THE LITTLE WARRIOR
PELHAM GRENVILLE WODEHOUSE
Author of “A Damsel in Distress
THE lobby of the Hotel Cosmopolis is the exact center of New York, the spot where at certain hours one is sure of meeting everybody one knows. The first person that Nelly and Freddie saw as they passed through the swing doors was Jill. She was seated on the chair by the big pillar in the middle of the hall.
“What ho!" said Freddie. “Waiting for some one?” "Hullo, Freddie. Yes, I’m waiting for Wally Mason. I got a note from him this morning, asking me to meet him here. I’m a little early. I haven’t congratulated you yet. You’re wonderful!”
“Thanks, old girl. Our young hero is making pretty hefty strides in his chosen profesh, what! Mr. Rooke, who appears quite simple and unspoiled by success, replied to our representative’s inquiry as to his future plans that he proposed to stagger into the grillroom and imbibe about eighteen dollars’ worth of lunch. Yes, it is a bit of all right, taking it by and large, isn’t it? I mean to say, the salary, the jolly old salary, you know—quite a help when a fellow’s lost all his money!”
Jill was surprised to observe the Last of the Rookes was contorting his face in an unsightly manner that seemed to be an attempt at a wink, pregnant with hidden meaning. She took her cue dutifully, though without understanding.
“Oh, yes,” she replied.
Freddie seemed grateful. With a cordial “Cheerio!” he led Nelly off to the grillroom.
“I didn’t know Jill knew Mr. Mason,” said Nelly as they sat down at their table.
“No?” said Freddie absently, running an experienced eye over the bill of fare. He gave an elaborate order. “What was that? Oh, absolutely! Jill and I and Wally were children together.”
“How funny you should all be together again like this!” “Yes. Oh, good Lord!”
“What’s the matter?”
“It’s nothing. I meant to send a cable to a pal of mine i n England. 1 ’ll send it after lunch.”
FREDDIE took out his handkerchief and tied a knot in it He was slightly ashamed of tlje necessity of taking such a precaution, but it was better to be on the safe side. His interview with Jill at the theatre had left him with the conviction that there was only one thing for him to do and that was to cable poor old Derek to forget impending elections and all the rest o.' it and trickle over to America at once. He knew that he would never have the courage to reopen the matter with Jill herself. As an ambassador he was a spent force. If Jill was to be wooed from her mood of intractability, Derek was the only man to do it. Freddie was convinced that, seeing him in person, she would melt and fall into his arms. Too dashed absurd, Freddie felt, two loving hearts being separated like this, and all that sort of thing. He replaced his handkerchief in his pocket, relieved, and concentrated himself on the entertainment of Nelly. A simple task, for the longer he was with this girl the easier did it seem to talk to her.
TILL, left alone in the lobby, was finding the moments J pass quite pleasantly. She liked watching the people as they came in. One or two of the girls of the company fluttered in like birds, were swooped upon by their cavaliers and fluttered off to the grillroom. The red-headed Babe passed her with a genial nod, and, shortly after, Lois Denham, the willowy recipient of sunbursts from her friend Izzy of the hat checks, came by in company with a sallow, hawk-faced young man with a furtive eye, whom Jill took—correctly—to be Izzy himself. Lois was looking pale and proud, and, from the few words which came to Jill’s ears as they neared her, seemed to be annoyed at having been kept waiting.
It was immediately after this that the swing doors revolved rather more violently than usual, and Mr. Goble burst into view.
There was a cloud upon Mr. Goble’s brow, seeming to indicate that his grievance against life had not yet been satisfactorily adjusted; but it passed as he saw Jill, and he came up to her with what he would probably have claimed to be an ingratiating smile. “Hello!” said Mr. Goble. “All alone?”
Jill was about to say that the condition was merely temporary when the manager went on: “Come and have a bit of lunch.”
“Thank you very much,” said Jill with the politeness of dislike, “but I’m waiting for some one.”
“Chuck him!” advised Mr. Goble cordially.
“No, thanks, I couldn’t, really.”
The cloud began to descend again upon Mr. Goble’s
OYNOPSIS:—Jill Mariner is ^ engaged to Sir Derek Underhill, whose mother is strongly opposed to the alliance, and exerts all her energy to tum her son against Jill One day Jill comes home 'c find that her uncle and trtisUc, Major Selby, has lost her entire fortune on the Stock Exchange. The same day she receives a note from Derek breaking off the engagement. She and her uncle decide to sell the house and furniture and go to America.
Here she stays with an almost unknown uncle at Brookport, while Major Selby goes on to New York to retrieve their fallen fortunes. The house at Brookport proves a cheerless abode, and Jill, with only twenty dollars, leaves for New York, intent on finding her Uncle Chris. Meanwhile Sir Derek’s world thinks he has thrown up Jill on account of her financial losses and decides to make things hot for him. Jill, almost penniless and unable to find her Uncle Chris, confronts New York. Here she meets Nellie Bryant, an actress, who advises her to seek employment with Goble and Cohn, theatrical producers. Jill accepts the advice and being new to the theatrical world makes a bold entrance and makes an immediate conquest of the susceptible heart of Otis Pilkington, who is acting as C ■|êffüÖ^=^ the “Angel" of the Rose of Amer4 ica company, and as a member of the chorus learns something of stage life. While having tea with Pilkington, Uncle Chris, who does not know of her presence in New York, drops in. Jill learns of his unique method of living in the city, by borrowing the apartment of people who are out of town. Being led to his latest home and left by her uncle, Jill is surprised by the arrival of the owner, who turns out to be Wally Mason. In the meantime, Freddie Rooke, a fnend of both J ill and Derek, arrives in America and, with the idea of looking after Jill, joins the men’s chorus.
brow. He was accustomed to having these invitations of his treated as royal commands.
