Collier’s Weekly, June 19, 1920
The Story—Sir Derek Underhill repents of his shabby behavior toward Jill Mariner, with whom he had broken his engagement. He consents at last to accept the offer of Freddie Rooke to go to America and find Jill for him. Jill, meanwhile, has left the dreary Mariner homestead and come to New York, possessed of twenty dollars and the last address given by her wayward uncle, Major Selby. She discovers that Uncle Chris had never been heard of there.
IX — Continued
JILL had read works of fiction in which at certain crises everything had “seemed to swim” in front of the heroine’s eyes, but never till this moment had she experienced that remarkable sensation herself. The Savior of Guatemala did not actually swim, perhaps, but he certainly flickered. She had to blink to restore his prismatic outlines to their proper sharpness. Already the bustle and noise of New York had begun to induce in her that dizzy condition of unreality which one feels in dreams, and this extraordinary statement added the finishing touch.
Perhaps the fact that she had said “please” to him when she opened the conversation touched the heart of the hero of a thousand revolutions. Dignified and beautiful as he was to the eye of the stranger, it is unpleasant to have to record that he lived in a world which rather neglected the minor courtesies of speech. People did not often say “please” to him. “Here!” “Hi!” and “Gosh darn you!” yes; but seldom “please.” He seemed to approve of Jill, for he shifted his chewing gum to a position which facilitated speech, and began to be helpful.
“What was the name again?”
“Howja spell it?”
“S-e-l-b-y. Oh, Selby?”
“What was the first name?”
“Christopher Selby? No one of that name living here.”
“But there must be.”
The veteran shook his head with an indulgent smile.
“You want Mr. Sipperley,” he said tolerantly. In Guatemala these mistakes are always happening. “Mr. George H. Sipperley. He’s on the fourth floor. What name shall I say?”
He had almost reached the telephone when Jill stopped him. This is an age of just-as-good substitutes, but she refused to accept any unknown Sipperley as a satisfactory alternative for Uncle Chris.
“I don’t want Mr. Sipperley. I want Major Selby.”
“Howja spell it once more?”
“S-e-l-b-y. No one of that name living here. Mr. Sipperley”—he spoke in a wheedling voice, as if determined, in spite of herself, to make Jill see what was in her best interests—“Mr. Sipperley’s on the fourth floor. Gentleman in the real-estate business,” he added insinuatingly. “He’s got blond hair and a Boston bulldog.”
“He may be all you say, and he may have a dozen bulldogs . . .”
“Only one. Jack his name is.”
“. . . But he isn’t the right man. It’s absurd. Major Selby wrote to me from this address. This is 18 East Fifty-seventh Street?”
“This is 18 East Fifty-seventh Street,” conceded the other cautiously.
“I’ve got his letter here.” She opened her bag and gave an exclamation of dismay. “It’s gone!”
“Mr. Sipperley used to have a friend staying with him last fall. A Mr. Robertson. Dark-complected man with a mustache.”
“I took it out to look at the address, and I was sure I put it back. I must have dropped it.”
“There’s a Mr. Rainsby on the seventh floor. He’s a broker down on Wall Street. Short man with an impediment in his speech.”
Jill snapped the clasp of her bag. “Never mind,” she said. “I must have made a mistake. I was quite sure that this was the address, but it evidently isn’t. Thank you so much. I’m so sorry to have bothered you.”
She walked away, leaving the Terror of Paraguay and all points west speechless, for people who said “Thank you so much” to him were even rarer than those who said “please.” He followed her with an affectionate eye till she was out of sight, then, restoring his chewing gum to circulation, returned to the perusal of his paper. A momentary suggestion presented itself to his mind that what Jill had really wanted was Mr. Willoughby on the eighth floor, but it was too late to say so now; and soon, becoming absorbed in the narrative of a spirited householder in Kansas who had run amuck with a hatchet and slain six, he dismissed the matter from his mind.
JILL walked back to Fifth Avenue, crossed it, and made her way thoughtfully along the breezy street, which, flanked on one side by the Park and on the other by the green-roofed Plaza Hotel and the apartment houses of the wealthy, ends in the humbler and more democratic spaces of Columbus Circle. She perceived that she was in that position, familiar to melodrama, of being alone in a great city. The reflection brought with it a certain discomfort. The bag that dangled from her wrist contained all the money she had in the world, the very broken remains of the twenty dollars which Uncle Chris had sent her at Brookport. She had nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep, and no immediately obvious means of adding to her capital. It was a situation which she had not foreseen when she set out to walk to Brookport station.
She pondered over the mystery of Uncle Chris’s disappearance, and found no solution. The thing was inexplicable. She was as sure of the address he had given in his letter as she was of anything in the world. Yet at that address nothing had been heard of him. His name was not even known. These were deeper waters than Jill was able to fathom.
