!’–and under cover of the applause that followed I said: ’Haunted! Innocent or guilty, this man is haunted!’ And Mr. Daly, I bowed my head to a great actor, for though fine things followed, you know the old saying, that ’no chain is stronger than its weakest link.’ Well I always feel that no actor is greater than his carefulest bit of detail.”
Mr. Daly’s pale face had acquired a faint flush of colour, “Thank you!” he said, with real cordiality, and I was delighted to have pleased him, and also to see the end of my troubles, and once more took up the sun-shade.
“I think an actor like that could win any public, don’t you?”
“I don’t know,” I lightly answered. “He is generally regarded as an acquired taste.”
“What do you mean?” came the sharp return.
“Why, you must have heard that Mr. Irving’s eccentricities are not to be counted upon the fingers of both hands?”
Mr. Daly lifted his brows and smiled a contented smile: “Indeed? And pray, what are these peculiarities?”
“Oh, some are of the figure, some of movement, and some of delivery. A lady told me over there that he could walk like each and every animal of a Noah’s ark; and people lay wagers as to whether London will force him to abandon his elocutionary freaks, or he will force London to accept them. I am inclined to back Mr. Irving, myself.”
“What! What’s that you say? That this fine actor you have described has a marked peculiarity of delivery–of speech?”
“Marked peculiarities? Why, they are murderous! His strange inflections, his many mannerisms are very trying at first, but be conquers before–”
A cry stopped me–a cry of utter disappointment and anger! Mr. Daly stood staring at his notes a moment, then he exclaimed violently: “D–n! d–n! oh, d–n!!!” and savagely tore his scribbled-on paper into bits and flung them on the floor.
Startled at his vexation, convulsed with suppressed laughter at the infantile quality of his profanity, I ventured, in a shaking voice, “I think I’d better go?”
“I think you had!” be agreed curtly; but as I reached the door he said in his most managerial tone: “Miss Morris, it would be better for you to begin with people’s faults next time–”
But with the door already open I made bold to reply: “Excuse me, Mr. Daly, but there isn’t going to be any next time for me!”
And I turned and fled, wondering all the way home, as I have often wondered since, what was the plan that went so utterly agley that day? Mr. Coghlan he engaged after failing in his first effort, but that other, greater plan; what was it?