The Toes of Toinette
THE private secretary’s rule about callers at the 135th street aerodrome waiting their turn melted under her imploring request to take her card in to Danbury Rodd at once.
“Mademoiselle Antoinette Rouget!” Rodd read aloud. “And what does she want?” His face lighted as he finished the question, which he answered by his own exclamation : “Of course !
It’s Toinette ! One forgets she has also a surname!”
Her attraction for the aviator was no secret among his friends. Many times he had excused himself from company in order to be at the theatre in time to see her dance. She was a kindred spirit of flight, unchaining his imagination. She came nearest to being aerial of any earthly creature he had ever seen.
* What shall I say, sir?” the secretary inquired. “ She seems to be in trouble,” he added, by way of using his influence.
Rodd paused as soberly as if he were deciding a matter of state. Purposely, he had always chosen a rear orchestra seat. To him, Toinette was an abstraction, an impersonal expression of human grace. He disliked to spoil an illusion which he had deliberately nursed. Probably her charm before the footlights was the product of calculated training in front of a mirror, and in real life she was a most matter-of-fact being, talking professional slang.
“ Is she anything at all like what she is on the stage?” he asked.
“ That’s the surprising part,” said the secretary, who promptly acted on his own responsibility. He opened the door and beckoned, as he drew to one side with a punctilious bow.
Rodd was hardly on his feet when Toinette, in furs, came into his office with the same radiant quickness of the Toinette in costume appearing from the wings. It was herself, not an actress, that the audience saw, night after night. She might be nineteen, this fragile woman, yet she was like a child in her spontaneity.
“ I speak to all the peoples with my feet, is it not?” she said. “ So you will excuse me if I miss the steps when I speak the English.”
Whatever her request, she had no mind to be balked of a full hearing. As if the movement were a part of a courtesy, she took the visitor’s seat, while Rodd, in the presence of such grace, felt his arms and legs disjointed fans of a windmill as he sank into his own chair.
“Meestaire Rodd, how very queeck can you run your queeckest flying machine to Philadelpheea?” she inquired, tossing back
the furs from her throat and setting her muff at an angle on her knee in keeping with that at which she held her head.
“ Why, I have done it with a bank of wind at my back from the Schuylkill to the Hudson in twenty-eight minutes, but that was pretty wild going. In average weather, I think we can depend on forty,” he told her.
“ Ten forty-five, ten feefty-five—yais, that will do,” and she whirled the muff round and round jubilantly, her feet rattatting the floor. “ You will—you will?”
“ Who am I to take?” he inquired.
“Moi, moi, moi!” she repeated, beating her jacket with her muff.
“ To-night—this very night!”
Rodd looked at his calendar pad and saw that he had three engagements for that evening.
“ But I have been so excited I did not tell you it right,” she went on. “I am playing in Philadelpheea and I must dance there at ten-fifteen and I must be in New York for the last act of the opera ! Yais ! It is impossible unless I fly, is it not?”
“ I know no other way,” said Rodd between fear and temptation. So many actresses had made similar requests. Could this small person be playing a part set her by a press agent? She subtly guessed what was passing in his mind.
“Non, non, non!” she exclaimed, shaking both her head and the muff in a tempest of furs and plumes and rebellious eyes. “ Not the advertisement! Non! A secret that must not go in the newspapers! And Toinette does not advertise, if you please, except with her toes!” She thrust two patent-leather tips out from under the hem of her skirt and regarded them awesomely. “ It is not that I like to ask the favor of a stranger,” she assev-
EDITOR’S NOTE.—Frederick Palmer, the author of this inimitable story, is a famous writer and war correspondent. His recent articles on the Mexican situation, as well as his s tories in the leading magazines, have attracted a wide degree of interest. In “The Toes of Toinette” he is seen at his best. It is one of those rare yams that combine a theme of real human interest with a setting of stirring adventure. It is one of the most thoroughly readable stories of the year.
erated proudly. “It is not for myself I ask, but for the maestro. Meestaire Rodd, you can help me to make the best man in the world happy forevaire and evaire. But if I try to tell you how much I love the maestro I should talk all day; and then I could not say it—all what is here!”
