Collier’s Weekly, November 5, 1921
V (Chapter 6 Continued)
FILLMORE had the air of a man who thought it wasn’t loaded. A wild, startled expression had settled itself upon his face, and he was breathing heavily.
“Cheer up!” said Sally. Fillmore jumped like a stricken jelly. “Tell me all,” said Sally, sitting down beside him. “I leave you a gentleman of large and independent means, and I come back and find you one of the wage slaves again. How did it all happen?”
“Sally,” said Fillmore, “I will be frank with you. Can you lend me ten dollars?”
“I don’t see how you make that out an answer to my question, but here you are.”
“Thanks.” Fillmore pocketed the bill. “I’ll let you have it back next week. I want to take Miss Winch out to lunch.”
“If that’s what you want it for, don’t look on it as a loan; take it as a gift with my blessing thrown in.” She looked over her shoulder at Miss Winch, who, the cares of rehearsal being temporarily suspended, was practicing golf shots with an umbrella at the other side of the stage. “How ever did you have the sense to fall in love with her, Fill?”
“Do you like her?” asked Fillmore, brightening.
“I love her.”
“I knew you would. She’s just the right girl for me, isn’t she?”
“She certainly is.”
“Yes. And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”
FILLMORE drew himself up with as much hauteur as a stout man sitting in a low chair can achieve. “Some day I will make you believe in me, Sally.”
“Less of the Merchant Prince, my lad,” said Sally firmly. “You just confine yourself to explaining how you got this way, instead of taking up my valuable time telling me what you mean to do in the future. You’ve lost all your money?”
“I have suffered certain reverses,” said Fillmore with dignity, “which have left me temporarily— Yes, every bean,” he concluded simply.
“Well . . .” Fillmore hesitated. “I’ve had bad luck, you know. First I bought Consolidated Rails for the rise, and they fell. So that went wrong.”
“And then I bought Russian rubles for the fall, and they rose. So that went wrong.”
“Good gracious! Why, I’ve heard all this before.”
“Who told you?”
“No, I remember now. It’s just that you remind me of a man I met at Roville. He was telling me the story of his life and how he had made a hash of everything. Well, that took all you had, I suppose?”
“Not quite. I had a few thousands left, and I went into a deal that really did look cast-iron.”
“And that went wrong!”
“It wasn’t my fault,” said Fillmore querulously. “It was just my poisonous luck. A man I knew got me to join a syndicate which had bought up a lot of whisky. The idea was to ship it into Chicago in herring barrels. We should have cleaned up big, only a mutt of a detective took it into his darned head to go fooling about with a crowbar. Officious ass! It wasn’t as if the barrels weren’t labeled ‘Herrings’ as plainly as they could be,” said Fillmore with honest indignation. He shuddered. “I nearly got arrested.”
“But that went wrong? Well, that’s something to be thankful for. Stripes wouldn’t suit your figure.” Sally gave his arm a squeeze. She was very fond of Fillmore, though for the good of his soul she generally concealed her affection beneath a manner which he had once compared, not without some reason, to that of a governess who had afflicted their mutual childhood. “Never mind, you poor ill-used martyr! Things are sure to come right. We shall see you a millionaire some day. And, oh, heavens, brother Fillmore, what a bore you’ll be when you are! I can just see you being interviewed and giving hints to young men on how to make good. ‘Mr. Nicholas attributes his success to sheer hard work. He can lay his hand on his bulging waistcoat and say that he has never once indulged in those rash get-rich-quick speculations where you buy for the rise and watch things fall, and then rush out and buy for the fall and watch ’em rise.’ Fill, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. They all say it’s the first money that counts in building a vast fortune. I’ll lend you some of mine.”
“You will? Sally, I always said you were an ace.”
“I never heard you. You oughtn’t to mumble so.”
“Will you lend me twenty thousand dollars?”
SALLY patted his hand soothingly. “Come slowly down to earth,” she said. “Two hundred was the sum I had in mind.”
“I want twenty thousand.”
“You’d better rob a bank. Any policeman will direct you to a good bank.”
“I’ll tell you why I want twenty thousand.”
“You might just mention it.”
“If I had twenty thousand, I’d buy this production from Cracknell. He’ll be back in a few minutes to tell us that the Hobson woman has quit, and, if she really has, you take it from me that he will close the show. And even if he manages to jolly her along this time, and she comes back, it’s going to happen sooner or later. It’s a shame to let a show like this close. I believe in it, Sally. It’s a darned good play. With Elsa Doland in the big part, it couldn’t fail.”
