Richvale Dramatic Society Presents...
Mr. James Bowser, comedian extraordinary, in the stellar role of a triumphantly hilarious tragedy, “The Old Oaken Bucket”
R. E. BREACH
MR. JAMES BOWSER was engaged in the making of a decision. The agony that attends such mental effort compressed his lips and furrowed his youthful brow. Indecision, dissatisfaction, anger, passed in turn across his ingenuous countenance. With a sweeping gesture he thrust aside the objects on which he had been concentrating and strode to the stair-head. “Ma! I say, Ma!”
“What is it, Jimmy?”
You ask that Tad what he’s done with my new green necktie!”
From the shadows below floated up murmurs of enquiry and denial.
“He says he hasn’t got it, Jimmy.”
“I know darn well he has it on. I’ve got to have it, ma. It s the only one that matches my new green tweed. I think it’s about time I had a room to myself, where my things would be left alone, and . . .”
For Pete s sake!” A girl’s voice interrupted his tirade against the marauding Tad. “Don’t wear that green suit behind the footlights. You’ll look too natural.” “You keep quiet, Jewell. I guess I know what’s the right thing to wear on the stage. You’re jealous that Mrs. Higgins didn’t ask you to take part.”
“Ánd you’re only taking part because Dot Bennet is in the caste.”
“Children! Children!” A deeper voice joined the chorus. “I’ll be thankful when this play is over. Theodore, take off that tie and give it to your brother. Jewell, your mother needs your assistance in the kitchen. And James, it is now ten minutes past eight, and the curtain rises at eight forty-five. Don’t hold up the whole works. Hurry!” “Doggone it, Dad—I am hurrying.”
CLUTCHING the recovered tie, Jimmy returned to his dressing table. Turning in the neckband of his mauve silk shirt, and with many consultations of a small book which bore the title, “Theatrical Make-up for Amateurs,” he prepared to cover his face with layers of grease-paint and powder. As he worked he repeatedly consulted the tattered play-book, rehearsing lines, feverishly trying to fix cues and entrances in his mind. His lips moved stiffly under the grease paint; at first in a whisper, then gaining confidence, he spoke aloud:
“You think I am young, Dorothy—that I’m only a raw lad, but what of it? I have the promise of youth, and the pure love of youth, which burns but for you. Weigh that against the love of a man who has loved lightly and often; choose between the pure fire and the charred offering . . .”
“Snap out of it!” Jewell’s voice outside his door jarred through the dream. “Dad sent me up to tell you it’s eight-thirty.”
“I know it, don’t I?”
“And those lines you’re chanting aren’t in the
“What do you know about the lines in the play?” “I’ve heard you spouting them often enough. And the heroine’s name isn’t Dorothy, either.”
“Aw—get out o’ that, Jewell.”
He snatched up his new top-coat and fled down the stairs, hoping for a clear exit, but his admiring family were there before him.
“Now, Jimmy, do try not to stutter.” His mother picked invisible threads from his twitching shoulders. “And remember all that Mrs. Higgins told you about how to stand, and what to do with your hands.”
“And don’t forget your lines in that big scene you have with Dot Bennet in the last act. You know you always do,” encouraged Jewell.
“Let the boy alone. He looks fine.”
Jimmy gave his understanding father a grateful glance and fled.
ON MAIN STREET the windows of the town hall glowed like rows of suns. Cars and teams were depositing loads of people at the door of the hall. Jimmy realized that the great night had at last arrived, and his heart turned to lead. How could he stand up before all those people and say his lines? Why had he allowed Mrs. Higgins to persuade him into it?
Being an honest boy, he acknowledged that Jewell was right. If it hadn’t been for Dot Bennet, he wouldn’t have had a thing to do with the play. But rehearsals gave him an opportunity of being in the company of Miss Bennet for two or three evenings each week, though his shyness forced him to adore her from a distance. Dot was the town beauty, and, he supposed, must prefer dashing, sophisticated men to shy, smalltown boys. Yet nobody adored her so much as he. Why wouldn’t she look at him? He was only assistant in his father’s drug-store, but next year he was going up to university, and in a couple of years he’d be a fullfledged druggist with a dispensary of his own. They could have a little bungalow, a little coupé, and everything! Why wouldn’t she look at him?
