Jeanne Gordon Wins Her Laurels
DOROTHY G. BELL
The slender golden crescent of the Metropolitan Opera footlights; a moment of silence—then a voice flowing out liquid and sweet; gripping hearts in emotion too deep for words. This is the story of a Canadian mezzo-soprano who had the courage and genius to win the world's plaudits.
RADIANT in the dawn of her success, like the climber of her own Canadian mountains, who, after arduous struggles through the night reaches the snow-capped peak to find it shot with the golden shafts of sunrise, Jeanne Gordon, Canadian Metro politan prima donna, stands to-day on the topmost rise of her career, a world at her feet. In March of this year she was chosen from among all artists in America to sing at the inauguration of President Coolidge; this November she has received the honor of opening the season of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. ______
Jirom the pinnacle of triumph where her eyes are turned on and upward towards more distant, more difficult peaks of conquest, she has paused for a moment to glance down through the rifted mists of romance, the black fogs of depression, down into the shadowy valleys, the pre cipitous canyons, the forested haz ards through which she has climbed.
It is the story of a battle with desperation, poverty, actual hunger —a story of how she spanned in less than two years the gap between the “movies” and grand opera, and fought her way over the almost unsurmountable crags of the profession, to gain at last the coveted heights of stardom in the world’s greatest operatic organization.
A phenomenal rise to fame such as this would rarely fail to turn a woman’s head. I rather dreaded to approach her when, to my letter suggesting that she allow the story of her career to reach the public through the medium of MacLean’s Magazine, there came this wire:
“Arriving Toronto, King Edward Hotel, Saturday. Do give me a call.” (Signed) Jeanne Gordon.
The message held a note of friendliness; it was at least informal.
When I knew her better I realized that it was characteristic but I did not know her then and, waiting that morning in the lobby of the hotel for her to answer her telephone, I felt those nervous misgivings one so often has before meeting a celebrity.
Then her voice, beautiful in speaking as in singing, came over the wire:
“Oh, hello! How are you? Give me two seconds to get up my back hair and come along.”
The Real Jeanne
T WONDERED how any woman could get up her back hair in two seconds but, when she opened the door of her room, I understood, for the prima donna was wearing a hat— “a cheap little hat,” I learned later— one that she had loved and worn until it had to be covered and recovered. The soft brim fitted down close over black, curly hair and I found myself looking beneath it into black, black eyes, wondering if one ever got to the very depths of them.
Jeanne Gordon is tall, young and very beautiful. But that is not all. I knew from that first moment that she was human. Her handclasp was firm, her smile w’holehearted, and I believed her when she said she was glad that I had come. Then, with that sudden flash of understanding of things foreign to her, which I saw again and again in my later associations with her, she said:
“But perhaps I am not a story.”
There was that possibility, of course, but in the afternoon over a cup of tea she dispelled all such doubt and we arranged to meet soon at her New York apartment. There, after many trials for both of us, I got her story—a story in which the mezzo-soprano bared her soul and discussed with open frankness and honesty, the heartaches, the obstacles, the sorrows, through which she had fought to success.
Passing the Sentries
TO REACH Miss Gordon is like trying to see the Prince of Wales. Presenting myself a week later at her apartment, I found my way blocked by a formidable-looking colored porter.
“Miss Gordon know yo’?” he questioned, suspiciously.
“Yes, I have an appointment for one o’clock.”
White teeth flashed in a sudden broad grin which broke over his ebony countenance.
“I guess yo’ is de lady Miss Go’don is ’specting,” and he took me to her door on the third floor. When it was opened by a coal-black “Mammy” with a stern face and white hair, I knew that I could never have reached that inner sanctum unless Miss Gordon herself had paved the way. Mammy did not smile at once but, upon my explanations, the lines of her face relaxed and I saw’ that it w'as kind.
“Miss Gordon is out,” she said, “but you will please make yourself at home and she will be here in a few minutes.”
The living room in which I waited w’as bright and cheerful, cooler and more refreshing than the outdoors itself. Against the soft red and blue of tw’o Oriental rugs, two big yellowchairs and a yellow Chesterfield stood out boldly. Above the chairs on the mantelpiece was a candle, and over the Chesterfield against a white wall, a picture, both as vivid blue as the very flame-tips of a burning sea log. The sunshine through two big win lows filtered through white-figured curtains and passed on more dimly until at the end of the long room it touched a shining mahogany piano, the top of which was covered with the autographed pictures of other stars.
