Helen was more deeply hurt and humiliated by her playwright's flight than by the apparent failure of the play, but the two experiences coming together fairly stunned her. To have the curtain go down on her final scenes to feeble and hesitating applause was a new and painful experience. Never since her first public reading had she failed to move and interest her audience. What had happened? What had so swiftly weakened her hold on her admirers? Up to that moment she had been sure that she could make any character successful.
For a few moments she stood in the middle of the stage stifling with a sense of mortification and defeat, then turned, and without a word or look to any one went to her dressing-room.
Her maid was deeply sympathetic, and by sudden impulse stooped and kissed her cheek, saying, "Never mind, Miss Merival, it was beautiful."
This unexpected caress brought the tears to the proud girl's eyes. "Thank you, Nora. Some of the audience will agree with you, I hope."
"I'm sure of it, miss. Don't be downcast."
Hugh knocked at the door. "Can you come out?"
"Not now, Hugh. In a few moments."
"There are some people here to see you—"
She wanted to say, "I don't want to see them," but she only said, "Please ask them to wait."
She knew by the tone of her brother's voice that he, too, was choking with indignation, and she dreaded the meeting with him and with Westervelt. She was sustained by the hope that Douglass would be there to share her punishment. "Why had he not shown himself?" she asked again, with growing resentment.
When she came out fully dressed she looked tired and pale, but her head was high and her manner proudly self-contained.
Westervelt, surrounded by a small group of depressed auditors, among whom were Mrs. MacDavitt, Hugh, and Royleston, was holding forth in a kind of bellow. "It proves what? Simply that they will not have her in these preachy domestic parts, that's all. Every time she tries it she gets a 'knock.' I complain, I advise to the contrary. Does it do any good? No. She must chance it, all to please this crank, this reformer."
The mother, reading the disappointment and suffering in Helen's white face, reached for her tremulously and drew her to her bosom. "Never mind what they say, Nellie; it was beautiful and it was true."
Even Westervelt was awed by the calm look Helen turned on the group. "You are very sure of yourself, Mr. Westervelt, but to my mind this night only proves that this audience came to hear me without intelligent design." She faced the silent group with white and weary face. "Certainly Mr. Douglass's play is not for such an audience as that which has been gathering to see me as The Baroness, but that does not mean that I have no other audience. There is a public for me in this higher work. If there isn't, I will retire."
Westervelt threw his hands in the air with a tragic gesture. "Retire! My Gott, that would be insanity!"
Helen turned. "Come, mother, you are tired, and so am I. Mr. Westervelt, this is no place for this discussion. Good-night." She bowed to the friends who had loyally gathered to greet her. "I am grateful to you for your sympathy."
There was, up to this time, no word of the author; but Hugh, as he walked by her side, broke out resentfully, "Do you know that beggar playwright—"
"Not a word of him, Hugh," she said. "You don't know what that poor fellow is suffering. Our disappointment is nothing in comparison with his. Think of what he has lost."
"Nonsense! He has lost nothing, because he had nothing to lose. He gets us involved—"
"Hugh!" There was something in her utterance of his name which silenced him more effectually than a blow. "I produced this play of my own free will," she added, a moment later, "and I will take the responsibility of it."
In the carriage the proud girl leaned back against the cushions, and pressed her two hands to her aching eyes, from which the tears streamed. It was all so tragically different from their anticipations. They were to have had a little supper of jubilation together, to talk it all over, to review the evening's triumph, and now here she sat chill with disappointment, while he was away somewhere in the great, heartless city suffering tortures, alone and despairing.
The sweet, old mother put her arm about her daughter's waist.
"Don't cry, dearie; it will all come right. You can endure one failure. 'Tis not as bad as it seems."
Helen did not reply as she was tempted to do by saying, "It isn't my defeat, it is his failure to stand beside me and receive his share of the disaster." And they rode the rest of the way in sad silence.
As she entered her room a maid handed her a letter which she knew to be from Douglass even before she saw the handwriting, and, without opening it, passed on into her room. "His message is too sacred for any other to see," she said to herself, with instant apprehension of the bitter self-accusation with which he had written.
The suffering expressed by the scrawling lines softened her heart, her anger died away, and only big tears of pity filled her glorious eyes. "Poor boy! His heart is broken." And a desire to comfort him swelled her bosom with a passion almost maternal in its dignity. Now that his pride was humbled, his strong figure bowed, his clear brain in turmoil, her woman's tenderness sought him and embraced him without shame. Her own strength and resolution came back to her. "I will save you from yourself," she said, softly.
When she returned to the reception-room she found Westervelt and Hugh and several of the leading actors (who took the evening's "frost" as a reflection on themselves, an injury to their reputations), all in excited clamor; but when they saw their star enter they fell silent, and Westervelt, sweating with excitement, turned to meet her.
"You must not go on. It is not the money alone; it will ruin you with the public. It is not for you to lecture the people. They will not have it. Such a failure I have never seen. It was not a 'frost,' it was a frozen solid. We will announce The Baroness for to-morrow. The pressmen are waiting below. I shall tell them?" His voice rose in question.
"Mr. Westervelt, this is my answer, and it is final. I will not take the play off, and I shall expect you to work with your best energy to make it a success. One night does not prove Lillian a failure. The audience to-night was not up to it, but that condemns the auditors, not the play. I do not wish to hear any more argument. Good-night."
The astounded and crestfallen manager bowed his head and went out.
Helen turned to the others. "I am tired of this discussion. One would think the sky had fallen—from all this tumult. I am sorry for you, Mr. Royleston, but you are no deeper in the slough than Miss Collins and the rest, and they are not complaining. Now let us sit down to our supper and talk of something else."
Royleston excused himself and went away, and only Hugh, Miss Collins, Miss Carmichael, and the old mother drank with the star to celebrate the first performance of Lillian's Duty.
"I have had a letter from Mr. Douglass," Helen said, softly, when they were alone. "Poor fellow, he is absolutely prostrate in the dust, and asks me to throw him overboard as our Jonah. Put yourself in his place, Hugh, before speaking harshly of him."
"I don't like a coward," he replied, contemptuously. "Why didn't he face the music to-night? I never so much as set eyes on him after he came in. He must have been hiding in the gallery. He leads you into this crazy venture and then deserts you. A man who does that is a puppy."
A spark of amusement lit Helen's eyes. "You might call him that when you meet him next."
Hugh, with a sudden remembrance of the playwright's powerful frame, replied, a little less truculently: "I'll call him something more fit than that when I see him. But we won't see him again. He's out of the running."
Helen laid her cheek on her folded hands, and, with a smile which cleared the air like a burst of sunshine, said, laughingly: "Hugh, you're a big, bad boy. You should be out on the ice skating instead of managing a theatre. You have no more idea of George Douglass than a bear has of a lion. This mood of depression is only a cloud; it will pass and you will be glad to beg his pardon. My faith in him and in Lillian's Duty is unshaken. He has the artistic temperament, but he has also the pertinacity of genius. Come, let's all go to bed and forget our hurts."
And with this she rose and kissed her mother good-night.
Hugh, still moody, replied, with sudden tenderness: "It hurt me to see them go out on your last scene. I can't forgive Douglass for that."
She patted his cheek. "Never mind that, Hughie. 'This, too, shall pass away.'"
At two o'clock, when Douglass returned to his hotel, tired and reckless of any man's scorn, the night clerk smiled and said, as he handed him a handful of letters, "I hear you had a great audience, Mr. Douglass."
The playwright did not discover Helen's note among his letters till he had reached his room, and then, without removing his overcoat, he stood beneath the gas-jet and read:
"MY DEAR AUTHOR,—My heart bleeds for you. I know how you must suffer, but you must not despair. A first night is not conclusive. Do not blame yourself. I took up your play with my eyes open to consequences. You are wrong if you think even the failure of this play (which I do not grant) can make any difference in my feeling towards you. The power of the lines, your high purpose, remain. Suppose it does fail? You are young and fertile of imagination. You can write another and better play in a month, and I will produce it. My faith in you is not weakened, for I know your work is good. I have turned my back on the old art and the old roles; I need you to supply me with new ones. This is no light thing with me. I confess to surprise and dismay to-night, but I should not have been depressed had you been there beside me. I was deeply hurt and puzzled by your absence, but I think I understand how sore and wounded you were. Come in to see me to-morrow, as usual, and we will consider what can be done with this play and plan for a new one. Come! You are too strong and too proud to let a single unfriendly audience dishearten you. We will read the papers together at luncheon and laugh at the critics. Don't let your enemies think they have driven you into retirement. Forget them in some new work, and remember my faith in you is not shaken."
This letter, so brave, so gravely tender and so generous, filled him with love, choked him with grateful admiration. "You are the noblest woman in the world, the bravest, the most forgiving. I will not disappoint you."
His bitterness and shame vanished, his fists clinched in new resolution. "You are right. I can write another play, and I will. My critics shall laugh from the other side of their mouths. They shall not have the satisfaction of knowing that they have even wounded me. I will justify your faith in my powers. I will set to work to-morrow—this very night—on a new play. I will make you proud of me yet, Helen, my queen, my love." With that word all his doubts vanished. "Yes, I love her, and I will win her."
In the glow of his love-born resolution he began to search among his papers for an unfinished scenario called Enid's Choice. When he had found it he set to work upon it with a concentration that seemed uncanny in the light of his day's distraction and dismay. Lillian's Duty and the evening's bitter failure had already grown dim in his mind.
