Rose couldn't feel much conviction behind this expression of confidence, and she went away, as I have said, in a sort of panic. Was she all wrong, after all? Couldn't you design stage costumes except by making pictures of them? She knew what he meant by water-colored plates. She'd seen them framed in the lobbies at musical shows she'd been to with Rodney. That was how costume designers worked, was it? Well she knew she never could do anything like that.
But her fears only lasted until she got back to her room and caught a reassuring look at the pattern that was assembled on the form. After all, the pictures in the lobby weren't so important as the costumes on the stage. And as for Galbraith—well, if he didn't expect too much of her, that was all the better.
In keeping with the good luck which had attended everything that happened in connection with this first venture of hers, she was able to tell Galbraith that both sets of costumes were done and ready to try on, on the very day he announced that the next rehearsal would be held at ten to-morrow morning at the Globe. It might very easily have happened, of course, that Rose's enterprise, together with Galbraith's partnership in it, had become known here or there, got passed on from one to another, with modifications and embellishments according to fancy, and grown to be a monument of scandal and conjecture. But nothing is more capricious than the heat-lightning of gossip, and it just chanced that, up to the morning of Rose's little triumph, no one beyond Galbraith and Rose herself even suspected the identity with Dane of the chorus, of the costumer who was to submit, on approval, gowns for the sextette. The fact, of course, was bound to come out on the day the company moved over for rehearsals to the Globe, and the event was very happily dramatized for Rose, by her ability to let the costumes appear first and her authorship of them only after their success was beyond dispute.
She persuaded the girls to wait until all six were dressed in the afternoon frocks and until she herself had had a chance to give each of them a final inspection and to make a few last touches and readjustments. Then they all trooped out on the stage and stood in a row, turned about, walked here and there, in obedience to Galbraith's instructions shouted from the back of the theater.
It was dark out there and disconcertingly silent. The glow of two cigars indicated the presence of Goldsmith and Block in the middle of a little knot of other spectators.
The only response Rose got—the only index to the effect her labors had produced—was the tone of Galbraith's voice. It rang on her ear a little sharper, louder, and with more of a staccato bruskness than the directions he was giving called for. And it was not his practise to put more cutting edge into his blade, or more power behind his stroke, than was necessary to accomplish what he wanted. He was excited, therefore. But was it by the completeness of her success or the calamitousness of her failure?
"All right," he shouted. "Go and put on the others."
There was another silence after they had fled out on the stage again, clad tins time in the evening gowns—a hollow heart-constricting silence, almost literally sickening. But it lasted only a moment. Then, "Will you come down here, Miss Dane?" called Galbraith.
There was a slight, momentary, but perfectly palpable shock accompanying these words—a shock felt by everybody within the sound of his voice. Because the director had not said, "Dane, come down here." He had said, "Will you come here, Miss Dane?" And the thing amounted, so rigid is the etiquette of musical comedy, to an accolade. The people on the stage and in the wings didn't know what she'd done, nor in what character she was about to appear, but they did know she was, from now on, something besides a chorus-girl.
Rose obediently crossed the runway and walked up the aisle to where Galbraith stood with Goldsmith and Block, waiting for her. She was still feeling a little numb and empty.
Galbraith, as she came up, held out a hand to her. "I congratulate you, Miss Dane," he said. "They're admirable. With all the money in the world, I wouldn't ask for anything handsomer."
Before she could say anything in reply, he directed her attention, with a nod of the head, to the partners, and walked away. Rose gasped at that. She'd never thought beyond him—beyond the necessity of pleasing him; and that he'd carry the details of the business through with Goldsmith and Block, she'd taken for granted. Now, here she was chucked into the water and told to swim. She'd never in her life, of course, tried to sell anything. What her mind first awoke to was that the partners were looking rather blank. Block, indeed, let his eyes follow the retreating Galbraith with a momentary look of outraged astonishment. Her wits, quickened by the emergency, interpreted the look. Galbraith, chucking her into the water indeed, had thrown her a life-preserver—the tip that her wares were good.
Goldsmith, quicker and shrewder than his junior, was already smiling politely. "They really are very good," he said. "If they are not too expensive for us, we'll consider buying them."
"They'll be," said Rose, "the twelve of them, four hundred and sixty-five dollars." She had something the same feeling of astonishment on hearing herself say this, that she'd had when she heard herself telling Galbraith that she'd design the costumes. Something or other had spoken without her will—almost without her knowledge. She had one figure clearly etched in her brain; that was the one hundred and ninety dollars she must pay back to Galbraith; and she'd put in fifty of her own. There was also a matter of twenty dollars or so still to be paid to the wardrobe mistress and her assistant. But this four hundred and sixty-five dollars had simply come out of the air.
Block pursed his lips and emitted a fine thin whistle of astonishment.
Goldsmith heaved a sigh. "My dear young lady," he protested. "The inducement held out to us to wait for these costumes of yours, was that they were to be cheap. But four hundred and sixty-five dollars is ridiculous! That's a lot of money."
"Quite a lot less," said Rose, "than the ones Mrs. Goldsmith picked out came to. They were just over six hundred." Goldsmith smiled indulgently. "By the figures on the tags, yes," he said. "But would we have paid that, do you think? Those figures represent what they'd like to get from people who buy one apiece. But from us, buying twelve ..." He shrugged his shoulders expressively.
Well, this was reasonable and no doubt true and it left Rose rather aghast. She turned away toward the stage with the best appearance of indifference she could muster. Her mind was making an agonized effort to add up one hundred and ninety, fifty and twenty. But in the excitement of the moment it simply balked—rejected the problem altogether. She didn't think that the total came to much over three hundred dollars, but she couldn't be sure. And then there was, sticking burr-like, somewhere, the consciousness of another hundred unaccounted for in this total. Until she could discover what the gowns had actually cost her, she couldn't say anything. Therefore, she just stood where she was and said nothing whatever.
Goldsmith cleared his throat. "Really," he said in an intensely aggrieved tone, "you must try to see it from our point of view. This production's cost us thousands of dollars. If we bankrupt ourselves before the opening night it will be a bad business for everybody. You ought to see that. The costumes are very nice, I admit that. But remember we took a chance on it. We waited for them with the idea that you'd cooperate with us in saving money."
Rose made a last frantic struggle to induce her figures to add up, but they were getting more meaningless every minute.
There was another moment of silence. Then Block took up the refrain with variations. But just as he began to speak, a brilliantly luminous ray of light struck Rose. She could have answered Goldsmith's arguments—would have done so, but for her preoccupation with that trifling sum in arithmetic. But it was incomparably better tactics not to answer at all. Because if she could answer their arguments, they in turn could answer hers. She'd be a child in their hands once she began to talk. But her silence disconcerted them—gave them nothing to go on. Well, then, she'd let them do the work and see what happened.
But suppose, through her stubborn insistence, they should refuse the costumes at any price! Well, the world wouldn't come to an end. She'd live through it somehow, and somehow she'd manage to repay Galbraith.
The partners went on talking alternately with symptoms of rising impatience.
"Oh, come," said Block at last, "we can't be all day about this! Your figure is out of all reason. If you'd said even four hundred now ..."
"Oh, yes," said Goldsmith. "We want to be liberal. We appreciate you've done a good job. Say four hundred and I'll write you a check for it now." He took a small check-book and a fountain pen out of his pocket. "That's all right, eh?"
Rose made another effort at addition. A hundred and ninety, and fifty, and twenty, and the other ghostly hundred that wouldn't account for itself and yet insisted on coming in and mixing everything up. She turned on the two partners a look of perfectly genuine distress.
"If you'll let me go away and add it up ..." she began.
Goldsmith's heart was touched. The costumes were a bargain at four hundred and sixty-five, and he knew it. There was an indescribable sort of dash to them that would lend tone to the whole production. And then the face of that pretty young girl who must have worked so desperately hard to make them and who was so obviously helpless at this bargaining game, would have moved a harder heart than his.
"Oh, all right!" he said. "We'll give in. Four hundred"—he began making out the check, but his hand hung over it a moment—"and fifty. How's that?"
Rose drew in a long breath. "That's all right," she said.
It was just as she turned away with the check made out to Doris Dane in her wrist-bag, that the mystery of that phantom hundred dollars solved itself. It was the hundred dollars she'd borrowed from Rodney and could now return to him!
Galbraith took the first chance he could make to shoot her a low-voiced question. "How much did you get?" he asked, and his face showed downright surprise when she told him. "That's a pretty fair price," he commented. "I was afraid they'd screw you way down on it, and I wanted to help you out, but ..."
"Oh, you did," said Rose. "Telling me they were good. Of course you couldn't have done anything more. The first thing I want to do," she went on, "is to pay you back. But I don't know just how to do it. I can't go to the bank where they know me and—anyway, the name on the check isn't right."
He told her how easily that could be fixed. He'd take her to the bank he used here in town and identify her. Then she could pay him and deposit the balance to her own account. It was a bank where they didn't mind small accounts. That would be much better than carrying her money around with her where it could too easily be stolen.
He was very kind about it all and they put the program through that day. Yet she was vaguely conscious of a sense that he seemed a little chilled, as if something about the transaction unaccountably depressed him.
And indeed it was true that he'd have found his tendency to fall in love with her a good deal harder to resist if she'd shown herself more helpless in the hands of Goldsmith and Block. She'd actually driven a good bargain—an unaccountably good bargain! He wished he'd been on hand to see how she did it. Well, women were queer, there was no getting away from that.