“I’m afraid it’s impossible.”
Mr. Goble subjected her to a prolonged stare, seemed about to speak, changed his mind, and swung off moodily in the direction of the grillroom.
He had hardly gone when Wally appeared.
“What was he saying to you?” demanded Wally.
“He was asking me to lunch.”
Wally was silent for a moment. His good-natured face wore an unwonted scowl.
“He went in there, of course?” he said, pointing to the grillroom.
“Then let’s go into the other room,” said Wally. He regained his good humor. “It was awfully good of you to come. I didn’t know whether you would be able to.” “It was very nice of you to invite me.”
Wally grinned. “How perfect our manners are! It’s a treat to listen! How did you know that that was the one hat in New York I wanted you to wear?”
“Oh, these things get about. Do you like it?”
“It’s wonderful. Let’s take this table, shall we? ”
' j 'HEY sat down. At the end of the room an orchestra „ playing a tune that she remembered and liked. Her mind went back to the last occasion on which she and Wally had sat opposite each other at a restaurant. She retunied to the present to find Wally speaking to her. J°u,left very suddenly the other night,” said Wally.
I didn t want to meet Freddie.”
Wally looked at her commiseratingly. “I don’t want to spoil your lunch,” he said, “but Freddie knows all.
He has tracked you down. He met Nelly Bryant, whomhe seems to bave made friends with in London, and she told him where you were and what y~u were doing. For a girl who fled at his mere approach the night before last* you don’t seem very agitated by the news,” he said as Jilt burst into a peal of laughter.
“You haven’t heard?” ‘ V'«?
“Heard what?” \ ^
“Freddie got Mr. Pilkington to put him hi the chôma: of the piece. He was rehearsing when I arrived at the» theatre this morning, and having a terrible time with Mr, Miller. And, later on, Mr. Goble had a quarrel with theman who was playing the Englishman, and the man threw' up his part, and Mr. Goble said he could get anyone in thechorus to play it just as well, and hetchose Freddie. Sonow Freddie is one of the principals, and bursting with pride!” «
Wally threw his head back and uttered a roar of appreciation, which caused a luncher at a neighboring table to drop an oyster which he was poising in mid-air. '
“Don’t make such a noise!” said Jill severely. “Everyone’s looking at you.”
( “I must! It’s the most priceless thing I ever heard. I’ve always maintained, and I always will maintain, that for pure lunacy nothing can touch the musical-comedy business. There isn’t anything that can’t happen in musical comedy. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is nothing to it.’* “Have you felt that too? That’s exactly how I fed. It’s like a perpetual Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.”
But what on earth made Freddie join the company at all?”
A sudden gravity descended upon Jill. The word* had reminded her of the thing which she was perpetuallystriving to keep out of her thoughts.
“He said he wanted to be there to keep an eye on me.’” Gravity is infectious. Wally’s smile disappeared.. He, too, had been recalled to thoughts which were not
\\TALLY crumbled his roll. There was a serious-.
’ expression on his face. “Freddie was quite right*. I didn’t think he had so much sense.”
“Freddie was not right,” flared Jill. The recollection» ot her conversation with that prominent artist still had the»
power to fire her independent soul. “I’m not a child.
I can look after myself. What I do is my own business.” “I’m afraid you’re going to find that your business is several people’s business» I am interested in it myself.
I don’t like your being on the stage. Now bite my head off!”
“It’s very kind of you to bother about me. ...” “I said ‘Bite my head off!’ I didn’t say ‘Freeze me!’
I take the license of an old friend who in his time has put worms down your back, and I repeat: I don’t like your being on the stage.”
“I shouldn’t have thought you would have been so” —Jill sought for a devastating adjective—“so midVictorian!”
“As far as you are concerned, I’m the middest Victorian in existence. Mid is my middle name.” Wally met her indignant gaze squarely. “I—do—not—like— your—being—on—the—stage! Especially in any company which Ike Goble is running.”
“Because he is not the sort of man you ought to be coming in contact with.”
“It isn’t nonsense at all. I suppose you’ve read a lot about the morals of theatrical managers. ...”
“Yes. And it seemed to me exaggerated and silly.” “So it is. There’s nothing wrong with most of them. As a general thing, they are very decent fellows—extraordinarily decent if you think of the position they are in. I don’t say that in a business way there’s much they won’t try and put over on you. In the theatre, when it comes to business, everything goes except biting and gouging. ‘There’s never a law of God or man runs north of fiftythree!’ If you alter that to ‘north of Forty-first Street,’ it doesn’t scan as well, but it’s just as true. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the Golden Rule is suspended there. You get used to it after you have been in the theatre for a while, and, except for leaving your watch and pocketbook at home when you have to pay a call on a manager, and keeping your face to him so that he can’t get away with your back collar stud, you don’t take any notice of it. It’s all a game. If a manager swindles you, he wins the hole and takes the honor. If you foil him, you are one up. In either case it makes no difference to the pleasantness of your relations. You go on calling him by his first name, and he gives you a couple of cigars out of his waistcoat pocket and says you’re a good kid. There is nothing personal in it. He has probably done his best friend out of a few thousand dollars the same morning, and you see them lunching together after the ceremony as happily as possible. You’ve got to make allowances for managers. They are the victims of heredity. When a burglar marries a hat-check girl, their offspring goes into the theatrical business automatically, and he can’t shake off the early teaching which he imbibed at his father’s knee. But morals. ...”
