Collier’s Weekly, July 24, 1920

 

XVI

 

ON the boardwalk at Atlantic City, that much-enduring seashore resort which has been the birthplace of so many musical plays, there stands an all-day and all-night restaurant, under the same management and offering the same noisy hospitality as the one in Columbus Circle at which Jill had taken her first meal on arriving in New York. At least, its hospitality is noisy during the waking and working hours of the day; but there are moments when it has an almost cloistral calm, and the customer, abashed by the cold calm of its snowy marble and the silent gravity of the white-robed attendants, unconsciously lowers his voice and tries to keep his feet from shuffling, like one in a temple.

The members of the chorus of “The Rose of America,” dropping in by ones and twos at six o’clock in the morning about two weeks after the events recorded in the last chapter, spoke in whispers and gave their orders for breakfast in a subdued undertone.

The dress rehearsal had just dragged its weary length to a close. It is the custom of the dwellers in Atlantic City, who seem to live entirely for pleasure, to attend a species of vaudeville performance—incorrectly termed a sacred concert—on Sunday nights; and it had been one o’clock in the morning before the concert scenery could be moved out of the theatre and the first act set of “The Rose of America” moved in. And, as by some unwritten law of the drama, no dress rehearsal can begin without a delay of at least an hour and a half, the curtain had not gone up on Mr. Miller’s opening chorus till half past two.

There had been dress parades, conferences, interminable arguments between the stage director and a mysterious man in shirt sleeves about the lights, more dress parades, further conferences, hitches with regard to the sets, and another outbreak of debate on the subject of blues, ambers, and the management of the “spot,” which was worked by a plaintive voice, answering to the name of Charlie, at the back of the family circle. But by six o’clock a complete, if ragged, performance had been given, and the chorus, who had partaken of no nourishment since dinner on the previous night, had limped off round the corner for a bite of breakfast before going to bed.

 

THEY were a battered and a draggled company, some with dark circles beneath their eyes, others blooming with the unnatural scarlet of the makeup which they had been too tired to take off. The Duchess, haughty to the last, had fallen asleep with her head on the table. The red-headed Babe was lying back in her chair, staring at the ceiling. The Southern girl blinked like an owl at the morning sunshine out on the boardwalk.

The Cherub, whose triumphant youth had brought her almost fresh through a sleepless night, contributed the only remark made during the interval of waiting for the meal.

“The fascination of a thtage life! Why girls leave home!” She looked at her reflection in the little mirror of her vanity bag. “It is a face!” she murmured reflectively. “But I should hate to have to go around with it long!”

A sallow young man, with the alertness peculiar to those who work on the night shifts of restaurants, dumped a tray down on the table with a clatter.

The Duchess woke up. Babe took her eyes off the ceiling. The Southern girl ceased to look at the sunshine. Already, at the mere sight of food, the extraordinary recuperative powers of the theatrical worker had begun to assert themselves. In five minutes these girls would be feeling completely restored and fit for anything.

Conversation broke out with the first sip of coffee, and the calm of the restaurant was shattered. Its day had begun.

“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” said the Cherub, hungrily attacking her omelet. “And the wortht is yet to come! I thuppose all you old dears realithe that this show will have to be rewritten from end to end, and we’ll be rehearthing day and night all the time we’re on the road.”

“Why?” Lois Denham spoke with her mouth full. “What’s wrong with it?”

The Duchess took a sip of coffee.

“Don’t make me laugh!” she pleaded. “What’s wrong with it? What’s right with it, one would feel more inclined to ask!”

“One would feel thtill more inclined,” said the Cherub, “to athk why one was thuch a chump as to let oneself in for this sort of thing when one hears on all sides that waitresses earn thixty dollars a month.”

“The numbers are all right,” argued Babe. “I don’t mean the melodies, but Johnny has arranged some good business.”

“He always does,” said the Southern girl. “Some more buckwheat cakes, please. But what about the book?”

“I never listen to the book.”

The Cherub laughed. “You’re too good to yourself! I listened to it right along, and, take it from me, it’s sad! Of courthe they’ll have it fixed. We can’t open in New York like this. My professional reputation wouldn’t thtand it! Didn’t you thee Wally Mason in front, making notes? They’ve got him down to do the rewriting.”

Jill, who had been listening in a dazed way to the conversation, fighting against the waves of sleep which flooded over her, woke up.

