Being the story of a laughing fool who lost the gift of honest laughter and found it again through a child of the footlights.
THE round little man took off his eyebrows. Then he gazed into the mirror and pantomimed a most lugubrious sigh.
A round little face beamed mischievously back at him. His histrionic despair could not erase its chuckling lines. It was a face that wanted to laugh. A face forever dimpling on the verge of a roaring, glorious laugh.
“Just a low-comedy pan,” mourned the round little man. “I’m a born fool—and what a fool!” He picked up the eyebrows and put them on again. They were hilarious eyebrows, bushy and red as a fox’s brush. Eyebrows that might be reckoned to touch off the merry face into an explosion of mirth. But they didn’t.
Suddenly the chuckling features in the mirror had become ineffably wistful and weary of the world. The round little man smiled. The face in the mirror returned a look of gentle reproach. It was as if he had intruded on a private grief. The twist of the mirrored lips was the symbol of a broken, brave heart.
“And that,” muttered the round little man, “is the meat and potatoes. All there is to me is a pair of redheaded eyebrows and a talent for falling on the seat of my pants.”
An uncertain knock sounded on the door. The knock a blind man might make.
“Come in,” invited the round little man. “I’m decent.” By which he meant, of course, that he was sufficiently clothed, in the event that the visitor was a woman.
It was a man. He entered slowly and stiffly, with the gait of a sleep-walker. From between his lips protruded the black half of a knife. Rather a long knife, to judge from its handle. Deep in the visitor’s throat sounded a
gurgling glug that was at once greeting and apology.
“Take your time, Dan,” said the round little man, “and look out for your tonsils.”
Dan thanked him with another glug. With mincing hands, he slowly drew a wave-edged bread-knife from his throat.
The round little man had turned casually back to his mirror and the contemplation of his tragic eyebrows.
This was no surprising interruption in Mrs. Fisher’s theatrical boarding-house, strictly for the profession. Anything might be expected to happen—assuredly the unexpected—especially in the spring of the year when Mrs. Fisher’s lodgers were making, ready for the new season with circuses, in vaudeville and wherever else the spot-light summoned.
For this reason Griffo, the clown, was studying the adjustment of his red eyebrows. For this reason Dan Sawtelle, king of all sword swallowers, was rehearsing his apparent gluttony for cold steel.
“Been having words with Minnie again?” asked Griffo, over his shoulder.
Dan withdrew the last three inches of knife with an alarming jerk.
“Having words?” he exclaimed. “Say, her and me just
split a dictionary between us. And we sprung some new ones that would’ve interested this Webster hisself. That dame certainly has the crust of a cafeteria pie. Listen!” From somewhere below them came a sharp male bark. A smug, satisfied bark.
“That’s Olaf!” said Dan bitterly. “Olaf, her pet seal which she calls ‘honey’ and ‘sweetheart.’ Do you
know what that dizzy dame done to-day? She claims where Olaf needs private coaching and she brung him out of the tank in the basement right up to our room! And me just trying to limber up the old windpipe by downing a few knives and a bayonet or two!”
“Well, Minnie’s got her career, too,” put in the clown. “She don’t understand my temperament, Minnie don’t,” went on Sawtelle. “It’s even money she won’t shed no tears if Olaf nudges me and I swallow a knife on the level and croak. Just so long as that Olaf gets his sardines. Oh, why did I ever marry a trained seal act?”
“You got to be broad-minded about them things,” said Griffo, “and try to get along with each other.”
“Ain’t I, though?” demanded Sawtelle. “Say, I’ve almost tried to flirt with that seal to please Minnie. I’ve even gave him a bath. That may sound like a laugh— giving a seal a bath. But now and then they got to have a rub-down in oil to keep healthy.”
“You ain’t jealous of Olaf, are you?” asked Griffo. “Why don’t you sue for a divorce and claim this Olaf, the seal, has came between you two?”
