MR. GOBLE, with a derby hat on the back of his head and an unlighted cigar in the corner of his mouth, was superintending the erection of the first-act set when Jill found him. He was standing with his back to the safety curtain glowering at a blue canvas, supposed to represent one of those picturesque summer skies which you get at the best places on Long Island. Jill, coming down stage from the staircase that led to the dressing room, interrupted his line of vision.
“Get out of the light!” bellowed Mr. Goble, always a man of direct speech, adding “Damn you!” for good measure.
“Please move to one side,” interpreted the stage director. “Mr. Goble is looking at the set.”
The head carpenter, who completed the little group, said nothing. Stage carpenters always say nothing. Long association with fussy directors has taught them that the only policy to pursue on opening nights is to withdraw into the silence, wrap themselves up in it, and not emerge until the enemy has grown tired and gone off to worry somebody else.
“It don’t look right!” said Mr. Goble, cocking his head on one side.
“I see what you mean, Mr. Goble,” assented the stage director obsequiously. “It has perhaps a little too much—er—not quite enough—yes, I see what you mean!”
“It’s too—damn—blue!” rasped Mr. Goble, impatient of this vacillating criticism. “That’s what’s the matter with it.”
The head carpenter abandoned the silent policy of a lifetime. He felt impelled to utter. He was a man who, when not at the theatre, spent most of his time in bed, reading all-fiction magazines; but it so happened that once last summer he had actually seen the sky; and he considered that this entitled him to speak almost as a specialist on the subject.
“Ther sky is blue!” he observed huskily. “Yessir! I seen it!”
He passed into the silence again, and, to prevent a further lapse, stopped up his mouth with a piece of chewing gum.
Mr. Goble regarded the silver-tongued orator wrathfully. He was not accustomed to chatterboxes arguing with him like this. He would probably have said something momentous and crushing, but at this point Jill intervened. “Mr. Goble.”
The manager swung round on her.
“What is it?”
IT IS sad to think how swiftly affection can change to dislike in this world. Two weeks before Mr. Goble had looked on Jill with favor. She had seemed good in his eyes. But that refusal of hers to lunch with him, followed by a refusal some days later to take a bit of supper somewhere, had altered his views on feminine charm. If it had been left to him, as most things were about his theatre, to decide which of the thirteen girls should be dismissed, he would undoubtedly have selected Jill. But at this stage in the proceedings there was the unfortunate necessity of making concessions to the temperamental Johnston Miller. Mr. Goble was aware that the dance director’s services would be badly needed in the rearrangement of the numbers during the coming week or so, and he knew that there were a dozen managers waiting eagerly to welcome him if he threw up his present job, so he had been obliged to approach him in quite a humble spirit and inquire which of his female chorus could be most easily spared. And, as the Duchess had a habit of carrying her haughty languor on to the stage and employing it as a substitute for the chorea which was Mr. Miller’s ideal, the dance director had chosen her. To Mr. Goble’s dislike of Jill, therefore, was added now something of the fury of the baffled potenate.
“’Jer want?” he demanded.
“Mr. Goble is extremely busy,” said the stage director. “Extremely.”
A momentary doubt as to the best way of approaching her subject had troubled Jill on her way downstairs, but, now that she was on the battle field confronting the enemy, she found herself cool, collected, and full of a cold rage which steeled her nerves without confusing her mind.
“I came to ask you to let Mae d’Arcy go on to-night.”
“Who the devil's Mae d’Arcy?” Mr. Goble broke off to bellow at a scene shifter who was depositing the wall of Mrs. Stuyvesant Van Dyke’s Long Island residence too far down stage. “Not there, you fool! Higher up!”
“You gave her her notice this evening,” said Jill.
“Well, what about it?”
“We want you to withdraw it.”
“The other girls and myself.”
Mr. Goble jerked his head so violently that the derby hat flew off, to be picked up, dusted, and restored by the stage director.
“Oh, so you don’t like it? Well, you know what you can do....”
“Yes,” said Jill, “we do. We are going to strike.”
“If you don’t let Mae go on, we shan’t go on. There won’t be a performance to-night unless you like to give one without a chorus.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Perhaps. But we’re quite unanimous.”
Mr. Goble, like most theatrical managers, was not good at words of over two syllables.
“We’ve talked it over, and we’ve all decided to do what I said.”
Mr. Goble’s hat shot off again and gamboled away into the wings, with the stage director bounding after it like a retriever.
“Whose idea’s this?” demanded Mr. Goble. His eyes were a little foggy, for his brain was adjusting itself but slowly to the novel situation.
“Oh, yours! I thought as much!”
“Well,” said Jill, “I’ll go back and tell them that you will not do what we ask. We will keep our make-up on in case you change your mind.”
She turned away.
Jill proceeded toward the staircase. As she went a husky voice spoke in her ear.
“Go to it, kid! You’re all right!”
The head carpenter had broken his Trappist vows twice in a single evening, a thing which had not happened to him since the night three years ago when, sinking wearily on to a seat in a dark corner for a bit of a rest, he found that one of his assistants had placed a pot of red paint there.
TO MR. GOBLE, fermenting and full of strange oaths, entered Johnston Miller. The dance director was always edgy on first nights, and during the foregoing conversation had been flitting about the stage like a white-haired moth. His deafness had kept him in complete ignorance that there was anything untoward afoot, and he now approached Mr. Goble with his watch in his hand.
“Eight-twenty-five,” he observed. “Time those girls were on stage.”
Mr. Goble, glad of a concrete target for his wrath, cursed him in about two hundred and fifty rich and well-selected words.
“Huh?” said Mr. Miller, hand to ear.
Mr. Goble repeated the last hundred and eleven words, the pick of the bunch.
“Can’t hear!” said Mr. Miller regretfully. “Got a cold.”
The grave danger that Mr. Goble, a thick-necked man, would undergo some sort of a stroke was averted by the presence of mind of the stage director, who, returning with the hat, presented it like a bouquet to his employer, and then, his hands being now unoccupied, formed them into a funnel and through this flesh-and-blood megaphone endeavored to impart the bad news:
“The girls say they won’t go on!” Mr. Miller nodded.
“I said it was time they were on.”
“They’re on strike!”
“It’s not,” said Mr. Miller austerely, “what they like, it’s what they’re paid for. They ought to be on stage. We should be ringing up in two minutes.”
