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A Man of Means - The Episode of the Theatrical Venture

1. The Episode of the Landlady's Daughter

2. The Episode of the Financial Napoleon

3. The Episode of the Theatrical Venture

4. The Episode of the Live Weekly

5. The Diverting Episode of the Exiled Monarch

6. The Episode of the Hired Past


Third of a Series of Six Stories
[First published in _Pictorial Review_, July 1916]

It was one of those hard, nubbly rolls. The best restaurants charge you
sixpence for having the good sense not to eat them. It hit Roland Bleke
with considerable vehemence on the bridge of the nose. For the moment
Roland fancied that the roof of the Regent Grill-room must have fallen
in; and, as this would automatically put an end to the party, he was
not altogether sorry. He had never been to a theatrical supper-party
before, and within five minutes of his arrival at the present one he
had become afflicted with an intense desire never to go to a theatrical
supper-party again. To be a success at these gay gatherings one must
possess dash; and Roland, whatever his other sterling qualities, was a
little short of dash.

The young man on the other side of the table was quite nice about it.
While not actually apologizing, he went so far as to explain that it
was "old Gerry" whom he had had in his mind when he started the roll on
its course. After a glance at old Gerry--a chinless child of about
nineteen--Roland felt that it would be churlish to be angry with a
young man whose intentions had been so wholly admirable. Old Gerry had
one of those faces in which any alteration, even the comparatively
limited one which a roll would be capable of producing, was bound to be
for the better. He smiled a sickly smile and said that it didn't

The charming creature who sat on his assailant's left, however, took a
more serious view of the situation.

"Sidney, you make me tired," she said severely. "If I had thought you
didn't know how to act like a gentleman I wouldn't have come here with
you. Go away somewhere and throw bread at yourself, and ask Mr. Bleke
to come and sit by me. I want to talk to him."

That was Roland's first introduction to Miss Billy Verepoint.

"I've been wanting to have a chat with you all the evening, Mr. Bleke,"
she said, as Roland blushingly sank into the empty chair. "I've heard
such a lot about you."

What Miss Verepoint had heard about Roland was that he had two hundred
thousand pounds and apparently did not know what to do with it.

"In fact, if I hadn't been told that you would be here, I shouldn't
have come to this party. Can't stand these gatherings of nuts in May as
a general rule. They bore me stiff."

Roland hastily revised his first estimate of the theatrical profession.
Shallow, empty-headed creatures some of them might be, no doubt, but
there were exceptions. Here was a girl of real discernment--a
thoughtful student of character--a girl who understood that a man might
sit at a supper-party without uttering a word and might still be a man
of parts.

"I'm afraid you'll think me very outspoken--but that's me all over. All
my friends say, 'Billy Verepoint's a funny girl: if she likes any one
she just tells them so straight out; and if she doesn't like any one
she tells them straight out, too.'"

"And a very admirable trait," said Roland, enthusiastically.

Miss Verepoint sighed. "P'raps it is," she said pensively, "but I'm
afraid it's what has kept me back in my profession. Managers don't like
it: they think girls should be seen and not heard."

Roland's blood boiled. Managers were plainly a dastardly crew.

"But what's the good of worrying," went on Miss Verepoint, with a brave
but hollow laugh. "Of course, it's wearing, having to wait when one has
got as much ambition as I have; but they all tell me that my chance is
bound to come some day."

The intense mournfulness of Miss Verepoint's expression seemed to
indicate that she anticipated the arrival of the desired day not less
than sixty years hence. Roland was profoundly moved. His chivalrous
nature was up in arms. He fell to wondering if he could do anything to
help this victim of managerial unfairness. "You don't mind my going on
about my troubles, do you?" asked Miss Verepoint, solicitously. "One
so seldom meets anybody really sympathetic."

Roland babbled fervent assurances, and she pressed his hand gratefully.

"I wonder if you would care to come to tea one afternoon," she said.

"Oh, rather!" said Roland. He would have liked to put it in a more
polished way but he was almost beyond speech.

