ENTERTAINING SHORT STORIES

Her Chance

Ida R. Wylie in Royal August 1 1907
ENTERTAINING SHORT STORIES

Her Chance

Ida R. Wylie in Royal August 1 1907

Her Chance

ENTERTAINING SHORT STORIES

Ida R. Wylie in Royal

THE applause died away; the orchestra, wearied with six hours’ almost unceasing toil, hastily packed up their instruments and disappeared into mysterious little rabbit-holes beneath the stage; and those singers who had not yet hurried away to change into more modern attire met and shook hands and congratulated each other on a successful evening. For it had been a successful evening—arid an interesting one besides. At the last moment, owing to the sudden illness of Herr Edelhert, the part of Gunther had been taken over by a young member of the chorus, and the world had chosen to nod approval at his performance.

Even his more advanced professional brethren were condescendingly appreciative.

“Fine voice !” said the Siegfried of half-an-hour before drawing up the fur collar of his coat. “Has a future before him, that young man !”

And the gentleman with the bass voice grunted assent.

Neither of them noticed a young girl who stood a little on one side listening with eager ears. For she knew who this rising star was. He was her comrade, and they had stood shoulder to shoulder ever since that day, two years ago, when they had met as humble members of the chorus. There had been many sad hours since then—hours when hope and ready money were alike at a low ebb. But they had always helped and comforted each other. That very evening he had been despairing, and she had tried to cheer him with visions of future triumphs. And he had taken her hand unseen in his, and the hardness and bitterness had vanished from his features.

“Ah, if a chance would only come !” he had whispered; “if it would only come, Norah—little comrade. Then things would be so different. Then I shouldn’t be gagged with poverty and

failure. Then I could tell you everything that has been on my lips all these weary months !”

And now she stood and waited for him.

Her heart was beating violently, and her hands clasped and unclasped themselves in feverish excitement. For success had come to him—the success for which he had hungered, and whose tarrying had embittered his life. Now his foot was on the first hard-won rung of the long ladder—afterwards the climbing would be easier.

And she was glad, so glad that it seemed as though the dingy theatre had become the golden temple of her dreams, as though the reflection of his triumph had fallen upon her own life and filled her heart with a new warmth. And perhaps, as she was a simple woman, something else mingled itself with her unselfish joy, the hope that now things would indeed be different, and that he would come to her and tell her that which her love had seen already in his eyes.

The crowd dispersed slowly, and at last she saw him walking towards her. His head was uplifted, and his burning eyes fixed straight ahead. Success had swept away all signs of weariness and despair from his clear features. She made a quick step forward and held out her hands. She felt that in this moment they should be nearer and dearer to each other.

“I am so glad,” she stammered, her glowing eyes raised to his, “so— very glad, comrade. It has come at last after all this waiting—and now all will be well.”

He looked at her absently, as though his vision were fixed on something afar off. She felt that he hardly knew who she was or what she said.

Then he smiled and nodded.

“Thank you, thank you,” he said vaguely, touched her hands, and went on.

She watched his retreating form. At the corner of the passage he met the chief singer, an incongruous figure enough, still in her Brunnhilde’s costume, with a modern mantle flung over her broad shoulders.

Norah saw how she stopped Richard and condescendingly gave him her hand. He grew boyishly scarlet, and his lips moved as though in eager thanks.

Norah turned and slipped into the dressing-room. A few minutes before she would not have believed that happiness such as hers could have died so suddenly. Yet it was dead. She scarcely knew why. It was as though an icy, freezing hand had clasped her heart and checked the warm, pulsing flow of her blood. She took down her hat and coat and went out into the street. It was raining hard, but she did not care. She remembered only how tender and thoughtful he had always been, and how at such times he had wrapped her up like a delicate child.

“Think what would become of me if you were ill !” he had laughed.

And now she was going home alone, and a nameless desolation seized her.

“I am tired and foolish,” she thought. “Women are weak creatures, after all. I’m crying—and I’m really glad, terribly glad.”