Helen's understanding of him was precise. He was of those who never really capitulate to the storm, no matter how deeply they may sink at times in the trough of the sea. As everything had been against him up to that moment, he was not really taken by surprise. All his life he had gone directly against the advice and wishes of his family. He had studied architecture rather than medicine, and had set his face towards the East rather than the West. Every dollar he had spent he had earned by toil, and the things he loved had always seemed the wasteful and dangerous things. He wrote plays in secret when he should have been soliciting commissions for warehouses, and read novels when he should have been intent upon his business.
"It was impossible that I should succeed so quickly, so easily, even with the help of one so powerful as Helen Merival. It is my fate to work for what I get." And with this return of his belief that to himself alone he must look for victory, his self-poise and self-confidence came back.
He looked strong, happy, and very handsome next morning as he greeted the clerk of the Embric, who had no guile in his voice as he said:
"Good-morning, Mr. Douglass. I hear that your play made a big hit last night."
"I reckon it hit something," he replied, with easy evasion.
The clerk continued: "My wife's sister was there. She liked it very much."
"I am very glad she did," replied Douglass, heartily. As he walked over towards the elevator a couple of young men accosted him.
"Good-morning, Mr. Douglass. We are from The Blazon. We would like to get a little talk out of you about last night's performance. How do you feel about the verdict."
"It was a 'frost,'" replied Douglass, with engaging candor, "but I don't consider the verdict final. I am not at all discouraged. You see, it's all in getting a hearing. Miss Merival gave my play a superb production, and her impersonation ought to fill the theatre, even if Lillian's Duty were an indifferent play, which it is not. Miss Merival, in changing the entire tone and character of her work, must necessarily disappoint a certain type of admirer. Last night's audience was very largely made up of those who hate serious drama, and naturally they did not like my text. All that is a detail. We will create our own audience."
The reporters carried away a vivid impression of the author's youth, strength, and confidence, and one of them sat down to convey to the public his admiration in these words:
"Mr. Douglass is a Western man, and boldly shies his buckskin into the arena and invites the keenest of his critics to take it up. If any one thinks the 'roast' of his play has even singed the author's wings, he is mistaken. He is very much pleased with himself. As he says, a hearing is a great thing. He may be a chopping-block, but he don't look it."
Helen met her playwright with an anxious, tired look upon her face, but when he touched her fingers to his lips and said, "At your service, my lady," she laughed in radiant, sudden relief.
"Oh, but I'm glad to see you looking so gay and strong. I was heart-sore for you last night. I fancied you in all kinds of torture."
His face darkened. "I was. My blue devils assailed me, but I vanquished them, thanks to your note," he added, with a burning glance deep-sent, and his voice fell to a tenderness which betrayed his heart. "I think you are the most tolerant star that ever put out a hand to a poor author. What a beast I was to run away! But I couldn't help it then. I wanted to see you, but I couldn't face Westervelt and Royleston. I couldn't endure to hear them say, 'I told you so.' You understood, I'm sure of it."
She studied him with admiring eyes. "Yes, I understood—later. At first I was crushed. It shook my faith in you for a little while." She put off this mood (whose recollected shadows translated into her face filled Douglass's throat with remorse) and a smile disclosed her returning sense of humor. "Oh, Hugh and Westervelt are angry—perfectly purple with indignation against you for leading me into a trap—"
"I feared that. That is why I begged you to throw my play—"
She laid a finger on her lips, for Mrs. MacDavitt came in. "Mother, here is Mr. Douglass. I told you he would come. I hope you are hungry. Let us take our places. Hugh is fairly used up this morning. Do you see that bunch of papers?" she asked, pointing at a ragged pile. "After breakfast we take our medicine."
"No," he said, firmly. "I have determined not to read a line of them. To every word you speak I will listen, but I will not be harrowed up by a hodgepodge of personal prejudices written by my enemies before the play was produced or in a hurried hour between the fall of the curtain and going to press. I know too much about how these judgments are cooked up. I saw the faults of the play a good deal clearer than did any of those sleepy gentlemen who came to the theatre surfeited and weary and resentful of your change of programme."
She looked thoughtful. "Perhaps you are right," she said, at last. "I will not read them. I know what they will say—"
"I thought the play was very beautiful," said Mrs. MacDavitt. "And my Nellie was grand."
Helen patted her mother's hand. "We have one loyal supporter, Mr. Douglass."
"Ye've many more, if the truth were known," said the old mother, stoutly, for she liked young Douglass.
"I believe that," cried Helen. "Did you consider that as I change my roles and plays I must also, to a large extent, change my audience? The people who like me as Baroness Telka are amazed and angered by your play. They will not come to see me. But there are others," she added, with a smile at the slang phrase.
"I thought of that, but not till last night."
"It will take longer to inform and interest our new public than any of us realized. I am determined to keep Lillian on for at least four weeks. Meanwhile you can prune it and set to work on a new one. Have you a theme?"
"I have a scenario," he triumphantly answered. "I worked it out this morning between two o'clock and four."
She reached her hand to him impulsively, and as he took it a warm flush came into her face and her eyes were suffused with happy tears.
"That's brave," she said. "I told them you could not be crushed. I knew you were of those who fight hardest when closest pressed. You must tell me about it at once—not this minute, of course, but when we are alone."
When Hugh came in a few minutes later he found them discussing a new automobile which had just made a successful trial run. The play became the topic of conversation again, but on a different plane.
Hugh was blunt, but not so abusive as he had declared his intention to be. "There's nothing in Lillian," he said—"not a dollar. We're throwing our money away. We might better close the theatre. We won't have fifty dollars in the house to-night. It's all right as a story, but it won't do for the stage."
Douglass kept his temper. "It was too long; but I can better that in a few hours. I'll have a much closer-knit action by Wednesday night."
As they were rising from the table Westervelt entered with a face like a horse, so long and lax was it. "They have burned us alive!" he exclaimed, as he sank into a chair and mopped his red neck. He shook like a gelatine pudding, and Helen could not repress a smile.
"Your mistake was in reading them. We burned the critics."
The manager stared in vast amaze. "You didn't read the papers?"
"Well, they say—"
She stopped him. "Don't tell me what they say—not a word. We did our best and we did good work, and will do better to-night, so don't come here like a bird of ill-omen, Herr Westervelt. Go kill the critics if you feel like it, but don't worry us with tales of woe. Our duty is to the play. We cannot afford to waste nervous energy writhing under criticism. What is said is said, and repeating it only hurts us all." Her tone became friendly. "Really, you take it too hard. It is only a matter of a few thousand dollars at the worst, and to free you from all further anxiety I will assume the entire risk. I will rent your theatre."
"No, no!" cried Hugh. "We can't afford to do that."
"We can't afford to do less. I insist," she replied, firmly.
The manager lifted his fat shoulders in a convulsive shrug. His face indicated despair of her folly. "Good Gott! Well, you are the doctor, only remember there will not be one hundred people in the house to-night." He began to recover speech. "Think of that! Helen Merival playing to empty chairs—in my theatre. Himmel!"
"It is sad, I confess, but not hopeless, Herr Westervelt. We must work the harder to let the thoughtful people of the city know what we are trying to do."
"Thoughtful people!" Again his scorn ran beyond his words for a moment and his tongue grew German. "Doughtful beople. Dey dondt bay dwo tollors fer seats! Our pusiness iss to attract the rich—the gay theatre-goers. Who is going to pring a theatre-barty to see a sermon on the stage—hay?"
"You are unjust to Lillian's Duty. It is not a sermon; it is a powerful acting play—the best part, from a purely acting standpoint, I have ever undertaken to do. But we will not discuss that now. The venture is my own, and you will be safe-guarded. I will instruct my brother to make the new arrangement at once."
With a final, despairing shrug the manager rose and went out, and Helen, turning an amused face to Douglass, asked, humorously: "Isn't he the typical manager?—in the clouds to-day, stuck in the mud to-morrow. Sometimes he is excruciatingly funny, and then he disgusts me. They're almost all alike. If business should be unexpectedly good to-night he would be a man transformed. His face would shine, he would grasp every actor by the hand, he would fairly fall upon your neck; but if business went down ten dollars on Wednesday night then look for the 'icy mitt' again. Big as he is he curls up like a sensitive plant when touched by adversity. He can't help it; he's really a child—a big, fat boy. But come, we must now consider the cuts for Lillian; then to our scenario."
As the attendants whisked away the breakfast things Helen brought out the original manuscript of Lillian's Duty, and took a seat beside her playwright. "Now, what is the matter with the first act?"
"I agree. What is out in the second?"
"Here and here and here," he answered, turning the leaves rapidly.
"I felt it. I couldn't hold them there. Royleston's part wants the knife badly. Now, the third act?"
"It is too diffuse, and the sociologic background gets obstinately into the foreground. As I sat there last night I saw that the interest was too abstract, too impersonal for the ordinary play-goer. I can better that. The fourth act must be entirely rewritten. I will do that this afternoon."
She faced him, glowing with recovered joy and recovered confidence. "Now you are Richard once again upon his horse."
"A hobby horse," he answered, with a laugh, then sobered. "In truth, my strength comes from you. At least you roused me. I was fairly in the grasp of the Evil One when your note came. Your splendid confidence set me free. It was beautiful of you to write me after I had sneaked away like a wounded coyote. I cannot tell you what your letter was to me."
She held up a finger. "Hush! No more of that. We are forgetting, and you are becoming personal." She said this in a tone peculiarly at variance with the words. "Now read me the scenario of the new play. I am eager to know what has moved you, set you on high again."