Dan Sawtelle, who had begun to poise the bread-knife for another insertion, paused to make an indignant rejoinder. In the mirror he saw the face of the clown He stepped swiftly across the room and put a sympathetic arm around the little man’s shoulder. Griffo’s fuzzy red eyebrows turned to him in mournful surprise.
“Good Lord!” exclaimed the sword swallower. “I could’ve swore you was crying, Griff. I caught one flash of your pan in the looking-glass—■”
He was halted by a violent gesture from the clown. Griffo had pulled himself up fiercely. His face would have been furious but for the upward slant of the red eyebrows. They made a tortured grimace of his outraged dignity.
"I wasn’t crying!” cried Griffo. “I’m not one of them weeping clowns! And don’t you forget it, Dan Sawtelle!
I ain’t one of these leaky comics which’re always shedding tears through the grease-paint or hiding a busted heart under the spangles. I ain’t crying! Do you hear me? I ain’t crying, I tell you!”
The sword swallower was shocked at the frenzy of this outburst. In Mrs. Fisher’s boarding-house they always said that Griffo the clown never stepped out of character. Always a clown—always making jokes and smiling.
“Don’t you ever say to anyone I was crying, Dan.” Griffo’s voice was even threatening now. “Don’t you do it, Dan. Or I’ll give you one of your knives where you can’t digest it.”
“Gee, Griff, I didn’t mean a thing,” stammered Sawtelle. “It was just the way I caught your pan. I only thought—”
Griffo was recovering himself; trying to get back into character. He attempted a smile. But the fuzzy lines of red trickled his face again. It looked wistful and weary beyond words.
“It’s my property eyebrows,” said Griffo, “give me that kind o’ sad look.”
Sawtelle, eager to gloss over the uneasy situation, squinted professionally at the eyebrows.
“They do look sad, for a fact,” he declared, “but, now that I catch ’em again, they’re very comical also.”
“That’s just it,” responded Griifo. “That’s what gets me all smoked up a minute ago when you think I am pulling a ten-twenty-thirty sob act. I’m sorry, Dan.”
“No hard feelings whatsoever,” replied the sword swallower magnanimously. “All us professionals have our emotional moments.”
Griffo faced his mirror once more. When Sawtelle looked that way again the red, bushy eyebrows had disappeared. A round little face smiled impishly at him over Griffo’s shoulder. It seemed on the edge of bursting into a full-throated laugh. Sawtelle was ready to continue with the bread-knife. But he was a talkative man, that king of sword swalloweis.
“At that, why should you weep?” he asked, as he balanced the wavy-bladed knife. “If ever there was a man done good in this world, you’ve did it, Griff. You sure done a turn for the Count—”
“I’ll have to buy me a new fright wig this season,” said Griffo. “This old one’s been took plenty by the moths.”
“And you got no cue to be nothing but gay and proud, with Miss Marieta herself coming home from school next week. She’s quite a lady now, ain’t she, Griff? Educated like some society dame. And all account of you.”
The round little clown was hunched close to the mirror. He was smearing his face with white grease-paint. Especially around the qyes, where it is so hard to apply. Griffo made no answer.
Dan Sawtelle, with exquisite deliberation, suspended the knife over his back-tilted mouth. Slowly it descended and the king of sword swallowers nibbled down inch after inch of shivery steel, rubbing his belt meanwhile with that gesture of relish that always delighted the juveniles in his audience.
Like so many inveterate conversationalists, Sawtelle scarcely ever remembered what he had been talking about. He would have forgotten all about the scene with Griffo, as likely as not, except that three days later the clown disappeared.
Griffo was gone, not only from Mrs Fisher’s boardinghouse, but from all places where he was familiar He did not join the circus, where he was expected He simply and completely disappeared.
He was gone when Miss Marieta came home from school for the last time—home to Mrs. E isher’s.