But Goldsmith and Block came back the next day and drove, in turn, a good bargain of their own.
"You've certainly got a good eye for costumes, Miss Dane," Goldsmith said, "and here's a proposition we'd like to make. A lot of these other things we've got for the regular chorus don't look so good as they might. You'll be able to see changes in them that'll improve them maybe fifty per cent. Well, you take it on, and we'll begin paying you your regular salary now; you understand, twenty-five dollars a week, beginning to-day."
Rose accepted this proposition with a warm flush of gratitude. It indicated, she felt, that they were still friendly toward her, disposed of certain misgivings she'd experienced the night before, lest in driving, unwittingly, so good a bargain with them, she had incurred their enmity.
But, from the moment her little salary began, she found herself retained, body and soul, exactly as Galbraith himself was. They'd bought all her ideas, all her energy, all her time, except a few scant hours for sleep and a few snatched minutes for meals. She gave her employers, up to the time when the piece opened at the Globe, at a conservative calculation, about five times their money's worth. Even if she hadn't been in the company she'd have found something like two days' work in every twenty-four hours, just in the wardrobe room. Because the costumes were cheap and the frank blaze of borders, footlights and spots, pitilessly betrayed the fact. One set for the ponies was so hopelessly bad that the owners refused to accept them, and Rose, on the spur of the moment, made up a costume—they were uniform, fortunately—to replace them. The wardrobe mistress, with two assistants, and under Rose's intermittent supervision, managed somehow to get them made. And there wasn't a single costume, outside Rose's own twelve, that hadn't to be remodeled more or less.
On top of all that, the really terrible grind of rehearsals began; property rehearsals, curiously disconcerting at first, where instead of indicating the business with empty hands, you actually lighted the cigarette, picked up the paper knife, pulled the locket out from under your dress and opened it—and, in the process of doing these things, forgot everything else you knew; scenery rehearsals that caused the stage to seem small and cluttered up and actually made some of the evolutions you'd been routined in, impossible. At last and ghastliest, a dress rehearsal, which began at seven o'clock one night and lasted till four the next morning.
It would all have been so ludicrously easy, Rose used to reflect in despair, if, like the other girls in the sextette, she'd had only her own part in the performance to attend to—only to get into her costumes at the right time, be waiting in the wings for the cue, and then come on and do the things they'd taught her to do. But, between Goldsmith and Block, who were now in a state of frantic activity and full of insane suggestions, and the wardrobe mistress who was always having to be told how to do something, every minute was occupied. She would try desperately to keep an ear alert for what was happening on the stage, in order to be on hand for her entrances. But, in spite of her, it sometimes happened that she'd be snatched from something by a furious roar from Galbraith.
"Miss Dane!" And then, when she appeared, bewildered, contrite. "You must attend to the rehearsal. Those other matters can be attended to at some other time. If necessary, I can stop the rehearsal and wait till you're at liberty. But I can't pretend to rehearse and be kept waiting."
She never made any excuses; just took her place with a nod of acquiescence. But she often felt like doing as some of the rest of them did; felt it would be a perfectly enormous relief to shriek out incoherent words of abuse, burst into tears and sobs, and rush from the stage. Her position—her new position, she fancied, would entitle her to do that—once. And then the notion that she was saving up that luxurious possibility for some time when it would do the most good, would bring back her old smile. And Galbraith, lost in wonder at her already, would wonder anew.
They followed the traditions of the Globe in giving The Girl Up-stairs its try-out in Milwaukee—four performances; from a Thursday to a Saturday night, with rehearsals pretty much all the time in between.
About all that this hegira meant to Rose was that she got two solid hours' sleep on the train going up on Thursday afternoon and another two hours on the train coming back on Sunday morning. She had domesticated herself automatically, in the little hotel across from the theater, and she had gone right on working just as she did at the Globe. Oddly enough, she didn't differentiate much between rehearsals and the performances. Perhaps because she was so absorbed with her labors off the stage; perhaps because the thoroughly tentative nature of everything they did was so strongly impressed on her.
The piece was rewritten more or less after every performance. They didn't get the curtain down on the first one until five minutes after twelve—for even an experienced director like Galbraith can make a mistake in timing—and the mathematically demonstrated necessity for cutting, or speeding, a whole hour out of the piece, tamed even the wild-eyed Mr. Mills. The principals, after having for weeks been routined in the reading of their lines and the execution of their business, were given new speeches to say and new things to do at a moment's notice—literally, sometimes, while the performance was going on. Ghastly things happened, of course. A tricky similarity of cues would betray somebody into a speech three scenes ahead; a cut would have the unforeseen effect of leaving somebody stranded, half-changed, in his dressing-room when his entrance cue came round; an actor would dry up, utterly forget his lines in the middle of a scene he could have repeated in his sleep—and the amazing way in which these disasters were retrieved, the way these people who hadn't, so far, impressed Rose very strongly with their collective intelligence, extemporized, righted the capsizing boat, kept the scene going—somehow—no matter what happened, gave her a new respect for their claims to a real profession.
This was the great thing they had, she concluded; the quality of coming up to the scratch, of giving whatever it took out of themselves to meet the need of the moment. They weren't—her use of this phrase harked back to the days of the half-back—yellow. If you'd walked through the train that took them back to Chicago Sunday morning, had seen them, glum, dispirited, utterly fagged out, unsustained by a single gleam of hope, you'd have said it was impossible that they should give any sort of performance that night—let alone a good one. But by eight o'clock that night, when the overture was called, you wouldn't have known them for the same people.
There is, to begin with, a certain magic about make-up which lends a color of plausibility to the paradoxical theory that our emotions spring from our facial expressions rather than the other way about. Certainly to an experienced actor, his paint—the mere act of putting it on and looking at himself in the glass as it is applied—effects for him a solution of continuity between his real self, if you can call it that, and his part; so that fatigues, discouragements, quarrels, ailments—I don't mean to say are forgotten; they are remembered well enough, but are given the quality of belonging to some one else. But beyond all that was the feeling, on the edge of this first performance, that they were now on their own. Harold Mills and the composer, Goldsmith and Block, John Galbraith, had done their best, or their worst, as the case might be. But their labors to-night would mean nothing to that rustling audience out in front. From now on it was up to the company!
The appearance, back on the stage, of John Galbraith in evening dress, just as the call of the first act brought them trooping from their dressing-rooms, intensified this sensation. He was going to be, to-night, simply one of the audience.
As a sample of the new spirit, Rose noted with hardly a sensation of surprise, that Patricia Devereux nodded amiably enough to Stewart Lester and observed that she believed the thing was going to go; and that Lester in reply said, yes, he believed it was.
Rose herself was completely dominated by it. Her nerves—slack, frayed, numb, an hour ago—had sprung miraculously into tune. She not only didn't feel tired. It seemed she never could feel tired again. Not even, going back to her university days, on the eve of a class basket-ball game, or a tennis match, had she felt that fine thrill of buoyant confidence and adequacy quite so strongly!
It wasn't until along in the third act that the audience became, for her, anything but a colloid mass—something that you squeezed and thumped and worked as you did clay, to get into a properly plastic condition of receptivity, so that the jokes, the songs, the dances, even the spindling little shafts of romance that you shot out into it, could be felt to dig in and take hold. It never occurred to her to think of it with a plural pronoun; it was "it" simply, an inchoate monster, which was, as the show progressed, delightfully loosening up, becoming good-humored, undiscriminating, stupidly infatuate; laughing at things no human being would consider funny, approving with a percussive roar things not in the least good; a monster, all the same, whose approbation gave you an intense, if quite unreasoning, pleasure.
But, along in the third act, as I said, as she came down to the footlights with the rest of the sextette in their All Alone number, one face detached itself suddenly from the pasty gray surface of them that spread over the auditorium; became human—individual—and intensely familiar. Became the face, unmistakably, of Jimmy Wallace!
It is probable that of all the audience, only two men saw that anything had happened, so brief was the frozen instant while she stood transfixed. One of them was John Galbraith, in the back row, and he let his breath go out again in relief almost in the act of catching it. He guessed what had happened well enough—that she'd recognized one of those friends whose potential horror had made her willing to give up her promotion and her little part—the one she'd spoken of, perhaps, as the "only one that really mattered." But it was all right. She was going on as if nothing had happened.
The other man was Jimmy Wallace himself. He released, too, a little sigh of relief when he saw her off in her stride again after that momentary falter. But he hardly looked at the stage after that; stared absently at his program instead, and, presently, availed himself of the dramatic critic's license and left the theater.
But it wasn't to go to his desk and write his story (he was on an evening paper and so had no deadline staring him in the face) but to a quiet corner in his club, where he could, undistractedly, think.
From the moment of Rose's first appearance on the stage he had been tormented by a curiosity as to whether she was indeed Rose, or merely some one unbelievably like her. Because the fantastic impossibility that Rose Aldrich should be a member of the Globe chorus was reinforced by the fact that her gaze had traveled unconcernedly across his face a dozen times—his seat was in the fourth row, too—without the slightest flicker of recognition. Of course the way she stood there frozen for a second, when at last she did see him, settled that question. She was Rose Aldrich and she was in the Globe chorus!
But this certainty merely left him with a more insoluble perplexity on his hands; two, in fact—oh, half a dozen! What was she doing there? Did Rodney know? Well, those questions, and others in their train, could wait. But—what was he going to do about it?
