Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Christopher Crissom was the greatest lover
but right now he had a tie which was as unromantic as mud.
IN a happier Broadway era, Christopher Crissom had been acclaimed "The Greatest Lover Since Casanova." It was unfortunate, however, for the state of Christopher Crissom's amours, not to mention his earning power, that that happy era was long since gone.
At fifty, in a none too clean boarding house on New York's lower East Side, Crissom faced the cracked, soapy surface of his dresser mirror, one sunny spring afternoon, and at last gave in to the facts.
"I look," mused the once renowned idol of the footlights, "a trifle used."
This, of course, was understatement. Crissom was merely softening the blow for himself. He looked, more exactly, like hell.
There was, of course, his classic profile. Something of its former grandeur remained. But it sagged, and the throat of his skin hung limply in relief. His face was gaunt, of course. Intermittent hunger invariably brings with it a certain gauntness. And age had done the rest. His still neatly trimmed moustache was gray, as was his fast disappearing hair. And the blue-black pouches beneath his sad and soulful eyes were something which the artifice of cosmetics could nevermore erase.
Christopher Crissom, at long last, was finally, completely, aware of these dreary facts. He knew now that his long cherished dream of romantic roles such as he had played in his heyday were futile. And he now knew why it was that he had been lucky to get what small bit parts as had fallen his way during the past fifteen meager years.
It had taken a long time for Christopher Crissom to travel this road to ultimate self appraisal.
And now the end of the journey left him weary.
He turned from his betraying mirror and walked slowly over to the ugly brass bed. There he sat down, his head in his hands, and thought of nothing.
Christopher Crissom had come to the end of the road, and it is significant that he was too tired even to muster a trace of ham with which to bolster his beaten spirits.
Outside his dirty window, New York was fresh with spring. The sun was bright, the air warm, the breeze scented with that delightful aroma which belongs only to April. The sound of the hurdy-gurdy sang the season, as did the sounds of children's skates upon the pavements and the noise of a baseball game under way among the street corner urchins.
But Christopher Crissom didn't care.
After a few moments, Crissom rose, went to the window, and stared out of it into the street below. He saw the hurdy-gurdy, felt the warmth of the sun through the dirty window pane, watched the children skating, the urchins at play. He sighed, and nostalgia ached in his heart.
Crissom left the window, after a bit, and opened the door of his dingy closet. Wryly he surveyed the clean but ragged wardrobe of some three very outdated suits that hung there.
He chose the old tweed, as it was light, and had once been gay in keeping with the spirit of spring. In his dresser drawer he found a shirt that was not too badly frayed at the collar and cuffs. And on the rack beside the dresser he found a tie—a tired, badly bedraggled tie whose faded once-jaunty pattern brought him renewed pain and heartache.
It was, however, the only tie of the five or six he owned, that at all blended with the rest of the costume he had chosen.
Crissom then began to dress.
The care he gave to his toilet was somewhat remarkable. And by the time he was completely attired in the costume he had selected, he looked almost—but of course not quite—well turned out.
The gray fedora he found to top his outfit had once been sleek and soft and obviously expensive. Now it was worn, almost nap- bare, and the jaunty manner in which Crissom snapped the brim down on both ends was somehow pathetic. The hat was, nevertheless, quite clean, and had even been recently blocked.
Christopher Crissom then left his dirty little room in his drab little boarding house and became a part of the New York pedestrian horde.
HE walked slowly and without any particular purpose, pausing often to gape at passing sights or stare in faintly interesting store windows. His progress was steady, leisurely, unhurried.
Purposely, Crissom by-passed the theatrical section of the City. It was not his intent to tour the haunted canyons of his triumphant youth. It was not his intent in fact, to relive anything of his past, in this stroll, save the springs of yesterday and the memories that were aromatically a part of them.
There was a little café in the eighties. Old now, and tired like Crissom himself. He remembered that there had been fine wine there once, and gaiety, and a lovely, laughing girl. Her hair had been golden, and the adoration in her beautiful eyes had been solely for the debonair, the handsome, the famous young Christopher Crissom.
Crissom smiled faintly at the memory of this. He could recall the evening, the music, almost the menu. But he could not recall the name of the girl.
There had been many such beautiful women in Christopher Crissom's life, then. And all of them had been as adoring as the golden-haired girl whose face he now remembered. All of them, he felt he could truthfully say, had loved him. But each of them had to content herself with Crissom's smile, his charm, his handsome manliness, but not his heart.
Christopher Crissom had never truly loved a woman. He had wooed them and wined them, even married some. But each had been nothing but a time interval by which he numbered the swiftly moving years of his dizzying success. He had never been able to find room in his heart for anyone other than himself.
When Crissom stopped at last in the Park, he found a small bench beneath the trees where the sun could warm his back.
He watched the nurses stroll by pushing their perambulators, listened to the shouts of little boys and girls at play, and blinked lazily in the warm sunlight.
Leisurely Crissom continued to take stock of himself, his past, and his present.
He was in the life stage of what should have been virile middle age. By years, he was not old. Fifty was certainly not the chronological definition of age.
And yet he was an old man.
He realized, vaguely, that this was due to nothing more than the fact that his life had been based on youth, his success dependent on it, his career a constant struggle to keep a pretense of it. Had he not struggled so desperately to retain youth, he would not have become so suddenly and utterly aged when he was at last bested in the hopeless fight.
He had made Youth his god, worldly beauty his shrine, and when both had left him, there had been nothing to save him.
Crissom watched a boy of sixteen or so wheeling his bicycle along the walk. Something seized his heart, and it was worse than the ache of envy. He realized, then, that there was no price he would not pay to have his youth again.
A moment later, two lovers strolled by, hand in hand, raptly lost in one another. The look in the girl's eye as she stared up at the young man whose arm she clung to, was the same that had once been directed at Christopher Crissom.
Crissom was aware, when they had passed, that he would sell his soul to have a woman look at him with such utter adoration once again.
QUITE suddenly bitterness filled him, and he was swept by a desolate loneliness that made him want to cry out his resentment at life. He was lonely for youth, not for companionship. He was lonely for the love someone might give him, not the love he might give someone else. And he was suddenly deeply resentful at the fate which had deprived Christopher Crissom of both youth and love.
He asked himself why it was that he could not have bargained with fate. Why it was that, since he was such an admirable standard bearer for youth, and had been such an excellent recipient to the love of others, he could not have been permitted to remain perpetually young, perpetually desirable.
Youth had been a role to Crissom. He had played it handsomely and to its full. Why, then, had he not been permitted to play that role eternally, rather than have it taken over by those who played it less lavishly than he?
Crissom could have wept his bitterness. He put his head in his hands, leaning forward on the bench, staring dully at the sidewalk....
"Some ties, mister?"
Crissom saw, first, a pair of feet. They were small feet, a man's feet. The shoes that covered them were cheap and scuffed. Crissom looked up and saw the owner of those feet, the man who had said once, and was now repeating:
"Some ties, mister?"
Crissom saw a thin, smiling little man, dressed in a cheap, unpressed suit of blue serge that fitted him too tightly. The fellow had sad, somber eyes, in spite of his flashing, crooked- toothed smile. His complexion was of Mediterranean swarthiness.
He was carrying a cardboard box, shirt or dress variety, in which there was an almost blinding array of loudly colored ties.
"They're very fine ties. I make them all by hand. Myself, I make them. They are inexpensive," said the little man.
Crissom regarded the fellow with lofty disdain for an instant, then realized that the little man's eyes were fixed on Crissom's own frayed and faded cravat.
Crissom flushed under this open scrutiny, trying to think of a sharp remark to send the little peddler on his way.
"You have good taste in ties, mister," said the little man apologetically. "That one you wear now. It is old. It no longer looks well. But it was an excellent tie, an expensive tie, when you bought it."
"Thank you," Crissom said acidly.
His bitterness was apparently lost on the little man.
"I know good ties," said the peddler. "I have made all kinds." He sighed, and glanced at those in his box. "These I was just going to sell you—they are not good. They are cheap. They are loud. But, just a minute."
