THE front door closed softly behind the theatre party. Dinner was over, and Parker had just been assisting the expedition out of the place. Sensitive to atmosphere, he had found his share in the dinner a little trying. It had been a strained meal, and what he liked was a clatter of conversation and everybody having a good time and enjoying themselves.
“Ellen!” called Parker, as he proceeded down the passage to the empty dining-room. “Ellen!”
Mrs. Parker appeared out of the kitchen, wiping her hands. Her work for the evening, like her husband’s, was over. Presently what is technically called a “useful girl” would come in to wash the dishes, leaving the evening free for social intercourse.
Mrs. Parker had done well by her patrons that night, and now she wanted a quiet chat with Parker over a glass of Freddie Rooke’s port.
“Have they gone, Horace?” she asked, following him into the dining-room.
Parker selected a cigar from Freddie’s humidor, crackled it against his ear, smelt it, clipped off the end, and lit it. He took the decanter and filled his wife’s glass, then mixed himself a whiskey-and-soda.
“Happy days!” said Parker. “Yes, they’ve gone!”
“I didn’t see her ladyship.”
“You didn’t miss much!
A nasty, dangerous specimen, she is! She’s got a motter ‘Always merry and bright,’ I don’t think. I wish you’d had my job of waiting on ’em, Ellen, and me been the one to stay in the kitchen safe out of it all. That’s all I say! It’s no treat to me to ’and dishes when the atmosphere’s what you might call electric. I didn’t envy them that vol-au-vent of yours, Ellen, good as it smelt. Better a dinner of ’erbs where love is than a stalled ox and ’atred therewith,” said Parker, helping himself to a walnut.
“Did they have words?”
Parker shook his head impatiently.
“That sort don’t have words, Ellen. They just sit and goggle.”
“How did her ladyship seem to hit off with Miss Mariner, Horace?”
PARKER uttered a dry laugh.
“Ever see a couple of strange dogs watching each other sort of wary? That was them! Not that Miss Mariner wasn’t all that was pleasant and nice-spoken. She’s all right, Miss Mariner is. She’s a little queen! It wasn’t her fault the dinner you’d took so much trouble over was more like an evening in the Morgue than a Christian dinner-party. She tried to help things along best she could. But what with Sir Derek chewing his lip ’alf the time and his mother acting about as matey as a pennorth of ice-cream, she didn’t have a chance. As for the guv’nor—well, I wish you could have seen him, that’s all. You. know, Ellen, sometimes I’m not altogether easy in my mind about the guv’nor’s mental balance. He knows how to buy cigars, and you tell me his port is good—I never touch it myself—but sometimes he seems to me to go right off his onion. Just sat there, he did, all through dinner, looking as if he expected the good food to rise up and bite him in the face and jumping nervous when I spoke to him. It’s not my fault,” said Parker, aggrieved. "I can’t give gentlemen warning before I ask ’em if they’ll have sherry or hock. I can’t ring a bell or toot a horn to show ’em I’m coming. It’s my place to bend over and whisper in their ear, and they’ve no right to leap about in their seats and make me spill good wine. (You’ll see the spot close by where you’re sitting, Ellen. Jogged my wrist, he did!) I’d like to know why people in the spear of life which these people are in can’t behave themselves rational, same as we do. When we were walking out and I took you to have tea with my mother, it was one of the pleasantest meals I ever ate. Talk about ’armony! It was a love-feast!”
“Your ma and I took to each other right from the start, Horace,” said Mrs. Parker softly. “That’s the difference.”
“Well, any woman with any sense would take to Miss Mariner. If I told you how near I came to spilling the sauce-boat accidentally over that old fossil’s head, you’d be surprised, Ellen. She just sat there brooding like an old eagle. If you ask my opinion, Miss Mariner’s a long sight too good for her precious son!”
“Oh, but Horace! Sir Derek’s a baronet!”
“What of it? Kind ’earts are more than coronets and simple faith than Norman blood, aren’t they?”
“You’re talking socialism, Horace.”
“No, I’m not. I’m talking sense. I don’t know who Miss Mariner’s parents may have been—I never enquired—but anyone can see she's a lady born and bred. But do you suppose the path of true love is going to run smooth, for all that? Not it! She’s got a ’ard time ahead of her, that poor girl!”
“Horace!" Mrs. Parker’s gentle heart was wrung. The situation hinted at by her husband was no new one—indeed, it formed the basis of at least fifty per cent, of the stories in the True Heart Novelties Series, of which she was a determined reader—but it had never failed to touch her. “Do you think her ladyship means to come between them and wreck their romance?”
“I think she means to have a jolly good try.”
