SUMMER STOCK: GUEST STAR
A Complete Story
THERE WERE TWO items of interest in Julie Croy's mail that June morning. One was a clipping from the Old Harbor Courier, the other a telegram from Nelson Hare. The eager and adoring young Courier
reporter had written :
“It is with pleasure that Old Harbor welcomes the distinguished group of players who, under the management of Miss Julie Croy, will bring us a summer feast of varied theatrical fare. This is the first time in the history of our historic town that the noble Thespian art has been brought to our very doors, and it is to be hoped that we will rally to the support of the charming and artistic playhouse into which Miss Croy has transformed the old Bartlett bam. Miss Croy, daughter of the late renowned Shakespearean actor, Thomley Croy, and herself an actress of distinction, supported Nelson Hare in his last season’s success.”
With a little smile Julie laid the clipping aside and opened the telegram. She had guessed that it would be from Nelse. It had been sent from his summer place in Bedford Hills. She had forgotten that he would be so close. He had wired: “What is this I hear, will drive over today to bail you out. Nelse.”
Kent Burroughs, business manager, art director and, in a pinch, comedian of no mean ability, shouted from the box office :
“Ten new subscriptions, Julie! That makes two hundred and nine.”
“Wild cheers for us!” she shouted back and tucked the telegram into her purse.
So Nelse had heard. He was coming to bail her out. Well, she must face it sooner or later. She had not seen him since May, when “Wild Roses,” in which they had played together that season, had closed. She had slipped quietly away the next day and come straight to Old Harbor with all the guilty ecstasy of a child playing truant. After eight months of Broadway the old seaport village had seemed almost too beautiful to bear the gnarled old elms feathered with flippant young leaves, battalions of daffodils guarding every cottage door, cherry blossoms snowing in the salty air.
All winter she had visioned it like this. All winter she had been carrying on a clandestine correspondence with carpenters and masons and quietly assembling her company. Now it was June. Already Farmer Bartlett’s bam once the repository of rusty plowshares and opaque cobwebs, dilapidated buggies and insomniac cats—had taken on the scent and the feel peculiar to the theatre.
Julie sat in the aisle seat R Left, her mail stacked on the seat beside her, a pencil in her hand, a play script on her lap. She was a slender, dark girl with tender brown eyes and a humorous mouth. In her sleeveless linen frock, she looked rather more like a decorous college sophomore than an actress and the daughter of that magnificent stage pomposity, Thomley Croy. Up on the stage the carpenter hammered, and Carl Marsh, the pink-haired production manager, scene painter and prompter, painted cracks in “the crumbling walls of a historic English castle.” Big Duke Ashley, director of plays, was marking his script a few seats away. The emergency exits were open and the voices of the other players, cueing each other on the grass outside, came in on a breeze laden with the scent of June roses, warm earth and the sea.
Duke looked at his watch, ambled to an exit and lifted his voice :
“Ten thirty. Everybody on for act one.”
They came straggling in, half drunk with the unaccustomed salt air and hot sun, fanning themselves with their parts. Little Fan Howard, the ingénue, was last and she arrived with a rush. Her hands were full of wild flowers.
“Look,” she said. “I picked ’em. I simply picked ’em right off the ground. I can’t bear it.”
“She thought,” explained Cora Wills, the character woman, “that flowers were made in florists’ shops.”
“I can’t bear it,” Fan repeated. “You just walk outdoors and pick yourself a ten-dollar corsage--”
“Poor little Broadway discovering Nature,” said Pendleton Johns, the male lead.
“And listen,” said Fan. “I saw a cow and he—”
“She, darling,” corrected Pen. “Cows are shes.”
Fan was indignant. “How do you know whether it was a he or she, you weren’t there !”
Pen appealed to the others. “You can’t say I made this up. You heard her, too.”
“Is this a class in zoology or a rehearsal?” demanded Duke.
They conceded that it was a rehearsal and took their places in the back of the auditorium, leaving the stage to the carpenter and Carl, who announced that ancestral castles were not built in a day.
"Wait a minute ! Where’s our guest star?”