She pressed the muff against the left side of her jacket passionately; then it flew over to his knee coaxingly, as she leaned forward.
“ Listen, Meestaire Rodd,” she pleaded. “ The Hotel Aragon in Philadelpheea has a place on the roof for the aeroplanes to land. The theatre is across the street. I respond to the last encore, I run to the elevator of the Aragon, and we fly! Please, just to make the noblest, truest man in the world happy—you will? You will?”
With a feather touch of those wonderful toes she was on her feet and bending over him, her eyes begging. The impulse to please her brought consent to his lips.
“ Yes, and we’ll have an auto ready to take you to the stage door of the opera instantly we land,” he said.
“Oh, oh! You are the vrai Meestaire Rodd. You are the same off the stage as on!” she exclaimed, twirling the muff again and dancing a few soft little steps in irresistible expression of her delight. “ Thank you ! Thank you ! And you will not tell anybody evaire that you took me?”
“ Never !” he answered, rising, supremely self-conscious that in her fantastic presence he was as clumsy as a hippopotamus.
“ It is all a secret—a trick ! By and by I tell you,” she said. “ I must hurry to see the manager of the opera to plan everything so very carefully, now you have promised. In the wings at tenfifteen ! Do not forget !”
It seemed to Rodd that she never touched foot to floor or pavement from the door to the waiting taxicab. He blinked as if to make sure that all that had happened was not a dream, and glanced at his arms and legs, and was really gratified to find that with her out of the room they did not seem any longer or more awkward than those of the average man of his height.
Some one kept slipping a muff back and forth across the plans of the new wing to his factory over which he was working, making a spell of phantasmal stage mystery. Who was the maestro? Why should it make him happy forever to have Toinette beat a railroad train? There was more to the story than a whim that she should appear in Philadelphia and New York the same evening. The three engagements which had stared at him from the calendar pad were brought under one head at the dinner hour. The Falcon, which rose above the gleaming city on that crisp winter’s night, was a different looking aeroplane from the Falcon in her summer rig. The box-like structure over the seats gave the effect of the body of a Brobdingnagian interplanetary bird. As warm as toast when he descended to the roof of the Aragon in Philadelphia, Rodd looked down on skurrying men in the streets with their hands to their ears, and on chauffeurs in rough furs resembling so many clumsy bears with heads drawn shiveringly between the shoulders.
When he entered the theatre he heard a sound like the distant beating of surf, and he saw that Toinette had just gone on the stage. When she came off, with thunders of applause following her, she ran to Rodd and gave his fingers an earnest press, while the audience continued to call.
“I love it! I love to dance!” she cried. “ But only one encore to-night!”
The instant she returned, all the theatre was silent, as if, indeed, the people were listening to the singing of her feet. A third time she went back, but only to kiss her toe in adieu. Then her maid threw a heavy fur coat about her and thrust the two precious feet in satin slippers into big fur boots.
“And the make-up box? Mon Dieu! That is everything! I must not forget that!” said Toinette, which struck Rodd as odd, considering that she was not made-up at all.
“ Here!” said the maid, taking a box off a chair.
Toinette slipped it under her arm.
“All right, Messtaire Rodd—queeck!” But as they passed out she paused long enough to pull the long, knotted forelock in the centre of the comedian’s bald wig, and that comedian’s round face, through its grease paint, flashed with happiness like the moon coming out under a cloud.
They ran across the street into the doorway of the hotel and were shot up in the back elevator to the roof, where the Falcon’s engines were softly humming in readiness.
“It’s cozy!” she said, when she was seated inside the silken housing. “And why these woolly little wires like a cobweb over the walls?”
“ They keep us warm,” answered Rodd. “Otherwise, we’d be frozen stiff by the terrific speed.”
“ Then I could not dance at the opera to-night,” she said, “nor until they stood me up beside the radiator and thawed me out—and then it would be too late, too late!”
The motor started ; the runners creaked on the frosty track; they were already ascending.