“But Sir Derek has his own money, hasn’t he? I mean, it’s not like when Sir Courtenay Travers fell in love with the milk-maid and was dependent on his mother, the Countess, for everything. Sir Derek can afford to do what he pleases, can’t he?”
Parker shook his head tolerantly. The excellence of the cigar and the soothing qualities of the whiskey-and-soda had worked upon him. and he was feeling less ruffled.
“You don’t understand these things,” he said. “Women like her ladyship can talk a man into anything and out of anything. I wouldn’t care, only you see the poor girl is mad over the feller. What she finds attractive in him, I can’t say, but that’s her own affair."
“He’s very handsome, Horace, with those flashing eyes and that stern mouth,” argued Mrs. Parker.
“Have it your own way,” he said. “It’s no treat to me to see his eyes flash, and if he’d put that stern mouth of his to better use than advising the guv’nor to lock up the cigars and trouser the key, I’d be better pleased. If there’s one thing I can’t stand,” said Parker, “it’s not to be trusted!” He lifted his cigar and looked at it censoriously. “I thought so! Burning all down one side. They will do that if you light ’em careless. Oh, well,” he continued, rising and going to the humidor, “there’s plenty more where that came from. Out of evil cometh good,” said Parker philosophically. “If the guv’nor hadn’t been in such a overwrought state to-night, he’d have remembered not to leave the key in the key-hole. Help yourself to another glass of port, Ellen, and let’s enjoy ourselves!”
WHEN one considers how full of his own troubles, how weighed down with the problems of his own existence the average playgoer generally is when he enters a theatre, it is remarkable that dramatists ever find it possible to divert and entertain whole audiences for a space of several hours. As regards at least three of those who had assembled to witness its opening performance, the author of "Tried by Fire,” at the Leicester Theatre, undoubtedly had his work cut out for him.
It has perhaps been sufficiently indicated by the remarks of Parker, the valet, that the little dinner at Freddie Rooke’s had not been an unqualified success. Searching the records for an adequately gloomy parallel to the taxicab journey to the theatre which followed it, one can only think of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. And yet even that was probably not conducted in dead silence. There must have been moments when Murat got off a good thing or Ney said something worth hearing about the weather.
The only member of the party who was even remotely happy was, curiously enough, Freddie Rooke. Originally Freddie had obtained three tickets for “Tried by Fire.” The unexpected arrival of Lady Underhill had obliged him to buy a fourth, separated by several rows from the other three. This, as he had told Derek at breakfast, was the seat he proposed to occupy himself.
It consoles the philosopher in this hard world to reflect that, even if man is born to sorrow as the sparks fly upwards, it is still possible for small things to make him happy. The thought of being several rows away from Lady Underhill had restored Freddie’s equanimity like a tonic. It thrilled him like the strains of some grand, sweet anthem all the way to the theatre. If Freddie Rooke had been asked at that moment to define happiness in a few words, he would have replied that it consisted in being several rows away from Lady Underhill.
The theatre was nearly full when Freddie’s party arrived. The Leicester Theatre had been rented for the season by the newest theatrical knight, Sir Chester Portwood, who had a large following; and, whatever might be the fate of the play in the final issue, it would do at least one night’s business. The stalls were ablaze with jewelry and crackling with starched shirt-fronts; and expensive scents pervaded the air, putting up a stiff battle with the plebeian peppermint that emanated from the pit. The boxes were filled, and up in the gallery grim-faced patrons of the drama who had paid their shillings at the door and intended to get a shilling’s worth of entertainment in return sat and waited stolidly for the curtain to rise.
First nights at the theatre always excited Jill. The depression induced by absorbing nourishment and endeavoring to make conversation in the presence of Lady Underhill left her. The worst, she told herself, had happened. She had met Derek’s mother, and Derek s mother plainly disliked her. Well, that, as Parker would have said, was that. Now she just wanted to enjoy herself. She loved the theatre. The stir, the buzz of conversation, the warmth and life of it, all touched a chord in her which made depression impossible.
THE lights shot up beyond the curtain. The houselights dimmed. Conversation ceased. The curtain rose. Jill wriggled herself comfortably into her seat, and slipped her hand into Derek’s. She felt a glow of happiness as it closed over hers. All, she told herself, was right with the world.
All, that is to say, except the drama which was unfolding on the stage. It was one of those plays which start wrong and never recover. By the end of the first ten minutes there had spread through the theatre that uneasy feeling which comes over the audience at an opening performance when it realizes that it is going to be bored. A sort of lethargy had gripped the stalls. The dress-circle was coughing. Up in the gallery there was grim silence.
