Return to Golden Lane
In the beginning neither had much money, but that didn’t seem to matter
WHEN Joan Foster paid for her glass of milk and her two breakfast rolls she had left in her purse exactly one penny. In London, for that humble coin, one may ride a not inconsiderable way on the bus. The distance from where she breakfasted to Covent Garden is only a mile and a half by way of St. James Park, so Jean, having no idea where another penny was to come from, decided to walk. A beneficiary of that decision was the guardsman outside Buckingham Palace; for he saw a pretty face and a shapely ankle and holding himself as a soldier should he gave her the ‘eyesight’ as she passed by.
The art of acting can be highly remunerative. Often, however, as the down-at-heel actor treading the sidewalks of London, Paris and New York may tell you, it is the reverse. And in Golden Lane, a dismal thoroughfare inside the limits of Covent Garden, are a score of theatrical agencies where the names, addresses and photographs of ten thousand such actors and actresses are collected, alphabetically arranged and otherwise preserved in hideous, tome-like ledgers.
To these bazaars, pawnshops of the actor’s art, Miss Joan Foster was directing her steps in a final measure of perseverance before leaving the inevitable note on her bedroom bureau and walking to the Embankment to see the Thames—on a dark foggy night.
In the ordinary course of events her first call this morning would have been the emporium of one, Sol Lewis. Had she gone there Sol would have shaken his bald head at her through a little wicket and smiled expansively without uttering so much as a word. By accident she wandered into the wrong building—they are much alike in Golden Lane—and on her way up the stairs she spied a new and decorative name. On a frosted pane of glass, Thaddeus Darling, Literary and Theatrical Agent, invited her entrance.
Now the reason why she had treated herself to such a liberal breakfast was not so much because she hungered. She did; but she had also thought of the long walk ahead of her and the climbing of these and other stairs in Golden Lane. Months of privation, however, had taken toll of her stamina, and for several minutes Miss Foster had to lean against the wall before she found the strength 13 raise an arm and knock on Mr. Darling’s portal.
“The—door—is—open,” came a succinct voice from inside.
To the exacting profession of placing un-engaged Thespians in parts they might condescend to accept, Mr. Thaddeus Darling was a newcomer. He had dedicated himself to the problem for two reasons: despair of becoming a playwright, and a slight acquaintance—by nature of the continual rejection of his dramas—with every producer in town. In his appearance there was little to commend to arbiters of fashion. His tweed trousers needed pressing; the socks, tie and shirt were scandalously at variance in color and design; conspicuously, a button neglected his waistcoat; and his hair might advantageously have been combed back from his forehead. Still, he was a young man with wistful eyes and smooth, mildtempered face; a young man, lost, most of the time, in dreamy contemplation of trivialities. Some one had presented him with a flower, and in a thin vase on his desk it lay yellowed and dead, characteristic of the untidy state of the office and, in some way, enormously indicative of Mr. Thaddeus Darling’s extreme loneliness.
“Sit down, please.”
Miss Foster did so. Her skirt quite obviously had been shortened to meet the prevailing length and there had been considerable alteration in the matter of blouse and hat.This, it should be said, Mr. Thaddeus Darling did not discern. Now did he realize, as he eyed her dispassionately, that the crossed ankles hid a darn in her silk stockings.
All Mr. Darling observed was a young woman with very pale cheeks and very large gray eyes luminous either from hunger, ambition, fever, or belladonna. His limited knowledge of women prohibited a decision on the point.
“Miss—Miss-“-?” he began.
“Miss Foster. Miss Joan Foster.”
He bowed politely. “Yes—yes,” he mused as though the name was familiar to him. “Now let me see, Miss Foster. You were last with—?”
She put all she had into a little smile. “I haven’t done anything for some time, now,” she equivocated. “The doctors said I needed a rest. I toured in ‘The Enchanted Cottage.’ We closed in Bristol after playing fifteen weeks.” “Yes. What did you do in the Pinero thing?”
“I—I played the lead—the last two nights.”
Mr. Darling favored that distinction with another polite bow.
“And what London engagements?” he enquired.
“I’ve—I’ve not appeared in town—yet. But I played with Byron Davis in a summer repertory of Shaw’s plays. At Scarborough. I played Ann in ‘Man and Superman’.” “Merely province work, then?”
“That’s all.” Miss Foster’s tone had fallen.
