by Henry James
"I wondered whether you wouldn't read it to me," said Mrs. Alsager,
as they lingered a little near the fire before he took leave. She
looked down at the fire sideways, drawing her dress away from it and
making her proposal with a shy sincerity that added to her charm.
Her charm was always great for Allan Wayworth, and the whole air of
her house, which was simply a sort of distillation of herself, so
soothing, so beguiling that he always made several false starts
before departure. He had spent some such good hours there, had
forgotten, in her warm, golden drawing-room, so much of the
loneliness and so many of the worries of his life, that it had come
to be the immediate answer to his longings, the cure for his aches,
the harbour of refuge from his storms. His tribulations were not
unprecedented, and some of his advantages, if of a usual kind, were
marked in degree, inasmuch as he was very clever for one so young,
and very independent for one so poor. He was eight-and-twenty, but
he had lived a good deal and was full of ambitions and curiosities
and disappointments. The opportunity to talk of some of these in
Grosvenor Place corrected perceptibly the immense inconvenience of
London. This inconvenience took for him principally the line of
insensibility to Allan Wayworth's literary form. He had a literary
form, or he thought he had, and her intelligent recognition of the
circumstance was the sweetest consolation Mrs. Alsager could have
administered. She was even more literary and more artistic than he,
inasmuch as he could often work off his overflow (this was his
occupation, his profession), while the generous woman, abounding in
happy thoughts, but unedited and unpublished, stood there in the
rising tide like the nymph of a fountain in the plash of the marble
The year before, in a big newspapery house, he had found himself next
her at dinner, and they had converted the intensely material hour
into a feast of reason. There was no motive for her asking him to
come to see her but that she liked him, which it was the more
agreeable to him to perceive as he perceived at the same time that
she was exquisite. She was enviably free to act upon her likings,
and it made Wayworth feel less unsuccessful to infer that for the
moment he happened to be one of them. He kept the revelation to
himself, and indeed there was nothing to turn his head in the
kindness of a kind woman. Mrs. Alsager occupied so completely the
ground of possession that she would have been condemned to inaction
had it not been for the principle of giving. Her husband, who was
twenty years her senior, a massive personality in the City and a
heavy one at home (wherever he stood, or even sat, he was
monumental), owned half a big newspaper and the whole of a great many
other things. He admired his wife, though she bore no children, and
liked her to have other tastes than his, as that seemed to give a
greater acreage to their life. His own appetites went so far he
could scarcely see the boundary, and his theory was to trust her to
push the limits of hers, so that between them the pair should astound
by their consumption. His ideas were prodigiously vulgar, but some
of them had the good fortune to be carried out by a person of perfect
delicacy. Her delicacy made her play strange tricks with them, but
he never found this out. She attenuated him without his knowing it,
for what he mainly thought was that he had aggrandised HER. Without
her he really would have been bigger still, and society, breathing
more freely, was practically under an obligation to her which, to do
it justice, it acknowledged by an attitude of mystified respect. She
felt a tremulous need to throw her liberty and her leisure into the
things of the soul--the most beautiful things she knew. She found
them, when she gave time to seeking, in a hundred places, and
particularly in a dim and sacred region--the region of active pity--
over her entrance into which she dropped curtains so thick that it
would have been an impertinence to lift them. But she cultivated
other beneficent passions, and if she cherished the dream of
something fine the moments at which it most seemed to her to come
true were when she saw beauty plucked flower-like in the garden of
art. She loved the perfect work--she had the artistic chord. This
chord could vibrate only to the touch of another, so that
appreciation, in her spirit, had the added intensity of regret. She
could understand the joy of creation, and she thought it scarcely
enough to be told that she herself created happiness. She would have
liked, at any rate, to choose her way; but it was just here that her
liberty failed her. She had not the voice--she had only the vision.
The only envy she was capable of was directed to those who, as she
said, could do something.
As everything in her, however, turned to gentleness, she was
admirably hospitable to such people as a class. She believed Allan
Wayworth could do something, and she liked to hear him talk of the
ways in which he meant to show it. He talked of them almost to no
one else--she spoiled him for other listeners. With her fair bloom
and her quiet grace she was indeed an ideal public, and if she had
ever confided to him that she would have liked to scribble (she had
in fact not mentioned it to a creature), he would have been in a
perfect position for asking her why a woman whose face had so much
expression should not have felt that she achieved. How in the world
could she express better? There was less than that in Shakespeare
and Beethoven. She had never been more generous than when, in
compliance with her invitation, which I have recorded, he brought his
play to read to her. He had spoken of it to her before, and one dark
November afternoon, when her red fireside was more than ever an
escape from the place and the season, he had broken out as he came
in--"I've done it, I've done it!" She made him tell her all about
it--she took an interest really minute and asked questions
delightfully apt. She had spoken from the first as if he were on the
point of being acted, making him jump, with her participation, all
sorts of dreary intervals. She liked the theatre as she liked all
the arts of expression, and he had known her to go all the way to
Paris for a particular performance. Once he had gone with her--the
time she took that stupid Mrs. Mostyn. She had been struck, when he
sketched it, with the subject of his drama, and had spoken words that
helped him to believe in it. As soon as he had rung down his curtain
on the last act he rushed off to see her, but after that he kept the
thing for repeated last touches. Finally, on Christmas day, by
arrangement, she sat there and listened to it. It was in three acts
and in prose, but rather of the romantic order, though dealing with
contemporary English life, and he fondly believed that it showed the
hand if not of the master, at least of the prize pupil.
Allan Wayworth had returned to England, at two-and-twenty, after a
miscellaneous continental education; his father, the correspondent,
for years, in several foreign countries successively, of a
conspicuous London journal, had died just after this, leaving his
mother and her two other children, portionless girls, to subsist on a
very small income in a very dull German town. The young man's
beginnings in London were difficult, and he had aggravated them by
his dislike of journalism. His father's connection with it would
have helped him, but he was (insanely, most of his friends judged--
the great exception was always Mrs. Alsager) INTRAITABLE on the
question of form. Form--in his sense--was not demanded by English
newspapers, and he couldn't give it to them in THEIR sense. The
demand for it was not great anywhere, and Wayworth spent costly weeks
in polishing little compositions for magazines that didn't pay for
style. The only person who paid for it was really Mrs. Alsager: she
had an infallible instinct for the perfect. She paid in her own way,
and if Allan Wayworth had been a wage-earning person it would have
made him feel that if he didn't receive his legal dues his palm was
at least occasionally conscious of a gratuity. He had his
limitations, his perversities, but the finest parts of him were the
most alive, and he was restless and sincere. It is however the
impression he produced on Mrs. Alsager that most concerns us: she
thought him not only remarkably good-looking but altogether original.
There were some usual bad things he would never do--too many
prohibitive puddles for him in the short cut to success.