“We won't wait for her,” Duke said. “She isn’t on till the middle of the act and she wants us to build up her entrance anyway.”
“Oh, she wants us to build up her entrance, does she?” said Fan with sweet wonder.
“Hush, here she is,” said Julie, and went to meet Diane Fairlee.
Diane had proved the one rift within Julie’s managerial lute. She was the “find” of a celebrated manager, as beautiful as the dawn and richly gifted but temperamentally as capricious and undisciplined as only an over-indulged prodigy can be.
She kissed Julie’s cheek. They had known each other two weeks.
“Darling!” Diane said and waved gaily to the others.
Julie watched them brace themselves against that devastating presence and pity pinched her heart. But that was the theatre. You could slave and study and wait and then someone bearing the indelible mark of the gods, someone like this glamorous creature, would appear and gather in the laurels for which you had striven half a dreary lifetime. How she hated it ! The uncertainty, the horrible unfairness. Thank God she was through with it.
V\ THEN DIANE’S entrance cue came, she slipped W quietly out. After the dim theatre, the sun was blinding. SI* lifted her face to it and closed her dark eyes. She could feel the hot light on her eyelids and suddenly, without warning, si* felt a man’s lips brush her own and her eyes flew open.
“1 couldn’t resist it,” he said. “Neither could anyone else in the circumstances. It's lucky it was I and not some country' yokel.”
“I’m not so sure,” she said cryptically. “Your wire just came. If you're looking for a job, you’re too late. I’ve already engaged a leading man.”
“Humph!” He backed away, hands deep in the pockets of his linen knickers, sun glinting on his thick bronze hair, and regarded Mr. Bartlett’s erstwhile bam sternly. “So this is what you’ve been up to.”
“Isn’t it grand? I want you to see it all but we can't break in on rehearsal.”
“So you’re actually rehearsing. But Julie, it’s madness! Why the devil didn’t you tell me about it before?”
She smiled at his tone. It would have been only natural for her to tell him, for they had known each other always. 1 le had received his training in her father’s company. When she was seventeen site had played Jessica to his Lorenzo, Celia to his Oliver. Now he was a star and for three seasons she had been his leading woman.
“I didn’t tell anyone, Nelse. I had to work it out by myself. I knew you’d try to stop me. Now nothing can. Regaulet-moi~ Miss Julie Croy, manager of the Old Harbor Playhouse.”
“But my darling nitwit,” he said, “you’re an actress, not a manager.”
She shook her head, her eyes on the distant fields. “No, I’m not. Nelse. I’m through acting.”
"Through acting!” He could hardly get the words out.
“I suppose that is hard for you to understand.” she said. "But you love the theatre. I don't. I hate it. If it hadn’t been for father I’d never have been in it. I hate living in hotels and on trains and going to bed when other j*ople are getting up. I hate everything about the theatre and always have.” There, it was out ! She took a long breath of relief.
“Good lord !” He stared at her. "And how long have you been harboring these heretical ideas?”
"liver so long. I’ve always wanted something like this, something permanent - look!” He looked to where she pointed, at the roofs and church spires of Old Harbor nestling among its ancient trees. “Something like that -with roots. Last summer. I drove through here and found this old bam. Of course I have to do something for a living and the theatre’s the only thing I know.” She made a little gesture of finality. “So here I am.”
both of us. My fondness for security extends to husbands, Ux), you see.”
"Julie, Julie, you can say that to me—after all these years !”
“That’s why I’m saying it. I know you. There are too many women in love with you already. They’ll keep on falling in love with you until you're ninety.” She smiled up at him a little wryly. “Not that you can help it, darling. You’re an actor. But for me love must be a steady flame, not fireworks. Not a gorgeous glaze one minute and ashes the next.”
He at Julie intently. She had never spoken to him like this before. It made him feel a little bleak. He was wondering what she was really trying to say to him when Fan Howard's voice hailed him.
"Oh, hello. Fan. You here, too?”
“Look me over,” said Fan, coming across the grass to them. "I’m a murderess— in thought if not in deed. You’d better send for the sheriff.”
“Whom have you murdered?”
Fan bared a row of strong, white little teeth.
