Davies TheÞptford Trilogy3 World of Wonders (2023)

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The Deptford Trilogy – 3

Davies TheÞptford Trilogy3 World of Wonders (2)

I. A Bottle in the Smoke


“Of course he was a charming man. A delightful person. Who has everquestioned it? But not a great magician.”

“By what standard do you judge?”

“Myself. Who else?”

“You consider yourself a greater magician than Robert‑Houdin?”

“Certainly. He was a fine illusionist But what is that? A man whodepends on a lot of contraptions–mechanical devices, dockwork,mirrors, and such things. Haven’t we been working with that sort ofrubbish for almost a week? Who made it? Who reproduced that Patissierdu Palais‑Royal we’ve been fiddling about with all day?I did. I’m the only man in the world who could do it. The more Isee of it the more I despise it.”

“But it is delightful! When the little baker brings out hisbonbons, his patisseries, his croissants, his glasses of port andMarsala, all at the word of command, I almost weep with pleasure! Itis the most moving reminiscence of the spirit of the age of LouisPhilippe! And you admit that you have reproduced it precisely as itwas first made by Robert‑Houdin. If he was not a greatmagician, what do you call a great magician?”

“A man who can stand stark naked in the midst of a crowd and keepit gaping for an hour while he manipulates a few coins, or cards, orbilliard balls. I can do that, and I can do it better than anybodytoday or anybody who has ever lived. That’s why I’m tired ofRobert‑Houdin and his Wonderful Bakery and his InexhaustiblePunch Bowl and his Miraculous Orange Tree and all the rest of hiswheels and cogs and levers and fancy junk.”

“But you’re going to complete the film?”

“Of course. I’ve signed a contract. I’ve never broken acontract in my life. I’m a professional. But I’m bored with it.What you’re asking me to do is like–asking Rubinstein to performon a player‑piano. Given the apparatus anybody could do it.”

“You know of course that we asked you to make this film simplybecause you are the greatest magician in the world–the greatestmagician of all time, if you like–and that gives tremendous addedattraction to our film–”

“Its been many years since I was called an added attraction.”

“Let me finish, please. We are presenting a great magician of todaydoing honour to a great magician of the past. People will love it.”

“It shows me at a disadvantage.”

“Oh, surely not. Consider the audience. After we have shown this onthe B.B.C. it will appear on a great American network–thearrangements are almost complete–and then it will go all over theworld. Think how it will be received in France alone, where there isstill a great cult of Robert‑Houdin. The eventual audience willbe counted in millions. Can you be indifferent to that?”

“That just shows what you think about magic, and how much you knowabout it. I’ve already been seen all over the world. And I meanI’ve been seen , and the unique personal quality of myperformance has been felt by audiences with whom I’ve created aunique relationship. You can’t do that on television.”

“That is precisely what I expect to do. I don’t want to speakboastfully. Perhaps we have had enough boasting here tonight. But Iam not unknown as a film‑maker. I can say without immodestythat I’m just as famous in my line as you are in yours. I am amagician too, and not a trivial one–”

“If my work is trivial, why do you want my help? Film–yes, ofcourse its a commonplace nowadays that it is an art, just as peopleused to say that Robert‑Houdin’s complicated automatic toyswere art. People are always charmed by clever mechanisms that give aneffect of life. But don’t you remember what the little actor inNoel Coward’s play called film? ‘A cheesy photograph’.”


“Very well, lets not insist on ‘cheesy’. But we can’t escape‘photograph’. Something is missing, and you know what it is: theinexplicable but beautifully controlled sympathy between the artistand his audience. Film isn’t even as good as the player‑piano;at least you could add something personal to that, make it go fast orslow, loud or soft as you pleased.”

“Film is like painting, which is also unchanging. But each viewerbrings his personal sensibility, his unique response to the completedcanvas as he does to the film.”

“Who are your television viewers? Ragtag and bobtail; drunk andsober; attentive or in a nose‑picking stupor. With the flabbyconcentration of people who are getting something for nothing. I amused to audiences who come because they want to see me , andhave paid to do it. In the first five minutes I have made themattentive as they have never been before in their lives. I can’tguarantee to do that on tv. I can’t see my audience, and what Ican’t see I can’t dominate. And what I can’t dominate I can’tenchant, and humour, and make partners in their own deception.”

“You must understand that that is where my art comes in. I am youraudience, and I contain in myself all these millions of whom wespeak. You satisfy me and you satisfy them, as well because I creditthem with my intelligence and sensitivity and raise them to my level.Have I not shown it in more than a dozen acknowledged filmmasterpieces? This is my gift and my art. Trust me. That is what I amasking you to do. Trust me.”


This was the first serious quarrel since we had begun filming. ShouldI say “we”? As I was living in the house, and extremely curiousabout everything connected with the film, they let me hang aroundwhile they worked, and even gave me a job; as an historian I kept aneye on detail and did not allow the film‑makers to stray toofar from the period of Louis Philippe and his Paris, or at least nofarther than artistic licence and necessity allowed. I had foreseen aquarrel. I was not seventy‑two years old for nothing, and Iknew Magnus Eisengrim very well. I thought I was beginning to know alittle about the great director Jurgen Lind, too.

The project was to make an hour‑long film for television aboutthe great French illusionist. Jean‑Eugene Robert‑Houdin,who died in 1871. It was not simply to mark this centenary; as Lindhad said, it would doubtless make the rounds of world television foryears. The title was Un Hommage a Robert‑Houdin –easilytranslatable–and its form was simple; the first twelve minutes weretaken up with the story of his early life, as he told it in hisConfidences d’un prestidigitateur , and for this actors hadbeen employed; the remainder of the hour was to be an historicalreproduction of one of Robert‑Houdin’s SoireesFantastiques as he gave it in his own theatre in thePalais‑Royal. And to play the part of the great conjuror thefilm‑makers and the British Broadcasting Corporation hadengaged, at a substantial fee, the greatest of living conjurors, myold friend Magnus Eisengrim.

If they had filmed it in a studio, I do not suppose I should havebeen involved at all, but the reproduction of Robert‑Houdin’sperformance demanded so much magical apparatus, including severalsplendid automata which Eisengrim had made particularly for it, thatit was decided to shoot this part of the picture in Switzerland, atSorgenfrei, where Eisengrim’s stage equipment was stored in a largedisused riding‑school on the estate. It was not a difficultmatter for the scene designers and artificers to fit Robert‑Houdin’stiny theatre, which had never seated more than two hundredspectators, into the space that was available.

This may have been a bad idea, for it mixed professional and domesticmatters in a way that could certainly cause trouble. Eisengrim livedat Sorgenfrei, as permanent guest and–in a special sense–thelover of its owner and mistress, Dr. Uselotte Naegeli. I also hadretired to Sorgenfrei after I had my heart attack, and dwelt therevery happily as the permanent guest and–in a special sense–thelover of the same Dr. Uselotte, known to us both as Liesl. When I usethe word “lover” to describe our relationship, I do not mean thatwe were a farcical manage a trois , leaping in and out of bedat all hours and shrieking comic recriminations at one another. Wedid occasionally share a bed (usually at breakfast, when it wasconvenient and friendly for us all three to tuck up together andsample things from one another’s trays), but the athleticism oflove was a thing of the past for me, and I suspect it was becoming aninfrequent adventure for Eisengrim. We loved Liesl none theless–indeed rather more, and differently–than in our hot days,and what with loving and arguing and laughing and talking, we fleetedthe time carelessly, as they did in the Golden World.

Even the Golden World may have welcomed a change, now and then, andwe had been pleased when Magnus received his offer from the B.B.C.Liesl and I, who knew more about the world, or at least the artisticpart of it, than Eisengrim, were excited that the film was to bedirected by the great Jurgen Lind, the Swedish film‑maker whosework we both admired. We wanted to meet him, for though we wereneither of us naive people we had not wholly lost our belief that itis delightful to meet artists who have given us pleasure. That waswhy Liesl proposed that, although the film crew were living at an innnot far down the mountain from Sorgenfrei, Lind and one or two of hisimmediate entourage should dine with us as often as they pleased,ostensibly so that we could continue discussion of the film as itprogressed, but really so that we could become acquainted with Lind.

We should have known better. Had we learned nothing from ourexperience with Magnus Eisengrim, who had a full share, a sharepressed down and overflowing, of the egotism of the theatre artist?Who could not bear the least slight; who expected, as of right, to beserved first at table, and to go through all doors first; who madethe most unholy rows and fusses if he were not treated virtually asroyalty? Lind had not been on the spot a day before we knew that hewas just such another as our dear old friend Magnus, and that theywere not going to hit it off together.

Not that Lind was like him in external things. He was modest,reticent, dressed like a workman, and soft of speech. He always hungback at doors, cared nothing for the little ceremonials of daily lifein a rich woman’s house, and conferred with his chief colleaguesabout every detail. But it was clear that he expected and got his ownway, once he had determined what it was.

Moreover, he seemed to me to be formidably intelligent. His long,sad, unsmiling face, with its hanging underlip that showed long,yellow teeth, the tragedy line of his eyelids, which began high onthe bridge of his nose and swept miserably downward toward hischeeks, and the soft, bereaved tone of his voice, suggested a man whohad seen too much to be amused by life; his great height–he was alittle over six feet eight inches–gave him the air of a giantmingling with lesser creatures about whom he knew some unhappy secretwhich was concealed from themselves; he spoke slowly in an elegantEnglish only slightly marked by that upper‑class Swedish accentwhich suggests a man delicately sucking a lemon. He had beenextensively educated–his junior assistants all were careful tospeak to him as Dr. Lind–and he had as well that theatre artist’squality of seeming to know a great deal, without visible study oreffort, about whatever was necessary for his immediate work. He didnot know as much about the politics and economics of the reign ofLouis Philippe as I did, for after all I had given my life to thestudy of history; but he seemed to know a great deal about its music,the way its clothes ought to be worn, the demeanour of its people,and its quality of life and spirit, which belonged to a sensibilityfar beyond mine. When historians meet with this kind of informed,imaginative sympathy with a past era in a non‑historian, theyare awed. How on earth does he know that, they are forced to askthemselves, and why did I never tumble to that? It takes a while todiscover that the knowledge, though impressive and useful, has itslimitations, and when the glow of imaginative creation no longersuffuses it, it is not really deeply grounded. But Lind was at workon the era of Louis Philippe, and specifically on the tiny part of itthat applied to Robert‑Houdin the illusionist, and for thepresent I was strongly under his spell.

That was the trouble. To put it gaudily but truly, that was where thecanker gnawed. Liesl and I were both under Lind’s spell, andEisengrim’s nose was out of joint.

That was why he was picking a quarrel with Lind, and Lind, who hadbeen taught to argue logically, though unfairly, was at adisadvantage with a man who simply argued–pouted, rather–to gethis own way and be cock of the walk again.

I thought I should do something about it, but I was forestalled byRoland Ingestree.

He was the man from the B.B.C., the executive producer of the film,or whatever the proper term is. He managed all the business, but wasnot simply a man of business, because he brooded, in a well‑bred,don’t‑think‑I’m‑interfering‑but manner,over the whole venture, including its artistic side. He was asixtyish, fattish, bald Englishman who always wore gold‑rimmedhalf‑glasses, which gave him something of the air of Mr.Pickwick. But he was a shrewd fellow, and he had taken in thesituation.

“We mustn’t delude ourselves, Jurgen,” he said. “WithoutEisengrim this would be nothing–nothing at all. He is the only manin the world who can reproduce the superlatively complexRobert‑Houdin automata. It is quite understandable that helooks down on achievements that baffle lesser beings like ourselves.After all, as he points out, he is a magnificent classical conjuror,and he hasn’t much use for mechanical toys. That’s understood, ofcourse. But what I think we’ve missed is that he’s an actor ofthe rarest sort; he can really give us the outward form ofRobert‑Houdin, with all that refinement of manner andperfection of grace that made Robert‑Houdin great. How he cando it, God alone knows, but he can. When I watch him in rehearsal Iam utterly convinced that a man of the first half of the nineteenthcentury stands before me. Where could we have found anyone else whocan act as he is acting? John? Too tall, too subjective. Larry? Tooflamboyant, too corporeal. Guinness? Too dry. There’s nobody else,you see. I hope I’m not being offensive, but I think it’s as anactor we must think of Eisengrim. The conjuring might have beenfaked. But the acting–tell me, frankly, who else is there thatcould touch him?”

He was not being offensive, and well he knew it. Eisengrim glowed,and all might have been well if Kinghovn had not pushed the thing alittle farther. Kinghovn was Lind’s cameraman, and I gathered hewas a great artist in his own right. But he was a man whose wholeworld was dominated by what he could see, and make other people see,and words were not his medium.

“Roly is right, Jurgen. This man is just right for looks. Hecompels belief. He can’t go wrong. It is God’s good luck, and wemustn’t quarrel with it.”

Now Lind’s nose was out of joint. He had been trying to placate aprima donna, and his associates seemed to be accusing him ofunderestimating the situation. He was sure that he neverunderestimated anything about one of his films. He was accused offlying in the face of good luck, when he was certain that the bestpossible luck that could happen to any film was that he should beasked to direct it. The heavy lip fell a little lower, the eyesbecame a little sadder, and the emotional temperature of the roomdropped perceptibly.

Ingestree put his considerable talents to the work of restoringLind’s self‑esteem, without losing Eisengrim’s goodwill.

“I think I sense what troubles Eisengrim about this wholeRobert‑Houdin business. Its the book. It’s that wretchedConfidences d’un prestidigitateur . We’ve been using it asa source for the biographical part of the film, and its certainly aclassic of its kind. But did anybody ever read such a book? Vanity isperfectly acceptable in an artist. Personally, I wouldn’t give yousixpence for an artist who lacked vanity. But it’s honest vanity Irespect. The false modesty, the exaggerated humility, the greasybourgeois assertions of respectability, of good‑husband‑and‑father,of debt‑paying worthiness are what make the Confidences so hard to swallow. Robert‑Houdin was an oddity; he was anartist who wanted to pass as a bourgeois. I’m sure that’s whatirritates both you men, and sets you against each other. You feelthat you are putting your very greatfully realized artisticpersonalities to the work of exalting a man whose attitude towardlife you despise. I don’t blame you for being irritable–becauseyou have been, you know; you’ve been terribly irritable tonight–butthat’s what art is, as you very well know, much of the time: thetransformation and glorification of the commonplace.”

“The revelation of the glory in the commonplace,” said Lind, whohad no objection to being told that his vanity was an admirable andhonest trait, and was coming around.

“Precisely. The revelation of the glory in the commonplace. And youtwo very great artists–the great film director and (may I say it)the great actor–are revealing the glory in Robert‑Houdin, whoperversely sought to conceal his own artistry behind that terriblegood‑citizen mask. It hampered him, of course, because it wasagainst the grain of his talent. But you two are able to do anextraordinary, a metaphysical thing. You are able to show the world,a century after his death, what Robert‑Houdin would have beenif he had truly understood himself.”

Eisengrim and Lind were liking this. Magnus positively beamed, andLind’s sad eyes rolled toward him with a glance from which thefrost was slowly disappearing. Ingestree was well in the saddle now,and was riding on to victory.

“You are both men of immeasurably larger spirit than he. What washe, after all? The good citizen, the perfection of the bourgeoisieunder Louis Philippe that he pretended? Who can believe it? There isin every artist something black, something savouring of the crook,which he may not even understand himself, and which he certainlykeeps well out of the eye of his public. What was it inRobert‑Houdin?

“He gives us a sniff of it in the very first chapter of his otherbook, which I have read, and which is certainly familiar to you, Mr.Ramsay,”–this with a nod to me–”called Les Secrets de laprestidigitation et de la magie– ”

“My God, I read it as a boy!” I said.

“Very well. Then you recall the story of his beginnings as amagician? How he was befriended by the Count de l’Escalopier? Howthis nobleman gave a private show in his house, where Robert‑Houdinamused the guests? How his best trick was burning a piece of paper onwhich the Archbishop of Paris had written a splendid compliment toRobert‑Houdin, and the discovery of the piece of paperafterward in the smallest of twelve envelopes which were all sealed,one inside the other? It was a trick he learned from his master, deGrisy. But how did he try to make it up to l’Escalopier for puttinghim on his feet?”

“The trap for the robber,” I said.

“Exactly. A thief was robbing l’Escalopier blind, and nothing hetried would catch him. So Robert‑Houdin offered to help, andwhat did he do? He worked out a mechanism to be concealed in theCount’s desk, so that when the robber opened it a pistol would bedischarged, and a claw made of sharp needles would seize the thief’shand and crunch the word ‘Voleur’ on the back of it. The needleswere impregnated with silver nitrate, so that it was in effecttattooing–branding the man for life. A nice fellow, eh? And do youremember what he says? That this nasty thing was a refinement of alittle gubbins he had made as a boy, to catch and mark another boywho was pinching things from his school locker. That was the wayRobert‑Houdin’s mind worked; he fancied himself as athief‑catcher. Now, in a man who makes such a parade of hisintegrity, what does that suggest? Over‑compensation, shall wesay? A deep, unresting doubt of his own honesty?

“If we had time, and the gift, we could learn a lot about the innerlife of Robert‑Houdin by analysing his tricks. Why are so manyof the best of them concerned with giving things away? He gave awaypastries, sweets, ribbons, fans, all sorts of stuff at everyperformance; yet we know how careful he was with money. What was allthat generosity meant to conceal? Because he was concealingsomething, take my word for it The whole of the Confidences is a gigantic whitewash job, a concealment. Analyse the tricks andyou will get a subtext for the autobiography, which seems sodelightfully bland and cosy.

“And that’s what we need for our film. A subtext. A realityrunning like a subterranean river under the surface; an enriching,but not necessarily edifying, background to what is seen.

“Where are we to get it? Not from Robert‑Houdin. Too muchtrouble and perhaps not worth the trouble when we got it. No. It mustcome from the working together of you two great artists: Lind thegenius‑director and Eisengrim the genius‑actor. And youmust fish it up out of your own guts.”

“But that is what I always do,” said Lind.

“Of course. But Eisengrim must do it, as well. Now tell me, sir:you can’t always have been the greatest conjuror in the world. Youlearned your art somewhere. If we asked you–invited you–beggedyou–to make your own experience the subtext for this film about aman, certainly lesser than yourself, but of great and lasting fame inhis special line, what would it be?”

I was surprised to see Eisengrim look as if he were considering thisquestion very seriously. He never revealed anything about his pastlife, or his innermost thoughts, and it was only because I had knownhim–with very long intervals of losing him–since we had been boystogether, that I knew anything about him at all. I had fished–fishedcunningly with the subtlest lures I could devise–for moreinformation about him than I had, but he was too clever for me. Buthere he was, swimming in the flattery of this clever EnglishmanIngestree, and he looked as if he might be about to spill the beans.Well, anyhow I would be present when, and if, he did so. After someconsideration, he spoke.

“The first thing I would tell you would be that my earliestinstructor was the man you see in that chair yonder: Dunstan Ramsay.God knows he was the worst conjuror the world has ever seen, but heintroduced me to conjuring, and by a coincidence his textbook was TheSecrets of Stage Conjuring , by the man we are all talking aboutand, if you are right in what you say, Mr. Ingestree, serving!Robert‑Houdin.”

This caused some sensation, as Eisengrim knew it would. Ingestree,having forced the oyster to yield a little, pressed the knife in.

“Wonderful! We would never have taken Ramsay for a conjuror. Butthere must have been somebody else. If Ramsay was your first master,who was your second?”

“I’m not sure I’m going to tell you,” said Eisengrim. “I’llhave to think about it very carefully. Your idea of a subtext–theterm and the idea are both new to me–is interesting. I’ll tellyou this much. I began to learn conjuring seriously on August 30,1918. That was the day I descended into hell, and did not rise againfor seven years. I’ll consider whether I’m going to go fartherthan that. Now I’m going to bed.”


Liesl had said little during the quarrel–or rivalry of egotisms, orwhatever you choose to call it–but she caught me the followingmorning before the film crew arrived, and seemed to be in highspirits.

“So Magnus has come to the confessional moment in his life,” shesaid. “Its been impending for several months. Didn’t you notice?You didn’t? Oh, Ramsay, you are such a dunce about some things. IfMagnus were the kind of man who could write an autobiography, this iswhen he would do it.”

“Magnus has an autobiography already. I should know. I wrote it.”

“A lovely book. Phantasmata: the Life and Adventures of MagnusEisengrim . But that was for sale at his performance; a kind ofsuper‑publicity. A splendid Gothic invention from your splendidGothic imagination.”

“That’s not the way he regards it. When people ask he tells themthat it is a poetic autobiography, far more true to the man he hasbecome than any merely factual account of his experience could be.”

“I know. I told him to say that. You don’t suppose he thought itout himself, do you? You know him. He’s marvellously intelligent inhis own way–sensitive, aware, and intuitive–but it’s not aliterary or learned intelligence. Magnus is a truly originalcreature. They are of the greatest rarity. And as I say, he’sreached the confessional time of life. I expect we shall hear somestrange things.”

“Not as strange as I could tell about him.”

“I know, I know. You are obsessed with the idea that his mother wasa saint. Ramsay, in all your rummaging among the lives of the saints,did you ever encounter one who had a child? What was that child like?Perhaps we shall hear.”

“I’m a little miffed that he considers telling these strangersthings he’s never told to you and me.”

“Ass! It’s always strangers who turn the tap that lets out thetruth. Didn’t you yourself babble out all the secrets of your lifeto me within a couple of weeks of our first meeting? Magnus is goingto tell.”

“But why now?”

“Because he wants to impress Lind. He’s terribly taken with Lind,and he has his little fancies, like the rest of us. Once he wanted toimpress me, but it wasn’t the right time in his life to spill thewhole bottle.”

“But Ingestree suggested that Lind might do some telling, too. Arewe to have a great mutual soul‑scrape?”

“Ingestree is very foxy, behind all that fat and twinklingbonhomie. He knows Lind won’t tell anything. For one thing, it’snot his time; he’s only forty‑three. And he is inhibited byhis education; it makes people cagey. What he tells us he tellsthrough his films, just as Ingestree suggested that Robert‑Houdinrevealed himself through his tricks. But Magnus is retired–oralmost. Also he is not inhibited by education, which is the greatmodern destroyer of truth and originality. Magnus knows no history.Have you ever seen him read a book? He really thinks that whateverhas happened to him is unique. It is an enviable characteristic.”

“Well, every life is unique.”

“To a point. But there are only a limited number of things a humancreature can do.”

“So you think he is going to tell all?”

“Not all. Nobody tells that. Indeed, nobody knows everything aboutthemselves. But I’ll bet you anything you like he tells a greatdeal.”

I argued no further. Liesl is very shrewd about such things. Themorning was spent in arrangements about lighting. A mobile generatorfrom Zurich had to be put in place, and all the lamps connected andhung; the riding‑school was a jungle of pipe‑scaffoldingand cable. Kinghovn fussed over differences which seemed to meimperceptible, and as a script‑girl stood in for Eisengrimwhile the lighting was being completed, he had time to wander aboutthe riding‑school, and as lunchtime approached he steered meoff into a corner.

“Tell me about subtext,” he said.

“Its a term modern theatre people are very fond of. It’s what acharacter thinks and knows, as opposed to what the playwright makeshim say. Very psychological.”

“Give me an example.”

“Do you know Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler ?”

He didn’t, and it was a foolish question. He didn’t know anythingabout any literature whatever. I waded in.

“It’s about a beautiful and attractive woman who has married, asa last resort, a man she thinks very dull. They have returned from ahoneymoon during which she has become greatly disillusioned with him,but she knows she is already pregnant. In the first act she istalking to her husband’s adoring aunt, trying to be civil as theold woman prattles on about the joys of domesticity and theachievements of her nephew. But all the time she has, in her mind,the knowledge that he is dull, timid, a tiresome lover, that she isgoing to have a child by him, and that she fears childbirth. That’sthe subtext. The awareness of it thickens up the actress’sperformance, and emphasizes the irony of the situation.”

“I understand. It seems obvious.”

“First‑rate actors have always been aware of it, butdramatists like Shakespeare usually brought the subtext up to thesurface and gave it to the audience directly. Like Hamlet’ssoliloquies.”

“I’ve never seen Hamlet .”

“Well–that’s subtext.”

“Do you think the circumstances of my own life really form asubtext for this film?”

“God only knows. One thing is certain: unless you choose to tellLind and his friends about your life, it can’t do so.”

“You’re quite wrong. I would know, and I suppose whatever I do isrooted in what I am, and have been.”

It was never wise to underestimate Magnus, but I was always doing so.The pomposity of the learned. Because he didn’t know Hamlet and Hedda I tended to think him simpler than he was.

“I’m thinking of telling them a few things, Dunny. I mightsurprise them. They’re all so highly educated, you know. Educationis a great shield against experience. It offers so much, ready‑madeand all from the best shops, that there’s a temptation to miss yourown life in pursuing the lives of your betters. It makes you wise insome ways, but it can make you a blindfolded fool in others. I thinkI’ll surprise them. They talk so much about art, but really,education is just as much a barrier between a man and real art as itis in other parts of life. They don’t know what a mean old bitchart can be. I think I’ll surprise them.”

So Liesl had been right! He was ready to spill.

Well, I was ready to hear. Indeed, I was eager to hear. My reason wasdeep and professional. As an historian I had all my life been awareof the extraordinary importance of documents. I had handled hundredsof them: letters, reports, memoranda, sometimes diaries; I had alwaystreated them with respect, and had come in time to have an affectionfor them. They summed up something that was becoming increasinglyimportant to me, and that was an earthly form of immortality.Historians come and go, but the document remains, and it has theimportance of a thing that cannot be changed or gainsaid. Whoeverwrote it continues to speak through it. It might be honest and itmight be complete: on the other hand it could be thoroughly crookedor omit something of importance. But there it was, and it was allsucceeding ages possessed.

I deeply wanted to create, or record, and leave behind me a document,so that whenever its subject was dealt with in future, the notation“Ramsay says…” would have to appear. Thus, so far as this worldis concerned, I should not wholly die. Well, here was my chance.

Would anyone care? Indeed they would. I had written an imaginativeaccount of the life of Magnus Eisengrim, the great conjuror andillusionist, at his own request and that of Liesl, who had been themanager and in a very high degree the brains of his great show, theSoiree of Illusions . The book was sold in the foyers of anytheatre in which he appeared, but it had also had a flatteringsuccess on its own account; it sold astonishingly in the places wherethe really big sales of books are achieved–cigar stores, airports,and bus stops. It had extravagantly outsold all my other books, evenmy Hundred Saints for Travellers and my very popular CelticSaints of Britain and Europe . Why? Because it was a wonderfullygood book of its kind. Readable by the educated, but not rebuffing tosomebody who simply wanted a lively, spicy tale.

Its authorship was still a secret, for although I received ahalf‑share of the royalties, it was ostensibly the work ofMagnus Eisengrim. It had done great things for him. People whobelieved what they read came to see the man who had lived the richlyadventurous and macabre life described in it; sophisticates came tosee the man who had written such gorgeous, gaudy lies about himself.As Liesl said, it was Gothic, full of enormities bathed in thedelusive lights of nineteenth‑century romance. But it wasmodern enough, as well; it touched the sexy, rowdy string so manyreaders want to hear.

Some day it would be known that I had written it. We had alreadyreceived at Sorgenfrei a serious film offer and a number of inquiriesfrom earnest Ph.D. students who explained apologetically that theywere making investigations, of one kind or another, of what theycalled “popular literature”. And when it became known that I hadwritten it, which would probably not be until Eisengrim and I wereboth dead, then–Aha! then my document would come into its own. Forthen the carefully tailored life of Magnus Eisengrim, which had givenpleasure to so many millions in English, French, German, Danish.Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, and had been accorded thedistinction of a pirated version in Japanese, would be compared withthe version I would prepare from Eisengrim’s own confessions, and“Ramsay says…” would certainly be heard loud and clear.

Was this a base ambition for an historian and a hagiologist? What hadIngestree said? In every artist there is something black, somethingsavouring of the crook. Was I, in a modest way, an artist? I wasbeginning to wonder. No, no; unless I falsified the record what couldbe dishonest, or artistic, about making a few notes?


“I have spent a good deal of time since last night wonderingwhether I should tell you anything about my life,” said Eisengrim,after dinner that evening, “and I think I shall, on the conditionthat you regard it as a secret among ourselves. After all, theaudience doesn’t have to know the subtext, does it? Your film isn’tShakespeare, where everything is revealed; it is Ibsen, where much isimplied.”

How quickly he learns, I thought. And how well he knows the power ofpretending something is secret which he has every intention ofrevealing. I turned up my mental, wholly psychological historian’shearing‑aid, determined to miss nothing, and to get at leastthe skeleton of it on paper before I went to sleep.

“Begin with going to hell,” said Ingestree. “You’ve given usa date: August 30, 1918. You told us you knew Ramsay when you were aboy, so I suppose you must be a Canadian. If I were going to hell, Idon’t think I’d start from Canada. What happened?”

“I went to the village fair. Our village, which was calledDeptford, had a proud local reputation for its fair. Schoolchildrenwere admitted free. That helped to swell the attendance, and the FairBoard liked to run up the biggest possible annual figure. Youwouldn’t imagine there was anything wrong in what I did, but judgedby the lights of my home it was sin. We were an unusually religioushousehold, and my father mistrusted the fair. He had promised me thathe might, if I could repeat the whole of Psalm 79 without an error,at suppertime, take me to the fair in the evening, to see theanimals. This task of memorizing was part of a great undertaking thathe had set his heart on: I was to get the whole of the Book of Psalmsby heart. He assured me that it would be a bulwark and a stay to methrough the whole of my life. He wasn’t rushing the job; I wassupposed to learn ten verses each day, but as I was working for atreat, he thought I might run to the thirteen verses of Psalm 79 toget to the fair. But the treat was conditional; if I stumbled, thepromise about the fair was off.”

“It sounds very much like rural Sweden, when I was a boy,” saidKinghovn. “How do the children of such people grow up?”

“Ah, but you mustn’t misunderstand. My father wasn’t a tyrant;he truly wanted to protect me against evil.”

“A fatal desire in a parent,” said Lind, who was known throughoutthe world–to film‑goers at least–as an expert on evil.

“There was a special reason. My mother was an unusual person. Ifyou want to know the best about her, you must apply to Ramsay. Idon’t suppose I can tell you my own story without giving yousomething of the other side of her nature. She was supposed to havesome very bad instincts, and our family suffered for it. She had tobe kept under confinement. My father, with what I suppose must bedescribed as compassion, wanted to make sure I wouldn’t follow inher ways. So, from the age of eight, I was set to work to acquire thebulwark and the stay of the Psalms, and in a year and ahalf–something like that–I had gnawed my way through them up toPsalm 79.”

“How old were you?” said Ingestree.

“Getting on for ten. I wanted fiercely to go to the fair, so I setto work on the Psalm. Do you know the Psalms? I have never been ableto make head or tail of a lot of them, but others strike with aterrible truth on your heart, if you meet them at the right time. Iplugged on till I came to We are become a reproach to ourneighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us.Yes! Yes there we were The Dempsters, a reproach to our neighbours, ascorn and derision to the whole village of Deptford. And particularlyto the children of Deptford, with whom I had to go to school. Schoolwas to begin on the day after Labour Day, less than a week from theday when I sat puzzling over Psalm 79. Tell me, Lind, you know somuch about evil, and have explored it in your films, Liesl tells me,like a man with an ordnance map in his hand; have you ever exploredthe evil of children?”

“Even I have never dared to do that,” said Lind, with the tragicgrin which was the nearest he ever came to a laugh.

“If you ever decide to do so, call me in as a special adviser. It’sa primal evil, a pure malignance. They really enjoy giving pain. Thisis described by sentimentalists as innocence. I was tormented by thechildren of our village from the earliest days I can remember. Mymother had done something I never found out what it was–that mademost of the village hate her, and the children knew that, so it wasall right to hate me and torture me. They said my mother was ahoor–that was the local pronunciation of whore–and they tormentedme with a virtuosity they never showed in anything else they did.When I cried, somebody might say, ‘Aw, let the kid alone; he can’thelp it his mother’s a hoor.’ I suppose the philosopher‑kingswho struggled up to that level have since become the rulers of theplace. But I soon determined not to cry.

“Not that I became hard. I simply accepted the wretchedness of mystation. Not that I hated them–not then; I learned to hate themlater in life. At that time I simply assumed that children must be asthey were. I was a misfit in the world, and didn’t know why.

“Onward I went with Psalm 79. O remember notagainst us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily preventus: for we are brought very low. But as soon as I put my noseinto the schoolyard they would remember former iniquities against me.God’s tender mercies had never reached the Deptford school‑yard.And I was unquestionably brought very low, for all that desolationwould begin again next Tuesday.

“Having got that far with me, Satan had me well on the path tohell. I knew where some money was kept; it was small change for thebaker and the milkman when they called; under my mother’s verynose–she was sitting in a chair, staring into space, tied by a ropeto a ringbolt my father had set in the wall I pinched fifteen cents;I held it up so that she could see it, so that she would think I wasgoing to pay one of the delivery‑men. Then I ran off to thefair, and my heart was full of terrible joy. I was wicked, but O whata delirious release it was.

“I pieced out the enjoyment of the fair like a gourmet savouring afeast. Begin at the bottom, with what was least amusing. That wouldbe the Women’s Institute display of bottled pickles, embalmedfruit, doilies, home‑cooking, and “fancy‑work”. Thenthe animals, the huge draught‑horses, the cows with enormousudders, the prize bull (though I did not go very near to him, forsome of my schoolmates were lingering there, to snigger and workthemselves up into a horny stew, gaping at his enormous testicles),the pigs so unwontedly clean, and the foolish poultry, WhiteWyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, and Mrs. Forrester’s gorgeous CochinChinas, and in a corner a man from the Department of Agriculturegiving an educational display of egg‑candling.

“Pleasure now began to be really intense. I looked with awe andsome fear at the display from the nearby Indian Reservation. Men withwrinkled, tobacco‑coloured faces sat behind a stand, not reallyoffering slim walking‑canes, with ornate whittled handles intowhich patterns of colour had been worked; their women, as silent andunmoving as they, displayed all sorts of fancy boxes made ofsweet‑grass, ornamented with beads and dyed porcupine quill.But these goods, which had some merit as craftwork, were not sogorgeous in my eyes as the trash offered by a booth which was not oflocal origin, in which a man sold whirligigs of gaudy celluloid,kewpie dolls with tinsel skirts riding high over their grossstomachs, alarm‑clocks with two bells for determinedsleepers, and beautiful red or blue pony‑whips. I yearnedtoward those whips, but they cost a whole quarter apiece, and werethus out of my reach.

“But I was not cut off from all the carnal pleasures of the fair.After a great deal of deliberation I spent five of my ill‑gottencents on a large paper comet of pink candy floss, a delicacy I hadnever seen before. It had little substance, and made my mouth stickyand dry, but it was a luxury, and my life had known nothing ofluxuries.

“Then, after a full ten minutes of deliberation, I laid out anotherfive cents on a ride on the merry‑go‑round. I chose mymount with care, a splendid dapple‑grey with flaring nostrils,ramping wonderfully up and down on his brass pole; he seemed to melike the horse in Job that saith among the trumpets. Ha, ha; for ahundred and eighty seconds I rode him in ecstasy, and dismounted onlywhen I was chased away by the man who took care of such things andwas on the lookout for enchanted riders like myself.

“But even this was only leading up to what I knew to be the crownof the fair. That was Wanless’s World of Wonders, the one pleasurewhich my father would certainly never have permitted me. Shows of allkinds were utterly evil in his sight, and this was a show that turnedmy bowels to water, even from the outside.

“The tent seemed vast to me, and on a scaffold on its outside werebig painted pictures of the wonders within. A Fat Woman, immense andpink, beside whom even the biggest pigs in the agricultural tentswere starvelings. A man who ate fire. A Strong Man, who would wrestlewith anybody who dared to try it. A Human Marvel, half man and halfwoman. A Missing link, in itself worth more than the price ofadmission, because it was powerfully educational, illustrating whatMan had been before he decided to settle in such places as Deptford.On a raised platform outside the tent a man in fine clothes wasshouting to the crowd about everything that was to be seen; it wasbefore the days of microphones, and he roared hoarsely through amegaphone. Beside him stood the Fire Eater, holding a flaming torchin front of his mouth. ‘See Molza, the man who can always be sureof a hot meal,’ bellowed the man in the fine clothes, and a fewDeptfordians laughed shyly. ‘See Professor Spencer, born withoutarms, but he can write a finer hand with his feet than any of yourschoolteachers. And within the tent the greatest physiological marvelof the age, Andro, the Italian nobleman so evenly divided between thesexes that you may see him shave the whiskers off the one side of hisface, while the other displays the peachy smoothness of a lovelywoman. A human miracle, attested to by doctors and men of science atYale, Harvard, and Columbia. Any local doctor wishing to examine thisgreatest of marvels may make an appointment to do so, in the presenceof myself, after the show tonight.’

“But I was not very attentive to the man in the fine clothes,because my eyes were all for another figure on the platform, who wasdoing wonders with decks of cards; he whirled them out from his handsin what appeared to be ribbons, and then drew them–magically itseemed to me–back into his hands again. He spread them in fans. Hemade them loop‑the‑loop from one hand to another. The manin the fine clothes introduced him as Willard the Wizard, positivelythe greatest artist in sleight‑of‑hand in the worldtoday, briefly on loan from the Palace Theater in New York.

“Willard was a tall man, and looked even taller because he worewhat was then called a garter‑snake suit, which had wrigglinglines of light and dark fabric running perpendicularly through it. Hewas crowned by a pearl‑grey hard hat–what we called a Derby,and known in Deptford only as part of the Sunday dress of doctors andother grandees. He was the most elegant thing I had ever seen in mylife, and his thin, unsmiling face spoke to me of breathtakingsecrets. I could not take my eyes off him, nor did I try to still myravening desire to know those secrets. I too was a conjuror, you see;I had continued, on the sly, to practise the few elementary sleightsand passes I had learned from Ramsay, before my father put a stop toit. I longed with my whole soul to know what Willard knew. As thehart pants after the water brooks, even so my blasphemous soul pantedafter the Wizard. And the unbelievable thing was that, of the fifteenor twenty people gathered in front of the platform, he seemed to lookmost often at me, and once I could swear I saw him wink “I paid myfive cents–a special price for schoolchildren until six o’clock–andentered in the full splendour of Wanless’s World of Wonders. It isimpossible for me to describe the impression it made on me then,because I came to know it so well later on. It was just a fair‑sizedtent, capable of holding ten or twelve exhibits and the spectators.It was of that discouraged whitey‑grey colour that such tentsused to be before somebody had the good idea of colouring canvasbrown. A few strings of lights hung between the three main poles, butthey were not on, because it was assumed that we could see wellenough by the light that leaked in from outdoors. The exhibits wereon stands the height of a table; indeed, they were like collapsibletables, and each exhibit had his own necessities. Professor Spencerhad the blackboard on which he wrote so elegantly with his feet;Molza had his jet of flaming gas, and a rack to hold the swords heswallowed; it was really, I suppose, very tacky and ordinary. But Iwas under the spell of Willard, and I didn’t, at that time, takemuch heed of anything else, not even of the clamorous Fat Woman, whoseemed never to be wholly quiet, even when the other exhibits werehaving their turn.

“The loud‑voiced man had followed us inside, and bellowedabout each wonder as we toured round the circle. Even to such aninnocent as I, it was plain that the wonders were shown in anascending order of importance, beginning with the Knife Thrower andMolza, and working upward through Zovene the Midget Juggler and Sonnythe Strong Man to Professor Spencer and Zitta the Serpent Woman. Sheseemed to mark a divide, and after her came Rango the Missing Link,then the Fat Woman, called Happy Hannah, then Willard, and finallyAndro the Half‑Man Half‑Woman.

“Even though my eyes constantly wandered toward Willard, who seemednow and then to meet them with a dark and enchantingly wizard‑likegaze, I was too prudent to ignore the lesser attractions. After all,I had invested five ill‑gotten cents in this adventure, and Iwas in no position to throw money away. But we came to Willard atlast, and the loud‑voiced man did not need to introduce him,because even before Happy Hannah had finished her noisy harangue andhad begun to sell pictures of herself, he threw away his cigarette,sprang to his feet, and began to pluck coins out of the air. Hesnatched them from everywhere–from the backs of his knees, from hiselbows, from above his head–and threw them into a metal basin onhis little tripod table. You could hear them clink as they fell, andas the number increased the sound from the basin changed. Then,without speaking a word, he seized the basin and hurled its contentsinto the crowd. People ducked and shielded their faces. But the basinwas empty. Willard laughed a mocking laugh. Oh, very Mephistophelian.It sounded like a trumpet call to me, because I had never heardanybody laugh like that before. He was laughing at us, for havingbeen deceived. What power! What glorious command over lesserhumanity. Silly people often say that they are enraptured bysomething which has merely pleased them, but I was truly enraptured.I was utterly unaware of myself, whirled into a new sort ofcomprehension of life by what I saw.

“You must understand that I had never seen a conjuror before. Iknew what conjuring was, and I could do some tricks. But I had neverseen anybody else do sleight‑of‑hand except Ramsay here,who made very heavy weather of getting one poor coin from one of hisgreat red hands to the other, and if he had not explained that thepass was supposed to be invisible you would never have known it was atrick at all. Please don’t be hurt, Ramsay. You are a dear fellowand rather a famous writer in your own line, but as a conjuror youwere abject. But Willard! For me the Book of Revelation came alive:here was an angel come down from heaven, having great power, and theearth was lightened with his glory; if only I could be like him,surely there would be no more sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain,and all former things–my dark home, my mad, disgraceful mother, thetorment of school–would pass away.”

“So you ran away with the show,” said Kinghovn, who had no tact.

“Ramsay tells me they say in Deptford that I ran away with theshow,” said Eisengrim, smiling what I would myself have called aMephistophelian smile, beneath which he looked like any other manwhose story has been interrupted by somebody who doesn’t understandthe form and art of stories. “I don’t think Deptford would evercomprehend that it was not a matter of choice. But if you haveunderstood what I have said about the way Deptford regarded me, youwill realize that I had no choice. I did not run away with the show;the show ran away with me.”

“Because you were so utterly entranced by Willard?” saidIngestree.

“No. I think our friend means something more than that,” saidLind. “These possessions of the soul are very powerful, but theremust have been something else. I smell it. The Bible obsession mustsomehow have supported the obsession with the conjuror. Not even thegreat revelation wipes out a childhood’s indoctrination; the twomust have come together in some way.”

“You are right,” said Eisengrim. “And I begin to see why peoplecall you a great artist. Your education and sophistication haven’tgobbled up your understanding of the realities of life. Let me go on.

“Willard’s show had to be short, because there were ten exhibitsin the tent, and a full show was not supposed to run over forty‑fiveminutes. As one of the best attractions he was allowed something likefive minutes, and after the trick with the coins he did some splendidthings with ribbons, pulling them out of his mouth and throwing theminto the bowl, from which he produced them neatly braided. Then hedid some very flashy things with cards, causing any card chosen by amember of the audience to pop out of a pack that was stuck in awineglass as far away from himself as his platform allowed. Hefinished by eating a spool of thread and a packet of needles, andthen producing the thread from his mouth, with all the needlesthreaded on it at intervals of six inches. During the Oohs and Aahs,he nonchalantly produced the wooden spool from his ear and threw itinto the audience–threw it so that I caught it. I remember beingamazed that it wasn’t even wet, which shows how very green I was.

“I didn’t want to see Andro, whose neatly compartmentalizedsexuality meant nothing to me. As the crowd moved on to hear theloud‑mouthed man bellow about the medical miracle calledhermaphroditism–only one in four hundred million births, ladiesand gentlemen, only six thoroughly proven hermaphrodites in the wholelong history of mankind, and one of them stands before you inDeptford today! – I hung around Willard’s table. He leaptdown from it and lighted another cigarette. Even the way he did thatwas magical, for he flicked the pack toward his mouth, and thecigarette leaped between his lips, waiting for the match he wasstriking with the thumbnail of his other hand. There I was, nearenough to the Wizard to touch him. But it was he who touched me. Hereached toward my left ear and produced a quarter from it, andflicked it toward me. I snatched it out of the air, and handed itback to him. ‘No, it’s for you, kid,’ he said. His voice waslow and hoarse, and not in keeping with the rest of his elegantpresentation, but I didn’t care. A quarter for me! I had neverknown such riches in my life. My infrequent stealings had never,before this day, aspired beyond a nickel. The man was not only aWizard; he was princely.

“I was inspired. Inspired by you, Ramsay, you may be surprised tohear. You remember your trick in which you pretended to eat money,though one could always see it in your hand as you took it away fromyour mouth? I did that. I popped the quarter into my mouth, chewed itup, showed Willard that it was gone, and that I had nothing in myhands. I could do a little magic, too, and I was eager to claim somekinship with this god.

“He did not smile. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Comewith me, kid. I got sumpn to show ya,’ and steered me toward a backentry of the tent which I had not noticed.

“We walked perhaps halfway around the fairground, which was notreally very far, and we kept behind tents and buildings. I would havebeen proud to be seen by the crowd with such a hero, but we met veryfew people, and they were busy with their own affairs in theagricultural tents, so I do not suppose anybody noticed us. We cameto the back of the barn where the horses were stabled when they werenot being shown; it was one of the two or three permanent buildingsof the fair. Behind it was a lean–to with a wall which did notquite reach to the roof, nor fully to the ground. It was the men’surinal, old, dilapidated, and smelly. Willard peeped in, found itempty, and pushed me in ahead of him. I had never been in such aplace before, because it was part of my training that one never‘went’ anywhere except at home, and all arrangements had to bemade to accommodate this rule. It was a queer place, as I rememberit; just a tin trough nailed to the wall, sloping slightly downwardso that it drained into a hole in the ground. A pile of earth wasready to fill in the hole, once the fair was over.

“At the end of this shanty was a door which hung partly open, andit was through this that Willard guided me. We were in an earthcloset, as old as Deptford fair, I should judge, for a heavy,sweetish, old smell hung over it. Hornets buzzed under the slopingroof. The two holes in the seat were covered by rounds of wood, withcrude handles. I think I would know them if I saw them now.

“Willard took a clean white handkerchief out of his pocket, twistedit quickly into a roll, and forced it between my teeth. No: I shouldnot say ‘forced’. I thought this was the beginning of somesplendid illusion, and opened my mouth willingly. Then he whirled meround, lifted me up on the seat in a kneeling position, pulled downmy pants and sodomized me.

“Quickly said: an eternity in the doing. I struggled and resisted:he struck me such a blow over the ear that I slackened my grip withthe pain, and he had gained an entry. It was rough: it was painful,and I suppose it was soon over. But as I say, it seemed an eternity,for it was a kind of feeling I had never guessed at.

“I am anxious you should not misunderstand me. I was no Greek lad,discovering the supposed pleasures of pederastic love in a societythat knew it and condoned it. I was a boy not yet quite ten yearsold, who did not know what sex was in any form. I thought I was beingkilled, and in a shameful way.

“The innocence of children is very widely misunderstood. Few ofthem–I suppose only children brought up in wealthy families thatdesire and can contrive a conspiracy of ignorance –are unknowingabout sex. No child brought up so near the country as I was, andamong schoolchildren whose ages might reach as high as fifteen orsixteen, can be utterly ignorant of sex. It had touched me, but notintimately. For one thing, I had heard the whole of the Bible readthrough several times by my father; he had a plan of readings which,pursued morning and evening, worked through the whole of the book ina year. I had heard the sound as an infant, and as a little child,long before I could understand anything of the sense. So I knew aboutmen going in unto women, and people raising up seed of their loins,and I knew that my father’s voice took on a special tone of shameand detestation when he read about Lot and his daughters, though Ihad never followed what it was they did in that cave, and thoughttheir sin was to make their father drunk. I knew these things becauseI had heard them, but they had no reality for me.

“As for my mother, who was called hoor by my schoolmates, I knewonly that hoors–my father used the local pronunciation, and I don’tthink he knew any other–were always turning up in the Bible, andalways in a bad sense which meant nothing to me as a reality.Ezekiel, sixteen, was a riot of whoredoms and abominations, and Ishivered to think how terrible they must be: but I did not know whatthey were, even in the plainest sense of the words. I only knew thatthere was something filthy and disgraceful that pertained to mymother, and that we all, my father and I, were spattered by hershame, or abomination, or whatever it might be.

“I was aware that there was some difference between boys and girls,but I didn’t know, or want to know, what it was, because Iconnected it somehow with the shame of my mother. You couldn’t be ahoor unless you were a woman, and they had something special thatmade it possible. What I had, as a male, I had most strictly beenwarned against as an evil and shameful part of my body. ‘Don’tyou ever monkey with yourself, down there,’ was the full extent ofthe sexual instruction I had from my father. I knew that the boys whowere gloating over the bull’s testicles were doing something dirty,and my training was such that I was both disgusted and terrified bytheir sly nastiness. But I didn’t know why, and it never would haveoccurred to me to relate the bull’s showy apparatus with thosethings I possessed, in so slight a degree, and which I wasn’t tomonkey with. So you can see that without being utterly ignorant, Iwas innocent, in my way. If I had not been innocent, how could I havelived my life, and even have felt some meagre joy, from time to time?

“Sometimes I felt that joy when I was with you, Ramsay, because youwere kind to me, and kindness was a great rarity in my life. You werethe only person in my childhood who had treated me as if I were ahuman creature. I don’t say, who loved me, you notice. My fatherloved me, but his love was a greater burden, almost, than hate mighthave been. But you treated me as a fellow‑being, because Idon’t suppose it ever occurred to you to do anything else. Younever ran with the crowd.

“The rape itself was horrible, because it was painful physically,but worse because it was an outrage on another part of my body whichI had been told to fear and be ashamed of. Liesl tells me that Freudhas had a great deal to say about the importance of the functions ofexcretion in deciding and moulding character. I don’t know anythingabout that; don’t want to know it, because all that sort ofthinking lies outside what I really understand. I have my own notionsabout psychology, and they have served me well. But this rape–itwas something filthy going in where I knew only that filthy thingsshould come out, as secretly as could be managed. In our house therewas no word for excretion, only two or three prim locutions, and theword used in the schoolyard seemed to me a horrifying indecency. Itsvery popular nowadays in literature, I’m told by Liesl. She reads agreat deal. I don’t know how writers can put it down, though therewas a time when I used it often enough in my daily speech. But as Ihave grown older I have returned to that early primness. We don’tget over some things. But what Willard did to me was, in a sense Icould understand, a reversal of the order of nature, and I wasterrified that it would kill me.

“It didn’t, of course. But that, and Willard’s heavy breathing,and the flood of filthy language that he whispered as a kind ofecstatic accompaniment to what he was doing, were more horrible to methan anything I have met with since.

“When it was over he pulled my head around so that he could see myface and said, ‘You O.K., kid?’ I can remember the tone now. Hehad no idea at all of what I was, or what I might feel. He wasobviously happy, and the Mephistophelian smile hid given place to anexpression that was almost boyish. ‘Go on now,’ he said. ‘Pullup your pants and beat it. And if you blat to anybody, by the livingJesus I’ll cut your nuts off with a rusty knife.’

“Then I fainted, but for how long, or what I looked like when I didit, I of course can’t tell you. Perhaps I was out for a fewminutes, because when I became aware again Willard was lookinganxious, and patting my cheeks lightly. He had taken the gag out ofmy mouth. I was crying, but making no noise. I had learned very earlyin life not to make a noise when I cried. I was still crumpled up onthe horrible seat, and now its stench was too much for me and Ivomited. Willard sprang back, anxious for his fine trousers and thehigh polish on his shoes. But he dared not leave me. Of course I hadno idea how frightened he was. He felt he could trust in my shame andhis threats up to a point, but I might be one of those terriblechildren who go beyond the point set for them by adults. He tried toplacate me.

“ ‘Hey,’ he whispered, ‘you’re a pretty smart kid. Where’dyou learn that trick with the quarter, eh? Come on now, show it to meagain. I never seen a better trick than that, even at the Palace, NewYork. You’re the kid that eats money; that’s who you are. A realshow‑business kid. Now look, I’ll give you this, if you’lleat it.’ He offered me a silver dollar. But I turned my face away,and sobbed, without sound.

“ ‘Aw now, look, it wasn’t as bad as that,’ he said. ‘Justsome fun between us two. Just playing paw and maw, eh? You want togrow up to be smart, don’t you? You want to have fun? Take it fromme, kid, you can’t start too young. The day’ll come, you’llthank me. Yes, sir, you’ll thank me. Now look here. I show you I’vegot nothing in my hands, see? Now watch.’ He spread his fingers oneby one, and magically quarters appeared between them until he heldfour quarters in each hand. ‘Magic money, see? All for you; twowhole dollars if you’ll shut up and get the hell outa here, andnever say anything to anybody.’

“I fainted again, and this time when I came round Willard waslooking deeply worried. ‘What you need is rest,’ he said. ‘Rest,and time to think about all that money. I’ve gotta get back for thenext show, but you stay here, and don’t let anybody in. Nobody,see? I’ll come back as soon as I can and I’ll bring yousomething. Something nice. But don’t let anybody in, don’tholler, and keep quiet like a mouse.’

“He went, and I heard him pause for a moment outside the door. ThenI was alone, and I sobbed myself to sleep.

“I did not wake until he came back, I suppose an hour later. Hebrought me a hot dog, and urged me to eat it. I took one bite– itwas my first hot dog–and vomited again. Willard was now veryworried indeed. He swore fiercely, but not at me. All he said to mewas, ‘My God you’re a crazy kid. Stay here. Now stay here, I tellya. I’ll come back as soon as I can.’

“That was not very soon. Perhaps two hours. But when he came he hadan air of desperation about him, which I picked up at once. Terriblethings had happened, and terrible remedies must be found. He hadbrought a large blanket, and he wrapped me in it, so that not even myhead was showing, and lugged me bodily–I was not very heavy–outof the privy; I felt myself dumped into what I suppose was the backof a buggy or a carry‑all, or something, and other wraps werethrown over me. Off I went, bumping along in the back of the cart,and it was some time later that I felt myself lifted out again,carried over rough ground, and humped painfully up onto what seemedto be a platform. Then another painful business of being lugged overa floor, some sounds of objects being moved, and at last the blanketwas taken off. I was in a dark place, and only vaguely conscious thatsome distance away a door, like the door of a shed, was open, and Icould see the light of dusk through it.

“Willard lost no time. ‘Get in here,’ he commanded, and pushedme into a place that was entirely dark, and confined. I had to climbupward, boosted by him, until I came to what seemed to me a shelf, orseat, and on this he pushed me. ‘Now you’ll be all right,’ hesaid, in a voice that carried no confidence at all that I would beall right. It was a desperate voice. ‘Here’s something for you toeat.’ A box was pushed in beside me. Then a door below me wasclosed, and snapped from the outside, and I was in utter darkness.

“After a while I felt around me. Irregular walls, seeming to becurved everywhere; there was even a small dome over my head. A smell,not clean, but not as disgusting as the privy at the fair. A littlefresh air from a point above my head. I fell asleep again.

“When I woke, it was because I heard the whistle of a train, and atrain‑like thundering near by. But I was not moving. I waswretchedly hungry, and in the darkness I explored Willard’s box.Something lumpy and sticky inside it, which I tried to eat, and thengreedily ate it all. Sleep again. Terrible fatigue all through mybody, and the worst pain of all in my bottom. But I could not movevery much in any direction, and I had to sit on my misery. At last, aspace of time that seemed like a geological age later, I feltmovement. Banging and thumping which went on for some time. A soundof voices. The sound of another whistle, and then trundling,lumbering movement, which increased to a good speed. For the firsttime in my life I was on a train, but of course I didn’t know that.

“And that, my friends, is the first instalment of my subtext to thememoirs of Robert‑Houdin, whose childhood, you recall, was suchan idyll of family love and care, and whose introduction to magic wasso charmingly brought about. Enough, I think, for one evening.Good‑night.”


When I made my way to bed, some time later, I tapped at Eisengrim’sdoor. As I had expected, he was awake, and lay, looking very fine,against his pillows, wearing a handsome dressing‑robe.

“Kind of you to come in and say goodnight, Dunny.”

“I expected you’d be waiting up to see what your notices were.”

“A disgusting way of putting it. Well, what were they?”

“About what you’d expect. Kinghovn had a fine sense of theappearance of everything. I’ll bet that as you talked he had thatfair all cut up into long shots, close‑ups, and atmosphereshots. And of course he’s a devil for detail. For one thing, hewondered why nobody wanted to use the privy while you were left in itfor so long.”

“Simple enough. Willard wrote a note which said ‘INFECTION:Closed by Doctor’s Order’, and pinned it to the door.”

“Also he was anxious to know what it was you ate when you foundyourself in the curious prison with the rounded walls.”

“It was a box of Cracker‑Jack. I didn’t know what it was atthe time, and had never eaten it before. Why should I have includedthose details in my story? I didn’t know them then. It would havebeen a violation of narrative art to tell things I didn’t know.Kinghovn ought to have more sense of artistic congruity.”

“He’s a cameraman. He wants to get a shot of everything, and editlater.”

“I edit as I go along. What did the others say?”

“Ingestree talked for quite a while about the nature of puritanism.He doesn’t know anything about it. Its just a theological whimwhamto him. He’s talked about puritanism at Oxford to Ronny Knox andMonsignor D’Arcy, but that stuff means nothing in terms of thedaily, bred‑in‑the‑bone puritanism we lived inDeptford. North American puritanism and the puritanism the Englishknow are worlds apart. I could have told him a thing or two aboutthat, but my time for instructing people is over. Let em wallow inwhatever nonsense pleases ‘em, say I.”

“Did Lind have anything to say?”

“Not much. But he did say that nothing you told us wasincomprehensible to him, or even very strange. ‘We know of suchthings in Sweden,’ he said.”

“I suppose people know of such things everywhere. But every rape isunique for the aggressor and the victim. He talks as if he kneweverything.”

“I don’t think he means it quite that way. When he talks aboutSweden, I think it is a mystical rather than a geographical concept.When he talks of Sweden he means himself, whether he knows it or not.He really does understand a great deal. You remember what Goethesaid? No, of course you don’t. He said he’d never heard of acrime of which he could not believe himself capable. Same with Lind,I suppose. That’s his strength as an artist.”

“He’s a great man to work with. I think between us we’ll dosomething extraordinary with this film.”

“I hope so. And by the way, Magnus, I must thank you for the verykind things you said about me tonight. But I assure you I didn’tespecially mean to be kind to you, when we were boys. I mean, itwasn’t anything conscious.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t. But that’s the point, don’t you see?If you’d done it out of duty, or for religious reasons, it wouldhave been different. But it was just decency. You’re a very decentman, Dunny.”

“Really? Well–it’s nice of you to think so. I’ve hearddissenting opinions.”

“Its true. That’s why I think you ought to know something Ididn’t see fit to tell them tonight.”

“You suggested you had been editing. What did you leave out?”

“One gets carried away, telling a story. I may have leaned a littletoo heavily on my character as the wronged child. But would they haveunderstood the whole truth? I don’t after fifty years when I havethought it over and over. You believe in the Devil, don’t you?”

“In an extremely sophisticated way, which would take several hoursto explain, I do.”

“Yes. Well, when the Devil is walking beside you, as he was walkingbeside me at that fair, it doesn’t take a lot of argument to makehim seem real.”

“I won’t insult you by saying you’re a simple man, but you’recertainly a man of strong feeling, and your feelings take concreteshapes. What did the Devil do to you that you withheld when you weretalking downstairs?”

“The whole nub of the story. When Willard gave me that quarter inthe tent, we were standing behind the crowd, which was gaping atAndro who was showing his big right bicep while twitching hissumptuous left breast. Nobody was looking. Willard had slipped hishand down the back of my pants and gently stroked my left buttock.Gave it a meaning squeeze. I remember very well how warm his handfelt.”


“I smiled up into his face.”


“Is that all you have to say? Don’t you see what I’m gettingat? I had never had any knowledge of sex, had never known a sexualcaress before, even of the kind parents quite innocently give theirchildren. But at this first sexual approach I yielded. I cosied up toWillard. How could I, without any true understanding of what I wasdoing, respond in such a way to such a strange act?”

“You were mad to learn his magic. It doesn’t seem very strange tome.”

“But it made me an accomplice in what followed.”

“You think that? And you still blame yourself?”

“What did I know of such things? I can only think it was the Devilprompting me, and pushing me on to what looked then, and for yearsafter, like my own destruction.”

The Devil isn’t a popular figure nowadays. The people who take himseriously are few.”

“I know. How he must laugh. I don’t suppose God laughs at thepeople who think He doesn’t exist. He’s above jokes. But theDevil isn’t. That’s one of his most endearing qualities. But Istill remember that smile. I had never smiled like that before. Itwas a smile of complicity. Now where would such a child as I waslearn such a smile as that?”

“From that other old joker, Nature, do you suppose?”

“I don’t take much stock in Nature… Thanks for coming in.Goodnight, decent man.”

“Magnus, are you becoming sentimental in your old age?”

“I’m fully ten years younger than you, you sour Scot. Goodnight,kind man.”

I went to my room, and to my bed, but it was a long time before Islept. I lay awake, thinking about the Devil. Many people would haveconsidered my bedroom at Sorgenfrei a first‑class place forsuch reflection, because so many people associate the Devil with ahigh standard of old‑fashioned luxury. Mine was a handsome roomin a corner tower, with an area of floor as big as that of a modestmodern North American house. Sorgenfrei was an earlynineteenth‑century construction, built by a forebear of Liesl’swho seemed to have something in common, at least in his architecturaltaste, with the mad King of Bavaria; it was a powerfully romanticGothic Revival house, built and furnished with Teutonic thoroughness.Everything was heavy, everything was the best of its kind, everythingwas carved, and polished, and gilded, and painted to the highestpossible degree, and everything would drive a modern interiordecorator out of his tasteful mind. But it suited me splendidly.

Not, however, when I wanted to think about the Devil. It was tooromantic, too Germanic altogether. As I lay in my big bed, lookingout of the windows at the mountains on which moonlight was falling,what could be easier than to accept an operatic Devil, up to everysort of high‑class deception, and always defeated at the end ofthe story by the power of sheer simple‑minded goodness? All mylife I have been a keen operagoer and playgoer, and in the theatre Iam willing to accept the notion that although the Devil is a veryclever fellow, he is no match for some ninny who is merely good. Andwhat is this goodness? A squalid, know‑nothing acceptance ofthings as they are, an operatic version of the dream which, in NorthAmerica, means Mom and apple pie. My whole life had been a protestagainst this world, or the smudged, grey version of it into which Ihad been born in my rural Canada.

No, no; that Devil would never do. But what else is there?Theologians have not been so successful in their definitions of theDevil as they have been in their definitions of God. The words of theWestminster Confession, painstakingly learned by heart as a necessityof Presbyterian boyhood, still seemed, after many wanderings, to havethe ring of indisputable authority. God was infinite in being andperfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts orpassions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty,most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all thingsaccording to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteouswill, for his own glory. Excellent, even if one is somewhatseduced by the high quality of the prose of 1648. What else? Mostloving, most gracious, merciful, longsuffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin: therewarder of those that diligently seek him. Aha, but where doesone seek God? In Deptford, where Eisengrim and I were born, and mightstill be living if, in my case, I had not gone off to the First WorldWar, and in his case, if he had not been abducted by a mountebank ina travelling show? I had sought God in my lifelong, unlikely (for aCanadian schoolmaster) preoccupation with that fantastic collectionof wise men, virtuous women, thinkers, doers, organizers,contemplatives, crack‑brained simpletons, and mad mullahs thatare called Saints. But all I had found in that lifelong study was acomplexity that brought God no nearer. Had Eisengrim sought God atall? How could I know? How can anybody know what another man does inthis most secret part of his life? What else had I been taught inthat profound and knotty definition? That God was most just andterrible in his judgements, hating all sin, one who will by no meansclear the guilty. Noble words, and (only slightly cloaked bytheir nobility) a terrifying concept. And why should it not beterrifying? A little terror, in my view is good for the soul, when itis terror in the face of a noble object.

The Devil, however, seems never to have been so splendidly mapped anddefined. Nor can you spy him simply by turning a fine definition ofGod inside out; he is something decidedly more subtle than just God’sopposite.

Is the Devil, then, sin? No, though sin is very useful to him;anything we may reasonably call sin involves some personal choice. Itis flattering to be asked to make important choices. The Devil lovesthe time of indecision.

What about evil, then? Is the Devil the origin and ruler of thatgreat realm of manifestly dreadful and appalling things which arenot, so far as we can determine, anybody’s fault or theconsequences of any sin? Of the cancer wards, and the wards forchildren born misshapen and mindless? I have had reason to visit suchplaces–asylums for the insane in particular–and I do not think Iam fanciful or absurdly sensitive in saying that I have felt evil tobe palpable there, in spite of whatever could be done to lessen it.

These are evil things within my knowledge: I am certain there areworse things I have never encountered. And how constant this evilis–Let mankind laboriously suppress leprosy, and tuberculosisrages: when tuberculosis is chained, cancer rushes to take its place.One might almost conclude that such evils were necessities of ourcollective life. If the Devil is the inspirer and ruler of evil, heis a serious adversary indeed, and I cannot understand why so manypeople become jokey and facetious at the mention of his name.

Where is the Devil? Was Eisengrim, whose intuitions and directness ofobservation in all things concerning himself I had come to respect,right in saying the Devil stood beside him when Willard the Wizardsolicited him to an action which, under the circumstances, I shouldcertainly have to call evil? Both God and the Devil wish to intervenein the world, and the Devil chooses his moments shrewdly.

What had Eisengrim told us? That on 30 August 1918, he had descendedinto hell, and did not rise again for seven years? Allowing for hiswish to startle us, and his taste for what a severe critic might callflashy rhetoric, could what he said be discounted?

It was always a mistake, in my experience, to discount MagnusEisengrim. The only thing to do was to wait for the remainder of hisnarrative, and hope that it would make it possible for me to reach aconclusion. And that would be my much‑desired document.


I knew nothing about filming, but Land’s subordinates told me thathis methods were not ordinary. He was extremely deliberate, andbecause he liked careful rehearsal and would not work at night hesemed to take a lot of time. But as he wasted none of this time, hisfilms were not as devastatingly expensive as impatient people fearedthey might be. He was a master of his craft. I did not presume toquestion him about it, but I sensed that he attached more importanceto Eisengrim’s story than ordinary curiosity would explain, andthat the dinners and discussions at Sorgenfrei fed the fire of hiscreation. Certainly he and Kinghovn and Ingestree were anxious formore as we settled down in the library on the third night. Liesl hadseen to it that there was plenty of brandy, for although Eisengrimdrank very little, and I was too keen on my document to drink much,Lind loved to tipple as he listened and had a real Scandinavian head;brandy never changed him in the least. Kinghovn was a heavy drinker,and Ingestree, a fatty, could not resist anything that could be putinto his mouth, be it food, drink, or cigar.

Magnus knew they were waiting, and after he had toyed with them for afew minutes, and appeared to be leading them into generalconversation, he yielded to Lind’s strong urging that he go on withhis story or–as Ingestree now quite seriously called it–”thesubtext”.

“I told you I was on a train, but didn’t know it. I think that istrue, but I must have had some notion of what was happening to me,because I had heard the whistle, and felt the motion, and of course Ihad seen trains. But I was so wretched that I couldn’t reason, orbe sure of anything, except that I was in close quarters in pitchydarkness. My mind was on a different unhappiness. I knew that when Iwas in trouble I should pray, and God would surely help me. But Icouldn’t pray, for two reasons. First, I couldn’t kneel, and tome prayer without kneeling was unknown. Second, if I had been able tokneel I could not have dared to do it, because I was horribly awarethat what Willard had done to me in that disgusting privy had beendone while I was in a kneeling posture. I assure you, however strangeit may seem, that I didn’t know what he had done, but I feltstrongly that it was a blasphemy against kneeling, and if I knewnothing of sex I certainly knew a lot about blasphemy. I guessed Imight be on a train, but I knew for a certainty that I had angeredGod. I had been involved in what was very likely the Sin against theHoly Ghost. Can you imagine what that meant to me? I had never knownsuch desolation. I had wept in the privy and now I could weep nomore. Weeping meant sound, and I had a confused idea that althoughGod certainly knew about me, and undoubtedly had terrible plans forme, He might be waiting for me to betray myself by sound before Hewent to work on me. So I kept painfully still.

“I suppose I was in a state of what would now be called shock. Howlong it went on I could not then tell. But I know now that it wasfrom Friday night until the following Sunday morning that I sat in myclose prison, without food or water or light. The train had not beentravelling all that time. All day Saturday Wanless’s World ofWonders had a day’s work at a village not many miles from Deptford,and I was conscious of the noises of unloading the train in themorning, and of loading it again very late at night, though I couldnot interpret them. But Sunday morning brought a kind of release.

“There were more men’s voices, and more sounds of heavy thingsbeing methodically moved near where I was. Then after a period ofsilence I heard Willard’s voice. ‘He’s in there,’ it said.Then sounds somewhat below me, and a hand reached up and touched myleg. I made no sound–could not make a sound, I suppose–and wasrather roughly hauled out into a dim light, and laid on the floor.Then a strange voice. ‘Jesus, Willard,’ it said, ‘you’vekilled him. Now we’re all up the well‑known creek.’ Butthen I moved a little. ‘Christ, he’s alive,’ said the strangevoice; ‘thank God for that.’ Then Willard’s voice: ‘I’drather he was dead,’ it said; ‘what are we going to do with himnow?’

“ ‘We got to get Gus,’ said the strange voice. ‘Gus is theone who’ll know what to do. Don’t talk about him being dead.Haven’t you got any sense? We got to get Gus right now.’ ThenWillard spoke. ‘Yeah, Gus, Gus, Gus; its always Gus with you. Gushates me. I’ll be outa the show.’ ‘Leave Gus to me about youand the show,’ said the other voice; ‘but only Gus can deal withthis right now. You wait here.’

The other man went away, and as he went I heard the heavy door of thefreight‑car–for I was in a freight‑car in which theWorld of Wonders took its trappings from town to town–and I was fora second time alone with Willard. Through my eyelashes I could seehim sitting on a box beside me. His ephistophelian air of command wasgone; he looked diminished, shabby, and afraid.

“After a time the other man returned with Gus, who proved to be awoman–a real horse’s godmother of a woman, a little, hard‑faced,tough woman who looked like a jockey. But she inspired confidence,and while it would be false to say that my spirits lightened, I felta little less desolate. I have always had a quick response to people,and though it is sometimes wrong it is more often right. If I likethem on sight they are lucky people for me, and that’s really all Icare about. Gus was in a furious temper.

“ ‘Willard, you son‑of‑a‑bitch, what the hellhave you got us into now? Lemme look at this kid.’ Gus knelt andhauled me round so that she could see me. Then she sent the other manto open the doors further, to give her a better light.

“Gus had a rough touch, and she hurt me so that I whimpered.‘What’s your name, kid?’ she said. ‘Paul Dempster.’ ‘Who’syour Dad?’ ‘Reverend Amasa Dempster.’ This pushed Gus’s rageup a few notches. ‘A reverend’s kid,’ she shouted; ‘you hadto go and kidnap a reverend’ kid. Well, I wash my hands of you,Willard. I hope they hang you, and if they do, by God I’ll come andswing on your feet!’

“I can’t pretend to remember all their talk, because Gus sent theunknown man, whom she called Charlie, to get water and milk and foodfor me, and while they wrangled she fed me, first, sugared water froma spoon, and then, when I had plucked up a little, some milk, andfinally a few biscuits. I can still remember the pain as my bodybegan to return to its normal state, and the pins‑and‑needlesin my arms and legs. She put me on my feet and walked me up and downbut I was wobbly, and couldn’t stand much of that.

“Nor can I pretend that I understood much of what was said at thattime, though later, from knowledge I picked up over a period ofyears, I know what it must have been. I was not Gus’s chiefproblem; I was a complication of a problem that was already fillingthe foreground of her mind. Wanless’s World of Wonders belonged toGus, and her brothers Charlie and Jerry; they were Americans,although their show toured chiefly in Canada, and Charlie ought tohave been in the American Army, for the 1917 draft had included himand he had had his call‑up. But Charlie had no mind forfighting, and Gus was doing her best to keep him out of harm’s way,in hopes that the War would end before his situation becamedesperate. Charlie was very much her darling, and I judge he musthave been at least ten years younger than she; Jerry was the oldest.Therefore, involvements with the law were not to Gus’s taste, eventhough they might bring about the downfall of Willard. She detestedhim because he was Charlie’s best friend, and a bad influence.Willard, in his panic, had abducted me, and it was up to Gus to getme out of the way without calling attention to the Wanless family.