For himself, he had never been so happy as since he had seen his way,
as he fondly believed, to some sort of mastery of the scenic idea,
which struck him as a very different matter now that he looked at it
from within. He had had his early days of contempt for it, when it
seemed to him a jewel, dim at the best, hidden in a dunghill, a taper
burning low in an air thick with vulgarity. It was hedged about with
sordid approaches, it was not worth sacrifice and suffering. The man
of letters, in dealing with it, would have to put off all literature,
which was like asking the bearer of a noble name to forego his
immemorial heritage. Aspects change, however, with the point of
view: Wayworth had waked up one morning in a different bed
altogether. It is needless here to trace this accident to its
source; it would have been much more interesting to a spectator of
the young man's life to follow some of the consequences. He had been
made (as he felt) the subject of a special revelation, and he wore
his hat like a man in love. An angel had taken him by the hand and
guided him to the shabby door which opens, it appeared, into an
interior both splendid and austere. The scenic idea was magnificent
when once you had embraced it--the dramatic form had a purity which
made some others look ingloriously rough. It had the high dignity of
the exact sciences, it was mathematical and architectural. It was
full of the refreshment of calculation and construction, the
incorruptibility of line and law. It was bare, but it was erect, it
was poor, but it was noble; it reminded him of some sovereign famed
for justice who should have lived in a palace despoiled. There was a
fearful amount of concession in it, but what you kept had a rare
intensity. You were perpetually throwing over the cargo to save the
ship, but what a motion you gave her when you made her ride the
waves--a motion as rhythmic as the dance of a goddess! Wayworth took
long London walks and thought of these things--London poured into his
ears the mighty hum of its suggestion. His imagination glowed and
melted down material, his intentions multiplied and made the air a
golden haze. He saw not only the thing he should do, but the next
and the next and the next; the future opened before him and he seemed
to walk on marble slabs. The more he tried the dramatic form the
more he loved it, the more he looked at it the more he perceived in
it. What he perceived in it indeed he now perceived everywhere; if
he stopped, in the London dusk, before some flaring shop-window, the
place immediately constituted itself behind footlights, became a
framed stage for his figures. He hammered at these figures in his
lonely lodging, he shaped them and he shaped their tabernacle; he was
like a goldsmith chiselling a casket, bent over with the passion for
perfection. When he was neither roaming the streets with his vision
nor worrying his problem at his table, he was exchanging ideas on the
general question with Mrs. Alsager, to whom he promised details that
would amuse her in later and still happier hours. Her eyes were full
of tears when he read her the last words of the finished work, and
she murmured, divinely -
"And now--to get it done, to get it done!"
"Yes, indeed--to get it done!" Wayworth stared at the fire, slowly
rolling up his type-copy. "But that's a totally different part of
the business, and altogether secondary."
"But of course you want to be acted?"
"Of course I do--but it's a sudden descent. I want to intensely, but
I'm sorry I want to."
"It's there indeed that the difficulties begin," said Mrs. Alsager, a
little off her guard.
"How can you say that? It's there that they end!"
"Ah, wait to see where they end!"
"I mean they'll now be of a totally different order," Wayworth
explained. "It seems to me there can be nothing in the world more
difficult than to write a play that will stand an all-round test, and
that in comparison with them the complications that spring up at this
point are of an altogether smaller kind."
"Yes, they're not inspiring," said Mrs. Alsager; "they're
discouraging, because they're vulgar. The other problem, the working
out of the thing itself, is pure art."
"How well you understand everything!" The young man had got up,
nervously, and was leaning against the chimney-piece with his back to
the fire and his arms folded. The roll of his copy, in his fist, was
squeezed into the hollow of one of them. He looked down at Mrs.
Alsager, smiling gratefully, and she answered him with a smile from
eyes still charmed and suffused. "Yes, the vulgarity will begin
now," he presently added.
"You'll suffer dreadfully."
"I shall suffer in a good cause."
"Yes, giving THAT to the world! You must leave it with me, I must
read it over and over," Mrs. Alsager pleaded, rising to come nearer
and draw the copy, in its cover of greenish-grey paper, which had a
generic identity now to him, out of his grasp. "Who in the world
will do it?--who in the world CAN?" she went on, close to him,
turning over the leaves. Before he could answer she had stopped at
one of the pages; she turned the book round to him, pointing out a
speech. "That's the most beautiful place--those lines are a
perfection." He glanced at the spot she indicated, and she begged
him to read them again--he had read them admirably before. He knew
them by heart, and, closing the book while she held the other end of
it, he murmured them over to her--they had indeed a cadence that
pleased him--watching, with a facetious complacency which he hoped
was pardonable, the applause in her face. "Ah, who can utter such
lines as THAT?" Mrs. Alsager broke out; "whom can you find to do
"We'll find people to do them all!"
"But not people who are worthy."
"They'll be worthy enough if they're willing enough. I'll work with
them--I'll grind it into them." He spoke as if he had produced
"Oh, it will be interesting!" she echoed.
"But I shall have to find my theatre first. I shall have to get a
manager to believe in me."
"Yes--they're so stupid!"
"But fancy the patience I shall want, and how I shall have to watch
and wait," said Allan Wayworth. "Do you see me hawking it about
"Indeed I don't--it would be sickening."
"It's what I shall have to do. I shall be old before it's produced."
"I shall be old very soon if it isn't!" Mrs. Alsager cried. "I know
one or two of them," she mused.
"Do you mean you would speak to them?"
"The thing is to get them to read it. I could do that."
"That's the utmost I ask. But it's even for that I shall have to
She looked at him with kind sisterly eyes. "You sha'n't wait."
"Ah, you dear lady!" Wayworth murmured.
"That is YOU may, but _I_ won't! Will you leave me your copy?" she
went on, turning the pages again.
"Certainly; I have another." Standing near him she read to herself a
passage here and there; then, in her sweet voice, she read some of
them out. "Oh, if YOU were only an actress!" the young man
"That's the last thing I am. There's no comedy in ME!"
She had never appeared to Wayworth so much his good genius. "Is
there any tragedy?" he asked, with the levity of complete confidence.
She turned away from him, at this, with a strange and charming laugh
and a "Perhaps that will be for you to determine!" But before he
could disclaim such a responsibility she had faced him again and was
talking about Nona Vincent as if she had been the most interesting of
their friends and her situation at that moment an irresistible appeal
to their sympathy. Nona Vincent was the heroine of the play, and
Mrs. Alsager had taken a tremendous fancy to her. "I can't TELL you
how I like that woman!" she exclaimed in a pensive rapture of
credulity which could only be balm to the artistic spirit.
"I'm awfully glad she lives a bit. What I feel about her is that
she's a good deal like YOU," Wayworth observed.
Mrs. Alsager stared an instant and turned faintly red. This was
evidently a view that failed to strike her; she didn't, however,
treat it as a joke. "I'm not impressed with the resemblance. I
don't see myself doing what she does."
"It isn't so much what she DOES," the young man argued, drawing out
"But what she does is the whole point. She simply tells her love--I
should never do that."
"If you repudiate such a proceeding with such energy, why do you like
her for it?"
"It isn't what I like her for."
"What else, then? That's intensely characteristic."
