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Title: The Plagiarist
       REAL DRAMAS Part 4
      (Being Some Leaves from the Notebook of a Late Theatrical Agent)
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1200731.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
Date most recently updated: January 2012

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Title: The Plagiarist
       REAL DRAMAS Part 4
      (Being Some Leaves from the Notebook of a Late Theatrical Agent)
Author: Fred M White


(Being Some Leaves from the Notebook of a Late Theatrical Agent).


The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, 21 August, 1909.


No. 4: The Plagiarist.

Willoughby Harcourt was holding forth in that silvery voice of his which
had such a fascinating charm, especially where the women were concerned.
His appearance was as picturesque as his career had been. Everybody who
took the slightest interest in theatrical matters knew his story. His
father had been an actor of repute in his day; he had been killed abroad
in a duel arising out of a passionate love affair. His mother had been
the beautiful, headstrong Lady Gertrude Maltravers, who had married
Harcourt in the teeth of the most bitter opposition on the part of her
family--only to find herself a widow two years later. At fifteen,
Willoughby Harcourt had been left quite alone in the world to make his
own way. He had graduated through a strolling theatrical company to a
position as the finest romantic actor of his day. To all outward seeming
he was prosperous enough; he had his own theatre, and more or less a
hand in his own plays. There were certain people in the inner circle who
said that Harcourt was no more than the paid servant of a syndicate,
drawing a salary and percentage on the takings. And according to these
quidnuncs there had been very little profit lately. There were others
still less charitable who declared that Harcourt was a good bit of a

Despite all this, he was a popular figure everywhere. His keen,
handsome, boyish face and white hair carried him swimmingly. To get his
acceptance to a dinner invitation was regarded as a high compliment, and
Lady Mannington seemed to appreciate the fact.

It was Sunday night and there were only half-a-dozen round the table,
all told. The oval table was one mass of pink orchids and pink-shaded
lights. The dinner proceeded with that smooth elegance on which Lady
Mannington prided herself. The coffee and cigarette stage had arrived.
The hostess preferred to take this interval at the table, so
incidentally did Willoughby Harcourt. He liked to lounge there and talk,
he liked the artistic confusion of silver and red wine and the litter of
fruit before him. It was the hour when he talked best.

He had the conversation pretty well to himself, as usual. He was more
than usually interesting too, for he was talking of a new play produced
for the first time the night before in Manchester. As this was Sunday,
only the barest details had appeared in the Sunday paper. The listeners
were following every detail eagerly, none more eagerly than Dorothy

As a matter of fact, she had no right there at all. She was by way of
being Lady Mannington's secretary: she wrote her ladyship's letters and
invitations, she played her accompaniments--for Lady Mannington was
really musical and a composer of more than average merit. Somebody had
fallen out at the very last minute, and Lady Mannington hated a blank at
the dinner table. Half good-naturedly, half-imperiously, she had
commanded her companion's attendance.

"Really a fine play, though perhaps I ought not to say it," Harcourt
murmured. "Still, that was the opinion of Manchester last night."

"Who is the author?" somebody asked. "Is Eugene Malet an assumed name?"

"Or is it spell Willoughby Harcourt?" somebody else suggested.

Harcourt smiled in a distinctly non-committal manner. He made no denial.

"I should prefer not to answer that question," he said. "For some occult
reason, the British public looks with a cold eye upon actor-managers who
write plays. It is their firm belief that somebody else does the work. I
am not saying that there is no foundation for this. No doubt, Mr. Eugene
Malet will disclose himself at the proper time."

The diners glanced at one another significantly. No doubt existed in the
mind of one of them. Willoughby Harcourt had added another laurel to his
crown. It was very modest of him to speak like this. He went on now to
discuss the plot of the play.

"I flatter myself that the theme is extremely original," he said. "It's
no novelty to have two men in love with the same woman, but in this case
the men are father and son. The father has all the money, of course. He
is under fifty, and a lover that any girl might be proud of. His son is
twenty-six, and he is equally well endowed by Nature. He takes his
father into his confidence, never dreaming for a moment what the
latter's feelings are. Like most sons, he looks upon his father as a bit
of a fogey. The father makes no kind of a struggle to control his
feelings, and he deliberately sets out to conspire against the young
man's happiness. Unless he does that he knows that he has no chance. He
gets the girl's father in his power, and sends him, a fugitive from
justice, to Australia. The girl's parent thinks that there is a warrant
out for his apprehension, and so does the girl. The time comes when she
can save her father, and give him back the good name (which, as a matter
of fact, he has not lost), by going out to Australia. It is a case of
'twixt love and duty.' Finally, duty conquers, as the father of the hero
means that it should. The girl's father has gone away in an assumed
name, and letters from him fall into the hands of the hero that makes it
seem as if the heroine has fled to join an earlier lover. Then the
action of the play is removed to Australia--to Melbourne. There is a
painful scene in which the heroine (who has learnt many things) sees her
lover through an open window talking to a girl----"

