Imatges de pÓgina
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to be dismayed or humiliated by its straits and shifts of poverty, by its isolation and ostracism; while there was something in its alternations of want and profusion, in its piquant contrasts of real and mimic life, in its excitement, action, and change, which had a peculiar charm for her wild and restless spirit. But from many of the associations of the stage, from nearly all actors and actresses, and from all green-room loungers, she instinctively recoiled, and held herself haughtily aloof from the motley little world behind the scenes, apparently by no effort, but as sphered apart by the atmosphere of refinement and superiority which enveloped her. Yet she almost constantly accompanied her husband to rehearsal and play, where, for a time, her presence was grateful both to the pride and a more amiable passion of her mercurial lord. But the sight of that shy, shadowy figure haunting the wings, of those keen, critical eyes ever following the business of the stage, at last grew irksome to him, and he would fain have persuaded her to remain quietly at their lodgings, whilst he was attending to his professional duties. But no, she would go with him, not for pleasure, or even affection, but, as she always avowed, for artistic purposes. That she had cherished, ever since her marriage, the plan of adopting her husband's profession, she had never concealed from him. He usually laughed, in his gay, supercilious way, when she spoke of this purpose, or lightly patted her grand head and declared her to be a wilful, unpractical enthusiast, too much a child of Nature to attempt an art of any kind,born to live and be poetry, not to declaim it, to inspire genius, not to embody it, -a Muse, not a Sibyl.

Once, when she was more than usually earnest in pleading for her plan,—not merely on the strength of her own deep, prophetic conviction of her fitness for a dramatic career, but on the ground of an urgent and bitter necessity for exertion on her part, to ward off actual destitution and suffering, he exclaimed, somewhat impatiently," Why, Zelma, it is an im

possibility, almost an absurdity, you urge! You could never make an actress. You are too hopelessly natural, erratic, and impulsive. You would follow no teaching implicitly, but, when you saw fit, would trample on conventionalities and venerable stage-traditions. You would set up the standard of revolt against the ancient canons of Art, and flout it in the faces of the critics, and—fail,—ay, fail, in spite of your great, staring eyes, the tragic weight of your brows, and the fiery swell of your nostril.”

"I should certainly tread my own ways on the boards, as elsewhere," replied Zelma, quietly,-"move and act from the central force, the instinct and inspiration of Nature,-letting the passion of my part work itself out in its own gestures, postures, looks, and tones,-falling short of, or going beyond, mere stage-traditions. With all due deference for authorities, this would be my art, as it has been the art of all truly great actors. I shall certainly not adopt my husband's profession without his consent, but I shall never cease importuning him for that consent."

Lawrence "laughed a laugh of merry scorn," and left her to her solitary studies and the patient nursing of her purpose.

It was finally, for Zelma's sake, through the unsolicited influence of Sir Harry Willerton, that "Mr. Lawrence Bury, Tragedian," attained to a high point in a provincial actor's ambition,-a London engagement.

After a disheartening period of waiting and idleness, during which he and his wife made actual face-to-face acquaintance with want, and both came near playing their parts in the high-tragedy of starvation in a garret, he made his first appearance before the audience of Covent Garden, in the part of Mercutio. He was young, shapely, handsome, and clever,-full of flash and dash, and, above all, new. He had chosen well his part,Mercutio, that graceful frolic of fancy, which less requires sustained intellectual power than the exaltation of animal spirits,-that brief sunburst of life, that brilliant bubble of character, which reflects,

for a moment, a world of beauty and sparkle, and dies in a flash of wit, yet leaves on the mind a want, a tender regret, which follow one through all the storm and woe of the tragedy.

So it was little wonder, perhaps, that he achieved a decided success, though incomparably greater artists had failed where he triumphed, and that, in spite of the doubtful looks and faint praise of the critics, he became at once a public favorite,—the fashion, the rage. Ladies of the highest ton condescended to admire and applaud, and hailed as a benefactor the creator of a new sensation.

Very soon the young actor's aspiring soul rose above all secondary parts, dropped Mercutio and Horatio for Romeo and Hamlet, and had not the sense to see that he was getting utterly out of his element, dashing with silken sails into the tempest of tragedy, soaring on Icarian wings over its profoundest deeps and into the height and heat of its intensest passion.