THEY called him the Count because, simply enough, he looked like one to vaudeville eyes. Also because his real name was too long and too foreign-sounding for vaudeville tongues. At Mrs. Fisher’s boarding-house the Count was accepted with a warm-hearted, unasking fellowship.
At Mrs. Fisher’s there were no distinctions of caste, although the lodgers did call Grosvenor Billingsworth, the veteran Shakespearian heavy, by the title “mister.” But then, Mr. Billingsworth did have rather the grand manner. Otherwise, in Mrs. Fisher’s, one was either a good trouper or not a good trouper.
Mrs. Fisher’s lodgers accepted, too, the strange romance that had brought the Count to them. It had been the sensation of two continents when the Gipsy violinist had eloped with an English duchess. The cables had clacked their gossipy tongues over it. Newspapers had discussed% it for endless columns. It was not impossible to imagine
monarchs shaking their crowned heads at other astounded monarchs over the situation. A gentlewoman of such excellent blood the consort of a Romany fiddler!
The folks at Mrs. Fisher’s were simpler folks. In their little world of make-believe such fanciful things were a matter of course. If Mrs. Fisher’s lodgers were surprised at all, it was that the romance survived so long. In the shadowy, lovely land behind the curtain, romance and love are light cloaks, lightly worn.
“Not that I am ever a hand for gossip,” remarked Julius Tark, eldest of the Four Tumbling Tarks, “nor will I make no reflections about any married act whatsoever. But the Count and this duchess make this marriage turn of theirs stand up in a way that’s almost a scandal.”
The scandal of devotion survived the hardship of vaudeville trouping. The Count, as penniless as he was picturesque, had brought his lady to America, confident of a place in concert. He ended in a spot close to the trick roller-skating specialty in vaudeville. He learned that this public wanted more—or, perhaps, less—than that Gipsy touch of his on the violin. He discovered that his hair was a greater asset. He came to know that he must play one classical piece, over which the audience might flatter its taste by nodding and identifying it vaguely as the Humoresque or the Spring Song, and a good deal of popular melody.
But the Count’s struggles and disappointments are only an incident of this tale. Besides, they have been told so often before.
The duchess had died before the Count came to live at Mrs. Fisher’s. He brought with him the daughter that
By Arthur Hunt Chute
Contemplating certain Canadians saturating themselves with American magazines of the Success variety, it is not surprising that these persons can recite to the last detail how Mr. Wrigley made millions in chewing-gum, how someone else gained the plutocracy on a shoe-string, or to what heights another attained on the gim-cracks of a ten-cent store.
Half-baked success artists can tell us these cases ad nauseum, but they cannot tell us how Sir John Thompson died at Windsor Castle at the foot of the throne, and, having attained to the fullness of power, left behind him a life insurance policy of only three thousand dollars; how Sir John A. Macdonald could not even bequeath that much insurance; how, after fifteen years in public life, Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper retired twenty thousand dollars in debt; how Alexander MacKenzie, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier gathered no moss.
These Were great public servants, gentlemen of the old-school, who had something more to do than chase the dollar.
While We are hearing so much about how various citizens of the Republic to the south became millionaires, it might not be amiss to pause and remember how certain distinguished Canadians failed to become millionaires, and how their country Was enriched thereby.
had been born of the romance. Marieta was eight then. She had her father’s black hair and Gipsy eyes. There was about her a gamin air that sang of the long careless trail, of wayward camps and mad music.
“The kid’s a born dancer,” decided Eddie Dean, the nifty hoofer, watching Marieta fling her body to the sound of her father’s fiddle. ‘Stake her to a couple years studying and she’ll make these classical dance dames look like truck-horses hitched to a coal cart. And trying to pull it out of the mud, at that.”
“But no,” the Count smiled gently. “Marieta will be a great lady, like her mother. One day she will go back and live among her kind, the lords and ladies of her mother’s land.”
“It’ll be a shame,” declared Eddie Dean. “The Sunday papers are full of dukes and countesses and Lady Vere de
Veres. But when you’ve got a real, natural dancer—well, you’ve got something.”
