Page:Wolfe - Of Time and the River.djvu/512
vegetable diet with the gentle doggedness that was also characteristic of him.
Later, when they had finished dinner, they drove uptown in a taxi-cab and went to one of the summer musical shows near Broadway, where an English revue was appearing. The comic actress, Beatrice Lillie, was the star of the performance. Eugene had never heard of her before, but it was evident from the fashionable and “smart” look of the audience, and the way in which Joel and other people greeted every word and gesture, that the actress was “all the rage,” one of those persons who, in addition to their native talent, have some special quality that for a time makes them the darling of the cult-adepts of the world of fashion.
The revue was a clever and amusing one, but it also had a stylish quality of fashionable smartness that was more and more beginning to mark the productions of the theatre and the responses of the audience. Thus, in later years, when one had almost completely forgotten the scenes of the revue and its songs and jokes, one could still remember it for the brilliant picture of the life it evoked. And the image of that life was implied rather than portrayed. The revue was one of those productions which people were beginning to “wear” as they “wore” books or plays or a dress: people went to the revue more because it was “the thing to do,” the thing that everyone was talking about, than because they had a genuine desire to go, more because they had been told that it was “amusing” than from any deep conviction that they would find it so.
Thus, not only in the jokes and songs and scenes of the revue, but in the laughter and applause with which the fashionable audience greeted them, there was a quality that was somewhat strained and metallic—a new and disagreeable mirth that was coming into man’s life, which seemed to have its sources not in the warm human earth and blood of humour, but to proceed from something sterile, sour and acrid in his soul. In this hard and essentially lifeless merriment there was evident the desire to wound and mock and injure. And this desire came more from fear, a need to divert attention from one’s own nakedness and insecurity by an attack upon a common target, than from any real cruelty or scornful hardihood of the soul.
This fear and insecurity were evident even in the fashionable and sophisticated audience which had come to this theatre to see the smart revue. In the interval between the acts, the people streamed up the gangways