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On the night of his arrival in London, Alexander went immediately to the
hotel on the Embankment at which he always stopped, and in the lobby he
was accosted by an old acquaintance, Maurice Mainhall, who fell upon him
with effusive cordiality and indicated a willingness to dine with him.
Bartley never dined alone if he could help it, and Mainhall was a good
gossip who always knew what had been going on in town; especially, he knew
everything that was not printed in the newspapers. The nephew of one of
the standard Victorian novelists, Mainhall bobbed about among the various
literary cliques of London and its outlying suburbs, careful to lose touch
with none of them. He had written a number of books himself; among them a
"History of Dancing," a "History of Costume," a "Key to Shakespeare's
Sonnets," a study of "The Poetry of Ernest Dowson," etc. Although
Mainhall's enthusiasm was often tiresome, and although he was often unable
to distinguish between facts and vivid figments of his imagination, his
imperturbable good nature overcame even the people whom he bored most, so
that they ended by becoming, in a reluctant manner, his friends. In
appearance, Mainhall was astonishingly like the conventional
stage-Englishman of American drama: tall and thin, with high, hitching
shoulders and a small head glistening with closely brushed yellow hair. He
spoke with an extreme Oxford accent, and when he was talking well, his
face sometimes wore the rapt expression of a very emotional man listening
to music. Mainhall liked Alexander because he was an engineer. He had
preconceived ideas about everything, and his idea about Americans was that
they should be engineers or mechanics. He hated them when they presumed to
be anything else.
While they sat at dinner Mainhall acquainted Bartley with the fortunes of
his old friends in London, and as they left the table he proposed that
they should go to see Hugh MacConnell's new comedy, "Bog Lights."
"It's really quite the best thing MacConnell's done," he explained as they
got into a hansom. "It's tremendously well put on, too. Florence Merrill
and Cyril Henderson. But Hilda Burgoyne's the hit of the piece. Hugh's
written a delightful part for her, and she's quite inexpressible. It's
been on only two weeks, and I've been half a dozen times already. I happen
to have MacConnell's box for tonight or there'd be no chance of our
getting places. There's everything in seeing Hilda while she's fresh in a
part. She's apt to grow a bit stale after a time. The ones who have any
"Hilda Burgoyne!" Alexander exclaimed mildly. "Why, I haven't heard of her
Mainhall laughed. "Then you can't have heard much at all, my dear
Alexander. It's only lately, since MacConnell and his set have got hold of
her, that she's come up. Myself, I always knew she had it in her. If we
had one real critic in London—but what can one expect? Do you know,
Alexander,"—Mainhall looked with perplexity up into the top of the
hansom and rubbed his pink cheek with his gloved finger,—"do you
know, I sometimes think of taking to criticism seriously myself. In a way,
it would be a sacrifice; but, dear me, we do need some one."
Just then they drove up to the Duke of York's, so Alexander did not commit
himself, but followed Mainhall into the theatre. When they entered the
stage-box on the left the first act was well under way, the scene being
the interior of a cabin in the south of Ireland. As they sat down, a burst
of applause drew Alexander's attention to the stage. Miss Burgoyne and her
donkey were thrusting their heads in at the half door. "After all," he
reflected, "there's small probability of her recognizing me. She doubtless
hasn't thought of me for years." He felt the enthusiasm of the house at
once, and in a few moments he was caught up by the current of MacConnell's
irresistible comedy. The audience had come forewarned, evidently, and
whenever the ragged slip of a donkey-girl ran upon the stage there was a
deep murmur of approbation, every one smiled and glowed, and Mainhall
hitched his heavy chair a little nearer the brass railing.
"You see," he murmured in Alexander's ear, as the curtain fell on the
first act, "one almost never sees a part like that done without smartness
or mawkishness. Of course, Hilda is Irish,—the Burgoynes have been
stage people for generations,—and she has the Irish voice. It's
delightful to hear it in a London theatre. That laugh, now, when she
doubles over at the hips—who ever heard it out of Galway? She saves
her hand, too. She's at her best in the second act. She's really
MacConnell's poetic motif, you see; makes the whole thing a fairy tale."
The second act opened before Philly Doyle's underground still, with Peggy
and her battered donkey come in to smuggle a load of potheen across the
bog, and to bring Philly word of what was doing in the world without, and
of what was happening along the roadsides and ditches with the first gleam
of fine weather. Alexander, annoyed by Mainhall's sighs and exclamations,
watched her with keen, half-skeptical interest. As Mainhall had said, she
was the second act; the plot and feeling alike depended upon her lightness
of foot, her lightness of touch, upon the shrewdness and deft fancifulness
that played alternately, and sometimes together, in her mirthful brown
eyes. When she began to dance, by way of showing the gossoons what she had
seen in the fairy rings at night, the house broke into a prolonged uproar.
After her dance she withdrew from the dialogue and retreated to the ditch
wall back of Philly's burrow, where she sat singing "The Rising of the
Moon" and making a wreath of primroses for her donkey.
