Two blocks down the street, she found, as predicted, the cigar store with the blue sign, "Schulz Express," and left her trunk check there with her address and fifty cents. Then, putting up her umbrella, and glowingly conscious that she was saving a nickel by so doing, she set off down-town afoot to get a job. She meant to get it that very afternoon. And, partly because she meant to so very definitely, she did.
I don't mean to say that getting a job is a purely volitional matter. There is the factor of luck, always large of course, though not quite so large as a great many people suppose, and the factor of intelligence. Rose's intelligence had been in pretty active training for the last year. Ever since her talk with Simone Greville had set her thinking, she had been learning how to weigh and assess facts apart from their emotional nebulae. She'd taught herself how to look a disagreeable or humiliating fact in the face as steadily and as coolly as she looked at any other fact.
She had accumulated a whole lot of facts about women in industry from Barry Lake and Jane. She knew the sort of job and the sort of pay that the average untrained woman gets. She knew some of the reasons why the pay was so miserably, intolerably small. She knew about the vast army of young women who weren't expected to be fully self-supporting, who counted on marrying comfortably enough some day, and accepted board and lodging at home as one of the natural laws of existence. But who, if they wanted pocket money, pretty enough clothes to make them attractive enough for men to want to marry; who, if they wanted to escape the stupid drudgery of housework at home, had to go to work. They'd rather get eight dollars a week than six, of course, or ten than eight. But as long as even six was velvet (cotton-backed velvet, one might say) they'd take that, cheerfully oblivious to the fact, as naturally one might expect them to be, that by taking six, they established a standard at which a girl who had to earn her own living simply couldn't live.
Rose knew exactly what would happen to her if she went to one of the big State Street department stores and asked for a job. Jane had been trying some experiments lately, and stating her results with convincing vivacity at their little dinners afterward. There was no thoroughfare there.
She knew too, what sort of life she'd have to face if she offered herself out in the West Side factory district as a cracker packer, a chocolate dipper, a glove stitcher; any of those things. You got a sort of training, of course, at any one of these trades. You learned to develop a certain uncanny miraculous speed and skill in some one small operation, as remorseless and unvaried as the coming into mesh and out again of two cogs in a pair of gears. But the very highest skill could just about be made to keep you alive, and it led to nothing else. You wore out your body and asphyxiated your soul.
Rose didn't mean to do that. She was holding both body and soul in trust. The penitential mood that had resulted from her talk with Portia was utterly gone. She wasn't looking for hurts. Deliberately to impose tortures on herself was as far from her intent as shirking any of the inevitable trials that should come to her in the course of the day's work. The only way she could see to a life of decent self-respecting independence lay through some sort of special training—business training, she thought. She'd begin by learning to be a stenographer—a cracking good stenographer. Miss Beach had begun that way. She had a real job.
Only, Rose had first to get a job that would pay for her training; and not only pay for it, but leave time for it; a problem which might have seemed like the problem of lifting yourself by your boot straps, if it hadn't been for Jimmy Wallace—Jimmy with his talk about chorus-girls.
The trouble with that profession, Jimmy had said, was that the indispensable assets in it were not industry, intelligence, ambitions, but a reasonably presentable pair of arms and legs (a good-looking face would surely come in handy too) and a rudimentary sense of rhythm. Another demoralizing thing about it, he had said, was the fact that the work wasn't hard enough, except during rehearsal, to keep its votaries out of mischief.
When the notion first occurred to her that these statements of Jimmy's might some day have an interest for her that was personal rather than academic, she had dismissed it with a shrug of good-humored amusement. It wasn't until her idea of leaving Rodney and going out and making a living and a life for herself had hardened into a fixed resolution, and she had begun serious consideration of ways and means, that she called it back into her mind. There was no use blinking the facts. The one marketable asset she would possess when she walked out of her husband's house, was simply—how she looked.
Well then, if that was all you had, there was no degradation in using it until you could make yourself the possessor of something else. And the merit of this particular sort of job, for her, lay precisely in the thing that Jimmy had cited as its chief disadvantage—it left you abundant leisure. You might occupy that leisure getting into mischief—no doubt most chorus-girls did. But there was nothing to prevent your using it to better advantage.
With this in mind, on the Sunday before Rose went away, she had studied the dramatic section of the morning paper with a good deal of care and was rewarded by finding among the news notes, an item referring to a new musical comedy that was to be produced at the Globe Theater immediately after the Christmas holidays. The Girl Up-stairs was the title of it. It was spoken of as one of the regular Globe productions, so it was probable that Jimmy Wallace's experience with the production of an earlier number in the series would at least give her something to go by. The thing must be in rehearsal now.
Granted that she was going to be a chorus-girl for a while, she could hardly find a better place than one of the Globe productions to be one in. According to Jimmy Wallace, it was a decent enough little place, and yet it possessed the advantage of being spiritually as well as actually, west of Clark Street. Rodney's friends were less likely to go there, and so have a chance of recognizing her, than to any other theater in the city, barring of course the flagrantly and shamelessly vulgar ones of the purlieus.
Among her older friends of school and college days, the chances were of course worse. But even if she were seen on the stage by people who knew her, even though they were to say to each other that that girl looked surprisingly like Rose Aldrich, this would be a very different thing from full recognition. She would be well protected by the utter unlikelihood of her being in such a place; by the absence of anybody's knowledge that she had flown off at a tangent from the orbit of Rodney's world. Then, too, she'd be somewhat disguised no doubt, by make-up. Of course with all those considerations weighed at their full value, there remained a risk that she would be fully discovered and recognized. But it was a risk that couldn't be avoided, whatever she did.
She entertained for a while, the notion of taking Jimmy Wallace into her confidence—he had as many depositors of confidences on his books, as a savings bank, and he was just as safe. It was altogether likely that he could get her a job out of hand. He was still on the best of terms with the Globe people, and he was a really influential critic. But even if he didn't get her a job outright, he could at least tell her how to set about getting one for herself—where to go, whom to ask for, the right way to phrase her request, which makes such an enormous difference in things of that kind.
But she wasn't long in abandoning the notion of appealing to Jimmy at all. The corner-stone of her new adventure must be that she was doing things for herself; that she was through being helped, having ways smoothed for her, things done for her. If she owed her first job even indirectly to Jimmy, all the rest of her structure would be out of plumb. Whatever success she might have would be tainted by the misgiving that but for somebody else's help, she might have failed. Rose Stanton who had rented that three-dollar room was going to be beholden to nobody!
The news item in the paper gave her really all she needed. It told her that a production was in rehearsal and it mentioned the name of the director, John Galbraith, referring to him as one of the three most prominent musical-comedy directors in the country; imported from New York at vast expense, to make this production unique in the annals of the Globe, and so forth.
They hadn't rehearsed Jimmy's piece, she knew, in the theater itself, but in all sorts of queer out-of-the-way places—in theaters that happened for the moment to be "dark," in dance-halls; pretty much anywhere. This was because there was another show running at the time at the Globe. She had looked in the theater advertisements to see whether a show was running there now. Yes, there was. Well, that gave her her formula.
When she asked at the box office at the Globe Theater, where they were rehearsing The Girl Up-stairs to-day, the nicely manicured young man inside, answered automatically, "North End Hall."
Evidently Jimmy Wallace couldn't have phrased the question better himself. But the quality of the voice that asked it had, even to his not very sensitive ear, an unaccustomed flavor. So, almost simultaneously with his answer, he looked up from his finger-nails and shot an inquiring glance through the grille.
What he saw betrayed him into an involuntary stare. He didn't mean to stare; he meant to be respectful. But he was surprised. Rose, in the plainest suit that she could hope would seem plausible to her servants for a traveling costume to California, an ulster and a little beaver hat with a quill in it, had no misgivings about looking the part of a potentially hard-working young woman renting a three-dollar room on North Clark Street and seeking employment in a musical-comedy chorus. A realization that her neat black seal dressing-case wasn't quite in the picture, helped to account for the landlady's puzzlement about her. But it hadn't been introduced in evidence here. And yet the young man behind the grille seemed as surprised as the landlady.
He repeated his answer to her question with the lubricant of a few more words and a fatuous sort of smile. "I believe they rehearse in the North End Hall this afternoon."
Rose couldn't help smiling a little herself. "I'm afraid," she said, "I'll have to ask where that is."
"Not at all," said the young man idiotically, and he told her the address; then cast about for a slip of paper to write it down on, racking his thimbleful of brains all the while to make out who she could be. She wasn't one of the principals in the company. They'd all reported and he hadn't heard that any of them was to be replaced.
"Oh, you needn't write it," said Rose. "I can remember, thank you." She gave him a pleasant sort of boyish nod that didn't classify at all with anything in his experience, and walked out of the lobby.
He stared after her almost resentfully, feeling all mussed up, somehow, and inadequate; as if here had been a situation that he had failed signally to make the most of. He sat there for the next half-hour gloomily thinking up things he might have said to her.
THE EVENING AND THE MORNING WERE THE FIRST DAY
With her umbrella over her shoulder, Rose set sail northward again through the rain, absurdly cheered; first by the fact that the opening skirmish had distinctly, though intangibly, gone her way; secondly by the small bit of luck that North End Hall would be, judging by its number on North Clark Street, not more than a block or two from her three-dollar room.
