Benjamin Farjeon.

Miser Farebrother: A Novel (vol. 1 of 3)



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Mr. Lethbridge thought of the empty platters which Kiss had spoken of, and he gazed commiseratingly at Mr. Linton.

"Now, wouldn't you suppose," said Kiss, addressing himself to Mr. Lethbridge, "that Linton was so overwhelmed at his failure that he had no heart to try again? I am happy to say that is not the case. He has already got another play ready, a better one than the last, a play that is bound to hit 'em?"

"I am delighted to hear it," said Mr. Lethbridge, with a bright smile. "I must come the first night; we'll all come – mother and Fanny and Ph?be and Bob. I dare say we shall be able to find room in the pit."

"Plenty," observed Mr. Linton, moodily.

"And bring good thick sticks with you," said Kiss, "to help the applause."

"When is it to be played," asked Mr. Lethbridge, laughing at the suggestion of the big sticks, "and where?"

"Ah," said Kiss, "that's the rub. It is a question not yet decided."

"There are so many managers after it, I suppose?" said Mr. Lethbridge, innocently. "Look at it from a business point of view; accept the best offer at the best theatre."

Kiss leant back in his chair, and laughed long and loud. He had a particularly merry laugh, and the sound was heard in the kitchen.

("That's Mr. Kiss laughing," said Fanny. "The author has said something funny."

"I hope uncle will remember it," added Ph?be, "and tell us what it is. How wonderfully an author must talk, and what wonderful minds they must have! How ever do they think of things?")

"The fact is, Leth," said Kiss, presently, "we have not such a choice of managers and theatres as you imagine."

"Why, surely," said Mr. Lethbridge, "they are only too ready to jump at a good play when it is offered them!"

"If I were asked," said Kiss, "who were the worst possible judges of a manuscript play, I should answer, theatrical managers. As regards Linton's last effort, which he has at the present moment in his coat pocket" – (Mr. Lethbridge knew from this remark what the great bulge was at Mr. Linton's breast, concerning which he had been rather puzzling himself; every now and then the dramatic author put his hand up to the pocket which contained his manuscript, to make sure that the precious documents were safe) – "as regards that," continued Kiss, "there is a certain obtuseness on the part of managers which has to be overcome before the new play sees the light. They have read it, and have shaken their heads at it. Now I pit my judgment against theirs."

"So will I," said Mr. Lethbridge.

"And I say there's money and fame in Linton's last. By-the-way, Linton, that's not at all a bad title for something – 'Linton's Last.' Think of it."

"At all events," observed the despondent author, with a lame attempt at a joke, "there would be an end of me after that."

"Not at all, my boy; couldn't spare you. As I said, Leth, the managers, all but one, shake their heads at Linton's play, and, like asses, refuse it."

"All but one," said Mr.

Lethbridge. "He's a fortunate man, whoever he is."

"He is not quite blind. Now, Leth, that is the real reason of our visit to you."

"Indeed!" said Mr. Lethbridge, in great amazement. "I have no influence, I assure you. I wish I had; I should be only too ready and willing to use it."

"This one manager," pursued Kiss, "who proves himself to possess some glimmering of common-sense, is, curiously enough, the manager of the Star Theatre, where Linton's last piece was produced."

"And he wishes to produce the new one," said Mr. Lethbridge. "That is very good of him."

"Oh, he knows what he is about, and he is awake to the fact that there is a certain fortune in the play. But, for all that, he is a downy bird – a very downy bird. He argues. Says he, 'Your last piece, Linton, was almost a crusher to me.' At which Linton's heart sinks into his shoes, and he groans, instead of meeting it lightly as he ought to do. But that is a matter of temperament. 'I had to close my theatre,' says the manager of the Star, 'not having another piece ready, and here I am paying rent for shut doors. It has cost me so much,' mentioning a sum, which my experience tells me is the actual, multiplied by four. But that's neither here nor there. The manager of the Star goes on: 'To put the new piece on will cost so much,' again mentioning a sum multiplied by four. 'What do you propose to contribute toward it if I make the venture?' 'I give you my brains,' says Linton; 'that is all I possess.' 'In that case,' says the manager, 'I am afraid it is not to be thought of. I can't afford to stand the entire risk.' I, being present at the interview, step in here. I don't intend to apologize to Linton when I tell you, Leth, that he is not fit to manage his own business. 'You did produce a play of Linton's,' I say to the manager – it was called Boots and Shoes, Leth; no doubt you remember it – 'out of which you made a pot of money.' 'A small pot,' says the manager of the Star; 'a very small pot.' 'And,' says I, 'which you bought right out for the miserable sum of fifty pounds.' 'Well,' says the manager, 'that was the bargain, made with our eyes open. When I offered fifty pounds for Boots and Shoes I did it for the purpose of doing Linton a good turn. He was hard up at the time, and I risked the fifty on the off chance. If I make by one piece I lose by another.' 'Let us come to the point,' says I, 'about the new piece. You want something contributed toward the expense of getting it up. How much? Don't open your mouth too wide.' 'Two hundred pounds,' says he; 'not a penny less.' To tell you the truth, Leth, I thought he was going to ask for more. It isn't a very large sum, is it?"