WALLY broke off to allow the waiter to place a fried sole before him. Waiters always select the moment when we are talking our best to intrude themselves.
“As regards morals,” resumed Wally, “that is a different matter. Most managers are respectable, middleaged men with wives and families. They are in the business to make money, and they don’t want anything else out of it. The girls in their companies are like so many clerks to them, just machines that help to bring the money in. They don’t know half a dozen of them to speak to. But our genial Ike is not like that.” Wally consumed a mouthful of sole. “Ike Goble is a bad citizen.
He paws! He’s a slinker and a prowler and a leerer. He’s a pest and a worm! He’s fat and soft and flabby. He has a greasy soul, a withered heart, and an eye like a codfish. Not knocking him of course!” added Wally magnanimously.
“Far be it from me to knock anyone! But, speaking with the utmost respect and viewing him in the most favorable light, he’s a combination of tomcat and the things you see when you turn over a flat stone! Such are the reasons why I am sorry that you are in his company.”
Jill had listened to this diatribe with a certain uneasiness. Her brief encounters with Mr. Goble told her that every word was probably true. She could still feel the unpleasant sensation of being inspected by the eye which Wally had compared —quite justly—to that of a codfish. But her pride forbade any admission of weakness.
“I can take care of myself,” she said.
“I don’t doubt it,” said Wally. “And you could probably take care of yourself if you fell into a muddy pond. But I shouldn’t like to stand on the bank and watçh you doing it. I know what girls in the chorus have to go through. Hanging about for hours in drafts, doing nothing, while the principals go through their scenes, and yelled at if they try to relieve the tedium of captivity with a little light conversation. . . .”
“Yes,” admitted Jill. “There has been a good lot of that.”
“There always is. I believe if the stage carpenter was going to stick a screw in a flat, they would call a chorus rehearsal to watch him do it. Jill, you must get out of it.
It’s no life for you. The work—”
“I like the work.”
“While it’s new, perhaps, but—”
Jill interrupted him passionately. “Oh, can’t you understand!” she cried. “I want the work. I need it. I want something to do, something to occupy my mind.
I hate talking about it, but you know how things are with me. Freddie must have told you. Even if he didn’t, you must have guessed, meeting me here all alone ,and remembering how things were when we last met. You must understand! Haven’t you ever had a terrible shock or a dreadful disappointment that seemed to smash up the whole world? And didn’t you find that the only possible thing to do was to work and work and work as hard as ever you could? When I first came to America I nearly went mad. Uncle Chris sent me down to a place on Long Island and I had nothing to do all day but think. I couldn’t stand it, I ran away and came to New York and met Nelly Bryant, and got this work to do. It saved me. It kept me busy all day and tired me out, and didn’t give me time to think. The harder it is the better it suits me. It’s an antidote. I simply wouldn’t give it up now. As for what you were saying, I must put up with that. The other girls do, so why shouldn’t I?”
“They are toughened to it.”
“Then I must get toughened to it. What else is there for me to do? I must do something.”
“Marry me!” said Wally, reaching across the table and putting his hand on hers. The light in his eyes lit up his homely face like a lantern.
THE suddenness of it startled Jill into silence. She snatched her hand away and drew back, looking at him in wonderment. She was confusedly aware of a babble of sound—people talking, people laughing, the orchestra playing a lively tune. All her senses seemed to have become suddenly more acute. She was intensely alive to small details. Then, abruptly, the whole world condensed itself into two eyes that were fastened upon hers —compelling eyes which she felt a panic desire to avoid.
She turned her head away, and looked out into the restaurant. It seemed incredible that all these people, placidly intent upon their food and their small talk, should not be staring at her, wondering what she was going to say, nudging each other and speculating. Their detachment made her feel alone and helpless. She was nothing to them, and they did not care what happened to her, just as she had been nothing to those frozen marshes down at Brookport. She was alone in an indifferent world, with her own problems to settle for herself.
Other men had asked Jill to marry them—a full dozen of them, here and there in country houses and at London dances, before she had met and loved Derek Underhill, but nothing that she had had in the way of experience had prepared
given her time to marshal her forces, to collect herself, to weigh them thoughtfully in the balance. Before speaking they had signaled their devotion in a hundred perceptible ways—by their pinkness, their stammering awkwardness, by the glassy look in their eyes. They had not shot a proposal at her like a bullet from out of the cover of a conversation that had nothing to do with their emotions at all.
Yet, now that the shock of it was dying away, she began to remember signs she should have noticed, speeches which ought to have warned her. . .
She found that he affected her in an entirely different fashion from the luckless dozen of those London days.
He seemed to matter more, to be more important, almost_
though she rebelled at the word — more dangerous.
“Let me take you out of it all! You aren’t fit for this sort of life. I can’t bear to see you. . . ”
TILL bent forward and touched his hand. He started «J as though he had been burned. The muscles of his throat were working.