And then Miss Gordon's voice in the hall—"Yoo-hoo. Mam-my. I’m ho-ome.”
“Hello, there,” she greeted me as she entered the room and tossed her hat at the Chesterheld. "Awfully glad you turned up.” Then, sniffing faint but appetizing odo s from Mammy’s distant kitchen. "I’m starved. Are you?”
XI fE PROCEEDED down a lengthy hall to the dining * * room, purposely made dark by drawn blinds, and rebghted by the soft glow of candles.
"Do you like my flower-garden chintzes?” she [flung at me between chatter. “Better than nothing, don’t you think, when one has to spend the summer in New York?”
As we ate fried chicken, such as only a Southern mammy can prepare, I rejoiced at the restfulness, the absolute peace and quiet of these rooms and thought how easy, how enjoyable it would be, to work there under such delightful circumstances. I did not know then enough about the life of a prima donna to realize that such delicious moments of relaxation are rare— and short. At that moment, indeed, the doorbell sounded suddenly. My hostess listened for a moment to the voice in the hall, then—
“Oh. it's you. I’m so glad. Come in,” she called.
A slip of a girl entered. Free of make-up, her face was as white as chorus work and life in New York could make it—so white that her finely chisled features stood out as in cameo. She was the messenger of “Maria,” her mother, who was the oldest chorister in the Metropolitan Opera House, and she had brought flowers, a pot of home-made jam and with them a little note of sympathy to Jeanne in the troubles brought about by her divorce.
We had no sooner settled down again to talk when the ’phone rang and Mammy announced that “Mr. Stevenson” was downstairs.
“Mr. Stevenson,” mused the star. “Do I know him, Mammy? I don’t think I do. Yet his name sounds familiar,” and suddenly, “Ask him to come up.” Then turning to me with a sparkle in her eye: “I have a horrible suspicion that he’s another fiendish newspaper reporter.”
It veas Mr. Stevenson, a well-known newspaper syndicate representative, who had come to discuss her divorce. For nearly an hour I watched a clever battle of wits betwe n the two, but when he left both interviewer and interviewee were satisfied. And again we settled down to talk and through it all there was no mention—scarcely a thought—of why I had come. We simply chatted, not as prima donna to journalist but as woman to woman, and I knew that eventually out of the chatter would grow’ my story.
The Operatic Temperament
1CAME away from her that first day as one does after a dip in the ocean on a hot day—refreshed and stimulated. But it is not always so. A creature of moods, of great depressions, of extreme gaieties, at one moment dejected—down in the depths, the next, sparkling, spontaneous, she is one of the happiest, saddest persons in'the world. To meet her, to talk to her, is to gain an impression of happiness. To be with her day after day under all conditions is to know that she is not always happy. Sometimes she is as appealing, as erratic, as
dependent, as eager to tell whatever pops into her head as are the children on the street who like to seize her hand and jabber to her as she steps into her taxi. At other times, she is as serious, as sober, as non-committal as her old black Mammy.
It was in the latter mood that I found her when I went to her apartment the following day.
With her feet curled beneath her, her beautiful black head flung back against the vivid yellow cushions of a big chair, her eyes searching dreamy distances, she greeted me listlessly. I thought at first that she was tired or that her mind was busy for the moment with some problem.
“Well, aren't we going to work to-day?” she asked, drearily, after a time.
“Why, yes,” I replied. “Any time you’re ready.”
"Shoot,” she said, in the same resigned tone that took the heart out of me from the start. “What do you want to know to-day?”
I shot. Question after question I fired, but there came no response other than an uninterested answer to some direct query. There was no enthusiasm, no color, no action. It seemed hopeless to try to lift her out of her mood.
When she is in these moods no one knows what are her thoughts—black Mammy, perhaps, but if so she guards them carefully. At such times, one comes away
from her weary in soul, tired in body, as after a long day in the New York shops in blazing mid-July. As the dramatic quality of her voice in opera has carried thousands to the peak of ecstasy and again into the vale of tears, so the amazing power of her personality carries those who know her more intimately to the crest of her spontaneity and happiness and back again into the trough of her depression.