The creative fire began to glow in his eyes. "This is to be as individual, as poetic, as the other was sociologic. The character you are to play is that of a young girl who knows nothing of life, but a great deal of books. Enid's whole world is revealed by the light which streams from the window of a convent library—a gray, cold light with deep shadows. She is tall and pale and severe of line, but her blue eyes are deep and brooding. Her father, a Western mine-owner, losing his second wife, calls on his daughter to return from the Canadian convent in which she has spent seven years. She takes her position as an heiress in his great house. She is plunged at once into the midst of a pleasure-seeking, thoughtless throng of young people whose interests in life seem to her to be grossly material. She becomes the prey of adventurers, male and female, and has nothing but her innate purity to defend her. Ultimately there come to her two men who type the forces at war around her, and she is forced to choose between them."
As he outlined this new drama the mind of the actress took hold of Enid's character, so opposite in energy to Lillian, and its great possibilities exalted her, filled her with admiration for the mind which could so quickly create a new character.
"I see I shall never want for parts while you are my playwright," she said, when he had finished.
"Oh, I can write—so long as I have you to write for and to work for," he replied. "You are the greatest woman in the world. Your faith in me, your forgiveness of my cowardice, have given me a sense of power—"
She spoke quickly and with an effort to smile. "We are getting personal again."
He bowed to the reminder. "I beg your pardon. I will not offend again."
Helen's warning was not as playful as it seemed to her lover, for something in the glow of his eyes and something vibrant in the tones of his voice had disturbed her profoundly. The fear of something which he seemed perilously near saying filled her with unrest, bringing up questions which had thus far been kept in the background of her scheme of life.
"Some time I shall marry, I suppose," she had said to one of her friends, "but not now; my art will not permit it. Wedlock to an actress," she added, "is almost as significant as death. It may mean an end of her playing—a death to her ambitions. When I decide to marry I shall also decide to give up the stage."
"Oh, I don't know," replied the other. "There are plenty who do not. In fact, Mary Anderson is the exception. When the conquering one comes along you'll marry him and make him your leading man, the way so many others do."
"When 'the conquering one' comes along I shall despise the stage," retorted Helen, with laughing eyes—"at least I'm told I will."
"Pish! You'd give a dozen husbands for the joy of facing a big first-night audience. I tell Horace that if it comes to a matter of choice for me he'll have to go. Gracious goodness! I could no more live without the applause of the stage—"
"How about the children?"
"The children! Oh, that's different. The dear tots! Well, luckily, they're not absolutely barred. It's hard to leave the darlings behind. When I go on the road I miss their sweet little caresses; but I have to earn their bread, you see, and what better career is open to me."
Helen grew grave also. "I don't like to think of myself as an old actress. I want to have a fixed abiding-place when I am forty-five. Gray hairs should shine in the light of a fireside."
"There's always peroxide," put in the other, and their little mood of seriousness vanished.
It was, indeed, a very unusual situation for a young and charming actress. The Hotel Embric stood just where three great streams of wealth and power and fashion met and mingled. Its halls rustled with the spread silks of pride and glittered with the jewels of spendthrift vanity, and yet few knew that high in the building one of the most admired women of the city lived in almost monastic seclusion. The few men who recognized her in the elevator or in the hall bowed with deferential admiration. She was never seen in the dining-rooms, and it was known that she denied herself to all callers except a very few intimate friends.
This seclusion—this close adherence to her work—added to her mystery, and her allurement in the eyes of her suitors increased as they sought vainly for an introduction. It was reported that this way of life was "all a matter of business, a cold, managerial proposition," a method of advertising; but so far as Helen herself was implicated, it was a method of protection.
She had an instinctive dislike, almost a fear, of those who sought her acquaintance, and when Westervelt, with blundering tactlessness or impudent design, brought round some friends, she froze them both with a single glance.
Furthermore, by denying herself to one she was able to escape the other, and thus save herself for her work; for though she had grown to hate the plays through which she reached the public, she believed in the power and the dignity of her art. It was a means of livelihood, it gratified her vanity; but it was more than this. In a dim way she felt herself in league with a mighty force, and the desire to mark an epoch in the American drama came to her. This, too, was a form of egotism, but a high form.
"I do not care to return to the old," she said. "There are plenty of women to do Beatrice and Viola and Lady Macbeth. I am modern. I believe in the modern and I believe in America. I don't care to start a fad for Ibsen or Shaw. I would like to develop our own drama."
"You will have to eliminate the tired business-man and his fat wife and their late dinners," said a cynical friend.
"All business-men are not tired and all wives are not fat. I believe there is a public ready to pay their money to see good American drama. I have found a man who can write—"
"Beware of that man," said the cynic, with a twofold meaning in his tone. "'He is a dreamer; let him pass.'"
"I do not fear him," she replied, with a gay smile.
Douglass now set to work on his second play with teeth clinched. "I will win out in spite of them," he said. "They think I am beaten, but I am just beginning to fight." As the days wore on his self-absorption became more and more marked. All his morning hours were spent at his writing, and when he came to Helen he was cold and listless, and talked of nothing but Enid and her troubles. Even as they rode in the park his mind seemed forever revolving lines and scenes. In the midst of her attempt to amuse him, to divert him, he returned to his theme. He invited her judgments and immediately forgot to listen, so morbidly self-centred was he.
He made no further changes in the book of Lillian's Duty, but put aside Westervelt's request with a wave of his hand. "I leave all that to Miss Merival," he said. "I can't give it any thought now."
From one point of view Helen could not but admire this power of concentration, but when she perceived that her playwright's work had filled his mind to the exclusion of herself she began to suffer. Her pride resented his indifference, and she was saved from anger and disgust only by the beauty of the writing he brought to her.
"The fury of the poet is on him. I must not complain," she thought, and yet a certain regret darkened her face. "All that was so sweet and fine has passed out of our intercourse," she sadly admitted to herself. "I am no longer even the great actress to him. Once he worshipped me—I felt it; now I am a commonplace friend. Is the fault in me? Am I one whom familiarity lessens in value?"
She did not permit herself to think that this was a lasting change, that he had forever passed beyond the lover, and that she would never again fill his world with mystery and light and longing.
And yet this monstrous recession was the truth. In the stress of his work the glamour had utterly died out of Douglass's conception of Helen, just as the lurid light of her old-time advertising had faded from the bill-boards and from the window displays of Broadway. As cold, black, and gray instantaneous photographs had taken the place of the gorgeous, jewel-bedecked, elaborate lithographs of the old plays, so now his thought of her was without warmth.
Helen became aware, too, of an outside change. Her friends used this as a further warning.
"You are becoming commonplace to the public," one said, with a touch of bitterness. "Your admirers no longer wonder. Go back to the glitter and the glory."
"No," she replied. "I will regain my place, and with my own unaided character—and my lines," she added, with a return to her faith in Douglass.
And yet her meetings with him were now a species of torture. Her self-respect suffered with every glance of his eyes. He resembled a man suffering from a fever. At times he talked with tiresome intensity about some new situation, quoting his own characters, beating and hammering at his scenes until Helen closed her eyes for very weariness. Only at wide intervals did he return to some dim realization of his indebtedness to her. One day he gratified her by saying, with a note of tenderness in his voice: "You are keeping the old play on; don't do it. Throw it away; it is a tract—a sermon." Then spoiled it all by bitterly adding, "Go back to your old successes."
"You used to dislike me in such roles," she answered, with pain and reproach in face and voice.
"It will only be for a little while," he replied, with a swift return to his enthusiasm. "In two weeks I'll have the new part ready for you." But the sting of his advice remained long in the proud woman's heart.
He went no more to the theatre. "I can't bear to see you playing to empty seats," he declared, in explanation, but in reality he had a horror of the scene of his defeat.
He came to lunch less often, and when they went driving or visiting the galleries all the old-time, joyous companionship was gone. Not infrequently, as they stood before some picture or sat at a concert, he would whisper, "I have it; the act will end with Enid doing so-and-so," and not infrequently he hurried away from her to catch some fugitive illumination which he feared to lose. He came to her reception-room only once of a Saturday afternoon, just before the play closed.
"How is the house?" he asked, with indifference.
"I must work the harder," he replied, and sank into a sombre silence. He never came inside again.
Helen was deeply wounded by this visit, and was sorely tempted to take him at his word and end the production, but she did not. She could not, so deep had her interest in him become. Loyal to him she must remain, loyal to his work.
As his bank account grew perilously small, Douglass fell into deeps of black despair, wherein all imaginative power left him. At such times the lack of depth and significance in his work appalled him. "It is hopelessly poor and weak; it does not deserve to succeed. I've a mind to tear it in rags." But he resisted this spirit, partly restrained by some hidden power traceable to the influence of Helen and partly by his desire to retrieve himself in the estimation of the world, but mainly because of some hidden force in his own brain, and set to work each time filing and polishing with renewed care of word and phrase.
Slowly the second drama took on form and quality, developing a web of purpose not unlike that involved in a strain of solemn music, and at the last the author's attention was directed towards eliminating minute inharmonies or to the insertion of cacophony with design to make the andante passages the more enthrallingly sweet. As the play neared completion his absorption began to show results. He lost vigor, and Helen's eyes took anxious note of his weariness. "You are growing thin and white, Mr. Author," she said to him, with solicitude in her voice. "You don't look like the rugged Western Scotchman you were when I found you. Am I to be your vampire?"
"On the contrary, I am to destroy you, to judge from the money you are losing on my wretched play. I begin to fear I can never repay you, not even with a great success. I have days when I doubt my power to write a successful drama."
"You work too hard. You must not ruin your health by undue haste. A week or two will not make a killing difference with us. I don't mind playing Lillian another month, if you need the time. It is good discipline, and, besides, I enjoy the part."