As for Rose herself, it was a mere automaton that moved off in the dance and said the two or three lines that remained to her in the act as if nothing had happened, because all her mind and all her capacity for feeling were occupied and tested by something else.
Incredible as it seems, she had utterly overlooked Jimmy—overlooked the fact that, as a dramatic critic, he'd be certain to be present at the opening performance of The Girl Up-stairs—certain to be sitting close to the front, and certain, of course, to recognize her the moment she came on the stage. She hadn't even had him in mind when the fear lest some one of Rodney's friends might, for a lark, drop in at the Globe and recognize her, had led her to tell John Galbraith that she couldn't be in the sextette. Since that question had been settled, she'd hardly considered the possibility at all. And, during the three weeks before the opening, since she'd embarked on her career as a costumer, she literally hadn't given it a thought.
She had dreaded various things as the hour of the opening performance drew near—reasonable things like the failure of the piece to please, the reception of their offerings in a chilly silence intensified by contemptuous little riffles of applause. (She had been in audiences which had treated plays like that—taken her own part in the expression of chill disfavor, and she knew now she could never do it again.) She had dreaded unreasonable things, like the total failure of any audience to appear and the necessity of playing to empty rows as they had done in rehearsal; nightmare things, like a total loss of memory, which should leave her stranded in the middle of a silent stage before a jeering audience. But it hadn't occurred to her to dread that the rise of the curtain would reveal to her any of the faces that belonged to a world which the last six weeks had already made to seem unreal.
So the sight of Jimmy Wallace had something the effect that a sudden awakening has on a somnambulist—bewilderment at first, and after that a sort of panic. Her first thought was that she must get word to him, somehow, before he left the theater. Unless she could do that, what was to prevent his going straight to Rodney, to-night, and telling him all about it? He was under no obligation not to do it. He was Rodney's friend quite as much as he was hers.
It didn't take her long to make up her mind though that he wouldn't do that. Jimmy was never precipitate. He'd give her a chance. To-morrow morning would do. She could call him up at his office.
But as she began formulating her request and phrasing the preface of explanations she'd have to make before she'd be—well, entitled to ask a favor of him, she found herself in a difficulty. She didn't want to enter into a secret with him—with any man, this meant, of course—against Rodney. She couldn't think of any way of stating her reason for wanting her husband kept in the dark that didn't seem to slight him, belittle him, make him faintly ridiculous—like the pussy-cat John Galbraith had snapped his fingers at.
So she came, rather swiftly indeed, to the decision (she had arrived at it before Jimmy left the theater) that she wouldn't make any appeal to him at all. She'd do nothing that could lead him to think, either that she was ashamed of herself, or that she was afraid Rodney would be ashamed of her. In the absence of any appeal from her, mightn't he perhaps decide that Rodney was in her confidence and so say nothing about it? But even if he should tell Rodney ...
In her conscious thoughts she went no further than that; didn't recognize the hope already beating tumultuously in her veins, that he would tell Rodney—that perhaps even before she got back to her dismal little room, Rodney, pacing his, would know.
It was so irrational a hope—so unexpected and so well disguised—that she mistook it for a fear. But fear never made one's heart glow like that.
That's where all her thoughts were when John Galbraith halted her on the way to the dressing-room after the performance was over.
THE MAN AND THE DIRECTOR
He said, "I want a talk with you," and she, thinking he meant then and there, glanced about for a corner where they'd be tolerably secure against the charging rushes of grips, property men and electricians, all racing against time to get the third act struck and the first one set and make their escape from the theater.
"Oh, I don't mean here in this bedlam," he explained with a tinge of impatience. And then his manner changed. "I'd like, for once, a chance to sit down with you where it's—quiet and we don't have to feel in a hurry." He added, a second later, answering a shade of what he took to be doubt or hesitation in her face, "You're frightfully tired I know. If you'd rather wait till to-morrow ..."
"Oh, it wasn't that," said Rose. "I was just trying to think where a place was where one could be quiet and needn't hurry and where two people could talk."
He smiled. "You can leave that to me," he said. "That is, if you don't mind a restaurant and a little supper."
"Of course I don't mind," she said. "I'd like it very much."
He nodded. "Don't rush your dressing," he suggested, as he moved away. "I've got plenty to do."
The sextette dressed together in a sort of pen—big enough, because they had all sorts of room down under the old Globe stage, but so far as appointments went, decidedly primitive. The walls were of matched boards; there was a shelf two feet wide or so around three sides of it, to make a sort of continuous dressing-table; there were six mirrors, six deal chairs and a few hooks. These were for your street clothes. The stage costumes hung in neat ranks outside under the eye of the wardrobe mistress. When you wanted to put one on you went out and got it, and if the time allowed for the change were sufficient you took it back into your dressing-room. Otherwise you plunged into it just where you were. When you wanted to wash before putting on or after taking off your make-up you went to a row of stationary wash-bowls down the corridor.
All told it wasn't a place to linger in over the indulgence of day-dreams. But the first glimpse Rose caught, as she opened the door, in the mirror next her own, was the entranced face of Olga Larson. The other girls were in an advanced state of undress, intent on getting out as quickly as they could. They were all talking straight along, of course, but that didn't delay their operations a bit. They talked through the towels they were wiping off the make-up with, talked bent double over shoe-buckles, talked in little gasps as they tugged at tight sweaty things that didn't want to come off. And they made a striking contrast to Olga, who sat there just as she'd left the stage, without a hook unfastened, in a rapturous reverie, waiting for Rose.
In the instant before her entrance was noticed, Rose made an effort to shake herself together so that she should be not too inadequate to the situation that awaited her.
She was, of course, immensely pleased over Olga's little triumph.
(For it had been a triumph. Galbraith had persuaded Goldsmith and Block to buy the little Empire dress in maize and corn-flower; Rose had done her hair, and Olga had been allowed to sing, on the first encore, the refrain to All Alone, quite by herself. She'd gone up an octave on the end of it to a high A, which in its perfect clarity had sounded about a third higher and had brought down the house. Patricia had been furious, of course, but was at bottom too decent to show it much and had actually congratulated Olga when she came off. It looked as if she'd really got her foot on the ladder.)
Well, as I said, Rose was immensely pleased about it—for the girl, who certainly deserved a little good luck at last; for herself, whose judgment had been vindicated, and for the show, to the success of which the experiment had contributed. But she'd have been a good deal better pleased if Olga could have taken her success as simply her own, instead of being so adoringly grateful to Rose about it. Olga had been adoring her with a somewhat embarrassing intensity ever since the night she had locked her in her room and taught her to talk.
Rose had convicted herself here of a failure in human sympathy, and had done her best to correct it, without much avail. The stubborn fact was that, wishing Olga all the good fortune in the world, and being willing to take any amount of trouble to bring it about, she didn't particularly like her. And she flinched involuntarily, from the girl's more romantic and sentimental manifestations. This distaste had been heightened by the fact that along with Olga's adoration had gone a sense of proprietorship, with its inevitable accompaniment of jealousy.
Olga bridled every time she found Rose chatting with another member of the chorus, and when, up in Milwaukee, Patricia had invited her, along with Anabel, to come up to her room for a little supper after rehearsal, Olga had been sulky and injured for the whole of the next day.
It was something deeper in Rose than a mere surface distaste that made all this—the caresses, as well as the sulky exactions—repellent to her. And to-night, with her mind full of Rodney—full of that strange hope that disguised itself as fear, the repulsion was stronger than ever. She made an effort to conquer it. It would be a shame to throw a wet blanket on the girl's attempt to enjoy her triumph in her own way.
So Rose kissed her and told her how pleased she was, and good-humoredly forbore to disclaim, except as her wide smile did it for her, Olga's extravagant protestations of undying love and gratitude. Rose injected common-sense considerations where she could. Olga had better get out of that frock before she ruined it with grease paint, and unless she at least began to dress pretty soon she'd find herself locked up for the night in the theater.
"I wouldn't care," Olga said. "You'd be locked up, too. Because you aren't any further along than I am."
"I'm going to be, though," said Rose, "in about two minutes." The thought of what John Galbraith's disgust would be, in spite of his good-natured assurance she needn't hurry, if she really kept him waiting, set her at her task with flying fingers.
"There's no use hurrying," Olga commented on this burst of speed, "because you're going to wait for me. This is my night. We'll have a little table all by ourselves at Max's and then you'll come up and sleep with me to-night."
An instinct prompted Rose to defer the necessary negative to this suggestion until the last of the other girls, who was just then pinning on her hat, should have gone. When the door clicked, she said she was sorry but the plan couldn't be carried out.
Olga looked at her intensely. "I need you to-night," she said, "and if you care anything about me at all you'll come."
"I'd come if I could," said Rose, "but it can't be managed. I've promised to do something else."
Olga's face paled a little and her eyes burned. "So that's it, is it?" she said furiously. "You're going out with Galbraith." She went on to say more than that, but her meaning was plain at the first words.
Rose looked at her a little incredulous, quite cool, so far as her mind went (because, of course, Olga's accusation was merely grotesque) but curiously and most unpleasantly stirred, disgusted almost to the point of nausea. She stopped the tirade, not because she cared what the girl was saying, but because she couldn't stay in the room with a person making that sort of an exhibition of herself. It took no more than half a dozen words to accomplish this result. The mere fact that she spoke, after that rather long blank period of speechlessness, and the cold blaze of her blue eyes that accompanied her words, effected more than the words themselves. And then, in a tempest of tears and self-reproaches, Olga repented—a phase of the situation which was worse, almost, than the former one, because it couldn't be dealt with quite so summarily.