These moods of an artistic temperament have done much to help this Canadian girl make one of the most remarkable, one of the most amazing successes the Metropolitan Opera has ever known. Yet it was a mere twist of fate—a tragic twist—that threw her into professional life. Until that time her sole ambition had been for a happy home life.
Life in Ontario
TEANNE GORDON was christened Ruby. In the village of Wallaceburg, Ontario, where she was born, she was known as “Rube,” so named after “Rube” Waddell, famous ball player, because of her athletic prowess. It was there as “Rube” that she made her “debut” as a songster. At the age of four years, dressed in an old-fashioned costume and holding a rose, she sang “The Last Rose of Summer” with all the fervor,
all the pathos of her baby soul. From that moment an extraordinary sense, an insatiable love of the dramatic, seized her and developed within her.
The most beautiful influence, perhaps the deepest love in her early years, was her father. Her whole childhood centred and revolved around him—her music, her play, her very life. The first word formed by her baby lips was “David,” his Christian name, and “David” he was to her always. It was only on very formal occasions that she called him “Dad.”
Some of her very first recollections are of toddling down a high-banked road on snowy days to meet her father coming from his office. He would pull her home on her little red sleigh and, keen business man that he was, there was never a meeting or a piece of work important enough to keep him from this daily tryst with his little daughter. •
It was “David” who told her stories, read her fairy tales and comforted her when she wept at the ill-fate of beautiful princesses or furry red squirrels. Again, it was her father who, long before her tiny fingers could span an octave, taught her to sing the psalms and the Latin masses, and to play them on the pipe organ.
And long before her arms were strong enough to hold a fishing rod without a prop, they fished and boated together on the river. While she was still a baby, too young to know what he was talking about, he would take her on his knee and tell her of business problems that occupied his days.
Through all the years of their companionship, he kept her in close touch with his affairs, and it was as well, for later, during his tragic illness, Jeanne left her duties in New York to save his estate from complete ruin.
When Mr. Gordon entered politics, Baby Jeanne entered with him. She was with him at every meeting during his campaign; sometimes on the platform beside him with her hand tightly clasped in his; sometimes on a chair in the audience; sometimes in the doorway of the hall or school where he was speaking, but always, wherever she was, as quite as a mouse, and hanging on every word he uttered. From one end of the countryside to the other the inseparable pair was known. When the campaign terminated successfully and her father went to Ottawa as member, his daughter accompanied him and was with him frequently at the House. There, when sessions were over, she would sing and play for her father’s friends.
When she was fifteen she went with her father to a reception given for Eva Gauthier, a protegee of the Premier, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Jeanne was asked to sing. She chose “The Enchantress” and sang it to her own accompaniment with all the dramatic action and emotion prompted by her youth. When she had finished, Eva Gauthier came to her.
“You have sung it well—very well—but you can do it even better,” she told her and together, there at the piano, they went over it.
Though Jeanne loved her father dearly, played and studied with him in most of her spare hours, it was to her mother that she took her baby troubles, and it was to her mother that she turned at last in her domestic tragedy.
It was from her mother and her French ancestry that she inherited the artistic, high-strung, nervous tempera ment which has been one of the greatest factors in her success. The
Scottish blood of her father, mingled with it, has brought out in Miss Gor don's character a fine determin ation and a splendid cour age that has made it pos sible for her to win through hardship and difficulty. Of thac Scotch de scent she has always been justly proudAt the age of six years she was asked to sing at a school concert. The little, black-headed girl whose eyes have since snapped across the Metropolitan footlights with the joy of success, wanted to sing at that concert more than she wanted to do anything else in the world. But she made a stipulation. She would sing at the concert if she would be allowed to wear the Gordon plaid. She was informed emphatically by her elders that the Gordon plaid was not an appropriate costume for the occasion.
“Then I won’t sing,” declared the child resolutely.
