She hesitated a moment, then added in the same blunt matter-of-fact way, "You're one of the most beautiful women in Chicago. Did you know that? Dressed right and with your hair done right, you could make them stare. Have you finished your coffee? Then come along. Here! Give me your part. You don't want to lose it."
For the girl, pitiably, almost ludicrously, was staring at Rose in a sort of somnambulistic daze. She hadn't been hypnotized, but she might about as well have been, for any real resistance her mind, or her will, could offer to her new friend's vibrant confidence.
She went with Rose up to the little three-dollar room. Rose put her into a chair, sat down opposite her, took the first phrase of her first speech, and said it very slowly, very quietly, half a dozen times. That was at half past eleven o'clock at night. By midnight, Olga could say those first three words, if not to Rose's complete satisfaction, at least a lot better. She went on and finished the sentence. They worked straight through the night, except that two or three times the girl broke down; said it was hopeless. She got up once and said that she was going home, whereupon Rose locked the door and put the key in her stocking. She sulked once, and for fifteen minutes wouldn't say a word. But by seven o'clock in the morning, when they went back to the lunch-room and ate an enormous breakfast, Olga's sluggish blood was fired at last. It was a profane thought, but you could take the Fatal Sisters by the hair and coerce a change in the pattern they were weaving.
And Rose, by that time, by the plain brute force of necessity, was a teacher of phonetics. She'd discovered how she made sounds herself and had, with the aid of a hand mirror, developed a rough-and-ready technique for demonstrating how it was done. She remembered, with bitter regret, a course she had dozed through at the university, dreaming about the half-back, which, had she only listened to the professor instead, would be doing her solid service now. Had there been other courses like that, she wondered vaguely? Had the education she had spent fifteen years or so on an actual relation to life after all? It was a startling idea.
She walked Olga out to the park and back at seven-thirty, and at eight they were up in her room again. They raided the delicatessen at eleven o'clock, and made an exiguous meal on the plunder. And at twelve, husky of voice, but indomitable of mind, they, with the others, confronted Galbraith upon the stage in North End Hall.
"Do you suppose," Olga said during the preliminary bustle of getting started, "that he's put any one else in my part already?"
It was a fear Rose had entertained, but had avoided suggesting to her pupil.
"I don't believe so," she said. "If he has, I'll talk to him."
"No, you won't!" said Olga. "I'll talk to him myself."
There was a ring to that decision that did Rose's heart good. It took a long time to get that northern blood on fire, but when you did, you could count on its not going cold again overnight.
It got pretty exciting of course, as the scene between Sylvia and the sextette drew near, and when it came, Rose could hardly manage her own first line—hung over it a second, indeed, before she could make her voice work at all, and drew a sharp look of inquiry from Galbraith. But on Olga's first cue, her line was spoken with no hesitation at all, and in tone, pitch and inflection, it was almost a phonographic copy of the voice that had served it for a model.
There was a solid two seconds of silence. For once in her life Patricia Devereux had missed a cue!
John Galbraith had been an acrobat as well as a dancer, and he was quick on his feet. He had just turned, unexpectedly, an intellectual somersault, but he landed cleanly and without a stagger. "Come, Miss Devereux," he said, "that's your line." And the scene went on.
But when, about four o'clock that afternoon, the rehearsal was over, Galbraith called Olga out to him and allowed himself a long incredulous stare at her. "Will you tell me, Larson," he asked, "why in the name of Heaven, if you could do that, you didn't do it yesterday?"
"I couldn't do it yesterday," she said. "Dana taught me."
"Taught you!" he echoed. "Beginning after last night's rehearsal?... Dane!" he called to Rose, who had been watching a little anxiously to see what would happen.
"You've learned it very well indeed," he said with a nod of dismissal to Olga, as Rose came up. "Don't try to change it. Stick to what you've got."
Then, to Rosa, "Larson tells me you taught her. How did you do it?"
"Why, I just—taught her," said Rosa. "I showed her how I said each line, and I kept on showing her until she could do it."
"How long did it take you—all night?"
"All the time there's been since last rehearsal," said Rosa, "except for three meals."
"Good God!" said Galbraith. "Devereux said it couldn't be done, and I agreed with her. Well, live and learn. Look here! Will you teach the others—the other four in the sextette? I'll see you're paid for it."
"Why, yes,—of course," said Rose, hesitating a little.
"Oh, I don't mean overnight," he said, "but mornings—between rehearsals—whenever you can."
"I wasn't thinking of that," said Rose. "I was just wondering if they'd want to be taught—I mean, by another chorus-girl, you know."
"They'll want to be taught if they want to keep their jobs," said Galbraith. And then, to her astonishment, and also perhaps to his, for the thing was radically out of the etiquette of the occasion, he reached out and shook hands with her. "I'm very much obliged to you," he said.
MRS. GOLDSMITH'S TASTE
If there was a profession in the world which Rose had never either idly or seriously considered as a possible one for herself, that of a teacher was it. And yet, the first money she ever earned in her life was the twenty dollars the management paid her for teaching the other four girls in the sextette to say their lines. She was a born teacher, too. And the born teacher is a rare bird.
One must know something in the first place, of course, before one can teach it—a fact that has resulted in the fitting of an enormous number of square pegs into round holes. Most of the people in the world who are trying to teach, are those whose aptitude is for learning. But the scholar's temper and the teacher's are antipodal; a salient, vivid personality that can command attention, the unconscious will to conquer—to enforce (a very different thing from the wish to do these things) that is the sine qua non for a real teacher. And that, of course, was Rose all over.
Those four sulky, rather supercilious chorus-girls, coming to Rose under a threat of dismissal, for lessons in the one last thing that a free-born American will submit to dictation about, might not want to learn, nor mean to learn, but they couldn't help learning. You couldn't be unaware of Rose and, being aware of her, you couldn't resist doing things as she wanted you to.
Informally, too, she taught them other things than speech. "Here, Waldron!" Galbraith would say. "This is no cake-walk. All you've got to do is to cross to that chair and sit down in it like a lady. Show her how to do it, Dane." And Rose, with her good-humored disarming smile at the infuriated Waldron, would go ahead and do it.
I won't pretend that she was a favorite with the other members of the sextette, barring Olga. But she managed to avoid being cordially hated, which was a very solid personal triumph.
I have said that there were two small incidents destined to have a powerful influence at this time, in Rose's life. One of them I have told you about—the chance that led her to teach Olga Larson to talk. The other concerned itself with a certain afternoon frock in a Michigan Avenue shop.
The owners of The Girl Up-stairs were very inadequately experienced in the business of putting on musical comedies. Galbraith spoke of them as amateurs, and couldn't, really, have described them better. Your professional gambler—for musical-comedy producing is an especially sporting form of gambling and nothing else—assesses his chances in advance, decides coolly whether they are worth taking or not, and then, with a steely indifference awaits the event. The amateur, on the contrary, is always fluttering between an insane confidence and a shuddering despair; between a reckless disregard of money and a foolish attempt to save it. It had been in one of their hot fits that the owners of The Girl Up-stairs had retained Galbraith. The news item Rose had read had not exceeded truth in saying that he was one of the three greatest directors in the country. They couldn't have got him out to Chicago at all but for the chance that he was, just then, at the end of a long-time contract with the Shumans and holding off for better terms before he signed a new one. The owners were staggered at the prices they had to pay him, at that, but they recovered and were still blowing warm when they authorized him to engage Devereux, Stewart, Astor and McGill (McGill was the chief comedian, the Cosmetic King) for all of these were high-priced people.
But by the time the question of costumes came up, they were shivering in a perfect ague of apprehension. Was there no limit to the amount they were to be asked to spend? This figure that Galbraith indicated as the probable cost of having a first-class brigand in New York design the costumes and a firm of pirates in the same neighborhood execute them, was simply insane. New York managers might be boobs enough to submit to such an extortion, but they, believe them, were not. Many of the costumes could be bought, ready made, on State Street or Michigan Avenue. Some of the fancy things could be executed by a competent wardrobe mistress, if some one would give her the ideas. And ideas—one could pick them up anywhere. Mrs. Goldsmith, now,—she was the wife of the senior of the two owners—had splendid taste and would be glad to put it at their service. There was no reason why she should not at once take the sextette down-town and fit them out with their dresses.
Galbraith shrugged his shoulders, but made no further complaint. It was, he admitted, as they had repeatedly pointed out, their own money. So a rendezvous was made between Mrs. Goldsmith and the sextette for Lessing's store on Michigan Avenue at three o'clock on an afternoon when Galbraith was to be busy with the principals. He might manage to drop in before they left to cast his eye over and approve the selection.
It was with some rather uncomfortable misgivings that Rose set out to revisit a part of town so closely associated with the first year of her married life. The particular shop wasn't, luckily, one that she had patronized in that former incarnation. But it was in the same block with a half dozen that were, and she hadn't been east of Clark Street since the day Otto had driven her to the Polk Street Station.