She walked on, aimlessly. Presently she came to Columbus Circle, and, crossing Broadway at the point where that street breaks out into an eruption of automobile stores, found herself, suddenly hungry, opposite a restaurant whose entire front was a sheet of plate glass. On the other side of this glass, at marble-topped tables, apparently careless of their total lack of privacy, sat the impecunious lunching, their every mouthful a spectacle for the passer-by. It reminded Jill of looking at fishes in an aquarium. In the center of the window, gazing out in a distrait manner over piles of apples and grapefruit, a white-robed ministrant at a stove juggled ceaselessly with buckwheat cakes. He struck the final note in the candidness of the establishment, a priest whose ritual contained no mysteries. Spectators with sufficient time on their hands to permit them to stand and watch were enabled to witness a New York midday meal in every stage of its career, from its protoplasmic beginnings as a stream of yellowish-white liquid poured on top of the stove to its ultimate Nirvana in the interior of the luncher in the form of an appetizing cake. It was a spectacle which no hungry girl could resist. Jill went in, and as she made her way among the tables a voice spoke her name: “Miss Mariner!”
JILL jumped, and thought for a moment that the thing must have been a hallucination. It was impossible that anybody in the place should have called her name. Except for Uncle Chris, wherever he might be, she knew no one in New York. Then the voice spoke again, competing valiantly with a clatter of crockery so uproarious as to be more like something solid than a mere sound: “I couldn’t believe it was you!”
A girl in blue had risen from the nearest table and was staring at her in astonishment. Jill recognized her instantly. Those big, pathetic eyes, like a lost child’s, were unmistakable. It was the parrot girl, the girl whom she and Freddie Rooke had found in the drawing room at Ovington Square that afternoon when the foundations of the world had given way and chaos had begun.
“Good gracious!” cried Jill. “I thought you were in London!”
That feeling of emptiness and panic, the result of her interview with the Guatemalan general at the apartment house, vanished magically. She sat down at this unexpected friend’s table with a light heart. “Whatever are you doing in New York?” asked the girl. “I never knew you meant to come over.”
“It was a little sudden. Still, here I am. And I’m starving. What are those things you’re eating?”
“Oh, yes. I remember Uncle Chris talking about them on the boat. I’ll have some.”
“But when did you come over?”
“I landed about ten days ago. I’ve been down at a place called Brookport, on Long Island. How funny, running into you like this!”
“I was surprised that you remembered me.”
“I’ve forgotten your name,” admitted Jill frankly. “But that’s nothing. I always forget names.”
“My name’s Nelly Bryant.”
“Of course. And you’re on the stage, aren’t you?”
“Yes. I’ve just got work with Goble & Cohn. Hullo, Phil!”
A young man with a lithe figure and smooth black hair brushed straight back from his forehead had paused at the table on his way to the cashier’s desk.
“I didn’t know you lunched here.”
“Don’t often. Been rehearsing with Joe up at the Century Roof, and had a quarter of an hour to get a bite. Can I sit down?”
“Sure. This is my friend, Miss Mariner.”
The young man shook hands with Jill, flashing an approving glance at her out of his dark, restless eyes.
“Pleased to meet you.”
“This is Phil Brown,” said Nelly. “He plays the straight for Joe Widgeon. They’re the best jazz-and-hokum team on the Keith Circuit.”
“Oh, hush!” said Mr. Brown modestly. “You always were a great little booster, Nelly.”
“Well, you know you are! Weren’t you held over at the Palace last time! Well, then!”
“That’s true,” admitted the young man. “Maybe we didn’t fool ’em, eh? Stop me on the street and ask me! Only eighteen bows second house Saturday!”
JILL was listening, fascinated. “I can’t understand a word,” she said. “It’s like another language.”
“You’re from the other side, aren’t you?” asked Mr. Brown.
“She only landed a week ago,” said Nelly.
“I thought so from the accent,” said Mr. Brown. “So our talk sort of goes over the top, does it? Well, you’ll learn American soon if you stick around.”
“I’ve learned some already,” said Jill. The relief of meeting Nelly had made her feel very happy. She liked this smooth-haired young man. “A man on the train this morning said to me: ‘Would you care for the morning paper, sister?’ I said: ‘No, thanks, brother, I want to look out of the window and think!’ ”
“You meet a lot of fresh guys on trains,” commented Mr. Brown austerely. “You want to give ’em the cold-storage eye.” He turned to Nelly: “Did you go down to Ike, as I told you?”
“Did you cop?”
“Yes. I never felt so happy in my life. I’d waited over an hour on that landing of theirs, and then Johnny Miller came along, and I yelled in his ear that I was after work, and he told me it would be all right. He’s awfully good to girls who’ve worked in shows for him before. If it hadn’t been for him, I might have been waiting there still.”
“Who,” inquired Jill, anxious to be abreast of the conversation, “is Ike?”
“Mr. Goble. Where I’ve just got work. Goble & Cohn, you know.”
“I never heard of them!”
The young man extended his hand. “Put it there!” he said. “They never heard of me! At least, the fellow I saw when I went down to the office hadn’t! Can you beat it!”
“Oh, did you go down there too?” asked Nelly.