"Wally, it’s—” She paused for a word. “Kind” was horrible. It would have sounded cold, almost supercilious. “Sweet” was the sort of thing she could imagine Lois Denham saying to her friend Izzy. She began her sentence again. “You’re a dear to say that, but. . . ”
“You think I’m altruistic? I’m not. I’m just as selfish and self-centered as any other man who wants a thing very badly. I’m as altruistic as a child crying for the moon.
I want you to marry me because I love you, because there never was anybody like you, because you’re the whole world, because I always have loved you. I’ve been dreaming about you for a dozen years, thinking about you, wondering about you—wondering where you were, what you were doing, how you looked. I used to think that it was just sentimentality, that you merely stood for a time of my life when I was happier than I have ever been since.
I used to think that you were just a sort of peg on which I was hanging a pleasant sentimental regret for days which could never come back. You were a memory that seemed to personify all the other memories of the best time of my life. You were the goddess of old associations. Then I met you in London, and it was different. I wanted you— you! I didn’t want you because you recalled old times and were associated with dead happinesses, I wanted you!
I knew I loved you directly you spoke to me at the theatre that night of the fire. I loved your voice and your eyes and your smile and your courage. And then you told me you were engaged. I might have expected it, but I couldn’t keep my jealousy from showing itself, and you snubbed me as I deserved. But now. . . things are different now. Everything’s different, except my love.” Jill turned her face to the wall beside her. A man at the next table, a corpulent, red-faced man, had begun to stare He could have heard nothing, for Wally had spoken in a low voice, but apparently something more interesting was happening at their table than at any of the other tables, and he was watching with a bovine inquisitiveness which affected Jill with a sense of outrage. A moment before, she had resented the indifference of the outer world. Now, this one staring man seemed like a watching multitude. There were tears in her eyes, and she felt that the red-faced man suspected it.
“Wally. . . ” Her voice broke. “It’s impossible.”
“Why? Why, Jill?”
“Because. . . Oh, it’s impossible!”
There was a silence.
“Because. . . ” He seemed to find a difficulty in speaking. “Because of Underhill?”
Jill nodded. She felt wretched. The monstrous incongruity of her surroundings oppressed her. The orchestra had dashed into a rollicking melody, which set her foot tapping in spite of herself. At a near-by table somebody was shouting with laughter. Two waiters at a service stand were close enough for her to catch snatches of their talk. They were arguing about an order of fried potatoes. Once again her feelings veered round, and she loathed the detachment of the world. Her heart ached for Wally. She could not look at him, but she knew exactly what she would see if she did—honest, pleading eyes searching her face for something which she could not give.
“Yes,” she said.
The table creaked. Wally leaned farther forward. He seemed like something large and pathetic—a big dog in trouble. She hated to be hurting him. And all the time her foot tapped accompaniment to the ragtime tune.
“But you can’t live all your life with a memory,” said Wally.
Jill turned and faced him. His eyes seemed to leap at her, and they were just as she had pictured
“You don’t understand,” she said gently. "You
"It’s ended. It’s over.”
“You can’t still love him, after what has happened!” “I don't know,” said Jill unhappily.
The words seemed to bewilder Wally as much as they had bewildered Freddie.
Jill shut her eyes tight. Wally quivered. It was a trick she had had as a child. In perplexity, she had always screwed up her eyes just like that, as if to shut herself up in herself.
“Don’t talk for a minute, Wally,” she said. “I want to
HER eyes opened. “It’s like this,” she said. He had seen her look at him in exactly the same way a hundred times. “I don’t suppose I can make you understand, but this is how it is. Suppose you had a room, and it was full—of things. Furniture. And there wasn’t any space left. You—you couldn’t put anything else in till you had taken all that out, could you? It might not be worth anything, but it would still be there, taking up all the room.”
Wally nodded. “Yes,” he said. "I see.”
“My heart’s full, Wally dear.
I know it’s just lumber that’s choking it up, but it’s difficult to get it out. It takes time getting it out. I put it in, thinking it was wonderful furniture, the most wonderful in the world, and—I was cheated. It was just lumber. But it’s there. It’s still there. It’s these all the time. And what am I to do?”
The orchestra crashed, and was silent. The sudden stillness seemed to break a spell.
The world invaded the little island where they sat. A chattering party of girls and men brushed past them. The waiter, judging that they had been there long enough, slipped a strip of paper, decorously turned upside down, in front of Wally. He took the money and went away to get change.
WALLY turned to Jill. “I understand,” he said.
“All this hasn’t happened, and we’re just as good pals as before?”
“But. . . ” He forced a laugh. . . .“Mark my words, a time may come, and then. .!”
“I don’t know,” said Jill.
“A time may come,” repeated Wally. “At any rate, let me think so. It has nothing to do with me. It’s for you to decide, absolutely. I’m not going to pursue you with my addresses! If ever you get that room of yours emptied, you won’t have to hang out a ‘To Let’ sign. I shall be waiting, and you will know where to find me. And, in the meantime, yours to command, Wallace Mason. Is that clear?”
“Quite clear.” Jill looked at him affectionately. “There’s nobody I’d rather open that room to than you, Wally. You know that.”
“Is that the solemn truth?”
“The solemn truth!”
“Then,” said Wally, “in two minutes you will see a startled waiter. There will be about fourteen dollars change out of that twenty he took away. I’m going to give it all to him.”
“Every cent!” said Wally firmly. “And that young Greek brigand who stole my hat at the door is going to get a dollar! That, as our ascetic and honorable friend Goble would say, is the sort of little guy I am!”