But Rose went on dressing as fast as she could all the while, and at last, long before Olga had begun putting on her street clothes, she was ready to go. With her hand on the door-latch she paused.
"I am going to have supper with Mr. Galbraith," she said. "He told me there was something he wanted to talk to me about." And with that she let herself out of the room, indifferent to the effect these last words of hers might produce.
She caught sight of Galbraith down at the end of the corridor waiting for her, but she paused a moment, pulled in a long breath and grinned at herself. In the state of mind she was in just then, divided between her impatience to get back to her own room where her thoughts could be free to run upon the one theme they welcomed, and her wrath and disgust over the scene Olga had just subjected her to, the poor man was in danger of having a pretty unsatisfactory sort of hour with her. She must brace up and really try to be nice to him.
So through all the preliminaries to the real talk which he'd said he wanted with her, she was consciously as cordial and friendly as she knew how to be. She said she hoped she hadn't kept him waiting too long, and when he apologized for taking her out through the stage door and the alley, with the explanation that the front of the house was by this time locked, she made a good-humored reference to the fact that the alley and the stage door were now her natural walk in life, and that it was just as well she shouldn't be spoiled with liberties.
He asked her if she had any preference as to where they went for supper, and the way she acknowledged, again with a smile, that she'd rather not go to Rector's, nor to any of the places over on Michigan Avenue, was an admission, in candid confidence, of the existence of another half of her life which she wished to keep, if possible, unentangled with this. She showed herself frankly pleased with the taxi he provided, sank back into her place in it with a sigh of clear satisfaction, and was, as far as he could see, completely incurious about the address he gave the chauffeur. The place he picked out was an excellent little chop-house in one of the courts south of Van Buren Street, a place little frequented at night—manned, indeed, after dinner, merely by the proprietor, one waiter and a man cook in the grille, and kept open to avoid the chance of disappointing any of the few epicurean clients who wouldn't eat anywhere else.
But neither the neighborhood nor the loneliness of the place got even so much as a questioning glance from Rose. She left the ordering of the supper to him, and assented with a nod to his including with it a bottle of sparkling Burgundy.
There is nothing quite so disconcerting as to be prepared to overcome a resistance and then to find no resistance there; to be ready with convincing arguments, and then not have them called for. This, very naturally, was the plight of John Galbraith.
Rose wasn't a child even on the day when she came and asked him for a job, and in the six weeks that had intervened since then she'd been dressing in the same room with chorus-girls—hearing the sort of things they talked about in the wings. Indeed, unless he was mistaken, she must have heard them linking her own name with his. His very special interest in her, and the way he'd shown it, promoting her to the sextette, and giving her a chance to design the costumes, was a thing they wouldn't have missed nor failed to put their own construction on. She must know then what their inferences would be from the fact of his asking her out to supper on the opening night.
What he'd been prepared to urge was that now that his connection with the enterprise had terminated, now that he was no longer a director and the representative of her employers, she should take him on trust simply as a friend. He was prepared to answer protests, to offer compromises—concessions to appearances. He'd expected her to exhibit some shyness of the taxi. According to his unconscious ideal of the situation she should have looked questioningly at him—hesitated, and then let him assure her that it was all right. She should have gasped a little when the car turned south in the dark little court below Van Buren Street, have shrunk a little at the isolation the emptiness of the restaurant enforced upon them, and declined, with something not far short of panic, her share of that bottle of Burgundy. Because all these flutters and questionings would just have opened the way for his assurances—perfectly honest assurances, too, as far as he knew—of the candor of his feelings and intentions toward her.
She needed a friend, that was plain enough, some one who had her best interests honestly at heart; some one who knew the pitfalls and the difficulties of this pilgrimage she'd so strangely set out on, and could advise her how to avoid them. That he was, potentially, that friend, he truly believed. And what better way could there be of convincing her of it than by persuading her to trust him, and then proving that her trust had not been misplaced?
But what was one to do—how was one to make a beginning when she trusted him without any persuasion? Trusted him as a matter of course, without the glimmer of any sort of emotion whatever; about as if he'd been—well, say, her brother-in-law!
He was at a loss for a peg to hang his definite sense of injury upon. He couldn't blame the girl for having trusted him, nor for proving so perfectly adequate to the unconventional situation he'd created. He couldn't reproach her, even in his thoughts, for the frankly expressed pleasure she took in the leisured dignity of the little restaurant, with its modestly sumptuous appointments (she even let him see that she appreciated the fineness of the napery and the handsomeness of the tableware; admitted, indeed, how sharply it contrasted with what she'd been used to lately), nor for the real appreciation she showed of the supper he selected.
But the moment he had been planning, counting on for days—weeks, if it came to that—with an excitement he couldn't deny, a tensity that had increased as the prospect of it drew nearer, was not exciting nor tense for her. If anything, she'd relaxed a little, as if the big moment of her day had passed—or, postponed by this affair of his, were still to come. Once or twice when her gaze detached itself from him and rested unfocused on the other side of the room, he saw little changes of expression go over her face that didn't relate to him at all. He simply wasn't in focus, that was the size of it. He had never seen her look lovelier, more completely desirable than she did right now, dressed as she was in her very simple street clothes and relaxed by the surrounding quiet and comfort and her own fatigue. And yet, all alone with him as she had so confidingly permitted herself to be, and near enough to reach with the bare stretching out of a hand, she'd never been further away nor seemed more unattainable.
As she came back from one of these momentary excursions she found him staring at her, and with a faint flush and a smile of contrition she pulled herself back, as it were, into his presence.
"I know you're tired," he said bruskly. "But I fancied you'd be tireder in the morning and I have to leave for New York on the fast train. So, you see, it was now or never." Strangely enough, that got her. She stared at him a little incredulous, almost in consternation.
"Do you mean you're going away?" she asked. "To-morrow?"
"Of course," he said rather sharply. "I've nothing more to stay around here for." He added, as she still seemed not to have got it through her head. "My contract with Goldsmith and Block ended to-night, with the opening performance."
"Of course," she said in deprecation of her stupidity, "I didn't think you were going to stay indefinitely—as long as the show ran. And yet I never thought of your going away. It's always seemed that you were the show—or, rather, that the show was you; just something that you made go. It doesn't seem possible that it can keep on going with you not there."
The sincerity of that made it a really fine compliment—just the sort of compliment he'd appreciate. But—the old perversity again—the very freedom with which she said it spoiled it for him.
"I may be missed," he said—it was more of a growl really—"but I shan't be regretted. There's always a sort of Hallelujah chorus set up by the company when they realize I'm gone."
"I shall regret it very much," said Rose. The words would have set his blood on fire if she'd just faltered over them. But she didn't. She was hopelessly serene about it. "You're the person who's made this six weeks bearable and, in a way, wonderful. I never could thank you enough for the things you've done for me, though I hope I may try to some time."
"I don't want any thanks," he said. And this was completely true. It was something very different from gratitude that he wanted. But he realized how abominably ungracious his words sounded, and hastened to amend them. "What I mean is that you don't owe me any. Anything I've done that's worked out to your advantage was done because I believed it was to the advantage of the men who hired me—beginning with the afternoon when I first took you on in the chorus."
This didn't satisfy him either. Rose said nothing. He had indeed left her nothing to say. But there was a look of perplexity in her eyes—as if she were casting about for some stupidly tactless act or omission of her own to account for his surliness—that made him recant altogether.
"I don't know why in the world I should have said a thing like that!" he burst out. "It wasn't true. I've wanted to do things for you—wanted to do more than I could, and I want to still. You've done a lot to make this show go, as well as it did, in more ways than you know about. It wasn't for me, personally, that you did it. But all the same, I'm grateful. And it's to convince you of that that I asked you to come around here to-night."
She really lighted up over his praise, thanked him for it very prettily. But then, after a little silence, she went on reflectively, "It was, in a way, for you, personally, that I was working all the time. I don't know if I can explain that, though I think I understand it myself. But just because you wanted things so hard—you were so perfectly determined that something should happen in a certain way—I just had to help bring it about, or try to. It would have been exciting enough just to see that things were wrong and to watch them coming right. But taking hold one's self and helping a little to make them come right was—well, as I said, wonderful."
"Well," he said—and now he was brusk again—"I hope Goldsmith and Block are satisfied. They won't be; of course, unless the thing runs forty weeks. But that isn't what I want to talk about. I want to talk about you. I want to know what you're aiming at. I don't mean to-morrow or next week. You'll stay with this piece, I suppose, as long as the run lasts. But in the end, what's the idea? Do you want to be an actress?"
He had kept on going after that first question of his, because it was obvious the girl wasn't ready to answer. She seemed to be struggling to get the bearings of a perfectly new idea. At length she gave him the clue.
"It's that forty weeks," she said. "The notion of just going on—not changing anything or improving anything; doing the same thing over and over again for forty weeks, or even four, seems perfectly ghastly. And yet I suppose that's what everybody in the company is hoping for—just to keep going round and round like a horse at the end of a pole. What I'd like to do, now that this is finished, is—well, to start another."