The stage director drew another breath, then thought better of it. He had a wife and children, and, if dadda went under with apoplexy, what became of the home, civilization’s most sacred product? He relaxed the muscles of his diaphragm, and reached for pencil and paper.
Mr. Miller inspected the message, felt for his spectacle case, found it, opened it, took out his glasses, replaced the spectacle case, felt for his handkerchief, polished the glasses, replaced the handkerchief, put the glasses on, and read. A blank look came into his face:
“Why?” he inquired.
The stage director, with a nod of the head intended to imply that he must be patient and all would come right in the future, recovered the paper, and scribbled another sentence. Mr. Miller perused it.
“Because Mae d’Arcy has got her notice?” he queried, amazed. “But the girl can’t dance a step.”
The stage director, by means of a wave of the hand, a lifting of both eyebrows, and a wrinkling of the nose, replied that the situation, unreasonable as it might appear to the thinking man, was as he had stated and must be faced. What, he inquired—through the medium of a clever drooping of the mouth and a shrug of the shoulders was to be done about it?
Mr. Miller remained for a moment in meditation.
“I'll go and talk to them,” he said.
He flitted off, and the stage director leaned back against the asbestos curtain. He was exhausted, and his throat was in agony, but nevertheless he was conscious of a feeling of quiet happiness. His life had been lived in the shadow of the constant fear that some day Mr. Goble might dismiss him. Should that disaster occur, he felt, there was always a future for him in the movies.
Scarcely had Mr. Miller disappeared on his peacemaking errand, when there was a noise like a fowl going through a quickset hedge, and Mr. Saltzburg, brandishing his baton as if he were conducting an unseen orchestra, plunged through the scenery at the left upper entrance and charged excitedly down the stage. Having taken his musicians twice through the overture, he had for ten minutes been sitting in silence, waiting for the curtain to go up. At last, his emotional nature cracking under the strain of this suspense, he had left his conductor’s chair and plunged down under the stage by way of the musicians’ bolt hole to ascertain what was causing the delay.
"What is it? What is it? What is it? What is it?” inquired Mr. Saltzburg. “I wait and wait and wait and wait and wait.... We cannot play the overture again. What is it? What has happened?”
Mr. Goble, that overwrought soul, had betaken himself to the wings, where he was striding up and down with his hands behind his back, chewing his cigar. The stage director braced himself once more to the task of explanation.
“The girls have struck!”
Mr. Saltzburg blinked through his glasses. “The girls?” he repeated blankly.
“Oh, damn it!” cried the stage director, his patience at last giving way. “You know what a girl is, don’t you?”
“They have what?”
“Struck! Walked out on us! Refused to go on!” Mr. Saltzburg reeled under the blow. “But it is impossible. Who is to sing the opening chorus?”
In the presence of one to whom he could relieve his mind without fear of consequences, the stage director became savagely jocular.
“That’s all arranged,” he said. “We’re going to dress the carpenters in skirts. The audience won’t notice anything wrong.”
“Should I speak to Mr. Goble?” queried Mr. Saltzburg doubtfully.
“Yes, if you don’t value your life,” returned the stage director.
Mr. Saltzburg pondered. “I will go and speak to the children,” he said. “I will talk to them. They know me! I will make them be reasonable.”
HE BUSTLED off in the direction taken by Mr. Miller, his coat tails flying behind him. The stage director, with a tired sigh, turned to face Wally, who had come in through the iron pass door from the auditorium.
“Hullo!” said Wally cheerfully. “Going strong? How’s everybody at home? Fine! So am I! By the way, am I wrong or did I hear something about a theatrical entertainment of some sort here tonight?” He looked about him at the empty stage. In the wings, on the prompt side, could be discerned the flannel-clad forms of the gentlemanly members of the male ensemble, all dressed up for Mrs. Stuyvesant van Dyke’s tennis party. One or two of the principals were standing perplexedly in the lower entrance. The O.P. side had been given over by general consent to Mr. Goble for his perambulations. Every now and then he would flash into view through an opening in the scenery. “I understood that to-night was the night for the great revival of comic opera. Where are the comics, and why aren’t they opping?”
The stage director repeated his formula once more: “The girls have struck!”
“So have the clocks,” said Wally. “It’s past nine.”
“The chorus refuse to go on.”
“No, really! Just artistic loathing of the rotten piece, or is there some other reason?”
“They’re sore because one of them has been given her notice, and they say they won’t give a show unless she’s taken back. They’ve struck. That Mariner girl started it.”
“She did!” Wally’s interest became keener. “She would!” he said approvingly. “She’s a heroine!”
“Little devil! I never liked that girl!”
Now there,” said Wally, “is just the point on which we differ. I have always liked her, and I’ve known her all my life. So, shipmate, if you have any derogatory remarks to make about Miss Mariner, keep them where they belong—there!” He prodded the other sharply in the stomach. He was smiling pleasantly, but the stage director, catching his eye, decided that his advice was good and should be followed. It is just as bad for the home if the head of the family gets his neck broken as if he succumbs to apoplexy.
“You surely aren’t on their side?” he said.
Me! said Wally. “Of course I am. I’m always on the side of the downtrodden and oppressed. If you know of a dirtier trick than firing a girl just before the opening, so that they won’t have to pay her two weeks’ salary, mention it. Till you do, I’ll go on believing that it is the limit. Of course I’m on the girls’ side. I’ll make them a speech if they want me to, or head the procession with a banner if they are going to parade down the boardwalk. I’m for 'em, Father Abraham, a hundred thousand strong. And then a few! If you want my considered opinion, our old friend Goble has asked for it and got it. And I’m glad—glad—glad, if you don’t mind my quoting Pollyanna for a moment. I hope it chokes him!”
“You’d better not let him hear you talking like that!”
“Au contraire, as we say in the Gay City, I'm going to make a point of letting him hear me talk like that! Adjust the impression that I fear any Goble in shining armor, because I don’t. I propose to speak my mind to him. I would beard him in his lair, if he had a beard. Well, I’ll clean-shave him in his lair. That will be just as good. But hist! whom have we here? Tell me, do you see the same thing I see?”
LIKE the vanguard of a defeated army, Mr. Saltzburg was coming dejectedly across the stage.
“Well?” said the stage director.
“They would not listen to me,” said Mr. Saltzburg brokenly. “The more I talked, the more they did not listen!” He winced at a painful memory. “Miss Trevor stole my baton, and then they all lined up and sang ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’!”