Mrs. Alsager reflected, looking down at the fire; she had the air of
having half-a-dozen reasons to choose from. But the one she produced
was unexpectedly simple; it might even have been prompted by despair
at not finding others. "I like her because YOU made her!" she
exclaimed with a laugh, moving again away from her companion.
Wayworth laughed still louder. "You made her a little yourself.
I've thought of her as looking like you."
"She ought to look much better," said Mrs. Alsager. "No, certainly,
I shouldn't do what SHE does."
"Not even in the same circumstances?"
"I should never find myself in such circumstances. They're exactly
your play, and have nothing in common with such a life as mine.
However," Mrs. Alsager went on, "her behaviour was natural for HER,
and not only natural, but, it seems to me, thoroughly beautiful and
noble. I can't sufficiently admire the talent and tact with which
you make one accept it, and I tell you frankly that it's evident to
me there must be a brilliant future before a young man who, at the
start, has been capable of such a stroke as that. Thank heaven I can
admire Nona Vincent as intensely as I feel that I don't resemble
"Don't exaggerate that," said Allan Wayworth.
"Your dissimilarity. She has your face, your air, your voice, your
motion; she has many elements of your being."
"Then she'll damn your play!" Mrs. Alsager replied. They joked a
little over this, though it was not in the tone of pleasantry that
Wayworth's hostess soon remarked: "You've got your remedy, however:
have her done by the right woman."
"Oh, have her 'done'--have her 'done'!" the young man gently wailed.
"I see what you mean, my poor friend. What a pity, when it's such a
magnificent part--such a chance for a clever serious girl! Nona
Vincent is practically your play--it will be open to her to carry it
far or to drop it at the first corner."
"It's a charming prospect," said Allan Wayworth, with sudden
scepticism. They looked at each other with eyes that, for a lurid
moment, saw the worst of the worst; but before they parted they had
exchanged vows and confidences that were dedicated wholly to the
ideal. It is not to be supposed, however, that the knowledge that
Mrs. Alsager would help him made Wayworth less eager to help himself.
He did what he could and felt that she, on her side, was doing no
less; but at the end of a year he was obliged to recognise that their
united effort had mainly produced the fine flower of discouragement.
At the end of a year the lustre had, to his own eyes, quite faded
from his unappreciated masterpiece, and he found himself writing for
a biographical dictionary little lives of celebrities he had never
heard of. To be printed, anywhere and anyhow, was a form of glory
for a man so unable to be acted, and to be paid, even at
encyclopaedic rates, had the consequence of making one resigned and
verbose. He couldn't smuggle style into a dictionary, but he could
at least reflect that he had done his best to learn from the drama
that it is a gross impertinence almost anywhere. He had knocked at
the door of every theatre in London, and, at a ruinous expense, had
multiplied type-copies of Nona Vincent to replace the neat
transcripts that had descended into the managerial abyss. His play
was not even declined--no such flattering intimation was given him
that it had been read. What the managers would do for Mrs. Alsager
concerned him little today; the thing that was relevant was that they
would do nothing for HIM. That charming woman felt humbled to the
earth, so little response had she had from the powers on which she
counted. The two never talked about the play now, but he tried to
show her a still finer friendship, that she might not think he felt
she had failed him. He still walked about London with his dreams,
but as months succeeded months and he left the year behind him they
were dreams not so much of success as of revenge. Success seemed a
colourless name for the reward of his patience; something fiercely
florid, something sanguinolent was more to the point. His best
consolation however was still in the scenic idea; it was not till now
that he discovered how incurably he was in love with it. By the time
a vain second year had chafed itself away he cherished his fruitless
faculty the more for the obloquy it seemed to suffer. He lived, in
his best hours, in a world of subjects and situations; he wrote
another play and made it as different from its predecessor as such a
very good thing could be. It might be a very good thing, but when he
had committed it to the theatrical limbo indiscriminating fate took
no account of the difference. He was at last able to leave England
for three or four months; he went to Germany to pay a visit long
deferred to his mother and sisters.
Shortly before the time he had fixed for his return he received from
Mrs. Alsager a telegram consisting of the words: "Loder wishes see
you--putting Nona instant rehearsal." He spent the few hours before
his departure in kissing his mother and sisters, who knew enough
about Mrs. Alsager to judge it lucky this respectable married lady
was not there--a relief, however, accompanied with speculative
glances at London and the morrow. Loder, as our young man was aware,
meant the new "Renaissance," but though he reached home in the
evening it was not to this convenient modern theatre that Wayworth
first proceeded. He spent a late hour with Mrs. Alsager, an hour
that throbbed with calculation. She told him that Mr. Loder was
charming, he had simply taken up the play in its turn; he had hopes
of it, moreover, that on the part of a professional pessimist might
almost be qualified as ecstatic. It had been cast, with a margin for
objections, and Violet Grey was to do the heroine. She had been
capable, while he was away, of a good piece of work at that foggy old
playhouse the "Legitimate;" the piece was a clumsy rechauffe, but she
at least had been fresh. Wayworth remembered Violet Grey--hadn't he,
for two years, on a fond policy of "looking out," kept dipping into
the London theatres to pick up prospective interpreters? He had not
picked up many as yet, and this young lady at all events had never
wriggled in his net. She was pretty and she was odd, but he had
never prefigured her as Nona Vincent, nor indeed found himself
attracted by what he already felt sufficiently launched in the
profession to speak of as her artistic personality. Mrs. Alsager was
different--she declared that she had been struck not a little by some
of her tones. The girl was interesting in the thing at the
"Legitimate," and Mr. Loder, who had his eye on her, described her as
ambitious and intelligent. She wanted awfully to get on--and some of
those ladies were so lazy! Wayworth was sceptical--he had seen Miss
Violet Grey, who was terribly itinerant, in a dozen theatres but only
in one aspect. Nona Vincent had a dozen aspects, but only one
theatre; yet with what a feverish curiosity the young man promised
himself to watch the actress on the morrow! Talking the matter over
with Mrs. Alsager now seemed the very stuff that rehearsal was made
of. The near prospect of being acted laid a finger even on the lip
of inquiry; he wanted to go on tiptoe till the first night, to make
no condition but that they should speak his lines, and he felt that
he wouldn't so much as raise an eyebrow at the scene-painter if he
should give him an old oak chamber.