The agent’s expression became preoccupied. “The road companies all report poor business,” he regretted. “Yes—I know. I’ve tried—and tried—”
For the first time he looked at her with a degree of human interest. “How long,” he asked, “have you been disengaged?”
“About six months.”
This caused Mr. Thaddeus Darling to instantly transfer his attention to the point of his lead pencil. “I’m sorry,” he said to that inoffensive article, “I have nothing to offer you at present. I expect, however, to have the casting of a new play before long.” Throwing the pencil on his blotter he attempted to convey his indifference to the consequences attending the unfulfillment of that expectation. “It has been promised me. By Maurice Lowden. If you haven’t found anything in the meantime I shall be very glad to hear from you—say in about a month or'six weeks.” He rose, intimating he could no longer permit Miss Foster to take up his valuable time.
“Thank you,” said Joan, scarcely above a whisper.
“If you will leave your address—”
“I’ll call again.” There was something tragic in the way she rose and moved toward the door.
Watching her, Thaddeus Darling was suddenly attacked by a spasm of additional interest that, to his su-prise, settled in his heart. “Just a moment,” he called. “Permit me to ask something personal. When did you last get a square meal?”
A faint bit of color in her cheeks manifested an objee-
tion to the question. The sweep of her lashes hid the tell-tale eyes.
All at once Thaddeus Darling was conscious that a certain responsibility had thrust itself before him in the figure of this graceful and pathetic young woman. In fact, his last play—the third and equally unsuccessful vehicle of its kind—directly dealt with a similar person seeking the end of her worries in the muddy bosom of the Thames.
“If you could only hold out a little longer,” he heard himself saying.
“I don’t think I can,” she said very slowly.
Her doubt played the devil with him. For a moment he appeared absorbed in the fold of his baggy trousers, then he said, somewhat lugubriously: “I need a typist here—a sort of secretary. I couldn’t afford to pay much—to start. I believe I can get you an engagement sooner or later, and this might help out for a while.”
“I’ll take anything—anything you can offer me.”
“Do you know how to use a typewriter?”
Her lashes came up. “I learn very quickly. I could pick it up in no time, I’m sure.”
“Urn,” said Thaddeus Darling, biting his lip. On his brow a few lines appeared in disapproval of his proposed benevolence. But in tfie gray eyes awaiting his verdict lay a world of anxiety. They were saying, ‘Please—oh, please—if you possibly can’, or something of that sort. The indifference to hard-luck stories with which Mr. Thaddeus Darling had determinedly armed himself when he set up as theatrical agent, slowly but surely deserted him. He said, a little miserably:
“The salary will be about—about twenty shillings a week. If you can manage on that—”
murmured Joan and before he could reach her she collapsed to the floor.
THERE is a generally-accepted notion that theatrical agents, like their cousins in the various literary dispensaries, are a spider lot, waxing fat at the expense of struggling artists.
Possibly in some instances, this may be true enough; but amongst such opulent gentry Mr. Thaddeus Darling shall not be included. From the few actors and actresses he had fortuitously placed he was in receipt of commissions amounting to three pounds a week; sometimes more, sometimes less. Out of that he had to pay office and room-rent, the weekly installment for furniture, buy meals and settle with the laundry man.
So that following the embarrassment of carrying an unconscious young woman to the sofa and there bringing back to life someone to whom he had promised one-third of his weekly income, Mr. Thaddeus Darling fled to the nearest tavern in order to stimulate himself with a glass of ale. It may sound strange to other theatrical agents, indeed they may think it false, but the fact remains it was the first time Tad Darling had held a woman in his arms.
After visiting a few offices he went to the small, Soho restaurant where he regularly lunched. Tad might have lunched less expensively, but he was a young gentleman with a taste for whitebait and here it was crisply served along with three other courses all for the price of one shilling.
“A bob!” Tad would say to his friends, “and twopence for a tip.
Damn good whitebait, too.”
Figuring out on the table-cloth what would remain for tobacco and theatre after he had paid his newlyhired secretary her weekly wage, he reviewed the residue with a dolorous countenance; and giving the lady plenty of time in which to recover from her indisposition Tad lit his pipe and began to ponder on the way any means of adding to his income. At three o’clock the hopelessness of finding a solution satisfied his curiosity, so he meandered back to his office.
Miss Foster was seated at the typewriter in solemn contemplation of its intricacies. As her employer entered she did her best to smile.
“Feeling better?” he inquired.