The red-faced man at the next table eyed them as they went out, leaving behind them a waiter who clutched totteringly for support at the back of a chair.
"Had a row,” he decided, “but made it up.”
He called for a toothpick.
AN THE boardwalk at Atlantic City, that mueh^ enduring seashore resort which has been the birthplace of so many musical plays, there stands an all-day and all-night restaurant, under the same management and offering the same noisy hospitality as the one in Columbus
Circle at which Jill had taken her tirsf meal on arriving in New York. At least, its hospitality is noisy during the waking and working hours of the day; but there are moments when it has an almost cloistral calm, and the customer, abashed by the cold calm of its snowy marble and the silent gravity of the white-robed attendants, unconsciously lowers his voice and tries to keep his feet from shuffling, like one in a temple.
The members of the chorus of “The Rose of America,” dropping in by ones and twos at six o'clock in the morning about two weeks after the events recorded in the last chapter, spoke in whispers and gave their orders for breakfast in a subdued undertone.
The dress rehearsal had just dragged its weary length to a close. It is the custom of the dwellers in Atlantic City, who seem to live entirely for pleasure, to attend a species of vaudeville performance -incorrectly termed a sacred concert—on Sunday nights; and it had been one o’clock in the morning before the concert scenery could be moved out of the theatre and the first act set of “The Rose of America” moved in. And, as by some unwritten law of the drama, no dress rehearsal can begin without a delay of at least an hour and a half, the curtain had not gone up on Mr. Miller’s opening chorus till half past two.
There had been dress parades, conferences, interminable
arguments between the stage director and a mysterious man in shirt sleeves about the lights, more dress parades, further conferences, hitches with regard to the sets, and another outbreak of debate on the subject of blues, ambers, and the management of the “spot,” which was worked by a plaintive voice, answering to the name of Charlie, at the back of the family circle. But by six o’clock a complete, if ragged, performance had been given, and the chorus, who had partaken of no nourishment since dinner on the previous night, had limped off round the corner for a bite of breakfast before going to bed.
' i 'HEY were a battered and a draggled company, -*■ some with dark circles beneath their eyes, others blooming with the unnatural scarlet of the make-up which they had been too tired to take off. The Duchess, haughty to the last, had fallen asleep with her head on the table. The red-headed Babe was lying back in her chair, staring at the ceiling. The Southern girl blinked like an owl at the morning sunshine out on the boardwalk.
The Cherub, whose triumphant youth had brought her almost fresh through a sleepless night, contributed the only remark made during the interval of waiting for the
The fascination of a stage life! Why girls leave home! She looked at her reflection in the little mirror of her vanity bag. “It is a face!” she murmured reflectively. But I should hate to have to go around with it long!” A sallow young man, with the alertness peculiar to those who work on the night shifts of restaurants, dumped a tray down on the table with a clatter.
The Duchess woke up. Babe took her eyes off the ceiling. The Southern girl ceased to look at the sunshine. Already, at the mere sight of food, the extraordinary
recuperative powers of the theatrical worker had begun to assert themselves. In five minutes these girls would be feeling completely restored and fit for anything.
Conversation broke out with the first sip of coffee, and the calm of the restaurant was shattered. Its day had begun.
“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” said the Cherub, hungrily attacking her omelet. “And the wortht is yet to come. I thuppose all you old dears realithe that this show will have to be rewritten from end to end, and we’ll be rehearthing day and night all the time we’re on the road.”
“Why?” Lois Denham spoke with her mouth full. “What’s wrong with it?”
The Duchess took a sip of coffee.
“Don’t make me laugh!" she pleaded. “What’s wrong with it? What’s right with it, one would feel more inclined to ask?”
“One would feel thtill more inclined,” said the Cherub, “to athk why one was thuch a chump as to let oneself in for this sort of thing when one hears on all sides that waitresses earn thixty dollars a month.”
“The numbers are all right,” argued Babe. "I don’t mean the melodies, but_Johnny has arranged some good business.”
“He always does,” said the Southern girl. “Some more buckwheat cakes, please. But what about the book?”
“I never listen to the book.” The Cherub laughed. “You’re too good to yourself ! I listened to it right along, and, take it from me, it’s sad! Of courthe they’ll have it fixed. We can’t open in New York like this. My professional reputation wouldn’t thtand it! Didn’t you thee Wally Mason in front, making notes? They’ve got him down to do the rewriting.” Jill, who had been listening in a dazed way to the conversation, fighting against the waves of sleep which flooded over her, woke up.
“Was Wally—was Mr. Mason there?”
“Sure. Sitting at the back.”
JILL could not have said whether she was glad or sorry. She had not seen Wally since that afternoon when they lunched together at the Cosmopolis, and the rush of the final weeks of rehearsals had given her little opportunity for thinking of him.
At the back of her mind had been the feeling that sooner or later she would have to think of him, but for two weeks she had been too tired and too busy to re-examine him as a factor in her Ufe. There had been times when the thought of him had been like the sunshine on a winter day, warming her with almost an impersonal glow in moments of depression. And then some sharp, poignant memory of Derek would come to blot him out. She remembered the image she had used to explain Derek to WaUy, and the truth of it came home to her more strongly than ever. Whatever Derek might have done, he was in her heart and she could not get him out. She wondered whether she wanted to get him out. . . .
She came out of her thoughts to find that the talk bad taken another turn.