"Not to some people," replied Mr. Lethbridge, with a cheerful smile.

"Pleased to hear you say so. There's more to tell. It is not putting down the two hundred pounds and saying good-bye to it; it will come back in less than no time. The first profits of the piece will be devoted to repaying the amount, so that there is really very little risk, if any. Having stated his conditions the manager of the Star retires, and we retire also, to consider ways and means. Now I needn't tell you, Leth, that we can just as easily lay our hands upon two hundred pounds as we can bring the man in the moon down from the skies. The question then is – how to raise it? A serious question. We consider long, and at length a bright idea flashes upon me. I have, in an indirect way, made the acquaintance of a man who discounts bills. The acquaintance is slight – very slight; but faint heart, you know, and I go to him. I will mention his name to you; but it must be done in confidence – between ourselves."

"Yes," said Mr. Lethbridge.

"His name is Pamflett – Jeremiah Pamflett."

"I know the name of Pamflett," said Mr. Lethbridge. "The father of my niece Ph?be, who is just now on a visit to us – "

"The dearest, sweetest girl!" said Kiss, in explanation to Mr. Linton.

"Has a housekeeper of that name. Can Mr. Jeremiah Pamflett be a connexion of hers?"

"It is not unlikely," said Kiss; "to speak the truth, it is quite likely. But that is not material, is it?"

"No," said Mr. Lethbridge, with a slight pause for consideration; "I don't think it is. I believe he manages some kind of business for Ph?be's father."

"For Miser Farebrother? Yes, that is so; but he does business also on his own account. As I was saying, I go to Mr. Pamflett, and I lay the case before him; but he says he doesn't see his way to doing a bill for me and Linton without other names upon it. I run over the names of a few friends who would be willing to sign it, but Mr. Pamflett still demurs. It was then that the bright idea flashes upon me; I think of you. To come to you and ask you to lend us two hundred pounds was, of course, out of the question."

"I regret to say it would be," said Mr. Lethbridge. "Nothing would give me greater pleasure if it were in my power."

"I know, and therefore we have not come here with any such idea; but your name occurring to me while I was talking to Mr. Pamflett, I naturally mention it. He meets me instantly. He knows all about you and your family."

"He has never been here," interposed Mr. Lethbridge.

"He spoke most kindly of you, and said he had the greatest respect for you – "

"To my knowledge," again interposed Mr. Lethbridge, "I have never seen his face. I shouldn't know him from Adam if he stood before me now."

"Perhaps he knows of you through your niece. However it is, you would not have been displeased had you heard him speak of you. The upshot of the affair is that he makes a proposition by which we shall get the two hundred pounds required to produce Linton's new play. The proposition is – and bear in mind that Mr. Pamflett made it out of pure kindness, and out of the respect in which he holds you – that Linton should draw a bill at six months' date for three hundred pounds, and that you should accept it. Linton, of course, as drawer, will endorse it, and so will I. If I hand this bill to Mr. Pamflett to-morrow he will give Linton his cheque for two hundred pounds, and our friend's fortune is made. The resources of civilization, my dear Leth, are wonderful. That a mere scratch of the pen can make a name famous, can make a worthy fellow happy, can bring joy to the hearts of a good woman and her children – you will love Mrs. Linton when you know her – can snatch a man from the depths of despair – now, is it not wonderful to think of? They will bless you, they will remember you in their prayers – but I will say no more. It remains with you."

In this speech the actor's art, unconsciously exercised, made itself felt, and it penetrated the very soul of good Uncle Leth.

"It does not enter my mind," said Mr. Lethbridge to Kiss, "that you would deceive me – "

"I would cut my right hand off first."

"And therefore you will forgive me when I ask you if there is really no risk?"

"I give you my word and honour, Leth," said Kiss, very seriously, "as a man, and, what is more, as a judge of plays, that there is not the slightest risk. Is my opinion, as an actor and an honourable man, of any value?"

"Of the highest value!"