Yet with the young, the unthinking, the eager, the curious, it was then as it is now and ever shall be, confidence easily passed for genius, and presumption for power. Tributes of admiration and envy poured in upon him,— anonymous missives, tender and daring, odorous with the atmosphere of luxurious boudoirs, and coarse scrawls, scented with orange-peel and lamp-smoke, and seeming to hiss with the sibilant whisper of green-room spite; and the young actor, valuing alike the sentiments, kindly or malign, which ministered to his egoism, intoxicated with the first foamy draught of fame, grew careless, freakish, and arrogant, as all suddenly adopted pets of the public are likely to do.

At length Mr. Bury played before Royalty, and Royalty was heard to say to Nobility in attendance,-"What! — Who is he? Where did he come from? How old is he? Not quite equal to Garrick yet, but clever,-eh, my Lord?"

This gracious royal criticism, being duly reported and printed, removed the last let to aristocratic favor; fast young bloods

of the highest nobility did not scorn to shake off their perfumes and air their profane vocabulary in the green-room, offering snuff and the incense of flattery together to the Tamerlane, the Romeo, or the Lord Hamlet of the night.

Happily, with the actor's fame rose his salary; and as both rose, the actor and his wife descended from their lofty atticroom into whose one window the stars looked with, it seemed to Zelma, a startling nearness — to respectable lodgings on the second floor.

It was during this first London season that the manager of Covent Garden, himself an actor, remarked the rare capabilities of Zelma's face, voice, and figure for the stage, and in a matter-of-fact business way spoke of them to her husband. The leading actor looked annoyed, and sought to change the subject of conversation; but as the wife's dreamy eyes flashed with sudden splendor, revealing the true dramatic fire, the manager returned upon him with his artistic convictions and practical arguments, and at length wrung from him most reluctant consent that Zelma, after the necessary study, should make a trial of her powers.

Though well over the first summerwarmth of his romantic passion, Lawrence Bury had not yet grown so utterly cold toward his beautiful wife that he could see that trial approach without some slight sympathetic dread; but his miserable egoism forbade him to wish her success; in his secret heart he even hoped that an utter, irretrievable failure would wither at once and forever her pretty artistic aspirations.

Zelma chose for her debut the part of Zara in "The Mourning Bride,"-not out of any love for the character, which was too stormy, vicious, and revengeful to engage her sympathies,— but because it was rapid, vehement, sharply defined, and, if realized at all, she said, would put her, by its very fierceness and wickedness, too far out of herself for failure,-sweep her through the play like a whirlwind, and give her no time to droop. It had for her

heart, moreover, a peculiar charm of association, as her first play,-as that in which she had first beheld the hero of her dreams, "the god of her idolatry," before whom she yet bowed, but as with eyes cast down or veiled, not in reverence, but from a chill, unavowed fear of beholding the very common clay of which he was fashioned.

The awful night of the debut arrived, as doomsday will come at last; and after having been elaborately arrayed for her part by a gossiping tire-woman, who would chatter incessantly, relating, for the encouragement of the debutante, tale after tale of stage-fright, swoons, and failure, after having been plumed, powdered, and most reluctantly rouged, the rose of nineteen summers having suddenly paled on her cheek, Zelma was silently conducted from her dressingroom by her husband, who, as Osmyn, took his stand with her, the guards, and attendants at the left wing, awaiting the summons to the presence of King Manuel. As they were listening to the last tender bleating of Almeria, the same pretty actress whom Zelma had seen as Zara at Arden, and the gruff responses

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of her sire, an eager whisper ran through the group; the King and Queen had entered the royal box! This was quite unexpected, and Zelma was aghast. Involuntarily, she stretched out her hand and grasped that of her husband ;— as she did so, the rattle of the chains on her wrist betrayed her. The attendants looked round and smiled;-Lawrence frowned and turned away, with a boy's pettishness. He had been more than usually moody that day; but Zelma had believed him troubled for her sake, and even now interpreted his unkindness as nervous anxiety.

The next moment, everything, even he, was forgotten; for she stood, she hardly knew how, upon the stage, receiving and mechanically acknowledging a great burst of generous British applause.