She went bravely on, but the lights in the streets swam before her eyes, and the way seemed endless. Just before she turned into the narrow doorway which led to her dingy dwelling, she heard quick steps behind her, and, turning with a nervous start of alarm, found Richard at her side. By the flickering light of the lamp overhead she could see that he was drenched through, and that there were dark rings under his eyes.

“I thought you’d be surprised,” he said gaily. “I saw you in the distance, and ran after you. I’m afraid I startled you, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t wait till to-morrow. I’ve grand news—I had to come and tell you—now when it is all burning and hot, so to speak.”

He brushed the dark hair from his

forehead, and she saw that his hand trembled.

“You have good news?” she said.

He nodded, and a happy smile touched his lips.

“Splendid! Think of my luck! It just happened that the manager of the Grand Operatic Company was in the threatre to-night. He heard me, and of the circumstances in which I had sung, and afterwards he came round and spoke to me. He asked me dozens of questions : what parts I knew, where I had learnt ; and then” —he looked at her eyes brimming over with almost boyish pride and pleasure —“he engaged me. Second heroic tenor, if you please, for his tour in America, starting in four weeks’ time.”

She put out her hand blindly, seeking support. The world had seemed brighter a moment before ; now suddenly the darkness and loneliness returned.

“And—you are going?” she said indistinctly.

He looked at her again, this time with a touch of annoyance.

“Of course !” he said. “Would you have me fool away a chance? Aren’t you glad?”

“Indeed I am—I told you so—very, very glad,” she said, but her voice sounded lifeless. The first flood of her joy had been checked too roughly —it now rang forced and hollow.

Richard drew himself up. His manner had become cold and formal.

“I must be going,” he said. “I ought not to have come. I thought it might interest you. Good-night.”

“Good-night,” she answered.

Richard raised his hat and walked stiffly away. For a monent he felt nothing but a wounded sense of desertion. He had expected sympathy, and she had given him indifference. Manlike, he had forgotten the warm and eager words which he in his excitement had pushed aside unheeded and unheard.

“She's jealous,” he thought. “They say most women are. To-morrow it will be all right again. I suppose I should have felt it, too; and perhaps I was tactless. It’s rough to be left

behind ; but then, she might have known—my luck is hers.”

He stopped under a lamp, and pulling out a packet opened it. A thin gold ring twinkled in the yellow light, and he smiled at it almost tenderly.

It had been bought only a few minutes before, and had cost all his hard-earned savings. But success had come at last, and she was to share it with him just as they had always shared.

“To-morrow I will show it her,” he murmured. “I will ask her. And then-” He broke off. He was, af-

ter all, very foolish and very young, and it was a good thing the street was deserted. He bent down and kissed the humble gold band in its cheap case.

Meanwhile Norah had turned and climbed up the dark stairs to her room. In spite of all her self-control she could not choke back a heavy sob from her lips.

“When we were down in the depths • together we stood shoulder to shoulder,” was her bitter thought. “We were comrades—as long as we suffered. A woman is good enough in trouble and misery. She is not needed when success comes.”

Her supper stood on the table, but she did not touch it.

She flung herself down on the rickety little bed, and cried out her heart for misery and loneliness.

“I’ve had my eye on you a good time,” the manager said, drawing on his coat. “You have a first-class voice —or will have ; and, what’s more, you have always been at your post. No silly excuses about headaches and colds, and what not. We managers appreciate that sort of stuff, and now this, offer has come, and the season is running to an end, I’m blessed if, out of pure Christian gratitude, I don’t give you the chance.”

Norah stared at him with mingled doubt and hope. The manager drew out a letter from his pocket, and ran his finger down the lines.

“To start in a week, first-class touring company. Wanted, an heroic soprano as understudy. No pay at first, but all expenses guaranteed. If capable, eventual permanent engage-

ment as first soprano. Can I recommend anyone? That’s about the tone of it,” the manager concluded. “What do you say—shall I recommend you?”

Norah took a deep breath, and for the first time for many days a smile played about her mouth.

“It’s a chance !” she said almost to herself.

The manager chuckled and tapped her familiarly on the shoulder.

“It is a chance,” he said. “Warring is a gool fellow and will push you if you are capable and worth it. So it’s ‘yes,’ eh?”

“It’s ‘yes’ !” she answered with a short, excited laugh.