The childish threat was forgotten and Ruby Gordon practised her baby song. On the afternoon of the concert her mother dressed her in a dainty, white dress, trimmed with lace and ruffles, and took her to the school. Giving her one last look of maternal pride and satisfaction, she left her little one a few moments before her turn to go on the stage, and hurried to the front of the house where she could get the full effect of her daughter’s entrance.
She got it. As the curtain rose the first thing it revealed was two tiny legs encased in a pair of Gordon plaid stockings, beneath the dainty white dress. Above them both a radiantly happy little face shone
with ancestral pride and triumph. Always a lover of the outdoors, this western Ontario child spent most of her days in the open. Clad always in boys’ clothes, usually cast-off knick-
erbockers belonging to her brothers—she was one girl in a family of six boys—she tore on horseback from one end of the countryside to the other, climbed trees, “skinned the cat” over the back fence, played ball with the boys.
She never could get on with the girls. On the first day she was in kindergarten she quarreled with the girl who sat with her and as a result pushed her off the seat and made her nose bleed. For punishment she was made to sit with the boys, but things ran so much more smoothly in the babies’ classroom when she was on the boys’ side that she was allowed to sit there all the time.
Music won for this future diva an entree into upper school. For even in those kindergarten days she loved it, and though she was not studying at that time she possessed a wonderful talent and a natural ear. For days the wrong notes of the march to which they entered and left the schoolroom had jarred on the sensitive ear of the child who was destined to become one of the world’s greatest singers. There came a day when she could stand it no longer.
“Oh!” she cried out angrily one morning to the girl from the upper school who was playing the piece. “Can’t you tell that isn’t right?”
Breaking line, she ran to the piano, shoved the older
Major J. Andrew While, famous father of “radio-broadcasting” paid a visit to Jeanne Gordon s summer home at Long Island a few months ago to try to persuade her to break her radio silence and sing over the air in answer to thousands of fans' requests. Miss Cordon acquiesced and early this year was broadcast from WEAF and affiliated stations.
girl fiom the stool, clambered onto it herself and played the march correctly. After that she was called up from the kindergarten every morning to play.
The Back Yard Circus
TN SCHOOL, as in kindergarten days, the harumA scarum youngster continued to live her tom-boy life and became the ringleader of a gang of small boys that kept the townsfolk forever on edge as to what they would do next.
“I don’t know why I led them,” she declared. “Perhaps it was because I could swim farther and faster than most of them, and because I could dive and bring up more cans from the bottom of the river than any of them.”
Probably it was because, even then, as now, her personality dominated all those with whom she came in contact, and because her remarkable initiative prompted her to lead in all she undertook. One of their favorite pastimes—one which probably kept them out of more serious mischief—was playing circus in the Gordon backyard.
“We had trained dogs and cats and rabbits,” declared the famous star, as enthusiastic at the memory of her childish pranks as undoubtedly she was in the per-
formance of them. “We caught garter snakes in the fields and had a snake-charmer’s side show. The boys walked on their hands, stood on their heads, turned somersaults, walked the clothes line. If any of them flunked in their stunts they did penance by not being allowed to play with the ‘gang’ the next day. It was always a sorrow to me that I never was able to take any part in these acrobatic performances, but I was always too busy ‘managing the show.’ I remember that I would never have any girls in my circus because they were always afraid to do things. There was only one girl in the village whom I allowed to join the troupe and that was Abbey Knight. She got in on her ability to kick higher than any of us. She was a very valuable asset.”
Sometimes by way of variation they “gypsied” instead of playing circus. On one occasion Jeanne, as a gypsy queen—dressed for the part in a red table-cover — was kidnapped by one Fraser Chambleaux and, according to her own directions, hidden in a cornfield. So thoroughly did she enter into the spirit of the game that she stayed there a whole day until late in the evening when, long after her rescuers had had their supper, she was found and ransomed with green apples.
8"-'-" "k~"-" And one day Mrs. Gordon came to the back door of the house to see all her veranda chairs and some of her best
dining-room suite turned upside d ow n in the backyard with a small boy cooped se curely under each one. And a little girl, a stranger, pac ing up and Continued on page 46 ing up and down before them with a rudely carved wooden gun on her shoulder.