“Sure. Joe wanted to get another show on Broadway. He’d sort of got tired of vodevil. Say, I don’t want to scare you, Nelly, but, if you ask me, that show they’re putting out down there is a citron! I don’t think Ike’s got a cent of his own money in it. My belief is that he’s running it for a lot of amateurs. Why, say, listen! Joe and I blow in there to see if there’s anything for us, and there’s a tall guy in tortoise-shell cheaters sitting in Ike’s office. Said he was the author and was engaging the principals. We told him who we were, and it didn’t make any hit with him at all. He said he had never heard of us. And when we explained, he said no, there wasn’t going to be any of our sort of work in the show. Said he was making an effort to give the public something rather better than the usual sort of thing. No specialties required. He said it was an effort to restore the Gilbert and Sullivan tradition. Say, who are these Gilbert and Sullivan guys, anyway? They get written up in the papers all the time, and I never met anyone who’d run across them. If you want my opinion, that show down there is a comic opera!”
“For Heaven’s sake!” Nelly had the musical comedy performer’s horror of the older established form of entertainment. “Why, comic opera died in the year one!”
“Well, these guys are going to dig it up. That’s the way it looks to me.” He lowered his voice. “Say, I saw Clarice last night,” he said in a confidential undertone. “It’s all right.”
“We’ve made it up. It was like this . . .”
HIS conversation took an intimate turn. He expounded for Nelly’s benefit the inner history, with all its ramifications, of a recent unfortunate rift between himself and “the best little girl in Flatbush”—what he had said, what she had said, what her sister had said, and how it all came right in the end. Jill might have felt a little excluded but for the fact that a sudden and exciting idea had come to her. She sat back, thinking. . . . After all, what else was she to do? She must do something.
She bent forward and interrupted Mr. Brown in his description of a brisk passage of arms between himself and the best little girl’s sister, who seemed to be an unpleasant sort of person in every way.
“Do you think there would be any chance for me if I asked for work at Goble & Cohn’s?”
“You’re joking!” cried Nelly.
“I’m not at all.”
“But what do you want with work?”
“I’ve got to find some. And right away too.”
“I don’t understand.”
Jill hesitated. She disliked discussing her private affairs, but there was obviously no way of avoiding it. Nelly was round-eyed and mystified, and Mr. Brown had manifestly no intention whatever of withdrawing tactfully. He wanted to hear all.
“I’ve lost my money,” said Jill.
“Lost your money! Do you mean—?”
“I’ve lost it all. Every penny I had in the world.”
“Tough!” interpolated Mr. Brown judicially. “I was broke once way out in a tank town in Oklahoma. The manager skipped with our salaries. Last we saw of him he was doing the trip to Canada in nothing flat.”
“But how?” gasped Nelly.
“It happened about the time we met in London. Do you remember Freddie Rooke, who was at our house that afternoon?”
A dreamy look came into Nelly’s eyes. There had not been an hour since their parting when she had not thought of that immaculate sportsman. It would have amazed Freddie, could he have known, but to Nelly Bryant he was the one perfect man in an imperfect world.
“Do I!” she sighed ecstatically.
Mr. Brown shot a keen glance at her. “Aha!” he cried facetiously. “Who is he, Nelly? Who is this blue-eyed boy?”
“If you want to know,” said Nelly, defiance in her tone, “he’s the fellow who gave me fifty pounds, with no strings tied to it—get that!—when I was broke in London! If it hadn’t been for him, I’d be there still.”
“Did he!” cried Jill. “Freddie!”
“Yes. Oh, gee!” Nelly sighed once more. “I suppose I’ll never see him again in this world.”
“Introduce me to him if you do,” said Mr. Brown. “He sounds just the sort of little pal I’d like to have!”
“You remember hearing Freddie say something about losing money in a slump on the Stock Exchange,” proceeded Jill. “Well, that was how I lost mine. It’s a long story, and it’s not worth talking about, but that’s how things stand, and I’ve got to find work of some sort, and it looks to me as if I should have a better chance of finding it on the stage than anywhere else.”
“I’m terribly sorry.”
“Oh, it’s all right. How much would these people, Goble & Cohn, give me if I got an engagement?”
“Only forty a week.”
“Forty dollars a week! It’s wealth! Where are they?”
“Over at the Gotham Theatre, on Forty-second Street.”
“I’ll go there at once.”
“But you’ll hate it. You don’t realize what it’s like. You wait hours and hours, and nobody sees you.”
“Why shouldn’t I walk straight in and say that I’ve come for work?”
Nelly’s big eyes grew bigger. “But you couldn’t!”
“Why, you couldn’t!”
“I don’t see why.”
Mr. Brown intervened with decision.
“You’re dead right,” he said to Jill approvingly. “If you ask me, that’s the only sensible thing to do. Where’s the sense in hanging around and getting stalled? Managers are human guys, some of ’em. Probably, if you were to try it, they’d appreciate a bit of gall. It would show ’em you’d got pep. You go down there and try walking straight in. They can’t eat you. It makes me sick when I see all those poor devils hanging about outside these offices, waiting to get noticed and nobody ever paying any attention to them. You push the office boy in the face if he tries to stop you, and go in and make ’em take notice. And, whatever you do, don’t leave your name and address! That’s the old, moth-eaten gag they’re sure to try to pull on you. Tell ’em there’s nothing doing. Say you’re out for a quick decision! Stand ’em on their heads!”
Jill got up, fired by this eloquence. She called for her check.
“Good-by,” she said. “I’m going to do exactly as you say. Where can I find you afterward?” she said to Nelly.