Sir Chester Portwood was an actor-manager who had made his reputation in light comedy of the tea-cup school. His numerous admirers attended a first night at his theatre in a mood of comfortable anticipation, assured of something pleasant and frothy with a good deal of bright dialogue and not too much plot. To-night he seemed to have fallen a victim to that spirit of ambition which intermittently attacks actor-managers of his class, expressing itself in an attempt to prove that, having established themselves securely as light comedians, they can, like the lady reciter, turn right around and be serious. The one thing which the London public felt that it was safe from in a Portwood play was heaviness, and “Tried by Fire” was grievously heavy. It was a poetic drama, and the audience, although loth to do anybody an injustice, was beginning to suspect that it was written in blank verse.
The acting did nothing to dispel the growing uneasiness. Sir Chester himself, apparently oppressed by the weightiness of the occasion and the responsibility of offering an unfamiliar brand of goods to his public, had dropped his customary debonair method of delivering lines and was mouthing his speeches. It was good gargling, but bad elocution. And, for some reason best known to himself, he had entrusted the role of the heroine to a doll-like damsel with a lisp, of whom the audience disapproved sternly from her initial entrance.
It was about half way through the first act that Jill, whose attention had begun to wander, heard a soft groan at her side. The seats which Freddie Rooke had bought were at the extreme end of the seventh row. There was only one other seat in the row, and, as Derek had placed his mother on his left and was sitting between her and Jill, the latter had this seat on her right. It had been empty at the rise of the curtain, but in the past few minutes a man had slipped silently into it. The darkness prevented Jill from seeing his face, but it was plain that he was suffering and her sympathy went out to him. His opinion of the play so obviously coincided with her own.
PRESENTLY the first act ended, and the lights went up. There was a spatter of insincere applause from the stalls, echoed in the dress-circle. It grew fainter in the upper circle, and did not reach the gallery at all.
"Well?” said Jill to Derek. “What do you think of it?”
"Too awful for word,” said Derek, sternly.
He leaned forward to join in the conversation which had started between Lady Underhill and some friends she had discovered in the seat in front, and Jill, turning, became aware that the man on her right was looking at her intently. He was a big man with rough, wiry hair and a humorous mouth. His age appeared to be somewhere in the middle twenties. Jill, in the brief moment in which their eyes met, decided that he was ugly, but with an ugliness that was rather attractive. He reminded her of one of those large, loose, shaggy dogs that break things in drawing-rooms but make admirable companions for the open road. She had a feeling that he would look better in tweeds in a field than in evening dress in a theatre. He had nice eyes. She could not distinguish their color, but they were frank and friendly.
All this Jill noted with her customary quickness, and then she looked away. For an instant she had had an odd feeling that somewhere she had met this man or somebody very like him before, but the impression vanished. She also had the impression that he was still looking at her, but she gazed demurely in front of her and did not attempt to verify the suspicion.
Between them, as they sat side by side, there inserted itself suddenly the pinkly remorseful face of Freddie Rooke. Freddie, having skirmished warily in the aisle until it was clear that Lady Underhill’s attention was engaged elsewhere, had occupied a seat in the row behind which had been left vacant temporarily by an owner who liked refreshment between the acts. Freddie was feeling deeply ashamed of himself. He felt that he had perpetrated a bloomer of no slight magnitude.
"I'm awfully sorry about this,” he said penitently. “I mean, roping you in to listen to this frightful tosh! When I think I might have got seats just as well for any one of half a dozen topping musical comedies, I feel like kicking myself with some vim. But, honestly, how was I to know? I never dreamed we were going to be let in for anything of this sort. Portwood’s plays are usually so dashed bright and snappy and all that. Can’t think what he was doing, putting on a thing like this. Why, it’s blue round the edges!”
The man on Jill’s right laughed sharply.
“Perhaps,” he said, “the chump who wrote the piece got away from the asylum long enough to put up the money to produce it.”
If there is one thing that startles the well-bred Londoner and throws him off his balance, it is to be addressed unexpectedly by a stranger. Freddie’s sense of decency was revolted. A voice from the tomb could hardly have shaken him more. All the traditions to which he had been brought up had gone to solidify his belief that this was one of the things which didn’t happen. Absolutely it wasn’t done. During an earthquake or a shipwreck and possibly on the day of Judgment, yes. But only then. At other times, unless they wanted a match or the time or something, chappies did not speak to fellows to whom they had not been introduced. He was far too amiable to snub the man, but to go on with this degrading scene was out of the question. There was nothing for it but flight.
“Oh, ah, yes,” he mumbled. “Well,” he added to Jill, “I suppose I may as well be toddling back. See you later and so forth.”
And with a faint “Good-bye-ee!” Freddie removed himself, thoroughly unnerved.
JILL looked out of the corner of her eye at Derek. He was still occupied with the people in front. She turned to the man on her right. She was not the slave to etiquette that Freddie was. She was much too interested in life to refrain from speaking to strangers.