Jeanne Gordon Wins Her Laurels
Continued from page 11
Mrs. Gordon interrupted proceedings to know why her chairs were being subjected to such unusual treatment. It was enthusiastically explained that they were playing jail and proudly made known that the girl guarding the others had come to school that morning with the thrilling announcement that her father had beaten her mother and had been sent to prison. With such distinction she was adopted by the gang and was for a long time a most popular member.
School and College Days
IN UPPER school Rube never studied.
Subjects that she liked she just seemed to absorb and subjects that she didn’t like—well, Miss Gordon shrugged beautiful shoulders. “Skinny McKenzie did ’em for me.”
It was in those first long days of outdoor life that Jeanne Gordon developed a physique that was to stand the intense nervous and physical strain of the years to come; it was in the freedom of boys’ clothes that she gained an initiative that led her later to take the desperate steps she did with safety and success ; it was in the rough and tumble games with the neighborhood boys that she learned to take the first knock-downs of life and to ccme up smiling as she has done against the greater and more heart-breaking blows of fate; it was in those early days of childhood that she developed a love of nature and an enjoyment of he simplicities of life, that have not forsaken her in the moment of her, greatest triumph. But with a father such as “David” one’s harum-scarum days could not last forever. He knew that it was time for Jeanne to feel restraint. She was sent to school in Toronto.
Those first few months of Havergal College under a woman less skilled in the problems of handling difficult girls or one less understanding, might have broken even as finely-t mpered a spirit as Jeanne Gordon’s, but Miss Ellen Knox, the be-
loved principal who died a year or more ago, was well versed. She had insight into Jeanne’s character and guessed at the high-fettled spirit the first day the child entered the school. Miss Knox was walking through the front hall, forbidden territory to the pupils, when there was a sudden swish beside her, a dull thud and a long-drawn ecstatic “O-o-h!” Miss Knox turned, aghast, to find the new boarder sitting astride the banister, the thri'l of the swift descent still on her face.
“My dear, why did you do that?” asked the principal.
“Oh! It was such a beautiful banister I couldn’t resist it,” replied the offender, enthusiastically.
“I never had such a miserable night in all my life as that first night at school,” Jeanne reminisced. “I was lonesome and frightened. I disliked the girls and I hated the school. I wanted to run away and hide and never be found again. My clothes were the cause of most of my suffering. I hated anything tight and I wore on that first awful day a plain tightwaisted skirt and a stiff shirt-waist with a high collar. My room-mate had not come yet and I was put in a room by myself. I was so afraid that I wouldn’t hear the rising bell, and that if I did I wouldn’t be able to get my clothes on in time, I sat up, fully dressed, all night. In spirit and body I think those hours were the most tortuous of my life.”
And so during the first month of school life Jeanne Gordon suffered like an untamed thing—suffered and strove against a life that was unnatural and incomprehensible to her. The tight clothes continued to bind, the four walls to cramp, the long hours of study to drive her almost mad. Her only solace during those first unhappy days was her music. Every time the new pupil was missing she could be found in a music cubicle, practising. Her study time then was two hours a day, but there were few days that she did not do three or four and sometimes, when she could, five hours.
But it was not always that she could give complete vent to her feelings through Continued on page 1,9 Continued from page 1^6 her music. There were frequent “breakings out,” and from the first day she entered the school, from the moment she succumbed to the temptation of the “beautiful banister,” she became the star collector of bad marks—bad marks, however, for pranks and mischief that were solely the effervescence of good spirits over-run, pranks that were always open and above board; for with all her misdemeanors she was never known to do a mean or underhand trick.
Though Jeanne loved her music more than anything else in the world, she never enjoyed competing for honors. At the end of a school term she headed her singing class, and was presented with a beautiful book of songs. It angered her, for she did not want the prize. As she turned to leave the prayer hall where the school had gathered, Miss Knox asked her if she would show them what she could do on the piano. That she should be made to “show off” was, for the temperamental child, the last straw. In a sudden burst of anger she strode back into the room and sitting down at the piano crashed out Rachmaninoff’s Prelude with all the strength of her perfect young body, all the emotions of her pent-up soul. No one tried to stop her and when she had finished Miss Knox remarked quietly, “Thank you, Rube. I am glad, my dear, that you have left some of the keys.”