The sight of the entrance to it gave her a pang of misgiving. A pair of white painted doors opened from the street level upon the foot of a broadish stair which took you up rather suddenly; there was space enough between the foot of the stair and the doors for a ticket-window, but it was too small to be called a lobby; an arc lamp hung there though, and two more—all three were extinct—hung just outside. What gave the place its air of vulgarity, a suggestion of being the starting and finishing point for lewd, drink sodden revels, she couldn't determine. It did suggest this plainly. But, in the light of what Jimmy Wallace had told her, she didn't think it likely there'd be any reveling to speak of at rehearsal.
At the head of the stairway, tilted back in a kitchen chair beneath a single gas-jet whose light he was trying to make suffice for the perusal of a green newspaper, sat a man, under orders no doubt, to keep intruders away.
Rose cast about as she climbed for the sort of phrase that would convince him she wasn't an intruder. She would ask him, but in the manner of one who seeks a formal assurance merely, if this was where they were rehearsing The Girl Up-stairs. Three steps from the top, she changed her tactics, as a result of a glance at his unshaven face. The thing to do was to go by as if he weren't there at all—as if, for such as she, watchmen didn't exist. The rhythmic pounding of feet and the frayed chords from a worn-out piano, convinced her she was in the right place.
Her stratagem succeeded, but not without giving her a bad moment. The man glanced up and, though she felt he didn't return to his paper again, he made no attempt to stop her. But right before her was another pair of big white doors, closed with an effect of permanence—locked, she suspected. A narrower door to the left stood open, but over it was painted the disconcerting legend "Bar," flanked on either side, to make the matter explicit even to the unlearned, by pictorial representations of glasses of foaming beer. She hadn't time to deliberate over her choice. The watchman's eyes were boring into her back. If she chose wrong, or if she visibly hesitated, she knew she'd hear a voice say, "Here! Where you going!"
She caught a quick breath, turned to the left and walked steadily through the narrower door into the bar. It proved to be a deserted, shrouded, sinister-looking place, with an interminable high mahogany counter at one side, and with a lot of little iron tables placed by pairs, their tops together, so that half of them had their legs in the air. Its lights were fled, its garlands dead all right, but there wasn't anything poetic about it. However, there was another open door at the far end of the room, through which sounds and light came in. And the watchman hadn't interfered with her. Evidently she had chosen right.
She paused for a second steadying breath before she went through that farther door, her eyes starry with resolution, her cheeks, just for the moment, a little pale. If the comparison suggests itself to you of an early Christian maiden about to step out into an arena full of wild beasts, then you will have mistaken Rose. The arena was there, true enough. But she was stepping out into it with the intention of, like Androcles, taming the lion.
The room was hot and not well lighted—a huge square room with a very high ceiling. In the farther wall of it was a proscenium arch and a raised stage somewhat brighter than the room itself, though the stained brick wall at the back, in the absence of any scenery, absorbed a good deal of the light. On the stage, right and left, were two irregular groups of girls, with a few men, awkwardly, Rose thought, disposed among them. All were swaying a little to mark the rhythm of the music industriously pounded out by a sweaty young man at the piano—a swarthy, thick young man in his undershirt. There were a few more people, Rose was aware without exactly looking at any of them, sprawled in different parts of the hall, on sofas or cushioned window-seats.
It was all a little vague to her at first, because her attention was focused on a single figure—a compact, rather slender figure, and tall, Rose thought—of a man in a blue serge suit, who stood at the exact center of the stage and the extreme edge of the footlights. He was counting aloud the bars of the music—not beating time at all, nor yielding to the rhythm in any way; standing, on the contrary, rather tensely still. That was the quality about him, indeed, that riveted Rose's attention and held her as still as he was, in the doorway—an exhilarating sort of intensity that had communicated itself to the swaying groups on the stage. You could tell from the way he counted that something was gathering itself up, getting ready to happen. "Three ... Four ... Five ... Six ... Seven ... Now!" he shouted on the eighth bar, and with the word, one of the groups transformed itself. One of the men bowed to one of the girls and began waltzing with her; another couple formed, then another.
Rose watched breathlessly, hoping the maneuver wouldn't go wrong;—for no reason in the world but that the man, there at the footlights, was so tautly determined that it shouldn't.
Determination triumphed. The number was concluded to John Galbraith's evident satisfaction. "Very good," he said. "If you'll all do exactly what you did that time from now on, I'll not complain." Without a pause he went on, "Everybody on the stage—big girls—all the big girls!" And, to the young man at the piano, "We'll do Afternoon Tea." There was a momentary pause then, filled with subdued chatter, while the girls and men re-alined themselves for the new number—a pause taken advantage of by an exceedingly blond young man to scramble up on the stage and make a few remarks to the director. He was the musical director, Rose found out afterward. Galbraith, to judge from his attitude, gave his colleague's remarks about twenty-five per cent. of his attention, keeping his eye all the while on the chorus, to see that they got their initial formation correctly. Rose looked them over, too. The girls weren't, on an average, extravagantly beautiful, though, with the added charm of make-up allowed for, there were no doubt many the audiences would consider so. What struck Rose most emphatically about them, was their youth and spirit. How long they had been rehearsing this afternoon she didn't know. But now, when they might have gone slack and silent, they pranced and giggled instead and showed a disposition to lark about, which evidently would have carried them a good deal further but for the restraining presence of the director. They were dressed in pretty much anything that would allow perfect freedom to their bodies; especially their arms and legs; bathing suits mostly, or middy-blouses and bloomers. Rose noted this with satisfaction. Her old university gymnasium costume would do perfectly. Anything, apparently, would do, because as her eye adjusted itself to details, she discovered romper suits, pinafores, chemises, overalls—all equally taken for granted. There weren't nearly so many chorus men as girls. She couldn't be sure just how many there were, because they couldn't be singled out. As they wore no distinctly working costume, merely took off their coats, waistcoats and collars, they weren't distinguishable from most of the staff, who, with the exception of the director, garbed themselves likewise.
Galbraith dismissed the musical director with a nod, struck his hands together for silence, and scrutinized the now motionless group on the stage.
"We're one shy," he said. "Who's missing?" And then answered his own question: "Grant!" He wheeled around and his eyes searched the hall.
Rose became aware for the first time, that a mutter of conversation had been going on incessantly since she had come in, in one of the recessed window-seats behind her. Now, when Galbraith's gaze plunged in that direction, she turned and looked too. A big blonde chorus-girl was in there with a man, a girl, who, with twenty pounds trained off her, and that sulky look out of her face, would have been a beauty. She had roused herself with a sort of defiant deliberation at the sound of the director's voice, but she still had her back to him and went on talking to the man.
"Grant!" said John Galbraith again, and this time his voice had a cutting edge. "Will you take your place on the stage, or shall I suspend rehearsal until you're ready?"
For answer she turned and began walking slowly across the room toward the door in the proscenium that led to the stage. She started walking slowly, but under Galbraith's eye, she quickened her pace, involuntarily, it seemed, until it was a ludicrous sort of run. Presently she emerged on the stage, looking rather artificially unconcerned, and the rehearsal went on again.
But just before he gave the signal to the pianist to go ahead, Galbraith with a nod summoned a young man from the wings and said something to him, whereupon, clearly carrying out his orders, he vaulted down from the stage and came walking toward the doorway where Rose was still standing. The director's gaze as it flashed about the hall, had evidently discovered more than the sulky chorus-girl.
The young man wasn't intrinsically formidable—a rather limp, deprecatory sort, he looked. But, as an emissary from Galbraith, he quickened Rose's heart-beat a trifle. She smiled though as she made a small bet with herself that he wouldn't be able to turn her out, even in his capacity of envoy.
But he didn't come straight to Rose; deflected his course a little uncertainly, and brought up before a woman who sat in a folding chair a little farther along the wall.
Rose hadn't observed her particularly before, though she was aware that one of the "big girls" who had responded promptly to Galbraith's first call for them, had been talking to her when Rose came in, and she had assumed her to be somebody connected with the show; at least with an unchallengeable right to watch its rehearsals. But she had corrected this impression even before she had heard what John Galbraith's assistant said to the woman and what she said to him; for she drew herself defensively erect when she saw him turn toward her, assumed a look of calculated disdain; tapped a foot inadequately shod for Chicago's pavements in December, although evidently it had experienced them—gave, on the whole, as well as she could, an imitation of a duchess being kept waiting.
But the limp young man didn't seem disconcerted, and inquired in so many words, what her business was. The duchess said in a harsh high voice with a good deal of inflection to it, that she wanted to see the director; a very partic'lar friend of his, she assured the young man, had begged her to do so. "You'll have to wait till he's through rehearsing," said the young man, and then he came over to Rose.
The vestiges of the smile the duchess had provoked were still visible about her mouth when he came up. "May I wait and see Mr. Galbraith after the rehearsal?" she asked. "If I won't be in the way?"
"Sure," said the young man. "He won't be long now. He's been rehearsing since two." Then, rather explosively, "Have a chair."
He struck Rose as being a little flustered and uncertain, somehow, and he now made a tentative beginning of actually bringing a chair for her.
"Oh, don't bother," said Rose, and now she couldn't help smiling outright. "I'll find one for myself."