The day was cold and blustery—a fact that she was grateful for, as it gave her an excuse for wearing a thick white veil, which was almost as good as a mask. It was with a rather breathless excitement that persisted in feeling like guilt—her heart wouldn't have beaten any faster, she believed, if she had just robbed a jewelry store and were walking away with the swag in her pocket—that she debouched out of Van Buren Street, around the corner of the Chicago Club, and into the avenue. Unconsciously, she had been expecting to meet every one she knew, beginning with Frederica, in the course of the two blocks or so she had to walk. Very naturally, she didn't catch even a glimpse of any one she even remotely knew. Suppose there should be any one in the store! But this, she realized, wasn't likely.
It wasn't a really smart shop. It paid an enormous rent there in that neighborhood in order to pretend to be, and the gowns on the wax figures in its windows, were taken on faith by pleasurably scandalized pedestrians as the very latest scream of fashion. The prices on these confections were always in the process of a violent reduction, as large exclamatory placards grievously testified. The legend eighty-eight dollars crossed out in red lines, with thirty-nine seventy-five written below, for a sample. The most exclusive smartness for the economy-loving multitude. This was the slogan.
Rose, arriving promptly at the hour agreed on, had a wait of fifteen minutes before any of her sisters of the sextette, or Mrs. Goldsmith arrived. She told the suave manager that she was waiting for friends, but this didn't deter him from employing a magnificent wave of the hand to summon one of the saleswomen and consigning Rose almost tenderly, to her care. He didn't know her, but he knew that that ulster of hers had come straight over from Paris, had cost not less than two hundred dollars, and had been selected by an excellently discriminating eye; and that was enough for him.
"I don't want anything just now," Rose told the saleswoman. But she hadn't, in these few weeks of Clark Street, lost the air of one who will buy if she sees anything worth buying. In fact, the saleswoman thought, correctly, that she knew her and was in for a shock a little later when Mrs. Goldsmith and the other five members of the sextette arrived.
Meanwhile, she showed Rose the few really smart things they had in the store—a Poiret evening gown, a couple of afternoon frocks from Jennie, and so on. There wasn't much, she admitted, it being just between seasons. Their Palm Beach things weren't in yet.
Rose made a few appreciative, but decidedly respect-compelling comments, and faithfully kept one eye on the door.
The rest of the sextette arrived in a pair and a trio. One of them squealed, "Hello, Dane!" The saleswoman got her shock on seeing Rose nod an acknowledgment of this greeting and just about that time, they heard Mrs. Goldsmith explaining who she was and the nature of her errand, to the manager. The necessary identifications got themselves made somehow. They weren't in any sense introductions, everybody in the store felt that plainly. Mrs. Goldsmith was touching the skirts of musical comedy with a very long pair of tongs. There was absolutely no connection, social or personal, between herself and the young persons who were to wear the frocks she was going to buy.
She stood them up and stared at them through her eye-glasses, discussed their various physical idiosyncrasies with candor, and, one by one, packed them off to try on haphazard selections from the mounds which three industrious saleswomen piled up before her. You couldn't deny her the possession of a certain force of character, for not one of the six girls uttered a word of suggestion or of protest.
And the sort of gowns she was exclaiming over with delight and ordering put into the heap of possibilities, were horrible enough to have drawn a protest from the wax figures in the windows. The more completely the fundamental lines of a frock were disguised with sartorial scroll-saw work, the more successful this lady felt it to be. An ornament, to Mrs. Goldsmith, did not live up to its possibilities, unless it in turn were decorated with ornaments of its own; like the fleas on the fleas on the dog.
It is a tribute to one of the qualities that made John Galbraith a successful director, that Rose spent a miserable half-hour worrying over these selections of the wife of the principal owner of the show, feeling she ought to put up some sort of fight and hardly deterred by the patent futility of such a course. To rest her esthetic senses from the delirium of fussiness that was giving Mrs. Goldsmith so much pleasure, she began thinking about that Poiret frock—the superb simple audacity of it! It had been made by an artist who knew where to stop. And he had stopped rather incredibly soon. Just suppose ... And then her eyes lighted up, gazed thoughtfully out the window across the wind-swept desert of the avenue, and, presently she grinned—widely, contentedly.
For the next hour and a half, during the intervals of her own trying on, she entertained herself very happily with the day-dream that she herself had a commission to design the costumes for The Girl Up-stairs. She had always done that more or less, she realized, when she went to musical-comedy shows with Rodney, especially when they were badly costumed. But this time she did it a good deal more vividly, partly because her interest in the piece was more intense, partly because her imagination had a blank canvas to work on.
All the while, like Sister Anne in the tower, she kept one eye on the door and prayed for the arrival of John Galbraith.
He came in just as Mrs. Goldsmith finished her task—just when, by a process of studious elimination, every passable thing in the store had been discarded and the twelve most utterly hopeless ones—two for each girl—laid aside for purchase. The girls were despatched to put on the evening frocks first, and were then paraded before the director.
He was a diplomat as I have said (possibly I spoke of him before as an acrobat. It comes to the same thing), and he was quick on his feet. Rose, watching his face very closely, thought that for just a split second, she caught a gleam of ineffable horror. But it was gone so quickly she could almost have believed that she had been mistaken. He didn't say much about the costumes, but he said it so promptly and adequately that Mrs. Goldsmith beamed with pride. She sent the girls away to put on the other set—the afternoon frocks, and once more the director's approbation, though laconic, was one hundred per cent. pure.
"That's all," he said in sudden dismissal of the sextette. "Rehearsal at eight-thirty."
Five of them scurried like children let out of school, around behind the set of screens that made an extemporaneous dressing-room, and began changing in a mad scramble, hoping to get away and to get their dinners eaten soon enough to enable them to see the whole bill at a movie show before the evening's rehearsal.
But Rose didn't avail herself of her dismissal—remained hanging about, a couple of paces away from where Galbraith was talking to Mrs. Goldsmith. The only question that remained, he was telling her, was whether her selections were not too—well, too refined, genteel, one might say, for the stage. Regretfully he confessed he was a little afraid they were. It needed a certain crudity to withstand the glare of the footlights and until these gowns had been submitted to that glare, one couldn't be sure.
He wasn't looking at her as he talked, and presently, as his gaze wandered about the store, it encountered Rose's face. She hadn't prepared it for the encounter, and it wore, hardly veiled, a look of humorous appreciation. His sentence broke, then completed itself. She turned away, but the next moment he called out to her, "Were you waiting for me, Dane?"
"I'd like to speak to you a minute," she said, "when you have time."
"All right. Go and change your clothes first," he said.
Out of the tail of her eye as she departed, she saw him shaking hands with the owner's wife and thanking her effusively for her help. Incidentally, he was leading her toward the door as he did it. And at the door, he declined an offer to be taken anywhere he might want to go in her electric.
She found the other girls on the point of departure. But Olga offered to wait for her.
"No, you run along," Rose said. "I've some errands and I don't feel like seeing a movie to-night, anyway."
Olga looked a little odd about it, but hurried along after the others.
A saleswoman—the same one the manager assigned to Rose under the misconception which that smart French ulster of hers had created when she came into the store—now came around behind the screen to gather up the frocks the girls had shed.
"Will you please bring me," said Rose, "that Poiret model you showed me before the others came in? I'll try it on."
The saleswoman's manner was different now and she grumbled something about its being closing time.
"Then, if you'll bring it at once ..." said Rose. And the saleswoman went on the errand.
Five minutes later, Galbraith from staring gloomily at the mournful heap of trouble Mrs. Goldsmith had left on his hands, looked up to confront a vision that made him gasp.
"I wanted you to see if you liked this," said Rose.
"If I liked it!" he echoed. "Look here! If you know enough to pick out things like that, why did you let that woman waste everybody's time with junk like this? Why didn't you help her out?"
"I couldn't have done much," Rose said, "even if my offering to do anything hadn't made her angry—and I think it would have. You see, she's got lots of taste, only it's bad. She wasn't bewildered a bit. She knew just what she wanted and she got it. It's the badness of these things she likes. And I thought ..." She hesitated a little over this. "I thought as long as they couldn't be good, perhaps the next best thing would be to have them as bad as possible. I mean that it would be easier to throw them all out and get a fresh start."
He stared at her with a frown of curiosity. "That's good sense," he said. "But how did you come to think of it?—Oh, I don't mean that!" he went on impatiently. "Why should you bother to think of it?"
Her color came up perceptibly as she answered. "Why—I want the piece to succeed, of course. I was awfully miserable when I saw the sort of things she was picking out and I spent half an hour trying to think what I could do about it. And then I saw that the best thing I could do, was nothing."
"You didn't do nothing though," he said. "That thing you've got on is a start."
Rose turned rather suddenly to the saleswoman. "I wish you'd get that little Empire frock in maize and corn-flower," she said. "I'd like Mr. Galbraith to see that, too." And the saleswoman, now placated, bustled away.
"This thing that I've got on," said Rose swiftly, "costs a hundred and fifty dollars, but I know I can copy it for twenty. I can't get the materials exactly of course, but I can come near enough."
"Will you try this one on, miss?" asked the saleswoman, coming on the scene again with the frock she had been sent for.
"No," said Rose. "Just hold it up."
Galbraith admitted it was beautiful, but wasn't overwhelmed at all as he had been by the other.