“Our visiting star, darling. If you don’t lock me up I’m going to slip something in her tea—I’m going to butter the stairs —I'm going to tattoo her with my fountain pen.” “She means Diane Fairlee,” Julie explained. “We’re
Here was someone as unlike the Julie Croy that New York knew as Old Harbor was unlike Broadway. She had not been near a beauty parlor for weeks, and her brown hair lay in a loose coil on her neck. Her small hands were grimy. There was a golden film of tan, but no makeup, on her cheeks. A younger and yet a more womanly Julie.
He blurted suddenly: “But what about me? What about next season?”
“You’ll have to find a new leading woman, Nelse. That shouldn’t be difficult.”
“But, darn it, I don’t want a new leading woman.” His eyes narrowed on her. “There’s more in this than meets the eye, methinks. You haven’t fallen in love, by any chance?”
No one but a man as clever —and as blind—as Nelson Hare could have asked that question.
"Not by any chance,” she said lightly. “Who do I know to fall in love with except actors?”
He bent over and brushed his cheek briefly and ever so softly against hers. It was a familiar, an infinitely tender gesture. How often had she seen packed theatres thrill to it.
“Me,” he said. “Of course I’m an actor, but I’m a good one. You might fall in love with me.”
She moved away from him and laughed, but her eyes were harder now.
“I might,” she said, “and that would be fatal—for
trying out a new play for Sam Himebough and she’s playing the lead.”
"I hear she’s good,” Nelse said.
“She is,” Fan agreed warmly. “Much, much too good. If we’d only had some simple amateur like Ellen Terry—”
“She is a little difficult,” Julie said and smoothed Fan’s rumpled hair. “But we’ll have to humor her. How’s the rehearsal coming on?”
“It isn’t. She stopped the show because Pen crossed on one of her lines. Then she had two cat fits, told us we were not sympathetic and threw up the part.”
“She what !” cried Julie. “She can’t do that. She’s under contract.”
"A little thing like a contract won’t hold that woman,” Fan said. “You’ll see. She’ll take to her downy and call in a nerve socialist.”
“But she can’t!” Julie repeated. “We’ve staked everything on this contract and she knows it.” She turned on Nelse and raged: “No human being in the world would dare act like this but an actor!”
“My dearest Julie,” he said benevolently, “actors aren't human beings. You can’t judge them by the same standard, If you’re going to treat them like human beings, you’ll never
make a manager.”
“All right,” she challenged him, “you talk to her, then. You should know how to treat her. She’s wild about you anyway—” She broke off. He was looking fixedly over her shoulder.
“Is that the little hell-cat?” he asked.
She turned to look. Diane stood in the
doorway where Pen apparently had stopped her. Her hands were locked over her breasts, her lovely head thrown back. In a voice quivering with dramatic intensity she was protesting: ‘‘But I
don’t feel it that way, and unless I feel a situation I can’t play it.”
"If she wants to feel something ...” Fan muttered:
r"PHE PLAYERS came trooping out. They spied Nelse and shouted a greeting. At the sound of his name Diane turned and came slowly out into the sunshine. The others were moist and limp from the heat of battle. Diane was as exquisitely fresh as a newly plucked (lower. She came straight for Nelse, her lips parted, her eyes lifted rapturously to his. Julie began, “Diane, this is—” but Diane stopped her.
“As though I needed an introduction to my favorite actor,” she said, and laid a fluttering white moth of a hand in Nelse’s.
He threw a swift glance at Julie, a glance that said, “Now this is the way it’s done,” and bent gallantly over the little hand.
“From all I hear, a great many people feel the same way about you,” he said. "It has made me very eager to see your work.”
“Ah, no.” The little moths fluttered and dropjx'd despairingly at her sides. “I shall never act again.”
“Öf course you will,” he said. “We all have these black moments.”
“Indeed I do. I renounce the stage regularly once a year.” He smiled down on her indulgently. “I hear it’s a wonderful part and that you’re giving a marvellous performance.” “Oh, no ! I—”
“Now you’re being modest. Is this the part?” He drew it gently from her belt where she had tucked it. “How many sides? May I look it over? I’d like so much to see . . .” • He tucked her under his arm and they moved off, still talking, her fluted golden head lifted adoringly to catch his every word.