“And the wortht of it is,” the Cherub was saying, “we shall rehearthe all day and give a show every night and work ourselves to the bone, and then, when they’re good and ready, they’ll fire one of us!”
“That’s right!” agreed the Southern girl.
“They couldn’t!” Jill cried.
“You wait!” said the Cherub. “They’ll never open in New York with thirteen girls. Ike’s much too thuper-
“But they wouldn’t do a thing like that after we’ve all worked so hard!”
There was a general burst of sardonic laughter. Jill’s opinion of the chivalry of theatrical managers seemed to be higher than that of her more experienced coUeagues.
“They’ll do anything,” the Cherub confidently assured her.
“You don’t know the half of it, dearie,” scoffed Lois Denham. “You don’t know the half of it!”
“Wait till you’ve been in as many shows as I have,” said Babe, shaking her red locks. “The usual thing is to keep a girl slaving her head off all through the road Continued on page 63
Continued from page 18
tour and then fire her before the New “York opening.”
“But it’s a shame! It isn’t fair!”
“If one is expecting to be treated fairly,” ■aid the Duchess with a prolonged yawn, “one should not go into the show business.”
And, having uttered this profoundly true maxim, she fell asleep again.
. The slumber of the Duchess was the signal for a general move. Her somnolence was catching. The _ restorative effects of the meal were beginning to jvear off.
There was a call for a chorus rehearsal at four o’clock, and it seemed the wise move to go to bed and get some sleep while there was time/ The Duchess was roused from her dreams by means of a piece of ice from one of the tumblers; checks were paid; and the company poured out, yawning and chattering, into _the sunlight of the empty boardwalk.
Jill detached herself from the group, and made her way to a seat facing the ocean. Tiredness had fallen upon her like a leaden weight, crushing all the power out of her limbs, and the thought of walking to the boarding house where, from motives of economy, she was sharing a room with the Cherub, paralyzed her.
TT WAS a perfect morning, clear and cloudless, with the warm freshness of a day that means to be hotter later on. The sea sparkled in the sun. Little waves broke lazily on the gray sand. Jill closed her eyes, for the brightness of sun and water was trying; and her thoughts went back to what the Cherub had said.
If Wally was really going to rewrite the play, they would be thrown together. She would be obliged to meet him, and she was not sure that she was ready to meet him. Still, he would be somebody to talk to on subjects other than the one eternal topic of the theatre, somebody who belonged to the old life.
Sne had ceased to regard Freddie Rooke in this light; for Freddie, solemn with his new responsibilities as a principal, was the most whole-hearted devotee of “shop” in the company. Freddie nowadays declined to consider any subject for conversation that did not have to do with “The Rose of America” in general and his share in it in articular. Jill had given him up, and e had paired off with Nelly Bryant. The two were inseparable. Jill had taken one or two meals with them, but Freddie’s professional monologues, of which Nelly seemed never to weary,
u-,.re too much for her. As a result she was r ow very much alone. There were ,,jrk in the company whom she liked, hut most of them had their own intimate friends, and she was always conscious of not being really wanted. She was lonely, and, after examining the matter as clearly as her tired mind would allow she found herself curiously soothed by the thought that Wally would be near to mitigate her loneliness.
She opened her eyes, blinking. Sleep had crept upon her with an insidious suddenness, and she had almost fallen over on the seat. She was just bracing herself to get up and begin the long tramp to the hoarding house, when a voice spoke at her side: “Hullo! Good morning! .Jill looked up. “Hullo, Wally!” “Surprised to see me?”
“No. Milly Trevor said she had seen you at the rehearsal last night.”
Wally came round the bench and seated himself at her side. His eyes were tired, and his chin dark and bristly.
“Yes, thanks. Have you?”
“Not yet. How are you feeling?” “Rather tired.”
“I wonder you’re not dead. I’ve been through a good many dress rehearsals, but this one was the record. Why they couldn’t have had it comfortably in New York and just have run through the piece without scenery last night, I don’t know, except that in musical comedy it’s etiquette always to do the most inconvenient thing. They knew perfectly well that there was no chance of getting the scenery into the theatre till the small hours. You must be worn out. Why aren’t you in bed?”
“I couldn’t face the walk. I suppose I
SHE half rose, then sank back again.
The glitter of the water hypnotized her. She closed her eyes again. She could hear Wally speaking, then his voice grew suddenly faint and far off, and she ceased to fight the delicious drowsiness.
Jill awoke with a start. She opened her eyes, and shut them again at once. The sun was very strong now. It was one of those prematurely warm days of early spring which have all the languorous heat of late summer. She opened her eyes once more, and found that she was feeling, greatly refreshed. She also discovered that her head was resting on Wally’s shoul-
“Have I been asleep?”
“You have been having what you might call a nap.” He massaged his left arm vigorously. “You needed it. Do you feel more rested now?”
“Good gracious! Have I been squashing your poor arm all the time? Why didn’t you move?”
“I was afraid you would fall over. You just shut your eyes and toppled sideways.” “What’s the time?”
Wally looked at his watch.
“Just on ten.”
“Ten!” Jill was horrified. “Why I have been giving you cramp for about three hours! You must have had an awful
“Oh, it was all right. I think I dozed off myself. Except that the birds didn’t come and cover us with leaves, it was rather like the Babesjn the Wood.”
“But you haven’t had any breakfast! Aren’t you starving?”
