The Mountebank

by William J. Locke. New York: John Lane Company. 1921. 12mo, 320 pp.
IT is divulging no secret (for the publishers divulge it on the loose cover) to say that the hero, Brigadier-General Lackaday, has before the War been a circus clown. The War has been his opportunity, but, now it is over, offers him no future. He must go back to the rig, and to his feminine partner in clowning, Elodie Figasso, to whom he owes a debt of gratitude and protection. And so, though he is in love with Lady Auriol, an earl’s daughter, he goes. He is no longer even a first-rate clown; but he does as well as he can, hiding his ‘chivalrous soul’ and his love under a preposterous make-up of red hair, white paint, and tights. He has two other friends, however, —■ Anthony Hylton, the narrator of the story, a precise but lovable bachelor, and Horatio Bakkus, a professional singer of sentimental ditties, who poses as a cynic, — and these bring about the happy ending, in which the vulgar but engaging Elodie is properly disposed of, and Lady Auriol, having learned the truth, departs with the hero on a honeymoon to the Solomon Islands.
‘ ... A situation,’ says Hylton, ‘as old as Romance itself. The valorous and gentle knight of hidden lineage and the Earl’s daughter. . . . He rides away without betraying his passion, leaving the fair one to pine in lonely ignorance.
‘ “At this time of day, it’s all such damn nonsense,” said Lady Auriol.
‘ I pointed out to her that chivalrous souls still beautified God’s earth and that such damn nonsense could not be other than the essence of their being.’
None but a very crabbed reader would object to such a thesis. Like the author’s other tales, ever since the Belovèd Vugabond, this is a fiction of humor, quaintness, and optimism. It leads up bravely — not to say brazenly — to a happy ending. At its centre stands, as usual, a ‘ nature’s nobleman,’ whose simplicity, magnanimity, hopefulness, and modesty are hidden under an unprepossessing exterior. Its plot is the history of the quiet but ultimately successful pressure of this man’s goodness of heart against untoward circumstance; the initial assumption here being, as in the other romances, that human worlh, however crushed to earth, will rise again: and who can prove that this is not the truth?
Most readers will find Hylton very enjoyable; Bakkus amusing, but not quite convincing; Lackaday pathetic where a powerful writer would have made him tragic. As for Lady Auriol, though the author tries manfully to make her an intrinsic part of the story, one could wish her and her entire‘affair’ away. But the character of the book is Elodie Figasso, who takes the place in the ring of a dead poodle and catches lighted cigars in her mouth; and who, at the climax of the story, rushes down to the footlights, ‘coarse and bulging out of her short red bodice and skirt,’ and in a rage defies the house in defense of her brigadier-general clown-partner.
Altogether, it is an entertaining and appealing story. R. M. GAY.