“Was Wally—was Mr. Mason there?”

“Sure. Sitting at the back.”

 

JILL could not have said whether she was glad or sorry. She had not seen Wally since that afternoon when they had lunched together at the Cosmopolis, and the rush of the final weeks of rehearsals had given her little opportunity for thinking of him.

At the back of her mind had been the feeling that sooner or later she would have to think of him, but for two weeks she had been too tired and too busy to reexamine him as a factor in her life. There had been times when the thought of him had been like the sunshine on a winter day, warming her with almost an impersonal glow in moments of depression. And then some sharp, poignant memory of Derek would come to blot him out. She remembered the image she had used to explain Derek to Wally, and the truth of it came home to her more strongly than ever. Whatever Derek might have done, he was in her heart and she could not get him out. She wondered whether she wanted to get him out . . .

She came out of her thoughts to find that the talk had taken another turn.

“And the wortht of it is,” the Cherub was saying, “we shall rehearthe all day and give a show every night and work ourselves to the bone, and then, when they’re good and ready, they’ll fire one of us!”

“That’s right!” agreed the Southern girl.

“They couldn’t!” Jill cried.

“You wait!” said the Cherub. “They’ll never open in New York with thirteen girls. Ike’s much too thuperstitious.”

“But they wouldn’t do a thing like that after we’ve all worked so hard!”

There was a general burst of sardonic laughter. Jill’s opinion of the chivalry of theatrical managers seemed to be higher than that of her more experienced colleagues.

“They’ll do anything,” the Cherub confidently assured her.

“You don’t know the half of it, dearie,” scoffed Lois Denham. “You don’t know the half of it!”

“Wait till you’ve been in as many shows as I have,” said Babe, shaking her red locks. “The usual thing is to keep a girl slaving her head off all through the road tour and then fire her before the New York opening.”

“But it’s a shame! It isn’t fair!”

“If one is expecting to be treated fairly,” said the Duchess with a prolonged yawn, “one should not go into the show business.”

And, having uttered this profoundly true maxim, she fell asleep again.

The slumber of the Duchess was the signal for a general move. Her somnolence was catching. The restorative effects of the meal were beginning to wear off.

There was a call for a chorus rehearsal at four o’clock, and it seemed the wise move to go to bed and get some sleep while there was time. The Duchess was roused from her dreams by means of a piece of ice from one of the tumblers; checks were paid; and the company poured out, yawning and chattering, into the sunlight of the empty boardwalk.

Jill detached herself from the group, and made her way to a seat facing the ocean. Tiredness had fallen upon her like a leaden weight, crushing all the power out of her limbs, and the thought of walking to the boarding house where, from motives of economy, she was sharing a room with the Cherub, paralyzed her.

 

IT was a perfect morning, clear and cloudless, with the warm freshness of a day that means to be hotter later on. The sea sparkled in the sun. Little waves broke lazily on the gray sand. Jill closed her eyes, for the brightness of sun and water was trying; and her thoughts went back to what the Cherub had said.

If Wally was really going to rewrite the play, they would be thrown together. She would be obliged to meet him, and she was not sure that she was ready to meet him. Still, he would be somebody to talk to on subjects other than the one eternal topic of the theatre, somebody who belonged to the old life.

She had ceased to regard Freddie Rooke in this light; for Freddie, solemn with his new responsibilities as a principal, was the most whole-hearted devotee of “shop” in the company. Freddie nowadays declined to consider any subject for conversation that did not have to do with “The Rose of America” in general and his share in it in particular. Jill had given him up, and he had paired off with Nelly Bryant. The two were inseparable. Jill had taken one or two meals with them, but Freddie’s professional monologues, of which Nelly seemed never to weary, were too much for her. As a result she was now very much alone. There were girls in the company whom she liked, but most of them had their own intimate friends, and she was always conscious of not being really wanted. She was lonely, and, after examining the matter as clearly as her tired mind would allow, she found herself curiously soothed by the thought that Wally would be near to mitigate her loneliness.

She opened her eyes, blinking. Sleep had crept upon her with an insidious suddenness, and she had almost fallen over on the seat. She was just bracing herself to get up and begin the long tramp to the boarding house, when a voice spoke at her side: “Hullo! Good morning!”

Jill looked up. “Hullo, Wally!”

