THE INTELLECTUAL MOB
Keith Harford was waiting for Ione when she came down the grimy stairs from the International College. He seemed suddenly to grow exceedingly thoughtful when he heard that she had entered herself as a pupil of Mr. Sweel's, and had paid down thirty pounds in hard cash.
"If anything could make me regret having met you, it is this," he said.
"But are you not one of the professors yourself?" she said, as they walked slowly across the wide Square, where Landseer's lions were basking in misty sunshine, and the spray of the fountain was blowing sideways over the hot pavement.
Keith Harford nodded, but seemed somewhat reticent concerning his own experiences of the afternoon.
"How did your Shakespeare lecture go, and how did the class — I suppose it must have been an advanced class — strike you?"
"To tell the truth, I rather think it was I who struck the class," said Keith, smiling; "and we scarcely could be said to have got the length of Shakespeare, strictly so called. I found that I was turned out upon the fencing-class under contract to teach them the whole mystery of the art in three lessons. So I had, first of all, to prove my authority by engaging the College champion. He retired somewhat battered. The next subject was an unpremeditated lesson in the noble art of self-defence. It had not previously occurred to these agreeable young gentlemen that it was necessary to treat any of their instructors with deference. I suspect I have led several to think differently."
"Then what was the great cheering we heard in the lecture-room?" smiled Ione, delighted to hear of the excellent lesson which her friend had been teaching the male aspirants of the International College.
"Oh, that!" said Keith carelessly; " I suspect that must have been when three of them tried a sort of surprise storming-party."
"How did that happen? Tell me!" asked Ione eagerly.
"Well," said the ex-mountaineer quietly, "as each came on to 'rush' me, something met his eye!"
"And are you going on with your work at the College after such treatment?" Ione continued, while Keith finically satisfied himself that his rather worn tan gloves fitted his small hands without a wrinkle.
"Certainly," he said easily; "I begin to-morrow to lecture on Shakespeare. I do not suppose that I shall have any further trouble with these young gentlemen."
Thus the day which had begun so brightly, ended, so far as her new career was concerned, in a sick feeling of disappointment. Yet somehow, in spite of the loss of her money, Ione's heart was glad. She had found a friend — one, too, who was different from all others; a man of her own class, yet careless of wealth or position; one who cared not a jot whether her father owned one dollar or ten millions of them. It seemed worth all her past disappointments only to have learned to estimate aright the worth of a good man's friendship.
Ione attended the College of International Art with zeal and regularity. She found that the long list of teachers on the prospectus had been reduced to three. These were Mr. Roscoe, an enthusiastically honest little Jew who gave instruction in acting and stage-craft in general; Miss Winnison, who taught elocution and voice production, and taught them very well; and now Keith Harford, who, with immense acceptance and suddenly towering popularity, essayed the other nine or ten subjects; doing his best as each came up, with a grave impartiality and nonchalance which made him the adored of the girls and the envy of the young men.
As for Mr. Sweel, he did nothing but lie in wait for flies in his grimy parlour, and expend in some mysterious manner the guineas so recklessly entrusted to him. Well, that is unfair. He did one thing. He found his pupils a theatrical engagement — temporary in its nature, truly, but still an engagement.
Ione had been about three weeks at the International College, when one morning Mr. Sweel came into Mr. Roscoe's class while the students were working out a scene representing in vivid detail the sorrows of Esther and George D'Alroy. He motioned the enthusiastic little man aside, and, with a dignified wave of his hand, announced that Mr. Joseph Johnson, the eminent tragedian, was to play for a week at the Paragon Theatre, and that, in his forthcoming production of Julius Cӕsar, he had (as Mr. Sweel put it) arranged with the authorities of the International College of Dramatic Art for the services of "an intellectual mob."
Any of the students of Professor Roscoe's class, therefore, who wished for an engagement with Mr. Johnson, were to present themselves at the Paragon Theatre on the following morning.
