The Tempting of Tavernake by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter VII. Mr. Pritchard of New York
Later in the evening, Beatrice and Tavernake traveled together in a motor omnibus from their rooms at Chelsea to Northumberland Avenue. Tavernake was getting quite used to the programme by now. They sat in a dimly-lit waiting-room until the time came for Beatrice to sing. Every now and then an excitable little person who was the secretary to some institution or other would run in and offer them refreshments, and tell them in what order they were to appear. To-night there was no departure from the ordinary course of things, except that there was slightly more stir. The dinner was a larger one than usual. It came to Beatrice's turn very soon after their arrival, and Tavernake, squeezing his way a few steps into the dining-room, stood with the waiters against the wall. He looked with curious eyes upon a scene with which he had no manner of sympathy.
A hundred or so of men had dined together in the cause of some charity. The odor of their dinner, mingled with the more aromatic perfume of the tobacco smoke which was already ascending in little blue clouds from the various tables, hung about the over-heated room, seeming, indeed, the fitting atmosphere for the long rows of guests. The majority of them were in a state of expansiveness. Their faces were redder than when they had sat down; a certain stiffness had departed from their shirt-fronts and their manners; their faces were flushed, their eyes watery. There were a few exceptions--paler-faced men who sat there with the air of endeavoring to bring themselves into accord with surroundings in which they had no real concern. Two of these looked up with interest at the first note of Beatrice's song. The one was sitting within a few places of the chairman, and he was too far away for his little start to be noticed by either Tavernake or Beatrice. The nearer one, however, Tavernake happened to be watching, and he saw the change in his expression. The man was, in his way, ugly. His face was certainly not a good one, although he did not appear to share the immediate weaknesses of his neighbors. To every note of the song he listened intently. When it was over, he rose and came toward Tavernake.
"I beg your pardon," he said, "but did I not see you come in with the young lady who has just been singing?"
"You may have," Tavernake answered. "I certainly did come with her."
"May I ask if you are related to her?"
Tavernake had got over his hesitation in replying to such questions, by now. He answered promptly.
"I am her brother," he declared.
The man produced a card.
"Please introduce me to her," he begged, laconically.
"Why should I?" Tavernake asked. "I have no reason to suppose that she desires to know you."
The man stared at him for a moment, and then laughed.
"Well," he said, "you had better show your sister my card. She is, I presume, a professional, as she is singing here. My desire to make her acquaintance is purely actuated by business motives."
Tavernake moved away toward the waiting-room.
The man, who according to his card was Mr. Sidney Grier, would have followed him in, but Tavernake stopped him.
"If you will wait here," he suggested, "I will see whether my sister desires to meet you."
Once more Mr. Sidney Grier looked surprised, but after a second glance at Tavernake he accepted his suggestion and remained outside. Tavernake took the card to Beatrice.
"Beatrice," he announced, "there is a man outside who has heard you sing and who wants to be introduced."
She took the card and her eyes opened wide.
"Do you know who he is?" Tavernake asked.
"Of course," she answered. "He is a great producer of musical comedies. Let me think."
She stood with the card in her hand. Some one else was singing now--an ordinary modern ballad of love and roses, rapture and despair. They heard the rising and falling of the woman's voice; the clatter of the dinner had ceased. Beatrice stood still thinking, her fingers clinching the card of Mr. Sidney Grier.
"You must bring him in," she said to Tavernake finally.
Tavernake went outside.
"My sister will see you," he remarked, with the air of one who brings good news.
Mr. Sidney Grier grunted. He was not used to being kept waiting, even for a second. Tavernake ushered him into the retiring room, and the other two musicians who were there stared at him as at a god.
"This is the gentleman whose card you have, Beatrice," Tavernake announced. "Mr. Sidney Grier--Miss Tavernake!"
The man smiled.
"Your brother seems to be suspicious of me," he declared. "I found it quite difficult to persuade him that you might find it interesting to talk to me for a few minutes."
"He does not quite understand," Beatrice answered. "He has not much experience of musical affairs or the stage, and your name would not have any significance for him."
Tavernake went outside and listened idly to the song which was proceeding. It was a class of music which secretly he preferred to the stranger and more haunting notes of Beatrice's melodies. Apparently the audience was of his opinion, for they received it with a vociferous encore, to which the young lady generously replied with a music-hall song about "A French lady from over the water." Towards the close of the applause which marked the conclusion of this effort, Tavernake felt himself touched lightly upon the arm. He turned round. By his side was standing the other dinner guest who had shown some interest in Beatrice. He was a man apparently of about forty years of age, tall and broad-shouldered, with black moustache, and dark, piercing eyes. Unlike most of the guests, he wore a short dinner-coat and black tie, from which, and his slight accent, Tavernake concluded that he was probably an American.
"Say, you'll forgive my speaking to you," he said, touching Tavernake on the arm. "My name is Pritchard. I saw you come in with the young lady who was singing a few minutes ago, and if you won't consider it a liberty, I'll be very glad indeed if you'll answer me one question."
Tavernake stiffened insensibly.
"It depends upon the question," he replied, shortly.
"Well, it's about the young lady, and that's a fact," Mr. Pritchard admitted. "I see that her name upon the programme is given as Miss Tavernake. I was seated at the other end of the room but she seemed to me remarkably like a young lady from the other side of the Atlantic, whom I am very anxious to meet."
"Perhaps you will kindly put your question in plain words," Tavernake said.
"Why, that's easy," Mr. Pritchard declared. "Is Miss Tavernake really her name, or an assumed one? I expect it's the same over here as in my country--a singer very often sings under another name than her own, you know," he added, noting Tavernake's gathering frown.
"The young lady in question is my sister, and I do not care to discuss her with strangers," Tavernake announced.
Mr. Pritchard nodded pleasantly.
"Why, of course, that ends the matter," he remarked. "Sorry to have troubled you, anyway."
He strolled off back to his seat and Tavernake returned thoughtfully to the dressing-room. He found Beatrice alone and waiting for him.
"You've got rid of that fellow, then?" he inquired.
"Yes; he didn't stay very long," she replied.
"Who was he?" Tavernake asked, curiously.
"From a musical comedy point of view," she said, "he was the most important person in London. He is the emperor of stage-land. He can make the fortune of any girl in London who is reasonably good-looking and who can sing and dance ever so little."
"What did he want with you?" Tavernake demanded, suspiciously.
"He asked me whether I would like to go upon the stage. What do you think about it, Leonard?"
Tavernake, for some reason or other, was displeased.
"Would you earn much more money than by singing at these dinners?" he asked.
"Very, very much more," she assured him.
"And you would like the life?"
She laughed softly.
"Why not? It isn't so bad. I was on the stage in New York for some time under much worse conditions."
He remained silent for a few minutes. They had made their way into the street now and were waiting for an omnibus.
"What did you tell him?" he asked, abruptly.
She was looking down toward the Embankment, her eyes filled once more with the things which he could not understand.
"I have told him nothing yet," she murmured.
"You would like to accept?"
"I am not sure," she replied. "If only - I dared!"