"That is because you are good and loyal to a poor writer," he answered, with a break to humble appreciation of her bounty and her bravery. "Be patient with me," he pleaded. "Enid will recoup you for all you have suffered. It will win back all your funds. I have made it as near pure poetry as our harsh, definite life and our elliptical speech will permit." And straightway his mind was filled with dreams of conquering, even while he faced his love, so strangely are courtship and ambition mingled in the heart of man.
At last he began to exult, to boast, to call attention to the beauty of the lines spoken by Enid. "See how her simplicity and virginal charm are enhanced by the rugged, remorseless strength, and by the conscienceless greed of the men surrounding her, and yet she sees in them something admirable. They are like soldiers to her. They are the heroes who tunnel mountains and bridge cataracts. When she looks from her slender, white hands to their gross and powerful bodies she shudders with a sort of fearsome admiration."
"Can all that appear in the lines?"
"Yes. In the lines and in the acting; it must appear in your acting," he added, with a note of admonition.
Her face clouded with pain. "He begins to doubt my ability to delineate his work," she thought, and turned away in order that he might not know how deeply he had wounded her.
Helen's pride contended unceasingly with her love during the weeks of her lover's alienation; for, with all her sweet dispraise of herself, she was very proud of her place in the world, and it was not easy to bow her head to neglect. Sometimes when he forgot to answer her or rushed away to his room with a hasty good-bye, she raged with a perfectly justifiable anger. "You are selfish and brutal," she cried out after him on one occasion. "You think only of yourself. You are vain, egotistical. All that I have done is forgotten the moment you are stung by criticism," and she tried to put him aside. "What do his personal traits matter to me?" she said, as if in answer to her own charge. "He is my dramatist, not my husband."
But when he came back to her, an absent-minded smile upon his handsome lips, holding in his hands some pages of exquisite dialogue, she humbled herself before him. "After all, what am I beside him? He is a poet, a creative mind, while I am only a mimic," and straightway she began to make excuses for him. "Have I not always had the same selfish, desperate concentration? Am I always a sweet and lovely companion? Certainly the artistic temperament is not a strange thing to me."
Nevertheless, she suffered. It was hard to be the one optimist in the midst of so many pessimists. The nightly performance to an empty house wore on her most distressingly, and no wonder. She, who had never hitherto given a moment's troubled thought to such matters, now sat in her dressing-room listening to the infrequent, hollow clang of the falling chair seats, attempting thus to estimate the audience straggling sparsely, desolately in. To re-enter the stage after an exit was like an icy shower-bath. Each night she hoped to find the receipts larger, and indeed they did from time to time advance suddenly, only to drop back to desolating driblets the following night. These gains were due to the work of the loyal Hugh as advertising agent, or to some desperate discount sale to a club on the part of Westervelt, who haunted the front of the house, a pale and flabby wraith of himself, racking his brain, swearing strange, German oaths, and perpetually conjuring up new advertising devices. His suffering approached the tragic.
His theatre, which had once rustled with gay and cheerful people, was now cold, echoing, empty, repellent. Nothing came from the balcony, wherein Helen's sweet voice wandered, save a faint, half-hearted hand-clapping. No one sat in the boxes, and only here and there a man wore evening-dress. The women were always intense, but undemonstrative. Under these sad conditions the music of the orchestra became factitious, a brazen clatter raised to reinforce the courage of the ushers, who flitted about like uneasy spirits. There were no carriages in waiting, and the audience returned to the street in silence like funeral guests from a church.
Hugh remained bravely at his post in front. Each night after a careful toilet he took his stand in the lobby watching with calculating eye and impassive face the stream of people rushing by his door. "If we could only catch one in a hundred?" he said to Westervelt. "I never expected to see Helen Merival left like this. I didn't think it possible. I thought she could make any piece go. To play to fifty dollars was out of my reckoning. It is slaughter."
Once his disgust topped all restraint, and he burst forth to Helen: "Look at this man Douglass. He bamboozles us into producing his play, then runs off and leaves us to sink or swim. He won't even change the lines—says he's working on a new one that will make us all 'barrels of money.' That's the way of these dramatists—always full of some new pipe-dream. Meanwhile we're going into the hole every night. I can't stand it. We were making all kinds of money with The Baroness. Come, let's go back to it!" His voice filled with love, for she was his ideal. "Sis, I hate to see you doing this. It cuts me to the heart. Why, some of these newspaper shads actually pretend to pity you—you, the greatest romantic actress in America! This man Douglass has got you hypnotized. Honestly, there's something uncanny about the way he has queered you. Brace up. Send him whirling. He isn't worth a minute of your time, Nellie—now, that's the fact. He's a crazy freak. Say the word and I'll fire him and his misbegotten plays to-night."
To this Helen made simple reply. "No, Hugh; I intend to stand to my promise. We will keep Lillian on till the new play is ready. It would be unfair to Mr. Douglass—"
"But he has lost all interest in it himself. He never shows up in front, never makes a suggestion."
"He is saving all his energy for the new play."
Hugh's lips twisted in scorn. "The new play! Yes, he's filled with a lot of pale-blue moonshine now. He's got another 'idea.' That's the trouble with these literary chaps, they're so swelled by their own notions they can't write what the common audience wants. His new play will be a worse 'frost' than this. You'll ruin us all if you don't drop him. We stand to lose forty thousand dollars on Lillian already."
"Nevertheless, I shall give the new play a production," she replied, and Hugh turned away in speechless dismay and disgust.
The papers were filled with stinging allusions to her failure. A shrewd friend from Boston met her with commiseration in her face. "It's a good play and a fine part," she said, "but they don't want you in such work. They like you when you look wicked."
"I know that, but I'm tired of playing the wanton adventuress for such people. I want to appeal to a more thoughtful public for the rest of my stage career."
"Why not organize a church like Mrs. Allinger?" sneered another less friendly critic. "The stage is no place for sermons."
"You are horribly unjust. Lillian's Duty is a powerful acting drama, and has its audience if I could reach it. Perhaps I'm not the one to do Mr. Douglass's work, after all," she added, humbly.
Deep in her heart Helen MacDavitt the woman was hungry for some one to tell her that he loved her. She longed to put her head down on a strong man's breast to weep. "If Douglass would only open his arms to me I would go to him. I would not care what the world says."
She wished to see him reinstate himself not merely with the public but in her own estimate of him. As she believed that by means of his pen he would conquer, she comprehended that his present condition was fevered, unnatural, and she hoped—she believed—it to be temporary. "Success will bring back the old, brave, sanguine, self-contained Douglass whose forthright power and self-confidence won my admiration," she said, and with this secret motive to sustain her she went to her nightly delineation of Lillian.
She had lived long without love, and her heart now sought for it with an intensity which made her art of the highest account only as served the man she loved. Praise and publicity were alike of no value unless they brought success and happiness to him whose eyes called her with growing power.
At last the new play was finished and the author brought it and laid it in the hands of the actress as if it were a new-born child, and her heart leaped with joy. He was no longer the stern and self-absorbed writer. His voice was tender as he said, "I give this to you in the hope that it may regain for you what you have lost."
The tears sprang to Helen's eyes, and a word of love rose to her lips. "It is very beautiful, and we will triumph in it."
He seemed about to speak some revealing, sealing word, but the presence of the mother restrained him. Helen, recognizing the returning tide of his love, to which she related no self-seeking, was radiant.
"Come, we will put it in rehearsal at once," she said. "I know you are as eager to have it staged as I. I will not read it. I will wait till you read it for the company to-morrow morning."
"I do not go to that ordeal with the same joy as before," he admitted.
The company met him with far less of interest in this reading of the second play, and his own manner was distinctly less confident. Hugh and Westervelt maintained silence, but their opposition was as palpable as a cold wind. Royleston's cynical face expressed an open contempt. The lesser people were anxious to know the kind of characters they were to play, and a few were sympathetically eager to hear the play itself.
He read the manuscript with some assurance of manner, but made no suggestion as to the stage business, contenting himself with producing an effect on the minds of the principals; but as the girlish charm of Enid's character made itself felt, the women of the company began to glow.
"Why, it's very beautiful!" they exclaimed.
Hugh, on the scent for another "problem," began to relax, and even Westervelt grunted a few words of approval, qualified at once by the whispered words, "Not a cent in it—not a cent." Royleston, between his acts, regarded the air with dreamy gaze. "I don't see myself in that part yet, but it's very good—very good."
The reading closed rather well, producing the desired effect of "happy tears" on the faces of several of the feminine members of the cast, and Helen again spoke of her pleasure in such work and asked them to "lend themselves" to the lines. "This play is a kind of poem," she said, "and makes a direct appeal to women, and yet I believe it will also win its way to the hearts of the men."
As they rose Douglass returned the manuscript to Helen with a bow. "I renounce all rights. Hereafter I am but a spectator."
"I think you are right in not attempting rehearsals. You are worn and tired. Why don't you go away for a time? A sea voyage would do you good."
"No, I must stay and face the music, as my father used to say. I do not wish to seem to run away, and, besides, I may be able to offer a suggestion now and then."
"Oh, I didn't mean to have you miss the first night. You could come back for that. If you stay we will be glad of any suggestion at any time—won't we, Hugh?"
Hugh refused to be brought into any marked agreement. "Of course, the author's advice is valuable, but with a man like Olquest—"
"I don't want to see a single rehearsal," replied Douglass. "I want to have the joy this time of seeing my characters on the opening night fully embodied. If the success of the play depended upon my personal supervision, the case would be different, but it doesn't. I trust you and Olquest. I will keep away."