Of all the lodgers in Mrs. Fishér’s, the Count was most friendly with Griffo the clown. It may have been because of Griffo’s tirelessness in amusing Marieta. All the skill of the circus ring he called upon, trying to make the black eyes smile in the first days when she missed her mother most. Griffo counted it nothing to toil into his outlandish circus togs if it made her laugh a little.
One spring day the Count leaned against the wall in Griffo’s room, playing a muted song on his violin and watching the clown put on his makeup. Griffo applied the fuzzy red eyebrows. He shaped them in a wide halfcircle that accented the reckless mirth of his round face. “Permit me, please, good friend,” begged the Count. Then, with long slim fingers, he rearranged the red eyebrows. He made straight slants of them, rising from the outer point of the eyes and almost meeting in a peak over Griffo’s nose.
“Superb!” exclaimed the Count. “The little, oh-sofunny touch of tragedy.”
Griffo looked into the mirror and recoiled with a gesture of fear that was not all acting.
“Tragedy ain’t no name for it,” he said. “I look about as funny as a hangman on Friday morning. Say, if I went out in the sawdust with them eyebrows like that, the customers in the blue seats would bust into tears.” “My friend, you do not know people,” said the Count. “Maybe not,” admitted Griffo, “but I know my gags and my neck-falls. Also my low-comedy pan.”
“But a clown should know people,” insisted the Count. “A clown more than any other. Do you know why that slanting of the eyebrows is so tragic—and oh-so-funny?” He explained. He himself had learned the effect of this slanting line from the work of Leonardo da Vinci.
“Leonardo was a great artist,” said the Count. “He would have been greater if he had not also been a philosopher.”
“A artist should stick to his specialty,” agreed Griffo. “Look at what a flop Markis, the slack-wire artist, took when he tried to work a ballad number into his act.”
“Yet Leonardo put his heart aside to study,” narrated the Count. “He would go where men were being hanged or tortured and make sketches of their expressions. Consoling a friend who had lost his family, he would also note the mark that grief put on his friend’s face.”
“But what’s the connection?” asked Griffo. “This Leonard party was no clown. If he’s in the profession at all, he’s a lightning sketch artist. Anyway, where do you figure tragical eyebrows on a comic like me?”
“Have you read much about clowns?” inquired the Count.
“Not much,” replied Griffo. “All these stories that writers get up about clowns are the same. They all put in the sure-fire finish where the clown is crying over his dead dog, or where his child’s been ran over by a train or his wife’s lammed out with some other gent. Always the same old wow ending.”
“Do you know why they are written that way?” the Count continued. “WFy such endings are what you call sure-fire? It is because people do not want their clowns too light-hearted.”
“That’s a new gag to me,” smiled Griffo, “and I’ve been clowning many’s the long year.”
“But it is true, good friend,” said the Count. “People are sad themselves; sad over their petty miseries. They resent that another should be light-hearted; even a witless dolt—pardon me, friend of my heart; it is a way of speaking—in the circus-ring. In their sadness, you would think they would be cheered to see at least one person gay and without care. But no. They cannot bear the thought that there is one who really laughs in his heart. They must drag him down to their own drab level. It is so with people, my friend. It is so with life. I know these things; I, who have been so exalted and gay— and so sad.”
Out of this it came, as an experiment at first, that Griffo changed his eyebrows. He had been a fair clown before. That season he became a star. Surely you will remember his pathetic, convulsing antics in the seasons that followed. He was the clown of clowns with the Great Dolling Brothers’ show.
Griffo went to the Count with his first success.
“I’m a riot,” he said. “The audience tears up the seats. I ruin ’em. And Sam Dolling comes to me with a new contract that features real important money. And I ain’t changed my act a nickel’s worth—only the eyebrows. I can’t hardly believe it. Especially that folks are that way.” By the end of the season he had grown curiously bitter. “They give me this belly-laugh,” he said to the Count. “Eecause they think I’m a sad bozo at heart. I’m getting so I hate ’em for it.”