SALLY started. Her money was too recent for her to have grown fully accustomed to it, and she had never realized that she was in a position to wave a wand and make things happen on any big scale. The financing of a theatrical production had always been to her something mysterious and out of the reach of ordinary persons like herself. Fillmore, that spacious thinker, had brought it into the sphere of the possible.
“He’d sell for less than that, of course, but one would need a bit in hand. You have to face a loss on the road before coming into New York. I’d give you 10 per cent on your money, Sally.”
Sally found herself wavering. The prudent side of her nature, which hitherto had steered her safely through most of life’s rapids, seemed oddly dormant. Subconsciously she was aware that on past performances Fillmore was decidedly not the man to be allowed control of anybody’s little fortune; but somehow the thought did not seem to grip her. He had touched her imagination.
“It’s a gold mine!”
Sally’s prudent side stirred in its sleep. Fillmore had chosen an unfortunate expression. To the novice in finance the term gold mine has repellent associations. If there was one thing in which Sally had proposed not to invest her legacy, it was a gold mine. What she had had in view, as a matter of fact, had been one of those little fancy shops which are called Ye Blue Bird or Ye Corner Shoppe, or something like that, where you sell exotic bric-à-brac to the wealthy at extortionate prices. She knew two girls who were doing splendidly in that line. As Fillmore spoke these words Ye Corner Shoppe suddenly looked very good to her.
At this moment, however, two things happened. Gerald and Mr. Bunbury, in the course of their perambulations, came into the glow of the footlights, and she was able to see Gerald’s face; and at the same time Mr. Reginald Cracknell hurried on to the stage, his whole demeanor that of the bearer of evil tidings.
The sight of Gerald’s face annihilated Sally’s prudence at a single stroke. Ye Corner Shoppe, which a moment before had been shining brightly before her mental eye, flickered and melted away. The whole issue became clear and simple. Gerald was miserable, and she had it in her power to make him happy. He was sullenly awaiting disaster, and she with a word could avert it. She wondered that she had ever hesitated.
“All right,” she said simply.
Fillmore quivered from head to foot. A powerful electric shock could not have produced a stronger convulsion. He knew Sally of old as cautious and clear-headed, by no means to be stampeded by a brother’s eloquence; and he had never looked on this thing as anything better than a hundred to one shot.
“You’ll do it?” he whispered, and held his breath. After all, he might not have heard correctly.
All the complex emotions in Fillmore’s soul found expression in one vast whoop. It rang through the empty theatre like the last trump, beating against the back wall and rising in hollow echoes to the very gallery. Mr. Bunbury, conversing in low undertones with Mr. Cracknell across the footlights, shied like a startled mule. There was reproach and menace in the look he cast at Fillmore, and a minute earlier it would have reduced that financial magnate to apologetic pulp. But Fillmore was not to be intimidated now by a look. He strode down to the group at the footlights.
“Cracknell,” he said importantly, “one moment. I should like a word with you.”
IF actors and actresses are like children in that they are readily depressed by disaster, they have the child’s compensating gift of being easily uplifted by good fortune. It amazed Sally that any one mortal should have been able to spread such universal happiness as she had done by the simple act of lending her brother Fillmore twenty thousand dollars. If the millennium had arrived, the members of “The Primrose Way” company could not have been on better terms with themselves. The lethargy and dispiritedness caused by their week of inaction fell from them like a cloak. The sudden elevation of that creature of the abyss, the assistant stage manager, to the dizzy height of proprietor of the show appealed to their sense of drama. Most of them had played in pieces where much the same thing had happened to the persecuted heroine round about eleven o’clock, and the situation struck them as theatrically sound. Also, now that she had gone, the extent to which Miss Hobson had acted as a blight was universally recognized.
A spirit of optimism reigned, and cheerful rumors became current. The derby-hatted Teddy had had it straight from the elevator boy at his hotel that the ban on the theatres was to be lifted on Tuesday at the latest, while no less an authority than the cigar-stand girl at the Pontchartrain had informed the man who played the butler that Toledo and Cleveland were opening to-morrow. It was generally felt that the sun was bursting through the clouds and that Fate would soon despair of the hopeless task of trying to keep good men down.
Fillmore was himself again. We all have our particular mode of self-expression in moments of elation. Fillmore’s took the shape of buying a new waistcoat and a hundred half-dollar cigars, and being very fussy about what he had for lunch. It may have been an optical illusion, but he appeared to Sally to put on at least six pounds in weight on the first day of the new régime. As a serf looking after paper knives and other properties, he had been—for him—almost slim. As a manager he blossomed out into soft billowy curves, and when he stood on the sidewalk in front of the theatre, gloating over the new posters which bore the legend
the populace had to make a detour to get round him.