“Not the words?” cried Wally incredulously. “Don’t tell me they knew the words!”
“Mr. Miller is still up there, arguing with them. But it will be of no use. What shall we do?” asked Mr. Saltzburg helplessly. “We ought to have rung up half an hour ago. What shall we do-oo-oo?”
“We must go and talk to Goble,” said Wally. “Something has got to be settled quick. When I left, the audience was getting so impatient that I thought he was going to walk out on us. He’s one of those nasty, determined looking men. So come along!”
Mr. Goble, intercepted, as he was about to turn for another walk upstage, eyed the deputation sourly and put the same question that the stage director had put to Mr. Saltzburg: “Well?”
Wally came briskly to the point. “You’ll have to give in,” he said, “or else go and make a speech to the audience, the burden of which will be that they can have their money back by applying at the box office. These Joans of Arc have got you by the short hairs!”
“I won’t give in!”
“Then give out!” said Wally. “Or pay out, if you prefer it. Trot along and tell the audience that the four dollars fifty in the house will be refunded.”
Mr. Goble gnawed his cigar. “I’ve been in the show business fifteen years....”
“I know. And this sort of thing has never happened to you before. One gets new experiences.”
Mr. Goble cocked his cigar at a fierce angle and glared at Wally. Something told him that Wally’s sympathies were not wholly with him. “They can’t do this sort of thing to me!” he growled.
“Well, they are doing it to some one, aren’t they?” said Wally. “And if it’s not you, who is it?”
“I’ve a damned good mind to fire them all!”
“A corking idea! I can’t see a single thing wrong with it except that it would hang up the production for another five weeks and lose you your bookings and cost you a week’s rent of this theatre for nothing, and mean having all the dresses made over and lead to all your principals going off and getting other jobs. These trifling things apart, we may call the suggestion a bright one.”
“You talk too dam’ much!” said Mr. Goble, eying him with distaste.
“Well, go on; you say something. Something sensible.”'
“It is a very serious situation....” began the stage director.
“Oh, shut up!” said Mr. Goble.
The stage director subsided into his collar.
“I cannot play the overture again,” protested Mr. Saltzburg. “I cannot!”
At this point Mr. Miller appeared. He was glad to see Mr. Goble. He had been looking for him, for he had news to impart. “The girls,” said Mr. Miller, “have struck! They won’t go on!”
Mr. Goble, with the despairing gesture of one who realizes the impotence of words, dashed off for his favorite walk upstage. Wally took out his watch.
“Six seconds and a bit,” he said approvingly as the manager returned. “A very good performance. I should like to time you over the course in a running suit.”
THE interval for reflection, brief as it had been, had apparently enabled Mr. Goble to come to a decision. “Go,” he said to the stage director, “and tell ’em that fool of a D’Arcy girl can play. We’ve got to get that curtain up.”
“Yes, Mr. Goble.”
The stage director galloped off.
“Get back to your place,” said the manager to Mr. Saltzburg, “and play the overture again.”
“Perhaps they didn’t hear it the first two times,” said Wally.
Mr. Goble watched Mr. Saltzburg out of sight. Then he turned to Wally:
“That damned Mariner girl was at the bottom of this! She started the whole thing! She told me so. Well, I’ll settle her! She goes to-morrow!”
“Wait a minute,” said Wally. “Wait one minute! Bright as it is, that idea is out!”
“What the devil has it got to do with you?”
“Only this, that, if you fire Miss Mariner, I take that neat script which I’ve prepared and I tear it into a thousand fragments. Or nine hundred. Anyway, I tear it. Miss Mariner opens in New York, or I pack up my work and leave."
Mr. Goble’s green eyes glowed. “Oh, you’re stuck on her, are you?” he sneered. “I see!”
“Listen, dear heart,” said Wally, gripping the manager’s arm, “I can see that you are on the verge of introducing personalities into this very pleasant little chat. Resist the impulse! Why not let your spine stay where it is instead of having it kicked up through your hat? Keep to the main issue. Does Miss Mariner open in New York or does she not?”
There was a tense silence. Mr. Goble permitted himself a swift review of his position. He would have liked to do many things to Wally, beginning with ordering him out of the theatre, but prudence restrained him. He wanted Wally’s work. He needed Wally in his business; and, in the theatre, business takes precedence of personal feelings.
“All right!” he growled reluctantly.
“That’s a promise,” said Wally. “I’ll see that you keep it.” He looked over his shoulder. The stage was filled with gayly colored dresses. The mutineers had returned to duty. “Well, I’ll be getting along. I’m rather sorry we agreed to keep clear of personalities, because I should have liked to say that, if ever they have a skunk show at Madison Square Gardens, you ought to enter and win the blue ribbon. Still, of course, under our agreement my lips are sealed, and I can’t ever hint at it. Good-by. See you later, I suppose?”
Mr. Goble, giving a creditable imitation of a living statue, was plucked from his thoughts by a hand upon his arm. It was Mr. Miller, whose unfortunate ailment had prevented him from keeping abreast of the conversation.
“What did he say?” inquired Mr. Miller, interested. “I didn’t hear what he said.”
OTIS PILKINGTON had left Atlantic City two hours after the conference which had followed the dress rehearsal, firmly resolved never to go near “The Rose of America” again. He had been wounded in his finest feelings. There had been a moment, when Mr. Goble had given him the choice between having the piece re-written and canceling the production altogether, when he had inclined to the heroic course. But for one thing Mr. Pilkington would have defied the manager, refused to allow his script to be touched, and removed the play from his hands. That one thing was the fact that, up to the day of the dress rehearsal, the expenses of the production had amounted to the appalling sum of $32,859.68, all of which had to come out of Mr. Pilkington’s pocket. The figures, presented to him in a neatly typewritten column stretching over two long sheets of paper, had stunned him. He had had no notion that musical plays cost so much. The costumes alone had come to $10,663.50, and somehow that odd fifty cents annoyed Otis Pilkington as much as anything on the list. A dark suspicion that Mr. Goble, who had seen to all the executive end of the business, had a secret arrangement with the costumer whereby he received a private rebate, deepened his gloom. Why, for $10,663.50 you could dress the whole family population of New York and have a bit left over for Connecticut. So thought Mr. Pilkington, as he read the bad news in the train. He only ceased to brood upon the high cost of costuming when in the next line but one there smote his eye an item of $498 for “Clothing.” Clothing! Weren’t costumes clothing? Why should he have to pay twice over for the same thing? Mr. Pilkington was just raging over this when something lower down in the column caught his eye. It was the words: Clothing.... $187.45.