“It is easy now to think of several things they might have done,but none of those three were thinkers. Their obsession was that Imust be kept from running to the police and telling my tale ofseduction, abduction, and hard usage; it never occurred to them toask me, or they would have found out that I had no clear idea of whoor what the police were, and had no belief in any rights of mine thatmight have gone contrary to the will of any adult. They assumed thatI was aching to return to my loving family, whereas I was frightenedof what my father would do when he found out what had happened in theprivy, and what the retribution would be for having stolen fifteencents, a crime of the uttermost seriousness in my father’s eyes.

“My father was no brute, and I think he hated beating me, but heknew his duty. ‘He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he thatloveth him chasteneth him betimes’; this was part of the prayerthat always preceded a beating and he laid the rod on hard, while mymother wept or–this was very much worse, and indeed quitehorrible–laughed sadly as if at something my father and I did notand could not know. But Gus Wanless was a sentimentalist,American‑style, and it never entered her head that a boy in mysituation would be prepared to do anything rather than go home.

“There was another thing which seems extraordinary to me now, butwhich was perfectly in keeping with that period in history and thekind of people into whose hands I had fallen. There was never, at anytime, any reference to what had happened in the privy. Gus andCharlie certainly knew that Willard had not stolen a boy, or thoughtit necessary to conceal a boy, simply as a matter of caprice. As Igrew to know these carnival people I discovered that their deepestmorality was precisely that of the kind of people they amused;whatever freedom their travelling way of life might give them, it didnot cut far into the rock of North American accepted custom andmorality. If Willard had despoiled a girl, I think Gus would haveknown better what to do, but she was unwilling to strike out into thedeep and dirty waters that Willard’s crime had revealed in thealways troubled landscape of Wanless’s World of Wonders.

“I think she was right; if Willard had fallen into the hands of thelaw as we knew it in Deptford, and in the county of which it was apart, the scandal would have wrecked the World of Wonders and Charliewould have been shipped back to the States to face the music. Ashowman, a magician at that, a stranger, an American, who had ravageda local child in a fashion of which I am certain half the village hadnever heard except as something forbidden in the Bible–we didn’tgo in for lynchings in our part of the world, but I think Willardmight have been killed by the other prisoners when he went to jail;jails have their own morality, and Willard would have found himselfoutside it. So nothing was said about that, then or afterward. Thiswas all the worse for me, as I found out in the years to come. I waspart of something shameful and dangerous everybody knew about, butwhich nobody would have dreamed of bringing into the light.

“What were they to do with me? I am sure Willard had spoken trulywhen he wished me dead, but he hadn’t the courage to kill me whenhe had his chance. Now that Gus, who was the whole of the law and theprophets in the World of Wonders, knew about me, that moment hadpassed. As I have said, none of them had any capacity for thought orreasoning, and as they talked on and on Gus’s mood turned from rageto fear. Willard was more at home in the air of fear than in that ofanger.

“ ‘Honest to God, Gus, nothing would ever have happened, if thekid hadn.t shown some talent.’ This was a lucky string to touch.Gus was sure she knew everything there was to know about Talent–aword she always pronounced with the air of one giving it a capitalletter. And so it came out that when Willard had given me a quarter,out of pure open‑heartedness, I had immediately done a trickwith it. As neat a palm‑and‑pass as Willard had everseen. Good enough for the Palace Theater in New York.

“ ‘You mean the kid can do tricks?’ It was Charlie who spoke.‘Then why can’t we fix him up a little with some hair‑dyeand maybe colour his skin, and use him as a Boy‑Conjuror–Bonzothe Boy Wonder, or like that?’

“But this did not sit well with Willard. He wanted no rivalconjurors in the show.

“ ‘Jeeze, Willard, I only meant as a kind of assistant to you.Hand you things and like that. Maybe do a funny trick or two whenyou’re not looking. You could plan something.’

“Now it was Gus who objected. ‘Charlie, you ought to know by nowthat you can’t never disguise anybody from somebody that knows himwell. The law’s going to follow the show; just keep that in mind.The kid’s Dad, this reverend, comes into the show, sees a kid thissize, and no hair‑dye and blackface is going to hide him.Anyway, the kid sees his Dad, this reverend, and he gives him thehigh‑sign. Use whatever head you got, Charlie.’

“Now it was Willard’s turn to have a bright idea. ‘Abdullah!’he said.

“Even though I was busy with the biscuits I stopped eating to lookat them. They were like people from whose minds a cloud had lifted.

“ ‘But can he handle Abdullah?’ said Gus.

“ ‘I betcha he can. I tell you, this kid’s Talent. A natural.He’s made for Abdullah. Don’t you see, Gus? This is the silverlining. I made a little slip, I grant ya. But if Abdullah’s back inthe show, what does it matter? Abdullah’s the big draw. Now look;we put Abdullah back, and I go to the top of the show, and let’snot hear any more about Happy Hannah or that gaffed morphoditeAndro.’

“ ‘Just hold your horses, Willard. I’ll believe a kid canhandle Abdullah when I’ve seen it. You got to show me.’

“ ‘And I’ll show you. Gimme time, just a very little time, andI’ll show you. Kid, can you handle a pack of cards?’ Nothingcould make me admit that I could handle a pack of cards. Ramsay hadtaught me a few card tricks, but when my father found it out he gaveme such a beating as only a thoroughgoing Baptist can give a son whohas been handling the Devil’s Picture Book. It had been thoroughlyslashed into my backside that cards were not for me. I denied allknowledge of cards before I had thought for an instant. Yet,immediately I had spoken, the four suits and the ways in which theycould be made to dance began to rise in my memory.

“Willard was not troubled by my lack of knowledge. He had the realshowman’s enthusiasm for a new scheme. But Gus was dubious.

“ ‘Just give me today, Gus,’ said Willard. ‘Only just thisone Sunday, to show you what can be done. I’ll work him in. You’llsee. We can do it right here.’

“That was how I became the soul of Abdullah, and entered into along servitude to the craft and art of magic.

“We began at once. Gus bustled away on some of the endless businessshe always had in hand, but Charlie remained, and he and Willardbegan to uncover something at the very back of the car–the onlyobject in it which the handlers had not unloaded for Monday’s fair,which was under several tarpaulins. Whatever it was, this was theprison in which I had spent my wretched, starving hours.

“When it was pulled forward and the wraps thrown aside, it wasrevealed as, I think still, the most hideous and offensive object Ihave ever seen in my life. You gentlemen know how particular I havealways been about the accoutrements of my show. I have spent a greatdeal of money, which foolish people have thought unnecessary, on thebeauty and workmanship of everything I have exhibited. In this I havebeen like Robert Houdin, who also thought that the best was none toogood for himself and his audiences. Perhaps some of my fastidiousnessbegan with my hatred of the beastly figure that was called Abdullah.

“It was a crude effigy of a Chinese, sitting on top of a chest,with his legs crossed. To begin with, the name was crassly wrong. Whycall a Chinese figure Abdullah? But everything about it was equallyinartistic and inept. Its robes were of frowsy sateen; its head wasvulgarly moulded in papier machae with an ugly face, sharply slantedeyes, dangling moustaches, and yellow fangs which hung down over thelower lip. The thing was, in itself, reason for a sharp protest fromthe Chinese Ambassador, if there had been one. It summed up in itselfall that spirit combined of jocosity and hatred with which ignorantpeople approach whatever is foreign and strange.

“The chest on which this monster sat was in the same mode ofworkmanship. It was lacquered with somebody’s stupid notion of adragon, half hideous and half cute, in gaudy red on a blackbackground. A lot of cheap gold paint had been splashed about.

“Neither Willard nor Charlie explained to me what this thing was,or what relationship I was expected to bear to it. However, I wasused to being ignored and rather liked it; being noticed had, in myexperience, usually meant trouble. All they told me was that I was tosit in this thing and make it work, and my lesson began as soon asAbdullah was unveiled.

“Once again, but this time in daylight and with some knowledge ofwhat I was doing, I crawled into the chest at the back of the figure,and thence upward, rather like an old‑fashioned chimney‑sweepclimbing a chimney, into the body, where there was a tiny ledge onwhich I could sit and allow my feet to hang down. But that was notthe whole of my duty. When I was in place, Willard opened variousdoors in front of the chest, then turned the whole figure around onthe wheels which supported the chest, and opened a door in the back.These doors revealed to the spectators an impressive array of wheels,cogs, springs, and other mechanical devices, and when Willard toucheda lever they moved convincingly. But the secret of these mechanismswas that they were shams, displayed in front of polished steelmirrors, so that they seemed to fill the whole of the chest under thefigure of Abdullah, but really left room for a small person toconceal himself when necessary. And that time came after Willard hadclosed the doors in the chest, and pulled aside Abdullah’s robes toshow some mechanism, and nothing else, in the figure itself. Whenthat was happening, I had to let myself down into the secret openspace in the chest and keep out of the way. Once Abdullah’smechanical innards had been displayed I crept back up into thefigure, thrust aside the fake mechanism, which folded out of the way,and prepared to make Abdullah do his work.

“Willard and Charlie both treated me as if I were very stupid,which God knows I was not. However, I thought it best not to be tooclever at the beginning. This was intuition; I did not figure it outconsciously. They showed me a pack of cards, and painstakingly taughtme the suits and the values. What Abdullah had to do was to playcards, on a very simple principle, with anybody who would volunteerfrom an audience to try their luck with him. This spectator–theRube, as Willard called him–shuffled and cut a deck which lay on alittle tray across Abdullah’s knees. Then the Rube drew a card andlaid it face down on the tray. At this point Willard pulled a leveron the side of Abdullah’s chest, which set up a mechanical sound inthe depths of the figure, which in fact I, the concealed boy, setgoing by pumping a pedal with my left foot. While this was going onit was my job to discover what card the Rube had drawn–which waseasy, because he had put it face downward on a ground‑glassscreen, and I could fairly easily make it out–and to select ahigher card from a rack concealed inside Abdullah ready to my hand.Having chosen my card, I set Abdullah’s left arm in motion,slipping my own arm into the light framework in its sleeve; at thefar end of this framework was a device into which I inserted the cardthat was to confound the Rube. I then made Abdullah’s right armmove slowly to the deck of cards on the tray, and cut them; this waspossible because the fingers had a pincers device in them which couldbe worked from inside the arm by squeezing a handle. When Abdullahhad cut the cards his left hand moved to the deck and took a cardfrom the top. But in fact he did nothing of the sort, because hissleeve fell forward for a moment and concealed what was reallyhappening; it was at this instant I pushed the little slide whichshot the card I had chosen from the rack into Abdullah’s fingers,and it seemed to the spectators that this was the card he picked upfrom the deck. The Rube was then invited to turn up his card–afive, let us say; then a spectator was asked to turn up Abdullah’scard. A seven in the same suit! Consternation of the Rube! Applauseof the audience! Great acclaim for Willard, who had never touched acard at any time and had merely pulled the lever which set in motionAbdullah, the Card‑Playing Automaton, and Scientific Marvel ofthe Age!

“We slaved away all of that Sunday. I lost my fright becauseWillard and Charlie were so pleased with what I could do, andalthough they still talked about me as though I had no ears to hearthem, and no understanding, the atmosphere became cheerful andexcited and I was the reason for it. I must not pretend that Imastered the mechanisms of Abdullah in an instant, and even when Ihad done so I had to be taught not to be too quick; I thought theessence of the work was to do it as fast as possible. Willard andCharlie knew, though they never bothered to tell me, that a verydeliberate, and even slow, pace created a far better effect on thespectators. And I had much to learn. When I sat inside Abdullah myhead was at the level of his neck, and here his robes parted a littleto allow me to see through a piece of wire mesh that was painted thecolour of his gown. It was by observing the actions of the Rube thatI timed my own work. I had to learn to pump the little treadle thatmade the mechanical noise which simulated the finely scientificmachinery of the automaton, and it was easy to forget, or to pump toofast and make Abdullah too noisy. The hardest part was ducking myhead just enough to see what card the Rube had chosen and laid on thetray; as I said, this was ground glass, and there was a mirrorunderneath it so that I could see the suit and value of his card, butit was not as easy or as convenient as you might suppose, because thelight was dim. And I had to be quick and accurate in choosing a cardof greater value. A deck identical with the one used by the Rube wasset up in a rack concealed by Abdullah’s folded legs; it had eightpigeon‑holes, in which each suit was divided into the cardsfrom two to ten, and the Jack, Queen, King, and Ace by themselves. Itwas dark in Abdullah, and there was not much time for choosing, so Ihad to develop a good deal of dexterity.

“It was thrilling, and I worked feverishly to make myself perfect.How many times we went through the routine, when once I had masteredthe general principle of it, I cannot guess, but I remember well thatit was the management of the arms that gave me the most trouble, andany mistiming there made a mess of the whole deception. But we toiledas only people toil who are busy at the delicious work of puttingsomething over on the public. There was a short noonday pause for apicnic, of which my share was milk and a lot of sticky buns; Gus hadleft instructions that I was not to be starved or overworked, becauseI was still weak, and I certainly was not starved.

“It was a hot day, and hotter still inside Abdullah. Also, Abdullahhad a heavy smell, because of all the paper mache and glue and sizewith which he was made. During my thirty‑six hours or so ofimprisonment I had been compelled to urinate, in spite of my awfulthirst, and this had done nothing to freshen the atmosphere of thatclose confinement. Moreover, although I did not know it then, Ilearned later that the former operator of Abdullah had been a dwarfwho cannot have been fastidious about his person, and there was astrong whiff of hot dwarf as I grew hotter myself. I suppose I becamerather feverish, but although I would not describe my emotion ashappiness I was possessed by an intensity of interest and ambitionthat was better than anything I had ever known in my life. When youwere teaching me magic, Ramsay, I felt something like it, but not tothe same degree, because–please don’t be hurt–you were sotoothachingly rotten at all your simple tricks. But this was the realthing. I didn’t know quite what this reality was, but it waswonderful, and I was an important part of it.

“Charlie, who was as good‑hearted as he was soft‑headed,did all he could to make a game of it. He played the part of theRube, and he did his best to include every kind of Rube he couldthink of. He was a terrible ham, but he was funny. He approachedAbdullah as Uncle Zeke, the euchre champion of Pumpkin Centre, and asSwifty Dealer, the village tinhorn sport, and as Aunt Samantha, whodidn’t believe she could be bested by any Chinaman that ever lived,and as a whole gallery of such caricatures. I had to beg him not tobe so funny, because I couldn’t concentrate on my work when I waslaughing so much. But Willard never laughed. He was the taskmaster,demanding the greatest skill I could achieve in the management of themechanism. Charlie was a hearty praiser; he would gladly tell me thatI was a wonderful kid and a gift to the carnival business and thepossessor of a golden future. But Willard never praised a good pieceof management; he was sharp about mistakes, and demanded more andmore refinement of success. I didn’t care. I felt that insideAbdullah I had entered into my kingdom.

“Come five o’clock Willard and Charlie thought we were ready toshow our work to Gus. I had never been associated with any kind ofshow folk, and I thought it quite wonderful the way Gus climbed intothe freight‑car and behaved as if she had never seen any of usbefore; Willard and Charlie too behaved as if it were a real show andGus a stranger. Willard gave a speech that I had not heard before,about the wonders of Abdullah, and the countless hours and boundlessingenuity that had gone into his construction; during all of it Ikept as still as a mouse, and fully convinced myself that Gus did notknow I was anywhere near; perhaps she thought I had run away. ThenGus, at the right time, came forward reluctantly and suspiciously,like a real Rube and not one of Charlie’s comic turns, and cut thedeck and chose a card: either Gus knew some sleight‑of‑handherself or Willard had prepared a sharp test for me, because it wasthe Ace of Spades; there was no card to top it. And then I had one ofthose flashes which, I think I may say without boasting, have liftedmy work above that of even a very good illusionist. At the bottom ofthe tray that held the court cards in spades, there was a Joker, andthat was what I caused Abdullah to put down on the tray to top Gus’sAce. Of course it would not do so, but it showed that I was able tomeet an unexpected situation, and Charlie gave a whoop that wouldhave drawn a crowd if there had been anybody hanging around therailway siding on a late Sunday afternoon.

“Gus was impressed, but the expression of her jockey’s face didnot change. ‘O.K. I guess it’ll do,’ was what she said, andimmediately the three began haggling again about some of thequestions that had come up in the morning. I did not understand themthen, but they concerned Abdullah’s place in the show, whichWillard insisted should be next to last, the place of honour reservedfor the top attraction. It was now held by Andro, against whomWillard harboured a complicated grudge. Gus did not want to berushed, and insisted that Abdullah should not be shown for a while,until we were far from Deptford.

“Charlie begged very hard that Abdullah should go into the show atonce. Business wasn’t good; they needed a strong attraction,especially now Hannah was getting out of hand and would have to besat on; nobody would know the kid was in Abdullah because they wouldall be convinced Abdullah was a mechanical marvel. Yes, counteredGus, but how was she going to explain to the Talent a kid who turnedup without warning and whom they would certainly know was the secretof Abdullah’s card‑playing genius? Would they just tell herthat? A kid out of nowheres! Especially if there was any inquiry byNosey Parkers and policemen. Could Hannah be trusted not to spill thebeans? She was a religious old bitch and would love to do a meanthing for a holy reason. Ah, said Charlie, Gus surely knew how tohandle Hannah; if Hannah had to go for as much as eight hours withoutthe assistance of Elephant Gus, where would she be? And here Willardstruck in to say that he knew a thing or two about Hannah that wouldkeep her in order. And so on, at length, because they all argued in acircle, enjoying the contention rather than wishing to reach aconclusion. I had had a hard day, and the inside of Abdullah was likea Turkish bath; they had quite forgotten the living reality of thething they were discussing. So I fell into an exhausted sleep. I didnot understand it at the time, but I came to understand it very welllater: when I was in Abdullah, I was Nobody. I was an extension and amagnification of Willard; I was an opponent and a baffling mystery tothe Rube; I was something to be gawped at, but quickly forgotten, bythe spectators. But as Paul Dempster I did not exist. I had found myplace in life, and it was as Nobody.”

The film‑makers sipped their brandy for a time before Lindspoke. “It would be interesting to do a film about Nobody,” hesaid. “I know I mustn’t hurry you, so I won’t ask you if youwere Nobody for long. But you are going to continue, aren’t you?”

“You must,” said Ingestree. “Now we are getting a true story.Not like Robert‑Houdin’s faked‑up reminiscences. He wasnever Nobody. He was always triumphantly and self‑assuredlySomebody. He was charming, lively little Eugene Robert, the delightof his family and his friends; or he was that deserving youngwatch–and clock–maker; or he was the interesting young travellerwho extracted the most amazing confidences from everybody; or he wasthe successful Parisian entertainer, drawing the cream of society tohis little theatre, but always respectful, always conscious of hisplace, always the perfect bourgeois, always Somebody. Do you supposemany people are Nobody?”

Eisengrim looked at him with a not very agreeable smile.

“Have you any recollection of being Nobody?” he said.

“Not really. No, I can’t say I have.”

“Have you ever met anyone who was Nobody?”

“I don’t believe so. No, I’m sure I haven’t. But then, if onemet Nobody, I don’t suppose Nobody would make much of an impressionon one.”

“Obviously not,” said Eisengrim.

It was I who saw the film‑makers to their car and watched thembegin the descent from Sorgenfrei to the village where their inn was.Then I went back to the house as fast as my artificial leg wouldcarry me and caught Eisengrim as he was getting into bed.

“About the Devil,” I said, “I’ve been thinking more aboutwhat we said.”

“Have you pinned him down, then?”

“Nothing like it. I am simply trying to get a better hold on hisattributes. The attributes of God have been very carefully explored.But the Devil’s attributes have been left vague. I think I’vefound one of them. It is he who puts the prices on things.”

“Doesn’t God put a price on things?”

“No. One of his attributes is magnanimity. But the Devil is asetter of prices, and a usurer, as well. You buy from him at anagreed price, but the payments are all on time, and the interest ischarged on the whole of the principal, right up to the last payment,however much of the principal you think you have paid off in themeantime. Do you suppose the Devil invented numbers? I shouldn’t besurprised if the Devil didn’t invent Time, with all the subtleterrors that Time comprises. I think you said you spent seven yearsin hell?”

“I may have underestimated my sentence.”

“That’s what I mean.”

“You’re developing into a theologian, Dunny.”

“A diabologian, rather. It’s a fairly clear field, these days.”

“Do you think you can study evil without living it? How are yougoing to discover the attributes of the Devil without getting closeto him? Are you the man for that? Don’t bother your old grey head,Dunny.”

That was Magnus all over. He simply had to be the damnedest manaround. What an egotist!


We were eating sandwiches and drinking beer at a lunch‑breakthe following day. Magnus was not with us, because he had gone off tomake some repairs and alterations in his make‑up, about whichhe was extremely particular. Robert‑Houdin had been a handsomeman, in a French style, with strong features, a large, mobile mouth,and particularly fine eyes: Magnus would make no concession to alikeness, and insisted on playing the role of the great illusionistas his handsome self, and he darted away to touch up his facewhenever he could. As soon as he was out of the way, Kinghovn turnedthe conversation to what we had heard the night before.

“Our friend puzzles me,” he said. “You remember that he saidthe image of Abdullah was the ugliest thing he had ever seen? Then hedescribed it, and it sounded like the sort of trash one would expectin such a poor little travelling show, and just what would seemmarvellous to a small boy. How much is he colouring his story withopinions he formed later?”

“But inevitably it’s all coloured by later opinions,” saidIngestree. “What can you expect? It’s the classic problem ofautobiography; it’s inevitably life seen and understood backwards.However honest we try to be in our recollections we cannot helpfalsifying them in terms of later knowledge, and especially in termsof what we have become. Eisengrim is unquestionably the greatestmagician of our day, and to hear him tell it, of any day. How is heto make himself into a photographic record of something that happenedfifty years ago?”

“Then how can we reconstruct the past?” said Kinghovn. “Look atit from my point of view–really my point of view, which is throughthe camera. Suppose I had to make a film of what Eisengrim has toldus, how could I be sure of what Abdullah looked like?”

“You couldn’t,” said Lind. “And you know it. But you and Iand a good designer would work together, and we would produce anAbdullah that would give the right effect, though it might be far,far away from the real Abdullah of 1918. What would the real Abdullahbe? Perhaps not as ugly as Eisengrim says, but certainly a piece ofcheap junk. You and I, Harry, would show the world not simply whatlittle Paul Dempster saw, but what he felt. We would even get thatwhiff of hot dwarf across to the public somehow. That’s what we do.That’s why we are necessary people.”

“Then the truth of the past can never be recovered?”

“Harry, you should never talk. Your talk is the least useful partof you. You should just stick to your cameras, with which you are aman of genius. The truth of the past is to be seen in museums, andwhat is it? Dead things, sometimes noble and beautiful, but dead. Andcases and cases of coins, and snuffboxes, and combs, and mirrors thatwon’t reflect any more, and clothes that look as if the wearers hadall been midgets, and masses of frowsy tat that tells us nothing atall. Once a man showed me a great treasure of his family; it was ahandkerchief which somebody, on January 30, 1649, had dipped in theblood of the executed English King Charles I. It was a disgusting,rusty rag. But if you and I and Roly here had the money and the rightpeople, we could fake up an execution of King Charles that would makepeople weep. Which is nearer to the truth? The rag, or our picture?”

I thought it was time for me to intervene. “I wouldn’t calleither the rag or your picture truth,” I said; “I am an historianby training and temperament, and I would go to the documents, andthere are plenty of them, about the execution of Charles, and when Ihad read and tested and reflected on them, I would back my truthagainst yours and win.”

“Ah, but you see, my dear Ramsay, we would not dream of making ourpicture until we had consulted you or somebody like you, and giventhe fullest importance to your opinion.”

“Well, would you be content to film the execution on a grey day?Wouldn’t you want a shot of the sun rising behind Whitehall as thesun of English monarchy was setting on the scaffold?”

Lind looked at me sadly. “How you scholars underestimate usartists,” he said, with wintry Scandinavian melancholy. “Youthink we are children, always beguiled by toys and vulgarities. Whenhave you ever known me to stoop to a sunrise?”

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“Besides, you don’t understand what we could do with all thosewonderful pearly greys,” said Kinghovn.

“You will never persuade me to believe that truth is no more thanwhat some artist, however gifted he may be, thinks is truth,” Isaid. “Give me a document, every time.”

“I suppose somebody has to write the document?” said Lind. “Hashe no feeling? Of course he has. But because he is not used to givingfull weight to his feelings, he is all the more likely to be deludedinto thinking that what he puts into his document is objectivetruth.”

Ingestree broke in. “Eisengrim is coming back from tarting himselfup for the next few shots,” he said. “And so far as his story isconcerned, we might as well make up our minds that all we are goingto get is his feeling. As a literary man, I am just pleased that hehas some feelings. So few autobiographers have any feeling except aresolute self‑protectiveness.”

“Feeling! Truth! Balls! Let’s have a few hundred good feet in thecan before our star decides he is tired,” said Kinghovn. And thatis what we did.

A good day’s filming put Magnus in an expansive mood. Ingestree’sflattery about the quality of his acting had also had its effect onhim, and that night he gave us a gallery of impersonations.

“Charlie had his way, and I was soon on the show. Charlie wasright; Abdullah pulled them in because people cannot resist automata.There is something in humanity that is repelled and entranced by amachine that seems to have more than human powers. People love tofrighten themselves. Look at the fuss nowadays about computers;however deft they may be they can’t do anything a man isn’tdoing, through them; but you hear people giving themselves deliciousshivers about a computer‑dominated world. I’ve often thoughtof working up an illusion, using a computer, but it would beprohibitively expensive, and I can do anything the public would findamusing better and cheaper with clockwork and bits of string. But ifI invented a computer‑illusion I would take care to dress thecomputer up to look like a living creature of some sort–a Moon Manor a Venusian–because the public cannot resist clever dollies.Abdullah was a clever dolly of a simple kind, and the Rubes couldn’tget enough of him.

“That was where Gus had to use her showman’s discretion. Charlieand Willard would have put Abdullah in a separate tent to milk himfor twenty shows a day, but Gus knew that would exhaust his appeal.Used sparingly, Abdullah was good for years, and Gus took the longview. It appeared, too, that I was an improvement on the dwarf, whohad become unreliable through some personal defect–booze, I wouldguess–and was apt to make a mess of the illusion, or give way to afit of temperament and deal a low card when he should have dealt ahigh one. Willard had had no luck with Abdullah; he had bought thething, and hired the dwarf, but the dwarf was so unreliable it wasrisky to put the automaton on the show, and then the dwarf haddisappeared. It had been months since Abdullah was in commission, andso far as the show was concerned it was a new attraction.

“I was anxious to succeed as Abdullah, though I had no particularexpectation of gaining anything thereby. I had no notion of theworld, and for quite a long time I did not understand how powerful Iwas, or that I might profit by it. Nor did anyone in the World ofWonders seek to enlighten me. So far as I can recall my feelingsduring those first few months, they were restricted to a desire to dothe best I could, lest I should be sent back to my father andinevitable punishment. To begin with, I liked being the hidden agentwho helped in the great game of hoodwinking Rubes, and I was happiestwhen I was out of sight, in the smelly bowels of Abdullah.

“When I was in the open air I was Cass Fletcher. I always hated thename, but Willard liked it because he had invented it in one of hisvery few flights of fancy. Willard had no imagination, to speak of. Ilearned as time went on that he had learned his conjuring skill froman old performer, and had never expanded it or altered it by a jot.He had as little curiosity as any man I have ever known. But when wewere riding on the train, in my very first week, he found that I musthave a name, because the other performers, riding in the car reservedfor the World of Wonders, were surprised to see a small boy in theirmidst, for whom no credentials were offered. Who was I?

“When the question was put directly to him by the wife of Joe Darkthe Knife Thrower, Willard hesitated a moment, looked out of thewindow, and said: ‘Oh, this is young Cass, a kind of relative ofmine; Cass Fletcher.’ Then he went off into one of his very rarefits of laughter.

“As soon as he could catch Charlie, who wandered up and down thecar as it travelled through the flatlands of Western Ontario, andgossiped with everybody, Willard told him his great joke. ‘Em Darkwanted to know the kid’s name, see, and I was thinking who the hellis he, when I looked outa the window at one of these barns with a bigsign saying FLETCHER’S CASTORIA, CHILDREN CRY FOR IT; and quick asa wink I says Cass Fletcher, that’s his name. Pretty smart way toname a kid, eh?’ I was offended at being named from a sign on abarn, but I was not consulted, and a general impression spread that Iwas Willard’s nephew.

“At least, that was the story that was agreed on. As time went on Iheard whispers between Molza the Fire Eater and Sonny Sonnenfels theStrong Man that Willard was something they called an arse‑bandit–anexpression I did not understand–and that the kid was probably moreto him than just a nephew and the gaff for Abdullah.

“Gaff. That was a word I had to learn at once, in all itsrefinements. The gaff was the element of deception in an exhibition,and though all the Talent would have admitted you couldn’t managewithout it, there was a moral stigma attaching to it. Sonnenfels wasnot gaffed at all; he really was a strong man who picked up bigbar‑bells and tore up telephone books with his hands and liftedanybody who would volunteer to sit in a chair, which Sonny thenheaved aloft with one hand. There are tricks to being a strong man,but no gaff; anybody was welcome to heft the bar‑bells if theywanted to. Frank Molza the Fire Eater and Sword Swallower was partlygaffed, because his swords weren’t as sharp as he pretended, andeating fire is a complicated chemical trick which usually proves badfor the health. But Professor Spencer, who had been born withoutarms–really he had two pathetic little flippers but he did not showthem–was wholly free of gaff; he wrote with his feet, on ablackboard and, if you wanted to pay twenty‑five cents, in anelegant script on twelve visiting cards, where your name would behandsomely displayed. Joe Dark and his wife Emily were not gaffed atall; Joe threw knives at Emily with such accuracy that he outlinedher form on the soft board against which she stood; it was skill, andthe only skill poor Joe possessed, for he was certainly the dullestman in the World of Wonders. Nor could you say there was any gaffabout Heinie Bayer and his educated monkey Rango; it was an honestmonkey, as monkeys go, and its tricks were on the level. The MidgetJuggler, Piccino Zovene, was honest as a Juggler, but as crooked as acorkscrew in any human dealings; he wasn’t much of a juggler, andmight have been improved by a little gaff.

“Gaff may have been said to begin with Zitta the Jungle Queen,whose snakes were kept quiet by various means, especially hersluggish old cobra who was over‑fed and drugged. Snakes don’tlive long in the sort of life Zitta gave them; they can’t standconstant mauling and dragging about; she was always wiring a supplierin Texas for new rattlers. I judged that a snake lived about a monthto six weeks when once Zitta had got hold of it; they were nastythings, and I never felt much sympathy for them. Zitta was a nastything, too, but she was too stupid to give her nastiness seriousplay. Andro the Hermaphrodite was all gaff. He was a man, of a kind,and besottedly in love with himself. The left side of his body wassupposed to be the female half, and he spent a lot of time on it withdepilatories and skin cream and when he attached a pretty good leftbreast to it, and combed out the long, curly hair he allowed to growon one side of his head, he was an interesting sight. His right sidehe exercised strenuously, so that he had big leg and arm muscleswhich he touched up with some fancy shadowing. I never became used tofinding him using the men’s bucket in the donniker–which was theword used on the show for the primitive sanitary conveniences in thesmall back dressing tent. He was a show‑off; in show businessyou get used to vanity, but Andro was a very special case.

“Of course Abdullah was one hundred per cent gaff. I don’t thinkanybody would have cared greatly, if they had not been stirred up toit by the one very remarkable Talent I haven’t yet mentioned. Shewas Happy Hannah the Fat Lady.

“A Fat Lady, or a Fat Man, is almost a necessity for a show likeWanless’s. Just as the public is fascinated by automata, it isunappeasable in its demand for fat people. A Human Skeleton is hardlyworth having if he can’t do something else–grow hair to his feet,or eat glass or otherwise distinguish himself. But a Fat Lady merelyhas to be fat. Happy Hannah weighed 487 pounds; all she needed to dowas to show herself sitting in a large chair, and her living wasassured. But that wasn’t her style at all; she was an interferer, atireless asserter of opinions, and–worst of all–a determinedMoral Influence. It was this quality in her which made it a matter ofinterest whether she was gaffed or not.

“Willard was her enemy, and Willard said she was gaffed. For onething, she wore a wig, a very youthful chestnut affair, curly andflirtatious; a kiss‑curl coiled like a watchspring in front ofeach rosy ear. The rosy effect was gaffed, too, for Hannah wasthickly made up. But these things were simple showmanship. Willard’sinsistence that the Fat Lady was gaffed rose from an occupationaldisability of Fat Ladies; this is copious sweating, which results, ina person whose bodily creases may be twelve inches deep, introublesome chafing. Three or four times a day Hannah had to retireto the women’s part of the dressing tent, and there Gus strippedher down and powdered her in these difficult areas with cornstarch.Very early in my experience on the show I peeped through a gap in thelacing of the canvas partition that divided the men’s dressing‑roomfrom the women’s, and was much amazed by what I saw; Hannah, wholooked fairly jolly sitting on her platform, in a suit of pink cottonrompers, was a sorry mass of blubber when she was bent forward, herhands on the back of a chair; she had collops of fat on her flanks,like the wicked man in the Book of Job; her monstrous abdomen hungalmost to her knees, the smart wig concealed an iron‑greycrewcut, and her breasts hung like great half‑filled wallets ofsuet far down on her belly. I have seen nothing like her since,except for an effigy of Smet Smet, the Hippopotamus Goddess, in anexhibition of African art Liesl made me attend a few years ago. Thegaffing consisted of two large bath‑towels, which were rolledand tucked under her breasts, giving them what was, in comparisonwith the reality, a buxom contour. These towels were great matters ofcontention between Hannah and Willard, for she insisted that theywere sanitary necessities, and he said they were gross impostures onthe public. He cared nothing about gaffing; it was Hannah who made ita moral issue and drew a sharp line between gaffed Talent, likeAbdullah, and honest Talent, like Fat Ladies.

“They wrangled about it a good deal. Hannah was voluble and she hada quality of shrewishness that came strangely from one whoseprofessional personality depended on an impression of sunny goodnature. She would nag about it for half an hour at a stretch, as wetravelled on the train, until at last the usually taciturn Willardwould say, in a low, ugly voice: ‘Listen, Miz Hannah, you shut yourgoddam trap or next time we got a big crowd I’m gonna tell ‘emabout those gaffed tits of yours. See? Now shut up, I tell ya!’

“He would never have done it, of course. It would have beenunforgivable professional conduct, and even Charlie would not havebeen able to keep Gus from throwing him off the show. But the menacein his voice would silence Hannah for a few hours.

“I was entranced by the World of Wonders during those early weeksand I had plenty of time to study it, for it was part of theagreement under which I lived that I must never be seen duringworking hours, except when real necessity demanded a quick journey tothe donniker, between tricks. I often ate in the seclusion ofAbdullah. The hours of the show were from eleven in the morning untileleven at night, and so I ate as big a breakfast as I could get, anddepended on a hot dog or something of the sort being brought to me atnoon and toward evening. Willard was supposed to attend to it, but heoften forgot, and it was good‑hearted Emily Dark who saw that Idid not starve. Willard never ate much, and like so many people hecould not believe that anyone wanted more than himself. There was anagreement of some sort between Willard and Gus as to what my statuswas; I know he got extra money for me, but I never saw any of it; Iknow Gus made him promise he would look after me and treat me well,but I don’t think he had any idea of what such words meant, andfrom time to time Gus would give him a dressing down about thecondition I was in; for years I never had any clothes except thoseGus bought me, stopping the money out of Willard’s pay, but Gus hadno idea of how to dress a child, and always bought everything toobig, so that I would have lots of room to grow into it. Not that Ineeded many clothes; inside Abdullah I wore nothing but cottonshorts. I see now that it was a miserable life, and it is a wonder itdidn’t kill me; but at the time I accepted it as children mustaccept the world made for them by their guardians.

“At the beginning I was beglamoured by the show, and peeped at itout of Abdullah’s bosom with unresting excitement. There was onefull show an hour, and the whole of it was known as a trick. Thetrick began outside the tent on a platform beside the ticket‑seller’sbox, and this part of it was called the bally. Not ballyhoo, whichwas an expression I had heard in the carnival world in my time. Gususually sold the tickets, though there was someone to help her whenshe had other business to attend to. Charlie was the outside talker,not a barker, which is another expression I did not hear until amovie or a play made it popular. He roared through a megaphone totell the crowd about what was to be seen inside the tent Charlie wasa flashy dresser and handsome in a flashy way, and he did his jobwell, most of the time.

“High outside the tent hung the banners, which were the big paintedsigns advertising the Talent; each performer had to pay for his ownbanner, though Gus ordered them from the artist and assured thatthere would be a pleasing similarity of style. As well as thebanners, some of the Talent had to appear on the bally, and theboring job usually fell to the lesser artistes; Molza ate a littlefire, Sonny heaved a few weights, the Professor would lie on his backand write “Pumpkin Centre, Agricultural Capital of Pumpkin County”on a huge piece of paper with his feet, and this piece of paper wasthrown into the crowd, for whoever could grab it; Zovene the MidgetJuggler did a few stunts, and now and then if business was slow Zittawould take out a few snakes, and the Darks would have to showthemselves. But the essence of the bally was to create an appetitefor what was inside the tent, not to give away entertainment, andCharlie pushed the purchase of tickets as hard as he could.

“After Abdullah was put on the show. which was as soon as we couldget a fine banner sent up from New York, Willard did not have to takea turn on the bally.

“The bally and the sale of tickets took about twenty minutes, afterwhich a lesser outside talker than Charlie did what he could tocollect a crowd, and Charlie hurried inside, carrying a little canehe used as a pointer. Once in the tent he took on another role, whichwas called the lecturer, because everything in the World of Wonderswas supposed to be improving and educational; Charlie’s styleunderwent a change, too, for outside he was a great joker, whereasinside he was professorial, as he understood the word.

“I was much impressed by the fact that almost all the Talent spoketwo versions of English–whatever was most comfortable when theywere off duty, and a gaudy, begemmed, and gilded rhetoric when theywere before the public. Charlie was a master of the impressiveintroduction when he presented the Talent to an audience.

“As spectators bought their tickets they were permitted into thetent, where they walked around and stared until the show began.Sometimes they asked questions, especially of Happy Hannah. ‘Youwill assuredly hear everything in due season,’ she would reply. Theshow was not supposed to begin without Charlie. When he pranced intothe tent–he had an exaggeratedly youthful, high‑steppinggait–he would summon the crowd around him and begin by introducingSonny, the Strongest Man you have ever seen, ladies and gentlemen,and the best‑natured giant in the known world. Poor oldSonny wasn’t allowed to speak, because he had a strong Germanaccent, and Germans were not popular characters in rural Canada inthe late summer of 1918. Sonny was not allowed to linger over hisdemonstration, either, because Charlie was hustling the crowd towardMolza the Human Salamander, who thrust a lighted torch into hismouth, and then blew out a jet of flame which ignited a piece ofnewspaper Charlie held in his hand; Molza then swallowed swords untilhe had four of them stuck in his gullet. When I came to know him Igot him to show me how to do it, and I can still swallow apaper‑knife, or anything not too sharp. But swallowing swordsand eating fire are hard ways to get a living, and dangerous after afew years. Then Professor Spencer wrote with his feet, having firstdemonstrated with some soap and a safety‑razor with no blade init how he shaved himself every day; the Professor would write thename of anybody who wished it; with his right foot he would writefrom left to right, and at the same time, underneath it and with hisleft foot, he would write the name from right to left. He wrote withgreat speed in a beautiful hand–or foot, I should say. It was quitea showy act, but the Professor never had his full due, I thought,because people were rather embarrassed by him. Then the Darks didtheir knife‑throwing act.

“It was a very good act, and if only Joe had possessed someinstinct of showmanship it would have been much better. But Joe was avery simple soul, a decent, honest fellow who ought to have been aworkman of some sort. His talent for throwing knives was one of thosefreakish things that are sometimes found in people who are otherwiseutterly unremarkable. His wife, Emily, was ambitious for him; shewanted him to be a veterinary, and when we were on the train she kepthim pegging away at a correspondence course which would, when it wascompleted, bring him a diploma from some cut‑rate college deepin the States. But it was obvious to everybody but Emily that itwould never be completed, because Joe couldn’t get anything intohis head from a printed page. He could throw knives, and that wasthat. They both wore tacky homemade costumes, which bunchedunbecomingly in the wrong places, and Emily stood in front of a pineboard while Joe outlined her pleasant figure in knives. Nice people:minor Talent.

“By this time the audience had climbed the ladder of marvels toRango the Missing Link, exhibited by Heinie Bayer. Rango was anorangoutang, who could walk a tightrope carrying a parasol; at themid‑point, he would suddenly swing downward, clinging to therope with his toes, and reflectively eat bananas; then he would whirlupright, throw away the skin, and complete his journey. After that hesat at a table, and rang a bell, and Heinie, dressed as a clownwaiter, served him a meal, which Rango ate with affected elegance,until he was displeased with a badly prepared dish, and pelted Heiniewith food. Rango was surefire. Everybody loved him, and I was oftheir number until I tried to make friends with him and Rango spatsome chewed‑up nuts in my face. It was part of Heinie’s dealwith the management that Rango had to share a berth with him in ourPullman; although he was house‑trained he was a nuisancebecause he was a bad sleeper, and likely to stick his hand into yourberth in the night and pinch you–a very mean, twisting pinch. Itwas uncanny to poke your head out of your berth and see Rangoswinging along the car, holding on to the tops of the green curtains,as if they were part of his native jungle.

“After Rango came Zitta the Jungle Queen. Snake acts are all thesame. She pulled the snakes around her neck, wound them around herarms, and as a topper she knelt down and charmed her cobra by noother means than that of the unaided human eye, with which she exertshypnotic dominance over this most dreaded of jungle monsters , asCharlie said, and ended by kissing it on its ugly snout.

“This was good showmanship. First the sunny side of nature, thenthe ominous side of nature. The trick, I learned, was that Zittaleaned down to the cobra from above its head; cobras cannot strikeupwards. It was a thrill, and Zitta had to know her business. As Igrew older and more cynical I sometimes wondered what it would belike if Zitta exercised her hypnotic powers on Rango, and kissed him,for a change. I don’t think Rango was a lady’s man.

“This left only Willard, Andro the Hermaphrodite, and Happy Hannahto complete the show; Zovene the Midget Juggler was only useful toget the audience out of the tent. On the basis of public attractionit was acknowledged that Willard must have the place of honour onceAbdullah was on display. Charlie was in favour of giving Andro theplace just before Abdullah but Happy Hannah would have none of it.She was clamorous. If a natural, educational wonder like herself,without any gaff about her, didn’t take precedence over a gaffedmonsterosity she was prepared to leave carnival life and despair ofthe human race. She made herself so unpleasant that she won theargument; Andro became very shrewish when he was under attack, but helacked Hannah’s large, embracing, Biblical flow of condemnation.When he had said that Hannah was a fat, loud‑mouthed old bitchhis store of abuse was exhausted; but she sailed into him with allguns firing.

“ ‘Don’t think I hold it against you personally, Andro. No, Iknow you for what you are. I know the rock from whence ye arehewn–that no‑good bunch o’ Boston Greek fish‑peddlersand small‑time thieves; and I likewise know the hole of the Pitwhence ye are digged–offering yourself to stand bare‑naked infront of artists, some of ‘em women, at fifty cents an hour. So Iknow it isn’t really you that’s speaking against me; it’s thespirit of an unclean devil inside you, crying with a loud voice; andI rebuke it just as our dear Lord did; I’m sitting right here,crying, “Hold thy peace and come out of him!” ‘

“This was Hannah’s strength. All her immense bulk was crammedwith Bible knowledge and quotations and it oozed out of her likecurrant‑juice oozing out of a jellybag. She offered herself tothe public as a Biblical marvel, a sort of she‑Leviathan. Shewould not allow Charlie to speak for her. As soon as he had given hera lead–And now, ladies and gentlemen. I present HappyHannah, four hundred and eighty‑seven pounds of good humour andchuckles– she would burst in, ‘Yes friends, and I’m theliving proof of how fat a person can get and still bear it gladly inthe Lord’s name. I hope every person here knows his Bible and ifthey do, they know the comforting message of Proverbs eleven,twenty‑five: The liberal soul shall be made fat . Yesfriends, I am here not as a curiosity and certainly not as amonsterosity but to attest in my daily life and my public career tothe Lord’s abounding grace. I don’t hafta be here; many offersfrom missionary societies and the biggest evangelists have beenturned down in order that I may get around this whole continent andtalk to the biggest possible audience of the real people, God’s ownfolks, and attest to the Faith. Portraits of me as you see me now,each one individually autographed by my own hand, may be purchased attwenty‑five cents apiece, and for another mere quarter I willinclude a priceless treasure, this copy of the New Testament whichfits in the pocket and in which each and every word uttered by ourLord Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry is printed in RED. NoTestament sold except with a portrait. Don’t miss this great offerwhich is made by me at a financial sacrifice in order that the Lord’swill may be done more abundantly here in Pumpkin Centre. Don’t hangback folks; grab what I’m giving to you; I been made fat and whenyou possess this portrait of me as you see me now and this NewTestament you’ll hafta admit that I’m certainly the Liberal Soul.Come on, now, who’s gonna be the first?’

“Hannah was able to hawk her pictures and her Testaments because ofan arrangement written into every artiste’s contract that theyshould be allowed to sell something at every show. They made theiroffer, or Charlie made it for them, as the crowd was about to move onto the next Wonder. The price was always twenty‑five cents.Sonny had a book on body‑building; Molza had only a picture ofhimself with his throat full of swords‑a very slow item interms of sales; Professor Spencer offered his personally writtenvisiting cards, which were a nuisance because they took quite a whileto prepare; Em Dark sold throwing knives Joe made in his spare timeout of small files–a throwing knife has no edge, only a point;Heinie sold pictures of Rango; Zitta offered belts and braceletswhich she made out of the skins of the snakes she had mauled todeath–though Charlie didn’t put it quite like that; Andro wasanother seller of pictures; Willard sold a pamphlet called Secretsof Gamblers Revealed , which was offered by Charlie as aninfallible protection against dishonest card‑players you mightmeet on trains; a lot of people bought them who didn’t look likegreat travellers, and I judged they wanted to know the secrets ofgamblers for some purpose of their own. I read it several times, andit was a stupefyingly uncommunicative little book, written at leastthirty years before 1918. The agreement was that each Wonder offeredhis picture or whatever it might be after he had been exhibited, andthat when the show had been completed, except for the Midget Juggler,Charlie would invite the audience once again not to leave without oneof these valuable mementoes of a unique and unforgettable personalexperience and educational benefit .

“From being an extremely innocent little boy it did not take melong to become a very knowing little boy. I picked up a great deal aswe travelled from village to village on the train, for our Pullmanwas an educational benefit and certainly, for me, an unforgettablepersonal experience. I had an upper berth at the very end of the car,at some distance from Willard, whose importance in the show securedhim a lower in the area where the shock of the frequent shuntings andaccordion‑like contractions of the train were least felt. Icame to know who had bottles of liquor, and also who was generouswith it and who kept it for his own use. I knew that neither Joe norEm Dark drank, because it would have been a ruinous indulgence for aknife‑thrower. The Darks, however, were young and vigorous, andsometimes the noises from their berth were enough to raise commentfrom the other Talent. I remember one night when Heinie, who sharedhis bottle with Rango, put Rango up to opening the curtains of theDarks’ upper; Em screamed, and Joe grabbed Rango and threw him downinto the aisle so hard that Rango screamed; Heinie offered to fightJoe, and Joe, stark naked and very angry, chased Heinie back to hisberth and pummelled him. It took a full hour to soothe Rango; Heinieassured us that Rango was used to love and could not bear roughusage; Rango had to have at least two strong swigs of straight ryebefore he could sleep. But in the rough‑and‑tumble I hadhad a good look at Em Dark naked, and it was very different fromHappy Hannah, I can assure you. All sorts of things that I had neverheard of began, within a month, to whirl and surge and combine in mymind.

“A weekly event of some significance in our Pullman was Hannah’sSaturday‑night bath. She lived in continual hope of managing itwithout attracting attention, but that was ridiculous. First Guswould bustle down the aisle with a large tarpaulin and an armful oftowels. Then Hannah, in an orange mobcap and a red dressing‑gown,would lurch and stumble down the car; she was too big to fall intoanybody’s berth, but she sometimes came near to dragging down thegreen curtains when we were going around a bend. We all knew whathappened in the Ladies’ Retiring Room; Gus spread the tarpaulin,Hannah stood on it hanging onto the washbasin, and Gus swabbed herdown with a large sponge. It was for this service of Christiancharity that she was called Elephant Gus when she was out of earshot.Drying Hannah took a long time, because there were large portions ofher that she could not reach herself, and Gus used to towel her down,making a hissing noise between her teeth, like a groom.

“Sometimes Charlie and Heinie and Willard would be sitting uphaving a game of poker, and while the bath was in progress they wouldsing a hymn, ‘Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow’. If theywere high they had another version–

Wash me in the water

That you wash the baby in,

And I shall be whiter

Than the whitewash on the wall.

This infuriated Hannah, and on her return trip she would favour themwith a few Biblical admonitions; she had a good deal to say aboutlasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, gamesof hazard, and abominable idolatries, out of First Peter. But shehocussed the text. There is no mention of ‘games of hazard’ orgambling anywhere in the Bible. She put that in for her ownparticular satisfaction. I knew it, and I soon recognized Hannah asmy first hypocrite. A boy’s first recognition of hypocrisy is, orought to be, more significant than the onset of puberty. By the timeGus had stowed her into her special lower, which was supported frombeneath with a few fence‑posts, she was so refreshed by angerthat she fell asleep at once, and snored so that she could be heardabove the noise of the train.

“Very soon I became aware that the World of Wonders which had beena revelation to me, and I suppose to countless other country villagepeople, was a weary bore to the Talent. This is the gnawing canker ofcarnival life: it is monstrously boring.

“Consider. We did ten complete shows a day; we had an hour off formidday food and another hour between six and seven; otherwise it wasunremitting. We played an average of five days a week, which meansfifty shows. We began our season as early as we could, but nothingmuch was stirring in the outdoor carnival line till mid‑May,and after that we traipsed across country playing anywhere andeverywhere–I soon stopped trying to know the name of the towns, andcalled them all Pumpkin Centre, like Willard–until late October.That makes something over a thousand shows. No wonder the Talent wasbored. No wonder Charlie’s talks began to sound as if he wasthinking about something else.

“The only person who wasn’t bored was Professor Spencer. He was adecent man, and couldn’t give way to boredom, because hisaffliction meant perpetual improvisation in the details of his life.For instance, he had to get somebody to help him in the donniker,which most of us were ready to do, but wouldn’t have done if he hadnot always been cheerful and fresh. He offered to teach me somelessons, because he said it was a shame for a boy to leave school asearly as I had done. So he taught me writing, and arithmetic, and anastonishing amount of geography. He was the one man on the show whohad to know where we were, what the population of the town was, thename of the mayor, and other things that he wrote on his blackboardas part of his show. He was a good friend to me, was ProfessorSpencer. Indeed, it was he who persuaded Willard to teach me magic.

“Willard had not been interested in doing that, or indeed anything,for me. I was necessary, but I was a nuisance. I have never metanyone in my life who was so bleakly and unconsciously selfish asWillard, and for one whose life has been spent in the theatre andcarnival world that is a strong statement. But Professor Spencernagged him into it–you could not shame or bully or cajole Willardinto anything, but he was open to nagging–and he began to show me afew things with cards and coins. As my years with the World ofWonders wore on, I think what he taught me saved my reason. Certainlyit is at the root of anything I can do now.

“Whoever taught Willard did it very well. He never gave names tothe things he taught me, and I am sure he didn’t know them. Butsince that time I have found that he taught me all there is to knowabout shuffling, forcing, and passing cards, and palming, ruffling,changing, and bridging, and the wonders of the biseaute pack,which is really the only trick pack worth having. With coins hetaught me all the basic work of palming and passing, the French drop,La Pincette , La Coulee , and all the other really goodones. His ideal among magicians was Nelson Downs, whose great act,The Miser’s Dream, he had seen at the Palace Theater, New York,which was the paradise of his limited imagination. Indeed, it was avery much debased version of The Miser’s Dream that he had beendoing when I first saw him. He now did little conjuring in the Worldof Wonders, because of the case of managing Abdullah.“InsideAbdullah I was busy for perhaps five minutes in every hour. Mymovement was greatly restricted; I could not make a noise. What was Ito do? I practised my magic, and for hours on end I palmed coins anddeveloped my hands in the dark, and that is how I gained my techniquewhich has earned me the compliment of this film you gentlemen aremaking. I recommend the method to young magicians; get yourself intoa close‑fitting prison for ten hours a day, and do nothing butmanipulate cards and coins; keep that up for a few years and, unlessyou are constitutionally incapable, like poor Ramsay here, you shoulddevelop some adroitness, and you will at least have no chance toacquire the principal fault of the bad magician, which is looking atyour hands as you work. That was how I voided boredom: constantpractice, and entranced observation, through Abdullah’s bosom, ofthe public and the Talent of the World of Wonders.

“Boredom is rich soil for every kind of rancour and ugliness. In myfirst months on the show this attached almost entirely to thefortunes of the War. I knew nothing about the War, although as aschoolchild I had been urged to bring all my family’s peachstonesto school, where they were collected for some warlike purpose.Knowing boys said that a terrible poison gas was made from them.Every morning in prayers our teacher mentioned the Allied Forces, andespecially the Canadians. Once again knowing boys said you couldalways tell where her brother Jim was by the prayer, which was likelyto contain a special reference to ‘our boys at the Front’, andlater, ‘our boys in the rest camps’, and later still, ‘our boysin the hospitals’. The War hung over my life like the clouds in thesky, and I heeded it as little. Once I saw Ramsay in the street, inwhat I later realized was the uniform of a recruit, but at the time Icouldn’t understand why he was wearing such queer clothes. I sawmen in the streets with black bands on their arms, and asked myfather why they wore them, but I can’t remember what he answered.

“In the World of Wonders the War seemed likely at times to tear theshow to pieces. The only music on the fairgrounds where we appearedcame from the merry‑go‑round; tunes were fed into itscalliope by the agency of large steel discs, perforated withrectangular holes; they worked on the same principle as the roll of aplayer‑piano, but were much more durable, and rotated insteadof uncoiling. Most of the music was of the variety we associate withmerry‑go‑rounds. Who wrote it? Italians, I suspect, forit always had a gentle, quaintly melodious quality, except for onenew tune which Steve, who ran the machine, had bought to give theshow a modern air. It was the American war song–by that noisyfellow Cohan, was it?–called ‘Over There!’ It was less thanwarlike on a calliope, played at merry‑go‑round tempo,but everybody recognized it, and now and then some Canadian wag wouldsing loudly, to the final phrase–

And we won’t be over

Till it’s over

Over there!

If Hannah heard this, she became furious, for she was an inflamedAmerican patriot and the War, for her, had begun when the Americansentered it in 1917. The Darks were Canadians, and not as tactful asCanadians usually are when dealing with their American cousins. Iremember Em Dark, who was a most unlikely person to tell a joke,saying one midday, in September of 1918, when the Talent was in thedressing tent, eating its hasty picnic: ‘I heard a good oneyesterday. This fellow says, Say, why are the American troops calledDoughboys? And the other fellow says. Gee, I dunno; why? And thefirst fellow says, It’s because they were needed in 1914 but theydidn’t rise till 1917. Do you get it? Needed, you see, likekneading bread, and–’ But Em wasn’t able to continue with herexplanation of the joke because Hannah threw a sandwich at her andtold her to knead that, and she was sick and tired of ingratitudefrom the folks in a little, two‑bit backwoods country wherethey still had to pay taxes to the English King, and hadn’t Emheard about the Argonne and the American blood that was being shedthere by the bucketful, and how did Em think they would make the Hunsay Uncle anyways with a lot of fat‑headed Englishmen andFrenchmen messing it all up, and what they needed over there wasAmerican efficiency and American spunk?

“Em didn’t have a chance to reply, because Hannah was immediatelyin trouble with Sonnenfels and Heinie Bayer, who smouldered under aconviction that Germany was hideously wronged and that everybody waspiling on the Fatherland without any cause at all, and though theywere just as good Americans as anybody they were damn well sick of itand hoped the German troops would show Pershing something new aboutefficiency. Charlie tried to quiet them down by saying that everybodyknew the War was a put‑up job and nobody was getting anythingout of it but the Big Interests. This was a mistake, because Sonnyand Heinie turned on him and told him that they knew why he was soglad to be in Canada, and if they were younger men they’d be in thescrap and they weren’t going to say which side they’d be on,neither, but if they met anything like Charlie on the battlefieldthey’d just put a chain on him and show him off beside Rango.

“The battle went on for weeks, during which Joe Dark suffered thehumiliation of having Em tell everybody that he wasn’t in theCanadian Army because he had flat feet, and Hannah replying that youdidn’t need feet to fly a plane, but you sure needed brains. Theonly reasonable voice was that of Professor Spencer, who was a greatreader of the papers, and an independent thinker; he was all for animmediate armistice and a peace conference. But as nobody wanted tolisten to him, he lectured me, instead, so that I still have a veryconfused idea of the causes of that War, and the way it was fought.Hannah got a Stars and Stripes from somewhere, and stuck it up on herlittle platform. She said it made her feel good just to have itthere.

“It all came about because of boredom. Boredom and stupidity andpatriotism, especially when combined, are three of the greatest evilsof the world we live in. But a worse and more lasting source oftrouble was the final show in each village, which was called the LastTrick.

“It was agreed that the Last Trick ought to be livelier than theother nine shows of the day. The fair was at its end, the seriousmatters like the judging of animals and fancy‑work had beencompleted, and most of the old folks had gone home, leaving young menand their girls, and the village cutups on the fairground. It wasthen that the true, age‑old Spirit of Carnival descended onWanless’s World of Wonders, but of course it didn’t affecteverybody in the same way. Outside, the calliope was playing itsfavourite tune, ‘The Poor Butterfly Waltz’; supposedly unknown toGus, the man who ran the cat‑rack had slipped in the gaff, sothat the eager suitor who was trying to win a kewpie doll for thegirl of his heart by throwing baseballs found that the stuffedpussy‑cats wouldn’t be knocked down. It was a sleazier,crookeder fair altogether than the one the local Fair Board hadplanned, but there was always a young crowd that liked it that way.

“On the bally, Charlie allowed his wit a freer play. As Zovenejuggled with his spangled Indian clubs, Charlie would say, in apretended undertone which carried well beyond his audience: ‘Prettygood, eh? He isn’t big, but he’s good. Anyways, how big would yoube if you’d been strained through a silk handkerchief?’ The youngbloods would guffaw at this, and their girls would clamour to have itexplained to them. And when Zitta showed her snakes, she would dragthe old cobra suggestively between her legs and up her front, whileCharlie whispered, ‘Boys‑oh‑boys, who wouldn’t be asnake?’

“Inside the tent Charlie urged the young men to model themselves onSonnenfels, so that all the girls would be after them, and they’dbe up to the job. And when he came to Andro he would ogle his hearersand say, ‘He’s the only guy in the world who’s glad to wake upin the morning and find he’s beside himself.’ He particularlydelighted in tormenting Hannah. She did her own talking, but as sheshrieked her devotion to the Lord Jesus, Charlie would lean down low,and say, in a carrying whisper, ‘She hasn’t seen her ace o’spades in twenty years.’ The burst of laughter made Hannah furious,though she never caught what was said. She knew, however, that it wassomething dirty. However often she complained to Gus, and howeveroften Gus harangued Charlie, the Spirit of Carnival was always toomuch for him. Nor was Gus whole‑hearted in her complaints; whatpleased the crowd was what Gus liked.

“Hannah attempted to fight fire with fire. She often made it known,in the Pullman, that in her opinion these modern kids weren’t badkids, and if you gave them a chance they didn’t want this Sex andall like that. Sure, they wanted fun, and she knew how to give ‘emfun. She was just as fond of fun as anybody, but she didn’t see thefun in all this Smut and Filth. So she gave ‘em fun.

“ ‘Lots o’ fun in your Bible, boys and girls,’ she wouldshout. ‘Didn’t you know that? Didya think the Good Book was allserious? You just haven’t read it with the Liberal Heart, that’sall. Come on now! Come on now, all of you! Who can tell me why youwouldn’t dare to take a drink outa the first river in Eden? Comeon, I bet ya know. Sure ya know. You’re just too shy to say. Whywouldn’t ya take a drink outa the first river in Eden?–Because itwas Pison, that’s why! If you don’t believe me, look in Genesistwo, eleven.’ Then she would go off into a burst of wheezinglaughter.

“Or she would point–and with an arm like hers, pointing was notrifling effort–at Zovene, shouting: ‘You call him small? Say,he’s a regular Goliath compared with the shortest man in the Bible.Who was he? Come on, who was he?–He was Bildad the Shuhite, Jobtwo, eleven. See, the Liberal Heart can even get a laugh outa one ofJob’s Comforters. I betcha never thought of that, eh?’ And again,one of her terrible bursts of laughter.

“Hannah understood nothing of the art of the comedian. It isdangerous to laugh at your own jokes, but if you must, it is a greatmistake to laugh first. Fat people, when laughing, are awesomesights, enough to strike gravity into the onlooker. But Hannah was awhole World of Wonders in herself when she laughed. She forced herlaughter, for after all, when you have told people for weeks that theonly man in the Bible with no parents was Joshua, the son of Nun, thejoke loses some of its savour. So she pushed laughter out of herselfin wheezing, whooping cries, and her face became unpleasantly marbledwith dabs of a darker red under the rouge she wore. Her collopswobbled uncontrollably, her vast belly heaved and trembled as shesucked breath, and sometimes she attempted to slap her thigh,producing a wet splat of sound. Fat Ladies ought not to tell jokes;their mirth is of the flesh, not of the mind. Fat Ladies ought not tolaugh; a chuckle is all they can manage without putting a dangerousstrain on their breathing and circulatory system. But Hannah wouldnot listen to reason. She was determined to drive Smut back into itsloathsome den with assaults of Clean Fun, and if she damaged herselfin the battle, her wounds would be honourable.

“Sometimes she had an encouraging measure of success. Quite oftenthere would be in the crowd some young man who was of a serious,religious turn of mind, and usually he was accompanied by a girl whohad preacher’s daughter written all over her. They had beenembarrassed by Charlie’s jokes when they understood them. They hadbeen even more embarrassed when Rango, at a secret signal fromHeinie, left his pretended restaurant table and urinated in a corner,while Heinie pantomimed a waiter’s dismay. But with thatcamaraderie which exists among religious people just as it does amongtinhorns and crooks, they recognized Hannah as a benign influence,and laughed with her, and urged her on to greater flights. She gavethem her best. ‘What eight fellas in the Bible milked a bear? Youknow! You musta read it a dozen times. D’ya give it up? Well,listen carefully: Huz, Buz, Kemuel, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph,and Bethuel–these eight did Milcah bear to Nahor, Abraham’sbrother . Didya never think of it that way? Eh? Didn’t ya?Well, it’s in Genesis twenty‑two.’

“When one of these obviously sanctified couples appeared, it wasHannah’s pleasure to single them out and hold them up to the restof the crowd as great cutups. ‘Oh, I see ya,’ she would shout;‘it’s the garden of Eden all over again; the trouble isn’t withthe apple in the tree, it’s with that pair on the ground.’ Andshe would point at them, and they would blush and laugh and begrateful to be given a reputation for wickedness without having to doanything to acquire it.

“All of this cost Hannah dearly. After a big Saturday night, whenshe had exhausted her store of Bible riddles, she was almost too usedup for her ritual bath. But she had worked herself up into a shockingsweat, and sometimes the smell of wet cornstarch from her soppingbody spread a smell like a gigantic nursery pudding through the wholeof the tent, and bathed she had to be, or there would be trouble withchafing.

“Her performance on these occasions made Willard deeply, cruellyangry. He would stand beside Abdullah and I could hear him swearing,repetitively but with growing menace, as she carried on. The worst ofit was, if she secured any sort of success, she was not willing tostop; even when the crowd had passed on to see Abdullah, she wouldcontinue, at somewhat lesser pitch, with a few lingerers, who hopedfor more Bible fun. In the Last Trick it was Willard’s custom tohave three people cut the cards for the automaton, instead of theusual one, and he wanted the undivided attention of the crowd. Hehated Hannah, and from my advantageous peephole I was not long incoming to the conclusion that Hannah hated him.

“There were plenty of places in southern Ontario at that time wherereligious young people were numerous, and in these communities Hannahdid not scruple to give a short speech in which she looked forward toseeing them next year, and implored them to join her in a partinghymn. ‘God be with you till we meet again,’ she would strike up,in her thin, piercing voice, like a violin string played unskilfullyand without a vibrato, and there were always those who, fromreligious zeal or just because they liked to sing, would join her.Nor was one verse enough. Charlie would strike in, as boldly as hecould: And now, ladies and gentlemen, our Master Marvel of theWorld of Wonders–Willard the Wizard and his Card‑PlayingAutomaton, Abdullah, as soon to be exhibited on the stage of thePalace Theater, New York– but Hannah would simply put on moresteam, and slow down, and nearly everybody in the tent would bewailing –

God be with you till we meet again!

Keep love’s banner floating o’er you,

Smite death’s threatening wave before you;

God be with you till we meet again;

And then the whole dismal chorus. It was a hymn of hate, and Willardmet it with such hate as I have rarely seen.

“As for me, I was only a child, and my experience of hatred wasslight, but so far as I could, and with what intensity of spirit Icould muster, I hated them both. Hate and bitterness were becomingthe elements in which I lived.”

Eisengrim had a fine feeling for a good exit‑line, and at thispoint he rose to go to bed. We rose, as well, and he went solemnlyaround the circle, shaking hands with us all in the European manner.Lind and Kinghovn even bowed as they did so, and when Magnus turnedat the door to give us a final nod, they bowed again.

“Now why do you suppose we accord these royal courtesies to a manwho has declared that he was Nobody for so many years,” saidIngestree, when we had sat down again. “Because it is so very plainthat he is not Nobody now. He is almost oppressively Somebody. Are werising, and grinning, and even bowing out of pity? Are we trying tomake it up to a man who suffered a dreadful denial of personality byassuring him that now we are quite certain he is a real person, justlike us? Decidedly not. We defer to him, and hop around likecourtiers because we can’t help it. Why? Ramsay, do you know why?”

“No,” said I; “I don’t, and it doesn’t trouble me much. Irather enjoy Magnus’s lordly airs. He can come off his perch whenhe thinks proper. Perhaps we do it because we know he doesn’t takeit seriously; it’s part of a game. If he insisted, we’d rebel.”

“And when you rebelled, you would see a very different side of hisnature,” said Liesl.

“You play the game with him, I observe,” said Ingestree. “Youstand up when His Supreme Self‑Assurance leaves the company.Yet you are mistress here, and we are your guests. Now why is that?”

“Because I am not quite sure who he is,” said Liesl.

“You don’t believe this story he’s telling us?”

“Yes. I think that he has come to the time of his life when hefeels the urge to tell. Many people feel it. It is the impulse behinda hundred bad autobiographies every year. I think he is being ashonest as he can. I hope that when he finishes his story–if he doesfinish it–I shall know rather more. But I may not have my answerthen.”

“I don’t follow; you hope to hear his story out, but you don’tthink it certain that you will know who he is even then, although youthink he is being honest. What is this mystery?”

“Who is anybody? For me, he is whatever he is to me. Biographicalfacts may be of help, but they don’t explain that. Are you married,Mr. Ingestree?”

“Well, no, actually, I’m not.”

“The way you phrase your reply speaks volumes. But suppose you weremarried; do you think that your wife would be to you precisely whatshe was to her women friends, her men friends, her doctor, lawyer,and hairdresser? Of course not. To you she would be somethingspecial, and to you that would be the reality of her. I have not yetfound out what Magnus is to me, although we have been businessassociates and friendly intimates for a long time. If I had been thesort of person who is somebody’s mistress, I would have been hismistress, but I’ve never cared for the mistress role. I am too richfor it. Mistresses have incomes, and valuable possessions, but notfortunes. Nor can I say we have been lovers, because that is a messyexpression people use when they are having sexual intercourse onfairly regular terms, without getting married. But I have had many ajolly night with Magnus, and many an exciting day with him. I stillhave to decide what he is to me. If humouring his foible for royaltreatment helps me to come to a conclusion, I have no objection.”

“Well, what about you, Ramsay? He keeps referring to you as hisfirst teacher of magic. You knew him from childhood, then? You couldsurely say who he was?”

“I was almost present at his birth. But does that mean anything? Aninfant is a seed. Is it an oak seed or a cabbage seed? Who knows? Allmothers think their children are oaks, but the world never lacks forcabbages. I would be the last man to pretend that knowing somebody asa child gave any real clue to who he is as a man. I can tell youthis: he jokes about the lessons I gave him when he was a child, buthe didn’t think them funny then; he had a great gift for somethingI couldn’t do at all, or could do with absurd effort. He was deadlyserious during our lessons, and for a good reason. I could read thebooks and he couldn’t. I think that may throw some light on what wehave been hearing about the World of Wonders, which he presents as akind of joke. I am perfectly certain it wasn’t a joke at the time.”

“I am sure he wasn’t joking when he spoke of hatred,” saidLind. “He was funny, or ironic, or whatever you want to call it,about the World of Wonders. We all know why people talk in that way;if we are amusing about our trials in the past, it is as if we say,‘See what I overcame–now I treat it as a joke–see how strong Ihave been and ask yourself if you could have overcome what Iovercame?’ But when he spoke of hatred, there was no joking.”

“I don’t agree,” said Ingestree. “I think joking about thepast is a way of suggesting that it wasn’t really important. A wayof veiling its horror, perhaps. We shudder when we hear ofyesterday’s plane accident, in which seventy people were killed;but we become increasingly philosophical about horrors that arefurther away. What is the Charge of the Light Brigade now? Weremember it as a military blunder and we use it as a stick to beatmilitary commanders, who are all popularly supposed to be blunderers.It has become a poem by Tennyson that embarrasses us by itsexaltation of unthinking obedience. We joke about the historical factand the poetic artifact. But how many people ever think of the youngmen who charged? Who takes five minutes to summon up in his mind whatthey felt as they rushed to death? It is the fate of the past to befuel for humour.”

“Have you put your finger on it?” said Lind. “Perhaps you have.Jokes dissemble horrors and make them seem unimportant. And why? Isit in order that more horrors may come? In order that we may neverlearn anything from experience? I have never been very fond of jokes.I begin to wonder if they are not evil.”

“Oh rubbish, Jurgen,” said Ingestree. “I was only talking aboutone aspect of humour. It’s absolutely vital to life. It’s one ofthe marks of civilization. Mankind wouldn’t be mankind without it.”

“I know that the English set a special value on humour,” saidLind. “They have a very fine sense of humour and sometimes theythink theirs the best in the world, like their marmalade. Whichreminds me that during the First World War some of the English troopsused to go over the top shouting, ‘Marmalade!’ in humorouslychivalrous voices, as if it were a heroic battle‑cry. TheGermans could never get used to it. They puzzled tirelessly to solvethe mystery. Because a German cannot conceive that a man in battlewould want to be funny, you see. But I think the English weredissembling the horror of their situation so that they would notnotice how close they were to Death. Again, humour was essentiallyevil. If they had thought of the truth of their situation, they mightnot have gone over the top. And that might have been a good thing.”

“Let’s not theorize about humour, Jurgen,” said Ingestree;“it’s utterly fruitless and makes the very dullest kind ofconversation.”

“Now its my turn to disagree,” I said. “This notion that nobodycan explain humour, or even talk sensibly about it, is one ofhumour’s greatest cover‑ups. I’ve been thinking a greatdeal about the Devil lately, and I have been wondering if humourisn’t one of the most brilliant inventions of the Devil. What haveyou just been saying about it? It diminishes the horrors of the past,and it veils the horrors of the present, and therefore it prevents usfrom seeing straight, and perhaps from learning things we ought toknow. Who profits from that? Not mankind, certainly. Only the Devilcould devise such a subtle agency and persuade mankind to value it.”