For once the man’s familiarity did not vex her. She felt above every trivial annoyance.in the flood of thankfulness and hope which had burst upon her. She went into the corridor and stretched out her arms like one who had shaken off heavy, humiliating fetters.

Her chance had come, too, and henceforth she stood side by side with those who had fought and won. Her thoughts reverted to Richard, and a hard, more bitter line settled round her mouth. For a week he had not been near the theatre. Everything confirmed her first fears. The successful man had cut himself free for ever from the unsuccessful past.

“We are not comrades any more,” she said to herself with uplifted head. “That’s done with. But he shall know of this. He shall not think that he has had to free himself from a useless burden.”

Later, as she went up the stairs leading to his dreary rooms, she tried to conquer the impulse which had brought her thither.

“Is anyone there?” she called.

A figure arose out of an arm-chair by the empty grate. It was Richard, though for an instant she hardly recognized him, so strong was the contrast between his present weary attitude and the restless, energetic movements of their last meeting.

“Is that you, Norah?” he asked, so quietly that his voice sounded little more than a whisper.

She came further into the room.

“Yes, it most certainly is!” she said with a loud, harsh gaiety. “I’m paying an unconventional visit. Do I bother ?”

He had sunk back into his chair with his head in his hands, and made no answer. But her gaze was turned resolutely away from him.

“You see, we have been such staunch comrades,”she said with veiled sarcasm. “We have always shared good and ill alike, and I had to tell you. You are interested, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Norah, of course,” he answered hoarsely.

“It seems as though Good Luck has been busy this week leaving his card on the broken-spirited,” she went on. “Think, to-day the manager has made me an offer as understudy for the heroic soprano. Who knows, Brunnhilde may come after all !”

He raised his head.

“I’m glad,” he said. “I’m glad the Good Luck you spoke of has been true to one of us.”

“What do you mean?” she demanded.

He got up and began to pace restlessly up and down.

“I don’t know why I should throw stones at my luck,” he said. “It’s my own fault—my own folly. That night—you know I was wild with happiness—well, I played the fool. I

was drenched through. The next day I had a cold—a mere nothing. To-day my voice has gone.

Norah fell back a step.

“Gone !” she echoed.

“I’ve seen the doctor,” he went on. “He orders me complete rest for a month. I must keep at home. I

mustn’t use my voice—and I must have every delicacy.”

“Well?”

He began to laugh, and it was not a laugh pleasant to hear.

“My old work at the theatre is, of course, done with. If I’m not fit in a month’s time the American engagement is cancelled—and the manager isn’t the sort to help,” he hesitated. “I can’t hold out. I have nothing— not a penny.”

“You have friends?”

He shook his head.

“No one to whom I could appeal. I can’t take from beggars poorer than myself.”

There was an instant’s silence— an almost imperceptible silence. Then she leant forward so that her face was hidden.

“We have been comrades,” she said, but her voice had lost its bitterness. “You will let me help you.”

He stared at her incredulously, almost indignantly.

“Do you think I would live on a woman—and a poor woman? he demanded bluntly.

“I’m not poor. I have a good engagement. But that’s not the point. If you won’t accept money, there are other ways. I have influence with my manager, and perhaps through him I could gets yours to help you over this time—perhaps with an advance on your salary.”

“I can’t thank you-” he began

eagerly.

“There is no need.”

“Norah,” he stammered. He tried to take her hand, but she drew back angrily.

“There, it’s nothing. Don’t let us be silly over a business matter. Leave everything to me, and get better.” She rose briskly to her feet. “I can’t stay any longer. I have a rehearsal to-night. To-morrow I’ll let you know what has happened. Good-bye !”

He tried to call her back, but she was already .on the landing.

Just for a moment she wavered, and held her hand before her eyes. Then with a steady step she went down into the street.

At the entrance to the threatre she met the manager, and went up to him.

“By the way, Mr. Marks,” she said, “I’ve changed my mind since this morning. I hope it doesn’t matter.” He stared down at her. Her eyes were a little red perhaps, but at that moment they were full ef merriment.