In this era of bubbling joy it was hard that Sally, the fairy godmother responsible for it all, should not have been completely happy too; and it puzzled her why she was not. But whatever it was that cast the faint shadow refused obstinately to come out from the back of her mind and show itself and be challenged. It was not till she was out driving in a hired car with Gerald one afternoon on Belle Isle that enlightenment came.
Gerald, since the departure of Miss Hobson, had been at his best. Like Fillmore, he was a man who responded to the sunshine of prosperity. His moodiness had vanished, and all his old charm had returned. And yet it seemed to Sally, as the car slid smoothly through the pleasant woods and fields by the river, that there was something that jarred.
Gerald was cheerful and talkative. He, at any rate, found nothing wrong with life. He held forth spaciously on the big things he intended to do.
“If this play gets over—and it’s going to—I’ll show ’em!” His jaw was squared, and his eyes glowed as they stared into the inviting future. “One success—that’s all I need—then watch me! I haven’t had a chance yet, but—”
His voice rolled on, but Sally had ceased to listen. It was the time of year when the chill of evening follows swiftly on the mellow warmth of afternoon. The sun had gone behind the trees, and a cold wind was blowing up from the river. And quite suddenly, as though it was the wind that had cleared her mind, she understood what it was that had been lurking at the back of her thoughts. For an instant it stood out nakedly without concealment, and the world became a forlorn place. She had realized the fundamental difference between man’s outlook on life and woman’s.
Success! Ironically, it was the theme of this very play of Gerald’s which she had saved from destruction. Of all the men she knew, how many had any view of life except as a race which they must strain every nerve to win, regardless of what they missed by the wayside in their haste? Fillmore—Gerald—all of them. . . . There might be a woman in each of their lives, but she came second—an afterthought—a thing for their spare time. Gerald was everything to her, without any of the trappings of success. But she was not enough for him. A spasm of futile jealousy shook her. She shivered.
“Cold?” said Gerald. “I’ll tell the man to drive back. . . . I don’t see any reason why this play shouldn’t run a year in New York. Everybody says it’s good. . . . If it does get over, they’ll all be after me. I—”
Sally stared out into a bleak world. The sky was a leaden gray, and the wind from the river blew with a dismal chill.
WHEN Sally left Detroit on the following Saturday, accompanied by Fillmore, who was returning to the metropolis for a few days in order to secure offices and generally make his presence felt along Broadway, her spirits had completely recovered. She told herself that she was bound up with Gerald’s success, and that the last thing of which she ought to complain was the energy he put into efforts of which she as well as he would reap the reward.
To this happier frame of mind the excitement of the last few days had contributed. Detroit, that city of amiable audiences, had liked “The Primrose Way.” The papers, not always in agreement with the applause of a first-night audience, had on this occasion endorsed the verdict, with agreeable unanimity hailing Gerald as the coming author and Elsa Doland as the coming star. There had even been a brief mention of Fillmore as the coming manager. But there is always some trifle that jars in our greatest moments, and Fillmore’s triumph had been almost spoiled by the fact that the only notice taken of Gladys Winch was by the critic who printed her name—spelled Wunch—in the list of those whom the cast “also included.”
From this blow, however, his buoyant nature had soon enabled him to rally. Life contained so much that was bright that it would have been churlish to concentrate the attention on the one dark spot.
Business had been excellent all through the week. Elsa Doland had got better at every performance. The receipt of a long and agitated telegram from Mr. Cracknell pleading to be allowed to buy the piece back, the passage of time having apparently softened Miss Hobson, was a pleasant incident, and, best of all, the great Ike Grossman, who owned half the theatres in New York and had been in Detroit superintending one of his musical productions, had looked in one evening and stamped “The Primrose Way” with the seal of his approval. As Fillmore sat opposite Sally on the train, he radiated contentment and importance.
“Yes, do,” said Sally, breaking a long silence.
Fillmore awoke from happy dreams. “Eh?”
“I said ‘Yes, do.’ I think you owe it to your position.”
“Buy a fur coat. Wasn’t that what you were meditating about?”
“Don’t be a chump,” said Fillmore, blushing nevertheless. It was true that once or twice during the past week he had toyed negligently, as Mr. Bunbury would have said, with the notion. And why not? A fellow must keep warm.
“With an astrakhan collar,” insisted Sally.
“As a matter of fact,” said Fillmore loftily, his great soul ill attuned to this badinage, “what I was really thinking about at that moment was something Ike said.”