At this Otis Pilkington uttered a stifled cry, so sharp and so anguished that an old lady in the next seat, who was drinking a glass of milk, dropped it and had to refund the railway company thirty-five cents for breakages. For the remainder of the journey she sat with one eye warily on Mr. Pilkington, waiting for his next move.
THIS misadventure quieted Otis Pilkington down, if it did not soothe him. He returned blushingly to a perusal of his bill of costs, nearly every line of which contained some item that infuriated and dismayed him. “Shoes, $213.50,” he could understand, but what on earth was “Academy. Rehl. $105.50”? What was “Cuts.... $15”? And what in the name of everything infernal was this item for “Frames,” in which mysterious luxury he had apparently indulged to the extent of $94.50? “Props” occurred on the list no fewer than seventeen times. Whatever his future, at whatever poorhouse he might spend his declining years, he was supplied with enough props to last his lifetime.
Otis Pilkington stared blankly at the scenery that flitted past the train windows. (Scenery! There had been two charges for scenery! “Friedmann, Samuel.... Scenery.... $3,711,” and “Unitt and Wiekes.... Scenery.... $2,120.”) He was suffering the torments of the ruined gamester at the roulette table: $32,859.68! And he was out of pocket ten thousand in addition from the check he had handed over two days ago to Uncle Chris as his share of the investment of starting Jill in the motion pictures. It was terrible! It deprived one of the power of thought.
The power of thought, however, returned to Mr. Pilkington almost immediately; for, remembering suddenly that Roland Trevis had assured him that no musical production, except one of those elaborate girl shows with a chorus of ninety, could possibly cost more than $15,000 at an outside figure, he began to think about Roland Trevis, and continued to think about him until the train pulled into the Pennsylvania Station.
For a week or more the stricken financier confined himself mostly to his rooms, where he sat smoking cigarettes, gazing at Japanese prints, and trying not to think about “props” and “rehl.” Then, gradually, the almost maternal yearning to see his brain child once more, which can never be wholly crushed out of a young dramatist, returned to him faintly at first, then getting stronger by degrees till it could not longer be resisted. True, he knew that, when he beheld it, the offspring of his brain would have been mangled almost out of recognition, but that did not deter him. The mother loves her crippled child, and the author of a musical fantasy loves his musical fantasy, even if rough hands have changed it into a musical comedy and all that remains of his work is the opening chorus and a scene which the assassins have overlooked at the beginning of Act Two. Otis Pilkington, having instructed his Japanese valet to pack a few simple necessaries in a suit case, took cab to the Grand Central Terminal and caught an afternoon train for Rochester, where his recollection of the route planned for the tour told him “The Rose of America” would now be playing.
Looking into his club on the way, to cash a check, the first person he chanced to encounter was Freddie Rooke.
“Good gracious!” said Otis Pilkington. “What are you doing here?”
Freddie looked up dully from his reading. The abrupt stoppage of his professional career—his life work, one might almost say—had left Freddie at a very loose end; and so hollow did the world seem to him at the moment, so uniformly futile all its so-called allurements, that, to pass the time, he had just been trying to read a magazine.
“Hullo!” he said. “Well, might as well be here as anywhere, what?” he replied to the other’s question.
“But why aren’t you playing?”
“They sacked me!” Freddie lit a cigarette in the sort of way in which the strong, silent, middle-aged man on the stage lights his at the end of Act Two when he has relinquished the heroine to his youthful rival. “They’ve changed my part to a bally Scotchman! Well, I mean to say, I couldn’t play a bally Scotchman!”
Mr. Pilkington groaned in spirit. Of all the characters in his musical fantasy on which he prided himself, that of Lord Finchley was his pet. And he had been burked, murdered, blotted out, in order to make room for a bally Scotchman!
“The character’s called The McWhustle of McWhustle now!” said Freddie somberly.
The McWhustle of McWhustle! Mr. Pilkington almost abandoned his trip to Rochester on receiving this devastating piece of information.
“He comes on in Act One in kilts!”
“In kilts! At Mrs. Stuyvesant van Dyke’s lawn party on Long Island!”
“It isn’t Mrs. Stuyvesant van Dyke any longer, either,” said Freddie. “She’s been changed to the wife of a pickle manufacturer.”
“A pickle manufacturer!”
“Yes. They said it ought to be a comedy part.”
If agony had not caused Mr. Pilkington to clutch for support at the back of a chair, he would undoubtedly have wrung his hands.
“But it was a comedy part!” he wailed. “It was full of the subtlest, most delicate satire on Society. They were delighted with it at Newport! Oh, this is too much! I shall make a strong protest! I shall insist on these parts being kept as I wrote them! I shall.... I must be going at once, or I shall miss my train.” He paused at the door. “How was business in Baltimore?”
“Rotten!” said Freddie, and returned to his magazine.
Otis Pilkington tottered into his cab. He was shattered by what he had heard. They had massacred his beautiful play, and, doing so, had not even made a success of it by their own sordid commercial lights. Business at Baltimore had been rotten! That meant more expense, further columns of figures with “frames” and “rehl” in front of them! He staggered into the station.
“Hey!” cried the taxi driver.
Otis Pilkington turned.
“Sixty-five cents, mister, if you please! Forgetting I’m not your private shovoor, wasn’t you?”
Mr. Pilkington gave him a dollar. Money—money—money! Life was just one long round of paying out and paying out.
THE day which Mr. Pilkington had selected for his visit to the provinces was a Tuesday. “The Rose of America” had opened at Rochester on the previous night, after a week at Atlantic City in its original form and a week at Baltimore in what might be called its second incarnation. Business had been bad in Atlantic City and no better in Baltimore, and a meager first-night house at Rochester had given the piece a cold reception, which had put the finishing touches to the depression of the company in spite of the fact that the Rochester critics, like those of Baltimore, had written kindly of the play. One of the maxims of the theatre is that “out-of-town notices don’t count”; and the company had refused to be cheered by them.
It is to be doubted, however, if even crowded houses would have aroused much response from the principals and chorus of “The Rose of America.” For two weeks without a break they had been working under forced draft, and they were weary in body and spirit. The new principals had had to learn parts in exactly half the time usually given for that purpose, and the chorus, after spending five weeks assimilating one set of steps and groupings, had been compelled to forget them and rehearse an entirely new set. From the morning after the first performance at Atlantic City they had not left the theatre except for sketchy half-hour meals.