“You shocked him!” she said, dimpling.
“Yes. It broke Freddie all up, didn’t it!”
It was Jill’s turn to be startled. She looked at him in astonishment.
“That was Freddie Rooke, wasn’t it? Surely I wasn’t mistaken?”
“But do you know him? He didn’t seem to know you.”
“These are life’s tragedies. He has forgotten me. My boyhood friend!”
“Oh, you were at school with him?”
“No. Freddie went to Winchester, if I remember. I was at Haileybury. Our acquaintance was confined to the holidays; My people lived near his people in Worcestershire.”
“Worcestershire!” Jill leaned forward excitedly. “But I used to live near Freddie in Worcestershire myself when I was small. I knew him there when he was a boy. We must have met!”
“We met all right.”
Jill wrinkled her forehead. That odd familiar look was in his eyes again. But memory failed to respond. She shook her head.
“I don’t remember you,” she said. “I’m sorry.’*'
"Never mind. Perhaps the recollection would have been painful.”
“How do you mean, painful?”
"Well, looking back, I can see that I must have been a very unpleasant child. I have always thought it greatly to the credit of my parents that they let me grow up. It would have been so easy to have dropped something heavy on me out of a window. They must have been tempted a hundred times, but they refrained. Yes, I was a great pest around the home. My only redeeming point was the way I worshipped you!”
“Oh, yes. You probably didn’t notice it at the time, for I had a curious way of expressing my adoration. But you remain the brightest memory of a checkered youth.”
Jill searched his face with grave eyes, then shook her head again.
“Nothing stirs?” asked the man sympathetically.
“It’s too maddening! Why does one forget things?” she reflected. “You aren’t Bobby Morrison?”
“I am not. What is more, I never was!”
JILL dived into the past once more and emerged with another possibility.
“Or Charlie—Charlie what was it?—Charlie Field?”
“You wound me! Have you forgotten that Charlie Field wore velvet Lord Fauntleroy suits and long golden curls? My past is not smirched with anything like that.”
“Would I remember your name if you told me?”
“I don’t know. I’ve forgotten your. Your surname, that is. Of course I remember that your Christian name was Jill. It has always seemed to me the prettiest monosyllable in the language.” He looked at her thoughtfully. “It’s odd how little you’ve altered in looks. Freddie’s just the same, too, only larger. And he didn’t wear an eye-glass in those days, though I can see he was bound to later on. And yet I’ve changed so much that you can’t place me. It shows what a wearing life I must have led. I feel like Rip Van Winkle—old and withered. But that may be just the result of watching this play.”
“It is pretty terrible, isn’t it!”
“Worse than that. Looking at it dispassionately, I find it the extreme, ragged, outermost edge of the limit. Freddie had the correct description of it. He’s a great critic.”
“I really do think it’s the worst thing I have ever seen.”
“I don’t know what plays you have seen, but I feel you’re right.”
“Perhaps the second act’s better,” said Jill optimistically.
“It’s worse. I know that sounds like boasting, but it’s true. I feel like getting up and making a public apology.”
Jill turned scarlet. A monstrous suspicion swept over her.
“The only trouble is,” went on her companion, “that the audience would undoubtedly lynch me. And, though it seems improbable just at the present moment, it may be that life holds some happiness for me that’s worth waiting for. Anyway, I’d rather not be torn limb from limb. A messy finish! I can just see them rending me asunder in a spasm of perfectly justifiable fury. ‘She loves me!’ Off comes a leg. ‘She loves me not!’ Off comes an arm. No, I think on the whole I’ll lie low. Besides, why should I care? Let ’em suffer! It’s their own fault. They would come!”
JILL had been trying to interrupt the harangue. She was greatly concerned.
“Did you write the play?”
The man nodded.
“You are quite right to speak in that horrified tone. But, between ourselves and on the understanding that you don’t get up and denounce me, I did.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry!”
“Not half so sorry as I am, believe me!”
“I mean, I wouldn’t have said....”
“Never mind. You didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know.” The lights began to go down. He rose. “Well, they’re off again. Perhaps you will excuse me? I don’t feel quite equal to assisting any longer at the wake. If you want something to occupy your mind during the next act, try to remember my name.”
He slid from his seat and disappeared. Jill clutched at Derek.
“Oh, Derek, it’s too awful. I’ve just been talking to the man who wrote this play, and I told him it was the worst thing I had ever seen.”
“Did you?” Derek snorted. “Well, it’s about time somebody told him!” A thought seemed to strike him. “Why, who is he? I didn’t know you knew him.”
“I don’t. I didn’t even know his name.”
“His name, according to the programme, is John Grant. Never heard of him before. Jill, I wish you would not talk to people you don’t know,” said Derek with a note of annoyance in his voice. “You can never tell who they are."
