Wanted: Tall, good-looking men for the stage. Must be well dressed. Apply at stage door of—Theatre at ten A.M.

There is a certain amount of irony in the above, such as, for instance, “Tall, good-looking”; “must be well dressed”; and the man who appears in the side street in the vicinity of the stage door at about half-past nine in the morning knows this, for he wrote the advertisement himself.

He is a thick man, with a red beard trimmed in the form of a blunt wedge, and cut away from around his mouth as a hedge is cut from a gate. He is a man with a cool green eye, immobile face, and distant manner. A man who walks slowly, is introspective, gloomy; who carries a big stick like Javert’s cudgel and studies the pavement like a man of large affairs. He has the manner of a general waiting to review his army, which he expects to find decimated and run down at the heel. He wears a derby hat slightly broken at the crown, a little shiny on the edges; an overcoat with a collar somewhat frayed; boots that are rather square-toed and vulgar.

This combination of shabbiness and thoughtfulness lends him an appearance of sorrow—simple and primitive in the light of his red beard—as if he were telling himself and would like to tell the world: Here is a man of immense capabilities, fated to deal in small and absolutely rotten potatoes.

In twos and threes some men begin to come in sight from the direction of Sixth and Seventh Avenues. They sidle into the street that runs by the stage door; some of them cast at Red Beard a look of recognition and a half-nod, to which he is profoundly indifferent. Others fix their gaze upon the legend over the door as children stare at the entrance of a circus tent.

Little by little the straggling and deliberate comers make a scattered crowd. The catchings of the advertisement agglomerate and blacken the middle of the street.

They stand stock-still. As a concourse of men they are, all in all, voiceless and apathetic; before the momentary flurry of some traffic in the street they are brushed aside as dry leaves. There is a shuffling of feet on the asphalt as of dry leaves hurried along by the wind.

There seems to be an understanding among these men, as if this were not their first venture in such an enterprise. And there seems to be an understanding between them and the man with the cane: he appears, by the casual oblique glance, by the turned shoulder, to know them, where they came from, what he can do with them; and to feel the indifference of the dealer for his stock-in-trade. He wrote the ad. Here are the men. It is the same as ordering coal and seeing it dumped upon the sidewalk.

The scattered crowd had become a mob, a quiet mob that pushes gently, elbows itself without offence, waits.

Tall? Well-dressed? There are tall men, but their heads move in a sea of men that are short, men that are stooped. There may be well-dressed men, but they are hidden among men with shabby clothes. They are of all ages, but of the same condition. There may be seen grey heads, like patches of white wool in a flock of black sheep.

From a distance this small mass of humanity, held in abeyance by a single purpose, appears to be wholly silent, its attention, if not its glance, controlled by the simple potency of the stage door; but coming closer one may hear sounds that are words gutturally spoken, and a desultory murmur that resolves itself into a dialogue of many parts. Is there any stratum of society that does not have its shop talk? In every one, its atoms, akin, are stretching back and forth those little tentacles of question and answer, of seeking to know, of seeking to tell, that hold them together.

“Wher’ wus you last week?”

“T’ Newark wit’ Mantell.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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