“Oh—oh—oh!” she trilled. The lights of Philadelphia were trailing in confusion like thousands of comet-tails. “ That is your audience, Meestaire Rodd,” she cried, with a gesture earthward, “and you wait not for the encore!”
“ Those toes—those very valuable toes, are they tucked in snugly?” he said, bending over to see for himself that they were.
“Yes, those very valuable toes! Nevaire
do I go on the stage but I have a little stage fright for them,” she said. “What if they should not—do as I bid them! They are what you call my capital, my kingdom, my all, is it not? Every morning when I wake up I look down across the sheet at them so far away and say, ‘ Toes, are you there?’ And they wiggle back, ‘All right!’ ”
“ Yes, I know how you feel. All the rods and planes and the engines, they dance for me,” said Rodd.
“And do you have the stage fright, too?”
“ Yes,” he confessed. “ I never throw in the gear without a feeling that perhaps the Falcon will not respond. I never rise without fresh wonder to find myself flying. But if I break a toe I can get a new one, and you can’t!”
“Non—nevaire!” She shuddered. “And I will grow old and can’t dance any more. No ! no !” She shook her head obstinately, defiantly, as if shaking off this shadow. “Non! I will keep young! Oh, that was the river—and it is gone like a needle shot through the cloth, n’est-ce-pas?” Then she looked about her inquiringly and exclaimed: “Voila! I can save the
time!” and took a mirror out of the box, hung it in a crotch of the asbestos-covered wires, and began making-up.
“ It is a part of the trick for the maestro. Ah, but I have not told you about the maestro!” she added, turning to Rodd in surprise at the discovery, with one eyebrow darkened. “I ask you to do everything and explain nothing. Where shall I begin this bonne histoire? With what was the beginning, of course! I was a little girl this tall”—she indicated the height by holding out the rouge brush and measuring carefully from the footrest—“a waif! I ran the errands for Madame of the bakeshop. ‘The bread you ordered!’ ‘The cake you ordered, my lady!’ And I dance—always I dance. The music, it touched the little springs in my toes! I danced for the love of the dance, just like I breathe the air for to live.
“ The maestro’s name is Signor Laponi, but we call him maestro because he is Italian, and he like that best. Alors, one day he is walking by when he sees me dance when the piano came along, so happy; yais, so happy I forget to deliver the rolls which some one do want in the very great hurry. He stop, he watch, he make the wild gesture, and he mount on his toes and he say: ‘Do like me—can you?’ Oh, I shall nevaire forget his look! It was like a man waiting to see if he had found a diamond or just a lump of coal.. I do the step—it was good fun and so very easy!
“ ‘Le bon Dieu!’ he cry, and he pick me up in his arms and demand where I belong, and I point to the bakeshop. He carried me in, and he cried, ‘Whose child is this?’
“ ‘Nobody’s!’ said Madame, very angry to see me still with the rolls in my hand.
“ ‘Nobody’s! Thank God! Then she is mine!’ said the maestro; and he was so very grand.
“ ‘You’re welcome to her!’ said Madame.
‘ She is good for nothing!’
“ How the maestro laugh ! He laugh like the child ; he laugh like he was a
wrinkled, wise old man of the mountain. Have you understood?
“‘Good for nothing! The good God has put the spark of genius in her feet just as He put it into Beethoven’s head. Good for nothing! She will dance in Paris, London, Berlin, St. Petersburg, New York! Men shall besiege the ticket office to see her ! I know ! I will train her ! This is to pay you, Madame!’
“ In his grand way he stand me on the counter right among the pastries. Ah, it was like the maestro—all life is art to him—to empty his pockets, to take off his sleeve buttons and his scarfpin, and give them all to Madame, who was so astounded she only breathe hard, with her hands on her hips. And he take me up again, and he pat my toes, and shake my ankles softly, and chuckle all to himself and carry me all the way to his room. It was all most surprising to me. Hein! I was so surprised, being such a very little girl, I had not dropped the rolls. That was what you call a very happy coincidence, eh? For the maestro, who love the art so he forget everything else, had given away all his money and the rolls were all we had for supper !