But, whenever he had begun rehearsing, it was evident that John Galbraith didn't mean to stop until he got through, and it was a long hour that Rose sat there in a little folding chair similar to the one occupied by the duchess; an hour which, in spite of all her will could do, took some of the crispness out of her courage. It was all very well to reflect with pitying amusement on the absurdities of the duchess. But it was evident the duchess was waiting with a purpose like her own. She meant to get a job in the chorus. Her rather touching ridiculousness as a human being wouldn't stand in her way. It was likely that she had had dozens of jobs in choruses before, knew exactly what would be wanted of her, and was confident of her ability to deliver it.
As Rose's heart sank lower with the dragging minutes she even took into account the possibility that the duchess had spoken the truth about John Galbraith's "partic'lar friend." Just the mention of a name might settle the whole business. Then her spirits went down another five degrees. Here she had been assuming all along that there was a job for either of them to get! But it was quite likely there was not. The chorus looked complete enough; there was no visible gap in the ranks crying aloud for a recruit.
When at last, a little after six o'clock, Galbraith said, "Quarter to eight, everybody," and dismissed them with a nod for a scurry to what were evidently dressing-rooms at the other side of the ball, the ship of Rose's hopes had utterly gone to pieces. She had a plank to keep herself afloat on. It was the determination to stay there until he should tell her in so many words that he hadn't any use for her and under no conceivable circumstances ever would have.
The deprecatory young man was talking to him now, about her and the duchess evidently, for he peered out into the hall to see if they were still there; then vaulted down from the stage and came toward them.
The duchess got up, and with a good deal of manner, went over to meet him. Rose felt outmaneuvered here. She should have gone to meet him herself, but a momentary paralysis kept her in her chair. She didn't hear what the duchess said. The manner of it was confidential, in marked protest against the proximity of a handful of other people—the blond musical director, the thick pianist in his undershirt, a baby-faced man in round tortoise-shell spectacles, three or four of the chorus people, each of whom had serious matters to bring before the director's attention.
But all the confidences, it seemed, were on the side of the duchess. Because, when John Galbraith answered her, his voice easily filled the room. "You tell Mr. Pike, if that's his name, that I'm very much obliged to him, but we haven't any vacancies in the chorus at present. If you care to, leave your name and address with Mr. Quan, the assistant stage manager; then if we find we need you, we can let you know."
He said it not unkindly, but he exercised some power of making it evident that as he finished speaking, the duchess, for him, simply ceased to exist. Anything she might say or do thereafter, would be so much effort utterly wasted.
The duchess drew herself up and walked away.
And Rose? Well, the one thing she wanted passionately to do just then, was to walk away herself out of that squalid horrible room; to soften her own defeat by evading the final sledge-hammer blow. What he had said to the duchess licensed her to do so. If there were no vacancies ... But she clenched her hands, set her teeth, pulled in a long breath, and somehow, set herself in motion. Not toward the door, but toward where John Galbraith was standing.
But before she could get over to him, the pianist and the musical director had got his attention. So she waited quietly beside him for two of the longest minutes that ever were ticked off by a clock. Then, with disconcerting suddenness, right in the middle of one of the musical director's sentences, he looked straight into her face and said: "What do you want?"
She'd thought him tall, but he wasn't. He was looking on a perfect level into her eyes.
"I want a job in the chorus," said Rose.
"You heard what I said to that other woman, I suppose?"
"Yes," said Rose, "but ..."
"But you thought you'd let me say it to you again."
"Yes," she said. And, queerly enough, she felt her courage coming back. She managed the last "yes" very steadily. It had occurred to her that if he'd wanted merely to get rid of her, he could have done it quicker than this. He was looking her over now with a coolly appraising eye.
"What professional experience have you had?" he asked.
"I haven't had any."
He almost smiled when she stopped there.
"Any amateur experience?" he inquired.
"Quite a lot," said Rose; "pageants and things, and two or three little plays."
"Can you dance?"
"Yes," said Rose.
He said he supposed ballroom dancing was what she meant, whereupon she told him she was a pretty good ballroom dancer, but that it was gymnastic dancing she had had in mind.
"All right," he said. "See if you can do this. Watch me, and then imitate me exactly."
In the intensity of her absorption in his questions and her own answers to them, she had never given a thought to the bystanders. But now as they fell back to give him room, she swept a glance across their faces. They all wore smiles of sorts. There was something amusing about this—something out of the regular routine. A little knot of chorus-girls halted in the act of going out the wide doors and stood watching. Was it just a hoax? The suppressed unnatural silence sounded like it. But at what John Galbraith did, one of the bystanders guffawed outright.
It wasn't pretty, the dance step he executed—a sort of stiff-legged skip accompanied by a vulgar hip wriggle and concluding with a straight-out sidewise kick.
A sick disgust clutched at Rose as she watched—an utter revulsion from the whole loathly business. She could scrub floors—starve if she had to. She couldn't do the thing he demanded of her here out in the middle of the floor, in her street clothes, without the excuse of music to make it tolerable—and before that row of leering faces.
"Well?" he asked, turning to her as he finished. He wasn't smiling at all.
"I'm not dressed to do that," she said.
"I know you're not," he admitted coolly, "but it can be done. Pick up your skirts and do it as you are,—if you really want a job."
There was just a faint edge of contempt in that last phrase and, mercifully, it roused her anger. A blaze kindled in her blue eyes, and two spots of vivid color defined themselves in her cheeks.
She caught up her skirts as he had told her to do, executed without compromise the stiff-legged skip and the wriggle, and finished with a horizontal sidewise kick that matched his own. Then, panting, trembling a little, she stood looking straight into his face.
The first thing she realized when the processes of thought began again was that even if there had been a hoax, she was not, in the event, the victim of it. The attitude of her audience told her that. Galbraith was staring at her with a look that expressed at first, clear astonishment, but gradually complicated itself with other emotions—confusion, a glint of whimsical amusement. That gleam, a perfectly honest, kindly one, decided Rose to take him on trust. He wasn't a brute, however it might suit his purposes to act like one. And with an inkling of how her blaze of wrath must be amusing him, she smiled slowly and a little uncertainly, herself.
"We've been rehearsing this piece two weeks," he said presently, looking away from her when he began to talk, "and I couldn't take any one into the chorus now whom I'd have to teach the rudiments of dancing to. I must have people who can do what I tell them. That's why a test was necessary. Also, from now on, it would be a serious thing to lose anybody out of the chorus. I couldn't take anybody who had come down here—for a lark."
"It's not a lark to me," said Rose.
Now he looked around at her again. "I know it isn't," he said. "But I thought when you first came in here, that it was."
With that, Rose understood the whole thing. It was evidently a fact that despite the plain little suit, the beaver hat, the rough ulster she was wearing, she didn't look like the sort of girl who had to rely on getting a job in the chorus for keeping a roof over her head. Looks, speech, manner—everything segregated her from the type. It was all obvious enough, only Rose hadn't happened to think of it. It accounted, of course, for the rather odd way in which the landlady, the ticket-seller at the Globe, and meek little Mr. Quan, the assistant stage manager, all had looked at her, as at some one they couldn't classify. John Galbraith, out of a wider experience of life, had classified her, or thought he had, as a well-bred young girl who, in a moment of pique, or mischief, had decided it would be fun to go on the stage. The test he had applied wasn't, from that point of view, unnecessarily cruel. The girl he had taken her for, would, on being ordered to repeat that grotesque bit of vulgarity of his, have drawn her dignity about her like a cloak, and gone back in a chastened spirit to the world where she belonged.
A gorgeous apparition came sweeping by them just now, on a line from the dressing-room to the door—a figure that, with regal deliberation, was closing a blue broadcloth coat, trimmed with sable, over an authentic Callot frock. The Georgette hat on top of it was one that Rose had last seen in a Michigan Avenue shop. She had amused herself by trying to vizualize the sort of person who ought to buy it. It had found its proper buyer at last—fulfilled its destiny.
"Oh, Grant!" said John Galbraith.
The queenly creature stopped short and Rose recognized her with a jump, as the sulky chorus-girl. Dressed like this, her twenty pounds of surplus fat didn't show.
Galbraith walked over to her. "I shan't need you any more, Grant." He spoke in a quiet impersonal sort of way, but his voice had, as always, a good deal of carrying power. "It's hardly worth your while trying to work, I suppose, when you're so prosperous as this. And it isn't worth my while to have you soldiering. You needn't report again."
He nodded not unamiably, and turned away. Evidently she had ceased to exist for him as completely as the duchess. She glared after him and called out in a hoarse throaty voice, "Thank Gawd I don't have to work for you."
He'd come back to Rose again by this time, and she saw him smile. "When you do it," he said over his shoulder, "thank Him for me too." Then to Rose: "She's a valuable girl; had lots of experience; good-looking; audiences like her. I'm giving you her place because as long as she's got those clothes and the use of a limousine, she won't get down to business. I'd rather have a green recruit who will. I'm hiring you because I think you will be able to understand that what you feel like doing isn't important and that what I tell you to do is. The next rehearsal is at a quarter to eight to-night. Give your name and address to Mr. Quan before you go. By the way, what is your name?"
"Rose Stanton," she said. "But ..." She had to follow him a step or two because he had already turned away. "But, may I give some other name than that to Mr. Quan?" He frowned a little dubiously and asked her how old she was. And even when she told him twenty-two, he didn't look altogether reassured.
"That's the truth, is it? I mean, there's nobody who can come down here about three days before we open and call me a kidnaper, and lead you away by the ear?"
"No," said Rose gravely, "there's no one who'll do that."
"Very good," he said. "Tell Quan any name you like."