“Do not be as they are, good Griffo,” answered the Count. “Laugh—and laugh again because they think you are sad.”
“They’ll never catch me crying,” vowed Griffo with sudden fierce earnestness. “They’ll never find me sobbing in the padroom. Not even if my heart’s broker than these Ten Commandments!”
Griffo wore his slanted eyebrows grimly after that. Only when he performed privately for Marieta did he change them back to owlish half-circles. Marieta did not like them the other way. The round ones made her laugh—a whole-hearted Gipsy laugh.
“It is because she is a child,” said the Count, “and there is no selfish sadness in her heart.”
WHEN spring came again at Mrs.
Fisher’s boarding-house the Count was ill. So ill that there was an awed hush over the house, instead of the customary merry sounds of preparation for the new season. Eddie Dean, instead of warming up his buck-and-wing in his room, went down to the poolroom on the corner and performed to the incidental delight of its customers. The Four Tumbling Tarks, who ordinarily thumped and bumped through their limbering up, and shouted “Alley Oop!” found a gymnasium downtown. Only such silent acts as those of Muscagni the Monarch of Magic, and Signor Constricto, the snake—which is to say, contortionist—could practise without danger of disturbing the sick man. There seemed to be a muffled sound even in the 1 barking of the seals in the basement. Even the smug, satisfied bark oi the seal Olaf.
Between their rehearsals and their visits to agents and costumers and all their other activities, Mrs. Fisher’s lodgers took turns playing nurse to the Count.
One night he sent for Griffo the clown. “When I am gone, my friend,” he said, “it must not be too hard for our Marieta.” !
“Brace up, old trouper,” Griffo answered. “They ain’t closing your act yet.” “One day she must go back to her people—where she belongs,” said the Count. “Blood calls to blood and she must answer. That is life.”
He asked the clown to bring his violin. For a little while the strength came back to his long slim fingers and he played with that errant touch of his. It was a song that had in it the sleepy cry of a night-bird, the caress of April rain on an upturned face and the scent of the vagrant breeze that comes at dawn.
It was so gentle and so gay a song that Mrs. Fisher’s lodgers, listening, told each other that now the Count was getting better. But they did not know the heart of the Gipsy. This was the farewell of the Romany fiddler.
Griffo stood at the side of the Count’s bed when he died. Even in this grief, the chubby, humorous lines of the clown’s face persisted, although they were drawn into a caricature of determination. Griffo the clown did not weep.
The night after the funeral, Mrs. Fisher’s lodgers gathered in the parlor to discuss the future of Marieta. Never j for a moment did they have any doubt of their own responsibility for her They were that way in Mrs. Fisher’s boardinghouse, strictly for the profession. Marieta was alone and helpless. And there they were. It was all very simple to such simple folk.
“Now that she’s a two-time orphan, though,” said Mrs. Fisher, somewhat ironically for that kind lady, “you might figure where them high-toned relations of her maw’s would cut in.”
“Pardon me, Mother Fisher,” broke in Signor Constricto, “but piano on them noble false alarms—piano and soda voice.
If they are so up-stage they gave their own daughter the air, it’s better’n a cinch they ain’t going to sprain their wrist reaching hands across the sea for Miss Marieta.”
At this point M. Jacques LaVelle, vaudevibe’s premier knife and ax thrower, revealed a characteristic flash of logic.
“If they don’t come calling,” he declared, “when the duchess is alive and Miss Marieta don’t need help, why should we cue them in now, when she’s up against it.”
The sentiment was applauded, but not without demur.
“Except where she loses the Count,” announced Mrs. Fisher, “she ain’t up against it. As long as I’m alive she’s got a home and the care of a mother.”
Mrs. Fisher sat very erect when she said this. It was an attitude mindful of the days when she was a daring rider with the famous De Novello family of bareback gymnasts.