“But the maestro, so thin and dark-eyed and earnest, he did not eat any of the rolls. He look at my ankles and my toes and feel them and he ask me to dance again, and he was so very happy that it make me very glad.
“ ‘At last, he says, ‘I shall train a great dancer!’ You see, all his life he had live for that ambition, for the applause of the pupil he had trained.”
She paused thoughtfully, taking in a breath of wonder. Trenton was a glowworm illuminating the ghastly mantle of snow which passed by the frame of the wafer-thin gelatin window. The braces were like threads of spun glass, the rods sparkling and the planes gleaming in their coats of frost under the Falcon’s lamp.
“ There was another little girl. She help me eat the rolls,” Toinette went on. “ The other little girl was Valerie, the maestro’s daughter. Oh, wait till you see Valerie ! She is good and honest, not just lucky, like me. Valerie’s mother was dead. She had a beautiful name, Felicite, is it not? She was a dancer and her mother a dancer, but not the great dancer. Hein! You have understood? The great dancer, she walk on the roses and thousand-franc notes! Non? Madame Felicite was the hundred-franc-a-week dancer, and the hope of those dear hearts of the maestro and Madame Felicite was that their Valerie should succeed where the mother and grandmother had failed. They would live to see all Europe applaud Valerie. But Madame Felicite she die so very poor, still hoping.”
Toinette turned sombre. The willow of her figure drooped, and the corners of her mouth sank until the grease paints which were gradually outlining a countenance far older than her own.
“And the maestro! His art and his real daughter and his daughter adopted— it was the fight in his heart. He would scold me and call me the lazy, undeserving one, and then pat my ankles. And once when Valerie had tried so hard and could not, he grew very angry and he shook me and say, wildlike, ‘Why did you have that spark and not my Valerie?’ And then he change to tears, and beg my forgiveness, and pat my toes, and say the bon Dieu was right in giving the spark to me. Have you understood?
“He love us so much, he was so grand in his ideas, that he would not let us appear at all till we were the finished artistes. He come to America the better to make the money, and when we were ready we should go to Europe for the debut. Ah, he live on the sensation we would make one day.
We were so very poor I would beg him to let me do the dance just for to boil the pot. ‘Non!’ he answered, so angry and proud. And—you will not tell?—all in secret I get the engagement in the vaudeville and I dance just well enough, not too well, so he shall not hear, and I get the poor girls to be his-pupils and I pay for their teaching, and the maestro nevaire know. Oh, it was the good fun!
“And the maestro he lost the sight of one eye and the other it go bad, and then one day he go blind. He cannot teach any more, and I find a friend to give us the little money I earn as a loan. You have understood? And how I did practice, remembering everything he tell me and so sorry when he have been so good to me that I have been such a mischief. He could only tell by listening to the steps, and sometimes when he thought it was Valerie dancing it would be me, and he would be very happy to think how Valerie had improved.”
The make-up was finished with a last touch. She turned on Rodd the features of a woman of forty, with the smirking smile of the professional dancer or circus performer, forced under physical strain.
“Why is this?” Rodd inquired indignantly.
“ For the audience at the opera. It is a disguise, a part of the trick. And the maestro, he not only go blind—oh, the poor maestro, may the good God cheer him!— but he cough and cough, and when the doctor examine him the doctor he say, ‘Arizona quick, to save the life!’
“‘Non! what is the life?’ answer the maestro. ‘I shall live long enough for the European debut, and that is all I want!’
“ But we find a friend—the manager of the opera in New York. That big, terrible, knowing, good man, he say, ‘All right.
I arrange for the European debut.’ And he get the maestro into a drawing-room on the train for Arizona, oh, so very clevaire and kind!”
“ Yes, and then?” said Rodd, guiding himself by the lights of Newark.
“ Voila! Valerie and I, we make the debut at the opera in Paris, two girls before all those grand, bored, critical people. Oh, the audience! It can make you so happy when it is all smiles and rustles and hand-claps, and so miserable when all the shirt fronts of the men out there in the silent darkness look like so many little tombstones over your own buried ambition. The singers have to wait and wait on the encores for me—the lucky one.