When they were out of hearing, Cora said sepulchrally: “Enter the ambulances to gather up the dead and wounded.” Director Duke mopped his face. "Does this play go on or does it not?” he demanded of Julie.
“It does,” she said. "Nelse will straighten her out.”
I íe did. He drove Diane over to his place in Bedford I lilis for lunch, and when they came back she radiated sweetness and light. Rehearsal was called and Nelse stayed for it, watching Diane with the critical interest of a teacher in a new pupil.
“She has everything without ever having had to learn anything,” lie told Julie.
“She’s tremendously gifted,” Julie conceded. "You were a darling to take her in hand this morning.”
“It’s hard to keep your handsoff when you find talent like that.” he said gravely.
Julie wondered if he had been able to gauge her talent in that first glimpse of her and turned away, smiling to herself a little grimly.
After that he drove over every day. Rehearsals went more smoothly. Save for her unconcealed scorn for her leading man, Diane behaved beautifully. Nelse was coaching her or so he thought and she hung on his words
breathlessly. They were together constantly, and the
company cocked a wrise and tolerant eye at what was apparently a budding romance.
“If not full blown by now,” said Fan. "You know Nelse. Brief and violent. Let’s hope it lasts till after the opening.” Julie thought it would. Diane was clever and still com-
paratively unknown. Nelson Hare was a star. Diane would see that it lasted —at least until she had reaped some material benefit from the affair. As for Nelse he had appar-
ently forgiven Julie for her intended desertion —or forgotten it. At all events he had never spoken of it after that first
day. It had been a blow, she knew, but at least she had provided Diane to break his fall,
CHE WAS tremendously busy these days with all the ^ unfamiliar and exacting details of managership soliciting subscriptions, superintending sets, reading scripts, arranging publicity, keeping harmony among her players.
Her chief worry in this respect was Pen Johns. Pen had been playing important leads for ten years. He was a competent and an unusually sane actor, and Julie was fond of him.
Diane was doing her talented best to ruin Pen’s rôle. She
had already insisted that several of his speeches were too long, and they had accordingly been cut. She ruined his one big scene by slyly introducing business calculated to centre the attention on herself. She was for ever slurring
his cues or breaking in on his speeches.
Cmlinued on page 59
Summer Stock: Guest Star
Continued from page 7
Pen came to Julie one evening after rehearsal a few days before the opening.
“You know I'd do anything in the world for you, Julie,” he said. "But I don’t see how I’m going through with this. I think she’s deliberately trying to get me out of the cast.”
She started soothingly, “Oh, no, darling —” when Fan Howard interrupted.
“Listen,” Fan said. “Have you heard the latest?”
“No, we’ve been waiting for you to tell us,” said Pen.
“I don’t believe it’s true, but—” She stopped and looked at Julie. “It’s about Nelse. Do you know it?”
Julie smiled brightly, “Why should I?”
“Well, I thought maybe—well, anyway, he and Diane are going to be married. Át least so she says.”
“Heaven help him!”Pen said, and turned to Julie. “But about that business we were discussing, Jule—”
“\es. Oh, yes. I—I’ll speak to her about that, Pen,” Julie said and started away. "I’ll speak to her right now.”
She hurried out. But when she saw Nelse helping Diane into his roadster, she hung back in the shadows until they had driven away. She climbed into her own car and sank down behind the wheel. It was not quite dark, and there was a lovely, blurry haze over the trees and the distant town. The theatre sat a hundred yards back from the road and there was nothing real about the cars swinging past save their headlights. There was nothing real in the world at that moment save Fan’s words. For the first time, Julie felt that her break with Nelse was final. She had never, until that moment, felt entirely secure. She knew Nelson Hare s gift for getting what he wanted. Especially from a woman—especially from a woman who loved him. Now she need fear him no longer.