It was a greeting less complaisant and patronizing than is usually given to débutantes. Zelma's youthful charms, height

ened by her sumptuous dress, took her audience by surprise, and, while voice and action delayed, made for her friends and favor, and bribed judgment with beauty.

King Manuel receives his captives with a courteous speech,-only a few lines; but, during their reading, through what a lifetime of fear, of pain, of unimag inable horrors passed Zelma! Stagefright, that waking nightmare of débu tantes, clutched her at once, petrifying, while it tortured her. The house seemed to surge around her, the stage to rock under her feet. She fancied she heard low, elfish laughter behind the scenes, and already the hiss of the critics seemed to sing in her reeling brain. A thousand eyes pierced her through and through,seemed to see how the frightened blood had shrunk away from its mask of rouge and hidden in her heart,—how that poor childish heart fluttered and palpitated,how near the hot tears were to the glazed eyeballs, how fast the black, obliterating shadows were creeping over the records of memory,-how the first instinct of fear, a blind impulse to flight, was maddening her.

She raised her eyes to the royal box, where sat a stout, middle-aged man, with a dull, good-humored face, a star and ribbon on his breast, and by his side a woman, ample and motherly, with an ugly tuft of feathers on her head, and a diamond tiara, which lit up her heavy Dutch features like a torch. The King, the Queen!

Just at this moment, his Majesty was in gracious converse with a lady on his right, a foreign princess, of an ancient, unpronounceable title,-a thin, colorless head and form, overloaded with immemorial family-jewels, — a mere frame of a woman, to hang brilliants upon. She was one shine and shiver of diamonds, from head to foot ;-she palpitated light, like a glow-worm. Her Majesty, meanwhile, was regaling herself from a jewelled snuff-box, and talking affably over her shoulder to her favorite mistress of the robes, the fearful Schwellenberg.

But Zelma, looking through the transfiguring atmosphere of loyalty, beheld the royal group encompassed by all the ideal splendor and sacredness of majesty ; over their very commonplace heads towered the airy crowns of a hundred regal ancestors, piled round on round, and glimmering away into the clouds.

Ere she turned her fascinated eyes away from the august sight, her cue was given. She started, and struggled to speak, but her lips clung together. There was a dull roar and whirl in her brain, as of a vortex of waters. In piteous appealing she looked into the face of her husband, and caught on his lips a strange, faint smile of mingled pity and exultation. It stung her like a lash! Instantly she was herself, or rather Zara, a captive, but every inch a queen, and delivered herself calmly and proudly, though with a little tremble of her past agitation in her voice, a thrill of womanly feeling, which felt its way at once to the hearts of her audience.

The first act, however, afforded her so little scope for acting, that she left the stage unassured of her own success. There was doubt before and behind the curtain. The critics had given no certain sign, the general applause might have been merely an involuntary tribute to youth and beauty. Actors and actresses hung back, even the friendly manager was guarded in his congratulations. But in the second act the débutante put an end to this dubious state of things, at least, so far as her audience was concerned. "The Captive Queen" took captive all, save that stern row of critics,—the indomitable, the incorruptible. Their awful judgment still hung suspended over her head.

In a scene with Osmyn Zelma first revealed her tragic power. In her fitful tenderness, in the passionate reproaches which she stormed upon him, in her entreaties and imprecations, she was the poet's ideal, and more. She dashed into the crude and sketchy character bold strokes of Nature and illuminative gleams of genius, all her own.

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Mr. Bury, as Osmyn, was cold and unsympathetic, avoided the eye of Zara, and was even more tender than was "set down in the book to Almeria. "How well he acts his part!" said to herself the generous Zelma.

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How anxiety for his wife dashes his spirit!" said the charitable audience.

At the close of this act the manager grasped Zelma's hand, and spoke of her success as certain. She thanked him with an absent air, and gazed about her wistfully. Surely her husband should have been the first to give her joy. But he did not come forward. She shrank away to her dressing-room, and waited for him vainly till she knew he was on the stage, where she next met him in the great prison-scene.