“Alas, for Valerie only just a little applause. Poor Valerie, standing so triste, with nobody speaking to her in the wings ! Is it not a shame the bon Dieu has not given her the spark in the feet when she is so very worthy, when she work so much harder than I? And then I think of the maestro out in Arizona—the poor maestro! Everything I owe to him! But for him I still work in the bakeshop, is it not so?
“ But Valerie, she kissed me. She was not jealous—no! no! no! And when I ran from all the men who wanted to send me home in their carriages—just as the maestro had told me to do, for the sake of the bon Dieu and my art—and Valerie and I went back to our room in the omnibus, just as we always had, that night she sobbed and sobbed.
“ ‘Oh,’ she say, ‘it is not for myself. I do not like the dance. I would better like to keep a shop or anything! Non, it is not for myself—it is father’s heartbreak when he knows I have failed!’
“I could not sleep thinking of the maestro. Since he become blind his pride was more and more in Valerie, in his Madame Felicite’s child. When I read the papers and all the critics say of what they call my singing feet, I had the idea —yais, the grand idea !— Valerie should be me!
“Yais, the handclaps were all for Valerie! For once I w a s glad that the maestro no more have the eyes to see. I make the plan very carefully and a friend in Arizona who is in the secret read aloud all my notices and change my name to Valerie. You have understood? C’est joli, n’est-ce-pas? And Valerie she have to help though she say it is one lie. But is it a lie? Non! It is for the maestro, and it make him happy till a traveler make some fool talk before our friend in Arizona could stop the stupid.
“ The maestro grow suspicious, angry, and he come on in this weather—the poor maestro, with only a little piece of lung left, just enough so he can live in Arizona —yais, he come on all alone to find the truth ! And the first we know was when he appear in Valerie’s room at the hotel in New York. She is so good, so honest, she is not quick for—what you say?—for keeping up the story. And to-night in the last act, just for a minute, Valerie appears at the opera for the first time and the maestro will be there in the manager’s box. He cannot see, but he will know by the applause if he has been fooled. Oh, that terrible monster the audience, it will say ‘Another danseuse? So! so! Nothing unusual!’”
“ Is Valerie forty?” Rodd asked. He resented the spirit of youth and lightness taking on a mask.
“No, no! But New York does not know Valerie!” she answered quickly. “And New York it knows me, my face, which I change. But I cannot change my toes— that is the trouble. Have you understood?”
New York’s skyscrapers were blank shadows, with the bright ribbon of upper Broadway softening into the darknesá of the lower city.
“ Twenty-eight minutes!” said Rodd, as the guiding plane dipped for the descent.
“ You take the long steps when you dance, and so quick!” said Toinette.
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Continued from Page 41
The Falcon skidded over the graveled boards of the long 52nd Street pier between the canal barges, stopping a few feet this side of a waiting automobile, which they entered. Toinette was silent and desperately sober. Rodd saw her under lip tremble.
“ If I should forget myself—if I should fail!” she whispered. “If the maestro should guess! Oh, he would be more miserable than ever! ’Twould be the climax for him!”
At the stage door the manager himself, the most important accomplice, his manner breathing a generous yet astute cosmopolitanism, received them.
“ I am not too late?” Toinette asked.
“ Not, but watch your steps—watch the steps which Valerie could not possibly do—-the ones no one in the world but you can do, little one,” he said; and passed her into the mysteries behind the scenes with a bearish pat on the head, while he bade Rodd follow him. At a door he stooped for his guest to precede him, and Rodd looked out on the auditorium through the frame of the manager’s box, where sat a lean, withered man, and with him a girl, in ballet costume. The manager signaled to her with uplifted finger and she took her cue.
“ It is time for me to go on, father,” she
“ Your triumph, Valerie! I shall hear them as they praise you. No, it is my triumph!” he answered, coughing with the words ; “mine and Felicite’s ! Most of all is it hers! And then I go back to Arizona content”
Valerie went to the door, but there she paused and sank softly down on the step to wait while her comrade played her part. Rodd seated himself between the maestro and the manager.