The reason why drove up at this moment in a car, with Miss Dot Bennet beside him. Mr. Roger Witherspoon, who played a dashing Romeo to Miss Bennet’s Juliet, stepped out and offered his arm to the beauty. How dashing and nonchalant he appeared, as he lightly flipped his half-smoked cigarette over his shoulder. Nobody noticed Jimmy, huddled into the collar of his coat on the outskirts of the crowd. He was so agitated by the rencontre that he could not yet face his fellowplayers. He slipped into the little anteroom where the janitor kept his tools.
Here among the dusty brooms he stilled his beating heart and calmed the angry impulses that had risen within him at sight of Dot Bennet in the company of Mr. Witherspoon. For the thousandth time he tried to understand what Dot saw in that dashing gentleman. True, he had a new coupé, he was a swell dresser, and he could give you a smooth line of talk. But Jimmy knew that only one small payment held the glittering car in Mr.Witherspoon’s possession; that his ultra-smart garments were a bit shoddy when you looked closely at them; and that his line of talk was only talk after all.
Jimmy’s meditation on the unevenness of the course of true love was interrupted by a strain of orchestral music. The high school orchestra ventured the opening bars of 0 Canada. He heard the shuffling of feet as the audience rose. By the end of the first verse they were singing “um-um-umpty-dee,” bursting into intelligibility with the words of the chorus: 0 Can-a-daw-w!
“Golly,” thought Jimmy. “The curtain goes up in ten minutes.”
A playbill upon the wall reminded him that the Richvale Dramatic Society was that night presenting a three-act comedy-drama, The Old Oaken Bucket. He disliked the play, and thought it absurd and mawkish, but then Dot Bennet looked exactly like Lilian Gish in those quaint flowered gowns; and then last summer, at a garden-party on the minister’s lawn, they had sold lemonade out of a representation of an old-fashioned well; this play fitted in so beautifully with the well, and they were short of scenery. There were many names on the play-bill, but to Jimmy only two of interest; these being Marintha, the daughter of the Old Homestead, played by Dorothea Ellaline Bennet, and at the bottom of the list, Chad, a farm boy, and the interesting addendum that this rôle would be filled by James Butterworth Bowser.
Roused by this timely reminder, Jimmy left his retreat and mounted the back stairs to the dressing rooms.
The men’s room was empty, which meant that the male members of the caste had donned their costumes for the first act, and were out on the stage proper, having their make-up applied by the lady of their choice. This was an excellent excuse for having the hair brushed fondly back, and the touch of soft fingers applying paint and powder. Jimmy would have expired gratefully if Dot Bennet had painted his eyebrows for him, but she was surrounded by a crowd of swains clamoring to be assisted, and rather than endure the touch of alien fingers, Jimmy had applied his own make-up.
He peered in at them. Against their background of rag rugs, chromos, and other Down East relics, they became strangers among whom he dared not venture. There was the hated Mr. Witherspoon, in the rôle of the Young Artist from the city, poor, but to be great; there was Mr. Thomas Crank, the hardware man, somewhat bewildered in the rôle of the Stern Father; his wife— who bullied him in real life—condemned through the proprieties of Richvale to be his stage wife, in a white wig and a Shetland Floss shoulder shawl; and there was Dot Bennet, their Only Child, in a blue muslin gown, with white stockings and tiny patent leather slippers; a bonnet shaped like a basket on her yellow curls, on her arm a basket shaped like a bonnet filled with red, red roses. Jimmy noticed that the roses were real, and he cursed his own stupidity. Why hadn’t he thought of that, instead of offering Dot her choice of the drug-store stock of paper flowers? Mrs. Mantón, who played the rich aunt who would solve the young lovers difficulties by making them her heirs in the third act, had been chosen for the part because she owned the gayest wardrobe in town. But being described in the play as a Matron of the Roman School, and possessing the tiniest nose possible, Mrs. Higgins, the promoter and director of the play, having interpreted the word Roman in a physical rather than a spiritual sense, was now employed in remedying the defect by applying a large, arched nose of stage putty to Mrs. Manton’s countenance. Jimmy watched this delicate operation with fascinated eyes, and was ready to own that Mrs. Higgins was a genius. He had better go in and let her congratulate him on his smart appearance.