“Surprised to see me?”

“No. Milly Trevor said she had seen you at the rehearsal last night.”

Wally came round the bench and seated himself at her side. His eyes were tired, and his chin dark and bristly.

“Had breakfast?”

“Yes, thanks. Have you?”

“Not yet. How are you feeling?”

“Rather tired.”

“I wonder you’re not dead. I’ve been through a good many dress rehearsals, but this one was the record. Why they couldn’t have had it comfortably in New York and just have run through the piece without scenery last night, I don’t know, except that in musical comedy it’s etiquette always to do the most inconvenient thing. They knew perfectly well that there was no chance of getting the scenery into the theatre till the small hours. You must be worn out. Why aren’t you in bed?”

“I couldn’t face the walk. I suppose I ought to be going, though.”

She half rose, then sank back again. The glitter of the water hypnotized her. She closed her eyes again. She could hear Wally speaking, then his voice grew suddenly faint and far off, and she ceased to fight the delicious drowsiness.

 

JILL awoke with a start. She opened her eyes, and shut them again at once. The sun was very strong now. It was one of those prematurely warm days of early spring which have all the languorous heat of late summer. She opened her eyes once more, and found that she was feeling greatly refreshed. She also discovered that her head was resting on Wally’s shoulder.

“Have I been asleep?”

Wally laughed.

“You have been having what you might call a nap.” He massaged his left arm vigorously. “You needed it. Do you feel more rested now?”

“Good gracious! Have I been squashing your poor arm all the time? Why didn’t you move?”

“I was afraid you would fall over. You just shut your eyes and toppled sideways.”

“What’s the time?”

Wally looked at his watch.

“Just on ten.”

“Ten!” Jill was horrified. “Why, I have been giving you cramp for about three hours! You must have had an awful time!”

“Oh, it was all right. I think I dozed off myself. Except that the birds didn’t come and cover us with leaves, it was rather like the Babes in the Wood.”

“But you haven’t had any breakfast! Aren’t you starving?”

“Well, I’m not saying I wouldn’t spear a fried egg with some vim if it happened to float past. But there’s plenty of time for that. Lots of doctors say you oughtn’t to eat breakfast, and Indian fakirs go without food for days at a time in order to develop their souls. Shall I take you back to wherever you’re staying? You ought to get a proper sleep in bed.”

“Don’t dream of taking me. Go off and have something to eat.”

“Oh, that can wait. I’d like to see you safely home.”

Jill was conscious of a renewed sense of his comfortingness. There was no doubt about it, Wally was different from any other man she had known. She suddenly felt guilty, as if she were obtaining something valuable under false pretenses.

“Wally!”

“Hullo?”

“You—you oughtn’t to be so good to me!”

“Nonsense! Where’s the harm in lending a hand—or, rather, an arm—to a pal in trouble?”

“You know what I mean. I can’t . . . that is to say . . . it isn’t as though . . . I mean . . .”

Wally smiled a tired, friendly smile.

“If you’re trying to say what I think you’re trying to say, don’t! We had all that out two weeks ago. I quite understand the position. You mustn’t worry yourself about it.” He took her arm, and they crossed the boardwalk. “Are we going in the right direction? You lead the way. I know exactly how you feel. We’re old friends, and nothing more. But, as an old friend, I claim the right to behave like an old friend. If an old friend can’t behave like an old friend, how can an old friend behave? And now we’ll rule the whole topic out of the conversation. But perhaps you’re too tired for conversation?”

“Oh, no.”

“Then I will tell you about the sad death of young Mr. Pilkington.”

“What!”

 

WELL, when I say death, I use the word in a loose sense. The human giraffe still breathes, and I imagine, from the speed with which he legged it back to his hotel when we parted, that he still takes nourishment. But really he is dead. His heart is broken. We had a conference after the dress rehearsal, and our friend Mr. Goble told him in no uncertain words—in the whole course of my experience I have never heard words less uncertain—that his damned rotten highbrow false alarm of a show—I am quoting Mr. Goble—would have to be rewritten by alien hands. And these are them! On the right, alien right hand. On the left, alien left hand. Yes, I am the instrument selected for the murder of Pilkington’s artistic aspirations. I’m going to rewrite the show. In fact, I have already rewritten the first act and most of the second. Goble foresaw this contingency and told me to get busy two weeks ago, and I’ve been working hard ever since. We shall start rehearsing the new version to-morrow and open in Baltimore next Monday with practically a different piece. And it’s going to be a pippin, believe me, said our hero modestly. A gang of composers has been working in shifts for two weeks, and, by chucking out nearly all of the original music, we shall have a good score. It means a lot of work for you, I’m afraid. All the business of the numbers will have to be rearranged.”