“Yes, thank you. And—and I’m sorry I put you to all that trouble.”
That loving-kindness Tad Da'ling
dismissed with a motion of his hand. He yanked off his overcoat, the lining in the sleeve ripping noisily. “Any messages—telephone calls or anything?”
“Yes,” said Joan. “Mr. Lowden wanted you to send him a juvenile, immediately.”
Tad’s heart sank as though it were made of lead. “Jumping Jupiter!” he exclaimed. “What time did he call?”
“About half-past one.”
He groaned. “Just my rotten luck,” he said to his baggy trousers.
Joan Foster hesitated. “I looked up the photographs,” she said very quietly, “and saw that you had made a pencil note against a young man named Townsley. So I ’phoned him and told him to go over and see Mr. Lowden without delay.
Her voice was very faint. “He just called,” she said, “to tell me they engaged him.”
Tad Darling could only gaze at her in wonder. Then he released a nervous laugh. “He did, eh? That is you— you looked up the photographs and —and—Well, for a beginner you’re doing pretty well. You say Lowden called about one-thirty—?” He stopped and studied her. “Didn’t you go out to lunch?”
“I—I didn’t feel very hungry to-day,” she said.
Tad nodded. From a lower drawer in his desk he produced a tin-box. “This, Miss Foster, is our strong-box.” Joan perceived that a blow from a burglar’s fist would demolish it.
“I keep the more important contracts and documents in here, and money for office expenses.” With great seriousness he proceeded to unlock the absurd catch. ‘I’ll get you a duplicate key; also one for the office door.” From a tray inside the box he took a note of currency and some silver. “I suppose this isn’t usual,” he confessed; ‘but, at least, my methods are my own. Miss Foster, I am giving you your week’s wages in advance.”
“It is very kind—”
“Nonsense. Paid at the begin-
ning of the week instead of the end, that’s all. There’s a little restaurant round the corner. The Petit Souris. Not an encouraging name for a restaurant, but you can get some awfully good whitebait there. Don’t stay too long.
I want to explain your duties for to-morrow.”
Joan put the money in her purse. As she put on her hat and went down the stairs Thaddeus Darling heard sounds suspiciously like sobs. He wanted none of that sort of thing! In fact he would positively discharge Miss Foster if, from now, he heard so much as a sniff.
She had, he discovered, been amazingly busy during his absence. At first this pleased him, but when he couldn’t lay his hands on the expense-account book he began to swear. And what the devil did she mean by leaving that old flower in front of him! On the cleared desk its condition of deadness was disturbingly conspicuous. Tad plucked it out of the base and with prodigious disgust threw it into the waste-basket. Jumping Jupiter! the woman had arranged the photographs differently! And what had happened to the correspondence and things that had lain on his desk? He stared at the vase, puffed furiously at his pipe, and was in a fine mood when Miss Foster returned.
“Now, look here,” he commenced instantly; “you’ve turned the place upside-down. What’s become of all that correspondence lying here?” On a desk that had not been so tidy since the day it was delivered Thaddeus Darling banged a delicate hand with an immense amount of force.
Into Joan Foster’s remarkable eyes had come a little happiness. “I put all the letters from managers and producers in this drawer,” she explained softly. “Dated and arranged. Letters from clients I put in this drawer. All you have to do if you want to find—”
“I don’t want to find. I want the damn things where I leave them.”
“It will save you a lot of time, Mr. Darling.”
“I know all about that,” he sc-.id, testily. “The point is this, Miss Foster. Do you intend to turn this office insideout?”
“Then where the devil is my expense-account beck?”
“Here, Mr. Darling.” She touched an improvised shelf where the ledger-books were easily at hand.
He folded his arms and glar.ed at her. “Who on earth would ever think of looking for it up there?” he demanded in a rising tone. For that his secretary appeared to have no answer, so he took down the required tome and began to study it with a concentration that was almost voracious.
A knock on the door preceded the entrance of a little old man with eyes like lead-bullets. Joan promptly asked him his business.
“Stoddard and Kindsley,” he piped. “Installment on office furniture. Five bob.”
Thaddeus Darling glanced up from his ledger. “Why didn’t you come here yesterday?” he wanted to know, going through the negligible procedure of feeling in his pockets.
“I was here, all right. Day before, too. Nobody
“All right. Come round next week. Good afternoon. Show the gentleman out, Miss Foster.’ The lead-bullets slowly revolved in their sockets. “You know the rules of the firm, Mr. Darling.”