The chorus fluttered away from the centre of the stage ; the tinsel king of a basso rested on the arm of his chair, pulling his false beard, and the tenor prince stood near, while the soprano peasant girl whom he loved stood among the people.
Thus the court awaited the dancer. She appeared from the wings, but not with the smile of Toinette, crying, “ I love to dance for you, for I have a spark in my feet!” It was the make-up smile of the professional without inspiration. People settled back, thinking, “ Now we shall see what we have seen scores of times, all according to the bill.” But as her feet took life a rustle ran through the house.
The maestro had his hand to his ear listening for the thip-thip of the toetouches in the mighty silence. His daughter, watching fearfully from her place at the entrance to the box, saw his face glow with happiness.
“ Training! My training!” he said. “Application is better than genius ! Now, will you believe me, my mischief Toinette, who would not practice?”
Toinette, keeping in psychic touch with the mood of the many-headed, critical monster watching her, had given just enough to insure a hearty encore. The audience instinctively felt the magnetism of a reserve force under control. It was hungry, expectant, leaning forward when she returned. At the command of ten thousand eyes calling for her art, she forgot herself. She let the spark in her toes have its abandoned way in the spell of the music’s enchantment. When she stopped, the monster drew a long, deep breath and through the film of her makeup Rodd saw the fairies’ frolic playing for an instant in her natural smile. Then her face turned ghastly with the realization of her error as she ran into the wings in panic; while an old gentleman near the box sprang up and cried :—
“It is, it must be Toinette!”
The thunders now rising from pit to arch drowned his voice. But the discriminating ear of the maestro had already heard the truth. He fell limp, all the life out of his body and face.
“No! no!” he said incoherently. “It is not all art. It is the thing born in you ! That step! I can hear if I cannot see! No other foot had the bones, the muscles, to do that step except the foot I found in front of the bakeshop !”
Valerie, to whom his words were inaudible, took her cue and sprang forward, touching his shoulder.
“Are you pleased, father?” she asked, half-strangling in her effort at triumph. The maestro pushed her away from him tragically.
“ No, it was not in nature. We were to be denied our hope, Felicite and I, to make a great dancer of our child. But Valerie,’1 he gasped, “ I did not think, with youi mother’s blood and mine, that you—you would play such a trick to the shame of art and truth!”
“Father!” Valerie sank at his feet. Her simple loyalty had not the resourcefulness to invent any explanation.
Rodd, with a realizing sense of the situation, found himself playing a new part which, in his philosophy, was guaranteed by the views of Toinette about the righteousness of some lies.
“Maestro," he said gently, putting that strong hand of his on the teacher’s shoulder, “you forget how a child’s love for her blind father may give her the spark!”
The maestro shrugged his shoulders. They could say, if his weak lungs could not, that he understood how the accomplices in the plot would come to the rescue of his daughter.
“ But proof is the only way,” continued Rodd. “ Toinette was on the stage at tenthirty in Philadelphia. It is now eleven forty-five. How could she be in two places at once? If you could take the train with Valerie you would find her sound asleep after her evening’s work, I am sure.”
The maestro’s emaciated figure was revitalized with hope, and the “big, terrible, knowing, good manager,” who could not have been a great impresario if he had not had art enough in his heart to understand the maestro, quashed his engagements as decisively as Rodd had and remarked, in the most casual way:—
“A good idea; I’ve got to take the twelve-thirty to Philadelphia. Maestro, will you come? It is on the way to Arizona, too.”
“Oh, if you are right,” said the maestro, “how happy I shall be forever, dreaming of Valerie’s triumph!”
Inside the housing of the Falcon on the way back, Toinette removed the grease paint and was her young self again.
“ The spark of my toes makes its poor little bow to the spark of your motor,” she said, as Rodd bade her good-night on the roof of the Aragon ; “and wherever you go may the bon Dieu watch over you!”