"It's not quite so much your style, is it? Not drive enough?"
"It isn't for me," said Rose. "It's for Olga Larson to wear in that All Alone number for the sextette."
"Why Larson especially?" he asked. "Except that she's a friend of yours."
"She isn't," said Rose, "particularly. And anyway, that wouldn't be a reason. But—did you ever really look at her? She's the one really beautiful woman in the company."
"Larson?" said John Galbraith incredulously.
And Rose, with a flush and a smile partly deprecatory over her presumption in venturing to say such things to a formidable authority like the director, and partly the result of an exciting conviction that she was right, told him her mind on the subject, while Galbraith, half fascinated, half amused, listened.
"I don't happen to remember the portrait of the Honorable Mrs. Graham that you speak about," he said, "but I won't deny that you may be right about it."
It was well after closing time by now—a fact that the manager, coming to reinforce the saleswoman, contrived, without saying so, to indicate.
"Put on your street things," said Galbraith bruskly. "I'll wait."
A BUSINESS PROPOSITION
"Why, this was what I wanted to say," said Rose, taking up the broken conversation as he pulled the shop door to behind him. She didn't go out on to the sidewalk, but lingered in the recessed doorway. "I thought if you'd let me fake that evening frock for twenty dollars, and then buy the little Empire one for Olga Larson—it's only eighty—that the two would average just about what Mrs. Goldsmith was paying for the others."
"Why not fake the other one too?" he asked.
"It couldn't be done," said Rose decisively. "There's no idea in it, you see, that just jumps out and catches you. It gets its style from being so—reserved and so just exactly right. And of course that's true of the girl herself. She's perfect, just about. But it's a perfection that it's awfully easy to kill. She kills it herself by the way she does her hair."
Buzzing around in the back of John Galbraith's mind was an unworded protest against the way Rose had just killed her own beauty with a thick white veil so nearly opaque that all it let him see of her face was an intermittent gleam of her eyes. Keenly aware—a good deal more keenly aware than he was willing to admit—of the sort of splendor which, but for the veil, he'd be looking at now, a splendor which nothing short of a complete mask could hide, he was not quite in the mood to wax enthusiastic over a beauty so fragile as that of the girl they had been talking about. There was a momentary silence, broken again, by Rose.
"Of course, you'll want to take a look at her for yourself, before you decide," she said; "but I'm pretty sure you'll see it." She put a cadence of finality into her voice. The business between them was over, it said, and all she was waiting for was a word of dismissal, to nod him a farewell and go swinging away down the avenue. Still he didn't speak, and she moved a little restlessly. At last:—
"Do you mind crossing the street?" he asked abruptly. "Then we can talk as we walk along." She must have hesitated, because he added, "It's too cold to stand here."
"Of course," she said then. All that had made her hesitate was her surprise over his having made a request instead of giving an order.
Galbraith turned her north on the vast empty east sidewalk—a highway in itself broader than many a famous European street, and they walked a little way in silence.
No observant Chicagoan, Rose reflected, need ever yearn for the wastes of the Sahara when a desire for solitude or the need of privacy came upon him. The east side of Michigan Avenue was just as solitary and despite the difficulty of getting across to it, really a good deal more accessible. The west side was one unbroken glow of light and though the Christmas crowds had thinned somewhat with the closing of the shops, they were still thick enough to have made it difficult for two people to walk and talk together. A quadruple stream of motors, bellowing warnings at one another, roaring with suddenly opened throttles, squealing under sudden applications of the brake, occupied the roadway and served more than the mere distance would have done, to isolate the pair that had the east sidewalk all to themselves.
He couldn't be looking for a better place to talk than this, Rose thought. Why didn't he begin? Probably he'd got started thinking about something else. A motor coming along near the curb emitted a particularly wanton bellow, and she saw him jump like a nervous woman, then stand still and glare after the offender. He must be feeling specially irritable to-night, she thought.
It was a good diagnosis. And his irritation had, for him, a most unusual cause. Chorus-girls, principals, owners, authors, costumers, were frequently the objects of his exasperated dissatisfaction. But to-night the person he was out of all patience with was himself. He couldn't make up his mind what he wanted to do. Or rather, knowing what he wanted to do, he couldn't make up his mind to do it. It was this indecision of his that had produced the silence while he and Rose had stood in the entrance to Lessing's store. The only resolution he had come to there had been not to allow her to say good night to him and walk away. But now that she was striding along beside him, he couldn't make up his mind what to say to her.
A more self-conscious man would have forgiven himself his indecision from recognizing the real complexities of the case. He was, to begin with, an artist—almost a great artist. And a universal characteristic of such is a complete detachment from the materials in which they work—a sort of remorselessness in the use of anything that can contribute to their complete expression. The raw materials of John Galbraith's art were paint and canvas, fabrics, tunes, men and women. It was an axiom in his experience, that any personal feeling—any sort of human relation with one of the units in the mosaic he was building—was to be avoided like the plague. His professional and personal contempt for a colleague capable of a love-affair with a woman in a company he was directing, would be inexpressible—unfathomable. Of course when a man's job was finished—and this sort of job nearly always did finish on the opening night—why, after that, his affairs were his own affair.
In a word: he ordered his life on the perfectly sound masculine instinct for keeping his work and his sex emotions in separate water-tight compartments. Rose was a working member of his production, and it was therefore flagrantly impossible that his relation with her should be other than purely professional.
And yet there had been something intangibly personal from the very first, about every one of their broken momentary conversations—almost about every meeting of their eyes. It had disturbed him the first time he had ever seen her smile. He remembered the occasion well enough. She had just finished executing the dance step—the almost inexcusably vulgar little dance step he had ordered her to do as a condition of getting the job she said she wanted—had turned on him blazing with indignation; but right in the full blaze of it, at something she must have seen, and understood, in his own face, in deprecation of her own wrath, she had, slowly and widely, smiled.
And then the way she worked for him in rehearsal! He'd seen girls work hard before—desperately, frantically hard, under the fear that they weren't good enough to hold their jobs. That wasn't the spirit in which this girl worked. She seemed possessed by a blazing determination that the results he wanted should he obtained. It seemed she couldn't devour his intentions quickly enough, and her little unconscious nod of satisfaction after he had corrected a mistake and she felt sure that now she knew exactly what he wanted, was like nothing in his previous experience.
The wonderful thing about it was that she carried that eagerness beyond the confines of her own job. And she put it to good effect too. She had taken that Larson girl and, by the plain force of personal dominance, made her talk right. Well, why? That was the question. Who was she anyway? Where had she come from? Who was "the only person who really mattered" to her—the person who wasn't a pussy-cat?
He had tried hard to convince himself that these were all professional questions. It was true they had a bearing on the more important and perfectly legitimate question whether he had, in this altogether extraordinary personality, discovered a new star. He had, during the last quarter century, discovered a number—one or two of them authentically of the first magnitude.
It would have simplified matters immensely if he could have seen Rose in this category. But the stubborn fact was, he couldn't. She couldn't sing a bit, and marked as her natural talent was for dancing, she hadn't begun young enough ever to master the technique of it. That left acting; but he doubted if she could ever go very far at that. Salient as her personality was, she hadn't the instinct for putting it over. Or, if she had it, she distrusted it. She was handicapped, too, by her sense of humor. A real star in the egg, wouldn't have stopped in the middle of that first fine blaze of wrath he'd seen, to join him in smiling at it. A real actress wouldn't have spent her energies teaching another woman to talk, nor persuading him to buy another woman a beautiful frock. The focus had to be sharper than that. The only way you got the drive it took to spell your name in electric lights, was by subordinating everything else to the projection of yourself, treating your surroundings, with irresistible conviction, merely as a background. This girl could never do that.
Yet the notion wouldn't leave his mind that she could do something, and do it more than commonly well. She must have an instinct of her own for effects to enable her to understand so instantaneously what he was trying to do. And once in a while, especially lately, he'd seen, over some experiment of his, a flash of dissent across her eager face which gave him the preposterous idea that by asking her—asking a chorus-girl!—he might get a suggestion worth thinking about.
Certainly she had helped him in another way, there was no doubt of that. That sextette, thanks to her teaching, would be the smartest, best mannered bunch of chorus-girls that had adorned a production of his in a long, long time.
And here, perhaps, he came closer than anywhere else to an understanding of the source of the girl's attraction for him. John Galbraith could remember the time when, a nameless little rat of a cockney, he had slept under London bridges, opened cab doors for half-pence, carried links on foggy nights. By the clear force of genius he had made his way up from that;—from throwing cart-wheels for the amusement of the queues waiting at the pit entrances of theaters, from the ribald knock-about of East End halls, from the hilarity of Drury Lane pantomimes. Professionally his success was a solid indubitable thing. If he weren't actually preeminent in his special field, at least there was no one who was accorded a preeminence over him.