“Well, I’m not saying I wouldn’t spear a fried egg with some vim if it happened to float past. But there’s plenty of time for that. Lots of doctors say you oughtn’t to eat breakfast, and Indian fakirs go without food for days at a time in order to develop their souls. Shall I take you back to wherever you’re staying? You ought to get a proper sleep in bed.”
“Don’t dream of taking me. Go off and have something to eat.”
“Oh, that can wait. I’d like to see you safely home.”
Jill was conscious of a renewed sense of his comfortingness. There was no doubt about it, Wally was different from any other man she had known. She suddenly felt guilty, as if she were obtaining something valuable under false pretenses. “Wally!”
“You—you mustn’t be so good to me!” “Nonsense! Where’s the harm in lending a hand—or rather, an arm—to a pal in trouble?”
“You know what I mean. I can’t. . . .
that is to say. . . . it isn’t as though. . . . I mean. ...”
Wally smiled a tired, friendly smile. “If you’re trying to say what I think you’re trying to say, don’t. We had all that out two weeks ago! I quite understand the position. You mustn’t worry yourself about it.” He took her arm, and they crossed the boardwalk. “Are we going in the right direction? You lead the way. I know exactly how you feel. We’re old friends, and nothing more. But, as an old friend, I claim the right to behave like an old friend. If an old friend can’t behave like an old friend, how can an old friend béhave? And now we’ll rule the whole topic out of the conversation. But perhaps you’re too tired for conversation?”
“Then I will tell you about the sad death of young Mr. Pilkington.”
WELL, when I say death, I use the word in a loose sense. The human giraffe still breathes, and I imagine, from the speed with which he legged it back to his hotel when we parted, that he still takes nourishment. But really he is dead. His heart is broken. We had a conference after the dress rehearsal, and our friend Mr. Goble told him in no uncertain words— in the whole course of my experience I have never heard words less uncertain—that this damned rotten highbrow false alarm of a show—I am quoting Mr. Goble—would have to be rewritten by alien hands. And these are them! On the right, alien right hand. On the left, alien left hand. Yes, I am the instrument selected for the murder of Pilkington’s artistic aspirations. I’m going to rewrite the show. In fact, I nave already rewritten the first act and most of the second. Goble foresaw this contingency and told me to get busy two weeks ago, and I’ve been working hard ever since. We shall start rehearsing the new version to-morrow and open in Baltimore next Monday with practically a different piece. And it’s going to be a pippin, believe me, said our hero modestly. A gang of composers has been working in shifts for two weeks, and, by chucking out nearly all of the original music, we shall have a good score. It means a lot of work for you, I’m afraid. All the business of the numbers will have to be rearranged.”
“I like work,” said Jill. “But I’m sorry for Mr. Pilkington.”
“He’s all right. He owns 70 per cent, of the show. He may make a fortune. He’s certain to make a comfortable sum. That is, if he doesn’t sell out his interest in pique—or dudgeon, if you prefer it. From what he said at the close of the proceedings, I fancy he would sell out to anybody who asked him. At least, he said that he washed his hands of the piece. He’s going back to New York this afternoon— won’t even wait for the opening. Of course, I’m sorry for the poor chap in a way, but he had no right, with the excellent central idea which he got, to turn out such a rotten book. Oh, by the way!”
“Another tragedy! Unavoidable, but pathetic. Poorold Freddie! He’s out!” “Oh, no!”
“Out!” repeated Wally firmly.
“But didn’t you think he was good last night?”
“He was awful! But that isn’t why. Goble wanted his part rewritten as a Scotchman, so as to get Me Andrew, the fellow who made such a hit last season in ‘Hoots, Mon!’ That sort of thing is always happening in musical comedy. You have to fit parts to suit whatever good people happen to be available at the moment. When you’ye had one or two experiences of changing your Italian count to a Jewish millionaire—invariably against time: they always want the script on Thursday next at noon— and then changing him again to a Russian Bolshevik, you begin to realize what is meant by the words ‘Death, where is thy sting?’ My heart bleeds for Freddie, but what can one do? At any rate he isn’t so badly off as a fellow was in one of my shows. In the second act hç was supposed to have escaped from an asylum, and the management, in a passion for realism, insisted that he should shave his head. The day after he shaved it, they heard that a superior comedian was disen-
gaged and fired him. It’s a ruthless business.”
“The girls were saying that one of us would be dismissed.”
“Oh, I shouldn’t thinkthat’s likely.” “I hope not.”
“So do I. What are we stopping for?” Jill had halted in front of a snabbylooking house, one of those depressing buildings which spring up overnight at seashore resorts and start to decay the moment the builders have left them.
“I live here.”
“Here!” Wally looked at her in consternation. “But—”
“We working girls have got to economize. Besides, it’s quite comfortable— fairly comfortable—inside, and it’s only for a week.” She yawned. “I believe I’m falling asleep again. I’d better hurry in and go to bed. Good-by, Wally dear. You’ve been wonderful. Mind you go and get a good breakfast.”
WHEN Jill arrived at the theatre at four o’clock for the chorus rehearsal, the expected blow had not fallen. No steps had apparently been taken to eliminate the thirteenth girl whose presence in the cast preyed on Mr. Goble’s superstitious mind. But she found her colleagues still in a condition of pessimistic foreboding. “Wait!” was the gloomy watchword of “The Rose of America” chorus.