“No, no, no, Ramsay,” said Liesl. “You are in one of yourtheological moods. I’ve watched you for days, and you have beenmoping as you do only when you are grinding one of your homemadetheological axes. Humour is quite as often the pointer to truth as itis a cloud over truth. Have you never heard the Jewish legend–it’sin the Talmud, isn’t it?–that at the time of Creation the Creatordisplayed his masterwork, Man, to the Heavenly Host, and only theDevil was so tactless as to make a joke about it. And that was why hewas thrown out of Heaven, with all the angels who had been unable tosuppress their laughter. So they set up Hell as a kind of jokers’club, and thereby complicated the universe in a way that must oftenembarrass God.”

“No,” I said; “I’ve never heard that and as legends are myspeciality, I don’t believe it. Talmud my foot! I suspect you madethat legend up here and now.”

Liesl laughed loud and long, and pushed the brandy bottle toward me.“You are almost as clever as I am, and I love you, Dunstan Ramsay,”she said.

“New or old, it’s a very good legend,” said Ingestree. “Becausethat’s always one of the puzzles of religion–no humour. Not ascrap. What is the basis of our faith, when we have a faith? TheBible. The Bible contains precisely one joke, and that is aschoolmasterish pun attributed to Christ when he told Peter that hewas the rock on which the Church was founded. Very probably a laterinterpolation by some Church Father who thought it was a realrib‑binder. But monotheism leaves no room for jokes, and I’vethought for a long time that is what is wrong with it. Monotheism istoo po‑faced for the sort of world we find ourselves in. Whathave we heard tonight? A great deal about how Happy Hannah tried tosqueeze jokes out of the Bible in the hope of catching a few youngpeople who were brimming with life. Frightful puns; the kind ofbricks you make without straw. Whereas the Devil, when he isrepresented in literature, is full of excellent jokes, and we can’tresist him because he and his jokes make so much sense. To twist anold saying, if the Devil had not existed, we should have had toinvent him. He is the only explanation of the appalling ambiguitiesof life. I give you the Devil!”

He raised his glass, but only he and Liesl drank the toast. Kinghovn,who had been getting into the brandy very heavily, was almost asleep.Lind was musing, and no sign of amusement appeared on his long face.I couldn’t possibly have drunk such a toast, offered in such aspirit. Ingestree was annoyed.

“You don’t drink,” said he.

“Perhaps I shall do so later, when I have had time to think itover,” said Lind. “Private toasts are out of fashion in theEnglish‑speaking world; you only drink them on formaloccasions, as part of the decorum of stupidity. But we Scandinavianshave still one foot in Odin’s realm, and when we drink a toast wemean something quite serious. When I drink to the Devil I shall wantto be quite serious.”

“I hesitate to say so, Roland,” I said, “but I wish you hadn’tdone that. I quite agree that the Devil is a great joker, but I don’tthink it is particularly jolly to be the butt of one of his jokes.You have called his attention to you in what I must call a frivolousway–damned silly, to be really frank. I wish you hadn’t donethat.”

“You mean he’ll do something to me? You mean that from henceforthI’m a Fated Man? You know, I’ve always fancied the role of FatedMan. What do you think it’ll be? Car accident? Loss of job? Even anasty death?”

“Who am I to probe the mind of a World Spirit?” I said. “But ifI were the Devil–which, God be thanked, I am not–I might throw ajoke or two in your direction that would test your sense of humour. Idon’t suppose you’re a Fated Man.”

“You mean I’m too small fry for that?” said Ingestree. He wassmiling, but he didn’t like my serious tone and was inviting me toinsult him. Lucidly, Kinghovn woke up, slightly slurred in speech butfull of opinion.

“You’re all out of your heads,” he shouted. “No humour in theBible. All right. Scrub out the Bible. Use the script Eisengrim hasgiven us. Film the subtext. Then I’ll show you some humour: thatFat Woman–let me give you a peep‑shot of her groaning in thedonniker, or being swilled down by Gus; let me show her shrieking herbloody‑awful jokes while the Last Trick gets dirtier anddirtier. Then you’ll hear some laughter. You’re all mad forwords. Words are just farts from a lot of fools who have swallowedtoo many books. Give me things! Give me the appearance of a thing,and I’ll show you the way to photograph it so the reality comesright out in front of your eyes. The Devil? Balls! God? Balls! Get methat Fat Woman and I’ll photograph her one way and you’ll knowthe Devil made her, then I’ll photograph her another way and you’llswear you see the work of God! Light! That’s the whole secret!Light! And who understands it? I do!”

Lind and Ingestree decided it was time to take him to his bed. Asthey manhandled him down the long entry‑steps of Sorgenfrei hewas shouting, “Light! Let there be light! Who said that? I saidit!”


The film‑makers were drawing near the end of their work. Allbut a few special scenes of Un Hommage a Robert‑Houdin were “in the can”; what remained was to arrange backstage shotsof Eisengrim being put into his “gaffed” conjuror’s eveningcoat by the actor who played the conjuror’s son and assistant; ofassistants working quietly and deftly while the great magicianproduced astonishing effects on the stage; of Mme Robert‑Houdinputting the special padded covers over the precious and delicateautomata; of the son‑assistant gently loading a dozen doves, orthree rabbits, or even a couple of ducks into a space which seemedincapable of holding them; of all the splendidly efficientorganization which was needed to produce the effect of the illogicaland incredible. That night, therefore, Eisengrim moved his narrativealong a little faster.

“You don’t want a chronological account of my seven years as themechanism of Abdullah,” he said, “and indeed it would beimpossible for me to give you one. Something was happening all thetime, but only two or three matters were of any importance. We werecontinually travelling and seeing new places, but in fact we sawnothing. We brought excitement and perhaps a whisper of magic intothousands of rural Canadian lives, but our own lives were vastunbroken prairies of boredom. We were continually on the alert,sizing up the Rubes and trying to match what we gave to what theywanted, but no serious level of our minds was ever put to work.

“For Sonnenfels, Molza, and poor old Professor Spencer it was theonly life they knew or could expect to have; the first two keptthemselves going by nursing some elaborate, inexhaustible,ill‑defined personal grievance which they shared; Spencer fedhimself on complex, unworkable economic theories, and he would jawyou half to death about bimetallism, or Social Credit, if you gavehim a chance. The Fat Woman had her untiring crusade against smut andirreligion; she could not reconcile herself to being simply fat, andI suppose this suggests some kind of mental or spiritual life in her.I saw hope dying in poor Em Dark, as Joe proved his incapacity tolearn anything that would get them out of carnival life. Zitta wascontinually on the lookout for somebody to marry; she couldn’t makeany money, because she had to spend so much on new, doctored snakes;but how do you get a sucker to the altar if you are always on themove? She would have snatched at Charlie, but Charlie liked somethingfresher, and anyhow Gus was vigilant to save Charlie from designingwomen. Zovene was locked in the misery of dwarfdom; he wasn’treally a midget, because a midget has to be perfectly formed, and hehad a small but unmistakable hump; he was a sour little fellow, anddeeply unhappy, I’m sure. Heinie Bayer had lived so long with Rangothat he was more like Rango than like a man; they did not bring outthe best in each other.

“Like a lot of monkeys, Rango was a great masturbator, and whenHappy Hannah complained about it Heinie would snicker and say, ‘It’snatural, ain’t it?’ and encourage Rango to do it during the LastTrick, where the young people would see him. Then Hannah would shoutacross the tent, ‘Whoso shall offend one of these little ones whichbelieve in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hangedabout his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.’But the youngsters can’t have been believers in the sense of thetext, for they hung around Rango, some snickering, some ashamedlycurious, and some of the girls obviously unable to understand whatwas happening. Gus tried to put a stop to this, but even Gus had nopower over Rango, except to put him off the show, and he was toosolid a draw for that Hannah decided that Rango was a type ofnatural, unredeemed man, and held forth at length on that theme. Shepredicted that Rango would go mad, if he had any brains to go madwith. But Rango died unredeemed.

“So far as I was concerned, the whole of Wanless’s World ofWonders was unredeemed. Did Christ die for these, I asked myself,hidden in the shell of Abdulah. I decided that He didn’t. I nowthink I was mistaken, but you must remember that I began thesereflections when I was ten years old, and deep in misery. I was in aworld which seemed to me to be filthy in every way; I had grown up ina world where there was little love, but much concern about goodness.Here I could see no goodness, and felt no goodness.”

Lind intervened. “Excuse me if I am prying,” he said, “but youhave been very frank with us, and my question is one of deep concern,not simple curiosity. You were swept into the carnival becauseWillard had raped you; was there any more of that?”

“Yes, much more of it. I cannot pretend to explain Willard, and Ithink such people must be rare. I know very well that homosexualityincludes love of all sorts, but in Willard it was just a perversedrive, untouched by affection or any concern at all, except forhimself. At least once every week we repeated that first act. Placeshad to be found, and when it happened it was quick and usually donein silence except for occasional whimpers from me and–this was verystrange–something very like whimpers from Willard.”

“And you never complained, or told anybody?”

“I was a child. I knew in my bones that what Willard did to me wasvery wrong, and he was careful to let me know that it was my fault.If I said a word to anybody, he told me, I would at once find myselfin the hands of the law. And what would the law do to a boy who didwhat I did? Terrible things. When I dared to ask what the law woulddo to him, he said the law couldn’t touch him; he knew highlyplaced people everywhere.”

“How can you have continued to believe that?”

“Oh, you people who are so fortunately born, so well placed, sosure the policeman is your friend! Do you remember my home, Ramsay?”

“Very well.”

“An abode of love, was it?”

“Your mother loved you very much.”

“My mother was a madwoman. Why? Ramsay has very fine theories abouther; he had a special touch with her. But to me she was a perpetualreproach because I knew that her madness was my fault. My father toldme that she had gone mad at the time of my birth, and because of it.I was born in 1908, when all sorts of extraordinary things were stillbelieved about childbirth, especially in places like Deptford. Thosewere the sunset days of the great legend of motherhood. When yourmother bore you, she went down in her anguish to the very gates ofDeath, in order that you might have life. Nothing that you could dosubsequently would work off your birth‑debt to her. No degreeof obedience, no unfailing love, could put the account straight. Yourguilt toward her was a burden you carried all your life. Christ, Ican hear Charlie now, standing on the stage of a thousand rottenlittle vaude houses, giving out that message in a tremulous voice,while the pianist played ‘In a Monastery Garden’ –

Mis for the million smiles she gave me;

Omeans only that she’s growing old;

Tis for the times she prayed to save me;

His for her heart, of purest gold;

Eis every wrong that she forgave me;

Ris right–and Right she’ll always be!

Put them all together, they spell MOTHER–

A word that means the world to me!

That was the accepted attitude toward mothers, at that time, in theworld I belonged to. Well? Imagine what it was like to grow up with amother who had to be tied up every morning before my father could gooff to his work as an accountant at the planing‑mill; he was aparson no longer because her disgrace had made it impossible for himto continue his ministry. What was her disgrace? Something that mademy schoolmates shout ‘Hoor!’ when they passed our house.Something that made them call out filthy jokes about hoors when theysaw me. So there you have it. A disgraced and ruined home, and forwhat reason? Because I was born into it. That was the reason.

“That wasn’t all. I said that when Willard used me he whimpered.Sometimes he spoke in his whimpering, and what he said then was, ‘Yougoddam little hoor!’ And when it was over, more than once heslapped me mercilessly around the head, saying, ‘Hoor! You’renothing but a hoor!’ It wasn’t really condemnation; it seemed tobe part of his fulfilment, his ecstasy. Don’t you understand?‘Hoor’ was what my mother was, and what had brought our familydown because of my birth. ‘Hoor’ was what I was. I was thefilthiest thing alive. And I was Nobody. Now do you ask me why Ididn’t complain to someone about ill usage? What rights had I? Ihadn’t even a conception of what ‘rights’ were.”

“Could this go on without anybody knowing, or at least suspecting?”Lind was pale; he was taking this hard; I had not thought of him ashaving so much compassionate feeling.

“Of course they knew. But Willard was crafty and they had no proof.They’d have had to be very simple not to know that something wasgoing on, and carnival people weren’t ignorant about perversion.They hinted, and sometimes they were nasty, especially Sonnenfels andMolza. Heinie and Zovene thought it was a great joke. Em Dark hadspells of being sorry for me, but Joe didn’t want her to mixherself up in anything that concerned Willard, because Willard was apower in the World of Wonders. He and Charlie were very thick, and ifCharlie turned against any of the Talent, there were all kinds ofways he could reduce their importance in the show, and then Gus mightget the idea that some new Talent was wanted.

“Furthermore, I was thought to be bad luck by most of the Talent,and show people are greatly involved with the idea of luck. Early inmy time on the show I got into awful trouble with Molza because Iinadvertently shifted his trunk a few inches in the dressing tent. Itwas on a bit of board I wanted to use in my writing‑lesson withProfessor Spencer. Suddenly Moba was on me, stormingincomprehensibly, and Spencer had trouble quieting him down. ThenSpencer warned me against ever moving a trunk, which is very bad luckindeed; when the handlers bring it in from the baggage wagon they putit where it ought to go, and there it stays until they take it backto the train. I had to go through quite a complicated ceremony toward off the bad luck, and Molza fussed all day.

“The idea of the Jonah is strong with show people. A bringer of illluck can blight a show. Some of the Talent were sure I was a Jonah,which was just a way of focussing their detestation of what Irepresented, and of Willard, whom they all hated.

“Only the Fat Woman ever spoke to me directly about who and what Iwas. I forget exactly when it was, but it was fairly early in myexperience on the show. It might have been during my second or thirdyear, when I was twelve or thereabouts. One morning before the firsttrick, and even before the calliope began its toot‑up, whichwas the signal that the World of Wonders and its adjuncts wereopening for business, she was sitting on her throne and I was doingsomething to Abdullah, which I checked carefully every day forpossible trouble.

“ ‘Come here, kid,’ she said. ‘I wanta talk to you. And Iwanta talk mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches.Them words mean anything to you?’

“ ‘That’s from Numbers,’ I said.

“ ‘Numbers is right; Numbers twelve, verse eight. How do you knowthat?’

“ ‘I just know it.’

“ ‘No, you don’t just know it. You been taught it. And you beentaught it by somebody who cared for your soul’s salvation. Was ityour Ma?’

“ ‘My Pa,’ I said.

“ ‘Then did he ever teach you Deuteronomy twenty‑three,verse ten?’

“ ‘Is that about uncleanness in the night?’

“ ‘That’s it. You been well taught. Did he ever teach youGenesis thirteen, verse thirteen? That’s one of the unluckiestverses in the Bible.’

“ ‘I don’t remember.’

“ ‘Not that the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before theLord exceedingly?’

“ ‘I don’t remember.’

“ ‘I bet you remember Leviticus twenty, thirteen.’

“ ‘I don’t remember.’

“ ‘You do so remember! If a man also lie with mankind as he liethwith a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shallsurely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.’

“I said nothing, but I am sure my face gave me away. It was one ofWillard’s most terrible threats that if I were caught I shouldcertainly be hanged. But I was mute before the Fat Woman.

“ ‘You know what that means, dontcha?’

“Oh, I knew what it meant. In my time on the show I had alreadylearned a great deal about mankind lying with women, because Charlietalked about little else when he sat on the train with Willard. Itwas a very dark matter, for all I knew about it was the parody ofthis act which I was compelled to go through with Willard, and Iassumed that the two must be equally horrible. But I clung to thechild’s refuge: silence.

“ ‘You know where that leads, dontcha? Right slap to Hell, wherethe worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.’

“From me, nothing but silence.

“ ‘You’re in a place where no kid ought to be. I don’t meanthe show, naturally. The show contains a lotta what’s good. Butthat Abdullah. That’s an idol, and that Willard and Charlieencourage the good folks that come in here for an honest show to bowdown and worship almost before it, and they won’t be heldguiltless. No sirree! Nor you, neither, because you’re the works ofan idol and just as guilty as they are.’

“ ‘I just do what I’m told,’ I managed to say.

“ ‘That’s what many a sinner’s said, right up to the timewhen it’s no good saying it any longer. And those tricks. You’relearning tricks, aren’t you? What do you want tricks for?’

“I had a happy inspiration. I looked her straight in the eye. ‘Icount them but dung, that I may win Christ,’ I said.

“ ‘That’s the right way to look at it, boy. Put first thingsfirst. If that’s the way you feel, maybe there’s some hope foryou still.’ She sat a little forward in her chair, which was allshe could manage, and put her podgy hands on her great knees, whichwere shown off to advantage by her pink rompers. ‘I’ll tell youwhat I always say,’ she continued; ‘there’s two things you gotto be ready to do in this world, and that’s fight for what’sright, and read your Bible every day. I’m a fighter. Always havebeen. A mighty warrior for the Lord. And you’ve seen me on thetrain, reading my old Bible that’s so worn and thumbed that peoplesay to me, “That’s a disgrace; why don’t you get yourself adecent copy of the Lord’s Word?” And I reply, “I hang on tothis old Bible because it’s seen me through thick and thin, andwhat looks like dirt to you is the wear of love and reverence onevery page.” A clean sword and a dirty Bible! That’s my warcry inmy daily crusade for the Lord: a clean sword and a dirty Bible! Now,you remember that. And you ponder on Leviticus twenty, thirteen, andcut out all that fornication and Sodom abomination before it”s toolate, if it isn’t too late already.’

“I got away, and hid myself in Abdullah and thought a lot aboutwhat Happy Hannah had said. My thoughts were like those of many aconvicted sinner. I was pleased with my cleverness in thinking upthat text that had averted her attack. I sniggered that I had evenbeen able to use a forbidden word like ‘dung’ in a sanctifiedsense. I was frightened by Leviticus twenty, thirteen, and–you seehow much a child of the superstitious carnival I had alreadybecome–by the double thirteen verse from Genesis. Double thirteen!What could be more ominous! I knew I ought to repent, and I did, butI knew I could not leave off my sin, or Willard might kill me, andnot only was I afraid to die, I quite simply didn’t want to die.And such is the resilience of childhood that when the first trickadvanced as far as Abdullah, I was pleased to defeat a particularlyobnoxious Rube.

“After that I had many a conversation with Hannah in which wematched texts. Was I a hypocrite? I don’t think so. I had simplyacquired the habit of adapting myself to my audience. Anyhow, myreadiness with the Bible seemed to convince her that I was notutterly damned. I had no such assurance, but I was getting used toliving with damnation.

“I had a Bible. I stole it from a hotel. It was one of those sturdycopies the Gideons spread about so freely in hotel rooms. I snitchedone at the first opportunity, and as Professor Spencer was teachingme to read very capably I spent many an hour with it. I felt nocompunction about the theft, because theft was part of the life Ilived. Willard was as good a pickpocket as I have ever known, and oneof the marks of his professionalism was that he was not greedy orslapdash in his methods.

“He had an agreement with Charlie. At a point about the middle ofthe bally, during one of the night shows, Charlie would interrupt hisdescription of the World of Wonders to say, very seriously, Ladiesand gentlemen, I think I ought to warn you, on behalf of themanagement, that pickpockets may be at work at this fair. I give youmy assurance that nothing is farther from the spirit of amusement andeducation represented by our exhibition than the utterly indefensiblepractice of theft. But as you know, we cannot control everything thatmay happen. The gaff here was that when he spoke of thieves,Rubes who had a full wallet were likely to put a hand on it. Willardspotted them from the back of the crowd, and during the rest ofCharlie’s pious spiel he would gently lift one from a promisingRube. It had to be very quick work. Then, when he had taken themoney, he substituted a wad of newspaper of the appropriate size, andeither during the bally, or when the Rube came into the tent, hewould put the wallet back in place. Rubes generally carried theirwallets on the left hip, and as their pants were often a tight fit, alight hand was necessary.

“Willard was never caught. If the Rube came to complain that he hadbeen robbed, Charlie put on a show for him, shook his head sadly, andsaid that this was one of the problems that confronted honest showfolks. Willard never pinched more than one bankroll in a town, andnever robbed in the same town two years running. Willard liked bestto steal from the local cop, but as cops rarely had much money thiswas a larcenous foppery which he did not often allow himself.

“Gus never caught on. Gus was a strangely innocent woman ineverything that pertained to Charlie and his doings. Of courseCharlie got a fifty per cent cut of what Willard stole.

“Willard knew I stole the Bible, and he was angry. Theft, he gaveme to understand, was serious business and not for kids. Get caughtstealing some piece of junk, and how were you to get back to serioustheft again? Never steal anything trivial. This was perhaps the onlymoral precept Willard ever impressed on me.

“Anyhow, I had a hotel Bible, and I read it constantly, in manyanother hotel. The carnival business is a fair‑weatherbusiness, and in winter it could not be pursued and the carnival hadto be put to bed.

“That did not mean a cessation of work. The brother who nevertravelled with the carnival, but who did all our booking, was JerryWanless, and he handled the other side of the business, which wasvaudeville booking. As soon as the carnival season was over, Willardand Abdullah were booked into countless miserable little vaudevilletheatres throughout the American and Canadian Middle West.

“It was an era of vaudeville and there were thousands of acts tofill thousands of spots all over the continent There was a hierarchyof performance, beginning with the Big Time, which was composed oftop acts that played in the big theatres of big cities for a week ormore at a stretch. After it came the Small Big Time, which was prettygood and played lesser houses in big and middle‑sized cities.Then came the Small Time, which played smaller towns in the sticksand was confined to split weeks. Below that was a rabble of acts thatnobody wanted very much, which played for rotten pay in the worstvaude houses. Nobody ever gave it a name, and those who belonged toit always referred to it as Small Time, but it was really Very SmallTime. That was where Jerry Wanless booked incompetent dog acts,jugglers who were on the booze, dirty comedians, single women withoutcharm or wit, singers with nodes on their vocal chords, conjurors whodropped things, quick‑change artistes who looked the same inall their impersonations, and a crowd of carnies like Willard andsome of the other Talent from the World of Wonders.

“It was the hardest kind of entertainment work, and we did it intheatres that seemed never to have been swept, for audiences thatseemed never to have been washed. We did continuous vaudeville: sixacts followed by a “feature” movie, round and round and roundfrom one o’clock in the afternoon until midnight. The audience wasinvited to come when it liked and stay as long as it liked. In fact,it changed completely almost every show, because there was always anact called a ‘chaser’ which was reckoned to be so awful that eventhe people who came to our theatres couldn’t stand it. Quite oftenduring my years in vaudeville Zovene the Midget Juggler filled thisignominious spot. Poor old Zovene wasn’t really as awful as heappeared, but he was pretty bad and he was wholly out of fashion. Hedressed in a spangled costume that was rather like the outfit worn byMr. Punch–a doublet and tight knee‑breeches, with stripedstockings and little pumps. He had only one outfit, and he had shedspangles for so long that he looked very shabby. There was still awistful prettiness about him as he skipped nimbly to ‘Funiculifunicula’ and tossed coloured Indian clubs in the air. But it was aprettiness that would appeal only to an antiquarian of the theatre,and we had no such rarities in our audiences.

“There is rank and precedence everywhere, and here, on the bottomshelf of vaudeville, Willard was a headliner. He had the place ofhonour, just before Zovene came on to empty the house. The‘professor’ at the piano would thump out an Oriental theme fromChu Chin Chow and the curtain would rise to reveal Abdullah,bathed in whatever passed for an eerie light in that particularhouse. Behind Abdullah might be a backdrop representing anything–aroom in a palace, a rural glade, or one of those improbable Italiangardens, filled with bulbous balustrades and giant urns, which nobodyhas ever seen except a scene‑painter.

“Willard would enter in evening dress, wearing a cape, which hedoffed with an air, and held extended briefly at his right side; whenhe folded it, a shabby little table with his cards and necessarieshad appeared behind it. Applause? Never! The audiences we played torarely applauded and they expected a magician to be magical. If theywere not asleep, or drunk, or pawing the woman in the next seat, theyreceived all Willard’s tricks with cards and coins stolidly.

“They liked it better when he did a little hypnotism, asking formembers of the audience to come to the stage to form a ‘committee’which would watch his act at close quarters, and assure the rest ofthe audience that there was no deception. He did the conventionalhypnotist’s tricks, making men saw wood that wasn’t there, fishin streams that had no existence, and sweat in sunlight that hadnever penetrated into that dismal theatre. Finally he would cause twoof the men to start a fight, which he would stop. The fight alwaysbrought applause. Then, when the committee had gone back to theirseats, came the topper of his act, Abdullah the Wonder Automaton ofthe Age. It was the same old business; three members of the audiencechose cards, and three times Abdullah chose a higher one. Applause.Real applause, this time. Then the front‑drop–the one withadvertisements painted on it–came down and poor old Zovene wentinto his hapless act.

“The only other Talent from the World of Wonders that was bookedinto the places where we played were Charlie, who did a monologue,and Andro.

“Andro was becoming the worst possible kind of nuisance. He wasshowing real talent, and to hear Charlie and Willard talk about ityou would think he was a traitor to everything that was good and purein the world of show business. But I was interested in Andro, andwatched him rehearse. He never talked to me, and probably regarded meas a company spy. There were such things, and they reported back toJerry in Chicago what Talent was complaining about money, or slackingon the job, or black‑mouthing the management. But Andro was thenearest thing to real Talent I had met with up to that time, and hefascinated me. He was a serious, unrelenting worker andperfectionist.

“Imitators of his act have been common in night‑clubs formany years, and I don’t suppose he was the first to do it, butcertainly he was the best of the lot. He played in the dark, exceptfor a single spotlight, and he waltzed with himself. That is to say,on his female side he wore a red evening gown, cut very low in theback, and showing lots of his female leg in a red stocking; on hismasculine side he wore only half a pair of black satin knee‑breeches,a black stocking and a pump with a phoney diamond buckle. When hewrapped himself in his own arms, we saw a beautiful woman in the armsof a half‑naked muscular man, whirling rhythmically round thestage in a rapturous embrace. He worked up all sorts of illusions,kissing his own hand, pressing closer what looked like two bodies,and finally whirling offstage for what must undoubtedly be furtherromance. He was a novelty, and even our audiences were roused fromtheir lethargy by him. He improved every week.

“Willard and Charlie couldn’t stand it. Charlie wrote to Jerryand I heard what he said, for Charlie liked his own prose and read italoud to Willard. Charlie deplored ‘the unseemly eroticism’ ofthe act, he said. It would get Jerry a bad name to book such an actinto houses that catered to a family trade. Jerry wrote back tellingCharlie to shut up and leave the booking business to him. Hesuggested that Charlie clean up his own act, of which he had receivedbad reports. Obviously some stool‑pigeon had it in for Charlie.

“As a monologist, Charlie possessed little but the self‑assurancenecessary for the job. Such fellows used to appear before theaudience, flashily dressed, with the air of a relative who has madegood in the big city and come home to amuse the folks. ‘Friends,just before the show I went into one of your local restaurants andlooked down the menoo for something tasty. I said to the waiter. Say,have you got frogs’ legs? No sir, says he, I walk like this becauseI got corns. You know, one of the troubles today is Prohibition. Anydisagreement? No. I didn’t think there would be. But the other dayI stepped into a blind pig not a thousand miles from this spot, and Isaid to the waiter, Bring me a couple of glasses of beer. So he did.So I drank one. Then I got up to leave, and the waiter comes running.Hey, you didn’t pay for those two glasses of beer, he said. That’sall right, I said, I drank one and left the other to settle. Then Iwent to keep a date with a pretty schoolteacher. She’s the kind ofschoolteacher I like best–lots of class and no principle. I get onbetter with schoolteachers now than I did when I was a kid. Myeducation was completed early. One day in school I put up my hand andthe teacher said. What is it, and I said, Please may I leave theroom? No, she says, you stay here and fill the inkwells. So I did,and she screamed, and the principal expelled me…’ And so on, forten or twelve minutes, and then he would say, ‘But seriouslyfolks–’ and go into a rhapsody about his Irish mother, and arecitation of that tribute to motherhood. Then he would run off thestage quickly, laughing as if he had been enjoying himself too muchto hold it in. Sometimes he got a spatter of applause. Now and thenthere would be dead silence, and some sighing. Vaudeville audiencesin those places could give the loudest sighs I have ever heard.Prisoners in the Bastille couldn’t have touched them.

“In the monologues of people like Charlie there were endless jokesabout minorities–Jews, Dutch, Squareheads, Negroes, Irish,everybody. I never heard of anybody resenting it. The sharpest jokesabout Jews and Negroes were the ones we heard from Jewish and Negrocomedians. Nowadays I understand that a comedian doesn’t dare tomake a joke about anyone but himself, and if he does too much of thathe is likely to be tagged as a masochist, playing for sympathybecause he is so mean to himself. The old vaude jokes were sometimescruel, but they were fairly funny and they were lightning‑rodsfor the ill‑will of audiences like ours, who had a plentifulsupply of ill‑will. We played to people who had not beengenerously used by life, and I suppose we reflected their state ofmind.

“I spent my winters from 1918 to 1928 in vaudeville houses of thehumblest kind. As I sat inside Abdullah and peeped out through thespy‑hole in his bosom I learned to love these dreadfultheatres. However wretched they were, they appealed to me powerfully.It was not until much later in my life that I learned what it wasthat spoke to me of something fine, even when the language wasgarbled. It was Liesl, indeed, who showed me that all theatres ofthat sort–the proscenium theatres that are out of favour withmodern architects–took their essential form and style from theballrooms of great palaces, which were the theatres of theseventeenth and eighteenth centuries. All the gold, and stuccoornamentation, the cartouches of pan‑pipes and tambourines, themasks of Comedy, and the upholstery in garnet plush were democraticstabs at palatial luxury; these were the palaces of the people.Unless they were Catholics, and spent some time each week in a gaudychurch, this was the finest place our audiences could enter. It washeart‑breaking that they should be so tasteless and rundown andsmelly, but their ancestry was a noble one. And of course the greatmovie and vaudeville houses where Charlie and Willard would neverplay, or enter except as paying customers, were real palaces of thepeople, built in what their owners and customers believed to be aregal mode.

“There was nothing regal about the accommodation for the Talent.The dressing‑rooms were few and seemed never to be cleaned;when there were windows they were filthy, and high in the walls, andwere protected on the outside by wire mesh which caught paper,leaves, and filth; as I remember them now most of the rooms had adado of deep brown to a height of about four feet from the floor,above which the walls were painted a horrible green. There werewashbasins in these rooms, but there was never more than onedonniker, usually in a pitiful state of exhaustion, sighing andwheezing the hours away at the end of a corridor. But there wasalways a star painted on the door of one of these dismal holes, andit was in the star dressing‑room that Willard, and Charlie (asa relative of the management) changed their clothes, and where I wastolerated as a dresser and helper.

“It was as a dresser that I travelled, officially. Dresser, andassistant to Willard. It was never admitted that I was the effectivepart of Abdullah, and we carried a screen which was set up to concealthe back of the automaton, so that the stagehands never saw meclimbing into my place. They knew, of course, but they were notsupposed to know, and such is the curious loyalty and discipline ofeven these rotten little theatres that I never heard anyone tellingthe secret. Everybody backstage closed ranks against the audience,just as in the carnival we were all in league against the Rubes.

“I spent all day in the theatre, because the only alternative wasthe room I shared with Willard in some cheap hotel, and he didn’twant me there. My way of life could hardly have been more incontradiction of what is thought to be a proper environment for agrowing boy. I saw little sunlight, and I breathed an exhausted anddusty air. My food was bad, because Willard kept me on a very smallallowance of money, and as there was nobody to make me eat what Ishould, I ate what I liked, which was cheap pastry, candy, and softdrinks. I was not a fanatical washer, but as I shared a bed withWillard he sometimes insisted that I take a bath. By every rule ofhygiene I should have died of several terrible diseases complicatedwith malnutrition, but I didn’t. In a special and thoroughlyunsuitable way, I was happy. I even contrived to learn one or twothings which were invaluable to me.

“Except for his dexterity as a conjuror, pickpocket, andcard‑sharp, Willard did nothing with his hands. As I told you,Abdullah had some mechanism in his base, and when Willard moved thehandle that set it in motion, it was supposed to enable Abdullah todo clever things with cards. The mechanism was a fake only in so faras it related to Abdullah’s skill; otherwise it was genuine enough.But it was always breaking down, and this was embarrassing when wewere on show. Early in my tune with Willard I explored those wheelsand springs and cogs, and very soon discovered how to set them rightwhen they stuck. The secret was very simple; Willard never oiled thewheels, and if somebody else oiled them for him, he allowed the oilto grow thick and dirty so that it clogged the works. Quite soon Itook over the care of Abdullah’s fake mechanism, and though I stilldid not really understand it I was capable enough at maintaining it.

“I suppose I was thirteen or so when a property man at one of thetheatres where we played saw me cleaning and oiling these gaffs, andwe struck up a conversation. He was interested in Abdullah, and I wasnervous about letting him probe the works, fearing that he would findout that they were fakes, but I need not have worried. He knew thatat a glance. ‘Funny that anybody’d take the trouble to put thisclass of work into an old piece of junk like this,’ he said. ‘D’youknow who made it?’ I didn’t. ‘Well, I’ll bet anything youlike a clockmaker made it,’ said he. ‘Lookit; I’ll show you.’And he proceeded to give me a lecture that lasted for almost an hourabout the essentials of clockwork, which is a wonderful complexity ofmechanism that is, at base, quite simple and founded on a handful ofprinciples. I won’t pretend that everybody would have understoodhim as well as I did, but I am not telling you this story to gain areputation for modesty. I took to it with all the enthusiasm of acurious boy who had nothing else in the world to occupy his mind. Ipestered the property man whenever he had a moment of spare time,demanding more explanation and demonstration. He had been trained asa clock–and watchmaker as a boy–I think he was a Dutchman but Inever bothered to learn his name except that it was Henry–and hewas a kindly fellow. The third day, which was our last stay in thattown, he opened his own watch, took out the movement, and showed mehow it could be taken to pieces. I felt as if Heaven had opened. Myhands were by this time entirely at my command because of my hundredsof hours of practice in the deeps of Abdullah, and I begged him tolet me reassemble the watch. He wouldn’t do that; he prized hiswatch, and though I showed some promise he was not ready to takerisks. But that night, after the last show, he called me to him andhanded me a watch–a big, old‑fashioned turnip with aGerman‑silver case –and told me to try my luck with that.‘When you come back this way,’ he said, ‘let’s see how you’vegot on.’

“I got on wonderfully. During the next year I took that watch apartand reassembled it time after time. I tinkered and cleaned and oiledand fiddled with the old‑fashioned regulator until it was asaccurate a timepiece as its age and essential character allowed. Ilonged for greater knowledge, and one day when opportunity served Istole a wristwatch–they were novelties still at that time–anddiscovered to my astonishment that it was pretty much the same insideas my old turnip, but not such good workmanship. This was thefoundation of my mechanical knowledge. I soon had the gaffed works ofAbdullah going like a charm, and even introduced a few improvementsand replaced some worn parts. I persuaded Willard that the wheels andsprings of Abdullah should be on view at all times, and not merelyduring his preliminary lecture; I put my own control handle insidewhere I could reach it and cause Abdullah’s wheels to change speedwhen he was about to do his clever trick. Willard didn’t like it.He disapproved of changes, and he didn’t want me to get ideas abovemy station.

“However, that is precisely what I did. I began to understand thatWillard had serious limitations, and that perhaps his power over mewas not so absolute as he pretended. But I was still much too youngand frightened to challenge him in anything serious. Like all greatrevolutions, mine was a long time preparing. Furthermore, the sexualsubjection in which I lived still had more power over me than theoccasional moments of happiness I enjoyed, and which even the mostmiserable slaves enjoy.

“From the example of Willard and Charlie I learned a cynicism aboutmankind which it would be foolish to call deep, but certainly it wascomplete. Humanity was divided into two groups, the Wise Guys and theRubes, the Suckers, the Patsys. The only Wise Guys within my rangewere Willard and Charlie. It was the law of nature that they shouldprey on the others.

“Their contempt for everyone else was complete, but whereas Charliewas good‑natured and pleased with himself when he got thebetter of a Sucker, Willard merely hated the Sucker. The sourness ofhis nature did not display itself in harsh judgements or wisecracks;he possessed no wit at all–not even the borrowed wit with whichCharlie decked his act and his private conversation. Willard simplythought that everybody but himself was a fool, and his contempt wasabsolute.

“Charlie wasted a good deal of time, in Willard’s opinion,chasing girls. Charlie fancied himself as a seducer, and waitressesand chambermaids and girls around the theatre were all weighed by himin terms of whether or not he would be able to ‘slip it to them’.That was his term. I don’t think he was especially successful, buthe worked at his hobby and I suppose he had a measure of success.‘Did you notice that kid in the Dancing Hallorans?’ he would askWillard. ‘She’s got round heels. I can always tell. What do youwanta bet I slip it to her before we get outa here?’ Willard neverwanted to bet about that; he liked to bet on certainties.

“The Rubes who wanted to play cards with Abdullah in the vaudehouses were of a different stamp from those we met in the carnivalworld. The towns were bigger than the villages which supportedcountry fairs, and in every one there were a few gamblers. They wouldturn up at an evening show, and it was not hard to spot them; agambler looks like anyone else when he is not gambling, but when hetakes the cards or the dice in his hands he reveals himself. Theywere piqued by their defeat at the hands of an automaton and wantedrevenge. It was Charlie who sought them out and suggested a friendlygame after the theatre was closed.

“The friendly game always began with another attempt to defeatAbdullah, and sometimes money was laid on it. After a sufficientnumber of defeats–three was usually enough–Willard would say,‘You’re not going to get anywhere with the Old Boy here, and Idon’t want to take your money. But how about a hand or two of RedDog?’ He always started with Red Dog, but in the end they playedwhatever game the Suckers chose. There they would sit, in a corner ofthe stage, with a table if they could find one, or else playing ontop of a box, and it would be three or four in the morning beforethey rose, and Willard and Charlie were always the winners.

“Willard was an accomplished card‑sharp. He never botheredwith any of the mechanical aids some crooks use–holdouts, sleevepockets, and such things–because he thought them crude and likelyto be discovered, as they often are. He always played with his coatoff and his sleeves rolled up, which had an honest look; he dependedon his ability as a shuffler and dealer, and of course he used markedcards. Sometimes the Rubes brought their own cards, which he wouldnot allow them to use with Abdullah–he explained that Abdullah useda sensitized deck–but which he was perfectly willing to play within the game. If they were marked he knew it at once, and after a gameor two he would say, in a quiet but firm voice, that he thought achange of deck would be pleasant, and produced a new deck fresh froma sealed package, calling attention to the fact that the cards werenot marked and could not be.

“They did not remain unmarked for long, however. Willard had a leftthumbnail which soon put the little bumps in the tops and sides ofthe cards that told him all he needed to know. He let the Rubes winfor an hour or so, and then their luck changed, and sometimes bigmoney came into Willard’s hands at the end of the game. He was thebest marker of cards I have ever known except myself. Some gamblershack their cards so that you could almost see the marks across aroom, but Willard had sensitive hands and he nicked them so cleverlythat a man with a magnifying glass might have missed it. Nor was he aflashy dealer; he left that to the Rubes who wanted to show off. Hedealt rather slowly, but I never saw him deal from the bottom of thedeck, although he certainly did so in every game. He and Charliewould sometimes move out of a town with five or six hundred dollarsto split between them, Charlie being paid off as the steerer whobrought in the Rubes, and Willard as the expert with the cards.Charlie sometimes appeared to be one of the losers in these games,though never so much so that it looked suspicious. The Rubes had areal Rube conviction that show folks and travelling men ought to bebetter at cards than the opponents they usually met.

“I watched all of this from the interior of Abdullah, because afterthe initial trials against the automaton it was impossible for me toescape. I was warned against falling asleep, lest I might make somesound that would give away the secret. So, heavy‑eyed, but notunaware, I saw everything that was done, saw the greed on the facesof the Rubes, and saw the quiet way in which Willard dealt with theoccasional quarrels. And of course I saw how much money changedhands.

“What happened to all that money? Charlie, I knew, was being paidseventy‑five dollars a week for his rotten monologues, whichwould have been good pay if he had not had to spend so much of it ontravel; part of Jerry’s arrangement was that all Talent paid forits own tickets from town to town, as well as costs of room andboard. Very often we had long hops from one stand to another, andtravel was a big expense. And of course Charlie spent a good deal onbootleg liquor and the girls he chased.

“Willard was paid a hundred a week, as a headliner, and because thetransport of Abdullah, and myself at half‑fare, cost him a gooddeal. But Willard never showed any sign of having much money, andthis puzzled me for two or three years. But then I became aware thatWillard had an expensive habit. It was morphine. This of course wasbefore heroin became the vogue.

“Sharing a bedroom with him I could not miss the fact that he gavehimself injections of something at least once a day, and he told methat it was a medicine that kept him in trim for his demanding work.Taking dope was a much more secret thing in those days than it hasbecome since, and I had never heard of it, so I paid no attention.But I did notice that Willard was much pleasanter after he had takenhis medicine than he was at other times, and it was then that hewould sometimes give me a brief lesson in sleight‑of‑hand.

“Occasionally he would give himself a little extra treat, and then,before he fell asleep, he might talk for a while about what thefuture held. ‘It’ll be up to Albee,’ he might say; ‘he’llhave to make his decision. I’ll tell him–E.F., you want me at thePalace? Okay, you know my figure. And don’t tell me I have toarrange it with Martin Beck. You talk to Beck. You paid that Frenchdame, that Bernhardt, $7,000 a week at the Palace. I’m not going toup the ante on you. That figure’ll do for me. So any time you wantme, you just have to let me know, and I promise you I’ll dropeverything else to oblige you–’ Even in my ignorant ears thissounded unlikely. Once I asked him if he would take Abdullah to thePalace, and he gave one of his rare, snorting laughs. ‘When I go tothe Palace, I’ll go alone,’ he said; ‘the day I get the highsign from Albee, you’re on your own.’ But he didn’t hear fromAlbee, or any manager but Jerry Wanless.

“He began to hear fairly often from Jerry, whose stool‑pigeonswere reporting that Willard was sometimes vague on the stage,mistimed a trick now and then, and even dropped things, which issomething a headline magician, even on Jerry’s circuit, was notsupposed to do. I thought these misadventures came from not eatingenough, and used to urge Willard to get himself a square meal, but hehad never cared much for food, and as the years wore on he ate lessand less. I thought this was why he so rarely needed to go to thedonniker, and why he was so angry with me when I was compelled to doso, and it was not until years later that I learned that constipationis a symptom of Willard’s indulgence. He was usually better inhealth and sharper on the job when we were with the carnival, becausehe was in the open air, even though he worked in a tent, but duringthe winters he was sometimes so dozy–that was Charlie’s word forit–that Charlie was worried.

“Charlie had reason to be worried. He was Willard’s source ofsupply. Charlie was a wonder at discovering a doctor in every townwho could be squared, because he was always on the lookout forabortionists. Not that he needed abortionists very often, but hebelonged to a class of man who regards such knowledge as one of thehallmarks of the Wise Guy. An abortionist might also provide whatWillard wanted, for a price, and if he didn’t, he knew someone elsewho would do so. Thus, without, I think, being malignant or even avery serious drug pusher, Charlie was Willard’s supplier, and alarge part of Willard’s winnings in the night‑long card gamesstuck to Charlie for expenses and recompense for the risks he took.When Willard began to be dozy, Charlie saw danger to his own income,and he tried to keep Willard’s habit within reason. But Willard wasresistant to Charlie”s arguments, and became in time even thinnerthan he had been when first I saw him, and he was apt to be twitchyif he had not had enough. A twitchy conjuror is useless; his handstremble, his speech is hard to understand, and he makes disturbingfaces. The only way to keep Willard functioning efficiently, both asan entertainer and as a card‑sharp, was to see that he had thedose he needed, and if his need increased, that was his business,according to Charlie.

“When Willard felt himself denied, it was I who had to put up withhis ill temper and spite. There was only one advantage in the gradualdecline of Willard so far as I was concerned, and that was that asmorphine became his chief craze, his sexual approaches to me becamefewer. Sharing a bed with him when he was restless was nervous work,and I usually preferred to sneak one of his blankets and lie on thefloor. If the itching took him, his wriggling and scratching weredreadful, and went on until he was exhausted and fell into a stuporrather than a sleep. Sometimes he had periods of extreme sweating,which were very hard on a man who was already almost a skeleton. Morethan once I have had to rouse Charlie in the middle of the night, andtell him that Willard had to have some of his medicine, or he mightgo mad. It was always called ‘his medicine’ by me and by Charliewhen he talked to me. For of course I was included in theall‑embracing cynicism of these two. They assumed that I wasstupid, and this was only one of their serious mistakes.

“I too became cynical, with the whole‑hearted, all‑inclusivevigour of the very young. Why not? Was I not shut off from mankindand any chance to gain an understanding of the diversity of humantemperament by the life I led and the people who dominated me? Yet Isaw people, and I saw them very greatly to their disadvantage. As Isat inside Abdullah, I saw them without being seen, while they gapedat the curiosities of the World of Wonders. What I saw in most ofthose faces was contempt and patronage for the show folks, who got aneasy living by exploiting their oddities, or doing tricks with snakesor fire. They wanted us; they needed us to mix a little leaven intheir doughy lives, but they did not like us. We were outsiders,holiday people, untrustworthy, and the money they spent to see us wasfoolish money. But how much they revealed as they stared! When thePharisees saw us they marvelled, but it seemed to me that theirinward parts were full of ravening and wickedness. Day after day,year after year, they believed that somehow they could get the betterof Abdullah, and their, greed and stupidity and cunning drove them onto try their hands at it. Day after day, year after year, I defeatedthem, and scorned them because they could not grasp the very simplefact that if Abdullah could be defeated, Abdullah would cease to be.Those who tried their luck I despised rather less than those who hungback and let somebody else try his. The change in their loyalty wasalways the same; they were on the side of the daring one until he wasdefeated, and then they laughed at him, and sided with the idol.

“In those years I formed a very low idea of crowds. And of allthose who pressed near me the ones I hated most, and wished the worstluck, were the young, the lovers, who were free and happy. Sex to memeant terrible bouts with Willard and the grubby seductions ofCharlie. I did not believe in the happiness or the innocence or thegoodwill of the couples who came to the fair for a good time. Myreasoning was simple, and of a very common kind: if I were a hoor anda crook, were not whoredom and dishonesty the foundations on whichhumanity rested? If I were at the outs with God–and God neverceased to trouble my mind–was anyone else near Him? If they were,they must be cheating. I very soon came to forget that it was I whowas the prisoner: I was the one who saw clearly and saw the truthbecause I saw without being seen. Abdullah was the face I presentedto the world, and I knew that Abdullah, the undefeated, was worth nomore than I.

“Suppose that Abdullah were to make a mistake? Suppose when UncleZeke or Swifty Dealer turned up a ten of clubs, Abdullah were toreply with a three of hearts? What would Willard say? How would heget out of his predicament? He was not a man of quick wit and as theyears wore on I understood that his place in the world was evenshakier than my own. I could destroy Willard.

“Of course I didn’t do it. The consequences would have beenterrible. I was greatly afraid of Willard, afraid of Charlie, of Gus,and most afraid of the world into which such an insubordinate actwould certainly throw me. But do we not all play, in our minds, withterrible thoughts which we would never dare to put into action? Couldwe live without some hidden instincts of revolt, of some protestagainst our fate in life, however enviable it may seem to those whodo not have to bear it? I have been, for twenty years past,admittedly the greatest magician in the world. I have held my placewith such style and flourish that I have raised what is really a verypretty achievement to the dignity of art. Do you imagine that in mybest moments when I have had very distinguished audiences–crownedheads, as all magicians love to boast–that I have not thoughtfleetingly of producing a full chamber‑pot out of a hat, andthrowing it into the royal box, just to show that it can be done? Butwe all hug our chains. There are no free men.

“As I sat in the belly of Abdullah, I thought often of Jonah in thebelly of the great fish. Jonah, it seemed to me, had an easy time ofit. ‘Out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice’;that was what Jonah said. But I cried out of the belly of hell, andnothing whatever happened. Indeed, the belly of hell grew worse andworse, for the stink of the dwarf gave place to the stink of CassFletcher, who was not a clean boy and ate a bad diet; we can allstand a good deal of our own stink, and there are some earthy oldsayings which prove it, but after a few years Abdullah was a verynasty coffin, even for me. Jonah was a mere three days in his fish.After three years I was just beginning my sentence. What did Jonahsay? ‘When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord.’ Sodid I. Such was the power of my early training that I never becamecynical about the Lord–only about his creation. Sometimes I thoughtthe Lord hated me; sometimes I thought he was punishing me for–forjust about everything that had ever happened to me, beginning with mybirth; sometimes I thought he had forgotten me, but that thought wasblasphemy, and I chased it away as fast as I could. I was an odd boy,I can tell you.

“Odd, but–what is truly remarkable–not consciously unhappy.Unhappiness of the kind that is recognized and examined and broodedover is ritual luxury. Certainly it was a luxury beyond my means atthat time. The desolation of the spirit in which I lived was in thegrain of my life, and to admit its full horror would have destroyedme. Deep in my heart I knew that. Somehow I had to keep from fallinginto despair. So I seized upon, and treasured, every lightening ofthe atmosphere, everything that looked like kindness, every joke thatinterrupted the bleak damnation of the World of Wonders. I was acynic about the world, but I did not dare to become a cynic aboutmyself. Who else? Certainly not Willard or Charlie. If one becomes acynic about oneself the next step is the physical suicide which isthe other half of that form of self‑destruction.

“This was the life I lived, from that ill‑fated thirtieth ofAugust in 1918 until ten years had passed. Many things happened, butthe pattern was invariable; the World of Wonders from the middle ofMay until the middle of October, and the rest of the time in thesmallest of small‑time vaudeville. I ranged over all of centralCanada, and just about every town of medium size in the middle of theU.S. west of Chicago. When I say that many things happened I am nottalking about events of world consequence; in the carnival and thevaude houses we were isolated from the world, and this was part ofthe paradox of our existence. We seemed to bring a breath ofsomething larger into country fairs and third‑rate theatres,but we were little touched by the changing world. The automobile waslinking the villages with towns, and the towns with cities, but wehardly noticed. In the vaude houses we knew about the League ofNations and the changing procession of American Presidents becausethese things provided the jokes of people like Charlie. The splendourof motherhood was losing some of its gloss, and something called theJazz Age was upon us. So Charlie dropped mother, and substituted arecitation that was a parody of “Gunga Din”, which oldervaudevillians were still reciting.

Though I’ve belted you and flayed you

By the Henry Ford that made you

You’re a better car than Packard

Hunka Tin!

– he concluded, and quite often the audience laughed. As wetraipsed around the middle of the Great Republic we hardly noticedthat the movies were getting longer and longer, and that Hollywoodwas planning something that would put us all out of work. Who werethe Rubes? I think we were the Rubes.

“My education continued its haphazard progress. I would do almostanything to fight the boredom of my life and the sense of doom that Ihad to suppress or be destroyed by it. I hung around theproperty‑shops of theatres that possessed such things, andlearned a great deal from the old men there who had been compelled,in their day, to produce anything from a workable elephant to a fakediamond ring, against time. I sometimes haunted watch‑repairshops, and pestered busy men to know what they were doing; I evenpicked up their trick of looking through a jeweller’s loupe with one eye while surveying the world fishily through the other. Ilearned some not very choice Italian from Zovene, some Munich Germanfrom Sonny, and rather a lot of pretty good French from a little manwho came on the show when Molza’s mouth finally became so painfulthat he took the extraordinary step of visiting a doctor, and cameback to the World of Wonders with a very grey face, and packed up histraps. This Frenchman, whose name was Duparc, was an India RubberWonder, a contortionist and an uncommonly cheerful fellow. He becamemy teacher, so far as I had one; Professor Spencer was becomingqueerer and queerer and gave up selling the visiting cards which hewrote with his feet; instead he tried to persuade the public to buy abook he had written and printed at his own expense, about monetaryreform. He was, I believe, one of the last of the Single Tax men. Inspite of the appearance of Duparc, and the disappearance of Andro,who had left the very small time and was now a top‑liner on theOrpheum Circuit, we had all been together in the World of Wonders fortoo many years. But Gus was too tender‑hearted to throw anybodyoff the show, and Jerry got us cheap, and such is the professionalvanity of performers of all kinds that we didn’t notice that thelittle towns were growing tired of us.

“Duparc taught me French, and I knew I was learning, but I hadanother teacher from whom I learned without knowing. Almosteverything of great value I have learned in life has been taught meby women. The woman who taught me the realities of hypnotism was Mrs.Constantinescu, a strange old girl who travelled around with our showfor a few years, running a mitt‑camp.

“It was not part of the World of Wonders; it was a concession whichJerry rented, as he rented the right to run a hot dog stand, a Wheelof Fortune, the cat‑rack and, of course, the merry‑go‑round.The mitt‑camp was a fortune‑telling tent, with a gaudybanner outside with the signs of the zodiac on it, and anannouncement that inside Zingara would reveal the Secrets of Fate.Mrs. Constantinescu was Zingara, and for all I know she may have beena real gypsy, as she claimed; certainly she was a goodfortune‑teller. Not that she would ever admit such a thing.Fortune‑telling is against the law in just about every part ofCanada and the US. When her customers came in she would sell them acopy of Zadkiel’s Dream Book for ten cents, and offer apersonal interpretation for a further fifteen cents, and a full‑scaleinvestigation of your destiny for fifty cents, Zadkiel included. Thus it was possible for her to say that she was simplyselling a book, if any nosey cop interfered with her. They veryrarely did so, because it was the job of our advance man to squarethe cops with money, bootleg hooch, or whatever their fancy might be.Her customers never complained. Zingara knew how to deliver thegoods.

“She liked me, and that was a novelty. She was sorry for me, andexcept for Professor Spencer, nobody had been sorry for me in a verylong time. But what made her really unusual in the World of Wonderswas that she was interested in people; the Talent regarded the publicas Rubes, to be exploited, and whether it was Willard’s kind ofexploitation or Happy Hannah’s, it came to the same thing. ButZingara never tired of humanity or found it a nuisance. She enjoyedtelling fortunes and truly thought that she did good by it.

“ ‘Most people have nobody to talk to,’ she said to me manytimes. ‘Wives and husbands don’t talk; friends don’t reallytalk because people don’t want to get mixed up in anything thatmight cost them something in the end. Nobody truly wants to hearanybody else’s worries and troubles. But everybody has worries andtroubles and they don’t cover a big range of subjects. People aremuch more like one another than they are unlike. Did you ever thinkof that?

“ ‘Well? So I am somebody to talk to. I’ll talk, and I’ll begone in the morning, and everything I know goes away with me. I don’tlook like the neighbours. I don’t look like the doctor or thepreacher, always judging, always tired. I’ve got mystery, andthat’s what everybody wants. Maybe they’re churchgoers, thepeople in these little dumps, but what does the church give them?Just sermons from some poor sap who doesn’t understand life anymore than they do; they know him, and his salary, and his wife, andthey know he’s no great magician. They want to talk, and they wantthe old mystery, and that’s what I give ‘em. A good bargain.’

“Clearly they did want it, for though there was never any crowdaround Zingara’s tent she took in twenty to twenty‑fivedollars a day, and after fifty a week had been paid to Jerry, thatleft her with more money than most of the Talent in the World ofWonders.

“ ‘You have to learn to look at people. Hardly anybody does that.They stare into people’s faces, but you have to look at the wholeperson. Fat or thin? Where is the fat? What about the feet? Do thefeet show vanity or trouble? Does she stick out her breast or curlher shoulders to hide it? Does he stick out his chest or his stomach?Does he lean forward and peer, or backward and sneer? Hardly anybodystands straight. Knees bent, or shoved back? The bum tight ordrooping? In men, look at the lump in the crotch; big or small? Howtall is he when he sits down? Don’t miss hands. The face comeslast. Happy? Probably not. What kind of unhappy? Worry? Failure?Where are the wrinkles? You have to look good, and quick. And youhave to let them see that you’re looking. Most people aren’t usedto being looked at except by the doctor, and he’s looking forsomething special.

“ ‘You take their hand. Hot or cold? Dry or wet? What rings? Hasa woman taken off her wedding ring before she came in? That’salways a sign she’s worried about a man, probably not the husband.A man–big Masonic or K. of C. ring? Take your time. Tell thempretty soon that they’re worried. Of course they’re worried; whyelse would they come to a mitt‑camp at a fair? Feel around, andgive them chances to talk; you know as soon as you touch the sorespot. Tell them you have to feel around because you’re trying tofind the way into their lives, but they’re not ordinary and so ittakes time.

“ ‘Who are they? A young woman–it’s a boy, or two boys, or noboy at all. If she’s a good girl–you know by the hairdo–probablyher mother is eating her. Or her father is jealous about boys. Anolder woman–why isn’t my husband as romantic as I thought he was;is he tired of me; why haven’t I got a husband; is my best friendsincere; when are we going to have more money; my son or daughter isdisobedient, or saucy, or wild; have I had all the best that life isgoing to give me?

“ ‘Suppose it’s a man; lots of men come, usually after dark. Hewants money; he’s worried about his girl; his mother is eating him;he’s two‑timing and can’t get rid of his mistress; his sexis wearing out and he thinks it’s the end; his business is introuble; is this all life holds for me?

“ ‘It’s an old person. They’re worried about death; will itcome soon and will it hurt? Have I got cancer? Did I invest my moneyright? Are my grandchildren going to make out? Have I had all lifeholds for me?

“ ‘Sure you get smart‑alecs. Sometimes they tell you most.Flatter them. Laugh at the world with them. Say they can’t bedeceived. Warn them not to let their cleverness make them hard,because they’re really very fine people and will make a big mark inthe world. Look to see what they are showing to the world, then tellthem they are the exact opposite. That works for almost everybody.

“ ‘Flatter everybody. Is it crooked? Most people are starved todeath for a kind word. Warn everybody against something, usuallysomething they will be let in for because they are too honest, or toogood‑natured. Warn against enemies; everybody’s got an enemy.Say things will take a turn for the better soon, because they will;talking to you will make things better because it takes a load offtheir minds.

“ ‘But not everybody can do it. You have to know how to getpeople to talk. That’s the big secret. That Willard! He callshimself a hypnotist, so what does he do? He stands up a half‑dozenRubes and says, I’m going to hypnotize you! Then he bugs his eyesand waves his hands and after a while they’re hypnotized. But thereal hypnotism is something very different. It’s part kindness andpart making them feel they’re perfectly safe with you. That you’retheir friend even though they never saw you until a minute ago. Yougot to lull them, like you’d lull a child. That’s the real art.You mustn’t overdo it. No saying, you’re safe with me, oranything like that. You have to give it out, and they have to take itin, without a lot of direct talk. Of course you look at them hard,but not domineering‑hard like vaude hypnotists. You got to lookat them as if they was all you had on your mind at the moment, andyou couldn’t think of anything you’d rather do. You got to lookat them as if it was a long time since you met an equal. But don’tpush; don’t shove it. You got to be wide open to them, or else theywon’t be wide open to you.’

“Of course I wanted to have my fortune told by Mrs. Constantinescu,but it was against the etiquette of carnival. We never dreamed ofasking Sonnenfels to lift anything heavy, or treated the Fat Woman asif she was inconvenient company. But of course Zingara knew what Ithought, and she teased me about it. ‘You want to know your future,but you don’t want to ask me? That’s right; don’t put yourfaith in sideshow gypsies. Crooks, the whole lot of them. What dothey know about the modern world? They belong to the past. They gotno place in North America.’ But one day, when I suppose I waslooking blue, she did tell me a few things.

“ ‘You got an easy fortune to tell, boy. You’ll go far. How doI know? Because life is goosing you so hard you’ll never stopclimbing. You’ll rise very high and you’ll make people treat youlike a king. How do I know? Because you’re dirt right now, and itgrinds your gizzard to be dirt. What makes me think you’ve got thestuff to make the world admire you? Because you couldn’t havesurvived the life you’re leading if you hadn’t got lots of sand.You don’t eat right and you got filthy hair and I’ll bet you’vebeen lousy more than once. If it hasn’t killed you, nothing will.’

“Mrs. Constantinescu was the only person who had ever talked to meabout what Willard was still doing to me. The Fat Woman muttered nowand then about ‘abominations’ and Sonny was sometimes very nastyto me, but nobody came right out and said anything unmistakable. Butold Zingara said: ‘You’re his bumboy, eh? Well, it’s not good,but it could be worse. I’ve known men who liked goats best. Itgives you a notion what women got to put up with. The stories I hear!If he calls you ‘hoor’ just think what that means. I’ve knownplenty of hoors who made it a ladder to something very good. But ifyou don’t like it, do something about it. Get your hair cut. Keepyourself clean. Stop wiping your nose on your sleeve. If you got nomoney, here’s five dollars. Now you start out with a good Turkishbath. Build yourself up. If you gotta be a hoor, be a clean hoor. Ifyou don’t want to be a hoor, don’t look like a lousy bum.’

“At that time, which was the early twenties, a favourite film starwas Jackie Coogan; he played charming waifs, often with CharlieChaplin. But I was a real waif, and sometimes when a Coogan picturewas showing in the vaude houses where Willard and I appeared, I washumiliated by how far I fell short of the Coogan ideal.

“I tried a more thorough style of washing, and I got a haircut, aterrible one from a barber who wanted to make everybody look likeRudolph Valentine. I bought some pomade for my hair from him, and thewhole World of Wonders laughed at me. But Mrs. Constantinescuencouraged me. Later, when I was with Willard on the vaude circuit,we had three days in a town where there was a Turkish bath, and Ispent a dollar and a half on one. The masseur worked on me for halfan hour, and then said: ‘You know what? I never seen a dirtier guy.Jeeze, there’s still grey stuff comin’ outa you! Look at thesetowels! What you do for a living, kid? Sweep chimneys?’ I developedquite a taste for Turkish baths, and stole money regularly fromWillard to pay for them. I’m sure he knew I stole, but he preferredthat to having me ask him for money. He was growing very carelessabout money, anyhow.

“I was emboldened to steal enough, over a period of a few weeks, tobuy a suit. It was a dreadful suit, God knows, but I had been wearingWillard’s castoffs, cheaply cut down, and it was a royal robe tome. Willard raised his eyebrows when he saw it, but he said nothing.He was losing his grip on the world, and losing his grip on me, andlike many people who are losing their grip, he mistook it for thecoming of a new wisdom in himself. But when summer came, and Mrs.Constantinescu saw me, she was pleased.

“ ‘You’re doing fine,’ she said. ‘You got to get yourselfready to make a break. This carnival is running downhill. Gus isgetting tired. Charlie is getting too big a boy for her to handle.He’s drunk on the show now, and she don’t even bawl him out. Badluck is coming. How do I know? What else could be coming to a staletent‑show like this? Bad luck. You watch out. Their bad luckwill be your good luck, if you’re smart. Keep your eyes open.’

“I mustn’t give the impression that Mrs. Constantinescu wasalways at my elbow uttering gypsy warnings. I didn’t understandmuch of what she said, and I mistrusted some of what I understood.That business about looking at people as if you were interested innothing else, for instance; when I tried it, I suppose I lookedfoolish, and Happy Hannah made a loud fuss in the Pullman one day,declaring that I was trying to learn the Evil Eye, and she knew whowas teaching me. Mrs. Constantinescu was very high on her list ofabominations. She urged me to search Deuteronomy to learn whathappened to people who had the Evil Eye; plagues wonderful, andplagues of my seed, even great plagues of long continuance, and soresickness; that was what was in store for me unless I stopped buggingmy eyes at folks who had put on the whole armour of God, that theymight stand against the wiles of the Devil. Like every young person,I was abashed at the apparent power of older people to see throughme. I suppose I was pitifully transparent, and Happy Hannah’sinveterate malignancy gave her extraordinary penetration. Indeed, Iwas inclined to think at that time that Mrs. Constantinescu was anut, but she was an interesting nut, and willing to talk. It wasn’tuntil years later that I realized how much good sense was in what shesaid.

“Of course she was right about bad luck coming to the show. Ithappened suddenly.

“Em Dark was a nice woman, and she tried to fight down her growingdisappointment with Joe by doing everything she could for him, whichincluded making herself attractive. She was small, and rather plump,and dressed well, making all her clothes. Joe was very proud of herappearance, and I think poor Joe was beginning to be aware that thebest thing about him was his wife. So he was completely thrown offbase one day, as the Pullman was carrying us from one village toanother, to see a horrible caricature of Em walk past him and downthe aisle toward Heinie and Sonny, who were laughing their heads offin the door of the smoking‑room. It was Rango, dressed in Em’slatest and best, with a cloche hat on his head, and one ofEm’s purses in his hairy hand. There is no doubt that Heinie andSonny meant to get Joe’s goat, and to spatter the image of Em,because that was the kind of men they were, and that was what theythought funny. Joe looked like a man who has seen a ghost. He wasworking, as he so often was, on one of the throwing knives he sold aspart of his act, and I think before he knew what he had done, hethrew it, and got Rango right between the shoulders. Rango turned,with a look of dreadful pathos on his face, and fell in the aisle.The whole thing took less than thirty seconds.

“You can imagine the uproar. Heinie rushed to Rango, coddled him inhis arms, wept, swore, screamed, and became hysterical. But Rango wasdead. Sonny stormed and accused Joe in German; he was the kind of manwho jabs with his forefinger when he is angry. Gus and ProfessorSpencer tried to restore order, but nobody wanted order; theexcitement was the most refreshing thing that had happened to theWorld of Wonders in years. Everybody had a good deal to say on oneside or the other, but mostly against Joe. The love between Joe andEm concentrated the malignancy of those unhappy people, but this wasthe first time they had been given a chance to attack it directly.Happy Hannah was seized with a determination to stop the train. Whatgood that would have done nobody knew, but she felt that a bigcalamity demanded the uttermost in drama.

“I did not at first understand the full enormity of what Joe haddone. To kill Rango was certainly a serious injury to Heinie, whoselivelihood he was. To buy and train another orangoutang would bemonths of work. It was Zovene, busily crossing himself, who put theworst of the horror in words: it is a well‑known fact in thecarnival and circus world that if anybody kills a monkey, threepeople will die. Heinie wanted Joe to be first on the list, but Gusheld him back; luckily for him, because in a fight Joe could havemurdered anybody on the show, not excluding Sonny.

“What do you do with a dead monkey? First of all Rango had to bedisentangled from Em Dark’s best outfit, which Em quiteunderstandably didn’t want and threw off the back of the car withRango’s blood on it. (What do you suppose the finder made of that?)Then the body had to be stowed somewhere, and Heinie would have itnowhere except in his berth, which Rango customarily shared with him.You can’t make a dead monkey look dignified, and Rango was not animpressive corpse. His eyes wouldn’t shut; one stared and the othereyelid drooped, and soon both eyes took on a bluish film; his yellowteeth showed. The Darks felt miserable, because of what Joe had done,and because their love had been held up to mockery in the nakedpassion and hatred of the hour after Rango’s death. Heinie had notscrupled to say that Rango was a lot more use on the show and a lotbetter person, even though not human, than a little floozie who juststood up and let a dummkopf of a husband throw knives at her; if Joewas so good at hitting Rango, how come he never hit that bitch of awife of his? This led to more trouble, and it was Em who had toprevent Joe from battering Heinie. I must say that Heinie took thefullest advantage of the old notion that a man is not responsible forwhat he does in his misery. He got very drunk that night, and wailedand grieved all up and down the car.

“Indeed, the World of Wonders got drunk. Private bottles appearedfrom everywhere, and were private no more. Professor Spencer accepteda large drink, and it went a very long way with him, for he was notused to it. Indeed, even Happy Hannah took a drink, and quite shortlyeveryone wished she hadn’t. It had been her custom for some yearsto drink a lot of cider vinegar; she said it kept her blood fromthickening, to the great danger of her life, and she got away with somuch vinegar that she always smelled of it. Her unhappy inspirationwas to spike her evening slug of vinegar with a considerable shot ofbootleg hooch which Gus pressed on her, and it was hardly down beforeit was up again. A nauseated Fat Woman is a calamity on a monumentalscale, and poor Gus had a bad night of it with Happy Hannah. OnlyWillard kept out of the general saturnalia; he crept into his berth,injected himself with his favourite solace, and was out of that worldof sorrow, over which the corpse of Rango spread an increasinginfluence.

“From time to time the Talent would gather around Heinie’s berth,and toast the remains. Professor Spencer made a speech, sitting onthe edge of the upper berth opposite the one which had become Rango’sbier; in this comfortable position he was able to hold his glass witha device he possessed, attached to one foot. He was drunkenlyeloquent, and talked touchingly if incoherently about the linkbetween Man and the Lesser Creation, which was nowhere so strong orso truly understood as in circuses and carnivals; had we not, throughthe years, come to esteem Rango as one of ourselves, a delightfulChild of Nature who spoke not with the tongue of man, but through athousand merry tricks, which now, alas, had been brought to anuntimely end? (‘Rango’d of been twenty next April,’ sobbedHeinie; ‘twenty‑two, more likely, but I always dated him fromwhen I bought him.’) Professor Spencer did not want to say thatRango had been struck down by a murderer’s hand. No, that wasn’tthe way he looked at it. He would speak of it more as a CreamPassional, brought on by the infinite complexity of humanrelationships. The Professor rambled on until he lost his audience,who took affairs into their own hands, and drank toasts to Rango aslong as the booze held out, with simple cries of ‘Good luck andgood‑bye. Rango old pal.’

“At last Rango’s wake was over. The Darks had lain unseen intheir berth ever since it had been possible to go to bed, but it washalf past three when Heinie crawled in beside Rango and wept himselfto sleep with the dead monkey in his arms. By now Rango was firmlyadvanced in rigor mortis and his tail stuck from between thecurtains of the berth like a poker. But Heinie’s devotion was muchadmired; Gus said it warmed the cuckolds of her heart.

“Next morning, at the fairground, our first business was to buryRango. ‘Let him lay where his life was spent for others,’ waswhat Heinie said. Professor Spencer, badly hung over, asked God toreceive Rango. The Darks came, and brought a few flowers, whichHeinie ostentatiously spurned from the grave. All Rango’spossessions–his cups and plates, the umbrella with which hecoquetted on the tightrope–were buried with him.

“Was Zingara tactless, or mischievous, when she said loudly, as webroke up to go about our work; ‘Well, how long do we wait to seewho’s first?’ The calliope began the toot‑up–it was “ThePoor Butterfly Waltz”–and we got ready for the first trick which,without Rango, put extra work on all of us.

“As the days passed we realized just how much extra work theabsence of Rango did mean. There was nothing Heinie could do withouthim, and five minutes of performance time had somehow to be made upat each trick. Sonnenfels volunteered to add a minute to his act, andso did Duparc; Happy Hannah was always glad to extend the time duringwhich she harassed her audience about religion, and it was simple forWillard to extend the doings of Abduilah for another minute; so itseemed easy. But an additional ten minutes every day was not so easyfor Sonnenfels as for the others; as Strong Men go, he was growingold. Less than a fortnight after the death of Rango, at the threeo’clock trick, he hoisted his heaviest bar‑bell to his knee,then level with his shoulders, then dropped it with a crash and fellforward. There was a doctor on the fairground, and it was less thanthree minutes before he was with Sonny, but even at that he came toolate. Sonny was dead.

“It is much easier to dispose of a Strong Man than it is of amonkey. Sonny had no family, but he had quite a lot of money in abelt he wore at all times, and we were able to bury him in style. Hehad been a stupid, evil‑speaking, bad‑tempered man–quitethe opposite of the genial giant described by Charlie in hisintroduction–and no one but Heinie regretted him deeply. But heleft another hole in the show, and it was only because Duparc coulddo a few tricks on the tightrope that the gap could be filled withoutmaking the World of Wonders seem skimpy. Heinie mourned Sonny asuproariously as he had mourned Rango, but this time his grief was notso well received by the Talent.

“Sonny’s death was proof positive that the curse of a dead monkeywas a fact Zingara was not slow to point out how short a time hadbeen needed to set the bad luck to work. The Talent turned againstHeinie with just as much extravagance of sentimentality as they hadshown in pitying him. They were inclined to blame him for Sonny’sdeath. He was still hanging around the show, and he was still drawinga salary, because he had a contract which said nothing about the lossof his monkey by murder. He was on the booze. Gus and Charlieresented him because he cost money without bringing anything in. Hispresence was a perpetual reminder of bad luck, and soon he wassuffering the cold shoulder that had been my lot when Happy Hannahfirst decided I was a Jonah. Heinie was a proven Jonah, and to lookat him was to be reminded that somebody was next on the list of thethree who must atone for Rango. Heinie had ceased to be Talent; hisreason for being was buried with Rango. He was an outsider, and inthe carnival world an outsider is very far outside indeed.