The name she did tell him was Doris Dane.
It was a quarter to seven when she came out through the white doors into North Clark Street. The thing that woke her out of a sort of daze as she trudged along toward her room in the unrelenting rain was a pleasurable smell of fried onions; whereupon she realized that she was legitimately and magnificently hungry. In any other condition, the dingy little lunch-room she presently turned into, would hardly have invited her. But the spots on the frayed starchy table-cloth, the streakiness of the glasses, the necessity of polishing knife and fork upon her damp napkin, couldn't prevent her doing ample justice to a small thick platter of ham and eggs, and a plate of thicker wheat-cakes.
It occurred to her as she finished, that a quarter to eight probably meant the hour at which the rehearsal was to begin. She'd have to be back at the hail at least fifteen minutes earlier, in order to be dressed and ready. She had no time to waste; would even have to hurry a little.
She didn't try to explore for the reason why this discovery pleased her so much. It was enough that it did. She flew along through the rain to her tunnel, charged up the narrow stair, and in the unlighted corridor outside her room, collided with her trunk. Well, it was lucky it had come anyway. She tugged it into her room after she had lighted the gas.
You might have seen, if you had been there to see, just a momentary hesitation after she'd got her trunk key out of her purse before she unlocked it. It was a sort of Jack-in-the-box, that trunk. Would the emotions with which she'd packed it, spring out and clutch her as she released the hasp? The saving factor in the situation was that it was a quarter past seven. In fifteen minutes she must be back at North End Hall, getting ready to go to work at her job. Suppose she hadn't found a job this afternoon? The thought turned her giddy.
She plunged into her trunk, rummaged out a middy-blouse, a pair of black silk bloomers, and her gymnasium sneakers, rolled them all together in a bundle, got into her rubbers and her ulster again, and—I'm afraid there is no other word for it—fled.
She was one of the first of the chorus to reach the hail and she had nearly finished putting on her working clothes before the rest of them came pelting in. But she didn't get out quickly enough to miss the sensation that was exciting them all—the news that Grant had been dropped. A few of them were indignant; the rest merely curious. The indignant ones allowed themselves a license in the expression of this feeling that positively staggered Rose; made use in a quite matter-of-fact way of words she had supposed even a drunken truck-man would have attempted to refrain from in the presence of a woman. She made a discovery afterward, that there were many girls in the chorus who never talked like that; and among those who did, the further distinction between those who used vile language casually, or even jocularly, and those who were driven to it only by anger. But for these first few minutes in the dressing-room, she felt as if she had blundered into some foul pit abysmally below the lowest level of decency.
One of the girls advanced the theory that Grant hadn't finally been dropped; it was absurd that she should be. She was one of the most popular chorus-girls in Chicago. The director was merely trying to scare her into doing better work for him. She'd come back, all right. She had reasons of her own, this girl intimated, for wanting to work, despite the possession of French clothes and the use of a limousine. Her "friend," it seemed, needed to be taught some sort of lesson. Grant would come around before to-morrow night, and eat enough humble pie to induce Galbraith to take her back.
If this theory were sound, and it had a dreadful plausibility to Rose, her only chance for keeping her job would be to do as well as Grant could do, to-night, in this very first rehearsal; and she went out on the stage in a perfect agony of determination. She must see everything, hear everything; put all she knew and every ounce of energy she had, into the endeavor to make John Galbraith forget that she was a recruit at all.
The intensity of this preoccupation was a wonderful protection to her. It kept away the sick disgust that had threatened her in the dressing-room; prevented her even glancing ahead to a future that would, had she taken to guessing about it, utterly have overwhelmed her. The intensely illuminated present instant kept her mind focused to its sharpest edge.
It is true that before she had been working fifteen minutes, she had forgotten all about Grant and the possibility of her return. She'd even forgotten her resolution not to let John Galbraith remember she was a recruit. Indeed, she had forgotten she was a recruit. She was nothing at all but just a reflection of his will. She'd felt that quality strongly in him even behind his back during the afternoon rehearsal. Now, on the stage in front of him, she was completely possessed by it.
She didn't know she was tired, panting, wet all over with sweat. Really, of course, she was pretty soft, judged by her own athletic standards. She hadn't done anything so physically exacting as this for over a year. But she had the illusion that she wasn't doing anything now; that she was just a passive plastic thing, tossed, flung, swirled about by the driving power of the director's will. It wouldn't have surprised her if the chairs had danced for him.
It couldn't of course have occurred to her that she was producing her own effect on the director; she couldn't have surmised that he was driving his rehearsal at a faster pace and with a renewed energy and fire because of the presence, there in the ranks of his chorus, of a glowing, thrilling creature who devoured his intentions half formed, met them with a blue spark across the poles of their two minds.
She realized, when the rehearsal was over, that it had gone well and that it couldn't have gone so if her own part had been done badly. She hesitated a moment after he'd finally dismissed them with a nod, and an, "Eleven o'clock to-morrow morning, everybody," from a previously formed intention of asking him if she'd do. But she felt, somehow, that such a question would be foolish and unnecessary.
He had marked her hesitation and shot her a look that she felt followed her as she walked off, and she heard him say to the world in general and in a heartfelt sort of way, "Good God!" But she didn't know that it was the highest encomium he was capable of, nor that it was addressed to her.
She carried away, however, a glow that saw her back to her room, and through the processes of unpacking and getting ready for bed, though it faded swiftly during the last of these. But when the last thing that she could think of to do had been done, when there was no other pretext, even after a desperate search for one, that could be used to postpone turning out her light and getting into bed, she had to confess to herself that she was afraid to do it. And with that confession, the whole pack of hobgoblin terrors she had kept at bay so valiantly since shutting her husband's door behind her, were upon her back.
Here she was, Rose Aldrich, in a three-dollar-a-week room on North Clark Street, having deserted her husband and her babies—a loving honest husband, and a pair of helpless babies not yet three months old—to become a member of the chorus in a show called The Girl Up-stairs! Was there a human being in the world, except herself, who would not, as the most charitable of possible explanations, assume her to be mad? Could she herself, seeing her act cut out in silhouette like that, be sure she wasn't mad? Hysterical anyway, the victim of her own rashly encouraged fancies, just as Rodney had so often declared she was? Oughtn't she to have let James Randolph explore the subconscious part of her mind and find the crack there must be in it, that could have driven her to a crazy act like this?
It didn't matter now. She couldn't go back. She never could go back after the things she had said to Rodney, until she had made good those fantastic theories of hers. Probably he wouldn't want her to come back even then. He'd find out where she was of course—what she was doing. Why had she been such a fool, going away, as not to have gone far enough to be safe? He'd feel that she'd disgraced him. Any man would. And he'd never forgive her. He'd divorce her, perhaps. He'd have a right to, if she stayed away long enough. And, without her there, with nothing of her but memories—tormenting memories, he'd perhaps fall in love with some one else—marry some one else. And her two babies would call that unknown some one "mother." She must have been crazy! She'd thought she didn't love them. That had been a delusion anyway. Her heart ached for them now—an actual physical ache that almost made her cry out. And for Rodney himself, for his big strong arms around her! Would she ever feel them again?
She told herself this was a nightmare—something to be fought off, kept at bay. But how did that help her now, when the armor must be laid aside? Sometime or other she must turn out that light and lie down in that bed, defenseless. She had never in her life asked more of her courage than when, at last, she did that thing. There were nine hours then ahead of her before eleven o'clock and the next rehearsal.
ROSE KEEPS THE PATH
Rose rehearsed twice a day for a solid week without forming the faintest conception of who "the girl" was or why she was "the girl up-stairs." She didn't know what sort of scene it was for instance that they burst in on through the space marked by two of the little folding chairs brought up from the floor of the dance-hall for the purpose. The group of iron tables borrowed from the bar and set solidly together in the upper right-hand corner of the stage whenever they rehearsed a certain one of their song numbers, might with equal plausibility represent a mountain in Arizona, the front veranda of a house or a banquet table in the gilded dining-hall of some licentious multi-millionaire. They got up on the insecure thing and tried to dance; that was all she knew.
During the entire period, and for that matter, right up to the opening night she never saw a bar of music except what stood on the piano rack, nor a written word of the lyrics she was supposed to sing. Rose couldn't sing very much. She had a rather timorous, throaty little contralto that contrasted oddly with the fine free thrill of her speaking voice. But nobody had asked her what her voice was, nor indeed, whether she could sing at all. She picked up the tunes quickly enough, by ear, but the words she was always a little uncertain about.
It all seemed too utterly haphazard to be possible, but Rose decided not to ask any of the authorities about this, because, while the possibility of Grant's return dangled over her head, she didn't want to remind anybody how green she was. But she finally questioned one of her colleagues in the chorus about it, and was told that back at the beginning of things, they had had their voices tried by the musical director, who had conducted three or four music rehearsals before John Galbraith arrived. They had never had any music to sing from but there had been half a dozen mimeograph copies of the words to the songs, which the girls had put their heads together over in groups of three or four, and more or less learned. What had become of this dope, and whether it was still available for Rose in case she were animated by a purely supererogatory desire to study it, the girl didn't know.
She was a pale-haired girl, whom Rose thought she had heard addressed as Larson, and she had emerged rather slowly as an individual personality, out of the ruck of the chorus; a fact in her favor, really, because the girls who had first driven themselves home to Rose through the shell of her intense preoccupation with doing what John Galbraith wanted, had been the vividly and viciously objectionable ones. The thing that had prompted her to sit down beside Larson and, with this question about how one learned the words to the songs, take her first real step toward an acquaintance, was an absence of any strong dislike, rather than the presence of a real attraction.