“Especially with my mother here. You must be more careful.”
THE curtain rose. Jill saw the stage mistily. From childhood up, she had never been able to cure herself of an unfortunate sensitiveness when sharply spoken to by those she loved. A rebuking world she could face with a stout heart, but there had always been just one or two people whose lightest word of censure could crush her. Her father had always had that effect on her, and now Derek had taken his place.
But if there had only been time to explain.... Derek could not object to her chatting with a friend of her childhood, even if she had completely forgotten him and did not remember his name even now. John Grant? Memory failed to produce any juvenile John Grant far her Inspection.
Puzzling over this problem, Jill missed much of the beginning of the second act. Hers was a detachment which the rest of the audience would gladly have shared. For the poetic drama, after a bad start, was now plunging into worse depths of dullness. The coughing had become almost continuous. The stalls, supported by the presence of large droves of Sir Chester’s personal friends, were struggling gallantly to maintain a semblance of interest, but the pit and gallery had plainly given up hope. The critic of a weekly paper of small circulation, who had been shoved up in the upper circle, grimly jotted down the phrase “apathetically received” on his program. He had come to the theatre that night in an aggrieved mood, for managers usually put him in the dress-circle. He got out his pencil again. Another phrase had occurred to him, admirable for the opening of his article. “At the Leicester Theatre,” he wrote, “where Sir Chester Portwood presented ‘Tried by Fire,’ dullness reigned supreme....”
But you never know. Call no evening dull till it is over. However uninteresting its early stages may have been, that night was to be as animated and exciting as any audience could desire—a night to be looked back to and talked about. For just as the critic of London Gossip wrote these damning words on his program, guiding his pencil uncertainly in the dark, a curious yet familiar odor stole over the house.
The stalls got it first, and sniffed. It rose to the dress-circle, and the dress-circle sniffed. Floating up, it smote the silent gallery. And, suddenly, coming to life with a single-minded abruptness, the gallery ceased to be silent.
Sir Chester Portwood, ploughing his way through a long speech, stopped and looked apprehensively over his shoulders. The girl with the lisp, who had been listening in a perfunctory manner to the long speech, screamed loudly. The voice of an unseen stage-hand called thunderously to an invisible “Bill” to “cummere quick.” And from the scenery on the prompt side there curled lazily across the stage a black wisp of smoke.
“Fire! Fire! Fire!”
“Just,” said a voice at Jill’s elbow, “what the play needed!”
The mysterious author was back in his seat again.
IN these days when the authorities who watch over the welfare of the community have taken the trouble to reiterate encouragingly in printed notices that a full house can be emptied in three minutes and that all an audience has to do in an emergency is to walk, not run, to the nearest exit, fire in the theatre has lost a good deal of its old-time terror. Yet it would be paltering with the truth to say that the audience which had assembled to witness the opening performance of the new play at the Leicester was entirely at its ease. The asbestos curtain was already on its way down, which should have been reassuring; but then asbestos curtains never look the part. To the lay eye they seem just the sort of thing that will blaze quickest. Moreover, it had not yet occurred to the man at the switchboard to turn up the house-lights, and the darkness was disconcerting.
Portions of the house were taking the thing better than other portions. Up in the gallery a vast activity was going on. The clatter of feet almost drowned the shouting. A moment before it would have seemed incredible that anything could have made the occupants of the gallery animated, but the instinct of self-preservation had put new life into them.
The stalls had not yet entirely lost their self-control. Alarm was in the air, but for the moment they hung on the razor-edge between panic and dignity. Panic urged them to do something sudden and energetic; dignity counselled them to wait. They, like the occupants of the gallery, greatly desired to be outside, but it was bad form to rush and jostle. The men were assisting the women into their cloaks, assuring them the while that it was “all right” and that they must not be frightened. But another curl of smoke had crept out just before the asbestos curtain completed its descent, and their words lacked the ring of conviction. The movement towards the exits had not yet become a stampede, but already those with seats nearest the stage had begun to feel that the more fortunate individuals near the doors were infernally slow in removing themselves.
Suddenly, as if by mutual inspiration, the composure of the stalls began to slip. Looking from above, one could have seen a sort of shudder run through the crowd. It was the effect of every member of that crowd starting to move a little more quickly.
A hand grasped Jill’s arm. It was a comforting hand, the hand of a man who had not lost his head. A pleasant voice backed up its message of reassurance.
“It’s no good getting into that mob. You might get hurt. There’s no danger. The play isn’t going on.”
Jill was shaken; but she had the fighting spirit and hated to show that she was shaken. Panic was knocking at the door of her soul, but dignity refused to be dislodged.