He became conscious, the next day, that his danger would be other
than this, and yet he couldn't have expressed to himself what it
would be. Danger was there, doubtless--danger was everywhere, in the
world of art, and still more in the world of commerce; but what he
really seemed to catch, for the hour, was the beating of the wings of
victory. Nothing could undermine that, since it was victory simply
to be acted. It would be victory even to be acted badly; a
reflection that didn't prevent him, however, from banishing, in his
politic optimism, the word "bad" from his vocabulary. It had no
application, in the compromise of practice; it didn't apply even to
his play, which he was conscious he had already outlived and as to
which he foresaw that, in the coming weeks, frequent alarm would
alternate, in his spirit, with frequent esteem. When he went down to
the dusky daylit theatre (it arched over him like the temple of fame)
Mr. Loder, who was as charming as Mrs. Alsager had announced, struck
him as the genius of hospitality. The manager began to explain why,
for so long, he had given no sign; but that was the last thing that
interested Wayworth now, and he could never remember afterwards what
reasons Mr. Loder had enumerated. He liked, in the whole business of
discussion and preparation, even the things he had thought he should
probably dislike, and he revelled in those he had thought he should
like. He watched Miss Violet Grey that evening with eyes that sought
to penetrate her possibilities. She certainly had a few; they were
qualities of voice and face, qualities perhaps even of intelligence;
he sat there at any rate with a fostering, coaxing attention,
repeating over to himself as convincingly as he could that she was
not common--a circumstance all the more creditable as the part she
was playing seemed to him desperately so. He perceived that this was
why it pleased the audience; he divined that it was the part they
enjoyed rather than the actress. He had a private panic, wondering
how, if they liked THAT form, they could possibly like his. His form
had now become quite an ultimate idea to him. By the time the
evening was over some of Miss Violet Grey's features, several of the
turns of her head, a certain vibration of her voice, had taken their
place in the same category. She WAS interesting, she was
distinguished; at any rate he had accepted her: it came to the same
thing. But he left the theatre that night without speaking to her--
moved (a little even to his own mystification) by an odd
procrastinating impulse. On the morrow he was to read his three acts
to the company, and then he should have a good deal to say; what he
felt for the moment was a vague indisposition to commit himself.
Moreover he found a slight confusion of annoyance in the fact that
though he had been trying all the evening to look at Nona Vincent in
Violet Grey's person, what subsisted in his vision was simply Violet
Grey in Nona's. He didn't wish to see the actress so directly, or
even so simply as that; and it had been very fatiguing, the effort to
focus Nona both through the performer and through the "Legitimate."
Before he went to bed that night he posted three words to Mrs.
Alsager--"She's not a bit like it, but I dare say I can make her do."
He was pleased with the way the actress listened, the next day, at
the reading; he was pleased indeed with many things, at the reading,
and most of all with the reading itself. The whole affair loomed
large to him and he magnified it and mapped it out. He enjoyed his
occupation of the big, dim, hollow theatre, full of the echoes of
"effect" and of a queer smell of gas and success--it all seemed such
a passive canvas for his picture. For the first time in his life he
was in command of resources; he was acquainted with the phrase, but
had never thought he should know the feeling. He was surprised at
what Loder appeared ready to do, though he reminded himself that he
must never show it. He foresaw that there would be two distinct
concomitants to the artistic effort of producing a play, one
consisting of a great deal of anguish and the other of a great deal
of amusement. He looked back upon the reading, afterwards, as the
best hour in the business, because it was then that the piece had
most struck him as represented. What came later was the doing of
others; but this, with its imperfections and failures, was all his
own. The drama lived, at any rate, for that hour, with an intensity
that it was promptly to lose in the poverty and patchiness of
rehearsal; he could see its life reflected, in a way that was sweet
to him, in the stillness of the little semi-circle of attentive and
inscrutable, of water-proofed and muddy-booted, actors. Miss Violet
Grey was the auditor he had most to say to, and he tried on the spot,
across the shabby stage, to let her have the soul of her part. Her
attitude was graceful, but though she appeared to listen with all her
faculties her face remained perfectly blank; a fact, however, not
discouraging to Wayworth, who liked her better for not being
premature. Her companions gave discernible signs of recognising the
passages of comedy; yet Wayworth forgave her even then for being
inexpressive. She evidently wished before everything else to be
simply sure of what it was all about.
He was more surprised even than at the revelation of the scale on
which Mr. Loder was ready to proceed by the discovery that some of
the actors didn't like their parts, and his heart sank as he asked
himself what he could possibly do with them if they were going to be
so stupid. This was the first of his disappointments; somehow he had
expected every individual to become instantly and gratefully
conscious of a rare opportunity, and from the moment such a
calculation failed he was at sea, or mindful at any rate that more
disappointments would come. It was impossible to make out what the
manager liked or disliked; no judgment, no comment escaped him; his
acceptance of the play and his views about the way it should be
mounted had apparently converted him into a veiled and shrouded
figure. Wayworth was able to grasp the idea that they would all move
now in a higher and sharper air than that of compliment and
confidence. When he talked with Violet Grey after the reading he
gathered that she was really rather crude: what better proof of it
could there be than her failure to break out instantly with an
expression of delight about her great chance? This reserve, however,
had evidently nothing to do with high pretensions; she had no wish to
make him feel that a person of her eminence was superior to easy
raptures. He guessed, after a little, that she was puzzled and even
somewhat frightened--to a certain extent she had not understood.
Nothing could appeal to him more than the opportunity to clear up her
difficulties, in the course of the examination of which he quickly
discovered that, so far as she HAD understood, she had understood
wrong. If she was crude it was only a reason the more for talking to
her; he kept saying to her "Ask me--ask me: ask me everything you
can think of."
She asked him, she was perpetually asking him, and at the first
rehearsals, which were without form and void to a degree that made
them strike him much more as the death of an experiment than as the
dawn of a success, they threshed things out immensely in a corner of
the stage, with the effect of his coming to feel that at any rate she
was in earnest. He felt more and more that his heroine was the
keystone of his arch, for which indeed the actress was very ready to
take her. But when he reminded this young lady of the way the whole
thing practically depended on her she was alarmed and even slightly
scandalised: she spoke more than once as if that could scarcely be
the right way to construct a play--make it stand or fall by one poor
nervous girl. She was almost morbidly conscientious, and in theory
he liked her for this, though he lost patience three or four times
with the things she couldn't do and the things she could. At such
times the tears came to her eyes; but they were produced by her own
stupidity, she hastened to assure him, not by the way he spoke, which
was awfully kind under the circumstances. Her sincerity made her
beautiful, and he wished to heaven (and made a point of telling her
so) that she could sprinkle a little of it over Nona. Once, however,
she was so touched and troubled that the sight of it brought the
tears for an instant to his own eyes; and it so happened that,
turning at this moment, he found himself face to face with Mr. Loder.
The manager stared, glanced at the actress, who turned in the other
direction, and then smiling at Wayworth, exclaimed, with the humour
of a man who heard the gallery laugh every night:
"I say--I say!"
"What's the matter?" Wayworth asked.
"I'm glad to see Miss Grey is taking such pains with you."
"Oh, yes--she'll turn me out!" said the young man, gaily. He was
quite aware that it was apparent he was not superficial about Nona,
and abundantly determined, into the bargain, that the rehearsal of
the piece should not sacrifice a shade of thoroughness to any
Mrs. Alsager, whom, late in the afternoon, he used often to go and
ask for a cup of tea, thanking her in advance for the rest she gave
him and telling her how he found that rehearsal (as THEY were doing
it--it was a caution!) took it out of one--Mrs. Alsager, more and
more his good genius and, as he repeatedly assured her, his
ministering angel, confirmed him in this superior policy and urged
him on to every form of artistic devotion. She had, naturally, never
been more interested than now in his work; she wanted to hear
everything about everything. She treated him as heroically fatigued,
plied him with luxurious restoratives, made him stretch himself on
cushions and rose-leaves. They gossipped more than ever, by her
fire, about the artistic life; he confided to her, for instance, all
his hopes and fears, all his experiments and anxieties, on the
subject of the representative of Nona. She was immensely interested
in this young lady and showed it by taking a box again and again (she
had seen her half-a-dozen times already), to study her capacity
through the veil of her present part. Like Allan Wayworth she found
her encouraging only by fits, for she had fine flashes of badness.