"Of course, I know what a busy man you are----"

"No, no!"

"Well, I should be in to-morrow afternoon, if you cared to look in."

Roland bleated gratefully.

"I'll write down the address for you," said Miss Verepoint, suddenly

* * * * *

Exactly when he committed himself to the purchase of the Windsor
Theater, Roland could never say. The idea seemed to come into existence
fully-grown, without preliminary discussion. One moment it was not--the
next it was. His recollections of the afternoon which he spent drinking
lukewarm tea and punctuating Miss Verepoint's flow of speech with
"yes's" and "no's" were always so thoroughly confused that he never
knew even whose suggestion it was.

The purchase of a West-end theater, when one has the necessary cash, is
not nearly such a complicated business as the layman might imagine.
Roland was staggered by the rapidity with which the transaction was
carried through. The theater was his before he had time to realize that
he had never meant to buy the thing at all. He had gone into the
offices of Mr. Montague with the intention of making an offer for the
lease for, say, six months; and that wizard, in the space of less than
an hour, had not only induced him to sign mysterious documents which
made him sole proprietor of the house, but had left him with the
feeling that he had done an extremely acute stroke of business. Mr.
Montague had dabbled in many professions in his time, from street
peddling upward, but what he was really best at was hypnotism.

Altho he felt, after the spell of Mr. Montague's magnetism was
withdrawn, rather like a nervous man who has been given a large baby to
hold by a strange woman who has promptly vanished round the corner,
Roland was to some extent consoled by the praise bestowed upon him by
Miss Verepoint. She said it was much better to buy a theater than to
rent it, because then you escaped the heavy rent. It was specious, but
Roland had a dim feeling that there was a flaw somewhere in the
reasoning; and it was from this point that a shadow may be said to have
fallen upon the brightness of the venture.

He would have been even less self-congratulatory if he had known the
Windsor Theater's reputation. Being a comparative stranger in the
metropolis, he was unaware that its nickname in theatrical circles was
"The Mugs' Graveyard"--a title which had been bestowed upon it not
without reason. Built originally by a slightly insane old gentleman,
whose principal delusion was that the public was pining for a constant
supply of the Higher Drama, and more especially those specimens of the
Higher Drama which flowed practically without cessation from the
restless pen of the insane old gentleman himself, the Windsor Theater
had passed from hand to hand with the agility of a gold watch in a
gathering of race-course thieves. The one anxiety of the unhappy man
who found himself, by some accident, in possession of the Windsor
Theater, was to pass it on to somebody else. The only really permanent
tenant it ever had was the representative of the Official Receiver.

Various causes were assigned for the phenomenal ill-luck of the
theater, but undoubtedly the vital objection to it as a Temple of Drama
lay in the fact that nobody could ever find the place where it was
hidden. Cabmen shook their heads on the rare occasions when they were
asked to take a fare there. Explorers to whom a stroll through the
Australian bush was child's-play, had been known to spend an hour on
its trail and finish up at the point where they had started.

It was precisely this quality of elusiveness which had first attracted
Mr. Montague. He was a far-seeing man, and to him the topographical
advantages of the theater were enormous. It was further from a
fire-station than any other building of the same insurance value
in London, even without having regard to the mystery which enveloped
its whereabouts. Often after a good dinner he would lean comfortably
back in his chair and see in the smoke of his cigar a vision of the
Windsor Theater blazing merrily, while distracted firemen galloped madly
all over London, vainly endeavoring to get some one to direct them to
the scene of the conflagration. So Mr. Montague bought the theater for
a mere song, and prepared to get busy.

Unluckily for him, the representatives of the various fire offices with
which he had effected his policies got busy first. The generous fellows
insisted upon taking off his shoulders the burden of maintaining the
fireman whose permanent presence in a theater is required by law.
Nothing would satisfy them but to install firemen of their own and pay
their salaries. This, to a man in whom the instincts of the phoenix
were so strongly developed as they were in Mr. Montague, was distinctly
disconcerting. He saw himself making no profit on the deal--a thing
which had never happened to him before.