Christopher Crissom watched, somewhat surprised, as the little man put the box in his arms to the ground. He was even more surprised when, stooping over, the peddler removed the top layer of the box and exposed an under section which contained half a dozen magnificent cravats.
At Crissom's involuntary gasp, the little peddler looked up and smiled.
"They are beautiful, are they not?" he asked.
Crissom nodded. "I'll admit they are," he said, wetting his lips. "But I am afraid that I am not in the market for any cravats, good or bad, at the mo—"
The little man interrupted Crissom.
"This is particularly suited to you," he said, selecting a soft, silken, gray-blue cravat.
Before Crissom was aware of the peddler's intent, the little man was holding the necktie up to him, smiling happily.
"See," the peddler exclaimed. "See how it suits you!"
CRISSOM suddenly felt angry towards this little man who taunted him with finery he could obviously ill afford.
"I say," he exclaimed indignantly. "Enough of this high- pressure business. I told you I don't want any neckwear. If you will kindly—"
Again the little man cut him off. As he removed the tie from Crissom's neck, where he had been holding it, he said: "It is the price that worries you, no?"
"Damn you!" Crissom exploded. "Will your next cheap trick be to try to shame me into a purchase? I told you I don't want any."
The little man nodded soberly.
"I see. It is the price. But you need not be ashamed of that. Nor need you feel that you cannot afford this cravat. To you I am making it a gift."
Crissom obviously did not understand. His tone was acid as he said: "A gift, eh? And what trickery have you in mind? Must I buy seven others to get this one as a gift?"
The little man's smile, this time, was hurt.
"You must buy nothing," he said softly. "I see that you know fine neckwear. I see that your own once excellent cravat is worn and threadbare. When you could afford to, you bought the best cravats. You gave to some other tie salesman understanding consideration as a buyer. Why then, in appreciation of this, may not I, a lowly peddler of cheap cravats, give you the very best of my stock, gratis?"
Crissom felt a trifle sorry for his outburst of temper.
"You mean you actually want to make me a present of that very lovely tie?" he asked.
"Yes," the peddler declared.
"No strings, no hitches?" Crissom demanded.
"Only one," said the peddler.
"Ahhh," smiled Crissom. "Now, perhaps we'll get to the bottom of this. What is the hitch?"
"The provision is," said the little man, "that you give me the old tie you are now wearing, in exchange."
"Are you serious?" Crissom was now amused.
"I would like to have it," said the peddler.
It occurred, wistfully, to Christopher Crissom, that perhaps this peddler had recognized him as the once celebrated theatrical star. Perhaps that was why he wanted his tie. A souvenir, something to show to friends and boast about. A tie worn by that once famous actor, Christopher Crissom.
Crissom gave voice to this wishful thinking.
"You know, then, who I am?" he demanded hopefully.
The little peddler smiled a sad, shy smile. He shook his head.
"I do not know your name," he said. "I know only that you are the person I was destined to meet here this afternoon. You are the person destined to wear this cravat."
Christopher Crissom's ego was suddenly deflated. What on earth was the little fellow babbling about? He frowned, then brightened. It really made no difference. There was nothing to quibble about. After all, the little idiot was willing to give him an obviously expensive cravat in exchange of Crissom's own threadbare neckpiece. There was certainly nothing to lose in an exchange like that. Looking at the new, luxuriously silken blue gray tie in the little fellow's hands, Crissom was suddenly eager to have it.
"Thanks, old boy," he said. "That was really awfully decent of you. I shall surely hold to the trade."
Crissom swiftly removed his own necktie and handed it to the little man. The peddler, smiling happily, handed him the new cravat.
THE moment Crissom felt the silken texture of the tie in his hand, an electric thrill went through him. It was even more soft, more luxuriant material than it appeared to be. It was a tie such as would have been a prize to him even in his heyday.
Crissom realized, foolishly, that his hands trembled as he fondled the neckpiece. He flushed in embarrassment as he realized that this was apparent to the little peddler.
"It's wonderful," Crissom blurted, covering his confusion. "Quite a magnificent bit of wearing apparel."
"It is more than that," said the little fellow. "I know. I made it myself. Wearing that tie, you will be three times blessed. It will thrice give you what you prize most highly in life. Your three greatest wishes will be fulfilled."
Crissom had been eagerly donning the cravat as the little peddler spoke. He paused in the middle of the intricacies of a Windsor knot, and glanced sharply at the little fellow. Really potty, Crissom thought. But he said:
"Really? Is that right? My, rather startling tie, eh?"
The little man smiled.
"You do not believe me," he said without offense.
Crissom tried to conceal a smile. He finished the knot, patted it smooth, tucked the ends of the tie beneath his coat.
"Why, of course I do," he said. "And I certainly thank you for that handsome cravat. Even with just its ordinary qualities, such as excellence of fabric, beauty of pattern, craftsmanship of work, it is worth a thousand thanks."
The little man still seemed unoffended.
"No," he smiled. "I know you do not take credence in what I have told you. However, you will learn quickly enough that it is true."
Crissom watched the little man as he folded the actor's old, threadbare cravat and stuffed it in the under section of the tie box. As he watched, he unconsciously stroked the smoothly silken texture of his new neckpiece. He regretted that there was no mirror present.
The little peddler had put the top on his tie box, placed it in his arms once more, and was now bowing an exit.
"The tie looks splendid," he said. "It has found an excellent owner. Remember what I have told you about it. Good day."
Crissom was inwardly glad to be rid of the peddler. He had the tie, and that was all that interested him. The zany mumblings of a man slightly deranged were embarrassing and hard to cope with. Crissom was glad to see the little man moving off.
"Good day, old chap," Crissom called, "and thanks a million for the handsome cravat."
Already ten yards or so down the walk, the little man looked over his shoulder, smiled, and waved once to Crissom. Then he turned and moved on. A moment later, and he was lost from view around a corner of the park walk.
Crissom sat there, staring at the turn around which the little peddler had disappeared. He was still unconsciously fondling the smooth gloss fabric of his new neckpiece.
"Balmy, absolutely balmy," Crimson murmured. "As nutty as they come. However," he sighed, "such insanity as that is pleasant to encounter these days. One finds so little of it. Three wishes, eh? What rot! But what a fine cravat!"
CRISSOM sat there a moment more, basking in the sun and feeling, with this new possession, considerably better than he had felt before. Better, in fact, than he had felt in quite a long time.
The spring was still fevering in his veins. Each breath of it continued to remind him of other, younger, and happier days in spring. The girls—ah, the beautiful girls! And the adoration in their eyes—that was what made it all worth while.
Crissom sighed, trying to recall how many years it had been since a woman, any woman, had looked at him like that. It had been so long ago that the memory was hazy.
Oh so desperately he wished he could see that look again! If once more some girl, some woman, howsoever plain, could look into his eyes with the tenderness and love which he had once received from them all.
He shook his head wearily, knowing what a ridiculous hope that was. Crissom rose from the bench and started along the walk in the direction the peddler had taken minutes before.
As he turned the corner, his glance fell upon a purse that lay on a park bench by the side of the walk.
Crissom stepped quickly over to it, looked around, and perceived that there was no one about. Whoever had left this purse here was not in the vicinity. Carelessness that might profit the badly depleted Crissom pocketbook.
He looked once again to left and right, then over his shoulder. There was no one within sight. He bent forward and picked up the purse.
His hands trembled as they held it. Wild hope made him pray that there might be fifty, even a hundred, dollars in it. But it didn't seem the sort of purse that would contain that much. It was plain, almost drab.
Crissom was about to open it when he heard the feminine voice behind him.
"Oh, thank goodness it's still here!"
He wheeled, purse in his hands, and saw a short, plump, somewhat matronly woman bearing down on him. She was visibly excited, quite distraught.
An automatic smile, a gracious smile, came to Crissom's lips.
"This is yours, Madam?" he asked the woman.
She stood before him now, and Crissom saw that her hair was dark, her dress black, her hat ridiculously small for one with such a round face as hers. Nonetheless, he saw that she had a certain wholesome, rotund prettiness about her. More exactly—she had once possessed such a prettiness, but carried now only the traces of it.