Rube and Dame Clara
ANOTHER time she was asked to sing before Dame Clara Butt, who was visiting Miss Knox. “Rube,” after playing hockey on a very cold day and neglecting to put on a coat, was suffering in consequence from a cold and she refused to sing. Then came word from the principal that she must appear. That decided it and, furiously, the wilful girl went to the piano and began the solo, “A Little Violet.” When she had finished she snatched up the music, tore it into little bits and threw it on the floor. Later on, hearing of the disgraceful incident, the girls of the school came in and picked up the pieces, keeping them as souvenirs. For everyone loved “Rube” and anything she did was worthy of record.
Jeanne’s greatest joy was singing to her classmates. Time and again, after a basket-ball match or other games, the whole school would fail to respond to the bell and the mistress would find them sitting on the floor of the “gym,” with Jeanne in their midst singing to them.
At games “Rube” was always good. She could play all of them well. Her cheerful disposition, her willingness to tackle anything, made her a popular member of every team.
“I don’t know that I was ’specially good at any one thing,” said Miss Gordon, “but if they were ever short of anything I know I was always it.”
The spirit of her games she carried out in her everyday life. Fig pudding was a portion of the diet and consequently Jeanne hated fig pudding. To be “asked out” as everyone knows who has been to boarding school, means to “tuck in.” When Jeanne and another girl were invited out to dinner one day their visions were of greasy doughnuts, rich pastries, cream cakes and ice cream. When the dessert was finally brought in, it was fig pudding. Jeanne’s face fell and she drew a long sigh. Then afraid that she had not been quite polite, she exclaimed with a valiant attempt at gaiety:
“Oh, it’s such a treat to go places where they have fig pudding. We just love it, don’t we, Katie?”
Katie gasped, but her companion carried out the bluff and ate two huge helpings of fig pudding, urging Katie to do the same.
At Havergal “Rube” was noted for getting nearly everything she wanted. One particular teacher of whom she was very fond did her hair high up on the crown of her head and always wore a stiff ruching around the top of her collar. Because “Rube” wanted to look like her, she asked if she might have a piece of the ruching. She was told that she was too young to wear it. With anyone else the matter would probably have ended there, but with “Rube” it just naturally would not end.
The next morning she appeared in class hollow-eyed and wan, but triumphant for her hair was done high on the top of her head and on the back of the collar of her plaid dress, turned high and supported with splinters from the school fence, was a black, rather crudely pleated ruching.
She had sat up most of the night manufacturing it out of a black cashmere stocking.
Holidays were a greater delight to Jeanne than they were to most girls, because it meant that she would be free again to roam her beloved outdoors.
Playing the Game
I REMEMBER that one of the most delightful conversations I had with her was one which had nothing whatever to do with opera work or future plans. Rather it concerned long, sunny days, warm, shining beaches, great waves rolling in, the peace, the quiet and the beauty of green fields and of a Canadian countryside. It brought to her mind many holiday pranks and outings, the memory of which are still a constant joy.
Residents of the village recall one twenty-fourth of May when Rube Gordon came home over the week-end holiday.
Dressed in her best clothes and maintaining for a few minutes the dignity becoming to her middle ’teens, she went with her parents to the Field Day sports. But to watch others in action while “Rube” herself sat quiet was out of the question. She waited for a propitious moment when her parents were sufficiently interested in the sports not to notice her, and slipped away. The next thing her father witnessed was “Rube” herself tearing down the race track on a bicycle, her curls standing straight out. She was making tremendous speed and in his anxiety for her safety it was a moment or two before he realized that she was leading in the open race. She maintained her speed, won, and came back to her parents a few moments later, flushed and dirty, breathing hard, her dress torn, but glowing in triumph, with a book of Campbell’s Poems as a prize.
And once she went to spend her holidays at her Aunt Kitty’s country home. In the first throes of growing up she wanted to create an impression of dignity, and arrived in a black dress with a long train. As she was about to enter the house she heard the shouts of the boys in the baseball field beyond. A high board fence cut them off from her view but in a moment she had scrambled up, and, taking a flying leap from the top, left her train hanging there in shreds. In another moment with the rest of her “style” tucked well above her knees, she was streaking down the field after the ball.