The ledger was closed with a tremendous report. “No I don’t know the rules of the firm, and I don’t want to know the rules of the firm. I’ll pay you w'hen I can, and if that’s not enough you can take ycur rotten furniture and be hanged to you!”
Joan had quietly opened the strong-box and placed a ten-shilling note into the tray. “Shall I pay him out of the office money, Mr. Darling?”
“What office money? If there’s an extra shilling in this place I haven’t traced to its lair tell me where it is.” Following her gaze he saw' what she meant. “Yes, Miss Foster. Get a receipt from the old octopus, w’ill you? Then kick him down stairs.” But his tone was gentler when the collector had gone. “Thank you.” Miss Foster,” he said. “I’ll let you have that back in the morning.”
“It will be quite all right the end of the week,” she told him, returning to battle with the mysteries of the typewriter.
TV /f ODEST though it was, the change of fortune soon had a beneficial effect on Joan. She shopped parsimoniously; nimble fingers replenishing her wardrobe. If Thaddeus Darling noticed the gradual change in the complexion, mode and Continued on page 54
Continued from page 13
general deportment of his secretary he did not say so. Indeed, he seemed less conscious of her at the end of a month than he had the morning she had fainted. True, he permitted her arrangement of correspondence and ledger to remain and made no objection to the several improvements she had inculcated in the office; curtains on the window, fresh flowers daily in the vase on his desk, the introduction into the menage of a featherduster. Still, toward Joan’s concern for his welfare he presented a steady indifference.
More intimately, during his absence, Joan repaired the lining of his overcoat, also the loop it was supposed to hang by, and she matched and sewed on a large bone button. The purpose of the loop Tad Darling continued to ignore, for he still threw the coat carelessly over the peg. Anyway, Joan was more or less repaid, since it no longer protruded out against the back of his collar.
She didn’t object to her employer’s impersonal attitude toward her—in fact she rather liked it—but she was just a little disappointed when, after many weeks, he had placed three clients in fairly responsible parts, any of which she might have played successfully. Thankful for his initial kindness, Joan didn’t remind him that she was looking for a part in a theatrical production. But she quietly inserted her two best photographs in the file marked LEADING WOMEN.
Now that branch of Mr. Thaddeus Darling’s agency devoted to the placing of manuscripts was not considered active. The only short stories in his possession were his own, and ultimately he hit on the idea of seeding them out all under fictitious names with a typed precaution on the title-page. ‘Return to 19 Golden Lane’. Return they did. Not one strayed from the fold. They came back with monotonous and irritating regularity.
Charged with the task of tabulating their adventures, Joan came across the three plays with which Thaddeus Darling had made his bid for dramatic fame. Unobtrusively, she read them. The two earlier ones showed technique and construction, but offered little in the way of theatre. The third, a play in three acts called ‘The Defence of Mrs. Vane,’ gripped her. The situation of the heroine struggling to avoid the ignominy of surrender found its echo in her own experience. The author had handled a difficult theme with skill; the lines were real, the scenes vital. The play had a force, a power, that would project over the footlights.
Joan was re-reading the first act when her employer came in. The excitement of the play had crept into her eyes. “I’ve just finished reading this play of yours, Mr.Darling.'The Defence of Mrs. Vane.’”
“Yes.” To her amazement he actually hung up his overcoat by its loop. Promptly, it broke. “Damn the thing,” said Tad. “Never saw one that was any good.” He pitched the coat over a peg. “What did you think of the play?” he asked casually.
“Wonderful. It’s a wonderful piece of work.”
“Well, I’ll tell you this,” said Tad. “Not a manager in this city of ours agrees with you. Shove the thing in a drawer, Miss Foster. It makes me sick even to see it.”
Condoning his manner of speech and regarding him with her soft gray eyes Joan Foster suddenly realized that her regard for her employer had grown alarmingly. “I'd love to play the part,” she said.
Tad was dreamily contemplating the post-mark on a torn envelope. “The part of Mrs. Vane, you mean?”
“The girl who plays Mrs. Vane,” he said cajfjjjy, “must possess a tremendous personauty in addition to bein^ extremely
beautiful. Gladys Cooper’s the one for that.”
Joan had blushed to the roots of her hair. “Yes, of course,” she said. “Gladys Cooper would play it marvellously. Why —why don’t you let her read it?”