As Crissom spoke, smiling graciously, he extended the purse to the woman.
She took it from his hand, her blue eyes meeting his for the first time.
"Thank you so much!" she exclaimed.
Crissom continued to smile. He bowed from the hips.
"Not at all, my dear lady. I had just spied your purse. I was about to open it, thinking the owner's address might be inside. Now your return has saved us both worry."
The woman seemed to be aware of Crissom as a person for the first time. She crimsoned beneath his courtly smile, but her eyes, after appraising him quickly, returned to his.
And Crissom saw the expression in her eyes as they met his own.
It was an expression of stark, unabashed admiration. A look, almost, of one smitten by love and filled with adoration!
CRISSOM'S pulse doubled its beat.
No woman had looked at him in such a manner in years!
"You are so very, very kind," she said. Her eyes left his, and she seemed suddenly flustered and dreadfully embarrassed at what she had permitted him to read in that glance.
Crissom, however, scarcely noticed this. He was too utterly elated to guide himself by anything other than his old, and once unfailing, instincts. He was playing a response to the glance she had given him. Playing it to the hilt, even if, perhaps, a bit too eagerly.
Into his voice, into his manner, into his smile he threw the long languishing chemicals that had once been the fabulous Crissom Personality. That had made him an idol of women.
"Not at all," he murmured throatily. "It is always a delight to be able to serve a charming lady."
The plump, matronly little woman almost swooned at this. Into her eye again leaped the unmistakable mirrorings of a woman swept off her feet and hopelessly entranced.
The reaction set off the last fuse in the long slumbering Crissom ego. Quickly he tabulated the change he had in his pocket—a dollar and fifty-three cents—all he had in the world. He swallowed hard. What was a dollar and fifty-three cents against this look that nothing on earth could have bought before this wonderful moment? He couldn't lose his admirer now. He had to keep her with him a little longer. He had to savor the last full measure of her utterly breathtaking reaction to him.
Crissom took a deep breath and threw away his reason in his next words.
"Dear lady," he murmured. "I hope you won't think me dreadfully forward if I suggest that this fortunate moment be celebrated in—ah—a cocktail?"
He didn't need her answer, which came a second later. He saw it clearly in the unashamed adoration that shone in her blue eyes.
THE three hours they spent together in the inexpensive little bar Crissom had chosen were the most glorious he had had in the past decade. Over their cocktails—Crissom had one, which he nursed carefully, and the woman had two, which she considered daring—Crissom talked endlessly on the subject which most fascinated him, Christopher Crissom.
"I knew I had seen you before," she said, when he had given her his name. "My mother took me to several of your plays when I was home for the holidays from finishing school."
Crissom had been scarcely able to stand this. It had been a good dozen years since he had been "recognized" by his "public."
He made it plain, in his casual discussion of the theater in relation to the Life and Times of Christopher Crissom, that his present status as an idol of the footlights was something far from small. A gentleman in quiet retirement was the picture he painted of himself. The minor roles he played now and then—they were all just roguish impulses or appearances to satisfy the urgings of producer friends who begged him to lend a hand by a brief appearance on their bills. He was contemplating, he went on to assure his companion, a return to the stage in all his former glory.
His companion—her name was Alice Hoobin—was visibly thrilled by all of this, and the ardor in her gaze became so marked that it would have embarrassed one less starved for such attention than Crissom.
At the conclusion of it all, Crissom, glancing at the clock on the wall, observed that he felt like an utter fool for having bored her by his incessant talk of himself. He wanted so much, he assured her, to know more about her.
Alice Hoobin blushed prettily, and took her eyes from his.
"I—I'm really no one at all," she said. "There's nothing to tell of my life. And you've been so utterly fascinating, Mr. Crissom—"
Crissom had a moment of largesse. He cut in.
"You may call me Christopher, if you wish," he said.
Alice was overwhelmed. Tears came to her eyes.
"Christopher," she quavered, "this has been incredibly delightful. I can't recall such an afternoon in my entire life."
"My dear Alice," said Crissom kindly, "it has been every bit as pleasant for me."
And he was pleased to note that his using her first name for the first time that afternoon sent her into a near swoon.
"I wish I had time to see you home," he added, beckoning a bored waiter for the check.
"But that isn't at all necessary," Alice Hoobin declared. "In fact, I was pondering if I'd be too bold to ask you if I might drop you off at your place. You see, my car is scarcely a block from here. I told John—he's the chauffeur—to wait while I went back to get my purse. The poor thing's probably wondered what on earth has become of me."
The mention of a car with chauffeur caught Crissom like a blow in the solar plexus. Clearly there was more to this Alice Hoobin than met the eye. His reaction of surprise must have been noticed by the woman.
"Yes, you see," she said hastily, "I go to the park almost every afternoon. I have my chauffeur drive me there and wait for me. You probably think it a silly way to pass dull afternoons."
Crissom smiled mechanically; made a mechanical answer.
"Not at all," he murmured.
But he was thinking of the remark she had made about finishing school, and adding it to this startling information about car and chauffeur. Could this drab little thing be a woman of wealth. Crissom took a swift and sudden stock of her apparel, realized, with a shock, that—though it was all terribly plain—it was all exceedingly expensive attire.
THE waiter brought the check, a dollar-twenty, Crissom almost lost his mind at the thought of parting with all but a few pennies of his meager bankroll in order to stand cocktails for this girl of obvious wealth. Nonetheless, the look in her eyes was still worth every bit of it. He paid the check with a flourish, and winced only slightly as he tipped the waiter his last thirty cents.
"But you haven't said if I may drop you at your place," Alice Hoobin reminded him.
Crissom had a vision of the girl's face if she saw the hovel in which he lived. He started to think of some plausible excuse. But she broke in on his search.
"I am going to insist," she said coyly, "that you let me run you home."
Crissom knew he would have to let her run him somewhere. He thought of an excellent stunt.
"I was going to stop in at the Lambs Club," he said. "I have a dinner engagement with several good friends of mine, producers. You could drop me there, if you like."
Alice Hoobin, stars in her eyes, said that would be more than wonderful. Crissom taking a deep breath, realized he had made a neat out. He could step out at the door, and when the car moved off, he could lose himself in the crowd moving along the street. That way she would never know that he hadn't kept his fictitious appointment with his casually mentioned and non existent producer friends.
His plan worked to perfection. The mention of the Lambs Club was additional honey to Alice Hoobin. Crissom could see her turning the glamorous and romantic name over and over again in her mind.
He smiled. Never had he had such a responsive audience to his ham. Never, at least, in quite a number of years....
THE car and chauffeur which Alice Hoobin had mentioned so casually, turned out to be a long, sleek, limousine and a liveried, white-haired man who was obviously an Old Family Retainer.
As Crissom settled back on the soft upholstery he turned and gave his most unctuous smile to his companion.
"You are indeed kind, Alice," he declared. "With shortages as they are from the war, I've not had my limousine out of storage in months. Cabs are such a bore—and difficult to get these days, too."
"I use the car so seldom," Alice said, "that I find my gas ration is more than sufficient for my daily trips to the park."
A speculative gleam was coming into Crissom's eye.
"You visit the park every afternoon?"
"At the same time?"
Again she nodded.
"And at the same place?"
Alice Hoobin blushed at the inference in his questions. Clearly, as she mopped her brow with a handkerchief, the thought of having another meeting with Christopher Crissom was almost more than she could bear.
Crissom carefully noted this, and, just as carefully, changed the subject back to anecdotes about Christopher Crissom and the American theater. In this fashion he held forth until the limousine rolled up before the Lambs Club entrance.
Crissom was full of profuse apologies for having forced his friend to go out of her way in carrying him to his destination. She, of course, oozed protestations that it was a pleasure. They both smiled warmly, and Crissom held her hand a moment longer than necessary in parting.
As the limousine moved off, Crissom turned, made as if to enter the club, then blended himself skillfully into the pedestrians moving along the walk. He was certain, as he watched the car fade into the stream of traffic, that Alice Hoobin hadn't looked back to see the deception that had been played on her.