He pushed aside the swinging door, and burst upon their sight with an uneasy:
“Howdy, everybody. Here I am. Better late than never.”
Their painted faces turned toward him, with blank expressions, as toward an intruding stranger, until Roger Witherspoon found his voice.
“Who’s the dude? Bless our dear hearts, if it isn’t our old friend, Chad, the chore boy!” and began a neighing laughter.
They all laughed. They called for Mrs. Higgins, who came, saw and turned pale, for it was ten minutes to nine, and the impatient audience began to clap.
“Jimmy,” she said, tearfully,” whatever did you do it for?”
“Golly, Mrs. Higgins, I’m sorry. What have I done now?”
“Haven’t I told you a dozen times that you are to portray an uncouth country boy? Why do you come dressed that way? Boys, take him into the dressing room, and hurry him into those old blue overalls that belong to the janitor. They’ll have to do—”
“Golly, Mrs. Higgins, have I got to wear those old overalls? Golly, I’ll look just like a hick—”
“For land’s sake, boy! That’s just what we want. Do you suppose a poor neglected boy would wear a good suit like yours?”
“But wouldn’t he get dressed up for company, Mrs. Higgins—”
“Have him ready in ten minutes, or I’ll never get up a play in this town again.”
This was a terrible threat, and they loved Mrs. Higgins, so Jimmy was ready in ten minutes, in faded blue overalls and clumping shoes, and his smooth hair rumpled into an excellent representation of a straw-pile.
JIMMY came to himself in the deserted dressingroom. All but he were stalking through the scenes of the first act. And presently he, too, would go out into that glare of light, which would leave no part of him hidden, from hideous boots to his disordered thatch. How Mr. Witherspoon would chortle; how young Tad, still smarting at being bereft of the new green tie, would triumph!
He went to the door where he made his first entry. How he hated the part! He must stumble awkwardly upon the stage, milkpail in hand, and inform the household, tense in its domestic crisis, that “them there caows had orter be milked.” He would be greeted with derisive laughter from the audience; Dot Bennet would turn aside her head to hide a smile, and he would forget what his next lines were.
In the back-stage alley he found the sympathy of a fellow sufferer—Willie Pryce, condemned to sit in a little alcove, ringing bells, door and telephone; tooting a horn for the arrival of the villain in his motor-car; rattling the tin sheeting for the thunder in the storm; braying for the mule of the faithful Mammy Judy, who arrives by that humble means of locomotion to comfort her poor, persecuted, darling baby lamb. Truly, Willie in his time played many parts. Five dollars and the dominant will of Mrs. Higgins held him to his task.
“Some hick, Jim,” he murmured, sympathetically. “Well, maybe we’ll get our reward for this suffering some day. Hi ! Keep away from that buzzer !”
For the unlucky Jim had leaned his elbow on the buzzer that rang the telephone. Now the telephone was not yet due to ring for two pages, and when its strident note sounded, Mr. Crank, who was to answer it, lost his head, strode to the instrument, and began to speak his lines from there on, thus cutting Mrs. Mantón out of the best speeches in her part. Mrs. Higgins loomed through the narrow passageway upon the two startled youths.
“Willie Pryce, you rang that phone ten minutes ahead of time! Are you, or are you not, going to keep your eyes on that book?”
“’Scuse me, Mrs. Higgins,” explained Jimmy. “I did it. I put my elbow on the buzzer by mistake.”
Mrs. Higgins apologized.
“Don’t mind me, Willie. I’m so wrought up to-night.
And Jimmy, for goodness sake, keep away from everything. You’re likely to start the thunderstorm in the wrong place!”
“Put your hands in your pockets, fella,” ordered Willie, “and hold your breath. I’ve got enough apparatus right here in this immediate vicinity to lift the roof off . . . Say, what have they stopped for? Somebody forgot their lines?”
The anxious faces of the two prompters appeared at either end of the passage.
“Jimmy ! Jim-mee Bowser !” they whispered, tensely. “Your cue. Are you asleep? Go on now.”
Jimmy snatched his pail and dashed through the door.
“Hey, ain’t it tut-tut-time we m-m-milked them there c-c-cows?” he stuttered.