“Ike Grossman, the producer. He’s on the train. I met him just now.”
“He wears a fur coat,” Sally murmured.
FILLMORE registered annoyance. “I wish you wouldn’t keep harping on that damned coat. And, anyway, why shouldn’t I have a fur coat?”
“Fill! How can you be so brutal as to suggest that I ever said you shouldn’t? Why, I’m one of the strongest supporters of the fur coat. With big cuffs. And you must roll up Fifth Avenue in your car, and I’ll point and say: ‘That’s my brother!’ . . . ‘Your brother? No!’ . . . ‘He is, really.’ . . . ‘You’re joking. Why, that’s the great Fillmore Nicholas.’ . . . ‘I know. But he really is my brother. And I was with him when he bought that coat.’ ”
“Do leave off about the coat!”
Fillmore looked coldly at his watch. “I’ve got to go and see Ike Grossman.”
“We are in hourly consultation with Ike.”
“He wants to see me about the show. He suggests putting it into Chicago before opening in New York.”
“Oh, no!” cried Sally, dismayed.
Sally recovered herself. Identifying Gerald so closely with his play, she had supposed for a moment that if the piece opened in Chicago it would mean a further prolonged separation from him. But of course there would be no need, she realized, for him to stay with the company after the first day or two.
“You’re thinking that we ought to have a New York reputation before tackling Chicago. There’s a lot to be said for that. Still, it works both ways. A Chicago run would help us in New York. Well, I’ll have to think it over,” said Fillmore importantly. “I’ll have to think it over.”
He mused with drawn brows.
“All wrong,” said Sally.
“Not a bit like it. The lips should be compressed and the forefinger of the right hand laid in a careworn way against the right temple. You’ve a lot to learn, Fill.”
“Oh, stop it!”
“Fillmore Nicholas,” said Sally, “if you knew what pain it gives me to josh my only brother, you’d be sorry for me. But you know it’s for your good. . . . Now run along and put Ike out of his misery. I know he’s waiting for you with his watch out. ‘You do think he’ll come, Miss Nicholas?’ were his last words to me as he stepped on the train—and, oh, Fill, the yearning in his voice! ‘Why, of course he will, Mr. Grossman,’ I said. ‘For all his exalted position, my brother is kindliness itself. Of course he’ll come.’ . . . ‘If I could only think so!’ he said with a gulp. ‘If I could only think so! But you know what these managers are. A thousand calls on their time. They get brooding on their fur coats and forget everything else.’ . . . ‘Have no fear, Mr. Grossman,’ I said. ‘Fillmore Nicholas is a man of his word.’ ”
She would have been willing, for she was a girl who never believed in sparing herself where it was a question of entertaining her nearest and dearest, to continue the dialogue, but Fillmore was already moving down the car, his rigid back a silent protest against sisterly levity. Sally watched him disappear, then picked up a magazine and began to read.
She had just finished tracking a story of gripping interest through a jungle of advertisements, only to find that it was in two parts, of which the one she was reading was the first, when a voice spoke: “How do you do, Miss Nicholas?”
Into the seat before her, recently released from the weight of the coming manager, Bruce Carmyle, of all people in the world, insinuated himself with that well-bred air of deferential restraint which never left him. . . .
Sally was considerably startled. Everybody travels nowadays, of course, and there is nothing really remarkable in finding a man in America whom you had supposed to be in Europe, but nevertheless she was conscious of a dreamlike sensation, as though the clock had been turned back and a chapter of her life reopened which she had thought closed forever.
“Mr. Carmyle!” she cried. “We’re always meeting on trains, aren’t we?” she went on, her composure returning. “I never expected to see you in America.”
“I came over.”
Sally was tempted to reply that she had gathered that, but a sudden embarrassment curbed her tongue. She had just remembered that at their last meeting she had been abominably rude to this man. She was never rude to anyone without subsequent remorse. She contented herself with a tame “Yes?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Carmyle, “it is a good many years since I have taken a real holiday. My doctor seemed to think I was a trifle run down. It seemed a good opportunity to visit America. Everybody,” said Mr. Carmyle oracularly, endeavoring, as he had often done since his ship had left England, to persuade himself that his object in making the trip had not been merely to renew his acquaintance with Sally—“everybody ought to visit America at least once. It is part of one’s education.”
“And what are your impressions of our glorious country?” said Sally, rallying.
Mr. Carmyle seemed glad of the opportunity of lecturing on an impersonal subject. He too, though his face had shown no trace of it, had been embarrassed in the opening stages of the conversation. The sound of his voice restored him.