“I like work,” said Jill. “But I’m sorry for Mr. Pilkington.”

“He’s all right. He owns 70 per cent of the show. He may make a fortune. He’s certain to make a comfortable sum. That is, if he doesn’t sell out his interest in pique—or dudgeon, if you prefer it. From what he said at the close of the proceedings, I fancy he would sell out to anybody who asked him. At least, he said that he washed his hands of the piece. He’s going back to New York this afternoon—won’t even wait for the opening. Of course, I’m sorry for the poor chap in a way, but he had no right, with the excellent central idea which he got, to turn out such a rotten book. Oh, by the way!”

“Yes?”

“Another tragedy! Unavoidable, but pathetic. Poor old Freddie! He’s out!”

“Oh, no!”

“Out!” repeated Wally firmly.

“But didn’t you think he was good last night?”

“He was awful! But that isn’t why. Goble wanted his part rewritten as a Scotchman, so as to get McAndrew, the fellow who made such a hit last season in ‘Hoots, Mon!’ That sort of thing is always happening in musical comedy. You have to fit parts to suit whatever good people happen to be available at the moment. When you’ve had one or two experiences of changing your Italian count to a Jewish millionaire—invariably against time: they always want the script on Thursday next at noon—and then changing him again to a Russian Bolshevik, you begin to realize what is meant by the words ‘Death, where is thy sting?’ My heart bleeds for Freddie, but what can one do? At any rate he isn’t so badly off as a fellow was in one of my shows. In the second act he was supposed to have escaped from an asylum, and the management, in a passion for realism, insisted that he should shave his head. The day after he shaved it, they heard that a superior comedian was disengaged and fired him. It’s a ruthless business.”

“The girls were saying that one of us would be dismissed.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t think that’s likely.”

“I hope not.”

“So do I. What are we stopping for?”

Jill had halted in front of a shabby-looking house, one of those depressing buildings which spring up overnight at seashore resorts and start to decay the moment the builders have left them.

“I live here.”

“Here!” Wally looked at her in consternation. “But—”

Jill smiled.

“We working girls have got to economize. Besides, it’s quite comfortable—fairly comfortable—inside, and it’s only for a week.” She yawned. “I believe I’m falling asleep again. I’d better hurry in and go to bed. Good-by, Wally dear. You’ve been wonderful. Mind you go and get a good breakfast.”

 

§2

 

WHEN Jill arrived at the theatre at four o’clock for the chorus rehearsal, the expected blow had not fallen. No steps had apparently been taken to eliminate the thirteenth girl whose presence in the cast preyed on Mr. Goble’s superstitious mind. But she found her colleagues still in a condition of pessimistic foreboding. “Wait!” was the gloomy watchword of “The Rose of America” chorus.

The rehearsal passed off without event. It lasted until six o’clock, when Jill, the Cherub, and two or three of the other girls went to snatch a hasty dinner before returning to the theatre to make up. It was not a cheerful meal. Reaction had set in after the overexertion of the previous night, and it was too early for first-night excitement to take its place. Everybody, even the Cherub, whose spirits seldom failed her, was depressed, and the idea of an overhanging doom had grown. It seemed now to be merely a question of speculating on the victim, and the conversation gave Jill, as the last addition to the company, and so the cause of swelling the ranks of the chorus to the unlucky number, a feeling of guilt. She was glad when it was time to go back to the theatre.

The moment she and her companions entered the dressing room it was made clear to them that the doom had fallen. In a chair in the corner, all her pretense and affectation swept away in a flood of tears, sat the unhappy Duchess, the center of a group of girls anxious to console but limited in their ideas of consolation to an occasional pat on the back and an offer of a fresh pocket handkerchief.

“It’s tough, honey!” somebody was saying as Jill came in.

Somebody else said it was fierce, and a third girl declared it to be the limit. A fourth girl, well-meaning but less helpful than she would have liked to be, was advising the victim not to worry.