"The girl his a necklace in her hand," Dorothy Nation interrupted
eagerly. "It is a necklace which at one time the hero had offered to--I
beg your pardon."

The girl blushed deeply. Lady Mannington was regarding her with cold

"Really, I am very sorry," she said contritely. "I--I was carried away
by the story. I must have read this much in one of the Sunday papers."

"Did you?" Harcourt asked with his most fascinating smile. "I did not
think that they had been quite so enterprising. I thought I had seen
them all, too. It is very good of you to follow my little story so
closely. What was I saving? Oh, the incident of the necklace...... When
the hero's father dies, as he does after a brief but painful illness,
the story of his perfidy come out. It is at this point that the real
dramatic grip of the story begins from......"

But Dorothy Nation was no longer listening. Her thoughts were far enough
away at that moment. There was another story being played here under the
eyes of the actor-manager, and he was taking a part in it, had he only
known it. And the story was far more intensely human, had he but
understood. Dorothy came to herself with a start; the outline of the
play was finished; Lady Mannington and her guests were going further on.
A quarter of an hour later and Dorothy had the house in Stratton Street
practically to herself. There was small chance of Lady Mannington
returning for the next hour or two. The girl moved impulsively towards
the door.

"I'll do it," she exclaimed. "I'll go as far as the Barbarian Club and
see Mark German--he is always there on Sunday nights. I'll get him to
help me to find 'Eugene Malet.' There is just a chance that I may find
my happiness yet. And to think that that man could be such a mean thief!
With his reputation, too! Well, we shall see."

It was not so very late yet, so that Dorothy decided to walk as far as
the Barbarian. She was fortunate enough to find the popular theatrical
agent on the premises. He came to her at once. He was a pleasant-looking
man with a clear eye and a firm square jaw.

"Dorothy Nation!" he exclaimed. "What do you want at this time of

"I came to ask you a great favour," the girl said. "I want you to help
me for the sake of the old time when you and my father were friends. You
always said you would. You are the one man in England who knows most of
my story; I owe my present situation to you. You helped me when I came
back to England from Australia broken-hearted and penniless. You never
told anybody else?"

"My dear child, what a question! As if I should betray your confidence
in that way!"

"I know, I know. Pray forgive me. Do you know, I heard my story repeated
almost word for word in Stratton Street to-night. It came from the lips
of Willoughby Harcourt. I was so startled and alarmed that I nearly
betrayed myself. Fancy my having to sit there at dinner whilst Harcourt
related the tale of Herbert Stirling and his father!"

"Do you mean to say that the man was talking at you?"

"Oh, no. He was repeating the plot of his play produced in Manchester
last night. As you know, it is a new play written by a man who appears
on the programme as Eugene Malet."

"Practically the same thing as if it were Harcourt's name. Go on."

"Mr. German, Willoughby Harcourt never wrote that play. He insinuated
to-night that he was the author of it, but he lied. The play is based
entirely upon the vile conspiracy by which Herbert Stirling's father
came between his son and myself, it is woven into the play--it is the
play itself. And the only two living people who know that story to-day
are Herbert Stirling and myself. That Herbert would divulge the details
to anybody else I decline to believe. At the present moment he is
somewhere in the world looking for me; I should look for him, only I am
a poor girl, and I have my living to get. I began to fear that Herbert
was dead; but I know better now. He is not dead, because he is the man
who wrote the play now being rehearsed at the Apollo, under the name of
Eugene Malet. He always had an ambition that way, probably he has gone
abroad again, having expressed his determination never to return to
England. He sent the play to Willoughby Harcourt, and he liked it. He is
going to tacitly accept the suggestion that he wrote it. With his

"Yes, I know what you are going to say," German observed thoughtfully.
"Harcourt's reputation is none too good amongst those of us who are
behind the scenes. More than once he has had a play written to order
that contained ideas from dramas forwarded to him by aspirants. I'll go
and see him if you like, and try and get a general admission out of him.
But I'm afraid that is not much use unless I have some facts to go upon.
Something startling, I mean."