Crissom slowed his pace, suddenly feeling the let-down that was bound to have come after losing his audience. His momentary depression was given additional gloom by the realization that he was now absolutely penniless, and extremely hungry.
He felt exceedingly, overwhelmingly bitter. And his bitterness was directed against the cruel fate that showed him happiness then whisked it from his grasp.
Why, he demanded of himself, had chance introduced him to this creature who could satisfy his craving for adoration, yet left him without the where-withal that would enable him to pursue her beyond this first meeting?
Why, too, had fate tossed him a double mockery—a glimpse at adoration he could not keep, and wealth he could not have? He had once had adoration; he had once had wealth. Now fate showed both to him briefly, in a flickering moment, only to pull them beyond his reach. It was not right. It was not just. It was not fair.
It occurred to Crissom, suddenly, that in Alice Hoobin he had seen a glimpse of an unobtainable paradise. Why, being as obviously smitten by him as she was, it would be no trick at all for him to win her and marry her. Winning and marrying that girl—woman might have been a better word—would give him both the adoration he had been so long starved for, plus the wealth and leisure which he had long considered his deserved, though denied heritage.
This did not add to Crissom's peace of mind.
Knowing now that both adoration and riches lay within his grasp, save for the circumstances of chance which would deny both to him, he was trebly bitter.
If he had money at all. Just a little money. Just enough money to enable him to finance a week's campaign to win Alice Hoobin, he knew it would be no trick. Then all that he had dreamed of someday regaining would be his.
But he was penniless. He could never attempt to carry on his hollow act with the girl under his present financial circumstances.
"Crissom, you old recluse!"
THE voice broke in on his moody contemplation at the same time that the owner of the voice seized him by the arm.
Crissom looked up to see John Garret, the theatrical agent. Garret was a tall, well-dressed chap with graying hair and an amiable mien. In the past he had handled Crissom in the days after his fall from fame.
"Oh, I say. I didn't see you, old man," Crissom said. His voice and expression brightened automatically, professionally. One never knew but what an agent might have a part, however small, to hand out.
"I've been meaning to get in touch with you, Christopher," said Garret.
"Someone casting for a new show?" Crissom asked, filled with a wild hope.
Garret shook his head. "Not that. No. There doesn't seem to be anything doing in character bits these days, Christopher. However, I do have news for you, and it isn't too bad at all."
Crissom could scarcely stand the suspense, but he fought to keep a poker face.
"Really, what is it?"
"Remember Hattie Goes Home?" Garret asked.
Crissom remembered the play well. He had a character bit in the stinker well over three years ago. It had closed after three weeks, and the producers were in debt to the entire cast in back salary and rehearsal pay.
He nodded noncommittally.
"Well," said Garret, fishing into his pocket, "John Fallow, who produced the flop, is coming out with another show. His first since that failure. He is paying up all the back money owed the cast of Hattie Goes Home, in order to get a fresh start with this venture. His checks just came into my office today, as I handled two-thirds of his cast in that stinker. I have yours, old boy, right in my pocket. I was just going to mail it."
Christopher Crissom's hands trembled as he reached forward to take the check. It was all he could do to keep his expression from going to pieces.
"Thanks, old boy," said Crissom in a shaky effort to be jaunty. "A bit of extra cash never hurts any of us."
"Not at all," Garret agreed. "Well, old man. Drop up some day. Maybe we'll have something right up your alley in characterizations."
Christopher Crissom was not sure whether he bade Garret goodbye or not. He only knew that he was holding that precious white envelope in his hands, unmindful of the crowds that passed. He was scarcely able to control his fingers when he tore the edge from the envelope and reached inside it for the check.
He stared wordlessly at it, blinking his eyes, then closing them fast for a minute before opening them again. It was for the full back pay that had been owed him—three hundred and twenty dollars!
Christopher Crissom had not seen that much money in one lump since—since—since—He couldn't remember how long. Years, not months, that much was certain.
He was suddenly, blissfully aware that he now had fortune within his grasp. With three hundred and twenty dollars, and shrewd management, he could give Alice Hoobin a whirlwind courtship that would win her in seven days or less.
Pedestrians were startled at the joyous whoop emitted by the middle-aged man with the envelope in his hands....
THE first purchase made by Crissom was a new suit of tweeds. He found a number within his budget for eighty dollars. Shirts, six of them, were twenty dollars more. Shoes followed, and socks. The basic elements of his attire he left unchanged. After all, he didn't intend to carry on his courtship in his underwear. If it were ragged, who was to know? He had now spent twenty dollars more, and was left with two hundred dollars of his original windfall. On that, he figured, he could operate.
He stopped at a bar, wearing the suit and shoes and one of the shirts he had just purchased. With the rest of his newly acquired possessions packaged in his arms, he ordered a double scotch and water.
Then he toasted to the success of his venture.
"Here's wishing I make it," said Christopher Crissom, "every single dollar of the fortune I'm after."
As he raised his glass he had his first chance to see himself in his new attire. He looked, he admitted ungrudgingly, one hundred percent improved. The figure staring back at him from the mirror behind the bar was the same gentleman that Crissom had been some two hours before. But he was certainly dressed differently—except for the quite obviously exquisite cravat.
Crissom smiled fondly at the cravat. The crazy little beggar who had given it to him might have been as loony as he appeared. But, no doubt about it, the cravat had brought him luck of sorts. After all, it was right after donning it that he'd encountered Alice. And it was while he was still wearing it that he encountered Garret and the windfall.
Crissom lifted his glass once more.
"I repeat," he said. "Here's wishing me luck in my fortune hunting."
It occurred to him, then, that he had been desperately wishing to find, once again, adoration from the other species when Alice appeared ready to give him just that.
"Silly thought," Crissom declared aloud. "Damned coincidental thing, though."
He smiled again, ordered another drink, downed it, and started back to his dingy apartment on the lower East Side.
On the following day, Christopher Crissom met Alice Hoobin in the park. The time and place were the same as on their previous meeting. But Christopher Crissom and Alice Hoobin were both very much more in earnest over the roles they played to one another. Crissom's courtliness, charm, gallantry and sex appeal were laid on as If by a trowel, and Alice's response in loving adoration was consequently even more pronounced.
In the evening, Crissom took her dining and dancing in a small, smart, but comparatively inexpensive night club. He liked its charm, he told her, and privacy. He didn't add, however, that it kept expenses down.
In the morning, the following day, Crissom sent Alice Hoobin a single rose, beautiful, fragile, exquisite. By the dozen, roses of this sort were exceedingly expensive. One, however, cost little. And wrapped, as this rose was, in a piece of black velvet, the entire effect was original, and more strikingly dramatic than two dozen of them.
In the afternoon, that day, Crissom took Alice for a ride through the park in a hansom. Cocktails followed, then dinner, and his first chance to see her elegant Park Avenue home when she invited him back there for a night cap.
THE moment Crissom saw the home, he had an estimate of the money the Hoobin woman was worth. It must have been a staggering sum. He learned, too, as they talked that evening in the drawing room of that venerable mansion, some details of her life that she had not previously brought forward.
She was the spinster daughter of a millionaire who had died four years previously. She had no brothers, no sisters, and her mother had died more than ten years ago. There were no uncles or aunts to lay claim to a share of her fortune. The estate was handled by an executor who represented the bank which held her money. She had, however, full control of her finances at any time she wished to exercise it.
She had been, until meeting Christopher Crissom, utterly, desolately lonely.
On the second morning of their courtship, Crissom again sent a rose. He met her that afternoon in the park, walked hand in hand with her through the zoo, where they threw peanuts to the animals, and in the evening took her to the Stork Club.
The procedure varied somewhat each succeeding day, save for the rose in the morning and the afternoon meeting in the park. And there was no doubt in the world in Crissom's mind but what he was making sure-fire progress.
On the terrace of a penthouse café, the night of the seventh day of the courtship, Christopher Crissom asked Alice Hoobin to share his worldly goods and his future.
In her eager acceptance, she almost knocked him over the terrace railing. But Christopher Crissom didn't mind. So long as it was almost.
