He was sufficiently indignant with the leading idea of the play, and sufficiently absorbed in its progress, at the end of the second act, to permit Lady Dolly to capture him before it occurred to him that he had the use of his legs. Her enthusiasm was so great that it reduced him to something like equivocation. She wanted to know if anything could be more splendid than Mr. Bradley as Lord Ingleton; she confided to Stephen that that was what she called real wickedness, the kind that did the most harm, and invited him by inference, to a liberal judgment of stupid sinners. He sat emitting short unsmiling sentences with eyes nervously fugitive from Lady Dolly’s too proximate opulence until the third act began. Then he gave place with embarrassed alacrity to Colonel Cummins, and folded his arms again at the back of the box.
Before it was finished he had the gratification of recognising at least one Hilda that he knew. The newspapers found in her interpretation the development of a soul, and one remembered, reading them, that a cliche is a valuable thing in a hurry. A phrase which spoke of a soul bruised out of life and rushing to annihilation would have been more precise. The demand upon her increased steadily as the act went on, and as she met it there slipped into her acting some of her own potentialities of motive and of passion. She offered to the shaping circumstance rich material and abundant plasticity, and when the persecution of her destiny required her to throw herself irretrievably away she did it with a splendid appreciation of large and definite movement that was essentially of herself.
The moment of it had a bold gruesomeness that caught the breath—a disinterment on the stage in search of letters that would prove the charge against the second year of Mrs. Halliday’s married life, her letters buried with the poet. It was an advantage which only the husband of Mrs. Halliday would have claimed to bring so helpless a respondent before even the informal court at the graveyard; but it gave Hilda a magnificent opportunity of wild, mad apostrophe to the skull, holding it tenderly with both hands, while Lord Ingleton smiled appreciatively in advance of the practical benevolence which was to sustain the lady through the divorce court, and in the final scene offer to her and to the prejudices of the British public the respectability of his name.
It was over with a rush at the end, leaving the audience uncertain whether after all enough attention had been paid to that tradition of the footlights which insists on so nice a sense of opprobrium and compensation, but convinced of its desire to applaud. Duff Lindsay turned as the wave of clapping spent itself, to say to Stephen that he had never respected Hamilton Bradley’s acting so much. He said it to Herbert Livingstone instead; the priest had disappeared.