"Then I'll give them to you," Dorothy whispered. "I am positive that the
end of the play has been altered so as to make a happy curtain. Go and
see Mr. Harcourt, and ask him why he left out the scene that followed
after the heroine sees the other girl with the necklace in her hand.
Herbert Stirling may not have used that incident, but I feel absolutely
sure that he did. It was too dramatic to be overlooked. It is a game of
bluff you have to play."

German looked at his watch. Apparently he had come to a decision.

"I'll do it to-night," he said. "Harcourt always spends half-an-hour at
the Colly Cibber Club before he turns in. I'll go and catch him in the
smoking-room. It is just possible that our fascinating friend will fall
into the trap. You go back home, my dear, and I'll let you know the
result of the interview as soon as possible."

An hour or so later German strolled into the smoking-room of the Cibber.
The place was deserted save for Willoughby Harcourt and one other
member. A little time afterwards the actor-manager and the prominent
theatrical agent were alone together.

"By the way," German said breezily, "I've got to congratulate you on
another brilliant success. I've just seen Tuson, who ran up to
Manchester to do the show for his paper. He gave me quite a vivid
account of the story. Founded on fact, I am given to understand. But I
fancy you made a mistake in cutting out the scene after the heroine sees
the girl with the necklace in her hand."

Harcourt stood smilingly there; his vanity was soothed. His mind was
full of his play; he could see nothing of the artfulness of the
suggestion. He walked blindly into the trap.

"I had to cut it out," he said. "You see, it would have utterly spoilt
my ending. If I had allowed it to stand, we must have finished on the
tragic note. But what do you know about it?"

"Oh, we dramatic agents learn a few things," German said. "Don't forget
that a good many plays come our way. Who is Eugene Malet? An assumed
name, of course. A good many fools are going about saying that you wrote
it. We know better than that--in fact, I know all about it. I came here
to-night to get Malet's address from you."

After all, the thing had been quite easy. And there was no drawing back
for Willoughby Harcourt now. He looked just a little queer and white for
the moment. He began to congratulate himself on the fact that he had not
really claimed the authorship of the play. One glance at German's square
jaw decided him. It would be better to speak out honestly.

"To tell you the truth," he said engagingly. "I am quite in the dark.
The man came to me and asked me to read his play--he wrote me that he
was tired of his life, that his story was there, and that he was going
to put an end to it all. A paragraph I read in the paper a few days
afterwards decided me that he had put an end of it. To make a long story
short, I looked at the play and I liked it. The man was dead and buried,
there was nothing to be gained by telling the story. Of course, I have
laid no claim to be the author of the play, and if fools like to say so
that is no business of mine. I'll send you Eugene Malet's letter if you

Mark German was quite content to let it go at that. A week later the
popular society weekly called O.I.C. came out with the following

"Quite a romance (writes our esteemed correspondent, Mr. Mark German)
attached to Willoughby Harcourt's latest and greatest success 'The Last
Word.' The play is really the work of Mr. Herbert Stirling, at one time
a promising writer of short stories. The heroine is inspired by a
certain young lady to whom Mr. Stirling was at one time engaged, and
from whom he was parted by a singular chain of most unfortunate
circumstances. Mr. Stirling is somewhere abroad just at present, but if
these lines should catch his eye he is asked to communicate with the
above at 445, Craven Street, where letters are awaiting him."

"Miss Dorothy Nation, who is acting as secretary to Lady Mannington,
tells me that the new song by that gifted composer is dedicated by
permission to H.S.H. Princess Von der Zeidler. Lady Mannington intends
to remain in Stratton Street till the end of the month."

"If he is alive that will fetch him," German chuckled as he read the two
paragraphs which were artfully set side by side. "A man who can write a
play like that doesn't commit suicide."

A week later, a visitor called at Stratton Street to see Miss Nation.
She was quite alone in the drawing-room as he came up. He did not say
much; she said nothing at all. It was a very long time before either of
them spoke. They had other things to occupy their attention.

"And now, my darling,"--Stirling broke the silence at length--"please
tell me all about it. It reads like some wonderfully realistic

"It is a play," Dorothy laughed happily. "We'll write it together, if
you like, dear, and we will get our friend Willoughby Harcourt to
produce it."


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