She was intelligent, but she cried aloud for training, and the
training was so absent that the intelligence had only a fraction of
its effect. She was like a knife without an edge--good steel that
had never been sharpened; she hacked away at her hard dramatic loaf,
she couldn't cut it smooth.
"Certainly my leading lady won't make Nona much like YOU!" Wayworth
one day gloomily remarked to Mrs. Alsager. There were days when the
prospect seemed to him awful.
"So much the better. There's no necessity for that."
"I wish you'd train her a little--you could so easily," the young man
went on; in response to which Mrs. Alsager requested him not to make
such cruel fun of her. But she was curious about the girl, wanted to
hear of her character, her private situation, how she lived and
where, seemed indeed desirous to befriend her. Wayworth might not
have known much about the private situation of Miss Violet Grey, but,
as it happened, he was able, by the time his play had been three
weeks in rehearsal, to supply information on such points. She was a
charming, exemplary person, educated, cultivated, with highly modern
tastes, an excellent musician. She had lost her parents and was very
much alone in the world, her only two relations being a sister, who
was married to a civil servant (in a highly responsible post) in
India, and a dear little old-fashioned aunt (really a great-aunt)
with whom she lived at Notting Hill, who wrote children's books and
who, it appeared, had once written a Christmas pantomime. It was
quite an artistic home--not on the scale of Mrs. Alsager's (to
compare the smallest things with the greatest!) but intensely refined
and honourable. Wayworth went so far as to hint that it would be
rather nice and human on Mrs. Alsager's part to go there--they would
take it so kindly if she should call on them. She had acted so often
on his hints that he had formed a pleasant habit of expecting it: it
made him feel so wisely responsible about giving them. But this one
appeared to fall to the ground, so that he let the subject drop.
Mrs. Alsager, however, went yet once more to the "Legitimate," as he
found by her saying to him abruptly, on the morrow: "Oh, she'll be
very good--she'll be very good." When they said "she," in these
days, they always meant Violet Grey, though they pretended, for the
most part, that they meant Nona Vincent.
"Oh yes," Wayworth assented, "she wants so to!"
Mrs. Alsager was silent a moment; then she asked, a little
inconsequently, as if she had come back from a reverie: "Does she
want to VERY much?"
"Tremendously--and it appears she has been fascinated by the part
from the first."
"Why then didn't she say so?"
"Oh, because she's so funny."
"She IS funny," said Mrs. Alsager, musingly; and presently she added:
"She's in love with you."
Wayworth stared, blushed very red, then laughed out. "What is there
funny in that?" he demanded; but before his interlocutress could
satisfy him on this point he inquired, further, how she knew anything
about it. After a little graceful evasion she explained that the
night before, at the "Legitimate," Mrs. Beaumont, the wife of the
actor-manager, had paid her a visit in her box; which had happened,
in the course of their brief gossip, to lead to her remarking that
she had never been "behind." Mrs. Beaumont offered on the spot to
take her round, and the fancy had seized her to accept the
invitation. She had been amused for the moment, and in this way it
befell that her conductress, at her request, had introduced her to
Miss Violet Grey, who was waiting in the wing for one of her scenes.
Mrs. Beaumont had been called away for three minutes, and during this
scrap of time, face to face with the actress, she had discovered the
poor girl's secret. Wayworth qualified it as a senseless thing, but
wished to know what had led to the discovery. She characterised this
inquiry as superficial for a painter of the ways of women; and he
doubtless didn't improve it by remarking profanely that a cat might
look at a king and that such things were convenient to know. Even on
this ground, however, he was threatened by Mrs. Alsager, who
contended that it might not be a joking matter to the poor girl. To
this Wayworth, who now professed to hate talking about the passions
he might have inspired, could only reply that he meant it couldn't
make a difference to Mrs. Alsager.
"How in the world do you know what makes a difference to ME?" this
lady asked, with incongruous coldness, with a haughtiness indeed
remarkable in so gentle a spirit.
He saw Violet Grey that night at the theatre, and it was she who
spoke first of her having lately met a friend of his.
"She's in love with you," the actress said, after he had made a show
of ignorance; "doesn't that tell you anything?"
He blushed redder still than Mrs. Alsager had made him blush, but
replied, quickly enough and very adequately, that hundreds of women
were naturally dying for him.
"Oh, I don't care, for you're not in love with HER!" the girl
"Did she tell you that too?" Wayworth asked; but she had at that
moment to go on.
Standing where he could see her he thought that on this occasion she
threw into her scene, which was the best she had in the play, a
brighter art than ever before, a talent that could play with its
problem. She was perpetually doing things out of rehearsal (she did
two or three to-night, in the other man's piece), that he as often
wished to heaven Nona Vincent might have the benefit of. She
appeared to be able to do them for every one but him--that is for
every one but Nona. He was conscious, in these days, of an odd new
feeling, which mixed (this was a part of its oddity) with a very
natural and comparatively old one and which in its most definite form
was a dull ache of regret that this young lady's unlucky star should
have placed her on the stage. He wished in his worst uneasiness
that, without going further, she would give it up; and yet it soothed
that uneasiness to remind himself that he saw grounds to hope she
would go far enough to make a marked success of Nona. There were
strange and painful moments when, as the interpretress of Nona, he
almost hated her; after which, however, he always assured himself
that he exaggerated, inasmuch as what made this aversion seem great,
when he was nervous, was simply its contrast with the growing sense
that there WERE grounds--totally different--on which she pleased him.
She pleased him as a charming creature--by her sincerities and her
perversities, by the varieties and surprises of her character and by
certain happy facts of her person. In private her eyes were sad to
him and her voice was rare. He detested the idea that she should
have a disappointment or an humiliation, and he wanted to rescue her
altogether, to save and transplant her. One way to save her was to
see to it, to the best of his ability, that the production of his
play should be a triumph; and the other way--it was really too queer
to express--was almost to wish that it shouldn't be. Then, for the
future, there would be safety and peace, and not the peace of death--
the peace of a different life. It is to be added that our young man
clung to the former of these ways in proportion as the latter
perversely tempted him. He was nervous at the best, increasingly and
intolerably nervous; but the immediate remedy was to rehearse harder
and harder, and above all to work it out with Violet Grey. Some of
her comrades reproached him with working it out only with her, as if
she were the whole affair; to which he replied that they could afford
to be neglected, they were all so tremendously good. She was the
only person concerned whom he didn't flatter.
The author and the actress stuck so to the business in hand that she
had very little time to speak to him again of Mrs. Alsager, of whom
indeed her imagination appeared adequately to have disposed.