During her five years at Havergal Jeanne’s musical training was under the supervision of Dr. Albert Ham, of Toronto, and it was he who laid the ground work of her career. Dr. Ham, anxious that she should have an operatic career, asked her father if she might study with that end in view.
Though proud of his daughter’s talents and happy that she should have the power to give so much pleasure to herself and others, “David” would not consent to a professional life. His whole thought for her was that she should marry happily some day. He objected even to her making any appearances in public.
While still at school, however, Jeanne was granted permission to sing with Dr. Ham’s chorus at a recital in Massey Hall. In spite of his objections, Mr. Gordon went to hear her.
During the intermission, he heard her name mentioned behind him. “Well, I guess old Rube fooled her father this time. Wasn’t she wonderful in that gorgeous muslin frock and—”
A chorus of girlish voices interrupted and Mr. Gordon heard them pour forth in enthusiastic, excited words and phrases their admiration of her voice, their love for the girl herself. After a few moments he turned around and found himself facing Rube’s assembled schoolmates.
“I could not help overhearing the beautiful things you have said about Ruby Gordon,” he said. “I must tell you that I am her father.”
There was a sudden silence and then an awed, almost reverent but perf ctly audible whisper, “Are you—are—you her
“Yes, I am her David.”
The lights fell low then, so low that perhaps a tear might have fallen unseen from a father’s heart that was at that moment very full.
The End of School
FEARFUL, nevertheless, lest Rube should favor the idea of a career, “David” soon took her away from the school in Toronto. When she heard that she was to leave the place and the playmates she had come to love so dearly she burst, into tears and her companions wept with her.
All through her girlhood, even after she left school, she was unconsciously developing her dramatic art by taking part in amateur theatricals and concerts. On a visit to Toronto, after she had attained success on the Metropolitan stage, she was approached by a reporter from the Toronto Globe for an interview.
“My editor, Harry Anderson,” he said at once, “told me to ask you if you remember playing ‘Alan-a-Dale’ with him in Robin Hood at Chatham?”
“I should say I do,” she replied enthusiastically. “I remember it well because I was only a kid then and frightfully embarrassed at having to wear tights. Even at the last rehearsal they couldn’t persuade me to take off a long golf cape 1 insisted upon wearing to cover my lanky legs. I’ve become less sensitive since then,” she laughed.
Boys, as well as classmates, felt the charm of_ the dark-eyed girl, but in the love affairs that naturally followed her childhood associations that indefinable something about Jeanne Gordon prevented the youthful suitors from becoming demonstrative; it withheld them often from even voicing their adoration.
First in her affection was Jack L . . . who always had been her confidant and friend. She was years younger than he, and from the advantage of his seniority he could push aside the brambles from the trail through that first tangled thicket of youth. Years later, on the first steep slopes of the career up which she had to climb alone, she often wished that the same strong hand could reach out to steady her over the stones. But in the sudden blaze of romance that came to blind Jeanne’s young eyes to all but one, Jack L . . . _ chose to seek the shadows of a life alone in the West. She was to see him just once again before he left for France where he gave up his life.
Ralph Trix, veritable young god that he was, had literally sailed into her life, while she, as literally, proceeded to take the wind out of his sails. She could not know that the ever-changing winds of love would cause romance to veer off on another tack—of tragedy.
A Summer Idyll
RUBE’S” vacations were presumably spent on the Canadian banks of the St. Clair River where her father had his summer cottage. Actually, during most of her holiday hours, she was either in the water or on the surface of the broad flood, in her old dinghy which she loved as one can only love the boat one knows and handles well.
Bareheaded, barefooted, sun-tanned and care-free, “Rube” Gordon was scudding one day down the river in her clumsy craft, carrying a reefed mainsail and half a dozen girls.
From the American side of the river a graceful sloop let go her moorings. Jeanne Gordon heard the hoist of the mainsail above the din of her own merry party. She turned her head indifferently towards the sound and her black eyes lit with a sudden fire—the fire of open admiration. Immediately the sail was up, before it had time to flap, the hand at the helm had swung the sloop about and in answer to the touch the craft heeled over, buried her gunwale and skimmed across the river faster, more daintily, than the sun dancing on the shining waves.
What a boat! What a skipper!