Jill, standing listlessly in the wings while the scene shifters arranged the second-act set, was aware of Wally approaching from the direction of the pass door.
“Miss Mariner, I believe?” said Wally. “I suppose you know that you look perfectly wonderful in that dress? All Rochester’s talking about it, and there is some idea of running excursion trains from Troy and Utica. A great stir it has made!”
Jill smiled. Wally was like a tonic to her during these days of overwork. He seemed to be entirely unaffected by the general depression, a fact which he attributed himself to the happy accident of being in a position to sit back and watch the others toil. But in reality Jill knew that he was working as hard as anyone. He was working all the time, changing scenes, adding lines, tinkering with lyrics, smoothing over principals whose nerves had become strained by the incessant rehearsing, keeping within bounds Mr. Goble’s passion for being the big noise about the theatre. His cheerfulness was due to the spirit that was in him, and Jill appreciated it. She had come to feel very close to Wally since the driving rush of making over “The Rose of America” had begun.
“They seemed quite calm to-night,” she said. “I believe half of them were asleep.”
“They’re always like that in Rochester. They cloak their deeper feelings. They wear the mask. But you can tell from the glassy look in their eyes that they are really seething inwardly. But what I came round about was to give you this letter.... ”
JILL took the letter, and glanced at the writing. It was from Uncle Chris. She placed it on the ax over the fire buckets for perusal later.
“The man at the box office gave it to me,” said Wally, “when I looked in there to find out how much money there was in the house to-night. The sum was so small that he had to whisper it.”
“I’m afraid the piece isn’t a success.”
“Nonsense! Of course it is! We're doing fine. That brings me to Section 2 of my discourse. I met poor old Pilkington in the lobby, and he said exactly what you have just said, only at greater length.”
“Is Mr. Pilkington here?”
“He appears to have run down on the afternoon train to have a look at the show. He is catching the next train back to New York. Whenever I meet him, he always seems to be dashing off to catch the next train back to New York. Poor chap! Have you ever done a murder? If you haven’t, don’t! I know exactly what it feels like, and it feels rotten! After two minutes’ conversation with Pilkington, I could sympathize with Macbeth when he chatted with Banquo. He said I had killed his play. He nearly wept, and he drew such a moving picture of a poor helpless musical fantasy being lured into a dark alley by thugs and there slaughtered that he almost had me in tears too. I felt like a beetle-browed brute with a dripping knife and hands imbrued with innocent gore.”
“Poor Mr. Pilkington!”
“Once more you say exactly what he said, only more crisply. I comforted him as well as I could, told him all was for the best and so on, and he flung the box-office receipts in my face and said that the piece was as bad a failure commercially as it was artistically. I couldn’t say anything to that, seeing what a house we’ve got to-night, except to bid him look out to the horizon where the sun will shortly shine. In other words, I told him that business was about to buck up and that later on he would be going about the place with a sprained wrist from clipping coupons. But he refused to be cheered, cursed me some more for ruining his piece, and ended by begging me buy his share of it cheap.”
“You aren’t going to?”
“No, I am not—but simply and solely for the reason that, after that fiasco in London, I raised my right hand—thus—and swore on oath that never, as long as I lived, would I again put up a cent for a production, were it the most obvious cinch on earth. I’m gun shy. But if he does happen to get hold of anyone with a sporting disposition and a few thousands to invest, that person will make a fortune. This piece is going to be a gold
JILL looked at him in surprise. With anybody else but Wally she would have attributed this confidence to author’s vanity. But with Wally, she felt, the fact that the piece, as played now, was almost entirely his own work did not count. He viewed it dispassionately, and she could not understand why, in the face of half-empty houses, he should have such faith in it.
“But what makes you think so? We’ve been doing awfully badly so far.”
“And we shall do awfully badly in Syracuse the last half of this week. And why? For one thing, because the show isn’t a show at all at present. That’s what you can’t get these fat-heads like Goble to understand. All they go by is the box office. Why should people flock to pay for seats for what are practically dress rehearsals of an unknown play? Half the principals have had to get up in their parts in two weeks, and they haven’t had time to get anything out of them. They are groping for their lines all the time. The girls can’t let themselves go in the numbers, because they are wondering if they are going to remember the steps. The show hasn’t had time to click together yet. It’s just ragged. Take a look at it in another two weeks! I know! I don’t say musical comedy is a very lofty form of art, but still there’s a certain amount of science about it. If you go in for it long enough, you learn the tricks, and take it from me that, if you have a good cast and some catchy numbers, it’s almost impossible not to have a success. We’ve got an excellent cast now, and the numbers are fine. The thing can’t help being a hit.
“There’s another thing to think of. It so happens that we shall go into New York with practically nothing against us. Usually you have half a dozen musical successes to compete with, but just at the moment there’s nothing. But the chief reason for not being discouraged by bad houses so far is that we’ve been playing bad towns. Every town on the road has its special character. Some are good show towns, others are bad. Nobody knows why. Detroit will take anything. So will Washington. Whereas Cincinnati wants something very special. Where have we been? Atlantic City, Baltimore, and here. Atlantic City is a great place to play in the summer and for a couple of weeks round about Easter. Also at Christmas. But for the rest of the year, no. Too many new shows are tried out there. It makes the inhabitants wary. Baltimore is good for a piece with a New York reputation, but they don’t want new pieces. Rochester and Syracuse are always bad. ‘Follow the Girl’ died a hideous death in Rochester, and it went on and played two years in New York and one in London. I tell you—as I tried to tell Pilkington, only he wouldn’t listen—that this show is all right. There’s a fortune in it for somebody. But I suppose Pilkington is now sitting in the smoking car of an eastbound train, trying to get the porter to accept his share in the piece instead of a tip!”
IF Otis Pilkington was not actually doing that, he was doing something like it. Sunk in gloom, he bumped up and down on an uncomfortable seat, wondering why he had ever taken the trouble to make the trip to Rochester. He had found exactly what he had expected to find, a mangled caricature of his brain child playing to a house half empty and wholly indifferent. The only redeeming feature, he thought vindictively, as he remembered what Roland Trevis had said about the cost of musical productions, was the fact that the new numbers were undoubtedly better than those which his collaborator had originally supplied.