And then Roland Bleke occurred, and Mr. Montague's belief that his race
was really chosen was restored. He sold the Windsor Theater to Roland
for twenty-five thousand pounds. It was fifteen thousand pounds more
than he himself had given for it, and this very satisfactory profit
mitigated the slight regret which he felt when it came to transferring
to Roland the insurance policies. To have effected policies amounting
to rather more than seventy thousand pounds on a building so
notoriously valueless as the Windsor Theater had been an achievement of
which Mr. Montague was justly proud, and it seemed sad to him that so
much earnest endeavor should be thrown away.

* * * * *

Over the little lunch with which she kindly allowed Roland to entertain
her, to celebrate the purchase of the theater, Miss Verepoint outlined
her policy.

"What we must put up at that theater," she announced, "is a revue. A
revue," repeated Miss Verepoint, making, as she spoke, little
calculations on the back of the menu, "we could run for about fifteen
hundred a week--or, say, two thousand."

Saying two thousand, thought Roland to himself, is not quite the same
as paying two thousand, so why should she stint herself?

"I know two boys who could write us a topping revue," said Miss
Verepoint. "They'd spread themselves, too, if it was for me. They're in
love with me--both of them. We'd better get in touch with them at

To Roland, there seemed to be something just the least bit sinister
about the sound of that word "touch," but he said nothing.

"Why, there they are--lunching over there!" cried Miss Verepoint,
pointing to a neighboring table. "Now, isn't that lucky?"

To Roland the luck was not quite so apparent, but he made no demur to
Miss Verepoint's suggestion that they should be brought over to their

The two boys, as to whose capabilities to write a topping revue Miss
Verepoint had formed so optimistic an estimate, proved to be well-grown
lads of about forty-five and forty, respectively. Of the two, Roland
thought that perhaps R. P. de Parys was a shade the more obnoxious, but
a closer inspection left him with the feeling that these fine
distinctions were a little unfair with men of such equal talents.
Bromham Rhodes ran his friend so close that it was practically a dead
heat. They were both fat and somewhat bulgy-eyed. This was due to the
fact that what revue-writing exacts from its exponents is the constant
assimilation of food and drink. Bromham Rhodes had the largest appetite
in London; but, on the other hand, R. P. de Parys was a better drinker.

"Well, dear old thing!" said Bromham Rhodes.

"Well, old child!" said R. P. de Parys.

Both these remarks were addressed to Miss Verepoint. The talented pair
appeared to be unaware of Roland's existence.

Miss Verepoint struck the business note. "Now you stop, boys," she
said. "Tie weights to yourselves and sink down into those chairs. I
want you two lads to write a revue for me."

"Delighted!" said Bromham Rhodes; "but----"

"There is the trifling point to be raised first----" said R. P. de Parys.

"Where is the money coming from?" said Bromham Rhodes.

"My friend, Mr. Bleke, is putting up the money," said Miss Verepoint,
with dignity. "He has taken the Windsor Theater."

The interest of the two authors in their host, till then languid,
increased with a jerk. "Has he? By Jove!" they cried. "We must get
together and talk this over."

It was Roland's first experience of a theatrical talking-over, and he
never forgot it. Two such talkers-over as Bromham Rhodes and R. P. de
Parys were scarcely to be found in the length and breadth of theatrical
London. Nothing, it seemed, could the gifted pair even begin to think
of doing without first discussing the proposition in all its aspects.
The amount of food which Roland found himself compelled to absorb during
the course of these debates was appalling. Discussions which began at
lunch would be continued until it was time to order dinner; and then,
as likely as not, they would have to sit there till supper-time in order
to thrash the question thoroughly out.