Tad laughed. “Pitch it out of the window,” he said. “Oh, by the way. Do another title page for this story. Call it ‘The Wandering Sheep’. It deserves that title by this time. And switch the author’s name around. Now it’s John Davis. Make it Davis John. Let’s see if that will help.”
“And ‘Return to 19 Golden Lane’ in the upper left-hand corner?” she suggested
“No,” said Tad. “Leave that out. The damn thing will find its way back here without need of that shepherd.”
The door, burst open to display an elaborately-dressed, attractive young woman. Standing there, supremely confident of the effect she created, she held her engaging smile a trifle too long.
“Hallo, Fay,” cried Tad. “Sunshine now brightens the gloom of the miserable hovel! Come in, Fay.”
“Well, how’s the little Tad-pole?” she inquired, making a magnificent entrance and sitting down on the sofa to cross her legs and automatically produce the gold cigarette case.
“I’m fine, Fay. Permit me. This is Miss Foster.” And Joan never forgave him for adding : “My secretary.” He then completed the introduction. “Miss Richmond.”
Fay gave the secretary the merest courtesy of a glance before proceeding with the lighting of her gold-tipped cigarette. “Tad!” she announced, blowing out an impudent stream of smoke, “I’ve got to get something right away. What have you?”
Thaddeus Darling remained unperturbed. He even smiled. “Maurice Lowden has a play in rehearsal,” he told her. “They’re not satisfied with the girl playing second lead. It’s a good part, Fay, and one that will suit you down to the ground.”
“Well?” said Miss Richmond.
“I spoke to Lowden about you, and they’re going to decide either to-day or to-morrow. The best of it is the show opens in town.”
This good news failed to disturb the serenity of Miss Fay Richmond’s charming features. “What’s it pay, Tad?” she asked coolly.
“About twenty pounds. But don’t say anything to anyone yet, Fay. I’ve been saving it for you.”
“Mum’s the word, dearest. Well, how’s
“Rotten.” He started to recite his worries. From behind her typewriter, Joan regarded the favored lady. An impartial critic would have judged them remarkably alike in the matter of profile and build. But a certain quality of voice, a charm of manner, belonged to Miss Foster, and the clarity of her gray eyes suggested sincerity and truthfulness; something the brown orbs of Miss Richmond lacked.
In the midst of Tad’s tale of woe, Fay rose and squashed her cigarette on the table. “All right, dearest,” she concluded for him. “Take me out. Many’s the shilling I’ve paid into your coffers, so you ought to lunch me once in a while.”
“Delighted. The trouble is I’ve a little matter to attend to—”
“Tiddly-winks!” she sparkled. “Come on. I hate an agent’s office. It reminds me I’m flat broke.” She seized his hand and dragged him off his chair.
Her smile, thought Joan, was quite attractive. She carried herself well and gave the impression of being supplied with inexhaustible animation. Thaddeus Darling, for all his financial embarrassments, appeared flattered by her attenConlinued on page 58
Continued from page 54 tion. “Righto, Fay,” he said, reaching for his overcoat, which he wore on each and every occasion. “I know a little place round the corner where we can get some delightful whitebait.”
“Then, let’s go.” And with a tolerant nod to Joan, Miss Richmond preceded her escort down the stairs.
Tad, however, still lingered. “Miss Foster,” he began awkwardly, brushing the dust off his shoes with the bottom of his overcoat, “there isn’t anything in the—the tray, is there?”
Joan went innocently enough to the strong-box, and seemed surprised to discover money there. “Five shillings,” she announced.
He favored his secretary with a glance that told her he understood perfectly but wished to avoid the shame of thanking her. All at once his face became suffused with crimson, and taking the money he hurried out of the office, the loop of his overcoat saliently projecting above his collar.
Joan sat down and gazed out of the window. Tad’s attitude toward Miss Richmond had been very cordial. It seemed a little unfair that he continued to place other girls and made no effort to do anything for her. Had he forgotten she was an actress? Had he grown accustomed to think of her solely as a typist? She clenched her hands until the skin over the knuckles whitened. If Miss Richmond could play the part in the Lowden production, she, Joan Foster, could play it better. All she wanted was a chance here in London, and then—
The ringing of the telephone bell brought her to a realization of her duties, and she picked up the receiver.
“Mr. Darling, please,” came a voice.
Joan supplied the information that Mr. Darling was not in the office.