“We were near the end of the autumn season, and no more deathsoccurred before we broke up for winter, some of us to our vaudevillework, and others, like Happy Hannah, to a quiet time in theme museumsand Grand Congresses of Strange People in the holiday grounds of thewarm south. Zingara was not the only one to remark that poor Gus waslooking very yellow. Happy Hannah thought Gus must be moving into TheChange, but Zingara said The Change didn’t make you belch a lot,and go off your victuals, like Gus, and whispered a word of fear.When we assembled again the following May, Gus was not with us.

“There the deaths seemed to stop, for those who were lessperceptive than Zingara, and myself. But something happened duringthe winter season that was surely a death of a special kind.

“It was in Dodge City. Willard was fairly reliable during our act,but sometimes during the day he was perceptibly under the influenceof morphine, and at other and much worse times he was feeling thewant of it. I did not know how prolonged addiction works on theimagination; I was simply glad that his sexual demands on me haddropped almost to nothing. Therefore I did not know what to make ofit when he seized me one afternoon in the wings of the vaude house,and accused me violently of sexual unfaithfulness to him. I was ‘atit’, he said, with a member of a Japanese acrobatic troupe on thebill, and he wasn’t going to stand for that. I was a hoor rightenough, but by God I wasn’t going to be anybody else’s hoor. Hecuffed me, and ordered me to get into Abdullah, and stay there, so hewould know where I was; and I wasn’t to get out of the automatonany more, ever. He hadn’t kept me all these years to be cheated byany such scum as I was.

“All of this was said in a low voice, because although he wasirrational, he wasn’t so far gone that he wanted the stage managerto drop on him, and perhaps fine him, for making a row in the wingsduring the show. I was seventeen or eighteen, I suppose–I had longago forgotten my birthday, which had never been a festival in ourhouse anyhow–and although I was still small I had some spirit, andit all rushed to my head when he struck me over the ear. Abdullah wasstanding in the wings in the place where the image was stored betweenshows, and I was beside it. I picked up a stage‑brace, andlopped off Abdulah’s head with one strong swipe; then I took afterWillard. The stage manager was soon upon us, and we scampered off tothe dressing‑room, where Willard and I had such a quarrel asneither of us had ever known before. It was short, but decisive, andwhen it ended Willard was whining to me to show him the kind ofconsideration he deserved, as one who had been more than a father tome, and taught me an art that would be a fortune to me; I haddeclared that I was going to leave him then and there.

“I did nothing of the kind. These sudden transformations ofcharacter belong to fiction, not to fact, and certainly not to theworld of dependence and subservience that I had known for so manyyears. I was quite simply scared to leave Willard. What could I dowithout him? I found out very quickly.

“The stage manager had told the manager about the brief outburst inthe wings, and the manager came to set us right as to what he wouldallow in his house. But with the manager came Charlie, who carriedgreat weight because he was the brother of Jerry, who booked theTalent for that house. It was agreed that–just this once–thematter would be overlooked.

“Willard could not be overlooked a couple of hours later, when hewas so far down in whatever world his drug took him to that it wasimpossible for him to go on the stage. There was all the excitementand loud talk you might expect, and the upshot was that I was orderedto take Willard’s place at the next show, and do his act as well asI could, without Abdullah. And that is what I did. I was in a rattleof nerves, because I had never appeared on a stage before, exceptwhen I was safely concealed in the body of the automaton. I didn’tknow how to address an audience, how to time my tricks, or how toarrange an act. The hypnotism was beyond me, and Abdullah was awreck. I suppose I must have been dreadful, but somehow I filled inthe time, and when I had done all I could the spatter of applause wasonly a little less encouraging than it had been for Willard forseveral months past.

“When Willard recovered enough to know what had happened he wasfurious, but his fury simply persuaded him to seek relief from thepain of a rotten world with the needle. This was what precipitatedthe crisis that delivered me from Abdullah forever; Jerry was on thelong‑distance telephone, wrangling with Charlie, and the upshotof Charlie’s best persuasion was that Willard could finish hisseason if Charlie would keep him in condition to appear on the stage,and that if Willard didn’t appear, I was to do so, and I was ableto be made to perform a proper, well‑planned act. I see nowthat this was very decent of Jerry, who had all the problems of anagent to trouble him. He must have been fond of Charlie. But itseemed a dreadful sentence at the time. Beginners in theentertainment world are all supposed to be panting for a chance torush before an audience and prove themselves; I was frightened ofWillard, frightened of Jerry, and most frightened of all of failure.

“As is usually the case with understudies I neither failed norsucceeded greatly. In a short time I had worked out a version of TheMiser’s Dream that was certainly better than Willard’s, and onCharlie’s strong advice I did it as a mute act. I had very littlevoice, and what I had was a thin, ugly croak; I had no vocabulary ofthe kind that a magician needs; my conversation was conducted inilliterate carnival slang, varied now and then with some Biblicalturn of speech that had clung to me. So I simply appeared on thestage and did my stuff without sound, while the pianist playedwhatever he thought appropriate. My greatest difficulty was inlearning how to perform slowly enough. In my development of atechnique while I was concealed in Abdullah I had become so fast andso slick that my work was incomprehensible; the quickness of the handshould certainly deceive the eye, but not so fast the eye doesn’trealize that it is being deceived.

“Abdullah simply dropped out of use. We lugged him around for a fewweeks, but his transport was costly, and as I would not get insidehim now he was useless baggage. So one morning, on a railway siding,Charlie and I burned him, while Willard moaned and grieved that wewere destroying the greatest thing in his life, and an irreplaceablesource of income.

“That was the end of Abdullah, and the happiest moment of my lifeup to then was when I saw the flames engulf that ugliest of images.

“In their strange way Charlie and Willard were friends, and Charliethought the moment had come for him to reform Willard. He set aboutit with his usual enthusiasm, conditioned by a very simple mind.Willard must break the morphine habit. He was to cut the stuff out,at a stroke, and with no thought of looking back. Of course thismeant that in a very few days Willard was a raving lunatic, rollingon the floor, the sweating, shrieking victim of crawling demons.Charlie was frightened out of his wits, brought in one of hisambiguous doctors, bought Willard a syringe to replace the one he haddramatically thrown away, and loaded him up to keep him quiet. Therewas no more talk of abstinence. Charlie kept assuring me that‘somehow we’ve got to see him through it’. But there was no waythrough it. Willard was a gone goose.

“I speak of this lightly now, but at the time I was just asfrightened and puzzled as Charlie. I was alarmed to find howdependent on Willard I had become. I had lived with him in dreadfulservitude for almost half my life, and now I didn’t know what Ishould do without him. Furthermore, he had been jolted by his attemptat reform into one of those dramatic changes of character which areso astonishing to people who find themselves responsible for a drugaddict. He who had been domineering and ugly became embarrassinglyfawning and frightened. His great dread was that Charlie and I wouldput him in hospital. All he wanted was to be cared for, and suppliedwith enough morphine to keep him comfortable. A simple demand, wasn’tit? But somehow we managed it, and one consequence was that I becameinvolved in the nuisance of finding suppliers of the drug, makingapproaches to them, and paying the substantial prices they demanded.

“By the time it was the season for rejoining the World of Wonders,I had taken over completely the job of filling Willard’s place inthe vaude programmes, and Willard was an invalid who had to bedragged from date to date. It was a greatly changed carnival thatseason. Gus was gone, and the new manager was a tough little carniewho knew how to manage the show, but had none of Gus’s pride in it;he took his tone from Charlie, as the real representative of theowners. Charlie had finally wakened up to the fact that the day ofsuch shows was passing, and that fair dates were harder to get. Thatwas when he decided to add a blow‑off to the World of Wonders,and as well to set up in a little business of his own, unknown toJerry.

“A blow‑off is an annex to a carnival show. Sometimes it iswell‑advertised, if it is a speciality that does not quite fitinto the show proper, like Australian stock‑whip performers, ora man and a girl who do tricks with lariats, in cowboy costume. Butit can also be a part of the show that is very quietly introduced,and that is not necessarily seen during every performance. Charlie’sblow‑off was of this latter kind, and the only attractions init were Zitta and Willard.

“Zitta was now too fat and too ugly to hold a place in the maintent, but in the blow‑off, which occupied a smaller tententered through the World of Wonders, she could still do a dirty actwith some snakes, a logical development from the stunts she hadformerly done during the Last Trick. But it was Willard’s role thatstartled me. Charlie had decided to exhibit him as a Wild Man.Willard sat in ragged shirt and pants, his feet bare, in the dust.After he had gone for a few weeks without shaving he lookedconvincingly wild. His skin had by this time taken on the bluishtinge of the morphine addict, and his eyes, with their habituallycontracted pupils, looked terrifying enough to the rural spectators.Charlie’s explanation was that Zitta and Willard came from the DeepSouth, and were sad evidence of what happened when fine old families,reduced from plantation splendour, became inbred. The suggestion wasthat Willard was the outcome of a variety of incestuous matings. Idoubt if many of the people who came to see Willard believed it, butthe appetite for marvels and monsters is insatiable, and he was agood eyeful for the curious. The Shame of the Old South, as theblow‑off was called, did pretty good business.

“As for Charlie’s enterprise, he had become a morphine pusher.‘Cut out the middle man,’ he said to me by way of explanation; henow bought the stuff from even bigger pushers, and sold it at asubstantial price to those who wanted it The medical profession, hesaid to me, was intolerably greedy, and he didn’t see why he shouldalways be on the paying end of a profitable trade.

“I am sorry to say that I shared Charlie’s opinion at that time,and for a while I was his junior in the business. I offer no excuses.I had become fond of the things money can buy, and keeping Willardstoked with what he wanted was very costly. So I became a supplier,rather than a purchaser, and did pretty well by it. But I never putall my eggs in one basket. I was still primarily a conjuror, and theWorld of Wonders, even in its reduced circumstances, paid mesixty‑five dollars a week to do my version of The Miser’sDream for five minutes an hour, twelve hours a day.

“I am going to ask you to excuse me from a detailed account of whatfollowed during the next couple of years. It was inevitable, Isuppose, that a simpleton like Charlie, with a greenhorn like myselfas his lieutenant, should be caught in one of the periodic crackdownson drug trafficking. The F.B.I. in the States and the R.C.M.P. inCanada began to pick up some of the small fry like ourselves, asleads to the bigger fish who were more important in the trade. I donot pretend that I behaved particularly well, and the upshot was thatCharlie was nabbed and I was not, and that I made my escape by shipwith a passport that cost me a great deal of money; I have it still,and it is a beautiful job, but it is not as official as it looks. Myproblem when the trouble came was what I was going to do withWillard. My solution still surprises me. When every consideration ofgood sense and self‑preservation said that I should ditch him,and let the police find him, I decided instead to take him with me.Explain it as you will, by saying that my conscience overcame myprudence, or that there had grown up a real affection between usduring all those years when I was his slave and the secret source ofhis professional reputation, but I decided that I must take Willardwhere I was going. Willard was always reminding me that he had neverabandoned me when it would have been convenient to do so. So, onepleasant Friday morning in 1927, Jules LeGrand and his invalid uncle,Aristide LeGrand, sailed from Montreal on a C.P.R. ship bound forCherbourg, and somewhat later Charlie Wanless stood trial in hisnative state of New York and received a substantial sentence.

The passports and the steamship passages just about cleaned me out,but I think Willard saved me from being caught. He made a veryconvincing invalid in his wheelchair, and although I know the shipwas watched we had no trouble. But when we arrived in France, whatwas to be done? Thanks to Duparc I could speak French pretty well,though I could neither read nor write the language. I was a capableconjuror, but the French theatrical world did not have the kind ofthird‑class variety theatre into which I could make my way.However, there were small circuses, and eventually I got a place inLe grand Cirque forain de St. Vite after some roughadventures during which I was compelled to exhibit Willard as a geek.

“You know what a geek is, Ramsay, but perhaps these gentlemen arenot so well versed in the humbler forms of carnival performance. Youlet it be known that you have, concealed perhaps in a stable at theback of a village inn, a man who eats strange food. When the crowdcomes–and not too much of a crowd, because the police don’t likesuch shows–you lecture for a while on the yearning of the geek forraw flesh and particularly for blood; you explain that it issomething the medical profession knows about, but keeps quiet so thatthe relatives of people thus afflicted will not be put to shame.Then, if you can get a chicken, you give the geek a chicken, and hegrowls and gives a display of animal passion, and finally bites thechicken in the neck, and seems to drink some of its blood. If you arereduced to the point where you can’t afford even a superannuatedchicken, you find a grass snake or two, or perhaps a rabbit. I wasthe lecturer, and Willard was the geek. It raised enough money tokeep us from starvation, and to keep Willard supplied with justenough of his fancy to prevent a total breakdown.

“You discovered us under the banner of St. Vite, Ramsay, when wewere travelling in the Tyrol. I suppose it looked very humble to you,but it was a step on an upward path for us. I appeared, you remember,as Faustus LeGrand, the conjuror; I thought Faustus sounded well fora magician; poor old Willard was Le Solitaire des forets ,which was certainly an improvement on geeking and sounds much moreelegant than Wild Man.”

“I remember it very well,” I said, “and I remember that youwere not at all anxious to recognize me.”

“I wasn’t anxious to see anybody from Canada. I hadn’t seen youfor–surely it must have been fourteen years. How was I to know thatyou had enlisted in the R.C.M.P.–possibly become the pride of theNarcotics Squad? But let that go. I was in a confused state of mindat the time. Do you know what I mean?Something is taking all yourattention–something inward–and the outer world is not very real,and you deal with it hastily and badly. I was still battling in myconscience about Willard. By this time I thoroughly hated him. He wasan expensive nuisance, yet I couldn’t make up my mind to get rid ofhim. Besides, he might just have enough energy, prompted by anger, tobetray me to the police, even at the cost of his own destruction.Still, his life lay in my power. A smallish extra injection some daywould have disposed of him.

“But I couldn’t do it. Or rather–I’ve said so much, and putmyself so thoroughly to the bad, that I might just as well go all theway–I didn’t really want to do it because I got a special sort ofsatisfaction from his presence. This confused old wreck had been mymaster, my oppressor, the man who let me live hungry and dirty, whoused my body shamefully and never let me lift my head above theshame. Now he was utterly mine; he was my thing. That was how it wasnow between me and Willard. I had the upper hand, and I admit franklythat it gave me a delicious satisfaction to have the upper hand.Willard had just enough sense of reality left to understand withoutany question of a mistake who was master. Not that I stressed itcoarsely. No, no. If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat:and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink; for thou shalt heapcoals of fire on his head, and the Lord shall reward thee. Indeed so.The Lord rewarded me richly, and it seemed to me the Lord’s facewas dark and gleeful as he did so.

“This was Revenge, which we have all been told is a very grave sin,and in our time psychologists and sociologists have made it seemrather lower class, and unevolved, as well. Even the State, whichretains so many primitive privileges that are denied to its citizens,shrinks from Revenge. If it catches a criminal the State is eager tomake it clear that whatever it chooses to do is for the possiblereform of that criminal, or at the very most for his restraint. Whowould be so crass as to suggest that the criminal might be used as hehas used his fellow man? We don’t admit the power of the GoldenRule when it seems to be working in reverse gear. Do unto others associety says they should do unto you, even when they have donesomething quite different. We’re all sweetness and light now, inour professions of belief. We have shut our minds against the Christwho cursed the fig tree. Revenge–horrors! So there it was: I wasrevenging myself on Willard, and I’m not going to pretend to youthat when he crunched into a grass snake to give a thrill to a stablefilled with dull peasants, who despised him for doing it, I didn’thave a warm sense of satisfaction. The Lord was rewarding me. Underthe banner of St. Vite, the man who had once been Mephistopheles inmy life was now just a tremulous, disgusting Wild Man, and if anybodywas playing Mephistopheles, the role was mine. Blessed be the name ofthe Lord, who forgettest not his servant “Don’t ask me if I woulddo it now. I don’t suppose for a moment that I would. But I did itthen. Now I am famous and rich and have delightful friends like Liesland Ramsay; charming people like yourselves come from the B.B.C. toask me to pretend to be Robert‑Houdin. But in those days I wasPaul Dempster, who had been made to forget it and take a name fromthe side of a barn, and be the pathic of a perverted drug‑taker.Do you think I have forgotten that even now? I have a lifelongreminder. I am a sufferer from a tiresome little complaint calledproctalgia fugax . Do you know it? It is a cramping pain inthe anus that wakes you out of a sound sleep and gives you fiveminutes or so of great unease. For years I thought that Willard, bythis nasty use of me, had somehow injured me irreparably. It took alittle courage to go to a doctor and find out that it was quiteharmless, though I suppose it has some psychogenic origin. It isuseless to ask Magnus Eisengrim if he would exert himself to tormenta worm like Willard the Wizard; he has the magnanimity that comes soeasily to the rich and powerful. But if you had put the question toFaustus LeGrand in 1929 his answer would have been the one I havejust given you.

“Yes, gentlemen, it was Revenge, and it was sweet. If I am to bedamned for a sin, I expect that will be the one. Shall I tell you thecream of it–or the worst of it, according to your point of view?There came a time when Willard could stand no more. Jaunting aroundsouthern France, and the Tyrol and parts of Switzerland, even when hehad absorbed the minimum dose I allowed him, was a weariness that hecould no longer endure. He wanted to die, and begged me for death.‘Just gimme a little too much, kid,’ was what he said. He wasnever eloquent but he managed to put a really heart‑breakingyearning into those words. What did I reply? ‘I couldn’t do it,Willard. Really I couldn’t. I’d have your life on my conscience.You know we’re forbidden by every moral law to take life. If I dowhat you ask, not only am I a murderer, but you are a suicide. Canyou face the world to come with that against you?’ Then he wouldcurse and call me every foul name he could think of. And next day itwould be the same. I didn’t kill him. Instead I withheld death fromhim, and it was balm to my spirit to be able to do it.

“Of course it came at last. From various evidence I judge that hewas between forty and forty‑five, but he looked far worse thanmen I have seen who were ninety. You know how such people die. He hadbeen blue before, but for a few hours before the end he was a leadencolour, and as his mouth was open it was possible to see that it wasalmost black inside. His teeth were in very bad condition fromgeeking, and he looked like one of those terrible drawings by Daumierof a pauper corpse. The pupils of his eyes were barely perceptible.His breath was very faint, but what there was of it stank horribly.Till quite near the end he was begging for a shot of his fancy. Theonly other person with us was a member of the St. Vite troupe, abearded lady–you remember her, don’t you, Ramsay?–but asWillard spoke no French she didn’t know what he was saying, or ifshe did she gave no sign. Then a surprising thing happened; a shorttime before he died his pupils dilated extraordinarily, and that,with his wide‑stretched mouth and his colour, gave him the lookof a man dying of terror. Indeed, perhaps it was so. Was he aware ofthe lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, where he would jointhe unbelieving and the abominable, the whoremongers, sorcerers, andidolaters? I had seen Abdullah go into the fire. Was it so also withWillard?

“But he was dead, and I was free. Had I not been free for years?Free since I struck the head off Abdullah? No; freedom does not comesuddenly. One has to grow into it. But now that Willard was dead, Ifelt truly free, and I hoped that I might throw off some of theunpleasant characteristics I had taken upon myself but not, I hoped,forever taken within myself.

“I finished my season with Le grand Cirque because I didnot want to attract attention by leaving as soon as Willard was outof the way. Without his luxury to pay for I was able to give upoccasional pocket‑picking, and save a little money. I knew whatI wanted to do. I wanted to get to England; I knew there were vaudehouses or variety shows of some kind in England, and I thought Icould get a job there.

“I remember that I took stock of myself, as cold‑bloodedly asI could, but not, I think, unjustly. The Deptford parson’s son, themadwoman’s son, had become a pretty widely experienced young tough;I could pick pockets, I could push dope. I could fight with a brokenbottle and I had picked up the French knack of boxing with my feet. Icould now speak and read French, and a little German and Italian, andI could speak a terrible patois of English, in which I sounded likethe worst of Willard and Charlie combined.

“What was there on the credit side? I was an expert conjuror, and Iwas beginning to have some inkling of what Mrs. Constantinescu meantwhen she talked about real hypnotism as opposed to the sideshow kind.I was a deft mechanic, could mend anybody’s watch, and humour anold calliope. Although I had been the passive partner in countlessacts of sodomy I was still, so far as my own sexual activity wasconcerned, a virgin, and likely to remain one, because I knew nothingabout women other than Fat Ladies, Bearded Ladies, Snake Women, andmitt‑camp gypsies; on the whole I liked women, but I had nowish to do to anybody I liked what Willard had done to me–andalthough of course I knew that the two acts differed I supposed theywere pretty much the same to the recipient. I had none of Charlie’sunresting desire to ‘slip it’ to anybody. As you see, I was amuddle of toughness and innocence.

“Of course I didn’t think of myself as innocent. What young manever does? I thought I was the toughest thing going. A verse from theBook of Psalms kept running through my head that seemed to me todescribe my state perfectly. ‘I am become like a bottle in thesmoke.’ It’s a verse that puzzles people who think it means aglass bottle, but my father would never have allowed me to be soignorant as that. It means one of those old wineskins the Hebrewsused; it means a goatskin that has been scraped out, and tanned, andblown up, and hung over the fire till it is as hard as a warrior’sboot. That was how I saw myself.

“I was twenty‑two, so far as I could reckon, and a bottlethat had been thoroughly smoked. What was life going to pour into thebottle? I didn’t know, but I was off to England to find out.

“And you are off to England in the morning gentlemen. Forgive mefor holding you so long. I’ll say good night.”

And for the last time at Sorgenfrei we went through that curiouslittle pageant of bidding our ceremonious good night to MagnusEisengrim, who said his farewells with unusual geniality.

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Of course the film‑makers didn’t go back to their inn. Theypoured themselves another round of drinks and made themselvescomfortable by the fire.

“What I can’t decide,” said Ingestree, “is how much of whatwe have heard we are to take as fact. It’s the inescapable problemof the autobiography: how much is left out, how much has beengenuinely forgotten, how much has been touched up to throw thesubject into striking relief? That stuff about Revenge, for instance.Can he have been as horrible as he makes out? He doesn’t seem acruel man now. We must never forget that he’s a conjuror byprofession; his lifelong pose has been demonic. I think he’d likeus to believe he played the demon in reality, as well.”

“I take it seriously,” said Lind. “You are English, Roly, andthe English have a temperamental pull toward cheerfulness; they don’treally believe in evil. If the Gulf Stream ever deserted theirwestern coast, they’d think differently. Americans are supposed tobe the great optimists, but the English are much more trulyoptimistic. I think he has done all he says he has done. I think hekilled his enemy slowly and cruelly. And I think it happens oftenerthan is supposed by people who habitually avert their minds fromevil.”

“Oh, I’m not afraid of evil,” said Ingestree. “Glad to lookon the dark side any time it seems necessary. But I think peopledramatize themselves when they have a chance.”

“Of course you are afraid of evil,” said Lind. “You’d be afool if you weren’t. People talk about evil frivolously, just asEisengrim says they do; it’s a way of diminishing its power, orseeming to do so. To talk about evil as if it were just waywardnessor naughtiness is very stupid and trivial. Evil is the reality of atleast half the world.”

“You’re always philosophizing,” said Kinghovn; “and that’sthe dope of the Northern mind. What’s evil? You don’t know. Butwhen you want an atmosphere of evil in your films you tell me and Iarrange lowering skies and funny light and find a good camera angle;if I took the same thing in blazing sunlight, from another place,it’d look like comedy.”

“You’re always playing the tough guy, the realist,” said Lind,“and that’s wonderful. I like you for it, Harry. But you’re notan artist except in your limited field, so you leave it to me todecide what’s evil and what’s comedy on the screen. That’ssomething that goes beyond appearances. Right now we’re talkingabout a man’s life.”

Liesl had said very little at any of these evening sessions, and Ithink the film‑makers had made the mistake of supposing she hadnothing to say. She struck in now.

“Which man’s life are you talking about?” she said. “That’sanother of the problems of biography and autobiography, Ingestree, mydear. It can’t be managed except by casting one person as the starof the drama, and arranging everybody else as supporting players.Look at what politicians write about themselves! Churchill and Hitlerand all the rest of them seem suddenly to be secondary figuressurrounding Sir Numskull Poop, who is always in the limelight. Magnusis no stranger to the egotism of the successful performing artist.Time after time he has reminded us that he is the greatest creatureof his kind in the world. He does it without shame. He is not heldback by any middle‑class notion that it would be nicer if wesaid it instead of himself. He knows we’re not going to say it,because nothing so destroys the sense of equality on which allpleasant social life depends as perpetual reminders that one memberof the company out‑ranks all the rest. When it is so, it isconsidered good manners for the pre‑eminent one to keep quietabout it. Because Magnus has been talking for a couple of hours wehave assumed that his emphasis is the only emphasis.

“This business of the death of Willard: if we listen to Magnus wetake it for granted that Magnus killed Willard after painfullyhumiliating him for quite a long time. The tragedy of Willard’sdeath is the spirit in which Faustus LeGrand regarded it. But isn’tWillard somebody, too? As Willard lay dying, who did he think was thestar of the scene? Not Magnus, I’ll bet you. And look at it fromGod’s point of view, or if that strains you uncomfortably, supposethat you have to make a movie of the life and death of Willard. Youneed Magnus, but he is not the star. He is the necessary agent whobrings Willard to the end. Everybody’s life is his Passion, youknow, and you can’t have much of a Passion if you haven’t got agood strong Judas. Somebody has to play Judas, and it is generallyacknowledged to be a fine, meaty role. There’s a pride in beingcast for it. You recall the Last Supper? Christ said that he would bebetrayed by one of those who sat at the table with him. The disciplescalled out, Lord, is it I? And when Judas asked, Christ said it washe.

“Has it never occurred to you that there might have been just thetiniest feeling in the bosom of one of the lesser apostles–Lebbaeus,for instance, whom tradition represents as a fat man–that Judas wasthrusting himself forward again? Christ died on the Cross, and Judasalso had his Passion, but can anybody tell me what became ofLebbaeus? Yet he too was a man, and if he had written anautobiography do you suppose that Christ would have had the centralposition? There seems to have been a Bearded Lady at the deathbed ofWillard, and I would like to know her point of view. Being a woman,she probably had too much intelligence to think that she was thecentral figure, but would she have awarded that role to Willard or toMagnus?”

“Either would do,” said Kinghovn; “but you need a point offocus, you know. Otherwise you get this cinema verite stuffwhich is sometimes interesting but it damn well isn’t verite because it fails utterly to convince. It’s like those shots of waryou see on tv; you can’t believe anything serious is happening. Ifyou want your film to look like truth you need somebody like Jurgento decide what truth is, and somebody like me to shoot it so it neveroccurs to you that it could appear any other way. Of course what youget is not truth, but it’s probably a lot better in more ways thanjust the cinematic way. If you want the death of Willard shot fromthe point of view of the Bearded Lady I can certainly do it. Andsimply because I can do it to order I don’t know how you canpretend it has any special superiority as truth.”

“I suppose it’s part of that human condition silly‑cleverpeople are always grizzling about,” said Liesl. “If you wanttruth, I suppose you must shoot the film from God’s point of viewand with God’s point of focus, whatever it may be. And I’ll betthe result won’t look much like cinema verite . But I don’tthink either you or Jurgen are up to that job, Harry.”

“There is no God,” said Kinghovn; “and I’ve never felt theleast necessity to invent one.”

“Probably that is why you have spent your life as a technician; avery fine one, but a technician,” said Lind. “It’s only byinventing a few gods that we get that uneasy sense that something islaughing at us, which is one of the paths to faith.”

“Eisengrim talks a lot about God,” said Ingestree, “and Godseems still to be a tremendous reality to him. But there’s noquestion of God laughing. The bottle in the smoke–that’s what hewas. I really must read the Bible some time; there are suchmarvellous goodies in it, just waiting to be picked up. But eventhese Bibles Designed to be Read as Literature are so bloody thick! Isuppose one could browse, but when I browse I never seem to findanything except tiresome stud‑book stuff about Aminadabbegetting Jonadab and that kind of thing.”

“We’ve only had part of the story,” I said. “Magnus hascarefully pointed out to us that he is looking backward on his earlylife as a man who has changed decisively in the last forty years.What’s his point of focus?”

“Nobody changes so decisively that they lose all sense of thereality of their youth,” Lind said. “The days of childhood arealways the most vivid. He has let us think that his childhood madehim a villain. So I think we must assume that he is a villain now. Aquiescent villain, but not an extinct one.”

“I think that’s a lot of romantic crap,” said Kinghovn. “I’msick of all the twaddle about childhood. You should have seen me as achild; a flaxen‑haired little darling playing in my mother’sgarden in Aalborg. Where is he now? Here I sit, a very well‑smokedbottle like our friend who has gone to bed. If I met thatflaxen‑haired child now I would probably give him a good cloutover the ear. I’ve never much liked kids. Which was the greater usein the world? That child, so sweet and pure, or me, as I am now, notsweet and damned well not pure?”

“That’s a dangerous question for a man who doesn’t believe inGod,” I said, “because there is no answer to it without God. Icould answer it for you, if I thought you were open to anything butdrink and photography, Harry, but I’m not going to waste preciousargument. What I want is to defend Eisengrim against the charge ofbeing a villain, now or at any other time. You must look at hishistory in the light of myth–”

“Aha, I thought we should get to myth in time,” said Liesl.

“Well, myth explains much that is otherwise inexplicable, justbecause myth is a boiling down of universal experience. Eisengrim’sstory of his childhood and youth is as new to me as it is to you,although I knew him when he was very young–”

“Yes, and you were an influence in making him what he is,” saidLiesl.

“Because you taught him conjuring?” said Lind.

“No, no; Ramsay was personally responsible for the premature birthof little Paul Dempster, and responsible also for Paul’s mother’smadness, which marked him so terribly,” said Liesl.

I gaped at her in astonishment. “This is what comes of confiding inwomen! Not only can they not keep a secret; they retell it in anutterly false way! I must put this matter right. It is true that PaulDempster was born prematurely because his mother was hit on the headby a snowball. It is true that the snowball was meant to hit me, andit hit her instead because I dodged it. It is true that the blow onthe head and the birth of the child seemed to precipitate aninstability that sometimes amounted to madness. And it is true that Ifelt some responsibility in the matter. But that was long ago and faraway, in a country which you would scarcely recognize as modernCanada. Liesl, I blush for you.”

“What a lovely old‑fashioned thing to say, dear Ramsay. Thankyou very much for blushing for me, because I long ago lost the trickof blushing for myself. But I didn’t spill the beans about you justto make you jump. I wanted to make the point that you are a figure inthis story, too. A very strange figure, just as odd as any in yourlegends. You precipitated, by a single action–and who could thinkyou guilty just because you jumped out of the way of a snowball (who,that is, but a grim Calvinist like yourself, Ramsay)–everythingthat we have been hearing from Magnus during these nights past. Areyou a precipitating figure in Magnus’s story, or he in yours? Whocould comb it all out? But get on with your myth, dear man. I want tohear what lovely twist you will give to what Magnus has told us.”

“It is not a twist, but an explication. Magnus has made it amplyclear that he was brought up in a strict, unrelenting form ofpuritanism. In consequence he still blames himself whenever he can,and because he knows the dramatic quality of the role, he likes toplay the villain. But as for his keeping Willard as a sort of hatefulpet, in order to jeer at him, I simply don’t believe it was likethat at all. What is the mythical element in his story? Simply thevery old tale of the man who is in search of his soul, and who muststruggle with a monster to secure it. All myth and Christianity–whichhas never been able to avoid the mythical pull of humanexperience–are full of similar instances, and people all around usare living out this basic human pattern every day. In the study ofhagiography–”

“I knew you’d get to saints before long,” said Liesl.

“In the study of hagiography we have legends and all those splendidpictures of saints who killed dragons, and it doesn’t take muchpenetration to know that the dragons represent not simply evil in theworld but their personal evil, as well. Of course, being saints, theyare said to have killed their dragons, but we know that dragons arenot killed; at best they are tamed, and kept on the chain. In thepictures we see St. George, and my special favourite, St. Catherine,triumphing over the horrid beast, who lies with his tongue out,looking as if he thoroughly regretted his mistaken course in life.But I am strongly of the opinion that St. George and St. Catherinedid not kill those dragons, for then they would have been whollygood, and inhuman, and useless and probably great sources ofmischief, as one‑sided people always are. No, they kept thedragons as pets. Because they were Christians, and becauseChristianity enjoins us to seek only the good and to have nothingwhatever to do with evil, they doubtless rubbed it into the dragonsthat it was uncommonly broadminded and decent of them to let thedragons live at all. They may even have given the dragon occasionaltreats: you may breathe a little fire, they might say, or you mayleer desirously at that virgin yonder, but if you make one false moveyou’ll wish you hadn’t. You must be a thoroughly submissivedragon, and remember who’s boss. That’s the Christian way ofdoing things, and that’s what Magnus did with Willard. He didn’tkill Willard. The essence of Willard lives with him today. But he gotthe better of Willard. Didn’t you notice how he was laughing as hesaid good night?”

“I certainly did,” said Ingestree. “I didn’t understand it atall. It wasn’t just the genial laughter of a man saying farewell tosome guests. And certainly he didn’t seem to be laughing at us. Ithought perhaps it was relief at having got something off his chest.”

“The laugh troubled me,” said Lind. “I am not good at humour,and I like to be perfectly sure what people are laughing at. Do youknow what it was, Ramsay?”

“Yes,” I said, “I think I do. That was Merlin’s Laugh.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Lind.

“If Liesl will allow it, I must be mythological again. The magicianMerlin had a strange laugh, and it was heard when nobody else waslaughing. He laughed at the beggar who was bewailing his fate as helay stretched on a dunghill; he laughed at the foppish young man whowas making a great fuss about choosing a pair of shoes. He laughedbecause he knew that deep in the dunghill was a golden cup that wouldhave made the beggar a rich man; he laughed because he knew that thepernickety young man would be stabbed in a quarrel before the solesof his new shoes were soiled. He laughed because he knew what wascoming next.”

“And of course our friend knows what is coming next in his ownstory,” said Lind.

“Are we to take it then that there was some striking reversal offortune awaiting him when he went to England?” said Ingestree.

“I know no more than you,” said I. “I do not hear Merlin’sLaugh very often, though I think I am more sensitive to its soundthan most people. But he spoke of finding out what wine would bepoured into the well‑smoked bottle that he had become. I don’tknow what it was.”

Ingestree was more excited than the rest. “But are we never toknow? How can we find out?”

“Surely that’s up to you,” said Lind. “Aren’t you going toask Eisengrim to come to London to see the rushes of this film wehave been making? Isn’t that owing to him? Get him in London andask him to continue.”

Ingestree looked doubtful. “Can it be squeezed out of the budget?”he said. “The corporation doesn’t like frivolous expenses. Ofcourse I’d love to ask him, but if we run very much over budget,well, it would be as good as my place is worth, as servants used tosay in the day when they knew they were servants.”

“Nonsense, you can rig it,” said Kinghovn. But Ingestree stilllooked like a worried, rather withered baby.

“I know what is worrying Roly,” said Liesl. “He thinks that hecould squeeze Eisengrim’s expenses in London out of the B.B.C.–buthe knows he can’t lug in Ramsay and me, and he’s too nice afellow to suggest that Magnus travel without us. Isn’t that it,Roly?”

Ingestree looked at her. “Bang on the head,” he said.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Liesl. “I’ll pay my own way,and even this grinding old miser Ramsay might unchain a few penniesfor himself. Just let us know when to come.”

And so, at last, they went. As we came back into the large, gloomy,nineteenth‑century Gothic hall of Sorgenfrei, I said to Liesl:“It was nice of you to think of Lebbaeus, tonight. People don’tmention him very often. But you’re wrong, you know, saying thatthere is no record of what he did after the Crucifixion. There is anon‑canonical Acts of Thaddaeus–Thaddaeus was his surname,you recall–that tells all about him. It didn’t get into theBible, but it exists.”

“What’s it like?”

“A great tale of marvels. Real Arabian Nights stuff. Puts him deadat the centre of affairs.”

“Didn’t I say so! Just like a man. I’ll bet he wrote ithimself.”

II. Merlin’s Laugh


Because of Jurgen Lind’s slow methods of work, it took longer toget Un Hommage a Robert‑Houdin into a final form thanwe had expected, and it was nearly three months later when Eisengrim,Liesl, and I journeyed to London to see what it looked like. Thepolite invitation suggested that criticism would be welcome.Eisengrim was the star, and Liesl had put up a good deal of the moneyfor the venture, expecting to get it back over the next two or threeyears, with substantial gains, but I think we all knew that criticismof Lind would not be gratefully received. A decent pretence was to bekept up, all the same.

We three rarely travelled together; when we did there was always agood deal of haggling about where we should stay. I favoured small,modest hotels; Liesl felt a Swiss nationalist pull toward any hotel,anywhere, that was called the Ritz; Eisengrim wanted to stop at theSavoy.

The suite we occupied at the Savoy was precisely to his taste. It hadbeen decorated in the twenties, and not changed since; the rooms werelarge, and the walls were in that most dismal of decorators’colours, “off‑white”; below the ceiling of the drawing‑roomwas a nine‑inch border of looking‑glass; there was an ArtModerne fireplace with an electric fire in it which, when in use,gave off a heavy smell of roasted dust and reminiscences of mice; thefurniture was big, and clumsy in the twenties mode. The windowslooked out on what I called an alley, and what even Liesl called “amean street”, but to our amazement Magnus came up with the commentthat nobody who called himself a gentleman ever looked out of thewindow. (What did he know about the fine points of upper‑classbehaviour?) There was a master bedroom of astonishing size, andMagnus grabbed it for himself, saying that Liesl might have the otherbed in it. My room, not quite so large but still a big room, wasnearer the bathroom. That chamber was gorgeous in a style longforgotten, with what seemed to be Roman tiling, a sunken bath, and agiantess’s bidet. The daily rate for this grandeur startled me evenwhen I had divided it by three, but I held my peace, and hoped wewould not stay long. I am not a stingy man, but I think a decentprudence becoming even in the very rich, like Liesl. Also, I knewenough about the very rich to understand that I should not be let offwith a penny less than my full third of whatever was spent.

Magnus was taking his new position as a film star–even though itwas only as the star of a television “special” with a seriousnessthat seemed to me absurd. The very first night he insisted on havingLind and his gang join us for what he called a snack in ourdrawing‑room. Snack! Solomon and the Queen of Sheba would havebeen happy with such a snack; when I saw it laid out by the waiters Iwas so oppressed by the thought of what a third of it would come tothat I wondered if I should be able to touch a morsel. But the othersate and drank hugely, and almost as soon as they entered the roombegan hinting that Magnus should continue the story he had begun atSorgenfrei. That was what I wanted, too, and as it was plain that Iwas going to pay dear to hear it, I overcame my scruple and made sureof my share of the feast.

The showing of Hommage had been arranged for the followingafternoon at three o’clock. “Good,” said Magnus; “that willallow me the morning to make a little sentimental pilgrimage I havein mind.”

Polite interest from Ingestree, and delicately inquisitive probingsas to what this pilgrimage might be.

“Something associated with a turning‑point in my life,”said Magnus. “I feel that one should not be neglectful of suchobservances.”

Was it anything with which the B.B.C. could be helpful, Ingestreeasked.

“No, not at all,” said Magnus. “I simply want to lay someflowers at the foot of a monument.”

Surely, Ingestree persisted, Magnus would permit somebody from thepublicity department, or from a newspaper, to get a picture of thischarming moment? It could be so helpful later, when it was necessaryto work up enthusiasm for the film.

Magnus was coy. He would prefer not to make public a private act ofgratitude and respect. But he was willing to admit, among friends,that what he meant to do was part of the subtext of the film; an actrelated to his own career; something he did whenever he found himselfin London.

He had now gone so far that it was plain he wanted to be coaxed, andIngestree coaxed him with a mixture of affection and respect that wasworthy of admiration. It was plain to be seen how Ingestree had notmerely survived, but thriven, in the desperate world of television.It was not long before Magnus yielded, as I suppose he meant to dofrom the beginning.

“It’s nothing in the least extraordinary. I’m going to lay afew yellow roses–I hope I can get yellow ones–at the foot of themonument to Henry Irving behind the National Portrait Gallery. Youknow it. It’s one of the best‑known monuments in London.Irving, splendid and gracious, in his academical robes, looking upCharing Cross Road. I promised Milady I’d do that, in her name andmy own, if I ever came to the point in life where I could afford suchgestures. And I have. And so I shall.”

“Now you really mustn’t tease us any more,” said Ingestree. “Wemust be told. Who is Milady?”

“Lady Tresize,” said Magnus, and there was no hint of banter inhis voice any longer. He was solemn. But Ingestree hooted withlaughter.

“My God!” he said, “You don’t mean Old Mother Tresize? OldNan? You knew her?”

“Better than you apparently did,” said Magnus. “She was a dearfriend of mine, and very good to me when I needed a friend. She wasone of Irving’s protegees, and in her name I do honour to hismemory.”

“Well–I apologize. I apologize profoundly. I never knew her well,though I saw something of her. You’ll admit she was rather a jokeas an actress.”

“Perhaps. Though I saw her give some remarkable performances. Shedidn’t always get parts that were suited to her.”

“I can’t imagine what parts could ever have suited her. It’susually admitted she held the old man back. Dragged him down, infact. He really may have been good, once. If he’d had a decentleading lady he mightn’t have ended up as he did.”

“I didn’t know that he had ended up badly. Indeed I know for afact that he had quite a happy retirement, and was happier because heshared it with her. Are we talking about the same people?”

“I suppose it depends on how one looks at it. I’d better shutup.”

“No, no,” said Lind. “This is just the time to keep on. Who arethese people called Tresize? Theatre people, I suppose?”

“Sir John Tresize was one of the most popular romantic actors ofhis day,” said Magnus.

“But in an absolutely appalling repertoire,” said Ingestree, whoseemed unable to hold his tongue. “He went on into the twentiesacting stuff that was moth‑eaten when Irving died. You shouldhave seen it, Jurgen! The Lyons Mail , The CorsicanBrothers , and that interminable Master of Ballantrae ;seeing him in repertory was a peep into the dark backward and abysmof time, let me tell you!”

“That’s not true,” said Magnus, and I knew how hot he was bythe coolness with which he spoke. “He did some fine things, if youwould take the trouble to find out. Some admired Shakespeareanperformances; a notable Hamlet. The money he made on The Master ofBallantrae he spent on introducing the work of Maeterlinck toEngland.”

“Maeterlinck’s frightfully old hat,” said Ingestree.

“Now, perhaps. But fashions change. And when Sir John Tresizeintroduced Maeterlinck to England he was an innovator. Have you nocharity toward the past?”

“Not a scrap.”

“I think less of you for it.”

“Oh, come off it! You’re an immensely accomplished actoryourself. You know how the theatre is. Of all the arts it has leastpatience with bygones.”

“You have said several times that I am a good actor, because I canput up a decent show as Robert‑Houdin. I’m glad you think so.Have you ever asked yourself where I learned to do that? One of thethings that has given my work a special flavour is that I give myaudiences something to look at apart from good tricks. They like theway I act the part of a conjuror. They say it has romantic flair.What they really mean is that it is projected with a skillednineteenth‑century technique. And where did I learn that?”

“Well, obviously you’re going to tell me you learned it from oldTresize. But it isn’t the same, you know. I mean, I remember him.He was lousy.”

“Depends on the point of view, I suppose. Perhaps you had somereason not to like him.”

“Not at all.”

“You said you knew him.”

“Oh, very slightly.”

“Then you missed a chance to know him better. I had that chance andI took it. Probably I needed it more than you did. I took it, and Ipaid for it, because knowing Sir John didn’t come cheap. And Miladywas a great woman. So tomorrow morning–yellow roses.”

“You’ll let us send a photographer?”

“Not after what you’ve been saying. I don’t pretend to anoverwhelming delicacy, but I have some. So keep away, please, and ifyou disobey me I won’t finish the few shots you still have to makeon Hommage . Is that clear?”

It was clear, and after lingering a few minutes, just to show thatthey could not be easily dismissed, Ingestree, and Jurgen Lind, andKinghovn left us.


Both Liesl and I went with Magnus the following morning on hissentimental expedition. Liesl wanted to know who Milady was; hercuriosity was aroused by the tenderness and reverence with which hespoke of the woman who appeared to Ingestree to be a figure of fun. Iwas curious about everything concerning him. After all, I had mydocument to consider. So we both went with him to buy the roses.Liesl protested when he bought an expensive bunch of two dozen. “Ifyou leave them in the street, somebody will steal them,” she said;“the gesture is the same whether it’s one rose or a bundle. Don’twaste your money. Once again I had occasion to be surprised at theway very rich people think about money; a costly apartment at theSavoy, and a haggle about a few roses! But Eisengrim was not to bechanged from his purpose. “Nobody will steal them, and you’llfind out why,” said he. So off we went on foot along the Strand,because Magnus felt that taking a taxi would lessen the solemnity ofhis pilgrimage.

The Irving monument stands in quite a large piece of open pavement;near by a pavement artist was chalking busily on the flagstones.Beside the monument itself a street performer was unpacking someropes and chains, and a woman was helping him to get ready for hisperformance. Magnus took off his hat, laid the flowers at the foot ofthe statue, arranged them to suit himself, stepped back, looked up atthe statue, smiled, and said something under his breath. Then he saidto the street performer: “Going to do a few escapes, are you?”

“Right you are,” said the man.

“Will you be here long?”

“Long as anybody wants to watch me.”

“I’d like you to keep an eye on those flowers. They’re for theGuvnor, you see. Here’s a pound. I’ll be back before lunch, andif they’re still there, and if you’re still here, I’ll haveanother pound for you. I want them to stay where they are for atleast three hours; after that anybody who wants them can have them.Now let’s see your show.”

The busker and the woman went to work. She rattled a tambourine, andhe shook the chains and defied the passers‑by to tie him up sothat he couldn’t escape. A few loungers gathered, but none of themseemed anxious to oblige the escape‑artist by tying him up. Atlast Magnus did it himself.

I didn’t know what he had in mind, and I wondered if he meant tohumiliate the poor fellow by tying him up and leaving him tostruggle; after all, Magnus had been a distinguished escape‑artisthimself in his time, and as he was a man of scornful mind; such atrick would not have been outside his range. He made a thorough jobof it, and before he had done there was a crowd of fifteen or twentypeople gathered to see the fun. It is not every day that one of theseshabby street performers has a beautifully dressed and distinguishedperson as an assistant. I saw a policeman halt at the back of thecrowd, and began to worry. My philosophical indifference to humansuffering is not as complete as I wish it were. If Magnus tied up thepoor wretch and left him, what should I do? Interfere, or run away?Or would I simply hang around and see what happened?

At last Magnus was contented with his work, and stepped away from thebusker, who was now a bundle of chains and ropes. The man dropped tothe ground, writhed and grovelled for a few seconds, worked himselfup on his knees, bent his head and tried to get at one of the ropeswith his teeth, and in doing so fell forward and seemed to hurthimself badly. The crowd murmured sympathetically, and pressed a bitnearer. Then, suddenly, the busker gave a triumphant cry, and leaptto his feet, as chains and ropes fell in a tangle on the pavement.

Magnus led the applause. The woman passed the tattered cap thatserved as a collection bag. Some copper and a few silver coins weredropped in it. Liesl contributed a fifty‑penny piece, and Ifound another. It was a good round for the busker; astonishinglygood, I imagine, for the first show of the day.

When the crowd had dispersed, the busker said softly to Magnus: “Pro,ain’t yer?”

“Yes, I’m a pro.”

“Knew it. You couldn’t of done them ties without being a pro.Youplayin’ in town?”

“No, but I have done. Years ago, I used to give a show right wherewe’re standing now.”

“You did! Christ, you’ve done well.”

“Yes. And I started here under the Guvnor’s statue. You’ll keepan eye on his flowers, won’t you?”

“Too right I will! And thanks!”

We walked away, Magnus smiling and big with mystery. He knew how muchwe wanted to know what lay behind what we had just seen, and wasdetermined to make us beg. Liesl, who has less pride about suchthings than I, spoke before we had passed the pornography shops intoLeicester Square.“Come along, Magnus. Enough of this. We want toknow and you want to tell. I can feel it. When did you ever performin the London streets?”

“After I got away from France, and the travelling circus, and theshadow of Willard, I came to London, which was dangerous with thekind of passport I carried, but I managed it. What was I to do? Youdon’t get jobs in variety theatres just by hanging around the stagedoors. It’s a matter of agents, and having press cuttings, andbeing known to somebody. And I was down and out. I hadn’t a penny.No, that’s not quite true; I had forty‑two shillings and thatwas just enough to buy a few old ropes and chains. So I took a lookaround the West End, and soon found out that the choice position foropen‑air shows was the place we’ve just visited. But eventhat wasn’t free; street‑artists of long standing had firstcall on the space. I tried to do my little act when they weren’tbusy, and three of them took me up an alley and convinced me that Ihad been tactless. Nevertheless, with a black eye I managed to showthem a little magic that persuaded one of them to let me addsomething to his own show, and for that I got a very small daily sum.Still, I was seen, and it wasn’t more than a few days before I wastaken to Milady, and after that everything was glorious.”

“Why should Milady want to see you? Really, Magnus, you areintolerable. You are going to tell us, so why don’t you do itwithout making me corkscrew every word out of you?”

“If I tell you now, in the street, don’t you think I am beingrather unfair to Lind? He wants to know too, you know.”

“Last night you virtually ordered Lind and his friends out of thehotel. Do you mean you are going to change your mind about that?”

“I was annoyed with Ingestree.”

“Yes, I know that. But what’s so bad about Ingestree? He doesn’tagree with you about Milady. Is the man to have no mind of his own?Must everybody agree with you? Ingestree isn’t a bad fellow.”

“Not a bad fellow. A fool perhaps.”

“Since when is it a criminal offence to be a fool? You’re rathera fool yourself, especially about women. I insist on knowing whateverthere is to know about Milady.”

“And so you shall, my dear Liesl. So you shall. You have only towait until this evening. I guarantee that when we go back to theSavoy we shall find that Lind has called, that Ingestree is ready toapologize, and that we are all three asked to dinner tonight so thatI may very graciously go on with my subtext to Hommage . WhichI am perfectly willing to do. And Ramsay will be pleased, because thefree dinner he gets tonight will somewhat offset the cost of thedinner he had to share in giving last night. You see, all things worktogether for good to them that love God.”

“Sometimes I wish I were a professing Christian, so that I wouldhave the right to tell you how much your blasphemous quoting ofScripture annoys me. And you mustn’t torment Ramsay. He hasn’thad your advantages. He’s never been really poor, and that is aterrible drawback to a man–Will you promise to be decent toIngestree?”

An unwonted sound: Eisengrim laughed aloud: Merlin’s Laugh, if everI heard it.


Magnus was having one of his tiresome spells, during which he wasright about everything. We were indeed asked to dine as Lind’sguests after the showing of Hommage . What we saw in the pokeylittle viewing‑room was a version of the film that was almostcomplete; everything that was to be cut out had been removed, but afew shots–close‑ups of Magnus–had still to be taken andincorporated. It was a source of astonishment, for I saw nothing thatI had not seen while it was being filmed; but the skill of thecutting, and the juxtapositions, and the varieties of pace that hadbeen achieved, were marvels to me. Clearly much of what had been doneowed its power to the art of Harry Kinghovn, but the unmistakableimpress of Lind’s mind was on it, as well. His films possessed aweight of implication–in St. Paul’s phrase, “the evidence ofthings not seen”–that was entirely his own.The greatest surprisewas the way in which Eisengrim emerged. His unique skill as aconjuror was there, of course, but somehow magic is not so impressiveon the screen as it is in direct experience, just as he had saidhimself at Sorgenfrei. No, it was as an actor that he seemed like anew person. I suppose I had grown used to him over the years, and hadseen too much of his backstage personality, which was that of thetheatre martinet, the watchful, scolding, impatient star of theSoiree of Illusions . The distinguished, high‑bred,romantic figure I saw on the screen was someone I felt I did notknow. The waif I had known when we were boys in Deptford, thecarnival charlatan I had seen in Austria as Faustus LeGrand in Legrand Cirque forain de St. Vite , the successful stage performer,and the amusing but testy and incalculable permanent guest atSorgenfrei could not be reconciled with this fascinating creature,and it couldn’t all be the art of Lind and Kinghovn. I must knowmore. My document demanded it.

Liesl, too, was impressed, and I am sure she was as curious as I. Sofar as I knew, she had at some time met Magnus, admired him,befriended him, and financed him. They had toured the world togetherwith their Soiree of Illusions , combining his art as a publicperformer with her skill as a technician, a contriver of magicalapparatus, and her artistic taste, which was far beyond his own. Ifhe was indeed the greatest conjuror of his time, or of any time, shewas responsible for at least half of whatever had made him so.Moreover, she had educated him, in so far as he was formallyeducated, and had transformed him from a tough little carnie intosomeone who could put up a show of cultivation. Or was that the wholetruth? She seemed as surprised by his new persona on the screen as Iwas. This was clearly one of Magnus’s great days. The film peoplewere delighted with him, as entrepreneurs always are with anybody wholooks as if he could draw in money, and at dinner he was clearly theguest of honour.

We went to the Cafe Royal, where a table had been reserved in the oldroom with the red plush benches against the wall, and the lush girlswith naked breasts holding up the ceiling, and the flatteringlooking‑glasses. We ate and drank like people who were darlingsof Fortune. Ingestree was on his best behaviour, and it was not untilwe had arrived at brandy and cigars that he said–

“I passed the Irving statue this afternoon. Quite by chance.Nothing premeditated. But I saw your flowers. And I want to repeathow sorry I am to have spoken slightingly about your old friend LadyTresize. May we toast her now?”

“Here’s to Milady,” said Magnus, and emptied his glass.

“Why was she called that?” said Liesl. “It sounds terriblypretentious if she was simply the wife of a theatrical knight. Or itsounds frowsily romantic, like a Dumas novel. Or it sounds as if youwere making fun of her. Or was she a cult figure in the theatre? TheMadonna of the Greasepaint? You might tell us, Magnus.”

“I suppose it was all of those things. Some people thought herpretentious, and some thought the romance that surrounded her wasfrowsy, and people always made a certain amount of fun of her, andshe was a cult figure as well. In addition she was a wonderfullykind, wise, courageous person who was not easy to understand. I’vebeen thinking a lot about her today. I told you that I was a buskerbeside the Irving statue when I came to London. It was there Holroydpicked me up and took me to Milady. She decided I should have a job,and made Sir John give me one, which he didn’t want to do.”

“Magnus, do please, I implore you, stop being mysterious. You knowvery well you mean to tell us all about it. You want to, andfurthermore, you must do it to please me.” Liesl was laying herselfout to be irresistible, and I have never known a woman who was betterat the work.

“Do it for the sake of the subtext,” said Ingestree, who was alsomaking himself charming, like a naughty boy who has been forgiven.

“All right. So I shall. My show under the shadow of Irving was notextensive. The buskers I was working with wouldn’t give me much ofa chance, but they allowed me to draw a crowd by making some showypasses with cards. It was stuff I had learned long ago withWillard–shooting a deck into the air and making it slide back intomy hand like a beautiful waterfall, and that sort of thing. It can bedone with a deck that is mounted on a rubber string, but I could doit with any deck. It’s simply a matter of hours of practice, andconfidence that you can do it. I don’t call it conjuring. More likejuggling. But it makes people gape.

“One day, a week or two after I had begun in this underpaid,miserable work, I noticed a man hanging around at the back of thecrowd, watching me very closely. He wore a long overcoat, though itwasn’t a day for such a coat, and he had a pipe stuck in his mouthas if it had grown there. He worried me because, as you know, mypassport wasn’t all it should have been. I thought he might be adetective. So as soon as I had done my short trick, I made for anear‑by alley. He was right behind me. ‘Hi!’ he shouted, ‘Iwant a word with you.’ There was no getting away, so I faced him.‘Are you interested in a better job than that?’ he asked. I saidI was. ‘Can you do a bit of juggling?’ said he. Yes, I could dojuggling, though I wouldn’t call myself a juggler. ‘Anyexperience walking a tightrope?’ Because of the work I had donewith Duparc I was able to say I could. ‘Then you come to thisaddress tomorrow morning at twelve,’ said he, and gave me a card onwhich was his name–James Holroyd–and he had scribbled a directionon it.

“Of course I was there, next day at noon. The place was a pubcalled The Crown and Two Chairmen, and when I asked for Mr. Holroyd Iwas directed upstairs to a big room, in which there were a fewpeople. Holroyd was one of them, and he nodded to me to wait.

“Queer room. Just an empty space, with some chairs piled in acorner, and a few odds and ends of pillars, and obelisks andaltar‑like boxes. Which I knew were Masonic paraphernalia, alsostacked against a wall. It was one of those rooms common enough inLondon, where lodges met, and little clubs had their gatherings, andwhich theatrical people rented by the day for rehearsal space.

“The people who were there were grouped around a man who wasplainly the boss. He was short, but by God he had presence; you wouldhave noticed him anywhere. He wore a hat, but not as I had ever seena hat worn before. Willard and Charlie were hat men, but somehowtheir hats always looked sharp and dishonest–you know, too muchdown on one side? Holroyd wore a hat, a hard hat of the kind thatWinston Churchill made famous later; a sort of top hat that had lostcourage and hadn’t grown the last three inches, or acquired anygloss. As I came to know Holroyd I sometimes wondered if he had beenborn in that hat and overcoat, because I hardly ever saw him withoutboth. But this little man’s hat looked as if it should have had aplume in it. It was a perfectly ordinary, expensive felt hat, but hegave it an air of costume, and when he looked from under the brim youfelt he was sizing up your costume, too. And that was what he wasdoing. He took a look at me and said, in a kind of mumble, ‘That’syour find, eh? Doesn’t look much, does he, mph? Not quite as if hemight pass for your humble, what? Eh, Holroyd? Mph?’

“ ‘That’s for you to say, of course,’ said Holroyd.

“ ‘Then I say no. Must look again. Must be something better thanthat, eh?’

“ ‘Won’t you see him do a few tricks?’

“ ‘Need I? Surely the appearance is everything, mph?’

“ ‘Not everything. Guvnor. The tricks are pretty important. Atleast the way you’ve laid it out makes the tricks very important.And the tightrope, too. He’d look quite different dressed up.’

“ ‘Of course. But I don’t think he’ll do. Look again, eh,like a good chap?’

“ ‘Whatever you say. Guvnor. But I’d have bet money on thisone. Let him flash a trick or two, just to see.’

“The little man wasn’t anxious to waste time on me, but I didn’tmean to waste time either. I threw a couple of decks in the air, madethem do a fancy twirl, and let them slip back into my hands. Then Itwirled on my toes, and made the decks do it again, in a spiral,which looks harder than it is. There was clapping from a corner–thekind of soft clapping women produce by clapping in gloves they don’twant to split I bowed toward the corner, and that was the first timeI saw Milady.

“It was a time when women’s clothes were plain; the line of thesilhouette was supposed to be simple. There was nothing plain orsimple about Milady’s clothes. Drapes and swags and swishes, andscraps of fur everywhere, and the colours and fabrics were more likeupholstery than garments. She had a hat like a witch’s, but withmore style to it, and some soft stuff wrapped around the crowndangled over the brim to one shoulder. She was heavily made up–reallyshe wore an extraordinary amount of make‑up–in colours thatwere too emphatic for daylight. But neither she nor the little manseemed to be meant for daylight; I didn’t realize it at the time,but they always looked as if they were ready to step on the stage.Their clothes, and manner and demeanour all spoke of the stage.”

“The Crummies touch,” said Ingestree. “They were about the lastto have it.”

“I don’t know who Crummies was,” said Magnus. “Ramsay willtell me later. But I must make it clear that these two didn’t lookin the least funny to me. Odd, certainly, and unlike anything I hadever seen, but not funny. In fact, ten years later I still didn’tthink them funny, though I know lots of people laughed. But thosepeople didn’t know them as I did. And as I’ve told you I firstsaw Milady when she was applauding my tricks with the cards, so shelooked very good to me.

“ ‘Let him show what he can do. Jack,’ she said. And then tome, with great politeness, ‘You do juggling, don’t you? Let ussee you juggle.’

“I had nothing to juggle with, but I didn’t mean to be beaten.And I wanted to prove to the lady that I was worth her kindness. Sowith speed and I hope a reasonable amount of politeness I took herumbrella, and the little man’s wonderful hat, and Holroyd’s hatand the soft cap I was wearing myself, and balanced the brolly on mynose and juggled the three hats in an arch over it. Not easy, let metell you, for all the hats were of different sizes and weights, andHolroyd’s hefted like iron. But I did it, and the lady clappedagain. Then she whispered to the little man she called Jack.

“ ‘I see what you mean. Nan,’ he said, ‘but there must besome sort of resemblance. I hope I’m not vain, but I can’tpersuade myself we can manage a resemblance, mphm?’

“I put on a little more steam. I did some clown juggling,pretending every time the circle went round that I was about to dropHolroyd’s hat, and recovering it with a swoop, and at last keepingthat one in the air with my right foot. That made the little manlaugh, and I knew I had had a lucky inspiration. Obviously Holroyd’shat was rather a joke among them. ‘Come here, m’boy,’ said theboss. ‘Stand back to back with me.’ So I did, and we were exactlyof a height. ‘Extraordinary,’ said the boss; ‘I’d have swornhe was shorter.’

“ ‘He’s a little shorter. Guvnor,’ said Holroyd, ‘but wecan put him in lifts.’

“ ‘Aha, but what will you do about the face?’ said the boss.‘Can you get away with the face?’

“ ‘I’ll show him what to do about the face,’ said the lady.‘Give him his chance. Jack. I’m sure he’s lucky for us and I’mnever wrong. After all, where did Holroyd find him?’

“So I got the job, though I hadn’t any idea what the job was, andnobody thought to tell me. But the boss said I was to come torehearsal the following Monday, which was five days away. In themeantime, he said, I was to give up my present job, and keep out ofsight. I would have accepted that, but again the lady interfered.

“ ‘You can’t ask him to do that. Jack,’ she said. ‘What’she to live on in the meantime?’

“ ‘Holroyd will attend to it,’ said the little man. Then heoffered the lady his arm, and put his hat back on his head (afterHolroyd had dusted it, quite needlessly) and they swept out of thatgrubby assembly room in the Crown and Two Chairmen as if it were apalace.

“I said to Holroyd, ‘What’s this about lifts? I’m as tall ashe is; perhaps a bit taller.’

“ ‘If you want this job, m’boy, you’ll be shorter and stayshorter,’ said Holroyd. Then he gave me thirty shillings,explaining that it was an advance on salary. He also asked for apledge in return, just so that I wouldn’t make off with the thirtyshillings; I gave him my old silver watch. I respected Holroyd forthat; he belonged to my world. It was clear that it was time for meto go, but I still didn’t know what the job was, or what I wasletting myself in for. That was obviously the style around there.Nobody explained anything. You were supposed to know.

“So, not being a fool, I set to work to find out. I discovereddownstairs in the bar that Sir John Tresize and his company wererehearsing above, which left me not much wiser, except that it wassome sort of theatricals. But when I went back to the buskers andtold them I was quitting, and why, they were impressed, but notpleased.

“ ‘You gone legit on us,’ said the boss of the group, who wasan escape‑man, like the one we saw this morning. ‘You andyour Sir John‑bloody‑Tresize. Amiet and Oh Thello and thelike of them. If you want my opinion, you’ve got above yourself,and when they find out, don’t come whinin’ back to me, that’sall. Don’t come whinin’ bloody back here.’ Then he kicked mepretty hard in the backside, and that was the end of my engagement asan open‑air entertainer.

“I didn’t bother to resent the kick. I had a feeling somethingimportant had happened to me, and I celebrated by taking a vacation.Living for five days on thirty shillings was luxury to me at thattime. I thought of augmenting my money by doing a bit ofpocket‑picking, but I rejected the idea for a reason that willshow you what had happened to me; I thought such behaviour would beunsuitable to one who had been given a job because of theinterference of a richly‑dressed lady with an eye for talent.

“The image of the woman called Nan by Sir John Tresize dominated mymind. Her umbrella, as I balanced it on my nose, gave forth anexpensive smell of perfume, and I could recall it even in the petrolstink of London streets. I was like a boy who is in love for thefirst time. But I wasn’t a boy; it was 1930, so I must have beentwenty‑two, and I was a thorough young tough side‑showperformer, vaudeville rat, pick‑pocket, dope‑pusher, aforger in a modest way, and for a good many years the despisedutensil of an arse‑bandit. Women, to me, were members of a racewho were either old and tougher than the men who work in carnivals,or the flabby, pallid strumpets I had occasionally seen in Charlie’sroom when I went to rouse him to come to the aid of Willard. But sofar as any sexual association with a woman went, I was a virgin. Yes,ladies and gentlemen, I was a hoor from the back and a virgin fromthe front, and so far as romance was concerned I was as pure as thelily in the dell. And there I was, over my ears in love with LadyTresize, professionally known as Miss Annette de la Borderie, whocannot have been far off sixty and was, as Ingestree is eager to tellyou, not a beauty. But she had been kind to me and said she wouldshow me what to do about my face–whatever that meant–and I lovedher.

“What do I mean? That I was constantly aware of her, and what Ibelieved to be her spirit transfigured everything around me. I heldwonderful mental conversations with her, and although they didn’tmake much sense they gave me a new attitude toward myself. I told youI put aside any notion of picking a pocket in order to refresh myexchequer because of her. What was stranger was that I felt in quitea different way about the poor slut that helped the escape‑artistwho kicked me; he was rough with her, I knew, and I pitied her,though I had taken no notice of her before then. It was the dawn ofchivalry in me, coming rather late in life. Most men, unless they areassembled on the lowest, turnip‑like principle, have a spell ofchivalry at some time in their lives. Usually it comes at aboutsixteen. I understand boys quite often wish they had a chance to diefor the one they love, to show that their devotion stops at nothing.Dying wasn’t my line; a good religious start in life had given metoo much respect for death to permit any extravagance of that sort.But I wanted to live for Lady Tresize, and I was overjoyed by thenotion that, if I could do whatever Holroyd and Sir John wanted, Imight be able to manage it.

“It wasn’t lunacy. She had that effect, in lesser measure, on alot of people, as I found out when I joined the Tresize Company.Everybody called Sir John ‘Guvnor’, because that was his style;lots of heads of theatrical companies were called Guvnor. But theycalled Lady Tresize ‘Milady’. It would have been reasonableenough for her maid to do that, but everybody did it, and it wasrespectful, and affectionately mocking at the same time. Sheunderstood both the affection and the mockery, because Milady was nofool.

“Five days is a long time to be cut off from Paradise, and I hadnothing to occupy my time. I suppose I walked close to a hundredmiles through the London streets. What else was there to do? I bummedaround the Victoria and Albert Museum quite a lot, looking at theclocks and watches, but I wasn’t dressed for it and I suppose ayoung tough who hung around for hours made the guards nervous. Ilooked like a ruffian, and I suppose I was one, and I held no grudgewhen I was politely warned away. I saw a few free sights–churchesand the like–but they meant little to me. I liked the streets best,so I walked and stared, and slept in a Salvation Army hostel forindigents. But I was no indigent; I was rich in feeling, and that wasa luxury I had rarely known.

“As the Monday drew near when I was to present myself again Iworried a lot about my clothes. All I owned was what I stood up in,and my very poor things were a good protective covering in thestreets, where I looked like a thousand others, but they weren’twhat I needed for a great step upward in the theatrical world. Therewas nothing to be done, and with my experience I knew my best planwas to present an appearance of honest poverty, so I spent some moneyon a bath, and washed the handkerchief I wore around my throat in thebathwater, and got a street shoeshine boy to do what he could with mydreadful shoes, which were almost falling apart.

“When the day came, I was well ahead of time, and had my firsttaste of a theatrical rehearsal. Milady didn’t appear at it, andthat was a heavy disappointment, but there was plenty to take in, allthe same.

“It was education by observation. Nobody paid any heed to me.Holroyd nodded when I went into the room, and told me to keep out ofthe way, so I sat on a windowsill and watched. Men and women appearedvery promptly to time, and a stage manager set out a few chairs tomark entrances and limits to the stage on the bare floor. Bang on thestroke of ten Sir John came in, and sat down in a chair behind atable, tapped twice with a silver pencil, and they went to work.

“You know what early rehearsals are like. You would never guessthey were getting up a play. People wandered on and off the stagearea, reading from sheets of paper that were bound up in browncovers; they mumbled and made mistakes as if they had never seenprint before. Sir John mumbled worse than anyone. He had a way oftalking that I could hardly believe belonged to a human being,because almost everything he said was cast in an interrogative tone,and was muddled up with a lot of ‘Eh?’ and ‘Mphm?’ and aqueer noise he made high up in the back of his nose that sounded like‘Quonk?’ But the actors seemed used to it and amid all themuttering and quonking a good deal of work seemed to be done. Now andthen Sir John himself would appear in a scene, and then the mutteringsank almost to inaudibility. Very soon I was bored.

“It was not my plan to be bored, so I looked for something to do. Iwas a handy fellow, and a lot younger than the stage manager, so whenthe chairs had to be arranged in a different pattern I nipped forwardand gave him a hand, which he allowed me to do without comment.Before the rehearsal was finished I was an established chair lifter,and that was how I became an assistant stage manager. My immediateboss was a man called Macgregor, whose feet hurt; he had those solidfeet that seem to be all in one piece, encased in heavy boots; he wasglad enough to have somebody who would run around for him. It wasfrom him, during a break in the work, that I found out what we weredoing.

“ ‘It’s the new piece,’ he explained. ‘Scaramouche .From the novel by Rafael Sabatini. You’ll have heard of RafaelSabatini? You haven’t? Well, keep your lugs open and you’ll getthe drift of it. Verra romantic, of course.’

“ ‘What am I to do, Mr. Macgregor?’ I asked.

“ ‘Nobody’s told me,’ he said. ‘But from the cut of yourjib I’d imagine you were the Double.’

“ ‘Double what?’

“ ‘The Double in Two, two,’ he said, in a very Scotch way. Ilearned long ago, from you, Ramsay, that it’s no use askingquestions of a Scot when he speaks like that–dry as an old sodabiscuit. So I held my peace.

“I picked up a little information by listening and asking anoccasional question when some of the lesser actors went downstairs tothe bar for a modest lunch. After three or four days I knew thatScaramouche was laid in the period of the French Revolution,though when that was I did not know. I had never heard that theFrench had a revolution. I knew the Americans had had one, but so faras detail went it could have been because George Washington shotLincoln. I was pretty strong on the kings of Israel; later historywas closed to me. But the story of the play leaked out in dribbles.Sir John was a young Frenchman who was ‘born with a gift oflaughter and a sense that the world was mad’; that was what one ofthe other actors said about him. The astonishing thing was thatnobody thought it strange that Sir John was so far into middle agethat he was very near to emerging from the far side of it. This youngFrenchman got himself into trouble with the nobility because he hadadvanced notions. To conceal himself he joined a troupe of travellingactors, but his revolutionary zeal was so great that he could nothold his tongue, and denounced the aristocracy from the stage, to thescandal of everyone. When the Revolution came, which it did right ontime when it was needed, he became a revolutionary leader, and wasabout to revenge himself on the nobleman who had vilely slain hisbest friend and nabbed his girl, when an elderly noblewoman wasforced to declare that she was his mother and then, much against herwill, further compelled to tell him that his deadly enemy whom heheld at the sword’s point was–his father!

“Verra romantic, as Macgregor said, but not so foolish as I haveperhaps led you to think. I give it to you as it appeared to me onearly acquaintance. I was only interested in what I was supposed todo to earn my salary. Because I now had a salary–or half a salary,because that was the pay for the rehearsal period. Holroyd hadpresented me with a couple of pages of wretchedly typed stuff, whichwas my contract. I signed it Jules LeGrand, so that it agreed with mypassport. Holroyd looked a little askew at the name, and asked me ifI spoke French. I was glad that I could say yes, but he gave me apretty strong hint that I might consider finding some less foreignname for use on the stage. I couldn’t imagine why that should be,but I found out when we reached Act Two, scene two.

“We had approached this critical point–critical for me, that’sto say–two or three times during the first week of rehearsal, andSir John had asked the actors to ‘walk through’ it, without doingmore than find their places on the stage. It was a scene in which theyoung revolutionary lawyer, whose name was Andre‑Louis, wasappearing on the stage with the travelling actors. They were a troupeof Italian Comedians, all of whom played strongly marked characterssuch as Polichinelle the old father, Climene the beautiful leadinglady, Rhodomont the braggart, Leandre the lover, Pasquariel, andother figures from the Commedia dell’ Arte. I didn’t know whatthat was, but I picked up the general idea, and it wasn’t so faraway from vaudeville as you might suppose. Indeed, some of itreminded me of poor Zovene, the wretched juggler. Andre‑Louis(that was Sir John) had assumed the role of Scaramouche, a dashing,witty scoundrel.