* * * * *

The collection of a cast was a matter even more complicated than the
actual composition of the revue. There was the almost insuperable
difficulty that Miss Verepoint firmly vetoed every name suggested. It
seemed practically impossible to find any man or woman in all England
or America whose peculiar gifts or lack of them would not interfere
with Miss Verepoint's giving a satisfactory performance of the
principal role. It was all very perplexing to Roland; but as Miss
Verepoint was an expert in theatrical matters, he scarcely felt
entitled to question her views.

It was about this time that Roland proposed to Miss Verepoint. The
passage of time and the strain of talking over the revue had to a
certain extent moderated his original fervor. He had shaded off from a
passionate devotion, through various diminishing tints of regard for
her, into a sort of pale sunset glow of affection. His principal reason
for proposing was that it seemed to him to be in the natural order of
events. Her air towards him had become distinctly proprietorial. She
now called him "Roly-poly" in public--a proceeding which left him with
mixed feelings. Also, she had taken to ordering him about, which, as
everybody knows, is an unmistakable sign of affection among ladies of
the theatrical profession. Finally, in his chivalrous way, Roland had
begun to feel a little apprehensive lest he might be compromising Miss
Verepoint. Everybody knew that he was putting up the money for the
revue in which she was to appear; they were constantly seen together at
restaurants; people looked arch when they spoke to him about her. He
had to ask himself: was he behaving like a perfect gentleman? The
answer was in the negative. He took a cab to her flat and proposed
before he could repent of his decision.

She accepted him. He was not certain for a moment whether he was glad
or sorry. "But I don't want to get married," she went on, "until I have
justified my choice of a profession. You will have to wait until I have
made a success in this revue."

Roland was shocked to find himself hugely relieved at this concession.

The revue took shape. There did apparently exist a handful of artistes
to whom Miss Verepoint had no objection, and these--a scrubby but
confident lot--were promptly engaged. Sallow Americans sprang from
nowhere with songs, dances, and ideas for effects. Tousled-haired
scenic artists wandered in with model scenes under their arms. A great
cloud of chorus-ladies settled upon the theater like flies. Even
Bromham Rhodes and R. P. de Parys--those human pythons--showed signs of
activity. They cornered Roland one day near Swan and Edgar's, steered
him into the Piccadilly Grill-room and, over a hearty lunch, read him
extracts from a brown-paper-covered manuscript which, they informed
him, was the first act.

It looked a battered sort of manuscript and, indeed, it had every right
to be. Under various titles and at various times, Bromham Rhodes' and
R. P. de Parys' first act had been refused by practically every
responsible manager in London. As "Oh! What a Life!" it had failed to
satisfy the directors of the Empire. Re-christened "Wow-Wow!" it had
been rejected by the Alhambra. The Hippodrome had refused to consider
it, even under the name of "Hullo, Cellar-Flap!" It was now called,
"Pass Along, Please!" and, according to its authors, was a real revue.

Roland was to learn, as the days went on, that in the world in which he
was moving everything was real revue that was not a stunt or a corking
effect. He floundered in a sea of real revue, stunts, and corking
effects. As far as he could gather, the main difference between these
things was that real revue was something which had been stolen from
some previous English production, whereas a stunt or a corking effect
was something which had been looted from New York. A judicious blend of
these, he was given to understand, constituted the sort of thing the
public wanted.

Rehearsals began before, in Roland's opinion, his little army was
properly supplied with ammunition. True, they had the first act, but
even the authors agreed that it wanted bringing up-to-date in parts.
They explained that it was, in a manner of speaking, their life-work,
that they had actually started it about ten years ago when they were
careless lads. Inevitably, it was spotted here and there with smart
topical hits of the early years of the century; but that, they said,
would be all right. They could freshen it up in a couple of evenings;
it was simply a matter of deleting allusions to pro-Boers and
substituting lines about Marconi shares and mangel-wurzels. "It'll be
all right," they assured Roland; "this is real revue."

In times of trouble there is always a point at which one may say, "Here
is the beginning of the end." This point came with Roland at the
commencement of the rehearsals. Till then he had not fully realized the
terrible nature of the production for which he had made himself
responsible. Moreover, it was rehearsals which gave him his first clear
insight into the character of Miss Verepoint.