She sat there while the others left the j theatre. The sound of their cars dwindled in the distance, their voices came back thin and gay across the fields. She sat and fought her battle in the still, sweet darkness, and in the end she found comfort in the knowledge that she need not fight any more. Nelse was lost to her, irrevocably, j Though she might have had him—as much as any woman would ever have him —she would never have had happiness. For the theatre was the breath of life to Nelse. Never could she have pictured him among the ruified curtains and phlox beds of her dreams.
SHE WAS in her little room behind the box office the next morning when Nelse came in. She looked up and smiled at him serenely.
“Hello, darling.” He perched himself on her desk. He looked extraordinarily handsome and buoyant. “Listen, Jule, I don’t want to butt in, but on the other hand I don’t want to see you launch your great ■ enterprise with a flop.”
“You won’t,” she said. “We’re packing ’em in. Look at these orders for seats. And the play’s going to be a hit, mister.”
“It might,” he agreed, "if it weren’t for , Pen Johns. You know he’s too heavy for j high comedy. Why on earth did you get: him up here to play that part?”
“Oh, Pen can act. He’s done it before, you know,” she said dryly. “He’d do it now j if Diane would give him a chance,”
“Don’t be absurd,” he said angrily. “Give ! him a chance ! Why, Diane has to carry him as well as herself. He doesn't give her any more support than a rubber crutch. She’s a marvellous actress, but the poor little soul can’t carry the whole play on her shoulders.” It was three days before the opening, too
I late to permit a crisis to develop now. And so Julie temporized mildly.
"Well, I don’t know what I can do. I can speak to Pen, of course. I know Diane is ¡doing wonderful work.”
! "Wonderful!” he scoffed. “Why, she’s a genius, Jule.” He stood up. “It may i interest you to know that I'm arranging to have her take over your rôle in 'Wild Roses’ when we take it out next season.”
She stared at him aghast. “What !”
He thought she was regretting her decision and said defensively:
“You refused to renew your own contract, if you remember.”
“Yesyes, I know—but ...”
“But what? You told me to get a new leading woman. Well, I’ve got her. You just said yourself that Diane was a wonderful actress.”
“She is. She’s much too— ” She had started to say “much too wonderful” but bit the words off in time. “I just thought —I’m surprised, that’s all, Nelse.”
“And none too pleased, apparently,” he said stiffly. “I must say I expected a little more understanding from you, Julie.” And he stalked out.
Julie sat staring at the place where he had stood, her dark eyes wide, fixed. Some people started to come in. “Get out !” she shouted and they fled. She started to pace the small room. Nelse and Diane! On the same stage ! Oh, no. She could marry him if she liked, but play with him—couldn’t he see what that would mean? No more, evidently, than he had seen that it was Julie’s deliberate subservience, her subtle feeding of his rôles at the cost of her own, that had made his last three plays the successes they were.
But Diane would not be content with a place among the "supporting cast” for long. Diane, too, would be a star, and no mortal stage was ever large enough to accommodate two such inflammable luminaries. Julie could see them fighting for the ascendancy, striving to overact each other, resorting to all those stage tricks which decent actors abhor and which no play can long survive. “Wild Roses” would be shelved, Nelse’s reputation damaged, his self-confidence shaken. And it would be Diane who would rise from the chaos a newly acclaimed star.
Julie sat down and laid her head on her littered desk. She was a fool, she scolded herself, to care. Which did not make her care the less. True, Nelse was a fool, too, but he was an actor. What had he said? "You can't judge actors as you do ordinary human beings.” It was true. Actors were just big children playing make-believe. A little bit crazy. The sane ones had to look out for them.
She got up suddenly and went to the door. She opened it and called:
“Will someone find Pen and send him in here, please?”
"He’s rehearsing, Julie.”
“It doesn’t matter. Send him in.”
Pen looked distraught when he arrived. Evidently Diane had been quarrelling with him again, but she gave him no chance to complain.
"Pen,” she said, “will you do something for me—something tremendous? Will you turn your part over to Nelse if he’ll take it?” He looked at her as if she had suddenly gone mad.