His eyes kindled. "That's it," he said. "That's what I've felt about you all along. I suppose it's the reason I felt you never could be an actress. You see the thing the way I do—the whole fun of the game is getting the timing. Once it's got ..." He snapped his fingers; and with an eager nod she agreed.
He was in focus now, there could he no doubt of that. But it didn't occur to him that it was the director who was in focus, not the man. The fact was that in evoking the director she'd banished the man—a triumph she wasn't to realize the importance of until a good deal later.
"Well, then, look here," he said. "I've an idea that I could use you to good advantage as a sort of personal assistant. There'll be a good deal of work just of the sort you did with the sextette, teaching people to talk and move about like the sort of folk they're supposed to represent. That's coming in more and more in musical comedies, the use of the chorus as real people in the story—accounting for their exits and entrances. It would be done more if we could teach chorus people to act human. Well, you can do that better than I; that's the plain truth. And then I think after you'd got my idea of a dance number you could probably rehearse it yourself, take some of that routine off my hands. Under this new contract of mine, that I expect to sign in a day or two, I'll simply have to have somebody. And then, of course, there's the costuming. That's a great game, and I've a notion, though of course I haven't a great deal to go by, that you could swing it. I think you've a talent for it.
"There you are! The job will be paid from the first a great deal better than what you've got here. And the costuming end of it, if you succeed, would run to real money. Well, how about it?"
"But," said Rose a little breathlessly—"but don't I have to stay here with The Girl Up-stairs? I couldn't just leave, could I?"
"Oh, I shan't be ready for you just yet anyway," he said. "I'll write when I am and by that time you'll be perfectly free to give them your two weeks' notice. By the way, haven't you some other address than care of the theater—a permanent address somewhere?"
"Care of Miss Portia Stanton," she told him, and as he got out his card and wrote it down, she added the California address. It recalled to his mind that she had told him her name was Rose Stanton on the day he had given her a job, and the memory diverted him for a moment. Then he pulled himself back.
"They'll be annoyed, of course—Goldsmith and Block. But, after all, you've given them more than their money's worth already. Well—will you come if I write?"
"It seems to be too wonderful to be true," she said. "Yes, I'll come, of course."
He sat there gazing at her in a sort of fascination. Because she was fairly lambent with the wonder of it. Her eyes were starry, her lips a little parted, and she was so still she seemed not even to be breathing. But the eyes weren't looking at him. Another vision filled them. The vision—oh, he was sure of it now!—of that "only one," whoever he was, that mattered.
He thrust back his chair with an abruptness that startled her out of her reverie, and the action, rough as it was, wasn't violent enough to satisfy the sudden exasperation that seized him. If he could have smashed the caraffe or something ...
"I won't keep you any longer," he said. "I'll have them get a taxi and send you home."
She said she didn't want a taxi. If he'd just walk over with her to a Clark Street car ... And she thanked him for everything, including the supper. But all the time he could see her trying, with a perplexity almost pathetic, to discover what she had done to change his manner again like that.
He was thoroughly contrite about it, and he did his best to recover an appearance of friendly good will. He didn't demur to her wish to be put on a car, and at the crossing where they waited for it, after an almost silent walk, he did manage to shake hands and wish her luck and tell her she'd hear from him soon, in a way that he felt reassured her.
But he kicked his way to the curb after the car had carried her off, and marched to his hotel in a sort of baffled fury. He didn't know exactly what had gone wrong about the evening. He couldn't, in phrases, tell himself just what it was he'd wanted. But he did know, with a perfectly abysmal conviction, that he was a fool!
THE VOICE OF THE WORLD
If you were to accost the average layman, especially the layman who has, at one time or another, found his personal affairs, or those of his friends, casually illuminated by the straying search-light of newspaper notoriety, and put this hypothetical question to him: What chance would there be that a young married woman, who, in a social sense, really "belonged," could leave her husband for a musical-comedy chorus in the city he lived in, and escape having the fact chronicled in the daily press?—that layman would tell you that there was simply no chance at all. But if you were to put the same question to a person expert in the science of publicity—to an alumnus of the local room of any big city daily, you'd get a very different answer. Because your expert knows how many good stories there are that never get into the papers. He allows for the element of luck; he knows how vitally important it is that the right person should become aware of the fact at exactly the right time, in order that a simple happening may be converted into news.
Rose's "escapade"—that's how it would have been described—didn't get into the papers. Jimmy Wallace, of course, before the bar of his own conscience, stood convicted of high treason. There was no use arguing with himself that he was hired as a critic and not as a reporter. For, just as it is the doctor's duty to prolong, if possible, the life of his patient, or the lawyer's duty to defend his client, so it is the duty of every man who writes for a newspaper, to turn himself into a reporter when a story breaks under his eye. Jimmy ought that very night as soon as he had made sure of his facts, to have left a note on his city editor's desk informing him that Mrs. Rodney Aldrich was a member of the chorus in the new Globe show.
He didn't do it, even though he knew that a more troublesome accuser than his own conscience—namely, the city editor himself—would confront him, in case any of his colleagues on the other papers had happened to recognize her and, dutifully, had turned the story in. He read the other papers for the next twenty-four hours, rather more carefully than usual, and then with a sigh of relief, told his conscience to go to the devil. It was a well trained, obedient conscience, and it subsided meekly.
But his curiosity was neither meek nor accustomed to having its liberties interfered with, and it declined to leave the problem alone. Problem! It was a whole nest of problems. If you isolated one and worked out a tolerably satisfactory answer to it, you discovered that this answer made all the rest more fantastically impossible of solution than before. It actually began to cost him sleep! What made it harder to bear, of course, was the tantalizing possibility of finding out something by dropping in at the Globe during a performance, wandering back on the stage, where he was always perfectly welcome, going up and speaking to her and—seeing what happened. Something more or less illuminating would have to happen. Because, even in the extremely improbable case of her pretending she didn't know him, he'd then have something to go on. He dismissed this temptation as often as it showed its face around the corner of the door of his mind—dismissed it with objurgations. But it was a persistent temptation and it wouldn't stay away.
It was a real relief to him when Violet Williamson telephoned to him one day and asked him to come out to dinner. There'd be no one but herself and John, she said, and he needn't dress unless he liked. She'd been in New York for a fortnight and had only been back two days. He mustn't fail to come. There was a sort of suppressed excitement about Violet's voice over the telephone, which led him to suspect she might be able to throw some light on the enigma.
But light, it appeared, was what John and Violet wanted from him.
They were both in the library when he came in, and after the barest preliminaries in the way of greetings and cigarettes, and the swiftest summary of her visit to New York ("I stayed just long enough to begin being not quite so furious with John for not taking me there to live,") Violet made a little silence, visibly lighted her bomb, and threw it. "John and I went to the Globe last night to see The Girl Up-stairs," she said.
Jimmy carried his cocktail over to the fire, drew sharply on his cigarette to get it evenly lighted, and by that time had decided on his line.
"That's an amazing resemblance, isn't it?" he said.
"Resemblance fiddle-dee-dee!" said Violet.
John Williamson hunched himself around in his chair. "Well, you know," he protested to his wife, "that's the way I dope it out myself."
"Oh, you!" she said, with good-natured contempt. "You think you think so. Because you've always been wild about Rose ever since Rodney married her, you just won't let yourself think anything else. But Jimmy here, doesn't even think he thinks so. He knows better."
"They're the limit, aren't they?" said John in rueful appeal to his guest. "They not only know what you think, but what you think you think! It's a marvelous thing—feminine intuition."
"'Intuition,' nothing!" said Violet. Then she rounded on Jimmy.
"How much have you found out about her—this girl with the 'astonishing resemblance'?"
"Not very much," Jimmy confessed. "According to the program, her name is Doris Dane. I did ask Block about her. He's one of the owners of the piece. But he couldn't tell me very much. She's from out of town, he thinks, and he said something about her being a dressmaker. She did some work for them on the costumes. And she started in with this show as a chorus-girl. But Galbraith, the director, got interested in her, and put her into the sextette."
"Well, there we are," said John Williamson. "That settles it. Rose never was a dressmaker, that's a cinch."
Even Violet seemed a little shaken, and Jimmy was just beginning to congratulate himself on the skill with which he had modified what Block had told him about the costumes, when Violet began on him again.
"All right!" she said. "Where are we? You know quite a lot of people in that show, don't you?" This was a rhetorical question. It was notorious that Jimmy knew more or less everybody. So, without waiting for an answer, she went on, "Well, have you been behind the scenes there since the thing began?"
"No, I've not gone back," said Jimmy. "Why should I?"
"You haven't even been curious," she questioned, "to find out what a girl who looked and talked as much like Rose as that, was like?" She concluded, for good measure, with one more question voiced a little differently—more casually. "Have you happened to see Rodney lately?"
"Why, yes," Jimmy said unwarily. "I met him at the club the other day; only saw him for a minute or two. We had one drink."
"And did you happen to tell him," she asked, "about this dressmaker in The Girl Up-stairs who looked so wonderfully like Rose? Did you offer to take him round to see for himself?"
"I tell you there's nothing to that!" said John. He'd been caught in the same trap, it seemed. "What's the use of butting in? If anything has gone wrong with those two ..."
"You've always said there hasn't," Violet interrupted.
"And you've said," he countered, "that you were sure there had. Well, then, if there's a chance of it, why run the risk, just for nothing?"
