CHAPTER I WANTED AT REHEARSAL
Jerramy, thirty years' stage-door keeper at the Theatre Royal, Norcaster, had come to regard each successive Monday morning as a time for the renewal of old acquaintance. For at any rate forty-six weeks of the fifty-two, theatrical companies came and went at Norcaster with unfailing regularity. The company which presented itself for patronage in the first week of April in one year was almost certain to present itself again in the corresponding week of the next year. Sometimes new faces came with it, but as a rule the same old favourites showed themselves for a good many years in succession. And every actor and actress who came to Norcaster knew Jerramy. He was the first official person encountered on entering upon the business of the week. He it was who handed out the little bundles of letters and papers, who exchanged the first greetings, of whom one could make useful inquiries, who always knew exactly what advice to give about lodgings and landladies. From noon onwards of Mondays, when the newcomers began to arrive at the theatre for the customary one o'clock call for rehearsal, Jerramy was invariably employed in hearing that he didn't look a day older, and was as blooming as ever, and sure to last another thirty years, and his reception always culminated in a hearty handshake and genial greeting from the great man of the company, who, of course, after the fashion of magnates, always turned up at the end of the irregular procession, and was not seldom late for the fixture which he himself had made.
At a quarter past one of a certain Monday afternoon in the course of a sunny October, Jerramy leaned over the half-door of his sanctum in conversation with an anxious-eyed man who for the past ten minutes had hung about in the restless fashion peculiar to those who are waiting for somebody. He had looked up the street and down the street a dozen times; he had pulled out his watch and compared it with the clock of a neighbouring church almost as often; he had several times gone up the dark passage which led to the dressing-rooms, and had come back again looking more perplexed than ever. The fact was that he was the business manager of the great Mr. Bassett Oliver, who was opening for the week at Norcaster in his latest success, and who, not quite satisfied with the way in which a particular bit of it was being played called a special rehearsal for a quarter to one. Everything and everybody was ready for that rehearsal, but the great man himself had not arrived. Now Mr. Bassett Oliver, as every man well knew who ever had dealings with him, was not one of the irregular and unpunctual order; on the contrary, he was a very martinet as regarded rule, precision and system; moreover, he always did what he expected each member of his company to do. Therefore his non-arrival, his half hour of irregularity, seemed all the more extraordinary.
"Never knew him to be late before—never!" exclaimed the business manager, impatiently pulling out his watch for the twentieth time....