“I think he’ll do it if I ask him. If he doesn’t take any money for it, it'll be a kind of charitable performance and his manager won’t mind. I know there are only two days, but he can be up in a part in twenty-four hours. I’ve seen him do it.” She laid her hand on his arm. “I know this is a rotten thing to do to you. Pen, and, of course, you can stand on your rights, if—”
“Heavens,” he said, “there’s nothing I’d rather do than throw it up. But look here, Julie, I can't see Nelse and Diane—I mean, Nelse isn’t used to playing second fiddle and Diane s is the fat part. She’ll have it even fatter by the time we open and the play isn’t strong enough for two stars.”
“But if Nelse will do it—?”
“He can have it w ith whoops of joy if he wants it,” Pen said.
Nelse did want it. She saw that at once. He confessed that he practically knew the part from attending rehearsals. Evidently Diane had been working up to this very thing. That he would be playing a subordinate rôle was unimportant. He was thinking only of Diane. This was her big chance. With proper support, she would give a superb performance. If he could help her - and so on and on.
He was so boyish and eager, so full of disinterested enthusiasm for his Diane, that Julie listened to him with haggard dismay. Was his love for Diane greater than his love for the theatre? If so, then she could never hope to save him.
“I think I can be up in the part by tonight,” he said. “Couldn’t we call an extra rehearsal—that is, if Di isn’t too fagged?”
“Why, yes, that w'ould be fine.”
“You’re the one that’s fine.” He took her hands and kissed them impulsively. “I knew' you’d see this thing my way, darling. Good old Jule ! Grand old girl !”
When he had gone she laid her head on her desk and wept.
TDEHEARSAL that night started off ^ beautifully. No one minded, everyone was tremendously excited. Nelson Hare stepping into Pen John’s part— that was something to be excited about. From the moment of his first entrance the play took on new zest, deeper meaning. Diane, waiting in the wings for her cue, was ecstatic. During her first scene with Nelse their small audience of colleagues w'atched with breathless awe. It went smoothly enough save for one or two gentle reproofs from Nelse: “Would it not be better to sit on that line, dear? When you stand, it’s a little too much as if you were making a public speech.” “Better come upon that line, darling, you’re making love to me, not the audience, you know.” Diane was all acquiescence and sweetness. It was much the same throughout the second act. His suggestions were mild, few and reasonable. Diane indulged her weakness for playing to the front to her heart’s content. After all, it was her act.
Julie watched from the back of the theatre, her hands curled like claws over the seat in front of her, her cheeks and eyes burning. The atmosphere of the place was electric when the third act started.
In this act the author had thrown his play to his male protagonist. The rehearsal had not been under way fifteen minutes when Nelse stopped it.
“Just a minute, that’s my cue.”
“No, we cut your speech there, Nelse,” the director said. “Miss Fairlee thought—” “You mean you cut out that whole—
“It was marked out in Pen’s part. You must have studied the script.”
“We thought the speech was irrelevant, Nelse dear,” Diane explained.
“Irrelevant nothing!” he said. “It illuminates the character. It must be left in, of course. Let’s go back.”
They went back, but Diane’s delicate nostrils quivered. Five minutes later she stopped in the middle of a speech and cried: "But you don’t cross there—right when I’m—”
“Of course I cross there. Look here, the script says ‘starts to go’—”
“But we haven’t been doing it that way. If you cross there the audience follows you, not me—”
“Not if you read your lines right, my dear, they won’t. In the action you’re supposed to hold me back by the force of your eloquence and charm. If I don’t start to leave, it weakens your performance.”
“I don’t see it that way,” she said. “There’s no other way to see it, child. Let’s go back.”
Nelson Hare was not Pen Johns. Once more they went back. In the naked glare of the overhead light, Diane’s cheek bones blazed and she moved with the stiff dignity of an offended queen. The act worked up to the final big scene between them; the scene in which the man finally throws off the yoke of his fair charmer’s dominance. In his beautiful, resonant voice, Nelse launched his speech of renunciation at Diane, huddled
on a chair, a supposedly broken woman. Suddenly he broke off, raised his arms and waved them wildly.
"For heaven’s sake, don’t do that!” he bellowed at her. “Keep your hands still! Look at me ! You’re supposed to be listening to me, not doing monkey tricks with your face and hands. Now, let’s go back.”
