But as he mused in this no doubt sentimental fashion, the door opened and the little red-headed Mike entered. His was a little Flibbertigibbet of a face, already lined with the practice of mimicry; and there was in it a very attractive blending of tenderness and humour. Mike was also one of those whom life at the beginning had impressed with the delight of one kind of work and no other. When a mere imp of a boy, the heartless tormentor of a large and sententious stepmother, the despair of schoolmasters, the most ingenious of truants, a humorous ragamuffin invulnerable to punishment, it was already revealed to him that his mission in life was to be the observation and reproduction of human character, particularly in its humorous aspects. To this end Nature had gifted him with a face that was capable of every form of transformation, and at an early age he hastened to put it in training. All day long he was pulling faces. As an artist will sketch everything he comes across, so Mike would endeavour to imitate any characteristic expression or attitude, animate or inanimate, in the world around him. Dogs, little boys, and grotesque old men were his special delight, and of all his elders he had, it goes without saying, a private gallery of irreverently faithful portraits.
In addition to his plastic face, Nature had given him a larynx which was capable of imitating every human and inhuman sound. To squeak like a pig, bark like a dog, low like a cow, and crow like a cock, were the veriest juvenilia of his attainments; and he could imitate the buzzing of a fly so cunningly that flies themselves have often been deceived. It was this delight in imitation for its own sake, and not so much that he had been caught by the usual allurements of the theatre, that he looked upon the career of an actor as his natural and ultimate calling. It was already privately whispered in the little circle that Mike would some day go on the stage. But don’t tell that as yet to old Mr. Laflin, whatever you do.
There was a good deal more in Mike than pulling faces, as Esther recently, and Henry before her, had discovered. His acting was some day to stir the hearts of audiences, because he had instincts for knowing human nature inside as well as out, knew the secret springs of tears, as well as the open secrets of laughter; and it was rather on this common ground of a rich “many-veined humanity” that these two had met and become friends, rather than on any real community of tastes and ideas. Yet Mike loved books too, and had an excellent taste in them, though perhaps he had hardly loved them, had not Henry and Esther loved them first, and it is quite certain, and quite proper, that he never found a page of any book so fascinating as the face of some lined and battered human being. Over that writing he was never found asleep.
There was one other literary matter on which he held a very personal and unshakable opinion,—Henry Mesurier’s future as a poet; and on this he came just in the nick of time to cheer him this evening.