“I could not dare presume,” intoned Mr. Billingsworth, “to offer the" young lady a father’s care.” He hesitated and one might have fancied that he was running over his repertoire of fathers. Shakespearian fathers, naturally. Hamlet’s parent and Polonius, King Lear— Mr. Billingsworth coughed impressively. He could make a cough sound like an oration. “But if she decides on a career,” he concluded, “I will be glad to undertake thé training of her voice. I am not the feeblest coach of the voice. Sir Henry, chatting about this gift of mine, once said: ‘Billingswortb, old chap—’ ”
“What Miss Marieta wants,” interrupted Eddie Dean, “is a chance to dance. This little sugar’s a natural stepper.”
“I’d like to break her into a refined knockabout tumbling act,” offered Julius Tark. “I’d learn her personally my own specialty neck fail.”
Up-stairs in Griffo’s room, the clown sat in a big rocker. He was not playing the clown for Marieta that night. Instead he held her in his lap and rocked her. He told her again about Goldilocks and sang a little song they both liked, about a soldier man in a green coat who tried to ride a spotted horse. Her eyes were drowsy before he whispered what was in his heart.
“He was telling me to take care of you, little honey—me, the clown,” said Griffo. “He was asking me to see you got a fair break and see you got rehearsed for the day you’ll go back to the real big time—amongst them classy ladies and dukes and the like. She must go back to her people. That’s what he said. W’here she belongs.” Marieta opened her sleepy black eyes. “But you must go with Marieta,” she murmured. “Sing me again, Uncle Griff, about the funny green soldier.”
“They don’t book ’em that way, little trouper,” said the clown. “When you’re a great lady there’ll be no spot on the bill for a poor humpty-dumpty clown.”-
And, in the feeble twilight of one of Mrs. Fisher’s regulated gas-jets, he hummed again the song of the soldier man in the green coat.
Thereafter, there was a madder tempo to the cavorting of the clown with the sad eyebrows in the arena of the Great Dolling Brothers. In the winter Griffo, prince of comics, played in vaudeville. Most certainly you will remember the heartbreaking, mirthful futility of his stage character. He played it for several seasons.
In those years the Gipsy-eyed gamin girl grew into a lovely young woman. Griffo’s devotion to her she accepted with less surprise than was felt by Mrs. Fisher’s lodgers. And they felt no surprise at all. Griffo had insisted on supplying everything for her. There are no whys and wherpfores about such things in the world the other side of the footlights. It is the way of things to give without thought of ! reward.
i Marieta rebelled at first when he told , her she was to go away to school. She had expected him to take her on the road with him when he joined the circus.
“No chance, little trouper,” he smiled. “Remember what your dad said. You’re going back to your own people. You ain’t going to be another performer for them hicks in the blue seats to gawk at and want to be sad like theirselves.”
She saw him a year later, when they both came back to Mrs. Fisher’s for a holiday. Already they could note the effect that schooling had had upon her. And already she had begun her beautiful growth to young womanhood. Before he went back to the circus Griffo had a long talk with Mrs. Fisher.
“She’s getting to be quite a lady already, ain’t she, Mother Fisher?” asked Griffo.
“Say, right now she’d panic them standoffish relatives of hers,” responded Mrs. Fisher. “The King of England hisself would sit up on his throne and take notice if she come trouping into the room.” “She’s got to make that entrance proper,” said Griffo earnestly. “And we mustn’t ever stand in her way. We must not crab her act—especially me.”
“Especially you?” cried Mrs. Fisher. “That’s a laugh. And you staking her to all this bringing-up. I'll bet you ain't bought a new neck-tie for yourself since you started backing her.”
“You don't get me,” said Griffo. He started to explain and then tried to turn it into a joke.
“That laugh ain't on the level, Griffo,” accused Mrs. fisher. "What's on your mind, anyway?”