But another ambition, quite apart from the professional one, was hardly so well satisfied. From the time of his very earliest memories he had felt a passionate admiration for good breeding, and a consuming envy of the lucky unconscious possessors of it. Since ten years old, he had been possessed by the great desire to be acknowledged a gentleman. There was nothing of vulgar veneer about this. It was the real interior thing he wanted; that invisible yet perfectly palpable hall-mark which without explanations or credentials, classified you. His profession had not brought him in contact more than very infrequently with people of this sort, and his personal interests never could be made to do so with results perfectly satisfactory to himself. There it was,—the thing those lucky elect possessed without a thought or an effort. It was an indestructible possession, apparently, too. You couldn't throw it away. Dissipation, dishonesty, even a total collapse that brought its victim down to the sink that he himself had sprouted from, seemed powerless to efface that hall-mark.
He learned to suppose that if it were indestructible, it was also unattainable, though perhaps he himself failed of attaining it only in the consciousness of having failed—in the inability to stop trying for it, straining all his actions through a sieve in the effort to conform to a standard not his own.
Well, this girl, whose own life must have collapsed under her in a peculiarly cruel and dramatic fashion so that she had had to come to him and ask him for a job in the chorus—she had the hall-mark. She had besides a lot of the qualities that traditionally went with it, but often didn't. She was game—game as a fighting-cock. What must it not have meant to her to come down into that squalid dance-hall in the first place and submit to the test he had subjected her to! How must the dressing-room conversation of her colleagues in the chorus have revolted and sickened her? What must it mean to her to take his orders—sharp rasping orders, with the sting of ridicule in the tail of them when they had to be repeated;—to be addressed by her last name like a servant? Why, this very afternoon, how must she have felt, standing there like a manikin, ordered to put on this dress and that, by a fussy fat woman who wouldn't have touched her with tongs? But from not one of these experiences had he ever seen her flinch or protest. Oh, yes, she was game, and she was simple, as they always were; a fine type of the real thing.
And, somehow, he felt, she treated him as if he were hall-marked too. He hadn't much to go by—absurdly little things really. But, after all, it was the little things that counted;—a fine distinction in the cadence of a voice, in the sort of nod of greeting or farewell one gave. She never nodded at him in that curt telegraphic sort of way without warming him up a bit inside.
And all the while he was a director and she was a chorus-girl and an unyielding etiquette of their respective professions forbade a word of human intercourse between them! He had violated it, as both of them had been aware, when he shook hands with her and thanked her for having taught Olga Larson to talk. And just because he recognized quite well how necessary the barrier was in all but one out of a thousand cases, its existence in this one case baffled and irritated him.
Up to the hour when he had turned into Lessing's store this afternoon, for a look at the dresses Mrs. Goldsmith had been picking out for the sextette, this feeling of baffled curiosity and of irritation over the etiquette that forbade his satisfying it, would have summed up, adequately enough, all the emotions he was conscious of toward the girl. His professional admiration for her was another thing of course—a perfectly legitimate thing. But with her appearance from behind the screen, in that French evening gown—a gown she wore with the indescribable air of belonging in it—with all her vibrant, irregular, fascinating, eupeptic beauty fully revealed, his mood of impatient acquiescence had fallen away. The basis of his feeling toward her shifted in a manner that James Randolph wouldn't have had a moment's difficulty in explaining, although Galbraith didn't understand it himself.
The thing he was conscious of was, when she made that offer to copy this gown herself for twenty dollars and so leave him leeway for the purchase of the Empire frock for Olga—offering to go to that trouble not for herself or her friend, but to further the accomplishment of what he wanted; namely, the success of his production—what he was conscious of then, was an overpowering desire to make a confidante of her; to talk matters out with her, show her some of the major strategy of the game that he had to consider, and find out how the thing would look to her.
It was all against the rules, of course. But to this case—the one in a thousand certainly, in ten thousand maybe—the rules manifestly did not apply.
If it hadn't been for that opaque white veil, the glow of light and eagerness in her face would probably have conquered his resistance finally and for good, while they stood there in the entry to the store. As it was, he was still hanging on a dead center as they walked down the east side of the avenue together.
Ahead of them, and to the right, over in Grant Park, was the colossal municipal Christmas tree, already built, and getting decorated against the celebration of Christmas Eve, now only two days away.
"Shall we rehearse on Christmas Day?" Rose asked.
He came out of his preoccupation a little vaguely. "Why, yes. Yes, of course," he said absently. Then, coming a little further, and with a different intonation, he went on: "We're really getting pressed for time, you see. And the opening won't wait for anybody. It's hard luck though, isn't it?"
"I suppose it is, for the others;" Rose said, "but—I'm glad."
It wouldn't have needed so sensitive an ear as his to catch the girl's full meaning. Christmas—this Christmas, the first since that mysterious collapse of her life, whose effect he had seen, but whose cause he couldn't guess—was going to be a terrible day for her. She had dreaded lest it should be empty. He wanted to say, "You poor child!" But—this was the simple fact—he was afraid to.
There was another momentary silence, and again Rose broke it.
"Do you think you'll be able to convince Mrs. Goldsmith," she asked, "that her gowns don't look well on the stage?"
"Probably not," he said in quick relief. Rose had decided the issue for herself; brought up the very topic he'd wanted to bring up; got him off his dead center at last. Back of Rose, of course, was the municipal Christmas tree with its power of suggesting a lot of ideas she must fight out of her mind.
"Certainly not," he went on, "if you're right about her, and I fancy you are, that her taste isn't negative, but bad, and that it's the very hideousness of the things she likes. No, she won't be convinced, and if I know Goldsmith, he'll say his wife's taste is good enough for him. So if we want a change, we've a fight on our hands."
The way he had unconsciously phrased that sentence startled him a little.
"The question is," he went on, "whether they're worth making a fight about. Are they so bad as I think they are?"
"Oh, yes," said Rose. "They're dowdy and fourth-class and ridiculous. Of course I don't know how many people in the audience would know that."
"And I don't care." said John Galbraith with a flash of intensity that made her look round at him. "That's not a consideration I'll give any weight to. When I put out a production under my name, it means it's the best production I can make with the means I've got. There may be men who can work differently; but when I have to take a cynical view of it and try to get by with bad work because most of the people out in front won't know the difference, I'll retire. I'm only fifty and I've got ten or fifteen good years in me yet. But before I'll do that, I'll go out to my little farm on Long Island and raise garden truck."
There was another momentary silence, for the girl made no comment at all on this statement of his credo. But he felt sure, somehow, that she understood it and there was nothing deprecatory about the tone in which, presently, he went on speaking.
"Of course a director's got only one weapon to use against the owners of a show, when it comes down to an issue, and that's a threat to resign unless they let him have his way. I've used that twice in this production already, and I can see one or two places coming where I may have to use it again. So, if there's any way of throwing out those costumes without giving them their choice between getting new ones or getting a new director, I'd like to find it. Would it be possible, do you think, to get better ones that would also be cheaper? That argument would bring Goldsmith around in a hurry. It's ridiculous, of course, but that's the trouble with making a production for amateurs. You spend more time fighting them, than you do producing the show."
"I don't believe," said Rose, "that you could get better ready-made costumes a lot cheaper; at least, not enough to go around, and in a hurry. Of course every now and then, you can pick up a tremendous bargain—some imported model that's a little extreme, or made in trying colors, that they want to get rid of and will sell almost for whatever you'll pay. But the two or three we might be able to find, wouldn't help us much."
"And I suppose," he said dubiously, "it's out of the question getting them any other way than ready-made; that is, and cheaper too."
The only sign of excitement there was in the girl's voice when she answered, was a sort of exaggerated matter-of-factness. Oh, yes, there was besides a wire edge on it, so that the words came to him through the cold air with a kind of ringing distinctness.
"I could design the costumes and pick out the materials," she said, "but we'd have to get a good sewing woman—perhaps more than one, to get them done."
He wasn't greatly surprised. Perhaps the notion that she might suggest something of the sort was responsible for the tentative dubious way in which he had said he supposed it couldn't be done.
But Rose, at the sound of her own voice and the extraordinary proposition it was uttering, was astonished clear through. She hadn't had the remotest idea of saying such a thing a moment or two before. What had suggested it, she couldn't have told. That day-dream perhaps, that she had amused herself with while Mrs. Goldsmith was making up the tale of her atrocities. Perhaps it had been just the suggestions speaking in the tone, not the words, of John Galbraith's voice—that he hoped she'd offer something like that.
Anyway, whatever it was that presented the idea to her, the thing that seized on it and spoke it aloud was an instinct that didn't need to stop and think—an instinct that realized indeed, if this isn't too far-fetched a way of putting it, that its only chance lay in escaping into the open ahead of the slower-footed processes of thought. If she hadn't spoken instantly like that, it's perfectly clear she wouldn't have spoken at all. But, having heard her own voice say the words, she resolved, in spite of her fright—because she was frightened—to back them up.
"You've had—experience in designing gowns, have you?" Galbraith asked.
"Only for myself," she admitted. "But I know I can do that part of it."
And she wasn't telling more than the truth! The confident excitement that possessed her, gave a stronger assurance than any amount of experience could have done.
"But,"—she reverted to the other part of the plan—"I'm not a good sewer. I'd have to have somebody awfully good, who'd do exactly what I told her."