The audience shouted, and the actors blushed with chagrin. Following their horrified gaze, Jimmy recognized the obvious inference. Instead of his milk pail, he had brought in Dot’s watering-can, which she used for watering her garden in the last act. A voice, suspiciously like Tad’s, called from the back of the hall:
“Are you workin’ for Sam Timmins, Jim?”
The laughter mounted, and the local purveyor of milk glared angrily about him.
But Jimmy was on the stage, and from somewhere, by terrific effort, he recalled his wandering wits and spoke his stumbling words. His feet weighed tons, his hands swelled to giant size, and there was no place in all the world to hide them. Then out of the blinding agony of his shyness appeared a small face with wide blue eyes and golden curls. He fixed his eyes upon it, like a suppliant on his saint, and his soul steadied. Dot was smiling, holding out her hands to him.
“Chad, my faithful friend, my old playmate! Will you stand by me?”
To the end of the world! Jimmy hadn’t realized before just what this play was about. It was a good play. There was a lot in it. His feet found their place, and his hands stopped flapping like fins.
“Sure — sure, Miss Marintha. I’ll stand by ye.”
“Only the humble ones truly love me,” sobbed the persecuted heroine. “My faithful Mammy”— she embraced Maggie Lyman, in imminent peril of Maggie’s burnt cork— “my old playmate, Chad.” “Humble hearts beat truest,” she informed the audience, with widespread arms and upturned angelic face, while the silence fell. “To them I give my love. Not to the rich man, proud and cold, whom my father has chosen for me, but to that young and ardent soul, humble, pure, and, thank God, untainted by wealth ... I have been an obedient daughter, but righteous obedience has its limits ... I cannot be false to my own soul. I care not for wrath or poverty. I shall be true— to—LOVE !”
The curtain fell upon tears and applause.
“Act one of the great comedy-drama,” summarized Willie Pryce. “Aside from one or two little mishaps, such as the phonebell and the watering-can gettin’ out of step with the heart-throbs, it went pretty well. As a hamactor, Jim, you win the pig’s knuckle-bones. Act two will follow.”
JIMMY was leaning out of the window after the second act, apparently cooling himself, but in reality contemplating the bliss of oblivion. Golly, if he hadn’t promised to go through with the play, he’d feel like jumping off right now. The second act had been worse than the first, and the third would be worse than the second. No wonder the crowd had laughed. They laughed at his awkward feet, his stumbling tongue. Even Dot Bennet, in her most heartrending scenes, could not keep her face straight. Off the stage she would never look at him again. He would be ashamed to meet his family, ashamed to stand behind the counter in the store. And yet when the orchestra stopped playing, he supposed he’d haul his fool head in, and stumble all over the stage again. He started it, and he’d have to finish it. Guess he was a fool for finishing things.
Why couldn’t he do things like old Tad? That agile youth had never upset a teacup, nor trod on toes at a sociable nor blushed in public. His mother had always been proud of Tad. The fact that Dad didn’t trust Tad in the store for one m'nute seemed of no consequence.
Nobody came near him in his misery. They were too kind to tell him how wretchedly he had acted. Or perhaps they were changing scenery, and he should help them. No, he’d only do the wrong thing. Look at that second act. Just when the villain had referred to Mrs. Mantón as “that high-nosed busybody,” Jimmy had bumped that lady’s nose, and failing to notice that he had flattened the putty proboscis, had allowed her thus to confront the ruffian. He still heard the audience’s howl of delight in his burning ears. Who was that luckless wight, who, delegated to office by Willie Pryce while that worthy refreshed himself outside with tobacco, made the villain’s motor car bray like a mule, while Mammy Judy’s steed announced his arrival with long and continuous honking? He had fallen against the tin thunder in the midst of sunshine, and sat down upon the artist’s paint-box, creating a blotched sunset on the seat of his overalls, like an Impressionist painting. He’d better keep out of the way.
Something stirred behind him—a breath of scented air, a flower nodding, a bird carolling. Dot Bennet, a white bride on the way to her forced marriage, with apple-blossoms about her hair, paused to contemplate the dejected swain. Jimmy smelled the perfume, saw the flower, heard the bird’s song. But he did not turn. If he did, the charm would be broken. He always dropped everything.
A little sigh reached his ear. He quivered with pain.
“You needn’t say it, Miss Bennet. I know I’m a rotten actor. Sorry to spoil your play.”
