The Actor by A. A. Milne
Mr Levinski, the famous actor-manager, dragged himself from beneath
the car, took the snow out of his mouth, and swore heartily. Mortal
men are liable to motor accidents; even kings' cars have backfired;
but it seems strange that actor-managers are not specially exempt
from these occurrences. Mr Levinski was not only angry; he was also a
little shocked. When an actor-manager has to walk two miles to the
nearest town on a winter evening one may be pardoned a doubt as to
whether all is quite right with the world.
But the completest tragedy has its compensations for some one. The
pitiable arrival of Mr Levinski at "The Duke's Head," unrecognized
and with his fur coat slightly ruffled, might make a sceptic of the
most devout optimist, and yet Eustace Merrowby can never look back
upon that evening without a sigh of thankfulness; for to him it was
the beginning of his career. The story has often been told since—in
about a dozen weekly papers, half a dozen daily papers and three
dozen provincial papers—but it will always bear telling again.
There was no train to London that night, and Mr Levinski had been
compelled to put up at "The Duke's Head." However, he had dined and
was feeling slightly better. He summoned the manager of the hotel.
"What does one do in this dam place?" he asked with a yawn.
The manager, instantly recognizing that he was speaking to a member
of the aristocracy, made haste to reply. Othello was being played at
the town theatre. His daughter, who had already been three times,
told him that it was simply sweet. He was sure his lordship ...
Mr Levinski dismissed him, and considered the point. He had to
amuse himself with something that evening, and the choice apparently
lay between Othello and the local Directory. He picked up the
Directory. By a lucky chance for Eustace Merrowby it was three years
old. Mr Levinski put on his fur coat and went to see Othello.
For some time he was as bored as he had expected to be, but
half-way through the Third Act he began to wake up. There was
something in the playing of the principal actor which moved him
strangely. He looked at his programme. "Othello—Mr EUSTACE MERROWBY."
Mr Levinski frowned thoughtfully. "Merrowby?" he said to himself. "I
don't know the name, but he's the man I want." He took out the gold
pencil presented to him by the Emperor—(the station-master had had a
tie-pin)—and wrote a note.
He was finishing breakfast next morning when Mr Merrowby was
"Ah, good-morning," said Mr Levinski, "good-morning. You find me
very busy," and here he began to turn the pages of the Directory
backwards and forwards, "but I can give you a moment. What is it you
"You asked me to call on you," said Eustace.
"Did I, did I?" He passed his hand across his brow with a noble
gesture. "I am so busy, I forget. Ah, now I remember. I saw you play
Othello last night. You are the man I want. I am producing 'Oom
Baas,' the great South African drama, next April at my theatre.
Perhaps you know?"
"I have read about it in the papers," said Eustace. In all the
papers (he might have added) every day, for the last six months.
"Good. Then you may have heard that one of the scenes is an ostrich
farm. I want you to play 'Tommy.'"
"One of the ostriches?" asked Eustace.
"I do not offer the part of an ostrich to a man who has played
Othello. Tommy is the Kaffir boy who looks after the farm. It is a
black part, like your present one, but not so long. In London you
cannot expect to take the leading parts just yet."
"This is very kind of you," cried Eustace gratefully. "I have
always longed to get to London. And to start in your theatre!—it's a
"Good," said Mr Levinski. "Then that's settled." He waved Eustace
away and took up the Directory again with a business-like air.
And so Eustace Merrowby came to London. It is a great thing for a
young actor to come to London. As Mr Levinski had warned him, his new
part was not so big as that of Othello; he had to say "Hofo
tsetse!"—which was alleged to be Kaffir for "Down, sir!"—to the big
ostrich. But to be at the St George's Theatre at all was an honour
which most men would envy him, and his association with a real ostrich
was bound to bring him before the public in the pages of the
Eustace, curiously enough, was not very nervous on the first night.
He was fairly certain that he was word-perfect; and if only the
ostrich didn't kick him in the back of the neck—as it had tried to
once at rehearsal—the evening seemed likely to be a triumph for him.
And so it was with a feeling of pleasurable anticipation that, on the
morning after, he gathered the papers round him at breakfast, and
prepared to read what the critics had to say.
He had a remarkable Press. I give a few examples of the notices he
obtained from the leading papers:
"Mr Eustace Merrowby was Tommy."—Daily Telegraph.
"The cast included Mr Eustace Merrowby."—Times.
"... Mr Eustace Merrowby..."—Daily Chronicle.
"We have no space in which to mention all the other
"This criticism only concerns the two actors we have mentioned, and
does not apply to the rest of the cast."—Sportsman.
"Where all were so good, it would be invidious to single out
anybody for special praise."—Daily Mail.
"The acting deserved a better play."—Daily News.
"... Tommy..."—Morning Post.
As Eustace read the papers, he felt that his future was secure.
True, The Era, careful never to miss a single performer, had yet to
say, "Mr Eustace Merrowby was capital as Tommy," and The Stage,
"Tommy was capitally played by Mr Eustace Merrowby"; but even without
this he had become one of the Men who Count—one whose private life
was of more interest to the public than that of any scientist, general
or diplomat in the country.
Into Eustace Merrowby's subsequent career I cannot go at full
length. It is perhaps as a member of the Garrick Club that he has
attained his fullest development. All the good things of the Garrick
which were not previously said by Sydney Smith may safely be put down
to Eustace; and there is no doubt that he is the ringleader in all the
subtler practical jokes which have made the club famous. It was he who
pinned to the back of an unpopular member of the committee a sheet of
paper bearing the words
—and the occasion on which he drew the chair from beneath a
certain eminent author as the latter was about to sit down is still
referred to hilariously by the older members.
Finally, as a convincing proof of his greatness, let it be said
that everybody has at least heard the name "Eustace Merrowby"—even
though some may be under the impression that it is the trade-mark of
a sauce; and that half the young ladies of Wandsworth Common and
Winchmore Hill are in love with him. If this be not success, what is?