"There is not an atom of risk. Linton has his play in his pocket: he shall read it to you – or, rather, I will read it to you – before we leave you to-night. Linton is an execrable reader of his own works. He is so nervous and fidgety and undramatic that he misses every point. If ever I feel inclined to punch his head it is when he is reading his manuscript to the company in the green-room. Many a good play has been rejected because of this incapacity; many a bad play has been accepted because of the fervour and the magnetism of the author, who, carried away himself (frequently by inordinate vanity), has carried away a theatrical manager, and actors too sometimes, and warped their judgment. I will read Linton's play fairly, so that you will be able to form a proper estimate of it. Just consider, Leth: the bill is not due for six months. In three or four weeks at the furthest Linton's piece will be produced. The manager of the Star Theatre would like to rush it on sooner, but I shall insist upon a proper number of rehearsals. I shall stage-manage it myself, and that should be a guarantee. Two weeks after the production of the piece I shall have the pleasure – I beg Linton's pardon: he will have the pleasure – of handing you the sum of three hundred pounds in a new suit of clothes. Not the money thus clothed, but the happy author. That will be four months before the money is to be paid to Mr. Jeremiah Pamflett. You can keep it and use it for those four months if you wish."

"I shall pay it at once," said Mr. Lethbridge, "and get back the bill."

"Then you will do it?"

"I will do it," said Mr. Lethbridge: "and I wish Mr. Linton every success."

"Linton, old chap," exclaimed Kiss, "your fortune's made!"

Mr. Linton raised his eyes. The tears were brimming over in them, and running down his face.

"How can I thank you?" he said to Mr. Lethbridge. "When everything looked so dark, and when I did not know which way to turn – " He could not go on.

"There's a silver lining to every cloud," said Kiss, "and if it can be seen anywhere in this wilderness city it can be seen here, in my friend Leth's house. I call a blessing upon it. When you crossed this threshold you dropped on your feet. But I told you how it would be. Now, Leth, perhaps you would like to hear that, hearing I was out of an engagement, the manager of the Eden Theatre offered me terms, but I have such faith in Linton's new piece that I refused and kept myself open for it."

"I am perfectly satisfied," said Mr. Lethbridge.

"We can settle the affair at once, if you like," said Kiss.

"Certainly, at once," assented Mr. Lethbridge.

"I brought the bill with me, and here it is on stamped paper."

He produced it, and Mr. Lethbridge, reading it through, accepted it, making it payable at the bank in which he had for so long a time held a position of trust.

"Aunt Leth sent me to tell you," said Ph?be, popping in her head, "that tea is ready."

"Thank you, Ph?be," said Mr. Lethbridge; "come in. I want to introduce Mr. Linton to you."

How little did the bright and beautiful girl suspect that within the last few moments an awful and tragic thread had been woven into her life!

She entered the room, and looked timidly at the poor author.

"Not a word for me?" said Kiss.

"Yes, Mr. Kiss," said Ph?be, giving him her hand.

"Mr. Linton – Ph?be," said her uncle Leth, encircling her waist with his arm. "This is my niece, Mr. Linton, whom I love as a daughter."

"Mr. Pamflett was speaking of you yesterday," said Mr. Linton.

"Mr. Pamflett!" exclaimed Ph?be, shrinking at the name.

"Yes. He said you were the most lovely girl in all London, and that there was no service you could call upon him to render which he would not cheerfully perform."

"I scarcely know him, sir," murmured Phoebe.

"Let us go in to tea," said Mr. Lethbridge, "or mother will be impatient. A terrible tyrant, Mr. Linton; a terrible tyrant!"

CHAPTER XII
THE READING OF THE NEW PLAY

It was the merriest tea-party imaginable; and Aunt Leth's mind was at ease, in consequence of the time which had been afforded her to make suitable preparations for so eminent a guest as the dramatic author. In pouring out the tea, she helped him last, saying gaily,

"The first of the coffee, Mr. Linton, the last of the tea."

"A good homely saying," he observed. "I used to hear it from my mother. Though, really, I do not deserve such attention."

"Don't believe him, Aunt Leth," said Kiss. "Your dramatic author is as fond of the best as any common mortal."

The idea of comparing a dramatic author to a common mortal was certainly not to be lightly accepted by the young folk round the tea-table, who regarded Mr. Linton as a being far above and removed from the general run of people. It was to them almost a surprise that he spoke and ate in exactly the same way as their other acquaintances; and out of the depths of their admiration, everything he did seemed to be invested with a certain superiority which raised him above his fellows. They cast timid and covert looks upon him, and noted his movements, so as to be able to give a faithful description of him, by-and-by, to their friends. It was fortunate for him that their observance was not too obtrusive, or it might have spoilt his appetite. As it was, he made an excellent tea, and tucked away the bread and butter and ham and eggs with a zest which delighted Aunt Leth. He declared that he had never tasted such tea, nor such eggs, nor such bacon, nor such bread and butter, nor such gooseberry jam; and, if appearances were to be trusted, and there was any value in words, never did mortal enjoy himself more than this poor author, who had been lifted from despair by the generous kindness of Uncle Leth. Kiss had imparted, hastily and confidentially, to Aunt Leth some particulars of Mr. Linton's circumstances, and had found time to descant upon his friend's virtues as a domestic man, of his love for his wife and children, and of his brave struggles against fortune. Aunt Leth's heart went out to Mr. Linton, and she said how proud she would be if he would bring his wife and little ones to see them. He replied that the honour would be on his side; but that, with his hostess's permission, he would wait until his new piece was produced at the Star Theatre. This temporizing reply was dictated by his sensitive spirit. He and his wife lived in two rooms, in a not very distinguished neighbourhood, and he was afraid of a return visit and its consequent humiliation. When his play was produced he would be able to remove to better quarters, and his wife would buy a new dress; then the acquaintanceship with this charming family could commence, and he would be in a position to return their hospitality.