She made a surprising discovery when the girl, with a friendly pat on the sofa beside her, for an invitation to her to sit down, began answering her question. She was a real beauty. Or, more accurately, she possessed the constituent qualities of beauty. She was pure English eighteenth century; might have stepped down out of a Gainsborough portrait. Dressed right, and made up a little, with her effects legitimately heightened (and warned not to speak), she could have gone to the Charity Ball as the Honorable Mrs. Graham, and Bertie Willis would have gone mad about her. Only you had to look twice at her to perceive that this was so; and what she lacked was just the unanalyzable quality that makes one look twice.
Her speaking voice would have driven Bertie mad, too—foaming, biting mad. It was disconcertingly loud, in the first place, and it came out upon the promontories of speech with a flat whang that fairly made you jump. Its undulations of pitch gave you something the same sensation as riding rapidly over a worn-out asphalt pavement in a five-hundred-dollar automobile; unforeseen springs into the air, descents into unexpected pits. Her grammar wasn't flagrantly bad, though it had, rather pitiably, a touch of the genteel about it. But now, when she spoke to Rose, and with the lassitude of fatigue in her voice besides, Rose heard something friendly about it.
"I don't know what you should worry about any of that stuff for," she said. "How you sing or what you sing don't make much difference."
Rose admitted that it didn't seem to. "But you see," she said (she hadn't had a human soul to talk to for more than a week and she had to make a friend of somebody); "you see, I've just got to keep this job. And if every little helps, as they say, perhaps that would."
The girl looked at her oddly, almost suspiciously, as if for a moment she had doubted whether Rose had spoken in good faith. "You've got as good a chance of losing your job," she said, "as Galbraith has of losing his."
"I don't worry about it," said Rose, "when I'm up there on the stage at work. It's too exciting. And then, I feel somehow that it's going all right. But early in the morning, I get to imagining all sorts of things. He's so terribly sudden. The girl whose place I got,—she hadn't any warning, you know. It just happened."
The Larson girl gave a decisive little nod. Not so much, it seemed, in assent to what Rose had just said, but as if some question in her own mind had been answered.
"You'll get used to that feeling," she said. "You've got to take a chance anyway, so why worry? We can work our heads off, but if the piece is a fliv the opening night, they'll tack up the notice, and there we'll be with two weeks' pay for eight weeks' work, and another six weeks' work for nothing in something else if we're lucky enough to get it."
This was a possibility Rose hadn't thought of. "But—that isn't fair!" she said.
The other girl laughed grimly. "Fair!" she echoed. "What they want to print that word in the dictionary for, I don't see. Because what it means don't exist. Not where I live, anyway. But what's the good of making a fuss about it? We've got to take our chance like everybody else."
"I don't believe this piece will fall, though," said Rose. "I don't think Mr. Galbraith would let it. I think he's a perfect wonder, don't you?"
The Larson girl looked at her again. "He's supposed to be about the best in the business," she said, "and I guess he is." She added, "Dave tells me he's going to put you with us in the sextette."
Dave was the thick pianist, and Rose had found him in the highest degree obnoxious. He seemed to occupy an indeterminate social position in their ship's company, between the forecastle, which was the chorus, and the quarter-deck, which comprised Galbraith (you might call him the pilot), the baby-faced man with the tortoise-shell spectacles, reputed to be the author, two awesome intermittent gentlemen identified in the dressing-room as the owners of the piece, and the musical director, together with one or two more as yet unclassified. The principals, when they should appear, would, Rose assumed, belong on the quarter-deck too. The social gap between this afterguard and Rose and her colleagues in the chorus, was not so very wide, but it was abysmally deep. Nevertheless, the pianist, buoyed up on the wings of a boundless effrontery, seemed to manage to remain unaware of it.
He had started rehearsals with this piece, it appeared, as a chorus-man, and had become a pianist, thanks to the interposition of Fate (the real pianist had fallen suddenly and desperately ill), and to his own irresistible assurance that he could do anything. He could keep time and he hit perhaps a third of the notes right.
The chorus liked him. The girls all called him Dave, seemed to appreciate his notion of humor, and accepted his hugs and pawings as a matter of course. But he took his jokes, his familiarities, and his apparently impregnable self-esteem, upon the quarter-deck—slapped the author on the back now and then, and had even been known to address John Galbraith as "Old man." Incidentally, he hung about within ear-shot during conferences of the powers, freely offered his advice, and brought all sorts of interesting tidbits of gossip and prophecy back to the chorus.
His announcement that Rose was going to be put into the sextette was entitled to consideration, even though it couldn't be banked on. There were three mediums and three big girls in the sextette. (Olga Larson was one of the mediums and so needn't fear replacement by Rose, who was a big girl.) Besides appearing in two numbers as a background to one of the principals, they had one all to themselves, a fact which constituted them a sort of super-chorus. Galbraith used to keep them for endless drills after the general rehearsal was dismissed.
But the intimation that Rose was to be promoted to this select inner circle, didn't, as it first came to her, give her any pleasure. Somehow, as Larson told her about it, she could fairly see the knowing greasy grin that would have been Dave's comment on this prophecy. And in the same flash, she interpreted the Larson girl's look, half incredulous, half satirical, and her, "You've got as good a chance of losing your job as Galbraith has of losing his."
"I haven't heard anything about being put in the sextette," she said quietly, "and I don't believe I will be."
"Well, I don't know why not." There was a new warmth in the medium's voice. Rose had won a victory here, and she knew it. "You've got the looks and the shape, and you can dance better than any of the big girls, or us mediums, either. And if he doesn't put that big Benedict lemon into the back line where she belongs, and give you her place in the sextette, it will be because he's afraid of her drag."
Rose forbore to inquire into the nature of the Benedict girl's drag. Whatever it may have been, John Galbraith was evidently not afraid of it, because as he dismissed that very rehearsal, calling the rest of the chorus for twelve the following morning, and the sextette for eleven, he told Rose to report at the earlier hour. And a moment later, she heard Dave say to the big show girl named Vesta Folsom (some one with a vein of playful irony must have been responsible for this christening), "Well, maybe I didn't call that turn."
"You're the original wise guy, all right," Vesta admitted. "You're Joseph to all the sure things."
Barring Olga Larson, the chorus was probably unanimous, Rose reflected, in looking at it like that. They accounted for her having got a job in the first place at Grant's expense, and a promotion so soon thereafter to the sextette, by assuming that John Galbraith had a sentimental interest in her. Whether his reward had been collected in advance, or was still unpaid, was an interesting theme for debate. But that, past or present, the reward was his actuating motive, it wouldn't occur to anybody to question.
There was no malice in this. Rose didn't lose caste with any of them on account of it. But a chorus-girl is the most sentimental person in the world. If there's anybody who really believes that love makes the world go round, she is that one. It's love that actuates men to deeds of heroism or of crime; it's love that makes men invest good money in musical comedies; love that makes stars out of her undeserving sisters in the chorus; love that is always waiting round the corner to open the door to wealth and fame for her.
So when Grant came back and ate her humble pie in vain, and later, when Benedict was relegated to a place in the back line, the natural explanation was that Galbraith was crazy about the new girl.
Of course it set Rose all ablaze with wrath when she became aware of this. It was precisely because she had rebelled against the theory that love was what made the world go round, that she was here in the chorus. Had she been content to let it make her world go round, she never would have left Rodney. The only way she had of refuting the assumption in this case would be by making good so demonstrably and instantaneously, that they'd be compelled to see that her promotion had been inevitable.
It was in this spirit, with blazing cheeks and eyes, that she attacked the next morning's rehearsal. She was only dimly aware of Benedict out in the hall in front, viperishly waiting for the arrival of one of the owners to make an impassioned plea for reinstatement. Her tears or her tantrums were matters of supremely little importance. But that John Galbraith should see that he had promoted her on merit and on nothing but merit, mattered enormously.
Lacking the clue, he watched her in a sort of amused perplexity. Her way of snatching his instructions, her almost viciously determined manner of carrying them out, would have been natural had she been working under the spur of some stinging rebuke, instead of under the impetus of an unexpected promotion.
"Don't make such hard work of it, Dane," he said at last. "You're all right, but have a little fun out of it. There are eight hundred people out there," he waved his arm out toward the empty hall, "who have paid their hard-earned money to feel jolly and have a good time. If you go on looking like that, they'll think this piece was produced by Simon Legree."
There came the same gleaming twinkle in his eye that had disarmed her resentment once before, and as before, she found herself feeling rather absurd. What mattered the microcephalic imaginings of greasy Dave and his friends among the chorus? John Galbraith wasn't the sort of man to get infatuated with a chorus-girl. The gleam in his eye was enough, all by itself, to make that plain.
So, flushing up a little, she grinned back at him, gave him a nod of acquiescence, and fell back to her place for the beginning of the next evolution.
"If she smiles like that," thought John Galbraith, "she'll break up the show." At the end of the rehearsal, he said to her, "You're doing very well indeed, Dane. If I could have caught you ten years ago, I could have made a dancer out of you."