And “The Rose of America,” after a disheartening Wednesday matinee and a not much better reception on the Wednesday night, packed its baggage and removed to Syracuse, where it failed just as badly. Then for another two weeks it wandered on from one small town to another, up and down New York State and through the doldrums of Connecticut, tacking to and fro like a storm-battered ship, till finally the astute and discerning citizens of Hartford welcomed it with such a reception that hardened principals stared at each other in a wild surmise, wondering if these things could really be; and a weary chorus forgot its weariness and gave encore after encore with a snap and vim which even Mr. Johnson Miller was obliged to own approximated to something like it. Nothing to touch the work of his choruses of the old days, of course, but nevertheless fair, quite fair.
The spirits of the company revived. Optimism reigned. Principals smiled happily and said they had believed in the thing all along. The ladies and gentlemen of the ensemble chattered contentedly of a year’s run in New York. And the citizens of Hartford fought for seats, and, if they could not get seats, stood up at the back.
Of these things Otis Pilkington was not aware. He had sold his interest in the piece two weeks ago for $10,000 to a lawyer acting on behalf of some client unknown, and was glad to feel that he had saved something out of the wreck.
THE violins soared to one last high note; the bassoon uttered a final moan; the pensive person at the end of the orchestra pit, just under Mrs. Waddesleigh Peagrim’s box, whose duty it was to slam the drum at stated intervals, gave that much enduring instrument a concluding wallop; and, laying aside his weapon, allowed his thoughts to stray in the direction of cooling drinks. Mr. Saltzburg lowered the baton which he had stretched quivering toward the roof and sat down and mopped his forehead.
The curtain fell on the first act of “The Rose of America,” and simultaneously tremendous applause broke out from all over the Gotham Theatre, which was crammed from floor to roof with that heterogeneous collection of humanity which makes up the audience of a New York opening performance.
The applause continued like the breaking of waves on a stony beach. The curtain rose and fell, rose and fell, rose and fell again. An usher, stealing down the central aisle, gave to Mr. Saltzburg an enormous bouquet of American Beauty roses, which he handed to the prima donna, who took it with a brilliant smile and a bow nicely combining humility with joyful surprise. The applause, which had begun to slacken, gathered strength again. It was a superb bouquet, nearly as big as Mr. Saltzburg himself. It had cost the prima donna close on a hundred dollars that morning at Thorney’s, but it was worth every cent of the money.
The house lights went up. The audience began to move up the aisles to stretch its legs and discuss the piece during the intermission.
There was a general babble of conversation. Here a composer who had not got an interpolated number in the show was explaining to another composer who had not got an interpolated number in the show the exact source from which a third composer who had got an interpolated number in the show had stolen the number which he had got interpolated. There two musical-comedy artistes who were temporarily resting were agreeing that the prima donna was a dear thing, but that, contrary as it was to their lifelong policy to knock anybody, they must say that she was beginning to show the passage of the years a trifle and ought to be warned by some friend that her career as an ingénue was a thing of the past. Dramatic critics, slinking in twos and threes into dark corners, were telling each other that “The Rose of America” was just another of those things, but it had apparently got over.
THE general public was of the opinion that it was a knockout.
“Otie, darling,” said Mrs. Waddesleigh Peagrim, leaning her ample shoulder on Uncle Chris’s perfectly fitting sleeve and speaking across him to young Mr. Pilkington, “I do congratulate you, dear. It’s perfectly delightful! I don’t know when I have enjoyed a musical piece so much. Don’t you think it’s perfectly darling, Major Selby?”
“Capital!” agreed that suave man of the world, who had been bored as near extinction as makes no matter. “Congratulate you, my boy!”
“You clever, clever thing!” said Mrs Peagrim, skittishly striking her nephew on the knee with her fan. “I’m proud to be your aunt! Aren’t you proud to know him. Mr. Rooke?”
THE fourth occupant of the box awoke with a start from the species of stupor into which he had been plunged by the spectacle of the McWhustle of McWhustle in action. There had been other dark moments in Freddie’s life. Once, back in London, Parker had sent him out into the heart of the West End without his spats, and he had not discovered their absence till he was halfway up Bond Street. On another occasion, having taken on a stranger at squash for a quid a game, he had discovered too late that the latter was an ex-public-school champion. He had felt gloomy when he had learned of the breaking off of the engagement between Jill Mariner and Derek Underhill, and sad when it had been brought to his notice that London was giving Derek the cold shoulder in consequence. But never in his whole career had he experienced such gloom and such sadness as had come to him that evening while watching this unspeakable person in kilts murder the part that should have been his. And the audience, confound them, had roared with laughter at every dam’ silly thing the fellow had said!
“Eh?” he replied. “Oh, yes, rather, absolutely!”
“We’re all proud of you, Otie, darling,” proceeded Mrs. Peagrim. “The piece is a wonderful success. You will make a fortune out of it. And just think, Major Selby, I tried my best to argue the poor, dear boy out of putting it on. I thought it was so rash to risk his money in a theatrical venture. But then,” said Mrs. Peagrim in extenuation, “I had only seen the piece when it was done at my house in Newport, and, of course, it really was rather dreadful nonsense then! I might have known that you would change it a great deal before you put it on in New York. As I always say, plays are not written, they are rewritten! Why, you have improved this piece a hundred per cent., Otie! I wouldn’t know it was the same play!”
She slapped him smartly once more with her fan, ignorant of the gashes she was inflicting. Poor Mr. Pilkington was suffering twin torments, the torture of remorse and the agonized jealousy of the unsuccessful artist. It would have been bad enough to have to sit and watch a large audience rocking in its seats at the slapstick comedy which Wally Mason had substituted for his delicate social satire; but, had this been all, at least he could have consoled himself with the sordid reflection that he, as owner of the piece, was going to make a lot of money out of it. Now, even this material balm was denied him. He had sold out, and he was feeling like the man who parts for a song with shares in an apparently goldless gold mine only to read in the papers next morning that a new reef has been located. Into each life some rain must fall. Quite a shower was falling now into young Mr. Pilkington’s.
“Of course,” went on Mrs. Peagrim, “when the play was done at my house it was acted by amateurs. And you know what amateurs are! The cast to-night is perfectly splendid. I do think that Scotchman is the most killing creature! Don’t you think he is wonderful, Mr. Rooke?”