But this time she balked. She crumpled up, sobbing that she had never been spoken to so brutally in her life. Nelse—the man, now, not the actor —apologized, reasoned, caressed. He hadn’t intended to speak so harshly. He had lost his temper. She must remember that they were acting. But she was only half consoled. She refused to go on with the rehearsal. She was too shaken. He followed her out, still explaining, reasoning.
Pen Johns, sitting quietly in the shadows with a broad grin on his usually sober face, felt a pair of soft arms encircle him from the rear, a pair of lips brush his cheek.
“Pen, Pen, you’re a darling, you’re an angel,” said Julie in a queer, choking voice.
Before he could turn around, she was gone. He felt something on his cheek and brushed it off. Something wet. Something that might have been a tear.
ALL THE NEXT DAY they rehearsed.
But Julie entrenched herself in her little office out of the range of battle and refused to come out. Here she received regular and conscientious reports of the conflict. Duke’s was the earliest.
“I can’t do anything with them, Julie. They’re directing themselves now, so don’t blame me if—”
“I won’t blame you for anything, you sweet thing,” Julie said. He had never seen her look lovelier. Her dark eyes were shining, her color was high and she was smiling—even laughing, in the face of disaster. He left her, convinced that he had overrated her intelligence.
Pen Johns came in a little later, trying hard not to appear too triumphant.
“Nelse has got every cut speech back in the part, and he’s putting ’em over for all they’ve got in ’em,” he said.
“Is he, Pen? Is he really, darling?” Julie rejoiced.
Pen’s conscience bothered him at the sight of so much innocent joy.
“But I’m afraid they’re going to wreck the play, Julie. I really—”
“Oh, you’re a pessimist,” she said and pushed him out.
The next report was that Diane was indulging in a fit of hysterics while Nelse sulkily smoked a cigarette and did nothing about it.
“They’re like a couple of cocks,” Fan Howard said. “Before they’re through one of them is going to be a corpse.”
So it went all through the long, hot afternoon. Once in a while the sound of the tumult reached Julie’s ears, and she covered them with her hands and rocked her head in ecstatic content. Content! The play would be a horrible fiasco, Himebough would probably refuse to buy it, other managers would hear of it and refuse to come up for any more openings, her judgment as a manager would be impugned, her subscribers disappointed, probably many of them would withdraw their patronage. She had lost her money, sacrificed her dream —and for what? To save a great actor for his public? No, it was deeper than that. What she had saved was Nelse Hare’s idea of himself.
Dress rehearsal was called for that evening, but Julie did not wait for it. Before the sun had set, she let herself out through the box office, climbed into her car and drove six miles to the beach. There in the wide, white silence she sat until midnight. Then she went back to the village inn and crept to bed like a guilty thief.
When she reached the theatre in the morning Duke came running out to the car. His hair was on end, his large face white and damp.
“They’re sick. Both of them. I tried to reach you on the telephone—”
“What! Who’s sick?” She knew but she couldn’t believe it.
“Nelse and Diane. They sent word—first Diane, then Nelse about half an hour ago. And they’re both sending doctors’ certificates to prove it. What are we going to do now?”
Julie didn’t know. She began to laugh. She screamed with laughter. The others who had followed Duke out stood around and stared at her solemnly. She stopped laughing suddenly.
“One of them’s faking.” she said. “It isn’t Nelse. He’s an actor. He’d go on if he had to bribe death. It must be Diane. Go over to the hotel and tell her that Nelse is out and we’ll put Pen back in the part.” “But will Pen—”
“Of course he will. Pen’s an actor, too. He’s staying at the inn. Go and rout him out, Fan. Duke, you go for Diane. She’ll come quickly enough when she hears that Nelse is out.” She stepped on her starter.
Duke roared: “Here, wait! Where are you going?”
And she roared back: “To see Nelse, of course—he’s sick!”
WHAT IF IT WERE her opening night !
What if there were a thousand urgencies calling her back! Nelse was sick. Or hurt perhaps. A thousand dire conjectures beset her during that twenty-mile drive. She made it in half an hour and arrived at the imposing colonial structure, which Nelse called his “summer shack,” with her hair flying around her flushed cheeks.