"Oh, that can be managed;" he said a little absently, and with what struck Rose as a mere man's ignorance of the difficulties of the situation. Expert sewing women didn't grow on every bush. But at the end of a silence that lasted while they walked a whole block, he convinced her that she had been mistaken.
"I was just figuring out the way to work it," he said then, explaining his silence. "I shall tell Goldsmith and Block (Block was the junior partner in the enterprise) that I've got hold of a costumer who agrees to deliver twelve costumes satisfactory to me, at an average of say, twenty per cent less than the ones Mrs. Goldsmith picked out. If they aren't satisfactory, it's the costumer's loss and we can buy these that Mrs. Goldsmith picked out, or others that will do as well, at Lessing's. I think that saving will be decisive with them."
"But do you know a costumer?" Rose asked.
"You're the costumer;" said Galbraith. "You design the costumes, buy the fabrics, superintend the making of them. As for the woman you speak of, we'll get the wardrobe mistress at the Globe. I happen to know she's competent, and she's at a loose end just now, because her show is closing when ours opens. You'll buy the fabrics and you'll pay her. And what profit you can make out of the deal, you're entitled to. I'll finance you myself. If they won't take what we show them, why, you'll be out your time and trouble, and I'll be out the price of materials and the woman's labor."
"I don't think it would be fair," she said, and she found difficulty in speaking at all because of a sudden disposition of her teeth to chatter—"I don't think it would be fair for me to take all the profit and you take all the risk."
"Well, I can't take any profit, that's clear enough," he said; and she noticed now a tinge of amusement in his voice. "You see, I'm retained, body and soul, to put this production over. I can't make money out of those fellows on the side. But you're not retained. You're employed as a member of the chorus. And so far, you're not even being paid for the work you're doing. As long as you work to my satisfaction there on the stage, nothing more can be asked of you. As for the risk, I don't believe it's serious. I don't think you'll fall down on the job, and I don't believe Goldsmith and Block will throw away a chance to save some money."
At the end of another silence, for Rose was speechless here, he went on expanding the plan a little further. And if the assurances he gave her were essentially mendacious, he himself wasn't exactly aware that they were. It had often happened in productions of his, he said—and this much was true—that to save time or to accomplish some result he wanted, he put up a little of his own money for something and trusted to a prosperous event for getting it back. It was clearly for the good of the show that the costumes for the sextette should be better than the ones Mrs. Goldsmith had picked out. The only alternative way of getting them, to a knock-down and carry-away fight with Goldsmith and Block, which, even if it were successful, would weaken the effect of his next ultimatum, was the plan he now proposed to Rose. She needn't regard the money he put up as in any sense a personal loan to her. They were simply cooperating for the good of the enterprise. If her work turned out to be valuable, it was only right she should be paid for it.
And then he pressed her for an immediate decision. The job would be a good deal of a scramble at best, as the time was short. If she agreed to it, he'd get in touch with the wardrobe mistress at the Globe, to-night. As for the money, he had a hundred dollars or so in his pocket, which she could take to start out with.
Of course the only lie involved in all this was the warp of the whole fabric; that he was doing it, impersonally, for the success of the show. And that might well enough have been true. Only in this case, it definitely wasn't. He was doing it because it would establish a personal connection, the want of which was becoming so tormenting a thing to his soul, between himself and this girl whom he had to order about on the stage and call by her last name, or rather by a last name that wasn't hers—an imagination-stirring, question-compelling, warm human creature, who, up to now, had been as completely shut away from him as if she had been a wax figure in a show-window.
They had reached the Randolph Street end of the avenue, and a policeman, like Moses cleaving the Red Sea, had opened the way through the tide of motors for a throng of pedestrians bound across the viaduct to the Illinois Central suburban station.
"Come across here," said Galbraith taking her by the arm and stemming this current with her. "We've got to have a minute of shelter to finish this up in," and he led her into the north lobby of the public library. The stale baked air of the place almost made them gasp. But, anyway, it was quiet and altogether deserted. They could hear themselves think in here, he said, and led the way to a marble bench alongside the staircase.
Rose unpinned her veil and, to his surprise, because of course she was going out in a minute, put it into her ulster pocket. But, curiously enough, the sight of her face only intensified an impression that had been strong on him during the last part of their walk—the impression that she was a long way off. It wasn't the familiar contemplative brown study, either. There was an active eager excitement about it that made it more beautiful than ever he had seen it before. But it was as if she were looking at something he couldn't see—listening to words he couldn't hear.
"Well," he said a little impatiently, "are you going to do it?"
At that the glow of her was turned fairly on him. "Yes," she said, "I'm going to do it. I suppose I mustn't thank you," she went on, "because you say it isn't anything you're doing for me. But it is—a great thing for me—greater than I could tell you. And I won't fail. You needn't be afraid."
Inexplicably to him (the problem wouldn't have troubled James Randolph) the very completeness with which she made this acknowledgment—the very warmth of the hand-clasp with which she bound the bargain, vaguely disappointed him—left him feeling a little flat and empty over his victory.
He found his pocketbook and counted out a hundred and twenty dollars, which he handed over to her. She folded it and put it away in her wrist-bag. The glow of her hadn't faded, but once more it was turned on something—or some one—else. It wasn't until he rose a little abruptly from the marble bench, that she roused herself with a shake of the head, arose too, and once more faced him.
"You're right about our having to hurry," she said. "Don't you suppose that some of the department stores on the west side of State Street would still be open—on account of Christmas, you know?"
"I don't know," he said. "Very likely. But look here!" He pulled out his watch. "It's after seven already. And rehearsal's at eight-thirty. You've got to get some dinner, you know."
"Dinner doesn't take long at the place where I go," she reminded him. "But if I can get one or two things now—I don't mean the materials—why, I can get a start to-night after the rehearsal's over."
"I don't like it," he said glumly. "Oh, I know, it's a rush job and you'll have to work at it at all sorts of hours. If only you ... If I could just ease up a bit on your rehearsals! Only, you see, the sextette would he lost without you. Look here! There's nothing life or death about this, you know. You don't want to forget that you've got a limit, and crowd the late-at-night and early-in-the-morning business too hard. Think where we'd be if you turned up missing on the opening night!"
"I shan't do that," she said absently almost, and not in his direction. Then, with another little shake, bringing herself back to him with a visible effort: "If you only knew what a wonderful thing it's going to be, to have something for late at night and early in the morning ..."
Before he could find the first one of the words he wanted, she had given him that curt farewell nod which, so inexplicably, from the first had stirred and warmed him, and turned away toward the door.
And she had never seen what was fairly shining in his face; no more than she had heard the thing that rang so eagerly in his voice through the thin disguise of an impersonal, director-like concern that she shouldn't impair her health so far as to spoil her for the sextette!
THE END OF A FIXED IDEA
She couldn't of course have missed a thing as plain as that but for a complete preoccupation of thought and feeling that would have left her oblivious to almost anything that could happen to her. Galbraith himself had detected this preoccupation, but he would have been staggered had he known its intensity. He had likened it in his own thoughts, to an effect that might have been caused by the presence with her of another person whom he could neither see nor hear. And that, had he believed it seriously, would have been an almost uncannily correct guess.
The flaming vortex of thoughts, hopes, desires which enveloped her, was so intense as almost to evoke a sense of the physical presence of the subject of them—of that big, powerful-minded, clean-souled husband of hers, who loved her so rapturously, and who had driven her away from him because that rapture was the only thing he would share with her.
She had been living, since that day of his departure for New York, when she had felt the last of his strong embraces, a life that fell into two hemispheres as distinct from each other as tropic night from day. One half of it had been lighted and made tolerable by the exactions of her new job. "What you feel like doing isn't important, and what I tell you to do is," John Galbraith had said to her on the day this strange divided life of hers had begun. And this lesson, taken to heart, had spelt salvation to her—for half of the time; for as many hours of the day as he went on telling her to do something. Those hours, in a way almost incredible to herself when they were over, had been almost happy—would have been altogether happy, but for the stain that soaked through in memory and in anticipation, from the other half of her days.
But when evening rehearsal was over and she came back to her room and had to undress and put out her light and relax her mind for sleep, letting the terrors that came to tear at her do their unopposed worst, then the girl who sang and danced and was so nearly happy snatching John Galbraith's intentions half formed, and executing them in the thrill of satisfaction over work well done, became an utterly unreal, incredible person—the mere figment of a dream that couldn't—couldn't possibly recur again even as a dream; the only self in her that had any actual existence was Rodney Aldrich's wife and the mother of his children, lying here in a mean bed, or looking with feverish eyes out of the window in a North Clark Street rooming house, in a torment of thwarted desire for him that was by no means wholly mental or psychical.
And what was he doing now in her absence? Was he in torment, too; shaken by gusts of uncontrollable longing for her; fighting off nightmare imaginings of disasters that might be befalling her? Or was he happy, drinking down in great thirsty drafts the nectar of liberty which her incursion into his life had deprived him of? She didn't know which of these alternatives was the more intolerable to her.
And the twins! Were they, the fine lusty little cherubs she had parted from that day, smiling up with growing recognition into other faces—Mrs. Ruston's and the maid Doris'? Or might there have been, since the last information relayed by Portia, a sudden illness? Might it be that there was going on now, in that house not a thousand yards away, another life-and-death struggle like the one which had made an end of all her hopes for the efficacy of her miracle?
