“What did you say your age was?”
“Thirty-eight! Thirty-eight ... um ... Come here, Jeffkins.”
Jeffkins came from the window and joined his colleague, and together the two doctors took stock of Victor. They were taking no notice of his leg. Well, it was their look out. He wouldn’t be to blame if he broke down.
“You can dress.” And the two doctors went to the window and consulted in low tones.
Then the first came back.
“Well, my man, it won’t do,” he said. “We like your spirit.... Very creditable, very creditable indeed. But (laughing) thirty-eight! Come, come.”
Light was breaking in on Victor. Was he really being rejected?... And because he was too old?... Oh, the scandal, the shame.... And he dying to get at those Huns....
“But upon my oath....” He was really in earnest now.
“There, there, we understand,” said the doctor. “You’ve done your best. And it’s very creditable to you—very. But thirty-eight! Come, come.... Now, good morning.”
Outside, Victor’s anguish and indignation were too bitter to be borne unaided. He turned into the “Spread Eagle.”
My eye was caught as I passed along the street just now by an advertisement on a hoarding which announced that Mr. Martin Harvey was appearing in a new cinema play entitled The Hard Way, which was described as
A FINE STORY BY A PEER.
I confess that I took an objection to that play on the spot. It may be a good play. I don’t know. I never shall know, for I shall never see it. But why should it be assumed that you and I will run off to the pay box to see a new play “by a peer”? Suppose the anonymous playwright had been a lawyer, or a journalist, or a pork-butcher, or a grocer. Would the producer have thought it helpful to announce a new play by a pork-butcher, or a lawyer, or a grocer, or a journalist? He certainly would not. He would have left the play to stand or fall on its merits.
Why, then, does he think that the fact that it is by a peer will bring us all crowding to his doors? You may, of course, take it as a reflection on the peerage. You may be supposed to think it such a miraculous thing that a peer should be able to write a play that you may be expected to go and see it as you would go to Barnum’s to see a two-headed man or a bearded woman? We may be invited to see it merely as a marvel, much as we used to be invited to go and see the horse that could count or the monkeys that could ride bicycles.
If it were so I should feel it was unjust to the peerage which is certainly not below the average in intellectual capacity. But it is not so. It is something much more serious than that. It is not intended to be a reflection on the peerage. It is an unconscious reflection on the British public. The idea behind the announcement is not that we shall go to see the play in a spirit of curiosity, as if it had been written by an ourang-outang, but that we shall go to see it in a spirit of flunkeyism, as if it had been written by a demi-god. We are conceived sitting in hushed wonder that a visitor from realms far above our experience should stoop down to amuse us.