“You aren’t really going?”
Nelly scribbled on a piece of paper.
“Here’s my address. I’ll be in all evening.”
“I’ll come and see you. Good-by, Mr. Brown. And thank you.”
“You’re welcome!” said Mr. Brown.
Nelly watched Jill depart with wide eyes. “Why did you tell her to do that?” she said.
“Why not?” said Mr. Brown. “I started something, didn’t I? Well, I guess I’ll have to be leaving too. Got to get back to rehearsal. Say, I like that friend of yours, Nelly. There’s no yellow streak about her! I wish her luck!”
THE offices of Messrs. Goble & Cohn were situated, like everything else in New York that appertains to the drama, in the neighborhood of Times Square. They occupied the fifth floor of the Gotham Theatre, on West Forty-second Street. As there was no elevator in the building except the small private one used by the two members of the firm, Jill walked up the stairs, and found signs of a thriving business beginning to present themselves as early as the third floor, where half a dozen patient persons of either sex had draped themselves like roosting fowls upon the banisters. There were more on the fourth floor, and the landing of the fifth, which served the firm as a waiting room, was quite full. It is the custom of some theatrical managers—the lowest order of intelligence known to science, with the possible exception of the limax maximus or garden slug—to omit from their calculations the fact that they are likely every day to receive a large number of visitors, whom they will be obliged to keep waiting; and that these people will require somewhere to wait. Such considerations never occur to them. Messrs. Goble & Cohn had provided for those who called to see them one small bench on the landing, conveniently situated at the intersecting point of three drafts, and had let it go at that.
Nobody, except perhaps the night watchman, had ever seen this bench empty. At whatever hour of the day you happened to call, you would always find three wistful individuals seated side by side with their eyes on the tiny anteroom, where sat the office boy, the telephone girl, and Mr. Goble’s stenographer. Beyond this was the door marked “Private,” through which, as it opened to admit some careless, debonair, thousand-dollar-a-week comedian who sauntered in with a jaunty “Hello, Ike!” or some furred and scented female star, the rank and file of the profession were greeted, like Moses on Pisgah, with a fleeting glimpse of the promised land, consisting of a large desk and a section of a very fat man with spectacles and a bald head, or a younger man with fair hair and a double chin.
The keynote of the mass meeting on the landing was one of determined, almost aggressive, smartness. The men wore bright overcoats with bands round the waist; the women those imitation furs which to the uninitiated eye appear so much more expensive than the real thing. Everybody looked very dashing and very young, except about the eyes. Most of the eyes that glanced at Jill were weary. The women were nearly all blondes, blondness having been decided upon in the theatre as the color that brings the best results. The men were all so much alike that they seemed to be members of one large family—an illusion which was heightened by the scraps of conversation, studded with “dears,” “old man’s,” and “honey’s,” which came to Jill’s ears. A stern fight for supremacy was being waged by a score or so of lively and powerful young scents.
For a moment Jill was somewhat daunted by the spectacle, but she recovered almost immediately. The exhilarating and heady influence of New York still wrought within her. The berserk spirit was upon her, and she remembered the stimulating words of Mr. Brown, of Brown and Widgeon, the best jazz-and-hokum team on the Keith Circuit. “Walk straight in!” had been the burden of his inspiring address. She pushed her way through the crowd until she came to the small anteroom.
IN the anteroom were the outposts, the pickets of the enemy. In one corner a girl was hammering energetically and with great speed on a typewriter; a second girl, seated at a switchboard, was having an argument with Central which was already warm and threatened to descend shortly to personalities; on a chair, tilted back so that it rested against the wall, a small boy sat eating candy and reading the comic page of an evening newspaper. All three were inclosed, like zoological specimens, in a cage formed by a high counter, terminating in brass bars.
Beyond these watchers on the threshold was the door marked “Private.” Through it, as Jill reached the outer defenses, filtered the sound of a piano.
Those who have studied the subject have come to the conclusion that the boorishness of theatrical managers’ office boys cannot be the product of mere chance. Somewhere, in some sinister den in the criminal districts of the town, there is a school where small boys are trained for these positions, where their finer instincts are rigorously uprooted and rudeness systematically inculcated by competent professors. Of this school the candy-eating Cerberus of Messrs. Goble & Cohn had been the star scholar. Quickly seeing his natural gifts, his teachers had given him special attention. When he had graduated, it had been amid the cordial good wishes of the entire faculty. They had taught him all they knew, and they were proud of him. They felt that he would do them credit.
This boy raised a pair of pink-rimmed eyes to Jill, sniffed—for, like all theatrical managers’ office boys, he had a permanent cold in the head—bit his thumb nail, and spoke. He was a snub-nosed boy. His ears and hair were vermilion. His name was Ralph. He had seven hundred and forty-three pimples.
“Woddyerwant?” inquired Ralph, coming within an ace of condensing the question into a word of one syllable.
“I want to see Mr. Goble.”
“Zout!” said the Pimple King, and returned to his paper.