It was a long time before Mrs. Fisher had the answer to that question. Not, in fact, until just before Griffo disappeared so mysteriously from her house and from the circus and from all the places that knew him. That was the year that Miss Marieta came home from school for the last time.
SEASONS succeed seasons swiftly in the magic twilight of behind the scenes. No sooner, it seems, does an act break in a new bit of business or get a wow properly polished, when the agents are saying it is time to dress up the act again, get some new gags and change the finish.
The week before Miss Marieta, her schooling done, came home, Griffo went again tp Mrs. Fisher. When he left her, Mrs. Fisher was in tears. But she had promised to keep his secret.
That was an impossible promise to keep. Mrs. Fisher’s eyes were big with what she knew when the other lodgers wondered and worried over the mystery of Griffo’s disappearance. She was like a child with the importance of something she shouldn’t tell. And so, in the parlor, where her favorite lodgers gathered to ponder the strange disappearance, Mrs. fisher suddenly began to sob.
“I promised him—but I don’t care,” she wept. “Saying he ain’t good enough for her, and now she’s a lady, like as not she’ll be ashamed of him. And what a rap it’ll be for her amongst the swells if they get next she’s been staked by a poor humpty-dumpty clown. That’s what he said and he wouldn’t listen to me.”
They flocked around her like excited chicks.
“He says where it’s his cue to exit laughing,” Mrs Fisher told them. “And he reads that laughing line with expression.”
“Did he tell you,” cried Dan Sawtelle, “to be sure and notice where he wasn’t crying?”
“Why, yes,” replied Mrs. Fisher, “now you mention it, I remember he says he’s one clown they’ll never find weeping in the pad-room when the band begins to play.”
“Oh, Lord!” exc’aimed the sword swallower. “I could’ve stopped him. What a chump I am!”
“Yes, darling,” said Minnie Sawtelle, with a wifely smile.
But Sawtelle, with a wide gesture of despair, had left the parlor.
“Griffo pegs Miss Marieta wrong,” argued Eddie Dean. “She’s too good a trouper to let a little education come between her and her pals.”
“He knows that,” said Mrs. Fisher. “He figures on that very thing. He knows she won’t up-stage him after he’s gave up everything for her this way. He’s even left a big bank-account in her own name. ‘Tell her to take it,’ he says, ‘and go back where she belongs—back to her own people.’ I tried to argue but he’d have none of it.
“ ‘I’ve did my part,’ he says to me, ‘and I’ve been mighty happy doing it. After all, I owed it to the Count. And there’s no place in this cast for a poor humptydumpty who can’t even talk good grammar. It ain’t she’d ever show she was ashamed of me. Not her. But I know how it is. I’m only a set of bogus eyebrows that people laugh at. They ain’t going to laugh at her account of me.’
“And that,” concluded Mrs. Fisher, “is about all he says. Except at the end, again, he says to look at him close and be sure to remember that it’s all a laugh to him and he ain’t weeping.”
At this moment there came from the basement a staccato male bark. A startled outraged bark. And another.
Minnie Sawtelle jumped up and ran through the plush portieres of the parlor as her husband had done. Signor Constricto winked at the group in the parlor. He spoke in a stage whisper;
“Dan’s took a coupla kicks at Olaf.”
HROUGH a section of states, far removed from the trail of regular vaudeville traffic, is scattered a circuit of theatres the collective name for which alone is always good for a laugh among playing folk. It is the most abject time that can be booked. To it, as to a sargasso drift the rudderless mediocrities of the varieties. There the outdated acts of vaudeville make their last bid for immortality before yellow footlights.
In a dingy basement dressing-room sat Griffo the clown after his act. On this time he had become known by another name. A s carefully as he had left no trace at Mrs. 1 isher’s, Griffo had obliterated all
signs of the character he had created in the arena. A different costume, a different smear of scarlet paint across his lips, a new fright wig. To these strange audiences all that remained of the former Griffo was the bushy red eyebrows set at their pathetic slant.