It was a very real, unqualified compliment, and as such Rose understood it. Because, by a dancer, he meant something very different from a prancing chorus-girl. The others giggled and exchanged glances with Dave at the piano. They didn't understand. To them, the compliment seemed to have been delivered with the left hand. And somehow, an amused recognition of the fact that they didn't understand, as well as of the fact that she did, flashed across from John Galbraith's eyes to hers.
"Just a minute," he said as they all started to leave the stage, and they came back and gathered in a half-circle around him. "We'll rehearse the first act to-night with the principals. You six girls are supposed to be young millionairesses, very up-to-date-bachelor-girl type, intimate friends of the leading lady, who is a multi-millionairess that's run away from home. You've all got a few lines to say. Go to Mr. Quan and get your parts and have them up by to-night."
At half past four that afternoon, when the regular chorus rehearsal was over, Rose asked John Galbraith if she might speak to him for a minute. He had one foot on a chair and was in the act of unlacing his dancing shoes, so he seemed to be, for him, comparatively permanent. He had a disconcerting way, she had noticed, of walking away on some business of his own in the middle of other people's sentences, intending to come back, no doubt, in time to hear the end of them, but forgetting to.
"Fire away," he said, looking around at her over his shoulder. Then, with reference to the blue-bound pair of sides she held in her hand, "What's the matter? Isn't the part fat enough for you?"
"Fat enough?" Rose echoed inquiringly. "Oh, you mean long enough." She smiled in good-humored acknowledgment of his joke, and let that do for an answer.
John Galbraith hadn't been sure that it would be a joke to Rose. He'd been a musical-comedy producer so long that no megalomaniacal absurdity could take him by surprise. There were chorus-girls no doubt in this very company, who, on being promoted to microscopic parts, would be capable of complaining because they weren't bigger.
"All the same," said Rose, "I'm afraid I've got to tell you that I can't take this, and to ask you to put me back into the regular chorus."
He wasn't immune to surprise after all, it seemed. He straightened up in a flash and stared at her. "What on earth are you talking about?" he asked.
"If I have words to say, even only a few, wouldn't anybody who happened to be in the audience, know who I was?—I mean if they knew me already."
"Of course they would. What of it?"
"I told you," said Rose, "the day you gave me a job, that it wasn't a lark. I had to begin earning my own living suddenly, and without any training for it at all, and this seemed to be the best way. That's—all true, and it's true that no one could come and, as you say, lead me away by the ear. Nobody's responsible for me but myself. But there are people who'd be terribly shocked and hurt if they found out I'd gone on the stage. They know I'm earning my own living, but they don't know how I'm doing it. I thought that as just one of the chorus, made up and all, I'd be safe. But with these lines to say ..."
"Now listen to me," said John Galbraith; "listen as hard as you can. Because when I've done talking, you will have to make up your mind. In the first place you wouldn't be 'safe,' as you said, even in the chorus. A make-up isn't a disguise. You will be rouged and powdered, your eyelashes blackened, your lips reddened and so on, not to make you look different, but to keep you looking the same under the strong lights. You're not the sort of person to escape notice. That's the reason I made up my mind to hire you before I knew you could dance. I saw you standing back there in the doorway. You've got the quality about you that makes people see you. That's one of your assets.
"So, if you're ashamed of being recognized in this business, you'd better get out of it altogether. On the other hand, it seems to me that if you've got to earn your living, it's nobody's business but your own how you do it. You're the one who'll go hungry if you don't earn it, not these friends of yours. So, if it seems a legitimate way of earning a living to you, if you don't feel disgraced or degraded by being in it, you'd better forget your friends and go ahead. You've made an excellent start; you've earned a legitimate promotion. It will mean that instead of getting twenty dollars a week when the show opens, you will get twenty-five. It's a long time since I've given a person without experience a chance like that. I gave it to you because you seemed ambitious and intelligent—the sort who'd see me through. But if you aren't ambitious, if the game doesn't look worth playing to you, and you aren't willing to play it for all it's worth—why, good as you are, I don't want you at all. So that's your choice!"
His manner wasn't quite so harsh as his words, but it convinced her that he meant every one of them right to the foot of the letter.
She couldn't answer for a moment. She hadn't guessed that the choice he was going to offer her would be between taking the little part he had given her and playing it for all it was worth, defiant of Rodney's feelings and of the scandal of the Lake Shore Drive—and going back to her three-dollar room this afternoon, out of a job and without even a glimmering chance of finding another.
"Take your time," he said. "I don't want to be a brute about it, but look here! Try to see it my way for a minute. Here are my employers, the owners of this piece. They're putting thousands of dollars into the production of it. They've hired me to make that production a success. Well, I don't know about other games, but this game's a battle. If we win, it will be because we put every bit of steam and every bit of confidence we've got into it and make it win. That goes for me, and for the principals, and right down through to the last girl in the chorus. Every night there'll be a new audience out there that you will have to fight—shake up out of the grouch they get when they pay for their tickets; persuade to laugh and loosen up and come and play with you.
"Will you be able to do your share, do you suppose, if you're slinking around, afraid of being recognized? We don't care whether your pussy-cat friends get their fur rubbed the wrong way or not. The only thing we care about is putting this show across. Well, if you feel the way we do about it, if you can make it the one thing you do care about, too—why, come along. Let the pussy-cats go ..." He finished with a snap of his fingers.
"The only one that really matters isn't a pussy-cat," said Rose, with a reluctant wide smile, "and—he'd agree with you altogether, if he didn't know you were talking to me. And I'm really very much obliged to you."
"You will come along then?"
"Yes," said Rose, "I'll come."
"No flutters?" questioned Galbraith. "No eleventh-hour repentance?"
"No," said Rose, "I'll see it through."
John Galbraith went away satisfied. Rose had the same power that he had, of making a simple unemphatic statement irresistibly convincing. When she said that she would go through, he knew that unless struck by lightning, she would. But there had been something at once ironic and tender about the girl's smile, when she had spoken of the only one who really mattered, that he couldn't account for. Who was the only one that really mattered, anyway? Her husband? He didn't think it likely. Young women who quarreled with their husbands and ran away from them to go on the stage, wouldn't, as far as his experience went, be likely to smile over them like that. More probably a brother—a younger brother, perhaps, fiercely proud as such a boy would be of such a sister.
She certainly had sand, that girl. He was mighty glad his bluff that he would put her out of the chorus altogether, unless she took the little part in the sextette, had worked. He'd have felt rather a fool if she had called it.
Of course the thing that had got Rose was the echo, through everything John Galbraith had said, of Rodney's own philosophy; his dear, big, lusty, rather remorseless way. And now again, as before when she had left him, it was his view of life that was recoiling upon his own head.
She was really grateful to Galbraith. What had she left Rodney for, except to build a self for herself; to acquire, through whatever pains might be the price of it, a life that didn't derive from him; that was, at the core of it, her own? Yet here, right at the beginning of her pilgrimage, she'd have turned down the by-path of self-sacrifice; have begun ordering her life with reference to Rodney, rather than herself, if John Galbraith hadn't headed her back.
THE GIRL WITH THE BAD VOICE
The Girl Up-stairs had quite a miscellaneous lot of plot; indeed a plot fancier might have detected nearly all the famous strains in its lineage. Its foci were Sylvia Huntington, the beautiful multi-millionairess, and Richard Benham, nephew of Minim, the Cosmetic King and head of the Talcum Trust. Sylvia, tired of being sought for her wealth, and yearning to be loved for herself alone, has run away to Bohemia and installed herself in an attic over a studio occupied by two penniless artists, one a poet, the other a musician. Only they aren't penniless any more, having leaped to wealth and fame with an immensely successful musical comedy they have just written. And, like Nanki Poo, the musician isn't really a musician, but is the talented, rebellious nephew of the Cosmetic King, none other than Dick Benham himself, a truant from his tyrannical uncle's determination to make him into a rouge and talcum salesman. He falls in love with Sylvia, not knowing her as Sylvia, of course, but only as the girl up-stairs, a poor little wretch to whom in the goodness of his heart, he is giving singing lessons. And she falls in love with him, knowing him neither as Dick Benham, nor as the successful composer (because his authorship of the musical comedy has been kept a secret from her), but only as a poor struggling musician. Poor Dick's affections are temporarily led astray by the mercenary seductions of the leading lady in his opera, who has learned the secret of his true identity and vast wealth, and means to marry him under the cloak of disinterested affection. He gets bad advice from his poet friend, too, who has dishonorable designs on the girl up-stairs and so warns Dick against throwing himself away on a nobody, of, possibly, doubtful virtue. It is, of course, essential to Sylvia that Dick should ask her to marry him before he learns who she really is, in order that she may be sure it isn't for her wealth that he is seeking her.
This was the general lie of the land, though the thing was complicated, of course, by minor intrigues, as for instance in the first act, when Minim, the uncle, came to inquire of the successful composer what his terms would be for introducing a song into his opera, extolling the merits of Minim's newest brand of liquid face-powder. Then there was the comic detective, whom Sylvia's frantic father had given the job of finding her, and who, considering that he was the typical idiot detective of musical comedy, came unaccountably close to doing it.