Seven hours later Christopher Crissom and Alice Hoobin stood before a justice of the peace in a small town in Maryland. They had driven there at breakneck speed in her limousine, Crissom at the wheel.
After the justice had pronounced Miss Hoobin Mrs. Crissom, her spouse smilingly asked her for the money for the fee. He had come to the last of his three hundred and twenty dollar investment money. Now he was traveling on her....
AFTER the first newspaper clamors caused by the elopement of the heiress and the ex-great ham actor, Christopher Crissom and bride settled down to the existence of his choosing.
They lived in the old family mansion of Alice's, chiefly because Crissom found it to his liking to be surrounded with the rich trappings and dignity of antiquity.
Bit by bit Crissom picked up the remaining threads of his old life. Those former associates and acquaintances of his who were still about and—which was important to Crissom—doing well, were invited to small parties where he permitted them to share in his newly won luxury.
Slowly but definitely the parties grew larger, the circle of acquaintances newer and more prosperous, and the talk of the gay affairs louder and more prevalent around the town.
The Christopher Crissom's invitation list included all the theatrical and newspaper and operatic celebrities available, not to mention a large assortment of frank and charming parasites. And it was typical that the manner of Crissom's climb back to affluence, although remarked on for the first months after the wedding, soon became forgotten. It became more or less taken for granted that the wealth Crissom displayed was his own. After all, he had made a million, or close to it, in his prime. And is long as the champagne and caviar proved to be plentiful, memories remained short.
Christopher Crissom was, indeed, almost back in the days of his glory. However, there were several things that made his near paradise not quite what it should have been.
The first of these was his wife, Alice.
Somehow, she was beginning to be a vast source of ever growing irritation to him.
This was not due to the fact that she adored him less. In truth, her adoration multiplied each hour, day, week, and month until it knew almost no bounds. At his gay parties she was constantly at his side, looking on worshipfully as he exchanged badinage with the great and near great of the footlight world. And when they went out, she was ever with him, her eyes mirroring the stark, unashamed adoration she had for this incredible Prince Charming of hers.
Although her constant presence might have been responsible for Crissom's feeling imprisoned and a trifle irritated, it was not what he most minded. What was actually the deep rooted seat of his impatience with Alice was the fact that her adoration was becoming embarrassing to him.
He hadn't thought that he would ever have wearied of it. But he at last grew perilously close to that state. And, what was worse, her worshipful manner was a measure by which he finally became aware that she, and she alone, was the only person on earth paying the homage he had once had from all.
Crissom was not entirely a fool. He had had too much genuine admiration and adoration, years before, not to be able to recognize the phony from the real thing. And Alice's demonstration of ever constant true adoration made the insincere flattery and platitudes of his circle show up as conspicuously false.
Subconsciously, therefore, he was beginning to feel that his lack of receipt of the old admiration and adoration from his circle of friends was somehow due to Alice's presence.
He tried, then, to leave her at home occasionally. Aside from the obvious hurt he inflicted on her feelings on these occasions, he paid for his negligence with the realization that only with her could he bask in true idolatrous eminence.
It might have been this knowledge—that he needed her and had to depend solely on her for the maintenance of his ego—that made his irritation toward her grow increasingly more pronounced.
On occasions when her adoration most infuriated him, and he cuffed it aside with a sharp, sneering remark, Alice was given to tears and heart-rending sobs.
IT was on these same occasions, immediately after his outburst, that Crissom felt like biting off his tongue. And his realization that he could not afford to drive her from him became a maddening chain that bound him to the reconciliation that inevitably followed.
In one respect, Christopher Crissom did not permit himself to change, however. And that was in his lucky cravat. Save when he wore evening clothes, he was never without it.
No matter what the suit he wore, or how well the shirt did or did not suit it, the cravat of shimmering gray-blue silk was always a part of the Crissom wardrobe. Eventually, of course, people began to notice it. Alice, naturally enough, was among the first to become aware of the almost constant presence of the neckpiece.
When pressed by his wife as to why he insisted on wearing the same cravat day in and day out, Crissom at first neatly avoided any explanation that might not be understandable to her by saying that he wore it merely because it was his wish to wear always one bit of apparel he had been dressed in on the day of their first meeting.
Alice thought this sweet, and was tactless enough to mention it to several of their acquaintances, who promptly spread the little legend throughout the rest of their circle. When the smiling comments on this eccentricity reached Crissom's ears, he had to smile, and agree that they were indeed correct, and that that was the reason for his attachment to the tie.
To make matters worse, Crissom found himself as bound to the tie as he was to Alice. On the occasions when he decided to put an end to the silly legend of his eccentricity, he found himself unable to dispose of the neckpiece. The reason for this was simple enough. He could not permit himself to be without it. The superstition he had himself attached to it was now too strong to go against.
And as for the handsome cravat itself, there was something actually remarkable about it. Something beyond the superstition Crissom had attached to it. For one thing, the luxurious splendor of the cravat, the smooth sleek texture of it, the soft, rich radiance of its twin hues, seemed to be anything but deteriorating as time went on. In fact, the quality, the sleek unparalleled excellence of the cravat seemed to be daily growing greater.
Crissom noticed this vaguely as he put it on and took it off at the beginning and end of each day. He had, of course, taken excellent care of the tie, gone through special precautions to see that it did not fray, grow threadbare, wrinkle, or be subjected to the hundred and one deteriorating influences any cravat encounters. However, it was only after several months that he began to be aware that his precautions were entirely unnecessary, that the tie was thriving splendidly without any need of his help.
He wondered about this, of course. And, of course he did not fully believe his eyes. He attributed much of the cravat's peculiar reactions to his own wearing nerves.
Alice, he was thankful, did not notice anything peculiar. She was still far too wrapped up in blissful adoration of her spouse to notice anything else.
On a night in July the Crissoms entertained with one of their most lavish parties. It was an exceedingly gala affair, and Crissom had spent three days with the caterers to make sure that the cuisine, the champagne, the orchestra and the thousand one details of the affair would be perfect.
In keeping with a growing custom, the Christopher Crissoms announced, in their invitations, that the affair was not to be formal. After all, they acknowledged tolerantly, there was a war on. Guests were asked to forgo white ties and evening gowns.
ON the afternoon of that memorable evening, Christopher Crissom was discussing his wardrobe with his valet.
"My midnight blue flannel will be suitable," Crissom declared. "A white shirt, of course, and the usual accompanying haberdashery."
"I presume, sir," said the valet "that you desire the usual cravat?"
Crissom paused, measuring the inference in the valet's voice. He had an idea that the man was gently mocking him, was secretly amused at his master's eccentricity.
Crissom glanced sharply at the hall mirror before which he had been standing. The wonderful cravat shone almost luminously about his throat in the mirrored reflection.
It was at that moment that Alice entered the room. She had obviously heard the tag end of the valet-master discussion. She smiled adoringly at Christopher, kindly at the valet.
"You know he'll wear the usual cravat," she told the valet. "What a silly, silly question."
Crissom was now certain that he read faint mockery in the valet's eyes. He blushed, in spite of his desire to maintain dignity. He stared hard at the smiling Alice. She was wearing a frilly afternoon frock, and she looked, Crissom instantly decided, like nothing more than a dumpy, stupid charwoman.
Crissom suddenly realized that he hated his wife, loathed and despised her. And, what was worse, loathed and despised himself for being so horribly dependent on the adoration she gave him.
He was a slave to her, just as he was a slave to the tie.
He turned to the valet. His voice was cold.
"I shall wear the soft blue bow tie," he said.
The valet moved off, and Alice's sharp intake of breath was instant evidence of her hurt and surprise.
Crissom stared at his wife. Tears were coming to her blue eyes, and he realized, with disgust, that she was getting little bags beneath them that helped to accentuate the round, putty-like stupidity of her features. She was actually ugly in that moment.
"Well," he said icily, "what's wrong with you?"
For answer, Alice burst into sobs. She turned and ran swiftly from the hall. He could hear her rushing up the majestic staircase to her room. He didn't follow.
"To hell with her," Crissom thought. "I'm sick of her."
He turned and faced the mirror again. He saw, rather than a reflection of himself, a reflection of nothing but the wonderful cravat. He cursed his fraying nerves, turned from the mirror, and began to tear the tie from about his throat.