“You see,” she went on, “I don’t think the engagement you spoke of is quite good enough. I expected something better.” She laughed tremulously. “A lady in my position needs money. And, besides, I quite like to

lead the chorus. It has its attractions, and I’m afraid this theatre might not get on without me—we are such old friends. So I think—if you’ll keep me—I’ll just go on with my twenty shillings a week.”

The manager stared dumfoundedly at the slight, retreating figure.

“Well, I’m--!” he said under his

breath.

Richard paced up and down the narrow room. Physically he was better and stronger than he had ever been. Morally, he felt that the swing of the pendulum from sorrow to joy and from joy to sorrow had been too sudden for him. It left him bewildered, not knowing what to hope and what to fear. True, in two weeks’ time he was to take the first great step is his artistic career, but that no longer satisfied him. His mind wandered from thoughts of ambition to the old, oft-asked questions : “Norah, does she care, has she forgotten?” and the only answer which he found stifled down every other feeling of exaltation or happiness : “She has forgotten. Her whole soul is in her work and in her success.” '

He looked at his watch. It was already five o’clock. In a moment Norah would be here if she kept her promise.

“Whatever it costs I will know if there is any hope for me,” he thought, with a tightening of the lips.

The room was in semi-darkness, and going to the cheap lamp he was about to light it when a quick step sounded on the stairs, and the next instant Norah herself entered. She saw him, and came quickly across the room.

“Leave the light,” she said sharply. “It’s pleasanter in the dark. My eyes are tired.”

He laughed and led her to the patched arm-chair by the fire.

“I don’t wonder!” he said. “I expect you are blinded.”

“With what, pray?”

“They say success blinds people. You see, I know about last night.”

She remained silent, and he went on.

“A friend came to me this morning

and told me that the night before he had heard the Walkure, and that owing to illness the understudy was obliged to sing Sieglinde. * My friend didn’t know the name—but then you told me you were understudying the part, so I knew.”

Still there was no answer. He looked up, but she drew back out of the blaze of the fire, and her face was deep in shadow.

“It was a great success?” he said gently.

“Yes, a great success.”

He leant a little forward.

“I’m glad—tremendously glad. To make one’s first big step in London is worth something.”

She heard the pain in his voice. She thought it was the ambitious artist in him which she had wounded, and a measureless, comprehending pity seized her.

“You will do greater things than that,” she said.

He shook his head.

“Tell me all about it—everything,” he begged.

She hesitated. If his whole being had not been strained beneath conflicting emotions, he would have heard how her breath came quickly and unevenly. -

“Tell me!” he repeated.

Then suddenly she laughed, a sharp, hysterical laugh, and a flood of words poured from her lips. She described widly the applause, the congratulations of her friends, the approbation of the manager, a thousand and one details. She spoke gaily, almost flippantly. In the end she hesitated, and her voice trailed off into silence. She sprang to her feet.

“I am tired,” she said curtly. “Let me go.”

He stood up beside her. He had grown very white, as though with suppressed emotion.

“It was you who got the manager to send me all the money,” he said, “and I have never thanked you. You stood by me in a bad hour. You saved my career.” He broke off, and then held out his hands. “Yet you have changed towards me. It’s as though a barrier had sprung up between us.

Can’t we go back and be as we

“No, no. That was all folly. Necessity threw us together—but. that necessity has gone. We don’t need each other now ; we stand alone, and our paths have divided. You showed me that, and it is better so, much better.”

“Then—it’s all over?”

“Yes.”

She pushed past him, and he stood like one stunned, and listened to her departing footsteps.

Then he turned, and leaning his elbows on the mantelpiece buried his face in his hands.

During the next week he fought with himself, striving to forget. But it was a vain battle. At the bottom of his heart was the knowledge that he would never forget, and a sullen despair settled on him. Until then he had hoped against hope, but now it was folly to deny the truth so pitilessly laid before his eyes. She did not love him. She loved her art, and her success, and what she had done for him was out of pity for a fallen comrade. Such thoughts as these tormented him night and day. They were with him as, three nights before his departure with the operatic company, he drew up his chair by the fire and tried to tell himself that now his voice had returned he cared for nothing else. But the flickering gleams of the flames fell on a face where lines of pain and hopelessness were deeply engraved.