Then in the second act, there was the confusion produced by the fact that Dick and his poet friend gave a midnight party on the roof, unaware of the fact that Sylvia made it a practise, during these hot nights, to crawl out from her attic, on to this same roof and sleep there. And on this particular night, she had invited her six bachelor-girl friends, who were in her confidence, to come and share its hospitalities with her. The mutual misunderstandings, by this time piled mountain high, were projected into the third act by the not entirely unprecedented device of a mask ball in the palatial Fifth Avenue mansion of Sylvia's father, in celebration of her return home—a ball whose invitation list was precisely coincident, even down to the detective, with the persons who had appeared in the first two acts. One minute before the last curtain, Dick and Sylvia manage to thread their way out of the tangle of scandal and misconception, and satisfy each other as to the disinterested quality of their mutual adoration, falling into each other's arms just as the curtain starts down.
It was not, of course, until after a good many rehearsals that Rose could have given a connected account of it like that. They worked for three hours on this first occasion, merely getting through the first act—a miserable three hours, too, for Rose, owing to a little misfortune that befell her right at the beginning.
The glow of determination Galbraith had inspired her with, to put her own shoulder to the wheel and do her very topmost best, for the one great desideratum, the success of the show, had kept her studying her little handful of lines long after she supposed she knew them perfectly. They weren't very satisfactory lines to study—just the smallest of conversational small change, little ejaculations of delight or dismay, acquiescence or dissent. But the trouble with them was, they were, for the most part, exactly the last expressions that a smart young woman of the type she was supposed to represent would use.
So, remembering what Galbraith had said about everybody down to the last chorus-man doing the best he knew for the success of the show, Rose sought him out, for a minute, just before the rehearsal began, and asked if she might change two of her lines a little.
Galbraith grinned at her, turned and beckoned to the baby-faced man in spectacles who stood a dozen paces away. "Oh, Mr. Mills!" he called. "Can you come over here a minute?"
"He's the author," Galbraith then explained to Rose, "and we can't change this book of his without his permission."
Then, "This is Miss Dane of the sextette," he said to Mills, "and she tells me she'd like to make one or two changes in her lines."
It didn't need a sensitive ear to detect a note of mockery in this speech, though Galbraith's face was perfectly solemn. But the face of the author went a delicate pink all over, and his round eyes stared. "My God!" he said.
The exclamation was explosive enough to catch the ear of an extremely pretty young woman who stood near by with her hands in her pockets. She wore a Burberry raglan and an entirely untrimmed soft felt hat, and she came over unceremoniously and joined the group.
"Miss Devereux," said the author, with hard-fetched irony, "here's a chorus-girl in perfect agreement with you. She's got about six lines to say, and she wants to change two of them."
"What are your changes, Dane?" Galbraith asked.
Queerly enough, the curt seriousness of his speech was immensely grateful to her—suggested that she perhaps hadn't been, wholly anyhow, the object of his derision before.
"I only thought," said Rose, "that if instead of saying, 'My gracious, Sylvia!' I said, 'Sylvia, dear!' or something like that, it would sound a little more natural. And if I said, 'I do wish, Sylvia' instead of, 'I wish to goodness, Sylvia ...'"
She had said it all straight to the author.
"I suppose," he said, sneering very hard, "that your own personal knowledge of the way society women talk is what leads you to believe that your phrases are better than mine?"
"Yes," said Rose, serenely matter-of-fact, "it is."
Sarcasm is an uncertain sort of pop-gun. You never can tell from which end it's going to go off.
"I don't know," said Miss Devereux, turning now a deadly smile on him, "whether Miss—what's-her-name—agrees with me or not. But, do you know, I agree with her."
"Oh, I don't care a damn!" said Mr. Harold Mills. "Go as far as you like. I don't recognize the piece now. What it'll be when you—butchers get through with it ...!" He flung out his hands and stalked away.
"Go find Mr. Quan," said Galbraith to Rose, "and tell him to mark those changes of yours in the book. Tell him I said so."
It was, though, a pretty unsatisfactory victory. Everybody was grinning; for the tale spread fast, and while Rose knew it wasn't primarily at her, her sensations were those of a perfectly serious, well-meaning child, in adult company, who, in all innocence has just made a remark which, for some reason incomprehensible to him, has convulsed one member of it with fury, and the others with laughter. More or less she could imagine where the joke lay. Harold had evidently been quarreling with pretty much all of the principals, over more or less necessary changes in his precious text, until everybody was rather on edge about it, loaded and primed for all sorts of explosions; when, cheerfully along came Rose, a perfectly green young chorus-girl, unsuspectingly carrying the match for the mine, or the straw for the camel, whichever way you wanted to put it.
She wouldn't have minded the way she had blundered into the focus of public attention, if, in other particulars, the rehearsal had been going well with her. Unluckily, though, she started off wrong foot foremost in the very first of their numbers, with a mistake that snarled up everything and brought down an explosion of wrath from Galbraith. Even if she'd been trying, he groaned, to make mistakes, he didn't see how she'd managed that one. But the real nightmare didn't begin till the first of her scenes with Sylvia, where she had to talk.
She'd said her lines over about a thousand times apiece, and practised their inflection and phrasing in as many ways as she could think of, but she had neglected to memorize her cues. Not altogether, of course; she thought she'd learned them, but they were terribly scanty little cues anyway, just a single word, usually, and never more than two, and nothing short of absolutely automatic memorization was any good. So she sat serene through a five-second stage wait while Quan frantically spun the pages of his book to find the place—he ought to have been following of course, but he'd yielded to the temptation of trying to do something else at the same time and had got lost—and then dry-throated, incapable of a sound for a couple of seconds more—hours they seemed—after she had been identified as the culprit who had failed to come in on a cue.
The sight of the author out in the hall invoking his gods to witness that this girl who had presumed to change his lines, was an idiot incapable of articulate speech, brought her out of her daze. But even then she couldn't get anything quite right. There seemed to be no golden mean between the bellow of a fireman and a tone which Galbraith assured her wouldn't be audible three rows back. And when they came to one of the lines she'd been allowed to change, in her panic over the thing, she mixed the two versions impartially together into a sputter of words that meant nothing at all, whereupon the author, out at the back of the hall, laughed maniacally.
She would have gone on stuttering at it until she got it straight, if Galbraith hadn't put her out of her misery by striding over, snatching the book from Quan, and reading the line himself. She hadn't anything more to say in the first act, and she managed to get through the rest of the song numbers without disaster, if equally without confidence or dash. She felt as limp as if she had been boiled and put through the clothes-wringer. And when, as he dismissed the rehearsal Galbraith told her to wait a minute, she expected nothing less than ignominious reduction to the ranks.
"That matter of putting your voice over, Dane," he said, to her amazement quite casually, "is just a question of thinking where you want it to go. If you'll imagine a target against the back wall over there, and will your voice to hit it, whatever direction you're speaking in, and however softly you speak, you will be heard. If you forget the target and think you're talking to the person on the stage you're supposed to be talking to, you won't be heard. Say your lines over to me now, without raising your voice or looking out there. But keep the target in mind."
Rose said all the lines she had in the whole three acts. It didn't take a minute. He nodded curtly. "You've got the idea." He added, just as she turned away, "You were quite right to suggest those changes. They're an improvement."
That rehearsal marked the nadir of Rose's career at the Globe. From then on, she was steadily in the ascendent, not only in John Galbraith's good graces, which was all of course that mattered. She won, it appeared, a sort of tolerant esteem from some of the principals, and even the owners themselves spoke to her pleasantly.
They entertained her vastly, now that a confidence in her ability to do her own part left her leisure to look around a bit. The contrast between the two leading women, Patricia Devereux, who played the title part, and little Anabel Astor, who played the mercenary seductress, was a piquant source of speculation. As far as speech and manners went, Miss Devereux might have been a born citizen of the world Rose had been naturalized into by her marriage with Rodney; in fact, she reminded her rather strikingly of Harriet. She was cool, brusk, hard finished, and, as was evident from Galbraith's manifest satisfaction with her, thoroughly workmanly and competent. Yet she never seemed really to work in rehearsal. She gave no more than a bare outline of what she was going to do. But the outline, in all its salient angles, was perfectly indicated. She rehearsed in her ordinary street clothes, with her hat on, and as often as not, with a wrist-bag in one hand. She neither danced, sang, nor acted. But she had her part letter perfect before any of the other principals. She never missed a cue, and though she sang off the top of her voice, and let the confines of a very scant little tailor skirt mark the limits of her dancing, she sang her songs in perfect tempo and always made it completely clear to Galbraith and the musical director, just how much of the stage in every direction, her dances were going to occupy and precisely the tempi at which they were to be executed. In a word, if her work had no more emotional value than a mechanical drawing, it did have the precision of one.
Rose mightn't have appreciated tins, had she not seen and admired Miss Devereux from the front in a production she and Rodney had been two or three times to see the season before.
Little Anabel Astor presented as striking a contrast to all this as it would be possible to imagine. She, too, had attained a good deal of celebrity in the musical-comedy world—was to be one of the features of the cast. She'd come up from the ranks of the chorus. She'd been one of the ponies, years ago, in some of George M. Cohan's productions, and she was still just a chorus-girl. But a chorus-girl raised to the third, or fourth, or, if you like, the nth power. She had an electric grin, and a perfectly boundless vitality, which she spent as freely on rehearsals as on performances. She always dressed for rehearsals just as the chorus did, in a middy-blouse and bloomers, and she worked as hard as they did, and even more ungrudgingly.