The only treatment for hobgoblins like that was plain endurance. This was a part of a somber sobering discovery that Rose had made during the first few days of her new life. Courage of the active sort she'd always had. The way she went up to North End Hall and wrested a job that didn't strictly exist, from John Galbraith, was an example of it. When it was a question of blazing up and doing something, she had rightly counted on herself not to fail. This was what she'd foreseen when she promised Portia that she would fight for the big thing.
But that part of the battle of life had to consist just in doing nothing, enduring with a stiff mouth and clenched hands assaults that couldn't be replied to, was a fact she hadn't foreseen. What a child she had always been! Rodney, Portia, everybody who amounted to anything, must have learned that lesson of sheer endurance long ago.
The queerly incredible quality of the lighted half of her life—the half that John Galbraith's will galvanized into motion—prevented any afterglow from illuminating and making tolerable the dark half. No achievement of her days—not even teaching the sextette to talk—had the power to give her, in her nights, a sense of progress, or to lessen the necessity for that sheer dumb endurance which was the only weapon she had. Because she was in the fetters of a fixed idea.
Of course it was only by virtue of the possession of a fixed idea—a purpose as rigid in its outlines as the steel frame of a sky-scraper—that she had been able to force herself to leave Rodney and set out in pursuit of a job that would make a life of her own a possible thing. You are already acquainted with the outlines of that purpose. She lacked the special training which alone could make any sort of self-respecting life possible. The only thing she had to capitalize when she left her husband's house, was the thing which had got her into it—her sex charm. The only excuse for capitalizing that again was that it would make it possible for her to acquire a special training in some other field. Stenography, she had thought vaguely, would be the first round of the ladder. Until this production opened and she began drawing a salary, she couldn't really begin doing the thing she had set out to do.
Consequently, anything that seemed like progress during her day's work for Galbraith—any glow of triumph she came away with after meeting and conquering some difficulty—must be pure illusion.
It was all perfectly logical and it was all perfectly false. She had been growing really, in strides, from day to day, since that first day of all when, after hearing the director tell another woman that there were no vacancies in the chorus, she had forced herself to go up and ask him for a job. She had been disciplining herself under Rodney's own definition of the term. Discipline, he had said, was standing the gaff—standing it, not submitting to it; accepting the facts of your own life as they happened to be! Not making masters of them, but servants to the underlying thing you wanted.
And if only she could have believed her own vision, the outlines of the underlying thing she wanted were beginning to appear, as in a half developed negative. It hadn't been from a cold sense of duty, or from a cold fear of losing her job, that she had thrown herself into the accomplishment of John Galbraith's wishes, or had felt that almost fierce desire that some effect he was trying for and that she understood, should get an objective validity. It hadn't been out of pure altruism that she'd spent those twelve solid hours compelling Olga Larson to talk better. She might have felt sorry for the girl—might have loaned her money, comforted her; but she wouldn't have locked her in her room and beaten down her sullen opposition, set her afire with her own vitality, except that it was a thing that had to be done for the good of the show.
In short, she was, to fall back on Rodney's phrase again, for the first time driving herself with the motive power of her own desires—riding the back of a hitherto unsuspected passion. But the binding force of that fixed idea of hers had been sufficient all along to keep up the delusion of unreality about the real half of her life and to make the nightmare half of it seem true.
It wasn't until she heard herself telling John Galbraith that she could design those costumes for him, and in a flame of suddenly kindled excitement, resolved to make that unexpected promise good, that the fetters of her false logic fell away from her.
The truth of the matter, the wonderful, almost incredible truth, kept coming up brighter and clearer as she walked silently along beside him down the avenue. The real beginning of the pilgrimage that was to carry her back into her husband's life, wasn't a thing that had to be waited for. It could begin now! No, the truth was better than that; it had begun already! Because if John Galbraith had come to her house a month ago, when she was casting about so desperately for a way of earning a living, and had offered her the chance just as he had offered it to-night, she'd have declined it. She wouldn't have known what he wanted. She'd rightly have said that the thing was utterly beyond her powers. To-night she knew what he wanted and she was utterly confident of her ability to give it to him.
And the one word that blaze of confidence spelled for her in letters of fire, was her husband's name. This chance that had been offered her was a ladder that would enable her to climb part of the way back to him. Her accomplishment of this first breathlessly exciting task would be a thing, when it was achieved, that she could recount to him—well, as man to man. Her success, if she succeeded—and the alternative was something she wouldn't contemplate—would compel the same sort of respect from him that he accorded to a diagnosis of James Randolph's, or an article of Barry Lake's.
Since she had left his house and begun this new life of hers, she had, as best she could, been fighting him out of her thoughts altogether. She had shrunk from anything that carried associations of him with it. Outside the hours of rehearsal (and how grateful she always was when they protracted themselves unduly) she had walked timidly, like a child down a dim hallway with black yawning doorways opening out of it, in a dread which sometimes reached the intensity of terror, lest reminders of the man she loved should spring out upon her. That all thoughts and memories of him must necessarily be painful, she had taken for granted.
But with this sudden lighting up of hope, which took place within her when she made John Galbraith that astonishing offer and he accepted it, she flung the closed door wide and called her husband back into her thoughts—greeted the image of him passionately, in an almost palpable embrace. This hard thing that she was going to do, which had, to common-sense calculation, so many chances of disaster in it—this thing that meant sleepless nights, and feverishly active days, was an expression simply of her love for him; a sacrificial offering to be laid before the shrine of him in her heart. Well, it was no wonder then that to John Galbraith she had seemed preoccupied and far away, nor that amid the surging thoughts and memories of her lover, coming in like a returning tide, she should have been deaf to a meaning in the director's tones that any one of the stupid little flutterers in the chorus would instantly have understood.
A man with a volcanic incandescence within him such as was now afire in Rose, is utterly useless until it subsides—totally incapable, at least, of any sort of creative or imaginative work. Until the fire can be, by one means or another and for the time being, put out, he has no energies worth mentioning, to devote to anything else. And, just as no woman can understand the cold austerities of the cell into which a man must retire in order to give his finer faculties free play, so no man can possibly understand, although objective evidence may compel him to admit and chronicle it as a fact, that a woman borne along as Rose was, upon an irresistible tide of passions, memories and hopes, which all but made her absent husband actually visible to her, could at the same time, be seeing visions of her accomplished work and laying plans—limpid practicable plans, for their realization.
This is, perhaps, one of the few, and certainly one of the most fundamental chasms of cleavage between the two sexes; a chasm bridged by habit invariably, because some sort of thoroughfare has to exist, bridged, too, more rarely, by intellectual understanding. But never bridged, I think, between two persons strongly masculine and feminine respectively, by an instinctive sympathy. To each, the other's way of life must always be mysterious, and at times exasperating or a little contemptible.
To the woman, with the finely constant impenetration of love through all her spiritual life, the man's uncontrollable blaze and his alternate coldness, seem fitful—weak—brutish, almost unworthy of a creature with a soul.
To the man who knows the value of his phases of high austerity and understands quite well the price at which he obtains them, the woman who fails to understand the necessity or to appreciate the mood seems sentimental and a little unworthy.
Well, the fact that Rose's heart was racing and her nerves were tingling with a newly welcomed sense of her lover's spiritual presence, did not prevent her flying along west on Randolph Street and south again on the west side of State, with a very clearly visualized purpose. She had forgotten to replace her veil, but at that hour it didn't matter. The west side of State Street, anyway, is almost as far from the east as North Clark Street is from the Drive.
As she came abreast of the first of the big department stores which line the west side of this thoroughfare, she saw that her surmise had been correct. It was open. Throngs of weary shoppers were crowding out, and a very respectable stream of them were forcing their way in. She told an exhausted floor-walker that she wanted to buy a dressmaking form. And, spent as he was, he reflected a little of her own animation in his unusually precise reply; had, indeed, a little of it left over for his next inquirer.
Something automatic in her mind took charge of Rose and delivered her, presently, unconscious of intervening processes, at the counter where the forms were sold. She selected what she wanted instantly, and counted out the money from her own purse. She didn't have to dip into John Galbraith's hundred and twenty dollars for this.
"Address?" inquired the saleswoman preparing to make out her sales-slip. Then, as Rose didn't answer instantly, she looked up frowning into her face. "You want it sent, don't you?" she added.
The question was rhetorical, because with its standard, the thing stood five feet high and weighed twenty-five pounds.
A frown of perplexity in Rose's face gave way to her own wide smile. "I guess I'll have to take it with me," she said. Because as near Christmas as this, the thing mightn't be delivered for two days.
"Take it with you?" the woman echoed, aghast.
"Have it wrapped up," said Rose decisively, "and put my name on it—Mrs. ..." She checked herself with another smile. She had nearly said, "Mrs. Rodney Aldrich." But the mistake didn't hurt as it would have hurt yesterday. "Doris Dane," she went on. "And have it sent down to the main entrance. I'll be there as soon as it is. Do you know where I can buy paper cambric?" But she had to get that information from another floor-walker.