Wayworth once remarked to her that Nona Vincent was supposed to be a
good deal like his charming friend; but she gave a blank "Supposed by
whom?" in consequence of which he never returned to the subject. He
confided his nervousness as freely as usual to Mrs. Alsager, who
easily understood that he had a peculiar complication of anxieties.
His suspense varied in degree from hour to hour, but any relief there
might have been in this was made up for by its being of several
different kinds. One afternoon, as the first performance drew near,
Mrs. Alsager said to him, in giving him his cup of tea and on his
having mentioned that he had not closed his eyes the night before:
"You must indeed be in a dreadful state. Anxiety for another is
still worse than anxiety for one's self."
"For another?" Wayworth repeated, looking at her over the rim of his
"My poor friend, you're nervous about Nona Vincent, but you're
infinitely more nervous about Violet Grey."
"She IS Nona Vincent!"
"No, she isn't--not a bit!" said Mrs. Alsager, abruptly.
"Do you really think so?" Wayworth cried, spilling his tea in his
"What I think doesn't signify--I mean what I think about that. What
I meant to say was that great as is your suspense about your play,
your suspense about your actress is greater still."
"I can only repeat that my actress IS my play."
Mrs. Alsager looked thoughtfully into the teapot.
"Your actress is your--"
"My what?" the young man asked, with a little tremor in his voice, as
his hostess paused.
"Your very dear friend. You're in love with her--at present." And
with a sharp click Mrs. Alsager dropped the lid on the fragrant
"Not yet--not yet!" laughed her visitor.
"You will be if she pulls you through."
"You declare that she WON'T pull me through."
Mrs. Alsager was silent a moment, after which she softly murmured:
"I'll pray for her."
"You're the most generous of women!" Wayworth cried; then coloured as
if the words had not been happy. They would have done indeed little
honour to a man of tact.
The next morning he received five hurried lines from Mrs. Alsager.
She had suddenly been called to Torquay, to see a relation who was
seriously ill; she should be detained there several days, but she had
an earnest hope of being able to return in time for his first night.
In any event he had her unrestricted good wishes. He missed her
extremely, for these last days were a great strain and there was
little comfort to be derived from Violet Grey. She was even more
nervous than himself, and so pale and altered that he was afraid she
would be too ill to act. It was settled between them that they made
each other worse and that he had now much better leave her alone.
They had pulled Nona so to pieces that nothing seemed left of her--
she must at least have time to grow together again. He left Violet
Grey alone, to the best of his ability, but she carried out
imperfectly her own side of the bargain. She came to him with new
questions--she waited for him with old doubts, and half an hour
before the last dress-rehearsal, on the eve of production, she
proposed to him a totally fresh rendering of his heroine. This
incident gave him such a sense of insecurity that he turned his back
on her without a word, bolted out of the theatre, dashed along the
Strand and walked as far as the Bank. Then he jumped into a hansom
and came westward, and when he reached the theatre again the business
was nearly over. It appeared, almost to his disappointment, not bad
enough to give him the consolation of the old playhouse adage that
the worst dress-rehearsals make the best first nights.
The morrow, which was a Wednesday, was the dreadful day; the theatre
had been closed on the Monday and the Tuesday. Every one, on the
Wednesday, did his best to let every one else alone, and every one
signally failed in the attempt. The day, till seven o'clock, was
understood to be consecrated to rest, but every one except Violet
Grey turned up at the theatre. Wayworth looked at Mr. Loder, and Mr.
Loder looked in another direction, which was as near as they came to
conversation. Wayworth was in a fidget, unable to eat or sleep or
sit still, at times almost in terror. He kept quiet by keeping, as
usual, in motion; he tried to walk away from his nervousness. He
walked in the afternoon toward Notting Hill, but he succeeded in not
breaking the vow he had taken not to meddle with his actress. She
was like an acrobat poised on a slippery ball--if he should touch her
she would topple over. He passed her door three times and he thought
of her three hundred. This was the hour at which he most regretted
that Mrs. Alsager had not come back--for he had called at her house
only to learn that she was still at Torquay. This was probably
queer, and it was probably queerer still that she hadn't written to
him; but even of these things he wasn't sure, for in losing, as he
had now completely lost, his judgment of his play, he seemed to
himself to have lost his judgment of everything. When he went home,
however, he found a telegram from the lady of Grosvenor Place--"Shall
be able to come--reach town by seven." At half-past eight o'clock,
through a little aperture in the curtain of the "Renaissance," he saw
her in her box with a cluster of friends--completely beautiful and
beneficent. The house was magnificent--too good for his play, he
felt; too good for any play. Everything now seemed too good--the
scenery, the furniture, the dresses, the very programmes. He seized
upon the idea that this was probably what was the matter with the
representative of Nona--she was only too good. He had completely
arranged with this young lady the plan of their relations during the
evening; and though they had altered everything else that they had
arranged they had promised each other not to alter this. It was
wonderful the number of things they had promised each other. He
would start her, he would see her off--then he would quit the theatre
and stay away till just before the end. She besought him to stay
away--it would make her infinitely easier. He saw that she was
exquisitely dressed--she had made one or two changes for the better
since the night before, and that seemed something definite to turn
over and over in his mind as he rumbled foggily home in the four-
wheeler in which, a few steps from the stage-door, he had taken
refuge as soon as he knew that the curtain was up. He lived a couple
of miles off, and he had chosen a four-wheeler to drag out the time.
When he got home his fire was out, his room was cold, and he lay down
on his sofa in his overcoat. He had sent his landlady to the dress-
circle, on purpose; she would overflow with words and mistakes. The
house seemed a black void, just as the streets had done--every one
was, formidably, at his play. He was quieter at last than he had
been for a fortnight, and he felt too weak even to wonder how the
thing was going. He believed afterwards that he had slept an hour;
but even if he had he felt it to be still too early to return to the
theatre. He sat down by his lamp and tried to read--to read a little
compendious life of a great English statesman, out of a "series." It
struck him as brilliantly clever, and he asked himself whether that
perhaps were not rather the sort of thing he ought to have taken up:
not the statesmanship, but the art of brief biography. Suddenly he
became aware that he must hurry if he was to reach the theatre at
all--it was a quarter to eleven o'clock. He scrambled out and, this
time, found a hansom--he had lately spent enough money in cabs to add
to his hope that the profits of his new profession would be great.