“All the same,” she said, smiling a difficult smile, “it would be nice to get out, wouldn’t it?”
“I, was just going to suggest something of that very sort,” said the man beside her. “The same thought occurred to me. We can stroll out quite comfortably by our own private route. Come along.”
Jill looked over her shoulder. Derek and Lady Underhill were merged into the mass of refugees. She could not see them. For an instant a little spasm of pique stung her at the thought that Derek had deserted her. She groped her way after her companion, and presently they came by way of a lower box to the iron pass-door leading to the stage.
As it opened, smoke blew through, and the smell of burning was formidable. Jill recoiled involuntarily.
“It’s all right,” said her companion. “It smells worse than it really is. And, anyway, this is the quickest way out.”
They passed through onto the stage, and found themselves in a world of noise and confusion compared with which the auditorium they had left had been a peaceful place. Smoke was everywhere. A stage-hand, carrying a bucket, lurched past them, bellowing. From somewhere out of sight on the other side of the stage there came a sound of chopping. Jill’s companion moved quickly to the switchboard, groped, found a handle, and turned it. In the narrow space between the corner of the proscenium and the edge of the asbestos curtain lights flashed up: and simultaneously there came a sudden diminution of the noise from the body of the house. The stalls, snatched from the intimidating spell of the darkness and able to see each other’s faces, discovered that they had been behaving indecorously and checked their struggling, a little ashamed of themselves. The relief would be only momentary, but, while it lasted, it postponed panic.
“Go straight across the stage,” Jill heard her comWork either. His activities ran the whole ■gamut of the paper distributing business. For the first year or two he hauled paper from the railroad yards to their diminutive ¡Warehouse all day long, dropped in at »light after a hurried supper and put up the ijrders that had come in during the day. The next day he would be out selling. At ®>e end of two years they realized that things had not gone very well. They j&thered around the desk in the little three foot square office and went over their affairs. When the thing was totalled up, it was discovered that they ‘ were worse off by about $1,200 than they had been two years before. Not an encouraging outlook after two years of the hardest kind of work, and it would he beyond human nature if A. E. Schofield had not looked with some degree of regret at the comfortable traveller’s salary that he had left to make this venture. However, after they had gone over everything and found just how unpromising the thing looked, they decided that there was yet hope, and that given time the hard work would bring its return. How well their faith and works were justified is an old story now in St. John, where the plant is one of the established industries.
Continued on Page 57
A Galaxy of Maritime Portraits
Continued from page 13
Aside from his recent appointment to the mayor’s chair Mr. Schofield has had a variety of outside interests. For instance he was chairman of the New Brunswick Patriotic Association ; and president of the Great War Veterans’ Building Committee, ¡that has built a splendid hail for the
Veterans in St. John which is rented to them at one dollar a year. He was chairman of the Loan Committee of the Farm Settlement Board, also Provincial chairman of the Food Board. He is also on the Management Committee of the Union Club, and is a past master of the Masonic Order. In addition he plays golf. In fact golf and the pleasant task of watching Ayrshire cattle put on the beef and brawn that means money might be described as bis two main diversions.
A Newspaper Man for Half a Century
XTOT infrequently a family and an ini' ’ dustry grow up together, not. so often a family and a newspaper, but the name of the Acadian Recorder, and the family name of Blackadar, have been almost a synonym in the public life of Nova Scotia for over a century.
The Acadian Recorder by reason of its long history is, and has been, a large factor in the life of Nova Scotia. In many of the old families of the province it has been a visitor for generations. It has its own systems of business and its own make-up and it has its staunch and loyal friends.
But behind the paper there is always the figure of a Blackadar with a hand very definitely on the helm, and through its instrumentality, a man who is not aggressively in the public eye still wields a distinct influence in the community.
The present head of the company is C. C. Blackadar, who has been in the office of the paper for 54 years, in fact since he was 14 years of age. His father had owned the paper before him, and his uncle before
He could set type when he was twelve years of age, and when he had to stand on a box to reach the case. He would come down to the office at 5 a.m. and work until 8 o’clock, when he went to school. When his father died at the comparatively early age of 55, young Blackadar, then fourteen years of age, left school and went definitely into the newspaper office, that was then in charge of his elder brother, who left the newspaper in 1874 to become postmaster of Halifax. Before taking over the entire charge of the newspaper on the departure of his brother, C. C. Blackadar had received a grounding that few newspaper men can claim to-day. Twelve hours a day for work was considered a modest working day and he enjoyed it.