"A new play!" exclaimed Aunt Leth. "Do you appear in it, Mr. Kiss?"

"Yes," said Kiss. "We hope to see you in the theatre on the first night. Uncle Leth has promised to supply each of you with a big stick, so that you may lead the applause."

"But there will be no getting in," said Aunt Leth.

"Linton will reserve a private box for you," said Kiss.

Eager heads turned to the poor author, eager eyes gazed at him.

"Madam," said Mr. Linton, "I shall be honoured if you will accept it. If you do not, I feel that my play will meet with failure."

"You are very good," said Aunt Leth. "We have never been to a first night, and have read so much about them. I am sure your play will be a great success; there can be no doubt of that."

The thoughts of Fanny and Ph?be instantly flew to the question of dress. A private box on a first night! An event to be always remembered, especially with a play which was certain to be the talk of the town. It must be properly honoured.

"Mr. Linton has the manuscript of the play with him," said Kiss, "and if you have nothing better to occupy your time to-night I propose to read it to you, in order that you may form an opinion of it. What do you say?"

What did they say? – there was a question! If they had nothing better to occupy their time? – what could be better? Why, the girls would be ready to throw over even a dance for such a treat! They glowed with excitement, and Mr. Lethbridge, looking round upon the happy faces, was glad to think that he had signed the bill which Kiss had in his pocket at that moment, and which to-morrow would be in the possession of Jeremiah Pamflett.

"There's an audience for you," said Kiss to the author, pointing to the young people.

"A good augury," said the proud author. "I feel more hopeful than I have done for a long time past."

The females of the party presently left in a body to prepare the drawing-room for the promised reading, and then it was that Ph?be said to Aunt Leth:

"Oh, Aunt Leth, I have something to say, and I'm in that state of excitement that I'd better say it at once, before I forget it. Next Saturday is my birthday, you know."

"Yes, dear, I know," said Aunt Leth, giving the young girl a tender caress; "and we shall keep it up by a little dance at home here. I intended to speak to you about it to-night before you went to bed."

"You are so good to me, dear aunt," said Ph?be, "that I don't know how ever I can repay you. It would, I think, be impossible, whatever it might be in my power to do."

"My dear child," said Aunt Leth, "don't talk of repayment. You are as one of our own. What we do comes from our hearts. So you will manage to come here early on Saturday, and remain till Tuesday or Wednesday."

"No, aunt," said Ph?be, with many kisses, "I can't do that. You must all come to me."

"To you, dear! Where?"

"To Parksides, aunt."

Aunt Leth looked grave. "Have you your father's permission, Ph?be?"

"Yes, aunt; he gave it willingly. I don't mean to say it was his idea; it was mine, and he consented at once when I asked him. I can only ask you to a poor little tea," said Ph?be, her lips slightly trembling, "but I hope you won't mind. I should so like it! Uncle Leth and Fanny and Bob have never been to Parksides, and though I can't give them a grand entertainment, I don't think it will make any difference."

"Nothing can make any difference in our love for you, my dear."

"Then you will come, all of you!"

"Yes, dear, we will come, because I see it will be a pleasure to you, and that will make it a pleasure to us."

Aunt Leth pressed her hand fondly over the young girl's head, and just for one moment there were tears in both their eyes; but they were instantly dried, and with a smile and a kiss they busied themselves preparing for the reading of the play. These were soon completed, and the gentlemen were called in.

"Capital! capital!" exclaimed Kiss, as he contemplated the arrangements – the lights on the table, the chairs ranged round, the place of honour for himself so disposed that he could either sit or stand. "As good as a green-room, Linton."

"A great deal better," said the author, thinking of the various vain interests comprised in a company of actors, each listening to the lines of the character he was to play, and calling the piece good or bad according to the strength or weakness of that special part of it. He took his manuscript from his pocket and handed it to Kiss. The actor gazed with calm and impressive dignity at his audience. His movements were few and quiet and stately. He knew the value of repose. He was in his glory, master of the situation, and equal to the occasion. He opened the manuscript and was about to commence, when a diversion occurred. There was a sound at the door as of some person outside. Aunt Leth went to the door, opened it, glided into the passage, and returned.



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