“Why, Jimmy Bowser!”
“If there was any way of getting out of it, I’d never show my face out front again. But I’ve got to finish it, haven’t I?”
“Yes, Jimmy, you must finish it.”
“There’s nothing else I could do, is there?”
“No, Jimmy, there isn’t. And nobody finishes things like you do . . . My wreath is loose. Will you tie it, please?”
“I’d only spoil it, if I touched it. Get Maggie Lyman.”
It were better to drive her away with insult than spoil her happiness with his clumsy attentions. But the perfume, the flower, the bird, still fingered.
“Jimmy, my veil is caught. Will you loosen it, please?”
“I’d only tear it, Miss Bennet. Get Maggie Lyman.”
“Jimmy Bowser, will you do as I ask you? You’re the rudest boy . . .”
Jimmy drew in his head from the window. He had begun to blush with shame, but at sight of that white vision he turned pale. Humbly, as before a saint, he stooped down and loosened the veil from the nail on which it had caught. He was much too shaken to wonder how the frail lace had got into that position. The misty fabric lay in his trembling hands. He pressed it to his lips. But Miss Bennet was looking the other way and did not see the act of worship. Mr. Witherspoon was approaching.
“Look out, Bowser. I almost stepped on you.”
Mr. Witherspoon will never know how near he was to death at that moment. But he stood, heedless of extinction, beside the fairy bride, whispering delightful compliments into her ear. He pinched the cigarette he had been smoking, and flipped it behind him. The little bud of fire fell a scant inch from the flimsy skirt of Dot’s gown. Jimmy crushed it under his boot.
“Fool!” he muttered. “And Mrs. Higgins made us all promise not to smoke behind the scenes.”
“What’s that, Bowser?” said Mr. Witherspoon over his shoulder. “What are you up to now? Look out, you’re going to step on Miss Bennet’s dress.”
If Mr. Witherspoon hadn’t mentioned it, it would never have happened. But at the bare possibility of such a calamity, Jimmy jumped, and Dot turned, and the veil fell under the hobnailed boot. It tore with a slithering sound, and Dot cried out.
“I beg your pardon—I do beg your pardon, Miss Bennet!”
“See here, Bowser, you clumsy fool!” cried Mr. Witherspoon. “I’ve a notion to knock your head off. What are you doing around Miss Bennet, anyway? Dot, go on into the dressing-room and I’ll attend to this fellow.”
Dot fled, but she turned at the door and waited. Mr. Witherspoon waited also. There was something in the eyes of the scarlet-faced boy that halted that dashing gentleman. Presently Dot tired of waiting for Mr. Witherspoon to attend to Mr. Bowser. There was nothing to prevent his attentions, nothing between him and Jimmy but the smoking cigarette. When Mrs. Higgins mended the torn veil, she called Dot’s attention to a small hole burned in the lace.
The bell rang for Act III, which began in a thunderstorm.
z»ND now once more the scene was changed. Vanished the hooked rugs and chromos of the deacon’s parlor, and instead the curtain rose upon a fair scene, the garden of the Old Homestead. There at last appeared the famous well, with real water in its depths—in a tin wash-tub—and on its mossy rim rested the Old Oaken Bucket—formerly a keg devoted to shingle nails. The back drop showed forth the front of the Old Homestead itself; ancient trees were depicted on the wings by means of generous blotches of kalsomine furnished free of charge by the public-spirited liberality of Soames and Patlosky, Painters and Paper-hangers, Richvale, as mentioned on the printed programmes. And among the garden of paper flowers and reluctantly loaned potted plants walked the heroine, wringing her hands at her approaching marriage with the villain, while the thunder rattled, and the lightning—one Super-Ready Electric Flashlight—darted across the darkened stage.
But Mr. Bowser paid not the slightest attention to this harrowing scene. He knew that the storm and the villain would depart together, leaving only sunshine and love among the paper roses. Mrs. Higgins pulled at his sleeve:
“Please don’t lean against the wings, Jimmy,” pleaded that harassed woman. “You know they’re only paper—there’s your cue!”