The story of the disaster was brief and easily told. The Duchess, sailing in at the stage door, had paused at the letter box to see if Cuthbert, her faithful auto salesman, had sent her a good-luck telegram. He had, but his good wishes were unfortunately neutralized by the fact that the very next letter in the box was one from the management, crisp and to the point, informing the Duchess that her services would not be required that night or thereafter. It was the subtle meanness of the blow that roused the indignation of “The Rose of America” chorus, the cunning villainy with which it had been timed.

“Poor Mae, if she’d opened to-night, they’d have had to give her two weeks’ notice or her salary. But they can fire her without a cent just because she’s only been rehearsing and hasn’t given a show!”

The Duchess burst into a fresh flood of tears.

“Don’t you worry, honey!” advised the well-meaning girl, who would have been in her element looking in on Job with Bildad the Shuhite and his friends. “Don’t you worry!”

“It’s tough!” said the girl who had adopted that form of verbal consolation.

“It’s fierce!” said the girl who preferred that adjective.

The other girl, with an air of saying something new, repeated her statement that it was the limit. The Duchess cried forlornly throughout. She had needed this engagement badly. Chorus salaries are not stupendous, but it is possible to save money by means of them during a New York run, especially if you have spent three years in a milliner’s shop and can make your own clothes, as the Duchess, in spite of her air of being turned out by Fifth Avenue modistes, could and did. She had been looking forward, now that this absurd piece was to be rewritten by some one who knew his business and had a good chance of success, to putting by just those few dollars that make all the difference when you are embarking on married life. Cuthbert, for all his faithfulness, could not hold up the financial end of the establishment unsupported for at least another eighteen months; and this disaster meant that the wedding would have to be postponed again. So the Duchess, abandoning that aristocratic manner criticized by some of her colleagues as “upstage” and by others as “Ritz-y,” sat in her chair and consumed pocket handkerchiefs as fast as they were offered to her.

 

JILL had been the only girl in the room who had spoken no word of consolation. This was not because she was not sorry for the Duchess. She had never been sorrier for anyone in her life.

The pathos of that swift descent from haughtiness to misery had bitten deep into her sensitive heart. But she revolted at the idea of echoing the banal words of the others. Words were no good, she thought, as she set her little teeth and glared at an absent management—a management just about now presumably distending itself with a luxurious dinner at one of the big hotels. Deeds were what she demanded. All her life she had been a girl of impulsive action, and she wanted to act impulsively now. She was in much the same Berserk mood as had swept her, raging, to the defense of Bill the parrot on the occasion of his dispute with Henry of London. The fighting spirit which had been drained from her by the all-night rehearsal had come back in full measure.

“What are you going to do?” she cried. “Aren’t you going to do something?”

Do? The members of “The Rose of America” ensemble looked doubtfully at one another. Do? It had not occurred to them that there was anything to be done. These things happened, and you regretted them, but as for doing anything—well, what could you do?

Jill’s face was white and her eyes were flaming. She dominated the roomful of girls like a little Napoleon. The change in her startled them. Hitherto they had always looked on her as rather an unusually quiet girl. She had always made herself unobtrusively pleasant to them all. They all liked her. But they had never suspected her of possessing this militant quality. Nobody spoke, but there was a general stir. She had flung a new idea broadcast, and it was beginning to take root. Do something? Well, if it came to that, why not?

“We ought all to refuse to go on tonight unless they let her go on!” Jill declared.

The stir became a movement. Enthusiasm is catching, and every girl is at heart a rebel. And the idea was appealing to the imagination. Refuse to give a show on the opening night! Had a chorus ever done such a thing? They trembled on the verge of making history.

“Strike?” quavered somebody at the back.

“Yes, strike!” cried Jill.

“Hooray! That’s the thtuff!” shouted the Cherub, and turned the scale. She was a popular girl, and her adherence to the Cause confirmed the doubters. “Thtrike!”

“Strike! Strike!”

Jill turned to the Duchess, who had been gaping amazedly at the demonstration. She no longer wept, but she seemed in a dream.

“Dress and get ready to go on,” Jill commanded. “We’ll all dress and get ready to go on. Then I’ll go and find Mr. Goble and tell him what we mean to do. And if he doesn’t give in we’ll stay here in this room, and there won’t be a performance!”