When he had it in his hand he didn't trust himself to look at it. Instead, he walked quickly through the hall, found the doorway that led to the kitchen, stamped angrily past startled cooks and caterers busy preparing the evening's repast, and moved directly to the incinerator chute.
He opened the cover of the chute quickly, threw the tie into it, let the cover snap shut with decisive finality.
Then Christopher Crissom left the kitchen and made his way into the drawing room. At the cabinet bar there he found a glass, some ice, and whiskey. He proceeded to pour himself four fingers of Scotch. Then, ignoring the ice, he downed the liquor with a quick snap of his head. He repeated this gesture three times more, until he had consumed, all told, better than half a dozen shots of the stuff.
Then he turned to the ice and water, mixed himself a normal drink, lighted a cigarette, sat down, and proceeded to get himself progressively tight....
AT six o'clock, that evening, Crissom rose none too steadily from his chair, finished off his last drink, and decided it was time to dress for the evening's party.
He was not, remarkably enough, completely tight.
Though he had tried admirably to achieve a state of complete inebriation, he had not been successful. And the reason for this had been an increasingly worrisome conscience.
He had worried about Alice. Worried even though he knew he despised the woman. He had worried about his need for her, and the dreadful possibility that he might someday drive her completely from him. He had worried, also, about his wanton, deliberate destruction of the cravat.
It had been a lucky piece. All his good fortune dated from his gaining possession of it. What would happen to him now that it was gone? He felt a terrifying emptiness at the thought that the tie was now completely beyond any repossession. The flames of the incinerator had destroyed it utterly, he knew, scant seconds after he had hurled it down the chute.
Moving across the drawing room to the hall, he felt a strange, awful nakedness around his throat. And when he reached unsteadily to touch his neck with his hand, he realized that his feeling of nakedness was due entirely to the fact that he no longer had the cravat.
Thickly, he cursed himself for a fool. He had been mad to destroy it.
The rage that had possessed him to remove the cravat and destroy it had been a tragedy that he now deeply repented. And the realization that the thoughtless, hate-prompted gesture was beyond recall, beyond any chance of redemption, was almost more than he could stand.
Anguished, he moved up the majestic marble stairway that led to the second floor rooms.
He was passing Alice's room when he heard the muffled, heart- rending sobs that came from it.
He paused there at the door, uncertain, confused, aware only that he needed the dumpy, putty-faced woman beyond that door. Needed the adoration that he could get from her but from no one else in the world.
He knocked impulsively on the door.
The sobbing abated. Alice's voice came to him.
"Who is it?"
"Christopher," he said thickly. "It's Christopher."
He pushed the door open and entered the bedroom. Alice was sitting upright on the bed. Her eyes were red, puffed. She still wore the gown she had been wearing a few hours before. She looked considerably the worse for her tears. But the face she turned to him was anguished, anxious.
"What do you want?" she asked huskily. There was hope in her eyes, and anxiety. Clearly she was wishing for a reconciliation on almost any terms that could leave her a shred of dignity.
And then her eyes went to Crissom's throat. She saw instantly, he knew, that the cravat was no longer at his throat. Her expression changed, and her sobbing began once again.
"Y—you aren't even wearing it now," she wailed accusingly.
Crissom opened his mouth to explain. Then he realized how horrible it would sound to her if he told the truth. He realized, fully, now, how completely the tie and Alice had become twin forces of his need.
Crissom said nothing. Drunkenly, he turned and left the room. The sobs of his wife continued as he closed the door behind him and moved down the hall to his own bedroom.
In his own room he stared uncomprehendingly for a moment at the clothes laid out for him on his bed. There was the suit, the white shirt, the rest of the haberdashery.
And there was the blue-gray cravat!
FOR an instant the stunning implications of the thing escaped him. He was conscious at first only of the overwhelming relief that came over him at the sight of the cravat.
And then, to his fogged mind, came the realization that he was staring at an absolute impossibility.
It was ridiculous to imagine that that was the same cravat that he had thrown into the flames of the incinerator several hours ago. It was utterly preposterous to assume that the cravat could somehow have been retrieved from those flames unscathed and in the same condition as when it had been tossed into them.
And yet, when Crissom crossed the room and picked the cravat from the bed, he knew instantly by the very texture of it, the smooth sleek feel of it, that it was absolutely the same tie.
He stepped to the bell rope beside his bed and rang for his valet. Crissom met the fellow at the door of his room several minutes later.
"You laid out my clothes?" he demanded, voice still somewhat thick.
"I did, sir," the valet told him, obviously conscious of the fact that his master was slightly under the weather. "Exactly as you directed me to do."
"The bow tie," Crissom demanded. "Did you lay that out?"
"I did, sir," the valet answered.
Crissom stared dully at the man a moment. Then, thickly, he told him he might leave.
When the valet had gone, Crissom returned to the cravat. With hands that were none too steady, he inspected it carefully. It was the same neckpiece. There was no question about it.
Tears streamed from Crissom's eyes. Tears of joy and relief. He fondled the cravat lovingly in his trembling fingers. It was his again, and this time he would never destroy it, or attempt to.
It had brought him adoration when he had been hopelessly without it. That day in the park, when he had been wishing so desperately for it, the tie found him Alice. And, wearing the tie, he had toasted to his wish for success in winning the woman and the wealth that was hers. He had worn the tie constantly then, and he had gotten his wish. Adoration and wealth had both come to him through this cravat.
Foggily, Crissom tried to remember the words of the little peddler who had given him the neckpiece. The peddler had said something about the cravat's power to bring him what he wished. What was it? Crissom was still too foggy from drink to recall.
It was his very alcoholic fogginess, however, that allowed Crissom to reason as he was reasoning now. Thoroughly sober, he would not have permitted himself to entertain such balderdash in his mind. Completely lucid in this thinking, he would never have carried his acknowledgement of the cravat's power to the extreme he now did.
A sudden wild train of thinking came upon him. He had the cravat once more. The cravat had granted him two of his most burning wishes. Hadn't the little peddler said something about three, wishes? Crissom closed his eyes and tried to recall. Yes. He had. He had undoubtedly said something about three wishes.
Then there was another wish still within his power!
Crissom's alcoholic haze was still strong enough for him to put into thoughts the submerged fancies that he had entertained almost subconsciously until now. He had not found the adoration and acclaim of old in his new life. Only from Alice, that is, had he found it. The lack of completeness in this life, as against his old, younger, and highly successful days, was due to one predominant factor. In those days he had been Christopher Crissom the wealthy, talented, brilliant young actor whose plays were the living legends of Broadway. Now, however, he was merely and old, somewhat entertaining, wealthy ex-actor.
To Crissom's alcoholic haze, the difference was crystal clear. He was not an actor now. Not, at any rate, an important and contemporary successful actor. If he were that, with his combination of wealth and success, he would again achieve the glamor and adoration that came from everyone back in the days when he had been a tyro.
Somehow, in some fashion, he must return to the stage.
CHRISTOPHER CRISSOM donned the cravat with trembling fingers.
Then he stepped over to his dressing mirror, gazed at his reflection and at the tie, and whispered:
"I wish to again star on Broadway. I wish to see my name once more, in letters ten feet high, on a Broadway playhouse marquee."
Now he was suddenly sobered. The thrill of the vocal expression of the wish had that so long been a part of him was almost chilling. He felt the tingling certainty that at long last his life would regain its long lost completeness. Now he would have not only wealth and admiration from one. He would have success and the adoration of thousands.
Crissom's eyes gleamed in the speculation of what lay ahead of him now. He was smiling as he rang for his valet. He would launch his return to the stage this very night. No other night could be more propitious. There would be other thespians, many influential producers, writers, newspaper people. It would be sensational.
But first there was the matter of a cold bath, a change of costume, and a reconciliation with Alice. The last was going to be absolutely necessary to his plans. The new play in which Christopher Crissom was to star would have to be financed. And the fortune of Mrs. Christopher Crissom, nee Alice Hoobin, was going to back the production.