Paper cambric seemed to have more of a bearing upon the approach of Christmas Day than dressmaking forms, though just what the connection was, Rose couldn't make out. There was a crowd at the counter, anyhow. It was five minutes before she could get waited on. But once she caught a saleswoman's eye, her purchase was quickly made. She bought three bolts: one of black, one of white, and one of a washed-out blue. Once more she counted out the money, and this time, "I'll take it with me," she said.
Strong as she was, the immense bundle was almost more than she could carry. But she managed to make her way at last to the main entrance, where, under the incredulous eye of the doorman, she found a porter waiting with her dressmaking form.
"That's mine," she said. "Doris Dane is the name on it." Then, to the doorman as the porter made off, "Will you get me a cab?"
But this particular store had, quite naturally, no facilities for doing a carriage business, a fact which the doorman laconically explained.
"All right," said Rose dumping her heavy bundle beside the dressmaking form. "You won't mind keeping an eye on this for a minute, will you?" She didn't actually smile, but there was in her face a humorous appreciation of the fact that a mountain like this wouldn't be hard to watch.
The doorman grinned back at her. "Sure I will," he said. "I'm sorry I can't leave the door to get you a cab."
Rose hailed one that happened to be passing, a creaking, mud-bespattered disreputable affair with a driver to match, and briskly drove a bargain with him. He announced when she told him the address that the fare would be a dollar and a half. She offered him seventy-five cents, which he, with the air of a disillusioned optimist in a bitter world, accepted. "Christmas, too!" he muttered ironically.
"Oh, come," said Rose, grinning up at him. "How many tired people have you given free rides to to-day, on the strength of that?"
"All right, miss; I don't complain," he said. He did, though, but humorously, when Rose, assisted by a page boy the doorman had impressed for her, carried the dressmaker's form and the other heavy bundle out to the curb. He declared the form should go as another passenger (its semi-human shape was clearly visible through the wrappings) and that the other bundle ought to have a van. All the same, when at her destination Rose had paid him, he came down, voluntarily from the box—voluntarily but with a sort of reluctance—and carried the form up to her room for her.
Also, rather incredibly, he refused an extra quarter she had ready for him when he had completed this service. "Just to show no ill feelings," he said, and he told her where his stand was and gave himself a little recommendation: "Honest and reliable."
Here in her close little room, the suggestion of an alcoholic basis for this generosity obtruded itself, but Rose didn't care. She wished him a merry Christmas and waved him off with a smile.
It was now after eight o'clock. Rehearsal was at eight-thirty and she had had nothing to eat since noon. But she stole the time, nevertheless, to tear the wrappings off her "form" and gaze on its respectable nakedness for two or three minutes with a contemplative eye. Then, reluctantly—it was the first time she had left that room with reluctance—she turned out the light and hurried off to the little lunch-room that lay on the way to the dance-hall.
She never again, in the active practise of her profession, knew anything quite like the ensuing seventy-two hours. Every stimulus was, of course, abnormally heightened. There was the novelty, the thrilling sense of adventure that missed being fear only through an inexplicable confidence of success. And then, anyway, her imagination was a virgin field that had never been cropped, and the luxurious fertility of it was amazing.
It was during that first rehearsal, which she so narrowly missed being late for, that she got the general schemes for both sets of costumes. That there must be a general scheme she had decided at once. The sextette was a unit; none of the members of it ever appeared without the others, and it would be immensely more effective, she perceived, if this fact were expressed somehow in the costumes. Not by means of a stupid uniformity, of course. The effect she wanted was subtler than that. But if each one of the six costumes that these girls first appeared in could be made somehow to express the same thing in a different way—not only in different, though harmonious, colors, but in different, though related, forms—the effect produced by the six of them together would be immensely greater than the sum of their individual effects.
This, of course, wasn't what Rose said to herself. She just wanted a scheme, and with ridiculous ease, she got it. She didn't even get it. There it was staring at her. And the other scheme for the evening frocks was knocking at the door, too, eager to get in the moment she could give it a chance. She began studying the girls for their individual peculiarities of style. Each one of the costumes she made was going to be for a particular girl, suited, without losing its place in the general plan, to the enhancement of her special approximation to beauty.
At last, when a shout from Galbraith aroused her to the fact that she had missed an entrance cue altogether, in her entranced absorption in these visions of hers, and had caused that unpardonable thing, a stage wait, she resolutely clamped down the lid upon her imagination and, until they were dismissed, devoted herself to the rehearsal.
But the pressure kept mounting higher and higher and she found herself furiously impatient to get away, back to her own private wonderland, the squalid little room down the street, that had three bolts of cambric in it and a dressmaker's manikin—the raw materials for her magic!
Rose couldn't draw a bit. Her mother's fine contempt for ladylike accomplishments had even intervened in the high-school days to prevent her taking a free-hand course required in the curriculum, during which you spent weeks making a charcoal study of a bust of Demosthenes. But this lack never even occurred to Rose as a handicap. She hadn't the faintest impulse to make a beginning by putting a picture down on paper and making a dress of it afterward. She went straight at her materials, or the equivalent of her materials, as a sculptor goes at his clay. She couldn't have told just why she had bought those three shades of paper cambric.
"I'm really awfully obliged to you for having explained it to me," she told Burton, the portrait painter long afterward.
"I see!" he had exclaimed, on the occasion of an initiatory visit to her workroom. "You design these things in their values first, just the way the old masters used to paint. Once you get the values in, you can project them in any colors that will leave your value scale true."
And Rose, as she said, was really grateful to him for telling her what it was she had been doing all the while, just as Monsieur Jourdain was grateful for the information that he had been talking prose all his life and never known it.
What she had felt, of course, at the very outset, was the need of something to indicate roughly the darks and lights in her design. And, short of the wild extravagance of slashing into the fabrics themselves and making her mistakes at their expense, she could think of nothing better than the scheme she chose.
She came to the conclusion afterward that even apart from the consideration of expense, her own plan was better. You got more vigor somehow, into the actual construction of the thing, if you could make it express something quite independently of color and texture.
Rehearsal was dismissed a little early that first night, and she was back in her room by eleven. Arrived there, she took off her outer clothes, sat down cross-legged on the floor, and went to work. When at last, with a little sigh, and a tremulously smiling acknowledgment of fatigue, she got up and looked at her watch, it was four o'clock in the morning. She'd had one of those experiences that every artist can remember a few of in his life, when it is impossible for anything to go wrong; when each tentative experiment accomplishes not only its purpose, but another unsuspected purpose as well; when the vision miraculously betters itself in the execution; when the only difficulty is that which the hands have in the purely mechanical operation of keeping up.
She was destined later, of course, even during the achievement of this first success, to learn the comparative rarity of those hours. Though, as she looked back on it afterward, the whole of this first job seemed to have been done with a kind of miraculous facility she couldn't account for.
And all through those five hours, fast as her mind flew, utterly absorbed as it seemed to be, she never once lost the consciousness of the almost palpable presence of Rodney Aldrich there in the room with her. Once she laughed outright over the memory of a girl who had tried to win her husband's friendship by studying law. Fancy Rodney trying to study costumes! But he would understand what it meant to conceive them and the sort of work it took, once they were conceived, to project them as something objective to herself—something that had to challenge expert opinion; meet the exactions of criticism. He'd understand the thrill, too, of seeing them come up for judgment—the triumph of getting them accepted and paid for.
And, in the confidence born of that understanding, he'd be able to offer for her to understand, the fundamentals of his own work. Not the dry husks of technical considerations. What did they amount to anyway, except as they formed the boundaries of the live thing he meant? But the live thing itself—the thing that spelled challenge and work and victory for him,—that thing, since at last she'd grown to deserve it, he'd give her. Freely, fully,—just because he couldn't help giving it.
Tired as she was, she could hardly bear to stop work. The half finished thing on the manikin lured her on from one moment to another. It was really insane not to stop. She must get up at seven-thirty, three hours or so from now, in order to get to the shops ahead of the crowds and begin the selection of her fabrics. At last, with a single movement of resolution she turned out the gas and undressed, or rather, finished undressing, in the dark, amid a litter of pins and paper cambric.
And now, for the first time in this squalid, mean little room, the dark had balm in it, became a fragrant miracle, obliterating the harsh actualities of her immediate yesterdays and to-morrows, winging her spirit for a breathless flight straight to the end she sought,—to the time when the long pilgrimage before her should be accomplished.
What a wonderful thing Rodney's cool firm friendship would be! Worth anything, anything in the world it might cost to win it. But ... But....
She drew in a long unsteady breath and pressed her cooling hands down upon her face.
What a thing his love would be, when it should come, free of its tasks and obligations; no longer in the treadmill making her world go round, but given its wings again!
SUCCESS—AND A RECOGNITION
There is a kaleidoscopic character about the events of the ten days or so preceding the opening performance of most musical comedies which would make a sober chronicle of them seem fantastically incredible; and this law of Nature made no exception in the case of The Girl Up-stairs. There were rehearsals which ran so smoothly and swiftly that they'd have done for performances; there were others so abominably bad that the bare idea of presenting the mess resulting from six weeks' toil, before people who had paid money to see it, was a nightmare.