“In Act Two, scene two, the Italian Comedians were giving aperformance, and at the very beginning of it Scaramouche had to dosome flashy juggling tricks. Later, he seized his chance to make arevolutionary speech which was not in the play as the Comedians hadrehearsed it; when his great enemy and some aristocratic chumsstormed the stage to punish him, he escaped by walking across thestage on a tightrope, far above their heads, making jeering gesturesas he did so. Very showy. And clearly not for Sir John. So I was toappear in a costume exactly like his, do the tricks, get out of theway so Sir John could make his revolutionary speech, and take overagain when it was time to walk the tightrope.

“This would take some neat managing. When Macgregor said, ‘Curtainup,’ I leapt onto the stage area from the audience’s right, anddanced toward the left, juggling some plates; when Polichinelle brokethe plates with his stick, causing a lot of clatter and uproar, Ipretended to dodge behind his cloak, and Sir John popped into sightimmediately afterward. Sounds simple, but as we had to pretend tohave the plates, and the cloak, and everything else, I found itconfusing. The tightrope trick was ‘walked’ in the same way; SirJohn was always talking about ‘walking’ something when we weren’tready to do it in reality. At the critical moment when thearistocrats rushed the stage, Sir John retreated slowly toward theleft side, keeping them off with a stick; then he hopped backwardonto a chair–which I must say he did with astonishing spryness–andthere was a flurry of cloaks, during which he got out of the way andI emerged above on the tightrope, having stepped out on it from thewings. Easy, you would say, for an old carnival hand? But it wasn’teasy at all, and after a few days it looked as if I would lose myjob. Even when we were ‘walking’, I couldn’t satisfy Sir John.

“As usual, nobody said anything to me, but I knew what was up onemorning when Holroyd appeared with a fellow who was obviously anacrobat and Sir John talked with him. I hung around, officiouslyhelping Macgregor, and heard what was said, or enough of it. Theacrobat seemed to be very set on something he wanted, and it wasn’tlong before he was on his way, and Sir John was in an exceedingly badtemper. All through the rehearsal he bullied everybody. He bulliedMiss Adele Chesterton, the pretty girl who played the second romanticinterest; she was new to the stage and a natural focus for temper. Hebullied old Frank Moore, who played Polichinelle, and was a very oldhand and an extraordinarily nice person. He was crusty with Holroydand chivvied Macgregor. He didn’t shout or swear, but he wasimpatient and exacting, and his annoyance was so thick it cut downthe visibility in the room to about half, like dark smoke. When thetime came to rehearse Two, two, he said he would leave it out forthat day, and he brought the rehearsal to an early close. Holroydasked me to wait after the others had gone, but not to hang around.So I kept out of the way near the door while Sir John, Holroyd, andMilady held a summit conference at the farther end of the room.

“I couldn’t hear much of what they said, but it was about me, andit was hottish. Holroyd kept saying things like, ‘You won’t get areal pro to agree to leaving his name off the bills,’ and ‘It’snot as easy to get a fair resemblance as you might suppose–notunder the conditions.’ Milady had a real stage voice, and when shespoke her lowest it was still as clear as a bell at my end of theroom, and her talk was all variations on ‘Give the poor fellow achance. Jack–everybody must have at least one chance.’ But of SirJohn I could hear nothing. He had a stage voice, too, and knew howfar it could be heard, so when he was being confidential he mumbledon purpose and threw in a lot of Eh and Quonk, which seemed to conveymeaning to people who knew him.

“After ten minutes Milady said, so loudly that there could be nopretence that I was not to hear, ‘Trust me. Jack. He’s lucky forus. He has a lucky face. I’m never wrong. And if I can’t get himright, we’ll say no more about it.’ Then she swept down the roomto me, using the umbrella, with more style than you’d thinkpossible, as a walking‑stick, and said, ‘Come with me, mydear boy; we must have a very intimate talk.’ Then something struckher, and she turned to the two men; ‘I haven’t a penny,’ shesaid, and from the way both Sir John and Holroyd jumped forward topress pound notes on her you could tell they were both devoted toher. That made me feel warmly toward them, even though they had beentalking about sacking me a minute before.

“Milady led the way, and I tagged behind. We went downstairs, whereshe poked her head into the Public Bar, which was just opening andsaid, in a surprisingly genial voice, considering that she was LadyTresize talking to a barman, ‘Do you think I could have Rab Noolasfor a private talk, for about half an hour, Joey?’, and the barmanshouted back, ‘Whatever you say, Milady,’ and she led me into agloomy pen, surrounded on three sides by dingy etched glass, withSaloon Bar on the door. When I closed the door behind us thisappeared in reverse and I understood that we were now in Rab Noolas.The barman came behind the counter on our fourth side and asked uswhat it would be. ‘A pink gin, Joey,’ said Milady, and I said I’dhave the same, not knowing what it was. Joey produced them, and wesat down, and from the way Milady did so I knew it was a big moment.Fraught, as they say, with consequence.

“ ‘Let us be very frank. And I’ll be frank first, because I’mthe oldest. You simply have no notion of the wonderful opportunityyou have in Scaramouche . Such a superb little cameo. I say toall beginners: they aren’t tiny parts, they’re little cameos, andthe way you carve them is the sign of what your whole career will be.Show me a young player who can give a superb cameo in a small part,and I’ll show you a star of the future. And yours is one of thevery finest opportunities I have ever seen in my life in the theatre,because you must be so marvellous that nobody–not the sharpest‑eyedcritic or the most adoring fan–can distinguish you from my husband.Suddenly, before their very eyes, stands Sir John, jugglingmarvellously, and of course they adore him. Then, a few minuteslater, they see Sir John walking the tightrope, and they see half adozen of his little special tricks of gesture and turns of the head,and they are thunderstruck because they can’t believe that he haslearned to walk the tightrope. And the marvel of it, you see, is thatit’s you, all the time! You must use your imagination, my dear boy.You must see what a stunning effect it is. And what makes itpossible? You do!’

“ ‘Oh I do see all that, Milady,’ I said. ‘But Sir John isn’tpleased. I wish I knew why. I’m honestly doing the very best I can,considering that we haven’t anything to juggle with, or anytightrope. How can I do better?’

“ ‘Ah, but you’ve put your finger on it, dear boy. I knew fromthe moment I saw you that you had great, great understanding–not tospeak of a lucky face. You have said it yourself. You’re doing thebest you can. But that’s not what’s wanted, you see. Youmust do the best Sir John can.’

“ ‘But–Sir John can’t do anything,’ I said. ‘He can’tjuggle and he can’t walk rope. Otherwise why would he want me?’

“ ‘No, no; you haven’t understood. Sir John can, and will, dosomething absolutely extraordinary: he will make the public–thegreat audiences of people who come to see him in everything–believehe is doing those splendid, skilful things. He can make them want tobelieve he can do anything. They will quite happily accept you ashim, if you can get the right rhythm.’

“ ‘But I still don’t understand. People aren’t as stupid asthat. They’ll guess it’s a trick.’

“ ‘A few, perhaps. But most of them will prefer to believe it’sa reality. That’s what the theatre’s about, you see. People wantto believe that what they see is true, even if only for the timethey’re in the playhouse. That’s what theatre is, don’t youunderstand? Showing people what they wish were true.’

“Then I began to get the idea. I had seen that look in the faces ofthe people who watched Abdullah, and who saw Willard swallow needlesand thread and pull it out of his mouth with the needles all danglingfrom the thread. I nervously asked Milady if she would like anotherpink gin. She said she certainly would, and gave me a pound note topay for it. When I demurred she said, ‘No, no; you must let me pay.I’ve got more money than you, and I won’t presume on yourgallantry–though I value it, my dear, don’t imagine I don’tvalue it.’

“When the gins came, she continued: ‘Let us be very, very frank.Your marvellous cameo must be a great secret. If we tell everybody,we stifle some of their pleasure. You saw that young man who camethis morning, and argued so tiresomely? He could juggle and he couldwalk the rope, quite as well as you, I expect, but he was no usewhatever, because he had the spirit of a circus person; he wanted hisname on the programme, and he wanted featured billing. Wanted hisname to come at the bottom of the bills, you see, after all the casthad been listed, “AND Trebelli”. An absurd request. Everybodywould want to know who Trebelli was and they would see at once thathe was the juggler and rope‑walker. And Romance would fly rightup the chimney. Besides which I could see that he would never deceiveanyone for an instant that he was Sir John. He had a brassy, horridpersonality. Now you, my dear, have the splendid qualification ofhaving very little personality. One hardly notices you. You arealmost a tabula rasa .’

“ ‘Excuse me, Milady, but I don’t know what that is.’

“ ‘No? Well, it’s a–it’s a common expression. I’ve neverreally had to define it. It’s a sort of charming nothing; a dear,sweet little zero, in which one can paint any face one chooses. Aninvaluable possession, don’t you see? One says it of children whenone’s going to teach them something perfectly splendid. They’rewide open for teaching.’

“ ‘I want to be taught. What do you want me to learn?’

“ ‘I knew you were quite extraordinarily intelligent. More thanintelligent, really. Intelligent people are so often thoroughlyhorrid. You are truly sensitive. I want you to learn to be exactlylike Sir John.’

“ ‘Imitate him, you mean?’

“ ‘Imitations are no good. There have been people on themusic‑halls who have imitated him. No; if the thing is to workas we all want it to work, you must quite simply be him.’

“ ‘How, if I don’t imitate him?’

“ ‘It’s a very deep thing. Of course you must imitate him, butbe careful he doesn’t catch you at it, because he doesn’t likeit. Nobody does, do they? What I mean is–oh, dear, it’s sodreadfully difficult to say what one really means–you must catchhis walk, and his turn of the head, and his gestures and all of that,but the vital thing is that you must catch his rhythm.’

“ ‘How would I start to do that?’

“ ‘Model yourself on him. Make yourself like a marvellouslysensitive telegraph wire that takes messages from him. Or perhapslike wireless, that picks up things out of the air. Do what he didwith the Guvnor.’

“ ‘I thought he was the Guvnor.’

“ ‘He is now, of course. But when we both worked under the dearold Guvnor at the Lyceum Sir John absolutely adored him, and laidhimself open to him like Danae to the shower of gold–you know aboutthat, of course?–and became astonishingly like him in a lot ofways. Of course Sir John is not so tall as the Guvnor; but you’renot tall either, are you? It was the Guvnor’s romantic splendour hecaught. Which is what you must do. So that when you dance out beforethe audience juggling those plates they don’t feel as if theelectricity had suddenly been cut off. Another pink gin, if youplease.’

“I didn’t greatly like pink gin. In those days I couldn’tafford to drink anything, and pink gin is a bad start. But I wouldhave drunk hot fat to prolong this conversation. So we had anotherone each, and Milady dealt with hers much better than I did. A pinkgin later–call it ten minutes–I was thoroughly confused, exceptthat I wanted to please her, and must find out somehow what she wastalking about.

“When she wanted to leave I rushed to call her a taxi, but Holroydwas ahead of me, and in much better condition. He must have been inthe Public Bar. We both bowed her into the cab I seem to rememberhaving one foot in the gutter and the other on the pavement andwondering what had happened to my legs–and when she drove off hetook me by the arm and steered me back into the Public Bar, where wetucked into a corner with old Frank Moore.

“ ‘She’s been giving him advice and pink gin,’ said Holroyd.

“ ‘Better give him a good honest pint of half‑and‑halfto straighten him out,’ said Frank, and signalled to the barman.

“They seemed to know what Milady had been up to, and were ready toput it in language that I could understand, which was kind of them.They made it seem very simple: I was to imitate Sir John, but I wasto do it with more style than I had been showing. I was supposed tobe imitating a great actor who was imitating an eighteenth‑centurygentleman who was imitating a Commedia dell’ Arte comedian–that’show simple it was. And I was doing everything too bloody fast, andslick and cheap, so I was to drop that and catch Sir John’s rhythm.

“ ‘But I don’t get it about all this rhythm,’ I said. ‘Iguess I know about rhythm in juggling; it’s getting everythingunder control so you don’t have to worry about dropping thingsbecause the things are behaving properly. But what the hell’s allthis human rhythm? You mean like dancing?’

“ ‘Not like any dancing I suppose you know,’ said Holroyd. ‘Butyes–a bit like dancing. Not like this Charleston and all that jerkystuff. More a fine kind of complicated–well, rhythm.’

“ ‘I don’t get it at all,’ I said. ‘I’ve got to get SirJohn’s rhythm. Sir John got his rhythm from somebody called theGuvnor. What Guvnor? Is the whole theatre full of Guvnors?’

“ ‘Ah, now we’re getting to it,’ said old Frank. ‘Miladytalked about the Guvnor, did she? The Guvnor was Irving, you muggins.You’ve heard of Irving?’

“ ‘Never,’ I said.

“Old Frank looked wonderingly at Holroyd. ‘Never heard of Irving.He’s quite a case, isn’t he?’

“ ‘Not such a case as you might think, Frank,’ said Holroyd.‘These kids today have never heard of anybody. And I suppose we’vegot to remember that Irving’s been dead for twenty‑fiveyears. You remember him. You played with him. I just remember him.But what’s he got to do with a lad like this?–Well, now just holdon a minute. Milady thinks there’s a connection. You know how shegoes on. Like a loony, sometimes. But just when you can’t stand itany more she proves to be right, and righter than any of us. Youremember where I found you?’ he said to me.

“ ‘In the street. I was doing a few passes with the cards.’

“ ‘Yes, but don’t you remember where? I do. I saw you and Icame back to rehearsal and said to Sir John, I think I’ve got whatwe want. Found him under the Guvnor’s statue, picking up a fewpennies as a conjuror. And that was when Milady pricked up her ears.Oh Jack, she said, it’s a lucky sign; Let’s see him at once. Andwhen Sir John wanted to ask perfectly reasonable questions aboutwhether you would do for height, and whether a resemblance could becontrived between you and him, she kept nattering on about how youmust be a lucky find because I saw you, as she put it, working thestreets under Irving’s protection. You know how the Guvnor stood upfor all the little people of the theatre. Jack, she said, I’m surethis boy is a lucky find. Do let’s have him. And she’s stood upfor you ever since, though I don’t suppose you’ll be surprised tohear that Sir John wants to get rid of you.’

“The pint of half‑and‑half had found its way to thefour pink gins, and I was having something like a French Revolutionin my innards. I was feeling sorry for myself. ‘Why does he hate meso,’ I said, snivelling a bit. ‘I’m doing everything I know toplease him.’

“ ‘You’d better have it straight,’ said Holroyd. ‘Theresemblance is a bit too good. You look too much like him.’

“ ‘Just what I said when I first set eyes on you,’ said oldFrank. ‘My God, I said, what a Double! You might have been spit outof his mouth.’

“ ‘Well, isn’t that what they want?’ I said.

“ ‘You have to look at it reasonable,’ said Holroyd. ‘Put itlike this: you’re a famous actor, getting maybe just the tiniestbit past your prime–though still a top‑notcher, mind you–andfor thirty years everybody’s said how distinguished you are, andwhat a beautiful expressive face you have, and how Maeterlinck damnnear threw up his lunch when you walked on the stage in one of hisplays, and said to the papers that you had stolen his soul, you wereso good–meaning spiritual, romantic, poetic, and generallygorgeous. You still get lots of fan letters from people who find somekind of ideal in you. You’ve had all the devotion–a bit crackedsome of it, but mostly very real and touching–that a great actorinspires in people, most of whom have had some kind of short‑changeexperience in life. So: you want a Double. And when the Doublecomes–and such a Double that you can’t deny him–he’s a seedylittle carnie, with the shifty eyes of a pickpocket and the breath ofsomebody that eats the cheapest food, and you wouldn’t trust himwith sixpenn’ worth of copper, and every time you look at him youheave. He looks like everything inside yourself that you’ve chokedoff and shut out in order to be what you are now. And he looks at youall the time–you do this, you know–as if he knew something aboutyou you didn’t know yourself. Now: fair’s fair. Wouldn’t youwant to get rid of him? Yet here’s your wife, who’s stood by youthrough thick and thin, and held you up when you were ready to sinkunder debts and bad luck, and whom you love so much everybody can seeit, and thinks you’re marvellous because of it, and what does shesay? She says this nasty mess of a Double is lucky, and has to begiven his chance. You follow me? Try to be objective. I don’t wantto say hard things about you, but truth’s truth and must be served.You’re not anybody’s first pick for a Double, but there you are.Sir John’s dead spit, as Frank here says.’

“Very soon I was going to have to leave them. My stomach washeaving. But I was still determined to find out whatever I could tokeep my job. I wanted it now more desperately than before. ‘So whatdo I do?’ I asked.

“Holroyd puffed at his pipe, groping for an answer, and it was oldFrank who spoke. He spoke very kindly. ‘You just keep on keepingon,’ he said. ‘Try to find the rhythm. Try to get inside SirJohn.’

“These were fatal words. I rushed out into the street, and threw upnoisily and copiously in the gutter. Try to get inside Sir John! Wasthis to be another Abdullah?

“It was, but in a way I could not have foreseen. Experience neverrepeats itself in quite the same way. I was beginning anotherservitude, much more dangerous and potentially ruinous, but farremoved from the squalor of my experience with Willard. I had enteredupon a long apprenticeship to an egoism.

“Please notice that I say egoism, not egotism, and I am prepared tobe pernickety about the distinction. An egotist is a self‑absorbedcreature, delighted with himself and ready to tell the world abouthis enthralling love affair. But an egoist, like Sir John, is a muchmore serious being, who makes himself, his instincts, yearnings, andtastes the touchstone of every experience. The world, truly, is hiscreation. Outwardly he may be courteous, modest, and charming–andcertainly when you knew him Sir John was all of these–but beneaththe velvet is the steel; if anything comes along that will not yieldto the steel, the steel will retreat from it and ignore itsexistence. The egotist is all surface; underneath is a pulpy mess anda lot of self‑doubt. But the egoist may be yielding and evendeferential in things he doesn’t consider important; in anythingthat touches his core he is remorseless.

“Many of us have some touch of egoism. We who sit at this table areno strangers to it. You, I should think, Jurgen, are a substantialegoist, and so are you. Harry. About Ingestree I can’t say. ButLiesl is certainly an egoist and you, Ramsay, are a ferocious egoistbattling with your demon because you would like to be a saint. Butnone of you begins to approach the egoism of Sir John. His egoism wasfed by the devotion of his wife, and the applause he could call forthin the theatre. I have never known anyone who came near him in thetruly absorbing and damning sin of egoism.”

“Damning?” I leapt on the word.

“We were both brought up to believe in damnation, Dunny,” saidEisengrim, and he was deeply serious. “What does it mean? Does itmean shut off from the promptings of compassion; untouched by thefeelings of others except in so far as they can serve us; blind anddeaf to anything that is not grist to our mill? If that is what itmeans, and if that is a form of damnation, I have used the wordrightly.

“Don’t misunderstand. Sir John wasn’t cruel, or dishonourableor overreaching in common ways; but he was all of these things wherehis own interest as an artist was concerned; within that broad realmhe was without bowels. He didn’t make Adele Chesterton cry at everyrehearsal because he was a brute. He hadn’t brought Holroyd–whowas a tough nut in every other way–to a condition of totalsubjection to his will because he liked to domineer over afellow‑being. He hadn’t turned Milady into a kind of humanoilcan who went about cooling wheels he had worn red‑hotbecause he didn’t know that she was a woman of rare spirit and finesensitivity. He did these things and a thousand others because he waswholly devoted to an ideal of theatrical art that was contained–sofar as he was concerned–within himself. I think he knew perfectlywell what he did, and he thought it worth the doing. It served hisart, and his art demanded a remorseless egoism.

“He was one of the last of a kind that has now vanished. He was anactor‑manager. There was no Arts Council to keep him afloatwhen he failed, or pick up the bill for an artistic experiment or actof daring. He had to find the money for his ventures, and if themoney was lost on one production he had to get it back from another,or he would soon appeal to investors in vain. Part of him was afinancier. He asked people to invest in his craft and skill and senseof business. Beyond that, he asked people to invest in hispersonality and charm, and the formidable technique he had acquiredto make personality and charm vivid to hundreds of thousands ofpeople who bought theatre seats. In justice it must be said that hehad a particular sort of taste and flair that lifted him above thetop level of actors to the very small group of stars with an assuredfollowing. He wasn’t personally greedy, though he liked to livewell. He did what he did for art. His egoism lay in his belief thatart, as he embodied it, was worth any sacrifice on his part and onthe part of people who worked with him.

“When I became part of his company the fight against time hadbegun. Not simply the fight against the approach of age, because hewas not deluded about that. It was the fight against the change inthe times, the fight to maintain a nineteenth‑century idea oftheatre in the twentieth century. He believed devoutly in what hedid; he believed in Romance, and he couldn’t understand that theconcept of Romance was changing.

“Romance changes all the time. His plays, in which a well‑gracedhero moved through a succession of splendid adventures and came outon top–even when that meant dying for some noble cause–werebecoming old hat. Romance at that time meant Private Lives ,which was brand‑new. It didn’t look to its audiences likeRomance, but that was what it was. Our notion of Romance, which is sooften exploration of squalor and degradation, will become old hat,too. Romance is a mode of feeling that puts enormous emphasis–butnot quite a tragic emphasis–on individual experience. Tragedy putssomething above humanity; so does Comedy; Romance puts humanityfirst. The people who liked Sir John’s kind of Romance weremiddle‑aged, or old. Oh, lots of young people came to see him,but they weren’t the most interesting kind of young people. Perhapsthey weren’t really young. The interesting young people were goingto see a different sort of play. They were flocking to PrivateLives . You couldn’t expect Sir John to understand. His idealof Romance was far from that, and he had shaped a formidable egoismto serve his ideal.”

“It’s the peril of the actor,” said Ingestree. “Do youremember what Aldous Huxley said? ‘Acting inflames the ego in a waywhich few other professions do. For the sake of enjoying regularemotional self‑abuse, our societies condemn a considerableclass of men and women to a perpetual inability to achievenon‑attachment. It seems a high price to pay for ouramusements.’ A profound comment. I used to be deeply influenced byHuxley.”

“I gather you got over it,” said Eisengrim, “or you wouldn’tbe talking about non‑attachment over the ruins of a tremendousmeal and a huge cigar you have been sucking like a child at itsmother’s breast.”

“I thought you had forgiven me,” said Ingestree, being as winsomeas his age and appearance allowed. “I don’t pretend to have setaside the delights of this world; I tried that and it was no good.But I have my intellectual fopperies, and they pop out now and then.Do go on about Sir John and his egoism.”

“So I shall,” said Magnus, “but at another time. The waitersare hovering and I perceive the delicate fluttering of paper in thehands of the chief bandit yonder.”

I watched with envy as Ingestree signed the bill without batting aneyelash. I suppose it was company money he was spending. We went outinto the London rain and called for cabs.


In the days that followed, Magnus was busy filming the last scraps ofHommage in a studio near London; these were close‑ups,chiefly of his hands, as he did intricate things with cards andcoins, but he insisted on wearing full costume and make‑up.There was also a time‑taking quarrel with a fashionablephotographer who was to provide publicity pictures, and who keptassuring Magnus that he wanted to catch “the real you”. ButMagnus didn’t want candid pictures of himself, and he was ratherpersonal in his insistence that the photographer, a bearded fanaticwho wore sandals, was not likely to capture with his camera somethinghe had taken pains to conceal for more than thirty years. So we wentto a very famous photographer who was celebrated for his pictures ofroyalty, and he and Magnus plotted some portraits, taken in asplendid old theatre, that satisfied both of them. All of this tooktime, until there was no longer any reason for us to stay in London.But Lind and Ingestree, and to a lesser degree Kinghovn, weredetermined to hear the remainder of Magnus’s story, and after agood deal of teasing and protesting that there was really nothing toit, and that he was tired of talking about himself, it was agreedthat they should spend our last day in London with us, and have theirway.

“I’m doing it for Ingestree, really,” said Magnus, and Ithought it an odd remark, as he and Roly had not been on the best ofterms since they first met at Sorgenfrei. Inquisitive, as always, Ifound a time to mention this to Roly, who was puzzled and flattered.“Can’t imagine why he said that,” was his comment; “butthere’s something about him that rouses more than ordinarycuriosity in me. He’s terribly like someone I’ve known, but Ican’t say who it is. And I’m fascinated by his crusty defence ofold Tresize and his wife. I know a bit about Sir John that puts himin a very different light from the rosy glow Magnus spreads over hismemories. These recollections of old actors, you know–awful oldhams, most of them. Its the most perishable of the arts. Have youever had the experience of seeing a film you saw thirty or even fortyyears ago and thought wonderful? Avoid it, I urge you. Appallinglydisillusioning. One remembers something that never had any reality.No, old actors should be let die.”

“What about old conjurors?” I said; “Why Hommage ? Whydon’t you leave Robert‑Houdin in his grave?”

“That’s precisely where he is. You don’t think this film we’remaking is really anything like the old boy, do you? With every moderntechnique at our command, and Jurgen Lind sifting every shot throughhis own marvellously contemporary concept of magic–no, no, if youcould be whisked back in time and see Robert‑Houdin you’d seesomething terribly tacky in comparison with what we’re offering.He’s just a peg on which Jurgen is hanging a fine modern creation.We need all the research and reconstruction and whatnot to producesomething inescapably contemporary; a paradox, but that’s how itis.”

“Then you believe that there is no time but the present moment, andthat everything in the past is diminished by the simple fact that itis irrecoverable? I suppose there’s a name for that point of view,but at present I can’t put my tongue to it.”

“Yes, that’s pretty much what I believe. Eisengrim’s rapturesabout Sir John and Milady interest me as a phenomenon of the present;I’m fascinated that he should think as he does at this moment, andput so much feeling into expressing what he feels. I can’t bepersuaded for an instant that those two old spooks were anything veryspecial.”

“You realize, of course, that you condemn yourself to the sametreatment? You’ve done some work that people have admired andadmire still. Are you agreed that it should be judged as you judgeMagnus’s idols?”

“Of course. Let it all go! I’ll have my whack and that’ll bethe end of me. I don’t expect any yellow roses on my monument. Nora monument, as a matter of fact. But I’m keenly interested in othermonument‑worshippers. Magnus loves the past simply because itfeeds his present, and that’s all there is to it. It’s the pietyand ancestor‑worship of a chap who, as he’s told us, had anasty family and a horrid childhood and has had to dig up a betterone. Before he’s finished he’ll tell us the Tresizes were hisreal parents, or his parents in art, or something of that sort. Wantto bet?”

I never bet, and I wouldn’t have risked money on that, because Ithought that Ingestree was probably right.


Our last day was a Saturday, and the three film‑makers appearedin time for lunch at the Savoy. Liesl had arranged that we shouldhave one of the good tables looking out over the Embankment, and itwas a splendid autumn day. The light, as it fell on our table, couldnot have been improved on by Kinghovn himself. Magnus never ate verymuch, and today he confined himself to some cold beef and a dish ofrice pudding. It gave him a perverse pleasure to order these nurserydishes in restaurants where other people gorged on luxuries, and heinsisted that the Savoy served the best rice pudding in London. Theothers ate heartily, Ingestree with naked and rather touching relish,Kinghovn like a man who has not seen food for a week, and Lind with acurious detachment, as though he were eating to oblige somebody else,and did not mean to disappoint them. Liesl was in one of her ogressmoods and ordered steak tartare, which seemed to me no better thanraw meat. I had the set lunch; excellent value.

“You spoke of Tresize’s egoism when last we dealt with thesubtext,” said Lind, champing his great jaws on a lamb chop.

“I did, and I may have misled you. Shortly after I had my talk withMilady, we stopped rehearsing at the Crown and Two Chairmen, andmoved into the theatre where Scaramouche was to appear. Itwas the Globe. We needed a theatre with plenty of backstage roombecause it was a pretty elaborate show. Sir John still held to thecustom of opening in London with a new piece; no out‑of‑towntour to get things shaken down. It was an eye‑opener to me towalk into a theatre that was better than the decrepit vaudevillehouses where I had appeared with Willard; there was a discipline anda formality I had never met with. I was hired as an assistant stagemanager (with a proviso that I should act ‘as cast’ if required)and I had everything to learn about the job. Luckily old Macgregorwas a patient and thorough teacher. I had lots to do. That was beforethe time when the stagehands’ union was strict about people whowere not members moving and arranging things, and some of my work washeavy. I was on good terms with the stage crew at once, and I quicklyfound out that this put a barrier between me and the actors, althoughI had to become a member of Actors’ Equity. But I was ‘crew’,and although everybody was friendly I was not quite on the level of‘company’. What was I? I was necessary, and even important, tothe play, but I found out that my name was to appear on the programmesimply as Macgregor’s assistant. I had no place in the list of thecast.

“Yet I was rehearsed carefully, and it seemed to me that I wasdoing well. I was trying to capture Sir John’s rhythm, and now, tomy surprise, he was helping me. We spent quite a lot of time on Two,two. I did my juggling with my back to the audience, but as I was towear a costume identical with Sir John’s, the audience would assumethat was who I was, if I could bring off another sort of resemblance.

“That was an eye‑opener. I was vaudeville trained, and my oneidea of stage deportment was to be fast and gaudy. That wasn’t SirJohn’s way at all. ‘Deliberately; deliberately,’ he would say,over and over again. “Let them see what you’re doing. Don’t beflashy and confusing. Do it like this.’ And then he would caperacross the stage, making motions like a man juggling plates, but at apace I thought impossibly slow. ‘Its not keeping the plates in theair that’s important,’ he would say. ‘Of course you can dothat. It’s being Scaramouche that’s important. It’s thecharacter you must get across. Eh? You understand the character,don’t you? Eh? Have you looked at the Callots?’

“No, I hadn’t looked at the Callots, and didn’t know what theywere. ‘Here m’boy; look here,’ he said, showing me some funnylittle pictures of people dressed as Scaramouche, and Polichinelleand other Commedia characters. ‘Get it like that! Make that real!You must be a Callot in motion.’

“It was new and hard work for me to catch the idea of making myselflike a picture, but I was falling under Sir John’s spell and wasready to give it a try. So I capered and pointed my toes, and struckexaggerated postures like the little pictures, and did my best.

“ ‘Hands! Hands!’ he would shout, warningly, when I had my workcut out to make the plates dance. ‘Not like hooks, m’boy, likethis! See! Keep ‘em like this!’ And then he would demonstratewhat he wanted, which was a queer trick for a juggler, because hewanted me to hold my hands with the little finger and the forefingerextended, and the two middle fingers held together. It looked fine ashe did it, but it wasn’t my style at all. And all the time he keptme dancing with my toes stuck out and my heels lifted, and he wantedme to get into positions which even I could see were picturesque, butcouldn’t copy.

“ ‘Sorry, Sir John,’ I said one day. ‘It’s just that itfeels a bit loony.’

“ ‘Aha, you’re getting it at last!’ he shouted, and for thefirst time he smiled at me. ‘That’s what I want! I want it a bitloony. Like Scaramouche, you see. Like a charlatan in a travellingshow.’

“I could have told him a few things about charlatans in travellingshows, and the way their looniness takes them, but it wouldn’t havedone. I see now that it was Romance he was after, not realism, but itwas all a mystery to me then. I don’t think I was a slow learner,and in our second rehearsal in the theatre, where we had the plates,and the cloaks, and the tightrope to walk, I got my first realinkling of what it was all about, and where I was wrong and SirJohn–in terms of Romance–was right.

“I told you I had to caper across the tightrope, as Scaramoucheescaping from the angry aristocrats. I was high above their heads,and as I had only about thirty feet to go, at the farthest, I had totake quite a while over it while pretending to be quick. Sir Johnwanted the rope–it was a wire, really–to be slackish, so that itrocked and swayed. Apparently that was the Callot style. For balanceI carried a long stick that I was supposed to have snatched fromPolichinelle. I was doing it circus‑fashion, making it look ashard as possible, but that wouldn’t do: I was to rock on the wire,and be very much at ease, and when I was half‑way across thestage I was to thumb my nose at the Marquis de la Tour d’Azyr, mychief enemy. I could thumb my nose. Not the least trouble. But theway I did it didn’t please Sir John. ‘Like this,’ he would say,and put an elegant thumb to his long, elegant nose, and twiddle thefingers. I did it several times, and he shook his head. Then an ideaseemed to strike him.

“ ‘M’boy, what does that gesture mean to you?’ he asked,fixing me with a lustrous brown eye.

“ ‘Kiss my arse, Sir John,’ said I, bashfully: I wasn’t surehe would know such a rude word. He looked grave, and shook his headslowly from side to side three or four times.

“ ‘You have the essence of it, but only in the sense that thesnail on the garden wall is the essence of Escargots a la Nicoise. What you convey by that gesture is all too plainly the grosslyderisive invitation expressed by your phrase. Kiss my arse; itdoesn’t even get as far as Baisez mon cul .What I want is a Rabelaisian splendour of contempt linked with aCailotesque elegance of grotesquerie. What it boils down to is thatyou’re not thinking it right. You’re thinking Kiss my arse with astrong American accent, when what you ought to be thinking is–’and suddenly, though he was standing on the stage, he swayedperilously and confidently as though he were on the wire, and raisedone eyebrow and opened his mouth in a grin like a leering wolf, andallowed no more than the tip of a very sharp red tongue to loll outon his lips and there it was! Kiss my arse with class , andGod knows how many years of actors’ technique and a vivid memory ofHenry Irving all backing it up.

“ ‘I think I get it,’ I said, and had a try. He was pleased.Again. Better pleased. ‘You’re getting close,’ he said; ‘now,tell me what you’re thinking when you do that? Mph? Kiss my arse,quonk? But what kind of Kiss my arse? Quonk? Quonk?’

“I didn’t know what to tell him, but I couldn’t be silent. ‘NotKiss my arse at all,’ I said.

“ ‘What then? What are you thinking? Eh? You must be thinkingsomething, because you’re getting what I want. Tell me what it is?’

“Better be truthful, I thought. He sees right into me and he’llspot a lie at once. I took my courage in my hand. ‘I was thinkingthat I must be born again,’ I said. ‘Quite right, m’boy; bornagain and born different, as Mrs. Poyser very wisely said,’ was SirJohn’s comment. (Who was Mrs. Poyser? I suppose its the kind ofthing Ramsay knows.)

“Born again! I’d always thought of it, when I thought about it atall, as a spiritual thing; you went through a conversion, or youfound Christ, or whatever it was, and from that time you weredifferent and never looked back. But to get inside Sir John I had tobe born again physically, and if the spiritual trick is harder thanthat. Heaven must be thinly populated. I spent hours capering aboutin quiet places offstage, whenever Macgregor didn’t need me, tryingto be like Sir John, trying to get style even into Kiss my arse. Whatwas the result? Next time we rehearsed Two, two, I was awful. Inearly dropped a plate, and for a juggler that’s a shatteringexperience. (Don’t laugh! I don’t mean it as a joke.) But worsewas to come. At the right moment I stepped out on the swaying wire,capered toward middle stage, thumbed my nose at Gordon Barnard, whowas playing the Marquis, lost my balance, and fell off; Duparc’straining stood by me, and I caught the wire with my hands, swung inmid‑air for a couple of seconds, and then heaved myself back upand got my footing, and scampered to the opposite side. The actorswho were rehearsing that day applauded, but I was destroyed withshame, and Sir John was grinning exactly like Scaramouche, with aninch of red tongue between his lips.

“ ‘Don’t think they’ll quite accept you as me if you do that,m’boy,’ said he. ‘Eh, Holroyd? Eh, Barnard? Quonk? Try itagain.’

“I tried it again, and didn’t fall, but I knew I was hopeless; Ihadn’t found Sir John’s style and I was losing my own. Afteranother bad try Sir John moved on to another scene, but Miladybeckoned me away into a box, from which she was watching therehearsal. I was full of apologies.

“ ‘Of course you fell,’ she said. ‘But it was a good fall.Laudable pus, I call it. You’re learning.’

“Laudable pus! What in God’s name did she mean! I thought I wouldnever get used to Milady’s lingo. But she saw the bewilderment inmy face, and explained.

“ ‘It’s a medical expression. Out of fashion now, I expect. Butmy grandfather was rather a distinguished physician and he used itoften. In those days, you know, when someone had a wound, theycouldn’t heal it as quickly as they do now; they dressed it andprobed it every few days to see how it was getting on. If it washealing well, from the bottom, there was a lot of nasty stuff nearthe surface, and that was evidence of proper healing. They called itlaudable pus. I know you’re trying your very best to please SirJohn, and it means a sharp wound to your own personality. As thewound heals, you will be nearer what we all want. But meanwhilethere’s laudable pus, and it shows itself in clumsiness and falls.When you get your new style, you’ll understand what I mean.’

“Had I time to get a new style before the play opened? I wasworried sick, and I suppose it showed, because when he had a chanceold Frank Moore had a word with me.

“ ‘You’re trying to catch the Guvnor’s manner and you aren’tmaking a bad fist of it, but there are one or two things you haven’tnoticed. You’re an acrobat, good enough to walk the slackwire, butyou’re tight as a drum. Look at the Guvnor: he hasn’t a tautmuscle in his body, nor a slack one, either. He’s in easy controlall the time. Have you noticed him standing still? When he listens toanother actor, have you seen how still he is? Look at you now,listening to me; you bob about and twist and turn and nod your headwith enough energy to turn a windmill. But it’s all waste, y’see.If we were in a scene, you’d be killing half the value of what Isay with all that movement. Just try to sit still. Yes, there you go;you’re not still at all, you’re frozen. Stillness isn’t lookingas if you were full of coiled springs. It’s repose. Intelligentrepose, that’s what the Guvnor has. What I have, too, as a matterof fact. What Barnard has. What Milady has. I suppose you thinkrepose means asleep, or dead.

“ ‘Now look, my lad, and try to see how it’s done. It’smostly your back. Got to have a good strong back, and let it doninety per cent of the work. Forget legs. Look at the Guvnor hoppingaround when he’s being Scaramouche. He’s nippier on his pins thanyou are. Look at me. I’m real old, but I bet I can dance a hornpipebetter than you can. Look at this! Can you do a double shuffle likethat? That’s legs, to look at, but it’s back in reality. Strongback. Don’t pound down into the floor at every step. Forget legs.

“ ‘How do you get a strong back? Well, it’s hard to describeit, but once you get the feel of it you’ll see what I’m talkingabout. The main thing is to trust your back and forget you have afront; don’t stick out your chest or your belly; let ‘em lookafter themselves. Trust your back and lead from your back. And justlet your head float on top of your neck. You’re all made ofwhipcord and wire. Loosen it up and take it easy. But not slump, mindit easy.’

“Suddenly the old man grabbed me by the neck and seemed about tothrottle me. I jerked away, and he laughed. ‘Just as I said, you’reall wire. When I touch your neck you tighten up like a spring. Nowyou try to strangle me.’ I seized him by the neck, and I thoughthis poor old head would come off in my hands; he sank to the floor,moaning, ‘Nay, spare m’ life!’ Then he laughed like an oldloony, because I suppose I looked horrified. ‘D’you see? I justlet myself go and trusted to my back. You work on that for a whileand bob’s your uncle; you’ll be fit to act with the Guvnor.’

“ ‘How long do you think it will take?’ I said. ‘Oh, ten orfifteen years should see you right,’ said old Frank, and walkedaway, still chuckling at the trick he had played on me.

“I had no ten or fifteen years. I had a week, and much of that wasspent slaving for Macgregor, who kept me busy with lesser jobs whilehe and Holroyd fussed about the scenery and trappings for Scaramouche. I had never seen such scenery as the stage crew began to rig fromthe theatre grid; the vaudeville junk I was used to didn’t belongin the same world with it. The production had all been painted by theHarker Brothers, from designs by a painter who knew exactly what SirJohn wanted. It was a revelation to me then, but now I understandthat it owed much to prints and paintings of France during theRevolutionary period, and a quality of late‑eighteenth‑centurydetail had been used in it, apparently in a careless and half‑hiddenspirit, but adding up to pictures that supported and explained theplay just as did the handsome costumes. People are supposed not tolike scenery now, but it could be heart‑stirring stuff when itwas done with love by real theatre artists.

“The first act setting was in the yard of an inn, and when it wasall in place I swear you could smell the horses, and the sweet airfrom the fields. Nowadays they fuss a lot about light in the theatre,and even stick a lot of lamps in plain sight of the audience, so youwon’t miss how artistic they are being; but Sir John didn’ttrouble about light in that way–the subtle effects of light werepainted on the scenery, so you knew at once what time of day it wasby the way the shadows fell, and what the electricians did was toilluminate the actors, and Sir John in particular.

“During all the years I worked with Sir John there was one standingdirection for the electricians that was so well understood Macgregorhardly had to mention it: when the play began all lights were set attwo‑thirds of their power, and when Sir John was about to makehis entrance they were gradually raised to full power, so that assoon as he came on the stage the audience had the sensation ofseeing–and therefore understanding–much more clearly than before.Egoism, I suppose, and a little hard on the supporting actors, butSir John’s audiences wanted him to be wonderful and he did whateverwas necessary to make sure that he damned well was wonderful.

“Ah, that scenery! In the last act, which was in the salon of agreat aristocratic house in Paris, there were large windows at theback, and outside those windows you saw a panorama of Paris at thetime of the Revolution that conveyed, by means I don’t pretend tounderstand, the spirit of a great and beautiful city under appallingstress. The Harkers did it with colour; it was mostly in reddishbrowns highlighted with rose, and shadowed in a grey that was almostblack. Busy as I was, I still found time to gape at that scenery asit was assembled.

“Costumes, too. Everybody had been fitted weeks before, but whenthe clothes were all assembled, and the wig‑man had done hiswork, and the actors began to appear in carefully arranged ensemblesin front of that scenery, things became clear that I had missedcompletely at rehearsals: things like the relation of one characterto another, and of one class to another, and the Callot spirit of thetravelling actors against the apparently everyday clothes ofinn‑servants and other minor people, and the superiority andunquestioned rank of the aristocrats. Above all, of the unquestionedsupremacy of Sir John, because, though his clothes were not gorgeous,like those of Barnard as the Marquis, they had a quality of stylethat I did not understand until I had tried them on myself. Because,you see, as his double, I had to have a costume exactly like his whenhe appeared as the charlatan Scaramouche, and the first time I put iton I thought there must be some mistake, because it didn’t seem tofit at all. Sir John showed me what to do about that.

“ ‘Don’t try to drag your sleeves down, m’boy; they’reintended to be short, to show your hands to advantage, mphm? Keep ‘emup, like this, and if you use your hands the way I showed you,everything will fit, eh? And your hat–its not meant to keep off therain, m’boy, but to show your face against the inside of the brim,quonk? Your breeches aren’t too tight; they’re not to sit downin–I don’t pay you to sit down in costume–but to stand up in,and show off your legs. Never shown your legs off before, have you? Ithought as much. Well, learn to show ‘em off now, and not like abloody chorus‑girl, but like a man. Use ‘em in masculinepostures, but not like a butcher boy either, and if you aren’tproud of your legs they’re going to look damned stupid, eh, whenyou’re walking across the stage on that rope.’

“I was green as grass. Naive, though I didn’t know the word atthat time. It was very good for me to feel green. I had begun tothink I knew all there was about the world, and particularly theperforming world, because I had won in the struggle to keep alive inWanless’s World of Wonders, and in Le grand Cirque forain de St.Vite. I had even dared in my heart to think I knew more about theworld of travelling shows than Sir John. Of course I was right,because I knew a scrap of the reality. But he knew something verydifferent, which was what the public wants to think the world oftravelling shows is like. I possessed a few hard‑won facts, buthe had artistic imagination. My job was somehow to find my way intohis world, and take a humble, responsible part in it.

“Little by little it dawned on me that I was important toScaramouche ; my two short moments, when I juggled the plates,and walked the wire and thumbed my nose at the Marquis, added a cubitto the stature of the character Sir John was creating. I had also toswallow the fact that I was to do that without anybody knowing it. Ofcourse the public would tumble to the fact that Sir John, who wasgetting on for sixty, had not learned juggling and wire‑walkingsince last they saw him, but they wouldn’t understand it until theyhad been thrilled by the spectacle, apparently, of the great mandoing exactly those things. I was anonymous and at the same timeconspicuous.

“I had to have a name. Posters with the names of the actors werealready in place outside the theatre, but in the programme I mustappear as Macgregor’s assistant, and I must be called something.Holroyd mentioned it now and again. My name at that time, JulesLeGrand, wouldn’t do. Too fancy and, said Holroyd, a too obviousfake.

“Here again I was puzzled. Jules LeGrand an obvious fake? Whatabout the names of some of the other members of the company? Whatabout Eugene Fitzwarren, who had false teeth and a wig and, I wouldbet any money, a name that he had not been born to? What about C.Pengelly Spickeraell, a withered, middle–aged fruit, whose eyessometimes rested warmly on my legs, when Sir John was talking aboutthem? Had any parents, drunk or sober, with such a surname asSpickeraell, ever christened a child Cuthbert Pengelly? And if itcame to fancy sounds, what about Milady’s stage name? Annette de laBorderie? Macgregor assured me that it was indeed her own, and thatshe came from the Channel Islands, but why was it credible when JulesLeGrand was not?

“Of course I was too green to know that I did not stand on the samefooting as the other actors. I was just a trick, a piece of animatedscenery, when I was on the stage. Otherwise I was Macgregor’sassistant, and none too experienced at the job, and a grand name didnot befit my humble station. What was I to be called?

“The question was brought to a head by Holroyd, who approached, notme, but Macgregor, in a break between an afternoon and eveningrehearsal during the final week of preparation. I was at hand, butobviously not important to the discussion. ‘What are you going tocall your assistant, Mac?’ said Hoyroyd. ‘Time’s up. He’s gotto have a name.’ Macgregor looked solemn. ‘I’ve given itcareful thought,’ he said, ‘and I think I’ve found the verraword for him. Y’see, what’s he to the play? He’s Sir John’sdouble. That and no more. A shadow, you might say. But can you callhim Shadow? Nunno; absurd! And takes the eye, which is just what wedon’t want to do. So where do we turn–’ Holroyd broke in here,because he was apt to be impatient when Macgregor had one of hisexplanatory fits. ‘Why not call him Double? Dick Double! Nowthere’s a good, simple name that nobody’s going to notice.’‘But!’ said Macgregor; ‘that’s a foolish name. Dick Double!It sounds like some fella in a pantomime!’ But Holroyd was notinclined to give up his flight of fancy. ‘Nothing wrong withDouble,’ he persisted. ‘There’s a Double in Shakespeare. HenryIV , Part Two, don’t you remember? Is Old Double dead? So theremust have been somebody called Double. The more I think of it thebetter I like it. I’ll put him down as Richard Double.’ ButMacgregor wouldn’t have it. ‘Nay, nay, you’ll make the lad afigure of fun,’ he said. ‘Now listen to me, because I’ve workedit out verra carefully. He’s a double. And what’s a double? Well,in Scotland, when I was a boy, we had a name for such things. If aman met a creature like himself in a lane, or in town, maybe, in thedark, it was a sure sign of ill luck or even death. Not that Isuggest anything of that kind here. Nunno; as I’ve often said Airthas her own rules, and they’re not the rules of common life. Now:such an uncanny creature was called a fetch. And this lad’s afetch, and we can do no better than to name him Fetch.’ By thistime old Frank Moore joined the group, and he liked the sound ofFetch. ‘But what first name will you tack on to it?’ he said. ‘Isuppose he’s got to be something Fetch? Can’t be just naked,unaccommodated Fetch.’ Macgregor closed his eyes and raised a fathand. ‘I’ve thought of that, also,’ he said. ‘Fetch being aScots name, he’d do well to carry a Scots given name, for addedauthority. Now I’ve always had a fancy for the name Mungo. In myear it has a verra firm sound. Mungo Fetch. Can we do better?’ Helooked around, for applause. But Holroyd was not inclined to agree; Ithink he was still hankering after Double. ‘Sounds barbaric to me.A sort of cannibal‑king name, to my way of thinking. If youwant a Scotch name why don’t you call him Jock?’ Macgregor lookeddisgusted. ‘Because Jock is not a name, but a diminutive, aseverybody knows well. It is the diminutive of John. And John is not aScots name. The Scots form of that name is Ian. If you want to callhim Ian Fetch, I shall say no more. Though I consider Mungo a muchsuperior solution to the problem.’

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“Holroyd nodded at me, as if he and Macgregor and Frank Moore hadbeen generously expending their time to do me a great favour. ‘MungoFetch it’s to be then, is it?’ he said, and went about hisbusiness before I had time to collect my wits and say anything atall.

“That was my trouble. I was like someone living in a dream. I wasactive and occupied and heard what was said to me and respondedreasonably, but nevertheless I seemed to be in a lowered state ofconsciousness. Otherwise, how could I have put up with a casualconversation that saddled me with a new name–and a name nobody inhis right mind would want to possess? But not since my first days inWanless’s World of Wonders had I been so little in command ofmyself, so little aware of what fate was doing to me. It was as if Iwere being thrust toward something I did not know by something Icould not see. Part of it was love, for I was beglamoured by Miladyand barely had sense enough to understand that my state was ashopeless as it could possibly be, and that my passion was in everyway absurd. Part of it must have been physical, because I was gettinga pretty good regular wage, and could eat better than I had done forseveral months. Part of it was just astonishment at the complexbusiness of getting a play on the stage, which presented me with somenew marvel every day.

“As Macgregor’s assistant I had to be everywhere and consequentlyI saw everything. Because of my mechanical bent I took pleasure inall the mechanism of a fine theatre, and wanted to know how theflymen and scene‑shifters organized their work, how theelectrician contrived his magic, and how Macgregor controlled it allwith signal‑lights from his little cubby‑hole on theleft‑hand side of the stage, just inside the proscenium. I hadto make up the call‑lists, so that the call‑boy–who wasno boy but older than myself–could warn the actors when they werewanted on stage five minutes before each entrance. I watchedMacgregor prepare his Prompt Book, which was an interleaved copy ofthe play, with every cue for light, sound, and action entered intoit; he was proud of his books, and marked them in a fine round hand,in inks of different colours, and every night the book was carefullylocked in a safe in his little office. I helped the property‑manprepare his lists of everything that was needed in the play, so thata mass of materials from snuffboxes to hay‑forks could beorganized on the property‑tables in the wings; my capacity tomake or mend fiddling little bits of mechanism made me a favouritewith him. Indeed the property‑man and I worked up a neat littleperformance as a flock of hens who were heard clucking in the wingswhen the curtain rose on the inn scene. It was my job to hand C.Pengelly Spickernell the trumpet on which he sounded a fanfare justbefore the travelling‑cart of the Commedia dell’ Arte playersmade its entrance into the inn‑yard; to hand it to him andrecover it later, and shake C. Pengelly’s spit out of it beforeputting it back on the property‑table. There seemed to be noend to my duties.

“I had also to learn to make up my face for my brief appearance.Vaudevillian that I was, I had been accustomed to colour my face avivid shade of salmon, and touch up my eyebrows; I had never made upmy neck or my hands in my life. I quickly learned that something moresubtle was expected by Sir John; his make‑up was elaborate, todisguise some signs of age but even more to throw his best featuresinto prominence. Eric Foss, a very decent fellow in the company,showed me what to do, and it was from him I learned that Sir John’shands were always coloured an ivory shade, and that his ears wereliberally touched up with carmine. Why red ears, I wanted to know.‘The Guvnor thinks it gives an appearance of health,’ said Foss,‘and make sure you touch up the insides of your nostrils with thesame colour, because it makes your eyes look bright.’ I didn’tunderstand it, but I did as I was told.

“Make‑up was a subject on which every actor had strongpersonal opinions. Gordon Barnard took almost an hour to put on hisface, transforming himself from a rather ordinary‑looking chapinto a strikingly handsome man. Reginald Charlton, on the other hand,was of the modern school and used as little make‑up aspossible, because he said it made the face into a mask, andinexpressive. Grover Paskin, our comedian, put on paint almost with atrowel, and worked like a Royal Academician building up warts andnobbles and tufts of hair on his rubbery old mug. Eugene Fitzwarrenstrove for youth, and took enormous pains making his eyes big andlustrous, and putting white stuff on his false teeth so that theywould flash to his liking.

“Old Frank Moore was the most surprising of the lot, because he hadbecome an actor when water colours were used for make‑upinstead of the modern greasepaints. He washed his face with care,powdered it dead white, and then applied artist’s paints out of alarge Reeves’ box, with fine brushes, until he had the effect hewanted. In the wings he looked as if his face were made of china, butunder the lights the effect was splendid. I particularly marvelled atthe way he put shadows where he wanted them by drawing the back of alead spoon over the hollows of his eyes and cheeks. It wasn’t goodfor his skin, and he had a hide like an alligator in private life,but it was certainly good for the stage, and he was immensely proudof the fact that Irving, who made up in the same way, had oncecomplimented him on his art.

“So, working fourteen hours a day, but nevertheless in a dream, Imade my way through the week of the final dress rehearsal, andsomething happened there that changed my life. I did my stagemanager’s work in costume, but with a long white coat over it, tokeep it clean, and when Two, two came I had to whip it off, pop on myhat, take a final look in the full‑length mirror just offstagein the corridor, and dash back to the wings to be ready for myplate‑juggling moment. That went as rehearsed, but when it wastime for my second appearance, walking the rope, I forgot something.During the scene when Andre‑Louis made his revolutionaryspeech, he began by taking off his hat, and thrusting his Scaramouchemask up on his forehead. It was a half‑mask, coming down to themouth only; it was coloured a rosy red, and had a very long nose,just as Callot would have drawn it. When Sir John thrust it up on hisbrow, revealing his handsome, intent revolutionary’s face,extremely picturesque, it was a fine accent of colour, and the longnose seemed to add to his height. But when I appeared on the rope Iwas to have the mask pulled down, and when I made my contemptuousgesture toward the Marquis it was the long red nose of the mask I wasto thumb.

“I managed very well till it came to the nose‑thumbing bit,when I realized with horror that it was my own nose flesh I wasthumbing. I had forgotten the mask! Unforgivable! So as soon as Icould get away from Macgregor during the interval for thescene‑change, I rushed to find Sir John and make my apologies.He had gone out into the stalls of the theatre, and was surrounded bya group of friends, who were congratulating him in lively tones, andI didn’t need to listen for long to find out that it was hisperformance on the rope they were talking about. So I crept away, andwaited till he came backstage again. Then I approached him and saidmy humble say.

“Milady was with him and she said, ‘Jack, you’d be mad to throwit away. It’s a gift from God. If it fooled Reynolds and LucyBellamy it will fool anyone. They’ve known you for years, and itdeceived them completely. You must let him do it.’ But Sir John wasnot a man to excuse anything, even a happy accident, and he fixed mewith a stern eye. ‘Do you swear that was by accident? You weren’tpresuming? Because I won’t put up with any presumption from amember of my company.’ ‘Sir John, I swear on the soul of mymother it was a mistake,’ I said. (Odd that I should have saidthat, but it was a very serious oath of Zovene’s, and I neededsomething serious at that moment; actually, at the time I spoke, mymother was living and whatever Ramsay says to the contrary, her soulwas in bad repair.) ‘Very well,’ said Sir John, ‘we’ll keepit in. In future, when you walk the rope, wear your mask up on yourhead, as I do mine. And you’d better come to me for a lesson inmake‑up. You look like Guy Fawkes. And bear in mind that thisis not to be a precedent. Any other clever ideas that come to youyou’d be wise to suppress. I don’t encourage original thought inmy productions.’ He looked angry as he walked away. I wanted tothank Milady for intervening on my behalf, but she was off to make acostume change.

“When I went back to Macgregor I thought he looked at me veryqueerly. ‘You’re a lucky laddie, Mungo Fetch,’ said he, ‘butdon’t press your luck too hard. Many a small talent has come togrief that way.’ I asked him what he meant, but he just made hisScotch noise–’Hut’–and went on with his work.

“I don’t think I would have dared to carry the matter any furtherif Holroyd and Frank Moore had not borne down on Macgregor after thelast act. ‘What do you think of your Mungo now?’ said Frank, andonce again they began to talk exactly as if I were not standingbeside them, busy with a time‑sheet. ‘I think it would havebeen better to give him another name,’ said Macgregor; ‘a fetchis an uncanny thing, and I don’t want anything uncanny in anytheatre where I am in a place of responsibility.’ But Holroyd wasas near buoyant as I ever saw him. ‘Uncanny, my eye,’ he said;‘its the cherry on the top of the cake. The Guvnor’s closefriends were deceived. Coup de theatre , they called it;that’s French for a bloody good wheeze.’ ‘You don’t need totell me it’s French,’ said Macgregor. ‘I’ve no use forlast‑minute inspirations and unrehearsed effects. Amateurism,that’s what that comes to.’

“I couldn’t be quiet. ‘Mr. Macgregor, I didn’t mean to doit,’ I said; ‘I swear it on the soul of my mother.’ ‘Allright, all right, I believe you without your Papist oaths,’ saidMacgregor, ‘and I’m just telling you not to presume on theresemblance any further, or you’ll be getting a word from me.’‘What resemblance?’ I said. ‘Don’t talk to us as if we’refools, m’boy,’ said old Frank. ‘You know damned well you’rethe living image of the Guvnor in that outfit. Or the living image ofhim when I first knew him, I’d better say. Don’t you hear what’ssaid to you? Didn’t I tell you a fortnight ago? You’re as likethe Guvnor as if you were spit out of his mouth. You’re his fetch,right enough.’ ‘Dinna say that,’ shouted Macgregor, becomingvery broad in his Scots; ‘haven’t I told you it’s uncanny?’But I began to understand, and I was as horrified as Macgregor. Theimpudence of it! Me, looking like the Guvnor! ‘What’d I betterdo?’ I said, and Holroyd and old Frank laughed like a couple ofloonies. ‘Just be tactful, that’s all,’ said Holroyd. ‘It’svery useful. You’re the best double the Guvnor’s ever had, andit’ll be a livelihood to you for quite a while, I dare say. But betactful.’

“Easy to tell me to be tactful. When your soul is blasted by asudden uprush of pride, it’s cruel hard work to be tactful. Withinan hour my sense of terrible impertinence in daring to look like theGuvnor had given way to a bloating vanity. Sir John was handsome,right enough, but thousands of men are handsome. He was something farbeyond that. He had a glowing splendour that made him unlike anybodyelse–except me, it appeared, when the circumstances were right. Iwon’t say he had distinction, because the word has been chewed todeath to describe all kinds of people who simply look frozen. Takealmost any politician and put a special cravat on him and stick amonocle in his eye and he becomes the distinguished Sir Nincome PoopM.P. Sir John wasn’t frozen and his air of splendour had nothing todo with oddity. I suppose living and breathing Romance through a longcareer had a great deal to do with it, but it can’t have been thewhole thing. And I was his fetch! I hadn’t really understood itwhen Moore and Holroyd had told me in the Crown and Two Chairmen thatI looked like him. I knew I was of the same height, and we were builtmuch the same–shorter than anybody wants to be, but with a lengthof leg that made the difference between being small and being stumpy.In my terrible clothes and with my flash, carnie’s ways–outwardevidence of the life I had led and the kind of thinking it begot inme, I never thought the resemblance went beyond a reasonablefacsimile. But when Sir John and I were on equal terms–dressed andwigged alike, against the same scenery and under the same lights, andlifted into the high sweet air of Romance–his friends had beendeceived by the likeness. That was a stupefying drink for PaulDempster, alias Cass Fletcher, alias Jules LeGrand–cheap people,every one of them. Ask me to be tactful in the face of that! Ask thePrince of Wales to call you a taxi!

“With the first night at hand my new vanity would not have beennoticed, even if I had been free to display it. Our opening wasexciting, but orderly. Macgregor, splendid in a dinner jacket, was aperfect field officer and everything happened smartly on cue. SirJohn’s first entrance brought the expected welcome from theaudience, and in my new role as a great gentleman of the theatre Iwatched carefully while he accepted it. He did it in the old style,though I didn’t know that at the time: as he walked swiftly downthe steps from the inn, calling for the ostler, he paused as thoughsurprised at the burst of clapping; ‘My dear friends, is thisgenerosity truly for me?’ he seemed to be saying, and then, as theapplause reached its peak, he gave the least perceptible bow, notlooking toward the house, but keeping within the character ofAndre‑Louis Moreau, and began calling once more, which broughtsilence. Easy to describe, but no small thing to do, as I learnedwhen my time came to do it myself. Only the most accomplished actorsknow how to manage applause, and I was lucky to learn it from a greatmaster.

“Milady was welcomed in the same way, but her entrance was showy,as his was not–except, of course, for that little vanity of thelighting, which was a great help. She came on with the troupe ofstrolling players, and it couldn’t have failed. There was C.Pengelly Spickemell on the trumpet, to begin with, and a lot ofexcited shouting from the inn‑servants, and then furthershouting from the Italian Comedians, as they strutted onstage withtheir travelling‑wagon; Grover Paskin led on the horse thatpulled the cart, and it was heaped high with drums and gaudy trunks,baskets and rolls of flags, and on the top of the heap sat Milady,making more racket than anybody as she waved a banner in the air. Itwould have brought a round from a Presbyterian General Assembly. Thehorse alone was a sure card, because an animal on the stage gives anair of opulence to a play no audience can resist, and this stagehorse was famous Old Betsy, who did not perhaps remember Garrick butwho had been in so many shows that she was an admired veteran. Myheart grew big inside me at the wonder of it, as I watched from thewings, and my eyes moistened with love.

“They were not too moist to notice one or two things that followed.The other women in the troupe of players walked on foot. How slimthey looked, and I saw that Milady, with every aid of costume, wasnot slim. How fresh and pretty they looked, and Milady, thoughextraordinary, was not fresh nor pretty. When Eugene Fitzwarren gaveher his arm to descend from the cart I could not help seeing that shecame down on the stage heavily, with an audible plop that she triedto cover with laughter, and the ankles she showed were undeniablythick. All right, I thought, in my fierce loyalty, what of it? Shecould act rings around any of them, and did it. But she was notyoung, and if I had been driven to the last extreme of honesty Ishould have had to admit that she was like nothing in the heavensabove, nor in the earth beneath, nor in the waters under the earth. Ionly loved her the more, and yearned for her to show how marvellousshe was, though–it had to be faced–too old for Climene. She wassupposed to be the daughter of old Frank Moore as Polichinelle, but Ifear she looked more like his frivolous sister.

“It was not until I read the book, years later, that I found outwhat sort of woman Sabatini meant Climene to be. She was a child juston the verge of love whose ambition was to find a rich protector andmake the best bargain for her beauty. That wasn’t in Milady’srange, physically or temperamentally, for there was nothingcalculating or cheap about her. So, by patient rewriting of the linesduring rehearsals, she became a witty, large‑hearted actress,as young as the audience would believe her to be, but certainly nochild, and no beauty. Or should I say that? She had a beauty all herown, of that rare kind that only great comic actresses have; she hadbeauty of voice, boundless charm of manner, and she made you feelthat merely pretty women were lesser creatures. She had also I cannottell how many decades of technique behind her, because she had begunher career when she really was a child, in Irving’s Lyceum, and shecould make even an ordinary line sound like wit.

“I saw all of that, and felt it through and through me like theconviction of religion, but still, alas, I saw that she was old, andeccentric, and there was a courageous pathos about what she wasdoing.

“I was bursting with loyalty–a new and disturbing emotion forme–and Two, two went just as Sir John wanted it. My reward was thatwhen I appeared on the tightrope there was an audible gasp from thehouse, and the curtain came down to great applause and even a fewcries of Bravo. They were for Sir John; of course I knew that andwished it to be so. But I was aware that without me that climax wouldhave been a lesser achievement.

“The play went on, it seemed to me, from triumph to triumph, andthe last act in Madame de Plougastel’s salon, shook me as it hadnever done in rehearsal. When Andre‑Louis Moreau, now a leaderin the Revolution, was told by the tearful Madame de Plougastel thatshe was his mother and that his evil genius, the Marquis de la Tourd’Azyr, was his father–this revelation drawn from her only whenMoreau had his enemy at the sword’s point–it seemed to me dramacould go no higher. The look that came over Sir John’s face ofdisillusion and defeat, before he burst into Scaramouche’s mockinglaugh, I thought the perfection of acting. And so it was. It wouldn’tdo now–quite out of fashion–but if you’re going to act thatkind of thing, that’s the way to do it.

“Lots of curtain calls. Flowers for Milady and some for AdeleChesterton, who had not been very good but who was so pretty youwanted to eat her with a silver spoon. Sir John’s speech, which Icame to know very well, in which he declared himself and Milady to bethe audience’s ‘most obedient, most devoted, and most humbleservants’. Then the realities of covering the furniture withdust‑sheets, covering the tables of properties, checking thetime‑sheet with Macgregor, and watching him hobble off to putthe prompt‑copy to bed in the safe. Then taking off my ownpaint, with a feeling of exaltation and desolation combined, as if Ihad never been so happy before, and would certainly never be so happyagain.

“It was never the custom in that company to sit up and wait to seewhat the newspapers said; I think that was always more New York’sstyle than London’s. But when I went to the theatre the followingafternoon to attend to some duties, all the reports were in but thoseof the great Sunday thunderers, which were very important indeed.Most of the papers said kind things, but even I sensed somethingabout these criticisms that I could have wished otherwise expressed,or not said at all. ‘Unabashed romanticism… proof positive thatthe Old School is still vital… dear, familiar situations, resolvedin the manner hallowed by romance… Sir John’s perfect commandshows no sign of diminution with the years… Lady Tresize brings awealth of experience to a role which, in younger hands, might haveseemed contrived… Sabatini is a gift to players who require thefull‑flavoured melodrama of an earlier day… where do we looktoday for acting of this scope and authority?’

“Among the notices there had been one, in the News‑Chronicle, where a clever new young man was on the job, which was downrightbad. PITCHER GOES TOO OFTEN TO WELL, it was headed, and it saidflatly that the Tresizes were old‑fashioned and hammy, andshould give way to the newer theatre.

“When the Sunday papers came, the Observer took the sameline as the dailies, as though they had been looking at somethingvery fine, but through the wrong end of the binoculars; it madeScaramouche seem small and very far away. James Agate, in theSunday Times , condemned the play, which he likened toclockwork, and used Sir John and Milady as sticks to beat modernactors who did not know how to speak or move, and were ill bred andbrittle.

“ ‘Nothing there to pull ‘em in,’ I heard Holroyd saying toMacgregor.

“Nevertheless, we did pull ‘em in for nearly ten weeks. Businesswas slack at the beginning of each week, and grew from Wednesdayonward; matinees were usually sold out, chiefly to women from thesuburbs, in town for a look at the shops and a play. But I knew fromthe gossip that business like that, in a London theatre, was coveringrunning costs at best, and the expenses of production were still onthe Guvnor’s overdraft. He seemed cheerful, and I soon found outwhy. He was going to do the old actor‑manager’s trick andplay Scaramouche as long as it would last and then replace it‘by popular request’ with a few weeks of his old war‑horse,The Master of Ballantrae .”

“Oh my God!” said Ingestree, and it seemed to me that he turned alittle white.

“You remember this play?” said Lind.

“Vividly,” said Roly.

“A very bad play?”

“I don’t want to hurt the feelings of our friend here, who feelsso strong about the Tresizes,” said Ingestree. “It’s just thatThe Master of Ballantrae coincided with rather a low point inmy own career. I was finding my feet in the theatre, and it wasn’treally the kind of thing I was looking for.”

“Perhaps you would like me to pass over it,” said Magnus, andalthough he was pretending to be solicitous I knew he was enjoyinghimself.

“Is it vital to your subtext?” said Ingestree, and he too washalf joking.

“It is, really. But I don’t want to give pain, my dear fellow.”

“Don’t mind me. Worse things have happened since.”

“Perhaps I can be discreet,” said Magnus. “You may rely on meto be as tactful as possible.”

“For God’s sake don’t do that,” said Ingestree. “In myexperience tact is usually worse than the brutalities of truth.Anyhow, my recollections of that play can’t be the same as yours.My troubles were mostly private.”

“Then I shall go ahead. But please feel free to intervene wheneveryou feel like it. Put me right on matters of fact. Even on shades ofopinion. I make no pretence of being an exact historian.”

“Shoot the works,” said Ingestree. “I’ll be as still as amouse. I promise.”

“As you wish. Well–The Master of Ballantrae was anotherof the Guvnor’s romantic specials. It too was from a novel, bysomebody‑or‑other–”

“By Robert Louis Stevenson,” said Ingestree, in an undertone,“though you wouldn’t have guessed it from what appeared on thestage. These adaptations! Butcheries would be a better word–”

“Shut up, Roly,” said Kinghovn. “You said you’d be quiet.”

“I’m no judge of what kind of adaptation it was,” said Magnus,“because I haven’t read the book and I don’t suppose I everwill. But it was a good, tight, well‑caulked melodrama, andpeople had been eating it up since the Guvnor first brought it out,which I gathered was something like thirty years before the time I’mtalking about. I told you he was an experimenter and an innovator, inhis day. Well, whenever he had lost a packet on Maeterlinck, orsomething new by Stephen Phillips, he would pull The Master out of the storehouse and fill up the bank‑account again. Hecould go to Birmingham, and Manchester, and Newcastle, and Glasgow,and Edinburgh or any big provincial town–and those towns had bigtheatres, not like the little pill‑boxes in London–and pack‘em in with The Master . Especially Edinburgh, because theyseemed to take the play for their own. Macgregor told me, ‘TheMaster’s been a mighty get‑penny for Sir John.’ Whenyou saw him in it you knew why it was so. It was made for him.”

“It certainly was,” said Ingestree. “Made for him out of theblood and bones of poor old Stevenson. I have no special affectionfor Stevenson, but he didn’t deserve that.”

“As you can see, it was a play that called forth strong feeling,”said Magnus. “I never read it, myself, because Macgregor alwaysheld the prompt‑copy and did the prompting himself, if anybodywas so absurd as to need prompting. But of course I picked up thestory as we rehearsed.

“It had a nice meaty plot. Took place in Scotland around the middleof the eighteenth century. There had been some sort of trouble–Idon’t know the details–and Scottish noblemen were divided inallegiance between Bonnie Prince Charlie and the King of England. Theplay was about a family called Durie; the old Lord of Durrisdeer hadtwo sons, the first‑born being called the Master of Ballantraeand the younger being simply Mr. Henry Durie. The old Lord decided ona sneaky compromise when the trouble came, and sent the Master off tofight for Bonnie Charlie, while Mr. Henry remained at home to beloyal to King George. On those terms, you see, the family couldn’tlose, whichever way the cat jumped.

“The Master was a dashing, adventurous fellow, but essentially acrook, and he became a spy in Prince Charlie’s camp, leakinginformation to the English: Mr. Henry was a scholarly, poetic sort ofchap, and he stayed at home and mooned after Miss Alison Graeme; shewas the old Lord’s ward, and of course she loved the dashingMaster. When news came from the wars that the Master had been killed,she consented to marry Mr. Henry as a matter of duty and to provideDurrisdeer with an heir. ‘But ye ken she never really likit thefella,’ as Macgregor explained it to me; her heart was always withthe Master, alive or dead. But the Master wasn’t dead; he wasn’tthe dying kind; he slipped away from the battle and became apirate–not one of your low‑living dirty‑faced pirates,but a very classy privateer and spy. And so, when the troubles haddied down and Bonnie Charlie was out of the way, the Master came backto claim Miss Alison, and found that she was Mrs. Henry, and themother of a fine young laird.

“The Master tried to lure Miss Alison away from her husband; Mr.Henry was noble about it, and he nobly kept mum about the Masterhaving turned spy during the war. ‘A verra strong situation,’ asMacgregor said. Consequence, a lot of taunting talk from the Master,and an equal amount of noble endurance from Mr. Henry, and at last areally good scene, of the kind Roly hates, but our audiences loved.