There will, no doubt, always be class distinctions. Sparta had her kings and her helots; King Arthur’s Round Table its knights and its scullions; America her Simon Legree and her Uncle Tom. But in no nation and at no period of history has anyone ever been so brutally superior to anyone else as is the Broadway theatrical office boy to the caller who wishes to see the manager. Thomas Jefferson held these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Theatrical office boys do not see eye to eye with Thomas. From their pinnacle they look down on the common herd, the canaille, and despise them. They coldly question their right to live.
JILL turned pink. Mr. Brown, her guide and mentor, foreseeing this situation, had, she remembered, recommended “pushing the office boy in the face”; and for a moment she felt like following his advice. Prudence, or the fact that he was out of reach behind the brass bars, restrained her. Without further delay she made for the door of the inner room. That was her objective, and she did not intend to be diverted from it. Her fingers were on the handle before any of those present divined her intention. Then the stenographer stopped typing and sat with raised fingers, aghast. The girl at the telephone broke off in mid sentence and stared round over her shoulder. Ralph, the office boy, outraged, dropped his paper and constituted himself the spokesman of the invaded force. “Hey!”
Jill stopped and eyed the lad militantly. “Were you speaking to me?”
“Yes, I was speaking to you!”
“Don’t do it again with your mouth full,” said Jill, turning to the door.
The belligerent fire in the office boy’s pink-rimmed eyes was suddenly dimmed by a gush of water. It was not remorse that caused him to weep, however. In the heat of the moment he had swallowed a large, jagged piece of candy, and he was suffering severely.
“You can’t go in there!” he managed to articulate, his iron will triumphing over the flesh sufficiently to enable him to speak.
“I am going in there!”
“That’s Mr. Goble’s private room.”
“Well, I want a private talk with Mr. Goble.”
Ralph, his eyes still moist, felt that the situation was slipping from his grip. This sort of thing had never happened to him before. “I tell ya he zout!”
Jill looked at him sternly. “You wretched child!” she said, encouraged by a sharp giggle from the neighborhood of the switchboard. “Do you know where little boys go who don’t speak the truth? I can hear him playing the piano. Now he’s singing! And it’s no good telling me he’s busy. If he was busy, he wouldn’t have time to sing. If you’re as deceitful as this at your age, what do you expect to be when you grow up? You’re an ugly little boy; you’ve got red ears and your collar doesn’t fit! I shall speak to Mr. Goble about you.”
With which words Jill opened the door and walked in.
“Good afternoon,” she said brightly.
AFTER the congested and unfurnished discomfort of the landing, the room in which Jill found herself had an air of coziness and almost of luxury. It was a large room, solidly upholstered. Along the farther wall, filling nearly the whole of its space, stood a vast and gleaming desk, covered with a litter of papers which rose at one end of it to a sort of mountain of playscripts in buff covers. There was a bookshelf to the left. Photographs covered the walls. Near the window was a deep leather lounge, to the right of which stood a small piano, the music stool of which was occupied by a young man with untidy black hair that needed cutting. On top of the piano, taking the eye immediately by reason of its bold brightness, was balanced a large cardboard poster. Much of its surface was filled by a picture of a youth in polo costume bending over a blond goddess in a bathing suit. What space was left displayed the legend:
Isaac Goble and Jacob Cohn
The Rose of America
(A Musical Fantasy)
Book and Lyrics by Otis Pilkington
Music by Roland Trevis
Turning her eyes from this, Jill became aware that something was going on at the other side of the desk; and she perceived that a second young man, the longest and thinnest she had ever seen, was in the act of rising to his feet, length upon length, like an unfolding snake. At the moment of her entry he had been lying back in an office chair, so that only a merely nominal section of his upper structure was visible. Now he reared his impressive length until his head came within measurable distance of the ceiling. He had a hatchet face and a receding chin, and he gazed at Jill through what she assumed were the “tortoise-shell cheaters” referred to by her recent acquaintance, Mr. Brown.
“Er . . .?” said this young man inquiringly in a high, flat voice.
Jill, like many other people, had a brain which was under the alternating control of two diametrically opposite forces. It was like an automobile steered in turn by two drivers, the one a dashing, reckless fellow with no regard for the speed limits, the other a timid novice. All through the proceedings up to this point the dasher had been in command. He had whisked her along at a breakneck speed, ignoring obstacles and police regulations. Now, having brought her to this situation, he abruptly abandoned the wheel and turned it over to his colleague, the shrinker. Jill, greatly daring a moment ago, now felt an overwhelming shyness.
She gulped, and her heart beat quickly. The thin man towered over her. The black-haired pianist shook his locks at her like Banquo.
“I—” she began.
Then, suddenly, womanly intuition came to her aid. Something seemed to tell her that these men were just as scared as she was. And, at the discovery, the dashing driver resumed his post at the wheel, and she began to deal with the situation with composure.
“I want to see Mr. Goble.”
“Mr. Goble is out,” said the long young man, plucking nervously at the papers on the desk. Jill had affected him powerfully.
“Out!” She felt she had wronged the pimpled office boy.
“We are not expecting him back this afternoon. Is there anything I can do?”