“That’s unfortunate,” said the voice “for Mr. Darling. This is Maurice Lowden.” Joan’s heart gave a leap. “I want him to send that Miss Richmond round here at once. There are two other applicants; but I promised Darling—”
“I’ll try and find him for you,” said Joan excitedly. “I think I know where he is.”
“Tell him he’ll need to rush the lady over here immediately.”
Putting on her hat Joan ran to the Petit Souris. To her dismay there was no sign either of her employer or Miss Richmond. She tried other restaurants in the vicinity without success. Quite evidently the lady had protested against the inelegance of Soho cuisine and had led Tad to the more elaborate salons of Shaftesbury Avenue. In doing so she was in danger of sacrificing the chance of a London engagement.
Joan turned back to the office. There she sat down, wondering what she had better do. By placing Miss Richmond, Tad would add something to his income. But the time was passing and—! Suddenly, she was fully resolved. Rising, she quickly combed her hair, powdered her nose and chin, and put the right amount of rouge on her lips, then hurried down the stairs and sped in the direction of the Shaftesbury Theatre. On the way she stopped to spend her last few shillings for a vivid scarf, which she wound about her neck so ingeniously that the small mouth of the sales-woman remained open in admiration of the effect.
A large, heavy-jowled man met her back-stage. “You from the Darling Agency?” he asked.
Joan said she was. She knew that Maurice Lowden had not actually seen Miss Richmond. A script was handed her, and with a modicum of instruction in the business she found herself on the stage reading the lines. Several times she faltered. Twice she walked right through an imaginary bed instead of around it. But in the eagle eye of the producer she thought she detected the sign of approval.
This was confirmed at the conclusion of the act. The impresario in the stalls
was plainly delighted; author and leading man offered their congratulation. “That,’ said the director, “completes the cast. “Miss Richmond, we would like you to sign the contract immediately. The salary for the part is twenty pounds a week.” Pen, ink and the necessary document were brought forward, and the young lady with whom they were finally and happily satisfied signed her name, Joan Foster.
“But, wait a moment!” exclaimed the heavy-jowled Maurice Lowden. “What’s all this?”
“My name,” said Joan.
“Yes, but—but Mr. Darling promised to send Miss Richmond here. He vouched for her experience, you see, and I’m afraid—afraid—she was promised—promised the part.” He was panting with consternation. “I’m sorry, Miss Foster, but—but—”
“You find me suited to the part, don’t you, Mr. Lowden?”
“I know; I know. But you came here —here—under misrepresentation. That sort of thing,” he puffed “is not very acceptable to this—to this—management, Miss Foster.”
“I didn’t misrepresent myself,” retaliated Joan. “You merely asked me if I came from Mr. Darling’s office, and I said I did. Which is true.”
The elderly, distinguished-looking man who had sat in the stalls now intruded his presence into the conference. While Mr. Lowden explained the situation to him, his eyes dwelt sympathetically on Joan.
“What experience have you had, my dear?”
She told him.
“There’s no better school of acting than what is called ‘the provinces’, much as we people here in London pretend to despise it. And your work shows me you have the qualities of a great actress.” He made her a courtly bow. “Miss Foster, I want you in the play. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Rehearsal at eight o’clock this evening.”
TN THE office in Golden Lane a tense committee of two waited her return. Maurice Lowden had phoned to acquaint them of the management’s decision. Miss Miss Richmond’s eyes were pin-pricks of animosity, and as Joan came in she sprang to her feet with intent to kill. Tad, however, manifested a show of defence in the interest of his secretary.
“If you please, Fay,” he admonished; then slowly turned on his heel. “Miss Foster,” he said very curtly., “I shall be glad of an explanation.”
“I wonder,” broke in Miss Richmond, in her sweetest tones, “if Miss Foster has any idea what is meant by —cheat, fraud, treachery—?”
Miss Richmond stamped her foot. “How dare you stop me telling this creature what I think of her!” she shouted, her eyes blazing. “She’s nothing but an under-handed little rat who—”
“Quiet!” Thaddeus Darling simply fired the word at her. “I will not permit you to vilify Miss Foster in my office.” “Oh!” With miraculous ease, Miss Richmond lapsed into a purring tone. “Oh, you won’t permit it, eh? Very well, Mr. Love-bird. My services, which I believe you told me were necessary to you, are here and now withdrawn. Take my name,” she said, narrowing her eyes, “from your books, and return my photographs.” In a superb display of languid contempt, she went to the door, opened it, and faced her principal tormentor. “As for you!” she said; “you wretched little viper—!”