Jimmy, as it happened, had never heard even a suggestion that Rose and Rodney were on any other terms than those of perfect amity. He hoped they'd go on and tell him more. So to prevent their becoming suddenly discreet, he promptly changed the subject.
"I thought you had a taboo against the Globe," he said to Violet. "How did you happen to go there?"
"John went while I was in New York," she explained.
"He's—well, a regular fan, you know. He hasn't missed a show there in years. And he was too queer and absent-minded and fidgety for words, when I came back. I thought a bank must be going to fail, or something. And when he said, after dinner last night, that he felt like going to a musical show, of course I said I'd go with him. And when I found it was the Globe—he already had tickets—I was too—kind and sorry for him to make a fuss. Well, and then she came out on the stage, and I knew what it was all about."
"Where did you sit?" Jimmy asked.
"Fifth row," said John.
Violet hadn't got the bearing of Jimmy's question. "Oh, you couldn't mistake her," she said, "any more than you could in this room, now."
"Do you mean," John asked, "that she might have recognized us?"
"They can't," said Violet, "across the footlights,—can they?"
Jimmy nodded. "In a little theater like that," he said, "anywhere in the house. But it seems she didn't recognize you."
"Look here!" said Violet. "Don't you know, in your own mind, just as well as that you're standing there, that that was Rose Aldrich?"
Jimmy dropped down into a big chair. "Well," he said, "I'm willing to accept it as a working hypothesis."
"You men!" said Violet.
Dinner was announced just then, and the theme had to be dismissed until at last they were left alone with the dessert.
"What breaks me all up," Violet burst out, abandoning the pretense of picking over her walnuts, and showing, with a little outflung gesture, how impatient she had been to take it up, "what breaks me all up is how this'll hit Frederica. She just adores Rodney and she's been simply wonderful to Rose—for him, of course."
Neither of the men said anything, but she felt a little stir of protest from both of them and qualified the last phrase.
"Oh, she liked her for herself, too. We all did. We couldn't help it. But you haven't any idea, either of you, of even the beginning of what Frederica did for her—steered her just right, and pushed her just enough, and all the while seeming not to be doing a thing. Freddy's such a peach at that! And she's been so big-hearted about it; never even felt jealous. If it had been me, and I'd adored a brother like that, and he'd gone off and fallen in love with a girl nobody knew, just because he saw her in a wrestling-match with a street-car conductor, I'd have wanted, whatever I might have done, to—well, show her up. And yet, even after Rose had left him, for no reason at all, Freddy ..."
"You're just guessing at all that, you know," her husband interrupted quietly. "You don't know a single thing about it."
"Well, what reason could Rose have for leaving him?" she flashed back. "Hasn't Rodney been perfectly crazy about her ever since he married her? Has he ever seen another woman the last two years? Or maybe you think he's been coming home drunk and beating her with a trunk-strap."
But John stuck to his guns. "You don't even know she's left him. The only thing you do know is that Bella Forrester met Frederica one day, about a week before Christmas, in the railway station at Los Angeles."
"Well, can you tell me any other reason," Violet demanded, "why Freddy should dash off alone to California, right in the middle of the holiday rush, without saying a word to anybody, and be back here in just a week; and not tell even me what she'd been doing, or where she'd been, so that if Bella hadn't written to me, I'd never have known about it at all? Is there any way of explaining that, except by supposing that Rose had quarreled with Rodney and left him and that Freddy was trying to get her to come back?"
Neither of the men could offer, on the spur of the moment, the alternative explanation she demanded. Indeed it would have taken a good deal of ingenuity to construct one. It was safer, anyway, just to go on looking incredulous.
There was silence for a minute or two, then Violet burst out again. "And then, after all Freddy had done, for Rose to come back here to Chicago, with all the other cities in the country where it wouldn't matter what she did, and start to be, of all things, a chorus-girl! It's just a"—she hesitated over the word, and then used it with an inflection that gave it its full literal meaning—"just a dirty trick. And poor Freddy, when she knows ...!"
"I don't believe a word of it," said John Williamson. "I don't believe Doris Dane—if that's her name—is Rose, in the first place. And I don't believe Rose has had a quarrel with Rodney. But if she has, and if she's really there in that show ... Well, I know Rose—not so well as I'd have liked to, but pretty well—and I know she's a fine girl and I know she's square. And if I ever saw a girl in love with her husband, she was. Well, and if she has done it, she's got a reason for it. Oh, I don't mean another woman or a trunk-strap, or any of the regular divorce court stuff. That's absurd, of course. And it may be, really, a fool reason. But you can bet it didn't look like that to her. She wouldn't have done it, admitting it's what she's done, unless she felt she had to."
"Oh, yes," said Violet, "I expect she's feeling awfully noble about it, and I'll admit she was in love with Rodney. And that makes it all the worse! If she'd fallen in love with some other man and run off with him—well, that isn't pretty, but it's happened before and people have got away with it. But this running away on account of some silly idea that she's picked up from that votes-for-women mother of hers, running away from a man like Rodney, too, just makes you sick."
Her husband didn't try to answer her, except with a regretful sigh. He recognized in the stinging contempt of his wife's words, the voice of their world. If Doris Dane of the sextette were really Rose—and in the bottom of his heart, despite his valiant pretense, he couldn't manage more than a feeble doubt of it—she had committed the unforgivable sin. Or so he thought, leaving out of his calculations one ingredient in the situation. She had done an unconventional thing for the sake of a principle!
"Well," said Jimmy Wallace after a while, heading the conversation away, as he was wont to do, from what might be an endless discussion of moral principles, "the purpose of this council of war is to decide what we are going to do about it. Are we going to tell Aldrich or his sister about the dressmaker who looks so much like his wife, and let them find out for themselves whether she is or not? Or are we going to make sure first by going back on the stage there and having a talk with her? Or are we just going to shut up about it—never have been to the Globe at all; or, in my case, never to have noticed the resemblance?"
"On the chance, you mean," John inquired, "that Rodney and Frederica never find out at all? How much does that chance amount to?"
"Well," said Jimmy, "the show's in its fourth week, and the story hasn't got into the papers yet. So the chances are now it won't. And you're about the only person in your crowd that makes a practise of going to the Globe. If you haven't heard any rumors it probably means that you two are the only ones who know, so far. People who knew her before she was married may have recognized her, to be sure, but they aren't likely to go around either to Aldrich or to Mrs. Whitney with the story. Of course there's always a big margin for the unforeseeable. But even at that, I think you might call it an even chance."
"That's what I vote for then," said John, "shut up."
"I certainly don't want to go back on the stage and talk to Rose," said Violet, "and I simply couldn't make myself tell either Rodney or Frederica. It would be just too ghastly! But there's another thing you haven't thought of. Suppose they both know already. I've got an idea they do."
This was a possibility they hadn't thought of, but the more they canvassed it, the likelier it grew.
"He acts as if he knew," Violet said, "now I come to think of it. Oh, I can't tell exactly why! Just the way he talks about her and—doesn't talk about her. And then there's Harriet. She came home from Washington and stayed three days with Frederica and then went away again. She kept house for him while Rose was laid up, and why shouldn't she be doing it now, except that she's perhaps spoken her mind a little too freely and Rodney doesn't want her around? There'd be no nonsense about Harriet, you could count on that."
"It would be like Rose," said John, "to tell him herself. It wouldn't be like her, when you come to think of it, to do anything else."
"Oh, yes, she'd tell him," said Violet. "If she had some virtuous woman-suffrage reason, she'd do more than tell him. She'd rub it in. Of course he knows. Well, what shall we do about that?"
"Same vote," said John Williamson; "shut up. Certainly if he knows, that lets us out."
But Violet wasn't satisfied. "That's the easiest thing, certainly," she said, "but I don't believe it's right. I think the people who know him best, ought to know—just a few, the people he still drops in on, like the Crawfords, and the Wests, and Eleanor and James Randolph; just so that they could—well, not know completely enough; so that they wouldn't, innocently, you know, say ghastly things to him. Or even, perhaps, do them, like making him go to musical shows, or talking about people who run away to go on the stage. There are millions of things like that that could happen, and if they know, they'll be careful."
Her husband wasn't very completely convinced, though she expounded her reasons at length, and urged them with growing intensity. But he'd never put a categorical veto upon her yet, and it wasn't likely he'd begin by trying to, now.
As for Jimmy Wallace, he was really out of it. But he went home feeling rather blue.
THE SHORT CIRCUIT AGAIN
It was, after all, out of that limbo that Jimmy had spoken of as the margin of the unforeseeable, that the blind instrument of Fate appeared. He was a country lawyer from down-state, who, for a client of his own, had retained Rodney to defend a will that presented complexities in the matter of perpetuities and contingent remainders utterly beyond his own powers. He'd been in Chicago three or four days, spending an hour or two of every day in Rodney's office in consultation with him, and, for the rest of the time, dangling about, more or less at a loose end. A belated sense of this struck Rodney when, at the end of their last consultation, the country lawyer shook hands with him and announced his departure for home on the five o'clock train.
"I'm sorry I haven't been able to do more," Rodney said,—"do anything really, in the way of showing you a good time. As a matter of fact, I've spent every evening this week here in the office."
"Oh, I haven't lacked for entertainment," the man said. "We hayseeds find the city a pretty lively place. I went to see a show just last night called The Girl Up-stairs. I suppose you've seen it."