HE spoke tenderly. This weak-minded young man—at school his coarse companions had called him Simp—was thinking that he had never seen anything like Jill before. And it was true that she was looking very pretty, with her cheeks flushed and her eyes sparkling. She touched a chord in the young man which seemed to make the world a flower-scented thing, full of soft music. Often as he had been in love at first sight before in his time, Otis Pilkington could not recall an occasion on which he had been in love at first sight more completely than now. When she smiled at him it was as if the gates of heaven had opened. He did not reflect how many times, in similar circumstances, these same gates had opened before; and that on one occasion when they had done so it had cost him eight thousand dollars to settle the case out of court. One does not think of these things at such times, for they strike a jarring note. Otis Pilkington was in love. That was all he knew, or cared to know.
“Won’t you take a seat, Miss—?”
“Mariner,” prompted Jill. “Thank you.”
“Miss Mariner, may I introduce Mr. Roland Trevis?”
The man at the piano bowed. His black hair heaved upon his skull like seaweed in a ground swell.
“My name is Pilkington. Otis Pilkington.”
The uncomfortable silence which always follows introductions was broken by the sound of the telephone bell on the desk. Otis Pilkington, who had moved out into the room and was nowhere near the desk, stretched forth a preposterous arm and removed the receiver.
“Yes? Oh, will you say, please, that I have a conference at present.” Jill was to learn that people in the theatrical business never talked; they always held conferences. “Tell Mrs. Peagrim that I shall be calling later in the afternoon, but cannot be spared just now.” He replaced the receiver. “Aunt Olive’s secretary,” he murmured in a soft aside to Mr. Trevis. “Aunt Olive wanted me to go for a ride.” He turned to Jill. “Excuse me. Is there anything I can do for you, Miss Mariner?”
Jill’s composure was now completely restored. This interview was turning out so totally different from anything she had expected. The atmosphere was cozy and social. She felt as if she were back in Ovington Square, giving tea to Freddie Rooke and Ronny Devereux and the rest of her friends of the London period. All that was needed to complete the picture was a tea table in front of her. The business note hardly intruded on the proceedings at all. Still, as business was the object of her visit, she felt that she had better approach it.
“I came for work.”
“Work!” cried Mr. Pilkington. He, too, appeared to be regarding the interview as purely of a social nature.
“In the chorus,” explained Jill.
Mr. Pilkington seemed shocked. He winced away from the word as though it pained him.
“There is no chorus in ‘The Rose of America,’ ” he said.
“I thought it was a musical comedy.”
Mr. Pilkington winced again. “It is a musical fantasy,” he said. “But there will be no chorus. We shall have,” he added, a touch of rebuke in his voice, “the services of twelve refined ladies of the ensemble.”
JILL laughed. “It does sound much better, doesn’t it!” she said. “Well, am I refined enough, do you think?”
“I shall be only too happy if you will join us,” said Mr. Pilkington promptly.
The long-haired composer looked doubtful. He struck a note up in the treble, then whirled round on his stool. “If you don’t mind my mentioning it, Otie, we have twelve girls already.”
“Then we must have thirteen,” said Otis Pilkington firmly.
“Unlucky number,” argued Mr. Trevis.
“I don’t care. We must have Miss Mariner. You can see for yourself that she is exactly the type we need.”
He spoke feelingly. Ever since the business of engaging a company had begun, he had been thinking wistfully of the evening when “The Rose of America” had had its opening performance—at his aunt’s house at Newport last summer—with an all-star cast of society favorites and an ensemble recruited entirely from débutantes and matrons of the younger set. That was the sort of company he had longed to assemble for the piece’s professional career, and until this afternoon he had met with nothing but disappointment. Jill seemed to be the only girl in theatrical New York who came up to the standard he would have liked to demand.
“Thank you very much,” said Jill.
There was another pause. The social note crept into the atmosphere again. Jill felt the hostess’s desire to keep conversation circulating.
“I hear,” she said, “that this piece is a sort of Gilbert and Sullivan opera.”
Mr. Pilkington considered the point.
“I confess,” he said, “that, in writing the book, I had Gilbert before me as a model. Whether I have in any sense succeeded in—”
“The book,” said Mr. Trevis, running his fingers over the piano, “is as good as anything Gilbert ever wrote.”
“Oh, come, Rolie!” protested Mr. Pilkington modestly.
“Better,” insisted Mr. Trevis. “For one thing, it is up-to-date.”
“I do try to strike the modern note,” murmured Mr. Pilkington.
“And you have avoided Gilbert’s mistake of being too fanciful.”
“He was fanciful,” admitted Mr. Pilkington. “The music,” he added, in a generous spirit of give and take, “has all Sullivan’s melody with a newness of rhythm peculiarly its own. You will like the music.”
“It sounds,” said Jill amiably, “as though the piece is bound to be a tremendous success.”
“We hope so,” said Mr. Pilkington. “We feel that the time has come when the public is beginning to demand something better than what it has been accustomed to. People are getting tired of the brainless trash and jingly tunes which have been given them by men like Wallace Mason and George Bevan. They want a certain polish. It was just the same in Gilbert and Sullivan’s day. They started writing at a time when the musical stage had reached a terrible depth of inanity. The theatre was given over to burlesque of the most idiotic description. The public was waiting eagerly to welcome something of a higher class. It is just the same to-day. But the managers will not see it. ‘The Rose of America’ went up and down Broadway for months, knocking at managers’ doors.”
