Perhaps, however, it was because Mike had been born for this world in which now for the first time he found himself, that he suffered from none of this embarrassment; perhaps, too, it was some half-conscious instinct of his own gifts that made him quite self-contained in the presence of acknowledged distinction, so self-contained that you might have thought he had no reverence. As he had passed across the stage, he had eyed that mysterious behind-the-scenes rather with the eye of a future stage-manager, than of a youth all whose dreams converged at this point, and at this moment.
One touch of the poetry of contrast caught his eye, of which custom would probably have made him unobservant. In an alcove of the stage, a “scene-dock,” as Mike knew already to call it, a beautiful spirit in gauze and tights was silently rehearsing to herself a dance which she had to perform in the next act. Softly and silently she danced, absorbed in the evolutions of her lithe young body, paying as little heed to the rough stage-hands who hurried scenery about her on every side, as those hardened stage-hands paid to her dancing. Henry or Ned would probably have fallen madly in love with her on the spot. To Mike, she was but a part of the economy of the stage; and had she been Cleopatra herself, eyes filled to overflowing with the beauty of Esther would have taken no more intimate note of her. So, it is said, painters and sculptors regard their models with cold, artistic eyes.
This self-possession enabled Mike to show to the best advantage; and while they talked, the great actor, with an eye accustomed to read faces, soon made up his mind about him.
“I believe you and your friend are right, Mr. Laflin,” he said. “I am much mistaken if you are not a born actor. But if you are that, you will not need to be told that the way is long and difficult, nor will you mind that it is so. Every true artist rather loves than fears the drudgery of his art. It is one of the tests of his being an artist. Art is undoubtedly the pleasantest of all work; but it is work for all that, and none of the easiest. Perhaps it is the pleasantest because it is the hardest. So if you really want to be an artist, you won’t object to beginning your journey to the top right away at the bottom.”
“Anywhere at all, sir,” said Mike, his heart beating at this hint of what was coming.
“Well, in that case,” continued the other, “I can perhaps do something, though a very little, for you.”
Mike eagerly murmured his gratitude.
“I’m sorry to say I have no vacancy in my own company at present; but would you be willing to take a part in my Christmas pantomime? I may say that I myself began life as harlequin.”
“I will gladly take anything you can offer me,” said Mike.
“Shall we call it settled then? But I sha’n’t need you for another four months. Meanwhile I will have a contract made out and sent to you—”