“The Master had picked up in his travels an Indian servant, calledSecundra Class; he knew a lot of those Eastern secrets that Westernpeople believe in so religiously. When Mr. Henry could bear things nolonger, he had a fight with the Master, and seemed to kill him; butas I told you, the Master wasn’t the dying kind. So he allowedhimself to be buried, having swallowed his tongue (he’d learnedthat from Secundra Class) and, as it said in the play, ‘so subduedhis vital forces that the spark of life, though burning low, was notwholly extinguished’. Mr. Henry, tortured by guilt, confessed hiscrime to his wife and the old Lord, and led them to the grove oftrees where the body was buried. When the servants dug up the corpse,it was no corpse at all, but the Master, in very bad shape; thetongue‑trick hadn’t worked quite as he expected–somethingto do with the chill of the Scottish climate, I expect–and he cameto life only to cry, ‘Murderer, Henry–false, false!’ and dropdead, but not before Mr. Henry shot himself. Thereupon the curtaincame down to universal satisfaction.

“I haven’t described it very respectfully. I feel irreverentvibrations coming to me from Roly, the way mediums do when there isan unbeliever at a seance. But I assure you that as the Guvnor actedit, the play compelled belief and shook you up pretty bad. The beautyof the old piece, from the Guvnor’s point of view, was that itprovided him with what actors used to call ‘a dual role’. Heplayed both the Master and Mr. Henry, to the huge delight of hisaudiences; his fine discrimination between the two characters gaveextraordinary interest to the play.

“It also meant some neat work behind the scenes, because there weretimes when Mr. Henry had barely left the stage before the Master cameswaggering on through another door. Sir John’s dresser was anexpert at getting him out of one coat, waistcoat, boots, and wig andinto another in a matter of seconds, and his characterization of thetwo men was so sharply differentiated that it was art of a veryspecial kind.

“Twice, a double was needed, simply for a fleeting moment ofillusion, and in the brief last scene the double was of uttermostimportance, because it was he who stood with his back to theaudience, as Mr. Henry, while the Guvnor, as the Master, was beingdug up and making his terrible accusation. Then–doubles don’tusually get such opportunities–it was the double’s job to put thegun to his head, fire it, and fall at the feet of Miss Alison, underthe Master’s baleful eye. And I say with satisfaction that as I wasan unusually successful double–or dead spit, as old Frank Mooreinsisted on saying–I was allowed to fall so that the audience couldsee something of my face, instead of dying under suspicion of beingsomebody else.

“Rehearsals went like silk, because some of the cast were oldhands, and simply had to brush up their parts. Frank Moore had playedthe old Lord of Durrisdeer scores of times, and Eugene Fitzwarren wasa seasoned Secundra Class; Gordon Barnard had played Burke, theIrishman, and built it up into a very good thing; C. PengellySpickemell fancied himself as Fond Barnie, a loony Scot who sangscraps of song, and Grover Paskin had a good funny part as a drunkenbutler; Emilia Pauncefort, who played Madame de Plougastel inScaramouche , loved herself as a Scots witch who uttered thedire Curse of Durrisdeer–

Twa Dimes in Durrisdeer,

Ane to bide and ane to ride;

An ill day for the groom.

And a waur day for the bride.

And of course the role of Alison, the unhappy bride of Mr. Henry andthe pining adorer of the Master, had been played by Milady since theplay was new.

“That was where the difficulty lay. Sir John was still great as theMaster, and looked surprisingly like himself in his earliestphotographs in that part, taken thirty years before; time had beenrougher with Milady. Furthermore, she had developed an emphatic styleof acting which was not unacceptable in a part like Climene but whichcould become a little strong as a highbred Scots lady.

“There were murmurs among the younger members of the company. Whycouldn’t Milady play Auld Cursin’ Jennie instead of EmiliaPauncefort? There was a self‑assertive girl in the companynamed Audrey Sevenhowes who let it be known that she would be ideallycast as Alison. But there were others, Holroyd and Macgregor amongthem, who would not hear a word against Milady. I would have been oneof them too, if anybody had asked my opinion, but nobody did. Indeed,I began to feel that the company thought I was rather more than anactor who doubled for Sir John; I was a double indeed, and a companyspy, so that any disloyal conversation stopped as soon as I appeared.Of course there was lots of talk; all theatrical companies chatterincessantly. On the rehearsals went, and as Sir John and Miladydidn’t bother to rehearse their scenes together, nobody grasped howextreme the problem had become.

“There was another circumstance about those early rehearsals thatcaused some curiosity and disquiet for a while; a stranger hadappeared among us whose purpose nobody seemed to know, but who sat inthe stalls making notes busily, and now and then exclaiming audiblyin a tone of disapproval. He was sometimes seen talking with SirJohn. What could he be up to? He wasn’t an actor, certainly. He wasyoung, and had lots of hair, but he wasn’t dressed in a way thatsuggested the stage. His sloppy grey flannels and tweed coat, hisdark blue shirt and tie like a piece of old rope–hand‑woven,I suppose–and his scuffed suede shoes made him look even youngerthan he was. ‘University man,’ whispered Audrey Sevenhowes, whorecognized the uniform. ‘Cambridge,’ she whispered, a day later.Then came the great revelation–’Writing a play’. Of course shedidn’t confide these things to me, but they leaked from her closefriends all through the company.

“Writing a play! Rumour was busily at work. It was to be a grandnew piece for Sir John’s company, and great opportunities might besecured by buttering up the playwright. Reginald Chariton and LeonardWoulds, who hadn’t much to do in Scaromouche and ratherless in The Master , began standing the university geniusdrinks; Audrey Sevenhowes didn’t speak to him, but was frequentlyquite near him, laughing a silvery laugh and making herselffascinating. Old Emilia Pauncefort passed him frequently, and gavehim a stately nod every time. Grover Paskin told him jokes. Thegenius liked it all, and in a few days was on good terms witheverybody of any importance, and the secret was out. Sir John wanteda stage version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde , and the geniuswas to write it. But as he had never written a play before, and hadnever had stage experience except with the Cambridge Marlowe Society,he was attending rehearsals, as he said to ‘get the feel of thething’.

“The genius was free with his opinions. He thought little of TheMaster of Ballantrae . ‘Fustian’ was the word he used todescribe it, and he made it clear that the era of fustian was over.Audiences simply wouldn’t stand it any more. A new day had dawnedin the theatre, and he was a particularly bright beam from the risingsun.

“He was modest, however. There were brighter beams than he, and thebrightest, most blinding beam in the literature of the time wassomebody called Aldous Huxley. No, Huxley didn’t write plays. Itwas his outlook–wry, brilliantly witty, rooted in tremendousscholarship, and drenched in the Ironic Spirit–that the geniusadmired, and was about to transfer to the stage. In no time he had atiny court, in which Charlton and Woulds and Audrey Sevenhowes werethe leaders, and after rehearsals they were always to be seen in thenearest pub, laughing a great deal. With my very long ears it wasn’tlong before I knew they were laughing at Milady and Frank Moore andEmilia Pauncefort, who were the very warp and woof of fustian, andwho couldn’t possibly be worked into the kind of play the geniushad in mind. No, he hadn’t begun writing yet, but he had a Concept,and though he hated the word ‘metaphysical’ he didn’t mindusing it to give a rough idea of how the Concept would take shape.

“Sir John didn’t know about the Concept as yet, but when it wasexplained to him he would get a surprise. The genius was hangingaround The Master of Ballantrae because it was from a novelby the same chap that had written Jekyll and Hyde . But thischap–Roly says his name was Stevenson, and I’m sure he knows–hadnever fully shouldered the burden of his own creative gift. This wassomething the genius would have to do for him. Stevenson, when he hadthought of Jekyll and Hyde , had seized upon a theme that wasDostoyevskian, but he had worked it out in terms of what some peoplemight call Romance, but the genius regretfully had to use the wordfustian. The only thing the genius could do, in order to be true tohis Concept, was to rework the Stevenson material in such a way thatits full implications–the ones Stevenson had approached, and runaway from in fright–were revealed.

“He thought it could be done with masks. The genius confessed, witha laugh at his own determination, that he would not attempt the thingat all unless he was given a completely free hand to use masks inevery possible way. Not only would Jekyll and Hyde wear masks, butthe whole company would wear them, and sometimes there would be eightor ten Jekylls on the stage, all wearing masks showing differentaspects of that character, and we would see them exchange the masksof Jekyll–because there was to be no nonsense about realism, orpretending to the audience that what they saw had any relationship towhat they foolishly thought of as real life–for masks of Hyde.There would be dialogue, of course, but mostly in the form ofsoliloquies, and a lot of the action would be carried out in mime–aword which the genius liked to pronounce “meem”, to give it theflavour he thought it needed.

“Charlton and Woulds and Audrey Sevenhowes thought this soundedwonderful, though they had some reservations, politely expressed,about the masks. They thought stylized make‑up might do just aswell. But the genius was rock‑like in his insistence that itwould be masks or he would throw up the whole project.

“When this news leaked through to the other members of the companythey were disgusted. They talked about other versions of Jekylland Hyde they had seen, which did very well without any nonsenseabout masks. Old Frank Moore had played with Henry Irving’s son‘H.B.’ in a Jekyll and Hyde play where H.B. had made thetransformation from the humane doctor to the villainous Hyde beforethe eyes of the audience, simply by ruffing up his hair anddistorting his body. Old Frank showed us how he did it: first heassumed the air of a man who is about to be wafted off the ground byhis own moral grandeur, then he drank the dreadful potion out of hisown pot of old‑and‑mild, and then, with an extraordinarydisplay of snarling and gnawing the air, he crumpled up into ahideous gnome. He did this one day in the pub and some strangers, whoweren’t used to actors, left hurriedly and the landlord askedFrank, as a personal favour, not to do it again. Frank had anextraordinarily gripping quality as an actor.

“Nevertheless, as I admired his snorting and chomping depiction ofevil, I was conscious that I had seen even more convincing evil inthe face of Willard the Wizard, and that there it had been asimmovable and calm as stone.

“Suddenly, one day at rehearsal, the genius lost stature. Sir Johncalled to him, ‘Come along, you may as well fit in here, mphm? Giveyou practical experience of the stage, quonk?’, and before we knewwhat was happening he had the genius acting the part of one of themenservants in Lord Dumsdeer’s household. He wasn’t bad at all,and I suppose he had learned a few things in his amateur days atCambridge. But at a critical moment Sir John said, ‘Gear away yourmaster’s chair, m’boy; when he comes downstage to Miss Alison youtake the chair back to the upstage side of the fireplace.’ Whichthe genius did, but not to Sir John’s liking; he put one hand underthe front of the seat, and the other on the back of the armchair, andhefted it to where he had been told. Sir John said, ‘Not like that,m’boy; lift it by the arms.’ But the genius smiled and said, ‘Ohno, Sir John, that’s not the way to handle a chair; you must alwaysput one hand under its apron, so as not to put a strain on its back.’Sir John went rather cool, as he did when he was displeased, andsaid, ‘That may have been all very well in your father’s shop,m’boy, but it won’t do on my stage. Lift it as I tell you.’ Andthe genius turned exceedingly red, and began to argue. At which SirJohn said to the other extra, ‘You do it, and show him how.’ Andhe ignored the genius until the end of the scene.

“Seems a trivial thing, but it rocked the genius to hisfoundations; after that he never seemed to be able to do anythingright. And the people who had been all over him before were muchcooler after that slight incident. It was the mention of the word‘shop’. I don’t think actors are particularly snobbish, but Isuppose Audrey Sevenhowes and the others had seen him as a gildedundergraduate; all of a sudden he was just a clumsy actor who hadcome from some sort of shop, and he never quite regained his formerlustre. When we dress‑rehearsed The Master it wasapparent that he knew nothing about make‑up; he appeared with ahorrible red face and a huge pair of false red eyebrows. ‘Good God,m’boy,’ Sir John called from the front of the house, when thisSpock appeared, ‘what have you been doing to your face?’ Thegenius walked to the footlights–inexcusable, he should have spokenfrom his place on the stage–and began to explain that as he wasplaying a Scots servant he thought he should have a very freshcomplexion to suggest a peasant ancestry, a childhood spent on themoors, and a good deal more along the same lines. Sir John shut himup, and told Darton Flesher, a good, useful actor, to show the boyhow to put on a decent, unobtrusive face, suited to chair‑lifting.

“The genius was huffy, backstage, and talked about throwing up thewhole business of Jekyll and Hyde and leaving Sir John to stew in hisown juice. But Audrey Sevenhowes said, ‘Oh, don’t be so silly;everybody has to learn,’ and that cooled him down. Audrey alsothrew him a kind word about how she couldn’t spare him because hewas going to write a lovely part for her in the new play, and gavehim a smile that would have melted–well, I mustn’t beextreme–that would have melted a lad down from Cambridge whoseself‑esteem had been wounded. It wouldn’t have melted me; Ihad taken Miss Sevenhowes’ number long before. But then, I was ahard case.

“Not so hard that I hadn’t a little sympathy for AdeleChesterton, whose nose was out of joint. She was still playing inScaramouche , but she had not been cast in The Master ;an actress called Felicity Larcombe had been brought in for thesecond leading female role in that. She was one of the most beautifulwomen I have ever seen anywhere: very dark brown hair, splendid eyes,a superb slim figure, and that air of enduring a secret sorrowbravely which so many men find irresistible. What was more, she couldact, which poor Adele Chesterton, who was the Persian‑kittentype, could only do by fits and starts. But she was a decent kid, andI was sorry for her, because the company, without meaning itunkindly, neglected her. You know how theatre companies are: ifyou’re working with them, you’re real, and if you aren’t, youhave only a half‑life in their estimation. Adele was thewaning, and Felicity the waxing, moon.

“As usual, Audrey Sevenhowes had a comment. ‘Nobody to blame butherself,’ said she; ‘Made a Horlicks–an utter Horlicks–of herpart. I could have shown them, but–’ Her shrug showed what shethought of the management’s taste. ‘Horlicks’ was a word sheused a lot; it suggested ‘ballocks’ but avoided a directindecency. Charlton and Woulds loved to hear her say it; it seemeddelightfully daring, and sexy, and knowing. It was my first encounterwith this sort of allurement, and I disliked it.

“I mentioned to Macgregor that Miss Larcombe seemed a very good,and probably expensive, actress for her small part in The Master. ‘Ah, she’ll have a great deal to do on the tour,’ he replied,and I pricked up my ears. But there was nothing more to be got out ofhim about the tour.

“It was all clear before we opened The Master , however; SirJohn was engaging a company to make a longish winter tour in Canada,with a repertoire of some of his most successful old pieces, andScaramouche as a novelty. Holroyd was asking people to dropinto his office and talk about contracts.

“Of course the company buzzed about it. For the established actorsa decision had to be made: would they absent themselves from Londonfor the best part of a winter season? All actors under a certain ageare hoping for some wonderful chance that will carry them into thefront rank of their profession, and a tour in Sir John’s repertoirewasn’t exactly it. On the other hand, a tour of Canada could be alark, because Sir John was known to be a great favourite there andthey would play to big audiences, and see a new country while theydid it.

“For the middle‑aged actors it was attractive. Jim Hailey andhis wife Gwenda Lewis jumped at it, because they had a boy to educateand it was important to them to keep in work. Frank Moore was anenthusiastic sightseer and traveller, and had toured Australia andSouth Africa but had not been to Canada since 1924. Grover Paskin andC. Pengelly Spickernell were old standbys of Sir John’s, and wouldcheerfully have toured Hell with him. Emilia Pauncefort wasn’tlikely to get other offers, because stately old women and picturesquehags were not frequent in West End shows that season, and the OldVie, where she had staked out quite a little claim in cursing queens,had a new director who didn’t fancy her.

“But why Gordon Barnard, who was a very good leading man, orFelicity Larcombe, who was certain to go to the top of theprofession? Macgregor explained to me that Barnard hadn’t theambition that should have gone with his talent, and Miss Larcombe,wise girl, wanted to get as much varied experience as she couldbefore descending on the West End and making it hers forever. Therewas no trouble at all in recruiting a good company, and I was glad tosign my own contract, to be assistant to Mac and play doubles withouthaving my name on the programme. And to everybody’s astonishment,the genius was offered a job on the tour, and took it. So eighteenactors were recruited, not counting Sir John and Milady, and withHolroyd and some necessary technical staff, the final number of thecompany was to be twenty‑eight.

“The work was unrelenting. We opened The Master of Ballantrae, and although the other critics were not warm about it, Agate gaveit a push and we played a successful six weeks in London. God, whataudiences! People came out of the woodwork to see it, and it seemedthey had all seen it before and couldn’t get enough of it. ‘It’slike peeping into the dark backward and abysm of time,’ the geniussaid, and even I felt that in some way the theatre had been put backthirty years when we appeared in that powerful, thrilling, butstrangely antique piece.

“Every day we were called for rehearsal, in order to get the playsready for the tour. And what plays they were! The Lyons Mail and The Corsican Brothers , in both of which I doubled for SirJohn, and Rosemary , a small play with a minimum of scenery,which was needed to round out a repertoire in which all the otherplays were big ones, with cartloads of scenery and dozens ofcostumes. I liked Rosemary especially, because I didn’tdouble in it but I had a showy appearance as a stilt walker. How wesweated! It was rough on the younger people, who had to learn severalnew parts during days when they were working a full eight hours, butMoore and Spickernell and Paskin and Miss Pauncefort seemed to havebeen playing these melodramas for years, and the lines rolled offtheir tongues like grave old music. As for Sir John and Milady, theycouldn’t have been happier, and there is nothing so indestructiblydemanding and tireless as a happy actor.

“Did I say we worked eight hours? Holroyd and Macgregor, with me astheir slave, worked much longer than that, because the three plays wewere adding to Scaramouche and The Master had to beretrieved from storage and brushed up and made smart for the tour.But it was all done at last, and we closed in London one Saturdaynight, with everything finished that would make it possible for us tosail for Canada the following Tuesday.

“A small matter must be mentioned. The genius’s mother turned upfor one of the last performances of The Master , and it fellto me to show her to Sir John’s dressing‑room. She was a nicelittle woman, but not what one expects of the mother of such asplendid creature, and when I showed her through the great man’sdoor she looked as if she might faint from the marvel of it all. Ifelt sorry for her; it must be frightening when one mothers such aprodigy, and she had the humble look of somebody who can’t believeher luck.”

It was here that Roland Ingestree, who had been decidedly out ofsorts for the past half‑hour, intervened.

“Magnus, I don’t much mind you taking the mickey out of me, ifthat’s how you get your fun, but I think you might leave poor oldMum out of it.”

Magnus pretended astonishment. “But my dear fellow, I don’t seehow I can. I’ve done my best to afford you the decency ofobscurity. I’d hoped to finish my narrative without letting theothers in on our secret. I could have gone on calling you ‘thegenius’, though you had other names in the company. There were somewho called you ‘the Cantab’ because of your degree fromCambridge, and there were others who called you ‘One’ because youhad that mock‑modest trick of referring to yourself as One whenin your heart you were crying, ‘Me, me, glorious ME!’ But I can’tleave you out, and I don’t see how I can leave your Mum out becauseshe threw so much light on you, and therefore lent a special flavourto the whole story of Sir John’s touring company.”

“All right Magnus; I was a silly young ass, and I freely admit it.But isn’t one permitted to be an ass for a year or two, when one isyoung, and the whole world appears to be open to one, and waiting forone? Because you had a rotten childhood, don’t suppose thateverybody else who had better luck was utterly a fool. Have you anyidea what you looked like in those days?”

“No, I haven’t, really, but I see you are dying to tell me. Doplease go ahead.”

“I shall. You were disliked and distrusted because everybodythought you were a sneak, as you’ve said yourself. But you haven’ttold us that you were a sneak, and blabbed to Macgregor aboutevery trivial breach of company discipline–who came into thetheatre after the half‑hour call, and who might happen to havea friend in the dressing‑room during the show, and who watchedSir John from the wings when he had said they weren’t to, andanything else you could find out by pussyfooting and snooping. Eventhat might have passed as your job, if you hadn’t had such a nastypersonality–always smiling like a pantomime demon–always stinkingof some sort of cheap hair oil–always running like a rabbit to opendoors for Milady–and vain as a peacock about your tuppenny‑ha’pennyjuggling and wire‑walking. You were a thoroughly nasty littlepiece of work, let me tell you.”

“I suppose I was. But you make the mistake of thinking I waspleased with myself. Not a bit of it. I was trying to learn the ropesof another mode of life–”

“Indeed you were. You were trying to be Sir John off the stage aswell as on. And what a caricature you made of it! Walking likeSpring‑Heeled Jack because Frank Moore had tried to show yousomething about deportment, and parting your greasy long hair in themiddle because Sir John was the last actor on God’s earth to do so,and wearing clothes that would make a cat laugh because Sir John woreeccentric duds that looked as if he’d had ‘em since MafekingNight.”

“Do you think I’d have been better off to model myself on you?”

“I was no prize as an actor. Don’t think I don’t know it. Butat least I was living in 1932, and you were aping a man who was stillliving in 1902, and if there hadn’t been a very strong uncannywhiff about you you’d have been a total freak.”

“Ah, but there was an uncanny whiff about me. I was Mungo Fetch,don’t forget. We fetches can’t help being uncanny.”

Lind intervened. “Dear friends,” he said, being very much thecourtly Swede, “let us not have a quarrel about these grievanceswhich are so long dead. You are both different men now. Think, Roly,of your achievements as a novelist and broadcaster; One, and theGenius and the Cantab are surely buried under that? And you, my dearEisengrim, what reason have you to be bitter toward anyone? What haveyou desired that life has not given you? Including what I now see isa very great achievement; you modelled yourself on a fine actor ofthe old school, and you have put all you learned at the service ofyour own art, where it has flourished wonderfully. Roly, you soughtto be a literary man, and you are one; Magnus, you wanted to be SirJohn, and it looks very much as if you had succeeded, in so far asanyone can succeed–”

“Just a little more than most people succeed,” said Ingestree,who was still hot; “you ate poor old Sir John. You ate him down tothe core. We could see it happening, right from the beginning of thattour.”

“Did I really?” said Magnus, apparently pleased. “I didn’tknow it showed so plainly. But now you are being melodramatic, Roly.I simply wanted to be like him. I told you, I apprenticed myself toan egoism, because I saw how invaluable that egoism was. Nobody cansteal another man’s ego, but he can learn from it, and I learned.You didn’t have the wits to learn.”

“I’d have been ashamed to toady as you did, whatever it broughtme.”

“Toady? Now that’s an unpleasant word. You didn’t learn whatthere was to be learned in that company, Ingestree. You were at everyrehearsal and every performance of The Master of Ballantrae that I was. Don’t you remember the splendid moment when Sir John,as Mr. Henry, said to his father: ‘There are double words foreverything; the word that swells and the word that belittles; mybrother cannot fight me with a word.’ Your word for my relationshipto Sir John is toadying, but mine is emulation, and I think mine isthe better word.”

“Yours is the dishonest word. Your emulation, as you call it,sucked the pith out of that poor old ham, and gobbled it up and madeit part of yourself. It was a very nasty process.”

“Roly, I idolized him.”

“Yes, and to be idolized by you, as you were then, was a terrible,vampire‑like feeding on his personality and his spirit–becausehis personality as an actor was all there was of his spirit. You werea double, right enough, and such a double as Poe and Dostoyevskywould have understood. When we first met at Sorgenfrei I thoughtthere was something familiar about you, and the minute you began toact I sensed what it was; you were the fetch of Sir John. But I swearit wasn’t until today, as we sat at this table, that I realized youreally were Mungo Fetch.”

“Extraordinary! I recognized you the minute I set eyes on you, inspite of the rather Pickwickian guise you have acquired during thepast forty years.”

“And you were waiting for a chance to knife me?”

“Knife! Knife! Always these belittling words! Have you no sense ofhumour, my dear man?”

“Humour is a poisoned dagger in the hands of a man like you. Peopletalk of humour as if it were all jolly, always the lump of sugar inthe coffee of life. A man’s humour takes its quality from what aman is, and your humour is like the scratch of a rusty nail.”

“Oh, balls,” said Kinghovn. Ingestree turned on him, very whitein the face.

“What the hell do you mean by interfering?” he said.

“I mean what I say. Balls! You people who are so clever with wordsnever allow yourselves or anybody else a moment’s peace. What isthis all about? You two knew each other when you were young and youdidn’t hit it off. So now we have all this gaudy abuse aboutvampires and rusty nails from Roly, and Magnus is leading him on tomake a fool of himself and cause a fight. I’m enjoying myself. Ilike this subtext and I want the rest of it. We had just got to whereRoly’s Mum was paying a visit to Sir John backstage. I want to knowabout that. I can see it in my mind’s eye. Colour, angle of camera,quality of light–the whole thing. Get on with it and let’s forgetall this subjective stuff; it has no reality except what somebodylike me can provide for it, and at the moment I’m not interested insubjective rubbish. I want the story. Enter Roly’s Mum; what next?”

“Since Roly’s Mum is such a hot potato, perhaps Roly had bettertell you,” said Eisengrim.

“So I will. My Mum was a very decent body, though at the time I wassilly enough to underrate her; as Magnus has made clear I was alittle above myself in those days. University does it, you know. It’ssuch a protected life for a young man, and he so easily loses hisfrail hold on reality.

“My people weren’t grand, at all. My father had an antique shopin Norwich, and he was happy about that because he had risen abovehis father, who had combined a small furniture shop with anundertaking business. Both my parents had adored Sir John, and agesbefore the time we are talking about–before the First Great War, infact–they did rather a queer thing that brought them to hisattention. They loved The Master of Ballantrae ; it was justtheir meat, full of antiquery and romance; they liked sellingantiques because it seemed romantic, I truly believe. They saw TheMaster fully ten times when they were young, and loved it sothat they wrote out the whole play from memory–I don’t suppose itwas very accurate, but they did–and sent it to Sir John with anadoring letter. Sort of tribute from playgoers whose life he hadillumined, you know. I could hardly believe it when I was young, butI know better now; fans get up to the queerest things in order toassociate themselves with their idols.

“Sir John wrote them a nice letter, and when next he was nearNorwich, he came to the shop. He loved antiques, and bought them allover the place, and I honestly think his interest in them was simplyromantic, like my parents’. They never tired of telling about howhe came into the shop, and inquired about a couple of old chairs, andfinally asked if they were the people who had sent him themanuscript. That was a glory‑day for them, I can tell you. Andafterward, whenever they had anything that was in his line, theywrote to him, and quite often he bought whatever it was. That was whyit was so bloody‑minded of him to take it out of me about theproper way to handle a chair, and to make that crack about the shop.He knew it would hurt.

“Anyhow, my mother was out of her mind with joy when she wangled mea job with his company; thought he was going to be my great patron, Isuppose. My father had died, and the shop could keep her, butcertainly not me, and anyhow I was set on being a writer. I admit Iwas pleased to be asked to do a literary job for him; it wasn’tquite as grand as I may have pretended to Audrey Sevenhowes, but whohasn’t been a fool in his time? If I’d been shrewd enough toresist a pretty girl I’d have been a sharp little piece of glasslike Mungo Fetch, instead of a soft boy who had got a swelled head atCambridge, and knew nothing about the world.

“When my Mum knew I was going to Canada with the company she cameto London to say good‑bye–I’m ashamed to say I had told herthere was no chance of my going to Norwich, though I suppose I couldhave made it–and she wanted to see Sir John. She’d brought him agift, the loveliest little wax portrait relievo of Garrick you eversaw; I don’t know where she picked it up, but it was worth eightypounds if it was worth a ha’penny, and she gave it to him. And sheasked him, in terms that made me blush, to take good care of me whileI was abroad. I must say the old boy was decent, and said very kindlythat he was sure I didn’t need supervision, but that he wouldalways be glad to talk with me if anything came up that worriedme.”“Audrey Sevenhowes put it about that your Mum had askedMilady to see that you didn’t forget your bedsocks in the Arcticwildernesses of Canada,” said Eisengrim.

“You don’t surprise me. Audrey Sevenhowes was a bitch, and shemade a fool of me. But I don’t care. I’d rather be a fool than atough any day. But I assure you there was no mention of bedsocks; myMum was not a complex woman, but she wasn’t stupid, either.”

“Ah, there you have the advantage of me,” said Magnus, with asmile of great charm. “My mother, I fear, was very much more thanstupid, as I have already told you. She was mad. So perhaps we can befriends again, Roly?”

He put out his hand across the table. It was not a gesture anEnglishman would have made, and I couldn’t quite make up my mindwhether he was sincere or not. But Ingestree took his hand, and itwas perfectly plain that he meant to make up the quarrel.

The waiters were beginning to look at us meaningly, so we adjournedupstairs to our expensive apartment, where everybody had a chance touse the loo. The film‑makers were not to be shaken. They wantedthe story to the end. So, after the interval–not unlike an intervalat the theatre–we reassembled in our large sitting‑room, andit now seemed to be understood, without anybody having said so, thatRoly and Magnus were going to continue the story as a duet.

I was pleased, as I was pleased by anything that gave me a new lightor a new crumb of information about my old friend, who had becomeMagnus Eisengrim. I was puzzled, however, by the silence of Liesl,who had sat through the narration at the lunch table without saying aword. Her silence was not of the unobtrusive kind; the less she saidthe more conscious one became of her presence. I knew her well enoughto bide my time. Though she said nothing, she was big with feeling,and I knew that she would have something to say when she felt theright moment had come. After all, Magnus was in a very real sense herproperty: did he not live in her house, treat it as his own, shareher bed, and accept the homage of her extraordinary courtesy, yetalways understanding who was the real ruler of Sorgenfrei? What didLiesl think about Magnus undressing himself, inch by inch, in frontof the film‑makers? Particularly now that it was clear thatthere was an old, unsettled hostility between him and RolandIngestree. What did she think?

What did I think, as I carefully wiped my newly scrubbed dentures onone of the Savoy’s plentiful linen hand‑towels, beforeslipping them back over my gums? I thought I wanted all I could getof this vicarious life. I wanted to be off to Canada with Sir JohnTresize. I knew what Canada meant to me: what had it meant to him?


When I returned to our drawing‑room Roly was already aboardship.

“One of my embarrassments–how susceptible the young are toembarrassment–was that my dear Mum had outfitted me with a vastwoolly steamer‑rug in a gaudy design. The company keptpestering Macgregor to know what tartan it was, and he thought itlooked like Hunting Cohen, so The Hunting Cohen it was from that timeforth. I didn’t need it, God knows, because the C.P.R. ship wasfiercely hot inside, and it was too late in the season for anyone tosit on deck in any sort of comfort.

“My Mum was so solicitous in seeing me off that the companypretended to think I needed a lot of looking after, and made a greatgame of it. Not unkind (except for Charlton and Woulds, who werebullies) but very jokey and hard to bear, especially when I wanted tobe glorious in the eyes of Audrey Sevenhowes. But my Mum had alsoprovided me with a Baedeker’s Canada , the edition of 1922,which had somehow found its way into the shop, and although it wascertainly out of date a surprising number of people asked for a loanof it, and informed themselves that the Government of Canada issued afour‑dollar bill, and that the coloured porters on thesleeping‑cars expected a minimum tip of twenty‑five centsa day, and that a guard’s van was called a caboose on Canadianrailways, and similar useful facts.

“The Co. may have thought me funny, but they were a quaint sightthemselves when they assembled on deck for a publicity picture beforewe left Liverpool. There were plenty of these company pictures takenthrough the whole length of the tour, and in every one of them EmiliaPauncefort’s extraordinary travelling coat (called behind her backthe Coat of Many Colours) and the fearful man’s cap that GwendaLewis fastened to her head with a hatpin, so that she would be readyfor all New World hardships, and the fur cap C. Pengelly Spickernellwore, assuring everybody that a skin cap with earflaps was absolutelyde rigueur in the Canadian winter, Grover Paskin’s hugepipe, with a bowl about the size of a brandy‑glass, and EugeneFitzwarren’s saucy Homburg and coat with velvet collar, in theEdwardian manner–all these strange habiliments figured prominently.Even though the gaudy days of the Victorian mummers had long gone,these actors somehow got themselves up so that they couldn’t havebeen taken for anything else on God’s earth but actors.

“It was invariable, too, that when Holroyd had mustered us for oneof these obligatory pictures. Sir John and Milady always appearedlast, smiling in surprise, as if a picture were the one thing in theworld they hadn’t expected, and as if they were joining in simplyto humour the rest of us. Sir John was an old hand at travelling inCanada, and he wore an overcoat of Raglan cut and reasonable weight,but of an amplitude that spoke of the stage–and, as our friend hastold us, the sleeves were always a bit short so that his hands showedto advantage. Milady wore fur, as befitted the consort of anactor‑knight; what fur it was nobody knew, but it was veryfurry indeed, and soft, and smelled like money. She topped herselfwith one of those cloche hats that were fashionable then, ina hairy purple felt; not the happiest choice, because it almostobscured her eyes, and threw her long duck’s‑bill nose intoprominence.

“But never–never, I assure you–in any of these pictures wouldyou find Mungo Fetch. Who can have warned him off? Whose decision wasit that a youthful Sir John, in clothes that were always too tightand sharply cut, wouldn’t have done in one of these pictures whichalways appeared in Canadian papers with a caption that read: ‘SirJohn Tresize and his London company, including Miss Annette de laBorderie (Lady Tresize), who are touring Canada after a triumphantseason in the West End.’ “

“It was a decision of common sense,” said Magnus. “It neverworried me. I knew my place, which is more than you did, Roly.”

“Quite right. I fully admit it. I didn’t know my place. I wasunder the impression that a university man was acceptable everywhere,and inferior to no one. I hadn’t twigged that in a theatricalcompany–or any artistic organization, for that matter–thehierarchy is decided by talent, and that art is the most rigorouslyaristocratic thing in our democratic world. So I always pushed in asclose to Audrey Sevenhowes as I could, and I even picked up the trickfrom Charlton of standing a bit sideways, to show my profile, which Irealize now would have been better kept a mystery. I was an ass. Oh,indeed I was a very fine and ostentatious ass, and don’t think Ihaven’t blushed for it since.”

“Stop telling us what an ass you were,” said Kinghovn. “Even Irecognize that as an English trick to pull the teeth of our contempt.‘Oh, I say, what a jolly good chap: says he’s an ass, don’t yerknow; he couldn’t possibly say that if he was really an ass.’ ButI’m a tough‑minded European; I think you really were an ass.If I had a time‑machine, I’d whisk myself back into 1932 andgive you a good boot in the arse for it. But as I can’t, tell mewhy you were included on the tour. Apparently you were a bad actorand an arguing nuisance as a chair‑lifter. Why would anybodypay you money, and take you on a jaunt to Canada?”

“You need a drink, Harry. You are speaking from the deep surlinessof the deprived boozer. Don’t fuss; it’ll be the canonical,appointed cocktail hour quite soon, and then you’ll regain yourtemper. I was taken as Sir John’s secretary. The idea was that I’dwrite letters to fans that he could sign, and do general dog’s‑bodywork, and also get on with Jekyll‑and‑Hyde.

“That was where the canker gnawed, to use an appropriatelymelodramatic expression. I had thought, you see, that I was to writea dramatization of Stevenson’s story, and as Magnus has told you Iwas full of great ideas about Dostoyevsky and masks. I used to quoteStevenson at Sir John: ‘I hazard the guess that man will beultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous, andindependent denizens,’ I would say, and entreat him to let me putthe incongruous denizens on the stage, in masks. He merely shook hishead and said, ‘No good, m’boy; my public wouldn’t like it.’Then I would have at him with another quotation, in which Jekylltells of ‘those appetites I had long secretly indulged, and had oflate begun to pamper’. Once he asked me what I had in mind. I hadlots of Freudian capers in mind: masochism, and sadism, andrough‑stuff with girls. That rubbed his Victorianism the wrongway. ‘Unwholesome rubbish,’ was all he would say.

“In the very early days of our association I was even so daring asto ask him to scrap Jekyll‑and‑Hyde and let me do aversion of Dorian Gray for him. That really tore it! ‘Don’tever mention that man to me again,’ he said; ‘Oscar Wilde draggedhis God‑given genius in unspeakable mire, and the greatestkindness we can do is to forget his name. Besides, my public wouldn’thear of it.’ So I was stuck with Jekyll‑and‑Hyde.

“Stuck even worse than I had at first supposed. Ages and agesbefore, at the beginning of their career together, Sir John andMilady had concocted The Master of Ballantrae themselves,with their own innocent pencils. They made the scenario, down to thelast detail, then found some hack to supply dialogue. This, Idiscovered to my horror, was what they had done again. They had madea scheme for Jekyll‑and‑Hyde, and they expected me towrite some words for it, and he had the gall to say they would polish. Those two mountebanks polish my stuff! I was no hack;hadn’t I got a meritorious second in Eng. Lit at Cambridge? And itwould have been a first, if I had been content to crawl and stick tothe party line about everything on the syllabus from Beowulf on down!Don’t laugh, you people. I was young and I had pride.”

“But no stage experience,” said Lind.

“Perhaps not, but I wasn’t a fool. And you should have seen thescenario Sir John and Milady had cobbled up between them. Stevensonmust have turned in his grave. Do you know The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ? It’s tremendously a written book.Do you know what I mean? Its quality is so much in the narrativemanner; extract the mere story from it and it’s just a tale ofbugaboo. Chap drinking a frothy liquid that changes from clear topurple and then to green–green if you can imagine anythingso corny–and he shrinks into his wicked alter ego . I setmyself to work to discover a way of getting the heart of the literaryquality into a stage version.

“Masks would have helped enormously. But those two had seized onwhat was, for them, the principal defect of the original, which wasthat there was no part for a woman in it. Well, imagine! What wouldthe fans of Miss Annette de la Borderie say to that? So they hadfudged up a tale in which Dr. Jekyll had a secret sorrow; it was thata boyhood friend had married the girl he truly loved, who discoveredafter the marriage that she truly loved Jekyll. So he adored herhonourably, while her husband went to the bad through drink. The bigRenunciation ploy, you see, which was such a telling card in TheMaster .

“To keep his mind off his thwarted love, Dr. Jekyll took to muckingwith chemicals, and discovered the Fateful Potion. Then the husbandof the True Love died of booze, and Jekyll and she were free tomarry. But by that time he was addicted to the Fateful Potion. Hadtaken so much of it that he was likely to give a shriek and dwindleinto Hyde at any inconvenient moment. So he couldn’t marry his TrueLove and couldn’t tell her why. Great final scene, where he islocked in his laboratory, changed into Hyde, and quite unable tochange back, because he’s run out of the ingredients of the F.P.;True Love, suspecting something’s up, storms the door with the aidof a butler and footman who break it in; as the blows on the doorsend him into the trembles, Jekyll, with one last superhumanclutching at his Better Self, realizes that there is only onehonourable way out; he takes poison, and hops the twig just as TrueLove bursts in; she holds the body of Hyde in her arms, weepingpiteously, and the power of her love is so great that he turns slowlyback into the beautiful Dr. Jekyll, redeemed at the very moment ofdeath.”

“A strong curtain,” said I. “I don’t know what you’recomplaining about. I should like to have seen that play. I rememberTresize well; he could have done it magnificently.”

“You must be pulling my leg,” said Ingestree, looking at me inreproach.

“Not a bit of it. Good, gutsy melodrama. You’ve described it inlarky terms, because you want us to laugh. But I think it would haveworked. Didn’t you ever try?”

“Oh yes, I tried. I tried all through that Canadian tour. I wouldslave away whenever I got a chance, and then show my homework to SirJohn, and he would mark it up in his own spidery handwriting. Keptsaying I had no notion of how to make words effective, and wrotethree sentences where one would do.

“I tried everything I knew. I remember saying to myself one night,as I lay in my berth in a stifling hot Canadian train, What wouldAldous Huxley do, in my position? And it came to me that Aldous wouldhave used what we call a distancing‑technique–you know, hewould have written it all apparently straight, but with a choice ofvocabulary that gave it all an ironic edge, so that the perceptivelistener would realize that the whole play was ambiguous, and couldbe taken as a hilarious send‑up. So I tried a scene or two likethat, and I don’t believe Sir John even twigged; he just sliced outall the telling adjectives, and there it was, melodrama again. Inever met a man with such a deficient literary sense.”

“Did it ever occur to you that perhaps he knew his job?” saidLind. “I’ve never found that audiences liked ambiguity very much.I’ve got all my best effects by straight statement.”

“Dead right,” said Kinghovn. “When Jurgen wants ambiguity hetips me the wink and I film the scene a bit skew‑whiff, oroccasionally going out of focus, and that does the trick.”

“You’re telling me this now,” said Ingestree, “and I expectyou’re right, in your unliterary way. But there was nobody to tellme anything then, except Sir John, and I could see him becoming moreand more stagily patient with me, and letting whatever invisibleaudience he acted to in his offstage moments admire the way in whichthe well‑graced actor endured the imbecilities of the dimwittedboy. But I swear there was something to be said on my side, as well.But as I say I was an ass. Am I never to be forgiven for being anass?”

“That’s a very pretty theological point,” I said. “ ‘In thelaw of God there is no statute of limitations.’ “

“My God! Do you remember that one?” said Ingestree.

“Oh yes; I’ve read Stevenson too. you know, and that chillyremark comes in Jekyll and Hyde , so you are certainlyfamiliar with it. Are we ever forgiven for the follies even of ourearliest years? That’s something that torments me often.”

“Bugger theology!” said Kinghovn. “Get on with the story.”

“High time Harry had a drink,” said Liesl. “I’ll call forsome things to be sent up. And we might as well have dinner here,don’t you think? I’ll choose.”

When she had gone into the bedroom to use the telephone Magnus lookedcalculatingly at Ingestree, as if at some curious creature he had notobserved before. “You describe the Canadian tour simply as apersonal Gethsemane, but it was really quite an elaborate affair,”he said. “I suppose one of your big problems was trying to fit apart into Jekyll‑and‑Hyde for the chaste and lovelySevenhowes. Couldn’t you have made her a confidential maid to theTrue Love, with stirring lines like, ‘Ee, madam, Dr. Jekyll ‘e dolook sadly mazy‑like these latter days, madam’? That wouldhave been about her speed. A rotten actress. Do you know what becameof her? Neither do I. What becomes of all those pretty girls with ateaspoonful of talent who seem to drift off the stage before they arethirty? But really, my dear Roly, there was a great deal going on. Iwas working like a galley‑slave.”

“I’m sure you were,” said Ingestree; “toadying to Milady, asI said earlier. I use the word without malice. Your approach was notdescribable as courtier‑like, nor did it quite sink to thelevel of fawning; therefore I think toadying is the appropriateexpression.”

“Call it toadying if it suits your keen literary sense. I have saidseveral times that I loved her, but you choose not to attach anyimportance to that. Loved her not in the sense of desiring her, whichwould have been grotesque, and never entered my head, but simply inthe sense of wishing to serve her and do anything that was in mypower to make her happy. Why I felt that way about a woman old enoughto be my mother is for you dabblers in psychology to say, but nothingyou can think of will give the real quality of my feeling; there is apitiful want of resonance in so much psychological explanation ofwhat lies behind things. If you had felt more, Roly, and been lessremorselessly literary, you might have seen possibilities in the planfor the Jekyll and Hyde play. A man redeemed and purged of evil by awoman’s love–now there’s a really unfashionable theme for aplay in our time! So unfashionable as to be utterly incredible. YetSir John and Milady seemed to know what such themes were all about.They were more devoted than any people I have ever known.”

“Like a couple of old love‑birds,” said Ingestree.

“Well, what would you prefer? A couple of old scratching cats?Don’t forget that Sir John was a symbol to countless people ofromantic love in its most chivalrous expression. You know what Agatewrote about him once–’He touches women as if they werecamellias.’ Can you name an actor on the stage today who makes lovelike that? But there was never a word of scandal about them, becauseoff the stage they were inseparables.

“I think I penetrated their secret: undoubtedly they began aslovers but they had long been particularly close friends. Is thatcommon? I haven’t seen much of it, if it is. They were sillies, ofcourse. Sir John would never hear a word that suggested that Miladywas unsuitably cast as a young woman, though I know he was aware ofit. And she was a silly because she played up to him, and clung quitepitiably to some mannerisms of youth. I knew them for years, youknow; you only knew them on that tour. But I remember much later,when a newspaper interviewer touched the delicate point. Sir Johnsaid with great dignity and simplicity, ‘Ah, but you see, we alwaysfelt that our audiences were ready to make allowances if the physicalaspect of a character was not ideally satisfied, because they knewthat so many other fine things in our performances were made possiblethereby.’

“He had a good point, you know. Look at some of the leading womenin the Comedie Francaise; crone is not too hard a word when first yousee them, but in ten minutes you are delighted with the art, andforget the appearance, which is only a kind of symbol, anyhow. Miladyhad extraordinary art, but alas, poor dear, she did run to fat. It’sbetter for an actress to become a bag of bones, which can always beequated somehow with elegance. Fat’s another thing. But what a giftof comedy she had, and how wonderfully it lit up a play like Rosemary, where she insisted on playing a character part instead of theheroine. Charity, Roly, charity.”

“You’re a queer one to be talking about charity. You ate SirJohn. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. You ate that poorold ham.”

“That’s one of your belittling words, like ‘toady’. I’vesaid it: I apprenticed myself to an egoism, and if in the course oftime, because I was younger and had a career to make, the egoismbecame more mine than his, what about it? Destiny, m’boy?Inevitable, quonk?”

“Oh, God, don’t do that, it’s too horribly like him.

“Thank you. I thought so myself. And, as I tell you, I worked toachieve it!

“You had quite a jolly time on the voyage to Canada, as I recall.But don’t you remember those rehearsals we held every day, in suchholes and corners of the ship as the Purser could make available tous? Macgregor and I were too busy to be seasick, which was a luxuryyou didn’t deny yourself. You were sick the night of the ship’sconcert. Those concerts are utterly a thing of the past. The Purser’sassistant was busy almost before the ship left Liverpool, ferretingout what possible talent there might be on board–ladies who couldsing ‘The Rosary’ or men who imitated Harry Lauder. A theatricalcompany was a godsend to the poor man. And in the upshot C. PengellySpickernell sang “Melisande in the Wood” and “The Floral Dance”(nicely contrasted material, was what he called it) and Grover Paskintold funny stories (insecurely cemented together with “And thatreminds me of the time–”) and Sir John recited Clarence’s Dreamfrom Richard III ; Milady made the speech hitting up theaudience for money for the Seaman’s Charities, and did it with somuch charm and spirit that they got a record haul.

“But that’s by the way. We worked on the voyage and after we’ddocked at Montreal the work was even harder. We landed on a Friday,and opened on Monday at Her Majesty’s for two weeks, one givenwholly to Scaramouche and the second to The CorsicanBrothers and Rosemary . We did first‑rate business,and it was the beginning of what the old actors loved to call atriumphal tour. You wouldn’t believe how we were welcomed, and howthe audiences ate up those romantic plays–”

“I remember some fairly cool notices,” said Roly.

“But not cool audiences, that’s what counts. Provincial criticsare always cool; they have to show they’re not impressed by whatcomes from the big centres of culture. The audiences thought we werewonderful.”

“Magnus, the audiences thought England was wonderful. The Tresizecompany came from England, and if the truth is to be told it camefrom a special England many of the people in those audiencescherished–the England they had left when they were young, or theEngland they had visited when they were young, and in many cases anEngland they simply imagined and wished were a reality.

“Even in 1932 all that melodrama was terribly old hat, but everyaudience had a core of people who were happy just to be listening toEnglish voices repeating noble sentiments. The notion that everybodywants the latest is a delusion of intellectuals; a lot of people wanta warm, safe place where Time hardly moves at all, and to a lot ofthose Canadians that place was England. The theatre was almost thelast stronghold of the old colonial Canada. You know very well it wasmore than twenty years since Sir John had dared to visit New York,because his sort of theatre was dead there. But it did very well inCanada because it wasn’t simply theatre there–it was England, andthey were sentimental about it.

“Don’t you remember the smell of mothballs that used to sweep uponto the stage when the curtain rose, from all the bunny coats andancient dress suits in the expensive seats? There were still peoplewho dressed for the theatre, though I doubt if they dressed foranything else, except perhaps a regimental ball or something thatalso reminded them of England. Sir John was exploiting the remnantsof colonialism. You liked it because you knew no better.”

“I knew Canada,” said Magnus. “At least, I knew the part of itthat had responded to Wanless’s World of Wonders and Happy Hannah’sjokes. The Canada that came to see Sir John was different but notwholly different. We didn’t tour the villages; we toured the citieswith theatres that could accommodate our productions, but we rushedthrough many a village I knew as we jaunted all those thousands ofmiles on the trains. As we travelled, I began to think I knew Canadapretty well. But quite another thing was that I knew what entertainspeople, what charms the money out of their pockets, and feeds theirimagination.

“The theatre to you was a kind of crude extension of Eng. Lit. atCambridge, but the theatre I knew was the theatre that makes peopleforget some things and remember others, and refreshes dry places inthe spirit. We were both ignorant young men, Roly. You were the kindthat is so scared of life that you only know how to despise it, forfear you might be tricked into liking something that wasn’t up tothe standards of a handful of people you admired. I was the kind thatknew very little that wasn’t tawdry and tough and ugly, but Ihadn’t forgotten my Psalms, and I thirsted for something better asthe hart pants for the water‑brooks. So Sir John’s plays, andthe decent manners he insisted on in his company, and the regularityand honesty of the Friday treasury, when I got my pay without havingto haggle or kick back any part of it to some petty crook, did verywell for me.”

“You’re idealizing your youth, Magnus. Lots of the company justthought the tour was a lark.”

“Yes, but even more of the company were honest players and didtheir best in the work they had at hand. You saw too much of Charltonand Woulds, who were no good and never made any mark in theprofession. And you were under the thumb of Audrey Sevenhowes, whowas another despiser, like yourself. Of course we had our ridiculousside. What theatrical troupe hasn’t? But the effect we producedwasn’t ridiculous. We had something people wanted, and we didn’tgive them short weight. Very different from my carnival days, whenshort weight was the essence of everything.”

“So for you the Canadian tour was a time of spiritual growth,”said Lind.

“It was a time when I was able to admit that honesty and somedecency of life were luxuries within my grasp,” said Magnus. “Canyou imagine that? You people all have the flesh and finish of thosewho grew up feeling reasonably safe in the world. And you grew up asvisible people. Don’t forget that I had spent most of my serioushours inside Abdullah.”

“Melodrama has eaten into your brain,” said Roly. “When I knewyou, you were inside Sir John, inside his body and inside his mannerand voice and everything about him that a clever double couldimitate. Was it really different?”

“Immeasurably different.”

“I wish you two would stop clawing one another,” said Kinghovn.“If it was all so different–and I’m quite ready to believe itwas–how was it different? If its possible to find out, of course.You two sound as if you had been on different tours.”

“Not a bit of it. It was the same tour, right enough,” saidMagnus; “but I probably remember more of its details than Roly. I’ma detail man; it’s the secret of being a good illusionist. Roly hasthe big, broad picture, as it would have appeared to someone of histemperament and education. He saw everything it was proper for theCantab and One to notice; I saw and tried to understand everythingthat passed before my eyes.

“Do you remember Morton W. Penfold, Roly? No, I didn’t think youwould. But he was one of the casters on which that tour rolled. Hewas our Advance.

“The tour was under the management of a syndicate of rich Canadianswho wanted to encourage English theatre companies to visit Canada,partly because they wanted to stem what they felt was a too heavyAmerican influence, partly in the hope that they might make a littlemoney, partly because they felt the attraction of the theatre in theignorant way rich businessmen sometimes do. When we arrived inMontreal some of them met the ship and bore Sir John and Milady away,and there was a great deal of wining and dining before we opened onMonday. Morton W. Penfold was their representative, and he went aheadof us like a trumpeter all across the country. Arranged about traveland saw that tickets for everybody were forthcoming whenever wemounted a train. Saw that trains were delayed when necessary, or thatan improvised special helped us to make a difficult connection.Arranged that trucks and sometimes huge sleighs were ready to lug thescenery to and from the theatres. Arranged that there were enoughstagehands for our heavy shows, and a rough approximation of thenumber of musicians we needed to play our music, and college boys orother creatures of the right height and bulk who were needed for thesupers in The Master and Scaramouche . Saw that ahorse of guaranteed good character and continence was hired to pullClimene’s cart. Placed the advertisements in the local papers aheadof our appearance, and also tasty bits of publicity about Sir Johnand Milady; had a little anecdote ready for every paper that made itclear that the name Tresize was Cornish and that the emphasis came onthe second syllable; also provided a little packet of favourablereviews from London, Montreal, and Toronto papers for the newspapersin small towns where there was no regular critic, and such materialmight prime the pump of a local reporter’s invention. He also sawthat the information was provided for the programmes, and warnedlocal theatre managers that Madame de Plougastel’s Salon was not amisprint for Madame de Plougastel’s Saloon, which some of them wereapt to think.

“Morton W. Penfold was a living marvel, and I learned a lot fromhim on the occasions when he was in the same town with us for a fewdays. He was more theatrical than all but the most theatrical of theactors; had a big square face with a blue jaw, a hypnotist’seyebrows, and a deceptive appearance of dignity and solemnity,because he was a fellow of infinite wry humour. He wore one of thoseblack Homburg hats that politicians used to affect, but he neverdinted the top of it, so that he had something of the air of aMennonite about the head; wore a stiff choker collar and one of thoseblack satin stocks that used to be called a dirty‑shirtnecktie, because it covered everything within the V of his waistcoat.Always wore a black suit, and had a dazzling ten‑cent shoeshineevery day of his life. His business office was contained in thepockets of his black overcoat; he could produce anything from them,including eight‑by‑ten‑inch publicity pictures ofthe company.

“He was pre‑eminently a great fixer. He seemed to knoweverybody, and have influence everywhere. In every town he hadarranged for Sir John to address the Rotarians, or the Kiwanians, orwhatever club was meeting on an appropriate day. Sir John always gavethe same speech, which was about ‘cementing the bonds of theBritish Commonwealth’; he could have given it in his sleep, but hewas too good an actor not to make it seem tailor‑made for everynew club.

“If we were going to be in a town that had an Anglican Cathedralover a weekend it was Morton W. Penfold who persuaded the Dean thatit was a God‑given opportunity to have Sir John read the SecondLesson at the eleven o’clock service. His great speciality wasgetting Indian tribes to invest a visiting English actor as a Chief,and he had convinced the Blackfoot that Sir John should bere‑christened Soksi‑Poyina many years before the tour Iam talking about.

“Furthermore, he knew the idiosyncrasies of the liquor laws inevery Canadian province we visited, and made sure the company did notrun dry; this was particularly important as Sir John and Milady had ataste for champagne, and liked it iced but not frozen, which was notalways a simple requirement in that land of plentiful ice. And inevery town we visited, Morton W. Penfold had made sure that ouradvertising sheets, full‑size, half‑size, and folio, werewell displayed and that our little flyers, with pictures of Sir Johnin some of his most popular roles, were on the reception desks of allthe good hotels.

“And speaking of hotels, it was Morton W. Penfold who tookparticulars of everybody’s taste in accommodation on that first dayin Montreal, and saw that wherever we went reservations had been madein the grand railway hotels, which were wonderful, or in the dumpswhere people like James Hailey and Gwenda Lewis stayed, for the sakeof economy.

“Oh, those cheap hotels! I stayed in the cheapest, where oneelectric bulb hung from a string in the middle of the room, where thesheets were like cheesecloth, and where the mattresses–when theywere revealed as they usually were after a night’s restlesssleep–were like maps of strange worlds, the continents beingdefined by unpleasing stains, doubtless traceable to the incontinentdreams of travelling salesmen, or the rapturous deflowerings ofbrides from the backwoods.

“Was he well paid for his innumerable labours? I don’t know, butI hope so. He said very little that was personal, but Macgregor toldme that Morton W. Penfold was born into show business, and that hiswife was the granddaughter of the man whom Blondin the Magnificenthad carried across Niagara Gorge on his shoulders in 1859. It wasunder his splendid and unfailing influence that we travelledthousands of miles across Canada and back again, and played a totalof 148 performances in forty‑one towns, ranging from places ofabout twenty thousand souls to big cities. I think I could recite thenames of the theatres we played in now, though they showed no greatdaring in what they called themselves; there were innumerable Grands,and occasional Princesses or Victorias, but most of them were justcalled Somebody’s Opera House.”

“Frightful places,” said Ingestree, doing a dramatic shudder.

“I’ve seen worse since,” said Magnus. “You should try a tourin Central America, to balance your viewpoint. What was interestingabout so many of the Canadian theatres, outside the big cities, wasthat they seemed to have been built with big ideas, and thenabandoned before they were equipped. They had pretty good foyers andauditoriums with plush seats, and invariably eight boxes, four oneach side of the stage, from which nobody could see very well. All ofthem had drop curtains with views of Venice or Rome on them, and aspyhole through which so many actors had peeped that it was ringedwith a black stain from their greasepaint. Quite a few had specialcurtains on which advertisements were printed for local merchants;Sir John didn’t like those, and Holroyd had to do what he could tosuppress them.

“Every one had a sunken pen for an orchestra, with a fancybalustrade to cut it off from the stalls, and nobody ever seemed tosweep in there. At performance time a handful of assassins wouldcreep into the pen from a low door beneath the stage, and fiddle andthump and toot the music to which they were accustomed. C. PengellySpickernell used to say bitterly that these musicians’ were allrecruited from the local manager’s poor relations; it was his jobto assemble as many of them as could get away from their regular workon a Monday morning and take them through the music that was toaccompany our plays. Sir John was fussy about music, and always had aspecial overture for each of his productions, and usually anentr’acte as well.

“God knows it was not very distinguished music. When we heard it,it was a puzzle to know why ‘Overture to Scaramouche’ byHugh Dunning did any more for the play that followed than if theorchestra had played ‘Overture to The Master of Ballantrae’by Festyn Hughes. But there it was, and to Sir John and Milady thesetwo lengths of mediocre music were as different as daylight and dark,and they used to sigh and raise their eyebrows at one another whenthey heard the miserable racket coming from the other side of thecurtain, as if it were the ravishing of a masterpiece. In addition tothis specially written music we carried a substantial body of stuffwith such titles as ‘Minuet d’Amour’, ‘Peasant Dance’, and‘Gaelic Memories’, which did for Rosemary ; and for TheCorsacan Brothers Sir John insisted on an overture that had beenwritten for Irving’s production of Robespierre by somebodycalled Litolff. Another great standby was ‘Suite: At the Play’,by York Bowen. But except in the big towns the orchestra couldn’tmanage anything unfamiliar, so we generally ended up with ‘ThreeDances from Henry VIII’ , by Edward German, which I supposeis known to every bad orchestra in the world. C. Pengelly Spickernellused to grieve about it whenever anybody would listen, but I honestlythink the audiences liked that bad playing, which was familiar andhad associations with a good time.

“Backstage there was nothing much to work with. No light, exceptfor a few rows of red, white, and blue bulbs that hardly disturbedthe darkness when they were full on. The arrangements for hanging andsetting our scenery were primitive, and only in the big towns wasthere more than one stagehand with anything that could be calledexperience. The others were jobbed in as they were needed, and duringthe day they worked in factories or lumber‑yards. Consequentlywe had to carry everything we needed with us, and now and then we hadto do some rapid improvising. It wasn’t as though these theatresweren’t used; most of them were busy for at least a part of eachweek for seven or eight months every year. It was simply that thelocal magnate, having put up the shell of a theatre, saw no reason togo further. It made touring adventurous, I can tell you.

“The dressing‑rooms were as ill equipped as the stages. Ithink they were worse than those in the vaude houses I had known,because those at least were in constant use and had a frowsy life tothem. In many towns there were only two wash‑basins backstagefor a whole company, one behind a door marked M and the other behinda door marked F. These doors, through years of use, had ceased toclose firmly, which at least meant that you didn’t need to knock tofind out if they were occupied. Sir John and Milady used small metalbasins of their own, to which their dressers carried copper jugs ofhot water–when there was any hot water.

“One thing that astonished me then, and still surprises me, is thatthe stage door, in nine towns out of ten, was up an unpaved alley, sothat you had to pick your way through mud, or snow in the coldweather, to reach it. You knew where you were heading because theonly light in the alley was one naked electric bulb, stuck laterallyinto a socket above the door, with a wire guard around it. It was notthe placing of the stage door that surprised me, but the fact that,for me, that desolate and dirty entry was always cloaked in romance.I would rather go through one of those doors, even now, than walk upa garden path to be greeted by a queen.”

“You were stage‑struck,” said Roly. “You rhapsodize. Iremember those stage doors. Ghastly.”

“I suppose you’re right,” said Magnus. “But I was very, veryhappy. I’d never been so well placed, or had so much fun in mylife. How Macgregor and I used to labour to teach those stagehandstheir job! Do you remember how, in the last act of The CorsicanBrothers , when the Forest of Fontainebleau was supposed to becovered in snow, we used to throw down coarse salt over thestage‑cloth, so that when the duel took place Sir John couldkick some of it aside to get a firm footing? Can you imagine tryingto explain how that salt should be placed to some boob who hadlaboured all day in a planing‑mill, and had no flair forromance? The snow was always a problem, though you’d think thatCanadians, of all people, would understand snow. At the beginning ofthat act the forest is supposed to be seen in that dull but magicallight that goes with snowfall. Old Boissec the wood‑cutter–GroverPaskin in one of his distinguished cameos–enters singing a littlesong; he represents the world of everyday, drudging along regardlessof the high romance which is shortly to burst upon the scene. SirJohn wanted a powdering of snow to be falling as the curtain rose;just a few flakes, falling slowly so that they caught a little of thewinter light. Nothing so coarse as bits of paper for us! It had to befuller’s earth, so that it would drift gently, and not be toofiercely white. Do you think we could get one of those stagehands onthe road to grasp the importance of the speed at which that snowfell, and the necessity to get it exactly right? If we left it tothem they threw great handfuls of snow bang on the centre of thestage, as if some damned great turkey with diarrhoea were roosting upin a tree. So it was my job to get up on the catwalk, if there wasone, and on something that had been improvised and was usuallydangerous if there wasn’t, and see that the snow was just as SirJohn wanted it. I suppose that’s being stage‑struck, but itwas worth every scruple of the effort it took. As I said, I’m adetail man, and without the uttermost organization of detail there isno illusion, and consequently no romance. When I was in charge of thesnow the audience was put in the right mood for the duel, and for theGhost at the end of the play.”

“You really can’t blame me for despising it,” said Roly. “Iwas one of the New Men; I was committed to a theatre of ideas.”

“I don’t suppose I’ve ever had more than half a dozen ideas inmy life, and even those wouldn’t have much appeal for aphilosopher,” said Magnus. “Sir John’s theatre didn’t deal inideas, but in feelings. Chivalry, and loyalty and selfless love don’trank as ideas, but it was wonderful how they seized on our audiences;they loved such things, even if they had no intention of trying themout in their own lives. No use arguing about it, really. But peopleused to leave our performances smiling, which isn’t always the casewith a theatre of ideas.”

“Art as soothing syrup, in fact.”

“Perhaps. But it was very good soothing syrup. We never made themistake of thinking it was a universal panacea.”

“Soothing syrup in aid of a dying colonialism.”

“I expect you’re right. I don’t care, really. It’s true wethumped the good old English drum pretty loudly, but that was one ofthe things the syndicate wanted. When we visited Ottawa, Sir John andMilady were the Governor General’s guests at Rideau Hall.”

“Yes, and what a bloody nuisance that was! Actors ought never tostay in private houses or official residences. I had to scamper outthere every morning with the letters, and get my orders for the day.Run the gamut of snotty aides who never seemed to know where LadyTresize was to be found.”

“Didn’t she ever tell you funny stories about that? Probably not.I don’t think she liked you much better than you liked her.Certainly she told me that it was like living in a very pretty littlecourt, and that all sorts of interesting people came to call. Don’tyou remember that the Governor General and his suite came toScaramouche one night when we were playing in the old RussellTheatre? ‘God Save the King’ was played after they came in, andthe audience was so frozen with etiquette that nobody dared to clapuntil the G.G. had been seen to do so. There were people who suckedin their breath when I thumbed my nose while walking the tightrope;they thought I was Sir John, you see, and they couldn’t imagine aknight committing such an unspeakable rudery in the presence of anEarl. But Milady told me the Earl was away behind the times; hedidn’t know what it meant in Canadian terms, and thought it stillmeant something called ‘fat bacon’, which I suppose wasVictorian. He guffawed and thumbed his nose and muttered, ‘Fatbacon, what?’ at the supper party afterward, at which Mr. MackenzieKing was a guest; Mr. King was so taken aback he could hardly eat hislobster. Apparently he got over it though, and Milady said she hadnever seen a man set about a lobster with such whole‑souledenthusiasm. When he surfaced from the lobster he talked to her veryseriously about dogs. Funny business, when you think of it–I meanall those grandees sitting at supper at midnight, after a play. Thatmust have been romantic too, in its way, although there were no youngpeople present–except the aides and one or two ladies‑in‑waiting,of course. In fact, I thought a lot of Canada was romantic.”

“I didn’t. I thought it was the rawest, roughest, crudest place Ihad ever set eyes on, and in the midst of that, all those viceregalpretensions were ridiculous.”

“I wonder if that’s what you really thought, Roly? After all,what were you comparing it with? Norwich, and Cambridge, and a briefsniff at London. And you weren’t in a condition to see anythingexcept through the spectacles of a thwarted lover and playwright. Youwere being put through the mincer by the lovely Sevenhowes; you wereher toy for the tour, and your agonies were the sport of her chumsCharlton and Woulds. Whenever we were on one of those long train hopsfrom city to city, we all saw it in the dining‑car.

“Those dining‑cars! There was romance for you! Rushingthrough the landscape; that fierce country north of Lake Superior,and the marvellous steppes of the prairies, in an elegant, rather toohot, curiously shaped dining‑room, full of light, glitteringwith tablecloths and napkins so white they looked blue, shiningsilver (or something very close), and all those clean, courteous,friendly black waiters–if that wasn’t romance you don’t knowthe real thing when you see it! And the food! Nothing hotted up ormelted out in those days, but splendid stuff that came on fresh atevery big stop; cooked brilliantly in the galley by a real chef;fresh fish, tremendous meat, real fruit–don’t you remember whattheir baked apples were like? With thick cream! Where does one getthick cream now? I remember every detail. The cube sugar was wrappedin pretty white paper with Castor printed on it, and every time weput it in our coffee I suppose we enriched our dear friend BoyStaunton, so clear in the memory of Dunny and myself, because he camefrom our town, though I didn’t know that at the time…” (My earspricked up: I swear my scalp tingled. Magnus had mentioned BoyStaunton, the Canadian tycoon, and also my lifelong friend, whom Iwas pretty sure Magnus had murdered. Or, if not murdered, had given agood push on a path that looked like suicide. This was what I wantedfor my document. Had Magnus, who withheld death cruelly from Willard,given it almost as a benefaction to Boy Staunton? Would his presentheadlong, confessional mood carry him to the point where he wouldadmit to murder, or at least give a hint that I, who knew so much butnot enough, would be able to interpret?… But I must miss nothing,and Magnus was still rhapsodizing about C.P.R. food as once it was.)“… And the sauces; real sauces, made by the chef–exquisite!

“There were bottled sauces, too. Commercial stuff I learned to hatebecause at every meal that dreary utility actor Jim Hailey asked forGarton’s; then he would wave it about saying, ‘Anybody want anyof the Handkerchief?’ because, as he laboriously pointed out, ifyou spelled Garton’s backward it came out Snotrag; poor Hailey wasthat depressing creature, a man of one joke. Only his wife laughedand blushed because he was being ‘awful’, and she never failed totell him so. But I suppose you didn’t see because you always triedto sit at the table with Sevenhowes and Charlton and Woulds; if shewas cruel and asked Eric Foss to sit with them instead, you sat asnear as you could and hankered and glowered as they laughed at jokesyou couldn’t hear.

“Oh, the trains, the trains! I gloried in them because withWanless’s I had done so much train travel and it was wretched. Ibegan my train travel, you remember, in darkness and fear, hungry,with my poor little bum aching desperately. But here I was,unmistakably a first‑class passenger, in the full blaze of thatpiercing, enveloping, cleansing Canadian light. I was quite contentto sit at a table with some of the technical staff, or sometimes withold Mac and Holroyd, and now and then with that Scheherazade of therailways, Morton W. Penfold, when he was making a hop with us.

“Penfold knew all the railway staff; I think he knew all thewaiters. There was one conductor we sometimes encountered on atranscontinental, who was a special delight to him, a gloomy man whocarried a real railway watch–one of those gigantic nickel‑platedturnips that kept very accurate time. Penfold would hail him:‘Lester, when do you think we’ll be in Sault Ste Marie?’ ThenLester would pull up the watch out of the well of his waistcoat, andlook sadly at it, and say, ‘Six fifty‑two, Mort, if we’respared .’ He was gloomy‑religious, and everything wasconditional on our being spared; he didn’t seem to have muchconfidence in either God or the C.P.R.

“Penfold knew the men on the locomotives, too, and whenever we cameto a long, straight stretch of track, he would say, ‘I wonder ifFred is dipping his piles.’ This was because one of the oldest andbest of the engineers was a martyr to haemorrhoids, and Penfold sworethat whenever we came to an easy piece of track, Fred drew off somewarm water from the boiler into a basin, and sat in it for a fewminutes, to ease himself. Penfold never laughed; he was a man ofdeep, private humour, and his solemn, hypnotist’s face neversoftened, but the liquid on his lower eyelid glittered andoccasionally spilled over, and his head shook; that was his laugh.

“Now and then, on long hauls, the train carried a private car forSir John and Milady; these luxuries could not be hired–or only bythe very rich–but sometimes a magnate who owned one, or apolitician who had the use of one, would put it at the disposal ofthe Tresizes, who had armies of friends in Canada. Sir John, andMilady especially, were not stingy about their private car, andalways asked a few of the company in, and now and then, on very longhauls, they asked us all in and we had a picnic meal from thedining‑car. Now surely that was romance, Roly? Or didn’t youfind it so? All of us perched around one of those splendid oldrelics, most of which had been built not later than the reign ofEdward the Seventh, full of marquetry woodwork (there was usually alittle plaque somewhere that told you where all the woods came from)and filigree doodads around the ceiling, and armchairs with a fringemade of velvet bobbles everywhere that fringe could be imagined. In asort of altar‑like affair at one end of the drawing‑roomarea were magazines in thick leather folders–and what magazines!Always The Sketch and The Tatler and Punch and The Illustrated London News –it was like a club onwheels. And lashings of drink for everybody–that was Penfold’scraft at work–but it wasn’t at all the thing for anybody toguzzle and get drunk, because Sir John and Milady didn’t likethat.”

“He was a great one to talk,” said Ingestree. “He could drinkany amount without showing it, and it was believed everywhere that hedrank a bottle of brandy a day just to keep his voice mellow.”

“Believed, but simply not true. It’s always believed that staractors drink heavily, or beat their wives, or deflower a virginstarlet every day to slake their lust. But Sir John drank prettymoderately. He had to. Gout. He never spoke about it, but he suffereda lot with it. I remember one of those parties when the train lurchedand Felicity Larcombe stumbled and stepped on his gouty foot, and heturned dead white, but all he said was, ‘Don’t speak of it, mydear,’ when she apologized.”

“Yes, of course you’d have seen that. You saw everything.Obviously, or you couldn’t tell us so much about it now. But we sawyou seeing everything, you know. You weren’t very good atdisguising it, even if you tried. Audrey Sevenhowes and Charlton andWoulds had a name for you–the Phantom of the Opera. You were alwayssomewhere with your back against a wall, looking intently ateverything and everybody. ‘There’s the Phantom, at it again,’Audrey used to say. It wasn’t a very nice kind of observation. Ithad what I can only call a wolfish quality about it, as if you weredevouring everything. Especially devouring Sir John. I don’tsuppose he made a move without you following him with your eyes. Nowonder you knew about the gout. None of the rest of us did.”

“None of the rest of you cared, if you mean the little clique youtravelled with. But the older members of the company knew, andcertainly Morton W. Penfold knew, because it was one of his jobs tosee that the same kind of special bottled water was always availablefor Sir John on every train and in every hotel. Gout’s very seriousfor an actor. Any suggestion that a man who is playing the Master ofBallantrae is hobbling is bad for publicity. It was clear enough thatSir John wasn’t young, but it was of the uttermost importance thaton the stage he should seem young. To do that he had to be able towalk slowly; it’s not too hard to seem youthful when you’releaping about the stage in a duel, but it’s a very different thingto walk as slowly as he had to when he appeared as his own ghost atthe end of The Corsican Brothers . Detail, my dear Roly;without detail there can be no illusion. And one of the odd thingsabout Sir John’s kind of illusion (and my own, when later on Ibecame a master illusionist) is that the showiest things are quitesimply arranged, but anything that looks like simplicity is extremelydifficult.