His anxiety, his suspense flamed up again, and as he rattled
eastward--he went fast now--he was almost sick with alternations. As
he passed into the theatre the first man--some underling--who met
him, cried to him, breathlessly:
"You're wanted, sir--you're wanted!" He thought his tone very
ominous--he devoured the man's eyes with his own, for a betrayal:
did he mean that he was wanted for execution? Some one else pressed
him, almost pushed him, forward; he was already on the stage. Then
he became conscious of a sound more or less continuous, but seemingly
faint and far, which he took at first for the voice of the actors
heard through their canvas walls, the beautiful built-in room of the
last act. But the actors were in the wing, they surrounded him; the
curtain was down and they were coming off from before it. They had
been called, and HE was called--they all greeted him with "Go on--go
on!" He was terrified--he couldn't go on--he didn't believe in the
applause, which seemed to him only audible enough to sound half-
"Has it gone?--HAS it gone?" he gasped to the people round him; and
he heard them say "Rather--rather!" perfunctorily, mendaciously too,
as it struck him, and even with mocking laughter, the laughter of
defeat and despair. Suddenly, though all this must have taken but a
moment, Loder burst upon him from somewhere with a "For God's sake
don't keep them, or they'll STOP!" "But I can't go on for THAT!"
Wayworth cried, in anguish; the sound seemed to him already to have
ceased. Loder had hold of him and was shoving him; he resisted and
looked round frantically for Violet Grey, who perhaps would tell him
the truth. There was by this time a crowd in the wing, all with
strange grimacing painted faces, but Violet was not among them and
her very absence frightened him. He uttered her name with an accent
that he afterwards regretted--it gave them, as he thought, both away;
and while Loder hustled him before the curtain he heard some one say
"She took her call and disappeared." She had had a call, then--this
was what was most present to the young man as he stood for an instant
in the glare of the footlights, looking blindly at the great vaguely-
peopled horseshoe and greeted with plaudits which now seemed to him
at once louder than he deserved and feebler than he desired. They
sank to rest quickly, but he felt it to be long before he could back
away, before he could, in his turn, seize the manager by the arm and
cry huskily--"Has it really gone--REALLY?"
Mr. Loder looked at him hard and replied after an instant: "The
play's all right!"
Wayworth hung upon his lips. "Then what's all wrong?"
"We must do something to Miss Grey."
"What's the matter with her?"
"She isn't IN it!"
"Do you mean she has failed?"
"Yes, damn it--she has failed."
Wayworth stared. "Then how can the play be all right?"
"Oh, we'll save it--we'll save it."
"Where's Miss Grey--where IS she?" the young man asked.
Loder caught his arm as he was turning away again to look for his
heroine. "Never mind her now--she knows it!"
Wayworth was approached at the same moment by a gentleman he knew as
one of Mrs. Alsager's friends--he had perceived him in that lady's
box. Mrs. Alsager was waiting there for the successful author; she
desired very earnestly that he would come round and speak to her.
Wayworth assured himself first that Violet had left the theatre--one
of the actresses could tell him that she had seen her throw on a
cloak, without changing her dress, and had learnt afterwards that she
had, the next moment, flung herself, after flinging her aunt, into a
cab. He had wished to invite half a dozen persons, of whom Miss Grey
and her elderly relative were two, to come home to supper with him;
but she had refused to make any engagement beforehand (it would be so
dreadful to have to keep it if she shouldn't have made a hit), and
this attitude had blighted the pleasant plan, which fell to the
ground. He had called her morbid, but she was immovable. Mrs.
Alsager's messenger let him know that he was expected to supper in
Grosvenor Place, and half an hour afterwards he was seated there
among complimentary people and flowers and popping corks, eating the
first orderly meal he had partaken of for a week. Mrs. Alsager had
carried him off in her brougham--the other people who were coming got
into things of their own. He stopped her short as soon as she began
to tell him how tremendously every one had been struck by the piece;
he nailed her down to the question of Violet Grey. Had she spoilt
the play, had she jeopardised or compromised it--had she been utterly
bad, had she been good in any degree?
"Certainly the performance would have seemed better if SHE had been
better," Mrs. Alsager confessed.
"And the play would have seemed better if the performance had been
better," Wayworth said, gloomily, from the corner of the brougham.
"She does what she can, and she has talent, and she looked lovely.
But she doesn't SEE Nona Vincent. She doesn't see the type--she
doesn't see the individual--she doesn't see the woman you meant.
She's out of it--she gives you a different person."
"Oh, the woman I meant!" the young man exclaimed, looking at the
London lamps as he rolled by them. "I wish to God she had known
YOU!" he added, as the carriage stopped. After they had passed into
the house he said to his companion:
"You see she WON'T pull me through."
"Forgive her--be kind to her!" Mrs. Alsager pleaded.
"I shall only thank her. The play may go to the dogs."
"If it does--if it does," Mrs. Alsager began, with her pure eyes on
"Well, what if it does?"
She couldn't tell him, for the rest of her guests came in together;
she only had time to say: "It SHA'N'T go to the dogs!"
He came away before the others, restless with the desire to go to
Notting Hill even that night, late as it was, haunted with the sense
that Violet Grey had measured her fall. When he got into the street,
however, he allowed second thoughts to counsel another course; the
effect of knocking her up at two o'clock in the morning would hardly
be to soothe her. He looked at six newspapers the next day and found
in them never a good word for her. They were well enough about the
piece, but they were unanimous as to the disappointment caused by the
young actress whose former efforts had excited such hopes and on
whom, on this occasion, such pressing responsibilities rested. They
asked in chorus what was the matter with her, and they declared in
chorus that the play, which was not without promise, was handicapped
(they all used the same word) by the odd want of correspondence
between the heroine and her interpreter. Wayworth drove early to
Notting Hill, but he didn't take the newspapers with him; Violet Grey
could be trusted to have sent out for them by the peep of dawn and to
have fed her anguish full. She declined to see him--she only sent
down word by her aunt that she was extremely unwell and should be
unable to act that night unless she were suffered to spend the day
unmolested and in bed. Wayworth sat for an hour with the old lady,
who understood everything and to whom he could speak frankly. She
gave him a touching picture of her niece's condition, which was all
the more vivid for the simple words in which it was expressed: "She
feels she isn't right, you know--she feels she isn't right!"
"Tell her it doesn't matter--it doesn't matter a straw!" said
"And she's so proud--you know how proud she is!" the old lady went
"Tell her I'm more than satisfied, that I accept her gratefully as
"She says she injures your play, that she ruins it," said his
"She'll improve, immensely--she'll grow into the part," the young man
"She'd improve if she knew how--but she says she doesn't. She has
given all she has got, and she doesn't know what's wanted."
"What's wanted is simply that she should go straight on and trust
"How can she trust you when she feels she's losing you?"
"Losing me?" Wayworth cried.
"You'll never forgive her if your play is taken off!"
"It will run six months," said the author of the piece.
The old lady laid her hand on his arm. "What will you do for her if
He looked at Violet Grey's aunt a moment. "Do you say your niece is
"Too proud for her dreadful profession."
"Then she wouldn't wish you to ask me that," Wayworth answered,
When he reached home he was very tired, and for a person to whom it
was open to consider that he had scored a success he spent a
remarkably dismal day. All his restlessness had gone, and fatigue
and depression possessed him. He sank into his old chair by the fire
and sat there for hours with his eyes closed. His landlady came in
to bring his luncheon and mend the fire, but he feigned to be asleep,
so as not to be spoken to. It is to be supposed that sleep at last
overtook him, for about the hour that dusk began to gather he had an
extraordinary impression, a visit that, it would seem, could have
belonged to no waking consciousness. Nona Vincent, in face and form,
the living heroine of his play, rose before him in his little silent
room, sat down with him at his dingy fireside. She was not Violet
Grey, she was not Mrs. Alsager, she was not any woman he had seen
upon earth, nor was it any masquerade of friendship or of penitence.