Miss Verepoint was not at her best at rehearsals. For the first time,
as he watched her, Roland found himself feeling that there was a case
to be made out for the managers who had so consistently kept her in the
background. Miss Verepoint, to use the technical term, threw her weight
about. There were not many good lines in the script of act one of "Pass
Along, Please!" but such as there were she reached out for and grabbed
away from their owners, who retired into corners, scowling and
muttering, like dogs robbed of bones. She snubbed everybody, Roland

* * * * *

Roland sat in the cold darkness of the stalls and watched her,
panic-stricken. Like an icy wave, it had swept over him what marriage
with this girl would mean. He suddenly realised how essentially domestic
his instincts really were. Life with Miss Verepoint would mean perpetual
dinners at restaurants, bread-throwing suppers, motor-rides--everything
that he hated most. Yet, as a man of honor, he was tied to her. If the
revue was a success, she would marry him--and revues, he knew, were
always successes. At that very moment there were six "best revues in
London," running at various theaters. He shuddered at the thought that
in a few weeks there would be seven.

He felt a longing for rural solitude. He wanted to be alone by himself
for a day or two in a place where there were no papers with
advertisements of revues, no grill-rooms, and, above all, no Miss Billy
Verepoint. That night he stole away to a Norfolk village, where, in
happier days, he had once spent a Summer holiday--a peaceful, primitive
place where the inhabitants could not have told real revue from a
corking effect.

Here, for the space of a week, Roland lay in hiding, while his
quivering nerves gradually recovered tone. He returned to London
happier, but a little apprehensive. Beyond a brief telegram of
farewell, he had not communicated with Miss Verepoint for seven days,
and experience had made him aware that she was a lady who demanded an
adequate amount of attention.

That his nervous system was not wholly restored to health was borne in
upon him as he walked along Piccadilly on his way to his flat; for,
when somebody suddenly slapped him hard between the shoulder-blades, he
uttered a stifled yell and leaped in the air.

Turning to face his assailant, he found himself meeting the genial gaze
of Mr. Montague, his predecessor in the ownership of the Windsor

Mr. Montague was effusively friendly, and, for some mysterious reason,

"You've done it, have you? You pulled it off, did you? And in the first
month--by George! And I took you for the plain, ordinary mug of
commerce! My boy, you're as deep as they make 'em. Who'd have thought
it, to look at you? It was the greatest idea any one ever had and
staring me in the face all the time and I never saw it! But I don't
grudge it to you--you deserve it my boy! You're a nut!"

"I really don't know what you mean."

"Quite right, my boy!" chuckled Mr. Montague. "You're quite right to
keep it up, even among friends. It don't do to risk anything, and the
least said soonest mended."

He went on his way, leaving Roland completely mystified.

Voices from his sitting-room, among which he recognized the high note
of Miss Verepoint, reminded him of the ordeal before him. He entered
with what he hoped was a careless ease of manner, but his heart was
beating fast. Since the opening of rehearsals he had acquired a
wholesome respect for Miss Verepoint's tongue. She was sitting in his
favorite chair. There were also present Bromham Rhodes and R. P. de
Parys, who had made themselves completely at home with a couple of his
cigars and whisky from the oldest bin.

"So here you are at last!" said Miss Verepoint, querulously. "The valet
told us you were expected back this morning, so we waited. Where on
earth have you been to, running away like this, without a word?"

"I only went----"

"Well, it doesn't matter where you went. The main point is, what are
you going to do about it?"

"We thought we'd better come along and talk it over" said R. P. de

"Talk what over?" said Roland: "the revue?"

"Oh, don't try and be funny, for goodness' sake!" snapped Miss
Verepoint. "It doesn't suit you. You haven't the right shape of head.
What do you suppose we want to talk over? The theater, of course."

"What about the theater?"

Miss Verepoint looked searchingly at him. "Don't you ever read the

"I haven't seen a paper since I went away."