The first person she saw was Nelse himself, taking his elegant ease and his breakfast in a wicker chaise longue on the terrace. At sight of her he leaped up and came striding over to the car.
Perfectly sound in wind and limb, maddeningly handsome and cool in the most correct of summer linens. She had never been so angry in her life. Actors !
"I thought you were sick!” she said furiously.
“You didn’t, darling! I mean,not really.” He saw then how things were. “My dear, I’m so sorry. I tried to reach you on the phone but you’d left the inn.”
“Yes,” she said through her teeth. “This being a rather busy day for me, I had one or two things to do.”
“Jule, don’t be angry with me. Come and sit down and let me explain. Come and have a cup of coffee with me. You look all in.”
“Not really!” she said, but she got out. Let him explain by all means. She was trembling with fatigue and relief. She hadn’t even strength enough to shake off the arm he laid about her shoulders.
He sent his Jap for more coffee and made her sit in the chaise longue and fanned her gently with the newspaper. It was deliciously cool and restful there on the broad terrace, with the little breeze shaking perfume out of the flowering shrubs and the stately trees bending over them.
Finally Nelse moved her feet aside and sat down on the foot rest facing her.
“Jule, darling, you must know I wouldn’t deliberately let you down like this without good cause.”
So he thought that was why she had come dashing over here like a fire engine. Well, let him think it.
“What do you call it?”
His eyes narrowed into hostile slits.
“I never wanted to play a part so badly in my life, solely to teach that little hell-cat a lesson. But it would have wrecked your play. It might have ruined your whole season.” He took her hand. “I couldn’t have done that to you. Julie.”
She closed her eyes and opened them. He was still there, watching her anxiously.
“So that—so that's why you said you i were sick.”
“Of course.” He seemed surprised at the j question. “You were too busy to watch the rehearsal yesterday, or you’d have seen,” he explained gravely. “I couldn't have given a decent performance with that little—”
“Yes, yes,” she patted his hand. “Go on.” ' “No actor of any integrity could have given a decent performance in the circumstances,” he said. “In justice to myself and the play, I’d have had to do my best if I'd ; gone on with it, and with that little—” “Diane?” she prompted gently.
“With her fighting me every inch of the way, it would have been a horrible flop.”
“I see,” she said.
“If it hadn’t been for you, I’d have stuck it out and acted that spoiled brat off the stage once and for all.”
“I’m glad you didn’t. It was sweet of you to think of me, Nelse.”
“I knew how much it meant to you. I hope it’ll be all right. I telephoned Pen, and he was decent enough to say he’d take back the part.”
Coffee came, hot and strong, and Julie sipped it and wondered lazily what was happening at the Old Harbor Playhouse. Not that it mattered. Presently Nelse said: “I must have been crazy to think of taking that girl out in ‘Wild Roses.’ Of course you know that’s all off.”
“Is it?” she said innocently.
He glanced at her sharply, his color rising.
“I feel cheap enough without your rubbing it in, Jule.”
“You’ve nothing to feel cheap about. You’ve just done a noble deed. You’ve probably*saved my theatre for me.”
“Wasn’t I a fool?” he said and bent over her. “But you didn’t mean what you said the other day—about leaving the stage. You couldn’t have meant it. You know how much I I need you, Jule—in the theatre and out of it.” He dropped his head on her shoulder. “I’m terribly ashamed about all this. But won’t you come back to me, Jule darling?"
Her dream faded out like the mirage it had always been. In its stead she saw the dingy confusion of backstage, smelled the grease paint and sizzling mascara, heard the relentless bellow of the call boy. The theatre ! It rolled out endlessly ahead of her —Broadway and its determined, empty glamor, the road and its sooty trains and strange hotels. Rehearsals. Failures. Successes. Nelse, with a Diane lurking in every town. Her Nelse—as much of him as she could hold. Not very much, perhaps, but enough. Love! That was it. Love, shining like a great spotlight on all that shoddy artificiality, lending it glory and glamor—there should be something newwritten about love !
She stroked the bronze head dreamily. “Of course I’ll come back,” she said.