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In which my fondest hopes are shattered by cold reality; I learn the part played by luck on the Strand; and receive an unexpected appeal for help.
I STOOD there watching Mr. Gillette's back receding down the corridor. I felt stunned, unable to realize that he was really going. I could not believe that it was all over, that he did not mean to take me to America after all. He stopped once and my heart gave a great leap and began to pound loudly, but he only spoke to some one he met and then went on. He turned a corner, the little Japanese servant turned the corner after him, carrying the bag. They were gone.
I went back into my dressing-room then and made a little bundle of my stage clothes and make-up box. The stage hands had finished clearing the stage; it was bare and dim when I crossed it and came out through the stage door for the last time. A cold gray fog was drifting down the deserted street and I wished to take a cab, but it came to me suddenly that I had no part now and could not afford it. I tucked my bundle under my arm and set out on foot for my lodgings.
All the way it seemed to me that I was in a bad dream — a dream where I must walk on and on and on mechanically through an unreal world of blurred lights and swirling grayness. I climbed the stairs to my lodgings at last, still with a dull hazy feeling of unreality, lighted the gas and sat down on my bed with the bundle beside me. Then it came upon me sharply that it was all true. The season was over. I was not going to America. I had only a few pounds and no prospect of getting another part.
I unfolded the little suit I had worn as Billy and looked at it for a long time, suffering as only a sensitive boy of fifteen can when he sees all his brightest hopes come to nothing. I walked up and down, clenching my hands and wishing that I might die. It was almost dawn when I folded the little suit, put it away. in the farthest corner of a closet and crawled miserably to bed.
Next morning I felt brighter. After all, I had made a big hit as Billy; there must be any number of managers in London who would be glad to get me. There were no letters for me in the mail, but I said to myself that I must give them time. I would put an advertisement in The Strand, mentioning that I was "resting," and they would come around all right. I wrote it out carefully, dressed my best and took it down to The Strand office myself so there would be no delay. Then I went to see my mother and told her lightly that I had not decided just what offer to accept. I could not trouble her, for she had not recovered her strength fully and could only lie on her couch and smile happily at me, proud of my great success.
All that month my hopes gradually faded while I went from agent to agent trying to get a part. At first my name got me an interview with the agent immediately, but each one I saw told me quite courteously, quite briskly, that he had nothing whatever to offer me and I came out of each office with a sinking heart, holding my haughty pose with difficulty.
I got up early every morning to see as many agents as possible during the day, and although before the other actors I still kept my pose of being a great success, merely dropping in to pass the time of day with the agent, I felt panic growing within me. My small stock of money was gone. I pawned my watch, my clothes, at last even my bag, and hoarded the pennies desperately, dining in small, dirty eating houses on two-pence worth of stew.
I still bravely made a show of importance and success when I met the other actors tramping the Strand, lying miserably to them as they lied to me while we spent hours in the outer offices of the agents, bullied by the office boy, waiting hopelessly for a chance to see the agents. The season was far advanced and chances for a part grew smaller daily, but it was incredible to me that I should not find something — I who had made such a hit with William Gillette! Every morning I started out saying to myself that surely I should get something that day, and every night I crawled wearily into my lodgings, tired and discouraged, avoiding the landlady.
One day I determined to stand it no longer. I carefully trimmed my frayed collar and cuffs, brushed my suit and hat and went to the offices of the biggest agent of all, Mr. Braithewaite. He was a courteous gentleman and had always welcomed me politely. I walked in with my most important air.
"Mr. Braithewaite, I must have a part," I said briskly. "You know my work. You know I made a big hit with William Gillette. Now, I'll take anything you can give me, I don't care how small it is or what it pays. Haven't you something in a provincial company — even a walking-on part?"
He thought it over for some time in silence, while I heard my heart beating. Then he said slowly, "Well, there is a part — I will see. You come in to-morrow."
I came out whistling merrily, stepping high with a dizzy feeling that the pavement was unsteady under my feet. I was sure by his manner that he meant to have a part for me and all my self-complacency was restored. I flipped my cane as I passed the doors of the other agents, saying to myself, "Oh, ho! You'll see what you have missed!" and thinking that I would carelessly drop in and tell those who had treated me worst how well I was doing as soon as I should have the part. That night I spent one of my last two shillings for dinner, feasting on tripe and onions and ale in great spirits.
Next day, nervous with hope, I hurried to Mr. Braithewaite's offices and walked in confidently, so wrapped in my own thoughts that I did not notice that no actors were waiting as usual. I said briskly to the office boy, trying to keep my voice natural and steady, "Tell Mr. Braithewaite I am here. I have an appointment."
He looked at me with a long shrill whistle of surprise. Then, with great enjoyment in telling startling news, he said, "Don't tell me you 'aven't 'eard! 'E was shot by burglars last night. 'E's 'anging between life and death right now."
I remember I stumbled on the stairs once or twice, feeling numb all over and not able to walk steady. The bright sunlight outside seemed to jeer at me. My last hope was gone. I could not muster courage to start again on the endless tramp up and down the Strand or to face the other actors. I went back to my lodgings. The landlady met me on the stairs and looked steadily at me with tight lips and an eye which said, "I know you have only a shilling; what are you going to do about the rent?" I went hurriedly past her and climbed up to my room bitterly humiliated.
There was a letter waiting for me on the mantel. I seized it and tore it open, wild thoughts that at last I had an offer whirling in my brain. It was dated Paris. I looked at the signature — Sidney! Good old Sidney, I said to myself; he will help me. Then I read the letter.
"Dear Charlie," it said. "Your press notices are received and no one is gladder than I am. You know we always knew you would be a great success. How does it feel to have all London applauding? I wager you enjoy cutting a dash on the Strand, what? Well, Charlie, I am in the profession now, and not so great a success as you yet, but I have a prospect of a part in a couple of weeks perhaps. You know how it goes. Can you lend me five pounds, or even three, till I get a part? Love to mother and congratulations again to the clever one of the family.
"Your brother, Sidney."