 

§3

 

MR. GOBLE, with a derby hat on the back of his head and an unlighted cigar in the corner of his mouth, was superintending the erection of the first-act set when Jill found him. He was standing with his back to the safety curtain glowering at a blue canvas, supposed to represent one of those picturesque summer skies which you get at the best places on Long Island. Jill, coming down stage from the staircase that led to the dressing room, interrupted his line of vision.

“Get out of the light!” bellowed Mr. Goble, always a man of direct speech, adding “Damn you!” for good measure.

“Please move to one side,” interpreted the stage director. “Mr. Goble is looking at the set.”

The head carpenter, who completed the little group, said nothing. Stage carpenters always say nothing. Long association with fussy directors has taught them that the only policy to pursue on opening nights is to withdraw into the silence, wrap themselves up in it, and not emerge until the enemy has grown tired and gone off to worry somebody else.

“It don’t look right!” said Mr. Goble, cocking his head on one side.

“I see what you mean, Mr. Goble,” assented the stage director obsequiously. “It has perhaps a little too much— er—not quite enough—yes, I see what you mean!”

“It’s too—damn—blue!” rasped Mr. Goble, impatient of this vacillating criticism. “That’s what’s the matter with it.”

The head carpenter abandoned the silent policy of a lifetime. He felt impelled to utter. He was a man who, when not at the theatre, spent most of his time in bed, reading all-fiction magazines; but it so happened that once last summer he had actually seen the sky, and he considered that this entitled him to speak almost as a specialist on the subject.

“Ther sky is blue!” he observed huskily. “Yessir! I seen it!”

He passed into the silence again, and, to prevent a further lapse, stopped up his mouth with a piece of chewing gum.

Mr. Goble regarded the silver-tongued orator wrathfully. He was not accustomed to chatterboxes arguing with him like this. He would probably have said something momentous and crushing, but at this point Jill intervened.

“Mr. Goble.”

The manager swung round on her.

“What is it?”

 

IT is sad to think how swiftly affection can change to dislike in this world. Two weeks before Mr. Goble had looked on Jill with favor. She had seemed good in his eyes. But that refusal of hers to lunch with him, followed by a refusal some days later to take a bit of supper somewhere, had altered his views on feminine charm. If it had been left to him, as most things were about his theatre, to decide which of the thirteen girls should be dismissed, he would undoubtedly have selected Jill. But at this stage in the proceedings there was the unfortunate necessity of making concessions to the temperamental Johnson Miller. Mr. Goble was aware that the dance director’s services would be badly needed in the rearrangement of the numbers during the coming week or so, and he knew that there were a dozen managers waiting eagerly to welcome him if he threw up his present job, so he had been obliged to approach him in quite a humble spirit and inquire which of his female chorus could be most easily spared. And, as the Duchess had a habit of carrying her haughty languor on to the stage and employing it as a substitute for the chorea which was Mr. Miller’s ideal, the dance director had chosen her. To Mr. Goble’s dislike of Jill, therefore, was added now something of the fury of the baffled potentate.

“ ’Jer want?” he demanded.

“Mr. Goble is extremely busy,” said the stage director. “Ex-tremely.”

A momentary doubt as to the best way of approaching her subject had troubled Jill on her way downstairs, but, now that she was on the battle field confronting the enemy, she found herself cool, collected, and full of a cold rage which steeled her nerves without confusing her mind.

“I came to ask you to let Mae d’Arcy go on to-night.”

“Who the devil’s Mae d’Arcy?” Mr. Goble broke off to bellow at a scene shifter who was depositing the wall of Mrs. Stuyvesant van Dyke’s Long Island residence too far down stage. “Not there, you fool! Higher up!”

“You gave her her notice this evening,” said Jill.

“Well, what about it?”

“We want you to withdraw it.”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

“The other girls and myself.”

Mr. Goble jerked his head so violently that the derby hat flew off, to be picked up, dusted, and restored by the stage director.

“Oh, so you don’t like it? Well, you know what you can do . . .”

“Yes,” said Jill, “we do. We are going to strike.”

“What!”

“If you don’t let Mae go on, we shan’t go on. There won’t be a performance to-night unless you like to give one without a chorus.”

“Are you crazy?”

“Perhaps. But we’re quite unanimous.”

Mr. Goble, like most theatrical managers, was not good at words of over two syllables.

“You’re what?”