The pane of frosted glass on the office door was horribly shattered with Miss Fay Richmond’s vehement exit, and when the tinkle of falling pieces had subsided Thaddeus Darling dropped into a chair and, with a handkerchief that should have been in the laundry-bag, mopped his brow.
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“What a terrible female,” he managed to say.
Joan came softly round to him. “I’m awfully sorry,” she began.
This commiseration brought her former employer to a position more commendable with authority. “I don’t want to hear any more,” he informed her. “You are discharged, Miss Foster. That’s all I have to say to you. Except,” he added, a little lamely, “to—er—wish you luck. ..”
A lump rose in Joan’s throat. “This might not have happened,” she said painfully, “had you not forgotten why I came here in the first place.”
“I hadn’t forgotten, Miss Foster. But the truth is you’ve been so—so useful to me here that I—”
“That’s just what I mean,” said Joan. “Of course, I know if it hadn’t been for you—”
He raised a protesting hand. “Spare me that—please.”
“And there will be the commission you,” she put forward. “They are payin me twenty pounds a week, and—” Tears, she felt, were hovering on her lashes. “It’s been a long, long time since I—”
“Commission?” he repeated angrily, and got to his feet. “You don’t have to pay me any commission, Miss Foster. You know that. I wouldn’t accept it. Wouldn’t touch it. You got the part. Í didn’t get it for you. Keep your money. You’re fully entitled to it.” He was ripping out his words in a cold intensity. “And there’s a little matter of five shillings I owe you—”
“Tad, please—don’t—don’t . .”
At her out-stretched hand, the expression in her eyes, Thaddeus Darling could only gape in wonderment. Then, grabbing his hat he strode out of the room as though the devil were behind him. “Glad you got the part,” he called, as he went down the stairs.
' I 'HE end of her first week, Joan sent him the regular commission together with the newspaper clippings. She felt he had probably seen them in the morning and evening editions; still she sent them along in case he had not. The check for his commission came back, with an additional postal-order for five shillings. The clippings were retained.
As time went on she tried to argue herself out of caring for him. But just when she thought she had succeeded, the image of Thaddeus Darling, with his absentmindedness, his loop-showing overcoat, his love for white-bait, his latent literary ability, his loneliness, flashed backintoher consciousness until she ached to see him. Once, she actually started out for his office, but at the last moment her courage deserted her and she decided, instead, to call him by telephone. She couldn’t even do that.
The play she was in ran steadily, and one Friday and Saturday afternoon, owing to the indisposition of the star, she was called upon to take the lead. From then on, more than one manager sought her services, and, at length, she signed a contract to appear under Mr. Fortescue’s management at a substantial increase in salary, her name to appear outside the theatre.
“Just as soon as I have the play for you,” said Mr. Fortescue, toasting her in champagne before the contractual ink of her signature was yet dry.
The more she thought of it the more she became convinced that Tad’s play would suit Mr. Fortescue. According, however, to the list of managers who had read it, that gentleman had already formally rejected the three-act drama. So without mentioning the name of the author Joan outlined the plot to him one late afternoon in the lobby of his beautiful theatre on Pall Mall. To her delight, Mr. Fortescue said it was just the type of play he wanted. She promised to bring him the manuscript as early as possible.
The next morning she ran up the fami-
liar stairs and with much the same agitation and anxiety as on a former occasion she rapped on a frosted pane of .glass decorated with the name of Thaddeus Darling. There was no reply. Finding the door open and feeling extremely annoyed with herself for being so nervous, Joan walked in.
The office was deserted. Mr. Darling’s desk once again was burdened with a jumbled mass of correspondence, so littered with ledgers, ash-trays, photographs and papers that Joan positively shivered. His overcoat hung over the peg. Two buttons, she saw, were missing.
On the window-ledge, conservatively framed and isolated, stood her own photograph. Perhaps it wasn’t a very definite sign of Mr. Darling’s regard for her, yet JoanFosterwasstrangelyaffected. She touched his overcoat with tender fingers, went to the drawer containing his manuscripts, selected the three-act play and wrote a short note saying she had called and was disappointed not to find him in. She made no mention of taking the play.