He raised his head. The door had opened, hesitatingly, softly. He knew instinctively who it was that had entered, yet he did not move, held back by a great and overmastering sense of bitterness and pride. She did not care, and he was no beggar. He would plead no longer for that which she would—cofild not give him. It may be that in that short moment he realized for the first time all that her loss meant to him, but he set his teeth, preparing to rise and show her a face as cold and indifferent as her own. And ye he did not move, but sat on, listening with a strange fear in his

heart to the slow, trailing footsteps a£ they drew nearer.

He knew that she stood behind his chair. He could hear her breathing quickly and jerkily as though after a stiff climb. The silence was unbearable, and with an effort Richard shook off the stupor which had held him paralyzed.

“Norah !”

“Yes.”

“Have you come to say good-bye?”

“Yes.”

A hand was placed on his chair. With a sudden resolution he turned and took it in his own, and felt with a strange tightening of the heart that it was like the hand of the dead, cold, damp, almost fleshless. He drew her round to his side, but she stood upright, her face turned away from his.

“What is the matter?” he said.

“Nothing. I have come to wish you good-bye and—good luck!”

He laughed out bitterly.

“What good luck can come to me now?” he said. “I have lost all that I care to have.”

The hand in his shook.

“What is that?”

“That which I meant to come and ask for three weeks ago. But I was bowled over—a wreck—I had no right to ask any woman—and now, v/hen perhaps I have the right, now

I cannot-”—he hesitated—“You

have your success—you do not care

This time it was she who laughed, and there was something in the hoarse, trembling sound which startled him from his thoughts.

Heedless of her resistance, he pulled her down beside him, so that the firelight shone upon her face. Then he sat very still, stricken to the soul with the dumb suffering of that haggard, pallid countenance.

“My God—Norah—what has happened—you are ill—what is it?”

She tried to cover her face with one thin, almost transparent hand.

“Nothing, nothing—1 ought never to have come ; but I was lonely—and wanted to see you. Oh, Dicky, I have played my part so brilliantly. I have played and played—to you

and to myself, but to-night—to-night the curtain is going down, that’s all

“Then it’s not true? There is no splendid engagement. You mean

that-” ,

“Yes, that’s it-”

“My God—why did you do it?” “Why? Oh, Dicky, you don’t understand. We women are so envious, so jealous. I couldn’t be left behind —a miserable failure. Just for an hour I wanted to be successful, too. I wanted you to respect me—and so I lied. It was wicked and cruel— and I want you to forgive me--”

He took her face between his hands, and his own voice shook as he answered her.

“Norah—Norah—won’t you tell me the truth now? Do you think me so dull—do you think I don’t know ? It has come to me like a flash of light in the darkness. It was your money

the manager sent me—you have starved yourself for me !”

She tried to answer, but he drew her to him, and her head fell back upon his shoulder. A great weakness stole over her. She felt herself drifting away into a great and peaceful oblivion, through which his broken voice still reached her:

“Then you cared, little comrade? You cared always? Oh, Norah, my wife !”

The ladder of fame is a long and dangerous one, but Richard has scaled it to the end. And all the weary way his wife has stood by him—a comrade in the highest, noblest sense. He knows, and he has told the world, to whom he owes his greatness. But one thing is still hidden from him. He does not know that she might well have stood upon the pinnacle which now is his. He does not know that for him she sacrificed the great chance of her life. And, moreover, he will never know.

Be An Optimist

The optimist goes about in the sunlight looking for beautiful things.

He rises in the morning with gladness in his heart, sunshine in his face, and smiles upon his lips. The mere privilege of living and enjoying nature is priceless satisfaction to him. He gets good out of life every moment of his existence. He is a man to be envied, if envy is ever allowable.

The pessimist not only warps his mind, but his physique as well, and his influence on others is decidedly bad.

The optimist is in the majority, however, and the world is growing better.

Learn to see beauty in the small things. Study nature. Watch the processes of plant life and animal life. Surround yourself with helpful influences—good books, good music, and good friends.

There is no investment a man can make that yields such unbounded returns as optimism.