Mr. Blackadar has seen great changes in the city of Halifax in the years that he has sat at the editorial desk of the Recorder. There is hardly a man around Halifax to-day who was there when he first entered the business. Conditions have changed and many another man would have been dismayed by these changes. Not so C. C. Blackadar. He continues to run his paper as he has done for over half a century. The paper is still set up by hand as in the old days. He is at the office every morning at 6.30 a.m. just as he used to be, and goes back to breakfast with a very considerable amount of work off his conscience. He is in absolute control of the paper and directs its editorial policy. ' There is not a line of editorial matter that goes into its pages that has not been read in proof by Mr. Blackadar himself, and he reads without the aid of glasses.
He has decidedly the courage of his convictions. In the last Federal election the Acadian Recorder was the only paper that opposed Union Government. He has the courage too to trust to his record for his living. The Recorder does not appeal either for business or for subscription. It is a decided force in its own circle and there it fears no competition.
.C. C. Blackadar is intimately associated with many of the activities of his native city. Being a director to him means something. He looks upon it as a trust and is present at every meeting, often at a considerable inconvenience to himself. He is a director of the Royal Bank ánd president of the Acadia Fire Insurance Company. But Mr. Blackadar’s activities have been chiefly of a philanthropic nature. Many years ago when as a young man he was doing reportorial work on the Recorder, he came across a number of cases where old men had died alone in the poor house. This fact made quite an impression on him, and he believed that it was only because people did not know, that such things were possible, and that if they were aware of the facts they would be glad to assist. Out of this idea has grown the Home for Aged Men, of which Mr. Blackadar is president. It was destroyed by fire once, and was only well in order again when the great Halifax explosion destroyed it once more. However, it is once again restored as a monument to the vigor and enthusiasm of its founder and president. In addition to this Mr. Blackadar is president of the Association for the Relief of the Poor, director of the Deaf and Dumb Institute and a director of the S.P.C.A. To all of these he gives a full measure of his attention and generous support.
The Champion of a Port
TTUPERT W. WIGMORE, Unionist 1V member for St. John-Albert, has made a decided place for himself in the life of his native city of St. John. Here he was born in 1872 and here he has lived his life. He started simply enough. They will tell you in St. John how Rupert Wigmore used to drive a milk wagon about the streets. Whether that is merely a flight of the imagination as a result of his later association, as manager, with the Sussex Milk and Cream Company, and the Sussex Milk and Butter Company, or whether it is a fact, is of interest but not of particular importance. What is important is that the association with these companies gave him a large acquaintanceship throughout the sections adjoining St. John. He made friends, not because he had any idea that these friends would be of value to him. He had no political aspirations, and made friends because that was his natural way. But anyway, there weren’t many people in Kings or St. John Counties who did not know the big, upstanding figure of
Rupert Wigmore, and who were not willing to bank on his initiative and judgment in matters of business.
But while he was making a place for himself in the surrounding counties, he was also developing a name for shrewd business judgment, for enterprise and progressiveness. As a result he wag elected an alderman of the city of St. John and remained in that office until the city adopted the Commission form of Government in 1912. In the election of that year there was a very closely fought campaign. There was a special Citizens Committee whose avowed policy was to remove from public office all those who had held office under the old Aldermanic system. It was not that there was any particular feeling against any of the Aldermen, but because they thought that in adopting the new system, it was better to cut clean from old traditions. So they campaigned heartily against Wigmore with the rest. Under the circumstances it looked as though all the old Aldermen had a very fair chance of returning to seclusion. Those who opposed his election, however, counted without reckoning his widespread circle of friends. In place of being ejected altogether Wigmore went in as one of the Commissioners in charge of the department of Water and Sewerage. His handling of that department put it into a very high state of efficiency, while he had provided for the future in plans laid out by one of the leading hydraulic engineers in Eastern America.
It was Mr. Wigmore’s personal popularity, combined with a very strong confidence in his good sense and judgment, that brought him into Parliament. During the Unionist convention in St. John in 1917, there was a considerable doubt as to who should be the candidate. It was at this convention that the spoken demand that Wigmore should make the fight, became so insistent that there could be no question that he was the man to contest the riding in the interests of the Unionist Cause.
The abandonment of a work and a cause to which he had given his best efforts and in which his heart was wrapped up, and the retirement from civic office, entailed considerable financial loss, but the crisis in the history of the country and the demand of the people,' representing all classes and creeds, was so insistent that Mr. Wigmore could hardly do other than accept, and on December 7th, 1917, he was elected to the House of Commons with an overwhelming majority. •
His initiative ability at organizing and faculty for successful achievement is evidenced in the record of a visit to St. John of a party of Parliamentarians for the purpose of viewing and determining on the ground the present needs and future requirements of the port of St. John. It will be recalled that not only were the visiting members convinced that Mr. Wigmore is correct in his contention that St. John deserves better of Canada than Canada has so far seen fit to mete out to the great port on the Atlantic, but the visitors asserted that Mr. Wigmore had demonstrated, during the tour of St. John that the city had made remarkable sacrifices of her own interests to build bigger and better waterfront facilities for the benefit of the nation’s inter-ocean traffic,
Mr. Wigmore has been strongly urged to again accept nomination for City Commissioner, but he has declined, feeling that he could be of greater benefit to the citizens and port of St. John by remaining! at Ottawa and using his every effort to have the Government bring down a prow gram of national development for thial port.