Again they went to lunch together, but the old-time elation was sadly wanting. Hugh was silent and Douglass gloomy. Helen cut the luncheon for a ride in the park, which did them good, for the wind was keen and inspiriting and the landscape wintry white and blue and gold. She succeeded in provoking her playwright to a smile now and then by some audacious sally against the sombre silence of her cavaliers.
They halted for half an hour in the upper park while she called the squirrels to her and fed them from her own hands—those wonderful hands that had so often lured with jewels and threatened with steel. No one seeing this refined, sweet woman in tasteful furs would have related her with the Gismonda and Istar, but Douglass thrilled with sudden accession of confidence. "How beautiful she will be as Enid!" he thought, as, with a squirrel on her shoulder, she turned with shining face to softly call: "This is David. Isn't he a dear?"
She waited until the keen-eyed rascals had taken her last nut, then slowly returned to the carriage side. "I like to win animals like that. It thrills my heart to have them set their fearless little feet on my arm."
Hugh uttered a warning. "You want to be careful how you handle them; they bite like demons."
"Oh, now, don't spoil it!" she exclaimed. "I'm sure they know me and trust me."
Douglass was moved to their defence, and strove during the remainder of the ride to add to Helen's pleasure; and this effort on his part made her eyes shine with joy—a joy almost pathetic in its intensity.
As they parted at the door of his hotel he said: "If you do not succeed this time I will utterly despair of the public. I know how sweet you will be as Enid. They must bow down before you as I do."
"I will give my best powers to this—be sure nothing will be neglected at rehearsal."
"I know you will," he answered, feelingly.
She was better than her promise, laboring tirelessly in the effort to embody through her company the poetry, the charm, which lay even in the smaller roles of the play. That one so big and brusque as Douglass should be able to define so many and such fugitive feminine emotions was a constant source of wonder and delight to her. The discovery gave her trust and confidence in him, and to her admiration of his power was added something which stole into her mind like music, causing foolish dreams and moments of reckless exaltation wherein she asked herself whether to be a great actress was not, after all, a thing of less profit than to be a wife and mother.
She saw much less of him than she wished, for Hugh remained coldly unresponsive in his presence, and threw over their meetings a restraint which prevented the joyous companionship of their first acquaintanceship.
More than this, Helen was conscious of being watched and commented upon, not merely by Hugh and Westervelt, but by guests of the hotel and representatives of the society press. Douglass, in order to shield her, and also because his position in the world was less secure than ever, returned to his self-absorbed, impersonal manner of speech. He took no part in the rehearsals, except to rush in at the close with some changes which he wished embodied at once, regardless of the vexation and confusion resulting. His brain was still perilously active, and not only cut and refined the dialogue, but made most radical modifications of the "business."
Helen began to show the effects of the strain upon her; for she was not merely carrying the burden of Lillian's Duty, and directing rehearsals of the new piece—she was deeply involved in the greatest problem than can come to a woman. She loved Douglass; but did she love him strongly enough to warrant her in saying so—when he should ask her?
His present poverty she put aside as of no serious account. A man so physically powerful, so mentally alert, was rich in possibilities. The work which he had already done entitled him to rank above millionaires, but that his very forcefulness, his strong will, his dominating idealism would make him her master—would inevitably change her relation to the world—had already changed it, in fact—she was not ready to acknowledge.
Up to this time her love for the stage had been single-minded. No man had touched her heart with sufficient fire to disturb her serenity, but now she was not merely following where he led, she was questioning the value and morality of her avocation.
"If I cannot play high roles, if the public will not have me in work like this I am now rehearsing, then I will retire to private life. I will no longer be a plaything for the man-headed monster," she said one day.
"You should have retired before sinking your good money in these Douglass plays," Hugh bitterly rejoined. "It looks now as though we might end in the police station."
"I have no fear of that, Hugh; I am perfectly certain that Enid is to regain all our losses."
"I wish I had your beautiful faith," he made answer, and walked away.
Westervelt said little to her during these days; he only looked, and his doleful gestures, his lugubrious grimaces, were comic. He stood to lose nothing, except possible profits for Helen. She was paying him full rental, but he claimed that his house was being ruined. "It will get the reputation of doing nothing but failures," he said to her once, in a last despairing appeal, and to this she replied:
"Very well. If at the end of four weeks Enid does not pull up to paying business I will release you from your contract. I will free your house of Helen Merival."
"No, no! I don't want that. I want you, but I do not want this crazy man Douglass. You must not leave me!" His voice grew husky with appeal. "Return to the old plays, sign a five-year contract, and I will make you again rich."
"There will be time to consider that four weeks hence."
"Yes, but the season is passing."
"Courage, mein Herr!" she said, with a smile, and left him almost in tears.
As the opening night of Enid's Choice drew near, Douglass suffered greater anxiety but experienced far less of nervous excitement than before. He was shaking rather than tense of limb, and did not find it necessary to walk the streets to calm his physical excitement. He was depressed by the knowledge that a second defeat would leave him not merely discredited but practically penniless. Nevertheless, he did not hide; on the contrary, he took a seat in one of the boxes.
The audience he at once perceived was of totally different character and temper from that which greeted Lillian. It was quiet and moderate in size, rather less than the capacity of the orchestra seats, for Helen had asked that no "paper" be distributed. Very few were in the gallery, and those who were had the quietly expectant air of students. Only three of the boxes were occupied. The fashionables were entirely absent.
Plainly these people were in their seats out of interest in the play or because of the known power of the actress. They were not flushed with wine nor heavy with late dinners.
The critics were out again in force, and this gave the young author a little satisfaction, for their presence was indisputable evidence of the interest excited by the literary value of his work. "I have made a gain," he said, grimly. "Such men do not go gunning for small deer." But that they were after blood was shown by the sardonic grins with which they greeted one another as they strolled in at the door or met in the aisles. They expected another "killing," and were resolute to be thorough.
From the friendly shelter of the curtain Douglass could study the house without being seen, and a little glow of fire warmed his heart as he recognized five or six of the best-known literary men of the city seated well down towards the front, and the fifteen minutes' wait before the orchestra leader took his seat was rendered less painful by his pride in the really high character of his audience; but when the music blared forth and the curtain began to rise, his blood chilled with a return of the fear and doubt which had assailed him at the opening of Lillian's Duty. "It is impossible that I should succeed," was his thought.
However, his high expectation of pleasure from the performance came back, for he had resolutely kept away from even the dress rehearsal, and the entire creative force of his lines was about to come to him. "In a few moments my characters will step forth from the world of the disembodied into the mellow glow of the foot-lights," he thought, and the anticipated joy of welcoming them warmed his brain and the chill clutch of fear fell away from his throat. The dignity and the glow, the possibilities of the theatre as a temple of literature came to him with almost humbling force.
He knew that Hugh and the actors had worked night and day towards this event—not for him (he realized how little they cared for him), but for Helen. She, dear girl, thought of everybody, and forgot herself in the event. That Westervelt and Hugh had no confidence in the play, even after dress rehearsal, and that they had ignored him as he came into the theatre he knew, but he put these slights aside. Westervelt was busy incessantly explaining to his intimates and to the critics that he no longer shared in Merival's "grazy schemes. She guarantees me, orderwise I would glose my theatre," he said, with wheezy reiteration.
The first scene opened brilliantly in the home of Calvin Wentworth, a millionaire mine-owner. Into the garish and vulgarly ostentatious reception-room a pale, sweet slip of a girl drifted, with big eyes shining with joy of her home-coming. Some of the auditors again failed to recognize the great actress, so wonderful was her transformation in look and manner. The critics themselves, dazed for a moment, led in the cheer which rose. This warmed the house to a genial glow, and the play started with spirit.
Helen, deeply relieved to see Douglass in the box, advanced towards him, and their eyes met for an instant in a lovers' greeting. Again that subtle interchange of fire took place. She looked marvellously young and light-hearted; it was hard to believe that she was worn with work and weakened by anxiety. Her eyes were bright and her hands like lilies.
The act closed with a very novel piece of business and some very unusual lines passing between Enid and Sidney, her lover. Towards this passage Douglass now leaned, uplifted by a sense of power, exulting in Helen's discernment, which had enabled her to realize, almost perfectly, his principal characters. He had not begun to perceive and suffer from the shortcomings of her support; but when Enid left the stage for a few minutes, the fumbling of the subordinate actors stung and irritated him. They had the wrong accent, they roared where they should have been strong and quiet, and the man who played Sidney stuttered and drawled, utterly unlike the character of the play.
"Oh, the wooden ass!" groaned Douglass. "He'll ruin the piece." A burning rage swept over him. So much depended on this performance, and now—"I should have directed the rehearsals. I was a fool to neglect them. Why does she keep the sot?" And part of his anger flowed out towards the star.
Helen, returning, restored the illusion, so complete was her assumption of the part, and the current set swiftly towards that unparalleled ending, those deeply significant lines which had come to the author only late in the week, but which formed, indeed, the very key to Sidney's character—they were his chief enthusiasm in this act, suggesting, as they did, so much. Tingling, aching with pleasurable suspense, the author waited.
The curtain fell on a totally different effect—with Sidney reading utterly different lines!
For a moment the author sat stunned, unable to comprehend what had happened. At last the revelation came. "They have failed to incorporate the changes I made. They have gone back to the weak, trashy ending which I discarded. They have ruined the scene utterly!" and, looking at two of the chief critics, he caught them in the act of laughing evilly, even as they applauded.
With face set in rage, he made his way back of the curtain towards Helen's room. She met him at the door, her face shining with joy. "It's going! It's going!" she cried out, gleefully.