She was a pretty little thing, with nothing very feminine about her—even her voice had a harsh boyish quality—and she never looked prettier to Rose than when, her face flushed with an hour's honest toil, she would wipe the copious sweat of it off with her sleeve, and panting, look up with a smile at John Galbraith and an expectant expression, waiting for his next command, which reminded Rose of the look of a terrier alert for the stick his master means to throw for him. Her speech was unaffectedly that of a Milwaukee Avenue gamin, and it served adequately and admirably as a vehicle for the expression of her emotions and ideas.
She formed her likes and dislikes with a complete disregard of the social or professional importance of the objects of them. She took an immediate liking to Rose; gave her some valuable hints on dancing, took to calling her "dearie" before the end of the second rehearsal and, with her arm around her, confided to her in terms of blood-curdling profanity, her opinion of Stewart Lester, the tenor, who played the part of Dick Benham in the piece.
The queer thing was that she and Patricia were on the best of terms. They didn't compete, that was it, Rose supposed, and they were both good enough cosmopolites to bridge across the antipodal distances between their respective traditions and environments. Patricia hated the tenor as bitterly as Anabel. And, in her own way, she was as pleasantly friendly to Rose. There were no endearments or caresses, naturally, but her brusk nods of greeting and farewell seemed to have real good feeling behind them.
The men principals—this was rather a surprise to Rose—weren't nearly so pleasant nor so friendly. Most of them professed to be totally unaware of her existence and the one or two who showed an awareness—Freddy France, who played the comic detective, was chief of these offenders—did it in a way that brought the fighting blood into her cheeks.
My astronomical figure for the expression of Rose's rise in her profession is, in one important particular, misleading. There was nothing precalculable about it, as there is about the solemn swing of the stars. The impetus and direction of Rose's career derived from two incidents that might just as well not have happened—two of the flukiest of small chances.
The first of these chances concerned itself with Olga Larson and her bad voice. Olga, as I think I have told you, was one of the sextette. And, oddly enough, she owed her membership in this little group of quasi principals, to her voice and nothing else. Because it was a bad voice only when she talked. When she sang, it had a gorgeous thrilling ring to it that made Patricia Devereux, when she heard it, clench her hands and narrow her eyes. She'd never been taught what to do with it, but then, for what Galbraith wanted of her she needed no teaching. Her ear was infallible; let her hear a tune once and she could reproduce it accurately, squarely up to time, squarely, always, in the middle of the pitch. When she opened her rather dainty-looking mouth and sang, she could give you across the footlights the impression that at least four first-class sopranos were going uncommon strong. She hadn't a salient or commonplace enough sort of beauty to have singled her out from the chorus and she was no better a dancer than passable. But none of the girls who would be picked out by a committee of automobile salesmen as the prettiest and the best dancers in the chorus could sing a note, and the sextette would have been dumb without her voice.
It was natural enough that Patricia didn't like it. She owed her own position as a leading light-opera soprano to the cultivation to its highest possible perfection of a distinctly second-rate voice, to a precise knowledge of its limitations and to a most scrupulous economy in its effects. Inevitably, then, the raw splendors that Olga Larson dispensed so prodigally gave Patricia the creeps.
Inevitably, too, without any conscious malice about it, she made up her clear, hard little mind the moment she heard Olga talk, that she was utterly impossible for the sextette. "Really, my dear man," she told Galbraith after the first rehearsal, "you'll have to find some one else. American audiences will stand a good deal, I know, in the way of atrocious speech, but positively she'll be hooted. They'll all sound frightful enough, especially because that Dane girl, if that's her name, talks like a lady, but this one ...!" She gave a cruelly adequate little imitation of Olga's delivery of one of her lines. "Like some one who doesn't know how, trying to play the slide trombone," she commented.
Galbraith couldn't pretend that she exaggerated the horrors of it, but explained why the girl was indispensable. The explanation didn't please Patricia any too well, either.
"Sing!" she cried hotly. "But she sings detestably!"
"No doubt," Galbraith admitted, "but she makes a great big noise always on the right note, and that's what that bunch of penny whistlers can't do without. Give her a little time," he concluded diplomatically, "and I'll try to teach her."
"It can't be taught," said Patricia. "That's too much even for you."
So it happened that when Rose came out of her own nightmare, got her breath and found leisure to look around, she found some one else whose troubles weren't so transitory. The little scene in the first act, between Sylvia and the sextette, was held up again and again, endlessly, it seemed to Rose,—and what must it have seemed to the poor victim?—while Galbraith bellowed Larson's lines after her, sometimes in grotesque imitation of her own inflections, sometimes in what was meant as a pattern for her to follow. The girl whose ear was so wonderfully sensitive to pitch and rhythm, was simply deaf, it seemed, to the subtleties of inflection. She reduced Galbraith to helpless wrath, in her panic, by mistaking now and again, his imitations for his models. The chorus tittered; the spectators suffocated their guffaws as well as they could. Patricia grew more and more acutely and infuriatingly ironic all the while.
Evidently Galbraith didn't mean to be a brute about it. He began every one of these tussles to improve her reading of a line, with a gentleness that would have done credit to a kinder-gartener. But, after three attempts, each more ominously gentle and deliberate than the last, his temper would suddenly fly all to pieces. "—No—no—no!" he would roar at her, and the similes his exasperation would supply him with, for a description of what her speech was like, were as numerous as the acids in a chemical laboratory; and they all bit and burned just as hard.
Rose looked on with rather tepid feelings. She sympathized with Galbraith on the whole. The poor man was doing his best; and the girl, queerly, didn't seem to care. She confronted him in a sort of stockish stupidity, saying her lines, when he told her to try again, with the same frightful whang he was doing his best to correct, so that he was justified, Rose felt, in accusing her of not trying, or even listening to him.
It was in the dressing-room one night, after one of these rehearsals, that she caught a different view of the situation. She sat down on a bench to unlace her shoes and looked straight into Olga Larson's face—a face sunken with a despair that turned Rose cold all over. The tearless tragic eyes were staring, without recognition, straight into Rose's own. It must be with faces like this that people mounted the rails on the high bridge in Lincoln Park, intent on leaving a world that had become intolerable. Packed in all around her in the inadequate dressing-room, the other girls were chattering, squealing, scrambling into their clothes, as unaware of her tense motionless figure, as if it had been a mere inanimate lump. She couldn't have been more alone if she had been sitting out on the rock of Juan Fernandez.
Rose invented various pretexts to delay her own dressing until the other girls were gone. She could no more have abandoned that hopeless creature there, than she could have left a person drowning. When they had the room to themselves, she sat down on the bench beside her.
"You're all right," she said, feeling rather embarrassed and inadequate and not knowing just how to begin. "I'm going to help you."
"It's always like this," the girl said. "It's no use. He'll put me back in the chorus again."
"Not if I can help it," Rose said. "But the first thing to do is to put on your clothes. Then we'll go out and get something to eat."
Even that little beginning involved a struggle—a conscious exertion of all the power Rose possessed. She learned, for the first time, what the weight of an immense melancholy inertia like that can be. The girl was like one paralyzed. She was willing enough to talk. She told Rose the whole story of her life; not as one making confidences to a friend; rather with the curious detachment of a melancholy spectator discussing an unfortunate life she had no concern with.
She knew how good her voice was, and, equally, how badly it needed training. She'd had, always, a passionate desire to sing and a belief in her possibilities. If she could get a chance, she could succeed. She'd undergone heartbreaking privations, trying to save money enough out of her earnings at one form of toil after another, to take lessons. But, repeatedly, these small savings had, by some disaster, been swept away: stolen once, by a worthless older brother; absorbed on another occasion by her mother's fatal illness. Two years ago she had drifted into the chorus, but had been altogether unlucky in her various ventures. She wasn't naturally graceful—had been slow learning to dance. Again and again, she'd been dropped at the end of three or four weeks of rehearsal (gratuitous of course) and seen another girl put in her place. When this hadn't happened, the shows she had been in had failed after a few weeks' life.
When Galbraith had put her into the sextette in The Girl Up-stairs, a hope, just about dead, had been awakened. She'd at last learned to dance well enough to escape censure and she had seen for herself how indispensable her singing voice was to the group. And then it had appeared she'd have to talk! And, inexplicably to herself, her talking wasn't right. The thing had just been another mirage. It was hopeless. Galbraith would put her back into the chorus—drop her, likely enough, altogether.
The thing that at first exasperated Rose and later, as she came vaguely to understand it, aroused both her pity and her determination, was the girl's strange, dully fatalistic acquiescence in it all. The sort of circumstances that in Rose herself set the blood drumming through her arteries, keyed her will to the very highest pitch, quickened her brain, made her feel in some inexplicable way, confident and irresistible, laid on this girl a paralyzing hand. It wasn't her fault that she didn't meet her difficulties half-way with a vicious, driving offensive—rout them, demoralize them. It was her tragedy.
"All right," Rose apostrophized them grimly. "This time you're up against me."
"Look here!" she said to Olga, when the story was told (this was across the table in the dingy lunch-room where, as Doris Dane, she had had her first meal, and most of her subsequent ones), "look here, and listen to what I'm going to tell you. I know what I'm talking about. You're going to learn to say your lines before to-morrow's rehearsal, so that Mr. ... So that Galbraith won't stop you once." (This was a trick of speech that came hard to Rose, but she was gradually learning it.) "We're going up to my room now, and I'm going to teach you. We've got lots of time. Rehearsal to-morrow isn't till twelve o'clock. You're going to stay in the sextette, and when the piece opens, you're going to make a hit."