“The gout wasn’t precisely a secret, but it wasn’t shouted fromthe housetops, either. Everybody knew that Sir John and Miladytravelled a few fine things with them–a bronze that he particularlyliked, and she always had a valuable little picture of the Virginthat she used for her private devotions, and a handsome casecontaining miniatures of their children–and that these things wereset up in every hotel room they occupied, to give it some appearanceof personal taste. But not everybody knew about the foot‑baththat had to be carried for Sir John’s twice‑daily treatmentof the gouty foot; a bathtub wouldn’t do, because it was necessarythat all of his body be at the temperature of the room, while thefoot was in a very hot mineral solution.

“I’ve seen him sitting in his dressing‑gown with the footin that thing at six o’clock, and at half‑past eight he wasready to step on the stage with the ease of a young man. I neverthought it was the mineral bath that did the trick; I think it wasmore an apparatus for concentrating his will, and determination thatthe gout shouldn’t get the better of him. If his will ever failed,he was a goner, and he knew it.

“I’ve often had reason to marvel at the heroism and spiritualvalour that people put into causes that seem absurd to manyobservers. After all, would it have mattered if Sir John had thrownin the towel, admitted he was old, and retired to cherish his gout?Who would have been the loser? Who would have regretted The Masterof Ballantrae ? It’s easy to say No one at all, but I don’tthink that’s true. You never know who is gaining strength as aresult of your own bitter struggle; you never know who sees TheMaster of Ballantrae , and quite improbably draws something fromit that changes his life, or gives him a special bias for a lifetime.

“As I watched Sir John fighting against age–watched himwolfishly, I suppose Roly would say–I learned something withoutknowing it. Put simply it is this; no action is ever lost–nothingwe do is without result. It’s obvious, of course, but how manypeople ever really believe it, or act as if it were so?”

“You sound woefully like my dear old Mum,” said Ingestree. “Nogood action is ever wholly lost, she would say.”

“Ah, but I extend your Mum”s wisdom,” said Magnus. “No evilaction is ever wholly lost, either.”

“So you pick your way through life like a hog on ice, trying to donothing but good actions? Oh, Magnus! What balls!”

“No, no, my dear Roly, I am not quite such a fool as that. We can’tknow the quality or the results of our actions except in the mostlimited way. All we can do is to try to be as sure as we can of whatwe are doing so far as it relates to ourselves. In fact, not to flailabout and be the deluded victims of our passions. If you’re goingto do something that looks evil, don’t smear it with icing andpretend it’s good; just bloody well do it and keep your eyespeeled. That’s all.”

“You ought to publish that. Reflections While Watching anElderly Actor Bathing His Gouty Foot . It might start a new voguein morality.”

“I was watching a little more than Sir John’s gouty foot, Iassure you. I watched him pumping up courage for Milady, who hadspecial need of it. He wasn’t a humorous man; I mean, life didn’tappear to him as a succession of splendid jokes, big and small, as itdid to Morton W. Penfold. Sir John’s mode of perception wasromantic, and romance isn’t funny except in a gentle, incidentalway. But on a tour like that, Sir John had to do things that hadtheir funny side, and one of them was to make that succession ofspeeches, which Penfold arranged, at service clubs in the towns wherewe played. It was the heyday of service clubs, and they were hungrilylooking for speakers, whose job it was to say somethinginspirational, in not more than fifteen minutes, at their weeklyluncheon meetings. Sir John always cemented the bonds of theCommonwealth for them, and while he was waiting to do it they leviedfines on one another for wearing loud neckties, and recited theirextraordinary creeds, and sang songs they loved but which were asbarbarous to him as the tribal chants of savages. So he would comeback to Milady afterward, and teach her the songs, and there theywould sit, in the drawing–room of some hotel suite, singing

Rotary Ann, she went out to get some clams,

Rotary Ann, she went out to get some clams,

Rotary Ann, she went out to get some clams,

But she didn’t get a–clam

–and at the appropriate moments they would clap their hands tosubstitute for the forbidden words ‘God‑damn’, which goodRotarians knew, but wouldn’t utter.

“I tell you it was eerie to see those two, so English, soVictorian, so theatrical, singing those utterly uncharacteristicwords in their high‑bred English accents, until they werelaughing like loonies. Then Sir John would say something like ‘Ofcourse one shouldn’t laugh at them Nan, because they’re reallysplendid fellows at heart, and do marvels for crippled children–oris it tuberculosis? I can never remember.’ But the important thingwas that Milady had been cheered up. She never showed her failingspirits–at least she thought she didn’t–but he knew. And Iknew.

“It was another of those secrets like Sir John’s gout, which Macand Holroyd and some of the older members of the company wereperfectly well aware of but never discussed. Milady had cataracts,and however courageously she disguised it, the visible world wasgetting away from her. Some of the clumsiness on stage was owing tothat, and much of the remarkable lustre of her glance–that bluishlustre I had noticed the first time I saw her–was the slow veilingof her eyes. There were days that were better than others, but aseach month passed the account was further on the debit side. I neverheard them mention it. Why would I? Certainly I wasn’t the kind ofperson they would have confided in. But I was often present when allthree of us knew what was in the air.

“I have you to thank for that, Roly. Ordinarily it would have beenthe secretary who would have helped Milady when something had to beread, or written, but you were never handily by, and when you were itwas so clear that you were far too busy with literary things to bejust a useful pair of eyes that it would have been impertinence tointerrupt you. So that job fell to me, and Milady and I made apretence about it that was invaluable to me.

“It was that she was teaching me to speak–to speak for the stage,that’s to say. I had several modes of speech; one was the tough‑guylanguage of Willard and Charlie, and another was a half‑Cockneylingo I had picked up in London; I could speak French far morecorrectly than English, but I had a poor voice, with a thin, nasaltone. So Milady had me read to her, and as I read she helped me toplace my voice differently, breathe better, and choose words andexpressions that did not immediately mark me as an underling. Like somany people of deficient education, when I wanted to speakclassy–that was what Charlie called it–I always used as many bigwords as I could. Big words, said Milady, were a great mistake inordinary conversation, and she made me read the Bible to her to ridme of the big‑word habit. Of course the Bible was familiarground to me, and she noticed that when I read it I spoke better thanotherwise, but as she pointed out, too fervently. That was arecollection of my father’s Bible‑reading voice. Milady saidthat with the Bible and Shakespeare it was better to be a littlecool, rather than too hot; the meaning emerged more powerfully.‘Listen to Sir John,’ she said, ‘and you’ll find that henever pushes a line as far as it will go.’ That was how I learnedabout never doing your damnedest; your next‑to‑damnedestwas far better.

“Sir John was her ideal, so I learned to speak like Sir John, andit was quite a long time before I got over it, if indeed I ever didcompletely get over it. It was a beautiful voice, and perhaps toobeautiful for everybody’s taste. He produced it in a special way,which I think he learned from Irving. His lower lip moved a lot, buthis upper lip was almost motionless, and he never showed his upperteeth; completely loose lower jaw, lots of nasal resonance, and heusually spoke in his upper register, but sometimes he dropped intodeep tones, with extraordinary effect. She insisted on carefulphrasing, long breaths, and never accentuating possessivepronouns–she said that made almost anything sound petty.

“So I spent many an hour reading the Bible to her, and refreshingmy memory of the Psalms. ‘Consider and hear me, O Lord my God:lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death. Lest mine enemysay, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoicewhen I am moved.’ We had that almost every day. That, and ‘Openthou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.’It was not long before I understood that Milady was praying, and Iwas helping her, and after the first surprise–I had been so longaway from anybody who prayed, except for Happy Hannah, whose prayerswere like curses–I was pleased and honoured to do it. But I didn’tintrude upon her privacy; I was content to be a pair of eyes, and tolearn to be a friendly voice. May I put in here that this was anotherside of apprenticeship to Sir John’s egoism, and it was notsomething I had greedily sought. On the contrary it was something towhich I seemed to be fated. If I stole something from the old man,the impulse for the theft was not wholly mine; I seemed to be pushedinto it.

“One of the things that pushed me was that as Milady’s sight grewdimmer, she liked to have somebody near to whom she could speak inFrench. As I’ve told you, she came from the Channel Islands, andfrom her name I judge that French was her cradle‑tongue. So,under pretence of correcting my French pronunciation, we had many along talk, and I read the Bible to her in French, as well as inEnglish. That was a surprise for me! Like so many English‑speakingpeople I could not conceive of the words of Christ in any languagebut my own, but as we worked through Le Nouveau Testament in herchunky old Geneva Bible, there they were, coloured quite differently.Je suis le chemin, & la verite, & la vie;nul ne vient au Pere sinon par moi. Sounded curiously frivolous,but nothing to Bienheureux sont les debonnaires: car ils heriteront la terre. I thought I concealed the surprise inmy voice at that one, but Milady heard it (she heard everything) andexplained that I must think of debonnaire as meaning clement, or perhaps les doux . But of course we all interpret HolyWrit to suit ourselves as much as we dare; I liked les debonnaires, because I was striving as hard as I could to be debonair myself,and I had an eye on at least a good‑sized chunk of la terre for my inheritance. Learning to speak English and French with anupper‑class accent–or at least a stage accent, which was alittle more precise than merely upper class–was part of mycampaign.

“As well as reading aloud, I listened to her as she rehearsed herlines. The old plays, like The Master of Ballantrae , wereimpressed on her memory forever, but she liked to go over her wordsfor Rosemary and Scaramouche before everyperformance, and I read her cues for her. I learned a good deal fromthat, too, because she had a fine sense of comedy (something Sir Johnhad only in a lesser degree), and I studied her manner of pointing upa line so that something more than just the joke–the juice in whichthe joke floated–was carried to the audience. She had a charmingvoice, with a laugh in it, and I noticed that clever FelicityLarcombe was learning that from her, as well as I.

“Indeed, I became a friend of Milady’s, and rather less of anadorer. Except for old Zingara, who was a very different pair ofshoes, she was the only woman I had ever known who seemed to like me,and think I was of any interest or value. She nibbed it into me abouthow lucky I was to be working with Sir John, and doing marvellouslittle cameos which enhanced the value of a whole production, but Ihad enough common sense to see that she was right, even though sheexaggerated.

“One thing about me that she could not understand was that I had noknowledge of Shakespeare. None whatever. When I knew the Bible sowell, how was it that I was in darkness about the other great classicof English? Had my parents never introduced me to Shakespeare? Ofcourse Milady could have had no idea of the sort of people my parentswere. I suppose my father must have heard of Shakespeare, but I amsure he rejected him as a fellow who had frittered away his time inthe theatre, that Devil’s domain where lies were made attractive tofrivolous people.

“I have often been amazed at how well comfortable and even richpeople understand the physical deprivations of the poor, withouthaving any notion of their intellectual squalor, which is one of thethings that makes them miserable. It’s a squalor that is bred inthe bone, and rarely can education do much to root it out ifeducation is simply a matter of schooling. Milady had come of quiterich parents, who had daringly allowed her to go on the stage whenshe was no more than fourteen. In Sir Henry Irving’s company, ofcourse, which wasn’t like kicking around from one stage door toanother, and snatching for little jobs in pantomime. To be one of theGuvnor’s people was to be one of the theatrically well‑to‑do,not simply in wages but in estate. And at the Lyceum she had taken ina lot of Shakespeare at the pores, and had whole plays by heart. Howcould anyone like that grasp the meagreness of the household in whichI had been a child, and the remoteness of intellectual grace from theDeptford life? So I was a pauper in a part of life where she hadalways been wrapped in plenty.

“I was on friendly terms, with proper allowance for the disparityin our ages and importance to the company, by the time we hadjourneyed across Canada and played Vancouver over Christmas. We wereplaying two weeks at the Imperial; the holiday fell on the middleSunday of our fortnight that year, and Sir John and Miladyentertained the whole company to dinner at their hotel. It was thefirst time I had ever eaten a Christmas dinner, though during theprevious twenty‑three years I suppose I must have taken somesort of nourishment on the twenty‑fifth of December, and it wasthe first time I had ever been in a private dining‑room in afirst‑class hotel.

“It seemed elegant and splendid to me, and the surprise of theevening was that there was a Christmas gift for everybody. They werevanity things and manicure sets and scarves and whatnot for thegirls, and the men had those big boxes of cigarettes that one neversees any more and notecases and all the range of impersonal butpleasant stuff you would expect. But I had a bulky parcel, and it wasa complete Shakespeare–one of those copies illustrated withphotographs of actors in their best roles; this one had a colouredfrontispiece of Sir John as Hamlet, looking extremely like me, andacross it he had written, ‘A double blessing is a doublegrace–Christmas Greetings, John Tresize.’ Everybody wanted to seeit, and the company was about equally divided between those whothought Sir John was a darling to have done that for a humble memberof his troupe, and those who thought I must be gaining a power thatwas above my station; the latter group did not say anything, buttheir feelings could be deduced from the perfection of their silence.

“I was in doubt about what I should do, because it was the firsttime in my life that anybody had ever given me anything; I had earnedthings, and stolen things, but I had never been given anything beforeand I was embarrassed, suspicious, and clumsy in my new role.

“Milady was behind it, of course, and perhaps she expected me tobury myself in the book that night, and emerge, transformed by poetryand drama, a wholly translated Mungo Fetch. The truth is that I had anibble at it, and read a few pages of the first play in the book,which was The Tempest , and couldn’t make head nor tail ofit. There was a shipwreck, and then an old chap beefing to hisdaughter about some incomprehensible grievance in the past, and itwas not my line at all, and I gave up.

“Milady was too well bred ever to question me about it, and when wewere next alone I managed to say some words of gratitude, and I don’tknow whether she ever knew that Shakespeare and I had not hit it off.But the gift was very far from being a dead loss: in the first placeit was a gift, and the first to come my way; in the second it was asign of something much akin to love, even if the love went no furtherthan the benevolence of two people with a high sense of obligation totheir dependants and colleagues, down to the humblest. So the bookbecame something more than an unreadable volume; it was a talisman,and I cherished it and gave it an importance among my belongings thatwas quite different from what it was meant to be. If it had been abook of spells, and I a sorcerer’s apprentice who was afraid to useit, I could not have held it in greater reverence. It containedsomething that was of immeasurable value to the Tresizes, and Icherished it for that. I never learned anything about Shakespeare,and on the two or three occasions when I have seen Shakespeareanplays in my life they have puzzled and bored me as much as TheTempest , but my superstitious veneration of that book has neverfailed, and I have it still.

“There’s evidence, if you need it, that I am not really a theatreperson. I am an illusionist, which is a different and probably alesser creature. I proved it that night. After the dinner and thegifts, we had an impromptu entertainment, a very mixed bag. AudreySevenhowes danced the Charleston, and did it very well; C. PengellySpickernell sang two or three songs, vaguely related to Christmas,and Home, and England. Grover Paskin sang a comic song about an oldman who had a fat sow, and we all joined in making pig‑noiseson cue. I did a few tricks, and was the success of the evening.

“Combined with the special gift, that put me even more to the badwith the members of the company who were always looking for hiddenmeanings and covert grabs for power. My top trick was when I borrowedMilady’s Spanish shawl and produced from beneath it the largebouquet the company had clubbed together to give her; as I did itstanding in the middle of the room, with no apparent place to concealanything at all, not to speak of a thing the size of a rosebush, itwas neatly done, but as sometimes happens with illusions, it wonalmost as much mistrust as applause. I know why. I had not at thattime grasped the essential fact that an illusionist must never seemto be pleased with his own cleverness, and I suppose I strutted abit. The Cantab and Sevenhowes and Charlton and Woulds sometimesspoke of me as The Outsider, and that is precisely what I was. Idon’t regret it now. I’ve lived an Outsider’s life, though notin quite the way they meant; I was outside something beyond theircomprehension.

“That was an ill‑fated evening, as we discovered on thefollowing day. There was champagne, and Morton W. Penfold, who waswith us, gained heroic stature for finding it in what the Englishregarded as a desert. Everybody drank as much as they could get, andthere were toasts, and these were Sir John’s downfall. The Spartanregime of a gouty man was always a burden to him, and he didn’t seewhy he should drink whisky when everybody else was drinking the winehe loved best. He proposed a toast to The Profession, and toldstories about Irving; it called for several glasses, though notreally a lot, and before morning he was very ill. A doctor came, andsaw that there was more than gout wrong with him. It was an inflamedappendix, and it had to come out at once.

“Not a great calamity for most people, even though such anoperation wasn’t as simple then as it is now, but it was seriousfor a star actor, half‑way through a long tour. He would be offthe stage for not less than three weeks.

“Sir John’s illness brought out the best and the worst in hiscompany. All the old hands, and the people with a thoroughlyprofessional attitude, rallied round at once, with all theirabilities at top force. Holroyd called a rehearsal for ten o’clockMonday morning, and Gordon Barnard, who was our second lead, sailedthrough Scaramouche brilliantly; he was very different fromSir John, as a six‑foot‑two actor of the twentiethcentury must be different from a five‑foot‑two actor whois still in the nineteenth, but there was no worry whatever abouthim. Darton Flesher, who had to step into Barnard’s part, needed agood deal of help, solid man though he was. But then somebody had tofill in for Flesher, and that was your friend Leonard Woulds, Roly,who proved not to know the lines which, as an understudy, he shouldhave had cold. So it was a busy day.

“Busy for Morton W. Penfold, who had to tell the papers what hadhappened, and get the news on the Canadian Press wire, and generallyturn a misfortune into some semblance of publicity. Busy for FelicityLarcombe, who showed herself a first‑rate person as well as afirst‑rate actress; she undertook to keep an eye on Milady, sofar as anyone could, because Milady was in a state–busy also forGwenda Lewis, who was a dull actress and silly about her dullhusband, Jim Hailey; but Gwenda had been a nurse before she went onthe stage, and she helped Felicity to keep Milady in trim to act thatevening. Busy for old Frank Moore and Macgregor, who both spread calmand assurance through the company–you know how easily a company canbe rattled–and lent courage where it was wanted.

“The consequence was that that night we played Scaramouche very well, to a capacity audience, and did excellent business untilit was time for us to leave Vancouver. The only hitch, which both thepapers mentioned humorously, was that when Scaramouche walked thetightrope, it looked as if Sir John had mischievously broken out ofthe hospital and taken the stage. But there was nothing anybody coulddo about that, though I did what I could by wearing my red mask.

It seemed as though the public were determined to help us through ourtroubles, because we played to full houses all week. Whenever Miladymade her first entrance, there was warm applause, and this was achange indeed, because usually Morton W. Penfold had to arrange forthe local theatre manager to be in the house at that time to startthe obligatory round when she came on. Indeed, by the end of theweek, Penfold was able to circulate a funny story to the papers thatSir John had announced from his hospital bed that it was obvious thatthe most profitable thing a visiting star could do was to go to bedand send his understudy on in his place. Dangerous publicity, but itworked.

“So everything appeared to be in good order, except that we had todefer polishing up The Lyons Mail , which we had intended toput into the repertory instead of The Corsican Brothers forour return journey across Canada.

“Not everything was satisfactory, however, because the Sevenhowes,Charlton, and Woulds faction were making mischief. Not very seriousmischief in the theatre, because Holroyd would not have put up withthat, but personal mischief in the company was much more difficult tocheck. They tried sucking up to Gordon Barnard, who was now theleading man, telling him how much easier it was to act with him thanwith Sir John. Barnard wouldn’t have any of that, because he was adecent fellow, and he knew his own shortcomings. One of these wasthat in The Master and Scaramouche we used a certainnumber of extras, and these inexperienced people tended to lookwooden on the stage unless they were jollied, or harried, into moreactivity than they could generate by themselves; Sir John was anexpert jollier and harrier–as I understand Irving also was–and hehad his own ways of hissing remarks and encouragement to theseinexperienced people that kept them up to the mark; Barnard couldn’tmanage it, because when he hissed the extras immediately froze intheir places, and looked at him in terror. Just a question ofpersonality, but there it was; he was a good actor, but a poorinspirer. When this happened, Charlton and Woulds laughed, sometimesso that the audience could see them, and Macgregor had to speak tothem about it.

“They also made life hard for poor old C. Pengelly Spickemell, inways that only actors understand; when they were on stage with him,they would contrive to be in his way when he had to make a move, andin a few seconds the whole stage picture was a little askew, and itlooked as if it were his fault; also, in Scaramouche , wherehe played one of the Commedia dell’ Arte figures, and wore a long,dragging cloak, one or other of them would contrive to be standing onthe end of it when he had a move to make, pinning him to the spot; itwas only necessary for them to do this two or three times to put himin terror lest it should happen every time, and he was a man with noability to defend himself against such harassment.

“They were ugly to Gwenda Lewis, overrunning her very few cues, butJim Hailey settled that by going to their dressing‑room andtalking it over with them in language he had learned when he had beenin the Navy. Trivial things, but enough to make needless trouble,because a theatrical production is a mechanism of exquisitelycalculated details. On tour it was useless to threaten them withdismissal, because they could not be replaced, and although there wasa tariff of company fines for unprofessional conduct it was hard forMacgregor to catch them red‑handed.Their great triumph hadnothing to do with performance, but with the private life of thecompany. I fear this will embarrass you, Roly, but I think it has tobe told. The great passion the Cantab felt for Audrey Sevenhowes waseverybody’s business; love and a cough cannot be hid, as theproverb says. I don’t think Audrey was really an ill‑disposedgirl, but her temperament was that of a flirt of a special order;such girls used to be called cock‑teasers; she liked to havesomebody mad about her, without being obliged to do anything aboutit. She saw herself, I suppose, as lovely Audrey, who could not beblamed for the consequences of her fatal attraction. I am pretty sureshe did not know what was going on, but Charlton and Woulds began acampaign to bring that affair to the boil; they filled the Cantabfull of the notion that he must enjoy the favours of Miss Sevenhowesto the fullest–in the expression they used, he must ‘tear off abranch’ with Audrey–or lose all claim to manhood. This put theCantab into a sad state of self‑doubt, because he had nevertorn off a branch with anybody, and they assured him that he mustn’ttry to begin with the Sevenhowes, as he might expose himself as anovice, and become an object of ridicule. Might make a Horlicks ofit, in fact. They bustled the poor boob into thinking that he musthave a crash course in the arts of love, as a preparation for hisgreat conquest; they would help him in this educational venture.

“It would have been nothing more than rather nasty joking andmanipulation of a simpleton if they had kept their mouths shut, butof course that was not their way. I disliked them greatly at thattime, but since then I have met many people of their kind, and I knowthem to be much more conceited and stupid than really cruel. Theyboth fancied themselves as lady‑killers, and such people arerarely worse than fools.

“They babbled all they were up to around the company; theychattered to Eric Foss, who was about their own age, but a differentsort of chap; they let Eugene Fitzwarren in on their plan, because helooked worldly and villainous, and they were too stupid to know thathe was a past president of the Anglican Stage Guild and a greatworker on behalf of the Actors’ Orphanage, and altogether a highlymoral character. So very soon everybody in the company knew about it,and thought it a shame, but didn’t know precisely what to do tostop the nonsense.

“It was agreed that there was no use talking to the Cantab, whowasn’t inclined to take advice from anybody who could have givenhim advice worth having. It was also pretty widely felt thatinterfering with a young man’s sexual initiation was rather an OldAunty sort of thing to do, and that they had better let nature takeits course. The Cantab must tear off a branch some time; even C.Pengelly Spickernell agreed to that; and if he was fool enough to bemanipulated by a couple of cads, whose job was it to protect him?

“It became clear in the end that Mungo Fetch was elected to protecthim, though only in a limited sense.–No, Roly, you can’t possiblywant to go to the loo again. You’d better sit down and hear thisout.–The great worriers about the Cantab were Holroyd andMacgregor, and they were worrying on behalf of Sir John and Milady.Not that the Tresizes knew about the great plot to deprive the Cantabof his virginity; Sir John would have dealt with the mattersummarily, but he was in hospital in Vancouver, and Milady was muchbereft by his absence and telephoned to the hospital wherever wewere. But Macgregor and Holroyd felt that this tasteless practicaljoke somehow reflected on those two, whom they admiredwholeheartedly, and whose devotion to each other established astandard of sexual behaviour for the company that must be respected,if not fully maintained.

“Holroyd kept pointing out to Macgregor that the Cantab was in aspecial way a charge delivered over to Sir John by his Mum, and thatit was therefore incumbent on the company as a whole–or the sanepart of it, he said–to watch over the Cantab while Sir John andMilady were unable to do so. Macgregor agreed, and added Calvinistembroideries to the theme; he was no great friend to sex, and I thinkhe held it against the Creator that the race could not be continuedwithout some recourse to it; but he felt that such recourse should beinfrequent, hallowed by church and law, and divorced as far aspossible from pleasure. It seems odd, looking back, that nobody feltany concern about Audrey Sevenhowes; some people assumed that she wasin on the joke, and the others were confident she could take care ofherself.

“Charlton and Woulds laid their plan with gloating attention todetail. Charlton explained to the Cantab, and to any man who happenedto be near, that women are particularly open to seduction in the weekjust preceding the onset of their menstrual period; during this time,he said, they simply ravened for intercourse. Furthermore, they hadto be approached in the right way; nothing coarsely direct, nograbbing at the bosom or anything of that sort, but a psychologicallydetermined application of a particular caress; this was a firm, butnot rough, placing of the hand on the waist, on the right side, justbelow the ribs; the hand should be as warm as possible, and thiscould easily be achieved by keeping it in the trousers pocket for afew moments before the approach. This was supposed to impart special,irresistible warmth to the female liver; Liesl tells me it is a veryold belief.”

“I think Galen mentions it,” said Liesl, “and like so much ofGalen, it is just silly.”

“Charlton considered himself an expert at detecting the menstrualstate of women, and he had had his eye on Miss Sevenhowes; she wouldbe ripe and ready to fall when we were in Moose Jaw, and thereforethe last place in which the Cantab could achieve full manhood wouldbe Medicine Hat. He approached Morton W. Penfold for informationabout the altars to Aphrodite in Medidne Hat, and was informed that,so far as the advance agent knew, they were few and of a Spartansimplicity. Penfold advised against the whole plan; if that was thekind of thing they wanted, they had better put it on ice till theygot to Toronto. Anyhow he wanted no part of it. But Charlton andWoulds had no inclination to let their great plan rest until afterSir John had rejoined the company, for though they mocked him, theyfeared him.

They played on the only discernible weakness in the strong characterof Morton W. Penfold. His whole reputation, Charlton pointed out,rested on his known ability to supply anything, arrange anything, anddo anything that a visiting theatrical company might want in Canada;here they were, asking simply for an address, and he couldn’tsupply it. They weren’t asking him to take the Cantab to abawdy‑house, wait, and escort him home again; they just wantedto know where a bawdy‑house might be found. Penfold was touchedin his vanity. He made some inquiries among the locomotive crew, andreturned with the address of a Mrs. Quiller in Medicine Hat, who wasknown to have obliging nieces.

“We were playing a split week, of which Thursday, Friday, andSaturday were spent in Medicine Hat. On Thursday, with Charlton andWoulds at his elbow, the Cantab telephoned Mrs. Quiller. She had noidea what he was talking about, and anyways she never did businessover the phone. Might he drop in on Friday night? It all depended;was he one of them actors? Yes, he was. Well, if he come on Fridaynight she supposed she’d be at home but she made no promises. Washe comin’ alone? Yes, he would be alone.

“All day Friday the Cantab looked rather green, and Charlton andWoulds stuck to him like a couple of bridesmaids, giving any advicethat happened to come into their heads. At half past five Holroydsent for me in the theatre, and I found him in the tinystage‑manager’s office, with Macgregor and Morton W.

Penfold. ‘I suppose you know what’s on tonight?’ said he.‘Scaramouche , surely?’ I said. ‘Don’t be funny withme, boy,’ said Holroyd; ‘you know what I mean.’ ‘Yes, I thinkI do,’ said I. ‘Then I want you to watch young Ingestree afterthe play, and follow him, and stay as close to him as you can withoutbeing seen, and don’t leave him till he’s back in his hotel.’‘I don’t know how I’m going to do that–’ I began, butHolroyd wasn’t having it. ‘Yes, you do,’ he said; ‘there’snothing green about you, and I want you to do this for the company;nothing is to happen to that boy, do you understand?’ ‘But he’sgoing with the full intention of having something happen to him,’ Isaid; ‘you don’t expect me to hold off the girls with a gun, doyou?’ ‘I just want you to see that he doesn’t get robbed, orbeaten up, or anything worse than what he’s going for,” saidHolroyd. ‘Oh. Nature, Nature, what an auld bitch ye are!’ saidMacgregor, who was taking all this very heavily.

“I thought I had better get out before I laughed in their faces;Holroyd and Macgregor were like a couple of old maids. But Morton W.Penfold knew what was what. ‘Here’s ten dollars,’ he said; ‘Ihear it’s the only visiting card Old Ma Quiller understands; tellher you’re there to keep an eye on young Ingestree, but you mustn’tbe seen; in her business I suppose she gets used to queer requestsand odd provisos.’ I took it, and left them, and went off for agood laugh by myself. This was my first assignment as guardian angel.

“All things considered, everything went smoothly. After the play Ileft Macgregor to do some of my tidy‑up work himself, andfollowed the Cantab after he had been given a back‑slappingsend‑off by Charlton and Woulds. He didn’t walk very fast,though it was a cold January night, and Medicine Hat is a cold town.After a while he turned in to an unremarkable‑looking house,and after some inquiries at the door he vanished inside. I chattedfor a few minutes with an old fellow in a tuque and mackinaw who wasshovelling away an evening snowfall, then I knocked at the doormyself.

“Mrs. Quiller answered in person, and though she was not the firstmadam I had seen–now and then one of the sisterhood would appear insearch of Charlie, who had a bad habit of forgetting to settle hisbills–she was certainly the least remarkable. I am always amusedwhen madams in plays and films appear as wonderful, salty characters,full of hard‑won wisdom and overflowing, compassionateunderstanding. Damned old twisters, any I’ve ever seen. Mrs.Quiller might have been any suburban housewife, with a dyed perm andbifocal specs. I asked if I could speak to her privately, and waggledthe ten‑spot, and followed her into her living‑room. Iexplained what I had come for, and the necessity that I was not to beseen; I was just someone who had been sent by friends of Mr.Ingestree to see that he got home safely. ‘I getcha,’ said Mrs.Quiller; ‘the way that guy carries on, I think he needs aguardeen.’

“I settled down in the kitchen with Mrs. Quiller, and accepted acup of tea and some soda crackers–her nightly snack, sheexplained–and we talked very comfortably about the theatre. After awhile we were joined by the old snow‑shoveller, who saidnothing, and devoted himself to a stinking cigar. She was not atheatre‑goer herself, Mrs. Quiller said–too busy at night forthat; but she liked a good fillum. The last one she seen was Laugh,Clown, Laugh with Lon Chaney in it, and this girl Loretta Young.Now there was a sweet fillum, but it give you a terrible idea of thetroubles of people in show business, and did I think it was true tolife? I said I thought it was as true as anything dared to be, butthe trials of people in the theatre were so many and harrowing thatthe public would never believe them if they were shown as they reallywere. That touched the spot with Mrs. Quiller, and we had a finediscussion about the surprises and vicissitudes life brought to justabout everybody, which lasted some time.

“Then Mrs. Quiller grew restless. ‘I wonder what’s happened tothat friend of yours,’ she said; ‘he’s takin’ an awful longtime.’ I wondered, too, but I thought it better not to make anyguesses. It was not long till another woman came into the kitchen; Iwould have judged her to be in her early hard‑living thirties,and she had never been a beauty; she had an unbecoming Japanesekimono clutched around her, and her feet were in slippers to whichremnants of maribou still clung. She looked at me with suspicion.‘It’s okay,’ said Mrs. Quiller, ‘this fella’s the guardeen.Anything wrong, Lil?’ ‘Jeez, I never seen such a guy,’ saidLil; ‘nothin’ doing yet . He just lays there with thedroops, laughin’, and talkin’. I never heard such a guy. He keepssayin’ it’s all so ridiculous, and would I believe he’d oncebeen a member of some Marlowe Society or something. What are they,anyway? A bunch o’ queers? But anyways I’m sick of it. He’sruining my self‑confidence. Is Pauline in yet? Maybe she coulddo something with him.’

“Mrs. Quiller obviously had great qualities of generalship. Sheturned to me. ‘Unless you got any suggestions, I’m goin’ togive him the bum’s rush,’ she said. ‘When he come in I thought,his heart’s not in it. What do you say?’ I said I thought she hadsummed up the situation perfectly. ‘Then you go back up there, Lil,and tell him to come back when he feels better,’ said Mrs. Quiller.‘Don’t shame him none, but get rid of him. And no refund, youunderstand.’

“So that was how it was. Shortly afterward I crept from Mrs.Quiller’s back door, and followed the desponding Cantab back to hishotel. I don’t know what he told Charlton and Woulds, but theyhadn’t much to say to him from then on. The odd thing was thatAudrey Sevenhowes was quite nice to him for the rest of the tour. Notin a teasing way–or with as little tease as she could manage–butjust friendly. A curious story, but not uncommon, would you say,gentlemen?”

“I say it’s time we all had a drink, and dinner,” said Liesl.She took the arm of the silent Ingestree and sat him at the tablebeside herself, and we were all especially pleasant to him, exceptMagnus who, having trampled his old enemy into the dirt, seemed ahappier man and, in some strange way, cleansed. It was as if he werea scorpion, which had discharged its venom, and was frisky andplayful in consequence. I taxed him with it as we left the dinnertable.

“How could you,” I said. “Ingestree is a harmless creature,surely? He has done some good work. Many people would call him adistinguished man, and a very nice fellow.”

Magnus patted my arm and laughed. It was a low laugh, and a queerone. Merlin’s laugh, if ever I heard it.


Eisengrim was altogether in high spirits, and showed no fatigue fromhis afternoon’s talking. He pretended to be solicitous about therest of us, however, and particularly about Lind and Kinghovn. Didthey really wish to continue with his narrative? Did they truly thinkwhat he had to say offered any helpful subtext to the film aboutRobert‑Houdin? Indeed, as the film was now complete, of whatpossible use could a subtext be?

“Of the utmost possible use when next I make a film,” said JurgenLind. “These divergences between the acceptable romance of life andthe clumsily fashioned, disproportioned reality are part of mystock‑in‑trade. Here you have it, in your tale of SirJohn’s tour of Canada; he took highly burnished romance to a peoplewhose life was lived on a different plateau, and the discomforts ofhis own life and the lives of his troupe were on other levels. Howreconcile the three?”

“Light,” said Kinghovn. “You do it with light. The romance ofthe plays is theatre‑light; the different romance of thecompany is the queer train‑light Magnus has described; thinkwhat could be done, with that flashing strobe‑light effect youget when a train passes another and everything seems to flicker andlose substance. And the light of the Canadians would be that hard,bright light you find in northern lands. Leave it to me to handle allthree lights in such a way that they are a variation on the theme oflight, instead of just three kinds of light, and I’ll do the trickfor you, Jurgen.”

“I doubt if you can do it simply in terms of appearances,” saidLind.

“I didn’t say you could. But you certainly can’t do it withouta careful attention to appearances, or you’ll have no romance ofany kind. Remember what Magnus says: without attention to detail youwill have no illusion, and illusion’s what you’re aiming at,isn’t it?”

“I had rather thought I was aiming at truth, or some tiny corner ofit,” said Lind.

“Truth!” said Kinghovn. “What kind of talk is that for a saneman? What truth have we been getting all afternoon? I don’t supposeMagnus thinks he’s been telling us the truth. He’s giving us amass of detail, and I don’t doubt that every word he says is truein itself, but to call that truth is ridiculous even for aphilosopher of film like you, Jurgen. What’s he been doing to poorold Roly? He’s cast him as the clown of the show–mother’s boy,pompous Varsity ass, snob, and sexual non‑starter–and I’msure it’s all true, but what has it to do with our Roly? The manyou and I work with and lean on? The thoroughly capableadministrator, literary man, and smoother‑of‑the‑way?Eh?”

“Thank you for these few kind words, Harry,” said Ingestree. Yousave me the embarrassment of saying them myself. Don’t suppose Ibear any malice. Indeed, if I may make a claim for my admittedlyimperfect character, it is that I have never been a malicious man. Iaccept what Magnus says. He has described me as I no doubt appearedto him. And I haven’t scrupled to let you know that so far as I wasconcerned he was an obnoxious little squirt and climber. That’s howI would describe him if I were writing my autobiography, which I maydo, one of these days. But what’s an autobiography? Surely it’s aromance of which one is oneself the hero. Otherwise why write thething? Perhaps you give yourself a rather shopworn character, likeRousseau, or H. G. Wells, and it’s just another way of makingyourself interesting. But Mungo Fetch and the Cantab belong to thedrama of the past; it’s forty years since they trod the boards.We’re two different people now. Magnus is a great illusionist and,as I have said time after time, a great actor; I’m what you sogenerously described, Harry. So let’s not fuss about it.”

Magnus was not satisfied. “You don’t believe, then,” said he,“that a man is the sum and total of all his actions, from birth todeath? That’s what Dunny believes, and he’s our Sorgenfrei experton metaphysics. I think that’s what I believe, too. Squirt andclimber; not a bad summing‑up of whatever you were able tounderstand of me when first we met, Roly. I’m prepared to stand byit, and when your autobiography comes out I shall look for myself inthe Index under S and C: ‘Squirts I have known, Mungo Fetch’, and‘Climbers I have encountered. Fetch, M.’. We must all play ascast, as my contract with Sir John put it. As for truth, I suppose wehave to be content with the constant revisions of history. Thoughthere is the odd inescapable fact, and I still have one or two ofthose to impart, if you want me to go on.”

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They wanted him to go on. The after‑dinner cognac was on thetable and I made it my job to see that everyone had enough. Afterall, I was paying my share of the costs, and I might as well castmyself as host, so far as lay in my power. God knows, that piece ofcasting would be undisputed when the bill was presented. “As wemade the return journey across Canada, a change took place in thespirit of the company,” said Magnus; “going West it was alladventure and new experiences, and the country embraced us; as soonas we turned round at Vancouver it was going home, and much that wasCanadian was unfavourably compared with the nests in the suburbs ofLondon toward which many of the company were yearning. The Haileystalked even more about their son, and their grave worry that if theydidn’t get him into a better school he would grow up handicapped byan undesirable accent. Charlton and Woulds were hankering forrestaurants better than the places, most of them run by Chinese, wefound in the West. Grover Paskin and Frank Moore talked learnedly ofgreat pubs they knew, and of the foreign fizziness of Canadian beer.Audrey Sevenhowes, having squeezed the Cantab, threw him away anddevoted herself seriously to subduing Eric Foss. During our journeyWest we had seen the dramatic shortening of the days which has suchominous beauty in northern countries, and which I loved; now we sawthe daylight lengthen, and it seemed to be part of our homewardjourney; we had gone into the darkness and now we were heading backtoward the light, and every night, as we went into those queer littlestage doors, the naked bulb that shone above them seemed lessneedful.

“The foreignness of Canada semed to abate a little at every sunset,but it was not wholly gone. When we played Regina for a week therewas one memorable night when five Blackfoot Indian chiefs, assertingtheir right as tribal brothers of Sir John, sat as his guests in theleft‑hand stage box: it was rum, I can tell you, playingScaramouche with those motionless figures, all of them inblankets, watching everything with unwinking, jetty black eyes. Whatdid they make of it? God knows. Or perhaps Sir John had some inkling,because Morton W. Penfold arranged that he should meet them in aninterval, when there was an exchange of gifts, and pictures weretaken. But I doubt if the French Revolution figured largely in theirscheme of things. Milady said they loved oratory, and perhaps theywere proud of Soksi‑Poyina as he harangued the aristocrats soeloquently.

“Sir John had rejoined us by that time, and it was a shock when heappeared in our midst, for his hair had turned almost entirely greyduring his time in the hospital. Perhaps he had touched it up beforethen, and the dye had run its course; he never attempted to return itto its original dark brown, and although the grey became him, helooked much older, and in private life he was slower and wearier. Notso on the stage. There he was as graceful and light‑footed asever, but there was something macabre about his youthfulness, in myeyes, at least. With his return the feeling of the company changed;we had supported Gordon Barnard with all our hearts, but now we feltthat the ruler had returned to his kingdom; the lamp of romanceburned with a different flame–a return, perhaps, to gaslight, aftersome effective but comparatively charmless electricity.

“I had a feeling, too, that the critics changed their attitudetoward us on the homeward journey, and it was particularly evident inToronto. The important four were in their seats, as usual: the manwho looked like Edward VII from Saturday Night ; the stoutlittle man, rumoured to be a Theosophist, from The Globe ; thesmiling little fellow in pince‑nez from The Telegram ;and the ravaged Norseman who wrote incomprehensible rhapsodies forThe Star . They were friendly (except Edward VII, who wasjocose about Milady), but they would persist in remembering Irving(whether they had ever actually seen him, or not), and that botheredthe younger actors. Bothered Morton W. Penfold, too, who mumbled toHolroyd that perhaps the old man would be wise to think aboutretirement.

“The audiences came in sufficient numbers, and were warm in theirapplause, particularly when we played The Lyons Mail . It wasanother of the dual roles in which Sir John delighted, and so did I,because it gave me a new chance to double. If Roly had been lookingfor it, he would have found the seed of his Jekyll and Hyde playhere, for it was a play in which, as the good Leserques, Sir John wasall nobility and candour, and then, seconds later, lurched on thestage as the drunken murderer Dubosc, chewing a straw and playingwith a knobbed cudgel. There was one moment in that play that neverfailed to chill me: it was when Dubosc had killed the driver of themail coach, and leaned over the body, rifling the pockets; as he didit. Sir John whistled the ‘Marseillaise’ through his teeth, notloudly, but with such terrible high spirits that it summoned up, in afew seconds, a world of heartless, demonic criminality. But even I,enchanted as I was, could understand that this sort of thing, in thisform, could not last long on the stage that Noel Coward had made hisown. It was acting of a high order, but it was out of time. It stillhad magic here in Canada, not because the people were unsophisticated(on the whole they were as acute as English audiences in theprovinces) but because, in a way I cannot explain, it was speaking toa core of loneliness and deprivation in these Canadians of which theywere only faintly aware. I think it was loneliness, not just forEngland, because so many of these people on the prairies were not ofEnglish origin, but for some faraway and long‑lost Europe. TheCanadians knew themselves to be strangers in their own land, withoutbeing at home anywhere else.

“So, night by night, Canada relinquished its hold on us, and day byday we became weary, not perhaps of one another, but of ourcolleagues’ unvarying heavy overcoats and too familiar pieces ofluggage; what had been the romance of long hops going West–strikingthe set, seeing the trucks loaded at the theatre and unloaded ontothe train, climbing aboard dead tired at three o’clock in themorning, and finding berths in the dimmed, heavily curtainedsleeping‑car–grew to be tedious. Another kind of excitement,the excitement of going home, possessed us, and although we were muchtoo professional a company to get out of hand, we played with aspecial gloss during our final two weeks in Montreal. Then aboardship, a farewell telegram to Sir John and Milady from Mr. MackenzieKing (who semed to be a great friend of the theatre, though outwardlya most untheatrical man), and off to England by the first sailingafter the ice was out of the harbour.

“I had changed substantially during the tour. I was learning todress like Sir John, which was eccentric enough in a young man, butat least not vulgar in style. I was beginning to speak like him, andas is common with beginners, I was overdoing it. I was losing, everso little, my strong sense that every man’s hand was against me,and my hand against every man. I had encountered my native landagain, and was reconciled to all of it except Deptford. We passedthrough Deptford during the latter part of our tour, on a hop betweenWindsor and London; I found out from the conductor of the train thatwe would stop to take on water for the engine there, and that thepause would be short, but sufficient for my purpose; as we chuggedpast the gravel pit beside the railway line I was poised on the stepsat the back of the train, and as we pulled in to the station, sosmall and so familiar, I swung down onto the platform and surveyedall that was to be seen of the village.

“I could look down most of the length of our main street. Irecognized a few buildings and saw the spires of the fivechurches–Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, andCatholic–among the leafless trees. Solemnly, I spat. Then I wentbehind the train to the siding where, so many years ago, Willard hadimprisoned me in Abdullah, and there I spat again. Spitting is not aceremonious action, but I crowded it with loathing, and when Iclimbed back on the train I felt immeasurably better. I had notsettled any scores, or altered my feelings, but I had done somethingof importance. Nobody knew it, but Paul Dempster had visited hischildhood home. I have never returned.

“Back to England, and another long period of hand‑to‑mouthlife for me. Sir John wanted a rest, and Milady had the long trial ofwaiting for her eyes to be ready for an operation. they called it‘ripening’ in cases of cataracts then–and the operation itself,which was successful in that it made it possible for her to see withthick, disfiguring lenses that were a humiliation for a woman whostill thought of herself as a leading actress. Macgregor decided toretire, which was reasonable but made a gap in the organization onwhich Sir John depended. Holroyd was a thoroughgoing pro, and couldget a good job anywhere, and I think he saw farther than either SirJohn or Milady, because he went to Stratford‑on‑Avon andstayed at the Memorial Theatre until he too retired. Nothing came ofthe Jekyll and Hyde play, though I know the Tresizes tinkered withthe scenario for years, as an amusement. But they were comfortablyoff for money–rich, by some standards–and they could settle downhappily in their suburban home, which had a big garden, and amusethemselves with the antiques that gave them so much delight. Ivisited them there often, because they kept a kind interest in me,and helped me as much as they were able. But their influence in thetheatre was not great; indeed, a recommendation from them took on aqueer look in the hands of a young man, because to so many of theimportant employers of actors in the London theatre in themid‑thirties they belonged to a remote past.

“Indeed, they never appeared at the head of a company again. SirJohn had one splendid appearance in a play by a writer who had been agreat figure in the theatre before and just after the First WorldWar, but his time, too, had passed; his play suffered greatly fromhis own illness and some justifiable but prolonged caprice on thepart of the star players. Sir John was very special in that play, andhe was given fine notices by the press, but nothing could conceal thefact that he was not the undoubted star, but ‘distinguished supportin a role which could not have been realized with the same certaintyof touch and golden splendour of personality by any other actor ofour time’–so James Agate said, and everybody agreed.

“There was one very bad day toward the end of his life which, Iknow, opened the way for his death. In the autumn of 1937, whenpeople were thinking of more immediately pressing things, sometheatre people were thinking that the centenary of the birth of HenryIrving should not pass unnoticed. They arranged an all‑starmatinee, in which tribute to the great actor should be paid, and asmany as possible of the great theatre folk of the day should appearin scenes selected from the famous plays of his repertoire. It shouldbe given at his old theatre, the Lyceum, as near as possible to hisbirthday, which was February 6 in the following year.

“Have you ever had anything to do with such an affair? The idea isso splendid, the sentiment so admirable, that it is disillusioning todiscover what a weight of tedious and seemingly unnecessary diplomacymust go into its arrangement. Getting the stars to say with certaintythat they will appear is only the beginning of it; marshalling thenecessary stage‑settings, arranging rehearsals, and publicizingthe performance, without ruinously disproportionate expense, is thebulk of the work, and I understand that an excellent committee did itwith exemplary patience. But inevitably there were muddles, and inthe first enthusiasm many more people were asked to appear than couldpossibly have been crowded on any stage, even if the matinee had beenallowed to go on for six or seven hours.

“Quite reasonably, one of the first people to be asked for hisservices was Sir John, because he was the last actor of first‑rateimportance still living who had been trained under Irving. He agreedthat he would be present, but then, prompted by God knows what evilspirit of vanity, he began to make conditions: he would appear, andhe would speak a tribute to Irving if the Poet Laureate would writeone. The committee demurred, and the Poet Laureate was notapproached. So Sir John, with the bit between his teeth, approachedthe Poet Laureate himself, and the Poet Laureate said he would haveto think about it. He thought for six weeks, and then, in response toanother letter from Sir John, said he didn’t see his way clear todoing it.

“Sir John communicated this news to the committee, who hadmeanwhile gone on with other plans, and they did not reply because, Isuppose, they were up to their eyes in complicated arrangements whichthey had to carry through in the spare time of their busy lives. SirJohn, meanwhile, urged an ancient poet of his acquaintance, who hadbeen a very minor figure in the literary world before the First WorldWar, to write the poetic tribute. The ancient poet, whose name wasUrban Frawley, thought a villanelle would do nicely. Sir John thoughtsomething more stately was called for; his passion for playing theliterary Meddlesome Mattie was aroused, and he and the ancient poethad many a happy hour, wrangling about the form the tribute shouldtake. There was also the great question about what Sir John shouldwear, when delivering it. He finally decided on some robes he hadworn not less than twenty‑five years earlier, in a play byMaeterlinck; like everything else in his wardrobe it had beencarefully stored, and when Holroyd had been summoned from Stratfordto find it, it was in good condition, and needed only pressing andsome loving care to make it very handsome. This valet work became myjob, and in all I made three journeys to Richmond, where the Tresizeslived, to attend to it. Everything seemed to be going splendidly, andonly I worried about the fact that nothing had been heard from thecommittee for a long time.

“There was less than a week to go before the matinee when at last Ipersuaded Sir John that something must be done to make sure that hehad been included in the programme. This was tactless, and he gave mea polite dressing‑down for supposing that when Irving was beinghonoured, his colleagues would be so remiss as to forget Irving’sunquestioned successor. I was not so confident, because since thetour I had mingled a little with theatre people, and had learned thatthere were other pretenders to Irving’s crown, and that SirJohnston Forbes‑Robertson and Sir Frank Benson had been spokenof in this regard, and Benson was still living. I took my scoldingmeekly, and went right on urging him not to leave things to chance.So, rather in the spirit of the Master of Ballantrae giving orders tothe pirates, he telephoned the secretary of the committee, andtalked, not to him, but to his anonymous assistant.

“Sir John told him he was calling simply to say that he would be onhand for the matinee, as he had been invited to do some monthsbefore; that he would declaim the tribute to Irving which had beenspecially written by that favoured child of the Muses, Urban Frawley;that he would not arrive at the theatre until half past four, and hewould arrive in costume, as he knew the backstage resources of thetheatre would be crowded, and nothing was further from his mind thanto create any difficulty by requiring the star dressing‑room.All of this was delivered in the jocular but imperative mode that washis rehearsal speciality, with much ‘eh’ and ‘quonk’ to makeit sound friendly. The secretary’s secretary apparently gavesatisfactory replies, because when Sir John had finished his call helooked at me slyly, as if I were a silly lad who didn’t understandhow such things were done.

“It was agreed that I should drive him to the theatre, because hemight want assistance in arranging his robes, and although he had anold and trusted chauffeur, the man had no skill as a dresser. So,with lots of time to spare, I helped him into the back seat in hisheavy outfit of velvet and fur, climbed into the driver’s place,and off we went. It was one of those extremely class‑consciousold limousines; Sir John, in the back, sat on fine whipcord, and I,in front, sat on leather that was as cold as death; we were separatedby a heavy glass partition, but from time to time he spoke to methrough the speaking tube, and his mood was triumphal.

“Dear old man! He was going to pay tribute to Irving, and there wasnobody else in the world who could do it with a better right, or morereverent affection. It was a glory‑day for him, and I wasanxious that nothing should go wrong.

“As it did, of course. We pulled up at the stage door of theLyceum, and I went in and told the attendant that Sir John hadarrived. He wasn’t one of your proper old stage doormen, but ayoung fellow who took himself very seriously, and had a sheaf ofpapers naming the people he was authorized to admit. No Sir JohnTresize was on the list. He showed it to me, in support of hisdownright refusal. I protested. He stuck his head out of the door andlooked at our limousine, and made off through the passage that led tothe stage, and I stuck close to him. He approached an elegant figurewhom I knew to be one of the most eminent of the youngeractor‑knights and hissed, ‘There’s an old geezer outsidedressed as Nero who says he’s to appear; will you speak to him,sir?’ I intervened; ‘It’s Sir John Tresize,’ I said, ‘andit was arranged that he was to speak an Epilogue–a tribute toIrving.’ The eminent actor‑knight went rather pale under hismake‑up (he was rigged out as Hamlet) and asked for details,which I supplied. The eminent actor‑knight cursed withbrilliant invention for a few seconds, and beckoned me to thecorridor. I went, but not before I was able to identify the soundsthat were coming from the stage as a passage from The Lyons Mail; the rhythm, the tune of what I heard was all wrong, too colloquial,too matter‑of‑fact.

“We made our way back to the stage door, and the eminentactor‑knight darted across the pavement, leapt into thelimousine beside Sir John, and began to talk to him urgently. I wouldhave given a great deal to hear what was said, but I could only catchscraps of it from where I sat in the driver’s seat. ‘Dreadfulstate of confusion… can’t imagine what the organization of suchan affair entails… would not for the world have slighted so great aman of the theatre and the most eminent successor of Irving… butwhen the proposal to the Poet Laureate fell through all communicationhad seemed to stop… nothing further had been heard… no, there hadbeen no message during the past week or something would certainlyhave been done to alter the programme… but as things stand…greatest reluctance… beg indulgence… express deepest personalregret but as you know I do not stand alone and cannot act onpersonal authority so late in the afternoon…’

“A great deal of this; the eminent actor‑knight was sweatingand I could see in the rear‑vision mirror that his distress wasreal, and his determination to stick to his guns was equally real.They were a notable study. You could do wonders with them, Harry; theyoung actor so vivid, the old one so silvery in the splendour of hisdistinction; both giving the quality of art to a common humanblunder. Sir John’s face was grave, but at last he reached out andpatted the knee in the Hamlet tights and said, ‘I won’t say Iunderstand, because I don’t; still, nothing to be done now, eh?Damned embarrassing for us both, quonk? But I think I may say alittle more than just embarrassing for me.’ Then Hamlet, delightedto have been let off the hook, smiled the smile of spiritual radiancefor which he was famous, and did an inspired thing: he took the handSir John extended to him and raised it to his lips. It seemed underthe circumstances precisely the right thing to do.

“Then I drove Sir John back to Richmond, and it was a slow journey,I can tell you. I hardly dared to look in the mirror, but I didtwice, and both times tears were running down the old man’s face.When we arrived I helped him inside and he leaned very heavily on myarm. I couldn’t bear to hang around and hear what he said toMilady. Nor would they have wanted me.

“So that was how you knifed him, Roly. Don’t protest. When thestage doorman showed me that list of people who were included in theperformance, it was signed by you, on behalf of the eminentactor‑knight. You simply didn’t let that telephone message goany farther. It’s a pity you couldn’t have been on hand to seethe scene in the limousine.”

Magnus said no more, and nobody else seemed anxious to break thesilence. Ingestree appeared to be thinking, and at last it was he whospoke.

“I don’t see any reason now for denying what you’ve said. Ithink you have coloured it absurdly, but your facts are right. It’strue I devilled for the committee about that Irving matinee; I wasjust getting myself established in the theatre in a serious way andit was a great opportunity for me. All the stars who formed thecommittee heaped work on me, and that was as it should be. I don’tcomplain. But if you think Sir John Tresize was the only swollen egoI had to deal with, you’d better think again; I had months oftiresome negotiating to do, and because no money was changing hands Ihad to treat over a hundred people as if they were all stars.

“Yes, I got the call from Tresize, and it came just at the timewhen I was hardest pressed. Yes, I did drop it, because by that timeI had been given a programme for that awful afternoon that we had tostick to or else disturb I can’t think how many carefularrangements. You saw one man disappointed; I saw at least twenty.All my life I’ve had to arrange things, because I’m that uncommoncreature, an artist with a good head for administration. One of thelessons I’ve learned is to give no ground to compassion, becausethe minute you do that a dozen people descend upon you who treatcompassion as weakness, and drive you off your course without theslightest regard for what happens to you. You’ve told us that youapprenticed yourself to an egoism, Magnus, and so you did, and you’velearned the egoism‑game splendidly; but in my life I’ve hadto learn how to deal with people like you without becoming yourslave, and that’s what I’ve done. I’m sorry if old Tresize feltbadly, but on the basis of what you’ve told us I think everybodyelse here will admit that it was nobody’s fault but his own.”

“I don’t think I’m ready to admit that,” said Lind. “Thereis a hole in your excellent story: you didn’t tell your superiorabout the telephone call. Surely he was the man to make finaldecisions?”

“There were innumerable decisions to be made. If you’ve ever hadany experience of an all‑star matinee you can guess how many.During the last week everybody was happy if a decision could be madethat would stick. I don’t remember the details very clearly. Iacted for what seemed the best.”

“Without any recollection of being told how to carry a chair, orthat unfortunate reference to your father’s shop, or thedisappointment about Jekyll‑and‑Hyde in masks and meem?”said Magnus.

“What do you suppose I am? You can’t really imagine I would takerevenge for petty things of that sort.”

“Oh yes; I can imagine it without the least difficulty.”

“You’re ungenerous.”

“Life has made me aware of how far mean minds rely on generosity inothers.”

“You’ve always disliked me.”

“You didn’t like the old man.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Well, in my judgement at least, you killed him.”

“Did I? Something had to kill him, I suppose. Something killseverybody. And when you say something you often mean somebody.Eventually something or somebody will kill us all. You’re not goingto back me into a corner that way.”

“No, don’t think you can quite attribute Sir John’s death toRoly,” said Lind. “But a not very widely understood or recognizedelement in life–I mean the jealousy youth feels for age–played apart in it. Have you been harbouring ill‑will toward Roly allthese years because of this incident? Because I really think thatwhat Sir John was played a large part in the way he died, as isusually the case.”

“Very well,” said Magnus; “I’ll reconsider the matter. Afterall, it doesn’t really signify whether I think Roly killed him, ornot. But Sir John and Milady were the first two people in my life Ireally loved, and the list isn’t a long one. After the matinee SirJohn wasn’t himself; in a few weeks he had flu, which turned topneumonia, and he didn’t last long. I went to Richmond every day,and there was one dreadful afternoon toward the end when I went intothe room where Milady was sitting; when she heard my footstep shesaid, ‘Is that you. Jack?’ and I knew she wasn’t going to livelong, either.

“She was wandering, of course, and as I have told you I had learnedso much from Sir John that I even walked like him; it was eerie anddesolating to be mistaken for him by the person who knew him best.Roly says I ate him. Rubbish! But I had done something that I don’tpretend to explain, and when Milady thought he was well again, andwalking as he had not walked for a year, I couldn’t speak to her,or say who I was, so I crept away and came back later, making it veryclear that it was Mungo Fetch who had come, and would come as long ashe was wanted.

“He died, and at that time everybody was deeply concerned about thewar that was so near at hand, and there were very few people at thefuneral. Not Milady; she wasn’t well enough to go. But Agate wasthere, the only time I ever saw him. And a handful of relatives werethere, and I noticed them looking at me with unfriendly, sidelongglances. Then it broke on me that they thought I must be some sort ofghost from the past, and very probably an illegitimate son. I didn’tapproach them, because I was sure that nothing would ever make itclear to them that I was indeed a ghost, and an illegitimate son, butin a sense they would never understand.

“Milady died a few weeks later, and there were even fewer at herfuneral; Macgregor and Holroyd were there, and as I stood with themnobody bothered to look twice at me. Odd: it was not until they diedthat I learned they were both much older than I had supposed.

“The day after we buried Milady I left England; I had wanted to doso for some time, but I didn’t want to go so long as there was achance that I could do anything for her. There was a war coming, andI had no stomach for war; the circumstances of my life had notinclined me toward patriotism. There was nothing for me to do inEngland. I had never gained a foothold on the stage because myabilities as an actor were not of the fashionable kind, and I had notbeen able to do any better with magic. I kept bread in my mouth bytaking odd jobs as a magician; at Christmas I gave shows for childrenin the toy department of one of the big shops, but the work washateful to me. Children are a miserable audience for magic; everybodythinks they are fond of marvels, but they are generallyliteral‑minded little toughs who want to know how everything isdone; they have not yet attained to the sophistication that takespleasure in being deceived. The very small ones aren’t so bad, butthey are in a state of life where a rabbit might just as well appearout of a hat as from anywhere else; what really interests them is therabbit. For a man of my capacities, working for children wasdegrading; you might just as well confront them with Menuhin playing‘Pop Goes the Weasel’. But I drew streams of half‑crownsfrom tiny noses, and wrapped up turtles that changed into boxes ofsweets in order to collect my weekly wage. Now and then I took aprivate engagement, but the people who employed me weren’t seriousabout magic. It sounds odd, but I can’t put it any other way; I waswasted on them and my new egoism was galled by the humiliation of thework.

“I had to live, and I understood clocks. Here again I was at adisadvantage because I had no certificate of qualification, andanyhow ordinary cleaning and regulating of wrist‑watches andmediocre mantel clocks bored me. But I hung around the clockexhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and worked my way intothe private room of the curator of that gallery in order to askquestions, and it was not long before I had a rather irregular jobthere. It is never easy to find people who can be trusted with fineold pieces, because it calls for a kind of sympathy that isn’tdirectly hitched to mechanical knowledge.

“With those old clocks you need to know not only how they work, butwhy they are built as they are. Every piece is individual, andsomething of the temperament of the maker is built into them, so thereal task is to discern whatever you can of the maker’s temperamentand work within it, if you hope to humour his clock and persuade itto come to life again.

“In the States and Canada they talk about ‘fixing’ clocks; it’sa bad word, because you can’t just fix a clock if you hope to bringit to life. I was a reanimator of clocks, and I was particularly goodat the sonnerie –you know, the bells and strikingapparatus–which is especially hard to humour into renewed life.You’ve all heard old clocks that strike as if they were beingmanaged by very old, arthritic gnomes; the notes tumble alongirregularly, without any of the certainty and dignity you want from atrue chime. It’s a tricky thing to restore dignity to a clock thathas been neglected or misused or that simply has grown old. I coulddo that, because I understood time.

“I mean my own time, as well as the clock’s. So many workmenthink in terms of their own time, on which they put a value. Theywill tell you it’s no good monkeying with an old timepiece becausethe cost of the labour would run too close to the value of the clock,even when it was restored. I never cared how long a job took, and Ididn’t charge for my work by the hour; not because I put no valueon my time but because I found that such an attitude led to hurriedwork, which is fatal to humouring clocks. I don’t suppose I waspaid as much as I could have demanded if I had charged by the hour,but I made myself invaluable, and in the end that has its price. Ihad a knack for the work, part of which was the understanding Iacquired of old metal (which mustn’t be treated as if it weremodern metal), and part of which was the boundless patience and thecontempt for time I had gained sitting inside Abdullah, when time hadno significance.

“I suppose the greatest advantage I have had over other people whohave wanted to do what I can do is that I really had no education atall, and am free of the illusions and commonplace values thateducation brings. I don’t speak against education; for most peopleit is a necessity; but if you’re going to be a genius you shouldtry either to avoid education entirely, or else work hard to get ridof any you’ve been given. Education is for commonplace people andit fortifies their commonplaceness. Makes them useful, of course, inan ordinary sort of way.

“So I became an expert on old clocks, and I know a great many ofthe finest chamber clocks, and lantern clocks, and astronomical andequation clocks in the finest collections in the world, because Ihave rebuilt them, and tinkered them, and put infinitesimal newpieces into them (but always fashioned in old metal, or it would becheating), and brought their chimes back to their original pride, andwhile I was doing that work I was as anonymous as I had been when Iwas inside Abdullah. I was a back‑room expert who worked onclocks which the Museum undertook, as a special favour, to examineand put in order if it could be done. And when I had becomeinvaluable I had no trouble in getting a very good letter ofrecommendation, to anybody whom it might concern, from the curator,who was a well‑known man in his field.

“With that I set off for Switzerland, because I knew that thereought to be a job for a good clock‑man there, and I was certainthat when the war came Switzerland would be neutral, though probablynot comfortable. I was right; there were shortages, endless problemsabout spies who wouldn’t play their game according to the rules,bombings that were explained as accidental and perhaps were, and theuneasiness rising toward hysteria of being in the middle of acontinent at war when other nations use your neutrality on the onehand, and hate you for it on the other. We were lucky to have HenriGuisan to keep us in order.

“I say ‘we’, though I did not become a Swiss and have neverdone so; theirs is not an easy club to join. I was Jules LeGrand, anda Canadian, and although that was sometimes complicated I managed tomake it work.

“I presented my letter at the biggest watch and clock factories,and although I was pleasantly received I could not get a job, becauseI was not a Swiss, and at that time there were many foreigners whowanted jobs in important industries, and it was probable that some ofthem were spies. If I were going to place a spy, I would get a manwho could pass for a native, and equip him with unexceptionablepapers to show that he was a native; but when people are afraid ofspies they do not think rationally. Still, after some patientapplication I wrangled an interview at the Musee d’Art etd’Histoire in Geneva, and after waiting a while Jules LeGrand foundhimself once more in the back room of a museum. It was there that oneof the great strokes of luck in my life occurred, and mostuncharacteristically it came through an act of kindness I hadundertaken. There must be a soft side to my nature, and perhaps Ishould have trusted it more than I have done.

“I was living in a pension, the proprietor of which had a smalldaughter. The daughter had got herself into deep trouble because shehad broken her father’s walking‑stick, and as the stick hadbeen a possession of her grandfather it had something of thecharacter of an heirloom. It was no ordinary walking‑stick, butone of those joke sticks that fashionable young men used to carry–afine Malacca cane, but with a knob on the top that did a trick. Theknob of this particular specimen was of ivory, carved prettily likethe head of a monkey; but when you pressed a button in its neck themonkey opened its mouth, stuck out a red tongue, and rolled its blueeyes up to heaven. The child had been warned not to play withgrandfather’s stick, and had predictably done so, and jammed it sothat the monkey was frozen in an expression of idiocy, its tonguehalf out and its eyes half raised.

“The family made a great to‑do, and little Rosalie waslectured and hectored and deprived of her allowance for an indefiniteperiod, and the tragedy of the stick was brought up at every meal;everybody at the pension had ideas about either child‑rearingor the mending of the stick and I became thoroughly sick of hearingabout it, though not as sick as poor Rosalie, who was a nice kid, andfelt like a criminal. So I offered to take it to my workroom at theMusee and do what I could. Mending old toys could not be verydifferent from mending old clocks, and Rosalie was growing pale, soclearly something must be done. The family had tried a fewwatch‑repair people, but none of them wanted to be botheredwith what looked like a troublesome job; it is astonishing that in aplace like Geneva, which numbers watch mechanics in the thousands,there should be so few who are prepared to tackle anything old.Something new delights them, but what is old seems to clog theirworks. I suppose it is a matter of sympathetic approach, which was mychief stock‑in‑trade as a reanimator of old timepieces.

“The monkey was not really difficult, but he took time. Releasingthe silver collar that kept the head in position without destroyingit; removing the ivory knob without damage; penetrating the innardsof the knob in such a way as to discover its secrets without wreckingthem: these were troublesome tasks, but what someone has made,someone else can dismantle and make again. It proved to be a matterof an escapement device that needed replacing, and that meant makinga tiny part on one of my tiny lathes from metal that would work well,but not too aggressively, with the old metal in the monkey’s works.Simple, when you know how and are prepared to take several hours todo it; not simple if you are in a hurry to finish. So I did it, andrestored the stick to its owner with a flowery speech in which Ibegged forgiveness for Rosalie, and Rosalie thought I was amarvellous man (in which she was quite correct) and a very nice man(in which I fear she was mistaken).

“The significant detail is that one evening after the museum’sworking day was done I was busy with the walking‑stick when thecurator of my department walked through the passage outside the smallworkshop, saw my light, and came in, like a good Swiss, to turn itoff. He asked what I was doing, and when I explained he showed someinterest. It was a year later that he sent for me and asked if I knewmuch about mechanical toys; I said I didn’t, but that it would beodd if a toy were more complex than a clock. Then he said, ‘Haveyou ever heard of Jeremias Naegeli?’ and I hadn’t. ‘Well,’said he, ‘Jeremias Naegeli is very old, very rich, and very muchaccustomed to having his own way. He has retired, except forretaining the chairmanship of the board of So‑and‑So’–andhe mentioned the name of one of the biggest clock, watch, and opticalequipment manufacturers in Switzerland–’and he has collected agreat number of mechanical toys, all of them old and some of themunique. He wants a man to put them in order. Would you be interestedin a job like that?’

“I said, ‘If Jeremias Naegeli commands several thousand experttechnicians, why would he want me?’ ‘Because his people areexpected to keep on the job during wartime,’ said my boss; ‘itwould not look well if he took a first‑rate man for what mightappear to be a frivolous job. He is old and he doesn’t want to waituntil the war is over. But if he borrows you from the museum, and youare a foreigner not engaged in war production, it’s a differentthing, do you understand?’ I understood, and in a couple of weeks Iwas on my way to St. Gallen to be looked over by the imperiousJeremias Naegeli.

“It proved that he lived at some distance from St. Gallon on hisestate in the mountains, and a driver was sent to take me there. Thatwas my first sight of Sorgenfrei. As you gentlemen know, it is animpressive sight, but try to imagine how impressive it was to me, whohad never been in a rich house before, to say nothing of such agingerbread castle as that. I was frightened out of my wits. As soonas I arrived I was taken by a secretary to the great man’s privateroom, which was called his study, but was really a huge library,dark, hot, stuffy, and smelling of leather furniture, expensivecigars, and rich man’s farts. It was this expensive stench thatdestroyed the last of my confidence, because it was as if I hadentered the den of some fearsome old animal, which was precisely whatJeremias Naegeli was. It had been many years–in Willard’stime–since I had been afraid of anyone, but I was afraid of him.

“He played the role of great industrialist, contemptuous ofceremony and without an instant to spare on inferior people. ‘Haveyou brought your tools?’ was the first thing he said to me;although it was a silly question–why wouldn’t I have brought mytools?–he made it sound as if I were just the sort of fellow whowould have travelled across the whole of Switzerland without them. Hequestioned me carefully about clockwork, and that was easy because Iknew more about that subject than he did; he understood principlesbut I don’t suppose he could have made a safety‑pin. Then heheaved himself out of his chair and gestured to me with his cigar tofollow; he was old and very fat, and progress was slow, but wecrawled back into the entrance hall, where he showed me the big clockthere, which you have all seen; it has dials for everything you canthink of–time at Sorgenfrei and at Greenwich, seconds, the day ofthe week, the date of the month, the seasons, and the signs of thezodiac, the phases of the moon, and a complex sonnerie .‘What’s that?’ he said. So I told him what it was, and how itwas integrated and what metals were probably used to balance oneanother off with enough compensation to keep the thing from needingcontinual readjustment. He didn’t say anything, but I knew he waspleased. ‘That clock was made for my grandfather, who designed it,’he said. ‘He must have been a very great technician,’ I said, andthat pleased him as well, as I meant it to do. Most men are much morepartial to their grandfathers than to their fathers, just as theyadmire their grandsons but rarely their sons. Then he beckoned me tofollow again, and this time we went on quite a long journey, down aflight of steps, through a long corridor, and up steps again intowhat I judged was another building; we had been through a tunnel.

“In a tall, sunny room in this building there was the mostextraordinary collection of mechanical toys that anyone has everseen; there can be no doubt about that, because it is now in one ofthe museums in Zurich, and its reputation is precisely what I havesaid–the most extensive and extraordinary in the world. But when Ifirst saw it, the room looked as if all the little princes andprincesses and serene highnesses in the world had been having athoroughly destructive afternoon. Legs and arms lay about the floor,springs burst from little animals like metal guts, paint had beengashed with sharp points. It was a breathtaking scene of destruction,and as I wandered here and there looking at the little marvels andthe terrible damage, I was filled with awe, because some of thosethings were of indisputable beauty and they had been despoiled in afit of crazy fury.

“It was here that the old man showed the first touch of humanity Ihad seen in him. There were tears in his eyes. ‘Can you mend this?’he asked, waving his heavy stick to encompass the room. It was not atime for hesitation. ‘I don’t know that I can mend it all,’ Isaid, ‘but if anybody can do it, I can. But I mustn’t be pressedfor time.’ That fetched him. He positively smiled, and it wasn’ta bad smile either. ‘Then you must begin at once,’ he said, ‘andnobody shall ever ask you how you are getting on. But you will tellme sometimes, won’t you?’ And he smiled the charming smile again.

“That was how I began my life at Sorgenfrei. It was odd, and Inever became fully accustomed to the routine of the house. There werea good many servants, most of whom were well up in years, asotherwise they would have been called away for war work. There werealso two secretaries, both invalidish young men, and the oldDirektor–which was what everybody called him–kept them busy,because he either had, or invented, a lot of business to attend to.There was another curious functionary, also unfit for militaryservice, whose job it was to play the organ at breakfast, and playthe piano at night if the old man wanted music after dinner. He was afine musician, but he can’t have been driven by ambition, orperhaps he was too ill to care. Every morning of his life, while theDirektor consumed a large breakfast, this fellow sat in the organloft and worked his way methodically through Bach’s chorales. Theold man called them his prayers and he heard three a day; he consumedspiced ham and cheese and extraordinary quantities of rolls and hotbreads while he was listening to Bach, and when he had finished hehauled himself up and lumbered off to his study. From that time untilevening the musician sat in the secretaries’ room and read, orlooked out of the window and coughed softly, until it was time forhim to put on his dress clothes and eat dinner with the Direktor, whowould then decide if he wanted any Chopin that evening.