Jimmy sighed. Something had wrapped itself about his heavy boots. It was a pile of discarded clothing, papers, and debris, strewn helter-skelter about the floor, in the rush of changing costumes and scenery. Jimmy kicked it behind the wing, out of sight of the audience. Spilled powder tickled his nostrils, and he made his entrance to the accompaniment of a tremendous sneeze.
He anticipated nothing but catastrophe. His entrance was greeted with a shout of laughter, which smote his sensitive heart like a blow. It was all he could do to keep from rushing off the stage, and fleeing to some desert where he would never be seen or heard of again. All that he had ever known of that tempestuous third act was now forgotten. The prompters prompted him for every speech, his fellows pushed him into his proper positions, and for this assistance he trod upon their toes. Disaster stalked side by side with him about the stage.
And to this was added the pain of seeing Miss Bennet in the arms of Mr. Witherspoon.
The villain had driven away in despair, vanquished by innocence and beauty; the harshness of the stern father had melted under the glow of the rich aunt’s legacy; and all blushes and smiles, the happy maiden turned to Chad, her old playfellow, to seek his good wishes for her future happiness.
“Sure—sure, God bless ye, Miss Marintha—and him. If poor Chad can ever do anything for ye, Miss Marintha, even to laying down his worthless life for ye. . .”
“No, dear playmate, I ask nothing but a draft of cool water from the crystal depths of the old well around which we so often sported in childhood’s happy hours,” replied the heroine. “We shall pledge our future in that cup out of which come only happiness and health—the Old Oaken Bucket!”
She turned, smiling, to her lover, for the one and only kiss allowed him in the stage directions. Unhappy Chad tipped the bucket, poised on the well’s rim, to fill the rustic cup; his eyes, not on the beaker but agonizingly on the slowly meeting lips. He couldn’t bear to have that bounder touch her, even on the stage.
Splash! The Old Oaken Bucket had come to his assistance. It tipped and fell with a resounding smack, deluging its crystal contents into the boots of the fond lover—and into Chad’s, but he didn’t notice it—sending a fountain of bright drops about the stage, sprinkling the nearest rows of the convulsed audience.
The next few moments were dark for Jimmy. He spoke his words unconsciously. He had a vague memory of blue eyes suffused with tears, but twinkling through their dewness. Someone hissed in his ear: “You did that on purpose, Bowser; just you wait until this play is over.” And he replied mechanically, a little wearily: “Any old time you like, fella,” and sat down upon somebody’s hat. The children in the front rows squirmed like eeli, and whispered:
“Do it again, Jimmy; do it again!”
"DUT after long darkness, he came -^suddenly into daylight again. Something had happened. He stood once more with the fair Marintha and her artistlover beside the sylvan well, and there was a sinister silence about them. Jimmy waited patiently, hopelessly, for someone to give him his cue. But nobody noticed him. Then he saw, and in amazement understood. The infallible Mr. Witherspoon had forgotten his lines!
Not only had he forgotten them, but he stood dumbfounded, with falling jaw and staring eye. Dot, too, seemed paralyzed by the failure of the star. The audience waited good-humoredly, not a little pleased to see the mighty falter by the way. But something in Dot’s eyes raised an answering tremor in Jimmy’s heart. Almost imperceptibly she nodded toward the painted paper wings.
They three, alone on the stage, saw something stir among the rubbish behind the wing; like a red finger, it extended and grew brighter. A wisp of smoke curled up the back of the paper foliage. In thirty seconds the wing would be on fire. Jimmy shivered—he saw Dot in a muslin gown among the paper flowers; and beyond the footlights the eager faces of children, crowded together in the rush benches, farthest from the door. Another of Mr. Witherspoon’s cigarettes! A smart trick, that, of flipping them over the shoulder, but you could never be sure they were out . . .
“That fool Witherspoon!”
He saw the handsome face break its set stare; saw it gaping before the footlights. In another second his alarm might turn that laughing crowd into a panicstricken mob. Dot saw, too, and caught the hero’s arm.
“Don’t say it!” she cried, her hand on his mouth. “Keep quiet—for my sake!”
The lines were not in the play, but they would hold the audience—until . . . Oh, What could she do next? She looked piteously at Jimmy for help. And Jimmy for once had got his cue.