WE MAY say what we will against the upper strata of society, but it cannot be denied that breeding tells. Only by falling back for support on the traditions of his class and the solid support of a gentle upbringing was the Last of the Rookes able to crush down the words that leaped to his lips and to substitute for them a politely conventional agreement. If Mr. Pilkington was feeling like a too impulsive seller of gold mines, Freddie’s emotions were akin to those of the Spartan boy with the fox under his vest. Nothing but Winchester and Magdalen could have produced the smile which, though twisted and confined entirely to his lips, flashed onto his face and off again at his hostess’s question.
“Oh, rather! Priceless!”
“Wasn’t that part an Englishman before?” asked Mrs. Peagrim. “I thought so. Well, it was a stroke of genius changing it. This Scotchman is too funny for words. And such an artist!”
Freddie rose shakily. One can stand just so much.
“Think,” he mumbled, “I’ll be pushing along and smoking a cigarette.”
He groped his way to the door.
“I’ll come with you, Freddie, my boy,” said Uncle Chris, who felt an imperative need of five minutes’ respite from Mrs. Peagrim. “Let’s get out into the air for a moment. Uncommonly warm it is here.”
Freddie assented. Air was what he felt he wanted most.
LEFT alone in the box with her nephew, Mrs. Peagrim continued for some moments in the same vein, innocently twisting the knife in the open wound. It struck her from time to time that darling Otie was perhaps a shade unresponsive but she put this down to the nervous strain inseparable from a first night of a young author’s first play.
“Why,” she concluded, “you will make thousands and thousands of dollars out of this piece. I am sure it is going to be another Merry Widow.”
“You can’t tell from a first-night audience,” said Mr. Pilkington somberly, giving out a piece of theatrical wisdom he picked up at rehearsals.
“Oh. but you can. It’s so easy to distinguish polite applause from the real thing. No doubt many of the people down here have friends in the company or other reasons for seeming to enjoy the play, but look how the circle and the gallery were enjoying it! You can’t tell me that that was not genuine. They love it. How hard,” she proceeded commisera tingly, “you must have worked, poor boy. during the tour on the road to improve the piece so much! I never liked to say so before, but even you must agree with me now that that original version of yours, which was done down at Newport was the most terrible nonsense! And how hard the company must have worked, too! Otie,” cried Mrs. Peagrim, aglow with the magic of a brilliant idea, “I will tell you what you must really do. You must give a supper and dance to the whole company on the stage to-morrow night after the performance.”
“What!” cried Otis Pilkington, startled out of his lethargy by this appalling suggestion. Was he, the man who, after planking down thirty-two thousand eight hundred and fifty-nine dollars sixty-eight cents for “props” and “frames” and “rehl,” had sold out for a paltry ten thousand, to be still further victimized?
“They do deserve it, don’t they, after working so hard?”
“It’s impossible,” said Otis Pilkington vehemently. “Out of the question.”
“But, Otie darling, I was talking to Mr. Mason, when he came down to Newport to see the piece last summer, and he told me that the management nearly always gives a supper to the company, especially if they have had a lot of extra rehearsing to do.”
“Well, let Goble give them a supper if he wants to.”
“But you know that Mr. Goble, though he has his name on the program as the manager, has really nothing to do with it. You own your piece, don’t you?”
FOR a moment Mr. Pilkington felt an impulse to reveal all, but refrained. He knew his aunt Olive too well. If she found out that he had parted at a heavy loss with his valuable property, her whole attitude toward him would change—or, rather, it would revert to her normal attitude, which was not unlike that of a severe nurse to a weak-minded child. Even in his agony there had been a certain faint consolation, due to the entirely unwonted note of respect in the voice with which she had addressed him since the fall of the curtain. He shrank from forfeiting this respect, unentitled though he was to it.
“Yes,” he said in his precise voice. “That, of course, is so.”
“Well, then!” said Mrs. Peagrim.
“But it seems so unnecessary! And think what it would cost.”
This was a false step. Some of the reverence left Mrs. Peagrim’s voice, and she spoke a little coldly. A gay and gallant spender herself, she had often had occasion to rebuke a tendency to over-parsimony in her nephew.
“We must not be mean, Otie!” she said. Mr. Pilkington keenly resented her choice of pronouns. “We” indeed! Who was going to foot the bill? Both of them, hand in hand, or he alone, the chump, the boob, the easy mark who got this sort of thing wished on him. “I don’t think it would be possible to get the stage for a supper party,” he pleaded, shifting his ground. “Goble wouldn’t give it to us.”
“As if Mr. Goble would refuse you anything after you have written a wonderful success for his theatre! And isn’t he getting his share of the profits? Directly after the performance, you must go round and ask him. Of course he will be delighted to give you the stage. I will be hostess,” said Mrs. Peagrim radiantly. “And now, let me see, whom shall we invite?”
Mr. Pilkington stared gloomily at the floor, too bowed down now by his weight of cares to resent the “we” which had plainly come to stay. He was trying to estimate the size of the gash which this preposterous entertainment would cleave in the Pilkington bank roll. He doubted if it was possible to go through with it under five hundred dollars; and, if, as seemed only too probable, Mrs. Peagrim took the matter in hand and gave herself her head, it might get into four figures.
“Major Selby, of course,” said Mrs. Peagrim musingly, with a cooing note in her voice. Long since had that polished man of affairs made a deep impression upon her. “Of course Major Selby, for one. And Mr. Rooke. Then there are one or two of my friends who would be hurt if they were left out. How about Mr. Mason? Isn’t he a friend of yours?”
Mr. Pilkington snorted. He had endured much and was prepared to endure more, but he drew the line at squandering is money on the man who had sneaked up behind his brain child with a hatchet and chopped its precious person into little bits.
“He is not a friend of mine,” he said stiffly, “and I do not wish him to be invited!”
Having attained her main objective, Mrs. Peagrim was prepared to yield minor points.
“Very well, if you do not like him,” she laid. “But I thought he was quite an intímate of yours. It was you who asked me to invite him to Newport last summer.”
“Much,” said Mr. Pilkington coldly, "has happened since last summer.”
“Oh, very well,” said Mrs. Peagrim again. “Then we will not include Mr. Mason. Now, directly the curtain has fallen, Otie dear, pop right round and find Mr. Goble and tell him what you want.”
IT IS not only twin souls in this world who yearn to meet each other. Between Otis Pilkington and Mr. Goble there was little in common, yet at the moment when Otis set out to find Mr. Goble, the thing which Mr. Goble desired most in the world was an interview with Otis.