Yet she was more familiar to him than the women he had known best,
and she was ineffably beautiful and consoling. She filled the poor
room with her presence, the effect of which was as soothing as some
odour of incense. She was as quiet as an affectionate sister, and
there was no surprise in her being there. Nothing more real had ever
befallen him, and nothing, somehow, more reassuring. He felt her
hand rest upon his own, and all his senses seemed to open to her
message. She struck him, in the strangest way, both as his creation
and as his inspirer, and she gave him the happiest consciousness of
success. If she was so charming, in the red firelight, in her vague,
clear-coloured garments, it was because he had made her so, and yet
if the weight seemed lifted from his spirit it was because she drew
it away. When she bent her deep eyes upon him they seemed to speak
of safety and freedom and to make a green garden of the future. From
time to time she smiled and said: "I live--I live--I live." How
long she stayed he couldn't have told, but when his landlady
blundered in with the lamp Nona Vincent was no longer there. He
rubbed his eyes, but no dream had ever been so intense; and as he
slowly got out of his chair it was with a deep still joy--the joy of
the artist--in the thought of how right he had been, how exactly like
herself he had made her. She had come to show him that. At the end
of five minutes, however, he felt sufficiently mystified to call his
landlady back--he wanted to ask her a question. When the good woman
reappeared the question hung fire an instant; then it shaped itself
as the inquiry:
"Has any lady been here?"
"No, sir--no lady at all."
The woman seemed slightly scandalised. "Not Miss Vincent?"
"Miss Vincent, sir?"
"The young lady of my play, don't you know?"
"Oh, sir, you mean Miss Violet Grey!"
"No I don't, at all. I think I mean Mrs. Alsager."
"There has been no Mrs. Alsager, sir."
"Nor anybody at all like her?"
The woman looked at him as if she wondered what had suddenly taken
him. Then she asked in an injured tone: "Why shouldn't I have told
you if you'd 'ad callers, sir?"
"I thought you might have thought I was asleep."
"Indeed you were, sir, when I came in with the lamp--and well you'd
earned it, Mr. Wayworth!"
The landlady came back an hour later to bring him a telegram; it was
just as he had begun to dress to dine at his club and go down to the
"See me to-night in front, and don't come near me till it's over."
It was in these words that Violet communicated her wishes for the
evening. He obeyed them to the letter; he watched her from the
depths of a box. He was in no position to say how she might have
struck him the night before, but what he saw during these charmed
hours filled him with admiration and gratitude. She WAS in it, this
time; she had pulled herself together, she had taken possession, she
was felicitous at every turn. Fresh from his revelation of Nona he
was in a position to judge, and as he judged he exulted. He was
thrilled and carried away, and he was moreover intensely curious to
know what had happened to her, by what unfathomable art she had
managed in a few hours to effect such a change of base. It was as if
SHE had had a revelation of Nona, so convincing a clearness had been
breathed upon the picture. He kept himself quiet in the entr'actes--
he would speak to her only at the end; but before the play was half
over the manager burst into his box.
"It's prodigious, what she's up to!" cried Mr. Loder, almost more
bewildered than gratified. "She has gone in for a new reading--a
blessed somersault in the air!"
"Is it quite different?" Wayworth asked, sharing his mystification.
"Different? Hyperion to a satyr! It's devilish good, my boy!"
"It's devilish good," said Wayworth, "and it's in a different key
altogether from the key of her rehearsal."
"I'll run you six months!" the manager declared; and he rushed round
again to the actress, leaving Wayworth with a sense that she had
already pulled him through. She had with the audience an immense
When he went behind, at the end, he had to wait for her; she only
showed herself when she was ready to leave the theatre. Her aunt had
been in her dressing-room with her, and the two ladies appeared
together. The girl passed him quickly, motioning him to say nothing
till they should have got out of the place. He saw that she was
immensely excited, lifted altogether above her common artistic level.
The old lady said to him: "You must come home to supper with us: it
has been all arranged." They had a brougham, with a little third
seat, and he got into it with them. It was a long time before the
actress would speak. She leaned back in her corner, giving no sign
but still heaving a little, like a subsiding sea, and with all her
triumph in the eyes that shone through the darkness. The old lady
was hushed to awe, or at least to discretion, and Wayworth was happy
enough to wait. He had really to wait till they had alighted at
Notting Hill, where the elder of his companions went to see that
supper had been attended to.
"I was better--I was better," said Violet Grey, throwing off her
cloak in the little drawing-room.
"You were perfection. You'll be like that every night, won't you?"
She smiled at him. "Every night? There can scarcely be a miracle
"What do you mean by a miracle?"
"I've had a revelation."
Wayward stared. "At what hour?"
"The right hour--this afternoon. Just in time to save me--and to
"At five o'clock? Do you mean you had a visit?"
"She came to me--she stayed two hours."
"Two hours? Nona Vincent?"
"Mrs. Alsager." Violet Grey smiled more deeply. "It's the same
"And how did Mrs. Alsager save you?"
"By letting me look at her. By letting me hear her speak. By
letting me know her."
"And what did she say to you?"
"Kind things--encouraging, intelligent things."
"Ah, the dear woman!" Wayworth cried.
"You ought to like her--she likes YOU. She was just what I wanted,"
the actress added.
"Do you mean she talked to you about Nona?"
"She said you thought she was like her. She IS--she's exquisite."
"She's exquisite," Wayworth repeated. "Do you mean she tried to
"Oh, no--she only said she would be so glad if it would help me to
see her. And I felt it did help me. I don't know what took place--
she only sat there, and she held my hand and smiled at me, and she
had tact and grace, and she had goodness and beauty, and she soothed
my nerves and lighted up my imagination. Somehow she seemed to GIVE
it all to me. I took it--I took it. I kept her before me, I drank
her in. For the first time, in the whole study of the part, I had my
model--I could make my copy. All my courage came back to me, and
other things came that I hadn't felt before. She was different--she
was delightful; as I've said, she was a revelation. She kissed me
when she went away--and you may guess if I kissed HER. We were
awfully affectionate, but it's YOU she likes!" said Violet Grey.
Wayworth had never been more interested in his life, and he had
rarely been more mystified. "Did she wear vague, clear-coloured
garments?" he asked, after a moment.
Violet Grey stared, laughed, then bade him go in to supper. "YOU
know how she dresses!"
He was very well pleased at supper, but he was silent and a little
solemn. He said he would go to see Mrs. Alsager the next day. He
did so, but he was told at her door that she had returned to Torquay.
She remained there all winter, all spring, and the next time he saw
her his play had run two hundred nights and he had married Violet
Grey. His plays sometimes succeed, but his wife is not in them now,
nor in any others. At these representations Mrs. Alsager continues
frequently to be present.