“We all dined with the Direktor, and with a severe lady who was themanager of his household, but we took our midday meal in anotherroom. It was the housekeeper who told me that I must get a dinnersuit, and sent me to St. Gallon to buy one. There were shortages inSwitzerland, and they were reflected in the Direktor’s meals, butwe ate extraordinarily well, all the same.

“The Direktor was as good as his word; he never harried me abouttime. We had occasional conferences about things I needed, because Irequired seasoned metal–not new stuff–that his influence couldcommand from the large factories in the complex of which he was thenominal ruler and undoubted financial head; I also had to have somerather odd materials to repair finishes, and as I wanted to use eggtempera I needed a certain number of eggs, which were not the easiestthings to get in wartime, even in Switzerland.

“I had never dealt with an industrialist before, and I was botheredby his demand for accurate figures; when he asked me how muchspring‑metal of a certain width and weight I wanted I was aptto say, “Oh, a fair‑sized coil,” which tried his temperdreadfully. But after he had seen me working with it, and understoodthat I really knew what I was doing, he regained his calm, and mayeven have recognized that in the sort of job he had given me accuracyof estimate was not to be achieved in the terms he understood.

“The job was literally a mess. I set to work methodically on thefirst day to canvass the room, picking up everything and putting thecomponent parts of every toy in a separate box, so far as I couldidentify them. It took ten days, and when I had done I estimated thatof the hundred and fifty toys that had originally been on theshelves, all but twenty‑one could be identified and put intosome sort of renewed life. What remained looked like what is foundafter an aircraft disaster; legs, heads, arms, bits of mechanism andunidentifiable rubbish lay there in a jumble that made no sense, sortit how I would.

“It was a queer way to spend the worst years of the war. So far aswork and the nurture of my imagination went, I was in the nineteenthcentury. None of the toys was earlier than 1790, and most of thembelonged to the 1830s and ‘40s, and reflected the outlook on lifeof that time, and its quality of imagination–the outlook andimagination, that’s to say, of the kind of people–French,Russian, Polish, German–who liked mechanical toys and could affordto buy them for themselves or their children. Essentially it was astuffy, limited imagination.

“If I have been successful in penetrating the character ofRobert‑Houdin and the sort of performance he gave, it isbecause my work with those toys gave me the clue to it and hisaudience. They were people who liked imagination to be circumscribed:you were a wealthy bourgeois papa, and you wanted to give your littleClothilde a surprise on her birthday, so you went to the very besttoymaker and spent a lot of money on an effigy of a little bootblackwho whistled as he shined the boot he held in his hands. SeeClothilde, see! How he nods his head and taps with his foot as hebrushes away! How merrily he whistles ‘Ach, du lieber Augustin’!Open the back of his case–carefully, my darling, better let papa doit for you–and there is the spring, which pumps the little bellowsand works the little barrel‑and‑pin device that releasesthe air into the pipes that makes the whistle. And these little rodsand eccentric wheels make the boy polish the boot and wag his headand tap his toe. Are you not grateful to papa for this lovelysurprise? Of course you are, my darling. And now we shall put thelittle boy on a high shelf, and perhaps on Saturday evenings papawill make it work for you. Because we mustn’t risk breaking it,must we? Not after papa spent so much money to buy it. No, we mustpreserve it with care, so that a century from now Herr DirektorJeremias Naegeli will include it in his collection.

“But somebody had gone through Herr Direktor Naegeli’s collectionand smashed it to hell. Who could it be?

“Who could be so disrespectful of all the careful preservation,painstaking assembly, and huge amount of money the collectionrepresented? Who can have lost patience with the bourgeois charm ofall these little people–the ballerinas who danced so delightfullyto the music of the music‑boxes, the little bands of Orientalswho banged their cymbals and beat their drums and jingled theirlittle hoops of bells, the little trumpeters (ten of them) who couldplay three different trumpet tunes, the canary that sang so prettilyin its decorative cage, the mermaid who swam in what looked like realwater, but was really revolving spindles of twisted glass, the littletightrope walkers, and the big cockatoo that could ruffle itsfeathers and give a lifelike squawk–who can have missed their charmand seen instead their awful rigidity and slavery to mechanicalpattern?

“I found out who this monster was quite early in my long task.After I had sorted the debris of the collection, and set to work, Ispent from six to eight hours a day sitting in that large room, witha jeweller’s glass stuck in my eye, reassembling mechanisms,humouring them till they worked as they ought, and then touching upthe paintwork and bits of velvet, silk, spangles, and feathers thathad been damaged on the birds, the fishes, monkeys, and tiny peoplewho gave charm to the ingenious clockwork which was the importantpart of them.

“I am a concentrated worker, and not easily interrupted, but Ibegan to have a feeling that I was not alone, and that I was beingwatched by no friendly eye. I could not see anything in the room thatwould conceal a snooper, but one day I felt a watcher so close to methat I turned suddenly and saw that I was being watched through oneof the big windows, and that the watcher was a very odd creatureindeed–a sort of monkey, I thought, so I waved to it and grinned,as one does at monkeys. In reply the monkey jabbed a fist through thewindow and cursed fiercely at me in some Swiss patois that was beyondmy understanding. Then it unfastened the window by reaching throughthe hole it had made in the glass, threw up the sash, and leaptinside.

“Its attitude was threatening, and although I saw that it washuman, I continued to behave as if it were a monkey. I had knownRango pretty well in my carnival days, and I knew that with monkeysthe first rule is never to show surprise or alarm; but neither canyou win monkeys by kindness. The only thing to do is to keep stilland quiet and be ready for anything. I spoke to it in conventionalGerman–”

“You spoke in a vulgar Austrian lingo,” said Liesl. “And youtook the patronizing tone of an animal‑trainer. Have you anyidea what it is like to be spoken to in the way people speak toanimals? A fascinating experience. Gives you quite a new feelingabout animals. They don’t know words, but they understand tones.The tone people usually use to animals is affectionate, but it has anundertone of ‘What a fool you are!’ I suppose an animal has tomake up its mind whether it will put up with that nonsense for thefood and shelter that goes with it, or show the speaker who’s boss.That’s what I did. Really Magnus, if you could have seen yourselfat that moment! A pretty, self‑assured little manikin, watchingto see which way I’d jump. And I did jump. Right on top of you, androlled you on the floor. I didn’t mean to do you any harm, but Icouldn’t resist rumpling you up a bit.”

“You bit me,” said Magnus.

“A nip.”

“How was I to know it was only meant to be a nip?”

“You weren’t. But did you have to hit me on the head with thehandle of a screwdriver?”

“Yes, I did. Not that it had much effect.”

“You couldn’t know that the most ineffective thing you could doto me was to hit me on the head.”

“Liesl, you would have frightened St. George and hisdragon. If you wanted gallantry you shouldn’t have hit me andsqueezed me and banged my head on the floor as you did. So far as Iknew I was fighting for my life. And don’t pretend now that youmeant it just as a romp. You were out to kill. I could smell it onyour breath.”

“I could certainly have killed you. Who knew or cared that you wereat Sorgenfrei, mending those ridiculous toys? In wartime who wouldhave troubled to trace one insignificant little mechanic, travellingon a crooked passport, who happened to vanish? My grandfather wouldhave been angry, but he would have had to hush the thing up somehow.He couldn’t hand his granddaughter over to the police. The old manloved me, you know. If he hadn’t, he would probably have killed meor banished me after I smashed up his collection of toys.”

“And why did you smash them?” said Lind.

“Pure bloody‑mindedness. For which I had good cause. You haveheard what Magnus says: I looked like an ape. I still look like anape, but I have made my apishness serve me and now it doesn’treally matter. But it mattered then, more than anything else in theworld, to me. It mattered more than the European War, more thananybody’s happiness. I was so full of spleen I could have killedMagnus, and enjoyed it, and then told my grandfather to cope with thesituation, and enjoyed that. And he would have done it.

“You’d better let me tell you about it, before Magnus rushes onand puts the whole thing in his own particular light. My life waspretty much that of any lucky rich child until I was fourteen. Theonly thing that was in the least unusual was that my parents–myfather was Jeremias Naegeli’s only son–were killed in a motoraccident when I was eleven. My grandfather took me on, and was askind to me as he knew how to be. He was like the bourgeois papa thatMagnus described giving the mechanical top to little Clothilde; mygrandfather belonged to an era when the attitude toward children wasthat they were all right as long as they were loved and happy, andtheir happiness was obviously the same as that of their guardians. Itworks pretty well when nothing disturbs the pattern, but when I wasfourteen something very disturbing happened in my pattern.

“It was at the beginning of puberty, and I knew all about thatbecause my grandfather was enlightened and I was given good, ifrather Calvinist, instruction by a woman doctor. So when I began togrow rather fast I didn’t pay much attention until it seemed thatthe growth was too much for me and I began to have fainting fits. Thewoman doctor appeared again and was alarmed. Then began a wretchedperiod of hospitals and tests and consultations and head‑shakingsand discussions in which I was not included, and after all that ahorrible time when I was taken to Zurich three times a week fortreatment with a large ray‑machine. The treatments werenauseating and depressing, and I was wretched because I supposed Ihad cancer, and asked the woman doctor about it. No, not cancer.What, then? Some difficulty with the growing process, which the raytreatment was designed to arrest.

“I won’t bore you with it all. The disease was a rare one, butnot so rare they didn’t have some ideas about it, and Grandfathermade sure that everything was done that anyone could do. The doctorswere delighted. They did indeed control my growth, which made them ashappy as could be, because it proved something. They explained to me,as if it were the most wonderful Christmas gift any girl ever had,that if they had not been able to do wonders with their rays anddrugs I would have been a giant. Think of it, they said; you mighthave been eight feet tall, but we have been able to halt you at fivefoot eleven inches, which is not impossibly tall for a woman. You area very lucky young lady. Unless, of course, there is a recurrence ofthe trouble, for which we shall keep the most vigilant watch. You mayregard yourself as cured.

“There were, of course, a few side effects. One cannot hope toescape such an experience wholly unscathed. The side effects werethat I had huge feet and hands, a disfiguring thickening of the skulland jaw, and surely one of the ugliest faces anyone has ever seen.But wasn’t I lucky not to be a giant, as well?

“I was so perverse as not to be grateful for my luck. Not to be agiant, at the cost of looking like an ape, didn’t seem to me to bethe greatest good luck. Surely Fortune had something in her basket alittle better than that? I raved and I raged, and I made everybody asmiserable as I could. My grandfather didn’t know what to do. Zurichwas full of psychiatrists but my grandfather belonged to apre‑psychiatric age. He sent for a bishop, a good Lutheranbishop, who was a very nice man but I demolished him quickly; all histalk about resignation, recognition of the worse fate of scores ofpoor creatures in the Zurich hospitals, the necessity to humbleoneself before the inscrutable mystery of God’s will, sounded to melike mockery. There sat the bishop, with his snowy hair smelling ofexpensive cologne and his lovely white hands moulding invisibleloaves of bread in the air before him, and there sat I, hideous anddestroyed in mind, listening to him prate about resignation. Hesuggested that we pray, and knelt with his face in the seat of hischair. I gave him such a kick in the arse that he limped for a week,and rushed off to my own quarters.

“There was worse to come. With the thickening of the bones of myhead there had been trouble with my organs of speech, and thereseemed to be nothing that could be done about that My voice becamehoarse, and as my tongue thickened I found speech more and moredifficult, until I could only utter in a gruff tone that sounded tome like the bark of a dog. That was the worst. To be hideous washumiliating and ruinous to my spirit, but to sound as I didthreatened my reason. What was I to do? I was young and very strong,and I could rage and destroy. So that is what I did.

“It had all taken a long time, and when Magnus first saw me at thewindow of his workroom I was seventeen. I had gone on the rampage oneday, and wrecked Grandfather’s collection of toys. It was usuallykept locked up but I knew how to get to it. Why did I do it? To hurtthe old man. Why did I want to hurt the old man? Because he was athand, and the pity I saw in his eyes when he came to see me–I keptaway from the life in the house–made me hate him. Who was he, soold, so near death, so capable of living the life he liked, to pityme? If Fate had a blow, why didn’t Fate strike him? He would nothave had to endure it long. But I might easily live to be as old ashe, trapped in my ugliness for sixty years. So I smashed his toys. Doyou know, he never said a word of reproach? In the kind of world thebishop inhabited his forbearance would have melted my heart andbrought me to a better frame of mind. But misfortune had scorched allthe easy Christianity out of me, and I despised him all the more forhis compassion, and wondered where I could attack him next.

“I knew Grandfather had brought someone to Sorgenfri to mend thetoys, and I wanted to see who it was. There was not much fun to begot out of the secretaries, and I had exhausted the possibilities oftormenting Hofetatter, the musician; he was poor game, and wepteasily, the feeble schlemiel. I had spied on Magnus for quite a timebefore he discovered me; looking in the windows of his workroom meantclimbing along a narrow ledge some distance above ground and as Ilooked like an ape I thought I might as well behave like one. So Iused to creep along the ledge, and watch the terribly neat, debonairlittle fellow bent over his workbench, tinkering endlessly with bitsof spring and tiny wires, and filing patiently at the cogs of littlewheels. He always had his jeweller’s glass stuck in one eye, and abeautifully fresh long white coat, and he never sat down withouttugging his trousers gently upward to preserve their crease. He washandsome, too, in a romantic, nineteenth‑century way that wentbeautifully with the little automata he was repairing.

“Before my trouble I had loved to go to the opera, and Contesd’Hoffmann was one of my favourites; the scene in Magnus’sworkroom always reminded me of the mechanical doll, Olympia, inHoffmann , though he was not a bit like the grotesque old manwho quarrelled over Olympia. So there it was, Hoffmann inside thewindow and outside, what? The only person in opera I resembled at allwas Kundry the monstrous woman in Parsifal , and Kundry alwaysseemed to be striving to do good and be redeemed. I didn’t want todo good and had no interest in being redeemed.

“I read a good deal and my favourite book at that time wasSpengler’s Der Untergang des Abendlandes –I was not astupid girl, you understand–and from it I had drawn a mishmash ofnotions which tended to support whatever I felt like doing,especially when I wanted to be destructive. Most adolescents aredestructive, I suppose, but the worst are certainly those who justifywhat they do with a half‑baked understanding of somebody’sphilosophy. It was under the banner of Spengler, then, that I decidedto surprise Magnus and rough him up a bit. He looked easy. A man whoworried so much in private about the crease of his trousers was sureto be a poor fighter.

“The surprise was mine. I was bigger and stronger but I hadn’thad his experience in carnival fights and flophouses. He soon foundout that hitting me on the head was no good, and hit me a mostterrible blow in the diaphragm that knocked out all my breath. Thenhe bent one of my legs backward and sat on me. That was when we hadour first conversation.

“It was long, and I soon discovered that he spoke my language. Idon’t mean German; I had to teach him proper German later. I meanthat he asked intelligent questions and expected sensible answers. Hewas also extremely rude. I told you I had a hoarse, thick voice, andhe had trouble understanding me in French and English. ‘Can’t youspeak better than that?’ he demanded, and when I said I couldn’the simply said, ‘You’re not trying; you’re making the worst ofit in order to seem horrible. You’re not horrible, you’re juststupid. So cut it out.’

“Nobody had ever talked to me like that. I was the Naegeli heiress,and I was extremely unfortunate; I was used to deference, and peopleputting up with whatever I chose to give them. Here was little HerrTrousers‑Crease, who spoke elegant English and nice cleanFrench and barnyard German, cheeking me about the way I spoke. Andlaying down the law and making conditions! ‘If you want to comehere and watch me work you must behave yourself. You should beashamed, smashing up all these pretty things! Have you no respect forthe past? Look at this: a monkey orchestra of twenty pieces and aconductor, and you’ve reduced it to a boxful of scraps. I’ve gotto mend it, and it won’t take less than four to six months ofpatient, extremely skilled work before the monkeys can play their sixlittle tunes again. And all because of you! Your grandfather ought totie you to the weathervane and leave you on the roof to die!’

“Well, it was a change from the bishop and my grandfather’stears. Of course I knew it was bluff. He may have hoped to shame me,but I think he was cleverer than that. All he was doing was servingnotice on me that he would not put up with any nonsense; he knew Iwas beyond shame. But it was a change. And I began, just a little, tolike him. Little Heir Trousers‑Crease had quality, and anegoism that was a match for my own.

“Now–am I to go on? If there is to be any more of this I think Ishould be the one to speak. But is this confessional evening to knowno bounds?”

“I think you’d better go ahead, Liesl,” said I. “You’vealways been a great one to urge other people to tell their mostintimate secrets. It’s hardly fair if you refuse to do so.”

“Ah, yes, but dear Ramsay, what follows isn’t a tale of scandal,and it isn’t really a love‑story. Will it be of any interest?We must not forget that this is supposed to provide a subtext forMagnus’s film about Robert‑Houdin. What is the real story ofthe making of a great conjuror as opposed to Robert‑Houdin’smemoirs, which we are pretty much agreed are a bourgeois fake? Idon’t in the least mind telling my side of the story, if its of anyinterest to the film‑makers. What’s the decision?”

“The decision is that you go on,” said Kinghovn. “You havepaused simply to make yourself interesting, as women do. No–that’sunjust. Eisengrim has been doing the same thing all day. But go on.”

“Very well, Harry, I shall go on. But there won’t be much for youin what I have to tell, because this part of the story could not berealized in visual terms, even by you. What happened was that I camemore and more to the workroom where little Herr Trousers‑Creasewas mending Grandfather’s automata, and I fell under theenchantment of what he was able to do. He has told you that hehumoured those little creatures back into life, but you would have tosee him at work to get any kind of understanding of what it meant,because only part of it was mechanical. I suppose one ofGrandfather’s master technicians–one of the men who make thosemarvellous chronometers that are given to millionaires by theirwives, and which never vary from strict time by more than a secondevery year–could have mended all those little figures so that theyworked, but only Magnus could have read, in a cardboard box full ofparts, the secret of the tiny performance that the completed figurewas meant to give. When he had finished one of his repair jobs, thelittle bootblack did not simply brisk away at his little boot withhis miniature brush, and whistle and tap his foot: he seemed to live,to have a true quality of being as though when you had turned yourback he would leap up from his box and dance a jig, or run off for apot of beer. You know what those automata are like: there issomething distasteful about their rattling merriment; but Magnus madethem act –they gave a little performance. I had seen thembefore I broke them, and I swear that when Magnus had remade themthey were better than they had ever been.

“Was little Herr Trousers‑Crease a very great watchmaker’smechanic, then? No, something far beyond that. There must have beenin him some special quality that made it worth his while to investthese creatures of metal with so much vitality and charm of action.Roly has talked about his wolfishness; that was part of it, becausewith that wolfishness went an intensity of imagination and vision.The wolfishness meant only that he never questioned the overmasteringimportance of what he–whoever and whatever he was–might be doing.But the artistry was of a rare kind, and little by little I began tounderstand what it was. I found it in Spengler.

“You have read Spengler? No; it is not so fashionable as it oncewas. But Spengler talks a great deal about what he calls the MagianWorld View, which he says we have lost, but which was part of theWeltanschauung –you know, the world outlook–of the MiddleAges. It was a sense of the unfathomable wonder of the invisibleworld that existed side by side with a hard recognition of theroughness and cruelty and day‑to‑day demands of thetangible world. It was a readiness to see demons where nowadays wesee neuroses, and to see the hand of a guardian angel in what we areapt to shrug off ungratefully as a stroke of luck. It was religion,but a religion with a thousand gods, none of them all‑powerfuland most of them ambiguous in their attitude toward man. It waspoetry and wonder which might reveal themselves in the dunghill, andit was an understanding of the dunghill that lurks in poetry andwonder. It was a sense of living in what Spengler called a quiveringcavern‑light which is always in danger of being swallowed up inthe surrounding, impenetrable darkness.

“This was what Herr Trousers‑Crease seemed to have, and whatmade him ready to spend his time on work that would have maddened aman of modern education and modern sensibility. We have paid aterrible price for our education, such as it is. The Magian WorldView, in so far as it exists, has taken flight into science, and onlythe great scientists have it or understand where it leads; the lesserones are merely clockmakers of a larger growth, just as so many ofour humanist scholars are just cud‑chewers or system‑grinders.We have educated ourselves into a world from which wonder, and thefear and dread and splendour and freedom of wonder have beenbanished. Of course wonder is costly. You couldn’t incorporate itinto a modern state, because it is the antithesis of the anxiouslyworshipped security which is what a modern state is asked to give.Wonder is marvellous but it is also cruel, cruel, cruel. It isundemocratic, discriminatory, and pitiless.

“Yet here it was, in this most unexpected place, and when I hadfound it I apprenticed myself to it. Literally, for I begged HerrTrousers‑Crease to teach me what he knew, and even with my hugehands I gained skill, because I had a great master. And that meansvery often an exacting, hot‑tempered, and impatient master,because whatever my great countrymen Pestalozzi and Froebel may havesaid about the education of commonplace people, great things are nottaught by blancmange methods. What great thing was I learning? Themanagement of clockwork? No; any great craft tends at last toward thecondition of a philosophy, and I was moving through clockwork to theMagian World View.

“Of course it took time. My grandfather was delighted, for what hesaw was that his intractable, hideous granddaughter was quietlyengaged in helping to repair what she had destroyed. He also saw thatI improved physically, because my agony over my sickness had beenterribly destructive; physically I had become slouching and simian,and as Magnus saw at once, I made my speech trouble far worse than itwas, to spite myself and the world. Magnus helped me with that.Re‑taught me, indeed, because he would not tolerate my uncouthmutterings, and gave me some sharp and demanding instruction in themanner of speech he had learned from Lady Tresize. And I learned. Itwas a case of learn to speak properly or get out of the workroom, andI wanted to stay.

“We were an odd pair, certainly. I knew about the Magian WorldView, and recognized it in my teacher. He knew nothing of it, becausehe knew nothing else: it was so much in the grain of the life he hadlived, so much a part of him, that he didn’t understand thateverybody else didn’t think–no, not think, feel–as he did. Iwould not for the world have attempted to explain it to him, becausethat would have endangered it. His kind was not the kind of mind thatis happy with explanations and theories. In the common sense of theexpression, he had no brains at all, and hasn’t to this day. Whatdoes it matter? I have brains for him.

“As his pupil, is it strange that I should fall in love with him? Iwas young and healthy, and hideous though I was, I had myyearnings–perhaps exaggerated by the unlikelihood that they couldfind satisfaction. How was I to make him love me? Well, I began, asall the beginners in love do, with the crazy notion that if I lovedhim enough he must necessarily respond. How could he ignore thedevotion I offered? Pooh! He didn’t notice at all. I worked like aslave, but that was no more than he expected. I made little gestures,gave him little gifts, tried to make myself fascinating–and thatwas uphill work, let me assure you. Not that he showed distaste forme. After all, he was a carnival man, and had grown used togrotesques. He simply didn’t think of me as a woman.

“At least, that is how I explained it to myself, and I made myselfthoroughly miserable about it. At last, one day, when he spoke to meimpatiently and harshly, I wept. I suppose I looked dreadful, and hebecame even more rough. So I seized him, and demanded that he treatme as a human creature and not simply as a handy assistant, andblubbered out that I loved him. I did all the youthful things: I toldhim that I knew it was impossible that he should love me, because Iwas so ugly, but that I wanted some sort of human feeling from him.

“To my delight he took me quite seriously. We sat down at theworkbench, and settled to a tedious task that needed some attention,but not too much, and he told me about Willard, and his childhood,and said that he did not think that love in the usual sense was forhim, because he had experienced it as a form of suffering andhumiliation–a parody of sex–and he could not persuade himself todo to anyone else what had been done to him in a perverse andterrifying mode.

“This was going too fast for me. Of course I wanted sexualexperience, but first of all I wanted tenderness. Under my terribleappearance–I read a lot of old legends and I thought of myself asthe Loathly Maiden in the Arthurian stories–I was still anupper‑class Swiss girl of gentle breeding, and I thought ofsexual intercourse as a splendid goal to be achieved, after a lot ofpleasant things along the way. And being a sensible girl, under allthe outward trouble and psychological muddle, I said so. That led toan even greater surprise.

“He told me that he had once been in love with a woman, who haddied, and that he could not feel for anyone else as he had felt forher. Romance! I rose to it like a trout to a fly. But I wanted toknow more, and the more I heard the better it was. Titled lady ofextraordinary charm, understanding, and gentleness. All this was tothe good. But then the story began to slide sidewise into farce, asit seemed to me. The lady was not young; indeed, as I probed, it cameout that she had been over sixty when he first met her. There hadbeen no tender passages between them, because he respected her toomuch, but he had been privileged to read the Bible to her. It was atthis point I laughed.

“Magnus was furious. The more he stormed the more I laughed, and Iam sorry to say that the more I laughed the more I jeered at him. Iwas young, and the young can be horribly coarse about love that isnot of their kind. From buggery to selfless, knightly adoration atone splendid leap! I made a lot of it, and hooted with mirth.

“I deserved to be slapped, and I was slapped. I hit back, and wefought, and rolled on the floor and slugged each other. But of courseeveryone knows that you should never fight with women if you want topunish them; the physical contact leads to other matters, and it did.I was not ready for sexual intercourse so soon, and Magnus did notwant it, but it happened all the same. It was the first time for bothof us, and it is a wonder we managed at all. It is like painting inwater‑colours, you know; it looks easy but it isn’t. Realcommand only comes with experience. We were both astonished andcross. I thought I had been raped; Magnus thought he had beenunfaithful to his real love. It looked like a deadlock.

“It wasn’t, however. We did it lots of times after that–I mean,in the weeks that followed–and the habit is addictive, as you allknow, and very agreeable, if not really the be‑all and end‑alland cure‑all that stupid people pretend. It was good for me. Ibecame quite smart, in so far as my appearance allowed, and paidattention to my hair, which as you see is very good. My grandfatherwas transported, because I began to eat at the family table again,and when he had guests I could be so charming that they almost forgothow I looked. The Herr Direktor’s granddaughter FrauleinOrang‑Outang, so charming and witty, though it is doubtful ifeven the old man’s money will find her a husband.

“I am sure Grandfather knew I was sleeping with Magnus, and it musthave given him severe Calvinist twinges, but he did not become agreat industrialist by being a fool; he weighed the circumstances andwas pleased by the obvious balance on the credit side. I think hewould have consented to marriage if Magnus had mentioned it. But ofcourse he didn’t.

“Nor would I have urged it. The more intimate we became, the more Iknew that we were destined to be very great friends, and probablyfrequent bedmates, but certainly not a happy bourgeois marriedcouple. For a time I called Magnus Tiresias, because like thatwonderful old creature he had been for seven years a woman, and hadgained strange wisdom and insight thereby. I thought of him sometimesas Galahad, because of his knightly obsession with the woman we nowknow as Milady, but I never called him that to his face, because Ihad done with mocking at his chivalry. I have never understoodchivalry, but I have learned to keep my mouth shut about it.”

“It’s a man’s thing,” said I; “and I think we have seen thelast of it for a while on this earth. It can’t live in a world ofliberated women, and perhaps the liberation of women is worth theprice it is certain to cost. But chivalry won’t die easily orunnoticed; banish chivalry from the world and you snap the mainspringof many lives.”

“Good, grey old Ramsay,” said Liesl, reaching over to pat myhand; “always gravely regretting, always looking wistfullybackward.”

“You’re both wrong,” said Magnus. “I don’t think chivalrybelongs to the past; it’s part of that World View Liesl talks somuch about, and that she thinks I possess but don’t understand.What captured my faith and loyalty about Milady had just as much todo with Sir John. He was that rare creature, the Man of One Woman. Heloved Milady young and he loved her old and much of her greatness wasthe creation of his love. To hear people talk and to look at thestuff they read and see in the theatre and the films, you’d thinkthe true man was the man of many women, and the more women, the moremasculine the man. Don Juan is the ideal. An unattainable ideal formost men, because of the leisure and money it takes to devoteyourself to a life of womanizing–not to speak of the relentlessenergy, the unappeasable lust, and the sheer woodpecker‑likevitality of the sexual organ that such a life demands. Unattainable,yes, but thousands of men have a stab at it, and in their old agethey count their handful of successes like rosary beads. But the Manof One Woman is very rare. He needs resources of spirit andpsychological virtuosity beyond the common, and he needs luck, too,because the Man of One Woman must find a woman of extraordinaryquality. The Man of One Woman was the character Sir John played onthe stage, and it was the character he played in life, too.

“I envied him, and I cherished the splendour those two had created.If, by any inconceivable chance, Milady had shown any sexualaffection for me, I should have been shocked, and I would haverebuked her. But she didn’t, of course, and I simply warmed myselfat their fire, and by God I needed warmth. I once had a hope that Imight have found something of the sort for myself, with you, Liesl,but my luck was not to run in that direction. I would have been veryhappy to be a Man of One Woman, but that wasn’t your way, nor wasit mine. I couldn’t forget Milady.”

“No, no; we went our ways,” said Liesl. “And you know you werenever much of a lover, Magnus. What does that matter? You were agreat magician, and has any great magician ever been a great lover?Look at Merlin: his only false step was when he fell in love andended up imprisoned in a tree for his pains. Look at poor oldKlingsor: he could create gardens full of desirable women, but he hadbeen castrated with a magic spear. You’ve been happy with yourmagic. And when I gained enough confidence to go out into the worldagain, I was happy in a casual, physical way with quite a few people,and some of the best of them were of my own sex.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Magnus. “Who snatched the BeautifulFaustina from under my very nose?”

“Oh, Faustina, Faustina, you always bring her up when you feel agrievance. You must understand, gentlemen, that when my grandfatherdied, and I was heir to a large fortune, Magnus and I realized agreat ambition we had in common; we set up a magic show, whichdeveloped and gained sophistication and gloss until it became thefamous Soiree of Illusions . It takes money to get one ofthose things on its feet, as you well know, but when it isestablished it can be very profitable.

“You can’t have a magic show without a few beautiful girls to besawn in two, or beheaded, or whisked about in space. Sex has itsplace in magic, even if it is not the foremost place. As ours was thebest show in existence, or sought to become the best, we had to havesome girls better than the pretty numskulls who are content to takesimple jobs in which they are no more than living stage properties.

“I found one in Peru, a great beauty indeed but not far evolved inthe European sense; a lovely animal. I bought her, to be frank. Youcan still buy people, you know, if you understand how to go about it.You don’t go to a peasant father and say, ‘Sell me yourdaughter’; you say, ‘I can open up a splendid future for yourdaughter, that will make her a rich lady with many pairs of shoes,and as I realize you need her to work at home, I hope you won’t beoffended if I offer you five hundred American dollars to recompenseyou for the loss.’ He isn’t offended; not in the least. And youmake sure he puts his mark on an official‑looking piece ofpaper that apprentices the girl to you, to learn a trade–in thiscase the trade of seamstress, because actress has a bad sound ifthere is any trouble. And there you are. You wash the girl, teach herto stand still on stage and do what she is told, and you clout herover the ear if she is troublesome. Quite soon she thinks she is agreat deal more important than she really is, but that can beendured.

“Faustina was a thrill on the stage, because she really wasstunningly beautiful, and for a while it seemed to be good businessto let curious people think she was Magnus’s mistress; only a fewrather perceptive people know that great magicians, as opposed to hamconjurors, don’t have mistresses. In reality, Faustina was mymistress, but we kept that quiet, in case some clamorous moralistshould make a fuss about it. In Latin America, in particular, theclergy are pernickety about such things. You remember Faustina,Ramsay? I recall you had a wintry yearning toward her yourself.”

“Don’t be disagreeable, Liesl,” I said. “You know whodestroyed that.”

“Destroyed it, certainly, and greatly enriched you in the process,”said Liesl, and touched me gently with one of her enormous hands.

“So there you have it, gentlemen,” she continued. “Now you knoweverything, it seems to me.”

“Not everything,” said Ingestree. “The name, MagnusEisengrim–whose inspiration was that?”

“Mine,” said Liesl. “Did I tell you I took my degree at theUniversity of Zurich? Yes, in the faculty of philosophy where Ileaned toward what used to be called philology–quite a Teutonicspeciality. So of course I was acquainted with the greatbeast‑legends of Europe, and in Reynard the Fox, you know,there is the great wolf Eisengrim, whom everyone fears, but who isnot such a bad fellow, really. Just the name for a magician, don’tyou think?”

“And your name,” said Lind. “Liselotte Vitzliputzli? You werealways named on the programmes as Theatre Autocrat–LiselotteVitzliputzli.”

“Ah, yes. Somebody has to be an autocrat in an affair of that kind,and it sounds better and is more frank than simply Manager. Anyhow, Iwasn’t quite a manager: I was the boss. It was my money, you see.But I knew my place. Manager I might be, but without Magnus EisengrimI was nothing. Consequently–Vitzlipiitzli. You understand?”

“No, gnadiges Fraulein, I do not understand,” said Lind, “andyou know I do not understand. What I am beginning to understand isthat you are capable of giving your colleagues Eisengrim and Ramsay athoroughly difficult time when it is your whim. Soagain–Vitzliputzli?”

“Dear, dear, how ignorant people are in this supposedly brilliantmodern world,” said Liesl. “You surely know Faust ? NotGoethe’s Faust , of course; every Teuton has that byheart–both parts of it–but the old German play on which he basedhis poem. Look among the characters there, and you will find that theleast of the demons attending on the great magician is Vitzlipiitzli.So that was the name I chose. A delicate compliment to Magnus. Ittakes a little of the sting out of the word Autocrat.

“But an autocrat is what I must be now. Gentlemen, we have talkedfor a long time, and I hope we have given you your subtext. You haveseen what a gulf lies between the reality of a magician with theMagian World View and such a pack of lies as Robert‑Houdin’sbland, bourgeois memoirs. You have seen, too, what a distance thereis between the pack of lies Ramsay wrote so artfully as a commerciallife of our dear Eisengrim, and the sad little boy from Deptford. Andnow, we must travel tomorrow, and I must pack my two old gentlemenoff to their beds, or they will not be happy for the plane. So it istime to say good night.”

Profuse thanks for hospitality, for the conversation, for thepleasure of working together on the film La Hommage aRobert‑Houdin , from Lind. A rather curious exchange offriendly words and handshakes between Eisengrim and Roland Ingestree.The business of waking Kinghovn from a drunken stupor, of getting himto understand that he must not have another brandy before going home.And then, at last, we three went by ourselves.

“Strange to spend so many hours answering questions,” said Liesl.

“Strange, and disagreeable,” said Eisengrim.

“Strange what questions went unasked and unanswered,” said I.

“Such as…” said Liesl.

“Such as ‘Who Killed Boy Staunton?’ “ said I.

III. Le Lit de Justice


“You know the police in Toronto are still not satisfied that youtold them all you know about Staunton’s death?”

“I told them all I thought proper.”

“Which wasn’t everything?”

“Certainly not. The police must work with facts, not fancies andsuppositions. The facts were simple. I met him, for the first time inmy life, when I visited you at your school in Toronto on the night ofNovember 3, 1968; we went to your room and had a talk that lastedless than an hour. I accepted his offer to drive me back to my hotel.We chatted for a time, because we were both Deptford boys. I last sawhim as he drove away from the hotel door.”

“Yes. And he was found less than three hours later in the harbour,into which he appeared to have driven in his powerful car, and whenthe police recovered the body they found a stone in his mouth.”

“So I understand.”

“If that had been all there was to it, would the police still bewondering about you?”

“No indeed.”

“It was my fault,” said Liesl. “If I had been more discreet,the police would have been satisfied with what Magnus told them. Butone has one’s pride as an artist, you know, and when I was asked aquestion I thought I could answer effectively I did so, and then thefat was in the fire.”

Would anyone who saw us at this moment have thought we were talkingabout murder? I was convinced that Magnus had murdered Staunton, andwith reason. Was not Staunton the initiator of most of what we hadheard in the subtext of the life of Magnus Eisengrim? If, when bothhe and I were ten years old, Percy Boyd Staunton had not thrown asnowball at me, which had instead hit Mrs. Amasa Dempster, bringingabout the premature birth of her son Paul and robbing her of herwits, would I at this moment be in bed with Magnus Eisengrim andLiselotte Vitzliputzli in the Savoy Hotel, discussing Staunton’sdeath?

We had come to this because we were inclined to share a bed when wehad anything important to talk about. People who think of beds onlyin terms of sexual exercise or sleep simply do not understand that abed is the best of all places for a philosophical discussion, anargument, and if necessary a showdown. It was not by chance that somany kings of old administered justice from their beds, and eventoday there is something splendidly parliamentary about an assemblyof concerned persons in a bed.

Of course it must be a big bed. The Savoy had outfitted Magnus’sroom with two splendid beds, each of which was easily capable ofaccommodating three adults without undue snuggling. (The Savoy isabove the meanness of “single” beds.) So there we were, at theend of our long day of confession and revelation, lying back againstthe ample pillows, Liesl in the middle, Magnus on her left, and I onher right. He wore a handsome dressing‑gown and a scarf hetwisted around his head when he slept, because he had a European fearof draughts. I am a simple man; a man of blue pyjamas. Liesl likedfilmy nightrobes, and she was a delightful person to be in bed withbecause she was so warm. As I grow older I fuss about the cold, andfor some reason I feel the cold for an hour or so after I haveremoved my artificial leg, as of course I had done before climbing inwith them. My chilly stump was next to Liesl.

There we lay, nicely tucked up. I had my usual glass of hot milk andrum, Liesl had a balloon glass of cognac, and Magnus, alwayseccentric, had the glass of warm water and lemon juice without whichhe thought he could not sleep. I am sure we looked charminglydomestic, but my frame of mind was that of the historian on a strongscent and eager for the kill. If ever I was to get the confessionthat would complete my document–the document which would in futureenable researchers to write “Ramsay says…” with authority–itwould be before we slept. If Magnus would not tell me what I wantedto know, surely I might get it from Liesl?

“Consider the circumstances,” she said. “It was the finalSaturday night of our two weeks’ engagement at the Royal AlexandraTheatre in Toronto; we had never taken the Soiree of Illusions there before and we were a huge success. By far our most effectiveillusion was The Brazen Head of Friar Bacon , second to laston the programme.

“Consider how it worked, Ramsay: the big pretend‑brass Headhung in the middle of the stage, and after it had identified a numberof objects of which nobody but the owners could have had knowledge,it gave three pieces of advice. That was always the thing that tookmost planning; the Head would say, ‘I am speaking to MademoiselleSuch‑A‑One, who is sitting in Row F, number 32.’ (Wealways called members of the audience Madame and Monsieur and soforth because it gave a tiny bit of elegance to the occasion in anEnglish‑speaking place.) Then I would give MademoiselleSuch‑A‑One a few words that would make everybody prick uptheir ears, and might even make Mademoiselle squeal with surprise. Ofcourse we picked up the gossip around town, through an advance agent,or the company manager might get a hint of it in the foyer, or evenby doing a little snooping in handbags and pocket‑books–hewas a very clever old dip we valued for this talent. I was the Voiceof the Head, because I have a talent for making a small piece ofinformation go a long way.

“We had, in the beginning, decided never to ask for questions fromthe audience. Too dangerous. Too hard to answer effectively. But onthat Saturday night somebody shouted from the gallery–we know whoit was, it was Staunton’s son David, who was drunk as a fiddler’sbitch and almost out of his mind about his father’s death–’Whokilled Boy Staunton?’

“Ramsay, what would you have done? What would you expect me to do?You know me; am I one to shy away from a challenge? And there it was:a very great challenge. In an instant I had what seemed to me aninspiration–just right in terms of the Brazen Head, that’s tosay; just right in terms of the best magic show in the world. Magnushad been talking to me about the Staunton thing all week; he had toldme everything Staunton had said to him. Was I to pass up that chance?Ramsay, use your imagination.

“I signalled to the electrician to bring up the warm lights on theHead, to make it glow, and I spoke into the microphone, giving iteverything I could of mystery and oracle, and I said–you rememberwhat I said–He was killed by the usual cabal: by himself, firstof all; by the woman he knew; by the woman he did not know; by theman who granted his inmost wish; and by the inevitable fifth, who waskeeper of his conscience and keeper of the stone. You rememberhow well it went.”

“Went well! Liesl, is that what you call going well?”

“Of course; the audience went wild. There was greater excitement inthat theatre than the Soiree had ever known. It took a longtime to calm them down and finish the evening with The Vision ofDr. Faustus . Magnus wanted to bring the curtain down then andthere. He had cold feet–”

“And with reason,” said Magnus; “I thought the cops would bedown on us at once. I was never so relieved in my life as when we goton the plane to Copenhagen the following morning.”

“You call yourself a showman; It was a triumph!”

“A triumph for you, perhaps. Do you remember what happened to me?”

“Poor Ramsay, you had your heart attack, there in the theatre.Right‑hand upper stage box, where you had been lurking. I sawyou fall forward through the curtains and sent someone to take careof you at once. But would you grudge that in the light of the triumphfor the Soiree ? It wasn’t much of a heart attack, now, wasit? Just a wee warning that you should be careful about excitement.And were you the only one? Staunton’s son took it very badly. AndStaunton’s wife! As soon as she heard about it–which she didwithin an hour–she forgot her role as grieving widow and was afterus with all the police support she could muster, which lucidly wasn’tenthusiastic. After all, what could they charge us with? Not evenfortune‑telling, which is always the thing one has to keepclear of. But any triumph is bound to bring about a few casualties.Don’t be small, Ramsay.”

I took a pull at my rum and milk, and reflected on the consumingvanity of performers: Magnus, a monster of vanity, which he said hehad learned from Sir John Tresize; and Liesl, not one whit less vain,to whom a possible murder, a near‑riot in a theatre, anoutraged family, and my heart attack–mine– were meresparks from the anvil on which she had hammered out her greattriumph. How does one cope with such people?

One doesn’t; one thanks God they exist. Liesl was right; I mustn’tbe small. But if I was allowed my own egoism, I must have the answersI wanted. This was by no means the first time the matter of the deathof Boy Staunton had come up among the three of us. On earlieroccasions Magnus had put me aside with jokes and evasions, and whenLiesl was present she stood by him in doing so; they both knew that Iwas deeply convinced that somehow Magnus had sent Staunton to hisdeath, and they loved to keep me in doubt. Liesl said it was good forme not to have an answer to every question I asked, and my burninghistorian’s desire to gather and record facts she pretended toregard as mere nosiness.

It was now or never. Magnus had opened up to the filmmakers as he hadnever done to anyone–Liesl knew a little, I presume, but certainlyher knowledge of his past was far from complete–and I wanted myanswers while the confessional mood was still strong in him. Presson, Ramsay: even if they hate you for it now, they’ll get cool inthe same skins they got hot in.

One way of getting right answers is to venture a few wrong answersyourself. “Let me have a try at identifying the group you called‘the usual cabal’,” I said. “He was killed by himself,because it was he who drove his car off the dock; the woman he didnot know, I should say, was his first wife, whom I think I knew quitewell, and certainly he did not know her nearly so well; the woman hedid know was certainly his second wife; he came to know heruncomfortably well, and if ever a man stuck his foot in a bear‑trapwhen he thought he was putting it into a flower‑bed, it was BoyStaunton when he married Denyse Hornick; the man who granted hisinmost wish I suppose must have been you, Magnus, and I am sure youknow what is in my mind–you hypnotized poor Boy, stuck that stonein his mouth, and headed him for death. How’s that?”

“I’m surprised by the crudeness of your suspicions, Dunny. ‘Iam become as a bottle in the smoke: yet do I fear thy statutes.’One of those statutes forbids murder. Why would I kill Staunton?”

“Vengeance, Magnus, vengeance.”

“Vengeance for what?”

“For what? Can you ask that after what you have told us about yourlife? Vengeance for your premature birth and your mother’s madness.For your servitude to Willard and Abdullah and all those wretchedyears with the World of Wonders. Vengeance for the deprivation thatmade you the shadow of Sir John Tresize. Vengeance for a wrench offate that cut you off from ordinary love, and made you an oddity. Anotable oddity, I admit, but certainly an oddity.”

“Oh, Dunny, what a coarsely melodramatic mind you have! Vengeance!If I had been as big an oddity as you are I would have embraced BoyStaunton and thanked him for what he had done for me. The means mayhave been a little rough, but the result is entirely to my taste. Ifhe hadn’t hit my mother on the head with that snowball–havinghidden a rock in it, which was dirty play–I might now be what myfather was: a Baptist parson in a small town. I have had my ups anddowns, and the downs were very far down indeed, but I am now acelebrity in a limited way, and I am a master of a craft, which is abetter thing by far. I am a more complete human being than you are,you old fool. I may not have had a very happy sex‑life, but Icertainly have love and friendship, and much of the best of that isin bed with me at this moment. I have admiration, which everybodywants and very few people achieve. I get my living by doing what Imost enjoy, and that is rare indeed. Who gave me my start? BoyStaunton! Would I murder such a man? It is to his early interventionin my life I owe what Liesl calls the Magian World View.

“Vengeance, you cry. If anybody wanted vengeance, it was you,Dunny. You lived near Staunton all your life, watched him, broodedover him, saw him destroy that silly girl you wanted–or thought youwanted–and ill‑wished him a thousand times. You’re the manof vengeance. I never wanted vengeance in my life for anything.”

“Magnus! Remember how you withheld death from Willard when hebegged for it! What did you do today to poor Roly Ingestree? Don’tyou call that vengeance?”

“I admit I toyed with Roly. He hurt people I loved. But if hehadn’t come back into my life by chance I should never havebothered about him. I didn’t harbour evidence of his guilt forsixty years, as you harboured that stone Staunton put in thesnowball.”

“Don’t twist, Magnus! When you and Staunton left my room at theCollege to go back to your hotel you took that stone, and when nextit was seen the police had to pry it out of poor Staunton’s jaws,where it was clenched so tight they had to break his teeth to get atit!”

“I didn’t take the stone, Dunny; Staunton took it himself.”

“Did he?”

“Yes. I saw him. You were putting your box back in the bookshelves.The box that contained my mother’s ashes. Dunny, what on earth madeyou keep those ashes? It was ghoulish.”

“I couldn’t bear to part with them. Your mother was a veryspecial figure in my life. To me she was a saint. Not just a goodwoman, but a saint, and the influence she had in my life wasmiraculous.”

“So you’ve often told me, but I knew her only as a madwoman. Ihad stood at the window of our miserable house trying not to crywhile Boy Staunton and his gang shouted ‘Hoor!’ as they passed ontheir way to school.”

“Yes, and you let the police think you had never met him until thenight he died.”

“Perfectly true. I knew who he was, when he was fifteen and I wasfive. He was the Rich Young Ruler in our village, as you well know.But we had never been formally introduced until you brought ustogether, and I presumed that was what the police were talkingabout.”

“A quibble.”

“An evasion, possibly. But I was answering questions, notinstructing my questioners. I was working on advice given me long agoby Mrs. Constantinescu: don’t blat everything you know, especiallyto cops.”

“You didn’t tell them you knew that Boy had been appointedLieutenant‑Governor of the province when nobody else knew it.”

“Everybody knew it was in the air. I knew it the second night hecame to the theatre, because he had the letter of appointment in theinner pocket of his handsome dinner jacket. Liesl has told you we hada member of our troupe–our company manager–who welcomed importantpatrons in the foyer. I suppose our man found out that the rumour hadbecome a fact by means which I always thought it better not toinvestigate too closely. So I knew. And the Brazen Head could havespilled the beans that evening, from the stage, but Liesl and Ithought it might be just a teeny bit indiscreet.”

“That was another thing you didn’t tell the police. Boy Stauntoncame twice to the Soiree of Illusions .”

“Lots of people used to come twice. And three and four times. Its avery good show. But you’re right; Staunton came to see me. He wasinterested in me in the way people used to be interested in Sir John.I suppose there was something about my personality, as there wasabout Sir John’s, that had a special attraction for some people. Mypersonality is a valuable part of our bag of tricks, as you very wellknow.”

Indeed I did. And how it had come pressing off the screen in UnHommage a Robert‑Houdin ! I had always thought personalattributes lost something in the cinema; it seemed reasonable that aphotograph of a man should be less striking than the man himself. Butnot when the art of Lind and that rumpot of genius Kinghovn laybehind the photograph. I had sat in the little viewing‑room atthe B.B.C. entranced by what I saw of a Magnus more vivid than ever Ihad seen him on the stage. True, his performance was a tiny bitstagey, considered as cinematic acting, but it was a staginess ofsuch grace, such distinction and accomplishment, that nobody couldhave wished it otherwise. As I watched I remembered what used to besaid of stage favourites when I was a boy: they were polished. They had enviable repose. They did nothing quite the way anyoneelse did it, and they had an attitude toward their audiences whichwas, quite apart from the role they were playing, splendidlycourteous, as if a great man were taking friendly notice of us. I hadthought of this when Magnus told us how Sir John accepted applausewhen he made his first entrance in Scaramouche , and latergave those curtain‑speeches all across Canada, which seemed toembrace audiences of people who yearned mutely for such attention.Magnus had this polish in the highest and most subtle degree, and Icould understand how Boy Staunton, who was a lifelong hero‑worshipperand had not got it out of his system even at the age of seventy,would have responded to it.

Polish! How Boy had honed and yearned after polish! What idols he hadworshipped! And as a Lieutenant‑Governor elect I could imaginehow he coveted what Magnus displayed on the stage. ALieutenant‑Governor with that sort of distinction–that wouldastonish the Rubes!

We were silent for a while. But I was full of questions, mad forcertainties even though I understood there were no certainties. Ibroke the silence.

“If you weren’t the man who granted his inmost wish, who was it?I have swallowed the pill that I was ‘the inevitable fifth, who waskeeper of his conscience and keeper of the stone’– though Iaccept that only as Liesl’s oracular phraseology. But who grantedhis wish? And what was the wish?”

This time it was Liesl who spoke. “It could very well have been hisson, Ramsay. Don’t forget David Staunton, who representedcontinuance to his father. Have you no understanding of how some mencrave for continuance? They see it as their immortality. Boy Stauntonwho had built up the great fortune, from a few fields of sugar‑beetsto a complex of business that was known all over the world. You mustpardon my nationalist bias, but it is significant that when Stauntondied–or killed himself, as it was supposed–his death was reportedat some length in our Neue Zurcher Zeitung . That paper, likethe London Times , recognizes only the most distinguishedachievements of the Angel of Death. Their obituary columns are almostthe Court Circular of the Kingdom of God. Well, who inherits animportant man’s earthly glory? People like Staunton hope it will bea son.

“A son Staunton had, we know. But what a son! Not a disgrace. Onemight find the spaciousness of tragedy in a disgrace. David Stauntonwas a success; a notable criminal lawyer, but also a sharp critic ofhis father’s life. A man whose cold eye watched the glorious Boygrowing older, and richer, and more powerful, and was not impressed.A man who did not admire or seek to emulate his father’s greatsuccess with women. A man who understood, by tie of blood and by achild’s intuition, the terrible, unappeasable hunger that lies atthe bottom of ambition like Boy Staunton’s. I don’t know whetherDavid ever understood that consciously; but he thwarted his father’sterrible craving to be everything, command everything, and possesseverything, and he did it in the way that hurt most: he refused toproduce a successor to himself. He refused to continue the Stauntonline and the Staunton name and the glory that was Staunton. That waspressing the knife into the vital spot. But don’t jump toconclusions: the man who granted his inmost wish wasn’t DavidStaunton.”

“Aren’t you doing a lot of fancy guessing?”

“No. Staunton told Magnus and Magnus told me.”

“It was one of those situations Liesl is always talking about,”said Eisengrim. “You know: a man reaches the confessional time inhis life. Sometimes he writes an autobiography; sometimes he tellshis story to a group of listeners, as I have been doing. Sometimesthere is only one listener, and that was how it was with Staunton.

“Surely you remember what it was like in your room that night ofNovember 3? Staunton and I had clicked, in the way people sometimesdo. He wanted to know me: I was more than commonly interested in himbecause he was from my past, and not at all what one would havepredicted for the fattish, purse‑proud kid who had shouted‘Hoor’ at my mother. You understood that we’d clicked, and youdidn’t like it at all. That was when you decided to spill thebeans, and told Staunton who I was, how he had literally broughtabout my birth, how you knew about the rock in the snowball and hadkept it all those years. You even had my mother’s ashes in acasket. And through it all Staunton was cool as a cucumber. Deniedeverything that he had not–quite honestly, I believe–forgotten.Chose to regard the whole affair as something only very remotelyconnected with himself. Considering the way you went at him, Ithought he showed enviable self‑possession. But he said somesharp things about you.

“When we were in his car, driving down the long avenue from theschool, he expanded on what he’d said. He cursed you verythoroughly, Dunny. Told me that for boyhood friendship he had kept aneye on your money all through the years, and made you secure and evenwell‑off. Befriended you and brought you to the notice ofreally important people–people in a very big way of business–as aguest in his house. Confided in you when his first marriage was goingon the rocks, and was patient when you sided with his wife. Put upwith your ironic attitude toward his success, because he knew it hadits root in jealousy.

“He was offended that you never mentioned Mary Dempster–he neverspoke of her as my mother–and her long years in asylums; he wouldhave been glad to help a Deptford woman who had come to grief. And hewas angry and hurt that you kept that damned stone on your desk toremind you of a grudge you had against him. A stone in a snowball!The kind of thing any boy might do, just for devilment. He wouldnever have thought the dark, judgmatical Ramsay blood in you was sobitter with hate–you, who had made money out of saints.

“It was then I began to know him. Oh yes, I came to know him quitewell during the next hour. We’d clicked, as I said, but I’vealways distrusted that kind of thing since I first clicked withWillard. It’s unchancy. There was sympathy of character, I suppose.There was a wolfishness in Boy Staunton that he kept very well under,and probably never recognized in himself. But I know thatwolfishness. Liesl has told you I have a good measure of it inmyself, and that was why she suggested I take the professional nameof Eisengrim, the name of the wolf in the old fables; but the namereally means the sinister hardness, the cruelty of iron itself. Itook the name, and recognized the fact, and thereby got it up out ofmy depths so that at least I could be aware of it and take a look atit, now and then. I won’t say I domesticated the wolf, but I knewwhere his lair was, and what he might do. Not Boy Staunton. He hadlived facing the sun, and he had no real comprehension of theshadow‑wolf that loped after him.

“We wolves like to possess things, and especially people. We areunappeasably hungry. There is no reason or meaning in the hunger. Itjust exists, and possesses you. I saw it once, in myself, and thoughI didn’t know what it was at the time, I knew that it was somethingthat was at the very heart of my being. When we played Scaramouche through Canada, I had a little meeting with Sir John, every night,just before Two, two; we had to stand in front of a mirror, to makesure every detail of costume and make‑up was identical, so thatwhen I appeared as his double the illusion would be as perfect aspossible. I always enjoyed that moment, because I am wolfish aboutperfection.

“There we stood, the night I speak of; it was in Ottawa, in hisdressing‑room at the old Russell, and we had a good mirror, afull‑length one. He looked, and I looked. I saw that he wasgood. An egoist, as only a leading actor can be, but in his face,which was old under the make‑up, there was gentleness andcompassion toward me, because I was young, and had so much to learn,and was so likely to make a fool of myself through my driving greed.Compassion for me, and a silvery relish for himself, too, because heknew he was old, and had the mastery of age. But in my face, whichwas so like his that my doubling gave the play a special excitement,there was a watchful admiration beneath which my wolfishness could beseen–my hunger not just to be like him but to be him, whatever thatmight cost him. I loved him and served him faithfully right up to theend, but in my inmost self I wanted to eat him, to possess him, tomake him mine.

“He saw it, too, and he gave me a little flick with his hand asthough to say, ‘You might let me live out my life, m’boy. I’veearned it, eh? But you look as if you’d devour my very soul. Notreally necessary, quonk?’ Not a word was spoken, but I blushedunder my make‑up. And whatever I did for him afterward, Icouldn’t keep the wolf quiet. If I was a little sharp with Roly, itwas because I was angry that he had seen what I truly thought I hadkept hidden.

“That was how it was with Boy Staunton. Oh, not on the surface. Hehad a lovely glaze. But he was a devourer.

“He set to work to devour me. He went at it with the ease of longcustom, and I don’t suppose he had an instant’s real awareness ofwhat he was doing. He laid himself out to be charming, and to get meon his side. When he had finished damning you, Dunny, he began toexcuse you, in a way that was supposed to be complimentary to me: youhad lived a narrow, schoolmaster’s life, and had won a certainscholarly reputation, but he and I were the glittering successes andbreathed a finer air than yours.

“He was extremely good at what he was doing. It is not easy toassume an air of youth successfully, but when it is well done it hasextraordinary charm, because it seems to rock Age, and probablyDeath, back on their heels. He had kept his voice youthful, and hisvocabulary was neither stupidly up‑to‑the‑minutenor flawed with betraying fossil slang. I had to keep remindingmyself that this man must be seventy. I have to present aprofessional picture of physical well‑being, if not actually ofyouth, and I know how it is done because I learned it from Sir John.But Boy Staunton–an amateur, really–could teach me things aboutseeming youthful without resorting to absurdities. I knew he waseager to make me his own, to enchant me, to eat me up and take meinto himself. He had just discovered a defeat; he thought he hadeaten you, Ramsay, but you were like those fairy‑tale figureswho cut their way out of the giant’s belly.

“So, not at all unlike a man who loses one girl and bounces toanother, he tried to eat me.

“We really must talk, he said. We were driving down from yourschool to my hotel, and as we were rounding Queen’s Park, quicklyhe pulled off the road into what I suppose was a private entry besidethe Legislature; there was a porte‑cochere and a long flight ofsteps. It won’t be long before this is my personal entrance to thisbuilding, he said.

“I knew what he was talking about: the appointment that would beannounced next morning; he was full of it.”

“I’ll bet he was,” I said; “it was just his thing–top dogin a large area–women curtsying to him–all that. And certainlyhis wife wanted it, and engineered it.”

“Yes, but wait: having got it, he wasn’t so sure. If you are oneof the wolfish brotherhood you sometimes find that you have no soonerachieved what you wanted than you begin to despise it. Boy’sexcitement was like that of a man who thinks he has walked into atrap.”

“Well, the job isn’t all fun. What ceremonial appointment is? Youdrive to the Legislature in a carriage, with soldiers riding beforeand behind, and there is a lot of bowing, because you represent theCrown, and then you find you are reading a speech written by somebodyelse, announcing policies you may not like. If he didn’t want to bea State figurehead, he should have choked off Denyse when she set towork to get him the job.”

“Reason, reason, reason! Dunny, you surely know how limited a partreason plays in some of our most important decisions. He coveted thestate landau and the soldiers, and he had somehow managed to preservethe silly notion that as Lieutenant‑Governor he would really dosome governing. But already he knew he was mistaken. He had lookedover the schedule of duties for his first month in office, and beendismayed by the places he would have to go, and the things he wouldhave to do. Presenting flags to Boy Scouts; opening a home for oldpeople; eating a hundredweight of ceremonial dinners to raise moneyto fight diseases he’d rather not hear about. And he couldn’t getout of it; his secretary made it clear that there was no choice inthe matter; the office demanded these things and he was expected todeliver the goods. But that wasn’t what truly got under his skin.

“Such appointments aren’t done in a few days, and he had known itwas coming for several weeks. During that time he had some businessin London and while he was there he had thought it a good idea totake care of the matter of his ceremonial uniform. That was how heput it, but as a fellow‑wolf I knew how eager he must have beento explore the possibilities of state finery. So–off to Ede andRavensoroft to have the job done in the best possible way and noexpense spared. They happened to have a uniform of the right sortwhich he tried on, just to get the general effect. Even though it wasobvious that the uniform was for a smaller man, the effect wascatastrophic. ‘Suddenly I didn’t look like myself at all.’ hesaid; ‘I looked old. Not shaky old, or fat old, or grim old, butcertainly old.’

“He expected me to sympathize, but wolf should never turn to wolffor sympathy. ‘You are old.’ I said to him. ‘Very handsome andwell preserved, but nobody would take you for a young man.’ ‘Yes,’he said, ‘but not old as that uniform suggested; not a figurehead.I tried putting the hat a little on one side, to see if that helped,but the man with the measuring‑tape around his neck who waswith me said, O no, sir; never like that , and put it straightagain. And I understood that forever after there would always besomebody putting my hat straight, and that I would be no more thanthe animation of that uniform, or some version of it.’

“As one who had spent seven years as the cunning bowels ofAbdullah, I didn’t see that fate quite as he did. Of course,Abdullah wasn’t on the level. He was out to trounce the Rubes. ALieutenant‑Governor can’t have any fun of that kind. He isthe embodiment of everything that is correct, and on the level, andunsurprising. The Rubes have got him and he must do their will.

“ ‘I have lost my freedom of choice,’ he said, and he seemed toexpect me to respond with horror. But I didn’t. I was enjoyingmyself. Boy Staunton was an old story to you, Dunny, but he was newto me, and I was playing the wolf game, too, in my way. I had notforgotten Mrs. Constantinescu, and I knew that he was ready to talk,and I was ready to hear. So I remembered old Zingara’s advice. Lull‘em. So I lulled him.

“ ‘I can see that you’re in a situation you never would havechosen with your eyes open. But there’s usually some way out. Isthere no way out for you?’

“ ‘Even if I found a way, what would happen if I suddenly bowedout?’ he said.

“ ‘I suppose you’d go on living much as you do now,’ I toldhim. ‘There would be criticism of you because you refused an officeyou had accepted, under the Crown. But I dare say that’s been donebefore.’

“I swear I had nothing in particular in mind when I made thatcomment. But it galvanized him. He looked at me as if I had saidsomething of extraordinary value. Then he said: ‘Of course it wasdifferent for him; he was younger.’

“ ‘What do you mean?’ I said.

“He looked at me very queerly. ‘The Prince of Wales,’ he said;‘he was my friend, you know. Or rather, you don’t know. But manyyears ago, when he toured this country, I was his aide, and he had aprofound effect on me. I learned a great deal from him. He wasspecial, you know; he was truly a remarkable man. He showed it at thetime of the Abdication. That took guts.’

“ ‘Called for guts from several of his relatives, too,’ I said.‘Do you think he lived happily ever after?’

“ ‘I hope so,’ said he. ‘But he was younger.’

“ ‘I’ve said you were old,’ said I, ‘but I didn’t meanlife had nothing for you. You are in superb condition. You can expectanother fifteen years, at least, and think of all the things you cando.’

“ ‘And think of all the things I can’t do,’ he said, and in atone that told me what I had suspected, because with all the finesurface, and bonhomie, and his careful wooing of me I had sensedsomething like despair in him.

“ ‘I suppose you mean sex,’ I said.

“ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Not that I’m through, you know; by nomeans. But it isn’t the same. Now it’s more reassurance thanpleasure. And young women–they have to be younger andyounger–they’re flattered because of what I am and who I am, butthere’s always a look you surprise when they don’t think you’rewatching:He’s‑amazing‑for‑his‑age‑I‑wonder‑what‑I’d‑do‑if‑he‑had‑a‑heart‑attack‑would‑I‑have‑to‑drag‑him‑out‑into‑the‑hall‑and‑leave‑him‑by‑the‑elevator‑and‑how‑would‑I‑get‑his‑clothes‑on?However well I perform–and I’m still good, you know–there’san element of humiliation about it.’

“Humiliation was much on his mind. The humiliation of age, whichyou and I mustn’t underestimate, Dunny, just because we’ve grownold and made our age serve us; its a different matter if you’vedevoted your best efforts to setting up an image of a wondrous Boy;there comes a time when the pretty girls think of you not as a Boybut as an Old Boy. The humiliation of discovering you’ve been amug, and that the gorgeous office you’ve been given under the Crownis in fact a tyranny of duty, like the Crown itself. And thehumiliation of discovering that a man you’ve thought of as afriend–rather a humble, eccentric friend from your point of view,but nevertheless a friend–has been harbouring evidence of a meanaction you did when you were ten, and still sees you, at least inpart, as a mean kid.

“That last was a really tough one–disproportionately so–but Boywas the kind of man who truly believes you can wipe out the pastsimply by forgetting it yourself. I’m sure he’d met humiliationsin his life. Who hasn’t? But he’d been able to rise above them.These were humiliations nothing could lift from his heart.

“ ‘What are you going to do with the stone?’ I asked him.

“ ‘You saw me take it?’ he said. ‘I’ll get rid of it. Throwit away.’

“ ‘I wouldn’t throw it a second time,’ I said.

“ ‘What else?’ said he.

“ ‘If it really bothers you, you must come to terms with it,’ Isaid. ‘In your place I’d do something symbolic: hold it in yourhand, re‑live the moment when you threw it at Ramsay and hit mymother, and this time don’t throw it. Give yourself a goodsharp knock on the head with it.’

“ ‘That’s a damned silly game to play,’ he said. And wouldyou believe it, he was pouting–the glorious Boy was pouting.

“ ‘Not at all. Consider it as a ritual. An admission ofwrongdoing and penitence.’

“ ‘Oh, balls to that,’ he said.

“I had become uncomfortable company: I wouldn’t be eaten, and Imade peculiar and humiliating suggestions. Also, I could tell thatsomething was on his mind, and he wanted to be alone with it. Hestarted the car and very shortly we were at my hotel–the RoyalYork, you know, which is quite near the docks. He shook hands withthe warmth that I suppose had marked him all his life. ‘Glad tohave met you: thanks for the advice,’ said he.

“ ‘It’s only what I would do myself, in the circumstances,’ Isaid. ‘I’d do my best to swallow that stone.’ Now I swear toyou that I only meant what I said symbolically–meaning to come toterms with what the stone signified. And he seemed not to notice.

“ ‘I meant your advice about the Abdication,’ he said. ‘Itwas stupid of me not to have thought of that myself.’

“I suddenly realized what he meant. He was going to abdicate, likehis hero before him. But unlike his Prince of Wales he didn’t meanto live to face the world afterward. There it is, Dunny: Liesl and Iare convinced that the man who truly granted his inmost wish, thoughonly by example, was the man who decided not to live as Edward VIII.

“What should I have done? Insisted that he come to my room, andplied him with hot coffee and sweet reasonableness? Not quite myline, eh? Hardly what one expects of a brother wolf, quonk?”

“You let him leave you in that frame of mind?”

“Liesl likes to talk about what she calls my Magian World View. Shemakes it sound splendid and like the Arabian Nights, and dolls it upwith fine phrases from Spengler–”

“Phantasmagoria and dream‑grotto,” said Liesl, taking aswig of her cognac; “only that’s not Spengler–that’sCarlyle.”

“Phantasmagoria and dream‑grotto if you like,” said Magnus,“but–and it is a vital but –combined with a clear‑eyed,un‑deluded observation of what lies right under your nose.Therefore–no self‑deceiving folly and no meddlesomecompassion, but a humble awareness of the Great Justice and the GreatMercy whenever they choose to make themselves known. I don’t talkabout a Magian World View; I’ve no touch with that sort of thing.In so far as it concerns me, I live it. It’s just the way thingsstrike me, after the life I’ve lived, which looks pretty much likea World of Wonders when I spread it out before me, as I’ve beendoing. Everything has its astonishing, wondrous aspect, if you bringa mind to it that’s really your own–a mind that hasn’t beensmeared and blurred with half‑understood muck from schools, orthe daily papers, or any other ragbag of reach‑me‑downnotions. I try not to judge people, though when I meet an enemy andhe’s within arm’s length, I’m not above giving him a smartclout, just to larn him. As I did with Roly. But I don’t monkeywith what I think of as the Great Justice–”

“Poetic justice,” said Liesl.

“What you please. Though it doesn’t look poetic in action; it’srough and tough and deeply satisfying. And I don’t administer it.Something else–something I don’t understand, but feel and serveand fear–does that. It’s sometimes horrible to watch, as it waswhen my poor, dear old master. Sir John was brought down by his ownvanity, and Milady went with him, though I think she knew what thetruth was. But part of the glory and terror of our life is thatsomehow, at some time, we get all that’s coming to us. Everybodygets their lumps and their bouquets and it goes on for quite a whileafter death.

“So–here was a situation when it was clear to me that the GreatJustice had called the name of Boy Staunton. Was it for me to holdhim back?

“And to be frank why would I? You remember what was said in yourroom that night, Dunny. You’re the historian: surely you remembereverything important? What did I say to Boy when he offered me a liftin his car?”

I couldn’t remember. That night I had been too overwrought myselfby the memories of Mary Dempster to take note of social conversation.

“You don’t remember? I do: I said–’What Ramsay tells me putsyou in my debt for eighty days in Paradise, if for nothing in thislife. We shall call it quits if you will drive me to my hotel.’ “

“Eighty days in Paradise?”

“I was born eighty days before my time. Poor little Paul. Popularopinion is very rough on foetuses these days. Horrid littlenuisances. Rip them out and throw them in the trash pail. But whoknows what they feel about it? The depth psychologists Liesl is sofond of think they have a very jolly time in the womb. Warm,protected, bouncing gently in their beautiful grotto light. Perhapsit is the best existence we ever know, unless there is somethingequally splendid for us after death–and why not? That earliest lifeis what every humanitarian movement and Welfare State seeks torestore, without a hope of success. And Boy Staunton, by a singlemean‑spirited action, robbed me of eighty days of that princelysplendour. Was I the man to fret about the end of his life when hehad been so cavalier about the beginning of mine?”

“Oh, Magnus, that’s terribly unjust!”

“As this world’s justice goes, perhaps. But what about theGreater Justice?”

“I see. Yes, I really do see. So you let him dree his weird?”

“You’re getting really old, Dunny. You’re beginning to dredgeup expressions from your Scotch childhood. But it says it all. Yes, Ilet him dree his weird.”

“I can very well understand,” I said, “that you wouldn’t havegot far explaining that to the police.”

Liesl laughed, and threw her empty brandy balloon against thefarthest wall. It made a fine costly crash.



“Liesl! How kind of you to come to see me.”

“Magnus has been asleep for hours. But I have been worrying aboutyou. I hope you didn’t take it too badly–his suggestion that youplayed rather a crucial part in Staunton’s death.”

“No, no; I faced that, and swallowed it even before I joined you inSwitzerland. While I was recovering from my heart attack, indeed. Inan old Calvinist like me the voice of conscience has always spokenlong before any mortal accuser.”

“I’m glad. Glad that you’re not grieving and worrying, that’sto say.”

“Boy died as he lived: self‑determined and daring, but notreally imaginative. Always with a well‑disguised streak ofpetulance that sometimes looked like malice. The stone in thesnowball; the stone in the corpse’s mouth–always a nasty surprisefor somebody.”

“You think he gobbled the stone to spite you?”

“Unquestionably. Magnus thinks I kept the stone for spite, and Isuppose there was something of that in it. But I also kept it to be acontinual reminder of the consequences that can follow a singleaction. It might have come out that it was my paperweight, but evenif it didn’t, he knew I would know what it was, and Boy reckoned onhaving the last word in our lifelong argument that way.”

“What a detestable man!”

“Not really. But its always a good idea to keep your eye on thegenial, smiling ones, and especially on those who seem to beeternally young.”

“Jealousy, Ramsay, you battered antique.”

“A little jealousy, perhaps. But the principle holds.”

“Is that what you are making notes about, on all that excellentSavoy notepaper?”

“Notes for a work I have in mind. But it’s about Magnus; he toldme, you know, that the Devil once intervened decisively in his life.”

“He likes to talk that way, and I am sure it is true. But life is asuccession of decisive interventions. Magnus himself intervened in mylife, and illuminated it, at a time when I needed an understandingfriend even more than I needed a lover. It wasn’t the Devil thatsent him.”

“Why should it be? God wants to intervene in the world, and how ishe to do it except through man? I think the Devil is in the samepredicament. It would be queer, wouldn’t it, if the Devil had onlymade use of Magnus that one time? And God, too: yes, certainly God aswell. It’s the moment of decision–of will–when those Two nabus, and as they both speak so compellingly it’s tricky work to knowwho’s talking. Where there’s a will, there are always two ways.”

“That’s what you’re making notes about? And you hope tountangle it? What vanity!”

“I’m not expecting to untangle anything. But I’m making arecord–a document. I’ve often talked to you about it. When we’reall gone–you dear Liesl, though you’re much the youngest, andMagnus–there may be a few who will still prove a point with ‘Ramsaysays…’ “


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