The plan was carried out. Both letters and the book were sent, and the young men awaited with impatience the result. Henry had adopted a very lofty tone. “In granting my friend an interview,” he had said, “you may be giving his first chance to an actor of genius. Of course you may not; but at least you will have had the satisfaction of giving to possible genius that benefit of the doubt which we have a right to expect from the creator of ——,” and he named one of the actor’s most famous roles.
A cordial answer came by return, enclosing two stalls for the following evening, when, said the great actor, he would be glad to see Mr. Laflin during or after the performance. The two young men were in their places as the curtain rose, and it goes without saying that their enthusiasm was unequalled in the audience. Between the third and fourth acts there was a considerable interval, and early in the performance it had been notified to Mike that the great actor would see him then. So when the time came, with a whispered “good luck” from Henry, he left his place and was led through a little mysterious iron door at the back of the boxes, on to the stage and into the great man’s dressing-room. Opening suddenly out of the darkness at one side of the stage, it was more like a brilliantly lighted cave hung with mirrors than a room. Mirrors and lights and laurel wreaths with cards attached, and many photographs with huge signatures scrawled across them, and a magnificent being reading a book, while his dresser laced up some high boots he was to wear in the following act,—made Mike’s first impression. Then the magnificent being looked up with a charming smile.
“Good-evening, Mr. Laflin. I am delighted to see you. I hope you will excuse my rising.”
He said “Mr. Laflin” with a captivating familiarity of intonation, as though Mike was something between an old friend and a distinguished stranger.
“So you are thinking of joining our profession. I hope you liked the performance. I saw you in front, or at least I thought it was you. And your friend? I hope he will come and see me some other time. I have been delighted with his poems.”
There is something dazzling and disconcerting to an average layman about an actor’s dressing-room, even though the dressing-room be that of an intimate friend. He feels like a being on the confines of two worlds and belonging to neither, awkwardly suspended ’twixt fact and fancy. The actor for a while has laid aside his part and forgotten his wig and his make-up. As he talks to you, he is thinking of himself merely as a private individual; whereas his visitor cannot forget that in appearance he is a king, or an eighteenth-century dandy, or—though you know him well enough as a clean-shaven young man of thirty—a bowed and wrinkled greybeard. The visitor’s voice rings thin and hestitating. It cannot strike the right pitch, and generally he does himself no sort of justice.