"Well, better have it quick and not waste time breaking it gently,"
said Miss Verepoint. "The theater's been burned down--that's what's

"Burned down?"

"Burned down!" repeated Roland.

"That's what I said, didn't I? The suffragettes did it. They left
copies of 'Votes for Women' about the place. The silly asses set fire
to two other theaters as well, but they happened to be in main
thoroughfares and the fire-brigade got them under at once. I suppose
they couldn't find the Windsor. Anyhow, it's burned to the ground and
what we want to know is what are you going to do about it?"

Roland was much too busy blessing the good angels of Kingsway to reply
at once. R. P. de Parys, sympathetic soul, placed a wrong construction
on his silence.

"Poor old Roly!" he said. "It's quite broken him up. The best thing we
can do is all to go off and talk it over at the Savoy, over a bit of

"Well," said Miss Verepoint, "what are you going to do--rebuild the
Windsor or try and get another theater?"

* * * * *

The authors were all for rebuilding the Windsor. True, it would take
time, but it would be more satisfactory in every way. Besides, at this
time of the year it would be no easy matter to secure another theater
at a moment's notice.

To R. P. de Parys and Bromham Rhodes the destruction of the Windsor
Theater had appeared less in the light of a disaster than as a direct
intervention on the part of Providence. The completion of that tiresome
second act, which had brooded over their lives like an ugly cloud,
could now be postponed indefinitely.

"Of course," said R. P. de Parys, thoughtfully, "our contract with you
makes it obligatory on you to produce our revue by a certain date--but
I dare say, Bromham, we could meet Roly there, couldn't we?"

"Sure!" said Rhodes. "Something nominal, say a further five hundred on
account of fees would satisfy us. I certainly think it would be better
to rebuild the Windsor, don't you, R. P.?"

"I do," agreed R. P. de Parys, cordially. "You see, Roly, our revue has
been written to fit the Windsor. It would be very difficult to alter it
for production at another theater. Yes, I feel sure that rebuilding the
Windsor would be your best course."

There was a pause.

"What do you think, Roly-poly?" asked Miss Verepoint, as Roland made no

"Nothing would delight me more than to rebuild the Windsor, or to take
another theater, or do anything else to oblige," he said, cheerfully.
"Unfortunately, I have no more money to burn."

It was as if a bomb had suddenly exploded in the room. A dreadful
silence fell upon his hearers. For the moment no one spoke. R. P. de
Parys woke with a start out of a beautiful dream of prawn curry and
Bromham Rhodes forgot that he had not tasted food for nearly two hours.
Miss Verepoint was the first to break the silence.

"Do you mean to say," she gasped, "that you didn't insure the place?"

Roland shook his head. The particular form in which Miss Verepoint had
put the question entitled him, he felt, to make this answer.

"Why didn't you?" Miss Verepoint's tone was almost menacing.

"Because it did not appear to me to be necessary."

Nor was it necessary, said Roland to his conscience. Mr. Montague had
done all the insuring that was necessary--and a bit over.

Miss Verepoint fought with her growing indignation, and lost. "What
about the salaries of the people who have been rehearsing all this
time?" she demanded.

"I'm sorry that they should be out of an engagement, but it is scarcely
my fault. However, I propose to give each of them a month's salary. I
can manage that, I think."

Miss Verepoint rose. "And what about me? What about me, that's what I
want to know. Where do I get off? If you think I'm going to marry you
without your getting a theater and putting up this revue you're jolly
well mistaken."

Roland made a gesture which was intended to convey regret and
resignation. He even contrived to sigh.

"Very well, then," said Miss Verepoint, rightly interpreting this
behavior as his final pronouncement on the situation. "Then
everything's jolly well off."

She swept out of the room, the two authors following in her wake like
porpoises behind a liner. Roland went to his bureau, unlocked it and
took out a bundle of documents. He let his fingers stray lovingly among
the fire insurance policies which energetic Mr. Montague had been at
such pains to secure from so many companies.

"And so," he said softly to himself, "am I."

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