"No," said Rodney, "I haven't."
"Well, the title's pretty raw, of course, but the show's all right. Nothing objectionable about it, and it was downright funny. I haven't laughed so hard in a year. Pretty tunes, too. I tried to-day to get some records of it but they didn't have any yet. If you want a real good time, you go to see it."
The client was working his way to the door all the while and Rodney followed him, so that the last part of this conversation took place in the outer office. Rodney saw the man off with a final hand-shake, closed the door after him and strolled irresolutely back toward Miss Beach's desk.
It was true, as he had told his client, that he had been spending most of his evenings lately in his office, and it was also true that he had an immense amount of work to do; he'd been taking it on rather recklessly during the last two months. But they'd been pretty sterile, those long solitary evening hours. He'd worked fitfully, grinding away by brute strength for a while, without interest, without imagination, and then, in a frenzy of impatience, thrusting the legal rubbish out of the way and letting the enigma of his great failure usurp, once more, his mind and his memories.
It had occurred to him to wonder, as he stood listening to his client's enthusiastic description of the show at the Globe, whether it would be possible, in any surroundings, for him, for an hour or two, to laugh and be jolly—and forget. It might be an experiment worth trying!
"Telephone over to the University Club," he said suddenly to Miss Beach, "and see if you can get me a seat for The Girl Up-stairs."
The office boy was out on an errand and in his absence the switchboard was Miss Beach's care.
"The—The Girl Up-stairs?" she repeated.
"That's what he said, isn't it?"
"Yes," she assented. "That's—the name of it."
He might have been expected, after giving an order like that, to go striding back into his private office and slam the door after him. It wasn't at all his way to keep a lingering hand on a task after he'd delegated it to some one else. But he didn't on this occasion act as she'd expected him to; remained abstractedly where he was while something turned itself over in his mind.
There was nothing urgent about his order of course, and it was natural enough that she should go on with her typing to the end of a sentence, or even of a paragraph. But he stayed on and on, and Miss Beach went steadily on with her typing. Finally he roused himself enough to look around at her.
"Go ahead and telephone," he said. "I want to find out if I can get a seat."
She arose obediently and moved over to the switchboard, then began fumbling with the directory.
"Good lord!" said Rodney. "You know the number of the University Club!"
Of course it was true she did. She called it up for him on an average of a dozen times a week. He was looking at her now with undisguised curiosity. She was acting, for a perfectly infallible machine like Miss Beach, almost queer. But she acted queerer the next moment. She laid down the directory, clasped her hands tight and pressed her lips together. Then, without looking around at him, she said:
"You don't want to go to see that show, Mr. Aldrich. It—it isn't good at all."
Rodney was more nearly amused than he had been in a month.
"You've been to see it?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, and managed to go on a little more naturally, "Mr. Craig took me. We had a bet on what the Supreme Court's decision would be in the Roderick case—theater tickets against two pounds of home-made fudge, and I won. And—that's where we went."
"And you didn't like it, eh?"
"No," she said.
By now he was grinning at her outright. "Vulgar?" he asked.
Her color had mounted again. "Yes," she said.
The notion of having his dramatic entertainment censored by a frail, prim little thing like Miss Beach tickled his burly sense of humor. "It would be a horrible thing if I should go to see anything vulgar, wouldn't it?" he observed. "But I think I'll take a chance. You go ahead and telephone."
At that she rose and, for the first time, faced him. To his amazement, he saw that she was in a perfect panic of embarrassment and fright. But, for some grotesque reason, she was determined, too. She was blushing up to the hair and her lips were trembling.
"Mr. Aldrich," she said, "you won't like that show. If—if you go, you'll be sorry."
While he was still staring at her, young Craig came bursting blithely out of his office, a bundle of papers in his hand and the pucker of a silent whistle still on his lips. "Oh, Miss Beach!" he said, and then stopped short, seeing that something had happened.
Rodney tried an experiment. "Craig," he said, "Miss Beach doesn't want me to buy a ticket for The Girl Up-stairs. She says I won't like it. Do you agree with her?"
A flare of red came up into the boy's face, and his jaw dropped. Then, as well as he could, he pulled himself together. "Yes, sir," he said, swung around and marched back into his own cubby-hole.
"You needn't telephone, Miss Beach," said Rodney curtly. And without another word he put on his hat and overcoat and left the office.
It was not a very profound emotion that drove him along; a violent superficial one, rather, like the gusty wrath which had precipitated the last phase of his great struggle with Rose—the time he told her he wouldn't jeopardize the children's lives to satisfy her whims. He was furiously impatient with the good intentions of his friends. He had been aware of a sort of unnatural gentleness about them ever since Christmas; but either it had intensified during the last ten days, or else he had suddenly got more sensitive to it. The latter, most likely. And yet Violet Williamson's manner the last Sunday evening he had spent at her house, had stopped just short of a hushed voice and tiptoes. He'd been momentarily expecting her to offer him an egg-nog.
But this paroxysm of tact that had just broken out in his office was really too much. Of course they'd been talking him over, those two. It must have been amply obvious to them for a good while that there was something more than met the eye, about that long visit of his wife's to California. And it was nice and human of them to feel sorry for him. But that they should decide, because The Girl Up-stairs contained some rather coarsely derisive song, perhaps, about men whose wives run away from them, or something in the plot about a trip to California with a less honorable purpose than its ostensible one, that he should on no account be permitted to see the show, was ridiculous. He walked straight over to the club and told the man at the cigar counter to get him a ticket for to-night's performance.
It was then after five and he decided not to go back to the office before dinner. In fact, he might as well dine down here. So he went up to the lounge, armed himself with an evening paper against casual acquaintances, ordered a drink and dropped into a big leather chair.
But all his carefully contrived environment hadn't the power, it seemed, to shift the current of his thoughts. They went on dwelling on the behavior of Miss Beach and young Craig, which really got queerer the more one thought about it. It was hard to conceive of any allusion in the plot or the songs of a silly little musical comedy, pointed enough to account for Miss Beach's frantically determined effort to keep him away, or for the instantaneous flush that had leaped into young Craig's face. Because, after all, they didn't actually know that his great adventure had come to grief, and whatever either of them might have thought of the applicability of something that was said on the stage, to their employer's ease, it wouldn't have been a bit like either of them to discuss it with the other. In the absence of such a discussion, and the prevision of his going to the show, you couldn't account for young Craig's having caught the point instantly like that. And yet, what other explanation could there be? There was none, and there was an end of it!
Only it wasn't the end of it. The straying search-light of his memory picked up a moment during that last evening at the Williamsons'. The Crawfords had been there, and somebody else—a man he didn't know; and the stranger had said something, a harmless stupid remark enough, about the tired business man and the sort of musical-comedy he liked; whereupon both Constance and Violet had made a sort of concerted swoop and changed the subject almost violently. John Williamson made a practise of going to the Globe, he knew, but that John, who never spotted an allusion in his life, should have come home and passed the word along, and that all references to musical-comedy should therefore be taboo on Rodney's account, was simply fantastic.
But the fantasticality of an idea seemed, in his mood to-night, merely to give it the burr-like quality of sticking in his mind, holding on there with a hundred tiny barbs, despite his endeavors to pluck it out. It even occurred to him that the manner of the man at the cigar counter—the man he had just told to get him a ticket, had not been quite natural; had been a little exaggeratedly matter-of-fact. He always got his seats of that man, and the man always made some little encouraging remark, as, for example, that he'd heard it was a good show; or, more non-committally, that he hoped Mr. Aldrich would enjoy it. To-night, certainly, he'd said nothing of the sort.
The absurdity of this consideration was simply intolerable. He flung down his paper and went into the adjoining room—a room full of tables of various sizes, and thronged, at this hour, with members getting up an appetite for dinner by the shortest route. The large round table nearest the door was preempted by a group of men he knew; some of them well, some only casually, and he came up with the intention of dropping into the one vacant chair. But just before the first of them caught a glimpse of him, his ear picked up the phrase, "The Girl Up-stairs." And then a lawyer named Gaylord looked up and recognized him. "Hello, Aldrich," he said, and Rodney would have sworn that the flash of silence that followed had a galvanic quality that wasn't given it merely by his own imagination. The others began greeting him, urging him to sit down and have a drink.
Rodney pulled in a long breath: "Didn't I hear some one talking about The Girl Up-stairs?" he asked. "Is it a good show? Shall I go to see it?"
The silence was even briefer this time.
Gaylord spoke through what would pass for a yawn. "I don't know," he said. "I haven't seen it."
One or two of the others shook their heads blankly. Finally somebody else said: "Just a regular Globe show, I guess. All right; but hardly worth bothering about."
Once more they urged him to sit down and have a drink, but he said he was looking for somebody and walked away down the room and out the farther door.
He knew now that he was afraid. Yet the thing he was afraid of refused to come out into the open, where he could see it and know what it was. He still believed that he didn't know what it was, when he walked past the framed photographs in the lobby of the theater without looking at them and stopped at the box-office to exchange his seat, well down in front, for one near the back of the theater.
But when the sextette made their first entrance upon the stage, he knew that he had known for a good many hours.
He never stirred from his seat during either of the intermissions. But along in the third act, he got up and went out.