His reply was like a blow in the face. "Why didn't you incorporate that new ending of the act?" he asked, with bitter harshness.
Helen staggered, and her hands rose as if to shield herself from violence. She stammered, "I—I—I—couldn't. You see, the lines came so late. They would have thrown us all out. I will do so to-morrow," she added.
"To-morrow!" he answered, through his set teeth. "Why to-morrow? To-night is the time. Don't you see I'm staking my reputation on to-night? To-night we win or lose. The house is full of critics. They will write of what we do, not of what we are going to do." He began to pace up and down, trembling with disappointment and fury. He turned suddenly. "How about the second act? Did you make those changes in Sidney's lines? I infer not," he added, with a sneer.
Helen spoke with difficulty, her bosom heaving, her eyes fixed in wonder and pain on his face. "No. How could I? You brought them only yesterday morning; they would have endangered the whole act." Then, as the indignity, the injustice, the burning shame of his assault forced themselves into her mind, she flamed out in reproach: "Why did you come back here at all? Why didn't you stay away, as you did before? You are cruel, heartless!" The tears dimmed her eyes. "You've ruined my whole performance. You've broken my heart. Have you no soul—no sense of honor? Go away! I hate you! I'll never speak to you again! I hate you!" And she turned, leaving him dumb and staring, in partial realization of his selfish, brutal demands.
Hugh approached him with lowering brows and clinched hands. "You've done it now. You've broken her nerve, and she'll fail in her part. Haven't you any sense? We pick you off the street and feed you and clothe you—and do your miserable plays—and you rush in here and strike my sister, Helen Merival, in the face. I ought to kick you into the street!"
Douglass stood through this like a man whose brain is benumbed by the crashing echoes of a thunderbolt, hardly aware of the fury of the speaker, but this final threat cleared his mind and stung him into reply.
"You are at liberty to try that," he answered, and an answering ferocity shone in his eyes. "I gave you this play; it's good work, and, properly done, would succeed. Ruin it if you want to. I am done with it and you."
"Thank God!" exclaimed the brother, as the playwright turned away. "Good riddance to a costly acquaintance."
Hardly had the street door clapped behind the blinded author when Helen, white and agitated, reappeared, breathlessly asking, "Where is he; has he gone?"
"Yes; I am glad to say he has."
"Call him back—quick! Don't let him go away angry. I must see him again! Go, bring him back!"
Hugh took her by the arm. "What do you intend to do—give him another chance to insult you? He isn't worth another thought from you. Let him go, and his plays with him."
The orchestra, roaring on its finale, ended with a crash. Hugh lifted his hand in warning. "There goes the curtain, Helen. Go on. Don't let him kill your performance. Go on!" And he took her by the arm.
The training as well as the spirit and quality of the actress reasserted their dominion, and as she walked out upon the stage not even the searching glare of the foot-lights could reveal the cold shadow which lay about her heart.
When the curtain fell on the final "picture" she fairly collapsed, refusing to take the curtain call which a goodly number of her auditors insisted upon. "I'm too tired," she made answer to Hugh. "Too heart-sick," she admitted to herself, for Douglass was gone with angry lights in his eyes, bearing bitter and accusing words in his ears. The temple of amusement was at the moment a place of sorrow, of despair.
Douglass knew before he had set foot upon the pavement that his life was blasted, that his chance of success and Helen's love were gone, forfeited by his own egotism, his insane selfishness; but it was only a half-surrender; something very stark and unyielding rose within him, preventing his return to ask forgiveness. The scorn, the contempt of Hugh's words, and the lines of loathing appearing for the first time in Helen's wonderfully sensitive face burned each moment deeper into his soul. The sorrows of Enid's world rose like pale clouds above the immovable mountains of his shame and black despair.
He did not doubt for a moment but that this separation was final. "After such a revelation of my character," he confessed, "she can do nothing else but refuse to see me. I have only myself to blame. I was insane," and he groaned with his torment. "She is right. Hugh is right in defending his household against me. My action was that of a fool—a hideous, egotistic fool."
Seeking refuge in his room, he faced his future in nerveless dejection. His little store of money was gone, and his profession, long abandoned, seemed at the moment a broken staff—his place on the press in doubt. What would his good friend say to him now when he asked for a chance to earn his bread? He had flouted the critics, the dramatic departments of all the papers. In his besotted self-confidence he had cast away all his best friends, and with these reflections came the complete revelation of Helen's kindness—and her glittering power. Back upon him swept a realization of the paradise in which he had lived, in whose air his egotism had expanded like a mushroom.
Leagued with her, enjoying her bounty and sharing in the power which her success had brought her, he had imagined himself a great writer, a man with a compelling message to his fellows. It seemed only necessary to reach out his hand in order to grasp a chaplet—a crown. With her the world seemed his debtor. Now he was a thing cast off, a broken boy grovelling at the foot of the ladder of fame.
While he withered over his defeat the electric cars, gigantic insects of the dawn, began to howl and the trains on the elevated railway thundered by. The city's voice, which never ceases, but which had sunk to a sleepy murmur, suddenly awoke, and with clattering, snarling crescendo roar announced the coming of the tides of toilers. "I am facing the day," he said to himself, "and the papers containing the contemptuous judgments of my critics are being delivered in millions to my fellow-citizens. This thing I have gained—I am rapidly becoming infamous."
His weakness, his shuddering fear made his going forth a torture. Even the bell-boy who brought his papers seemed to exult over his misery, but by sternly sending him about an errand the worn playwright managed to overawe and silence him, and then, with the city's leading papers before him, he sat down to his bitter medicine. As he had put aside the judgments of Lillian's Duty, with contemptuous gesture, so now he searched out every line, humbly admitting the truth of every criticism, instructed even by the lash of those who hated him.
The play had closed unexpectedly well, one paper admitted, but it could never succeed. It was not dramatic of construction. Another admitted that it was a novel and pretty entertainment, a kind of prose poem, a fantasy of the present, but without wide appeal. Others called it a moonshine monologue—that a girl at once so naive and so powerful was impossible. All united in praise of Helen, however, and, as though by agreement, bewailed her desertion of the roles in which she won great renown. "Our advice, given in the friendliest spirit, is this: go back to the twilight of the past, to the costume play. Get out of the garish light of to-day. The present is suited only for a kind of crass comedy or Bowery melodrama. Only the past, the foreign, affords setting for the large play of human passion which Helen Merival's great art demands."
"You are cheating us," wrote another. "There are a thousand little ingenues who can play acceptably this goody-goody Enid, but the best of them would be lost in the large folds of your cloak in The Baroness Telka."
Only one wrote in almost unmeasured praise, and his words, so well chosen, salved the smarting wounds of the dramatist. "Those who have seen Miss Merival only as the melodrama queen or the adventuress in jet-black evening dress have a surprise in store for them. Her Enid is a dream of cold, chaste girlhood—a lily with heart of fire—in whose tender, virginal eyes the lust and cruelty of the world arouse only pity and wonder. So complete was Miss Merival's investiture of herself in this part that no one recognized her as she stepped on the stage. For a moment even her best friends sat silent." And yet this friend ended like the rest in predicting defeat. "The play is away over the heads of any audience likely to come to see it. The beringed and complacent wives of New York and their wine-befuddled husbands will find little to entertain them in this idyl of modern life. As for the author, George Douglass, we have only this to say: He is twenty years ahead of his time. Let him go on writing his best and be patient. By-and-by, when we have time to think of other things than money, when our wives have ceased to struggle for social success, when the reaction to a simpler and truer life comes—and it is coming—then the quality of such a play as Enid's Choice will give its author the fame and the living he deserves."
The tears came to Douglass's eyes. "Good old Jim! He knows I need comfort this morning. He's prejudiced in my favor—everybody will see that; and yet there is truth in what he says. I will go to him and ask for work, for I must get back to earning a weekly wage."
He went down and out into the street. The city seemed unusually brilliant and uncaring. From every quarter of the suburbs floods of people were streaming in to work or to shop, quite unknowing of any one's misfortunes but their own, each intent on earning a living or securing a bargain. "How can I appeal to these motes?" he asked himself. "By what magic can I lift myself out of this press to earn a living—out of this common drudgery?" He studied the faces in the coffee-house where he sat. "How many of these citizens are capable of understanding for a moment Enid's Choice? Is there any subject holding an interest common to them and to me which would not in a sense be degrading in me to dramatize for their pleasure?"
This was the question, and though his breakfast and a walk on the avenue cleared his brain, it did not solve his problem. "They don't want my ideas on architecture. My dramatic criticism interests but a few. My plays are a proved failure. What is to be done?"
Mingled with these gloomy thoughts, constantly recurring like the dull, far-off boom of a sombre bell, was the consciousness of his loss of Helen. He did not think of returning to ask forgiveness. "I do not deserve it," he repeated each time his heart prompted a message to her. "She is well rid of me. I have been a source of loss, of trouble, and vexation to her. She will be glad of my self-revelation." Nevertheless, when he found her letter waiting for him in his box at the office he was smitten with sudden weakness. "What would she say? She has every reason to hate me, to cast me and my play to the winds. Has she done so? I cannot blame her."
Safe in his room, he opened the letter, the most fateful that had ever come to him in all his life. The very lines showed the agitation of the writer:
"MY DEAR AUTHOR,—Pardon me for my harshness last night, and come to see me at once. I was nervous and anxious, as you were. I should have made allowances for the strain you were under. Please forgive me. Come and lunch, as usual, and talk of the play. I believe in it, in spite of all. It must make its own public, but I believe it will do so. Come and let me hear you say you have forgotten my words of last night. I didn't really mean them; you must have known that."