No salary for the present would be attached to the position, but it was at least a beginning and would accustom the pupils to tread those larger boards on which, he hoped, so many of them would one day shine as luminaries, and do honour to their Alma Mater.
Feeling that for once he had created a genuine sensation, the Director bowed and retired amid general electric tension.
The following day Ione and Lavinia Starr, between whom a strong friendship had sprung up, were at the stage door of the Paragon promptly at ten o'clock. It was Ione's first introduction to the fascinating world of stageland, but its marvels did not look appetising in the dull grey of the morning, with the clammy river fog and the sour smell of an unventilated building combining to kill the most dauntless enthusiasm.
The lights of the Temple of Art were represented by a flaring gas-pipe in the middle of the footlights, shaped like a capital T, an arrangement which only rendered more murky the shadows lurking in the shrouded auditorium, and more despicably commonplace the heterogeneous mass of properties piled at the back of the stage.
Here, for instance, was the couch on which the fair Desdemona had last week yielded up her life. On top of it, where her head had lain pale and pathetic in death, there now reposed the steps of the Roman Forum to be used that day at rehearsal. Sets of furniture of half a dozen periods, rocks, waterfalls, and all manner of odds and ends cumbered the wings. To which was presently added the living débris of the International College and other similar institutions, every youth and maid of them enthusiastically eager for that first chance "to show what they could do" — as the formula of immediate success is written in the bright lexicon of youth.
Ione found herself cast for a vestal virgin, and on a rather rickety temple platform she was set to tend a sacred fire, which gave off a decidedly strong odour of paraffin oil.
The distinguished tragedian had his work cut out for him to make himself heard amid the enthusiastic plaudits of the "populus." While as for poor Mark Antony, he never got even the ghost of a chance over the body of "imperious Cӕsar" — dead, and turned into an excuse for the miscellaneous howlings of an "intellectual mob."
"What," asked Mr. Claud Jenkins — who, in virtue of wearing the longest hair, was looked upon as the most promising student of the College — "is the fun of being a super if you don't get a chance to show that you can act?"
On the first night, so enthusiastic was the mob, that an eye-witness declared that Mark Antony might just as well have been in Hades along with his friend, for all that the audience heard of his oration.
"But then," said Mr. Jenkins, upon being remonstrated with, "of course an intellectual Roman mob would be certain to express its feelings. Men with names like Caius Agrippa and Tarquinius Superbus would never have stood round cooling their heels and taking no interest in the proceedings."
Poor Mark Antony, however, could hardly be expected to view the affair in this light, and, as a matter of fact, he came off the stage in a state bordering upon frenzy. He declared that he would have the life of Mr. Sweel. It was all his fault that these idiotic young asses had killed his best scene. And he stated in superfluous detail what he would be, and where he was prepared to see everybody else, before he would play the part again, unless this most intellectual of mobs was shown with one accord to the door.
* * * * *
But the International College was peaceful and happy that night. Its students could have embraced Mr. Sweel. But, alas! this triumph was a swan-song. Next morning, when Ione and Lavinia Starr went down to the street off Leicester Square, they found the International College of Dramatic Art in the hands of the sheriff's officers. Mr. Sweel was not to be found, though a warrant was out for his arrest; and on the street below they discovered Keith Harford pensively regarding the scene of his labours from the outside.
"And has it come to this," he said, with mock tragedy, when he had shaken hands with them, "after all our exertions we are turned without warning to the door? And, in my own case, without even ten days' salary to comfort me. I suppose I must go now and write something which no one will print, and which, if it is accepted, won't be paid for till Doomsday!"
"Well, never mind," said Ione, speaking as she might to a partner with equal rights; "I have nearly seventeen pounds left, and a good deal of water will run under the bridges before we see the end of that!"
Keith Harford said nothing in reply, but his face lost its expression of bantering irony and became exceedingly grave.
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.