“I have been visiting Chicago,” he said, after a brief travelogue.
“A wonderful city.”
“I’ve never seen it. I’ve come from Detroit.”
“Yes, I heard you were in Detroit.”
Sally’s eyes opened. “You heard I was in Detroit? Good gracious! How?”
“I—ah—called at your New York address and made inquiries,” said Mr. Carmyle a little awkwardly.
“But how did you know where I lived?”
“My cousin—er—Lancelot told me.”
SALLY was silent for a moment. She had much the same feeling that comes to the man in the detective story who realizes that he is being shadowed. Even if this almost complete stranger had not actually come to America in direct pursuit of her, there was no disguising the fact that he evidently found her an object of considerable interest. It was a compliment, but Sally was not at all sure that she liked it. She seized on the mention of Ginger as a lever for diverting the conversation from its present too intimate course. “How is Mr. Kemp?” she asked.
Mr. Carmyle’s dark face seemed to become a trifle darker. “We have had no news of him,” he said shortly.
“No news? How do you mean? You speak as though he had disappeared.”
“He has disappeared!”
“Good heavens! When?”
“Shortly after I saw you last.”
Mr. Carmyle frowned. Sally, watching him, found her antipathy stirring again. There was something about this man which she had disliked instinctively from the first, a sort of hardness.
“But where has he gone to?”
“I don’t know.” Mr. Carmyle frowned again. The subject of Ginger was plainly a sore one. “And I don’t want to know,” he went on heatedly. “I don’t care to know. The Family have washed their hands of him. For the future he may look after himself as best he can. I believe he is off his head.”
SALLY’S rebellious temper was well ablaze now, but she fought it down. She would have loved dearly to give battle to Mr. Carmyle—it was odd, she felt, how she seemed to have constituted herself Ginger’s champion and protector—but she perceived that, if she wished, as she did, to hear more of her red-headed friend, he must be humored and conciliated.
“But what happened? What was all the trouble about?”
Mr. Carmyle’s eyebrows met. “He—insulted his uncle. His uncle Donald. He insulted him—grossly. The one man in the world he should have made a point of—er—of—”
“Keeping in with?”
“Yes. His future depended on him.”
“But what did he do?” cried Sally, trying hard to keep a thoroughly reprehensible joy out of her voice.
“I have heard no details. My uncle is reticent as to what actually took place. He invited Lancelot to dinner to discuss his plans, and it appears that Lancelot—defied him. Defied him! He was rude and insulting. My uncle refuses to have anything more to do with him. Apparently the young fool managed to win some money at the tables at Roville, and this seems to have turned his head completely. My uncle insists that he is mad. I agree with him. Since the night of that dinner nothing has been heard of Lancelot.”
Mr. Carmyle broke off to brood once more, and before Sally could speak the impressive bulk of Fillmore loomed up in the aisle beside them. Explanations seemed to Fillmore to be in order. He cast a questioning glance at the mysterious stranger, who, in addition to being in conversation with his sister, had collared his seat.
“Oh, hullo, Fill,” said Sally. “Fillmore, this is Mr. Carmyle. We met abroad. My brother Fillmore, Mr. Carmyle.”
Proper introductions having been thus effected, Fillmore approved of Mr. Carmyle. His air of being some one in particular appealed to him.
“Strange, your meeting again like this,” he said affably.
The porter, who had been making up berths along the car, was now hovering expectantly in the offing.
“You two had better go into the smoking room,” suggested Sally. “I’m going to bed.”
Mr. Carmyle’s tale of a roused and revolting Ginger had stirred her.
The two men went off to the smoking car, and Sally found an empty seat and sat down to wait for her berth to be made up. She was aglow with a curious exhilaration. So Ginger had taken her advice! Excellent, Ginger! She felt proud of him. She also had that feeling of complacency, amounting almost to sinful pride, which comes to those who give advice and find it acted upon. She had the emotions of a creator. After all, had she not created this new Ginger? She had changed him from a meek dependent of the Family to a ravening creature who went about the place insulting uncles.
It was a feat, there was no denying it. It was something accomplished, something done; and by all the rules laid down by the poet it should therefore have earned a night’s repose. Yet Sally, jolted by the train, which toward the small hours seemed to be trying out some new buck-and-wing steps of its own invention, slept ill, and presently, as she lay awake, there came to her bedside the Specter of Doubt, gaunt and questioning. Had she, after all, wrought so well? Had she been wise in tampering with this young man’s life?
“What about it?” said the Specter of Doubt.