Mr. Wigmore has always been a devotee of sport of all kinds. Advancing years and growing responsibilities have shut him out from some of his favorite sports, but he ¡I still an ardent swimmer and boatman and an enthusiastic motorist. In his youni days Rupert Wigmore was an all-round athlete and was well known as an amateur champion bicycle rider in the meets throughout the Maritime Provinces.
Mr. Wigmore in January, 1918, entered into partnership with Thomas Nagle, lumber dealer, and the firm of Nagle & Wigmore, steamship agents and ship brokers, was established. The new firm has speedily become an important factoj In the business life of St. John.
VtWATUK WILLIAM DENNIS i ~ one of the outstanding figures of thi city of Halifax. As president and owne of the Herald and Mail, and Sundo Leader, he occupies a commanding posj tion. Moreover he has made the position himself. When he arrived from England a good many years ago he had a modest job in prospect and 50 cents in his pocket. The difference between that day and this is a matter of hard work and enthusiasm, and a widespread interest that has led him into many business ventures, some of which have left him the poorer, but in most cases his enthusiasm and interest have enabled him to pull through with at least a modest profit for himself.
William Dennis was born in Cornwall, England, in 1856, and at twelve years of age he was travelling for his uncle, one of the Parnells, the famous Bristol scale manufacturers. He was in Torquay one day, when he heard a man speak on the advantages of Canada as a land of opportunity for young men. It was Dr. Clay, who was representing the Canadian Government. A little later, seeing the Doctor on the street, he stopped him and asked if he had a job for him in Canada. Dr. Clay had to admit that he did not have one in mind at the moment.
“But wait a month or so,” he said, “and I’ll find something and write you.”
Young Dennis found a letter waiting for him a few months later, telling of a position as clerk in Truro, Nova Scotia. It was not a particularly brilliant opportunity, but Dennis saw beyond the immediate present to a possible future, and not so very long after he was in Truro ready to go to work, with a total remaining capital of 50 cents.
He continued to clerk at Truro for a few years, then went to Halifax and found a place on the staff of the Express, that is now known as the Herald, and is owned by the young English lad who sought a job there years ago.
Dennis was always a worker and he made good as a newspaperman. For a while he had dreams of the farther West, and was associated with Mr. Richardsom on the Winnipeg Tribune for a year, but he returned ter the Herald and has given to it and the Daily Mail his unceasing devotion ever since.
Let nobody think that Senator Dennis, even though his political duties call him to Ottawa, has ceased to have a very definite control of the policy of these papers. His life is centred in the office of tne Herald and Mail. When in the city he is at the office from 7.20 till 2 p.m., and even when in Ottawa he is in constant touch with the papers by telegraph.
It was a great grief to the Senator that his eldest son, just starting in the business when the war broke out, was killed at Vimy Ridge.
While Senator Dennis maintains a very definite control of his papers, the editors and men in his employ will tell you that the oversight is never obtrusive. The man who is set to serve the paper does so in his own way. Senator Dennis knows that newspapers have a way of gathering about them the loyalty of the men who serve them, and he is wise enough to let these men express that loyalty in the way that comes naturally to them. “You are in charge of this,” he says in effect, “go ahead and see what you can do with it.” That is his system, put a man on his own, and let him sink or swim, for he believes that the bulk of them will swim.
One man commenting on his outstanding characteristic, spoke of his amazing youthfulness of viewpoint. “He has an enthusiasm and a boyishness of outlook that often makes us feel like old men ourselves,” said one of the young members of his staff.
When a man is up in years, and when physical infirmities have laid their hands on him, you might expect that they would touch his mental viewpoint also. ■ But iiY Senator Dennis they have not. He is just, as free from the hampering bonds of tradi-' tion, just as vitally interested in everything, and just as keen as he was almost; half a century ago. -
This very eagerness and unconvention-! ality is one of the things that some people find it difficult to understand. He is ready to take an interest in almost anything, and if there is an opportunity anywhere he is ready to take a chance on it.. This characteristic has led him into a lot of surprising businesses, from meat markets to theatres, garages and nurseries. Wherever he sees a possibility of betterment he is, to use the phrase of one who knows and admires him,. “ready to take a flier,” He is not always successful in these ventures, but he is mainly so, and he is always able to put into the thing something that at least makes’it a better business.