His throat filled with tenderness and his head bowed in humility as he read these good, sweet, womanly lines, and for the moment he was ready to go to her and receive pardon kneeling. But as he thought of the wrong he had done her, the misfortune he had brought upon her, a stubborn, unaccountable resolution hardened his heart. "No, I will not go back till I can go as her equal. I am broken and in disgrace now. I will not burden her generosity further."
The thought of making his peace with Hugh, of meeting Westervelt's hard stare, aided this resolution, and, sitting at his desk, he wrote a long and passionate letter, wherein he delineated with unsparing hand his miserable failure. He took a pride and a sort of morbid pleasure in punishing himself, in denying himself any further joy in her company.
"It is better for you and better for me that we do not meet again—at least till I have won the tolerance of your brother and manager and my own self-respect. The work I have done is honest work; I will not admit that it is wholly bad, but I cannot meet Hugh again till I can demand consideration. It was not so much the words he used as the tone. I was helpless in resenting it. That I am a beggar, a dangerous influence, I admit. I am appalled at the thought of what I have done to injure you. Cast me overboard. Not even your beauty, your great fame, can make my work vital to the public. I am too perverse, too individual. There is good in me, but it is evil to you. I no longer care what they say of me, but I feel every word derogatory of you as if it were a red-hot point of steel. I did not sleep last night; I spent the time in reconstructing myself. I confessed my grievous sins, and I long to do penance. This play is also a failure. I grew cold with hate of myself last night as I thought of the irreparable injury I had done to you. I here relinquish all claim to both pieces; they are yours to do with as you like. Take them, rewrite them, play them, or burn them, as you will.
"You see, I am very, very humble. I have put my foolish pride underfoot. I am not broken. I am still very proud and, I fear, self-conceited, in spite of my severe lesson. Enid is beautiful, and I know it, and it helps me write this letter, but I have no right to ask even friendship from you. My proved failure as a playwright robs me of every chance of meeting you on equal terms. I want to repay you, I must repay you, for what you have done. If I could write now, it would be not to please myself, but to please you, to help you regain your dominion. I want to see you the radiant one again, speaking to throngs of happy people. If I could by any sacrifice of myself call back the homage of the critics and place you where I found you, the acknowledged queen of American actresses, I would do it. But I am helpless. I shall not speak or write to you again till I can come with some gift in my hand—some recompense for your losses through me. I have been a malign influence in your life. I am in mad despair when I think of you playing to cold and empty houses. I am going back to the West to do sash factories and wheat elevators; these are my metier. You are the one to grant pardon; I am the malefactor. I am taking myself out of your world. Forgive me and—forget me. Hugh was right. My very presence is a curse to you. Good-bye."
This letter came to Helen with her coffee, and the reading of it blotted out the glory of the morning, filling her eyes with smarting tears. It put a sudden ache into her heart, a fierce resentment. At the moment his assumed humbleness, his self-derision, his confession of failure irritated her.
"I don't want you to bend and bow," she thought, as if speaking to him. "I'd rather you were fierce and hard, as you were last night." She read on to the end, so deeply moved that she could scarcely see the lines. Her resentment melted away and a pity, profound and almost maternal, filled her heart. "Poor boy! What could Hugh have said to him! I will know. It has been a bitter experience for him. And is this the end of our good days?"
With this internal question a sense of vital loss took hold upon her. For the first time in her life the future seemed desolate and her past futile. Back upon her a throng of memories came rushing—memories of the high and splendid moments they had spent together. First of all she remembered him as the cold, stern, handsome stranger of that first night—that night when she learned that his coldness was assumed, his sternness a mask. She realized once again that at this first meeting he had won her by his voice, by his hand-clasp, by the swiftness and fervor of his speech; he had dominated her, swept her from her feet.
And now this was the end of all their plans, their dreams of conquest. There could be no doubt of his meaning in this letter: he had cut himself off from her, perversely, bitterly, in despair and deep humiliation. She did not doubt his ability to keep his word. There was something inexorable in him. She had felt it before—a sort of blind, self-torturing obstinacy which would keep him to his vow though he bled for every letter.
And yet she wrote again, patiently, sweetly, asking him to come to her. "I don't know what Hugh said to you—no matter, forgive him. We were all at high tension last night. I know you didn't intend to hurt me, and I have put it all away. I will forget your reproach, but I cannot have you go out of my life in this way. It is too cruel, too hopeless. Come to me again, your good, strong, buoyant self, and let us plan for the future."
This message, so high, so divinely forgiving, came back to her unopened, with a line from the clerk on the back—"Mr. Douglass left the city this evening. No address."
This laconic message struck her like a blow. It was as if Douglass himself had refused her outstretched hand. Her nerves, tense and quivering, gave way. Her resentment flamed up again.
"Very well." She tore the note in small pieces, slowly, with painful precision, as if by so doing she were tearing and blowing away the great passion which had grown up in her heart. "I was mistaken in you. You are unworthy of my confidence. After all, you are only a weak, egotistical 'genius'—morbid, selfish. Hugh is right. You have proved my evil genius. You skulked the night of your first play. You alternately ignored and made use of me—as you pleased—and after all I had done for you you flouted me in the face of my company." She flung the fragments of the note into the fire. "There are your words—all counting for nothing."
And she rose and walked out to her brother and her manager, determined that no sign of her suffering and despair should be written upon her face.
The day dragged wearily forward, and when Westervelt came in with a sorrowful tale of diminishing demand for seats she gave her consent to a return to Baroness Telka on the following Monday morning.
The manager was jubilant. "Now we will see a theatre once more. I tought I vas running a church or a school. Now we will see carriages at the door again and some dress-suits pefore the orchestra. Eh, Hugh?"
"I'm glad to see you come to your senses," said Hugh, ignoring Westervelt. "That chap had us all—"
She stopped him. "Not a word of that. Mr. Douglass was right and his plays are right, but the public is not yet risen to such work. I admire his work just as much now as ever. I am only doubting the public. If there is no sign of increasing interest on Saturday we will take Enid off. That is all I will say now."
It seemed a pitiful, a monstrous thing. Hugh made no further protest, but that his queenly sister, after walking untouched through swarms of rich and talented suitors, should fall a victim to a poor and unknown architect, who was a failure at his own business as well as a playwright.
Mrs. MacDavitt, who stood quite in awe of her daughter, and who feared the sudden, hot temper of her son, passed through some trying hours as the days went by. Helen was plainly suffering, and the mother cautioned the son to speak gently. "I fear she prized him highly—the young Douglass," she said, "and, I confess, I had a kin' o' liking for the lad. He was so keen and resolved."
"He was keen to 'do' us, mother, and when he found he couldn't he pulled his freight. He could write, I'll admit that, but he wouldn't write what people wanted to hear. He was too badly stuck on his own 'genius.'"
Helen went to her task at the theatre without heart, though she pretended to a greater enthusiasm than ever. But each time she entered upon the second act of the play a mysterious and solacing pleasure came to her. She enjoyed the words with which Enid questions the life of her richest and most powerful suitor. The mingled shrewdness, simplicity, and sweetness of this scene always filled her with a new sense of Douglass's power of divination. Indeed, she closed the play each night with a sense of being more deeply indebted to him as well as a feeling of having been near him. Once she saw a face strangely like his in the upper gallery, and the blood tingled round her heart, and she played the remainder of the act with mind distraught. "Can it be possible that he is still in the city?" she asked herself.
It was, indeed, the playwright. Each night he left his boarding-place, drawn by an impulse he could not resist, to walk slowly to and fro opposite the theatre entrance, calculating with agonized eye the meagre numbers of those who entered. At times he took his stand near the door in a shadowy nook (with coat-collar rolled high about his ears), in order to observe the passing stream, hoping, exulting, and suffering alternately as groups from the crowd paused for a moment to study the displayed photographs, only to pass on to other amusement with some careless allusion to the fallen star.
This hurt him worst of all—that these motes, these cheap little boys and girls, could now sneer at or pity Helen Merival. "I brought her to this," he repeated, with morbid sense of power. "When she met me she was queen of the city; now she is an object of pity."
This feeling of guilt, this egotism deepened each night as he watched the city's pleasure-seekers pace past the door. It was of no avail to say that the few who entered were of higher type than the many who passed. "The profession which Helen serves cannot live on the wishes of the few, the many must be pleased. To become exclusive in appeal is to die of hunger. This is why the sordid, commonplace playwrights and the business-like managers succeed while the idealists fail. There is an iron law of limitation here."
"That is why my influence is destructive," he added, and was reassured in the justice of his resolution to take himself out of Helen's life. "Everything I stand for is inimical to her interests. To follow my path is to eat dry crusts, to be without comfort. To amuse this great, moiling crowd, to dance for them like a monkey, to pander to their base passions, this means success, and so long as her acting does not smirch her own soul what does it matter?" In such wise he sometimes argued in his bitterness and wrath.
From the brilliant street, from the gay crowds rolling on in search of witless farce-comedy and trite melodrama, the brooding idealist climbed one night to the gallery to overlook a gloomy, empty auditorium. Concealing himself as best he could, he sat through the performance, tortured by some indefinable appeal in Helen's voice, hearing with cold and sinking heart the faint applause from the orchestra chairs which used to roar with bravos and sparkle with the clapping of white and jewelled hands.
There was something horrifying in this change. In his morbid and overwrought condition it seemed murderous. At last a new resolution set his lips in a stern line, and when the curtain fell on the last act his mind was made up. "I will write one more play for the sensation-loving fools, for these flabby business men and their capon-stuffed wives. I will mix them a dramatic cocktail that will make them sit up. I will create a dazzling role for Helen, one that will win back all her old-time admirers. They shall come like a roaring tide, and she shall recoup herself for every loss—in purse and prestige."