“It should have walked in without knocking, like me,” said Jill. She got up. “Well, it was very kind of you to see me when I came in so unceremoniously. But I felt it was no good waiting outside on that landing. I’m so glad everything is settled. Good-by.”
“Good-by, Miss Mariner.” Mr. Pilkington took her outstretched hand devoutly. “There is a rehearsal called for the ensemble at—when is it, Rolie?”
“Eleven o’clock, day after to-morrow, at Bryant Hall.”
“I’ll be there,” said Jill. “Good-by, and thank you very much.”
The silence which had fallen upon the room as she left it was broken by Mr. Trevis.
“Some pip!” observed Mr. Trevis.
Otis Pilkington awoke from daydreams with a start.
“What did you say?”
“That girl. . . . I said she was some pippin!”
“Miss Mariner,” said Mr. Pilkington icily, “is a most charming, refined, cultured, and vivacious girl, if you mean that.”
JILL walked out into Forty-second Street, looking about her with the eye of a conqueror. Very little change had taken place in the aspect of New York since she had entered the Gotham Theatre, but it seemed a different city to her. An hour ago she had been a stranger, drifting aimlessly along its rapids. Now she belonged to New York and New York belonged to her. She had faced it squarely, and forced from it the means of living. She walked on with a new jauntiness in her stride.
She reached the Fifth Avenue corner. A stream of automobiles which had been dammed up as far as the eye could reach began to flow swiftly past. They moved in a double line, red limousines, blue limousines, mauve limousines, green limousines. She stood waiting for the flood to cease, and, as she did so, there purred past her the biggest and reddest limousine of all. It was a colossal vehicle with a polar bear at the steering wheel and another at his side. And in the interior, very much at his ease, his gaze bent courteously upon a massive lady in a mink coat, sat Uncle Chris.
For a moment he was so near to her that, but for the closed window, she could have touched him. Then the polar bear at the wheel, noting a gap in the traffic, stepped on the accelerator and slipped neatly through. The car moved swiftly on and disappeared.
Jill drew a deep breath. The traffic halted again. She crossed the avenue, and set out once more to find Nellie Bryant. It occurred to her, five minutes later, that a really practical and quick-thinking girl would have noted the number of the limousine.
THE rehearsals of a musical comedy—a term which embraces “musical fantasies”—generally begin in a desultory sort of way at that curious building, Bryant Hall, on Sixth Avenue just off Forty-second Street. There, in a dusty, uncarpeted room, simply furnished with a few wooden chairs and some long wooden benches, the chorus—or, in the case of “The Rose of America,” the ensemble—sit round a piano and endeavor, with the assistance of the musical director, to get the words and melodies of the First Act numbers into their heads. This done, they are ready for the dance director to instill into them the steps, the groupings, and the business for the encores, of which that incurable optimist always seems to expect there will be at least six. Later the principals are injected into the numbers. And finally, leaving Bryant Hall and dodging about from one unoccupied theatre to another, principals and chorus rehearse together, running through the entire piece over and over again till the opening night of the preliminary road tour.
The proceedings began on the first morning with the entrance of Mr. Saltzburg, the musical director, a brisk, busy little man with benevolent eyes behind big spectacles, who bustled over to the piano, sat down, and played a loud chord, designed to act as a sort of bugle blast, rallying the ladies of the ensemble from the corners where they sat in groups, chatting. For the process of making one another’s acquaintance had begun some ten minutes before with mutual recognitions between those who knew each other from having been together in previous productions. There followed rapid introductions of friends. Nelly Bryant had been welcomed warmly by a pretty girl with red hair, whom she introduced to Jill as Babe. Babe had a willowy blond friend, named Lois: and the four of them had seated themselves on one of the benches and opened a conversation; their numbers being added to a moment later by a dark girl with a Southern accent and another blonde. Elsewhere other groups had formed, and the room was filled with a noise like the chattering of starlings. In a body by themselves, rather forlorn and neglected, half a dozen solemn and immaculately dressed young men were propping themselves up against the wall and looking on, like men in a ballroom who do not dance.
Jill listened to the conversation without taking any great part in it herself. She felt as she had done on her first day at school, a little shy and desirous of effacing herself. The talk dealt with clothes, men, and the show business, in that order of importance.
ON this scene of harmony and good-fellowship Mr. Saltzburg’s chord intruded jarringly. There was a general movement, and chairs and benches were dragged to the piano. Mr. Saltzburg causing a momentary delay by opening a large brown music bag and digging in it like a terrier at a rat hole, conversation broke out again.
Mr. Saltzburg emerged from the bag, with his hands full of papers, protesting.
“Childrun! Chil-drun! If you please, less noise and attend to me!” He distributed sheets of paper. “Act One, Opening Chorus. I will play the melody three—four times. Follow attentively. Then we will sing it la-la-la, and after that we will sing the words. So!”
He struck the yellow-keyed piano a vicious blow, producing a tinny and complaining sound. Bending forward with his spectacles almost touching the music, he plodded determinedly through the tune, then encored himself, and after that encored himself again. When he had done this, he removed his spectacles and wiped them. There was a pause.