When Crissom went again to his wife's room, after bathing, shaving, and being assisted into his clothes by the valet, he was, quite conspicuously, wearing the lustrous cravat.
It was enough to effect an immediate reconciliation....
THE party that evening was a tremendous success all around. It not only provided a gala, free evening of champagne, caviar, and excellent music, but it produced an announcement that was to be the sensation of Broadway on the following day.
Crissom had worked swiftly and shrewdly that evening. He had first buttonholed half a dozen successful and fairly successful playwrights, taken them to his den for a "bit of a talk and a spot of Napoleon brandy," each individually, of course.
By the process of elimination Crissom was able to find three playwrights who had, at the moment, vehicles somewhat suited to his demands for a play. And by the process of letting each eager writer pour the story synopsis into his attentive ear, he found the play he most desired to do. He promptly paid the astonished and gratified young author of the script a thousand dollars (check made out to Alice's bank where they had a joint account) on the spot for an option on the play.
Within the next hour Crissom had corralled a slipping, though still somewhat successful, producer. In his den, over a "bit of talk and a spot of Napoleon brandy," Crissom explained his scheme to the producer. The producer had, of course, heard of the play Crissom had bought option on. It had been kicking around Broadway offices for quite a few months, and had only gotten a few half- hearted nibbles.
The producer was polite, at first, but hardly enthusiastic. But when it became clear to him that Crissom intended to foot the bill for the entire production himself, and was willing to put up a spot cash guarantee that would save the producer any possible loss, and insure him positive gain on the show, he changed his attitude remarkably.
"Of course," Crissom explained, "the play as it stands now needs a little alteration. The hero is, shall we say, a trifle too young. It can be changed so that he is a man of middle age, a man of some maturity, but personable, like myself."
The producer agreed. He would agree to anything, in view of the guarantee Crissom was posting with his bank. They then drew up a temporary, though legal, agreement on a scrap of paper from Crissom's desk.
The announcement, when it came at midnight that evening, was scarcely less than stupendous news. Everyone at the party was agog at the news of Crissom's planned comeback, particularly Alice, who had known nothing of it until then.
And when, after the handshaking guests had gone, Crissom explained gently and charmingly to his dumpy spouse that she was to bear the brunt of the production costs on the venture, her reaction was what he had been desperately hoping for—one of complete, adoring, loving trust.
After all, he had made their reconciliation something more tender than such reunions had ever been in the past. The worshipful Alice was riding on a crest of joy. She had never been happier.
And neither, in many years, had Crissom.
IN the weeks that followed, casting, rewriting of the script, publicity releases, scene and costume design, and a thousand-fold problems beset the busy Crissom. For he was personally, on his own insistence, supervising every angle of his forthcoming return to Broadway.
And in every respect, it had to be said for Crissom that he played all the angles in respect to establishing himself as the one, the only, paramount attraction of the show.
For the feminine lead, against the protests of both his writer and producer, Crissom decided to choose a virtually unknown young actress. His reasoning behind this was sound. She would neither deserve nor demand anything but second billing.
The rest of the cast was personally selected by Crissom on the same basis. The secondary male role, for example, he gave to a bumbling young ham who—he was certain—would make Crissom's efforts look all the better by comparison.
As for the changes in the script which he proposed, and forced into effect, Crissom not only had the characterization of the lead changed to that of a man of more mature years—thus making several of the major plot motivations rather weak—but also saw to it that the part itself, already bulging, was fattened even more.
"I didn't write a monologue!" wailed the stricken young author. "But it looks like that's what this is turning into."
However, Crissom softened the blow to the young man's artistic integrity by skillful flattery and a fat advance, cash, of the profits to come.
CHRISTOPHER CRISSOM, in his full glory and with his ever present resplendent cravat about his throat, was also a constant thorn in the side of the show's director. He saw to it that every line, every gesture, every nuance in the acting of the other members of the cast was tailored to his own specifications.
He saw little of Alice during these hectic weeks. She was permitted to view a few of the rehearsals and sit in on some of the conferences, but only as a grand concession on the part of her wildly busy husband.
He still needed her affection, adoration, and unflagging, starry-eyed admiration—as he was still getting not a whit of this response from his associates. However, the point galled Crissom considerably less than it had previously, inasmuch as he now knew that the day when he would return to overwhelming public affection was not far off.
Ironically enough, to the few of his old fellow thespians who approached him for work when they learned that he was coming out with a show, Crissom was coolly indifferent. He told them that he didn't have anything, and the manner in which he let them know this suggested that if he had anything open they would have been the last theatrical people in the world, he'd turn to. Clearly, he let them know that the theater had no place for has-been, down-and-outers.
There was some argument with the writer, producer, and several members of the cast as to the opening of the show.
All, save Crissom, insisted that it should be given the usual trail-run out of town before bringing it to Broadway for the opening. But Crissom declared that the idea was a lot of rubbish. They would open on Broadway, he maintained. And it was for such an opening that the arrangements were made.
The night of the dress rehearsal was worse than hectic.
Crissom, the only unperturbed member of the cast, skillfully carried them along as the others blew lines, messed up entrances, and generally encountered the gamut of troubles run by any company in its pre-opening dress rehearsal.
When it was over, he was not at all bothered. It was theatrical legend, he pointed out truthfully enough, that a bad dress rehearsal presaged a successful first night.
The cast of "Turmoil," which was the name of the show, took some comfort in this reminder of Crissom's. They left the darkened theater, however, with their fingers crossed.
Crissom, when he returned home that evening, found Alice waiting up for him. He had forbidden her to attend the dress rehearsal because of reasons of theatrical superstition, hastily invented by Christopher Crissom.
"How was it, Christopher?" she asked him eagerly.
Crissom saw the look in her eyes and knew that, no matter what he told her, she would not have to be reassured that the play would be anything but a complete success.
Wearily he told her that everything seemed all right.
She came close to him, and he put his arms around her automatically. Looking up at him, she put her hand lovingly to the wonderful cravat and touched it gently.
"You're wearing it tomorrow night, Christopher?" she asked.
"Turmoil," was a costume piece, a play about the Revolutionary War.
However, Crissom had stated that he would wear his lucky cravat beneath his other costume.
"I wouldn't be without it," he said in all sincerity.
Alice sighed, and was blissfully happy, for she believed this to be a tribute to herself....
FOR some reason which he was unable to explain to himself, Christopher Crissom did not sleep soundly that night. He had planned to get his much needed rest through the hours of one in the morning until well after noon, at which time he would breakfast, call the theater to make several last minute arrangements, then ride to the scene of his impending triumph.
He tossed restlessly from one in the morning until six. And at last he was no longer able even to carry out the pretense of sleep. He rose, donned his dressing gown, and tried to read. This effort, futile, lasted until almost ten o'clock. From ten until one in the afternoon, he alternately paced the floor and sat staring into the nothingness of his wall smoking cigarettes.
At two o'clock he emerged from his room, called loudly for breakfast.
Alice's attentions while he ate were infinitely more irksome to him than they had ever been. And when she became aware of his irritation she put it down to his opening night nervousness, and forgave him from the very depths of her warm heart.
When Crissom finally left for the theater at five-thirty that afternoon, his temper was as unstrung as she had ever seen it. But, again, she attributed it to the artistic temperament in its hour of crisis, and forgave him.
"I'll be there, dearest Christopher," she promised as she bade him goodbye. "Right in the front row center."
Crissom said nothing to this, although he wished he had been able to keep her from the opening entirely. It had been enough of a battle as it was, however, to keep her from staying backstage during the performance.
As Crissom stepped out of the limousine before the theater he had the infinite satisfaction of seeing, in lights ten feet high on the marquee over the theater, the name he loved best.
Beneath his name, in somewhat smaller lights, was the name of the play. Then, running along the border of the marquee, in lights less garish than the first two, were the names of the rest of the leading members of the cast.
Crissom stood there, staring up at the glittering wattage that spelled out his name. He looked left and right, and once again saw the rest of the Broadway panoply. It was balm to his soul, tonic to his spirits. His irritation and anger faded, and his step was definitely sprightly and confident.