I doubt if ever a troglodytic ancestor of his had been as angry as Rodney was at that moment. Because, long before the pressure of the troglodyte's anger had mounted to the pressure of Rodney's, it would have relieved itself in action. He'd have descended on the scene, beating down any of the onlookers who might be fools enough to try to oppose his purpose, seized his woman and carried her off to his cave. Which is precisely and literally what Rodney, with every aching filament of nerve tissue in his body, most passionately wanted to do.
The knout that flogged his soul had a score of lashes, each with the sting of its own peculiar venom. Everybody who knew him, his closer friends, and his casual acquaintances as well, must have known, for weeks, of this disgrace. His friends had been sorry for him, with just a grain of contempt; his acquaintances had grinned over it with just a pleasurable salt of pity. "Do you know Aldrich? Well, his wife's in the chorus at the Globe Theater. And he doesn't know it, poor devil." That group at the round table at the club to-night. He could fancy their faces after he'd turned away.
Oh, but what did they matter after all? What did any of them matter? What did anything matter in the world, except that the woman he'd so whole-heartedly and utterly loved and lived for—the woman who'd left him with those protestations of the need of his friendship and respect, was there on that stage disporting herself for hire—and cheap hire at that, before this fatuous mass of humanity packed in all about him. They were staring at her, as the money they'd paid for admission entitled them to stare, licking their lips over her.
He hadn't had a moment's uncertainty that it was indeed she. Couldn't shelter himself, even for an instant, behind Jimmy Wallace's theory of an "amazing resemblance."
The others of their world had always known Rose as a person with a good deal of natural and quite unconscious dignity. She had never romped nor larked before any of them, and she conveyed the impression, not of refraining as a concession to good manners, but simply of being the sort of person who didn't, naturally, express herself in those ways. But in the interior privacies of their life together, she'd often shown herself, for him, a different Rose. She'd played with him with the abandon of a young kitten—romped and wrestled with him. And there'd been a deliciousness about this phase of her, which resided, for him, in the fact that it was kept for him alone.
But now, here on the stage of a cheap theater, she was parading that exquisite thing before the world! Along in the second act, where Sylvia's six friends come to spend the night with her and sleep out on the roof, there was a mad lark which brought up maddening memories. He felt that he must get his hands on her—shake her—beat her!
Yet, all the while, if any of his neighbors thought of him at all—became aware of him and wondered at him, it was only because he sat so still. And when the thing had become, at last, utterly unbearable, and he got up to go out, he managed to look at his watch first, quite in the manner of a "commuter" with anxieties about the ten-fifty-five train.
The northwest wind, which had been blowing icily since sundown, had increased in violence to a gale. But he strode out of the lobby and into the street, unaware of it. There must be a stage door somewhere, he knew, and he meant to find it. It didn't occur to him to inquire. He'd quite lost his sense of social being; of membership in a civilized society. He was another Ishmael.
It took him a long time to find that door, for, as it happened, he started around the block in the wrong direction and fruitlessly explored two alleys before he came on the right one. But he found it at last and pulled the door open. An intermittent roar of hand-clapping, increasing and diminishing with the rapid rise and fall of the curtain, told him that the performance was just over.
A doorman stopped him and asked him what he wanted.
"I want to see Mrs. Aldrich," he said, "Mrs. Rodney Aldrich."
"No such person here," said the man, and Rodney, in his rage, simply assumed that he was lying. It didn't occur to him that Rose would have taken another name.
He stood there a moment debating whether to attempt to force an entrance against the doorman's unmistakable intention to stop him, and decided to wait instead.
The decision wasn't due to common sense, but to a wish not to dissipate his rage on people that didn't matter. He wanted it intact for Rose.
He went back into the alley, braced himself in the angle of a brick pier and waited. He neither stamped his feet nor flailed his arms about to drive off the cold. He just stood still with the patience of his immemorial ancestor, waiting. Unconscious of the lapse of time, unconscious of the figures that presently began straggling out of the narrow door, that were not she.
Presently she came. A buffet of wind struck her as she closed the door behind her, and whipped her unbuttoned ulster about, but she did not cower under it, nor turn away—stood there finely erect, confronting it. There was something alert about her pose—he couldn't clearly see her face—that suggested she was expecting somebody. And then, not loud, but very distinctly:
"Roddy," she said.
He tried to speak her name, but his dry throat denied it utterance. He began suddenly to tremble. He came forward out of the shadow and she saw him and came to meet him, and spoke his name again.
"I saw you when you went out," she said. "I was afraid you mightn't wait. I hurried as fast as I could. I've—w-waited so long. Longer than you."
They were so near together now, that she became aware how he was trembling—shuddering fairly.
"You're c-cold," she said.
He managed at last to speak, and as he did so, reached out and took her by the shoulders. "Come home," he said. "You must come home."
At that she stepped back and shook her head. But he had discovered while his hands held her, that she was trembling, too.
The stage door opened again to emit a group of three of the ponies.
"My Gawd," one of them shrilled, "what a hell of a night!"
They stared curiously at Dane and the big man who stood there with her, then scurried away down the alley.
"We can't talk here," he said. "We must go somewhere."
She nodded assent and they moved off side by side after the three little girls, but slower. In an accumulation of shadows, half-way down the alley, he reached out for her arm. It might have begun as an automatic act—just an unconscious instinct to prevent her stumbling, there in the dark. But the moment he touched her, the quality of it changed. He gripped her arm tight and they both stood still. The next moment, and without a word, they moved on again. At the corner of the alley, they turned north. This was on Clark Street. Finally:
"Are you all right, Roddy? And the babies?" she managed to say. "It's a good many days since I've heard from Portia." And then, suddenly, "Was it because anything had gone wrong that you came?"
"I didn't know you were here until I saw you on the stage."
This was all, in words, that passed until they reached the bridge. But there needed no words to draw up, tighter and tighter between them, a singing wire of memories and associations; there was no need, even, of a prolonged contact between their bodies. He had let go her arm when they came out of the alley, and they walked the half-mile to the bridge side by side and in step, and except for an occasional brush of her shoulder against his arm, without touching.
But the Clark Street bridge, with a February gale blowing from the west down the straight reach of the river, is not to be negotiated lightly. Strong as they were, the force of the wind actually stopped them at the edge of the draw, caught Rose a little off her balance, turned her half around and pressed her up against him.
She made an odd noise in her throat, a gasp that had something of a sob in it, and something of a laugh.
For a moment—so vivid was the blaze of memory—he seemed veritably to be standing on another bridge (over the north branch of the Drainage Canal, of all places) with the last, leonine blizzard of a March, which had been treacherously lamblike before, swirling drunkenly about. He had been tramping for hours over the clay-rutted roads with a girl he had known a fortnight and had asked, the day before, to marry him. They had been discussing this project very sensibly, they'd have said, in the light of pure reason; and they were both unconscionably proud of the fact that since the walk began there had been nothing a bystander could have called a caress or an endearment between them. But there on the bridge, a buffet of the gale had unbalanced her, and she—with just that little gasping laugh—had clutched at his shoulder. He had flung one arm around her and then the other. Without struggling at all she had held herself away for a moment, taut as a strung bow, her hands clutching his shoulders, her forearms braced against his chest; then, with the rapturous relaxation of surrender, her body went soft in his embrace and her arms slid round his neck; their faces, cool with the fine sleety sting of the snow, came together.
The vision passed. The wind was colder to-night than that March blizzard had been, and the dry groan of a passing electric car came mingled with the whine of it. Muffled pedestrians, bent doggedly down against it, jostled them as they went by.
He steadied her with a hand upon her shoulder, slipped round to the windward side, and linked his arm within hers. But it was a moment before they started on again. Their hands touched and, electrically, clasped. Like his, hers were ungloved. She'd had them in her ulster pockets.
"Do you remember the other bridge?" he asked.
Her answer was to press, suddenly—fiercely—the hand she held up against her breast. Even through the thickness of the ulster, he could feel her heart beat. They crossed the bridge, but the hand-clasp did not slacken when they reached the other side. Their pace quickened, but neither of them was conscious of it.
As for Rodney, he was not even conscious what street they were walking on, nor how far they went. He had no destination consciously in mind or any avowed plan or hope for what should happen when they reached it. Yet he walked purposefully and, little by little, faster. He looked about him in a sort of dazed bewilderment when she disengaged her hand and stopped, at last, at the corner of the delicatessen shop, beside the entrance to her little tunnel.
"Here's where I live," she said.
"Where you live!" he echoed blankly.
"Ever since I went away—to California. I've been right here—where I could almost see the smoke of your chimneys. I've a queer little room—I only pay three dollars a week for it—but—it's big enough to be alone in."
"Rose ..." he said hoarsely.
A drunken man came lurching pitiably down the street. She shrank into the dark mouth of the passage and Rodney followed her, found her with his hands, and heard her voice, speaking breathlessly, in gasps. He hardly knew what she was saying.
"It's been wonderful.... I know we haven't talked; we'll do that some other time, somewhere where we can.... But to-night, walking along like that, just as ... To-morrow, I shall think it was all a dream."
"Wh-what is it?" she prompted, at last.
"Let me in," he said. "Don't turn me away to-night! I—I can't ..."
The only sound that came in answer was a long tremulously indrawn breath. But presently her hand took the one of his that had been clutching her shoulder and led him toward the end of the passage, where a faint light through a transom showed a door. She opened the door with a latch-key, and then, behind her, he made his way up two flights of narrow stairs, whose faint creak made all the sound there was. In the black little corridor at the top she unlocked another door.