“Keeps me a bit, too. I shouldn’t like to lose myself altogether—gain reputation for another woman.”
Fossy proved to be a gentleman named Josephs, who in a tiny triangular room near the stage of the Half-and-Half listened critically to her comic singing, shook his head and said he would let her know. Eileen left the room with leaden heart and feet.
“Wait for me a moment, please,” Jolly Jack Jenkins called after her, and she hung about timidly, jostled by dirty attendants and painted performers. She was reading a warning to artistes that any improper songs or lines would lead to their instant dismissal, and regretting more than ever her incompetence for this innocent profession, when she heard the bass chorister’s big breathing behind her.
“Bravo! You knocked him all of a heap.”
“Rubbish! Don’t try to cheer me.”
“You!” Jolly Jack Jenkins opened his eyes. “You taken in by Fossy! He’ll suggest your doing a trial turn next Saturday night when the public are least critical, you’ll make a furore, and he’ll offer you two guineas a week.”
“A pleasing picture, but quite visionary. Why, he didn’t even ask for an address to write to!”
“Oh, I dare say he thought care of me would find you. No, don’t glower at me—I don’t mean anything wrong.”
“I hope you didn’t let him misunderstand—”
“You asked me not to let him know too much. Fossy has to do so much with queer folk—”
“Yes, I saw he had to warn them against improper songs.”
Jolly Jack Jenkins exploded in a guffaw.
“I’m sorry I came,” said Eileen, in vague distress.
“Fossy isn’t,” he retorted. “He was clean bowled over. In that Irish fox-hunting song all the gallery will be shouting ‘Tally-ho!’ Where did you pick it up?”
“I didn’t pick it up, I made it up for the occasion.”
“By Jove! I have to pay a guinea to a bloodsucking composer when I want a song. Oh, Fossy’s spotted a winner this time.”
“Why is he called Fossy?”
“I don’t know. Nobody knows. I found the name, I pass it on.”
“Perhaps it’s a corruption of Foxy.”
“There! I never thought of that! You are a—!”
The jolly chorister’s mouth remained open. But the prophecy that had already issued from it came true in every detail.
Despite her private stage-fright, Nelly O’Neill, the new serio-comic, made a big hit. Her innocent roguery was captivating; her virginal freshness floated over the footlights, like a spring breeze through the smoky Hall.
“Well, you are an all-round success,” cried Jolly Jack Jenkins, pumping her hand off at the wings, amid a thunder of applause, encores, and whistles.
“You mean a Half-and-Half!” laughed Nelly through Eileen’s tears. She had given herself to the audience, but how it had given itself in return, flashing back to her in electric waves its monstrous vitality, its apparently single life.