Second-rate London lodgings are not great cheerers of the human spirit, and Mike was very lonely in his first letter or two; but, as the rehearsals proceeded, it was evident that he was taking hold of his new world, and the letter which told of his first night, and of his own encouraging success in it, was buoyant with the rising tide of the future. His chief had affectionately laid his hand on his shoulder, as he came off from his scene, and, in the hearing of the whole company, prophesied a great future for him.
Mike had been born under a lucky star; and he had hardly been in London two months when accident very perceptibly brightened it. The chief comedian in the company fell ill; and though Mike had had so little experience, his chief had so much confidence in his native gift, that he cast him for the vacant part. Mike more than justified the confidence, and not only pleased him, but succeeded in individualising himself with the audience. He had only played it for a week, when one Saturday evening the audience, after calling the manager himself three times, set up a cry for “Laflin.” The obsequious attendant pretended to consider it as a fourth call for the manager, and made as if to move the curtain aside for him once more; but, with a magnanimity rare indeed in a “star” of his magnitude, “No, no!” he said; “it is Mr. Laflin they want. Quick, lad, and take your first call.”
So little Mike stepped before the curtain, and made his first bow to an affectionate burst of applause. What happy tears would have glittered in Esther’s eyes had she been there to see it, and in Henry’s too, and particularly, perhaps, in excitable Angel’s!
Even so soon was the blossom giving promise of the fruit.
A LEGACY MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD
Meanwhile, Henry plodded away at Aunt Tipping’s, working sometimes on a volume of essays for the London publisher, and sometimes on his novel, now and again writing a review, and earning an odd guinea for a poem; and now and again indulging in a day of richly doing nothing. Otherwise, one day was like another, with the many exceptions of the days on which he saw Angel or Esther. With Ned, he spent many of his evenings; and he soon formed the pleasant habit of dropping in on Gerard, last thing before bed-time, for a smoke and half an hour’s chat.
There is always a good deal of youth left in any one who genuinely loves youth; and Gerard always spoke of his youth as Adam, in his declining years, might have spoken of Paradise. For him life was just youth—and the rest of it death.