Backstage, he found everything in the familiar jumble of organized confusion that marked any theatrical opening night. Members of the cast dashed madly about between stage technicians, property men, electricians and scenery movers.
He smiled warmly at one and all, beaming confidence, and felt an irrepressible thrill as he heard his name whispered and realized that people were pointing to him.
In his dressing room the producer was waiting, as well as the wardrobe man, the make-up artist and the author of the show. Crissom beamed at them all, and in scarcely five minutes they had been touched by some of his confidence.
When the producer and author had gone, Crissom began to dress with the assistance of the wardrobe man. Crissom had left his valet, whom he detested, at home.
THERE was a moment of startled silence when, after removing his lustrous cravat, and following it with his shirt, he picked up the cravat and knotted it about his naked throat.
Neither the make-up assistant nor the wardrobe man made any comment at the actor's obvious superstition. That would have been distinctly against the rules of the game. Crissom, smiling, wondered if in this later and overwhelmingly successful career which he was launching tonight, the legend of his tie would go down in theatrical history.
At last, attired in a costume or revolutionary era, Crissom surveyed himself in his dressing mirror, felt an infinite wave of satisfaction flood over him, and smiled compliments to his assistants.
The stage manager's assistant knocked on the door of his dressing room a few minutes later to tell him that there were five minutes until curtain time.
The report came to Crissom a minute after that, that the house was full.
"They loved me once," he smiled, "and they shall love me again."
Crissom took no stock of the fact that, in these times, almost any Broadway opening night was bound to produce a full house. He was still smiling as he left his dressing room and made his way down to the wings.
The scenery was ready for the curtain. It was an early New England farmhouse kitchen. The feminine lead was seated at a table, lower right, reading a copy of the Bible. On the hearth, back and center, a cauldron bubbled over an imitation fire.
As the curtain rose, Crissom drew a deep breath. The girl on the stage read aloud a passage from the Bible. A two line opening. And on that cue, Christopher Crissom, attired in the costume of an early colonial settler, made his entrance.
As he strode out on the stage and into the luminance of the footlights, Crissom boomed his opening line.
The girl picked up the following line, and the play was on. Crissom was again in glory. He strode back and forth across the stage thundering his lines, using every old trick he had learned to steal the lines of his foil, and generally commandeering the scene.
It wasn't until after five minutes, however, that he began to notice the unmistakable snickering coming from the audience. And when it did finally come to his consciousness, he turned quickly to see what it was in the playing of his feminine lead they found so amusing.
It was less than three minutes later, however, as the snickering increased, and frank laughter began to sound forth from the audience, that Crissom began to be uncomfortably aware that the amusement in the audience was not directed at the other principal on the other principal on the stage, but at himself.
He was aware that girl was making covert gestures to him, and turning, he saw the prompters in the wings were also making frantic signals in his directions. They were all pointing to their throats.
IT was then that he looked down and saw that his beautiful cravat had somehow, in some unthinkable, impossible fashion, crawled up on his throat until it spilled out over the white, lace—ruffled colonial shirt-front that was a part of his costume.
The incongruity of the picture, the lush cravat atop the dated shirt front, was the source of the amusement, of course. Crissom, at that point blew a line dreadfully. Then, clumsily, almost amateurishly Crissom tried to cover his horrible accident. He moved swiftly to the hearth, improvising a line with his back to the audience, bending over the cauldron as he did so, and covertly trying to stuff the cravat back into place beneath the ruffled front of his costume.
His frantic efforts repaired the damage, concealed the cravat once more, but resulted in his knocking the boiling kettle from its stand over the artificial "flames."
This brought fresh guffaws from the audience, and further unnerved Crissom. And, although he did not blow his next several lines, the inexperienced young actress playing opposite him did just that.
The laughter grew stronger, continuing through to the end of the scene and the merciful curtain.
In the interval between scenes all was tumultuous. Crissom, badly shaken, was scarcely able to rally the rest of the cast. To the suggestion that he remove his betraying cravat, in order to eliminate any further chance of its causing havoc, Crissom became enraged.
In the second scene, involving five players and several walk- ons the confusion increased, and with it the delighted, guffawing glee of the audience. Lines were blown left and right. Cues were missed under accidentally hilarious circumstances.
And the cravat popped forth again.
When the curtain went down on the second scene, ending the first act, the house was in an uproar of hilarity.
Between acts, Crissom stormed, shouted, and berated the members of his cast, rattling them still further. And in his rage, he tore the cravat from his throat and threw it angrily into a refuse can.
The cast was scarcely ready when the second act curtain went up, even though it had been delayed five minutes beyond the time. The opening of the second act, however found Crissom on the stage alone, engaged in a monologue which was his meatiest part of the show.
He had rallied considerably, even though he had rattled the others in the cast, and made a start which was almost creditable. After all, some of his long lost stage lore still remained.
However, he had an audience to face which was now willing howl its glee at anything even faintly suggestive of humor. And the very overplaying which Crissom was doing, was enough to start the sniggering all over again.
The snickers didn't break into actual laughter, however, until the end of the second act. There were four other players besides Crissom on the stage, by that time, and he was holding center with another tailored long diatribe.
When the laughter broke forth again, he glanced wildly toward the wings, saw the prompters pointing to their throats, glanced down, and realized that the cravat had again crept out of hiding under his costume, and decorated the lace front of his shirt.
Crissom didn't try to cover it this time. His shock was too great.
He knew he had tossed the tie into the rubbish can, after tearing it from his throat. He knew there was no possible manner in which it could have gotten back around his throat once more. But there it was.
This time the other members of the cast tried to save him. Several moved in front of him, feeding him lines which would give him a chance to remove the betraying cravat from view.
Even though Crissom again succeeded, he was a stricken man by the time the curtain rang down on the second act.
CRISSOM listened dully to the roars of mirth from the still hysterical audience, as he waited in his dressing room for the third act warning bell. The tie was still around his neck, and he hadn't endeavored to remove it while he changed to the costume for the last act.
He stared glassily into his dressing mirror, a man in a trance, and when the third act curtain finally went up and he strode out onto the stage, the wild hilarity that burst from the audience told him, without his having to look, that the cravat had again edged out from concealment and was hanging down the front of his colonial costume.
He ignored the efforts of his fellow players to cover for him, this time, and wildly endeavored to thrust the tie back into concealment while he stood in full view of the audience.
The house rocked with gale upon gale of laughter.
Crissom, struggling with the tie, found that this time he could not, try as he would, thrust it back beneath his costume. It was like a thing alive, writhing elusively in his grasp and defeating every frantic effort he made to conceal it.
From that moment, until the final curtain, Crissom played the remainder of the show like a mechanical, lifeless robot. He missed not a line, bungled not a cue. But his words, as the words of all players, were lost in the din of laughter that shook the theater.
When the final curtain rang down, to the thunderous applause and wild merriment of the delighted audience, Crissom strode from the stage glassy-eyed and in a trance.
In the wings, mechanically, he tore at the cravat around his throat, and it came suddenly, surprisingly free. His expression was unfathomable as he hurled it to the floor, his motion mechanical as he made his way upstairs to his dressing room.
He could still hear the wild, mocking laughter and applause shaking the theater as he closed the door of his dressing room behind him.
As he began to remove his costume, his eyes paused on the object that lay atop his dressing table.
It was the cravat!
The same cravat, unmistakably, that he had finally succeeded in removing as he'd walked from the stage. Crissom stared in fascination at its lustrous, magnificent beauty.
Three wishes. Adoration, Wealth, Return to the Stage. Each of the three wishes had been granted. What was it the little peddler had said? Christopher Crissom stared blankly at the tie, unable to recall the words.
He reached forward, and his hand touched the soft, silken texture of the cravat. It seemed responsively caressing. Mechanically, he lifted it from the dressing table....
CHRISTOPHER CRISSOM was discovered in his dressing room half an hour later, when the door was finally broken down. In half an hour, however, the beautiful, lustrous, richly hued and silken textured cravat had had plenty of time to complete the work he had assigned it when he had tied it to a closet rung, noosed the other end, and hanged himself with it....
Non sibi sed omnibus
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