When the sloop reached the open stream, when the white sails caught the fresh breeze there, nothing in the world, decided Jeanne, could catch it. Her black eyes snapped again with the joy of the sport she saw before her. In a moment her laughing crew had steadied themselves, run up the jib and let go the reef in the tattered mainsail, and the old skiff, under Jeanne’s skilful hand, leaned over. But the speeding sloop bore down on them. Steadily it gained and passed, more easily, perhaps, because Jeanne’s mind had slipped for a moment from her task. Her eyes, again alight, rested on the tall, handsome youth who held the helm of the yacht. She was not close enough to see his blue eyes sparkling, too, with the joy of the sport; the eyes that were later to glow with love for the skipper of the
rival craft. Neither could she see the glint of the golden hair, made more beautiful by the wind that blew through it. But as he stood there in his bathing suit she could see that he was straight, well built, strong and handsome; she could see, too, that he was a perfect master of his craft. There were other men on board the sloop, but Jeanne saw only one, and in the moment that she watched him the little vessel she was guiding lost its stride and Jeanne’s heart skipped a beat.
Then she caught herself. In a burst of enthusiasm as the sloop sped by Jeanne Gordon raised her voice—the voice that later from the operas of the greatest cities of the world was to stir with its beauty the hearts of thousands.
“Yoo-hoo! Yoo-hoo!” and she waved a friendly greeting.
But the sloop sailed on; no hand of return greeting was raised; no answering shout came back over the widening space of water; in fact, no sign was made that the occupants of the boat had even heard or seen the girls in the dinghy.
Then into “Rube’s” eyes leapt a light that has seldom failed to see accomplished the purpose which has awakened it. Her red lips closed in a firm line across her white teeth; her chin snapped up.
“I’ll take the wind out of your sails,” she defied the saucy yacht.
Her glorious eyes flashing, her black curls flying in the breeze, her tanned cheeks flushed with indignation, Jeanne Gordon made a beautiful picture as she threw her strong, lithe body against the tiller, jibbed the little craft on her heel and crossed the stern of the sloop.
With accurate eye and practised hand she ran to windward of her victim and in a moment the sails of the sloop bellied helplessly. The boy at the helm turned. For the first time the blue eyes met black, and the blue ones dropped under the fire of the black ones.
“Smarty! ’ ’ the eighteen-year-old skipper shouted. He was defiant, but the girl at the helm of the dinghy had taken the wind out of his sails in more ways than one.
LATER that afternoon she saw him J again at the peanut stand where both parties had gone for ice cream, but no word passed between them. It was not long, however, before Ralph Trix found Jeanne’s brother, became acquainted with him and went with him to the Gordon home. No reference was made to the encounter on the river, but after that the two sailed and swam and fished together.
The vivacious, adventurous spirit of the girl appealed to the boy; the wholesome, whole-hearted companionship of the boy to the girl. The boy, fair-haired, blue-eyed, of splendid physique, refined, somewhat reserved and quiet; the girl, crisp wavy black hair, spirited manner, indicative of her character, beautiful, fascinating; boy and girl, bubbling over as they were with enthusiasm, good spirits and, most of all, a love of life as they found it, made a striking couple. Before the end of that first summer the occupants of veranda chairs rocked knowingly and prophesied marriage and happiness ever after. Half their prophecy came true.
They were marred — against her father’s wishes.
“My father’s instinct for my happiness was keener than my own,” said Miss Gordon. “I was too young, too inexperienced to know7. I w7as very much in love—I thought then—with Ralph. I know now that I w7as in love with love, and it was Ralph about w7hom I chose to weave a beautiful romance. My father was never happy about me again and the hardest thing I have ever done in my life w7as to leave him that night of my marriage.
“Had I known that it was to cut forever the bond between us; had I sensed in any way the heartbreaks that were to come out of it, the struggle and tragedy in wrhich it w7ould end, I could never have brought myself to do it.
“But I did not know. Iwas—then— blissfully, happily, in love.”
There will be two more instalments of this story of Jeanne Gordon's rise to the heights. In the second instalment, appearing December 1, the tragic story of her divorce, her runaway escapade to New York, and her penury-haunting days there, will be revealed.