When the act was over Alexander and Mainhall strolled out into the
corridor. They met a good many acquaintances; Mainhall, indeed, knew
almost every one, and he babbled on incontinently, screwing his small head
about over his high collar. Presently he hailed a tall, bearded man,
grim-browed and rather battered-looking, who had his opera cloak on his
arm and his hat in his hand, and who seemed to be on the point of leaving
"MacConnell, let me introduce Mr. Bartley Alexander. I say! It's going
famously to-night, Mac. And what an audience! You'll never do anything
like this again, mark me. A man writes to the top of his bent only once."
The playwright gave Mainhall a curious look out of his deep-set faded eyes
and made a wry face. "And have I done anything so fool as that, now?" he
"That's what I was saying," Mainhall lounged a little nearer and dropped
into a tone even more conspicuously confidential. "And you'll never bring
Hilda out like this again. Dear me, Mac, the girl couldn't possibly be
better, you know."
MacConnell grunted. "She'll do well enough if she keeps her pace and
doesn't go off on us in the middle of the season, as she's more than like
He nodded curtly and made for the door, dodging acquaintances as he went.
"Poor old Hugh," Mainhall murmured. "He's hit terribly hard. He's been
wanting to marry Hilda these three years and more. She doesn't take up
with anybody, you know. Irene Burgoyne, one of her family, told me in
confidence that there was a romance somewhere back in the beginning. One
of your countrymen, Alexander, by the way; an American student whom she
met in Paris, I believe. I dare say it's quite true that there's never
been any one else." Mainhall vouched for her constancy with a loftiness
that made Alexander smile, even while a kind of rapid excitement was
tingling through him. Blinking up at the lights, Mainhall added in his
luxurious, worldly way: "She's an elegant little person, and quite capable
of an extravagant bit of sentiment like that. Here comes Sir Harry Towne.
He's another who's awfully keen about her. Let me introduce you. Sir Harry
Towne, Mr. Bartley Alexander, the American engineer."
Sir Harry Towne bowed and said that he had met Mr. Alexander and his wife
Mainhall cut in impatiently.
"I say, Sir Harry, the little girl's going famously to-night, isn't she?"
Sir Harry wrinkled his brows judiciously. "Do you know, I thought the
dance a bit conscious to-night, for the first time. The fact is, she's
feeling rather seedy, poor child. Westmere and I were back after the first
act, and we thought she seemed quite uncertain of herself. A little attack
of nerves, possibly."
He bowed as the warning bell rang, and Mainhall whispered: "You know Lord
Westmere, of course,—the stooped man with the long gray mustache,
talking to Lady Dowle. Lady Westmere is very fond of Hilda."
When they reached their box the house was darkened and the orchestra was
playing "The Cloak of Old Gaul." In a moment Peggy was on the stage again,
and Alexander applauded vigorously with the rest. He even leaned forward
over the rail a little. For some reason he felt pleased and flattered by
the enthusiasm of the audience. In the half-light he looked about at the
stalls and boxes and smiled a little consciously, recalling with amusement
Sir Harry's judicial frown. He was beginning to feel a keen interest in
the slender, barefoot donkey-girl who slipped in and out of the play,
singing, like some one winding through a hilly field. He leaned forward
and beamed felicitations as warmly as Mainhall himself when, at the end of
the play, she came again and again before the curtain, panting a little
and flushed, her eyes dancing and her eager, nervous little mouth
tremulous with excitement.
When Alexander returned to his hotel—he shook Mainhall at the door
of the theatre—he had some supper brought up to his room, and it was
late before he went to bed. He had not thought of Hilda Burgoyne for
years; indeed, he had almost forgotten her. He had last written to her
from Canada, after he first met Winifred, telling her that everything was
changed with him—that he had met a woman whom he would marry if he
could; if he could not, then all the more was everything changed for him.
Hilda had never replied to his letter. He felt guilty and unhappy about
her for a time, but after Winifred promised to marry him he really forgot
Hilda altogether. When he wrote her that everything was changed for him,
he was telling the truth. After he met Winifred Pemberton he seemed to
himself like a different man. One night when he and Winifred were sitting
together on the bridge, he told her that things had happened while he was
studying abroad that he was sorry for,—one thing in particular,—and
he asked her whether she thought she ought to know about them. She
considered a moment and then said "No, I think not, though I am glad you
ask me. You see, one can't be jealous about things in general; but about
particular, definite, personal things,"—here she had thrown her
hands up to his shoulders with a quick, impulsive gesture—"oh, about
those I should be very jealous. I should torture myself—I couldn't
help it." After that it was easy to forget, actually to forget. He
wondered to-night, as he poured his wine, how many times he had thought of
Hilda in the last ten years. He had been in London more or less, but he
had never happened to hear of her. "All the same," he lifted his glass,
"here's to you, little Hilda. You've made things come your way, and I
never thought you'd do it.
"Of course," he reflected, "she always had that combination of something
homely and sensible, and something utterly wild and daft. But I never
thought she'd do anything. She hadn't much ambition then, and she was too
fond of trifles. She must care about the theatre a great deal more than
she used to. Perhaps she has me to thank for something, after all.
Sometimes a little jolt like that does one good. She was a daft, generous
little thing. I'm glad she's held her own since. After all, we were
awfully young. It was youth and poverty and proximity, and everything was
young and kindly. I shouldn't wonder if she could laugh about it with me
now. I shouldn't wonder— But they've probably spoiled her, so that
she'd be tiresome if one met her again."
Bartley smiled and yawned and went to bed.