Since the end of the first act the manager had been in a state of mental upheaval. Reverting to the gold-mine simile again, Mr. Goble was in the position of a man who has had a chance of purchasing such a mine and now, learning too late of the discovery of the reef, is feeling the truth of the poet’s dictum that of all sad words of tongue or pen the saddest are these: It might have been.” The electric success of the “The Rose of America” had stunned Mr. Goble; and. realizing, as he did that he might have bought Otis Pilkington’s share dirt cheap at almost any point of the preliminary tour, he was having a bad half hour with himself. The only ray in the darkness which brooded on his indomitable soul was the thought that it might, still be possible, by getting hold of Mr. Pilkington before the notices appeared and shaking his head sadly and talking about the misleading hopes which young authors so often draw from an enthusiastic first-night reception and impressing upon him that first-night receptions do not deceive your expert who has been fifteen years in the show business and mentioning gloomily that he had heard a couple of critics roastin’ the show to beat the band.... by doing all these things it might still be possible to depress Mr. Pilkington’s young enthusiasm and induce him to sell his share at a sacrifice price to a great-hearted friend who didn’t think the thing would run a week, but was willing to buy as a sporting speculation, because he thought Mr. Pilkington a good kid and after all these shows that flop in New York sometimes have a chance on the road.
Such were the meditations of Mr. Goble, and on the final fall of the curtain amid unrestrained enthusiasm on the part of the audience, he had dispatched messengers in all directions with instructions to find Mr. Pilkington and conduct him to his presence. Meanwhile he waited impatiently on the empty stage.
THE sudden advent of Wally Mason, who appeared at this moment, upset Mr. Goble terribly. Wally was a factor in the situation which he had not considered. An infernal, tactless fellow, always trying to make mischief and upset honest merchants, Wally, if present at the interview with Otis Pilkington, would probably try to act in restraint of trade and blurt out some untimely truth about the prospects of the piece. Not for the first time, Mr. Goble wished Wally a sudden stroke of apoplexy.
Went well, eh?” said Wally amiably. He did not like Mr. Goble, but on the first night of a successful piece personal antipathies may be sunk. Such was his effervescent good humor at the moment that he was prepared to treat Mr. Goble as a man and a brother.
‘H’m!” replied Mr. .Goble doubtfully, paving the way.
“What are you h’ming about?” demanded Wally, astonished. "The thing’s a riot.”
“You never know,” responded Mr. Goble in the minor key.
“Well!” Wally stared. “I don't know what more you want. The audience sat up on its hind legs and squealed, didn’t they?”
“I’ve an idea.” said Mr. Goble, raising his voice as the long form of Mr. Pilkington crossed the stage toward them, “that the critics will roast it. If you ask we,” he went on loudly, ‘it’s just the sort of show the critics will pan the life out of. I’ve been fifteen years in the.... ”
“Critics!” cried Wally. “Well, I’ve just been talking to Alexander of the Times, and he said it was the best musical piece he had ever seen and that all the other men he had talked to thought the same."
Mr. Goble turned a distorted face to Mr. Pilkington. He wished that Wally would go. But Wally, he reflected bitterly, was one of those men who never go. He faced Mr. Pilkington and did the best he could.
“Of course it’s got a chance,” he said moodily. “Any show has got a chance! But I don't know.... I don’t know....”
Mr. Pilkington was not interested in the future prospects of “The Rose of America.” He had a favor to ask, and he wanted to ask it, have it refused if possible, and get away. It occurred to him that, by substituting for the asking of a favor a peremptory demand, he might save himself a thousand dollars.
“I want the stage after the performance to-morrow night for a supper to the company,” he said brusquely.
He was shocked to find Mr. Goble immediately complaisant.
“Why sure,” said Mr. Goble readily. “Go as far as you like!” He took Mr. Pilkington by the elbow and drew him upstage, lowering his voice to a confidential undertone. “And now, listen,” he said, “I’ve something I want to talk to you about. Between you and I and the lamp-post, I don’t think this show will last a month in New York. It don’t add up right! There’s something all wrong about it.”
MR. PILKINGTON assented with an emphasis which amazed the manager. “I quite agree with you! If you had kept it the way it was originally....”
“Too late for that!” sighed Mr. Goble, realizing that his star was in the ascendant. He had forgotten for the moment that Mr. Pilkington was an author. “We must make the best of a bad job! Now, you’re a good kid and I wouldn’t like you to go around town saying that I had let you in. It isn’t business, maybe, but, just because I don’t want you to have any kick coming, I’m ready to buy your share of the thing and call it a deal. After all, it may get money on the road. It aint likely, but there’s a chance, and I’m willing to take it. Well, listen, I’m probably robbing myself, but I’ll give you $15,000 if you want to sell.”
“I’ll make you a better offer than that,” said Wally. “Give me your share of the show for three dollars in cash and I’ll throw in a pair oí sock suspenders and an Ingersoll. Is it a go?”
Mr. Goble regarded him balefully. “Who told you to butt in?” he inquired sourly.
“Conscience!” replied Wally. “Old Henry W. Conscience! I refuse to stand by and see the slaughter of the innocents. Why don’t you wait till he’s dead before you skin him!” He turned to Mr. Pilkington. “Don’t you be a fool!” he said earnestly. “Can’t you see the thing is the biggest hit in years? Do you think Jesse James here would be offering you a cent for your share if he didn’t know there was a fortune in it? Do you imagine....?”
“It is immaterial to me,” interrupted Otis Pilkington loftily, “what Mr. Goble offers. I have already sold my interest!”
“What!” cried Mr. Goble.
“When?” cried Wally.
“I sold it halfway through the road tour,” said Mr. Pilkington, “to a lawyer, acting on behalf of a client whose name I did not learn.”
IN THE silence which followed this revelation, another voice spoke.
“I should like to speak to you for a moment, Mr. Goble, if I may.”
It was Jill, who had joined the group unperceived.
Mr. Goble glowered at Jill, who met his gaze composedly.
“I’m busy!” snapped Mr. Goble. “See me to-morrow!”
“I would prefer to see you now.”
“You would prefer!” Mr. Goble waved is hands despairingly, as if calling on heaven to witness the persecution of a good man.
Jill exhibited a piece of paper stamped with the letter heading of the management.
To be Continued