“Izzy,” observed the willowy young lady chattily, leaning across Jill and addressing the Southern girl’s blond friend, “has promised me a sunburst!”
A general stir of interest and a coming close together of heads.
“He’s just landed the hat-check privilege at the St. Aurea!”
“You don’t say!”
“He told me so last night and promised me the sunburst. He was,” admitted the willowy girl regretfully, “a good bit tanked at the time, but I guess he’ll make good.” She mused a while, a rather anxious expression clouding her perfect profile. She looked like a meditative Greek goddess. “If he doesn’t,” she added with maidenly dignity, “it’s the last time I go out with the big stiff. I’d tie a can to him quicker’n look at him!”
A murmur of approval greeted this admirable sentiment.
“Childrun!” protested Mr. Saltzburg. “Childrun! Less noise and chatter of conversation. We are here to work! We must not waste time! So! Act One, Opening Chorus. Now, all together. La-la-la . . .”
“La-la-la . . .”
“Tum-tum-tumty-tumty . . .”
“Tum-tum-tumty . . .”
Mr. Saltzburg pressed his hands to his ears in a spasm of pain.
“No, no, no! Sour! Sour! Sour! . . . Once again. La-la-la . . .”
A ROUND-FACED girl with golden hair and the face of a wondering cherub interrupted, speaking with a lisp:
“Now what is it, Miss Trevor?”
“What sort of a show is this?”
“A musical show,” said Mr. Saltzburg severely, “and this is a rehearsal of it, not a conversazione. Once more, please . . .”
The cherub was not to be rebuffed.
“Is the music good, Mithter Thalzburg?”
“When you have rehearsed it, you shall judge for yourself. Come, now . . .”
“Is there anything in it as good as that waltz of yours you played us when we were rehearthing ‘Mind How You Go’? You remember. The one that went . . .”
A tall and stately girl, with sleepy brown eyes and the air of a duchess in the servants’ hall, bent forward and took a kindly interest in the conversation.
“Oh, have you composed a varlse, Mr. Saltzburg?” she asked with pleasant condescension. “How interesting, really! Won’t you play it for us?”
The sentiment of the meeting seemed to be unanimous in favor of shelving work and listening to Mr. Saltzburg’s waltz.
“Oh, Mr. Saltzburg, do!”
“Some one told me it was a pipterino!”
“I cert’nly do love waltzes!”
“Please, Mr. Saltzburg!”
Mr. Saltzburg obviously weakened. His fingers touched the keys irresolutely.
“I am sure it would be a great pleasure to all of us,” said the duchess graciously, “if you would play it. There is nothing I enjoy more than a good varlse.”
Mr. Saltzburg capitulated. Like all musical directors, he had in his leisure moments composed the complete score of a musical play and spent much of his time waylaying librettists on the Rialto and trying to lure them to his apartment to listen to it, with a view to business. The eternal tragedy of a musical director’s life is comparable only to that of the waiter who, himself fasting, has to assist others to eat. Mr. Saltzburg had lofty ideas on music, and his soul revolted at being compelled perpetually to rehearse and direct the inferior compositions of other men. Far less persuasion than he had received to-day was usually required to induce him to play the whole of his score.
“You wish it?” he said. “Well, then! This waltz, you will understand, is the theme of a musical romance which I have composed. It will be sung once in the first act by the heroine, then in the second act as a duet for heroine and hero. I weave it into the finale of the second act, and we have an echo of it, sung off stage, in the third act. What I play you now is the second-act duet. The verse is longer. So! The male voice begins—”
A PLEASANT time was had by all for ten minutes.
“Ah, but this is not rehearsing, childrun!” cried Mr. Saltzburg remorsefully at the end of that period. “This is not business. Come now, the opening chorus of Act One, and please this time keep on the key. Before, it was sour, sour. Come! La-la-la . . .”
“There was an awfully thweet foxtrot you used to play us. I do wish . . .”
“Some other time, some other time! Now we must work. Come, La-la-la . . .”
“I wish you could have heard it, girls,” said the cherub regretfully. “Honetht, it was a lalapalootha!”
The pack broke into full cry:
“Oh, Mr. Saltzburg!”
“Please, Mr. Saltzburg!”
“Do play the foxtrot, Mr. Saltzburg!”
“If it is as good as the varlse,” said the duchess, stooping once more to the common level, “I am sure it must be very good indeed.” She powdered her nose. “And one so rarely hears musicianly music nowadays, does one?”
“Which foxtrot?” asked Mr. Saltzburg weakly.
“Play ’em all!” decided a voice on the left.
“Yes, play ’em all,” bayed the pack.
“I am sure that that would be charming,” agreed the duchess, replacing her powder puff.
Ian Michaud notes that when Wodehouse was writing this story about a musical called “The Rose of America,” his most recent Broadway musical, “The Rose of China,” was still green in his memory. The show, written with librettist Guy Bolton and composer Armand Vecsey, opened Nov. 25, 1919, and closed, a dismal failure, after only forty-seven performances.
Printer’s error corrected above:
In ch. XI, magazine had “those who know each other from having been together in previous productions”; corrected to “knew” as in both book versions.