As the nervous pressure mounted, people took to exploding all over the place in the most grotesquely inconceivable ways and from totally unpredictable causes. Freddy France, who played the comic detective (like most comedians he had no sense of humor whatever and treated his "art" with a sort of sacrificial solemnity), developed delusions of persecution, proclaimed himself the victim of a conspiracy to which the owners, the author, Galbraith and most of the principals were parties, and finally, when the director cut out a little scene that he had two feeble jokes in, reached up unexpectedly and hit McGill on the nose, flung his part on the stage, stamped on it and left the theater. Quan read his lines in a painstaking manner for two days and then, after a three-hour session in the Sherman House bar, Freddy was induced to come back.
Stewart Lester, one day, at the end of a long patient effort of Galbraith's to improve his acting (he acted like a tenor; one needn't say more than that), licked his thin red lips, and in a feline fury, announced his indifference as to whether the management accepted his resignation or that of Miss Devereux. As long as she insisted on treating her vis-a-vis like a chorus-man, she'd perhaps be happier if a chorus-man were given the part; and he would he only too happy, in case the management agreed with her, to make the substitution possible. Whereupon Miss Devereux remarked that even having been a failure in grand opera didn't necessarily assure a man success in musical comedy, and that possibly a chorus-man would be an improvement. Galbraith had a long private conference with each of them—the fact that they would not speak at all off stage guaranteed him against their comparing notes as to what he'd said—and while the thing he effected could not be called a reconciliation, it amounted to a sort of armed truce. They went through their love scenes without actually scratching and biting.
Even little Anabel Astor, whose good humor for a long time had seemed invincible, tempestuously left the stage one day in the middle of one of her scenes with her dancing partner, and could be heard sobbing loudly in the wings through all that remained of that rehearsal.
Queer things began happening to the plot, resulting sometimes from the violent transposition of song numbers from one act to another, sometimes from the interpolation of songs or specialties. Two or three scenes, which the author regarded with special pride and was prepared to die in the defense of, were pronounced by Galbraith to be junk. He had made superhuman efforts, he told Goldsmith and Block, to put a little life into them, and had demonstrated that this miracle was impossible of performance. They were dead and they'd got to be buried before they became, to the olfactory sense, any more unpleasant.
There was an ominous breathlessness in the air after this ultimatum had been delivered, and at the next rehearsal, when the director announced the cut of six solid pages of manuscript, the voice of the author was heard from back of the hall proclaiming in a hollow Euripidean bellow that it was all over. He was going to his lawyer to get an injunction against the production of the piece.
Of all the persons directly, or even remotely, affected by this nerve-shattering confusion, Rose was perhaps the least perturbed. The only thing that really mattered to her, was the successful execution of those twelve costumes. The phantasmagoria at North End Hall was a regrettable, but necessary, interruption of her more important activities. The interruption didn't interfere so seriously as at first she thought it would. The routine of rehearsal as Galbraith developed it, began with special scenes—isolated bits that needed modification or polishing. The general rehearsals, taking this act or that and going through with it from beginning to end, and involving, of course, the presence of everybody in the company, didn't, as a rule, begin till three in the afternoon; sometimes till as late as five. Of course when they did begin, they lasted until all hours.
But the labors of the chorus, and even of the sextette, shrank very much in proportion to the work of the principals. Nearly all the changes that were made were in the direction of compressing the chorus and giving the principals more room. So that for long stretches of time, during which, dressed in her working clothes and curled up in one of the remoter of the cushioned window-seats, but ready to answer a summons to the stage as promptly as a fireman, she could let her mind run without interruption on the solution of some of her own problems, and then be ready when she went back to her room, to fall into bed and asleep (the two acts had become practically simultaneous) secure in the possession of a clearly thought out program for the morrow.
She wakened automatically at half past seven and was down-town by half past eight, to do whatever shopping the work of the previous day revealed the need of. The fact that it was, for the greater part, John Galbraith's money she was spending (she had managed to put in a little herself by calculating down to a fine point the necessary margin for existence) worked to her advantage in these operations. She could not, but for that fact, have forced herself to hunt down bargains so persistently nor to keep the incidental expense for findings and such, so low.
At nine-thirty in the morning—an unheard of hour in the theater—the watchman at the Globe let her in the stage door, and Rose had half an hour before the arrival of the wardrobe mistress and her assistant, for looking over the work done since she had left for rehearsal the day before.
She liked this quiet, cavernous old barn of a place down under the Globe stage; liked it when she had it to herself before the two sewing women came and later, when, with a couple of sheets spread down on the floor she cut and basted according to her cambric patterns, keeping ahead of the flying needles of the other two. After her own little room, the mere spaciousness of it seemed almost noble. She even liked it, when, about half past one in the afternoon, on matinee days, the chorus-girls of the show now drawing to the end of its run, began dawdling in, passing shrill jokes with Bill Flynn, the fireman, rummaging through the mail in the letter-box, casually unfastening their clothes all the while, preliminary to kimonos and make-up, gathering in little knots about the sewing-machines and exclaiming in profane delight over the costumes. She wondered at herself, sometimes, for having ceased to mind their language, their shameless way of going half-clad, their general atmosphere of moth-like worthlessness—and then laughed at herself for wondering!
How would her own quality be finer, her soul a more ample thing, for the keeping, on one of the shelves of it, of a pot of carefully preserved horror? If she could succeed with these costumes, her success, she hoped, would lead her directly into the business of designing other costumes for the stage. And if she became a professional stage costumer, this rather loose, ramshackle, down-at-the-heel morality of back-stage musical comedy would be a permanent fact in her life, just as the dustiness of law-books and the stuffiness of court rooms were permanent facts in Rodney's.
As the work went on, her confidence in the success of this initiatory venture became less ecstatic and more reasonable. A few of the costumes were finished and, seen on live models (a couple of girls in the chorus in the Globe show had volunteered to try on) were, if Rose knew anything at all about clothes, without doubt or qualification, good.
She had had just one really bad quarter of an hour over them, and that, back on Christmas Day as it happened, was when Galbraith, having detained her after he had dismissed the rehearsal, asked to see her sketches.
"Sketches!" she echoed, perplexed.
"Oh, I don't mean regular water-colored plates," he said. "Just whatever rough drafts of the things you will have put down on paper to start yourself off with. It's simple curiosity, you understand."
"But," she gasped, "I haven't put anything down on paper—not anything at all! I don't know how to draw."
And now he was perplexed in turn. How could one design a costume without drawing a picture of it?
She explained her working method to him; though not, she felt, very successfully. She was perhaps a bit flustered, and he didn't seem to be giving her his complete attention—seemed to be covering up, with the pretense of listening, a strong interior abstraction.
This was again a good diagnosis as far as it went. Only it didn't dig in far enough for even the faintest surmise as to what the nature of his abstraction was.
"I could bring the patterns down here. Or, if you had time, you could come up to my room and see them. But I'm afraid you couldn't tell much from that, because they're all taken apart, you see, and they're just in paper cambric and not the right colors."
What the man was struggling for—it had been his sole reason for detaining her in the first place—was some sort of opening that would make it seem natural to tell her he hoped her Christmas Day had not been too intolerably unhappy; to shake hands with her and wish her luck—assure her in one way or another, that she had in him a friend she could bring her troubles to—any sort of troubles. He'd made up his mind to do this when the Christmas rehearsal should he over, as long ago as the night of their walk down the avenue. This resolution had been reinforced by the look he had caught in her face when she came up to rehearsal this afternoon—a rather misty, luminous, exalted look,—a little lack of definition about her eyelids suggesting there had been tears there.
This was good observation like her own of him. But, again like hers, in its failure to get the central clue, it only mislead him, the worse. If he could have guessed that she had been having a Christmas celebration of her own that day; that there had been unwrapped and displayed, three little presents she had bought the day before; one for her husband, and one for each of her two babies, and that, just before starting for rehearsal, she had wrapped them up and put them into her trunk to await the day when they could be given, it might have altered matters somewhat.
The thing that finally made it clearly impossible for Galbraith to express anything at all of this feeling which he, in good faith, called friendship for her, was her alternative offer—if he had time, to take him up to her room for a look at the patterns.
If she's seen him as anything at all but starkly her employer and her financier; if she's had the faintest glimmer of him as one who held for her any personal feelings whatever, she never would have suggested as an alternative to her bringing the patterns here to rehearsal, his coming up to her room for a look at them.
The thing of all others that irritated Galbraith was the possession of a divided mind. Just now, disappointed as he was, almost to the point of pain, though he wouldn't acknowledge to himself that it went as far as that, over the evident fact that his relation to the girl, in spite of their partnership, was exactly what it had been from the beginning, he was still aware that if he'd got the opening he wanted, had managed another of those warm lithe hand-clasps with her, and had got the notion across to her that he wanted her to make a friend of him and a confidant, he'd be going away now, afterward, under the painful misgiving that he was a bit of an old fool. The product of all this irritation was, however, that he declined Rose's offer of a view of her patterns rather bruskly.
"It was just curiosity, as I said. Go along your own way and don't worry about me. You will be all right."