“We’ve talked it over, and we’ve all decided to do what I said.”

Mr. Goble’s hat shot off again and gamboled away into the wings, with the stage director bounding after it like a retriever.

“Whose idea’s this?” demanded Mr. Goble. His eyes were a little foggy, for his brain was adjusting itself but slowly to the novel situation.

“Mine.”

“Oh, yours! I thought as much!”

“Well,” said Jill, “I’ll go back and tell them that you will not do what we ask. We will keep our make-up on in case you change your mind.”

She turned away.

“Come back!”

Jill proceeded toward the staircase. As she went a husky voice spoke in her ear.

“Go to it, kid! You’re all right!”

The head carpenter had broken his Trappist vows twice in a single evening, a thing which had not happened to him since the night three years ago when, sinking wearily on to a seat in a dark corner for a bit of a rest, he found that one of his assistants had placed a pot of red paint there.

 

§4

 

TO Mr. Goble, fermenting and full of strange oaths, entered Johnson Miller. The dance director was always edgy on first nights, and during the foregoing conversation had been flitting about the stage like a white-haired moth. His deafness had kept him in complete ignorance that there was anything untoward afoot, and he now approached Mr. Goble with his watch in his hand.

“Eight-twenty-five,” he observed. “Time those girls were on stage.”

Mr. Goble, glad of a concrete target for his wrath, cursed him in about two hundred and fifty rich and well-selected words.

“Huh?” said Mr. Miller, hand to ear.

Mr. Goble repeated the last hundred and eleven words, the pick of the bunch.

“Can’t hear!” said Mr. Miller regretfully. “Got a cold.”

The grave danger that Mr. Goble, a thick-necked man, would undergo some sort of a stroke was averted by the presence of mind of the stage director, who, returning with the hat, presented it like a bouquet to his employer, and then, his hands being now unoccupied, formed them into a funnel and through this flesh-and-blood megaphone endeavored to impart the bad news:

“The girls say they won’t go on!”

Mr. Miller nodded.

“I said it was time they were on.”

“They’re on strike!”

“It’s not,” said Mr. Miller austerely, “what they like, it’s what they’re paid for. They ought to be on stage. We should be ringing up in two minutes.”

The stage director drew another breath, then thought better of it. He had a wife and children, and, if dadda went under with apoplexy, what became of the home, civilization’s most sacred product? He relaxed the muscles of his diaphragm, and reached for pencil and paper.

Mr. Miller inspected the message, felt for his spectacle case, found it, opened it, took out his glasses, replaced the spectacle case, felt for his handkerchief, polished the glasses, replaced the handkerchief, put the glasses on, and read. A blank look came into his face.

“Why?” he inquired.

The stage director, with a nod of the head intended to imply that he must be patient and all would come right in the future, recovered the paper, and scribbled another sentence. Mr. Miller perused it.

“Because Mae d’Arcy has got her notice?” he queried, amazed. “But the girl can’t dance a step.”

The stage director, by means of a wave of the hand, a lifting of both eyebrows, and a wrinkling of the nose, replied that the situation, unreasonable as it might appear to the thinking man, was as he had stated and must be faced. What, he inquired—through the medium of a clever drooping of the mouth and a shrug of the shoulders—was to be done about it?

Mr. Miller remained for a moment in meditation.

“I’ll go and talk to them,” he said.

He flitted off, and the stage director leaned back against the asbestos curtain. He was exhausted, and his throat was in agony, but nevertheless he was conscious of a feeling of quiet happiness. His life had been lived in the shadow of the constant fear that some day Mr. Goble might dismiss him. Should that disaster occur, he felt, there was always a future for him in the movies.

 

(To be continued next week)

 

Editor’s notes:
Printer’s errors corrected above:
In the opening section, magazine had “What’s right with it, one would feel more inclined to ask?”; all other versions end this in an exclamation point as shown above.
In §2, magazine had “companion” where all other versions have “The moment she and her companions entered the dressing room”; since Jill had been dining with several of the girls, the plural makes sense.
In §3, magazine had “withdraw into the silence, wrap themselves up in it, and not merge”; corrected to “emerge” as in other versions.
In §3, Mrs. Stuyvesant van Dyke’s name is spelled Van Dyke in the magazine in only this place; in later chapters and in all other versions of the story, ‘van’ is lowercase consistently, so that is how it is shown above.