It wasn’t the cue given in the book, but one spoken by his own courage and resource. Of course he couldn’t remember the lines he should have spoken, but other words came tumbling to his lips; phrases that often in his boyish dreamworld he had addressed to the lady of his heart:
“You think I am young . . . that I’m only a raw lad . . . but I have the promise of youth and the pure love of youth, which burns but for you. Weight that against the love of a man who has loved lightly and often . . . choose between the pure fire and the charred offering . . .” He must hold them quiet until he could get to the wing. He was more afraid of their panic than of the fire. But the crowded aisles saw only the awkward farm-boy suddenly turned lover, and encouraged him with applause. The children called to him, more loudly, impatient of the tragic:
“Do it again, Jimmy; fall down again, Jimmy Bowser.”
“Play up to me, Dot, for God’s sake. I want to get back of the wing!”
Dot was trembling. “What an actress!” breathed the rapt audience. “She’s trembling with emotion.”
“Begone, base hireling!” she ranted. “You forget your station. You presume on my father’s charity to a poor homeless wretch . . .”
It was enough. The rebuked swain stumbled backward. He disappeared among the paper shrubbery, his waving heels making a wreck of Mrs. Higgins’ most cherished geranium. The hall rocked with applause. Behind the scenes the actors sighed and murmured: “That’s Jimmy Bowser again.” Jimmy’s singed hands stung; there was a sensation of heat about his nether limbs and a smell of charred cloth. From afar off he heard the voices of the children, piping in a frenzy of delight:
“Jimmy’s done it again. Jimmy Bowser fell down again!”
HE MET the dazed hero behind the scenes. Dot’s voice, still tremulous, went bravely on with the disorganized play. People who always remembered their cues carried on the action. Jimmy, rubbing the back of his warm overalls, halted the shaken hero:
“Gimme the rest of those cigarettes.” “Wh—what are you talking about, Bowser ?”
“I want the rest of those cigarettes, and every match in your pocket. And pronto!”
Mr. Witherspoon complied.
“And if I smell tobacco up here again to-night, I’m going to stop the play and call the constable. There’s your cue. Get out!”
■DUT even that triumph brought him U no surcease of pain. Smeared with paint, with singed hands, and his boots full of water, he stumbled through the remaining lines of the play. Laughter followed him, and he bent under its lash. As the clown weeps behind his paint, and his heart breaks as he capers, so did he.
'“PHE play was over. Never again, perhaps, would young Mr. Bowser know such sharp suffering, for there is nothing more sensitive than a boy’s heart. And he suffered alone. He would not go over to the church parlor and stuff himself with salad and ice cream and cake and coffee. He never wanted to eat again. All he could do was ache and hurt here by himself.
He had watched them all go off; Mr. and Mrs. Crank, arm in arm, laughing like children, for they had not laughed at anything for twenty years; Mrs. Mantón, her quick anger over, had put on her false nose once more, and was enjoying it. Somebody moved about the deserted stage, searching for lost property. He hoped they wouldn’t look in the dressing room.
He would wait in here until everybody had gone, and then he would slip out unseen to his own room and lock the door. Tad could sleep in the guest room, on the floor, wherever he liked. He would not see or talk to anyone that night.
Voices came nearer. He wished they were dumb. He didn’t want to hear what they said:
“Well, if that wasn’t the best ever . . .”
“I laughed till my sides ached . .
Of course, they would laugh at a clumsy ox sporting about, upsetting everything. Laugh their heads off, if they wanted to.
“I didn’t know we had such talent in the town . . .”
“Really, that boy ought to go on the stage . . .”
Someone stood beside him. Jimmy did not lift his head, but he saw the flower, smelled the perfume, heard the bird sing.
“Who’d ever have thought that Jimmy Bowser had it in him ?”
A little hand touched his tousled hair, slipped down and nestled in his hot fingers.
“I paid two dollars to see a vaudeville show in the city last week, and it wasn’t half as good as young Bowser. All those funny stunts! Tell me, Mrs. Higgins, did he think them up himself, or were they in the book?”
“Oh, some of them were in the book, but he put in a lot himself.”
Dot lifted Jimmy’s head by the ears and shook it gently.
“What are you sulking about? Serious?” she enquired. “Don’t you know that you are the star of the evening ? All tired out from your tremendous exertions ? And aren’t you taking me to supper ?”
The perfume, the flower, the singing bird, lingered beside him. Nor would they go away.