It was several days later before Mr. Fortescue was ready to deliver his judgment. By that time he had three times read a play called ‘The Defence of Mrs. Vane,’ written by an unmarried author. For Joan had taken the precaution to eliminate the playwright’s name.
“This,” said the well-known manager, “is a profound bit of work. Not only will I produce it, but I’ll produce it at once. And I want you, my dear, to play the part of Mrs. Vane.”
“Oh!” said Joan.
He beamed on her. “And now,” he said, “I think I have a right to hear the name of the author.”
“I’ll bring him round to you,” said Joan, rising on the tips of her toes and kissing a surprised Mr. Fortescue on the cheek.
“To-night, if you please; after the theatre.”
She hurried out and went to the nearest telephone. If Mr. Thaddeus Darling was in his office he did not care to answer the call. On her way to the theatre, after her dinner, Joan called again. There was no answer. Before going on stage she sent a messenger with a note. The boy brought it back and reported that Mr. Darling’s office was closed for the night.
From the Shaftesbury Theatre to Golden Lane is a short though exceedingly devious route. Joan first though* of taking a taxi, then decided she could make better time on foot. She knew that Tad sometimes worked late in his office, for during her secretarial days she had seen tobacco ash and burnt matches piled high in the trays when she opened the door at nine in the morning. In fact she suspected he sometimes slept in his office getting out before she arrived.
The district into which she walked was not regarded a desirable locality at night. Golden Lane was shadowy, lonely as a grave-yard. Not a speck of light showed in any of the office-windows. Joan regretted she had not taken a taxi.
The entrance to the building in which Mr. Thaddeus Darling had his agency was open and lit by a dim and solitary hall-light. The stairs ran up into darkness and gloom. Joan, her heart beating alarmingly, went up with forced determination, felt her way round the first landing, and continued up the second flight. Unable to see a thing, she groped for the well-remembered door and knocked on the glass panel. The sound echoed ominously. She knocked again, this time a little louder.
Then, sending an icy chill down her spine, a fearful thing happened. She distinctly heard footsteps coming up the stairs! They were heavy and shuffling; the footsteps of a tramp, desperate with hunger; a ruffian shunned by society; a man who would stop at nothing. She heard him shambling round the landing and begin, horribly, to come up the Continued on page 62
Continued from page 60 second flight. In a panic, Joan pounded with both fists on Mr. Darling’s locked door.
“Tad! Tad!” she screamed.
“I’m coming,” said a calm voice on the stairs. “What is it?”
“O-o-oh,” murmured Joan, her knees knocking together. “Is—is that y-you, Tad?”
“That’s who it is,” he assured her. “Nobody but me would climb up to this attic at night.”
In the dark she felt for his hand and gripped it tight. “I n-nearly died,” she stammered. “I never thought it was y-you.”
“I’ve just followed you from the theatre,” said Tad. “As a matter of fact I’ve followed you every night you condescended to go home either by bus or on foot. Most times you treated yourself to a taxi. That I couldn’t very well afford; but I had the satisfaction of knowing you were safe, anyway.”
“You mean you’ve followed me—?”
“Certainly. I realized the day you first came into my office that someone had to look after you.”
They still stood there, holding hands, unable to see each other.
“Now it’s my turn,” said Tad. “What are you doing here at this hour?”
“Mr. Fortescue,” said Joan very excitedly, “is going to produce your play; the one I took from your office the day I called. ‘The Defence of Mrs. Vane.’ I thought I wouldn’t tell you I had taken it, in case Mr. Fortescue—”
“What!” he cried. “Why that old monkey rejected it.”
“He’s going to produce it at once,” she told him. “And I’m to play Mrs. Vane.” The tremor that ran through Thaddeus Darling’s lean frame passed on to Joan by way of his finger-tips. “Jumping Jupiter!’ he said gravely. “That needs commemorating, doesn’t it?”
He had come very near her. “Yes,” said Joan.
“That place where they serve whitebait is closed,” he explained. “But I know another little restaurant where—”
“Oh, no. We can’t. I promised Mr. Fortescue I’d bring you round to his office at once. We must go immediately. That’s why—that’s why I came here— you see.’* She laughed a little nervously. “I k-keep returning to Golden Lane,” she said, “like your manuscripts; and— and—”
To his enormous amazement she was suddenly in his arms and despite the dark he had no difficulty in finding and kissing the soft, trembling lips.
“Why, Tad! darling! ...” she objected.