It was this night, when his face was white with suffering, that Helen caught a glimpse of him hanging across the railing of the upper balcony.
He went no more to see her play. In his small, shabby room in a musty house on one of the old side streets he set to work on his new plan. He wrote now without fervor, without elation, plodding along hour after hour, erasing, interlining, destroying, rewriting. He toiled terribly. He permitted himself no fancy flights. He calculated now. "I must have a young and beautiful duchess or countess," he mused, bitterly. "Our democratic public loves to see nobility. She must peril her honor for a lover—a wonderful fellow of the middle-class, not royal, but near it. The princess must masquerade in a man's clothing for some high purpose. There must be a lord high chamberlain or the like who discovers her on this mission to save her lover, and who uses his discovery to demand her hand in marriage for his son—"
In this cynical mood he worked, sustained only by the memory of "The Glittering Woman" whose power and beauty had once dazzled him. Slowly the new play took shape, and, try as he might, he could not keep out of it a line now and then of real drama—of literature. Each act was designed to end with a clarion call to the passions, and he was perfectly certain that the curtain would rise again and again at the close. At every point was glitter and the rush of heroics.
He lived sparely, seeing no one, going out only at night for a walk in the square. To send to his brother or his father for money he would not, not even to write his wonder-working drama. His letters home, while brief, were studiedly confident of tone. The play-acting business and all those connected with it stood very remote from the farming village in which Dr. Donald Douglass lived, and when he read from his son's letters references to his dramas his mind took but slight hold upon the words. His replies were brief and to the point. "Go back to your building and leave the play-actors to themselves. They're a poor, uneasy lot at the best." To him an architect was a man who built houses and barns, with a personal share in the physical labor, a wholesome, manly business. The son understood his father's prejudices, and they formed a barrier to his approach when in need.
On the morning of the fifteenth day Alessandra went to the type-writer, and the weary playwright lifted his head and took a full, free breath. He was convinced beyond any question that this melodrama would please. It had all the elements which he despised, therefore it must succeed. His desire to see Helen now overpowered him. Worn with his toil and exultant in his freedom, he went out into the street to see what the world was doing.
Enid's Choice was still running. A slight gain at the end of the first week had enabled Helen to withhold her surrender to mammon. The second week increased the attendance, but the loss on the two plays was now very heavy, and Hugh and Westervelt and all her friends as well urged her to give way to the imperious public; but some deep loyalty to Douglass, some reason which she was not free to give, made her say, "No, while there is the slightest hope I am going to keep on." To her mother she said: "They are associated in my mind with something sweet and fine—a man's aspiration. They taste good in my mouth after all these years of rancid melodrama."
To herself she said: "If they succeed—if they win the public—my lover will come back. He can then come as a conqueror." And the hope of this, the almost certain happiness and honor which awaited them both led her to devise new methods of letting the great non-theatre-going public know that in George Douglass's Enid they might be comforted—that it was, indeed, a dramatic sign of promise. "We will give it a faithful trial here, then go on the road. Life is less strenuous in the smaller towns—they have time to think."
Hugh and Westervelt counselled against any form of advertising that would seem to set the play in a class by itself, but Helen, made keen by her suffering, bluntly replied: "You are both wrong, utterly wrong. Our only possible chance of success lies in reaching that vast, sane, thoughtful public which seldom or never goes to the theatre. This public very properly holds a prejudice against the theatrical world, but it will welcome a play which is high and poetic without being dull. This public is so vast it makes the ordinary theatre-going public seem but a handful. We must change all our methods of printing."
These ideas were sourly adopted in the third week, just when a note from Douglass reached her by the hand of a special messenger. In this letter he said: "I have completed another play. I have been grubbing night and day with incessant struggle to put myself and all my ideals aside—to give the public what it wants—to win your old admirers back, in order that I might see you playing once more to crowded and brilliant houses. It will succeed because it is diametrically opposed to all I have expressed. It is my sacrifice. Will you accept it? Will you read my play? Shall I send it to you?"
Something went out from this letter which hurt Helen deeply. First of all there was a certain humble aloofness in his attitude which troubled her, but more significant still was his confessed departure from his ideals. Her brave and splendid lover had surrendered to the enemy—for her sake. Her first impulse was to write refusing to accept his sacrifice. But on second thought she craftily wrote: "I do not like to think of you writing to please the public, which I have put aside, but come and bring your play. I cannot believe that you have really written down to a melodramatic audience. What I will do I cannot say till I have seen your piece. Where have you kept yourself? Have you been West? Come and tell me all about it."
To this self-contained note he replied by sending the drama. "No, I cannot come till Hugh and you have read and accepted this play. I want your manager to pass on Alessandra. You know what I mean. You are an idealist like myself. You will condemn this drama, but Westervelt may see in it a chance to restore the glitter to his theatre. Ask them both to read it—without letting them know who wrote it. If they accept it, then I can meet them again on equal terms. I long to see you; but I am in disgrace and infinitely poorer than when I first met you."
Over this letter Helen pondered long. Her first impulse was to send the play back without reading it, but her love suggested another subterfuge. "I will do his will, and if Hugh and Westervelt find the play acceptable I will share in his triumph. But I will not do the play except as a last resort—for his sake. Enid is more than holding its own. So long as it does I will not permit him to lower his splendid powers."
To Hugh she carelessly said: "Here is another play—a melodrama, to judge from the title. Look it over and see if there is anything in it."
As plays were constantly coming in to them, Hugh took this one quite as a matter of routine, with expectation of being bored. He was a little surprised next morning when she asked, "Did you look into that manuscript?"
He answered: "No. I didn't get time."
She could hardly conceal her impatience. "I wish you'd go over it this morning. From the title it's one of those middle-age Italian things that costume well."
"Oh, is it?" he exclaimed. "Well, I'll get right at it." Her interest in it more than the title moved him. It was a most hopeful sign of weakening on her part.
He came to lunch full of enthusiasm. "Say, sis, that play is a corker. There is a part in it that sees the Baroness and goes her one better. If the last act keeps up we've got a prize-winner. Who's Edwin Baxter, anyhow?"
Helen quietly stirred her tea. "I never heard the name before. A new man in the theatrical world, apparently."
"Well, he's all right. I'm going over the whole thing again. Have you read it?"
"No, I thought best to let you and Westervelt decide this time. I merely glanced at it."
"Well, it looks like the thing to pull us out of our hole."
That night Westervelt came behind the scenes with shining face. "I hope you will consent to do this new piece; it is a cracker-jack." He grew cautious. "It really is an immensely better piece of work than The Baroness, and yet it has elements of popularity. I have read it hastily. I shall study it to-night. If it looks as big to me to-morrow morning as now I will return to the old arrangement with you—if you wish."
"How is the house to-night?" she asked.
His face dropped. "No better than last night." He shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, ten or fifteen dollars, maybe. We can play all winter to two hundred dollars a night with this play. I do not understand such audiences. Apparently each man sends just one to take his place. There is no increase."
"Well, report to me to-morrow about Alessandra, then I will decide upon the whole matter."
In spite of herself she shared in the glow which shone on the faces of her supports, for the word had been passed to the leading members that they were going back to the old drama. "They've found a new play—a corking melodrama."
Royleston straightened. "What's the subject?"
"Middle-age Italian intrigue, so Hugh says—bully costumes—a wonder of a part for Merival."
"Then we are on velvet again," said Royleston.
The influence of the news ran through the action on the stage. The performance took on spirit and gusto. The audience immediately felt the glow of the players' enthusiasm, and warmed to both actress and playwright, and the curtain went down to the most vigorous applause of the entire run. But Westervelt did not perceive this, so engrossed was he in the new manuscript. Reading was prodigious labor for him—required all his attention.
He was at the hotel early the next morning, impatient to see his star. As he waited he figured on a little pad. His face was flushed as if with drink. His eyes swam with tears of joy, and when Helen appeared he took her hand in both his fat pads, crying out:
"My dear lady, we have found you a new play. It is to be a big production. It will cost a barrel of money to put it on, but it is a winner. Tell the writer to come on and talk terms."
Helen remained quite cool. "You go too fast, Herr Westervelt. I have not read the piece. I may not like the title role."
The manager winced. "You will like it—you must like it. It is a wonderful part. The costuming is magnificent—the scenes superb."
"Is there any text?"
Westervelt did not feel the sarcasm. "Excellent text. It is not Sardou—of course not—but it is of his school, and very well done indeed. The situations are not new, but they are powerfully worked out. I am anxious to secure it. If not for you, for some one else."
"Very well. I will read the manuscript. If I like it I will send for the author."
With this show of tepid interest on the part of his star Westervelt had to be content. To Hugh he complained: "The influence of that crazy Douglass is strong with her yet. I'm afraid she will turn down this part."
Hugh was also alarmed by her indifference, and at frequent intervals during the day asked how she was getting on with the reading.
To this query she each time replied: "Slowly. I'm giving it careful thought."
She was, indeed, struggling with her tempted self. She was more deeply curious to read the manuscript than any one else could possibly be, and yet she feared to open the envelope which contained it. She did not wish to be in any sense a party to her lover's surrender. She knew that he must have written falsely and without conviction to have made such a profound impression on Westervelt. The very fact that the theme was Italian, and of the Middle Ages, was a proof of his abandonment of a cardinal principle, for he had often told her how he hated all that sort of thing. "What kind of a national drama would that be which dealt entirely with French or Italian mediaeval heroes?" he had once asked, with vast scorn.