They were on his face now. He had been too weary, after the fourth performance of the day. to remove his make-up at once. He had taken off only his fright wig. There were threads of gray in his hair. Otherwise there was no change to tell of the hardships he had assumed to make a complete gesture of his sacrifice.
Griffo gazed absently into the cracked and smudgy mirror. The one discouraged bulb above it made sharp shadows along his round little face.
“A low-comedy pan,” muttered Griffo, reaching for the cold cream. “But I ain’t cried yet. Why should I, at that?”
From the stage overhead drifted a compelling song. Griffo paused and listened.
“I’d have swore,” he told himself, “that only one man in the world ever knew that piece.”
It was a gay and gentle tune, a song that had in it the sleepy cry of a night-bird, the caress of April rain on an upturned face and the scent of the vagrant breeze that comes at dawn.
The stage-manager, who was also owner of the dingy little theatre, went by the dressing-room door.
“Who’s using that music?” asked Griffo. “I don’t remember any act on this bill—”
“It’s a new dancing turn, Comical,” replied the owner and stage-manager. “They sent it down for a try-out. It just arrived and we rushed it on. They say in September it’s going to be the big feature of the Ziegbaum Drolleries. It’s a wow, if you ask me. Just listen to the customers.” Over their heads a storm of applause had broken. The audience stamped its feet in a mighty thunder and shouted its demand for an encore. The stage-manager hurried upstairs.
Alone in his dressing-room, Griffo heard the song again— and again. He was facing the dressing-room door when the audience finally and reluctantly permitted the show to proceed. As its applause died there came a rush of slippered feet down the dressing-room corridor.
Then, standing in the clown’s doorway, was a beautiful, breathless girl, dressed in the costume of the Gipsies.
“You done great, kid—” began Griffo. Then her arms were about him and she was sobbing on his shoulder. Sobbing and weeping happily. Quite as he had done when she was just a little girl, he held her on his lap.
“Hush, little honey, don’t you cry. And it was you who was dancing! I knew that piece. But why are you doing it, baby girl? Why didn’t you go back to your own people?”
“Oh, Uncle Griff,” she sobbed, “I am back with my own people. This is where I belong. We’re all Gipsies, Uncle Griff. You and I and dad and all these wonderful people who play through all their lives.” “But your daddy wanted you to be a great lady,” said Griffo.
“He said blood would tell,” answered the girl. “But daddy didn’t realize it was Gipsy blood that called me. I think it would make him very happy.”
Griffo held her closely and frowned at his own reflection in the smudgy mirror. The sharp lines were twitching.
“And please, Uncle Griff,” she begged, like a very little girl, “don't scold Marieta. Take off those sorry eyebrows and sing me about the soldier in a green coat. Oh, Uncle Griff—I’m so happy. And so tired!”
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” she told him. “Ever since they told me you went away. And it’s been such a long, long time and I’ve been so lonesome.”
“Looking for me, little Marieta? Looking for a humpty-dumpty old clown?”
She put her hand over his lips, with their thick coating of scarlet paint.
“Don’t you want me, Uncle Griff? Don’t you want to be my uncle any more? And take care of me? Oh, please—”
Griffo threw back his head and his body shook. She looked up and her hand went to his cheek.
“Why, Uncle Griff! Are you crying?” And then the stage-manager and owner came rushing and hissing for silence.
Because Griffo the clown was laughing. His head was thrown back. His smudged, scarlet lips were parted. From his throat was rolling a roaring, glorious laugh—fullthroated a laugh straight in the face of all the world. A mighty shout of a laugh that burst through the dressing-room doors, flooded the corridor and rose over the noise of the dingy little orchestra.
Only over the eyes of the clown two fuzzy red lines persisted in their immemorial symbol. But, when all of Leonardo da Vinci’s work is known, doubtless it will be shown that he knew how closely the lines of tragedy resemble the lines of mirth.