The rehearsal passed off without event. It lasted until six o’clock, when Jill, the Cherub, and two or three of the other girls went to snatch a hasty dinner before returning to the theatre to make up. It was not a cheerful meal. Reaction had set in after the overexertion of the previous night, and it was too early for first-night excitement to take its place. Everybody, even the Cherub, whose spirits seldom failed her, was depressed, and the idea of an overhanging doom had grown. It seemed now to be merely a question of speculating on the victim, and the conversation gave Jill, as the last addition to the company, and so the cause of swelling the ranks of the chorus to the unlucky number, a feeling of guilt. She was glad when it was time to go back to the theatre.
The moment she and her companion entered the dressing room it was made clear to them that the doom had fallen. In a chair in the corner, all her pretense and affectation swept away in a flood of tears, sat the unhappy Duchess, the center of a group of girls anxious to console but limited in their ideas of consolation to an occasional pat on the back and an offer of a fresh pocket handkerchief.
“It’s tough, honey!” somebody was saying as Jill came in.
Somebody else said it was fierce, and a third girl declared it to be the limit. A fourth girl, well-meaning but less helpful than she would have liked to be, was advising the victim not to worry.
The story of the disaster was brief and easily told. The Duchess, sailing in at the stage door, had paused at the letter box to see if Cuthbert, her faithful auto salesman, had sent her a goodluck telegram. He had, but his good wishes were unfortunately neutralized by the fact that the very next letter in the box was one from the management, crisp and to the point, informing the Duchess that her services would not be required that night or thereafter. It was the subtle meanness of the blow that roused the indignation of “The Rose of America” chorus, the cunning villainy with which it had been timed.
“Poor Mae, if she’d opened to-night, they’d have had to give her two weeks’ notice or her salary. But they can fire her without a cent just because she’s only been rehearsing and hasn’t given a show!”
The Duchess burst into a fresh flood of tears.
“Don’t you worry, honey!” advised the well-meaning girl, who would have been in her element looking in on Job with Bildad the Shuhite and his friends. “Don’t you worry!”
“It’s tough!” said the girl who had adopted that form of verbal consolation.
“It’s fierce!” said the girl who preferred that adjective.
THE other girl, with an air of saying something new, repeated her statement that it was the limit. The Duchess cried forlornly throughout. She had need-
ed this engagement badly. Chorussalaries are not stupendous, but it is possible to save money by means of them during a New York run, especially if you have spent three years in a milliner’s shop and can make your own clothes, as the Duchess, in spite tif her air of being turned out by Fifth Avenue modistes, could and did. She had been looking forward, now that this absurd piece was to be rewritten by some one who knew his business and had a good chance of success, to putting by just those few dollars that make all the difference when you are embarking on married life. Cuthbert, for all his faithfulness, could not hold up the financial end of the establishment unsupported for at least another eighteen months; and this disaster meant that the wedding would have to be postponed again. So the Duchess, abandoning that aristocratic manner criticized by some of her colleagues as “upstage” and by others as “Ritz-y,” sat in her chair and consumed pocket handkerchiefs as fast as they were offered
JILL had been the only girl in the room who had spoken no word of consolation. This was not because she was not sorry for the Duchess. She had never been sorrier for anyone in her life.
The pathos of that swift descent from haughtiness to misery had bitten deep into her sensitive heart. But she revolted at the idea of echoing the banal words of the others. Words were no good, she thought, as she set her little teeth and glared at an absent management—a management just about now presumably distending itself with a luxurious dinner at one of the big hotels. Deeds were what she demanded. All her life she had been a girl of impulsive action, and she wanted to act impulsively now. She was in much the same Berserk mood as had swept her, raging, to the defense of Bill the parrot on the occasion of his dispute with Henry of London. The fighting spirit which had been drained from her by the all-night rehearsal had come back in full measure.
“What are you going to do?” she cried. "Aren’t you going to do something?” Do? The members of “The Rose of America” ensemble looked doubtfully at one another. Do? It had not occurred to them that there was anything to be done. These things happened, and you regretted them, but as for doing anything—well, what could you do?
Jill’s face was white and her eyes were flaming. She dominated the roomful of girls like a little Napoleon. The change in her startled them. Hitherto they had always looked on her as rather an unusually quiet girl. She had al ways made herself unobtrusively pleasant to them all. They all liked her. But they had never suspected her of possessing this militant quality. Nobody spoke, but there was a general stir. She had flung a new idea broadcast, and it was beginning to take root. Do something? Well, if it came to that, why not?
“We ought all to refuse to go on to night unless they let her go on!” Jill declared.
The stir became a movement. Enthusiasm is catching, and every girl is at heart a rebel. And the idea was appealing to the imagination. Refuse to give a show on the opening night! Had a chorus ever done such a thing? They trembled on the verge of making history.
“Strike?” quavered somebody at the back.
“Yes, strike!” cried Jill.
“Hooray! That’s the thtuff!” shouted the Cherub, and turned the scale. She was a popular girl, and her adherence to the Cause confirmed the doubters. Thtrike!”
Jill turned to the Duchess, who had been gaping amazedly at the demonstration. She no longer wept, but she seemed in a dream
“Dress and get ready to go on,” Jill commanded. “We’ll all dress and get '■eady to go on. Then I’ll go and find Mr. Goble and tell him what we mean * if he doesn’t give in we’ll
stay here in this room, and there won’t be a performance!”
To be Continued