In this scene, some bitterness of feeling-the first sharp pangs of jealousygave, unconsciously to herself, a terrible vitality and reality to her acting. She filled the stage with the electrical atmosphere of her genius. Waxen Almeria, who was to have gone out as she entered, received a shock of it, and stood for a moment transfixed. Even Osmyn kindled out of his stony coldness, and gazed with awe and irrepressible admiration at this new revelation of that strange, profound creature he had called “wife.” She, so late a shy woodland nymph, stealing to his embrace, - now an angered goddess, blazing before him, calling down upon him the lightnings of Olympus, with all the world to see him shrink and shrivel into nothingness! And all this power and passion, overtopping his utmost reach of art, outsoaring his wildest aspirations, he had wooed, fondled, and protected! At first he was overwhelmed with amazement; he could hardly have been more so, had a volcano broken out through his hearth-stone; but soon, under the fierce storm of Zara's taunts and reproaches, a sullen rage took possession of him. He could not separate the actress from the wife, and the wife seemed in open, disloyal revolt. Every burst of applause from the audience was an insult to him; and he felt a mad desire to oppose, to

defy them all, to assert a master's right over that frenzied woman, to grasp her by the arm and drag her from the stage before their eyes!

This scene closes with a memorable speech:

"Vile and ingrate! too late thou shalt repent The base injustice thou hast done my love! Ay, thou shalt know, spite of thy past distress,

And all the evils thou so long hast mourned, Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,

Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned!"

Zelma gave these lines as no pre-Siddonian actress had ever given them,with a certain sublimity of rage, the ire of an immortal, and swept off the scene before a wild tumult of applause, led by the vanquished critics. It followed her, surge on surge, to her dressing-room, whither she hastily retreated through a crowd of players and greenroom habitués.

That sudden tempest shook even the royal box. The King, who a short time before had been observed to nod, not shaking his "ambrosial locks" in Jovelike approval, but somnolently, started up, exclaiming, "What! what! what's that?"-and the Queen-took snuff. In her dressing-room Zelma waited for her husband. 64 Surely he will come now," she said.

She had already put off the tragedyqueen; she was again the loving wife, yearning for one proud smile, one tender word, one straining embrace. The tempest outside the curtain still rolled in upon her, as she sat alone, drooping and sad, a spent thunder-cloud. The sound brought her no sense of triumph; she only looked around her drearily, like a frightened child, and called, "Lawrence!"

Instead of him came the manager. She must go before the curtain; the audience would not be denied.

Lawrence led her out,-holding her hot, trembling fingers in his cold, nerveless hand, a moody frown on his brow, and his lips writhing with a forced smile.

As Zelma bent and smiled in modest acknowledgment of renewed applause, led by royalty itself,- her aspirations so speedily fulfilled, her genius so early crowned, even at that supreme moment, the grief of the woman would have outweighed the triumph of the artist, and saddened all those plaudits into knell-like sounds, could she have known that the miserable fiends of envy and jealousy had grasped her husband's heart and torn it out of her possession forever.

In the death-scene, where the full tide of womanly feeling, which has been driven out of Zara's heart by the volcanic shocks of fierce passions, comes pouring back with whelming force, Zelma lost none of her power, but won new laurels, bedewed with tears from "eyes unused to weep."

Zara dies by her own hand, clinging to the headless body of King Manuel, believing it to be Osmyn's. Zelma gave the concluding lines of her part brokenly, in a tone of almost childlike lamenting, with piteous murmurs and penitent

caresses:

"Cold, cold!-my veins are icicles and frost! Cover us close, or I shall chill his breast, And fright him from my arms! - See! see! he slides

Still farther from me! Look! he hides his face!

I cannot feel it!-quite beyond my reach!Ah, now he's gone, and all is dark!"

With that last desolate moan of a proud and stormy spirit, sobbing itself into the death-quiet, a visible shudder crept through the house. Even the King threw himself back in his royal chair with an uncomfortable sort of "ahem!" as though choking with an emotion of common humanity; and the Queen-forgot to take snuff.

From the night of her triumphant début, the life of the actress ran in the full sunlight of public favor; but the life of the woman crept away into the shadow,— not of that quiet and repose so grateful to the true artist, but of domestic discomfort and jealous estrangement.

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