Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
In which I startle a promoter; dream a great triumph in the land of skyscrapers and buffalo; and wait long for a message.
AMERICA! Fred Carno!
The words went off like rockets in my mind, bursting into thousands of sparkling ideas. Fred Carno, the biggest comedy producer in London a man who could by a word make me the best-known comedian in Europe! I could already see the press notices "Charlie Chaplin, the great comedian, in the spectacular Carno production." And America, that strange country across the sea, where I had heard men thought no more of half-crowns than we thought of six-pences; New York, where the buildings were ten, twenty, even thirty floors high, and the sky blazed with enormous signs in electric light; Chicago, where the tinned meat came from, and, between, vast plains covered with buffalo and wild forests, where, as the train plunged through them at tremendous speed, I might see from the compartment window the American red men around their camp-fires! The man at my side was saying that there was a chance to go to America with Carno!
"Go see him, old chap; please do," the old comedian begged me. "He'll see you, quick enough, though he keeps me waiting in his offices like a dog. And say a good word for me; just get me a chance to see him. I've put you on to a good thing, what? You won't forget old friends, will you now?"
"Er certainly not, certainly not!" I assured him loftily. "Now I think of it, Freddie was mentioning to me the other day something about sending a company to America. Next time I see him the very next time, on my word I'll mention your name. You can depend on it."
Then, waving away his fervid thanks and declining kindly his suggestion to have a glass of bitters, I hailed a cab and drove away, eager to be alone and think over the dazzling prospect. My own small success seemed flat enough beside it. America Fred Carno! After all, why not? I asked myself. I could make people laugh; Carno did not have a man who could do it better. Just let me have a chance to show him what I could do!
So excited that I could feel the blood beating in my temples and every nerve quivering, I beat on the cab window with my cane and called to the driver to take me to Carno's offices quick. "An extra shilling if you do it in five minutes!" I cried, and sat on the edge of the seat as the cab lurched and swayed, hoping only that I could get there before all the parts were gone.
I walked into Carno's offices with a quick assured step, hiding my excitement under an air of haughty importance, though only a great effort kept my hand from trembling as I gave my card to the office boy. I swallowed hard and called to mind all the press notices I had received in the two years with Casey's Circus while I waited, trying to gain an assurance I did not feel, for Carno was a very big man, indeed. When the office boy returned and ushered me into the inner office I felt my knees unsteady under me.
"Ah, you got here quickly," Mr. Carno said pleasantly, waving me to a chair, and this unexpected reception completed my confusion.
"Oh, yes. I was I happened to be going by," I replied, dazed.
Mr. Carno leaned back in his chair, carefully fitting his finger tips together and looked at me keenly with his lips pursed up. I said nothing more, being doubtful just what to say, and after a minute he sat up very briskly and spoke.
"As I mentioned in my note," he began, and the office seemed to explode into fireworks about me. He had sent me a note. He wanted me, then. I could make my own terms. "And perhaps I could use you for next season," he finished whatever he had said.
"Yes," I said promptly. "In your American company."
"My American company? Well, no. That is still very indefinite," he replied. "But I can give you a good part with Repairs in the provinces. Thirty weeks, at three pounds."
"No, I would not consider that," I answered firmly. "I will take a part in your American company at six pounds." Six pounds it was an enormous salary; twice as much as I had ever received. I was aghast as I heard the words, but I said doggedly to myself that I would stand by them. I was a great comedian; Fred Carno himself had sent for me; I was worth six pounds.
"Six pounds! It's unheard of. I never pay it," Mr. Carno said sharply.
"Six pounds, not a farthing less," I insisted. "In that case I am afraid I can't use you. Good morning," he answered.
"Good morning," I said, and rising promptly I left the office.
That night I played as I had never played before. The audience howled with laughter from my entrance till my last exit and recalled me again and again, until I would only bow and back off. I carried in a pocket of my stage clothes the note from Mr. Carno, which I had found waiting at the theater, and I winked at myself triumphantly in the mirror while I took off my make-up.
"He'll come around. Watch me I said confidently, and not even Sidney's misgivings nor his repeated urgings to seize the chance with Carno at any salary could shake my determination.
"I'm going to America," I said firmly. "And I won't go under six pounds. Living costs terrifically over there; all the lodgings have built-in baths and they charge double for it. I stand by six pounds and I'll get it, never fear."
In my own heart I had misgivings more than once in the months that followed without another message from Carno, but I set my teeth and vowed that, since I had said six pounds, six pounds it should be. And I worked at comedy effects all day long in our lodgings, falling over chairs and tripping over my cane for hours together, till I was black and blue, but prepared, when the curtain went up at night, to make the audience hold their sides and shriek helplessly with tears of laughter on their cheeks.
"Any news?" Sidney began to ask again every evening, but I managed always to say, "Not yet!" with cocky assurance. "He'll send for me, never fear," I said, warmed with the thought of the applause I was getting and the press notices.
The season with Casey's Circus was ending and I took care not to let any hint of my intention to leave reach the ears of the manager, but I refused to believe that I would be obliged to fall back on him. I looked eagerly every day for another note from Carno.
"Don't worry, I'll see you get your bit when the time is ripe," I told the old comedian whenever he importuned me for news, as he did frequently. "You know how it is, old top you have to manage these big men just right."
At last the note came. It reached me at my lodgings early one morning, having been sent on from the theater, and I trembled with excitement while I dressed. I forced myself to eat breakfast slowly and to idle about a bit before starting for Carno's offices, not to reach them too early and appear too eager, but when at last I set out the cab seemed to do no more than crawl.
"Well, I find I can use you in the American Company," Mr. Carno said.
"Very well," I replied nonchalantly. "And er as to salary ," he began, but I cut in.
"Salary?" I said, shrugging my shoulders. "Why mention it? We went over that before," and I waved my hand carelessly. "Six pounds," I said airily.
He looked at me a minute, frowning. Then he laughed.
"All right, confound you!" he said, smiling, and took out the contract.
Three weeks later, booked for a solid year in the United States, looking forward to playing on the Keith circuit among the Eastern skyscrapers and on the Orpheum circuit in the Wild West among the American red men, I stood on the deck of a steamer and saw the rugged sky-line of New York rising from the sea.